Reality struck Matt Kennedy Gould in a flash as every cast member of the show created for his destruction revealed themselves as an actor hired to manipulate him. Every cast member but one, Brian Keith Etheridge- cast as Gould’s best friend, tasked with staying close to him throughout filming and becoming his confidant- remained cautiously silent.
When Gould turns to him, able to digest that the rest of the cast were maybe a lot of Hollywood phonies, out of work actors lowering the bar for a reality gig, he asks Etheridge, with genuine hope, if he’s as much of a liar as the rest.
And you’ll never find a more genuine moment of terror on reality television than the look on Brian Etheridge’s face, as he struggles to explain to his new best friend that he’s just as full of shit as anyone else- that he’s of the elite, Hollywood caste getting paid to make poor, working class Matt look pathetic.
This is where the Joker would pull out a gun and shoot Etheridge in the head- something Etheridge, with emotions and adrenaline running high, feared was possible.
Like buying bitcoin for pennies, the peak time to meet a girl on the internet came and went before you ever knew what you were losing. Before anyone would have thought to use a term like early adopter– a time so raw that it couldn’t have been confined to language. Before they called it the “wild west.” A time without shape or form.
Forget selfies, rewind past digital cameras- when scanners were still exotictechnology, the most pressing question after “ASL” became asking what she looked like. The description of her body would ignite the imagination. You’d never have guessed that this primitive fumbling would yield more honesty than digital pictures, twenty years later.
I knew I was in over my head when I heard Kristen’s voice. She spoke with the easy confidence of beauty. I always came out of left field. The outsider art of trying to get laid. A punchers chance, but give me enough time and I’ll land a clean left hook. There was a crazy charm to this and Kristen picked up on it. She didn’t know what to make of me, but she knew I was unlike anyone she’d ever met. I spoke with the easy confidence of insanity.
“Some wine, some wine, she’ll never decline some wine. She sees her ship is sinking so she’s drinking all the time.”
Thingsjust didn’t go as planned, she told me, her face stained with tears. I knew she was talking about me. She was naked and crying- something that would’ve turned me on, but I wanted to be there for her.
It just wasn’t in your cards, baby. I thought this was comforting. Confront reality like a stoic- always have a love of fate. The stars brought us together, baby. Your life crushed from divorce, my eternal adolescence- if that isn’t a love story, what is?
She swore she didn’t drink at work, but she called this her downward spiral, so I always wondered. She’d get nervous when it was closing time at the liquor store and she was running out of wine. By three in the morning, she’d tell me she loved me.
“We are the end of the world. Goodnight, farewell.”
She told me that she never likes the ones who call her pretty. A mistake made in earnest, a fleeting desire for something real- not playing teenage costume party with another aging woman over cheap drinks. When the fantasy is all that’s left, the impulse is to get lost in it. You want to forget that you’re an arm above the water and your legs are giving out.
You want this to be what it isn’t- it’s been too long, and you’re too far from the shore. You want to pretend that you’ve lucked out and the prom queen agreed to a Saturday night at the drive-in. That isn’t what this is, and you know it, but it’s more satisfying to spend time pretending rather than going through the motions where you say the right words at the right times like you’re punching in a Nintendo code, to skip to the end and pump rockets into Mother Brain.
When you’re gone, here’s a song, I’ll be thinking about you
I’ve never experienced anything more ethereal than when our eyes met before homeroom. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it hung in the air like an eternal sunrise. Nothing I’ve experienced since has matched this feeling- for only a moment, I stood before the face of God. Drug people lament the way it used to be, before things were cut with laxatives. The first semester at college, and you’re popping pills at a party- throbbing waves of intensity.
And you think you’ll take it with you, like you finally won the ring-toss at a carnival. This is your big pink elephant. You think it’s going to feel that way every time, but every time you go back, there are more pieces missing. The fifth time you’ve gone through the haunted house and the foam skeleton doesn’t have the same resonance. You become the old pothead, rolling your eyes at kids and their stoner stories.
“Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline.”
I had this incredible moment of content while kissing Sarah in the backseat of my car. “Heroin” was playing on the radio. She had asked me if her breasts were as big as I was expecting- that perhaps her nudes were deceptively angled, the old MySpace trick. She was so nervous I wouldn’t like her that she needed to hold her wine glass with both hands, to prevent spillage.
This worsened when I told her to cut the shit with the sterile, first date, getting to you know chit-chat- the last bold move I’d ever make. She had to put the glass down entirely.
Once in my car, she sat up straight, arched her back, and asked again- somewhere between seductive and genuinely worried. I told her that I’d need a closer look and took the straps of her dress off her shoulders.
And I had this moment, in the back seat, of true connection. I liked her- dark hair, large breasts. Insecure and she didn’t bother to hide it. A kindred spirit left behind by the dating market, looking for something real. This felt different. This felt special.
The day after Christmas, 2016, was the last time any of this were possible.
You smile like a cartoon, tooth for tooth
You said that irony was the “shackles of youth”
If you’re someone who likes getting the ending up front, I’ll spare you the details: the hero of the story is Bill Berry. I had gotten a copy of R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People” the week of its release- the cassette was yellow- and immediately fell in love with the record. While it would be years before I could appreciate the clever writing of singer Michael Stipe, the album served as a welcome departure from what I understood as music in the early 1990s.
While Axl Rose and Metallica were producing work of equal measure, R.E.M. was my first exposure to the idea that things didn’t always need to rock- R.E.M. wasn’t afraid to give a moment space and allow a song to breath- this gave “Drive” room to brood ominously and “Everybody Hurts” time to emotionally settle. “Nightswimming” is still one of my favorite songs and always manages to make me cry.
As much as I loved the record, at twelve years old, I had this awful hunch that I was being duped. I had thought of myself as a kind of emerging rock critic, a junior Robert Christgau, compiling my own Consumers Guide to Rock; I knew what rocked and what sucked.
But there was something fishy about 1992- everything rocked.
“Whatever happened to all this season’s losers of the year?
Every time I got to thinking, where’d they disappear?”
There is no place I’d rather be than walking beside a well-groomed front-lawn on a suburban street in mid-August. Late afternoon, when the sun is just beginning to set- tired from a long day’s work- making its march toward a warm hue that feels like a soft blanket enveloping your soul. The sound of distant lawn-mowers, and the scent of cut grass- really, to properly maintain the admiration and respect of your neighbors, twice per week is ideal for lawn-care. American flags next to empty mailboxes. Dogs barking beside hamburgers on propane grills.
When you’re in eighth grade, suburbia is your canvas. You burn things in the woods and throw eggs at houses. Hop fences and explore backyards. Stand atop a hill overlooking the town below and throw-up a double middle-finger. You let the girls hang out and you act like it’s this big deal and if they’re not cool enough they’ll have to go home. You probably could have seen their tits had you been more socially adept. You’d be star gazing had there been stars to see.
“Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.”
“I’m not dead, and I’m not for sale.”
The waning days of August. After midnight; 2AM about to roll around as inconspicuously as the 80,000th mile on the odometer of an old girl who won’t quit. “Not quite ready to bring it down just yet.” Miles of quiet. Last man standing. Watching the tide roll in. Everything leading to this feels weighted and opaque- a dull ache only noticeable in moments of stillness.
When you’re young, there’s a timelessness to the hours before dawn. They dissipate in the moonlight. The keys to your dad’s old beater open up the world around you like never before- possibilities expand beyond the infinite. Everything takes on a veneer of significance. Sitting at a diner and only ordering coffee. Telling ghost stories on old country roads. Hopping fences and exploring graveyards.
When asked for writing advice, Delicious Tacos- who is certain to go down as one of the most important writers of the blogger-age- likes to keep things simple: get up early every morning and write. And there is something to that- the foundation of writing is interpreting the esoteric disorganization of the writer’s internal world through language and bringing those ideas to a place of external organization- quite literally, coming to terms with what is initially termless. This is why keeping a journal is often recommended as a form of therapy.
However, this only explains the process of writing- the easiest and most direct way to become a writer- rather than explaining what the job of a writer really is. This is something that warrants equal examination.
A good writer is tasked with splitting his veins open with a razor blade and covering his keyboard in hot blood- a prolonged and terrible ritual. You’ll know a piece is finished when your face is numb, eyes unfocused, and body trembling.
You’d think Delicious Tacos wouldn’t have left out the grizzly details- the horrible reality of being on the writing grind- considering I learned it from reading his work.