Halloween II

“Let’s stay and starve the light a little while longer…”

Just a little longer, Blair pleaded- wide eyes, the result of a deliberate evolutionary process; puppies evoking sympathy as their only means of survival; cats as cold, distant bitches with a keen sense of human nature built in to the blood- manipulative, an inherent understanding that people chase what they can’t have. Just a little longer. Everything pushing toward survival- fleeting moments of comfort- everyone hiding from pain; refugees from trauma. Just a little longer- no one wants the night to end; cold and lonely mornings- your reflection looking more haggard by the day; bags under the eyes like sinkholes in sand.

Just a little longer. Get old enough and the goodbyes start to pile up. Perpetually watching dawn intrude on your perfect summer night- the summer between high school and college; infinite possibilities vanquished by the horrible light of the morning sun. Just a little longer- Michael Myers not letting six shots keep him down; determined to keep the party going all night long. Halloween II (1981), picking up where the first left off- more of the night he came home.

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Welcome to Hell

“Hey Mama, look at me, I’m on my way to the promised land…”

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I assure you, the story I’m about to tell you is true- all of it. Every small victory. Every little triumph. Every lesson learned. Every mistake made. Every misdeed cast. Every bit of bullshit. Every lie. Every defeat. Every disappointment. Every heart broken. Every tear shed. Everything I’m about to share with you, it all happened. It’s all true- all of it.

Impossible for you to know the emotional toll telling you this story has taken. The long days and endless nights, restlessly searching for the right words, in the right order; hoping it makes sense; hoping to be seen. Restlessly searching for meaning; enduring moments of despair; intense bouts of frustration; fists against the wall. Desperate to be understood. 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, submitted for your scrutiny and judgement, this is my story- this is my life- and I am proud to share it with you; proud to announce the release of my very first book.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, welcome to hell

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After Hours

“If you close the door the night could last forever” 

It’s okay to do nice things, Blair explained. She had made a reservation for the afternoon at a winery operating on a working beef farm. Anything pretentious would be tempered by a kind of rustic authenticity. They’ll have cows, she told me. 

Although it can be managed, it’s impossible to entirely diminish feelings of hesitancy in a struggle that I can only assume is similar to the misnomer of the recovering drug addict– the same wishful thinking involved- that one can ever, successfully, erase the footprint- bust the ghost… thoughts wander; compulsions linger restlessly. There is no recovery for true addiction.

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Only Death is Real

“…beneath the sound of hope.”

It’s the same thing every time, she told me. It’s an act, the whole thing; it isn’t real. The eye contact, the pursed lips, hands in the hair, the inflection in tone- “baby, baby…” She’ll pick up on this and mimic it back to me- same eye contact, same pursed lips: “baby, baby…”

When you’ve lived what feels like a thousand lifetimes compared to the high school sweethearts; you’ve figured out every bit of the female algorithm- missile launch codes carved into your skull like the password to skip to Mike Tyson; right to the bedroom; right to true love, scientific discovery at the price of normalcy; at the price of family.

At the price of outliving your parents- at least numerically. Without anything else- anything to provide perspective- the single man will either self-destruct in addiction or grind himself into the ground; defiance, on the road to decay; defiance in the face of genetic limitations- trying to get muscle car performance out of an economy class. Your parents were shopping on a budget- who knew how bad things would get?

***

The cold void of an endless January seems even crueler when juxtaposed with the colored lights of December. It was a December morning, before first period, that our eyes met in front of her locker. In what couldn’t have been planned, at least consciously planned- perhaps, more like the march of the penguins, or a rosebud uncoiling before the relentless morning sun- perhaps, something guided by nature and etched into a plan that wasn’t within our power to modify. Our eyes met, guided by invisible forces so strong that they had almost revealed themselves- a proof for God, had we been more conscious of it in the moment- our eyes met, and hung in the air frozen. No words exchanged. Even a kiss would have spoiled the purity of the moment. We had from our surroundings what was needed, and we could make from it something more.

We stayed after school that day and spent the afternoon talking about the future as if we could write it. Too shy, of course, to include one another in these plans- but we spoke in ways where this acknowledgement wasn’t necessary; that it was maybe so pressing and obvious that it could be left unsaid.

That night, December 16th, 1996, I took the late bus home from school- and that night was the only time I wore a seatbelt. This was the greatest day of my life, and I couldn’t let anything ruin it.

***

You’re just like Stanley Kubrick, is what people must have told Shane Carruth. Absolute darling of the independent movie scene at the dawn of the new millennium, Carruth did what would have been considered impossible- made his first movie, with a seven-thousand dollar budget, and won the grand-jury prize at Sundance. To put this in perspective, it’s like your friend’s student film winning an Oscar- like breaking a law of nature, this was something that couldn’t happen… but it did, because Primer (2004) is incredible. Breathtakingly incredible- even with its flaws; flubbed audio and blown-out lighting; there is nothing like Primer and Primer is fucking incredible.

And even still, I can never decide whether I prefer Primer or Carruth’s follow-up Upstream Color (2013)– a film so uniquely outside the box that I wouldn’t know where to begin describing it. Part science fiction, part cold realism- broken people with interdependent relationships- Upstream Color examines the connection between identity and trauma, how the latter inescapably shapes the former- and, more so, how these elements, so crucial to how we understand the world around us, are often invisible.

Absolute darling of the independent movie scene, for a short time Carruth had tried to work within the Hollywood system- to the point of even pitching a Batman movie. When he couldn’t get funding for his big budget, trippy sci-fi adventure A Topiary he pivoted back to realism with A Modern Ocean– which caught a bit of fire, even making it to the casting stage… and then nothing.

Absolute darling of the independent movie scene, which is ultimately meaningless. No one wants to finance difficult, obtuse art. No one cares how good you are. No one cares if you’re just like Stanley Kubrick, or just like Delicious Tacos, your inaccessible art- your brilliance- means nothing in a world of Mickey Mouse superhero bullshit. Beauty means nothing in hell.

***

It was in the cold void of January that Kevin had slipped you the little blue sheet of paper, folded up with your name across the front, during second period Theology. You had nothing to worry about, he said. He wasn’t interested, he explained. He was already dating Michelle- a fact you all knew, but Jessica had still called him the night before, just to be sure.

It is only in the cold void of an endless January that all can be laid bare. Only in the absence of the ornate, and the emotions inherently consequent, that proper assessment can be made. Only after New Year’s Eve, 1996; making out with Jessica in her living room; Dick Clark with KISS ringing in the New Year; “I wanna rock and roll all nite and party every day”; drunk only on each other; hands in her hair, looking into her eyes- this is gonna be our year, baby– only in the absence of this can things be properly contextualized.

Terms and conditions; hypothesis and conclusion; the manager who won’t let the artist pursue their passion project for practical reasons. Hollywood who won’t give Shane Carruth money to make pure art. She was the prize and you were the runner up- second choice. She tried to negotiate for a better deal but chose to accept the offer on the table. You bought what you could afford and were happy with what you got. One little blue sheet of paper later and it was tainted- like finding a horde of ants behind the wall of your dream house or the new car that never leaves the shop. A heap of junk who’d tell you that she loved you but you weren’t buying it– it wasn’t good enough– who cried at your coldness and sucked your dick on Friday night. You wanted a fairytale; you wanted purity and you got mayhem.

The punchline is that Jessica loved me for years after we broke up. For years, she’d do her best to find me- in the years before social media, this wasn’t easy. Messages sent through friends. Showing up at the same goth clubs. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985); always a step behind, always on the prowl. She’d let a guy hit on her and I’d swoop in and pull her away by the waist.

No one could understand why I wouldn’t just date her. If you saw the dress she’d wear to Detour, you’d have wondered the same thing, but she just had the dumb luck of knowing me. She had the dumb luck of buying all those Seattle stocks at their IPO; the dumb luck of buying bitcoin for pennies; an early adopter– commendable, but now she could step aside ’cause this rocket’s not stopping ’til we hit the moon. Thanks for playing, baby. Maybe next time.

***

Writing is the pursuit of truth- this is what you’ll say when asked why you write. Greatness existing within your reach– brief glimpses of its Platonic form, so brief you can only sketch them from memory; scribble out words, inadequate substitutions for what you’re trying to impale with your ball-point spear; feel the juices stream down your neck as you indulge on the progress you’ve made. The pursuit of truth- there’s a purity to this.

Internet fame, a substitute for your relationship with God. This is what you say matters. This is how you get to sleep at night. This is how you justify a meandering existence, never having to commit, always thinking you could do better; you should do better. Incredible truth to be found in meeting desperate women on dating apps. There’s no room in hell for the happily married; only the dead walk the Earth.

As if David Foster Wallace’s suicide doesn’t haunt you. Poke holes in your theory. You’ll never be as good; you’ll never be as acclaimed; historically significant; critically well-received; famous- both Internet and real life. Even this, what you woke-up early to write, before work, in a spiral-bound notebook that you bought for a quarter; even this, your recent work- which you believe shows significant growth; your stylistic prime; your best, which by anyone’s judgement would have to be considered clever– will always be shit compared to Wallace’s worst… and even if you want to believe that turning words into art is enough to justify an otherwise meaningless existence, DFW’s hanging corpse is somewhere laughing at you.

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WELCOME TO HELL

Ghostbusters 2

“The ghosts that roam this house, like winter air right through our souls.”

You don’t have to write about my stairs, she said, and we can only be friends if you stop hurting my feelings. I didn’t have to be in the room to know what Nancy’s eyes would have looked like- desperate to hide the depth of her vulnerability- but like every other time, no matter how hard she tried, the way she looked at you betrayed her. This was what made you fall in love with her. She stopped talking to you when you posted the piece about her house- her house as a metaphor for every bit of hurt, every battle scar, every coping strategy and defense mechanism; walls and coldness- circles that needed squaring. Parts of her life to be compartmentalized; some locked-away, some delicately framed with self-talk.

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The King of Hell

“Darkness will show us the way…”

Dana wouldn’t let me fuck her before she went on dates. Losers she’d meet from pay-to-play dating apps- ones that supposedly offered a more serious assortment of romantic candidates. The kind she’d want to bring home to mom, assuming mom were still alive. Maybe, more accurately, the kind she’d introduce to her children- on a day trip to Adventureland, where he’d spend big money on artisan ice-cream and carnival games skewed against the player.

Big smiles while riding bumper boats. This could be something real- like they advertise on TV, where aging singles find their second chance; the one that counts, as insinuated by complex smiles on the faces of couples in their forties, sipping cocoa in cozy, female-owned coffee shops; discussing life after marriage.

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Eternal September

“A week without you, thought I’d forget. Two weeks without you and I still haven’t gotten over you yet.”

Nancy didn’t like it when I teased her about her house. Put politely, it was unfinished. What was meant to be the baby’s room, with its careful design of overlapping squares hand-painted on the walls, had become a storage-space; miscellaneous items suffering a slow transition to the garbage. Her hardwood floors had stains. Light bulbs dangling from fixtures. Things in the yard that hadn’t been moved since they were put down fifteen years prior. A storm destroyed the fence, with only the posts a reminder that her yard had once been enclosed. The front lawn with crabgrass and mushrooms.

Not that one needed to be tremendously perceptive to realize that the house, more or less, had ceased any major evolutionary activity- the kind where the first time homeowner is gifted a Time-Life “Home Repair & Improvement” book set, with plans made that foresaw holiday duties on the path to grandchildren.

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Purity and Mayhem

“I’m breaking through, I’m bending spoons, I’m keeping flowers in full bloom- I’m looking for answers from the great beyond.”

She said she wanted a fairy tale. Not something fairy tale-like, or fairy tale-adjacent; not the kind they sell at Target, or the Magic Kingdom version with the anxious college girl sweating to death in her ballroom gown while telling you about all the books she read before the gnarly beast swept her away. Something where you’d never dream of compromising things with the words good enough to control expectations while still acknowledging the positive. She wanted the real deal.

Where it wasn’t good enough to spend your nights together laughing at jokes that only you’d both understand, between bouts of incredible sex, and looking into her eyes and telling her that she was beautiful and really meaning it. This wasn’t a fairy tale- this was something else- and if it wasn’t good enough to be a fairy tale, what was it?

Too much of this and you’re burning churches. Nothing is real until you’re willing to destroy everything and sift through the ashes. Cut the throat of your father because he couldn’t be what you needed. Never let the lie settle; walk away from the inauthentic.

Tony Iommi didn’t understand why Rob Zombie never changed out of his stage clothes- stage clothes, a foreign concept for Zombie who knew you either lived your act as performance art or that it doesn’t mean shit. Venom didn’t understand why every Black Sabbath song wasn’t about the devil- what kind of black sabbath was that? Mayhem didn’t think you could write dark music without making it a lifestyle and burnt churches along the Norwegian countryside- there was a purity to this.

You aren’t a real writer if you consider what the reception of your writing might look like; a writer must disregard the idea of writing for an audience; there is no audience, there is only art. If you write for an audience, you may be writing words, but you aren’t making art. Art can only manifest from the artist’s subconscious, in a flow-state, containing subtle and unintended nuances which even the artist may be ignorant of. This is why those who create art consider themselves conduits for God, or vessels for fairies and muses- art can only come out of the unconscious mind as a performance of self-expression. It may be cleaned up and stitched together later, but the foundation must be subconscious. If any space is surrendered to enhance the experience for an audience, you’ve already lost.

Black metal originated as a response to heavy metal gaining mainstream attention with artists suddenly wanting to write songs for radio airplay. Grit was lost and turned to gloss in million dollar recording studios with smooth repeating choruses and non-threatening lyrics. Norwegian black metal artists rejected this as inauthentic. Heavy metal shouldn’t be polished- it should conjure primal images of being alone in the woods, in late November, after midnight, with only a battery powered cassette deck, naked and covered in animal blood… or is it your own? It should sound cold and dark.

The barrier to entry is high- Norwegian black metal is purposely abrasive. Songs cut in and out with drums loudly blasting in the foreground– there is often no discernible song structure. Vocals are sometimes used as an additional layer of sound- not its driving force- and are typically buried in the mix. Guitar riffs repeat hypnotically. They don’t care if you get it or if you like it; artistic integrity devoid of concern for the audience. Kurt Cobain wishes he had their balls.

The best writing should be complex. Complicated and unrelenting. No easy reads; no bits of light fiction, nor should there be books meant to be read on the beach. Writing should challenge the reader to meet the author on his terms only. Meaning for entire pieces- entire novels- contingent on obscure references woven so seamlessly into the larger narrative that only a small percentage of readers will notice and understand. Thomas Pynchon includes a scene in Inherent Vice (2009) where stoner protagonist Doc Sportello charts the novel’s 130 characters, and their complex relationships, on the wall of his apartment with a marker- Pynchon’s way of mocking the reader. What, you can’t keep up?

***

Alice lived in a house on the beach, where she hid herself away from the nasty virus. So close you could see the water from her window, in a town that seemed perpetually alive, chatter in every corner, all hours of the night. Beach houses built on the corpses of hippies, with signage proclaiming an eternal summertime and promises of living easy hanging in manicured, million dollar love shacks. A never-ending Halloween party with ghouls coming from their humble abodes, costumed as beach bums, looking for jolts from electrodes. Symbols disconnected from meaning. Only the wealthy can afford the fairy tale of pretending to be poor.

***

Her fairy tale followed a trail of breadcrumbs into the witch’s oven. You only get one Weiland- everyone else is a hired gun; a studio musician; a cheap imitation. Effort can’t change the immutable. When Selina Kyle tells Batman that he doesn’t owe the people anything, that he’s already given them everything- he replies, “not everything; not yet,” which is more rousing a moment for men than even the hottest pornography. Men want an excuse to give away every last bit of themselves; desperately seeking a hill to die on; a destructive purity; pure mayhem. Kill yourself finding the right castle just to save the damn princess- something Catwoman could never understand.

It wasn’t the sadness in her eyes, that maybe only you could see, but the way she spoke of the past- how when she said “it was a long time ago,” the inflection in her voice betrayed her.

You thought you could storm in and start tearing down statues. Inexplicable confidence. Recreate the world in your own image, even if no one ever wins fighting the idealized dead. You can’t save her, heckles Catwoman- no matter how willing you are to go down with the ship. The past has been decided- fairy tales written. Welcome to hell- there’s a purity to this.

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WELCOME TO HELL

Better to Reign in Hell

“I dressed up in scarecrow, she dressed up in white.”

She told me that she likes “fuck boys”- a terrible, disingenuous cope of a nomenclature; a way for women to reclaim power in an otherwise powerless situation, thinking that, in our modern landscape of gender equality, a slur designed for a man who has too much sex will have the same sting as one made to shame women- fuck boys, she said, because she likes the way they talk to her. She was over forty with three kids; when she ditched the hubby, she got herself a personal trainer and breast implants- which was probably the most sensible thing to do. Ride the midnight train out as far as it will go- better to have your pick of fuck boys than to get a look at the kind of loser who’d take you seriously.

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KI LL TO PA RTY

“‘Cause we came here to set this party off right, let’s bounce tonight. And if they don’t let us in through the front, we’ll come through the side.”

Marisa had me drive her to her mother’s apartment so she could steal money; behavior I never endorsed outright, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t complacent; an accomplice, if we were to be arrested, which we wouldn’t be, her mother was a dingbat. She’d keep loose cash in the drawer next to her bed, and every few weeks Marisa would dip into it like a broken ATM. Hundreds of dollars missing; thousands over time. Her mother had alimony coming in from Marisa’s lawyer father- when shit hits the fan, everyone becomes a thief.

She’d take enough to get a half-ounce from our dealer and have some left over to pick up dinner. Sitting next to a Family Dollar listening to “Waiting for the Man.” He’d text that he was “just pulling in to the parking lot” and show up an hour later- he knew you weren’t going anywhere. 

Brought a bagel sandwich and bag of chips back with me- the indie label, kettle-cooked kind that you pay a dollar more for and is more heavily saturated in a higher quality oil- safflower, which is less likely to cause heart disease; something I can only appreciate in retrospect.

We’d get high and watch the Casey Anthony trial.

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