The tennis ball went over the fence and Gerald watched it roll down the hill. Sheryl stood on the other side of the net shrugging and smiling. That was the last of their orange tennis balls. Gerald felt that white hot anger rising inside him.

“Why did you do that?”

“It was an accident, babe. This racket is broken, I think.”

There’s nothing broken about that racket, he knew, but he told himself that she didn’t mean to do it. Accidents do happen. Then again, she wanted to do something else today and he had twisted her arm a little bit to get her out on the court. Maybe this was her revenge?

“What do we now?” He asked.

“We could go to the mall…”

Gerald was now sure that she meant to do it on purpose.

He walked over to the fence and stood looking through the green mesh. The balls were about 30 yards down the hill, orange orbs bobbing stupidly in a stream of dirty brown water. Where does this water come from, Gerald wonder. People watering their lawns? Washing cars? Why is there always a river of filth in this town?

Should he retrieve them and insist they finish their match, or give up and go to the mall with her? Something like a war between logic and pride raged in his head as he stood at the fence contemplating what to do.

He looked over his shoulder. Sheryl was picking at something under her fingernail. Gerald took his racket and banged it against the fence real loud.

“What the hell are you doing?” She asked.

“This racket is broken,” he answered calmly.

She looked at him like a mother disappointed in her child. “Don’t be a brat.”

A breeze blew against his legs. He heard birds chirping in the trees. He could feel the lifeline on their relationship growing shorter by the second. A wick to a bomb that was already lit.

Things end because they’re meant to, he told himself, that’s fine.

But I’m not a brat…

He banged the racket one more time against the fence and then said, “Fine. Let’s go to the mall.”

The Dodo in Me

I never know how much to water my plants.
I never know when to let the cat out.
I always forget to bring my towel to the shower.
I always mistake the streetlamp for the moon.

We were walking down a cobblestone street,
stoned, cobbling together our thoughts and more
in this old European city of prostitutes and lords.
Didn’t know if I was a giant or a gnat or none of that.

You’re charming… and alarming.
I’m joking… and not joking.
We ate under holiday lights in June,
spilling $100 bottles of wine down our sleeves,
talking loudly, using SAT words and
long analogies to impress our neighbors.

And the whole time
they couldn’t hear a thing.

I came home from college with a chip on my shoulder and a wife…
and I still have the chip.

There’s a monster in the closet, but it doesn’t have sharp teeth,
it’s not big and it’s not mean. It’s just writing down everything
that I say in my sleep, and emailing me it in the morning…

I want it dead.

If you saw me walking through the streets of L.A.,
and it looked like I was trudging through snow,
would you think I was crazy? Or would you realize
it’s the invisible Sherpa’s pack
where I packed my tin can…
and my camera,
my field map,
and the diorama
of every extinct animal:
insect, reptile, and mammal–
even the scavengers–
that we left behind on this panorama.

Sunset to La Brea to Melrose
and home…

The trucks. The smog.
The playboys in Porsches.
The blonde girls in Jettas.
The rev-rev of motorcycles.
The ever-present loop of my brain
trying to read every tossed glance,
every storefront window display,
every towering naked billboard,
like a book about the apocalypse
being written in front of me.

I’m on page 367.
It says…

We are the last dodo birds,
strutting across the hot sand,
dancing on burning coals,
waving goodbye to our ghosts,
leaving divots in a destroyed land.


Dance Because You’re Happy or Because You’re Sad or Because You Just Want to Move Your Stupid Feet

EDM shook the walls and the crowd cheered along to the giant drops. She didn’t really know what she was doing there, and with a complete stranger! He was good looking, but in that totally manufactured way, everything too trim and airbrushed-looking.

He grabbed her hand and tried to lead her out into the madness of the dance floor, bright multi-colored lights pulsing over a sea of convulsing bodies. She resisted.

“I don’t like to dance to music like this,” she explained.

He said, “But it’s dance music.”

“Yeah, but it’s just too energetic.”

“It’s dancing, you’re supposed to be energetic.”

“I guess, it’s just too much,” she told him and then excused herself to the bar.

While waiting for the bartender’s attention, she pulled her phone out and looked through Instagram at nothing in particular,  wondering if dating was always going to be like this.

The bartender finally appeared. He asked, “What would you like?”

The words entered her ears and traveled through her body, leaving her frozen. Her mind entered a dark trance. When she finally opened her mouth to speak invisible moths took their escape.

The Almost Marriage

I was walking by in blue jeans and a red flannel shirt, even though it was June and over one hundred degrees. You were sitting outside of a church in a lovely dress. Your back was against the bricks. You had tears in your eyes. Not of terrible sorrow, but of a gentle sadness. It was pink or peach or something, the dress. I walked up to you and asked if there was something the matter. You looked up at me and then back at the door of the church, and then you stood and took my hand. “Let’s go,” you said. And I said, “Where?” And you said, “Who cares?” And I went with you because you were quite beautiful, the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all week.

We walked at a brisk pace, like trying to catch a train or something. Even though it was over one hundred degrees and we were practically running, you weren’t sweating at all. I was drenched. Two blocks later, a car caught up and began following us slowly, honking. Then they started screaming your name, and that’s how I discovered your name was Linda. And then you screamed at them that it’s all a terrible mistake and to go away. I asked what all was a terrible mistake but you didn’t answer. I tried to put all the pieces together, but I couldn’t really think right because I was just so excited that you were holding my hand and walking with me — even if it was hard keeping up and I was of out of breath and panting. A pretty girl like you totally takes over my brain.

Case in point: I was terrified you’d ask me a question I didn’t know the answer to, so I prayed you’d ask me like a state capital or something, because I knew all 50 of them down pat. But if you turned to me and asked, ‘Why are humans so fucked up to each other?’ Well, then I’d be screwed. And the only reason I thought that was a possibility — because seriously, who asks that of someone they just met? — was because you seemed so distraught and there were these people following us and it really was quite dramatic.

Case in point: there was a man in the passenger seat in a tuxedo with a furious scowl on his very angry face. He pointed at me and mouthed: ‘I am going to murder you.’ You told me, “That’s him.” I had no idea who him was. I said, “Linda, who?” You didn’t answer because you were too preoccupied with ignoring the man in the tuxedo… him. And because you were now choking on tears that seemed to want to water the Earth.

Now there was a procession of cars, five or six of them, and many of them were honking also. It was a giant ruckus. People stopped on the street and watched us. Then I started to put it together on my own because everybody was wearing tuxedos or lovely dresses too, and I’m not that much of an idiot. I get distracted, but I’m not dumb.

Case in point: you started to run, and I almost tripped behind you but then I started to run too, because you were still holding my hand and that didn’t give me much choice; plus, I wanted to follow you, even though I didn’t know where we were going, but I didn’t care, because for the first time in my life it felt like I was going somewhere. Like I said, you were the prettiest thing I’ve seen all week. And if these assholes in the cars were chasing you then I wanted to be there to protect you, even though I didn’t know you and I really wasn’t that strong or much of a fighter. Still, I turned into a caveman in that moment… for you.

Isn’t it crazy how you can develop such feelings so fast?

Case in point: I once had a stray cat come up to me and meow while swiping its body against my leg — that’s all it took for me to decide to adopt it, that little bit of attention and affection. I took it in that night, into my home, and I fed it and pet it for hours. I loved it instantly. I named it Jane even though I wasn’t sure if it was male or female. I just always liked the name Jane. The cat jumped out of the window the next day, but still… case in point.

Then we turned the corner quickly and you pulled me into the stairway of a building so they couldn’t follow us anymore. You led me up the steps to the rooftop that looked out over the city, all glass and mirror gleaming in the setting sun. A city made of golden light. The sun shone on your radiant face too. I wondered how you knew we could access the rooftop. Had you been here before? Is this a friend’s place or something? In just a few minutes of meeting you, you had surprised me multiple times. You were like a magician, but not, because magicians are creepy.

Once we were up there, you stopped crying and were now laughing, and the laughter grew until you were doubled over and trying to catch your breath. “Oh, my god,” you exhaled, “I can’t believe that I almost married that turd!” I laughed with you — not because I found it as funny, but because I always laugh when other people laugh. It’s just the way I am.

Then you started to cry again, and I cried with you too, because I also always cry when other people cry.

Case in point…

Hats and Love (in the age of drones)

Mr. Z was getting off the monorail when he ran into Ms. P. They have known each since Conditioning School, during the Last Great Incorporation.

It was a cloudy, volatile day. Above the monolithic skyscrapers shadowing them the sky was churning, grey and foreboding. It hasn’t rained in months, though, this was just electricity.

Ms. P was wearing a straw hat she recently purchased, Model XB39, the one with the flower on the brim. The wind was whipping it about and she struggled to keep it on her head.  Mr. Z complimented the flower. Just before she replied, a large metal object fell out of the sky and crashed violently to the ground. They both looked up and saw nothing. When they turned their attention back to the metal object they discovered it was a drone.

Mr. Z was alarmed. He told her, “Ms. P, I think they are following you!”

“Nobody would be following me. I live a very uneventful life, until this little incident, I suppose. Maybe they are following you?”

Mr. Z was taken aback. He reached for the skin on his wrist, where his chip was implanted. “Me? I’m sure my life is more uneventful than yours. I work in a library scanning books into computers, only the approved books, of course. I even bring my lunch to work. No, there is nothing interesting about me.”

Ms. P countered, “Well, I sew my own sweaters and don’t even watch the news. I never gossip, not even about celebrities! If you asked me who the Grand CEO of the Incorporated States was, I’d even have to think for a second.”

“Come on, you know it’s…”

Ms. P interrupted him. “Shh….”

They both looked at the drone laying broken on the sidewalk next to them. Any minute the men would come for it. They picked up and began walking briskly toward the river.

Mr. Z began to feel that everybody they passed eyed them suspiciously. The city flew by in a parade of overcoats and hats. He wanted to talk to Ms. P, really talk, like he hasn’t in years, but couldn’t find a place to begin. Every thought that entered his brain felt dangerous. We have to moderate our speech, he repeated obediently in his mind, to create a harmonious citizenry.

“I can’t even get to the end of a magazine article in Science Weekly before falling asleep,” he said loudly. “There’s no reason to take an interest in me. No, I’m a regular, abiding citizen without much excitement to note.”

They passed a store specializing in straw hats. Ms. P recognized seven models that were almost exactly like hers. The window was full of them. It reminded her of the rules and she felt a tinge of sadness.

Ms. P told him, “I eat oatmeal, a lot of it.”

“I pay my bills the day they arrive in the mail.”

“When I have sex I don’t make a sound.”

Mr. Z paused, considering this, then told her, “When I have sex I always warn the lady before climaxing — and then cuddle for at least thirty minutes.”

He watched her squirm, not in an ever-present-fear-of-being-watched sort of way, but, like, something-itching-her-from-the-inside sort of way. He tried not to be excited by this.

They stopped at the tracks of the B78 train. A 38-carriage monster roared by, carrying thousands of people out to the factories and making conversation impossible. When it finally passed after eight minutes, they continued.

“I look forward to my parents visiting,” Ms. P announced.

“I call my mother once, sometimes twice, a day.”

They could see the river now, black and swirling in place, rather than flowing downstream as rivers used to do. A small portion was aflame with orange and yellow fire. They looked over their heads but the clouds of electricity made it impossible to tell if there were drones or not. The terrible wind shoved the putrid smell of the river in their face. They tried not to gag.

“Look. It’s really on fire today,” Mr. Z said. She nodded. “It’s beautiful,” he added for protection.

They stared at the river, at the tornadoes of flame licking its surface. The heat blew at them fiercely, causing beads of sweat to coat their faces. Ms. P removed her hat. Her flaxen hair fell softly on her shoulders. In the reflection of the fire, she was quite beautiful, glowing even, Mr. Z thought. He noticed that she had a mole next to her ear and wondered if it was natural, or if it was an Incorporated Implant. You never knew where people shop these days. Still, he couldn’t help admiring it.

Enough is enough, he thought, then swallowed roughly, preparing for something terrible to happen. “Look,” he told her, “Sometimes in the Autumn, when there are a lot of leaves in piles, I’ll kick ’em and laugh, like when we were young… before.”

She gave him a concerned look and thought it over, then replied, “I pour chocolate milk into my cereal when I’m bored.”

They started walking along the river, sludge and flame and all. They slowed to a more languid pace, trying to control their blood pressure, both secretly trying to outsmart the chip. Conversation syntax that walked the line.

He revealed, “When I’m lying in bed I think about what it would be like to ride horses again and grow my own vegetables… just as an exercise, I never would.”

“Of course. I do the same… I think about picking flowers from the public gardens.” She instantly regretted saying this out loud. “Just sometimes, just as an exercise.”


They walked silently together. It was nice.

Mr. Z told her, “I have a ukulele at home that I bought in Hawaii, back when it belonged to us.”

“I love Hawaii,” she said.

“I know! The smell of the flowers they put around your neck at the airport and the green mountains. The blue of the water. It’s so peaceful.”

“Sooo peaceful,” she agreed.

“So peaceful, and so clean. It’s like the entire island is made out of a bar of soap.”

She added, “A bar of soap that is also like a piece of fruit.”

“Yeah, Hawaii is exactly like that,” he agreed, impressed. “Anyway, the point of the ukulele is I never play it. I’ve had it for seven years, but I haven’t even taken it out of its case.”

“Why not?” She asked.

He thought for a second, debating whether or not to tell her. Then, “Because it reminds me of Hawaii…” he mumbled under his breath.

They went quiet, both contemplating things that aren’t allowed, places in their souls they’re not allowed to go. He grabbed her hand and they felt a surge of electricity, attracted from the clouds to their bodies. The also felt their chips activate, their wrists tingle. A warning shot.

He held up his hand. “This damn thing! I’ve thought about removing it and living in the unassigned lands, even though they say it’s impossible,” he revealed. Then, realizing he’s said too much, he added, “Maybe it’s just a dream, I don’t know.” The electricity intensified to the point of excruciating pain, but neither let go. He thought about going to bed with her and having sex with her, and about not having sex with her, but just lying in bed next to her. “I really do like your hat,” he told her.

She looked into his eyes and saw this strange mixture of excitement and fear. She felt the same thing, saw her deepest thoughts reflected in those eyes, and told him, “It’s impossible to live when you can’t dream.”

Mr. Z grabbed her shoulders and held her gaze. The electric field between them was now reaching critical levels. You could hear it crackle around them. “I’m not that boring,” he confessed, the electricity almost bringing them to their knees.

Ms. P swallowed deeply. Her teeth chattered. If love will kill you, then maybe it’s worth trying, she thought. The air was thick with charged, emanating particles — lightning bolts circled around them, they were utterly exposed now. She whispered to him, “I sometimes do make a sound,” just as their chips delivered the fatal voltage.

The love was too much. Their bodies were quickly located and disposed in the river. Her hat was returned to the store, and within a day was back in the window. The Incorporation owns everything, even hats and love.


After Everything Had Been Spilled

Animals. Plants. Your voice. The morning I woke
and heard the screaming outside. The dog on the bed.
Bread baskets. Light jokes. Falling over ourselves to be heard.
Won’t you take this match and find some flint? Take this
chalk and trace my arms and legs and the way they splayed
on the street like a marionette. A parrot in a minaret.
A blind palm reader reading my mind. Bath salts and Balzac.
I found your hair on my pillow 6 months after Big Sur.
After everything had been spilled.

A Beautiful Thing Part 844

I wake up late. I have so much to do I don’t know where to start. I go outside and the sun is shining, people are moving about happily, flowers are reaching for the sky. It gives me anxiety, everything being so beautiful.

I walk to buy a coffee. I hope this will kick in some work ethic, take me out of this vague discomfort. I have so much to do.

There is a man reading the paper at the coffee shop. He looks so peaceful, his glasses teetering on the edge of his nose. I stop and read the paper once he leaves it behind. After an hour I look down at my watch and realize I am not wearing it. There is a pigeon nearby. We regard each other briefly and then carry on with what we are doing.

There is an article in the paper about all these people fleeing a war and all these other people worrying about what they are going to do with them. I read half of it and start to worry about it too, then fold the paper and put it under my elbow. Just like that, problem solved.

A man drives up in a silver Mercedes. He looks about my age except he is wearing a suit which makes him look ten years older. I feel incomplete, like I should be wearing a suit, or driving a Mercedes, or just doing more than ignoring the plight of refugees. It reminds me that I have all these things to do, but makes me so upset about not doing them that I decide to walk to the mall instead.

When I get there the sun is at a low angle and makes it hard to see. I weave through the crowd like a slalom skier, blinded by the sharp rays. I have a ton of stuff to do today, but none of it involves being at the mall. Hey, life isn’t a to-do list I tell myself, go with the flow.

I see a crowd surrounding a fountain that is blaring music from a movie I remember vividly but can’t place its name. I decide to join them. Maybe this is the key to feeling normal, just join the crowd, watch the spectacle, don’t think too deeply about…. anything?

They are smiling and talking and taking pictures. It makes me hate them all, which makes me hate myself for hating them. We’re in a goddamn mall, I want to shout, get a hold of yourselves! You robots! This isn’t life! We’re outside a fucking Banana Republic!

I can’t do it, I can’t be normal.

Why did I come here? This mall is an exploitative, demoralizing attack on my character and my art! And what is my art? Those flimsy, flitting phrases and prose I put on a computer page. Shooting them in an ethereal void — just like a million others. Maybe I’m just a robot too?

It makes me think about my bedroom wall. I have a collection of mix-matched artwork placed sporadically upon the wall. Sometimes I look at them and half of them look crooked, but I can’t ever figure out which ones. Something’s wrong, but I can’t find the source.

I burst into a department store and converge quickly on the beauty products. I take a sampler of face moisturizer and squirt a large dollop into my hand. I smear it all over my face, leaving it thick like sunblock at the beach. I feel strange today and I can’t escape it. The urge to have people to look at me like the strange man I am fills me up.

I leave and walk through the mall like that, face covered in white lotion. I don’t feel human, not right now. But the thing is, even though I look like a flesh walker, like a spirit captured in a body that just happens to also be mine, nobody seems to notice. They continue on as if I’m invisible, swinging their shopping bags and taking selfies. It’s like I don’t exist, as beset with sadness and odd-angled as I feel, they walk on by like I’m a ghost.

And for the first time all day, I start to feel alright.