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A Brief History of Braces…ending with some family notes

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Dental X-Ray. A panoramic x-ray of a mouth, with intact wisdom teeth, one of which is severely impacted.

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If I lived a hundred years ago, without all of the benefits I’ve received from technology and modern medicine, I’d be an ugly-ass man.

I’d have thick glasses, asthma, allergies, scoliosis, recurrent ear infections, a speech impediment, acne vulgaris, consistent rashes…and yes, mangled buck teeth.

Growing up, I had an overbite and my two, front teeth pointed in towards one another…sort of like a bunny rabbit.

bunny braces

I wore braces for a couple of years. When and where did this technology begin?

Some ancient Egyptian mummies were found with crude metal bands around their teeth:

egyptian braces

Looks like humans have been going to great lengths to satisfy their vanities for thousands of years.

The Greek and the Roman thinkers wrote about tooth irregularities (Hippocrates) and altering tooth position by regularly pushing them with your fingers (Celsus). This latter technique still exists today in the hood. Instead of going to the orthodontist they go to the “or-just-push-it.”

The father of dentistry, Pierre Fauchard, in 1728 invented a device called the bandeau.

early-orthodontic-braces Wheresgz the damselssgz at?

Some braces contain nickel titanium…which was developed by NASA.

-8 million people are wearing braces right now.
-75% are under 18.
-100% have to lie to their orthodontist about their salt water taffy consumption

It takes 17 muscles to smile, 43 to frown, 71 to make an “O” face.

25% of people who wear braces have to wear them again because they didn’t use their retainer.

dos equis retainer

Wearing braces in American culture has a nerdy, ugly stereotype…as captured by this 6 second vine:

 

But in the last decade wearing braces has become a fashion trend in China and Thailand.

asian braces smile

Hot.

100% of orthodontists are dentists.

About 6% of dentists are orthodontists.

About 99% of dentists continually refer to themselves as doctors despite everyone else saying, “You mean, you’re a dentist?”

(Note: my grandfather is a dentist. We haven’t talked in years. He lives in Arizona and he likes to gamble and golf. I remember his two favorite quotes:

Analysis is paralysis.

Don’t laugh when you win, don’t cry when you lose. 

I’ve tended not to analyze our relationship. And I tend to laugh when I lose and cry when I win.)

My sister (who’s a real doctor) got her braces off on the morning of 9/11. When she returned to school that day, nobody knew.

 

Thoughts of Death on a Wednesday Morning

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skull and hourglass

I’m obsessed with death.

I’ve been that way since I was a little kid.

death guess who

Perhaps it is one of many reasons I’ve chosen the path of the pen…a book is a life that doesn’t die…no serious author doesn’t at least play with the idea of immortality.

When I was 6 years old my grandmother’s sister died. My mother tells a story of talking to me about her death:

“Great-Aunt Mami passed away today, Jack.”
“She’s gone?”
“Yes.”
“Where did she go?”
“To…to heaven.” I paused. “Mommy?”
“Yes Jack?”
“What if nothing happens to us after we die?” My mother was taken aback and surprised.
“We..we just don’t know Jack. We just hope that the people we love go to a better place.”

Since I can remember I’ve had the unwavering conviction that death is a dreamless sleep, game over, total blackness. Which is part of the reason why I’ve often been confused and fascinated by religious people…in the beginning I thought it was plain silly that people actually believed in life after death. Now, after years of reading, studying, living, and questioning I’ve come to some conclusions concerning why people can have this belief.

1) Some minds are just set up for it. Just as some people are tall, short, inherently strong, or weak…some minds are susceptible to certain ideas, thought patterns, and illusions. And believing in a higher power and life after death is an excellent survival tool. “God loves me and is watching over me…there is a better place than this hazardous, tragic world,” these ideas give people strength and hope. What is better for finding a mate and having children than unreasonable, unaccountable, unquestionable strength and hope?

I’ve slowly and meticulously read almost all of Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky’s books. They were both extremely religious, but extremely different men. They gave their lives to their writing and opened themselves up in ways few humans have. I learned many things from their novels.

Hugo woman quote doy saraBut concerning their faith…despite being intelligent, expressive, well-read men…it came down to this:
Believe me…trust me…God exists!!! Faith was just a part of who they were. They couldn’t defend their faith beyond: this is how I feel. Nonetheless, I remember thinking while reading their books that if a belief in God could produce/contribute to such powerful, intense, soul-shaking works…are the authors right? Was Jesus actually the son of a higher power because Jean Valjean got up from his deathbed, took down a copper crucifix, and said, ‘He is the great martyr.’ (A surprising, out-of-left-field moment amidst a life-changing scene which had me crying in a diner: “A lower murmur escaped his lips. ‘To die is nothing, but it is terrible not to live.'”)

But then I realized that I was merely worshiping their creative skill. Being able to write a great book has nothing to do with the ultimate, unknowable truths of the universe…it’s a single person mastering a limited perspective and communicating it powerfully and clearly.

2.) Life is suffering. La luche de vida. Because of this fact….reality and our minds are constantly in flux. When we experience conflict in reality…something in our mind has to give/has to cope/has to figure this shit out. I think a belief in God can begin when a susceptible mind interacts or clashes with uncertainty and conflict in the outside world.

This idea was summed up for me in an interview I watched of Stephen Hawking. He was asked about why people believe so strongly in religion. He replied, “People…are…afraid…of…the…dark.” Some people can live in the darkness, some people can’t. In a different interview Stephen Hawking was asked if he ever became angry at his body/ his life because of his Motor Neuron disease and being stuck in a wheelchair. His response: “Who…could…ask…for…more?”

stephen hawking

But regardless of your susceptibility, sometimes I think the level of suffering and uncertainty becomes so much that something has to save you…no matter how irrational that something is.

I’ve also been interested in people who either convert to Christ or convert away from Christ. One of my friends, Sean Ewart (writer), was raised by two pastors in the boonies of northern NY. Yet he somehow became an atheist. While I can’t fathom all of the experiences he had growing up which pushed him in this direction…I do know that he is a questioning, exploring, curious type of individual. Perhaps his inner susceptibility for faith was minimal. Which brings me to my last point…

3.) Community. Humans are highly social animals. The people who orbit our susceptibilities and experiences (suffering) influence how we look at life and death. If you don’t have an independent, questioning tendency inside of you, there’s very little chance for you to rebel against your family and friends.

Growing up, my parents were open, inquisitive, and challenging. They read books and explored. I remember a game my father used to play frequently with my sister and I…he’d point at something like a dog and say, “Look at that cat over there!” My sister and I were laugh and say, “No, dad, that’s not a cat, that’s a dog!” This may seem like an innocuous, childish game, but this kind of environment fosters and develops a person who doesn’t take beliefs for granted. Compare this to Christian families who tell their children that Jesus died for their sins and that this is the only truth.

So what does this all have to do with death?

In reverse fashion, here were my motivations for this post:

On Monday night I had an interesting conversation with a regular (Bill) at the bar. He told me a story of someone dying in his restaurant (Battery Gardens) a few years ago when he was working a catering event for a wedding party. The man who died was 55 and had stomach problems. Bill was going to tell the party (they were upstairs) that there was a bathroom on this floor, but he was too busy. The man with stomach problems began walking towards the staircase. “Excuse me, sir, there’s a bathroom on this-” The man clutched his stomach, leaned forward, and THUMP THUMP THUMP. The man fell down the stairs. Bill ran after him and saw that the man was foaming from the mouth and bleeding from the eyes. Dead. He was the uncle of the bride. Screams. Wailing. The family sued the restaurant. They didn’t win.

I told Bill about an experience I had in India. My father and I were in taxi and the taxi swerved around a form in the middle of the road. I turned around and looked out the window. The form was a dead man, still bleeding. Death in India means much less than death in NYC. Not only was nobody suing anybody else, but nobody was even moving the body out of the road.

India train

The bartender in my restaurant on Monday night interns in an ambulance during the day. For the first time that day he had “pronounced” somebody dead. He arrived at a beautiful apartment in Brooklyn overlooking the river and found a 98 year old woman with one foot out of bed. Her jaw was stiff. She had passed.

On Wednesday morning I woke up with a bloody nose. As I stepped out of bed to find a tissue to shove up my nostril I remembered the 98 year old woman. My mind became flooded with thoughts of my mortality.

I’m not sure how to end this post. I sort of jumped all over the place and I’m not very satisfied with how it turned out. I’ll do a better one tomorrow…

Because I’m still here…alive…

Not dead.

Marijuana

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Marijuana is fun. Like candy or masturbating. Warning: if you’re part of the rapidly dwindling camp that still believes cannabis should remain illegal, please leave my blog and never come back…loser.

You may be thinking this post is about to promote the glory and joys of the halfling’s leaf. Nay. In the last couple of years I’ve come to a gradual conclusion concerning the chronic and my life: it’s just not my thing. Or at least I use it very, very sparingly, on rare and special occasions, either by myself or with select individuals.

Before I explain my loss of interest let me emphasize: I hold zero judgements concerning people who use weed habitually. I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly in the past, have close friends who use it everyday, have had girlfriends who have used it, family members, etc. But I’ve dropped it from my life for the following reasons:

1.) As a writer, my mind is my workshop and my future means of income. Just as a serious, endurance athlete can’t be crushing candy and fast food consistently and perform at their best, I can’t be submerging my mind in a pleasurable THC bog on a frequent basis. Dope isn’t like it was in the 1970s…today’s strands are 50x to 70x more powerful. When you blaze you go a little insane. Then, after the insanity subsides, my head is in a daze for a week. I can hardly put my thoughts in order. My writing suffers. The vibrancy of my perceptions and emotions are dulled.

2.) Memory loss: everybody knows the space-cadet-forgetful stereotype of the stoner. For me, this is terrifying. I like my memories, the good and the bad. I use them to create art. And perhaps this is a character flaw, but I enjoy (even if it’s an illusion) mental control.

If you feel pain or have a past that haunts you, herb can be a brief release (until it all comes rushing back when you’re sober). If you’re trying to be aware of what’s around you and soak in life to the last, bitter drop…then drifting in a cloud will not be valuable or amusing.

3.) Energy decrease. Again, people know about the stereotypical stoner-couch-lock and loss of motivation. Of course there are exceptions: I’ve met productive, professional, active stoners. But would they be more active without ganja? Who knows? But I’ve observed a subtle, insinuating part of reefer inside of myself…if I’m smoking it more than occasionally, I don’t try. I don’t care. My life blurs. My will sags. I don’t like that.

Let me reiterate: I am not condemning the use of Sticky icky, I’m only, to understand myself, elaborating on my own decision to refrain.

Being a human being is fucking difficult. Someone commits suicide every 20 minutes. We all have to figure out ways to get through the day/our lives. If burning tree fits into your formula for well-being, enjoy it.

People have discussed with me Bobo bush’s positive affect on creativity…sure, it does jostle your mind, but so does reading a book or traveling someplace new. If you want to create music like Willie Nelson or Kid Cudi, smoke away. But if you’re trying to create something in a different vein or learn particular things about yourself and life…I’d suggest you treat bud as an irregular getaway rather than a key to inspiration.

Three, final points:

1.) The clock is ticking. Mercilessly. Perhaps in the future when I’m an established scribbler I’ll let myself indulge more with grass. But right now, while I pay the bills through restaurant labor, sleep 5 hours a night, and am fighting to publish stories, I can’t afford to numb myself with blueberry yum yum.

2.) What if you miss it? My experience in life is severely limited, but already I’ve had the entire course of my life veer in a different direction because of a small and simple (seemingly innocuous at the time) movement, thought, or emotion. Ever been with a group of people when someone decides to go back to their apartment to smoke kush? Or have you ever invited someone to hang out when they decide to stay in and get torched instead? What if THAT night would have changed their lives for the better if they decided to leave the bong? Of course I’m amplifying the significance of everyday experience, but as a writer who realizes that a passing perception can ignite creativity…when the way something sounds or looks might be used 3 years later when you’re sitting at a desk…when a phrase or a glance is fodder for the pen…you can’t let yourself be blindly, blissfully hovering in a haze.

3.) That all being said, I can still roll a mean, fat blunt (see above).

 

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Politics in Sport and Passion in Literature

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During my junior year in high school I switched from team sports (soccer, basketball, lacrosse) to running. There were many reasons for this change, but one of the main ones was to escape “athletic politics.” I was a prankster who could never sit still with  a natural dislike for unmitigated authority. I also had an adolescent disdain of ingratiation.

I have a fond memory of my first soccer practice freshmen year. We were done for the day and putting the equipment back in he shed. I had the bright idea that I wanted to kick a soccer ball as high up in the air as I could. But my drop-kicks were rarely predictable. When I kicked the ball it when flying back behind my head, into the field, and smacked our coach in the face. His glasses and baseball cap both fell off.

“Who the fuck just did that!?” he shouted.
“Me. I-”
“Ten laps around the field.” Kicking a soccer ball into the face of your new coach isn’t starting off on the right foot.

With team sports it is often difficult to predict “all-around-skill.” Yes there are the seen factors of points/goals scored. But what about hustle? Getting back on defense? Closing the gaps? Staying on your man? Boxing out? Preventing a pass? Getting a ground ball when everyone else was tired?  I was never good at scoring points. I didn’t care that much and usually didn’t have the confidence to take the shot. But I was fast and worked hard.
So I was never a “star player” and didn’t get as much playing time as the guys who scored points. There were a handful of coaches who saw my “hustle merit” and put me in as much as the scorers, but most coaches didn’t care and I often sat on the bench. Of course my teenage mind exaggerated the injustice, but my subsequent success in running and realizations concerning the fallibility and favoritism of high school coaches makes me understand that I often didn’t get as much playing time as I might have “deserved.”

I switched to running because I was tired of sitting on the bench. Here, the game was simple. Run fast: get playing time. Hard work paid off. With basketball, I could practice all summer on my jump shot and have a coach who didn’t like my attitude and never put me in. With running, I could practice all summer and if I was the first one to the finish line, the coach had no choice. I was in.

Now, my competitive running career is (temporarily) over. If I earn enough money from the pen before my youth has withered away, I’d like to take another stab at running sub 1:50 in the 800 meters and sub 4:20 in the mile, but this is unlikely. Literature has taken precedent. Great literature takes years.

Of all occupations, writing is one of the more “just.” You put your work out there and if people like it, they pay for it. It takes a long time to establish a voice and a perspective, but once you have it, nobody can take that away from you. Art keeps many people (including myself) alive. If you can establish a connection with a like-minded audience, then all the circus bullshit of office politics becomes irrelevant.

But again I’m confronted with a similar feeling I had in high school. I’ve written a book and many stories yet I’m still “sitting on the bench.” Perhaps I’m actually a shit writer? Perhaps I should kowtow to the scorers?

Yet, when I go into a Barnes and Noble and read the fiction that’s been recently published, or peruse the NYTimes fiction bestsellers, I think, “Is this really what people are buying and praising? This stuff is boring. This stuff is crap.”

Whether I’m weird, insane, or strange for criticizing these recently lauded books (I think I’m the only person in the world who’s read all of Tolstoy and thoroughly enjoys dub-step music…perhaps my view of the world is too strange/odd to garner empathy) there’s a beautiful consolation for the aspiring writer: the words are out there to judge. Hand me a book that’s sold millions of copies or hand me a book that’s written by a Nobel Prize winner…I’ll know whether the author did something great…whether they closed the gaps, got back on defense, and hustled.

The impetus for this post were two pieces I’ve read in the last 24 hours. The first was as essay published in the New Yorker by George Saunders called: “Who are all these Trump Supporters?” It’s one of the most poorly written essays I’ve read in a long time. The subject matter was interesting, but the writing was boring, stuffy, and incompetently erratic. Yet George Saunders is considered one of America’s leading writers and will likely be praised and published in the New Yorker many more times before he dies.

Another piece I read is by Herman Melville called: “The Piazza.” The writing is also erratic, but with purpose, intelligence, and intensity. Melville was considered by the “literary elite” and the reading public at large as a hack writer for most of his life.

So amongst the glowing or scathing reviews, the prizes or lost obscurity, the publications in revered magazines or little blog posts, the six figure books deals or friendly pats on the back, the hemming and hawing, the noise…the words on the page will always be there…they will always reveal an artist’s soul.

You can run, my friend, but you can’t hide.

An Outsider Crippled by Regret and Confusion

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lonley bench

Time has passed him by
Life continues
with its cycles
with its manifold excitments and exasperations
while he sits
gray, weary, jaded, still.
Babies are born, plants grow, funeral homes, withering leaves
Marriages, graduations, holidays
reminders, schedules, plans
What was he expecting to find?

life as outsider

Tragedies, police shootings, injustices,
Quiet joys, simple gifts, wisdom
Yet the trash is still taken out in the morning
Yet the rocks are still crumbling to dust
Yet the rivers carry dead bodies like floating logs
Lonley in a crowd
He hasn’t enjoyed a conversation in years
Why are they all so excited about these things?
He doesn’t understand the news
How do they all forget so easily?
dishonored
Friends and family died years ago.
He became reconciled to his
constricting dreams and steady routines
Hot and cold. Light and dark. Day and night. Back and forth.
Changing seasons unaccountable treasons unfathomable reasons
stranger wandering
They all kept moving faster and faster
Towards what?
They all captured, clicked, stared
They kept talking and talking and talking
It was as if he had gone off into the woods
and they had followed him there to mock
It was as if he had turned into a deaf, blind monster
and they were playing games with him
Over the years as he lost touch, lost empathy, lost hope
He wondered why he wondered why he wondered why
He never downloaded Pokemon Go
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The explosion and craze of this Pokemon Go App is unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like it. 

In a week there are have been 7.5 million downloads and Nintendo’s stock increased in market value by $7.5 billion.

On my walk to work yesterday I saw crowds of people looking for Pokemon, one guy muttering under his breath, “I just want a fucking Squirtle.”

Armed robbers in Missouri used the app to lure victims to isolated locations, police said.

A quest to find Pokemon led a teen to discover a dead body in a river in Wyoming.

The Internet and the Cell Phone…Some Thoughts Looking Forward

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Humans are adaptable. This is one of our most defining characteristics. Not only have we adapted over thousands of years to cope with Mother Nature’s brutal indifference, but we adapt each generation to the new technologies and innovations passed on by our forbears.

But despite our ability to adapt to changes on the surface: faster communication, tastier and faster food, driving cars opposed to horses, easier access to healthcare, information, movies, pictures, more wealth etc. etc. etc. etc……some things never change. Love. Dreams. The unanswerable questions (why are we here? where did it all come from? What’s out in space? Debates on God, Free Will, and Justice.)) This explains the durability of art.

But something really really big has happened on the surface in the last twenty years, and I’m curious in what ways and to what extent it will impact our inner lives and what it means to be human.

Cell Phones: To communicate with anyone you know…instantly…whenever you feel like it. How does this affect the nature of relationships? How does this affect attachment? Letting someone go? Re-connecting with someone in your past? Expectations?

Internet: To obtain almost any information instantly…facts, statistics, short stories, articles…youtube videos on learning calculus, organic chemistry, sewing…to be entertained endlessly through more and more movies, music, comedy, interviews…websites exist that find you what you will like based on your interests.

It’s honestly overwhelming. And I think my generation is unique in that we grew up without cell phones or the internet. We were introduced to these technologies in our adolescence/high school. I can remember a world without cell phones or the internet, but I have “become an adult” with these technologies as a part of my life.

So how is the world different? Well, one thing I think the cell phone and the internet has done (and will keep doing) is create more pockets of fulfillment. This is subtle and most people don’t notice it (a negative of the internet and the cell phone is a lack of steady attention). Let me explain:

The internet and the cell phone have severely reduced transaction costs. In economics the term, transaction cost, is what you have to give up in order to make an exchange of some sort, or what you have to give up to participate in a market.

Time is a cost. In the past, your uncle may have a written you a letter saying that he has a $500 gold nugget he’d like to give you for free. (Note: nothing is free.) But if your uncle lives 4000 miles away and you have to spend three months traveling there, you may re-consider this offer. (Even if your uncle offers to pay for the travel expenses, you’re still giving up three months of your time to obtain the gold nugget.)

The cell phone and the internet have drastically reduced the time it takes to communicate and obtain information. I’ve often wondered why this hasn’t caused businesses to explode…but in a sense…it quietly has. There are more people selling, buying, and doing more, different things than anytime in the past…and it’s growing. Before you’d have to call landlines and leave messages. And you’d have to wait while you listened to these messages. Now you can reach Person A instantaneously:
“I need 25 cases of X by tomorrow 3pm.”
“Got it.”
*Click.*

So what do I mean by pockets of fulfillment? Two, random observations I had while riding the ferry boat back to Staten Island tonight:

1.) My co-worker bought a vape today in order to limit her cigarette smoking. She told me about her friend who is a “vape expert,” who is aspiring to join a select group known as the “vape gods.” She told me the story of how she bought the vape today…the salesman describing the parts, the designs, the nicotine liquids, the way to use it, etc. etc. he knew so much about vapes. The internet and cell phones have allowed markets to become more and more specific…not only concerning peoples’ specific needs (more healthy, more environmentally conscious, more “hip,”) but concerning the people who meet those needs (who designed the vape? who built the mouthpiece for the vape? who marketed the vape?)

2.) I read in a NY magazine about a new comedy group composed of 4 guys with Aspergers called Asperger’s Are Us. Could groups like these form and reach someone like me (a documentary was just made about them) without the internet and the cell phone?

But the major drawback of the cell phone and the internet, though…a loss of patience, a loss of attention. And often times people aren’t conscious of this loss of patience (I’ve noticed this especially with people under 22 years old), they just want this thing now…whether it’s a job that’s fulfilling, a relationship that works, an answer to a personal problem, etc. But some things, some truths, some feelings…take time. You just have to wait.

Wait.

 

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A One Night Stand I Don’t Understand

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This story is extremely embarrassing and compromises my masculinity, but one must take no self-conscious prisoners in the glorious and noble pursuit of truth.

It was 2am on a Wednesday night. I was going home after a strenuous restaurant shift. While passing the subway shop in the St. George terminal I saw a pretty woman in formal dress walking ten steps ahead of me. Despite the friendly beckoning of the Indian man who works the graveyard shift at the subway (we often joke with each other that neither of us sleep, that all we do is work, give each other high fives, and he gives me free cookies) I merely acknowledged him with a head nod and kept walking. For some reason, in my exhausted, lust-shredded mind I thought, “Walk past that woman, just walk past her.” So I tightened my grip on the straps of my jansport…and increased my gait.

Once outside I passed her on the right and looked at Manhattan across the bay. Mission accomplished. But wait a second…what did I even do? “You’re an idiot,” I thought. “But don’t look back.” I walked faster and admired the lights of the skyscrapers in the distance. Someday, Manhattan, I will return. A feeling of conviction and power rose within me. That’s my city, the greatest city in the world, the city of fleeting chances, intensity, insanity, wretchedness, riches, loneliness, clashing and thrashing, thwarted and realized dreams, desperate hopes. It was a hot summer night.

“Hey, do you have a cigarette I could bum?” a feminine voice behind me asked. I turned around and smiled.
“No, but if I did, I’d give you one.” Yes, she was also pretty from the front…she looked Jewish. She had curly black hair, green eyes, and a nose ring. A quote from a story I read in the morning came to mind:

“It was a touchingly beautiful face, just as always the beauty of Jewesses is of a peculiarly moving kind – a consciousness of the deep misery, the bitter scorn, and the evil chances wherein their kindred and friends live, brings to their lovely features a certain aching tenderness and observant loving apprehension that strangely charms our hearts.”

I read too many books. I slowed my gait and she picked up hers.
“Why the hell are you wearing khakis?” she asked.
“I just got off work.”
“Where do you work?”
“I manage the bar in the Whitehall ferry terminal.” Now we were walking next to one another. I thought this was funny and felt strangely at ease.
“But why are you wearing khakis.” She might have been drunk, but she also seemed like a spark plug of a girl and peculiar. Her strong tone of voice and acerbic mannerisms struck me as flirtatiously inquisitive and feisty.
“I told you this already, I’m walking home from work.”
“Wait, do you live on Staten Island?”
“No, Brooklyn. I’m taking the long way home.”
“Oh my god, you’re hilarious. But really, you live, like, close by?”
“Fifteen minute walk down Richmond Terrace.”
“I’m down Richmond terrace, too.”
“Let’s walk together. I’ll protect you from any strange men you might meet.” She laughed.
“But wait…why do you live on Staten Island?”
“Cheap rent. Short commute. View of the water.”
“I mean…but why do you live here?” She was starting to get on my nerves. But I thought I’d at least get her number.
“I just told you.”
“But who lives here?! It’s such a shit-hole. I hate this place.” For the next five minutes she basically kept repeating how much she hated Staten Island and commenting on the ridiculous fact that I was wearing khakis. Then she stopped in front of some shadow-shrouded stairs.
“Hey, wanna come inside and smoke weed?”
“Sure.” I knew I wasn’t going to smoke weed…I rarely smoke weed with strangers anymore because I get the fear. But yes, I’d gladly follow a pretty woman into her apartment and see what happened.

Let me pause and say this kind of thing never happens to me. I’m not a strikingly handsome guy. Women have never fallen into my lap. I’ve always had to spit incessant, shameless game for a woman to think I’m attractive. The only time something remotely like this ever happened was in Atlantic City five years ago. My friends and I were taking an elevator up to our room and three, drunk girls joined us. One of them pointed at me and said, “You’re really cute. Come to my room in ten minutes: 2678.”
“I will.” Ten minutes later I’m sweating outside 2678 with a throbbing heart and a condom in my back pocket. The door opens to reveal an old man in a bathrobe, “Who the fuck are you?” I walk away.

Inside, the pretty Jewess’ apartment was a mess. Piles of clothes were scattered all over the floor. Weed paraphernalia littered a low table in front of a couch. There was a record player in a corner and abstract art on the walls. The apartment was spacious and looked large enough to accommodate two people. Ah, yes, that’s it…perhaps I’m a rebound. I’ll take it. 

We sat on the couch and chatted about innocuous things. She worked for airbnb and didn’t like it. Her boyfriend moved out months ago. She still kept saying how much she hated Staten Island and asking why I lived here.
“I refuse to answer those questions anymore.” A wave of fatigued washed over me and I almost passed out. I had pulled an all-nighter the night before and was averaging 4-5 hours sleep a night for the past month. Sitting on the couch and not moving made me realize how exhausted I was. Should I go home? No, of course not. There was a lull in the conversation and she said:
“I’m usually more witty than this,” We were sitting very close to one another at this point: now now now. I clumsily kissed her, then she pushed me away. I’ve played this game before. I leaned back, put my hands behind my head, and relaxed. Again, I almost passed out. She smiled and stretched out on my lap. I massaged her breasts. They were large.  She climbed on top of me and took off her shirt. Her body was nice. Better than expected. I was now fully awake. Most girls I’m attracted to don’t have large breasts, so I took this opportunity to play with them: lift, knead, grasp, flick.
“I’m gonna go take a shower,” she said.
“I’m coming with.”
“Alright.” We strip and step into the tub. Her eyes widen when she sees my body. With clothes on I look skinny, but from all the running I’m fairly muscular and girls are usually surprised when they see me naked.

While showering we kiss and play with each other. We also laugh and joke about things I can’t recall. At one point, though, I do remember her saying,
“You’re so weird. You’re like a dad.”
“I know. You’re not the first person to tell me this. I like being weird.” She kept leaning down and rubbing her butt (which was also nice) against my pulsing cock. I was consumed by lust and tempted to take her in the shower, but thankfully the voice of reason shouted: no way are you taking this strange woman who brings a stranger back to her apartment without a condom.

For a moment, while sucking on her nipples (which were on edge of being pancake nipples…but still very nice) in the shower, I thought about the silly absurdity of this situation. While on the ferry boat back to Staten Island I was thinking about working on my novel for an hour then blissfully passing out on my comfortable bed…now here I am, in a bathtub, gently rubbing this stranger’s clitoris while her nipples are in my mouth. How drastically our lives can veer in a different direction.

We dried each other off and walked back to the couch. For a moment, my vision faded while walking through her apartment…my desire for sex was fighting valiantly against fatigue.

We cuddled and kissed some more. I retrieved a crumpled condom from my jansport and put it on. She played “hard to get” again and playfully denied me, but we both knew where this was going.

I flipped her on her back and mounted her. I put it in and began slowly thrusting. She turned on her side and closed her legs more…I think to make herself tighter? Then something extremely embarrassing occurred which had never happened to me before…

I went soft. While inside her.

I pulled out. She climbed on top of me and I became hard again. I slipped it in. But after a couple of thrusts…

I went soft again. While inside her.  The Horror The Horror. 

She sighed and laid across my lap. Her smooth, round butt was inches from my face. My limp penis refused to respond. I ran my hands along the beautiful contours of her ass. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Here was a pretty woman who wanted to fuck…and my penis was letting me down. Like an idiot, I said,
“I’m…I’m really tired. I haven’t slept a lot lately.”
“Excuses.” She wiggled her butt. My mind continued to spiral down in confusion and loathing. What was wrong with me? This woman was hot! I wanted to fuck her, but…but…but…

I passed out. I woke up an hour later with her butt still inches from my face. She was asleep facedown on the couch and snoring. I gently lifted her off my groin, walked over to my jansport, pulled out a business card, and left it on the table.

Outside the sky was gray and the birds were chirping. Believe it not, I felt happy. One of the many reasons why I enjoy New York City so much is the innumerable possibilities for wild things to happen. I arrived at my apartment, slept a few hours, and went to work.

The next day she texted me. We flirted through texts for the next week. One night I was walking home and saw her sitting outside her apartment with a man. He seemed to be pleading with her about something while she looked disinterested. I asked her about it via text message the next day (“Was that your bf?” “He thinks he is. He wants to be.”)

Not long after I lost my phone and almost all of my phone numbers. Our conversation was lost. I’ll most likely never see her again. I do remember, though, the last thing she texted me when I told her she wasn’t that witty:

“Whatever you say, noodle dick.”

Touché…pretty Jewess…touché…

 

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The Imp of the Perverse

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poe headimp

Yesterday I re-read Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Imp of the Perverse,  and was still thinking about it an hour later while masturbating with my own feces.

Self-destructive behavior and self-destructive thoughts are an interesting field of study. In Eddie Poe-Poe’s short story he begins with an essay describing this principle of perverseness: “…an innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something…a mobile without motive, a motive not motivirt…through its promptings we act, for the reason we should not.”

In other words, we do the thing because a voice in our head tells us not to do the thing. Poe-Poe ends his story with the narrator admitting to the reader that he is a murderer who committed his crime without being suspected or punished. One fine day, whilst the murderer is “sauntering along the streets…murmuring, ‘I am safe – I am safe- yes – if I be not fool enough to make an open confession!’ he is stricken by the Imp of the Perverse and makes an open confession. He ends up condemned in prison wearing fetters.

But throughout this essay and story I couldn’t help but wonder: “Can we ever fathom all of the reasons for our actions? How much should we hold ourselves accountable for knowing the reasons behind what we do? Do we truly understand the “self” behind “self-destructive” behavior?” And concerning the battle going on in our heads “Do this, don’t do that.”…who are we to pick sides?

It’s all very confusing when you go down the rabbit hole…even Poe Poe says, “Nor will this overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake, admit of analysis, or resolution into ulterior elements.” Yet here he is analyzing the tendency.

What if the narrator of the story had encountered a beautiful, intelligent, convincing Christian woman two months prior to his confession. What if she had preached the merits of confessing your sins. Maybe the narrator forgot about this woman, even though she still managed to alter an aspect of his subconscious. So it wasn’t the imp of the perverse telling him to do the wrong thing, but the angel of Christian morality telling him to do the right thing.

I felt hesitation typing the sentence, “masturbating with my own feces,” but I went along and did it. Similarly, I feel some apprehension and guilt concerning the unhealthy, sleepless lifestyle I’m leading in order to publish stories, continue with blog posts, novel, job, etc….but I’m destroying myself/health because I value a different aspect of myself: clarifying and simplifying my writing voice…working a job that allows me to keep living in NYC…providing my growing audience with posts to read…achieving my goal of supporting myself through writing.

We’re all destroyed in the end. Some of us do things in our lives which cause us to expire faster. From a narrow and limited perspective it may seem like the man swimming with sting rays is engaged in “self-destructive” behavior (Steven Irwin) but perhaps he values adventures with dangerous animals over personal safety. From a narrow and limited perspective is may seem like holding your breath for 17 minutes is “self-destructive” behavior (David Blaine) but perhaps you value testing the limits of endurance or proving skeptics wrong over physical comfort.

What makes all of this problematic and convoluted is the fact that we have desires and often these desires are subconscious or conflicting. Pussy, money, weed, love, comfort, attention, solitude. What do you want? In our fumblings and gropings to get these things we often engage in (what looks like) stupid, self-destructive behavior. We often have a voice in our head which shouts, “Don’t do that! It’s wrong!” but a quiet, subtle, more insinuating voice…with hidden, stronger motives…overrides and we do it.

Edgar Allan Poe was a controversial, combative, raging alcoholic who wrote gruesome, violent stories. I think an insight into his aberrant behavior and “terrible” stories is the last paragraph of The Imp of the Perverse:

“But why shall I say more? To-day I wear these chains, and am here! Tomorrow I shall be fetterless-but where?”

The deep and obsessive understanding that many artists have of the annihilation we all face leads them to act “crazy, self-destructive, wild, hurtful, outrageous, etc. etc.”  Look at me! My paintings! My music! My words! I’m here! I’m here! Quick! Before I’m dead! Then their addictions or wild tendencies find free reign in the knowledge of the encroaching blackness.

My alcoholic grandfather used to watch joggers and say, “Poor bastard doesn’t think he’s gonna die.” This sort of thinking often leads to “I’m gonna do, think, or drink what I want…cause it’s all ashes and dust in the end.”

We shouldn’t give in to nihilism, though. I think the best we can do in order to avoid the imp is figure out what we really want…clarify it, repeat it, work towards it. And until then….you gotta just keep shitting in your hand and jacking off.

Have a nice day.

 

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Girl Across the Hall

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Fiction
Published in Fall 2011 in
The Laurentian Magazine
Reading Time: 3 minutes

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