Why writers should avoid cheap romantic shorthand and what they can replace it with
Valentine’s Day is almost here.
The one day a year couples are expected to make the time for one another, to rekindle the old flame, to make bold romantic gestures. So naturally I’m thinking about revenge thrillers.
Ever notice how women are portrayed in these vengeance fantasies? A widower flashes back to his lost Lenore dancing, haloed in sunlight, a ballerina spinning on top of a music box in his mind. She is the picture of innocence, riding the hypnotic bliss of her man’s presence. She rolls in the grass, laughs at nothing, and smiles for the sake of smiling. Continue reading Revenge Thriller Romance→
May I present Part 2 of my Obscure Horror movies suggestions series:
Reality Warping Reels and Romance from the Twilight Zone
Hardcore horror movies can be a little too spicy for some viewers. That’s why I put together a list of suggestions that are more cerebral than gory, and for those of you with a zero tolerance policy for all things scary, I’ve put together a list of obscure supernatural romantic movies.
If you’re brave enough to explore the spicier side of horror check out Part 1:
A story about what happens when an intimate selfie gets sent to the wrong person.
Tess slid down the wall. The bricks offered little in the way of traction. She crashed into a puddle and didn’t bother moving. She couldn’t bring herself to look at James. Her focus shifted between the fire escape and the dumpster. She hated the way he’d been looking at her all day. He had a twinkle in his eye, like a child expecting a present. She hated the hang dog expression he was wearing now even more.
Wrapping her arms around her legs, ducking between her knees, Tess folded in on herself. “This is what I get for following my heart when it’s shit faced.”
She sobbed into her hoodie. In one day she’d shown James the broad spectrum of her: from an unhinged exhibitionist to a humiliated wreck.
“Who did you send it to?” Tess shouted into her belt buckle.
James’s coat scraped down the bricks. “I didn’t.”
“Bullshit,” Tess scoffed. Her face already stung with tears. The bouncer probably wouldn’t let her back in now that her eyes had gone bong-hit red.
Tess scratched the bridge of her nose to find mascara dripping down her fingers. She streaked it across her cheeks like warpaint. When she peeked out, she wanted James to know he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
“Give me your phone.”
Tapping in his passcode, James gave it up without a fuss, knowing it was contraband.
Tess scrolled through his messages. He hadn’t sent a thing for months. The last message was a time-off request for a funeral. His missed calls alternated between his mother and a 1-800 number, likely a creditor. She checked his photo gallery. The pictures were all closeups of dewdrops, sunsets through treetops, and color swatches of leaves changing. There were no human subjects, not even in the background.
“I deleted them already,” James showed his palms. “I might be gullible, but I’m not that stupid. We all use our phones on the sales floor. We all show off the photo filters. I couldn’t have customers ogling you, even if it would help my numbers.”
James was giving Tess an essay answer. Volunteering too much information, to keep her from asking the right question.
Wiping her cheeks, Tess flicked her tears. They streaked like ink across the pavement. “Did you sync it with your computer?”
James rolled his eyes looking for the long way around the answer. He gave a half nod, a child caught steeling from his mother’s wallet.
“Fucking hell.” Tess kicked the asphalt.
“Of course I did. I thought I was supposed to.” James’s tone rose to meet her anger.
“They weren’t for you, James.” She told the bug zapper buzzing overhead. “They were for Jason. You just happened to be one name higher in the alphabet.”
James sighed. “Well with all your cold shoulder maneuvering in the break room, I didn’t realize the two of you were still on sexting terms.”
Tess gave that a sad chuckle. “We’re not. I just saw him hitting on this jailbait jezebel, with tights for leggings, twirling her pigtails, sucking her thumb. When he setup her phone, he added his number. I know it. I wanted to remind him of the fire still burning just around the corner from his apartment.”
James couldn’t help but smile. Not the smile that came from hearing a joke, but the involuntary smile that came from being overwhelmed. “I should’ve forwarded them to him.”
Tess scowled. “You should’ve known.”
James ran his face down his palm, “How? I thought you and I were kicking at the tires of something. I figured you were sick of Jason looming over us, so you fast forwarded to selfie sexts.”
Backhanding the bricks, Tess bit her lip. “Don’t call them that.”
James put his hands up. “Fine, these tasteful nudes-”
“I wasn’t nude!” Tess cut in.
James shook his head. “You’re counting the devil horns? When you play strip poker do you count your hairpins too?”
“No, there was a red corset in the first few shots.” Tess spun her hands through the air. “There was a succession.”
Tess realized how premeditated her actions sounded. “Fine, call them selfie sexts.” She wiped her nose down her sleeve. “I’m going to need access to your computer. I’ll need your backups, thumb drives, everything. Not tomorrow, but tonight.”
James went red. “That’s overreaching.”
Grabbing him by the collar, Tess spoke slowly and deliberately, over annunciating each syllable. “That doesn’t matter. You’ve seen me at my most personal. I think I am entitled to see you at yours.”
James muttered, “I thought you were just being forward. I figured that’s why you’d asked for my number.”
Tess let go. “I asked for your number because you said you could help with my Halloween costume. Remember, I wanted to build the exosuit Ripley wore in Aliens and you said you had a bunch of cardboard.”
James’s hands circled each other. “I know that’s what we said, but I figured…”
James shrugged. “Listen, all I’m saying is there was coffee and daylight in the fantasy I was having.”
Scurrying to her feet, Tess backed James into the wall. “You figured what?”
He put his hands up. “That you already had a Halloween costume, which you clearly did. I have proof.”
She nodded. “Right. Let’s do something about that.”
James’s apartment was a little too clean. There were fresh vacuum lines on the carpet, every surface was dusted, and the dishes were still wet in the rack.
“Hold back.” He stopped Tess at the door.
“There’s some things I’d rather you not see.” Rushing in James, scooped balls of yarn off the couch. Spinning toward the coffee table, he grabbed a pair of crochet needles and a scarf with orange and maroon stripes. Balling it all up, James tossed everything into a basket.
Tess stood on her tiptoes to see. “Were those the Gryffindor colors?”
She followed her host’s eyes to a pair of round spectacles and a whittled wand on the far end of the coffee table. She ducked under his arm.
“Are you going as Harry Potter for Halloween?”
James got out in front of her. “I’m not not going as Harry Potter.”
Tess gave that a long nod. She thought he could pull it off, but didn’t want to say anything reassuring. There was something about watching him squirm that was just too much fun.
Doing a lap around the living room, she wandered into the kitchen. “Where’s the cardboard?”
James turtled up. “I haven’t picked it up yet.”
Tess squint. “But you do have it?”
He tilt his head back and forth. “I asked around.”
“But you knew where to get it when you gave me your number, right?”
James gave that a quick nod.
Tess raised her head. “But you had to ask around? I’m still unclear about your timeline.”
His eyes darted back and forth. “I knew where, eventually, on that day, yes. Do you still want to make it?”
Tess rubbed her eyes. “What do you think? Of course. I want to go to a bunch of different Halloween parties, just so I can kick down the door and shout ‘Get away from her you bitch!’”
With that Tess kicked the bedroom door in.
She rubbed her hands together. “Alright boy, fetch all your tech. I want your jump, flash, and thumb drives right here.” She snapped at the bed.
“You do realize those are all the same thing, right?”
“Oh, and if you have any USB sticks, them too.”
Setting his laptop on the bed, James gathered a pair of thumb drives from the nightstand, an external backup from the closet, and the phone from his pocket. “That’s everything.”
Tess ran her fingers down the sheets. “Do you always make your bed?”
“Why wouldn’t I make my bed?” James stood in the doorway.
Tess smirked. “Well, I just sent you those photos. Maybe they inspired you to make your bed.”
“I’m struggling to see a correlation.”
She crossed her arms, taking a step toward him. “Really?”
He shrugged. “What? Sometimes I watch movies in my bedroom.”
Looking from the flat screen in the living room to the tiny tube TV on the dresser, Tess raised an eyebrow, taking another step forward. “Really?”
James looked guilty as sin. “Yes, I occasionally make my bed.”
“Occasionally.” Tess winked. “Well, it’ll make a fine office for my purposes.” Shutting the door, Tess pushed the lock in. Opening the laptop, she plugged James’s phone into the first port and his backup into the second, then she plugged his thumb drives into the back of that.
“You’re shutting me out?” James spoke to the door.
Tess’s response was the startup gong of the laptop.
James’s shadow paced the carpet. “You won’t even know where to find them.”
The desktop loaded a picture of a Jack-O-Lantern made to look like it was puking seeds onto the sidewalk, followed by the drives. The first thumb drive was filled with resumés and cover letters for various employers, the second was all college essays.
Every folder on the backup drive was dated. “You know, you haven’t backed up your computer in three months.”
The doorknob rattled. “Right, I should really get on that.”
Opening the photo application, Tess caught herself gasping.
There was flesh onscreen, just not her own. In every thumbnail, James was standing shirtless, looking awfully serious. He wasn’t bulky or broad shouldered, but damn was he toned.
The camera had taken pictures in bursts, in some James was posing, squinting with his cheeks sucked in, in others he struggled to keep his cowlick down. Tess wondered how his abs could be sopping wet, while his hair still defied gravity. She spotted the free weights peaking out of the closet. So that’s why he didn’t respond right away. He had to pump himself up first.
Tess could’ve scrolled through the gallery, found what she was looking for and been done with this whole incident, instead she explored James’s self portraits one at a time. She couldn’t help but notice how the hairs on his shoulders disappeared the further she went, or that his bed went from a heap of laundry to a nice flat comforter, or that the direction of the light source changed. She looked up to find, the desk lamp still aimed at the foot of the bed.
Tess watched a slideshow of James spinning around searching for an angle. She watched him flex and go slack. He was cut for a skinny dude with boyish features.
The last few shots were of James in his underwear: boxers at first, then boxer briefs. He hadn’t been brave enough to go the full monty, still these pics were something to see. When it came time to present his manhood to the camera, he broke character, blushing, laughing, and messing up his hair.
These were the photos she sent to herself in an email.
When James rattled the doorknob again, Tess returned to the task at hand. Scrolling through the gallery, she found the shots of herself unlacing the corset that cut off her circulation, unwrapping the red satin number that might have fit when she was younger, and wearing nothing but horns and a smile.
Tess couldn’t help but notice how poorly that smile complimented her eyes. That was her smile for Jason, as authentic as Saccharine. It didn’t say “come-hither” it said, “come-hither, please.” She highlighted the photos and hit DELETE.
When James gave up on the door knob, Tess sat in silence.
Running the cursor over the applications on the bottom of the screen, she paused on one. Taking a deep breath, she double-clicked. When the photo booth opened, she saw herself through the webcam, a hot mess with face paint like a quarterback. Licking her fingers, she wiped the mascara from her cheeks. Running her hands through her hair, she flattened her bangs. Unzipping her hoodie, she evened up her collar.
It felt wrong to take James’s self portraits and leave nothing in return, so Tess sat up and smiled for the camera. This time it was genuine.
The last suit in the closet
The last one that fits
With bleach splatter pattens
And holes in the armpits
Every string frayed
Every edge ripped
Every loom line showing
Just where it was stitched
I’ve got too many books
So I don’t don’t read anything
I’ve got too many movies
So I don’t watch a single one
I’ve got too much information
But no knowledge to flaunt
I’ve got too many options
But not the one I want
The last tie on the rack
The last one to lose its shine
With remnants of a pattern
And deep Windsor lines
Every fiber faded
Every weave undone
Every red power lie
Exposed and gone
I’m in the heart of the city
So I don’t go anywhere
I’m surrounded by bars
So I stay home with my liquor
There’s a crowd outside
So I don’t talk to anyone
I’ve got too many options
But not the one I want
Something haunts the attic of my imagination, locked in an old trunk, it watches my movements through the keyhole. While I stack character traits, it lies in wait. While I lay scenes on the card table, it bides its time. While I wave my marker, connecting plot points across the wall, it stares at my rolling chair with bright green eyes, a prince watching a throne, waiting for his time to come.
Entering the attic of my imagination, I find streaks through the floor boards. The trunk sits beneath the window, the keyhole positioned to see out into the real world. Trying to drag it back to its place, I give up part way. Distracted, I read the notecards scattered across the table, I toss half of them to the floor. There’s just no room for them anymore. I need this section of my imagination to process something I’ve been thinking.
Jotting a word down, I set it on the open space. The card says: INDECISION. The floorboards creak. Thunder claps off in the distance. I set the word OBLIVIOUS in an empty spot. There’s a thump. The lights flicker. I set the word UNREQUITED down. There’s a crash behind me, a click, followed by the groaning of a rusty hinge. Turning around, I find the trunk has moved. Its lid has opened on its own.
Peaking inside, a swarm of locusts engulf my eyes.
The trunk was filled with all of my romantic compulsions. Every time I develop feelings for someone, the infernal crate starts filling. The self doubt, the jealousy, the fear of rejection, all these things start rumbling. I can stack books atop it, hammer nails in, put it in a dark corner of the room, but sooner or later the trunk bursts open.
Once that happens, darkness takes over my imagination. My characters break down, my plot points get painted over, and my scenes get scattered. The story I’m developing disappears as the specter of a doomed romance leaves its mark on everything.
I wrote the following in my early twenties, back when my best ideas were abandon in favor of an overwhelming urge to vent. Its wordy, silly, embarrassing, and completely honest. Recently, I dug it up and gave it the musical treatment. I hope you like it.
The third law of thermodynamics
The one we all love to hate
I poured my heart into something
That didn’t reciprocate
I syphoned out all my good parts
To feed your perceptually aching machine
I slowed myself to crawl
Just to keep it going
Like a vampire blood donor
Like an eleventh hour Valentine
I put so much of myself in you
But you’d never be mine
You’re feeding off my entropy
I’m running out parts to give
I’ve been dying long enough to know
That dying is no way to live
It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict
Ah fuck it, I admit it
I really am psychic
The only law that Murphy had
The one that we all try to break
I left so much room for error
Our foundations were bound to shake
I always came when you were jonesing
For the high only I’d provide
Who knew you could quit cold turkey
And let this whole thing slide
Who knew you’d leave me in this bath tub
In this motel up the street
Dry ice freezing my skin off
You only take the parts you need
When I signed on to be your lover
Did I sign on as a soul donor too?
How could I hate myself enough
To give my love to the likes of you?
It’s safe to assume
It’s safe to foresee
Even if it makes
An ass of “u” and “me”
It takes an addict
To spot another addict
If relationships in my early twenties taught me anything, it’s that I left women with a sense of buyer’s remorse. I didn’t turn out to be the man they saw in the shop window. My first impression ran out of steam. My bravado deflated into cowardice. The image they tried to project on me, no longer fit.
There’s how a man ought to be, then there’s me.
In 2006, I wrote a poem about a toy soldier losing the admiration of his owner. What started as a piece about a waning romance, became a critique of the ideal man. The poem broke down the expectations set by the greatest generation, chipping away at Americana idealism.
This has always been one of my favorite pieces, but every time I set out to share it, I held back, thinking it was too personal. It took the support of my readers to shed those reservations. I hope you like it.
An Object Gathering Dust
Window shopping on main street
A gust of wind
Snatched the scarf from your neck
Blowing it across the boulevard
Leaving it on the window sill
Of a vintage toy store
Where you saw a clean cut,
Broad shouldered, toy soldier
Decked out in World War 2 apparel
Iconic in its shrink wrapped chivalry
A throw back to an era
Of courteous square jawed gentlemen
Who lived to open doors and hold hands
A Norman Rockwell day dream
A sparkle toothed smile
Complete with the sound of a glass tap
This toy soldier
This prince charming
All your girlhood fantasies
Wrapped up in cellophane
You altered your work route
To walk by my window
Your left hand shaking
Your right hand deep in your purse
Clinging to your wallet
Fighting the urge
One night a dream
Carrying a vision of your man
Walking down the white staircase
Of an aircraft carrier
Burned itself into your mind’s eye
You had to throw fifty dollars on the counter
To appease the Sandman
You took me home
And sat me down
As the guest of honor
At the head of your tea party table
You stared into my half moon eyes
With all the love the world had
For Jimmy Stewart
For Humphrey Bogart
For Frank Sinatra
In Michigan I was a lump of plastic
Lying on a conveyor belt
But in your arms
I became the spirit of a decade
A symbol of an America
Revered by the rest of the world
When I slept beside you
You dreamt of an approaching cavalry
Parading through small town streets
Of boy scout meetings
And corn cob pipes
You were Audrey Hepburn
With her man on her arm
The belle of the ball descending the staircase
In her long velvet gown
An airbrushed pin up
On the nose of a jet
That all the fly boys
Just had to tip their hats to
A sudden flicker of random eye movement
And we were French kissing on Ellis Island
With fire works off in the distance
Our hands cupping one another’s elbows
The moon framing our silhouettes
We became the skyline
But one day you woke up
To find that the green of my uniform had washed out
That my jaw had chipped at the edges
That the half moons of my eyes had faded
And my frozen salute had lost its meaning
You still took me out to the bar
But my smile couldn’t compete
With touch screen Gin Rummy
You buried me in your purse
When my shadow
Eclipsed today’s cross word puzzle
The spirit of the 1950s was gone
America was a different place
With a different skyline
I went from a Christmas miracle
To an impulse item
To today’s inanimate object
And all the love you had to give
Went back to being a lump of plastic
You took me off your pedestal
And put me on your shelf
Never to be played with again
A relic of your sense of romance
Looking down at you through incense clouds
An object gathering dust
Valentine’s Day is here. For some it’s the biggest date night of the year, a time for hard won reservations, and subpar service. When collective expectation is at a fever pitch. A time to feel put on the spot by romantic peer pressure. A day when one-upmanship makes lovers jump through flaming hoops to prove their feelings.
For some it is a day to abuse social media with forced romantic sentiment, a day for contrived vows that could only feel genuine if delivered in person. Some clog news feeds with couple’s selfies, while others clean house with mass-unfollowings.
After Christmas and New Year’s, Valentine’s Day is the last note in a overwhelming chord. For some it’s a victory lap, a day to celebrate the love they’ve been given. For others it’s the last stretch of a gauntlet of loneliness. V-Day is when they cash the last of their resolutions in.
Permit me to speak from the heart, with some help from the gut, with a little bit of bite, and a twist of the tongue.
My volatile Valentine’s vendetta derives its viewpoint from a bevy of vulgar visuals. Vapid vagrants with malevolent intent, visiting taverns to vocalize a variety of vacuous vows, proverbs with vanilla verbiage voiced verbatim, inviting victims to venture beneath their duvet for a vigorous vault through venerial viruses.
Avoiding reverence, evasive lovers veto verses, and revoke overtures. Vexed with a variety of vultures vying for votes, vixens avert involvement. My vehement vows provoke vagabonds to vanish. My devotion advances vamps through a vortex. Their verdict delivers a violent vivisection of vital vascular valves and vessels, leaving a vacated void, a victory for the villainous, a vasectomy of the virtuous, a vestige of St. Valentine’s venture.
A memory memory for the 14th of February, the Saint beaten beheaded, left to rot, I see no reason, the real reason for the season should ever be forgot.
This year, I’m one of those bah-humbuggers. To quote Placebo, “I’m killing time on Valentine’s. Waiting for the day to end.” For me the day completes a trilogy of unhappy holidays. Some days I believe in love at first sight, sometimes I want to tell Cupid where he can stick his arrows. Today is one of those.
If you’re at home reading blogs on Valentine’s, then I think I know which camp you’re in. If you’re looking for something to read, that hits that bittersweet spot then I’ve got you covered. Be you a hopeless romantic or a ceaseless cynic, I’ve got something for you.
May I present my best posts on romance, be they short stories or blog entries, poems or podcasts, I’ve got something to make the time pass.
Sometimes love comes from the place you least expect it, like surveillance equipment. What if the NSA agent building a profile on you wanted to get intimate too? Do you have a secret service secret admirer? Scan the Missed Connections on Craigslist and you might happen upon an entry like this.
A Missed Connection From Your NSA Agent
Twinkling brighter than any other star, you stood out in a wall of monitors. Your features made all the more striking in black and white. I remember the day the lid fell off your Chapstick. It smeared across your phone. It made your selfies look like vintage head shots of Lucille Ball. When you spoke, the crumbs in the microphone made your voice crackle like Lauren Bacall. Through the fiber optic lens embedded in your bathroom mirror, I could tell you had that it factor. Your presence lit up a room, especially when night vision was turned on.
Star struck, I tuned all of my surveillance in on your apartment. Putting you on my watch list, I had to have you to myself. The agency gets every station you could ever dream of, but you were the one I stayed on. When I saw your fingers moving down the guitar, singing David Bowie’s Big Brother, I knew my channel surfing days were over.
You were so cool, silk screening stencils of yourself with your chin up like a revolutionary. You were my kind of geek, reciting the tongue twisting monologue from V for Vendetta, down to the last V. You were mesmerizing, dancing the lambada solo, rubbing the air like a space for me.
You were my must see TV. My nights were spent watching a marathon of you, falling in love with your rebellious antics.
When you were so tired you put the coffee on without a filter, I provided the laugh track. When your supporting cast of cats entered, I provided the applause. When you talked to yourself, I tried to fill in the other half of the conversation. When you said your “Damn the man,” catchphrase I tried to say it in unison.
When you popped in a romantic comedy you were my favorite thing on TV. I loved watching your reactions, how you’d go through such a range of emotions. You went into each lovelorn speech rolling your eyes, but you always came out sobbing, hugging the pillow beside you. You recited lines like they were your thoughts at the time. As your sole audience for each performance, I couldn’t be more grateful.
You introduced me to my new favorite bands, kept me hip in the eyes of my friends. You taught me how to cook exotic new meals: potato pancakes, vegan chili, and avocado salad. You taught me which wines to pair with which vegetables. You broadened my palate. You impressed my dinner guests.
I took up crocheting, so we’d have something in common, but I struggled to keep up with your master level patterns.
Your workout regiment kicked my ass. I threw my back out mimicking yoga positions, but I stuck with it until I could feel my toes in my hands. You increased my flexibility with your full body origami. If only I could show you what you’d taught me.
I wanted to break the forth wall, to be a walk on role on your show, to see if I fit into the scenery. I wanted to patch into your speaker system, to make sure that no sneeze went unblessed. I wanted to do some undercover cosplay, to knock on your door and come inside. I was afraid my opening line would come across like a porno fantasy.
“I’m hear to fix the pizza. I mean, package the pipes. I mean, do you know how fast you were going? You’ll have to stay after class.”
Instead I surveilled from the shadows, a secret admirer with full access to your computer. I had my eagle eye on you. I’m the reason your laptop ran hot. You’d be surprised by how much random access memory was taken up by me. I’m the reason the battery in your cellphone never lasted. I put your location services to work. I’m the reason your alarm clock didn’t go off when it was supposed to. Maybe I thought you could use the rest, maybe I just liked watching you.
Commandeering your reminders app, I let you know when you were out of toilet paper. Intercepting envelopes, I crammed your mailbox full of gift cards for all of your favorite stores. While you were away for the holidays, I ordered covert cleaners to eliminate half your chores.
When you were pulled over for going over the limit, I issued the Amber Alert that got you out of it. When you parked on the wrong street during a snow emergency, I’m the one who switched the days for the entire city. When a jealous coworker made fun of your pink highlights, I made sure she got a pink slip that night.
I was your estranged luck, the director of your destiny, the authority behind your serendipity. I was the hand of fate, keeping you under my thumb. I was your guest login guardian angel, your wiretapping wooer, your backdoor lover with backdoor access. I didn’t want to leave anything up to chance. Fortune favored the controlled. Still, you had needs I couldn’t fulfill.
You know how you told your mother there was a curse on your love life? It seems like I might owe you an apology. I may have rendered your account invisible on OkCupid. I may have told your entire eHarmony inbox that you weren’t interested. I may have informed Match.com that you were dead.
I can tell you with good authority the guys creeping on your profiles had nothing on me. These were bearded bachelors who wore scarves indoors, loft dwellers with piss poor credit scores, and tallboy drinkers with student loans galore. If anything I was doing you a favor.
Too bad I couldn’t stop them from asking you out in person, from inquiring what you were reading, from getting bold at bar close, or biking beside you at a Critical Mass event. I took my jealousy to the DMV, modifying the database, hitting your dates with whiskey plates. I had their art cars repossessed. I revoked their motorcycle licenses. I listed their fixed gears as stollen, but still they came.
On date nights, I recalled every taxi to the garage. I shuffled bus routes, and closed bridges. Canceling your dinner reservations, I narrowed the scope of your plans. Shifting some money around in the Caymans, I bought out theaters to keep the two of you from going in.
When one of your suitors stayed the night, a team was ready to black bag him by morning. I have to admit, I was a little liberal with where I applied the taser to your boyfriends.
The real shock was to my heart. These bastards were beneath you. You could’ve landed a husband with a Masters of Science degree in Defense, good grooming habits, a great career, and an excellent 401k plan. You could’ve had so much more space to stretch, without having to relocate your coffee table. You could’ve had so much more space to cook, without having to put your cutting board on the couch.
There’s a two story house, in a nice neighborhood full of good schools. Its rooms are empty, despite some furniture covered in sheets. It sits there waiting for a family to come fill it with love.
After everything that happened, I couldn’t control my emotions, so I took control of your life instead. I put limits on your accounts to keep you from going out. I voiced your turn by turn navigation to keep you on the grid. I put you on a no fly list to keep you from slipping out of my jurisdiction.
You must have felt me watching.
Brushing your teeth in the bathroom mirror, you stopped abruptly, oblivious to the line of paste running down your sleeve. Pressing your finger to the glass, you discovered that tiny point where the light bent a little differently. You stared at the mirror, like you could see me. You looked at your smoke detector differently. You saw my all seeing eye in the ceiling fan. You froze in the middle of your apartment. You could hear my lenses focusing.
One day you left the office and never came back. Your car was found sitting in the lot, the windshield wiper bursting with flyers. Your bank accounts were cleaned out. Your social media profiles had been deleted. Your digital footprint had been scrubbed clean. The trail went cold. You’d gone underground.
What gave me away? Was it the U-Haul permanently stationed outside of your building?
Was it the Google Street View car following you to work? Was it my anonymous Valentines Day gift, the Teddy bear with the telephoto lenses where it’s eyes should’ve been?
I might have taken things too far. Not sure why I hacked your garage door clicker, I guess you just had a way of pushing my button. Not sure why I had to hijack your clock radio, if only to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. Not sure why I installed a remote control in your vibrator, if only to play a small role in getting you there.
Installing a full body scanner in your entry way was a bit much, I’ll be the first to admit it.
I broke protocol telling my mother about you. I showed my father a picture and he congratulated me on my good taste. They assumed we’d been together for sometime, based on my intimate knowledge of you. I told them that you’d taught me how to be a good listener, which is partially true.
Now you’re gone, vanished without a trace. I have undercover operatives embedded in communes, still no sightings. I have satellite cameras combing tropical islands, still haven’t spotted you working on your tan. I have an agency algorithm searching for your cyber shadow, still you haven’t logged in.
Next time you pass through a major city, could you please do something for me. Put your sunglasses away, take off your baseball cap for just a few seconds, and look straight into a security camera. I realize that all the facial recognition software in the world won’t bring you back to me. I just want to know that you’re okay.
One of the first things women notice in a man is his shoes, so says the round table of talking heads on day time television. Shoes are a window into a man’s wallet. What better way to put his best foot forward than to have the right kicks on? What better place to evaluate him then from the ground up? Of course, if there are suds dripping down the tongue of his loafers, you might want to pan up to see their source.
There’s something about a bubble pipe that makes you forget about a man’s footwear.
Watching the foam spill over his timepiece, you can’t help but wonder what makes this man tick. The pipe might make him look psychotic, but that soapy water is very hygienic. Mayhaps he’s giving his face a bubble bath. You’ve got to love a man who can luxuriate in public. That prop makes him such a mystery. Even his body language seems foreign.
Why would someone bring a bubble pipe to a champaign party? Maybe he’s just that confident. Maybe he’s crazy. Maybe you’re being pranked on national TV. You dare not ask, for fear the answer could never live up to your expectations, but still, you have to know before the night ends.
Watch another desperate boy work his tired sad little ploy, while just over his shoulder Professor Bubble Pipe is waiting there. You find yourself abandoning your companion mid-come on line. There’s something, someone else, that has your attention. He’s blowing you a path. Standing center stage, he plays his instrument, all tall dark and random.
Sure, he looks like a lunatic, but he’s a lunatic with a secret
Bubble Pipe was one of those pieces from the archives that had me thinking, “I don’t need to share that on the internet,” but I kept coming back to it. It was an inside joke that I was the only one snickering at. People watching at parties, I wanted to mock the mating ritual. I wanted to confuse everyone.
Bubble Pipe is a piece in the spirit of that tao of fuck it. That go for broke attitude that says this is me as I am, take it or leave it. Watch me eat junk food. Watch me sleep until noon. Watch me mock social mores. If you don’t like my attitude, then that’s your problem.
It’s about spending three hours putting an outfit together, only to say, “Screw it, I’ll just wear the sweat pants with the mustard stain again.”
It’s about dropping your flowers on the way up the steps, leaving you to present your date with a bouquet of bent stems. “They’re perfect, you love them.”
It’s about giving up the pretense, but not the ambition.
I’d rather stand out as an honest lunatic than go along with a heard of straight faced liars. To steal a line from The Twilight Singers, “A lonely boy will stand when others crawl.”
So to my fellow lunatics, with pipes leaking soapy water in your breast pockets, I say, “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”
The voice I used in this recording is a sad attempt at a posh accent, if anyone asks I’ll say, “Oh, that? That’s just a typical midwestern dialect, it is no way a piss poor attempt at replicating the tone of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek: Into Darkness monologue.”
I chose flute sounds for the musical accompaniment because, like bubble pipes, they’re wood wind instruments. I used distorted hip-hop beats to add some weight to my thin premise, a little badassery to go with my B.S.
As for the poem itself, it’s one of those things I had to get out of my system. I wrote it when I was 22. I still think it’s funny, and as it’s turned out, I still have a lot to say about the subject. My original artist description for this poem became a companion piece, called 11th Hour Valentines, if you liked this, then you’ll love that. Check it out.
Don’t worry, this rant doesn’t come from the perspective of an outsider looking in, no, it’s the confession of a participant. It’s racier than my usual fare, but the subject matter demands it to be. Don’t worry, there’s no judgements here. Why would I preach when I can immerse you in the sin?
If reading this makes you feel a little dirty, then my work here is done.
11th Hour Valentines
It’s last call. It’s the lightning round. It’s anybody’s game. It’s the final countdown. It’s your fifteen minutes to claim. It’s the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. It’s the eleventh hour before Valentine’s Day. It’s the last round of a speed date, no pressure.
We go from looking for a soulmate, to someone to fill a space. We detach our heartstrings to make ourselves more appetizing. We go from real things to physical flings. We took our shot, now we’re rebounds just looking for a layup. Casting off our spines, we bend over backwards to lower our standards. We were your sour grapes, now we’re your low hanging fruit. Our desperation is in season. Come and get it.
It’s the end of the world. Time to find somebody to share it with. There’s a mushroom cloud on the horizon. We don’t want to leave a lonesome silhouette.
We shoot through the crowd, like comets looking for celestial bodies worth orbiting. Circling one, then another, looking for an opening, holding our breath until we can get into your atmosphere.
The clock is ticking. The window is closing. The train is leaving. The pod bay doors are down to a slit. The spark is running out of string. The stars are aligned. The sundial is ready for the ritual. We’ve got to sacrifice someone to our ego.
Time to blow as many kisses as we can, and hope that some of them stick. Time to throw ourselves into a pair of open arms, and hope we’re well received. We’re suicide kings with daggers for brains, and hearts hovering over our sleeves. Time to play the hand we were dealt.
Be happy to strike fool’s gold. Be happy to find a zirconium in the rough. Be happy with a forgery. It all looks real in the dark.
It’s bar close. It’s winning time. It’s the last few feet before the finish line. The night is young, but we’re aging out of it.
It’s okay if you’ve lost your focus. We’re all a little unbalanced, trying to find our footing on a point that’s tipping.
Magicians work the room, with linguistic tricks, slight of mouth illusions of wit. Weeding out volunteers from the audience, they blow smoke on mirrors, until all their competition has disappeared. Oh, they might seem like they could conjure up a magical evening, but really, they just want to take you home and saw you in half.
Social scientists step outside of their element, synthesizing chemistry from agents that were never meant to bond. They mix extrovert acids with introvert bases, with no mind the explosive consequences.
Self promoters put themselves out there, doing all they can to raise brand awareness. Stealth marketers close their deals, converting lustful leads into sexual sales. Night traders place their bids, buying low self esteem, selling their own as high. Shifting market value, they all have unspoken agreements to attend to.
Wingmen pilot their jocks into chosen targets. Pouring on the Whiskey to keep their Deltas from throttling back. They’re on the lookout for landing strips. They navigate their mates through kamikaze compliments, looking to help a friend scratch a one night stand into their night stand.
A confederacy of drunkards speak in man code, nonverbal cues and raised eyebrow clues. They challenge the competition to a staring contest. They offer their olive branches with balled up fists. They speak in two tones, one for each gender, flirting with one, threatening the other.
We throw psych out eye contact, like basket ball players, concealing passes. Don’t feel so bad, you’re just a means to your friend. We invite strangers to our table, introduce them to our secluded sidekicks, and flee the scene. The old booth bait and switch. Now your someone else’s entertainment.
We’re tired of being flies on the wall, eavesdropping insects, people watching parasites. We want to get some blood in the game. Give us a sign worth decoding. Give our hungry eyes something to snack on. Give our subconscious Sherlocks something to deduce, something that isn’t so elementary.
The pickings are getting slim. We couldn’t make the midnight kiss, give us the two AM illusion of bliss. We couldn’t cast the real thing, so let’s just role play the honeymoon scene. Let’s choose the mystery box. Let’s see what’s behind door number three. Let’s roll those dice. Give our dignity a chance to break even, for our status to go from “creepy” back to “harmless.” Give us time to wait for your raised chin to turn back into a subtle smirk.
Come on and give us a little win.
Spades call each other out. Pots have words with kettles. The glass home owner’s association lobs their stones at the other tenants. Staggering out with torn clothes, they mock each other’s nudity. Resting their heads on the bar, they draw attention to the splinters in our eyes, ignoring the planks in their own.
Fighters are just lovers who can’t get their shit together.
We know better. We swore we’d never do this again, but when the beat hits that dead horse, we’ve got to get our groove on. We can’t hear our conscience over the cognitive dissonance. Desire is our song, but dejection is our jam. We let it play, hoping that somehow it will turn out differently. This broken record, is the dictionary definition of insanity.
There are so many mixed signals, foot traffic has no where to go. We’re deers in headlights, when you want to call it an early night. We boogie on the barrier. We grind through the gridlock. We’re an unstoppable force hitting on an immovable object, a match made in collision. It takes two to tango. It takes two to play chicken.
The dance floor is an ongoing crime scene. Federal Agents claim jurisdiction over our libidos. Our eyes wander as we examine the evidence. Buttons are undone as we check each other for wires. We walk around with our flies down, hoping that someone will blow our cover.
Let’s follow our leads, find a nice soft mattress to carry out a sting operation. We’re just two confidential informants exchanging information.
Wake up to the morning after interrogation room scene, to the entrapment of a state of the union conversation. Last night was a dream come true, but now anything you say can and will be used against you. That gas station food you shared on the way, that retroactively counts as a date. Your partner recites the night with the clarity of someone who didn’t have enough to drink. They read your words back to you. You might want to have your lawyer present when you go for brunch.
We make plea bargains for relations without relationships, docile deals for compromising positions, visitation rights for those long lonely nights. Making the walk of shame out of their jurisdiction, we wonder what the hell happened.
Some of us get sloppy. We leave an orgy of evidence. We don’t bother planning an escape route. We try to get caught. Show us to your cell. Handcuff us to your bedpost. We’ll get off with good behavior. We weren’t looking to cut and run. We were trying to end up here.
“Love” is a word we so rarely get to use in context. With our backs against the wall, just give us a reason. Tell us that you want something serious and see what happens. Do you really want to put a term on it? Because we’ve got all this meaning, we’re just waiting to attach to something.
Be our high time hookup, our last minute lover, our eleventh hour Valentine. Be our crisis point crush, our cab ride cupid, our wooer under the wire. Be our fail safe flame, our infatuation for when we’re in a bind, our escort under exigence circumstance.
You can be the hangover cure we didn’t know we needed. The unnamed number in our caller ID. The mistake we look back on fondly. Be our happy accident. We’ll be the missing piece that still doesn’t fit into your plans.
Maybe we won’t be yours for long, but for a moment we’ll be somebody’s something.