Midnight Prayers

Dollar Store Novels for Free

Month: March, 2013

Day Seventy-Three: Making Slow Code

Some dreams are lost after waking up, faded into the hazed sunrise bleeding through your blinds.  Others are constant, unflinching, something that drives you to give all you have, to turn over yourself to the process of what you truly love.  That is what “Slow Code” (tentative title) is to Caroline Reese, a mega-talented folk nerd who has enough sweetness, emotional direction, and lyrical power to knock you flat on your ass (then, more importantly, pick you up and ask you to dance).  There’s something special in this music, and you should support it.  She’s working on a new album, a follow up to her stellar Indian River, which you can buy here.

“If life made sense/I’d rob a bank and then/Purchase every single day we’d ever spent”.

Here’s the link to her Kickstarter, which was made to help support her follow up album.  Dreams and passions aren’t easy to find, so, when you know someone who’s found theirs, support them till the very end:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/859810516/15-days-for-caroline-reeses-second-country-folk-al

And below is a video that, if you’re not sold already, will make you a believer.  Enjoy:

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Day Seventy-Two: Pellet, Revised

We were watching Larry fire off that pellet gun in his backyard next door when Pat told me about a story he’d been working on.  It was about this guy, around 30 years old, white, and tall, with small features, who lived with all different families most of his life.  Not like a foster child or some romantic shit like that.  This guy would pay the families, just show up at their doorstep with a checkbook, and they would take him in for the night.  That’s all it ever was too, just a night.  Pat said it wasn’t about the fresh cooked food or the warm shower or the soft bed.  The guy just wanted to move through lives.  He thought it was like moving through time or something close to that, changing everything so drastically, what religion he was, what his diet looked like, where he worked, when he lost his virginity, who he voted for.  He never wanted to be any one thing.  Pat said this guy wanted to be everything.

“Would he pretend to be their brother or uncle or what?” I asked.

It would change every time, but he wouldn’t pretend or act.  When he was with a family, he became one of them, like it was completely normal.  He just told them to be friendly and treat him like family.  And he’d pay them for it, whatever they asked for.”

“How’d he get the money?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet.  Maybe his family died, and he keeps getting life insurance checks or something.  But I don’t want it to be sitcom-y.  I don’t want it to be fucking Oliver either.”

“What happens to him?”

“One night, after he’s already stayed with thousands of families, like he’s already been doing it for years, he’ll stay with an Irish family somewhere outside Philadelphia.  The guy will fall in love with that family’s fifteen year old daughter, and he’ll fuck her.”

“The fifteen year old?”

“Yeah, I know, it’s fucked up right?  But they love each other.  It’s real love, like this explosive, hideous, decimating love that they both can’t shake.  This kind of love that burrows underneath their fingernails, shoots up their veins, and fills out their bodies, making them always feel like everything might burst, like the frames imposed on them won’t last.  So he can’t leave, and they become dependent on each other like a drug, like a real potent, destructive drug.  And their teeth start falling out and their skin peels and they age quicker than everyone else.  The family just lets it happen because of the money.  He keeps paying them, and the girl drops out of high school.  By the end they’re both just these two violently dependent addicts, two skeletons fucking and crying and praying that they die before the other one.  They have kids and move out into an apartment in the city.”

“Who dies first?”

“Neither.  One day it just stops.  They just don’t feel it anymore, that awful love.  So he leaves, and somehow they both recover completely.  She gives up the kids and goes back to school.  He moves out to L.A. and works in production.  She calls herself Karen, and he goes by Steve.  They make up new stories.  Everything about them becomes plain, but it’s comfortable.  It fits them the way it could never have before.  They won’t see each other again but will also never feel anything like that rupturing love.  So they sit lighter, always, and both die on the same day, December 11th, two years apart.”

I noticed that Larry had hit something.  A rabbit limped from his backyard, small stripes of blood streaking down its leg, parting white fur as they moved.  Larry hadn’t reacted.  He always seemed like he was waiting for the animals to scream back at him, to let him know what he’d done.  The pellet gun sat still in his lap, aimed towards the area of fence-less perimeter that had been pulled apart a couple of months ago during Irene.  When his brother had come over after the storm with a truck full of supplies, offering to put another stretch of fence up to keep the garden enclosed from the fields of wild grass that stretched for miles behind it, Larry kept his eyes on the recently revealed horizon and muttered, “Ah, I don’t mind.”

A few weeks later, Larry’s brother came by again.  He heard his brother had just been sitting out there, shooting at these animals, and the cops were finding all kinds of corpses along the roads out of town.  Rabbits, raccoons, groundhogs, their infected wounds smelling horribly, the rotting bodies unable to fully decompose on the pavement.  Larry’s brother said he’d smelled them, too, the dead animals, and the foulness of it all still lingered in his car.  It was a staining smell, he said, something that you just couldn’t get to go away no matter what you did.  So he just started fixing the fence anyway, assuming it would put a stop to everything: the dead animals, Larry’s stare, all the questions, but when he started digging out the foundation, Larry took a shot, hitting the dirt next to his brother.

“Fucking prick,” his brother yelled across the garden.  “Put the fucking gun down.”

Larry didn’t move, just stared at his brother, eyes sunken, hiding from the peripheries he couldn’t imagine.  Ever since the accident, everything Larry saw, everything that sunk in, was straight ahead, on a line segment, slowly moving, nothing could be connected, each shard of the world standing on its own.  When he stared at something, he’d focus until he destroyed it, till he stripped away what it could have been and knew what was it was in totality.

His brother tried to go back to digging, but Larry shot at him again, grazing the exposed skin on his lower leg.  Twitching quickly, and charging through a bed of azaleas, leaves tearing under his boots, Larry’s brother howled, “You’re lucky you ain’t right, cocksucker, or I’d break your neck right now.  Shooting that gun at me?  Shooting me in the fucking leg?”

“I don’t want a fence.”

“You’re getting a fucking fence,” he was in Larry’s face now, but still didn’t have his brother’s full attention.  “You can sit there the rest of your life, it won’t bother me none, but I’m not hearing about you killing those animals anymore.  I’m done hearing about you being a sorry son of a bitch.”  He started back through the azaleas.

“I’ll take it down.  If you put one up, I’ll take it down.”  Larry began to shake, never moving his eyes from his brother

“With what?  You can’t shoot down a fence with a pellet gun.”

“I’ll take it down,” Larry’s body moved in fits like something inside was trying to make itself known.  His head looked like it might roll from his neck,.  “I’ll take it d…”

His brother took a swing, landing it on the corner of Larry’s right eye.  The chair tipped, and he hit the ground, letting out a whimper that sounded like something a dog might yell at night.  His brother looked around, making sure no one was watching and, missing me standing at my kitchen window, he gave Larry a few kicks to the chest.  Pat was out for a bike ride when it happened.  Larry ended up sprawled on the ground, silently quivering, arms slumped weakly over his eyes, blocking out his brother’s shadow.

“The town wants to put you away, I’m not fighting ‘em now.  I done it for too long.  You ain’t in there no more.  There ain’t no person in that body.”

I waited for his brother’s truck to fade from the driveway, and I brought a towel over to help Larry clean up.  There was already a small swell of fluid forming under his eye that looked like some sort of insect larvae, and a few inadvertent tears rolled along the wrinkles lining his face.

“I’ll take it down,” he let go in a hoarse yell.  “Put one up, I’ll take it down.”

I helped Larry to his feet, but he pushed away from me, shuffling up the back stairs and into his house, his weaker leg always dragging a little behind.

.

Larry fell out of that pick-up truck on a Friday about ten years ago.  He’d been drinking and playing poker with some other townies who all soak up dust, like old trophies, in a bar on Chestnut.  Some kids were messing with powders on the pool table next to them, and Larry threw a punch, breaking off the top corner of one kid’s tooth.  They said he was standing in a townie’s truck bed driving away from the bar and singing a Bob Dylan song when he was thrown into a guard rail, his head suffering initial impact. The paramedics found a piece of his skull on the pavement.  It took him three weeks to come out of the coma.

A few months later, Larry’s wife found him with a shotgun in his mouth.  It was around then that she left, citing that particular incident, but Larry held that she felt like she was living with a ghost.  “She wasn’t even talking before she left,” he said one night when Pat and I had him over for dinner.  “I’d just move around the house, saying things to her, always waiting for a response.”

Larry came over for dinner almost every night back then, before he got worse.  When Pat and I had Rebecca, she grew up calling him, “Uncle Larry”, like the title might heal him.  He never held her, but he did love to look at Rebecca back when she couldn’t really move.  When she started crawling, he’d follow her around the living room, dragging his feet behind her, both of them silent and curious.

Then, earlier this summer, around the day Rebecca ended her first year of school, Larry heard that his wife had died down in Florida.  She’d drowned in a resort pool one night after taking a handful of Oleptro and trying to swim off her feelings, a therapy method she’d picked up after jumping around from counselor to counselor and failing to find any use in her sessions.  I was with Larry unloading groceries when he got the call explaining all that had happened.  I could feel him trying to focus on it, to destroy it, but he couldn’t.  That was the last night he ate dinner with us.  The next morning he was in the garden.

The garden was something his wife had kept, a small plot behind their house, covered with different breeds of flowers laid out in rows.  She wore a white hat when she worked back there, almost everyday, that had a small brownish ring around the top, residue from dedicated labor.  When she left, Larry let it go untended, but most of the flowers still bloomed, and he would pull out a chair every spring to sit and stare into the buds.  On those nights, when he would come over for dinner, his face was freckled with pollen.

After his wife died, he spent everyday in the garden, watching the plants, which were now being lost amongst opportunistic weeds, sway in the wind.  He lost weight rapidly, his once friendly beer gut receding, leaving all his shirts with plenty of stretched, unused fabric hanging down below his crotch.  By the time Irene hit, Larry was more shirt than man.  I could barely make him out under it all.

During the storm Pat kept talking about religion in the future, when the ocean starts to eat our cities.  “People won’t have these shells anymore, the ones we wear under our skin, these conglomerations of muscle and fat that keep heat in.  They won’t look like us.  They’ll soak through.  They’ll be all water, all ocean.”

“They’ll be starving?”

“No, they’ll want to be closer to God, and they’ll realize that He’s in the ocean.

“Why the ocean?”

“They’ll have no reason to believe that He’s not in the ocean.  It’s the one thing on earth that we can’t control, this force that is always moving, waves crashing into land.  To a certain distance, the tide will pull you back in, but past that, past where we can see, it pulls you away and down until you sink, without resistance, into absolute darkness.  That’s what most of the ocean is, a place where we would exist only as a consciousness, where shape and color doesn’t matter.

“So God is a collection of our consciousness?”

“No, God is the ability to isolate our consciousness from our body.”

“Then why not worship the blackest corner of space?  Couldn’t God be there, in that darkness?  Shouldn’t we worship that?”

“No.”

“What’s the difference?”

“We can touch the ocean.”

.

.

Later on, on that night we saw Larry shoot the rabbit, I sat up watching him with only the moon interfering.  The night before, a couple of cops had come to our door asking about our relationship with Larry.  They wanted to know if we’d ever seen him fire on animals that were outside his yard.  “Now a man has a right to protect his land,” the younger, more interested officer had said, “but once he fires on animals on protected lands, like those fields behind his and your house there, well, we have to take action.”

The men didn’t say it, but we could tell they were canvassing to put Larry away.  When they didn’t find willing participants in Pat and I, they moved on.  I knew the rest of our neighborhood would not be so kind.  By now, most had heard about Larry firing on his brother, and all it took was one mention of that story and they’d have him.  Larry was not long for this town, for civilization.

As I watched over him, considering the days out in front, seeing each path and its end point, like green signs lining the highway, a lithe shadow slunk through the fractured fence.  It moved on four legs in smooth, direct strides, finding its way to the barrel of Larry’s gun.  When it came under the moon’s reach, I was unable to recognize what exactly the creature was.  Its sharply muscled and thinly furred legs were fragmented with sturdy, rounded feet that sprouted what looked like curled talons.  Next to Larry’s gaunt frame, the creature seemed large, though its own protruding ribs betrayed this intimidation.  More than anything, I could sense that the creature was starving.  He had this aggressive hunger, like the type of hunger you imagine during late night infomercials set in poverty, the type of feeling that makes you want to eat everything you could possibly consume so that you will never have to feel that way, so that you will never have to feel your insides shrinking deeper into themselves.

Larry broke his gaze from beyond the fence and brought his eyes to the animal in front of him.  Their breathing patterns matched up, and the creature showed Larry his teeth.  Caked in dried blood and with holes rotted through the sides, the long rows of kniving enamel came to abrupt, sharpened ends, and a small snarl snuck through the slight gaps where they were unable to overlap.  Upon seeing the teeth, Larry dropped his gun, dropping his hands to the side.  I screamed for Pat, and Larry turned to spot me at my kitchen window, the veins in his forehead trying to cleave their way out.  The creature lunged, and I dropped below the windowpane, my head hiding between clunky knees.  I could hear the sound of bones breaking in the distance.

Day Seventy-One: The (Actual) Best Music Video of All Time

Day Seventy: A Requiem for a Band That Made One of the Greatest Music Videos of all Time

I don’t love My Chemical Romance.  When I saw this weekend that the band had announced they’d split up, I didn’t go and listen to their entire catalog.  I didn’t go and read articles about their legacy or what this break-up meant to the emo-alt generation I grew up on the fringes of.  Instead, I went and watched my favorite music video of all time:

The first time I ever saw this video, I was in my friend Jake’s basement probably messing around on a guitar and playing one of three songs: “Time of Your Life” by Green Day, “Boys on the Docks” by The Dropkick Murphys, or the riff from “Come As You Are” on repeat.  It was right about that time when videos on the internet were a thing my friends who didn’t have dial-up could watch.  By virtue of always hanging out at their houses, I too became able to do this.  The “I’m Not Ok” video was one of the first videos I can remember watching over and over again even when my friends went on to do other things like go outside or play songs with more than four chords in them*.

Before seeing the video, I wasn’t a huge fan of My Chemical Romance.  I’d heard Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, but I didn’t own it, and most of my friends dismissed it as typical emo-alt bullshit.  It came out around the time The Used were spitting water in the air and Senses Fail was putting out songs about autopsies.  The best thing about the “I’m Not Ok” video is that is was able to transcend the culture it came from to become something much more important.

The video itself is something like a condensed John Hughes movie, but there’s a remarkable darkness that hides below the surface of everything that happens.  The misery of this prep school setting isn’t limited to the jet black-haired outcasts, but it extends to the jocks, teachers, and cheerleaders.  When the action reaches a climax in the form of a violent showdown, the humor fades as Way’s screams of “I’m really not ok” echo through the halls.  It’s all at once a troubling sight and powerful manifestation of the violence hidden underneath adolescent placidity.

At the beginning of the video, Way remarks, “I don’t want to make it… I just want to…” only to be cut off by the ultra-anthemic opening to the song.  I’m not sure how he would end that sentence now, but with this video to his name, I’m not really sure it matters.

*The other videos that I remember doing this with are “Without Me” by Eminem and “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, the latter of which is probably my favorite music video of all time, but Kanye West isn’t a band that just broke up.

Day Sixty-Nine: FGCU

America’s hottest new club is the FGCU Sideline.

Day Sixty-Eight: 3:30 AM

3:30 AM isn’t good for many things.  It’s well past the 2 AM post-game threshold and around the time most channels decide to burn through their collection of movies starring people like Brendan Frasier and Hilary Duff’s sister.  The funny thing about 3:30 AM, it seems, is that the broadcasting landscape begins to actually resemble the world outside of its fictional universes.  You might find the same people on your screen at 3:30 AM that you could also find riding the train and fashioning homes for themselves out of discarded Chinese food cartons.  It is only at 3:30 AM that TV is actually a reflection, something we can recognize as true, as if we never even turned the power on and were just staring at ourselves on the screen.

 

Day Sixty-Seven: Full Excerpt

We were headed to Florida, thirty-one of us on a coach bus, when I heard about Mr. Grant.  He’d been on dialysis for a while, waiting on a transplant.  The last time I’d seen him, around Christmas, his skin was becoming transparent.  He had raised a hand to wave at me, and I could see the veins rushing up his arms like rivers working under unimaginable duress, like they suffered a drought.  Everything in the room seemed to be working hard just to keep him sitting there, breathing.  The machines, with all their noises, the bleeps and blips, calls of warning, didn’t act like I thought they would, they didn’t become part of him.  Instead he looked like the parasite, feeding off them, reposing while they worked tirelessly, doing the only thing they knew.

When my mom called, her voice quiet, succumbing to the power of her own knowledge, we were at a rest stop, and I knew someone had died.  My head went right to Mr. Grant.  I wanted it to be him, being separated from the scene so long, the visits, the smell of vomit, shit, crusted blood, I wanted it to all be gone whenever I returned home.  I never wanted to be in that room again, not the way it had been.

It was Mr. Grant that had died, and I just pictured him, buried shallow beneath the sheets, machines coming to rest, exhausted.  I wondered if he’d said anything before it happened, if he knew what dying in that room would do, if he understood that he’d always be in there.  Even when his wife died and their kids sold it, that room was his.  I pictured his family burning his body right there, on the hospital bed that had violated the asylum of their home, building a funeral pyre that just might take the whole house with it.

“They told him that he couldn’t,” my mom was saying in the distance, beyond the Grant’s living room that I’d returned to.  “It’s the only thing he couldn’t do when he was on that list, and he didn’t listen.  So they had no choice.”

“What was that?”

“Drink, have a beer.  To be on that list, for a transplant, you know, you can’t drink.  Not even a beer.”

“So he drank?”

“Yeah, and that’s when they knew.”

“How’d he get it?”

“How’d he get what?”

“The drink?  How’d he get it?  Even if he stood up, those machines would’ve kept him in their living room.”

“I don’t know, someone must’ve given it to him.  One of his buddies, you know how they are, probably had no idea he couldn’t drink.”

“But how’d they find out?”

“Who?”

“The doctors, his doctor, if it was just one drink, how’d he find out.  Did he catch him with it?”

“He told them.”

“His doctor?”

“He was honest.  The doctors asked him if he’d had a drink, and he said yes, probably he had one with a game, the Cocks were playing on TV or something, and he had one with the game.  I’m not sure, does it matter, B.?  He drank when they told him not to.”

The news wasn’t as numbing as I assumed it would be.  I’d already lost sight of Mr. Grant as someone who could really die.  Dying was something kids did in high school, when they were changing a flat and got erased by a tractor-trailer or fucked around with lined coke and overdosed.  It was something that destroyed dispositions, that made you slouch, that humbled you.  Death meant something was taken; something still owned had been stolen away during the night, evaporating somewhere beyond the touch of your streetlights.  By the time he died, Mr. Grant didn’t own his life anymore, those machines did, his doctors did, his family, his nurse, his last case of beer did.  There was nothing left to be taken.  Back when he used to dress up in a patched-up Santa suit and pop by the houses along our street on Christmas Eve, his beer gut doing most of the acting, it would have been different.  But, when I finally hung up the phone and took my seat back on the bus, focusing on the trails left behind on the windows some time before by scurries of acid rain, I began to think he never even had that drink, that he knew what I knew, that he had chosen to redeem his life by actively deciding not to prolong it.  I fell asleep listening to music, imagining the lyrics were someone else’s dreams, “Now the way we hold each other so tight, would look more like a noose if held up to the light.”

 

Our motel was saturated with the imposing smell of chlorine.  The pool at its center was an original shade of green, fenced in with rusted links, and bookended by two palm trees that looked as if they’d been fashioned from stockpiles of infected driftwood.  The fumes that sat above the water were carried across the parking lot, sneaking into our rooms through the small spaces between door and frame, sticking to everything in their reach.  We kept all of our clothes sealed in numbered travel bags, making sure they wouldn’t reek when we were finally able to travel off site.

The rooming assignments were based on experience, for the most part, freshman paired of with freshman, captains given their own singles.  I was the only exception, being paired off with a Drew Starks, a senior who, by his own admission, was only on the traveling roster because he had survived cuts for four years and left the coaches little choice.  Drew hadn’t logged an inning or a single stat, and he drank more than he worked out, but there was always a reason to keep him around.  His freshman year it had been injuries, so they kept him as a practice player, putting him out in the field to plug up holes for controlled scrimmages.  The next two years, he said, they’d tried to get him to quit, relegating him to the 5 am individuals schedule every week, making him do extra conditioning, telling him straight up he was never going to get a fair shake, but they never cut him.  “They don’t even look me in the eye anymore,” Drew told me in our room.  “They send me texts and e-mails, but I can’t remember the last time I talked to any of the coaches directly, actually looked them in the eye like a human.  But I’ll always be there, and that’s the best thing I can do.  Just be there, making them ignore me, knowing they’re actively doing it, that they think about it.  It gets to them, I’m pretty sure, you know?  Having to bring me down here, that I made it this far.  I fucking love that.”

Other than the smell, the room felt blank enough to be comfortable.  Motel rooms that have a design to them, some sort of theme, always bother me, and won’t let me sleep.  It’s like sleeping in someone else’s house, the restlessness of all that, wondering if you can sleep in, what you should be helping with.  The bland rooms are always easier, transitory, capable of handling your projections, becoming what you want.  Give me a TV, a bed, and a linoleum-drenched bathroom, and I’ll do the rest.

For the first hour in the room, we searched for the remote before calling the front desk.  “Can you bring up a remote to room 211?”

“Sorry, sir,” the other end hummed, “we don’t have any.”

“Are there any empty rooms?  We could just get another”

“No, there are no remotes at the motel.  They’ve all been stolen.  There are controls on the TV.”

“Stolen?”

“I’m sorry sir.”

“All of them, like, at once?”

“Sir, there are controls on the TV.  Can I help you with anything else, or will that be all?”

 

         The games were all played at the same complex, four fields splayed out like a compass, each plate facing in opposing directions.  Chatter, a gathering gust of slurred, dip-hazed speech, occupied the sprawling mess, only broken-up by the cracks of focused velocity on wood.  If you could’ve seen it from above, taking in all the fields at once, there might’ve been a fantastic quality to it, with groups of distinctively assembled creatures, moving efficiently, little separating mind from body, instincts torn down and re-built, none of them seeming particularly human.  But up close, from the dugout, the smallness of it all, the tiny mistakes, the hanging curves, the strange bounces, was all there.

In our third game on the first day, five lips and two spitters deep, I was thrown in to pinch run, Coach Walsh calling my number, “Two-four, get a helmet.”  You didn’t get a name until you earned it.  “Just follow the signs, this kid’s got a quick move, don’t get caught wandering.”

I took the spot at first, both feet on the bag, waiting for the pitcher to get set.  When his foot touched rubber, I took a step, his eyes on the catcher’s fingers.  Another step, and I gave him something to think about, a lean that might just get him to throw over.  He didn’t bite, and made his move to the plate, snapping the ball into the glove.  I had a read on him.

There was a hitch in his delivery.  It’d been there all day, all game.  I must’ve been the only guy in the country that could see it.  As soon as he dropped his elbow a little, a small tick, this kid was going to the plate.  There was no way he could catch me, if I went right then, when his elbow dropped.  Not a fucking chance.

He worked fast and never really came to a complete stop.  I’d caught that in the dugout.  Even when he had runners on, his feet stuttered below him, begging them to take an extra step.  If you went too early, you were his.  His move was fast, but that’s it, only fast.  He didn’t play poker.  He played Russian roulette.

I let another pitch go, not even looking over to get signs, and there it was again, the elbow dropped out.  He wasn’t giving me any respect, glancing over with a smirk, hoping I might have gone a half-step too far.  This time, when he got set, I moved my right foot on an angle, ready to anchor and get that first step.  Then his elbow dropped, and I was gone.

Those 90 feet are always the same, the oxygen coming in through the ears, the full extension of every muscle, pulling and planting, tearing through the loosened dirt, waiting to hear, if faintly, the laces halting on leather, knowing you’ve got it, that there’s no fucking way he’ll gun you down, not a fucking chance, launching yourself at the bag, head up, fingers waiting for contact, the small spheres of that manicured dirt rolling along your jersey, outlining your number, rising up in a light cloud around you, till you finally feel the bag, and you’re there, eyes open, safe and signaling for time.

But on that day, in Florida, stuck between first and second, something went wrong, and when I met the bag, it felt like everything, all that I could touch, that could be touched, that could be weighed, converged on one spot, my right thumb catching the corner of the base and tearing from its socket.  My eyes were closed, hand pulled quickly to my chest, my muscles bulging, tightened in pain.  I kept breathing in the unsettled dirt that rose around me, the setting Florida sun stinging the left side of my face.  I couldn’t see a thing.

Day Sixty-Six: Motel Excerpt

Our motel was saturated with the imposing smell of chlorine.  The pool at its center was an original shade of green, fenced in with rusted links, and bookended by two palm trees that looked as if they’d been fashioned from stockpiles of infected driftwood.  The fumes that sat above the water were carried across the parking lot, sneaking into our rooms through the small spaces between door and frame, sticking to everything in their reach.  We kept all of our clothes sealed in numbered travel bags, making sure they wouldn’t reek when we were finally able to travel off site.

The rooming assignments were based on experience, for the most part, freshman paired of with freshman, captains given their own singles.  I was the only exception, being paired off with a Drew Starks, a senior who, by his own admission, was only on the traveling roster because he had survived cuts for four years and left the coaches little choice.  Drew hadn’t logged an inning or a single stat, and he drank more than he worked out, but there was always a reason to keep him around.  His freshman year it had been injuries, so they kept him as a practice player, putting him out in the field to plug up holes for controlled scrimmages.  The next two years, he said, they’d tried to get him to quit, relegating him to the 5 am individuals schedule every week, making him do extra conditioning, telling him straight up he was never going to get a fair shake, but they never cut him.  “They don’t even look me in the eye anymore,” Drew told me in our room.  “They send me texts and e-mails, but I can’t remember the last time I talked to any of the coaches directly, actually looked them in the eye like a human.  But I’ll always be there, and that’s the best thing I can do.  Just be there, making them ignore me, knowing they’re actively doing it, that they think about it.  It gets to them, I’m pretty sure, you know?  Having to bring me down here, that I made it this far.  I fucking love that.”

Other than the smell, the room felt blank enough to be comfortable.  Motel rooms that have a design to them, some sort of theme, always bother me, and won’t let me sleep.  It’s like sleeping in someone else’s house, the restlessness of all that, wondering if you can sleep in, what you should be helping with.  The bland rooms are always easier, transitory, capable of handling your projections, becoming what you want.  Give me a TV, a bed, and a linoleum-drenched bathroom, and I’ll do the rest.

For the first hour in the room, we searched for the remote before calling the front desk.  “Can you bring up a remote to room 211?”

“Sorry, sir,” the other end hummed, “we don’t have any.”

“Are there any empty rooms?  We could just get another”

“No, there are no remotes at the motel.  They’ve all been stolen.  There are controls on the TV.”

“Stolen?”

“I’m sorry sir.”

“All of them, like, at once?”

“Sir, there are controls on the TV.  Can I help you with anything else, or will that be all?”

Day Sixty-Five: Excerpt

The news wasn’t as numbing as I assumed it would be.  I’d already lost sight of Mr. Grant as someone who could really die.  Dying was something kids did in high school, when they were changing a flat and got erased by a tractor-trailer or fucked around with lined coke and overdosed.  It was something that destroyed dispositions, that made you slouch, that humbled you.  Death meant something was taken; something still owned had been stolen away during the night, evaporating somewhere beyond the touch of your streetlights.  By the time he died, Mr. Grant didn’t own his life anymore, those machines did, his doctors did, his family, his nurse, his last case of beer did.  There was nothing left to be taken.  Back when he used to dress up in a patched-up Santa suit and pop by the houses along our street on Christmas Eve, his beer gut doing most of the acting, it would have been different.  But, when I finally hung up the phone and took my seat back on the bus, focusing on the trails left behind on the windows some time before by scurries of acid rain, I began to think he never even had that drink, that he knew what I knew, that he had chosen to redeem his life by actively deciding not to prolong it.  I fell asleep listening to music, imagining the lyrics were someone else’s dreams, “Now the way we hold each other so tight, would look more like a noose if held up to the light.”

Day Sixty-Four: Another Excerpt (Dialogue)

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, about why we always need to get fucked up, to smoke and shit.  Our parents did it, but they didn’t need it.  They were just making a point.”

“Yeah, it was political thing.”

“Exactly, they smoked to blow that shit in the police’s face.  They did it for the smell, so the stench might stain the streets.  They smoked to fuck with everyone.  All we did was make the same shit stronger, everything they had, we just took it further, to fall deeper into ourselves and let what was left get devoured.”

“You think our lives are tougher?”

“No, I don’t think that, not tougher.  We just grew up wrong.  It’s all because of George Fucking Lucas.”

“Star Wars George Lucas?”

“Exactly, that Tolkien headed fuck did this to us.  You know, he’s the reason for all this bullshit we have to take.  If he’dve just left the trilogy alone, then, fuck, we’d be fine, smoking bowls in our parents faces once they grew a conscience about it all.”

“So shitty movies make you do drugs?”

“No, it’s not the fact that they’re shitty that did it.  They’re fine movies, but they’re also fucking evil.  When he made them, he knew everyone was going to see them, that a whole new generation would grow up alongside them.  And he fucked us.”

“I’m not following.”

“He gave our parents the heroes and we got the villain.  They grew up seeing the good in everyone, but we only saw what a fucked up mind can do to a kid, what would happen when you try and train a prodigy who had a few side effects.”

“Side effects?”

“Mental issues.  That kid was always fucked up, they warned Obi-Wan, but he went along with his plan anyway and tried training him.”

“So we’re trying to get over that tragedy?”

“No, we’re that kid.  All of us are fucked up a little bit, we have to be.  It’s the only 100% certainty of growing up in America, that you come out of it a little fucked up.  And we watched that kid become the villain our parents hated.  We’ve watched it over and over again, memorized each step, seen the hate fill him up.  And then we see it around us, feel it like a tic trying to burrow in, knowing we can only fight it off for so long.  So we smoke and take pills and drink, we do it all at once, give ourselves over to it, so that we might die.  We do it to kill ourselves, to stop the story before it reaches the end.”