Friday, July 31, 2009

Ministry at Mr. Small’s

My wife, some friends and I went to see Ministry play at Mr. Small’s Theater – a church that was converted into a concert venue years after it closed down. Good show. The pit was vicious. We always do our best to steer clear of that. Moshing is for meatheads who've almost figured out what music is about, but not quite. Even when I was 15 years old, I had no interest in pits. The pit grew large quickly and soon we were at the edge of it. It was tolerable for about the length of two songs. After that, some guy kept crashing into us. My wife got pissed and kicked him square in the ass with her boot. It was magnificent, perfectly placed, and he nearly fell forward onto his face. He only staggered though. Then he spun around, quickly and angrily. He wanted somebody to punch. He realized a woman had committed the offense and that he couldn’t hit her back. Almost immediately thereafter he made the connection that she was with me. I could see him give some thought to punching me and I could see him think better of it. I was grateful. Not because I was scared of him. The guy was easily 60 pounds lighter than me and quite a bit shorter. He didn’t look like a fighter or even especially fit. I was grateful he kept his head, because I really didn’t feel like getting thrown out two songs into Ministry’s set. Nothing was said. He just retreated back into his choreographed violence and shot me a dirty look. Later he crashed into our friend Ellen. She put her hands up to block his charge and ended up tearing his shirt in the exchange.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Jamie was a nice guy, very polite, tallish, skinny, and pale as a ghost. He was goth-y in the archetypal 1980s sense, walking around 20 years later. He had fake snap-on plastic fangs that fit over his real teeth. We found him online. My wife has a weird fetish for these types. I’m indifferent but he seemed like a good guy. So…fine, whatever, I’ve got no objections. Our first two swinging experiences had gone marginally well. We had had a third experience with the couple from Chile and a fourth with the other couple with the hockey player husband and doctor wife, which had gone much more smoothly and naturally than the first two had. Group sex is definitely easier when the participants’ genders are evenly balanced, but my confidence had grown a bit.

We got dinner with him and then went back to the hotel and started drinking. There was lots of drinking. At some point during the last year we had completely shed our fear of alcohol. We had vodka, 99 Bananas, and orange juice. My logic was that mixing these would produce a drink like a screwdriver with a hint of banana. Gourmet! It wasn’t. The drinks were kind of gross but we drank them anyway. Then the screwing started. There was lots of screwing. One of my wife’s favorite things on Earth is getting fucked by two men at once. That’s basically the point of all this. It’s fun to indulge her - one in each end. Nothing in the back door though. She hates that. She’ll tear your eyes out if you try that. So we each took an end. Switch. Repeat. Switch. Repeat. His dick was slightly shorter than mine, but also a little thicker. That seemed like a good trade-off. One complements the other. Each with our strengths, we made a good team. We screwed her silly. She loved it. When we were done, she was breathing pretty hard, and looked a little glassy-eyed. She was still so drunk that she couldn’t revel in her satisfaction for very long. She ran to the bathroom and puked, a lot. Whole buckets’ worth. Then she came out and apologized, as if it had ruined the experience for us. We chuckled. She slept it off. In the morning I assured her she had had a good time, though she had no recollection of what the three of us had done.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beauty and Prettiness

Art’s correlation with pretty things is entirely orthogonal. Real art is concerned almost exclusively with beauty. Beauty has a great deal more breadth and depth than prettiness. Prettiness is shallow, cloying, and completely convinced of its own virtue. Prettiness is reducible to simple, mechanical aesthetics. It’s self-assured and emotionally tone-deaf. Beauty is not so simple. It doesn’t need to make an effort. It is its own content. Beauty is a tool for processing the world around us, and it can be found anywhere. It reconciles all of our ugliness with our conscience. It has to strike close to the bone and hurt at least a little bit. That reconciliation is the role and purpose of art.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unrequited Love

Art is the most miserable bitch I’ve ever known. I fell in love with the narcotic joy of making art before I got laid for the first time. I also fell in love with that, but art has always meant more to me. In early adolescence, when I first realized how much I enjoyed indulging myself creatively, I decided immediately that art is what my life would be about. I haven’t changed my story since. Everything in my life that’s not my art is just an accessory to it. Unfortunately, the art world doesn’t feel the same way about me. I pour and pour myself into it but get very little in return. I’ve sold a total of one painting, ever. I don’t even know who bought it. I don’t know how well they’ve cared for it or if it means anything to them. I’ve done my share of exhibitions - 35 to date - with two more coming up. Those who like my work always seem to really like it. I suppose it’s just a bit too raw to look right hanging over a couch or fireplace. My work probably won’t match your décor. My work has nothing to do with video games or comic books. My work isn’t academic. My work has nothing to do with important social causes or virtuous ideals. It won’t make you smarter or morally superior to anybody else. My work is time, weight, solitude, and suffering, manifested as wood and paint. If you don’t get it, I don’t care. If you don’t like it, you’ve got bad taste. I’m going to continue pouring. I will be quite content to throw my life away chasing this ungrateful bitch. The act of artistic creation is humanity laughing in the face of its own mortality and finitude. Art is an obscenity in church and that’s why I love it. It represents a triumphant rejection of lesser gods. Art is my religion.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Waves of the Ocean

There are rhinestones on the back pockets of this woman’s jeans. They form a little pink wave on each pocket. It’s like her ass is an impressionist painting of the ocean at sunset. It’s not a very big ass, but it swells and moves fluidly as her weight shifts from one leg to the other while she stands in line waiting for her food. When the light hits her ass properly, it shimmers and twinkles. Doubtless I’m not the first person to admire it. Her ass is a proud and willful thing. It’s likely that she doesn’t adequately appreciate this thing that she’s wrapped in rhinestone-encrusted denim, like putting spray paint on a marble statue. It’s kind of a godless thing to do. Like so many beautiful things, its glory goes unappreciated by those closest to it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Secretary

They were very nice people, a married couple exactly our age. They were the second one that we had met for swinging. The first date went very well. He was about my height and build, but without the long hair. He was a hockey player (not pro), a bit of an ex-hippie, and a wonderfully friendly guy. His wife was gorgeous. She was tall and quite fit. Her hair was light brown and bobbed relatively short. She was really very beautiful, a classy beauty. Outside of these strange circumstances, she wouldn’t likely have had anything to do with me. Her job involved cancer research. If she wasn’t yet a doctor, she was very close to becoming one. It seemed like she was cut from very different fabric than me. She was one of those rare people who actually do something noble with their lives. Regardless, we all got along very well. As it turns out, their apartment was in a development where I used to work as a life guard, back in college. I remembered it well. The units were all very close, the walls were somewhat thin, and they had nosy neighbors. It wouldn’t likely be a good location for what we planned to do. So, when we made plans for the second date, we set it up at a nearby hotel.

The second date started at the hotel bar. My wife and I had finally abandoned our Straight Edge convictions. We all got buzzed pretty quickly and headed up to the room. Things got moving without much difficulty. The female portion of the couple had told us about her favorite movie, The Secretary. She was very into the dynamic between dominance and submission. I got the clear impression that she wanted to be dominated. Frankly, neither I nor my wife was sufficiently comfortable with the concept. I’m just not very domineering by nature. I think sex is best when it’s mutual and all parties participate equally. I don’t like to feel like I’m exploiting somebody. Regardless, we all started by undressing her. She enjoyed that, and her body was marvelous. She had tiny, firm breasts. Her box was shaved completely smooth, and it was surprisingly plump, given the rest of her being so lean. Next, the rest of us disrobed together, and my wife made first contact with her. The two women went at it for a while and it was really an incredible show. My wife was getting better and better at being with other women each time we were with one. As this new woman got more excited and closer to climax, her back turned bright red. It was a very strange and exciting thing. Not scratch marks. Not hives. Not a sunburn that I had previously failed to notice. Just bright red. Her husband and I both joined in the pile. As she twisted and fucked on her hands and knees, the length of her back turned brighter and brighter red. It was incredible. Whatever that is, you can’t fake it. It’s a clear indication that you’re doing something right. We all had a very good time, and sometime in the early morning we all left and went home.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Feast and Famine

The ashtray is full. It cannot possibly accommodate another snuffed cigarette butt, though undoubtedly it will. We will cram and pile them into and onto the small mountain that is still accumulating. Nobody will empty it. Nobody will simply pick it up, walk it down to the end of the bar, dump it out into the garbage can, and return it to its resting place. Paralyzed, miserable, and helpless with self-pity, we have elected to make the ashtray share and suffer the burden of our ennui. There is a special on bottles of Yuengling. Everybody is nursing from one, like infants suckling their mothers’ tits. The bartenders are extremely vigilant about removing the empties. Were they less so, the bar would look like somebody had robbed a Yuengling delivery truck and immediately consumed the spoils of their crime. Instead it looks like a commercial for shitty beer and depression. Instead of attractive young people having fun, we have ugly, old-looking young people having misery. We are pigeon-chested, spaghetti-armed, pot-bellied, acne-scarred men, and scowling, hipless, assless, chubby women, with cigarettes and oddly shaped breasts. We all want romance, decadence, and salvation. We are all drunk, desperate, and urgent. We all lack. The ashtray, however, does not lack. Whereas we each have emptiness, the ashtray has overabundance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Snow Storm

I cleaned the snow off of her car the way you eat the meat off of a buffalo wing. Neatly, cleanly, obsessively. I took great care not to miss anything that might obstruct her vision. Once the snow was cleared, I scraped away all of the chunks of ice that were stuck to the glass. I cleared the wiper blades, making sure that they were able to move. I removed all traces of ice so nothing could prevent the blades from making perfect contact with the windshield. She tested them. They moved flawlessly. It’s so gratifying when things work properly. All of the glass on her car was clean, and maximum visibility was ensured. There was still a great deal of snow coming down. I dusted off her headlights and tail lights. Then I made one more pass around the car, clearing that moment’s worth of accumulation. I admired my work for a brief moment. It was eight degrees Fahrenheit that night.

As I got in the car she squawked and reprimanded me for “taking so fucking long to clean off the windows!” We had a very low quality Type O Negative live bootleg playing in the dash at that time. The clipping and ambient sounds of the crowd often overcame the sound of the band. This is the hallmark of a poorly recorded bootleg. Her squawking and the bootleg’s hissing were so similar that they might have been mistaken for the same sound. I didn’t respond. I didn’t care. It was good to be in the car. It was warmer there.

She put the car in reverse and backed up. The wheels made a familiar crunching sound as they rolled over the ice and compacted snow. She stopped and threw the car into drive. Slowly we drove off, out of the movie parking lot.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ridge Street

Smoke, ash, and rain. There were so many lights and there was such an overwhelming sense of urgency, though there was nothing that I could do. It was very cold. Many of the streets were blocked off. But pedestrians are like ants. You can’t effectively contain them. Curiosity always has its way. Billowing memories rose to the sky and rained ash on the lens of my Nikon, which I cleaned later with a cloth. That must be a bitter taste, my friend. There’s an asshole taking pictures of everything that you ever owned, all of it on fire. All of your possessions turned to ash, later to be wiped away with cloth and discarded without ceremony. At least you grabbed your coat. At least you had that. Despite the fire, it was wicked cold, and my hands trembled from it. It was hard to keep focus, hard to grasp. It was the week after Christmas.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Ordinary Crucifixion – No. 1

My wife and I were driving around town one Saturday afternoon. We were stuck in traffic right in front of the Allegheny County Jail. It was a beautiful, warm autumn day. Sitting on a bench in front of the jail was a black man, hunched forward, sobbing without restraint into his hands. The bench was facing the road. Traffic was moving very slowly. Everybody got a good look. He was totally oblivious to those gazes. His grief consumed him completely. He had no will left to hide himself from the judgment of the passers-by. In that way he was above them. He was transcendent. He was real and authentic. His experience and emotions were naked. We were all safely insulated, separated from the event. We were cowards and hypocrites in our cars. It’s easy to judge when you’re safe and alone. He was completely vulnerable in front of an audience and he betrayed no self-consciousness. He was a god among men.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Sometimes I forget about the bone tumors strung throughout my skeleton like a building rigged with explosives. Sometimes they remind me that they’re still there. My favorite one is in the center of my left femur. If I put too much stress on my legs over an extended period of time, I occasionally develop a stress fracture. It’s not immediately apparent, but it eventually makes its presence known. It’s cumulative. Heavy squats, deadlifts, and excessive running do qualify as too much stress, as it turns out, though I often forget about that too. This morning, my favorite bone tumor reminded me that he was still there while I was driving. Suddenly it felt like there was electricity flowing through the bone in the center of my thigh. I nearly drove off the road. Abrupt, blinding pain really makes you feel alive. Strangely, it recedes much more gradually than it arises. The rest of the day it throbbed and smoldered, off and on. What’s strange is that I haven’t worked legs since Thursday and today is Monday. Friday would have been a more appropriate day for the pain to arrive. Regardless, I’m supposed to work legs tomorrow night and I’m hoping that I will be able to. I probably should let it heal, but the feeling of guilt and laziness that will result from the skipped leg workout will hurt worse than the fracture.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I run like shit. It’s one of the many things in life at which I’m not very good. I hate it, but I do it anyway. Even if done badly, running is a beautiful thing, because it’s so absolutely simple and singular. You don’t need any special equipment to run. Appropriate shoes are helpful, but beyond that nothing additional is required. I only run three days a week, and not very far. I just do it to do it because I know it’s good for me. If nothing else, it gets me outside. I definitely prefer the lifting, which I do four days a week. I get a bigger sense of accomplishment from that. Weight feels good. Running makes me feel like my lungs are on fire and my knees are about to come apart.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bridges and Rivers

The bridge stands above the river like it’s better than the river. The bridge is proud and defiant. It’s an accomplishment. Ugly, old, and crumbling, it still supports its burden, albeit with great, heroic effort. It supports itself with reinforced concrete and spite. The bridge won’t let you forget its strength. Thick, heavy, and dirty, the river flows slowly beneath it. The river doesn’t care. It forgives the bridge for being overbearing. The river doesn’t try. It’s effortless. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a river. It’s more magnificent than the bridge, simply by virtue of being what it is, without pretense.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Chileans

They were a married couple from Chile, attending Pitt as graduate students. We had found them online and the first time we met them in person was at a Starbucks inside a Barnes & Noble. That was the interview meeting. This would be their first time swinging. It wasn’t our first time but we were still very new to it and they would be our first experience with a couple. I don’t recall what their fields of study were but he had read some Nietzsche recently. At that point in time Nietzsche was my favorite writer. I was very well-versed in his work and excited to have an opportunity to show off my knowledge on the subject. So he and I talked about that a bit. The women got to know each other. At the end of the “interview” we all agreed to meet at their place in a week.

We found their apartment with minimal difficulty. It was in the city and very nice. When we arrived, they had music playing. It was some type of very South American-sounding music with lots of auxiliary percussion and horns. I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t classify it, as I know next to nothing about that genre of music. Unfortunately, we were still clinging to our Straight Edge convictions. They kept offering us different types of alcohol and we kept politely declining. We did try some very interesting little pastries they gave us. They explained that these things were as common as Twinkies in Chile. We all talked more. It was a little clumsy trying to get things moving. They hatched this strange idea that we should all dance, gradually disrobe, and then lapse into all the screwing. I was absolutely terrified at this suggestion - I don’t dance. I am, in fact, the clumsiest man on Earth. However, my fear of looking uncooperative was greater than my fear of dancing. So I danced. We all danced in their living room. It was kind of strange but not ineffective. They both danced much better than either one of us, which helped compensate for our awkwardness. Things got moving pretty smoothly from that point. The women went at it a bit and put on quite a show. We had actually just bought a new toy just for that purpose, a double dong. It was exciting to watch it used for its intended purpose. It was also undeniably humorous to watch these two women struggling with the logistics of using this awkward tool. The most amusing and totally unforeseen hurdle was the fact that the better half of the thing went up inside the woman with the weaker vaginal muscles. That was probably the evening’s high point. There was some light swapping after that and eventually everybody finished with their own mate.

Though the experience might have gone even more smoothly with the assistance of some alcohol, it basically went off without a hitch. It was gratifying to have our first experience with another couple. It felt good, and we were anxious for more. In retrospect, I’m not sure why we lost touch with the couple from Chile, but we did. They were excellent.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Second One

Maybe a month after our first swinging experience, we had our second one. It was mostly born of our sense of balance and fairness. Though I had nearly fumbled it entirely, I had just had my first experience with two women, and my wife was entitled to the inverse indulgence. Moreover, she’d just had her first bisexual experience and it seemed like I should try the same. I’m not sure exactly how interested I was in that as much as I was interested in the idea of it. You don’t know that you don’t like something until you try it and I was harboring the notion that the only truly complete people in this world are bisexual.

So we found a bi-curious male online. He was perhaps a year or two older than we were. We met him at the hotel and spent a substantial portion of the evening just sitting around the hotel room talking. As luck would have it, we learned that he was friends with one of my wife’s cousins. He had also gone to the same college as us, but we had never seen him there. We had a few friends in common. These uncomfortable realizations were made relatively early in the evening. They tripped us up a little, but we decided not to abort. All of the people that we had in common were very liberal and open-minded; we weren’t that scared of any information finding its way back to them.

Just like our first experience, it took quite a while to get anything sexual happening. There was still no alcohol involved. In retrospect, that fact still amuses me. It’s a strange experience the very first time you watch another man fuck your wife or girlfriend (and I would imagine the inverse to be true). It’s kind of exciting and a little distressing all at once. I recommend it for absolutely everybody. It’s one of those intense epiphanies that you can only achieve by direct experience. It’s another facet of your significant other (and yourself) that has to be learned if you’re really going to know them completely and cement your relationship. And, beyond the bizarre cocktail of excitement and violation that you experience, you are also confronted with your own homosexuality. Even if you don’t touch that person at all, you’re still watching them. You’re willfully naked and aroused in the same room.

I actually had an easier time getting into it this time around. I think it may have been easier for me because I felt less pressure. I didn’t have to perform for anybody other than my wife, which I had done countless times in the past. She, of course, took to the whole thing very well. She managed both he and I without difficulty. It’s remarkable how much less fettered by inhibition and corny social posturing women can be. I don’t believe that women are any more intelligent or emotional than men by nature. I think in the process of becoming a man, emotional intelligence is deliberately groomed away, like dogs that get their tails docked. In less civilized times this practice may have been advantageous, but now it seems like an antiquated expression of a prejudicial notion of what a man should be. It’s stupid.

About halfway through the act, the subject of male/male interaction arose. I had almost forgotten about that component of the evening and would have been content to just let it go. Now, confronted with it, I had to give it some immediate consideration. Very quickly I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t just walk away from this opportunity to learn without extracting all the possible knowledge to be gained in it. I can be weirdly mechanical that way. I agreed, though we kept everything oral. I don’t think either one of us could have done anything beyond that. I know I couldn’t have.

Suffice it to say that I gained a great appreciation for the art of fellatio. It’s strange, and fucking difficult. It was also interesting to learn that head is head. It feels no different whether it’s administered by one gender or another. However, once again, my neurotic tendencies prevented me from actually enjoying the experience. The male/male portion of the evening was short-lived and clumsy, though my wife enjoyed watching it. Graciously, she spared us the burden of any further awkward attempts at homosexuality and finished us both off.It wasn’t what I’d call a disastrous experience, but from my perspective it was kind of rough. Everything after this would get progressively easier, though it would be quite a while before I would do anything else with another man.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The First One

The first one was kind of rough. There was nothing wrong with her. We simply had no idea what we were doing or how to do it. We had found her online and had even met her once beforehand to get to know her better before setting up the big date and booking the hotel room. The girl was 19 and she lived on the other side of the city. My wife and I were fresh out of college, and each still living with our parents while we got our collective act sufficiently together to get our own place.

We were both 22 and still harboring the Straight Edge convictions that we held so adamantly throughout college. In retrospect, we were never very good at being Straight Edge. The only tenet of that ideology which we had practiced was completely abstaining from recreational drugs or drink. We both completed four years of college without a drink or a cigarette, though we made no pretense at celibacy and neither one of us was a vegetarian. I actually was briefly a vegetarian for about a year, but it was a rather half-hearted effort. We both were (and still are) outspoken atheists.

Being Straight Edge doesn’t necessarily involve being Christian, though the two do often seem to coincide. We had often discussed our mutual interest in swinging throughout college, but we were so awkward and straight-laced that I believe we involuntarily sabotaged our own interests in anything decadent during those years. Regardless, at 22, we had finally “got one” and lined up the big date with her. Because of our continued deathly fear of alcohol, we had no plans of lubricating the proceedings with any booze. Excitedly we set up the hotel and made up elaborate stories for our parents about why we’d be out so late returning home that particular Friday night.

Once all the arrangements were made, I awaited that date the way Christians await the second coming of Christ. It was only a few hours beforehand when I realized that I had developed some anxiety about the whole thing. To this day I do not have a rational explanation for my anxiety, but, undoubtedly, it was there. Most likely it had something to do with Catholic guilt and the feeling that I was deliberately about to do something shameful. You never beat Catholic guilt. If they have you by age five, they have you for life. We met her, had dinner, and went back to the hotel, all very mechanically. I don’t think I ate very much. The three of us lay across the bed like corpses. She had never done anything quite like this either and wasn’t about to take a leadership role.

Like anybody trying to get off in a hotel room, we dialed up a porno on the TV. At first, it didn’t really work, but eventually things got moving. Clothes were shed. Moves were made. And, to my horror, I realized that I was still absolutely flaccid. It took a great deal of work from all involved, but the situation was remedied, and eventually I succeeded in achieving an erection and performed moderately well. My wife (still girlfriend, at the time) really seemed to glow while watching me fuck this girl. I had been concerned that it might upset her to actually see it happening in front of her. She always enjoyed talking about how much she’d like to see it, but often in life, our notions of the way things will be and the way they are when we get there are profoundly different. I was glad that wasn’t the case in this instance. She watched with genuine excitement. Ironically, my wife had a much easier time. The event was her first experience being with another woman and she had no trouble with any aspect of it. The rest of the time we spent there passed without any more embarrassing incidents, and we checked out of the hotel at some point in the early morning.

Never had we spent so much time for one simple round of screwing. In retrospect, it’s hilarious to me. The learning experience was invaluable, though somewhat traumatizing. I had never before in my life had any difficulties like those, and it never would have dawned on me that my predisposition to anxiety and latent guilt from my Catholic upbringing could have such a tangible effect on me. I was shocked and horrified. The event would leave me with nagging doubt that would linger over our next few adventures, though thankfully it would not physically manifest as it had that time. Real personal growth is never easy. Many of life’s challenges feel horrifying at first and require some amount of unnatural and deliberate effort to surmount. Once they’re over, though, they seem trivial.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Smell of Your Hair

You smell wonderful this afternoon. Everything leading up to this moment was worth it. All suffering is forgotten in the scent of you. I’m going to smell your hair, and kiss this spot on your shoulder until I wear a hole in it. The day before us is enormous and full of wonderful things. We’re going to binge on all of it. We’ll have our fill and run long. I’m going to breathe you as long as I can.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


My wife loses about an hour a day to the practice of straightening her hair. It’s not really curly, but it’s not as perfectly straight as she’d like. It’s wavy. She hates that. She can’t just let it be what it is. She’s got to force it to be what she wants. This is accomplished with big curlers, a straightening iron, and loads of hairspray. It gets done every day. She’s never skipped the process once, even when she’s been sick.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Taking an X-Ray

She stretches and yawns, and the morning does likewise. The square of sunlight coming through the window looks very logical and precise, like God is about to take an x-ray of her ass, and has begun to inch up the length of her frame. Over the course of the night, she had twisted and coiled the sheets around herself and finally came to rest in such a position that she is now scarcely covered by any of them, though she is somewhat bound by them. She does that every night. Her pajamas are makeshift. She sleeps in a ratty old Bad Religion t-shirt and some track shorts. As she lays on her side, I’m admiring the right leg of her shorts, which has ridden up, exposing the entirety of her right flank and a great deal of her panties. She is still very asleep and completely oblivious. Right now, I’m quietly listening to music through headphones. I’m listening to forget myself and become transparent in the moment. For this purpose, I like the music to be somewhat vapid and shallow, but with sufficient ennui and emotional complexity that it does not offend the palate. Joy Division is ideal. I like it to remind me of what I aspire to be, but never will: smooth, clean, refined, and debonair. I’m watching her with envy. I can never be that content. I can never be that beautiful. I’m an ugly man. Whenever I touch her, I ruin her a little bit. Even if she enjoys it, a small amount of my ugliness lingers with her. It makes me feel shameful, and I want to apologize for myself. I’ll continue to sit here for a while. The gym doesn’t open for another 40 minutes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Old Guy Who Always Stares Out the Window of the Lunch Room at the Same Time Every Day

Like the ideal that God should have been, he sits perched on the thirteenth floor, by the window, unflinching. With earphones on and eyes transfixed, he sits. With tufts of white hair all askew, he sits. They are dignified tufts of white hair, with nothing to prove to any motherfucker who hasn’t been around as long as they have. How many years of looking and listening has he accumulated? If only I could hear what he hears. If only I could see what he sees. What is he waiting for?

Saturday, July 11, 2009


“You can’t hate Keith, because he’s about as threatening as the Easter Bunny.”
–Frank Ferraro

Keith is a guy with whom I used to work, in the same Pittsburgh retailer’s internal visual merchandising department as T. I was a graphic designer up on the tenth floor and Keith ran the printers down in the basement. I created the artwork digitally and sent the files to Keith. He produced them, prepared the printed work, and shipped it out. We were essentially parallels in the corporate structure, meaning that we were both at the bottom of it. Being two production people in a department overwhelmingly populated by semi-literate, egotistical, spineless, ambitious, passive-aggressive, overpaid, corporate-ladder-climbing, paper-pushing, executive shitheads, Keith and I actually had a tangible purpose. There were few other production people who could make the same claim with a straight face. This meant that we were indispensable and dramatically underpaid in comparison with our colleagues. Regardless, this necessitated a close working relationship between Keith and myself.

I really used to enjoy talking with Keith, primarily because he was crazy. He possessed a relatively innocuous and subtle insanity that took a while to detect and savor. That is what made him so interesting. He was crazy on many different levels, but it was all very genuine. Keith was a born-again Christian. He read the Bible obsessively and exclusively, and read nothing else. He really did. You could quiz him on it. He knew that fucking thing forwards and backwards. As is often the case with devout Christians, Keith was thoroughly homophobic. Anybody who was gay really made Keith visibly uncomfortable, especially gay men. This is particularly relevant because the visual merchandising department in which we worked was filled almost entirely with gay men.

They knew just how much they bothered Keith, and they reveled in it. Of course, Keith was far too polite to ever be rude, confrontational, or otherwise hostile. We used to conspire with a few of the guys who really liked to mess with Keith. This was hilarious and great fun, not only because of Keith’s ideological objection to homosexuality, but because Keith himself was gay and had absolutely no idea. This was one of those levels upon which Keith was crazy. He was confused and conflicted. There was a wide consensus among the office personnel that Keith just needed a raging fag to tear his ass up and show him the light. He needed Jesus to love him in a much more literal and physical way.

Beyond being a homophobic, born-again Christian, Keith was a connoisseur of music rooted in African-American culture. He had an extensive knowledge of jazz, blues, and real rock ‘n’ roll. He was also petrified of black people. Keith’s attitude towards black people was just as innocuous as his attitude toward gay people. He would never be rude, confrontational, hostile, or discriminatory. However, he would occasionally spout the implicitly racist rhetoric of right-wing, social conservative republicans, not that any of us thought that he really understood or believed what he was saying. It was just comical to watch a person who was so well versed in good, authentic black music and also so deathly afraid of black musicians.

Chain-smoking and an explicit scorn for the homeless further compounded Keith’s insanity. None of us were entirely certain where those two things fit into his Christian ideology. Regardless, it wasn’t worth the argument to find out, as it so often isn’t when dealing with devoutly religious people. Also, I should note that he was very careful to avoid profanity at all times. I could count all of the times that I had ever heard him swear on one hand. All of Keith’s bizarre, morally toxic characteristics were made all the more ironic by his sunny disposition. Keith might hate everything that you stood for but he would be your friend nonetheless. He was always a pleasure to be around. As a vocal atheist and godless heathen, I often found myself at philosophical odds with Keith, and he likewise with me. It was this very difference that prompted Keith to give me one of the most cherished compliments I have ever received. Keith said, “All of these people are liars. The say they’re Christian. They don’t read the Bible. They sin freely. They only attend church at their convenience. At least you don’t pretend, Michael. At least you don’t lie. I really respect your honesty.” At moments like that, Keith really impressed me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

We’ll Call Him “T”

My first job out of college was in the internal visual merchandising department of an old Pittsburgh-based department store. I was a print designer. The job entailed designing the in-store printed materials to help push various products. The man who would later become my boss was easily identifiable as a very odd character. We’ll call him “T.”

After I settled into the job a bit, T took the liberty of telling me why I had gotten the job. During the interview he had asked me what I was currently reading. Unlike the other applicants, I had a straight and immediate answer. T was impressed. It disgusted him that nobody seemed to read anymore. I still remember what I was reading then. I was fighting my way through David Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature. It’s a devastating book and a difficult read, but I thoroughly recommend it.

T was an old half-Jewish hippie, a walking HR liability, and full of amazing stories. One of the first things he asked me during the first week of my employment was, “Young man, do you like fat pussy? Sometimes don’t you just want to get smothered in it?” He said it all bright-eyed and excited, like an adolescent about to show a friend the bag of weed he had just scored. As it turned out, there was a chubby girl in tight pants who worked on the second floor selling men’s dress shoes. He had a long-standing crush on her but never approached her, despite how frequently he liked to look at her. He was married, and he liked to give the impression of recklessness and indiscretion. It was a façade, though, as he was actually a very cautious individual.

He liked to talk about all the great music of his younger years. At one point I asked him if he had been to Woodstock. I thought it was a logical question. He replied, “No. I was high on Mescaline, naked on an Indian reservation.” He told me this as though I had asked him something ridiculous. It was if he wanted to say, “Of course not! I was way too cool for Woodstock!”

T also had no short-term memory (none whatsoever) and a bipolar temper that could turn a corner like one of those ridiculous little European subcompact cars. At least twice a day he would misplace his $80 German-made Rotring pen. It was as heavy as a brick, bright blue, and nearly the size of a small child’s forearm. A substantial portion of his daily routine was spent hunting for it throughout the office. The rest was spent in his office, playing music, looking at online porn and giving me instructions that he would often repeat five minutes later without any idea that he had ever told me the first time. When T didn’t drive his BMW to work, he would ride his Harley, which he loved like an only child. He was also an ordained minister in the Church of the Sub-Genius and carried a loaded gun in his bag, which he occasionally neglected to leave in his car. He was notorious for making female vendors, and occasionally the other print designer, cry. Vicious words were one of his fortes.

I worked hard and efficiently and we had common interests, so T liked and generally favored me. For what it was worth, I was on his good side, which still did not stop him from occasionally turning on me and cursing me out for no obvious reason. He’d lend me books and CDs. His taste in music was eclectic and almost as wildly insane as he was. He got me into Captain Beefheart and I got him hooked on Wesley Willis.

I met my good friend Frank in that office. Frank was the CAD guy. T and Frank were friends before I was hired. Like me, Frank is an artist, so we quickly had a natural and strong connection. Frank and I became close friends, and still are. Due to T’s incredible paranoia, possessive nature and general distrust, Frank and I had to pretend not to be friends around him. We weren’t gay but we were in the closet! Amazing! Ironically, we were both friends with T. There was no good reason that we couldn’t have all been friends, but thanks to T’s personality, it wouldn’t have worked out.

The remainder of the office was staffed almost entirely by gay men. Loads of them. They all hated each other. None of them could get along. The egos were insane. The cosmetics coordinator was a bear: 6’ 2,” easily 250 pounds, big bushy beard, and very short hair. Not quite a shaved head but a very short, military-style haircut. He drove a giant black truck and talked in a thin, wispy voice. Everybody referred to him as “Sasquatch” or “Squatch” for short, though never to his face. The men’s coordinator was a pretentious, alcoholic drag queen. He was about 35ish and looked 50. His boyfriend was an extremely successful investment banker, and supplied him with all the Prada and Gucci he could wear. He was full of what had to be exaggerated stories of his exploits and debauchery back in the '80s. He was generally shitty at his job, prone to psychotic outbursts, and had a strange affinity for Nazis and Nazi imagery. Once, in the middle of an important meeting, he stood up and stuffed an empty Pepsi bottle down his pants to create the bulge of a grossly large phallus. He then threw a leg up on the table, which put his newly enlarged crotch in another man’s face, and started gyrating and thrusting. These sorts of insane outbursts were generally expected from him. The recipient of the lap dance turned bright red. Everybody else laughed.

The women’s coordinator was actually a woman. She was from England, and aside from that generally uninteresting. The homes department coordinator was the sharpest one of the bunch. He was a stunning-looking man who didn’t really strike you as gay. He had his shit together and ran his projects well. He also had a weakness for cocaine and loved to trash on the other guys in the office. The two guys who took care of the windows were a couple, and generally didn’t engage with the melee created by the others. They were organized, good at what they did, very sweet and easy to work with. The young men’s and women’s coordinator was a beautiful woman with the voice of a porn star and an incredible pair of tits. She was pretty good at her job. A little catty, but very well endowed.

T would talk loudly about people in the office. He wanted them to hear him. He wanted them to know. Nobody’s insanity could match T’s. After about a year there, he was absolutely out of control. Mr. Hyde began to eclipse Dr. Jekyll. He would twiddle hollow point bullets between his fingers while sitting at his desk. He'd talk loudly about killing various people in the office. His best ever loud, inappropriate comment was this: “If Jean thinks she has a bigger dick than Jim, she can fucking come talk to me about it.”

I learned that T had an HR file up in HR about as thick as a phone book (17 years’ worth of accumulation), but that they couldn’t fire him. His wife held an incredibly high position within the company and all of the complaints filed against him came from parallels or superiors. Nobody who had ever worked below him had ever spoken up about him – likely out of fear.

I was the first. I had an initial conversation with his superior, another with HR, and then a second with HR and all of the company’s lawyers. I didn’t lie. I didn’t fabricate anything. I just regurgitated. I was Donnie Brasco or Judas Iscariot or a 23 year old print designer who’d run out of patience. One Thursday, around 5pm, he was called up to HR and forced to either retire or be fired. They told him everything I had said and sent him back down to the office. I was the only person still working. He didn’t say much to me. HR called me upstairs to tell me that they had just let him go and that they had had to tell him everything. They sent me back downstairs. There was about another half an hour in which I had to work in silence with him. It was more than a little awkward. The next day would be his last day. I called in sick to avoid any further awkwardness or drama.

Months later, Frank and I had an exhibition of our work at a local gallery. T showed up. He was very cordial and friendly. Although I felt incredibly uneasy, he was fun to talk to. It seemed to me that he made peace with the whole thing. And, in a strange way, I felt that I had very likely added years to his life by getting him out of that office. I think he understood that. He and his wife still have plenty of money and T doesn’t have the office to make him crazy anymore. Months later, we all got laid off. Frank maintained contact with him and, apparently, T has mellowed out significantly and now enjoys his life. Frank says that sometimes he talks about me fondly and other times he just says, “Fuck him.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our Crop

My wife and I met in college during our freshman year. We were immediately an item and have been ever since. We didn’t live together until our senior year, at which point we got an apartment just off campus. Technically speaking, it was a two-bedroom apartment, and we each had our own room. That was the thin ruse we put up so our families could rationalize our living together without openly condoning our living in sin.

Emptying the apartment in preparation to move out after graduation was an immense pain in the ass. Since our place wasn’t furnished, I had purchased a cheap dresser from IKEA. For the return move home, I had emptied it of everything. My brother and both of my parents showed up to help me move out. My wife (girlfriend at the time) had moved all of her things out the previous day.

My brother and father picked up the cheap IKEA dresser, lifted it onto its side, and carried it out to the van lengthwise. I walked behind them carrying a box full of odds and ends. About halfway to the van, my brother stopped to adjust his grip, and a drawer slid open. Our riding crop fell out onto the grass. It might as well have been live ammunition. There was no good excuse for it. Neither my girlfriend nor I rode horses. We really weren’t into S&M much either, but had the crop essentially for that purpose. I immediately remembered leaving it in the drawer and, as quickly as I was able, thought of an excuse. I blurted out, “That’s from Halloween! Kathy (not her real name) was a nun.” Of course, it didn't occur to me in that moment that nuns don’t normally carry riding crops. My parents actually seemed to buy it, and replied, “Oh, you know, next year for Halloween your little sister is going to be an equestrian. She can probably use this for her costume.” I immediately agreed, in my haste to simply end the embarrassment. One of them picked it up and stuck it in the van. I just wanted to forget about it. So I did. I don’t recall if my sister ever did carry it around for Halloween.

Years later, it’s still hanging in their laundry room closet.

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