Friday, September 26, 2003


You know, someone needs to visit me.

My apartment's not unpacked yet, still, and I've lived there a month. Kacoon hasn't stopped by. Vic hasn't stopped by.

It's annoying me.

It took Maria Shriver to get me to watch C-SPAN.

I was watching C-SPAN last night, and Maria Shriver, a broadcast journalist, was using what she knew about journalism to answer only what she had to, to not answer any questions that were bullshit and to point out which questions were manipulative and ridiculous.

"I don't know, you'll have to ask him," she said, when asked about what her husband thought on something.

Then she looked at the journalist, whom she's served on women-in-journalism committees with, and said, "See, I do the same thing you do."

When asked how many Hummer vehicles her family owned, she said, "I don't know. I don't drive one. But I know where you're going with that question."

Plus, she's a Kennedy - and thus a Democrat - married to a Republican gubernatorial candidate who's a movie star and is running because he wants to do something for the good of the state he lives in. It's neat.

I hate to say it, but she kicked ass. It was fascinating.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Another Amazon review.

I just posted this review on Amazon. It should show up in a couple days or so, but the movie's getting a wider release tomorrow. If you have an opportunity to see LOST IN TRANSLATION, I suggest you run to the theater.

Charming, intelligent film.

Reviewer: rileymccarthy from Atlanta, GA

Have you ever just clicked with some complete stranger? By "clicked," I don't necessarily mean in a romantic way. I mean, you go up to this person who looks troubled or smart or wise or fun, even though you don't know them. And for some reason, you're able to talk with this stranger. You talk about things that matter. You know where they are, what they're dealing with. And they talk to you like they know what you're going through and where you're going with it.

Maybe you were on vacation somewhere. Maybe it was a wrong number on a phone call. Maybe, just maybe, it was fate, giving you a hand and a person to lean on when you didn't quite know you needed it.

Now, you and this stranger share a couple enchanted moments, where it seems like someone who doesn't know you is the only one who can hear you. And when the talk ends or the enchanted time with this stranger passes, you're somehow the better for it, even though nothing particularly substantial happened.

Fate reminds you that you're not alone, and fate reminds you of the sort of wonderful person you really are, outside of all the day-to-day drama of your life or away from the minutae that surrounds your everyday existence.

In Sofia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION, two strangers, Bob and Charlotte, share that kind of connection when they both end up in a Tokyo hotel, where they don't fit in with the world around them and don't seem to belong anywhere. So they come together.

What they share is not quite a romantic love, but it is a romance. Their friendship provides them with solace, with enchanted moments. Their chats give them both the strength and the tools to deal with their real lives. They're strangers to one another, who may only know each other a week, but they understand each other at a time when both of them needed to be seen for who they were and understood.

Bob's an actor in Tokyo doing a commercial and taking a break from his exasperated wife. Charlotte's accompanying her photographer husband on a business trip - even though he leaves her alone for most of the time - because she didn't have anything better to do back home. She's in the process of discovering her identity. He's in the process of rediscovering who he is in the midst of the life he's grown tired of leading.

And they help each other.

This film is completely charming and very mature, having its characters understand and explore some fundamental aspects of human nature and identity. The film is also very funny, exploring a clash of cultures and examining the weirdness of how you can sometimes get to the heart of who you are when you're away from everything you're familiar with.

The acting, particularly from the leads, is excellent. Scarlett Johansson's character is so fully realized that you want to hug her, and Bill Murray gives the best performance of his career. The film is beautiful to look at. The story's wonderful and smart, and the script is amusing yet serious.

LOST IN TRANSLATION helps you feel better about yourself. It reminds you that there are people out there just like you, who know who you really are and where you're going.

I love this movie.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


So last night, I finished watching the first season of "Alias," which ended in a cliffhanger that I read about when it first aired a year ago. Now, though, I know what the big deal surrounding the "Alias" buzz is about.

The show rocks. The writing rocks. The cliffhangers rock. The costumes rock. The acting rocks. (I saw Victor Garber on Broadway once, and he was excellent. And here, playing Sydney Bristow's cold, estranged and possibly evil father Jack, he's downright amazing.)

The second season, thankfully, is being released on DVD in December, so I can find out what happened last year inside SD-6. And I can find out about how Lena Olin joins the show.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

What condition my condition was in.

Black and I were talking last night and again today about how boredom and inaction can somehow manage to be, in its own way, exhausting. I'm feeling a funk right now, for instance. It's the sort of funk that seems to have settled on my shoulders, causing me to lower my head. My face has broken out, even, and I don't know why - but the very idea of changing out something as minor and pointless as the pillowcases bugs me. (Yeah, when I break out in the middle of the night - and you guys so don't want to read about skin irritations - I head for that heated foaming wash from Biore, and I change my pillowcases.)

I was supposed to work at the bookstore tonight - and I was told that I am not going to be working in the music department now that they have new staff to put back there because, though I'm a loyal, long-time employee, they find my focus on the department as a whole flawed - but I called out sick because I'm feeling light-headed, and I just need time to, I don't know, accomplish something other than the mundane tasks that surround me everyday, making me feel like I'm in a damn rut.

I've been taking my anti-depressant and my vitamins. I've been going out and being active whenever that's possible. So I don't know what it is.

Maybe it's that I know what I should be doing with my life, in terms of my writing and my focus and my talent, and I'm bummed that I am not doing it. (Of course, who can blame me - besides myself - for choosing to be practical and maintain my expense-paying jobs?)

"I know I'm a talented writer," I say to people who tell me that I need to write more, that I am good.

But writing that sentence makes me feel like a pompous jackass. I mean, it's luck and talent and drive. And if I only have one of those three things, then what good is this? I'm just another guy with a blog.

Take a week off, I think. Take six weeks off. Venture to Europe. Gain perspective. Write your masterwork while in relative isolation, and come back a new man. It works for people to do that, to break away from what's going on in everyday life. It's a risk, and you're capable of risks now. It's necessary. And it'll do you good.

I've fixed my Buford living situation, finally. And that feels great.

But what is it about solving one obstacle that then makes you feel like you can tackle all of them in one fell swoop?

It's not important that I write right now. It's merely important that I write. The ideas aren't going anywhere. They're simmering.

I need to go outside. The air in here is stifling.


"Was that you singing?" I say to my co-worker Mary Ann, who was humming in her cubicle.

"Yes," Mary Ann answers.

"Oh thank God," I say. "I thought the fire alarm was going off."

Heather and I were shelving magazines once in the bookstore, and I had a hairstyle magazine in my hands.

"Hey Heather, do you know where this hairstyle magazine goes?" I ask.

Then, I pause and look at the top of her head.

"Oh no, wait," I say. "You wouldn't."

"Where's Darren?" I say to Heather in the music department of my store.

"He's on break," Heather says. "Can I help you find anything?"

"No thanks," I say. "I wanted to talk to someone useful."

"Lenny's ONLY 50?" I ask, looking at a co-worker's birthday card.

"What?" the person next to me asks.

"Geez," I say, "someone needs to take better care of their skin."

I am fairly certain that the way I talk to people, generally in jest, is not amusing to others.

At the store, my co-worker Casey ceased calling me by name, instead referring to me as "that boy who works in music" or "the Devil herself," after I joked a bit too much.

Vicki, another bookseller, told Casey that was my method, that I'm just looking for people who will challenge me and banter back. Vicki was absolutely right.

At the point where someone called me "evil and sexist," though, I decided to calm it down until my sense of humor could be better understood.

Everything's OK now.

Monday, September 22, 2003

What feels like crazy.

OK, so I just called every person I know, like, 17 times.

Something's not right.

Un chien and a Lupo.

So last week, Lupo was walking his new dog, and apparently the dog got away from him, and he twisted his ankle. So he had to run after the dog, and his foot hurt. And it was swollen. And he had to go to a wedding this weekend, so I think his foot was better. Anyway, he sent along cute photos of his new dog, Mr. Jones, and says that his ankle is better.

And I've got a swing tune in my head now, thinking about the dog.

"Have you met Mr. Jones?,"
someone said as we shook hands.
He was just Mr. Jones to me-e-e-e.

I really need to do karaoke soon.

Scotch on the rocks.

I saw LOST IN TRANSLATION last night, which was very, very good. And it put me in the mood for a glass of scotch at a lonely bar, but I couldn't find any lonely bars near my apartment and settled on a gay one - Burkhart's, where a gospel-infused drag show was going on. (Who knew drag queens considered Shirley Caesar and Mahalia Jackson influences?)

I had my one glass of scotch over in the corner of the room on the top floor, then I walked around and caught some of the Emmys on the overhead TVs. And I guess guys were looking at me.

My friend Jonathan apparently works at Burkhart's now, for he was behind the bar. So I went up and ordered another scotch - mostly because I wanted an opportunity to tip him. And I told him that he looked gorgeous but that I'd had two glasses of scotch and that we were standing in low lighting, so that could mean anything. He smirked at me.

So I tried to escape drag queens screaming about Jesus by escaping to a quieter room in the bar. And I sat, realizing that I was then rather tipsy, and I watched the Emmys - scarfing down loads of popcorn in an attempt to lessen the effect of the scotch.

I talked up this one kid wearing a suit who was acting like the gospel queens' agent, and he told me that I'm cute and all. And he started talking to me about his new record label, so I turned my attention back to the Emmys.

And that was when this other, hotter guy, someone I'd seen outside, walks into the bar and sits a couple chairs down from me. And he's staring at me. So I was drunk and use that as an excuse to look over my shoulder at him. Like, three times.

So he moved to the chair next to me. And he still hadn't said a damn thing. So I started talking about the Emmys, munching still on popcorn. He smoked a cigarette.

So I started talking about other stuff, asking questions.

"What's your story?" I asked. "What do you do?"

He didn't talk. He smiled. And he stared and stared. I swear to God, I thought he was a mute.

Eventually, he proved me wrong.

"Don," he said is his name.

"Yeah sorta," he said when I asked him if he was nervous.

"Visuals," he said is his job.

"Paper Affair," he said is his company.

"37," he said is his age. (The only time that he showed any sort of animation, other than staring at me longingly, is when I jokingly asked him how the '80s were because "I'd missed them." He looked all pissed off then.)

Of course, he said these things in the midst of long periods of silent staring. I totally had the upper hand in this one, but I didn't know if I wanted it.

"What's with people not talking anymore?" I asked him. "Do you talk?"

He smiled at me.

"Well, that's a problem," I said. "Talking's, like, what I do best."

He smiled some more.

"Do people not need to talk anymore?" I asked him.

I think he smiled at me and said, "Well ... um ...," then he kept staring.

His hair was messed up, so I fixed it. (It was so "90210" Jason Priestley, gelled-over mushroom cut.) And he kissed me. Then he kissed me again. And he still wasn't talking. But, damn, it was good, fun, heavy kissing.

"I feel like I'm making out with Marcel Marceau," I said to him.

He looked at me blankly, staring at me more.

"Do you even know who that is?"

I broke away from him and went to the bar to talk to Jonathan about the ethics of kissing someone who doesn't know how to speak.

Jonathan offered me another scotch.

"I don't think I should have another," I said. "Another one, and I'd end up kissing that guy some more, and he doesn't know how to talk."

Jonathan looked over at Don in the other room and said, "OK, this next scotch is on me," but he didn't approve of me macking the Mute Stranger. Jonathan just thought it was funny, I think.

The ever-helpful Jonathan even gave me a whoop of "Go get him, Girl!" as I walked away from his whiskey offer.

And I kissed Don again. And again. And again.

So Don and I go to the outside area, and I mack on him some more. But that's when this weird feeling started to hit me, a mixture of shame, regret and confusion.

OK, have you ever been kissing someone and then looked over your shoulder at anyone else walking by, thinking "Get me out of this as quickly as possible, even though it's not bad because it's just not what I think I should be doing ..."

So I sneak away, saying I'm going to get something more to drink.

And I sit at Jonathan's bar, and Jonathan's got this eye-shadowed, wigless drag queen hitting on him, and there's this other flip-haired, college-aged kid sitting with a sidekick girl there at the bar trying to chat him up.

The kid's looking at Jonathan as though Jonathan was some shiny thing in a window display.

This isn't the first time I've seen people look at Jonathan this way.

Now I know he's my friend and all. But Jonathan's really good looking. I mean, he could be a poster boy for the Aryan race. When I met him, I told him he looked like Rolf the Nazi Youth from THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which he does.

But I know why Jonathan's mostly ignoring the kid, and I know why he's discouraging the wigless queen - who told me that his stage name was Shantraila Park.

Anyone you can simply, quickly or easily have, anyone who treats you like you're too good to be true, anyone who lacks self-confidence and thus immediately deifies others, anyone who judges you as worthy based solely on face value - no matter if, in addition, they're too young or if you have your own reasons for rejecting them beyond that - is, by default, unchallenging and unwanted.

But the kid, whose name was Lane, just thought Jonathan was cold and potentially heterosexual. I told Lane that Jonathan was, in fact, gay.

Jonathan, meanwhile, was turning down the drag queen, apparently for the thousandth time. Overhearing the queen, I understood that Jonathan was telling him quietly the truth about the rejection - which is that Jonathan's HIV positive (which is, I'm guessing, what he said) - in addition to being uninterested in anyone who wears that much makeup (which is, I'm guessing, what he didn't say).

"IF THAT'S YOUR ONLY REASONING, I ALREADY TOLD YOU THAT WASN'T A PROBLEM!" the queen yelled at Jonathan's confession.

Jonathan walked away.

"I have work to do, bitch!" Jonathan said with an amused tone.

What is it about people having no trouble volunteering themselves for exposure to something that they don't really even comprehend? I did it when I was a kid, thinking I was invincible. I managed not to catch anything, but I realized that it was still a huge judgment error on my part.

Somewhere during their conversation, Lane managed to tell me out loud that he was 20 - which Jonathan overheard and commented on. I started to laugh out loud, eyeing the kid's cocktail. So Lane told me he was 23.

"Ri-i-ight," I said. "What year were you born?"

"I was born in 1980," Lane said, rather quickly.

"Cool, you can do math in your head quickly," I said to him.

His sidekick girl told me that I was talking too loud, and I told her that it wasn't a big deal, that we'd all done it legally and illegally.

Don the Mute walked past me as I was talking, and I don't know what compelled me to kiss him again. But I did. And he still didn't talk much.

But he drank from my Diet Coke. And he tried to kiss me again. But I started to cool down, lessening the depth of each kiss.

I was distinctly aware, for some reason, that Jonathan was right there ... watching ... or not watching ... and I didn't like that feeling, which I couldn't explain.

When someone's your friend - and you know that someone is your friend and cares about you (which I guess I know about Jonathan now), it's hard for you to betray your own sense of right and wrong in front of them.

I eventually told Don good night, and he left the bar.

So I sit with Lane some more, and he and the drag queen shower Jonathan with more requests and compliments.

And I look at Jonathan in the middle of this and say, "Hey, I love you in the only way that matters." I don't know if he got what I meant.

So he asked me if I was all right to drive home. And I told him that all that popcorn and Don's Marlboro breath had sobered me up.

"I would hope it would," he said. "As much as you were sampling it."

So I left the bar, turning to the doorman on the way out and saying it was the best time I hoped I'd never remember.

Out in the parking lot, though, Don was waiting for me.

He ran up to me in the parking lot, saying that his car won't start. I think it was the longest sentence he'd said to me all night.

(I saw Mark Harmon playing Ted Bundy in this TV-movie once, and he used the exact same line.)

And I'm thinking, "Yeah right. Dude, I'm so not giving you a ride home."

So I knocked on the door to the bar, got the doorman's attention, and he stuck out his head.

"You can't come back inside," the doorman said, for it was closing time when I left.

"This is Don," I said to the doorman. "His car won't start. Can you help him?"

The doorman made a face, and I jet from the scene, yelling "Good night, Don," as I pretty much ran to my car.

The doorman, though, wouldn't help Don, so he came walking toward me again. So I went faster, jumped in my car and took off.

So Don mouthed what was probably an obscenity at me and started walking to Ansley next door, and I'm thinking, "OK, he wasn't lying, but I still don't want to give him a ride."

And that was my quiet night having a glass of scotch at a bar.

A movie that makes you want to drink.

To give you an idea of how good LOST IN TRANSLATION is, I almost saw it in the theater a second time right after I watched it the first time. Instead, I've decided to catch it sometime later this week.

It's funny, occasionally very funny. It's gorgeous to look at, and some shots seem directly lifted from a postcard collection from Tokyo. Bill Murray's absolutely terrific in it. And Scarlett Johansson's character is so fully realized that I wanted to give her a big hug.

Instead of watching the movie again, I went to a bar for a quiet night with a glass of scotch. (Of course, that got out of control, but my intentions were for a quiet night by myself with a good glass of scotch. Not two glasses of scotch and a cute guy with a dated haircut who smoked too much staring at me and kissing me.)

Anyway, the ending of the movie is smart.


I got my "Quai Des Orfevres" poster framed on Friday night. And, on Saturday, I put lots of double-sided tape on it and put it on the wall. And it was up there for a good half-hour before it fell off the wall, hit a bookshelf and cracked the plastic in the frame's bottom corner.

I am not, as I determined after a long deliberation, getting the frame replaced because the damage, though noticeable, is minimal. And I cannot just go out and buy another frame right now. Those things are expensive.

I had the frame less than 24 hours before this happened, which sucks. I still look at my poster adoringly, and it doesn't really matter since I've only had Larry and Rob the arrested-development kid over to the apartment in the month that I've lived there and I doubt seriously that I'll have any new guests over anytime soon. But my eye, when I look at the poster, does venture to the cracked corner first now, the dread growing in the pit of my stomach.

I ask you, am I white trash because I put a cracked frame on display?

Friday, September 19, 2003

Just browsing.

So Edmondson and I are doing one of our usual meet-for-dinner things at Phipps Plaza, same as always, but, instead of having a movie to see, he tells me that we should find a frame for my new movie poster before eating at our usual restaurant, the not-so-pretentious American Cafe. So we go looking around at the stores. But, surprise surprise, in a place as ridiculously high-end as Phipps, there's nowhere to find a place that sells either posters or frames for posters.

(One of the helpful Simon employees there at the information desk told me that I'd have better luck at a Wal-mart. Knowing that I needed something of a specific size that a megamarket wouldn't carry, I called her a bad name.)

So, instead of doing anything practical, Edmondson and I went browsing the boutiques. First, we went to this new store called Tommy Bahamas, which had clothes that seemed to come out of a circa-1985 Panama Jack nightmare. They had some nice shirts and sport coats, but, you know, nothing worth the $85 to $500 they were asking for.

When I tried on this fantastic, lightweight sportcoat, one of the clerks told me I had a George Clooney look, saying that the jacket he had me try on looked like something on the cover of the latest Vanity Fair. I looked at him and said, "Wow, you didn't sound like a salesman until RIGHT THEN." Then, I told him that George Clooney's wearing a wet swimsuit on the latest cover of Vanity Fair. His co-workers told him that he'd just been "shot down" by me, so I ended up with this really cute, incredibly gay salesman instead - who pointed out more $80 shirts that looked like $15 shirts from Eddie Bauer. The gay salesman was attentive, but he didn't seem to be flirting with me because, of course, everyone thinks that I'm with Edmondson when we hang out at Phipps. So I looked at Edmondson, and he said he was tired of the Bahamas. So we left.

We went to Armani Exchange, but we left when we realized that the only thing I could afford was a T-shirt with a giant Armani Exchange insignia on it - and a URL for their website. What, exactly, would I be saying about my personal sense of style if I wore that T-shirt? "Look at me, I can afford something from Armani Exchange!" Maybe it's me, but they seem like the worst offenders of this whole walking-logo thing. I mean, other stores at least put some concern in what the shirts LOOK like, even if they have their logos emblazoned across them. Armani Exchange T-shirts, with few exceptions, look ugly. The jeans are nice enough, but I can't afford those yet. And what exactly makes their denim more or less durable and wearable than a jeans-specific company? (I mean, it's not like I'm buying a Chanel suit for my mother that she could be fashionable in this year or 30 years from now. That's different.) If I bought a pair of jeans at Armani Exchange rather than the Gap or Old Navy, there isn't much difference in the jeans. The only reason they're so expensive is because they carry the Armani name. And they only sorta do that, for the Armani Exchange is their freakin' outlet store.

We walked past Tiffany's, but I couldn't get Edmondson to go in with me. We ended up at this art gallery run by two Asian brothers. I walked into the place with a quick step and began loudly criticizing the Picasso-wannabe works on the walls as "derivative" and "lacking any true inspiration," which they did. The gallery manager, who helped get me the name of a good framing company, sorta stared at me most of the time that I was walking around, criticizing things. At one point, the brothers had done four paintings of exactly the same thing, switching only the colors. It didn't seem like a series, though. It seemed mass-produced and commercial, which is the feeling I get about any art in a "gallery" in the middle of a shopping mall, regardless of how high-end the mall pretends to be.

After that, Edmondson and I had some real fun. Skipping a trip to the Versace boutique since I didn't have sunglasses to shade me from those ridiculous colors, we went instead inside the actual Giorgio Armani boutique, which, I'm sorry, is the best men's clothing store anywhere on Earth. Much as I hate the Armani Exchange, the actual suits at the Armani boutique get me salivating and wishing that I had a million dollars.

Entering the Armani boutique, I've found, is never a good time to be shy or to betray how much money you're truly worth. I mean, if you're going to step inside, it's a good idea to act like you belong there or at least like you know what the hell you're doing, even if you don't. You can't just be a tourist. You have to act like you're going to buy.

I was wearing a Blue Sky Coffee T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and I think my hair was a bit messed up. But I went right up to the suits, began touching and feeling around, checking the prices of the ties, pointing out to a silent Edmondson what I liked and what I didn't. I asked him what he thought of everything, but he said he had no sense of style and didn't have an opinion.

I checked out the suit on the mannequin, noticed that it looked gray from a distance but was not actually gray. It was black with Seurat-pontilism style white dots all down it. It was gorgeous. With it, the salespeople had put a white shirt and a tie that, to me, didn't seem to work. It had a large burgundy-striped print going diagonally across it, and it seemed like '70s throwback to me.

I like more subtle patterns, for I think smaller geometry works better. I picked up a royal blue tie ($125) and carried it over to the suit, finding that I didn't think the color worked on that either for there was nothing in the suit that would play well off the blue in the tie.

So I put that tie down, grabbed another one and carried it toward the mannequin.

That's when the clerk came over.

"I don't like the tie that goes with that at all," I said. "The suit's fantastic, but the tie seems a bit loud for me. I was trying to find something that I thought would work better."

He disagreed with me about the tie, saying he thought it worked fine but that he would help me find something that would suit me better.

So, and this is my favorite part, he goes into the back, pulls out another one of the suits and drapes it across the tie display in front of me and Edmondson. And he gets another sales associate to bring another white shirt. And then he starts trying to find a proper tie. When he can't find one on the top display, he pulls out the shelf under the display that had about 100 more ties.

So I started grabbing them, saying that I didn't think a blue worked properly. I told him that the burgundy on the display seemed like a good color but that I didn't like the pattern in the tie. I told him that it would be wrong to pick a tie that had the same dotted pattern as the suit but a different color, and he agreed with me. So we tried other ties. This went on for a few minutes. Finally I pulled up this black tie, strictly black, but it had a textured pattern to it. I told him that would be the proper tie to go with it. So he tied it in a Windsor knot, then he agreed with me.

All the while, I decided to let him know what he probably already guessed, that I was a mere browser who liked to see if he could talk the talk sometimes. I asked him if he liked working there. I asked him the price of the suit, then laughed when he told me that the one we were mixing and matching ties on was $2,350.

I said thank you, for it was really nice the way he treated me. And I strut out of there, leaving Edmondson trailing behind me.

And I said to myself, strangely for usually I try to not be vain or price-conscious, that one day I would own one of those suits - if not that one. One day, I want to walk into the Armani boutique and actually buy something.

Anyway, we didn't find a frame for my movie poster. Edmondson and I talked about drive and romance and life over our usual Stars of Mozzarella at the American Cafe. And we had fun.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Me and my framework-narrative film fetish.

OK, I've satisfied my DVD box set addiction of the week and satisfied my framework-narrative fetish all in one purchase from Ebay, which I swore once upon a time that I would never use.

I just bought Kieslowski's 10-film set focusing on the Ten Commandments, "The Decalogue," and I got it for $35, rather than the $60 asking price. Split into 10 hourlong parts and set in an apartment complex (with only one unifying and ambiguous character), it's considered as a whole to be one of the greatest films ever made. I've never seen it. It was unavailable for years.

But now some guy in West Virginia is sending me the DVDs cheap. I love the Internet.


I've come to realize, though I still post something on here everyday, I feel like I've not written anything of depth or anything personal in a while. I know there's one thing that I specifically avoided discussing, which was the time spent with that boy Rob (which I didn't talk about because I assumed he read this blog on occasion). Those of you in-the-know have heard by now what all happened with Rob, which wasn't so much funny as it was sad. I thought, at first, that having to reject him would mean that I'd get an opportunity to right the wrongs of the people who have rejected me badly, but I didn't get a chance to do that. My rejection of Rob was only as tactful as it needed to be - and it had nothing to do with him being similar to me. He was nothing like me at all.

If there's an essay there, I haven't really found it yet.

As for updates on my apartment life, I've had no real guests other than Rob and Larry. I don't usually get in to my apartment until late at night most days. It's not unpacked, and I spend my time in it watching those "Alias" DVDs, which are really good and seem to take forever to get through.

Vic and Kacoon haven't seen the apartment, and I haven't seen them. So there are no new zany, madcap adventure stories to tell, and I miss those stories and those people.

I told Crocker on Sunday, having one too many El Presidente margaritas at a Chili's and calling him from the restaurant, that I should write him another essay soon.

But I have work to catch up on. And I think I don't have anything new to say, no new issues to harp on or no new questions to ask.

I once called this the "new season" of "Life of Riley McCarthy," which was a joke. Nothing much is happening.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

8 Simple Rules for Destroying a Family Sitcom.

Hearing about ABC's wrong-headed decision to continue the annoying sitcom "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" even though the show's star (and the central focus of its main premise) dropped dead last week, I've come up with an idea for how the show can continue to be funny even though John Ritter is now worm food.

Death jokes. Lots of them.

Imagine the oldest slutty daughter, realizing now that her beloved dad will never dance with her at her wedding or be there to give her away.

"He said I could only see Ryan 'over his dead body,'" the slutty girl would say. "So I guess it's all right to call him up for a date now."

"Ooh, slutty girl, you've got me as stiff as your father!" a potential suitor might say.

"Dad's last words to me were, 'Don't do that ... EVER!' So I'm asking you, Mom, if that agreement's binding," the nerdy girl would say.

Of course, the show should also fill in the gaps by bringing on the typical sitcom grandparents, the typical "Aunt Sandy" character who is brought in to help "raise" the kids right.

I give the "revamped" show until April before ABC, ahem, pulls the plug.

Trying to locate my "Greatest Hits"

Black and I were talking last night, right before my shrill, insistent voice somehow lulled him into a comfortable slumber, and he expressed an interest in seeing "every one of my articles from the past five years or so that I ever considered to be any good." Hence, Black is one of my favorite new people, even if he thinks of my voice as something with a soporific quality.

At one point, I told Black that I'd written Top 10 film listings with commentary for the last three or four years, and he told me to send them his way. Here's the thing, though. I told him that I don't have them, for I don't think I do. I mean, I know what my top pick is from the past couple years, but I don't have the e-mails with the rambling commentary anymore.

I'm going to keep looking, but if any of you readers out there happens to have been such a fan of my work that they kept any of the Top 10 listings, please send it along to me. ("Far from Heaven" was my top pick last year, for instance.)

I will be grateful. Black will be grateful. (And if I have to read it aloud to him over the phone, Black will probably fall asleep again, which is probably a good thing because I think he might work too hard.)

Monday, September 15, 2003

"Lost" in the movie theater.

This movie is the next one on my "must-see" list. The reviews have been excellent.

As for the fact that Sofia Coppolla is the director, I'm kinda excited about that. I mean, her debut, "The Virgin Suicides," wasn't a bad movie - it was ambitious, interesting yet not perfect. "Lost in Translation" is apparently even better - and it's said to contain the best Bill Murray performance ever committed to film, which is pretty cool.

This weekend, I saw "Matchstick Men," which was pleasantly surprising, and I saw "Cabin Fever," which started out well enough before completely disintegrating into nonsense as it ended. I was very disappointed in the latter.

What I intend to do in April.

So I wrote Miss Gibson, and I suggested that I might visit her in London in April, which seems like a good time since she will be on spring break from University at that point.

She said we should spend a day in Paris, pretending to "be glamourous and intellectual." (Actually, she wouldn't be pretending.)

I can't believe I'm actually more-than-likely going to be able to do this. I love my savings account and the possibilities it has opened up for me.

I realize that I sound like some 27-year-old dork who should've visited his friend in Europe long before now, but, whatever, I'm really excited about this possibility.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Wall art.

OK, last night at the Madstone, I was so excited about this vintage-looking poster for the Clouzot re-release that I went to this kickass manager named Jamie. She, it turns out, fired the attitude-heavy, Boggle-incident usher a couple weeks ago and loved hearing my "Boggle outing" story.

She also liked talking movies and told me how to go about getting a copy of the poster, for I need wall art for my new apartment. (And I decided that the trendy, decidedly cheaper idea of putting up framed, vintage-looking movie posters and/or prints was the direction I should head.)

So I ordered this poster, and it should arrive next week. It's a great poster, so it should work nicely.

Reason to be excited.

I saw 1947's "Quai Des Orfevres" and "Camp" at the Madstone last night and was quite pleased with the French film - and horribly annoyed by "Camp" whenever its characters weren't singing.

Aside from "American Splendor" in limited run, there's been little worth seeing at theaters for a couple weeks now.

But that's changing.

Though I will side with my friend Rob that occasionally Ebert can royally miss the mark on a film, I pay special attention whenever Roger Ebert gives a film a four-star rating. Usually it means that the movie's very nearly perfect, I've always found.

Today, he gives both Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men" and Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" four stars. "Matchstick Men" opens nationally today. "Lost in Translation," which has gotten raves all over the place, will open here in a couple weeks.

"Cabin Fever," which also opened today, got trashed by Ebert, but word-of-mouth has been strong on it. (And it looks freakin' disgusting.)

So it'll be fun to go the movies again.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

I love the Madstone.

Dude, the Madstone is now officially the best damn movie theater EVER. On Oct. 10, they're going to begin showing, get this, "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," which is one of the most biting, funny movies ever made.

It looks like it's past time I paid them another visit.

An American Christmas.

A coalition formed by me and other people who shall remain nameless are rallying for another visit to American soil by our favorite expatriate, the ever-smoking and ever-smokin' Miss Gibson. Granted, we of the Coalition to Reunite Miss Gibson with American Soil, or CRUMGAS for short, realize that she was essentially just here and that it's difficult for her to continually visit. Nonetheless, Miss Gibson seems open to hearing the coalition's arguments in this regard.

So, telling her why she would benefit from another visit this year, I, speaking on behalf of the coalition, sent her this e-mail yesterday.

Miss Gibson wrote that it was brilliant, and I truly believe that one day soon Miss Gibson will realize all that we have to offer her here and return to America.

Here is the missive, explaining why Miss Gibson needs a little American Christmas right this very minute:

Because, Miss Gibson, you're an American, and America is the land of the free. And Christmas is better here, for Americans celebrate Christmas the way it was intended. In excess and surrounded by commercialism. Christmas here is a lovely time, a time spent going into credit card debt and surrounded by your fellow friends who also don't want to go visit their stupid parents. Christmas is a beautiful thing here in America, the land of opportunity where you have the opportunity to receive lots and lots of gifts.

Imagine you, me, Black, Crystal, all holding hands behind some lovely, gigantic tree, lit with all the colors of the rainbow, at some tacky shopping mall somewhere. We'd be there singing non-religion-specific carols, and you guys would all be ice skating. And I'd be standing at the side of the rink, standing as an example to you all of how we crippled people mark the holiday - gleefully watching as dozens of able-bodied people fall down.

Children laugh more in America. The sky is better looking here. We've got homeless people who let us feed them during the holidays so that we can feel better about ourselves. Do your homeless people do that for you? Do you even HAVE homeless people?

We're not all high-falootin' and snooty, like the British. We call our false figure of Christmas worship "Santa Claus" because we decided it was catchier and less religious than "St. Nicholas." We have sales, crowded stores and angry parents getting into physical altercations over who grabbed the last Tickle Me Elmo off the shelves at Wal-mart.

It's tradition, Miss Gibson. It's garish, ugly tradition, and it holds a place in your heart and soul, just like it does in mine and all the other spoiled American children who grew up holding a Teddy Ruxpin or a Cabbage Patch doll alongside our yuppie parents in the '80s.

It may not be pretty. But it belongs to us.

You belong here for the holidays, Miss Gibson. Black and I want you around.

Remember the fallen. Be prepared.

The signs over the interstate, the ones that usually report traffic accidents or construction delays, have been broadcasting the above message since midnight. It seemed apt to remind everyone to be prepared for when another attack comes. Remind yourself that the nation is never as safe as it seems, I suppose, but how else do you get prepared for another Sept. 11-style attack?

We held a moment of silence at my office today. I find myself singing The Star-Spangled Banner in down moments, trying to get the notes right and failing. (I was never much one for patriotic displays, anyway.)

Someone reminded me of a feeling I had that day two years ago, when all the false reports and all the true reports were coming in. It felt then as though nuclear war or some other apocalypse was upon us. The world changed.

Now I'm sure that the day doesn't hold for me as much impact or sorrow as it did last year. As time moves forward, we all must, as well.

I don't know how "prepared" that makes me. But I don't really know how to prepare.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

How to make a bed.

I had my friend Rob over last night, and he helped me straighten up the bedroom a little, for there are now, drumroll please, sheets on the bed.

But we had a disagreement over whether my way of making the bed was the right way. Granted, Rob had no idea what a dust ruffle was, but there wasn't debate about the dust ruffle.

I put the second sheet on the bed face down, then pull it out with the design up when I bring the comforter down to put on the pillows.

Rob told me that I was doing it incorrectly, that the design should be placed face up on the bed. But, that way, when you pull down the bed, you're faced with the side opposite the sheet pattern.

It doesn't make any sense to me. And, granted, I'm not a stickler for a clean house (and anyone who's ever visited me can feel free to laugh at that statement).

But I say it's design-down on the sheet, not design-up.


Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I am ... I am Superman, and I know what's happening.

OK, now I don't usually objectify ridiculously silly shirtless model-actor people on the blog. And I didn't really like what I saw of the first season of "Smallville." But this, ahem, packaging makes me want to buy the DVD set.

They first ran this photo with ads promoting the series premiere of the show. They ran giant shots of Tom Welling's painted torso on billboards and the sides of buses.

When I first saw the ads, I almost wrecked my car. Now that it's on the front of the DVD set, I'm going to be in a tizzy every time I work in my store's music and DVD department.

Yeah, I just said "In a tizzy."

Monday, September 08, 2003

Language barrier

I spent an hour at work yesterday wearing the wrong name tag. Instead of it saying "BENJAMIN," it said "GREG."

That, in and of itself, is really boring. But something funny happened in the middle of it, something I didn't realize was funny at the time.

I had a new customer come into the music department, and he was hearing impaired. So I said hello. And he spoke to me in sign language, saying that he was just looking around and said thank you.

He appeared to be able to lip read.

Well, I know a little sign language from college, so I tried using some of it.

"Hi," I said in sign language. "I ... speak ... so-so ... I ... am ... B ... E ... N ... J ... I ... E ..."

He shook his head and pointed at my name tag, and I said aloud, without looking at it, "You're right. I shouldn't spell my name because it's already written on my name tag. I just know so little sign language."

And he pointed at my name tag again.

And I asked, "I'm sorry?" because I didn't understand him, and I thought I could go get a pad or something.

So I let him browse, and he's sorta nice.

So I go over, and I talk to him some more about how he's finding everything. I've been able to help other hearing impaired customers before through my limited sign language. I've also used my German and my French since I've worked there.

So I ask him what his name is, and he spells out "D ... A ... N ..."

And he's going faster than I can comprehend, so I ask, "Did you spell out Jeff?" Like I'm some moron.

So he looks around for something to write with, and I point at his phone.

So he uses the teletype on his phone to spell "DAN," and I felt like an idiot.

And he browsed a bit more and left, and I said "Thank you" in sign language to him.

It took 45 minutes before someone told me that I was wearing the wrong name tag.

"Oh," I said. "That's why that deaf guy kept pointing at my name tag and looking confused!"

I must've seemed like a complete idiot.

The feather boa.

I was at Larry's party, and I'd just gotten through having an argument with this guy who got mad at me once a year ago and stopped talking to me entirely, without filling me in on anything that had happened.

The argument was overdue and probably unnecessary, but I was sitting next to the guy - and he was being all nice to me and praising my writing (because I'd done a reading of the Waffle House piece that was generally well-received), which struck me as fake - so I brought up the one thing he didn't want me to bring up, our "supposed fight where no one told me anything" from ages ago.

Frustrated with the guy and at an impasse in the argument, I retreated to the computer room to find a random moment to, I guess, bitch about him on the blog. (This guy is different from the creepy guy who flirts with me. This guy doesn't talk about stuff that bothers him.)

Anyway, so I'm in the computer room for less than a moment when someone inside the party changes the music station from bluegrass, which was annoying and completely weird for a big gay party that had no hayseed theme, to techno-dance crap music.

"Who's going to start the dancing?" someone asked.

This is so not a dancing crowd. This is a crowd that hires people to come and dance. They do not usually dance themselves. I was the youngest guy there, after all, and the guy closest to my age who attended the party (who told me that he liked my "poem," to which I said, annoyed, "It wasn't a poem," and he looked at me, wondering what the hell difference it makes what he calls it because he's in forestry) was there with his mother.

People don't dance at Larry's parties. Someone could break a hip. Lupo, attending one of Larry's parties, asked me where the older guys had parked their Rascals. It's that kind of crowd.

Larry's partner, David, who's intelligent, able-bodied and relatively young amongst the crowd himself, spoke up to answer the crowd's question.

"We got Benjie a feather boa," he said. "He can do the dancing."

Hearing my name and talk of the rainbow-colored feather boa that Larry and David brought me for my birthday, I went into the other room.

"It's in my car," I said to the crowd. "Do you want me to go get it?"

I just needed to get out and breathe. I was still upset. So I went to get the rainbow-colored feather boa out of my car.

Someone later asked me why the boa's in my car, and I told them it was because I'd just moved. That's not the real reason. The real reason is that I don't know what the hell to do with my rainbow-colored feather boa. I'm just not a feather boa-type guy.

So I'm going out to get the feather boa, and this cute, thin and very, very attractive mixed-race guy walks through the parking lot past me.

"How are you tonight?" he asks me as he walks past me, for of course I'm watching him as he walks by.

"Oh, I'm shitty," I said. "How are you?"

"What?" he asked me.

"I said I'm shitty," I said. "Why is it that people ask you questions that they don't expect you to answer, and then they get surprised when you actually do answer them?"

I walked out into the middle of the parking lot.

"What happened?" he asked me.

"Oh, I just got into a dumb argument with someone, and, even though I had legitimate reasons for being upset, I felt like it was my fault for just not getting over it," I said, more to myself. "I don't even live here. We're just having a party."

"Which apartment are you in?"

"I think it's 419 or something," I said. "It's Larry's apartment."

"Oh," he said. "I live right above that. My name's Chris."

He had a shaved head, I think, and a day's growth of beard. His skin was the color of caramel, at least that's how it looked in the dark. His eyes seemed to reflect actual concern for me. It was weird and stirring.

The apartment right above Larry's is the place where the drug suppliers live, the place where the loud arguments occur. Larry says his upstairs neighbors are both wanted by the police for some reason.

"You're Kevin Allen's roommate?" I asked.

"You know Kevin?" he asked me.

"I know Kevin, and I know he's trouble," I said. "Isn't he a drug supplier?"

"Trouble?" Chris asked. "Why do you have to go and hear rumors and jump to conclusions like that?"

"Because he offered me drugs before," I said.

"You shouldn't judge people like that," Chris said. "He's not a bad person."

"Um," I said, "I can judge Kevin Allen because he's tried to get me to go down on him a couple times, even though he doesn't ever remember my name and treats me like I don't exist whenever I see him."

"Oh," Chris said to me.

"Sorry," I said. "I really shouldn't have said that."

"It's OK," Chris said.

"It's just weird sometimes," I said. "Kevin Allen struck me as someone who wasn't worth concerning myself with because he seemed uninterested in fixing his own problems."

"Yeah," Chris said. "But, sometimes, he's nice."

"I shouldn't have said that," I said. "I just had an argument. It's one of those moments where I feel like I need a hug."

So Chris hugged me.

"Thank you," I said.

I changed the subject awkwardly.

"You're nice," I said. "And very cute."

He laughed and muttered thanks, but I didn't hear what he'd said, so I just kept talking.

"I am not cute, distinctly not cute," I said, for it is my habit to fill an uncomfortable silence following me being overtly flirtatious with a complete stranger with the sound of me insulting myself. That night, in that lighting, I was probably at my cutest, actually, for I was mildly drunk on wine with blond highlights, hair product and geek-chic glasses.

"No," he said. "I said thank you."

He told me he was 26 and a waiter at Houston's and that he'd lived with Kevin for about a year, which is when Kevin's old roommate Dusty moved out to attend grad school.

Chris kept saying we should talk about "people" but that he had an issue with Kevin's car tag that he needed to take care of, so I told him that I'd meet him on the steps outside his apartment in about 20 minutes and we'd keep talking.

And that was when I thought that we'd end up not talking and completely making out or something on the steps outside the apartments. But I told him that we could keep talking.

He seemed attracted to me, but maybe I was misreading it. Maybe Chris just liked, you know, making "people" happy, the sort who'd agree to do anything you'd wanted to do. Maybe he was just being polite.

As he ran back to Kevin's apartment, I yelled out at Chris, "Hey, would you think it was funny if I told you that I came out here to get a feather boa???"

And he laughed.

So I go back inside with the boa, passing it along to one of the women in attendance, and I tell Larry that I met Chris and asked him to fill me in.

"You met Chris?" he asked. "Run. Run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. He's dangerous."

"Really?" I asked. "He seemed nice."

"He's a car thief. A couple months ago, I swear David and I saw him out in the parking lot switching car tags."

"Car tags?" I asked.

"Yes," Larry said.

"I think that's what he was in the middle of doing when I saw him," I said.

"He disappeared with Kevin's car for weeks at one point," Larry said. "He'd switched the tags on the car and just disappeared."

"Oh," I said, thinking to myself that now I wouldn't get to make out with him on the steps outside the apartment because I probably caught Chris when he was mid-getaway.

Larry told me to be careful.

"Larry," I said with a degree of cockiness. "You know how good I am at keeping myself safe from bad people."

"You're terrible at it," Larry said to me bluntly.

And he was right.

I looked outside on the steps 20 minutes later. He wasn't there. I went back inside, waited 10 minutes, then I went back to the steps.

No Chris.

During the party, I'd actually managed to do two loads of laundry at Larry's, and, in the middle of all this, I went to go put the baskets back in my car. (Also, I went to check and see if my license plate was still on my car, which it was.)

Someone was sitting in the darkness in the empty parking space where Chris' car (actually, it was Kevin's car) used to be.

"Chris?" I called out. Then, I looked closer. "Oh, it's you, Kevin. How are you? I thought you were Chris."

"Hey," he said.

"I'm Benjie," I said. "We've met about a million times."

"Yeah," Kevin said. "Hi. You saw him?"

He looked sick. Like he was barely holding himself up out of the gutter. Literally and figuratively.

"Are you OK?" I asked him.

"Oh ... I'm fine. Just hung over. And pissed as hell."

"Chris told me he'd be back in about 20 minutes," I said. "He said he was going to take care of some license plate thing, which I thought was odd. I mean, why would he need to drive somewhere else to take care of that? And why do that in the middle of the night? He said he'd be back soon."

"Oh really?" Kevin asked me.

"Yeah," I said. "Not sure if I believe him."

"He didn't tell me that he was taking the car," Kevin said. "And he has switched license plates on a car that I got him once before. But this time, he's just putting the license plate I had in the backseat window on the car."

"Really?" I asked. "He's stolen license plates before?"

"He's a mooch," Kevin said. "I need to get him out of my apartment. He's already cost me $20,000."

"$20,000???" I asked. "It seems like maybe you should've gotten him out of your apartment a while ago. And why the hell did you buy him a car?"

"I don't know," Kevin said.

"He seems really nice," I said about Chris.

"Oh, he's very nice," Kevin said. "But I need to get him out of my apartment."

Shortly after that, Kevin went back inside his apartment - not before telling me that I should come up and "visit" him when the party ended, and I went back inside Larry's. I stayed there another half hour or so, then I walked back out to my car to go home.

I'd just pulled out of my parking space and made my way around the cul-de-sac area when I saw Kevin's car pull back into the parking lot.

So I reparked my car and got out.

"Hey," I said to Chris. "He's looking for you."

"Did you get me in trouble?" Chris asked.


"Did you knock on the door?" he asked. "Did you get me in trouble?"

"No, I didn't knock on the door," I said. "I wouldn't knock on Kevin Allen's door. He was sitting out here in the parking lot."

"Oh," Chris said. "Are you feeling less of the drama now?"

"What drama?"

"You were dramatic before," he said.

"Oh, I'm always dramatic," I said. "It's what I do. It seems like Kevin's ready to be dramatic."

"He is?" Chris asked, still looking good. He took a screwdriver out of some packaging. He put a car tag on the top of the trunk of the car, then kneeled and began to unscrew the old tag. (The two tags had different numbers and different stickers for each year. The old one he was taking off had a '03 expiration sticker. Chris was putting on a new one with an '04 sticker. Both were set for the month of July.)

"Kevin always buys a new one," Chris said. "I told him all he needed to do was get a new sticker."

"Isn't it less expensive to get a new sticker?" I asked.

"He wouldn't listen to me," he said, probably lying to me. I mean, I didn't even realize buying an entirely new tag with entirely different numbers on it was even an option. (To be honest, I still don't think it is.)

"I feel like asking you a dumb question," I said, though I felt like asking him a lot of dumb questions.

"What is it?" he asked, looking at me once again. I felt warm. Really warm.

"It's stupid," I said. "I don't know you."

"You can ask me whatever you want," Chris said.

"OK, well," I said. "No one's kissed me since January, and I ..."

"I'll kiss you," he said.

"OK," I said. "Why? I shouldn't even ask you to. The last guy I slept with didn't even ..."

"I like making people happy," he said to me.

"All right," I said. I kept staring at him, waiting for something. I felt cool, for I sorta had a verbal commitment with this hot possible car thief or car tag thief for a kiss. And he seemed to like me or like people or something.

So Chris finished switching the tag, and I finished asking questions, and he said that he had to deal with Kevin upstairs.

"Give me about 20 minutes," he said. "Then you can come upstairs to my room, and we'll talk."

"I can't really go back inside to my party," I said, switching gears while considering what we'd "talk" about in his room. "I really should head home."

Kevin had already invited me up. Now Chris was inviting me up. And they were going to argue about potential car theft before I was supposed to come in for chats or "whatever."

"OK, give me five minutes," Chris said. "I'll talk to Kevin, and then you can come in."

"I should go," I said, and I moved toward my car.

Chris started toward the apartment, so I followed him.

"Hold on," I said.

He kept moving.

"Hold on," I said. And he stopped, and I was standing right close to him, looking him in the eyes. And he knew why I was chasing him, and I did too. And it wasn't spontaneous. But it so didn't matter.

"It's not going to be fun up there with Kevin," I said. "He seems like he's in a really bad mood. So I just want to wish you luck with that."

And we kissed. He had chin fuzz. It tickled.

He headed toward the apartment. And I started to get in my car.

"What's your number?" he called out to me.

"I'll give it to you later," I said.

"Come on," he said. "Give me your number."

"You can get it from Larry downstairs if you need it," I said to him.

"Come on ...," he said.

I thought about it. I thought about how nice he was, how cute he was and how he seemed to like me. And I thought about how easy it would be for him to rob me, hurt me, lie to me. Either way, I figured I'd get sex.

"Um, I'll see you later," I said to him.

And I got in my car and drove away.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Party and laundry.

I'm actually in the other room at Larry's right now, and a party is about to start. Of course, I feel odd because I'm here for both the party and because I'm doing two loads of my laundry, which I expected to have done before the party. (Of course, it's nowhere near done. So, at some point during the party, I have to duck into the laundry room by the kitchen and fold underwear, hoping against hope that people aren't sneaking away to fuck in the laundry room. Luckily people haven't done that sort of thing at one of Larry's parties in years, though.)

I don't work again at the bookstore until 3 p.m. tomorrow, which is cool. If you take into consideration that I stopped working today at 4 p.m., that means I have 23 hours between shifts to do my laundry and unpack my apartment. It's almost like having a full day off. Except it's not.

Oh dear, that creepy man who always gets drunk, hits on me and then fights violently with his life partner just walked in for the party. He's seen me. I need to find a place to hide.

Whatever happened to ...

I realize that I've not been to the Madstone in weeks, which has a lot to do with my move and the fact that I had seen everything that was playing there. I also realize that I've not been anxious to make eye contact with Christopher, the guy I went on the date with back in June and Snapshot's roommate.

I'm guessing Snapshot's happy to be rid of me, to whatever degree he had me, because I had been calling him too much and seemed more interested than he was in me. (I thought he was as interested in me as I was in him, but apparently I am freakish to look at in person or am otherwise repellent. Or it just could've been that he saw nothing was going to work out between us, neither friendship or romance, and tried in his way to let me down easy.)

I also haven't heard from that Graham guy from Friendster in a couple weeks.

Of course, I write this trusting that they don't read the blog, which they both actually might.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Tasks at hand.

Hmm ... I need to:

Start doing readings.
Start working out.
Start going out.
Continue unpacking.
Go grocery shopping.
Make sure my post-raise bookstore transfer is on track and a go.
Raise my work production and quality numbers to a more acceptable level.
Get new, recent and better photos taken.
Find a way to see a visiting Lupo soon if it's possible.

Some kid's blog.

OK, I found this kid Sebastian's blog, and he's really funny. I love how he publishes that he's through supplying his friends with drugs for free, and he runs his photo and name on the page. For some reason, that doesn't strike me as particularly savvy. Oh, but he's Canadian, so that explains it.

Oh, and, if I ever devote an entire blog entry to laser hair removal and a trip to the tanning bed, I leave it to either Black, Doug, Kacoon or Lupo to venture up to Atlanta and kick my fake, narcissistic, wannabe-clubkid ass.

Jumble notebook.

OK, so I've turned my blog into a giant, jumbled notebook-journal over the past couple of days. (Hell, that's actually all it ever was.) But I'm ticked at whomever voted my blog so low on that poll down at the bottom of the screen that I went from a solid 5 rating with 11 votes to a 4.5 rating with 12 votes.

That means someone rated my blog a 1, which I don't feel I deserve at all.


Besides, I like the idea that this is a giant brainstorm notebook-journal. I had dozens of the actual notebooks that I had to toss during the move, stuff from Augusta and further back in my life, and it's good that I can actually type in this one.

Typing's become second nature to me since my time at The Red & Black with Miss Gibson.

Oh, and I saw "American Splendor" last night. Very, very good movie.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Things are so bad that I, the go-to movie guy, hasn't gone to the movies.

OK, it's been two weeks since I've seen a movie, which is weird for me. Tonight, though I could go home and watch ALIAS, I feel obligated to instead watch AMERICAN SPLENDOR out of the house.

That way, I'll catch up on the hip movie that everyone (else) saw this weekend at the Tara.

And just to show you all that I don't abandon story ideas.


About my story idea, I was going to write a number of short character pieces
about people at different stages of coming to terms with their identities and
community-at-large, then structure it around two or three events, a la Robert
Altman's NASHVILLE and SHORT CUTS or Paul Thomas Anderson's MAGNOLIA.

The story, which should focus on characters all at points where they're dealing
with the risks they've taken to be who they are, is called either FALLING or THE
it's taken from a k.d. lang song - and I don't know if I can borrow it so

The key setting is a big, but not unrealistic or totally unfeeling, mall, viewed
and promoted as a "manufactured community" within an existing, older town. The
story takes place over five days during the week of Halloween.

(I work at the Mall of Georgia, which is this elaborate network of shops both
inside and outside of the main building. My store, for instance, is in the
"Village" at the Mall of Georgia. At times, the Village, complete with
sidewalks, street signs and an amphitheater, is used to host holiday gatherings.
In the winter, the week of Thanksgiving, the outdoor ice-skating rink opens.
It's fascinating how the area is genuinely beautiful, fun and inviting - while
not at all reflecting the reality of the area it's in. Like Helen's German
village, it shouldn't be there - and shouldn't look the way that it does or have
all that it has - but it's there and finds its own way of working. What is it
about modern communities that we'd rather exist in a fake neighborhood than hang
out in a real one - as older areas and urban centers die away? Coming from
Athens' thriving downtown area and the legitimate feel you get from the
individuals on its streets, you wonder what it says about yourself and your
world if you get similar feelings of joy and cultural exposure at the
"manufactured community" of Mall of Georgia.)

The key unifying event that ties the stories together is a suicide that occurs
at the mall. (This, though it features it, is not a story about the suicide.) A
teen boy jumps - or falls intentionally - from the third floor balcony of the
movie theater to the first floor below (near the food court and an information
desk), and the characters all experience it in one manner or another.

One story is, of course, Alex, the boy who jumps. Alternate characters reflect,
both before and after the fact, on who he was, what he wore, how he lived, whom
he knew, why he was upset and the unanswerable "why" surrounding his actions.
(Alex's story is more complex and more personal than this, but I can't really go
into it right now. Needless to say, he's mad, abused and hopeless - and feels
there's no other way out. This, though, will remain vague as other characters
project motives onto his actions after the fact.)

Another story involves Gabrielle, an African American girl in her early 20s, who
is obsessed with fashion and wants to become a designer. She goes to the mall to
experience its sense of "culture," studying what people are selling versus what
people are wearing. She takes notes on individuals - how they act versus what
they wear. She notes the kids who are obsessed with the Goth and punk looks; the
preppy looks; the Armani designer T-shirt and nightclub dressers; the
Abercrombie-Gap, disheveled-yet-not-poor look. At one point, I'm thinking she
initiates some friends of hers in an experiment to change the way they dress for
one day, in an attempt to see if their experience at the mall changes based upon
how they're dressed. (This, of course, will result in several characters being
dressed alike - thus helping make it unclear who dies when the suicide occurs.)
Gabrielle, incidentally, is new to the area. She's encouraged by new,
college-attending friends at the mall who notice her interests and like her, to
use her talents and enroll in a fashion program at a local arts college.

Gabrielle, though, moved to the area with her mother to pursue work
opportunities, and they share a car and coordinate their schedules so that they
can both get to temp jobs. (Gabrielle works near, but not at, the mall.) The day
of the suicide, Gabrielle has had a huge fight with her mother because Gabi
(encouraged by her experiment the day before) chose to quit her temp job without
telling her mother and without a guarantee that she's gotten into the college.
Gabi, in her fit and in an attempt to annoy her mother, says she's going "candle
shopping." Enraged, she takes the car, though her mother needs it to get to
work, and goes to the mall to find solace in the community of her friends she's
met there. She sees the suicide when it happens - and isn't sure if one of her
friends (wearing clothes from the experiment the night before) or someone she's
taken notes on is the one who has died. She only recognizes the outfit as one
she took notes on and one that she used in the experiment. (Somehow, it's got to
be made clear that someone would wear the same outfit either two days in a row -
or every other day.)

Gabrielle's mother, Ruth, follows her daughter to the new city so that they can
both find work. Ruth's not able to let go of her daughter - and clings too
closely to her - because her spouses and other children have abandoned her from
time to time. She doesn't feel she can cope on her own. Though it's not beaten
to death in the story that she wants someone there in her house - to care for
her and assure her that she's doing all right, she isn't aware that she's
holding her daughter back by caring too deeply for her. Ruth wants things safe.
She wants things her way. She doesn't understand quite why the situation has to
change. She, of course, finds out about the suicide from her daughter. Her
feelings, at the end of the story, are unclear, though she draws a parallel with
her daughter that pursuing a better sense of self does - as in the case of the
suicide - not always turn out as we want it to. Thus, is it better to be safe or
daring? Is it better to fall and take a risk, or is it better to stay safe? Is
it possible to do both? Do you do justice to yourself by trying to do both? Is
there a way of maintaining safety while risking enough to find out who you are?

Bill, an almost-30, part-time clerk in a mall bookstore who wants to be a
writer, is good at his job and knows his regular customers in passing - if not
well. He knows Alex, Gabi, members of their families and their friends
separately, but he doesn't know if they know each other at all. Remembering that
he was once a mall kid, he identifies with how they act and who they are, yet
he's also reminded constantly that he feels too old for this environment. In a
sense, the stories that Bill has already lived through are the ones the younger
characters are now experiencing. He sees a therapist. He wonders if he's
actually moving forward in his life, or, if by working two jobs and staying at
the bookstore, he's keeping himself from doing the things he needs to grow and
reach his ambitions. He's secure in his positions now, and his past attempts to
escape the world he's in haven't worked. He's scared, but he wants more out of
life than this. (For instance, in talking to a 19-year-old gay person, not Alex,
he realizes that this is his only contact with another homosexual. He used to be
more immersed in his community than he is now. Because he's so busy and because
the community he's most often in is filled with either much younger or older gay
people, he's either too wise for some men or too young and not-successful-enough
for others. He's too intimidated, based upon past experiences, to wander into
the more open, urban settings that most gays his age populate.) He doesn't hold
real relationships, for the only new people he meets are from the mall, either
customers, co-workers or shop workers at different shops. His family, though he
avoids them, also frequents the mall. (Ooh, guess who I'm basing this character
on.) Bill doesn't see the suicide but hears about it when he gets to work later
that day, but he identifies with it - because he once felt suicidal and
remembers (before the suicide happens) nearly attempting a fall similar to the
suicide. After the death, he wonders a) if he could've done anything to help the
kid who died; b) if, by mentioning the story of his own attempt within Alex's
earshot, he gave the kid an idea on how to do it; and c) if mentioning it
stirred some kind of karma that both made it happen and made him aware of it.
(This really did happen at my mall. This week, I actually went about contacting
the parents of a kid named Douglas Alan Lyle who died in this manner at my mall,
and I told them that I once, as a teenager, contemplated a similar jump but
didn't do it.)

Parallels in the visuals and dialogue should suggest that Alex and Bill are, in
some ways, the same person. Though Alex's story ends (for this is not just
Alex's story), Bill, who has his own story, shows an alternative to Alex's life
- if he had lived.

Other stories involve an evangelical Christian attempting to pass out flyers at
the mall - only to get kicked out for soliciting on private property.
Eventually, after the suicide, the Christian, warned repeatedly not to come
back, does because he feels that his flyers would do some good in the atmosphere
surrounding the suicide. (This sort of story is in newspapers all the time.)
This act can be seen either as a well-intentioned good from a well-meaning
person or extreme bad taste and bad timing. What if the Christian is intending
it as one - but angers a lot of people by having it perceived as another thing.
Is he doing more harm than good? He feels what he's doing is true and right, but
the climate surrounding him disagrees with him. Though it's a community created
by the public, it's a private institution - that can kick him out.

Daniel, a mixed-race man filled with confidence interested in Gabi, who works as
a store manager at the mall and is the primary one who speaks to her about her
research and takes part in her "experiment," makes eye contact with her on the
second floor just as Alex falls past them. Thus, his romantic connection with
her, the choice that she makes in regard to him and in regard to her new
ambitions, is tainted by that view. What if, in the one instant you felt the
most hopeful about a new love or a new direction in your life, an outside force
- by complete coincidence - managed to darken it? How would others view him? How
could he maintain a positive view of himself in spite of that?

Ally, a girl recently hired by Daniel who used to work at Bill's bookstore,
changes her hair color routinely - but is told that her new purple hair doesn't
fit with her new company's appearance standards. She needs the job, so she
changes the look - but disagrees with the fact that she has to do it. Ally is
Bill's chief confidante.

(If the parallels in my story are close to real life, it's because these are the
sorts of things that I see everyday at my store and with my friends that work at
the mall. Don't worry, though, Ally, in the end, will not be my real friend

Zach, who serves as Bill's counselor, is walking out of a movie with his family
in time to see Alex jump. Though he specializes in caring for depressed people,
he's tortured by the sense that he should've been able to do something more -
and that, at times, it's impossible to save someone.

Phillip and Jennifer are executives with the mall who attempt to assure the
"pleasant atmosphere." They're the ones in charge of the look and feel of the
place, the ones who determine the mall's position on how to cope with the
solicitors. They also decide how the mall should respond to the suicide itself -
it closes the section where Alex jumps for three or so hours - then reopens it
with police tape up so that not much business will be lost. (I believe this is
how my mall coped with its suicide.) They'll, of course, clash about the
management of the incident. One of them will choose to leave the job. Another
will keep it. I'm trusting that one of these, as well, can be a character that
Vickye is developing - though she may be an older shopper. I need more shoppers.

Chloe is a teen customer who tells off Bill in a vicious tirade and is just
generally unreasonable to the friends and sales clerks around her. She wanders
in and out of other scenes and in and out of her involvement with other
characters. She's the only one who meets everyone, and she manages to impact
them all just through random meetings. Her own anxiety is never really
explained. Some people are just angry.

Goth Kid, the one that everyone would expect to cause trouble, doesn't.

Bill's parents.

A security guard.

A store executive who doesn't like the clothes her store is promoting this

A mother with a small child.

People from a "model search" that Gabi attends and another character, possibly
the song girl below, competes in. (The recital is separate from this.) Gabi asks
them what they look for in an individual to be a representative of the clothes
they promote.

The shopkeeper in the town that the mall is in, having to come to terms with
losing customers. (This is too Meg Ryan in YOU'VE GOT MAIL, so I may lose this.)

Alex's mother will find his suicide note before he commits suicide and heads to
the mall to try and stop him from doing it - only to arrive just after he's
jumped. (Speaking with the father of the boy who died at my mall makes me want
to flesh out these characters more, but, at this point, I can only think of the
actions inherent to the story.) Alex's father will be the one who seeks out the
reasons behind his own son's death, the one least pleased with its apparent lack
of full motive. (I don't want to ORDINARY PEOPLE this too much.)

A girl who wants to sing one racy song for a school recital but is urged by her
parents to Bill's store to seek out other, more appropriate songs to perform.
She's also Alex's best friend. She's singing the song - though I'm not sure if
it's going to be the one that she wants to sing (because, in the end, some
choices leaning toward being your own person are inconsequential, in the long
run, to showing who you are) - when he dies. She doesn't find out he's dead
until after she performs. This then could lead her toward either joy or regret
regarding something as small as the song she eventually chose to perform - and
how it does reflect on who she is. I like this incident, but it's not clearly
defined how it will happen to me yet. (This is also based upon something that
actually happened.)

The extraordinary psychic neck burn story idea thing.

OK, so I got this completely ridiculous sci-fi story idea (the sort I'd laugh at from someone else) because of a couple things that happened to me a few weeks ago. Several weird and/or random moments happened, and one night they just connected in my head alongside thoughts of Pete and Julie.

- I wore a nickel necklace, and an allergic reaction caused this burn or rash on the back of my neck. Then, it went away like it always does. I didn't wear the necklace again, but it came back one day and just started burning severely, though I couldn't figure out why.

- That same day, I was working at the cash register at the bookstore, and, for approximately two seconds, I lost my voice, my face turned red (according to my co-worker Felicia) and I started coughing uncontrollably, unable to breathe. Felicia freaked out, and the customer I was waiting on thought it was incredibly odd. But a couple moments later, I was completely fine and back to normal.

- That night, I sat next to table full of people playing a game of Magic - The Gathering at Steak n' Shake. People kept looking at me and staring. My neck started burning again, and I put my head down on the table because I felt dizzy. Nancy, my waitress and a friend of mine from high school, got very worried and kept asking me if I was all right.

- Randomly, I was also listening to the new self-titled Liz Phair album a lot. I kept playing its first track, "Extraordinary," over and over.

That night, I told Nancy that those random events, even me listening to the Liz Phair song, had given me an idea.

I told her that I wondered that day if Julie was all right, that Julie and I had shared a past connection once, and I wondered if my weird momentary illness was some sort of echo of hers. And I told Nancy that I had an idea for a weird, supernatural WB series as a result of it.

What if I'd slept with Pete, whom I was really attracted to? What if it'd hurt Julie, which it would have? What if all of her previous explorations of me and my magical abilities left us somehow "tied" more than she realized? What if she tried to do something dark to me, inflicting herself with some sort of pain? What if she hexed the mirror in order to communicate something horrible, some sort of injury upon me? What if, instead of doing whatever she intended to do to me, it hurt her and communicated all of her natural abilities, the psychic leaning and the telekinesis, on to me?

What if she tried to essentially strangle me, instead hanging herself and leaving me with the echo of a psychic rope burn? What if I didn't know she was doing it and instead just felt it?

So here's my idea, which I've essentially stated through questions.

First scene: A college-aged girl, dejected over a disastrously-ended relationship, seems to commit suicide in a room lit by candles in a circle (so cliche). Morrissey-sad music plays in the background. Noose around her neck and hair over her eyes so that her facial expression is never quite clear, she mutters something, seeming to cast some sort of spell, and she steps off of the chair where she's standing, hanging herself. But what looks like a traditional suicide may not be. On the floor under her, nearly shattered by the kicked-away chair, is a mirror. The camera lingers over it, examining it from the air. It's not just any mirror - but it's not your typical magic mirror either. It's a college girl's mirror, adorned with photos and memorabilia. Among the photos are shots of her boyfriend, shots of other people. The camera zooms in on a photo of one guy, the main character, at the center of the mirror, directly underneath the dangling body. Blood drips on the photo.

Second scene, no cuts at all but a transition to the actual main character, smiling the exact way he was in the photo: He's working as a cashier at a bookstore, standing in front of a big, dark window that's become reflective with the night sky behind it. The lights reflected in the window disappear. The window behind the guy shakes. Suddenly, in the middle of quoting a price to someone, he starts coughing. At first not much, then violently. He can't speak, can't do anything. He starts rubbing his neck, feeling for something that isn't there. The female cashier next to him gets alarmed, asks him if he's all right. He looks up at her, and his face is unnaturally red. And he collapses, apparently dead.

Fade to credits.

Back from credits, the scene at the store continues a few minutes after the guy's collapse. The female cashier, holding a cup of water, talks to the male cashier, still flushed but conscious and apparently OK. His voice is hoarse, and he keeps rubbing the back of his neck. He thanks her for the water, keeps insisting he's fine. She looks at the back of his neck and notices something that looks like a burn, appears harsh and irritated, but soon the guy's able to walk around and serve customers. He's fine. He doesn't know exactly what happened, but he's fine.

He drives home to his apartment later that night, and he tries calling the college girl on the phone, saying he knows they've not talked in months but he can't get her out of his head, for whatever reason.

"I know I shouldn't even be calling you," the guy says. "You're probably right. It's probably best if we just let everything go. But I'm worried about you, even though you'd say it wasn't my place to be worried. No, you'd probably say that your only problem nowadays is me."

Months pass again. That has to be very clear.

When we re-emerge, the lead guy is somehow changed, even though he doesn't even realize it. He has more effected mannerisms, seems to anticipate bad things coming before they happen. It's not immediately clear what's happened to him.

He quotes the exact price of a sale amount to a customer who just walks up to his register, before he even scans an item. He stops children in his store from walking away from their parents, insists that this one customer with an odd look about him and an odd reaction to the music playing on the inside of the store leave immediately.

The girl cashier, again, would ask him what the scene was about, and the hero would respond that he has no idea - that he just had a bad feeling about the guy.

The girl cashier would change the subject, asking our lead if his dating life has improved at all. It becomes clear, from the way he talks about his ex, that he's avoiding use of pronouns, and the girl calls him on it, tells him that she's already aware that he's gay - because he told her so months ago.

"Sorry, old habit I learned from dealing with my mother," he tells her.

A guy walks into the store, and our hero immediately recognizes him and becomes sorta standoffish. But the guy sorta storms up to our hero and hugs him, saying it's good to see him and that a year shouldn't have passed since they last saw each other.

"That long?" the hero says. "Of course it's been that long. I thought it best if we didn't talk for a while, you know."

"It hardly matters now," the guy says.

"Huh?" our hero asks, not knowing what the guy is referring to.

Later, they're sitting and talking during the hero's lunch break. From this, you find out that the guy who walked in is the suicidal college girl's boyfriend, that our hero hasn't even heard about her death yet and knows nothing about it. So her boyfriend informs him and also informs him that the hero's phone message was left for her five minutes or so after she died.

Basically, that's all I've figured out of the story.

In an attempt to either hurt or help the hero, the college girl cast a spell over her own suicide - passing along her enchanted abilities to him because the two of them were linked. Now, it's unclear to me - and should be unclear to the hero as well - the extent of what she was trying to do.

She could've been trying to kill the hero, whom she trusted implicitly until he had an affair with her boyfriend, the guy who later informs him that she died. She could've been trying to pass along her powers - which she saw as a curse - on to him in an attempt to doom him as well, though she intended to kill herself. Or she could've been trying to arm him against another threat - the boyfriend, who may or may not know that the hero now has an echo of the girl's "powers."

(This is SO not the sort of stuff I usually write.)

To a degree, of course, the hero figures out something witchy happened, that he is somehow preternaturally gifted with strong psychic abilities and mild telekinetic strengths. He remembers that the girl didn't quite enjoy her powers, for she went through life as though little about others ever surprised her, but he figures that he can actually use them to benefit himself and others - that it doesn't have to be a curse and that it doesn't have to corrupt someone with a basically good human nature.

Of course, how good his nature is also comes into question because of the sex and the deception that we know about. I mean, everyone makes freshman mistakes, disastrously destroying relationships while coming to grips with our sexuality and identity and our influence over others.

Have you ever deceived someone in a deplorable manner, then thought back on your actions and thought 'How is that even possible from someone like me?'

Anyway, back to real life and the story behind this story idea, when I told Nancy the waitress that I felt like I'd died for someone else and that I felt like I'd somehow gotten a scar from a psychic's possible injury or death, she freaked out and made me change the subject.

I liked the idea. I thought it was good and creepy, though I didn't see how it would lend itself to future episodes. I mean, what new can happen to an unwitting psychic that hasn't already been done a million times? Sure, he's gay, and there's not been a gay paranormal TV show or teen novel series. But the character's gayness alone doesn't define him.

I like the mystery behind the first set of scenes, the intriguing idea that you don't know if someone intended to bless him, curse him or kill him, but I'm not sure if that can be made into some sort of "mythology."

Is this something I - who has no experience at quality fiction - could write? It seems like supernatural gay teen fiction, which seems like a rather untapped market, but I don't know.

From the archives: Solstice

I'm reprinting "Solstice" because I got a weird idea for a story a couple weeks ago, and it brought me back to this story. I thought people might like it, and, should my fiction idea ever become something, would want to go back to the original.

Besides, I've never met anyone quite like my Augusta neighbors, Pete and Julie.


- Originally written in Augusta, Ga., on June 8, 1999.

When I told my neighbor Julie that my birthday was coming up, she became frantic. I've learned in the weeks that I've known her that it's never good when Julie, who's on the payroll for that psychic phone line with the infomercials, is visibly startled.

At the mention of my birth date, which I said passively to her and her fiance Pete, she sat up from her cushion, her eyes got wide, and she began grabbing at books in her apartment.

"A solstice?," she asked me repeatedly. "I don't believe this. Oh my God, it explains everything!”

Pete, her fiance who rolled his eyes at me when I called him “my pagan friend from down the hall,” just nodded at her with a smile on his face. He'd figured it out, too, I guess, but they weren't telling me.

"What?" I asked her. "What does it explain?"

She rifled through the shelves looking for some astrology guide.

I’m a Gemini-Cancer cusp. I’ve known this for a long time. I know this because it’s really irritating when your zodiac sign changes depending upon what newspaper you’re reading.

I’d never really thought much on it beyond that.

To Julie, though, it was a very big deal, the cosmic key to everything. And, as I said before, when Julie talks, I’m willing to listen. I’ve seen the girl move things with her mind. I’ve seen her give insight into things that most people don’t like to acknowledge. I know that part of it is just keen insight into people, but that’s not all of it.

Something about Julie’s way, with its moving crystals, beautiful sense of kindness and willingness to listen, her Renaissance fair clothes and Loreena McKennitt music, commands my respect. She knows when secrets are kept, and she knows when trouble is coming. And she’s much more personable than my Magic-8-Ball, which never gives me the right answers.

“With you, it’s going to be all or nothing,” she said, looking at the book. “You have tremendous potential for success, or you’re going to fail. There is no middle of the road.”

The moon was smack dab in the middle of Aquarius on my birthday, she said in awe to Pete, who just kept nodding. Several planets were also in alignment, thus throwing me into the category, I guess, of “celestially challenged” or something.

Julie told me that I would never be a good actor, always uncomfortable expressing my emotions. Pete, a gangly yet beautiful, funny guy, told me that my strengths lie as a writer.

The stars apparently indicate, among other things, that I have a strength at magic.

Pete and Julie looked at the book together.

“This explains everything,” she said again. “This explains the cerebral palsy, the abuse … and I thought my birthday was bad. This explains why everything with you is so frantic.”

Pete told me that my life was not going to be easy, that if I succeed it will be only through a lot of pain and struggling.

I just continued to lounge on their couch, asking things like, “Great, but what am I supposed to do with it?” and “Oh, is that what caused it?”

I wonder if the stars indicated that I was going to end up a smartass.

Still, I listened to what she said. I always listen when she talks about this stuff (even if I don’t end up following it).

Julie once told me that a beer stein owned by her father was dangerous, that it could gain control over you. When I held it in my hand, I felt it pulsate and tighten in my grasp.

Julie told me that there were dark things about someone I’ve met. She told me that it’s dangerous to hang around with him, that there are things some people don’t know about him. She was right, though I continue to speak to him.

Because of her predictions, which all seem to ring with some bit of eerie proof, I can’t say that I completely trust him.

I carry a polished stone in my pocket that Pete and Julie told me that I belonged with, that it beckoned me. I giggle it around in my hands sometimes when I get nervous. My therapist endorses my use of it. It’s always cold and fun to handle. It reminds me of the good luck charms I’ve had, the necklace with the Japanese coin, the little Mexican pouch that I kept for years.

Julie called me into her apartment at 2 a.m. some weekday to help her scare away some negative force. When I came in, she’d covered all the mirrors, and I, of course, asked why. She referred me to Pete, who kept talking about reflective surfaces as gateways of some kind, and he said bad things could pass through them. I kept asking questions of Julie, who told me that it’s best to remain blissfully ignorant of some things. I let it go.

I didn’t buy it that night, and I left their apartment after I spoke to the bathroom reflection and Julie told me not to do anything that might, I guess, de-hex the mirrors.

Her predictions and visions have not stopped her from having a rather difficult life. This is another, more pressing, reason why I listen to Julie.

Pete led me to believe the predictions may have fueled the difficulty. Pete loves her and knows her. When I asked him what it was like for her, he asked me, “How would you feel going through life without surprises?”

She and I are similar, I feel. We’re not quite certain how to fit in, not quite certain we want to. She’s better at indifferent nonconformity than I am.

Even she admits that psychic ability is mostly just insight into people’s true natures, the stuff they already know but are unwilling to admit to themselves. It seems as though it’s not clairvoyance, just keen attentiveness, that brings her what she knows.

I am a pompous man, unwilling to let go, and yet looking for some place to belong. Some days I write. Some days I sit at Julie’s with some crystals. Some days I’m funny. Most days I’m odd, intangible and indecipherable.

I asked Pete and Julie that night how many layers I had, though. They told me, “Not as many as you think.”

I know that I’m about to undergo another identity crisis, the one that will probably shape me more than the others have. I’ve known people to turn 23 and question everything they know, using it as a measuring stick. They question where they’ve been, where they want to go. They think of the time in their lives thus far as time wasted.

My friend Messina, for instance, turned 23, living in Pennsylvania with his parents, and turned 24 in Los Angeles with a different lifestyle and a whole new set of piercings.

I’m 22 for a couple more weeks. I’ve never been to Europe. I like my job well enough, yet I know something else that I’d prefer to do. I’m afraid I lack the nerve, that I’m just an ineffective dreamer. The age of 23 comes as put-up-or-shut-up time to some people, and that’s how I want to view my year, as a life-examining and life-altering experience.

By the time I’m 24, I know that I will be someplace different. I know that I will because it’s always been planned that way. Sitting in high school chemistry everyday with nothing to do besides play on a calculator, you subtract your birth year from the big 2000 just to see how old you’ll be. You do it over and over. You imagine what you’ll be like when the millennium comes.

In class, 24 seemed so far away.

Because of that, I want this time to be defining. This is a milestone. It was set a long time ago, either through typing on that calculator for fun or through things that Julie is more apt to believe in. I’ve wanted to get out, and I see this as the perfect time to start going wherever it is I’m going.

Finding that your moods, future and major life events were all determined by the alignment of some planets on the night of my birth, the longest day of the year, is a bit unnerving. It leaves you wondering how much of it is actually up to you, why no one told you something like this before. Usually, when someone gives me a prediction I don’t like, I try my damnedest to prove it wrong.

Apparently the solstice has left me with a hectic, yet promising life. The solstice also left me with a future that’s iffy. It is now up to me, regardless of what Julie or anyone predicts, to do what’s best for me, find the best route on the path forward.

The weekend I met Julie, she did a tarot reading. So when she continued her research on my birthday and telling me of the all-or-nothing possibilities, I kept throwing the results of the tarot reading back at her.

“The tarot cards told me that I was going to succeed, that everything will turn out fine in the end,” I said.

Pete just looked at me and smiled while Julie kept reading her book.

“Oh, but that doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “In the course of the universe, everything will turn out fine in the end.”