Black Ribbon Award

SUMMER FIRSTS

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Eric left his towel back at the house. It was early afternoon and the sand on the beach was directly under the sun; he could not take off his sandals or sit. He slept in and his friends left earlier without him. By the time he got there they had all gone into the water to body surf. Standing closer to the shore and peering out into the waves he could just make out their heads bobbing up and down in the water like bath toys.

He looked around the beach and saw a preponderance of flat, gleaming bodies; flesh sloping downward, almost lifeless. They looked like slabs of back bacon on a buttered stovetop. Any moment now the special badge-wearers would come out with their large coolers, sticking the tanners and loungers with their knives and prongs, placing the cutlets between buns, and washing them down with Natty Light; or mead, maybe.

There should be far more exciting wastes of a day pass, Eric thought to himself as he strolled north on the boardwalk. The boardwalk was long, extending 18 blocks of the beach town. Looking straight ahead from the middle position where he walked, the path narrowed violently as if it had no end, as if he was on a public treadmill where everyone could move at their own speed. Eric kept looking back to make sure he was not obstructing the joggers, but every time he did there was always one right behind him, glaring sourly as they moved to either side of his lumbering frame. Eric tried to be as courteous as things went but was always mystified by the deference expected of him by the quick-footed.

The end of the boardwalk was marked by a 15-foot replica of a lighthouse, one of two holding up a sign over the adjacent road reading SORRY TO SEE YOU LEAVE! between two smiling suns in heart-shaped sunglasses. The fake lighthouse on his side was defaced with a frowning face in dripping red spray paint.

Eric had no memory of the boardwalk having such charm, or being this hot. Of course the only other time he’d been there was 20 years before, when he was around 11 or 12. He, his mother, his younger brother, an aunt, an uncle, and three older cousins (the oldest a boy followed by two girls) had cramped into a two-bedroom beach house, for which the adults pooled near-equal chunks of their savings to rent for a four-day getaway. It rained for all but one and a half of those days; much of it was spent trying to quell confined boredom. Eric remembered a great deal of noise that his mother and aunt tried to placate with delights not afforded him back home. He drank as many as four Cokes during the day paired with a slice of white bread slathered with chunky peanut butter, which he gagged with every bite before washing it down with an ice pop that turned his mouth either red, blue, purple, or green.

During the day, the older cousins would sit in the living room watching Jerry Springer try and fail to convince lesbian strippers, runaway punks, black nationalists, and Klan members to “have a conversation,” or whatever. Eric asked his mother, often sitting in the kitchen with her sister swirling a glass of wine and staring out into the rain, if he could go watch with them, and she waved him off. But every time he tried to join, the cousins would turn off the TV and glare at him until he left. At night they would gather at the table and play the available board games: Monopoly, Parcheesi, Sorry, Connect Four, Candy Land, and Stratego. On the drive down, Eric’s uncle regaled everyone in the car with his ambitions to have a cookout every night with different meats: chicken cutlet on Thursday, bratwurst and burgers on Friday, pork chops on Saturday, and Taylor ham pork roll sandwiches throughout the days. But his uncle, younger than his sisters and not tied by parentage, was seldom in the house.

Eventually the rain did give way on Saturday afternoon, and they had all gone outside for the first time. The clouds did not clear, leaving the beach sand claylike and the water colder than usual. Eric’s mother and aunt sat on beach chairs on either side of the cooler containing mostly Cokes and the least-favored green apple-flavored ice pops. The children played at the edge of the water, dodging the waves and chasing each other around to no exact purpose. Eric’s brother took out a Sailor Moon Frisbee, actually from the family sitting next to them, and threw it into the ocean. The owner of the Frisbee, a girl about his age, was crying incessantly, and Eric’s brother started crying incessantly. Each faced each other beside their respective parents, with Eric’s mother apologizing to the girl’s nonplussed father who nonetheless took her apologetic offer of 10 dollars.

“Tell her your sorry,” Eric’s mother said to his brother. Which he did, garbled as it was by his sobs. The girl wiped her nose on her father’s bathing suit and looked away.

Summers like this were supposed to be summers of “firsts” for his generation. For his cousins this would have given them opportunity, presumably, to share a beer with and steal a kiss from another same-aged vacationer, on the beach at night or under the boardwalk, whom they would never see again. As the day went on the cousins’ style of play grew rougher and surlier with the understanding that these opportunities would be denied them until next year. Eric, at least, would have his own “first” when he witnessed what would later be described as “public drunkenness.”

That night, Eric’s uncle came back to the house holding a bagged beverage and in the company of a man of similar comportment whom no one knew. At his repeat and somewhat frenzied urging, he led us all to the boardwalk which, because everyone else was beset with the rain, was bustling on either side of the street. The ground was dry but air was chilly. The cousins were in sweatshirts bearing either emblems of colleges none of them could ever hope for admission. Eric and his brother wore sweatshirts with Looney Tunes characters.

Eric had not been conscious that his mother had any anxiety about crowds, but felt it in her grip on his arm.

“Mom, you’re hurting me!” Eric’s brother yelled.

“Just hold your horses, you two,” she replied abruptly.

The boardwalk was teeming with carnival-like commotion as they made their way south on the boardwalk. They kept falling behind his aunt who in turn was trying to keep up with his uncle and the strange companion, who seemed to have a separate agenda. As they rushed past the businesses, Eric heard a patterned soundtrack. “Glory Days” in a bar, “Livin’ on a Prayer” in a t-shirt shop, “Born to Run” in an ice cream parlor, “Runaway” from a motel balcony.

At a lull in the crowd they finally caught up with his aunt and cousins who were at once drained and frazzled looking around for the uncle and his sidekick, who were now out of sight. Eric’s mother and aunt had a tense exchange that the children could not hear save Eric’s mom saying, “There’s an ice cream place back that way.”

“It’s freezing and the line was out the door when we passed it,” his aunt said.

Eric’s mother shrugged; then his aunt shrugged. The kids cheered and led the way back.

They were the last in line at the ice cream parlor and the crowd on the boardwalk began to thin out. Eric’s cousins had their own conversation as they stood around a figurine of a cone of soft serve with a smiling face only slightly taller than Eric. Eric listened in, again with their speech coming out in fractures. The girls were chirping and wide-eyed over the singer of Silverchair. The boy rolled his eyes imploring that “Silverchair bites,” much to his sisters’ displeasure. When they noticed Eric was eavesdropping, however poorly, the boy turned to him with a smirk and asked, “Can you get us some cigarettes?” Eric froze and nervously shook his head no. The three of them laughed.

The surrounding boardwalk suddenly looked darker as businesses began to close. Coming south out of the darkness was a group of older people, five men and two women. The men were wearing either denim jackets or Baja ponchos and cargo shorts. The two women were in oversized sweatshirts and cutoffs with exposed pockets. All of them had Slurpees in their hands, either Coke or Cherry-flavored. As they walked they passed around a bottle of clear liquid, pouring the contents into their Slurpees. When it came to one of the men it had only a few drops.

“Real classy, guys” the man said, shaking the bottle over his drink.

The group laughed as they came to pass Eric.

“Fuck it,” the man said, and launched the empty bottle at the base of the soft serve figurine, shattering it to pieces. Eric’s cousins froze.

“Randy!” cried the nasal voice of a female.

“Watch it, man,” said a rougher male voice.

Randy appeared unfazed, turning a wide grin at Eric that looked completely black, like a void waiting to obliterate him. As the rest of the group passed him, the two women waved and smiled sheepishly. They took cover behind the men once they saw the mutually hard glares of Eric’s mother and aunt burning holes into their foreheads.

Eric’s mother flagged a nearby man in tight black shorts and a yellow shirt that read BEACH PATROL. In his arms was a bicycle helmet but he had no bicycle, keys were hanging around his neck. Eric looked up as his mother sternly but methodically laid out what had happened, or so Eric could glean. The patrolman looked out into the darkness of the southward direction the group were walking and listened placidly to her complaint. The patrolman shook his head from side to side and said things Eric could not hear; though he caught several instances of “miss.” Eric’s mother looked less and less assured.

“These are violent men, miss,” Eric heard the patrolman say gravely. “And you should know better.”

The patrolman turned quickly to Eric and flashed a grin no less black than Randy’s. Indeed, more than half of his face was shrouded.

“Have a good night, miss.” He twirled his keys like a bored gym teacher and walked lazily in the same direction as the group. Eric couldn’t tell what was down that way. It appeared far blacker than anything else he saw, yet the people who remained on the boardwalk all appeared to be going in that direction, and at the same slow and listless speed, as if it was calling them. When they disappeared into the dark, Eric imagined they were absorbed by it and made part of it.

Eric’s cousin handed him a cone of chocolate and vanilla soft serve with rainbow-colored sprinkles jimmies. He was led away from the darkness at the end of the boardwalk by his mother’s marginally more relaxed hand. He felt that he’d been spared for whatever reason and was free to go home, though maybe he would not be so lucky next time.

“Well that guy was fucking helpful,” his mother muttered to herself.

Eric looked up at her and she looked back embarrassed. It was also the first time he’d heard his mother swear.

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THINGS THAT HAPPENED

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A Thing That Happened no. 1
A Thing That Happened no. 2
A Thing That Happened no. 3
A Thing That Happened no. 4
A Thing That Happened no. 5
A Thing That Happened no. 6
A Thing That Happened no. 7
A Thing That Happened no. 8
A Thing That Happened no. 9
A Thing That Happened no. 10
A Thing That Happened no. 11
A Thing That Happened no. 12
A Thing That Didn’t Happen

A THING THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN

I believe I was here in this spot.

I’m trying to remember. Was it from this angle … or from this angle?

You’re standing in a reserved spot.

Reserved?

“Reserved,” I should say.

Oh yeah. You had to have a hat, right?

Right. They made decals, too.

I’m surprised so little of this has changed.

They’ve repainted the lines sometime since we left.

Not very evenly.

It’d be easier if it was daytime. Maybe a little to my left. No the other left.

Yes. Yes this seems right.

We were always on time. We had that in common at least.

I was barely.

Can you hear me from there?

Yes.

What do you miss most when you think of this place?

Not driving, actually.

Really?

I miss the challenge of it. You learn a lot of skills in persuasion they don’t teach you anywhere else.

Not having a phone?

Maybe. I don’t miss carrying quarters around, carrying numbers around, or digging into my purse to get them out. I don’t miss pagers.

I kind of miss pagers. I don’t miss dialing “911” to my mom for some petty bullshit. Like getting my skateboard run over.

I remember fewer phone numbers now than I did then.

I miss the backs of buildings. I miss actively avoiding people.

I miss the idea that smoking a cigarette magically transforms you to someone who’s lived a life without any of the actual effort.

You smoked?

I smoked once. I take that back I smoked one and a half times. Do you miss cops?

It’s hard to miss the one thing that hasn’t changed. I miss uncompleted residential developments.

I miss my old house.

I miss being more or less okay with not being the center of attention.

I miss cheap Wet Seal perfumes.

I miss the aroma they’d leave in the hallways in spring.

I miss drinking Coke at first period.

I miss skipping deodorant sometimes. Wait, no I don’t.

Actually I don’t really miss Coke at first period, either.

I miss thinking that hypocrisy was the exception, not the rule.

I miss people thinking that I couldn’t read.

I miss days that were so bad that all you could do was lie in your room and try to will three AM to stretch into lunchtime.

I miss days that were so good you secretly prayed the town would get nuked for fear it will just get worse.

I miss not having to constantly worry about being better.

I miss having only so much expected of me.

I miss being totally dependent.

I miss being stupid.

Maybe I miss it being okay to be both in the same body.

I think we’re actually smarter than most people.

How do you figure that?

I’ll page you when I do.

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 12

There’s a story I’ve heard about the time William S. Burroughs placed a “curse” on Truman Capote. After more than two decades of seething (and mutual) resentment of the unceasingly popular author, Burroughs wrote Capote a letter saying that he had “betrayed and sold out [his] talent,” that it was “officially withdrawn,” and that Capote would “never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood.”

I believe this only insofar as I believe that Burroughs would actually think he was hexing someone, or at least insist for the remainder of his life that he had done so. But I think about this a lot.

In June, Brandy Jensen tweeted that “one thing it’s important to remember is that almost all writing is bad … tweets, essays, novels, poems—all almost uniformly dogshit.” I think about this a lot too.

Eventually my thoughts converge and replicate into questions.

Would I, if it were in my power, make Jensens’s tweet the truth? Would it be worth it for me to divert all my time and energy from writing and reading to pluming the depths of the Black Arts? To commit spell compounds to memory? To chart the maps of the spirit world for the nearest entryways? To barter for the highest stakes with unseen and unnamable shapes on their shrouded, ashen vistas, in forbidden dialects? Would I seek to go to the utmost extreme, to level the playing field, to protect something I love—or, in any case, to prevent it from spoiling?

Would I risk being the subject of scorn, calumny, condemnation, shame, oppression, censure, and rumor by the pointed fingers of people who’ve never loved literally anything? To be reduced to a muttering, black-cloaked, bird bone-necklaced stranger, glowering on mossy mounds, painting esoteric figures on trees to ward off intruders?

Ultimately, I would not

But I think about this a lot.

 

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 11

Dear Mr. President,

I must admit that before you were elected to office, I never really paid you much mind. It seems so strange to say that now. And it’s not that I didn’t take you seriously, but that you were so far from my periphery at the time that you just didn’t register at all. I mean, I’d heard you almost as a kind of legend, a far off cryptozoological thing. It’s amazing how an election will change things, will humble you so thoroughly. I realize that I’ve never had a better advocate in your office than I do now; and America has never been in more capable hands.

Indeed, with you in the White House, the United States in in control by the right people—our people. For far too long—or least most of my lifetime—our region has been pushed aside, taken for granted, and outright loathed by neighbors near and far. But now I think your administration is making unprecedented strides in making them see the light. Wisconsinites will think twice of sending one of their locals to “make good” in your shadow. Oklahomans, Carolinians, Californians, Pennsylvanians, Nevadans, people from Maine will all see the futility of inhabiting your seat. Clearly from our lands the chain of power will be forged. Who but one of us can contain the hordes and bring them to heel?

I can’t fathom the mind of a Minnesotan or an Oregonian. What drugs are they fed to convince them that they are contributing positively to the strength of America? That they are worthy of the prestige being American confers? If what you say in your briefings is true, and I’ve no reason to doubt you, that we are a global laughing stock, than you and I must both know the source, and that total subservience is the only solution.

I fear, of course, that you will not see the light of the second term. Not because you have failed in your duties, but because so many of these “Americans” are living in denial from the truth. They are living in a fever dream of harmony and fellow feeling. They are in a voluntary coma and it looks like no amount of shock or shaking will compel them to wake up. Your sense of fairness and stoic fealty to the democratic process will be much abused in November.

If a second term is not in the cards, let me propose some modest parting measures of your executive power:

  • that you “expel” the NYC metropolitan area from the Union and spare us from rule by Idahoan or whatever. (Declaring also the placing of the center of its power on the right side of the river.)
  • that you make “Mother” the new national anthem. Admittedly it is not my favorite of your songs, and maybe “Where Eagles Dare” is more appropriate, but “Mother” has a certain majesty and authority sufficient to remind the rest of the nation what they threw out like yesterday’s trash.

I am ever your grateful and humbled citizen.

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 10

I’m at this restaurant with my dad. It’s Friday and it’s crowded. To my left are two teens who will NOT stop laughing. To my right are two nurses in identical haircuts
Short and kind of square

The place has been there for decades but has been remodeled recently. Like, it went up a whole –brow level by getting rid of the typewriters, bicycles, and pictures of people long dead and put up a train station motif
The staff used to where suspenders and khakis
Now they wear denim and white button-downs
*wear

Also, mason jars.
I didn’t noticed this one until recently when a waiter brought over what looked to me like a mint julep in a mason jar to the nurses’ table

Dad was telling me about whatever podcast he was listening to that day when I had 2 thoughts
One was that the teens would NOT ShUT THE FUCK UP
My dad was totally unfazed. He’s like 34 years my senior and somehow I’M the curmudgeon

Anyway, second thought was “where do all the mason jars come from?”

That seems pretty dumb
Like I could just LOOK IT UP right there
But it felt rude taking out my phone for a forum
*fourth
Or fifth time
Even if my reason was an actually good one
But I guess I could compartmentalize the thought and circle back to it later
I’m pretty good about that

“But why do that?” this guy tells me. He’s standing behind dad in a white suit
Tall, lean, maybe 40s or 50s
Kind of Paul Newman-looking actually NO
Who’s that guy?
SAM SHEPARD

Anyway “Who are you?” is what I say to him.
“I’m your guardian angel” is his reply. “I’m here to ease what troubles you.”
“So you’ll show me where the mason jars come from?”
“Sure”
“Awesome!” (that’s me)
“That’s it?”
“Basically”
“okay”

The he fucking grabs me by my shoulders and lifts me up. I’m not in the restaurant anymore but in some pulsating multicolored vortex and all this chirpy peppy elevator music is playing. Then we land not very gracefully in front of this huge factory sitting in the middle of this fast flatland
*vast
Like under a blue, clear sky, like a Malick movie

“here we are,” he says
“Where’s here?”
“This is the Prairie Partners Glass Company, one of the leading providers of the nation’s mason jars. Here each jar is painstakingly crafted to perfection”
“I kind of thought they recycled old jars” I say
“No that’s disgusting! What are you a fucking creep?”
I tell him I’m not

ANYWAY, he goes on, this is the factory floor where all the magic happens
And he waves his arm away to reveal a long conveyer belt
The jars are coming out one by one from a huge machine and the conveyer belt is lined on either side by people in yellow jumpsuits inspecting each jar
“Notice all the happy and productive workers,” he says. “No automation for THIS plant. Each jar is put through a painstaking process of authentication. They may be new, but they’ll look like you plucked them right out of the junkyard like a common scavenger. The jars are imprinted with fake years of production, defunct company names, or arcane folksy wisdom. Then they’re ‘detailed.’”
“’Detailed’?” (he’s making the quote-hands not me)
“Yeah, some are coated with dust or film, some are given light cracks or chips, others are fitted with a small bone or a dead spider.”
“Oh”
“The process is carefully monitored! The more steps a jar skips, the more severe the penalty.”
“What’s the most severe penalty?”
“The last one with the most poorly detailed jar has to spend their lunch break partaking in the floor manager’s choking fetish”
“Wait, the floor manager chokes the employee?”
“Oh no no no no, the employee has to watch the floor manager get choked out by his dom.” He leans in to whisper “it’s VERY awkward.”

“But after that, the mason jars are boxed and shipped across the nation to restaurants, brunch nooks, Etsy, Anthropologie … uh … Restoration Hardware … I guess …
“Wow, thanks!”
“Sure thing.”
We stand there for a minute.
“So … I guess it’s time to go back?”
“Wait what?”
“To where I came from?”
“Oh … uh … just go that way?” he points in a totally arbitrary direction
“What the hell? I thought you were my guardian angel”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“You told me”
“Oh … well that’s because you’re having a psychotic break. Or a stroke or something. I’m not, like, a doctor.”

Then he flew up toward the sun and now everything is black and I can’t see wear I am
*where

Read 7:47 AM

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 9

Dear Mr. President,

I hope you are doing well. How is the job anyway? I know you probably get that a lot. And I guess you probably hear just as much about people sitting around thinking what it would be like for them to be the President. In this sense I am no different from those people. I actually think about it fairly often. I don’t know if it’s because I have more stress in my life or, and this is not implausible, I am a tad narcissistic, or whatever. But I take fleeting pleasure in the idea of getting to meet cool people and to do cool things that, from time to time, have the right kind of thrust to bring about tangible and positive results. I would put Twitter friends in cabinet positions. But really I would just cry.

I would sob openly and often for the whole four years at the White House: in the bathroom of the Oval Office, in the Lincoln bedroom, while briefing in the rose garden, during the Easter egg hunt, in the situation room, in the ballroom while the Kronos Quartet performs the Mishima soundtrack, greeting tourists in the reception hall.

I don’t believe that it is proper for men to cry unless they have reached a certain level of power. I believe that that is the true reward that comes with being able to guide the destinies of others. Ironically this belief is perhaps my greatest obstacle to ever becoming President. I think I speak for many when I express my gratitude for being governed by a man of such sensitivity and patience—and, it seems, an austere sorrow.

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 8

I’m in the passenger seat of Scott’s Accord. My body is swaying at each side like a metronome as he swerves through the Reservation at what feels like top speed. That might not feel like much but after 10 PM on forest roads that have no lights everything is melting into darkness and the car feels like the most powerful thing ever put on this earth. And anyway you aren’t here, are you?

I hadn’t actually seen Scott in years. I thought he moved west to work as a barista or something. I ask him how long he’d been back and he just stares straight ahead looking more focused than I’d ever seen anyone in our generation. Through the side of his cigarette-clenching mouth he says “The fruit of modern civilization,” and keeps saying it periodically, to no one in in particular.

He’s playing a Moody Blues tape, it’s the only thing he has in the car, but it still manages to make everything more intense.

I try to think of something else. For some reason it’s the two Jacobses—Alan and Marc. I try to think about which one has pissed off more people in my lifetime. Then I think of how funny it would be if I intentionally confused the two. This will only work with people who are familiar with Alan, who will be reduced to tears no doubt the more I keep the joke going. It’s not that they think that I think I’m not making a mistake, but probably that I’ve found a way to have more fun than they’re presently having. I don’t know. I should tweet that, I think to myself. I should tweet something while I still have the time, while my head in its proper place and not detached by a tree trunk or a plate glass window. What’s a good last tweet? lol nothing matters, but cooler? Or maybe: how much can someone tweet after being decapitated? asking for a friend 🤣🤣🤣💀 … Send tweet.

Before I can get out my phone we’ve stopped. The stillness is so jarring from a seeming eternity of motion that I almost throw up. The car is idling in front of a locked gate which Scott is unlocking with a bolt cutter. He drives into the parking lot of a Sears that closed over a year ago. He leaves the headlights on which barely illuminate the gutted building. Standing in its beam, Scott opens his arms and grins.

“Yeah?” he says.

“This is what was so important?”

“Of course.”

“The Sears building.”

“The future!”

“This place looks like a giant mammoth carcass.”

“Don’t you know that the past is the surest route to the future?”

“Wait, are you developing this? How did you manage that?”

“Of course not, this needs to be preserved.”

“I’m confused.”

“So was I, man. I was nothing but confused for the longest time.” He turns away from me and gazes at the building. “I was out west you know, in Olympia.”

Olympia, of course, I thought.

“I was designing t-shirts. Then at some point it dawned on me that there’s more to life than designing t-shirts and making lots of money for doing so. So I left, and drove down through to Utah in search of meaning. I went to the salt flats and tried to meditate but I could only just laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed and almost suffocated. It wasn’t until I got to a motel when I got my sign. Like, literally it was a billboard across the street that said HOME dot, dot, dot IS WHERE THE HEART IS. I think it was for an animal shelter, it showed a little girl holding a puppy. But the message was clear! So I turned eastward. I drove, I sold my car, I hitchhiked, I got robbed, I begged for money, I took a greyhound, and looking out the window on 22 I saw the Sears and that was all I needed.”

He cuts the lock to the front door. The main sales floor is completely empty but for some display cases, platforms and boxes.

“This is where it will happen,” he said boisterously, his voice echoing in the empty atrium. “This is where I shall found my doctrine.”

“What doctrine?”

“For my church!”

“You’re turning this into a church.”

“It is not my right to do so?”

“That’s debatable.”

“I think it will resonate with a lot of lost people.”

“What is your doctrine?”

“I’m still working out the kinks,” he says, still smiling. “But I have a spreadsheet.”

“Like, how will you use the space?”

“I don’t know … drink Capri Sun, play some Magic, watch Dune.”

“This place doesn’t have power.”

“It’s a Sears.”

Dune, though?”

He stands on a display platform that probably used to be meant for lawn tractors and holds out his arms again.

“The fruit of modern civilization, man. Come on!”

We go back to the car and both realize that Scott forgot to turn off the headlights.

“Not again,” Scott says.

We stand in the darkness, Scott flicking his lighter nervously. For all intents and purposes, the car is as lifeless as the building itself—just another festering vessel to a brighter future. I should tweet that, but I don’t.

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 7

The statuette of Jesus sits on my dresser surrounded by debris accumulated over a span of years: receipts, pay stubs, pens without ink, junk mail, water bottles without water, a pair of Ray-Bans, a miniature flag of Wales, a dessert recipe I cut out of the New York Times magazine maybe 12 years ago, zines, expired cold medicine, a note from the editors of McSweeney’s, a map of New York City Diners, many now closed, you name it. My brother found it in the house in which he now lives, presumably left behind by its previous owner. He kept it in the garage before giving it to me.

It is carved from wood and kneeling as if in prayer. But it has no hands. This was not intentional; the hands broke off after my brother’s friend dropped it. I suspect my brother let me have it because he takes me for the kind of person who would appreciate this kind of thing. And he’s right. In its present condition, the Jesus has taken on a symbolic resonance. It speaks, if somewhat obliquely, to my religious situation, which has taken an equally absurd trajectory.

It used to be that I was a heap of carbon and consciousness barreling toward something dark and terrifying, yet comforting for all those reasons. Now I’m a heap of carbon and consciousness barreling toward something dark and terrifying who goes to confession sporadically, puts money in the collection baskets when I have cash, and thinks that a lot of people are taking the Eucharist too often.

I feel like I should not keep this sculpture for very long. I feel like it needs to be passed on from my hands to someone else’s. Probably a teen of more pious stamina, who will read the symbol a bit more narrowly … I guess. And then the sculpture will be passed on to a lost soul again, and the pattern will perpetuate until we’ve forgotten that time itself had long ago ended.

More likely it will stay here, as an heirloom to my inherent, tragic uniqueness. Giving strangers strange gifts is awkward regardless of symbolic merit. Burdening your descendants with your trash, the culture dictates, is much less so.

A THING THAT HAPPENED NO. 6

During my time in the New Jersey punk scene—from 1999 to 2002 or 2003—I can’t really claim to have been all that active in it. I was well known enough at the local level, because the bulk of my show attendance was local or slightly extra-local. I suppose attending one show at Krome a few years before a stabbing at one of its bubble raves shut it down lends me some cred, but nothing to sneeze at. In any case, I was basically a non-entity who didn’t really contribute much above spectating. I didn’t even listen to a lot of the same bands that most others in the scene preferred.

So it was to my surprise when, sometime in late-2000 or early-2001, that I was invited to become accomplice to the creation of a scene legend. In hindsight it does make some sense. Legends require a collaborative sprawl, making for a comically far-reaching RICO case. And anyway I was at the show in which the story was concocted. It was in town, as it happens. In between sets, we gathered outside the community center and bound ourselves to a covenant where we swore that, should we be asked about what happened that night, we would never waver from complete fabrication.

The scope for what we would tell in place of the truth was vast, almost staggeringly so. Intimidated, I took about a week to fashion my version of events, and a few extra days to tell it with any specificity. As a result, mine may have been the least plausible, not least of all because I was culling my details out of legends from other scenes and my own aspirations. Nevertheless, on the off chance that someone sought me out in homeroom for “what happened at the rec center last Saturday,” I sat them down and explained thus:

The originally slated band had cancelled [this was everyone’s prompt], and was replaced by a band that happened to be nearby on its own tour, who [maybe a little too conveniently now that I think about it] could fit in another show. [Now here I was especially risky, choosing to create a composite band rather than use a real one, which I believe others did.] I must say that they stood out. First was by their appearance: a grim-looking power trio, whose rhythm section were like heavy-set twins, pale and head-shaven, distinguishable only by their t-shirt choices—the bassist in Most Precious Blood, the drummer in Venom. The singer and guitarist was smaller, shrouded in a Middlebury College hoodie, camo-patterned cargo shorts that extended over a plurality of his shins, and red hi-top Vans.

Second was by their sound. It was not based on Sunny Day Real Estate or Lifetime or even Converge. Something about their ferocity seemed extra-musical, with far sparser structures and colder, harder tones; more in keeping, I think, with the prose of Ambrose Bierce or Jim Thompson. [I’m seriously stretching, I know.] Their lyrics, so far as I could gauge, were not too preoccupied with the issues then most prevalent to my cohort of “losing friends”, “getting drunk”, “hating cops”, “breaking up,” or “getting the attention of Equal Vision’s A&R,” but more along the lines of “your tendency toward self-harm is neither good nor bad but a logical, almost sensible, extension of living in a society in rapid decline.”

Maybe four songs into their set, the amps shrieked with feedback, and the singer threw his guitar across the rec hall in frustration, nearly hitting a crowd of kids in Humble Beginnings shirts drinking Cokes covered in paper bags. There was some spillage but luckily no one was hurt. Not that the band would have noticed because they started arguing with each other before evidently breaking up right then and there.

When asked for their name, I demurred. I lacked the imagination to think of one that complemented the aesthetic I described. The best I could come up with was either Red Sasquatch or Shaved Sasquatch. I did say that the had a demo tape for sale that was initially titled Suicide Notes From the Future but was changed to We Have Such Sights to Show You [I know that that should have been the band name, give me a break] for unknown reasons. Anyway the recording quality was terrible, like an accidental Merzbow record.

It’s hard to tell just how effective my story was to others, we never traded our versions—or they never traded them with me. My listeners would mostly shrug or say “No shit, huh?” and move on. If at times, though, one would say “Come on, really?” and I’d respond “Yeah, dude, really” and leave it at that. For no story was too poorly rendered if it still managed to conceal the actual events, the retelling of which would bring dire consequences. Granted they never said that last part, but it helped my creative process to think that they had; and having compounded the severity of those consequences every year since, I live in fear of them to this day.