The Argument (P.S. Camus)

Our voices dulled like passing trains and we stared at each other. 

At some point, screaming as loud and fast as possible depleted the dictionary. As the Oxford English flamed out, we burned the thesaurus too.  We sealed a fleeting truce by leaving the room disgusted with each other.

It was every argument I’ve ever had.

We sat across from tables each time, each partner, and beat each other like the words meant themselves. Like there wasn’t another reason, a better reason, we spat poison that had no other possible purpose than to seep and rot.

I was beating my soul necrotic and raging about why I was dying. It was a game I played with whoever was available for the sake of pretending that it would find a solution. 

A solution for the frustration of choosing the wrong career. A solution for the anger of being unfulfilled. A solution for the sadness of losing a friend. A solution, a beautifully poetic resolution, to my existence by arguing over books, meals, and work like it was life/death/humanity at stake and not some Sisyphean madness.

I quit pacing and went back to my office, pulled out a piece of paper, and started drawing.

He came back into the room and pointed at the picture I was sketching.

“What is that?”

“Sisyphus.” I kept drawing.

“Who?”

“A king who messed with a god and ended up pushing a boulder uphill for the rest of eternity. Felt appropriate.”

A pause and then a question.

“Are you calling me a god?”

I tossed the pencil on the desk.

“I’m calling us idiots.”

Coding the Writer

I was a hermit in another life. Probably in the life before that too. Left to my own devices, I would cover the windows to spend the day between books, ink, and paint. When the sun goes down, I’ll take my walks in peace and come back to my hut for a beer and another book.

It’s how I’m programmed. In the daytime, people seem to care (way too much) about how often I mow my lawn. They seem to care about how the bulbs in my flower bed now writhe and crawl over each other like drunkards at a frat party. They jump at the chance to stop a quiet walk to talk about nothing.

Nothing. Small talk. A smile does the same thing, a wave. Then you’re back to your own world.

But, you can’t write about a world you don’t take an effort to live in. I’ll give in to proper lawn maintenance before I become the window poet, writing the same twenty lines about the train, the hill, the bird I see as I sit at my desk.

I have to live to write.

I slide my feet forward in the white snow, driving my own path through the tops of trees. The baskets of the snowshoes are holding me on the leaden clouds as I look around me at pure pure silence.

“Wow.” my wife breathes next to me.

“This is perfect.”

Baby steps.

Babes

“They’re a piece of shit!” the neighbor yells.

I point over my shoulder to my son playing in the yard, he gives half a glance and half shrugs a half-assed apology. My son is running in circles while my wife watches from the porch. My wife glares at the vulgar amateur politician standing in our yard.

She tells me to stop talking to him and he will quit coming around. The stray cat theory–just stop feeding it. She tells me there hasn’t been a single time he’s come to the yard where he hasn’t taught our boy a new way to curse at or hate people. I tried telling her that our son was just getting a crash course in current events and real American politics.

She liked my sarcasm more when we were dating.

I don’t have the heart to send the guy home. Instead, I’ve tried to make our meeting point closer and closer to the corner of the lawn. As soon as I step outside, he comes over with his hands in his pockets, and finds some excuse to rant about the youth, the nation, these end times.

It’s serious business to him. This world is really ending. It’s comedy to me. If we were that close to the apocalypse shouldn’t you be taking this knowledge somewhere other than a neighbors lawn.

Ranting inaction.

“I don’t know how this type of person even makes it in an election?!” he goes on, as I stand tolerantly silent, “Why won’t anyone listen to the candidates I know are better?”

“Cuz they piece shit!” my son yells at him, then continues running in a circle.

The neighbor stares at me.

“The kid has a point.” I smile.

God, I love politics.

Note to Self (P.S. Kirkegaard)

An artist starves for their work. A writer never quits reading. A wise man travels often. A platitude is a platitude because we count it as common sense.

The most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen was painted by a nurse between shifts. The best stories woven by farmers leaning over the wheels of their tractors. The most poignant wisdom over a beer and burger in a bar in Washington.

A platitude is a platitude because we count it as common sense. Common sense is just a phrase for the things we want everyone to believe without thinking.

I spent years as an academic, penning masterpieces that nobody loved. The only things I haven’t burned since then were written as the stupid boy leaving the farm and the broken scholar coming home. Those things I wrote when I didn’t know better  are my apocrypha. I read and stare back over them wondering why my better self can’t make the same.

Ideas were scribbles, scratches, and grunts pried between bouts of energy. I fought with myself in the house I’d made, screaming in the kitchen by the cellar stairs. I watched that waiting descent with a sidelong glance, afraid to go into that basement until I was pushed.

A friend killed himself the other day and I was pushed down those stairs. In the dark cellar underneath I found my best pictures framed and my best words bound in leather. I found the exhiled farmer and the stupid scholar huddling together, smiling over a book I’d read with my dead friend.

Everything I’d ever planned was in the house above, pinned and labeled next to their blueprints. I looked up the stairs and then looked at my better selves lounging happily under the bare bulb illuminating the dungeon where I’d sent my best work.

“Turn out the light.”

Father’s Son

At the ripe old age of 25, I sat in the gown and bed of a sterile room as I recovered from kidney surgery. An I.V. was washing out what felt like a year of hangovers, adding moisture to the cotton farm someone planted in my mouth.

“Did…” I slurred the word, dragging the sentence up with effort, “did the doctor give me the new diet?”

“Yeah.” My dad looked at me, “He came in while you were still doped up. You have to quit eating anything with high fructose corn syrup.”

“B-but,” I struggled through the haze, “that’s everything.”

“It’s not everything you big baby,” my dad rolled his eyes, “you can still eat fruit and bread and whatever. At least now you have to eat like an adult.”

I shook my head slowly, confused, unsure.

“Your choice.” dad shrugged, “Change the diet or let them cut another forty stones out of your pisser. Doesn’t matter to me, I’m just the driver.”

“‘kay, ‘kay…alright. No more corn syrup” I waved off the lecture.

Weeks later. The doctor removes the stint. Clean bill of health.

“See my nurse on the way out,” he tells me, “she has the new diet plan you need to follow.”

“No worries there,” I told him, “my dad filled me in on what you said after the surgery. I got rid of everything with high fructose corn syrup. Cost me like four hundred dollars to replace all that crap, but it’s better than doing this again.”

My doctor stares at me.

“You didn’t talk to my dad after the surgery did you?”

“I’ve never even met your dad.”

My mom wouldn’t let me in the house. I wouldn’t put the rake down and dad wouldn’t quit laughing.

“But, it was funny!” he yelled to me through the cracked window.

 

“John!”

“Huh?” I look up from my book.

“Did you tell our child that Santa Claus steals children that don’t leave out cookies?”

“Maybe.”

“And that he takes them to the North Pole to be raised by the elves until they’re fat enough to be fed to the reindeer?”

“It sounds vaguely familiar.”

“Because your son has spread butter and flour across our kitchen and is crying because we don’t have chocolate chips.”

Oh, shit.

“I can’t believe you.” She stalks out of our office.

“But it was funny!” I yell after her.

;

I watched the television, all of thirteen years-old, as Jack Kavorkian walked into the courthouse.

“Send him to jail.” I dismissed.

My dad’s godfather took off his oxygen mask and looked at me.

“You don’t know what it feels like.”

I didn’t.

I never took hunting seriously until after college. I hiked, I tracked, I grew up in the woods, but I’d never harvested a deer. 

The first buck I killed, I shot while it was running from me. I found it in the meadow, laying on the ground panting. I took out my pistol.

I didn’t know what it felt like, to hurt like it did. I watched as I stopped it.

I walked back to camp and told our friend Jeff and my grandpa: “I shot a buck. I need help bringing it back.”

Jeff came with me and walked me through cleaning it, helped me carry it back to camp. We took a photo that I kept on my desk; with my graduation photo; with my wedding photo. A once in a lifetime event.

I heard him on my parent’s porch a few weeks later.

“When he came back to camp, you could tell he was excited. On his face though, you could see he felt bad for killing it. ”

I didn’t know what it felt like.

Mom and I stood in the kitchen trading stories.

“I needed to tell you…but I didn’t when it happened. Jeff died. I didn’t tell you because…well, because…”

What do you do when a moment changes; when a picture captures two points in time; when you make and lose a friend; when an accomplishment is a final memory?

When two choices split the same moment into a bittersweet scar you’d drink to stop thinking about, do you put the picture in your desk? I used my finger to wipe the dust off the frame.

I didn’t know what it felt like.

Math for Monkeys

I sat at my desk, listening to two bullshit jockeys distract each other from working.

“I don’t understand people these days, they want to find a medication for every problem. Like, Attention Deficit whatever…what a crock of shit. Someone not paying attention is called poor discipline.”

The other brings his shoulders up towards the face he’s built up a fart-clenching grimace across.

“Well, actually I take medications for A.D.D. I can tell you, without them I have a hard time even focusing on a conversation like this.”

The first fends off the social disaster, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”

“No, no, no,” the other forgives, “I agree about some of the other things they try and make disorders. Like Oppositional Defiant Dis-blahblah. That’s just a kid who needs a swat on the ass.”

The first guy gets to look uncomfortable now. 

“Actually my nephew has that and it’s no joke.”

“Yeah, yeah,” other guys practices backstroke, “in some cases sure, but generally speaking…”

I plug in my headphones. I’ve never heard society argue with itself before; it feels like the soundtrack to a migraine and the inspiration for a heart attack.

The secretary brings sanity back: “Can you two shut the hell up?”