Posts Tagged ‘writing’

A bunch of us were drinking in the dorm – we’re graduate students staying on campus for a brief spell in the summer – when some young shiny faces appeared and told us that drinking in the common areas was not allowed.

“But we’re writers and need alcohol,” we said.

“No alcohol in the common areas.  You can drink in your room with the door closed.  Have a great night!” They trotted off, all happy with themselves.

We kept drinking and never saw them again.

Later the same night, two different girls pulled the same crap.  They told us to beat it with the booze and then left the building.  They, too, did not come back.  We’re not even sure they lived in the same building as us.  They were definitely undergrads, maybe on campus for summer orientation, but in general clearly hated having a good time.  Before they left, they made their convictions known to all.  We found this when we grabbed more beer from the fridge:

damned passive aggressive kids these days

A few nights went by, along with several cases of beer.  The spirit police did not bother us.  We turned up the Red Sox game and hollered over Cards Against Humanity.

Disaster struck while I went to the bathroom (not that kind of disaster).  Yet another set of kids scolded us for drinking.  At this point these interruptions moved from being a mild annoyance to a serious social problem.  Who brainwashed these children to the horrors of alcohol?  Their prom must’ve sucked.  But whatever – we had waited these rule-thumpers out and never saw them again, but the stakes changed this time.  I sat down and reached around for my beer.  It was down the drain, the empty in the recycling bin.  I had just cracked the damn thing.

Hostilities continued.  On the last night we were there, some girl with glasses as big as her ego told us to pack it in.

“You need to put this alcohol away.  Now.  While I watch.”

There is nothing quite as embarrassing as being tongue-lashed by an ill-managed superiority complex.  After we were shamed into one of our rooms, holding beers in a confined space, a public safety official came by to remind us – no doubt summoned by the girl who had done her good deed for the day – that no alcohol was to be consumed in the common areas.  Holy crap dude, by now we’ve got it.  But, he said, I just wanted to let you know.

When my new girlfriend called and said that a rat had taken residence in her apartment, I thought she was testing the relationship waters.  Would I kick down the door and lay waste to rat-kind, or would I tell her to call the Orkin man to take care of her pest problem?  Let me tell you a secret: I have never seen a rat in the wild.  Or in the urban, suburban, or rural.  Mice, sure, but never rats.  Rats lived in sewers and grew up to be small alligators that nipped at your ass when you sat on the toilet.  Rats did not habit the apartments of newly found girlfriends.

I told her that I would come over, and when she answered the door, she seemed disappointed that I was not carrying a bazooka.  I mean, it’s just a rat.  The Marines or the National Guard would be a little heavy.

“Thank you for coming,” she whispered.  “It’s in the closet.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, stepping through the door, “it can’t hear you.”

She led me through her apartment which, embarrassingly, was only vaguely familiar.  We had met outside of some shit bar.  I was waiting for a bus and she was waiting to pass out.  We hit it off immediately.  Her name was Racquel, she lived somewhere along the 72, and had very little standing time left.  I was feeling charitable, or a little drunk, and offered to escort her home.  She accepted and promptly fell asleep on the bus.  Like a gentleman, I dragged her up the stairs and threw her into bed.  I let myself out.

A few weeks and a few dates later, we were somewhat steady, and I was her rat-killer.  It was only the second time I had been in her apartment.  It was neat and tidy, like her sober personality, and her manner was businesslike as we stepped into the bedroom that I had once drunkenly left her in.  She turned to me with urgency.

“It’s in there,” she pointed.

I grabbed the handle and slid the door away.  Dresses, blouses, and pants were stuffed to the rafters, and a neat but overpopulated shoe rack sat on the floor.  There was little room for a rat.

“Are you sure-”

The door clicked shut and I heard her padding away.

I nodded slowly and realized the task at hand.  This was a battle in the Coliseum, a fight between beast and gladiator, and the winner would have the young girl’s heart.  The loser might not have to worry about death, but loss of respect and tainted integrity was just as deadly in a young relationship.  The failure of this test would bring certain peril.  I brought a hand to my mouth and rubbed the stubble.  Should I kick it to death?

I dropped a knee to the carpet and cocked my head to see under the clutter.  The need for a vacuum was clear.  Dirt, grit, and bits of gravel dropped from the shoe rack pebbled the nap, but there was no rat.  None that I could see, anyway.  While I was looking, I wondered if I would find any dirty secrets: bones of lovers past, a mountain of soggy bar coasters, the eleven herbs and spices for KFC chicken.  No such luck.  Just shoe boxes and balled up socks.  But it gave me pause.

Some of the debris on the carpet was shredded bits of cardboard.  That’s when I knew.  The little bastard was inside one of the shoe boxes.

My tolerance for creepy-crawlies is very low.  Fortunately, it’s not a standard question on date night.  “So where do you work?  Can you kill spiders?”  I would rather burn down the house than stand toe-to-toe with a spider – could you pass the pepper?  I’m sure insurance companies work that into their premiums.  Oh – are you going to the bathroom?  You’re leaving?

When I was a young child, my family spent a week in the Maine wilderness shacked up in a lonely cabin by a lake.  Every night, we all stared at the ceiling while constant scratching, scampering, and other stock horror movie noises kept us awake.  We discovered that a cloud of bats was living in the walls.  At dusk, at least two dozen of the little devils flew out of the eaves, and my folks went to work on plugging every hole they could find.  Their efforts were premature.  The bats that stayed in for the night were very angry when they found that their egress was destroyed.  We spent the next hellish night fighting for our lives with brooms and wiffle ball bats, swinging violently at flapping black baseballs and beating the tarpaper walls as little lumps scurried down.

I decided that I needed a weapon.  With one eye on the closet, I tiptoed to the door and cracked it.  She wasn’t there.  “Racquel?”

“Did you kill it yet?”

I rolled my eyes.  “Yes, and now I’m wearing its head as a hat.  Do you have a baseball bat or a broom or something?”

She crashed into a closet and rumbled around.  A yellow handle poked through the open slit.  I pulled the door a little wider and caught a glimpse of her ashen face before she disappeared again, and it assured me that my own ridiculous and irrational fear was validated.  I eased the door shut and brandished my weapon, a ten dollar corn broom from the local hardware store.  The worn bristles swished as I hefted it.

There it was.  The Rat King.

I really didn’t know what I was expecting, but there it was, in all its glory, and I stood there feeling like a thief caught in the act.  I couldn’t kill that.  It looked so pitiful and defenseless.  It’d be like killing my mom’s cat for raiding the pantry.

The rat regarded me with its needly black eyes, and the whiskers quivered as it sniffed in my direction.

I cracked the door again.  “Racquel?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you stand by the front door and open it when I tell you to?”

“Sure…” she said, with a little hesitation.

The rat hadn’t moved.  I laid the broom on the carpet, with the bristles resting just before the little beast.  I waited.  The rat still didn’t move.  Very slowly, I approached on the side, taking great care not to startle it.  The rat bobbed its head and followed me with shaking whiskers.

Also very slowly, and with great trepidation, I stuck out my shoe, and nudged it in the butt.  The rat obliged and stepped onto the rigid head of the broom.

I carefully and firmly grabbed the handle and hoisted the rat into the air.

“Racquel?”

“Yeah?”

“Open the front door.”

“Okay…”

I heard the deadbolt turn down the hall and I made my move.  Curled my foot around the door, pulled it away, stepped into the hallway.  The rat stuck out on the head of the broom like a hood ornament.  Racquel turned around and her eyes blew out of her head.

“FUCKING SHIT!” she screamed, and disappeared behind a slamming door.

I carried my cargo down the hall with short, deliberate steps, and when I crossed the doorframe, flung it down the hall.  The rat landed on its feet and turned back, insulted.  There, I thought.  Someone else’s problem.  I slammed the door and addressed my other problem.

“Racquel?” I called, knocking on the door.  I assumed it was the bathroom.

“Is it gone?” she screeched, still in the grip of hysteria.

“It’s gone!” I announced, throwing some extra cheer in my voice.  “Can you come out now?”

The lock clicked and a ghost appeared.  I felt like a lion standing next to this puddle of despair.

“What did you do with it?”

“Threw it into the hallway.  Your super can deal with it now.”

“So, you mean,” she said, with a trembling finger pointed at the door, “that it’s out there?”

I nodded.

“Ohhh,” she moaned.  “How am I supposed to leave?”

My patience collapsed.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “Call your super.  I gotta run.”

“No!  Stay a while!  Let’s have some dinner or-”

“Sorry, I gotta go,” I said, and shoved past her.  I felt her panicky stare even as I closed the door behind me.  Immediately, as if it were possessed, the deadbolt popped and the chain slid into the runner.  I sighed as I walked away, and waved to the rat on my way out.

History will ask – “Where were you when it happened?” – it, a disquieting event that will be talked about for years over coffee and television commercials.  “Where were you?” houseguests will demand.  When your children are old enough, you’ll recount tall tales of what you did when it happened and – the humanity! – how awful it was.  The children will ooh and ahh and gape openly with lurid eyes, and when the charades are over, you’ll dismiss them to their rooms, hoping that your panting theatrics didn’t scare them to sleeplessness.

I was at a Burger King drive-through.

My order was a rodeoburger and a small Icee.  That’s it.  I was hungry; I don’t eat breakfast, and I skipped lunch for some damnable reason, making that rodeoburger all the more palatable and that Icee all the more quenching.  I needed them both, now, but as the universe would have it, eternity is defined as the time it takes for time to expire.  The car idled.  My stomach growled.  I tapped the steering wheel.  Tap, tap tap.

The Burger King bade me to roll forth, and I sat even with a little metal box that stood between me and sweet, sweet barbeque sauce dribbling down my chin.

I rolled the car window down and poked my head out – and that’s when I heard it, a mob of tiny lawnmowers cutting through bags of granulated sugar, monstrous and throbbing on an airy spring day, coming from directions that never should exist in spacetime.  There was something sinister about that droning noise–

The Burger King spoke; I could not hear, but the list of possible topics was short.  “Rodeoburger!” I screamed.  “BLUE ICEE!”

I waited with wild eyes staring madly at the metal box.  That infernal noise was growing louder, and I felt as if a great army of Kitchenaid stand mixers was about to skewer me with rusty dough hooks.  I prayed for advancements in drive-through noise cancellation technology; I wondered to which god that request would be routed.

The box squawked – but it was for naught.  The stand mixers were advancing on my position and the phantasmal King may as well have confirmed my order using armpit farts.  What was the use in playing this game?  If I drove to the next window (a beastly metaphor for life, by the way) and my measly two-dollar order was wrong, then the King could fix it right at the window, right before my eyes, without the Roswell landing warping lines of communication.

Great idea, I congratulated myself, and shifted into drive.  But that’s when one of those goddamned aliens landed on my face and shit really started to go the other way.  I shrieked.  Let me tell you – a shriek is never something that you plan to do and it always sounds like you’re auditioning for a paranormal horror movie, one that leaves theater audiences crying and piss-soaked.  I shrieked and slapped my own face.  I tell myself it’s because there was a winged gargoyle crawling up my cheek, but I secretly think it was out of deep, inconsolable shame.  What happened next is still a little hazy, but if I had to guess, I’d say that my foot slipped off the brake pedal and onto the gas, and my car climbed into the backseat of the next one in line.

I never got that rodeoburger and will never know if the King bagged my order right on the first try.  The guy in front of me had some big problem with my little love tap and several cops took what they described as an “active interest” in our shouting match (I tried to explain that we were shouting because of the noise, but since I was shouting at them because of the noise, they threatened me with arrest).  I spent the rest of the day convincing the stone pillars of law enforcement that I should not be thrown in jail for want of a simple rodeoburger and that insurance hell would be punishment enough for anybody.

There are lessons to be learned from this, and I’ll let the more mentally endowed draw them.  As for me – if a few billion cicadas decide to end their 17-year game of hide-and-seek on Thursday, I’m going to set my alarm for Friday.

When I log into Facebook, I have a certain expectation of what I am going to see on my newsfeed or who I am going to interact with.  You know, the usual: someone’s mad at so and so, new love is in the digital ether, Bobby Smith thought of something really witty to post and did a favor to everyone by posting it, the Red Sox won, the Red Sox lost.  Recently, that expectation has drunkenly fallen down the stairs.  I have seen more cinnamon roll pancake recipes and tributes to nieces and siblings on Facebook in the past week than poorly written status updates and adorable cat pictures.

It was a rapid change; abrupt enough to jar me out of my mindless morning Facebooking session to think to myself, “what in the blue hell is going on?”  Why am I seeing a pepperoni pizza casserole recipe at 6AM?  Why the hell would I want a pepperoni pizza casserole anyway?  Has pizza become so boring that we need to casserolize it?  Why does everybody suddenly adore every family member, organic or removed, that they’ve ever been related to?  Why am I seeing religious propaganda?  If I want to be told that I’m a Godless heathen, I will go to Downtown Crossing and listen to the Angry Jesus Man for three seconds.  And above all, guns don’t belong on Facebook, because it’s a goddamned website.  You can’t even shoot people there.

So far, I know this: I did not change.  I’ve gotten a few years older, read a few more books, and even shave more often than I used to, but I have not undergone a large enough paradigm shift to warrant noticing drastic sociological changes on Facebook.  On the opposite side of the keyboard, Facebook did not change.  While Facebook does abruptly change the way it appears with either organizational changes or site redesigns, the fundamental identity of Facebook did not change.  It is still the Internet town hall where the world’s masses gather to publicly urinate on each other and swear loudly while others are watching.

That leaves only one culprit: its user base.

The collective we changed.  I truly believe that we are devolving as an intelligent people.  The always on, everyone has a voice culture of Facebook has encouraged anyone and everyone with a working mouth to open it whenever the hell they want to.  If pepperoni pizza casserole is on the mind at 6AM, well, why not just shout it out to the whole world?  Here’s a picture of my dinner.  Here’s what I did for my workout.  Here are the intimate details of my life that previously only me and my mirror knew.  Check out my new abs!  Here are my likes and dislikes;  in fact, you are one of them and I will passive-aggressively let you decide to which list you belong.

Here’s the issue that I have that precious few people understand.  Facebook isn’t an intimate setting like your home living room where you and five of your friends are sitting around shooting the shit.  It’s a public space, like a mall or a stadium, and when you open your mouth a lot of people will be listening whether they want to or not.

To wit: if someone walked up to you while you were shopping for a pair of pants at the mall and handed you a recipe for peanut butter cheesecake scones, you would probably have more than a small problem with it.  The same goes with religious propaganda and the gun debate – while there is a small targeted audience that will receive the message, the larger part of the audience will go around the crazy town crier and into more comfortable spaces.  Such as continuing to scroll until seeing something far more interesting or entertaining.

That isn’t the solution, though, even though it’s what I do now to cope with it: when I see some crazy on my Facebook newsfeed intimately telling me how to prepare goat curd yogurt from expired milk to avoid spending an extra 12 cents at the evil grocery store or why banning 50 round mags is unconstitutional and everyone in Congress should be thrown in jail, I keep scrolling, because I wouldn’t entertain it for even a second in a public space.

Facebook has taught us to become extremely comfortable with telling everyone exactly what is on our minds and in our hearts to the point that normal discourse with fellow human beings has been irreparably affected.  “Did you see on Facebook” has become a standard lead for a sentence.  We should be ashamed of that.  “Did you see on Facebook that Bobby posted a picture of a man in American flag underwear holding an AK-47?”  Currently, human intelligence has no problem processing that thought.  Let’s change the locale: “Did you see at the mall that Bobby was showing people a picture of a man in American flag underwear holding an AK-47?”  Why does it become reprehensible when it occurs in an actual public place as opposed to a “fake” public place?

When Mormons, Unitarians, and Jehovahs come knocking at the door, we run and hide and pretend that we’re not home.  You can’t do that on Facebook because it is the most public place that has ever been invented by man.  Let’s change that by cutting the bullshit.  Let’s go back to posting pictures of our cats waging war on bottle caps and posting our celebrity doppelgangers and posting witty things that will make your fellow man laugh rather than break the last political straw he has left.

tardkids

Tard the Grumpy Cat endorsed this post.

ADDENDUM: Bill Gates is one of the most philanthropic people the world has ever known.  He is not going to give you $500.00 for sharing a picture.  Get a grip.  You’re embarrassing the rest of us.

A couple of winters ago, Domino’s sent me a flyer advertising that they would deliver gooey-hot pizzas in “ALL” snow storms.  What an interesting proposition.  Here I am, gawping lazily out the window, watching snow pile on the sill, unwilling to risk injury or accident on unreliable roads, but for as little as twelve bucks I could force someone else to do it for me.

Boston hasn’t received a major snowstorm since the Halloween Nor’easter of 2011.  That is a pretty significant drought for a city that averages 43” of snowfall per year.  Just months before that, I job-hopped from the retail industry (stays open in the event of snow, the apocalypse, 9/11, etc) to higher education (presidents and trustees get together with a Ouija board to determine whether to close).  I was very excited for nostalgic throwbacks of winters in Maine – snow days – but, an absence of snow compels an absence of snow days.  We did get a day off when Hurricane Sandy blew ashore, but chasing the grill cover down the road and wondering which blast of wind is going to shatter the window just doesn’t compare to watching snow banks rise and cars slide into each other.

Because of the uncooperative mien of Mother Nature, Ill Nino, El Nino, the jet stream, or whatever modern day blame is assigned to the lack of snow, I have yet to test Domino’s claim.  That could change tomorrow with, what, the 102” of snow we’re supposed to get.  The self-serving asshole in me wants to call in the delivery minimum and set an egg timer.  The compassionate retail-scarred wimp wonders why this service is offered to begin with.  There’s always a cutesy news story after every tempest about heroic pizza slingers delivering pies in the drifts three hours after they’ve been ordered and getting a nice tip for their troubles.

How much would the tip have to be to make a run worth it?  This guy seems to think that any tip will do, as long as the thought is there, but his basis of comparison is no tip at all.  Shouldn’t the thought be – I mean really, do we need pizza right now?  How about a can of Chef Boyardee – that’s almost pizza.  Or an English muffin with pasta sauce and a slice of American on top?  If I don’t want to go out, should I make someone else do it?

I don’t think I will test the all-weather delivery.  It seems like an insult to the poor bastard that has to work in those conditions.  Several years ago I opened my store in the midst of a true walloping – a foot on the ground with more on the way.  My car did a front wheel burnout trying to climb the slight grade into the parking lot, and where it stopped is where it parked.  One bushy-tailed customer bought an MP3 player right after the doors opened at 9am.  That lonely sale sat in the till well into the afternoon, and I sat twiddling my thumbs wondering how to excavate my car after it was walled in by the plow.

Nope, I’ll go pizza-less.  In true New England fashion, I stocked the booze cabinet, also known as the spot where I stash the bottle I’m working on.  No snow storm is complete without it.  If I get a raving case of the drunchies, there’s a 24 hour 7/11 next to my house.  I’ll be interested to see if they abandon ship on Friday night when I stumble over for a Slurpee.

Americanized Chinese food is readily available three hundred and sixty-three days out of the Gregorian year.  Nom nom nom, kung pao chicken and moo goo gai pan for all.  The other two days require a little patience and even some strategy to munch on shrimp and lobster sauce in a timely fashion.  Even more impressive is if you get your order at all.  If you would like to witness the slow devolution of the human race in a controlled environment, look no further than a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.

I had the pleasure of picking up the family Chinese food order on Christmas Eve.  It was handed to me in a cardboard box, a box I might have used to put personal belongings in on moving day, making that the happiest and most depressing evening of my life.

I'm very hungry.

I’m very hungry.

While I was waiting for my thirteen pound order to be wokked, an old man wandered into the restaurant and started a fight with the woman manning the counter.

Several gray hairs earlier, I worked at McDonald’s to bring in some extra cash, and the single most annoying thing to happen near the end of my greasy shift would be a soccer bus pulling into the parking lot.  Aside from despair and suicide, two thoughts would roll through my mind:

1)      It is imperative that I leave on time regardless of food safety;

2)      I don’t care about who orders or gets what.

That established, hamburger buns would fly, patties would splat on the tile floor next to the bun it was supposed to be on, and food that didn’t belong in the fryolator would boil into the fryolator.  A good chunk of the storeroom freezer needed to be cooked that very instant with no delicate way of doing it.  There was a period of time when I wouldn’t even look at a McDonald’s knowing what I knew after I left.  Time heals all greasy wounds.

This old man ordered something with something else, hold the annoying, with a side of gross.  His wife called in the order; where is it?

“Number thirty-three,” he said, “number thirty-three.”

Broken English with a few exaggerated hand motions.  “No thitty-thee.”

My attention was screwed to an enormous fish in a very small tank.  I couldn’t place it – was it a Chinese eel?  Or just a disgusting eel?  I nodded amiably, sarcastically appeased by my fishy answer.

DAYUM!

DAYUM!

“This must be a joke.  No thirty-three?  I ordered a thirty-three!”

This nasty eel turned hard to port and did his best to lap the goldfish bowl, scraping glass on his way by.  I bent over and mimicked its undulating mouth.

“No thee-thee,” she snipped.

“This must be a joke,” he repeated.  He nosed up and threw his hands into the air.  I thought it a little dramatic that he did so after he made his objection.  The eel charged the glass with what little room he had, realizing that I was ceding my attention to some other dope in the room.

“No joke.”  Stern.  Like telling a child that he forfeited dinner for behaving badly.

“Give me a phone,” he decided.  “I’ll call my wife.”

“No,” the woman said.

I sidled up to my wife, ready to take in the shit show.  The eel watched with a special gnosis.

“Fine,” the man grumbled.  He pulled an antennaed dinosaur from his pocket and stared down the bridge of his nose.  The woman directed traffic around the wreck, handing out bags of food in exchange for plastic swipes.

“Do you think—”

My wife hushed me.

“Yah hallo?” the man was saying.  “Hallo?  Yah.  I’m here and they don’t have the order.”  The man cocked his shoulders.  “Yah!  They don’t have the order!”  He suspended his free hand in the air away from his body, palm out, waiting for his meal to fall from the sky.  “Yah.  It’s a thirty-three, right?—thirty-three?  Yah, that’s what I told them.  They don’t have a thirty-three.”

The woman cleared out the line behind the old man.  I counted about a hundred and fifty in receipts.

“Okay.”  The old man pocketed his phone.  “Yeah, my wife said she called in a thirty-three.”

I sighed.  My wife sighed.  The eel sighed.  A few bubbles wiggled to the surface.

“Okee.   We cook now.  Okee?”

“No!” He pounded his fist against the particleboard counter.  “I called it in like I was supposed to!  I want it now!”

“Thee-thee?” a cook called from the back.

“YES!” the old man hollered, lunging past the woman with his index finger.  “Thirty-three!  That man has my order!”

“No no no—” the woman urged, backed hurriedly by the kitchen staff.

“Ahhhhh,” the old man huffed angrily.  He threw his palms into the woman’s face and shook them pinky to thumb.  “This is a bad joke, a bad joke,” he chanted.  “A bad joke.”

“We cook—”

“Forget it,” he interjected with biblical importance.  “I’m leaving.”

The man ruffled the collar of his faux leather jacket.  He turned, pushed open the door.  The bell attached to the hydraulic swing-arm clattered against the glass.  He shot one last forlorn look back at the woman before the door eased shut.  The woman pounced on other orders piling behind her on the stainless steel prep counter.  I turned to my wife.

She smiled.  “Do you think he’s at the right restaurant?”

“Nope.”

MacGruber doesn’t know how to read, but that didn’t stop him from reading Silent Is the Night.

Yes, he is reading it upside down, but read it he did.  My first major release, Silent Is the Night is now available as a paperback as well as in Kindle and Nook eBook formats.  The eBook edition has an introductory launch price of $0.99 and the paperback is $4.99.

Silent Is the Night follows the story of a middle school-aged boy who joins his church Christmas caroling group.  The group’s mission is to carol to shut-ins and collect donations for UNICEF.  Along the way, he encounters a full spectrum of people, from a rugged Marine turned school counselor to a crunchy old cat lady.  It’s a story about people trying desperately to do the right thing despite not always knowing how to do it.

I’ve set up a page dedicated to this book on my webpage, and you can find it here.  If you are on Goodreads, add it to your bookshelf!  And, as always, your reviews are welcome.

Thank you for reading!

-Rick

The train is the sum of all my fears.  Packed, hot, gross.  Smells like a humidifier filled with hot dog water.  People coughing, sneezing, burping.  No room to move, to stand, to get comfortable, to avoid gaping stares, to save your dignity as a human being.  It matters little if you stand or sit.  Carloads are measured by people per square inch.

I do my best not to look, notice, or stare.  If nothing else, it’s a gallery of people, full of wondrous, disastrous beings, striking ridiculous poses as they hurtle forward in space.  There’s something to be said about being surrounded by hundreds of bodies with nowhere to go and nothing else to look at, but I’ll let someone else say it.  I deafen and blind myself with headphones and a book.

Despite my best efforts, it’s nearly impossible to block out everything.  My train schedule has lately been coinciding with a couple who gets on a stop before I do.  They usually get a seat.  My stop is a bedroom community, so I usually don’t.

When the doors open, I have no choice but to follow the crush of the crowd.  I watch my feet so I don’t flatten any tires.  I stop moving when there’s nowhere else to go.  It’s usually in front of them.

I’m sure they’re very nice folks.  Good natured, well to do, nice to talk to.  They probably watch reality competitions and read books before going to bed.  In public, they’re terrorists.

There’s a hall in the gallery of people for those who engage in public displays of affection.  The reactions of those watching behind the rope line remind me of contorted faces in the throes of the house of horrors: grossed out, mildly amused, grossly entertained.  I am far from the only person who is not amused by this puerile engagement.  People stare conspicuously into the space around them, and the train-goers seated on either side lean away and into the cramped real estate of their less affectionate neighbors.

Of course, wherever I look, there they are.  It’s hard to ignore two elephants who can’t decide between making out and nibbling each other’s faces.  The book blots out only so much, and my arm gets tired after a while.  With each bump of the train, my arm lowers a little, until dear God, there go my retinas.

This has been going on for weeks.

I wonder what circumstances have brought these people into my life.  Something was set into motion that brought them out of the ether of the universe and into the seats in front of me.  Several weeks ago, they were elsewhere, terrorizing the blank space of others.  Now, they’re here, copping feels and smashing their faces together.  I’m less disgusted by their existence than I am by how they choose to exist.

One of them has dominance over the other.  I might even call it ownership.  The Master has her arms around him at all times, with one arm snaked behind his back and the other over his chest.  As near as I can tell, the Pet likes this kind of relationship, insomuch as trying to snuggle closer to her when a bump upsets their posture.  The Master kisses him with a mouth that is trying to take small bites from a banana.  The Pet leans forward and receives them with his eyes half closed, and resembles a dog receiving a kind hand.  I dry heave.

You might think that after continuous exposure, I would get used to it.  I don’t.  The train is no sacred ground, but I have expectations, and one of them is to not vomit in my mouth when my eyes wander from the fibers of literature.  The Master pushes it and the Pet allows it.  They’re symbiotically linked.  For a brief while, I root for an uprising; the Pet could cast off his limbed shackles and throw down his bondage, but it never quite turns out the way I want it to.  He continues to nose her, and I continue to gag.

I’m quite certain that they are rabbits, nuzzling with human skulls.  They might even be people.  I entertain the thought that they are newlyweds, but that wouldn’t explain why they want to eat each other’s aftershave and foundation.  Maybe he lost a bet and she’s collecting on his subservience.  The dom/sub relationship would certainly support that idea.  Maybe he lost a bet to, say, marry that woman, and perhaps as an unfortunate consequence actually went through with the marriage.  Here they are, whispering tart nothings into each other’s ears.

I glance down from my book and notice his wedding ring.  It’s… the same as mine.

My wife and I went to a jewelry store and looked at rings months before our wedding.  She settled on a nice little band with small diamonds.  I tried on gold, white gold, platinum, more gold, until I found a ring the was me.  It was titanium and had a black lacquered braid running through the middle.  It was nothing that I had ever seen in any wedding that I’d attended.  I tried it on and immediately ordered it.  I’m not a gold, white gold, or platinum person.  Other people are.  I am not.

My band is living on his ring finger.  He reaches over and scratches her stomach; I resist the urge to slap both of them silly.  My ring, a source of strength because of its former uniqueness, is a genie for the common window shopper.  I revisit the jewelry store in my head and slug the Pet’s avatar, standing outside the door.  This is my ring.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.

After several weeks of this dog and pony show, the Master points at me.  I’m standing over them, reading, as per my lamentable usual.  She doesn’t think that I notice, but it’s an unfortunate side effect of being obvious.  She leans over to the Pet and whispers something.  The Pet whispers back.  She clarifies by pointing at my hand.

I’m not dumb, but those who accuse me of being so may make a strong case.  They finally realized that I wear the same ring as he does.

She looks excited.  It’s as if she’s receiving vindication for beating him so badly; there’s the ring that I forced you to wear after you lost the bet.  He leans his ear towards her mouth.  She kisses it softly before she tells him the news.  He sits back and looks at her, puzzling over this revelation, and then makes a poor attempt to look at me out of the corner of his eye.  She flicks her finger at me again.  My hand slips adroitly into the lining of my pants pocket and I move the book to cover their prying faces.  I neglect the railing that I was holding on to and nearly fall over when the train negotiates a sudden turn.

His face falls and he turns back to his lover, confused, wondering what in the world she was talking about.  He looks at his own hand and back into the general population of the train.  There’s no ring, and no hand attached to it.  I begin to realize that I can’t turn the page with my thumb.  I keep scraping it against the paper, but it won’t turn over the binding, and the paper is starting to crumple.  The spine of the book keeps slipping off of my index finger.  I keep reading the last line of the page over and over.

The brakes squeal and the train jerks to a stop.  The Pet and his Master look over their shoulders to check which station stop they’re at.  The page flips.  When they resume their amorous air, I am as I was.

I win.  For two more pages.

Suppose for a moment that the skies open up and legions of alien ships land in parking lots and city parks, completing their decades-long trip to planet Earth.  The assumed leader of this humanoid hoard steps out for an immediate audience.  As luck would have it, you have a front row seat, and he speaks flawless English.

“HUMANKIND!  WE HAIL FROM AN AREA IN SPACE THAT YOU DESIGNATE AS THE GLIESE 445 SYSTEM.”  The words are amplified without a source.  Most of whom he addresses run away, but you stand your ground, because I have written it so.

“WE HAVE RECEIVED YOUR INTERSTELLAR MIX-TAPE.”

While your interest is piqued at this marvelous revelation, you can’t help but notice armed brigades of aliens pouring out of the bellies of their featherless birds.

“AFTER LISTENING TO ‘JOHNNY B. GOODE,’ WE IMMEDIATELY SET OFF FOR YOUR PLANET TO PAY TRIBUTE TO YOUR HUMAN GOD, CHUCK BERRY.”

How nice, you think.  In the back of your mind, you question whether or not Chuck Berry is still alive; the answer is yes.

“AS WE NEARED YOUR PLANET, WE RECEIVED YOUR RADIO TRANSMISSIONS.  EVERY RADIO SIGNAL CARRIED THE SAME DATA.”

Beams of light shoot into the sky, projecting an image onto a passing cloud.  As the signal increases in clarity and substance, you recoil in horror.  It is too late.


“CHUCK BERRY WOULD BE DISPLEASED.”

You start running.  Anywhere.  But the sound is all around you and so are the Glieseians.  Your soul is lost and has been for some time; life is an unsatisfying series of ‘Call Me Maybe’ references and Internet memes.  The alien’s booming voice floats a step behind you.  You refocus to hear what he is saying.

“…BUT HERE’S MY BURN RAY, SO DIE NOW MAYBE.”

Just before you feel the lining of your lungs blister and peel away, an image floats through your mind.