Too Stupid To Understand Carnival America

The woman on the phone is telling me the doctors’ bill is separate from the hospital bill, for the third time, we’re not the ones you sent the financial aid applications to. No, sir, I cannot transfer you to another company. No, I do not have their number.

I am stuck in a traffic circle’s inside lane, and nobody is letting me get over so I can stop circling. I am buying my groceries at a corner-store because Kroger keeps telling me their super-markets are staffed by my friendly neighbors who care. I am supine in a field during a thunderstorm.

I am being told that I do not understand that Ohio State University does not own my debt, nor does the Department of Education, sir, you need to get in touch with the debt-collection agency that has purchased your debt.

I am at the carnival and the politicians have arrived for their speeches. Britain left the EU because racists are taking over. I am eating wild onions from the Ferris wheel’s overgrown lot because these are the only produce not treated with caustic pesticides. I think about drinking water from the pond to escape wondering why the government cares so much about my teeth, but on fourth thought the pond is definitely artificially green because it’s also a great idea to dump copper into water, for aesthetics.

I am being told I don’t understand. My professor is smug and telling me I don’t understand and the Young Republicans are snickering. The liberal in the Lexus, with the Hillary sticker, is visibly pissed at me for confusing his blinker with the intention of turning.

I am being told I don’t understand how the world works. I am told I need to finish my degree. I am told I need to stop drinking. Why have you moved five times in that many years? Don’t you want some stability? You need a job. You need health insurance.

I have submerged myself and I am holding my head under water with both hands. There is a taste of paper-clips in my mouth. I am holding my head under green water and every time I give up the Ferris wheel is still there, and the only thing I can’t understand is why everybody thinks these things are understandable.

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How To Suffer For Your Dreams

The jungle floor undercut with gnarled twisting roots, ankle-snappers, watch your foot, through the verdant thick that’s only green with promise, and when the sun sets the dark is impassable – but there is no time to sleep, step by cautious step hands feeling along the jungle floor. Some days the sun’s high but the canopy’s a carpet, no light gets through, there is nothing above, no sky, and what you crawl through is a shadow swamp of muck; up mud hills, across ravines, through miles of hemlock you crawl. You have dengue, yellow fever, gangrenous extremities; day-long vomiting and dark shivers you sweat through for no reason you can find. But you continue to crawl, up on your legs, cut through the vines. This isn’t an illness you suffer, it is a circumstance of everyday, even when the body’s spent with dengue-sweat delirium, this is everyday. It only stops if you stop.

The jungle breaks on a cliff of foresight – a thousand miles of impenetrable endless thick, and the horizon propping up the promised land on a mountain pedestal: your Eden at the top veiled by thick humid cloud, never seen, not yet touched, illustrated by your obstinate dream. To crawl forward is now to climb down.

And all along the way have been the Exit Signs, posted to moss damp trees, stuck to rock faces, placed glowing in the deep crevasses formed by roots where you know you can climb in and find – annual vacations, financial security, suburban housing, carpeted floors, a family to love, clean cars (working cars), cures for your malignancies and melancholies and fantasies and obsessions; a big screen TV, watching Netflix from the couch comfort after a long day at the office desk giving you paychecks for stability and shelter and peace of mind.

The body hurts and the heart’s stuck in the hopelessness mire. You ignore this and you crawl. Wading through stagnant bog moving piece by piece the branches of overgrowth barbed-wired with thorns. The rains have come, covered in muck and shit that gets in the skin gashes and begins to infect, your sense of being sense of time – it has already been seven lonely years – mosquitoes molest your face, spiders feast on your back. Vines tangle for your neck, roots grab at your ankles, leeches bleed the stomach and parasites multiply in your genitals. And you are crawling.

You are crawling and your body is tearing into pieces. The mind is rejecting itself and the skin is suppurating from boils, gashes, abrasions, infections; melting away. To sweat all day and continue through the night, through the body aches-and-pains of a seven-year disease. You keep going because your skin and muscles will fall away, an exoskeleton you leave behind and feel refreshed – third fourth fifth wind this day – and the path behind you is littered with the selves you’ve shed, and you keep yourself from noticing how each skin is just a bit smaller than the previous, that you are in fact finite and running out of self and time. You keep yourself from noticing because it doesn’t matter: you will get there or you will (like a candle slowly extinguished in an opaque fog) fade into an obscure, meaningless death. It doesn’t matter.

you crawl on.

In Every Adult, Hidden The Child

I am the bottom feeder hollowed out by worms and full of holes. This is the subtle, vacant vibration of an early-morning rude to the past night of liquor and molly and remarkably personal conversations with acquaintances. This is me finding my way home from a downtown flat.

Rush hour. The morning is still gray and I am lost. This is a part of the city strange and disorienting, the sidewalk rush of suits and hipster office packs, harried cellphone calls while hailing cabs and the slaughter house of an over-packed bus stop.

I am sure of where I was: I am not sure how I got there, or how I will get back, back to the old duplex with the rotten-wood front porch and the Craigslist furniture. I am seated on a low brick wall along the sidewalk, watching the buses come and go, wondering if the 16-bus or the 9-bus goes up Fourth Avenue.

And what I’m wondering is who these people are. Why the mirror-glass high-rise offices and the pretentious houses in sub-divisions – who has the estates, who’s stuck in the Home Owners’ Associations? Who has a wife that drives a Porsche minivan, who has a clunker hoping a promotion to a higher floor comes with the net-gain of buying a Jetta? Who has four bosses? Who has a dozen people working beneath them?

Yet there is a brightness summoning.

The man leaning against my brick wall has his briefcase beside his feet, shiny black pointy-toe shoes. He’s eating a cream-cheese bagel still half-wrapped in foil, and he uses both hands to hold it, bringing it to his mouth using both hands as though it were a prized possession that must be so carefully taken care of and admired lest he lose this gift.

There is a woman on the bench seated back but with her hands on the edge of the seat, fingers curled under. Her open-toed heels are knocking discordantly against the sidewalk beneath her and her face is chewing her cheeks, eyes lost somewhere inside of herself. She sticks her legs out, and it becomes so apparent that she is looking at her painted toenails to try to take her mind off of whatever it is she feels so irresponsible for.

The man beside her has earbuds in, a neat gray suit with silver hints and a face you can place on a moody teenager waiting for the school bus.

A bus pulls in and the waiting crowd as a unit clusters and moves to where the bus will come to its final halt. The doors open and the business ladder-climbers move up the steps, the line moving. There are some sharp words from the waiting mass, looks of annoyance – they will be scolded for being late. Someone is talking to the bus driver, trying his best to get on the bus but I’m Sorry Sir This Pass Has Expired. He is digging through his pockets, saying I’m Sorry I Have To Have To Some Change In Here, looking through his wallet apologizing to everyone in tardy-limbo. His look coming back down the steps trying to squeeze past everyone, it’s embarrassment and worry and the tangle in the lower-intestine that you are going to be late. The feeling doesn’t change with age.

There is a brightness here, in the confused face of the corporate accountant trying to make sense of the bus-route map. He has the same stomach-pit of helplessness he felt at his locker in middle school.

I think of my parents, for the first time since abandoning the college they were helping pay for. They’re no different, just children trying to raise children. Of all their perceived abuses, injustices, I’m aware of their breakdowns, panic-attacks; parents at 45 still feeling helpless, unsure, and themselves in need of a parent (but my grandparents have been dead).

The brightness is the child still buried in every suit, in every beggar, in every golfer and every dead-beat; in the drunk and the executive – it comes through in everyday moments of fear, unsure of the outcomes of a decision, worrying what the next days will bring.

There are uncertainties feared in all of us, and this is what is beautiful:

The wonder of childhood is the not-knowing, the wonder, the unformed lump of clay still sought as an answer, every impression an indentation savored as something miraculous in need of understanding: this still comes through, no matter the outfit.

Melancholy and Newton’s First Law Of Motion

I am in a computer lab for Multi-national Communications 105. The professor is speaking about something and I am watching the mouse cursor make a Ouija board drift across the screen. If I focus on my nostrils I smell the tropical scent bodywash of the porcelain legs in the seat beside me. I don’t know her name. What I do know is an image in my head of those legs forming a fleshy crescent with her pout buttcheeks. I hold the image in my head but it has no meaning or tumescent effects – an anhedonic thought. I try not to look at people because of the constant sensation of being judged. I wish it weren’t a gorgeous Spring day because then I could put on my sweater, cross my arms and enjoy the warm fabric of this computer lab swivel chair.

I am in Metronomic Psychology 101 and the desk is too small, caricature of over-grown adult in kindergarten. I am trying to take notes but the professor’s voice has decompressed into Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice and the chalkboard is too far away to see the hieroglyphs.

At night in bed my heart is a percussive staccato. I am excited to do something but there is nothing to do because it is 1 2 3 4 in the morning and the excitement is vapid. It is a wasted load. I want to be doing something but I have nothing to be doing and these are the eager maggots crawling beneath the scalp of vague dreams. I spend the hours between my classes appeasing exhaustion. Daylight vituperative in my bedroom windows but I have my TV off, no more Reality TV I am reading because I have life goals and two pages in is when my eyelids become lead curtains I can’t hold open – sleep is an irreality of dreams indiscernible from life; I am daily restarting conversations I’ve never begun, apologizing for injustices I haven’t committed.

I am spending increasing amounts of class time sitting in bathroom stalls wondering why the proximity of other human beings feels like judgemental penetration of my fleshy inner-self.

I waste time between Micromanaging 203 and Consumer Success 501. I take the long way thrice around campus. I am staring at a bulletin board on the campus green and the fliers and notices are posted thus:

Lost Cat. Lost Dog. The Bachelorette Season Finale Party. Guitar For Sale. Easel For Sale. Melancholics Anonymous. Nihilist Support Group – Help Us Find Ourselves. Childhood Dream Curbside Sale – Take Everything You Can. Help Save Indigenous Possums In Sao Paolo.

There are meaty crows in the tree overhead and they are eating the baby birds that didn’t fly in time. I know nothing of their experiences. Campus is empty because the 3:15 classes began 10 minutes ago. I am gilded by the decadence of afternoon sleep.

I have been a Geology Major. A Philosophy Major. A Journalism Major with a focus on Photography. I am a Marketing Major.

I have been dumped from the high school conveyor belt into the collegiate funnel and I was even allowed to decide my major. I will in ten years be making $80,000 annually because I wisely chose Marketing instead of Journalism. My conveyor belt is set to deposit new Acuras and a fully furnished starter-home in an upscale sub-division by the time I’m 27. All I have to do is sit at my desk. Sit at my desk. Sit at my desk. Sit at my desk.

It is 2pm and I am in bed reading Techniques of Modern Photography to feel productive. I have read two pages and the sentences blur again into the irreality of deep, irresistible sleep.

Stay at my desk and happiness will be delivered.

I am back-sprawled on my bed. I am naked. It is Thurs or Fri or Sat and there hasn’t been hunger or thirst or lust or exhaustion in 2 or 3 or 4 days. I am staring at my ceiling. Stare at a single point long enough and the patterns take new forms – I am staring at a large Newton’s Cradle, four big silver balls clinking one off of the right, one off of the left. It is sometime between sunrise and sunset.

It is dark in my room but in my peripheries I can make out the darker forms of my desk, flat screen, laptop, PS3, dresser, closet full of clothes, shoe rack. And for some time now these darker forms have been evaporating with a slow, frothy hiss, evaporating up into the walls, depressurizing, the shadows of my material possessions creeping up the walls and as this evaporation spreads it leaves behind a pristine darkness, immaculate and speckled with a million points of shimmering blue.

There is nothing but the vastness and the stars. I feel only the heaviness of my own body – there is no pressure, no thing to act against and I cannot be sure if I am moving or in any meaningful way exist. The stars are too far to give perspective. There is nothing horrible about this. I can exist here in perpetuity and never physically suffer because I know that all I have to do is reach out to take a handful of stars, and what is so profoundly wrecking is the knowledge that it would all be pointless, because my mouth is already full.

 

Recalibrating Your Dreams

My wife is hanging new curtains. Purchased from… I don’t know what she’s saying. The curtains were procured at a price of… I don’t know what she’s saying because what I hear is ’16 hours of work’, or to play it back again in my head, ‘a week and a half of groceries’.

The curtains match the couch we bought on Craigslist. It’s new-ish and the dog hair’s been vacuumed out. My wife was a boho street queen when we met, a princess with a molly habit. We still have the same dream, sylvan simple house far from neighbors, in the hills. But here in our urbane townhouse there must be Netflix and Hulu and K-cups and an additional dresser to supplement the closet space.

I am stuffing the new shirts she bought me into a trashcan at the curb. My cellphone is 6 years old and is made fun of because it can’t Skype, or receive picture messages. I want to dig a hole in the warm earth and assume the fetal position. I love her painfully and I want our children in the best public schools and I want us to have 30 acres on the outskirts of a little urban center where everyone knows our names and there’s a single coffee shop and nothing is headquartered 1000 miles away. I want art galleries and farmers markets and an unpaved driveway. I want to live in Zanesville or Ashville or Ithaca and we are dirt poor. We don’t have degrees. I dropped out and to finish is another two years and $40,0000000000 in debt. My wife is hanging new curtains and I am never again going to look out the damn window.

Irreconcilable Desires

Out of the apartment window I see down into the street, tree-lined, sun-streamed verdant, quiet. There’s a family getting into their SUV/minivan, an immigrant family from some East Asian country – abandoned the crowded oriental casbahs and sweat shops for American opportunity. The husband’s getting their 9yr old into the Volvo, new and shiny and probably capable of autonomous parking. His wife’s in the passenger seat on her smartphone, talking through the open window to her parents who are watching the youngest kids for the day, walking them down the sidewalk on tricycles and plastic foot-pedal cars. This man and his wife have Made It, and brought over their parents, and they all live together in the townhouse next-door to ours.

My wife and I live 800 miles from our families. There is no generational-continuity. We left, abandoned, ditched, forgot. Our toddler’s seen his grandparents and his aunts and uncles exactly three times. We are alone here, in this bustling city we made our frontier. Except it’s already been settled. What are we doing here? What are we doing? What am I doing? I am at my typewriter drunk at 2pm and there is nothing to produce, just wringing my heart into the bathroom sink and wash it down with Draino to make sure the waste doesn’t clog.

We are in the cheapest townhouse in an expensive suburb 10 minutes from downtown. Together the wife and I, 80 hour work weeks. And I hate our neighbors. I hate our decor and I can’t stand the New Car smell of the faux-leather in the used Mazda I just bought to replace the dead chunk of metal and oil that’d been stuck along the curb for four months. Monthly payments.

The family out the window is happy. They’ve Made It. They’ve made themselves successful and happy and when I put myself in that man’s car with my own happy kids in Nike’s and name-brand clothes I resent myself. I want what he has: a good job and a comfortable income and plenty of food and a nice big HDTV and plush furniture and a wife who doesn’t have to work every night. I want a new car my own car and clothes that match and the financial ability to take week-long vacations at the shore, and I want a smartphone and a tablet and a laptop that doesn’t freeze every time I open Google Chrome.

And I hate all of it. My heart strangles thinking of having a closet and a dresser both full of my own clothes. I cringe thinking of having a $300 razor to stylishly cultivate my facial hair and who the hell actually spends $400 on a digital watch that monitors your footsteps?

I want to be happy and comfortable. I don’t want to dread bills. I want to be able to afford a doctor because my ear (infection? pierced ear-drum?) has now throbbed for two weeks.

To attain these things I must sit in an office. I must take orders with obeisance. I must make monthly payments to an insurance corporation. I must enjoy high-tech entertainment and pride myself on the luminosity of my detailed BMW.

To be happy I must become everything I despise.

I shut the blinds and the happy Made It family disappears. I drink from the bottle because it kills me quicker and when I begin to type I am banging my forehead on the typewriter.