The Most Cliche Moment in History

They are walking in near-darkness, following the sinuous path the park offers to them. He walks with his hands buried deep in his coat pocket. HE keeps stride with him, hands wrapped around a bottle of vermouth ensconced in a plastic bag.

“It’s so cold,” he says. It is not so much a blanket statement about a mundane, worn-out topic as it is a verbal filler. They are still in the stage where a silence is not comfortable—a silence demands to be filled with words, however matter-of-fact they might be.

“Right?” HE says. “Like, what happened to the nice weather we had earlier?”

“Tell me about it—the other week I was in the park with a friend in shorts, and now I’m fucking freezing.”

HE takes a drink from the bottle. “Well, this’ll warm you up.”

“If I’d known, I’d’ve brought something, too.”

“No worries, I just took this from the wine cellar. I’m basically trying to come off as someone who doesn’t have an alcohol problem, which is actually a fairly accurate portrayal of my life.” HE says this last part in a jocular fashion, the kind of tone one uses when saying that they’re a horrible person, when in fact they think the total opposite. HE hands it to him. “Live it up.”

“Here’s to cheap-ass alcohol,” he says before taking a swig. “Not bad.” Examining the bottle, he says, “15%? It doesn’t taste that strong.”

“I know, right?”

The road bends to the right, vanishing into the darkness. The occasional street lamps can provide only so many pools of light. The wind whistles, a long, piercing note. Their sneakers slap against the pavement.

“I need to sit,” he says. “It’s been a long, long day.”

“I feel you,” HE says. “I wash 3D glasses at the theatre.”

“Wait, is that like, an actual thing? I thought you got to keep the glasses. I still have mine.”

“Not at like, the movie theatre. Like, where they show plays and shit. You know, Anne Frank and all that. You return them at the end and I wash them and make them shiny for the next batch of customers.”

“An endless cycle.” He takes another sip, then intones, “From dust to dust, as the Preacher says.”

“Oooh, quote that Scripture,” HE says, laughing a little. “But if you want to sit, there’s a bench right there.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Seek and ye shall find, am I right?”

They sit.

They drink.

“It’s just, I’ve been on my feet for, what, ten hours?” he says. It’s nice to just . . . do this. Be here. Feel this. You know?”

HE nods. “Right? It’s funny to think that like, a few hundred meters away is the nightlife center of the city. It’s like some magical place out here.”

“Isn’t it?” he says. Then there is silence, but it is not an uncomfortable silence like before. Perhaps it is the alcohol; perhaps something else. But the creek behind them chuckles and the wind howls. And they are silent.

By the time the bottle is empty, it has been at least thirty minutes. “Do we carry this back with us and dispose of it like responsible human beings?” he asks.

HE pauses for a moment. “Fuck responsibility,” HE says eloquently. Then HE takes the bottle-in-the-bag and chucks it into the creek. A splash. It is enveloped in the darkness. “Shall we?” HE says.

“We shall,” he says, getting up. “Oooh, I can feel that.”

“Right?” HE says. “Almost mitigates the cold.”

“Ooh, ‘mitigate.’ You don’t hear that word much often.” He breaks into a little jog, a wavering, lurching half-run/half-trot thing. “Oh, god, I can’t even walk straight.”

“That went straight to your head.”

“Didn’t it?”

They walk.

“I have like, no idea where we are,” he says. “Like, I think some of this looks familiar, but not really?”

HE makes a weird, breathy sound. “Just keep walking.” He also lurches a little. Their arms bump, once. It’s quick, ethereal—then again. This time it is more deliberate. Or perhaps it is just the alcohol. Their hands are deep in their pockets, protecting their fingers from the cold.

They walk.

“I really need to pee,” he announces suddenly, coming to a halt at the same time.

“Same, though,” HE says. “I take the left side of the road, you take the right?”

“Done,” he says, and they go about their business. They meet again, in the middle of the path, neither of them moving. In the near-darkness, he can see HIS hair: short, buzzcut; his eyes: gray-blue; his smile: barely-existent. They are close, so very close. He can no longer just see HIM, he can feel HIM. There is an almost palpable current in the air, and he knows that HE can also feel it. But they just stand there for a second, anyways. Because maybe it is the most cliche moment in history, in literature, in television, that moment, but it suddenly opens a world of opportunity, a nascent universe bursting into existence, full of endless possibility and infinite choices; of unfathomable openness and potential hurt; of everything and nothing all at once.

And then—

And then—

And then.

THE END

Dear Ted (An Excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from a semi-autobiographical epistolary novel dealing with a plethora of contemporay issues, written from the perspective of a somewhat snarky, bumbling everyday teenager in a small, no-name town in the middle of somewhere. 

Dear Ted,

So, what is it with the patriarchal paradigm? I mean, come on. It’s effing ridiculous. (By the way, the phrase “patriarchal paradigm” is not my own invention; I actually saw it in a book somewhere.) I might be a guy, but there’s something vastly unfair about the societal norms in regards to the sexualization of women. It’s like, if girls sleep around a lot, they’re called sluts, but if guys do it, for some reason it gives them more points to put on their man card. I fail to see the logic in this. (Also, if you were wondering what my man card score is, it’s somewhere in the negatives. Most of the activities I enjoy are apparently not manly enough.)

So let’s say a girl wears skinny jeans. You can see the outline of her legs, right? But no! We’re not allowed to see that she actually—gasp—has a butt, calves, and thighs. The anatomy of the female body must never be revealed, and if it is—even if just the outline, mind you—I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that at any given moment, at least a dozen people will be mentally judging her and assuming the worst about her. And I find that to be utterly ridiculous.

It’s all about the extremes, isn’t it? Either you’ve got naked women in magazines who get objectified and treated like fucking playthings.  And like, it’s not like that’s . . . wrong, especially if and when it’s entirely consensual and a well-informed decision. BUT (and there’s usually a but(t), my dear Ted), sometimes they’re no longer an actual person, but just an abstraction in like, the concept of money. It’s a bloody equation, if you think about it. (Don’t ask me to actually formulate it; I think that you’re really good at math[s], so you can do it for me.) So now that the woman’s gotten her humanity stripped away, all that’s left is an objectified concept that turns horny men into bestial animals fulfilling their sex drive. Ergo, it equals exploitation. (HA. Two equations right after each other. I’m practically a genius, no?) So it looks like on this end of the spectrum, sex loses any intimacy it might have had and becomes a purely biological function. Nobody really wins. Damn.

But if we travel in the opposite direction, instead of a stark-naked woman, you get a woman wearing a potato sack. Because, you know, you might see…the outline of a woman’s legs and butt if she wears jeans. And that’s like, really wrong. Don’t ask why. So is any makeup. And anything besides your natural hair, which you’re allowed to cut only once every six years or so.

Look, Ted, we’re both for equality, aren’t we? But for me, it’s like we need to figure out what’s the trade-off between treating women like sex toys or animals. There should be respect coming and going both ways, and there should be a way that we can do that without screwing up everything as we seem to do with everything else. Because I’m sure that we’re bigger than that.

As soon as I come up with a viable solution, I shall let you know posthaste.

With regards,

Josh

Tap.

There’s never anything on the TV on a Sunday afternoon. Well, never anything decent. Weird vampire steampunk flick? Check. Black Snake Moan? Check.

What even is Black Snake Moan? He switches to another channel.

Tap.

It’s not as if he’s all that focused on the TV, anyway. It’s more of a background filler–physical noise to drown out the mental train of thoughts that occupy his head. At least, in theory. In actuality, his mind is a veritable courtroom drama, full of opposing arguments and screaming.

Tap.

He casts a cusory glance to the low end table next to him. Two bottles of wine sit there. One is a malbec–hurrah for Argintinean cultural significance–and the other is a chilled bottle of prosecco. He stares at the beads of condensation forming on the bottle of prosecco, his eyes trailing one lone drop as it streams down the bottle of wine and splashes onto the table.

To drink or not to drink–that is the question. Is it nobler in the mind to, by one’s self, suffer those wretched slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Or shall he take arms and oppose them to thus end it?

He snorts. No more Shakespeare for one day.

Tap.

The polished wine glass stares back at him. It took him exactly sixteen minutes to get it just right. He stares at it too, impassively. His face is as blank as a chalkboard slate, but his mind screams. It would be so easy to drink it all, to celebrate–even if there’s no reason to celebrate–and sink into the blissful semi-oblivion that is drunkeness. And why not?

Why not, indeed?

He clenches his fist and unclenches: one-two, one-two. Better than the mind-numbing drudgery that is Sunday TV. Better the dull edges of inebriation than the endless ennui. Better to not remember the mess that is his life.

Except that’s not true, because the sweating bottle will not make him forget–it will only cloud and distort. He knows this, and for some twisted reason, he almost welcomes it. The feelings of utter despair will rush in, hard and fast, that inundating sense of complete worthlessness, that all-consuming self-hatred. He is weak, he is worthless, he is a failure.

He laughs, mirthlessly. Look at that–he doesn’t even need the bottles to feel like a loser. How clever.

Tap.

But–and there is always a but. Maybe it is nothing more than wanting to feel something beesides the inane dullness of the flickering box in front of him. Maybe it is the feeling of wanting to feel something besides the feeling of wanting to feel. That last thought makes him pause for a few seconds.

And maybe that’s not what he needs right now.

The bottles can wait, can they not? They can wait because a quick, possibly self-destructive fix is not the answer. They can wait because he doesn’t have to rush the feelings of worthlesness, because sooner or later he’ll be there, and that’s okay, because he’s human, and that’s a normal human thing to feel.

It’s okay, because it will all pass.

It’s okay, because he is more than that.

He’s more than that.

But for now. . .

Tap.

The New Equilibrium

The Button-Pusher is exactly four minutes and thirty-eight seconds late. Thirty-eight seconds, if one assumes that an appointment at seven involves arriving on the hour. Thirty-eight seconds or not, the Button-Pusher is still four minutes later.

Four minutes is two hundred and forty seconds.

It’s the day where millions around the globe are more or less ostensibly united in the spirit of one of the Christian fathers who was martyred centuries ago. His name? Valentinus.

The association with romantic love? Fast forward a bit for that. Then skip ahead to the 21st century, where it’s virtually a societal norm to celebrate (once in what the other humans call a “relationship”) the holiday. Flowers, chocolate and other spiritless, unoriginal products of mass consumerism are on galore for single, middle-aged women with a touch of mid-life crisis to peruse through; for frazzled men in rumpled business suits to pick up after work before rushing out for dinner and a movie; for cloying couples who radiate a sickly sweet effluvia, all rosy cheeks and bundled up, gigging intermittently with frequent glances at their other true love, their shiny iPhones.

God. What a day.

At some point, he and the Button-Pusher had been somewhere along the continuum of the R-word. When and where? He hadn’t the faintest. Nor did he have the slightest interest in finding out. It had been what it was, and now it was. .nothing.

Now, there were but the remnants that remained after The Moment Of.

To be honest, The Moment Of was a rather fuzzy phenomenon. It wasn’t all sharp edges and crisp colors; it was more like dim curves set against a washed-out palette. But The Moment Of was an undeniably powerful moment, wherein things (namely, that which was colloquially known as the R-word) were shattered, and people (namely, the Button-Pusher and he) went separate paths.

By God, was it powerful.

The Button-Pusher is now nine minutes and twelve seconds late.

He drums his finger in a steady pattern: rat-a-tat-TAT, rat-a-tat-TAT, ad infinitum. This is a constant, whereas so much is not. That which is colloquially known as the R-word is a false constant, perhaps one of the greatest faux constants there is. It is, and then it is not.

In a moment, the button is pushed. Then, things happen. Thereafter, more things happen. And finally, you wade through the ennui of the new equilibrium.

This is the new equilibrium. Hell, it could even be a title of a Friends episode: “The One About the Valentine’s Dinner with the Ex.”

Fucking irony.

But maybe the new equilibrium involves more than assigning labels like the aforementioned Button-Pusher. Maybe it’s something a little more . . . vague than that. It’s nothing warranting a Eureka-like, mome but it is enough to make him stop the steady pattern he has been drumming out, destroying yet another constant in the process. But that’s all right, because it is what it is: the shattering of things, the rebuilding of other things, and the tearing down of . . . more things. It is realizing that sometimes it takes two to fully depress the big, red button. It is waiting for twelve minutes and fifty-two seconds and resisting the urge to crumple one’s napkin. It is accepting the new equilibrium.

Maybe the new equilibrium is this: fucking irony.

 

Until Later

It’s so easy to push off everything until later. Much too easy, if he stops to think about it. Sleep later, his mind says. Talk about that later, his mind says.

The later never comes.

So he stays up, watching the digital clock tick forward incessantly, all too aware of the waning night and the pressing urgency of the ever-present moment that encompasses not just this moment but all the moments that are yet to be birthed into existence. So much to do, so much to think, so much to say.

And yet, there is nothing. Nothing that really needs to be done in that one moment, in that one chair, in that one house on that one street of that one country of that one continent of that one planet that exists somewhere in the middle of the cosmos. There is nothing but that one moment, because everything else, even the most important person in the world, do not exist then.

Only this, and nothing more.

Until later.

Rhythm

The sun sets without fail, every day. The moon rises, that pale shimmering orb, every night. The dusty stars flare into existence and burn out, those tired, tired souls, every night.
It’s all a rhythm.
He too, is part of it.
As those around go to sleep, he wakes up, a soul just as lonely as the stars above. He doesn’t draw the parallel. Few would, really. Instead, he glows as well, just like the heavenly objects above, his face framed in the light of the artificial glow of his computer, his shoulders hunched, his eyes squinted.
Click, click, click.
There is nothing new under the sun, nothing new on the Internet. He laughs mirthlessly as he cycles through 4chan, Reddit, and Facebook. He sends a video message to a friend on the other side of the world. He sends a message on Facebook to that same friend. Then he leans back. Stares out the window, into the eternal night—and, for an infinitesimal moment, experiences the barest moments of the beginning of an epiphany. Of what, he does not know. That he almost has it, he also does not know.
None of that matters. The sun will rise again, and he will sleep. The moon and stars will return, and he will wake.
That is what matters.
Click. click, click.

The Point of Things

To the person whose only regret was that I “didn’t write a word.” You know who you are. 

***

It’s an old place, this town. There’s no denying that. Buildings are covered in a fine patina of glistening, dull green. Iron oxidizes. The water is brown. The people are bent over.

The people are disappearing.

And yet, coupled with the inevitable hiccups and gasps the town emits during its lengthening off-seasons, there is an undeniable, effervescent quality good old Schroon exudes, one it will take with it down to its final breath, whenever that may be. It’s impossible to miss that presence.

Coffee’s a dollar seventy-five for twenty-four ounces at the local Stewart’s. Hot dogs are less than half of that, and a cheeseburger’s a dollar forty-nine if you come in after three. I go in, grab a cup and fill it to the brim with French vanilla cappuccino, then dump in some extra French vanilla creamer. The cashier, Bethany, says something to the other employee about ATMs. I stir furiously. It almost overflows.

“You up at the Word of Life conference?” Bethany says as I hand her two one-dollar bills. When I respond in the affirmative, she goes on, “That’s nice, my daughter and I live up there in one of the chalets. My parents work there, actually. Having fun?”

“Definitely,” I say. I take an early sip and burn my tongue. This is the second time in one day. “Thanks,” I add.

“No problem. Have an awesome time.”

“You too,” I say. Then I wince.

The Schroon Lake War Memorial is opposite Stewart’s, not much more than a list of names on a monument and a small statue erected in their honor. The names date back to the Revolutionary War. I can’t help but wonder what their stories are.

After the memorial, there’s a small pavilion off to my left. Three littles with their dad race around on their scooters. The dad has a moustache that belongs back in the 70s. The kids keep riding around.

There’s a little structure with a flight of stairs that leads up to a small . . . opening, I guess. I’m at a loss for words to try and describe what it looks like. I take the stairs, looking over the lake. There’s nowhere to sit, so I hurry back down, take another set of stairs down to the lake, and take off my shoes and socks, putting them next to a bench. Then I roll up my jeans and walk towards the sand.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that. The millions of particles of sand dig between my toes, rub against them. Two more steps, and I’m on wet, packed sand, and then I’m on shifting ground, and then—then comes the still-freezing water, slapping against my bare legs, eliciting a stifled gasp from my lips. The ululating waters keep crawling forward, swelling gently in the tide, then retreating back, then advancing forward again. I grin a little, my teeth chattering, then suck in a shaky breath. It’s all good. So very, very good.

I see a couple of kids on the dock nearby. One of them is leaning over the edge, arms and torso just inches above the placid sheet of water. His friend holds his ankles. That’s what buddies do.

There’s a pebble in the water that catches as my eyes as the tides pulls back for one second, a pebble so smooth and worn by the endless barrage of Time that I can’t help but pick it up, turn it over in my hand, admire its featureless, simple feel. Then it’s hurling over the water, executing lazy pirouettes before it’s sucked back into the waves, perhaps to resurface at some point in the future.

Perhaps not.

Back on shore, I wipe my sandy feet on the velvety carpet of grass and sit down on the bench. Finish my too-sweet coffee. Sigh. An older couple comes down, two large Dalmatians tugging the towards the beach.

“Howdy,” the shirt-clad man says.

“Hello,” I reply. The woman smiles.

I try writing for a few minutes–It’s an old place, this town. There’s no denying that–but store my laptop back in my backpack and put on my sneakers. Maybe I’m trying to force the whole experience too much. Maybe it’s not just my day.

Maybe there’s no point in trying to drive home a point in my pedestrian experiences.

Now that’s a start, I think ruefully as I pick up my backpack and nod to the couple. Probably wouldn’t hurt if I did that a little more often. Might as well try today.

For now, I’ll walk up the garbage-strewn stone steps, past the forgotten war memorial, past the Stewart’s with its stained linoleum floors, over the moss-ravaged bridge and across the faded crosswalk. I’ll take the shortcut back to the Inn, past the houses with so much abandoned junk on their back porches. I’ll look at the desolate balconies overflowing with splintered chairs, wonky transistor radios, and baby toys. I’ll look down to the stagnant, scummy water creeping up towards the houses, water chockfull with algae, and I will keep walking, walking, walking.

Only this, and nothing more.

Perhaps when I get back, I’ll pull up a couch in the lobby and breathe in the aromatic odors of coffee and fruit and cakes. Maybe I’ll head down to the game room and attempt to mingle with my own kind, which in actuality means I’ll probably just sit in a corner and hold a double conversation with my writing friend. Maybe I’ll do this, or do that, or do something else.

That, I suppose, is the best I can do.

And that is exactly what I will do.

Less than three,

Josh