meetings with laura.

i responded recently to a craigslist ad for a writing group. i have no idea when we're going to meet. i looked at all the recipients of the mass email sent by the post's creator, amy, and it looks like i'm going to be the only guy again. which is probably a good thing. i can't stand most guys my age. the only good guy friends i had were always potheads, and that's probably why we got along. guys my age are just stupid, i guess. i mean, i heard one of them bought a million dollar home somewhere in southern california, and now he's declaring bankruptcy. who buys a million dollar home at 25? what are you, a moron?

i picture most guys my age wanting some girl, or else some advanced piece of technology. i doubt they're thinking much about how their next purchase affects the gdp, or how the existence of a single best buy is just making all of us that much stupider. i picture them, wearing their straight ties, going to work and doing nothing for eight hours, coming home to watch the game, or else play some world of warcraft. how fucking original. i like my pothead guy friends. they are worried about the state of the world, as everyone should be, but they know there is nothing we can do about it, so they light up as much as they can afford. i could count the number of male friends i have who are like this on one hand.

because i can't afford to get high every night, i'll have to settle for an all-female writing group. i think i'm going to workshop my story, "the rave in the boonies," about the girl who gets her lips sewn shut on the stage. i wonder what the others will write about. it's funny to me, reading some previous entries, and some old stories i've written. i usually read them and cringe. i've deleted and thrown away much of what i've written. it's cliché to think of oneself as a terrible writer, so i think i'm just aiming for quantity now. i was always told, "work from abundance," but i think i'm just now starting to take that advice. i always wrote really shitty stories that went nowhere, and i wondered why my stories were so shitty. i think that i was always trying to make something out of nothing, and i didn't know that i carry most of the real shit around with me everyday.

i stop myself sometimes, and i delete extra, unnecessary commentary. who knows if it makes something better or worse? isn't it all just a matter of opinion? it can't be, though. because i can recognize those moments when i'm completely blown away, and other times when i can sense that something is complete bullshit. some literary magazine editor once said, "good writing is difficult to articulate, but not to recognize." i think that's all i can do in life. i can only recognize good writing when i see it. but what good is that skill in an illiterate world?

i've gotten off track again. i meant to write about meetings with laura. at seattle university, i met with laura at coffee shops and we discussed writing. mostly, we did this because our teacher, the only filipino-american writer i know, completely let us down. he would read our stories and say, "this is good," or else, "work on the conclusion." i guess that's all you can really do as a writing teacher, but i expected more. i knew he was a published author, and i wanted him to make me one, too, i suppose. but he did little more than tell me that he liked one story - one - that i had written all quarter. i gave him a negative review as a teacher, but i bought all of his books. they're good.

so, laura and i would meet. i think i just wanted a new friend, more than anything. it didn't work out too well, though, since we were both really quiet people. after discussing stories, there wasn't much left to say. "they have good raspberry scones here." "mmm." "alright, well, i'd better get going. see you in class." "alright." we really didn't help each other's writing all that much. i think we both just needed the other to recognize and confirm that we were doing something meaningful, something worth doing. we needed all the readers and feedback we could get. i think that's what i'm hoping for this time around, too.

because when you're in the middle of a story, something really good, you can't possibly think about anything else.
just watch the fireworks.

the fourth of july is coming up. most of us are expecting that our uncle tim will buy a giant package of fireworks for us to light off on the actual day. when i was younger, he'd always buy the family special, or tnt special, whatever they were called. they'd usually include a bunch of sparklers, pagodas, smoke bombs, and other things that just shot up colorful sparks into the air. my mom would always shake her head at us. "what a waste of money," she'd say. any time i purchased some with my own money, she'd tell me, "you might as well just burn your money now."

one time, i saved a pack of smoke bombs and kept them for almost a year, maybe more. i was saving them in case i would be faced with some end-of-the-world scenario, in which smoke bombs would help me escape. i'd drop them, ninja-style, and disappear with great stealth as the marines commandeered our home. my family and friends would have been taken hostage, and i'd be forced to survive in the wilderness, muttering to myself, "if only they had kept their smoke bombs, too..."

of course, the apocalypse never came, so i wondered what to do with my smoke bombs. i set some off in the backyard by myself on a sunny afternoon. i had one remaining smoke bomb, a purple one, and i wondered what to do with it. i didn't want it to just go to waste. i decided that i would light it, then launch it with my slingshot out into oblivion. as soon as i did, though, i realized that the authorities might consider a smoking projectile a deadly weapon. i might serve time for this. quickly, i scrambled into the house and shut all the doors behind me. they couldn't trace it back to me, right? what if it broke a window, or hit someone in the head? it could've killed that person! could they dust a smoke bomb for fingerprints? these thoughts lingered through my head, and i became disappointed that my cowardice had prevented me from seeing the rise of purple smoke over neighbors' fences.

byron's dad, ron, used to provide us with the illegal fireworks. as far as i know, illegal fireworks are anything that are launched into the air, such as bottle rockets, or smoke bombs fired from slingshots. ron had plenty of bottle rockets. he and others warned us to stay as far away as possible when he lit them. we'd watch as the colorful sparks shot off and exploded thirty, forty feet from the ground. i never got to light one off. ron also provided plenty of firecrackers, also ruled illegal. my cousin rich would open one up, and light up the gunpowder. it would burn up instantaneously, and we enjoyed watching this. i preferred it, anyway, to the loud bang they normally caused.

from the front yard of the rosemont house, we would watch the capital christian fireworks display. on the corner of rosemont and mayhew, we certainly had the best view. we set up lawn chairs on the driveway and waited for the first colorful explosion. "when's it gonna start?" someone would eventually ask. an uncle or aunt almost always responded, "when it gets dark." "but it's dark already." "it's not that dark yet." and shortly after this, it would begin. all of us would sit there, silently gazing upward. after an over-top finale of explosions, one of us would sarcastically remark, "that's it?" my mom would sometimes say, "all right. until next year."

but for the past four years, capital christian hasn't set off any fireworks. supposedly, this is because of all the new homes built around the surrounding area. it's just as well. i think we've seen enough explosions and smoke already.
please notify us in writing.

another entry dedicated to the ongoing struggle of finding a state job. who knew how difficult it would be to find such non-difficult work? it wasn't enough that i have a b.a. with two years of volunteer service; it wasn't enough that i have a confirmed typing speed of over 90 words per minute; and it wasn't enough that i scored 100% on their written test. no, none of that was good enough for any of the departments with whom i interviewed. i have attended at least five interviews, and i've been rejected from all of them. i was rejected so much that i had decided to just give up on it. i was destined to return to the world of minimum wage retail work. except, unlike barbara ehrenreich, i wouldn't be making a point.

i allowed myself to become inactive on the list for the office assistant position. if five employers didn't find me suited for making copies, sending coherent emails, and stapling papers together, then fuck it, i wasn't even going to bother. however, my aunt, a state worker, had managed to pull some strings and get me an interview in her department. i went to the interview earlier this week, and the two women seemed impressed with my experience and education. they even said they were 99.9% sure they were going to hire me, but they couldn't make an offer, since i was still inactive on the list. and this is where the frustrating saga continues.

i did exactly as they asked. i wrote to the state personnel board and requested specifically that i would like to be made active again on the office assistant list. the o.a. list. office assistant, did you catch that? that's the list i would like to be on. make me active again. do it. i'm finally on the brink of getting a job. anxious, i called the next day, since carolyn, the interviewer, wanted me to notify her as soon as i received word that i was active on the list again. the woman at spb said, "if you called yesterday, then we probably haven't processed it yet." click. she didn't even bother checking. oh well. i called again the next day. a different woman answered. "we're actually processing them right now, so you should receive your letter tomorrow." okay, so i'd just have to wait another day to receive my actual confirmation in the mail.

today is that day. and yes, the letter did come. but of course, of course, they fucked it up. instead of making me active on the office assistant list, the o fucking a list, which i had specifically requested, they reactivated my status for the staff services analyst position, which is pointless, since my score was a measly 85%, and that doesn't even make me "reachable." they are fucking idiots. they are the george w. bushes who don't even bother to read one sentence memos. they probably read up until the word, "activate" and just decided to throw it away. i bet they didn't even recycle. assholes.
raindrops keep falling on my head.

the whole family got together last night, since ate, my uncle, and my cousin grace were visiting from the philippines. we all sat down to eat a meal that consisted of fish soup, crab, and pancit (noodles, vegetables, and chicken). sam lead the group in prayer in his usual manner: "in the name of the father, the son, the holy spirit. godisgoodgodisgreat thankyou forfoodfamilyfriends." he stopped to look around, as though he knew he was supposed to add something, but wasn't sure. his mom motioned toward ate, implying that he say something about the visitors. "and thank you for ate, grace, and uncle rebel coming to our house tonight. amen." my aunt, byron's mom, turned to me. "do you remember when you were young, and you had to led the prayers?" "no," i said, "i don't."

it was strange to be sitting down with everyone again. had anything changed in the last five, ten years, since this has happened? the obvious answer was yes, but it certainly hadn't felt like it. my suspicion was confirmed the moment my cousin byron showed up. he gave everyone awkward hellos, and he went over to kiss ate, the custom we all had grown accustomed to, and consequently, dreaded. suddenly, ate transformed into her old self. "you did not hug your ate," she said. i cringed, completely aware that my cousin is twenty years old, and deserved to be talked to like an adult. still, i couldn't speak, because with her trademark phrase, in which she referred to herself in the third person, we had all been transported back to a time when we were all helpless, submissive children. "i did hug you," byron said, further adding to the absurdity of the moment. "you did not," she insisted. he walked back to her, and gave her a one armed hug.

i don't know why she did this. maybe she equates domination with comedy, i'm not sure. that certainly wasn't the woman i met with in san francisco, the woman who is trying to get me a job in the city. sometimes, i really resent certain members of the family for giving me more respect and treating me like an adult just because i went to college. i think it's bullshit. don't they know i majored in creative writing, and that it doesn't really count? as i picked at my pancit with my fork, i felt the sudden urge to scream or go sit naked by myself in the backyard. anything to break away from this false sense of communion, this twisted sense of hierarchy and power dynamics imposed upon all of us by tradition. the rationale is simple: "i am the eldest, so what i say, goes."

during dinner, uncle tim showed up. he brought over his magic mic, a microphone that you can plug into any television set to sing karaoke. he was the first to sing. he chose the song, "raindrops keep falling on my head," and crouched over, possibly so he could read the words on screen better. when some of us had realized that uncle tim had either lost his mind, or simply didn't give a fuck about anything anymore, my cousin began to videotape the performance. the footage, though lacking audio, would fit perfectly into david lynch's next film. uncle remained crouched over like a gorilla, or else a rap superstar, and sung very off-key with no sense of rhythm. "rain. drops. keepfallingon. my head." in recent years, he has stopped wearing his black toupee, and he now resembles my deceased grandfather. his thinning gray hair was combed back, and his face remained bright red from all the bud lights he had been drinking.

byron's mom talked to me again. i think that she's expecting me to write about her and everyone else. she always approaches me about writing a book about my family (as others also do), as though it's the easiest and most natural thing in the world to just churn out a book about a bunch of people you hardly know, and find someone willing to invest thousands of dollars to publish it. "you know," she said, "i think that some people really like to write, and others don't. like that amy tan, you remember her?" "yeah. the joy luck club? i've never read it." "well yeah, amy tan wrote about her family, and she became very successful." "probably." i'll just keep blogging until someone offers me a book deal. and if it never happens (which will most likely be the case), so what? at least i'll have made an attempt to entertain bored and frustrated people at work.

my cousins and i decided to get away from my aunt and from the magic mic. we sat at the table in the backyard and chatted with my twenty-eight year old cousin grace, ate's adopted daughter. we talked about her job, the philippines, and how all of us would eventually like to visit. "but without our parents," rich added. "i wanna go to a resort," claire said. grace shocked us with her response: "yeah. me too." "what?" we asked, incredulously. "you've never been to a resort?" "no," grace said, "my mom won't let me." and that was that. my adopted cousin grace is a living gothic tale, her mother a svengali, (yes, i only know that term because of seinfeld) and again, i was powerless to do or say anything. my cousins laughed it off, but i could only think of the woman trapped in the attic, who eventually set the house on fire in jane eyre. claire tried to console her. "well, at least you got to visit l.a. without her, right?" "yeah," grace said, "but i had to delay the trip for a year before she would let me." "that sucks."

as we sat there talking of prisons, i noticed how the orange sunlight on the ground resembled that of a streetlight's. according to my cousin who works for the local news station, there are ninety fires burning all around the sacramento area, so for the past week, the entire city has been engulfed in a haze of smoke. people tell us to stay indoors and turn on the air-conditioner.

as for me, i still ride my bike and just breathe it all in.
happy birthday, asshole.

yesterday, my friend from school, joseph, turned 25. it was a miracle that i had actually remembered. it was probably the first time in 25 years that i had wished him a happy birthday on the day itself. he called me around easter to invite me to his grandpa's birthday party, but i never called him back. i think that i am afraid of him. i am afraid that if we hang out, i will begin to understand him, and because our situation is now similar, i will emulate him. cops will find me waiting on the ledge of the golden sacramento bridge, an ounce of dope in my pocket, and they will say, "don't do it, asshole. seriously. the jump isn't even that high. it won't kill you. you'll just jump in and we'll have to save your ass, and we really don't want to do that."

i've been watching episodes of reno 911! lately. the show isn't that funny, but it has its moments. like in one episode, these two redneck cops decide they want to go down to the border and build the "symbolic" fence to keep the mexicans out. but because it's hot and they are lazy, they end up paying two mexicans $40 to finish the job. there are a lot of jumper scenes, too, and it's the same comedic routine. the cop on duty always inadvertently makes the person go over. one time, the mustached man with biker shorts threw a pen at a guy, and he went over. okay, maybe it's not that funny. still, i laughed.

anyway, joseph invited me to his birthday party dinner in folsom. as soon as he said this, i knew i didn't want to go, but i'm kind of a wishy-washy person in that i won't actually say, "no" immediately. i don't know why i do that. i have friends and family that say, "no" right away, and it always irritates me when they do. but i guess it's worse to leave the other person hanging when you mean to say, "no," but you prolong the refusal because you want to come up with a better excuse than "because i don't feel like it." after an hour between our conversations, i came up with: "i can't make it. i'm broke. but give me a call and we'll hang out this weekend." i'm a terrible friend. i know we won't hang out this weekend, but i said it anyway because you know, how else does one end that little nugget of rejection? "no. i can't make it. i will never make it. you will turn eighty, and i will never make it to any of your birthday dinners. furthermore, we won't hang out. ever. goodbye."

the truth was, i didn't really want to drive all the way out to folsom, since the last time i checked, gasoline was $4.57 a gallon. also, i didn't want to surround myself with his brother, his sister, his mom and dad, his grandpa, and all his cousins. what am i supposed to say to these people? they will ask me about things, and i will only be able to create this image of myself as a person who watches reruns of reno 911! and can perform a terrible version of avril lavigne's "when you're gone" on the guitar. "i'm still working on the bridge," i'd say. "you'd be surprised. it's actually kind of difficult."

maybe i'm being selfish. maybe you're just supposed to suck it up, especially when it's somebody else's birthday. on visiting new york for a conference and interview, charles schulz once remarked to his wife, joyce, "i don't want to do that. i don't have to do anything. why must i always do things i don't want to do?" isn't that what life's all about, though? doing the shit people expect you to do, even if you don't want to? going to school, getting a job, getting married, having kids, opening up an ira. but not just an ira, a roth ira. there's a difference, a difference i know nothing about.

when i go to washington mutual, the clerk always pauses to look at my measly savings account. i think they have something on their monitors that tells them the number of times i've been solicited about a credit card. each time, i tell them, "no." i don't have a hard time doing that. i don't buy anything, so what would i need a credit card for? but other times, they tell me that i should start an ira, or at least a cd. "you're not earning anything on your savings account. it's like 25% and that's nothing." i always say that i'll start a cd or something, but that i'll do it online. i never do. i'm too apathetic when it comes to earning more interest. possible responses to this scenario in the future: "you know the world is ending, right? we'll probably all be underwater by 2020, so what am i going to do with a retirement account? i plan on dying young anyway. it's much more glamorous and cool to die young, you know? i mean, who wants to grow old? it's so uncool. definitely not sexy."

other clerks, the younger women, usually start off with this line: "i haven't seen you around lately." i've only seen this line used on men. i think that it's supposed to flatter them or something. it's supposed to create this thinking that, wow, this cute young clerk actually notices me! she remembers me! i should bank with wamu forever! i've had this line used on me once before. if i was a different person i would've said, "that's because i'm not making any money. you haven't seen me around lately because there's no point in me going to a bank when i don't have any checks to cash. what are you, stupid?"

this is my life. a series of events where i think of the right thing to say moments later, when it is too late. that is also the tragedy of writing. i'll come up with a better conclusion fifteen minutes from now, but i won't bother editing it.
we, the boomerang kids.

the purpose of this essay is to discover how an individual, who has adopted largely anti-consumerist, anti-materialistic views, can peacefully coexist with others in an enclosed, suburban environment.

stage one is gullibility. he thinks that, because of his previous experience and education, he will be able to change the others around him. he firmly asserts that since he has been blessed with an independence of spirit, he can now adapt to any given situation and environment.

stage two is apathy. the subject begins to see that thoreau was an elitist jackass who didn't have to worry about bills and loans and health care. thoreau could take a walk "for the sake of taking a walk" because he was a bourgeois white male. according to reliable sources, anyone who dares take a walk in this society will either be raped, kidnapped, eaten by a mountain lion, or die instantly from heat exhaustion. there are no shade trees in suburbia. the only trees in existence are kept six feet from the sidewalk, and are thus rendered completely useless to any passersby. our subject cannot possibly walk. even if he could, there is nowhere to go. he grows apathetic, sleeps and sleeps in the comfort of his air-conditioned bedroom.

stage three is mild dementia. the subject makes half-hearted attempts to get together with anyone who lives nearby. he does this because he does not wish to use his automobile. he has heard over and over again how evil the automobile is, and anyway, he has no money to pay for the black gold which makes the automobile run. but the creators of his environment have made it nearly impossible for him to go anywhere without his automobile. the world sends him mixed messages. the sky is falling! co2 is rising! no blood for oil! travel! do it while you're young! make memories and see the world! stay where you are! buy locally! visit another country and learn a foreign language! his mind becomes that ball in that game he used to play on that wonderful eighties invention, the atari. the name of the game was pong. mild dementia is like a game of pong.

stage four is isolation. to counter this, the subject reads books. they, after all, expanded his mind, and opened up new worlds he had never even dreamed of. somehow, words could make him feel all sorts of different things. he could feel uplifted, empowered, even slightly aroused. other times, these words could make him feel dejected, angry, confused and constipated. he retreats to his world of literature, hoping to meet lively characters who might possibly serve as friends and helpers on his isolated journey to nowheresville.

stage five is envy. this stage emerges when the subject makes an attempt to once again rejoin the human race by joining an online social networking site. the subject spends a good portion of the day looking at pictures and reading descriptions of people he once knew. for the most part, they appear happy, healthy, and they are making names for themselves in one way or another. his envy dissipates slightly when he somehow convinces himself that they are just as fucked as he is. this insight occurs slowly and haphazardly, but when it does, it overwhelms him with relief.

stage six isn't really a stage. it's more like a thought that just comes and goes. he recognizes that he is still a part of humanity because he suffers. the subject is humbled by this thought, and suddenly, he wants to shake everyone's hand and congratulate each individual for making it this far.
buy me that.

mom doesn't go out much. i don't know why. she'll go to work every now and then, go to the grocery store, go to church, but that's all. sometimes, she goes out with a coworker for lunch. other than that, she spends most of her time in front of the tv, or else on the couch while reading a book. i don't think there's anything wrong with that. but i do sense that she's sorely unhappy. i'm not exactly sure what she wants. i know she wants to retire, but then she'll have all the spare time she already has now. and that, i don't think, will really do her any good.

her sister travels to europe every now and then. her other sister sometimes flies to the south to visit her daughter. mom sometimes talks about going to the philippines, but never actually goes. i think that being back there depresses her, makes her think of a time when things were good. there was hardship and there was struggle, but there was also a greater sense of community and family. here, i think she is lost, and has no sense of what those two things are anymore.

mom lost her mom when she was very young, maybe five or six years old. her dad died when she was in her twenties. i always wished that i had gotten to meet them. mom came from a large family, two brothers and four sisters. the two brothers, junior and leleng, are gone, and one sister, mami aging (sp?) is also deceased. it must have been difficult to leave all of them behind, and come to a new country that praises all the luxuries and extravagance the old world lacked. maybe when she left, she always imagined that she would come back, but now, there is nothing to come home to. she has my dad, a lanky, eccentric man who watches whitney houston videos on youtube and wears a face mask when he cuts weeds with his weed whacker. she has me, her only son, who types on the computer all day and sings songs with his guitar in his bedroom. i wonder if this is enough for her. i wish i could give her more, but i have no idea what she needs.

she told me that she went to see a therapist at work, but she felt like the therapist wasn't listening, so she stopped attending. i told her that she could've gone to see another therapist instead, but she didn't want to. maybe she feels like no one is listening. i should try harder. sometimes, when i am blogging, she'll ask me something, and my automatic response is, "yeah," even when the correct response is no. for example, today she asked, "did you go to amoeba?" "yeah," i said. then i stopped typing and actually thought about what she had asked me. "oh, no," i said. i had meant to go to amoeba, since my aunt gave me money, but the stores had closed by the time i dropped her off at the hotel.

sometimes i feel like mom and i really connect. we'll discuss our shared anti-consumerist views, and talk about the corporate takeover of our country. she even likes the arcade fire. but then, on occasion, she'll ruin everything by complaining about how we don't have enough money to fix the blinds, how she wants a bigger house, etc. and it's during these outbursts that i begin to believe i don't understand her at all. i know i should be more forgiving, more compassionate and understanding, but sometimes it's really hard. sometimes she takes her frustration out on me, and i get ultra-defensive.

a friend recently assessed my parents' relationship with me by saying, "i think that they thought they could just buy you stuff and send you to a good school and that you'd be fine. they never really showed you any real affection." the truth hit me, and it hit me hard. i realized that she was absolutely right. maybe this is the way it is with all people, but maybe most people don't let it get to them as much. often, i hear my parents conversing in tagalog at the dinner table. my dad calls her from work every night at around 8:45 p.m. when the phone rings, she knows instinctively that it's him. "it's pops," she'll say. maybe they are still in love. how do they keep it going, keep it together? does one suffer more than the other?

i think about tom and renee, our neighbors across the street. after twenty years together in the same house, they finally called it quits, and renee has slowly been moving her stuff out of the house. according to the kids, it was an abusive relationship, and it was "about time" that renee got out of there. the kids (well, they're no longer kids) seem to be doing fine. they still have their parties and they still act like their normal, happy selves.

recently, we went to visit meagan's old apartment, where she once lived with her mom and dad. she was three years old when they split, and they left the apartment forever. no one told her that they were getting a divorce, and no one told her that when they were leaving the apartment, they were, in fact, leaving for good. she pointed to the window in the rear and said, "that used to be my bedroom." i looked up and saw a blue stuffed animal hanging by the window. "i used to play in those dumpsters," she said. i made her take a picture of me standing next to the dumpsters.

i wondered about the three year old girl she used to be, and how she must have heard her parents continually arguing. i thought about what it's like to finally realize that it's over. is there sadness? is there relief? which person suffered more? maybe some people are just better at moving on and getting over things more than others.

i know i'm not one of them. i don't think mom is, either.
if you panic, you will drown.

yesterday, i wrote an email to the hiring manager at the department of corrections & rehabilitation. i told her that i wished to cancel my interview, since i had read the duty statements and felt that i didn't have the necessary experience to qualify for the position. honestly, i had just received my umpteenth rejection letter for an office assistant position, and i felt that another failed interview and subsequent rejection would be another blow to my already twisted sense of self-worth. i even called the hiring manager and left a message, essentially stating the same thing: "i am under-qualified. i don't have the experience. why don't you just save time and turn me down now?"

but my aunt, a state worker, insisted that i show up to this interview. she said that the hiring manager was out today and yesterday, so she probably didn't even receive my message or email. she hasn't called or written back, so i assume that this was the case. anyway, i dragged myself out of bed, and went to this interview. these two older women interviewed me, and i was able to convince them, and almost myself, that i was a super qualified candidate, and that my two years as an americorps volunteer actually meant something. i described myself as a "self-starter," "innovative," and "responsible." they bought it. at the end, the woman herself said, "good interview," and as she passed another coworker in the hall, she said, "let me introduce you to this very talented, young man." even if i had just interviewed for a crappy job i will end up hating, at least it gave me a sense that someone was willing to hire me for a crappy job i will end up hating. i haven't even had that yet.

at the relax inn and suites in el centro, ca, meagan and i jumped in the swimming pool after spending a long, hot day wandering the stinky san diego zoo. the pool actually closed at 8, but the front desk attendant said that we could swim for another hour. there was a family of swedes in the pool, and i remarked to meagan that this was something straight out of a raymond carver story. who finds a family of swedes swimming at night at a hotel swimming pool in el centro, ca? the swedes said they were on holiday for a month, and that they had gone to sea world, disneyland, and universal studios. they were also going to visit new york, and some other places while on holiday. i was pretty envious of them. they, after all, had universal health care, their money was worth more, they got to travel, and they looked healthier and happier than i did. also, their children, two girls, knew how to swim.

i never learned how to swim. when i was younger, i thought that it was because i was fat. fat boys can't float. in the deep end, i always clung to the side of the pool. people would offer me the same advice, and at the swimming pool in el centro, meagan repeated most of what i had heard all my life. "keep kicking. use your arms. don't panic. if you panic, you will drown." in truth, i can doggy paddle and swim rather ungracefully from one side of the pool to the other. but i can't stay stationary in the deep end. i tried for a little while. i kicked and swooped my arms up and down like a bird, but each time, i went under. there were moments when i felt like i was really getting it. i could float for about ten seconds, and then i would think, what am i doing? i can't swim! consequently, at these exact moments, i would go under. there was a time, too, when i really thought it was all over. water rushed through my nose and i swallowed a lot of it.

i was doing fine, but i can consciously remember precise moments of self-doubt, and how that self-doubt physically pulled me under. maybe one day i will learn how to swim, or at the very least, how not to panic.
hold up your palm.

i met up with my aunt in san francisco. originally, i was just going to check out an apartment with the hope of leaving sacramento for good. i found this apartment on craigslist, and the title of the posting was: "a screamin' deal." and at $410, yes, it most certainly was a screamin' deal. so, i drove to san francisco all by myself and found the victorian house on broderick, just off of geary. i called lina, the girl who was supposed to be home, but she didn't answer. i called the main contact, joel. he answered.

this is joel.
hey joel, it's james.
hey james.
umm, i'm at your front door, but lina isn't answering her phone.
hmm. she must be asleep. let me i.m. her.
she isn't responding. she's probably asleep.
well, i can come back later. it's no big deal.
are you sure? is it a drive for you, or are you in the area?
i'll be in the area.
okay, cool. i get off work at 6, and i'm usually home by 6:30.
alright, i'm just going to hang out with some friends in the area.
okay, why don't we shoot for 7?
sounds good.
all right.
see you then.
see ya.

any other person, a person with a life, or even a loosely structured schedule would have been peeved. this exchange happened at roughly 11:00 a.m., and i was expected to reschedule our meeting for another eight hours. but whatever. i really didn't mind. these days, i have nothing but time. i called up my aunt, since she wanted to grab lunch. little did i know, she wanted more than lunch. she wanted to eat every four hours, which is exactly what we did.

12:00 - sushi boat (i ordered a 4 piece rock n' roll sushi and a chicken teriyaki meal)
4:00 - boudin (i ordered a veggie sandwich and wild berry juice squeeze)
8:00 - ppq (a gay man named june ordered a dungeness crab marinated in butter garlic sauce with garlic vietnamese noodles for us)

by 8:00. i obviously was no longer hungry. but since my aunt insisted on treating me to a zagat rated vietnamese restaurant, how could i refuse? and once i sucked up the butter garlic sauce through the poor crab's broken leg, i couldn't stop. i stuffed myself full of that defenseless yet succulent crab. and then the fried banana with mango ice cream came for desert. i said i couldn't possibly eat anymore, but my aunt said, "it's coming, whether you like it or not." i ate that, too.

during our first meal, i figured i should make an effort to understand this woman we in the filipino clan referred to as "ate," (pronounced: ah-teh) or basically, the eldest and most respected aunt. all i really knew about this woman is that she was highly superstitious. she made everyone in the family jump over a small fire after my grandma died, and she made my dad cut down our big shade tree in the front yard. these mystics in manila temples tell her what to do, and she obeys. apparently, my dad visited a mystic when he was in manila only a few months ago. he asked the wise sage (or, from another perspective, a con artist) about his son. yes, he asked about me. according to ate, this is what he wanted to know:

should my son go back to school?
should my son work?

conclusion: filipino mystics could give a fuck about grad school. afterward, as the story goes, my dad turned to ate, and said in a dejected and concerned manner, "but he really wants to continue his education." ate replied, "well, what do you want me to do? change her answer?" i feel that by recounting this little tidbit, ate was passively trying to tell me what to do with my life. in fact, she had total control of me for just about my entire day in san francisco, from noon until 9:00 p.m. i wondered about her daughter, my cousin grace. what would it be like to live under her control for 28 years?

the night before, my dad learned that i was going to visit ate in san francisco. he told me that i should spend the night in her hotel. knowing ate, there would only be one bed, and possibly a pull-out couch. no, thank you. i told him that i had a job interview in the morning, anyway, but that i was actually considering blowing it off. he didn't seem too concerned about the interview. still, he stood in the kitchen doorway, and i thought that maybe, for once, we were going to have a serious conversation about my future.

you're going to san francisco tomorrow?
yeah, i'm checking out an apartment.
are you going to visit ate?
yeah, probably.
you can stay with ate, you know.
yeah, but i have a state interview tomorrow.
what time's the interview?
10:00 a.m.
you could still leave early in the morning, and make it to the interview.
yeah, but i don't want to. well, actually, i was thinking about not going anyway. i've already been turned down for three office assistant positions, so i doubt they're going to hire me for a staff services analyst position. it's more responsibility, and i don't really have the experience for it.
(at this moment, he pauses. and then he says something which makes me almost hate him.)
if you stayed with ate, it would really help a lot. she's all alone at the hotel.

yes, my dad isn't concerned that his son feels inadequate, unable to handle a simple bullshit state job. he isn't too worried that his son can't figure out how to live his life, or make friends, or even leave the house just for a little while. he just wants his son to be a guard dog for his aunt while she's in the city. i know this isn't what he implied, but it's certainly the way i took it. and it was the pathetic little pleading way he asked me, too. it reminded me of my roommate from college, anthony, when he asked for a really big favor in the most humble way possible. he pleaded, "do you mind if i stay up and finish typing my seven page essay? it's due tomorrow. i know you have class at 7:00 a.m., but please, i haven't even started yet, and it's worth like twenty percent of my grade. i swear, this will be the last time." of course, it never was the last time. but i was a push-over, so i let him do it.

but now i am older, more disillusioned, more bitter, and thus unwilling to put up with bullshit favors. so, no, i won't be anyone's fucking watchdog.

i asked ate why she lived at the ramada hotel in south san francisco for four years. she said that she used to have an apartment in san bruno, and she would come home at 2 in the morning almost every night. once, on her way to her apartment, two or three black men approached her and grabbed her by the collar. luckily, she said, a policeman was nearby, and he scared the assailants off. even though these men didn't do any physical damage to her, their actions left her with a constant need for security. thus, she has a daughter who hasn't left her side in twenty eight years.

knowing this, i knew it was going to be a mistake to show her "a screamin' deal." i expected the living room to be littered with boxes of porno tapes and pabst blue ribbon cans. my room was going to be a cramped closet with cardboard covering the window. i didn't want to take her there. i already knew what would happen. and even though it wasn't as bad as i expected, she still hated it. she was ready to go after a minute of looking around. "let's go, jim," she said. she practically pushed me out the door. she wasn't ready for a dirty, dingy, san francisco punk rock lifestyle. maybe i wasn't, either.

did you like it? i didn't like it there. and i don't trust those people.
it seemed okay.
no, you don't want to live there.
yeah, but that's what i kind of expected for the price.
yes, the price is good, but it's a terrible place.
yeah, it was kind of dirty.
you can find something better than that. let me ask my friend roweena.

throughout the day, ate had been calling and texting this friend, roweena, who worked for philippine airlines (pal). she described me to roweena by saying, he graduated from where? seattle university. and studied what? english. and his work experience is mostly what? education, i guess. roweena was excited, since they were looking for a marketing assistant to work underneath a "fifty year-old womanizer" (ate's words, not mine). ate described me as a "good boy" who is looking for "nothing too menial." she said this in tagalog. then, she told me that she could just say the word, and i would have the job, but she didn't want to do it this way. she wanted me to earn a job on my own merit. according to her, my education and experience should speak for itself.

what would your starting wage be?
it would depend on what i was doing.
well, whatever it is your typical line of work would be. like with computers.
i don't know. i guess if i had an entry-level temp job, i'd start out at 12 or 13 dollars an hour?

this was certainly a disconcerting exchange. i had forgotten that my aunt had not been out of work, and thus never had to look for a job in over forty years. she thought that she could just say i went to seattle university and that was enough information to land me a good-paying job with benefits. this certainly was my line of thinking when i was an undergraduate. when you're in college, no one really tells you, "hey! major in something useful if you want financial security when you're done here!" ate didn't go to college. she started working for philippine airlines when she was eighteen, and hasn't stopped since.

are you going to retire?
i think about it sometimes. but i want to keep working.
when you don't work, you become slower. you could develop alzheimer's.
is your job stressful?
always. i take some of this (she pulled out a brown bag of tea from shanghai). it's better than valium, better than a tranquilizer. i don't like to take drugs, so i just drink this tea. it's not habit-forming, and it knocks me out.
i think i'd like to try some of that tea.

throughout the day, we had many different conversations regarding the themes of work, family, and superstition. we both agreed that talking to my younger cousin, sam, is like talking to an eighty year old man. we both agreed that the war in iraq should be over with, but that neither mccain or obama have what it takes to get things done around here. we agreed that my parents "need air," and should travel more, get out of the house, etc. during these moments, i would think, wow, so this is who my aunt truly is. she thinks about things i do. and then, this thought would abruptly come to an end by one of her superstitions.

you have two moles there.
that's good where they are.
that means you're on the right track.
you know, according to numbers, mccain's twenty-five years of good luck are about to end, and obama's are just about to begin. i think i'll have to vote for obama because of that, even though i don't want to.
yes, it's all in the numbers and science. i'll send it to you. it's interesting.

another time, at the ppq restaurant, she said, "hold up your hand." i did as she told me. i think she was trying to read my palm without telling me she was reading my palm. she just looked at it a little while, but she said nothing. her face was neutral.

i wondered if it was a good or bad sign.
come on, mom, it's l.a.!

we drove down highway 1 to los angeles, while listening to this american life. i finally heard the dishwasher pete story, "letterman! cookies!" as well as stories by david sedaris and sarah vowell. i thought that i wouldn't like hearing stories, especially on the road, but i was wrong. i liked them. i liked them a lot.

i had forgotten how winding highway 1 is, but also how scenic it is, and how there should be no other road but that one. the fog rolled in, and it partially blocked our view at certain points, but when i could see the ocean, it was otherworldly. i couldn't understand why more people hadn't built homes along the coast. why everyone had chosen to live in big suburban communities in the stifling hot valley was beyond me. but maybe it's better that way. maybe if you lived by the ocean all the time, you would tire of it. and when one tires of something as majestic as the pacific, there's really nothing left for him.

we stopped off at pismo beach. i had never been there before. the streets were bustling, and everyone was excited and ready to explore. being in sacramento for a year, i had forgotten how there are still parts of the world that are alive, undulating with lost tourists and ice-cream eating children and teenage punks looking for trouble. a skateboarder turned the corner and almost mowed us down. an older man shook his head in disappointment at the amateur. "learn to skate better," he warned.

in los angeles, we stayed at the banana bungalow, a hostel in west hollywood. it wasn't as nice as the pictures on the website, but our private room was cool, and there were plenty of foreign hipsters inhabiting the dorms around us. a young woman named clara checked us in. "are you on holiday?" she asked. meagan said, "yes." i said nothing. i'm on kind of an indefinite holiday.

we explored the santa monica pier on the first night, the same night the lakers lost game six, and boston won the championship. it seemed that the game was playing on every television set. people looked disappointed. "what's the score?" i asked two boys talking on their patio. "they're down by twenty, twenty-five," one said. "it's not looking good." meagan's former co-worker and americorps volunteer, hannah, met us on the 3rd street promenade. she hugged me, though i met her only once before. we walked and talked. at the edge of the santa monica pier, some mexicans were fishing. to my surprise, there was a stingray flopping around on the floorboards. the mexican fisherman kicked him back into the pacific, and then he made the sign of the cross. i couldn't believe it. "who catches a stingray?" i asked, to no one in particular. moments later, his friend caught a giant crab. they put the crab in a bucket.

the three of us walked down the beach, and hannah warned us that venice was up ahead, and that we didn't want to be in venice after dark. we walked back the other way. "what are you going to do?" hannah asked me. it caught me off guard. there was obviously nothing i could say that would measure up to what everyone else was doing. meagan is getting her master's in library and information science. hannah just earned acceptance to harvard and she will receive her master's in education. hannah's boyfriend just completed his second year of law school. i couldn't even come up with a decent lie to remain competitive. "umm. i might go for my social work degree," i said. she hesitated for a moment, then stated rather bluntly, "i hope you guys are buying lottery tickets!"

it was a scathing remark. i could tell meagan was offended. to stay calm, i thought of a section from the working poor, in which a poor black woman stated, "it's not about how much money you make. it's about how you spend it." of course, i didn't say this aloud. the curse of my life is that i continually live out the scene in amelie, the scene where she has a great comeback for colignon, the cruel merchant, after he ridicules his slightly retarded clerk by saying, "somebody must have peed in his mother!" from the sewers, a man tells amelie to say, "you could never be a vegetable because even artichokes have hearts!" that's me. i am the sewer man.

in santa cruz the day before, meagan, rachel and i went to go see the movie sex & the city. i was never a big fan of the show, but i had somehow seen every episode. when we returned to rachel's apartment, rachel declared what we had done. she said, "james was a trooper." "jeez, man," nate said, "do you need a shot of testosterone?" nate, i wanted to say, don't be such a stereotype.

nate played world of warcraft, while i tried to sleep on their uncomfortable couch. it was a pullout couch, but rachel warned me about pulling out the bed. "i think somebody had sex on it," she said. nate and i watched an episode of south park. in the episode, the four boys turned into ninjas, and somebody threw a ninja star in butters' eye. i have to admit, i still don't get why south park is supposed to be funny.

in los angeles, we visited the fashion district, the fashion institute of design and merchandising, the getty center, and the observatory in griffith park. a little shop called built by wendy sold guitar straps for $40 - $50. that's how wendy got her business started. in santa monica, these tall white boys bumped their fists together and said, "l.a.!" but it was in a ghetto rap kind of way: "ell ayy." i came up with little ditties that went along with the melody to the song "why you'd want to live here," such as: "i'm in los angeles today, i bought a chicken sandwich and it wasn't very tasty, though it certainly was filling." and "i'm in los angeles today, meagan bought a pair of purple sunglasses, and they only cost her five dollars."

we went to the zoo in san diego. on monkey trail, meagan remarked, "maybe we're the savages." certainly, looking at most people wandering around the zoo, i had to wonder who actually belonged in those cages. one man threw a peanut shell at a lynx who was resting in the shaded corner of her cage. his wife and son shot him a horrified look, as did we. "what?" he said, "it's alright. i'm not feeding him!" one young woman randomly grabbed at a possibly endangered plant and pulled away its leaf. the saddest sight, though, was that of an older man talking to his distant mother in the line to see the giant pandas. this is how the scene played out:

imagine a short, stocky man with thinning hair and a bright red face. his hair is slicked back with gel, and his red scalp is perfectly visible. he has on a large yellow polo shirt tucked into green shorts, and the shorts are raised slightly higher than his waist line. he's got his digital camera hanging from his neck, and he's trying to talk to his mother, standing next to him.

"you know, i might be going to dublin, ohio, on a business trip soon, and guess what they've got there?" the mother says nothing. she is looking at the map of the zoo. "they've got the world's largest christmas store. in the world!" the mother doesn't even nod her head. she is completely ignoring him. "i heard that you can buy just about any christmas ornament there." silence. suddenly, a tour bus rolls by. some children wave at us in the line. the fat man waves back. the mother notices, and finally she speaks: "did you know that person?" "no," he says. "they were just waving, so i waved back." a young man in front of the man and his mother turns around and smiles. the fat man sees this as an invitation to speak. "you know, i was in vancouver once, and there were these teenagers that were waving from the back of a ferry. i waved back to them, and they were really excited! you never know, sometimes people will be waving for like, four hours, and nobody ever waves back."

suddenly, i realize that this truly is the most boring man in the world. the whole thing reminds me of a seinfeld episode, george and susan sitting in the coffee shop with absolutely nothing to say to each other. i turn to meagan and i quote the moment george finally breaks the silence. "i broke a shoelace today."

maybe i have already become this boring man. i am over being ordinary. i have fully accepted that i will be ordinary, and there is no stopping that. but to be boring on top of ordinary. what a tragedy. i don't want to tell stories that lead nowhere. i don't want to waste people's time with pointless observations.

maybe i'll just wave and wave with the hope that eventually, someone will wave back.
will tutor for sushi.

i got my haircut today. i feel it's necessary to do such things before taking a trip. i went to pro-cuts first at eleven o'clock, but there were four people ahead of me, and only two barbers, so i drove home. then i thought about the gas i wasted driving there, even though it wasn't that far away. when you're not working and gas costs $4.57 a gallon, you feel really guilty even if you're just driving down the block. oh well. everyone should probably feel bad for driving anyway. if you use petroleum, you're a murderer. that's a fact.

so, i returned around three-ish. there was no one waiting then. my barber is a white dude, even though today he claimed his parents were "hispanics." so, i guess that makes him hispanic as well. we've talked a couple times now, and each time, he brings up his inability to pass the writing section of the cbest. i told him about how i grade them occasionally for money. i'll do anything for money.

did i tell you that i grade cbests?
no, i don't think you did.
oh. well, yeah. i do. sometimes.
so, what are they looking for?
they just want to see that you can write clearly.
i tell you, man. my writing stinks. at csus, i made a portfolio to pass the w.p.e., 'cause when it came to that timed test, i couldn't do it.
they give you like forty minutes, and i just freeze.
my wife and my sister, they tell me that i should just write like how i talk.
yeah. well, i'd say just to make your writing organized and make sure it's clear. that's all they're looking for.
also, don't worry about facts. you could totally make stuff up, and it doesn't even matter. like if you said richard nixon was president today, you could still pass.
haha. richard nixon's president. sorry, that was funny.

he then told me that he makes good sushi and tempura sauces. he said that his wife is chinese, and they have people over for sushi sometimes. i tried to get him to focus on the cbest again, which he'll be taking tomorrow morning.

so, you're taking the cbest tomorrow, right?
yeah. just the writing. if i finish the writing in time, i'll work on the comprehension section, too.
that's good.
yeah, i was fine with the math. but the reading and the writing part. man, they just kill me.
well, i can give you some tips if you want. just email me a writing sample, and i can tell you how to improve it. that's basically what i did in college. i worked at our writing center.
really? that'd be great. when it comes to writing, i need all the help i can get.
yeah, let me just write down my email.
cool. and if you ever want to come by for sushi, you're welcome to. i don't know if it'd be weird. but sometimes we have a lot of people over. so maybe it won't be so weird.

so i gave my barber my email address along with a one dollar tip, and in the near future, i'll expect a short essay on his favorite food, or what kind of class he would create for a public school and why. in exchange, maybe he'll offer me some good sushi.

sometimes, i think i have a lot to offer this world. it's a shame i rarely find any takers.
good for business.

every time i rode my bike, i had to pump up the back tire. i knew that this wasn't right. i decided to do something about it. i called up american river bicycles, located maybe a mile or so from my house.

hey, do you guys change tires?
yeah, we do.
how much does it cost?
you want us to change it?
it'll be ten dollars.
and how much for a new tire?
it depends on the size.
it's for a specialized crossroads bike.
do you know what size it is?
no, i don't.
oh, well you need to know the size.
oh. what time do you close?
we close at six.
alright, thanks.

i had nothing better to do, so i decided i would get my tire changed. i could've wimped out and loaded it into the back of mom's crv, but i opted to challenge myself and take on the hundred degree weather instead. after days of being idle, i like to present myself with physical challenges. i do this to prepare for something. an inevitable war i will perhaps be drafted into one day. a long, grueling walk i will one day have to undergo after the military evicts us from our homes. there's nothing worse than a pudgy american kid whining, "it's too hot out." man up, bitches.

by the time i reached folsom boulevard, i thought i was gonna throw up. obviously, i'm not in the best physical shape. i drank some water, though, and i was fine afterwards. a few more blocks and i had made it to the bike shop. there was a black man wandering around outside. he wore a blue t-shirt that read, "superdad" in the superman fashion across the front. he went inside and said that he needed a pole or something. the clerk asked him what size.

i don't know what the size is. it's probably just like any of the others you've got here.
well, there are over thirty bikes here.
it's probably like a medium.
we'd really have to see the size first.
alright, alright. i'll bring it in.

i sat on a checkered stool and wiped the perspiration from my forehead. eventually, the black man left, as did another man wearing a white police uniform. the uniform looked like a sailor outfit or something. i don't know if he was a real cop. either way, i was the only customer left.

hey. i called about getting a new tire?
oh yeah. you want us to install it?
alright. (to the other clerk) you wanna ring him up?

it'll be ten dollars.
that's including the new tire?
(to the original clerk) you put a tire on there? he didn't put a tire on there.
i don't need one?
nah. it's just the tube. the tire looks fine.
oh, okay.
debit or credit?
debit. you guys getting lots of business?
yeah. gas is pretty terrible.
yep. once it reaches eight dollars, we're going to do really well.
all right. there you go.
thanks. have a good day.
you too.

it was nice to not be swindled for once. the last time i went to a bike shop in watsonville, the clerk told me i should just throw my bike away and buy a new one. i told him i couldn't afford one of his $500 bicycles, and that i'd probably just get another used one on craigslist. he told me that you never know what you're buying when you buy used. he said that usually when you buy used, you're just buying someone else's problems. this upset me. i know he was just looking for business, but i've grown weary of living in a country where the solution for everything is to just throw it away. let's fix shit up. or at least pay someone to fix your shit up. sadly, my ex-roommate once showed me how to change a tire, but i didn't really pay close enough attention, and i never bought the tools needed to perform such an action. i should've, though. i could've saved ten dollars today.

with my new tube, i went soaring down folsom boulevard to the library. i had three books and the first season of weeds waiting for me. i already watched the first two episodes.

so far, so good.
why so serious.

i have to start from scratch. i've forgotten how to do things. things normal people don't have trouble doing.

finding an apartment. traveling. updating your resume. meeting people. striking up a conversation with strangers. remembering birthdays. shaking hands with people who assume you know how to return their unique handshake, which is not quite a handshake, but a combination of slapping hands and then bumping each others' fists, or some variation on that. writing a personal statement. describing your skills and experience. looking genuinely interested in the midst of a conversation about nothing. reading a page and staying focused. updating a blog that makes sense. talking about something hopeful and significant. making plans for the future. keeping in touch with old friends and classmates. dressing up and going out for the night. participating in a critical mass. walking just for the sake of walking. learning to love and to be loved. hugging someone as though you're clinging on for dear life. going to church and believing that god will take care of the rest. wearing the right shoes and belt that match your pants. getting up at a decent hour. saying "hello" to people as they pass you by. not feeling like every person is out to take advantage of you. exercising twenty minutes a day, three days a week. clipping coupons and presenting them at the time of purchase. voting. getting five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. doing yoga. marking dates on the calendar. calling others instead of waiting to be called. feeling like a competent and capable human being. making a sincere effort to find what it is you're good at, what it is you truly enjoy. being a kind-hearted, decent individual.
pick up a fight.

riding my bike to the bank, i looked over my shoulder to see if there were any cars pulling up behind me. there was one, and a kid riding his skateboard. i looked back again, surprised that the kid was catching up to me on my bike. he put his hands up, as if to say, "what? you wanna fight?"

you don't wanna fight me, kid.
oh yeah, how come?
'cause i'd kill you, idiot!

yes, i finally received and deposited my generous stimulus package. i find it amusing that our government is just like, well, we don't know how to run our country, so here's $600. as if it's going to help. lewis black calls it "tantamount to a slap in the face."

you pay rent, buy some gas, buy groceries, pay for the car, dental and medical insurance that won't actually cover you when you need it, pay for your high-speed internet and cable, pay for tuition and books, pay to keep the water running and the lights turned on, pay for air-conditioning, pay for that traffic violation and then traffic school, pay your credit card debt, pay for a booklet of stamps, pay for the latest blockbuster film you'll regret seeing shortly thereafter, pay for your magazine subscriptions and your netflix account, pay for your landline even though you have cell phone bills to pay for, pay for that timing belt that needs to be replaced, oh yeah, and an oil change, pay for that present for father's day and then it's somebody's birthday, pay for shoes because your old ones have got holes in them, pay to take the bus because you can't afford your car payments anymore, pay for drinks because the only time your friends want to get together is when alcohol is involved, pay the irs. if you have kids and/or pets, i don't know how you do it.

whatever the case, $600 just ain't gonna cut it.
what should we do now.

standing in front of my closet, i sniff my underarms and realize that i'm in desperate need of a shower. but, too late. they have already arrived, and they are ringing the doorbell. i throw on a shirt and some jeans and open the door. behind the metallic porch door, recently painted a dark brown, their faces are solemn but expectant. they are hoping for adventure, waiting to be rescued from another dreadful summer's day in the middle of suburbia. the three of them are young: 20, 13, 8, and they look like an odd bunch - two boys, one girl - and they, other than their black hair and dark eyes, look like they should have nothing to do with each other in any other circumstance. i grab my bag and books and we go.

outside, the mailman has just arrived, and he's pulled up behind my father's coworker, angel. "do you know that man?" my cousin asks. "yes," he's my dad's coworker. the man is walking towards the front door to the house, and the mailman is loading a stack of letters into appropriate slots. "put it in the drunk?" my cousin asks. he is referring to the small bath and body works bag i am holding, in which i have placed two got milk? t-shirts, three lego action figures, and two trophies. i had come across the trophies yesterday, and earlier today, i removed the two plates (sly park basketball champs 3 on 3/boys' j.v. basketball) with my red swiss army knife. along with the shirts and action figures, they must go. i simply have no room for such trivialities, and i don't wish to trouble myself with false plastic lies which indicate that, at some point in my life, i won something. truth be told, i didn't win. i never did. i barely participated.

i place the bag into the trunk, where a group of records have been scattered. "these going, too?" i ask. "yeah," he says, "they're probably melted by now. they've been sitting in my trunk for weeks." he drives, and i note that the children in the backseat are especially quiet. what are they thinking? has the boredom of summer already hit them? summers are a strange thing, especially for young children. suddenly, they are no longer told what to do. they have no school, no homework, and they don't see their friends as often as they used to. are they questioning their purpose in life, their existence? what do they want?

"so, what'd you do today?" "went to the movies." "what'd you see?" "iron man." "again?" "yeah, my dad's choice." "was it better the second time?" "awesome." he pauses for a while, then he has a question for me. "you remember when we watched it? did we stick around for the ending?" "yeah. we did." "no, i mean, like after the credits?" "no, i don't think we did." "well, there's a scene where the guy from shield talks to iron man." "what's shield? the terrorists?" "no, shield was like the good guys." "oh, okay." "well, the guy from shield goes up to iron man, and he's like, 'who are you?' and iron man goes, 'i'm iron man.'" "so, what was the point of that?" "nothing." "hmm. well it doesn't sound like we missed anything then." "yeah."

we drive to blockbuster to return reno 911: miami and rambo. "do you mind getting out an dropping them off?" my cousins asks. "sure," i say. i jog to the drop off booth, and throw the two dvds into the slot. we pull out of blockbuster's lot, and my cousin makes a right. i expect him to turn on southport, but he doesn't. "which thrift store are we going to?" i ask. "which one's closest?" "probably in rancho," i say. "so, go on folsom, then?" "yeah," i say. we drive past manlove, and make a right just after the railroad tracks. on the left corner, there's a lyon's restaurant, a place i have only eaten maybe two, three times in my whole life. "i could use a haircut," my cousin says. "there's pro-cuts right there," i say, pointing to my barber shop. "yeah, how much is it? like six bucks?" "actually, it's nine now. when they first opened, it was only five dollars." on the next corner is mcdonald's, and on the right side is the old two-story house i once imagined was haunted.

we drive some more. taco bell has been turned into what looks like a korean barbecue joint, and there are endless liquor stores and cash-2-go type places. i have been reading the working poor recently, and this area, this stretch of folsom boulevard which connects rosemont and rancho cordova reminds me of the poverty-stricken areas mentioned in the book. i've been reading about how these "fast cash" type places set up shop in poor areas, where nearby residents will need cash on hand to pay for overdue electric bills, medical bills, car payments, etc. basically, the fast cash place gives them money and hits them with ungodly interest rates. maybe people already know this. i did not know this. i thought they were just places where you could go to cash your paycheck. but no, they are the war profiteers in this ongoing struggle.

further down the stretch of road to the right is a small stretch of shops whose exterior has been remodeled to look new and exciting. there's a christian dvd/bookstore, a fish and chips place, a nail salon, among others. we finally get to the thrift store, and i tell my cousin where to park. we unload all the records and my sad little bag of donations, my younger cousins following on foot. "can we leave this stuff here?" i ask the thrift store attendant. "yeah, sure." after we do this, we walk back to the car. "do you want to go in?" i ask. "umm," my cousin says, "i don't really need anything." we pile back into the car. "what do you wanna do now?" he asks. "i need to go to the library."

the library is only a block away from the thrift store. i have three unread books i need to return, and one book to pick up, a book i probably will not read, but will try to anyway. "it's a hundred and two degrees out," he says. "really?" "yeah." i drop the books off into the return slot, and i go inside the library. it's cool inside, air-conditioned. i walk to the holds section and get the book that is waiting for me, the short stories of richard bausch. my three cousins are huddled together at the end of the holds section. i desperately want them to walk around, explore the library, see all the wonderful, amazing shit that they can borrow for free, for as long as they want. but they stand there, the three of them, not quite sure what to do with themselves.

"you mind if i look at the cds?" i ask. "no, go ahead," my cousin tells me. i browse through the rack of cds, but i don't see anything that really interests me. i wonder if i should show my cousin that smoosh's cd is available, since he asked about them just a few days ago. but i don't. i see that the two younger ones are already walking out the door, and i think perhaps that they're using the restroom. i look at the dvd shelf, but it's completely barren. i use the self-service checkout machine, and i wonder if i offend the library clerks by doing this. i reason with myself, though, that i am being courteous. even though there is nobody in line, i know how to operate the self-service machine, so why should i bother them? i am not anti-social. i am self-sufficient.

i go outside, and see that my cousins are sitting in the heat. this, i don't understand. at all. is literature so abhorrent to them that they'd rather soak up the offensive, 102 degree temperature, than peruse worlds of knowledge in an air-conditioned facility? suddenly, i see this great divide between us. these people aren't family. the family i want to be a part of spends their time writing, making music, finding creative outlets. it's the only escape from the horror of living in a small, small-minded town. "well, what should we do now?" i feel the slightest pang of annoyance. i already gave you my ideas. thrift store, library. you didn't want to do either, so drop the "what should be do now" bullshit. i am annoyed, but i'm not angry. my cousins would rather play the newest wii game, or surf the web, or complain about how there's nothing to do in the confines of their air-conditioned homes.

we drive past a billiards place, the skating rink, the indoor go-kart place, the drive-in theaters. there are things to do alright, but they cost money, money we don't have. as the eldest, i feel responsible for this group, but i didn't know how to save myself when i was their age, how should i know now? i think i would like to play a soccer game, but i know they wouldn't be up for it. it's too hot. how about a bike ride? too hot. we go back to my cousin's house. i feel a desperate urge to jump out of the car, to say, "actually, can you take me home?" but the words don't come out, and i don't move. i just go into the house and we do exactly what i expect we are going to do. we watch tv. my cousin makes a last stitch effort to rescue us from the drudgery of cable tv. he must see that i'm defeated, that i no longer have any hope, that i'm ready to settle for a lifetime of junk food, reality tv and low expectations. in my mind, he must be thinking, you poor, disillusioned, hopeless bastard.

but maybe not. "you guys wanna play risk?" he asks. "no." i am twenty-five, and i don't have a clue, but i have sense enough to tell me that i'm unwilling to play fucking board games, especially one as epic as risk. my other cousin, the girl, declines as well. they set the game up, but the youngest cousin suddenly loses interest when an episode of the simpsons comes on. i am secretly delighted. i don't want the youngest one growing up around that. i don't want him collecting baseball cards or playing world of warcraft and what have you. i want him to be cool, happy, well-adjusted - the way none of us were ever able to be. eventually, he loses interest in the simpsons, too, and i am left alone on the couch, watching the simpsons.

with the fear of being asked, "what should we do now?" looming over my head, i decide that i want to be alone. i will walk home in the heat. i make this known to my cousins. "are you sure you don't want a ride?" he asks. "it's kind of hot out." "i don't care," i say. the girl repeats his warning, "it's hot out." i want it to be hot, scorching. either that, or freezing cold. i want it to be late at night in the dangerous part of town. i want to get mugged. take the $5.34 in my checking account. i need someone to beat some sense into me. i need someone to take me out back, hold a gun to my head, and say, "what the fuck do you want to do with your life?"

but they won't. they'll settle for a much milder, "what should we do now?" and i'll just have to accept it. at least for the time being.
another day in sacramento.

what do you wanna do?
i don't care.
let's go do something.
like what?
i don't know. something.
well, think of something to do, and we'll go do it.
there's really nothing to do.

when i was in fifth grade, i really wanted a dog. i didn't know what i would do with it, but i really wanted one. mostly, i wanted one because i really liked porkchop, doug funnie's dog in the nickelodeon cartoon doug. i kept telling my parents that i wanted a dog. my dog was gonna be awesome. he would fetch me the paper, and i would take him for walks. i would bring friends over, and they would pet him, and they would say, "you have a really cool dog." that was what i was gonna do.

incidentally, my aunt raised a bunch of lhasa apsos, and she had a puppy that she said she could give to me. so, one day, my dad drove me over to her house so i could pick up our new dog. she didn't look like much. she was a tiny furball with two big black eyes. we loaded her into the volkswagon van and drove back to my house. i heard that puppies shit all over the place, so i had put down newspaper all over my bedroom floor. once she saw all the newspaper, she scampered away.

that same night, my parents told me to name the dog. it was a girl, and i didn't know any good girl names. i just said the first name that came into my head: cinders. immediately, i thought of cinderella with her glass slipper, but also of giant, concrete cinder blocks. neither image fit the shaggy black thing in front of me, but it would have to do. what else was i gonna call her?

as it turned out, my mom had a strong phobia of all animals, but especially dogs. cinders couldn't stay in the house. we put her in the garage for a little while, and surrounded her with a fireplace gate. after i spent some time with her in the garage, i realized how hot it got in there. "she might die if we leave her in there," i told my dad. he agreed, and so we let her run around in the backyard. at night, she would howl and howl, most likely because she had been separated from her mother and the pack of dogs that she once knew. my dad couldn't sleep with all the howling, so he stuck her in the plastic doghouse that he bought, and he positioned it so that the entrance faced the fence. there was nowhere left for her to go. she could howl all she wanted in that plastic doghouse, but no one would hear her.

my cousins and i would try to play with her, but she was an overexcited dumb dog. all she would do was hump our legs and gnaw at our shins and ankles. any time someone came over and expected to play with her, i'd have to forewarn them: "make sure you wear jeans. and double up on socks if you can." cinders would bare her teeth and jump all over us. i had no idea how to train her. all i could do was say, "no!" and bop her on the head. it didn't work, though. it got to the point where all you could do to get away was carry a biscuit, throw it as far as you could, and then run in the opposite direction back inside the house.

eventually, no one wanted to play with cinders. she just hung out by herself in the backyard all day. i started to hate her. she was supposed to be my porkchop, or snoopy. she was supposed to fetch tennis balls and sit when i told her to sit. but she wouldn't. she would just jump all over my leg and try to sink her teeth into me. when i'd pull away, she'd growl. to get my revenge on the idiot dog, i'd sometimes trick her when it came to meal time. each time i unlocked the sliding door, she'd come running, expecting to be fed. i'd usually stick her dog food and water dish right outside the door and watch her as she ate her food. but after i started hating her, sometimes i would just unlock the door and watch her come running, and then i'd just stand there and laugh. i'd wait until she'd go away, and then i'd unlock the door again. like clockwork, she'd come running. by doing this, i proved that i was smarter than my dog.

after some time, cinders became obviously depressed. she no longer responded to the click of the door lock. she wouldn't even jump on my leg or try to bite anyone anymore. when i went outside, she'd just look at me and trot off.

one day, my dad took her to the vet. the vet discovered that she had small cuts and bruises everywhere, most likely from scampering through all the rose bushes. he advised us to keep her indoors, but we didn't.

a few weeks later, my dad picked me up from school and told me that he had given cinders away. i didn't even react. i was a terrible pet owner, and i knew it. i had no idea how to take care of a dog. the entire six months that she lived with us, i didn't even take her for a walk. not once.

i'd like to think that she ended up with some family that didn't neglect her. i'd like to think that this family took care of her, and trained her, and let her stay inside the house.

she deserved at least that much.
is freddie mercury a homosexual?

on kvie, i watched a queen rock concert from '81 in montreal. nearing the end of the set, freddie mercury stripped down to his white boxer shorts, and he had a red handkerchief tied around his neck. i wonder why people criticized him from not being openly gay. what else did he have to do during a live performance to make this known? it's kind of like george michael having to come out. wasn't the "wake me up before you go-go" video evidence enough?

i read this article in the paper about two lesbians kissing at safeco park during a mariners' game in seattle. apparently, an usher told them that their behavior was inappropriate, and the couple made a big stink about it. the funniest part was that heterosexual, "family-oriented" individuals said their biggest concern was that they would have to "explain why two women were kissing" to their children. so, essentially, two women can't make out in public because it would force straight people to talk to their children.

in my senior year of high school, my theology teacher, mr. caslin, taught us to be accepting of others' sexual orientation practices. i felt like joining the conversation, so i raised my hand. "what's the big deal about coming out? why do people have to 'come out?'" i really didn't know what i was asking. i was just sick of hearing other people bitch about how they thought being gay was weird. mr. caslin responded, "it's a way of celebrating who they are. why should only straight people go to prom and kiss in public and get married? that's discrimination." at that point in my life, i had never been in a relationship, so i thought all forms of public affection should be banned. i wanted to say this. i wasn't going to prom. everyone should just be miserable and alone. it's what god wanted.

when i got to college, it seemed that every male was gay. i liked this, since it raised my chances of finding a girlfriend. the gay guys i met weren't the flamboyant caricatures portrayed on television, either. they were just normal people who listened to indie rock, drank beer, and studied literature. i didn't get what the big deal was. let them get married. i didn't see how people could preach equality, and then still discriminate on this issue.

when i watched the simpsons movie, i heard people in the audience making "eww" sounds when the two male cops make out. likewise, nearing the end of superbad, people had the same response, as they were expecting a drunk homosexual encounter between the two main characters. i wondered about this. a typical answer would be that the people who react this way are closet homosexuals. i think that's too simple, though.

i don't think people are ever going to learn. somebody, i think it was schulz, once said that the person you are at five years old is pretty much who you're going to be for the rest of your life.

sucks for those of us who truly listened and didn't care too much about winning.
that's the plan.

in middle school, i used to be friends with this dude named ben. we shared shitty tastes in music (see: deftones, metallica, marilyn manson), so it was a given that we should hang out. we didn't really do much, though. i'd go over to his house and we'd listen to rock music. he was kind of an asshole, especially to his mom and sister. his mom came in once to ask him a question. "get out of here, bitch," he said. his mom didn't scold him or anything. she just looked at me. "do you see the way he talks to me?" she said. i just shrugged. another time, the family cat came into the room. ben picked it up and tossed it back into the living room. i didn't have a cat, but i knew the cat probably didn't like being thrown.

i had this electronic dictionary that he and i passed back and forth to each other in class. we wrote self-deprecating messages to each other, complaining about how school sucked and how girls didn't like us. other times, i passed it to other classmates. michael once wrote back, "i heard ryan's going out with michelle. he'd better get the kibbles 'n bits!" it took me a while to figure out that he was calling michelle a dog.

ben had a shaved head and was good at basketball. in earlier years, his dad coached our team. his dad seemed like a weirdo, and he had a loud, booming voice. i pictured him having some serious anger management issues. once, his dad didn't put me in for an entire game of basketball. when he finally did decide to put me in, the game was already over. i didn't really care, since i sucked anyway. but my dad was furious. he called ben's dad and gave him a piece of his mind. i was a starting player in the next game.

during eighth grade, ben started to gain an interest in this girl named rebecca. he met her through the cotillions (dances) which i didn't attend. we biked over to her house so they could exchange yearbooks. she was a pale, pretty girl with brown hair. he talked to her on the phone sometimes, but they rarely ever hung out. i found out that she used instant messenger a lot, so i would talk to her online sometimes. ben found out about this, and i guess he didn't like it very much. he signed my yearbook: "pa-te-dick! (pathetic) quit trying to steal becca!"

that summer, he stopped talking to me. being non-confrontational, i used instant messenger to figure out why he was upset. after ignoring my messages for a long time, he finally replied:

what do u want?
why are you ignoring me?
you fucked up my computer.
what are you talking about?
you used it, and now it's all fucked up.
what's fucked up about it?
it won't work.
so that's what you're pissed about?
so you're just going to keep ignoring me?
that's the plan.
we're going to the same high school. i'm going to be in your classes.
i don't give a fuck.
alright, so that's how it's gonna be.

and that's how it went. we didn't say a single word to each other in high school.

that guy could really hold a grudge.