you should come through.

i was just minding my own business, doing my laundry, when maya asked me to come over. "it's chel's birthday," she said. i said i would come over. i heard her tell chel that she invited me over, and that i was doing laundry. i heard chel say that it was cool, me coming over and all. i brought my laundry basket back to my room, and then i went down to the shola market to buy a six-pack of heineken. i also put on a button-down shirt that i bought and wore yesterday. maya looked like she was dressed up a bit, so i assumed the others would be, too.

i showed up with the six-pack. chel opened her refrigerator and she said, "put it with the rest." the whole bottom shelf was full of beers. i met her friends and coworkers. there was one older white woman, and a sassy black woman. the rest, excluding maya, were filipinos. one guy had a democracy now t-shirt. we talked about how both our moms went to university of santa tomas, also known as u.s.t. "utot sabae tae," i said. he laughed. in tagalog, it means "fart along with poop." "is that what she called it?" he said. "that's what my mom called it," i said.

i had the usual conversations with people i meet for the first time. it's a lot of "are you from seattle?" "what do you do?" "do you like it here?" and all that stuff. i met a filipina named carly. she's from renton, and she has a kid. she asked me about my family, and i told her they're all in sacramento. "what do you do then?" she asked. she sounded as though it was the weirdest thing in the world for a filipino to not live in the same city as his family. "i hang out with friends," i said. she nodded.

they all wanted to go to the war room for j. dilla's listening party. one guy, alex, who coincidentally did the same americorps/red cross program i did, but the year after me, said that he had no idea who j. dilla was. "he's a rapper," someone said. "he's like the new tupac." alex was kind of wasted, so he started saying j. dilla like it was the coolest name in the world. "i'm just gonna say 'j. dilla' for everything now," he said. "what's with this economy? j. dilla." carly said that he was up there, or something like that, meaning that he was more or less acting a fool.

someone asked me about my parents, and when they came here. "early to mid-seventies," i said, "after all that marcos shit went down." "i don't know anything about it," one guy said, "was it really that bad?" "he declared martial law," i said. alex said that it was a brute dictatorship. i didn't know what else to add. instead, i looked at these filipinos and their talk of twilight, of magic mic, of j. dilla, and i thought about whether or not i could really live in the philippines. do i like hanging out with white people more, or do i like filipinos better? are filipinos much different from filipino-americans? i didn't want to overthink it, so i got up.

"i'm gonna get going," i told chel. i only lived two doors down, so my exit wasn't dramatic at all. "happy birthday," i said. "thanks," she said, "and thanks for coming through." "no problem," i said, "thanks for having me over." "you should come through for the magic mic party." "definitely," i said, "i would totally be down for that." "awesome," she said. "do you watch the lakers?" i said. "no," she said, "but chev (her boyfriend) does. you should come through." "i might," i said. "i don't have cable. i don't even have a t.v. i've been trying to stream the games, but it's just kind of sad." "yeah," she said, "that shit's too slow."

i told her happy birthday again, and then i said goodnight to everyone. goodnight.
am i a mind reader?

i went running at seward park. just one lap around the park, it was all i needed. i listened to jay-z. i like how arrogant he is. if i had money, or if i was famous, or if i could rap, i would be arrogant, too. i have none of those things, so i am humble for the most part. i am just a broke ass filipino who is on gchat all day, everyday. when i run, i like to pass up people who are walking, as though i am trying to make them feel bad for not getting their heart rates up. walking ain't gonna do shit. some people think it will, but it won't. you need to get that heart rate up and sweat out all your toxins.

i saw this mexican lady pushing two babies in a dual stroller. i saw a mother helping her kid on a swing. sometimes, i think that i would like a family. other times, i think i would be a terrible parent. today, i thought about the stranger. maybe because it was so hot out. i thought about the sun glinting off his gun, him pulling the trigger, each rap a knock on the door of his undoing. camus, what a writer. he didn't fuck around. he didn't post whiny ass blog entries, or write random shit no one cared to read. motherfucker threw down. he was like, i'm gonna write a novel about the meaningless of life, and here it is. life is meaningless, fuckers. and then he died in a car crash to prove his point.

i am supposed to schedule a deep cleaning with my dentist. i am supposed to schedule a meeting with my old writing professor. i put these things off, and i'm not sure why. i don't think i would have much to say to my professor. he would ask me how i like my job, how things are going. i would lie to his face. i couldn't just be honest with him because there are rules in society. sometimes, i just want to be one of those people who doesn't think before he speaks. i think that i will wear big sunglasses and polo shirts and pretend that i am somebody else.

maybe that'll work.
just make stuff up.

i went to the king county courthouse today. my boss and i were supposed to observe debt collection hearings, but alas, there were none. we walked around the third floor a bit, and it struck me why i find courthouses so unnerving. they are a perfect combination of doctors' offices and church. the places i have come to fear the most. my boss told me what goes on at the courthouse, but i didn't really make sense of what she was telling me. i wanted to, but i just couldn't. it was a mass spoken in latin.

"did you say you wanted to go to law school eventually?" my boss asked. "no," i said, "well, i haven't completely ruled it out. i don't know what i want to do yet." "that's okay," she said. "i don't really feel like i'm good at arguing," i said. she told me that she doesn't see the law as strictly argument. she said she saw the law as way for everyone to achieve common goals. "were you nervous when you first started out?" i asked. "yeah," she said, "i always thought the nerves would go away at some point, but they never really did. once it was over, though, it seemed like it wasn't a big deal at all." she then told me about how she would make objections in court, even though she didn't really know what she was objecting to. "a lot of times, i would just make stuff up on the spot, and it would somehow all work out."

one day, i hope i can improvise, too, and have it all work out.
full moon at alki beach.

we were walking along the scenic path in alki, the one that overlooks the water and the city. there are big condos with big windows, and the owners displayed their big screen tvs and all the other things they owned. "so, that's what it's come to?" she said. "your life becomes so boring that you just have to show off all the shit you have?" we walked a little further and there was an exercise bike in one of the windows. "now he can pretend he's outside," she said. "you must really hate people," i said. "i don't know," she said, "i don't know why i'm being like this."

there was a stretch hummer parked in front of a restaurant. three girls ran up to the hummer, and one of them started pulling up her skirt. before i knew it, she was showing us her bare ass. we walked by and didn't say anything. they were drunk and giggling and yelling about stuff. a couple of priviledged girls on prom night who didn't know what to do other than moon strangers. they got in the stretch hummer, and who knows why? maybe they saw something like it on mtv.

i used to be above all that, but now i think i'm just as simple. i've been trying to live some life i've seen on tv.
like a picture of a sunny day.

there's a lot of pressure to go out and do stuff when it's sunny in seattle. yesterday, i was up early since i had to take jaspreet to the airport. it was a nice morning, and i should've stayed up, should've stayed out, made something of the morning. i went to the post office, and a black woman behind me remarked, "nice day out." "mm-hmm," i said. "beautiful morning," she said.

during these rare sunny days in seattle, just about everyone comes out of the woodworks. there are more people jogging. bars and restaurants on capitol hill are packed more than ever. people hold barbecues at seward park, and all the hip hop kids cruise the streets at alki. i can't believe i moved back to a city where a simple sunny day is a rare, glorious thing. sometimes i think, what was i thinking.

i'm used to just sleeping most of the time when it's rainy and cold out. maybe i have seasonal affective disorder, i don't know. but now that the sun's out, there is no excuse. i feel really bad when i see a sunny day from my apartment window and i watch shows on my laptop until the sun goes down. there it goes. that rare thing that happens in this cold fish of a city, and i missed it.

it was sunny a lot in sacramento, but i didn't really take advantage of the good weather there, either. there, it would be too hot. it's too hot to go outside. that was the excuse. in seattle, it's usually too cold and miserable to go outside. is the weather ever right anywhere? well, today it's right, but i'm just blogging and doing laundry instead.

it's sort of like that joke on the simpsons, where lenny says he wants back those five minutes someone took of his time. defeated, he walks away and says, "ah, well. i would've just wasted it anyway."
four minute warning.

i showed my dad failblog. "this is what i look at when i'm at work," i said. "that's it?" he said. he didn't find any of the fails very funny. "why don't people do more productive things at work?" my mom said, "no wonder the economy is so terrible. everyone is just goofing off at work." "pretty much," i said.

we were driving through downtown seattle, and my parents started talking about my younger cousin. "he thinks he's as good as the white kids," my dad said. i was offended. "you're saying he isn't?" i asked. "no," my dad said, "he isn't, but he thinks he is." i guess i always knew, but it still killed me a little to realize my dad thought this way.

i took them to molly moon ice cream, and we stood in line. i looked at all the hip young kids, and felt lame that i was there with my parents, even though i shouldn't have. sometimes, i feel like i never got to be young. my mom asked me again and again what flavors were good. the kids behind us were loud, and my mom said they were annoying. she said that my dad should've farted loudly to shut them up. my mom didn't like the salted caramel flavor very much.

we were driving again, and construction workers were fixing the roads. "obama gave washington a lot of money," my mom said, "that's why there's all this construction." "they don't need to fix the roads," my dad said, "he should just give the money to the people." "but if he did that," i argued, "he'd be criticized for being a socialist. by getting the roads fixed, he's actually giving people jobs."

i slept on my couch while my parents slept in my bed. they didn't like closing the doors because it gets super dark in my sleeping area. my mom would whisper something funny that happened during the day, and my dad would laugh.

"you should go back to school. go to sac state," my mom said. "i don't want to go to sac state," i said. "i want go to ateneo," i said. "okay," she said. "when you go to school there, that's where we'll be, too." i was irritated that she kept insisting i move back to california. i was irritated that she kept telling me how my bathroom grossed her out. i was irritated that she found my sparse apartment, my empty fridge, my living alone, my pointless job where i look at failblog all day, all unacceptable. she re-enforced my belief that i wasn't getting anything right.

where do you see yourself in five years?
disappointing my parents.

since i have no tv, my dad kept looking up songs on youtube. he listened to willie nelson, the kinks, and the beatles a lot. my mom would read her book and make food. they liked going to alki beach and seward park. all they seemed to want to do was eat and walk. i didn't make much of an effort to entertain them.

on sunday night, they went to mass at the st. ignatius chapel. i could've joined them, but i didn't. my agnosticism is my last effort at rebellion. it's as if to say, all those years of schooling had no effect on me. my mom no longer pushes the issue, and i am glad that she doesn't. i went to the stinson reading room and looked around at the undergrads, busying themselves, pursuing something that i have convinced myself doesn't exist.

what are you majoring in?
what does it matter?

i thought about how this was once a sin: skipping church and looking at girls. i thought about how catholicism did a number on me, and it most likely made me a worse person, not a better one. for all i know, there isn't going to be a hell, and there isn't going to be a heaven.

there is no system. there is no big lie.
the universe is...indifferent.

i dropped my parents off at the airport. they told me not to drive too fast. i told them i wouldn't.
life is full of repetitions.

a hot summer day in sacramento, july 2000. i give dong a ride to our work, and in my dad's camry, we're listening to blink-182, or else it's the mxpx mixtape that got stuck in the stereo. we're wearing shorts, blasting the air-conditioner. it's over 100 degrees again, seems to have been that way forever. it's the kind of heat that you can see, moving ghost-like across the street, and the fools who dare walk in it are suffocated by its presence. the steering wheel is hot, and my hands burn to the touch. i can only keep a few fingers on it at a time.

we don't speak much, as there isn't much to say. we're going to work, and work is awful. we arrive and dong's brother is tagging some clothes. there's a mexican woman doing some ironing. the manager is in his dark office, and he's talking on the phone. there's no music or talking, just the sound of the giant fans blowing and the buzzing sound it makes when it hits the plastic bags hung on the conveyor belt. there's the squeak of the conveyor belt, too, which sounds as though it has never been oiled. we await our manager's departure. that's when the fun can start.

i grab my drawer, and i count the change to make sure it adds up to $100. i slide the drawer in the slot, and since there are no customers, i start tagging clothes. i grab a safety pin, one after another, and i stick tags to the seams, anywhere on the article of clothing that won't leave a noticeable hole. i used to wear gloves, and i should be wearing gloves, but it's to the point where i no longer care. i've seen everything a person could possibly get on a piece of clothing: ice cream stains, ketchup stains, sweat stains, blood stains, unidentifiable ones that i'd rather not think about as well. it's an awful job, but it has its perks.

around lunch, dong and i stand at the counters and we wait for the busty redheaded milf to make her parking lot appearance. she wears business outfits, and dong likes to say she has "tig ol' bitties." she drives a big black explorer, and she works as a real estate agent next door. so far, she has only come into our store a few times, but each time, we give her free service. the kids who work at the burrito joint also get free service, even though they don't have tig ol' bitties. in return, they give us discounts on lunch.

i get a burrito for lunch, and i eat it next to one of the giant fans. i sit and listen to eminem and dr. dre on the radio. when the song is over, the dj announces for the umpteenth time that the up in smoke tour is coming to arco arena. i think it would be cool, but i probably won't go. i watch holly and dong in the store tagging clothes, ringing up customers, separating laundry into bags. since i only work afternoons and evenings, i never even see the actual cleaning process. as far as i know, we receive clothes, we tag them, and then we give them right back.

there are just a few more hours on the clock. i stand at the counter, and since it's a slow day, there aren't any clothes left to tag. "it's the same shit everyday," i say, to no one in particular. "life is full of repetitions," dong says. it's as though he's issued me a warning. i don't respond. at the end of the day, we buy jamba juice, dinner, cds - anything we want, anything at all. it almost makes up for the whole day being lost.
they're too young to know
how much life sucks.

i offered to sit at the kids' table, since i really didn't feel like answering questions about my job or my goals in life. my parents sat with my cousin and her husband, a doctor, at the table next to ours. the three kids looked happy to finally be on their own. the waitress asked me, "how did you end up at the kiddie table?" "i don't know," i said. the three kids, maya, josh, and jacob looked at their kiddie menus. "what do you guys want?" i asked. one after the other, they all said, "spaghetti." "what do you want to drink?" i asked. "milk," the two said, then jacob, "chocolate milk."

i asked them questions about school and movies and tv shows. they said that school was good, and they liked their new school, the one in savannah, better than their old school, which was in alexandria. josh was the oldest, and he seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. he studied things with great intensity, everything from the menu to the blood orange crayon he held in his hand. maya was like an old woman, pushing her glasses up at the bridge of her nose, inhaling audibly between sentences, as though the smallest phrase took her breath away each time. jacob was the dumb fun one, interrupting everybody, living in his own little world.

"at my old school, i had like five friends!" jacob said. "after school, i have gymnastics...(inhalation)...and then, sometimes, i go to soccer," maya said. josh very meticulously colored in boxes of his crossword puzzle. i couldn't remember the last time i had talked with such enthusiastic, high-spritied individuals. i remembered a line from it's always sunny in philadelphia: "they're too young to know how much life sucks." when the food arrived, jacob stopped me and said, "you forgot to pray!" "i am praying," i lied.

i wanted to mess with them a little bit. i wanted to say things like, "have you ever considered the possibility that there isn't this all-knowing invisible being who can read our thoughts? and even if there was, wouldn't you find that a little bit frightening?" i wanted to be like royal tennenbaum, making the kids run through the crosswalk when the signal turned red. i didn't do any of this, of course. when the waitress brought us mints for dessert, the kids wouldn't even pop the candy into their mouths without getting mom's approval first. jacob came running back to our table. "she said we could eat it!" he said.

after dinner we all decided to go for a walk to volunteer park, even though it was getting dark out. when we got to the park, jacob said he really had to use the restroom. his parents asked where he might be able to use the restroom. i told them i could help him find one. "come on," i said. visibly worried, jacob followed me into the night. we power-walked a few blocks south, then a few blocks west. there was a church, but it was closed. i kept reassuring him that we'd find a place soon, but at each closed restroom, he looked a little more panicked. he started farting rapid machine-gun farts, and for a moment, i was afraid he was going to shit his pants. where's your god now, buddy? finally, the girl at the harvard exit theater said he could use the restroom.

when it was over, i asked him if he felt better. "yes," he said. "we can run back," he said, "if you want to." i challenged him to race up a hill. i started out slow, but then i started going faster, faster, until it was clear i was ahead. nearing the top of the hill, though, i slowed down to let him win. because that's what grown-ups are supposed to do.
play him off, keyboard cat cult.

it was like a singles meet-up thing, some club, or some sort of relaxation and meditation workshop. who knew? i went anyway, and there were cats everywhere. a cat for just about every single attendee, and then some. i hated cats. i was allergic. and they had sharp claws, the kind that dig into your thighs, like little sharp knives. and the eyes of the devil. well, some of them anyway. everyone else was into the cats. each person picked one up, and they started going up the stairwell to the roof. i was last in line, and i didn't have a cat with me. the girl walking in front of me had the last one.

we reached the roof, and there was a freeway nearby. the members of the club - or should i say, cult - were waving the cats around in the air, spelling out letters with their paws. i didn't like what i saw. i started going back downstairs and the girl in front of me followed. she didn't like it, either. she insisted that i take her cat, but i refused. it was a "no-backsies" sort of thing we were playing. it suddenly occurred to me that we could just leave the damn cat, and leave for good.

the door was locked, though, or i imagined it was. it was locked from the inside, and there was no way out. the cult leader would know our thoughts, know that we were trying to leave, and he wouldn't allow that. he'd cover our bodies in sardines and we'd become cat nip. how could we fight back? he would drug us, make it so that we were immobile, but not drugged up enough that we wouldn't feel each bite. paralysis without anesthesia. it was possible, was it not? maybe i was being paranoid. maybe it was just my imagination. was he coming down the stairs? was he looking for us?

the two ladies with nice haircuts were sitting on the couch. "this is good," she said, and i could tell by her voice that she meant it. "and this is just a start," the other said, "just a first draft!" she said excitedly. i was onto something. the two ladies with nice haircuts and great enthusiasm confirmed it.
life ain't nothing but
bitches and money.

he cleaned his apartment because he knew she was coming over. he swept the floor, washed and dried the dishes, and he even scrubbed the tub. scrubbing the tub was the worst part because it required physical labor - getting on his knees - and if he didn't scrub it hard enough, there was no point. it would still look brown and stained. he wiped down all mirrors and windows and vacuumed the few areas where there was carpet. he made sure all his clothes were hung, and the dirty ones in the laundry basket. he had to do laundry. he took out the trash, making sure beforehand to separate the recycling. everything had to be just right.

a few months back, he bought some furniture. he knew that he at least needed a couch and a television if he was to entertain guests. he didn't know how to make dinner, so he ordered take-out. it had been a while since he'd had someone over. in his mind, he was still new to this. he went to the store to pick out a bottle of red wine. he didn't know how to choose a good wine, so he just went with something that had the coolest-looking label. it also had to fall in the price range of somewhere between $15 - $20. he bought the wine, and the clerk carded him. he was twenty-eight years old.

finally, she came over, and she had a bottle of wine with her. he thanked her for coming over, and insisted that she sit, sit. he served her dinner, and she asked if he made it. he admitted that it was take-out, and she acted like she was fine with it. maybe she was. he asked her about normal things: how work was, how so-and-so was, what did she do last weekend. he talked about himself a little bit, too, trying not to sound self-involved, but also trying not to sound too doubtful of himself. it was a fine line he was walking.

he worried about all the things most people worry about. he thought maybe he had a booger, or that he had garlic breath. he thought maybe his face was too flush from the wine, or that maybe his stomach would start acting up, and he'd be forced to take a dump, which his date would obviously hear through the paper-thin walls. there was no fan, no way of drowning out the inevitable plop, plop, plop. the thought of this, combined with other anxieties, must've triggered something because suddenly, he felt it. something was unhappily churning in his stomach. he had to think fast. he asked if she'd like to hear some music. luckily, she said that she did, and he told her that he would be right back.

he tried not to take too long, but he also wanted some insurance, a guarantee that he wouldn't be due for a repeat visit for the rest of the night. finally, he felt comfortable with where he was, and he washed his hands. he asked if she would like to watch the movie now, since that was the reason she had come over in the first place. she said okay, and he turned off the lights. they watched the movie and it was okay. slightly forgettable. he didn't know what to do. reach for her hand? arm around her back? he thought about it, and instead, did nothing. he might've even crossed his arms at one point. when it was over, he didn't know what to say. sensing the awkwardness, she said that she should get going.

he wanted to tell her to stay, but he didn't. he was unsure of himself, unable to do what seemed like the simplest of things.
the consultant just isn't that into you.

i used to work with this kid named ian. he was the kind of dude who tried really hard to gain others' acceptance. he was always well-dressed with a button-down shirt underneath a pea coat, and he'd walk around listening to his ipod back when not everyone had an ipod. he took my picture one morning for the staff board, even though i told him not to. i looked like shit, and later, the other consultants, and even my boss, said i looked like shit. they didn't use those exact words, but the message was clear. i had to get my picture taken again later, at the end of the year, precisely when having a picture no longer mattered.

i wasn't that upset about the picture. i just felt like i had seen my fair share of arrogant white kids, especially in classrooms, and i was upset that one of them, namely ian, had been hired for the same position i held. worse yet, he was younger. and better dressed. he had a slightly better haircut. once, he asked me if i liked the velvet underground. i said that i did. he liked to talk about music with people because what else do straight white boys in seattle talk about?

one day in class, our professor was talking about esl (english as a second language) students. our professor made some comment about japanese students being shy or something. i'm not sure what his point was, and i can't remember now because all i can remember is ian's response. "isn't that a gross stereotype?" he said, incredulously. "what?" my professor said, "are you trying to challenge me?" "no, no..." ian said, and he tried his best to explain his outburst and save face. the level of awkwardness and discomfort was visible on all our faces.

the relationship between our professor and ian was all downhill after that. after only three months, ian resigned as a consultant. i would like to point out to any readers who don't know about undergraduate writing centers is that the only requirements for being a good consultant is to ask open-ended questions and appear genuinely interested in another person. note the word "appear." a consultant doesn't have to actually be interested in sally student or sally student's terribly mediocre paper on frankstein. he just has to appear interested. apparently, this proved too much for our boy, so he quit.

he did have a great thanksgiving dinner for all us consultants, though. jacob and i sat down on the couch and looked through his dvds. "you know what i haven't seen in forever?" jacob said. "what?" i asked. he held up the 25th anniversary edition of e.t. "put it on," i said. we watched a little bit of e.t. when dinner was ready, ian brought out various wines that he said would go well with each dish. not only was he a snappy dresser, he also proved himself to be a wine connosieur. he'd say something like, "this is a '97 savignon blanc, and it'll go well with the mashed potatoes and gravy."

to appease our semi-drunken nagging, ian shared some gossip about his non-relationship with another consultant, corey. corey came across as prim, proper, and slightly abrasive - thus, a perfect match for ian. two kids who never seemed like they had to question, nevermind apologize for, their privilege or uncanny confidence in themselves. they were like a match made in mercer island. all of us were curious about what went wrong.

he began slowly, an old man telling a war-time tale. he said that corey had invited herself over to his dorm room on several occasions, and finally, he gave in to her request. she came in, and it was just the two of them. he said he was really set on watching his new m.a.s.h. box set, and he wasn't being a particularly gracious host. the gist of the story was that corey kept making it clear that she was interested in him, and he just wasn't having it. in conclusion, he had to let her down easy.

even though he had resigned from his official duties as a consultant, ian tended to still hang around the office quite a bit, kind of like david brent after he'd been made redundant. most of the women i worked with continued to defend ian, and they lambasted our professor for chewing him out that day in the classroom. i guess it was then that a great insight came to me: anyone could've had that job. anyone.
i left my heart at the harris casino.

the summer i was 14, i went to see tony bennett with my dad. originally, he invited his mom to go with him, but she was ill and couldn't make it. my mom couldn't go because she had to work. he might've invited a sibling to accompany him, too, but no one could make it. either that, or else everyone in my family hated tony bennett. i hated tony bennett, too - i mean, come on. an old man singing? only sinatra could pull it off and only in the 1950s. the year was 1997. who the hell wanted to see tony bennett sing at some crap casino in lake tahoe, besides my dad?

i don't remember much of the show. i remember we were seated way in the back, and that there were tons of old folks dressed in suits. i think my dad had a dress shirt on, and i wore jeans and a polo shirt. among all the older white people, i felt terribly out of place. the whole thing was super unpleasant, and i wondered why my dad couldn't have been into something cooler. like shooting guns or black sabbath. mr. bennett finished with "i left my heart in san franciso," and the audience gave him a standing ovation. i hate standing ovations.

i'm pretty sure we had dinner (as we always do) at the all you can eat prime rib for $2.99 buffet at the harris casino. my parents love the shit out of that $2.99 unlimited rib buffet. there's always some unhappy looking asshole dressed in white cutting that shit to pieces. one side brown and the other a little bloody. "well-done," i'd always say. afterward, i'd load up on soft-serve and dump m&m's all over it. i'd eat quickly, so i'd have time to play at the arcade while the adults would finish.

as a kid, i always thought those casinos were amazing. i couldn't wait to play the slots, win money, and get served drinks by scantily-clad young women. the cling-cling-cling of the machines, the clunk-clunk-clunk of quarters dropping, and the blue and green sirens were amazing. the casino was a fun and happy place, and i couldn't wait to turn twenty-one.

funny how drastically different things look now that i'm older.
what's alternate?

"i knew you'd be in here," i said. "how'd you know?" "i could just tell," i said, "i had a feeling." he was watching the cavaliers dominate the hawks, and i joined him. i had with me my water bottle and a small package of eel sushi from qfc. "where'd you get that?" he asked. "qfc." "you ever had sushi from the sidebar?" "no," i said, "but i think i've had it from the cafeteria before." "how was that?" he asked. "it was alright." "it's the same thing," he said, "they just bring it from over there to the sidebar." i agreed.

he called someone while i ate my sushi. the cavaliers were winning by a lot. "ooh!" he said. "oh shit!" i said. still on the phone, he explained our outburst. "oh, nothing. lebron just took it to the hole for a reverse jam." they replayed the move three different times, from three different angles. with my last piece of unagi, i tried to soak up the last of the soy sauce and wasabi. i waved to natasha in the hall. "are you working tonight?" she asked. "yeah, i am," i said. "me too," she said. later, whitney was in the hall. "what are you still doing here?" she asked. "proctoring," i said. "oh, that's what i thought," she said. "have fun!"

it was about 5:45 p.m., and i was all finished eating. he rose to leave. "you headed down?" i asked. "yeah." "should i go down now, too?" "you can if you want," he said, "just make sure you're there at like, 5:55 or so." "all exams don't start until 6:30, right?" "yeah, but students sometimes freak out if a proctor isn't in the room. they'll be knocking on the exam room door, like, 'it's 6:15 and we don't have a proctor!' or 'it's 5:30 and there isn't a proctor in the room!'" i laughed at this. "once, though, it was 6:25 and a student came in and said there wasn't a proctor. apparently, the person got sick, and she didn't tell anyone. we had to scramble around last minute." "that sucks," i said. "yeah," he said, "it did."

book and water bottle in hand, i went down to the exam room. i saw my name and class written in green. in parenthesis, it said: alternate. "alternate?" i said aloud, to no one in particular. "what's alternate?" "you didn't tell him what 'alternate' is?" a girl i had never seen before looked at him, and said, "that's not my job." he turned back to me. "'alternate' is just when students who couldn't make the original test date come in to take it on an alternate date." "so, i don't know how many students to expect?" he shook his head. "alright," i said.

i didn't read any of the instructions. technically, i'm supposed to, but i figured they all already knew the drill. i waited until 6:25 to pass out exams and then shot out some random instructions. "please turn off all electronic gadgets. please remember to write your four-digit code on all papers. the test is two and a half hours long. we'll start at 6:30 and end at 9:00." the i.t. lady came in and said, "wow. big group tonight." by then, there were seven students in the classroom. "yeah," i said. i was reading richard russo's straight man. she looked up at the projector screen. "open book. that's good," she said. "yeah," i said. "are you gonna be next door?" i asked. "i'll be next door," she said.

at 6:30 i made the announcement to begin. i was able to read quite a bit of straight man. i stopped at page 223 and made a mental note to include the following passage in my blog:

it's the dilemma of the lower middle class when it sends its children off to be educated, often at great expense. their naive hope (they don't see it as unreasonable) is that the kids they send off will return more affluent but otherwise unchanged. certainly not contemptuous.
have you been
taken care of?

i started walking to the pcc because i needed bread. it was cold and rainy. i made it about a block and a half, and then i thought forget it, and i walked back. i went into the hat (el sombrero) to get a burrito. "for one? or to go?" the waiter asked me. "to go," i said. "would you like a menu?" i looked behind me and grabbed a menu. "have a seat anywhere," he said. i took a seat at a large empty table. next to me, there was a family of four. minutes later, another family of four came through the door, and i saw that the father was blind. the daughter directed him. "a little to the right," she said.

above the bar on a big screen, the orlando magic was playing the boston celtics. i thought maybe i should sit at the bar, knock back a couple, and watch the game. boston was ahead. there was an old couple sitting behind me. the waitress brought them two taco salads. i ordered the el sombrero burrito with chicken. the waitress said, "anything else?" "no thanks," i said. a little while later, the waiter came up to me and said, "have you been taken care of already?" "yes," i said. taken care of. helped. such strange language for the food service industry.

my food finally arrived in a plastic bag with my check. i went back to my apartment to scarf it down with the intention of watching the first season of mad men, which i had downloaded onto my laptop. i carefully plopped the burrito onto a plate, while trying not to get any foil stuck to it. last time, i made the mistake of eating the burrito off the paper plate covered in foil, and i think that i might have swallowed some of the foil. the thought of eating aluminum foil troubled me.

i decided i would need something sweet to help wash down my burrito, so i pulled seventy-nine cents out of my coin box. i went to the shola market, which is only a couple of feet away from my apartment's entrance. inside, the clerks were watching the game on a tiny tv set. i got a can of pepsi and handed over the change. i waited until the clerk counted it. "thanks," he said. "thanks," i said.

i ate my burrito, drank my pepsi, and i watched mad men.

boss: "so, i've noticed that when i send you emails sometimes at like 3 or 4 o'clock, you don't respond. i assume you've been leaving early those days?"

me: "umm. yeah..."

boss: "what is your regular schedule like? could you let me know days when you maybe take a shorter lunch and leave early?"

me: "my schedule is 8:30 - 5:00."

boss (looking confused): "i know. don't take this as me saying that i'm watching you or anything, it's more just like me wanting to know the days you leave early in case i need to get a hold of you."

me: "you can always reach me on my cell phone."

boss: "i know, but i don't want to contact you if it isn't an emergency."

me (thinking, if it's not an emergency, then what does it matter if i leave early?): "i've left early the past couple of days because no one else was in the office."

boss: "no, no. i totally get it. but could you let me know what your schedule is like on those occasions you do happen to leave early?"

me: "i'll be here from 8:30 - 5:00, and if i leave early, i'll email you."

boss (looking confused again): "oh...okay."
what's in your wallet?

i applied for a credit card today. i've never wanted one, and i still don't want one, but i've been told that if i ever want to establish good credit, this is the way it should be done. if i ever want to take out a loan for a car or a home, i have to put things on credit first. what a system, what a racket. i don't know if i ever want to own a car or a home, but i think it would be good to at least have the option available to me. thinking forward, being responsible. we straight men are all supposed to want the same things, right? a mortgage, an honest woman, educated children, and a line of good credit.

my pre-calculus teacher once told us young jesuit men about credit cards. he wasn't a rich man, but he was a smart man. he told us that the best possible thing to do in life was to buy the nicest house on the block, but also to drive the shittiest car on the block. he walked the talk. he had a decent two-story house in rosemont and drove something really small and terrible. my rich white boy classmates constantly ridiculed his ride, but he didn't care. in the end, he would win. he was sure of it. he said that he paid his monthly credit card bill off in full, and that the credit card companies hated him for it, since they could never collect any interest from him.

i wonder if he's got that house paid off yet.
i keep it alive.

in college, i thought that i had answers. things were going well, after all. i was getting good grades, i was in a relationship, i had a closely-knit group of friends. at some point, i was even arrogant and foolish enough to think that maybe i was the escaped prisoner in the allegory of the cave. i was enlightened, and i was going to share my enlightenment with my family when i returned. the sun, the real world, was about being courageous, being open and honest about everything. life was not about watching television, being entertained by false shadows. it was about direct communication, community. our days are numbered, and we only have "one wild and precious life" to really make it count.

i was twenty years old, and i told my parents how i was feeling, and that, for the first time, i was understanding what it meant to be alive and unafraid. i told them that they should confront my uncle about his drinking problem. i told them that i didn't think it was right that some of our family members had a maid. i told my dad that he should go back to school, get his g.e.d. i wanted everyone to realize the potential i saw in him/her. for the first time, i was self-confident, and i felt i finally understood what my deceased grandmother told me in my dream. she said, "you keep it alive."

my parents confronted my uncle about his drinking. they me that he was unresponsive, and even irritated. eventually, he raised his voice at them, and they let it go. they told me this in the car after the three of us went and saw a movie. i kept asking questions, asking if they were going to try again. my mom snapped at me. "people don't change overnight!" she said. her frustration stung (it always does), and i remained silent for the rest of the ride. it was the first real blow to my newfound idealism.

a few days later, i started talking to my dad. he was watching television, and he put the tv on mute. i brought up the whole thing about our relatives having a filipino maid. i told him i didn't think it was right, and that if they really wanted to help her, they'd find a way to get her an education so that she could help herself. my dad was confused, and he asked me why this was even an issue for me. at that point, i think i quoted martin luther king, jr. who once said that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

i was inarticulate, and i didn't want to be. i wanted something to change. what was the point of studying, of going to a costly and catholic liberal arts school and learning about social justice, if i couldn't see or bring about any real, tangible change in the world? my dad got frustrated. he brought up hitler and how many millions of jews were killed in concentration camps, and how there were much worse things in the world than keeping a maid. i groaned and left the room. i sat down in the rocking chair in the kitchen, and i started to weep audibly. my dad came in and asked what was wrong. i just shook my head and continued to weep.

now that i am older and unwiser, i look back at that time and think that maybe i had it all wrong. maybe i am, and always have been, the prisoner.