the best christmas ever.

"did you facebook that girl yet?" uncle mike asked me.
"umm, no, not yet," i said. he sighed in disappointment. "i told her you would message her!"
"okay, okay," i said, "i will."
"what are you drinking?"
"white wine?"
"can i have some?"
"yeah," i said, "i'll get you a glass."

i told him that we should get some beer. he said that it's always cheapest at rite aid, $10.99 for a twelve pack of bottles. he said he would drive to pick up a case. i got in the van, the one my parents used to own, and i asked if he'd quit smoking. he said he had, but that he'll light up one or two if he's been drinking. i asked if he'd gotten a new car stereo, but he said no, he'd had this one for a while.

while he went to rite aid to pick up the heinekens, i went to save mart, as i needed some bleu cheese. i wore my dog hat and my slippers with socks and i didn't give a shit. bleu cheese was pricey, something like $5 or $6 for a small container. even the bags of candies i'd gotten for stockings were expensive, something like $5 a bag. things cost. a woman tried to cut in front of me, but she failed. "there's a line," i told her. she looked behind her and apologized. as i left the store, i thought about the look she gave me, and how quickly it changed. it went from how dare you to oh, i'm so sorry in a matter of seconds.

back in the van, i asked uncle mike about his retirement.

"it's pretty good," he said. "if i stayed another year, it would've been more."
"yeah, it's okay."
"so, where's carmina going to school now?"
"where'd she go to high school?"
"did she like it there?"
"yeah, she liked it. i didn't like it. there's too many blacks."

later in the night, byron's friends arrived. graham told us there would be a lunar eclipse, so we all went outside to look at it. rich and i smoked black & milds.

"didn't you say you read something about how these are really bad for you?"
"yeah," i said. "they're pretty cancerous."
we laughed at that.
"those were the days," i said. "we'd light one of these up, get some big gulps. a big old thing of wild cherry pepsi."
"and mags," he said.
"yeah, high society."
"everyday," he said.

the people who lived across the street from us were standing in front of their house, and they were all looking at the eclipse. the older kid came up to our group, and he was talking to my cousin.

"who lives here?" he asked.
"i do! i live here," i said. we shook hands for the first time, even though we'd lived across the street from each other for three decades.
"do you mind if we light off these fireworks?" he asked.
"no, go for it, man."

at midnight, he lit off the fireworks, these loud little sparks that shot off into the air. everyone clapped and i went back into the house.

"i finally met the dude who lives across the street," i said.
"what about that girl?" rich said.
"umm, no, not her."
"what girl?" may asked.
"there's a girl across the street. he's been looking out his window at her for like the last twenty years."
"umm, no, no," i said.

gina was crying. my mom was trying to sleep but we were all being too loud. leia was talking gibberish to bella. sam didn't mask his disappointment when he found the fantastic mr. fox in his stocking. claire and i impersonated pauly d's meltdown in the jersey shore. we played scattegories, singstar, and catchphrase. we ate pancit, potato salad, ham, walnut and pear salad, layered cake, and corn chowder. the stereo intermittently played sufjan stevens' and john fahey's christmas songs.

before my aunt left, she hugged me and said, "thanks for putting this together, the best christmas ever."
"no problem," i said.
hand off the trigger, always.

my coworker took me to the gun range, this place called wade's, over in bellevue. he took with him his own .45, and his brother's 9 mm. i didn't know anything about guns, and the only time i had ever shot one was the time i fired a shotgun outdoors, probably a little over 17 years ago. it was a shotgun, and the recoil left my right shoulder hurting for days afterward. somehow, though, i hit the target, a little clay disc, and everyone called it "beginner's luck."

inside wade's, my coworker told me to pick out some targets. they had all kinds of different ones - ranging from simple silhouettes of a man to zombie osama bin laden. i really thought about the target i was going to choose. what if from far away, osama looked like just some random brown-skinned dude? i didn't want to shoot that. i thought about the silhouettes, and why were they only black and white? did it mean that people who fired guns wanted to kill either white people or black people? i couldn't have it on my conscience. of course, i didn't voice any of this out loud, as the slightest hint of my crazy over-analysis of everything probably would've gotten the both of us thrown out. he chose some simple circle targets, and i couldn't argue with those.

before we went into the firing range, we had to sign releases. there was that line about risk and possible death. i signed my life away. i asked my coworker, "are you going to tell me what to do?" he shook his head, no. "i'll tell you when we're inside." i didn't see how that was possible, though, since i could already hear the pop pop pop mayhem through the soundproof doors. whatever. i goggled and earplugged up, and followed him through the double doors.

he uncased his guns, and unlocked the wire that ran through the butt and chamber. he showed me how to load the cartridge, and i struggled with it. he showed me how to pop the cartridge into the butt and how to release the switch to make it ready to fire. while he loaded up some more cartridges, he told me how to get the feel of it. one of the workers showed me how to properly hold the gun, as i obviously wasn't doing it right. "hand off the trigger, always," he said.

finally, it was go time. the target was in place, and the gun was all set to blast. i realized then how nervous i actually was, and my hand was all sweaty. what if the sweat plus the recoil lead to me losing my grip on it, and it backfired, and i shot myself in the chest? oh well. only one way to find out. i squeezed the trigger, and the recoil wasn't as bad as i expected. i fired another. i finished a clip. "knock yourself out," my coworker said, and i loaded another clip.

a different employee came up to me after i finished the second clip. "can i give you some tips?" he asked. "of course," i said. he told me i was standing wrong, that i should stand with my feet spread apart. he told me my arms should be out more and curved, as my upper body was supposed to absorb most of the recoil. he told me that i was anticipating the shot too much, and that i needed to relax more when i squeezed the trigger, that the gun should do all the work, not me. they were good tips, and when my target came back, my coworker said, "that's quite impressive."

back in the car, we talked about women. he asked me why nothing ever happened between me and this other girl he knew i liked. i didn't have an answer for him. "sometimes," he said, "you've just gotta go in there and pull the trigger, see what happens. you don't want to be the guy ten years from now who thinks back to all the things he didn't do." i just nodded. "that's just a bit of fatherly advice i have for you," he said.
do you know where you're going?

i've got two weeks left in seattle. it still really hasn't hit me, as i haven't really felt anything in a long time. i tried to think what i'd miss most about it. there was a picture of the seattle skyline on reddit the other day, and it looked amazing. rainier in the background, the space needle front and center, the sky looking ominous and beautiful as it usually is. but what am i actually going to miss about this place?

i'll miss running down rainier ave. and seward park. that was fun. there was that time i ran through the mount baker neighborhood, and i found some cool looking cafes and shops and a nice park. i vowed to go back there when i wasn't so sweaty, but i've never been back. i'll miss taking the light rail to the qfc and to downtown. i'll miss having such a cheap orca pass and taking the bus anywhere and whenever i want.

and the food, of course. ezell's, red mill, tutta bella, molly moon, genki, top pot, crab pot, po' dog, cupcake royale, port st. george, that dim sum place i can never remember the name of and countless other restaurants in the i.d., olympia, wing dome, ivar's, six arms, the mix (r.i.p.), tamarind tree, coastal kitchen, geraldine's, thai kitchen, jamjuree, le panier, honey hole, baguette box, cafe flora, the essential bakery, and a bunch of other places that i've never even been or heard about.

i'll miss the crazies. the ones who smell and ride the bus, the ones who walk around downtown and just shout for no reason, the ones who hold signs that quote whole paragraphs from the bible, and the transient goth skaters at westlake plaza, the ghettofieds in pioneer square, the capitol hill gays, the belltown yuppies, the central district crackheads, the west seattle and ballard milfs, the dirty girls everywhere in their north face attire, the hipster baristas, bartenders and waitresses, the dudes with beards and flannel shirts with sleeves rolled up to the elbows, the sounders and mariners fans, the black kids who jaywalk, the white kids who philosophize, the asians who speak their native languages.

when people find out i'm leaving work and about my tentative plans, they usually congratulate me. the older ones, they usually also ask, how old are you again? and then i tell them 27, and they tell me i'm still young. they say if they were younger and didn't have kids or a mortgage, they'd probably do the same thing.

nobody really knows what they're doing, or where they're going. but what i've seen is that most people are usually afraid to try anything different.
it's your turn.

there i was at mikuni's, this sushi place off hazel. i'd never been there before, but showed up because it was my cousin's 40th birthday party. 40. i mean, i always knew he was older than me, but for fuck's sake, 40. that's how old nate's character was when he died on six feet under. i remember hearing my aunt was turning 40 when i was a kid, and i just thought, holy shit that's old. it was so old they called it "over the hill." and my other cousin, she just turned 30. it feels like last week we were just playing lava steps at the rosemont house.

anyway, i was at this place mikuni's, and then our other cousin showed up. he had his kid with him, a girl, and she was only 7 months old or so. she was cute with dark eyes and dark curly hair. he had another kid from another woman, and that kid is like 9 or 10, but he never sees that kid. so two kids, one my cousin sees, the other he never sees. i guess that's what happens sometimes. anyway, that cousin, the one with the two kids, he says to me, "you're next." and i was like, "what are you talking about?" and he goes, "it's gonna be your turn to have kids."

i've been getting glimpses of what it's like to have kids. i took my cousin out for her 30th birthday, and her two year old just kept running around the old spaghetti factory. i'd pick her up, try to put her in the high chair, and she'd just cry and cry and throw a fit. and then my cousin told me how the little girl would wake up at 2 in the morning, and wouldn't go to sleep until about 6. and the father would just yell, "go to sleep! i've gotta be at work in two hours! go. to. sleep!" and all i could do was laugh at it, and think, jesus, how do people live like this?
after the old spaghetti factory, we went into a toy store, which was another bad idea. the older one, the 4 year-old, she didn't want to leave, even after half an hour. she just kept saying, "i want to buy something!" and i said to her, "well, what do you want?" at that point, i would've bought her anything just to get back in the car and have her stop whining. but she couldn't even answer me. she'd say, "i don't know! but i wanna buy something!" and the whole time i was thinking, for fuck's sake, just pick something out already!
i just don't get it. most parents seem to be like, yeah, yeah, i love my kids, whatever. but most of them don't even seem to have good relationships with their parents. most of them would be a lot better off financially without children. sometimes i wonder why my parents had me. they could've done a lot more things rather than overwork themselves for decades just to pay my tuition. the obvious answer is that it's love, duh. but really, is it love, or is it just some fool nudging them and saying, "hey, it's your turn?"
be a leader.

i was at the monkey bar with two old classmates and my cousin. out of nowhere, this asian girl and this white girl start playing pool. the white girl says something about the singer on tv, and my cousin tells her it's a band called my chemical romance. i'm immediately attracted to the white girl because of her posture, her bangs, and the fact that she is shooting pool and not with a guy. i don't say anything, though. i'm just an animal, but actually worse, because i suppress any and all my desires.

i meet up with an old coworker. it must be obvious by now. nobody from my past messages me or texts and asks to get together. only certain kinds of people have to stoop to that level. anyway, we meet up. if i hadn't texted her, she probably never would've said anything, even though we'd been planning it all week. i texted: still going out tonight? she texted: we're already here. so, i drove to the old tavern, some bar i'd never been to, and she's surrounded by three guys, and she doesn't even recognize me.

i say her name aloud. it's a pretty name, bronwyn. she says my name, we hug. she's trashed. she introduces me to her boyfriend, her boyfriend's friend, some other guys i don't know or even really care to meet. she gets distracted by something, and i'm left talking with the boyfriend's brother. even though i don't mind it, the whole time, i'm thinking, this isn't what i signed up for. he's a 2l at berkeley law, and i congratulate him for being young, attractive, and for having a bright future ahead of him.

i'm in the car with my cousin, and he brings up my blog. i bring up the old letters i've written to classmates, and at this point, i'm not sure exactly why i've written them. i tell him what i've been thinking for a long time, how i think it's strange that we spent all that time together, and now i never hear anything from them. i bring up the lonely american, and how it states that "falling out of touch" with people has become the norm, and why is that so? and it's not just about old classmates, coworkers, exes, friends, dead grandparents, what-have-you. it's about life and having to accept that your time is limited, and all you can do is try to enjoy it before it's over.

so i throw the football around with my cousin. i put icing on a little girl's hello kitty birthday cake. i do what i can, and i try to convince myself that it's enough.
two weeks notice.

the three women were talking about stuff. we were in room 435, the fishbowl it's called, and i was just sitting there, listening to all of it. none of it had anything to do with me. there was nothing for me to say, no reason for me to be there at all, as i never even took notes at these meetings. they talked about the upcoming pilf auction, supreme court judges, lawyer stuff. i excused myself to go to the bathroom, even though i didn't even have to go. sometimes, i'll do this on a long flight. i go into the bathroom, and i just make faces in the mirror. it reminds me of who i am, that i am just this terribly lonesome person who constantly has to find ways to entertain myself, reinvent myself, remember that i matter, even though i don't.

once the meeting ended, i chased down my boss. she held a box of office supplies, and we trekked across the gallery to the elevator. she asked if i needed to get into the office, and i told her no, that i had actually come down to see her. and then i told her that this was going to be my last semester at the law school. my voice faltered as i told her. i was scared, and i wasn't exactly sure why. maybe because my future plans still weren't official, maybe because i imagined another long stretch of unemployment and lack of health care, of feeling inadequate and doomed. but then i remembered the long meeting we had just gotten out of, and i felt good about my decision.

i thought of all the lovely young women at the law school who were working to get their careers started. i thought of my sad and empty apartment and the awful winter ahead. i thought about coach taylor always going for two, refusing to accept the tie. i thought about wanting to be well traveled and my parents getting older and how a year can go by just like that. i convinced myself that if i didn't do something, if i didn't take a risk, well, then i was just going to have another year or lifetime of looking at the computer and pretending to be interested in meetings and what was happening around me.

i'm going to miss them. mostly, i'll miss emily and how her hair color changes with the seasons. i'll miss the way she brings her face so close to the screen, like she wants to swim in her monitor. or how she keeps three pairs of shoes underneath her desk. how she wears a giant black hoodie and loves molly moon and genki sushi and can't kick a soccer ball very well. how i could quote movies, and she'd know exactly what i was talking about. i'll miss how she writes like a five year-old and slumps in her chair around 3 o'clock.

before my flight, i wondered about that moment in the airport. the one where i am coming down the escalator, and i see my parents in the waiting area. how many times have i seen this? how many flights have i taken from seattle to sacramento and back? why do i do this, keep wanting to be away? there's my mom asking me how the flight was, and there's my dad giving me an awkward one-armed hug. and then there's that moment where i step into our house, the one i grew up in, and i can smell it.

my aunt was trying to make plans to see the newest harry potter. there were a lot of phone calls, a lot of compromising. my cousin kept saying certain times and days wouldn't work for him. it took twenty minutes to half an hour to figure something out. i just sat there and watched them madly flop around. we went to the movie, and it was raining hard. seven of us were there, sitting in the dark, and i couldn't remember the last time i had been to a movie with all of these people.

so much time passes, and i don't know what to make of any of it.
wolves out there.

the last time i saw her, i was in d.c. for the annual americorps conference. she picked me up, along with my then girlfriend and another volunteer, and we drove through the snow to a restaurant downtown. i don't remember much about it. her boyfriend had those big hoops in his ears. i don't know what they were called, but i didn't like them.

mostly, i remember talking about my roommate. i told everyone at the table how he blasted classical music and how his farts were like thunder. his hair would clog the shower drain, and he never flushed his piss. on a special occasion, he even left a huge shit for me. later, my girlfriend told me, "you shouldn't talk about other people like that. it's not very attractive."

the year before that, i made mix cds around christmas time for everyone on the americorps team. my girlfriend looked at the track list i made for naomi. "you've got a crush on her, don't you?" i denied it. "yeah, you do," she said.

to ward off boredom at the office, i used to make comic strips using microsoft paint. i didn't know what to call the comic, so she came up with a name. "kathleen's coffee," she said. and so it was.

after hurricane katrina, i was sitting in the red cross office, and i was in charge of checking people in. right in front of me, melissa told our supervisor that i didn't do something right. it wasn't even a big deal, but she made it out to be, and i felt bad about it. i told naomi what happened. she reassured me that melissa was always doing things like that.

the first time i got a sense of who she was, it was on the first day of americorps. the seven of us sat in the classroom, filled out paperwork. she read aloud all the ridiculous parts. i knew then that this girl was willing to point out the obvious. she called bullshit on the first day, and i had to respect that.

we hung out tonight. it was the first time i'd seen her in over three years. it's weird, how little people change when so much time has passed. it was like when i saw toby for the first time in five years, and it felt like we were picking up on a conversation we left two minutes ago, not five years ago.

what i've come to realize is that there really are very few people i can just feel comfortable around. there are very few people who don't put me on edge, or make me feel like every thing i say has to turn into some kind of argument. i've realized the ones who put me on edge, the ones who constantly feel the need to prove something, those people usually have low self-esteem, and i've since dropped them.

i guess that's what has changed about me in the last few years. i used to be idealistic and think i could get along with just about anybody. but now i know that there are wolves out there, and sometimes it's best to just stay away.
when you find out.

a little over a year ago, i received word that she'd met someone else. the only girl i'd ever loved, and the only one who ever loved me back, had moved on. it wasn't fair. i was devastated. i drunk-dialed her. it must have been three, four o'clock where she was.

did you sleep with a married guy?
did you sleep with a married guy?
that's none of your business.

we exchanged a few more words, and then i hung up. i woke up the next morning, and something was off, but i couldn't immediately remember what it was. it was similar to those moments in college when my computer would break down, and i'd spend the entire night futilely trying to repair it myself. in the morning, i'd wake up and instinctively know there was something unpleasant i had to deal with.

even though technically we've been broken up for over three years, that night, the night i found out, solidified it. i wanted revenge. i thought of unspeakable things. how could she? after all i'd done for her. after five years together, i felt i deserved better than that. i spent the following weeks in a haze, hitting on random girls at bars to no avail. it was my turn, goddamnit. didn't these women know what i'd been through? didn't they know how creative, funny, and caring i was? what the hell was their problem, anyway?

i look back now on that particular time, and it amazes me that the word that comes to mind to describe how i really felt then is not shocked, disappointed, hurt, or heartbroken. sure, i felt all those things, but the one that really sticks out above all the rest is relief. it's amazing what one will put up with to keep the loneliness at bay. it's crazy now to think how badly i needed another person's acceptance, how important it was for me to feel needed.

and then there i was at a bar, asking a girl for her number. there i was at another bar, asking a girl if i could buy her a drink. there i was, writing heartfelt emails to girls i kind of knew. of course, these little exchanges never led to anything other than some humiliation on my part. but i did those things because i didn't want to be left behind. i didn't like waking up alone in the middle of the night and feeling anxious. i wanted to come home and tell someone about my boring day at work.

what i've learned in the last two years of living alone is this: my expectations for life have been ridiculous. just like how i thought high school was going to be zany and brightly colored as saved by the bell, i thought my mid-twenties was going to be like friends and how i met your mother - an active social life, a lot of dating, and maybe a couple of really great relationships. maybe it's that way for some people, but for most people, especially the ones i know, it's not even close.

being alone has its benefits, though. in the time that i've been alone, i've gone to new york. i've been to canada multiple times. i've gone hiking. i saw a bear in the wild. i've shaved my head. i've learned a bunch of songs on the guitar. i've gotten back into running, and i go to the gym regularly. i reach out to strangers, and i invite them out for drinks, for dinner, for karaoke. i buy clothes that i think will look good on me. i've saved money. i've caught up with old classmates and friends. i've said yes to girls who've invited me to coeur d'alene for a weekend. i've applied to the peace corps. i've unsuccessfully flirted. i'll pretty much go anywhere and do just about anything. i try to make the most out of each day.

because when you're on your own, you've gotta go at it hard. there's no other choice.
less polluted air.

i thought she was talking to her sister downstairs. i waited as long as possible to come down, as i wanted them to have some time together. i picked up my phone, played all the words with friends games i had going. after that, there was nothing left to do with my phone. i went downstairs. there was a girl there, sitting at the table, and she had her back turned to me. she wore a red sweater and her sleeves covered her hands. we introduced ourselves, and i sat at the table.

i didn't know what to say. i picked up the sunday paper, pulled out the funnies. it was already snowing in garfield. the two girls talked about some people they knew, they were catching up on things. and then my friend told her i'd applied to the peace corps. she seemed to be interested in that, so i said my piece. the conversation then went back to her, and had she ever done any traveling?

yes, she had done some traveling. she was a geologist, and she traveled to some sites where her company had mines. i thought that was very fascinating, a girl geologist who worked on mine stuff. she told me about a particular time that she went down to bolivia, and she was involved in what she called an "express kidnapping." did i know what that was? no, i didn't. she explained: a taxi picked up her and a coworker, and the driver took her to a shady part of town, and then the doors flew open, and then she had a knife pointed at her, and the hoodlums demanded she hand over her debit card.

her spanish was good enough that she could explain she only had a credit card, and therefore they could not withdraw cash with the card she had. her coworker, however, who had his debit card with him was robbed of $1,500. what went through her head, i wondered. did you totally freak out? she didn't freak out. she was too shocked to really think anything. she did think she would be raped, and that her coworker would freak out, and it would all end in a bloodbath.

but back to you, she said. she apologized, but she wanted to know more about the peace corps, and why did i want to apply? i had some answers to that. it was all very nice. we were two adults sitting at a table in a beautiful home in northern idaho, and it was sunday morning in the pinnacle of fall, and i had just eaten a blueberry waffle. i answered as honestly as i could. she said that she would like to do the program, too, but that she wanted her boyfriend of five years to marry her already, so that they could volunteer together.

at some point, the two girls started talking about whether or not teach for america was a good program. one thought it was, the other didn't. i thought it was awkward when they would both talk at the same time, and i just had to listen to this stream of voices, criss-crossing each other. i had no opinion on it. all i knew was that i once had a tough teaching job, and i didn't want to see it through. that was just irresponsible on their part, she reassured me.

later, another friend showed up, and the four of us went for a walk. there was a bit of a break in the clouds, but for the most part, it rained. we walked in the rain, me and three girls. why was it that i always ended up hanging out with girls? i took pictures of an old barn, some horses, a hillside. i didn't really like walking in the rain. i just wanted to be in a warm bed, asleep. it was a bit of good, though, breathing in the air that wasn't as polluted as city air. it was good to be in the company of people i sort of knew.

we went back in the house, and while the other two girls loaded up the car, the two of us just sat there alone in the living room. for some reason, she had put on her red-framed glasses, and she pushed them up the middle with her index finger. she told me she had to go home and study for the g.r.e. she wanted to study international studies or something like that, and maybe get a job in the foreign services, maybe one day become a diplomat. i didn't know anything about it.

but i did enjoy just sitting there, listening to her talk, while the wood stove kept me warm.
heart of an awl.

it was saturday night, and i was at this girl jessica's apartment, and she was dressed as a used car salesman: fake mustache, slicked-back hair and all. her friend, adam, wearing a sheep costume his mother made, smoked me out. to my left, princess leia, and to my right, a nurse with a dead baby hanging outside his front pocket. there was also another girl wearing something slutty, and she was running around looking for lipstick or something. per our request, jessica was singing a song of hers that may or may not have been called "bitterness," and we were just sitting there, watching her.

after she sang two songs, we were supposed to go to this halloween party at this girl corey's house. who was corey? i didn't know, but laura knew her, or else knew somebody who knew her. everybody in coeur d'alene seemed to know somebody who knew somebody else. see, there's this coffee shop called java right in coeur d'owntown, and all the cool kids in town drink there, work there, or have worked there at some point.

this girl emily currently works there, and the first thing she said to me was, "what the hell made you want to come to north idaho?" i said i had nothing better to do, and she said, "obviously!" she was a loud little one, and i thought she looked a lot like ellen page. i thought it would be a lame thing to bring up, as she probably got it a lot, but at some point, i got drunk enough to. "does anyone ever tell you that you look like ellen page?" "wait," she said, "yeah, isn't that the girl from juno?" "yeah," i said, "she was also in hard candy, and she was really creepy in that." "well, you know that i am creepy," she said.

the thing about emily was that she was a felon. as told by laura, emily was made an example of by george w. bush's felon crackdown. underage and driving drunk, she crashed her car and, in doing so, broke her friend's ankle. how that made her a felon, i wasn't sure, but she was one, and that was that. a few years after that, she fell out of her apartment window, and dropped sixteen feet to the pavement. "what the hell," i said to her, "you're like mid-twenties, and you've had every life experience already." "yeah," she said, "but i want the good life experiences."

the crazy stories didn't end there. at the party, i got talking to this other girl. she was saying stuff, and i was halfway listening, and then my ears perked up when she nonchalantly said that her parents were heroin addicts. "did you just say your parents were heroin addicts?" i asked. "yeah, they have been pretty much up until two years ago." this other guy, this older guy with a big belly, he just chimed right in. "i just got clean. have been for about five years now," he said. the girl got up, and she said, "i just need to give you a big hug right now." i watched them hug. were these people real, or was there something in that flask i sipped from that the what about bob? guy wearing an orange life-vest gave me?

this other girl, this hip-looking twenty-two year old dressed as a sexy geisha, she just pointed at me, and she said, "i took your order! raspberry italian soda!" and drunk as she was, she got that much right. she was amber, and i was raspberry italian soda. and because i'm curious about such things, because i've read that guys like me are supposed to just ask open-ended questions when approaching strange women out of our league, i asked what the hell she was doing in life. she sat sprawled out on the floor, and she told me her history.

she was orphaned, then adopted. the people who adopted her weren't very nice. her adoptive mother or father was abusive or something, but she wouldn't get into it. instead, she described it as, "fuck that." somehow, maybe or maybe not because of the abusive people who took her in, or maybe it was her stepmother (a mixture of beer and wine made it hard for me to follow the story), she inherited 40 acres of land. the land was used for timber, so she had $70,000. she needed to raise another $10,000 to buy a bigger piece of land in montana or oregon. "i'd really want it to be in oregon," she said. she said that she'd like to have a community, and anyone who wanted to help her garden could live there. i was one bottle of wine away from writing her a ten thousand dollar check and living in her future hippie garden utopia. a woman standing behind her, who may or may not have been amber's coworker, mocked her as she told me her vision.

it was halloween in coeur d'alene. the first and maybe the only time i'll ever see that place. the leaves were bursting with color: orange, yellow, green and fiery red everywhere, all over the streets, all over the hills, on the sidewalks, in the water. there were antique shops, thrift stores and bars like any other town. there was a skate plaza, a toy store called figpickels, a super one grocery store, a couple of zip's burgers, a veterinary office where laura's dad worked, and a breakfast place that served amazing duck sausage with orange liqueur.

i stayed at mariah's parents' house, which felt like a giant log cabin. her dad collected printing press stamps and marbles. her mom was really into politics. i thumbed through photo albums, trying to figure out who this family was, what they were about. they adopted a filipino boy who ended up having a mental disability, and now he lived in a group home. her older sister had gotten married, and now she had two kids. there was a wood stove and her mom made a blueberry pie. there were chickens in the yard and wild turkeys that would yelp yelp yelp in the morning. there used to be a barn but it didn't make it through last winter's snowstorm.

and then, after all that, it was time to go. we drove off in the sunlight, me falling asleep in the backseat against mariah's big bag of clothes.
oh mylanta.

oh dear readers, let me tell you about my hellish ordeal in the last twenty-four hours. see, i take doxycycline for acne, and the directions explicitly say not to eat dairy products when popping the pill. but i had eggs with cheese and stale chips with salsa anyway. and the night before, nachos from el sombrero. big fucking mistake. an hour or so after popping the pill, i had the stomach ache of my life. i tried taking a nap, but couldn't get in a comfortable position. i was getting chills, feeling nauseous. i felt like i had swallowed a big ball of paperclips, or else a rock.

i started to think about tumors, flesh-eating bacteria, appendicitis, e. coli. was this it? was this how i was finally going to go? what a terrible thing, i'd be one of those statistics, found weeks later in my apartment, dead from eating some bad nachos. at around midnight, when things hadn't gotten any better, i called the group health nurse. she told me to get prune juice, maalox or mylanta, and docusate sodium. it was rainy out, and it was midnight. i didn't even have a single friend nearby whom i could call and pick things up for me. that's when i thought about the importance of living in an area where at least some family is nearby.

i took the bus to safeway. i didn't even bother getting out of my pajama pants. i bought maalox, prune juice and yogurt, and i felt like a 50 year old man. i didn't care. the pain was so great, i didn't give a shit who saw me. i waited for the bus heading back home. there wasn't one. i waited some more. there wasn't one. i took the prune juice out of the plastic bag and started drinking it straight from the bottle. and so there i was, on rainier ave. s. past midnight, drinking prune juice while wearing pajama pants.

i started to walk home. there were a bunch of leaves and branches on the sidewalk from the previous day's storm. it was a cold, lonely walk. this is what life's going to be, i told myself. just one long solitary walk down a dark street in the rain. life really was just suffering, until it was over. as soon as i got home, i downed some more prune juice with two teaspoons of maalox. i slept for a bit, but then three hours later, i was wide awake and hurting. there was no way i would ever get to sleep, and no way this stomach ache was going to go away on its own. i called an orange cab to take me to group health urgent care.

the driver asked how i was. i told him i'd been feeling shit all day. he said he was sorry to hear that. he had a bluetooth, and he talked to his wife in a language i didn't know. we stopped at an atm. i just wanted to die. i got sixty out, paid him twenty. he said that he hoped i felt better. i told him i did, too.

the nurse was this unfriendly dude. i figured i would be unfriendly, too, if i was working a shift at 4 a.m. the doctor came in, and he wasn't even wearing hospital clothes. just jeans and a baseball shirt. he was short and stocky, and he asked why i ate dairy products with the doxycycline. i told him i didn't know. because i was an idiot? i told him i was constipated, but he corrected me and said that i had bowel movements, so i wasn't constipated. i wanted to ask him what the hell this boulder in my stomach was then. he prescribed some pills, a lot of pills, and gave me instructions. he told me to never eat nachos ever again. for the rest of my life.

by the time i got home, it was well past 5 a.m., and people were already hanging out at starbucks. i went straight to bed and finally fell asleep. it was an incredible feeling, how such small pills could make a person feel normal again.
the best wednesday ever.

wednesday last week was hella good. mostly, it was because those miners got rescued. how often do you see brown people headlining cnn news when drugs, guns, and earthquakes aren't involved? it was such a weird feeling, being on the bus after work, and thinking about how there was this positive energy. somewhere in the world, 33 miners were being rescued and being reunited with family. i thought this was weird because there's always so much bad and depressing news, and no one ever really stops to think about what this does to us. it's just fucking news, you know. you read/see/hear about a bunch of deaths, bombs, oil spills, home foreclosures, kidnappings, typhoons, warnings, rapes, really sick shit, and then you go on and finish your lunch. and then, for the first time, in what seemed like for-fucking-ever, there was a bit of good news. a brief reminder from the major news networks that the world is okay to live in sometimes.

the sun was out on wednesday. my gums were healing from the teeth extractions. i walked through the park to get teriyaki on broadway. i took my time eating it. i walked back through the park to work. i got the mail, and my new marmot precip jacket, which i had purchased on sale, had arrived! i tried on my jacket at my desk, and my coworkers thought it was funny. i thought about the adventures i was going to have in my new jacket.

after work, i went to the park by my apartment. no point in wasting perfectly good sunshine. i started shooting threes, and then this cambodian dude i had seen before invited me to play 21 with his gangster buddies. i didn't win, but i enjoyed the company. we played 2 on 2. i won. we played 3 on 3. i lost. when it was over, i slapped hands with them, and i said, "it was good seeing you again." this is what people did, these were the kinds of things they said. i might be a normal human being.

i showered, and i got ready for karaoke. i had initiated karaoke with two people i had met at a party, john and meera. they were a couple. i didn't mind being the third wheel, so long as i got to do karaoke. we went out for beer, and john bought me a chocolate stout. in return, i ordered a pitcher of manny's. he didn't want to sing. meera did, but she hesitated turning in her slip. i sang "screaming infidelities" and really butchered the loud part. it didn't matter. this was the best wednesday ever, didn't they know? a black man slapped my hand, as if to say, "good job." an attractive blond followed, sang madonna's "get into the groove." meera said they had to go, but that we should come back again sometime. i stayed a bit longer, finished my beer.

afterward, i stumbled two blocks back to my apartment. fuck yeah. the best wednesday ever.

friday night, and it was hella cold out. fall done come quick, seemingly without warning. i had a ticket to a soldout wiz khalifa concert, and no one to go with. i could've scalped it for hella bills on c-list, but i really wanted to see the show. fuck it. i'll go it alone. i had diarrhea from the two soft tacos i had eaten earlier from el sombrero. not a good start to the night.

who the fuck was wiz khalifa? that's what y'all'd like to know. he's this twenty-two year old rapper from pittsburgh, and he's got cred from the teenyboppers to the indie nerds all the way up to the old o.g. fools. i don't know how much of that is exactly true, but from what i saw, that was about the looks of it.

how'd i stumble upon his shit? i remember it like it was yesterday. back from manila in january, i was mad depressed because my cousins didn't come along, and i didn't get a single titty in my face the whole three weeks i was there. no way i was gonna listen to that depressing indie rock shit anymore. i turned to bad rap. i loved the confidence, the ridiculous claims of wealth, weed and bitches. only problem was, most decent rappers (wale, cudi, curren$y) don't ever take it far enough. and when they do, it's but for a quick second. then they get back to having something real to say.

enter wiz.

the line for the show was as funny as some of his songs. as soon as i stepped in it, these two kids in front of me got busted by security. security, in the form of a big white dude with a black hoodie, pulled their mcdonald's cups. "is there alcohol in these?" the kids nodded. the security guard emptied the cups and tossed them into the bushes. he pulled them out of the line. "you guys can't go to the concert tonight, but i'm gonna give you a chance to get your money back." he told them they could sell their tickets, but there was no way they were gonna see wiz. it made me glad i wasn't underage anymore.

despite that, i still felt hella old. the line was like fucking wu-tang meets camp rock. this black dude behind me kept saying, "lot a niggaz tonight. lot a niggaz." and then there was this white girl who was on her cell phone. "can you get my water bottle? it's inside the trunk, and in my bob marley bag!" there was a douchebag with a white hoodie and sunglasses and he looked like zac efron. there were big ass black dudes eye-fucking the shit out of white girls with their tits popping out their tanktops. i didn't get these girls. it was fucking cold out. i got to thinking about teen girls cutting themselves and starving themselves, all to fit some make-believe mtv image.

and everyone was trying to get high. security yelled at the crowd, "y'all got weed? i know you do! if i catch you smoking it inside, i will take it from you, and i'll smoke it right in front of you!" every two minutes someone was talking about weed. it was, after all, the waken baken tour. kids kept talking to each other, being super paranoid. "they'll throw you out if you're underage and they smell beer on your breath!"

once inside, i got to the designated over 21 area, which was nearly empty, save that for a few asian dudes. felt like home. and damn, i needed a drink. i ordered a rum and coke, downed it, ordered another. switched to beer, and then i was buzzed enough to enjoy a rap concert surrounded by ghettofieds and jailbait. the second rapper, yellow wolf was hella whack. people, including myself, booed the shit out of him. he put his hand to his ear. "i need that shit!" he said. "they're booing him," this jailbait said to her friend. "it's because he's fucking awful!" i said. she laughed.

finally wiz got on, and it was sick. he did his donkey laugh multiple times, played songs i wanted to hear ("this kid frankie," "the thrill," "black and yellow," etc.), and i left feeling satisfied. and still kind of drunk. the way it should be at these sorts of things.
the time to be smart is now.

my poor mother, how i scolded her.

her: don't go hiking anymore. it's dangerous.
me: don't tell me what to do.
her: you'll get attacked by a bear.
me: so what? if a bear attacks me, it attacks me. what am i gonna do about it?
her: don't talk like that.
me: why? i could die right now. i could have an aneurysm or a stroke right now.
her: don't say that.
me: we all die, mom. i am going to die. you are going to die. it's a part of life.
her: don't tell me that!

i asked her to make my favorite filipino dish, kare-kare. she went to order oxtail from bob's meats across the street. she was wearing her big blue jacket and jeans. i took pictures of her as she paid for the meat. she was so short, chin level with the metal counter. i thought of her as a bear buying food.

while i was at work, she only left the apartment to go to safeway, pcc, and mcphereson's market. her old classmate, too busy preparing for a trip to the philippines, cancelled plans with her. she had no other friends in seattle. we had that in common.

"it's lonely here," she'd say. i couldn't argue with that.

"come back to sacramento. i'll give you $100 a month," she said.
"you're bribing me to move back home?"

"and another thing," i said. "stop telling me my apartment is terrible. i'm sorry i'm not living the life you set out for me. i'm never going to make a lot of money, or go to law school or business school like you want me to. i don't want those things."
"your place isn't that bad," she said.

we ordered halo-halo from red ribbon in the southcenter mall. there was no place to sit, so we had to find some couches in the middle of the main walkway.
"people are going to complain," she said.
"why? it's a food court. all malls have food courts."
"yeah, but we're close to the stores. the white people are going to complain."
"so let them complain."
i hated the sense of inferiority that lingered in her voice. it was her decision to move to this country, her decision to stay even after she retired. why stay in a place where you feel you didn't belong?

"are you going to move back to the philippines?" i asked.
"no. that's not my home. my home is here."
"but you don't even like sacramento. why don't you just sell the house already?"
"now's not a good time to sell."
"it's never a good time to sell."
"if you move to the philippines," she said, "then pops and i probably would go, too."

"the filipina girl down the hall, she's dating a black guy?"
"that's sad."
"you're so racist."
"too bad she's not dating you instead."

"you should call selly's daughter. she lives in ballard."
"why? why would i want to do that?"
"i just hope you don't end up like uncle tim."

she showed me what to buy at seafood city in order to make filipino dishes. it was amazing the things she picked out. i looked at the bok choy, the eggplant, and i thought, never in a million years would i think to make a meal out of those things.

i went to church with her. we had to walk, and she was short of breath.
"you're out of shape," i said.
"i'm old!"
"still, you need to exercise more."
"i know. i know."
in the homily, the priest kept repeating, "my friends, the time to be smart is now." it became our inside joke for the week.
after church, we walked back in a downpour.

after cleaning my apartment, she said, "look! i can walk barefoot and my feet aren't as dirty."

i wanted her to be healthier, to have friends, to have money and be able to travel. i wanted her to not be so afraid of life, to take risks, and stop using old age as an excuse. i wanted her to stop worrying about me, to realize that she is no longer in control, that none of us are.
feel some pressure.

mariah, the beautiful receptionist, greeted me. she knew my name without even looking at the computer. she smiled as she said my name, and she touched the back of her neck. i convinced myself that this was flirting, that she was flirting with me, and even if it wasn't true, it at least momentarily helped me forget about the awful ordeal i was about to undergo. i was finally going to get my wisdom teeth removed, and even though it was only the top two, which were already erupted, i was anxious as hell about it.

after a few minutes, she led me to one of the chairs. "do you have any questions?" she asked. yes, will you let me impregnate you at least twice? "no," i said. she told me there was a hook where i could hang my backpack. i put my belongings on the hook, and then i sat down. she handed me a consent form, one that said i ran the risk of infection, cardiac arrest, death. i signed it. minutes later, my dentist showed up. we shook hands, and he asked if i had questions. i said, no. "i'll just get you really numb," he said. we laughed at that. please don't kill me.

the injection wasn't bad at all. same as when i got my filling some months ago, i couldn't even feel the needle going in. it was only slightly sore as the needle came out. i could feel the novocaine on my lips and tongue, and within minutes, i was numb. he numbed both sides, a total of four shots. "you're going to feel a little bit of pressure," he said, and then he went to work. it's just a bit of pressure. you're going to be fine. don't panic, don't go into cardiac arrest. i could hear michael jackson's "man in the mirror" on the radio. fuck! is this is a sign? m.j. went into cardiac arrest, and then he died! "you're going to feel a lot of pressure now." his whole fist was in my mouth, and i noticed that he had kept his watch on.

good god, that's a lot of pressure. but don't worry, you're not feeling any pain. this is nothing. remember when she left you? that hurt. nothing will ever hurt you as much as that did. this ain't shit, baby. i tried to not think about what he was actually doing to me. i didn't want to look at his plastic guard, as i ran the risk of seeing the bloody carnage that was happening inside my mouth. i understood why some people wanted to be put under for a procedure like this. i anticipated a cracking sound. something was going to crack, and i didn't want to hear it. i paid attention to the radio. it was taylor swift's "love story." remember when you were in boracay and you asked that girl to dance to a remix of this song, and she said she didn't want to? god, you're a loser. you deserve this. you deserve to have all of your teeth extracted.

i exhaled deeply when the first one came out. the assistant asked, "are you okay?" "yeah," i said. he went to work on the next one. it came out easier than the first. i remember him making a circular motion with the forceps. before i knew it, i was done. all that anxiety and all those sleepless nights for nothing. the assistant packed my mouth with gauze, and my dentist said to just take it easy today, to get a lot of rest. i thanked him, and he thanked me. i was so happy to have finally found a good dentist. possibly the best dentist ever. i should write him a letter, and tell him that he's the best dentist i've ever had. and that the dentist i had as a kid scarred me for life, but now he is restoring my faith in dentistry. okay, maybe not that much. a simple thank you.

i went to pay the bill. i noticed mariah had some glitter on her face. she charged me $168. say something witty. be charming, even though you're bleeding. i didn't say anything. she told me to get plenty of rest. "and no heavy lifting!" she added. i smiled at her. love me. please. i got on my bike and rode home. i texted in sick to work. i put ice packs on my face and changed the gauze every ten minutes. i watched love, actually and ate ice cream. i bought soup from geraldine's for $8. i watched rushmore. i was glad it was over. something to do while i still had dental insurance.

a bit of pain to distract from the overall numbness.
more sex in the future.

what's that? you give blood?
nah, had to get tested for the hiv.
uhh, ok. i mean, i guess everyone should, right?
haha, no, i'm kidding. i'm applying for --, and they asked me to get tested.
what? you're leaving, too?
well, i'm just applying. nothing's official yet.
yeah, you're out of here. you're outta here.

what did i say about eating in here?
you said we're not supposed to.
so put it away.
can i just eat it right now?
no. put the chips back in the box, and put it away.
just one chip?

it's a pretty exciting time to be alive.
what do you mean?
just the technology that's available to us.
oh yeah, right.
i mean, i was in a mall in manila chatting with you on an iphone. instantaneously.
yeah, it's crazy. think about the jetsons. they probably didn't even have cordless phones.

have you been tested for hiv before?
have you had more than one sexual partner in the past year?
then you're probably at low risk.
yeah, i'm pretty sure i don't have it.
do you use condoms?
i've only had one sexual partner ever.
well, if you have more sex in the future, be sure to use condoms. and get tested.

would you like some water?
actually, could i have some tea?
and a mango smoothie.
this tea, i brought from home. we ran out of tea, so i had to bring it from home. is this okay?
it's natural to be afraid.

i had to get some baby teeth pulled in the morning. my cousin rich slept over the night before. we were just joking around, and then all of a sudden, i got serious. i told him i was afraid of seeing the dentist. he told me i didn't have to worry, that pretty soon we'd be riding around like batman and robin, and my dad's ford ltd would be the batmobile. that got me laughing again. i forgot all about being afraid, and i slept soundly that night. my dad's ford ltd the batmobile, what a riot!

i remember my dad driving us to the airport in the summer of '91. we were going to the airport to fly to manila. i didn't like flying. once, i got so airsick i had to throw up in a bag. i thought about it and thought about it. it was illogical to be afraid, since i had made the trip twice before. but then i thought, that was when i was a kid. it was different now that i was a little older. i could feel things more. my feelings and emotions had so much more gravity. i sang the church hymnal in my head: be not afraid, i go before you always. i watched planes taking off and landing, and i played that hymnal in my head.

we got on the plane, and i immediately forced myself to sleep. i wanted to sleep through the whole thing, but especially the takeoff, sleep the fear away. minutes later, my dad shook me awake. he told me that he and my mom decided to change seats. i burst into tears, and i yelled at them for waking me up. i had the whole thing planned out! i was in control! in our new seats, i couldn't stop my legs from shaking. it was the most violent shaking i had ever seen, and i couldn't get it to stop. the stewardess gave me a blanket, and my dad scratched my head. i closed my eyes for takeoff. once we were airborne, i turned to my dad, and i had the biggest smile on my face. i said to him, that was it?

my aunt used to own some dogs, lhasa apsos. they started barking at me, and they jumped on my legs. there were probably four or five of them. i just stood there in the middle of the driveway, and i bawled my eyes out.

in the philippines, one of my relatives had half a coconut on the floor. they used it to clean the floor. i saw it, and i cried.

in the seventh grade, my classmate went up on stage to play the piano for the talent show. before he went on, i wished him good luck. he said i could be up there, too, playing guitar, but i wouldn't. because you're a pussy, he said.

my mom used to have prayer groups at our house once or twice a year. there was a big statue of the santa nino, christ child, that she would put on display behind our couch. the statue was like a four foot doll, and it had a porcelain face with long, curly hair. at night, i couldn't leave my bedroom to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. i didn't want to see it in the dark.

my mom also had smaller versions of the santo nino that she put in my bedroom, as well as her own. when i was old enough, i told her i didn't want it in my room anymore. she asked me why, and did it scare me? i told her it did. i once had a dream where our house was on fire, and in the driveway, there stood the santo nino.

i slept in my parents' bedroom on a foldout couch up until the seventh grade. the thought of being able to masturbate openly and at any hour of the night trumped any fears i had about sleeping in my own bedroom.

freshman year of college, i got really high and paranoid. i wanted to go back to my dorm room. i wanted to be a good kid. out on 12th avenue, i powerwalked back to bellarmine. my two buddies made fun of me for walking so fast. he thinks if he walks faster, he'll get more sleep! she called out in the dark.

it gives me the creeps to go inside the rosemont house by myself. my grandpa died there.

my girlfriend wanted to ride all the rides at disneyland. i had never ridden anything before. she kept pushing me and pushing me. frustrated, i called her a bitch. her eyes bulged, and then she went and rode california screamin' by herself. when she found me, i was crying on a park bench. i was twenty-one years old, still afraid of life.

after hurricane katrina, i didn't want to go to new orleans. i'd wake up in the middle of the night and picture myself alone on an airplane. i didn't want to be alone on an airplane. i wanted to just be in bed with my girlfriend.

the first time i got prostatitis, i thought it was all over. i was sitting on a bench in cal anderson park, waiting for my doctor's appointment. i sat there on the bench, and it was a sunny day. what if this is it, i thought. what if i am going to die? i thought about sean reid, a college classmate who died of cancer shortly before graduation. i thought about my instant messenger friend, gabby, who told me once that she couldn't believe one day we'd all be dead. and the saddest thing about death, she said, was that she wouldn't be able to look through her kitchen window ever again.

after i watched the exoricst, i couldn't sleep. i was eighteen then. after i watched the shining on the big screen, i couldn't sleep. i was twenty.

one easter, i watched a bible movie with my dad. i kept thinking about lazarus coming back from the dead, and i couldn't sleep.

last year, i asked this girl out for drinks. i couldn't even do it in person. i did it over instant message. my heart was racing as i typed it. we finally went out for drinks, and i didn't know what to say. i was twenty-six years old, and i hadn't ever really dated. she asked me what i had been up to lately, and i told her that i had been barbecuing with friends. was i really so boring? when i came back from the restroom, she casually slipped in an anecdote about some guy she was already seeing. i played it off like, oh, whatever, and then i insisted on paying for our beers.

you never made a move, my ex said. i had to make the first move, she said.

i asked my coworker if she had any manly-looking umbrellas behind her desk. as if there's anything remotely manly about you, she responded.

sometimes i wake up alone in my apartment, usually in the middle of the night, and i am terrified. and for no reason. no reason whatsoever.
can you be perfect?

as i walked home from work today, a bunch of peewee football players were running up and down the hill. it made me glad that my elementary school never had any hills. i thought about how the coach would use anything to challenge us, physically exhaust us. and as a kid, i never saw the point. i looked at the faces of the peewee footballers, and they looked red, sweaty, miserable. i wonder if they thought what i thought when i played soccer and basketball and had to go to practice: what is the point?

i didn't see the point then. soccer practice was intense. mr. martin was our coach, and he was a big mexican man with a super mario mustache. he was large and had a big gut, wore glasses and a whistle around his neck. and he made us run laps like i've never run before in my life. there was one exercise in particular that all of us boys dreaded. we would all jog around the soccer field, and each time he blew the whistle, the boy at the front would have to sprint all the way around the field to catch up with the jogging group. and he wouldn't let us stop until each boy had gone around at least, if i remember correctly, twice. on one our two occasions, he was so pissed at us that we ended up doing it for the entire practice.

and then game day would be on saturday morning. i remember being so happy on the few mornings when it rained and the game would get called off. that meant i could just sleep in or maybe watch cartoons. but most of the time, it didn't rain, and my dad would drive us off to some random part of the city, and i would stand on a field in my jersey, cleats, and shin guards for two hours or so. playing a sport i didn't really care for with boys i didn't even really like. the experience didn't instill any sense of being on a team, or build leadership skills, or teach me that hard work paid off, practice makes perfect, and all that shit. all that i really learned from soccer was being disappointed when we lost, and not really feeling like i had contributed anything if we had won. i did, however, learn to hate the other team, to be disgusted with boys i didn't even know.

a few months ago, i got to talking with my parents, and i asked them why they enrolled me in soccer. "i thought you liked it," they said. i told them that i didn't. but i think that, on some level, i must have. i did like running (just not to the point of vomiting) and kicking a soccer ball and bouncing it off my knee. i liked getting new cleats from big 5 each year, and wearing shin guards made me feel like an indestructible robot. i liked getting orange slices and capri suns after a game, and seeing all the hot soccer moms and sisters of teammates. i liked it when it was all over, and coach would say he was proud of us, and you could tell by the look in his eyes that he really, really meant it, and then we'd get an ice cream party and trophies.

it wasn't until i saw friday night lights (both the movie and tv show) that i understood why we play sports, and why they matter. in the movie, coach is always talking about being perfect, and at the end of the movie, he explains that being perfect isn't necessarily about winning. but it's about doing all that you could have done. i think about that final scene a lot, the one that takes place in the locker room where he finally reveals this concept of being perfect. i think that it translates to so many other things in life.

there was this poem that my english professor shared with us once. it wasn't a very good poem, but it pretty much drove home the same point. in the poem, he kept repeating the line: "let it be enough." it was directed to all the perfectionist writing center consultants. the repeated line basically reminded us that there's only so much we can do. there shouldn't be any sense of failure or disappointment if you gave it all you've got.
never eat dairy queen in life.

i said that i wanted to hike up granite mountain. gen was a hiker, so she said okay, let's do it. but that wasn't good enough for me. see, i've lived in this city long enough to know that if you don't actually name a date and time, it ain't gonna happen. like how i was supposed to go fishing with my other coworker over a year ago. gen suggested a sunday. i said that was fine. so, we had plans to hike up granite mountain, and that was that.

the day before the big hike, i ate horribly. i had a taco salad from a food court, and then an oreo/m&m blizzard from dairy queen for dessert. it wasn't my usual diet, but i was in the suburbs, and i thought, what the hell, when will i be in the suburbs again? afterward, i spent most of the night in the bathroom. i couldn't believe what i had done to myself before venturing on an eight mile roundtrip hike. when the alarm clock rang for 8 a.m. on sunday, i kicked myself for what i had gotten myself into. but i couldn't flake on her. she was all set to go! suck it up, i told myself. for once in your life, be a goddamn man.

gen drove us out there, and it was a bit cloudy. we talked about our families and podcasts and work. there were no awkward pauses or anything. we got along fine. we got to the trailhead, and started our sunday morning adventure. she kept a brisk pace, and i was having a hard time catching up. she didn't even sound like she was out of breath. gen just kept talking about work and other stuff, and i was trying for dear life to keep up with her. i thought about the oreo/m&m blizzard. i could see it in my mind. all those sugars and chemicals slowing me down, making me feel faint. i felt bad, but i had to speak up. i asked if we could stop for a bit.

she didn't seem the least bit annoyed. she just sat there while i unzipped my backpack and ate an orange. i thought of the scene in 28 days later when the two characters are heading up the stairs and the main guy can't keep up. he has to sit down and drink a pepsi. that was me. i was crashing. if zombies were after us, i'd be eaten alive. i confessed the shit food i ate the day before, and she laughed at me. she said i should never eat dairy queen in life. she said that sometimes you just need a partner to tell you to keep going. i thought then about how it would've been nice to have had an older sibling, someone like her, to tell me to suck it up every now and then.

once i had regained my senses and was good to go, she said that it might be best if i led the way. which i did, at a snail's pace. going up granite, i kept finding other reasons to stop. i wanted to look at the view, i lied. i wanted to take a picture. there was a pebble in my shoe and it was making the walk uncomfortable. at some point, she told me that maybe we would see a bear. i said that i would like to see a bear, but i wasn't sure why. i just wanted to see something, anything. there's so much i haven't seen in real life.

we got up to the clouds, and a huge meadow opened up. everything was red and green and fog. she pointed out blackberries, and told me that's what the bears eat. i wanted to ask if we could eat them, too, but i didn't want to sound too ignorant. she regained the lead, but i must have gotten my second wind from the orange because i was keeping up. the cool mist on me helped, too, and i knew that i could summit the mountain, no problem.

all of a sudden, she became quiet, and she stopped so suddenly in the middle of the trail that i almost bumped into her. i turned to my right, and about twenty or thirty yards away, there was a giant black bear looking right at us. the bear looked to her right, and there were two small cubs eating berries. the bear looked at us again, and this time, she got up on her hind legs. gen said that we should probably turn around. i did as i was told. i calmly turned, remembering that any sudden movements might freak the bear out. my natural instinct was to run away, run the fuck away, fast and far, but somehow i knew the bear would just leave us alone.

we walked far enough back down the trail, and we bumped into two young women. gen told them about the bear sighting, and they decided to turn around. gen reasoned that it would probably be okay, that they would most likely retreat at the sound of our voices, but the fact that the bear got on her hind legs really threw her off. the four of us agreed that it would probably be okay, so we continued up the trail. we saw the cubs again in the distance, and we decided that it would probably be a better idea to just turn around. this was their home, after all, and we were intruding.

on the hike back down the mountain, gen told me that i was pretty calm for what had just happened. i told her that i didn't have time to really process the encounter. but what i really thought was: if the bear killed us, then it killed us. what else could we have done?
i can just feel it.

i couldn't sleep the night before my interview. it wasn't even that i was nervous about it. it was just something different. my life lately has been strict, mundane routine, so the slightest change upsets the system. i dreamed of some guy who was dead, and when they found him, he was in a relaxed and comfortable position in his desk chair, hands behind his head. i took it as a sign. that's gonna be you, keep going on the way you do, sitting at your desk, making money and turning stupid. i kept waking up through the night. time to get up yet? no, not yet. time to get up yet? almost.

finally i got up, showered, ate my oatmeal. why didn't i shit before i left? i had plenty of time to take a decent shit! now what if i have to go? nothing worse than being on the light rail or bus and having to go. only one time was it so bad that i actually had to get off at a different stop and scramble for a public bathroom. and luckily, at the time, i was only heading home, so no big problem. but it could come at any time! best not to think about it. i felt like a dope, dressed head to toe in j. crew with my new north face backpack. look at this nerdy yuppie, they'd say. he's certainly not fit for the program.

i got off the light rail at westlake center, used my handy dandy iphone to locate the office. i think i had been there before. same office as the oral surgeon i pussied out on going through with last year. i asked the front desk dude where the office was. "sixth floor," he said. i went up to the sixth floor, and the door was still locked. a small woman let me in. i apologized for being early. i heard you're not supposed to do that in interviews. i took a seat. soon, another woman came in and they hugged each other. "after you've been in the program," she said, "that's what happens! you start hugging everyone in this office!" i laughed. they were an odd bunch, but what the hell. i could use a hug.

the recruiter had a streak of purple in her hair. she told me i'd have to get fingerprinted. she told me she loved speaking with me on the phone, and she said i would be a perfect fit for the program, she could "feel" it. and then she fingerprinted me, but before she did so, she looked at me, and she told me she loved me. she was an old woman, old enough to be my grandma, and she was such a hippie that i almost felt compelled to tell her that i loved her, too. almost. she kept screwing up the fingerprints, and i liked to believe that it was so that she could keep holding onto my hands for as long as she could. that's probably not true. but then again, she told me she loved me within five minutes of meeting me.

she said that she was upset that she would not be the one interviewing me, but that i should feel completely comfortable in the interview. and then she disappeared, and i waited some more. i sat down next to a very pretty girl, who was probably right out of college, and i said, "hello." she said "hello" back, and i thought that this was a very good start to the program. i asked if she was interviewing, and she said yes. and then she asked me if i was interviewing, and i said yes. and then i got called in for my interview.

they asked me exactly twenty questions. why do i want to join? when have i been a leader? what challenges do i think i'll face? i faltered a bit in the beginning. and then somehow, i picked up the pace. something clicked in me, and that something said, dude, who gives a shit? i didn't practice for the interview at all. people told me beforehand that i should do a mock interview, or at least outline what i was going to say, but i said fuck it. i've had enough practice with interviews as it is. all in all, i think it went very well.

i left the building feeling confident. here i am, i thought. i may not matter all that much, but i'm gonna give it all i've got.
they'll only miss you when you leave.

she said that when i go into my interview, don't make it sound like i am trying to escape something. well, that kind of stung because of course i am trying to escape something. let me tell you about the things i am trying to escape.

there's my couch. the stitching has come undone in several places. it seemed like a good enough couch even though i felt coerced into buying it. see, my friends, they said, well, you have an apartment now, dum-dum, why don't you furnish it? and on top of their lists was a couch. they said, if you get a couch, then you can have friends over! and then those friends moved away. and the only person who sits on the $380 couch that i purchased brand new, and which has more or less fallen apart in just a year and a half, is me.

there's my television. i wasted most of spring and part of summer watching a stupid television show called lost. the show was okay and it had its moments, but when the island moved, and then when there was time travel...well, i just don't know how some people can say that it's one of the best shows ever. that's just silly talk. and anyway, watching the show by myself just reminded me that i don't know what i'm doing on this earth, but it doesn't really matter that much because i'm just going to die. six feet under had the same effect, but it was a much better show.

there's my iphone. technically, i'm still under contract for a full year and four months. sometimes, i feel like i am just working to pay for rent, groceries, and my iphone bill. and when i think of things that way, i think that the system is very stupid. essentially, i am working to give my landlord, pcc groceries, and steve jobs my money. and as a reward, i can have a few beers here and there, watch a movie, buy something i don't have to make payments on, like a t-shirt or backpack. i don't even like talking on the phone. i don't know why i have one.

there's the internet. sure, the internet is great for blogging and looking at boobs. but i'm trying to escape it, too. social networking sites just remind me that my life is boring. why do i have 370 friends on facebook? i don't even know these people. but i still read their status updates - everyone from some random elementary school classmate to some chick i talked to once in manila - and i don't know why i read them. not since sixth grade history have i read so much about something i have so little interest in.

there's the solitude. a friend of my dad's who also lives in seattle told my dad that one needs an upbeat personality to make it in this city. let's face it. upbeat personality? just look at the title of my blog. but the dude is right. living alone anywhere can be depressing, but especially in seattle. add to the fact that it's actually a fifteen, twenty minute ride south of seattle, and it's even more isolated. in the last three days i haven't spoken to a single person.

there's the job. granted, i've hated every job i've ever had, and i've looked forward to every last day with the exception of the writing center. but here's where it gets tricky. the job i have now is certainly not the worst. i could take off a whole month if i wanted to, and i've done it. there's always food lying around at the office, and it's always mine for the taking. i have a retirement account, and the school just keeps throwing money in it every month for no reason! and even though i don't know how to talk to any of them, there are hot girls all over campus all the time. the people i work with don't annoy me, and they don't expect much from me, either. all in all, it is the least stressful thing i've ever done. i also have full health and dental coverage, and i'm confident that they would never lay me off. ever.

but still, there's the job. there's looking at the computer all day long, browsing the same boring sites. there's my job title, program assistant, that screams unskilled entry-level no chance for moving upward ever. there are long-winded meetings about mission statements and communications and strategic planning. there's answering emails and submitting reimbursement forms. there's sitting in an office chair all day long, wondering about ergonomics and heart disease. there's awkward monthly birthday parties and being reminded that i'm one of the few men on staff, one of the few asians. and always there's wondering, can't i do better than this? wasn't i destined for something greater than this?

and though it's scary, i can't tell you how satisfying it is to say, fuck it. even if things don't work out, if things somehow get worse than they already are, at the very least, you'll no longer be in a state of wondering.
angel hair and baby's breath.

i went to the seattle art museum. the whole time i've lived here, i might've gone only about four or fives times. as a freshman at s.u., i once had to go for an art history class. i didn't get art history. who the hell cared about tribal clothing, goblets and paintings of fat and pasty white naked women? i had to write five to seven pages about some fucking tablet, and i didn't know what to say about it. i pulled something together, though, and it was good enough to get me a c or a b.

so yesterday i went, for the first time, by myself, as an adult. the other times i've gone it was because someone else wanted to go, and i had nothing better to do. i walked around, skipped all the african tribal stuff, and went straight for the special exhibitions, which focused on kurt cobain and andy warhol. i looked at a picture of kurt cobain, and i figured that music was about as close as i could ever get to appreciating or understanding art. there he was, in that iconic pose, lying down on a trashed drum set, and he was looking at the camera with a look that said, why the fuck am i still alive? i thought back to the times i played guitar with my cousin and all i wanted to do was smash the guitar, break it over my knee, and whirl it around over my head because i sucked, because the world didn't care about me, and because i would never be able to make real music. and i guess that this expression, this need to say something important without actually saying it, that was where art came from.

i didn't get warhol. the whole four prints thing sewn together and then all those black and white videos of just people's faces. i didn't get it at all. who the hell cared about cool white people who lived in new york a long time ago? all i could think of when i read about warhol's factory is the group of kids at every college who are all fucking each other and smoking cigarettes and listening to bands you've never heard of.

then i saw some photographs by amy blakemore, and i liked them. i think i just liked that she got an mfa in photography in the late eighties. that appealed to me for some reason, and i couldn't explain it. i saw this one photograph, and it was just a big open space and there was a woman pushing somebody in a wheelchair, and i thought that was great. then i read that amy had earned a travel grant from some school to go to europe to take more pictures in the early 90's, and i liked reading that. i can only imagine how happy she must have been then, to receive that grant to go do something she loved. and then there was a picture just titled "dad," and i read about how it was the last picture she took of her dad, him on his deathbed. it was real dark and all you could see were his hands, and there were these venetian blinds that looked like the ones in the bedroom i grew up in. i thought it was the saddest fucking picture i had ever seen.

i got out of there, and i received a text from an old friend. fuck off, was all it said.