I’m a kamikaze of vanilla kerosenesuspended between the mezzanine
of lunacy and lucidity,
tripping on the cord between now and infinity.
⬤ ⬤ ⬤
I’m tired of reaping the wheat. I’m tired of milking the cows. This farm is getting old. But I don’t want the city, either, because I’m tired of pressing the buttons. I’m tired of obeying the beeps. I am tired of bowing to cameras and chasing the code-wrapped carrots in front of me. I want to break free and escape the factory, to shun all things labyrinthian, to rip off my nametag and jump over the cubicle walls like an Olympian. Isn’t it time I grab the crown and take back the throne, to feel the wonder of life again?
Why can’t I just buy a creeper van, shine its dull edges, furnish it with gaudy pillows, and roam the land like a nomadic hippie, sporting a tantalizingly tan glow and wearing clothes that are more like misplaced thongs than clothes? A thong over my chest. A thong over my breast. A thong over my bum and there we go, I’m done! I’m an Avatar now; look at my blue freckles and freak out.
I’ll be a statuesque athlete adorned in the ripples of gossamer musculature, emitting warmer vibes than a supermodel baking cookies in the womb of an active volcano. I’ll travel the world and wander its districts, shadows and secrets with my trusty cocoa patina and my elastic integumentary system, a bipedal megamind set out to binge on the liquor of light, the aquatic wine, the addictive serum of sand on the beaches of the universe, whether they be immersed in the tangibility of Earth or they be snowed in the syrup of stars, blinged up by the cherry blood of the booming sun.
I’ll spend my life overdosing on raw ambrosia (mangos and mangos, and that means more mangos), beach-bumming to the max with a such a juicy sense of self-confidence it’s thicker than the thickest wax, living my little tropical life without a single tax.
My future pet lizard, whose name shall be Eliza, will be my micro-captain of the gypsy ship as we sail the shores of the USA, collecting memories and finding friends and changing the world along the way. I’ll make my money by selling sunshine and auctioning off silver-lined clouds – in other words, I’ll sell medical marijuana, and it’ll grow like – heh, wait for it – weeds in the front passenger seat, and I’ll make sure never to be too obvious about my business when passing through illegal states. Which means we’ll just have to put on a pat of bloodless rouge, the color of bland pudding, so we don’t look too emblazoned with the physical phosphorescence of health that the faithful shamans of Mary Jane emit. We need to look like the pale clones we’re trying to be, so we’re more like mute marionettes with little to no life in their cheeks, dead enough to dandy the pleasures of the police. And when we’re past their boobytrap of anti-marijuana madness, we’ll wipe the flowerless flour off our freakishly healthy faces and go back to being butt-kicking gorillas with our gorgeous growl of swank.
My dedicated substitute doggo will fancy a tight-knit captain’s cap, official as can be and her territory will be the front passenger seat, functioning as guardian of the greenies, queen of the joints.
As for me, I’ll be a travelling apothecary advocating for peace and laying down life satisfaction like butter on the benighted face of mankind. Our evenings will be spent getting sucked into the abyss of a mandarin sunset and sipping watermelon juice. Our mornings will be spent driving to the next beach and eating breakfast on the scintillating sand, then running through the water like scissors through a sheet of dancing turquoise. And our afternoons? We’ll be hopping in the healing haze of cashmere kush, lollygagging in the laze of the afternoon hush. And during the nights, we’ll be sung to sleep by the howl of owls and the electric milk of moonlight, young enough to feel the fire brewing in our lungs but old enough to use it like the dragons do.
You’re carrying a huge load of books like an Ecuadorian farmer carries freshly baked bricks. Stumbling over a couple gum wrappers on the carpet that make a defensive crinkling sound beneath your naive sneakers, you are proud, you are famished, and you are ready to nosedive into the flowery petals of your fictional picks and their plush, inventive layers–but here comes the librarian, the one with the beak for a nose, the squawk for a voice, and the temper of an infernal ruffian with a rifle in hand. The gum wrappers release one last crackle, like a bowl of Rice Krispies giving off their dying cry. The Krispie Kingdom has surrendered their last soldier to the war against the Soy Milk Kingdom, and everyone is sopping wet.
It’s getting hot, she’s marching closer to you, and her 1940’s housewife shoes are spanking the floor with such maternal wrath she could manifest tiny baby trolls beneath the soles if she wanted, the motherly fire is that fertile.
She aims her gaze at you, a rhinoceros preparing to plunge its horn into a sky-high whipped crème wedding cake right in front of the weeping bride. But she stops for a second, and looks around; the steam in her nostrils fades out like a pothead’s final puff from a lusciously rolled joint, exhaling an air of defiance and dubstep. She is high. High with the desire to destroy and ready to blow.
She is the juvenile orca sending out one salient and saltwater-seasoned blow to sound her alarm of womanhood, preparing to graduate from wee sea whippersnapper into chasm-wrestling killer whale. She’s eaten enough sardines to poop out an aquarium of marine life and sustain Long John Silver’s for a full decade. And she’s gliding on wings of untamed grace to gulp you down the hatch, along with a sip of totalitarian tartar sauce.
As she prepares to confront you yet again on your tendency to make a ruckus–whether it’s a squeaky shoe or an untimely belch unleashed in the children’s reading section (Taco Bell makes us all do things we’d rather not, okay?)–her eyebrows are smooth, like they’d been smothered in an angelic smearing of mayonnaise, her soul as placid as a cup of tea with a touch of tranquilizer. In Step One to Step Two she has gone from warrior princess to reserved aristocrat. Her demeanor is like a well-bred royal before her downfall into full-blown brathood, shockingly pleasant and down-to-Earth, as chill as the cucumber that cloaks a spa-goer’s eyes and as swift as the wax strip that coats his pubic hair and then suddenly uncoats it, with a scream.
Everyone screams, because a guy in the library just ripped a wax strip off his groin and screamed, and that’s weird. In the distance you see a flock of befuddled security guards slowly guiding a completely bald man out of the building. Just about now, you wish you were Sonic the Hedgehog just so you could hightail it out of there in a few featherlight bounds.
“Hey there,” she says nervously, rubbing her hands on her pleated skirt. She looks like she hasn’t gotten sleep since the Titanic sunk and her blouses went out of style.
“I have been harassing you for eons, and I want to apologize. You and Waxed Man with the Waxed Groin look way too similar, and this entire time I thought you were him. He’s been plucking his eyebrows for two months, and before that he was working on ‘sculpting his mustache’ which he ended up sculpting into baldness. I could see that he was troubled, but I didn’t want to kick him out because hair removal is just so quiet and it doesn’t hurt anyone, and just yesterday he finished the job, because he’s incredibly swift with his plucking. I remembered that the ancient Egyptians invented that sort of hair removal, and for a while I respected him, but today it’s just been hell.”
“He tried to set up a turtle exhibit with a miniature snapping turtle in the men’s sinks earlier, fit with a little paper umbrella and a tiny wave-pool! Luckily someone kicked him out after he took the turtle and started talking to people with it from under the stall walls, like a ventriloquist or something.”
She gasps for air and continues, spurring on a spectacular performance of panicked vernacular.
“But even after the turtle fiasco, he disguised himself as a bearded dude just so he could rip off his pantaloons and wax his nether regions in the Hunger Games section, saying ‘I volunteer as tribute!’ as he went. To say I’m disturbed is an underwear. I mean an understatement. He’s very very bald now, and Tiny Tim the Turtle is safe in the library’s hands. I’m sorry. I just… it’s been a heck of a day. Not to mention he’s my ex.”
Bald Turtle Man–you can just imagine him now in a Marvel comic, blasting away villains with one small quip of his turtle’s tongue and one small whip of his turtle’s tail. He is bald, shiny like a chicken nugget covered in oil, shining like the sun’s morning light, and his turtles are ready to tumble. Bright red expletives skitter across the comic, paired with POWs and BANGs and plenty of villainous ouches. Then Wonder Woman enters the scene with crappy turtle food in hand, the crusty kind that smells like kale chips. Bald Turtle Man gasps, “No! My turtles!” In little French accents, the turtles cry, “Not crappy turtle food!” It’s their kryptonite.
The librarian: “Are you listening to me? That man is my ex. I’m afraid.” She twirls her ringlets of hair and licks her thumb, which appears to have hot sauce on it. What does she want? You’re merely an Ecuadorian farmer with your bounty of freshly baked bricks.
“Oh, wow! Uh… nope. Not even close. I’m not him. I just come here to read. Why didn’t you guys get the police involved or something?”
“Well, that’s a good point. We didn’t think of it until today. But my point is, I’ve been a bad librarian, the one you probably see in nightmares, who’s best friends with the evil nun? Ugh, I’ve been that kind of librarian. I’m sorry. We’re going to get a restraining order against the pube-less man and pretty soon it will be sweet as peach pie around here. I hardly even recognize Sven anymore.”
“Yeah, he’s Scandinavian, straight from the snowiest forest of Sweden, where the people bake bread from scratch and sing around stone fireplaces. It’s really beautiful, actually. He grew up eating sardines for breakfast and going to the sauna for fun. We actually met at a sauna convention in New Mexico, ‘Sweat for Peace.’ Whoever sweated the most–we measured it in liters–got a prize of vegan pizza for a year. Sven was in such good athletic shape, he won the prize, but after a full year of vegan pizza he hasn’t been the same since.”
You: “Wow. What kind of pizza was it?”
Librarian: “I don’t know, some kind of dough infused with hibiscus or something, but after he started acting weird, which led to our breakup, I did a little research and apparently there’s an incredibly similar variety of the hibiscus flower that’s not actually hibiscus?” She itches her head. “And, well, apparently it’s super identical to the real plant and it can do anything from change your sex to give you superhuman…”
At that moment, a nearby bookcase creaks with a strange intonation, like a baby bird asking a question or Tinkerbell coughing. The librarian sighs.
“Not again,” she says. The bookcase gives off a throaty guffaw.
A haunted bookcase and a wild man with trichotillomania setting up turtle zoos in the library has been enough for you today, so you just laugh and say, “Yeah, I think the heat just turned on,” because heat makes wood expand, correct? You’re smart. You went to kindergarten and learned the colors, ate the cookies like a civilized creature and napped with purpose. She goes on about how Twin Hibiscus can make your urine neon black–what would neon black even look like? And then how it can change your age in two directions: Either forward, and you live forever; or backward, and you age like Benjamin Button.
You scout the room for available portals to escape. The bathroom? The historical artifact section? The kid’s zone where you’ve been banned because of a single burp? Obviously the front exit. Yes, that’s it. You break out into a sprint and hear the librarian’s small but scared-sh!tless voice rising into a desperate cry behind you as, as–as what? The bookcase cracks and the books come rolling out, devouring the librarian just as she was about to get to the part where the hibiscus could possibly vaporize the fat cells in your butt, leaving you with a medical disease called Pancake-A$$-itis.
All the teenybopper books any teenybopper could ever dream to read attack the librarian like a pack of horny hyena, their gaudy pink covers enclosing upon her, wings spread, words blaring, their messages honing in for the horny kill–Sarah Dessen smacks her with dehydrated flowers, Suzanne Collins spits arrowheads, John Green pours a gallon of painful reality over her shivering body–Margot was just a girl, he says. MARGOT WAS JUST A GIRL.
You stand before the exit in shock. To evade the responsibility of humane behavior and be a faithless loser the rest of your days, or be the hero? Be a loser or be the hero? Be a loser or be the hero… Just then, you hear another snap from the bookcase–it isn’t done cracking.
A horde of turtles comes spewing out of the bookcase avalanche-style and covers the librarian in water, green embryonic goo, and a throng of tiny mutant turtles, but without the ninja part. Just a litter of baby turtles going wah wah wah and the librarian suffocating under their slimy weight. You can’t leave her like that, she’s just a Jane Austen fan and it isn’t her fault she smells like cornbread and chick flicks, she doesn’t deserve to die like this.
You grab the nearest encyclopedia and run over to the moaning morass of baby turtles, cute in their own radioactive way, and begin to dig through the genetically engineered mountain with the encyclopedia as a shovel. There she is, a hand sticking out of a sea green pile. But there he is–a bald Ken doll of a man with some sort of machine in his hand? You thought the police took care of him. This time he’s in full Scandinavian war armor, steaming with fury and stroking a fake mustache as though he were a colonel in a serious civil war preparing to take on a bigger army than he (which, if you substitute the turtles for the army, makes sense).
He storms over to the pile. “Gosh darnit. I thought my collection would hold. Here, let me clean this mess up.” He takes his trusty whatchamacallit and zaps the turtles with a purple laser, and they all turn into those tiny foam toys that expand in water. The librarian, instantly freed from her goopy imprisonment, gasps for air, covered in Styrofoam turtles. Bald Ken Doll smiles. “Hello, my love. We meet at last.”
You: “Why on Earth do you have a turtle collection behind this bookcase?”
Librarian: “Why on Earth do you have a turtle collection behind this bookcase?”
Bald Ken Doll: “To fight off the bigger monsters inside of it.”
Just then, a Tyrannosaurus Rex bursts forth from the back of the bookcase where it would appear as though an entire ecosystem were living in a zoned-off prehistoric biosphere behind the very words of first-world John Green himself. John Hammond would be humored. But behold, the beast is far from wearied, it is roaring for war–a titanic gecko of the most ungodly proportion, clad in black scales and frothing at the mouth, his fangs dripping with the blood of unfried Chick-fil-A chicken (the most preposterous offense toward chickenkind). As the beast is prancing toward you like Godzilla on Bambi feet, you think: Why did I eat pizza late last night? It was already after eight… It was that delicious thin crust with the crispy spinach and the savory alfredo, and it tasted like Italy with a dash of opium and starlight.
Suddenly the T-Rex is wearing a what? A pair of red undies, doing an earth-shattering session of jumping jacks. He announces in Richard Simmons’ voice, with a slight serpentine lisp, “The turtles are gone! The pizza is gone! And the portly geeks are about to be put to the test. It’s time to do sit-ups and straighten-ups, kiddo, not sit-downs and veg-outs. Put the novels down, do your jumping jacks, and everything will be fine. EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE!” He has a gun clutched between his tiny fingers, a metal toy of a thing that shoots out plastic bullets shaped like dinosaur eggs. A few of them hit you, and you shriek in mortal despair–this is it, this is it–before realizing they were just little strawberry-scented beads harmlessly tickling your arms in soft violence. Once in 8th grade, you were stabbed in the atrophied lovehandle with a spinach-covered toothpick–now you’re in the library getting pelted by fruity torpedoes. If the food weaponry doesn’t stop, you might have to go on a diet.
The dinosaur, moving his little hands like Paul Blart trying to diffuse a high-intensity mall situation–think: panicked dodo bird trying to land a plane–you take the swashbuckler’s route and dive directly between his legs toward the exit. Bursting the glass doors open, smelling like turtles and pure terror, you have your books safely in hand, snug in your elbows like a young brood of papier-mâché piglets, husky with the nostalgic stench of knowledge. The sun greets you with a soft beam of welcoming light, a prelude to better days. You sigh with relief, your lungs hissing out turtle dust and your soul exuding excess social awkwardness like Sven sweating in the saunas. It feels like teenage spirit squirming out of your pores. Your blood pressure plummets into a low-throbbing lull, your red blood cells lounging in the soft velvet of your veins like a gang of 1920’s jazz singers.
But wait, what’s that? You didn’t check your books out and they tripped the library security alarms! The authorities are after you, you and your books. The T-Rex flails his little gun around like a ballerina gone rogue, twirling the baton of danger with glee.
“Come on, kiddos! Put the education squares on the ground and no one gets hurt.” And then he comes at the glass doors full force, his rubbery knees slamming them into a million shards, glass spraying out like a fountain of crystals across the sidewalk and street.
Bystanders shriek like threatened groundhogs, snorting with fear and attempting to scurry into safety by hopping into their cars and locking the doors. Did they learn nothing from John Hammond’s grandchildren in the Jeep?
A woman and her tiny chihuahua, nestled in a dog purse like some form of exotic cabbage, fall to the ground as though they’d been planning this for years, doing the army crawl into Aeropostale whereupon entering she became instantly absorbed by a nearby pair of jeans.
“My baby!” another woman yells. “My leg!” a man exclaims, even though nothing happened to either of them.
The T-Rex is trampling everything in sight until suddenly, he just stops. He looks like a confused mannequin that’s just been brought to life and stepped outside of the museum exhibit for the first time, realizing that its whole inanimate existence has been a simulation. “Look at his neck!” someone cries, hiding their head rather poorly behind a parking meter.
What the what?
Out of his throat and beyond his fangs comes a torrent of spinach pizza, splattering the cosmic gift of crispy thin crust across the street, soaking your books in alfredo sauce, drowning your tastebuds in pleasure. You kneel down to pick up a slice, and–
Just then, your alarm goes off. You’re covered in sweat and remember your library books are ten days overdue.
You’ve been sitting on the porch, waiting for the guys to come back with more beers, for approximately way too long now. Mosquitoes feast on your soft first-world flesh like airborne piranhas, the sun is dipping below the horizon, and even though your backyard is the perfect human enclosure, with a snow-white picket fence stretching around every inch of your personal property, something’s just not right. You don’t know why, but there’s an eerie quietude to the inner chambers of your house, as though everyone–Cousin Ricky, Matt from work, and your dad himself–had just left. You’ve either been visited by the rudest barbecue guests to ever grace the scene of a summer evening’s cookout or you’re dealing with an emergency. But those hot dogs were a little iffy–it’s not every day you pull out ancient frozen relics from the arctic levels of the freezer and eat them without a care. Perhaps they’d all been gripped by a sudden wave of diarrhea?
The girls are still inside, sewing that penguin Pinterest project together and sipping peppermint tea so of course they’d be quiet. Through the window, you can see your craft-obsessed progeny, laughing and having a good time, looking like a Jo-Ann’s summer ad. All is well in suburbia. No spooky stuff around these parts, no sir, Sheriff.
But it’s like a mirage… the movements are normal but the moments and music are not. The theater is stilted, slanted, spliced. Somehow this feels a little too much like “Groundhog Day,” a little too much like the deja vu moment in “The Matrix” where the black cat walks by twice and the entire universe hiccups mid-spin. Are you an experiment? Do you have biological parents, or were you formed in a petri dish as a pioneer experiment in genetic modification? Is Bill Gates my father? The Microsoft theme song blasts through your mind. Was that my nursery rhyme?
You think about your life. Have you ever pinched yourself in a dream? If you never pinch yourself, you never know it’s not real–so does that mean every moment you’re not pinching yourself, you’re not real? That’s where the ascetics get their spunk for self-harm, you think. They’re always trying to stay ahead of the simulation. So you slap yourself. Nope. Not going down that lane. It’s definitely real and now there’s a welt. You underestimated your strength, and suddenly you feel a bit more powerful. But what kind of power does a man have if he can’t even wrangle his own reality into law and order? If he can’t even choose the ratings of his own reality T.V. show? You think, I’d prefer to keep it PG in my episodes. But life thinks, let’s make this a trash buffet for the paparazzi. Let’s make it a ragingly kid-unfriendly R and add some cannibalistic pirates, string cheese, and a volcanic eruption. And that’s when you quit your acting job and bid farewell to the gemstone-gilded gates of Hollywood and their haunted halls of fame.
But today, even when life is more censored and sterilized than ever, there seems to be something janky brooding beneath the jejune veneer. It’s something pickled and hidden, something that smells like teriyaki and terror, something that incites the salivary glands at the back of your throat like the threat of a fistful of oversalted kimchi. Even the dog doesn’t seem to be making his usual I’m-an-ungrateful-sputnik squawks, constantly begging for more Pupperoni treats as though he’d just been released from a canine concentration camp and been without bacon for a billion years. A billion years is too much for a tendon-tearing muscle-munching Jack Russell Terrier.
From a biological standpoint, you ought to be taking stool samples and examining Gremlin’s health, because it is incredibly abnormal for that annoying beast to cease his yap filibuster for any amount of time. In fact, it is rarer for him not to bark his throat to an overbaked rasp than for him to yap until the yonder beyond ends, which would be never. Buzz Lightyear would have graduated from Jedi training and overtaken the cosmos by then, finally having made the pilgrimage to infinity and beyond. So where’s the dog?
You squeak your bright tennis shoes together, the pride of your personhood. Your cargo shorts are on point. And your dad bod could never be better. So what’s the holdup? It’s beer time. Celebrate the summer days. Celebrate the summer days. It’s a summer daze. Celebrate the summer days in the summer daze… your brain sputters, the battery of your intellect running low, your genius on autopilot and all your I.Q. points curling up like tomcats in the smoky alleyways of your yawning mind. Your eyelids slump over their spheres, closing the curtains of wakefulness like a car entering the sudsy depths of a car wash, swishing and sloshing in a hypnotic lullaby. Your gears of cognition get lost in the gloaming’s fog, swallowed by sleepiness. Time for a little siesta.
Next thing you know, there’s a rustling in the bushes, the bushes you always fail to keep in line. Every American yard has one area where nature has staked out territory for her own tangled ambitions, a thicket of thorns, a riot of untamed roses, buckets that can never seem to be put away and hoses that are inevitably unwound 24/7 despite your militant yard-keeping dedication. Ugh, there’s probably a lizard over there. Well, that would be fine. Itty-bitty velociraptors, that’s what they are. They’re actually kinda cute. You sigh, gazing up at the sky into a blaze of ozone and sunbeams, a suburban Steve Irwin stunned at the ecological complexity of life, proud of the homegrown lizard exhibit brewing in his backyard. You imagine yourself in a sand-dusted safari suit glittering with a golden tan, guiding tourists into the savanna with knightly chivalry and a touch of Indiana Jones sex appeal. Once they successfully survived the field of rhinos, the lair of zebras, and the hippie commune of high as hakuna matata giraffes, you would lead them into your gecko extravaganza, lime green jungle steam billowing into their peripheral vision. You lean down and wipe their glasses clean in an awkward but beautiful anthem of humanitarian squeaks. “This is the manna of animalia. Prepare your inner ‘Jurassic Park’ freak. They call me Keeper of the Midget Monsters, High King of the Hedge Hellions, Khan of the Cosmopolitan Crocodiles.” You do a roundhouse kick. You smile with a sexy smolder. And you hand a chilled lemonade to a small child. “Stay hydrated, my friend. The savanna is a dangerous domain, with a climate as stale as salad croutons. Be whisked away with wonder and Aquafina water bottles at all times.”
The daydream blurs into a montage of all the times you’ve had chilled lemonade, and you start dreaming of ice–chunks of ice, cubes of ice, shaved ice, the ice that polar bears sit on. The ice that penguins slide on. The ice that punched the Titanic in the steely gut and drowned the opponents of the Federal Reserve. The ice that slicked the freeway that one fateful day, totaling your precious Chevy into a snowdrift. The Taco Bell ice that somehow, tastes better than all other ices combined. The ice that you put on your head after your wife hits you too hard during a soul-scathingly scatological BDSM session. Ooh.That ice is a bit too cold.
You shudder and start to get up, but before you can put your hands on the armrests and give yourself the old middle-aged launching pad action, you’ve been visited by a stranger. How did she get past the picket fence? 9-11. That’s the number you need. Where is your phone? Oh crap.
There’s a girl with bright blue skin, red hair, and green eyes standing in front of you looking like she wants to sell you cookies with her right hand and cut your throat with her left. Basically the bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in human form, staring at you with murderous dodo bird eyes. She’s the ultimate b!tch in a poorly-knit “Star Trek” costume on her way to get high at Coachella against her parents’ permission. She’d enjoy ripping your bank account to shreds while burning your house down. She’s what James Cameron wanted Avatar to look like and what American parents have nightmares about. She is… she is… a dream, definitely.
A future vision of your own daughter? No! No! It couldn’t be. How terrifying. You don’t know what to do–is it reality? Are you still conked out in your lawn chair, or did Ricky put some of his signature shrooms in your soda? In fact, now that you think of it, he was lingering around the soda for a while… Dammit Ricky. Now you’re the festival girl. “It is not healthy to dunk your head into a bowl of bleach, young lady! Hair dye is not healthy. And that blue skin needs some Vitamin D. Aren’t you supposed to be in school? Holy guacamole!”
She doesn’t care about school, apparently. In a testes-shriveling second that seems to rival the speed of sound, she lunges for you with a pastel pink pastry in hand like a quarterback lunges for the line with his football in hand. Impressive. But then she aims for your mouth, then your cheek, then your forehead as you struggle to break free, and suddenly you’re in a full-fledged face-to-face food fight with this alien cupcake aficionado trying to force-feed you macaroons. “What the heck? Where are your parents? Where are your PARENTS?! KAREN!!!!”
Your wife is nowhere to be seen, lost in penguin make-believe, absorbed by a Martha Stewart sewing tutorial. The girl sighs, rolls a pair of piercing eyes, and says, “I don’t have parents. I was created in the labs of Jupiter in a petri dish from a grain of sugar and a gram of starch. Hold still.” She lurches forward, pulls out a tiny pudding-tipped arrow, and poises to shoot. Your cupcake-drugged blood curdles mid-flow. Face smeared in strawberry jelly, nose crowned in cocoa powder, you wriggle yourself free with the desperation of a medieval damsel and run toward the back door, never believing a time could ever come where you’d be attacked by an extraterrestrial Katniss shooting edible weaponry.
Clouds of powdered sugar exploding behind you, a strudel-shooting ninja preparing to slay, and every fat-roll on you begging for mercy, you race toward the doorknob before tripping on your tennis shoes and doing a rather skillful somersault into the wall. THUNK. You look up.
She’s got her arrowhead taut, her sly smile prim, and with the dexterity of a harpist-turned-assassin, she releases the string. The arrow sings out a severing twang, slices through the air with a surefire hiss, and breaks the sound barrier like the Hulk cracks his knuckles. Your ears give way to a sopranic ring and your eyes go black before being overtaken by a fuzzy stream of static, a distant conversation playing behind it that sounds like Vladimir Putin conversing with his advisers–but if he and his advisers had three tongues and scissors for teeth. The arrow lands straight into your left buttcheek with a fleshy ZIP.
“Aghhh!” you scream out in pain, suddenly flooded with the flavor of vanilla, banana, and Bluebunny ice cream. It’s a cactus prick straight to the caboose. You collapse like a tranquilized Pillsbury doughboy in his natural habitat, splayed out on the cement, your buttcheek stinging with the venom of Jupiterian glucose. Defeated and deafened. A man castrated by a cashmere meringue, beaten by a mean babka and tranquilized by an apple tart. The man who couldn’t stomach his own dessert.
The ringing grows louder, and you look behind you–and the world is gone, evaporated into a force field of pixelated granules. Everything blinks and buzzes, spins and shrinks, and you see a fading outline of the assassin scribbling something in a small, glowing notepad that looks like a pair of lily pads stitched together. She’s doing the cupcake victim census.
In the muted murmur of your mind you hear a pair of footsteps hitting a floor. Your wife swings the back door open, calling out your name into the suburban wilderness. “Jimbob?” she’s on the phone, crying. “What did you feed our guests?”
You’re barely there, somewhere between floating on a hammock in the hole of a doughnut to a vision of what you might look like if you ever stopped eating doughnuts and floating on hammocks, something a little bit like Jeff Foxworthy but a little less foxy and a little less worthy. And then you’re transported on the magic carpet of nostalgia to that one time you farted in front of class during show-and-tell and got so embarrassed that you gave up and said that the fart itself was your show-and-tell. Then, in a flatulent twist of events it was such a tragically stupid showdown the class burst into laughter and unanimously pledged to grant you a shining A+, and this one event then led to a high school career of perfect A’s which then led to your admission into Harvard…
“Harvard. A fart got me into Harvard,” you say, in awe at the profundity of the butterfly effect.
Your wife is standing there, mascara smeared, half-sewn penguin stocking in hand, phone in the other, and thoroughly unamused. “You gave your father, cousin and best friend Ebola in one day. Think about that. Why don’t you cook your meat well enough? Medium rare is one thing, Jimbob, but–hey, why do you have cake on your face?”
“It’s not Ebola, Karen, it’s those darn hot dogs from Aldi’s. I told you we should have gone to Walmart. All of this trying to escape the system stuff and all we do is pay for Ebola hot dogs and end up being just as normal as everyone else, but with diarrhea.”
She sighs, and blows her bangs out of the way with a single breath. Ooh. She’s mad now. “Aldi’s is not the problem. I looked at the expiration date on the package. It was the fact that the hotdogs were older than the petroleum that is currently sitting in your fuel tank, Jimbob. Half your family is suffering with spoiled sausage-induced diarrhea on the Fourth of July and the girls and I are very sad about it. We were just about to watch a movie when we heard you hit the wall. Are you angry or something?”
“No, I’m perfectly fine. However, I was just assaulted by–”
“Okay, well, I’m glad you evaded Montezuma’s Revenge, but please pray for your poor family and Matt. Oh, Matt. He just had a colonoscopy, too!” She weeps, and with that, shuts the door.
You sit there like a toddler after a high-intensity timeout session, incredibly stunned by the sheer complexity of your life. One moment you were a normal guy waiting on an ice-cold beer, now you’re ready to get on the History Channel and say it was the aliens, that everything was the aliens. And the cake tastes weird, weirder than any stale sausage ever could. So weird… so weird that… as you lick your lips, clearing the buttermilk icing from your cupid’s bow, that you notice the bush is shaking again. Oh hell no. You lurch upright and yank the back door open, locking it behind you. You bar the blinds over the windows and position the curtains directly over them. Shivering and slightly off-kilter, you turn around. The girls are lounging on the sofa, legs propped up with popcorn in their laps, watching “Pride and Prejudice” at the point where Mr. Darcy finally confesses his love. Rain-soaked and pale, he professes complete adoration for a full minute. Cake-soaked and pale, you lean on the table to soothe the vertigo. You don’t know much about tea parties and muffins, but you know that’s over an hour into the movie–and your wife just started the movie, didn’t she?
Like a robot moving with clockwork motion, Karen pitches a handful of popcorn into her mouth and turns around. “Jimbob, your stomach is so big! And you took so long to come inside. How many of those hot dogs did you eat?”
“What? Wait… what?”
You run to the bathroom and try to glimpse yourself in the mirror, but the hallway is sprawling into a stardust-glazed abyss and the walls are melting like cheap plastic in Chernobyl. Family albums warp like molten chocolate; the ceiling sags like a circus tent set on fire. The world looms like a lollipop sunbathing in a microwave, drooping into triangles and icosahedrons, drooling spheres and waxing circles. You look in the mirror, and lo and behold–your belly is three times its normal size! And your face? Smothered in cake.
Your cheeks, bedaubed in a buttery blaze of butterscotch; your chin, clutched by the golden grip of caramel; your eyelashes a line of powdered sugar spider legs, you are the Joker after vandalizing a tea party in handcuffs, sousing himself in a saccharine heap of strudels and coming out of it with a face of feral fondue. Smooth like a frappe, scary like a circus freak, you are the poisoned pastry posterboy. It’s not a trend, it’s a trial. You’re not the villain, you’re the victim. It’s not mealtime, it’s mint chocolate chip madness with an extraterrestrial cherry on top.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, your large intestine begins to rumble like the thunder of an African storm. Put the hakuna matata down, hike up your skivvies and ascend the porcelain throne. You are its new leader now. Your intestines twist and turn, writhe and wring like a mass of earthworms, proclaiming their opposition to your circadian rhythm, demanding to poop and poop NOW. Like a flock of French peasants rioting at the grand gates of Versailles, the sea of scat seethes at the door of your sphincter like chemical runoff from an acid rainshower, a fizzing festival of putrid fudge threatening to take you both down and graffiti the bathroom in aerosolized dung. You have the urge to empty every last ounce of your bowels into the toilet all the way from the Lucky Charms you ate for breakfast on Sunday mornings in the 1980’s to the hashbrowns of today’s brunch. Ice cream cones from theme parks, saltine crackers from communion, Sunny-D in your sippy cup–it all has to go. We’re talking romantic dinner dates at Olive Garden, late-night expeditions to McDonald’s, cardboard pizza and sawdust pancakes, thousand dollar truffles and gut-wrenchingly gross escargot. Food ranging from five bucks to five hundred. All turds were created equal! the crowd of peasants scream, poking the manicured rose garden with their medieval torches. The sphincter shivers, its tensility under the torque of anarchy. The peasants snarl, demanding to see Marie Antoinette. Every taco, every burger, every ice cold beer–and especially… especially…
Literally the only time women are ever nice is when they’re working for a pyramid scheme, desperately trying to sell you their green tea powders, coaxing you into buying desiccated kale sand and pummeling you with smarmy emoticons, such as:
“Hi, I’m Brittany! I love you so much! You are so great! You’re my bestest friend! Hey, just a side note, would you like some ground-up dried grass for $50? Let me know, sweetie! LET ME KNOW. BUY MY STUFF. Okay? Hehe, okay. Have a nice day.”
The rest of the time they’re like a circus of menstruating banshees swinging from the trapeze, ready to take you down, slit your throat, and steal your husband.
I mean, please.
Why is it so hard to find a true friend? A woman who’s got her uterus under control? A woman whose brain is more wizened wizard than wicked witch? Why must girls cast shade like chemtrails—why must their hearts smell like spoiled ham instead of sing of sweet harmony?
Why is it that the only time people want you is when they want something from you?
Why must every day be a remake of “Mean Girls”? Regina Georges are everywhere! Billions and trillions and gazillions of Reginas, roaming the Earth like a herd of primped-up bison wearing cherry red lipstick and the blood of Christian virgins. The world is infected with Regina George clones.
They rule the world like an all-female tribe of pagan barbarians, Regina after Regina. You think you’ve made a friend and then, oh! Whoopsie-doo! You came into class looking too cool. Now it’s competition time. Fight to the death. She who picks the chicest outfit from Charlotte Russe earns the scalp of her opponent, gets to make a wig out of it. It’s like the Hunger Games but with Jenny Craig—see how hungry you can get before you reach the sacred stitch in the fabric of starvation where you’re as toned as a Greyhound and as happy as a ghoul, skinny as all get-out but culturally beautiful.
In fact, most people are like that—life is a stone-cold competition.
It’s all a matter of who gets the sports car first, whose house is the biggest, how much that dress cost, where’d you get that ring?
And people only like you if you look good—if you look scraggly or unwashed or God-forbid, HUMAN—you’re out of the club! It’s all a game of Russian Roulette and your outside appearance is forever under in the growling glare of the pistol. If you don’t look good enough, you’re not to be respected; it’s against the rules to be ugly—didn’t you know?
Get out, O Uncool One!
We humans don’t respect other humans who don’t look good. And if you look good, well—you’re in the club. I guess you’re okay. Over there on that table there’s a big fruity pitcher of false flattery, and there’s a platter of pride-filled pastries, and there’s a bowl of cocky popcorn and to top it all off, get high on the kush of survivalistic cruelty and know that if you get sick of it, you’re shunned to the jungle to die. You don’t like the rules? Get out. You’re not pretty enough? Your membership is null, a mere fart on the wind. Every day we unknowingly play a subconscious game called Look Nice and I’ll Treat You Nice. The more money you’re making, the better you’re surviving, the nicer your fellow tribesmen are. But if we sense a hint of weakness, if there’s ever a lick of loserness to be found in your facade, guess what? We’re like condors descending on the corpse of a lamb. You’re out of the club, kid.
It really gets old, you know.
I mean, I’m seriously amused at how differently I’m treated on my bad days and good days. On my bad days, when I’m feeling down and I haven’t had the courage or energy to make myself look sharp, I’m an outsider—people look away. They don’t smile. They pretend I don’t exist. Frizzy hair, baggy clothes, a look of fear on my face—I’m a nobody.
But when I’m feeling good, and I’ve done the necessary steps to ensure my respect—made myself look sharp—oh, everyone’s so nice now! Opening doors, smiling, acting like I’m a real force in the phantom town of fakes.
And to know that your soul isn’t even seen is the saddest thing of all. To know that people see your jeans, your hair, and your smudged glasses instead of the walking talking legend of a being you are, instead of the sacred energy within—and to know that they will probably never know of that sacredness, that sweet cosmic spark, is even sadder. Some people will live their days out to the very end, right until they’re snug in the pillowy permanence of their casket without ever feeling the warmth of wonder. They will coast along the sea of superficiality like expert sloops of sass, content to skim the surface, unaware of the icebergs brooding beneath the glassy waves.
Well, let me tell you something for the sake of the weirdos, dorks, nerds, and unfashionable losers of the future: the energy within is what matters. It’s the only thing that outlasts the grip of the grave. Timeless, deep, like an abyss of nectar—that’s the soul.
The next time you see a shabby-looking stranger, don’t look at their frizzy hair, their wrinkled clothes, their panicked look. They’re just struggling to survive, like we all are! Look into their eyes. Look into their soul. See them. Understand.
Formal writing should be renamed, “The art of sounding like a British robot.”
Contractions exist so that we don’t sound like well-educated zombies with disciplinary whips as tongues and Catholic punishments as vocabularies.
Why do the language institutions of higher education think it’s cool to replace the meaty raw mechanics of real talk with the uppity blah of formal speech? This isn’t the grammar Hunger Games. We’re not addressing the Queen. We’re way past Old English.
Why are contractions still unwelcome to the party?
When you write a formal paper, the end result of chopstick sentences and black-and-white barriers and the overall linguistic enslavement you endured always makes it seem like you had a colossal sequoia tree up your bum the entire time you composed it. There are no smooth sentences in formal writing. There is no friendliness. There is no buttery descent from the dogma of academia into an agreeable everyday explanation. It is a merciless wrestle between two perfectionistic ninjas with infinite vocabularies of labyrinthine confusion. Simplification is but a dream of the peasant. And neither is she kind… Frau Formal Writing has a brutal dark side. Her steely blonde hair has been pulled back in an obedient braid. She has a whip in her hand. You just pissed your pants and saw your entire babyhood flash before your eyes. Her name is Helga. Frau Helga. And it’s time to study.
In all honesty, if you really released that tiny shivering kitten of secrets from the isolated pocket of emotion within your soul, you’d say that formal writing is the whips-and-chains-carrying dominatrix of academia and you want a restraining order. But we all know she’s more than that.
Formal writing is the leech that travels up your leg at the lake and attaches itself to the vulnerable velvet of your ignorant bum and sucks the life out of your buttcheek.
Formal writing is the pompous police officer so pleased with himself he’s a walking talking government-owned pufferfish, who thinks it’s ethical to ticket you for going one over.
Formal writing is the murderous chihuahua who stares you down at Thanksgiving dinner, who will only spare your ankle if you donate a bite of your baked beans to its endless appetite—yet, little do you realize, as you naively lower your spoon of beans to its ominous oral cavity, that its appetite stretches from the edges of the exosphere all the way down to the toilet water in Hades’ master bathroom.
Why is it okay to dock a student several points on their paper if they use a simple contraction??? WHY? WHY? BUT WHY. Is that really beautiful? Why can’t contractions belong in formal writing? Why do we always need to sound like constipated butlers on the verge of nervous breakdowns? Why must we muffle our mellow humanity and replace it with the roaring conformity of such arctic articulation?
Formal writing sounds like the stone-cold stoic stepdad who beats you every night with an encyclopedia. Formal writing sounds like someone who has been battling OCD their whole life and finally given up. Formal writing sounds like poooooo.
I refuse to conform. Formal writing can reject all the contractions it wants, but I’m taking them in. I’m adopting them all. Every contraction to ever be evicted from the manor of formal language by that beast of a headmistress is welcome at my hearth. May we all smash words together until the end of our hillbilly days. May the contraction fusion fizzle until all the words sizzle and rock music is heard attending the event. May the apostrophe accent your hybrid words well. May the juicy cocktail of jargon give your sentence just the right dash of jive.
And may colloquial cadence forever reign and formal writing find a good time-out corner.
Not me! When I was a kid, I was more than safe from technology. I ate grass while pretending to be a giraffe and became an Eskimo when it snowed outside, getting lost in the white-washed woods for hours on end. And when it rained, I swam in ditches and drowned my Barbie dolls in puddles, pretending they were struggling to survive a rafting trip gone wrong. (Scandalous, I know.) And as I got older and grew bigger, thanks to puberty and bagels, I swung so much on our little swing set that I nearly toppled it over on myself. With each pound, a new threat was added to the thrilling adventure of seeing how far I could swing without ascending into the stars of a concussion. Woo! Toss the cellphone into the trash and feel your inner barbarian come crawling out. Spend a second away from a screen and believe in the power of kung fu. No one can stop a feral infant from unleashing their inner Tarzan. Let your progeny roam the plains and smoke the peyote of freedom. I mean, I nearly died of hypothermia once and almost got blinded in my right eye by a boomeranging tree branch, but hey, I made it out alive. I’m fine. Hey, how’s it going? *Eye twitches*
Beefing Up the Brawn of My Brain with Philosophical Raisin Bran
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, the kind where you stare out a window solemnly sipping your spearmint tea, questioning your humanity and savoring the silence of your thoughts. Every fiber within my being has been at a low simmer for several weeks now, boiling in a pot of introspection, bringing new dimensions to the sandcastle and casting new poise on the canvas of life. The fossilized expanse of everyday happenings has melted into a fresh calendar, sprung up from the depths of the dirt into a dynamic constellation of shimmering potentiality, shining like the plastic stars over a nursery and infusing the cathedral of my skull with the blossomy fumes of nostalgia.
And sometimes, these flowery missiles land into your soul with the bloodiest arrivals, bringing you a bouquet of iron-drenched daisies. Wisdom hits you in the most sensitive of places. And life grabs you by the testicles and won’t let go, threatening to wrestle your manhood away from you, away from its smegma-lined stronghold between your clenched thighs and grant you beta male status like the fairy godmother gone wrong. Life will trip you while you’re just trying to get your participation trophy.
Life will stab you like a Lego piece that’s thirsty for revenge. It will spill onto your favorite shirt like strawberry milk with a side of assassin, staining your favorite blouse a sinful bubblegum pink that would sweep the CEO of Purex off his sterilized feet and crash him into a midlife crisis, weeping on the floor of his immaculate kitchen and sniffing Tide pods–the fertile eggs of the enemy–like a mom sniffs lavender essential oil just to deal with the stress. Life will jump on your shoulders like a rabid 1 lb. kitten and dig its tiny pincers of baby cat power into your most delicate wool sweater, printing potholes into your skin, scarring you with tattoos of love, the wildest squealing tattoo artist on the brink of a full feline freakout you’ll ever fancy to meet. Life will crash into the presumptuous pillow of your ego, leveling the sky-scraping grandiosity of your soul–it will skim along your skin like a reckless sk8terboi and shred it into a forgotten pile of papier-mâché.
I used to laugh at people who, asked about their education, replied, “I graduated from the school of hard knocks.” I’d be like, “Nice, but where else did you really go? Stop playing around.”
Ha! Ha. HA.
Now I sit here in silence under a dripping cloud of sobriety on a cold metal chair in Adulting Failures Anonymous. Here I sit, knitting a scruffy vest out of lifetime regrets as I go back and forth in my archaic rocking chair that squeaks with a southern twang, respecting that university. I respect the school of hard knocks and its dedicated staff, dazzlingly lucid professors, and ragingly royal classes of imperial clarity. I give each and every one of its students an A+ for effort. I didn’t know what subjects were TAUGHT in the school of hard knocks. What, how to cry at the sheer immensity of taxes, debts, and bills, and do it with gusto? How to have an ovary-shriveling pregnancy scare? How to fake it ’til you make it and then continue to fake it until you can no longer stand being a mere actress hired to play the part of yourself in this never-ending Matrix simulation? Yes, unfortunately. These are only the Gen Eds.
And it all comes from God—yes, this bitter brew comes straight from the cosmically caffeinated cafe of God, and it comes with zero creamer. No noonday blues with this rev-your-engine juice, it will activate your energy like green tea injected directly into your aorta. It spews out from the treasure trove of immense events like a hurricane of cotton candy, riddling the floor of the Earth in the nifty carpet of a redefined nine to five. Here you’ll be as peaceful and prosperous as a zen master trained specifically in the art of deep, peaceful, and prosperous breathing, because you’ll be panicking so much you’ll learn how to breathe like an elephant in a mudslide learns how to tread mud.
So that means you’ll breathe calmly, but not really. You’ll probably inhale the paper bag, and some of it will get up into your nose, settle into your sinuses, and grow a tiny tree in your snot that will then bloom into a full-grown mucus oak and produce baby paper bags from its branches as fruit.
The thing is, life is insane. You should never worry about a dull evening of news in this joint. Life will entertain you to the moon and back, sip wine in lunar pubs, and taste-test mozzarella cheese with you in its creamy crescent phase. NBC cloaks you in a coffin of sugarcoated truths, but life has something different in store, something way different. Something like a thunderstorm with the personality of a rock band. Life’s news station bathes you in brilliant revelation, horrified fascination, and is guaranteed to be the trippiest brew of revolutionary tequila you could ever swallow.
But what if you could feel something better? Instead of switching on the TV, get out your inner homemaker and set up a cozy soul-searching session for yourself–construct a pillow fort, craft a cup of hot chocolate, and settle down for a snug chapter of inner change. Light the candle of your third eye and watch fascination flicker. Peek outside your soul–open up the front window, get your inner Mr. Rogers on and go for a stroll through the neighborhood. Stir the pot of juju and gain a hint on who you are–a juicy gist of elite java. Slide into the shafts of light that scintillate from the bed of scarlet forgiveness–spritz a kiss of Chanel from the jewelry store of your soul into the rocky chasm of chaos. Enkindle comradery with critical thinking. And watch your understanding wind up the wall like esoteric secrets and form dialogue bubbles: Is this how it’s meant to be?
Not always. Other times, life’s lessons are way less zen, way more zeitgeist–the zeitgeist of the dinosaur’s day when dino ate dino and humans ran screaming. Life will land on you with a bald eagle’s brutality as he abducts a baby sardine, swooping down with comet speed, and crash into you like a Hawaiian surfer on a turquoise train wreck of a super wave. It will ride into your subconscious on a steamrolling iron fist of enlightened sentience, spiffing up the place with stupefied friction and transforming it into a pan-fried palace of passive-aggressive appreciation, engineering its own fanbase through subconscious fabrication. And thank God for it! Because otherwise, wouldn’t we all be happy dum-dums, content to live behind a glass screen with all the other soggy pastries?
God will baptize you in the morning light—He will dunk you into dawn’s golden nectar, give you a zephyr of scholarly spice, and fasten your yarmulke with dexterous, dapper haste, and when you read your prayers you’ll do it like uttering the lyrical anthem of the angel’s duties.
God will teach you what He wants to teach you whether you like it or not. This ain’t no an easy-peasy mid-90’s Monday morning where you wake up to a plate of Eggo waffles and a glass of orange juice, put on your Sneakers and ride your scooter to school. You’re hinged on the hanging gasp of your early twenties, with all their fanfare, fire, and flight, drunk on the circus of youth, still spinning in your own spastic performance under a floodlight of roaring praise, not yet acquainted with the meticulously painful wounds of the void. Breathe deep, get down, and army-crawl to the tallest level of the rabbit hole.
God is like Gandalf standing in the midst of a heavenly mist, golden rays of light glimmering on all sides, repeatedly hitting you in the head with an ancient schoolbook whose pages cough out a puff of dust with each wheezing whack. Whack! Whack! Shimmy to the whammy!
What the what?
And you’ll collapse into a pudgy pile of mortal fear, a small Hobbit rendered catatonic by the cosmic fallout of infinity’s fire, knocked out by the complexity of the midterm exam. And the professor just whirled you across the room like a pro wrestler.
But it’s more poetic than that. Life may look like a bloodbath in the African savanna caught on camera and showcased on Animal Planet but there are certain dips in the tragedy traffic where the moon steps out of her silver song to sing you a limited edition sonata. God will get down on one knee like a loving dad to teach his son about the ecology of the public park–those are the ducks, and they like whole wheat bread, and those are the birds, and they’ll poop on your windshield with an avid sense of fecal aviation. And those earth-tone androids? Those are people. They like to ride bikes, jog, and will occasionally offer you candy in exchange for your soul. DO NOT TAKE THE CANDY.
God is a good teacher, albeit a bombastic general of His firing squad and do not be shocked when he tells you to plunge into the ice-cold pond of self-discovery with nothing but the hiccup of a bullet blasted into the sky. He will teach you the code behind the birds and the bees and define the geometry of willow trees. He will measure the weight of miraculous words, balance the measures of melody absurd, play on the piano a cosmic whir–and then you will wonder, you will strip of your data and slip asunder into the ocean of wonder, swimming in and out of possibilities and sipping a minty glass of plausibilities, how you could ever think you knew anything.
The school of hard knocks is the school of chaos. The school of God is the school of inner change.
And we hardly know what else there is besides chaos. The human mind is exposed to a depressing minutia of what’s actually available to mentally process in the universe. What we know is enormously outweighed by what we don’t know, and what we don’t know is mammothly dominated by what we don’t know we don’t know.
So what do we know?
I know that when I listen to the song, “You Are a Tourist,” it always makes the little blonde hairs on my arms stand up, frozen, and instantly the room falls into a cold snow of mental silence. All the deadlines in my mind drop like a rush of rain into a sand dune, sucked up by the thirst of a gritty desert, eaten up by the appetite of arid air. The sun hits the city in just the right glow… medicinal and mellow, like five tons lifted with the sudden uttering of a heavenly memo. So why is this song so magical? So why does it murmur complexities and mime dances like a rosebush made aural? Because it gives clue to the greater beyond and the beauty of the moment: it tells you you’re a tourist, simply passing through this life, and you’re headed to greater things.
Hidden in this seemingly prosaic song is the greatest truth of all time: we are tourists in this Matrix, and this is not our home. We are not chained to our earthly bodies and doomed to our earthly selves’ sins—we were created to channel the introductory nature of God’s yet-veiled ability to create, destroy, and recreate, and exemplify God’s power as both Creator and Destroyer—as the Creator who creates good and the Creator who destroys evil, that it should be so that even in the midst of evil, God is still 100% PURE. This is one of the most beautiful characteristics of God that none of the life forms within the cosmos had ever previously been acquainted with or informed of before we humans fell and ignited the once-upon-a-time of this era in cosmic history.
Demons don’t want anyone to realize that there’s still time for humans to be saved by God and His Son’s blood, so they do all they can to enshroud this message under layer upon layer of distraction, decoration, diversion, and division—the four D’s of demonic censorship. But sometimes, God’s people, who are scattered across the world like sand, use their God-given beauty to magnify the beauty of God—His mountains, His forests, His oceans and rivers that are tortured under the technologically-obsessed, demonically-possessed nature of man, receive healing under the gift of beautiful music which honors their suffering and gives credence, or in this case gives crescendo to their cause. We should remain hopeful and faithful to the promise of future redemption, and just like Benjamin Gibbard’s timeless lyrics read, remember: you are a tourist.
On one hand, I really want to live out my life like a high-quality humanoid, covered in a mist of serenity scented by the legends of ancient heroes salted with the iron spirit of George Carlin and clothed in a cape printed in puppy paws, arching across me in fluffy felicity like a cross of knightly cuteness. And I want Mother Theresa to be at my right holding pom-poms and singing the sparkliest of prayers in soprano, and I want Gordon Ramsey to be on the left making me goblet after goblet of resurrecting herbal supertea as sharp as the punch of the most rotten cheddar. And I want it all in a millisecond–me spinning like a top enshrined in swirling Buddha butterflies, Mother Theresa doing biblical backflips, and Gordon Ramsey creating a never-ending liquid feast of nuclear peppermint. Living the life of a good person.
And on the other hand–well, let’s just say that the version of my life in this other hand here… there’s basically not even a hand there. I struggle. I mean I struggle like a tiny toddler trying to grow brain cells in the fascist chaos of kindergarten, doing my best to read the books and count to ten and eat my snacks like a proper child but I keep getting this roaring itch to shoot a missile through the window, leap out the window–fire and smoke exploding like a massive fart behind me–and run nude in the park like a truly free human being… barefooted and brokenhearted and ready to change the world in nothing but my birthday suit and wealth of wildling bravery. On this hand, there’s a wooden claw with moss sprouting from it. That’s the hand that does the doing on the dark side of things. The metaphorical mitt of monstrosities that I sometimes use, say, to scratch my face, or wipe a tear from my eye. And that would maybe explain all the emergency visits to the ophthalmologist.
But anyway. Apart from the near panic attack I just almost had over the mere thought of that horrible hook on which my bad days hang like a dogtag of doom–I’m doing fine. If Supernanny were present with me in our big thinktank of metaphorical hand-hooks and our zany rendezvous in the zen zone, and she had some sort of herbalicious twig of punishment balled up like chaos itself in her dikey duke, well–I’d admit a little more honesty to the court. Maybe lean over across the sands of time and whisper some gritty truth into the toady terra firma of Judge Judy’s impish earlobe: I’m not okay. And this bubbilicious update would make a cemented vavavoom through the hallways of my throat, and enter the labyrinth of honeycombs and tiny weaves that comprise the fact of an ear. And that description is not okay. It’s a sick description–I’m a sick description. But I’ll tell you what. I’m a powerhouse of awkward. I am the essence of freak double-wrapped in an exotic enchilada soaked in the melted cheese of chutzpah.
But when I’m willing to indulge in soy products, you know I’m not okay. I’d say that my okayness level is at a seven. And when I say seven, I mean that it’s at the end of the rubber band. And when I say rubber band, I mean that my life is a never-ending circle of poor elasticity and overuse. I mean that I am a non-flexible pillar of stay-at-home anxiety and I’m informing you that when I take my Yoplait out of the fridge, it’s not just “Yo! Plate it!” I can’t just toss a streetsmart salutation off my tongue and plate the cow custard. No, I mean that when I wake up in the morning from my roasting chamber of sleep like a chalky Lays chip who’s done too much laying, my skin overlaid in patch after patch of sourdough swank–I mean that I trek into the kitchen to harvest snacks with a spicy style, and when I open the cabinet and trip on the kitchen tile, it’s a chivalrous crank with a little yodeling yank.
It’s in this setting that I’d venture to bet that if National Geographic could ever catch sight of me–they won’t ever, though, because I am much too elusive–they would reap reams and reams of minty greenbacks off my back. I’d be the next Afghan girl.
There is such a royally smart strip of acne that adorns my back in the most superior of markings. So when I wake up shirtless, and I crouch down and start stalking the premises, I do not kid you–I resemble the raddest of rogue jaguars. I am spotted. I am spotted in majesty, speckled in my jungle acne. That could be an overstatement, however–I could be shooting my boomerang of boast too far into your womb of impression and impregnating you with falsities. So I’ll tell the truth. I actually have really good skin. My friends tell me that, but they also tell me that I’m a glowing faerie when I’m wearing a Snuggie. They have these altruistic characters like they were birthed on the set of Sesame Street and fed a blended puree of Mr. Snuffleupagus’ lines for their first meal. The full fandango with every supple shenanigan is a wonderful package, but if you ever ask, “Do I look fat?” and you know that you look like a pregnant blueberry with a side of cellulite dumplings served on a platter of 250 lbs. while the soundtrack of “The Biggest Loser” booms like Aslan into your vulnerable eardrums, you’ll catch those sweethearts in a bold-faced lie.
But I’m a ratified member of that tuck-it-in, suck-it-up, button-it-down genre. The girls who furiously chant “Long enough, loose enough!” as they enter the depths of their closets. And I mean depths. There’s a lot of fabric in there, you know. Modesty’s key.
But I’m a girl who is instinctively drawn to shirts that look like ponchos that’ve been profusely bombed in conservativism. And I’m attracted to trousers that are as rough as the sandpaper skin of a circus rat and as loose as the filter on Donald Trump’s mouth. And when I wear shoes, I take note of those sketchy foot lovers. As naive as Urban Dictionary would claim me to be, I am indeed aware of the growing population of grubby piggerfeet passionates. You wear the wrong pair of flip-flops–with a bit too much bling on it–it morphs into a seduction of soles, a metatarsle mating conference and there those men stand with their pupils glued to your big toe and their faces flushing a sinful salmon.
Which makes me wonder: Why is it that we are what we eat? I’ve heard through that one drunkish grapevine that relays anything and everything related to the condition of man–but in this case, it’s the condition of woman–that the moon is made of cheese. And NASA lies about the true shapes of stars. So I got to thinking under the sugary ceiling of scintillating stars–every man’s outdoor library of learning, the magical muse we all know, and with each thought pittering and pattering like giggling mice to the surface of my conscience, my floating attention was anchored back to land with the thought: Is the moon really made of fermented bovine breastmilk? The question seemed to slope like the curve of the svelte moon, calling me into the magnetism of inquiry with its chasm of quivering cheese craters. I dipped my fingers in one of the puddles and pulled out a pylon of parmesan–I dipped my finger in another and pulled out a motherload of mozzarella, and with one flick of the wrist I shimmied a whole ship of sharp cheddar from the seas of melted Swiss. So that was my thought process.
And I’m Adventist, so I have a special relationship to haystacks. Me and Haystacks–well, let’s just say our relationship is not a stack of hay. Our relationship is a stack of cards. Glued together. That’s how strong it is. And if you need any more evidence of its ferocity, it’s Elmer’s. Ahem. So Haystacks and I–we gather together in the cacophony of comradery and count calories and clear kitchens and swallow plates and napkins in my rapturous hunger, and I thought–if you are what you eat, then I am Haystacks.
So–looking like I’d just cracked the Matrix, broke into the top-secret house of the haystack–I checked my left and I checked my right. And then, with eyes as big as The Beatles’ fanbase, I lowered my head and licked my arm.
And it tasted like Haystacks.
And instantly, the Cool-o-Meter of my collegiate life jolted like a startled donkey of change into the highest heights of happiness, and my rating of seven shot up to the tippity-top of ten.
I frequently smoke myself into the starry pod of change and let the winds of supernatural elevation suck me into the abyss of psychic ascension.
So I guess you could say I’m a bit of a hippie but it might be all hype.
Rubies and rubies and orders from the king whisper down the astral vine, sneak into houses and spin nickels and dimes. Rhymes and rhymes and barely breathing, the peasants sing of revolt, opposition as sharp as Zeus’ lightning bolt and every soul seething.
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Here I am, up late yet again. Thinking about life. Thinking about the world. Straining my brain trying to think about things beyond the world. Itching to stretch my mental muscles and test new lengths, wander to new widths, to become more than I am, to balloon up my blessings ’til they make my curses look like ants.
I know I have a problem with insomnia, and I know that sleep slips through my fingers quicker than a moment made of sand, and my mind is a feverish factory huffing and puffing to fathom the vastness of vantages I’ve never had the advantage to find. Life is a mystery and at the same time it’s a big painful point on our map of mortality and I’m so deeply willing to experience it all.
So I stay up late, after I’ve digested the pale broth of a boring day and have gotten a good kick in the gut from all things ghastly, numbed by the nausea of existential nothingness, feeling constantly and forever like I’m holding onto the edge of a crescent moon with only the tip of the bone of my pinky finger just inches above a raging cauldron of black matter bubbling under the soles of my swaying feet and roaring with all the fire the lungs of a galaxy can gasp.
Feeling with full force the crawling froth of my own sea of questions as they quake and quiver with unanswered terror, every cell within my body breathing the nectar of electric stardust and choking on the impossibility of it all. My mind is a tiny little toolbox, a writhing bug farm of beetles and ladybugs and spiders of all strains, not quite big enough to go big but bright enough to emit a weak glow, like a radioactive pebble peeping up from a corner of the cosmos with the cutest of childlike complexions–so small, so incapable of chewing the bites I’m starving to take out of the steak of all things stellar and too small to stomach the strongest truths.
I am an oddball. An outcast. A creature whose mind is at the same time too beastly and too wild, yet too mellow and domesticated, whose mind is a jalapeno hothouse jammed to the jiving brim with juicy cakes of contraband and platters of primrose and promises, garnished in glitter and furnished with fear, so generously taxed with shade upon shade of human humility it sprays out in an infinite spectrum of God-to-girl love. Like a neon fan pulsing with chaotic cashmere, my thoughts are sweet to the tongue and magnetically melty, like cotton candy fused with a mountain of molten lava, just sitting there as if it were the amputated fifth limb of a luminescent octopus, echoing a limitless red.
Yet on the other hand it’s as if my mind is halfway in the grave already, so drained of dynamite it detests daily function and the pathetic requirements of society, and wants to burst free from its tiny cage within my skull and grow into gorgeous expanse, feasting on philosophy fed by a buffet of freedom and destined for a life of nomadic space travel. I am exhausted from the tension of all these timeless seconds, need to be freed from the chains and whips of the continuum, desire a lovelife rich in wanderlust and admiration of the natural world. I want a restraining order from the Matrix.
“When He gives quietness, who then can make trouble?” – Job 34:29
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No matter the volume of the scream in the moment of fear, no matter the rush of the wind in the tempest; no matter the crash of the cymbals, the cry of the violins, the velocity of the minute–it is all meant to happen. It’s there because it needed to be. Lessons are taught through troubles. Wisdom is given in the grace of silence. Crowns are placed on the heads of nobles. And the lack of war is loved best by the witnesses of violence.
Whether the quiet comes milliseconds or eons after the war, the quiet will come. God has gifted every one of us with a ticket into the beyond–we are eternal if we take the train.
And once we do–once our feet hit the beat of our ultimate song–the quiet will come like the hush of a whisper into the panic of a bleeding heart and it will feel like a gallon of vanilla gushed out of a volcano and covered your country in chill. And you will grab that twilight and set it up on the shelf of sanity as a trophy for the taking of that painfully nutritional jagged little pill.
But you must keep fighting. Those sneakers have gotta keep beating their soles on the treadmill. Those hands must be adorned in callouses. Your emotions must build and build into a beautiful monsoon and then you need to smash the levy holding back your lyrics and sing your song. Your heart has to learn to beat when it’s broken, your soul has to keep breathing in the suffocating darkness, and your brain’s gotta growl like a monster machine if it wants to kick up dust around the shiniest secrets.
Until the break of day comes, treasure the terror of the night. It is teaching you a lesson: the day is inevitable.
And it’s just a matter of time before you’re showered in the fresh rain of victory.
Hey there, and welcome to my lounge. Study with me. I’m learning the ways of life, taste-testing infinity, a student of the universe of the graduating class of eternity. My professor is the curator of the cosmos, my peers are a circus of souls, and our classes are multidimensional across the playing field of space and time. Sit back, say goodbye to small talk, and watch the stars come out.