entry_165Over the course of a few years, my friend and I developed a telephone tradition whereby we would randomly hang up on each other. Actually, it began as any evolutionary development does: with an accident. A terrific storm came through and snatched phone service away, and I found myself talking to static. Nothing remarkable, but I believe the germ of an idea had been planted. About a week later the line was severed again as I was in the middle of a thought. This time there wasn’t a storm cloud to be seen, and the phone was in perfect working order.

Sure, when it first dawned on me what my friend had done I considered taking offense. But I couldn’t deny a welling sense of liberation that far outweighed any thoughts of recrimination. The next time we spoke on the phone, my friend was describing travel plans he’d been developing. He was excited because the junket was to be funded in part by a Costa Rican social exchange program… but I didn’t hear the rest because I hung up on him. There was no enmity involved. My action was not premeditated. I just got up, placed the handset on the cradle, and went outside for an evening walk.

We never brought up these conversation-halting incidents in any formal way, but when are social conventions ever discussed? “Okay, now this is where I take your hand and pump it up and down a few times. Fine, fine, and thus are we bonded, my man.” It would have been bad form. It’s not something we needed to discuss in any case. Our unwritten rules were that either of us could hang up as whim dictated, and all hang-ups were final. No explanations, no call-backs.

Eventually conversations between my friend and me became more efficient. We knew that we might be disconnected at any moment, so it became necessary to get the important information out of the way as soon as possible. This adaptation, in turn, further informed our disconnection behavior, which fed back into adaptation, until we were using the phone more like an intercom. “Lunch tomorrow?” “Sounds good.” “Maybe somewhere up at the-” Click.

The primary result was that we had far more time to conduct other matters of business. The secondary result was that I started hanging up on other people. Like any habit, it’s a difficult thing to constrain by arbitrary rules. Perversion seeks ubiquity. But as I was offending my dwindling base of unenlightened friends, the question became ever more clear to me: why should we be the puppets of social expectation? Like a mating ritual among eunuchs, courtesy seemed borne upon some residual social inertia from a more formal age, at least as it pertains to our interactions with other individuals.

I recognized that, for most, change happens slowly, so I tempered my behavior accordingly. It became a balancing act, but I learned how to play the game without compromising my dignity. Still, the thoughts persisted: courtesy is founded upon a certain set of social expectations, which are further dependent upon a predictable chain of events. But if the chain of events were circumvented might not that obviate the requirement for courtesy? How can we be expected to willingly observe obsolete paradigms? Is that the ironic burden of self-determination?

By illustration: if you were in a restaurant and knew with absolute certainty that your friend had just been run over by a church bus, would you allow your meal to grow cold waiting for them out of mere courtesy, just to keep up appearances? I submit that you would not! You would eat, and you would eat well. Yet this is akin to the stubborn moral dilemma I find myself in almost daily.

I’ve tuned the slats of the blinds on my front window in such a way as to afford me an unobstructed view of my entire block. From the converted dentist chair in my living room I can see trouble before it sees me. I know when people are going to knock on my door well before they commit their knuckles to the task–a knowledge which renders useless every moment between now and that inevitable knock. If that’s not horrifying enough, there is the widely-held expectation that there will be a delay between a knock and the moment one can actually open a door. Opening that door mid-knock would necessitate a cascade of needless posturing: the mock surprise, the mock embarrassment, the mock laughter, and the mock conversation about how quickly I opened that crazy door. By which time I may as well have spent my day licking a small spot on the wall.

That I should do time behind my own door, waiting until it’s time to open it, is hardly a reasonable proposition. Maybe next time I should just keep on waiting indefinitely, gleefully mirroring the person on the front porch, mock-knocking as they knock, and then stomping off like a child when I never answer my door. And really, is it any great loss? I already know pretty much how it’s going to turn out anyway.


entry_164I don’t even know the name of the motel I’ve been staying in. I’m only passing through, but already routine has settled on me like residue. In the morning and at night, as I’m preparing, I find myself stealing glances at the appendage on my bathroom wall. Though the leg remains, the spider two whom it belongs is long gone. As out of place as it is, I can’t summon the will to brush the leg away. Day after day I see it there, next to the mirror. Each time I catch site of it I imagine it’s fastened there by the minutest trace of dried ichor, a bond that a whisper of air might break. But though the temptation exists, I leave the arachnid gam there, perhaps as a reminder.

It’s like dust, really. Dust with form. A trace of something that used to be, a hint of a thing once greater. We would be fortunate to be in the quiet company of such mementos: reminders of the past in a form that still piques emotion. Something more than just the pink, paper-thin scars so delicate that your lover once said they appeared to have been coaxed from the inside.

What gifts these artifacts would be, scattered about like discarded garments. The grainy gray suspicion of the girl you dated three years ago lies still on the sofa, her hands still covering her face to hide the tears. She is there, frozen as she was the very last time you and she were still friends. Next to her, in a faded box of gossamer and shadow are the family photos that were lost in the fire that you started. And don’t trip over the child who is you, now the briefest shimmer scampering underfoot to escape the wrath of some long-fallen authority figure.

Visited by these precious moments from times past, you could never truly be alone. These are phantoms reconstituted of vapor and web, flake and crumb, no longer content merely to coat your appliances passively. Now they will move and kick, and, if you dangle your hand over the edge of the bed, you may find, when you wake, a pair of dental crescents pressed into the meat of your palm.

I lean in close to the appendage on my bathroom wall, and for just a second consider licking it off. Eating the dried brown limb doesn’t seem an unreasonable notion. What a loss it might be otherwise, and a moral defeat! And what more responsible tribute than ingestion can there be to something you’ve personally dispatched?

Instead I direct a blow at it, and it drops at last, falling neatly into the envelope I hold beneath it. I’ll address it to my parole officer over breakfast in the diner across the way as I watch the flames leaping from the motel roof.

That will be something to remember.


entry_163“What are you doing?”

“Just flashing my brake lights.” The car on my ass eases off, its headlights retreating in the darkness, but flashes me a warning. No one likes having to abide another’s will.


“To let them know to back off.” I’m keeping an eye on them in the rearview. I wonder if it occurs to them that the discussion I’d been having with my friend has stopped; that now our focus is exclusively on them, like a compass needle planted on North.

“Oh,” says my friend. “Well it’s probably safer to just pull over.”

I shrug in the darkness. “They backed off.”

“Because you never know. It can be dangerous.”

“It’s dangerous for me if I have to stop. Anyway, I didn’t apply my brakes, I just tapped the light.” The car behind us isn’t as close as it was, but it’s creeping up again. Maybe they think fire doesn’t burn twice. Or perhaps they slowed down for a moment so they could get their gun, and now they’re closing to finish the deal.

“Okay,” she says, not liking my tactic. “I just usually pull over.” She’s not wrong, but… I have to admit to getting some satisfaction in not being as passive. Maybe it’s not always good enough to forgive someone for failing to meet my high standards. Maybe a demonstration is worth some risk.

I rationalize. “I mean, for example, if an animal were to run into the road and I had to stop, and then they came along and hit me from behind….”

“Well yeah.”

Two green pinpricks bob out from the high grass on the shoulder, and as we approach, a meaty possum waddles into the road in front of us.

“Oh, whoa!” she exclaims.

I have to mash the brakes and swerve to avoid the animal, and the car behind us comes to within a few feet of my bumper. The possum looks up at us with lethargic eyes, then thoughtfully turns about and retreats.

“Told you,” I say under my breath, less to her than to the driver behind us.

“That was weird,” she says as I straighten us back out and continue down the windy road. “I’ve never seen an animal on this road before.” She’s checking her mirror. “Did they hit it?”

“No,” I say.

After a moment I add, “You know… I can make things happen just by thinking about them.”

“I know,” she says.


“You’re here for the eleven o’clock interview?” she asks.

“That sounds about right,” I say, feeling lost. “Since I can’t seem to find my desk.” The receptionist squints a smile and makes a single-note hum, which I find unsettling. This musical acknowledgement isn’t new to me, in fact I’m quite familiar with the practice. Nicole from my office does the exact same thing–that curious tonal response, “Mm!” Thing is, it’s always been endearing when Nicole does it because it’s hers. Now, with this girl pulling the same schtick?

She’s caught me off guard, but once I’ve made the realization it’s obvious. Suspicion eclipses any sense of rapport. I have half a mind to call her on her infringement. “Nice hum you have there,” I could say. “Zat something you just came up with all on your own?” Then, like lightning, I grab her mouse and sprint back out the front door.

As the receptionist sends off an instant message, I study her profile. Amazing: she looks like Nicole, too, except that her cheekbones are shallower. Her hair is a touch lighter too, with a kinkier curl, and her eye color is all wrong. If I didn’t know Nicole I wouldn’t even recognize the inconsistencies, but there they are.

The thing that sticks in my craw is that there’s a Nicole-like person doing Nicole-like things, and everyone around her will just assume that she’s the original, when in plain fact this is a myth, and an easily dispelled one at that. Anyone who saw them side by side would understand that this receptionist entity is nothing more than a hastily-cobbled together knock-off; a puppet drone blandly mirroring the real deal.

Still, this receptionist, the impostor, sends me to the couch to wait for my appointment.

“Hey, Chet, howzit going?” she says moments later. I look up and see Chet easing on over to Nicole’s doppelganger. Chet’s just like our lead programmer Erskine, it turns out. He even saunters the same way, in spite of being pigeon-toed. Same floppy ears though, same steam shovel jaw. Chet’s the laid-back guy with a slow sense of humor, and that one sideways tooth. Only he’s duller than Erskine, like the mold got gummy after the first pressing. Secretly I hate them both for blatantly perpetuating this deception.

“Hey, Michele,” he says, and I can’t help but snort. Michele, is it? They both glance over at me for a moment, but I make like I’m working some gristle out from between my molars with my pinky, and they avert their eyes.

When I look back at them, Chet is leaning over Michelle’s desk and planting a peck on Michele’s cheek. Wait, so Chet and Nicole are an item? Michele, I mean. Chet’s obviously unaware that Erskine is gay. See, and that’s the show-stopper. If you’re going to impersonate someone then you can at least strive for accuracy.
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