Evergreens & California Girls.

Last time I saw her, it was at a fucking funeral.

Her mother had been having health problems and her father had neglected to take her to the hospital, so Claire, from states away, had to call a hospital nearby her parents and send an ambulance to pick her up. I can’t recall what the health issue was, but she met her end soon thereafter and Claire came down for the funeral. I hadn’t seen her in years and not to sound selfish, but this was kind of the epitome of awkward. Me in a church, for one; for another, this was a time of grief and I was happy, relieved to finally see her, and had difficulty suppressing my happiness despite the circumstances.

Her and I didn’t get to talk much, but just seeing her, it’s like my soul had been holding its breath for years and could finally exhale.

Now she was returning for her high school reunion, or at least that was her excuse for escaping Iowa to visit Ohio for a few days. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care, I just desperately wanted to see her. The day she decided to come down and bought the plane tickets she sent me several texts in a row, clearly hyped up about the trip (though her new medication undoubtedly played a role as well) and told me she wanted to see me. We planned on meeting at my parents house on a Friday, and then she wanted me to go to a party with her the following Sunday, so I immediately requested the day off.

I left Thursday after work, slept at my parent’s house (something I rarely do, but I was terrified about not waking up on time) and felt my anxiety growing the following morning as I awaited her arrival. The day was beautiful so I sat beneath a tree in the yard by the barn, sipped my java and chatted with my parents.

They had been seeing a lot of me this summer. For whatever reason, the visits there seem to improve my otherwise perpetually shitty mood. I miss my family and I miss being close to nature, close to the forest around their house. I miss the sky and all the stars you see without that blasted light pollution. It soothes my dark, twisted, tense little soul.

When she started coming down the long driveway in her rental car, I thought I was going to burst. She parked, got out and we hugged. She hugged me tightly. Like a vice. Any tighter and we would’ve melded into a singular entity. I could have happily died there.

Maybe, maybe neither one of us ever have to let go, I thought.

After that, it was as if I didn’t know my role, as if I’d forgotten my lines. As if I didn’t get the script. What am I supposed to do now?

We walked around the yard, took a look at my mother’s nursery, and Claire spoke about wanting to buy a plant from her for someone, I believe it was the friend she was staying with. Then we sat down at the table on the porch, where we drank coffee and talked.

My parents adore Claire and they always have. They liked Anne, too, and would occasionally ask about her when her and I were still speaking, but Claire always seemed to be the one on their mind. I’m sure that part of it is because they know how much she means to me, but I know it goes beyond that. They truly adore the girl.

My mom explained how she still remembered her as the skinny girl with hot pink hair who had moved down here from California. How teachers had pulled mom aside to warn her about Claire, which she found funny, as she had been to the house and seemed quite likable.

Claire spoke about her job, her three kids — one who just graduated high school and is entering college, one who is sort of a troublemaker, sneaking out, having sex, doing drugs. The middle child, he doesn’t stick out so much in my mind; he must be a sort of balance betwixt these extremes.

Thing is, Claire has led a life that is, on the surface, quite a successful one. She has a career, a house, has been a good mother to her kids, has attempted marriage more than once and survived divorce, she pays the bills and so on — and yet there’s this darkness, this dismal lack of satisfaction in her life. It’s like she’s constructed this epic costume, this wonderful mask, found her place in the game but she’s too damned intelligent to let herself be fooled by the illusion. She doesn’t see it, but beneath the illusion she is atypical in the most amazing ways.

She’s been married a few times, as I mentioned, and I remember her explaining her relationships with these men and how they don’t know her past, don’t seem to resonate with her on an emotional or mental level or even see her on that level and it always confused me. She never seemed to see it as a necessary component of a relationship, or at least that’s the impression I’ve always had. And it truly astounds me, because she is so goddamned interesting. Why wouldn’t she want to share it with someone, share her authentic self with someone she was at least planning at the time to spend the rest of her life with? Why would she want to spend her life in hiding?

I think she feels like an imposter, a fish out of water. Like wherever she goes, there she is, someplace where she doesn’t belong. Perpetually and irreversibly out of her element. And I feel the same way. Or maybe I’m just fooling myself into thinking that’s how she feels. Maybe this is just me projecting myself onto her because she means more than the fucking world to me.

Her talk with my parents solidifies my suspicion that she has indeed found what she has always sought: roots. She wanted a sense of belonginging, a sense of community, a sense that she has a place, and she has it, she’s fucking earned it, and it makes me happy for her — and depressed in ways I can never hope to properly articulate, because I am not a part of it.

And coulda-been thoughts are pointless, but had I played my cards right, I just maybe could have been a part of it. Maybe. And I have an abundance of regrets about my post high school decisions, with the two big ones being: I should have gone to school for art and I should have fought to keep Claire as a girlfriend. I could have fought to be with her that last time, struggled to make a life with her, had a starring role in her story and had her in a starring role in my own life narrative. But it took all the effort in the world just to tell her that I loved her, and I only accomplished that, after much effort and agony, right before she went into the Army.

And it blows my mind that that was nearly two fucking decades ago, and that I’ve known her for 23 years.

They say that youth is wasted on the young, implying that with age comes wisdom, but I’m not so sure we wouldn’t fuck it all up again if given another chance.

After we talk at the table awhile, my parents get up and announce that they’re leaving us, giving us some time to talk alone. The sinking suspicion I’ve been trying to ignore and overcome during the collective conversation suddenly inundates me, no longer deniable: I’m the same pent-up, anxious, unambitious, fucked-up boy she left behind two decades ago. I’ve accepted the girl as the love of my life, fantasized about seeing her again for years, and — nothing about me has changed. I’m so locked up around her, and it hits me so hard how little I’ve evolved, how far I have not come, how utterly fucking hopeless I am. I felt like a teenager again, wanting to kiss her but too shy to do so. Wanting to fuck her, the only girlfriend on my short list of girlfriends that I’ve never fucked, like crazy — and the potentiality never seemed farther away.

I just really, really don’t like myself sometimes and after seeing her again, in the midst of seeing her again, I liked myself even less. She may not be happy with her life, but she tried, she raised three kids, built a career. I’m in essentially the same place. A little hamster running madly on his dizzying wheel. Forever in motion yet never getting anywhere. Always wanting to change but forever seemingly incapable of doing so.

I remember that a friend dreamt once that I was a Christmas tree. It was an old roommate, Sandra, and at first it perplexed me. How on earth was I like an evergreen? The more I chewed on it, the more it seemed so fitting. It still does, which only furthers the point. No matter the season, I remain unchanged. Same job, same anxiety and depression, same anger issues, same incapacity to develop and nurture a meaningful relationship with a girl or even accomplish the most basic, instinctive function and get fucking laid again already.

I mean, it’s been a seven year dry spell. Wandering in the desert of circumstantial abstinence, distracting myself with pornographic mirages. Not to sound shallow, but one would think I could’ve at least gotten my dick wet by now — if I knew the first thing about approaching a girl.

Claire keeps telling me how comedian, actor and podcaster Marc Maron reminds her of me. At first I didn’t see it, but watching videos of him, its beginning to become apparent. He’s neurotic, hypersensitive, self-involved. He goes on tangents, he’s self-loathing, he alienates people. He likes coffee and nicotine. He lives alone.

Still, he’s successful. He gets laid. He earns money pursuing his passion.

Me? I hate my job. At work I’ve been getting that sense that I’m moving through tar. Like my feet are lead. I just feel heavy. I feel weak and low energy. It feels like such effort has to be invested just to go through the same old motions and every day seems insurmountable. It’s not. I do it. I just feel that in this job I’m dying inside, you know? I should have watched this place shrink in the rearview a decade ago, but: I’m the evergreen.

Back in 1998, when I worked at the grocery store, there was this lady I worked with. Her name was Patty. She had read some of the shit I’d written in the e-zine and seemed to hone in on Cumbersome, which was the story I had written about meeting Claire. She asked a lot of questions, the kind of questions I often imagine a successful novelist might be asked if engaging in an interview with a borderline-obsessive fan.

One day she asked me a particular question, and though I can’t be sure, I think it was this: what is the greatest compliment I could ever honesty give to Claire? I’m not sure what my answer was, but she then referenced the movie As Good As It Gets, starring Jack Nicholson and Jodi Foster. She specifically referenced a scene in which he tells her he has a compliment for her, goes on a shpeil, and then condenses the compliment down to a single sentence: “You make me want to be a better man.”

Twenty years later, I get it. I am there. She is wonderful, beautiful, all I want and need, and I am so hopelessly fucked up, and: she makes me want to be a better man.

But I am a bitter man. A lost boy. An evergreen.

We walk to the barn. Memories. Later, we leave and drive around the school, now closed down, and then to the ledges. More memories. We park and are about to go into the local diner when I realize I don’t have my wallet, and having her pay would kill me, so I remind her that my parents wanted to make us food. So we go back to my parents. When she was finally ready to leave, she asked me to walk her to her car, which I desperately wanted to do anyway. I wanted to kiss her, but I just hug her. Lost in the vice again, ready to die in those arms, and when she released, I must have had a look on my face.

“You’ll see me again,” she said.

Imagine taking a railroad spike, ramming it into my chest, and then pounding it into me with a sledgehammer.

It made me think of Kate, the second girlfriend who turned out to be a Virgo from California with tattoos of the sun, moon and stars on her body. In the midst of a short, intense relationship with promise, she left to visit her parents in California and said the same thing the last night I dropped her off — and she never came back.

Damn, I have the tendency to hang onto things.

Though skip a day, and I saw Claire again at the party she wanted me to go to with her. It was down the road from my parents house; still, it’s nonetheless amazing that I found the place without getting lost. The place itself was pretty cool. There was an awesome mural I saw on my way to the restroom and there were tigers everywhere. Not real tigers, of course. Big stone tigers. Stuffed tigers. Most of the time I spent sitting at a table in the back porch surrounded by people I hardly knew or may have only met once or twice two decades ago.

Then Claire’s cousin, Jolene, showed. I’ve always valued the lady because for the entire time in which I’ve known Claire she was the only one that she lived with who actually seemed to care for her and give her a sense of stability. She also got it into her head that I was gay, however, though I could never determine if she seriously thought that or it was just sort of a running joke. Being 39 now with no girlfriend and no kids had done nothing but reinforce the notion in her mind, I was sure, so whatever social anxiety I had been feeling only elevated when she walked onto the porch. She was nice, though, in her characteristically sarcastic, firecracker sort of way.

At some point Claire, sitting beside me, asked me if I wanted a drink, and I pretended to hesitate a moment before explaining, “yes. Yes I do.” She poured me some off-brand cola and chunks of ice in a plastic cup and poured in some whiskey, which tasted remarkably good. I wanted to get drunk, but I knew I wouldn’t. I don’t often do so in social outings anymore because I’m afraid of driving under the influence and I want to be able to leave when the mood strikes me — which is to say when I’m on sensory overload and the anxiety becomes too overwhelming. But a little social lubricant helped.

I mostly just interacted with the animals, however, which is sort of my default in social situations when the option is available, and generally-speaking, animals seem to like me. I spoke a bit with Antonio’s brother (married to Jolene) and then, once they arrived, Antonio and his girlfriend.

Claire’s father also showed. This part was unexpected.

Oh, her fucking father.

He needed to get his medicine at one point and Claire had me go with her as she took him to his house. As he sat and kept on about his bills, desperately, obviously trying to manipulate Claire, I stared at his refrigerator. It was covered in magnets, one for every state him and his late wife and, when Claire was younger and they hadn’t dumped her on this or that relative, Claire had temporarily landed in.

This is why she never felt like she had a family, why she wants stability but feels so awkward when she finds it, why she ached to develop roots. They were nomads. He destroyed her, and this cold machine in his little kitchen celebrates the journey of her destruction with souvenir magnets.

I fight my reactionary empathy, try not to fall under the spell of compassion when it comes to him.

We went back, I hung out a bit more and then it felt like it was time to leave. Claire walked me to my car. Hug again. Please crush me. Let me die. And I leave, back to being stuck in an inhale, and stop at my parents before heading home to my apartment.

They’re sitting in the front room in front of the television. We talk briefly and they offer to buy me a plane ticket to go down to Iowa and spend time with her. It’d be something to write about, my father says. Just think about it, says mom. It has to hurt feeling so connected to someone who lives so far away.

And I think to myself, Fuck. Dad, even mom, she actually seems to get it.

Sitting down, I stretch my arms, let my head fall back, trying to keep the tears I feel creeping from leaking out my eyes. Holding it in, determined not to break. Breathe. Just bloody fucking breathe, you pathetic price of shit.

“Just think about it,” mom repeats.

I drive home cursing myself.

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Managing Panic on Potential Bridges.

It’s always at the cusp of something new I think I want that I get terrified and begin having second thoughts. In this case, the interview tomorrow. It’s not even a great job, but next to this, it’ll be a breath of fresh air. Or so I’ve imagined, or so has been the case until now.

What if I sleep in? What if my car breaks down? What if I’m wrong and their starting wage isn’t more than I’m making now?

What if I get the job and hate it even more than this, and it’s even worse because I don’t have that illusion of control offered by the predictability of the all-too-familiar brand of hell I am presently suffering under? What if my anxiety heightens, my depression deepens, and I don’t have the energy to get an appointment and get back on antidepressants?

Hell, what if I don’t get it? What if I have to stop smoking pot, clean out my system, and lose sleep, as if I get sufficient sleep now, and anxiety and depression attack even more just to get a job — and I never find one within the comfort zone of the roads I know anyway, can never find whatever potential place is willing to give me an interview?

It’s happened before.

What if I still don’t find a job, even then? What if I end up just wasting away in this particular shit job forever or until I get fired or die or society collapses or I loose my shit and walk out after working here for a decade and a half?

What if I never stop catastrophizing?

What if all this is in my head and ultimately it doesn’t really matter one way or the other?

But I can’t punish these thoughts and feelings and push them away, as they’ll snap back as elastic, twice as strong. And I can’t feed these thoughts and feelings, either, or they’ll grow bigger and stronger and multiply and collectively devour my weakened ass.

No, I must remain their spectator. Let them flow through me, and out.

Don’t Feed the Curmudgeon.

Never have I felt my age. It was always just a matter of the body to me, like asking the model and year of my car. Yes, I drive a 1978 Caucasian, but it has no real relevance to me, the driver. I’ve never really identified with my body all that much, but then changes start happening. Your hairline recedes. A fleshy crop circle forms at the crown of your fat, fucking head. It’s not just that the body’s breaking down, either; it’s programming goes haywire. I found a single, thick, six-inch-long hair sprouting from the lip of my left ear one morning. Not only did it not make the least bit of sense for hair to be growing there, it seemed to boldly come out of nowhere. I find it hard to imagine I could have been overlooking it. Did the fucking thing sprout overnight? Then there are the out of control nostril hairs, the aching back, the graying — nay: whitening — hair that remains.

When these changes start happening, it serves as a reminder that the trip through this life, through this fleshy tour, even if it all goes well, is roundabout halfway over now. And that, again, is if all goes well. Who knows how long this fleshy vehicle will last? At any rate, from here, it’s all downhill towards the average expiration date.

More reminders: I’m finding mothers of the various kids I work with incredibly hot only to discover that they’re either my age or, worse, that I’m even older than them.

And kids. That too. I never used to refer to my coworkers as kids. By default, I would throw all of us into the same age grouping if it crossed my mind at all, as it seemed justified: after all, maturity doesn’t necessarily come with age. Being an elder doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any wiser.

If wisdom naturally comes with age, explain dementia.

I’ve seen young kids who are more mature, intelligent, responsible and polite than some of the fossils that frequent this shit restaurant. Still, recently I’ve had the feat that I’ve been morphing into that cartoonish curmudgeon whining about “those goddamned kids.” And those damned kids, they keep feeding this curmudgeon more, unnecessary fuel.

A few examples come to mind.

The first is the back room, the stock room, where it’s my job to arrange stock, cut off the box tops, and sweep and mop every day. For years now, it’s been routine: I come in the same time every day, gather trash, take it out, and then start working in the stockroom. The shelves are on rollers and bound to tracks, which means that if someone’s in one isle no one can gain access to any of the others. If I’m back there doing my job, in other words, no one can do stock. Yet I remind you, this is routine: same time, more or less, five days out of the week. Despite this, every day someone comes back, trying to gather stock for up front as I’m cutting box tops. Every day I have to tell them they can’t do it now.

Every. Fucking. Day.

What I used to hate about the sitcoms we’d watch when I was a kid, what I used to hate about every argument and subsequent talk between my mother and I as a child, were the continuity errors, the lack of consistency. Lessons learned or developments made in one episode were irrelevant to all others. A fart in the fucking wind. It was like every day ended with amnesia. Wash, rinse, repeat the same bullshit. Dance to the skipping record. That talk mom and I had? Like it never happened. That talk me and so many have every day when they enter the stockroom ready to gather sauces, cups, whatever? Imagine Doc Brown from back to the future:

“Erased. From existence.”

When it comes to the door at the end of the night, the circumstance becomes even more dire. At the end of the night I have my last smoke and on the way in I lock the door. You can go out, but can’t come back in — in theory. In actuality, the door won’t latch and so won’t lock unless you slam it closed. They never slam it closed. Every time someone leaves after ten o’clock I have to stop what I’m doing and slam the door. If I miss a person leaving, the door doesn’t lock, and some customer strolls in.

“Sorry, we’re closed.”

“But, but: the door was open.”

I tell them collectively to slam it. I tell them individually to slam it. I might as well be speaking in tongues or screaming at the deaf. Just slam the door. Slam it when you leave or the latch won’t catch and it won’t lock. This shouldn’t be akin to a physicist explaining String Theory to a fucking goldfish, but it increasingly feels that way. I ask them nicely. I threaten death. I scream it. Still, they just walk out the door, never looking back.

Just as a kid was leaving one night about a week ago, I told him to slam the door. He nodded. Acknowledgement. And then he turns and walks out the door — without slamming it. Another kid did the same thing, and I chased her out the door and screamed at her in a controlled fashion. Another kid, I did the same thing.

Are people just getting lazier, less empathic and increasingly stupid, or is is just that I’ve become a goddamned curmudgeon? I’ve never been a particularly optimistic fellow, this is true, but it’s gotten pretty bad. Am I just resentful that my youth is gone despite having never really “grown up”? Maybe, but I’m not sure that’s a factor here.

It got me thinking: I don’t think I could hack it, being a parent. If I asked a kid to slam the door like that and they kept failing to do so, I’d be afraid I’d turn into Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. Going ape shit in the halls. Grabbing the axe.

“Heeeere’s Johnny!”

The same goes with when I mop the floor and they stroll across it not because they have to, but because fucking up someone else’s work ranks so low on their list of concerns. Even worse is when they’re like that one, mousey-looking kid who chronically wanders around on my mopped floor like a dog seeking out the perfect place to take a dump.

Dude, just sit down. Crouch down, strain and jiggle out the turd and just go. And slam the fucking door on your way out.

I used to answer the question, “Do you like kids?” with “Do you like adults?” just to hammer in the apparent absurdity of the question.

Now I’m feeling that my answer to both questions is: nope.

Stay Out of my Dreams, Lady.

“Give me the biggest sandwich you’ve got,” the customer told Alesha at the register.

“I’m sorry, that’s not available on the app,” she explained.

Apparently, this is how the conversation went down, or so Alesha told me at the fryer vats right before I went on break.

“Just tell her to save time and have us inject the lard directly into her ass,” was my mean-spirited response to the story. Curious, I looked at the counter, and it turns out the customer was the vile-looking woman from the dream. I tried not to make eye contact as I washed my hands at got my medium coffee for break, but she spoke to me anyway. Seemed to kind of go out of her way to.

“How goes it, boss?” It was something like that. I was too uncomfortable to hear clearly.

Stay the fuck out of my dreams, lady. And never park near me.

“Surviving,” I answered, and with my coffee, I clocked out and went out the back door, so she couldn’t see me, and into the comfort of my car.

Stolen Drive (8/31/18 Dream).

As is often the case right before work, on my thirty-minute break, or during my numerous smoke breaks throughout my shift, I’m sitting in my car in a parking space in front of the restaurant. Out of my peripheral vision I see a vehicle pull up in the space beside me, and while I don’t remember if it was on the passenger or driver side, the large, white vehicle is absurdly close to mine — so close that had it happened in real life it would’ve taken out my side view mirror. I’m fuming angry and, once out my car door, I yell at the person, who turns out to be this dirty, flabby, miserable-looking old woman, and she acts as if I’m being absurd and she’s done nothing wrong. For some reason I then go towards the door of the restaurant to tell Steve, one of the typical night managers, and as I walk away the woman is saying something I don’t entirely remember, perhaps didn’t even completely hear at the time, but the gist if it is that she used my full name and mocked me for going to tell Steve — two things I immediately realized she shouldn’t have known. Though I never got his attention, it strikes me a moment later as I’m near the building that I never locked my car doors and may have even left the door open, and a terror seizes me. When I look back, the big white vehicle as well as my own are gone. It then hits me that she had anticipated my reaction and had orchestrated the whole thing in order to steal my car.

An internet search turned up an article by Lauri Quinn Loewenberg entitled, “The 5 Most Common Stress Dreams.” By her measure, at least, dreaming of a stolen car ranks pretty high up there, and this specifically deals with stress involving a lack of “drive” with respect to moving forward on a certain path and your uncertainty regarding what direction to now take. Ever-passive, you’re left spinning your wheels, stalled, going nowhere fast, waiting for motivation, awaiting a road to present itself to you. That this may have to do with a job was one of the first examples she offered, and given that I was parked in front of work in the dream suggests to me that this is probably a valid interpretation. I’ve parked myself at this job and I’ve totally lost my drive for it and I want achingly, desperately to move on, to start a new chapter, but I haven’t the foggiest clue where to go.

The rest of the dream is a bit more difficult to interpret. The woman parked too close, invading my personal space. I do hate it when people park too close and I’m afraid of them hitting my car when they open their door or I have to open my door ever so carefully and squeeze myself out in fear of hitting their car with my door. I like my space. This is also why I go into my car to smoke or during break: I want to be alone, to write or read or just smoke and sip my coffee, enjoy the silence and isolation, let my mind wander and roam free. People talk while I’m reading or writing and I lose my place, become distracted, feel irritated immediately: just wait until I’m done to bother me, damn it, this is my mini-vacation. I’m releasing pressure. Breathing. Escaping the fake fucking bullshit world I’m forced to be a part of.

The dream seems to suggest that my space was invaded and I was robbed of my mobility by whatever was represented by the vile dream-woman. She was reminiscent of this customer at work that has been coming in lately, her personality, insofar as it has been expressed, as disgusting as her appearance. She’s the kind of person that seems to take joy in complaining, the kind of customer that takes advantage of that “the customer is always right” bullshit. She wants us to do all we can to please her, or else have us treat her poorly so she’s justified in having a hissy fit.

Maybe she represents the customers in general.

Quiz of Cummings.

Though I wasn’t sure who Whitney Cummings was, when I saw her still image for the clip of Jimmy Kimmel’s interview with her on YouTube, I thought she looked striking, so I clicked on it. She was promoting her new book and explained how she has issues seeing potential red flags when meeting men, and so her therapist gave her a list of three questions to ask men she dated that would give her some idea of who the guy was. Interesting, I thought.

The test allegedly derived from Freud, however, and while he is certainly an important figure in the field of psychology, many of his ideas have been shown to be absolutely false. I decided to take the quiz anyway, but I didn’t want to do it after watching the interview, as I’d know what my answers would mean before I gave them. So I watched the clip and paused it after she asked each question to write down my answers — simply curious as to what the questions might “reveal” at the end.

As she read it, I vaguely recalled having taken this test before, perhaps when I was a teenager, but I couldn’t recall what the answers were supposed to reveal.

1) What is your favorite animal? Give three reasons why.

I hemmed and hawed, as my opinion has changed over of time, but I eventually fell on the Octopus. They’re intelligent, unique and mysterious.

2) What is your favorite article of clothing? Give three reasons why.

I chose flannel shirts because they’re comfortable. Finding two other reasons were rather difficult, but I like how the breast pockets on my shirt can conveniently house my cigarettes and lighter, so I decided on: it has utility. The only other thing I could think of was that I liked the patterns that characterize it.

3) What is your favorite body of water? Give three reasons why.

I couldn’t think of a particular body of water, and though I think I’ve only been to it once, I ultimately settled on the ocean, but was juggling between that and, well, a toilet. For the ocean, I cited the calming waves, its clarity, and its depth. For the toilet, I find it a comfortable place to fill my mind as I can flush the shit out and away from me.

In the end, she revealed that the first question is supposed to suggest how you see yourself. Maybe, kind of, sometimes. The second is supposed to covey how other people perceive you, and I’m not really qualified to judge its accuracy, but do wonder what utility I might have or what patterns (of behavior?) people see in me. The third reflects how you look at sex. Be it ocean or toilet: yeah, that’s fairly fucking accurate.

In her interview with Conan O’Brien, she asked the same questions. I found it interesting that Conan’s co-host and sidekick, Andy, answered the first two questions the same way I had: octopus and flannel.

Coughing Up Earthworms (8/19/18 Dream).

I coughed up this mesh of thick, interwoven fibers, maybe the size of two fists, that fell to the ground. As I’m staring at it initially, I wonder, given that I’m a smoker, if this isn’t some wad of phlegm, but it looks nothing like that. As I lean down to inspect it more closely, I find that they’re actually interlaced, elongated earthworms — some dead, stiff, motionless and light brown or tan in color, the others alive and still moving.

The obvious connections are earth and nature, which carries on the theme of animals (particularly cats and dogs) that have dominated my last two recalled dreams, though in this case the additional association with underground, which is to say the unconscious. The fact that there were so many might suggest there are many interconnected or closely-associated unconscious elements surfacing, which I’m “coughing up,” perhaps through writing.

But some are dead, others alive. For the moment, at least, I’m not at all sure what that means, and it kind of freaks me out.

Cats & Dogs II (8/17/18 Dream).

I walk into a caged area with someone else, approaching small wooden house, barn or similar structure. As he opens the door to the structure and begins to go in, I stop him by touching his arm. There is a lion nearby, but it doesn’t see us. It just walks toward the fence some distance away, as if watching for intruders. Once I walk in the door I find a bunch of wolves inside in dim lighting. They look at me, particularly one of them, but it is done calmly. There is no fear, no sense of threat.

Dreams of Empty.

So hypersensitive,
and such a psychological
minefield of a mind field

for myself
and all those that are, all that
is unfortunate
enough to be around me.

Trigger pulled, caught
in the emotional grip
again. Compartmentalized,

blinded and deafened
to all else and consequently
ostracized from all that resides
outside, including
my greater self.

In a flash, at the snap
of fingers
things suddenly seem so hopeless,

I feel so ensnared,
certain things
so irreversible, inevitable,
my fate is fucking sealed,
it’s all over,

this is who and where I am,
it’s clear as day,
and then I

break state,
escape the mood,
and in retrospect

it all seems so absurd,
such an overreaction, so miniscule,
so stupid, and I feel ashamed
for being such a fool
and making a total ass of myself.

Envy
for the emotionless.
Idolize
the insect
and the psychopath,

just let me keep
the intellect. Let reason,
rationality reign.

Hypersensitivity
and empathy, a torture chamber,
an insane labyrinth:
temporary insanity trap.

I ache to rise
above this, but when it comes on,
possesses
me, it’s so dreadfully heavy.

How can I learn to control
myself? Tell me. I feel
so full, I’m lost in dreams
of empty.

Fapstronaut: Launch & Reentry.

To myself, consciousness seems undeniably distinct from the body: that is why I have found myself fitting the profile of a dualist in the philosophy of the mind. There are plenty of examples of their apparent dissociation, some of which stretch into that forbidden realm of the paranormal, but I’d like to focus here on two examples that are readily accessible. Ones that are common elements of routine, mundane experience with a great likelihood of being familiar to us all.

First, the body seems to coerce consciousness, which suggests to me that consciousness is not a product of the body, but rather more akin to its prey. Second, consciousness can resist bodily impulses, defy biological commands, battle against instinct — all the while fully aware that it is doomed to suffer the biological consequences. We are the donkey and the body dangles the coercive carrot before us, first to trap us and then to keep us moving forward once we’re caught. And then it also receives the assist of the whip.

Now compare and contrast our evolved, bodily technology with our developed, artificial technology. When we program a machine, we need to tell it what to do in a language it understands so that it can carry out our commands by means of the system of tools, the technology, that is at its disposal. What we don’t need to do is seduce it. We don’t need to coerce our cell phone to send a text or threaten our laptop with harm if it fails to promptly load a page. If your body is hungry, though, it makes your belly hurt. If your body is horny, it makes women appear increasingly alluring, painfully beautiful. If these needs are met, if the carrot is pursued, than all is well; if not, than consciousness, mind, suffers the whip, endures the consequences of forsaken instinct.

Yet if mind endures the push and pull, might it find liberation beyond them?

Starving our hardwired sense of need for short periods in a cautious and controlled fashion might be good for us. We might learn that we are indeed in control.

So I decided to give my wrist, fingers and naughties a short vacation, if only to see what would happen as a result. In a state of conjoined drunkeness and mild highness, to be more specific, I decided to refrain from pornography and masturbation for three days. I had become frustrated with my compulsion to watch pornography and fervently jerk off when achieving heights in the aforementioned altered state of consciousness. My working hypothesis that I needed to jerk off at least once a day lest I be hyper-stressed and consequently a hot-headed dick in social situations also frustrated me, and save for going without for a day, two at absolute most, this hypothesis had gone untested despite my clear ability to do so since at least the last time I’ve been laid — a whopping seven years ago — and, unless my memory is faulty, a good time before.

At bare minimum, I decided, I had to try to abstain from manual labor of the nether-region for at least three days. I had to hold off until August 12 of 2018.

I wrote it out with a green magic marker on a paper towel from the roll I have on the microwave within reaching distance from my laptop and thumb-tacked it to my cork-board. My sober self seemed to embrace this challenge as it stared back at me the following morning as I sipped coffee, took drags off my cigarette and watched YouTube videos on the laptop just in front of the paper towel, waving like a white flag in the artificial wind belched into my front room through the AC behind me.

By the following evening, I recalled having come across references in my online reading and video-watching to something known as NoFap, just another subject I’d intended to research but had failed to follow up on as of yet. As “fap” was evidently slang for jerking off, I knew it had something to do with refraining from masturbation, and I quickly came to the conclusion that the experiment I had begun while inebriated and intended to follow through with presented the perfect opportunity to explore the subject. Naturally, I began my quest by reading the Wikipedia page dedicated to it.

Waves of involuntary giggles subsequently echoed in my one-bedroom apartment, for all I know through the third-story halls as well. And the initial catalyst? ‘Twas the word: fapstinence. The subsequent trigger? The word: fapstronauts.

As it turns out, NoFap is an online support group of sorts, one composed of those who wish to resist the seduction of masturbation and porno. Inspired by a 2003 Chinese study that reported a 145.7% testosterone spike in males who abstained from masturbation for seven days, Alexander Rhodes began NoFap on Reddit in June of 2011, ultimately leading to his creation of NoFap.com. As the growing community prompting the website might suggest, many have claimed positive benefits of the practice of not practicing whack-your-weasel. Renewed energy, increased ambition and ability to focus, greater confidence in social situations, emotional stability, elevated self-esteem and amplified appeal to the opposite sex are all alleged consequences of holding back your load.

All of which sounds great and all, but even if it turns out to be legit I have the lingering fear that when one ultimately ejaculates it will be remarkably akin to pushing a truckload of wet cement through a narrow nozzle.

The potential undesirable side effects of NoFap include: uninvited and enduring erections, excessive libido. No mention of cement semen bursting out through the urethra, though, so that’s a plus.

Depending on the results of my three-day experiment, I have, in the midst of my stupid internet research, come across a group called PornFree, also born on Reddit, that is similar to NoFap but is not prejudiced against masturbation, instead concentrating on resisting the allure of porn. It should be made clear that as far as the scientific literature goes, masturbation is perfectly normal and healthy. The additional element of porn, however, is more questionable, at least to my mind, which calls for subsequent research on my part. A cursory review of stuff available online seems to indicate that despite what we are commonly told, there is little evidence for the negative effects of viewing it.

(Postscript: As a transient fapstronaut fapstinent to the impulse triggered by the alarms issuing from his caucasian-colored, mushroom-tipped nut-shuttle, I survived my three days, though wasted no time dropping the payload minutes after midnight on the 12th.)