It’s a quarter to 7, PM, which is post meridian, which means after noon. It’s an excruciatingly beautiful June day in northern Seattle. Not that Seattle is so vast that I need to differentiate different parts of it to assign the weather appropriately. It’s excruciatingly beautiful all over the god damned place. I’m walking to Starbucks.

Which is not true, but more interesting that what I was actually doing at that time: falling asleep as my wife sang a song to our son, about an alligator eating monkeys out of a tree, one by one. First there were five of the little bastards, teasing Mr. Alligator, so he snuck up and snatched one. Then there were four, but the monkeys didn’t seem to notice, and kept right on hassling the guy. So he snatched another. I was actually fighting sleep because I wanted to know how it ended. Would the last one figure it out, maybe repent his ways?

Nah, he got et too. Idiot.

But that’s boring, so instead, I’m walking to Starbucks. It’s warm outside, all the trees are green, and the sky is that deep blue color you get when you give up using four-letter monosyllabic words for colors and look for something fancy and poetic and crap. Like “azure” or “cobalt.”

We like our coffee here in Seattle, mostly because it’s overcast all the time and we need the caffeine to fight off the drearies. People who don’t drink coffee either take heroin or make music, or if it’s the early 90s, they do both. But today the only heroin a person could think of is heroine, with an e, like Wonder Woman, because the sky is the color of Linda Carter’s eyes. There you go.

Which begs the question: why am I walking to Starbucks at 7 PM on a gorgeous day? I dunno. On the one hand, I’m not; I’m mostly asleep on the floor in my kids room as my wife tries to get him to sit still while she changes his diaper. But there would have to be a reason, even if I’m not really walking to Starbucks. Go ahead, find Wonder Woman, have her throw that lasso around me, make me tell the truth. I’d love to know myself.

I mean, on the one hand, I’ve been dipping my toes into philosophy via books and podcasts and browsing Wikipedia. That can get a man down, whether he’s literally down on the floor in his son’s bedroom listening to his wife fight a sleep sack onto the little rascal, or merely spiritually down due to the hop-skip-jump journey he just took from Plato to Descartes to Camus to The Matrix. So there you go. Again. Even the deep warmth of Linda Carter’s deep blue eyes are nothing against a single toe frozen in the ice-cold waters of existential angst.

But on the other hand, there’s this Mindfulness thing that’s been going around. An antidote to angst. Or, an antidote to Angst’s little brother Anxiety, who is way more annoying if you ask me. And to be sure, if I’m lying on the floor of my son’s bedroom as my wife rocks him in the glider and sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (his favorite song) five times in a row, I can hardly consider myself “mindful” if I’m imagining myself walking to Starbucks underneath skies so blue it’s like everything else’s not-blueness just contributes to how blue it is. Maybe, though, I’m so immersed in this imaginary walk I’m mindful of the walk.

Afterall, I’m not feeling any anxiety, thinking about the sky, the press of the cement through my shoes, the traffic tootling by, the siren call of a venti mocha. I am in THAT moment. Sort of. And it’s all in MY head, see. My wife puts our son in his crib with his lovey and a stuffed rhinoceros, and I adjust my face just a bit to move out of my drool spot, and she turns on the white-noisemaker and turns off the light, and there are no shadows on the cave wall in my head, there are no demons messing with my five senses. I am really good at imagining things. I’ve got the Matrix right there inside my noggin.

My son starts to snore. I mean, I get to a crosswalk. I dutifully wait for the light, and when the little white man appears, I get up off the floor. Starbucks is just there, but it’s kind of hard to see in the dark. I am also hard to see in the dark, and a car totally ignore the red light. Probably some jerk on his cell phone. Or maybe the sky is too blue for red to even exist anymore. Camus decided that there’s no purpose to anything, so you might as well just do what you’re good at. I smile at my boy. I’m pretty good at that.

The car is a 1957 Facel Vega, of course, and it plows through me like the fifth dad pun in a string of a dozen. I never make it to Starbucks, but I do make it out of my son’s room. I walk downstairs, find my shoes. There where I took them off. It’s nice when things work out like that.

Donut Day

It’s 6 pm or maybe closer to 7 on a Friday, in the beginning of June, in Seattle, the year 2017, only a day after whatisface announced that he was ready to really destroy the earth. Really destroy it this time. I’m standing in line at Krispy Kreme. Every single teenage girl in Seattle is here. Every. Single. One.

They’re just being people, for the most part. They’re not being geese. They’re not being stereotypes. I wouldn’t even have noticed if I hadn’t noticed. Me, I’m here because I promised someone donuts as a kind of mea culpa. My wife has shanghai’d the gesture to get some donuts for herself and her parents as well. Fair enough. I’d do the same. I really like donuts.

And so does every single teenage girl in Seattle, apparently. No, really, there are a lot of them here. This is how many of them there are: if there were one more, it would be one less than too much. And one less of too much creates anxiety. Almost like, go ahead, squeeze one more in, let’s have that tipping point, let the universe collapse on itself here at the Krispy Kreme on 125th and Aurora under the weight of every single teenage girl.

That’s angst. But we’re still one away from that. The prepunultimate teenage girl is maybe that one by the door, with the blonde hair, blue eyes, braces, shirt, shorts, shoes, cell phone, donut-hungry grin. She represents pre-angst. Let’s call it prangst.

I am, me, hungry for prangst. I have been noticing a lot of things lately that are semi-connected which add up to a kind of frisson. I listened to a podcast today about Camus, and absurdism, which drifted into a discussion of Mindfulness. I have a friend who has been encouraging to me to try mindfulness, by coincidence. I have anxiety. But I value it because it makes me hypervigilant, which I take pride in. If I give up my anxiety entirely, I’ll lose my identity. But it’s making me miserable. I need to be almost anxious. Prangst.

And that’s where the frisson comes in. I am not worried, yet, that the number of teenage girls in here will reach a critical mass, yet. But I am maybe worried that I’ll be worried about it if one more comes in. And, here’s the thing, I’m being very mindful of my worries. I am in the moment. I am surrounded by almost but not quite nearly too many teenage girls.

At no point whatsoever do I wonder, at all, WHY there are so many freakin’ teenage girls here.

Somehow, the lines moves, and I’m in front of the counter. I look back– the line is exactly as long as it was when I came in. For every teenage girl that left, a new one has come. I don’t know you, whoever you are, reading this. I don’t know what teenage girls symbolize for you. And I don’t want to guess, and I refuse to worry about what you think I must mean by saying I don’t want to guess. I’m just saying that these teenage girls are not a mass of individuals, but are collective consciousness, and they are timing their exits and entries with mathematical precision. I’d thank one of them if I thought she could speak for all of them. But of course she can’t.

The guy behind the counter asks me what I’d like to have. He is utterly oblivious to how many teenage girls are in here. That’s either because he’s not hypervigilant like me, or he’s used to it. Probably, this precise number of teenage girls has been here all day. Every day. Teenage girls, it turns out, existentially, are defined by how there are always the exact same number of them in the universe, and this Krispy Kreme on 125th and Aurora is a splinter of the hologram that reflects that entire universe.

I tell the guy I want three of those and two of those and one of those and one of those and two of those. He asks me if I want a free donut.

The question is so straightforward, so simple. “Do you want a free donut?” In any other context I would assume it’s a rhetorical question. I mean, the answer is always yes. Always. Even after I’ve chose nine other donuts that I clearly have every intention of paying for, the answer is yes. And so, despite myself, I say yes. It’s automatic. And he asks me which one I want. He doesn’t mean one of the ones in the box he’s building for me. He means a tenth donut.

I glance around. The line is now one teenage girl longer than it was before. I start to sweat. I need to leave. I tell him I’ll have one of the hot ones. He tries to hand it to me, I point at the box. I glance back at the door. There’s a teenage girl standing outside of it, dark hair, dark eyes, jeans with holes on the knees, baggy sweathshirt. She’s not coming inside yet, she just talking on her cell phone. A baggy sweatshirt in Seattle on absolutely gorgeous day, a warm sunny day. We’re all going to die.

The guy scoots over to the registers and I follow suit. You know those new chip-card readers? If you have a credit card with one of those chips on it, what you do is you try to slide it like you used to do with your older credit cards, and then the machine tells you, no, stupid, insert the chip part and wait. Well, this time I don’t fuck it up. I insert. The machine almost sighs. Like, finally. For myself, I am willfully not using my peripheral vision to see if that final teenage girl has come in yet. Because my peripheral vision has already told me that  none of them have left.

The guy hands me my receipt. I try to grab it but I’ve already got my box of nine donuts plus one free one in my hands. I can’t use a number higher than nine anymore, because that’s one too many and I don’t want the impending teenage girl singularity and the donut singularity to fight over which one will collapse the universe and which one is just going to be along for the ride. I don’t even remember the guy handing me the box in the first place.
It occurs to me that whoever wins, the donuts or the teenage girls, I better call “shotgun” because you don’t want to be in the backseat when the universe ends.

But it doesn’t end, and I make it outside. I get in my car and sit there, looking at the teenage girls swarming in the door, out the door. I could say what it’s like, but I’ve already said I don’t know you, don’t know what you think of when you read the words “teenage girls.” So I can’t say what it’s like.

I start the car. The radio blares. The DJ is blathering about something, and doing an excellent job of it. Earning that daily bread. He says that I shouldn’t forget that today is Free Donut Day. I can here the capital letters in his voice.

Well, shit.

McJudgemental

I don’t know if I know exactly what a McMansion is, but I know the term is disparaging. I heard a podcast about McMansions once, and it wasn’t very nice. The way these houses were described makes me wonder if I’m standing in one right now. Or, outside one. But inside, as I’m on a covered porch, open on three sides, the fourth side connected to the rest of the house with eight-foot doors so wide, I have to look for them to be before I’m assured these people don’t wear bulky coats indoors all winter. Then again, there are directional heaters installed in the roof of this porch. And skylights. There are skylights in this porch roof.

I hesitate to describe why I’m here (lest someone read this and recognize who I’m talking about) because, as I said, I’ve already been disparaging and I shouldn’t be. We’re at a party for a friend, and the people who own this house have very graciously offered up their home to host. I mean, I’ve already had a beer, and will soon have another. To say anything even bordering on judgmental about people who invite you in and give you beer is not just bad manners, it’s downright shitty.

And yet, I can’t help but judge. I’m a judgmental prick. But that’s no excuse- just because I call myself an asshole, doesn’t excuse such behavior. In fact, that makes it worse. So I’ll focus on other things. Other generosities. That table overloaded with homemade food. A house like this, they could have easily afforded caterers replete with black bow-tie servers. But it’s all home-cooked, and although I over indulged with some leftover Chinese for lunch, my wife insists I eat something. I’m holding the baby, so she stabs food with a plastic fork and shoves in my face. It’s fucking delicious.

Some kind of music is trickling out of the overhead speakers. This damned porch ceiling is festooned with speakers, heaters, and skylights. The baby is my arms, let’s be clear, is a 25-pound toddler. He feels good in my arms. His weight anchors me, keeps me from drifting around the party. I don’t know anyone here, not the hosts certainly. I suppose I know the guest of honor and her husband, but I haven’t seen them in, literally, two years. They look great, by the way. They’re beautiful people.

My wife takes my anchor away to go find said guest of honor and talk about women things. I don’t say that disparagingly. I say that as a good excuse to not describe further what they’re going to talk about. It’s utterly alien to me. So now I’m weightless, and I drift around, off the porch, into the sun. On their perfect green grass. I end up chatting with a fellow about his impending child. Another guy joins us, they’re old friends, he also has a child looming. Another guy joins us. A fifth. No, a fourth, because they’re all old friends, and their conversation drifts to memories and such. I manage to get a few jokes in:

“I’m the only one who married a shiksa,” one guys says.
“Well, I married shiksa too,” I say.
They all look at me. A different guy says “Are you Jewish?”
I smile. “No.”

It feels like their laughter is genuine. One guy gives me a high five. Then their conversation returns to old memories, and the sun is in my eyes, and my beer is empty, so I drift away again. Making people laugh, or at least trying too, is another anchor of mine. But I don’t want to try too hard. I go find the beers. They’re on the porch.

It feels like coming home. Not really, but it’s familiar. It’s starting to get crowded at this party. These beautiful people sure do know a lot of fairly beautiful people. Maybe that’s where my wife fits in. She’s a beautiful people too, and so is my son, and the jokes my wife brings back from the guest of honor about her daughter eventually marrying our son. A good old Bollywood wedding. How we’ll go dutch on the dowry. A Jap and shegetz. It’s not disparaging if you belong to one of the ethnic groups being made fun of, right?

Let’s face it: I’m a middle-aged middle-class white guy originally from the Midwest. My very existence is racist.

You know what? Fuck that podcast. Fuck the whole idea of “McMansions.” This place is lovely and I would love to live here. I would love to throw a party here for my kid and his gori fiancee, invite all these people back, drink my own beer, drift around, peer up through the skylight as the night comes on and look at the stars and when some says to me “penny for your thoughts” I’d say, “My son’s a Guju getting married to a Jew, so I’m going to maybe have to bargain with you on that price you’re offering me.”

But that’s years in the future. For now, little man needs to get home and get to bed. We say our goodbyes, get to our Subaru, strap him in his car seat, drive home. He’s feisty because it’s past his bed-time, but once we get him settled he’s out, snoring, in no time. Yeah, my toddler snores. Loud. It’s god damned adorable.

We do chores, my wife and I, in our own house. if I had stepped into our house when I was teenager still living in Wichita, I would have called it a McMansion, easily. Talk about judgmental pricks.

We turn in, and as we’re drifting off to sleep, my wife does this thing she always does. You know how some people have that last, pre-sleep jerk-spasm; my wife sometimes has a last, pre-sleep blurt, something that’s on her mind that needs to be said. “They had two laundry rooms,” she says.

“What?”
“That house. They had two full laundry rooms.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“What, like, one upstairs, one downstairs?”
“Yeah.”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

Approaching 5 PM on a Beautiful Summer’s Day In Seattle

It’s approaching 5 PM on a beautiful summer’s day in Seattle. No clouds, not a single one, and the sky a deep uniform blue, as if it had always been that color, always would be. Temperatures hover around the mid seventies, warm enough to be warm, but not hot enough to be hot. People like talking about the weather because it’s something they have in common. Even people who dislocated by a thousand miles will talk about their own weather, because it’s something the other person has probably experienced. They can empathize.

I’m pushing my toddler son in one of those jogging strollers. Three enormous wheels, black, festooned with pockets and holders. Snacks and drinks and a garage door opener and my cell phone. I’m dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt, sunglasses and a ballcap. I’ve got a bushy beard that needs trimming. I’m one can of beer away from being identifiable as a redneck or as hipster. I don’t think I’m either, but I’ve been accused of being each. And to think there are people who will claim one or the other and wear the description proudly, even defiantly.

We’re passing a church, my son and I, 45 minutes into our walk, 15 left to go. The final stretch. We happen to be on a stretch of sidewalk, one of the few parts of our daily loop that doesn’t require us walking in the street. We tend to stay off the busier avenues, so there isn’t much traffic, and when cars do pass us, they usually swing well onto the other side of the road. I always acknowledge them with a wave. Half of them wave back.

But this sidewalk is narrower than a road, and approaching is a girl on a bike. She looks to be about six or seven years old. Drak blakc skin, still wearnig her baby fat, but wearing it well, and a sturdy bicyclle helmet sat firmly on her head. The chin straps maybe a bit tight. I shouldn’t stereotype, but I do: there;s a Mosque not far from here, and I assume she’s Somalian. I catch myself. Her parents are maybe Somalian, but this girl was probably born here.

She’s about a hundred feet away, weaving inexpertly all over the pavement, in her own world. She looks up, and without hesitation, rides the bike off the sidewalk and into the road. Actually, it’s a bunch of parking spaces, not the street itself. She glides towards us,makes eye contact.

I want to to wave, to acknowledge her, but I can’t. Her mother strapped that helmet to her head, tight, because she knows that’s the right thing to do. And she raised her child to respect her neighbors, because that’s also the right thing to do. If I wave to her, she’s going to wave back, automatically. There’s no stranger danger here- it’s a beautiful, sunny day, I’m a guy puching a baby stroller, complete with toddler. We’re next to a church, for Christ’s sake. She’ll take one hand off the handlebars to wave back, lose control, wreck her bike.

But I have to acknowledge her. She gave us the sidewalk, and I want to say thank you and encourage to continue this courtesous lifestyle instilled in her by her mother. So, as she get’s closer, I reach up and tip my hat. She’s only seven years old, her parents are Somalian, she probably has no idea what I’m doing, if I’m doing anything at all.

And she glides by us, she smirks. Her smirk says it all. She knows exactly what tipping a hat means. It’s something cowboys used to do when they passed genteel ladies on the streets of Loredo. “Ma’am,” they’d say, touching the brim of their stetson, moving it almost imperceptibly. She learned about it in school, saw a film.

A cowboy, a redneck, a throwback, a hipster. I don’t need a beer in my hand to collapse that waveform. She smirks, because her mother raised her to respect her neighbors, but that doesn’t mean she’s a syncophant to every tool wandering around the landscape. The next time she’s on a sidewalk and somebody walks by, she’ll get out of their way too.

Not just because she’s going to be polite. Because she’s the one with the power. It’s her sidewalk, she rides it four or five hundred times a day. No matter what the weather. Yesterday there were four or five clouds in the sky, and she was weaving up and down. They day before that it was overcast, with patches of sky in the clouds, and she was out there. And they day before that it was raining, so she was inside, watching her mother make canjeero, but in her head she was out there on that sidewalk.

She’s got the power, and she’ll cede that bit of pavement because she can, not because she has to.

My son and I get to the end of the block, make a left turn, out of the sunshine and into deep shade. The change in temperature makes me shiver, as all my crevices are filmed in sweat which rapidly cools. My son yells, suddenly, a non-word, his sound for acknowledging a dog on the street coming towards us. My son loves dogs. The dog’s owner looks up at the sound too, smiles, waves. I wave back. It’s no problem, steering the stroller with one hand.

Things Sure Do Get Boring Without You Here

fiction by Jason Edwards

Remember that time we ate thirteen ninjas? We spent the summer building a time machine and then went back to medieval Japan and impersonated a particularly evil overlord. When the ninja showed up to assassinate us we let him, since that’s the only way to return to your own time, but not before getting into a wicked katana battle and covering ourselves with his DNA. Boy, you really know how to swing a sword, I’ll give you credit for that.

Then we used the blood to clone him and grew him in a vat and ground him up into hamburger and had a nice little barbecue. But you put way too much relish on yours, man, and that kinda made me mad. And I tried to tell you, but all you wanted to do was tell me some anecdote about the first time Amos Tvesky tried to order a hamburger with relish in Michigan. And I kept saying “who the hell is Amos Tvesky” and you kinda got mad at me for saying that over and over. You never did finish your story, and I’m sorry about that. I really am.

And then one day we’re walking down the street, I think it’s 5th or 15th or 125th or something. There was a five in it. Between Nickerson and Mount Baker. Or Bakker with two Ts? Anyway. Walking along and talking about baseball and, I don’t know, Helga Lovekaty or whatever, and all of a sudden you’re like: “He wasn’t a ninja.” Then we got coffee.

And we got into this deep existential conversation about how just because we had, like, a firefighter’s DNA, and we cloned him (you kept saying “or her” like we needed to be feminists, and it almost derailed the conversation, and it was only later that I figured out you were saying it because the barista could have been listening and she was cute in that not-gorgeous-but-attainable way, which is, when you think about it, a really sexist way to describe someone, dude) if that clone had never fought a fire, was it a fire fighter too? Our ninja clone never went around ninja-ing stuff. You can’t ninja in a vat.

I’m going to be honest with you, I forget who was saying “definitely ninja” and who was saying “definitely not ninja” by the end of it. We talked about destiny and potential and collapsing wave-forms and social constructs and crap. I pointed out that a table with only one leg wasn’t a table, except it was, and you pointed out how using a cardboard box to hold up a plate of spaghetti while you watch TV wasn’t a table either, except it was.

We got back to our time machine. Coffee jittery and sort of itchy. It was hot that day, our allergies were going nuts, the ninja-clone-growing vat had this weird smell coming off it, like formaldehyde dancing with pine-sol and a stack of old strawberry-scented scratch-and-sniff stickers. I got a sudden craving for root beer. And you said “Fudge it,” and shoved me into the time machine. You never could curse very well.

The first ninja we found got away because, while we were waiting for him, lurking in some bushes and giggling, I pulled out my cell phone. It’s like a habit. I don’t know what I was going to do, maybe play Angry Birds. But I had two bars! I was getting a cell-signal! In medieval Japan! So when the ninja comes waltzing along you sprang out and grabbed him but I screwed it up. I mean, sorry, not sorry, finding out there are cell towers in medieval Japan seemed like a more worthwhile thing to pursue than capturing, killing, field-dressing, butchering, barbecuing and eating a damned ninja.

Okay sure, we figured out that the signal was coming through our time machine from the future to my phone. But still. That in and of itself was pretty cool. Those service providers who talk about comprehensive nation-wide coverage? Being able to say that have not just any-where but any-time coverage? That would be one hell of a commercial!

Whatever. Next ninja, not as easy as the first. He got away too. Good for us, though, he came back, with friends. Man, you really know how to swing a sword. Did I say that already?

We got a taste for it, I’ll admit. Back home, you and me, another walk, 6th this time, or maybe 16th, or 166th, talking about how when you were a kid you thought “a quarter-after three” meant 3:25. And I kept asking “PM or AM?” Did you know, when you get frustrated, your face turns this weird purple color? LIke fuschia, but angrier.

I tried to change the subject. Which baseball teens would specific porn stars probably root for? Like, if they didn’t just root for the Angels since most of them live there? And I don’t know, the conversation just naturally kind-of moved into eating ninjas and how we sorta had a taste for it, and you said you wanted to go back and try one with relish.

Three months! Three months we spent tweaking that damn time machine, trying to figure out how to take a jar of relish back with us. The experiments! A plastic bottle of ketchup and a visit to colonial America. I never told you this, but that lieutenant? From the 6th dragoons? He didn’t give me indigestion. I was just mad because I thought this was such a stupid idea. But I bet you kind of already knew that. Or that packet of soy sauce we took back to the Battle of Hastings. You, running around, shouting “Why does everyone know the date for this battle? Why is it so important?” and then you got a bow and arrow off a guy and, who knows, maybe you’re the reason everyone knows that date now.

We were on our cots, remember? Looking up the ceiling, where we’d pasted those glow-in-the-dark stars to accurately depict what the night-sky would have looked like in medieval Japan on a clear autumn night. Man I was I tired. I don’t remember what you said. I thought you said we needed to go to a 7-11 on the other side of the country and get some lemonade. But that’s silly, of course that’s not what you said. And I was so tired, I should have pointed out how we live, like, really close to a 7-11. There’s on on 4th or 144th or something. I said, “Let’s just make our own.”

You jumped off the cot. Started screaming. Called me a genius. Scared the crap out of me. “We can make our own!” You shouted. Shoved me into the time machine. Medieval Japan. Again. “Now let’s go find some pickles!” you said.

Well, the didn’t have pickles back then did they. Did they? Fine, we hunted up cucumbers. None of those either? We went to China. China! Oh man, can I tell you something? Your face, when we finally got back to Japan with that sack of cucumber seeds and a jar of sea salt, and we found that old farmer, and he was eating pickles. Serendipity? You were so mad, you killed that farmer, made a quick relish out of what was left of his pickle, and screamed and screamed about how bad it was. So we told the local constable or whatever the called ’em, what we done, got executed, and when we got back home, we broke into Heinz.

It’s funny how things work out, I mean, all those ninjas we fought and killed and ate, and there we were, going full-ninja on that Heinz break-in. We were one with the shadows, weren’t we? I don’t think they had key-card locks and motion detectors in Medieval Japan, but we made it through just fine. Found that secret recipe, on that computer. I’m not going to say I told you so, but when we were kids? And you called me a nerd because I liked computer games more than baseball? Just sayin’.

And the whole time you were reading the recipe. Shaking your head. “I knew it. I fudging knew it.” You never were good at cursing.

One thing I always liked about you was how fearless you were, and how many ridiculous fears you had at the same time. You’d take a sword into a crowd of ninjas like it was nothing. But then you’d see a black cat and freak the fudge out. I’m bleeding from, like, fifteen different places, you’ve got ninja blood up to your knees, and you’re standing behind me, gripping my shoulders, yelling at me. “Make it go away! Make it fudging go away!”

That’s what got you killed, you know. Those stupid fears. That’s my theory, anyway. We killed and ate our twelfth ninja. With our homemade Heinz recipe relish. Fine, I’ll admit it, I can see sort of maybe why you liked it so much. And then one more ninja showed up, and I had my crossbow all ready, and you we’re like, “No way man. Thirteen is an unlucky number.” I guess we need to get back anyway. You had that paper to write and I was supposed to pull a double shift at work.

But, like, what if we had killed him too? And we’d eaten him? See, thing is, we’d already eaten thirteen if you counted the first vat-ninja. I guess that’s ironic. I guess you were right. Because we got back and everything was fine for a long time. We dismantled the time machine and sold the cloning vat on Craig’s List and you got married and I started seeing Jackie and life was just life, you know? We robbed a few banks, a few casinos, a train, even. No big.

I guess I’m telling you things you already know. How we were rappelling down the side of First National because there was a company on the 14th floor that had some files you wanted. We could have gone through the front door. We could have just asked for them. But you said stealing them would make them more valuable. And your stupid fear of the number thirteen, telling me how tall buildings never have a thirteenth floor.

But First National was built, like, three years ago. Superstitions like that are dead, man. Wrong floor, security guard, and you with no sword. I like to pretend, sometimes, that you traveled here, to this timeline, from the future, and we grew up together, and when you got killed you just went back where you came from.

Look, I have to go. I’m supposed to see my parole officer this afternoon and she gets all snotty if I’m late. Here’s another jar of relish. I’m sure the cemetery custodian keeps taking them, because they’re always gone when I come back. But I like to think that, somehow, you’re the one who takes them, wherever you are. Fudging relish.

You know what? I just thought of something. My parole officer? She’s Japanese, I think. And she’s always wearing black. Huh. We’ll see I guess. I’ll see you later. Things sure do get boring without you here.

Review: The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart

The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart
The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My goal is to read a book a week for the whole year, and even though it’s still only January, I feel like I’m behind. I had to abandon a bad (boring) book after 400 pages, and then another 400 pager took me longer to read than usual. Thank goodness there’s these snappy little Burglar books to get me caught up.

In my review of the previous book to Bogart (Ted Williams) I didn’t have too many good things to say. I liked this one better. Maybe because it was a relief to get back to a straightforward read? Maybe. It had the same old same-old as the previous books: A burglary gone wrong, a slightly contrived plot with a few too many coincidences, a gathering of the players in the end so Bernie can say whodunit.

Or maybe the theme this time was a little more conducive to the “romance” of the gentleman scallywag. Bernie spends half his time at a Bogart film festival, and the novel is laced with quotes and sentiments from the man’s movies– not just Casablanca and The Big Sleep, but some of the obscure ones as well.

It almost reads as an homage (although, full confession, I don’t think I’ve seen a single Bogart film, so I probably don’t know what I’m talking about).

Whatever. In the end I was happy to have read it, to have plowed through it in a day, to have gotten back on track. Here’s looking at me.

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Review: Hush

Hush
Hush by Karen Robards
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m not much one for reading romance novels, so you’ll have to take everything I write here with a grain of salt. It may be the case that all of the things I plan on complaining about are actually the stuff that draw folks to these kinds of books.

For example, the number of times I had to read what an amazing ass the main character had. The number of times she swooned over how manly her love interest was. The sheer predictability of how and when these two people who didn’t like each other were going to hook up. Who knows, maybe this is de rigueur for romances and I have no business whining. Don’t like it? Don’t read it. Right?

However, there were some things that I’m pretty sure had nothing to do with the genre. Like the time the main character was described sticking to the her man “like jelly on peanut butter.” Or how the main character looked up an ID number, using the internet, and got a hold of CIA personnel file.

The front of the book says “thriller” but the main plot point of the second half of the book was “resolved” in a few sentences. Not very thrilling. A friend, who does read a lot of romance novels, told me that this one was, maybe, phoned in by a writer who otherwise usually delivers.

Just my luck that a mediocre effort was the one I happened to read.

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Review: High-Rise

High-Rise
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saw that there’s a movie out based on this book and decided to read it, if only because I rarely get the chance to watch movies anymore, and the book’s always better, right? I’m pretty sure, based on my reading, the movie will be nothing like the book.

That’s speculation, but offered as way to describe how the books seems to work. It’s kind of a horror novel, kind of a sci-fi novel, and while there are visceral scenes and action to be consumed, fit for filming, most of the novel works on a psychological level. Ballard begins by featuring a half-naked man on a balcony eating cooked dog, then jumps back to a civilized beginning to take the reader on a journey that eventually justifies that scene.

And he does so in quantum fits, choosing to show not transition between increasingly disturbing states, but instead the comfort and ease of the characters who dwell in these states. And that’s where the horror lies, in that, given some kind of social decline, people will just be people: adapt, adjust, accept.

Folks will compare High-Rise to Lord of the Flies, which is somewhat apt, and maybe even, dare I say, the madness and decay in that dystopian video game Bioshock. But I don’t think any of that’s the point. I think this is a book that wants to do nothing more than stroke that tenth of a percent of your inner self that enjoys depravity.

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Review: The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams

The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams by Lawrence Block
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wish I had given the previous Bernie book 2.5 stars instead of 2, so I could give this one two stars and not worry that folks will think one’s as good as the other. Cause they’re not. Mondrian is an okay book, but Ted Williams suffers from too much of the same-old same-old, and rests on its own laurels, and is too confusing and convenient.

Too many coincidences, distracting me the whole time, and I was just waiting for it all to explained to me at the end. And when the big explanation does come, it’s so meager and phoned-in. And then a room full of people hear a man confess to murder and they don’t care? Not even the side-character who had nothing to do with the plot whatsoever?

This one was water-thin. Nothing happens in half the book. I mean nothing. I mean there are chapters (plural) with Bernie and Carolyn getting drunk and doing nothing. If it’s supposed to be symbolic of something, fine, but maybe keep it to a few pages, not a quarter of the book.

On the flip side, we only get a few pages dedicated to an idea that could be the basis for a whole novel. It’s just slipped in there, like the writer thought of it at the last second but by then just needed to finish the darn thing and tie up a few loose ends.

Who knows, maybe all of this is because there’s an 11 year-gap between this one and the previous ones. Maybe the next will be better. I sure hope so.

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Review: Boxer, Beetle

Boxer, Beetle
Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m glad I didn’t read this first novel by Ned Beauman before I read The Teleportation Accident. Not that Boxer, Beetle isn’t good—I just think that Beauman’s style is a little more polished in his later work, and I’m not such a great reader that I would have picked up on his genius in his debut work.

Because Beauman has this way of filling up a novel, so many people and places and silly little events, and yet it comes across very light, easy to digest. I’m guessing there’s more there than meets the eye, too (see above, re: I’m not the best reader) so a subsequent reading may be in order.

Homosexuality is used in the novel as a lens for the reader to consider what it meant to be Jewish back then. We look down our noses at such racism, but any reader today will have living memories of gay men and women being talked about in exactly the same way. There’s my sophomore college thesis statement. Let’s move on.

Like The Transportation Accident, this novel plays on the edges of World War II, without getting right into it, although with this work he’s much closer than in the other. Hitler is mentioned several times, although the book doesn’t touch on the holocaust, leaving that darkness for the reader to remember on his or her own.

This dark edge doesn’t overwhelm them book, however—Beauman manages to keep things just silly enough that one doesn’t get bogged down by lecturing. Part if this accomplished by contextualizing things in a modern-day thriller pastiche, although it’s more of a device than anything else, a means by which to add a “plot” without worrying about, you know, plotting.

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