Category Archives: Postmodern whatchamacallitism

An Open Letter To Lance Armstrong

Similar to McSweeney’s “OPEN LETTERS TO PEOPLE OR ENTITIES WHO ARE UNLIKELY TO RESPOND.”

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Dear Lance,

Cycling season is underway, but seeing as how you are getting old—sorry, but let’s call it what it is—and you are constantly getting hounded with all those doping allegations—which is, let’s also call it what it is: bullshit—I wanted to offer my services as the new phenom of professional cycling, even though I am not technically a professional… yet. Hear me out:

When I ride my bike, I can just feel the fat melting off me.  I mean I can really fucking feel it! All those “big c” Calories just liquefying inside my insides. Just liquefying and then, bam! fucking eliminated!  See ya!  When I’m riding, you can’t even call the whole process liquification anymore based on what I’m doing to it. Nope. More like lique-faction, which is what happens when there’s like a shit ton of heat and rocks basically just melt like in an earthquake.  Massive energy!  Abatshit-fucking-crazy-ass-turbo-nuts-load of energy!  I learned about that shit on the Discovery Channel, those guys who used to sponsor you, remember?

Anyway…

When I get my legs pumping, I’ll pop a spoke if I’m not careful.  Massive fucking energy!  And all that fat I was talking about? I don’t even really have that much of it, any of it really.  My body fat is like one percent, which the doctors tell me isn’t healthy, but fuck them!  I’m on a “big c” Crusade against fat.  It’s my enemy.  I’m on a Crusade, a Jihad and a partaking in a fucking Inquisition when it comes to that shit!  The doctors tell me with their “healthy” nine percent body like the fat fucking fatty-fat-fats they are!  My body, my temple, bitches!, that’s what I say.

So anyway, sometimes I think I could hook a generator up to my indoor bike trainer for when it’s raining outside.  Like if the fucking lights and power went out I could just hop on my bike and power back up the fucking neighborhood because I can make big “n” Nature my bitch!  I mean I really hate rain, only second to body fat.  I hate Nature third because it pisses me off when it’s too hot or too cold outside, but I digress…

My friends tell me, Lars, calm the fuck down with all that shit, man.  Fat this, energy that.  It’s almost like you got an eating disorder!  And I say fuck you, guys!  You wouldn’t be saying this if you assholes weren’t such a bunch of fatties!  Which, basically isn’t true because all my friends ride the bike too and people are always telling them they look a little gaunt, whatever that means.  What, is it a crime to be skinny now, Lance?  They call it an eating disorder; I call it sheer adamantine mental toughness, which pisses me off if I have to say it more than once. Batshit pissed off! Like when that punk Alberto Contador totally attacked you up the mountain and you were on the same team and he was totally pissing on your Tour de France campfire. Just like that.

And so anyway, Lance, I mostly ride by myself now because basically there isn’t anyone who can keep up with me any more, and I’ll just get pissed off if I can’t drop the fucking hammer, like full tilt boogie!, whenever the mood strikes me. Racing amateur?  For pussies.  What’s the point if you’re racing for second?—which is obviously what place they’d be racing for if I was in the race.  Pussies.  If Superman was real, even he wouldn’t race me.  Even Superman has some fucking pride, Lance.

So yeah, it was pretty hard for me to decide what kind of bike to get.  You’ve seen those guys who crush empty beer cans against their heads—which is fucking stupid because of all the empty calories in the beer, but whatever.  They don’t call it a Super-Protein-Power-Shake belly, do they? No. It’s a beer belly—but you’ve seen those guys, right?  Just crush that shit up on their melon like bam!  Batshit crazy!  That’s what my fucking harbinger-of-destruction-like-quads would do to a panty-waste aluminum bike. Bam!

Steel? Same fucking thing, Lance, only more bendy.

Titanium seems more like it.  Carbon fiber is supposed to be stronger than steel but it looks like fucking plastic to me. I can’t be generating like 6 billion watts of fucking power just to have my fucking plastic toy bike snap in half.  That’s fucking just asinine.  But titanium might be the ticket.  They make tanks out of titanium which, I personally think, they create as an homage to my quads. Fucking batty!

But anyway, that’s all I got for now Lance. I hope you’ll consider. It’s your loss if you don’t. But whatever. I’m not like going to cry in my Fiber One cereal if you don’t call. Just steer clear of me at the Tour of Gila because I’ll be there. Unless you have that contract with you and you are all like, Hey Lars Friedrichstëinerson, why don’t you come ride for team Radio ShackIt’d be really fucken swell. In which case, I’ll politely accept and we can proceed to crush opposing souls. Think about it, Lance.

Sincerely,

Lars Friedrichstëinerson

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Words like an Escher painting

We need gas masks to breathe the toxic ozones, spilled chemicals mingle like singles at a mixer and you can only think about your lost pair of spectacles and some perspective. What are we doing here anyway? Are things getting too real for you? I can’t remember the last time we just talked and reminisced about things we never did. You’re goddamn right we have a problem, Houston. I’m not really here. Motion sickness Dramamine can’t fix. A light switch switched off and you can’t reach because you are sinking, ever-sinking. Why do you fight it? The mud only sucks you down faster if you struggle.

The midnight oil burns the candle at both ends because it’s too hot to do anything else. I’m panicking. Why won’t you answer my calls? Was it something I said? Cut out pictures from the newspaper and smudge the faces because you like the way the ink feels on your fingertips. Kiss the earth because you’re always better when you are grounded. Hurl yourself into full bodily contact with the manmade lagoon and watch as hope washes over you and then away. Life itself crashes and breaks over the banks of your levee, your ironclad resolve. There is a doomed sense of righteousness beading about your brow.

 

Something new, right out of my sketchbook

Since I often proselytize about the importance of sharing the process of writing, here is some brand new, dystopian fiction right out of my Moleskine.

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Flying, with a good chance of irritability

(Fiction)

I used to think the world was fucked. I did. I used to think the world was fucked and it was up to me to unfuck it. That’s what I used to think, but I’ve been trying to work on that. It’s not a particularly flattering characteristic I have.

Like this fucken guy, here. I’m in the food court at the airport and there’s this fucken creepy guy, a real mouthbreathing gizmo, right? And he’s just hovering around the iced tea carafe like it’s the last fucken source of iced tea on the planet. Seriously hovering, lurking. I mean, it’s iced-fucken-tea!

I’ve never seen anyone on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink before, but here was someone, right here in front on me on the verge of conniptions over a soft drink. He and I are about to cross paths, too. I paid for a Coke that’s not going to fill itself and the iced tea carafe is contiguous to soda fountain.

In any event, I’ve got a serious stink eye aimed directly at me by the twitchy, iced tea guy. I depress the Coke’s soda trigger and take a foamy sip. It’s just totally irresponsible — regardless of ounceage — to fill up the whole cup if the soda-water-to-syrup-ratio is all snafu’d, but this airport’s Coke’s as refreshing as Coke gets.

I top my cup off and pop an opaque plastic lid on because, even though I’m going to enjoy my Coke and hot dog — got me a polish dog too, in case I didn’t mention — right here in the lounge while I wait for my flight, and the lid preserves maximum fizziness in between free refills which is all just really the bees knees.

My hot dog is OK but sort of dry with wrinkly skin like an old dude, the dog itself does.  A sort-of-dry dog, I can deal with.  A stale bun is snafu.  A dry on the outside dog still has the potential to’ve maintained some of its juiciness at its dog-core, but a dry, crusty bun just really fucks with my universe — no redeeming qualities in a dry bun, whatsoever. Feed ‘em to the pigeons.

Flash forward and we’re boarding now and the voice over the speaker says the flight’s not all that full.  People rush to pack the plane, but I’m like, what’s the point?  I dawdle a little and board dead last.  I knew people were going to snap up the cherriest seats at the bulkheads and the emergency exits over the wings, but no one ever willingly takes the rearmost seats, which I never really understood, especially on a thinly-booked flight.

The back of the plane is like your own private cabin with it’s own personal bathroom.  Less random-asses-to-toilet-seat ratio, plus I won’t have to sweat the three refills I got before boarding. So that’s why I dawdle.  No rush in bringing up the rear of the boarding line.

The scent of Barbasol wafts down the gangway, which really proves that a good, creamy lather is still a great way to kickstart a real man’s man’s morning.

The girl in front of me has been clicking away on her BlackBerry — and snapping her chewing gum, some mango-mint bullshit which, speaking of lather, gets me all in one — since I first noticed her.  I’m pretty sure that, before all the clicking and snapping, she was totally eyefucking me six ways from Sunday, but then, afterwards, she felt dirty about it, which is par for the course for me, really.

I’m close enough and tall enough to see over her shoulder, and I notice that we have a mutual Facebook friend — an observation I kind of want to tell her about — but the fact that the line is moving forward without her, and the gangway is too narrow to get around whoever’s in front of you, makes me think I should tell her to pay the fuck attention.  But then there’s my whole attempt at ignoring the unfucking of the world, so I just clear my throat instead.

Once the plane finally takes off, I get up to use the bathroom because, even though I didn’t have to worry about taking a piss being at the uncrowded back, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to piss.  However and this is something I just couldn’t really believe — the lavatory was already occupied, which meant someone wasn’t paying the fuck attention to the keep-seatbelts-fastened sign, a happenstance that also really pisses me off.  But when the door finally opens, I had to piss so bad that my eyes were probably turning yellow, so I didn’t say anything.  I’m kind of passive-aggressive that way sometimes.

While I was waiting, one of the flight attendants asked if I’d like any peanuts, which, no, I really didn’t since I’m terribly allergic and will puff up like the Michelin Man if I eat just one.  I asked her for pretzels instead, which — similar to iced tea guy in the airport’s lounge — actually almost gave this person conniptions — because now she’d have to notify yet another flight attendant, one who distributes pretzels instead of peanuts, that she herself was unable to satisfy my dietary needs, a fact that I’m betting did generally unproductive things to her sense of internal sense of competency, but all of this was precipitated by circumstances that were completely out of my control.

After evacuating my bladder, I walk back to my seat and pick up the package of pretzels that had been left on my seat.  As I munched on the salty, half-stale victuals, I pondered a scenario that would likely be best pondered with one’s two feet planted firmly on the ground: What if the plane lost all power and began plummeting to earth, but one of the more proactive passengers says to himself, fuck this, and chews up then swallows a whole bottle of Xanax and a whole bottle of sleeping pills, downing them with a couple of those overpriced mini bottles of Jack Daniels they serve on airplanes.  But then instead of crashing, the power comes back online and the pilot rights the whole shebang after a few minutes of freefall with only seconds to spare like in various action movies everyone has seen.  But only now, the previously proactive passenger is full of potent narcotics and is well in excess of the legal intoxication limit, and the kicker is that, on a sparsely-peopled flight such as this one, there isn’t a single medical professional on the flight.  So, like, what does this guy do?  To what degree is this passenger’s complete and utter fuckedness quantifiable?  Fingers down the throat?  I mean, I probably wouldn’t touch him. Personally.  But that’s just me.

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The Corrector: Not Quite A Love Story

(999 words)

I gotta say man, I said, you might seriously be the world’s biggest grammar nazi.

Yeah? he said.

Like, ever.

Why do you say that?

Because you spend hours—I’m betting it’s literally hours—every day, correcting people. That’s why I say that.

But good grammar is an important part of life. It should be. I mean, what would it sound like, in the professional arena, if people couldn’t—and thus didn’t—ever speak properly?

A hell of a lot less irritating than if they always did, I tell you that.

The world needs, I don’t know, grammatical justice.

No, the world needs food, and supplies for starving people.  The world needs an answer to global warming and unchecked CO2 emissions. The world needs to invest resources into renewable energy.  The world does not need grammatical justice, at least not as bad as it needs those other things.

I could do it.

Do what?

I could bring the world some grammatical justice. I could totally do it.

I’m sorry, did we just have a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing just happen?

Yeah, I mean no—listen, check it out.  I could be like a superhero grammarian; I could even be called The Grammar Nazi, only I’d be a good Nazi who, like, strives for equality and justice in English sentences.

I think you just said you wanted people to start calling you the Grammar Nazi in a totally and completely serious sort of way, which, even though I just actually heard you say that, I’m still having trouble believing it, even though I know you did say it and very little time has lapsed in the interim.

So are you being facetious or what?  I think it’s a good idea!

OK, so what then, superhero—what would you do?  What would your super power be? Send grammar offenders off to concentration camps to work on their spelling?

No—

—And so let’s also just put aside the complete insensitivity you’re showing to a historically tyrannized people for right now, and despite the fact that the Grammar Nazi would very clearly be a super villain, not a superhero—the Grammar Nazi is just a plain-ass fucken retarded name, in general.

Now who’s being insensitive?

That’s not even the point.  The point here is the thing that you’re missing.  I’m not suggesting to you that I’d like to become Captain Retardo or something—which would be the insensitivity equivalent of you going by the name, the Grammar Nazi—I’m saying that you can’t just go out and act like an insensitive dickner to a whole group of people like that just because you are on a personal crusade against typos.

What about the First Amendment though?

First Amendment won’t help you much to prevent receiving a good-old-fashioned-passionate-ass whoopin’, now will it?

Hmm—I see your point.

So if you’re serious—and I don’t know how you really could be—but if you’re seriously serious, then the Grammar Nazi is just fucken out. Bye bye! Gone.

…..

…..

OK then, I got it!  How about, “The Corrector!”?

Now we’re dealing with a whole new set of superhero issues.

Such as?

Such as, do you wanna be a fucken B-list fucken superhero?  The Corrector sounds like he’d fucken hang out with Judge Dread or some shitty superhero like that.  Some wack-ass second-rate superhero, like Luke Cage, or fucken Aquaman. I mean, name three people who could really tell you who Judge Dread is.  Name one time Aquaman fought bad guys on fucken Mars. Name one time Luke Cage ever did anything fucken interesting.

Geez—this is turning out to sound like more work than it’s worth.

Hey, look; you can’t back out now that you got me thinking seriously about this.  So what else you got?

White Out.

Gay.

You’re being insensitive.

You’re being a dickner.

Then how ’bout The Deleter.

No. Sounds like a hitman.  A shitty hitman.  Sounds like if Luke Cage became a hitman, and how shitty that would be—that’s what I think of when I hear The Deleter.

Wow, critical much?

C’mon, what else you got?

The Correct-o-nator.

Better, but it sounds like either a badass cybernetic organism, OR an overpriced blender.  On second thought, I’m not feeling that at one all.

I dunno—I’m outta ideas.

That sucks.  That’s a shitty attitude.  That’s like the Luke Cage of attitudes, right there.

C’mon man, I’m trying!

Try harder.

This is me sighing exasperatedly.

This is me not really giving a speck of shit.  C’mon man, you’re the one who wanted to be a super hero grammar-…guy—or whatever. This was your idea in the first place. You can’t just start stuff and then decide you don’t wanna finish it.

Grammarian.

Again, whatever.

OK, I think I got it.

And what you got is—?

Perfecto Correcto!

Hmmm… I don’t hate it.  I mean, I definitely don’t hate it.  It sounds a little fruity, but I definitely don’t hate it.

That’s it then.  Perfecto Correcto, that’s me.

All righty. That’s you. So what are you gonna do now, Perfecto?

I’m gonna go grammarnate the masses, that’s what I’m gonna do now.

Grammarnate?

Yeah, grammarnate the masses. That’s what I’m gonna go do.  Right now.  Starting with the Internet.

Oh boy, here we go again.

What?  Where are we going again.

First thing, the Internet is, like, infinite, not to mention impossible.  And second thing, Grammarnate is a stupid word. Who’s gonna take you seriously if go around talking about grammarnating motherfuckers… OK, you know what, because of that fucken work I hate, we’re nixing Perfecto, too.

Wait, what? But why?

Because now I’ll always associate it with that stupid madeup word that shall not be uttered ever again.

But—

But, nevermind, from now on, you can call yourself The Corrector.

Why The Corrector?

Because it’s situationally accurate, not offensive or insensitive and it doesn’t piss me off.

That’s your only criteria?

That’s about it.

Wow.

Wow, indeed.

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Sometimes the Clock Ticks: An insomniac’s Tale

(Yes, it’s a completely rough and likely terrible first draft of probably nothing at all, BUT, this site is about the process. And I wrote this before falling asleep.)

Sometimes the Clock Ticks: An insomniac’s Tale (PDF)

Sometimes the clock ticks — it’s midnight and I blink, tock, once again, with the ticking and the tocking, and it’s the wee hours of the Ay-Em and, lookiehere, I’m still awake. Running from sleep that won’t have me anyway. A penance of sorts. Things seem irreconcilable during the lighted hours, but when the sun has retreated for what seems like possibly forever, does the mind’s machinations begin to make sense. They say it’s the witching hour but which witch would have me this hour?

Brain’s gone numb from too many pharmaceuticals so I can be just how they want me to be, just how they like me, complacent. Compliant. I’m more agreeable on the pills so I take more and I love them because they make me feel warm and fuzzy like I’m the Teddy bear. Who’s going to snuggle me?

Rebuff, rebuke the skeptics who claim conspiracy theories are strictly for conspirers, especially conspirers of the purely theoretical — the worst kind. Fall in line, everyone, fall in line. Just fall.  We’re selling a slow and painful death for the low price of everything you’ve got, including your Soul. Buy and sell; this is a free market, son! This is America. Wake up and smell the fucking free trade coffee, man! Your liberties are taxed here, but you don’t know it.  Plus it’s easier to believe they aren’t.

Big Brother isn’t even Big Brother because then, whose fucking watching him? You think they’d let some guy in a top hat pointing his finger all willy-nilly at people to fight a war they—whoever the fuck they are—don’t even believe in?  They, who don’t believe in a human purpose other than unchecked economic growth? Sounds almost like “they” are “we.” Unchecked growth, like it’s a good fucking idea but going out of style, falling into disfavor, and the clock is still ticking. Tick. Tock.

The thing about stuff is that it runs out. Some things you can make more of. Fantastic. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, a point that is only slightly left of the real point. The real point is actual real points, plural, because there are a lot of them and another word I’d use here is problem, preceded by a duo of colorful words, big and fucking. Like greenhouse gasses and the rapage — yes, rape-age, let me break it down — the rapage of fossil fuel supplies because it’s just so fucking cheap to do it. Cheap is good, but Free is better.  Though it’s important to remember that cheap is at its best when it’s almost free.

Don’t scribble your name out on the paper, you drew your Capital U, or S, or A, or your G, your O, or your D crooked, but you say, who really fucking cares? The giant fucking tree that was cut down to make paper for dipshits to doodle on probably fucking cares, a lot. And I know I’m typing fuck a lot by this this point, but this point is fucking serious — people listen to cuss words. Science has proven this.

And all of this doesn’t even TOUCH on the “War on Drugs,” aka the “War on People.” Where should I begin?

‘The New Sophisticates’: Chapter 1, UPDATE! [ver. 2.5]

20 November 2010
Friday, Omaha, NE, 6:07 P.M. CST

Lately, any time I see my reflection, I feel compelled to give it a quick once over, checking off that everything is OK as I go.  Quick, but systematic. I then consider my breathing and focus on it, hone in on it, abdominally. Slow, abdominal breathing can arrest panic attacks, can prevent them. Diaphragmatic breathing — it’s all in the diaphragm. Think about your tie, I tell myself.  Don’t think about your head… Six breaths per minute… Think about your tie and your abdominal breathing… This is the particular kinesthetic mantra I have been (and will continue) repeating to myself — over and over again — and which I’ll do out of necessity.

Truthfully, hindsight being what it is and all, I don’t think I fully appreciated, until recently, how much my life had been speeding along an irrevocably-changing course toward a destination enveloped only in oblivion.  I hadn’t realized much of anything in the way of change until the day I’d finally concluded that jumping out of our[1] tenth-floor bedroom window seemed like an altogether reasonable and infinitely more appealing alternative to soldiering on through my altogether banal personal day-to-day routine, a routine that approximated a basic mix — equal parts existence, survival and muscle memory — death, precipitated by boredom.

It wasn’t a [quote] “simple boredom thing” or a “depression-thing” I was experiencing during this eye-opening personal revelation, either — the latter part, the depression part, came later, along with other undesirable emotions like regret, remorse and scathing sense of self remonstrance. Initially, what it was was a [quote] “indescribable- unfathomably-excruciating-and-concrete-physical-pain-thing” — the kind of pain that drives previously sane and rational individuals to go to great[2] measures in which to alleviate it; the kind of pain a person isn’t even completely sure could actually exist outside of medical textbooks because it so accurately simulates a very real and very tangible railroad spike being driven through your eye socket into the center of your skull; the pain is there, it’s real, despite any hard physical evidence. It’s the kind of pain — real or imagined — that, at last, prompts one’s (debatably) irrational contemplation of the (unquestionably) enviable relief that only a one-hundred-foot free fall to the pavement below could bring, even if that connotes unpleasant preemptive machinations on your part — pharaohs once proclaimed death comes on swift wings, and I’m starting to believe that maybe I can fly.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about how exactly to describe my situation and I think the summation provided by the aforestated is about as accurate and honest a description as anyone could provide.

In various chronic pain-sufferers’ support circles, this recurring phenomenon, this affliction, is known as a cluster headache, or, as in my case, cluster headaches, plural. Perhaps, more appropriately, others have simply dubbed them “suicide headaches.”

There is no cure, and there is no relief. I know because I’ve personally done a lot of homework on the subject. There aren’t enough pharmaceuticals on the planet to alleviate a cluster headache — I’ve probably been prescribed every last one of them.  There just isn’t much warning before one of them sinks its malevolently barbed grapnels into you.

I suppose all of this is more or less by now my deposition, my disposition, my life.

[Blend in with Ashley’s changes.]

In which case then, the change I noticed in Ashley was nearly just as abrupt as the change I noticed in myself. I began paying more attention. I somehow hadn’t even realized anything was different, oddly enough, until things in her life started becoming positively this or positively that with more and more regularity.  By which I mean positively — not in the sense that she’d previously been, more often than not, an unsure or indecisive person — or that she was, at the time, experiencing generally a greater number of epiphanies than she had at any other time in her life before — but positively in a different sense entirely.  It was in the way she started to adverbify[3] what had always been, until then for her, ordinary, everyday verbs, clauses and participles. It was this trend, in particular, that prompted my own recognition that something about her — more substantial than just her vocabulary — had unquestionably changed.

For example, after enduring especially long and arduous days at the Furlong and Associates Real Estate offices, she’d burst through our condo’s front door and dramatically flop down on the sofa, proclaiming herself not simply “tired,” or “completely spent,” but positively exhausted. She could no longer ever feel merely “hungry” or even hungry’s more intense hyperbolic articulation, “starving” — she was all of a sudden, it seemed, almost always positively famished.  I think initially I thought this slight change in her everyday verbiage was cute and kind of endearing until I realized she wasn’t simply being facetious.

She even began adverbifying already concrete adjectives: a new pair of diamond earrings was positively stunning, and the crème brûlée, positively marvelous[4].

Right now she’s positively luxuriating on our Stickley Santa Fe sofa, chattering away on her iPhone to someone I think is most likely her best friend-slash-office assistant, Meredith Tomlin, whom, I’m unsure how Ashley can even hear with the television blaring at such an unnecessarily ear-splitting volume.

But anyway, more to the point, things weren’t ever positively this or that to Ashley until six months before we packed up our things in New York and relocated to Nebraska, long after I’d introduced her to my core group of New York friends who’d attended Columbia University with me as well, friends who were from families more well off than any she’d ever known, which intimidated her, at first.  That’s actually where Ashley and I first met — Columbia — specifically, the MBA program there at the Columbia Business School. After finishing my undergraduate collegiate work right up in Harlem, I’d decided to stick around for a couple more years to attend grad school because, well, that’s pretty much the path my family’d always expected me — practically groomed me — to follow. My family is from the East Coast — Old Money, relocated to Omaha for the opportunity to make an even more obnoxious amount of new money in the financial trading industry.[5]

However, Ashley’s family, the Van Zandts,[6] have always lived in the Midwest. She, herself, was an academic wünderkind, fresh out of the Big Ten from the University of Iowa, not to mention that she was our MBA class’s top applicant[7].  Most of my MBA cohort’d already heard of her — and consequently, by the nature of such a pristine preceding reputation, we’d formed exaggerated opinions and also spread rumors about her — both good and bad, of course — though nobody really even knew who she was yet.  My friends and I began making assumptions about the department’s shiny new academic golden child before we’d even sat down and talked amongst ourselves about exactly which ball-busting professors and graduate seminars were the ones that brought with them levels of difficulty that were in no way ever to be fucked- and/or trifled- with, and whether or not tweed was still as recherché as ever — a pastime most graduate students, Ivy League or not, are typically wont to engage in.

Before she’d even set foot in our first Managerial Economics class; before she’d even stepped off the plane in Newark,[8] Ashley Van Zandt was already both well known and controversial, whether she’d liked it or not — which, in NYC, is actually kind of a big deal — a fact she came to privately savor underneath that doe-eyed, sycophant posturing she’d so finely honed in Iowa City — honed by telling professors and administrators exactly what they wanted to hear at all times, and in return, those in positions of power and authority gave her exactly what she wanted to see: a dogged, unwavering 4.0 GPA, though she’d likely have earned it anyway.  The girl’s mind was a razor.  She was a natural academic, wholly blue around her middle-class Midwestern collar but also expertly knowing how to play the game — a quality of which I can’t help but think the MBA selection committee was keenly aware.

Not surprisingly, Ashley was also a fast learner when it came to Fitting in with Old Money 101, as she took to my well-bred, cosmopolitan friends like a fish to water[9].  We spent each of our Columbia summers’ final remaining weekends nearly always in a state of full tilt boogie: sailing with friends out of the Sewanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, lounging around with people we only barely knew from campus and their wealthy families on a North Shore enclave called Centre Island.  Or we’d light out early on Friday afternoons to places like the Brookvilles, Lattingtown and Mill Neck to spend the weekend drinking, fucking and just living like a bunch of spoiled rich kids entitled to whatever the world was willing to offer us, and taking what it wasn’t if we wanted it bad enough.

On rainy weekends, we’d all sit around in fully decked out private home theaters and watch movies like the 2001 Johnny Depp film, Blow, and laugh hysterically — both at how Depp as George Jung used to sell naïve Ivy League kids like us[10] fucken bags of sticks ‘n’ stones-grade schwag weed at a Humbolt County premium, and also at how guys like George Jung would one day be calling people like us “boss.” After burning the candle at both ends for back-to-back(-to- back) days, we’d still somehow manage to wake up as soon as dawn cracked over the Atlantic on Monday mornings and head back to the city so we’d be able to make our 9:00 a.m. course, Power and Influence (and always only just in time[11]). One of us would quickly skim the assigned chapters on “Diagnosing Power and Dependence” or “Formal Authority, Reputation, and Performance” as we drove the 106 across the Queensboro Bridge, taking the Grand Central Parkway detour to avoid the tolls on the 495 and 295 back to Harlem — whoever’d skimmed the chapters would read aloud so everyone else in the car could hear the material too — such are the lives of young overachievers.

Some of our friends — Ashley’s and my[12] — even had the means to rent out their own places in Sands Point, and we’d ultimately do exactly the same things there.

Sometimes we’d skip all those other places entirely and head for the Catskills where we’d stay at the Villa at Saugerties for a bed and breakfast weekend.  It was mid-2000s New York City and the only thing we knew was that we’d go pretty much anywhere that wasn’t the Hamptons — which, I concede, were probably still the spot if you were over 40, but there was no way we’d be caught dead there. We were too young, too moneyed and so fucking utterly individuated from our parents (or so we thought) that we began staking the Catskills and Centre Island as the new Mecca for all the young and hip new sophisticates and socialites — individuals — who were trendier, more beautiful and wealthier than their parents and every generation that came before them — and if we, ourselves, weren’t yet, then we certainly would be — the compounding interest on our respective familial trust funds and our future nepotistically-secured jobs all but assured us of that.

So there’s no surprise ending here — it all worked out the way we’d always assumed it would — was there ever even a realistic alternative? Ashley and I found that, by the end of our two years in New York, after graduation,[13] we couldn’t stand the thought of parting ways from each other. We didn’t have anything concrete planned out but it didn’t matter either — nothing during the time we’d spent together in New York even hinted at a possible scenario where things wouldn’t only get better for us.  So we got engaged.  We packed our things and headed back to the Great Plains, where we were both originally from, despite the disbelief our New York friends held, along with their notion we’d quickly flee back East.

Though my parents both grew up in Connecticut, met at Yale, and got married in New Haven, I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska[14] where my parents still lived, so that’s where we pointed the GPS.  Victor Deramore, my father, a chief executive at TD Ameritrade, and long-time friend of CEO, J. Joseph Ricketts, had already made a few calls to a few powerful friends of his, and before we’d even finished moving in to our brand new Riverfront condo, he’d secured me a position at the prestigious investment brokerage, Bartleby, Barney, Barney & Company,[15] a firm primarily concerned with asset management and institutional securities — the latter business sector being the one I was truly interested in,[16] a sector that involved providing other institutions with various fiscal services such as capital raising and financial advisory services, including (but not limited to) mergers and acquisitions advisory, restructurings, real estate and project finance, as well as a little corporate lending for good measure.

B.B.B. & Co. was like a “mom-and-pop Morgan Stanley”[17] that still made its executives billions (yes, plural — but that was never really a secret).  To be perfectly honest, since I’m being perfectly honest here, I had no interest in starting off as a clerk and working my way up from the bottom of anywhere like some of my former classmates were doing in New York — I wanted to start somewhere near the top — was that so unreasonable? I mean, I figured I was at least entitled to that after busting my ass for six years in the Ivy League and completely acing my Series 7 exam. I mean, a clerk? seriously? are you fucking kidding me?

So yes, my landing a job at B.B.B. & Co. was absolutely a prototypical case-study in corporate nepotism at its very finest.  Sue me.  This was 2005, and I was 100 percent committed to working on my own personal Maslovian self-actualization and fulfillment stratagem — something that, when I told others of, I always conveniently neglected to mention it was a phrase I’d pilfered from Ashley.

On the flip side, Ashley was making some seriously lucrative moves on her own, the old-fashioned way: the tried and true system of social networking. A few of her Real Estate Finance professors at Columbia called in some favors, and before she knew it, she was interning at the Lund Company[18] which lasted for all of six months before she secured (however improbably it seemed at the time[19]) an associate broker position with commercial rival, Furlong and Associates, and parlaying herself shortly thereafter into yet another promotion in a decisive, yet controversial, executive coup d’état to Senior Site Selection and Acquisitions Broker in early 2008, audaciously climbing the corporate ladder with a fearless sense of ambition, determination and gusto the partners at Furlong had never seen before in someone so young.

The girl had real guts and she wasn’t remotely scared to rock the boat. Simply ruthless.  That’s what the Furlong brass’s always said about her.

And in case I didn’t mention this before, my wife is stunning, absolutely stunning — a perfect 10, seriously. Blondish (for maximum appeal), tallish (5’8 or ‘9 depending on the day, ‘10 with heels), long, slender legs and a runner’s tightly-defined upper body; each abdominal muscle only just visible when she takes her shirt off, which, consequently, is to say nothing at all yet of her perfect breasts — perfect in overall size, shape, suppleness.[20] She looks almost as if she’d been painstakingly engineered in a lab for the sole purpose of incomparable and universal beauty; this, a fact I tend to relish, albeit somewhat unabashedly, since she hasn’t spent a single cent on plastic surgery in her life. Ever.

In fact, last year, long before the headaches’d started, Ashley and I were having dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT,[21] during one of my (unfortunately) not infrequent business trips[22] — on which Ashley joins me, when and if her schedule permits — and this wiry and vigorous-looking older gentleman literally walked up to us while we were eating and just started talking to the two of us[23] as if we were all old friends. The man was supposedly a plastic surgeon who’d earned a great deal of notoriety in LA, though (and, this detail shouldn’t come as any real surprise), I’d admittedly never heard of him.

So anyway, he (this supposedly well-known plastic surgeon) made this deliberate, totally calculated point of altering his original camber through the restaurant to arrive at our table, specifically for the purpose of telling Ashley — and here he was just really candid, in fact — that he was, and, here I’m quoting: “typically not in the business of telling people things like this, but —” and then he did this sort of histrionic pause in the middle of his sentence because he (allegedly) “wanted to be 100 percent certain he was making himself clear,” like unequivocally so — I think he was really pausing for dramatic effect, but, anyway[24], here I’m quoting again: “there was absolutely nothing even [he] could do for her that would, or could, make her any more beautiful than she presently was, sitting before him”[25] and then, turning toward me, he more or less (though without nearly the enthusiasm he’d just five seconds ago shown Ashley) said, “you are a very lucky man,” to which both of us, Ashley and I — each of us finding ourselves feeling more than a little embarrassed by this point — said, “thank you,” and then, unsure of what else we could possibly add to the wholly awkward situation at that point, utterly discomposed and blushing, we simply resumed eating.  Ashley said the situation was positively awkward. That’s when it struck me that she’d been saying it more than an average amount.

Though, aside from her grammar tic, it’s perhaps a gross understatement to say that, in 2006, Ashley and I were getting into our respective professions at precisely the worst possible time where the near future was concerned in the American financial and real estate sectors.

I mean, just flash forward two years.

As if the national-turned-global economic situation hadn’t deteriorated enough in 2008 (i.e. the ubiquitous public uproar and brewing maelstrom of civic opprobrium) following the comprehensive — or perhaps, more accurately, teetering-on-the-verge-of-paralyzing — media blitz that ultimately exposed the $65,000,000,000.00[26] mega- ponzi-scandal, masterminded and executed, by one Bernard Lawrence Madoff, a scandal that, for all intents and purposes, simply erased the investment portfolios of countless investors. Thousands of portfolios that had, at one time, held considerable numbers of investment shares essentially ceased to exist once the money’d left investors’ hands.

The very same media outlets also exposed the alleged (media outlets always use the term “alleged,” even in the face of concrete evidence[27], which I think is silly) use of private luxury jets to conduct various shady American banking CEOs cross-country, using fuel that’d been, more likely than not, purchased with taxpayer-remunerated government bailout money (while, working-class citizens helplessly watched their retirement accounts tank in the affectless face of near all-time high rates of unemployment) — these utterly gut-wrenching events were compounded yet again by a nightmarish, and ultimately all too realistic scenario, that forecasted the inevitable collapse of the once-believed-invincible American automotive industry. In light of all this upheaval, Americans could hardly at all be blamed for their newly-developed pessimism and ever-more cynical day-to-day dispositions, especially where their country’s financial and banking systems were concerned.

So thus, in the wake of the whole devastating and widespread financial collapse that seemed to have, somehow, left me, personally, relatively unscathed, I, Sawyer Deramore, know that I was, above all else, lucky — very, very lucky — that is, with respect to my own personal financial security. This, a fortuitous contingency I can only truly rationalize by the simple happenstance of my location, my job, and some combination of the two. And by my own admission, it’s — more often than not — simply better to be lucky than good.

My location, Omaha, Nebraska, the city where I was born and raised — is a westward-sprawling metropolitan area, home to nearly 900,000 people, five Fortune 500 companies and the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet[28].  In 2008, it was also one of only a handful of cities less affected by the national economic crisis — though certainly, no city could be said to be considered wholly unaffected — Omaha had more hopeful looking unemployment and depreciation numbers. With all of the capital that seemingly just meanders around the city at any given time, Omaha presents a truly fantastic opportunity for the young and ambitious to thrive considerably, if they can get past the glaring absence of readily apparent and assumed glamour and the extremely harsh winters.

However prior to my fairly recent tenure heading up the Investment Securities Department at B.B.B. and Co. where, in the wake of the whole 2008 meltdown, I found myself breathing a fairly significant sigh of relief when my fantastically well-paying position, did not, as so many others’ would, turn up under the ever-sharpened edge of the always- lurking budget-cutting axe, which really made its presence felt following an abrupt and decisive internal corporate restructuring that higher-ups casually termed “reshuffling

the deck.”

After shit hit the pecuniary fan[29] nationally in 2008, corporate brass at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co. issued a press release to its investors with whippet-like speed — a press release one Albus J. Bartleby personally requested be written almost entirely by me, lickety-split!, or even sooner, if possible — a document I very simply titled: “Committed. Capable. Competent.” I felt like the periods after each word intimated a sense of professional confidence and concrete decision making.

It was an expeditiously-timed effort originally conceived to mollify a brand new, yet substantial, catalog of fears amassed by our (Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.’s) investors — the press release itself stated that we (B.B.B. and Co.) would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, ever become yet another Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch — the primest examples of financial-juggernaut-clusterfuckups[30] that’ve occurred on an historically monumental scale — instances where those company’s leaders emerged as virtuosos in (and of) misappropriation, disorganization and deceit. That just wasn’t going to be us at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.  That was the promise I made our investors.

At the time I wrote the press release, I didn’t truly realize that I was, in fact, prejudicially and comprehensively lying to them.

Back at the condo, it’s been maybe 15 minutes and I’m still futzing around with my tie. The deep breathing has helped. My heart rate is back down to a normal resting rate somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 beats per minute, about one solid thump every second like clockwork, a precision I can appreciate.

Ashley’s slender figure materializes at my side and, as always, I’m always struck at how much better she makes me look. She stands on her tiptoes and playfully bites my earlobe, her gaze never leaving our mirrored reflection.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, in the living room. Come see.” She takes my hand and begins pulling me away from the mirror, I resist for a split

second to take myself in one more time, confirming the symmetry of my shirt, tie, dress pants — the whole ensemble. I’m five-by-five, good to go.

A smallish amassment of white powder, parsed into evenly-spaced rows, sits atop our Nuevo Roma coffee table’s black marble surface, the sight of which, perhaps even just a week or so ago, would have produced a Pavlovian-like slavering effect over me, but tonight, it only makes my stomach drop and almost triples my heart rate, which Ashley immediately recongnizes.

“Jesus, babe, you look like a ghost. Everything okay?” Ashley says.

Perspiration bursts from the pores above my brows and the only thing I can say is, “Yeah, no, I’m good,” and then, “I think I just need to sit down — got lightheaded all of a sudden.” Which wasn’t true, but it was the first thing that came to mind that seemed believable to tell her.  The look she gave me intimated she knew I wasn’t telling her the truth, not the whole truth anyway.

“You want some water? You haven’t been this pale since, like, February,” she says, poking a little fun at the difficulty I have in maintaining darker pigmentary coloration in the winter.

I nod in acquiescence and lean back into the sofa, stare at the ceiling.  I swallow a 10mg tablet of Benzedrine with my spit because I think half of my feeling weird is from coming down from my last Benzedrine a few hours ago.  I close my eyes and think about the other half, the meeting I had with Mr. Bartleby Monday afternoon I haven’t told her about yet.

Everyone at the firm was wrapping up what they were working on for the day. The clock read 4:47 and even at prestigious investing firms, the last 10 minutes, give or take, of each work day is ostensibly a wash, 15 minutes on Fridays.  I’d just opened up my fantasy football page and was trying to figure out who I’d be starting this Sunday and who’d be sitting the bench.[31] I’d just logged-in to my Yahoo! Sports account when I received an alert of an incoming Push-To-Talk message.

“Deramore?” Albus J. Bartleby said, using his latest Motorola Droid’s Push-To- Talk feature as an intercom.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Bartleby?” I said, responding into my iPhone, unsure of what he could possibly want right now, but also a little nervous that maybe I really did know.

“I’m gonna go ahead and need a — God willing — brief face-to-face with you in my office before five o’clock. Which basically means right now since my overall desire to stay here at the office after five is, frankly, pretty damn low.”

“Can do, sir,” I said, still unable to judge his tone.

Shit on fire, son — that’s what I like to hear! That’s a winning can-do attitude right there, Deramore, I tell you what.”

“I’ll be up in less than two minutes, Mr. Bartleby.”

A minute-and-a-half later, I saw Albus J. Bartleby minimize the window on his PC containing his minesweeper game which he was, in fact, just putting the screws to (to put it mildly) right as I gave a quick courtesy knock and, subsequently, walked through the CEO’s open office door.

“Have a seat, son.”

“Thank you Mr. Bartleby.”

“Listen — Sawyer, is it?”

“Yes, sir — Sawyer Deramore,” I said. “That’s me.”

“Right.  Victor’s son.  Sawyer, as you are, I’m sure, aware, we drug test randomly here at Bartleby and Co.,” Albus J. Bartleby said, looking over the top of his bifocals at a smallish stack of documents that I concluded must be important, as well as the reason I was at that moment sitting in the Chief Executive Officer’s office.

Yes.  That is to say, yes, I am aware,” I said, “—of the policy,” I added, shifting my weight in the ridiculously plush office chair, which, upon closer inspection, placed my seated height at a multiple-inch disadvantage to that of Mr. Bartleby’s, clearly by design.

“And judging by these Internal Negotiations and Acquisitions Net Exchange reports, you are one helluva broker and a real asset to us,” A. J. Bartleby said without looking up.

“Thank you Mr. Bartleby, sir.”

“Which is why I have to wonder out loud — if you’ll permit me to speak plainly — just what in the fuck are you doing with cocaine all mixed up in your piss test?” His gaze over his bifocals was then fully locked on to me.

“I— I’m sorry, sir.  It was a complete error in judgment on my part.”

“Well shit, son — you’re goddamn right it was! It’s not like we don’t give our employees who do the kind of heavy profit making you do ample fucking warning before we make ‘em piss in a cup!”

“I know, sir. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been just epically stressing out about that particular urine test. It was really just a giant error in judgment.  One too many scotch and waters[32] and a little too much cheer with some friends is all.”

“Mind if I ask who you were cheering it up with when this so-called error in judgment occurred? Might be a case where we can just throw someone else under the bus — say they slipped it to you, say they got you all in a whole heaping fuckload of shit at work — that sort of thing.”

“Sir, if I could be really honest, I’d really prefer not to drag anyone else into this since it’s completely and utterly my fault. I’m willing to personally accept all the consequences of my actions.” Actually, I’m not sure I fully knew exactly what I was saying.

Hell’s bells, son — I’d really goddamn-well prefer not to be in possession of this information at all, I mean, if we’re shooting straight about ‘druthers and whatnot right now.”

“I apologize for putting you in such an awkward and-or unpleasant situation, Mr. Bartleby.”

“Shit son, it’s not my ass in the fire here — it’s yours. Policy here at Bartleby and Co. dictates that something needs to be done about an employee failing a piss test, Deramore.”

“I understand, sir. Should I go begin cleaning out my desk then?” I said, completely certain of my impending termination, pushing myself up using the armrests of the chair, nearly to my feet.

“Now, hold on — sit on back down — there’s no reason to go making any rash decisions. Policy dictates some kind of disciplinary action needs to take place, but policy also leaves it up to the discretion of the employee’s personal supervisor, and when it comes right down to it, I suppose I’m actually everybody’s supervisor around here.”

“I’m… not sure I follow… Sir.”

“What I’m saying is, being’s that my name is carved into the very slab of stone that appears in the lobby of this particular building, technically, I’m your supervisor, Deramore, if you are catching my fairly obvious drift. And that means I get to decide what said disciplinary action should be in the instance of this specific failed pee test here.”

“Sir?”

Goddamnit son! For having such an expensive East Coast education, you sure can be a thick sonofagun, you know that?”

“I’d just really hate to be even a little presumptuous, Mr. Bartleby.”

“You’re polite too — that’ll get you far, Deramore, let me tell you. But let me also go on ahead and spell out what it is I’m saying here, so’s that you can pick up what I’m layin down, if you know what I mean.  Myself, I will personally take care of this little drug situation where it concerns you. We aren’t in the business of losing money at Bartleby and Co., so I guess what I’m saying is, we aren’t in the business of firing our big earners either.”

“Oh, umm — thank you, sir — thank you very much. I —”

“Now just hold on a minute, I’m not done yet.  Of course, something is gonna have to go on the books that says disciplinary action was being taken, and any issues the employee in question — that’s you — might have are being addressed. And I know how these things work and what the people who take a close look at the books like to see, which is that we care about our employees and we stick by their side to the end and all that other happy horseshit.”

“I mean, sure. Yeah. Whatever you think is best, Mr. Bartleby — honestly.” I really couldn’t believe my luck.

“Right then, so what we have here is a case of a young man who is pretty damn good at what he does and is a real asset to the company, but who also happened to get a little reckless one night — and God knows we’ve all been a little reckless a night or two in our lives. And what those fellas who read over the books like to see are stories of fallen heroes, and such, who become the underdog and get themselves all re-habilitated and all that, and then they rise again like a goddamn’d phoenix from the goddamn’d ashes and such, if you’re following me?”

“I think so, sir.”

“And this is America, son — God’s own country, from sea to shining sea — and here in America, we don’t just fire our best people: we re-habilitate them — which is exactly what we are gonna do with you, Deramore.”

“…..”  Rehabilitation? I honestly had nothing.

“So here’s what I see happening: you’re gonna sign an official written statement saying you are mighty sorry you went and royally fucked up, and then you’re gonna apologize from the bottom of your heart for hurting your family and co-workers and yourself, and that you are one-hundred-and-ten percent committed to getting yourself all better and straightened out so that you can be the man that everyone once believed in again — that is, even if they never stopped believing in you to begin with — and so on and so forth.

“You’re gonna sign that little piece of paper and go to a damn meeting once or twice a week — or whatever those sorry sonsofbitches who believe in all that re-habilitation shit do — and you’re gonna have whoever is heading up those meetings sign your little sheet of paper, and you are gonna bring it back to me, because why?”

“Because… the guys who… read through the books… like to see the signatures…?”

“Be-cause, the goddamn guys who read through the goddamn books don’t just like to see those signatures, son — they love to see those signatures!  It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside like a shitload of corporate money isn’t being flushed down the crapper right in front of their eyes.  Money that could probably go toward their bonuses, by their line of thinking, I bet.”

“I understand, sir, yes — absolutely.”  I think I thought I understood, anyway.

“And so you’re going to go to these meetings, and we’re also going to have to — just for the sake of record keeping here, you understand? — give you a de-motion, of sorts.”

“Sir?” This, for sure, was a contingency I had not expected.

“Don’t worry, Deramore — the pay’s gonna be the same, so you can go ahead and keep on living whatever kind of lifestyle it is you’ve gotten yourself accustomed to living since working here at Bartleby and Co. We just gotta keep our shit smelling like roses on paper, if you catch my metaphor? So in the mean time, you are — as of this coming Monday — gonna be heading up things over in mutual funds. It’s not quite as sexy as acquisitions, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that not a whole lot else is.”

“So then the projects I’m currently working on?”

“On paper—” Bartleby leaned in and looked at me over the top of his spectacles, “—as I’d like to keep re-iterating — they are going on over to Frank C. Pelizotti. Of course, you’ll still be the brains behind all those deals. The unfortunate part of it is that there’s just no way we can pay you the commission from them, from a strictly records-keeping point of view. No real point in arguing about it either since I’m sure you can appreciate our hands being tied.”

“…..”  Again, I had nothing.

“And the last thing I wanted to mention, while I’ve got you sitting here, is that we’ve got some good ol’ boys coming from the Securities and Exchange Commission in about two weeks — give or take a couple days — so in all likelihood, that means it’ll be even sooner. The SEC never tells us when they’re dropping by, but that’s why, in this business, it’s good to know people — as they say — so you can at least get a rough idea when to expect a major audit before they’re here, all of a sudden, standing on our welcome mat with briefcases and calculators, and being all demanding about seeing our bookkeeping records and whatever else.”

“…O-K…?”

“So basically, we’re gonna need you to work closely with Frank on getting everything five-by-five before those SEC boys show up. God love Frank, but he’s at least one foil pack short of a box of Pop Tarts sometimes, if you catch my drift. And — this is only me speculating at this point — but if his uncle’s name wasn’t carved into the very same entranceway stone-slab-thingamajig I just mentioned a couple minutes ago, I’d be highly doubtful we’d even be retaining his services at all — but again, that’s just my two cents that don’t bear any real significance worth repeating outside this office, if you get me?”

Albus J. Bartleby and I sat facing each another for a few moments which then became somewhat awkward when neither of us proceeded to say anything to break the silence (that is, within a contemporarily accepted and socially-appropriate amount of time).

“OK… well then, I should probably be going,” I finally said, standing up from my chair, Bartleby immediately following suit and extending a hand to me.

“You’re a helluva team player, Deramore — a helluva team player — and a good sport to boot! I’m glad we had this talk. I’ll have H-R get you that information concerning your weekly meetings and whatnot straight away so’s that you can begin the process of re-habilitating yourself, A-S-A-P!”

“…Thank you, Mr. Bartleby, sir.” I couldn’t think of what else to say at the time.

“Don’t even waste another second of yours thanking me. You just have yourself a great night — and a great weekend, too!”

“I will — I appreciate it, sir. Thank you, again.”

 

I’ve been spacing out.  Ashley’s voice brings me back to our living room. Earth to Sawyer? I rub my eyes because I can’t think of anything else to do and tell her I was spacing out, but I don’t mention what I was thinking about.  Revealing the conversation with Mr. Bartleby would have to happen later.

“So anyway,” Ashley says, her speech rapid, her eyes twitchy and excited, stimulated, “We need to stop by Meredith’s place before we head down to the Qwest.  She just finished the packet I’m taking tonight with all the Furlong materials in it.  She’s such a peach!”

“Oh yeah?”  I pretend I’m interested and not thinking about losing the commission on at least three major accounts I’ve been working on for the past couple months, and that I’m not thinking about Ashley comparing Meredith to a pitted fruit.

“Yeah, I mean, the Brandeis is sort of on the way anyway.  I’ll just run in quick and grab it, two seconds tops.”

“Side note, how the hell does Meredith afford a place at the Brandeis?”

“I dunno. Sugar daddy, maybe?”

“Seriously?”

“Probably not.  Probably her parents.”

“Pretty nice fucken parents.”

“I know, right?”

In my head I’m thinking the sugar daddy theory probably isn’t too far off. Meredith’s tits make guys want to throw money at them. I’m not convinced she wasn’t a stripper in her early 20s, either.  Maybe she still is.  Who knows?  The Brandeis is fucken cherry and it costs a mint to live there. More than an office assistant can swing each month, I know that.

“Yeah we can pop by on the way,” I say. I’d rather stay and hang out for a while. One, because I hate corporate galas and two, because I’d definitely fuck Meredith if it wasn’t for the vows. She’s easier on the eyes than a hall full of stuffy business guys in suits and tuxedos patting each other on the back and congratulating one another on being so obnoxiously rich.  I want to tell them, Fuck you, I got money too.

Shit! Look what time it is,” Ashley says, bounding from the couch.

“It’s, uh, six-forty-nine,” I say.

“I know that! Get your shit and let’s go.  I don’t want to be late.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I say, walking to the kitchen to see if I conveniently misplaced my keys.  I didn’t.  A glass of Jack and Coke I poured earlier and forgot about during my knot tying mantra perspires into a pooled ring around its base atop the granite countertop.  I shrug and pick it up along with my keys and make for the front door.  I can already feel the Benzedrine putting some pep back in my step.  Ashley’s already in the elevator, holding the door open for me and motioning for me to hurry up.

Here we go, I think.

* * *

 

I pilot my Infiniti G37x Coupe through the streets of downtown Omaha, imagining I’m a Formula-One driver.  I’m only test driving the car for the weekend but I’m already in love with it.  The feedback between my input, the closely-spaced gearbox, the clutch and the steering wheel is kinetic, it’s instant and fluid.  The precision of the mating ritual between human and automobile is erotic, intoxicating.  Ashley’s hand rests on my thigh and I’m getting an erection but mostly from the car.  She can tell what’s happening inside my pants and smiles that fucking million dollar smile she’s got and it drives me wild. My wife, my passenger, her coyness and overall sexiness are doing bad things to me.  I want to skip the event tonight and get us a room at the Hilton instead.

As I’m thinking dirty things about Ashley, my right eye twitches unnecessarily and my erection vanishes, like instantly, prompting me to inspect my tie in the rearview and assess the knot I finally decided on, almost by reflex. I’m suddenly feeling unnerved, a particular emotion I don’t at all care for.  It feels like a weakness and a character flaw and those are two things I associate with punks and pussies.

Ashley notices a change in my mood and asks if everything is OK which I tell her, yeah, of course as I try to resume driving as I had been before. Only now, she’s taken her hand back and clasps her fingers together in her lap, gazing absentmindedly out the passenger side window. The mood has taken a change for the chillier.

We’re married now but opening up still isn’t easy.  Ashley doesn’t know the full extent of my headache problem.  I told her the doctor said it was just migraines and not to worry.  I didn’t mention the Dr. I’m seeing happens to be my best friend Drew Marinovich and migraines were only mentioned in comparison to my cluster headaches, which, really, there isn’t even a fucking comparison.

I also left out the part about Drew and I trying some pretty experimental treatment options — so experimental the FDA hasn’t gotten around to entertaining the idea, let alone approving it. Drew, being the scholar that he is, read about some really interesting and really far-out-there study going on at Harvard University where doctors are treating patients suffering with cluster headaches with LSD. Of course, the trial is full — plenty of applicants showed up to claim whatever was necessary to have legal approval to drop acid and hang out with a bunch of other people doing the same thing; the majority had to be turned away.

Drew and I decided we needed to improvise.

I steal a glance at Ashley and she’s still not looking my way. I know she thinks it’s something she did but she’s so wrong, only I just can’t tell her yet.

“It’s not you baby, it’s me — for real this time.”

I want to tell her but the time isn’t right and, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think my tie is at odds with my collar again which has me back repeating my mantra and deep breathing techniques. I have to.

After mantra’ing my ass off for a solid two or three minutes, I realize the radio is off and even the slightest sound of anything besides rubber on concrete is absent. In cars like these, the refined acoustics allow you to hear even your passenger’s subtlest exhale. Her body language demands distance. The little bit of white residue under her nose, however, begs for commentary.


 

 

[1] My wife, Ashley’s, and my — the condo, I mean, is ours — we of course live together. I apologize: I tend to think fragmentally and get sidetracked very easily — a case of severe attention deficit disorder (ADD) — but I also feel this urgent and insatiable compulsion to explain myself whenever I feel I’m being at all unclear.

[2] Read: wholly extreme.
[3] The author is aware that adverbify — as well as its gerundially-modified form, adverbifying — are not actually “real” words, per se, but for reasons unknown, has developed a special affinity for it and other not-exactly-real words, especially invented adjectives and the process of turning nouns into verbs, such as the ubiquitous use of the proper name “Google” to reference any Internet search — a process he has thusly designated as verbifying nouns.
[4] This development coming from the girl who’d — when I’d first met her — adorably thought the dessert was pronounced “creamy broolie.”
[5] Yes, more money.  I’ll explain shortly.
[6] At the time, Ashley Van Zandt (who’d eventually become my fiancée, and then my wife (though neither of us can say we really knew it at the time like some fairy tale, ‘love at first sight’ happy kind of fairy tale horseshit).
[7] Information like that is hardly as classified as admins would like, and spreads like wildfire.
[8] The flight, she’d tell me later, was more than $100 cheaper to bypass LaGuardia or JFK and fly into Newark.
[9] Presuming the fish were aware of- and understood- water, as it relates to their space and themselves, etc.
[10] Because Ashley was with me, and I was Victor Deramore’s son, they even began accepting her as one of “us.”
[11] I’ve essentially got an eidetic memory, which makes even something as simple as the classes I’ve taken at any given time hard to forget.
[12] Because it didn’t take long for them to become no longer just my friends, not nearly as long as I’d assumed since she was from the Midwest or exactly blue blooded.
[13] She never lost that Number-1 spot in our class, either.
[14] Forbes magazine ranks Omaha eighth among the nation’s 50 largest cities in both per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. Crazy, huh?
[15] Henceforth, B.B.B. & Co.
[16] Provided I was interested in anything work-related at all.
[17] OK, perhaps “mom-and-pop” is an exaggerated litotes, but the firm started in 1959 with Albus J. Bartleby and Jackson Barney working out of a stuffy single room office in Downtown Omaha underwriting tens of millions in debentures for the Omaha Union Stockyards, which, in 1955, surpassed Chicago’s Union Stockyards as the nation’s largest livestock market and meat packing industry center. Shortly after that, Jackson Barney’s younger brother, Smith (coincidentally [or not], no relation to either Charles D. Barney or Edward B. Smith of Smith-Barney renown), came aboard and the firm became one of the lead syndicates in the U.S. rail financing with the headquarters of Union Pacific Railroad also based in Omaha.
[18] One of Omaha’s largest Commercial Real Estate firms.
[19] Because of her youth and limited experience.
[20] I’m just trying to be thorough here.
[21] Which is actually how Ashley names the restaurant when recounting the story for friends, family and
acquaintances: Wolfgang Puck’s trendy Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT.
[22] Though, had I chosen the spot, we’d likely have gone to the less trendy, but arguably, better Cal-Asian restaurant, Yamashiro or Mr. Chow.
[23] OK, he was mainly talking to Ashley.
[24] Also, I should add that I’m pretty sure he’d been drinking — likely furiously — since his speech was even more fragmented and disjointed than mine, and I at least have a medical excuse. He also had the look of someone who’d recently snorted a few lines of coke and was using the alcohol as an equalizer, but this is only pure speculation on my part.
[25] The well-regarded surgeon’s earlier disclaimer presumably stemming from a desire to illustrate to us the money he would invariably lose by not performing tummy tucks, nose jobs and breast enhancement/augmentation surgeries, and thus, potentially adding some kind of intangible significance to his compliment.
[26] Sixty-five-billion dollar.
[27] Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies for non-Latin fans.
[28] Sometimes, the first richest man in the word — it’s hard to follow all of Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’s philanthropic efforts where they each try to give away more money than the other.
[29] For lack of a better term.
[30] Not the actual word I’d used originally in “Committed. Capable. Competent.,” of course.
[31] Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco was fined this week for sending a Tweet on a his iPhone from the end zone after scoring a touchdown which cost him $25,000 and a quarter of playing time so he’d be sitting, for sure.
[32] Technically they were Jack and Cokes, but Scotch and waters sound infinitely more distinguished and at this point, I was also pretty sure the word Coke in any form at all should be kept to a bare minimum. 


How big is it REALLY?? Adam Levin’s ‘The Instructions’

With the release of Adam Levin’s new tome-sized debut novel, The Instructions, I wanted to compare it visually to the relative size of other longish books. However, one thing lead to another and…

Here, I compared it to some other long[ish] books…

…to Infinite Jest solo…

…to the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism

…to some Chicago Cutlery…

…to a sweet-ass sticker’d-up MacBook Pro…

…to a sleepy Greyhound…

…to a Playstation 3 and HD DVR cable box…

…to a fkn’ awesome Technics SL-1200 Turntable…

…to a 2008 Volvo C-30 [V.2]…

…to a burly snowblower and miscellaneous garage junk…

…and finally, to an ultra-pimptastic early 1990s GT BMX bicycle.

Needless to say, the book. is. HUGE! (and from the first ~50 pages I’ve read, it’s also fan-fucken-tastic!!)

In fact, Levin’s book is even tall enough to ride this ride:

Word.

—————

And, click here for a story that maybe could have been written by Adam Levin if Adam Levin was less talented and was 29, living in Omaha, NE and was named Joseph M. Owens.

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A Most Dangerous and Mysterious Man

This, in some form or another, is going to be my submission for Opium Magazine‘s 7-line
short story contest
.

[UPDATE 9/9/10: Below is the current iteration that I submitted this a.m. for the contest. Cross your collective fingers!.]


A man on his phone at a urinal says, “I’m being chauffeured around today, honey, because I
keep falling asleep at the wheel.” He and I are both relieving ourselves when he says this—both
of us adhering strictly to the unwritten two-men-pissing rule: one empty urinal between us,
eyes forward. But when I overhear his admission of recent—and seemingly chronic—narcoleptic
fits while driving, I cannot help but turn my prying gaze, midstream, toward him. Who is honey?
Should she or he not already know this man is a repeat somnolent driver? I want to ask, but he
absconds before I can adequately shake and zip, leaving me only a wet pantleg to mull over.

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The Universe and Language, Creators and Cannibals

The universe cannibalizes itself, recycles itself.
Everything made from everything else.
Ashes to ashes...
Elements fit together like Legos to make everything,
different combinations.
A few molecules,
the only difference between plastic and margarine.

Similarities run amok, abound,
between physics and language.
Discourse alchemy:
As above so below
Letters combine to create words, phrases and sentences.
Construct, deconstruct and reassemble,
ad infinitum.

Words, ideas, elements and energy.
Recombined, redistributed — evolution.
Life evolves.
Language breathes.
An organic system of architecture,
assimilating one in-to the other.

Elements constitute the universe.
Words depict the elements, symbolically.
Assembled into different configurations;
Create representations, promote understanding.
Human beings, both part of and other than,
reveling in their affiliation and otherness, simultaneously.

Cognitively conflicted.

Dissonance ensues.

No new ideas truly materialize,
knowledge is only ever re-discovered, re-membered,
discoveries that always were and always will be — there.
We, human beings, perhaps,
use these words, use language, to identify,
to differentiate, to organize and to ostracize.

The ego.

Identify the inferior and the superior,
with affiliation the result.
Elitism is thus bred.
Words used in creation of the other,
determine and detract,
with a terrible and arbitrary swiftness.

Devaluation emerges in kind;
value, likewise.
Gold, silver, tin, rust;
Chemical and physical make-up,
assembled by the universe,
equally insignificant and precious,
unwavering equanimity.

**[Don’t forget to check out my latest short story below, “The Black Hole Cometh,” or click here.]

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