The Naming of Things

I came from a place of houses and cars. That’s all. No sidewalks. Walking anywhere was a symbol of poverty, was an admission of low social standing and meager means. Meager than most. My older brother and I once picked up a middle-aged woman in a Burger King uniform. The closest one was two miles away still. When we dropped her off, my brother patted his dashboard and proclaimed that “with all this new karma, this baby will run forever.”

A friend of mine visited from out-of-state and explained that people have nicer cars than houses. She said that it was opposite where she was from. She was wrong. Both the cars and the houses were shitty. Everything too new to be retro, too old to be attractive. Conservative. Suburban. Homes for city-feeders – but the cities now without appetite. A place that forgot to introduce tax credits and approve plans for county roads. The housing developers, they swopped in and bought out farms with leaning barns and renamed places Deer Lake Hills, even though there was neither a lake nor hills. There were deer, though. Usually on the side of the road, feet straight out, head back, tongue out. For a day or two.

There weren’t even restaurants because restaurants are places where you can eat something you can’t make at home. Places were called The Grill: Restaurant and Bar, Moe’s Family Style Restaurant, Eddie’s Family Friendly Food. Places where people too old or too tired ordered off laminated lists of their own kitchens, embellished with ClipArt.

Whenever I came home, my parents threw food at me – and not the type of food you want thrown at you. The kind of stuff you try to forget is legal for grocery stores to sell. The stuff you wish it wasn’t socially acceptable to feed children, old people, anyone whose mouth can open and close, really. My parents were always proud that they could put food on the table, but they had to side farther and farther from the table. You can’t survive for thirty years on leaky cartons of Chinese and Hamburger Helper and not become the person complaining theater seats are to small.

My friends came from places south of Cabear Lake Road. Where there were restaurants, driving ranges, two or three blocks of a downtown. Where people turned off their TVs and walked their dogs and hosted family parties on backyards that slopped into the lakes. Places that understood guilt.

What’s the difference between a show you watch to see who is killed off this week and a show you watch to see who is voted off?


The suburbs of Potznan are in An. The flatness there beckoned sprawl. The hills of Potz, the Back-Hills, start shady, then become wooded until the hills are lost under the static waves of trees and trees – the home of hidden lakes and smokeless cabins. The city spread east and east, in the rings and cul-de-sacs of An and Outer An.

All of the houses there have garages and basements, attics and spare bedrooms. Places their owners can stack and store their impulse purchases, their misguided investments, all the evidence of why they will never be smart enough with their money to live in Potz.

Rub it in the carnivores’ faces, sure.
Oh, I’ll rub it in your faces. I’ll rub it in your faces just like you shove and stuff them full of meat. Juicy, delicious, grilled meat. Like steak, brisket, pork chops, and burgers. Oh … burgers. Burgers not made of beans. Burgers made of beef, made of buffalo, of ostrich. Everything falling into place just so …
image… burgers ….

Complain all you like about not being able to eat meat on Good Friday. I haven’t had any all Lent, and I feel great.

caprices, expenses – one grand investment

cost of living – shared, silent resentment

fifty states, fifty sales, fifty percent-off racks

marriage – the best of those two-for-one packs

*reads article claiming depressed people become indifferent to their squalor*

*looks at pile of dirty dishes by bedroom door*

"Nah, I’m just lazy."

I started stealing bikes in September. Back then, it was new, a rush, and I was clumsy and inefficient. I should have gotten caught – amateur that I was. Vulture. Hyena. Scavenger. The unseen force the now-bikeless would shake their heads and call “Karma,” call “Fate,” call “Bad goddamn luck.” I went after the unlocked, the unattended-to, the took-my-eyes-off-for-just-a-second.

Winter began in late October, and bikes became a memory until March, when the snow became gray, heavy slush that the wheels of the returning bikes splashed onto your pants and shoes. That winter, I had taken home one of each bike lock and figured out the fastest, most efficient, most discreet way to unlock each with a combination of a screwdriver, nail file, paper clip, and brute force.

My motives were clear – I hate bikes. I hate bikes, bike lanes, bike racks, and – above all – cyclists. We lost several blocks of prime parallel parking in downtown Potznan for bike lanes, and some of those demonic commuters still peddle on the sidewalks. They weave in and out of foot traffic. They ignore the socially-agreed-upon pedestrian lanes. Every cyclists believes he or she is a descendent of Moses. There are cyclists who can’t ride straight, which is why they avoid the bike lanes, and they come toward you on the sidewalk, and you see their front wheel wobble, and you move to the side, and they move with you, and side-to-side you do this until they finally pass and find a new partner. All I want to do is run up to them and kick their front wheel or their back wheel and watch them toppled into traffic. I am not a confrontational person, though, so I never have. I steal the bikes instead.

Spring was a good time for bike-stealing, but summer is best. Prime pickings outside the library, outside the grocery stores, in the parks. Anywhere cyclists went, I went. I wanted them to know that they were not welcome in my city. I wanted to discourage them. Wanted them to walk or drive or take the bus like a normal person.

Cyclists are not normal people, though. They are fanatics. I work at a bike shop. I know. We sell used bikes, bike locks, accessories, spare parts, water bottles, tight shorts, and helmets. Those stupid-fucking-sperm-shaped helmets. People come in all the time, every day; come in and say, “Someone stole my bike. Do you have any cheap used ones?” “Yes.” “And can I get a bike lock, too?” “Which would you like?” “I had that one.” “Oh, that one’s no good.” “Tell me about it.” They don’t want me to tell them about it. They don’t want to see it – but I take it off the rack and show them and smile. They don’t smile back. “So,” I tell them, turning around to get a different one, turning around because I do not like their faces, “you should try this one.” “Is it better?” “You’d need a screwdriver to bust this one, and how many people do you know who walk around with a screwdriver in their pocket?”


Because not even Don Draper crying on his balcony in his bathrobe can fill the Breaking Bad-shaped hole in my life.

I give it 3/5 “oh ya”s.

  • Writer 1:

    Wouldn't it be great if we could time travel and know what societal and cultural shifts we're living in right now? We could come back, and everything we write would be self-fulfilling, relevant, and celebrated.

  • Writer 2:

    We can. All we have to do is look around now and take each other's temperature.

  • Writer 1:

    I don't want to do that.

  • Writer 2:

    And that's why no one wants to read you.

on shuffling off

it’s mortal coil

not mortal pair of comfy sweatpants

In third grade, there was a presidential election between the guy people wanted to have a beer with and the guy people wanted to throw a beer at. We were given a poorly copied political cartoon to look at, to discuss, to analyze, to – here was what separated us from second graders – interpret. The cartoon was two toddlers playing in a daycare. Bush’s letter-blocks were upside down, and Gore was smashing cars.

Someone joked that it wasn’t Gore in the cartoon – but me. Everyone knew I hated cars. I had written a long essay – both long and an essay only by third grade standards – on all the alternative means of transportation we should take to get to school: rollerblades, bikes, skateboards, horseback, helicopter, dog sled, submarine.

The reason why I hated cars was simple – I spent too much time in them. Car rides meant the two hours between where Mom lived and where Dad rented. Car rides meant being dragged along to my brother’s travel hockey tournaments – long hauls to Toronto, to Chicago, and that one interminable drive to Quebec City. Car rides meant that twenty-four hour straight-shot to Florida, which I despised because everything south of Atlanta smells like a dishwasher you open too soon.

In that same class, we held a mock election. We were given a slip of paper. Bush v. Gore. Check boxes for both. The pictures were poorly copied, too. Maybe to discourage us from voting based on their looks. They were both grainy, black-and-white blurs.

Our class had twenty-three students in it. Our teacher didn’t vote. We ended up with a tie. Eleven-eleven-one. Some little shit voted for himself.

Terror and Reality

America was post-Elián González and pre-Kardashian. We were floundering, tense, at war, and bored. Scott Peterson – wholesome, white, good teeth, a decent guy, a sitcom dad without the paunch – gave us something to talk about, something to speculate over; gave us conflicted emotions and Law & Order deduction games. Jerry Orbach was still alive.

Each state got its own Scott Peterson, each news affiliate received the formula: notice of disappearance, press conference, search, suspicion, suspended suspicion, another press conference, speculation, search for husband, then his finding and arrest and his confession and conviction. Conclusion. Extended sympathies, prayers, exclusive interviews with parents. And now sports.

Michigan’s Scott Peterson was from the metro Detroit area. The suburbs. Not the city limits because you can’t sex up drive-bys, hit-and-runs, and gas station robberies. Sometimes you need to show a street lined with bulky, plastic mailboxes. Sometimes you need to park your news van on a street named after some body-of-water/flora-or-fauna hybrid. Sometimes you need to report from a house with an attached garage with police tape at the end of the driveway to remind the viewers at home that the News can happen here.

There might have been Another Woman. Maybe Money Issues. The motives never mattered much. Wife went missing. Husband cried at press conference. No one wanted him to be guilty; would believe he was. By the twentieth state, though, it went from formulaic to farcical.

Our guy, our 6:00 pal – we knew his name, his face. We knew the most intimate thing you can know about a man – what he sounds like when he’s about to cry. When he disappeared, everyone squinted into the next car at red lights; glanced casually behind them in line at the grocery store. They found him – we found him; we did it – up north. He had stopped shaving and tried to drink in peace, but people in bars up there – they watch the news; they know a desperate man when they see him drink. They can see through three days’ stubble.

"That guy’s a fucking idiot," said my uncle. "He could have driven the same distance south; been three states away, where no one would have heard of him, recognized him. Where no one would give a flying fuck. He deserved to get caught for being so fucking stupid."

Everyone is a better murderer than the last guy to get caught.

you can gauge how impatient people are irl by which posts they tag ‘long read’