Sunday, October 16, 2005

Twenty-seven Reasons It Will Simply Never Come About

1. It might set a bad precedent.

2. I am base and obvious in my desires and ambitions.

3. The world is a cruel place—all the more so when one is aware of that fact.

4. I cannot get the information I need without further upsetting the situation that I need the information in order to resolve.

5. Professional seers claim I am badly aspected and cannot escape my fate.

6. We do not learn lessons through wish fulfillment, and I am evidently being kept after class.

7. I leave little room for compromise, though compromise is the most obvious, efficient path.

8. Those involved do not know what they want to do, and they are seeking the guidance of one another as to how to proceed.

9. Karma.

10. What I am attempting to do is, in fact, impossible given our present understanding of the physical world.

11. Money, supplies, and enthusiasm are low.

12. It’s a bad plan, poorly conceived but brilliantly packaged.

13. Communications are down.

14. Despite all our talk about infrastructure, no one’s done a damn thing about it.

15. My definition of success is way more ambitious than I will ever realize.

16. The gods are angry.

17. We’re not on the same page.

18. Somebody planned the whole stupid thing for a holiday weekend, and they should have realized that everyone would be away.

19. She never got my letter.

20. A series of small, seemingly meaningless occurrences will steer things another way, perhaps revealing indirectly the intentions of an inscrutable higher intelligence.

21. They’re working with the wrong figures.

22. We’re still working out what the meaning of “is” is.

23. There’s a blood curse on the whole group owing to a foul deception perpetrated by our ancestors.

24. Sunspots.

25. Everyone will begin speaking different languages all of a sudden and will abandon the unfinished tower.

26. We forgot to account for the possibility of there being a centerless universe—random, arbitrary, and without mercy or pity.

27. Some people are born unlucky.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


The funnest time we ever had on the bus was when the substitute bus driver was there for a whole week. We didn’t know him at all, and you know that thing where when just one thing’s different, you all of a sudden don’t know if you’re in the right place? I was getting on the bus that morning, and I was talking to Jeremy, and then I looked up and saw this grinning guy with a beard looking down from the bus driver’s seat. And I thought, No, this is wrong. Like I thought it was the wrong bus. Even though all that was different was this driver with the beard and the old-timey bus driver’s hat. But it was still my bus, and Jeremy shoved me from behind, and Cheryl Morrison, who always sits right up in front of the bus because she likes to act like she’s in charge called me a “lollygagger.” Like that even means anything.

The guy drove okay. He liked to tell the other cars that they needed to get out of his way or that they were changing lanes too much, but he didn’t yell. He just said it normal, and he kind of laughed like he thought everybody else was funny in a way that only he knew. And then he’d ask us questions. He could see the whole bus without looking back, because they had one of those gigantic rearview mirrors. And you’d look up when you heard his voice, and you could see him looking at you in that big mirror. He had really dark eyes, and you’d see them looking at you and you’d think you were in trouble. But instead he’d ask you something, and it was funny if it wasn’t you he was asking. Because, like, on that first day, he looked right at me about halfway to school and he asked me, “Hey, you like that little blondie girl sitting up front of you?” And I did, but I couldn’t just say it. And Tammy just looked out the window and pretended that something was going on out there while everybody looked at her or looked at me. And I’m pretty sure my face was really, really red for a while.

But the guy wasn’t mean or anything. At the end of the bus ride, he told us his name. Bill. Bill the Bus Driver. He was really into being a bus driver. Not like any other driver we ever had. And when he’d see other yellow school buses from any school at all, not just ours, he’s honk and wave to the driver over there. I don’t think a lot of those other drivers knew it was Bill, because not that many of them waved back. But Bill still acted like they were friends. “That Charlie!” he said. “He’s crazy! Like he don’t see me!”

He talked to us all more and more as the week went by. Sometmes just asked general stuff. About how we liked school or which teachers we liked or didn’t like. It was stuff that most grown-ups didn’t really ask, stuff that we all talked about, but just to other kids. Like my dad would ask how I liked school, and he really just wanted to hear that it was okay. But Bill the Bus Driver would make you give reasons, and then you’d realize that “okay” wasn’t even an answer. The first time Bill was asking about school, Matt Tate said school was “fine,” and Bill went, “Fine? Fine? What’s that mean? I know a girl who’s fine, but I don’t know no school’s that’s fine. What’s fine about it?” And Matt didn’t know, and none of us knew. So we had to get a different answer. Carol Schmidt was the first one who said it right: “It’s boring.”

“There you go!” yelled Bill. “That sounds like my school!” And everybody laughed, and after that we all thought Bill was the coolest. Later, Michael Williams told him about Miss Fletcher and how she hummed to herself and thought nobody heard her. And Robbie Gold did a great impression Principal Furneau, all hunched over with his hair in his eyes. It was just like him! Tammy totally surprised me, because usually she was so quiet, but she went, “And Mrs. Winthrop, she’s that lady in the attendance office, always, always, always says hi to everybody the exact same way: ‘GOOD day, and how are weeeee?’” And everybody busted out laughing, because that was exactly how she sounded.

After the first day, Bill showed up with a boombox in the bus. It was tied to the big metal thing where Bill grabbed a handle to open and close the doors. When we asked about the boombox, Bill said he needed it to get going in the morning. He said we could all use some “solid jams,” and we liked the way Bill nodded his head along with the beat. Pretty soon, we were doing it too. Between songs, the DJ kept yelling “You’re plugged into your ORIGINAL old-school party station!” It was great, and even the kids who usually just put in their headphones and stared out the window listened to Bill’s boombox instead of whatever they usually listened to. After that, we all looked forward to hearing the boombox when we got on the bus, and even though only a few of us knew any of those songs at first, we had a bunch of favorites by the next day. When we’d hear the thumping and drumming of something we liked, we’d say, “Woo!” and Bill would say, “Yeah, yeah!” and the whole bus would be into it.

On Wednesday, we were all about how cool Bill was. He didn’t always remember every part of the route, but then he’d ask us to help him out, and that was fun. We were good about it until that afternoon Michael Szmuda said, “Yeah, and turn right here!” even though we all knew that was wrong. So Bill turned, and a bunch of us started laughing and then he knew we’d tricked him. But he pretended that he didn’t care and just kept turning and turning and turning down different streets until nobody knew where we were. We said, “Hey, maybe this isn’t right.” But Bill acted like he knew just what he was doing, even though all he kept doing was taking turns on streets we’d never seen before.

After a while, I told Bill I thought we were really lost, and then he acted like he finally heard us. He looked really surprised, and then he said, “Guess I’m going to have to get some directions then,” and pulled the bus over in front of this little, little house on this street that didn’t even have any sidewalks. He jumped out and told Cheryl Morrison that she was in charge, which she totally loved, but that, no, she couldn’t take names, which she totally hated. And then he ran up to the little white house and went inside. A couple of times while he was gone, Cheryl Morrison tried to tell somebody she was taking their name, but we all knew she couldn’t, so whatever. It’s not like we were going to leave the bus, anyway, because nobody knew where we were at all.

And then Bill came back, and he had this big styrofoam ice chest, like the kind you get when you forget the one you have at home. He wouldn’t tell us what he had inside and just stuck it up by his seat. “Just give it a minute,” he said. “You got to learn some patience. I tell you, in this life there’s nothing you use more than your patience.” Andy Solchow asked if Bill knew where we were now, and he said, “Now, later, always. That was my house.”

It was weird how excited we all got when he said that. I guess because grown-ups didn’t usually just show you their houses and stuff. It was always mysterious, stuff about their lives. Like the time Jeremy and I saw our old math teacher at the mall and she was walking next to her husband and they both looked mad. We still remembered that sometimes, and it was still weird. So then everybody wanted to ask Bill about his house and if he had a wife and if he had kids and stuff. And some stuff Bill would answer and some stuff he kind of wouldn’t. He said, yeah, he had a lady but he didn’t see her anymore. He lived with his brother and his cousin, and one of them had some kids. But when we kept asking questions about where his wife went, he got quieter and quieter until he finally said it was time to open up that ice chest.

So Bill pulled over and got a bunch of Cokes out of the ice chest. They weren’t that cold, but they were cold enough, and we all got excited, because usually we weren’t even supposed to have drinks on the bus at all. Sammy Bitner wasn’t going to have one, and he looked really sad about it, but Bill found out that it was just because he was worried about keeping kosher. So they found that there was a little mark on the side that meant it was okay, and then everybody got their own can of Coke. And even when this one kid said they couldn’t have caffeine, Bill got out a can of Sprite and said that would be okay for him. It was so cool. And then Bill found his way back to where we’d turned off with no problem and we realized we were never lost at all.

On that Friday, a bunch of us were begging Bill to do something fun like that again, but he just kept shaking his head. He was smiling, though, so we knew that meant he might. He told us there were rules and that he was supposed to stick to his route. People checked up on that kind of stuff. But as we went along the route and we dropped off some of the kids, the rest of us kept saying, “But now there’s only this many of us, and now there’s only this many. Nobody’s going to tell.” We told Bill we should go drive off the route and get a Coke. We should go to the donut shop. We should get shakes at the drive-thru. We had enough money and everything.

So then Bill made a weird turn, and we got excited again. There were only twelve of us left on the bus, including me and Jeremy. And I was excited even more because Tammy was there, and I liked that we were both getting to have an adventure together. When she looked around to see where we were going, I looked at her and then she looked at me and she smiled, and that was pretty much the best day ever on the bus as far as I was concerned. Although then we bumped over some train tracks and Tammy kind of fell over in her seat and I had a really hard time not laughing, because I knew she’d be embarrassed and then not look at me for a while.

Bill pulled the bus up at a convenience store. He turned around and looked right at us, not in the mirror this time. “Okay, the bus leaves in five minutes exactly,” he said. “Let’s all run in there and get something good, then come back and I’ll take you home. Five minutes, I’m serious.” And we knew it, so we tried to be good. But it was so much more fun being at the store when we weren’t supposed to be that of course we were laughing and stuff, and it took longer than usual for us to calm down and pick out what we were going to buy. Bill kept hushing us, but that just made it funnier, and we kept laughing, then trying to stop, then laughing some more.

I know it took longer than five minutes, but Bill didn’t say anything. He put on “your ORIGINAL old-school party station!” and turned it up real loud, and there was this “Atomic Dog” song that started up. We loved that song, and we were really hyper with all the sodas and candy, so we were dancing around. We’d bought Bill a giant Mr. Goodbar, because we found out on Wednesday that’s what his last name was. He thought that was hilarious, and after he closed the bus doors and started driving, he just kept shaking his head every once in a while and saying, “You kids are a trip.”

At each of our stops, Bill turned halfway in his seat and said goodbye to each kid getting off. “Ashley Jenkins, you be good now.” Or “An honor to’ve met you, Michael Pallino.” Or “Cheryl Morrison, you let your sweet side show more and you’ll be just fine.” I don’t know if Cheryl Morrison liked that he said that, but later when I got to know her better she was a lot nicer than I expected. When we got to Jeremy and my stop, Bill told me, “You got to talk to that girl. Don’t just be staring at her. She’ll come around.” And I was so glad that Tammy had already gotten off two stops before so she didn’t hear.

It was sad, though, on Monday when the bus pulled up and our old driver was back. Not that she wasn’t okay, but she wasn’t Bill. No boombox, no talking to the whole bus, no drinks, no unscheduled stops. She was just polite, but sometimes had to get mad when someone was acting up or when we got too loud. We asked her about Bill, but she said she didn’t know him, that he was just filling in and she didn’t think he’d be back. We asked her if Bill was still working or if he’d gotten in trouble, and she said she tried her best not to know about such things and we’d be better off if we didn’t either. It was weird, and I felt kind of bad about it, and I turned around and saw Tammy looking sad too. I asked her what she thought about Bill being gone, and she wrinkled up her nose and said she thought it sucked.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dear John

She stomped away from the table, pushing through the crowded dance floor. She shoved her way toward the door of the club. She heard Nate calling after her.

“Aw, come on! What? What did I say now?” It was the question of a person who regularly asked such things, who frequently saw angry people walking away from him. She was familiar with it from the past three months She heard it a lot.

She elbowed her way through the tight crowd, interrupting dancers, drinkers, and smokers alike. They were all in her way, that’s all she could see. Her anger and elbows cleared a narrow path of escape. But even over the thunderous music and the yammer of the crowd, she heard Nate’s parting shot.

“What the hell? Is it your time of the month or something? Having a little PMS moment, baby?”

It was so stupid. That should have made it funny, made her laugh at him. But instead it was infuriating.

She held her elbows up in front of her and plowed into the crowd. She was small and slender, so she had to know how to throw out attitude and intimidation. She moved quickly, roughly jostling people, barely looking where she was going, never slowing down. She hated this club anyway. She hated the music, the people, the fact that people used energy drinks as mixers. She hated Nate and his asshole friends. She hated the fact that she wore her leather jacket tonight and that it was a hundred degrees next to the dance floor and thirty degrees outside.

At last she broke free of the throng and made it to the relatively open lobby. She wanted to run outside right away, but she saw the snow coming down outside. The temperature had probably dropped another ten degrees since they had come in a couple of hours ago. She slunk over to the far side of the lobby, backed up against a wall, fished inside the pockets of her jacket for a cigarette. She pulled out a crumpled pack containing two damaged cigarettes. One was torn near the filter, the other was still intact. She put the better one back in the pack for later and tore the filter off the other. She hadn’t smoked filterless cigs since she was eighteen and liked to prove to the senior girls how hardcore she was. She felt that way again now. She felt like hitting someone just to see that scared, surprised look on their face.

An inch-high flame from her Zippo lit the cigarette with a messy, sooty flame. She could smell that she’d singed her bangs a little bit. She took deep drags from the cigarette. At least she did at first. But the unfiltered smoke nearly made her cough explosively, so she took smaller pulls. How hardcore would it be to start choking like she’d never even smoked before?

While she smoked, she glowered at everyone who walked by, at the goth girls drinking straight gin and pretending to like it, at the rocker dude whose sideburns were as wide as a guitar neck, at the bouncer who looked like he was thinking about asking if she was okay. She wasn’t known for her easy laugh or lighthearted nature, but tonight Nate had made her feel almost murderous. She wanted to spit venom at anyone who came near. No one did.

She sighed and looked down at her hands, at the nicotine stains on her fingers, at the little blue elephant-head stamped on her by the club. She saw that she’d stopped shaking. It was weird, because until that point she hadn’t even realized she’d been shaking ever since Nate started in on her. She’d been so mad that she didn’t notice how much madder she was than she realized. She’d had had to walk away from Nate many times. Why was this time different than all the others? Even before she’d started dating him, she knew he could be insensitive, self-centered, often vulgar. He could be sweet when he wanted to—usually when he wanted something—and she’d always thought he was sexy. She used to be excited to be seen with him. Now the attention he got for his looks pissed her off. She’d started to think that a disfiguring scar might do wonders for him.

She looked across the lobby as she took the last few drags off her cigarette. There was Nate, coming right at her. Unprecedented. He had always before been content to let her blow off steam and come back when she calmed down. He didn’t even care if that meant a week later back at his apartment. She figure out early on that he was never going to come after her. Now he had, and he looked angry.

His anger made her forget how mad she was. The look on his face scared her a little bit. She became aware all of a sudden of how much taller and bigger he was than her. It was a difference she couldn’t make up just with attitude.

“Jesus goddamn Christ,” he hissed as he walked up to her. “I’m sick to death of you always running out because you can’t take a fucking joke! What the hell is up with you?”

She just stared at him, wide-eyed. Her breath came very fast.

He threw up his hands in exasperation. “What?” he yelled. “Am I supposed to check in with you every time I want to say something? Are you so goddamn sensitive that I can’t mention anything that has to do with you ever?”

She swallowed as she imagined the satisfying feel of a beer bottle in her hand as it connected with his temple. She almost smiled. “That’s not it, Nate,” she finally said, trying to get the edge back into her voice. “You know, you treat me like shit in front of your friends. You always do that!”

He rolled his eyes. “That’s what you say. All I said back there was that you didn’t seem interested in sex these days.”

She shrank back, shocked. “Nate! If that was … believe it or not, even that’s not something you’re supposed to say! But what you said—” She looked around. Her voice sounded loud to her in the small lobby. She continued more softly, “What you said was that I had cobwebs between my legs. That’s pretty fucking bad.”

“It was supposed to be funny. You don’t have get so pissed. When did you become such a bitch?”

She stared at him and thought for several long seconds about what to say. “I don’t know. Mostly since I met you.” She flicked her cigarette butt at his feet and dodged past him. She fled outside into the snow. He stared after her, but didn’t follow.

It was bitter cold outside, and she had no plan. She impulsively headed off toward the parking lot down at the end of one of the long city blocks. She walked carefully but fast, careful to measure her strides in case she hit some ice. She walked hard, bringing her boots down with excessive force with each step. The streets were nearly empty, and the few people who passed did their best to look like they didn’t notice the angry girl stomping through the snow.

She wanted so much to lash out, but how? She was twenty-two now. She couldn’t pick a fight with someone like she used to. She wished she could try beating Nate senseless, but he had the size and weight advantage on her. She’d tried it before, but never got in more than one good punch before he grabbed her tight and held her in a bear hug until she relented. He always found that funny. The idea of it now made her almost vibrate with rage. Pity she’d never thought to use a tire iron, she thought.

She saw a bottle in her path. Dark brown with a little dusting of snow on top. She too aim and kicked it violently with her boot, breaking it almost in half and sending the pieces clattering against a brick wall. A couple walking nearby hurried around a corner to avoid her. That made her feel good.

She continued down the street, looking for any objects to send flying. Plenty of bottles presented themselves. Brown, green, and clear glass went flying, ricocheting off walls, littering doorways, spraying into the street. She kicked over trash cans, jammed the toe of her boot into the side of a wet cardboard box, punted a full can of half-frozen beer across the street. She wanted to do more. She was consumed by the anger, almost enjoying it. But it didn’t seem to be going away. It was growing.

She turned the corner, heading down the adjacent block toward the parking lot Nate had found. He didn’t like to pay for parking, so he got what he paid for: It was far away, dark, and secluded. It was actually a little more dangerous than she had realized. Fucking Nate. It was his fault she was here. In the dark. In the snow. Pissed off and hurt and alone. He wasn’t the one who felt unsafe, so what did he care? He didn’t mind telling his friends about their sex life. He wasn’t the one who felt stupid just for being younger and not knowing every stupid TV show reference all his friends got. It wasn’t his concern if she didn’t think crude jokes at her expense were hilarious. Somehow in his mind, all that added up to her being a bitch.

She refused to take his shit anymore.

As soon as she found the parking lot, she started looking for Nate’s van. His ridiculous Volkswagen microbus was usually pretty easy to spot, but she couldn’t remember exactly where he’d parked. She wondered if he’d left already. He could have just left! She started feeling panicky. A fresh edge of anger emerged, and she clenched her fists. But then she caught sight of the little van on the far side of the lot and she headed straight toward it.

She checked her jacket pockets, but then remembered that she’d been frisked going into the club. She stopped and bent over, slipping two fingers inside the top of her left boot until she found what she was looking for. Carefully, she pulled out a black-handled switchblade, a Valentine’s Day present from an old boyfriend, and sprung the blade as she advanced.

Her pace remained steady until she got within twenty yards of the van, and then she involuntarily broke into a run. She almost slipped on the snow, but caught herself. The blood pounded in her head. She heard Nate’s question: “When did you become such a bitch?” She advanced quickly and raised the knife.

With all the force she could muster, she plunged the knife down with two hands. It sank easily into the cold rubber of the tire, and she felt a rush of air on her hands from the jagged gash she made. The knife was in tight, and she had to work it back and forth to loosen it. Soon she’d torn a sizable hole in the tire. It was flat and beyond repair. The microbus sagged slightly at one corner.

Breathing hard, she moved to the next tire, the left front, and pushed the knife in slowly. The blade was loose in the handle and it was narrow, not really made for cutting into thick tire walls. But her anger gave her a freakish amount of strength. Again she made as messy a cut as she could, then stepped back to admire how the microbus now leaned to one side. She really hated that goddamn microbus. She grinned as she moved around to the other side of it.

She felt a bit calmer, but she wanted to finish what she’d started. She placed the tip of the knife against the tire and pushed gently, then with increasing force until she had just punctured it. The air seeped out slowly, and while the tire lost its shape, she made several more slits through its surface, enjoying the feel of the thin metal cutting into the tough exterior of rubber and cords. She was sweating profusely, and her hands were feeling numb with cold, but she felt calm enjoyment as she destroyed the tire. She moved then to the last tire.

On the final slash, she took her time, angling in toward the tire’s valve with precision. It was almost surgical. She made light cuts around it, then made slightly deeper ones. She continued in this fashion until the air began to leak out in a steady stream, at which point she cut more deeply until she was able to cut the entire valve away. She tucked the little rubber-covered metal shaft into her hip pocket as a souvenir.

Closing the knife and placing it in her boot again, she stepped back to admire her work. The van now sat on four deflated tires, resting on its rims. The vehicle had sunk a foot lower. It looked lame, maybe dead. She smiled and brushed the snow from her jeans. She felt better already.

She had one other idea. She felt through her pockets until she found what she was looking for. The Zippo sent up a bright flame as she lit her last cigarette. Back to the filters now, so she took a deep and dramatic drag on the cigarette before approaching the van. In broad strokes, she wrote a note in exaggerated, loopy cursive with a tube of black lipstick. The dark, smeared letters contrasted sharply with the dull yellow paint of the microbus. Nate wouldn’t be able to miss her message: “Love, Monica.”

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Call Waiting

It was funny because when Viola heard me talking on my new phone system, she thought I had gone crazy. She thought I was just talking to voices in the air, voices only I could hear, but it was just a wireless system with one of those tiny earplugs. They don’t even have those where she’s from, I found out later. She thought there was something wrong with me, and she called my father and told him. I knew, because he beeped in on my line a few minutes after she’d brought me my snack. He wanted to know if I was okay. Yeah, I said. Why? Oh, he said, Viola was worried about you. She said you were having a spell. No, I said. Just talking on the phone. And he says, Well, whatever, and then hangs up.