Step Into A World

February 27, 2010

“There Is No Other”


A new short story published through an intriguing Los Angeles literary journal,

Two Hawks Quarterly: A Literary Uprising

“…sparking debate and discussion through exposing the world to the most challenging, edgy, and lyrical prose, poetry, memoir, and artwork available.”

How timely, given the upcoming special day:

“…show your boss who’s boss – no one!”

Storytime

November 21, 2009

Arrivals

My brother Luke and I used to have this Nintendo game called Fester’s Quest – you know, Fester from the Addam’s Family. The show was having a resurgence of cool after a remake had just come out in ’96. We couldn’t wait to play the game, but when we placed the cartridge into the grey Nintendo box, Fester, in his long black Friar Tuck cloak, was barely discernible in the sloppy low-tech pixels. Just steps into his quest he would get attacked by stinging yellow demons, slowing his pace to the point where he was unable to defend himself and where, inevitably – he would die. Game Over, only minutes into the game. Luke and I would hold down those Nintendo buttons so hard trying to make Fester go, we’d get imprints of the arrows on our thumb pads. Who made this game? What were they thinking? Kids don’t want to fight against slowness when they play video games. They want to run and jump, maybe fly. Ideally we’d like to fly.

Cole picks me up in his aunt’s navy Honda at eight o’clock, the front hood caved in sadly from where he ran into that yield sign two months ago, the repair not justifiable for the worth of the vehicle.

‘Where are we going?’ I ask.

We don’t usually go out. We watch movies almost every night.

‘On a date,’ Cole says, his breath a cotton swab of ice.

‘A date…’

‘Well…’ he says. ‘Josh is coming.’

Of course. The deadbeat friend. All hot guys have them. They need something – someone – to downplay their beauty so you don’t expect too much of them.

Waiting for Josh outside his duplex, or as he calls it ‘The Pea Green Motel’, Cole plays ADD-DJ. He never finishes a song. An inability to focus for more than a few minutes, or an eagerness to please his crowd? To please me? I don’t know but it’s annoying.

Josh slides into the back seat smelling of pickled smoke. ‘Sup?’ he mumbles. He lights two cigarettes and hands one to Cole and they smoke out the windows as the snow wisps in swirls along our tires.

We pull up to a rainbow lit Toys ‘R’ US, the R playfully, charmingly backwards.

I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us Kid

Lots of toys at Toys ‘R’ Us that I can play with

The song went.

But Luke and I used to sing:

I don’t wanna throw up, but I already did

I ran to the toilet but I couldn’t lift the lid

The mention of vomit our safe stab at defiance.

‘What are we doing here?’ I ask, the windshield wipers squeaking as the falling snow becomes sparse.

‘I need Leonardo,’ Cole explains.

Cole has a remaining obsession with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from fifteen years ago.

‘Oh,’ I say. ‘A date.’

‘Niki, I need him,’ he says. ‘He’s my favourite one.’

I try to remember the Ninja Turtles song as I meander into the pink smear of the Girl’s section…

Rafael is cool but crude

Michelangelo is a party dude…

Cole and Josh disappear down an aisle of shiny black packaged cars and libraries of gloss-faced men with small but lethal weapons. ‘Men are like children,’ the ladies at work tell me, pictures of husbands and fiancés tacked into the walls of their cubicles like 1st Place ribbons, no matter how gawky and nerdy the men. But I don’t buy it. I believe in the existence of real men. What do those bitches know? Years of data entry reconfiguring the helixes of their DNA. Read, type, check. Read, type, check. Don’t, look, up. ‘The computers to the computers,’ Rhonda proudly calls us, her pink talons jamming away at the keys, the loose skin under her chin dangling like a turkey wattle. It’s the ladies like Rhonda who are the best at data entry, who make the least mistakes – the ones who are able to stop thinking.

‘Nine ninety nine!’ Cole bounces towards me straddling an alien-green ball with two snail antenna handles. He holds up a toy axe. ‘You wanna axe me a question?’

‘Heh,’ I fake laugh.

‘This place is the shiznit,’ he beams, the look on his face like that of a five year old who’s just grabbed his babysitter’s boob.

The shiznit? No. More a bland kind of fun – like eating low fat potato chips.

As Cole pays for his swag, I scan the Girl toys. See what’s happening with Barbie these days. She hasn’t aged a day, still walking on eggshells up on those tip toes. They should make Stomp Around Barbie:Real weights in the soles of her feet!” “Perfect for hissy fits when Ken cheats!” Poor Barbie – no nipples, her cooch sealed shut. Girls think they’ll look like this someday. We really do.

‘Hey,’ I catch Josh on the way to the till. ‘How does the song go again?’

‘What song?’

‘The Ninja Turtles one.’

‘Huh…’ Josh tries to retrieve the information from some stashed away marijuana-blurred file. ‘Oh yeah-’ he remembers. ‘Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines…’

Of course. Leonardo leads.

Next stop on this lavish skid-chaperoned date – the airport. No, we’re not catching an impromptu flight to Vegas to pretend were high rollers for a few minutes then come back with unpayable Visa bills. The airport is where Cole works as a baggage handler.

‘Did you forget something at work?’ I ask, as we pull into pay parking.

‘Nah,’ Cole says. ‘I just thought it would be fun.’

Cole loves his job. Although the reasons he loves it have nothing to do with the actual job – the sour cream glazed donuts he buys at lunch from Tim Horton’s, the lottery pool he feeds better than his stomach. It’s almost like he doesn’t notice the working part of his job. It’s almost like he doesn’t notice anything.

‘I just thought… it would be random,’ he says. ‘You know?’

Random. I like this concept. Maybe this isn’t another miss at romance from Cole. Maybe this is ‘random’.

Inside the airport, Cole pushes Josh on a baggage cart, the shiny brick flooring chugging the cart’s wheels. The synthetic eggs from A & W smell strangely delicious, then disgusting; the smell of early morning flights. Spotting an empty baggage carousel, Cole runs up and tries to sit on its black revolving slates.

‘That won’t get you fired,’ I stand back and watch.

Getting his finger pinched between the slates, he awkwardly slides off, his blonde bangs flopping into his eyes. ‘I’ve always wanted to do that,’ he beams.

‘Well,’ I say, ‘you’re definitely baggage.’

He looks me over, deciding whether or not that was mean.

The airport maintains its usual steady mull, people waiting in line and browsing the boutiques, voices down and discreet as though whispering will make the place less public, make their flight, their mission seem special. A Disneyland-bound family reminiscent of the Aussie Shampoo clan in their matching bathrobes makes their way to Gates 5-15, two tired little girls strapped down front to back with backpacks and fanny packs, their parents worriedly shuffling around boarding passes and checking watches. It’s not rocket science. Walking past the Arrivals gate, people wait for their friends and family ready to offer warm welcomes – you’ve made it! You’ve gotten from point A to B! We miss you when you’re in point A. Point B is better, isn’t it? Doesn’t it feel better?

‘M’lady,’ Cole offers me his hand as we step onto the escalator.

‘Flight 393 is now boarding,’ a woman’s voice pages from somewhere above. ‘Last call for Flight 393.’ There is no annoyance in her voice. Everything is okay in her world.

As Cole and Josh let the whirring, snapping, and cuckooing of the wind-up toys inside Who’s Who In The Zoo lure them in, I go the window and watch the planes taxi the runway in the dark. Lights among lights. It seems impossible for things to fly. Even, especially, things that are alive. But it isn’t.

When I was seven, Luke and I designed a time machine. We had it all mapped out, drawings we would redo over and over in scented markers – where our rooms would be, what we would bring, what would go on which shelf. We figured we’d work out the science part later. That maybe if we wanted it to work badly enough, it would. We’d planned other things that had worked out before – puppet shows, lemonade stands – why not take it to the next level?

In the wooden booth of the Western-themed restaurant beside Gate 47, Cole slides in beside me. ‘You’re pretty,’ he says.

‘Pretty what?’ I ask.

He orders a pitcher of beer and two ice cream pies for the table as Josh tosses his winter coat on a pitchfork sticking out of a bail of hay. Across from our booth sits a dad and his two daughters drinking non-stop pop and colouring with crayons on a sheet of brown paper spread over the table. Somebody chose this man. Some woman said: him. I want a half-duplicate of him.

There are a lot of people in the world. All created out of this same decisiveness.

I look over Cole’s thin, white, cigarette laced fingers. He sees me looking at them and wraps them around his empty pint glass, giving me what he probably thinks is a chin chuck. When the beer comes, he pours. ‘Cheers big ears,’ he clinks Josh’s glass.

‘Same goes big nose,’ says Josh, taking a long swig and lifting a forkful of ice cream pie into his smiling mouth.

Always a three-man date, Ferris Bueller style. And when I can’t sleepover, Cole calls Josh.

‘Nother round,’ Cole orders as the waitress walks past, tripping over the sprawling carry on baggage of the kid’s booth. One of the little girls stands up on the booth seat and holds up her red crayon like an Olympic torch. Red belongs to her and her alone.

The wallpaper lining the restaurant walls could be in Cole’s house – splish-splashes of faded rose and lilac in a varicose vein embossment. Cole lives in the basement of his aunt’s house and hasn’t touched the nineties decor his aunt chose for it all those years ago – the furniture covered in coral palm-fronds Oahu motel lobby style, porcelain bunnies dipping their noses into pots of fake flowers, looked down on by framed pictures of horses with manes so windblown they could be unicorns. Along the oak shelves, Cole has lined up his action figures, his single attempt to make the place his own. How can he stand to not be surrounded by his things, things he’s chosen? He doesn’t think of it this way.

When the check comes, Josh pulls for his wallet.

‘I got it,’ Cole pushes Josh’s money back towards him.

We are both being courted by Cole.

Full and buzzed, the three of us amble back into the corridor’s yellow wash of light, a yellow like the yolk of an egg laid by a caged chicken radiating an indelible fizzle of fear.

‘Josh man – go long,’ Cole tosses him a rubber ball he’s snagged from Toys ‘R’ Us.

Around the corner we come across an airplane museum. Cole spots a replica of an old airplane. ‘Let’s go in,’ he says. So we climb the metal staircase and sit in the cockpit, Cole and Josh in front, me in the back.

‘We should bring forties up here sometime,’ Cole says to Josh.

‘That would be the bomb,’ says Josh.

‘Shh,’ says Cole. ‘Don’t say bomb.’

‘Hey,’ Josh leans in to Cole. ‘What do they do with all the drugs they confiscate here?’

‘Smoke and snort them, what do you think?’ I say, fiddling with my  seatbelt button like a Jeopardy clicker.

‘Seems like a waste to throw it away,’ Josh mumbles.

Two weekends ago after a night out we couldn’t find Josh. We drove around for hours the next morning checking all the dumpsters in the area. This is how drunk Josh gets.

‘If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?’ Cole asks.

‘Tahiti,’ says Josh. ‘Where would you?’

Cole thinks. ‘Iowa.’

‘Why?’ Josh and I both ask, Josh interested, me irritated.

‘I like the sound of it,’ says Cole. ‘I. Oh. Ah.’

Random bothers me, I realize. The way it doesn’t make sense.

‘Where would you go, Niki?’ Josh asks.

‘Nowhere.’ I smile. ‘I’d rather be right here with you guys.’

‘I bet you’d jump on any one of those planes,’ he says. 

For a second, I have the icky sensation that Josh may know me better than Cole. ‘Why do you say that?’ he asks.

‘You look bored,’ he says.

If you’re bored, you’re boring, my fifth grade English teacher used to say. That makes it worse. Not only are you an accomplice in the dullness you’re experiencing – you are the dull. We didn’t used to be, Luke and I. We used to have fun – be fun. Before The Adult World. The daycare Luke and I used to go to was beneath a bowling alley and on the days we forgot our lunches we’d get taken upstairs for bowls of tomato soup and Premium Plus crackers. As we waited for our soup we’d watch people bowl, their lit cigarettes smouldering patiently in their trays between turns. They’d pick up the bowling balls – swirling planets of oranges and purples – then loft them towards the pins in smooth thunderous rolls, a rumbling you could feel from beneath – a full internal gratification. This is what it was to be an adult, we thought.

‘I’ll tell you where I want to go,’ I lean into the front seat. ‘Everywhere. But it doesn’t work that way.’

Josh laughs. ‘You can go some places,’ he turns back to face me.

I look out the window at the white museum wall.

Cole leans his head out of the plane. ‘Iceberg! Straight ahead!’

Josh picks up the radio. ‘Ladies and Gentleman, please buckle your seatbelts. Monsieurs et Madames, s’il vous plait attacher vos ceintures.’

Funny, being in the fake plane doesn’t feel much different from being on a real plane. It’s the plane that’s flying, not you. Like how we can’t feel ourselves being hurtled through space strapped to this big old planet. We don’t feel a thing.

Storytime

March 18, 2009

The Girl In The Roses

the-girl-in-the-roses2

With a smog headache, Edie sits in her cage on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, her knees hugged tightly up against the metal, the chemical-hot Los Angeles sunshine emanating down on her a therapeutic warmth like pill-induced sleep. In the strapless white cotton ball dress Edie made herself, crisscrossed now with cage rust, she calmly sweats.

‘Isn’t that Edie Stall?’ a Gap-dunked, still-faced stage mother and her mini-me approach the cage. ‘Excuse me, are you Edie Stall?’ she asks.

‘The Girl in the Roses!’ the little girl says, a thin orange layer of spray-tan coating the perfection of her John Benet skin.

They often refer to Edie as this: The Girl In The Roses. From the movie in which Edie bathed in roses with roses on her nipples, a hallucinogenic kaleidoscope of roses sprinkling down on her in the fantasy of the horny neighbor father. The movie is why Edie can afford to sit here in the middle of the day inside the cage interrupting the paths of people who don’t have time to think, who can’t afford to. She won’t say problem, but the trouble with having time to think is that it becomes hard to communicate with those who don’t have the time to.

‘Yes, hi. I’m Edie,’ she makes the motion to extend her hand and it bumps against the cage metal. ‘Oh. Right. I forgot. I can’t shake your hand. I can’t move past the boundaries of this cage. Can’t interact with other life because…’

‘Are you with PETA?’ the mother cuts in. She has an ‘easy’ haircut and a Botox-bloated string-pulled face like  a marionette. ‘Because PETA are a bunch of hypocrites who put dogs in freezers…’

‘I’m not with anyone,’ says Edie. ‘I’m here trying to show people about the food they eat. About how it ‘lives’ ,’ her knuckles bang the roof of the cage in her attempt to do air quotes.

Along the boulevard, cars sporadically honk at Edie in passing, unable to discern exactly who she is or what she’s doing, but sensing disruption and wanting to be a part of it.

‘I guess you can’t sign autographs from in there,’ the woman taps her acrylic nail on the cage. ‘I mean, I’d tip you or donate or whatever you call it, but you have no jar…’

‘There’s a basket of flyers beside the cage,’ Edie says. ‘I’d pass you one but…’

‘-I get it,’ the woman says.

‘Why’s she in a cage?’ the little girl asks as her mother herds her away.

In the exhausted midday heat, Edie’s head is floating away like a metallic KFC wrapper in the wind. She wouldn’t mind that bath of roses now.

‘This a magic trick or somethin?’ some guys in baby blue sideways caps and matching pinneys approach. ‘Aren’t you hot in there? I mean you’re obviously hot, but…’

Edie knows she has Barbie appeal. Her Timotei-blonde hair thick like a horse tail, her teeth denture perfect, her eyes as blue as gum. But Edie has never understood why people value blonde hair and blue eyes so much, why they value the recessive genes – the ones more likely to disappear. The bitchy girls in high school used to call her Smushed Barbie Head (the unfortunate fate that befell those Barbies whose heads had popped off – attempts to smush their severed heads back onto their plastic necks failing to uncave their features so that they never looked quite the same again.) Edie thinks it’s funny, how much people have to say about the way she looks, but as long as they’re looking it’s one step closer to listening.

‘I’m dehydrated,’ Edie tells the guys. ‘Overheated. Cramped. Stir-crazy. ‘But mostly I’m lonely. I’m frustrated. I’m sad. I’d peck myself to death if they hadn’t chopped off my beak.’

‘Girl, you whack,’ the baby blue melato guy chuckles. ‘Damn fine, but whack.’

‘Aren’t you famous and shit?’ one guy in a baby blue wifebeater pipes in. ‘Why don’t you go lay out by your pool or some shit? Get one of your assistants to do this shit for you?’

‘Go-Go, Go Vegan!’ a guy with a fuchsia faux-hawk leans out of his passing car to yell, grasping the  Chicken Woman concept.

‘You want some help outta there?’ the melato guy asks, his gold chains appearing filled with chocolate.

”I would love to get out of here,’ Edie says, almost in tears. ‘But then there would be no hot wings or drumsticks or Mcnuggets….’

‘Okay…’ the guys laugh. ‘So you’re trying to tell us not to eat chicken.’

‘I would never tell you not to eat me,’ Edie tells the guys. ‘But I am here to remind you of the possibility of free-range to begin with…’

‘She said eat me,’ the guy with the shelf-straight baby blue cap laughs.

‘There are flyers beside the…’ Edie says as they walk away, an imprint of the square caging leaving perfect quadratic welts along her butt like she’s not part chicken, but part rubix cube.

‘Yo, eat this bitch,’ she hears one of the guys joke to his friends down the street.

‘I don’t want any, lady!’ A man speeds past honking his Hummer, what he doesn’t want any of, a mystery to him as well as Edie – at 80 miles an hour, Edie could very well look like a caged foetus.

Her neck beginning to ache from being arched over, the cage meant for a small dog, blood begins to gather in Edie’s forehead. Two more hours.

Edie thought about posing naked for PETA. She thought about taking a bucket of red paint with her to the Oscars. But those things – while they may have done something for animal rights – would do nothing for Edie.

On Tuesday, she took her electric guitar and synthesizer to the Wet Grind and beat six white pillowcases full of red feathers with a baseball bat to a song she’d written called: ‘You Say Their Eyes Aren’t Like Your Dog’s.’ The previous week, she’d been unable to sleep without awakening to the feeling of her head being bashed in with a hakapik like the baby Canadian Harp Seals she’d been seeing pictures of. As the red feathers wafted down into the crowd (her performance – Edie felt – better than any of that polished crap she’d given MGM), half the audience stood up and left the bar. The other drunker half stayed, begging Edie: ‘show us your tits!’ They’d probably never seen a seal in their lives. Probably thought Canada was in New Mexico.

‘So, Edie – what’s up with the cage?’ a one eyed man with a large camera perched on his shoulder approaches Edie, his other eye through the lense, recording her. ‘TMZ,’ he says. Another man comes to stand in front of him with a mic.

‘We’re here with Edie Stall on Hollywood Boulevard,’ the man says  into a microphone. ‘Edie, would you like to explain to our viewers what you’re doing here today?’

TMZ is a toss up. They might put Edie on tomorrow’s Nip-Slip list, and yet they have the most traffic of any gossip site on the net. Plus, it’s not like she can run…

‘Life!’ Edie says, balled up inside the cage, her face squished between her knees.  ‘We need to start examining the systematic, unquestioned daily slaughter of edible life.’

The gimmicky TMZ headline materializes in her head as she says it: ‘Edible Edie’. Damn.

‘You have a key, right?’ the cameraman leans down to whisper to Edie, the camera undoubtedly still on. ‘You’re looking a little dehydrated in there, Edie.’

‘No,’ Edie says. ‘You have the key.’

The interviewer calls her ‘cooky’ to the camera, then goes on to make some Finger Lickin’ jokes.

Cooky. That Edie’s feet are not roller-balls welded to a metallic track between the Beverly Centre, Starbucks, the Ivy, and Les Deux. Cooky that Edie is not dancing inside the cage in a thong.

Edie wishes she could go to Supercuts after this and have a girl with a holster of scissors chop off all her hair, but her hair is her Flamethrower Chicken Sandwich. Her starlet pheromones her twelve piece bucket. Sweat runs like grease down Edie’s back in the relentless sun.

‘Someone get that girl out of that cage!’ Edie hears as her vision dissects into a dark hexagonal blur. ‘Get her out of there!’ Edie hears from the encircling crowd, her pain feathering down like rose petals.

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