What’s the News
What’s the News?
Cole was the type of guy you’d think was a douchebag the first time you talked to him and a genius by the fifth. He wasn’t afraid of intellectual name-dropping in conversation, which is usually a sign that someone’s dumb or self-conscious or both. But Cole was neither. The giveaway was the way he’d introduce his musings, almost like he was embarrassed to be saying them out loud and needed to preface the fact that he’d read some sophisticated stuff with qualifying information. It was almost always something like, “Well in a couple of my lit classes during my freshman year we read a few philosophers, and Heidegger said a thing” followed by a rambling but incisive analysis of Dasein (which he pronounced with hissing S as if he was talking about a sign in a Brooklyn accent i.e. “Da sign!”).
Cole also really loved doing finger guns at people. Like he would do them with noticeably abnormal frequency. Every time he’d walk by, he’d shoot ya with those slim jims and say, “What’s the news?” which was also weird but overshadowed by the whole finger gun thing. Everyone in the office just thought it was a quirk, something born of his vaguely Midwestern heritage (he was from North Dakota or Montana or something).
But, then everybody felt really guilty when he shot up the laundromat on 62nd. Witnesses said he kept yelling, “What’s the news?” as he unloaded his 45 on those poor suckers trying to stop the stream of lead with their fabric-softened underwear. In some ways the signs couldn’t have been clearer, but I wonder what kind of data there is on the correlation between affinity for finger guns and likelihood of using real guns. The weirdest thing though was that he didn’t manage to hit even one person. A full case from a 45 and none struck true.
Cole and I were never close, but we were work friends, both a couple years out of college and trying to make the most of our twenties at a magazine in the city—I as a writer and Cole, oddly enough, in ad sales. We’d grab drinks and I’d been to his apartment in the West Village maybe three times for parties. His implosion was especially disconcerting because Cole reminded me of a lot of the guys I’d hung out with in school, and in that same way he reminded me of myself. He had the same perfect five o’clock shadow and flat-backed gait and ability to code switch between the tote-carrying intelligentsia and the basketball team. He had the same wardrobe, hanging linen shirts next to dinosaur costumes, and the same music library that followed trippy surf rock with obscure gypsy jazz. He had a thirst and a vibrancy. A peculiarity and a draw. At times it was too much and came across as pretentious and cloying, but I don’t think it was ever really either of those things. At my tiny liberal arts school, there were nerds and hipsters and preps, stoners and hippies and athletes, white kids and black kids and Asian kids and all the various combinations of these subgroups, but nearly all of them could spit Proust or fractal geometry and make a passable martini. This makes them sounds eye-rollingly awful, but they weren’t. Because it was genuine—rarely to put on an image—and so too it seemed with Cole.
The morning after the shooting, the offices of Outlook Magazine hummed with frantic activity, as everyone tried to look busy and show that they were unequivocally not bothered or distracted by the prior day’s events. It was chaos. Executives paced their offices in exact lemniscatic patterns, yelling at eager-eyed editorial assistants about SEO and CRM and DMT and HPV. Writers started sentences about post-colonialism that ended as sentences about most bologna schisms—“The progeny of W.E.B. DuBois’ social philosophy lies most prominently in traditional mechanisms for cutting mortadella.” For minutes at a time, faces would contort in faux-concentration before their owners peaked up for someone to share the news with—or more accurately, someone to ask if they’d heard the news, which everyone had.
I walked in at 9:08 as always and found my place by the windows on the east side of the office. Spotting me, Trip Dansen made his way over from his office on the other side of the floor. Ruddy and heavyset, Trip wore an oversized suit and New Balance sneakers, looking more like a casino floor manager than a publisher at a big magazine.
“Heard the news, did ya?” Trip asked, crossing his arms and arching his body backwards in the way he always does when trying to make serious conversation. His effort to come across as casual—as “one of the boys”—the gesture is so affected it comes across as condescending and ridiculous.
“Yep I suppose you must have,” Trip continued before I could answer. “It’s one of those things. Happened before and will happen again. Tragedy, yes, don’t take me the wrong way, but just one of those things.”
“I suppose that’s true,” I said, running my hand through my hair and looking across the office towards the advertisers’ offices. “It’s just a strange feeling. He was sitting right there on Friday, doing his thing.”
“Yes, well, that’s the way of it,” said Trip, shifting his weight back and forth between his two feet. “Never see these things coming, never will. It’ll feel more normal in a few days, don’t you worry about that.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Oh I know so,” he said with a smug half-grin, even though I hadn’t said “I hope so.” “I’ve seen quite a few of these in my years and they’re all normal now. My wife lost her father last year, and I said to her ‘Babe, give it a few days. Couple days and a good sitcom.’ Best medicine where I’m concerned.”
Trip felt he’d been around the block and needed to lend a hand to the young guns. I’m pretty sure he was only like 44 though, and his life’s journey from his hometown in Westchester to the upper west side wasn’t exactly world shattering.
“Sure,” I said. “Time definitely normalizes things.”
“Sure does, and I’ve experienced plenty of it. Time that is,” Trip said grinning, gesturing towards his balding head.
I smiled and nodded. Trip’s “aw shucks” humor always seemed to me a quintessential expression of middle-aged despair, and it always seemed to both piss me off and made me sad.
“But hey Truman, we’re thinking about organizing a bit of a community lunch today. Just so people can be together, talk about things if they want to. Pizza and salads from Angelo’s.”
“Yeah, sure. Sounds like a good idea.”
The gospel according to Mark says, “For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.” The gospel according to Jimi says, “I'm gonna put a curse on you and all your kids will be born completely naked.” According to Wittgenstein, gospel can’t say anything, but can only be shown.
I cracked my neck, rubbed my eyes, and looked out the window at the grey clouds rolling in. Soon they would block the sun coming into the café. Something about the look of those clouds made me anxious.
Anxious is probably an overstatement. I didn’t get seriously, clinical-grade anxious much anymore, but a bad acid trip at the end of college had sent me reeling for the better part of a year.
You think that’s the type of shit that only happens in 70’s movies and health class videos, but I can tell you with a high level of certainty—it is not. The trip itself hadn’t been all that bad save the first hour or so of trying to make myself yak (and ultimately succeeding with flying colors, quite literally). But the year after had been a bitch, an exercise in floating from one bout of panic and depression to the next.
The thing I’ve learned about anxiety and depression and the rest of the menu of psychic torment is that there’s no point in struggling. They don’t respond well to a struggle, like a Chinese finger trap only squeezes tighter when you pull. That was an adjustment for me. Studying philosophy as an undergrad trains you to put up a fight against thoughts and feelings, to argue your way out of them. But pain isn’t logical. When you labor with it, you tell it that it’s big and powerful and worthy of a fight, and it only puffs its chest out bigger. The only place to go is in—into something rich and meaty and meaningful. Your psyche will tell you that thing doesn’t matter, that the pain has swallowed it whole. Your psyche is a dick, but that doesn’t make it right.
The tough thing is, a kid a year out of school doesn’t always know where to find the right thing, the type of thing that soaks in through your pores and travels deep into your nerve endings. My world had suddenly dissolved, and along with it any sense of where to go.
In bits and pieces, Outlook had come to revive that sense of direction. Beauty is always worth striving for, even if it’s in an article about the new fast casual trend or a young adult novel.
I opened my laptop to let it wake up and recover from the prior day’s abuse. Outside, Wall Street bros in navy suits and ad girls in smart black dresses rushed through the early morning sun while post-hipster coders and startup kids loafed about slack-jawed.
I knew what my next story would be: a shooting in a ritzy neighborhood by a seemingly innocuous ad guy from one of the city’s best magazines. And not only that, my neighborhood, my ad guy, and my magazine. Horrible, but it was an opportunity. “Take the tarts when their passed” my grandma used to say. My grandpa used to say “Fuckin shitbags” all the time, but that’s not as applicable here.
I’d been looking for something a little meatier to write about. It wasn’t that I wrote totally stupid stories—a lot of them had something to do with race or inequality or love or beauty—but they were all glancing blows. It was mostly stuff like “here’s a new Netflix series with an all black cast, and one paragraph about what this means for black people in entertainment” or “Vampire Weekend’s new album sucks, and here’s a little sentence or two about how Indie music has been co-opted by the market.” The real substantial stuff was always peripheral—not central to—these stories and had to be coated with enough click-baity bullshit so as to be barely perceptible.
But not so with this piece. An article like this had to be handled with the utmost tact and thoughtfulness to go on a site like ours, that branded itself as socially-conscious and empathetic. There was a mystery here to unravel that had all kinds of clever little cultural implications to tease out. How had this seemingly good-natured Midwestern millennial come to do something so horrible? What does this say about our mental health system? About the way American culture treats white male men? About the unique lore of the Midwest? About guns? About drycleaners?
I’d have to interview him of course, if he wasn’t yet lobotomized by shock. And his family if they hadn’t fallen into a weepy stasis. I spent most of the morning writing questions and reading articles about North Dakota and raccoon hunting and grandiose delusions and homemade stain removers.
Despite four days in prison, Cole’s hair somehow still looked deftly sculpted as he leaned forward on his elbows behind the thick glass. It was gelled in wild swoop on his right side, bolted in place. I pushed my back snug against the chair in an effort to affect a power posture.
“Don’t give me the run around Truman,” he interrupted. “I don’t need to be patronized.” I stopped spinning the pen in my right hand and looked Cole head on. He was grinning with a full set of bleach-white chiclets.
“Let’s get to brass tacks,” he said. “I set off a Chinese circus in a Korean laundromat.”
Cultural confusions aside, I ran my hand through my hair and looked over at the prison guard standing at the end of the row of visitor booths. He was biting on the ends of an impossibly long mustache. “I suppose you’re right,” I said. “A business trip after all, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
Cole nodded. I looked down at my notes.
“I guess we should start with the obvious question, the one you’ve been expecting I’d imagine,” I continued. “Why’d you do it?”
If he’d had a cigarette he would have taken a drag at this moment, but all he had was a blunted toothpick and half an oyster cracker, so he sighed and leaned back. “A couple years ago I developed this weird sexual tick,” he said, laying his arms down palms up as if supporting an enormous stack of plates. “It started small: I could only masturbate if I had the T.V. on in the other room.”
Unexpected, but I pressed my lips together to ensure I neither smiled nor frowned. I wanted to maintain my journalistic cool, to stay at a safe distance. He paused to register my reaction and, seemingly satisfied, continued. “There was no one out there, but I could pretend there was. I liked the feeling of secrecy, like I was doing something risky and subversive.”
I scribbled on my legal pad, shooting reassuring nods.
“You ever have sex in an airplane bathroom?” he asked. I judged the question was rhetorical and was right.
“It’s thrilling man. And masturbating with the T.V. on was kind of like having sex in an airplane bathroom.”
More nods and I glanced over at the guard again to see if he was picking up on our conversation. He still seemed focused on his mustache, now, astoundingly, with a better part of each end inside his mouth.
“But this tick, it started to pick up steam. I’d try to wait until my roommates got home and masturbate then, listening to them talk right outside the door,“ Cole said, pantomiming the onanistic ritual each time he said “masturbate” as if I didn’t know the meaning of the word. “They’re frat boy buffoons I met on Craigslist and make a hell of a ruckus in the apartment, so I could always like feel their presence outside my door. If I couldn’t wait for them to get home, I’d call a friend and leave the phone on speaker and choke the chicken while they repeated ‘Hello’ and ‘You there Cole?’”
“Okay, right. Yeah,” I chimed at appropriate times. I wasn’t sure whether I was more disturbed or confused, but I didn’t have time to figure it out as I tried to take notes and keep up with his story at the same time—a surprisingly difficult task if you’ve ever tried to write and think simultaneously.
“And then it got really bad. I’d video call my friends and put them up on the big screen in my room, but with my camera facing away so they couldn’t see me. I’d leave the door of my room open while my roommates shot the shit, not knowing that I was flogging the hog a few feet away.”
“Right, right, sure.”
“And then one day I just went for it,” he explained, throwing his hands up in the air. “I started beating the bishop right there in the room with them.”
“Seriously?” I asked. It was hard for me to imagine the Cole I knew, dick in hand, in front of two Oxford-clad bros. But unfortunately, the image came, as had Cole.
“They laughed!” he said. “Thought I was just fucking with them. The tolerance for faux homo-eroticism in the frat boy crowd is pretty damn high.”
“Got it,” I said, stifling a laugh and, more concerningly, an erection.
“They let me get all the way through. I Elied my Wiesel until the pistol popped, so to speak,” he said, a bewildered grin flashing back across his face. “And they just kept laughing and yelling ‘Cole you sick fuck.’”
“Damn,” I said, judging it an appropriate time to lend some validation. I was still struggling to keep up with the notes and digest Cole’s story, but I felt a vague sense of unease creeping into the edge of my consciousness.
“Fucked up right?” he said throwing his hands back up in the air from the place on the table they’d just found, pleased that I shared his incredulousness. “I mean here I am jacking off in front of two other guys and I can’t help but think that they’re the ones who’ve got a screw loose.”
Cole’s focus broke as he looked up, grinned, and slapped the table between us with his right hand.
“I decided I had to find out how far I could push it. How far would their ironic distance let me go before they thought something was really off?”
I didn’t like where this was going, but he hunkered back into his memory.
“So I expanded my portfolio. I went beyond masturbating in front of them. I told my roommates I was trying to grow a son, and I’d use of one those finger prickers to drop beads of blood on a potted plant. I started eating household items for dinner—a blended up remote, a shoe cut up with one of those TV knives. Instead of saying hello to people, I’d lick them on the arm in greeting.”
“Is that a tongue in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” I said reflexively before I’d even absorbed what he had said.
“And it’s not like I was doing all this stuff once—I was doing it all the time. Like it became part of my routine. Come home, water my son, find an almost-edible piece of furniture for dinner.”
“Uh-huh.” It sounded like a lot of work to me.
“But my roommates never got tired of it. They were uproarious,” he said, putting his hands in the air in feigned disbelief.
“So I explored new areas. I’d go on Wikipedia and swap Mein Kampf for Minecraft. I’d chop down cherry trees and lie about it. I’d run around cafés and hit send on people’s unfinished emails. I’d repaint people’s houses in the middle of the night with murals from the Kama Sutra. I’d call in nuclear bomb threats to remote coordinates in the South China Sea.”
I got the bit. He was trying to find his roommates’ edge, but the price kept going up. “And the roommates? Anything?” I asked.
“They couldn’t get enough. It was like I was planting whoopee cushions or tying shoelaces together. Just harmless fun.”
I tried to show the right amount of shock. “And then the laundromat? How’d that happen?” I asked.
“I’d just finished a phallatio fresco in Bergen County, but the roommates were getting bored. They told me I had to up my game.” He shrugged and then continued. “I’ve been going to this same Korean Laundromat for a few years now and I had this old uniform from my grandpa’s tour in ‘Nam.”
“Vietnam, not Korea?” I clarified.
“Right. But I knew my roommates wouldn’t know the difference,” he replied, nodding to my question. “My weed dealer knew a gun guy, so I bought a couple automatics and ran in guns blazing and in full uniform yelling something about the Viet Cong. Don’t think anyone in there got the joke, but it wasn’t really for them anyways.”
“One minute folks,” the guard said, now pulling pieces of hair out of his mouth and looking both puzzled and impressed at his feat.
I met Cole’s eyes and saw that he was done talking. I paused to let the power of the story settle into my brain, and was surprised to find myself defiant, almost angry. He’d had his monologue. “You would kill people for a joke?” I asked.
Cole frowned. “Kill people? For a joke? Did you hear what I just said? Didn’t you read the report?”
“Would I be here if I hadn’t?”
“Then you know I didn’t kill anyone,” Cole said, steely-eyed.
Mob goons who’ve been pinned for murder will often insist they never pulled the trigger, that it was always someone else, some soulless hit man. They would hold onto that one piece of self-righteousness.
“Yeah no one died,” I conceded. “Divine intervention if you ask me. But just because you can’t shoot doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.”
“You think I was actually trying to kill them?” His face remained calm, but creased in genuine curiosity.
“Come on,” I shook my head. “Why else do you shoot up a crowded laundromat?”
“Truman, I grew up on a ranch in South Dakota,” he responded.
I stared back blankly, registering somewhere that I’d thought it was North Dakota.
“I’ve been shooting since I could walk.”
“Time’s up,” said the guard.
“I’m not sure what to do with all of this,” I said as I served to Trip, ball bouncing on my side of the table and then his with a satisfying “tack.” He returned the serve with a deep floater to my backhand.
“You’ve got a hell of a story here,” he answered. “Now just don’t botch it up.” He smiled and blocked back my return. He looked like an overgrown baby. The light peaked through the windows on the west side of the office as afternoon turned to early evening.
“Yeah thanks,” I said, flashing a smile back and going for a smash to Trip’s forehand side. I missed the table and the ball bounced to the corner of the office. I laid my paddle down on the table. “It’s just tough because none of the normal lines work here.”
“Tell me more about that.” This was one of Trip’s favorite lines for the young writers.
“Well it’s not really a classic mental health issue,” I explained, gesturing somewhere with my right hand. “Cole is nuts but his whole philosophy is actually pretty coherent. He has this whole thing about irony. Wanted to test its limits. Don’t know if I’d peg him with anything clinical.”
“Right,” said Trip, narrowing his eyes.
“Don’t get me wrong, he carried out that philosophy in about the craziest way possible,” I explained, shaking my head so as not to be misunderstood. “But he knew he was doing something bad. He just felt he had to do it.”
Trip nodded and raised his eyebrows, signaling for me to continue.
“And there’s also no real gun angle here. He bought the gun illegally. And through a connection from his weed dealer, which kind of contradicts the whole decriminalization argument we’ve been pushing.”
“Right, I see that.”
“And he actually claims he wasn’t trying to kill anyone. He was just trying to send a message,” I said, voice fading as the sentence finished. It sounded only more implausible as I said it out loud.
“And you believe that?” Trip asked, tone dripping with accusation.
“I don’t know Trip it’s...it’s not impossible,” I responded. “He was on his riflery team in college and that laundromat was like fish in a barrel.”
“Did people really transport fish in barrels?”
We both paused for a moment, Trip making a big show like he was thinking deeply, stroking the beginnings of a beard.
“If his story is true, the facts are interesting enough to stand on their own. Here’s this guy who unloaded on a laundromat and his totally wild reasoning for why he did it. But we don’t really do news here,” I continued.
“But I have no idea what to say about it,” I replied. “I also don’t want to make him out to be some artistic hero. He could have killed a bunch of fucking people. Maybe he was even trying to.”
“And on top of that in a pretty racist way.”
“It seems like it’s worth figuring out” Trip said, fiddling with his paddle on the table, making thunking sounds as he flipped it back and forth. “Just tell the truth.” He winked and walked off deliberately, clearly pleased with his performance.
Cole’s roommates, who upon first glance I assumed to be named Burke and Stock but
never bothered to ask, looked like they had eaten one another but somehow both remained like ontologically distinct. Both sirloin-headed with close-cropped crew cuts (Burke’s blond and Stock’s bright red), B&S sat on the couch across from me in the office, smirking in a way that made me unconsciously protect my nuts.
“I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances,” I said. “But I wanted to learn a little more about your friend Cole.”
“Word,” said B&S, not exactly in unison but close enough. “Coooole Daddy!” Burke yelled to no one in particular.
“Right,” I said, fidgeting in my chair and suddenly self-conscious about the relative size of my penis. “Do you have any idea why he might have done this?”
“Man, he is one sick pup,” said Stock, still smirking.
“Cole’s an animal,” Burke added.
“Actually sick? Like mentally ill?” I pushed.
“I don’t know about that,” said Burke (or maybe it was Stock, my notes get confused here). “He’s not like one of those scrawny bug-eyed shooter boys if that’s what you mean. Cole’s a wild man.”
“Well here’s the thing,” I said, shifting my weight on the couch and staring out the floor to ceiling windows on my left hand side, then back at B&S. “And I don’t want you to feel guilty about this, because Cole’s the only one who’s...”
“Coooole Daddy!” Stock now yelled.
“He said he shot up that laundromat for you guys. To see if you would think it was funny.”
B&S’s expressions didn’t change at all. “What’s funny about hauling off on a bunch of people?” Stock asked, turning to Burke.
“Nah man, that’s kinda fucked,” Burke agreed, shaking his head.
I was pleased by the show of humanity and thought Cole would be too. It was weird that I cared about his moral approval.
“It didn’t make much sense to me either,” I responded, leaning back against my chair. “I don’t think he thought it was funny, but after the Mein Kampf thing, he wasn’t sure.”
“Classic” said B&S.
“He thought the ‘Nam thing might push you guys over. Maybe that says more about him...”
“What’s up, dude?” said B&S, looking up simultaneously.
“Yeah, he thought you might laugh at the Vietnam thing...”
“The Vietnam thing?” asked Stock, blue eyes wide.
“Yeah the whole dressing up in the uniform thing,” waving my hands in an effort to conjure the memory. Blank stares from B&S. “Didn’t you guys read the email I sent?” “Skimmed it,” said Burke, as he and Stock took out their phones and glued their eyes to
Muffled glottal stops soon turned to audible nasal exhales, which began to stagger and then became full-force certifiable laughs from B&S. The rest of the conversation was mostly sternum punches and dick jokes and obscure NHL references from the boys.
“Figured as much,” Cole responded, turning those blue beauties down towards the floor.
“They seemed genuinely upset at first, but once they realized it was another schtick...”
“They were tickled pinker than a Georgia peach,” Cole finished, nodding.
The visiting room was bright in the early morning, sun peaking through the one window
high on the wall under the vaulted ceilings. Cole’s hair was messier than usual, poking in every direction and making him look like a coked out freshman after a physics test.
“What do you think about all this?” Cole asked.
I rubbed the cuticles on my right hand with my thumb one-by-one, taken aback by the question. “It’s not really my place to have an opinion,” I said.
“Bullshit,” Cole responded, shaking his head and gripping his scalp so tight I thought he might break skin. “It’s everyone’s place to have an opinion. Always.”
I bolted up, and surprise quickly turned to frustration. Didn’t he see that I was trying to understand, that almost anyone else would have pegged him as another psycho with a 45 and left it at that? But I played along with his intellectual game.
“No but I mean as a writer,” I pushed back. “My job is to tell the facts, put them in context, maybe even make an argument. Not express my feelings.”
Cole’s eyes took on a hue of blue I didn’t think available to human anatomy. “Tell the facts?” he burst out. “A writer can’t just tell the facts. You’re always making choices.”
My eyes narrowed in confusion, and Cole sat back in his chair, wrung his hands, and laid back in.
“Look. Did I shoot at those people or open fire or spray lead? Were they Asian or Korean or Korean American? Was it a laundromat or a laundry mat or a washhouse? Was it on 62nd or in midtown or on the park?”
“But that doesn’t change anything,” I shot back, still not sure where he was going.
“Sure it does. If I shot at them I was aiming to kill, if I opened fire the jury’s still out. If they’re Asian they’re immigrants who barely speak English, if they’re Korean American they’re one of us, people who go to Mets games and whose kids are in the service...”
“What’s your point?” I interrupted, hands tightening.
“My point is that you have an opinion, whether you fucking want to or not.”
I looked him in the eyes and let the tension release from my hands. “You want my
opinion?” I asked. Cole just stared right back.
“I think you’re a fucking whackjob. A guy who clearly read too much Kafka and needs some serious help.”
“Tell me how your really feel.”
“And your roommates? Where the fuck did you find those guys. They’re almost as buck nutty as you.”
Cole looked back at me, expressionless.
“But still...I don’t care how loony your friends might be. You can’t just empty a magazine in a laundromat for some...some social experiment.” I looked down the row of visiting booths, and out the window to catch a cloud blowing slowly past. “Maybe you didn’t mean to kill them, but the people who were there are still gunna be fucked up.” I could feel the blood coursing through my veins and the cool rush of adrenaline and control.
Looking up, I again locked eyes with Cole as he cracked a smile.
The following weekend, I noticed a letter in my mailbox. The return address was the Lincoln Correctional Facility, and inside the envelope was a piece of neatly folded heavy parchment. It was from Cole, and the letter read as follows:
No one seems to remember that life is supposed to be big and bright orange. No day has to be grey or even brown if you don’t want it to be. Today was bursting at the seams, and I suspect tomorrow will be warm and dangerous and electric.
Most people go about their lives in tiny squared-off typesets. That’s fine if the font is elegant and clean and beautiful in a minimalist sort of way, and the writing is messy and vibrant. But mostly it’s function over form and ends over means. This is the only real pathology.
It seems I might be in here a while. My lawyer has maintained that exceptional sanity is not a legitimate reason for committing a crime, and I have no other defense. Thus is the way of things in a culture that doesn’t understand value. But I will accept my fate. When the sun shines through the corner of the prison bars and I’ve drank just the right amount of coffee and read between six and eight pages of the book they allow me, I feel meaning vibrate through my synapses.
Don’t take me the wrong way, I feel bad about the trauma I caused all those people. But I’ve taken that guilt and stirred it with an acid tab and half a Brazilian mango and created something tart and lurid. It’s an absolute fallacy that tragedy and beauty cannot coexist. It’s a byproduct of our obsession with the law of the excluded middle, another assumption that just does not square with any human’s experience. Contradictions are usually more true than either of independent clauses that form them.
I did what I did for a sun-beat blonde stripping down on a Southern California beach. For an art pop album that vibrates through your chest. For new marble tiles on a bathroom floor. What I did was wrong, but that was exactly the point.
Have you ever looked at the sky and felt God? The existentialists say there can’t be a God but I disagree. Disagree might not even be the right word. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s like as soon as I put pen to paper the idea is swallowed up. But all the same, look to the sky. Feel. Why should reason be the only road to truth?
I folded up the parchment and put it in the drawer of my desk by the window. Outside, the sky was grey, the type of overcast where you can’t distinguish between different things in the atmosphere, where you can’t tell where sky ends and clouds start and vice versa. It’s on these days that I never understand how the sky becomes blue again. Grey seems fundamental.
I sat down on the couch with a cup of coffee, not particularly interested in doing
anything. I could feel pangs of sadness with no clear root swimming up through my stomach and into the bottom of my eye sockets. I swam in this feeling for a while, sipping my coffee.
I turned on some music, an acoustic artist a friend had recommended months ago but I’d never taken the time to listen to. A muted guitar chunked along and a whispering voice sang, “Dusk it comes along but don’t you mind / The traveler never told you where he’s from.” I laid my head on the back of the couch and closed my eyes. “There’s a girl I’ve known since I was three / With sharp brown eyes and a painted face.”
The pangs of sadness deepened, but rather than fighting, I opened myself to them. The feelings split open and out shone something deep blue, rich, heavy and meaty. With it came memories of summer dinners with my mom and dad, of a lost lover from my sophomore year of college, of dancing with spastic joy at an indie rock concert, of watching snow fall from bed on a lazy Sunday morning.
I sat up to write, not because I particularly wanted to, but because I knew it was important. Sometimes means and ends are so intimately related that the distinction ceases to be useful.