Archive for ‘Articles’

April 10, 2016

Palm Sunday 2016

Hosanna in the highest!

This is what the church sings on Palm Sunday as they wave palm branches. These words were sung in Jerusalem 2000 years ago as the rabbi rode a donkey into the City of David, then occupied by the Roman Empire. They sang to the rabbi who endorsed paying taxes, even to an occupying regime, rendering unto Caesar his own. This is the rabbi who did not plan to eviscerate the Law, but to fulfill it. The rabbi who saved the prostitute, but told her to sin no more. The rabbi who said, as you have done to the least of these, the lonely, the imprisoned, the poor, you have done to him. This was the rabbi who was riding into the city of kings as a king victorious. He did not ride the warhorse of the invader, but the donkey of him who has already established his kingdom. This is the one who gives free will to his people, because he is confident of his position; their opinions do not change who he is.

2016 is a presidential election year in the US. Election years are growing increasingly macabre. Intelligent discourse is being abandoned for partisan entrenchment, monochromatic analysis of multicolored issues, and mudslinging. Mercy is eschewed as weakness. Love is reduced to ambivalence. Respect is exchanged for blindness.

One of the candidates this year is Donald Trump. I think he is the most dangerous candidate in this election; of all the candidates I do not think there is one less qualified. I think every candidate, even Trump, runs because they think they can make the country better. But not all versions of ‘better’ are actually better. Trump’s language and demeanor effect extremism. He is the embodiment of the Internet Commenter saying that in order to beat terrorists we have to become worst than them. Literally, to do that, we must become terrorists. We become the enemy we despise. It cannot be said more clearly. As the rabbi said, those who live by the sword will die by the sword. This is easily assumed to be our enemy’s sword, but I think of King Saul, who perished impaled by his own sword.

It’s interesting to be sitting in a 2016 Palm Sunday service, praising the eternal Kingship of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. This is a paradox, that God can be three in one, that he can be fully God and fully man, that words become material. This paradox should permeate our lives; that is evident in Christ’s incarnation. He was born and matured the same way any human would, with the ingestion of food and the rhythms of wake and sleep. It is easy to pay lip service to this paradox, but in our daily lives attempt to forget forget or ignore its implications. It goes beyond telling our kids to share, telling our kids the parable of the Good Samaritan. It means sharing as adults; it means being the Good Samaritan. Most importantly, it means putting the election in perspective. The Lord God, creator of the Universe is our king. He is our life and salvation. Our personal wealth might be augmented or diminished by the government, but there are literal lives at stake in federal policies, from white to black, from the unborn to the elderly, from the white collar to the blue collar, from the soldier to the conscientious objector, from the poor to the wealthy, the free to the imprisoned, the cis to the LGBTQ, from the citizen to the immigrant, the atheist to the monotheist to the polytheist, from one sinner to the next. But regardless of who you are or what policies it enacts, the United States’ government will not and cannot be your salvation, nor your condemnation.

I am not endorsing a theocracy, a human government basing its dominion on religion. I will vote for the candidates that I think will strive to do what is best for the country and the world, not for their party. But I will also bear in mind that they are humans piloting a human institution; they will, at times, fail. Ultimately, my allegiance is to the King of Kings who rode on a donkey, not a warhorse. The king who commanded me to love the Lord my God and to love my neighbor. The King who said that true religion is to care for widows and orphans, not fluffy platitudes. The king who died to save his subjects, whether or not they acknowledged his kingship.  

Hosanna in the highest!

April 5, 2015

Opening Day 2015

Tomorrow is Opening Day 2015, the first day games of the season. It won’t be the first games of the season, however, as the Cardinals and Cubs play tonight. The Cubs. The team which defines, and is defined by, the mantra Always next year, more than any other team. That includes my favorite team, the Minnesota Twins.

Despite the positive language which I regularly use – awesome, cool, baller – I am a pessimist at heart, particularly regarding my sports teams. I inherited this pessimism from my father, a Mets and Jets fan. The Twins dominated the AL Central during the 2000s, but were regularly cowed by the Yankees during their annual postseason series. Then retirements, injuries, and free agency drove them into the basement where they reside today. And where they’ll reside for a while. Their pitching staff is pathetic and the highly touted prospects don’t work from the mound.

But hope springs eternal in the spring and this could be always be the prophesied next year. This is particularly true for my softball teams. My employer has a company team in the local park district league. Each season we drop down a level, attempting to find more comparable talent after finding ourselves to be repeated victims of the slaughter rule. We don’t have the power to hit home runs. We might have the one of the fastest players in the league, but we also have a few who might contend for the slowest. We’ve got a centerfielder with a rocket launcher attached to his shoulder and one of the top shortstops in the league, but we regularly have one defensive inning which kills us.

But we somehow maintain a good attitude. The umps comment on how much fun we seem to have, how hard we play despite the talent discrepancy, and how little we disparage each other and the other team. We’re probably the one team that doesn’t scream our curses, instead limiting them to under our breath. We’ve got one outfielder who never shuts up, shouting indiscernible encouragements to his teammates. I’m pretty sure he only repeats the same four nondescript lines:

Aight, aight!

You got dis!

Do it again!

Eat him!

That outfielder might be me.

I work for a Christian company, so after every game, after we’ve finished the tried and true handshake line with the other team, we invite the other team to join us on the mound for prayer. Occasionally we get the whole team to join us. More often than not, we don’t get more than one. Every week, every game, my prayer, silent or vocal, is one of thanks for the body which enables me to play, for my company which sponsors the team, for the people willing to play with me, for the colleagues who spend their Thursday evenings watching our haplessness.

My other softball team with my church, in a league of other churches, hosted by a single church blessed with a fantastic property. The league is less official without set rosters or umpires. One of the two fields doesn’t have an outfield fence; the other is made of temporary orange construction fencing. Our roster is patchwork on a weekly basis, a core of regulars shored up by last minute phone calls. Consistency is difficult on such a team and last year’s record was evidence of that. We’re losing at least one regular player to a cross country move and probably others to despondency or apathy. I’m only on the fringe of core players as my work league takes priority on Thursday nights. But we always, at least every time I’m there, manage to scrounge together a team; I don’t believe we’ve ever forfeited.

There is a famous clip of an irate Herman Edwards screaming at a press conference, You play to win the game! I whole-heartedly believe him, because part of the game is determining a winner and a loser. But my preferred focus is the play, not the game, because the game is made up of plays. My philosophy leans towards You play to win the play to win the game. And I try to play every play as though it is the last play in the game. I have joked about giving up a late inning lead so that the game could continue into extras, that there might be more plays.

And that is the beauty of baseball: there can always be one more play. People complain that the games are too long, that the season is too many games, or that baseball is boring. But my retort is that every play contains immeasurable potential. Every pitch, ball or strike, can send you into fits. Every pitch could be the most blazing fastball, the most knee-buckling curve, or the longest home run you have ever seen. Every routine groundball might be the most ulcer-inducing error or Ozzie Smith inspired wizardry you’ve ever witnessed. Every foul tip could be just another pawn in a cat-and-mouse chess match between pitcher and batter, inducing nervous nausea in the invested spectator. And as a player, every pitch has the potential to send you into action.

Tomorrow is Opening Day 2015. I can’t wait.

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October 26, 2014

Anne’s Mother and Mine

I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s collection of short personal essays entitled Traveling Mercies and I’ve just finished the essay Mom. Lamott is a talented writer and she has a particular talent for evoking my empathy. Her essays are short enough where it is easy to read a number at once, which is to the reader’s detriment. It is too easy to breeze through multiple essays without taking a break to digest each on its own merits. And there are a lot of merits to digest.

But Mom might be might my favorite so far. It’s certainly the first which has caused me to cease reading and immediately start writing. And there were a number of times when I almost stopped in the middle to beginning writing. Mom is an essay on forgiveness, an essay on her mother’s capacity to forgive. But, as is Lamott’s style, she recognizes her mother’s capacity to forgive only when she recognizes how much she needs her mother’s forgiveness.

This makes me think of how much I need forgiveness. Not from God. I’m quite often conscious of how much I am in need of God’s forgiveness. I like to think I’m also very aware of how much I need the forgiveness of others. But I know I’m not. Which of course means that I’m not really conscious of the degree to which I need God’s forgiveness. And in reading Lamott I was tempted to put the book down and write an open letter begging for everyone’s forgiveness, which I deserve not, but for which I am desperate. I have real sins and persistent failures.

But I continued reading Mom. Lamott and I have very different family and personal histories which should be no surprise; she is a sixty year old woman and I am twenty-six year old man. And while she was writing mainly on forgiveness and some tragedies and victories in her family, she also wrote just about her mommy. About her mommy who was aging before her eyes.

I have thought about this before, but only as a hypothetical, like the way most contemplate the apocalypse. I have every ounce of irrational confidence that I am invincible, that I cannot be permanently broken or beaten, that I will not die or deteriorate. And whether this stems from or is transposed upon my father, I am unsure. But please rest assured, outside of the torn ACL he suffered when I was 3 and he was 27, my father is also invincible, despite his greys. And my mother, whether by her own deification, or by marriage to my father, or by giving birth to me, is also immortal, and this is only augmented by the silver strands dispersed through her dark brown hair, framing her youthful face.

This invincibility extends past me and past parents all the way to my grandparents. My mother’s story is akin to that of a Marvel character. The youngest daughter of a widow, she was raised as the almost-only child of a migratory single mother. This single mother, my grandmother, has at this narrative point refused all of death’s advances. I don’t know how many heart attacks my maternal grandmother has refuted, but it is nigh legendary. She is a wisp, the frailest feather, and she simply does not die.

My father’s parents are not a frailty that refuses to die; their vitality berates death and it flees before them. They are as I’ve always remembered them. My bald, russet-nosed, intellectual grandfather sporting suspenders; an army man born and raised in Brooklyn. When he’s in the mood, he chases his smallest grandchildren about the house. When he’s not in the mood, he barks at them to keep out from under his feet. He is half deaf, but this does nothing to diminish his esteem or authority.

My grandmother is an ageless queen, tall and commanding. My grandfather is the voice of authority, but he answers to her.  Until recently, when her joints said no mas, she played tennis with her children and grandchildren. In her 60s, her doctor told her she had the bones of a 22 year old. She has been on the mastheads of various organizations and her multiple “retirements” have not lasted. She is both staunchly Pro-Life and staunchly Pro-Women and is cowed by none.

My parents and grandparents are five invincible, immortal, Ionic pillars, but they whisper to me of their cracks. They tell me of the heart arrhythmia, of the chronic cough, of the sciatica, of the insomnia. These are myths, stories of weakness told only to enhance their feats of strength, brightening their vitality by contrast. Despite the myths of deterioration, they remain invincible until proven.

Lamott likely had the same perceptions of her parents twenty five years before she wrote Mom, that they were minor deities and by birthright, so was she. But then she lived another twenty five years. And so did her parents. I cannot acknowledge that the next forty years will bring any mortality to the Schlossberg lineage; I cannot. But one day I might find myself, like Lamott, with my siblings at varying levels of adulthood, walking along a beach, a forest path, a country meadow, or a city street with a queenly, silver haired woman leaning on the crook of my arm.

October 5, 2014

Should you read it? A Consumer’s Guide to the Bookshelves: The Resurrection of Rey Pescador

Should you read it? A Consumer’s Guide to the Bookshelves: The Resurrection of Rey Pescador, the debut novel from Chicago author Alfred Cedeno. (Yes, I confess; what follows is a blatant mimicry of Mark Lisanti’s regular pieces on Grantland.)

Q: Do you like books?

A: This is a silly question. If you don’t like books, you probably won’t read one, in particular this one. You should probably go home and reexamine your life.

If you do like books, you should enjoy this one. Cedeno offers solid writing without being self-indulgent and florid. His story pays homage to the Homeric classics and the Romantic character of Rey Pescador hearkens to Pablo Neruda, albeit with a hip-hop twist. The text is rife with references to Cedeno’s literary education which you’re likely to notice.

Read it.

Q: Is dense nonfiction your literary style?

A: Meh, don’t read it.

Q: Do you only read Harlequin-esque romances?

A: As much as Rey Pescador makes everyone swoon, this is probably not your type of book.

Q: Was that gratuitous comparison of Rey’s character to Neruda a stretch at best and completely erroneous at worst?

A: Probably, but you should still read it.

Q: Is the pursuit of Beauty your life’s overwhelming goal?

A: If Beauty is not your life’s passion, you might have some trouble identifying with the titular character. However, just because you can’t identify with Rey’s struggles does not mean you won’t find him entertaining.

Beauty is Rey’s omniscient desire. He is The Poet with the penultimate beating human heart in a world of robotic cardiovascular systems. He relentlessly pursues the allure of his muse and her promise of beauty. He translates her Beauty for the world’s populace of robotic fools. His human heart craves adrenaline and he supplies it with hair-raising feats and foolhardy attempts at such feats.

A quick note on Beauty. From a production standpoint, this is a beautiful book. The gorgeous cover illustration and design are perfectly complemented by the soft-touch matte laminate.

Read it.

Q: What about your pursuit of Truth?

A: If you don’t see Rey Pescador in yourself, if you’re more of a fan of truth, then David Rosario, Rey’s cousin and the book’s narrator, might be more your style. Ever the intellectual critic, he sits, observes, and renders verdicts on his cousin’s exploits, all the while envying the glamour those exploits garner. With hindsight’s perspective, he narrates Rey’s holy and profane expeditions to his long time crush, Rebecca. As Rey strives to be a living legend, David writes scathing dissertations and manuscripts against the very artificial hearts that keep him, and the world’s general populace, alive. He is committed to telling the truth behind Rey and the human heart, despite threats from their nemesis, benefactor, and employer, Sid Cutler.

Read it.

Q: Do you enjoy unique narrative structures and devices?

A: Well, I hope at the very least you can appreciate them. Cedeno structures the book as a long letter from Rosario to Rebecca. Because the reader is privy to a private exchange, certain expository points are only alluded to as Rosario’s intended audience would have the necessary background. The letter format allows Cedeno to use more conversational language than would often be preferred in a literary novel. It is still an unusual style, for the entire novel to be a single retrospective letter, and there are occasions where Cedeno wrestles with the confines he has constructed. Despite the challenges of the style, the book itself is successful.

Read it.

Q: Do you like Doctor Who?

A: If you don’t, you should find someone you can trust who does and ask for an introduction to the show. I can’t suggest going at it alone because the first season from 2005 is hard to get into. But power through; it’s worth it.

If you do enjoy the Doctor, this book is right up your alley. Cedeno’s affinity for the show is evident in a number of the story’s features, from alternative Earths, jumbled timelines, artificial organs, larger-than-life characters, robotic ethics, prophets, and more. Like the famed BBC television show, Cedeno sets up black and white, good and evil, and then proceeds to toy with your expectations.

In one of my favorite and very Who-esque lines, buried late in the book, Rosario delivers a lengthy commentary on robotics and artificial hearts and casually mentions that the programming language is not binary code or any other typical computer language, but classical Latin.

Read it.

Q: Do you like your fiction to generate serious introspection through light-hearted means?

A: If so, this is certainly a book you’d enjoy. Cedeno employs science fiction and ridiculous characters, such as a blinged out monkey named Carl, in his exploration of forgiveness and redemption.

Read it.

Q: Are you a human?

A: You should read it.

Q: Are you a robot?

A: You should definitely read it.

To purchase The Resurrection of Rey Pescador online, you can click here. I personally think you should find your local independent bookstore and purchase the book there. It will help if you give them the ISBN 9780990353829. You should certainly not purchase from Amazon.

The Resurrection of Rey Pescador

To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, I mention as part of every web or Amazon review that the author provided me with a complimentary copy of this book or ARC.

August 12, 2014

The Accident Manual

They say that there is time for your whole life to flash before your eyes, that the unfathomable depths of your inner self will arrange the Polaroid highlight reel while the life you know dissolves in slow motion. They say you can kick up your heels for the movie and only when the credits roll will everything be turned on its head.

But when the woman turns left across your lane without looking at you, there isn’t even time for ESPN’s Top Ten, although your next half-second could be on the Not Top Ten.

You can slam on the brakes and you can lay on the horn and you can even swerve, but on that one day out of every ninety when you take one seven minute trip without immediately buckling your seatbelt, it will not be enough. The absolute value of her poor driving is greater than your rating as an awesome driver.

|-750943.45| > 100

You might process the numbers and find some advanced stats to determine driving skill based on the road conditions and the defensive driving metrics, but it won’t prevent this.

Instead of plowing into her driver side door at full speed, cracking her spine, and catapulting yourself through your windshield, over her car, and onto the salt-stained asphalt, your braking, honking, and swerving will get the nose of your burgundy Corolla, your Mujer de Libertad, around the front of her car and she’ll accelerate through your engine compartment, knocking your whole vehicle into the emptying lanes of oncoming traffic. Relative to the street, you’ll continue forward, but relative to the car, you travel at a forty-five degree angle. Your forehead will knock aside the rearview mirror, and it’s compatriots of fuzzy dice, air freshener, and crucifix, en route to kissing the windshield.

You’ll fall back into your seat and realize that your car is pointed at an empty parking lot, so you’ll accept the open invitation. Your transmission will not shift into park, so you pull the handbrake and switch off the car. You’ll open the door and step out, intending to check on the woman, the back of whose head you could see as you swerved, when you realize there is warm, viscous fluid trickling down your cheek, clotting in and stiffening your beard. Your gloved hand will dip into the stream and return red. It’s probably best to sit back down. There is a widening pool of blood between your feet and with each consecutive drip there is a consequential splash that speckles your white DCs.

You’ll run by the spot a dozen times over next three months. The first time there is a surprising amount of sand piled about. The wind and rain will eventually clear away the sand to reveal the dark oil and blood stains.

The Good Samaritans will show up. One will be a nurse, one will be a big dude with a truck and a first aid kit, the one who calls 911 will be wearing a Sierra Nevada sweatshirt, which you’ll be sure to compliment. The other driver will stand by your shoulder, a wisp of twitchy nerves mumbling I’m sorry over and over. You’ve whacked your head enough in your life that, besides the blood, you feel fine. When she steps away for a moment, the big dude will confide don’t worry, bro, I saw the whole thing, it was all her fault. He’ll be kind enough to tell that to the cops when they show.

The EMTs will keep repeating the word mechanism. It will annoy and confuse, but that might be the loss of blood. You can’t see your own head, so you can’t see the chunks of glass embedded there. The EMTs will see the blood in your beard and ask do you have pain around your mouth? You will answer no, the little pain I have is all in my forehead. They will yell HE’S GOT NUMBNESS IN HIS FACE! You will protest Woah, I did not say that! Still, because of your mechanism, they are going to strap you to a board, complete with a neck brace, and cart you to the hospital.

There is nothing you want more than to be a good, easy, cooperative patient. You will crack jokes and ask about their days. You’ll ask if there’s been a more entertaining case that day. But really, really all you will want to do is move. Your claustrophobia is threatening. But before they will let you move they want a CT scan of your head and neck. They’ll take out your small gold hoop earrings and even though they put them in a bag so you won’t lose them, they will still get mixed up in your bedding and be forever lost.

The nurses will move you to another room to wait for the negative results, passing under the ceiling bubble mirrors in which you’ll notice your distorted reflection. Like a magnifying glass passing over you, first your feet will be enlarged, followed by your legs, and torso. Finally, your already imposing head will balloon by. It could be the cephalopodan cranium, or the rose hue smeared across the brow, cheeks, and beard, but the face that flashes on the bubble mirror is unfamiliar.

The nurses will manage to remove your oxford and jeans with minimal blood stains and no cutting, but the undershirt will get sliced, putting your tattoos on full display. Their religious nature will release one nurse to talk about her faith and you’ll reciprocate when you’re not clenching your teeth. The needle they use to numb your skull will feel like a 12 inch chef’s knife. You can’t imagine that the stitches could hurt worse unnumbed, but you’ll find out later they were scraping shards of glass out of the bloody abrasion.

You will like your doctors. They’ll talk beer. They’ll talk sports. They’ll talk trash. They’ll reprimand you and then empathize with you. They’ll warn you of the most intense, debilitative soreness you’ve ever experienced which is certain to come in the next couple days. It never does arrive.

Three days after the woman decided to not look where she was driving, you’ll go to the impound lot to clean out your car. Your first thought will be one of pride when you see the damage your head did to the windshield. That’s right; I did that. And I didn’t black out and I didn’t get a concussion. And you’ll never admit aloud that you have no right to be walking. You’ll find the scarf you were wearing, the one the EMTs unwrapped before fitting the neck brace, and it will be stiff with blood, having saved your oxford from the mess. You’ll find the review mirror casing, bereft of its glass, with the dice, air freshener, and crucifix a tangled mess.

The next month will pass in a wracking of nerves as you navigate the irregular alleys of adulthood. You’ll be receiving new medical bills every week for three hours’ worth of services. You’ll spend hours calling your car insurance, and your health insurance, and her car insurance, and the police, and the impound lot, and car dealership after car dealership, and the courthouse. You will shop for a new car. Your burgundy Mujer de Libertad was going to last forever. Now she’s dead. You’ll meet a silver Civic coupe named Mercy. She’ll be nice and technically an upgrade; you’ll take her home, but really all you want is your Mujer. All you really want is for everything to be over, for everything to be normal. And then, between applications of scar cream to the upper right corner of your forehead, it more or less will be.

Mujer de Libertad

Mujer de Libertad

August 2, 2014

Open Thine Ears and Slake Thy Thirst

This is a quote from Will Ferrell as he portrayed a tone-deaf Satan on SNL. Satan apparently can’t write good music and neither can I, but that doesn’t stop either of us from trying. I downloaded the demo version of FL Studio 11. Unless you upgrade, it won’t let you reopen projects to continue working with them, so you get one shot at your fun before you export the file and close the program. Here’s the fruit of tonight’s labor.

https://soundcloud.com/poor-quenting/080214a

If the player doesn’t work, click here.

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July 14, 2014

Domain

Jonathan’s fingers slipped inside his khaki pocket and extracted the key ring. It didn’t hold much – the car, the door, his parent’s door, the gym membership. The guitar case key was still on the ring; there was nowhere else to keep it. One day he’d remember to but a bottle opener on there. Until then, he’d keep an old Bic in the glove compartment.

He grasped the door handle and leaned back, pulling the door tight against the jam, before inserting the key into the deadbolt and turning. Jonathan released his grip and the door swung open, the emanated squeaks reminding him that needed to purchase WD-40. He wiped his hard soled shoes on the mat, stepped inside, and swung the door shut.

He stood in the dark entrance. It was only his second week in the apartment and it was not natural yet. The light switch was behind him to his right. Following that wall would lead him to the living room and, beyond that and two left turns, the kitchen. If he were to step forward and not to the right, he’d find the bathroom and bedroom. Either path was mined with unopened boxes, cockeyed furniture, or dirty laundry.

So he stood in the darkness, disturbing nothing but the air he breathed; in the distant living room he could hear the ticking clock. In the dark stillness of the foyer there was no mess to clean up, no couches to be rearranged. In the darkness he didn’t have to think about the progression of steps past unfinished projects, he could just be. He leaned back against the door and slid downwards until he could place his palms flat against the hardwood floor.

Jonathan. What are you doing? Why are you on the floor? You are hungry. Eat. You have things to do. Get up.

He exhaled, driving his feet into the ground, propelling his hips up and out, and arcing his back. With his right hand he mechanically brushed the mezuzah before flicking on the light. He circumvented the boxes of shoes and coats and stepped into the bedroom. There was a pile of business clothes between a laundry basket full of linens and a half empty wardrobe box. He unbuttoned the blue oxford as he kicked off the brown loafers. Throwing the shirt into the pile on the floor he grasped for the belt buckle to lower the pants from his hips. Standing in the white undershirt, boxers, and tan socks, he scanned the room, his eyes finally alighting on the black basketball shorts draped over the desk chair. One leg after the other and then each foot into the greyed Adidas Campuses.

As he exited the bedroom he killed the light. Darkness again, only momentarily, but long enough to stumble over the box of shoes. Damn. Jonathan didn’t kiss the floor, but the interruption was frustration enough. He reached the foyer again and turned left toward the living room. The darkness hid the cacophony quite neatly; there wasn’t a speck of it to be seen. He was standing on the edge of the precipice with his eyes shut, not admitting the existence of what he knew lay before him.

He swiped at the light, catching it with his fingertip and showering the room in light. All he wanted was to reach the kitchen and get some food. Nothing special, chicken, veggies, and pasta. But before him was a wasteland of the incomplete. Boxes still packed. Books haphazardly stacked on the shelves. The television was still in its box, leaning against the couch. The dining room table leaned against a wall with the legs next to it. The chairs were lined up against the perpendicular wall.

He’d spent last week eating take out or eating beer for dinner. But no longer. Take out was for the weak-willed. Take out meant others doing his work. Beer for dinner meant later penance and there was already enough of that do be performed. Both meant spending unnecessary money.

Stepping over and about half empty boxes, he waded through the mess in the living room, took that narrowest angle through the corner of the untabled dining room and found the sanctuary of the kitchen. No, he hadn’t used it yet, other than for the obligatory bowl of sugary cereal every morning, but it was the only room that was complete. This was the room of his design, and it was solely his domain. It was small, but for one person, it was all that was needed. The back wall was a solid counter with a dual basin stainless steel sink with an unnecessary InSinkerator; he would rarely use it. The best part of the sink was the pullout spray faucet, enabling a manageable cleanup of oversized bowls, pans, and the crockpot.

Oh to bust out the crockpot! The chilis, the jambalayas, the nameless delicious creations only intoned by their primary ingredients! To quickly prep and toss the ingredients into the pot before work and then return home to the mystical aromas filling the room like incense wafting from a thurible.

But tonight it’s quick and easy. Well, not fast food or beer quick and easy, but certainly not crockpot long or baking arduous.

Opening the fridge, Jonathan pulled out the chicken breast and the button mushrooms, and from the basket above he grabbed a yellow onion. From below the sink he drew a single plastic cutting board. The three ingredients sat on the counter, disparate, yet destined for communion. He drew the chef’s knife from the block along with the sharpener. He’d spent six month working in a kitchen, absorbing everything he could. If only he had the budget for all the ingredients they used, and the mental catalog of their use. Knowing the rudimentary knife skills is not knowing the exotic pairing that perfectly complement each other. The general bartending was a lot easier on that front.

The mushrooms sliced quickly, and after being peeled into the trash, so was the onion; his contacts spared him tears. He threw the vegetation into a bowl and delivered the first slice to the chicken breast.

Shoot. I forgot to start the rice. I always do that.

He quickly reached into the lower cabinet and scooped a cup from the oversized bag of jasmine and poured it into the rice cooker. After giving the rice couple rinses, he pulled two cans of chicken stock from another cabinet, emptied them into the rice cooker, and clicked it on before returning to chunk the chicken breast down into the bite size pieces.

He washed his hands before opening yet another cabinet where he had stashed the pots and pans – two stacks, assembled like Russian nesting dolls, each smaller than the one in which it sat. Lids, sometimes necessary but always obtrusive, were stored elsewhere. Selecting a midsized frying pan, he set it on the stove’s the electric coil and turned on the low heat. Gas would have been perfect, but that would have meant a higher rent or an inconvenient location.

He tossed in a glob of butter before grabbing the dry vermouth from the home bar. As the butter melted he stirred in a few splashes of the spirit; the aroma of fat and oblations cooking would have pleased any pagan deity. He dropped in the chicken chunks and as they paled over the heat, he emptied the bowl of veggies into the pan. Jonathan bent over the frying pan, filling his chest with the mystic aromas.

The rice cooker clicked off. Jonathan cut open the largest of the chicken chunks, verifying it was nothing but lifeless protein strands. No blood, no pink hues reminiscent of nonfoodism. Plating would be a superfluous activity today; everything would end mixed anyways. Rice below chicken, onions, and mushrooms. The only remaining question: sriracha or soy sauce?

The former won out. Jonathan sat on the linoleum floor, cupping the plastic bowl that held his meager chef efforts, staring at the dissembled dining hall illuminated by the kitchen light. This was his domain to rule, none to whom he must cater or defer. No irrationality to pervade the order of his cabinets. No wastefulness to be subsidized by his labor. His reign would be total, once it was established. But chaos ruled in the darkness outside the kitchen, chaos that was his to subdue. With Saturday’s morning light, the labor would begin.

 

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June 25, 2014

Momma’s Email

Momma’s email stung. I miss Jake and Ike. I wish they’d never gone to college. It’s not the same without them. I’m sitting here in winterland Chiberia, worrying about the projected sales of stickers too old to be retro, while my nine year old sister – my only sister among four younger siblings, my baby sister who still sucks her thumb in her sleep, my sister who climbs all over me like I’m a tree, who finds something to perform or exhibit at every family gathering – lies on the couch with the aches and shivers and occasional vomiting and more occasional groaning of influenza. Now I feel sick. Ready to book the next one way flight to Albany or load up my car and wish the roommates the best of lives before driving seventeen hours. To abandon a recent promotion for the baby girl without whom I can’t imagine life, but live it every day.

But instead I read a few lines preceding.  Abe and Joe have been keeping her entertained. The fifteen and eleven year old, come into their own. They’re the older brothers now. They’re the big boys; the head honchos. They are the ones who know best, who know her best. The two most affected by the move. The two extroverts struggling as nomads, as aliens, as their biblical namesakes. One who was vocal and nothing less than hesitant about the northeast, who does not hide his anger, but is slowly, painfully, ever so fucking painfully – like slivers under your fingernails – growing, forging his resolve and identity. And one, who vocalized nothing but withdrew into the core of himself, steeling himself in the absence of peers into a self-reliance unmatched among his siblings; one – pantomiming before he could talk – who prefers physical contact to written correspondence, and written correspondence to faceless phone chatter.

But in spite of their solitude, their independence, their anger, their despondence, their frustration, their ongoing depression, they have such grace and mercy to spend time with their weepy sister. Their weepy little sister who cries for the absent older two living hours away, who she won’t see, who worry about sales numbers and final grades, who can’t spend their hours entertaining her other than by phone. Whose absence enables the others to become men, unnoticed, unappreciated, but necessary.

June 14, 2014

In Atrophy

The end isn’t near, it’s here. It gave its warning shots across the bow. Scotty’s pictures, black and white photography with black frames, mounted over the half-bookshelf in the hall, were gone, holes emptied of nails in their place. I had never paused to inspect them closely, just acknowledged their presence as one of Sarah’s touches giving our walls an artful caress. Now the emptiness of the wall with bore holes screamed like a loon with camel hair cassock and sandwich board soliciting next life preparation.

The next week the lamp from my favorite reading nook was removed from its locale. The last publicly displayed item Scotty planned to take into his new life with Sarah. Another piece I had accepted, with much pleasure, into my life and become accustomed to it. Unsought, but appreciated, and now gone. The spring sun through the windows keeps the space usable, but it’s a conclave no more.

The house is in atrophy. It’s not just Scotty’s absence, but that is the harbinger.

I’ve lived with Scotty longer than anyone who doesn’t share my last name. We had never met before he walked in the apartment that September. Four consecutive years of disparate lives; we would occasionally both be home during waking hours, but usually we had to schedule any extended sightings.  The insomniac night owl and the regimented nine to fiver. An apartment, two houses, and six other roommates circulating. During the Snopacolypse he was an EMT in The City and he slept at the station for days. The overgrown house with the plumbing disaster. The day we walked in to find a roommate unconscious in a pool of Cheerio-vomit. The house with attached garage and leaky basement where Scotty earned his Master’s degree.

He and Sarah signed the lease on the apartment they’ll live in after their wedding early, and he’s been moving in there, not too slowly. I don’t know the last time he was actually in our house. Some of his stuff is still here, shelves, old bed, mini fridge, freezer, homebrew kit; basically I live in his storage unit.

This is the last month, not only with Scotty, but David, too. It has been four years with David also, but not consecutive. As his wedding has approached his presence has gradually diminished, though his possessions have all remained. His absence is not as jarring as Scotty’s, although that could be just because it hasn’t really started yet. He moves to his new place in the couple weeks as I move to mine.

He’s been the stoic observer to my volatile relationships, sipping whiskey sympathetically as I nervously pace my way through anxieties and neuroticisms, silent witness to my aimless rage. He’s watched me plunge to the abyss of Assassin’s Creed and Community in attempts to alleviate heartbreak. When the plumbing disaster rendered the kitchen unusable, we subsisted on Chinese takeout and hydrated on beer. Between the two of us, we’ve imbibed a lot of whiskey and vodka over the past three years.

And when my rage has given pause, he’s had the well-placed, unexpected word of encouragement. Even in the morning when my rage is most piqued and the last thing I want is to speak.

The shelves are empty and corrugated is everywhere. In less than a week, there’ll be no furniture in these rooms and only kitchen wares to be divided. There is a torn window screen and two bathroom towel hooks to be repaired. The Goodwill donations have already begun, clothing, speakers, lamps, tube televisions; I wonder how much they’ll keep and find useful and how much they’ll just discard.

The end is here. In the next two weeks this house will be polished, emptied and scrubbed of the inhabitants. We will be scattered like grass seed to grow thin, but sufficient, roots in new dirt.

April 19, 2014

The Blood of Christ

It’s exhausting. It lasts no more than fifteen minutes, but afterwards I sit down exhausted.

They come forward to the First with begging hands, extended for the meal, crossed for the touch. Those who ask, receive; food or touch, none are denied. From there, they proceed to the Second.

At the First, there just the one exchange, no confusion – The body of Christ, the bread of Heaven. I am Second. I stand pensively, careful not to spill. I pass to them and they pass back; I wipe and twist. I try took look each in the eye, speaking to them personally, unlike the response tree at your local customer service center.

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

I’ve heard some people say, The blood of Christ, shed for you, but it doesn’t have the right meter. It fits better when the first says, The body of Christ, broken for you, but since this is rarely said, it’s a moot point.

The Blood of Christ, the tears of Heaven.

That sounds

So poetic

So romantic

So religious

But I’m still not convinced of Heaven, not in the colloquial sense. When your boy returns from his coma Heaven, I’m more than skeptical. Not because I have abandoned the hope of Christ or because I doubt the earnestness of your conviction, but because I am fairly certain that this Heaven is not Christ’s. It is because I have a greater hope than ethereal, gaseous soul-consciousness peacefully resigned and dissolved into frozen water droplets and lethargically strummed harp tones. I’d prefer my current purgatory, with its vibrancy, vitality, and promise of bodily resurrection to the passive, minimalist, eternal Nirvana so often advocated.

But let’s reign in my tangent, during which I turned into UPS’s 1-800-response tree.

She walks slowly, perpendicular to my orientation, swallowing the Body and thinking upon

Upon

Upon

Upon what, I don’t know. I don’t know how the mysteries of Mass enact themselves upon me, much less her.

But she stops, turns ninety degrees, and executes two sharp steps, almost a single lunge toward the chalice in my hand. I’ve barely raised the earthenware chalice and I’ve barely recited the liturgy before she’s clutching at the stem, whispering her Amen, lifting the chalice, with my hand, to her lips. She has no time for ceremony, she is thirsty for the Living Water, the water turned to wine, the simple feast shared among unnumbered multitudes in history, the sands on the shore and the stars in the sky, promised to Abraham. She doesn’t shroud her thirst in dignity; she holds no illusions of having earned the drink she receives. But what she has within her grasp she will not rescind, she cannot.

She imbibes so quickly I haven’t had time to remove my hands from the chalice before she returns control to me. She quickly turns to her right and walks back to her pew, head hung humbly, not shamefully. I twist the chalice counterclockwise as I wipe the rim. I look up and there is the next sinner, earnest for his turn at the well, with others lined up behind him. In my hands is a grace not my own, but one I get to share, one that we return to as often as we can. When the last has had their fill, we linger for a moment, the bread-bearer and I, waiting for the last sheep, or maybe Elijah, before putting away the leftovers, the twelve bushels we have left.

I return to my pew with the same posture as she did, though mine might be more rooted in exhaustion. Some might argue it’s just the residual effect of a quiet introvert having talked with fifty some people in a matter of minutes. Some may argue it’s the weight of the Holy Spirit, while others argue that the Spirit is not present in liturgy. But maybe it’s the weariness of a derelict painting doorposts in lamb’s blood for reasons he doesn’t fully understand, but knows are necessary.