Second Person

If you enter onto an empty Los Angeles freeway in the middle of the day, you can be sure that there was a massive accident somewhere behind you. You were aware of the fact that as you advanced smoothly down the middle lane, separating yourself from the masses, there had to be tragedy somewhere in your wake, one that you hoped you’d never have to see. It was back there. It was someone else’s problem, and besides, you were late.

Who were you to doubt it, though? When the Universe gives you gifts like open freeways, you don’t question it. You speed down it. You pressed the pedal down and watched the the RPMs rise, your sports package handling the open road with startling agility. No one gets to do 90 on the 101 at 11:45 in the morning. This is just for you. It’s the karmic product of all your hard work, you considered. It’s charity from a loving god, you considered. It’s dumb luck, you knew. Fuck it.

You parked in the lot behind your therapist’s office and got out, with your favorite Ray Bans – the gunmetal grey ones, the ones with the polarized lenses, the ones you paid too much money for in a small sunglasses shop in the grove or in Studio City or wherever it was – covering your black and blood shot eyes.

Why you decided it was a good idea to start seeing the therapist in the office above the bar you owned, you’ll never know. It just seemed like the most logical choice after you’d woken up in last night’s clothes and tomorrow’s sadness in the back of the center VIP booth for the third night in a row. It was either that or AA… or church, God forbid. You wanted clarity. You needed reason. You needed an I.V. and a Pedialyte.

You passed the thick metal door of the bar, thankful that you didn’t have to open it, not yet, and face everything that lurked there in the darkness that was still hours away from lifting, hours away from the soft yellow glow of filament bulbs splashing off the black patent leather of a Louboutin covering the well-maintained toes and the end of a skinny, toned leg, as the bright red heel pierces the leather that you spent a month finding when you built the booth you sometimes called a bed. The natural light of day faded in a strong negative correlation to the rise of those filaments you bought at the flea market. They really brought the whole place to life. It’s like a twenty hour day, like they have in Scandanavia – not that you were ever awake for the first four. There was fresh vomit on the thick glass window, you ignored it. That’s not your job, you told yourself. Ramon will take care of that. Shit, that’s what you pay him for.

You walked to the edge of the building, where a security door guarded the stairwell to the second floor where your sanity returned once a week like a probation officer, half scolding, half impressed you’re still standing there and not sweating in the drunk tank next to some sadist who nearly beat his baby-mama half to death. You pressed the second button from the top, next to the nameplate that read “Dr. Drug Dealer” or maybe it was Smith or maybe it didn’t matter because that was the right fucking button. You lowered your dark glasses and stared into the electronic eye of a camera, at the bullseye center of a ring of dimly lit red lights, evoking alien space ships and action movies and the horror of someone knowing what you were doing when you were unaware – these things were everywhere now.

“You’re late,” said Dr. Drug Dealer, over an intercom. It was 12:02. He said he wouldn’t continue to see you if it happened again, but you knew better. Where would he find a more dependable patient than a drunk with an anxiety and depression issue stemming from something unresolved in his childhood or something else that we hadn’t pinpointed yet and “may not for quite some time” who happens to own the bar downstairs?

The door buzzed and you pulled it open. It closed hard behind you and you methodically ascended as if each stair was twice its height. It was that kind of morning. You opened the office door and grabbed the key to the men’s room. Your piss was a concerning shade of dark yellow. When did you last drink water? Good question. Back in the office you hit the plastic button that lit up here in the waiting room and there in his office so he’d know you were sitting there, waiting, or at least so he said. He just saw you on the camera. How was any of this a mystery? You asked him once and he said it was important to have routines and boundaries and that he refused to be the one waiting on you, “so when you’re good and ready you press that button and then when I’m good and ready I come get you.”

It was now 12:08 and you’d already missed at least eight out of fifty minutes of this session, costing you around thirty-two dollars. Thank goodness for that freeway accident. Good looking out, Universe. You could’ve wasted at least other eighty or so, and that would be one less sushi dinner for one less Jenny or Jessica or Stephanie or whatever. You mean, whoever.

D.D.D. finally came to get you six dollars later and he followed you into his office, as depressing looking as ever with only the flourescent tube lighting trapped behind the same thin plastic that covered the ceilings of your middle school detention room. “Sorry about the lighting,” he said. “I know how you like the filament bulbs, but what can I say? It blew.”

You didn’t believe him. You were angry, being manipulated by your shrink, but then considered that maybe that was his job. Fuck with your head until it worked right. Like a seventy year old mechanic who used to fix cars when there were only, like, 14 different car parts fucking around with your pal Omar’s yellow Ferrari, only the Ferrari was you and D.D.D. was more like forty-eight. That’s okay, you thought. Another hundred and sixty-two dollars worth of “therapy” and the good mechanic could pull the only two tools from his toolbox that anyone here ever needed- that silver ballpoint and that crisp little pad that lay spread out on his messy desktop like a Hollywood bimbo taking pictures down the length of her legs as she sunned herself next to the Roosevelt pool to even out her spray tan. It was taunting you. It laid there, telling you to talk – give up the goods or no fucky.

You stared at Dr. Drug Dealer, thinking he probably smells terrible in the morning. His white shirt had lost its dry-clean crisp days ago and the top edge of the collar had begun to turn slightly yellow. You wanted to ask him what the fuck his deal was. “What’s your fuckin’ deal, you high and mighty hack?” you wanted to yell. It wasn’t fair. In your mind you were both the same. Fuck that. You were better. You might be a fuckup, but at least you don’t wear the shirt three times in a row – not intentionally, at least. Just because that pad has his name on it he thinks he’s better than you? You’d had enough. The muscles in your legs tightened, ready to rise and walk out. Give him two fat middle fingers, you thought. Just like high school. They can all kiss your ass. They don’t know shit. Pussies, all. Small brains, small lives. And problems just as big.

“Is something the matter?” said the sniveling prick. These were the first words of our session, forty-seven dollars in. He returned to staring at you with his beady yellow eyes through his horn rimmed glasses that would’ve seemed uber fashionable if they were Oliver Peoples and he wasn’t such a conniving little twat.

Two can play this game, you thought. You stared back. It was a conceptual tug of war over a crocodile infested moat and you were losing. You always lost. You were croc-lunch. Or dinner. Over angel hair. You’re a fuckin lobster. You’re a fucking halibut. You’re a bottom feeder in a dirty office on what may or may not have been a gorgeous day. You couldn’t remember if you looked at the weather. Sometimes the big details appear beyond your awareness. They don’t need to be noticed. They just are.

“We don’t have to talk today,” he whined. “We can just sit here. Of course, if that’s all we do, I can’t very well prescribe anything for silence, now, can I? And really, we’re both adults here. We don’t have to pretend you’re here for growth or healing or personal betterment, do we? God forbid you make any real effort to improve your circumstances.”

Why was he so mean? Why was he berating you? This is tough love, minus the love. You’re an ant and he’s pulling off your legs. If you’re still standing two hundred dollars in, you get your drugs and you get to go home. You’re only here out of routine at this point. Maybe today is your last day. Maybe you don’t need the Valium and maybe the Ambien is what’s causing those dreams that remind you to drink away at least six to eight hours of every day. A full time job. Personal responsibility. It’s all very Republican.

“You want me to open up?” you said, finally. Fine, you said. Here it is, you said. You didn’t know quite how to vocalize it but you felt like lately you’d been seeing yourself from the outside, operating in a distinct mind-body dualism where you were equally aware of both senses of self and unable to reconcile the two, you said. You felt like all your maxims were in order but that your brain chemistry was ‘off’ and it was making it so your body just simply didn’t desire to do anything worthwhile, even though your brain was totally on board with the program, the enlightenment, the new you. A ressurection, you spoke of. A “renaissance of character and action,” you believed. You’ve got this shit on lockdown, you reassured.

Dickhead Dr. Asshole chuckled.

“Of course you don’t get it, you philistine fucknut,” you screamed in a lonely silence in the mind-only segment of your too-tired being. Has he even read Descartes, you inquired.

“Have you read, ‘The Power of Now’?” the twat spurted. “Eckhart Tolle?”

“The homeless man that sounds like the automated Apple Talk voice?” you responded. “Yes, I have.”

“Did you try to apply the principles?” he shat.

What does that even mean, you said. You felt present. You felt there. You always felt there, wherever you were. The liquor only put you more there. That’s why you liked it so much. Also for its taste and the social aspects and the way it makes you feel and the mystique and also because everyone else has a good time and laughs and carries on and fucks and then relives it all the next day over mimosas on rooftops and Bloodies in brunch spots.

You’re present. You don’t look back. If you look back you’ll know why everything is so clear on the freeway right now and all that can do is teach you things you should never know, show you things you didn’t need showing. You didn’t watch them hang Saddam Hussein for a reason.

Because when you see these things, they don’t leave you, and when they

don’t leave you, the only option left is for you to leave you. To hover over yourself in a detached way, remote viewing your ghosts using yourself as the medium, gliding around between the hands, hoping for the looking glass on a dirty old Ouija board in the house where this all started.

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Happy Mask

Whenever she wants to hurt me, she chides me about how I’m emotionless, how I can’t be hurt. She does this unironically, and it does, in fact, hurt me.

“That’s not true,” I say honestly, in a way she won’t believe.

The truth is she wouldn’t understand the truth. Between pretty pictures and inspirational quotes and brunches at hotel pools, she’s convinced that everyone feels everything the same, or at least they should.

Happy. But not real happy. Just that kind they describe in self-help books. The kind you can achieve by telling yourself over and over that you’re happy. The simple sort of greeting card happiness. When did the goal and the wish for the goal become the same?

She tries to corner me. They all do. They want to understand, and when they can’t understand, they want to change what they’re looking at until they do. Box me, mould me, filter me, until they ‘get it’. But they don’t get it.

The cold stare and unaffected demeanor isn’t a mask or an act. It wasn’t described in The Secret or in The Power of Now. I’m not the exception that proves the rule. I’m just an exception. And there is no rule.

But that’s not clean and pretty and who wants to deal with that?

“You think you want me for more than this, but you don’t. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that,” I explained. I’ve said it before. It’s rehearsed. I’m good at saying it. I say it with every bit of sincerity I can muster, but it’s hard to seem genuine anytime you’ve said the same thing enough times.

“What if I do?”

“You won’t. I promise you won’t. Everyone thinks they do. Because it’s different and it seems…different. But that’s the problem. You don’t want different. You want the same things everyone else wants,” I said.

“And what’s that? How do you think you know what I want?”

“Because I know. You tell me every time you get mad that I can’t hang out or when you think I’m not texting you enough.”

She rolled away, onto her back. She stared at the ceiling. She sighed. It was faint. It sounded familiar. It was the sound she made at the end of her sixth orgasm last night. It all made sense.

“Honestly, you don’t even know me. Not really. You just know what you see. And I don’t even know what that is. You just like that I make you come and that you can’t figure me out. That’s not a relationship.”

She turned back toward me. “Is this fun for you?”

“Fun? Is what fun?” I climbed out of bed, pulling on boxer briefs and walking out of the room. She sat up as I walked out and I could hear her bounce into the mattress as she slammed herself back down in frustration.

“Come on!” she yelled from the bedroom.

I was pissing and I pretended I couldn’t hear her.

“What?” I flushed.

“Nevermind. I think I’m going to go.”

“Okay,” I said.

She got out of bed while I separated cheap coffee filters that always come out two at a time even though no one ever needs two coffee filters and they should’ve done a better job with their production process. I rinse yesterday’s coffee out of the pot, or maybe the day before’s. I pour Trader Joe’s ground coffee into the machine, but it goes everywhere through the ripped opening. Their coffee is average at best and the packaging is shit, but if I wanted something else I’d have to go to a second grocery store and I can’t even comprehend the anxiety level I’d have to endure in those circumstances.

“Are you making coffee?” she asked, as she walked into the kitchen, wearing nothing but expensive looking lingerie. I wasn’t sure if it was expensive or not. She seemed like the sort of girl who would wear Agent Provocateur, but not ever buy it. So it was either Agent Provocateur or Forever 21, I guessed, though it didn’t matter and I didn’t care and the only question worth asking was why she wasn’t wearing more clothes and leaving like she said she was going to. I didn’t have anything important to do today, but she didn’t know that.

I stared at her. What other reaction could you have when someone asks if you’re making coffee while you’re very obviously making coffee? I knew she’d go back to telling me how unnecessarily asshole-ish I was being so I reveresed course and smiled. “Yes. Want a cup?”

“I really should get out of here.” She paused, leaning against the counter, adjusting her stance in increasingly seductive ways.

“I’ll wa –“

“But what the hell? I’ll have a cup. I need to wake up. Lots to do today.” She stretched over the counter and began to dig through the cupboards for a cup. “You don’t mind do you?”

Hiphugger panties turned into a thong along her perfectly tanned ass and it became irresistible. I pressed ‘brew’ and walked toward her, slinking up along her side, behind her. Her hair smelled like a field I ran through as a child and I felt like I was home or somewhere safe even as a cold shock passed through my nervous system, reminding me I was nowhere close.

“They’re right here.” I pulled a cup down. It was from Urban Outfitters and an ex bought it for me years ago. I kept it because, fuck it. A small piece of ceramic can’t hurt me. Memories don’t fade in trash cans or dumpsters or landfills. There’s a scrap heap in my soul where a thousand coffee cups lie broken. Just leave them, I knew. They’re of you. They are you.

You can’t run from your own shadow, I thought, as she pressed her ass into my crotch. My hands traced the hard curvature along the top of her pelvic bones, up to her breasts. My right hand pulled her left bra strap down, passing her elbow. I discarded it and cupped her underneath her bra. She grabbed my hand and pirouetted, moving it between her legs. She was gasping before my finger even slid inside her. She spun another one-eighty, bending slightly over the kitchen counter, hands gripping the bottom shelf of the open cabinet. Reaching back with both hands, she slid my boxers down before tugging her lingerie past her hips until they decorated the dirty tile.

She pressed her hips back, reaching between her legs, behind her, to pull me inside. She rocked into me. It was slow but hard, like she was trying to have me dig a different path out of her.

“Fuck me,” she screeched.

This is a mistake, I knew, as she tightened, coming hard.

“Come with me.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I don’t feel anything.” But I kept going.

Her hand moved from the shelf into the cabinet, gripping a coffee mug.

“You never feel anything,” hissed out between disjointed gasps for air. Mug in hand, she backed me off, turning quickly and shattering the hard ceramic across my left cheek.

I staggered. “What the fuck?” My fingers passed over my cheek, a gash opened, brailing the word ‘wound’. “Burning rage”. The words shot through my mind in a pulsing red light, signaling a time-bomb, about to explode. I disarmed it. She’s a woman, what can I do? Besides, I couldn’t allow her to win. Not like that.

The coffee maker beeped repeatedly, telling me that it was finished brewing.

“Say something,” she screamed.

“I’d like it if you left.” I pulled a broom from the pantry and began to sweep mug shards from the tiled floor. I was meticulous and focused, still naked and half-hard.

“I’m sorry.” She pulled her bra and underwear back on. “I don’t know why I did that.”


“Come on. I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” She put her hand on my shoulder, I shrugged it off and kept sweeping. She walked out of the room. I put my boxers back on, grabbed a dustpan, and swept the broken coffee mug up. The pieces clinked together, falling into the trash can below the sink.

I poured myself a cup of coffee and walked to the balcony. I lit an American Spirit from a pack that she had left out the night before. I stood with my back to everything inside, smoking and sipping coffee. Behind me, she was dressing, making sure she had everything. She must know, I thought, that she’ll never be here again. There was some small satisfaction in that.

She came to the sliding door. “Hey.”

I smoked. She sighed. I didn’t turn around.

“Are those mine?”

I palmed the pack of Spirits and turned, handing them over. I turned back.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and walked away. She stopped. “Why don’t you care about me? Why am I just nothing to you?”

I exhaled a plume of smoke. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

She left.

The ability to hurt someone is a strange desire for someone so concerned with happiness.

She did it though. My swelling cheek throbbed and burned. My pride was in a pile of unswept shards on the floor. My dick even hurt. Congratulations.

The truth she couldn’t know was that I’d already hurt too much. The truth she couldn’t know was that I wasn’t insensitive. I was hypersensitive and I could never trust her enough to tell her that. I’d hurt more in recent memory than she’d hurt in her lifetime, or at least as far as she was aware. That’s the danger of the happy mask. Everything sad or dark or painful gets pushed away while pretending to be grateful for whatever you get. More gruel, please, sir.

Everything I felt was too sharp and too overwhelming to share with anyone, least of all someone with such a glaring inability to handle it. My therapist had told me again and again not to spend time with her.

Now I knew why.




She was the kind of pretty where you can’t help but feel “less than”. The kind where you make sure to point out all your flaws before she could ever notice them, just to soften the blow when it falls apart. It always does.

“I’m old,” I said.

She was twenty-two, a fit version of waiflike, with sand colored hair – I wasn’t sure if it was natural, but it looked like it on her.

“My hair is going grey. I’m going to look like a grandfather by the time I’m thirty-six and I won’t even be a dad.”

“But your face is young,” she said.  “And besides, you’re only as old as the woman in your bed.” She smiled in a beautiful, dreadful way that left me uncertain.  I didn’t know why.

I smiled.

“I like that philosophy.”

We ate at one of those hip sorts of restaurants with paper ‘tablecloths’ and crayons so that you could draw for fun or for a souvenier or in case you have nothing to talk about while you wait for your food to arrive, knowing that food signals the safety zone because it’s rude to talk with food in your mouth. She drew a clown. A colorful clown. It was good in a bad way. I took a black crayon and drew a Hangman and dashed out space for eight letters.

“S,” she guessed.

I drew an empty circle for a head.

“You have to draw a face for him.”

“Well, then you’d better win this round.  Would be a shame to hang a guy we know based on letters.” I grinned. She ate it up.  I drew two eyes and a nose.

“Where’s his mouth?”

“We have to find out whether you win or not.  I can’t very well draw a smiley face on him if he hangs.”


I drew a stick body and a surprisingly realistic noose around George’s neck. He’s called George now. She doesn’t know it yet, but that’s his name. I assume she’s going to lose at this point, but I was making up the thing about not hanging a guy we know. He’s just some crayon wax on a sheet of paper that’ll soon be stained with a splash of wine as the waiter’s wrist twists the bottle too slowly to catch the drop that falls after he fills my glass – the one emptying faster than hers.

“The ribeye, medium rare,” as the food runner sets her plate in front of her. It tips and red meat juice cascades onto the clown’s eye, forming a strange sort of tear or sweat on his otherwise happy face.

“Your clown!” I laughed.

“He’s crying,” she says, exaggerating a frown.

“Or maybe he’s sweating. Or maybe he’s crying from laughter. He’s a clown. Or maybe he’s the original sad clown. Maybe this is exactly how the sad clown was invented.”

She stared at me. I didn’t really know what I meant either, I was just talking.

“The monkfish, sir. Can I bring you anything else?”

I twisted my hand in her direction, asking if she needed anything.

“I’m good. This looks amazing.”

I always love a girl who orders steak or whiskey. She might be insane, but at least she’s not high maintenance.

“Actually,” I stop the waiter in his tracks, “another bottle of wine would be great.” I turn to her. “You’ll have another glass, right?” She nodded. “Yeah, one more bottle.”

When I woke up, my mouth was dry and my head was all dubstep, pulsing and pulling and exploding in rhythm. Another day, wasted, I thought. No gym, no writing, no reading. Just reloading the timelines on social media, watching things on TV with the goal being “clearing off the DVR” rather than being entertained. Hey, you find your progress where you can on a day like today. Stay positive, everyone says.

She stirs but doesn’t wake. My white sheets have a slight orange tint from bronzer I didn’t realize she was wearing until now. I’ll have to wash those today.  I made a mental note that I was sure would be erased. My dog whined from the floor. How did he get down there? Harsh summer light cracked through every space the blackout curtains didn’t cover, defeating the purpose. The packaging said they eliminated 110% of the light, which is impossible. I should’ve held it against them when I was making my decision to purchase but I figured instead that they must be really confident in how well their product performed. You can’t win them all.

I got out of bed and pissed with my head pressed on the cabinet above the toilet, helping me steady myself. It felt like rest. Cold water from the Brita to a cup to my mouth. It restored me momentarily.

Now what? How can I get her to leave? I think I really like her. The disparity of emotions on a morning like this can be daunting. I promised myself I wouldn’t fuck her, not tonight, but promises to yourself are the easiest to break. This has to stop.

I called my agent and canceled a general. Generals always feel pointless. Besides, I probably had to take her to breakfast before calling her an Uber.

I wondered if I’d get a nap in.

I wondered if I had a dehydration problem.

Atherosclerosis, I wondered.

Cigarette burn in the ottoman, I noticed.

Half empty bottle of whiskey, I registered.

I’m going to fall asleep during the movie with a different date tonight, I imagined.

This has to stop, I knew.

“You’re only as old as the woman in your bed,” she said.

And I understood why my first reaction was dread.



All my exes
Live in reflexes
In the sweet, soft, singing
Terrible scent
From the
Dead fox noose
Wrapped neck
Of a woman twice her age
For the half step through
Sleep deprived synapse static
To register
That it was a trick
She never
Broke her mind on your pillow
Where black mascara
Marked every
Tear’s small grave
That was someone else
Remind yourself
As the dread wrenches
Your gut
Pulling you spine first
To a rung a little farther down
The rot-wood ladder
You convinced yourself was progress



‘Fuck me, you pussy’
You said
But I was
Half as hard
As the tone of the
Vodka chilled
Side of your voice
And the twisting roads
I drove blind drunk
To see you
Brought me only
Marginally closer
To you

That I would
Put myself at risk
To be
Within a whisker
Of your whiskey blown
Speed down harm’s way
To win a scrap
Of a facsimile
Of your double-sided love

You were everything
I wanted you
To want to be
For everything
I wanted to become
Your dreams
Were razors
Down the wrists
Of my hard-won
Leaving no choice
But bleed out
Slip away
Die into you
A thousand times

‘I’m in love’
You said
But it was misdirected
And I never learned
Its target
I would give all
For you
To train your sights
On me
Lay me to waste
Leave me in your wake
Let me hurt
In any way you choose
This, I offer you
My love
May I free you from your past
Avoid mine
Move forward
And pretend
‘Will you lose
For me to win?’

I screamed
A thousand times
And faintly whispered
Just once
And that was all that mattered.

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