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33f1a34Scientific studies would show, if they studied this sort of thing, that what you read on the internet is really important. Wait, maybe they do study that. I think I read an article on some Spirit / Science website that the things you read on the internet make you a good person if you’re reading things about spirit and science and if you use your mind to do quantum mechanics, but only in a positive way.

Since we understand how very important reading is to using everything from Buzzfeed to your favorite Instagram hashtags, it’s crucial to understand the best way to read online – the listicle.

The listicle has plenty of advantages that make it the best way for you to read. First, the whole thing is numbered, so you don’t get confused about which paragraph you’re on while you’re jumping word-to-word from left to right. Second, they’re easy to understand because of the number thing. So maybe there’s only one advantage.

Anyway, if you’re going to read listicles at a high level, you’re going to need to know what makes a successful listicle so successful. Then maybe you can implement those success factors into your own listicles or even your relationships.

1. Remove Negative People

This is one of the most important listicle items ever, appearing in what Forbes calls “98% of all internet listicles.” To be able to spot a negative person all you need to know is whether or not that person agrees with you. If they do, they can be in your listicle or pilates class. If they disagree with you, they are “negative” and they will only cause you to question yourself and your beliefs, and you might find out you’re not doing something right and that will ruin your listicle or pot luck dinner. Seriously, kill everyone you know who isn’t named Pollyanna.

2. Be Vague

Most listicles don’t realize how important it is to say really general, non-specific things. This is “negative” like people are. If you say specific things, chances are people will stop paying attention or maybe disagree with you and then you, my dear listicle, will be forced to remove those people (see #1). By being extremely vague and not insightful at all, you can make people agree with you, according to Time Magazine.

3. Say “Look At Me”

This may sound simple. I mean, all you have to do is write “look at me”. I just did it twice. Trust me. It works. If you’re worried that it won’t work, try “hey, look at me,” so you know you have their attention first.

4. Be SO Headlines

If you don’t know what this means already, you’re probably a terrible listicle and shouldn’t have any friends to go to the movies with. You need to start your headline with a number, and this is one time you don’t want to be vague. You should be very specific about what your number is. It’s best to use the amount of items in your listicle, but this isn’t crucial because no one will check. What is crucial is that it’s an exact number. No confusing fractions. No big numbers. Also, no ugly numbers like 10. 10 looks like a skinny person next to a fat person and that will only make people feel pity or shame, and they won’t want to read your listicle items or take you to prom. Also, it’s important to use your headline to make them think they’re about to be stunned or amazed or have their lives changed or that they will “win the internet” with you.  That’s how you get and keep a man.

5. Use Three Big Words to Sound “Legit”

One of the best ways for people to know you’re a smart listicle is for them to see exactly three big words somewhere in your listicle. This will let them know that a truly prophetic writer is among them (that’s one – prophetic – hope you’re paying attention). If you use more than three big words people will mistake you for a book or an essay or an article for “normals” and then you will lose them as readers or people to build sandcastles with.

6. Make People Feel Good Without Effort

Now that we’re in the meat and potatoes of our adventure, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s called “manipulation”. Don’t tell, or else people will think you’re “negative” and burn you with a cattle brand. Manipulating people is totally okay if you do it for the right reasons. People generally, according to internal Monsanto studies, don’t mind being manipulated if you make them feel good, sooooo… make them feel good! One way to do this is by telling them they’ll achieve great things by doing exactly what they’re already doing and thinking what they’re already thinking. This is where we remember #2. Make points like “all successful people eat meals” or “the greatest artists of all time agree that you should have some amount of ‘me’ time, no matter how much”.

7. Make People Feel Superior Without Effort

This is the second step in the manipulation of readers or of fellow Starbucks line inhabitants. Make them feel better than other people even when you know they’re not and they know they’re not and everyone else knows it too. Good ways to do this are to A.) be vague and B.) set up a “second class” of citizens who are the “bad people” i.e. the people who aren’t doing the good things your listicle tells you, whether or not you know anyone like that. Say things like, “you’ve raised your standards” or “you have empathy for your common man”. It doesn’t matter if everyone believes they have these traits. In fact, that’s better! That means everyone will feel superior to everyone else, completing a perfect circle and sending you to sit at the right hand of the father, while everyone else gets snuffed out like a Red Wedding style massacre.

Have at you, Gluten!

Have at you, Gluten!

8. Use ‘Game of Thrones’ References

Self-explanatory. Don’t be dense.

9. Be All Affirmations

The best way to get people to read you / like you / want you to be the one the arrow lands on when you’re playing Spin the Bottle is to give them positive affirmations all the time. This is the last step of the manipulations. You might ask, “why wasn’t this grouped with the other manipulations at #8?” and the answer is simple. I only just now thought about the Game of Thrones thing and realized how important that was and ALSO now you’re distracted from the fact that this is basically the same as #6. It’s important to realize that all truly happy people need to tell themselves over and over that they’re happy. Otherwise they would forget that they’re happy while they’re doing other things besides reminding themselves and then they might feel bad while reading your listicle and then we’re back to #1 and you have no one to play catch with.

10. Cite Sources

It’s important that people believe you have a mastery of the subject matter and the best way to do this is referring to other people who had the idea first. It actually doesn’t matter whether or not it’s a good source or a bad source. The fact that it is a source will let people know that you’ve done your research and then they will trust you. Good sources to cite are ones that you know will fulfill all the rest of the items on this listicle. At all costs, do not make people go to another site where they might feel bad or have their views challenged or you will end up with no one in your wedding party.

11. Write One Incredibly Smart Entry in the List

If you write one AND ONLY ONE smart thing if your listicle, you may be able to trick 50%+ of the ‘educated’ population to share a listicle on social media that they wouldn’t share otherwise, this according to the good people at lawofattraction.com. One smart and insightful thing will get that precious share and then you’ll have even intelligent people wasting their day reading the rest of the listicle items. Make sure to write it well. It’s probably best that one of the three big words be in this entry. Again, be sure not to have more than one smart entry or else people might have their views and opinions challenged and then you will have no readers and people will steal your waterskis.

Unknown12. Use Pictures of Awesome Things

When people share your listicle on Facebook, a picture will come up. If that picture is of Jennifer Lawrence or a weird castle built into a cliff, you will attract more readers and then you’ll have someone to hold your soda while you use the restroom. Celebrities are great to use, especially if you can “manipulate” your reader to think that they might be as successful or good-looking as that person. Then they will share your listicle and maybe let you get to 3rd base on the second date.

13. DON’T BE UNIQUE

This is the most important thing I have to say. That is why I put it last. A big finish is important, says Reader’s Digest. Plus, you know that readers of listicles always make it to the end. These people have exceptional attention spans. That’s why making sure you have an exact, whole number in the headline is important (see #4).

Every listicle is the same and you don’t want to be different. SO BE THE SAME. I can’t stress this enough. Every listicle is the same list of items, just with a different headline. That’s why it’s important to be SOOOOO headlines. Just look at the hero of all the internet, Elite Daily. That site hasn’t had a new word on it in 12 years. They just shuffle the headlines between articles and WHAM-O, new content. If only every listicle could have realized that groundbreaking technological breakthrough at the same time, the internet would be skinner and they wouldn’t have to have birth limits in China. So make sure your listicle is the same as every other one if you want it to get a real job.

Understand, the joy of reading listicles is that you’ve already read that listicle! Why waste time reading for new information? Your old information is good enough, especially when it looks like new information. The other joy is not having to notice different paragraphs. Oh, shit. No one will read this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Second Person

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You enter onto an empty Los Angeles freeway in the middle of the day, knowing that when a freeway is empty, it’s because there’s a massive accident somewhere behind. You advance down the middle lane, separating yourself from the masses, knowing there must be tragedy somewhere in your wake, one that you’re glad you’ll never have to see. It’s back there. It’s someone else’s problem, and besides, you’re late.

Who are you to doubt it? When the Universe gives you a gift like an open freeway, you don’t question it. You speed down it. You press the pedal down and watch 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 consider, or charity from a loving god. But those things aren’t real and it’s just dumb luck. A product of a series of random events, orbiting around a center that simply isn’t you. Fuck it.

You park 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 own, 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 pass the thick metal door of the bar, thankful that you don’t have to open it, not yet, and face everything that lurks 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 at 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 call a bed. The natural light of day fades as the filaments rise inside the ‘tasteful’ (according to L.A. Weekly) vintage sconces you bought at the Rose Bowl flea market. They really bring the whole place to life. Between those lights and actual daylight, it’s a twenty hour day, like they have in Scandanavia – not that you’re ever awake for the first four. There was fresh vomit on the thick glass window but you ignore it. That’s not your job, you tell yourself. Damon will take care of it. Shit, that’s what you pay him for.

You walk to the edge of the building, where a security door guards the stairwell to the second floor where your attempted sanity returns 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 press the second button from the top, next to the nameplate that reads “Dr. Drug Dealer” or maybe Smith or maybe it doesn’t matter because that’s the right fucking button. You lower your dark glasses and stare 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’re doing when you’re unaware – these things are everywhere now.

“You’re late,” says Dr. Drug Dealer, over an intercom. It’s 12:02. He said he wouldn’t continue to see you if it happened again, but you know better. Where is he going to 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 haven’t pinpointed yet and “may not for quite some time” who happens to own the bar downstairs?

The door buzzes and you pull it open. It closes hard behind you and you methodically ascend as if each stair was twice its height. It’s that kind of morning. You open the office door and grab the key to the men’s room. Your piss is a concerning shade of dark yellow. When did you last drink water? Good question. You press the plastic button on the waiting room wall next to his nameplate and it lights up here and in his office so he’ll know you’re sitting there, waiting, or at least so he says. He just saw you on the camera so how is it any mystery as to whether or not you’re in the waiting room? You asked him once and he said it’s important to have routines and boundaries and that he refuses 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’s now 12:08 and you’ve already missed at least eight out of fifty minutes of this session, costing you 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. Wait, that’s sexist. Whoever, you mean. You’re working on it.

D.D.D. finally comes to get you six dollars later and he follows 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 says. “I know how you like the filament bulbs, but what can I say? It blew.”

You don’t believe him. You’re angry, being manipulated by your shrink, but maybe that’s his job. Fuck with your head until it works right. It’s 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 Stetson’s yellow Ferrari, only the Ferrari was you and D.D.D. is more like forty-eight. Let it go, you think. Another hundred and sixty-two dollars worth of “therapy” and the good mechanic can pull the only two tools from his toolbox that anyone here ever needs- that silver ballpoint and that crisp little pad that lies spread out on his messy desktop like a Hollywood bimbo sunning herself next to the Roosevelt pool to even out her spray tan while taking pictures down the length of her legs to elicit ‘likes’ on Instagram. It’s lying there, still and emotionless, telling you to talk – no display of emotion or penance, no sign that all the ‘treament’ is taking, making you work, making you try harder, then no drugs. Quid pro fucking quo.

You stare at Dr. Drug Dealer, thinking he probably smells terrible in the morning. His white shirt lost its dry-clean crisp days ago, probably, and the top edge of the collar is turning slightly yellow. You want to ask him what the fuck his deal is. “What’s your fuckin’ deal, you high and mighty hack?” you want to yell. It’s not fair. In your mind you’re both the same. Fuck that. You’re better. You might be sort of a fuckup at times, but at least you don’t wear the same 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? Yeah, right. That’s just about enough of this, you think. The muscles in your legs tighten, ready to rise and walk out. Give him two fat middle fingers, you think. Just like high school. They can all kiss your ass. They don’t know shit. Pussies, all. Small brains, small lives. With problems just like you. Maybe worse. Who’s his therapist, anyway? He thinks he’s got it all figured out.

“Is something the matter?” says the sniveling prick. These are the first words of the session, forty-seven dollars in. He returns to staring at you with his beady yellow eyes through his horn rimmed glasses that would be super-chic if they were Oliver Peoples and he was anyone but the conniving little twat sitting before you.

Two can play this game. You stare back. It’s a conceptual tug o’ war over a crocodile infested moat and you’re losing. You always lose. You’re 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 be a gorgeous day. You can’t remember if you looked at the weather or paid attention to the skies. 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 whines. “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 is he so mean? Why is 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 ask, finally. “Fine, here it is,” you say. You don’t know quite how to vocalize it, you tell him, but you feel like lately you’ve been seeing yourself from the outside, operating in a distinct mind-body dualism where you’re equally aware of both senses of self and unable to reconcile the two. You feel like all your maxims are in order but that your brain chemistry was ‘off’ and it’s making it so your body just simply doesn’t desire to do anything worthwhile, even though your brain is totally on board with the program, the enlightenment, the new you. A ressurection, of sorts. A “renaissance of character and action,” you believe. You’ve got this shit on lockdown, you reassure.

Dickhead Dr. Asshole chuckles.

“Of course you don’t get it, you philistine fucknut,” you scream in the lonely silence of the mind-only segment inside your too-tired being. “Have you even read Descartes?” you ask.

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

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

“Did you try to apply the principles?” he shits out through his pursed, stupid mouth.

“What does that even mean?” you ask. You feel present. You feel there. You always feel there, wherever you are. The liquor only puts you more there. That’s why you like 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 don’t need showing. You didn’t watch them hang Saddam Hussein for a reason.

Certain things, when you see them, 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, detached, 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.

“Do you feel truly present? Really?”

How do you answer that? How do you answer a question that has no relevant meaning to anyone but hippies and shamans and fucking sherpas and the woman who lived in the small corner studio apartment in your old building who had a cat and painted most of the day and was happy to tell you exactly how to ‘correspond’ to the Universe and how to get the most out of each day even though she was five years divorced and had no job or formal education. She taught you everything you still don’t know about quantum physics.

“He says that there is no past or future. There’s only ever the present moment, and then it’s gone into a new present,” the quack shrink utters.

“Well, you know all of those new presents? Those are called the future. And the future matters. It deserves our thought in the present. And those old presents? Those are the past. Those things matter too. And they exist. They all exist,” you argue.

“But only as memories.”

Only sixteen dollars left before you can leave. Only sixteen dollars away from walking out the door and away from here and going back to real time where it’s only six more hours before you walk through the dark metal door to filament lights and brown liquors.

“Those memories? They are you. Nature, nurture. Holy shit. Everything that has happened to us dictates everything that will happen to us!” you say, in obvious frustration. There isn’t enough time left in the session to delineate exactly how free will is just an illusion or relay the fact that we can only discuss the motivations for any thought or action ex post facto. That’s an eighty-four dollar conversation that will have to wait until next time, if there is a next time.

“What if the illusion is that the present exists?” you say. You aren’t sure if this is an argument you want to see through to the end, but you’re sure it’ll piss off Dr. Drug Dealer, hopefully leading him to believe you’re crazy and start working the ol’ pen and paper in unison. Let’s try something new, you think. “What if the only units of time by which we can contemplate the present are too short to even contain one singular thought? What then? It’ll already be the future before the thought has finished occuring and the past will be where it began. Then the only real illusion will be the present, because let’s face it, this ‘work on oneself’ only matters in the future. If it matters at all.

It seems like he’s waiting you out, like a mother waiting for her infant son to finish crying on his own so everyone can return to rationality.

“So? What about that?” you ask.

Dr. Drug Dealer stares at you as you rotate your arm in a ‘wax-on’ motion, wrapping the tug o’war rope around your wrist and up your arm, inching him ever closer to the croc-moat, to his sudden and gruesome demise. Kill him, you think. There’s something in here with his signature on it. You can forge it. You can write yourself scripts for Ambien and Lexapro and Xanax and Wellbutrin and Effexor and that one for the smoking that makes you want to kill yourself as a side effect. Just take it, you think. Wanting to kill yourself is a side effect of life, anyway. And the Valium. Lord, please, the Valium. You can’t forget the Valium. The brand names drip off your tongue and collect in a little bowl that is the alphabet soup of corporate America. They blend with Air Jordan and iPad and Mustang and Blackwater or whatever they call that mercenary company now. All you have to do is pull him into the moat and let the crocodiles tear him limb from limb, covering his yellow-stain shirt with viscera, engaging him fully in the present moment by erasing his past and future and planting him fully in a short, fleeting physical reality with no extant moment but his sad and painful ‘now’.

“That’s our time for today,” he says, in a calm so deeply normal that you realize he’s no longer tugging and you’re merely contesting ground which no one else even wants to walk upon. “File says you should still be good on everything for another ten days, so I’ll see you next Friday and we can discuss medications then.”

A sharp and cutting rage slices through you, signaling a defeat of agonizing proportions. How can it be that just an hour ago, Moses parted the seas of the 101 freeway just for your driving pleasure and now this Ph.D.’d pussy spends the last hundred and sixty-eight dollars slapping you down. Fuck you, Universe. Fuck you, present.

He’s just mad that you know more about his job than he does. How can he correct the flaws in your existence when you understand the human condition so much more fully than he ever could? He lives in books. You live with the people. All the people. Thousands of them. You know them. Their experiences teach you far more than some rats in mazes ever could.

“I’m out of Ambien and Xanax,” you plead. “And Valium.”

“You’re not supposed to be. If you’ve run out, then you’re not following the specific dosage instructions I gave you. If you’re not following the instructions, then I can assume you’re treating the drugs recreationally, and that’s not what they’re here for. That’s not what I’m here for.”

You had a stressful week. It’s not your fault. Does he know how long it takes to replace leather upholstery ruined by heel-inflicted stab wounds? Does he know how stressful it is to listen to a blacked out model tell you she hates you and loves you in intrinsically warring motivations, batting each other back and forth like the Newton’s Cradle from Skymall that your dad had on his office desk, click-clacking as he shot golf balls into a coffee mug while verbally destroying mid-level management on a headset telephone? No, he doesn’t.

“A stressful week isn’t helped by overdosing.”

“I didn’t overdose!” you blast back in frustration, standing as you slap your chest, proving your physical fortitude. “I’m here, obviously. I’m fine, obviously. I needed to relax and I needed to sleep. We’ve talked about this.” The crocodile is eating your arm. You pull away, missing everything below the elbow on your left side. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

“You’re supposed to regulate your behavior. That’s the point. What good is any of this if you refuse to regulate your behavior? Those medications are there to help you. They’re not magic. You need to follow the dosage.”

You shake your head. Doesn’t he know that he rents the office space from your father? Doesn’t he know that with one call you could have him out on the streets… maybe?

The small green square on the wall lights up. His next patient is there in the waiting room. On time. He probably always is. You aren’t leaving until you get what you came for. “My dad owns this building. You pay him rent. Do you really want to fight about this?”

“Do you think your father is unaware of our arrangement?”

You put your hands on your hips, indignant. “What happened to medical privacy? What happened to patient confidentiality?” you stammer.

“You know those security cameras on the outside of the building?” he asks. “What do you think is on the other end of those?”

You slump back down in your chair. Your father owns the castle. And the moat. And the rope. The crocodile is gnawing at your abdomen. It spits out your tired, useless liver and goes back to work.

“Listen,” Dr. Drug Dealer says, full of pity and scorn. He’s embarrassed for you, you think. “I’ll write you up for three days worth. You need to stretch them over the week. Make them last. Only take them when you need them. Okay?”

“Three days? That’s not even worth waiting in line at the pharmacy for.”

“Well, have it your way.”

“Wait,” you say. “Just write it. Fine.”

D.D.D. presses pen to paper, giving you what you came for, or at least a piece of it. It’ll have to do. He rips the paper from the pad and hands it over. You take it with your good hand.

“I don’t know why I bother with this. I have a hundred friends that could just sell me this shit.” This is your attack. This is supposed to bother him. He doesn’t care. He’s had this conversation thousands of times. He’s your only shrink, but he’s had hundreds of patients over the years. This is how that nineteen-year old felt after that crazy night last June, you think. Insignificant. Powerless. A piece of a fraction of a story – a story that you strain to remember but one she won’t forget. It’s a numbers game.

“If you feel like this is a waste of your time, you’re welcome to not come back. Remember, though, if you plan to cancel, I need twenty-four hours notice. Otherwise I’ll see you next Friday at noon.”

You stand to walk out. Dr. Drug Dealer restrains the crocodile on a leash that, you only now notice, he’s been holding the whole time. The crocodile licks his lips and smiles. He gives a small nod in some cosmic ‘thank you’ for volunteering to be the body and blood and sacrament. You check your insides and pull your Ray Bans back on, twisting the cheap doorknob and exiting from the flourescent office to the flourescent hall with the cheap grey carpet that was thinning down the center and threading along the walls. Get out, you think. Get the fuck out of here.

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Happy Mask

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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.”

“Yeah.”

“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.

 

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Fountain

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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.”

“C.”

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.

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Reflexes

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All my exes
Live in reflexes
In the sweet, soft, singing
Stinging
Terrible scent
Cascading
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
Wasted
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

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