My time at the Warrior Dash, Part I

24 Apr

I arrive at the Texas Motor Speedway, where Warrior Dash participants park before being bused to the vast forest that contains the obstacle course. The lot is massive.

Once parked, I go through my backpack to make sure that I have everything I will need for the day. Inside my backpack there are two bananas, a towel.

“Ready to go,” I say. I wrap the bananas in the towel and do a little joke to myself where I pretend the wrapped bananas are a Tree Man penis and I yell and scream about God’s cruelty, then laugh a little bit, toss the bundle into my backpack and get out of the car. I smile and wave at a group of white people all wearing the same pink t-shirts all looking at my car and seeming very upset. They asked me what is wrong with me. I say I’m deficient in vitamin DASH then swing my leg wildly at the biggest member of the group. It’s my high-kick, so it goes just above the level of the man’s knee. He turns his body slightly and I miss by a mile.

“Wink” I say, then run off.

I run toward a line of empty buses awaiting boarders.

“Before you get on the bus,” a large woman in a Warrior Dash shirt marked VOLUNTEER on the back yells, “You need to get a wrist band from one of these two men.”

“Sir? Are you competing?” One of the men asks me.

“Hardly competing,” I say. “For that, I’d need competition.” I wink at a girl who is not looking at me.

“If you want to run, we gotta put one of these on you.” He holds up handful of lime green wrist bands. I put out my right hand and he puts a wrist band on me.

We get on the bus. I’m transported to The Hunger Games. I’m transported to Battle Royale. I’m transported to a half-dozen Holocaust films. I imagine we are all being shipped out to some work camp or some blood-soaked arena. I begin to look for allies in the seats around me. I see a young Asian man who seems to be around my age. He also appears to be alone. I think about us–together.

I nod to him and he looks at me blankly and leans to talk to the guys in the seat in front of him. Ah. I see. He’s not alone at all. He has friends. I’m thrown into a maelstrom of sadness. I feel so lonely. I miss him already. I think about the times we spent together.

“And like, I don’t fuckin’ care, girl. Get your pants and get out!” He says, then he and his friends in front of him cackle and look at their smartphones. I think about how much of an ass hole he is and how glad I am that all my memories of him are just memories of Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash.

The bus’s brakes scream and as we stop I can hear the its tires rumbling across gravel.

“Work camp,” I say. I hope I get a cool job in the work camp. I hope I can be the work camp’s graphic designer.

We get off the bus. My foot hits the ground and I am in a dystopian nightmare. I see no grass, only white dust and gravel under my feet. In the distance I see a macabre carnival, and beyond that, the high treeline like the battlement of a city wall. There is a far-off, rhythmic thrum, as if we are in the belly of some terrible beast, overhearing his beating heart. People are walking around covered in mud, hunched from fatigue and the weight of their soaking clothes. I remember that I need to put on sunscreen.

I step out of the thickest of the foot traffic, to a small shaded area by one of the barricades meant to keep visitors from wandering from the main area of the competition. I oil my body. My shoulders, my breasts. My tummy and my neck. In between my fingers. The top of my butt crack. The between of my fingers again. My ear lobes. Eye lashes and the underside of my left nostril. My thighs. The tops of my feet. All of my toenails.

I walk back out into the sun like I invented the sonofabitch.

There are signs directing me to a large plaza that resembles an old-world marketplace. I approach the area where patrons are given their shirts and tracker chips and–

“Tracker chips?” I ask the man handing out the packets.

“Yes, to track your time.”

“And what else?!” I smack the table. He jumps.

“And how fast you run.”

“Track this,” I say, then shake the chip really fast. “Hope that didn’t throw off your calibrations.”

“It didn’t,” he says. The guy before me pushes forward and tells the man his name. I walk away to check my backpack in.

The tent to check your bag in resembles the tent where I got my packet and tracker chip. The man working there is a portly Hispanic gentleman who is very sweaty, but seems in high spirits. We exchange pleasantries and I drop my backpack off there.

I wander about the complex, wondering what lay ahead. Survival is victory. Victory is survival.

To be continued.

Zoo Days

12 Apr

“You wanna go to the zoo?” my sister asks via text.

“YES” I scream, via throat.

I pull up to the zoo. There is a man directing drivers into the entrance. I roll down my window and demurely reach out for a high five that is not returned. I pull forward and through the opening gates. There is a portly Asian woman there taking money. I’d like to drive past her, but it’s bumper to bumper, and I cannot.

She motions me to roll down my window. I glare up at her.

“Not interested, lady,” I say, my window staying down.

“Porking. Porking,” she says.

“Yeah, I know what you’re wanting and I’m saying ‘no.'”

She looks to a man in a booth who looks at me. He walks toward the car and tells me to roll my window down. I sigh and look down at my phone. It’s 11:15. I was supposed to meet my sister and her son and kids of one of her friends here fifteen minutes ago.

“I don’t have time for this,” I say as I roll my window down.

“Whadaya mean you don’t have time for this?” the man asks.

“My record is like two minutes including tear down and set up,” I say.

“What?”

“If I don’t take my clothes off we can finish in about a minute, but you don’t want that,” I look her over. “And I’m not sure I want that either. These jeans are tight and kind of a chore to remove, especially when its warm out and I’ve worked up a little bit of a sweat.”

“Guy, what are you talking about?”

“It’s like they’re painted on,” I rub my thighs with a strained look on my face.

“No, what’s the issue with my attendant here?”

“Porking. She wants to pork me.”

“Oh my gosh!” she says, hands the man her stack of bills and walks away. There are honks behind me. The man looks back nervously.

“She said parking.”

“Oh, parking. How much?”

“Seven dollars.”

“Seven dollars? Huh. Now I sort of wish she had been talking about porking. Might have done it for seven.” I hand the man my money, give him a big smile, and drive into the lot.

I text my sister and she tells me she’s in the children’s zoo. I laugh, imagining a zoo full of children and how much that’s what everyone really wants. Everyone but children. I try to convey this through a text message:

haha.think about mason in a cage.

Two minutes later I get this response.

y would i want to think about that? ur sick. where are you?

Touched by my sister’s concern, I text back.

I am lost as fuck.

And I truly am. The map is cartoonish, the exhibits’ dimensions exaggerated to appeal to children. There is a lion’s head bursting from the feline area. I try to use the map for some time, walking back and forth past the only landmarks I can find, but eventually I give up, because the whole map is wrong. Just south of useless. I blow my nose on it and throw it in the trash.

“Hey you can’t do that!” a man yells to me. “Animals live in there!” I laugh and spit my gum out into the trash can. An ape waddles over and picks it up and puts it in its nose. I laugh hysterically and lean over the guard rail to punch him, swing wide, then laugh some more and walk to find my sister.

I find them in the bug area.

“You guys are bugging me!” I yell. The little girls she is babysitting look very sad and shocked when I say this.

My sister sees their dismay and tells them “That’s my brother, Kyle. He’s just kidding.”

“Oh, okay,” the older of the two girls says. The young girl is named Sarah and the older Kennedy.

We walk to the hippo tank.

“Look at those!” the Sarah says. Her hair is golden and thin and it bobs up and down as she hops, gesturing at the hippopotamus.

“Oh no,” I say, covering my mouth. The girl and her sister look up at me. “Those poor, sick cows.”

“What?” Sarah asks.

“These are cows that have contracted a terrible, terrible illness. I must move on.” I walk about ten feet from the tank and begin texting my friends.

“That’s not true girls,” my sister says.

The five of us continue, my nephew now in a stroller because I imagine having him walk around among the throng of people, the innumerable sweaty, fat legs strolling around, obscuring him, for my sister, must be like when I set my wallet down the bar while I’m paying the barman for my drink. It’s terrible. Everyone becomes the Enemy.

He does not want to be in the stroller and he makes sure that we all know it. He cries and whines.

I kneel down in front of the stroller.

“Would you like me to fight you?” I ask him. I look deadly serious, but I’m not. “Because that’s the only way you’re getting out of the

str–”

“Kyle!” my sister yells. I wave her off dismissively.

“The only way you’re getting out of this stroller is through me. Do you understand?”

His gaze is like slate. His eyes are wide and awestruck. The power he must imagine he sees.

“Yesh,” he says.

I nod solemnly.

“You’ve made the right decision here today, boy.” We lock eyes for a few more seconds.

“Cheese?” he asks, holding out his hand.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes. You may have cheese.” I stand and look at my sister. “Get this boy some cheese,” I say. I bend my back, stretching. “I’m going to go look at the warthogs. Got some Lion King itches I have to scratch.”

We go to the warthogs. They are as warthoggy as ever. I lean over the parapet and look down at them.

“I can’t believe all these dogs made it,” I say, loud enough for a crowd of  nearby children to hear.

“These aren’t dogs,” one little boy says.

I sigh. “Not anymore, I guess. Now they’re just sort of–things.” A mom notices me talking to her son and the ghost of Chris Hanson hovers nearby, out of my range of vision, drawing her toward me. I go on. “A whole bus-ful of dogs, going to the dog museum. They crashed into the acid factory.” The mother, who resembles a snowman of brown leather, begins to lumber toward us. “Terrible news, okay I’m going now.” And as I walk away I can hear the mother asking her son what I told him. He says something about dogs and acid and I walk faster so I can’t hear her reaction.

I reunite with my sister and the kids by the elephant area. A portion of the viewing area is blocked off by large tree trunks. A small crowd is gathered around the area because some of the elephants are peeking through the trees. One is showing his butt to everyone. I decide this elephant is my favorite and take a picture. I look around at all the people, a child-like grin stretched across my face. I want him to poop so badly.

But he doesn’t.

As we walk from the elephants to the big cats area, it becomes clear that the kids are tired. And I’m a little tired too.

“Should we call it a day?” my sister asks.

“I think we should.”

They leave and I sneak off to try to punch that gorilla again.

Consume Me, Part 2

15 Mar

I follow Katie, the small brown headed woman in charge of the study, down the hall. She leads me to an office, glass doors and walls of which have been covered by a series of black and blue tarps.

“Looks like a scary circus tent,” I say. Katie laughs.

“I assure you, there’s nothing scary in here.”

She opens the door and gestures for me to enter. I do. Inside the room there is a table and on that table there are four undershirts and four pairs of men’s underwear.

They tell me that I have to try on each undershirt and pair of underwear and then write down how I feel about each based on comfort, support, the feel of the fabric, etc.

“So just put them on, walk around, see how you feel in them. We had a guy earlier that said he sat down and stood up with them on to see how they’d move. Just move around so you know how they’ll feel in real life.”

I scan the underwear and undershirts, my brow furrowed. Without looking at either of the women, I ask “Can we clear the hallway, please?”

They look at each other. The blonde says “We assure you, Mr. Irion, you are totally unseen in here. It’s private. No one can see in.”

“Or see out,” I respond, my voice gravelly. I turn and glare at each of them. They don’t know what to do with this statement and neither do I.

“Why do you need the hallway cleared?” Katie asks.

“Sprints,” I say. “I do those from time to time, in my life.”

“Oh, you work out?” the blonde viper says, her tone suggestive and dripping with suggestiveness, as if to suggest something to me.

“I occasionally run very quickly to and from places,” I respond. “And that’s all I’ll say on the matter.”

The yellow-haired woman continues to look at me. Things are getting tense and I’m moments from bolting for the door when Katie interrupts.

“Okay, so we’ll leave and let you get to work.”

They leave and I get to work on the underwear and undershirts. I try on each shirt and each wear and move about the room slowly, gracefully. I jump around and hoot and scream and I trip the table over and throw myself against the walls. All the items hold up well. Several knocks by the women go unanswered, as I am working and cannot be disturbed.

The underwear for the most part, support my genitals well. There is only one incident in which my lunch meat rodent slips from a fold in a pair of GAP briefs and I am momentarily chilled. While doing a hand stand, a fight breaks out between my scrotum and taint but I quickly squash the conflict when I squash my scrotum and taint, sending myself into a frenzy of pained moans (meows).

Finally, I walk out of the room. I am wearing every pair of underwear and every undershirt under my regular clothes. I look buff and also like I’m wearing a diaper.

“Kyle, where are the–” Katie scans my frame. “You aren’t supposed to wear them like that. We need them out. We were going to go over each pair individually.”

“There were no underwear in that room,” I say, my nose in the air. Katie sighs.

“If you don’t take those off we can’t pay you. Can you go back in there, remove the underwear and shirts and come back out?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” I say.

I go back into the room. I shut the door. It’s wonewy. 😦

[Editor’s Note: It’s what?]

I remove all the clothes, piece by piece, get dressed and bring the underwear and undershirts in a pile cradled in my arms, into the interview room. I toss them on the table. Katie begins to pick through them.

“Okay, what did you think of these?” she looks down at a clipboard and then to the briefs and then to me.

“I liked them. I just wish they weren’t white. I felt silly putting those on.”

“Why is that?”

“Because they’re white and only children and the fat and indolent wear white briefs.”

The blonde one and Katie both scribble on their notebooks.

Katie begins to pick through some more until–

“What are these?” she asks, lifting a pair of underwear from the pile. They are yellow and have the phrase “Don’t go there!” embroidered on the crotch and “Wanna hear a secret?” embroidered on the rear.

“Oops!” I say, leaning forward, snatching them from her hand then violently tucking them into the front of my jeans. “Those were my underwear.”

“You put your underwear in with the rest?” the blonde wretch says. “I thought I smelled something strong,” she looks at me again with suggestion.

“Please stop,” I whisper.

“So I think we’re done,” Katie says. “If you want to go head on to the front desk, we’ll get your gift cards.”

They got me my gift cards and told me thanks for coming. The blonde one shook my hand and then tried to make me spin her like in ball room dancing. I pulled my hand free, pushed her to the ground, and ran for the elevator.

Consume Me, Part 1

10 Mar

Have you ever bought a consumer good? Seems like a good enough idea, doesn’t it? You need things, and things are rarely free, and you don’t want to steal, do you? (Remember what happened to Aladdin?) [Editor’s Note: Wait, what happened to Aladdin? He found a genie, married the woman of his dreams, and then he was made sultan of Agrabah.] [Kyle’s Note: Yeah, but people kept calling him ‘street rat.’][Editor’s Note: Well, I mean, I guess that would be a little unpleasant.] [Kyle’s Note: He was clearly disturbed by the remark. He sang a song about it.]

A lot of these companies that sell you these goods employ consulting groups to find out what people want–much like in middle school when you’d send your friend over to see if a girl liked you or not or thought you were cute.

Well, these consulting groups in real life actually pay you money for your opinions. You go to a thing called a focus group and they ask you a bunch of questions and, at the end, compensate you for your time. I went to one of these. I was given VISA gift cards totaling $125. The group’s purpose was to look for why men buy certain underwear and undershirts.

The building is tall, lustrous, and modern. It is as if the building itself is attempting to dress for success. Outside it is raining and cool, but too humid for comfort. I’m wearing a jacket, but it’s more to keep the water off of my arms and my shirt than to keep me warm.

I find parking, head upstairs and approach reception.

“I’m here for the focus group,” I say. “About the underwear.”

The receptionist, a woman with thick, masculine features and hair that looks somewhat dour and unkempt for a place as beautiful and put together as this, takes a sip from her large RaceTrac cup of cola.

“I’ve come a little early and was wondering if there are any spots available at an earl–”

“If you’ll just take a seat over there, they’ll come out to get you.” She looks back at her computer.

“Over there?” I ask, gesturing to two strange looking chairs and a coffee table in the corner of the space.

“Yes, over there,” she says. She does not look up to say this.

I pause for a second, because I’m not sure she understands the situation, that I’d like the consulting group to be aware that if there’s a free spot that there’s someone here now to take it, but she’s shut the conversation down so violently, I lose all my gall and pace to the waiting area.

The chairs look like a three-dimensional rendering of a child’s drawing of some brown quadruped. I wish I could be more specific, but I can’t. Children are by nature terrible artists–their tiny hands and lower-to-the-ground vantage points make it difficult for them to execute still-life art that are acceptable to adult tastes.

I scan the room. I look over to the receptionist and cough loudly. She looks over at me.

“Whoever did the lighting out here must hate school,” I say.

“Why do you say that?” she asks.

“Because it’s all recessed!” I deliver this line with perfect comedic timing and enough charisma to make a circus clown blush. All of this is lost on the receptionist as her eyes bounce around from fixture to fixture.

“Yes,” she says, then returns to her work.

The room really is lovely. The floors are marble, the walls made up of panels of dark wood that stand out from the wall. Between these panels lie lines of brushed silver. There is a kind of awning over reception of fogged glass. The far wall–the wall to the right of reception–is a large window, looking out into a network of highways, where hundreds of cars are lined bumper to bumper, the long string of headlights looking like an asteroid belt against the blue-gray colors of the overcast day.

I look down at my shabby attire. Brown Levi’s, a beaten-up charcoal jacket, a gray v-neck that was given to me. Even the book I’m reading is used and ratty. I feel under-dressed. This feeling is only amplified when I see an employee of the consulting group walk by, immaculately dressed, who seems younger than I am. It’s more than under-dressed, really. I feel outclassed. I feel like I am in a place where I do not belong. I feel like the hired help. I am the test subject. It feels terrible.

Another man walks in, whose appointment is before mine. He speaks briefly to the woman at reception and then sits down. He is wearing a black ribbed v-neck and basketball shorts. I don’t understand this. I just do not understand this. It’s like his top half is headed out for drinks and his bottom half is–I don’t know, going to play basketball. The point is that he looks like shit. His hair is spiked up and his goatee neatly trimmed, so I know that this guy is in fact not going to play basketball. He’s lying to me via his attire. I am going to fight him, I decide. I am going to fight him and then I’m going to pick him up, dust him off, and tell him that when he’s out doing business, he should at least be wearing pants.

He asks me if I’m here for the study.

“No, I’m just here to hang out,” I say, then offer a smile to show that I’m kidding. He chuckles. Then I drop the smile to catch him a little off guard. His chuckle drops off and his smile fades. Then I wink and smile, getting him on his guard again. His smile comes back and he nods in understanding. Then I pull my lips back to show all of my teeth make a soft growly noise, to really get him. He is extremely uncomfortable and so am I. I don’t understand why I put myself in this position. I open my book and continue reading. From my peripheral, I can see him looking at me. I ignore him.

Eventually a woman comes out, introduces herself, and leads him to another room.

Half an hour later a man comes into the waiting area. He is extremely bald and extremely Asian and extremely friendly.

“You must be Kyle!” He says. “You’re here a bit early.”

“Yes, I know,” I say, wanting to get out that I had a reason for being so early, that I wanted to try to get an earlier spot, but I don’t get the chance because before I can explain, he cuts me off.

“Can I get you a drink?”

“Sure. What are your specials?” I ask, smiling, still thinking that jokes are good.

“Specials?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not sure. Do you think water is special?” he pauses and looks to the ground. “No, water isn’t very special. Water is everywhere.” He seems genuinely troubled by this, and I regret making the comment I did.

“Hey, I was j–”

“Is Coke special? Is that how consumers see things now? Special or not special?”

“No, I–”

“What if I put water in the Coke? Would that make it more special?”

“A little whiskey in the Coke would, I think,” I say, winking.

“My father died of liver disease,” the man half whispers, his mouth arcing to a slight frown.

“Oh my gosh,” the receptionist says, glaring and shaking her head at me.

“How could you say that?” the man in the basketball shorts yells from down the hall, only his head sticking out of the doorway of the interview room. This all seems terribly unfair.

“This all seems terribly unfair,” I say. “How was I supposed to know your–” I turn from him to the receptionist “–his–father died of alcoholism?”

“Compassion,” she whispers. “The Lord.”

I roll my eyes and turn to the Asian man. He is gone.

“Where the Hell did he go?” I ask, getting a real Black Swan vibe from the moment.

“He ran home,” the receptionist says.

“I hope there’s a bottle of water at home,” I respond, then return to my seat. “And I hope he comes back from home with it and gives it to me.” I flip open my book, feeling a little unsure of myself. Wondering if the last bit was really necessary.

After an hour or so, one of the women come out to get me. She is short and petite, with short and petite hair and a short and petite face. “Kyle?” she asks.

“Kyle,” I respond.

“I’m Katie. Welcome! Thanks for coming!”

“My pleasure,” I say. “Although I hope you also find it a pleasure when I come.” I deliver this line then want to throw up from embarrassment.

“Yes, I’m happy you’ve come here,” she says, now trying to avoid the double any possible innuendo.

I go down a hallway with small offices on either side. The doors are glass as well as the walls facing the hall.

The woman slides one of the doors back and ushers me into one of the offices.

Inside the office is a small table and three swivel chairs. On the table are two spiral-bound notebooks and next to each notebook is a very expensive-looking pen. One of the chairs is occupied by an unattractive blond woman in her fifties. She is wearing glasses that appear slightly tinted, obscuring her eyes. She may be cross-eyed. I realize that the tinted lenses may be a way to obscure her disfigurement from other people. It might actually be backfiring though, because the tinted lenses seem to draw attention to her eyes rather than away from them. Her teeth look like the bellies of schooling fish, gray-white and glistening, one running onto the other.

“Well,” she says as I sit. “Do you know why we’re here?”

“Oh, I don’t think anyone knows, really,” I say in complete honesty. While looking into her frightful visage, I couldn’t help but contemplate my own feeble mortality.

She makes a kind of click sound from the back of her throat, then Katie interjects. “Um, I know–and Sheila knows. We know why we’re here.” She gets opens one of the notebooks. “Did Stephen not tell you what we were doing today?” Stephen is the man from the consulting agency who contacted me. Now that I’m looking away from the blonde harridan, my mind clears and I realize what they were talking about.

“Oh! Like the study. Yes. Yes, I know why we’re here.” I lean back in my chair and I ease into a reclined posture. I cross one leg and fold my hands over my lap.

“Good,” Sheila says, smacking the table. She smiles at me with her broad, toothy, slimy grin and seems to look into me too deeply and I’m suddenly aware that I did not see the man in the basketball shorts leave.

Katie sits down and each of them pick up their fancy pens. The pens are thick and black and get bigger towards the back. There are tiny display screens at the end that seem to be keeping time. They write down my name and the time.

“We’re using digital pens that save our notes digitally so we can put them on the computer later.”

“Ah.”

“And Kyle, for better record keeping, we sometimes record the interviews. Do you mind if we record this?”

Pushed in to the adjacent corner, sits another table with a camcorder set up and several small objects covered by a torn black trash bag. I imagine that they have cut the guy before me into little pieces and put him under there, filming it all the while. I start getting hard.

I nod and Katie stands, points the camcorder at me, and presses record. A small red light appears and I wink into the camera’s black eye.

Without moving my gaze from the camera, I begin:

“It seemed like kind of a weird situation. I mean, talking about underwear? In front of a couple of women old enough to my grate grandmother?”

“I’m forty,” the blonde hag says.

“I’m thirty two,” the brown headed petite one says.

“They randomly say their ages, although nobody asked them–” now I turn to each of them “–how the hell old they are because nobody gives a shit how old a bottle of wine is if it tastes like cow piss and looks like a furless Shar-Pei puppy.”

“You’re mixing your similes,” Katie whispers, her eyes downcast.

The room is quiet except for the ticking of a clock on the wall. In order to do everyone a favor, I begin breathing heavily through my nose–to fill the awkward silence.

“Okay, Mr. Irion, I think we should just get started.”

“So do I, I say,” I say. Then we begin.

Breakout

2 Mar

My hands are cold. It is 2021. The President is white again. Snooki retains a modicum of fame and no one has seen “The Situation” in years. People are eating carbs unapologetically. No one gives a shit about high fructose corn because now all corn is high fructose corn, so ingredients lists just say “Corn Syrup,” which isn’t nearly as scary.

I am grizzled. My chin-beard, which for most of my life has resembled that of a 13 year-old boy’s, now has more black hairs than blonde hairs and from a distance you might really think I have hair on my face, or you might think I fell down and my face got rolled around in soot. The skin under my eyes is puffy. Even on my best days, I look like horribly sleep deprived.

I walk into the train yard. Across the yard there is a group of bums circled around a metal barrel, an orange glow flickering from its belly. I am hungry. I consider approaching the bums, but as I get closer, I see that one of the bums is Benji Madden, former member of Good Charlotte. He is attempting to trade songs for food. I hear a snippet of one of his sample songs and recognize it as a Boxcar Racer song. One of the bums calls him out on this, saying that it isn’t his song. Benji says that sure it is, that he’s Tom Delong and this breaks my heart.

I continue past them, pulling up my collar and avoiding eye contact. None of them speak to me. That’s fine.

Behind the train depot is a large hangar where the old cars are stored. There is a set of tracks that run up to massive doors. I pull at the doors, but they won’t move. I pull again, really meaning it this time, really trying to show the doors that I’m serious, but they don’t buy it.

I walk around the corner and find a door propped open by a cinder block. I pull the door back and instead of moving the block, step over it, in case the unstopped door would lock me in. A long plank of light from the cracked door lays across the vast, open building. The walls are covered in small holes. They resemble the night sky. I see a raccoon rummaging through an overturned trash can.

“Toilet cat,” I say. This is the name I invented for raccoons. They hate it.

The raccoon looks up at me. His black, beady eyes of indeterminate emotion or focus. He is like, if in Kitty School, he is the retarded kitty. He is the kitty that you only see from time to time walking down the hall with other kitties of similar appearance, some of which using little kitty wheel chairs and walkers. The animal looks at me and I stare back, sure that to him (or her), I appear equally as strange.

I turn away from the animal and continue walking to where the old engines are stored. I see them in the distance. From far away, they resemble upturned refrigerator boxes or a trailer park at night. The air is dank and stale and makes me feel old. I exhale sharply and walk toward the rusted boxes.

“Thomas?” I call out. I’m walking between two of the rusting hulks and I can smell their metal and there’s another smell, something more sickly sweet, and I know that this is the smell of humans.

“Thomas!” I call out again. There is scurrying in several of the boxes and I can only assume there’s some absentee father named “Thomas” in one of these cars. I remind myself to come back later, find this man, and say “You Thomas?” And when he says yes, say “She’s dead, Thomas,” then walk off without saying another word.

Before I call out again, I see him. Sitting in a faded blue, rust clumping around his axles as if he was sinking into the floor. He is not facing me, but I know he is aware of me. I pass along his left side and then I’m standing in front of him. He’s looking away from me, abject.

“Thomas. Why didn’t you answer me?” I ask.

“I didn’t want you to see me this way.”

“What way?” I ask. I place my hand lightly on his cheek. I’m surprised by how cold it is.

“Old.”

“You’re not old, Thomas,” I say. “You just need a paint job. You just need some rust removed.”

Thomas cranes his neck to view as much of his body as possible. He cannot. Trains do not have necks. Instead, he looks to a plate of glass standing against a rusted fuel drum and seems unsurprised by his ragged appearance. I follow his gaze, walk to the plate of glass, and toss it across the room. It shatters and there’s a scurrying of more vagrants.

“Lots of vagrants in here,” I say.

“There are like six in me right now,” Thomas says. I get a broom, walk into Thomas’s cabin, and scare the vagrants away. They scatter like cockroaches under a light. I come back out and stand in front of Thomas.

“We’re getting you out of here,” I say. “I loved you as a boy and I love you now. You meant too much to my generation to just sit here and rot.”

“But how?” Thomas asks. He shrugs a bit and I can’t help but cringe as his rusted joints creak into the echo chamber of the depot. “I’m too rusted.”

“Oh, I think I know a way to get you out.” I take off my shirt, throw the lid off of the old fuel drum, dip it in and drop it to the ground. It falls in a wet plop. I then walk to a shelf of tools, find a book of matches and return to the scene. I drop to my knees, light the shirt ablaze and begin chanting low. After a few repetitions, my voice no longer sounds like my own. My face turns up to the sky and all that can be seen are the whites of my eyes as all the light in the room vanishes, as if my eyes have absorbed it all.

Suddenly Thomas’s whistle blows and the sound is as if it is coming from everywhere. His eyes and mouth burst open and a brilliant light escapes them. The light warms me and the air smells sweet.

“Thomas!” I call. “Thomas!”

From the conductor’s booth I hear the voices of George Carlin, Billy Mays and Richard Karn. They leap from the booth and bend to rub their beards all over the rusted axles and wheels.

When the three of us explode from the depot, the vagrants outside are gone, the trash and wreckage are gone. They might have all died, I don’t know. I don’t know what happens to vagrants. I’m so happy, I’m moved to tears, but we’re moving so fast, the wind whips them away before they hit my cheeks.

See You Later, Little Buddy

22 Feb

Here’s this man: 

“This man”–as you called him [Editor’s Note: You called him that.]–is my friend Patrick. He’s a man with a name. and He used to have long hair like this until he got it cut.

Guess he got tired of having a haircut that made women feel like they should button their top button, that made men feel like they need to tap their back pocket to make sure their wallet was still there, that made dogs and feral cats feel like they found a buddy.

A photograph from Patrick’s graduation.

Well, Patrick lives in Tel Aviv where he’s studying the Middle East. He’s been gone for five months and came back for a few days recently. It should be noted that I love Patrick and he is one of my very favorite people on this Earth.

I’m laying in bed watching a movie with my girlfriend–Drive. By that I mean I’m watching the film Drive with my girlfriend. My girlfriend is not the movie Drive. If I were to date a movie it wouldn’t be one in which every second makes me want to do cocaine off of something people don’t normally do cocaine off of.

A dog’s snout.

A sirloin steak.

A male relative’s belly.

On the television screen is a still image of Ryan Gosling looking somber about something. I have paused the film.

“Okay, so this does or does not relate to The Notebook in some way?”

“It does not,” Courtney says.

“Oh what crap,” I say, pressing the power button on the remote control and tossing the remote onto the floor.

Just then, my phone rings. It rings with a sound I have not heard in some time. It’s Pat’s favorite song–a loop of an elderly man saying the phrase “Struttin’ that ass.”

I lift my phone and look at the screen. It says “Patrick Strickland,” but it cannot be. I sit up in my bed and slowly put the phone to my ear.

“Hello?” I say. The ring blares into my ear. I pull the phone back, press the “Answer” button and place it at my ear again. “Hello?”

“Kyle?”

I say nothing.

“Kyle? Hello?”

“Who is this? How did you get my number?”

“It’s in my phone.”

I turn to Courtney. I mouth “Get my gun.”

She mouths “___” because she has fallen asleep.

“What have you done with Patrick? Is this the Mujaheddin? Is this Terror? Am I being Terroristed?” I begin to fumble about in my room, looking for my passport.

“What is ‘terroristed’?”

“HA!” I blare. I don’t know what ‘terroristed’ is, either.

“Kyle, it’s me, Pat. I’m back in town.”

My heart swells. “My dearest son. My beautiful child. The hairy watermelon of my loins.” I lean forward, listening very carefully for how Pat responds.

“Daddy,” he responds. This is the keyword. The countersign is correct.

“Hey man!” I say. “I didn’t know you were back!”

“I am, I got back in today.”

“Let’s meet up!” I say.

“Sure, but wh–” I’m so excited, I throw my phone against the wall before he can finish. I raise my blinds, throw open my window and jump out.

Courtney, confused by my actions says “____” because she’s still asleep.

Pat and I meet up at Lou’s–a local tavern we frequented together when we were younger and had much longer hair and so much more hope.

We talk of the old days and the new days and the days ahead. It’s odd. So much seems to have transpired in the six months since he left. I fill him in on my brief attempt at graduate school, my reasons for leaving. He fills me in on the new woman he’s seeing and seems completely content, sure that he’s chosen the right path.

I was going to make this longer, but I don’t really want to. This is all just a 658-word goodbye to my friend, Pat. I’ll miss you, comrade.

Letter to Myself as an Old Man

13 Feb

A long time ago, I wrote a letter to my childhood self. Now, I’d like to write a letter to my old man self. Here it is.

Old man self. How are you? How is your health? How are your bi’s and tri’s and do your jeans still hug your quads when you go up stairs in a way that makes you feel like a big man who could kick a tree over if he wanted? I hope so. I hope you’re still healthy, at least.

I hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with you health-wise. Sometimes, I lay up at night, worrying that somewhere in me, dormant, lie the seeds of my end. Whatever’s going to kill me is most likely in my blood right now as I write this letter. It was in me when I was born, and it was in the various cells that were put together by robots that helped me become a screaming pink loaf nine months later. I don’t want to get too much into that, though. The rabbit hole and such.

Do you still have friends? I’m sure you do. I hope you do. How many of them are left? I’ve always assumed I would be the last of all my friends to die–it just seemed right, I guess. I take good care of myself; I exercise and eat right, but I stress a lot and I’ve been known to drink a bit of whiskey, so who knows. Maybe I’ll be the first to go. Maybe I’ll die from something completely unexpected, like a car crash or maybe someone will kill me. Maybe I’ll be jogging and a dog will get loose and rip my throat out. It happens, you know.

I hope you have lots of friends still. But I also sort of wish you don’t, because I’d hate to die before them and not get to squeeze every last drop out with them before I go. I’d hate to leave the table before the meal’s done.

Are you happy? Did you–did we–do a good job? Did we try hard and keep going when we failed and did it all pay out? Am I going to have to find out, years down the line, that the only real pleasure in life is striving for pleasure in life? I hope not. That sounds awful.

I bet you’re happy. I bet you are. I bet you’re happy because you want to be so damn badly that I don’t think you would let anything stand in your way. I hope you’re happy.

Do you have any kids? I think I’d like to have kids. I’ve never seen myself being old without kids. Were they good to you? Did they put you in a home when you got too old? Did they let you stay with them? Is the unconditional love of a parent to a child real? Did any of them test that love? Were you a good parent?

If you do have kids, do you have grandkids? And if you do, do they call you ever? Do they write? I try to do those things, but I don’t do a very good job. It’s strange to think that one day none of my grandparents will be left. By the time I’m your age, they’ll be distant memories. I may not even remember their voices. Their faces will be preserved because I’ll have pictures and all that, but what about their voices? I don’t have video of them. I wonder what my voice will sound like when I’m old.

I think about that stuff. Do you have a gravelly voice? Is it high pitched? Is it softer now?

Did you find love, and did you keep it? Did you find a way to make it last? Did you keep the lesser, more fearful parts of yourself away from it enough that you didn’t squander it? I hope you did.

How many times did you find love? I’d like to think it was just the once, but knowing myself, it might not be. I just hope you were damn sincere the whole time. I hope you thought it through. I hope you didn’t think too much, though.

I hope that when you lay in bed at night, whether alone or beside the woman you love, that I gave you the kind of memories that make you yearn for their repetition. I hope I gave you the kind of memories I would like to have as an old man.

Take care of yourself,

Kyle

My Denton Music Reincarnation: Part 2

30 Jan

Max and I head upstairs. The man at the counter, Jesse Clay Mudbutt Stinkfoot CallmeUncle Perry gives us our free beers. He has hair like an orange tidal wave and a full, thick, neatly-trimmed beard that would make Richard Karn blush. I tell him how happy I am to see him and that maybe we should throw the football around sometime or maybe get a coffee. He tells me that he has a dirty rag in the back that he uses to wipe up bathroom messes and that he’d rather eat that whole than do anything with me. I smile, laugh, then swallow really hard so I won’t start crying.

Moments later, Ryan, the drummer and resident Apple Specialist in Savage and the Big Beat shows up and we drink some more free beers and pretty soon it’s time to play the show.

We set up our gear and start our soundcheck song. Everything sounds good. After a brief introduction from Max, we start our set.

I’m grooving. I’m moving. My music balls are tingling. I look up to the crowd. From the back of the room, people are parting violently. Someone is attempting to storm the stage. A few seconds later, Roy Robertson, the singer for my old band, is standing directly in front of me. Like “Gimme kiss” close. We stop playing.

“What, Roy?” I ask. He’s wearing large sunglasses and his head is jerking around wildly. It’s clear he’s doing a Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles bit.

“Who said that?” Roy asks, his voice soft, but clearly angry.

“Roy. I said that. You know who I am.”

“That Kyle? That Kyle on stage?

“We’re all on stage,” Ryan says from behind his drums. “We’re trying to play a show, man. Can you–”

“Can I WHAT?” Roy barks, “SEE?!” He stumbles over toward the drum set, gingerly stepping over my pedals and a few cables. “Shit all over the ground,” Roy can be heard mumbling. “SEE?!” he repeats, now groping Ryan’s drums.

“Get off the stage!” Someone from the crowd yells.

“Stage?!” Roy asks. “I’m on a stage?” He spins around, acting confused.

I sigh. “Yes, Roy. You’re on a stage and we’re trying to play a show and I’d really like to play this show without you on stage right in my face.”

“Who said dat?!” Roy asks, pointing in every direction.

“Roy, you are not blind!” Max says, the microphone catching his voice, making his frustration that much more apparent.

“Oh I must be blind!” Roy says. “And you know why?” he says, softer now, inching toward me.

“Why?”

“‘Cause my future is so bright–”

“–You need shades. I get it,” I say.

“AND I TRIED TO LOOK AT IT WITHOUT MY SHADES!” He rips off his sunglasses and rolls his eyes over and over again. This is what Roy thinks blind people’s eyes are like when they aren’t hidden by sunglasses.

“Roy. Please, leave.”

“Fine,” Roy says, sauntering around the stage, running his hand down Max’s keyboard, causing a dissonant string of notes that cut into the silent room like shattering glass. “But know that there is no one more Savage then Roy Robertson,” he glares at Max, “And nobody, and I mean nobody has Beats as Big as mine,” he glares at Ryan then reaches into his pocket and throws down three small orbs before turning to me and hissing like a cat. There’s a small explosion and plumes of smoke erupt from the ground.

We all step away from the smoke. There are scattered cries of concern, then one shrill, high-pitched yelp like the death-throes of a cat. I look to the source of the sound. It is Roy, laying on the concrete floor. He tripped over my pedals while trying to escape.

“My face! My beautiful face!” he screams. He rolls onto his back and begins bicycle kicking in my direction. “You did this!” he wails. In no real danger, I step back slightly. Roy quickly gets to his feet. He straightens his jacket, points at each of us, then leaves.

“Okay, well,” Max says into the microphone. He pauses, searching for the next word. “Well,” he says, then starts the first song.

The set goes well. It’s good to be back.

My Denton Music Reincarnation, Part 1.

28 Jan

Somewhere in late May of 2011, I died. The Denton music scene came to a hush, and a great disturbance was felt as the last notes of my tenure with Roy Robertson faded in decrescendo. Standing on stage in my pink tank top, showing my farmer’s tan so that everyone on the floor beneath me knew that I was just a regular guy and not someone to be revered (although they could still revere me if they wanted to), I smiled, knowing that my time was finished and that I had lived a good Denton music life and that my loved ones were taken care of as I went on into my next life, hoping against hope that the good Lord would put me at his side and not in the boiling blood rivers of Hell.

[Editor’s Note: I feel like you lost a handle on your metaphors at the end there.]

[Kyle’s Note: Metafur.]

[Editor’s Note: What’s “metafur” mean?]

[Kyle’s Note: “Metafur” is fur that is aware that it is fur and is also representing fur.]

I looked down at everyone and they looked back at me and a tall, skinny, deaf gentleman tapped his wrist three times then swirled his pointer finger around at me–telling me in sign language that he loved me and would miss my playing.

Then the deaf man came on stage and, miraculously, spoke.

“It’s time to go,” he said. “We need the stage clear.”

And so I cleared the stage–Forever.

Or so I thought.

On January 25th, I played a show with Savage and the Big Beat as their newest member. Below is my account. Beginning present-tense narration.

My girlfriend and I pull up to the venue. We go around back to the loading area, because of all the areas at J&J’s pizza, that’s the best place to load things.

“Can I help you?” She asks, in mock-equal voice. Sometimes we role-play that we’re equals. It’s sexy and turns me on and gets me amped up to play the show.

“Sure,” I say, without the least hint of condescension. I’m imagining that this must make her as wet as a jug of milk that got sprayed with an old garden hose on the Fourth of July.

We get out of my car and I open my trunk. In the trunk is my guitar amplifier.

“Carry this,” I say, breathing heavily. “Can you carry this?” I ask, now leaning on the car for support, because all the blood is pooling in my genitals.

“Um, I guess,” she says. I ejaculate and then immediately lose all desire to be standing by J&J’s talking to this woman who to me suddenly seems like a stranger.

“Okay, just drop that off and I’ll see you later,” I say, grabbing both guitars and heading inside. I throw my keys back in the direction of the loading bay door and continue into the restaurant/venue. I hear my tires squealing and then a scream telling me to go to Hell and I know she’s left.

The performance area inside J&J’s is in its downstairs basement. The loading area leads directly into it. I set my guitars down and walk into the performance area, which is empty except for three or four young men crowded by the stair well that leads to the restaurant upstairs. They are all wearing dark clothes and form-fitting jeans. One sits behind a table, another at the foot of the stairs, and a third leans against a nearby pool table.

“Hello, boys,” I say. They nod. I’m waiting for them to recognize me and welcome me back to the Scene. I smile and put my hands in my pocket. I can hear the muffled sounds of footsteps in the ceiling and a song that I think might be Foxy Lady, but I can’t tell.

“What’s up?” one of them says. It’s the one sitting behind the table set up at the foot of the stairs so they can take people’s money.

“Oh, nothing,” I say coyly, shifting my weight from one hip to another. I smile and look at each one of them, almost bursting with excitement over how great this moment is going to be for them once they realize who I am. One of the men, the one leaning against the nearby pool table, blows a jet of smoke through pursed lips. I imagine this is like in cartoons when they get so angry steam comes out of their ears, but instead it’s that he’s so excited to see Kyle Irion that there’s smoke coming out of his mouth. He then takes a drag off his cigarette and I feel ridiculous.

I take my hands out of my pockets and put them in the position like I’m holding a guitar, hoping to jog their memory. Now their vacant expressions transform into expressions of confusion. I start to strum the invisible guitar.

“What are you doing?” the one with the cigarette asks.

I start to hum my favorite Roy Robertson song, and bounce around a little bit.

“Are you all right, man?” the one behind the table with the stupid ass jar with stupid ass table says. I drop my hands to my side.

“You don’t remember me?” I ask.

They all shake their heads.

“I’m Kyle Irion.”

“Kyle Irion?” one of them asks. The tone of his voice makes me kind of wish he didn’t know who I was.

“I’m not–Yes. I’m Kyle Irion.”

“Who are you?” the one sitting at the foot of the stairs asks, getting to his feet. The question shakes me a bit.

“I’m uh, I’m Kyle Irion.”

“Yeah. But who are you?”

A lump forms in my throat and I look at cigarette man. “You… you know who I am, right? I just told you.”

“Why would I know who you are?”

Because I just told you who I am!” I grab  him by the lapels of his leather jacket. He stinks. He smells like cheap beer and cheap cigarettes and even cheaper ideas. He puts his hands on mine and pushes them down.

“Don’t touch me, man.”

The young man at the table gets to his feet.

“We need your money, guy,” he says, and I immediately see what this is.

“I’m being mugged!” I scream, clutching my hands tightly and bringing them to my cheek.

“No, dude, we need your money. There’s a cover.”

“Even for people in the band?” I ask, a little annoyed.

“You’re in one of the bands?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Which one?”

“Savage and the Big Beat.”

“Which one are you?” he asks. My stomach sinks.

“Which one am I?” I ask, confused again.

“Yeah. Which one? Are you Savage or the Big Beat?” All three of them laugh exactly eight laughs in perfect unison.

“I’m neither. I’m the third-dimension of Savage and the Big Beat.”

“Oh, rad,” the guy on the pool table says. I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic with me or not and my this makes me scared and I want to vomit.

“Yeah. Cool name,  man. The Third Dimension.”

“No. No, that’s not my name, my name is–”

“You’re like The Edge of Denton,” the man on the stairs says. He receives sharp, hot, castigating glares from his friends for knowing who The Edge is.

I force a chuckle, uncomfortable.

“Very cool, Third Dimension,” the man behind the table says. “We just need to stamp your hand so you can come and go.”

“I appreciate that,” I say, putting my hand out for its stamp, “But I’d rather be called by my real name.”

“What’s your real name?” the one at the foot of the stairs says. My heart begins to pound.

“But I just told y–”

Just at this moment, Max Brown–the Savage of Savage and the Big Beat–walks up. He is extremely tall and when I stand next to him all I want is for him to pat me on the head and tell me how proud he is and that he’ll never leave mother.

“Hey guys,” he says.

“Hey Max,” they say. “We just met the Third Dimension, here.” I can feel this moniker solidifying, and syrupy thick misery seeps through my chest.

“No, they met Kyle. They were joking about that being m–”

“Third Dimension!” Max says, patting me on the shoulder, literally inches away from the top of my head. It’s so close. My heart melts and all I want to do is go outside and play catch with him.

I sigh and follow Max as we head upstairs.

Shockwave

14 Jan

I wake up, roll over and turn on my coffee maker. My coffee maker rests on my night stand; I don’t sleep in the kitchen.

I lay in my bed for awhile staring at the ceiling, listening to the coffee maker bubble and growl. My stomach hurts, and I can’t tell if it’s from nerves or if I’m feeling a little hung over from drinking the night before. My brain starts to make  a sort of cause and effect relationship between my anxiety and the hangover, that maybe the anxiety is what caused me to drink in the first place, but something about the thought makes my stomach hurt worse, so I stop.

When the coffee maker wheezes in completion, I roll onto my left side, kick off my blankets, and swing my feet to the floor. It makes me happy to do this for some reason. It makes me feel like I’m athletic.

Although I am not.

I put on some gym shorts and a white t-shirt and go to the bathroom. I urinate, shake the remaining drops from my penis and walk to the mirror while pulling my shorts up. In the mirror, I look fine. Maybe even good. My hair has taken well to my pillow and is shaped in an attractive way that reminds me of a number of famous, young, white actors with bags under their eyes and big, glistening smiles that show off their imperfect teeth. I smile at myself. I don’t like the way I look when I do this, so I straighten my mouth and look some more. My posture is bad and is making me look fatter than I am, so I straighten that out, too. I examine myself and see that everything is good enough.

I turn on the faucet and splash water on my face. Before drying, I look up directly into one of the four light bulbs above the mirror. I feel the tiny muscles in my eyes flex as they adjust to the light. It’s a strange, delicious feeling, like biting the inside of your cheek or sneezing. I dry my face and return to the mirror. I look much older all of a sudden and I don’t remember the transition. I realize that things are much further along than I want them to be. I realize that I have so much longer to go.

I go into my room and drink some coffee, my stomach growling for food. The nausea has been replaced by hunger and I want to take my time and relish in it.

I open up the internet and read a news story about a girl who has died. She had been on a roller coaster ride that malfunctioned, the electro-magnetic brakes not getting enough charge or something like that. I imagine myself in the car with the girl, looking over at her the whole time, the wind making tearing sounds in my ears. I am yelling at her in this image–I’m yelling goodbye and that I hope there’s something after this, don’t you? and I try to reach out for her hand, but the security harness is keeping me pinned. I imagine myself turning my head, looking at the horrified faces of everyone in line as the car blows past them as if there were no stop at all.

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