Side Door, Ajar

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JJ got home, walked onto his side porch, and noticed the door was ajar. He froze. What the hell? Did I leave it like that? Did someone go in there? Is someone still in there? He made himself very still and listened as hard as he could. Insects in the woods and field. A slight breeze in the leaves. A truck in the distance and some leaf blower off to the left, down the hill, near the cemetery. But, what about the house? He thought he heard a creak inside but the house was old. “Old houses settle”, his father had told him when the old house of his childhood unsettled him with its creaks and groans. Then Knuckles the cat slithered through the ajar door and he almost jumped off the porch. His heart pounded. “Fuckin cats,” he said as the cat came over to rub against his legs. He wanted to kick Knuckles but, as he calmed, realized it was good to be with someone.

The listening spell broken, JJ chuckled and reached for the door knob. He must have left it ajar when he rushed out that morning. He was forgetting a lot of things lately. But, before he could open it all the way, a car turned into his driveway and a horn tooted in greeting. JJ squinted at the windshield of an old Toyota or Honda sedan, but the sun glare was strong and he couldn’t see inside. The driver threw something out the window which landed with a thud on the driveway. JJ heard the gears shift to reverse and the car backed away into the road and continued on up the mountain. Now he was torn between opening the door and checking out the driveway package. He knew it was probably a phonebook but, the way it had landed, it sounded weightier, too dense for a mere list of names and numbers that nobody used anymore. Books that land on your driveway with a thud are hard to ignore.

JJ chose the door over the book and opened it, pushing through his unease and stepping over the threshold. He went into the kitchen and saw the remains of his rushed breakfast, English muffin crumbs on a plate and an OJ glass, still on the kitchen table. He knew for a fact now that when he rushed off that morning the latch didn’t engage all the way. The door had popped open from the cat or a breeze. Or some kind of settling.

That morning his cell phone buzzed as he lay in bed warming up to masturbation, that 7-11 cashier with the pink hair and those jeans on his mind. He hadn’t recognized the number and almost didn’t answer it. But, he was trying to do the opposite of what his instincts told him to do these days so he took the call. It was a guy named Kurt he met two weeks ago.

“I need help,” Kurt said.

“Are you OK?” (Did you use? Are you gonna drink?)

“I’m OK but I just found out my sister’s in the hospital and I can’t talk to my family and I need someone to just hang with. You’re the only one who answered.”

“Where are you?”

“Home but I want to go out. I need to go out.”

“OK. How about Dunkin Donuts. Half hour or so.”

“OK, great. That’s good. Thanks. I’ll be there.”

And JJ had pulled on some clothes, made a quick English muffin, had a glass of OJ, brushed his teeth, and rushed out the door, not engaging the latch, thinking of someone else for a change.

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Downing Tote, $168.00

Dear Dave is a series in which I address poor reviews of consumer goods in the advice column tradition of Dear Abby or Dear Sugar. Aren’t most online reviews a cry for help, anyway?

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Dear Dave,

I read over the description of this tote several times and didn’t realize there was no inside pocket. I was disappointed because the leather is so soft and the flat bottom makes this tote useful. There is an attached wallet but that is just too inconvenient for cellphones, etc. The strap length is good — can be easily put over shoulder but also comfy to carry with the handles over the arm. The quality is good. Just one pocket inside would make it perfect.

Love the leather

Louisiana, USA

Dear Love the Leather,

Guess what? Totes, (a strange word for boyfriends, but curiously accurate in many cases), do not always come as advertised. I know you love that so-soft leather. (We usually refer to that as skin.) Flat bottoms are nice, too. (You said “useful” but I’ll leave the utility of a flat bottom to the reader’s imagination.) You may be a little too interested in that attached wallet, however. Chasing the money is not always a good idea. Why do you want to keep your cellphone in his wallet anyway? You certainly have no problem with imagination, Love the Leather, and that’s why I chose your letter out of the thousands I receive. Imagination can be good. Or, not so good. Sometimes we need a mini-vacation from our daily lives in which imagination plays a vital role. I fully support those daily flights of fancy that rejuvenate a tired soul. Maybe a walk in the woods or some quiet time just sitting and daydreaming. Maybe even a little reverie in which our loved ones are our handbags. A little consumerish, maybe, but it’s your fantasy! So, your boyfriend is of good quality and easy to haul around but he won’t hold your cellphone, etc.? I suggest next time he’s draped on your arm to go shopping or see some vapid Rom-Com, you consider his imagination. He may be thinking of something supple with a good bottom as well. And, I guarantee you, strap length is not that important to him. My suggestion: direct your imagination to who he is and away from what he can carry. Oh, and men are not beach bags either. Or clutches. Before you go there.

Best,

Dave

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JJ Prays and Dreams

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A humid summer day. JJ knelt beside his bed and tried to pray. He heard a noise and jumped up, embarrassed, and looked to find the cat peering at him from the door. Good ol’ Knuckles knew something was amiss. JJ threw a balled-up sock and the cat scurried away, but not without a look back at the praying lunatic. After a moment, JJ kneeled back down.

“Dear God,” he began. And there was nothing beyond that.

“Just pretend,” Professor Tom had said. “Say thanks for the day, thanks for a sober day, and wrap it up. Keep it simple.”

That was Tom’s favorite slogan from the pantheon of AA slogans. Keep it simple. Ok, then.

JJ said, “Thanks God. Thanks for helping me today.” Then he jumped to his feet like he was caught doing something cruel on his knees, maybe frying ants with a magnifying glass. Once, at nine or ten years old, he had tormented a frog he found, eventually dropping a rock on it and crushing it. This was observed by his father, who was on him in a flash. His father only hit him twice in his life. That was once, a smack right up side the head that left him sprawled in the grass with his right ear ringing. The other time was when he climbed to the top of a tree and refused to come down for the babysitter. He stayed up there until it got dark and the babysitter had no choice but to rat him out. Later, he sat in his room and listened to his mother outside the door. “You go in there and strap him. Take this belt.”

“Jesus, Karen, he’s just a boy doing stupid shit.”

“Strap him! The whole neighborhood saw him up there. They heard him up there.” His father came in and delivered a lukewarm strapping as JJ jumped on the bed, crying and dodging. He remembered the confusion of being relieved that it wasn’t severe but ashamed of his father’s weak brutality. After all, he had probably deserved many a good strapping.

“Great memories,” JJ said to his empty house. “Praying is wonderful.”

Later, restless and tired, JJ lay back on the couch, tried to read, but dozed off. He dreamed of that summer day, crouching over the rock that covered the dead frog. He knew he was going to lift it but was afraid of what he’d see. When he did lift the rock, there was nothing there, just matted grass. He heard a sound and turned, cringing, thinking his father was going to hit him, but it was just Knuckles the cat, looking at him from under the porch. JJ crawled under the porch and that dream thing happened. He emerged into Grand Central Station, in the big room with the booth in the middle and the vast ceiling with the stars. There were so many people streaming in from train tunnels and mingling in a teeming mass, but he was above the fray, on one of the balconies. Then he saw Lila in the crowd, near the booth, distinct among the strangers. And then he saw his mother, dead now, near the ticket windows and he thought maybe this was some purgatory or parody of heaven.

He woke up, sweaty and befuddled, and found his phone. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Are YOU? You sound far away.”

“I’m ok. I’m good. Just woke from a nap, a little disoriented. A bad dream.”

Lila was quiet for a moment, “JJ, it’s ok. I’m ok. Life is going to be ok.”

“Ok,” he said. “It’s ok.”

“Good. Now wake up and come take me to dinner.”

“Ok. That sounds good.” And it was. It was better than ok. It was just right.

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Pumping Heart Model, $39.99

Dear Dave is a series in which I address poor reviews of consumer goods in the advice column tradition of Dear Abby or Dear Sugar.  Aren’t most online reviews a cry for help, anyway?

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Dear Dave,

Please DO NOT Purchase this product for demonstrating pumping of blood in heart. You may use it just to show a 3D diagram of heart and lungs connection_ but the pumping model does not show the difference in oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood nor does it show how the blood is pumped from one chamber to another and then to the lungs and back accurately (not even remotely accurate). The simulated blood (red-colored water) just flows erratically with NO resemblance to how a heart pumps blood. I wonder who designed, tested and recommended this product!

Heartbroken, Edina, Minnesota

Dear Heart Broken,

Was she really that cold? Could she really have been that heartless? Is she nothing more than a 3D diagram? Methinks you are a bit too…empirical?  Relationships are not science experiments.  No one wants to talk about oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood. That’s a conversation killer, like comparing tree species, describing your school project on tapeworms, or championing the benefits of bleach. When we point the finger at someone, we are really pointing three back at ourselves. Annoying adage, yes. But go ahead and try it. Test that hypothesis. See?  Now, isn’t it YOUR blood that feels like red-colored water? Isn’t it YOUR blood that flows erratically? (Normally, I would assume you’re talking metaphorically, except for your letter. If it’s really flowing erratically then go to the hospital. Immediately.) As for who designed and tested that “product”. God did! Duh… Gotcha! Ha! You were ready to start in about evolution and apes and natural selection and Quest for Fire (your favorite movie) and the fertile crescent, weren’t you? Dude, you must lighten up. Here’s your assignment: Set a timer for 15 minutes then sit in a chair and put your hand over your heart. Keep it there and breath in and out slowly. Focus on breathing and the feeling of your heart beating beneath you hand. When thoughts occur, just observe them, and keep still. At the end of 15 minutes say out loud, “I am human. I am alive. And so are the others.”

Or just drink heavily once a week and go act out.  Good luck!

Best,

Dave

 

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JJ watches the World Cup

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They sat at a table on the periphery of a healthy afternoon bar crowd. The World Cup was on TV. JJ had a ginger ale and it felt like a betrayal to the natural order, like a polar bear in the tropics. Carl had a Coke to honor JJ’s awkward sobriety and watched the game with interest. It was Italy vs. Paraguay or Uruguay or Ecuador. JJ could never keep those South American countries straight. “I’m not sure I should be in a bar,” he said.

“It’s ok, I’m babysitting you. We’re just watching the game.” There was a plate of nachos on the table and Carl ate with relish. JJ picked a bit and watched the people watching the game. Tuesday afternoon and all these people watching soccer. Didn’t they have jobs? Carl still worked nights at the bagel bakery and JJ…well JJ worked at staying out of his own way. Carl said, “This is one of those start and stop games. Typical Italy. Small fouls, big fouls, complaining, gesturing.”

Sure enough, players in blue surrounded an officious referee, jostling each other for the right to be ignored. The referee scurried from from the rabble and produced a red card from his pocket, held it in the air, and gestured off the field. One of the Italian players looked astonished and started pleading, hands clasped in supplication. The referee shook his head with an emphatic “NO!” and again pointed off the field. The player turned and walked away in shame.

“What did he do?” asked JJ.

“Took the other guy’s leg, studs up. Didn’t try for the ball. He was warned.”

It all looked the same to JJ but the crowd at the bar was loud and gesticulated much like the players. “South Americans are shit,” one guy yelled. “That was nothing!”

“That’s rich,” Carl said. “Italy’s the dirtiest team there is. Sneaky dirty. The dark arts.”

The game continued, scoreless, into the second half, growing more intense. At some point, a Uruguayan player actually bit an Italian player on the shoulder. It wasn’t apparent at first but replays showed a clear and intentional bite. The biter, a cunning-looking squint-eyed player with prominent teeth, then fell down as if the Italian had shouldered him in the mouth. “He really bit that guy,” JJ said. “He really bit him.”

“He’s going to get suspended.” The Italian player pulled aside the neck of his shirt and was showing the teeth marks to the referee who hadn’t seen the bite. “That was the third time he’s done that.”

“Three times in this game?”

“He’s bit three people in different games. Over the last few years.”

The crowd at the bar was braying for a red card but play continued. Then Uruguay scored a goal and the injustice was complete. The people at the bar were now screaming, “NO!” and “Bullshit!” and all the other things we yell after being fucked by sports and life. A guy bites someone and no one sees it, then a goal for the biter’s team. An uproar, a celebration, then the ball is returned to center, and they start playing again. You win some, you lose some, and you move the best you can. That’s the way of the world.

“I’m starting to like this,” JJ said.

Carl looked at him. “And this isn’t even a very good game. But, yeah, you would like all this other bullshit. But that’s soccer. The bullshit and beauty run parallel and make it great. Like life.”

“Yeah, I kinda get that,” JJ said. “I’m not sure about the beauty part, but I have been know to get waylaid by the bullshit of life. Still, I haven’t bitten anyone. Yet.”

 

 

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Broken-in Boyfriend Jean in Abbot Wash, $168.00

Dear Dave is a series in which I address poor reviews of pricey consumer goods in the advice column tradition of Dear Abby or Dear Sugar.  Aren’t most online reviews a cry for help, anyway?

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Dear Dave,

Great style, but a bit too ‘destroyed’

I have purchased two pairs of these jeans because I love them so much. With the first pair, I noticed that after just a few uses and a couple (gentle cycle) washes, the deliberate and stylish “holes” and tears in the jean were becoming bigger and weakening. After just a few months, the shredded fibers/material across each tear was getting thinner and thinner, and they quickly broke apart completely leaving huge gaping holes that were originally supposed to be stylish shreds – not gigantic holes. I thought perhaps I did something wrong and shouldn’t have washed the jeans much, so I’ve now tried with a second pair. I truly hope this pair lasts longer than 3 months and about 8 wears.

Torn-Up, Wellesley, MA

Dear Torn-Up,

So you like guys who are a little rough around the edges? A little frayed, stylishly beaten up by the world? You think you can freeze that downward spiral at a certain point when his descent compliments your style? I can assure you that people do not get that “broken-in” while thinking of attracting someone like you. They are usually torn and shredded by a crappy childhood which guaranteed they would make poor choices which would necessitate more bad decisions to weave the fabric of self-destruction. That thinning denim is sure to smother you. My concern is for you, Torn-up, and why you keep seeking out someone with exciting stylish shreds (mischief, party drugs, likes to fight) which are certain to turn to gigantic holes (stealing cars, heroin, jail). Are you hoping you could fix him? Are you some kind of angel seamstress? I doubt that. Also, why do you want to wear them like pants? Do you try to keep them close with what’s below your waist? That will only go so far before the whole skintight arrangement gets worn out. Plus, eight times in three months? I think you may overestimate your wiles. My suggestion: sensible jeans worn for a long time, gently fading and softening, fraying naturally. And it wouldn’t hurt to “wear” them a little more often. Say, a couple times a week. Maybe every day. Ok, every other day.

Best,

Dave

 

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Present Day JJ: Under the Microscope, Squished on a Slide

 

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“Hungry, angry lonely, tired. Are you any of those things?”

“No.”

“Those are the things to look out for,” Professor Tom said. He chewed a cheeseburger, bun crumbs catching in his patient academic beard. Tom taught biology at the university. Or was it physics at the college? JJ wasn’t sure.

“I feel ok,” JJ said.

“You should feel like shit. Most people, and I doubt you’re the exception, feel like shit when they hit bottom. There’s the physical agony, sure. But mostly the pain of losing you’re best friend whiskey, or whatever you’re into.”

“Ok, I feel like shit.”

“That’s the spirit. It’s good to feel like shit.”

JJ picked at some fries. It was all he could stomach in this terrible Burger King. Professor Tom worked on his second cheeseburger with gusto. A piece of bacon stuck out the end of the bun opposite from Tom’s mouth, pointing at JJ, a mocking tongue of BK Bacon. JJ couldn’t take his eyes off it, even as his stomach rolled. He pushed the fries away and sipped his Coke.

“Are you willing to go to any lengths for your sobriety?”

JJ had heard this question before and it still alarmed him, like the first overtures of a cult to a potential convert. He had said yes before, too. And no. It didn’t seem to make a difference. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just don’t know.”

Professor Tom stuffed the last piece of cheeseburger, with the floppy bit of bacon, into his mouth and looked at JJ. He chewed and kept looking as JJ squirmed, a specimen under the Professor’s microscope. JJ felt squished and helpless, a bug on a slide, open for scrutiny. Horrible.

“’I don’t know’ is a good place to start.” Tom wiped his mouth and shook his beard free of crumbs. “People sometimes answer too quick. They say yes, but don’t know what that means. But you’re aware of the leap. That can be good or bad. What’s your work situation? Where do you live?”

“I get by for now. Money’s ok.” He did not want to get into the lottery winnings, always in the background, solving nothing, soothing nothing.

“So, you don’t have a job?”

“No.”

“OK, you’re now a fulltime alcoholic in recovery. You will build your day around a meeting, arriving early, helping set up, going for coffee after, no matter how painful. Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married?”

JJ hesitated. What was Lila, exactly? Not his wife, obviously. His girlfriend? More like his ex-girlfriend, now a benefactor, with the potential to move forward to…what? Girlfriend? It was so far beyond words now. They had been, if not together, aware of each other, careening, sometimes touching, since 1989.

“I have a friend,” JJ said. “It’s complicated.”

Professor Tom sighed and gathered up the trash onto his tray. “It usually is,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

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