Les silences gênés

We had coffee at Panera and she was late and I didn’t want to do it but my parents had set it up. She walked in, twenty years old, with blonde hair and a horse face and an overbite. I thought she looked like she was from Iowa, if that’s what people from Iowa looked like. We talked and it was nothing worth mentioning, talking and listening but mostly talking. She was negative about most things and complained about just as many and ignored all of my charm which quickly became plaintive words that revealed too much. She was nervous and contradicted herself and she liked romance novels and I don’t respect that genre. I told her I am a writer and I want to be a writer. I had to leave to go to a bookstore and it was the truth.

She said to let her know if I wanted to see her again and I smiled as if to say yes but I don’t want to see her again.

Awkward silence in conversation

“Would you like a coffee?” he said.

“No thank you,” she said. “Sorry I’m late. This Panera is hard to find.”

“It’s ok. I almost didn’t make it myself.” The truth is, I didn’t want to come at all.

“Yeah, when your dad set up this date, I wondered. I guess he figured since I’m 20 and you’re 22, we’d be a good fit.”

“Is your hair naturally blonde?”

“Yes, it is. I guess I’m lucky to have nice hair.”

“Mmm, yeah,” he said. It distracts people from your horse face and horrible overbite.

“I dropped out of high school and I hate my job. I hate the people I work with, I hate the children, I hate everything.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I’m a fan of Schopenhauer. His writings about living in the present are very compelling. You should read his work. I think you’d get a lot out of it.”

“God, I need to find a new job. Mine is so boring. And the part of town where I live is so lame too.”

“I’m sure you’re a lot of fun on your own.” Ugh. “I want to be a writer. That’s what I plan to study when I go back to school this Fall. I want to introduce a new style of short story, something that reflects what our generation is looking for in modern writing.”

“Oh, right, um, that’s nice,” she said. “I think writing is a good thing to do, but I don’t really like it.”

“…”

“Awkward silence!”

“What kinds of books do you like?”

“Romance novels.”

“Well, it was nice hanging out with you, but I need to get going. I’m going to a bookstore before they close.”

“Oh, ok. Well, text me if you want to hang out sometime.”

“I will.” I won’t.

Awkward silences revisited

He felt dread about coffee at Panera, overwhelming dread. He sat at the table, sipped tepid coffee, waited for her to show up, hoped that her tardiness would give way to a no-show. His parents had set this up, a generous gesture for sure, but unneeded. The last bit of coffee lolled about in his cup as his date arrived and sat down. She was twenty years old, with blonde hair and a long face. Her top teeth protruded significantly over her bottom teeth; he wondered if this is what girls from Iowa looked like.

He sat there and tried to make conversation, but it went nowhere. She talked and didn’t listen. She was very negative and complained about her life, her job, everything. She ignored his charm, thoughts, and feelings. He told her he wanted to be a writer. “I like romance novels,” she said. He knew that there was no future between them: he has no respect for the romance genre.

There was a lull in the conversation. She looked at her watch and said, “Awkward silence.”

“I need to go,” he said. “I’m going to Half Price Books before they close.”

“Ok,” she said. “Text me if you want to get together again.”

As he walked out, he dreaded seeing her at church on Sunday. Maybe he just wouldn’t go.

Awkward silences are easy to remember

Coffee at Panera. She was late. He didn’t want to do it. It was a parental setup. She was 20. Blonde. Horse face with an overbite, he said. “She looks like she’s from Iowa.” Talking went nowhere. She’s very negative. She complains a lot. She didn’t respond to charm. He revealed emotional details. He wants to be a writer. She was nervous and contradicted herself. She reads romance novels. He doesn’t respect that genre.

He told her he had to leave to go to a bookstore. It was the truth. Text me if you want to hang out, she said. He doesn’t and he won’t.

Awkward.

Glass Resting in Silver

Your Burberry coat hangs in the closet

The scarf wrapped around the collar

To protect your graceful neck from the London cold.

I like to think you bought that coat

In London

Because I know you would love the antiques there.

It’s so small, that coat.

You were small yet so larger than

Life. So much life. 

There are many reminders of you

In my house. Archaeological relics

From trips to Goodwill, the price tags

Still stuck to the bottoms of the teacups

And boxes of silly toys that I can’t bear

To throw away. I’m sorry

We took so long to come back

To be closer to you

To spend holidays and birthdays and weekly visits.

I’m sorry

They can only be memories now. 

Like the time you bought the Burberry coat

On a cold day in London

While you searched for that perfect teacup.

 

Home is where I belong

All roads lead me back to where it all began, where I hope it ends, but not before I want it to, not until I’m ready. You’ll see: there will be a barbecue, and boats, and people eating ice cream cones while classic cars drive up and down a road that is only one way, their hoods tied down and locked and their headlights covered in acrylic. The sun will peep in and out, shining down on the water and back up at itself, smiling in its own reflection before shyly hiding behind clouds.

The sky turns a special shade of blue at night. Azure and azul and bleu and blau. There’s nothing else like it that I have ever seen. The air outside is cool and calm. The soaring trees move not at all; it is only after I stare at their tops that they finally seem to budge.

Or maybe it’s me.

COMMISERATE! COMMISERATE!

Daleks make me feel sad. Every time I see them in episodes of Doctor Who, I secretly hope that they’ll finally agree that their survival is more important than the extermination of, well, every single living thing in the universe.

They’re so cute, with their cute little ears that glow cutely when the Daleks not-so-cutely shriek, er, speak, and their cute little eye-noses that go up and down as they struggle to process the emotions of everyone around them. I love the slow turns of their heads, seemingly deliberate, limited not by technology but their patience for the as-yet unexterminated creatures that deign to still exist.

I love their little plunger hands, and their shower-head optical assemblies, and the whirr of their movements as they shuffle about, whirring toward the Doctor and his companion, or a hapless victim, before they take flight and rapidly ascend and descend while attacking all the humans running in fear.

Every now and then a Dalek opens up and reveals its inner Dalek, a gross, congealed mess of effects, and I shake my head. I don’t like to think of my beloved Daleks as so ugly. I like the black casing of Dalek Sec, before he merged with a human and wore spats and a zoot suit. No, I like my Daleks like I like my cats: cute and cuddly and bent on domination of the universe.

The first Dalek I ever saw was trapped in a sort of disturbed museum, and the whole thing reminded me of that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “The Most Toys,” in which Data is abducted by a fervent collector. Anyway, Rose touched the Dalek and it gained consciousness and then it died. All the Daleks I’ve seen die have either been by each other or Rose. You know, I don’t think I’ve seen the Doctor specifically kill a Dalek, now that I think about it. He shows them compassion.

Think about that: Compassion for the most dangerous entity in the universe, compassion that leads to the survival of a species of creatures that would rather be alone in the universe than come to terms with their own emotions, creatures that consistently and fervently try to kill the Doctor and everyone else.

Maybe the Doctor sees them the same way I do: too cute to live without.

Shortness Sweetness

I always fancied myself un enfant terrible, albeit un who grappled with the expectation that he must fit in. Perhaps the surest path to being avant-garde is through uniqueness masquerading as conformity.

I had a teacher once who could not pronounce foreign words with any kind of accuracy. Adagio became “A-duh-joe.” Hearing it made me feel anything but at ease. I dared not correct her. Nothing angered her more than having her errors pointed out to her, with an audience of students no less. She was in charge of the spelling competition. I couldn’t accurately spell the words because I couldn’t understand what she was saying. It was my first taste of my shortcoming masquerading as unfairness. I learned to adapt after that.

Or “A-duh-put,” as it were.

Trapped

It was getting harder to breathe. I didn’t know if my air was running out or if I was panicking. What breaths I could draw in were too warm and not nearly fresh enough. My clothes were stuck to my skin, and my eyes stung. My throat hurt from screaming.

I could hear the muffled sounds from the TV in the living room. “Is that the Rockford Files theme?” I said to nobody. I hoped it was, as it meant my dad would be home soon. It also meant that it had been almost an hour since I became trapped in the box.

I pushed on the lid. Harder. I yelled for my mom, again, but she was still one floor beneath me. I wondered what she would do when she found me. What state would I be in? What would she say? Would she be still be able to save me? Would my dad? He had saved people in the war. He had medals for it.

I imagined I was the Incredible Hulk, pounding on the walls of my prison, mustering the strength to burst out of the box and gulp fresh, clean air. I tried to get angry, angrier, so that I could transform.

My fingers hurt from scratching at the wood. My legs were tingling. My mouth was dry and I could barely feel my tongue. When I closed my eyes, I could see colors swirling and I felt like I was flying forward. I smelled sweat, and pine, and old paint.

“I’m going down to Liz’s,” my mom had said. “Come down if you need me.” I watched ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ on German TV. Der Alfred Hitchcock Heur. I was inspired: I was going to be a mummy. I shuffled into the bedroom that I shared with my two older brothers and walked over to the toy box. It was my dad’s old Army footlocker. I lifted the green wood lid, pulled out the action figures and chemistry set, crawled in, and closed myself inside. The latch fell shut. Who knows how many times that latch had been lifted, revealing Army-issue underwear, t-shirts, contraband, and letters from home. That box had survived basic training and two tours in Viet Nam, and had been schlepped all over the world, finally settling in West Germany, where it appeared to have become my coffin.

My clothes were wet and my skin was cold. I wanted to sleep. I had accepted my fate, given up, resolved my end. The lid opened, my mom screamed my name, and I said, “Can I have a Pepsi?”