Annie and John [1500 Words]

1.

    Annie told him it was over. The weight of the words could be seen on his shoulders.  They sunk in, slowly, until he shriveled. His face melted in disbelief.  His jowls and brow fell, and his ears turned red as though stung. He sat back on the couch, turning away from her and stared through the blank black screen of the television.

    She stayed silent for a minute. She wanted to talk, the silence was so uncomfortable. It was a full minute later before she whispered, “John?”

    He exhaled. A sound, not a sigh, not a groan, but a tiny death rattle, guttural and weak.

    “Why?” 

    She paused. 

    “I just…know. I just — know that it’s not — going where we need to — go. I know you don’t feel the same way.”

    “Of course I don’t.  I picked out a… how could…“

    “That’s what I mean— I know you don’t feel the same way. I just couldn’t stop it— I didn’t know how.”

    “But…why? What’s…why?”

    “I just know. I know it’s not going to work for me. I’m too young, I’m not done with school, I still live with my parents— I just— there’s too many things. You’re 30 now, you’re an Atheist, you’re still in the same apartment, the same job.”

    “Wait— what? All those things were the same a year ago. My age, my religion, you living with your parents, my house, my job, it’s all the same.  Why now?  What changed?”

    “That’s — I mean — I did. I changed.”

 

2.

    As John walked to his car, he felt his shoulders continue to shrink.  His shirtsleeves felt heavy.  His steps slowed. The night was quiet. The walk to the car took hours; he was standing its door, staring at nothing. He put the key in his pocket and kept walking past.

    The night was cool. Cool nights were rare, and the night was dark enough that the bugs were gone. The moon was only a sliver. His steps were slow and light; as his body fell into itself its lightness allowed him to levitate. He was floating, free from anchor, weighted by nothing, the atoms spinning and bouncing bouncing so fast that he moved like a spectre.

    He felt a buzz in his pocket and his head snapped.  His left hand twitched and he unclenched his fists. He grabbed his phone and looked at the screen. A message from his brother. He clicked the phone dark and put it back.  He looked up and around to see how far he had walked. The trees were denser and the lots were larger, the houses set back just a bit more and looking so dark and far away.  It was only 10:30, but on a winter night, it felt like light had disappeared a day ago. 

    The houses were all ranch houses, wide and flat fronts that smiled at passerby.  Most of the windows were dark, save for the occasional single bulb behind closed curtains.  John’s gaze floated from window to window, dark to light to dark. Occasionally a bay window would offer a painting of the room inside, lit from some other source, a hallway or kitchen light, and the shapes of the room would tell a story.  Long lampshades were spectators to the grappling match between silhouettes made by couches and tables.  A wall of photos enshrouded by darkness but enshrined by a halo of secondary light.  The drama and comedy that these scenes offered was not lost on him.  He saw all the endings to all the stories at once: openings and embraces, estrangements and deaths.

    He walked on.

 

3.

    When he first saw them through the window they appeared to be still, but their body language told him they were locked in a battle.  Three paces apart and entirely focused on one another.  When John joined the story her arms were straight out and 20 degrees from her body, hands splayed out with long fingers taut.  His head was bowed ever so slightly and the shadows his brow and nose cast accentuated his despair. John stopped walking and turned toward the window silently, his shoulders square against it from 60 feet away. A stone pine covered him in shadow.

    The silence in the room was evident from outside.  His head eventually lifted and her hips shifted as he began to talk. Her splayed hands turned to loose fists and she squeezed them softly in and out.  His hands offered apologies and recriminations at the same time, one hand open and flat palmed while the other pointed sternly down.  As their conversation continued, John studied what he could make out of the pictures, family shots on a background of greenery, solo shots of the kids in school and sport uniforms.  

    Even focusing on the small details, his distance from the scene allowed him to read the stories they were telling each other.  He could see that they were telling truths. The strain in the faces, maybe the defeat shifting from her stance to his and back again, but there were no lies between them.  Nothing hidden, nothing spared in the language of their hands and arms and eyes and lungs. Just shifting awareness and understanding. 

    Eventually they settled in, sitting. At first on opposite ends of the long couch, then turned toward one another, then leaning in.  At some point he got on his knees in front of her on the couch and she rested her hands on his shoulders, then they embraced.

    John retched and heaved.  All at once his mouth filled with bile.  He spit a mouthful onto the grass and sidewalk, stared at it for a moment. He wiped his mouth, then turned back the direction he had come from.

 

4.

    John’s phone buzzed.

    It was five days later, 7:30 in the morning.  He looked at it, then swiped it to read the message she had sent.

    (I wanted to check in. How are you?)

    (i’m fucked) he typed, then deleted it. (i’m ok)

    (I didn’t know if we were going to talk more. I know you’re hurt and I didn’t want to pressure you)

    (yeah. i don’t know what to say)

    (Can I stop by so i can see how you’re doing?)

    (sure. i’ll be getting ready for work soon)

    (I’ll be there in 20 minutes.)

    John stood up from the bed and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror.  He had already showered, but was in gym shorts and a worn t-shirt with a band logo on it.  He shrugged, walked to the living room and parked on the couch. He turned on the TV, settled on a poker game and left the sound off.

    There was a quiet knock on the door.

    He opened the door and Annie nodded lightly, then stepped past him. She was in her uniform, from the restaurant across from his work, where they had met.  She sat down in the chair.  He sat on the end of the couch closest to her, as she glanced at the screen and saw an insurance commercial.  They sat in silence for 90 seconds as she looked at him and he stared at the wall above the television.

    Her white sleeve with the button collar was riding up her right arm and he saw something on the inside of her wrist.  They were shiny and small and he couldn’t read them, he could only recognize the crosses that bracketed them. 

    “A tattoo?”

    “Oh, yeah, I got it Monday. Just a reminder of Grammy.” John realized that the words he couldn’t read were a set of dates.

    “I haven’t seen you this week.”

    “I had two days off, and I ate in the lunch room twice. I wasn’t quite ready to see you.”

    “I know that we’re going to see each other, and I don’t want it to be awkward.”

    “Well, it’s going to be. At least for me…at least for a while.”

    “I know and I’m sorry.”

    John turned and looked at Annie. The tears started, welling in the corners of his eyes. She blurred in his vision and he blinked. He was silent, looking at her and blinking, as she looked down.

    He stood up silently, and walked to the bathroom. He wiped his eyes, then came back past her and walked to the door and opened it. She stood and walked past him, a light touch of her hand on his shoulder. His flinch was barely perceptible.

 

5.

    John waited another week before he started going back to her restaurant. He ate there three times that week and never saw her. The following week he was there three times and never saw her. On Friday, after he signed the check, he looked at the pen in his hand.

    He looked at the pen, and set his left wrist up on the table. He wrote two dates on the inside of his wrist and bracketed them with Xs. He set the pen down, got up and walked out of the restaurant.

Will Apple’s New Earbuds Include AAA Batteries? (The answer will not shock you)

It has been widely reported that Apple’s next phone will not include a headphone port, and there has been a great mass of articles guessing what will happen.

For what it’s worth (absolutely nothing), here’s my guess: The next iPhone will ship with earbud headphones that connect using Lightning. There will be a separate 3.5mm-to-Lightning connector available at an Apple-like price (not necessarily cheap). There will be an Apple-branded, over-the-ear headphone that will match the design of the phone that is bluetooth capable and can be charged via Lightning connection.

(footnotes) Some history to support these guesses: 1. Apple is willing to ditch things as they believe necessary, for example, USB, ethernet, disc drives. 2. My latest (last?) MacBook Air updated charger connection and I was able to buy a dongle to use the charger pack from the previous generation. 3. Apple continues to offer more and more separate branded additions to their line. Available at their online store right now: protective cases, keyboards, smart covers, batteries, mice, trackpad, keypads, adaptors, cables, docks, watch bands, and a Pencil. Guess how many Apple brand over-ear headphones are currently available?

mewithoutYou, July 2, 2015, Fitzgerald's Houston

    My most shameful exhibition of greed and entitlement happened when I was age eleven, and it involved a G.I. Joe toy.

    In 1985 I was in the odd position of living in a fairly low-income house with my single mom during school days, while being widely spoiled by grandparents on weekends. So, I frequently wore thrift store clothes and ate food from those blue generic cans during the week, and yet watched Saturday morning cartoons and was able to convince people to buy those toys for me on special occasions.

    In December 1985, I had a modest G.I. Joe action figure collection and coveted the large pieces to complement them, like the U.S.S. Flagg ircraft carrier. Christmas day arrived and I tore through the bounty that my mom’s parents had provided in their immaculately organized mid-century home. Perfectly wrapped presents were ravaged in seconds, and on to the next, until the pile of paper sat next to the uncovered boxes.

    I surveyed the now-unwrapped gifts in front of me. The kind of emotional displeasure that can happen to a privileged pre-teen descended upon me as my sister opened her Barbie Dream Car. I realized the box which it came in would hold all of my toys together in their boxes. I started crying, blubbering something about “it’s not fair.”

    Thirty years later, I am mortified that I was such an ungrateful kid. However, I am also grateful that through all the other all-too-typical bullshit I experienced due to an absent dad and depressive mom — the insecurity; the retreat to the fictional world; the reliance on the kindness (and cruelty) of the kids in the neighborhood; the need to control my surroundings; basically, all the things that happen that we don’t deserve — that I was given the opportunity to wear this minor setback as a personal tragedy.

    Then, as I was sniffling, I was told to go into the bedroom and look in the closet. There, below the upper-middle-class wardrobe, was a giant box containing the G.I. Joe Transportable Tactical Battle Platform, a gaudy piece of cheap plastic designed to emotionally satisfy spoiled brats like me on Christmas Day. My present was so fucking big my grandma probably couldn’t use a standard roll of paper on it, and went the secret finale route. I smiled through drying tears, and for those weeks or months, when I was tossing 3-inch-tall plastic army men around a oil-platform-looking-contraption, all was right with the world.

    The evening of July 2nd, 2015, I woke up from an afternoon nap and contemplated my evening plans. My kids were with their own grandparents (being appropriately spoiled themselves). I had put in an extra few hours for work that day, and I didn’t need to get up until 9:00 the next morning to pick the kids up.

    After sending one half-hearted, exploratory text to friend, I decided to drag my ass, solo, the forty minutes down Hwy 45 to see mewithoutYou play at a local club, Fitzgerald’s. I had first found out about the band a year earlier, and had seen them play once as opening act. I am a rabid fan of one album, It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, It’s All a Dream, It’s All Right!, and am familiar with a couple other albums, but just barely.

    I timed it perfectly, and greeted the bouncers as the band greeted the crowd. The show wasn’t packed, and I had a nice spot in the back to watch. They played only a single track from my favorite record, but they sounded great. The energy was good and the crowd was pleasant and passionate.

    After 45 minutes, they walked off stage and said thanks. 

    I double checked the time and thought, Well, shit. I hope the encore is long. That’s a pretty short set for a headliner. I would have thought with a half-dozen albums worth of material, they could have played for another 45. I know they don’t owe me anything, but man, that was a short set, I guess their heart’s not in it. 

    Basically, I was petulant eleven-year-old all over again. They didn’t owe me shit, but my entitlement was riding high.

    They came back out and played two more songs, finishing strong with super high energy. Then the singer, Aaron Weiss, said something interesting. He said that he would be out in the parking lot with an acoustic guitar after they broke down and he loaded out. In my mind, I was already planning on finding somewhere that had wifi and fried chicken for a post-show dinner or to maybe catch a movie (it was only 10:15 after all). I didn’t leave, though, and I dried my figurative tears.

Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou

    I posted up in the parking lot, and waited. As promised, the band loaded out through the side door, and then Mr Weiss came out with a guitar and proceeded to kill it for another 45 minutes (!), taking requests and charming the crowd of about 100. He even played many of the songs from the album I love the most, so that I could sing along with the crowd.

    It was a magical experience, shared with a group of strangers that were uniformly respectful and appreciative, led by a man so generous he spent even more time after putting away the guitar to shake hands with, talk to, and hug members of the crowd who huddled around to voice their appreciation.

    I have spent years trying to reconcile the unfair circumstances of my childhood, and frequently think of how I am just as capable of being unfair. I am grateful to have been gifted with an experience, a little sliver of time on a summer weeknight, to remind me that the world is full of wonderful things if I keep my eyes and ears open and appreciate what I have.

Oxnard Stories (fragments)

   Of course he wanted to be there, she was there.

   She was taller than him.  He was five foot ten, but she was nearly six feet.  She was built thick — not fat, not even chubby, but muscular.  She had strong, thick thighs that lead up to a broad, firm ass.  Her wide shoulders spread her shirt to a tight seam.  He noticed mostly, of course, that this tightened the front over her otherwise modest chest.  Waves of hair fell to just past her shoulders, and the flaxen color was blissfully consistent.

    He noticed all of this, every inch of her.  Her stubby, inelegant fingers, the left eye set too low, the ears that peeked out past the waves at the tops.  Her idiosyncrasies were the source of even more lust.  The incisor that was set back so far that it appeared to be hiding, the wide birthmark settled on her right eyelid, the 10 inch long scar running along her right knee.  All reminders of her perfect imperfection.

    She had a broad voice, deep and wide.  She would sing along to the radio, no range, but holding a note to harmonize with the pop music. It wasn't the music he liked to hear, but he wanted to hear her sing it.

    And so he was there.  This fucking movie, with all these people.  He had managed, at least, to sit next to her.  It took angling, but he stepped quickly in the aisle, burst through the group, and ended up floating up the stairs a step behind her, her scent stronger than the popcorn he was carrying.  He settled in next to her, and wanted to lean in, but he knew he should wait for his moment.

    The movie was a superhero blockbuster that he normally wouldn’t have time for, and the theater was packed for opening weekend, which he usually wouldn’t put up with, but there he was, sitting right where he wanted to be, next to her.