Wren had to park a good distance from the venue. He wouldn’t have known it was the right spot, except the catering truck was parked there: just a gravel driveway, encroached upon with overgrown bushes and trees. If the country had alleys, this was one. As Wren turned off the car, Franny pulled up, so he paced gathering his things, trying to get out at the same time as her. Franny was one of the managers. She was about twenty years older than Wren, with a range of facial expressions that all conveyed disgust and a musical knowledge vastly limited to new wave bands. One time, at a small event with few staff, while they were setting tables, she played nothing but Tears for Fears and was delighted that Wren knew all of the words: “Going far, getting nowhere, going far, the way you are,” “It’s not that you’re not good enough / It’s just that we can make you better,” “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” They had been devoted to one another since then.

Franny was a city girl, so as they walked on the shoulder of the road, she muttered, “I don’t want to be out here after dark,” and Wren began listing horror movies set in rural locations. The venue was situated in the countryside, but was still only miles from the freeway. It was a Stars Hollow sort of farm, with darling house, landscaped grounds, little stone patios under trees with lights hanging from the branches. At the back was a huge ancient barn that had been covered in some kind of glue to keep the boards level and dull any sharp grain.

In such an unincorporated area as this, Wren thought of Craigslist, partially because he was always thinking about Craigslist, but partially because his last casual encounter had been around here. In these parts, only the few and the desperate posted: the risk was higher, so your hunger had to be more intense, be it queer or curious. The immediacy, secrecy and security of it were what attracted and addicted Wren. How you could instantly connect and be charged by the knowledge you were desired. How you could delete everything until there was no evidence. How you could intermittently convince yourself nothing had happened. How you could become anonymous even to yourself.

The event was a wedding, which usually makes the entire catering staff nervous by association. Wren was on appetizers and charmed himself to the teeth: “Would you like to try some Spicy Chicken, which is coincidentally the name of my band?” But he needn’t have bothered, because the bride, groom, their parents, parties and guests were content. They were also stylish, diverse, smart and attractive. It was the sort of crowd that absorbed you, made you want to be better, made you believe that maybe you were better.

Wren was not better. He was worse. Worse wasn’t the right word, because that implied movement in some direction, presumably a dangerous one, but Wren hadn’t budged. He just dredged. Dragged up the same shit over and over again. Nearly every decision he’d ever made was wrong, he was wrong, it was all wrong. Of course, this way of thinking was wrong, too. Since the pact, Wren’s behavior had changed, but his mind and heart were the same. It was hard enough to stop the behavior, now he had to stop the thinking and feeling? The only reason to stop one thing was to start another.

Meanwhile, within 24 hours, he had to go from one wedding to another, from server to guest. Some would think of that as going from work to fun, but it was the opposite for Wren. At the first wedding, he could hover and observe, with no obligation to participate; at the second, he would have to engage and interact, so as to communicate his gratitude at being invited. The reality of introversion isn’t just that you can only be around people for a limited time, it’s that the time with them has to be unlimited in its depth of intimacy: small talk requires huge amounts of energy. And that’s all people have to offer at a wedding, unless you find another introvert and a bottle of champagne and a quiet corner somewhere.

There weren’t adequate corners in this venue, long, narrow thing that it was, like a galley. From where Wren was sitting, he couldn’t really see any of the ceremony; only hear the pastor’s voice, talking about the vine and the branches. And pruning. What a vicious job. You had to nearly kill the plant so it could grow.

Nearby, a boy in his early twenties wore a vintage brown tux, somehow both aware that he could work the look and unaware that it was tight in all the right places. Wren admired this briefly, then felt ashamed, as there must have been a decade between them. It was difficult having an aesthetic orientation that pulled every bit of male beauty with its tractor beam. If Wren wasn’t careful, his brain would beam up to another location where he could be with the beauty alone and talk about the weather, or maybe not talk; almost immediately it would beam back, blaming Wren for being so depraved, blaming beauty for attaching to a person. A crossbeam.

Though Wren had made the pact some years ago with a fellow addict – they had to stay off Oxycontin, he had to stay off Craigslist – he was seriously unsettled by recent news that the site had discontinued the personal ads, as if it were a collector’s coin he had kept, not intending to use it, just imagining the increasing value, knowing it could always be sold, but then found it had disappeared. It was like that quote from C.S. Lewis about thinking that if we are good enough, long enough, our poor deprived soul will be given permission to return to its fleshy desires.

Afterwards, at the reception, Wren provided commentary on the entire staff, a judge at an event: they hadn’t set the tables properly, weren’t dressed professionally, didn’t behave appropriately; he had plenty of adjectives and adverbs for them all. For example: someone spilled a huge bowl of salad near their table, and after 5 minutes of no one doing anything, Wren began cleaning it up with his bare hands. At this point a server walked by and asked if he needed a rag and Wren almost said “NO, I NEED YOU TO DO YOUR JOB.” It was his favorite part of the day, really. He was a guest, he was a server, he was a guest server, being invited into the work. He texted Franny about all of it and she replied, “give management a business card and say when they want good help, come find us.”

A week later, Wren remembered that he didn’t bring a card for the couple, which was the most he could do. It was frustrating when he didn’t do the most he could do. After reading a dozen cards, he finally selected one that had three panels – Faith, Hope, Love – connected with a ribbon that you could hang on the wall. There was a spot to compose a message. “Sincerest apologies for the delay in getting my shit together,” he wrote, “but there are few wedding cards that are not delusional, damaging or diabetically sweet. Instead, I found one that references the most challenging passage in all of the Bible! Never stop failing beautifully in your attempts to fulfill it.” He signed it with his name.

You Can Do Magic

A trick has been performed. The tricksters union consisted of a magician, a Great Deceiver; an assistant, the willing accomplice; and volunteers, from the audience. But that was just for The Turn. What is meant by The Turn? Certainly not a rotation in dance, although if you are now compelled to visualize it as such, then a 180 degree rotation. The Turn is the moment when a pet raccoon becomes a wild animal. The Turn is always a wrong turn and it must be subtracted from your travel time. But to begin again, every great trick has The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige.

“The first part is called ‘The Pledge.’ The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal.”*

The Pledge: this boy is a child of God.

This boy was born into a Christian family. He went to Sunday School. He went to Church. He was praised for doing right and punished for doing wrong. His parents loved him and so he believed God loved him.

“The second act is called ‘The Turn.’ The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.”*

The Turn: this boy is a mistake.

This boy was called a girl in elementary school. He was called gay in middle school. He watched the other boys in high school. He watched porn in college. He went to clubs. He went on Craigslist. This boy thought that God had fallen asleep on the assembly line and didn’t give him the right parts. That he should be recalled, like the Easy Bake Oven, for burning other boys who dared to use him, for enabling them to have dessert before dinner. But this boy was not being honest. He did not want to be fixed. He wanted to be excused. To do whatever he wanted. It was a settlement for the injustice committed.

“Making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige.’”*

The Prestige: this boy is a child of God.

This boy was not excused. He was called to the Principal’s office. The Principal was God. God was not angry. This boy was angry. The Principal listened to this boy shout for a long time, until the words ran out and the tears ran down. The Principal did not cry. He walked around the desk, around the chair, and placed his hands on this boy’s shoulders, like a father.

And the voices which St. Augustine had described, the ones plucking at his garment of flesh, whispered, “are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, for ever and ever. From this moment on you will never again be allowed to do this thing or that.” The mutterings seemed to reach from behind, trying to make this boy turn his head when he wanted to go forward.**

This boy did not turn his head. He knew The Turn was finished and The Prestige had began. The trick had been performed, and this boy was not turning tricks anymore. Not today.


*From The Prestige by Christopher Priest.

**From Confessions by St. Augustine.

Me, Myself and iPhone


Hey, man. That’s quite a tool you got. Can I see your face?

Liking what I see. Are you around tonight?

I’ll meet you there in an hour.

Voice Memos

It’s the time when you realize your problems are not interesting anymore. They are just problems, and they have the same, sad, sorry faces, looking to you, wondering if you’ll talk to them, wondering if you’ll let them in the door, and you do, because there’s nobody else at home, and it’s very lonely, and if nothing else, they occupy you – temporarily. But you do, you do want to kick them out, I mean you kick them out, but then they come back, they come back to you every time, and you – it’s – maybe if there was a doghouse, or a shed, or a greenhouse, something where you could put them, stow them, store them; and never, never, never take them out, do you understand. Sort of like a storage unit that someone forgets about until they die – well, I mean they don’t remember because they’re dead, but somebody else discovers it, in the family, and they go to the storage unit and “isn’t this interesting? Isn’t this interesting?” They say. And it is interesting because it’s not theirs, and um, so then it’s better. It’s better that way.

The train is going by, and it’s like a jointed wooden snake, only going in a straight line, an experience which I have not encountered – going in a straight line, that is. Or staying on the tracks. Neither one. It’s gone now. And cars are waiting. But I’m not waiting because I’m on foot. You never have to wait when you’re on foot; when you’re on a bike. There’s no waiting at intersections. There’s no waiting. You just keep going. You just keep going.

The grass has been cut down, and you can smell it – everywhere. You can smell it. Cut grass. Cut down. In its prime.

I am a monster. Not like a Lady Gaga monster – glamour and appetite and effervescence – no, just a monster, that devours everything, devours everything. And seems to be trying to commit suicide by gluttony. It will never be satiated. Just attacking and consuming.

Voice Mail

I know I’m in a bachelor time zone and you’re in parent time zone, but maybe we can synchronize, if only retroactively. I had to call you and apologize, because – I used you as a lie. I involved you in a lie. I made you an accomplice to a lie. I was in a lonely place – isn’t that a Humphrey Bogart film? That’s too romantic. I will not be romantic. I lied to my whole family. I said I was meeting you, when I was meeting a stranger through Craigslist. I’m joining a recovery group. I have a problem, and the problem has a pattern, and I’m not going to buy drapes to match it, I’m going to change the pattern. I’m sorry. Goodnight, friend.

Angela Again

Just then a moth flew into the living room, fussing about something. It fluttered in and out of our conversation, in a jagged line that peaked and plummeted like a lie detector.

This date was planned in advance. Angela texts a couples of days before she wants to meet. I text and suggest a day weeks after that. She texts to ask what day we decided before she writes it on her calendar. She texts the day before we meet. She texts the day of.

Angela’s favorite TV show is Monk. It’s about a detective with OCD, which is not what she has. She has a learning disability, which I always remind everyone, to remind myself. At her apartment, she leaves post-it notes all over so she won’t forget anything. At family gatherings, she keeps asking whose cup is whose.

When we’re together, I have to talk light – check my verbal baggage of metaphors, references, AP vocabulary – gaze as they slide and slip through rubber flaps, console myself that later they’ll come out on the carousel, going ’round and ’round, and I’ll pick them up again.

The moth landed as Angela watched. “When I’m running, I’m not in the run,” she said. “When I’m swimming, I’m not in the swim.” And she was not in the story.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Thinking,” she said. “The same thoughts. Over and over. The same thoughts.”

Through Angela’s eyes I saw the thoughts, long, thick, dark covers, thrown over the world, everything draped with them, shaped by them, covered and collecting dust.

“About whom?” I asked.

She gave the names of her boyfriends. Just two of them. There have only been two. They were fine and nice and good and other adjectives that don’t modify anything. The first one was named Jones. He was 25 years older than her. We did not call him Mr. Jones.

I mean, they were better than the boyfriends in Lifetime movies, who begin as sweet and charming, but become jealous and controlling. Actually, I don’t think that transition would bother Angela, or us. We would all give him control, as long as he wasn’t too crazy and didn’t make her cry. Someone to watch over her.

“I wonder where they are, what they’re doing, when they’ll call,” she said. “But they’re not my boyfriends anymore. I know, I know that, but I wonder, I wonder,” she looked at the floor without looking at it.

“Why don’t I stop,” She said.

I started thinking about the men seeking men, flashing their portraits, lining the blank corridors of craigslist. How I would step towards and back from each one, asking can I like this? and selecting several, sending the e-mails, selecting one, meeting somewhere, not really liking them but really wanting them to like me. And later, wondering what it was for.

“Whose cup is this?” Angela asked, her hands hovering over them, like a magician.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Leaving the cups untouched, she laid hands on the armrests.

“Do you pray?” I asked.

“Of course I pray,” she retorted, in a rush of Catholic adrenaline.

“I’m not talking about waving your hands around and saying the same words over and over,” I said, looking at her.

She looked at me. Like she’d stolen something and now the owner was asking for it back, but asking nicely. Her eyes filled up.

“I stopped praying when the grandparents died, and Jones – ” she paused. “Now I pray to the grandparents.”

“Why do you pray to them?” I asked.

“Because they’re real,” she said. “I mean, I know God is real, but He isn’t real. To me.”

“You’re real to him,” I said. “He made you. He loves you. He likes you,” I paused. “Try talking to Him like you talk to them. Ask Him to be more real.”

The moth was flitting around a lamp now, and I wondered what compelled it: the light, or the cloth shade.

“But tell me,” Angela said. “Should I stop praying to the grandparents?”


“Where are you?”

The voice was distant, blurred with sobbery, but I could tell it came from Tanya.

“Downtown,” I said. “What’s going on?”

Silence. For 2 minutes. Have you ever heard dead air on a radio station? It’s not that you hear nothing; you hear the absence of nothing. It’s a padded cell in a condemned mental institution in an evacuated city. So was this silence.

In response, my mind became a staff writer at a soap opera production meeting and within 2 minutes he had pitched some screwball ideas: Tanya is trapped in a burning building that is about to collapse and her leg is pinned to the ground by a steel girder; Tanya has been pushed in front of a Greyhound bus, or a Badger bus, or some kind of beastly bus; Tanya has been murdered and the murderer is listening to my helpless hellos.

I hung up. I called back. She answered: “Sorry, I lost you.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “What’s going on?”

“I’m driving to the emergency room,” she replied, sober of emotion.

“What did you do?”

“Something stupid.”

“What did you do.”

“I met someone on craigslist. It was stupid. There were so many red flags and I ignored all of them.”

“What did he do?”

“He slapped me really hard. Although, to be fair, I slapped him first. But that was because he threw me on the floor.”

“Did you call me while he was doing that?”

“No. After I left. Anyway, I’m almost to the ER,” she sighed, “and I – I just don’t want to be alone.”

“Is that an invitation?”

“No. You’re downtown, and I’m in Brookfield, and gas is so expensive.”

“I wasn’t inquiring about gas prices. I was inquiring if you want me to come.”


By now I was short of breath. Not from suspense, or grief. From being on the treadmill for 20 minutes. But I would not stop until 30 minutes. Not for this. This was our routine. And I don’t mean the ER and I don’t mean the treadmill. I mean our credit card sexuality, with which we shop around, hoping for approval, dreading decline.

The ER receptionist betrayed her title and rejected me. Repeatedly. So I spent two hours in the lobby, where the floors matched the wallpaper which matched the chairs which matched the lamps and I worried if I stayed there too long I would match too. Law & Order was on the TV and some actor said, “God told me to do it.”

We got back to Tanya’s friend’s place where she’s staying while he’s out of town. He bought it so he could restore it. He’s doing all the work himself, a little at a time, so little you hardly notice.

Laying on her bed, we looked up the guy’s record. “Evictions, small claims, domestic abuse,” she laughed. “Why didn’t I look this up before I went to his house?”

It was 12:30 AM. I was laying my head behind the laptop screen. She closed it. “Are you okay to drive?” She asked. “I’m not that old,” I replied. “I am,” she said.