Jolene’s eyes

Jolene communicates with me via her eyes. She’s the most expressive little dog I’ve ever known. When I give her a treat, she finishes it and then makes a point to look me with soft eyes that say, “Thank you.”

When she gets anxious from being left alone, Jolene will sometimes chew up a strap hanging off a book bag sitting on the chair. Or gnaw the corner of a pillow. Then I return to see her asserting the saddest eyes. Knowing that what she’s done is wrong, she says, “I am so sorry. Please, do not stop loving me over this.”

Jolene says, “I’m trying, I promise. I’m not perfect.” Cleaning up her mess, I tell her that I’m not either. And that I love her.

Watching her growing up, communicating more clearly all the time with those eyes, is beautiful. In the mountains for the first time, staring out at the vast empty natural space and smelling the mountain air, she told me, “This is wonderful. Where are we? Must we leave, ever?”

Jolene also loves making new friends. Even bugs. Maybe especially bugs. In the cabin, she met a stink bug. She batted it and flipped and and hopped around excitedly.

“My name is Jolene,” she said. “What’s yours?” She showed her belly and rubbed her cheek on the carpet, smooshing it. When eventually it stopped moving, she looked at me and said, “Why?” but also, “I’m sorry.” Even if she didn’t understand why.

But I will never forget one particular moment. Jolene likes toys, and for a pit bull mix she is quite gentle with them. She doesn’t just tear them apart. She will cuddle with them, carry them around. Gnaw on them a little at a time. They are precious to her, in a way.

We gave her this really old toy. A little stuffed hippo. Its ears were chewed off, and it was stitched all over like a war vet. Hadley the Hippo. He belonged to Ghillie, our calm old dog. Ghillie just carried toys around, chewing even less than Jolene. Hadley had seen a lot and had been chewed his fair share of times, but he was also many years old. Most dog toys don’t last that long.

One of our few sadnesses as relates to these two dogs is that they never got to meet. Ghillie was gone before Jolene was born. They would have been so good together.

Hadley was the first toy that she approached cautiously, curiously. And she kept looking at me, concerned.

She said, “This toy smells like another dog. But the scent is at least four months old. I wonder where he went? Did I just miss a friend?”

05. May 2016 by Greg
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Third Grade

I’d been in a Baptist private school up through second grade. My mom moved me over to Catholic school in third. I guess she figured that somebody’s god would fix me. I remember third grade as a series of vignettes.

Everyone wore white polo shirts and navy pants. (Although the girls could wear long navy skirts.) And black shoes with white socks. I remember how that made me look at people’s faces more in order to identify them. I hated that. I hated making eye contact with people. I hated having to deal with so many faces.

But sometimes it was good. Your face was your whole identity. Everyone always noticed when I got a new haircut, and I always noticed everyone else’s. It made us all very cordial and complimentary over hair.

I had a headache one day, and a teacher gave me an aspirin. My mother had always given me chewable medicine, or advil which had a candy coating that made it go straight down. So I tossed this aspirin in my mouth and chewed it. It was so gross. The teacher just had a look of horror and disgust in her eyes.

I walked down a hallway one day, and there was a kid my age cleaning the fish tank. He turned to look at me. He was wearing glasses with little working windshield wipers on them. Just flapping back and forth. I noticed and I grinned. He grinned back.

At recess we still wore our uniforms. We didn’t change out of them. It was weird. The boys always had grass stains all over their white shirts by the end of the day. And we always smelled like outside. One day we kicked a ball over the playground fence. A middle aged, blue collar kind of guy picked it up and punted it back at us. It went so high! It was the highest I’d ever seen a ball go. It was just a tiny dot, way out of our visual range up in the sky. It came back, though. After a few hours.

We didn’t have nuns that rapped our knuckles when we were bad. We had teachers dressed modestly, and who just looked at us with a deep disappointment, and almost a type of fear. Like they were thinking, “You’re so horrible — but I know that the suffering you will be receiving in hell will be even more horrible. And so I feel bad for you.”

This one kid got a game boy. That was the year that the very first version came out. He got one. And the entire class of boys was just all up in this kid’s shit. They were fawning over him, complimenting him. Very nearly petting and caressing him. They wanted to touch this technological marvel. This sign of wealth and status. So few of them seemed to remember how often they’d kicked that kid’s ass, taunted him. He, too, seemed to have forgotten. Though I doubt that. I was appalled by everyone’s behavior. Especially my own. Because could I have traded places with him in that moment, I would have. I envied him.

My mother has had random vision problems throughout her life. At one point, she was going to be picking us up from school right after EYE SURGERY. My sister and I did not think this was a good idea. When she arrived, she had bandages on her cheeks. The surgery was to remove small portions of her eyelids. My family has very heavy eyelids, giving us a “beady eyed” look. We expend an ungodly amount of energy to keep our gigantic eyelids open. Seriously, it’s a problem. Anyway. She assured us that nothing was done to her actual eyes, just her eyelids. But she still ran over the curb like 5 times on the way home.

I was only at St. Mary’s for a year. I was still the new kid even as I was leaving. It was the only place I’ve ever been in my life where I didn’t form a single permanent or even briefly lasting connection with anyone there. I left and I missed no one and nobody missed me.

27. October 2015 by Greg
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My house is small. Maybe 750 square feet. For a six and a half foot tall guy, that means I can reach almost everything I need from anywhere in a room.

So, running out of soap while in the shower is never a problem. I just reach over the top of the sliding shower door and grab a new bar from their storage space atop the medicine cabinet. I open the box, then lazily toss the box back over the shower door in the general direction in the trash can.

While showering Wednesday night, as the box from a new bar of soap audibly hit the floor, something occurred to me. In the eight and a half years that I’ve lived here, I’ve always done this. I’ve always opened a new bar of soap from within an in-progress shower, always thrown it in the direction of the garbage. And I don’t think I’ve ever actually gotten the box into the trash can.

This will not do.

We closed on a new house Thursday. Moving into it Sunday. That means I’ve only got one or two showers left at this little old house in which I’ve lived longer than anywhere else. And before I go, I have to get a soap box into the trash can from the shower.

Obviously that’s not enough time to go through this fresh bar of soap in time to open another one. And it would be absurd to go buy a whole bunch of soap just for the boxes. But this is important, so I devised a compromise.

I have between 8 and 12 bars of soap atop the medicine cabinet. That’s all I get. Those boxes. One shower. Once a box is thrown, I can’t get out and pick it up again. I only get as many attempts as there are bars of soap.

I have no idea why this feels so important, but it does. I must get at least one box in before I can leave. Wish me luck.

28. August 2015 by Greg
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The Property Brethren

Behind the scenes on The Property Brothers: a fever dream.

Television is a black hole. Especially reality television. You think that would be the easiest kind but YOU WOULD BE WRONG. It’s a conspiracy. There are layers and regressions leading to a writhing underworld that you just would not believe. It’s more real than reality.

On the HGTV series The Property Brothers, criminal mastermind Drew and evil genius Jonathan build a beautiful, impossible world out of what, at times, amounts to nothing more than a pile of used, wet toilet paper rolls and a vial of blood of unknown origin. They can build such a world because the vial is payment to be paid at the altar of their Dark Lord. This is how, for the pauper’s sum of $3,781.27 they can manage to convert your old outhouse into a Victorian mansion.

But sometimes their god is displeased with them. Jonathan shaves his chest, and this is a sin against the Dark Lord. Don’t even ask what it is that Drew does to offend the Shadowy Majesty.

And so, at times, the Property Brethren are on their own. Left to fend for themselves in this pit of fire we call real estate. Down here with the rest of us, the snakes. This is the writhing underworld.

They are not without their wiles. For Master Drew and Magician Jonathan have built a hell all their own. A sub-basement, if you will. (With a brand new ensuite!) In it are housed the immortal souls of many various experts and sub-contractors. (Appropriate for a sub-basement, no?)

Over there stands Mikail, a master in the sinister arts of flooring and drywall. Well, “stands” is perhaps inappropriate. He is partially entombed within the plaster of the wall. Only his head, right hand, stomach, left knee, and left foot stick out.

Then there is the former Sir Todd, the best there has ever been in the ancient practice of bathrooms and kitchens. He rests, submerged to his eyeballs, in a tub full of sticky, half-cooled blood.

And one cannot forget Larry the Luminous, a wizard of appliances and lighting fixtures. One never sees Larry, as he exists only in our peripheral vision where the light and our sanity fails us. But we know he is there.

At the head of the room, Jonathan and Drew sit on a throne of thorns in front of a rusted and madly sparking control panel. This is a game. And today, it is the three unfortunate souls previously mentioned who are destined to play.

Without their Lord’s good favor, the Property Brethren must correctly predict the exact amount of currency that it will take to resurrect the shitty home they just conned two innocent souls into buying. The objective of this hellish game show within a reality show is relatively simple. These cursed contractors must investigate the property and subsequently provide the Brethren with a number that represents their assessment.

The cursed that divine accurately curry favor not only with the Property Brethren, but with their Dark Lord. And as such, they move one small step up the winding staircase out of hell. If — WHEN they fail, as they so often do, they tumble down the stairs into greater darkness. Mikail pulled deeper into the chalky wall. Sir Todd’s bath of blood cools and solidifies further. Larry drifts further to the periphery.

“Let us enter,” Jonathan declares with a wave of his hand. The damned find themselves occupying brittle golems that resemble their former selves. Their dry-mud feet suddenly shuffling down the driveway towards the abomination that some would call a house. The three enter the foyer and already know that this one may be a trap. Sometimes the Brethren like to play tricks, presenting the three with a dwelling so inhospitable that even the darkest of magicks cannot overcome the darkness already therein.

This could be such a home.

Larry eyes the holes high on the walls and ceiling. Exposed wiring. Uncapped. Sconces, maybe? Or the growing insanity of an electrician pushed too far? He reaches for the one bare, exposed bulb he finds in the den and it explodes, frightening him.

Mikail runs his fingers along the classically textured wainscotting and doorways. It has been painted so many times that it flakes off in sheets. He shudders. He imagines his skin peeling off in exactly so horribly and with just as much bad taste.

Sir Todd turns the corner into the kitchen and retches. The smell is unbearable. The cabinets beneath the sink are rotted completely away, exposing the dark recesses of what could only be a hellmouth. A black hose runs from beneath the sink out into the back yard, where it has self-welded to a rusty spigot. The water had ceased working indoors ages ago, and the savages that had lived there after did the best they could.

After hours that seem like days, the booming voices of the Brethren speaking in unison shake the tender walls of the sad home.

“It is time!” they exclaim. “Return to us, and place your bids.”

The golems burn and crumble into dry, dirty ash.

Mikail, Sir Todd, and Larry the Luminous are back in the shells that they are doomed to occupy. Drew reaches for a knob on the control panel, and three holes open from the floor in front of the damned. Strange panels arise from these holes in front of the contestants. They look like bulletin boards made from stretched skin, lit from within. Red and pulsing, like a flashlight being covered by a hand. Brighter, veinous lights move and glow to form the names Mikail, Todd, and Larry. Beneath each name a number arises: 0.

Let the game begin.

Mikail reaches out with his one free hand. In chalk, he scribbles atop the game pedestal. The 0 on the front of the board changes to the number he wrote. His predictions on cost.

Sir Todd does the same, in blood, atop his pedestal.

The number Larry writes on his pedestal is dark, like a burn. The pedestal seems to twitch in response.

Drew waves his hand on the dreary wall, where a panel moves aside to show a screen. Here we peer into the future. Jonathan is no longer on his throne, but rather within the screen.

Swinging his sledgehammer as if he were Thor, Jonathan demolishes a wall. No asbestos. No critters. No surprises. Mikail seems to sigh with relief at his success, though it could just as well be from his prison releasing some of its grip. See there! His left hand is even exposed now.

“The lights were a big worry,” Jonathan says to the homeowners, “We had exposed wiring that didn’t appear up to code, strange placement of fixtures.” He pauses, reaches for a switch. Larry flickers. The lights come on. “But the wiring was actually pretty sound. We managed to get you an all-new chic recessed lighting system that ended up coming in UNDER budget!”

The soundtrack in the background drops an octave or two. A man in a bandana is kneeling on the kitchen floor, shaking his head. “What did you find?” Jonathan growls. The man just points. Mold. Thick sheets of it. Running beneath the tile.

Jonathan, with the owners. “We found mold in the kitchen. Turns out this is actually from the poor plumbing. It all has to be ripped out and redone. This is going to add at least thirty dollars to the budget.”

Bubbles rise from the red fluid of the tub. Bubbling that sounds a lot like, “No! No, please!” Then the bubbles stop popping as the fluid thickens. Sir Todd’s eyeballs look up, desperate as they too are pulled under, deeper into the tub. Only his hair is visible — and as we watch, it thins and turns gray.

Drew smiles, knowing this is happening off-screen in obedience of his will.

“It turns out that this entire house was originally built out of matchsticks. The plumbing, meanwhile, transported only kerosene. And it is built atop an old coal mine.”

The owners look mildly perturbed.

“However,” Jonathan continues, “We managed to knock down this wall to give you that nice open concept feel you’ve been looking for.” He waves his hand majestically, then beckons them upstairs. “We reconfigured the upstairs to include that extra bathroom you wanted, and even had room for a garden tub.”

The owners look pleased, but confused. This amount of space did not match up with the actual square footage of the house. How did they…

But Jonathan is already headed downstairs. “And now for the real surprise: the basement.” Here, he lets the room speak for itself. The previously unfinished basement has been turned into a beautiful play room for the couple’s three children. They are pleased.

And yet. In the back of their mind lurks the question: could this tinder box still catch fire?

Somehow, without it having been vocalized, Drew still offers an answer: “We have ways of controlling the fire.”

24. April 2015 by Greg
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I Want

I’ve never used the predictive text feature on my phone, until I realized you could type a word or two and then use it to write poetry. I typed “I want” then kept using predictive text for all the next words…

I want to see you soon as I think we are gonna make it there my workout went too long as I don’t share it with you and I love them all the time and doubly so whenever I’m in Boston

07. October 2014 by Greg
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The Carbs

Corporate life means meetings. Lots of meetings. About 75% of your time is spent talking about some product or service that you would create were this some alternate universe where you’ve got an actual work ethic. You discuss all this with a group of people who can’t even understand the product even in its vague theoretical existence. In other words, three quarters of your time is spent on conjecture, passive aggressiveness, infighting, and ideas so bad that it’s lucky your product will never actually come to fruition anyway.

The other 25% of your time is spent on Facebook, posting gramatically atrocious ad hominem political attacks on local news websites, and/or looking at just-barely-safe-for-work pseudo-pornography.

Sometimes the meetings are attended by the very clients who are giving you someone else’s money for the theoretical product you’re pretending to create. In these meetings, you spend most of your time reassuring the client about their terrible investment in your fake product. You use a portion of their money to buy a lot of bagels and some plastic flowers to put in the middle of the oddly sticky conference table to make them feel welcome. Think of it as a mating dance with a mate you don’t actually like. But make no mistake, you will get fucked whether you like it or not.

Over the course of my seven years of meetings, my hope in existence dwindled. I came to look forward to the smallest things in order to keep myself going. Maybe someone would fart during the meeting. Or Bob would say something so racist again that it would bring the meeting to a total standstill. Something. Anything.

Eventually, it was just all about the bagels or whatever other snacks awaited me. I would eat non-stop through the meetings, hoping my totally inconsiderate habit of chewing big hunks of bread with my mouth open would make everyone avert their eyes and pretend I wasn’t there. Then I wouldn’t get a single question. Not unless they wanted me to be still grosser and keep chewing while I answered. “Issh funny yoush should ashk that, Bobfff.”

When I heard there was a meeting that I didn’t have to attend I would spend a fair amount of time pretending to go to the copy machine. Staring intently at a stack of blank copy paper, I’d pass the meeting room in the hopes that they left some of the snacks on an outside table, or took a break just long enough for me to sneak in the room and snag some stale carbs.

Over time I cared less and less about being caught.

A client I disliked with the fire of a thousand suns was coming to the office. They wanted me to attend a meeting about some aspect of our terrible product that I didn’t even have anything to do with and had no business being a part of. Even though the project had no chance of succeeding, I took issue with additional fake work that was outside the scope of my already fake job. “Sorry,” I told them, “I have another meeting. I’ll try to attend the second half of the four hour meeting if possible.”

For some reason, my manager also kept IMming me over the course of the meeting, asking when I would be attending. I kept sending him non-sequitur emojis in response. “Is your other meeting done yet? We could use your help in here,” he’d type. I responded with a emoji that consisted of Chewbacca doing an MC Hammer dance.

All the while, I still pretended to go to the copier so that I could get some snacks. When I got to the outside of the meeting room, I was met with a veritable smorgasbord of what passes for food in an office. Bagels, donuts, coffee, soda, cookies, brownies, bananas, yogurt, potato chips, and more. I took two of everything. Just as I got my arms as full as they could get, the meeting doors opened and around 10 or so people — all of whom I’d told that I couldn’t attend — stepped out.

They stared at me with my arms full of food. I stared back. Then I narrowed my eyes. I reached for a packaged Little Debbie cupcake. I unwrapped it slowly, never looking away from them. I alternated eye contact with each and every one of them. Some of them continued to stare, looking stunned and stupid. Others looked away uncomfortably. Fully unwrapped, I brought the cupcake to my lips and opened as wide as I could.

I shoved the entire thing into my mouth, chewing like a cow. My eyes darting back and forth until all others had turned away. And only then did I myself turn and walk back to my desk.

I ate every single crumb of that food garbage while catching up on the YouTube videos in my queue. My manager came by just as my pupils were dilating from all the sugar. A half eaten bagel poked from the corner of my mouth as I turned around.

“Um. Hi. Yeah. Got a second? We need to talk about… earlier.”

My eyelid twitched crazily. I chewed. I stood. I took the bagel from my mouth and poked him in the chest with it, narrowing my eyes again. Then I dropped it on the floor like a mic and raised my hands in the air touchdown-style.


And I left.

19. June 2014 by Greg
Categories: Short, Stories | Leave a comment

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