Everyone is depressed, but not everyone has squirrel rabies

A couple days ago M and I were walking through Riverside Park at sunset trying to work up an appetite for dinner because not an hour beforehand we’d eaten Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for lunch, as grownups do. Pretty soon we discovered a city squirrel on our heels. Feeling proud of ourselves for attracting [I have rabies] such an exotic creature, we began coaxing it closer to us with terms of endearment and fake food. The squirrel [Rabies is what I have] inched close enough to M’s outstretched, empty hand [Rabies what] to realize he was being faked out, then he scampered away. “Damn,” said M. “Do you [Rabid rabid raps a lot] have any food in your purse?”

“Yeah right,” I said, insulted that M would assume I’m some kind of snack hoarder [It's time to bite everything]. I reached into my bag to indicate that it was empty save for my wallet and great literature, and like some kind of witch I pulled out a packet of Chick Fil A granola [Heads off chickens] I’d been hoarding for a week. Never has a more ideal squirrel food [Blood] materialized [Blood] out of nowhere [Blood]. And so began our quest to feed a squirrel [I'll come in the dead of night like a vampire bat] from our hands.

You know how Emerson said if the stars only appeared one night every thousand years or whatever [I'll suck the blood from the stars], everyone would freak out because they’re so beautiful? Well city squirrels are actually really cute. Their adorable little faces [Eat the eyeballs first]. Their soft fur for petting [Clot with pink saliva]. Their teenie tiny paws that press down on your hand while the teeth crunch granola [Foam at the mouth]. I love them so much.

After thirty minutes of vigorous effort, I earned the trust of an adolescent squirrel in a tree. He followed the trail of Chick Fil A cereal directly into my palm–who wouldn’t?–and began [I'll eat you then you can eat me and we can all be the same] chewing ecstatically. It was perhaps the best moment of my life. And then a dog [Sink my teeth into your skin] walked by. The squirrel dropped the granola in its mouth and clamped down on my finger instead. The Disney cartoon I’d been inhabiting [I'm not naturally aggressive I just want to eat everybody] suddenly turned into a remake of Cujo and I was shaking a filthy, rabid rodent off my hand before it could inflict me with its poison.

M and I both felt a little sheepish afterward. M lit a cigarette. We texted my mom. Had I gotten the tetanus shot she’d told me to get when my nephew was born? No. Karma. We left the park in a hurry. Googled “squirrel rabies.” So far I think I’m okay [Cow blood tastes the best], but I’m monitoring my emotional responses more ardently than usual. Now if I feel especially misanthropic or ferocious, I have to wonder.

The most telling part about this story [Last night I killed four subway rats with my bare hands] is that the night after the squirrel attacked my finger, I dreamed about an animal biting the same digit. Except in the dream incident, my subconscious saw fit to transform the squirrel into a bald eagle.

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Lullaby

The other night I was lying in bed, trying to sleep, because it’s important to sleep at least 18 hours a day, when a punk band started up next door. The apartment buildings on my street are of such a nature that a punk band playing next door is exactly like a punk band playing on top of your eyeballs. Except in the case of this band, the drummer was playing on one eyeball and the lead guitarist was playing on the other eyeball and suddenly I couldn’t coordinate my blinks. What I’m trying to say is that the band wasn’t very good. But I wasn’t too indignant about it because I really didn’t have anything else to do but lie there and listen. Eventually I fell asleep.

I was woken up at 2am by another punk band, this one far superior. They were loud and snotty but technically skilled, and I found myself regretting that no one had invited me to the party next door. Then again, I hadn’t invited anyone to come party with me in my room with the Hulu and the mac and cheese and the regression and the tears, so it was probably karma.

Then the superior punk band started playing a familiar song. This was the last thing I expected to happen, for the night I start recognizing songs that bands play at Brooklyn rooftop house parties is the same night that I’m officially cool, and I’m just not equipped to handle that kind of pressure. But I immediately recognized the song as “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades” by the Exploding Hearts. I fell asleep thinking, “Wow, the Exploding Hearts are right next door. I must have made some respectable life decisions after all.”

Then I woke up and googled The Exploding Hearts, just to confirm that I’d caught the Brooklyn leg of their Summer 2013 tour. I read that in July of 2003, when driving back to Portland from a gig in San Fransisco, the band’s van crashed on Interstate 5 in Oregon, killing three out of four members. They were 23, 21, and 20 years old.

Life is like this too often. You hear music in the night. It brings you a moment of pleasure. And then in the morning you find out that all the musicians are dead.

But I’m reluctant to leave on that note. In a few days the psychotropic drugs will finally kick in and make me regret being so liberal in my sadsack observations. So let’s try to fantasize about what it was to be happy, what it was to hear music, what it was to make it. One book I have about beating depression says that you should store up ten joyful memories that you can access when you get down. Number one: I cruise down the highway in a van with all my best friends. Number two: I win the heart of the girl next door.

 

 

 

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Depressed female writer with suicide story in VICE contemplates depressed female writer suicide fashion editorial in VICE

The depressed female writer wears a clean shirt for once. Also a knit sweater, though it’s 90 degrees outside. She chose certain pieces to complement the gloom. For instance, even her underwear is black. She sits at her mother’s kitchen counter, near the knives and the oven. Her mother is out of town, thus not featured in today’s fashion spread, which is probably a blessing in disguise. Ranging down the counter is an array of aesthetically coherent props: typing computer, wine glass, feelings journal, corkscrew, stale coffee, unread New Yorker, wooden spoon. 

The writer just ate an onion for lunch. She’s not sure why. She was already in a crying mood. Soon it will be time to fetch her laundry from the dryer. When she folds her summer separates you can imagine the outfits they might figure into and how they could be flattering. The writer knows they won’t be flattering. The writer knows that she is a monster.

This photo editorial contains an element of danger, for at any moment a beloved friend or family member could stop by the house unexpectedly and then the writer will have to go hide in a closet until the visitor gives up and goes home. The writer is fully prepared to pee in a jar until the threat of social interaction recedes.

The rubber soles of the writer’s sneakers are stained with mango juice, residue of a happier time. The orange spots now fortify the writer to kick things. But for the most part, the depressed model is stationary. She hunches over on a kitchen stool and glumly plays brain improvement games on her computer. These games seem engineered to make the writer feel bad about herself. The writer solemnly pledges that she will not drink before tomorrow’s brain training session.

The writer’s cuticles are bleeding on her keyboard, which seems like a nice touch. If only the blood could do the talking, the writer thinks, but it would only sound like Wah wah wah.

The writer wonders what other household appliances would visually communicate imminent suicide. Trying to fit into the refrigerator would make a good excuse for eating everything inside it within the next half hour. Cats are always trying to kill themselves by secreting themselves in the dryer. There might even be one in there now with the writer’s superior clothing ensembles. Come to think of it, there is no end to the places in this house where a cat might commit suicide. Dishwasher, coffee pot, salad spinner. And that’s just the kitchen.

The writer hopes that in the fashion photographer’s eye, her look of anguish when working at the computer reads as “finishing magnum opus” or “putting final touches on goodbye note” rather than “getting royally slaughtered in quantitative reasoning game on Lumosity.com.”

It’s raining outside. It rains here too often. The writer suggests trying to incorporate the rain into the shoot somehow. For effect. For texture. For wetness.

So the rain falls, the cat concludes its hot orbit, the writer plays games because she can’t model for shit, and explaining the dying remains a lot harder than explaining the living, especially when you’re only using pictures.

 

 

 

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Something borrowed

The other day I walked through the rain to my local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, where I would get a card to make this move official. Until you have a library card you can pretend you’re off the grid, but my gypsy days are over because I borrowed a spy film and a copy of Chess for Dummies. But the walk, the rain. The Bed-Stuy streets were basically deserted, so I felt the presence of the approaching man from a block away. Wondered if I should play it coy, keep my eyes lowered until the last second, then say something affable about the lousy weather. Was my neighbor also formulating a plan for our intersection? Maybe he would compliment the bright colors of my umbrella. I’d have to be conversationally flexible in case he had his own agenda. Most likely we’d exchange a few universal words about spring. (Me, privately, to spring: For fuck’s sake, spring!) We’d walk away from each others’ faces feeling either worse or better about ourselves.

Sharing the world with other people is draining. Not draining: the puddles on the sidewalk that the man was fording with his shopping trolley. They were deep and wide and barely navigable by human persons of our sort. As we closed in on each other, I noted that the man’s cart was filled to the brim with folded laundry. But the top of his laundry duffel was loose, open, getting drizzled with rain. I nodded mutely at the man with what I thought was an exemplary amount of neighborly affect. He nodded back, and at that moment a dozen bundles of paired socks dove out of his shopping trolley like lemurs, then became absorbed by the puddles I described earlier as build-up to this lemur analogy (perhaps the most overextended analogy of all time, yet still applicable to at least two thirds of my enterprises).

At first the man didn’t notice that he was dribbling socks behind him like a trail of breadcrumbs that would return him to the laundromat. (Sometimes it’s fun to really commit to making certain things like other things.)

“Sir!” I said. “Your socks!” The man stopped short and turned toward the wake of his shopping trolley with dread that bordered on existential.

“Oh noooo,” he said, surveying the carnage with hands crumpling in slo-mo to his face. “It’s a dreeeaaam.”

When he said it was a dream, I was immediately transported into a storyline where the soiled socks and the cold rain and the library books I coveted and my soggy shoes and my wet hair and Brooklyn-at-large and the seasons distorted beyond recognition were all part of a dream, his dream. The man’s dream made sense of the past ten months, when I wrote a book, got divorced, said goodbye to my Virginia family, moved back to the city, stared through countless windows at countless grey skies, ran back and forth across bridges, shivered, blew clandestine snot rockets, held babies, listened to a million songs, burned to write, wrote little of worth, made my peace with obscurity, washed the stink out of my clothes, neglected most films, most books, most people, lay facedown on the hardwood floor long enough to make my roommates uncomfortable, thought about whales, thought about the sex lives of teenagers, explored bad and worse habits, drank green tea to counteract aforementioned habits, made a profession of having feelings, contemplated dropping out of my profession the second I had something tangible to offer it, discovered rap music, fell in love with Dunkin Donuts, mourned my grandmother (forever), mourned my dad (forever), did a lot of dishes (when you do the dishes, do the dishes, says the Buddha), gave too much leeway to men, briefly inhabited the Pleasure Dome, and then was asked to leave.

Don’t you see, my bloods, that it’s all been a part of this laundry man’s dream? A dream, not a nightmare. Let’s not cast our judgment upon a stranger’s subconscious. His long winter created this fantasy world. Our sleep world where the rain can’t get in. If life is but a dream, my own modest butt is square in the middle. Together we made the dream, a function of this beastly climate. We wear the dream, launder the dream, in an infinite wash cycle until we die clean. Or maybe dirty. The dream tumbles out. Who died? It’s a dream yo the deaths don’t count. Who loves or is ditched for other lovers or feels hurt and want. It’s a dream. It’s a dream and then there are libraries to give expression to it. It’s a dream, it’s a borrowed book, and then it is pure, dry, dry as a desert, dry as sleep.

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Cooking with Butter

“Who are the real writers?” asks the author of Cooking with Butter (unpublished 2012, 2013). What are they cooking with? What superior foods lubricate their baking dishes and frying pans? How do they manage to flavor without butter, my accent ingredient?

Is it wrong to obsess about the cookbooks of other authors? What makes them so great? Maybe it’s better to stir fry with sunflower oil. Or with bacon fat. But aren’t we all driving for the same result, the same sensual pleasure? Do we even need multiple flavors in the kitchen? Our cakes will crumble like the Tower of Babel. Eventually all tastes congeal into the same sordid substance. We rarely die with a book in our hands or food on our lips.

Do I honestly think that I can churn out butter like no one before me? Is it inherently selfish to want people to handle my recipes? To desire cravenly that my dishes find a wider audience? Does my cookbook by definition make me an egomaniac? Should I just execute these recipes for my own consumption instead of writing them down and sharing them with the world? Does butter need to be at-large? Should I skip the writing process altogether and just eat this dairy product in its purest form, congealed, with a spoon, from a bowl, in the dark? After all, recipes are always one remove from real food. My cookbook is not butter. You cannot eat it. The only nourishment it may provide is in culinary translation.

I should blog more frequently about butter. I should use social media to hype this essential ingredient. I’m going to start tweeting about my recipes. They’re edible, which means they should be publicized. Butter deserves a full-time hustler. Everyone needs to see how I put food together. Everyone needs to know the taste in my mouth.

Strike that. Sadly, no one is living or dying by my pompous butter recipes. Plus, what if my readers try them out and the butter malfunctions, like the fat operates differently in their personal skillets? And then I’d have to deal with the shame, the remainders.

Oh butter, maybe it’s better we pretend you don’t exist in my refrigerator. I cannot cook you so you’re righteous and savory with every meal. Only sometimes in the dead of night, or when I’m driving alone for long stretches, becoming one with my laden arteries, do I feel that I’m doing something right in the kitchen.

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Dropping the f-bomb in labor & delivery

If you are in the midst of having a baby, I am perhaps not the *best* person to accompany you into labor & delivery, but I am also not the *worst*. For instance, some people are psychotic. Some people have Ebola. When you invite me into your labor & delivery room, you can expect my behavior to be generally innocuous. I might panic and press the nurse’s call button when you stand to stretch your legs. I might be a little too interested in the snacks meant to keep your strength up. And I might keep gravitating toward your birthing jacuzzi because I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. But I am also super invested in making your birthing experience a beautiful one.

Even though the labor & delivery security band on my wrist entitles me to “free drinks” in the cafeteria upstairs, I will not start thinking of the hospital as an exclusive nightclub where “anything goes” because I have an “all-access pass.” I will not keep flashing my wristband to family members in the maternity ward lobby who are not in possession of wristbands, for I would hate for them to feel self conscious about not making the cut. I will not start thinking of the nurses as “bouncers”  who “know me.” When asked how things are going beyond the security doors, I will not insinuate that there are mysteries occurring in labor & delivery that those without wristbands could never understand, and I will not compare my birthing room privileges to being backstage at a Jay-Z concert, drinking champagne with Beyonce and Blue Ivy while everyone else is getting their flasks confiscated in the cheap seats, because childbirth is a miracle and the miracle is not how cool I am all of a sudden.

I will not swear more than 50 times in front of your newborn. I will not blog about your private parts. (Even though no one reads this blog so it might be kind of liberating to have your vagina on here.)

But I will worship the ground you walk on for a long time to come. And I will wear my all-access wristband until the nurses turn on me and insist on cutting it off. They’ll take these precautions before I get carried away with love and try to steal your baby. At this point the bouncers know me all too well.

Welcome to the world, little nephew. I hope you dig crazy aunts. xo

 

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Let’s talk more science, okay

Because I went to art school, I understand how science works. When I’m zipping around Brooklyn trying to find a communal apartment so I can regress to my twenties and I walk into a duplex where a potential roommate is cooking up some body wax on the stove top because he’s about to strip off all his chest hair in order to make more money go-go dancing, I immediately recognize the chemical processes involved. And I make hypotheses.

But also there are real scientists out there doing awesome experiments like “What Would Happen if We Created a Mouse Utopia?” and “Maybe Lead Poisoning Is Responsible for Juvenile Delinquency Let’s Check That Out,” so I discard all my own research (“Do I Have Heartburn? Is This What Heartburn Feels Like?”) and just concentrate on supplementing their findings.

1) The mouse utopia/dystopia. Move a colony of mice into a “heaven” of your own manufacture and watch them breed until they refuse to breed further because they’re so depressed by overpopulation. Watch them have total meltdowns because they can’t find meaningful social roles. Watch them join OkCupid. Watch them fill scores of composition books with their jaded musings. Watch them wither and die. Watch me preside over their ornate burial services because mice are so funny and cute.

2) The lead poisoning hypothesis. Take inner-city living conditions that are already miserable and unforgiving and add neurological toxins. Watch how your children turn out. Watch how they’re hobbled by poverty, prejudice, and coordinates before they even have a chance to sample Earth’s full range of venom. Watch how they turn to a life of crime because the lead has deteriorated the myelin in their brains. Watch me chug this Big Gulp full of vintage gasoline because both of these theories are so discouraging.

On the surface the two studies have little in common–one is about mice and one is about crime–but popular science drives readers to make grandiose conclusions about the demise of humanity so we can feel smarter when we’re mingling by the cheese table at parties. Both studies want to prove (confirmation bias) that there are good reasons we’re falling apart. There are too many mice in the cage! There are too many toxic fumes in the baby’s crib! I am secretly a dolphin! Root vegetables cause blindness! Hirsute go-go dancers make twice as many tips! [It is frustrating when I can't be serious for five goddamn minutes. My fellow scientists are trying to get me moved to another laboratory.]

And the lead poisoning article is somewhat problematic, as you might imagine. It’s just too elegant and its conclusions too costly to taxpayers. But who would dare question the study on rodent/human malaise, wherein:

Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection.

And who, for that matter, would dare stop me from building my own rat castle, where the walls are painted in Pb(CH2CH3)4 compounds and I’ve isolated for variables such as some rats having a bigger “babe quotient” than other rats? And what about if I put a pea under every rat mattress and then the experiment was also a fairy tale? And what if we are all going to die alone and dystopic anyway so ultimately this study proves nothing? And what about that time I got kind of drunk and tried to do science? What about that? I can’t wait to replicate these results tomorrow night and the next. Sleep well, rat kingdom. Don’t eat my face.

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“What Am I Thinking of?

My little brother recently came home from eight months in Australia with a new game. It’s called “What Am I Thinking of?” and it seems poised on the brink of bridging the tragic divide between human skulls. With this game you can finally penetrate the consciousness of your fellow man. It’s the most exhilarating science I’ve seen in years. The game goes like this:

Player 1: What am I thinking of?

Player 2: Seahorses.

Player 1: No, Roman columns.

Player 2: Shit.

Normally I hate games, but I had fun with this one because it was so easy to sabotage. “What Am I Thinking of?” is the sort of game that breaks down when you can’t trust your partner to tell you honestly what he’s thinking of. It also thrives on creativity and randomness, which is why the following exchanges were so enjoyable:

Me: What am I thinking of? (eating bacon)

Brother: Genghis Khan.

Me: No, bacon.

&

Me: What am I thinking of? (holding my brother’s face in my hands)

Brother: All Quiet on the Western Front.

Me: No, your face.

Brother: You suck at this game.

Keep in mind that we played “What am I thinking of?” en famille on Christmas morning, so what I was actually thinking was “I am so goddamn lonely” and “My entire life is an exercise in shame and futility.” But joke’s on them because I’m also a cheater!

My brother says the closest he’s ever come to winning this game is when he guessed “London” when his friend was thinking “Dublin.” Evidently some sort of Jungian collective unconscious was in play here. Or the boys were simultaneously reading a map of the United Kingdom. In any case I’m encouraged that two people can read each other’s minds even to this dyslexic degree. They were trying to know each other, and it’s the effort—not the science—that counts.

Me: What am I thinking of? (porn porn Roy Orbison porn dogs champagne)

You: How dark and inaccessible you are.

Me: Congratulations, you win. Game over.

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Snowflake tech support

Last night my sister’s husband and I stared at a stack of white paper, trying to figure out how to turn it into snowflakes. I had folded one sheet into squares, and my very handy brother-in-law was probably a minute away from making an origami buffalo. Fortunately his mother called. In June she’d retired from a long career as an elementary schoolteacher, and on a day when elementary schools were on everyone’s mind, she’d wanted to hear her son’s voice. “Mom, I’ve got a question for you….” And so began fifteen minutes of snowflake tech support.

First off, paper snowflakes are made from circles, and not squares or triangles, which would have been my next guess. Second, they’re a pain in the ass, and the children who succeed in making attractive ones in these weeks leading up to Christmas have my boundless respect. Third, don’t eat from a gift barrel of popcorn while you’re making these snowflakes because orange fingerprints devalue the product. Fourth, find something that you’re good at, like tracing circles around a greasy bowl, and then let someone else, like maybe your brother-in-law, do the creative scissor-work.

No two snowflakes are the same, right? In last night’s case, that’s not because they were all so beautiful, but because they were all butchered in their own unique fashion. The project reminded me of the holiday season three years ago, when my siblings and their future spouses took turns chopping wood for my mom’s fireplace, one of my dad’s old jobs. (My job, of course, was and remains sitting quietly and staying well-hydrated amidst a flurry of manual labor.) And forget about snowflakes for a second: when you chop firewood, when you really hack into it, the logs are never severed in the same way. Each one splits down a different axis and forms a new carnival of splinters. It’s both random and devastatingly specific how things fall apart.

I guess it’s okay to have metaphors for things like grief and loss. But pictures and stories are also a method of being passive, which is a personal characteristic I’m ashamed of, especially when the world is in such dire need of action. When you see a fire, and it’s devouring paper and wood alike, it’s hard to think that anything you say or do is going to alter the course of the flames. You keep trying to create beauty that might be redemptive somehow, but your scissors are dull and there are three delicious kinds of popcorn in the barrel and screw snowflakes anyway because they don’t burn as long as all the dead trees.

I would’ve liked to have left the arts and crafts meditation to the little kids tonight, but I sort of know what they would say. “Keep cutting until there’s almost nothing left. Cut on all sides. Cut everywhere, until you can barely see the paper, until the snowflake is a window. When I grow up I’m going to change the world.”

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This whole question of sincerity

As if sincerity is something that needs to be defended. Life is hard and sad and wonderful people die all the time. This is why we must make jokes. Like yesterday I cut open my knuckle trying to stab some ice loose with a corkscrew, and then I bled all over the baby I was playing with. The baby was laughing, and then he was soaked in my blood, and I had to go fetch a cold sponge in order to deal with the stains. And that is something we do all the time by accident—bleed on the babies—but you can either feel bad about it forever or resume singing little songs and burying your face in the baby’s warm, ticklish skin. In the back of your mind, you know that the game now smells like a slaughterhouse, but the jokes are dear. The jokes are good.

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