The Withdrawal is Real

Dear Interwebz and the people on it,

My computer needs a new motherboard and being that the machine is around seven years old, and the operating system was already out of date, it’s probably simply time for a new machine. It will be a while before I get one however, so I am now reduced to mere lunchtime blogging when I have time. And the novel is yet again delayed.

But I shouldn’t go this long without posting something, so here you go. Feel free to leave your sass and profundity in the comments section. Hopefully I’ll come up with something clever to say in the near future.

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A Circuitous Path to Wordsmithery

K Car

Somewhere in my parent’s house there’s a photo album. Most likely there are several. But this one in particular is one of those fancy padded types with a soft cloth cover; white with a floral pattern, pink frilly trim and one of those plastic windows in the front that seems to have lost its transparency over time. In that album there’s a photo printed from honest to goodness thirty-five millimeter Kodak film, and faded to a pre-Instagram, natural sepia. That photo is of a little boy. His lips are pursed in a tight begrudging smile signaling to all that he’d rather not have the camera pointed in his direction. He’s holding one sad red balloon by its string in the muggy warmth of a Washington summer.

While certainly no angel, that little boy in the hideous brown and yellow striped shirt represented a clean slate of human potential. The act of simply meandering through life had not yet tainted him. Thirty years later that boy was a pre-middle aged man, eight years into an entry level job in a California State IT shop, wondering how he was going to afford his looming and inevitable mid-life crisis. He thought he’d do some writing, maybe a short story or two, maybe a novel. A decade late to the blog party he started putting digital ink to virtual paper, which is where you’re likely reading this, if anyone out there in the ether actually reads this shit.

You could ask a hundred writers when they knew they wanted to write, and I’d guess that most of them would say that they loved reading and writing since they were wee little tykes learning their ABCs. Perhaps they’d tell you about a book they fell in love with in junior high, or high school, and they knew then. The only books I read during my teens were of the comic variety, in the 90’s, when every female character had perfectly drawn, and clearly fake tits.  Oh, and they wore thongs into battle. Because what self-respecting female hero doesn’t wear a thong when fighting ninjas, ya know?

Around the same time I had my nose pressed into Jean Grey’s 2-D cleavage, I discovered anime and holy shit. Dragon Ball Z, Ninja Scroll, Akira, and tentacle porn; if you’re a guy who grew up in the 90’s there is a very good chance that you’ve seen all four of those, and you probably watched them while smoking shitty brown weed and drinking Mad Dog 20/20. And you probably did that while ignoring your sister’s complaints about the girl that you’re kinda seeing that you met at the Mr. Video. Or maybe that last part is just me. Oh, and Mario Kart. I’ll fuck you up at Mario Kart.

 

What does that have to do with writing? Not a damn thing. It barely has anything to do with reading but for the fact that I’m conveying this story with the alphabet. But that’s kinda the point.

The first time I had any idea that I might be decent at it was in May of 1998, about a month before graduation. My English teacher asked us to write some nonsense about what our time at school meant and yada yada. I was feeling sappy and nostalgic at the time so I apparently took it seriously.

I wrote about that little boy with the balloon changing schools after the third grade because his parents bought a house in a nicer neighborhood. I read to them in front of the class about how that same kid moved from Washington State to Arizona just a year later for the fifth grade, and spent the sixth grade at Pasadena Elementary in Sacramento. Sacagawea middle school in Spokane was fun for a year. The six foot snow drifts were pretty, but my shoes didn’t do a great job of keeping my feet dry.  Eighth grade and part of my freshman year of high school we were back in Seattle, before coming back to Sacramento. I talked to them about the drives from one state to another where I’d sleep on the floor of the car, contorted over the hump behind the front seats so my sister could sleep on the back seat. I told them how my sister would make friends easily wherever we went, and how she would cry when we’d leave a year after that. I told them how I didn’t do those things, and how coming to know them slowly was something I appreciated. Everyone cried.

Fifteen years, five college enrollments, dropouts, and an inauspicious stint in our nation’s armed services later, and I started banging away at a keyboard and flinging my half-ass empurpled prose at a few writer-friends I met through a Seahawks fan site. Go ‘Hawks. I got some decent feedback and kept plugging away. Now I’m doing the thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions about popping out one novel, becoming a best-selling author and living the rest of my life on easy street. Writing is hard work. It’s harder than working hard at a hard job. It’s thankless, merciless, and you have to be a little bit crazy to take a serious stab at it. Nobody likes rejection. Nobody is going to pay you if you suck. You have to take your lumps. And even if you don’t suck, well, not everybody gets to be an astronaut. That’s the harsh reality. But I’m doing the thing anyway. Because fuck it, why not? I’m at two rejections and counting.

 

***

A Country for Old (Rich) Men – A Brief, and Likely Entirely Fictional Conversation

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Carl Harrington leaned back in his vintage Eames Lounge Chair, his glass of Dalmore Fifty perched in his left hand as William Brewster entered the study.

“Hope you don’t mind, Carl. I let myself in.”

“I don’t mind at all.” Carl gestured toward the matching Eames chair across from him. “Please, have a seat.”

“I never did like these retro chairs, they lean too far back for my taste.  I’ll take the sofa.”

“Drink?”

“Is that the Macallan twenty-six?”

“No, it’s the Dalmore.”

“Well you do like to slum it every now and then.”

Carl waved a flippant hand toward the bar. “Help yourself to whatever.”

William poured his two-finger glass of scotch neat, then swallowed the three-thousand dollar sip, and poured another. “Tell me, any thoughts on the game?”

“Plenty,” said Carl, “and all of them end with your pony losing fantastically.”

“It certainly appears that way,” he said. “But I’ve got it on good authority that a leak is coming soon. Something having to do with paid speeches to certain banking executives.”

“Really? That would be something. Think that will be enough to offset your pony’s rampant nationalism and my pony’s move to de-privatize the federal prison system?”

“Probably not. Oh well. At least we’ll have the fun of watching the squirm.”

“Indeed. Good squirm with that.”

William leaned over conspiratorially to whisper, as though someone were listening, as if it would even matter is someone was. Carl knew what was coming next. A proposal of sorts. William made a habit of feigning shady character whenever he offered a deal. It made him feel diabolical, and he liked it.

“I’ll give you Short Line and Reading for your properties on Baltic and Mediterranean,” said William.

Carl simply scoffed. While that would be a deal well worth taking in any traditional game of Monopoly, this was no traditional game.

“I’ll take Amtrak off your hands when you finish that high speed rail, and you’re absolutely crazy if you think I’m giving you my Louisiana properties. That’s going to be beach front in ten years.”

“Well I had to try.” William held out his glass for a mock cheers. “But you caught me.”

“You see the plebs are protesting again?”

“When aren’t they protesting?” said William.

“Yes, well it seems that someone raised the prices of a life-saving allergy medicine six-hundred percent. This was of course after they lobbied to have it required at public schools and moved their corporation out of the country to lower their tax rate.”

“Ah, the dangers of big government corruption.”

“Big government? Will, you’re practically begging them to scream for single-payer. One of those pens only costs eleven dollars in Canada. That’s right next door.”

“Those nits don’t know what they’re protesting. The slightly rich think it’s a class war, and the lesser classes think it’s a race war. Let them think what they think, as long as they don’t actually think. That’s what I always say.”

The Good Fence

Another flash fiction challenge from the esteemed Mr. Wendig. Details of the challenge can be found here. The prompt I got to work with was: “Good fences weren’t built in a day.”

*

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The Good Fence

A fence is a separator, a partition, a thing that is by its very nature divisive. Most folks don’t necessarily think of fences like that. Most often they think of a fence as a border marking off what’s theirs from what ain’t. Not old Jack Thompson though. Well it was that, but he also meant to be divisive. Three nails dangled from his mouth, pinched between his lips, as he lined up a fourth atop a post with his left hand, and a hammer in his right.

Jack looked down the long partition that stretched its way down the center of what used to be the family farm and far into the horizon. He tapped the head of the nail twice to start, then drove it home with one smooth motion. He’d had a lot of practice.

“Uncle Jack,” said Amber from across the fence. “Why don’t you come in for dinner? It’s getting’ dark.”

Jack looked to her, and saw his ex-wife Julia, mixed with a little bit of himself looking back. But it wasn’t himself he saw, that was just an illusion. He pulled the nails from his lip. “Your father home?”

“Yeah.”

“Then you know I can’t.”

“I know you won’t, but you can. Always could.”

Jack just nodded, set two nails back between his lips, and drove the third into the board atop the fence. Amber walked away to the cadence. Tap, tap, smack. Tap, tap, smack. The fence was finished. Jack was sixty years old, but a hard sixty, and he felt every bit of eighty as he lugged himself onto the tailgate of his nearby pickup. He pulled an icy bottle of beer from a beat up igloo cooler in the bed and popped the top with the chipped end of a Bic lighter.

He’d been secretly sweet on Julia since grade school, and John was both his brother and his best friend. Called themselves the three amigos. When John got himself kicked by a horse the summer after sophomore year, Jack and Julia stayed past visiting hours at the hospital. That’s when their friendship started turning into something more. He held her hand. She rested her head on his shoulder. They married at seventeen.

A few years after that Jack and John inherited the family farm when their father died in a freak accident involving the windmill, a cow, and an unexpected bolt of lightning. Jack never could wrap his head around exactly what happened. A year after that John started building a home of his own at the other end of the property, for privacy’s sake.

Jack and Julia were happy but by the time they were in their late twenties they still didn’t have any children. Doctor said his swimmers were bad. And sure, they argued and fought like any couple. But they were good. At least Jack thought so. That is until he came home from a duck hunt and found Julia with John. Jack never could quite wrap his head around that, either. He might’ve shot them both right then if she hadn’t said those two little words. “I’m pregnant.”

A month later and Julia had moved in with John. Seven months after that and along came Amber. The first post went up the day she was born. Jack wiped away a tear, finished the last of his brew, and laid down in the bed of the truck.

From Whence Come the Wendig

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Although I’m new to the blogosphere, I’ve been a big fan of Chuck Wendig’s blog Terribleminds.com for quite some time. His sense of humor, and fap-tastic guides to navigating the labor/love of writing have been a constant source of fresh air on an interwebz filled with farts. Also, he can write like a motherfucker. Have you read Atlanta Burns? Jesus Christ.

Anyway, Chuck occasionally does this challenge thing where he asks other writers to write stuff based on other stuff that other writers wrote, and put it on their writing space. So I’m doing that. Because writing.

Here’s the link to the challenge in case you want to check it out. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/08/19/flash-fiction-challenge-pick-three-sentences-and-write/

These are the choices I’ve decided to go with.

-I looked up the tall wooden ladder, wondering if it would hold my weight. http://frwdnrnd.wordpress.com/

-Reality lurched much like a rickety wagon on uneven pavement or a teenager caught masturbating. Mekkin(author)

-It was one of those rare occasions where violence didn’t solve the problem. Graviton(author)

And here’s the story, it’s not two thousand words, but whatever.

FROM WHENCE COME THE WENDIG

It was one of those rare occasions where violence didn’t solve the problem. I looked up the tall wooden ladder, wondering if it would hold my weight. Then I looked down in a futile attempt to glimpse the tips of my toes. Reality lurched much like a rickety wagon on uneven pavement or a teenager caught masturbating. Not that I was a teenager anymore, or able to reach my penis. It’s hard work being a contract killer. It’s even harder when you’re fifty years old, morbidly obese, and your prey has scurried into the hay loft of an abandoned barn.

“Hey, come down here. I just wanna talk to you,” I said.

“Fuck you,” said Billy. “Y-y-you’re fixin’ to kill me.”

“I am not. I’m just supposed to scare you is all.”

“I’m plenty scared already. Job well done.”

The little smartass thought he was clever. I was going to kill him, of course, and if I didn’t need his thumb I’d just light the barn on fire. But no, old man Wick wants his trophy.

“Well here’s the thing, I also gotta rough you up a bit. Wick didn’t take kindly to what you did to his granddaughter. The sooner you come down, the sooner you can go home.”

The following silence amplified the squeaking weathervane atop the barn, and the rustle of loose hay in the evening autumn wind.

“I don’t want to stay down here all night, boy. Come on down now.”

“P-p-put the gun away.”

“It ain’t even a real gun, Billy, lookie it says ‘replica’ right here on the side.”

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news is that when Billy poked his dumbass face over the edge of the loft, I managed to plug one right between his eyes. The bad news is that his stupid corpse didn’t fall over the edge of the loft like I wanted. I am too old, and too fat for this bullshit. I placed my left foot on the bottom rung of the ladder and gripped its sides. Easing my weight into place I listened for the telltale sound of wood about to surrender. There was nothing. I stepped up, and nearly made it to the second rung when the first gave out and gravity pulled my second and third chins straight into the path of the splintered wooden step, and then the ground. Goddamnit.

I rolled over onto my back which, given my dietary and life choices, isn’t as easy as you’d imagine. And there was Billy staring back at me with his lifeless blue eyes, mocking me, and dripping blood onto my forehead. Asshole. I’d have stayed there a bit longer if it wasn’t for the blood. The cold earth felt good on my back.

“Don’t go anywhere, Billy. I’ll be right back.”

Fifteen minutes and two cigarettes later and I had the pickup backed into the barn. Hoo-ray four wheel drive. I hooked the chain into the tow hitch and looped it around the two support beams at the edge of the loft. I tried to be gentle about it. As gentle as you can be with four-hundred horse power that is. The first tap on the throttle elicited a sharp crack, the second brought a louder crack, then a snap then a clatter of splintered wood and screws and nails. This did not have the desired result.

Standing near the wreckage, only a single piece of Billy was visible in the pile of rubble. I pulled out my phone. “Hey there Wick, It’s Wendig. Yeah it’s done, but I got a question. His thumb isn’t really – accessible – how do you feel about his head?”

 

 

The Crazy Lady

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Every office has one. Mine, I’ll call her “Elle”(to protect the innocent) may just be the mayor of Crazy Town. While nice enough on good days, she has the ability to break up groups of people gathered around the coffee machine and send them scurrying for cover. She’s a five foot tall New York transplant of Italian descent with short cropped hair, thick coke-bottle glasses, and a natural gift for over-sharing. The many dramatic occurrences I’ve become privy to over the years include, but are not limited to:

-Performing for the B Street Theater

-Having been almost murdered by her ex-husband (currently serving the last of his thirty-year sentence for the woman he did kill.)

-Having been nearly drowned by her mother

-Her love affair with Jameson Irish Whiskey

She tells me these stories I’m guessing because she tells them to everyone, but also because I’m somewhat of a captive audience with my position requiring me to remain at my desk for much of the day and my inability to tell her to simply “go away”.

In today’s ride into Crazy Town, Elle walked up to my desk and huffed, ever so dramatically, until I could no longer stare blankly at my monitor and I was forced to turn my attention toward her. Had I a seat belt, I would’ve buckled it.

“I am just so sick of these people.” Elle waved her hands about like a psych ward maestro, thumb and index fingers pinched together on both hands. “Do you know what they did?”

“I do not,” I said.

“These fucking people.” She leaned in and stage-whispered the word fucking. “These fucking people, I swear. I’m going to go to the Sacramento Bee and tell them what’s going on.”

“And what would that be?”

“All those people back there. Did you know John comes in two hours late every day? Every day! And Laura? As soon as the boss leaves at four o’clock she’s out the door. She’s supposed to stay until five you know.”

“…and?”

“You don’t care? That doesn’t bother you?”

“Not really.”

“How does that not bother you? They’re wasting state resources. It’s stealing. They’re stealing.” She let the last word draw out with all the vitriol of a displaced New Yorker.

“How do you know that’s what’s happening?” I asked.

“Hello! I see it every day.”

She then proceeded to spend the next several minutes briefing me on the ways in which she’s been spying on her co-workers bad habits; lunches she’s deemed too long, late arrivals and early departures. People generally not doing their jobs.

“Not that I’m one to complain. I’m not a complainer,” she said.

“Yeah, but you don’t know that John hasn’t worked out his late arrivals with your manager. Maybe he’s got to deal with his kids or something. And Laura? Maybe she’s got to go get her kid from day-care. You don’t know that they’re not using their leave time.”

“Yes I do, yes I do.” She placed her hands flat on the edge of my desk and leaned in. “Why are you defending them?”

“I’m not defending them. I’m just saying you don’t know. Do you audit their time sheets to make sure they’re using their time?”

“No. But I know.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I do.”

“Ah, so wasting State time seems to be something you feel really strongly about.”

“Why don’t you feel really strongly about it? Those are your tax dollars too,” she said.

“That’s true. You do realize though, that you’ve been up here for,” I glanced down at the non-existent watch on my wrist. “About twenty minutes now.”

Elle glared at me, and I mean glared. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m just saying. It’s 10:30AM, so I know you’re not on lunch. And I’m reasonably sure that complaining about your co-workers isn’t on your duty statement.” Knowing Elle to be a good, wholesome Catholic woman I added, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Well, Shit.

I hadn’t realized it until my early thirties, but when I did the fact was undeniable. I was an idiot. I hadn’t always been an idiot, in fact throughout my life I’d been recognized for my considerable wit. But success isn’t about witticisms or cleverness. Success in life is decided by the choices we make, and boy had I fucked up. Pride cometh before a fall – or so they say – what they don’t say is that it’s just as likely that pride will fuck you right out of getting anywhere to begin with. So there I sat with my blind old dog, Buttface, eating a cold pot of Top Ramen and boom. Epiphany. Fucking hoo-ray. They also say the first step in solving a problem is realizing you have one. I, however, wasn’t finished making bad decisions, not by half.

You see, I didn’t have the marks of what the average person considered success; a hot wife, a nice house, spoiled-rotten-asshole kids, a six-figure income and a girlfriend on the side. I’d spent too much energy telling people what I thought and felt about – whatever – to ever have any traditional success. Plus, I was lazy. Shit, I’m still lazy. Well, it’s not so much that I was lazy as it is there weren’t many things that I gave enough of a shit about that I was ever compelled to put forth any sort of real effort. Apathy had bitten me in the ass more times than I can tell you.

Take Jenny for example. Jenny is bangin’. I met her at the bar the night before. Five foot three, a hundred and ten pounds, perfect peach skin and long auburn hair. She was an easy three on the finger scale. As in I’d break three of my fingers for a roll with her. Some folks said she was out of my league. To be fair, they only said that because I was broke, thirty pounds overweight, and there was a week-old spaghetti stain on my hoodie.

Jenny’s friend on the other hand, wasn’t out of my league. She didn’t make the finger scale but she was cute; cute and willing to wake up at my apartment that morning with a hangover and a sore asshole. She was throwing up in the bathroom. Ramen.

“Hey, you okay in there?” I asked through the hollow particle-board door. Not that I cared mind you, I just wanted her to you know, leave.

She heaved and spit between the words “I’m” and “fine”. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

I detected a hint of sniffling and a quiet, sad sob coming from the other side of the door so I backed away and walked to my computer. I felt what I know now is guilt, and I must have reacted on instinct because I had my own fucking problems to deal with; a mouth like cotton, and a steady pulse of sharp pain at the base of my skull. I sure as shit wasn’t going to spend any energy helping her regret the fun we’d had the night before.

Now, you may think me a misogynist because of my crass insinuation of that night’s events, but nothing could be further from the truth. I am if anything a feminist in the truest sense of the word. Women and men are equal in all things. That’s why I hadn’t considered Jenny’s friend a slut or anything because hey, chicks are allowed to like sex too. That doesn’t mean I’m going to coddle her just because she’d bought into the social norm of regretting an anal one-nighter, and the subsequent walk of shame that came with it. Does that make me an asshole? Perhaps. A misogynist? Not so much.

She came waddling out of the bathroom a short time later. Well, waddling isn’t the right word as she wasn’t fat. Not that there’s anything wrong with rolling a fatty every now and then. On average, they try harder. No, this was more the bow legged walk of a cowgirl that had spent too much time in the saddle. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have an extra tooth brush would you?”

“No, sorry. But there’s some mouthwash in the medicine cabinet.”

“Yeah, I used some already. I didn’t put my mouth on it though; I just kind of tilted my head back and poured it in.”

“Oh, okay, cool.” I found the gesture both charming, and pointless. I mean, if I was going to catch the cooties from this chick it wasn’t going to be from a bottle of mouthwash.

“So,” she hovered near the front door. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Yeah, it was good times.”

The longest ever half-second meandered on by before she took a brief step forward. “Hey is there some place I can get coffee around here?”

I’d thought the pounding at the base of my skull was the result of listening to her throw up for the last ten minutes, but it turned out it was just a regular hangover. My ears couldn’t help but perk up at the mention of coffee. “There’s a Temple Coffee a few blocks from here. I could actually use some myself.”

“Oh. Did you want to come with?” I understood the hesitation in her voice. Getting coffee together meant being sober together. That meant having a sober conversation, which meant there was a good chance of us hating each other as opposed to the usual, semi-awkward morning after. And that would just about be the shameful whipped cream topping on a sundae built of self-loathing and regret, for her at least.

So we walked the five blocks to the coffee house because fuck it, why not. It was weird. Like first date weird, only without the wondering whether or not I was going to get laid. She was cuter in the daylight than I expected. Considering what dim lighting and bourbon at a bar can do to one’s judgment that was a minor miracle in and of itself. We talked about the bright clear morning and what it was doing for our respective headaches; and we cracked dumb, awkward jokes about how stupid strangers looked on the way there.

“Oh, I’ve been here before,” she said as we walked up to Temple.

“I take it you don’t live in midtown?”

“I do, just on the other side. Over off F Street.”

“Really? I used to live over there – “

The door flew open and jammed my finger as I reached for the handle, and out walked an inconsiderate bitch that for some reason couldn’t see through a glass door.

“Oh my God, Sarah! Hey girl what brings you way over here?”

“Hey, I’m just getting coffee with my friend.” Sarah gestured toward me as I stood hunched over grasping at my fast-swelling finger.

Sarah’s friend smashed my finger pretty bad, and I had a sudden urge to feed her the back of my hand. Not that I ever would mind you, but I’d thought about it. On the flip side, she’d said Sarah’s name which I’d been trying to remember all morning but couldn’t. So in a way she did me a favor and saved me a little awkwardness. Two favors, actually. Sarah introduced me as her friend, not by name. I realized she didn’t remember mine either, and I felt a little better about it.

“Mike, nice to meet you.” I reached out my un-fucked hand to shake hers.

“Sorry about your hand.” Her mouth said sorry her tone said obligatory apology. “I’m Gwen.”

Sarah and Gwen exchanged mindless nonsense about Gwen’s kids and other inane shit for a few more minutes while I tried to squeeze the blood out of my finger, and back into the rest of my body where it belonged. I gave up on that when Gwen said her goodbyes, and Sarah and I went to stand in line.

“All these people look so awake, and happy.” I picked the last bit of gunk from around the corners of my eyes and blinked until the lids stopped making that scraping sound. “It’s too early for that nonsense.”

“It’s 10 AM,” Sarah said. “It’s not that early.”

“Yeah, it’s 10 AM in regular person time. In hangover-time it’s like…seven. When did you get so chipper?”

“The walk did me some good, plus I got most of the ick out of my system at your place this morning.”

“Yeah, I heard.” In retrospect, that was a dick thing to say, but it didn’t’ seem to faze her.

We made it to the front of the line where a way-too-old-to-still-be-a-barista hipster named Shiloh was waiting to take our order. “Do you kids know what you want?”

“I’ll just have a large coffee,” Sarah said.

“What kind of bean?” asked Shiloh.

“I don’t know. A light roast I guess?” Her shoulders shrugged when she gave her answer.

Shiloh loosed a heavy sigh, and head-whipped his bangs out of his face and toward the shaved part of his head in one exasperated motion, probably because he’s a cunt. “Drip or press?”

“She’ll have a large Three Pillars, pressed. I’ll have the same,” Any other time I’d have let this exchange continue because I’m twisted like that, but if I didn’t get some coffee soon I was going to throat-punch this douche right into conformity.

“Room for cream?”

“None for me.” I glanced at Sarah and she shook her head. “None for her either.”

“That’ll be twelve-fifty.”

I handed Shiloh fifteen dollars and told him to keep the change because I’m not a complete jerk and Shiloh could use the tips toward a new tattoo or some eye-shadow or something. I may have been broke, but I didn’t want to look broke, you know?

“I have to say, Sarah. I’m impressed.”

She tilted her head a little and put on a quizzical face. “Impressed with what?”

“You ordered a regular coffee. No cream or sugar or anything.”

“Why is that impressive?” she asked.

“I was sure you were going to order caramel-pumpkin-spiced diabetes, or some such thing. But you didn’t. So I’m impressed.”

Sarah laughed out loud. “Why’d you think I was going to order something like that? I said I wanted coffee, not candy.”

“Probably because you’re a woman, and as a man I tend to make broad generalizations about your kind.”

“So you don’t think women drink regular coffee?”

“Maybe at home, but rarely at coffee shops; it’s always frappe-this, or mocha-that. My sister is the only other woman I see drink it straight.”

     We took our coffee on the patio so we could sit in the sun and smoke cigarettes and continue making fun of strangers. It was less awkward than the walk there, and I’m certain that we didn’t end up hating each other because we exchanged phone numbers right before she ordered a Lyft. A few minutes later a pink-mustachioed Hyundai pulled up, we hugged, and off she went.