One of the things that makes Settlers Of Catan a great board game is, you’re never “out.” You never get fully eliminated before the game itself is over, so even if you have zero chance of winning you can still hang out in the game and be a headache for the person who has a ninety percent chance of winning.
I wish life was like that. That no one ever died, that instead of dying you just became not-really-a-factor, but you could still hang out and crack jokes and, more importantly, mess with some asshole who’s still kicking.
I was checking out at Trader Joe’s. I was wearing my Google t-shirt.
The older check-out lady said, “Wasn’t Google on the Internet yesterday?”
"… It’s always on the Internet," I said, maybe too affronted for someone that has no personal or financial stake in Google.
"No, not Google,” she said. “What was it? They had a billion dollars or something?”
"Twitter," I said. "Twitter had their IPO yesterday."
"That’s it," she said. "They went on the Internet yesterday."
I didn’t correct her again. We all knew what we meant. And at some point during this exchange, two people clarifying for each other who exactly has billions of dollars and why, I had the following thought:
I am going to be broke forever.
A predetermined total amount of sex is going to be had in the world tonight.
Some of it will either be had by you or it won’t.
Now stop agonizing over that text message.
Most of those well-styled smiley sexually attractive financially stable people who seem like they’re never gonna actually do anything are never gonna actually do anything.
At the end of my Freshman year of high school our theatre teacher announced the plays we’d be doing the upcoming year. It was so exciting. I read all the shows and narrowed down which roles would permit me maximum triumph.
Over the summer, the principal fired our teacher for letting us play laser tag in the auditorium. His replacement then scheduled a different, shorter slate of plays.
The principal’s name was Dr. Mosher.
That fucker still owes me a Brighton Beach Memoirs and I intend to collect.
In third grade I attended a newly built elementary school.
The student body got to vote on our mascot. Designs had been submitted by the students themselves. This was Arizona, so a lot of the mascots were desert-themed. I remember there was a cactus. Somebody wanted us to be the Estrellas.
And then there was a shark.
The shark wore sunglasses, and his name was Finn McCool.
I don’t think they even had to count the votes.
Come kick it with us for the next four Wednesday nights, starting tonight. You will write things you’re proud of.
"This is where it gets complicated," I said, pointing at everything.
There’s a tap on my bedroom window.
I yelp, and look up. It’s Nina, who disappeared seven days ago.
She’s sitting perched at the edge of the window-mounted flower box, facing out into the night. You couldn’t get up there without a ladder, but I don’t see one.
I push the window open.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hi,” I say. “Are you okay?”
“Totally,” she says.
“Do you want food or, like, a blanket—”
“Liz,” she says, “it’s cool. This isn’t a distress thing, and I’m not coming back, I just thought I would come say ‘hi.’”
“Hi!” I say again, like clip-art of a happy person.
Then I start crying.
“No, don’t, I’m fine,” she says. “I’m so fine, I’m better than fine!”
“Okay,” I say. Then I stop crying. I make myself.
“I have seen such creepy shit in the last little while,” she says, “but nothing as creepy as the fact that you can just stop crying on a dime like that.”
“Can I put that on a college application? Like under special skills,” I say. “That’s got to be some kind of achievement, right? ‘One time I creeped out a witch.’”
“Sounds like you could get an essay out of that,” she says, “but if there’s one thing I’ve never worried about, it’s your ability to get an essay out of something.”
There are many, many things Nina always seemed not to be worried about. She projected an emotional wall of not-worried-about-it ten feet high, and behind the wall were the kind of worries that apparently can drive you to exchange your life in human society for one I cannot even begin to understand.
“Aren’t you cold out there?” I say, thinking that by “out there” I mean “sitting outside my window in the middle of the night in early November,” but realizing I actually mean “the world.”
“No,” she says, “but thanks for asking.”
There’s a golf course across the street from our school, and next to it there’s a walled-in bunch of above-ground pipes and meters that probably do something like regulate the golf course’s sprinkler system or the water level of its man-made lake. There’s this alley between one of the walls and some fenced-in power lines where kids from our school go to smoke. I went out there with her a few times between finishing our food and the lunch bell ringing.
At first it was cool, and I didn’t smoke, just got a buzz from the totally acceptable amount of risk involved in leaving school grounds during the day despite not being Seniors. The kids were mostly older and pretty nice, and they liked the same music as Nina. I stopped going with her once I realized it wasn’t just for the companionship of cool kids who agreed with her about what was bullshit, she had a chemical need to go out there and smoke. Once she started having her own cigarettes. I thought not going would be a good way to get her to stop, but it wasn’t. And not long after I stopped, this guy who didn’t go to our school started hanging out back there.
“People are gonna say, oh, she got seduced by that guy and wanted to become a monster, like Twilight or something, but I’m not even attracted to him. There’s nothing less sexy than a guy who’s actually a thousand spiders.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s literally a thousand spiders inside of a human skin.”
“Oh. Wow. Umm… Cool?”
One time my friend Chelsea
told me about a friend she and another friend of mine named Chelsea had
and this friend was named Punk-As-Fuck Jess.
I don’t remember the conversation that followed too well
but I think I asked if Jess was a boy or a girl
(Jess was a girl)
and I think I asked what exactly Jess had done to earn the title of ‘Punk-As-Fuck’
(If you knew Jess, you would just know, I was told)
and I think I asked if Jess had christened herself that
or if someone else had done it
(And here again “Punk-As-Fuck Jess” was treated as something self-evident,
something no one,
not P.A.F. Jess or anyone else,
would have to stick on her.
Her innate Punk-As-Fuckness had just been revealed over time
the way the tide washes away sand to reveal a great big punk-as-fuck rock
that has been there since the days where lava was the rule,
not the exception.)
So I never met her.
And I never heard any tales of her exploits,
her Punk-As-Fuckness in motion.
But every so often I think about her.
I just thought about her tonight.
And is that, in the final accounting, the essence of Punk-As-Fuck Jess?
The ability to burrow deep into the mind of someone she never knew, as deep into my being as being punk-as-fuck is in hers?
Or is that just good marketing?
Or is punk just good marketing?
Is it punk to disappear as quick as you came into being,
or is it punk to stick around?
I don’t know.
For Jess I’ll bet punk-as-fuckness manifested itself
in some form of cool self-mutilation
of the physical and/or emotional sort
and great taste in music
(“Great taste” meaning so many good choices
interspersed with a few sublimely bad choices)
and great taste in people
(Again, meaning so many good choices
interspersed with a few sublimely bad choices)
and I’ll bet she had a haircut then that your cousin has now.
(This was thirteen years ago, and at the Speed Of Cool,
it takes thirteen years for the light emanated by white-hot people like
Punk-As-Fuck Jess to reach the dark cold outer reaches
where your cousin lives.)
Or maybe she was Punk-As-Fuck for reasons you had to be present to fathom,
ones that cannot be recounted later using such tools of the Establishment
And I wasn’t present,
because if I’ve ever been anything-As-Fuck,
Even if I had been there,
her Punk-As-Fuckness probably would’ve just read to me as anxiety-inducing wild-carditude.
It’s doubtful I could’ve enjoyed it in the moment,
and if she was anything,
I bet you she was in the moment.
And people like me, if there’s ever a moment we’re in,
it’s never the one on the clock.
But here she is in my memory,
somebody I never met,
and she’s probably out there somewhere,
There’s no reason she couldn’t be some or all of them
and still be Punk-As-Fuck.
I don’t know what punk is, really,
but I know it’s not mutually exclusive.