A plea…

I don’t want to sound desperate. And I realize that this might sound like I am. But consider this a PSA for myself and every other writer/artist out there. Because we’re all sort of in the same boat.

Like most artists, writers rarely make a dime on their work. More fruitful payment comes in the form of just having their work out there in the world, combined with the support of friends and family.

I have been very fortunate to have published three books so far by small, indie publishers (note: not self-published, despite what many think). Both publishers I have worked with have been incredibly supportive and a joy to work with. I have been especially lucky to have published two books alone just this school year alone (as a teacher, I tend to measure years by school years). Though it might appear that cranking out books comes easy for me, that is far from the truth. The three books I have published were the culmination of years of work:

For example:

My first book (Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine) started out as a screenplay that I started writing in 2001.

My second book (Tales From the Dork Side) was a collection of essays I started writing in 2011.

My third book (Awaiting (Identification) also started out as a screenplay back in 1999.

It was just luck and circumstance that led to me getting all three books published over a three year period.

There is no such thing as an overnight success. I am living proof of that.

And I have no way of knowing when/if another book will ever get published. I have no other books in the pipeline (though I do have a couple dozen short stories and have “started” a handful of novels). But certainly nothing on the horizon.

My latest book — Awaiting Identification — literally represents 19 years of my life — blood, sweat, tears, a failed marriage, a second marriage, and two mini-humans later.

It was the culmination of (no exaggeration) 100s of rejections and a willingness to just keep pushing through at all costs, like Captain Ahab chasing his elusive whale.

I have been blessed with tons of support in a variety of ways from family, friends, and colleagues (and this includes FB likes). And I sincerely appreciate it all. I have been so blessed to have had two publishers Fish Out of Water Books (Jon Wilson and Laurie Ford Wilson) and Fifth Avenue Press. Though it’s sometimes easy to focus on the negativity and the naysayers out there, I have to remind myself all the time that there are far more out there who care than spew poison and indifference.

Maybe I sometimes over-post, or over-promote myself, but it’s only because I am doing everything I can to get my work out there, despite all the noise and competition going against it. After all, for most people, books are boring. And I get that.

I don’t expect every one to buy my book, or come to an event. But please realize that as insignificant my achievement may seem to some, it means the world to me.

So though your support (and for those on the other side, your negativity) serve as my fuel, please consider supporting a local artist (who isn’t starving due to an excellent career by day). Though it would certainly be nice, I am not asking for the sake of financial gain, but rather for the pure joy of sharing my story/stories with you.

So how can you help? The easiest way, of course, is Amazon. There is nothing wrong with that and certainly the most efficient way. The next step? Stop into your local bookstore (some might actually have it on the shelf) and they can order it for you. Sometimes, that urges them to stock the book if they weren’t already. The book can be ordered through distribution channels used by most bookstores.

To get a book into a store, authors/publishers literally have to knock on every door and beg for them to carry. So word of mouth helps tremendously.

You know what else helps tremendously?

Amazon/Goodreads reviews/Facebook shares/Tweets, book clubs, etc.

Even if you are not a reader yourself, we all have friends who are. So please take a moment to help me get the word out any chance you get. You have no idea how much this helps. But please take my word for it.

Thank you…and God Bless!

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Love & Mozart

It was the cliché post-college, going-off-to-Europe-to-discover-oneself trip. But I would have only two weeks to do so.

The year of the new millennium.

And though traveling alone, I wouldn’t be completely alone. I would be visiting a various scattered friends and distant relatives. Considering I had stayed home for college, this was only fitting and my general lack of risk taking.

The future not only lay ahead of me. It lay ahead for the entire planet. And with the anticlimactic arrival ofY2K safely behind us, it was time to turn a new leaf.

To start anew.

To become the best version of ourselves.

If it wasn’t going to happen in this millennium, it would never happen at all.

I now look back on that trip the way one might think of an indie coming-of-age film that aimlessly drifts from once scene to the next. Not heavy on plot. But deep on character, theme, and resonance. The trip even adhered to conventional plot structure – a Hero’s Journey, complete with a perfectly-placed climax. No explosions or heavy battle scenes … but just as powerful and life-changing.

The exposition of my journey began with my graduation from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the day before I was to depart for my journey. With my newly-minted English degree in hand and a PR job at Ford Motor Company already lined up, my future was bright (at least on the surface. Inside, I knew that until my writing dream came into fruition, I could never be fully content).

In some ways, having a job already waiting in the wings wore off a bit of the free-spirit luster that a trip like this should include.

The sense of being truly “free”.

But for two weeks, I would have to pretend otherwise. Besides, having a job doesn’t mean one can’t keep one eye open for opportunity.

Despite my degree and job, my future was by no means close to clear.

Should I go back to school to earn a teaching degree?

Or, do I go to film school in full pursuit of my Hollywood dream?

I was convinced I could make it without film school and in my home state of Michigan (if there’s anything that comes close to having a regret in my life, it was my decision not to follow my passion directly to Hollywood).

At the very least, it was my hope that this trip would somehow bring my future into better focus – and that I could perhaps have this epiphany while walking the very streets Mozart once called home.

And, maybe if I were lucky (or, better yet, played my cards right), I would find some European romance along the way. But I wasn’t going to get ahead of myself, considering my track record here at home.

I never played my cards right.

Following my graduation ceremony, my family took me out for dinner. Later that evening, I found myself overcome with a strong wave of unexplained melancholy – the depths of which I hadn’t quite felt before. Perhaps it was the steady cold rain (which became a steady motif throughout my trip). But it was more like the realization that a big chapter of my life was over. The end of one of life’s chapters is always a sad occasion, no matter how much we look forward to the next one.

The sudden realization that something was gone. Forever gone. Life is made up of an endless parade of moments such as this.

Every time we say goodbye to something – or someone – we’re really saying goodbye to a piece of ourselves.

Perhaps it was the realization that I was about to embark on what could turn out be the most memorable experience of my life. I have a tendency to get overpowered by the sad reality that any memorable experience is going to end at some point and become just a memory.

A ghost.

The moments that I believe you get to re-live in your afterlife over and over as though it were the first time. So it was only fitting that as I sat on the cusp of one goodbye, I knew another profound would be lurking just around the corner when my trip was all said and done. I tried to channel my energy into the here and now, but it’s never any use. The only way to avoid it to make yourself numb to all experience. In my experience, that is truly the only way to “live in the moment”.

While sitting on the plane before take-off, I realized that this would be this exact moment I would return to the most following my trip. Because it was the exact moment before any of the memories took place.

At the starting gate.

Before any pictures were snapped.

Before any memories were made.

When the magic of the entire trip lay ahead.

Of course, “in the moment”, you never know what those memories will even be. So it’s hard to appreciate something that doesn’t even exist yet. But once it’s all said and done, it’s all you can think about.

It’s the moment that if granted the ability to back in time to re-live the whole experience, you would rewind to that exact moment. When an unwritten adventure awaited me – one that could never be replicated. Nothing in life can be replicated, but this holds especially true for our most cherished, precious memories.

As I waited for take-off, I plugged my headphones into the armrest and tuned into the plane’s radio, stumbling across Samuel Barber’s sorrowful Adagio for Strings, which accompanied my take-off. Literally the most depressing song ever composed. A song that can turn any moment into a funeral.

As the song — mixed with the cacophony of the plane’s ascent — flooded my ears, memories of the last five years of my life all flooded my soul, as I began to wonder what the future had in store as this transitional chapter began. Then I drifted off to sleep, in search of all the answers I was seeking. When I woke up, there was only a blank canvas. The one thing I needed most.

My agenda for the next two weeks was as follows: Frankfurt and Aachen, Germany followed by Salzburg and Vienna, Austria. Arriving in Frankfurt, I was picked up by the daughter of my Grandmother’s first cousin, Ulls. Despite our common language ability (I could speak only ein bissen Deutcsh and she could speak only a little English), she provided a whirlwind tour of downtown Frankfurt (a memory best described as a jet-lagged lucid dream). Through my hazy consciousness, my initial impression was:

This isn’t Germany. It’s any Big City, USA city, filled with modern, glass skyscrapers. Where were the lederhosen, giant pretzels, and beer wenches?!

When we got into her car to head, I fell asleep within minutes (with visions of pretzels and wenches dancing in my head). When I woke up, we were driving through the German countryside.

This is the Germany I had imagined.

Ulla and her parents lived a couple of hours outside of Frankfurt. A quaint, quiet little town that one usually only experiences in cinema. But still missing were lederhosen, giant pretzels, and beer wenches.

We finally arrived at their countryside home, where I was enthusiastically greeted by my grandma’s cousin Peti and his wife Susan. Once again, neither spoke English, so I tried to utilized the little German I could muster.

And it wasn’t pretty.

Thank God for non-verbal communication – and for language dictionaries. For the most part, the dictionaries did the trick, especially on a day trip when Peti took me on a boat on the River Rhine, punctuated by grey clouds, a light drizzle and mangled language.

That evening, Peti’s son Ehrhardt arranged for me to hang out with his girlfriend’s 17-year-old daughter, Anya. She was not only super cute, but spoke halfway-super English! Anya and her friend, Eva, took me to a discotheque located in a German strip mall.

Here I was, driving around with two cute girls that I didn’t know existed until that night. The kind of night that becomes encased in the museum of your memory, no matter how insignificant the events played out. The kind you hope to carry with you to the great beyond, where it could be re-lived for eternity. It’s even more rare when you are fully aware of the magnitude of a memory such as this that will live in your soul for the remainder of your days as though it had just happened yesterday.

When we arrived at the club, any fantasy I had of cozying up with either one of these girls was quickly dashed when they quickly proceeded to meet up with their boyfriends. Suddenly, I was a fifth wheel in a foreign land – enveloped in German existentialism as I danced by myself to Snoop Dog’s “Smoke Weed Everyday,” as the Germans sang along:

“Dr. Dre, mother fucker!” (enunciating in place of the more accurate “muthafucka”).

Though I much would have preferred to get some sweet strudel from the schoen fraulein, I was totally content just sitting back and just observing this whole new world play out before my eyes. Besides, this was nothing new for me. Third or fifth wheel was my natural habitat. In fact, had things gone to the contrary, my brain might not have been able to handle it. And it certainly did nothing to tarnish the moment. If I were to find romance in Europe, I still had plenty of time for that. And besides, I figured if such a thing were to happen, it wouldn’t have been in Frankfurt visiting relatives in Frankfurt.

After the club, we drove back to the Anya’s mother’s house, where Eva and I were to stay for the night. We looked through photo albums of Anya’s childhood, as jamming to shitty German pop pouring out of a boombox. Eva expressed how she hoped to come visit the U.S. sometime, and taking this as an opportunity, I extended an open invitation to visit me back home. She seemed thrilled by the prospect (not so much of seeing me again, but of being invited to stay in America). I never saw her again after that night – nor did I ever attempt to contact her. A reminder that, some relationships are shooting stars, destined to last only a split second in the wide canvas our life. However brief, it is sometimes in those seconds that make all the other minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years worth living. Nonetheless, I will never forget Anya and Eva. They are firmly embedded into the fabric of my memory – one square of an enormous, beautiful memory quilt devoted entirely to that trip – attached to an even larger canvas of my life in its entirety.

The next morning, it was time to depart for the next leg of my adventure. Peti took me to the train station, where I set off for the northwestern town of Aachen to visit my friend Janet, who I met through a friend back home. We hung out as a group back at home on numerous occasions and I developed a bit of a crush on her. Well, let’s just a say, a big crush. And though I didn’t expect the crush to be anything but one sided, it was enough of a crush to inspire me to purchase her a silver bracelet.

While on the train, I looked at her bracelet, while listening to listening to Moby’s Play album on my Discman – the de facto soundtrack of my trip that I purchased just before my trip, where it was predestined to become the official soundtrack of my trip. To this day, if I want to fully absorb myself into the memories of this trip, all I have to do is put this album on and memories otherwise forgotten become enhanced or unlocked in my mind. In fact, it’s interesting how many different Moby albums have coincided with such key moments from my life. He is my Danny Elfman to my Tim Burton, or the John Williams to my Spielberg, in my soundtrack of life. Two years later, a trip t Ukraine would be accompanied by his 18 album.

Janet greeted mat the train station, then me back to her house to meet her parents and two brothers. After a satisfying meal, then headed out to meet up with some friends at an Irish pub, where we proceeded to drink Guinness like any Germans in an Irish pub should. We all had a good time, save for Janet’s friend Dirk – an odd duck who kept whispering to me in English:

“I’m going to kill myself tonight.”

I really didn’t know how to deal with this. Perhaps he was confusing words and was trying to come on to me. The good news is, I did him again later during my visit and not only was he still alive, but was in jovial spirits. And better yet, no sweet nothings whispered into my ear.

Late that night, when we got back to Janet’s house, we rolled into our respective beds (or, in my case, on an air mattress on the floor next to Janet’s bed like a dog). Though it was late, I was wide awake, in a tipsy state of consciousness. After much internal debate, I decided no time was better than now to give her my gift. So I reached into my bag and located the silver amulet that accompanied me on my journey.

“Janet?” I said, not even entirely sure she were awake.

“Yeah?”

I leaned into her and handed her the box (in hindsight, probably freaking her out in the process).

“What’s this?” she said, clearly half asleep.

“A present! Open it,” I said, realizing that opening a present in the dark probably not the best idea.

Fortunately, as she lifted the silver chain out of its box, it caught a brief sliver of silver moonlight, before she accidentally dropped it back into the darkness. After a fair amount of scrambling, she finally found it amidst her tangled sheets – my gift taking a part in an unassuming lover’s tryst.

“Thank you! But why did you get me such a nice gift?”

I jumped right in:

“Because I like you. A lot.”

She was very touched, but sensing my intention, she quickly made it abundantly clear that we were “just friends” – the universal language of rejection. A language I understood fully well.

I immediately regretted giving her this present – but not because of the money I spent on it. Why didn’t I at least wait until right before I left so I could avoid spending the rest of our time together in a state of awkwardness? After all, I should have seen this coming. Then again, if I waited until the end, it might have been too late. So I took a gamble. And lost. Fortunately, there was nothing awkward between us. And at least the pressure was off now. In fact, it made us closer – just no closer to romance. I still had plenty of time to find that. It just wasn’t going to be in Aachen.

The next day, Janet arranged for us to go to Köln (aka Cologne) for a couple of days, to visit some of her university friends. More specifically, I would be sleeping in an apartment filled with six college girls – European college girls. Since I stayed home for college, it felt like I was being granted an opportunity to make up for lost time. The only action to be gotten, however, would come in the form of sex acts with Bert and Ernie puppets (clarification: between the puppets – not me and the puppets).

The first night in Köln turned out to be a night of drunken revelry highlighted by bar hopping, dancing, and literally chasing after the last trolley at 3 a.m. down a cobble-stoned street, singing a huge European hit that never quite made it across the pond: Tom Jone’s “Sex Bomb”, which Janet and her friends enjoyed translating into “Sex Bob”. For the record, he U.S. truly missed out on this gem.

Upon our return to Aachen, where the first of two defining moments of my journey took place. I was lying on my air mattress, once again listening to Moby (as I am doing while writing this, 18 years later) while Janet getting dressed in the adjoining bathroom. While listening to the aptly-titled track “Why Does my Heart Feel So Bad,” I was overcome with a torrential downpour of emotion I never felt before that day and haven’t felt since. Although no amount of descriptive prose could ever fully describe what I felt that night, I can at least attempt to. It felt as though every fiber of my being was ripped open and flushed out with tears from the deepest recesses of my heart, mind and soul, while at the same time, absorbing my every tear like a sponge, before releasing them in a soul-cleaning downpour of emotion, as my entire life played out before my eyes, allowing me to see through a brief window of clarity of my past, present, and future. I cried so hard, it hurt. It was, perhaps, the most utterly human I have ever felt. I have never felt this way again.

Looking back, the experience feels paradoxically detached from real life – much in the manner that a good film might tough the deepest recesses of our soul, even though we are simultaneously aware that it isn’t real. I often think back to that moment with a tinge of embarrassment, wondering what was going through Janet’s mind as I wept like a baby on her bedroom floor. Though I tried to hide it from her, it was impossible to hide a soul ripped wide open like that. She discovered me halfway through my jag and held me close to her like a mother comforting a child.

Without a single hint of judgment.

And I never wanted that moment to end.

And it hasn’t.

And much like the earlier bracelet incident, this episode didn’t put an awkward strain on our friendship, either. Once again, it only strengthened it. In the larger context of my life, I look back at that moment now as not only one of the most profound, powerful experiences of my life, but a key turning point – the dawn of an new chapter – a transition into a vast unknown that would only reveal itself in time. I was also aware in that small window of clarity that one day, even that chapter would close. Like all chapters do, in their own unique way.

On my final day with Janet, we headed to the Netherlands, a hop, skip, and a jump away. In fact, it was literally in such close proximity to Aachen, that I sometimes forget to include that country on my list of travels. It didn’t look any different from Germany, with the exception of the cannabis paraphernalia on display in storefronts.

Once again, experience turned cinematic:

A man and a woman.

A quaint town, lined with cobble-stoned streets.

Sidewalk cafes.

Light rain.

Again, right out of a movie.

We stopped for a drink in a café across from a small church. It felt like being inside Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night

She had a coffee.

I had a cocktail.

And we just talked.

And sipped.

As the rain fell.

It couldn’t have been more perfect.

And then suddenly, it was time to move on. It was time to flip the page to the next chapter, as life forces us to whether we want to or not.

I never saw Janet again.

As the years pass, the odds are, I will never see her again. It’s hard to grasp in the midst of moments such as that that there was no ellipses. No next time.

The memory is nothing more than a relic from my collective past – not a forgotten one. But buried.

 

Like so many people we encounter in life, there is tomorrow. There is only the present. And yet that present lives longer in our memories than the more permanent fixtures in our lives.

Janet and I are at least connected on FB, but she doesn’t have much of a presence, but just enough to know she is now living in Australia.

The next day, it was time to depart Aachen and prepare for the next leg of my journey:

Berlin.

In the spirit of a young romantic drifting aimlessly in Europe, I purposely didn’t book any hotels ahead of time. So even though I always knew where I was heading next, not having hotels booked at least created the illusion I was drifting my way across Europe. After all, it’s not in my character to take a risk without some form of training wheels.

I knew no one in Berlin, so it was the first time on my trip I would be totally alone. I attempted to persuade Janet to join me, but she had to go back to work.

Thus began my experiment in isolation. But following my breakdown/epiphany in Aachen, perhaps being alone was exactly what I needed.

If one truly wants to feel alone, than a city as vast and strange as Berlin is the place to be.

It was there that I came to realize that traveling alone is something I cannot recommend enough. You never feel more connected to yourself. This is especially true when you are surrounded by a foreign language, making you feel even more disconnected from the outside world and more in tune with yourself. It also lets you really focus in on every experience, free from distractions that cloud moments spend with others. It is a deeply spiritual experience that cannot be replicated with traveling with companions.

With Moby’s melancholy symphonies filling my ears once again, I was overcome with a wave of existential loneliness I had never felt before. So utterly small. And insignificant. Yet somehow, in that loneliness, I never felt more…alive.

After all, most of life is spent in a numb, zombie – or robotic – state of mind. We are drones, living without feeling. We’re just there. And when and if we feel something, as much as we want it to last forever, we know deep down it’s only temporary. We know that we eventually have to return to our emotional cubicles that make up the days of this thing we call life.

Despite this alienation I felt in Berlin, I knew I was feeling something real. And raw. In fact, Berlin was the perfect city for such a lost state of mind. But that was precisely the problem. I wanted to crawl into my shell. Perhaps a smaller city might have helped matters. But looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Having spent my entire life up until that point playing by the rules, it felt good to be lost for once.

My original plan for my stay in Berlin was to scope out the city’s famous nightlife. Being an avid techno fan, I was quite aware of the role Berlin played during the origins of Detroit techno. Largely ignored in Detroit, the DJs from there made their names known in Berlin and elsewhere throughout Europe. Regretfully, my plan to scout out the clubs where techno was put on the map quickly fizzled out when I realized I would be forced to navigate through Berlin’s underground metro system. Subways were something I had zero experience with. And it stayed that way as fear and loneliness won out. Being directionally impotent is especially challenging when you find yourself in a foreign city. Although, if I learned anything on this trip, it’s that I could actually read a map if I truly put my mind to it.

The navigational equivalent of having a gun held to my head.

In attempt to cure the empty loneliness and general sense of homesickness Berlin was instilling in me, I treated myself to the comfort and familiarity of McDonald’s. It didn’t necessarily make me feel less lonely, but I did discover that their apple pies were still fried like they used to be back home, before they became baked.

The highlight of my anticlimactic trip to Berlin was the surreal experience of staying in a hostel for the first time in my life. It was located in what used to be East Berlin, not far from the largest existing portion of the Berlin Wall. And although I had never been to the former Soviet Union (little did I know lay in store for me a little over a year later), the drab, gray architecture certainly gave me the impression that I had been.

The hostel wasn’t without its challenges. For instance, lacking an elevator, I had to drag my heavy suitcase up several flights of steps. And since I couldn’t figure out how to use the shower, I ended up spraining my foot trying to wash myself under a faucet.

So in lieu of the Berlin nightlife I had hoped to experience, I got a taste of Berlin youth hostel life. From the mentally challenged German rapper in the courtyard, to the underground bunker bar, the cinematic feel to my trip suddenly became overtly Lynchian.

Accessing the bunker bar required one to climb down a rusty ladder through jagged concrete, which dumped you into the bar, which was roughly the size of a closet in width, and a crawl space in height. Although climbing down was challenging enough, the climb back up after a few German brews is a challenge of a different sort. Unless, of course, you are an Irish lothario who left the bunker repeatedly through the night to bang a different foreign chicks, only to return fifteen minutes for his next conquest. Meanwhile, I remained in my natural state – a wallflower and soaked in my surroundings until I could no longer stay awake, temporarily living my life vicariously through the Irish Don Juan the Leprechaun.

The next day, I took a walking tour of the city, which was fascinating from a historical standpoint, passing the site where Hitler’s bunker once stood, as well as the site of the infamous Nazi book burning.

Looking back, my days in Berlin reminded me of my brief tour of Frankfurt upon my arrival – an impressionistic blur of dreams standing in for reality.

The next leg of my journey was one-day stay in the southern Germany town of Passau, where I was to meet Katrin – a friend of my German co-worker Mark, who was doing an internship in the U.S.

This was the same town that my grandmother passed through during the war. It was here where my grandmother, her sister and mother ducked beneath a bridge as a train carrying ammunition exploded just yards away from them. And just yards away from that very bridge was my hostel. It was impossible to fathom what my grandmother endured.

I had a chance to correspond with Katrin a couple of times prior to my trip (handwritten letters at that!) so we could get to know one another a little bit – at least, on the surface.

And perhaps, if I played my cards right, I would be leaving my heart in Passau? After all, as Mark so eloquently described her, “she will suck you both day and night.” It sure sounded tempting, but I quickly ruled out any prospects of this happening when she all but blew me off in an entirely different way.

After Katrina helped check me into a hostel, she escorted me to a beer garden, where I was left to my own devices for the next several hours – something about having to attend a dance class, if I understood correctly. While she was gone, I consumed the two largest beers I ever had in my life, still holding out hope for Das Suck. At some point after my first beer, I got up to use the restroom and nearly toppled over from the numbing buzz I was feeling.

When Katrin returned, she retrieved me and literally had to help me out of the garden. She then explained that she had a bad headache and that she would be unable to entertain me that evening. We said goodbye and that was the last I ever saw or heard of her. I then took myself to an empty dance club, where I sat alone in a corner, munching on pretzels and feeling sorry for myself. At least nothing exploded yards away from me. The only discomfort I was forced to deal with was the claustrophobia of my hostel room, which literally consisted of nothing more than a bed tightly wedged in between the walls. If the bed were half an inch larger, it wouldn’t have fit. Hell, if it were a millimeter larger it wouldn’t have fit.

The next day, I boarded a train and left Germany behind for Austria. With my trip now past the halfway mark, I began to wonder if my trip reached a premature climax in Aachen, completely throwing conventional plot structure out of whack, while still desperately hoping that a truly magical experience was waiting for me around a cobblestone corner that would match the intensity of the earlier experiences. Perhaps a new country would bring better luck.

My next destination was Salzburg, Austria.

From the moment I stepped off the train, I fell in love with the town at first sight before any memories were actually formed there It was pure magic. Quaint, narrow cobblestone streets too narrow for cars. A medieval fortress hovering above the whole city from up above, which was somehow always in view.

And the music.

Music everywhere.

Street musicians, mostly. Add it all up, and it was like a something out of a fairy tale or Disney movie!

Whereas most of my fellow Americans equated Salzburg with Julie Andrews and her brood of happy, singing children, I had always equated Salzburg as the hometown of Mozart.

This was my Graceland!

After my hostel experience in Berlin, I decided I would treat myself to a halfway decent hotel. In other words, a place that left at least two inches of space between the bed and walls. And preferably with a private shower. Of course, in Europe, there were no guarantees.

I stumbled upon a hotel called Hotel am Dom, tucked inside one of Salzburg’s famed cobblestone streets, just outside the city square — the centerpiece of which is the horse head fountain Julie Andrews pranced around in The Sound of Music.

The lobby had a cozy, welcoming feel to it, featuring a desk with carved, dark brown oak lending to a warm and inviting atmosphere. My room was narrow with two twin beds running along side a wall, but in comparison to the hostel in Passau, it was the lap of luxury! Even so, the beds were so small, an elf would barely fit. Then again, I was in a fairy tale world, so it only made sense. I opened up the windows, and instantly, a soothing breeze poured in, along with soothing mash-up of classical music, punctuated by the enormous Glockenspiel overlooking the square. Then came the bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave”, a played during the procession at my graduation just a couple of weeks prior. On one hand, it was a small and insignificant coincidence. On the other hand, I smiled back at fate and soaked it all in, lying peacefully in my dwarf-sized bed.

After a short nap, I headed out to explore the town. First on the list were Mozart’s cribs: Mozart Gerburstshaus (birth house) and Mozartwohnhaus (the house he lived in as an infantile adult). Although heavily renovated over the years, especially from the damage inflicted by the ravages of World War II, it was still awe-inspiring to be in the same geographic space that Mozart himself not only lived in, loved in, laughed in, cried in, shit in, but most importantly – composed his wonderful art in.

In the middle of the main room of his the Wohnhaus, there were several listening booths. I sat at one and listened to my favorite Mozart composition: “Concert No. 21 in C Major.” This composition perfectly captures every aspect of Mozart’s personality, shifting from playful and light to sadly reflective.

The absolute embodiment of bittersweet.

As its soothing melody washed over my entire being, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was perhaps composed in this very same space. It was a truly spiritual experience – not wholly unlike my previous Moby moment, but more spiritually cleansing, rather than the existential crisis that was.

 

those rare instances where you feel truly at peace. At that exact moment, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Just me and the music.

At that moment, nothing else existed.

Nothing else mattered.

The song ended.

And I was part of the world again.

When I finished the tour, I passed through a gift shop and bought a myself a little bust of Mozart, of which I made the cut clerk crack up when I approached the register with my souvenir butchered the German language with “Ich wolle einem kleine Mozart Kopf, bitte.” (A butchered attempt at “I would like a little Mozart head, please.”).

Well rested, I headed up the funicular train to the top of the medieval castle to take in a spectacular view of the city and beyond. Out in the distance, dotting the were charming little Bavarian homes with flowerpots lining each window peppered the countryside, set against a backdrop that gave one little choice but to belt out “The hills are alive!”

While wandering through the fortress, I fancied myself a medieval minstrel. And then lo and behold, a voice screamed: “Help!” from somewhere up above. But this was no damsel in distress. It was a man about my age just happened to be a fellow metro Detroiter. Apparently, he wandered into a tower and a door locked behind him. I told him not to fear and searched for help. He was released from the tower by a custodian-in-shining-armor and I headed back to my hotel, where I booked a tour for the following day, setting in motion the magic I was desperately seeking.

Her name was Julia.

She was my tour guide, but also a college student who had lived in Salzburg her whole life. She was cute, in the plain-Jane sort of way that I was generally attracted to. She greeted me in the lobby of my hotel, leading me to her empty tour van with a Salzburg Sightseeing Tour decal affixed to it.

“Hop in,” she said.

“Will it just be me?” I asked.

“If you’re lucky,” she said with a wry smile.

Turned out, I was only her first pick-up, but ultimately not her only customer. She was impressed that I was one of the few Americans who opted not to take the Sound of Music too. She was also impressed by our mutual adoration for Mozart. Soon, the entire van was filled and we headed off to see the sights. When it was over, I thanked her, shook her hand and headed back to my room to get ready for the dinner-concert I was attending, which consisted of a fancy dinner by candlelight, accompanied by opera performers singing Mozart. The whole time, I wished I had someone to share this experience with.

Somebody like Julia.

When it was over, I drifted out for the Salzburgian nightlife, in a Holden Caulfield frame of mind.

I crossed one of the many bridges over the Salzach River over to the left bank, where a tidy row of pubs, clubs and sidewalk cafes overlook the river. I wandered into a couple of establishments, was dressed up and confident I would work up the courage to converse with a stranger from the opposite sex. Of course, it wasn’t long before I remembered who I was and reverted to my usual shy self.

My final stop was yet another Irish pub, which turned out to be less low-key than I would have guessed, as evident by the packed house and live raucous Irish music.

I made my way through the crowded pub toward the bar and grabbed a Guinness, scanning the room for a spot to sit among the wooden tables with wooden stools made of tree stumps. (Once again, fit for an elf). Unfortunately, all the stumps were taken, so I had to stand against a wooden post, forced to endure the heavy foot traffic walking back and forth in the tight space I was able to position myself.

I was giving serious thought to quickly downing my beer, then heading back to my hotel to watch The Simpsons auf Deutsch.

And then I spotted her.

Julia.

Sitting on a stump with a group of friends, wearing a blue sundress and make-up, instantly elevating her from plain cute to very cute. She was alternating cautious sips of Guinness with long drags of a cigarette, with a resigned sadness on her face. Or perhaps, it was only boredom. In any event, I couldn’t help but ponder the sheer coincidence of what was taking place before me.

As I stood against my post, nervously nursing my beer, I tried to muster the courage to approach her. I knew I couldn’t pass this opportunity up, but in typical Bobby fashion, I was frozen in terror at the mere thought of approaching a female — even one who I already met. Fortunately, she hadn’t spotted me yet. Nor, did I necessarily expect her to recognize me.

This afforded me more time to hatch a plan.

Write out my dialogue.

Choreograph my every move.

Or, just plain escape

And there was always the possibility that before I could do any of those things, she could have spotted me. And then hopefully approach me. It would have certainly made things easier. That would save me a lot of agony, especially with the nagging thought playing in the back of my mind that she wouldn’t recognize me if I approached her. Perhaps that’s why she hadn’t noticed me yet.

After a long and protracted debate in my mind —combined with the half pint of Guinness flowing through my veins — I decided that the time had come. I would take the plunge. I didn’t come this far to be my usual self. Not after my Moby epiphany back in Aachen.

This was a new chapter.

A new life.

I was born again.

And with that in mind, I headed toward her table, awkwardly standing next to her for several minutes, unnoticed. I finally tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she turned around. Instant recognition washed over her face in the form of an inviting smile and a friendly “Hello.”

“Hi,” I responded back. Or, at least a guttural sound that closely resembled “hi”.

So what next? Smoothly, I offered my hand. She shook it.

“Bob, right?”

She remembered my name!

“Yeah. Julia, right?”

She nodded, then invited me to sit down, then introduced me to her friends – a group of three other girls. They asked me questions about America. We played movie charades. They laughed at my lame attempts at German. I admired their mastery of the English language.

And at about 1:30, it was time to part.

Outside the pub, Julia said goodbye to her friends and then headed over to her bicycle, locked to a rack. It was one of those old-fashioned bikes, complete with basket and bell. All that was missing was a puppy! Like right out of a foreign film.

I naturally assumed that this was where we would part. But then:

“Would you like to take a walk?” she offered.

I didn’t hesitate. Nor did I care that I had an early morning train to catch to Vienna.

As we wandered across the Mozart Bridge over the Salzach River, walking her bike by her side, we talked.

And talked.

And talked.

Like old pals — not new acquaintances – separated by a lifetime across the Atlantic.

We talked about life in Salzburg.

And life in Michigan.

And of dreams and aspirations, disappointments and triumphs, as the ancient cobblestones beneath our feet welcomed us every step of the way. And before we knew it, we were in the city square. And we were completely alone. We were on a stage, built entirely for us — a stage upon which a love story would be performed.

And the church bells chimed two.

Like me, Julia was at a crossroads in her life, not sure what her next step would be. She felt stuck in her job as a tour guide (taking people around, but never going anywhere herself) and stuck in Salzburg as a whole. I asked her how anyone could grow sick of a place as magical as this. And that’s when I realized that no matter where you grow up, home is home and away is away. Apparently even if home is a place as magical as Salzburg! And sometimes, we all have to go away to remind us of what there is to appreciate about home. Sometimes, we never return home at all. We move on. We outgrow. We spread our wings. And fly. While those we leave behind bid us adieu out of the window where our next chapter awaits.

We entered the empty square – like a movie set built for just us. She lead me to the horse-head fountain’s ledge in the center of the square, saying nothing, but speaking volumes as we stared up into the starry sky instead. Every star in the universe was on full display – a sky that normally only exists in an artist’s imagination. We played a game to see how who could locate the most constellations. She won. The only one I could recognize was Orion.

I told her about my Austrian-born grandmother. She laughed in astonishment when I told her one of my grandmother’s stock phrases was: “Gehen hund sei arse.” Translation: “Go up a dog’s butt.” Something she would say when something was said didn’t like or agree with. Usually in jest. But not always. And she would say this to us as children. I never thought about how utterly strange this was until that moment. And Julia continued to laugh, as did I.

I suddenly found myself acting upon a compulsion to take Julia’s bike for a spin around the fountain, ringing the bell like a sugar-rich toddler. And she watched. And she laughed, as I went around and around and around. And she laughed when I wiped out on the gravel, scraping my legs a bit. But it was worth it just to make someone laugh like that.

Voices echoed somewhere in the distance. How dare somebody intrude upon our performance? A drunk couple entered, stage right, staggering across our proscenium until they disappeared down an empty, cozy street.

And we were alone once again.

But then again, we weren’t entirely alone. Waiting for us across the square was our mutual friend Mozart, standing guard over the city square. Making sure we utilized every prop on our stage, we headed across the square across to pay him a visit. By then, an evening chill demanded us to take notice, so I took this as my cue to put my arm around her.

There was no thinking about it.

I just did it.

Of course, the chilly night temperature certainly helped make it easier for me to make my move.

We remained that way in a comfortable silence, soaking it all in until next thing I knew, our lips were locked. It was one of those kisses that came out of nowhere and no matter how many times your mind tries to replay it, you never can quite replicate it in the recesses of your memory.

The magical, fairy-tale setting surrounding us only deepened the magic of the moment, tarnished only by the cold, faint taste of a stale cigarette.

How as this real life? My life?

 

I was convinced that it was one of those dreams you wake up from and feel instant regret that it was only a dream. But there was no waking up from this. In fact, I had never been more awake and in tune with life than I was in that moment. Looking back at it, all these years later, it feels more like the memory of well-made romantic drama than a memory I actually experienced in reality.

We continued to kiss and as I leaned into her in the throes of passion, this budding romantic drama turned into a romantic comedy as my body pressing into hers caused her to slip off the two-foot tall railing and into the landscaping beneath Mozart’s statue.

Mozart, the merry prankster, certainly appreciated it, smiling down at us with approval. However, before I could appreciate the humor of the moment, I had to first make sure Julia’s skull wasn’t cracked open, spilling blood onto the flowers below, turning our romantic drama-turned comedy into a murder mystery.

Fortunately, the only victims were the flowers, crushed beneath her body as she quivered with hysterical, uncontrollable laughter over what just transpired. In fact, she was laughing so hard, she struggled to get up, despite my best efforts to help her up. When she finally regained her composure, I lifted her off the ground, then brushed the foliage off her dress, before we resumed kissing.

And kissed some more.

And more.

And more.

And when the clock struck three, she said these dreaded words:

“I should really get going.”

I tried to play it cool.

“It is pretty late,” I said.

“But don’t think it’s because I want to,” she said, sensing my sadness. “I just have to work tomorrow.”

“I totally understand.”

I had the sudden urge to invite her back to my room, but didn’t want to get too overzealous and risk ruining the magic and beauty of this night.

She kissed me, as though to reassure me not to worry.

Before she left, we exchanged contact info, then snapped a picture of each other in front of Mozart’s likeness, preserving the moment in a happily ever after.

We kissed again, fully aware that it was the last time. That we would likely never cross paths again, making the moment even more perfectly bittersweet. And then she hopped onto her bike, smiled and rode away stage left down a faintly lit cobbled-stoned street. And then, she was gone, leaving me alone on stage with Mozart, who offered me a congratulatory nod and wink.

I decided to keep Mozart company for a little while longer, soaking in the tranquil stillness of the empty square, realizing that I was living a moment that could never be replicated, yet would be carried forever in the scrapbook of my mind.

As I sat alone, beneath the likeness of Herr Mozart, I saw through his eyes exactly what he sees day after day, night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year and decade after each passing decade. Sitting there, I pondered just how truly alone I was at that moment and the moments that just preceded it. How many people before me shared a similar experience as I just had in that same spot? How many have yet to experience it, having no idea as to what magical fate awaited them? I wanted to tell each and every one of them to cherish that they have not yet shared in my experience and to appreciate every moment leading up to it. Because at some undetermined point in the future, the moment would be over. And in its place, a faded memory, a yellowed photograph torn at the edges.

A former reality turned into memory.

Trapped in time.

The actual, physical moment forever out of reach.

Resigned to live on forever in abstract memory.

And it was upon that realization that I floated back to my hotel, never more awake and alive – yet so utterly exhausted – and starry-eyed. Never more free. And so full of potential and hopes and dreams.

I snuggled into my fairy-tale bed, in a fairy-tale hotel in a fairy-tale city, regretting that I didn’t ask her to come back with me, but also glad I didn’t.

What if?

Unable to sleep, so I flipped on the television. And lo and behold was The Sound of Music, just as Julie Andrews skipped around the horse fountain singing “Do-Re-Mi.”

The next morning, I headed to the train station for the final leg of my journey. Vienna – Mozart’s place of death. As I made my final pass through the square, I grew hopeful that I would see her one last time, perhaps leading a group of Americans on a Sound of Music tour, with one eye looking out for me. I kept searching all the way to the train station. But it wasn’t meant to be. And as much I was hoping to spot her one last time, I knew deep down that it was better off this way. That somehow, seeing her again – in the light of day – would have taken away some of the magic of the night before, weakening the memory as it was preserved. No doubt, it would have been awkward. What would I say? What would she say? Besides, she would be working, so the moment would have felt awkward and detached.

Besides, I had a train to catch to Vienna.

But what if I didn’t catch the train? What if I decided to remain in Salzburg, if not for the remainder of my trip, but forever? What did I have to lose? Farfetched, sure. But possible. Anything’s possible. Life has not tied me down yet. I did not have to let life tie me down.

I became suddenly aware of how easy it is to alter the entire course of your life with just one decision. And how much easier it is to simply stay the course.

But then I remembered who I was. And as I looked behind me, I saw that the training wheels were still on after all.

As we wander through life, people come in and out of our lives, like characters in a play, protagonists and antagonists alike. Some stay for a scene. Some stay for an act. And some stay forever after. But they all have a purpose. Sometimes, it’s the minor characters we remember the most and that have far more lasting impact than the characters in our everyday lives.

Shooting stars. Brief encounters that are not only as deep and impactful as the ones we have with the leading characters in our lives, but at times – even more so. An isolated memory oasis, free from the constraints and strains of lasting relationships. As I’ve grown older, I no longer look back and wonder “what if.” I simply regard moments such as these as “what was.” And it was at that moment that I first began to realize this.

Content with this realization, I boarded my train, not taking my eye off the window, until Salzburg was behind me.

Six years later, I returned to Salzburg with my (now ex) wife, Olya – also from a land far-far-away and also somebody I met through magical fate – a chance meeting that turned out to be much more than one magical night in a fairy-tale world. Not to mention the subject of my first book.

We traveled in reverse order from my previous trip to Vienna and then Salzburg, before heading to Ukraine to visit her family. And six years later, nothing had changed. It was then, just as it was six years before and just like it was when Mozart roamed the cobble stoned streets and his ancestors before him. The only thing that had changed since my previous trip was me.

Gone was the free-spirited, what-do-I-do-next-with-my-life version of myself. In its place was a far more grounded, secure and content self. And, in perhaps a fitting symbolic tribute to how utterly full and complete my life was in that moment, the once empty square was filled with bleachers, tents, and thousands of soccer fans watching the World Cup championship game between Italy vs. Germany on an enormous projection screen. And even then, just as I had done six years earlier, I kept an eye out, wondering … hoping … but then realizing that once the doors to the past are closed, we can never re-enter them no matter how hard we try.

And as crowded as that square was, there he stood.

The maestro.

Alone.

With both eyes open.

Quietly taking it all in, as always.

Whether others care to join him or not.

 

A Penny for 50’s Thoughts

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Some things in life can’t be predicted. Take, for instance, a chance encounter with 50 Cent.

After my first book Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine was published, I tried to think out of the box as much as possible in (usually failed) attempts at getting word out about my book. So if something caught my eye that I felt had any remote connection to my book whatsoever, I would jump on it immediately, leaving no stone unturned.

I realize now that many of these were misguided efforts to “bank” on my sudden “success” as a published author. Realize that “success” in this context simply the act of getting published – making a single cent was a whole other issue (let alone 50 cents).

My book doesn’t have a whole to do with vodka to be honest. I mean, there are certainly ample amounts, but the focus of the book is on my travel adventures in Ukraine, rather than a history of vodka…or love for that matter (though I devote a couple paragraphs to the history of vodka…and several chapters to love itself).

So I decided to milk the vodka angle for what it was worth. One event in particular caught my eye – an enormous vodka tasting festival called Vodka Vodka! inside the historic Royal Oak Music Theater just outside Detroit. Dozens of vodka vendors would be on hand, as well as models, a DJ, and miscellaneous other modes of entertainment.

But mostly vodka.

I figured I would fill a niche. I mean, who isn’t looking for a book when they come to a vodka-tasting event? Get people drunk enough and they will do anything.

On a whim, I contacted to the festival organizers to inquire about getting a both to peddle my wares.

“So what kind of vodka is this?”

“No, it’s not vodka. It’s a book. About vodka. Well, not really about vodka. Vodka’s in the title.”

In response to my jabbering, I was finally given a quote of $500.

Let me make this clear: I can’t even do the math required to determine how many books would be required to even break even. Let’s just say it would require a delivery truck and a forklift.

I couldn’t even sell that many copies at a book convention where the only book available was mine.

Suddenly, I found myself thrust into unfamiliar territory: the art of negotiation. Somehow, I managed to talk my way down to $250 when I essentially explained the pitiful reality of how much money there was to be made in this for me. Even at that rate, I would still be in the red, but I managed to convince myself that the exposure would make it all worth it in the end. Besides, I was also hoping to partner with a local vodka distillery with the hope of some sort of cross-promotional partnership (it never happened).

As the event drew nearer, I started having serious doubts as to why I was willing to shell out so much money just so I could sit awkwardly at a table with a stack of my books that would never sell. Hell, if I wanted to go for the eye candy alone, I could have just bought a ticket and attended the event as a spectator.

Just when I was about to inquire about getting a refund, I received an e-mail announcing a special guest celebrity who would be in attendance.

And just who might be gracing us with his/her presence? None other than:

The man.

The myth.

The legend.

50 Cent.

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But why?

On the surface, it made little sense.

But I came to realize that he was there to promote Effen Vodka, which he was somehow involved with.

And just like that, I had a singular focus: get my book into 50’s hands. At all costs. And it would be worth every last cent (it no longer mattered that I was unlikely to make the equivalent of his monetary moniker).

So why this irrational excitement for a washed up rapper who was never that great to begin with? It wasn’t like I was a huge 50 Cent fan even back when he was a thing. (Who was?) I mean, a casual fan, yes. (Who wasn’t?) And it wasn’t like rappers were a coveted demographic for my book. Not to say they wouldn’t like it. Point is, the idea of getting 50 Cent a copy of my book quickly became my latest obsession just for the randomness of it. I didn’t care if I didn’t actually meet him. But one way or another, my book would.

The event finally arrived – a cold, Michigan January night. My publisher, Jon, and I headed to the venue, hauling a couple of boxes of books inside, found our booth, nestled between Tito’s Handmade Vodka and a stairwell, which at least ensure maximum visibility. Attendees were sure to at least notice the book. The bright yellow cover drew people like moths to light.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. As it turned out, most people didn’t so much as glanced in our general direction, their internal GPS wired to take them directly en route to the next vodka booth. A small handful glanced our way, but nothing more than a precursory one. And often seemed annoyed by the books’ very presence.

After we settled in, we cashed in a couple of drink tickets to sample some vodka, but otherwise remained stationed at our booth. Jon made noble attempts to pass out post cards promoting the book – most of which were either ignored, or dropped to the ground seconds later, where they would be trampled on by the increasingly drunken attendees.

And an hour into the event, there was no sign of 50 Cent.

Where was the motherfucker?

Maybe it was all a ruse. Maybe he changed his plans. Then again, what else would 50 Cent possibly have on his agenda?

The Effen Vodka booth, which was located about four booths or so away from mine was certainly far more elaborate than everyone else’s.

For one thing, it included a VIP lounge.

And in the middle of the lounge was none other than a dancer pole.

Certainly seemed tailor-made for the 50-cent king himself!

At one point, Jon decided to make the rounds, and I remained behind to man the booth. We weren’t exactly staying busy.

As I sat there twiddling my thumbs, peering over two evenly stacked piles of books, I observed a clearly intoxicated woman in her late making it a point to make out with just a bout any random guy she could get her hands on. Particularly, random guys under 30. Most went along with it, as it was safe to assume that they were probably intoxicated, too.

Then she headed my way. The first one to actually pay a modicum of attention to us.

And she was drunk as fuck.

“What is this?” she asked, pointing at my table.

Though I sort of assumed she was getting at my books, I still wasn’t entirely sure. My guess is that she was wondering where the fucking vodka was (not to be confused with Effen Vodka).

“What are these,” the woman asked, as though discovering books for the first time.

“Books!” I said with feigned enthusiasm. By that point, I was feeling pretty down about this $250 decision – even with the promise of 50 Cent looming.

“What kind of books?”

“A memoir. Love & Vodka.”

“Oh, does it have vodka recipes?”

“No. It’s about my experiences traveling in Ukraine.”

“Oh. So you are some kind of author?”

“Yes. Some kind for sure.”

“Ohhh, I’ve never been with an author before”, she said, rubbing her finger alongside my cheek.

“Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, utterly flabbergasted.

“I can’t remember the last time I read a book,” she said with a hearty chuckle.

“Well, then you should read this one!”

“Yeah. Right,” she said with a sarcastic laugh.

And with that, she walked away. Better than nothing!

Within seconds, she was making out with a douchebag in a faux hawk.

I suddenly found myself asking: is a vodka festival such a good idea to begin with? It just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Anyway, I wasn’t there to judge.

I was there to sell books.

And meet 50 Cent.

Almost another hour passed by with 1.) no sales and 2.) no sign of 50 Cent.

What was more likely to happen? Sell a book? Or, 50’s arrival?

Probably 50 Cent.

A duo of attractive and presumably highly-intoxicated (but not anywhere as obnoxious) women approached.

Perhaps I would work my nerdy charm and sell a fucking book.

“Hello!” one of them said – the clearly far more sober one. Her friend was really struggling to stand on her own two feet and seemed mostly oblivious to everything.

“Hi there!” I said, hoping for the best. But expecting the worst.

“So is this your book?”

“Yes, it is!”

“How cool! You wrote it?”

“Yep. Every word. And edited by this guy right here,” I said, pointing to Jon, still eagerly attempting to hand out postcards to anyone who passed by.

The less-drunk woman grabbed a copy and started thumbing through it. Despite reading the back cover, she still felt compelled asked:

“What’s it about?”

“My travel experiences in Ukraine.”

“So it’s fiction?”

“No. Non-fiction. Memoir.”

“So you went to Russia?”

“No. Ukraine.”

She continued to analyze the book like a scientist unique specimen. Unlike my previous customer, she seemed to at least understand what a book was.

“I’ll buy it!”

“Great, thanks!”

“Will you sign it?”

“Of course! Who should I make it out to?”

“Maria.”

“With one ‘M’?” I joked.

“What?”

“Nevermind.” I got to work signing her book, which I wrapped up by with my signature fox, which looked more like a rat.

As I continued writing, she asked me:

“So are you excited about 50 Cent?”

“Yeah! Very excited.”

“I hope to get his autograph, too! And maybe a little something more, if you know what I mean.”

“That would be awesome!” I responded, handing my book over to her.

“$15.00.”

“Do you accept credit card?”

“Sadly, not. I don’t have one of those card reader things.”

“Let me ask my friend. Britney, do you have cash?”

What Britney seemed to have was an extremely high blood-alcohol level, as she continued to struggle to find her balance.

“What?” Britney asked.

“Cash. I need cash.”

“How much?”

“$15.00.”

“I don’t think so. Let me check.”

She clumsily dug through her wallet. All she could produce were seven singles.

“I’m so sorry,” Maria said.

Now under ordinary circumstances, this would mean no sale. But since the book was personalized, I would either have to wait for another Maria to buy my book…or, sell it to her for a deep discount, which would mean I would lost $3.00 on the book when it was all said and done (now that math, I could handle).

“Are you sure?” Maria asked.

“Yes. For me, the satisfaction comes from knowing that somebody read my book. Enjoy!”

“I’ll pay you back.”

“Don’t worry.”

“No, I will. Are you on Facebook?”

“Yes! Feel free to add me!”

She never did. But at least I was going home with one less book.

That was as close to a sale as I would get that night. The question remained, however: would I be able to hand deliver a copy to the 50 Cent? I was beginning to hope that he would show up, let alone get my book to him.

As Maria and Britney made their way down the steps to the next booth, Britney tumbled, spilling the entire contents of her purse. Lying on the ground were what appeared to be several bills. Even if they were only singles, they certainly would have covered the balance of what they owed me.

And then:

“Ladies and gentleman!” said the emcee’s booming voice, as 50 Cent’s 2002 smash hit “In Da Club” started blasting throughout the theater. The crowd went nuts. Because everyone knew what this meant, even before the announcement was made:

“The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Put your hands together for 50….Cent!”

Louder cheers. A mob of people rushed toward the Effen Vodka booth as an entourage entered to a medley of 50’s Greatest Hits (all of which were said and done by 2005).

The hits included snippets of such golden chestnuts as: “Candy Shop”, “P.I.M.P.”., “21 Questions”, “Just a Lil Bit”, “Disco Inferno” and “Wanksta”.

The half-dollar king had entered the building! And the world couldn’t be a better place…for “just a lil bit”.

Though I couldn’t make get a visual on 50 himself, it was a safe bet that he was insulated by his posse, as he made his way toward his booth, which now showcased a half-naked dancer twirling on the pole.

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Throngs of women (liquored up enough to believe that it was 2002 and that thongs were still in fashion) rushed the booth, hoping to get a piece of 50. I even spotted Maria, pulling a hapless Britney along by the hand, determined to get an autograph… and the full 50 Cent piece.

After a few minutes, as a crowd gathered around the V.I.P. booth five rows thick, it became apparent that 50 had no desire to drink vodka – or Bicardi for that matter – with the masses. Didn’t matter if was anyone’s birthday as far as 50 Cent was concerned.

I would need to find a way to penetrate through 50 Cent’s remaining, rabid female fan base.

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I was less concerned about my ability to do so and more concerned how others might assume I was that desperate to get a piece of the magic stick. But I wasn’t going to let judgments from the masses deter me. Not after I got this far! Without a moment to lose, I grabbed a copy of my book and personalized it as follows:

           

Dear 50 Cent,

Hope you enjoy my book. Always and forever a fan.

Regards,

R.J. Fox

Of course, I included my patented fox drawing and put my contact info in there for good measure. Because doing so at least magnified my chance of hearing directly from him, than if I didn’t include it at all.

I realized that if my plan didn’t work out, then I would be forever stuck with it. And unlike “Maria”, I would have a much lesser chance of finding another 50 Cent. Signing it was a calculated risk I had to take. Somehow, I couldn’t help but feel that my destiny was sealed.

I took a deep breath and headed toward the two-quarter hip hop legend – or, at least the crowd of people surrounding him – all clamoring for the same thing, I realized that having a tangible item to deliver to him might actually improve my chances.

I stopped just short of shouting “Special delivery for 50 Cent!”

I strategized to find my best point of entry. After several attempts at getting nowhere fast, I decided I was going to have to be more aggressive. Nobody was going to politely allow me to push past them. I would just have to plow through, looking like the biggest dick in the process. Clearly, nobody was giving up on the hope that 50 would actually interact with them, which would have made my life so much easier if they had. I just had to work my way through, one female fan at a time.

And next thing I know, I was standing on the outer edge of his 50’s lair, smack dab in front of the pole and dancer. And then, I spotted him…sittin’ on a couch, watching the same dancer I was, and sipping on a drink.

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I felt a kinship to him like no other for that one moment.

I even managed to snap a few pics.

But now what?

I noticed a couple of sentries guarding the VIP lair’s entrance. That was my golden ticket! But it required muscling my way past more women eager to do the same. But I already got this far. Now, I just had to move laterally about 15 feet.

But my biggest challenge lay ahead.

The first few feet were a cinch.

But standing a half dollar between me and fifty were three large black women who did not want a scrawny white boy taking a piece of the birthday cake.

“Oh, hell no!”

“Who the fuck this boy think he is?”

And next thing I knew, I was flat on my ass, knocked down in what I think was an accident, despite not being fully sure.

I sat back up and from my vantage point, watched the women attempt to bust through security, but they were promptly turned away.

“Fuck this shit,” the one who “accidentally” knocked me down said. “Let’s go get some motherfuckin’ Goose.”

And there was my opening.

On the precipice of a dream!

I walked right on up to security, who braced themselves for a ruckus.

“So, I’m the author of this book here. And was wondering if I could some how, um, get this book to Mr. 50 Cent.”

They looked at me, then the book, then me again.”

“You wrote this?” one of them asked.

“Sure did! The whole thing! Since he’s into vodka, thought he might like to read this.”

“Okay, sure. We’ll get it to him.”

I handed my book over. And then watched my book pass not through just one channel of security. Not two channels. Or, even three. But four. And then, through a small opening, I saw 50 Cent himself receive my book. And it required someone having to stand between 50 Cent…and the 50-cent dancer was he was ogling over with quasi-indifference. He stared down at my book, then produced an expression that seemed to suggest “What da fuck?”

And then I walked away.

Triumphant.

I often wonder whatever happened to that copy of my book.

For all I know, 50 tossed it into the first trashcan he found. Or, pawned it off onto a member of his entourage. Or, perhaps he left it in his V.I.P. booth, leaving it totally up for grabs (which more than likely meant trash).

Of course, it was also possible he kept it, but never read it, nor has any intention to. I also acknowledge the possibility that just maybe 50 Cent has read my book. Stranger things have happened!

At the very least, I take great pleasure in knowing the possibility that – if only for one fleeting moments – there existed a copy of my book addressed to fucking 50 Cent. How many writers can take claim of that fact?

I could hold my head up high, no longer a wanksta…but much more gloriously, a gangsta.

The bottom line is this: I went in with a goal. And left with the goal accomplished.

And in this business, success in measured in small increments. One cent at a time.

 

 

Velvet Unicorn

“You’ll know it when you see it – or, more specifically feel it,” a hopeless romantic once told him (but since divorced).

With further elaboration, the “it” being the elusive unicorn Mark was seeking…and was lead to believe was out there.

Somewhere.

Just where this magical, mythical being was hiding, was anybody’s guess. Living with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, perhaps? He truly wanted to believe it existed. Once upon a time, he had no doubt. But it’s always only a matter of time before reality overshadows fantasy.

He certainly had ample reason to have his doubts – especially lately. But he was willing to suspend disbelief and give it a shot, joining the ranks of those who not only believed that unicorns existed, but believed that it was just a matter of waiting for the universe to help you find your very own.

Of course, it’s much easier to believe in such a thing when you are young and naïve – akin to a child’s belief in Santa. But as time goes by, it eventually fades into the rabbit hole oblivion of myth.

When we’re young still young, we are often struck by Cupid and can’t help but believe in it. But overtime, most come to see it as fool’s gold. And though Mark’s belief in true love was almost fully extinguished, there were still embers burning beneath the ash.

Even the most hopeless of romantics feel the foundation begin to crack by the time they reach 40 if they are still single. If married, their views of love have probably been significantly altered. As well.

Mark was certainly no hopeless romantic. And certainly way less now than before his marriage deteriorated beyond the point of repair. Not even marriage counseling could crack that nut. Or, more accurately, the nut was already cracked beyond repair.

Yet, despite fading faith, there was still a part of him that believed that his magical unicorn was lingering out there.

Somewhere.

And quite likely sharing the same thoughts and doubts as he was.

Holding on to hope wasn’t such a bad thing.

At 37, Mark was still young enough to be considered young. In the eyes of his students, however, he was ancient. And he couldn’t help but feel that way.

The downside to still believing that your special someone is out there at Mark’s age meant dealing with an avalanche of anxiety attached to the realization that even though you believed your soul mate existed out there somewhere, the universe was determined and conspiring to keep you apart at all costs.

And that time was running out.

He couldn’t help but wonder if this was worse than the contrary belief that one’s soul mate never existed to begin with.

When you truly believe that their special one is out there, life becomes an endless scavenger hunt. A game driven by the realization that every outing is rife with the possibility that your unicorn might be waiting around every corner, at every bar, at every café, or in every bookstore, which means leaving no stone unturned, for fear of missing out on the one thing you are searching for more than anything.

Because you are in search of that one person who not only truly gets you…but that you will truly get yourself. The one person who is like mirror reflecting your best self, deflecting all the things you fucking hate. Yet, despite the fact that you have everything in common, there are still several mysteries waiting to be unraveled. And it all seems too good to be true. And you can’t eat. Because your stomach is filled with the constant flutter of butterflies.

A unicorn is also someone that makes you feel compelled to write out long messages on a note pad before you type it out to make sure you get it just right. It’s regretting that you didn’t phrase a message just so. Or, that you left out a line. It’s hearing a song in your car and you’re convinced she’s hearing the same song, even when you know it’s not even possible.

And the world is never more full of color. Even during a dreary Michigan winter.

And then reality sets in. Before you fall out of love. Before the sex drive is gone. Before some one cheats. Before the dream is given up on. Before you feel like strangers, despite all the familiarities and similarities you once shared. When the allure of romance and endless potential becomes mundane, annoying, boring. And all you see are not only the worse parts of that person you were once so obsessed over, but the worst parts of yourself, which are now somehow, deeply and horrifyingly magnified. Once you get to this point, there is no turning back. You either go through the heartbreak of break up, or you both live with the heartbreak of wondering if the unicorn was fool’s gold.

A false flag.

And before you know it, you suddenly find yourself searching for your missing unicorn once again. And it’s doubly sad, because the person you thought was your unicorn is probably thinking the same thing about you. Or, possibly fucking someone behind your back. Or, perhaps, you are on your own private, lonely island, which means they are either oblivious, or they have become too complacent to give a fuck.

Of course, none of it really comes as much of a surprise. We are used to thinking the person who just might be “the one” actually isn’t – no matter how much and intensely you shared the same wavelength. In fact, it is often the ones that come on the most sudden that are often to be most disappointing. Sometimes, life simply gets in the way and despite doing everything in your power to make it work, you end up going separate ways. But we cherish even the failed or false unicorns because if even for a moment – a drunken night, an all nigh chat session, or whatever the case may be, it was fucking beautiful. Like a comet that goes as quickly as it came. Sometimes, a temporary unicorn comes into our life when we most need it.

And sometimes, this means realizing when it’s time to move on.

And evolve.

Coming to the realization that that our true unicorn is probably still out there somewhere.

But then we remember that it is called a unicorn for good reason: it’s not only elusive. It probably doesn’t even exist. Yet, we keep searching anyway. And falling into the same pattern that ultimately leads to disappointment, rejection, resentment, loneliness, desperation…which is more than often the case.

Which is exactly how Mark ended up drunk most nights at his neighborhood dive, notebook in hand, with the aim of putting a dent in the novel that he had been toiling over for 15 years. Spinning in its tracks.

Fifteen fucking years. Longer than his marriage by half. And perhaps even more frustrating and abusive. But yet, it was his first love. And he figured since he had already put so much blood, sweat, and tears into something that never reciprocated (much like his marriage – though he was equally at fault), he would stick with it, till death do him part (unlike the marriage she finally put out of its misery. Because, as she said “You’re too much of a fucking coward to end it.”)

Although his optimism regarding finding his unicorn was quickly fading, he still had full faith in his novel – his elusive Moby Dick. Though he was certain he would never give up on his dream, his biggest fear was that fucking novel would never see the light of day. It was this very fear that motivated him to keep poking away at it. In fact, the more time passed, the harder he worked at it. If only he put this much effort into his marriage. Then again, it was his “stupid” writing dream that played a huge role in dissolution of his marriage. Of course,

She would never understand how much it hurt him that in 10 year of marriage, she never read a goddamn word of what you wrote, nor did she ever ask what he was working on. Nor, get excited when he shared a new idea. She simply didn’t give a shit. And it hurt like hell. Eventually, he got to the point where he stopped sharing things with her. It was also around this time that he reached the beginning of the end.

And it wasn’t like he didn’t take interest in her pursuits. He understood it took two to tango. She just never wanted to dance.

For years, they were two people living under the same roof, but living two separate lives. Of course, not having kids only expedited this existence. Perhaps, if they had kids, they would have fought harder. Or, stayed married for the kids. Then how miserable would they have been? Maybe kids only would have made it worse.

As far as his book was concerned, he knew he ultimately had no control over whether would someone actually publish his book. But he would never stop knocking at doors.

Since the divorce, Mark devoted most of his evenings to his writing. Bourbon was his muse. When he wrote at home, he usually ended up passed out at his computer earlier than he would have preferred. So he started frequenting bars more often – not to pick up women, but so he could stay awake and write. He always wrote best when surrounded by stimulation. He fed off it. Every now and then, an attractive stranger would catch his eye and become his unknowing muse.

Lately, however, his he started to feel like perhaps the time had come to give dating a try, for the first time since he was last single – 15 years ago to be exact. He doubted he would be any better at the game now, than he was then. In fact, he was likely to be worst with rust.

It didn’t help that when it came to the opposite sex, he felt anxiety anytime he had to talk to a cute female – a waitress, cashier, whatever the case may be. So how the fuck was he going to ever start dating? Perhaps he would give a dating app a try. Or, two.    After all, his elusive unicorn could very well be a right swipe away. Narrowing things down could only help!

It was time to get serious about finding a muse, rather than his usual barista or bartender crush he was prone to falling for without their knowledge of his existence. Sometimes, he would fall for a fellow customer, going so far as to project an entire life’s history on to her. Yet, he would never give himself the opportunity to discover if his projection came anywhere close to the truth because he didn’t have the goddam balls to do anything about it. At least it wasn’t all for naught – often, these “one night muses” ended up populating his stories.

Lately, he was frequenting bars fare more coffee than his usual coffee shops. Part of it was the fact that caffeine seemed to be keeping him up at night, more so than in the past. But the truth of the matter was that he was depending on alcohol more and more lately, going as far as to convince himself that drinking was making his writing better. Much like his writing, his Mark’s life lately was one very rough, unending draft. And it was time for some major polishing.

Part of time hope that by frequenting bars – and increasing alcohol consumption – he would somehow find the courage to strike up a conversation and maybe – somehow – get back into the game.

Perhaps some girl will be so fascinated by a guy writing in a bar, she would approach him! It was only natural that if she his true unicorn would be turned on by his writing. Of course, in reality, he was aware of what a pretentious douche bag he probably looked like.

Then again, did he really want to drag another woman into the murky swamp of a writer?

He realized his desire for a muse was a bit selfish on his part. But he sure loved the idea of writing stories secretly just for her. Stories that she inspired. And then she would read them. And then they would have dinner. Watch a movie. Make love. And life would be good. Life could be good. If only he could just get out of his own way.

Of course, it was usually while riding the high of a writing session, combined with ample amounts of bourbon, that he was more convinced than ever that his elusive unicorn was out there.

Somewhere.

But where?

And then…

“Are you writing a book?”

Peering over his shoulder was the ginger angel of his dreams.

“Yes. Trying to, at least.”

Where in the hell did she come from? How had he not noticed her until she appeared? She was exactly the type of he would have typically instantly noticed.

“What’s it about?
“A thriller about a guy who realizes that ‘s an alternative version of himself living the life he always wanted.”

“Oh, wow. That sounds fantastic! String theory stuff, right?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Are you a writer?” he asked.

“Me?” she said with a laugh.

“No. But I am an avid reader. Mind if I sit here?”

“Sure!”

What is happening?

            Surely some sort of prank. He kept waiting for a camera crew to jump out of some dark corner.

Was he dreaming?

This type of shit never happened to him.

Never.

Three hours later, they were still talking.

And drinking.

And sharing an appetizer.

Their conversation was effortless; their mutual interests endless – especially as it pertains to film, music, and literature. And despite everything in common, he realized how many mysteries remained to be explored.

From a physically standpoint, she was just his type. Red head, with a punk edge exterior, but a sweet interior.

And perhaps most importantly, she was so damn curious about his writing! He wasn’t used to this. Why would she give a shit? She hadn’t even read a single word he had written – but that was soon about to change.

“So what made you want to talk to me?” he awkwardly asked.

“Because you seemed so cute, writing away in your little notebook. And it was refreshing to see a guy in a bar who wasn’t there to pick up chicks.”

This. Cannot. Be. Real.

So what next? His lack of confidence was certainly still intact. Because he just assumed that even after this amazing conversation, they would go their separate ways.    Closing time.

He walked her out, an assertive action, aided by the fact that he had no choice since the bar was closing its doors.

Standing out the parking lot, a light snow flurry fell on them, as they awkwardly stood there awaiting an unwritten goodbye. Both seemed unsure as to what to do next, despite both likely wanting the same thing.

And then:

“Want to come back to my place?” she asked.

            No way this was happening.

“Yes,” he said in response to her question. “That would be great.”

With nothing to lose, he followed her back to her apartment just conveniently down the road, listening to “Across the Universe” as the replayed his unexpected evening in his mind.

Nothing seemed forced.

Or, awkward.

Just two people at a bar.

Just as he fantasized over and over again. Just like he had seen in the movies, time again. And now, somehow, it was happening.

But was it really?

It was happening.

And of course, how fitting that what happened next was the best sex of his life.

Surely, it was too soon to assume she was his true unicorn. Right?

“You’ll know it when you see it – or, more specifically feel it.”

And the second he entered her bedroom – moments before he entered her, he had as close to an answer as he could ever expect to get.

Hanging above her bed, was a giant, velvet painting.

Of a beautiful, glorious unicorn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Napkin Notes

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” W.B. Yeats

I am surrounded by beards, moustaches, and knit hats, 80’s style glasses, and short bangs, wannabe DJs and rockers, and the sad, stale scene of PBR mixed with a hint of weed.

I am writing on a stack of napkins at a table across from the bar.

What a fucking cliché.

All that is missing is a quill pen.

Or, typewriter.

And yes, I realize the hypocrisy of making fun of hipsters while frequenting one of their establishments. But in fairness, I was coming here long before it was the “in” – or even ironic – thing to do. Before I was washed up

But is it even possible to be washed up if you were really nothing to begin with?

So rather than the cliché douchebag hipster, I’m the douchebag in the skinny tie, Banana Republic pants, and Kohl’s dress shit, sitting in front of a stack of cocktail napkins, writing all this drivel down, because I left my composition book at home.

What would look worse, anyway? The asshole writing on cocktail napkins? Or, the asshole writing freehand in a worn composition book?

In a place filled with fucking douchebags and assholes galore, I am a fucking asshole douchebag.

And why am I being so hard on myself? So what if I left my notebook at home? There are worse things. Though I can’t help but be annoyed with myself. The sole purpose of heading out was to fucking write. Which is akin to forgetting a bathing suit when you planned on going swimming.

It doesn’t help that my mind isn’t itself these days. What exactly was that “self” anyway? Not even I remember. My friends seem to. They keep reminding me that the “old me” has disappeared. Might as well put my fucking face on a milk cartoon.

So specifically, why am I at this Detroit drive, wasting my limited funds on unlimited whiskey? First of all, I justify it with cheap whiskey. It wasn’t long ago when I would abhor that shit. Now, it’s all I can afford.

My, how the mighty has fucking fallen.

As to why I’m here? Where else would I be?

Home?

Define home.

Crashing on the couch of a stranger – the only communication being a clear directive that there is to be no communication beyond paying rent – of which I could barely afford.

And why should a complete stranger give a flying fuck about me anyway? It wasn’t like I gave two shits about them. It’s cheap rent. A roof over my head. And a couch pillow for which to lay my head upon.

I used to have a house, until my wife threw me out – or, at least the discarded shell of my former self. You cheat one fucking time and suddenly, you’re on the street. Don’t get me wrong. Not looking for a pity party. I fucking deserved what I got. I cheated. She caught me. And now I’m living with the consequences.

Apparently, when you fuck the universe smack dab into its clitoral core, the universe fucks you RIGHT back up the ass.

So why did I cheat? There is no “why”. There was never a why. There will never be a why. There’s just…is. Once one understands that, one understands LIFE.

To be honest, not even sure I would have wanted to work things out if she tried, so in some ways. It was almost like I wanted to get caught. At least, some small part of me. I was otherwise content keeping it all as secret for as long as possible. After all, it was just sex. Wasn’t like I had fallen in love or anything. Looking back, perhaps I should have just gone the strip club route. Or a rub and tug. Sure, it would have cost money. But look at the price I’m paying now!

 

 

 

Of course – and again, not to justify – the cheating didn’t happen until after years of slowly getting my fucking heart out ripped out.

I know I should probably see all of this as a blessing. I’m free now. Maybe some day, I will realize this. When my feet are finally firmly planted on the ground. When the fuck that will be is anybody’s guess. Least of all, mine.

Sorry for the fuck-bombs, by the way. I honestly never swore this much until she left. Getting it all out of my system, I guess. But how much bile can possibly be left in me? In all honesty, it’s a habit I am hoping to break, once I find my center again. That oughta bring my fuck quotient down to a far more acceptable degree. But right now, swearing is cathartic as fuck.

And hopefully, by coming here tonight, I would get one step closer to finding my old self – my new old self. If not through my writing, then by some lasting memory.

For no particular reason, I just can’t help but feel as though something big is going to happen tonight. Not quite sure why – or what – but I do know I never quite felt this way before. At least not in this current incarnation of my life. Just what that something was, I have no fucking clue. Perhaps it would be finding the courage to talk to a woman at the bar? Mabye a new and profound story?

Or, the most likely probability…nothing at all.

So again, why this fucking shithole you might ask?

First off, fuck those pretentious craft cocktail bars that are taking over every other dive bar in town. Secondly, it’s close to home. And the music’s good (most of the time, at least…though it’s live music night and based on the first band, my hopes aren’t getting too high. In fact, it sounds like a fucking high school garage band that stopped practicing months ago).

Apparently, there’s a special benefit or fundraiser or some shit for some cafe that burned down.

Who would throw my benefit?

The bar tonight is too crowded for my liking. Not typical for a Wednesday night. And frequenting bars is certainly nothing new to me. Even before she left, I used to head out for writing sessions once or twice a week. However, the frequency was growing exponentially, despite the fact that the quantity (and by extension, quality) of my writing has gone in the opposite direction, despite the fact that bars were where I typically did my best writing – amidst the chaos of a public space, rather than in the quiet solitude of a desk. Then again, lately, it doesn’t matter where I write – or, more specifically attempt to write. Really, all I’m doing right now is hoping that somehow, magical prose will find a way to flow out of my pen like diarrhea, aided by ample amounts of cheap whiskey.

I am fully committed at this point.

Anything to break free from this writer’s block that has been plaguing me ever since my muse-in-sheep’s clothing walked out the door. Had it been totally up to her, I would have stopped writing altogether. And in the months leading up to the end, that’s exactly what I did. And where I most lost my sense of self. Like a drug addict discovering that the drug one is addicted to is the only thing keeping you semi-functional.

So here I am, without my goddam notebook and using wafer-thin paper that tear apart upon contact with my ballpoint pen. Of course, I could have gone back for it, but then again, that would have required energy I didn’t have – or, no longer knew how to summon. Wouldn’t be the first time I resorted to napkins when suddenly overcome with an urge to spill out my guts with pen on paper. Or, my own flesh.

Besides, there’s something liberating about quickly filling one napkin after another, as though they were entire notebook pages, rather than a 6×6 inch square or whatever the fuck length they were, filled with loose fragments and tidbits that may or may eventually reveal themselves to be the DNA of an eventual story. More than likely, these impressionistic loose strands would never amount to a hill of beans, but it was still as exhilarating and cleansing as fuck. Take, for instance, this batch of bunched up bullshit, the “literary” equivalent of watching a chicken running around with its head cut off. At least I am putting something to paper. Progress. The next step would be to figure out how to break from the variation of the same theme that I had been writing about for a good couple of years now: dissolving, sexless marriages, and lonely, downtrodden protagonists desperately looking for a new lease on life.

The line between my fiction and memoir was becoming especially blurred and more circular than ever. No wonder why I have no clarity or focus.

Spinning in my tracks. In life. And in writing.

Before I know it, I reach the bottom of my original stack of a dozen or so napkins, presumably left behind by a previous customer (and – from what I could gather – slightly used). I head up to the bar to ask for more, but get the stink eye.

I mean, how dare I?!

After all, this is the same bartender that ignored my existence for over 10 minutes before he took my order. My favorite bartender had the night off. She would never ignore me. (Or, in my mind at least, she wouldn’t). She had been my unsuspecting muse for quite some time now. A muse is a muse, whether she knows it or not. And man, I wish I had the balls to ask her out. I mean, I am technically single now, even if not legally so. But could I have had ever worked up the courage to ask her out? Not likely. Chances are, even if I did come up with the courage, I would swing and miss like so many another avenues of life lately.

I still couldn’t help but feel like something big was going to happen tonight. I felt it the second I entered this bag.

But what?

Fuck should I know.

Again, probably much ado about nothing. After all, why the fuck should be any different than any other night? Getting my hopes up is the story of my life.

So, I will remain passive, armed with a new stack of napkins and a bottle of Stroh’s (I reached my whiskey limit and made the call to the bullpen) and continue to pour out these wayward ramblings in search of coherence and acclaim. Like Hemingway and Burroughs before me, equally boozed up, but with only miniscule fraction of their talent.

As the minutes dwindle onward, the feverish pace I was writing at minutes before has become a drizzle of words were doodles, mostly consisting of Batman and baseballs. The only two thins I can draw. It was becoming more and more clear that the only thing I would accomplish tonight was finding the bottom of glasses.

I take a minute to scroll through Facebook. – the ultimate writer’s cockblock. Make it 10 minutes. Nothing of substance per usual, yet I addictively scroll and scroll and scroll – burning up the remaining fumes of my creativity. What I really need is a social media hiatus, but then again that would only further isolate myself from humanity. Lately, it seems all I did was piss people of on there with my snarky comments and passive-aggressive sub-posts. I never used to be like this. I was always sunshine and roses. Now, I’m a goddam storm cloud, raining on everyone’s fucking parade.

Halfway through my beer, I decide it’s time to wander a bit. So I pocket my shitty scribbles and the puts the blanks in another. Part of me thought about simply throwing them away, but why chance discarding a potential diamond in the rough? Then again, once I got home, these napkins were destined to join their fellow orphan napkins, scrap paper, and envelopes tattooed with notes that didn’t amount to shit and that would never see the light of day again (at least, not until next time I opened the box to add new pieces of shit some future drunk night much like this one).

Rinse.

Repeat.

I enter the adjacent room, which features the stage, where a DJ spins New between bands. Her frantic movements behind the controls suggested she was doing way more work than necessary as New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” plays.

A few scattered people stood along the perimeter of the dance floor. A lone dancer stood at the center of the floor, likely riding on a magic carpet ride of E. Maybe I should give it a shot sometime. Then again, I’ve barely smoked weed. Less than two years to be exact. And I could count on two hands the number of times I tried it. I thought it would make me more creative. But it didn’t. In fact, just the opposite. So clearly not ready to graduate to another drug. I’ll just stick with bourbon.

I head outside for some fresh air. The entrance is crowded with smokers, so I drift further down the street, into a light snowfall. A homeless man heads my way – the last thing I want to be dealing with right now. Torn green army jacket. Beard. Long-ish hair. Maybe he isn’t homeless. Maybe he’s just a patron.

“Excuse me,” the man says as he approaches me.

Here we go.

“Got a couple bucks?”

            Guess my first guess was right after all.

As broke as I am, I probably had more than him. At least, I hoped so. I gave him a couple of bucks. If I get booze, why not this poor sap?

“God bless you, sir. God bless.”

“You, too.”

“Do you gotta a light?

“Sorry, man. Can’t help you there. But I know some people who might be able to help.”

I nod toward the smokers at the bar entrance. He heads toward them. I follow. Too fucking cold for this shit.

I grab another beer. I return to my seat, hoping that my little jaunt will have somehow shook a story loose like a stubborn dingleberry.

Nope.

Nada.

Nothing.

The homeless guy has entered the bar. He hovers tat the door momentarily, then starts toward me. When he finally recognizes me, he stops, realizing he already solicited me and heads off in search of greener pastures.

Nobody seems willing to listen.

“Why the fuck won’t anyone talk to me?!” he shouts to no one in particular.

The bartender takes notices. Approaches. And likely to be a dick about it.

He is.

“What the fuck did I do?” the homeless man demands to know.

“You need to leave.”

“I just want to listen to music and make friends.”

“Go. Before I call the police.”

This seems to do the trick. He leaves without further incident.

This all could have been avoided if I invited him to join me. But I didn’t.

A hipster chick resembling a fucking John Waters character begins setting up merch on the table next to me.

She’s dressed all in pink, wearing a pink flamingo lapel pin.

“I like your flamingo,” I say.

A desperate attempt at flirtation?

Hardly.

But courage, nonetheless.

I scan the merchandise. A band called The Pink Flamingoez. That explains it.

We converse.

Turns out she’s the girlfriend of the band’s lead singer. She explains that the band is a “a Pink Floyd cover band with the combine aesthetic of John Waters.”

Guess I wasn’t far off after all.

She struggles to set up a clothing rack, from which hangs Pink Flamingoez t-shirts.

I stare at the unused napkins in front of me. Take a sip of beer.

And the world continues to spin.

It’s all it can do.

With or without us.

And with that thought, I realize I am getting sleepy. And should probably head home.

I accept the fact that nothing of significance was going to tonight after all.

And then:

WHACK!!

The clothing rack collapses, knocking me directly on my head.

Metal on skull.

I see it from the corner of my eye before I feel it.

Miss John Waters becomes extremely apologetic.

But I laugh. And laugh. And laugh.

And then I realize: the “big” moment I was waiting for – hoping for – all night

had arrived.

A reminder that we’re all flawed. And vulnerable.

Or to reduce the fraction – human.

Dinner for Two

In an ordinary suburb like so many countless others, Teddy and Chloe set out for the mundane task of grocery shopping. However, they did not arrive together. In fact, they did they know one another at all. Neither noticed when they: passed each other by in the cereal aisle, stood side-by-side at the deli counter, simultaneously reached for bananas, stood next to another in neighboring check out lines. Nor, did they noticed when they loaded their groceries into their cars and pulled out of the parking lot, before driving away in opposite directions.

Teddy hurried home to get dinner underway, regretting that he hadn’t done his shopping earlier. Whenever his wife worked a 13-hour shift at the children’s hospital, it liked to make sure dinner waiting for her when she came home. As much as he loved doing this task, she would still feel the urge to remind him that he had no excuse not to. He was, after all, “only a teacher. Your job is easy. Mine is not.” He actually agreed with her, but she acted otherwise.

Even if tonight’s dinner wasn’t ready on time, he was making something both new and vegetarian (though, he preferred meat). Hopefully she would at least appreciate that. And maybe, she would even agree to have sex for the first time in almost two months.

Wishful thinking.

Chloe, on the other hand, admittedly wasn’t the greatest cook in the world, which was one of two reasons why she preferred not to cook (general laziness, being the other). It also explained why her modest kitchen was even more modestly stocked. On the rare occasion that she did decide to cook, it usually necessitated a trip to the grocery store. Even if she had some of the ingredients, half the time, they were past their expiration date. But every now and then, she surprised both herself – and her husband – by having a meal waiting for him when he returned from a job he couldn’t stand.

She was hoping that this would be one of those nights. Fortunately, her kitchen “inadequacies” never seemed to bother him – at least not outwardly. They both joked that it was a good thing she didn’t cook that often: her cooking sucked. It wasn’t that he didn’t do his part from time to time, but only if it involved a grill.

“We can go out,” he would often suggest.

Tonight, she was going to make him his favorite: her mother’s meatloaf. Maybe, for once, he wouldn’t ask for sex for once. She figured that would be a fair trade off. If only he could better understand that to her, sex was a painful reminder of the fertility issues that had left them childless. As much as she tried to resist it, she equated sex with failure. As did the golden retriever they purchased in an attempt to fill the void.

Teddy arrived to his cookie-cutter colonial and quickly removed the bags of organic ingredients (if it were up to him, he would save money by buying non-organic items) from his trunk, before hurrying into the house. Despite his panicked urgency, he paused for a moment:

So what if dinner wasn’t waiting on the table the second she got home? How many times was dinner waiting on the table for him when he got home?

After all, she only worked three days a week. Sure, they were long hours, but three days all the same. He worked five. However, remembering how she was likely to respond if dinner wasn’t ready when she got home motivated him to hustle even more. It was a vicious cycle.

Across town, Chloe arrived at her cookie-cutter colonial and unloaded the groceries from her trunk, grabbing more bags than she could handle. Like Teddy, she regretted not doing her shopping earlier. She desperately wanted to make sure dinner was waiting for her husband when he arrived home. One of the plastic bag handles ripped off, dropping the contents onto the ground. Of course, it was the one bag containing something breakable: a carton of eggs. Only two of them survived. Fortunately, the recipe only called for two. Relieved, she lugged all her bags inside the house in two trips, put the groceries away, then opened a bottle of Pinot Noir. She paused momentarily, wondering if alcohol would only further impair her sub par cooking ability. She quickly dismissed that thought and poured half a glass in a compromise.

Meanwhile, Teddy opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio, poured himself a full glass, took a healthy sip, filled it back up, pre-lit the oven, then started preparing the meal. Despite suffering a small cut on his finger while chopping carrots, it wasn’t enough to deter him. He simply wrapped his finger in a paper towel and got back to work. He was making good time.

No stranger to kitchen clumsiness herself, Chloe burned her finger when she putting the meatloaf in the oven. She ran her finger under the lukewarm water, then wrapped it in a napkin, before heading upstairs into the bathroom to slap on a Band-Aid.

Meanwhile, Teddy placed the casserole into the oven, then guzzled down the remainder of his wine and set the table, just as Chloe took a baby sip of wine before she set the table.

Both Teddy and Chloe turned on some jazz, prepared a couple of side dishes, washed the dirty dishes, put away the remaining groceries, and lit a candles at the table. They then both sat down with their wine glass in hand, eagerly awaiting their spouses to come home (while paradoxically enjoying the “me time”). They took solace in knowing that they did something that would make their spouses happy – at least for one evening.

Teddy took another large sip of wine, before realizing that he should put the brakes on. If he wasn’t careful, he would kill the whole thing off. If he were to have any chance at getting laid tonight, she would also need wine. And probably a lot of it.

As Chloe finished off her first glass of wine, she found herself thinking:

Maybe I’ll even put out tonight.

She actually felt a tinge of horniness for once.

 

She considered pouring herself another glass, but decided to wait for dinner. She didn’t want to pass out before he got home. She rinsed out her glass, before setting it down on the table in front of her place setting.

The anticipated time of each spouse’s arrival passed by and day soon eroded into night. Phone calls were greeted by voicemail. Annoyance soon blossomed into mild anger, before concern.

Teddy turned the Tigers game on, relishing the opportunity to actually watch a game for once without somebody demanding that he change the channel – or even worse, shut the TV off all together.

On a couch across town, Chloe had fallen asleep while reading a book. There was nothing she loved more.

She awoke a half hour later and called her husband again. This time, it went straight to voicemail. She considered blowing out the candle, which now seemed to be mocking her. She decided to keep lit to keep some semblance of hope alive.

Across town, Teddy dialed his wife again. After a few rings, voicemail. Should he be worried? Every worse-case scenario suddenly consumed his thoughts. It was unlike her not to call if she was running behind. However, in the case of Chloe’s husband, this was par for the course.

Teddy dialed again. This time, she picked up.

“Hi, sorry, I didn’t hear my phone ring. I’m having dinner with Natasha. I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”

“Oh…” Teddy said, equally confused and disappointed.

“Am I not allowed to go out?” his wife asked with characteristic disdain.

“Of course you’re allowed to go out,” he said. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then why do you sound so disappointed?”

“Well, if you have told me you were going out, I wouldn’t have bothered to prepare such a nice dinner.”

“Well, how was I supposed to know you were cooking?” she asked. “Plus, you need to eat, right?”

“It’s just not like you to not tell me what you’re doing.”

“Do I have to tell you everything I do?” she asked.

“No, you don’t,” Teddy replied. “But in this case, it would have been helpful. I was getting worried. It’s not like you do this sort of thing all the time.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m a big girl. I don’t need you to worry about me like I was your child.”

“It’s okay,” Teddy said, trying to mask the disappointment in his voice. “We can eat it tomorrow.”

“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty, it isn’t working.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty—”

She hung up on him. To his knowledge, for the first time in the history of their eight-year relationship.

Teddy stared at the phone in disbelief, before slamming it down on the table. He blew out the candle, then proceeded to take a chug straight from the bottle. He looked out the window into the black night

What happened to us?

Chloe, meanwhile, succumbed to pouring herself another glass of wine and took a sip, desperately awaiting the sound of her husband’s car pulling into the garage. One of the few highlights of her day was greeting her husband at the door. For the first time, she realized how pathetic it was.

Like an excited dog greeting an indifferent master.

When did he ever wait for her at the door?

She called him again. This time, he answered.

“Where are you?” she asked

“I had to run a few errands and am on the way to the gym.”

“I made you meatloaf.”

“Thanks. But I already ate,” her husband said with casual indifference.

“What do you mean you already ate?” she asked, trying to bury the hurt and rage building up inside her.

“I picked up some fast food. I didn’t think you were cooking.”

“The one time I cook a nice meal …”

“I’m sorry,” he snarked. “If you cooked more often, maybe I wouldn’t assume that I was on my own.”

The words reached her like a piercing blow.

She was too stunned to respond.

“If it makes you feel any better, I will take it to work tomorrow.”

“That’s not the point.”

“What is your point?”

“Nevermind,” she said.

“I’ll see you when I get home,” he said.

“Ok,” Chloe said on the verge of tears as she slowly hung up.

The time had come to finally blow out the candle. As she stared out the window: What happened to us?

Teddy and Chloe re-lit their candles, then poured themselves the remainder of their wine, taking solace in the notion that nobody could say they didn’t try.

They each raised their glass for an imaginary toast, before taking a long, deserving sip, before digging into their delicious, melancholy meal.

Unbeknownst to both of them – on the other side of town – Teddy and Chloe’s respective spouses also enjoyed a meal together that night. In an ordinary suburb like so many other countless others.

The Dare

On the bright side, he was writing again. And he had a muse. It is important to note that he was writing again because of the fact that he had a muse. He would be the first to admit how lame that sounded. But he knew what worked for him and went with it.

Because without a muse, he flat out didn’t write.

At some point, years ago on his journey into being the not-quite-successful writer that he was today, he somehow convinced himself that he needed to what amounted to a crush in order to write.

He couldn’t decide if it was more pompous. Or, lame. Probably somewhere between.

As lame as it was, it worked for him. Or, at least he convinced itself it did, much like those who claim that prayer works, despite no concrete proof that their prayers are even heard at all.

Perhaps if his domestic situation wasn’t the shit-storm that it now was, he wouldn’t need a crush – muse – to light his fire. Though still married, it was a marriage of convenience at this point.

More like a mirage than a marriage.

The writing (or, lack thereof) had been on the fucking wall for years. If their marriage could be described in a concise, concrete matter, it would be as follows: Two people who ran a fucking in-home daycare operation. Sadly, he assumed, like so many other marriages. But he didn’t give a shit. He was beginning to have serious doubts about the whole Blink 182 “Stay Together for the Kids” philosophy that they had somehow agreed to years before (he was also sure as fuck that if the kids never existed in the first place, neither would his marriage).

It’s a Wonderful, Cynical Life.

A philosophy he didn’t sign up for, however, was the withhold-sex-from-your husband for months at a time until he becomes so antsy and bitter, he ends up fantasizing about muses that traditionally had the sole purpose of inspiring his prose.

As much as the lack of sex – or any other form of physical intimacy for that matter – fucking sucked, what sucked even more was her complete lack of interest and support for anything writing related. Though he didn’t blame her fully, nor did he expect her to read everything he wrote, her constant suggestions that he maybe just give up altogether was really fucking him up in the head. Mix that together with forced celibacy, it was no wonder why he felt like he was going to explode in all the ways a man can.

Hence, his increasingly ever-so-desperate need for a muse. And his growing need for someone to fuck.

Muses were usually not difficult to locate. They came in many forms and contexts: attractive co-workers who showed interest in his writing, the spouse of a friend who showed an interest in his writing, coffee shop baristas, bartenders, customers in coffee shops, a woman seated next to him at the bar while he wrote, etc.

Some muses only lasted for a few hours. Some stuck with him for long periods of time. No matter what form or length of time, they were his fuel. And they took no effort on the part of the muse because in all likelihood, they had no fucking clue he existed. Having a muse who knew nothing about him, or his dream was better than having a wife who didn’t give a fuck at all.

Having a muse meant he was writing. And writing meant he could tolerate life without sex. Or, at least, it made this reality more tolerable. He got a high off writing that akin to a drug… or a good fuck. So as long as he kept that beast fed, he felt complete.

Though he realized how fucked up this all sounded, every writer had their quirks and rituals. For him, it was obsessing over an unobtainable female. Surely not the first writer to do so, right?

Every now and then, he would stop to ask himself: what if a muse suddenly did become obtainable? What would become of his writing then?

What would become of his marriage?!

He realized that the time he normally spent writing would be evaporated in favor of fucking his muse. Though it would certainly solve one problem in his life, he saw how it had the potential to fuck up everything else (most significantly, his marriage). And though he knew deep down that he would probably be better off, what about the kids? He couldn’t let anything jeopardize the front he had to put up for their sake.

He figured as long as he had a muse, that would be enough right?.

It was no coincidence that the first serious bout of writer’s block he experienced coincided with the longest drought without a muse.

He didn’t just have writer’s block. He had muse block. The more desperate he was to find someone to reignite his drive, the more frustrated he got with every other component of his life.

Sometimes a change in atmosphere would be all he needed. It got him out of plenty of slumps before. Then again, this wasn’t the average slump. He settled on a new coffee shop across town, so it wasn’t exactly logistically convenient.

After a couple visits, not only did his writing start to emerge out of hibernation, but he had latched on to a new muse.

Elysa the barista.

Though she had no idea, he was smitten the first time she took his order for a grande non-fat mocha. It was her eyes more than anything else, though her full arm tats were sexy as fuck, as was her blue-platinum colored hair.

But those eyes. He noticed them right away.

Like a Disney princess crossed with a silent screen star.

Bette Davis eyes.

She was the creative id incarnate.

Before long, he started timing his writing sessions around her schedule, which he quickly figured out. And then she was gone. And so was his writing.

He kept returning to the scene of the crime, hopeful that she was perhaps out of town. But after a couple of weeks, he finally asked of one of her co-workers if she still worked there. She didn’t. And nobody knew where she had gone. Desperate, he asked for her last name. Though reluctant, he gave it to her.

And then he looked her up on Facebook.

This is how stalkers are made…

Chances were, she would never accept anyway. But then she did. And then he immediately wrote her a note to thank her for adding him. A quick scan of her profile made him realize that she was an artist.

And it just so happened that he was seeking an artist to collaborate with. So in the guise of innocence, he asked if she would be willing to meet to discuss a possible partnership. She obliged and they soon met over drinks.

They hit it off and though she seemed genuinely interested in his project, she told him she had a lot on her plate and probably wouldn’t be able to get to it for quite a awhile, especially with the hours that she was pulling at the new distillery downtown.

They remained in touch, sharing favorite music and movies and random thoughts. His willingness to share his work inspired her to want to share hers – something she typically struggled with. Whenever he hit a roadblock in his own work, he would ask her to send along some of her artwork to give him the creative boost he needed. Though she was highly guarded when it came to exhibition of her work, she admitted that he was giving her the courage she needed to finally showcase her work to a broader audience. It was as symbiotic a relationship that a writer and artist could ask for.

Eventually, he worked up the courage to tell her she was his muse, but only because the sense she felt the same way about him.

And she did.

“You’re the reason I’ve been able to write these past few months.”

She was flattered.

“And I have never been more productive,” she added.

After a few months had passed, the feeling didn’t fade like was so often the case with his muses. In fact, the feeling only intensified. He hadn’t felt this complete in ages and even his domestic situation was more tolerable that he could remember.

It certainly wasn’t the first time he had fallen for a muse. He had crushes on most. But had a muse ever fallen for him? He didn’t think so. And he wasn’t fully convinced she had fallen for him. But he liked to pretend that she did.

She occupied his every waking moment. And even infiltrated his dreams. Every goddamn thing was better. He writing was better. He jacked off better. He slept better. He woke up better.

Though he was well aware that he had already developed feelings that went beyond the superficial muse-crush, the tide really began to turn one particular night when, while writing under the influences of bourbon, she posted a new profile pic that sent his pathetic heart aflutter. Once again, it all came down to her eyes – like the twin beacons of a lighthouse, guiding a wayward sailor back to safety. Or, was it a siren, leading him to a rocky shore? Either way, he couldn’t resist the turning tide that this picture stirred within his soul.

He tried to resist making a fool of himself, but bourbon was clearly in charge.

“That is a fucking amazing pic of you,” he wrote.

He stared at phone, waiting for a response. Several minutes had passed and there was no response. And then a few minutes later:

“You think so?” she replied back, following by three blushing emoticons.

“It’s torture, quite actually,” he responded.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know…”

“Yes, you do. Say it scaredy cat! What do you mean by torture?”

            Stay cool. Don’t show all of your cards.

“Figure it out,” he wrote back.

“I think I got it,” she wrote with a wink.

“As though you didn’t already know.”

“You totally wanna snitch my face.”

“Snitch?”

He quickly looked up ‘snitch’ in the Urban Dictionary, assuming that it was lingo that never made it onto his radar. They were 15 years apart, after all.

Millenials and their hipster lingo…

“Smooch,” she corrected.

“You got me,” he wrote, then added: “Surprised? Disturbed?”

“Not surprised and not disturbed either.”

“Phew!”

“Lol.”

“You must get this a lot,” he said.

“No. Not at all actually.”

“Well, you should. And not from old, desperate men like this smitten douche.”

“You’re not old and desperate. And I wish I did, then I wouldn’t be young and single.”

“Embrace it. It won’t be that way forever. In the meantime, I will toil in misery when my muse posts such beautiful pics. A face I can’t snitch.”

“Who says you can’t?”

“Really?”

“You won’t try to snitch my face. You’re too scared.”

“Dare me,” he said with a bravado he never felt before. One thing he knew, if she were here in person, he would not be so brave.

“Dare,” she wrote.

“Tonight,” he suggested.

“I’m working.”

“You can come out to my car. You get breaks, right? I dare YOU.”

“Ok.”

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet…”

“Then how can I prove that I can come through on your date? Or, are you… a scaredy cat yourself?”

“I might be.”

“Well, you can’t stop me from coming in for a drink.”

“No, I definitely can’t stop you from getting a drink.”

“What are you afraid of?

“Idk.”

“For the record, this conversation has already inspired a story in my head. It’s up to you to help me decide if it will be fiction. Or memoir.”

“What would it be about?” she asked.

“Snitching.”

“You can’t just say what you’re thinking, can you?”

“Subtext.”

“Scaredy cat.”

“You don’t really want me to say what I am thinking, do you?

“Kind of.”

“Ok….you remind me of a Disney princess, but created by Tim Burton.”

No response came. He must have totally freaked her out.

And that’s how one loses a muse…

But a minute later:

“That is the most beautiful compliment in the entire world. I love that so much.”

“Great.

“See you tonight.”

“We’ll see about that,” she wrote, followed by a wink emoticon.

“Now pretend that this conversation never happened,” he added.

“Ok, conversation disappeared.”

But the conversation did happen. And it didn’t disappear. Just like that, a dare beyond his scope of rational understanding was on. From the start, he knew it was less about proving her wrong, but more about proving himself right.

What he was most surprised about was his complete lack of guilt. A virtual muse is one thing. But his muse and reality were beginning to merge.

His lack of guilt probably had a lot to with the fact that his wife hadn’t let him “snitch” her in three years. Nor, hug her.

The only obstacle? A mounting snowstorm. Staying off the roads would have been the smart thing to do. But his heart had become stronger than his intellect. This was nothing new. It was probably why he became a writer.

En route, he decided to stop for a couple shots of whiskey to calm his nerves. He forgot how much anxiety dating caused

When the effect of the whiskey took root, he headed back out into the snow, which had intensified. Fortunately, he was less than a mile away.

He parked in the lot behind the bar. A good snitching spot for sure.

He debated whether he should message her so she could come out to him, or if he should just walk in. He decided to show up in person. It felt like the more gentlemanly thing to do.

He entered the nearly empty bar (others were smart enough to avoid winter elements). A video of a burning fireplace was projected on to a giant screen, as a disinterested DJ spun trip-hop Christmas music.

He headed to the bar, which was tended by a woman who clearly wasn’t his muse.

“What can I get you?”

“Is Elisa here?”

“She’s in the back. I can get her…”

“No rush. I can wait.”

“Can I get you a drink?”

“A gin and tonic, please.”

He knew that he really shouldn’t be drinking at all. Not with the treacherous drive looming ahead. Combined with the amount already consumed.

Halfway through his drink, Elisa appeared from the back – as though she had emerged right out of the pic that got this all started in the first place.

“You made it,” she said with a warm smile.

“Surprised?”

“Yes, actually. I thought for sure you’d chicken out. Especially with the weather.”

“Oh, is it bad?” he said with a sly grin, before adding: “So, do you have a break coming up?”

“Actually, yes.”

They both stared at one another awkwardly, which was punctuated when he

proceeded to down the rest of his drink.

“Want another?” the bartender asked.

“I think I’m all set. Thank you.”

“Leaving so soon?” Elisa asked with a sly smile.

He paid, then turned to her and said:

“Just wanted to say hi,” he said. “Heading out to my car now.”

Elisa nodded. He couldn’t interpret what that nod conveyed exactly, but he hoped they were both on the same page, as he awkwardly head out into a snowfall so dense, it was as though he were trapped in a snow globe.

He started his car, then cranked up the heat to make sure that if she joined him, it would be warm enough for her. He put on the Christmas station, then stared at the gigantic snowflakes coating his windows.

Five minutes passed and he began to realize that he was probably just wasting his time. Just as hew as about to pull away, a figure emerged out of the back entrance of the distillery. He wasn’t certain, but as soon as the figure headed toward his car, he knew.

She approached the passenger side door and entered, fully bundled up. Dean Martin’s cover of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” began to play, which was only fitting since Dean and Frank was whom he listened to more than anything else when he wrote. His story was writing itself!

“Hi,” she said through a nervous smile.

“Hello,” he said, lacking the confidence that got him this far this evening.

What would Deano do? He’d nail her in the backseat of his car, that’s what he would do.

But whom was he kidding?

He was no Deano.

He nervously looked directly into her magical doe eyes and was surprised he didn’t look away. They remained locked in a gaze, amidst the silence of calm anticipation.

He removed his gloves, put a finger under her chin, then proceeded to give her what he planned to be just a gentle kiss on the corner of her mouth. He didn’t want to push it, but then he got the immediate sense that she wanted more. In fact, he didn’t have much of a choice. When their lips withdrew, he continued staring into the Disney princess eyes of his muse, entombed in a snow-covered vault.

A snowglobe within a snowglobe.

“I gotta get back to work,” she said with a smile, before she got out of the car.

“Goodnight,” she said, blowing him a kiss.

She closed the door behind her and headed back inside. Midway, she stopped to wave one last time.

He stared out his snow-covered windshield. A streetlamp cast an orange, burning glow through it. In that moment, it was the beautiful thing he had ever seen.

But it was time to turn to reality.

He grabbed his scraper and headed outside to brush all the snow off.

Back to reality.

As he drove away, he felt a deep contentment he couldn’t recall ever feeling at any point in his adult life. For once, he didn’t care what the future would bring. Nor, did the past really matter anymore. The only thing that mattered was the present and a full awareness of what his next piece of writing would be about.

All because of his willingness to take on dare from a muse.

In the end, that’s it was all he ever really needed. And all that fucking mattered.

Published here:

The Bombay Review