Archives: February 2014

Nashville, TN, June 1, 2012 (A Dinner Party)

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When Lucy opened the door and greeted me and Lewis she mixed up our names. “You two look the same!” she insisted. She was always doing this and I wondered if it was just an affectation. Abe was sitting at her kitchen counter drinking a beer, and on the sofa sat a couple I’d never seen before. Introductions were made, they were Gary and Rachel, two final year clinical psychology PhDs. A high brow bunch, in short. When they asked me what I did I felt rather insignificant. “I’m an underemployed liberal arts graduate,” I said. No, I didn’t say that, but if only, it would have been rather clever.

Dinner began. Lucy mentioned several times how Abe’s dinner from a few weeks ago had inspired her to outdo him, implying that she had in fact outdone him. “I thought Abe’s dinner was pretty good,” Lewis said.

“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” Lucy said. Most of what she said warrants exclamation points, a piece of punctuation I’m normally reluctant to employ.

I was in a contemplative mood. Lucy regaled us with a tale of one of her advisers, whom she suspected had hacked into her email account. Abe was incredulous. “What you’re saying is completely preposterous,” he said. But she insisted, there was possibly even a whole team from the faculty working against her.

It was difficult for me to discern whether or not she was serious. There was something performative about her behavior, as if it were an extended gag. But she never let up. Perhaps it was a matter of complete indifference to her if her claims were true or not, and she argued them just for the impression they created. I reflected that the same claim could be said about me, at moments, or any number of the characters in my life. Lucy was simply an extreme example. And isn’t this what goes into writing a story, in a sense? The alienated self writes itself, as authors write their stories.

As I said, I was in a contemplative mood. I considered the couple sitting across from me. Gary’s body language and the way he looked at Rachel clearly evinced his affection, even infatuation, perhaps, for Rachel. Ah, love. Rachel, though not indifferent, seemed content to just bask in his affections. Then I overheard her call him “sugar pie” as he stood up to go to the bathroom.

“I’m going to have some wine,” Lucy announced, presumably because she rarely drank and so this was an exceptional moment.

“Oh, no,” Abe said.

Indeed, by the time we finished dinner she did seem drunk, but it could have just been her histrionics. Gary and Rachel left, saying they both had to be up early the following morning.

We moved to her living room and she offered that we play a game. Wait, I seem to recall that there was another person in the room. Courtney was also there, how could I have forgotten.

“Why don’t we try and levitate someone?” Lucy said.

“Yeah, I used to do that at sleepovers when I was a kid,” Courtney said.

“This is ludicrous,” Abe said.

“I agree,” I said. And this was true, but lately it had seemed to me that so little of interest was happening, and at least this was out of the ordinary, a curiosity if nothing else. Lewis stood up—I could tell he felt awkward—and said he was going to leave. “I want to see the evening out to its end,” I said.

Abe begrudgingly lay on the floor and the two girls kneeled down on either side of him, one touching his feet, the other touching his hands.

“Alright, we need to concentrate very deeply,” Lucy said. They remained in that position for a few moments, silent. “Do you feel anything?”

“A little indigestion,” Abe said.

“Oh come on! I need another glass of wine,” Lucy said.

The next game was going to be prank calls, again it was suggested by Lucy. “I see a theme evolving here,” I said. Devolving was actually the appropriate word. Perhaps this was my cue to leave but I felt exceptionally spectatorial, for once my gaze was directed outward and if I left it would mean simply going home, where I would resume contemplating myself, masturbate, and then go to bed.

I still couldn’t decide if Lucy was merely performing or if it was all genuine—in the latter case, perhaps it was contemptible of me to be taking pleasure in watching her act foolish. But if it was just a charade, then I was in on the joke, and we were all laughing together.

In the spirit of things I offered that Lucy call the coffee shop, because I knew Jay would be working and he would take a joke like that pretty well.

“Hello may I speak to Jay…yes…this is Lucy…well I just want to say that things aren’t really going well between us…that’s right…yes…well the truth is I found another man…that’s right…last night in fact we made love for the first time…there was even a noise complaint from the neighbors…what do you think of that!…in short I’m breaking up with you, I see no other option…” And so on. She delivered her speech so glibly and with such a straight face that we were all stifling our laughs. It was a very considered performance, after all, and this was the pay off.

But then things took a turn. After hanging up on Jay Lucy offered that we call her latest man, a guy from the gym she’d picked up and slept with a couple of times. “He mistreated me! I was crying last night and he came over and all he wanted to do was bang!” she exclaimed.

“Maybe calling him out on that now, with a prank phone call, is not the best way to address it,” Courtney suggested.

“No, it’ll be great. This is fun,” she insisted. Something was cracked about her now. Her carefully calculated affect was beginning to crumble. But there was no convincing her to just call it a night. She dialed him from her land line so he wouldn’t recognize her number. “Hello, it’s me Lucy,” she

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said. She put it on speaker.

“Hey what’s up?” the voice on the other end said.

“I need you to come over. We need to have a chat and, well, it’s been a wild and fun evening and we need you here. Right Courtney?” I detected a sly, perhaps sexual, innuendo in her voice. She covered the speaker with her hand so the guy wouldn’t hear. “Tell him, Courtney! And say he’s a piece of shit.”

A quizzical expression formed on Courtney’s face. “Are you sure?” she said.

“Yeah, it’s funny.” She released her hand from the receiver and held the phone out towards Courtney.

“We do need you here and, uh, you’re a piece of shit,” she said, rather reluctantly.

“Well anyway we’ll get into all that as soon as you get here,” Lucy said.

So we sat awkwardly and waited while Lucy explained to us the guy’s offenses, which all centered around the last time he’d paid her a visit. She’d been in an emotional state, crying, etc. (she didn’t elaborate, as if crying on a Wednesday night were a regular occurrence), and she had hoped he could comfort her. And he tried, perhaps, in his own way, which was simply by attempting to get her in bed. She was teetering on the edge of disinterestedness, it alternately seemed like she had been truly hurt—was truly hurt—and like it was all a joke to her, and the guy was nothing more than her plaything.

When he arrived he immediately looked towards me and said, “Hey, I remember you from the coffee shop!” I didn’t remember him, I couldn’t keep track of all the faces I saw daily. I shifted in my seat. “I’m Kevin, nice to meet you.” He approached me and offered his hand, which I took reluctantly. Then he turned to the others and did the same. It was obvious that he was uncomfortable, his gestures were stiff and forced, his speech overly proper, like this actually was a formal dinner party, and not—I didn’t know what it was.

And so Lucy and Kevin’s private drama unfolded before us, the confused voyeurs. “Well, I really just wanted to tell you that you’re a piece of shit. You can go now,” she said.

But he was going to stand his ground. “I’m not going to let you make a straw man out of me and badmouth to all of your friends,” he said, gesturing towards us. “So what is this all about?”

I cringed. If there is such a thing as feeling appropriately, then he was out of line. He was more concerned with his reputation with us, which was already ruined anyway, than with Lucy. Whatever was about to happen was not meant for me to see.

“Okay, you asked for it,” Lucy said. “You know, you would be a real fucked up guy, a real evil guy, but you’re not clever enough. You came over here, treated me like a piece of meat. I was crying and upset and I called you, and all you wanted to do was have sex. And I feel bad for you because you don’t know any better. But come on, have some sense! I was crying, and you just started trying to take my shirt off. It’s you – guys like you, my therapist says – who have damaged my view of men.”

Now it was clear that she was cracked. The gag was over, if it had ever been one.

“I’m drunk, I’m not thinking straight,” she said.

I considered this peculiar drama in front of me. There was merit in what she’d said to him, pathos even, but mostly it seemed like a ludicrous imitation of the real thing. And yet I wondered if perhaps all of our private dramas would seem, to the impartial observer, rather embarrassing. This could be why I haven’t said a single word about my numerous love affairs, I wouldn’t even have the courage to read my own words.

And of course I couldn’t help but feel pity for the awkward young man. Yes, he was older than me but in his vulnerable state he was more like a confused adolescent than a physics PhD.

I reflected that what separated Lucy from me, or Abe, or Courtney wasn’t that she’d had these thoughts about the guy, rather mean-spirited thoughts but in some sense warranted; it was that she trusted them so much that she let them all lose. Most of us only feel the powerful, unconsidered emotions, and by the time we’ve gone to the trouble of articulating them they’ve been mitigated and made more palatable. Or could it be that I am emotionally effete?

At that moment I imagine we were all wondering whom we would have prank called—whom we would have invited over so as to unload all our resentment. I had a few people in mind.

Eventually the two ex-lovers seemed to realize that they were both fighting a losing battle, each blow was only digging their shared hole deeper and deeper. “I’m not thinking straight, you’d better just go,” Lucy said, her voice strained.

When he finally left Lucy seemed for the first time that evening truly vulnerable. All of her giddy energy had dissipated. “I feel bad, I’m not being myself,” she said. Luckily Courtney was there to attempt to console her. There was nothing else left for me to do so I said thanks for the dinner and made my exit.

***

A couple of weeks later, walking home from work, I ran into Lucy. “Lewis!” I heard, from a distance. She was hailing me from across the street. I walked over and reminded her that I wasn’t Lewis. Next to her stood a brute of man, he looked like a regular meathead with his bulging biceps. Another one of her gym pick-ups, I assumed. “This is Ricky,” she said.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, taking my hand. He grip was strong and sweaty.

“The pleasure’s all mine,” I said.

Drawing by Keenan Julies

Nashville, TN, June 14, 2012 (The Trip)

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That evening I felt on edge, there was an itch for a little excitement. At least I had the visit of my good friend Neal from New York to look forward to, and a bag of mushrooms in my desk that we were going to take. The truth is my delicate constitution and mercurial psyche make me ill suited to experimenting with drugs, but from time to time I feel adventurous and the visit of my friend seemed like an exceptional occasion.

Jane and I closed up the shop. She would be taking me to the airport the following morning to pick up Neal. “Down for anything tonight?” she said. For Jane life seemed to be constant motion and action, there wasn’t a moment to lose because of all that was possible. I was flattered, still am flattered as I look back now, to be caught up in the whirlwind of her life. Forgive this moment of nostalgia, I write these lines without irony.

“Why don’t we take some of the mushrooms now?” I said. “Let’s do it,” she said.

So we chewed a few pieces down and drove to her house, where we would plan our next move. She texted a few friends as we smoked cigarettes in her backyard. The night was calm, the air mild and warm. The street lights in the distance began to glow more brightly, and it felt as if the cigarette were being inhaled into my whole body.

We decided to visit a few of her friends a short drive away and see what they were up to. “Look at these,” Jane said, pointing to some moon flowers in front of her house by her car. I kneeled down and smelled them, rubbing the dewy petals over my face. “Beautiful,” I said. Simply beautiful.

During the drive I admired the traffic lights. The warm air coming in through the window seemed to propel us forward. We glided over the roads, through the lights. “Should you be driving?” I said.

“I’m a pro at this, don’t worry.”

“Just livin’ on the edge,” I said.

We parked in front of a nondescript house. That is to say I could describe it, but I won’t. I had to shake myself out of the strange trance I was in as soon as we got out of the car, which I did by moving my head up and down and side to side in a rapid, jerking motion. The sound of the door slamming made me jump. “You okay?” Jane said, a big grin spreading over her face. “Just a little overstimulated,” I said.

In the house some dudes sat playing a skateboarding video game. It might have been two dudes, or four. Certainly not five, or one. Most likely three, but I can’t commit to that. I took a seat and watched, enthralled. It escapes me whether any greetings were exchanged, that was Jane’s business anyway. She was being quite personable and effusive, all smiles and laughs, while I was on another plane, eschewing speech for the moment.

But I was not insentient towards the other people in the room, if anything I was extra sentient, or meta-sentient, truthfully. A certain energy seemed to emanate from the guys, it was an indifference towards me, as if I was not quite unwelcome, but nor did I matter very much, or at all. And that doesn’t even really capture what I was sensing, which may have resulted from nothing more than my misfiring neurons.

I stood up and walked to the bathroom. Naturally I studied my reflection in the mirror. Something disconcerted me about it. Everything seemed fine, yet everything was in total disarray. I tried to explain to myself what is was, but language had stopped ordering my mind. After peeing I examined closely the patterns on the floor, which were shifting and morphing. In doing this I dropped my phone, but it appeared to still be working. Finally I made it back to the living room. “Perhaps it’s time to go?” I said to Jane.

Outside of her car I took out my phone to check the time and saw that something was poking out of the top, the SIM card perhaps. In any case something was wrong, because now it wasn’t working. “I think a part of my phone may have broken off when I dropped it in the bathroom,” I said, a sober expression forming on my face. Don’t ask me how it is I can describe my own features. And perhaps I am wrong, and I flashed the biggest of smiles. But a vague impression suggests to me that it was this way, and not the other way.

I braced myself to head back inside by shaking my head and arms and taking deep breaths, not unlike before, but yet so different. “You’ll make it,” Jane said. “I believe in you.”

When I knocked on the door one of them caught my eye and nodded, so I let myself in. “I think my SIM card fell out in the bathroom,” I said. It was as if there was a search light on me. Then something caught my eye: a revolver sitting on the coffee table. “Is that a real gun?”

“Sure is,” he said, picking it up and examining it.

“Well, I better check the bathroom,” I said, rather troubled. In reality it wasn’t a real gun, but I didn’t know any better. They were probably having a great laugh at my expense as I crawled on the bathroom floor. The SIM card was nowhere to be found. I made a quick exit this time, my eyes glued to the gun as I walked past the coffee table. “Thank you,” I said.

Back at Jane’s place we debated over what to do. She suggested watching a movie, she happened to have one called 50/50 on hand, a Seth Rogen flick. So we started that but its vibrations weren’t jibing with my soul, and I felt deeply unsettled somehow. So she dug up a DVD of What About Bob?, and that seemed to do the trick. Eventually I just closed my eyes, and strange visions appeared to me, things which I don’t have the courage to write. Soon it was morning.

***

Two days later Neal and I sat in my room, preparing ourselves to take the rest of the mushrooms. Even though Jane and I had dipped in, there was still enough for two hearty doses. It was about 2 in the afternoon. The weather was fine, warm, slightly humid, a sunny southern Sunday.

After eating them we decided to watch an episode of Seinfeld. Periodically I revisit this show, one should always revisit the masters.

“Did you ever notice the way the plastic on your laptop has these small dots?” Neal said.

“No, I haven’t, come to think of it.” We both examined the plastic next to the tracking pad while Jerry ran into Banya on the street. “That’s gold, Jerry, gold,” Banya said.

“They’re sort of fluctuating in size,” I said.

“I could study this for hours,” Neal said. And so we continued to study the small circles for what we thought were hours, but a glance at the clock on my computer revealed that it had only been about a minute. “Whoah,” I said.

“This is great.”

I wanted to go outside. “You wanna come with me?”

“Doing great here,” Neal mumbled. He was rather enthralled with the texture of my laptop, there’s no way around it.

On my way out I passed Lewis, who was in his usual pose, hunched over a book at his desk. “Hey,” I said. “How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know,” he sighed. It was as if we weren’t in the same room, but we were in the same room, otherwise how else could he have been there with me? I slowly eased myself onto the couch and, following Lewis’ example, sighed deeply.

“What was I doing?” I said, or perhaps thought. In either case the question was posed. “You know, I hope everything is okay with us, that you enjoy living together,” I said, suddenly.

“What?”

“What?”

“I mean what did you say?”

I’d forgotten. How is it that I remember now? Don’t worry about it.

“We took the mushrooms,” I said.

“Oh,” Lewis said. “How’s it going?”

“I feel alright,” I said. But it wasn’t as if I’d said that, it was as if the guy from the deli down the street had said it. Suddenly I guffawed. “That’s what Jovan always says.”

“What’s that?”

“’I feel alright.’ Even if you ask him how’s it going, or what’s up, he says ‘I feel alright.’”

“Who’s that?”

“The guy from the deli.” An urgent sense of purpose came over me; I’d planned on going outside. “I’m going outside!”

Outside, the waves of heat pleasantly caressing my face and limbs seemed to take on an aural quality. A kid rolled by on his tricycle. Everything was vivid and sharp and undulating. It seemed to me I had never known such natural beauty before, the sunlight, the trees, the green lawns. I did not think, I exalted.

But I was worried, too, worried about Neal, I had left him all alone, and so I mustered the resolve to head back inside.

In my room he was lying on the air mattress, hugging a pillow, laughing. “You feel good?” I said.

“This is out of control,” he said. “Look at this.” He showed me a phone with a text message from our friend Lomax that said “I hope you guys aren’t just sitting around watching Seinfeld.” That was too much, I lost it and was seized by an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

“We are, aren’t we?” I got on my bed and followed Neal’s example. “Oh my god,” I said, me, not a believer. Neal was talking on the phone with his girlfriend now and suddenly I too felt the urge to call someone, the names of friends popped into my head and I called them, one by one, to tell them how great we felt.

Time passed. Neal was starting to feel overwhelmed as he lay on the air mattress, I think he was having an existential crisis and talking about it with his girlfriend. I was still entertained by Seinfeld for the time being. Then I remembered wanting to see Jane so I called her up. “It’s happening,” I said. What seemed like hours (20 minutes) passed and she arrived.

Together we watched a little more Seinfeld and then browsed through photos on Facebook that had me convulsing with laughter. Neal remained on the mattress. “I’m alright,” he said. He wasn’t alright. “Don’t worry about me,” he added.

“I’m worried about Neal,” Jane said.

“Don’t worry about me,” he repeated.

But I was beginning to worry I would go to a dark place too, so Jane suggested that we smoke a little bud. She seemed to know what she was talking about, so I trusted her and took a few puffs. We went outside for a cigarette.

“I feel…I don’t know,” I said. I was in fact heading to the same place as Neal. I had a glass of water with me and it seemed that if I just could pour it over my face, then that would shake me out of it. So I lay down and tried to dump it on my head but I overshot it, it all landed behind me and only a few drops dampened the top of my hair. This was profoundly disappointing, and I still regret it to this day. “I think I’m just going to lie in bed and watch TV,” I said.

“No! You should go outside, take a walk.”

It was time for her to go so we parted ways. I was sorry to see her go. I felt on the edge of despair—no particular thoughts came to mind but if I wasn’t careful I knew I would begin to examine myself and plunge, or is it plumb, the depths. And my depths aren’t that deep, it would be like diving headlong into a shallow pool.

So I lay in bed, watching more Seinfeld. I was vaguely aware of Neal, next to me on the floor, struggling with his own demons, periodically calling his girlfriend. There was no girlfriend for me to call. The show did not lighten my mood at all, in fact I began to feel disgusted with myself because I was seeing for the first time how deeply lodged in my subconscious it was. I felt insubstantial and trite, I was little more than a disappointing and fatuous conflation of various things I’d read, seen, or heard over the years of my seemingly indeterminable existence. I’d cracked the code to myself, and the results were decidedly underwhelming.

I thought of Jane’s words, “you have to go outside.” She was right, there was no sense in staying inside. I offered to Neal that we take a walk.

“Can’t do it,” he said, his voice anguished. “I’ll be fine though.”

Sure enough, once I forced myself to move and leave the house, I immediately felt more light-hearted. The sun was beginning to set and the air had cooled down. I pictured myself on the coffee shop porch with a drink and a cigarette in hand, and the image motivated me to head in that direction. On the way I stopped at Dragon Park and sat on a bench to admire the sky, the lawn, the strange playground, the bushes, in short everything in front of my eyes. A great calm descended on me, and I posed a series of questions to myself:

1. How does the language we use to describe mental life change mental life?
2. Am I more like other people or less like other people?
3. Is there a pure mental state, where longing stops?
4. Have I lost touch with something?
5. What is to be gained by learning?

There weren’t any answers, but questions, I told myself, were more important than answers.

On the way towards the shop, I felt both frightened by the people I passed and fascinated—what did they think of me, since I felt so alien to them? The porch was crowded as usual, all the regulars were there smoking and sipping their drinks. I did talk to a few of them but mostly I sat and watched, not a thought in my mind. After some time I heard from Neal; he had come out of the worst of it, and wondered what I was doing. I offered that he come my way and we could have some food at the restaurant next door.

“What’s up?” he said when he saw me. He seemed more like his usual self now; he had made it through.

“I feel alright,” I said.

Drawing by Courtney Sanchez

Nashville, TN, a day in May, 2012 (A Hard Day’s Work)

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As I replaced the roll of paper towels next to the hand-washing sink behind the espresso machine, Jane, or was it Janice, walked passed me, brushing against my shoulder. Admittedly I was particularly out of sorts that day, the prior evening I’d been assailed by a fit of pointlessness and despondency, the details of which I will omit, no need to get into it. “You have a great body,” she said after she’d passed. I was flattered, and thanked her. I told myself that such a comment shouldn’t really matter, and that whatever was the source of my malaise, it certainly had nothing to do with with my appearance. But it did matter, there was a new pep in my step. Perhaps in this sense I wasn’t really all that out of sorts, because my vanity could still be indulged. It is when one’s vanity can no longer be reached that true despair begins.

I tried to be more observant while working. It seemed to me that very little was going on there, but I reasoned that that was only because I was too self-centered, oblivious to the happenings all around me. It’s all in the details, I told myself, and if I just pulled my head out of my ass and opened my eyes, a story would unfold. We are all in a sense a lot of narratives colliding with each other, intermingling, conjoining, separating, copulating perhaps, or just incurious towards each other. Rick and Jay were working the front counter, while I floated or “coffee backed,” so to speak. James the kitchen manager was in back, and later Kevin joined him. These two guys weren’t exactly enamored of me, they were hard to please and I only made it worse by taking my break at an inopportune moment. But Jay said, “No matter what you do you’re going to piss them off.” He guffawed, I guffawed. A pretty college girl came and introduced herself to Jay. “I’m Caroline, I see you here all the time,” she said. When she’d left with her coffee Jay turned to me and said, “These cute college girls, they just stay young while I keep getting older.” He guffawed, I guffawed.

Then my phone buzzed, I felt a little excitement, maybe it was a girl texting me back. That’s Dan all over. “Hey dude just letting you know they want to fire you, quit before they have the chance,” the message said. It was from Dave the dishwasher. I felt deflated suddenly, worse than before Jane or Janice’s comment. I rushed to the bathroom and evacuated my bowels. Anxiety produces unpredictable results. Assuming the message was true, what troubled me the most was the implication that I was disliked not just by James and Kevin, but a whole faction of people, that in fact I had no conception of what anyone thought. Instances where I’d been excessive, or where I’d not shown enough restraint, or had been immodest, flashed through my mind. Why do I persecute myself for moments when, in effect, I am most myself? That is a question worth looking into. It also could have related to me shirking on my duties, the thought crossed my mind, but I tend to take things personally, metaphysically even, I am a sensitive soul, deep down. “Screw those guys, whoever it is,” Jane or Janice said, when I showed her the message and speculated about what was happening. “Uptight assholes,” she added. I appreciated that. We had a version of a similar conversation from another day, and we concluded that, simply, one can’t help whether one is liked. And that was some consolation, but nonetheless I was ruffled.

A talk with my manager was in order, if I really wanted to get to the bottom of it, so I excused myself and went downstairs to his office. Thankfully, he immediately assured me that the rumor was groundless, simple gossip, nothing more. Then he asked me who had sent the message, and I reluctantly told him it was Dave the dishwasher, an effusive and kind soul, if there ever was one. He himself was later fired.

My nerves were shot by the end of the day. Even though the rumor was false, I still had to reconsider my standing at the coffee shop, which had become the hub of my social life. When I got home and saw Lewis at his desk hunched over a book, he asked how I was. “Let’s have a cigarette,” I said. “Sure thing,” he said, breaking his normal non-smoking policy. We went outside and lit up, listening to the sounds of the crickets on our picturesque block. A couple strolled passed, they were probably heading to Lover’s Circle. It was over 100 degrees outside, and the cockroaches were coming out of the woodwork. One landed on my shoulder and I promptly flicked it off. “What am I doing here?” I said.

Photo by Dave Herr

Wyman, CT, July, 2014

Maybe it was because I was on the john with the Saurian’s Feb 5th issue that, at the climax of a lavish Presidential profile, the Commander in Chief’s intimate, unguarded call-to-arms to our nation’s youth to “strive to be exemplary not just in their personal lives but also in their civic lives, in their communities” fell on my ears with a flat perfunctoriness as though it were an entreaty to Fillet Your Day at Bay Burger® (Stay Burgin’!TM). I finished the paragraph, just as the Prez was about to set foot in yet another wearying donor gala, endowed anew with a trans-class, trans-generational sense of sympathy and thought, once more unto the breach (from a play I’ve never read). I got up to start the shower.

The bank was open until 4:30, and it was 3:43. I had woken up around 1:30, checked my e-mail, taken out the dog, made coffee, made the bed, and watched fifteen minutes of Sandwich Showdown on the Feast Network while eating a vodka sauce spaghetti sandwich. Then I’d browsed the web until the coffee had done its duty gastrointestinally. My shower and shave took too long because I was trying to dispel some residual anxiety from the previous night, and I finally popped out of the house at quarter after, at a double-time trot. The Constitution Bank branch around the corner had a shriveled pink balloon tied to a post on the facade, somehow having retained a pocket of air through the severe temperature shifts since its National Breast Cancer Awareness posting months prior. It was on its last legs, so to speak, having shrunk more and more noticeably over the four visits I’d now made there there during the past three weeks. Inside the warm bank, I approached—now for the fourth time—a very short, neat woman who greeted me with a terse but not impolite tone. Her nameplate read Juhi Hada.

I said hello. “So… I finally got the documentation—I mean, sorry… I was in here a few days ago, trying to deposit a check?” Juhi nodded once, unsmiling, affirming her recollection. I was being overly timid, of course; Juhi and I were old chums by this point. For the past several weeks I’d been trying to transfer my checking account from Lowdon Savings in MA, whom I’d forgotten to even inform of my departure, to my new account here in CT. After the trouble of establishing a Constitution account, which itself had taken two visits the first week, necessitating a far more stringent proof of address and a few more back-up IDs than I’d expected, they’d started giving me a hard time about the funds I was attempting to move. They said no dice to the old “write a check to yourself” method, one of the tellers prattling on about some newly implemented program of fraud-busting regulations the state had been pushing on early adopters prior to legislation that the bank had opted for, for a big tax break of course. At home I’d scribbled a note on some legal paper and mailed it to Lowdon over the weekend (the three available printers were all broken) and they’d sent me a cashier’s check, upon whose delivery Juhi informed me they’d need a further set of evidentiary forms to authenticate, in further fraud-adjacent defensive wriggling. After hours of excavation in the inanimate refugee camp, as I’d come to think of my pile of stuff and files in my parents’ basement, I’d shot off another harried missive to the Lowdon’s Millford branch, requesting copies of random, pathetic statements and receipts I’d tossed during the whirlwind of the previous month’s ultimate cleanse. “And, so, I got the proof of former address, as well as the most recent statement with check scans, and the most recent deposit slip, whose sum, you can see, matches the figure on the check, and uh, well, here.” I handed over a parcel of sketchy-looking documents, which Juhi gingerly took and began to peruse as I sat with my hands awkwardly in my lap. Looking around the room in a play at nonchalance, I noticed a TV on the wall behind the counter playing an episode of Grill It with Greg on the Chef Channel, a program I’d momentarily flipped past to reach the sandwich show earlier. I figured there must be a midday marathon going, then briefly wondered at why they were playing such a tedious entertainment—almost a non-sequitur with the instructional audio track turned most of the way down—in the lobby of this suburban bank, appropriately innocuous though it may have been. Greg Chovnik was applying a wet rub to some short ribs as his mouth flapped, dispensing inaudible banter to the camera. Juhi interrupted my reverie.

“So… it seems that there is no bank seal and watermark on any of these,” she said, with a new, weary apology cutting through her businesslike tone. What?

“I… what?” I was literally lost for words. Juhi seemed to sink into her seat a bit.

“You see, we must authenticate at least two legally admissible documents via our CertiFinance® system. There is a process with a laser scanner. If you see on your cashier’s check”—she picked up the crinkled, smudged slip, tried to smooth it on the desk’s surface and pointed to the bank’s insignia on the corner, next to which there was a barely-legible logo reading CeFi in some kind of special ink—“the encoded watermark must be linked in our system to the institution on the proof-of-funds documents, via an identical readable watermark, along with an identical bank seal, before we can approve the transfer. These are photocopies, which do not replicate the UV-detectable ink of the CeFi scan mark or the bank seal.”

“Wait… so I need to get reprinted, first-generation copies of these documents, like hot off the press?”

“Yes. In addition to the proof of former address you have provided.”

“All right, I’ll… go get those. And be back. Uh… soon.” Juhi’s faced scrunched almost imperceptibly—in annoyance or sympathy or some complex combo, I couldn’t tell—as I rose to slink away, yet again, and she turned from the desk and walked back to her regular post, robotic. Outside, I looked further down the street. The branches of the federal banks gleamed promisingly in the winter sun, those bastions of fast-and-loose intercontinental amassment and corruption, to whom my checking account would be a molecule on a grain of their Saharan sand. It would be so easy to open an account there, drop my money in—they wouldn’t give me any of the shit this Podunk local operation was pulling, they’d welcome me with candied smiles and a free souvenir decoder ring or something. But I’d have to pay more operation and withdrawal feels (that is to say, any at all), not to mention hitch my wagon to the modern Mephisto that is national corporate banking. I looked across the street. There was a large sign next to the convenience store advertising an upcoming February Friends Festival in the park, with sales and activities to benefit the local old folks home. Volunteers Needed! I’d been looking for exactly some such low-key, non-long-term volunteer opportunity, within walking distance, over the past month. Who knows what the weather would be like that weekend, though? I hesitated, thinking about crossing the street to copy down the contact info on the sign. Instead I turned the corner, heading for Annie’s, the bar in the local strip mall. Annie’s is an exemplar of the true townie dive, a species distinguished from its hipsterized imitators in authenticity by subtle shades of taste, or lack thereof: one of the newer digital, touch screen, million-song music selection interfaces rather than a dusty old jukebox, for example. Most of the booths had chunks of cushioning missing or duct-taped in place. There were white Christmas lights still draped haphazardly all over the paneling above the bar. They had a couple of of old tube TVs, currently playing daytime sitcom reruns. One middle-aged guy sat at the bar, eating wings, with a bottle of Bud. Two others played pool on the lone table beyond the bar and booths, and as I entered one lightly smacked his cue’s butt against the floor.

“Han, it ate the cue ball again.”

“Just a second,” said the bartender as she noticed me coming up. “Can I get you something?”

“Yeah,” I said slowly. “Can I have a Dewar’s® and soda?”

“Sure thing, hon,” she said as she turned to scoop ice into a highball. “Can I just see some ID?”

Ezra Riemer lives in New England.