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“When was the last time you slept?” she asked.
I pondered this for a second. I recognized the word, of course, but it seemed meaningless and powerless against the reality I faced. My brain futilely burned glucose like a furnace trying to heat a house with missing walls. Everything was so heavy. My limbs, my eyelids, the world itself pressed down on me. Every action was, out of necessity, deliberate. There was no room for casual movement. It would have been a pointless waste of energy.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “What did you ask?”
She looked at me, lines of genuine worry sullying her features.
“You look awful,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, resting my head in my hands, “You look great too.”
I realized I was staring directly into my cup. She had coffee, I had ordered a tea with the ludicrous name of “Sleepytime Orange Jasmine.” I considered drinking it, but at the thought my stomach roiled in protest.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
I stared out the window as she drove. Trees and houses whipped past. It hurt my eyes to watch, so I closed them.
“I don’t know why you do this to yourself,” she said.
“I haven’t done anything,” I said, eyes still closed.
We drove on in silence for a few minutes.
“Have you seen a doctor?” she asked, finally.
“I *am* a doctor,” I sighed.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m a stylist, but I don’t cut my own hair.”
“Why not?” I asked, opening my eyes at this point and turning to look at her. I was genuinely interested. I didn’t know anything about cutting hair.
“I spend all day fussing over other people’s hair,” she said, faint traces of a smile creeping over her features, “I just like to have the same attention paid to mine by someone else sometimes.”
“I don’t really think that’s anything like my situation,” I said.
Her smile disappeared.
“Anyway,” I said after a few minutes, “To answer your question, I have been to a doctor. Multiple doctors, in fact. Nobody’s ever heard of this happening before. Nobody’s body has ever just up and decided that it’s going to stop sleeping.”
“That’s so weird,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, sighing. “I’ve been to sleep specialists, psychologists, faith healers, sleeping pills, meditation, you name it. I’ve tried drinking myself to sleep, didn’t do anything. I even had coven of wiccans cast a sleeping spell on me.”
She laughed, then stopped, unsure of if that was rude or not.
“So…how did it happen?”
I shrugged. “I’ve always had a lot of trouble sleeping. You know how sometimes, the night before something really big and important, you just can’t sleep? Your mind just won’t stop, you toss and turn until your alarm clock goes off?”
She nodded.
“Well, that sort of thing used to happen to me a lot. More than most people, I’m sure. And then, eventually, it just started happening every night.”
“Wow,” she said, “That’s terrible.”
The car stopped. She had finally pulled up in front of my house. I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed out.
“Well,” she said, “This has been the weirdest first date I’VE ever been on.”


I went to high school with Sandra Perlmann. She was one of those people who had it all. She was hot, popular, and managed to get good enough grades, but she was a total bitch.

One time at a party, there was this girl who was there through a friend of a friend or something like that. She wasn’t the type to be there at all. I’m sure she had debated about whether or not to come right up until the last moment, finally just deciding to go just to see what it was like.

For some reason, Sandra picked her out as the target of her latest pointless cruelty.

“Oh my God,” she shouted after engaging the girl in conversation for about a minute, “You’re a drug addict?”

First of all, this was obviously untrue. Second of all, it was a completely random thing to say, and third of all nobody even cared. Hell, quite a few people at the party were easily on their way to drug addiction themselves. We went to a pretty rich school, it wasn’t uncommon for people to do blow at parties.

But none of that mattered to the poor girl, of course. She had come hoping to just blend in and try to have a good time, but instead Sandra had picked her out and shamed her in front of everyone. She ran out of the party crying.

I didn’t say anything, of course. I never did. I was good-looking enough and had decent enough social skills that I was never a target. Why rock the boat?

Since graduation, Sandra has moved to New York, become the editor of a fashion magazine, and gotten engaged to a successful lawyer.

One day I was sitting in a bar after work. A group of three very loud women were in the corner, apparently celebrating the fact that one of them had gotten pregnant. Although, of course, it the other two were doing most the celebrating. The proud mother-to-be just sat quietly, smiling, drinking a coke. Suddenly, she lurched out of her chair, her face a mask of panic. She tried to open her mouth to speak, but it was stuck shut.

“Oh my God!” one of the other women shouted, “Someone put rubber cement in her drink!”

Something snapped inside me. I don’t know if I was drunk off of the half a beer I’d had, or if I’d just had a really bad day at work. All I knew was, I was sick of assholes. I’d been sitting quietly for too long, letting them get away with their bullshit, but I wasn’t going to let them get away with it this time.

“Who the hell did that?” I shouted.

An old man sitting next to me pointed towards the door. I caught a glimpse of a very large man walking out with a woman on his arm.

“Why didn’t you do anything?” I growled at him.

He just glared at me.

Tossing some money on the counter, ran towards the door and stepped outside. “Hey!” I called after the hulking mass, “You’re an asshole.”

He stopped, turned around and looked at me. “What’d you say to me?”

My body immediately told me to run, I’d just made a terrible mistake.

“You the one put rubber cement in that pregnant woman’s drink? You’re an asshole.”

He slowly walked up to me and stood just inches away. We’d have been face-to-face if he wasn’t two inches taller than me. My heart was pounding out of my chest, my mouth was dry but my skin was wetter than it’d ever been. I knew what I was doing was stupid, but I was fed up. I wasn’t going to run, I wasn’t going to let them win this time.

“I’m not gonna hit you,” I said, “I weigh a hundred and forty pounds. But go ahead and hit me if it’ll make you feel better.”

I was on the ground with the first punch.

I stood back up and grinned. That’s about all I remember until the emergency room.

Two days later I walked into work, my face a mass of swollen bruises and my teeth loose.

My boss took one look at me and asked, “What the hell happened to you?”

“Some guy put rubber cement in a pregnant lady’s drink. I called him an asshole, he did this to me.”

“Jesus Christ,” he said, shaking his head, “I expected better of you. Go home, take some time off.”

“I didn’t hit him,” I said, “I’m not stupid.”

“Go home,” he said, still shaking his head.

“I didn’t hit him,” I repeated. “I’m not violent. I’ve never even been in a fight before.”

“Go home,” he said.

I turned around and headed out the door.

Did he think I was less of a man for not fighting back? Did he even believe me? I didn’t know. Was he going to fire me? I didn’t know that, either, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. They say the meek will inherit the Earth, but it seems to me like God’s helping out the assholes.


Her name shone up at him from the reflections of neon lights in the puddles. He waited on the curb as the cars raced by, screaming threats and promises of violent, fiery, metallic death if he came too close. Crossing the street, he paused at the door, the wood grain twisting and shimmering invitingly. He might have stared at it forever, lost in his thoughts, but eventually the cold fingers of the rain running down his back convinced him to go inside.

He squinted against the bright, accusing lights. The technicolor chaos of the city outside was hard enough to handle, but this penetrating glare was almost too much. His eyes flicked rapidly across the posters on the back wall, searching for relief. On one of them, a buxom blonde woman with tears in her eyes offered him a cold beer. The caption read “It’s never too late.” On the next poster, a stylish man holding a martini — surrounded by three beautiful woman desperately grabbing at him — stared at his own reflection in a mirror. This one promised that “Things are only as bad as you make them.” Finally, on the last poster, a beer bottle sat embedded in the sand on the beach as the caption beneath broadcast the sage advice “Don’t forget the difference between can’t and won’t.”

The bartender nodded to him familiarly as he sat down at the bar alongside the others. He nodded back. All was silent for a moment, and then the others began to speak.

“My wife and daughter died in the fire I caused when I fell asleep smoking.”

“My uncle molested me when I was young, and now I can’t trust anyone.”

“I was changing the station on the radio in my car, and I hit and killed someone’s dog.”

“Nothing bad has ever happened to me, and I feel incredibly guilty about it.”

It surprised him that the others accepted this last statement without judgement, but he quickly recovered. Considering it, he came to the same conclusion they must have reached long ago — pain is pain, and it hurts just the same, no matter how stupid or pointless it might seem from the outside. Everyone had spoken now, except for him. He remained silent, unsure of whether or not he wanted to bare his soul to them tonight. They accepted that too. They’d all been here before; some of them came here every night. They knew how it works. He didn’t. But he was willing to learn.

Of Memes and Men

Harold Zweckis was the world’s most accidental celebrity, and he didn’t even know it.

Harold was photographed by the Google Maps Streetview Van as he walked through Times Square, captured in full panoramic glory yelling at his business partner on his cell phone. Thing is, Harold wore one of those Bluetooth headsets, and it was on the side of his head away from the street, so it looked like he was just yelling at thin air.

Neither Harold nor anyone he knew was the type of person to waste time looking at Google Street View of a place they saw almost every day, so he never noticed he was there.

But the rest of the world did.

Times Square being a popular choice to look at using Street View, it didn’t take long for people to notice the yelling man in mid-step outside the Sbarro. Pretty soon “Angry Google Guy” was a full-fledged Internet phenomenon, photoshopped into hundreds of pictures (of weddings, crying babies, libraries, walking in on people having sex, etc.).

Tourists recognized Harold and ran up to him demanding his autograph. He shoved them out of the way and didn’t even listen. He was a busy man, he had places to go!

Stephen Colbert referenced “Angry Google Guy” on his show, as did Saturday Night Live (two months later). Again, Harold was a serious man, and he only knew serious people, so nobody ever saw it to mention to him, and he certainly never saw it himself.

Pretty soon people started selling bootleg T-Shirts of the “Angry Google Guy,” both in New York as well as online. Harold wasn’t the type to pay attention to the stupid T-Shirts people wore, though, so again he never noticed.

Eventually, the furor died down when someone discovered a YouTube video of a baby in a sailor suit playing “Chopsticks” on the piano, and Harold once again became just another guy, never even having realized he was anything else.

The Story of Sunnyville

In Sunnyville, every day was exactly the same. Every family would wake up at 7:00 AM sharp. The parents prepared breakfast, took the kids to school, and headed to work. At 12:00 PM came lunch break. Everyone in the town stopped what they were doing to open their brown paper bags to remove their perfectly cut pastrami sandwich. At 3:00 PM the children got home from school, and at 5:00 PM the parents came home from work, in time for dinner at 6:00 PM, after which the children went right upstairs to do their homework. At 9:15 PM the children would be tucked into bed. The mother or father would read a simple story out of the book on the nightstand, each story taking exactly 15 minutes, so the lights could be off by 9:30 PM. Afterwards, the parents rejoined each other on the couch in the den to watch a sitcom before the 10 o’clock news came on. The news anchors would report that everything was perfect, that everything was going along exactly as it should, just as it had yesterday, the day before that, the day before that, and so on and so on as long as anyone could remember.

There was very little excitement in anyone’s life, but they were secure, and they were happy. Or at least content, which is, when it comes down to it, good enough.

One day, by chance, the Trickster happened to come to Sunnyville. He stood on the hill overlooking the city and watched the industrious citizens go about their daily lives. He sat on the hill for days, watching, waiting for something to change, but of course, nothing ever did.

“This is disgusting,” he said to himself, “I can’t bear to look at a land so orderly and controlled. I’ve got to do something.”

The Trickster sat and thought to himself, trying to figure out the best way to disrupt Sunnyville. He brooded and he pondered, he dreamed and he imagined, he schemed and he planned. Finally, he realized that sewing chaos here would be simple indeed, so simple that he laughed at himself for not realizing it earlier.

Early the next morning, the Trickster awoke at 7:00 AM, just like all the other inhabitants of the town. Unlike them, though, he did not fetch the morning paper, pour himself a cup of coffee, feed the dog or scramble eggs. Instead, he walked straight to the central square of the city and stood right in the middle of the intersection.

Soon, the cars began to pour out of the driveways of Sunnyville, and for the first time in their lives, the people experienced a traffic jam.

It wasn’t like any traffic jam you or I have ever seen, however. The pleasant people of Sunnyville had never in their lives been held up like this before. Rather than getting angry or frustrated, like those of us who don’t live in perfect worlds, they were simply confused.

The Trickster stood staring at the central clock for exactly ten minutes. And then, he simply stepped off the street and left Sunnyville forever.

The people, still confused, tried to salvage the rest of the day as much as they could. While nothing went seriously wrong, they felt as though their whole day was thrown off.

The next morning, though, they felt much better. Most of them woke up at 7:00 AM sharp, exactly like every other day.

But some of them woke up at 6:59. And some of them woke up at 7:01.

Happy Valentine’s Day I Guess

“All I want out of life,” she said, “is to kick the world’s ass.”

I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Her bright pink hair stuck out at angles that shouldn’t even be possible. Every word that she said was one of the most unexpected and obscene things I could imagine. She was the most amazing person I’d ever met.

When we got to her door, she turned and kissed me full on the mouth. I was so surprised, I didn’t even think to shut my eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, laughing, “Never kissed a girl before?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and skipped up the stairs, still laughing.

Her parents hated me. When she brought me home to meet them, her mother cried as her father screamed. They called me names, blamed me for “corrupting” their daughter.

“But she corrupted me,” is what I wanted to say. But of course I didn’t.

“Don’t worry,” she told me that night after she’d snuck out of the house, “I wouldn’t like you if they didn’t hate you.” We’d just made love for the first time.

We were in the park. I had packed a picnic basket and a bottle of wine. She laughed and called me a walking cliché, but I could tell that she enjoyed it.

After we ate, she lit up a joint. “You want a hit?” she asked.

“No thanks,” I said, “I don’t really…”

“Come on,” she laughed, holding it up to my lips, “Live a little.”

What the hell, I thought, and took a drag.

“How will I know when it hits me?” I asked, five minutes later after I’d stopped coughing.

“You’ll know,” she laughed.

My gaze wandered over to the tree we were sitting under. I was suddenly struck with awe at the intricate pattern of bark covering the trunk. No artist could paint something so detailed, and yet here it had occurred entirely by random chance. Not only that, but no other tree in the history of the world would ever have the exact same pattern of bark. I rolled over and stared up at the leafy canopy. I was astonished at the number of leaves — they seemed uncountable. I turned to look at her, and was overwhelmed with the deepest feelings of positivity, thankfulness to the universe just for the fact that she existed.

“Your eyes are as red as the devil’s dick!” she laughed, “You’re high as hell!”

I laughed too. Why shouldn’t we laugh? We were still young enough that life was funny.

We moved up north and got married. A few years later, I brought up having kids.

“No fucking way am I gonna get pregnant!” she said, “I’m not going through nine whole months of that shit, forget it. Unless you’re volunteering?”

I wasn’t, of course. We adopted. A girl from China. When she turned 17, she ran away and joined the army. We got a letter a few months later saying she’d been killed.

We never talked about it, but we both knew we blamed ourselves. And, to some degree, each other.

She moved out one day. She said it wasn’t my fault. She felt like she’d turned into her mother and couldn’t live with herself that way. I told people she’d run away with some young actor, but as far as I know she never saw anyone else. I know I never did.

I sat by her bed in the hospital. She’d been unresponsive ever since the stroke, but I was there every day. It’s not like I had much else to do these days.

She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Hey there,” she said, a pained smile crossing her lips.

“Shhh,” I said, taking hold of her hand, “Don’t strain yourself.”

She seemed as though she didn’t hear me. “It was a good run, wasn’t it?” she said, squeezing my hand.

“It was,” I said.

“We sure kicked the world’s ass,” she said.

“We sure did,” I said. “We sure did.”

Danse Macabre

Every night, the crowd packs the theater to see Umberto Rosilini’s masterpiece, Grief. The chorus begins softly, a dark Latin requiem flowing over the crowd, hushing them and drawing their attention to the stage. The dancer slowly enters. She is not beautiful, as one might expect, or at least not in the way a human being is normally beautiful. Of course, she moves with grace, her body is perfectly fit, and her face is exquisite, but none of that mattered. The beauty comes from the fact that this opera was written for her, and only for her. She was made for this performance — only someone who has never felt grief can give it a truthful depiction in art.

First, of course, comes the Denial act. The chorus swells as she drifts in, arms outstretched, dancing with what seems to be an invisible partner, as if she were a widow refusing to believe her lover could possibly be gone. This was everyone’s least favorite act. They cherish the emotional intensity of the later acts, and shift uncomfortably in their seats during the Denial. They have no way of knowing that this is the most authentic stage for the dancer, that this is the closest to the way she feels, or could ever feel. The opera is all she lives for. The other stages are all a testament to her skill as an artist, displaying emotions she has never felt. But of course, it is this very authenticity that makes them so uncomfortable. To them, it simply seems faked.

Electric guitars cut in as she moves to the Anger act. She screams so shrilly that she would break the windows, were they not reinforced. Thrashing wildly onstage, she moves with an intensity of hatred and pain never seen elsewhere, a living whirlwind of unbridled rage. It is, of course, a lie. She has never felt anything approaching the strength of the anger she displays. The most distressed she has ever been was after the death of her benefactor and the writer of the opera, Umberto Rosilini. It wasn’t due to grief for him, however. Though he had raised her from infancy, there was never any love between them. Rosilini was not a cruel or abusive man, but nobody who knew him could claim he was a warm man either. His passion was directed towards his art, and he raised her to be the same way, seeing in her the perfect star for his masterwork. But after Rosilini’s death, the theater was closed for a number  of weeks. Without her dancing, she was lost and did not know what to do.

Onstage, she moves into the Bargaining act. Falling on her hands and knees, she cries out to God, pleading for a deal, an agreement, something, anything to bring back her beloved. Here, finally, is something she could begin to understand. Though she has never pleaded with God, she has pleaded with a force that, to her, was just as powerful, and just as capable of destroying her life. After Rosilini’s death, she pleaded with his nephew, the inheritor of the theater, to let her keep performing the opera. He is not an artist like his uncle was. He did not understand. He thought it was cruel, to force her to go through the steps of grief on stage when she must be grieving in real life. She pleaded and bargained and threatened and cajoled, and finally he agreed to let the opera continue. And ever since then, she has performed every night with no interruptions. And it was good that she has — the opera is necessary for society to function. A modern Memento Mori, a reminder to all who watched that death will, in the end, not spare them.

She collapses to the floor slowly, sobbing, ushering in the Depression act. When she first began performing at six years old, the opera was universally panned. The critics denounced it as perverse, placing this young child in such close contact with death. As the years went on, though, Rosilini’s dream began to come to fruition. As she grew into a young woman, the beauty of the work became apparent. It quickly became a national sensation, then an internationally acclaimed masterpiece. It has become a right of passage, to bring a young child on the verge of adulthood to see the dance, for them to learn of their own mortality. And now, 80 years later, by the end of a night’s performance, there is never a dry eye in the theater. Her age makes the performance all the more beautiful, the old woman herself a reminder of death.

Rising from the floor, tears drying, she enters the Acceptance act. She begins to freely dance around the stage as in the beginning, only this time her arms hold no one. She isn’t stupid; she knows what death is and what her dance means. She knows that one day she, too, will die. And she knows that even though there is nobody she will grieve for, there was never anybody she would grieve for, and there will be nobody she will ever grieve for, millions will grieve for her when she is gone. It does not bother her or seem strange. We all live different lives and have different concerns. And to her, the dance is all that matters.

Still a Lot of Walking to Do

The afterlife’s not quite how you learned in church. There’s no final judgement, no splitting off into Heaven or Hell. Oh, there’s a Heaven of course, but not many people go there right away. There’s still too much work to be done. Only the most perfect can be allowed in, of course, or else it wouldn’t be Heaven. But there’s still hope. After you die, you pick right up on where you left off. Only all the distractions are cut out and the journey is all that’s left. No need to eat or sleep, just pure self-improvement, discovery and enlightenment.

The journey’s different for everyone, based on whatever someone’s strengths or weaknesses are. The greedy have to learn to share, the selfish have to learn to put others before them, the paranoid have to learn to trust. And of course the hardest of all — everyone has to learn to love themselves. Truly love themselves, not what passes for it in most peoples’ lives. After all, how can someone who doesn’t think they deserve Paradise possibly deserve Paradise?

Don’t think it’s easy though. There’s no map and there’s no guarantee you’re even going the right way. Most people are still wandering. If it’s taken you 70 years and you’re not ready yet, what makes you think you’ll get there in the next 70?

The Eyeless Man

(I originally wrote this story in German. I took some liberties with the translation [which you have to do with German anyway], but if any of the phrasing is awkward we’ll blame it on that.)

The children called him the eyeless man. Because he was blind, he always wore big dark sunglasses and nobody had ever seen him without them. Actually, that’s not true. No adults had ever seen him without them. Every kid knew a friend of a friend who had seen under the sunglasses. The story was always the same; he had no eyes.

The children also had other stories about the eyeless man. They said he could see the future. It only makes sense that when someone can’t see normally, they must see other things instead. This is the logic of children and it’s usually right.

But this time it wasn’t right. It was true that the eyeless man had no eyes. It was true that he could see strange things. But he couldn’t see the future. He could only see what was coming in over the television waves. And that’s not nearly as interesting.

Der Augenlosmann

(Deutsch ist nicht meine Muttersprache. Ich habe nur zwei Jahren von Deutschklasse genommen. Es tut mir Leid, wenn ich nicht so gut schreiben.)

Die Kinder nannten ihn den Augenlosmann. Er trug immer eine große dunkle Sonnenbrille, weil er konnte nicht sehen. Keine Person sah ihn ohne seine Sonnenbrille. Auch, das ist nicht richtig. Keine erwachsene Person sah ihn ohne seine Sonnenbrille. Alle Kinder kannten einen Freund von einem Freund, der unter die Sonnenbrille sah. Dieser Freund sagt über ihn, dass er keine Augen hat.

Die Kinder hatten auch andere Geschichte über den Augenlosmann. Sie sagten, dass er die Zukunft sehen konnte. Es ist natürlich, wenn man normale Dinge nicht sehen kann, kann man andere Dinge sehen. Es ist Kinderlogik und es ist oft richtig.

Aber dieses Mal war es nicht richtig. Es ist richtig, dass der Augenlosmann keine Augen hatte. Es ist richtig, dass er fremde Dinge sah. Aber er sah nicht die Zukunft. Er sah nur die Fernsehwellen. Und dies ist nicht so interessant.