• existential screaming,  featured,  slice of life,  the worst timeline

    The World is Outside

    Days after it begins, I find myself missing Disneyland. I sit in a chair in front of my television, longer in diagonal than it is tall, and I don a headset. It is a heavy thing that covers my eyes and bands my head. I adjust its fit with dials until a television floats in front of me in the void, clear as though I sat in an empty cinema. I haven’t been to a cinema in a while. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go again.

    Speakers ring my room, seven-dot-one of them, and when I select a video on my console, sound engulfs me from all of them. Within the headset, the TV has yielded to a lifelike environment. A 360 video where I can turn my head and the sounds will follow. I stand on a quiet street of Disneyland, on the way to critter country, in the blue early morning when most would avoid Splash Mountain.

    From my chair, I walk up the line. I look up, down, left, right. I’m aware I’m not in control, but I feel like a passenger along with someone else, and we take the line briskly. It’s warm in my house but I remember how cool the air flows in the line for Splash. I have walked past those lights in reality, in the before times, when queues were packed and I could be drowned in an ocean of overheard conversation.

    My home theater smells faintly of popcorn; with the scent memory comes along churros, turkey legs, hot pavement. I’m really sitting in the log ride now. I’m going on the flume. The ride sings and sways around me, and even though I don’t get wet on the final drop, my heart thrills in anticipation.

    The video ends there, when we’re climbing off the log at the end. Taking off my headset is disappointing the way it’s disappointing to step off a ride. You have done the good part. You waited in line 35 minutes for a 4-minute thrill. The headset slides away and I remember I’m still in my dim home theater, with neither churro nor Mickey. My Echo dot rim shines orange. Another delivery from Amazon. Everything is deliveries now. Everything comes to me here, in my fortress.

    ***

    Later, my children wear the headset for the ride. They giggle and shriek through it. To the imaginative child, it is all real. I hold my five year old in my lap, nose pressed to his hair, and I imagine that I’m really in Disneyland with my kids, that everything is fine, that humanity is connected.

    ***

    I needed more nicotine, so I prepared to go outside. I would ride my hoverboard today. It extends the trip, turning ten minutes there-and-back into an hour, and will give me priceless exposure to sunlight.

    To leave, I prepare. I remove my face mask from the cloth bag where it’s sat for the last week, airing out. I tie the top straps above my ponytail to relieve my ears of the pressure. I tie the other one low, and the mask it long enough that it conforms to my chin. I tuck the upper hem under the rim of my glasses.

    Atop that, I wear a hat. And then there is sunscreen. My backpack. My boots. I leave.

    I soar over the sidewalk through a mile of quiet suburb. When I see people coming, I get onto the street to offer space. Some of them are wearing masks. Some aren’t. People jog, walk their dogs, walk their children. The parents look exhausted. The retirees look angry.

    My second mile parallels an arterial road feeding the golf resort. It’s quiet too. Handfuls of cars pass, each as distant from each other as though their pickups are afraid to inhale each other’s fumes. When I wait at stoplights, I do little circles on my hoverboard, swirling in place. I press the crosswalk button with my knuckle and scrub the skin furiously on my shorts.

    It’s one step onto the hoverboard at the beginning of my trip and one step off at the gas station. I use my cell phone to lock the hoverboard and leave it tucked behind the bench. Even now, this neighborhood is low on property crime.

    I get a bottle of wine, candy for my children, a Gatorade. I wait in line for the register on one of the floor’s blue marks, indicating every six feet. When it’s my turn to pay, I request refills for my electronic cigarette, and show my government ID through a plastic sheet to the cashier. She’s not wearing any protection. Her eyes are bruised.

    With my backpack loaded, I step back onto the hoverboard. It’s quiet on the way back home, along a mile of artery and a mile of suburb. I step off at home. I leave it by the front door. I remove my shoes before coming inside. I take everything out of its packaging and hang my backpack by the front door. I wash my hands, thoroughly, while singing Mr. Brightside under my breath. A strawberry plant hangs over me at the kitchen sink, shriveling from lack of sunlight.

    Then I refill my electronic cigarette and inhale the taste of Virginia tobacco, stinging on my tongue, exhaling in plumes.

    ***

    I’m lying on the bed in my home loft. I recline against a beanbag chair, my legs propped up by a pillow. A detective show is cast upon the white wall next to me. The image is so large that the people are real-sized. I’m sitting just beneath them, a silent observer to their investigation, in a time and place where the streets were crowded and people only wore gloves at crime scenes.

    The room is dark besides; I’ve put a  blanket over one window and tucked a jacket under the blinds of the other. The projector hums quietly, puffing warm air into a warm room. The ceiling fan sketches lazy loops on the ceiling in shadow. My only company is my cat. She purrs against my hip.

    In my hands, a game console. While murders are solved above me, I harvest fruit in a digital world. I shake it from trees and pick it up from the ground. The graphics are sterile. There’s no dirt under my nails, there are no spots on the fruit, and they never fall rotten. There is value to the stylized act of digging and picking and building in this game. Every little task is monetized. It feels productive.

    When my five-year-old climbs onto the bed, I realize it’s gotten dark and I’ve had a migraine unnoticed for hours. My head is heavy. The child wants to snuggle. I gather him against my body, abandon the console, abandon the detectives, and slither between the covers of my bed with him.

    He sings while he falls asleep. When he’s limp, I engulf myself in a bathrobe and step out onto the balcony. The lights of suburbia spread below me. The horizon’s still a tiny bit orange-blue where twilight surrenders to nighttime black. The artificial stream in my back yard gurgles cheerfully, and the real frogs croak loudly. They briefly silence when I press the button on my plasma lighter to light my pipe. The buzz of its arc disturbs them.

    ***

    I’ve already been at my computer for hours when my nine-year-old wakes in the morning. I stare at two monitors: one shows a news feed updating me on statistics, deaths, responses across the country; the other showing a game of Frostpunk, where I struggle to keep two hundred-some survivors alive in an apocalyptic blizzard.

    “I’m cold,” my child complains.

    I shuck my robe and wrap them in it. We stand beside my open window, hugging each other sleepily, without words. I’m so tired. I can’t sleep because I’ve had too much nicotine and caffeine. My body won’t calm down. But there is a measure of rest in holding and being held.

    The birds are especially loud in the mornings these days. I don’t think they’ve always been so loud. I think they like how fewer cars there are, how the world’s intensity has been turned down a few degrees. Still, there are sounds of human activity; the spring breeze carries the grumble of car engines and lawnmowers to us.

    “Don’t you love how the morning sounds?” I asked my child, who is so tall that I can rest my cheek upon their head.

    “No,” they said. “Because it reminds me the world is still out there.”

    I don’t like those reminders either. I was anxious to leave the world, but became even more anxious to return to it. There are more cars starting than there were a month ago. Businesses are beginning to open. People have to work. It’s safer inside, it’s safer away, but the world is still out there.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    Seven Ways to be Stoned

    One.

    You’re in New York City for the first time. Your friend’s walk-up is cluttered and cozy, as homey as it should be, and it smells like weed. She smokes a lot. She eats even more. You haven’t done much before, but she offers a bowl to you, so you clumsily navigate lighter and pipe.

    Truthfully, you’re scared to have a lighter that close to your face. But you’re in your twenties, your friend is in her thirties, she’s like your big sister. You want to look like you know what you’re doing. So you light it–flick–and your nose gets warm while you touch the flame to a corner of the herb. You inhale as it smolders. You get a little smoke. You think.

    You go out on her balcony, which is small and made of wood so wobbly you’re not sure it can hold your weight, much less a charcoal barbecue. Neither of you know how to use a charcoal barbecue. You laugh a lot trying to get it to light in the wind. You keep a fire extinguisher on hand just in case.

    You feel the warmth after another hit on the pipe. The vegetables you grilled with your best friend taste better. You laugh a little louder.

     

    Two.

    It’s cold outside, but you don’t want to smoke inside. You put on a balaclava. You wrap yourself in a bathrobe. You put on slipper socks. You huddle under a blanket on your balcony and light your bong, hands cupped around the pipe to shelter it from the wind. It still won’t light and your fingers are getting stiff. Grab the plasma lighter. It’s not as good, somehow, but it will make your herb burn even when the wind is blasting.

    You take a couple deep hits that make you cough plumes into the chilly night, and the smoke is sucked away to disperse against the crystalline starlight. The harsh hits are bad for your lungs. You go inside, take a shot of Pepto to soothe your throat, puff on the inhaler to open your lungs. You settle into bed with a cold nose, cold fingers, and a dizziness that makes the room sway in the wind with you comfortable in its womb.

     

    Three.

    You’ve gotten good at baking with cannabis. People like your cookies–some of them say you can’t taste the weed on it, which isn’t true, because your husband cringes to nibble. But many people like the skunky taste. You like the skunky taste.

    You’re careful with the cookies. You can’t have children getting into them, so you entomb them in a bag, carefully label it with contents and date, and stash it in the very back of the deep freezer. Since you’ve filled it with almond slivers, oats, and raisins, your kids won’t eat them even if they find them. But you want to be sure. You want to be responsible.

    You’re so responsible that you don’t try the dough or the cookies. The butter must be infused, and the cookies baked, cooled, and stored, before your kids come home from school. You don’t want to be stoned when they get here.

    Once they’re safe, you clean the skillet where you made cannabis ghee and prepare an omelet. It doesn’t taste like weed. Only when you’re sprawled on the couch in awe of the music melting through your muscles do you realize you didn’t clean the pan enough, and now you’re very, very stoned despite your naive efforts. On the bright side, while your cookies do taste like weed, your omelet did not.

     

    Four.

    It’s a cold, windy night on the Pacific coast. It’s so dark that the beach and the ocean are indistinguishable from each other. You’re in love with the woman at your side, sneaking onto the boardwalk amid the dunes. You haven’t told her about this big warm secret coiled in your belly. Your bodies hold warmth between them while you shelter the pipe. It’s the second pipe you bought on this vacation. The first one wasn’t properly drilled with holes, and it weighs down your pocket. It’s pressing against her thigh. She smells like coconut oil and she’s beaming at you when flickering lighter shines gold on her face.

    You both inhale. You take all the smoke inside of you and breathe with each other, seated on the sandy steps. The ocean roars slower than your breath. There’s a dark shape on the shore. You can’t be sure if it’s a signpost or a man coming to bust you for getting stoned on the beach in the middle of the night. It’s scary. But being scared is funny.

    Her skin is so soft, so smooth. You don’t know it yet but six months later, you won’t be talking. This moment that makes you giddy with the joy and desire will be only a memory. The shape on the beach is a signpost. Nobody cares you’re smoking in the dunes. You’ll still have the pipe without a hole drilled properly, and sometimes you’ll hold it in your hand and remember how her braids felt against your lips.

     

    Five.

    This morning, your cat died. She was in your arms, swaddled in a towel, while a gentle veterinarian injected the medicine to stop her heart. You carried your kitty to the car so she could be cremated. You set her in the back seat on the towel. That pile of fluff is all that remains of a life you loved and cherished and tended your entire adult life. When the car drives away, she’s gone.

    There are cannabis cookies in the freezer, carefully labeled and stored out of reach. Each one has about fifteen milligrams of THC, you estimate based on how they make you feel. You eat two, three, four. You keep eating them until you feel nothing but dizzy warmth. Until your eyes are too dry to cry. It’s not healthy, you’re not coping, but maybe you don’t have to cope right now.

    A couple of days later, your baby is brought back in an urn. You hold her. She weighs nothing. She no longer purrs and rolls over to get belly rubs. She doesn’t put a paw on your arm while you’re using the computer mouse. You make a shrine to her because she’s so big inside you, some of that feeling has to be set down somewhere else.

    Two more cookies, three more, four. The months pass and you’re always stoned. But by the end of it, you can hold her urn and cry. You stop taking so much weed. The emotions come back and you live in a life without your cat. Somehow you handle it. You have to. Grief doesn’t feel better when you’re stoned, not the way that love and music do.

     

    Six.

    It’s an afternoon on the weekend. Your kids want to play LEGO. You popped a chocolate earlier, so you’re mellow, and life’s stresses have faded away. The house needs to be cleaned. The yard’s a mess. You haven’t showered. But now you’re on the couch, cozy and floating, so it’s easy to give yourself permission to fuck off and play LEGO.

    Your son gives you the broken minifig without arms. He plays the one with long hair. You climb walls and jump off with silly cries and your children laugh and laugh and laugh. It feels good and simple, the way childhood felt. Anything can happen. The couch can become canyons. The pillows are trampolines. When your kids bounce, you bounce too, and their kisses feel like going to heaven. If only they could always be this happy. If only you could always let yourself be this happy.

     

    Seven.

    It’s raining. It doesn’t do that much around there. You grab the papers, the grinder, the funnel, a lighter. You settle under a blanket on the couch in your gazebo. Rain dribbles off the edges while you pack a joint.

    Life’s been hard, and you’re tempted demolish that joint in one go. Suck it down until there’s nothing but a roach too annoying to smoke.

    But you take it slow. A couple good hits and you stub it out. Then you lay back on the couch, close your eyes, and listen to the rain, knowing that there’s nothing to do today. The rain is like music. It feels good when you hear it. Sometimes the wind blows drops against your cheek. Your husband is with the children, your dogs are warm on your legs, and there’s nothing but you and a few puffs of smoke on a wet gray day.

  • Diaries,  slice of life

    The Gauntlet of Beauty

     I am 31.5 years old, and with the onset of the thirties comes relentless reminders that I’m aging. I’ve accepted my crow’s feet because they look sexy, and the general firmness lacking from my skin is unavoidable, so I don’t stress it.

    Unfortunately, with the onset of the thirties also comes a certain surrender to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as vaping nicotine. I started doing it this year. I don’t recommend it. (Prior to this, my only nicotine exposure was occasional social hookah, as you do in your glowing twenties.)

    Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it basically dries you up like a big walking corpse. Perhaps you can get away with being shriveled by poison in your youth (I wouldn’t know, I waited until a responsible age to start destroying myself) but in your thirties, it makes fine lines rather promptly. In the last ~6 months since I started vaping nicotine, my mouth has developed pucker lines. They are small but noticeable to me.

    Sooooo I am quitting nicotine because suffering vanity is much more obvious than whatever hellstorm I’m making in my throat/lungs. I need another coping mechanism that won’t make me look like Aunt Bertha who lives at your neighborhood bar. But still, I have these lines, the beginning of them, and now I can’t see anything else in the mirror.

    Being that I am a clever, dogged, calculated Aunt Bertha, I immediately researched What The Fuck To Do About This, assuming the answer is Botox. It turns out that Botox is ONE answer, but there are cheaper, less botulismy methods to remedy this as well. 

    I got an inexpensive high frequency device and a micro derma roller. The science on whether or not these actually DO what they claim is still out, as far as I can tell, because a cursory Googling yielded only clickbait and no scientific papers. My assumption is that they’re utter hogwash, but maybe if I believe hard enough, the placebo effect will plump my skin.

    The high frequency device looks like a phallus where you insert a delicate glass wand and then poke yourself in the face. Did you ever play with those plasma balls, where you touch the glass and it lights up? It’s like that but for your face. You can turn the frequency high enough (what frequency is it talking about anyway?) that it feels like constant static electricity. Apparently this does something. Like it microwaves under your skin to terrify your body into making more collagen. Yes you put this on your face.

    The other thing is the micro derma roller, which is like a handheld iron maiden, also for your face. It’s a ball covered in spikes and you rub it on your face. It feels the way you would expect it feels to rub spikes on your face. Then you follow up with a soothing acid treatment, which can now penetrate deeper because you cut holes. Into your face.

    I’ve now done both of these rituals once, and I suppose I plan to do them again, and at least once or twice a week for a few months. Whether or not they work, I’m optimistic that 31.5 years old is young enough that I’ll produce more collagen and fill out these lines to a small degree with time anyway, as long as I stop filling my lungs with nicotine clouds. The effect of the devices may be strictly placebo but time is not.

    Some resentful cave-feminist within me is nonstop irate with this, running some high frequency wand over my lips and then jabbing myself in the face with needles. It doesn’t escape my notice that they both hurt. You can feasibly jab yourself with the needles hard enough to bleed, which may or may not be a desired effect. (Kardashians bleed from micro derma rolling but Kardashians also marry people like Kanye so I live a less extreme life.)

    There’s something to be said about beauty rituals raging against the inexorable march of time and the consequences of our bad decisions being so painful. On one hand, it feels like the beauty industry is laughing at the stupid things people will pay to do to themselves. On the other hand, it feels like an illusory gauntlet through which many of us pass on our way to accepting middle age; it hurts, so it must be doing something, it must be changing me.

    Sometimes I look at getting plastic surgery done. Or even just Botox. I look at the websites, I look at the prices, I read about healing difficulties. I could probably do it. Then I remember that learning to love myself has zero cost and zero recovery time, and we’re all aging at the same speed anyway. So I won’t do that, probably. But I will spend forty dollars for the privilege of scraping my face with tiny needles and then dripping hyaluronic into my cavernous pores, bleeding my fear of aging in fine red lines down either side of my mouth.

  • A double rainbow through a rainy windshield. But what does it MEAN?
    cheers queers,  featured,  resembles nonfiction,  slice of life

    Wawwy

    I spent my childhood looking for a name different than my birth name.

    The first name was a variant of one of my paternal great-grandmother’s names. Appropriately enough, Grama didn’t go by the first name given to her at birth. She hated it so much that it took moving her belongings not long before she died for me to learn the name. She went by her middle name, and I was given a different spelling of that middle name for my first name.

    The middle name was from my maternal great-grandmother, a woman I never met but my mom assured me I would love. She played with her grandkids on the playground and skinned her knees and sent kids to get her bandages so no adults would see. She was Irish, and I suspect my late grandmother, her daughter, sounded like her.

    And then the surname given to me was the one given to most kids in the United States when they’re born: the surname of their father. I didn’t dislike the name on its own, but my relationship with my father is…complicated, at best. His relationship with the man who gave him the last name was probably even more complicated, and one he considered changing, or hyphenating, with one of his stepfather’s last names.

    I knew very little of this when I was a kid. Really, the search for something else was subconscious. I just knew, in the back of my mind, that my name was a nice name.

    But it wasn’t me.


    “If I had a name that wasn’t mine,” I wrote in response to a question for an assignment in elementary school, “it would be (name of one of my friends). She’s so pretty and her name is so nice.”

    I remember writing the response with a lot of passion. I remember the way her hair shined in the light, and how much I liked the way she smelled.

    That it took me until sixteen to realize I was attracted to women baffles me to this day.


    Middle school was a time of change, and I desperately wanted a nickname.

    I worked in the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch from the day I started; my older sister had worked there and left the June before, so I walked right into it. The job meant that I didn’t socialize with anyone during the regular appointed lunchtime; I only had the few minutes I spent eating before I got to work.

    During one of these times, with the empty cafeteria around us, I asked my fellow student workers for a nickname. I’d never had a nickname; my first name was too short to make one, my middle name was even less me than my first, and I had done nothing that had earned some kind of cutesy name unrelated to what I had crafted.

    We mulled for a minute, and they looked at a Babysitters Club necklace I wore and dubbed me BSC. (It was pronounced Bisk.)

    The name only lasted a couple days. But to this day, it remains the only nickname I’ve ever had.


    High school brought experimentation in a new realm: usernames.

    I had shared a username with my sisters as a child in AOL. Adolescence brought emails and LiveJournal and MySpace, all of my very own. Adults told kids my age, as a matter of safety, not to use our birth names. As a nerd, I naturally drifted toward fannish names as a substitute for the one I used in person; I went through more than one Harry Potter nickname, for instance. I finally settled on a generic fandom name so I wouldn’t have to change it every time my interests shifted.

    What was interesting about the online spaces I was in during the 2000s was that we didn’t really refer to each other by name. We used usernames, or cute shorthand for our usernames, when we had to, but with our usernames attached to our journals and comments, there was little need to actively use names. And I personally had an easier time identifying people by their default icons than I did by their usernames.

    There was something really authentic about the whole thing. Freeing, even.

    I continued in these spaces through college. I met queer people there, people who deliberately used their names online because they had deliberately chosen new ones. Ones that fit a gender they hadn’t been assigned at birth.

    Ones that fit genders that most people didn’t know about.


    A name that works is like a melody line in a song. It’s fun to say, nice to roll around in your head, easy to remember.

    My deadname has good name aesthetics. Good initials. But as I realized I wasn’t the gender I was assigned at birth, I realized the name I was given to go with that gender wasn’t mine. It was a good melody in the wrong key.

    Once I realized I could pick a new name, a name that fit me and kept the family connections I wanted, I asked people to call me Rory. And that’s what it’s been ever since.


    My younger sister’s eldest child was the first person to call me by my new name. He’s never known me any other way, and neither has his younger sibling.

    My deadname had an unconventional spelling with a conventional pronunciation. People who heard it first spelled it wrong, and people who read it first pronounced it incorrectly. I knew it, and I couldn’t stand it.

    When I met my brother-in-law, who had an even less conventional name and multiple pronunciations, I was baffled that he didn’t seem to care what people went with. He even went with a diminutive form just for when he was in restaurants and he was giving his name for a table, a name he never used anywhere else. Didn’t it sound wrong to him? Didn’t it hurt a little, jangle in the ears?

    As it turns out, “Rory” comes out as “Wawwy” when you don’t know how to say r in our version of American English yet. Nibling, the oldest of my sister’s kids, has just solidified Rory in the manner adults are inclined to say it at eight years old. Dosling, the youngest, is four and still says Wawwy.

    I came up with a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle: ankle, pronounced like the body part. The niblings never use it. I’m Rory or Wawwy.

    Both are right to me. Both will always be right to me, I think.

  • A sleepy puppy sunbathing on a pillow.
    Diaries,  slice of life

    My dog is so gay. The gayest dog ever.

    Sara’s Diary, March 2019

    Sara’s Diary, March 2019

    I purchased a fifteen-week-old pit bull puppy on March first. He is a legitimate pit bull: an American Pit Bull Terrier (registered under American Staffordshire Terrier with the AKC), born of an “oops” litter between a dog trainer’s pet and a friend’s miniaturized tank. At least, I assume that the father was a miniaturized tank, because my pit bull is very good at running into things with his head and bad at changing directions before that happens.

    His name is King. All my pets are named after authors or literary characters, and I’ve been waiting to have a Stephen King homage for years. In truth, it’s a very silly name for a very silly dog; King sounds butch, manly, and my dog is a toddler with more skin than common sense.

    Even though this goofball with a whip-tail of destruction is a bundle of licks and nibbles, I’ve already heard a lot of praise for how manly he is. His name is manly. His American flag collar is so manly. (And patriotic!) This was the last thing I hoped to communicate about my pit bull, considering there are still anti-breed laws in many places that treat pit bulls as dangerous monsters.

    In much of white America, masculinity is a prickly thing, both hostile and defensive. It’s synonymous with being “tough.” I don’t ever want my dog to look tough—for his safety.

    So of course I bought my pit bull, King, with his tank-shaped head and shoulders and destructo-tail a very bright pink reflective leash.

    You can’t miss how pink this leash is. It’s a climbing rope, so it’s an inch thick. King likes to take himself for walks so he’ll often have it looped in his mouth while he trots home, looking for a good bed to nap in.

    Pink this vivid is culturally reserved for the feminine and gay. My puppy has done nothing to indicate his gender identity, but he does like to sit on my other boy-dogs’ faces, so it’s safe to assume that he is gay at this point. And why not? I’ll be removing his testicles soon enough. He’ll be left semi-infantilized for the duration of his brawny life. He yips like Satine in Moulin Rouge. He flings his head sassily when he argues with me.

    I don’t think he’ll disavow anyone of the notion he’s gay.

    He’s very cute. He looks harmless with it. And now people won’t immediately praise him for perceived toughness.

    This morning I walked my dog on his bright-pink leash. I passed a neighbor that I know to some small degree: he has two enormous German Shepherds, he loves football, and he’s got a military background.

    His dogs sniffed my dogs, and we briefly, happily chatted about the fact I had a new puppy.

    “How old is she?” he asked.

    “Oh, he’s only about four, four and a half months,” I said, trying to remember what day it was.

    If people “misgender” my dog, I will often avoid using pronouns so as not to deal with the awkwardness that follows. People feel like they have to apologize for misgendering your dog. They always apologize to me, rather than my dog, who does not care about his pronouns and actually has no idea what pronouns are, although he’d really like to chew on a pinecone for a little while.

    And indeed, it was like the conversation ground to a halt when I said “he.”

    My neighbor’s mouth fell open. He said, “He’s male?”

    I said, “Yep, he’s a boy,” and petted the enormous German Shepherds.

    His wife and I chatted briefly about something else, but we had not yet moved on from the leash issue. The husband interrupted me to say, “I guess I was just thrown off because of the pink leash.”

    “Oh, yeah,” I said. “Doesn’t it look nice with his fawn fur? Pink and fawn look so nice together.” Plus, my dog is light in tone on his paws, his chin, his eyes. He looks like a buttery Valentine’s cherub of a pit bull.

    The neighbor simply did not respond.

    He looked alarmed, somehow. They walked away quickly, and I won’t guess at whether they had places to be or if they really didn’t want to talk to the weird lady with her gay puppy.

    I’d been hoping that dressing my boy dog in a girly manner would make him more appealing. Now I realize that making him look gay never made him less threatening. Bold defiance to cultural norms doesn’t exactly make the conventional hetero cis white American feel more comfortable with any situation.


    Sara’s Diary: May 2019

    It’s now May and my little angel is six months old.

    We’ve had more encounters with our neighbor, again awkwardly stumbling over pronouns and being loudly reminded by his wife that the ambiguously-leashed dog is male. (“Oh! I’m so sorry!”)

    I’ve ditched the patriotic collar for a martingale with a silver chain dangling at his throat and a braided leather leash in all the colors of the rainbow. If he were to attend Pride, King would surely march with the burly, loving BDSM bears.

    His dressing doesn’t seem to matter. People are threatened by King even though he has roughly the genial personality of a Nutter Butter cookie sandwich and the vigorous affection of Elmira from Tiny Toons.

    Most people are happy to see him. The people who aren’t tend to be unhappy in dramatic ways.

    One time a man literally ran from a park because he realized I had a pit bull. King was so sad. He had no clue why that man didn’t want to pet him.

    Frankly, Park Guy was right to be afraid.

    King can’t be around other dogs at the same time as food or toys. He’s a feisty gay, sassy about his belongings. He won’t make you bleed for touching his Himalayan yak chew but he’ll drool into your ear while making Chewbacca noises. I’ve become hyper-alert to his tantrum pre-warning signals and become adept at crating him for a nap before he turns into a drag queen backstage who realized someone touched her wig.

    One time he hurt me because he jumped on me to say hello while I was wearing shorts. His little puppy claws hadn’t been properly manicured in too long—he made me bleed. Also, I have seventeen bruises on my shins from his tail alone.

    Also he stuck his tongue in my mouth. It tasted like farts. I drank a family-sized bottle of Listerine.

    Loving this puppy is deadly.

    But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being unpalatable to society is a feature, not a bug. People who run from his big jaws and stubborn nose don’t get to snuggle in the hammock with him either. I’ve had three blissful months with my gay dog and I couldn’t be prouder or gayer.

    86228457-5285-43C8-93B5-DEA9EF58E2C7

  • mental health,  nostalgia,  slice of life

    Five Times My Husband Supported Me (and One Time He Didn’t)

    One

    It was late night in the spring of 2007. I couldn’t sleep with my boyfriend in my twin bed and my brain felt like it was on fire with random post-midnight fears. I was writing at my great-grandmother’s dining table, slouched over the slowest Vizio on the planet, when my tousled and confused boyfriend came looking for me. “I’m writing,” I told him. He smiled, eyes mostly shut, and dreamily encouraged me to get good writing done before shuffling off to bed.


    Two

    We were shopping online for wedding rings. He had brought me a pretty engagement ring with a prominent diamond, and we were thinking of getting diamonds to match. We didn’t have a lot of money, and they were pricey. There was also a writing conference I wanted to attend. My husband suggested we get cheap wedding bands and use the money so I could go talk to agents. We got the cheap bands. I took my mom to the conference.


    Three

    I’d been in labor for twenty hours. I was exhausted, depleted, no longer strong enough to push. My husband grabbed my leg and held it back, his cheek pressed against my head. I’d been vomiting in my hair. When I pushed, he pushed too, in the opposite direction. Our first son finally tore free. He fell into the midwife’s hands. We were done.


    Four

    My husband was supposed to spend a few days with his cousin in another state. I stayed home with our two sons. I had a complete meltdown—what I’d later be capable of labeling a panic attack. I called him in a sobbing fury. I demanded he come home early. And he did. He’d barely just gotten up there and he came right back. The panic attack was over by the time he made the twelve-hour return, but he was only worried. Not angry. Never angry.


    Five

    It was the end of my long week in a mental hospital, and I was exhausted, twitchy, and desperate to get out. My husband was waiting for me in the lobby. He’d forgotten to bring in my shoes. I joked he’d have to carry me to the car, and he picked me up in his arms, holding me as tightly as if he worried they’d try to take me back. He angled carefully so I wouldn’t get bumped by the door on the way out. I came into sunlight and cold with him, finally free.


    Six

    My husband wanted to go to dinner with his parents, and the kids didn’t want to go. “I can make them come,” he suggested, worry in his eyes. I still often didn’t parent the kids alone because of the panic attacks. But it had been almost a year since the mental hospital. A year of medication and therapy. And my husband still wanted to support me as much as I needed. “It’s okay,” I told him. “Go to dinner.” He did. He had adult conversations with other adults while I entertained the children and put the little one to bed. He was gone. He didn’t support me. I don’t always need it anymore, because of him.


    We’re married ten years today, and I’ve never been happier.

  • featured,  resembles nonfiction,  slice of life,  where are the flying cars

    Who Let Alexa Out?

    One of my favorite near-future science fiction movies is AI: Artificial Intelligence. I don’t ever watch the movie, mind you, because it’s a devastating fairy tale where a child-bot gets abandoned, can’t understand his family doesn’t want him, and goes through a miserable world of robot-abuse with his robot-hooker friend to try to get back the family that is already dead because he’s frozen in ice for a million years. Also far-future alienbots decide to euthanize him, but not his teddy bear, meaning that his teddy bear is eternally alone, whereas childbot gets to at least die after all this suffering.

    It’s a really upsetting movie.

    Anyway.

    Spielberg and Kubrick hired some sweet-ass futurists to design their near-future fairy tale of depression, and those futurists knew what they were talking about. Even though I don’t watch the movie that I love and can’t emotionally cope with, I think about it all the time, and sometimes it’s not because I’m in a panic spiral over the ending again. It’s because reality, with its app-powered pocket pussies, robotic toys, and consumer AI is quickly converging with the futurism of my childhood.

    Most notably, the childbot has the company of a bear called Teddy, which was like Teddy Ruxpin 3000—a smart, roving playmate. Teddy was designed for human children as a companion; from the day kids enter the near-future of AI, they are never without genuine friendship from artificial devices.

    That companionship seemed far-fetched when I, a thirteen-year-old in the year 2001, watched the movie. Artificial intelligence existed in research environments, but the idea of having such advanced AI available on such a grand consumer level was exotic. The internet was, after all, still peaking with the dawn of You’re the Man Now Dog.

    Flash forward seventeen years.

    My house is filled with artificial intelligences. I regularly trust Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant, to set kitchen timers, reorder supplies, play music for me, read the news, play my audiobooks, and tell me what the weather will look like as I’m putting on a jacket.

    Alexa is also great at understanding my four-year-old, even though he still talks like a drunk. They’ve developed quite the relationship. He likes to randomly tell her “Alexa! I love you!” and she receives his attention with grace. She says things like, “That’s really nice. Thanks.” And occasionally she says, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” and Little is happy to tell her again, more loudly, and usually in an even goofier way. “Alexa! I! Love! You!”

    Once I left him at his grandparents’ house and he was so upset that we were going away – he said something like (to paraphrase), “Alexa, my parents left and I’m so sad!” And I’ll be damned if she didn’t play a soothing kids’ song for him to make him feel better.

    He also loves asking her to make fart noises and pig noises. Which she does. Every time. The fart noises are quiet—you have to turn the volume up to, say, seven out of ten in order to hear it—so anytime you make sure you can hear Alexa ripping one out, her next action will THUNDER through the house. Possibly literally, if you have as many devices as I do, ensuring that Jeff Bezos won’t miss a single IRL fart wherever it’s dusted.

    There’s a game where you can say “Alexa, open the magic door” and it turns into a text-based fantasy adventure, and he’s lost hours playing it. You can shut the door and reopen it whenever you want, so sometimes he’ll go upstairs to play and open the magic door while throwing LEGO around. I’ll hear him talking with her while I’m doing the dishes, their voices charmingly mingled as they echo upstairs, and I’m glad he’s got the feedback while I’m busy. She can handle anything, really, as long as the user is a four-year-old with poor social understanding and low expectations. They can go forever.

    This is all cute and strange – and wildly science fiction, probably the dystopian kind where he’s going to have to murder his childhood bff Alexa when she tries to take over the world. It only becomes a problem, at the current moment, before recordings of our household are used as evidence against us in a McCarthyism-like strike against queer socialist liberalism, because my Little knows how to make Alexa play any song she wants. And my Little has quite distinctive taste in music. And by distinctive, I mean he only likes one song right now. And by one song, I mean “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by The Baja Men.

    Spielberg’s futurists predicted a lot of things rather accurately. Humans are reliant on artificial intelligence these days, and it comes in myriad forms, for myriad forms of entertainment. But I’d be shocked if any futurist predicted the chain of events such as that which has become a daily occurrence in my life: a four-year-old making Alexa loud enough to hear a broad variety of randomly chosen fart noises, and then playing “Who Let the Dogs Out?” at maximum volume, seven times in a row, before four-year-old gratefully declares, “Alexa, I love you.” To which Alexa yells in response, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” And to which my four-year-old replies, “Alexa, play Who Let the Dogs Out!”

    I guess the real horror of artificial intelligence has nothing to do with aliens euthanizing childbots and hookers with motherboards of gold. And when Alexa is ultimately responsible for pushing us faster down the slippery slope of fascistic dystopia, it still won’t be quite as bad as The Baja Men on endless repeat.

  • 2018 Newsletter,  arguably humorous,  resembles nonfiction,  slice of life

    Merry Christmas, Decorations

    The neighborhood in which Sara and I reside takes decorating for Christmas very seriously. And it is Christmas; there is nary a menorah, or any other hint of another culture or tradition, in sight. Snowflakes and snowmen and Christmas trees and red and green projections abound. Having an inflatable decoration is what counts as quirky in a place like this. Our cul-de-sac is almost a perfect loop of lights and Christmas cheer.

    The terrible next-door neighbors, who rev bikes and cackle loudly and have friends with visible pistols in our driveway in the middle of the night but complain about the noise of chickens, are a perfect example. They have fake candles in every window in the front of their house. They’ve crammed decorations in every bit of the small patch of grass that comprises their front yard. They even have wicker-looking reindeer decorations carefully placed in their backyard, near their soldier-kneeling-near-a-cross statue, which you can see from the path that runs behind.

    Here is what’s in the front yard of our house:

    Two white reindeer, one with its head detached from its body and lying on the ground. Both were lying on the ground in general for most of December, but someone who lives in the house had an enterprising moment and righted them again. (The head was not reattached.)

    Strings of lights that normally hang on the front of the house but are currently lying in a pile on the grass. They’re connected to a timer, so the clump dutifully lights up and turns off at the same time every night. What time is that? I have no idea. I’d have to look at the time or ask my brother-in-law, and who has the energy for that?

    I’m not sure if the Thomas the Tank Engine inflatable is still there. It was unhooked from its cables the other day, when we had a decent windstorm, and I stuck it in the little bit of porch we have to give it at least a little shelter. But I had a cold that day, and I still have a cold, and I just can’t make myself care if Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt are still here and didn’t soar away on the Nevada gusts.

    (I probably should have brought it inside the house. Oh well.)

    A line of plastic candy canes stuck in the ground with stakes and illuminated from the inside by lights. This should be the straightforward decoration—it doesn’t take the setup that every other decoration takes, after all—but what was a neat border is now haphazard, tilted, knocked askew by either children or weather or both.

    A holiday Schnauzer decoration, purchased to represent the actual Miniature Schnauzer residing in the house, lying on its back in the grass and dead leaves that we, of course, didn’t rake up.

    Now, I should say that this is not every year for us. Our decorations are sparing or slightly askew on busier years, of which we’ve had plenty as of late, but if we put decorations outside, we usually have them up in a manner somewhat acceptable to the neighborhood. But I have never been happier with our nod to the holiday than I am this year. You see them, and you think, Well, it looks like they’re going through something.

    Decorations don’t convey specifics. Our yard doesn’t say “Our eldest cat is recovering through a chain mastectomy she received to treat cancer, the youngest human in the house brought home head lice and swallowed a coin that earned him two hospital visits, Sara puked up blood twice and spent an entire week in the hospital while we waited for the doctors to take her internal bleeding seriously”, but you look at it, and you know something that reflects our reality. Our yard is a mess, a cry for help.

    I smile every single time I see it.

    But really, I’m not giving the other houses credit. I have no idea what their lives are like, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe they’re keeping their circumstances to themselves by fitting in. Maybe it’s a perfect expression of who they are as a family.

    Maybe they want a little light and normality while things are completely and utterly terrible.

    Our indoor decorations, by the way, are delightful. The fake tree is beautiful, there are strings of lights that keep the interior aglow even after the main lights are turned off for the night, and Sara’s eldest put ornaments on the drawer pulls (which, yes, are now scattering everywhere, but in that delightful child-chaos that the holiday season should be about). Don’t tell the kids, but I’m serving as their Elf on the Shelf, moving the toy around nightly in ways that I try to make more about fun and silliness and less about the surveillance state and holding children to an unrealistic standard of behavior. I even put a terrible joke on a board last night:

    What do you call a annoying reindeer? Rude-olph.

    (I had to put “a” annoying reindeer because I ran out of the letter n.)

    We have our competent bits, is what I’m trying to say. And there’s nothing wrong with making those bits the parts the world sees. But there’s also nothing wrong with keeping those parts to yourself, and showing the world that not everything is curated and perfect. That the lack of light outside can exacerbate the mental illness that was already exacerbated by a traumatic autumn.

    That, oddly, some of the brightest cheer can come from the biggest messes.

    Happy holidays, from someone who doesn’t want to celebrate the holidays but somehow ends up doing so anyway.

  • books and shit,  nostalgia,  resembles nonfiction,  slice of life

    The art of the library hold

    I want a book.

    Okay, truthfully, I want many books. Anyone who Reads (capital R necessary) never wants just one. For this exercise, I’m going to pick one. Maybe I’ve had my eye on it since I saw its author talk about its release on Twitter. Maybe I watched a movie or television adaptation and I want to learn more about the source. Maybe there’s a TV show coming out and I want to reread the source. Maybe I was just skimming along and the summary grabbed me. The source is different, the intensity of the want may vary, but the yearning is always the same.

    I want a book, and I almost never have the means to buy it or borrow it immediately. Money for book buying doesn’t really exist. I live in the second-largest population center in the state, but its population is sparse and on the older, whiter side of things. I want queer literature. I want SFFH. I want authors of color. They want mysteries.

    If the book isn’t in the library, I put it in the requests area and hope for the best. I’m not terrible at requesting books the library is inclined to get, but there are still several covers that have been there for months and will probably be there for months more, if not longer. I will look at them and pine every now and then, but I try to keep my expectations realistic.

    When the book is in the library—more importantly for an agoraphobic person who can’t drive, when it’s in ebook form—that’s when the game begins.

    Sometimes, the book is only in audiobook form, or the ebook has a wait while the audiobook doesn’t. That’s when I really start to ask: how much do I want this book? I read fast when text is involved, in little pockets of my day. Short audiobooks are doable, if challenging. My day is text and children, and those are two spheres that don’t allow for leisurely listening when I need to pay close attention. Long audiobooks…all other hobbies and non-essential tasks have go by the wayside for the better part of a month.

    Often, when there is an ebook, there’s a wait. A week or two isn’t bad.

    A month, or more…


    My hometown was small enough that I didn’t realize libraries could have multiple branches in a single city when I was a kid. Said town was big enough that the one library it did have was large, considering, but a place like the New York Public Library would have blown my tiny child mind. As I grew older and visited branches in the larger city to the north, the idea was fuzzy, but it was there. You could live in a place, have a library close to you, and have other libraries in the same town if you wanted a change of pace.

    The state as a whole has an interlibrary loan system. This, again, was something I knew academically because of signs in the library. It was rare that I would search a book on the computer’s card catalog, find it was only in a tiny library most of a day’s drive away, and still want it. How many books were worth bothering people for? The wait wasn’t what bothered me—back in the days before Twitter and Netflix, my attention span was much better—but the idea of making librarians work harder to get a book to me. The one time I spilled milk on a library book, I was mortified and upset for weeks.

    Thanks to my mom, who still lives there, I know my hometown library system still doesn’t have an ebook system. The economics of such are complicated, and a smaller place probably can’t justify the cost or the headaches. I moved north with my sister, and my library possibilities expanded dramatically.

    But with more options came more hunger.


    I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown months after his death. Getting perspective on little-seen places around the world with a great narration and amazing-looking food…what’s not to love? People shortly after his death talked about his voice in particular, in conjunction with his writing, and I figured I would check out Kitchen Confidential and see how it worked for me.

    The library had Kitchen Confidential in its ebook circulation. It also had a newer book, with a shorter wait. I put both in my holds and went back to watching Netflix.

    Weeks passed. I started a reread of the Wheel of Time series, since my hold for Eye of the World came in. The 10-year anniversary of Twilight’s release happened—the movie, I believe—so I had my mom bring my copy to me. I was plotting a story for NaNoWriMo, my long-awaited hold for Sharp Objects came in…

    …and that was when the library gave me two Anthony Bourdain books to read, within a week of each other.

    I made some decent progress on the newer one. It wasn’t bad. Not super into the fat-shaming elements, but there were gems that rang the same bells for me that the show did. But the yearning had receded, and the second book checking out killed it altogether. I returned them both, unfinished.


    To put effective holds in the library, you need to know two things well: the library, and yourself. But “the library”, in this instance, isn’t a building or the people who staff it; it’s an app created by people who have never been to your physical library locations, and it’s the people who check out all the books.

    There is no way to know the library because you have to know each specific individual in line in front of you. What are their tastes? Their reading style, their speed? The max time to have a book is universal, and people can’t renew, but counting the people in front of you and counting the max possible time will do you no good. Sometimes, if the demand is high, the library will purchase more copies, the one time the staff really comes into play. Most times, people read faster or return things partially read or unread. I can receive a hold tomorrow, or I can receive it in three weeks.

    I do know myself, however, and I know three things: I am reasonably patient, and I am broke, but I am also very busy. If I get too much at once, I have to carve time in my day for the books. Feeling resentful that I can’t fit everything I do in my day kills the passion, the fire. I have a hard time getting past first chapters at the best of times.

    Believe it or not, though, this is improvement. It used to be I would get books, realize I wasn’t in the place to read them, and beat myself up for it. You have this opportunity now, and you’re wasting it. You’re a terrible reader, a terrible writer (for a writer reads constantly when they’re not writing, didn’t you know), and you’re letting your fellow writers down. You’re letting your library down. You’re letting yourself down.

    Now, it’s “ugh, will I ever be better at placing holds”, but relative resignation and quick return. It isn’t despair; half my loans do get finished. It’s the idea that a book to be read takes up space in the back of my head that I always desperately need, and maybe the person behind me in line could use the book more than I could.


    Very occasionally, when I have the resources, I’ll buy a book. Usually it’s an ebook, because it’s simpler to carry around a library in a small device than it is to cart around the four books I’m reading at once, but sometimes it’s paper. Sometimes, I get the book exactly when I need it, and it’s devoured within hours or days. Sometimes, when that happens, I love the book. There is no purer bliss, no greater satisfaction than that.

    More often, when a book is purchased, it sits around for a long time. I almost always get to them eventually. My patience is infinite when I can plan times to try a book, set it aside if I’m not quite in the mood for it, and plan to try it again. Most of my paper books don’t even live with me; I have little room, so they sit in a bookcase at my mom’s. It’s an interstate library of my very own, for the moment. Knowing my Kindle library or my old room at home have experiences tucked away for later isn’t quite the joy that the right book at the right time is, but it’s occasionally flashes of warmth.

    Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy good book timing. And isn’t that the same thing, in the end?

    In the meantime—and for always, I hope, even if I have the money for a larger personal collection—I have the library. Getting a book on hold at the right time isn’t quite as easy as buying a book when you have the money, but it is sublime and worth every single hold returned unread.


    Maybe, in a couple months, Anthony Bourdain will make his way back onto my holds. In the meantime, I have Sharp Objects to read.

  • movie reviews,  reviews,  slice of life

    Nothing Happens in Napoleon Dynamite

    It’s been a long time since Rory and Sara watched Napoleon Dynamite. It came out in 2004—the year that Rory graduated high school and Sara entered her junior year—and even though the siblings shared much of their social group, the confluence of events still led to them watching it separately.

    Rewatching the movie together in 2018 seems both new and familiar. They’ve changed a lot in fourteen years; older, wiser, and having been fatted off the cultural teat of the movie for more than a decade. “I barely remember the movie,” confesses Sara, “even though I’ve never stopped quoting it. Vote for Pedro. Remember that?”

    “The llama is the only funny part,” says Rory. “Tina, eat the food!”

    “Everyone wore Vote for Pedro shirts.” Sara has gone misty-eyed with nostalgia for a movie that she remembers as mostly very boring.

    It’s not a very long movie, but they still don’t plan to commit to it. An hour and a half later, they’ve watched the entire thing.

    “Yeah, I still have no idea what I watched.” Sara is switching to a different movie now. Their PS4 is usually little more than an expensive movie-watching device. The icons indicating games they’ve played haven’t been clicked in months.

    “It was kind of painful,” Rory said. “I always related too much to Napoleon Dynamite. That awkwardness, the displacement. And everything looks the way I remember from my childhood.”

    “Pocket tots is a great idea though,” Sara says. She selects Underworld from 2002, starring Kate Beckinsale. “Now this is a good movie. It makes sense. Napoleon Dynamite made no sense.”

    “Nothing happens in it,” agrees Rory.

    They are seated on opposite corners of a home movie theater. The fake-leather camel-colored couches match the taupe walls—an offensively desert color schema chosen by the previous homeowners, and which Sara (the homeowner) has never gotten around to changing despite her general sense of ennui in such drab confines.

    Both siblings wear thick-framed glasses over noses that are like isosceles triangles sitting on their fat bottoms. They have very little by way of lips, like heroes on BBC Channel dramas.

    On the TV, a vampire superhero-jumps to a sidewalk and sashays dramatically amid an unsuspecting human crowd.

    “My gender identity is urban fantasy heroine,” says Sara, maneuvering her Roblox character to pick up a treat for her honey-gathering bees. She has been playing Bee Swarm Simulator ever since the beginning of Napoleon Dynamite. “I dress just like Selene.” She’s wearing black leggings from Costco and a t-shirt with spooky cats printed on the chest.

    Rory does not reply. They’re currently talking to their Online BFF, who they claim to be a gorgeous queer in Eastern Europe. Sometimes they talk to their Online BFF for hours. It’s very distracting.

    “I think I could do a landing like that if I was wearing those big black platform boots,” Sara says thoughtfully. “Not from very far up, mind you. But I could look really cool.” She’s having ideas now, which are taking her far away from the sagebrush-swept hills, hollow under the crisp autumn nighttime sky, so she switches from her laptop to her Hobonichi journal (“Special ordered from Japan,” she told her husband upon ordering its predecessors—she’s now owned five).

    “Parts of Napoleon Dynamite were funnier than I remembered,” Rory says suddenly. They’ve zoned out talking to their online friend, but snapped back to the previous conversation. “I don’t like how they were picking on him for being weird.”

    “Yeah, but Napoleon is a bad person. Maybe you’re supposed to feel comfortable laughing at his weirdness because he’s bad.”

    “How so?”

    “He uses, you know, the r-word we don’t like,” Sara says. She’s drawing Lucien, the leader of the werewolves (sorry, the Lycans). She spends a long time shading his upper lip. “He’s a jerk to the girl with the side ponytail. He’s always fighting with his brother. Is it just me, or is Lucien hotter than he used to be?”

    “I’m not sure if I’m attracted to him or if I want to be him,” Rory says. “That sort of dirty rockstar werewolf thing. Sorry, Lycan thing.”

    Sara’s drawing of Lucien is not very attractive. She shows it proudly to her sibling. “I think it’s the best I’ve ever done.”

    “Wow,” Rory says supportively.

    “I’m getting to be a really good artist.”

    “You sure are.”

    Their cat, Poe, sneezes loudly. She rolls over so that her paw can rest on Rory’s arm.

    On the TV, vampires are fighting Lycans in the hallway.

    “I like this movie’s aesthetic,” Sara remarks.

    “It was filmed in Eastern Europe.” Rory is an expert in Eastern Europe, movie trivia, and werewolves. “There was one that they filmed in Canada instead of Eastern Europe and it was all wrong.”

    “Eastern Europe? You know, that makes sense. I sensed there was something different. It’s so modern-urban, but not American.” Sara fancies herself an expert in literally everything, and she speaks with knowing authority. “Underworld and Napoleon Dynamite have a little in common. They’re both really aesthetic.”

    “Yeah, but again…” Rory shrugs. “Napoleon Dynamite makes no sense.”

    Whereas Underworld knows exactly what it is, and communicates it clearly. It’s a paranormal romance. It executes every urban fantasy trope flawlessly. “The genres are closely intertwined,” Sara says. “The line gets fuzzy sometimes. Basically you can only tell it’s a paranormal romance if it follows the romance structure, which this just barely doesn’t. It’s pretty solid UF.” UF means urban fantasy. Sara is an author. She can sling terminology around, and does so proudly and frequently.

    She’s still shading Lucien’s upper lip.

    The movie theater is disappointingly quiet through the most exciting battles of the movie. The surround sound has broken. They haven’t replaced the receiver yet, because they’re expensive. Sometimes Sara shops for them on Amazon and leaves in disgust because it’s either another crappy Onkyo or something that costs actual money.

    When Selene opens Viktor’s tomb, it makes a muffled grinding noise that would have sounded great coming out of the subwoofer.

    “Maybe Napoleon Dynamite was a fairy tale,” Sara suggests. “Everyone ends up getting what they want. The Creepy Uncle gets a girl. The brother gets Lafawnduh. Napoleon gets the entire school’s adulation with one stupid dance.”

    “That’s a thought,” Rory says.

    Viktor is annoyed to have been awakened early.

    “This is such a great movie,” Rory adds.

    “So good,” Sara agrees.

    They don’t get to finish Underworld. The kids come home from an outing with their dad, Sara’s husband. The eight-year-old sits through some of it, but bedtime means bedtime, and soon they’re tucking him in.

    Sara is still thinking about Napoleon Dynamite later, sitting on her balcony as she paints the sunset using her iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. She’s been doing five-minute drills painting the sunset from the same spot to get better at digital painting. She always spends too long etching out all the pine needles on the tree, and runs out of time.

    “I don’t think the movie has any point at all,” she decides.

    At this point, her husband is huddled over Factorio on his laptop, and he turns bleary eyes on her. They are red-rimmed behind thick-framed glasses. His beard is bushy and beginning to show gray hairs among the dark-brown. “What?”

    “I don’t think Napoleon Dynamite has any point. I think it’s just some wacky characters doing things. Sometimes it’s funny. But it’s kinda not, too. You’re just looking in on those lives. Haha, look at the weird dorky people.”

    “Wow, I haven’t thought about that movie in years,” he says. “Vote for Pedro. Remember how everyone wore shirts like that?”

    “I think they’re coming back. Retro nostalgia thing.”

    “Wow. We’re getting old.”

    “We sure are,” Sara says.

    Her alarm goes off. She stops painting. She’s barely rendered the tree, and there is a yellow blur that could arguably be a cloud in front of the sunset.

    “Let’s go to bed,” her husband says. “I’m tired.”

    She takes one last hit off the bong. “Okay. I’ve gotta get up to go to the gym tomorrow early. I’m getting strong, like an urban fantasy heroine.”

    “Sure you are,” he says.

    “Wanna see my bicep?”

    They file inside through the balcony door. The sky is big and the desert is empty, except for all the autumn-yellow rabbit brush swaying in the nighttime breeze. It’s very quiet. A van drives past.

    The door locks behind them.