Who Does He Think He Is?

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I’m Jeremiah. I’m a middle-aged white man in America, so that means I’m over-represented in the media and in the workforce. I’m also a pretty good writer. You can find out a lot about me in this journal, going all the way back to 2005.

For example, my day-to-day life is normal but interesting. What I consider my best slices of life are here, though sometimes things happen that are beyond insane. Speaking of insane, I’m bipolar and have ADD, and these things are so deep a part of me that I have to spend a lot of time making sense of it. I sometimes find myself thinking about the past, and I get a little nostalgic, sometimes sad, but I think about my friends and things are (usually) okay. I’m deeply steeped in pop culture, and I have some pretty serious opinions, though you’d never know that by talking to me. As I said, I write, and I reflect on my unusual process as well as my successes and failures at it quite a bit.

Basically, I like to write little essays that aren’t, with one or two exceptions, too long, and these are hundreds of them. Stop on by, take a look around, tell me what you think.

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“This,” He said quietly as he got onto the bus, “is cool.”

Every couple of years this comes up.

In 1991, I was sitting in drama class with the person I most looked up to in early high school, and we came up with some truly bizarre, baffling, high-energy situations to share with our friends. It was a tale that couldn’t be told by one story. It needed three stories. It needed “Three Stories in One.” Since I made a noble effort of illustrating the whole thing, getting distracted at fifty-six pages, I have a clear idea what they look like, and I like to revisit them. I can’t just pick up the last 10-15 pages because comparing my style to the style I had seventeen years ago is like asking Michelangelo to fill in some of the gaps on a cave painting. I’m proud of the work I did, but I’ve made some improvements.

This time, I thought hard about these faces as I worked on them. Since everybody’s based on a real person, I concentrated on features I remember most and spent a lot of time erasing. Luke didn’t look like that. Amber didn’t look like that, and Wendy didn’t look like that, except for the parts that totally did. Amber smiles with her eyes (still does), Wendy always looked annoyed at me—but with affection. Luke was robbed for the Best Dressed in the Class of ’93 (I mean that sincerely). Naturally, Jeremiah looked exactly like that in 1991. Boone really did have that playful smirk when she was up.

And now we need to have a quick word about Boone. A few years ago, Boone transitioned into Severian, a woman. I have not spoken to her as a woman, I have not even seen photos. I’m not even sure I got her name right. The only conception I have in my mind of Severian is when she was presenting as Boone, and the only reason I know about the transition at all is because one of our mutual friends chewed me out for dead-naming her in my last “Three Stories in One” post. Once I knew, I don’t refer to her as Boone anymore.

Last summer, I presumptively wrote my memoirs, each chapter representing the most influential figures in my life. And she was, without a doubt, going to be a very important. I did not dead-name her once, not even in my first draft. I believe that you should be who you need to be. A trans woman is a woman, period.

That said, I’ve spent a lot of time debating this in my head, and I’m not going to change Boone’s name or gender in “Three Stories in One.” The reason I won’t is because Boone is not Severian. Boone is a character based loosely on Severian when she was sixteen. While Severian was throwing bullets at elaborate Lego constructions with her buddy, Matt, Boone was picking up cheerleaders and playing meaningless board games with them.

On the same token, Luke is not a complete bastard, only kind of a bastard. Wendy was not a good driver back then, but at least she wasn’t driving her sweet Karmenn Ghia like it was the Batmobile. Amber was perky, but she was more than just a smile and the attention span of a hamster. (What I remember most about Amber was how kind she was to me. The popular girl treated me as just another student she was on a first-name basis with, not a nerd on the lowest rung.) And if I suddenly found myself, on my bike, in the middle of the Indy 500, I’d be a smear. At the risk of grandiosity, “Three Stories in One” is a historical document.

To be clear, if Severian tells me that “Three Stories in One,” particularly my decision to leave Boone as is, is offensive to her, then I’ll stop making these posts. I hope she doesn’t. I hope she appreciates it for the playful, teasing nostalgic spirit that went into these illustrations.

I’m not George Lucas. I tend to let things go when I’m done with them, but sometimes present circumstances demand that you change the past. Once again, I’m not going to. They were a product of their time.

The Truth Is out There

Now that Babylon 5 has been kicked off of all of my streaming services, I’ve started to watch The X-Files. I’m several episodes in, and I’ve picked up on some things. 

One is that Skully was into Mulder as soon as she saw him. Either Gillian Anderson wasn’t the maestro of acting she is today back then, and she really was into David Duchovny; or she just pretended to be flirty with her “But, Mulder, science!” dialogue. Either way, she was eye-banging him from the beginning. When this show began my senior year in high school ,I couldn’t figure out why people were obsessed with them getting together (while being simultaneously obsessed with keeping them apart). Thirty years later, I get it. Thirty years later, I have to put on the subtitles, and I have to wear glasses to read the subtitles, because I can’t understand a goddamned thing Mulder is saying with all that mumbling.  

Another is that Mulder was bipolar and a bit of a narcissist, with a clear case of delusional disorder. I am not a psychiatric doctor, however, there is no way Mulder behaved in that manner without some kind of disorder. He was the absolute worst. “What happened to the last donut, Mulder?” “There is a secret cabal in the government to cover up the existence of UFOs who like to eat pastries. I learned it from my contact in MUFON.”  

The X-Files didn’t stick the landing (not as badly as Game of Thrones, though), which is why it’s only a footnote in pop culture. I watched only the first season in its entirety because season two and beyond were aired while I was in college, and I had more important things to do. (Hi, Emilie! Hi Abby!) Also, I didn’t have a TV until I bought one in 2001. So I caught glimpses in there, like the time my friends sat in the Altman Hall lobby and watched the episode where cockroaches were killing people, all huddled together like Scooby and Shaggy while being chased by a capitalist in a rubber suit. I also saw the series finale. That was a turd.  

It caught the zeitgeist, particularly because conspiracies were big in the nineties. These were harmless conspiracies, like the Denver Airport (a concentration camp that was going to be fully operational any day now. Any day now) or HAARP (which can control the weather). There was even a movie about conspiracy theories called Conspiracy Theory. Real freaking original, Hollywood. Nowadays, conspiracy theories led to a pretty awesome pizza and ping-pong gym getting shit up with a rifle. They lead to insurrections at our nation’s Capitol building. I’m pretty sure the writer of that hilarious film Moon Fall was thinking about nineties conspiracy theories when they made one of those goofy, obsessive freaks the savior. 

There was a spinoff show, The Lone Gunman, about the quirky conspiracy theorists who periodically helped Mulder, or more accurately, enabled Mulder. It ran for thirteen episodes before it was cancelled, and the first episode featured a plot to fly a jet liner into the World Trade Center, airing in March, 2001. The last episode ended on a cliffhanger, which was resolved when the characters returned to The X-Files roughed up and said, “Don’t ask.” And then the show killed them. 

The first season is still really good. The leads are really phenomenal, even though they’re liddle biddy babies. I just watched the guy who can squeeze into pipes and eats people’s livers, which is one of my fondest memories of the show while I was a senior in high school.  I would try to pitch it to adults, and I’d tell them about the best episode so far, and by the time I got to the nest made of bile and newspapers, I consistently lost them.  

I love how the show was out there, but it tried to stay grounded, like not showing the aliens until it was way along. But after a while, the nebulous aliens got faces, and there were different kinds of aliens, and zombies with black goo, and the show lost its way. In the earlier episodes, though, it was sheer joy: “I don’t know how you don’t see it, Scully. This is exactly the pattern of a string of UFO abductions in 1972.” “Mulder, your theories don’t make sense. All the evidence points to trees that eat people!” I love that the show had a versatile premise, so any episode could be a thriller, horror, science fiction, or comedy. The standalone episodes, before the show was engulfed by the modestly named Mythology, were the best. 

They tried resurrecting it a couple of years ago and it didn’t quite catch on. There was one episode, a comedy, that did stick out—otherwise, it wasn’t interesting at all. They planned to do more seasons, but that never caught on. 

When The X-Files was on, it was on, and when it was huge, it was huge. I remember getting excited on Friday nights (I had no life) and seeing what batshit thing Chris Carter thought of this week.  

Now that Babylon 5 has been kicked off of all of my streaming services, I’ve started to watch The X-Files. I’m several episodes in, and I’ve picked up on some things. 

One is that Skully was into Mulder as soon as she saw him. Either Gillian Anderson wasn’t the maestro of acting she is today back then, and she really was into David Duchovny; or she just pretended to be flirty with her “But, Mulder, science!” dialogue. Either way, she was eye-banging him from the beginning. When this show began my senior year in high school ,I couldn’t figure out why people were obsessed with them getting together (while being simultaneously obsessed with keeping them apart). Thirty years later, I get it. Thirty years later, I have to put on the subtitles, and I have to wear glasses to read the subtitles, because I can’t understand a goddamned thing Mulder is saying with all that mumbling.  

Another is that Mulder was bipolar and a bit of a narcissist, with a clear case of delusional disorder. I am not a psychiatric doctor, however, there is no way Mulder behaved in that manner without some kind of disorder. He was the absolute worst. “What happened to the last donut, Mulder?” “There is a secret cabal in the government to cover up the existence of UFOs who like to eat pastries. I learned it from my contact in MUFON.”  

The X-Files didn’t stick the landing (not as badly as Game of Thrones, though), which is why it’s only a footnote in pop culture. I watched only the first season in its entirety because season two and beyond were aired while I was in college, and I had more important things to do. (Hi, Emilie! Hi Abby!) Also, I didn’t have a TV until I bought one in 2001. So I caught glimpses in there, like the time my friends sat in the Altman Hall lobby and watched the episode where cockroaches were killing people, all huddled together like Scooby and Shaggy while being chased by a capitalist in a rubber suit. I also saw the series finale. That was a turd.  

It caught the zeitgeist, particularly because conspiracies were big in the nineties. These were harmless conspiracies, like the Denver Airport (a concentration camp that was going to be fully operational any day now. Any day now) or HAARP (which can control the weather). There was even a movie about conspiracy theories called Conspiracy Theory. Real freaking original, Hollywood. Nowadays, conspiracy theories led to a pretty awesome pizza and ping-pong gym getting shit up with a rifle. They lead to insurrections at our nation’s Capitol building. I’m pretty sure the writer of that hilarious film Moon Fall was thinking about nineties conspiracy theories when they made one of those goofy, obsessive freaks the savior. 

There was a spinoff show, The Lone Gunman, about the quirky conspiracy theorists who periodically helped Mulder, or more accurately, enabled Mulder. It ran for thirteen episodes before it was cancelled, and the first episode featured a plot to fly a jet liner into the World Trade Center, airing in March, 2001. The last episode ended on a cliffhanger, which was resolved when the characters returned to The X-Files roughed up and said, “Don’t ask.” And then the show killed them. 

The first season is still really good. The leads are really phenomenal, even though they’re liddle biddy babies. I just watched the guy who can squeeze into pipes and eats people’s livers, which is one of my fondest memories of the show while I was a senior in high school.  I would try to pitch it to adults, and I’d tell them about the best episode so far, and by the time I got to the nest made of bile and newspapers, I consistently lost them.  

I love how the show was out there, but it tried to stay grounded, like not showing the aliens until it was way along. But after a while, the nebulous aliens got faces, and there were different kinds of aliens, and zombies with black goo, and the show lost its way. In the earlier episodes, though, it was sheer joy: “I don’t know how you don’t see it, Scully. This is exactly the pattern of a string of UFO abductions in 1972.” “Mulder, your theories don’t make sense. All the evidence points to trees that eat people!” I love that the show had a versatile premise, so any episode could be a thriller, horror, science fiction, or comedy. The standalone episodes, before the show was engulfed by the modestly named Mythology, were the best. 

They tried resurrecting it a couple of years ago and it didn’t quite catch on. There was one episode, a comedy, that did stick out—otherwise, it wasn’t interesting at all. They planned to do more seasons, but that never caught on. 

When The X-Files was on, it was on, and when it was huge, it was huge. I remember getting excited on Friday nights (I had no life) and seeing what batshit thing Chris Carter thought of this week.  

Calling my Shot 

My five-year dry spell making art came to an end a few months ago, as you’d know by the sketches choking your feed. Part of the reason is that I am going to illustrate another comic. I did four of them twenty years ago, and they look terrible, but I’m endlessly proud of them. I’ve learned a lot since then, much of it this winter, like (some) basic anatomy, a little more control with the brush, the usefulness of references, et cetera. I’ve been experimenting with lettering, poses, and panels, I’ve been honing characters’ faces, I’ve been buying the necessary supplies, I’m finding pictures of my old college for backgrounds (which are going to look rough, but that’s what I’m going for). I took a couple of weeks to visualize some of my unrelated characters, and now I’m back to work on the comic prerequisites.  

I’m running out of things to do to prep for doing the comic, so I’ve decided to give it a month. The last week in February, I’m going to sit down and lay out my panels. When that’s done, I break ground on this awesome new paper I bought and see this through. It won’t be great at first, and one day in the future, after I’ve really had the opportunity to hone my craft, I may dig up the old layouts and illustrate issue one and redo it. Or I’ll leave it. The comic series Mage was Matt Wagner’s second book, and it did not start out well. By issue fifteen, his style evolved into the graceful curves of what would be his storytelling through the eighties and nineties.  

As much as I love the scripts I have pounded out, I have entry-level skill, and unless I redraw it every time I have a breakthrough, it will stay that way. My friend in San Francisco shared a video with me about an art class where half the students had to make as many vases as they could in one week, and the other half had to make one perfect vase. The result was that the first half produced the perfect vase first because they were practicing by doing. That’s why I illustrated MortalMan twenty years ago, even though I wasn’t ready. Even though I illustrated two horrible issues of The Book of Jesse, and I still wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready when I decided to illustrate Three Stories in One and made it most of the way through the book before I got distracted. But I drew a lot of pictures, and they got better. I have a few Three Stories in One illustrations hanging on my wall because I think they’re so cool, including the one where Jeremiah rebounds off of a commercial airliner. 

If I had kept making comics after I moved in with Kate, who knows where I’d be right now with my pen and ink. (Correlation is not causation: My next big project after quitting comics was Three Stories in One, which I started after Kate went to Namibia for a year.) Like having an entry-level-adjacent job at forty-six, I feel like I’m going to be starting out with the skill level of an ambitious college student, whose father I could possibly be. But I’m middle-aged, not dead. 

I start February 26. Cheer me on.  

Wind in the Willow

Since I just watched the last episode, I thought I’d turn my attention to the new Willow. The original Willow is nostalgic and fun, and I love it, but I would not call it a good movie. This was George Lucas’s Next Big Thing after Star Wars, and it was only okay. The world-building was interesting, and a lot of the characters were memorable. Even though they were the most annoying part of that movie, I talk to the cats in a brownie accent when no one’s around and Nicole is out of the country, so, “A-HA! Does the kiddies want to eat?” But George Lucas proved he’s not an inexhaustible font of ideas by putting both Han Solo and Darth Vader into this movie.

I am getting exhausted with the nostalgia sequels. To all the people worked up about Beetlejuice 2, I want to ask them if there was one nostalgia sequel that actually satisfied them, and their answer would be Bill & Ted Face the Music, and I say, okay, aside from that. How did the new Halloween work out? How was Ghostbusters? Punky Brewster? Sex and the City? Remember Tron: Legacy?You don’t? Shock. Those were movies and TV shows that were actually made, and you forgot them because they were only okay.  

The wild card here is Top Gun: Maverick, which made piles and piles of money, but it doesn’t count because it was always going to make piles of money. Even in these bitter times we live in, we love to see some jingoism and explosive victories thrown at us to the sound of Kenny Loggins.

All of that is to say that I only watched the new Willow because I was curious. And the first episode was not very exciting. None of the characters were particularly interesting, the plot far from compelling. The worst character was kidnapped in the first episode and didn’t come back until the end, so there was that. The action was competent, and sometimes competent is the best you can ask for. And there’s a secret, and it ties all the way up to the most important MacGuffin in the original movie, and the show is so dull and predictable that it sends you obvious clues, and you’re yawning, saying, “I know what the secret is, you telegraphed it, like at the beginning of the episode,” and the show says, “Ha!” and I was completely wrong, and suddenly something really interesting happened with the secret, and that’s has exciting as that twist got.

There was something wrong with the dialogue that I couldn’t put my finger on it until the second episode when one person made an observation, and the other person says, “Right?” in that exact way, you know what I’m talking about, like she’s a sorority girl in 2020 and not a warrior princess in a faraway medieval land. The main character, whose name adorns the franchise, who was the spirit of the movie, high-fives a guy. Folks, I’m not sure I like this. There’s one of two explanations for how this happened:

  1. Disney execs tell them they have to be relatable to young girls, you know, like that Muffin the Vampire Killer, so the writers, probably mostly men with a mostly young, female cast, decide that everyone should be sassy and speak in the same voice.
  2. The writers were just lazy.

If I want to watch a bunch of teenagers lusting after each other in a fantasy setting and speaking the modern lingo, I’d watch The Vampire Diaries. That Damien got sass. But I came to Willow to see high fantasy that’s not as oppressive as Game of Never-ending Spin-Offs.

I read an interview with the showrunner, and he defended the anachronisms by saying he was inspired by Madmartigan, who was the only reason Willow was good, according to him. He said that Madmartigan felt like a person from the eighties transplanted into this fantasy world, and I call bullshit. If they did it his way in the original movie, he would have said, “Don’t have a cow!” Which is kind of what they’re doing in the new show.

It’s not that bad. I remember there were a number of shows and movies that did anachronisms, and none of them did it as smoothly as Willow, not even A Knight’s Tale. It’s still jarring, and I still don’t think I like it, but it’s clearly the work of professionals. The sets are amazing, some of the acting is really good. The expansion of the world has been working marvels. The plot is weak, and it could not sustain eight episodes. Some of the acting is really bad. The MacGuffin of the series is a mouth-breather, and that was hard not to stare at. There are a lot of clichés here. I’m glad that the main characters are teenage girls, even if it means Willow has to step back a little (he steps back way too much).

Then there’s the magic. With one or two exceptions, magic is about throwing green or purple lightning bolts. They have names for spells and curses, and they study for long montages, but in the end, it’s a green or purple lightning spell. See also WandaVision. Put some thought into it, people. Even the Fantastic Beasts movies put together some fun, imaginative magic fights. Even though the green-versus-purple lightning battle was visually stunning, it just felt … dumb. I am exhausted with Sassy Marvel Studios, and now sassy Willow. The hero can’t take the apocalypse seriously, why should the audience?

Late in the series, a character turns evil, and the actor cannot pull it off. They’re not Hayden Christiansen bad, but the whole thing is unconvincing, and it’s supposed to be the dramatic anchor of the final showdown of the season finale. Everybody else can kind of hold it together, but there’s this actor. The last episode was so bad I’m not planning on watching season 2.

You might enjoy it the way I enjoyed the Vampire Diaries franchise, i.e. as fast food with no nutritional value. The theme to the TV show Willow was “be yourself,” which was the exact same theme to just about every kid’s show in the eighties (unless you can be Destro—then you should probably be Destro). “The power was within you all along my apprentice!” What made the movie Willow so memorable was a really young Warwick Davis being the sincerest creature in the realm. The sincerest character in the show Willow, counting Willow himself, is the comic relief, but everybody laughs at them, not with them. Oh, and Spoiler Alert: XX XXXX XX XXX XXX. It doesn’t live up to its message, is what I’m saying.

The first few episodes, I wasn’t particularly blown away, but I thought it was a nice contrast to my current binge show, Babylon 5. Did you know that by the year 2258, Zima has made a huge comeback and is being advertised in dockworker bars on a space station hundreds of light years from Earth? You never know!

I can’t believe I wrote twelve hundred words about such a mediocre, inoffensive show. Something about this lazy, nostalgia strip-mining is really getting under my skin.

Trigger Warning

This post has a pretty big trigger warning on it, for reasons that will become apparent very quickly in the next paragraph.

This past Thursday, during my commute home, so about four o’clock, I was sexually assaulted on the DC Metro. I won’t tell you exactly what happened because I’ve been reliving it pretty steadily for the past week, and I don’t feel like immortalizing it. I can tell you what happened after. I was in a crowded train, and I screamed at the guy, and nobody saw or heard a thing. They didn’t mind looking at me until I looked back, then it was the floor or the person next to me. I was sexually assaulted in front of dozens of people, and no one saw anything. 

My attacker sat down in the closest available seat and stared at me, who was standing by the door. When a couple got between us, he changed seats, moving through the crowd like he wasn’t even there, his eyes always following me. I knew right then that this guy was going to follow me home. Sure, I picked this place because it was right by the stairs to the mezzanine at my stop, but there was only one exit, a long escalator ride, and no Metro personnel in the station at all. This guy could assault me again or worse, and no one was coming to help me. When we reached my station, I waited until the door was closing, then I slipped out and went home.

I still spent most of the evening with the blinds closed, hoping that he didn’t backtrack to my stop to find me. When I woke up the next day, I wondered if he wouldn’t be waiting at my station for me when I would have to go back to work on Tuesday. Maybe he remembered which train I was on and which car I’d chosen, and he’ll be waiting for me when I get out of work. 

I feel like I should underscore how utterly alone I felt when I got home Thursday. I was the only other person in a crowded train car, and when I thought about who to talk to about this, I was reminded that I had no one to talk to. I have texting friends, and I reached out to a few of them, and they got back to me after an hour or so. Nicole was in bed in Romania. I called my mom, which I’d rather have avoided, but I had to speak to someone with a voice. One of my friends did call me several hours later, and she was a godsend, but for the first hour or so after the incident, I was on my own, and I wasn’t sure that was a bad thing. 

With the exception of the few of the friends I’d reached out to on Thursday, as well as an HR rep I spoke to on Friday, I hadn’t told anyone about this. I’m not ashamed—violated, but not ashamed. This wasn’t my fault. The reason I’m avoiding it is because I hate how everybody looks at me. I hate the catch in their voice when they process it. They’re not doing anything wrong—it’s a natural reaction to hearing something awful like this. But I still hate it. 

I felt alone on the Metro. I felt alone at home. And I felt alone because I’m a man. This is not someone who believes that men have it worse than women, but they don’t warn a guy this could happen, do they? No, they don’t. In fact, unless it happens to you, the only thing you are likely to hear about male sexual assault is how goddamned funny it is. From “Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison” in Office Space to Ving Rhames getting hilariously raped in Pulp Fiction, to little kids make dropping-the-soap jokes, male sexual assault is fun for the whole family.

Victims are made to be overly feminine, like the “bitch” trope in prison (Ben Kingsley had a bitch in a Marvel short that can be seen on Disney+)    . The reason why is that a real man would never let that happen to them. Fuck that, I don’t want to be a real man. Real men are assholes. Besides, what was I going to do? Was I going to punch or kick the guy into unconsciousness? Wrestle him down and present him to the non-existent Metro cops? What if he had a knife? What if he kicked my ass back even harder? I couldn’t count on concerned citizens coming to the rescue, that’s for sure. 

I’ve chosen not to go to the police with this. It will accomplish nothing. I left him on a Maryland-bound train. I don’t have any details on the train itself that would lead them to the guy. The suspect was wearing a Covid mask, a hat, and a black parka. In this city, he’s invisible. They will never catch him, there will be no justice, and he’ll do it again. But I will not spend hours in the station telling and retelling my story to be the thing they joke about in the break room. My HR rep is kind of angry with me for this decision, and she spent most of Friday trying to talk me out of it.

I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what I did wrong because I didn’t do anything wrong. He came from blind corner behind me. He didn’t make a sound. There was nothing I could have done to prevent it, which is both a relief and a reason to be terrified. (On Friday morning, when I was still paranoid, I asked myself aloud, “Is this what it feels like to be a woman every day?”) I’m an overweight, forty-six-year-old, pale dude. This could happen to anybody.

But what makes me really sad is that I don’t really put a lot of thought into my appearance anymore, but on Thursday, I put in the effort. I wore a dress shirt that matched my beloved sweater vest and my business casual shoes, and I braved the frigid air walking from the train to my office because I knew that, when work was over, it was going to be the perfect weather for my corduroy blazer, and I looked good and I felt good, and I never want to wear those clothes again. There’s the part of me that notes it was the one thing I did differently that day. No, I don’t think the person who attacked me was attracted to me. This kind of thing isn’t about sex. It was about scaring me, and well done, sir. 

It’s not the physical act of what he did that has kept me trapped in my apartment for the past week, it’s the helplessness. The things I thought I could count on to stay safe—bright lights, public spaces, crowds, back to the wall, all failed me. And the recent break-in showed us that you can lock the house all you want, but if the locking mechanism fails in one of your windows, they’re coming in.

I’m grounding myself by writing a novel about the oldest characters I’ve created and reteaching myself how to ink and preparing for my inevitable comic book, but this weekend, I couldn’t. A lot of the initial horror of what happened has faded, and I was able to go out and buy a latte (I was concerned that the barista was my attacker because he was the same size and skin tone to my attacker) Mostly what I have is mild agoraphobia, and I don’t know if I could do that again. 

I’ll be fine. I’ll work from home this week and see if I can use the Metro again soon. There was a bit of a tug of war between my supervisor and HR about this, including the question, “Can you Uber into work?”; which stunned me in its tone-deafness, but HR won. My supervisor was demanding more information, and I think she was looking forward to having something to gossip about. I’ve discovered that I’m less willing to let things in my apartment slide. If my socks don’t both make it into my laundry basket, I now pick up the stray immediately, as opposed to letting it enjoy its freedom for a couple of days. There’s been little housekeeping projects I’ve been putting off that are now getting done.

Don’t worry, I’ll leave the apartment again. I’ll ride the Metro again. I won’t be watching out over my shoulder anymore. It might take a while, but I’ll be fine again. I got two cats counting on me.

Danger Returns

Since she was on campus, Lisa thought she’d ask the asshole in person. He’d been missing for a few days, and she might like to see her worst enemy in person again. She knocked on his door, and he didn’t answer, like he hadn’t answered the past few days she’d been checking on him to make sure he wasn’t in the process of killing himself. She knocked again, and again he didn’t answer. She thought nothing of pulling out the key his mother gave her and opening the door, like she did whenever he didn’t answer. She would never forgive herself if he was successful, but she couldn’t sit with him every hour of the day, especially with his sleep schedule. Maybe when he got back, her boyfriend could take a couple of shifts.  

The door swung open, and when she saw the asshole, he was scrambling, and he straightened out with his hands behind his back. He wasn’t wearing his ratty-ass cardigan, and he liked baggy clothes, so the sight of him in a yummy black T-shirt (did she just think of the asshole as yummy? Ew!) looked so good you could forget he was a walking skeleton. 

“Oh, hi, Lisa! Why are you breaking into my dorm room? I know you have a key, but you can’t—” 

“Sean,” she snapped, “I’ve been worried sick about you. I promised your mother that I would protect you, and she meant from yourself.”  

“I’m sorry,” he replied, “I’m fine. I stayed in a hotel for a couple of days.” 

“Why is your hand behind your back, Sean?” 

“It’s like that military thing,” the asshole said. “You know, at ease?” 

“Let me see your hands, Sean.” 

He raised his left hand to shoulder level. “See?” 

She breathed in and out and growled. “I want to see your other hand too.” 

He started to return his left hand to its at-ease position when Lisa pounced. She grabbed his left arm and twisted it behind his back while slamming him against the wall. He coughed. “Now use your words.”  

She peeled him off the wall and slammed him again. 

“Safe word!” he groaned. 

Now that she had him where she wanted him, she could focus on what he was holding. Was it a bottle of pills? A sharp knife again? A fucking gun? She emptied his hand, and it was not any of those things. It was a thick, round disk about the size of her palm. The disc was split down the middle on the narrow side. In the center was a wound-up slip of string. “Is this?” she demanded. “A fucking yo-yo?” 

He sat down on his bed and hung his head. “I didn’t want anybody to see me like this.” 

“How long do you think you could hide this from us?” 

“Why do you think I disappeared to a hotel this past few days?” he said. “I just wanted to try it out.” 

She sat next to him and put a hand on his knee. “Look, Sean,” she said with a sign. “Just because you’re curious about yo-yos doesn’t make you a bad person. Everyone experiments with yo-yos at some point in their life.” 

“Really?” he sniffed, finally looking up. “I thought it was just me. 

“I know how you feel. I used a yo-yo when I was younger. But I’m okay now,” she told him. “You will be too.” With the hand that wasn’t on his knee, she held his. “We’re going to get through this together.” 

He put his head on her shoulder.  

She held the accursed thing directly in front of his eyes. “Now tell me, where did you get this? Who taught you how to use this thing?” 

“It’s going to be okay, Sean,” she cooed soothingly. “Do you trust me?” 

“YouTube tutorials, mostly,” he replied. “As for how I got it, I was walking by a toy store, and in a fit of whimsy, I went inside. Toward the back was where the forgotten toys of yesteryear dwell—the wooden bock, the hula hoop, the ball on a string with the cup on the top, you know what I’m talking about. There was this employee using a yo-yo, and I didn’t know what to do. I just kept watching. He seemed so happy. There was no sign of the misery and pain yo-yos cause. I knew that yo-yos came with a price, and I knew I shouldn’t pay it, and I know a bunch of tricks now. Would I do it again? I don’t have the answers. I know I can’t keep living like this.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course not,” he replied. “You’re a succubus.” 

She smiled weakly. “Then it’s not going to be okay.” 

He smiled back.  

They turned to each other again, and once again, she was alarmed at how close they were. Lisa couldn’t figure out where this was coming from. Why was her heart rate increasing exponentially? Why was her mouth so dry? Why were her palms sweating? Did she get covid? 

The asshole quickly looked away and sprang to his feet.  

Her heart immediately began to slow down. She had no idea what was causing this. “You said you picked up some tricks.” 

“Why do you think I spent three days in yo-yo boot camp?” 

“Show me.” 

He dropped the yo-yo until it reached the end of its string, and it hung there, until it returned to his hand with a snap of the wrist. “Sleeper.” 

“That’s just yo-yoing in slow motion. I want to see more advanced tricks.”  

“Check it out. Walk the dog. Elevator. Cradle. Those are basic tricks. One I could never get ahold of is the loopty-loop.” 

“Try it,” she demanded. 

He tossed the yo-yo, pulled it back, and didn’t catch it when it wound back up the second time the asshole screamed, “It’s coming back!” and dove to the floor. He forgot that it was attached to him, and Lisa laughed her ass off. 

Don’t You Know That You’re Toxic?

I smoked an average of twenty cigarettes a day from October 1994 to May 2007. I was not a person who smoked, I was a smoker. And I was all in. I’d had a total of three Zippos in my life, and I had a hip pocket devoted to pack and lighter (currently for the cell phone). I followed the lead of top intellectuals like Denis Leary and sang the praises of smoking. And while I became much less of an evangelical about tobacco after cancer took a beloved aunt, I still enjoyed it.

I tried quitting, but I never wanted to, so every attempt was a failure. Sure, they made you cough, and sure, if enough time passes without having one, you turn into the Incredible Hulk. Sure they turned my fingers and teeth yellow, and sure they were just pumping carcinogens into my lungs, I wanted to keep doing this. I was young. I was immortal.

I enjoyed the taste of the filter on my lips. I enjoyed the pageantry of lighting a cigarette. When I was in college, anybody I knew who had a Zippo pulled elaborate stunts with them to light a cigarette. Not me—I flicked open the lighter, ignited it, lit the cigarette, and flicked the lighter closed. It was out and back into my pocket in less than five seconds. According to some, my technique wasn’t necessarily the coolest, but it was up there. I enjoyed a cigarette in my hand. I wasn’t so much holding a cigarette, as much as the cigarette was an extension of my fingers.

I was the kind of person who would say things like, “You want a cautionary tale about smoking? I bring you George Burns.” (To my Hastings College contemporaries, substitute “Darryl Lloyd” for “George Burns.”) At the time of my being the most militant about smoking, I was no better than any Trump fan. Give me irrefutable proof that the tobacco corporations were breeding and cultivating the perfect piece of toxic waste to make you keep sticking toxic waste in your mouth until you died, and I’d make up excuses. I can’t remember any of the excuses because when I had my epiphany about them (several years after I quit), I purged every single positive thing I could say about big tobacco.

I didn’t quit smoking because of the horrible things it did to me. I found out about the horrible things it did to me because I quit. For example, I’ve never had a masculine musk, and I do sweat a lot, but in the middle of August with the A/C broken was Drakkar Noir compared to how I smelled as a smoker. You can’t smell yourself when you’ve caused permanent damage to the inside of your nose. When it grows back, and a smoker is nearby, you know it. You know it before the get within ten feet. It was a Doppler effect with smell. I smelled like that. All. The. Time. How could anyone stand to be around me? How were women ever attracted to me?

I have been a non-smoker for fifteen years. I can’t say I haven’t smoked in fifteen years because I’d had two cigarettes since, a little over ten years ago. They were both really horrible, and I have not wanted to go near one in the past twelve years. One of the cigarettes was a blatant attempt to start a conversation. It worked. Cigarettes used to be really good for that. I had a lot of friends whose relationship with me could withstand five-to-ten-minute bursts every hour, and that was about it. Smoking was a solitary or a social activity, depending on how you were feeling that day. There was something magical about that. I wanted to capture that.

I was full-on smoker when I created a number of my enduring characters, and as a result, many of them were full-on smokers—in the stories I wrote during that thirteen-year period of my life. In stories I’ve written about them since, they’d either quit, or I’d completely forgotten about the smoking thing. I wrote one story last year where I paid lip service to tobacco for continuity’s sake, but otherwise ignored it.

Smoking is intertwined through much of my early oeuvre, but it’s not crucial to the story. I only call attention to it as a set piece of something cool happening. (Girl puts a cigarette out in boy’s coffee. Boy, eyes on the girl, drinks the coffee.) I’ve started writing scripts set in the time period where most of these characters would have been smokers, and I’m choosing not to write the smoking. The way I see it, I have three choices.

One: I can add tobacco to the contemporary stories. It wouldn’t be hard because I’m still in the draft phase, and I’ll be going over them several more times.

Two: I can go back into the classic stories, some of which have been quasi-published, and strip the smoking out. That would mean removing non-essential but still fun scenes and exchanges. The boy meets the girl when he creeps out while bumming a cigarette from her. This is the most important relationship in this series of stories. So I’d have to completely rewrite it.

Three: Or, I could leave the smoking in the classic stories and not include it in the contemporaries. I don’t have to explain it. Let the smoking and non-smoking characters be alternate universes. Whatever. The important thing is, this requires the least effort. Why do I want to be giving this vile habit anymore thought than I’d already put into it?

The world is evolving, and I am there for it. Popular opinion has turned against tobacco, Homosexuals have the same marriage rights as the rest of us. You cannot function without a cell phone now. The creator of the most beloved contemporary series of children’s novels is currently on blast for being anti-trans. Dr. Oz is not Senator Oz. The legalization of cannabis in New Mexico kind of ruined the screenplay Shane and I wrote about the hunt for a vicious pot dealer on the Navajo Reservation. It took us days to figure out how to fix that.

There was a time, not that long ago, when public opinion was generally cool with cigarettes. I used to smoke in my dorm room. You could smoke while you were eating at restaurants. There were ashtrays in hospital waiting rooms. Can you imagine? That’s when these characters were born. And while some of these stories have been rewritten from the ground up (one twice), they are still a product of their time.

I am definitely going with option three, for nostalgia’s sake.

B and E in DC

There’s really no way to build up to this (he said, building up to it), but my apartment was burgled yesterday. I first noticed something was amiss when I approached my building and saw my blinds were drawn. Next, I noted that the food closet was open, and the cats were happily eating the spilled kibble.

My room is right by the door, and a quick glance revealed that someone or someones had emptied out all of my drawers onto the floor. They opened my comic book boxes and threw my Lego boxes around, thankfully not opening any of them. They did not move any of my action figures. Also, they had emptied out the drawer where I keep my medications, and they did not touch the Adderall. They did not touch the bottle of Adderall on my desk so I don’t forget to take my ten o’clock pill (I forget, like, every other day). They didn’t take either of my laptops, they didn’t take my iPad, they didn’t take any of the obsolete iPhones in my room. The only thing missing is a $260 suit from Men’s Wearhouse.

That was my room. They left every other room in the apartment untouched except for Nicole’s room, which they spared most of the destruction of mine. All of her drawers were open and rummaged through, and they tripped over a stack of books when they were breaking in through her window. She has all of her jewelry with her in Romania except for some costume pieces, so those are going to be some very disappointed burglars.

They did do one thing, though, that’s left me baffled. I stared at it for a long time and got a real close look to see if I saw what I thought I was seeing (I was). Our thief removed the large plastic container of cat treats from the refrigerator, spilled half of it into our laundry machine, AND PUT IT BACK IN THE REFRIGERATOR. This is the very thing that the acronym WTF was invented for.

What had me concerned when I first got in and discovered the mess, it was that I was responsible. Maybe I left the door unlocked. See my post a few days ago about ADHD. And if it was my fault, Nicole would be justified in throwing me out, though that might be awkward with her in Romania for the next nine months. Thankfully, my neighbor discovered that Nicole’s blinds had been opened, and her screen was on the ground, and the window looked jostled.

It didn’t even occur to me to call the police for two hours. Instead, I had gone upstairs and knocked on my neighbor’s door. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about Cleo, but I adore her. She’s a flamboyant bombshell in the apartment above me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen casual Cleo, even when she’s in our backyard, working in her kimono, she’s got on a full face of makeup and fully blown-out hair. She’s intelligent, funny, empathetic, boisterous, and she laughs at everything. I rarely bump into her when she’s hanging out outside, but when I do, our conversations are such a delight. I didn’t have anyone local to call, and even though we’re just acquaintances, she’s the closest thing I have to a friend nearby.

Cleo was amazing. She talked me through it. She acquitted me of having left the place vulnerable. She helped me clean up my room. (It still hadn’t occurred to me to call the police.) She canvassed the building, which was only one more apartment. She talked me out of panicking. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

When Cleo left, I thought about filing my renter’s insurance claim, and I realized I’d need a police report. They sent over an officer with blue gloves, and he chatted with me about everything. He didn’t scold me for half-cleaning my room. He called his sergeant, who showed up, asked the officer all the questions he asked me, asked me a few more questions, and called the CSU. Guys, the CSU was in my bedroom! How cool is that!

CSU TECH: The perp left no fingerprints. He’s a ghost, Lieutenant.

LIEUTENANT: A professional. He must have stolen something incredibly valuable.

CSU TECH: (removes glasses) He stole a Men’s Wearhouse suit.

LIEUTENANT (thousand-yard stare) My God.

DAVID CARUSO: Looks like this case … (puts on sunglasses) … is clothes.

SOUNDTRACK: BWAAAAAAAAAA!

He dusted for fingerprints, and he couldn’t find any, not even on the jewelry box I had picked up from the floor when I got home in shock. They really have nothing to go on, but they’re assigning me a detective anyway, and I’ll get to meet them after Nicole and I figure out a way to find what’s missing. I’m hoping they slam their hands on the table and shout, “Answer the question!”

I’m fine. The cats are fine—the burglar(s) were kind enough to close the window and door behind them, and after that stunt with the food, they want me to invite them over again. Nicole took it well when we FaceTimed today. I think she was relieved that it wasn’t my fault. I can’t fill out my claim until Nicole and I assess the damages together, then the officer will pass his report to the detective, who will talk to me and make their own report. I took the day off from work to deal with everything. My room was two-thirds clean by the time Cleo left, though, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my time today.

One of my girlfriends a little over twenty years ago had her apartment robbed. I had picked her up from the airport after she’d been in Ireland for a month (we’d only started dating two weeks before she left). I wore my best suit for her. We were holding hands and looking each other’s eyes and giggling on the cab ride home, and then we found out her apartment had been burgled, some heirloom jewelry stolen. She felt violated, and I spent the rest of the night comforting her.

I don’t really feel violated because I don’t have any secrets except for my thoughts. I think I learned this being married to someone who worked for the CIA—there was no privacy. On the other hand, I have a stack of long-distance love letters from a very precious time in my life, and I can’t find them. I don’t think for a minute they were stolen, so they must be someplace in my apartment. Still, their loss, however temporary, is a hole in my heart. The entirety of our relationship is contained in those letters, except for the part in the beginning when we met in person, of course.

My home was violated. They turned my bedroom, my sanctum sanctorum, into a landfill. My cat treats are in the washing machine. I had three police officers rifling through my home, leaving the doors open so I have to catch the cats. There’s fingerprint dust everywhere. When Cleo put my clothes away, she didn’t know where anything went, so now I can’t find anything. They closed the door and window, so my cats were safe at home. They didn’t steal any of my electronics. They didn’t steal my vital prescription that has a great street value. They didn’t break my action figures. They didn’t really steal anything. Honestly, if I’m going to get burgled, this is the way to do it.

And in case I’m not clear, I’m fine. Mostly, I’m put out by how inconvenient this is.

Walking Against the Wind

I feel like celebrating, but most people I know will hear about my accomplishment and not see what the big deal is. However, my friends with ADHD or are ADHD-adjacent will give me high-fives and pour Gatorade all over me. What did I do? I remembered to turn my roommate’s plant lights on when I wake up in the morning and turn them off before I go to bed for seven days in a row.

Odds are, you’re reading this and wondering why this is the highlight of my week. How hard is it to remember to do that? And you certainly don’t understand why I have to leave myself notes and se alarms on my phone to pull this feat off. It’s because I have to work myself to exhaustion just to function normally, and I still screw up. Note that my roommate has been gone for three weeks, and I’ve only done seven days in a row.

I come into work early because I like the quiet, and I can get through some of the ten inboxes I monitor without people throwing in more email. Today, I saw an email about licensing that I should have been CCed on, so I forwarded it to my primary account. Less than a second passed before I received a notification that I had a new email, with my name on it, and my first thought was, “Who could that possibly be this early in the morning?” This is normal for me.

I had a discussion about face blindness with a friend before work, and neither of us has object permeance when it comes to characters in TV or movies. I’ll be watching something with someone, and the actor will make a triumphant entrance, and I’ll be all, “Who the hell is that?” And my companion would be all, “That’s the main character’s brother. He’s been in every episode.”

Some people think that having ADHD is just an excuse for being a flake. My supervisor hasn’t said as much, but it’s pretty clear she believes this. She doesn’t seem to take my disability seriously. She chews me out if I forget something, which doesn’t happen an excessive amount, but it happens enough. How am I supposed to function in an office where everything feels uphill, and no one wants to give me a hand, and on top of it, I’m getting scolded every couple of days. (Note: I’m going through official channels to deal with this because I can’t deal with this.)

To be clear, I’m not one of those people who uses his disability as a crutch, and I don’t blame everything on it. It took me three years to tell anyone at work about it, and that was only after someone backed me into a corner. Also to be clear, despite this person, this place is not a hellhole. The benefits are amazing, the people are nice, and with the exception of my supervisor, nobody has scolded me for one of my innumerable errors.  

I get why people don’t really believe having ADHD is no big deal. I’m sure there’s not one among you who wouldn’t forget to turn on or off the lamp once. People who are trying to be help have told me this—everybody forgets stuff. But there’s a difference between “I lost my keys, I’m so ADHD!” and the fact that I have to set an alarm on my phone to remember to shower. I need assistance to perform basic hygiene, that’s how bad I am. I have alarms for feeding the cats, turning the lights on and off, taking my Adderall, cleaning the litterbox, taking my medication, and watering the plants. I have so many Post-Its everywhere, I look like that Charlie Day conspiracy meme. I take two medications for it, and I’m still a mess, and it gets worse the older I get. I’ve been told by people I consider family that I’m just not trying hard enough. Reminds me of people who tell you not to be sad when you have depression.

I don’t talk about it much, mostly because the skepticism is a personal insult to how hard I work. Also, I have it under control, so I don’t need accommodation. However, if you’re going back to the seventh paragraph to remind yourself that I don’t take showers without prompting or anything else in this essay and ask, “That’s under control?” That is under control for me. It could be whole lot worse, which is why I try not to miss a dose, but even with the alarm and the threat to my mental health, I miss an average of one-to-two doses a week.

I am tired. Part of the reason I don’t like to socialize anymore is that it’s too complicated. I could go to meetups or schedule coffee with a friend in the district, but I’ve been working and dealing with the escalating scolding from my supervisor. About the only things I can concentrate on are writing and work (and the drawing, it turns out).

In conclusion, I needed to get that off of my chest. It’s been a tough week.

Totally Sketch

When I was 22, I decided to learn how to draw. I started with stick figures, then I started fleshing them out. I learned to ink, and eventually I even learned to color, first with markers, then with watercolors (with pastels when I was feeling it. It took years for me to draw a decent person, but at the time, I was so excited with every breakthrough I made. I illustrated two comics of my own and two comics for a pair of untalented writers. I gave up on drawing comics, but I illustrated 56 pages of Three Stories in One.

But in 2015, a few months after we got back from Doha, after all the excitement of finally being home after so long, I crashed, and I stopped writing and drawing. When I got my mojo back, I tried drawing again, and I got frustrated. I went through looking at the stick blobs I would get so excited about to every imperfection completely ruining the art.

The joy I found in the act of drawing and painting was gone. I created for the destination, not the journey. I also ran into the problem of what I want to draw. I had no inspiration. I still did my yearly self-portrait, and maybe for about a week or so, I’d get a wild hair and make some stuff. It’s been 2 years since I’ve drawn for fun.

I just treated it as a thing I don’t do anymore,’like drinking too much or watching rock concerts at crowded bars. I’ve been encouraged to pick it up again—my parents ask after the art nearly every time we chat.

Slowly, over the course of weeks, I thought about what I could do to jumpstart that again. I found references, I bought a sketchbook that I could live with if the paper was being torn by an eraser.

I thought, if I learned how to draw with a pencil and eraser, then by God, that’s what I was going to use. I had sacrificed precision for speed, and I was going to use that. If I wanted to skip to the completed drawing, then I was going to take my time, erase some things.

Saturday, I said, “It’s time.” I sat with my sketchbook for an hour, learning to draw faces and figures from the ground up. I repeated it on Sunday, same thing with the eraser.

I feel like the old prizefighter training to get back into the ring.