I decided to write a new story.

Feel free to critique/comment below.

 

I get it.

Everyone has their ‘spooky stories’ to tell around the campfire.  Things about ghosts, goblins and other assorted things; that’s not what I want to talk about.
It’s more a venting and hopefully someone here can help me figure out what happened to me and my family.
To start, some background:  I grew up homeless in rural Michigan.  Being homeless in any situation is awful and I don’t wish it on anyone.  Ever.  But it’s even harder trying to eke something in a part of the country where a normal winter can get to -19.
My father and mother were the type that wanted to be farmers so they put every cent they had into this farmland in Kalkaska, Michigan.  It’s right about ‘upper palm’ as we Michiganders.
In any case, my parents were devoted to making this work and invested everything they had into it.  We got goats, chickens, ducks and cows.  We spent the spring, summer and fall building a barn, erecting fencing and once winter started creeping in; actually made a house like you see on TLC when they do a documentary about the Amish.
I remember the night we stayed in that home for the first time and I can’t describe to you how amazing it feels to sleep in something you built with your own hands.  My brothers and I all had to share a room on the first floor but whatever, it was ours.
Then we heard The Steps.
That’s really the only way I can describe them.  It sounded like something gigantic coming down from Heaven.  Or coming up from Hell.  I still don’t know.  I never got to see It.  All I heard were these heavy footfalls of something that shouldn’t exist to make such loud noises.
When we woke up the cattle were gone.
There wasn’t any blood.  There was no sign of struggle and I am positive I closed the gate to the barn.  I mean, if I didn’t the chickens and ducks would have gotten out too right?
We searched every fenced in acre of land.  There were no breaks in the line and the ground around the gates hadn’t been disturbed.
When we got back home, we tried to put a positive spin on things; tended our land and planted some crops that would make it through what was feeling like a rough winter.
That night The Steps were closer.  I remember watching Poltergeist and Amityville as a kid, my parents raised me on old school horror and 80’s slasher flicks so when I went to them; freaking out about this noise I had heard for two nights now and could hear while I was talking to them, they just wrote it off as just that: an overactive imagination and told me to try and get some rest.  I went to bed listening to The Steps get closer and closer, underscored by muted arguing between my parents about whether all this was a good idea or not.
When the Sun came up the next day, I shit you not; the barn was gone.
It was like it had never been built.  The grass we had cut, the earth we had moved to make a base.  It was like it had never happened.  I asked my Dad and Mom about it, where the 32′ building we had spent weeks creating had gone.
They looked at me confused and told me it was because it hadn’t been built yet.  That my parents were still discussing whether or not they wanted to farm the land or tend to animals.
I swear to God I’m not crazy.  I spent weeks building this fucking barn and now it’s gone.  I had blisters on my hands from holding a hammer.  I had callouses from working the wood into specific brackets for the roof.
Those were gone too.
My family could see I was concerned (which is a really light way of putting it) about everything and suggested we go into town for the day, maybe get a motel room or something so we didn’t have to stay in tents that night like we had since we came out here in April.
I screamed and started crying.
When my parents and brothers tried to console me, to ask me what was bothering me so much; I told them.
“We have a house!  What tents?!”
My dad put his hand on my shoulder and helped me to my feet.  Tried to make light of the entire situation and turned me around to look at where our house was.
It was 2 tents around a campfire.
They told me we had to go into town, to find somewhere else to stay through the winter or we could die.
That my dad and mom had found a job at a gas station in town and the man that owned the place was willing to let us stay there, since there were only three of us.
I have memories that never happened according to everyone I talk to.  I have recollections of brothers that don’t exist.  At least once a year or so, I’ll go to sleep and hear those Steps and when I wake up the next day; something else is gone.
I first heard those Steps nearly 20 years ago.  Since then I’ve had a car that I never had, a child that was never born, a wife I never met and a job I never worked at.  I’m writing all this down this evening because I heard the Steps again tonight and this is a test.  I want to see if this is still here in the morning.
Hopefully I’m not.
Please help me.

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Laundry Day Sucks

So it’s snowing outside right?

Take my word for it.

Anyway, I get sent home early from work so now I’m puttering around the house trying to figure out something to do that doesn’t involve waking up my wife since she works third shifts.

That’s when it occurs to me.

I can do the laundry!  That way we have some nice, clean and warm clothes to putter around in and it’s one less thing she needs to worry about!  I mean sure, it’s been a bit since I had done laundry but there is no way it could be that….

Holy fuck.  That is a lot of damn laundry.

Our laundry machines are not in the apartments we live in, rather there is a communal area where the washers and dryers are housed.  Kind of like a lepers village, except they can tumble or permanent press.

Each load is $2.50.  That’s including washer and dryer.

I look at the sea of dirty clothes and do some basic math in my head.

I have $20 in quarters.

It is $2.50 a load.

So I can do like…10 loads!

I gather up the laundry, take it downstairs carefully as it is snowing outside and begin emptying my laundry basket into the waiting maws of the washing machines.

There are only four washing machines and three dryers in the laundry room.

There are 60 apartments in my complex.  With about 2-4 people living in each apartment.

I do some more basic math, fairly proud of myself that I was able to figure out how many loads I could do earlier so easily in my head.

That means there are like….2000 people living in my complex!

I figure that it won’t be long before other people decide to start doing their laundry today too so I fill up all four washers and scurry upstairs, setting a timer on my phone so that I know when I can race back down to fill them up again before anyone else gets a chance to.

Basically, in an apartment complex like this; with so few available machines; getting your laundry done in a timely manner is less of a chore and more a battle within the Thunder Dome.

30 minutes pass by and I briskly move back downstairs with more dirty clothes in tow.  I see two people already moving my clothes out of the washing machines and onto the folding table.

Those sons of bitches.

Now I only have two available washers for the basket on my back and two available dryers for the sea of now wet clothes on the sorting table.

I do some basic math in my head.

Like Moses parting the Red Sea, I separate the four washers worth of damp clothes into the two dryers.  Then, much like King Solomon and the baby I stuff four loads of dirty clothes into the two available washers.

I’m a fucking genius!

I head back upstairs.  Timer set for one hour so I know when the dryer is done.

I decide to eat some buffalo wings.  That isn’t really part of the story, just thought I’d throw in there that I love me some hot wings.

I waste time between downloading games on Steam and dicking around on Facebook.

An hour passes.

As I head out the door, my wife reminds me not to dry her bras or pants.  I assure her I haven’t forgotten.

I race downstairs and make it to the laundry room with no one else inside and beginning pulling clothes out of the dryers.

They’re a bit damp.

I do a bit of basic math in my head.

They’re still hot from the dryer so they’ll just finish drying as the heat goes away!  Just like a roast that you leave to rest after pulling it out of the oven!

Man.  I am so damn smart.

I begin shoveling the wet clothes into the dryers, finishing that task right as my downstairs neighbor comes in.

He looks at the full dryers and then at me, standing post at the washing machine; putting more clothes in.  I remember that this is the same guy that likes to blast his terrible fucking music at 7 in the morning everyday, waking up my wife and making it impossible for her to sleep.

I suddenly don’t feel so bad.

He glances at me questioningly and begins complaining about how inconsiderate some people are.  I’m genuinely surprised that he doesn’t implode from the intrinsic hypocrisy of that statement.

I go upstairs with my now moist laundry in tow and set to work folding it.

My thoughts during that:

I’m sure these clothes’ll dry soon. 

Meh.

Jesus Christ, we have a lot of sweatpants.

Heh.  That sock is pretty damn funny.

Why do I still have this shirt?

More sweatpants.

These clothes smell like mothballs sort of.

I think the sweatpants are mating when no one is watching. 

An hour passes.

I head downstairs to get the next load of laundry and put the wash in.

I realize I’m out of quarters.

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LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY CAT! Part 2: Litter Box Version

After about a month or so with The Admiral, I started to notice a distressing issue that she had.  You see, because Snowball is such a massive cat that she has some…difficulty in the bathroom department. 

She was too fat for her litterbox.

She would shit on the floor because she couldn’t turn around.

Because she was so fat.  Like a shitty tugboat.

So after about a month or so of me trying to train her with food, spray bottles, begging and just staring at her while she pooped.  Silently judging her (the way my parents potty trained me), I realized that there was a much simpler answer here. 

Just like the fishermen from Jaws, I needed a bigger boat.

Later that day, I went to PetSmart (which is an oxymoron in terms) to purchase a brand, spanking new litterbox for Snowball.  Prior to leaving, I took a picture of Snowball next to a yardstick in order to get a sense of proportion for her so I didn’t get something too small or frou-frou for her, because my cat is a goddamned warrior.

I seem to have terrible luck when it comes to being approached by overly aggressive sales people.  It’s probably because I smell like catnip (read: credit card debt) and I look like a sucker.  In any case, this waifish store clerk came bounding up to me in a work uniform that didn’t seem to be her size; I’m guessing she wanted to be prepared to use her chest as a floatation device in case she fell into the fish tank. 

“Hi! I’m Ashley and it’ll be my pleasure to help you today!”  Clearly this was her first day, but that’s good because new employees make up for their inexperience with opportunities for hilarity.

“Hi Ashley! It would be my pleasure if you could help me today!” At that point I decided for hilarity by matching and overreacting to her exuberance with my own.  Kind of like a more chipper version of brinksmanship.

“Wonderful!  What can I help you with?!”  She took a half step closer, leaving about a foot and a half between us.  She smelled like timothy hay and gerbil piss.

“Excelsior!!  I need a litterbox for my massive cat!” I took a half step closer, there was no going back now.  This was a battle of minimum wage wills.

“A LITTERBOX FOR YOUR MASSIVE CAT?!  GREAT! WE’RE RIGHT IN FRONT OF THOSE!  HERE THEY ARE!!”  She used the opportunity to take a step back while showing me their wide selection of cat shithouses. 

Clever girl, but this was only round one.

“THESE ARE EXCELLENT CAT LITTERBOXES!  WHICH IS YOUR LARGEST ONE?!”  At this point, those few shoppers in the building were peeking around aisles; watching two people with psychotic grins staring at each other having the most pleasant shouting match ever.

“WELL LET ME SHOW YOU THEM!”  With that, she pulls out a stepstool and continues screaming at me from on high. 

Well played. 

She pulls down a litter box that looks like an igloo for a diabetic midget Eskimo.  “HOW ABOUT THIS ONE?!  IS THIS ONE NICE?!  IT’S ONLY 34.99$!!!”

I take it from her trembling hands and place it on the floor, lift up the cover and crawl into it, rotating in a circle while pretending to defecate. 

“NOOOO!!!! THIS ONE IS TOO SMALL!!!!”  I yell, doing my best Point Break Keanu Reeves impression. 

We have now drawn quite an audience.  This must have been how Michael Jackson felt during his knife fight in ‘Beat It’.  I can’t lose now.

“I’M SO SORRY!!!!!  HOW ABOUT THIS ONE?!!!”  She is just hurling litter boxes at me now.  This one looks like a kiddy pool, but since it’s a litter box; I’ll call it a kitty pool.  It’s also very disconcerting that it had a smiling turtle head attached to a litter box, as though it could think of no better way to spend its day than having a medium-large sized creature shit on its back.

I did the same thing as before.  Sliding the diabetic igloo out of the way I laid the kitty pool on the store floor; stepped into it, got on my haunches and circled around while seeing how it felt to defecate at several different angles. 

An elderly woman in the crowd looked very concerned.

A middle aged man nodded in approval whilst scratching his stomach.

“I’M SO TERRIBLY, UNEQUIVACOBLY SORRY!  BUT THIS ONE IS ALSO FAR TOO SMALL!!  WOULD IT HELP IF I SHOWED YOU A PICTURE OF MY CAT?!!”  Granted, this thought had occurred to me several minutes ago; but I’m nothing if not a performer.

I could see the first subtle crack in her sales person armor.  A twitch, rapidly replaced by the same placid grin.  “YES!  THAT WOULD BE FANTASTIC.  I CANNOT THINK OF ANYTHING I WOULD RATHER HAVE RIGHT NOW!” 

I take out my phone and show her the picture of Snowball next to the yardstick. 

For those that don’t know:  Snowball at this time would have been better named as Avalanche as that name better symbolized how she looked.  Or Boulder.  Or Glacier.  Or  WHATTHEFUCKISTHATACAT.  When this happened, Snowball weighed around 30 pounds and is still about 3 1/2 feet long. 

When her eyes bulged I knew I had defeated Ashley, PetSmart employee.  Her shoulders collapsed with the weight that such a thing existed, her rictus grin replaced by apathy for a world that allowed Snowball to exist while children starved; she now knew what stared back from the abyss:  FASTTES stares back.

“here.” She said, voice hoarse and barely above a whisper.  She pointed at a litter box on the bottom row by itself as though it were quarantined because the manager knew no such cat would ever need a litter box 5 feet long by 4 feet wide. 

It was 7$. 

“This is perfect.  Thank you Ashley.  You’ve been a great help.”

“yeah.” (read: “Fuck off.  I’m going to lunch.”)

I paid for it with a coupon I got in the mail and have had it ever since.

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LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY CAT! Part 1: The cattening.

I have a pet.

I have a cat.

I have an animal that resembles a cat that ate several other cats while wearing a fur coat.  We call her ‘Snowball’ for short but her full name is First Admiral Snowball Tubbington III, esq.  I named her that for two reasons:

1.  The acronym is FASTTTES and I have a 6th graders sense of humor.

2.  It sounds like the kind of name a cat would give itself if given the option.

I have had Snowball for about 3 years now and after finally getting her permission would like to share a few stories about her with you about how I got her as well as several stories making fun of her gluttony and obesity.

Enjoy.

The day I got Snowball was not a day I was planning on getting a pet.  I imagine that these types of purchases require a lot of forethought and charts weighing the cost-benefits of acquiring said creature. 

For me, it was because I was bored and it was a Thursday.  I was wandering the local pet store while my ex shopped for a large plastic bucket to use for a car wash when I saw her resting inside of a cage.

I should actually elaborate on that.  ‘Resting’ probably isn’t a good description of what she was doing.  I mean, she was resting but that was only because the cage was too small for her to stand, turn or really do anything but rest.  OK, back to the story.

So here I am, doing the standard ‘put a finger in the cage and pet the animal with said finger while hoping that creature doesn’t bite’ action so common to pet stores when one of the pushiest salespeople I have ever met before literally apparated before me.  I say that, because at no point was this person there when I knelt down to pet Snowball and there was no one in the area to speak of at all.  To this day I’m fairly certain I bought this cat from someone who gets off pretending to be store attendants.

With the most plastic of plastic smiles and eyes that looked like they were glued open, Clockwork Orange style she asked me if I would like to hold Snowball.  I said yes, not only because I love cats but also because I figured the cat could use a chance to stretch after being placed in what was clearly solitary confinement.  

So the lady stooped down, unlatched the cage and for the briefest second her grin and dead-eyed stare were replaced with real effort as she struggled to pull Snowball out of the cage and make some semblance of cradling her bulk.  “Here you go!” she said and then essentially tossed Snowball into my arms. 

Quick note.  Snowball is a fat cat.  Not saying fat like fluffy, or big-boned.  I mean fat.  As in if she were fluffy, it is only because her fat is causing her body to grow more fur so she can eat that via osmosis in the off-chance she isn’t fed in a timely manner.  As in if she were big-boned that would be in order to support her bulk. 

Because she’s fat.

I only mention this, not only to in a way describe my surprise at suddenly holding a cat that weighed more than most medium-sized dogs; but also what happened next.  Because at that point, the saleswoman leaned in close and drew my attention to the sign hanging above that let everyone know that all cat adoptions today were 60$. 

“But you can get Snowball here for just 20$!”  she practically said with the kind of desperation generally used for prom dates and gas station attendants.

“Why?”

“Well…” at this point, she leaned in close so Snowball couldn’t hear her.

Because animals speak human fluently.

“…she is really fat, old and doesn’t like to do anything.” she pulls away and gives this really sad shit-eating grin that usually happens right before someone says ‘bless her heart’.

“Bless her heart.” she said on cue.

I got very excited upon hearing this.  Not the bless thing.  But the part about her not wanting to do anything.  I don’t like pets that run around or talk too much or act like they’re alive.  I prefer my animals like I do my rugs.  I just want it to lie there and occasionally pick up food that falls to the floor.

“I’ll take her.”  I told the attendant who may or may not have actually worked there.

“…really?”  Apparently, she wasn’t expecting this response.

“Yes.”

So she rang me up and I took her home. 

Then I turned around and picked my ex back up because in my excitement I forgot about her.

 

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Beastmaster

When I was about 6 years old, I lived in Michigan in this nice little house on a lake. It was absolutely beautiful and I loved it. One of the things I liked the most about it was that there were swans, geese and ducks that would, on occasion; frequent the lake and my family would get in this dinky rowboat and paddle over to them. The fowl would then swim over to us and would let us pet them. Which was pretty awesome, because for a 6 year old; that was about as close to becoming a Beastmaster as you’ll get. That or riding your dog around the living room, hoping he doesn’t bite your fucking arm off.

In any case, we did this about once a month or so and one day; I really wanted to go feed the birds, so I ambled up to my mom while she was getting ready to start dinner and asked if I could. She gave me a loaf of old bread and sent me on my way.

I was so excited! For the first time ever I got to feed the birds by myself! As I pulled chunk after chunk of old, moldy bread I imagined me and the birds going on adventures, smiting the avian version of Skeletor and saving Eternia.

More bread drifted lazily on the water as more and more wildlife drifted to the edge of the lake.

Yep, just me and my armada of waterfowl who all know the mysterious art of ninjitsu (which in my 6 year old expert understanding consisted of a lot of jumping, eating pizza and living in a sewer while possibly riding a skateboard).

The swans, geese and ducks are now actively attacking one another; stealing bits of soggy bread from their disease ridden beaks, often taking whole feathers with them as they do.

That’s right just me, Swanzor, Ducktacular and Young Geesy (I wasn’t a terribly clever 6 year old) against the amassed evil hordes of everything I was scared of: spiders, large dogs, cats that had bits of hair missing, clowns, midgets, zombies, vampires, werewolves with bits of hair also missing, old people and alligators. Doing righteous battle from our tree fort.

I reach the last of the bag and realize I have no more bread to give, that the fantasy I was running in my head is over. Reality dawns back on me as I looked into the black, madness filled eyes of 20+ birds overflowing with carbohydrates and murder. I think an unevolved part of my brain, some prehistoric caveman that used to howl at the dark realized just how fucked I was at that point.

So I handled it just like any terrified six year old would. I took a deep, steadying breath and stared the swans in their beady eyes and said, “Sorry guys, no more bread.” Of course, since swans are the most regal and classy of birds; second only to the majestic peacock they would understand this and gather their friends and all drift lazily away.

The swan waddled up to me, all the other birds in tow; like ripples on the very lake they came out of.

It stopped just short of my nose.

We’re at eye level. I can see the mist coming from its beak. They are a lot uglier up close.

It arches its head back a few inches and lets out a barking noise. Letting the other animals know that, since they can’t have anymore bread; they’ll have to settle for my tender flesh.

The swan head butts me, right between the eyes and comes back with a bit of my skin.

I panicked and began to run up the hill to our home. Dodging the tire swing, and pushing it behind me. I heard a loud ‘OOF’ as a goose got knocked back into three ducks from that vulcanized projectile. Unfortunately, for me; doing this slowed me down just enough to have the other goose land on me and start tearing into my clothes and skin; getting about five or ten bites in before I was able to disentangle the feathered monster.

I threw open the sliding glass door and tumbled into the kitchen, just barely managing to slide the door shut as I collapsed in a bleeding, tattered puddle. My mom immediately drew her attention on me, “What the fu-” and is promptly interrupted by the staccato beat of several kinds of waterfowl slamming against the clear glass window.

“ck?”. It was at that point that my mother really saw what happened and put it all together. Since then, I have heard stories about parents; terrified for the safety of their children lifting 2 ton cars or running way past what is normally considered ‘possible’, but I had never heard of a parent being filled with murderous rage/hunger pangs like she was.

I watched in awe as she closed her eyes and took the same deep, steadying breath while very calmly picking up the rolling pin she was using.

Checked it for weight, balance and heft.

Looked at the empty baking pan.

Looked at the swans.

Looked back one more time at the baking pan.

And smiled.

I watched the glass door open and in the same, fluid movement; saw her bring the rolling pin up and swiftly down on the nearest swans head. Killing it instantly with the force.

I was glued to the scene.

She picked up the now deceased swan by its feet and bludgeoned the other swan.

This scene lasted about 3 minutes. Each hit punctuated with the wet thud of bird against bird as well as the equivalent of avian screams of terror at this monster as the other waterfowl ran/waddled to the relative safety of the lake.

By the time it was all over the backyard was filled with slowly drifting feathers; my mother in the center of it all. Blandly holding two swans by the neck.

I am rapt with amazement, my eyes following her as she turns; bored and walks back into the home. By this point, my dad had come home and sees my mother with two dead swans, me in the kitchen; covered in blood and tattered clothes.

“What the-why did you kill those swans?!”

And to this day, my mothers matter of fact reply still sticks with me. When I wonder what it would be like to be an action hero, coolly walking from an explosion or about to deliver some ass-kicking retort; I hear her voice.

“They mate for life, right?”

It was at that very moment, that I learned of my moms secret hobby of being a beastmaster.

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A Pretty Decent Proposal

So I never thought I would get married.  That whole concept of finding that one person that completes you, that makes you wake up every morning; excited at the concept that he or she would be laying down beside you, softly snoring or drooling.  I just figured it was all horse shit that happens to other people or Jennifer Aniston about three times a year (seriously, why do they keep making movies with her?).

I was completely content to live my life to its inevitable conclusion, die alone and have no one realize it until someone complained about the smell only to have the police storm in with me dead and my cat eating my eyeballs.

Then, this woman came along; who I will refer to as ‘River’, since I didn’t get permission to share this story about us from her. 

So me and her had met originally while we were both in college only for us to drift apart; she going to a different school (I like to assume it was the only way she could escape the overpowering attraction she had to me) and me graduating.  We still kept in touch, fleetingly; kind of like that friend you know that you won’t go out of your way to go visit but still care about.

Then out of no where, she moves back into town and messages me since she is now living in the same town I am.  I think that is pretty nifty and we start talking and catching up.  Turns out she just got hired on working for the same company I am, so we make plans to hang out sometime over coffee.

Except I’m a…well a pussy.  I just got out of a relationship and had zero interest in starting anything new so I would keep coming up with excuses to blow her off.  They weren’t even good excuses either.  They ranged from “I have to do laundry” to “There is a turtle behind my rear tire and I don’t know if I can touch it because I’m certain it’s an endangered species”.

So one night, I’m working with one of my coworkers and am telling her all of this and she rightly calls me an idiot for not even talking to her for fear that something could happen.  So, properly chagrined I ask if she would like to meet over coffee.  That leads to a date and another date and so on.  About a month or so into this, she mentions she is getting an apartment.  That apartment turns out to be the one directly beneath mine. 

I am not one to ignore the universe when it is being that loud.  Clearly, this woman is a stalker.

So I do whatever one would do when presented with their very own stalker.  We start dating exclusively.  Eventually it gets serious enough that we start talking about marriage, maybe taking things to the next level. 

For once, that prospect doesn’t terrify me.  So I start planning out how I want to propose.  Charts, diagrams, focus groups, everything.  I want to approach this as though it were a marketing study.  If I do enough things right, of course she’ll say yes. 

So I start paying attention to her likes, dislikes, etc.  She is a huge fan of Dr Who I learned and her favorite character in the show is named River Song.   There is a very nice romantic backstory to this character and the lead, wherein they are both time travelers operating at opposite ends of one another’s time lines (coining the concept ‘nerdmantic’).  I wanted it to be super romantic and decide to purchase River Songs journal as well as the rings with the expectation that they would arrive on the same day.

I take the journal and on the inside cover I write, “I’ll meet you in the middle”; placing a bookmarker on the middle page with the engagement ring tied to it.  The page is blank, with the only writing ‘We marry’.  She cries, smiles, hugs me and shouts ‘Yes!’  My cat gives me a high-five.

 

Is how it was supposed to happen.

Instead, the journal shows up before the ring and me being impatient; write the notes and such, presenting her with a journal that says ‘We marry’; me pointing out dumbly, “THERE’S SUPPOSED TO BE A RING THERE.” while watching my cat shake her head in disappointment.

Of course, she says yes and is grinning from ear to ear.  Politely ignoring the lack of ring as well as my cats disapproval with my impatience.  I get started on PROPOSAL PLAN B.

I haven’t really celebrated Christmas for years.  For one thing, I just don’t bother since I’m perpetually broke; but also because it’s really more a holiday for families and their underage children.  I can spend that working while coworkers with kids can celebrate with theirs.  If nothing else, it keeps my parents from asking me the “so when are you going to give us grandkids” question. 

But with River, it’s different.  I actually want to spend Christmas with her.  I want to have a tree and set it up with lights and all that other bullshit under the tree (pretty sure that’s how the song goes).  We get the tree, stockings, everything.  It looks great and I don’t remember being happier in a long while. 

The rings come in.  They’re beautiful and I want this moment to be perfect.

I place the rings atop a Christmas ornament, directly backlit by the Christmas lights; casting refracted light throughout the bedroom.  She comes home and I ask her to check the tree; that I think something may be wrong with the lights.  I point directly at the one with the ring.  Her jaw drops, she squeals, grabs me in a passionate hug.  She cries Yes!  I fist bump Batman and the world spews rainbows in happiness.

In reality, I fell asleep right when I got home.  Rings in my hand.  I wake up to her coming home from work and scramble, trying desperately to get…this….fucking….ring behind this light.  The Christmas decorations staring mutely at me in reflected disapproval. 

I can hear her coming closer to the bedroom, so I call out; “DON’T COME IN HERE!  I’M…BLEEDING!” 

Yeah, that sounded like a good idea.

It wasn’t a good idea.

She comes bursting in, eyes wide with panic; only to see me crouched over a Christmas tree in my boxers.  One leg pushed against the wall, my back to her as I thrust back and forth.  Struggling to get this scene to work.  River asks if everything is alright. 

PROPOSAL PLAN C!

I approach her, smoothly.  Hand wrapped around the ring box.  As I get closer, I realize she is flinching, because my hand is in a fist and that usually isn’t romantic.  I start to lower to my knee to propose.  I am going down to the wrong knee and do a kind of Russian squat dance move to correct this, I drop the ring box and hit my face on the floor trying to recover it.  I open the ring box.  The ring isn’t in the box.  I crawl back to the tree to jostle it loose from those fucking lights. I take the ring from the tree and place her hand in mine.  Slowly bring the ring towards her finger, all the while looking into her eyes.  She tells me through tears that I’m about to put the ring on the wrong finger.  I put the ring on the right finger.  I ask if she’ll marry me.  She says I already said yes. 

So now I’m getting married.  It took a few tries but I realized that there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘perfect proposal’  that bullshit only happens in Jennifer Aniston movies and honestly, who really wants to be her? 

The other thing I learned is that the real winner in this entire situation is my cat.  Because now she has two sets of eyeballs to eat when we die. 

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Bullying.

Bullying sucks.

 I don’t think this is something that is really up for debate, unless of course you were the bully.  In which case, I imagine it worked out pretty well for you at the time.  But I also don’t much expect you to be the kind of person reading my words.

I got picked on a lot while I was in school.  Looking back, the names I got called weren’t terribly clever.  Honestly, I think all elementary schoolchildren are given rhyming dictionaries upon enrollment in order to come up with these little bon mots.

“Oh your last name is Keiffer?  Ha, ha!  That rhymes with ‘queefer’!”

“Reefer!”

“You’re related to Keifer Sutherland!”

Like I said.  Not terribly clever.  Also, some of them didn’t have a good grasp on how last names worked.  Either that or they just didn’t have a high opinion of Jack Bauer.

None of that mattered to me.  I just didn’t understand why they didn’t like me.  So I changed my personality to mesh with the other kids.  Lay low, don’t stand out, just keep your head down.  Once you get to middle school, everything will change.  It’ll be a new school.  You can reinvent yourself there, half the kids won’t know who you are!

The first day of middle school I trip on my backpack and fall down the stairs, ripping my pants on the way down as we are on our way to lunch.</p><p>Obviously, that plan didn’t work out.  But I am a creature of optimism, so I keep trying.  I finally think I got it when this really pretty girl asks me to be her boyfriend(!) as we are walking home from the schoolbus.

“Sure.(!)” I tell her, trying to contain my elation.

I raced, home.  Told my parents.  My mom immediately asks if she’s nice and how long I’ve known her.  My dad asks what her bust size is, holding up various fruit and melons as reference points.

The next day, I come to school with some cookies I helped my mom make to give her.

I see her standing next to some boys that tease me a lot, but this isn’t about them.  I suck in a breath and approach with my offering to her.

I smile and greet her as ‘sweetie’, like I’ve seen on TV.

She looks at me like a bug she found on the bottom of her shoe and asks what in the hell I’m doing.

I sputter out an answer, looking desperately at the other boys for back-up.

She peals out a laugh and tells me that was a joke.

Not something to be taken seriously.

Why would she date me?

I put my heart back in my throat, smile and chuckle.  Of course.  A joke.  I knew that!  I was just wanting to add to it!  Isn’t it funny?  Look, I made these cookies!  Like we’re a couple!

I run to the boys bathroom and hide in a stall, head between knees for an hour.

After that, I learn to be harder.  I close myself off from the taunts and teases.  The name calling and all.  I go back to keeping my head down.  Just make it to high school right?  High school will be better. 

And it is.  For the most part.  With the exception of the whole, ‘accidentally buying a hooker because my prom date ditched me’ thing, but that happens to everyone right?

What I really want people to take from this is this:  it gets better.  It gets better because you don’t have to change.  And sometimes you get vindication.  A friend of mine told me her bully had spent three years after they got out of school just so she could apologize.  That’s an amazing thing.  For me, mine came a bit differently.

I came into work one day to an email from someone whose address I didn’t recognize. 

It turned out to be the girl from middle school who did that shit to me.  She never apologized of anything like that.  I guess she didn’t think anything of it.  She just happened to see me on facebook and wanted to catch up.  So I obliged.  Asked her how she was doing. 

She tells me how she’s a single mother of 3 children from 3 different men and has already been married twice. 

I think about how she used to talk about her future goals.  All of this, ‘when I grow up…’ stuff.  I think about all the after-school specials and things I’ve learned from parents, role models and countless therapists. 

“Don’t be petty.”

“Be the bigger man.”

“Take the high road.”

I promptly ignore those suggestions and tell her how I am.  Everything I’ve accomplished and how much of who I am today is due to the ridicule of people like her, how bullies pushed me to be the better person.  Because that’s what you do when people try to pull you down, you rise above them to get away from it.  I tell her how much she hurt me and how I forgive her for that, because we are all stupid kids and some of us just grow into stupid adults. 

Then I delete everything I wrote and tell her I’m good, because she doesn’t deserve any of that. 

I haven’t heard from her since and I still aren’t terribly sure why she reached out to me like that and honestly I don’t really care. 

I hear a lot about people who talk about what they would tell their past selves if they could just go back in time.  How they’d tell them to just ‘be strong’, how ‘this’ll be over and you’ll realize it never mattered at all’. 

That’s horseshit and we all know it as we say it, deep down.

That stuff mattered.  It hurt and because it hurt, it motivated us to either be better or join the ones making fun of us.  Anything to get away from it. 

I became a better person for everything I was put through. 

So does everyone else.

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My parents are way cooler than I am.

When I was in high school in Orlando, Universal Studios would host these free metal shows called ‘Livewire’. Me and a bunch of friends would go there weekly. Mainly to get into the mosh pits, pretend to smoke while looking disaffected and see who had cooler clothes.
I have always had very low self-esteem so it was only natural that I had an unhealthy obsession with appearing to be cool or edgy. You know, like every other fucking teenager in high school.
But at the same time, I was also desperate to do things with my parents. I was at the juncture in every ones lives where they’re right on the cusp of becoming independent but at the same time are terrified of the prospect of being alone. So I was elated to find out that my parents were willing to come see a metal concert with me.
The conversation occurred over breakfast. Eggs that looked like eyeballs atop silver dollar pancakes, with just a little bit of syrup so it looked like they were desperately needing to blink and a bacon smile.
My mom was concerned because for the last few weeks I had been coming home bruised and battered at all hours of the night. It never occurred to me that this should be any cause for alarm. I was just having fun after all and sometimes fun involves catching an elbow to the mouth just as much as it involves throwing a frisbee in the park.
Did I mention I’m a fucking idiot?
Well nevertheless, my parents wanted to at least see one of these shows for themselves just to make sure I was safe and exercising out my teen angst in a safe environment. But also I think it was a measure by my parents to show that they also wanted to be viewed as cool too.
So of course I agreed to them coming and my friends were excited too. Having hung out with them numerous times. The line up that night were a bunch of random ass garage bands that I knew I would normally spend just slamming into other people and doing my best to tune out what sounded like hamsters copulating with a bandsaw. However, the closing act was a local band that was fairly popular.
They were called Lunatik Kandy Kreep (EDGY.) and were smart enough to have cashed in on the prevalent trend of rap/rock before Fred Durst disappeared up his own ass.
The band consisted of an emaciated 20-something with white-guy dreadlocks that he painted with day-glo. He always performed without a shirt and wearing pants that mocked the belt that held them far below his waist. He of course, was their rapper. Which for this band, consisted of him talking quickly about drug use, sex and acts of violence. His stage name was Kronik. His real name was Stuart. The rock part of this equation was a midget in angry clown make up named Commander Hatred (Harold). He gripped the microphone like a particularly greasy chicken drumstick and would cover his mouth over it as though this were consensual. He also had something against shirts, but would appear on stage wearing overalls and heavy duty work boots. Because of course he did. The guitarists and drummer rounded out this circus of awful by looking not dissimilar from those guys you actively avoid while playing Dungeons and Dragons because you know they’re going to make you look bad. Their songs consisted of sophomoric lyrics set to preset drum tracks with plenty of bellowing.
I loved them.
They were to me, the epitome of cool. That distillation of pure-Fonzi. That “I don’t give a shit” attitude that I so badly wanted to have. I wanted to be James Dean from Rebel Without a Cause. Instead I was Kevin James from Paul Blart.
So the night of show arrives. My parents and I arrive in their white Geo Metro. Having sped down the roads at a blistering 45 mph. I got out quickly. Terrified that someone might see me; which is the dichotomy of being a teen. I wanted to spend time with my parents. But was terrified someone might see me enjoying it. I’m wearing my only rock t-shirt, a faded Staind album cover from JC Penneys, a pair of blue jeans that were semi-baggy and regular shoes. My mom is in a nice sundress with some kind of flower pattern and sandals. My dad is in a Hawaiian t-shirt, short shorts, sneakers with a cigarette holder. It was like Hunter S Thompson decided to settle down and start a family.
The concert proceeded and kicked off with as I said, two forgettable bands that I spent moshing while my parents found a semi-quiet place ot get shitfaced. During the break before LKK took the stage my dad, completely inebriated at this point stumbled onto the stage and behind the curtains.
The crowd goes dead quiet. Watching this bumbling fool saunter behind the curtain to go see someone to who us, was as sacred as the Wizard of Oz. Everyone strains to hear the conversation that follows. A quick and muffled series of words gets exchanged and then I see my dad come back out on stage.
“HEY GERRIMY!”
I die.
“GERRIMY!”
I gaze at my shoes, everywhere I can to pretend I haven’t heard him. That I have no idea who this clearly insane individual is.
“CAN SOMEONE GET THAT BOY? HE MUST’VE BEEN MADE DEAF FROM THAT TERRIBLE MUSIC. HE’S THE ONE IN THE SHITTY BAND T-SHIRT!”
It’s official. I have clearly done some cardinal sin that made me earn this stay in Hell.
He points at me with his cup of beer.
“GERRIMY!”
I walk the green mile. A hundred pairs of eyes burning holes into my back. I am so embarrassed and try to crack some jokes, shrug, pretend it is no big deal that my daisy duke wearing father is on the main stage with his beer in one hand and cigarette holder in the other.
I climb up and disappear with my father behind the curtain.
“I met the band.” He says pointing at Kronik and Commander Hatred while the guitarist and drummer just stare at this completely unexpected exchange. “Turns out Stuart and Harold here like fishing! I told them that you like their shitty music and offered to let you come back stage! Isn’t that cool?” He says in his drunkcitement.
I sit backstage and watch the show with my dad and mom from there with the local band groupies, record executives that are clearly looking to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel as well as friends and family of the bands.
I have never been more pissed at my parents. How dare they? How dare they come into something that I do and then do better than me? And in public!? I sit and stew. Ignoring any questions with single word answers.
Did I mention I’m a fucking idiot?
After the show ends, LKK offers to treat us to an extravagant meal at the local Denny’s. My dad and mom jump at the chance. My mom because she’s starving. My dad because he was really wanting to develop some kind of connection with me and thought that he finally may have found it through him showing that, ‘yeah I’m a rocker dad, isn’t that cool son?’.
I tell them I’m tired. That I’ll catch a ride with some friends and am just going to go to sleep.
I think part of me noticed my dad blink back some tears and grimace, my mom putting one supportive hand on the small of his back. But I didn’t care. They embarrassed me in front of a bunch of strangers that I considered peers. They made friends with a band I liked. But most of all, because they were cool and I wasn’t.
I went home and screamed into a pillow. Wrote some shitty teenager poetry that everyone writes during those phases. Still enraged at my parents.
The next day, I wake up to a drunken passed out midget in my hallway. A guitarist and drummer sharing a toilet to vomit in and a white guy in dreadlocks crying in the shower.
I’m noticeably confused. These don’t look like the people I put on such a pedestal. They look like a bunch of kids that couldn’t handle their liquor. I sidestep over the midget in clown makeup and see my dad and mom having a leisurely cup of coffee. A plate of pancakes, bacon and eggs.
I ask them what happened. Turns out my dad decided that after Denny’s they should all get a boat and go fishing. The guys in the band agreed, so they bought what amounts to all the alcohol in Orlando and got a small boat, went out into the ocean and spent the entire time fishing and drinking.
Then things got out of hand. Right after Commander Hatred caught a fish, he and Kronik apparently made some kind of derogatory comment about me to my parents. My dad smiled, took the fish out of his hands and then proceeded to beat a midget with a 10 pound, still struggling tuna. At this point Kronik decided that beating a midget in clown makeup with a living fish wasn’t something that should happen to a gangsta and proceeded to try and attack my dad. My mother politely disagreed, breaking a beer bottle over his head and threatening him with the jagged end to sit down and shut the fuck up. The drummer and guitarist just decided to keep drinking and fishing.
Apparently by the end of the night, they made amends. Mainly after my parents learned that these guys were actually homeless and the only time they were able to eat was during shows because of the craft services table.
I stand there, jaw dropped as they nonchalantly finish the story. Harold at this time, stumbles into the kitchen and makes himself a plate, politely thanks my mom for the meal and eats.
I look at my dad, face half covered by the end of a coffee mug I made him in the 2nd grade covered with a stick figure family smiling and holding hands.
Our eyes meet and we share our own private moment.
“So do you want to go fishing later tonight with me, Harold and Stuart?”
It was at this point that I decided that being cool didn’t really matter. Not because of some after school special bullshit or anything like that, but because I; in my wildest dreams, will never, ever be ‘drunkenly beat the shit out a midget with a living tuna fish while dressed like a fat Hunter S Thompson’ cool and if I can’t, then what the fuck is the point of being cool anyway?

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My pet, AAAAAAAH!!!!.

When I lived in Florida, I used to believe in ghosts. Not for any real religious purpose or longing for an afterlife, but because it was Florida and that’s where people tend to go to die or go to make irresponsible decisions and die.
So it was pretty run of the mill when, one night; while preparing to go to bed I heard this odd scratching noise coming from my bathroom. Me, living alone and being a coward; did the most logical thing I could do at this point: I decided if I needed to use the toilet the rest of the night, I would just piss in the bed and hid under my covers (the only true defense against household monsters).
The next day, I told some of my friends about it and as they paid very close attention simply shrugged and told me, “You got ghosts, yo.”
This sounded reasonable, so I went online and started looking up ways to get ghosts to leave a trailer and found a number of tried and true methods. Many of them revolving around arson.
I picked the method least likely to leave my home a flaming crater and gathered up the materials.
It called for a seance, which I explained to my friends as; “Like a college party for ghosts. We just get it drunk and then leave it in a ditch somewhere. A ghost ditch.”
So we went to Wal-Mart, Food Lion and Sav-A-Lot to get supplies; reasoning that if were going to hold such an event, we should at least try to save some money by going to more than one place.
The night came quickly, me and my friends wearing armor cobbled together from sheets, pillow cases and football gear. Smoke wafting in the air from incense, intermingling with the scent of burnt Cheetos (it called for cheese, we figured one as good as the other; plus we could eat the left overs) and standing water. We all sat on the floor around our offering of ketchup and Funyons and started the ritual.
The instructions were not very specific on this, so each of us agreed beforehand to just kind of go with whatever we had seen in movies or read. This resulted in me waving my arms about wildly, another friend menacing a crucifix that he got at the Circle K while picking up cigarettes and the other just hollering whatever shit came to mind.
A sudden gust filled the room, blowing out the birthday candles and dissipating the incense. Me and my friends shared nervous glances for what felt like an eternity. I doublechecked the instructions, making sure there wasn’t anything that said what to do if accidentally summoning a demon or something.
A low growl hummed through the drop ceiling above us followed by a dragging of feet and presumably the souls of the damned. Our eyes meet and as one, we look up to the hole in my ceiling. Face to face with a pair of red eyes; consumed with the burning rage of a thousand dying suns.
We all collectively lose our minds, flailing and panicking ensues. The Cheetos and Mountain Dew are among the first casualties. One friend decides he wants to be a hero (he also happens to be wearing the most ‘armor’ and figures he can take the hit), he picks up the two-liter and chucks it at the section of ceiling where the beast is; shattering the flimsy styrofoam and sending the hell-spawn careening to the floor.
It lands on all fours with a graceless thud. Its hackles raised and teeth bared we stare at it dumbfounded.
It’s a possum.
It is a fucking possum.
We explode into laughter, a possum! This fuzzy glorified roadkill is what had me terrified for the last several nights?! This fucking thing?!
The possum must have heard my insulting thoughts, because it is at this point that it decides it has had enough of our shit and lunges itself at my friend who threw the soda at it.
Thankfully, the helmet was far too large for his head and the possum couldn’t fit its teeth past the faceguard. He however, didn’t see this and only focused on the fact that a beast with dozens of sharp teeth wanted to eat his eyeballs. He grabs it by the tail, pulling it off of his helmet and whips it back up into the ceiling.
We watch it.
It watches us.
Another friend bends down and offers me and my other friend a beer. “Well dude. Looks like you’ve got a pet possum.”
I nod solemnly and take a long drink.
None of us break eye contact.
For the rest of the time that I lived in that trailer my pet possum, whom I later named “AAAAAAHFUCK!” lived in my bathroom. I did research and found that they ate bugs and assorted small game, so decided that having a hate-filled possum living in my bathroom was better than having rats and spiders.
I would have to warn any guests that came over to visit around dusk or so about AAAAAAHFUCK!, that they would need to turn on the bathroom light, step away from the bathroom for about ten minutes and then use the facilities.
Several of my guests would laugh this off, thinking I was joking or something. Me and the friends that were there that night would then shrug and smile, knowing that in a few minutes they would be shouting AAAAAAAHFUCK’s! name.
I don’t really think there is a moral to this story. If there is one, it’s this. If you think you have a ghost in your home, check your bathroom ceiling. CAREFULLY. Because chances are, you have some kind of nocturnal beast living there.
And if not, then it’s actually some kind of monster and you’re dead.

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Failboat.

I know it’s hard to believe, but when I was in middle school; I was a member of our schools basketball team.  This was not my decision, but my parents who were desperate to convince themselves that their son did not have anything wrong with him and could do things outside.

It was an utter nightmare and I hated every minute of it.  The other boys had a very clever nickname for me, ‘Faggot’.  OK, maybe not that clever; but when it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it; it’s difficult to develop a working comeback.  But the social aspect of teamsports wasn’t the only reason I despised it.  I also happened to be very terrible at it.

I mean, I know how basketball is supposed to work.  You bounce the ball, you avoid losing the ball, you throw the ball in the basket.  But when my brain tries to relay this information to my legs and arms, something seems to get lost in translation.  Oftentimes, it would result in me lumbering along after my much more athletic teammates like some uncoordinated man-taco. 

Because of my ineptitiude in the sport, but also because the coach could not just kick me off the team since our school was all about ‘everyones a winner’, I was placed on the bench for the majority of every game unless the team had a healthy lead and there wasn’t much time left in the game.

The last game I played of the season was such a game.  With just 30 seconds left in the game, the coach looked at me and said, “Keiffer!  You’re in!”.  I looked at him, “Are you sure?”  He thrust a finger to the court and as I tore off my gym pants, revealing my pasty white skin I jogged out to the court and tapped another player, letting him know that the coach wanted me to play, “Are you sure?”.  I shrugged and he sprinted to the bench.

My parents started shouting from the stands, excited that their son was going to get to finish the game.  The referee blew his whistle and within 3 seconds one of the opposing players had shoved me to the ground, resulting in a foul call.  The ref jogged over to me and as he helped me up said the most terror inducing words I have ever heard, “Don’t you worry little guy, we’re going to get you some foul shots.”  I waved my hands enthusiastically, “Oh no.  That’s OK.  If you really want to make it up to me, I would love some ice cream.” 

The court clears out.  My teammates stand by the bleachers with my coach, dumbfounded.  Silence fills the gym, broken only by my sweaty little palms attempting (poorly) to dribble a basketball.  I say a little prayer, set up my shot and release the ball.

It sails like a little orange sun in a perfect arc.

Over the basket and slaps against the back walls of the gym.

All the air is sucked out of the crowd and it’s at this point I decide that it doesn’t matter if I get a basket, so long as I just hit some shit.  If only to show everyone that I at least understand how this game is played.

So I hit some shit.

The bottom left corner of the basket.

The rest of the game goes without consequence, me chugging along behind the other players like a little tug boat made of fail. 

A failboat.

At the end of the season, our Principal is holding an awards convocation and says words that will forever change my life.  “It is thanks to team sports such as our basketball and football teams that help to keep our students and your children away from negative influences like drugs, junk food and the like.” 

I am amazed.

It wasn’t until that very moment that I ever thought I had an option.  So I decided to become the best at that instead and that was my last teamsport I ever played.

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