And now I have a
question to ask you and I am hoping that you have an answer because it’s got me
requires a little preliminary background. Just a little; please don’t run away!
Please allow me to tell you a little about the place where I live…
In the place where
I live, we have values. We are very committed to these values. They are what
set this place apart from all of the other places. Our values are our pride and
We value freedom.
Freedom in our choice of religion. Freedom in what we can say. It’s probably
not like that where you live and that’s okay. It’s only to be expected because
no other place is a place like the place where I live.
I haven’t always lived in Houston, you know.
There was a time, many years ago, when I resided in a little Texas town known
as Huntsville. Population 20,000, give or take.
This would have been back in about 1995. I
was ten. Dad moved me and Antony up to this God-forsaken place so that he might
attend Sam Houston State University, which didn’t work out as planned and then there
we were. In Huntsville.
Now, Huntsville is exactly one hour due north
of Houston and any way you slice it, it’s a town that is notable for one thing
and only one thing: It is home to the world-famous Texas death chamber.
I jot down ideas on little scraps of paper. On envelopes.
Sales receipts. Business cards. The backs of checkbooks and in an endless trail of
notebooks. Folders and coupons and wine bottle labels, covered! I fill flash
drives and I email myself. Leave voicemails I never listen to.
The blog ideas pile up and up.
Out at Dana’s storage space, cleaning out my stuff, I see that most of what I own is my idea pads. There are stories and there are quotes and there are opening lines for things I never got around to writing.
Until now, I mean. Until this week. This is the week I’m finally going to get around to writing them.
It will go like this: For the next month, everything I post here will come from a single sheet of paper I covered in ideas back seven years ago.
I’ve got them all typed out below and I’ll change them into red after
I use them. See?
still remember the very moment when I became a Grim Reaper.
It was this past Thursday, November 5, at
8:45 PM, to be maybe more exact than is necessary. I had just run three miles
and I was lying in my van in the Rice Stadium parking lot with my legs hanging
out the back door, and I was listening to Jenny Hval’s Apocalypse, Girl, which was my favorite album in the whole world
back in those days.
And all I wanted to do at that moment was to
lie there and chill, listening to Jenny sing about Heaven and about wires and
cunts, but my friend, Aesop, was in the front seat, smoking a joint and
worrying about my dating life.
This is not like
the stories I usually tell. There are no monsters here, no ancient cults, no
demons. There is a whole lot of city
bureaucracy, however, and as some of us know, city bureaucracy can be nearly as
horrifying as the worst baddies the imagination can conjure.
This is a story
about the West Gray Multi-Service Center. The Center looks like this:
“Careening. Yes, that’s it. I like the word ‘careening’
for this. I am a twin and my twin’s name is Antony and the two of us forever
risk careening off into literary cliché.
“I assume you know what I mean here. Abel and Cain? The
good son and the bad seed? Darkness and light? Yin and yang? Cage and Travolta swapping
mugs in that old action flick?
“It’s a really well-worn trope.
“I’ve never liked cliché and I never wished to go
careening off into it. I never wanted it because it is bad: Bad to be only half
a person. Lousy to possess half a soul. To bomb science class while the other
one excels in it. To be the slightly-too-boyish sister of a slightly-too-girly
“I said ‘No thank you’ to that. Never out loud, of course
– that would be crazy – but in my life, my actions, my thinking? I said ‘No
thank you’ to that from the start…
“…and wound up constantly careening into bad twin
The sun came up
this morning and it was the first morning for early voting in Houston. And so from
my office on Brazos and Dallas, I walked the blocks all the way down to 1001 Preston
and voted. Then I walked back.
Last week, the kids
got sick. Then they gave it to me and I got sick, too.
really never happens. I never get sick. I am immune to everything! But this
thing the kids found and dragged home last week, it even took me down. Our
fevers climbed so high that music turned architectural and our iphones looked
could I do? I tucked the kids into bed and I pulled up a chair and told them
them stories I’d written (and some that I’d stolen) and I described worlds I’d
made (and some I’d visited), and I gave them the sorts of warnings that good
parents give their children at one time or another growing up.
the things was a story and a world and a warning all in one.
Strangers send me messages. It happens all
Every morning, I
wake. I stretch. Then I just lie there in the dark to see how long I can lie
there. In the dark. Lie there NOT checking my messages.
It’s all about
Sometimes I go a whole
minute. Sometimes two. I hold out for as long as I can and when I finally give
in, there they are. Sometime in the night, strangers have sent me messages. Again.
The people I know
hardly ever bother with me, but these strangers? They really seem to care.
Some are sending me
grammar corrections for the blog. Some just want to share the music they’re
listening to. Recipes. Rumors. Photographs to turn me straight. I get damned to
hell at least one time every week.
There’s an Elvis
impersonator in Ohio who links me to clips of all his shows and a girl in Tallahassee
needs help coming out to her mom. This one guy sends me pages and pages of angry
emails. Every day. Without fail. He calls me a slut and tells me I am going to pay
for what I’ve done.
My great grandfather
– my father’s mother’s dad, who we call “Papa”
– turns ninety-three this week.
I visit Papa a lot, every week in fact, which is a lot to visit a ninety-three year old great grandfather
who never speaks and rarely moves and only lives to watch a tv game show called
He lies in a
hospital bed in his bedroom with three pillows under his head and the rose-print
bedspread pulled all the way up around his neck. And his body is so withered
and so thin that the bedspread covering him looks perfectly flat. He doesn’t even
make a ripple. So every week, when I walk in to visit him, he looks like just a
head sitting there on a pillow, all by itself, smiling.
You can go ahead
and laugh but it is an unsettling sight to see.
I leave my cell
phone lying around a lot. I am told I ought not to leave my cell phone lying
around a lot but still I persist, which means I keep on doing it.
I leave it right
out in the open where everybody can see it. I leave it right out in the open so everybody can see it. Face up on
conference tables during meetings. Next to the sink, at work, at lunch hour. Or
out on the coffee table when I have friends over. Or up on the hood of the van
while I am attempting to walk in a straight line for a police officer late at
Many people have
been creeped out here before me, sure. It’s a cliché. But that does not help
when it happens. And it’s happened. Now. To me.
I am all creeped
out in New Orleans.
This hotel room is creepy
and the lobby is creepy, and I can’t find the man I came looking for. But I
can’t get drunk in my room, either. For me that is not an option. For standing
with one’s back to the wall – my back – and scanning for something to be creeped
out by is no way to get drunk. Not even in New Orleans.
You know, a couple
times a year, I am asked to speak before groups of homeless youth. Whole rooms
full of homeless youth, even.
And usually, I’ll do it.
I am asked to speak
before rooms full of homeless youth because I am seen, in some quarters, as a
formerly homeless youth success story.
Yeah, I know. Me. A
I am seen in these
quarters as a formerly homeless youth success story because I used to be homeless. From the age of twelve all the way to age eighteen, I was. But I am
not homeless anymore. Now I’m just formerly homeless. Now I’ve got somewhere to
live and two jobs and three academic degrees and a busload of kids and a blog
that gets dozens of page views a month.
A success. So today’s homeless youth obviously need to hear all about me.
corners of the rooms were in all the right places.
It was perfect, and perfect in more than just
a sort of feng shui kind of way. It
was home from the very first moment we laid eyes on it, which just so happens
to have been ten years ago this very day.
Home. Like the place came with our memories
already inside it. A familiar scent we’d never smelled before.
The perfect number of rooms. The correct amount
of closet space. Close proximity to all the right schools. The proper distance
from Dana’s work. And with newly installed energy-efficient appliances, to
a voice said, “I know you don’t approve,
but you’re going to need to just buck up.”
I blinked and I peered out around my monitor,
trying to see who or what was speaking. Had I imagined the voice? What I finally
said was, “Approve of what?” but what
I was thinking was, “How long have I been
sitting here? In this office? Looking at this porn? Have I always been here?”
And the voice said, “Darnell and Damien and me,” and it was my boss, Adri, who was
saying it. Right there. Tapping the heel of her shoe on the floor in that
annoying way she always did. That annoying way she always does.
What I said was, “Duh... Dar… Darnell?” but what I was thinking was, “Could I really have been looking at porn for
five whole hours?”
Better and better,
then worse and worse. That is the way that it went. Maybe the way it always
goes, I don’t know.
But still, everything,
better and better, for years. I built the spiral staircase – finished it! – I spun it right up through where my childhood
bedroom had been. It blossomed up onto a landing above the old living room. I put
a garden in up there. A trellis with trumpet vines. A telescope so I could look
out across the harbor. Across the sky.
And of course by that
time, the entire west end of the house was different. New and improved. Expanded.
Remodeled. Remade in accordance with my dreams.
It was my life’s
work, this house.
I mean, flying buttresses.
I was going to have flying-fucking-buttresses! They were on back order, but I
was going to have them. Soon. Flying buttresses and an indoor swimming pool. And
a bowling alley. And a watch tower. And a mill tower. And a private theater for
movies and something called an “upper
bailey,” though I did not have a clue what an upper bailey even was.
So how this whole
shit started was that Martha from my office decided I needed to go out for the
Fourth of July, that my drinking alcohol all alone had become a problem and
that the solution to this problem was drinking alcohol around other people.
counter-intuitive to me as, in my experience, drinking alcohol all alone was the solution to my problems and not
a problem in and of itself. But Martha from my office was very insistent so right
away, I suspected she had ulterior motives.
The bar on the
northwest side of town was built to look like some kind of a big boat and the
band played Jimmy Buffett cover songs.
I suppose there may
be no other way of playing them.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.
You might have even noticed this.
There are a lot of reasons behind it, but the
main reason is that I am rushing to wrap up my doctoral dissertation in
synthetic zoe-hippology. Its full title is “How to Build a Horse: Using Found Materials to Create Artificial Equine Life.”
I have cut and pasted a random chapter from my dissertation below. I hope you find it as exciting and
cutting edge as I do!
The people walking
by me, they do not make eye contact. I am repeating this one word, and repeating
it pretty loudly now, too – over and over and over – but these people are pros.
They know the rules for downtown Houston. When someone is out on the street and
they are shouting nonsense, you pretend you don’t notice.
There’s a girl who lives next door and she
does not know that I am in love with her.
To be honest, she does not know that I exist
at all. I mean, I imagine that in theory, she has a tacit awareness that a
person or persons occupy the townhouse next door to her, and everyone on the
block has heard me trying to start my van in the mornings.
There’s a chance she has even seen me when I go
out to check the mail or when I take a walk with the kids in the evenings. Yeah,
maybe… Maybe she has seen me!
But she does not know me. If I ran into her
at Kroger, for example, I would see no flash of recognition in her eyes.
So the girl who lives next door has
absolutely no reason to suspect that I am in love with her.
For more than four years, I have been telling
you a story. It’s been a story about four people.
Very soon now, this story will be coming to
As we come into the home stretch, I thought it might be a good idea to
review what has happened so far. You know, in case you have not been paying
attention, or maybe you arrived late, or you have one of those degenerative
brain diseases I keep hearing so much about.
I know I can be
cynical and I can be negative, but the truth is, I love this city. I love
Houston and I loved the last version of it, too. I even loved the version that we
had before that.
You see, every few
years here in Houston, we rip down the whole town. In its place, we build a new
town entirely from scratch. Nothing remains except the potholes. What stood
before is gone. Forgotten.
For us, this is an
exciting process. It keeps us all on our toes.
Around here, a
restaurant will boast “SERVING HOUSTON
SINCE 2011!!!” on its marquee in bold letters with three exclamation
points. An historical preservation district will consist of two old houses up
on blocks in the middle of a sea of new construction townhomes.
Why, even as I
write these words, right at this very moment, Houston is engaged in what might
be our most ambitious project yet: We’re bulldozing everything within fifteen
miles of downtown and replacing it with $1 million, three-and-a-half story
townhomes and something called “luxury
am on the light rail. I am traveling to my downtown office from the Medical
trip will take eighteen minutes.
The rail cars are grey and sad and although
they are not yet old, they look old. A long, dull seat runs along each side of
the train, so that when there are
other riders on board (which is rarely), I am able to stare at the person
across from me with impunity. In my head, I write a story about each person I
Most of the stories involve what the person
sitting across from me will do when the train crashes.
This past Saturday, I sat down to write a story to post on my
blog. But my story was a failure. It
went nowhere. I got bored. I aborted it.
Then today – on a whim, I guess – I ran the introduction to my
aborted story through Google’s Translate function. First I translated it from
English into Japanese. Then I translated it from Japanese into Latin, from
Latin into Bulgarian, from Bulgarian into French, and finally from French back
into English again.
Now the story tickles my brain. Now the story contains secret
messages. My story is much improved!
I might start doing all of my writing this way.
So I present for your consideration, “Oil is a Stranger” by Katy
Anders and Google Translate…
It sounded as though a person was saying or
an old hinge was squeaking, “Ananders.” But when I looked out across the snow and
around the back yard, I could not see a person or a hinge or anything at all that
might have been making such a sound. Just snow.
I went back to committing my felony.
I set down the rusty green toolbox. “Okay, Harry,” I said. “Am I hearing things? I keep hearing like a
voice from somewhere, or…”
There are some bad people in the world, that
is for sure. Rotten cheneyficent bastards like Shu Zheng, like Nathalie Paravicini and like Rae Moses.
And absolutely, these are people we would all like
to see set on fire. I am no different. Like in some kind of holy rite, we’d douse ‘em
with gasoline, strike a match and dance naked around the flames celebrating the advent of the new
golden age we’ve ushered in where the sky is always blue and these people
are not under it.
But we cannot set them on fire, we are told, because setting
people on fire is wrong and anyway, it violates fire ordinances in most major metropolitan
areas. It would make us as bad as the people we’re speaking of (although,
between you and me, it would result in a significant
net gain for mankind).
So what do we do?
Karma’s unreliable, the judicial system’s a
sham, and God’s too busy handing out leukemia to kids to even notice. Never forget: Stalin died in his sleep at age 75 in the comfort of his own bed.
It wasn’t until
late Friday evening that we became aware of the outbreak, and by then it was
too late. The window for containment – the containment of whatever it was that we
were dealing with – was closed, but still we went through the motions of
Zero Zero was the
first to go. He was a gorgeous arboreal avicularia versicolor we’d had for four
years and oh, he was my pride and joy, so much so I’d had his name tattooed across
We found him Friday just after the evening news, with his legs curled up beneath him and largely
unresponsive, looking like the new Goliath looked when she’d arrived.
was next, and then Soma Bath, and then Astrid and Poppy Day. And Lucifer
Landed, well, she was still twitching as I laid her out on copy paper to poke and
to prod for mites or fleas – for anything that might explain what was killing all
Under a gray gauze winter sky. Antony Anders steps out of a gas station near 42nd
He is wearing blue
jeans, leather boots, a hooded sweat shirt much too thin for the weather, and a
Catcher in the Rye winter hat – the kind
with those ear flaps, you know? In his left hand is a 12-pack of Coors. In his
right hand is a plastic grocery bag with some potato chips, a roll of paper
towels, and a frozen burrito inside.
He walks through
the slush of the parking lot. Unlocks the door of a black 1991 Ford Ranger.
Tosses in the things he bought and then climbs in after them.
Twenty years have
passed since the glory days of the Anders Museum.
Back then, it was really
a labor of love for the three of us: me, my brother, and some kid named Eric who
lived down the street. Anders wasn’t actually Eric’s last name, but he’d given
up his museum naming rights in exchange for the official title of “Lead Snake Wrangler,” which was an irresistibly impressive title
to a nine-year old.
And over the door of
my parents’ garage, we put up a sign that read, “Museo de Anders,” which we thought was Latin but turned out to be
Spanish. We charged the neighbors four bits to come inside.
Now, what that four
bits bought you was a chance to have a peek at some of the coolest animals
native to the Texas Gulf coast region. We
had snakes! We had toads! We had turtles of every kind: big red ear sliders and
little red ear sliders, alligator snapping turtles, three-toed box turtles, and
soft shells. You could also see a lizard, some garden spiders, Eric’s pet
gerbil, and the bones of a cat we’d accidentally dug up in our back yard.
What’s that? You
say you’re scared? Of course you are scared.
We’re all scared.
Every one of us is. Sure, we all sit around laughing but we’re terrified – trembling
in our boots, really – and it all has to do with the fish.
And why wouldn’t we be scared of the fish? I mean, just look at what we’ve been doing to them: Overfishing to the point of
population depletion. Toxins in the waters. Dead oceanic zones. Dead delta
zones. Generations of Bettas just flushed away by irresponsible first graders.
Children need role models, I am told, and
this is why I am always telling my own kids so many stories. All of the time,
in fact. You know: Myths, fables, fairy tales, with characters that embody some
personal characteristic I’d like my kids to see and to emulate, maybe.
So someday – not today, but someday! – I will
tell them a story about my old friend, Michelle. I will tell them about a time when
Michelle was very scared but also very brave and knew to go and to ask others
I will tell my kids the Story of the Brave
Girl Who Asked for Help.
Michelle was brave because she knocked on my
door without calling ahead. She was brave because, when I answered the door,
she just pushed her way on in.