From the diary of Jennifer Stanza, found near a dumpster in Dallas:


March 8

The Tom Thumb is a sad place on a Saturday night. My roommate is gone, at her sex’s place, and I need some ice cream. I like to walk the aisle. And look at people. If you look in the baskets, and in the eyes, there’s a story.

A dude in work pants and a shirt with his name on it, brick of diapers under his arm, a box of maxis in his left hand. And 24 ounces of freedom in his right. Do they even have 40s anymore? Probably not in this neighborhood. From the look on his face, he needs a 40. Maybe an 80. Poor fucker slow-walks the magazine rack, pretending he can dream about a hobby. He sees me looking at him. His misery fades for a nano as he looks at my tits.

Couple, younger than me. Frozen peas, macaroni and cheese. Suitcase of Bud Light, Suave shampoo, stack of Hungry Mans (men?) up to the top rail, waffles, family pack of Trojans, eggs, chips, salsa. Just moved in together, obviously, invisible magnetism pulling them into each other’s pants in the frozen food section. He’s hoping tonight is the night she’ll let him do her in the butt. She’s hoping he’ll get too hammered to ask. At least he asks. It’s sweet.

40-something guy in short pleats and a North Face knock-off jacket. The kind you get from work. The kind of work that’s made up of two words that don’t go together but sound clever when forced into the same bed. Nexgenuity. Underestimataruim. Cocksickle. Something like that. No wedding ring. Confused brow, like he got lost on the detergent aisle. That’s where I find him anyway, shifting back and forth. No cleaning products in his handheld basket. I’m not attracted to him, I mean, not really. He is average like a regular 40, not fat or ugly. Definitely lost.

I follow him, lagging and trying to look normal like the rest of the Saturday night freaks. I stop off for my Cookies ‘n Cream and catch up with him at the self-check-out. (Self-check-out. I do that quite often, daily really. But in a naked mirror and with a flogger. Can’t really get there in the nasty grocery store. People walk in here with no shoes. Fucking bourgeoisie.)

40’s man does not agree with the self-check-out kiosk. She keeps telling him to put his scanned item in the bagging area. He tells her, with fervor, that he already did. She’s a computer. She, probably, is listening to him and secretly talking shit to the other kiosks about him, making fun of his short-pants. They all computer-laugh at him and his groceries. What grown-up human eats ramen noodles? Ga-Ga-Ga!

He finishes his business. I double-bag my ice cream. It’s going to be a tad melty by the time I get home. In the parking lot, I watch him fumble with his keys. He puts one in the door lock of his Accord. I guess his key fob battery is dead. Dude, I mean if that Golf-Digest mag gives you more pleasure than a working door lock button, rock on. He gets in and starts the car.

I run to mine and jump in, pitching my Blue Bell on the floorboard. He takes off and I follow him. I mean, I don’t have any plans tonight.

He lives in an apartment complex near mine. Once inside the gates we wind around the speed bumps like they don’t apply to us. He pulls into his premium covered parking spot, #24, and I pull up next to him, #25, uncovered on the end. We exit our cars at the same time, I smile at him, to disarm myself. He jingles his keys at a door.

His apartment is on the first floor. I walk between the buildings, like I’m going somewhere special, like I am excited to sit on my couch and catch up on my TMZ. Building 2 faces a pond. Trees dot the bank. It smells of rank moss and dog shit. I find a fresh mound as my right food gets slippery. Thank God Keds are machine-washable.  A tree hides me as I wait.

A living room/kitchen combo floods the pond with light. 40’s man drops his bags on the counter and quick-walks to another part of his apartment. I bet he has to pee. About a minute later he comes back and loads his fridge and pantry. Still wearing the Digiteering jacket. After kicking off his shoes, he opens the back door and walks out onto his patio. He sits and opens the lid on his grill pulling a pack of cigs and a book of matches from the place where food is cooked. He lights one and smokes, looking at the pond, and unknowingly right at me.

I wait while he enjoys his special time. Behind a tree, I give thanks to whatever made me thin enough to fit behind an apartment tree. The jacket man stows his cigs in the grille. Inside, he sits on his couch and turns on the TV. I can’t see what he’s watching, but his face never changes. Just the flashes of blue and red lights on him, his eyes trying to follow the action. Probably Columbo reruns. Or Fox News.

My ice cream is surely melting so I need to shit or get off the pot. I tip toe, in more doggie-poo, up to his patio railing and reach over to the grill. It creaks a bit when opened, but he didn’t notice. I shake out a Newport and say fuck it and take the book of matches.

On the other side of the patio I notice a window, where I can maybe get a better look. I amble over there, both my feet now fully involved in shit-cake. I want to take them off, but then I’ll get shit between my toes – I can already feel the moist leech of dog feces through the soles of my shoes, but I have the illusion of a barrier. Shoes stay on.

I watch him from just beyond the trapezoid of light that spills out from his living room. He sits in the center of his couch, arms up on the backrest, proud, like he has two imaginary bitches with him. I light my cig and he watches TV.  The cherry of the cigarette lights my face and blonde hair. Lipstick long since worn off, doesn’t stick to the butt, but I still taste it. The last drag is a big one and I cough on exhale. He turns and looks in my direction. I stand still like a traffic cone.

He walks to the window and looks out, bobbing his head, craning to see me. I want him to see me. He doesn’t.  And that’s probably for the better. He isn’t interesting enough to kill. The world wouldn’t suffer a loss.

Speaking of loss – my ice cream.

I put the book of matches in my pocket.


Communication for Dummies


I was scrolling through the notes section of my phone looking for some perfect phrase, probably a hyper-lyrical and pretentiously snobby way to describe a feeling, or a girl, or a gutter. The kind of crap that I expect to spark to the best prose I’ve ever written. The kind of junk that only comes at nighttime. Usually, utter garbage.  Instead I found this:

I like your Wagon!

Word. I had a 73 242 when I was in HS – never should have sold it

Are you INTO Volvos?



Cool man

It took me a beat to figure out just what the heck this rambling meant. Or when I had recorded it (obviously it was written under the influence of sunlight). Then it hit me. I was talking with Hunter.

Hunter is a guy I work with. Hunter is deaf. Like everyone else in the office, I converse with him by typing into the notes section of my device. I show him my phone. He shows me his. It’s an odd way of communicating with someone, really.

But, I know Hunter uses sign language. He brought his girlfriend to the company Christmas party, and they spent most of it off in a corner, signing away and laughing, kissing, being people. So, the next week I made a decision – I was going to learn how to say ‘Good Morning’ in ASL and lay it on him the next time we crossed paths, before noon.

I always tell myself that I’m going to do more than the bare minimum. It’s harder than it looks. I usually fail.

After choosing a random day at the end of a week, I got to work early, and sat in the car practicing what I had learned on YouTube. Good Morning. Good Morning. Good Morning. The more I practiced it, the more fraudulent I felt. I talked myself into and back out of it. Hunter pulled up in his Volvo. Right next to my car. It was thirty degrees outside and I was sweating all my courage out.

I got out of my car just as he did. We exchanged eye contact and our usual wave – that placeholder for ‘Good Morning.” He walked inside, and I stood there frozen. In that moment it hit me. I was afraid of his judgement. What if I did it wrong? Worse – what if he was offended?

Hunter was not the first hearing-impaired person I have known. In fact, I used to date a girl who was deaf.

In my early twenties, after college was finished with me, I came back home to Mesquite, TX to try and figure out my life. I had been hanging out with some new friends and they introduced me to this girl named Lindsey. It was low-key. Just friends at first.

Lindsey had an odd accent. Her ‘Rs’ were like those of a child first learning to speak, sounding more like sad “Ws.” Everything else rode on a slow and heavy lisp. But I could understand everything she said. She was funny and intense and had eyes like a hurricane sky. And she constantly touched my chin to make sure we were looking into each other’s souls as we talked. It was romantic, exotic even.

At least I thought it was until one December afternoon. We were hanging Christmas lights at my Mom’s house. It was windy and cold, and I was in a hurry to get back inside for more face-to-face snuggle-time. Lindsey had been handing me light brackets while I stood on the ladder. But she stopped after I asked her to open a new box. I asked her again. She bent down like she was tying her shoe.  I climbed off my perch to see what she was doing, and I found her sobbing. But Lindsey was not sad. She was furious. At me.

I had been talking to her while looking away, she said. The bone head I was – I still did not get it. She didn’t have a phone. We only had daytime dates. She talked funny.

It hit me like a fist to the forehead. All that romantic eye-contact was nothing more than her need to read my lips. Man, I was a dumbass. I was almost-dating someone who was deaf, and I was too self-absorbed to even notice. I just thought she was different.

She left. I sulked. Now, this was years before text messaging was invented, so to grovel I had to go to her house, in person, and get past the gatekeeper – her mom. I didn’t make it far. Her mother handed me a letter and told me to go home and read it. It was sweet. I was a moron. We reconnected later that week and ended up having a relationship that lasted about six months. We made some nice memories that I’ll always cherish. It didn’t end well, but that’s a story for another blog post.

We take our culture of distraction, on the most basic level as people who can hear, for granted. Not to say that we are better off for having functioning ears. More the opposite. There is a level of intimacy, one that I’ll never understand, that comes with interacting with a hearing-impaired person. Yes, that sounds insensitive. And maybe it is, but I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone to be stuck inside their own head 24/7. To be that close to yourself. It makes me shiver.

Music is going, in some form, for about 80% of my waking hours. And I do this to keep  some of the thoughts away, or at bay. To keep them from driving me off.  If I didn’t have music I’d go insane. Or maybe I’d be a truly thoughtful and introspective person. But, that sounds dark and horrifying. I need noise.

About a week after I chickened out with the Good Morning thing, Hunter showed up in a different car, a non-Volvo. I jumped at the chance to talk to him about it. After a quick and dirty ASL internet lesson, I went and found him. I asked, sans phones, and in my best broken-ASL where his car was. He didn’t miss a beat and went right into signing-for-dummies (for my sake) and explained to me that it was at home because the transmission was broken. I asked him if he knew how to fix it and he said that he did – he was going to take parts from one of his other dead cars and get the wagon back on the road.

Hunter didn’t berate me or reply with a forehead-fist-bounce (the slang sign for dumbass). Really, he didn’t care. We just talked. About cars. Like people.


A funny thing happened when I tried to be normal


Since I was old enough to make decisions for myself I have lived my life based on Boolean logic. I suspect most use a similar conditional flow or ternary operation to govern thought and action.

If A equals B then C. If A equals Else then Else.

A = personal condition

B = action taken

C = result

Else = unexpected bullshit

If I’m unhappy with my health, I’ll eat better. Then I’ll feel better. (Magic)

If I’m dissatisfied with my job, I’ll get a better one. Then I’ll be satisfied.

It’s always worked for me. That is – until about six years ago.  Something changed.3gl_if_else

For some reason, getting out of bed in the mornings became a monumental task. Not just an “ugh I’m a non-morning person whiney-pants.” No this was a “maybe I can call in sick today and just become one with my sheets and the cats. I’ll read and write and catch up with friends on social media. I’ll be so recharged that I’ll be back to normal.”

It was weird.

So, I called on good ol’ George Boole(author of the 1854 book The Laws of Thought)– my If/Then buddy, to help me out.

If I’m feeling unmotivated, I’ll get up and do a kickass day anyway. Then I’ll feel motivated.

I got up. Drank some coffee. Read the New York Times (the whole thing). Took a shower (real hot, so long). Did the rest of my morning routine and drove to work. I sat in the parking lot of a job I liked. Where I got to do stuff I liked. And got paid well to do said stuff. I sat there for almost another hour. It took a combined effort of every cell in my body, working in unison, to make my muscles move and open the car door.

I went on in to work and had a fine time. But all day, all I could think about was not my loving wife, quirky-cool kids, great house, or my lottery-winning social situation. It was my bed – and the question, “how many hours/minutes would pass until I could get back in it?”

Something was off. This became my new normal. So, since insanity runs in my family, I kept riding the If/Then train.

If I call in sick today, then I can get a day to recharge, go to the gym and have some space to breathe. I’ll just bargain with myself every day – “just go in today, see if you feel better. If not take tomorrow off.” Sometimes I took tomorrow off. I never felt better.

I kept at it.

If I take this job at a cutting-edge tech company, I can finally feel respected in my profession.

If we plan a nice vacation, I’ll have something to look forward to.

If I buy this old car that all my friends think is cool, I can finally fit in with a group of people.

If I write a novel, I can get the demons out.

If I finish a novel, I’ll feel like I achieved something. (If writing a novel was easy, everyone would do it. Man, there are a ton of new books coming out every month. Maybe it is easy. Why is it so hard for me?)

If my writing gets chosen to be reviewed in New York by industry professionals (it did), I’ll be over the moon(I wasn’t).


If my Writing gets me to New York, I can finally be taken seriously by and fit in with a group of people.

Side note here – I finished a novel and feel like a fraud. I took it to New York and received validation that I’m not a hack and even left with two interested agents waiting on my move. Now I feel like an even bigger fraud (go figure).

If I could refocus my priorities and sell my car projects, buy a grown-up car, maybe I’ll feel more like an adult who has something to give back to the world.

If I had a strong mentor (I do), my writing could take off and really sing, man, sing like the sirens(ugh).

If I could stop eating meat, I could be more literal in my love and respect for animals

If I could get off these antidepressants my memory will get stronger and therefore my writing will improve (and maybe I wouldn’t cry at the Allstate insurance commercials – poor Allstate guy lives in someone’s attic, as a racoon, surviving on fiberglass insulation for Pete’s sake).

If I stayed off Twitter I would not be so sad for our country all the time

If I sit in the car for five more minutes and listen to the NPR piece about innovations in recycling glass, I’ll feel better about my recycling.

If I stay in bed for five more minutes, I’ll feel like getting up and taking on the day.

If I don’t open my eyes when the alarm goes off, I don’t have to get out of bed.

Nothing works.


Through this process, I’ve veered off the path of finding out who I am, what I’m into, what I care about, why I even get out of bed in the morning. That’s why it’s so hard to get out of bed. I don’t know why I’m doing it.

What’s the point? If nothing helps me feel like there’s purpose to all of this, why try? Is this what we are supposed to do? Have I conditioned myself to “like” the things I like? Is that all being happy is? Conditioned satisfaction?

When I crack my car window at stop light to listen to a finely tuned Porsche next to me, is that just muscle memory? Are the tingles on my skin a conditioned response? Do I even like cars?

When I am filled with rage and embarrassment after reading a passage from Infinite Jest, am I truly humbled by the genius of Wallace’s writing or have I been conditioned to think that is the proper way to feel? I mean if you don’t feel insignificant after reading DFW who the fuck are you anyway? Not a person that’s for sure. Maybe you are a tree. Maybe I am a tree.

A tree who has a loving wife, amazing kids, a nice house, and a stable job that I don’t hate. Nothing to be sad about. And I’m not sad. Just uninterested in life. What’s my problem?

It’s simple.

I suffer from high-functioning depression.

It’s a thing. And I won’t go so far as to say its normal, but it exists in me and I’m sure others as well.

So, if this is your normal – constant deal-making with yourself and scheming (screaming) to find a sliver of happy – you are not alone.

I don’t have the cure(obviously), but I have a plan. I’m going to be more mindful of what is happening to me and what I’m happening to. I’m going to label it. Put a pin in it and stick it on the cork board. I’m going to try meditation, yoga and maybe I can think my way out of it. Did I mention insanity runs in my family?

I’m not getting younger, but I have plenty of years left and I’ll be damned if I’m going to live them as a tree. Nothing against trees. They make nice oxygen. And shade.