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One man’s trash

Everyone thought the machines would take over from some fancy tech startup or mega conglomerate.

Nope. Garbage.

Roberta McCallen’s crazy smart recycling robots solved one of humanity’s most pressing problem – our trash. She won some peace prize for it. Not that it’s good for anything now.

They were masterful. Sorting. Cleaning. Reusing. In a little corner of the world where nobody wanted to go, we left them at it.

By the time we noticed, it was too late.

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Bobby

Every Tuesday morning Bobby Moore would buy 4 Cokes, 2 Slim Jims, a day old apple bear claw – if they had them – a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and some of those little waxy chocolate donuts.

He would walk to that crappy park bench on the edge of the lake by the big oak tree, the one they used to tie yellow ribbons around – they don’t do that much anymore.

He would sit on the left of the bench – always the left – peer into the big paper bag, and meticulously open all the packages.

Then he would eat.

He started with the bear claw – if they had them. He loved the way the dry, crusty, pillowy doughnut collapsed against his palate as he would bite down. It was painful and delicious at the same time.

He quickly chased each bite with gulp of fuzzy Coke, a snip of a Slim Jim, and the largest Dorito he could find. He would squint a bit and roll his eyes.

The pigeons could tell he enjoyed it. The pigeons liked Bobby, and for the most part Bobby liked the pigeons.

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The Piano Teacher

I have these moments of clarity where I see my life is absurd. I will be driving through rows of tan houses with the red roofs, watching men in tan pants and blue shirts get into the white cars.

It’s just for a moment, and then it’s gone.

Sometimes when I’m at that very point of awaking in the morning, my mind will slip out of alignment and the truth will appear. Everything is understandable, if only for a moment.

Then the cat would lick my face and it would all be gone.

Susie liked to be called a midget. She thought “little people” was pretentious bullshit. I was fine with it, until that day she made me say it during sex.

“What am I?”
“Beautiful?” 
“No. I’m your little fucking midget.” 
“Yes, you are my beautiful little fucking midget.” 
She pushed me off. “Just midget. Can’t you get anything right.”

My shrink told me I represented the oppressor. I didn’t really need that. I left her, and the cat. It was a shame. I really did think she was beautiful. 

I settled into a small apartment near the Darrington Bridge. It was a nice neighborhood. You know the place, safe enough for hipster coffee, but scary enough to Uber anywhere after 10pm. 

I spent a lot of time at the “proudly independent” bookstore. That’s where I met Megan. We dated for a bit. She told me I reminded her of a piano teacher she had growing up. She said he was the first man she masturbated to. I’m not sure what to think about that, but I liked her. She laughed when I told her my first jerk was to Velma from Scooby Doo. 

I didn’t have the heart to tell her I still had a thing Velma. I guess it made me understand the piano teacher. 

We never got too serious, which was fine with me. I was working out a ton of shit. We would go to art flicks, and discuss obscure French novels like we knew what we were talking about. She would close her eyes when I touched her. I could tell she was thinking about piano lessons. 

My deja vu was really bad then. I would be struck by particular events where I had dreamed of this very moment, this conversation, this car, this person. It had all happened before, somewhere. 

My boss called me “indecisively brilliant.” He got away with it because it sounded like a compliment. It wasn’t. I mean I would quit, but they paid me well, and it was close to my apartment. And the truth is I’m pretty lazy. Finding another job sounds like a lot of work. I liked the “Free Food Fridays” and the refrigerator full of Diet Coke. 

AnI also liked watching the marketing girls jog in the gym. I would listen to the Smiths, walk on the treadmill and watch them bounce in their expensive workout clothes. I wonder what it must feel like to be that perfectly desirable. And then, I would imagine who their piano teacher was. It was not me.

My best friend was Jack. He was an art school dropout who paid for his hipster life by writing code for a ‘boring-as-shit’ medical payment app. He liked single-gear bicycles, colorful wool hats and whiskey.

He said we got along because we had different taste in women. He liked them older and skinny, I didn’t. But really, I think we got along because we could talk. Jack and I could talk about anything. Not many men can do that. It also helped that we were both sarcastic, underachieving and lazy. 

I saw Susie the other day. She averted her eyes and scampered quickly past. It is really amazing how a partnership either brings the best or worst out each other. If you have enough time to bond like that. Susie and I didn’t.  

Meagan made dinner. It was some bean and tofu thing she found on a website. I nodded when she asked if I liked it. We watched a movie and drank a bottle of cheap wine. The credits rolled and we sauntered off to bed. We cuddled for the appropriate amount of time and I drifted off. 

I left my body that night. Hovered over us. It took everything to slide up though the ceiling. The fuzzy yellow glow of street lights led the way. I floated over my high school football stadium.

I thought about Julie. She had deep brown hair and cute dimples. We used to goto every Friday night game. She was my first. Well, I didn’t even get inside her the first time before I blew. I was a boy pretending I knew what I was doing. We cleaned it up and sat on her father’s couch reading his scientific radio magazines. We laughed at it later, well, I pretended to laugh.

I floated there and thought about her. The her then, not now. Now, she was a teacher with a husband and three kids. Or so Facebook told me.

Julie drove an old blue Mustang back then. It was her father’s midlife crisis project he didn’t finish. And when he didn’t have enough money to buy a car for her, he just gave it to her. I think it was the only way he could make sure it stuck around. I bet he still has that car in a garage somewhere.

I can still see her trying to eat a floppy piece of pizza, singing some INXS song while driving us to the game. She loved life like that.

She had this weird habit of turning the car off at stop lights. She said it just made sense. Everyone teased her about it, but she just kept doing it. I bet she still does it in that mini van full of soccer kids.

I liked Julie. She was nice. She helped me see what a woman could be. And when the other girls wore red and black, she wore blue. I wish I hadn’t looked her up on Facebook. She was like so many of my high school friends. Their art died. The got a wife and a mortgage and a couple kids. They went to Olive Garden and played video games in the basement to avoid the reality they created. I bet Julie doesn’t wear blue any more. It’s okay. She wasn’t my piano teacher.

I floated for a bit longer. Then I was ripped from space back into my body. I awoke to Megan’s dog licking the night time toothpaste from the corner of my mouth. He curled up under my arm and we both went to sleep.

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The Way to the End

The way to the end is the beginning.

Cal used to say it all the time. It was a tic he had. I never really understood what it meant, and to be honest he never explained it. He was just awkward like that. Like how he would carry a toothbrush behind his ear.

“Just in case,” he would say. People would stare. He never cared. After awhile, neither did I.

I guess that’s the best place to start this story, about Cal and me, and Mary.

Can’t forget Mary. She was my friend first. It took a bit for her to get comfortable with Cal, but she eventually did. She was good for him, in a way. She challenged him.

And she was relentless from what I remember. He told me once that it was her way of showing she cared. When she stopped, he said, that’s when he would know she didn’t care.

School was finished for the summer. All the pent-up days were behind us. We were flush with freedom. We walked around like kings and queens on holiday.

I was tall for my age, taller than Cal. Mary was still a tomboy, I guess. I mean, I never once thought of her in the way a boy my age would be thinking about her. I’m sure at this point she was developing into a woman, but neither one of us noticed. Or if he did, Cal never said anything.

“I’m craving KFC,” said Cal.

“Traditional or Extra Crispy?” Mary said.

“Does it matter?” Cal replied

“It matters,” Mary said. “There are two kinds of people in the world and you have to be one.”

“I’m not picking,” Cal said, “I like them both.”

We ordered a bucket and sat on the bench outside. Cal fiddled and played with his Zippo. He didn’t smoke, he just liked having it. He would nervously flick it open and light it. The habit had worn the shine off the edges, and bugged the shit out of us. He called it, Gygax. Mostly because that’s what was engraved on the side. It was a gift from a friend, he would tell us.

I remember the sky was dark that night. I don’t think it rained. It was just one of those weird summer evenings. I remember we had our jackets, so maybe it did?

Our chicken came out and we declared who we were. I was traditional, Mary was crispy, and true to his word, Cal ate a piece of both. I’m not sure if we had finished or not, when he showed up. I’m mean, it’s not really important to the story.

He was tall, thin and wearing an old time cream-colored suit. The collars were worn, like you would find at a thrift store. I remember the red socks. Black shoes, red socks, and a hat, a white hat with a black band.

“Do you have the time,” he said.

He startled us, but not in a creepy way. It’s just that he was odd. And that’s saying something as we both hung out with Cal.

“7:35,” he replied. Cal was the only one of us who had a watch.

“That’s a wonderful toothbrush you have. Crest or Colgate?” the man said.

Cal tensed up. “Crest is an abomination. I only use Colgate.”

“I agree,” said the man. “Listen, could you all tell me where I could find a fly-fishing store?”

We all glanced at each other. We knew every inch of that small Texas town, but that was not a question we heard very often.

“I don’t think we have one,” said Mary.

“Think or know,” said the man.

“We don’t even have a fishing store,” said Cal.

“There’s no lakes or streams close by,” I said.

“Quite the team, the three of you” he said. “How about baseball cards?”

“New or used?” said Cal.

“Vintage. Older the better,” the man said.

“Across the way, then turn left. But, I don’t think they are open,” Mary said.

The man pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, pushed up his glasses and put it to his face.

“That’s fine.” he said. “There’s time.”

And off he went.

And that was the first time we met Marson. The beginning to the end.

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