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To Become Old Hat, Press A

As a high school teacher, I discuss games with my students on a day to day basis. This is usually one-on-one, but I can still paint a shaky picture of their generational/regional preferences. The surprise is, well, their habits aren't too different than mine. FIFA contingent aside, the horizontal slice of gaming culture, even in rural Southeast Idaho, is incredibly diverse. The CODs and Halos get mentioned without question, but I never imagined I'd be able to talk to five-plus kids about our experiences with VVVVVV or Gone Home. 

What is it about gaming culture that transcends generational preference and habits? I can ask these same kids about similar cuts from cinema and music, and they'll have no idea what I'm talking about or they'll have heard in passing, but do exactly that, pass it as pretentious "adult" drivel. When I was in high school, I might have been the type to actively seek these experiences in every medium, but never did I sharpen my sense until late into my college career. Yet these kids know it all and love it all. Their sense is already sharp. 

Games as a medium are even more chaotic and diverse than film and music, so why are they easier to navigate?  I'm not sure, but it likely has to do with their strong internet culture. Unique experiences send ripples through the varying communities, Twitch and Youtube singlehandedly create bestsellers out of indies, and reviews can float or sink even the triplest of the triple-As. 

And there's a strange pack mentality with games. Experiences differ, but are united by a faded stigma. Parents that don't understand are still a dime a dozen, so playing a game in and of itself is an act that (passively?) defies the powers that be. The generations that grew up playing games are now the becoming the gatekeepers for culture. They're the ones creating the content, distributing it, and promoting it. The big dogs can finally wear the medium of a badge of honor, and in fine print, they say, "We Told You So."

I'm happy with the swelling enthusiasm behind gaming. It feels great to be along for the ride, though I can't help but dream about a similar enthusiasm for the old--no, not the old, the tried and true. Books and film, oh, if only you had a fervent following of fifteen year old boys that'd spew toxic "your-mom"s on your behalf.

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My Steam Library - Or, A Library

I have four-hundred games in my Steam library. 

At first glance, this might seem a gross miscalculation or perhaps insight into a vast network of friends and gifted gratitude, but no, sadly or not, these games are primarily my own doing. Over the near decade I've been a member of Valve's game client mutation, I've accumulated these games through individual purchases, bundles (some Humble), and have had a few gifted by both good friends and anonymous Redditors. I browse the list often in triumph and intimidation, a sublime monument of has-beens and will-dos. 

The largest conglomerate? Will-nots. 

I'll never play eighty-percent of those four-hundred games, and that's one-hundred percent okay with me. I like the comfort of a nice library. It might not be wood and stretch from floor to ceiling. It may not be littered with physical renditions of the games, slowly gathering dust, fingerprints, and forlorn dedications. It may not exist to those who I don't throw it at.

But this doesn't matter. It's a library, an archive for a medium I love. It's collected memories and untapped adventures. There are no book binds to run my fingers across or familiar smells that snap me back a decade or two, but games aren't bereft of synesthesia. A simple double-click leads to menu music that can turn a stomach upside itself with whatever emotion suits the spin.

I may have four-hundred games too many, but it also means I have four-hundred things to share.

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River Valley Ecology

A pig’s squeal just loud enough to discount as the mind. Jeb squinted and focused his hearing. He edged closer to the guardrail and a semi-truck thundered by. The tail of his leather duster whipped around in a frenzy. Jeb didn’t move, oblivious to the monumental force.

 Two thin corners of a grin emerged beneath his coarse grey mustache, and he hopped over the guardrail. His duster’s tail snagged on a jagged edge of metal, a twisted hook, warped from a collision.  Jeb stumbled down the edge until his duster came taut, at which point he dog-leashed into backslide down the remaining embankment.

The river valley’s autumn sprawl, a muted golden wash, framed by powdered hills, and a gash wiggling down the center: the river, a blue cold and hard enough to hurt. Jeb squeezed through the wood and barbwire fence that claimed it all, and went looking for the squeal.

The thick brush beside the creek split open into a circle, a few hundred yards in diameter. The meadow centered itself around the blackened husk of a tree. Devoid of branches, the charcoal finger curled upwards into a fine point.

“What luck, Mister Tree,” said Jeb, elbowing the bark in playful instinct.

Stones lay splayed about in a lazy pile beside the tree, the slightest suggestion of a circle. A well? The squeal reverberated through an empty cathedral. It was louder now, Jeb winced at the thought of the well’s height. Or was it depth?  When do you start measuring one and not the other? Huh.

He peered over the edge, careful not to let his weight depend on the structure itself. Below was a dark that had no end, as if a black sheet had been draped across the well’s diameter. A pretty autumn day up here, thought Jeb. He chuckled and watched his cold breath rise in puffs. Dark as Nana’s cellar below.

“Hullo? Mister Pig?” A squeal, panicked and scared, replied from the darkness. With it came a wave of hot air and a moldy, rotten stench. Jeb’s floating breath vaporized in the heat.

Jeb considered the pig’s perspective. Not just dark. Empty. A world devoid of light and meaning. Was the pig experiencing terror, a primal claustrophobia, or terrible joy, a freedom from the responsibility of the senses? Wonder what I’d see down there, thought Jeb.

He came to the conclusion that he’d see the universe before God started kicking stuff around. Black or white? Jeb settled on a speckled grey. As a child, he’d been banished to Nana’s cellar quite often, and had found that spending a long time in absolute darkness gave birth to a noisy transmission not unlike a troubled signal from a television channel. After a good day in the cellar, Jeb couldn’t tell whether his eyes were open or not.

An osprey cried from somewhere in the patchy blue above. Jeb screwed his mouth towards the sky and attempted to decide which animal he’d rather be at the moment. He thought long enough for the sun to strain through the clouds in sharp, solemn rays. “Sorry,” said Jeb, and got back to the business of the pig.

Jeb stared into the darkness of the well, pig sending hot air and noise in palpable waves. He stared long and hard enough to lose his sense of place, the black became a noisy transmission and, if not for the gravity, he’d have thought the world had floated away beneath his feet.

Flashbulb engineering solutions in a slideshow of the mind: Pickup and rope? Can’t drive. Whirlybird and rope? Can’t fly. My waist, that burnt up tree, and rope? No, pig’s too dumb. Rope would just be another threat from the circle of light above.

Jeb laid his back on the thick trunk of the burnt tree and, despite his troubles, fell into a deep sleep.

When he woke, a man in pale blue coveralls was staring into the well. His face was obscured by a beard of television static and his eyes were hidden beneath a hunting cap’s scarlet brow. The man pulled a handgun from his belt and pointed it into the well. He pulled the trigger three times in rapid succession, waited, and let a fourth go. Even the firecracker muzzle flash of the handgun wasn’t enough to light the well entire.

The pig’s final cry echoed against the damp walls of the well and catapulted out into the river valley. The pursuant clap of gunshot joined the squeal in a discordant harmony and melted away among the mountaintops long after the pig had stopped being a pig. The man turned toward Jeb and the hollow tree.

“Jeb? That you, Jeb?”

Jeb flinched and stumbled forward. Mister Pig! Without thought, Jeb laid his weight against the frail structure as he peered into the depths. A stone scraped against another stone. With a hollow clonk, the well collapsed inward. Jeb felt a hand on his back, and then he fell.

He couldn’t remember hitting the bottom. A damp smell hung in the air. It had weight and taste. What was pig and what was earth? His vision felt blurry. Where did my body go? Everything was vibrating.

A single word echoed from the circle of light above.

“Damnit.”

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Poem/Update

My poetry is about as nonsensical and satirical as always. I need to cut this cynic's streak, not to imply I've been staring at the world through fiery lenses. Life's been alright. Teaching is hard, especially when the classes have thirty-plus students in them. Reality reintroduced herself in this, the first week. My knowledge of literature has had zero impact on my teaching so far, but time management and classroom management have meant everything. I'm tired and sporadically frustrated, but intent. This jazz will work out. 

Still writing that novel, slowly, but surely. Right now my primary focus is figuring this teaching stuff out and making friends. Southeast Idaho feels destitute for folks like myself at times, but I remain persistent. At the very least, I'm getting to know myself better than ever before.

 

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ENABLE

by Yum

A collection of tunes I made over the years. I'm no maestro, but I've used music as a diary of sorts from time to time. This is the result.

 

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Between the Glass

Matthias Mickelson – Age 20 – Occupation: None

           He didn’t give a shit so he packed his electric guitar, two computer monitors, computer, a three-year record collection, his aunt’s ’97 5.1 Dolby Surround speaker system—Garth Brooks CD still in tray from date of transaction, his dead grandfather’s 720 progressive scan Sharp Television, a spoon, a knife, no fork, a half empty or half full or just some measurement if you’re smart enough not to determine character via perception of occupied volumes can of Kirkland Signature Coffee Grounds French Roast diluted about fifty-fifty with some Folgers Decaffeinated French Roast because that’s how his parents made it growing up and that’s how he liked it just thick and syrupy with black and meaningless goo and just enough to give him a good ass blast in the morning to clear out the previous day’s damage so he’s pumped and ready to go literally pumped clean through and ready, and associative technology peripherals—mouse and keyboard stolen from a previous IT stint because they just sat in storage collecting probably not even dust it’s so dark and cold and unknown in there, a black ragworm orgy of AV and USB and RJ-45—and a bag of these condoms lubricated with what felt like IcyHot if he could remember that masturbation scare age twelve correctly, and some plain old lube because the blankets and pillows didn’t really ‘bake the cake’ so to speak or whatever. He packed all this shit into his dead grandpa’s car because he didn’t give a shit what those people thought and hit I-90 due west for Deer Lodge.

           They told him that biology was a dead field, both financially and philosophically re: his test scores:

           “You’ll have to make due with a state education certification—won’t he George? What are they? Fifty dollars? Or move on to get your masters if adjunct professorship isn’t an all too threatening state of economic existence for you, and—what’s that George? An ice cream pathologist? But isn’t that more of a chemist’s profess—oh. It was a joke.”

           “…”

           “A joke, dear. Your father was making a joke.”

           Matthias graduated high school at age sixteen and college at twenty, but with grades that didn’t necessarily reflect his irregular aptitudes. Rather, they were a perfect reflection—like a full-length mirror’s reflection, but first covered with red velvet then removed by a man in a suit and top hat with a grease-curled mustache that says TADA! with violent conviction which makes the crowd go ooooh because it’s so-beautiful-you-just-gotta-see-it and some kid in the front row starts believing in God because How else?—a perfect reflection of Matthias’ ability to, as Coach Kosslyn used to nigh vomit in football-centric existential rage re: hard work, “give a damn.”

           He stopped giving a shit a long time ago, man, and now he’s on his way out. He did some calculations let’s see…twenty miles to the gallon, not bad not bad, tank half full, not bad not bad, and five bucks in my checking account guess I’ll have a coffee, a nice one though like two shots of espresso and Deer Lodge looked within reach. A quick Wikipedia whatfor on that:

Deer Lodge is a city in and the county seat of Powell County, Montana, United States. The population was 3,111 at the 2010 census. The city is perhaps best known as the home of the Montana State Prison, a major local employer. The Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs, and former state tuberculosis sanitarium is in nearby Galen are the result of the power the western part of the state held over Montana at statehood due to the copper and mineral wealth in that area.

And it didn’t sound half bad colored history and huh-syntax aside. He thought to himself that most areas probably had sanitariums or prisons or tuberculosis en masse at some point or another, dinosaur cancer or something rabid and stainworthy.

           “Deer Lodge was the site of the College of Montana, the first institution of higher learning in the state.” His Scandinavian eyes caught fire and a liminal grin blinked in and out of existence. Alright now, not bad not bad, good vibes good vibes, poetic poetic. And he hit his piece hard, held the wet smoke in for a good ten seconds, and exhaled out through a crack above the water stained window of his still-dead grandfather’s car.

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Terrence Wright – Age 63 – Occupation: Retired Rancher

            We lost another dog to the road. What calls them out there I wonder? Beyond the latch gate tallern me and through the wooded marsh and up the dust road cloudy forever. What calls them through the belly of nature and survival and onto the weathered blacktop? Only once a man is behind iron and glass does his companion forget him.

           The dog turns her lip up and snaps at tires bent on movement. It seems to me that an environment makes a man and that only those still with a primitive sight can see and understand this. I become something new in a car. I become and obfuscation of myself, a minority in mechanism. Parasitic—

            My dog, she perceives this threat. But why doesn’t she patrol the mouth of a bear den? Prison walkways? The backyard of my ex-wife? The road is a terrible threat in the sight of pups, but no more destructive itself than a basketball court.

            The books say Hungry Horse Dam swallowed a few men in its construction. I don’t know a single road that makes a similar claim.

            But it still spread her guts out like warm butter and the sun beat the blood down and bore it into the asphalt so the highway wears a red smirk for my black frown.

            Nowhere to live these days without a busy road nearby.

            And that kid hopped out of the SUV with a face incredulous with the possibility of mass in contact. I’m more at ease when they just drive off.

            Smell of her hair and dog grease in my lap.

            Another one lost to the road.

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Paul Harper – Age 32 – Occupation: MT State Prison Correctional Officer

            I drive this route every day. Start on Bielenberg, left onto Milwaukee, and ride her on down to the old frontage road before the checkpoint. Hit a dog there once. Came out of nowhere, snarling like a damn whirlwind on a rope.

            Son of a bitch rolled under so smooth I hardly felt her. Still had the winter tires on so I think. Bit of a mutt all speckled and grey-tipped.

            Rode on through to the checkpoint. ID he asks and smiles and says hey Ted and lets up that yellow bar.

            Sitting in the tower ain’t so bad. I watch the yard where the inmates play ball or laugh in semicircles. Pretty view too. I see the valley whole, river cuts through like it’s exposing the wet black muscle below. Mount Deer Lodge and Mount Powell in profile. Tallest in the county or something. Been here my whole life and never climbed her.

            Had a dream about her though. I’m driving into town from god knows where and I look up at the horizon where the mountains meet the sky when right on near the peak of Mount Powell, past the treeline and all, a single rheumy eye splits open out of the mountainside. The eye looks at me without expression but at me and blinks once and when the eye starts to open again, she collapsed into the valley like some film doing a quick cut to a moment far off in the action. She buried the city whole alive. Everyone was “buried alive.” But alive’s how most people start off before they get kilt by the dirt in their lungs. Waste of words. Just say buried.

            Inmates just playing ball and doing pushups in the yard. Some sit in groups and look like they carefully arranged their posture so as to appear large and efficient.

            And I’m just sposed to watch them. Phone and some old TV screens up here filled with murky images or a powerless grey cloud. Just the prison guts and me in my denim watching these damned folks cajole through their lives in comfort.

            One of those posed groups looks up like a school of fish and a bald one about forty pokes a finger my way and mouths my name with a kiss around it.

            So I press a big red button and speak into the microphone big wet words—Possible exchange in the yard all guards report.

            And then when I lean back in the chair life is all right again. I remember I’m in the tower and they’re in the yard. I’m in the tower and they’re in the yard.

            I’ve no debt to my name, no woman to hang off my pants, no dog or cat to lay a bowl out to each night. I’m right alone, but I’m free. No debt to my name. Low salary but a long time ahead and a house can always be built. Once had a friend of my father, worked under the table for Warrington doing foam insulation, big hazmat looking suit and everything—he never said much but was a time he got fair drunk and after a friendly tussle with my father went sour, he turned to me and I was watching Bugs Bunny and he says liquor will kill anything but the American dollar.

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Jerry Nicholson – Age 46 – Occupation: Inmate

            I miss her.

            How she used to come by during visiting hours in nice dress, hair all up and nice. And how before that she fed me food through a tube in the bad times in the infirmary, mouth all chewed up good for spitting blood and scaring the guards. Wired shut and tied down, couldn’t help but listen. That’s how you know a person. Not through an exchange. No, bucko, love is two one-way streets separated by city-hall, laundromats, wall-side cafes, rusted iron and leather and concrete and glass. Love is a nurse.

            Ain’t a goddamn difference between her and I, bucko. She’s locked up too. Why she left. Locked up, chewing her cheeks, looking for that signal light without even knowing the color. Hell, if I spent my days sorting through medicine cabinets, can’t say I’d be well either. Bottles full of pea-bit solutions. Spiritual healing takes on the face of devilry round so much plastic.

            I didn’t get to say a word to her for near six months, jaws locked up and chest tied down. When they finally took ‘em off, I still didn’t speak. She just kept on going herself. But it was just fine, just fine. My self-expression was communicated just fine through absorbing all her outward bound thoughts and ideas, catching ‘em like fireflies in the leaving light. We did this for a year. Her healing without them pills and me, just soaking ‘em up her words and turning ‘em right into love.

            They took me out of solitary. Joe said there was a whisper or two about earning leave to take up the inmate craft shop in town I been ‘so damn fluffy.’

            So when she breaks in sentence for breath, I toss her way—Might get to take up shop, bucko—and her mouth shuts tight and she stares somewhere between the glass and me until the guard says time’s up.

            Now the new nurse bedside hands me a cold towel for my face. “Quite the riot out there,” she says, “Heard some deal busted hard.”

            I say there wasn’t no deal, there never is, and she smiles and applied pressure to the towel on my bloody face. She looks at me with those doe eyes and in light jest of my character she says, “Ah, you’ll be awright, bucko!” but those big browns are just empty and sad and so am I.

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Matthias Mickelson – Age 29 – Occupation: None

           Matthias wrote a poem today. This is how it goes: 

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Theresa Jackson – Age 32 – Occupation: 

            I’d say I’m a cat lady but I downright hate cats. They clog up my insides like butter and dads. And cat ladies get a bad rap, which isn’t fair. I may not like them, but at least I can understand if someone really would, like a lot. Woman or man.

            Mother isn’t doing so well. All those scans and pokes add up, and I’d know. On paper, I’m doing the same job as the doctors in town, but most the inmates just come in with open wounds. Chewing up their cheeks or rubbing their face on the wall so long the friction just takes it clean off after a good while. The other day, we had a guy, not a day older than twenty-five—a young bright friendly guy, with hair looked about ready for a first date somewhere—this guy came in with his femoral artery split wide. He’d taken some jeans he earned on good behavior working the craft shop in town. And he’d taken a single button and sharpened it on concrete fine enough to jab up there somehow. There’s a low-wage, hard-working man or woman out there in a big city working the denim manufacture line that just had a hand in anonymous slaughter. Probably paid for a child’s college with that aleatory blood coin. This is why I find it hard to believe in God.

          Why a man wouldn’t wait out his sentence, especially on such good behavior, escapes me. Some men would rather spill their femoral artery all over the floor than get out and make a life.

            I don’t have the time for Mother, working the shifts I do. She keeps up the bills with her cancer, always says Oh let me go, dear. It isn’t a worry. Just on Jesus’ schedule is all. Says I should just find a man to take care of me. She doesn’t know about the men I’m taking care of everyday, grumbling about my brown eyes and empty hips can I help you with that? I’m fine as I am. This isn’t a lonely life. No. Fine as I am. Mother needs me, even if she doesn’t know it. Her self-assurance about life after—I don’t want to be there when she hits the brick wall at the end of that yellow tunnel. She needs to keep going, to wake up, to find a place where the spirit isn’t dead and gone when she’s dead and gone.

            So I warm up a bath and pour in some scents from mother’s Avon. Today I’ll be reading something simple, pulp. And I wonder why there isn’t some device that hangs from the ceiling so the pages won’t get wet.

            I check on her before bed. Watching Golden Girls, which always seems to be glowing from some CRT as long as someone sixty-plus is around. I dream about sentient chickens that like to chat and getting stabbed.

            And so when I drive to the prison in the morning on I-90 I cry, because that’s a thing I do alone on highways. Must be life in the big city.

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Jed Patterson – Age 46 – Occupation: “Piss-pounder, haw haw.”

            Aint’ been drunk like this in a coon’s age. Fucked my ex again and followed with that bartender from the Montana Bar named affer a meteorological event. Didn’t know what that meant—truly meant—coon’s age, until I was about twenty. Thought it referred to the mammalian specimen, the Procyon lotor, which, as I found thanks to my son’s impeccable Googlin’ means “before-dog washer” which what in the ever-living fuck? Neo-Latin apparently and how the hell does a culture become “neo” instead of something “neo” altogether? A reinvention perhaps? Fuck it. I’m not racist. Fuck it.

            Cats are howling at one another outside. That or urp a baby is crying somewhere.

            She left me because I stopped hugging and kissing and saying I loved her every other minute. And yeah, that’s fair. I refrained from such and kept it intermittent. Why? Because I found myself somewhere else. My life had flipped a notch in the multitudes of urp cogs and wheels and belts and other parts and such and I’d become distracted. And yeah, that wasn’t fair. To her. Only to her. I’d dug around in my own brain for long enough, bouncing those existential whats and ifs left and right twixt poetry—an underscored philosophy—and philosophy—a bland philosophic pretention urp for those that despised pretention—until I found my love barren and dry, like Eastern Montana, heh. Not because of her. Because. Well, because I’d found myself somewhere else.

            Now, I got this job in Pocatello. Industrial. Idaho. Shipping out potatoes. Capitol of the world. For potatoes that is, h-urp-eh. I’ll drive my truck twelve to eighteen a day, audiobooks save me. Hitting I-15 due north until the 90 comes round to say hi in Butte. French fries are fucking im-por-tant. And she’s got a gig up at the U in Dillon teaching kids about matrices and tangents and quadrilaterals and other inevitabilities, something I wished I had the pause to learn seven years prior.

            So she’s far gone and I love her. How do you interrupt a vector? Urp.

Well, shit.

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Matthias Mickelson – Age 34 – Occupation: None

           He bit down on the barrel and the tungsten carbide steel mixed with saline tears and made him remember that time he ran his bike into a one-way sign. A girl from school chased him and asked in the mantratic cadence of pre-puberty, “Who’s your angel? Who’s your angel?” When he turned around to say no one the one-way laid him on the ground.

          The next morning he removed the blackened bandage and licked the scab and it tasted metallic.

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No-Woe #3 - For My Fellow Shapes

It wasn’t until I went to college that I understood how much of social interaction is predicated on media retention. My sophomore year, I watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the first time. A lifetime of botched or misunderstood one-liners snapped into place. The next day, I caught three references. “BEUELLER!” was no longer a foreign cry of war, but a domestic and light-hearted cry for order.

As a child, I was transfixed by Jurassic Park like any other, but my absolute fascinations didn’t belong to animatronic tyrannosaurs. My mind belonged to a different fossil, the rusted and weather warped chassis of Volkswagen, that, through whatever misadventure, found itself upturned in a mountain gulch outside of Deer Lodge. Such are the images that fill the gaps between Indiana Jones and my first kiss.  

Living a space away from the pop culture zeitgeist didn’t make me better. To some, it made me irregular, an uncanny social construction. For others, just a man with the occasional grand pause in cognizance. But, in the end, I’m only a matter of perspective, happenstance quartz through which little light may pass. Quartz that can still refract information, even buried a few feet under.

But it’s cool and calm underground, and when the worms turn the dirt I catch the inference of air, and when footsteps and tractors tremble above, I harden further, and sometimes a family digs in primitive curiosity and they find me, murky and sharp. And the children crack me open to see what’s inside, or they hold me before a light and look at me before sleep in utter reverence of what can only be mountain geology. 

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Chop Multitudinous

When I was a kid, a man would periodically show up at a friend’s house. He’d pull up in an off-white truck emblazoned with a logo I hadn’t learned to read yet. He left giant boxes in the kitchen. The Schwaan Man, progenitor of an inheritance.

A dead thing in a cardboard box. A marinated slab in a freezer. A pig once soaked and killed and packaged in shrink wrap, not in that order, but maybe in that order. A frozen pork chop.

Savory, but a sweet and yet unknown marinade. Hardly a pig with that secret juice. A meat sponge, soaked through with a question mark.

And the chop was round. Too round. I like a chop to have a natural shape. Is it natural to want a chop to have a natural shape? The hell is a natural shape? I want a chop to remind me that, hey, this was alive once, cut from the belly of some oblivious swine and is not the oral excursion of some great leechworm on an incidental pig spree. A chop like this leads me to believe the chupacabra exists. Get your shit together, Schwaan Man. America is terrified.

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Take any rural establishment and roll it out flat and thin. The result: Sweet and savory, the distillation of a laborer’s intent, Great Falls is lefse in its formation and individual composition. The Sons of Norway. Vikings, or, fried beef on a stick. The way an elderly woman assembles one, digging her hands, gloved in transparent green, digging her hands into a tub of spiced red slop. They have the cutest smiles. And when they tell jokes, oh my.

The strongest remaining memory of my Grandpa Dave is that morning. We woke up at the crack of dawn and rolled over to the Sons of Norway headquarters, a small cabin like structure emblazoned with white frills that mimicked the prow of Viking longships. Tubs and tubs of meat. Jake and I forgot to take our hats off. We scoffed at the rule, but felt guilt, if only for pockmarking grandpa’s public representation of his legacy.

I rolled hundreds of balls of hamburger that day. They Vikings were made for the state fair, breaded and fried for hungry passersby. Later that evening he was interviewed by local news team. His caption read, “David Larson – Meat Guy”.

He passed a few years later. All I have left of my physical inheritance is a shrink-wrapped pork chop, singular, circular, and cold enough to shatter. It sits in my freezer, collecting purpose.

A muscle bereft of blood isn’t so scary, much akin to a puppet without strings: a doll. The fear of animation remains, but is abstracted by a lack of string or wooden cross. The pork chop, its string is my grandfather, who, through his own animations, coaxed the meat slab through passive and actively bidden contingencies—propellant factors include, but are not limited to, commerce, the elderly demographic and inclusive market presence, and the objective “good” in the taste of dead pig—to land upon his very own mantle, that is, in a box, in a freezer, in a garage, in Great Falls, Montana. It took the entirety of one man and one pig (and only one, I hope) to bring said chop into my ownership. Eat the chop, you say! It is only a chop of pig singular, you say. Psh. Chop singular is chop multitudinous. Chop multitudinous deserves my dissection—intellectual. Of chop multitudinous, the layman knows not, sees not, hears not. Chop multitudinous contains chops, multitudinous.

I wander through life attempting to truly remember, but I’ve forgotten how to feel nostalgia, there’s some pig meat in the way.

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A day calendar sits on a table in my apartment. Each page is a headline from The Onion, a tidbit of critical social satire that wavers between playful mockery and malicious cynicism. It reads January second. Today is February seventh. My grandfather had a day calendar too. Complex logic puzzles, one a day. I am twelve in the computer room at his house. On the desk sits said calendar, March twenty-first or something. The day is correct. The logic puzzle concerns numbers and their numerous complexities. I don’t understand it. I can’t—the prompt is distorted through the noise of my grandfather’s inscription, the flow of his jazz logic. He is in his eighties and he does this every day. Successfully.

A pig detaches from his mother’s teat. He turns his new ears to the throttled shrill of a brother in panic. The brother paces back and forth, attempting suckles from each happenstance teat. The brother’s lower jaw hangs loose, jostling with each quick trot. Broken. A pig attaches to his mother’s teat.

As I write this my day calendar collects the days. And I stare at it across the room. My intent is vacant. My regret, an imperceptible filet knife carving out all the good parts of me.

_______________

Within two years, the empty fields behind my grandpa's modest abode would beget a modern commercial shopping plaza. A Carmike, chainlink Italian restaurants with the same parent company and shit breadsticks, a grocery store with a club membership, a Staples bursting with pallid cubicle aromas, and of course, a Barnes and Noble bookstore--the last remnant vestige of corporate corporeal in steadfast opposition to dot coms and associative jungulature. But mom and pop still cry, Ebay just ain't the same as corrugated spines and coffee so black it oozes so slow out that spout that the old folks without names come from miles around just to smell a pour.

But this particular B&N felt like one of those mom and poppers, despite the physical difference. No, each proud display of the latest Butcher or Brown stood like a homegrown citadel, as if born from the very earthy off-green tile many fiscal moons ago.

The sole difference was the concentrated human interest of a single man. My grandfather would lead us through his backyard, over a small chainlink fence, through a driveway or two where his squash garden used to be but ten years ago, and across an empty blacktop desert to the Barnes and Noble. And he would insist on this trek, all in the interest of a simple introduction.

"Hey, you better get back to work!" The employee arranging the books smiled with familiarity. A young brunette.

"I'll get back to work as soon as you pay up." She smiles, wide and genuine. "Where them cookies at?" We grandchildren stifle then don't stifle a nervous laugh.

"Oh, these ones ate them all. You like grandpa's cookies, don't you." He gets a nod because it's true.

 "Welp, you better have some next time or I'll have to start teasing again." she says. He does that worn out grandfather guffaw, hollow, but a warm hollow. A laugh only gets hollow like that from using it so much.

A pig looks up from his slop. The barrier persists. It swings with a wild screech to signal the arrival and departure of the slop-bringer. The slop-bringer secures it with the silver snake. Another day then. A pig looks down at his slop.

I've met no man with a comparable appreciation for and awareness of the individuality of every person.

Me? I can't say I've ever made eye contact with a B&N employee. Sometimes I'll hand them my cash or credit and catch a glimpse of their face or brunette hair, but never do we share more than what the vanilla transaction requires

A pig is led to a room of porcelain blue. First in line. A man thoroughly garbed in white wraps his arm around the pig. The pig squeals. The pig is dead. The pig is led out of the room of porcelain blue and hung from a great hook.

_______________

Just over a year ago, a piece of that super dead pig hung out in my grandpa's freezer. A few miles away he was getting ready to undergo emergency surgery. For each vertical slice of the pig, a sewn internal hemorrhage for my grandfather.

Neither made it.

I would slaughter every pig on this rolling green if it meant I could bring the man back. And I would do it smiling, an innocent smile lashed with hope and curling forever upward with the black gallons, still innocent, impeccably honest. Fear of the variable.

But he’s done and gone, and I’m sure he doesn’t mind. Though I was told he had doubts on that last bed, about how he could’ve been a better father, about he could have been a better husband, about heaven and its whereabouts. Turns out it didn’t matter much. Heaven was here all along, with us, he said.

No one remembers him for what he lacked anyway. They remember him for his magic shows, his beautiful carvings, his innocent punnery, his warm smile and ho-ho laugh, his articulate book-keeping that measured how many books he kept, his volunteer work, his hugs, his love, and his dedication to it all. We remember Dave, not for his self-doubt or existential tension--we remember Dave for exactly what he wanted to be remembered for.

So maybe I'll hold onto that porkchop. It reminds me of my grandfather and his inclusive and gargantuan positive vibes, but chop multitudinous is also a grim reminder of luck and control. A pig--a living, breathing, feeling thing was once born, then fed, then popped in his soft pig temple with a hydraulic bolt, then hung from the ceiling to drain out his black pig blood, then, for the ever important purpose of satire, the pig was disassembled by piggish American laborers on a disassembly line (you're welcome, Ford), and shipped off to porcelain distribution centers whereupon he or she or it were, in short time, consumed by piggish American bachelors in their expensive studio apartments (Me?). Ignorance may be bliss, or maybe only passable existence, but at least it’s a some kind of fragile insurance for fulfillment.  

I admire a man for his platinum virtue, but gawk at the casual creation and destruction of a pig. The humanities require revision. But, cynicism swims just beneath the slightest effort. If all of existence is but a neon wireframe, then role play can only help. Imagination is a stand in for texture. Make a goddamn story.

And eat more vegetables.

  

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