What Heat? Lifelong Cleveland Fans in Miami Burn Heat Jerseys

By Stephen Straub

Miami, FL- Thousands of former Heat fans riot on the street, removing any sign of alliance to their local basketball team.

Former Miami fans burn their old jerseys and chant, “What Heat?”

As the news of LeBron’s return to Cleveland hit the streets, Miami citizens with Heat gear undressed, saying “Fuck is this?” and “This isn’t news. He’s always been there. I’ve always been a Cleveland fan.”

Coincidentally, sales of the former Heat player’s Cleveland jersey have soared.
“This in no way has anything to do with LeBron relocating to Cleveland. As far as I’m concerned, he’s always been there, as has my spirit and support,” an unidentified shirtless man said. “I just lost all of my Cleveland LeBron jerseys. They must be somewhere.”

Some citizens have considered mass brainwashing as the only reason an entire city would buy jerseys for teams they never in any way supported. “This is some witchcraft shit,” said Mike Thompson, as he lit a torch. He was on his way to the nearby sports goods store to “Burn all the mind bending witches.”

Many store owners have replaced their Heat decorations with the Caveliers. “Who did this?” pizza shop owner Rafael Perez said after laughing at the garbage can filled with Heat gear. “Good thing I fixed that.”

The supposed mass brainwashing left hundreds of thousands of lifelong Cavs fans in Miami befuddled. “I was a Cavs fan since the start of time,” 25-year-old Mike Ramirez said. He proceeded to take off the Heat jersey he was wearing and toss it into the flame pit. “The fuck was I wearing?” he said.

“We must have been under some mass hysteria,” said 30-year-old Stacy Carlson. “To think a whole city would wear a team jersey that we didn’t even know existed, especially when LeBron wasn’t on it!”

A naked man painted in wine, gold and navy sprinted down the street in shutter shades and gasoline in his hands. “Never forget!” he yelled while pouring gasoline on the dwindling street fires. “We’re not bandwagoners; We’re LeBron fans.”

Last Night

Last Night I lost

My fucking Mind.

 

Between the poison in our hands

and liquor in the other 

we stood landlocked in our conversation

waiting for the words to undress. 

 

My hands nerved hard. English

less. I said I don’t know how 

to Relationship or how to Human, but

I’d really try.

 

And I said I want you to wreck me

because we chase Memory’s chariot.

Logically, you left.

 

I love you like my last cigarette

rested between my fingers and on fire for me.

The nicotine stain remains.

No One Wants You Here

To the class of 2014:

Congratulations. You did four (or however many) years of a thing and may have worked hard on that thing. Good on you. Good luck in the job market and finding something fulfilling and significant. May we reclaim the world from the old and wipe up their mess before the earth devours us. 

All that being said, can y’all just not be the fucking stereotype and not flock to New York? Please?

An alarming amount of the people I know are just flocking to New York City without jobs or much of a prospect. They expect to make it there. This is a part of some bullshit Disney fantasy where the white prince or princess does something out of their element and it just works out for them because they sing a tune, have a skill and make a bunch of friends with the locals and the new neighbors and become the bell of the ball. These people will find the intersection of Cool and Cheap and continue urban displacement, or gentrification if that makes you more comfortable.

There are three reactions to my accusation: 

“Oh, I’m not like the others.” 

“I know, but I will try really hard to ______.” 

“The fuck you want from me?”

No level of awareness or guilt helps if you still decide to move to a developing neighborhood. Your placement is someone’s displacement. Your Starbucks was a furniture store. Your drunk adventure on the streets of LoHo is a beer bottle away from some of the poorest in the city. Your ability to move to a new city on essentially a whim affects those that lack. You put your life in a higher priority than someone making ends meet and expect sympathy. 

For the white starving artist, maybe it’s time for you to not have your story told. It’s selfish for you to move yourself to an established place with established people, many of whom you’ll never see because they are working. Your stories have been told ten ten ten ten ten fold. Your active denial to participate may actually help start voices that get smothered and displaced as their families do. 

Your white dream defers the dreams of thousands of others who are waiting to express repressed generations. Your mainstream culture has nothing more to contribute. You believe you are inherently special and that justifies an action to misplace the perpetually misplaced and plea innocence. There is no innocence for you. More appalling than unconscious violent action is fully aware action that is done in an “Oh me, oh my, I can’t help it” fashion. It ameliorates nothing, and you should be disgusted by yourself. You should hate that part of you that does that, your colonialist gene.

Acknowledging or “checking” privilege has become this hail Mary that white people use to exorcise guilt. As a person of color born and raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I get to be the patron saint of gentrifier’s guilt, because feeling really shitty about something and still doing it makes it better.

What should you do? I don’t know, and I don’t fucking care. If you really, truly gave a fuck about the economic and systemic violence you’re imposing on classes and races, you’d get the fuck out of the town and find careers elsewhere. Your struggle is illegitimate when put against years of institutional racism. Boo fucking hoo. If you can’t handle that, by all means gentrify as you would have all along. Make yourself an “ally” while ultimately misplacing another generation of underprivileged, and hope that this generation is not The Generation that gets fed up and empowered enough to do something about it and demolishes what you once called home, because it’s happened to them all too often.

Gentrification solves nothing. It advances an externality in economics. Capitalism was meant for white people to lord over everyone else. It still does. As an inherently white production, it is meant to advance whites and exploit all others. Neighborhoods never improve when gentrified; they lose their soul.

Snow Bunnies

This was the type of Friday that felt like a Monday, like you had some shit to do the next day. Dad sits in the love seat by himself in the living room. The Law and Order chimes every hour from when I get home from UPS. Mom watches her HGTV “buy a home, sell a home, watch us buy a home sell a home, because you can’t afford one, bitch” shows in the bedroom. During the commercial breaks, mom checks on the arroz con pollo, because she thinks she’s gonna fuck it up like last time. “I forget how to cook,” she said last week as we crunched on hard-ass rice.

Just when Mom’s almost done with cooking, she breaks into her robot monologue while stirring the rice. “Every fucking day I gotta be in this kitchen and cook,” she says. “Fucking pollo guisado on Monday and steaks on Tuesday. Ribs and platanos on Wednesday. Chicken and arroz con gandules on Thursday and arroz con pollo today! Shitting rice for weeks! Like a fucking robot, just beep boop cooking, beep boop cleaning, beep boop shitting.” Dad leans out of the couch.

“I cooked the steaks and ribs! What are you bitching about?”

“I’m just tired of working so fucking hard.”

It’s like we don’t even have walls in these brick buildings built in the thirties. Like they’re arguing with my room.

“Honey, what the fuck are you even talking about? I did the laundry when I got back from work.”

“I just feel unappreciated.”

“You feel unappreciated?”

Mom slams the dish on the table, and that’s my cue to walk out to the dinner table.

“Rich, you and your fucking father don’t know the sacrifices I make for you all.”

“Yeah, mom, you’re a regular Christ,” I say. She chucks the serving spoon at my head, and I duck it. I go to the kitchen and grab another spoon.

“You’re barely in this house anymore. Like this is a fucking hotel room for you. Chasing whatever the fuck you can get, I bet. Just eat, shit and sleep is all I see you do. You do anything else?”

 

At the table, mom and dad sit across from each other with mom scooting her chair to see HGTV passed dad’s head. He eats with one hand on the fork and the other sandwiched between the sports section of the paper. I find it funny how instruction manual white his skin is as he grabs the fork, compared to my Kennedy tan or my older sister’s extra, extra virgin olive oil pigment or my mom’s UPS colored skin.

“So Rich, what you got planned tonight with your boys?” he says, pretending that “boys” don’t sound weird in his mouth.

“Same old shit like last week and before that,” I say.

“You got enough money?”

“Yeah, man. Thanks.”

“You sure?”

“Nigga, you wanna give me money that badly?” I ask. We both laugh. Mom’s still looking at the TV with big ass marble eyes.

“I’m just not used to this shit yet,” he says. “Soon, your punk ass will be giving me money.”

“Some fucking day.” We both laugh.

“Nigga, you better give me some of that bread,” he says. Shit like that sounds weird even though he’s said it ever since I’ve said it, and we laugh even louder.

“Mira, but why!?” Mom spits out with her arm and spoon extended over the table. When she asks a “why” question, her voice winds in a loop. “But why she gotta buy that three bedroom, though? I couldn’t fit my ass through that door!”

Dad turns back to me. “So, you gonna try and bag some snow bunnies, as I hear you and your boys say?”

“What the fuck else can I do?” I say.

We was fine with fucking the girls down the block, but once we got of high school, got jobs and got busy trying to get our shit together, things changed. Puerto Ricans decay faster than any other fossil or element on the table. If they have their first kid in their first twenty years, teeth turn yellow, then black, then fall out. Diabetes gets the best of them. They get hooked on the wrong drug, or the wrong man, and they gain fifty pounds and some wrinkles. Every girl I fucked with has a kid from some other nigga now, and that’s her life. She has to devote the second half of her life to prevent her kid from fucking up like mommy. My boys and I scraped the bottom of that arroz con pollo and ate that salty, sweet, moist pegao for years. Then it dried up and stuck to the bowl. So now we after snow bunnies.

Snow bunnies don’t get attached to their men like the women on the block. Girl from the block finds out you fucked around with your downstairs neighbor, knives and chancletas are hitting you right on the head. Then they gonna go fuck with your boys. One of the snow bunnies talked about how she believes in polyamory or whatever the hell. If I can fuck as many bitches without her getting pissed, that sounds like a sweet deal to me.

Snow bunnies take care of themselves. They’ve been fed on that Whole Foods shit, so every ounce of them is USDA organic. Not an ounce of Goya entered their bodies. By the time they hit like thirty, they wither fast. The ones on the block that make it to thirty without fucking up with a kid or anything become immortal beauties.

Everything with snow bunnies is ephemeral. They know that, and they cool with it. They see you just want fun, and they’re with it. You see it in the streets the next morning. Bars get filled with them tearing shit up, throwing bottles on the streets in our neighborhood, then the next morning it’s just us minorities cleaning it up. They move on to the next thing after they used up all the resources. It’s in their blood.

Except we haven’t bagged any yet. Messed around, sure, felt up , in and around bras and panties, hell yeah. But we haven’t gotten a steady fuck from them yet. But it’s due. If not, I don’t know what the fuck we doing next other than moving somewhere. But, fuck, where we gonna go?

 

At Luis’, we smoke for a bit while Adventure Time fucks with our minds. He smokes so much, the fake marble tile and the plastic over the couch is covered in a fine layer of smoke. He walks around and it’s like Pigpen from Peanuts came to life.

“They should definitely make an Aventura Time,” Luis says before he coughs out some more smoke.

“What, you want bachata on the screen for eleven minutes a clip?”

“But wouldn’t that shit be hilarious, though?” he asks. “How many white kids at home be bugging out?”

 

Five episodes later, Joe comes through with a fedora hat and a burgundy and white Polo draped from his coconut shell skin. The sleeves roll past his fingers.

“This nigga looking like Freddy Kruger over here,” Luis says.

“What?” Joseph asks. “These snow bunnies be fucking niggas with this shit, so why not?”

“Yeah, but they got that shit fitted, and not from Goodwill, man,” I say.

“Man, fuck you.” He rolls up his sleeve.

“That’s better,” Luis says. “Now you just look like a hipster pedophile.”

“Fuck this. Let me smoke.”

Joe pulls up a chair from the dining table and slides it at the corner of the TV.

 

Joe is the type of nigga to get high and tell you shit from the first grade, like “You know those stars up there? Them shits is just like the sun.” Sometimes he’ll throw in some really fascinating shit like how there are only us niggas in these buildings and the white people got the nice buildings. The past few weeks we’ve tried bagging snow bunnies, his good looks, athlete muscles, bright wide brown eyes and sincere stupid wide toothed smile get him the attention, and this nigga fucks it up. He be having two snow bunnies around his arms and then throw in some shit talking about how gay some people look. He just don’t get how snow bunnies operate. You can’t just be dissing gay niggas left and right. After that, the women just slink away from his arm and go back to the guys with the fitted Polos who can buy them free drinks and take them to their well-furnished apartments.

He was the closest to bagging a snow bunny than the rest of us. We all had someone to dance with, but this nigga was going in! Grinding against the wall with a crowd cheering him on, then this nigga whispers in her ear, “Yo, ma, let’s get out of here. Let’s not wake up my moms, though.” She patted him on the head and said, “Another time. Lo-see-en-toe.” I know better than to invite some snow bunny back to my apartment. The chicas down the block? No problem, their apartments look just as bad or worse than mine.

Another bowl in, and CJ walks through the door in a black tank top and a bottle of Ron Diaz in his hand.

“Ron Diaz? I see you went all out tonight,” I say.

“Nigga, Ron Diaz? I ain’t trying to remove paint in this house,” Luis says

“Yeah, man, shelling out that crazy money for shitty rum,” Joe adds. “I thought you was Bacardi rich at least?”

“Nah, man!” CJ says while closing the door. “These niggas at Citigroup wanna cut my pay by an hour because I showed up twenty minutes late for my security post, but they ain’t pay my time and a half from last week! So, y’all getting Ron Diaz tonight. Unless you wanna pay twelve bucks for some watered down shit.”

“Fair enough, man,” Luis says. “Cheap ass nigga,” he adds.

 

“Here’s to a night of bagging snow bunnies!” Luis says.

Each of us stands with a double shot of Ron Diaz in a solo cup. As we take our shot, Joe shouts out, “Here’s to me being sexy!” Luis and CJ spit out what they drank in and laugh. I finish my shot and my esophagus boils.

“Gimme a chaser,” I say.

“This nena over here,” Joe says. “You want it in a sippy cup?” He walks to Luis’ fridge and hands me a bottle of Coke.

“Aight, so what’s the plan?” CJ asks. “We trying to crash the galleries?”

Across the street from CJ’s building on Rivington Street in-between the unisex salon and the pawn shop, a couple of young artists turned the empty building into some white walled, black furniture, glossy floored art gallery. Every Friday, a gaggle of these black shirted scruffy motherfuckers smoke outside of the joint, walk in and stare at photos, paintings or whatever displays they put in. My sister’s friend who goes to the art school said that they give away free wine for the openings. When I told my boys this, we had to go give it a shot.

 

“Nigga, I’m not going in there first,” Joe says as he blocks the entrance to the gallery. “Rich, you go in first. You the ambassador. Half white.”

CJ, Luis and Joe make a circle around me and start clapping. “Woaahhhhhhhh,” the three of them yell and then push me through the glass door into the gallery. The room smells like Pine-sol and Hollister. My eyes water from the fumes.

I expected like a lynch mob or some weird remarks or looks, but I got worse than that. No one even recognized anything different walked in, like everything I built in my head that had me different from them didn’t exist. Like we live in some post-racial utopia bullshit.

CJ, Joe and Luis rap on the glass and nudge their heads for me to move to the back of the room. Sure enough, there’s a petite intern in a ponytail, tight black dress and laced leggings grabbing bottles of wine from the counter and pouring the wine into the glasses of the tall men around her.

I stand on the outside until these asshats open up for me to enter their rapey semi circle. They give me less space than they do to each other.

“Is this your first time here?” the woman holding the wine asks.

“Yeah.”

“I was gonna say, I’ve never see you here,” the taller guy on my left said.

“White or red?” the woman asks.

“I’m feeling white tonight.” I grab my glass and walk towards the front of the gallery. My boys see the glass in my hand and fall on top of each other to get in.

“The wine’s back there?” Luis asks.

“Yeah. A snow bunny in a black dress got it.”

“Oh, she got it. But she got the wine, too?” CJ says and laughs.

“Yeah.”

“How much is it?” he asks.

“Nigga, what I tell you? You don’t pay.”

“Get the fuck outta here.”

“Go get your wine while I look around.”

In the middle of the gallery floor, some artist scattered rocks wrapped in newspaper. The room of twenty is too timid to walk across, accept for one in the crowd that wants too much attention. On the table near the wine, he stacks empty glasses of wine and tries to look fucking cute with his smug smile. He’s the type of nigga to touch the photos while his friends witness.

I stare at this photo of a dozen white women staring back into the camera with mirrors in their hands. Each woman at different disorganized heights has the same white kitchen apron and black bob to the ends of their neck. Behind me, I hear two dudes speaking French.

“What do you think?” a snow bunny asks as she brushes along my shoulder with hers.

“I have no idea. They’re just looking back at the camera like ‘the fuck you want from us?’”

“Exactly!” she says as she pushes her hair behind her ear and reveals a purple streak. “They’re reversing the male gaze back at the camera.”

“What, the camera a male?”

“Of course!”

“That sounds like some bullshit.” She leans back and gives me a quizzical look with her lips turning flat across her face. No one’s ever called her out before.

“I don’t think you know how much of a privilege you have,” she says as she checks then ignores her iPhone.

“It must suck to sit pretty at a bar until someone buys you a drink or asks you to dance.”

“I just met you, and you sound like an asshole.”

She starts to walk to another painting. “Wait,” I say. “Let me try this again.”

“Okay.”

“Buy me a drink,” I say. Her eyes open wide.

Luis, CJ and Joe stand around the photo on the left with the dogs pissing on old newspapers. When she’s not looking, they turn their heads in our direction.

“I’m playing. Let me get you a drink.” She turns back to me.

“Men still do that shit? I have a boyfriend.”

“Oh, word? I got a goldfish.”

“What?”

“Oh, my fault. I thought we were talking about shit that don’t matter.” She walked back to grab more wine.

CJ, Luis and Joe walk up to me.

“Yo, what happened?” Luis says after finishing his glass of white wine.

“It didn’t happen. Fucking stuck up.”

“Hate that shit,” Joe says while looking around.

“This place is kinda aight!” CJ says. “I don’t know what the fuck’s up with the pictures but they give you free wine to look at this shit?”

“We spent enough time here, nigga,” Luis says. “We got our wine. It’s like eleven. Let’s go somewhere.”

 

When we walk out the gallery, more and more stumbling couples cross our paths towards the bars. One bar doesn’t even look at us. The bouncer just pushes his hand out in our faces. The second bar, the bouncer says, “Nah, man, we full.” The third bar has a fifteen dollar cover charge.

“How the fuck we get in?” Joe asks.

“We probably need a snow bunny to get in to meet more snow bunnies,” Luis says.

“Where the fuck are we gonna find snow bunnies that aren’t in the bar?”

 

At the cupcake spot a few blocks down, we spot one smoking a cigarette and checking her phone. Her people flaked out on her. Again, as the ambassador, I walk up to her and ask if she’s going to the bars. She flicks the cigarette away, clicks her phone shut and says, “I know one we can go to. Just tell me your name. I’m Lila.”

My boys walk in the jungle bar with the snow bunny. The bouncer outside of the lets her in without a problem and puts his hand on my chest. The bar’s filled up. Lila’s hand reaches back and pulls me past the bouncer. “My bad,” the bouncer says as he moves out of the way.

The bar has plastic leaves and branches that slap everyone over five foot five in the face. Every five seconds, a mist sprays from the ceiling to nourish the plastic. The closer we walk to the back, the bass starts from the floor then jolts my knees, legs, nuts, stomach then chest.

I’ve seen white. I’ve been to the Upper East Side, Central Park, SoHo, NoHo, Chelsea, Battery Park, Williamsburg, the gentrified parts of Harlem, Bed-Stuy and Park Slope, Upstate New York, but that dance floor was the whitest thing I’ve ever seen. Dozens of couples chock their hips and accompanying dick behind them back and forth with no sway or tie but like a clock on its own time, like in the old silent movies when Chaplin pretends to be a part of a clock and moves with the artificial ticks. White men with nice never owned shirts don’t know what to do with their hands, so they wave them like the inflatable tube men outside of used car lots. Only with hard dicks. White men in baseball caps turned back. White men with Polo shirts collared up. White men with rolled up jeans and khakis with socks and boat shoes exposed. White men on the periphery of the dance floor jockey for pussy position around snow bunnies.  Snow bunnies with fake blond hair. Snow bunnies with real blond hair. Snow bunnies with red hair. Snow bunnies with shaved hair. Snow bunnies in two inch, three inch, four inch heels. Snow bunnies bent and propped. Snow bunnies with hair tossed to one side. Snow bunnies with no smooth motion. Snow bunnies that grind against the beat.

Lila grabs me and we dance a fake salsa with our hands clasped and rocking a count off. I pull her in and my hips move to the beat and hers grate against it all. I turn her around and her ass does the same, like a poorly timed windshield wiper. My blood stops pumping at an elevated rate and I look around the floor. Why do I go after them? I wanna stop. But if I do, I can’t fuck Lila.

“Let’s stop and get a drink,” I shout.

“Wait! I love this song,” she shouts back.

 

Lila stays getting grinded by an invisible person while I cut through the flow of the bar. Every time I get shoved, I shove back. When I get to the bar, CJ has his arm around a girl and nods as if he don’t see anyone else but her. My man Luis is on the corner of the dance floor waiting for an entry or an invitation to dance.

I put my finger in the air and the bartender just walks by me to the glitter dressed snow bunny with her boyfriend clasped to her.

“Bitch, please!” CJ yells over the music. He drops his arms off of the girl and walks towards me. “This bitch wanted me to buy her a drink.”

“Where’s Joe?” I ask. He gives me a Kanye shrug.

We walk back to the dance floor next to Luis. He turns to us and shakes his head.

“Fuck this, man,” he says.

The music changes to “Mercy” by Kanye West and the fifty other rappers on that track. Just when we get hype, the dance floor clears. Every single person stopped what was arguably dancing and walked back to the bar and to the seats.

I walk up to one of the women and ask why they stopped dancing. “I don’t dance to this asshole,” she says.

“Oh, but you can dance to Macklemore?”

I walk back and Luis stares out at this one girl drinking her drink and swinging her hips in rhythm to the song. A fucking miracle. He looks back at us and nods. He walks with his dick leading the way towards the two. He grabs the woman’s hands and drags her into the empty middle and they both smile.

Then this fucking broad chested cat with legs that can’t handle the top of his body hobble their way over to Luis and shove him off his girl. The broad chested man shakes his hand back and forth.

“Who the fuck are you?” Luis shouts.

“You’re dancing with my girl,” the guy shouts back.

“She didn’t say shit to me!” Luis says as she walks back to the bar.

The guy shoves him back and dances a crabwalk around Luis to box him out of his area of the dance floor. Luis shoves him down on the floor.

“Fucking faggot, man. Fuck this. I’m done for the night.”

“No fucking way!” I shout. “This was the plan! We was bagging snow bunnies. We all wanted that.”

“Yeah, and we ain’t doing shit. I’m not saying I’m done forever, but fuck this night.”

“Buy her a fucking drink. Fuck outta here,” CJ mumbled.

“The night’s still young!” I say.

“Nigga,” CJ says. “You ain’t got shit tonight. I got nothing. Luis got cockblocked by that gay ass dancing whatever the fuck that was. We out. We’re done. Call it a night. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Nah, let’s just go to a different borough or something. I don’t know what the fuck they did to our neighborhood,” Luis says.

“Forget it. I’m hungry,” CJ says. “Anyone got food at they place?”

“Yeah,” I say. “We got mad arroz con pollo. Just don’t wake up my mom.”

“Of course!”

“I call the pegao,” Luis says.

“Man, fuck you,” CJ says.

“Aight, we out. But where Joe at?”

A snow bunny walks out of the men’s bathroom hunched over and gagging. Five seconds later, Joe walks out with his back arched and the kool-aid smile.

“Holy shit,” Joe says as he zips up his pants. “Best I ever had.”

Understanding and Managing Privilege

youkeepthemoney:

This is everything.

Originally posted on Dr. Michael Anthony:

In my work, discussions of privilege and power come up a lot – and actually should come up more. Talking about privilege and power is not meant for trivial coffee conversations either. It is a matter that impacts us every day of our lives, no matter your many social identities. When I find resources that help talk about privilege in a way that will be heard, I want to shout it from the rooftops. So here is my rooftop, and here is me shouting.

Read…marinate…read again…marinate…then post this everywhere you can. Much appreciation to his author for adding to this conversation in a way that many and more can get….and many and more will miss. But it’s good all the same. I humbly share this from http://www.robot-hugs.com/?attachment_id=894Privilege-clean

Dr. Anthony

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Instagram and the Selfie Society

By Stephen Straub

King of The Selfies

This is Bennie Winfield. He proclaims himself on his Instagram, his Twitter and his Facebook as the leader of the selfie movement. Usually following is a link to buy T-shirts for twenty dollars with his admittedly kind and inviting smile. A quick scroll through his site has hundreds of photos. At first glance, it seems as though the browser loaded the page incorrectly, but alas, every photo is a close up of his smiling face. To scroll through the seemingly infinite volume of photos seems akin to looking at every work of art at the Louvre. The difference, of course, being that it would be very generous of me to call his work art.

Each picture is the same! Doesn’t anyone notice this?

For your listening pleasure during the reading of this. “Camera on the Self”

There need not be a leader to the Selfie Movement. With the advent of fast and ubiquitous Internet coupled with smarter, faster phones with front facing cameras, selfies are encouraged. The Internet is always ready to receive any Information provided, even if it’s unwanted, unnecessary, superfluous, or lacking in imagination, originality or effort, like blogs and selfies. In a perpetually connected society, photo saturation may have dire consequences on the perception of our material world and photography as art. I argue that the self reflexive nature of contemporary Internet, the introspective Internet, further commodifies people, compromises the perception of art and trivializes all things as important as the irrelevant self. The failure of selfies lies with the importance of photographs as documents. A photographer who takes a photo considers the image sufficient enough to record. The issue lies in what one considers recordable and if the mere existence qualifies as recordable.

To embrace the full Internet immersion of this assignment, I will add my own series of memes and cultural references as I see fit (and as some may have seen by the link above).

Foundations of Instagram

Instagram is a fast, fun and beautiful way to share your life with friends and family,” according to the website. Started in 2010, it has blossomed to a large social network under the supervision of Facebook.

The service focuses on function over form, and the users have embraced it. A 16:9 photo taken by a well designed smart phone gets cut into a square and filtered through Instagram. Instagram also recently rolled out video services. A service that emphasizes images and videos over text succeeds in providing accessible content to a global audience. For those who would potentially be bashful to submit a possibly grammatically incorrect sentence can submit a photo of their home, a sunset or their face without much judgement. There is less of a universal critique of photography, so a user can submit a photo of their dinner or of their face like any other user and not receive responses of unoriginality. A poor sentence will find its negative audience. On Instagram, McLuhan’s “global village” becomes a more active immediate family to exchange experiences and verify your existence.

There is a dichotomy in Instagram, because an account serves as both a tool of documentation and expression. The use of filters “beautifies” the document. Most photographs will not be held up to the standard of art, but some demand it so. Selfies become the pinnacle of self expression and lack of originality. But the technology enables millions and diminishes an art form to documentation ad nauseum. Give a human a blog and a keyboard, and the human’s a writer. Give a consumer a smart phone, and the consumer’s a photographer. And who is in authority to challenge these dated notions of professionalism?

Controversy

Late in 2012, Instagram changed its terms of use. Usually a change of the terms of use garners no attention, because no one reads the terms of use. But a distinct passage in the terms of use caused discontent amongst Instagram’s user base.

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

Users and celebrities alike worried that their beloved faces would not only appear on the screens of their friends and family, but also on billboards and Internet advertisements. A tool that empowered millions showed how powerless prosumers were to the whims of capitalism.

Even after much uproar, people continued to upload photos. In fact, the situation breezed over and the backlash disappeared.

Reasons for the Ubiquitous Nature of Selfies

*Vanity. The Internet allows for the best representation of the self that other generations only dreamed of.

*Power. The user controls every aspect of the photograph, from preening before holding the camera in the right way to display the face in the desired way. Even after the photo, the proper filter is chosen to accompany the desired look. Representation becomes personalized. The user controls everything but independent perception (my red is different from your red). The power of the user can be debated. The viewer can view or not view the image as he or she desires. Alternatively, the viewer can fetishize or worship the photo, going against the desires of the photographer who wanted to be displayed.

*Illusion of Interest. Friends generally like their friends. In fact, most people consider their close circle of friends beautiful. A photo of the self will garner “likes” or “hearts” because they like that user more than the actual representation of the user.

On Photography

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge-and, therefore, like power. A now notorious first fall into alienation, habituating people to abstract the world into printed words, is supposed to have engendered that surplus of Faustian energy and psychic damage needed to build modern, inorganic societies. But print seems a less treacherous form of reaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than photographic images, which now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present. What is written about a person or an event is frankly an interpretation, as are handmade visual statements, like paintings and drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire. (Sontag 2)

In the contemporary context of social media like Instagram, Vine, or Snapchat, the selfie is a false representation of the self in the same way that any photo is inherently staged. For the first time in the camera’s history, the photographer has become more of the object of her or his own gaze. The visible world is at the disposal or consumption of contemporary humans in a developed nation, yet the lenses turn back at the photographer. A photograph shows the perspective of the photographer from a deliberate angle and composition. When the camera turns back at the photographer, the performative aspect of photography is further exposed.

If we are to apply some of the theories of photography from Susan Sontag, the ubiquitous act of selfies does not exist as innocuous. “Even if incompatible with intervention in a physical sense, using a camera is still a form of participation. Although the camera is an observation station, the act of photographing is more than passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going to keep on happening” (Sontag 9). If we accept that photography can serve as a means by which to document, then the act of taking a photo is an active role that encourages the consumption of self to the masses. Considering the very explicit message of the user agreement that says that Instagram can profit off of the labor of the user without compensating the user, a photo of the self tacitly accepts that agreement. The face desires to be sold disembodied from the user.

Admittedly, photography had less implications at the time of On Photography, because the photo existed in the material world and not on a global forum through a media service that desired to sell the images. But if we apply the active role of the photographer as one that makes a statement, every photo taken with Instagram is a tacit endorsement of the program and its practices.

The point of the standard portraits in the bourgeois household of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was to confirm an ideal of the sitter (proclaiming social standing, embellishing personal appearance); given this purpose, it is clear why their owners did not feel the need to have more than one. What the photograph-record confirms is, more modestly, simply that the subject exists; therefore, one can never have too many. (129)

Because photography can be taken by anyone, it can serve as a day to day example of existence contemporary to the user. Sontag’s notion also introduces an identity crisis in contemporary users. Even at live events, there needs to be photographic evidence that it existed. The memory is not legitimate enough, even though photos can be more easily doctored. Because there is no universal criterion for what constitutes a good photo or what should be photographed and because taking a photo is effortless, anything can be photographed. Because we document everything, everything should be photographed.

The Great Compromise of Photography

Mobile phones have become so adept at taking photographs, they have virtually ended the market in consumer cameras. Yet, services like Instagram and Snapchat compromise the full potential of the relatively powerful cameras. In an age where satellite cameras can sweep the surface of the earth, photos taken from the phone are cut into a polaroid like square and then color-adjusted to conform to a filter pattern. Snapchat is a worse offender to photography as a medium. With the self destructing timer on Snapchat, photos become ephemeral and the stuff of surprise or shock. A user can take a screenshot of the action, but it alerts the other user and sometimes goes against the wishes of the photographer.

The filters on Instagram serve as a false form of nostalgia. The names like “Walden”, “Inkwell”, “1977”, and “Lo-Fi” all serve to harken back to a time that almost all Instagram users have no relation to. The closest relation may be that their parents have the square and faded photos of Polaroids, or they have seen old albums of relatives, new and old, dead and living. The filters serve to make a timeless representation of humans and from the perspective of the user, perhaps bring the user closer to the former time and people of the era where that filter was the norm.

The filtering of the photos challenges notions of artistry in contemporary photography. Each photo taken under the selection of filters takes minimal effort, creativity and originality, yet serves as a form of self expression.

In the same way that Simon Reynolds argues that rock music resembles fashion, photography now too resembles times disassociated from the social, political and historical contexts.

All these dressing up games can be played without the degree of emotional investment and identification that characterized the era when rock was seen fundamentally as art or rebellion. Musical style was not a consumer choice but a matter of expressive urgency, generational allegiance or identity politics. (Reynolds 200)

In the same fashion that contemporary artists can try on and misappropriate decades of music, Instagram users can try on a faded 70s look or an early 20th century appearance. It compromises the history of these times. Instagram has compromised documentation and art to a hybrid that dissatisfies those that want a legitimate document of the time contemporary to the user while insulting artists who tinker with the medium by making the form of expression ready-made.

Many technological determinists believe that new media will transcend the oppressive structures established by capitalism. This is not the case in social media. It may facilitate change eventually, but it embraces the oppressive structures in the society it is born into. This partially accounts for the fizzling out of social media movements like Occupy Wall Street.

Obviously, political activism means creatively using available tools and material resources, but it should not entail imagining these tools themselves to have intrinsic redemptive values. Lenin, Trotsky and their cohort made use of every communications technology at hand in 1917, but they never elevated them to privileged and sacrosanct determinants of an entire constellation of historical events, as some cyber activists have done in extolling the role of social media in recent political movements and uprisings. (Crary 120-121)

The perpetual beta culture of developed societies creates a lust for photos. Tools like Instagram become a means by which for many people to reclaim a sense of living through document. Social media and “likes” confirm the decisions made in reality. A selfie is the bare minimum. The user is the event. Their existence is validated through a double tap to indicate a like.

Oppressive structures that capitalism facilitates like racism and sexism exist with the tacit consent similar to the way a photographer who takes a photo tacitly consents to the act unfolding. The gaze of the camera is still decidedly male. Females on screen are observed and scrutinized more than males. According Pew’s Research Center’s demographics, there are more women than men on Instagram. It is expected for a woman on Instagram to portray themselves in a typically flattering way. The other end of this tacit agreement is that the general audience likes and comments on that photo to perpetuate that culture. This trend is also seen more commonly on blogs, which comprise of a stronger female presence. A universe onto itself forms.

Both blogs and social networks produce affective spaces where girls express themselves, share their feelings, and reach out with a little hope that someone will be touched and reach back. Accessed through the intense emotional world of networked adolescence, blogs aren’t confined to a sphere separate from other media. They are situated in a rich communicative habitat consisting of multiple platforms and applications (mobile phones, social network sites, video, music, and photo-sharing sites). Blogs seem then to be ways that any of us could report on, share, experience, and even market our social lives. (302 Scholz)

Scholz continues to say that although blogs can serve as a means to individual expression, the standardization of blog services with respect to appearance and format, render blogs interchangeable (304). And if we assume that the musings of Internet teenagers are not all that different, the content too would seem monotonous. The same applies with photo-sharing social networks like Instagram. The user’s content differentiates the users, but if the majority of users take selfies, then what is left to differ one from another? Obviously, the face is the answer, but to what extent can a social media embrace the indulgence of the self?

Because the photo separates the content from the user, the photo provides the user with anonymity and exposure at the same time. A user can control every aspect before distribution on the Internet, but the success of the photo is out of the user’s control afterwards. The fate of the photo is out of the user’s control.

The data, the metadata, the picture itself becomes the potential for profit. The fun of one citizen becomes the profit of the company that hosts the content. All time that is active becomes commoditized in contemporary capitalism. This makes Sontag’s passage on capitalism’s relationship with photography all the more eerie.

A capitalist society require a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying and anesthetize the injuries of class, race, and sex. And it needs to gather unlimited amounts of information, the better to exploit natural resources, increase productivity, keep order, make war, give jobs to bureaucrats. The camera’s twin capacities, to subjectivize rality and to objectify it, ideally serve these needs and strengthen them. Cameras define reality in the two ways essential to the workings of an advanced industrial society: as a spectacle (for masses) and as an object of surveillance (for rulers). The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in linages. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images. (140)

This is what freedom looks like in 2013. People take photos of themselves at an arms length and sell themselves for free to whoever willing to buy. Their tacit consent allows it. The counter to every person being equally important is that everyone is equally insignificant. Social media deem their users as both equally significant and insignificant when collecting photos to sell for profit.

The final reason for the need to photograph everything lies in the very logic of consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up— and therefore, to need to be replenished. As we make images and consume them, we need still more images; and still more. But images are not a treasure for which the world must be ransacked; they are precisely what is at hand wherever the eye falls. The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and, second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Our oppressive sense of the transience of everything is more acute since cameras gave us the means to”fix” the fleeting moment. We consume images at an ever faster rate and, as Balzac suspected cameras used up layers of the body, images consume reality. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriated reality and a means of making it obsolete. (140)

The ubiquitous nature of photographs now reduces the significance of all photographs. A photo of a murder can rest next to a photo of a dinner or of a user’s face. The lack of standards in prosumer photography creates a pastiche culture that, like some trends of capitalism, eats, swallows, regurgitates and eats again materials for consumption. One could propose a metaphysical argument of gathering information on all the atoms in the universe and everyone being collectively one in the peaceful hum of the universe, but no user on Instagram takes that philosophy when taking a selfie. It is a narcissistic consumption of the self. It brings up an interesting (yet fruitless) discussion of how contemporary social media would react during historical events. How would Instagram represent the 9/11 attacks or the JFK assassination? How many users would throw their face in front of a tragic backdrop, or put a filter to further distance the presence and immediacy of the photo?

The self-proclaimed “King of the Selfies” displays a blatant consumption of the self and a full submission to the oppressive structures of capitalism. At the same time, the full embrace thwarts the intentions of Instagram and its policy that desires to sell information without the profit of the consumer who submits, as Scholz calls it, “playbor” (61). Over the course of a few decades, the lines between art and documentation will further blur, causing a stronger dilemma in how one defines a work of art as truly artful. What Instagram may succeed in doing is killing the aesthetic component of photography and have originality, complexity and relevance reign as the top criterea for artful photos. Perhaps generations later when our children or grandchildren view our dusty Instagram online albums, it will have an authentic vintage feel to them. The pose of a person holding the camera towards themselves at an arm’s length may become the former phenomenon.

Works Cited

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. New York: Verso, 2013. Print.

Reynolds, Simon. Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own past. London: Faber & Faber, 2011. Print.

Scholz, Trebor. Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Sontag, Susan. On Photography. New York: Rosetta, 2005. Print.

Norway, No Way

Will took a drag from his e-cigarette. “I wanted to go to Oslo, because I haven’t seen enough White people in Europe,” he said to Lisa while exhaling. Europe had done a number on him. Three months in and five grand spent in the European Union, courtesy of Will’s parents back in Massachusetts, the long black stick had become the newest accessory from Europe and an appendage in his mouth. It glowed blue with his conversations in ParisPulaMadridLondonBarcelonaVeniceDublinIstanbulGlasgowLisbonPorto. Lisa smiled and waved the vapor away from her face.

“Yeah, but these are like the original White people,” she said across from him. She looked at the universal no smoking sign on the train and laughed.

“What are we, the new Whites?” Will asked.

“Just the ones whose ancestors had the balls to travel to the New World.”

The train sped along the black and snow. Oslo’s lights might as well have been a myth. The train rumbled enough to shatter the illusion that they rested in a frostbitten vacuum. The interior of the rain resembled a set from a Stanley Kubrick film: sterile, cold, red and empty.

The lanky groups of men walking through the train caught Lisa’s eye. Each looked like the same well sculpted face with a different colored sports jacket. She looked from the tips of their blonde hair down to their pants zipper to find a bulge, then down to their shoes. No one had the bulge like her boyfriend back in the states.

The red ticker on the top of the train read “22:45. -5 C.”

“You think they serve liquor on this train?” Will said while leaning out in the aisle looking for a bar cart.

“This ain’t Amtrak,” Lisa said.

“Why the hell would you ever take Amtrak?”

All of Will’s meals require beer. It’s one of the many traditions. When he got off of business class at a new city, he took a cab right to the hostel and reserved a single. He went to the nicest bars in the town to meet the true locals. When he couldn’t get Lisa, he got the most willing in the bar back to his hostel room. Now that his parents cut him off of anything but eating and drinking, he resorted to couch surfing.

The red ticker on the top of the train read “22:49. -9 C. Neste Stopp: Spyderberg.”

“Spyderberg, Spyderberg,” Will sang.

“I’m glad you’re feeling light right now,” Lisa said.

“What? I showed you the woman we’re staying with. Her fucking username is Norwegian Grandma.”

“What’s her name, even?”

“Vigdid. Or Inga. Or some Viking shit.”

“You don’t even know her fucking name.”

“Yeah but I read the reviews!” He took out a folded paper from his bulging purple backpack.

“They’re all great! I’ll read one. ‘Help. Help. Save me. Please. Locked in basement.’”

Lisa’s eyes widened until Will laughed.

“Why the fuck would someone write a shitty review before being tortured to death? Calm down.”

“What if she were an axe murderer?” Lisa asked.

“Well, you’d die first.”

“How the fuck would I die first?”

“You’re the…” he spun his hands around to phrase the words, “…least virgin among us.”

“That’s the nicest way someone has ever called me a whore.”

“Well, I can’t diss my own ho.” He waited for her to laugh. Lisa looked out the window and felt the goose bumps along her arm.

Will grabbed Lisa’s knees. “Look,” he said. “I’ve couchsurfed before, and nothing bad has ever happened. “Does Ryan know you’re in Norway with me?”

Lisa took a deep breath and turned back to Will. “He stopped asking.”

“How’s he gonna save you, then?” He said as he inhaled.

The train decelerated at the Spyderberg stop. The sign at the station read glossy and clear, the metal beams stood unrusted and orange. The platform smelled like old, wet pine.

“Here we go,” Will said as he put on his jacket. “Look for the old Aryan lady.”

The train left their sight and left a treeless, mountainous, snow capped silence. The breeze made the trees shiver. Vigdid’s red Toyota compact waited in the empty lot with its lights on. Vigdid smoked a seven-inch cigarette outside in a sweater with her hands behind her back.

As Will and Lisa walked towards the car, he took out the e-cig from his mouth. “Hallo!” he shouted.

“Nice Norwegian,” Vigdid replied. Her red glow responded in kind in Morse.

On the ride to Vigdid’s house, no one said a word. Will and Lisa sat in the backseat looking out the window and drawing hearts and phrases and penises while Vigdid smoked and exhaled through the crack of her window. Will rested his hand on Lisa’s to see what would happen next. Each time ended the way he expected with Lisa’s hand back on her own lap, but he had the irrational hope that the fourth, fifth, twentieth time would change the two into a parallel universe where hand holding showed a sign of disinterest or that she actually cared for him as more than a last resort fuck buddy or that he thought of her as more than a last resort fuck buddy with less options as any contemporary woman and she would lace her hand in his and Vigdid would stop blowing actual fucking smoke out into the cold air or her curly once blond Aryan hair would catch fire and keep them warm and cuddling. He’d settle for any universe with contact.

Lisa looked out the window and listed the dozens of hostels that she should have contacted as she ignored the artificial menacing blue light coming from her left as Will tried for the umpteenth time to grab her hand. She bobbed her head back and forth by the window looking for an aura borealis that Ryan said existed in this time of year in this type of place in this type of darkness in this time of boredom.

A turn in the dark led to a snow assaulted neighborhood with identical compact two story white homes. The trees had no particular order on the block but inclined to lean back to the earth under the wind, ice and snow accumulated over the winter. Ice daggers waited to fall. Vigdid took the nub of cigarette left from her mouth and threw it out the car window.

“We’re here.”

“Takk!” Will shouted.

“Yes. Yes. Well done. You’re welcome. I have some stew for you all that you must eat.”

“That sounds fantastic!” Will said.

As she opened the house door, Harvey and his mini paws scuttled to the door. The terrier smelled Vigdid and the guests and scooted back up the stairs. Nothing too eventful for him.

Lisa and Will took off their shoes and held their bags in front of Vigdid as if to say “Where the fuck do you want this shit?”

Vigdid nodded to the stairs. “There are two rooms. You can share if you want or boy sleeps in one and you sleep in the other,” she said.

The first room on the right had three walls of pink paint, a white desk waist high with a small round mirror in the middle, a twin sized bed, two identical doll mansions with stripped Barbie dolls that Will expected to stay with when he signed up for couchsurfing.

“That’s your room,” Lisa said.

“At least I’ll get to cum tonight,” he replied.

“Are you eating the stew or no?” Vigdid howled up the stairs.

“You’ve got to eat,” Vigdid said to Will, holding the ladle over his bowl. “You’ve got no meat in you. You,” she said to Lisa. “You’ve got enough,” nodding her head down to her breasts nudging the table. Lisa tied her hair back and leaned towards the bowl and sneezed on top of the stew.

“No, you eat it, stupid,” Vigdid barked at her. Lisa’s lips smiled on the left side of her face.

“I’ll get it right next time.”

“So, where are you from?” Will asked Vigdid.

“Here. I was born here, I will die here, as many others have.”

“Wait,” Lisa said. “So is this place haunted?”

“That’s a stupid question,” Vigdid said as she lit up another cigarette. Will took a puff from his e-cig only to get the three blinks of death and put it back in his pocket. Lisa smiled to the left of her face again.

“There is no god. So why would there be ghosts?” Vigdid said.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, Vigdid.” Will said.

“I feel sorry for you. I always feel free.”

“So who died here?” Lisa asked.

“A lot of people,” Vigdid said while taking a drag.

“Like who?”

“That’s really none of your business, girl. You should eat your stew.”

Lisa looked at her sneeze-flavored stew and gave it a hell-fucking no. Will watched Vigdid from the corner of his eye for her to take the first spoonful. He looked back at Lisa and here wide eyes blinking, “What the fuck?”

“Why did so many people die here?” Will asked.

“It’s not your business.”

“Yes, yes it really is. We’re staying here. We’re thankful for it, but we don’t want to feel uncomfortable.”

Vigdid sat back from her table and took another drag. “Death doesn’t bother me. I’m old. It’s you being young is what makes you scared of death.”

“No,” Will said. “I don’t mind death. I mind when you say a lot of people died. That’s not normal.”

Vigdid looked to the left wall covered in black and white black framed photos of unsmiling people, all blond, sleeked back male hair and curly or long blond female hair with puffy costumed babies all staring at the camera. The tallest men wore straight uniforms and a thin, neat mustache.

“How far back would you like me to go?” Vigdid asked.

“As far as you can,” Will replied.

“Okay.” Vigdid leaned in and took a spoonful of stew and ate it. Lisa immediately followed with three quick spoonfuls in her mouth and snatched the bread.

“My father died when the Germans came over here. We were neutral, but the came here for our iron. So, there’s that. My brothers wanted to get back and threw bottles at the officers. No one else wanted trouble, so they turned my brothers in. My mother left me a note that told me to go to her sister’s house. Her sister found her hanging from the beam in the attic. When they cleared the body, my sister came back here with me and her husband. Her and her husband had a baby who was born early and died a week later. Two years later, I was fourteen, and they had twins. One had pneumonia and died. Then eventually the parents got old and died. I got married and my husband died. I’m sure there were more before and after, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Just know many people died. Okay?”

“Okay,” Will said. “Thank you.”

“Has someone you ever loved died?” Vigdid asked the table.

Lisa and Will sat at the table, staring at their stew and bread.

“There’s fish in here,” Will said.

“My boyfriend lost his best friend in Afghanistan,” Lisa said.

“I didn’t ask you who your boyfriend loved,” Vigdid snarled. “Did you ever lose anyone you loved? Or do you love at all?”

“I don’t think I love anyone,” Will said while giggling to himself.

“And no one loves you either. I’m sure.”

Both reached for the spoon to have some more stew.

“That is what I thought. Maybe you need some death to value and fear life like I do.” Vigdid put out the cigarette in the ashtray.

“Can I ask you why you accepted us on CouchSurfing.com?” Will asked.

“I like company. Would you like to watch some television with me?”

Vigdid patted her knee and Harvey joined her onto the pewter colored sofa.

“God jobb, Harvey!” she said to the terrier.

“Harvey don’t sound Norwegian,” Will said.

“I like the name Harvey.”

Will and Lisa sat on the faux leather chairs from the dinner table a cozy foot and a half apart. They stared at the screen and let their thoughts drown them as their eyes rested on a televised fireplace. “Slow TV” broadcasted a fireplace on Friday nights. The year before, they broke the record for the longest continual live broadcast stream when they showed a cruise ship from the Norwegian coast to the Arctic Circle for one hundred thirty four hours.

“Fire’s very important to Norwegians,” Vigdid reassured Will and Lisa while she petted Harvey. “No one would live here without fire.”

“So why don’t we start a fire in the house?” asked Lisa.

“Too much work. It’s so nice to watch this fire. It’s like the world gets warmer and cleaner and burns away the bad and cold. Right, Harvey?”

Lisa turned to Will and mouthed “What the fuck?”

For twenty minutes, Will and Lisa stared at the screen and waited for the fire to catch their interest. Will lost himself in his mind in sex positions he’s never done and catching the loop of the fire video if there is one or who’s boring ass house let them broadcast a fire for hours on end and zooming out watching the specks of snow land on the windows and roll away as water and freezing in the cracks between the window and the house.

“I think I’m gonna go to bed, if that’s okay.” Will said to the two women.

“I’m sure you had a long day. Godnatt. I can’t wait to talk more tomorrow.”

“Takk!”

He walked up the steps as the rest stared away at the television set. When he got to his pink room, he closed the door and slid the desk in front of the door. He then unbuttoned his pants, took out his laptop, and sat on the bed.

On his two tabs he switched back and forth between pornhub and couchsurfing. After finding Norwegian Grandma, he gave her a four out of five star review. “Meh. Speaks great English but kind of odd. But hospitable. Smokes inside. Picked us up, gave us good food and made us watch some log burning shit.” When he sent the review, he turned off the lights, took off his shirt and rested under the covers naked. After scanning through photos and videos for fifteen minutes he decided on the highest rated Europorn of the month. He placed his cruddy gym shirt from highschool between his penis and the sheets. Every few strokes he listened for any noise from the two of them. Fap, fap, fap, fap, stop. Fap, fap, fap, fap, stop. He muted the moaning and settled on imagining the moan.

“Yeah, Will, right there, right fucking there,” he played in his head while blocking out that this procedure existed in his head, and that no one ever said to him to “cum inside me” or “fuck me harder” or “do it to me baby” or “right there daddy” or “I love you.” He noted in-between strokes that Lisa would sure as hell never say it to him.

“Oh, Will! Will! Will!” the voice sounded more and more like Lisa’s.

Right before climax, Lisa shrieked and slammed on Will’s door. The shriek scared his penis flaccid.

“Holy shit, Will!”

He rolled out of bed covering his penis and felt around for his boxers on the ground as Lisa pounded on the door.

“I’m not fucking with you! She’s got a knife.”

“A kni-”

Lisa’s shriek, cackle and choke interrupted him. Will turned on the lights and stared at the desk blocking the door. Blood crawled in through the crack of the door and met Will’s sock. The warmth then coolness of the blood made him jump back and realize, “Holy fuck. I was right. She did die first.”

“Hey, Will, let us talk,” Vigdid said through the door.

“Fuck that,” Will responded. He ran to the window and stepped on a naked Barbie. He opened the window, kicked the screen and looked at the twenty-foot fall from the window.

“I’ll see you downstairs,” Vigdid said as she shuffled down the steps.

“Fuck. What the fuck is 911 in Norway?” Will said. He looked down the window again and looked at the layers and layers of snow below and for the first time, non-ironically thought, “Y.O.L.O.” He swung his legs on the ledge and led them off the fall. The fall hit him less than the crippling, breath taking -22 C in the middle of Spyderberg. He stumbled barefoot as his toes crushed and crystallized the snow and packed it into traces that Vigdid followed. As Will sprinted fell and rolled in the snow as Nature’s bitch, Vigdid walked out in a night robe and tall boots with an axe in hand.

Will ran across the street to a TV lit house. He slammed on the window and the mother, father and daughter kept their heads angled at the fireplace burning on the television. He slammed harder and cracked the glass. The father grabbed the remote on the coffee table and raised the volume. Will broke through the glass and slit his hand.

“Oh, you seriously can’t fucking hear me now?! It’s a fire, what are you hearing?!” The only functioning part of his body was his core and his heart beating to check on vitals and draw the blood back to keep Will alive.

Will ran to the next house and found another blond family watching the fireplace channel. He sprinted around to the backyard. In front of the tree, he saw a pile of snow and dived in headfirst. He jumped back out and wiped his footsteps to the tree with his unbloodied hand, then reburied himself in the snow. His fingers, his toes, his knees were crispy and rigid but slowly regaining blood and warmth with every pulse.

Harvey yapped and dove into the snow pile and found Will’s leg. He jumped out of the snow, grabbed the nipping terrier and smashed it on the tree. Harvey yelped and scuttled back to Vigdid.

“Harvey!” Vigdid yelled while crossing into the backyard.

The tree let drop a sharp icicle that sliced Will’s left shoulder to his chest and brought him back against the bark of the tree with all but his head below the snow. Vigdid stopped and lit another cigarette.

“You wanna try running around some more?” Vigdid asked.

“No reason to. Everyone’s watching that fucking log channel.”

“Don’t worry. It’s on for another hundred thirty hours.”

Public Solitude (Edited)

 

The sixth avenue subway line. The F line. F for Freaks. F for Fucks. I used to extend my hand in the arriving train’s path to high five it. My sisters screech louder than the train and pull me away. I planned it so well. The train almost always grazed my middle finger like dusty little kisses. Kiss, break, kiss, break, kiss, break. When I did it last week, the wind blew my hand back. I missed it. Today, this train is empty for a Thursday afternoon.

F for Forgotten. No one in their right mind rides this train. It’s old. These trains still have the intercom for the conductors. They still have conductors! The intercom drones on in a raspy tone. It reminds me of a Strokes song.

I saw a guy commit suicide on this line once. Business guy. Typical middle-aged White guy who hated his job and was too pussy to do anything about it, until he did. Dressed in a mediocre suit that looked like his wife got it for him on sale at Macy’s as a reconciliation gift for fucking his eventual replacement at work. He didn’t do the old fashioned “fall” into the track and smile as the track sliced him below a group of worried and indifferent commuters. Ha, everyone worries about the delays he’d cause. He cautiously lowered himself onto the track and opened his arms wide, as if he was going to give the train a bear hug. To my surprise, the people on the platform had enough time to yell “What are you doing?!” or “Police! Stop him!” or “Train, stop! Please!” Like the train would comply “Okay then” like some friendly farmer and break. Nope. The train pushed him for a few seconds like an air hockey puck, and then he went under. The screeching covered up any slicing or screaming. To tell you the truth, sounds don’t come to me well. Mostly sight.

 I’d use the subway to kill myself (how New York of me?). As soon as I saw the train enter the station, I would do an epic dive to the third rail and fry my brains out before the train had its way with me, current slithering down my arms to my core, my soul even, down to my legs and thrill me to death, the hum of electricity cruising through my watery veins like ohm. My last thought would be a prayer to God to bring me back to life just before the train runs me over, just so I could die twice and experience the mass cutting me like knife through butter, to experience how something so valuable turns out to be worthless under a twenty ton machine. Every man, woman, child of any race, culture and weight dies just as easily under a million dollar piece of metal.  That’s equality.

A building falls on all people at nine point eight meters per second squared last time I took physics. Thirty one seconds from about a thousand feet, over a hundred stories.

I’m just an aimless traveler. Maybe I’ll ride this train to Jamaica for the hell of it, get some jerked chicken (never had it). Right now, I’m in the former Lower East Side. LoHo, or one of the other ‘ho’s. They just built a Whole Foods, the modern day equivalent of Columbus planting a flag before, during and/or after raping a bunch of islanders. I don’t get it. You can call a piece of shit gold, but it will still be a piece of shit, like this station, Second Avenue. The conductor has an impediment that adds the last letter on the next word. Thi si secon davenue. Pleas estan dclea ro fth eclosin gdorrs Fucking idiot.

Water rust corrodes the sign indicating that you are currently in hellHo. Welcome. Bienvenue. Bienvenidos. New York likes to be multilingual. Good ol’ Mayor Bloomberg failing to speak Spanish in the middle of Hurricane Sandy. I’m sure in the middle of a blackout and flood that all the New Yorkers, White and Hispanic, sat together in front of a TV or computer with Internet and watched and laughed hand in hand.

Lo see-en-toe par-a toe-dose. Es-perr-oh kay tu air-ez buen-o.

I’m not feeling suicidal today, just reminiscent. This train is empty with the eyesore of colored seats. Orange orange orange orange yellow! Thank God it’s empty. The air conditioning flows better. Try getting a cool breeze on the fucking six train during rush hour. Packed like sardines. It’s funny how no one objects to invasive personal space when everyone’s personal space is violated. Like looking in someone’s bowl to see if they have more than you. If everyone has one soggy sardine, they smile because they have the same. When packed, you don’t get touched; you feel pressure, like dead weight on you. The response? Pressure back. Fight fire with fire.

You can get touched on the subway. I remember my ex and I coming back from a movie on the six train filled to the tetas. We got on at Fourteenth Street going downtown, pressed against the door. She gives me a full hug and pressures me against the door. Her breasts smother me. I still feel that to this day, the imprint on my lungs. She puts her head on my shoulder and bites it. Hard. No one around me reacts. That’s what I love about New York, public solitude. She puts her head to my ear and whispers te quiero and lowers her hands and grabs my ass. This girl was five inches shorter than me, but she almost lifts me up. About a minute later, she takes her right hand off my ass and grabs the bulge in my pants. No one turns a head. That was the greatest pressure I’ve ever experienced. Fucking bitch.

I like this empty train. My curses get to echo in and around the cart, in and around my head. If I ignore the screeching and potential screaming from whoever jumps in front these days, I hear the universe like Ohm. I like grabbing the subway pole and exchanging hot for cold, switching hand placement when adequately heated. Best thing about this line? No terrorist would blow it up. No one gives a fuck about anybody on the F line. Bloomberg takes the six. The Lexington Avenue line trains take more people in a day than every other transit system in the country does put together. They wanna blow up the stockbrokers, the hipsters, the Whites, the Hasidic Jews, the Yankees fans and Grand Central. Anything but Grand Central. How else will I take an overpriced train at a shitty pace around the country?

After Eighty-sixth Street and before Houston Street, the terrorists don’t give a shit. They couldn’t give a flying fuck about this schmuck, this Duracell battery selling black man. He smells like subway. Goowwwd mowning I am a buiznez man. Buiznez man, buiznez man. I got dur-a-cellll alkaline batteries. Only a dolla a pack. One dolla. Buiznez man, buiznez man. Thank you, sir, gawd bless. Buiznez man, buiznez man.

As soon as this guy comes out of the train, he drops his African accent. Fucking genius. Like the great Jay-Z Line “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Terrorists could easily attack the subway. I just think that they don’t like the pressure of the four, five, or six trains. So many other targets that are not my insignificant ass. Hope they get Times Square. No real souls there. Except the workers. Crap. Right here is where it’s at. Ohm.

A Summary of Teenage Years (Thirteen and some Fourteen)

13

 

 

            Your Christian mother gives you a rite of passage. The Jews do it, she says. Why can’t we? Your father nods along with it. He knows there’s no fighting a storm. Your godmother gets you a prayer shawl that you’ll always respect and never wear. It’s the only thing sacred in your eyes. You’ve written dick jokes in bibles, thrown a two-dollar bible around to make it look used for a performance, but that shawl stays unwrinkled and pure. The touch of it gives you shivers. Bible verses line the blue section of the shawl. You’re pretty sure it’s Psalms, but it could be written in Hebrew for all you know.

            Your mother invites at least a hundred people. She never tells you how much it cost her, but she hires caterers in the small Puerto Rican Church basement to cook hamburgers, hot dogs and you’re ashamed of the lack of class your new private school has taught you. You’ve heard of foie gras and you don’t see it on the menu and you know your mother lacks class. You’re thirteen; you know it all.

            You see it in your parents’ eyes how well they mean for you. They sacrificed you into the unknown for a chance at something great. They go to the family meetings the parents have on Lexington Avenue, Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, raising two million dollars for improved fields on Randall’s Island and getting the first half at that meeting. Your father promises a check in the mail and tears it up when he realizes the two thousand in his account won’t make a dent. They don’t need his money. In fact, they’re generous. So generous to you that it makes your parents sick to their adequately fed stomachs that they could never provide you with as much as the other parents can. You don’t hold it against them, because that would be stupid. You love them with a painful awareness of their pain.

            The pastor of the church loves you, loves everyone. You can tell he has a spiritual insight into your soul. Every time you shake hands with Pastor Marc, your spirit sends telegraphic confessions, and you can’t help but repent for jerking off with the same hand. He smiles with a discerning eye that tells you, It’s okay; We’re all flawed.

            Two of your friends show up, Harry Wise and Peter Crisp. You were never friendly with Peter, but he will forever remain in your memory as a kind guy. Pastor Marc asks affirmation-esque questions to confirm your rite of passage. You accept Christ as your savior. You vow a pledge for sexual purity that you know you will not keep, and you desire to break it sooner than you actually do. The pastor asks for all of the men to pray over you, hands over your head. You feel no different.

            Three days later, you’ve held out enough and go to the bathroom, turn the shower on hot, find the lotion buried in the space below the sink and stroke yourself to completion with the steamy rain of sweat and shame. The first few dozen times, it’s to the same image of Pamela Anderson standing naked by a bedpost you Googled. You didn’t know any porn stars for a jumping off point. For the next year and a half it’s to a steamy session between two French women you found because of your newfound appreciation for French reflexive verbs. Elles se lavent. Google translates it to they are washed but you know it better as they are washing themselves. The fact that it’s in the present tense excites you more than it should.

            A couple months later, you get baptized. The water is as warm as everyone told you. Piss warm, in fact. You don’t close your eyes when you’re under. The Holy Spirit won’t enter in, shit. You get out not speaking in tongues or crying. Someone dunked you in warm water.

 

            After a rough day of classes with the upper class, your mother notices your sullen mood, your chin burrowed in the button shirt with the tie half-off. She calls your grandfather, her father-in-law. You never talk to him. You never felt the need to. But you do, and you start tearing up. Your mother can’t bear it and walks into her room to pray. You say the basic things that you always talk about. You lost your neighborhood friends. They still study here. You’re uptown. You commute to school every day. The kids uptown know more than you, because they pay for books and shit.

            He tells you that you do what you have to do to be a boss’ boss. You want to be a boss’ boss. You say okay but want to say you’ve never felt like a spick in your life until now, that you were and always will be known as the White boy in your neighborhood but now you’re a number the school puts on the website to look less racist. You avoid the thoughts because you think you should not be thinking them. You say okay to your grandfather again, but say in another universe you don’t know what goes on, old man. You don’t trust that old man. This is the same old man that will say, years later, he would not vote for no Nigger, and every drip of Slave mixed with Taino mixed with the other half European boil, almost burst through your skin and taint his Nazi face.

 

            Kevin Bacon’s daughter invites you to join Facebook. This impresses no one but you, because no one in your friend group knows who the fuck Kevin Bacon is. For about a week, you convince the popular kids that you’re cool, because you got invited to Facebook. Rohan even writes holy shit you’re legit now. You’re afraid that everyone on the Internet can see shit written on your wall. Your friends write stories in their statuses. You never read past the first few lines and promise to be economical with your words. You write three words unpunctuated like feel sick woo. The next day you write sick. A week later you write okay. A week later you write chill.

 

            Over the summer you write a letter to Amy Garland while she is at camp. Several conversations in person and on Facebook convince you that she’s the one. You make plans to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall together that never pan out because camp. You practice cursive for hours to make your serial killer handwriting not only legible, but sexy, almost fuckable.

            You keep it light; you ask how the camp is, how you miss the conversations, when are we watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall lol. Love? No. Best? Dumb. Cheers? The fuck does that even mean? After five drafts, it’s ready in all of its loose-leaf paper glory. See you soon. Boss.

            Like a pimp you walk to the mailbox. No one watches you, no one even recognizes a thirteen-year-old boy walking with a sweaty letter in his hand. Then the world drops dead when you stand in front of the mailbox. For five minutes, you play out how this can turn out, most scenarios ending in some weird sex scene you saw on your computer. Your heart and your envelope drop at the same time. She never writes you back; she mentions the letter in passing and writes a thanx.

 

14

            Shit gets real, man. You make a list determined to knock all of the things off.

  • Have fun :D
  • Get to at least SECOND BASE with Kayla
  • Get a kiss from Kayla
  • Fall in love
  • Play baseball
  • Learn an instrument
  • Honor Roll

 

You get none of these accomplished. 

Sparks

I wake up and Anthony’s hogging the bed. He wasn’t here when I fell asleep. His body heat and mine make the room hotter than it should be. The AC don’t exist and I put cardboard by the window. “There’s gangs outside,” Ma says to me. A whole gang might come through the window. Or one of their bullets might stop by for a visit. But cardboard makes everything better, like Vicks.

            I climb over Anthony and he rolls to my side. On his right sleeve, he drew a fake Polo mascot. He wore that shirt yesterday. Moms must have sent him out sometime last night and he couldn’t grab a set of clothes for today. Bobby’s back over in the house, making us another brother or sister. What’s another one to the seven he’s had with the five other women?

            I walk to the kitchen in my underwear to find Ma cooking omelets with a hint of cigarette dangling from her bottom lip. The balancing act could impress a tightrope walker. When she speaks, the cigarette translates her words to a ghetto Morse code a select few get. The army used her and her cigarette to transmit messages in Japan without the Japanese intercepting it.

            “Calor, mijo.” Cigarette up and down twice.

            “Claro, Ma.” She flips the eggs without looking at me.

            “Why is Tony here again?”

            “Don’t know. Moms probably told him to go.”

            “What time?”

            “I have no idea; I was sleeping.” She cuts half an omelet and puts it on a plate by my seat. When she sits, she rests the cigarette on top of the ashtray, on standby.

            “Eat fast. You got school in twenty.”

            “I’m already late.”

            “Coño, then get out of here.” She picks up her cigarette and smokes it like it owes her money.

            “Lemme finish the omelet!” It tastes like ash and crap, but it’s better than what the school feeds me.

            “Wake your brother up.”

            “Nah, he’s had a rough night.” Plus, I don’t want him to go with that same shirt. His whole grade will know. The guys care more about that shit than the girls. It was a joke when Tony drew it, making fun of the morenos that started rocking Polo Shirts after they saw Kanye wear it. When Tony rocks adidas, he adds a fourth stripe. When he rocks Jordans, he draws an ass crack on the little Jordan figure. He doesn’t take any of their shit seriously, and they never laughed. Nevermind that we can’t afford most of these things.

            “He has to go to school. How will he get to college?”

            “How’s he gonna get to college when a nigga can’t get no sleep?”

            Ma rolls her eyes. “Don’t call him that; he’s not a Moreno-”

            “Ma, you’re taking it too seriously.”

            She stretches out the cigarette as an extension of her arm, as if the cigarette makes the point for her. “He’s missed school twenty times already!”

            “He’s past the fifteen limit, so what does it matter?”

            “Afuera. Go.”

 

            There’s no reason to put a subway station near the projects, so I walk fifteen minutes to the nearest stop. The usual crowd passes by: Lucy sells old clothes and baby shoes she finds in decent condition from wherever (where she also finds her clothes); Earl talks to his businessman man in the phone made by his pinky and thumb (“Big deals, big deals, my man!”); Willie and his boys spend their last few dozen years living off SS with a forty and beach chair (“My man hustling in school to get it in with the biddies, I know how you do!”). Everyone knows me like I’ll owe them something in the future.

            On the subway, a White couple runs to the closing doors. The man makes it to the train. As the train leaves, the couple smacks the train door, the woman running like her man’s off to war now, making wild phone gestures like Earl. The train pulls in the tunnel, and the rest of the crowd turns their heads away with a smirk. One of the Black guys looks back and yells, “Damn, nigga, no ass for you tonight!”

            Everyone that is not White in the train joins in a chorus of “Ahhhhhhhhh!” and heads tilted back. Our days are made. The White guy looks through his Lennon glasses to find his allies and gets off at the next stop without protest. May his sex life rest in peace.

            Five uneventful stops later, I’m at DeAngelo High by the twenty foot fences. Elsie stands up from her post, fighting the battle between her three hundred pounds and gravity.

            “Hold up, I gotta check for weapons.” She takes gasps of air like it’s her first.

            “Just the usual crack, knives and AKs, boo.” After she catches her breath, she rolls her eyes and head.

            “Get your ass in class before I tell your mom.”

            “You know anything would be news to her.” Elsie laughs. She babysat me.

            I’m two weeks in the new schedule they give out every ten weeks and I have no idea where in Sweet God’s Baby Tea my class is. If I didn’t use my schedule as a fucking bib, maybe I’d see the classroom outline better. That’s an eight. No it’s fucking not; There’d be eight floors. That what the fuck makes that thing that’s similar to an eight? It’s a letter, jackass. B. Like the grade you wish you got in the classes you can’t find. B something seven.  B something fucking seven. Dude, go to the B side of the building and find a something fucking seven, hit up all the rooms until you see a pissed teacher and a smiling class. Gucci.

            The hallway in every one of the five possible floors is long enough to have twins at the end of it asking you to join them forever and ever. The ghosts of DeAngelo High haunt the delinquents in the empty halls according to old teacher rumor. No fucking ghost would waste their time in a High School hallway when there are so many girl’s locker rooms, or showers to peep through. Too many couples having sex for ghosts to not get in on watching that. They can fly through time and space, but they’re wasting time on haunting my ass, sure. On the bright side, they do a better job of stopping bullets than Elsie, or the cardboard on my window.

            Outside of Principal Marshall’s office, there’s a photo of the original DeAngelo boys in 1925, before they let girls in in the sixties. All White, naturally, with ties and blazers and the sullen look of serious White people in for some privilege but what turned out to be some shit. Depression and war probably messed them up good. But hey, I can’t hate on some cats rocking a suit.

            Second floor’s science labs. No reason to go there. Third floor. Maybe. 307. Empty. Forth floor. By the time I find my class it’ll be study hall. 407. Found it. Mr. Williams is sitting on the desk like a kid on timeout. He swings his legs, his body off the desk to greet me.

            “Great to see you in class! Thought you forgot where it was!”

            “I did, sir. Would that make it a forgivable offense?” He smirks as if I triggered some quote he’s wanted to say for weeks.

            “All is permissible. Not much is forgivable.”

            “I can live with that.”

            “Do you know what we’ve been discussing here?”

            “No idea.”

            He struts over to the far left of the chalkboard about to recommence his lecture for my benefit.

            “We’re talking about how a failed art school student almost took over all of Europe.” He leans in, waiting for me to fill in the word “Hitler.”

            “Okay.” He purses his lips.

            “Nothing about him screams dictator. Short height, high pitched voice, crazy rhetoric for years. Yet within a handful of years, he was able to overturn a Republic and retool it for a war and death machine. Do you know how he did it?”

            “He took advantage of the stupidity of people-”

            “Not everyone is stupid.” He looks around the classroom to verify, I guess. “Desperation and passion,” he says. “Desperation and passion make for any Joe Schmo to rule the world. The Germans were impoverished, disenfranchised, in disbelief that their once glorious nation had to pay so much to the rest of the world. Then this little, passionate man gave them an idea- something that can make a sane, kind person kill for a living.”

            “What’s that?”

            “We’re better than them. And that’s been the motto of every successful empire until their collapse.”

            “Word.”

            “Also, you have detention.”