for friendship

For friendship, fulfillment, and that loving feeling you've been longing for,

write to: PO Box 2333, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY 11779

Monday, December 26, 2011

ROADTRIP! (Part 4)

This is the first part of a much longer story. Here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Enjoy! -CJS

Rolling on through the desert, pedal to the metal, toward the Hoover Dam- America's greatest monument to the modern miracle of hydroelectric power. Between where we were and where we were going, there was only yellow desert, the baking sun, and endless rows of traincars bringing an endless supply of cheap foreign products to Walmart- America's greatest monument to the modern miracle of global monopoly. Out here, there wasn't much, only a vague suggestion of commerce, the sky unpoisoned by the outstretched middle finger of a McDonald's sign at every exit.

We were only about a hundred miles from meeting the penpal I had had since I was sixteen. I sent him a video once when I was in high school. I show him my friends. I show him the mall. I show him my school. I am smiling, but uncomfortable, self-conscious from the gut instinct that my world was a small one, that there were better places than the food court and the inside of a beat-up car.

I thought about those feelings, and the difference between me and the person in that video. I was still the same inside, the same feeling that the world was exploding with possibility at every turn, but now I really believed it, because I was living it. My best friend was beside me driving the car, adjusting her bandanna in the rearview. The world was full of like-minded individuals, and if you were brave enough to seek them out, they would come to you.

I flipped through the pictures of sunsets and desert on my digital camera, my bare feet hanging out the window. The wind felt up my toes, lapping them like a fetishist in an HBO special. The world was swarming with chances, buzzing with good fortune. We were the lucky ones.

**

I felt the wet slap on my feet, saw the spray of blood and guts on the windshield, and heard the sound of the moist impact against the glass. I threw my camera down on the floor and looked up at the Amityville Horror that had just happened all over my car.

“WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED?!”

I shifted to face Ali, with my feet, coated and dripping with an unknown substance, still hanging out the window.

“ALI, WHAT THE HELL IS ON MY FEET?!”

Ali was slack-jawed, hitting the arm for the wipers. Blood and white liquid smeared in waves. It looked like a massacre in the sharktank at Seaworld. Ali's mouth hung open, not speaking.

“WHERE ARE THE WETNAPS?!” I frantically spun around in my seat, trying the keep my feet from soiling the inside of the car. I felt around in the backseat, blindly and desperately clawing for the recognizable shape of a brick of babywipes.

“THE MOTHERFUCKING WETNAPS, ALI!” I grabbed Ali by the shoulders, shaking her on the verge of a madness I had never thought possible.

“WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED? WHAT IS ON MY FEET, ALI?!” I located the wipes, mopping the blood, guts, and mysterious other parts from my toes, feet, and ankles.

The windshield started to clear. Ali braked and pulled the car over.

She finally spoke. The rumblestrip shook the Toyota and we came to a halt.

“Bees!”

I looked at the gore-scene on the wetnaps I was holding. “BEES?!”

I cleaned off my feet, cursing and sputtering, and Ali got out to survey the front end of the car.

“Holy shit, dude. You really are not gonna believe this.”

The hood of my car, the windshield, the wipers, the side mirrors- they were all coated in bees. Bees. Bee parts. Bee guts. Twitching headless, limbless bee middles. Disembodied wings lifting lightly in the wind made by other cars as they flew past us. The highway was quiet. We were alone, mouths agape, standing in the dirt on the side of the road.

Ali knelt down to assess the grill. I looked, too. Melted and half-dead, a thousand bees met their maker in the radiator, sizzling.

Ali leaned in to hear it. “Total carnage.”

When the spray of bees devastated the Echo, the windows were open on both sides. I cannot estimate how many bees were in the cloud of insects trying to make their way across that fateful stretch of highway that afternoon, but from the amount of wayward bee parts that remained in my car until the day it was junked, it must have been in the tens of thousands. I am not a praying woman, nor am I an etymologist, but I will say that although many lives were lost that day, I believe countless others were saved by divine justice when we took out that cloud of Killer Bees.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Holiday Gift to YOU!

Enjoy this poorly recorded story to put you in the holiday spirit!

http://cassiejsneider.bandcamp.com

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Gift Ideas

I have a lot of talented friends, so here is my list of what to buy for that special someone in your life...

Mom
(She's starting to lose it a little and keeps calling you by your sister's name. She loves Christmas and has a new sweater for every day in December)
Holiday Cards by award-winning author Ali Liebegott!

Dad
(He got a turntable last Christmas, and he's been asking you what the kids are into.)
Yesterday Is No Tomorrow LP by Stalkers!

Your Ex-Boyfriend
(He uses tinfoil instead of curtains, sleeps in a twin bed with one pillow, and just can't seem to get it together.)
Get Up and Still Standing by Bucky Sinister!

Aunt Flo
(She has been lovingly making you gem-sweaters by hand for the last thirty years. It's time for payback.)
A custom-embroidered pillow by Corinne Loperfido!

Your Childhood Best Friend
(She still lives at home in the room with the canopy bed.)
Adorable animal calendars by Nicole J. Georges!

Your Little Brother
(He's getting into rockandroll, but the Kerrang! posters stapled to the wall just aren't cutting it anymore.)
prints and custom art by Janelle Hessig!

That Weird Bachelor Uncle
(He offered to smoke you out in his van at Grandma's funeral and told you all about the time Twisted Sister came to town in '86.)
Fine Fine Music, by yours truly. It's the only book you'll ever need.

Your Best Friend's Kid
(Well, you'll certainly never reproduce, but here's a gift for the special child who has turned your old best friend into a boring pod-person of their former self.)
Unison Spark by Andy Marino
OR
Custom puppets by your truly. Only $40 for a gift that will last a lifetime. Email me for details!

Monday, November 28, 2011

ROADTRIP! (Part 3)

This the third installment of a much longer story. You can find Part One and Part Two here. Enjoy! -CJS

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In America, the road to anywhere is paved with Waffle Houses and the occasional sensory overload of roadkilled skunk.

“What is that?” I gagged, breathing in the aromatic warning of fresh North American skunk for the first time in my life.

“What?” Ali asked.

“That smell. What is that?” I suspected Ali, and she lifted her arms and shrugged. I rolled up the window and put on the air conditioner, facing all the vents so they were blowing in my face.

We stopped at a gas station near Nashville. Ali ran inside for cigarettes while I filled up the car. A man sauntered up to me while I watched the gas counter roll like a slot machine. I was used to the New York City panhandlers, so I wondered what his pitch would be. Another dollar for a Big Mac? Recent job loss? Open admittance of a crack problem?

“Hi,” he said, gazing at me. He was in his late thirties, sporting a baseball cap proclaiming “Life Is Good.”

“Hi,” I said, giving the gas pump a little shake.

“I saw your New York plates and I figured I’d come on over.”

It seemed like a weird thing to say. I let a few awkward seconds pass before nodding.

“So, y’all are from New York?”

“Uh, sure are,” I said, trying to peer into the mart portion of the gas station to see how far along Ali was with her transaction.

“Well, I think that’s just great.” He flashed a smile. His teeth were the yellowed aftermath of unfluoridated water.

There was a pause. An eighteen wheeler rumbled by. A bird squawked. Still no sign of Ali.

“Well, I saw your plates, and I was just wondering if y’all know about Jesus.”

Those who know me know that there is no greater joy for me than befriending a religious zealot. Jehovah’s witnesses still come to my mother’s house and ask for me by name. I love talking about the end of the world, and I love all of the doomsday Armageddon conspiracies that the Lord inspires. My eyes lit up. “Do I ever!”

“Really?” he said, making sure I was not trying to pull a fast one on him.

“Really!”

“Y’all have churches in New York?” he asked, wavering somewhere between curious and sheepish.

“Of course! Did you think we didn’t?”

“Well, I dunno. I just figured after September 11th and all, I didn’t know if there was much left. Well, anyways, that warms my heart to hear.” He paused to chuckle. “To think, I was comin’ over here because y’all looked like you needed saving, but it turns out you was already saved!”

“Imagine that!” I said, kicking at the dirt in an aw-shucks sort of way. Or maybe I was kicking the demon trying to pull me into the Earth’s core. One or the other.

“Well, let me just go ahead and give you a tract, and you can remember me.”

“I will probably never forget you.”

“I’m Orville,” he said, handing me a pamphlet and shaking my hand.

“I’m Cassie. Great to meet you, Orville. Thanks for the literature.”

“No problem. Have yourselves a great trip. Imagine that. Churches in New York!” He shook his head as he got into his station wagon and slammed the door, disbelieving that New York had not dissolved into a black hole of sin and fornication after the towers fell. I hardly believed it myself.

Ali came out, holding a sweaty cup of soda in one hand.

“Whatcha got there?”

“A gift from God.”

“Cool,” Ali said. “Eighteen-hundred miles to Vegas.”

I watched the station wagon pull away. “Yep.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Embarrassing Moments from Junior High!

(Hold down the Control key and the + key to zoom in.)


Monday, November 14, 2011

ROADTRIP! (Part 2)

This is the second installment of a much longer story. You can check out Part 1 here. Enjoy! -CJS

It started to rain, downpour, really, in Tennessee. We were delirious, and our only major stop had been a Walmart and an underground cavern in Pennsylvania. In the lobby, the walls were lined with the heads of every species that had ever been found wandering near the mouth of the cave. After admiring the tourist trap's Hall of Death, I found a corner of dusty souvenir snowglobes and rabbit foot keychains and stumbled upon the most terrifying clown marionette I had ever seen.

“I’m going to eat your eyes,” I said later, raising the puppet’s ghastly white hand. Ali was navigating us through the rain, and we hadn’t seen a motel sign for miles.

“Shut up,” she said, eyes bloodshot from so much continuous driving.

“When you wake up, your eyes will be gone, and I will have eaten them.” The puppet spoke in a voice that was sweet, yet methodical, like a child in an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

“Shut up. I hate you so much.”

The rain started to come down hard. I put the puppet in the back seat and together Ali and I squinched our eyes at a distant blue travel sign.

“Motel!” We were saved.

The motel seemed normal enough as we were paying for the room. It was the long, one-story kind that somehow withstood time and new traffic patterns, laying untouched under the rain, waiting for tired drivers attracted to the blue neon like squinting moths. We dragged our bags inside.

“Are we gonna do it?” I asked. Ali pulled out a scissor.

“We’ve got to if we want this to be the real thing.” She took out the box of hairdye in L’Oreal Starry Night I had bought back at the Walmart. There were a few ideas we had been preoccupied with in our trip planning. One was that in every outlaw roadtrip movie, someone has to change their appearance. My most recent haircut was one that could be described as looking as though I had had recent brain surgery. In an impulsive stroke of genius, I had given myself a mohawk with a lengthy tail, shaved in some lines, and dyed the word “RAD” into the other side of my closely cropped head. It would have been great, the ultimate declaration of one’s personal radness, if not for a drip of the red dye that had made it look like I was advertising myself as “BAD.” The haircut was both a radical change of appearance as well as a bad idea, and though it encompassed the spirit of each, it was probably for the best that I made it a solid color. Ali was just going to cut her bangs really short, because she already had a Pat Benetar mullet, and, therefore, not much else to do with it.

“Well. Here we go.” I plied the plastic gloves from the instructions and got to work mixing the chemical components while Ali clipped away at her head.

“We should really stop doing this,” she said.

“I know. But it’s like sometimes everything sucks and chopping all my hair off just seems like the only solution. I mean, I’d like it if I had long, flowing indie rock girl hair, but it’s just never gonna happen as long as there are buzzers at home.”

“Maybe we should make a hair pact,” she suggested.

“Like, no cutting and no buzzing?”

“Yeah, I mean, dying is totally alright, but no cutting or buzzing aside from necessary maintenance.”

“How long do you think it will take before we become attractive again?”

She lifted her arm, revealing a tuft of pit-hair that looked like an open bag of brown alfalfa sprouts. “Could take years.”

A half-hour later, the dye was all washed out and I was drying my hair with a towel. Ali took off her Carhardts and brushed her teeth.

“Well, I’m beat,” she said, walking over to the bed. She pulled the thin industrial bedspread down, revealing the pillowcases were were spotted with blood. We stared at each other in the movie-moment disbelief two people share when discovering stranger's blood on their bedding. Ali yanked the bedspread down further. Whomever had changed the threadbare white sheets had put them right over a tuft of hair still attached to a silver-dollar sized piece of scalp on the right side of the bed.

“Well, goodnight.” Ali climbed into the left side of the bed and turned off her light.

“Oh. Oh, my god. There was hair and blood, Ali.”

“Whatever,” she said, yawning, shifting positions from the spot where someone had suffered to spot where they had probably died.

“Ali, there was hair and blood. Please get up. I’m going to vomit.”

“Goodnight.”

I stared at Ali until my eyes adjusted to the dark. Then I threw on shoes and ran outside in a T-shirt to get my sleeping bag.

Ali had the bed to herself that night.

**

Monday, November 7, 2011

What I've been up to lately...


Just like my ancestors before me.


Bless this mess.


Hotter than July.

Monday, October 31, 2011

ROADTRIP! (Part 1)

This is the first part of a much longer story. Enjoy! -CJS

Everyone hates where they grow up. If you don’t, you end up one of those people who stay, and although neither of us had left Long Island, Ali and I had running in our blood. We felt it there, thinning it like heart medication, preparing us for warmer climates in places not overrun by douchebags. Long Island wasn’t the worst place to grow up, but it certainly wasn’t the best. There was something about the high-tension wires weaving their way across the homogenous two-story developments that made Long Islanders, as a people, high tension. You could see it in their faces, taut from anger at the slow-moving line at the Burger King, grinding their teeth, and using the word faggot like it's the Long Island cheer. It is shouted at sporting events, school functions, and special occasions. Any pedestrian is a potential faggot, walking around, spreading their fag ways like some kind of faggy biped. On a simple bikeride from point A to point B, one can expect to have the word faggot shouted at them five or six times regardless of gender identity or sexual preference, as well as anticipate at least one open cup of soda being hurled at them.

Ali started wearing a helmet on rides to her job at the mall. She said it was for safety, but anyone who has ever had a can of beer thrown at them from a moving car can tell you it will take a chunk of scalp with it. I made the decision to ride only at night, joining the world of morlocks and creeping things that party when the sun goes down. I felt rebellious that way, kidding myself into believing I owned the streets, not that I was afraid of being jumped. In spite of my Ponyboy toughguy fa├žade and the unicorn stickers on Ali’s helmet, deep down, we both knew this was no way to live.

I was lucky to know Ali. I had spent most of my life in a friendless, nocturnal scurry from my parents' house to the 7-11 and back, but now I had someone to share it with. Ali drank syrupy three AM coffee without flinching, cut her own hair, and waitressed at the club where I worked the door. Together we followed neon lights into diners like moths and stayed up all night talking shit about everyone we knew.

We were at a diner and seated in the booth behind us were two guys who looked like they had just gotten out of work at a BMW dealership: ties untied, sleeves rolled up, letting their hair down and cutting loose after a long day of selling luxury sedans. Ali and I were sullen, moody, brightly-colored post-teens, the veritable furniture of late-night dining establishments. Bookended, these two looked out of place for the three in the morning vibe. From the sudden quiet at their booth, we sensed that we had just been noticed and braced ourselves for the inevitable hate crime.

“Are you guys in a band?” the shorter one said, drunk, stoned, or spiritually retarded by a dead-end commission sales job.

“Yes,” Ali said, confidently, as though we had just gotten back from our first European tour.

“That’s cool,” said the other. “What do you play?”

“I play drums. She sings.”

“Yeah, I sing,” I said, bobbing my head like an agreeable parakeet.

“That’s cool, that’s cool,” said Loose Tie. “I’m in a band, too.”

“What’s your band called?” Ali asked.

“Magic Beneath the Earth.”

Coffee flooded the flap of skin that keeps food from falling into your lungs and I started to gag. “That’s a really great band name,” I choked.

“Thanks!” said Loose Tie. “What’s your band called?”

“Spirit in the Sky.” Not even a split second of thought had brought that name to the forefront of my conscious. I had not recently heard Norman Greenbaum on the radio, nor had I been dreaming of the feedback airplane roar of the opening guitar peel. I just had the useless superhero ability to summon the titles of one-hit wonders for a laugh. I was the Aquaman of record nerds.

“Dude!” said the shorter one. “I totally saw you guys play!”

“Uh, really?”

“Yeah, at that fuckin’ place! Last month!”

“Which gig?” I asked. “We play so many, you know?”

“That fuckin’ place. On Route 110. Fuckin’ what’s it called?”

“The Crazy Donkey?” I said. All Long Island bars are either named after somebody’s Irish uncle or an adjective describing an animal. You can’t walk down Main Street of any town without seeing ten different places named Paddy Shaleighleigh’s or the Filthy Frog.

“YEAH! The fuckin’ Crazy Donkey!”

“Yeah, it was that show we played with all those other bands!” I said, wide-eyed at the non-existent recognition.

“Dude! Yeah! You guys fuckin’ rocked!” said the shorter one. “You put on a great fuckin’ show!”

“Thanks,” Ali said, almost blushing. “We try to give it our all, you know.”

“Nah, bro,” said the shorter one. “You guys fuckin’ got something.”

“You know what you gotta do?” said Loose Tie.

“What?” we asked. What could it possibly be that we had to do?

“You guys gotta get a fuckin’ van. Right? So you fuckin’ get a van, and you fuckin’ drive down to Florida. Then you fuckin’ play some shows. What the fuck’s that called?” He turned to the shorter one, expecting him to pick up the slack for the synapses misfiring in his brain.

“Hmmm, what is that called?” I asked, looking around for inspiration. “A tour? Is that called a tour?”

“Yeah! A fuckin’ TOUR! You guys gotta tour.”

“Thanks,” said Ali. “I think we will.”

“You guys gotta get out there and tour,” the shorter one said.

“You guys got something. You guys are gonna make it,” said Loose Tie, looking down at his watch. “Look, we don’t wanna bother you anymore. But you guys are fuckin’ awesome. You’re gonna make it. You just gotta tour. I’m serious. You ladies have a good night now.” They walked off, stumbling into the rounded glass case that held the museum-quality cheesecake.

Ali and I looked at each other.

Maybe those guys knew something we didn’t. Maybe they were prophets, sensing the white light, white heat streaming from our auras. We decided that day as we frantically transcribed the conversation on a paper placemat that those two drunken salesmen were right. What we had wasn’t a friendship. It was a band.

**

We left on a Friday.

It was two years of planning, Let’s-Go-Here, No-Let’s-Go-There, all packed up in suitcases borrowed from our parents into my small, fuel-efficient Toyota. Ali just wanted to hit the road and camp. I have an aversion to dirt and shitting outside, so I had saved enough money for Motel 6 to leave a light on for us in every state. First we were going to meet the Las Vegas penpal I had had since I was sixteen, then we were going to stay with some friends in LA. After that, we were going to shoot up the coast to hang out with my favorite writer in San Francisco and get dinner with my favorite band the next day. It was as though all of my Rolling Stone junior-reporting dreams were coming true in one tiny-dancing supernova of teen angst.

“I bought Carhardts today. I was at Sears with my mom and they just spoke to me.” I was sitting on the couch in the living room of Ali's parents. Her house was considerably more orderly than the house I had grown up in, no scratched-off lotto tickets all over the coffee table or the smokey blue overhang of negligent parenting. Somehow, though, the result was almost the same. Ali marched around in her stiff janitor pants and purple hair, doing lunges in the livingroom of her parent’s house, stretching and reaching for a sweat that would chemically unstarch them.

Ali’s plan was to minimize her stuff by wearing overalls every day. This was a noble effort to increase the leg space in the car that I was unable to match. I have a form of paranoid schizophrenia that comes out only when packing. One of my recurring nightmares is that I am the plane to Disneyworld and I look down to see I am not wearing shoes. I have to get off the plane and crawl home through broken glass barefooted and then fight my way back to the Happiest Place on Earth. This fear of being unprepared causes me to pack for the onset of a nuclear holocaust when I am only staying overnight with a friend. If I think there is even a ten-percent chance that I might not sleep in my own bed, I bring canned goods and a power generator.

The list of things I was bringing on our roadtrip included a ten-pound bag of dried cranberries, a CB radio, and outfits for every possible special occasion and weather pattern. The CB radio had come from this lonely, middle-aged packrat who was a regular at my job at the bookstore. In the 80s, Charlie had been a traveling punk rocker, caravaning across the country with a mohawk and a rattail snaking down her back. She seemed like a pretty cool lady when I first met her, but as I got to know her, the trails of garbage in her home and conspiracy theories about her ex-husband’s new life made it clear that she was not too interested in reality. Charlie was excited about my trip and the vicarious joy it was going to provide. She insisted I go to her house to pick up the CB before leaving Long Island in a trail of Craisins and exhaust.

Charlie was waiting on the porch for me, surrounded by fresh bags of trash and obviously riding the high of a manic upswing. Based on the sheer volume of trash at her house, I was pretty sure she was making daily trips to rob the donation bin in the parking lot of the 7-11.

“You made it!” she said. “Okay, now close your eyes!”

When I opened them, Charlie was trying to force my arms into a yellow raincoat. “This is for when you have to change a tire!”

“I’m gonna be in the desert, Charlie.”

“And what are you going to wear when you have to change a tire?”

“If that should happen, I suppose I’ll just wear whatever it is I happen to be wearing when the tire fails.”

“Well, I think it’s a good idea for you to hang onto this. Just in case. You never know with tires.” The raincoat landed next to the skirt with a soft vinyl woosh. “Okay. Close your eyes!”

“Charlie, like, really. Do I have to close my eyes?”

“Close them! Okay, so this is the best part. Hold out your hand.”

I held out my hand, the way one does when they are not sure whether to expect something wet or dead. When I opened them, I was holding a pink elephant bath mitt with a streak of blood on it.

“Every trip needs a mascot!” Charlie said. “You gotta name it!”

“Uh, how about Rusty?”

“That’s a great name!”

“I gotta go, Charlie. We’re gonna get stuck in traffic. Thank you for the stuff. Really.” I threw the elephant in the trashbag and backed up toward the car.

Charlie stood waving from her porch against a backdrop of trash. “Send me postcards!”

“I will.”

When I pulled up to Ali’s, she was already waiting outside. “What the hell took you so long?”

“Charlie wanted us to have a mascot.” I threw the blood-streaked elephant at Ali.

“What the fuck is this?”

“Our mascot. It’s for luck.”

Ali threw it in the backseat. “Let the bloodshed begin.”



Tune in next week for the next exciting chapter!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bank Transfer Day is November 5th...switch to a credit union, folks.

Things I Have Learned From Arguing with Giant Corporations:

1. Sallie Mae is not some cute girl from the south, and if she gets your number, she probably won't stop calling. You didn't tell her you moved four years ago, so she drives by your parents house when she is lonely, just to see if you're home.

2. Bank of America doesn't care if you're stripping to pay your credit card bill, because nothing is more American than a stripper just trying to pay her bills.

3. Bank of America can tell you are lying when you tell them you are sucking dick to pay their high interest rates and they won't do anything to help you.

4. The customer service representative at Bank of America will get very upset when you pretend to cry, long, deep, emotional wails, the sort of crying reserved for a very special episode of Highway to Heaven where it looks like even Michael Landon can't help. She will beg you to stop and eventually put a supervisor on the phone, who is gruff and significantly less sympathetic. Your interest rates will remain where they are.

4. American Express will reverse the charges when you tell them you are going to kill yourself over the phone. When you say, “I'm picking up the razor now, Christina,” they will beg you to hold and then speak to a supervisor, who will give you your money back.

5. It is easier to defuse a bomb on a moving schoolbus full of innocent children than to fix your credit score after a bank error from HSBC.

6. When you have a parking ticket, it never goes away. Instead it mutates in a collections office somewhere like space jizz in a NASA lab, and it gets bigger and stronger and sends you threatening letters like an illegitimate kid you could never afford child support for, who grows up to be taller than you and really into Marilyn Manson and collecting knives and wants to kick your ass.

Things I Have Learned From Being Really Poor:

1. Bones will reset on their own. They may not work as well, but it is cheaper than going to the hospital. Also, you can use Krazy Glue to hold your thumb together when you can't afford stitches.

2. A ride in an ambulance costs as much as a two-week Celebrity Cruise, only you are not conscious for it and there is no Richard Simmons to hold you in your suffering.

3. If you get poison ivy in your eye but have no health insurance and your eyeball swells up to twice its size, go to sleep. It will probably be okay in the morning, even if your vision is a little weaker from then on.

4. When your dentist mails you an appointment reminder card, it's because he lives in a magical world of imagination where people can afford to get their teeth cleaned regularly and not just pulled when they are hanging like Wayne Gretzky's after a hockey accident.

5. When your friend dumpster-dives a pallet of juice from Whole Foods, don't drink any of it, because there is probably something wrong that made them throw it out in the first place, and whatever it is will cause you to fart during an interview for a job you really need but are overqualified for.

6. You can lie on your resume and say you went to Yale, because nobody ever checks that shit anyway.

If you would like an official Cassie J. Sneider Fanclub INTERNATIONAL informational packet containing this information, as well as "How to Dress for a Job Interview" and "How to Make Money When You're Broke," send me an email!

Monday, October 17, 2011

I can remember it for you wholesale

Bucky and I have been trying to decide what to be for Halloween this year. Initially, I thought of “Predator” and “sex predator,” with Bucky in sort of a metallic dreadlocked wig, and me in a mustache with a combover, but we've kept brainstorming. Ideally, we'd like to include Pug in our costume decision, and Bucky suggested that we get an infant front-snuggling device for Pug so that he can be Kuato in Total Recall, the parasitic twin growing out of a man's stomach who also happens to be the leader of the mutant underworld.

“We'll strap him like this,” Bucky said, picking up Pug, whose front legs stuck straight out, slowly kicking like a turtle. “Look into your mind, Quaid.”

I didn't remember that much about Total Recall. The last time I saw it was when my parents rented it for us when I was eight, and we watched it last night as a costume refresher. A lot of memories came flooding back, and it was obvious that this is a movie no child should ever see. There were a lot of other movies I probably shouldn't have seen, major factors in me growing up to be the kind of adult who hides behind a door to scare her boyfriend, or stoops behind a couch long after it has become uncomfortable to grab at someone unsuspecting. This is how Sneiders show love, by scaring the living shit out of each other.

MOVIE: Total Recall
AGE VIEWED: 8 (1991)
SPECIAL FAMILY MEMORY: My mom turning to my stepdad after the scene with the lady with three breasts at the space brothel and saying, “Don't get any ideas.”
LASTING DAMAGE: 1. Fear that anyone could potentially have a psychic mutant growing out of their chest cavity. 2. The idea of a futuristic space woman with three boobs may or may not have made me gay. 3. Recurring nightmare of not having enough air as the world is exploding where I can feel my eyes popping out and my skin and hair falling off.

MOVIE: Critters
AGE VIEWED: 4 (1986)
SPECIAL FAMILY MEMORY: While the movie was still going, my mom went in my room, got two of my Popples, balled them up, and rolled them at my feet.
LASTING DAMAGE: I am always afraid that something that looks like a sea urchin with the face of a shih tsu will roll out from under a car and buzzsaw my legs with its teeth.

MOVIE: Ghoulies
AGE VIEWED: 5 (1988)
SPECIAL FAMILY MEMORY: I was so scared, I kept leaving the house and bothering my dad while he was laying cement in the yard. I thought it would be over, but I kept coming back inside just in time to see scenes like when one of the mini-humanoids bites a man's tongue out of his mouth.
LASTING DAMAGE: 1. Fear of intimacy. 2. Fear of a creature bursting out of toilet while I am using it.

MOVIE: Night of the Living Dead
AGE VIEWED: 6 (1989)
SPECIAL FAMIY MEMORY: My mom loping out from behind our minivan and slow-chasing me down the street.
LASTING DAMAGE: Lifelong distrust of my own mother.

MOVIE: Puppet Master
AGE VIEWED: 9 (1992)
SPECIAL FAMILY MEMORY: My cousin Jamie, who was also nine, brought this over on VHS and watched it with my sister, who was seven.
LASTING DAMAGE: I can't take relaxing baths because I am afraid a creature with a drill for a hand is going to scamper into the room at bath-height and kill me.

MOVIE: Pulp Fiction
AGE VIEWED: 11 (1994)
SPECIAL FAMILY MEMORY: Screaming, “Oh, my God! What's happening?!” at the basement scene, and my mom's answer being, “If you don't want to see it, close your eyes.” Also, after that, when my parents would go in the attic to get things like Christmas decorations, they would make comments about “getting the Gimp.”
LASTING DAMAGE: 1. Fear of ever needing an adrenaline shot to the chest. 2. Continual lifelong inappropriateness and fear of basements.

I want to hear about the movies that have ruined you. Send me an email at cassiejsneider@yahoo.com, or friend me on the internet and tell me all about it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Romance

Gustav and I broke up on the subway platform on the way to work, and it ruined my commute. I could no longer sit on the same wooden bench every morning, cupping coffee in my gloved hands, people watching with the sunny optimism of someone who was in love. I guess I could still sit on the bench, but it would be with the despondent anger and bad posture of someone whose relationship had dissolved just in time for Valentine's day. There would be no hello to the empanada cart man, no high fives with the African refugee selling scarves. I would just sit on the hard wood bench, risking bedbugs, glaring at people through the clouds of my own breath.

Fuck winter. Fuck New York. Fuck everything.

Even though getting to work involved a death march in the dirty snow through Bed-Stuy, I liked looking at all people more glamorous than me on the way to their jobs. There was Out-of-Work Model in Blue Corduroy Coat, Bald Guy with Hoop Earring and Beanie Cap, Bearded Hipster with Charles Manson Haircut and Peacoat. Everyone was so beautiful, standing in the freezing wind, looking immune to it because they were already dead inside from living in Brooklyn. My soul needs to maintain a core temperature of at least 98 degrees to look on the bright side. Any slight drop in climate and I am giving the finger to kids in strollers when their parents aren't looking.

It didn't help that everyone around me was in a relationship. After band practice, a time that should be reserved for shooting dope or banging chicks in an airbrushed van, my band would snuggle on the livingroom couch with their significant others. I took to sitting in my bedroom by myself, staring at the ceiling and listening to Gary Glitter, feeling the cold, diddling hand of February reach through the cracks in the windows and rob me of my optimism.

I was working at an antique store in Soho where the the heat had suddenly stopped turning on and I had to walk around following rich people, saying, “May I help you? No? Well, let me know if you need anything,” with a bright red nose and cheeks. It was vaguely demeaning in the way that jobs helping rich people always are, where you start to feel shrunken and insignificant and question your own purpose in life. My feet were numb all the time, a symptom which I started to wonder whether or not was diabetic neuropathy instead of just perpetual cold and a broken heart. The owners of the store were really nice, rubbing their mittened hands together, saying, “Eat is sooo cold!” and “He ease an eediot if he thinks he will do better than you!”

On one particularly freezing day, a couple came in off the street. She was blonde, with long hair and perfect rose-kissed cheeks. He wore a plaid scarf, a tweed jacket, and otherwise looked like he could be an underwear model. They gazed into each other's eyes with longing as he pointed to expensive objects, asking her if she wanted each one with a puppydog eagerness that made me want to throw up.

“Sweetheart,” she said, gesturing to a vintage sign for a 'SHOE SHOPPE.' “What do you think of that sign?”

“Oh, I think it would look great in the livingroom. Do you want it?”

“Well, I... perhaps,” she said. “I wonder how much it is.”

“Five thousand dollars,” one of the bosses said. “Eat ease from the nineteen-twenties.”

“Well, honey,” he said. “We can get it if you think it will go well in the livingroom.”

“But, lover,” she said, “five thousand dollars is so much.”

“Sweetcakes,” he said. “When it comes to what you want, money is no object.”

“Where did you guys find each other?” I asked, disgusted by their happiness. What I really meant was, What freak planet of unconditional love and mutual understanding did you both come from?

“E-harmony,” they answered at the same time, then giggled at the jinx.

“No way,” I said. “Really?”

“Yes,” the woman said, blushing just a touch more. “I never would have dreamed that I would meet someone so perfect for me on the internet!”

I had always viewed meeting people online with skepticism. Sure, it was an option if I ever decided to cyber with vocally willing underaged girls or Chris Hansen, but any relationship I knew that had flourished from the internet seemed like more of a last resort, a cool, dry place where you could just lay down and die, stop doing anything cool, and have regular sex with somebody ugly.

But maybe that's exactly what I needed: somebody ugly to settle down with. Somebody I could just let myself go with. Somebody I could throw away all of my old dreams for, and get a new set of dreams, dreams like microwaveable chicken, cable television programming, and human reproduction.

He warmed her hands in his, breathing on them while she looked at lockets. They spent three-hundred dollars on a heart-shaped one and left the store. I went home and signed up for OKCupid, which should pretty much be called, “OKCupid, I'm Doing This So I Don't Kill Myself Tonight.”

I filled out my profile honestly, maybe a little too honestly. The username I created was 45RPMayonnaise, which combined my two favorite things: records and mayonnaise. I figured it would weed out anyone who didn't like either, and I would only get emails from people who truly understood me.

I got three messages in a row when I first signed up. The first was from a dude who worked at a record store and was kind of jacked, but he was only five feet tall. His taste wasn't that great, mostly toughguy hardcore, which is kind of a turn-off to begin with. I am barely willing to pretend I care about Agnostic Front when someone is six-foot-seven, and even less so when I have to stoop eight inches to hear my tiny boyfriend tell me how well Victim in Pain holds up after all these years.

The next message came from someone named Supersperms who looked like Ted Nugent on the cover of Cat Scratch Fever and bluntly asked if I wanted to “get down.” The third email was from a guy who was wearing a trenchcoat in every photo, and his interests were roleplay and fencing. Did the anonymity of the internet allow me to be selective? Was I just being superficial? Why couldn't I just get down with Supersperms? What was keeping me from playing Magick the Gathering with Trenchcoat guy followed by a noisy and regrettable makeout on the band couch?

Perhaps I should have delved deep within myself to get to the bottom of why I was suddenly a picky, judgmental bitch, but there were already so many questions about myself I wasn't sure I wanted the answers to. I didn't reply to any of my new suitors, and got lost in the sucking void of the internet, looking at profiles of people's projected best selves when I could have been sleeping or crying or writing letters to God.

Then I saw him. My soulmate. The person I was destined to be with based on a computer-generated 96% Love Match rating: Bearded Hipster with Charles Manson Haircut and Peacoat!

Who knew that every winter morning when I had stared down the subway platform quietly hating everyone around me, that I had actually been gazing into my own future, my other half, who couldn't be bothered with shaving and stood frigid and stoic, looking annoyed by the cold and irritated by the other commuters? I had just written him off as some hipster douche, but how wrong I was. He was so pissy and judgmental, with his earbuds and his skinny jeans, of course he was The One all along!

I made my first internet move, something I thought was funny by being intentionally creepy. A real cyber yawn-and-boob-grope, which he would certainly understand based on our 96% compatibility rating:

I SEE YOU ON THE SUBWAY EVERY DAY. WE ARE OBVIOUSLY SOULMATES.

Three days went by before he replied. I was wrapped in ten blankets in my freezing room, lit only by the computer blue screen. Yea, I usually take the subway.

That was it. Our love had died before it even had a chance to blossom. The worst part was, he couldn't even bother to spell 'yeah' correctly, and had instead spelled it 'yea,' as in, Yea, though I walk through the valley in the shadow of the elevated train, I will not use spellcheck or fear loneliness, for springtime is upon us, and I will find a skinny girl who listens to Animal Collective and fits into American Apparel leotards without looking like a chimp in a wrestling suit. Yea, I forsake you, Soulmate of Bed-Stuy, and banish you to six more weeks of winter.

It was awkward after that, our love, because I still saw him every day, whether I wanted to or not. Discouraged, I deleted my profile and decided to leave my romantic possibilities up to chance and actual human interaction.

The winter seemed to last forever, and Bearded Hipster pretended he didn't notice me, standing cold and indifferent to the elements, adjusting his iPod and yawning from seasonal ennui. Bald Guy with Hoop Earring and Beanie Cap read a new book every three days, and Tall Out-of-Work Model in Blue Corduroy Coat disappeared and left us behind for nicer neighborhoods and other subway stops.

I hopped around on the platform, cold and waiting, rubbing hand against gloved hand, trying to replicate the feeling of something to hold onto.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Abilities

Everyone has at least one relationship they can look back on and shudder just thinking about; that one special person in your memory Rolodex where the idea of their saliva in your mouth or how much time you spent with them makes you want to run puking to the nearest wax-coated airline bag. What were you thinking? What allowed you to let them into your life? Are you just some kind of kind of emotional baglady with a shopping cart of character defects, hobbling along, mis-wired empathy in one fingerless glove and faulty gut-instincts gripped tightly in the other?

I've made my fair share of bad decisions in the past. In fact, I'm sure my future is sprawling with new bad decisions, shining like diamonds with the hope of tomorrow's tomorrow. But enough about me, let's talk about these songs...


RUBY DON'T TAKE YOUR LOVE TO TOWN

by Kenny Rogers

You've painted up your lips
And rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby are you contemplating
Going out somewhere
The shadow on the wall
Tells me the sun is going down
Oh Ruby
Don't take your love to town

It wasn't me
That started that crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go
And do my patriotic chore
And yes, it's true that
I'm not the man I used to be
Oh, Ruby I still need some company
It's hard to love a man
Whose legs are bent and paralyzed
That my wants and needs of a woman of your age
Ruby, I realized
but it won't be long I've heard them say
until I'm not around
Oh Ruby
Don't take your love to town

She's leaving now cause
I just heard the slamming of the door
The way I know I've heard it
Slam one hundred times before
And if I could move I'd get my gun
And put her in the ground
Oh Ruby
Don't take your love to town
Oh Ruby for God's sake turn around



I think maybe the question here isn't whether I would date the narrator in “Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town,” because I think I already have. The narrator here has a laundry list of problems, the least of which are his bent and paralyzed legs, which actually seem to be the only thing keeping him from murdering his wife. In the line, “it wasn't me that started that old crazy Asian war,” he seems to be downplaying Vietnam like it's some kind of newfangled video game, the Nintendo all the kids seem to be into these days, with their 8-bits and their stubby, blown-off legs. He's blaming everyone except himself for his crappy attitude. People are all, “It won't be long until you're not around, Kenny,” and he's all, “It's not my fault I'm laying here bitching and feeling sorry for myself in my last moments while my young wife is boning the whole town.” Yes, Ruby keeps bailing on her crippled, dying husband, but she may have joined a dart league or a support group. There's no way of knowing, and, really, even if she was out boning the whole town, can you blame her? If he could move, he'd get his gun. I'm sure he's not quiet about it either. She's feeding him grits, and they're dribbling back out because he's muttering about his gun again, like some kind of feverish backwoods mantra.

This song reminds me of this dude I dated who had been hit by a train and I was his first girlfriend “since the accident.” That said, I would probably date the narrator of this song for about two weeks, until he said, “I LOVE YOU!” in an outburst the way you would scream your order into the drive-thru panel of a Burger King. Then I could try to break up with him, but he would cry, and I would take him back until I realized his twitch got worse, then I would dump him for once and for all.

DATEABLITY +'s: Notices your painted lips and curled hair, Proponent of 2nd Amendment rights
DATEABILITY -'s: Needy, Psychotic

PINBALL WIZARD
by The Who

Ever since I was a young boy
I've played the silver ball
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all
But I ain't seen nothing like him
In any amusement hall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

He stands like a statue
Becomes part of the machine
Feeling all the bumpers
Always playing clean
He plays by intuition
The digit counters fall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

He's a pinball wizard
There's got to be a twist
A pinball wizard
He's got such a supple wrist

How do you think he does it?
(I don't know)
What makes him so good?

He ain't got no distractions
Can't hear those buzzers and bells
Don't see lights a flashin'
Plays by sense of smell
Always gets a replay
Never tilts at all
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

I thought I was
The Bally table king
But I just handed
My pinball crown to him

Even on my usual table
He can beat my best
His disciples lead him in
And he just does the rest
He's got crazy flipper fingers
Never seen him fall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball


If you have ever dated someone after the recent purchase of a video game system, you are basically dating the Pinball Wizard. Proper nutrition and personal hygiene fall by the wayside as they struggle to move on to the next level and beat the game. Their interpersonal relationships falter, night turns into day, they fall behind at work. Not before long, they're sitting in three-day old boxers, squinting and complaining when you turn on the light, growling if you touch anything in the nest of take-out containers surrounding them.

But maybe the Pinball Wizard is just looking for someone to love him. Maybe if there was something else in his life to take the place of the silver ball, he would move out of the dank Soho arcade and into the shelter of a mutually rewarding adult relationship. It could be a romance as beautiful as Eric Stoltz and Laura Dern in Mask. You could teach him what “billowy” means and let him touch your face. You could go to the flea market and get matching airbrushed jackets that say “PINBALL WIZARD” and “PINBALL WIZARD'S GIRL,” or “I'M WITH PINBALL WIZARD,” if commitment isn't his thing. But I think it is. Pinball Wizard strikes me as a sensitive lover. Maybe it's those supple wrists.

DATEABILITY +'s: Unsurpassed manual dexterity, Will to win
DATEABILITY -'s: One-track mind

If Kenny ever found out I'd been going down to the arcade, he would use his last reserves of strength to roll off the medical bed and get to his gun rack, then he would then crawl to the mall with the gun in his mouth like Prince Randian the Human Torso in the movie Freaks. At the arcade, the Pinball Wizard is playing the Aerosmith machine (which doesn't actually exist, but for the purposes of this fantasy does). He is flanked by his disciples while I rub his lower back in concentric circles, saying encouraging words he couldn't see or hear, but can sense in the far-out cosmic way that is characteristic of our love. Suddenly, he feels a disturbance in the air, licks his flipper finger, and smells the gunpowder as Kenny enters the room at a slow crawl. Then PW picks up the machine and hurls it at the doorway with a controlled abandon never before seen by any of us. Pinball Wizard blew his streak that day, but he saved all our lives.

And that, children, is the story of how your grandfather and I got together.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Anniversary

I guess that was the turning point, where things started their downhill sleigh-bell ride into breakup. The party at that place in the West Village, the one with all the candles lit up red and the stainless steel bar that was supposed to be sleek and modern but instead looked like the slab where they do all the embalming. It was a birthday party for your artist friend but it was Christmastime. I remember because my feet were cold and we took a cab back even though neither of us could really afford it.

I didn't know anyone there. Maybe that's not true. There was that painter who came into the art store, the walleyed lady with frizzy gray hair who was rude the way people get when they know they're not where they should be and take it out on everyone else. I started calling her Flounder, as in, “Flounder complained again because we're out of the cheap canvas,” and, “Would you rather kill your own grandma or make out with Flounder for an hour with your eyes open the whole time?”

Well, anyway, the week before the party, Flounder came in demanding star treatment and then told me it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand what she was asking for. I thought it was presumptuous to assume my dreams began and ended with Art Supply Retail Store Manager, and it made me defensive of my own hypothetical career path, because even though I'm not a rocket scientist, how would she know? Maybe I was trying to make ends meet in an economic rut by selling acrylic paint to cross-eyed, demanding old bags when the lab closed and all the other scientists went home.

Flounder left her professor ID on the counter when I passed her off to someone else. My hand twitched a little as I reached for the enamel pen under the register and drew a Charlie Chaplin mustache on her frowny, washed-out photo. I felt warm inside and hypothetically avenged until I realized it wasn't going to come off. Then I panicked and looked under the counter for turpentine, but decided I didn't care and went on break instead.

So anyway, Flounder was at the other side of the long table, looking homeless and crazy the way artists sometimes do, eying me up because she knew I had sullied her faculty ID. I was talking to some other guy, the authoritarian figure with a dignified gray mustache and matching drill sergeant crew-cut. He had a book, too, and was telling me how I should plan my tour.

“Radio,” Mustache said, holding a small glass and looking into the ice like he was reading tea leaves. “Yes. Radio. And if you can get the Times to review it, it can't hurt.” He summoned the waitress over by snapping his fingers and pointed to the empty glass. “Scotch.”

I looked around at everyone at the party, holding wine glasses the way I do when I'm drinking water and pretending to be old and monied. Mustache began talking to someone else and the conversation turned to vacations, or really, world travel. There's a difference, because world travel seems to take a certain willingness to combat flies and incurable stomach trouble, but I bet you already knew that.

“Machu Picchu,” Mustache said. “It's a hike to get through that South American jungle, but it's the dawning of civilization, you know. You really must go.”

Mustache held his glass like a gold chalice. Flounder burned a hole through me with her one good eye, and with the other intensely looking somewhere to the left of me. I watched as the snow piled up against the window outside and thought about how I would rather spend a week in jail with ten friendly strangers than pass one second in Machu Picchu with anyone identifying themselves as an artist.

I looked at you, and you smiled. I smiled back and held my glass of water gingerly, a protege of Dali, a broke Mona Lisa, a friendly stranger who was about to get fired from an art store.

“Yes,” I said. “Machu Picchu. We really must.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dear CJS Fanclubsters,

I have been a little busy with moving and writing new material for some big readings (this Sunday, September 18th at Previously Secret Information in San Francisco, I will be telling a NEVER BEFORE TOLD story! Buy your tickets soon before they sell out!) I am also working on a NEW FANCLUB T-SHIRT and other exciting secret projects I can't tell you about yet which will make them TWICE as exciting when they are revealed!

Anyway, we will be back to our regularly scheduled Every Monday Update next week. Until then, please accept my apologies with this comic that originally ran in the zine Not My Small Diary, which is a yearly compilation comic. The theme for this one was "transportation." Enjoy!

love,
Cassie J.




Thursday, August 25, 2011

American Rock and Roll

We were warned the city was dangerous, ghost story cautions of Long Island parents. Don't drive into that neighborhood. I don't care who's playing, yer gonna get mugged. If your car breaks down there in the middle of the night, it's your own fault.

The show was lame, so Ali and I walked over the Williamsburg into the big city. The weather was still warm, and wind made the bridge sway like the drunks making their way across it on unsteady feet. Ali had to pee, so I stood guard, looking both ways while she squatted under the hazy orange safety lamps. On the walk over, we found the skeletal remains of a pigeon, the wings mostly, which had been placed over the railing of the JMZ in a delicate balancing act against the wind.

“If we got killed on this bridge, it would probably be a while before anyone noticed our bodies,” I said.

“I'm trying to pee here. Can we save this discussion for when I'm less vulnerable?”

“I mean, like, it's mostly bikers, and none of them are noticing you pee, so it would probably take someone on foot to notice two disemboweled young women.”

Ali jumped up, zipping her jeans. “First off, that bird isn't disemboweled. It's just been dead for a long time. Second of all, I think that one or both of us have the exceptional fighting skills to fend off an attacker long enough for someone with a cell phone to ride by and alert the proper authorities.”

I thought about it. A guy with a beard whizzed past on a fixie. “I dunno. It could take a while for someone to come. Neither of us are killing machines.”

Ali raised an accusing eyebrow. The week before I had knocked someone's teeth out with a pair of rollerskates outside of a show. So maybe I was only half-right.

“I forgot I had skates in my hand when I hit him.”

Ali kept giving me that look.

“Alright, maybe he deserved it.”

The J-train rocked the bridge under our feet, and the wind felt weird in the spots where I had shaved my head. I was going for a futuristic, one-half shaved, one-half long sorta side-mohawk, but instead the cowlick that nature had already given me just made me look kind of balding and moth-eaten. Ali's hair was chopped into something that looked like a blue and purple Space Mullet or, maybe more appropriately, Weedwack Unicorn. Much of our friendship involved one-upping each other in conceptual haircuts our mothers hated.

We turned onto Essex, passing a hoard of Friday night drunks. “I took this developmental psychology class last semester, and I think we might be experiencing an extended adolescence.”

“Hm. Do explain.”

“Well, the fits of self-expression through haircutting. Laughing at fart jokes like thirteen year-old boys. Wolf shirts. Fist-fighting. I could go on.”

“In my defense, the fist-fighting is only with drunk people, and only when they start it. I just finish it.”

At twenty-two, I had never drank alcohol. At twenty-eight, it's still the number one thing that surprises people about me. I grew up surrounded by alcoholism, learned how to defend myself, and was raring to kick-ass if someone made the mistake of spilling beer on my shoes, threw an open cup into the crowd, or, god-forbid, breathed Jager in my face when I had skates in my hand.

“I mean, that guy last week. That guy really had it coming.”

Ali nodded in agreement. We walked up First Avenue, hungry, with early September sweat spreading like a spirograph on the back of our shirts. The best falafel I'd found was on St. Marks, near the methadone clinic. In spite of the junkies nodding on the steps outside, I felt nothing but a stern disappointment in the danger levels of the city. It felt like I'd missed out on everything cool, the Harvey Keitel New York, porno booths and small time gangsters and people stabbing each other in crimes of passion in plain sight. I was the only person in my family to venture off of Long Island, head swimming with a lifetime of Sunday afternoon movies on Channel 11, gritty and unpredictable, Pushermen and unsanitized needles at every turn. I couldn't even pretend I was around for the good stuff. Guiliani-era New York was a total wash. The streets were clean, and punk-themed gift-shops every five feet were neon fuck-yous to my imagination.

Once inside Tastee Falafel, I tried to place myself in a different New York. The floor was dirty. It looked like someone had crushed a bug on the yellowed wall near the Pepsi fridge. If I thought hard enough and blocked out the tourists walking by in I HEART NY t-shirts, this could be 1977. Ali and I squinted at the letterboard sign over the counter, listening to a moth sizzle in an overhead bulb.

“Two falafels,” I said, sidling up to the register, brave and cool, an extra in a Scorsese movie.

“It is coming right up, miss,” the guy at the counter said, handing back my change and giving me a wink. Ali got napkins, and we sat down near the buzzing soda cooler.

“I feel cheated. Nothing is scary anymore. I'm not afraid of anything.”

“Student loans? Tooth decay? The real world?” Ali suggested.

“Nah, I dunno. I'll never live long enough to get to any of that. I'm talking about real fear.”

The counter guy approached our table. “Ladies, I give you pudding free.” He put down two dishes of milky, gelatinous semi-solid.

“Um, thank you.” I looked at Ali, who was recently vegan. I knew it was up to me to not offend our host. I dove in, and it was disgusting. “Um, I think there has been a mistake. There's potpourri in my pudding.”

“No, is rosewater, for two beautiful roses.” He pulled up a chair and sat down backwards. I looked at Ali, Indian Summer perspiration from the walk over was matting the bangs to her forehead. I caught a glimpse of my own gross reflection in the glass door. We looked more like dandelions that someone had 'he-loves-me-not'-ed into disfigurement. “My name is Ihab.”

“Um, I'm Cassie.”

“I'm Stephanie,” Ali said, leagues ahead of me in social-savvy anonymity.

“Beautiful names. Beautiful roses. You have boyfriend?”

“No,” I said.

“I'm gay,” Ali said at the same time.

“Maybe we hang out sometime?”

“Not a chance,” said Ali.

“Sure!” I said, and blurted out my phone number.

We left the falafel place and walked back over the bridge.

“That was dumb,” Ali said.

“And yet, I find myself doing it every time.”

“What are you gonna do if he actually calls you?”

The train rumbled past. My voice was lost to the sound of metal on metal, and Ali and I stood at the orange railing caging us in from the blackness beneath.

Ali looked at me. “Isn't that a little dangerous?” And I shrugged.

**

I did not have a cell phone, and rattling off my parents' number was second nature.

“Cassie! Somebody is on the phone for you! I can't understand his name!”

“Just say I'm busy!”

“This is the fourth time he's called and I already told him you're home! Just take the damned phone! I'm trying to watch my show, for God's sake!”

There was nothing risky about going to a state school and living at home. Ali had gotten accepted to college in Massachusetts, so a few days after our encounter with Ihab, I was pretty much left to my own devices. I drank coffee by myself at the diner, rode my bicycle alone, and missed my best friend. There wasn't a whole lot to do, anyway. Might as well try to score us both free halal food for life by going on a weird hang-out with the guy from the falafel place.

“I live in Bronx. You know where that is?”

“Yeah, the toll is like $4.00 to get there.”

“I make it worth your while, okay? I have Thursday off, so you come then. I see you Thursday.”

“Well, I guess I really don't have anything better to do.” I scanned the spines of my records in their psychotic alphabetical order that only happens when you are nervous and bored. I really didn't have anything better to do.

“Good. I see you then.” He hung up the phone. I picked through my records again. The Shemps were playing in Brooklyn that day. That was something to look forward to, if I didn't end up being smoked into street meat before then.

Thursday came, and my enthusiasm for driving from eastern Long Island all the way to the Bronx out of some skewed sense of duty started to wane. I got stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway and tried to pep-talk myself into feeling jazzed to meet up with Ihab. After all, Ali and I hadn't really known each other when we first hung out. We had seen each other at parties for years, nodding in recognition the way people do when you admire someone’s mental patient haircut or Crass button, but feel too lame to say anything. We finally became friends after Ali read a few of my stories and asked me to meet up to drink syrupy three AM diner coffee. Maybe Ihab was secretly into something really cool. Maybe he drummed in a band. Maybe he was into the Sea Monkeys or the Lunachicks. Maybe he wrote poetry or collected comic books.

I got lost in the Bronx and had to get out and ask for directions at the shadiest gas station I had ever seen.

“Whatchu doing in this neighborhood?”

“Um, I'm asking myself that very question right now.”

“You gotta turn left, turn right, go a ways, and it'll be on your left. If you hit Castle Hill Avenue, you gone too far, and you best not hit Castle Hill Avenue cuz they tear someone like you up.”

“Great. Thank you. That's wonderful news.” I walked back to my car and a crackhead was looking into my passenger side window. “Um, excuse me,” I said, making a hands-out-Jesus gesture.

“You gotta dolla?”

“Um, no. Please get out of my way.” I unlocked the door, started the car, and sped off. I got lost again, this time on Castle Hill Avenue. There was a guy walking and swinging what looked like a machete, so I turned around a few times to find someplace friendly enough to direct me where I should be going.

“GIRL, what in the HELL you doing out here?”

“I''m not really sure at this point.”

“This neighborhood is DANGEROUS. You lost your mind?”

I thought about it. “Probably.”

When I went back to my car, four people were looking in the window. “Hey, folks. Nothing to see here.”

“You gotta dolla?”

“Nope, but thanks for asking.” I unlocked my car and jumped in. I started to rethink my opinions on New York. The parts I had been hanging out in had been tamed into what looked like the inside of an Urban Outfitters, but there were other parts that were actually kind of terrifying, like the backdrop for a dramatic re-enactment on America's Most Wanted. This was a New York I hadn't explored, nor was I really in the mood to that night, lost somewhere in the Bronx, in the neighborhoods my parents warned me about, on my way to hang out with the falafel guy.

I rolled up to Ihab's apartment and leaned on the horn.

“You are coming!” he said, slamming the door and putting on his seatbelt. “I am made so glad. Where are you taking me for our date?”

“Hey, nobody said anything about a date.”

“Oh, yes, yes. We are just hanging out like friends. Like on Dawson's Creek, no?” Ihab had really poured the cologne on pretty thick. He was wearing cargo shorts, flip-flops, and the New York City shirt that John Lennon is wearing in that photo. It was like an Abercrombie ad in smellovision.

“Look, I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. I do know I'm kind of hungry, so we're gonna get food before I freak out.” I drove to the diner on East Tremont Avenue. We got out of the car, and Ihab reached for my hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, I am just stumbling,” he said, and put his hand back in his pocket.

Once in the diner, I looked at the menu for something that would make me feel better about how consistently terrible my decisions were. Cheesecake always does the trick. Coffee usually makes me rethink every moment of my life, so I opted for water instead. The waitress took our menus, and I scratched the zigzags on my mohawk where my hair was starting to grow in.

“So, Ihab, how did you decide to come to America?”

“Oh, American movies.”

“Which ones?”

“The Waiting to Exhale. The Harry and the Sally.”

“Really?”

“They are very beautiful. They are showing what life is about. Friendships and the beautiful women loving each other.”

The waitress put down our food. Everyone in the diner was eating in perfect silence. Forks did not chink against china. No one slurped coffee. Couples ate in absolute solemnity, somewhere past the point of arguing or loving. There was only the sound of Ihab cutting up a chicken finger and my heart ticking somewhere in my gut. Maybe there were no good decisions, only the decisions that got you where you were going.

“But why New York?” I asked, not hungry, moving my cheesecake from one edge of the plate to the next.

“Well, my father is very wealthy, and I like American movies, so I ask to go to New York. Bright lights. Opportunity. Beautiful, beautiful women. But I come to New York and I cannot find work. Nobody wants to hire. I speak English in perfect, and still nobody cares a fuck. I get job as dishwasher, and I realize, America is suck. America is hard work. America is shitty. Why anyone want to work so hard to live in shoebox is for idiot.”

That made sense. I guess we had a commonality. Neither Ihab nor myself were really into busting ass for no good reason. I would probably never want to work hard enough to live in a city where the train was outside of my window or my mattress could become infested with superpowered bugs that could crawl through walls and floors.

“So then what?” I asked, scraping a fleck of dried food from my waterglass.

“So, I move back to my country. It is nicer there.”

“Yeah, but how did you end up back here?”

“Do you have boyfriend?”

“No,” I said.

“Why you no have boyfriend? Beautiful girl need boyfriend.”

I twirled my rattail around my finger. “Um, thanks but no thanks. I'm militantly single.”

“Yes, but sometimes you need boyfriend to do boyfriend things, no?”

“I can do most boyfriend things myself. Thanks for asking, though.”

“But you cannot do all boyfriend things, no? So sometimes you need boyfriend.” This seemed to conclude Ihab's end of the debate. The diner was quiet except for the sounds of coffee brewing somewhere in the kitchen. I thought about my life, me and Ali's extended adolescence, whether I would ever figure out how to react normally to beer spilled on my shoes or say no to invitations to hang out with strangers.

“Um, have you ever been in a fight?”

“Oh, yes! Yes!” Ihab shook the ketchup, padding the bottom of the bottle with the palm of his hand. “Oh, yes. That's why I am coming back.”

“What do you mean?”

“In my country, there are beautiful parks in every neighborhood. Not like New York, where there are the needles and the broken glass and the trash. In my country, the parks are beautiful and the people care and the people take care of them. My father is wealthy old man. He is very old , and he care about three things: money, his country, and the flowers in park. My father, he go to park every day and water flowers, he pull bad plant, he dig tree. My father love park as much as his country. So, my father go to park and come back one day. He say, 'Ihab, my hose is gone.' And somebody steal hose from park, and my father is very sad, because is nice hose. Is very quality hose. So, I go to park, and I ask the people, and they say they know who took hose. So, I get friend, and I get baseball bat, and I go to house of thief who took hose and I knock, and I say, 'Motherfucker, you give me my hose.' And the thief, he say, 'I fuck you! I don't have hose!' And I say, 'Motherfucker, you get one more chance and you give me my hose!' And the thief, he say, 'I fuck you. No hose here, motherfucker.'”

I looked at Ihab, who was still shaking the ketchup bottle. I thought about telling him to hit the little 57 on the glass but I didn't want interrupt. “And then what happened?”

“So I say, 'Motherfucker, you are dishonoring my family. You get me my hose,' and he say, “I fuck you.'”

The diner was silent. A man read yesterday's copy of the Post in a corner booth. Someone washed dishes in the kitchen. I was terrified. “And then what happened?”

“So, I take bat and I HIT HIM and HIT HIM and HIT HIM and HIT HIM until I hear my friend say, 'Motherfucker, his eye come out!' So I look and I think, 'Oh, shit. His eye come out.' So then we run.”

The ketchup poured out of the bottle. My mouth hung open in horror. “And then what?”

“So, police come, and I start to think America is not so bad. So my father, he buy me plane ticket, and I come back to New York. And, is not so bad. I miss my country, but I have okay job. I meet beautiful women. I eat french fry at diner. America not so bad.”

“But what happened to the guy who stole your dad's garden hose?”

“Oh, motherfucker in wheelchair with glass eye. He learn lesson though.”

We got the check. Ihab and I walked back to the car. I unlocked the passenger door, speechless to the point of mummification. Ihab looked at the sticker on my window. “What is 'Shemps?'”

“Oh, my friends' band.” I walked around to the driver's side and started the car.

“Like, music band?”

“Yeah, um. Like, American rockandroll.”

“Oh. American rockandroll. I listen to house music. Is good for dancing with girlfriend. You like Moby?”

“Um, no. Not really.” We drove back to his apartment in silence.

“You are liking to come upstairs? I have Moby on compact disc...” He tried to hug me. I held out my hand for him to shake.

“Um, no thanks. Thanks for tonight, though. It's given me a lot to think about.”

When Ihab got out of the car, he waved for a long time from the corner of the Bronx where I dropped him off. I drove to the Shemps show, which was in a neighborhood that for once in my life, I was glad was so tame and familiar. Someone threw beer onto the crowd, and I did my best not to freak out, watering a new leaf I could feel growing in the place where all my decisions happen, the good kind and the bad kind, but I guess, in a way, they are both the same.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Warmer

Have you ever lived in a moment where you are fully aware of its frailty, where even your breath feels light and transient, and you know that one day, you'll never have reason to set foot in this place again, that the memories and both the person in front of you and the person you are right then will evaporate in the course of human decision?

I miss things when they are gone, but, sometimes, I miss things when they are still here.
**

We came home, and the sky fell down over the Bronx, the streetlamps turning the glassy roads into opaque sheets of orange. We got back to the apartment and circled the block for parking a million times until, by some seizure of luck, something opened up a few yards from the building. Wrought iron fences, small lawns no bigger than a twin bed, frozen ornamental Marys-on-the-half-shell huddled under the falling snow, all knowing there was very little to be done about New York in January.

“I am soooo hungry.” Alex parked the car and I drew in the condensation of the window. In the dust that floated from the elevated 6 Train and coated everything like concealer from the powderpuff of some demented, omnicient prom queen, someone had written “FAG” in cursive, which wouldn't disappear no matter how many times it rained or birds shit on the already defeated Geo Prism.

“Let's bring everything in the house first,” Alex said, turning off the engine and popping the trunk. The thing about turning off the car was that it seemed like it would never start again, so shutting off the ignition was like kissing a sick grandmother on a visit and crossing yourself on the way out.

I had two suitcases and a plastic shopping bag full of souvenirs and polaroids of Graceland, the mountains of Georgia, and the outdoor fleamarket in Florida.

We let ourselves into the building, and Alex fumbled with his keys at the door of the apartment, holding a backpack with two fingers and a suitcase with two more, digging around in his coat pocket.

We threw our stuff down in the hallway and collapsed on the ripped brown leather couch in the livingroom.

“Chinese?” I said, hopeful.

“If it's open,” he said, sinking further into the couch and closing his eyes.

“It's always open.”

The Chinese place glowed yellow at the end of the street, just across East Tremont Avenue. There was a diner, too, which was always open, but it was usually full of couples in varying degrees of unhappiness, young people drunk and bickering, saying things like, “What the FUCK is that supposed to mean?”; sullen, middle-aged couples not talking but moving around the eggs on their plates in a weird gesture of silent punishment; old men sitting by themselves at all hours of the night, reading the Post from cover to cover, over and over like the news might change. We didn't go there often. At that diner, all relationships felt on the verge of a divorce by default of energetic vortex.

We put on our wet Converse and went back into the snow. The sidewalk hadn't been shoveled, so we made fresh tracks from the apartment across the deserted street to the open restaurant. It was a rare moment, everything quiet and windless. If Dickens had written the Bronx into a novel, ghosts would rattle their chains at the door to the apartment, asking for packets of soy sauce and offering a glimpse into our past. Instead, we jaywalked through the empty street and I pointed out the icicles hanging dangerously from the rolling gate over the door of the restaurant.

The Peking Inn was lit with a medicinal fluorescence that hurt your eyes, but we went there with such blinding regularity that they gave us free spring rolls and crab rangoons, which I ate even though I was a vegetarian, because the crab was imitation and therefore, could really be anything.

“Do you know what you're getting?” Alex said, stomping the snow from his sneakers.

“Of course.” I had been dreaming of what I would get since Delaware, driving up I-95 in the brutal snow, thinking of tires and hubcaps battered and fried.

A little girl colored menus in the corner. It was after midnight, but she looked wide awake. It reminded me of myself at four or five, ready for the world when everybody else was in bed. Sometimes I would go with my mom to her night job at the IRS. They would set me up at a desk with dot matrix paper and a bruise palette of blue, green, and black markers, the kind that produced toxic fumes and squeaked like a broken hinge, eeeeeking-out self-portraits and trees until I ran out of paper.

Alex gave them our order, then he took his place across from me at the booth, starving and tired and talked-out from so many hours of driving. We had driven straight through since South of the Border, taking pictures on the concrete statues, hugging the gorilla, spanking the giant weinerdog. We got gas a few times, and stopped once at the discount emporium that was advertised on billboards for miles. I found a collection of puppets named after biblical characters and Alex looked at cowboy boots. The storm was getting worse, so people were leaving in a steady stream. I put down the Judas I had been walking around with and found Alex so we could leave, too.

Outside of the store, to the left of the entrance, there was a strong, but tiny meowing. We turned at the same time to see a black kitten behind a Pepsi vending machine. Its face was crusty and one of its legs looked like it had been broken and healed poorly. It saw us and hastily climbed into a hole in the back of the machine.

Alex looked at me. His eyes were wet. “Do you think we could lure it out with food?”

I ran to the car and found a bag of pretzels. I walked back to where Alex was standing guard and offered them, shrugging. He made a trail of pretzels from the back of the machine. We waited. The wind whipped and freezing rain started to come down. We could see the cat was moving around inside.

“Maybe we're too close?” I suggested. We moved nearer to the entrance. The cat stayed in the machine. We waited and waited. The weather got worse.

I breathed into my hands. Alex looked at me. Without saying another word, we walked back to the car.

Our order was up. The little girl was using crayons, which didn't make much noise at all. Alex got our tray. The wind picked up and blew snow against the glass.

“Do you think he'll make it?” I never had answers, at least not for the important stuff.

“Well, I dunno.” I looked outside to where our footprints were already gone, filled in by more snow. “Things have a way of working themselves out if they were meant to.”

The apartment was cold when we got back. There was a spoon stuck to the counter and no one had taken out the garbage since before we left. Streetlights filtered through the yellow curtains. We put on an album, brushed our teeth, and waited for the sheets to get warm.





Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Time Capsule of Shame

I am having a yard sale at my parents house, and this past week since I've been home from tour, I have been rooting through the darkest corners of the basement and attic for things I should get rid of. I uncovered something I have long forgotten about, and it's something you should all probably see before you decide whether or not you really want me in your life as your favorite new author.

When I was sixteen, I took a construction class in high school. One of the assignments was to make a model home, and I modified the measurements of all the beams so that I could make it into a dollhouse to secretly reconstruct into my bachelor adult dreamhouse once I was able to take it home. Here are some pictures of what I pulled out of the closet. I wiped away the spider webs and dead bees, but aside from that, this is how I found it.


Ahh, periwinkle exterior. A fine choice for a home. Surely your neighbors won't hatecrime you in the future, as they have done your first sixteen years, Young Cassie.


Here is the upstairs boudoir. We see that in the future, I will enjoy a sprawling view of the big city, as well as a larger-than-life poster of the Kids in the Hall, who I loved with my whole heart and taped every episode. I obviously don't need anyone to love me, because you can see I have selected a twin bed in the creepy attic room of my dreamhouse. However...


...a mirror over the bed! Maybe I was hoping for a love 'em and leave 'em lifestyle in the future. "Yeah, I'll pay your cabfare home, you can even use my best cologne. Just don't be here in the morning when I wake up."



Now, we walk down the non-existent staircase into the livingroom, where we can see the Smurfs are having a party. I really DO NOT remember playing with Smurf figurines when I was in my JUNIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, but the evidence here seems to tell a much different tale.


Here we have a picture of my cousins and me, shrunk down in microsoft paint, and also a very attractive photo of Scott Thompson from the Kids in the Hall, who I had a major crush on, even though I knew our love could never be.


"Hey, Fairies! Pizza's here!"

"SMURFY!"


"Hold on, I'm checking my emails!"

"Papa! A-HAHAHAHAHAH!"


Well, thanks for visiting my teenage fantasy bachelor pad. This will be for sale on Saturday in my parents' driveway. Feel free to email me your bids on this fanciful time capsule of my loneliness.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Are You Ready, Steve? Andy?

I will never know what it is like to be young and rich, like cocaine and loose women, do you party, dance-your-ass-off rich. Rich like call for room service and pay whoever brings down my five-hundred dollar bottle of champagne to tell me I'm a star or let me dress them like like an adult baby. C'mon kid. I'll give you a hundred bucks. Nobody has to know.

I made out with someone who was on cocaine once. It was Easter Sunday, the year I decided not to have dinner with my family anymore. It always turns into a fight anyway, like the year my mom asked us to say grace, which was ridiculous because not one of us has ever been to church in our lives. I think she fell asleep watching a marathon of sitcoms on PAX TV, the deceptively Christian network, and woke up believing she had another family, one that was moral, chaste, and prudent. She asked us to say grace, and when nobody volunteered, she asked again, like we hadn't heard because we were each very involved in a private prayer of our own, and not that we were ignoring her. So I said, “Thank you, God, for this bountiful feast, which Christ died bleeding on the cross for.” And then I put my hand in the cranberry sauce and wiped it across my face like an Easter warrior.

Well, nothing was ever the same after that, either screaming over whose job it was to thaw the corn, or dead silence, which, even though it sounds like it would help with digestion, actually makes you feel like you have a chestnut lodged in your esophagus. So, that Easter, I stayed in bed until five, opting out of our traditional family group-hate, and went to karaoke.

The only place open on Easter was Lit Lounge, this dank cave on the Lower East Side that always looked like there should be a college geology major giving guided cavern tours and telling you to watch your step. I had just sang “Ballroom Blitz,” and it turned out to be a real show-stopper. Maybe it was drugs, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit, but everyone lost their minds dancing, the whole room orange and swaying, lit up like amber waves of grain. Some photographer was taking my picture and asked my name. I handed him my business card, xeroxed and laminated for free at my job, something I had for no real reason because I don't do anything in particular. He looked at it- FEMME FATALE OF KARAOKE- threw me against a wall and started making out with me. I couldn't figure out why my face suddenly went numb, like I had been watching TV and didn't realize I was sitting on my lips and tongue the whole time. My heart was racing, but I chalked it up to soda and the excitement of making out with somebody I didn't already know.

My friend Dave was the only person I knew there. He was older, Canadian, and a CEO of a company that made things that glowed in the dark. He was pretty weird, but we bonded while singing “Hot Legs” by Rod Stewart once at another karaoke.

“Do you know that guy?” he asked, laughing and astonished at what a monumental creep I had become in a manner of minutes.

“No,” I said, feeling my face to make sure it was still there. “Isn't it great?”

Five minutes of song. Sixty minutes of glory and sloppy, cardiac-stress. Two hours of looking up facial paralysis on WedMD. Those days have passed me by, if they ever really existed. No chance now of becoming the sort of person who wears iridescent pantsuits, stilettos, and acrylic nails with the pinkie extra long, spending money like it's not even mine. Oh, it's not that far, but let's hop in a cab anyway. Money's no object but a burnt hole in this manicured hand, and everything is gonna be all chocolate covered strawberries from here on out, baby. Now, would you be a dear and pass the mirror?