significance is optional

I’m with Angelle on the way to the only used game store left in Metairie when a chalkboard sign in front of a bar catches my eye. Someone’s written on it in pink and blue chalk “Bring Our Rooster Back — Reward.”

“Did you see that?” I ask her.

“See what?” she asks. I tell her about the sign and she laughs.

“That’s a story I’ll never know,” I say.

I started a game of Dragon Warrior III on New Year’s Day 2011 and a game of Dragon Warrior on New Year’s Day 2012. We’re going to this store to see if they have a copy of either Dragon Warrior II or IV. It’s actually a LAN center that shares a parking lot with a daiquiri shop. The lot is packed with cars to where we have to drive to the very back to find the last open spot.

“I guess everyone’s watching the football game at the daiquiri shop or something,” Angelle says.

“This oughta be a fun place to drive through once it’s over,” I say.

It was a logical assumption to make, and dead wrong too. The daiquiri shop wishes it got this kind of business. The LAN center is full of spectators commenting and loud gamers pounding on mouse buttons, every one of the dozens of seats filled, standing room only. “Take the base! Take the base! Take it!” a guy is barking into his bulky headset. “I’ll make a man out of you!” sing four guys standing behind a blond kid frantically tapping keys. I recognize it from Mulan. “Here’s the plan,” a twenty-something starts cooing coolly in a velvet voice on his headset, somehow audible through the din, sounding like he belongs on a top 40 station. The whole room’s alive. I feel like I’ve left Metairie for a while and stepped into the same specific space from the first time I saw an arcade when I was very young, the first rock club I ever wandered into, the first bar I ever snuck into with my friends. I enjoy it while it lasts.

Finally I remember why we came here, so I go to look at the NES game selection. They don’t have either game, so the tradition ends here. I can’t say I’m too disappointed because II is a frustrating drag to play through and IV would have been very expensive.

***

A couple of days earlier I’m talking to Greg, a friend of mine that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. We catch up on what the other’s been up to and then out of nowhere he says “The year’s finally coming to an end soon.” He sounds almost anxious about it.

“It sure is,” I say because I can’t think of any other way to reply to that. I guess I could have said “No it’s not!” Maybe if I ever have this conversation again I will, just to see what happens next.

“I just wish it would come sooner,” he groans. “Ugh, three more days of 2012.”

People who are relieved when a year ends are always relieved every time a year ends. The predictability doesn’t bother me so much as the kind of mindset it implies. It’s not the year’s fault after all. The date the year begins isn’t some universal law like gravity, just a day agreed on by a handful of people over a thousand years ago. Really, January 1st just kind of sits there in the middle of winter. Spring equinox makes more sense from a metaphorical and even an orbital basis for a Northern Hemisphere-dictated beginning. In a parallel universe where that’s the case, I bet he wouldn’t have started this conversation for another three months.

I tell him this.

“Equinox isn’t the same day every year though,” he says.

“It’s a range of three dates,” I say. “Make it the second one.”

“Ok, so the year starts in the middle of March now. Not a very pleasing aesthetic.”

I think about this. He’s right. “So we make March 20th into January 1st.”

“That makes sense,” he says. “How many days is that?”

“From what?”

“From our January 1st to your January 1st?”

“What makes it *my* January 1st all of a sudden?”

“Well it’s your idea, isn’t it?”

“If I were talking to myself, yeah. You just said it made sense, so ‘my’ January 1st is actually ‘our’ January 1st.”

“Well what do we call the other January 1st then?”

“‘Their’ January 1st.”

He liked this. “Ok, so how many days?”

“30 days hath September…” I start. There’s got to be a quicker mnemonic or something for the number of days in a month, because it always feels like it takes forever to get to the end when I go through it. “79 or 80,” I say after a moment.

“Ah, because of the leap year.”

“Which would now come…in the middle of December.”

“Would it have to though?”

“No, I guess we could just stick it anywhere at this point.”

“Why not the end of the year?”

“December 32? Think of all the hard 31 limits that would need to be recoded on websites and in software. Those poor programmers.”

“Hmm.”

We thought about this a lot longer than we should have.

“November,” I said. “November always felt like it should be a 31 month.”

“You know, yeah. It’s more robust than a 30 month somehow.”

“November 31st is our leap day.”

“Rock.”

We spend a few minutes figuring out what our new birthdays are. Mine becomes February 23rd. I suddenly remember that I was friends with a girl a long time ago whose birthday was February 23rd and it nearly knocks me over because I realize I’ve had no memory of her whatsoever for years and years until this coincidence of thought brought weeks of experiences flooding back.

***

There’s this girl with long dyed black hair hanging out with my friend Chris when I go to meet him at Pepper’s. I hadn’t seen Chris since we’d lived in the same dorm building two semesters ago. The last time we hung out, he had walked in on me while I was pissing in the bathroom. Instead of the standard “Oh oh, sorry man,” he just stood there and stared at me. I stared back at him and then delivered the best one liner I’ll ever come up with: “Window shopping or just sightseeing?” Chris turned and sort of half ran out of the bathroom. Marcus and Louis exploded with laughter in the other room.

“Let me get you an icepack,” Marcus heaved between laughs.

“I don’t need an icepack,” Chris snapped. He was beyond flustered.

“It’s the only way we’ll stop that blushing,” Louis cackled, adding “Window Shopper.”

“Don’t call me that!”

One year later, Chris waves at me with a big smile on his face, getting up out of the booth to greet me. He looks exactly the same as he did a year ago. I decide not to bring up the bathroom thing. Yet.

“I’d like you to meet a friend of mine,” he says, gesturing toward the girl.

“I’m Alissa,” she says.

“I know,” I say, sitting in the booth. “I’m Jak.”

“You know? How did you know?”

“That crazy thing a year ago that we met at.”

“We did? What crazy thing?”

“You don’t remember?”

“No, refresh my memory.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. It was a pretty wild time, so bear with me. I’ll try to get the story right.”

She sits up straighter in her chair. “This I’ve got to hear.”

I come up with this absolutely stupid story. I don’t remember most of the details anymore. Swimming pools full of alcohol and Rolls Royce demolition derbies. I think Billy Joel showed up for some reason, probably because “Piano Man” was on the jukebox at the time. At one point we all ended up at the White House. We got the key to the city of Thibodaux. Aliens showed up. That kind of dumb story. It all ended in a disaster, because that’s the only way I knew how to end a story back then. Something the aliens did, I’m sure. Everyone that didn’t get amnesia from their head injuries agreed to be sworn to secrecy since the government considered the existence of the aliens classified. I remember that I ended it with “To this day, if you talk to anyone involved, from Bush to the mayor of Thibodaux to the guy in the gorilla suit, they’ll act like they have no idea what you’re talking about.” Somehow she was still listening.

“Then why are you telling me? Won’t you get in trouble?”

“It’s all right because you were there. Don’t tell anyone else, now.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dare.”

“I can’t believe I did,” I say. Chris keeps nudging me under the table and grinning and winking at me. He’s really very bad at subtlety. Alissa notices and gives him a sour look. I say “Did Chris ever tell you why we call him Window Shopper?”

He frowns. “Aw, c’mon man.”

“He didn’t, and you’re going to,” she says, completely intrigued.

“I, just, ugh,” Chris stammers. “I don’t have to sit through it.” He gets up and walks outside to smoke a few cigarettes, anything to not relive that. It really bothered him! He didn’t come back in for another forty-five minutes after I finish the story, so Alissa and I keep talking. At one point she mentions that she had always wanted to be a pilot.

“Like for an airline?” I ask her.

A look of shock crosses her face, like she blurted out a secret no one was supposed to know. “Ugh, never mind, no, no, no no no nonono.” She sounded out the “no”s like a marble dropping.

At first I thought I had said something dumb. “Then what, like a test pilot?”

“Seriously, forget I ever said anything about it.” I realize that for some reason this was extremely embarrassing to her.

I spend the next minute trying to think of something else to talk about. Only aviation exists in the entire universe for this minute. I keep my mouth shut.

She breaks the silence with “My dad always told me it was a stupid idea.” I figure that’s about the moment our friendship really began.

“What, flying?”

“Well, me flying.”

“Why would he say that?”

“I don’t know. He never said why. Just that it was. And he was very adamant about that.”

“That’s strange.”

“Yeah.” She says it like she’d never considered that as a possibility. “I guess he was a strange guy.”

“‘Was’. Is he still alive?”

“Oh. Yeah, I haven’t talked to him for five years now.”

“Does it still matter what he thinks?”

She stares ahead for a moment. “Hm,” she hums. “No, I guess it wouldn’t.” Of course it wasn’t so simple as that. And of course it really was too. We got to be pretty close friends for a while after that.

A few days later I met her roommate Don. They had been best friends since elementary school. He had this great easygoing personality and found humor in everything. He was also a curiosity in Thibodaux, a giant 6’5″ gay man easily more than 400 pounds. He had a knack for hooking up with the worst people in the world. The one who beat him up with a baseball bat. The one who stole his car at gunpoint after breakfast. The one who tried to drug Alissa at a party. The one who was selling crack from the house they used to rent and tried to blame Don when the police raided it. Those were the big four; most of the rest of them just ended up stealing things. We came back from lunch with him one day to find their apartment door open. “Well, it happened again,” he said in the way anyone else would say “Ah, the mail came.” This one had stolen the television, his vintage record player and the toaster. The toaster. “The TV, the turntable and the toaster,” Don said, giggling. “I have to appreciate the alliteration.” Then he sighed. It’s the sort of sigh I shouldn’t have been able to ever forget. It was an aural diamond of concentrated sentiment, one wordless syllable that spoke paragraphs of resignation clearly and without context. It’s been years and years since I’ve thought of it and even longer since I heard it, and it still breaks my heart a little even just to remember it. I couldn’t recreate it if I tried. I wouldn’t want to.

The apartment lease was in Alissa’s name and she was torn about telling Don to find another place to live.

“I couldn’t,” she would convince herself. “He’s always been there for me, so I have to be there for him. He’d end up living with people like that and really get hurt or in trouble. He’s the worst judge of character in the world.”

“I have to,” she would convince herself. “I can’t keep coming home to an open front door. One of these days he’s going to bring someone here that’s going to kill us. I have to look out for myself at some point. He’s the worst judge of character in the world.”

Most of our time as friends wasn’t consumed with these issues. Like Greg’s 2012 though, difficulty sticks out more in memory.

The last time I talked to her was in an email. I’d moved from one friend’s place to another’s and decided I wanted to stay in town permanently, so I had started looking for a job. I was going back to New Orleans periodically to work with my friend’s company and play shows for cash to sustain me while I looked for something steadier in Thibodaux. She had emailed me after I hadn’t been in touch with her for a month or so, just asking what I’ve been up to and if I had any new music she could hear. I told her I’d been really busy and that I’d catch up with her “real soon”. I attached a couple of MP3s of songs I was working on. I figure that’s about the moment our friendship really ended.

She emailed me back a few hours later, though I didn’t check it until the next week. She had spent her own actual real time listening to my songs and then writing out what she liked about them. I don’t remember what her email said anymore; instead, I remember that I was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a maroon t-shirt, with my tan button down shirt draped over the computer chair. I remember that I was eating an orange popsicle. I remember that later that night I got drunk with Rob and Ben and Brennan in the same booth at Pepper’s where I’d first met her. I remember not replying and letting this friendship slip away because I felt like she was part of the life I had before I’d made this latest plan. Anything involved with that life could wait until this life was in place. It’s the kind of wrong thought that’s only obviously wrong after it’s all over.

Up to this point, talking to Greg, years after “real soon”, I’d forgotten everything about Alissa and her universe, which I guess is fitting for a friendship that started with a story about amnesia. I wondered what else I might have forgotten. I wonder what I’m doing now that I might forget. It happens, I know that. Everyone who’s lived enough to regret something knows that. Forgetting human beings still seems wrong somehow.

Alissa. Don. Bring Our Rooster Back — Reward.

***

“Anyway,” I say, “the point is that you wouldn’t be anticipating the new year like this right now if it were three months away.”

“Well, obviously,” Greg says. “So?”

“So it seems awfully limiting to label the next three days as being part of a ‘bad’ year knowing how arbitrary it is, doesn’t it? Why wait to change your outlook?”

“Hm,” he hums. “That makes sense.” And in this case, of course it really is as simple as that.

all words are old ideas

On Monday I worked as an extra in a movie called Boulevard H which is supposed to come out next year. The most official synopsis I’ve been able to find is “a group of wannabe actors who collectively follow an eccentric and volatile acting coach. The students are held back by autism, old age, dwarfism, paralysis, egotism, and delusions of grandeur.”

I got the email confirming my booking five hours before the call time so I only slept three hours. If I hadn’t been getting three hours or less of sleep the last three nights, that wouldn’t have been a memorable detail for me.

The email only told men to wear “semi-formal” which is the most vague wardrobe description possible. I threw on the suit I wore at my show last Saturday, shoved a tie in my pocket (just in case) and went to the shoot.

We’re playing audience members at the play the characters put on. I’m sitting in the third row at the far right. The actors are running their lines on the stage and it’s legitimately a very funny scene, leading me to believe that the movie must not have a very large budget (it doesn’t). One of the lead actors is also the director / writer. A mammoth headache begins to roll in as I realize I should have eaten a lot more for breakfast than a handful of pretzel sticks. The director’s assistant is pointing at me and telling me to move to the front row, rightmost seat, then later moves me again two seats to the left. He later thanks the front row extras for dressing properly. Okay, so that’s what “semi-formal” means.

After three hours of positioning and rehearsal, the crew is finally ready to start rolling cameras. Loud booming chords of music play from the other side of the ballroom doors. We’re all confused, nobody mentioned this.

“Mood, you think?” the girl to my left asks me. She’s a very pretty college student who told me earlier this is her sixth film she’s done background work on and that she’s excited because it’s the first project that she hasn’t been cast as “student” in.

“That, or maybe the fanfare before the play?” I say.

“Doesn’t the old lady play the fanfares on the trumpet?” she says. And she’s right, that’s one of the funniest parts of the whole scene.

“That’s true — say, why do the director and crew look as confused as the rest of us?” I ask.

“You think there’s something else going on out there?” she asks.

It was a conversation of questions, one of many going on between the cast, crew and 100 extras. Finally I hear the assistant director, a big important looking man with a white beard, talking over the radio and relaying it to the director who is currently wearing chainmail.

“It’s a children’s Christmas concert. The hotel said it’s been planned for a long time. We’ll have to wait until they’re done.” It feels kind of good to know that it doesn’t just happen to my movie, it happens to the bigger deals too.

After an hour of slightly off-key Christmas songs, shooting begins and we’ve all memorized every characters’ lines by the time lunch comes. Five hours later the girl on my left will find out she’s been asked to come back tomorrow to play one of “ten youthful classroom extras” in a different scene.

“So you’re a stu-”

“Shut up. I’m a youthful classroom extra.”

Much later I’m home and looking up articles about background work to see if the experience on this set was an average one or not. I find a particularly lively one and start reading.

It’s an article so long that I end up glancing at the scrollbar to see if I’m as far down as I think I should be by this point. (I’m not. I’m only halfway through.) It’s a phenomenon you may be familiar with. I scroll up to see the post date and I begin to wonder if the author wrote this in one sitting and if not, how many sittings it took. I start thinking about the way I look at articles and realize it extends to any collection of words and, really, anything at all that’s published in any kind of way.

“That Frog Dell’s Junkyard book was certainly a book,” someone says about my book. “When did it come out?”

“It came out in November 2010,” someone else will answer them. And suddenly that book is now locked into that very specific reference point, even though I wrote it in little shreds and giant marathons at various points of time between 1999 and its release in 2010.

“So, this is a November 2010 kind of book then, huh?” said nobody ever. Even still, that’s the kind of referential tint that’s thrown on those sorts of things, at least in my mind. And it’s incorrect.

You are reading this whenever right now is, and you can glance at the header to see that it was published on December 11th 2012 at 4:01 in the afternoon.

This part of this post is being written in a restroom which is in a restaurant I’m really not supposed to be in right now because it’s closed. It’s December 8th 2012 at 1:14 in the morning right now, and I just finished playing a Jak Locke Rock Show at The Boxer & The Barrel next door. I may have drank — a LOT — leading up to the point of me clumsily typing this on an iPhone that doesn’t register half of my keypresses because my fingertips are too calloused.

It is dark in here, and I can hear cymbal crashes, snare drums and throbbing bass guitar notes coming through two walls. Every now and then I can hear Don Puebla saying things, probably mean things, on the microphone to the audience, because that’s what he does. I can’t hear what he’s saying. Mostly I’m waiting to see what my stomach’s next move is going to be after the abuse I’ve put it through today between bad food, cheap beer and twisting my body around for forty-five minutes.

So far I’ve just been standing and leaning against the stall wall, wishing I could peek ahead to see how this ends, because right now there’s definitely a war going on somewhere between my esophagus and my lower intestine, and I’m having a hard time figuring out which direction the front line is advancing.

Almost every nightclub and bar I’ve been to has bathrooms with no doors on the stalls. In situations like this, I like a bathroom that has doors. Just in case.

The pain and nausea eventually pass with no incident. It’s cool and dark in here though and so I spend a few more minutes just enjoying the relative quiet.

After the show’s over, I go to Pepper’s to get some pizza with Israel and find out that everyone else in town apparently had the same idea. It’s getting really late now and I wonder if they’re really going to be able to serve all these people before they have to close in like fifteen minutes.

“Excuse me, are you taking orders?” I ask a girl wearing a black Pepper’s shirt.

“No,” she says. Israel and I notice that there are a couple of people with menus, some even in the process of ordering. The girl keeps staring at us like we just asked her to drive us to the moon.

“Can I take your order?” another girl wearing a red Pepper’s shirt says.

I’m hesitant to answer that. Israel looks at me as if I’d have any explanation. I’m not sure why that annoys me, just that it does.

“She just said you aren’t taking orders,” I tell her, pointing to the first girl.

“*I’m* not taking orders because *I* don’t work *here*,” the first girl says with a proud and disdainful sneer, in a way that suggested working at Pepper’s were the tenth circle of hell Dante couldn’t bear to write about. The second girl, Israel and I all look at her shirt at the same time. She looks down and her face turns red so quick it’s almost creepy. “…oh.”

“I work here,” the second girl beamed. “Can I take your order?”

“Let’s get a pizza,” Israel started to say.

She sucks in some air between her teeth and cringes slightly. “Ooh,” she says. I don’t like the sound of this. “Yeah, we’re going to close in fifteen minutes so we won’t have time to make that.”

I’m looking at the menu and wondering just what can be made and consumed in fifteen minutes. I’m not seeing any candidates.

“Breadsticks?” Israel asks.

“Sorry,” she says, and I really believe her. She really does look sorry about it.

“Ravioli?”

“Sorry,” she says just like before, and I realize it’s just a very very well rehearsed sorry.

Israel just starts going down the menu listing foods he’s heard of. The “sorry” gets more and more humorous to hear as the situation becomes more and more like an early draft of a Monty Python sketch.

We end up getting a bowl of cold banana peppers, a fantastic idea after what my stomach’s been through already. I notice for the first time that except for a handful of tables, everyone else is eating the same thing we are. We’re able to finish three each before they start kicking people out to close.

Did you notice the point where I stopped typing and just pasted the bottom half of a Livejournal entry of mine from 2001?

Anyway

Good stuff coming, like the EP that I’m totally working on right now instead of typing this. Next time, a post that doesn’t mention pizza at all, which means that only pizza-related things will probably happen to me over the next week or so.