Crossroads collects mediums of art where and when they meet at the start of the collaboration process. Visual artists, writers, filmmakers, cartoonists and more are asked to connect with each other through their work. The process is through call and response. One artist will either create something new or provide what they already have, and then the following creator will grab that copy of their work, reflect, and respond with their own creation to illustrate the piece.
Giving Up On Everything and Becoming Yourself
I step out of bed experiencing the kind of back pain that might be best described as vague, the so completely standard type of backache that’s way too general to be genuine. It’s the kind of pain that, as opposed to the lumbar or exertion related ailments endemic to people who do real work, can most likely be attributed to me needing something to bitch about.
Today, the back really fucking hurts. The Spanish tile chills my naked feet as I wander blankly to the bathroom and stoop to the sink, chasing 500 mg acetaminophen with room temp-ish bilgy stuff straight from the faucet. I consider the couple Valium Kasha never bothered to claim back in February, but since my most recent and admittedly uncouth “public breakdown” type thing, there’s apparently been way too much noise about me, and not the good kind; noise enough for both mom and Charles to have since gently suggested that I “tone it down” next time
Mid-afternoon post-Tylenol bitterness dictates mayonnaise, bologna, and two Kraft Singles, between two slices of Sara Lee honey wheat (purchased for an economical $1.98 at Winn Dixie, for which my roommate has designated me a fascist). The difficult part is the mayonaise. The thing is, I tend toward indulgence. In terms of mayonnaise, a tendency towards excess equates to a much less tasty tendency towards (presumably morbid) obesity. The sandwich is a battleground. I try to imagine Kasha watching my routine. She’d be almost nauseous with satisfaction at the amount of Hellman’s Real slathered on the stale, lumpy Sara Lee, like so much sour-scented SPF-5000 on the stale and lumpy backs of sunbathing seniors at, say, Linoma Beach.
I take my sandwich with a one-eighth bag of BBQ Fritos and my last Blue Moon, which label depicts a Brookyln-in-2008 looking guy floating over evergreens alongside Faberge-patterned hot air balloons. The Blue Moon labels are all artsy/funky lately, like they hired a bunch of Tumblr artists to doodle on the bottles. I’ve got about two hours until the interview, more than enough time to shower and shave and dress and rehearse blurbish quips and charming anecdotes.
In the mirror, I am handsome, except for this ovalish blemish high up on my cheek, which insists on growing scraggly, Gillette-resistant hairs ~8.5 times faster than the rest of my face. These I pluck with a yelp, and proceed to start the shower and do every other thing I said I’d do.
I have this recurring nightmare where I’m trying to buy pickles. The pickles are for my dad and he’s really particular about his pickles. Clausen spears are usually the way to go, they’re crunchy enough, but they’re too sweet for him. The only acceptable alternative is the chip-cut from whatever brand has the stork on the jar, but in the dream I can’t find either. Just aisles and aisles of pickle jars. Half of them are horribly corrupted, broken, or full of maggots and rotting in that horrifying, dreamy, bad-acid-trip kind of way where the mold and rot and decay seem to breathe through everything. Any non-demonic pickle jars are so outlandishly flavored and shaped that the best option after what feels like a decade-long search is the fractal-cut jalapeno jar in aisle 47. The aisles constantly reconfigure themselves a la Hogwarts staircases so that even when I start to feel that I’ve seen a high enough percentage of the available flavor/cut combos to make a rational decision, it’s impossible to find my way back to any previous location. There are no cashiers, no checkout aisles, and no other shoppers, just useless pickles stretching infinitely into the horizon. My sense of dread and anxiety over the whole predicament is, of course, completely irrational. In the dream, my father is the same gentle man I’ve always known. Were I to return with even the most upsetting possible pickles, he’d be nothing less than wholeheartedly appreciative that I so much as took the time to look. He’d accept any pickle jar with open arms, without displaying so much a shred, even the slightest facial tic to indicate his disgust. I think maybe that’s why it’s so horrible, the part I that would come next, in which I’d return with essentially nothing, pure disappointment, and he’d reciprocate with love. Dozing off in the frigid cab on the way to the station, I dream of pickles.
I’m doing well. I’ve made it two minutes past the first commercial break without any major missteps that might call my sanity or emotional stability into question. I’m sticking to the plan, sticking to what Charles told me on the phone – keep it familiar, keep it fake.
“… and I really didn’t even start writing until a couple years out of college. I was working as an investment banker, just really raking it in, according to that oh-so-American notion of success. Finance, you know, it made my parents happy, and I was going to find a wife, have kids, play Chutes and Ladders, you know.”
“That’s so funny to me, because as any one of your thousands of readers, congratulations on the success of the book, by the way, or anyone who has even read the title knows, the key to success is nothing more than Giving up On Everything and Becoming Yourself. Holland, I guess what I’m wondering, is how did that happen for you? When did you finally just give up?”
I lose myself for a moment. I’m suddenly aware of my own perspiration. I have difficulty responding to ‘Holland’, which is maybe natural. There’s no such person as Holland Hume, it’s a pseudonym. Something Charles made up. He didn’t think people would take free advice from Keith Monroe, much less pay for it. I wipe a couple droplets from my upper lip and ask David could he please repeat the question.
“What changed? Why aren’t you on Wall Street, playing Chutes and Ladders? When did you give up?” And I’m now suddenly really intensely sweaty and I burp (hopefully) imperceptibly and it tastes like pickles and I’m worried that sweat and pickles are too real, that I’ll break the bank. Charles will be furious, but he can deal, he’s got other clients.
“My mother, she really wanted grandchildren. She’d hassled my sister, Charlotte, maybe every day since she was twenty-two, but that was never going to happen, for a number of reasons, and once Charlotte kinda dropped off the map, all that pressure fell on me. I was maybe twenty-five, and there was this girl I was dating, Kasha.” Things are getting hairy but I’m afraid that if I slam the brakes now I’ll head straight into a tailspin. I know Charles is watching somewhere and I can practically see him swiping his hand through the air beneath his chin in the universal gesture for ‘cut that shit out, right the shit now’. I find myself wishing I’d taken those Valium.
David’s lips are moving but not sounding, and I blink five times, stupidly convinced that my eyes are out of whack. The sound comes back.
“Everything okay there Holland?” and I realise that I trailed off mid sentence however long ago and have not spoken since. I have been coached for this and I reach for the mug of water and adjust my position in the green velvet armchair and smile a bit and say something which implies that the glint in local television personality David Royal’s eyes was distracting me, and the show goes on.
I am midway through a cookies n’ cream Pop Tart when Charlotte calls.
“Hey Holland, you were just fabulous tonight, especially when you looked too constipated to speak, I couldn’t be more proud.”
“Hi. Fuck you. How are you, shit where are you Charlotte?”
“I’m living in some hole in Pilsen with Rob and Mira again, and we finally got a landline so I figured I’d test it out. I can’t believe you almost did it again, like Jesus, K, there’s gotta be some kind of statute of limitations for how long you’re allowed to be hard up about some Russian bitch before everyone realizes you’re full of it.”
“You’re one to talk, living with Rob again, don’t even bother trying to pass that off as a financial decision. But how’s Mira?”
“She’s lovely and bored and her hair is purple and she doesn’t ever think of you, so don’t bother, also, nice try, but you’re not as subtle as you think. Quit being dodgy, or I won’t call again. I might not anyway. How are you really, because that face you made on tv tonight, that oh-so-charming I-really-have-to-shit face, that didn’t look so good.”
There are certain levels of bullshit which we are willing to accept perhaps only from our older sisters.
“I’m shit. I’m fine. I’m eating, sleeping at least. Not thinking so much.”
“Good, great I’m really glad. No, I really am. Thank God you can afford to live a comfortably horrible little life all alone in Des Moines or where-the-fuck-ever stupid place it is. You know I saw dad last week? I was on the way through Indiana and fucking I’ve even got the balls to stop in and see him, and that’s depressing, because aren’t we all still pretending that I’m the fucked up one?”
The line goes dead. She’s strung out, she’s gotta be, fucking Rob, I’d have tried to kill him years ago if he wasn’t a full foot taller than me. She’ll call again in a month, but I can’t stop hearing her now, leaking tweaky half truth at thirty miles a minute.
Kasha read the manuscript first. She didn’t say anything. I gave it to her a week before our anniversary. I tried to bring it up over champagne on July 23rd. We were sitting on top of the hill at Memorial park, watching an Australian Shepherd chase a frisbee. I asked her what she thought, and her shoulders dropped as her mouth opened, closed, silently. I knew to be scared then, knew that if she felt she had to try this hard to be gentle, something was up.
“It’s hard to watch… It’s like last month, when the toilet clogged, and you spent hours with a plunger and a wrench and no knowledge, no expertise, just convinced you could make things better with the wrong tools and the right attitude.”
Back then, I was sure I was onto something, sure that I could fix things, my father, my toilet, myself. I tried to justify the thing, but she cut me off.
“You know what’s fucked up?” And then I knew that we were going somewhere that we had not previously been, which I didn’t want to go, because she never said fuck about anything except dogs and food. “There are people who believe in you, and when you do things like this you make it really difficult to keep wanting to do that, like borderline impossible. Like what, are you so caught up in what Franklin wanted that you’re gonna spend the rest of your life disappointing everyone else?” And something in me disappeared for maybe ten minutes, and that was enough, because I think the word for the thing I lost would be restraint, because how dare she invoke my father as part of an argument, an escalation in some kind of conversational arms race. I can’t remember what I said with any clarity, and I don’t want to. It was less than inspirational.
My father’s name is Franklin Thompson Monroe. The best pickles he ever had, he bought at Sam and Louie’s. He never went back, in case it was a fluke. He came home utterly ecstatic, set the pickles on the imitation granite counter, scooping up me in one arm, and Charlotte in the other, a human Tilt-O-Whirl. I was maybe six, and we’d all sat on the couch watching M*A*S*H or some Steve McQueen movie, vying for my father’s lap, each a full and briny pickle to ourselves.
He isn’t in the book. It’s a self-help thing. I’d never read one before, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard. I had a lot of time to kill, watching stocks go up and down by fractions of percentage points, imaginary wealth disappearing, reappearing. It started as a joke. I don’t know. At least it’s not The Secret. I’m hoping he’d be proud, I’m successful, at least. I guess. It drove Kasha off, my being quasi-famous and more-than-quasi-narcissistic. At the time, I blamed it on her, like maybe she was jealous. She just knew better. Panic kicked in.
We had had drain flies, once, months ago. She’d sit up all night, too wired to sleep, even through the Valium. She set out maybe two dozen traps, and she’d change them twice a night, but it wasn’t enough. Ironically, I guess, the traps were just solo cups with meshy stuff on top, full of apple cider vinegar. The traps worked, but they also made the whole apartment smell like apples, which, really probably just made the whole thing worse.
The walls of our Midtown studio were this sort of pale beige that was pretty inconveniently close to fruit fly coloration. The flies would float in and out of focus – you’d track one down only to blink and lose sight of it. Kasha would just snap at me and point, and I’d spend all night trying to clap drain flies between my palms, she pulling her overgrown black black bangs tight behind her ears.
I dreamt again last night of pickles. I check my email on my phone, still in bed. Two from my publicist, and one from Charles, which can all be ignored. If it’s important, they will call. Almost on a whim, I decide to check for physical mail, clad only in boxers. An LL Bean catalogue, an incorrectly addressed cable bill, and a cream colored postcard dented at the sides and corners. It depicts the waning purple light of a blood orange sun, setting just behind a grain silo’s silhouette. In red 22 pt. papyrus, the postcard proudly proclaims Indiana: the Hoosier State. It’s from Evansville, the return address indicating the 47714 postal code of the fifth floor psych ward of Evansville State. On the backside, in handwriting that appears to belong to a kindergartener it reads:
MS. CINDY A NURSE READ BOOK TO ME. LOVED IT MAYBE EVEN TRY TO READ MYSELF HA HA BUT WHY HOLLAND?
MISS YOU COME SOMETIMES TO TALK. MISS CHAR TOO. SO PROUD.
SAY HI TO THE GIRL
P.S. no good pickles here
I feel now like a china shop in which a bull has already been. I feel also like a second bull, walking into the china shop of myself, at which I weep, for there is nothing left for me to break, and no piece of me as yet unbroken.
I put it out of mind, and dress myself in the least wrinkled collared shirt I can find. I’ve got a date; Charles set it up. He thought it’d be good for me. It’s with some serious but lesser known fiction writer, Carla Goldsmith, I think. It’s Dario’s. There will be pasta and candles and free bread, with also free olive oil and maybe bruschetta. This time, I’ll stick to Charles’s advice, even without the cameras around. I’ll keep it familiar, and I’ll keep it fake.