The weirdness of my writing and why am I “sofa king” tired

As I just described to my girlfriend: I am, like, eyeclosingly tired. Yes, not only is that an adverb–the supposed bane of all good writing (*cough* bullshit)–but it’s not a real word at all. I think people take the NO ADVERB rule too far. You’ve got to have them sometimes.

I had the same discussion in my head between my creative voice and the counter-balancing quality control editor voice. It went something like this:
Writer Joe: I jumped high.
Editor Joe: No, you leapt.
Writer Joe: No, bitch. Maybe to ME, “leapt” means I jumped FAR, and so the whole purpose of explaining my altitude is now lost to my audience.
Editor Joe: Fine, you bounded.
Writer Joe: Wrong again. “Bounded” means I took long continuous strides one after the other. I fucking jumped HIGH, so get the fuck over it.
Editor Joe: Clumsy writing.
Editor Joe: You’re stabbing too deeply!!!
Writer Joe: Deeply? Deeply, you stupid shit? Deeply? Is that an ADVERB I’m hearing?

Don’t worry, Editor Joe was fine. It took him a little while to recover completely, but he’ll be top notch in the morning. Anyway, I’m tired. It’s almost like a “coming down with something” tired, but I refuse to let that happen. I’m going to keep drinking water and plugging away like I don’t feel anything at all.

What happened today is that I kept waking up after 2 hours of sleep, so after three times of that, I gave up. That makes six hours, all cut apart. I had a kind of crazy dream in and out that I was in a city with lots of gunfire. I was a brave little son of a bitch though, ducking behind things and navigating my way around obstacles. I’m usually pretty indomitable in my dreams save under rare exception (i.e., dreaming about my teeth falling out is about the only thing that still scares me when I sleep). So between crazy dreams and half-completion of every REM cycle I entered today, there’s probably a non-“I’m getting sick” explanation for be to be as tired as I am.

Then there’s this happy page, but you know all about this one if, in fact, you are reading this right now. You know–for instance–that this space fluctuates between the kind of sophomoric rambling I’m doing now and over-poetic, Wordsworth-esque (Trust me, that’s more self-deprication than self-praise since I think Wordsworth was a hack) personal essays.

(EDIT: this is all terribly wordy sophmoric rambling. Most of it is now archived on

So yeah, that’s what’s going on in the life of this Hack You Know and Love. As Master Shake of ATHF fame would say: “Well…that was good. My teeth feel gritty, and I’m going to go lie down.”
Editor Joe: I got it. You vaulted.
Writer Joe: Dude, you are really pushing it.

Vending Machine Karma

The Pepsi machine spouts nothing but diet. The Coke machine’s SOLD OUT lights aren’t working, meaning it’s something of a carbonic acid roulette to put money in it. My guess is that all it has left is cola.

As Jon Voight’s character in Oliver Stone’s U-TURN says: “And bring me a Dr. Pepper. No Colas! You know colas ain’t anything but brown sugar water.”

I shouldn’t be drinking this crap. I should be drinking water. Que sera, sera. Bottled water is good for the bottle, because when I’m in the hills of Pennsylvania or in the ravines of Upstate NY, I happily refill the same bottle over and over again until the bottle takes on that chalky film.

Not here. There’s been a drought recently, and though it’s rained quite a bit recently, I just keep having these pictures of swampy mucky water turning bright, clean and chlorinated by a treatment plant. It’s probably all bullshit. I’m probably drinking as many or more contaminants out of the bottle than I am from the tap. I probably have more contaminants up north as a result of acid-rain wash than I do in the south where the wind and rain come predominately from the relatively clean air of the Carribean.

But whatever. So it’s a mental thing. Regardless, I want some soda.

I’m working at the motel, and I have to go out on property to help someone out with their room key. When I come back, I remember the other vending machines in the parking garage. I make a quick stop by and pay for a Mountain Dew (something I used to love, then used to abhor, but now I’m back to being able to enjoy one once a week or so).

My extremely decorated green can comes down the chute and I start to walk away. I hear CLUNK, CLUNK, but it’s not the kind of clunks the remaining cans make when they settle against the machine’s drop-door. These are louder clunks.

Whenever a machine fouls up in an error that leaves me without my dollar AND without my soda, I’m not the person who goes to the desk to complain. I usually just shrug and let it go. If it’s a food vending machine and I see my item of choice dangling from the looped coil by a THREAD of its packaging, I might give it a little rattle, but I never beat the thing. It’s just not worth it to me.

Tonight though, the machines have repaid my years of understanding and patience. As I suspected, they’ve been keeping score all along: remembering when they’ve short-changed me, remembering when they didn’t refund my money, and remembering all those times when their metal coils crushed my bag of Skittles in the stead of dropping it to the dull steel chute of freedom.

I found not one, but TWO extra cans of Mountain Dew. The peasant rejoices and gives praise to his machine gods. I recite dipswitch settings in their honor.


We mortals might not understand that prayer, but trust me, I just brought a tear to this web-server’s optical data port.

After 4AM on Ocean Boulevard

Like Hollywood, but without the warmth of the Pacific. Like Hollywood without that glimmer of hope that someone will sweep you up and make everything better. Colder than California in that, somehow, this place is more dead. Myrtle Beach in the winter is a lonely place as the wind sweeps up the strip, striking those who need warmth the most.

“It’s another chapter,” I say selfishly to myself as I plan characters out of the souls who bounce off mine–we, barely touching–two pieces of driftwood caught in ebb tide. Souls braver than my own. I think about the curtains that I put up in my bedroom to keep the morning sunlight from burning my tired eyes when I arrive home at dawn, almost a metaphor for all the things I don’t see in a given experience.

I miss my girlfriend and I think about holding her again. I think about all the people who have no one to hold. I think about a time when I had no one to hold. I think about the infinite energy of Mother Earth under me, and how she was always there to pick me back up when I felt as alone as so many people do as I type these words, these thoughts after 4AM on Ocean Boulevard.

The police troll up and down the strip, aching for a purpose in this summertime wasteland. They’re hoping for that last public drunkenness ticket before the businessers of dawn turn the strip into a speedway. They’re waiting to fill time so they can get off shift and see their families, maybe to catch a glimpse of their children before they’re off to school, or their significant others before they go to their 9 to 5’s.

We all share this boulevard, this abandoned strip running the beach, lined with promises of July and August life crackling through the air for more than 100 blocks up and down the Atlantic. That ghostly energy in the echoes of engine noise, a few months ahead and a few months behind this time of the year.

How much we absorb from a place just by touching it once. How much we learn just from a few weeks of quiet night shifts that will break into chaos once the outlanders arrive.

Ha. I’m an outlander myself, a supposed over-educated “culture vulture”
from the north, a boy from New York with pointless knowledge swimming through his head. Speaking the way I do constitutes arrogance here, my very flow an affront to some of those I share the strip with.

I don’t play chameleon here. It’s a difference that I still don’t get. In Midtown Manhattan I develop laser eyes that burn through the people who step aside from my perfectly linear path on the sidewalk. In Milford I make eye contact with those I share the walk with, waiting for a familiar face to greet or wave to. In a small town diner in Doniphan, Missouri, even my naturally fast and metered speech gives way to a slowed tempo and syllables accentuated to sound almost like a bluegrass tune.

Not here. For whatever reason, the vibe can’t find its place in me. I don’t know this place, this bubble of vacationland surrounded to the east by the infinite Atlantic and to the west by the secession state.

She was a “dancer”. That’s what she told me, at least. She asked how much a room was, explaining that she was currently a guest at some expensive hotel up the street.

“It’s too expensive for me,” she said, explaining that she hadn’t even been able to enjoy the luxuries they provide to their guests. “I’m checking out there tomorrow, and I just need a bed and a shower, you know? I don’t need the fancy stuff.” I know the look in her eyes, but I spare our interaction from suffering my judgments. Beneath her chapped lips and bloodshot eyes she’s a little sister, all at once so fragile and innocent, yet having seen–without a doubt–more about the chill of real life in her 20 years than I have in my 24.

I keep these thoughts to a minimum so that I don’t appear condescending in tone or in expression. I can only imagine that reflected sadness comes across to a survivor as pity, and that’s far from my intention. I’m nearly in tears and I want to hold her and tell her that everything is going to turn out okay for her. But I know that in my heart of hearts, the best thing I can do for her right now is to talk to her, to smile and make conversation–to reply to her questions and tell her sincerely about myself when she asks.

“You don’t know the area very well, do you?” I reply that I’ve only been here a short while and that I basically know my way around, but not much about the area, no. “How long you been here?” My response is a couple of weeks, and I tell her I recently moved from Northeast Pennsylvania.

“You been working in a hotel up there?” No, I say–I used to work for a small magazine in the river region between NY, NJ, and PA. “New York and New Jersey were right near you? So you were close to New York City, right?” I tell her yes, that I love the city and that it was my intention to find a job there shortly before I moved here. She asks about the big buildings and about Ground Zero and about Wall Street and about Times Square and The Empire State Building. She’s never been there, but you can tell from the way she talks that whatever she’s read or heard about it, she’s absorbed it and held in her head much the way a child does an enchanted land from storybooks read to him.

“How old are you?” She asks, finally. I tell her that I’m twenty-four, and she responds that she’s not yet twenty-one. A little sister. I knew from the moment she entered.

She tells me that she’s from Charlotte and that she came here for a job. Despite the black X marks on the back of both of her hands to tell the bartender not to serve her, she’s clearly a little drunk, but she walks evenly and speaks coherently. She’s nervous about a police cruiser that had been eying her on the strip since she’s slightly intoxicated and not yet 21. A little suspicious, but I tell her that I don’t blame her–a bored officer is an inquisitive officer–and that there are plenty of them out this time of night.

She just wants someone to have a conversation with, something to keep her attention while the impending danger passes. I know that I can help her with this by doing nothing more than being myself, by speaking and by listening–by interacting.

It’s a strange and beautiful thing, this interaction–making me more empathetic and filling me with a strange sort of peace that I’ve only ever caught a glimpse of. The other time it happened was on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, as a man and his little daughter smiled at me, passing as they walked hand-in-hand while I played my acoustic guitar with my naive, 18-year-old hands.

But on this cool night in Myrtle Beach, there is no beating sun or chalky beige dust. There is no smiling man and daughter. There is no scent of urban development and southwestern cuisine, nor the sound of a silly boy playing simple chord progressions on his guitar.

There is only me, this hotel desk, and my spiritual little sister–this “dancer” from Charlotte who has come to this tourist bubble in South Carolina to find what we all go to find when we’re somewhere that we don’t call home: something different from whatever it is we fled from.

The cruiser has trolled by without her noticing, and once he sees me speaking to her with a smile on my face–he’s off to find someone else to be inquisitive about. Something about my demeanor must have clued him in that if he wanted her, he would have to wait until we friendly strangers were finished with our conversation.

After fifteen minutes, she’s back at the plate glass, looking left to right and no longer seeing a cruiser. “He’s gone,” I said. “He drove off a few minutes ago.” She asks again when she can check in, and I tell her to come back at 10 AM, after the housekeeper has checked out a few rooms. If all she needs is a bed and a shower, I say, these rooms will be far cheaper for her than what they have at the flashy super-hotel she’s currently in.

She thanks me for being so patient with her, and I tell her I enjoyed speaking with her. When she looks back and smiles before she passes back through the glass door and out into the strip, I see the little sister face shine through those tired eyes.

It’s after 4AM on Ocean Boulevard, and the breeze off of the Atlantic is already warming from the pre-morning Sargasso Air rolling gently up the coastline from the warmer latitudes south of this lonely beach.

It’s after 4AM on Ocean Boulevard, and the light of dawn is just around the corner.