WE CAN EAT YOU NOW

I had 13 new voicemails on my phone. I knew it was time for me to check them. Normally the process of “checking voicemails” for me looked a lot like hitting the number 7 over and over again until my phone indicated that I no longer had any new voicemails. Sure, the occasional message from a friend got lost in the mix, but the sweet justice of not hearing to hear a robot lady voice informing me that it’s urgent and important that I contact them for a business matter far outweighed the cons.

This time around though, I couldn’t delete my voicemail. Each time I pressed 7 the message would just start over again and again:

“This is a communication regarding a debt from – This is a communication regarding a debt from – This is a comm – This is a comm,”

I hit the button to end the call but the message just began again:

“This is a communication regarding a debt from ABC Collections. You have been scheduled for a mandatory hearing regarding a flexible repayment plan on Saturday, July 25, 2019 at 1200 hours at the National Trust Tower at 1400 S River Street in Suite 1213. Please be at least 30 minutes early for your hearing and bringing legal proof of income and two forms of identification. Thank you.”

I knew which debt they were referring to, my student loan debt. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to repay it, it was just that I didn’t have any money. Sure, I was riddled with guilt every time I picked up a new vinyl record or treated myself to a nice lunch with a friend, but I couldn’t give up my sanity or my life to repay this absurdly high stack of money I had borrowed. Maybe the hearing would do me well. Give me a chance to plead my case and let them know that I was trying, I really was, I just needed time; maybe a year or two to get my shit together so I could start repaying my debt. They had to understand. I wasn’t the first person to be in this situation and they did mention a flexible repayment plan.

*****

I arrived at the National Trust Tower a half hour early on the 25th. I felt I’d never seen the building before despite the fact that I drove down 14th Street everyday on my way to work. It rose probably 16 stories off the ground and left an ominous shadow over a large portion of the park that it lurked over.

I entered the building where I was checked in by security. I removed my keys my phone and my wallet and watch and put them in a bin to be scanned as I passed through the metal detector. I had my proof of income, my last paycheck from The Burger Shack tucked under my arm. The security guard was dead behind the eyes as her white gloves patted me up and down. It always bugged me how half-assed the pat down is. I’m not requesting a cavity search or anything but a couple love taps didn’t seem very thorough to me.

“Please regather your items. Elevators are straight ahead of you, sir,”

I did as she said and filtered towards the golden elevator doors along with the great masses of other people, sheep being lead to the slaughterhouse. The doors opened and we all gathered in. I pressed twelve on the elevator door before the continuing rush of people on the elevator pushed me quickly towards the back.

The elevator was balls hot. People coughing and clearing their throats dressed in shirt and ties and blouses, some didn’t even bother to dress up. It was no small elevator either. I guess they’d figured with the traffic they’d be experiencing something similar to a freight elevator was the way to go.

The floors ticked by and the elevator got more comfortable, but very slowly. Lots of folks in lanyards with name badges got off on Floor 10, I’d figured it was an administrative floor or something to that effect.

Now it was just me and one woman in the elevator. She gently cried to herself, I couldn’t figure out why and it didn’t seem right for me to ask why. As the elevator pinged for Floor 11 she glanced back at me and quickly exited. Alone in the elevator I could hear the cables pulling me up. I couldn’t help but think of those cables as a knotted rope and the elevator itself my head caught in its fray.

The doors opened as if they were automated gentlemen welcoming me to the last place on Earth I wanted to be at the moment. Ahead of me was a great long hallway with door after door, all closed.

I began walking down the hall searching for my room number. I glanced down at my proof of income where I’d written ‘1213’ as a reminder to myself. The rooms all had placards stating “HEARING ROOM 1201”, “HEARING ROOM 1202,” and so on until there in front of me was ‘HEARING ROOM 1213.”

I dusted myself off, tucked my shirt in and entered into the room.

It was nothing like what I expected. Where I thought I’d find a waiting room or a warm office, similar to a DA’s office, there in front of me was a giant white space, clinical and echoing. There before me was one empty chair and across the room a long table where a board of professional looking people sat and stared at me blankly.

“Please Mr. Carney, have a seat…” said a woman, her voice carrying through the room. She wore a pink business suit and black stilletos. She was incredibly blonde with an incredibly big smile and a flight attendant tone in her voice that echoed through the hollow room. “We appreciate your punctuality,”

I took a seat as their three sets of eyes pierced me, watching me like some foreign zoo animal they didn’t understand. Their desk was clear, except for one stack of papers that the woman in the middle shuffled through. Looking up I noticed a giant two-armed fan circulating on the ceiling, like a great blade that I half expected to descend upon me.

“For the record, you are in fact Mr. James Douglas Carney Jr., correct?”

“Yes, mam,” I said, the cool air pressing down against my face.

“Did you bring your two forms of identification and your proof of employment and income, Mr. Carney?”

“Yes, I did,” I began to stand to bring them to her.

“No, please Mr. Carney, remain seated. Mr. Jetson, please retrieve Mr. Carney’s documents,”

Mr. Jetson was a big fucker. Probably 6’4” 270 pounds. I had this lurking feeling that that was a big factor in his position here with the ABC Collections Agency. I handed him my Driver’s License, my expired student ID and my proof of income from The Burger Shack.
Mr. Jetson presented the documents to the woman who put on her glasses to assess their validity.

“Very good, Mr. Carney. From here, I would like to go through a line of questioning with you, if you don’t mind. If you have any questions or concerns, please save them for the end of the inquisition,”

“Okay,” I said, my voice cracking slightly.

“Mr. Carney, you have been brought here today concerning your remaining debt of twenty-two thousand, eight-hundred and sixty-four dollars accrued during your freshman and sophomore years at Trenton Community College. Following your exit from their education program, you had a six month grace period allotted to you during which time no payment was due, however, after that time you were put on a payment plan of two-hundred and fifty dollars per month, which you failed to acknowledge for a period of 24 months leading up to the present. Is the preceding information correct, Mr. Carney?”

“Yes, it is,”

“Now I see here, Mr. Carney you are employed by The Burger Shack. Is that correct, Mr. Carney?”

“Yes, mam,”

“What is your official title at The Burger Shack, Mr. Carney?”

“I guess I really don’t have one,”

“I’m showing you make eight dollars an hour at The Burger Shack, Mr. Carney?”

“That’s right,” I said, “Just above minimum wage,”

“Mr. Carney, please don’t veer from the questions I’m asking you, okay?”
This woman was scary. I suspected her of being a kind of Stepford Wife. I half expected there to be a wind-up key in her back.

“Now, let’s get back on subject if we could – Mr. Carney, why have you been neglecting to pay your student loan debt to us here at ABC Collections?”

“Well, honestly. I don’t have the money. When I have the choice between eating and paying my student loan, the first one tends to take priority for me,”

“Have you considered getting a second job, Mr. Carney?”

“I have, and I’ve tried, but no one seems to be hiring, and even if they are, they have been unwilling to work around my schedule at The Burger Shack,”

“Mr. Carney, we’re not here to hear your excuses. The bottom line is your generation seems to have a large issue with accountability. When you take out a loan, you are making a promise to return that money, and your complete disinterest in doing so is beyond disturbing to me. How would you feel if I asked you to borrow twenty dollars and I didn’t pay you back?”

“I don’t have twenty dollars to lend you…”

“Mr. Carney, you are missing the point. You need to take ownership of the fact that you dropped out of college and thus, you have put yourself in this scenario. You have to pay us back,”

“What if I can’t? What are you going to do if I can’t? Sue me for the money I don’t have? Throw me in jail and deny me my horrible fucking life flipping burgers at The Burger Shack?”

“Actually, Mr. Carney, we are going to eat you now,”

I must have misheard her.

“You are going to do what?”

“You have defaulted on your student loans, young man. We have no choice but to eat you,”

“To eat me? Is that some sort of legal jargon for something?”

“No, I’m sorry, Mr. Carney. What I mean to say is we are going to tear off your limbs and eat you,”

“What the fuck? You can’t eat me?! That’s not… what the fuck?!”

“Section 14, Clause B of your student loan agreement states ‘In the scenario the aforementioned signee defaults on their student loan, it is left at the discretion of the lender to take whatever action is deemed most reasonable to ensure fairness in the agreed upon transaction, not limited to, or excluding, execution,”

“I’m getting out of here,” I said, rushing for the door, but as I did it padlocked.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carney, but we can’t allow you to leave. We’re so very hungry, and you owe us a very large sum of money,”

They rose at their table, as I rushed towards it flipping the table over, their papers flying every which way.

“I never agreed to this!” I said, cornering myself as the three of them lurked all the closer to me.

“Yes, you did, Mr. Carney. Fair is fair. Your word is your bond and you have to understand that sometimes human blood is the cost of a good education,”

The big guy held me down as the other two began to rip my clothes off. I squirmed but it was no use. I felt the blonde woman biting into my stomach as the other man penetrated his teeth into my neck. I saw my blood pouring out all over my naked skin. I felt my heart raging. Looking up above me in excruciating pain, blinding pain, I saw the fan blades spinning still, over and over as the searing pain overtook me, and I slipped into unconsciousness.

*****

Heaven is maybe the wrong word for where we go after we die. If Earth is a Beatles CD, Heaven is like a first edition vinyl of the White Album. What I’m trying to say is Heaven is a lot like Earth in its imperfections, but just a little bit better. There’s no anxiety pills here, you wouldn’t need them. There’s no wars, sure there’s fights, but at the end of the night, we leave them behind us. There’s too much to be grateful for to waste your time with hatred or jealousy. It’s like a good camping trip. Good company and good conversation and a few good beers. There’s no palm trees or clear blue water, at least not in my Heaven. That stuff never was the truth to me.

In Heaven, there’s no danger in the United States Postal Service going out of business. The mailman just comes every day, smiling, because he doesn’t have to do his job. He can stop in the middle of his shift and take a nap if he wants. It will get done when it gets done. Why would anyone deliver the mail by choice? Well, because that’s the whole thing here. They have the choice. No one is forcing you to do anything. There’s no salary, there’s no 401k, there’s no credit check. Autonomy is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I meet up with the mailman one day, and he’s smiling, like I knew he would be. He gives me my letters and I look through them. I got a postcard from my grandfather, letting me know he’s gonna spend a couple more weeks in Mexico up here in Heaven. Says he met a nice woman who is teaching him the true way to dance. I got another postcard from my friend Paulie who is inviting me to come up to his lodge in Aspen in Heaven. Says in Aspen in Heaven it’s always fall and it’s always beautiful. Says he’s got an endless fire going and we can sit around it and drink some whiskey.

My final piece of mail for the day is in a white envelope with just my name on it. I open it up in anticipation and I read it to myself:

“This is a communication regarding a debt from ABC Collections. You have been scheduled for a mandatory hearing regarding a flexible repayment plan on Tuesday, July 28, 2019 at 1200 hours at the National Trust Tower at 1400 S River Street in Suite 1213. Please be at least 30 minutes early for your hearing and bringing legal proof of income and two forms of identification. Thank you.”

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2014

READ “BATHROOM STALL…”

About these ads

A BEAR IN TOKYO

a factory in denver. we arrived at the manic disco like roided out bulls entering an interstellar china shop. we meandered through the crowd of fairies and monsters
and pushed as close to the alter as we could. all around us faces were crashing together like bangkok cars. there were snake charmers floating up the walls; paid entertainment for the day glow princesses and the queens and kings of the beat. we found our seat and met rabbit who offered to take us with him on his journey but we told him we weren’t big fans of wonderland and were happy just staying where we were, amongst the digital ocean waves and the illusions of heaven. amongst the dirty vibrations and the organic computers of seratonin we hid our beers in the corner where no one would mess with them and we headed out to the dance floor where we swam the technological wavepool.

i was dressed as jack kerouac as usual and she was dressed as bohemian ingalls wilder. there was a group of hissing girls on the dance floor dressed like tim burton mean girls. they danced like sandworms in their black and white striped slinky dresses. fuck-me pocahantas was at the bar ordering a long island iced tea, she asked her boy galactus if he had eaten and he said no he was stuffed from eating planets all day.

i breathed. just took a minute to breathe. i wasn’t used to this much energy. it was a bit overwhelming, like being at a city zoo in a different galaxy. saturn was out on the dance floor spinning her rings and her boy was watching in awe from the sidelines of the space gym. dj gnome was twisting the color of the room so it sounded less red and more blue. i kept breathing, and looking over i realized that i was the luckiest guy in the room, having the company of bohemian ingalls wilder. i asked her how she was doing and she said “fine” like none of this could break her zen. i was so in love. the idea of someone who could meditate at a circus like this was something to admire and something i wanted in my own life. i myself always fluctuate between dalai lama and mad scientist. between cool hand luke and yosemite sam. in a sense, i’m a basket case, but she seemed to be the apples i was looking for to fill the bushel of my psyche.

the red room was spinning. the day glow princess and her royal party hovered over the room looking down at us like electric greek gods. saturn was still spinning her rings. i was getting tired which means i needed to push myself a lot further down the beer spectrum if i had any chance of surviving the evening. i excused myself from boho ingalls wilder and went to the corner where i chugged down three of my cervezas like it was the end of the world party, and for all i knew it was. i felt like i was on the inside of a television. even the walls with all their wiring and weird technology looked like the clockwork guts of a tv. my stomach felt overloaded as i finished the last beer. it was then miss mayor of fuzzytown found me, wearing her official fuzzy sport coat. “hi” she said. “hi” i said. “touch my arm” she said. “why?” i said. “just trust me.” never being one to distrust i placed my palm flat against her forearm and looked into her cosmic empty eyes. i was not attracted to this woman, but it was clear she was attracted to me. why was i so trusting to do what this stranger asked of me? i guess it’s just this writer’s curse: carpe fabula, seize the story. I could never say no to people. “come sit with me” she said. “okay” of course i said. she took me to the next room, less astrological, but far more menacing than the former. the paintings seemed to be changing, mingling with each other. she sat me down with a jester and a man wearing a burglar’s costume. “there must be some kind of way out of here” i said to them, pointing at the joker then the thief, but they didn’t catch on. these were supposed to be the brilliant minds, the enlightened souls, the kind eyes of modern times but it seemed to no one could muster up a damn conversation. i guess at the end of the day we’re all still millenials. we sat there watching act after act of the circus, miss mayor of fuzzytown just kept staring at me and i myself started to feel a bit odd. i knew i had to escape the clutches of this oversized couch. i saw a man, a normal looking young man staring at one of the paintings on the wall; i knew they wouldn’t be offended if i excused myself to go speak with him, so i did just that. he was the aura of normalcy i had been looking for.

i approached him from the side as he stared at a painting of a cow in space and another one of a bear in tokyo. tonight i related to these characters in these paintings. torn from my normal habitat i found myself thousands of miles away from home. i asked him which one he liked more.
“i can’t decide” he said, staring at me. “i want to buy one.” day glow princess had invited me here tonight, and i knew this was her home that these paintings helped pay for – this amazing factory of nonsense, so i went subtle salesman on this unsuspecting cat. “you should buy one” i said vigorously, as to be heard over the roaring music. “these are great.” “i can’t decide” he said again. “i like the bear better” i said. “i think i do too” i said. “maybe i’ll get both.” these paintings were a couple hundred bucks each. i was intrigued that in this room full of lavish bums there seemed to be a wealthy simpleton. “i want to buy one” he said again. “yeah, you said that” i said. “i want to buy one” he said again. i looked in his eyes and thus began my suspicions that this stranger was in fact a robot: with only so many preprogrammed phrases. “where you from?” i asked him. it was time to uncover the truth of it all. “chicago” he said. a robot factory in chicago, i thought to myself, but i couldn’t let him catch on to my feelings. i thought about bohemian ingalls wilder in the next room, realizing i had abandoned a beautiful red riding hood in a room full of wolves. i looked back over my shoulder. the robot man could see i was lost in something. “i’m sorry” i said “what brings you to denver?” “i like to travel” he said, not blinking his robot eyes. “i think i’ll buy one” he said again. “why denver?” i asked, preparing myself for his rant about how weed is legal here and there’s a cultural revolution afoot and how he just wanted to see it for himself “weed, honestly.” he said. i laughed. “yeah… we do have that here i said “chicago is so stuck up sometimes” he told me. maybe he wasn’t a robot after all. “everyone is moving so fast there and it’s almost as if everyone is in a silent battle with each other. denver is just so chill.”

i couldn’t argue with him. i loved this city. always had. it’s like this secret show for one of your favorite bands. all of the intimacy and joy you want and no one else has to know about it, but don’t tell anyone i told you that about denver. “i’m gonna get both” he said. “i think i’m gonna buy them” he said. “you should!” i said “i can grab mallory to check you out?” “i’m not sure if i’m gonna buy them” he said. “alright” i said. i had tried, but it seemed he wasn’t a human nor a robot. maybe an android. i couldn’t be bothered with his android problems anymore. i went back to bohemian ingalls wilder.

surprise surprise a man in ultraviolet briefs and a hugh hefner red robe had found a seat beside boho ingalls wilder. she had those big scared listening eyes as he explained to her the nature of the universe, how we are all one, how there is but one consciousness and she oh so politely took in the lesson, as if she hadn’t heard it all before. “hi” i said to him, politely, i did leave her alone in the room after all “hey i’m rocket” he said to me. of course he was rocket. “nice to meet you, rocket” i said “how do you know everyone?” “i don’t” he said “i was just over at eskimo bar across the street and heard music so i wandered on over here. the factory, day glow princess’s kingdom, had open admission to their events. anyone willing to pitch the few bucks could get in. it was a bit jarring to see these people at a birthday party, who were unaware it was someone’s birthday. rocket went right back to his pontification to boho. boho gave me the help me look. “wanna go grab another beer?” i asked her. “yes” she said.

we went to the bar this time. through the course of the evening i had killed the six pack i had snuck in. “two pbr’s” i said to the octopus bartender. boho gave me a look as the bartender fetched the beers with her tentacles. “what?” i said. “pbr’s?” she said “you hipster you.” “look” i said. “it’s not that i want to be a hipster. it’s just that i’m not rich enough not to be, if that makes sense.” she said nothing. she was one of those quiet ones where every thing she didn’t say could drive you crazy with curiosity.

“what do you say we sneak out back with these?” i asked her. “sounds good” she said. i threw the bartender the total and the best tip i could manage and boho ingalls wilder and i snuck behind a couple curtains, climbed a very unsafe ladder, and made our way up to the rough. i was feeling fairly romantic, and then i felt the midnight wind outside. i snuck up first, so i called down to boho and asked her if she minded. she didn’t mind. of course not. this girl wasn’t one to say no. the romantic man who lives in my heart was break dancing. we sat on the roof top on some wooden crates and we didn’t say much at all. i’d say we stared up at the stars but in the light pollution of denver there weren’t really too many stars to be seen. we watched the cars drive by below and then i looked over at her.

“i’ve got a question for you,” i said, gathering myself, “is this a date?”
she smiled. “a date?” she said.
“yeah” i said “i always do this to myself. i ask girls to go to things with me and i mean it to be a date but i never tell them it’s a date and i never know”
“you always ask girls on non-date?”
“that’s not what i mean. but is this a date?”
“no” she said “i didn’t think of this as a date.” the romantic man who lives in my heart proceeded to die of a heart attack.
“oh” i said, the saddest living man in denver.
“i’m sorry but my heart belongs to someone else” i wanted to think what she said there was stupid, a cheesy way of saying ‘i’m seeing someone’ but there was a sincerity there i knew not to fuck with. her heart really did belong to someone else. had i been trying to trick her into a date with me? why couldn’t i have just said ‘this is a date.’ that’s all i had to say.
“i appreciate you being honest,” i said.
“i try to be honest” she said, “i don’t like the games, you know?”
“yeah, me neither.” i looked up at the sky. “it’s still nice to get away from it all with you up here.” she smiled at me with that brutal sincerity.
“cheers” she said, gesturing her beer neck towards me.
“cheers” i said.

it was strange to think of the monsters lurking and the peacocks peacocking below us. the bass slipped through the ceiling to the roof but barely. everything in me felt like i should be in the mindset of disappointment, but escaped from the circus below, just sharing the company with such a beautiful person left me with very little to not be grateful for.

we winded our way back down the ladder. she took off, giving me the longest, most fearless hug i’ve ever received and i was left with the leftovers of madness. she had vanished. i made a pillow of my jacket and i fell asleep, wondering if i was entering or leaving a dream.

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2014

READ “ALARM CLOCK”

FLASHLIGHT CITY BLUES: FAVORITE POSTS OF 2012

Rant Unicycle

#1: TIPS FOR WRITING BETTER GOD DAMN POETRY PART 1: I’m not a big fan of how to guides, especially how to guides on writing, but I really enjoyed writing this. I decided to shoot from the hip. Say what I truly feel. Focus less on the structure of poetry and more on the what keeps me going.

#2: THE OBNOXIOUS SOUND OF MUSIC UPSTAIRS: Most of my pieces I write and five minutes later, I post them to my blog. The fact that this is something I wrote a couple years ago and still held up on my blog made me extremely happy. I don’t write short stories or prose very often, but I was happy to find myself writing this piece, that not only helped me rationalize alot of things from my past, but also better understand love.

#3: MTV: When I sat down to write this, I thought it was gonna be shit. I thought it was gonna be pure angst and cheesy and trying too hard to be trendy, but in the end, I don’t feel that it’s any of those things. I didn’t realize until the comments started coming in that this piece wasn’t just about MTV. It was about the things we lose along the way, sometimes include our whole selves.

#4: AN AMERICAN PORTRAIT: A personal favorite. My trip to California really inspired this one in me. I wanted to speak of this iconic idea of America that we’ve created in our memories and our history, and maybe point us to the fact that it’s time to redefine what it means to be an American.

#5: I AM AN APARTMENT BUILDING: One of those ones where you know the title, and the rest just kind of comes from there. I feel like this piece really helped me to rationalize a lot of aspects of who I am in so many ways. My roommate and I talk about how I don’t really edit, but what I seem to do is rewrite the same poems in different ways until I get what I’m after. This one seems to be a later, but I don’t think necessarily better version of SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE THERE’S A COWBOY ARGUING WITH A BUDDHIST MONK.

 

More than anything, what I’d like to say is thank you. Thank you to anyone and everyone who stops by and reads my blog. Poetry is not something that is easily made a career. No one gets into poetry for the money. What I’m in it from is to share something I felt with the growing circle of people around me. I want to inspire people to be better. I want to challenge people to rethink who they are. I want to make a personal connection with someone on the other side of the world as me, and I have been lucky enough to get to connect to so many fantastic people, all with incredible stories and nothing but kindness to give back to me. You’re not a poet until someone reads your poem. I believe that too. Often times, I’ll read poems to my family and friends, and whenever I hit that publish button on wordpress, the same rush of satisfaction and honesty hits me.

Let’s make 2013 the best year there ever was. The world didn’t end, so we still have a responsibility to make our resolutions as courageous as we can, and our words equally as brave.

Love, Brice

p.s. let me know what your favorite pieces were. :)

A LOVE SONG FOR ELIZABETH BENDS

A shot from the mini-bar costs roughly $7.
Tonight I have spent over $140 on the mini-bar.
I feel like I’m inside of a washing machine. Everything’s oozy and spinning so god damn much.
I’ve been leaving messages on Tanya’s phone.
Beep.
Hi Tanya. It’s Mark. Um. Call me.
Beep.
Hey. It’s… well, it’s me. Call me when you get this. It’s been probably three weeks since we’ve talked.
Beep.
Hi, if this isn’t Tanya, would you please give me a call back? The voice message thing doesn’t say whose phone it is. This is Mark. Mark Swift.       Also, I’m sorry. I realize it’s 2:33 in the morning.
If you are satisfied with your message press one.
Does it cost money to make phone calls using a hotel phone? Can they track your calls?
I’m watching Late Night with Eric Creed, and the musical guest is some Irish band I’ve never heard of. Some band called “The Last Calls”.
Right now, Eric is interviewing this girl, Elizabeth Bends. I shouldn’t say some girl, this girl is gorgeous. Elizabeth Bends. She is flirting with the entire room, and she’s not even breaking a sweat. Her skin looks like it’s never seen sunlight or a bruise or a scar. She’s wearing this soft looking dress with her toned legs sneaking out underneath. She crosses her leg away from the camera. If you think that’s an accident, you are bat shit crazy.
I am standing less than six inches away from the television. The static is jumping to the little hairs on my forehead. I don’t feel that drunk. I’m close, really close to Elizabeth Bends.
“I understand you have a film coming out this weekend?” says Eric, dumbly.
“Yes, it’s called Scandals and the People Who Pay for Them. I believe we have a clip.”
They say something, and cut to the trailer. I fall back on the bed and count the tiles on the ceiling. It’s a nice hotel. The mini-bar, I mean, it is stocked. I’m alone in the hotel room. There are 25 tiles going one way on the ceiling, 26 going the other way. They each look about a foot long.
Beep.
Tanya? Is this Tanya? Call me, okay? I’m in room 917.”
I can’t believe someone put those tiles in one at a time. There are 14 floors in this hotel, probably 30 rooms on each floor. That’s, I don’t fucking know, a shit-ton of tiles to install.
I wonder if one person put each and every single tile in, or if there was a team. I wonder if Elizabeth Bends works hard. Do you think her parents instilled good work ethic and good moral values into her? My stomach hurts. I unzip my pants, and I start to think about Elizabeth Bends naked. I’m touching myself, but I’m not hard.
Do you think she cares if a guy is bald? She’s got to be loaded. I wonder if she thinks about money when she dates a guy. I wonder if she gets nervous on dates.
Elizabeth Bends is whispering naughty things in my ear. I sit up, my chin pressed against my chest. My stomach feels like it’s on fire, like it’s filled with rubbing alcohol. Elizabeth is no longer on. That band, The Last Calls, is playing. They sound more Irish than I even expected them to.
“Thank you for calling 719-555-3221, please leave a message after the beep.”
Beep.
“Hey, Elizabeth. Shit. Hey, Tanya, or whoever. I don’t know if this is Tanya. Just calling again. I mean, it’s 2:40 something but I haven’t talked to you since I left. How are you? I’m doing fine. Denver’s treating me well enough. What are you up to? I’m just about to do some painting and…” I blink, and the room resumes its soap spin cycle.
I’m having a conversation with myself.
I’m having a conversation with a telephone number.
Beep.
“Hi, Elizabeth?” Aw, fuck it. “Yeah, hi. Elizabeth Bends, it’s me, Mark. I just wanted to say you did great tonight. You looked gorgeous. Give me a call back when you get a chance, sweetheart. I’m in room 917. I’ve got a queen-sized bed here, and I wish you were in it with me. I hope your movie does well. It looks wonderful. I can’t wait until your home, and I’m home and we can just lie together and discuss your long days on set, and I can tell you how beautiful you look without makeup on. How beautiful you look when I wake up beside you. I can’t wait to kiss your neck and tell you about my newest painting. I miss hearing your voice. I miss talking to you. Telling you how I’d love to paint you, but you’re never here. I feel like it’s been years since our wedding. I talk to your mom, now and again. She’s lovely. I know when you’re older you’ll be like a great painting, just like her. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I miss you. It’s hard being in hotel rooms in weird cities and only seeing you through the television screen. It’s hard looking at empty pads of paper in hotel rooms and realizing those are there for lonely people like me. Like a coloring book for kids on a long car ride.”
If you’re satisfied with your message, press one.
To listen to your message, press two.
To erase and re-record, press three.
To continue with your message, press four.
I don’t press anything. I just stare at the hotel phone for a second.      There’s a button for room service. There’s a button for the front desk.    There’s a button for the restaurant.
Are you still there?
The phone knows I’m drunk, I think. It’s checking in on me. If I press five, I wonder if it will bring me a glass of water.
I press four.
“Elizabeth, I want you to know that there’s a lot of guys out there. I know how Hollywood is for a young, beautiful starlet like you, but they don’t love you like I do. They don’t know how I would kill for you. They don’t see the twinkle in your eye that I do. They don’t hear your beautiful voice or the effortless way you speak. They just see a nice pair of legs. A good screw. I want you to know that what we have is all that is keeping me living right now.”
I breathe into the phone. My lips pressed against the mouth piece, I can feel the condensation of my breath on it. The phone smells like a Long Island Iced Tea.
I press 3. I erase my message and I re-record.
“Hi Tanya,” I say, and that’s about it. I’m looking at my reflection in the window. I’m looking out at the city. I’m counting the buildings in the Denver skyline.
One, two, three. I literally say one, two, three into the phone. I am so embarrassed.
“Sorry, Elizabeth. I’m not going to lie. I’m drunk.”
I set the phone down on the table, next to the note pad. I pick up the hotel pen and I write on the note pad “I am in love with Elizabeth Bends,” I set the pad down on the desk and I retire to the corner of the hotel room, a dark corner near the front door, but it’s uncomfortable. I move into the closet, I scoot the ironing board to the side, so I can sit cross-legged on the ground. I start to cry. No tears come out, which makes me feel even more pathetic. I just sob, like I’m forcing it, but I can’t stop. I look up and the ceiling light hits my eyes, and I’m squeezing them shut. Trying to kill this headache before it can start.
I grab my suit-jacket off the hanger and I hold it like it is Elizabeth Bends. I try to remember what Tanya looks like naked, but I can’t. I just met Elizabeth tonight on the television screen, and I can picture her naked more clearly. I close my eyes and there she is, straddling me, biting her lip. In my college dorm. Maybe, on our honeymoon.
My stomach starts doing back-flips and I run into the bathroom. I puke right before I get to the toilet. There, splotched all over the nice tile floor.   Imagine what your vomit would look like if there was nothing in your system but booze. That’s what my vomit looks like. I close my eyes and its Tanya straddling me. I can still smell the vomit, and it’s no longer me Tanya is straddling. It’s some guy. Some stranger with a better body than me.
I look out in the hotel bedroom, and my easel is set up and there’s a canvas on it, but there’s nothing on it. The television is something about some product for making life easier.
I can hear the telephone in the background. The dial tone, like the sound of robots dying.
Beep.
Are you there, God? It’s me, Mark. Was it written in my life story that I would deplete my 401k one expensive hotel room at a time? Was it written that I would be here, marinating in my own body fluids, pondering my marriage to the girl on the television? That I would confess my love to Elizabeth Bends on a hotel room note pad? That I would hit the mini-bar before I even touched my paint brush? I’ve been dragging that same easel into hotel rooms for two weeks now. It’s like my cross. My burden to bare. It’s like an ugly child from a one night stand that I have to drag around with me.
Beep.
God, why is it that if I make money selling paintings, if my art makes it into fine museums that I’m a success, but if it doesn’t, I’m just some child doing finger paintings, avoiding reality? If I kill myself, will I get to talk to you in person? Or do I have to call you on some God-awful payphone from the bowels of hell?
Beep.
Tanya, where are you tonight?
Beep.
I’m here in the bathroom of a nice hotel, debating whether I want to order room service: a snack off the late night menu. I can’t even find the menu, let alone read it.
This washing machine is tossing me hard now. I’m on the floor now, cursing it for the rug burns.
Beep.
There are 25 tiles going one way on the ceiling. There are 26 going the other way. There is a man in a warm bed with his wife tonight who runs all 14 floors of this hotel; all 30 rooms on each and every floor. His wife wakes him up every morning so he can do this. There are companies that run half the hotel rooms in this city. One person runs that company.
There is a company responsible for every light I see in the Denver skyline. Someone made the machine that made those bottles of shots I took tonight. Someone invented the wheel so there’s a legitimate reason why Tanya chose not to be here tonight. Some guy invented the telephone so I could leave messages to fictional characters. Someone looked at Elizabeth Bends and said the world will love you. Let’s put you on a piece of art that is in constant motion called a television. Let’s enlarge your face on screens.
Beep.
God, it’s me. Do you even get to rest on Sundays? Do you ever find yourself lonely, drunk and sick on bathroom floors? Do you think it’s funny that I have no hair left on the top of my head? God, I’m drunk. Do you ever take a drink from the mini-bar? If your blood is wine and your flesh is bread, how can you tell me you aren’t self-absorbed? Maybe we really are made in your image.
I crawl to the living room, my knees bleeding with carpet burn, and I bite down on the telephone cord. I need something to chew on, so I don’t swallow my tongue. This is me clicking the trigger on the phone to make a new call.
The tiles are laughing at me. I can’t prove it, but if I could reach the note pad I would leave a note to hungover-tomorrow-morning me telling him the ceiling tiles aren’t your friend.
Beep.
“Tanya, Elizabeth meant nothing to me. Please take me back. Please. Call me. I know I’m an asshole, but I’m an asshole who loves you. I would do anything for you.”
I erase and re-record. Beep.
“I would do anything for us.”
I press four. Beep.
“I just want you to be happy.”
I press four. Beep.
“I just want us both to be happy. I need to know that still exists.”
I press four. Beep.
“Hi Tanya. It’s Mark. Listen, I loved you, but I think if I keep holding onto what we have left, I will go crazy. I’m sorry.”
If you are satisfied with your message, press one.
Are you still there?

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2012

READ “SHOCK TOP”

NEWBORN

I locked the doors. Padlocked chained bolted shut the god damn doors and the outside world – cracked wide open a window and I threw out every letter, every picture, every moment of anything that ever meant anything to anyone. Indiscriminate. I took a hammer to the clocks. I threw my watch into the fire. I stomped on a fucking egg timer to make sure there was absolutely nothing left to make that tick tick noise. I shoved open my desk drawer and cut straight down my cheek with a razor blade. I felt nothing at all. I littered the floor with random papers, bank statements, grown-up homework like I was decorating a psych ward. I flipped the couches on their asses, I punched my fist through the television set. I unplugged the fridge and let the useless food begin to rot. I ran all the sinks at once. The gaudy shithole apartment sounded like Niagara Falls. The pipes moaned from pressure and bursted. The ceiling soaked like blood on bed sheets. There I was between fire and water. Between everything and nothing, leaning like the Tin Man back and forth. I felt nothing and it felt so god damn fucking beautiful. I put my rosary down the garbage disposal and hummed along to the sound of God dying. I broke my glasses in my hand like random twigs. I stepped on them like fire ants. I took my mother’s urn off the mantel and shoved it on the ground. I spit on the ashes. I turned on all four burners of the stove. I ripped my brown one-eyed, on-it’s-last-leg smiley-ass teddy bear into bits and sprinkled it on the hot coils. My eyes watered something other than tears as smoke clouded my blurred vision. I’d never seen more clearly. Broken dishes like bad memories and I smashed drinking glasses like I was allergic to thirst. I tore the carpet up and found that buried underneath was a whole lot of nothing. In a matter of what may have once been an hour, I turned a home at war into a mausoleum of peace. I put a record on. It skipped, I watched it mutilate itself. I felt nothing. Not a single drop of loneliness, confusion, anger, turmoil, fear, pain, hate, joy, love or indigestion. The record just kept skipping. I felt nothing and I hardly felt that. And then you walked out of the bedroom, wearing only my business blue banker shirt, you’re legs stemming out underneath like sex, and I fell to my knees on the torn-up carpet and I cried like a newborn fucking baby.

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2012

READ “WINTERSONG”

WHITE LINGERIE

They say it’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding, but he saw her anyways. She tried on her dress for him, and he told her she looked beautiful.
She was nervous. He could tell.
“Hey,” he said to her, lying in bed beside her, “You’re gonna be fine. It’s just a day like any other, and you look gorgeous,”
“It’s just…”
“Haven’t you heard of cold feet?” he placed his hand on the outside of her thigh, his thumb playing with her white garter belt, “You’re gonna be fine,”
“I’m just glad I can be with you tonight. I don’t care about tradition, any of that. This feels right,”
“This feels right?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t be going through all of this if it didn’t…”
The bed squeaked. Its metal frame was painted white and wasn’t the sturdiest of things.
“What happens tomorrow though? Do you and I change?”
“What do you mean?” she said, looking into his eyes, the way she had since the day she met him.
“You shouldn’t lay on your dress. You’re going to get it wrinkled…”
“Do you really care?” she said, standing up.
He sat up on the bed, facing the bathroom, and the empty closet.
“Maybe we should just forget the whole thing. Call it off. You go your way, and I’ll go mine,”
“I can’t believe you’d say that…”
“I’m sorry, I just know tomorrow’s a pretty big day, and if you’re not certain about everything, I…”
She removed her dress, laying it carefully on the cot. He lost his thought, as through her reflection, he saw her, drowning in white lace – a firm bodice fading down into sheer white stockings. She looked like an angel. A virgin.
“I’m certain about this…” she circled around the bed to his side. Her expensive heels brushing against the cheap carpet. She grabbed him by the tie and kissed him the way she always had. Like she knew for certain he was the man she was supposed to marry. The love of her life. He fell back on the bed, her body grazing over his. She ran her hands through his thick hair, but he places his just above her hips, stopping her,
“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” she said, disenchanted, “Who could it possibly be? You can be so paranoid sometimes…”
A knock came at the door. He buckled his belt and opened it, leaving the chain on. A cold winter draft snuck in as he said,
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, sir. There’s a call for Mrs. Lereaux…”
“Alright, well, thank you, you can send it through to the room’s extension…”
“We tried, sir – it didn’t want to go through. I believe your line may be unplugged,”
From the bathroom, she yelled to the doorway, her voice echoing,
“Who is it?”
“A mister James Thomas…”
“He’s probably just calling about the wedding tomorrow,” she said, “Tell him I’m asleep, and I’ll handle it in the morning,”
“Will do, Mrs. Lereaux. Mr. Lereaux, I apologize for the disturbance,”
“Oh, um…” he laughed under his breath, “That’s fine, thank you for stopping by,”
The door shut and the gentleman left, but the cold draft remained in the room. She was in the bathroom, wiping off her makeup, and he turned on the television.
She came out, a cotton swap still wiping her face,
“Really?” she said, “The night before the wedding and you’re turning on the television?”
He didn’t waste time with justification. He turned the television off and he smirked, because he knew he had her already. He looked straight on at her now plain face, and he said,
“You look gorgeous,”
She blushed.
He took her hand in his holding it up, and he said,
“May I have this dance?”
She nodded, smirking a bit herself, and she said,
“Yes, you may,”
They swayed back and forth, careful of the bags on the floor, cautious of the nightstands.
“I’d like to turn on the television again, but I know you won’t disapprove…”
“Fine…” she said, curiously.
He grabbed the remote off the bed and pressed the power on. He pressed a button or two more, one hand still on her waist and he threw the remote back down on the bed.
“Ooh…” she said, “What’s this?”
“Big Band, swing…” he told her, “They have music channels added to the hotel’s programming, just for moments like this.
“Do you have a lot of moments like this, Mr. Harrison?”
“Never,” he assured her, “And I doubt I’ll ever have a moment like this again.”
“What about tomorrow night?” she said hopefully, tragedy on the tip of her tongue.
“I’m sorry, I can’t…”
“And why’s that?” she said, her face pressed right up to his.
“I’ll be at a wedding…”
“Oh, really?” she played along. She always did.
“Yes, really…”
“And who’s getting married?”
“You are,” he whispered in her ear, “You are.”
She grabbed the remote and turned the volume up as high as it went.
“We might disturb somebody…” he said.
“I sure hope so,” she said, “We’ll never get another chance.”

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2012

READ “DEAD POLAR BEAR”

DEAD POLAR BEAR

I walked home the same way everyday. Today was no different. Two blocks from my house, driving would be insanity. Every day I noticed the liquor store and the bikini-clad girls holding giant beer bottles. You know, those cardboard cut-out advertisements they make. But today, I noticed the dead polar bear in the middle of the street.
I live in Florida. And there was no doubt in my mind that there was a dead polar bear in the middle of the intersection of Cross and Main. Cars were lined up like frozen ants. A long, long line. How the hell does that happen?
A construction worker came by. Took one disbelieving glance at the thing and said “We have to move it.” I said no. I said there is no way in hell you are moving that polar bear from out of the middle of the road. He just repeated in his dumbass way “We have to move it.” I wasn’t the fighting type but if this guy and his dumb fucking orange vest was going to try to move that polar bear, the thing that took my wandering eyes off of the beer-holding cardboard broads, then I was willing to fight him. There were a lot of people lined up like ants with a lot of places to go and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But I was desperate.
I found myself walking to the middle of the street and lying down on top of that polar bear. I felt its fur. It was icy. It was real. Fifteen minutes later, I felt handcuffs being placed on my wrists. They were icy and real too. But I had my fifteen minutes. And I never have to walk those two fucking blocks home again. I never have to fantasize about plastic beer girls again. And I will never be the orange-vested douche-bag who everyone expects to play hero. No one expects anything from the guy who tried to save the dead polar bear.

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2012

READ “(PAUSE)”