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Love,
Brice

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…”

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”

A WELL-KEPT SECRET

An Ode to Hills Like White Elephants

The streets across Denver were long and white. It was dry and the city was desolate, as it tends to get in winter. There was an hour or two to kill before the train came to Union Station before heading to Chicago. The couple leaned on the counter of Leela’s Cafe and Bar.
“Two PBR’s,” said the woman to the bartender. The bartender returned with them and popped one of the caps off.
“Queen of hearts,” said the woman.
“Lower, same suit,” said the bartender.
“Ten of hearts?”
“Nope, jack of hearts,” the bartender said, popping the other cap off, “and yours?”
“What?” said the young man.
The young woman showed him the top of the cap – J and a heart.
“You try to guess the card on the top of the cap. You guess once, and she’ll tell you higher or lower, and then if you get it right, your next beer is free,”
“9 of diamonds…” the young man said to the bartender.
“Yep,” said the bartender.
“Beginner’s luck,” said the woman, “can we get a couple coffees too?”
“Coffee and beer?” said the young man.
“It’s a Denver thing,” said the woman.
The man and the young woman found a table and they sat down. The man stared out the window at the snow falling and the dead streets of a Queen City.
“It’s beautiful,”
“Yeah,” said the woman, drinking her beer.
“Should you be doing that, Kat?”
“My mom did, and look, I’m just fine,”
“Okay,”
“I’m not planning to get belligerent or anything. Sounds like they gave you a solid dose of scaremongering at NYU,”
“I wasn’t trying to preach,”
“I’m sorry. Yeah, it is pretty outside,” said the woman, downing the rest of her beer.
“It’s just white. It’s all white, but i can’t look away. I feel like i’m trying to search for something through the haze,”
“You do sound like a writer…”
“You’re the writer…”
“Travel writer…” said the woman, “That just means they give me an allowance to go write about the strange troubles i get into in strange cities,”
“And strange affairs with strange men,”
“What does that mean?”
“It was just a joke. That’s all,”
“The way you’re drinking that beer is the joke,” said the woman, “do you want a nipple for that thing?”
“What?”
“You’re nursing it. You’re nursing your beer,”
“Oh,” the young man smiled his head turned downward on the table. The music was some girl with a jazzy voice singing over her acoustic guitar. The woman put her hand over the young man’s.
“I love you,”
“I know,”
“Do you like Denver?”
“I love it. It feels like a well-kept secret. Like New York if no one knew where New York was,”
“Huh…”
“I’m sorry; i don’t mean to compare everything to New York,”
“No, i get it. You’ve been there your whole life. I must admit though, it was funny to see you get so excited about seeing a Home Depot,”
“I’m sorry; I’d never seen one before,”
“No, it was charming…” the woman stood up, leaning against the back of her chair, “should we have another drink?”
“I guess that would be okay…” said the young man.
The cold air rushed in along with a group of street kids. The woman walked to the bar and ordered the drinks.
The young man pulled out his phone and checked how long he had. The woman looked back at the bar and saw him. He just smiled and waved at her, like they were meeting for the first time. CONTINUE READING ON GUERRILLA GRAFFITI MAGAZINE.

COPYRIGHT BRICE MAIURRO 2013