Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ceci n'est pas une poker story

Under the gun, I was dealt a suited 7-2. Spades. I knew it wasn't a great hand, but I felt like I was pretty deep into the tournament and that I should hold--at least until the flop--to see if this should be where I made my move. It was the kind of hand that could have turned into something surprisingly great (with an unlikely-but-still-possible set of spades or a 7-7-2 on the flop). Nobody expects you to hold on to a starting hand like that, especially not in early position--so if it works out, you become that story of dumb luck that everyone wags a finger at while wishing it had happened to them. If it doesn't work out after the flop, you fold. Life isn't full of rabbit-cams; nobody would ever have to know how bad that hand was--how bad a decision I made. I called the big blind. Some called, some folded. The guy to the right of the button put in a min-raise. 

Now I had another decision. How much did I want to see this flop? The slim chance that it would come down exactly the way I needed it to--was it worth another chunk of my already-dwindling stack? My luck so far hadn't been good. This was the closest thing to a playable hand I'd seen all night. I worried that this hand, pathetic though it may be, might be my only shot at playing in this tournament, so I took a gamble. That's what this all is, anyway, isn't it? Ultra-high-stakes gambling?

I threw my chips into the pot, if not confidently, then with bravado. 

The flop came down all black. My heart leapt until my eyes were able to focus on the cards themselves: Kc-10c-Qs. 

In hindsight, seeing the flop wasn't that bad of a decision. I mean, it was bad, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as what I did next. The small blind checked it, the big blind put a minimum bet out there into the pot, and before I knew what I was doing, my fingers were dropping my chips into the center of the table. Even with a minimum bet, I was now officially pot-committed to this thoroughly mediocre hand. 

I just wanted to play. I'd been folding what I perceived as even worse hands all night, steadily being blinded down, waiting for my moment. I just wanted to feel like a part of the game for once, not like some railbird who had convinced herself that by staying above the fray, she was the kind of student who should be taken seriously. 

Although I immediately felt that "oh shit" sinking feeling of having made a bad decision, I tried not to let it show on my face, in my body language. I consciously avoided touching or looking at my stack (a sign of a player who is scared of losing it) and I put on my best fa├žade of unruffled calm. Having observed the tournament while folding until this point, I had some idea of how people generally acted when they had a solid draw. I attempted to act that way, trying out tics I'd seen in other players. They didn't know me. This was the only time they'd even seen me play. I imagined that this hand would be the one that catapulted me into the final table--right into the money. But by then it wasn't even about cashing. It was about making the most of what I was dealt because I was the kind of superstar who could play a hand that most experienced players would have dumped pre-flop without a second thought. I was just that good. Folding without seeing that spade (I was sure!) on the turn would be admitting defeat. 

I had already processed all of those thoughts of my imminent poker stardom when someone a few seats to my left decided to kick in a raise. It was more than a min-raise, and it was carefully calculated (I see now) to be a little less than half my stack. 

Thoughts of one's own poker greatness make one more likely to call a raise like that. Last round's raiser called, and then it came back around to me. 

Seeing the turn wouldn't cripple me entirely, even if it wasn't the spade or pair that I was hoping for. Right? My chips made a particularly piercing clatter as they splashed the pot. 

I took a deep breath and exhaled as the turn hit the felt: 9h, each red pip searing my retinas. This wasn't what I wanted. It wasn't what I deserved. I had been so patient, so trusting. And what of my superstardom? Suddenly, it was all shit. 

All I'd wanted was to play, but it turned out that I hadn't been ready even for that. To play with true confidence, one must be prepared to lose everything--I learned that lesson the moment I saw that red 9, too late of course. The hand I'd faithfully held had betrayed me, and even though I'd had every reason to expect it, my stomach still ached with surprise, grief, and surprise at the intensity of my grief. 

My fingers instinctively reached for my stack, not to bet, but to shield it from further damage. I checked, and second-raiser put out another calculated bet--a quarter of my stack. First-raiser raised again, to about twice my stack. Even then I was calculating the pot odds in my head, though I could be fairly certain that any help I might get on the river would be too little, too late. With the other two players throwing chips around like that, I could be sure that at least one of them was concealing a jack for the straight. Any money I put into the pot now would be the price of being emotionally attached to my own bad decisions. 

So I let that hand go. 

There were a lot of confused faces around the table. My suited 7-2 was the kind of hand that looked like it might be worth something with a little luck. It looked so close to right that I had easily convinced myself (and everyone else) that I was holding a winning hand. I had stayed with it as long as I could have, longer than prudence would dictate, even. And when I laid the cards aside, I surprised everyone--including myself. 

I was the big blind for the next hand, and I checked it down until I had to fold. Then I was the small blind, and got a chance to fold in the first betting round. 

Life isn't full of rabbit-cams, so I'm not going to tell you what I was dealt when I was on the button. It's a good hand, though--a real one. You probably don't trust my poker sense after reading about how I played that first hand, but I learned a lot from it. More than you'd know. Ultimately, I already knew what made a hand good, but I ignored that knowledge in my eagerness to play the game. I didn't have to wait as long as I'd expected to wait for it, but I did wait for a good hand before making another move. I liked that hand so much that I put the rest of my stack in with it. And now, I'm feeling like I might win this tournament after all. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It was like a tiny black hole had opened up in my solar plexus. Time slowed while the anomaly consumed me from the inside, making my diaphragm and stomach and ribs and liver and heart--especially the heart--become less than nothing. Drenched in cold sweat, I forgot my limbs, forgot my face, forgot my hands and feet. They would disappear into the black hole too, if I remembered where they were to begin with. Only a persistent tremor registered, but I couldn't even tell where that was coming from. I tried to find a way to forget what I had just seen, but it wasn't possible. The images and words were seared onto my retinas like cattle brands. That sadly familiar black hole had turned me inside out again, a comically, chronically empty pocket. I vowed that this would be the last time, like I had so many times in the past. It wasn't an empty threat this time, though. It was a promise.  

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Aftermath (chapter 2)

May 19

The weekend after his final, Sean was going out to DC to visit. He had some down time between finals and graduation back at Stanford, and he had already accepted a consulting position in the Washington office of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the largest consulting firms in the area. The visit was planned ostensibly for the purpose of visiting his sister on her birthday and checking out apartments, but he really just wanted to get away. He was deeply afraid of leaving such a close-knit place, where he had friends and fun just an instant message away: an insta-community. He wanted to come out to Washington just to make sure that he could thrive outside of the womb, so to speak, cut off from the umbilical cord of his alma mater.

Sure, Jannon had done it: three years ago, she had just packed up all of her stuff and shipped it out east. She left before she even had a job, but soon she was settled in town and working on Capitol Hill like it was the most natural thing in the world. But girls were different. They were communicators. They kept in touch with their old friends and made new ones, without even trying, it seemed. Jannon had met Graham completely by accident. She’d found her house on Craigslist, and they were housemates for a year before they figured out that they were soulmates. Sean, single and scared, couldn’t help but want something like that. Or at least, he wanted to be sure that the possibility of something like that actually existed for him in Washington. So it was with this goal in mind that he boarded a flight from SFO the following Friday, carrying nothing but a backpack and a water bottle. He spent most of the plane ride flipping through an apartment catalogue that Jannon had sent him in the mail.

It was all so confusing: Tenleytown, Adams Morgan, Logan Circle, Van Ness…all these neighborhoods and no way to tell them apart without seeing them! His office was at Metro Center, and Jannon had advised him to try to live on the red line, somewhere. “Your commute will be full of old, boring, stuffed shirts,” she said. “Real Washington-types. But the trains are less crowded on the red than on the orange and blue lines.” Jannon and Graham lived in Tenleytown, near American University. Sean fell asleep on the catalogue and had strange dreams about apartment hunting.

Jannon and Graham met Sean at BWI, with Graham in the drivers’ seat of his beat-up old Rav4 and Jannon manning the iPod. The car resonated with Jannon’s odd taste in music as Sean loaded his backpack into the empty trunk of the small SUV. “Who is that, Imogen Heap?” he asked.

“Very good,” she laughed. Sean liked to listen to mass-produced bands that Jannon didn’t like when he was out running, and she teased him about it almost constantly. “It’s Frou Frou…Imogen Heap singing with a sweet, sweet titanium Powerbook and computer jockey.”

“You’re such a nerd,” Sean grinned. “Happy birthday, sis.”

“Well, it’s not until tomorrow. But thanks, Shaw-shaw.” Her use of the childhood pet name showed that she had not let the ‘nerd’ comment pass unnoticed. Sean smirked.

“And how goes it, my man?” Sean asked Graham as they pulled out of the parking lot and onto route 195.

“It goes,” Graham said. “Are you getting excited for your job?”

“I’m not, yet,” Sean admitted. Jannon liked the fact that Sean and Graham got along so well. “I’m hoping that I’ll feel better about it after I have some idea of where I’m going to live. And…you know…when I have some idea about the girls I might get to live with.” Graham smiled conspiratorially into the rearview mirror.

“We’ll see what we can do about that,” Graham said. “Tonight in Adams Morgan will be just like any other Friday night in Adams Morgan.” Jannon scrunched up her eyebrow, making a face that clearly communicated her skepticism.

“I don’t think the girls at Adams Morgan are in any way representative of the local population,” she said slowly. She wanted to say that they weren’t suitable for her brother.

“Well, we’ll just go have a look, won’t we?” Graham purred. “That reminds me. I still haven’t seen that neighbor you mentioned last weekend. Mary?”

“Maddie,” Jannon said. “I haven’t seen her around either. But that’s the kind of girl I’d like to see with my Shaw-shaw.”

“Hey, quit it already,” Sean laughed.

“Not until you denounce Limp Bizkit,” she said, mock serious.

“Ok, fine, Limp Bizkit blows. I like Nickelback better anyway,” he retorted.

“Ugh!” Jannon turned up the volume on her iPod, blasting an old song by The Dismemberment Plan out the windows and into suburban Maryland.

Graham was right: that night in Adams Morgan was no different from any other Friday night in Adams Morgan. 18th Street was packed with people, turning a section of one of the city’s major arteries into a pedestrian mall. The girls were decked out in their end-of-the-school-year finest: halter shirts with no backs, long chandelier-style earrings and shiny bangles to complement coifs and manicures. Long straight jeans ended in strappy stilettos with perfect pedicures to match. Most of the girls were parading from club to club in little herds of pink and denim. A few of them, already drunk at 10:30, pretended to be interested in the Jumbo Slices that their male companions had bought for them until the guys offered to scarf down the girls’ leftovers so they could keep hitting the bars.

“Let’s start at Tryst,” Jannon suggested. She had dressed for the occasion in a sparkly tank top and her most comfortable (but still cute) pair of wedge heels.

“Tryst is more of an end-of-night destination,” Graham shouted. “I want Anzu.”

“Ok, ok, Anzu it is. But you guys have to walk behind me,” Jannon warned. “Last time I was out here, I got my luscious ass grabbed by five strangers who were sitting on a wall.”

“For real?” Sean asked, shouting to be heard above the crowd.


This place was a zoo. Sean wasn’t sure how he’d ever meet someone here. Anzu was a club that marketed itself as a lounge, so while there was dancing (on the bars, on the tables, and pretty much anywhere there was a flat surface), there was also a small collection of decent couches and chairs. The walls were deep red, and warmly lit with tres moderne sconces that made it look as though the light appeared out of nowhere. But the crowd was the really amazing part of the entire ordeal. If Sean had thought that it was crowded out on the sidewalks, he was in for it in the club. It was like a frat party in a phonebooth in there. Graham somehow managed to push his way to the bar, where he ordered three tequila shooters (Sean and Jannon’s favorite). They came in little salt-rimmed glasses. “It’s a classy place!” Graham said.

European house music made the walls thump through invisible speakers, and the German lady bouncer seemed to be enjoying it, when she wasn’t eyeing people suspiciously, making sure they didn’t violate the “hip casual” dress code or wouldn’t spoil the fun in any other way for the rest of the patrons.

“To Jannon’s 25th!” Graham said. He licked the salt and swallowed the drink, sucking on the lime wedge afterward. Jannon and Sean quickly followed suit.

A girl with a tray full of unidentified shots magically seemed to part the crowd in front of her. She was clearly tipsy and her shirt and Wonderbra were providing cleavage that wouldn’t look out of place in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

“You look sober!” she yelled up to Sean, who had at least a foot of height on her.

“Just got here!” he answered, noticeably noticing her pulchritude.

“It’s my birthday! Kiss me and I’ll give you one of my birthday shots!” she yelled back, smiling and opening her smoky-shadowed eyes a little wider. Jannon looked on with interest. She hadn’t actually been out drinking with her brother since he’d reached the age of majority.

“Ok!” Sean leaned down and planted a really soft, gentle kiss on her lips.

“Wow, that was nice!” she said. “Best of the night! Take shots for your friends, too…I’m about to call it a night anyway!”

“Thanks!” Sean said. Graham grabbed a shot for Jannon and one for himself while Sean took his from the tray.

“Thanks! Happy birthday!” Graham said.

“Thank you!” she smiled. She groped Graham a bit on her way through the crowd. Jannon eyed her suspiciously.

“Oh, well!” she laughed. “Free shot!” Sean was already visibly reacting to his.

“It’s Jaeger!” he sputtered. Jannon and Graham both made faces but tossed the shots back all the same. If they were going to enjoy Adams Morgan to the fullest, they were going to have to get a little blurry first.

“You start to recognize people if you’re too sober!” Jannon said. “People you see on the Hill! For instance, the chick who you just swapped spit with, my dear brother, works in the same office building as me! I almost didn’t recognize her without her glasses…and with boobs!” she pantomimed a bustier. Graham managed to guffaw and choke on his shot at the same time, spitting tiny flecks of Jaegermeister onto a dancing chubby blonde who didn’t seem to notice or care. Sean looked vaguely embarrassed, but he realized that he hadn’t said no to kissing the strange girl, and thus couldn’t complain.

“Do you mind if we go dance!?” Graham asked.

“Yeah, have fun! I’ll be over here by the bar!” Sean answered. It looked like they had all kinds of weird European beer on tap. “Do you have any Belgian white ales!?” he yelled to the bartender.

“Ya! You vant!?” the bartender was a short man with spiky blond hair. Sean couldn’t tell if the accent was real or affected.

“Ya! I mean, ‘yeah!’” Sean yelled. It came in a tall glass, with a slice of orange in it. At least they do their drinks right in Washington. When Sean was about halfway through the tall beer, he no longer noticed the incessant pounding of the music, and he suddenly started seeing faces in the crowd a bit more clearly. There was one girl who looked absolutely exhausted, but she kept dancing because she was keeping the company of her enthusiastic friend (the chubby blonde that Graham spit his drink on half an hour ago), who was trying to back that ass up into a completely uninterested (and utterly wasted) blue-eyed blond with chiseled features and a pink polo shirt.

The girl’s makeup was sliding off her face, and mascara dribbled down from one eye. Her brown hair had been pulled back from her face in a high ponytail, with little wisps curling around her forehead and ears. She looked hastily made up, like her friend had forcibly dragged her away from a night of sleeping or studying. She didn’t seem to care that she looked foolish, dancing so mechanically, though Sean did detect a hint of exasperation every time she looked at her friend and the object of her friend’s desire. He pushed his way through the crowd.

“Hey!” he said. She didn’t even glance up in his direction. “Hey!” This time, she looked up at him, her face contorted in an expression of annoyance.

“Am I in your way or something!?” she asked.

“No! I just wanted to talk to you!” he shouted down at her. When he had gotten closer, he realized that she was about 5’2” in heels. Her face contorted again, like she hadn’t considered that someone would talk to her, and she was trying to figure out how it happened.

“Huh!” she said.

“I’m Sean!”


“Nice to meet you!” Sean grinned. Wendy finally cracked a smile. Her lipstick was on crooked, but it was impossible to notice until she smiled. “What brings you here on a night like this!?”

Wendy laughed and cocked her head toward her blonde friend, who was still energetically offering her posterior to the disinterested sandy-haired statue in the pink shirt. Sean noticed that Wendy was wearing an outfit like Jannon’s: comfortable. She wasn’t trying too hard, but Sean thought immediately that a girl like Wendy wouldn’t have to try very hard. From what he could tell, she had a great body to go with her pretty face. “Do you mind if I dance with you!?” She got the most evil look on her face.

“It’d drive Alexis crazy! I don’t mind at all!” Sean bent his knees a little so that he could put his hand on her hip. As he stared at her up close, he noticed that she was wearing two different earrings. He didn’t bring it up.

“Is that Belgian!?” Wendy asked, nodding to his beer.


“Can I have a sip!? Alexis didn’t want me to drink because she wanted me to make sure she didn’t do anything stupid!”

“Could you stop her anyway!?” Sean laughed. She laughed too. He handed her the beer, and she proceeded to gulp down about half of what was left before giving it back to him with a crooked lipstick smear on the rim.

“You’re like, deus ex machina or something!” she smiled. “This was the worst night until you got here!” Sean liked the fact that random girls in clubs spouted Latin phrases with no qualms about looking uncool. Washington DC had its reputation for being boring, but it was because most of the people here were brilliant. Everyone here worked for think tanks, law firms, and consulting firms.

Jannon and Graham pushed by Sean and Wendy on their way to the bar. Graham patted him on the back and Jannon studied Wendy.

“You know them!?” Wendy asked.

“Yeah! That’s my sister, and her boyfriend!” he shouted back. “I’m visiting them while I’m apartment hunting!”

“Where’re you from!?”


“Oh man! We can’t be friends!”

“Why not!?”

“I went to Cal!” Wendy grinned again and seemed to snuggle closer into Sean’s embrace. They danced for a little while longer.

“I think we’re going to Tryst after this!” Sean said. He hoped they weren’t going anywhere else. After the long flight, he was already tired.

“Alexis might not want to go!” Wendy frowned. “And I have to stay with her! You know how it is! I’m gonna go ask her!” She danced over to Alexis and they conferred for a few minutes. Jannon and Graham came back to Sean with plastic cups full of water.

“I see you made friends!” Jannon said, gesturing to Wendy and Alexis. “Easier than you thought, right!?” She handed Sean a cup.

“I guess so!” Sean said. He knocked the water back in one go. Wendy came back with her cell phone in her hand.

“What’s your cell!?”

“Six-five-oh, five-five-five, one-four-six-nine!” he said into the ear with the hoop earring. She dialed as he spoke. Five seconds later, he felt a vibration in his pocket.

“There!” she shouted up to him. “Call me when you move here!” She reached up and hugged Sean around the neck, pressing the ear with the chandelier earring on it into his chest. “It’s time to take Alexis home!” Sean hadn’t noticed, but Alexis had been drinking straight vodka on the rocks for the past hour and a half, and everything about her was beginning to droop. She stumbled over and leaned on Wendy.

“Are we mmmppppphhhmmmen dee?” Alexis said into Wendy’s shoulder.

“Yes, we’re going home!” Wendy said, rolling her eyes. “Got to go,” she mouthed.

Sean smiled and waved.

“We’re gonna go too!” Graham shouted to Sean. “Tryst!” They pushed their way through the crowd. When they got down the stairs and out the door, the first thing that Sean felt was the distinct absence of a euro-techno beat.

“Well, that was a trip,” Sean said.

“Tryst is a little more laid back,” Jannon said. “You’ll like it.”

It was more like a coffeehouse, this Tryst. Even after 11:30pm, people were sitting on the couches, staring down their laptops and sucking on cups of coffee. Jannon, Sean, and Graham found an open patch of couch, sat down, and ordered a bottle of wine and a cheese plate from the waitress.

People were talking, but it was quieter, and it wasn’t quite warm enough for them to have justified opening the entire front of the place, so the windows were able to keep some of the street sounds out. The cheese came, and it was a pretty decent platter, with some different types of cheese and some small fruits, strawberries, grapes. The wine was passable.

“They don’t have any local wines here,” Jannon said. “But the Virginia wineries are a mixed bag. Some great, some not-so-great.” She knew that Sean had been on a couple of winery tours in Sonoma, much closer to home.

“So the reason I wanted to bring you to Tryst is because it’s meant to be a meeting place,” Graham said. It didn’t look like that, with all the people here glued to their computers. “They have this website, If you go on the website after you come here, you can see if anyone posted about you on their ‘I saw you at Tryst’ section.”

“Ha!” Sean said. “The next thing you’ll tell me is that people here actually take the Missed Connections on Craigslist seriously.”

“It’s almost cultish, really,” Jannon said dryly. She was not a fan of the social ineptitude that made this kind of communication necessary, but because she technically met Graham through Craigslist, she couldn’t really disparage it directly.

“Actually, I think you can see the magic at work,” Graham laughed. “Check out the guy in the tie and the girl in the suit.” Sean looked where Graham was pointing. “They’re totally talking to each other, I bet. They both worked late. They came here to blow off some steam, but they couldn’t leave the work at the office. So they commiserate. Bam! Instant connection.”

Maybe the whole “workaholic” thing wasn’t quite his scene, but he could see the merits of meeting people that way. And, if nothing else, he’d gotten a nice girl’s number out of the evening, so it wasn’t a total loss. They finished the wine and cheese.

“It’s officially your birthday now, Jannon!” Graham said, glancing down at the clock on his cell phone. “I hope you made a wish.”

“Oh, I did,” she said. “I did. Anyway, we should probably head back. We have a long day of apartment hunting ahead of us. Then later, we’re having a poker party for my birthday.”

They went back to Graham and Jannon’s house tipsy and tired. Sean collapsed on the couch without bothering to make it up with the sheets that Jannon had left out for him. It had been a very long day.

Monday, November 01, 2010


May 4

“I thought The Bureaucrat was gonna ask me to file a goddamn TPS report after that meeting, iswhat I wasthinking,” Jannon slurred her words only slightly, despite having had a three-margarita lunch. Her voice crackled through the phone because she was underground, and Graham struggled to talk back to her in hushed, work-appropriate tones.


“What? I can’t hear you, I’m—whccsshhhttt—fucking metro,” her voice popped through the static.

‘Christ,’ Graham thought. “Ok, well, I’ll see you at home, baby,” he said. As he hung up the phone, he couldn’t help but wonder why she went and got drunk in the middle of the day, and how she could get away with begging off from work by telling her boss that she was ‘sick’. Graham opened up an IM window to Sean.

Graham281: You heard from your girl J?
xcSeanxc: jannon? what up?
Graham281: Some new boss is a bureaucracy freak, so she got drunk during lunch. She’s on her way home.
xcSeanxc: thats my sister for ya :)
Graham281: It blows my mind that she can do that in the federal government, while I’m afraid to take a day off for pneumonia over here. If I’m out sick, nobody else is going to meet my deadlines for me, and all hell would break loose trying to get the magazine out on time.
xcSeanxc: i dig
Graham281: Oh, well. Our tax dollars may be hard at work, but at least I know that our government isn’t.
xcSeanxc: lol
Graham281: Back to work.
xcSeanxc: ya, i got a final tomorrow
Graham281: Good luck.
xcSeanxc: thx

Graham turned his attention away from his computer and cell phone, toward the stack of index forms that had accumulated on his desk. If he could only finish them now, he wouldn’t have to worry about them come October. But all he could think of was how agreeably tipsy Jannon would be when he got home later.

It had been a long winter, and a short cold spring, so people were relieved when the air today was so warm that they wouldn’t catch their deaths if they went out with bare necks. The last of the melted snow and ice ran through the streets and down to the gutters, where it trickled down with an audible tinkle. And in this city, the private alleyways of the tony little houses had turned into private creeks, overlooked by the houses’ open windows and the hired help in the front yards, hurriedly getting rid of last year’s leaves to make way for this year’s grass.

That’s what Jannon saw as she stumbled gamely through her neighborhood, high on the beautiful weather and on her own cleverness. “Ah,” she said aloud, to nobody in particular. “If only more of my problems could be solved by getting trashed in the middle of the day!” There was no doubt in her mind that her supervisor knew what was up, but because he was also a little bit slarmied (only Jannon knew about the flask he kept in his desk drawer), then it was fine. And though her perception had been somewhat tempered by the drink (curse you, Lauriol Plaza, and your delicious mango margaritas!) it had seemed to Jannon that he was in more of a rush than usual to get rid of whatever it was on his computer screen when she came in to see him. ‘Such is life in this city,’ she mused, lustily inhaling the green scent of the late spring thaw. ‘You don’t ask questions, you get what you want.’

Though she was a bit higher on the totem pole than a staff ass, Jannon’s job was mostly clerical work. She was too highly educated for that kind of job, and everybody knew it. So they let her finish her work in half the time that she was allotted, and goof off for the rest of it. She spent a lot of time on the internet, and today, she’d spent a lot of money on drinks at lunch. Life was good.

Then she saw her.

A girl stood on the corner. She looked to be 25 or so, about Jannon’s age, but a bit shorter and even paler in complexion. Her long, dark hair swirled around her head in waves, and everything about her, from her crisply ironed pastel blue tennis outfit to her huge brown-black eyes—it all seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. The only detail out of place was her shoes: tall, white galoshes with deep purple soles and a smattering of forget-me-nots printed all over them. Jannon stopped walking for a moment, struck by the vision of the girl (and a short wave of nausea: perhaps she shouldn’t have had that last enchilada). There were no cars on the road, but the girl did not cross the street.

“Excuse me,” Jannon said, approaching her. “Can I help you get somewhere?”

“Not all who wander are lost,” she mumbled under her breath.


“I’m not lost, thank you,” the girl said. Her voice was velvety and seemed to disappear by weaving itself into the warm May breezes.

“Oh, do you live around here?” Jannon was not the sort to make idle conversation, but she was tipsy and her nostrils were full of early flowers, and there was simply something almost magical about this girl that made Jannon want to get to know her.

“Yes,” she said. “I moved in—a couple blocks that way—just last week.” That voice was like butter, melting into the warm air and coating Jannon with something that was somehow pleasantly unctuous.

“Well! I’m Jannon!” she stuck her hand out. “I live down there.” She nodded in the direction of her house. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

The girl shook her hand and smiled a bright white smile. “I’m Maddie. And, thanks.”

They stood on the corner, smiling at each other in silence for what seemed like five minutes.

“I guess I’ll be seeing you around,” Jannon said.

“Sure,” Maddie smiled, and started to cross the street toward the metro stop.

“Oh hey,” Jannon called after her. “I like your boots. But it’s supposed to be…”

“Thanks!” Maddie called back.

“…sunny.” The sky had gone dark while Jannon and Maddie were standing there in conversation, but Maddie’s smile had been so bright, Jannon hadn’t noticed. A stiff breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees. The water started to fall in fist-sized drops, and Jannon ran the rest of the way home, dodging the rain until it started falling faster and smaller.

There was nothing about this day that would have made him think of Charles, but that’s where Graham’s mind wandered as he walked home in the rain. The forecast hadn’t mentioned rain, but luckily, he had his emergency umbrella. Perhaps it was the reminder of his Boy Scout-like preparedness that made him think of Charles, his friend and mentor in Eagle Scouts, and his beloved older brother. His brother the soldier had been an officer, and a gentleman. He laughed a little: the most prepared person that Graham had ever known could not have possibly prepared for 9/11. A raindrop blew under the umbrella and landed on the top of Graham’s head, running down his face like a tear. It had been almost five years since Graham had started shaving his head in memoriam.

Even in the rain, it was a beautiful day. The wind rustled the tree branches and whirled the raindrops around like miniature tornadoes. Charles used to like rainy days, Graham recalled, reaching into his pocket to grab his keys.

“Jannon! I’m home!” he called, making sure to rustle the keys in the lock particularly loudly. Jannon didn’t like to be startled when somebody came into the house, and she was even more prone to fits of anxiousness when she was tipsy.

“Graham, daaah-ling!” she effused, breezing into the room in her kimono. ‘Classic Jannon,’ he thought, as he wrapped his arms around her. He liked the way her hair smelled like Herbal Essence shampoo.

“Did you get caught in the rain, babe?” he asked.

“I did,” she grinned. “But I met the most wonderful new neighbor!” Her cheeks were flushed with her enthusiasm. Graham liked the way that she had put her short, dirty-blonde hair back with sparkly clips, and he liked the feel of her soft, white skin against his dark brown hands. He liked looking at her without her glasses on, so he could stare directly into her watery blue eyes.

“Oh yeah? Was he cute?”

She pouted, her eyes narrowing. “Come on! You don’t even know—”

“All right, all right, tell me about our new neighbor!” he chuckled.

“She just moved in a little while ago. Her name is Maddie. And she’s gorgeous. I’ve never seen anyone quite so beautiful in my life.”

“Mattie?” Graham asked. “Like, short for Martha?”

“No, Maddie, like short for Madeline.”

“Well, I’ll have to keep an eye out for this Maddie, then, won’t I?”

“You won’t have to be on any kind of special lookout,” Jannon smiled. “You’ll just see her, trust me.”

“Any chance of…” Graham started to ask.

“Nope!” Jannon laughed. Whenever she came home praising a female friend, Graham took the opportunity to ask for a threesome. It happened often enough that he didn’t even have to ask the entire question anymore. “But if it were to happen at some point…which it won’t…but if it were, it would be with someone of Maddie’s caliber.”

“Wow!” Graham laughed, too. “Now I’ve got to see her.” Jannon whacked him in the arm once, for good measure. He started trying to tickle her, and Jannon started trying to strip him, because his clothes were still wet from walking in the rain. Jannon wanted him dry so he wouldn’t soak their bed by accident when she pushed him onto it and had her way with him. She wanted him dry so that he could sit at the table with her after that, eating leftover Chinese food and drinking Yuengling while they talked about their days. She wanted to tell him all about the new boss, the flask, the computer, and the margaritas. But first, she wanted him dry.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How time flies with nary a blog post!

Hello, world! I have been quite busy with work and music lately, and I will be the first to admit that I haven't spent nearly enough time on my writing.

Luckily for me, National Novel Writing Month (links at right!) is coming up soon. If nothing else, it's an excellent excuse to tell the rest of the world to bugger off for a bit while I get some writing done.

This will be the fifth such noveling event that I have participated in. To commemorate that (while doing something moderately useful with this blog space), I have decided to release my first NaNo novel (which is novella-length and will likely remain so) throughout the month of November.

Yes, that's right. I'm going to give you (my loyal 10-person readership) my first novella. For free. I'll chunk it up into digestible bits and edit for loose ends, and put it on this blog for you to read throughout November. I think it's a pretty interesting story, especially considering that I started with four names and mental pictures of characters, and just let them tell me what their story was. Feel my frustration as I don't get through two pages without writing an IM conversation. (I very nearly abandoned the entire endeavor after that.) Revel in my freewheeling use of 2006 slang. Be shocked (and moderately appalled) by the plot twist in the middle, where a simple story about four young adults making their way in post-9/11 Washington somehow becomes a twisted tale of conspiracy, betrayal, and madness. There are some overwrought, maudlin bits...and a couple of really good bits that I can't wait for people to read. 

So, starting November 1st, this space will be home to my first novella, _Aftermath_. I hope you'll join me for the ride.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Pictures Worth Approximately 960 Words Each

Hello, readers! Here are some pictures that show what I've been thinking about and doing for the past couple of weeks.

NRIs 007 This is my band, The NRIs (linked at left), playing the Black Cat. I was hopped up on cold medicine and looking forward to the single bottle of Dos Equis that I allowed myself at the end of the night. (Thanks Jess for the photo!)

I didn't take this photo, but if I had, I would have gotten to talk
 to them. I would have asked so many weird questions.
Yes, this is a photo from Wil Wheaton's Flickr. Yes, it's Wil as Fawkes and Felicia as Codex, from The Guild, season 4, which is supposed to come out in time for ComicCon. Yes, I do know when that is. These people inspire me to make things.

I took this photo of Theresa at The Red and the Black before a Machines on Vacation show. It looks so awesome because I used a "retro camera" app for my Droid Eris, the lighting was perfect, and the bar is a throwback to a French Quarter bordello.

Illustration by Michael Byers, Washington Post Magazine
I participated in the 3rd annual Washington Post Hunt, solving puzzles downtown with my good-looking, dirty-minded, married or almost-married rock star friends. We solved the three easy ones right away...then overthought a bit on the super easy one. We were opposed to the execution of the football one (as many other people were, judging by the boos Dave Barry received). And we were a bit flummoxed by the endgame anagram...but all in all, it was a fair showing. We'll rock this thing next year, now that we know what's what. This is only worth about 900 words, but it is an illustration.

Thanks Peter for the photo! Clicking will take you to his Flickr.
And here's some orange and black. These photos are out of order chronologically, but again...high-functioning ADD, here. This is how my mind is processing all these things right now.

That's it for now! I have some more blog topics on the backburner, including a rant about dressing up to drink, a flash fiction contest, and an opportunity for guest bloggers. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Hundred

Okay, I finally made it to my hundredth post! It's only been, what, four years? Here's to hitting the next hundred before 2012!

I was looking for cute images of the number 100,
but I saw one made of cupcakes, so this
is the photo you get. I made these.
Pretend they spell out "100." 
To celebrate, I thought I would go back into the Critically Ambiguous Truth in Drinking archives and actually finish one of the many story fragments there. After reading the beginning of this story over and over to refamiliarize myself with it, I'm excited to say that I can definitely see some improvement in my voice and narrative flow since then.

This was the story about the woman who comes back to her apartment and finds a strange gift. The beginning can be found here:

And now, for the thrilling continuation:

"You again?!" my landlord's mobster voice barked through the earpiece of my Blackberry. "What, ya got another rat or somethin'?" Last month, I had a dead rat decomposing between layers of drywall in my bathroom. Getting it out of there was the apartment equivalent of open-heart surgery. But for my landlord, a thoroughly misplaced New Yorker, it was just another rat.

"No, Mr. Angelos," I said. "Nothing like that. I just--"

"Ya got bees?" he asked.

"What? No, I don't have...bees?"

"Okay, good," he said, relief in his voice. I couldn't help but laugh a little. This conversation was distracting, at least.

"I'm calling because I had a package delivered yesterday, and I wanted to ask you about it."

"What package?"

"It's a gift box, with a bow on it. I'm sure you saw it, because someone had to open my door to put it inside, and you're the only one who has a key. Right?"

"I ain't bin to yer building since Thoisday," he said. "No packages."

"Are you sure?"

"I keep a hundred tenants' full names, phone numbuhs, and payment statuses in my head and she asks me if I'm sure I ain't dropped by?! Oy. Ya need anything else, or can I go about my Satuhday now?"

"That's all," I said into the phone. "Thanks, Mr. Angelos." He hung up without saying goodbye, which only served to punctuate the problem at hand: what was I supposed to do about this mysterious gift?

I paced a little before settling onto the couch, where I could keep a watchful eye on it. If something so strange was so insistently exerting itself into my life, would it be prudent to accept it? Or would that be dangerous? I was so terrified of this gift that I'd put it out in the hallway before going to sleep. I did the lock and the chain, both of which were still done. Yet, the gift had somehow made its way inside again.

Starbucks is where I go on awkward first dates, to see whether the guy orders something more frou-frou than me. I rationalized the decision to myself as I made it: 'It is clearly meant to be mine, so I can take it to Starbucks to open it if I damn well please. If it turns out to be evil, I'll see if it orders a decaf nonfat soy caramel macchiato.' So I showered and got dressed.

Nestled under my arm, the gift seemed to lurch with every step as I walked to the coffee shop, like the box was anxious to be opened. It was a short walk, but each step seemed heavier as I went along. I ordered an iced Earl Grey and sat in an armchair by the front window.

When my fingers slid through a seam in the wrapping, I felt a chill course through my body. The sensation on my fingertips was like touching my own freshly-moisturized face--warm, soft, familiar. I pulled on the flap. The wrapping fell away from the box as though my gentle tug on the flap had started a chain reaction in whatever machinery had been holding it together. And, in fact, it was a box that I held in my hands, a sturdy affair made of stiff, white, glossy cardboard. This box did not suffer from the same affliction as the wrapping the night before: it was immediately clear that I had to lift the lid of the box from the bottom to see what was inside. I set the box on the table and sipped my tea.

When I looked around for the discarded wrapping, I thought that some fastidious Starbucks employee must have cleared it away. But as I hadn't seen a fastidious Starbucks employee since 1996, I had to assume that the wrapping paper (or whatever it was) had vanished just as mysteriously as the entire gift had appeared. I quickly looked back at the box, just to be sure that it hadn't pulled the same kind of vanishing act. It was still there, on the table, radiating the same soft glow as it had when it was wrapped.

"What's in the box?" said a voice behind me. The force of my startlement nearly launched my cup of iced tea at the window. I wanted to admonish the man for sneaking up on me, but my voice caught in my throat.

"Well?" he said, glancing--furtively?--alternately at my face and the box.

"I don't know," I said.

"Only one way to find out," he said. Before I could answer him, the barista said his name, causing him to pick up a coffee from the counter and leave the store. It was me and the box, alone again.

The lid of the box, I found out, was not heavy at all. It came up from the box easily and quickly. By opening the box, I had fully committed myself to finding out what was inside, whether the contents more greatly resembled those of Pandora's box or Marcellus Wallace's suitcase. Inside the box, a machine made of metal and some other materials I couldn't identify gleamed expectantly.

I wrapped my hand around it in order to lift it out of the box, so as to better examine my prize. As soon as my skin came in contact with the machine, it leapt into motion. The machine was reminiscent of the kind of perpetual motion machine you might find on a boss's desk, a shiny affair with what appeared to be a visible clockwork inside. On Monday, I took it into the office and set it on my desk. Its glow brightened my tiny cubicle and its silent motion often served as a welcome distraction from the daily grind.

I thought nothing of it for three years, other than to pack it carefully with my framed family photo and my ceramic tea-for-one service whenever I moved from desk to desk up the corporate ladder.

It happened to catch the eye of an intern who came to my desk on some errand or another.

"What is that?" she asked.

"What, this?" I had grown so accustomed to its presence on my desk that I was practically immune to its charms. She nodded.

"It's a perpetual motion machine, I guess," I said.

"What do you mean, you guess?" she asked. "How does it work?"

I looked at it for a long time. The gears in my brain turned at the same rate as the machine, its shiny parts tumbling and resetting endlessly. The machine had no discernible source of power, and yet, I'd never had to restart it from rest.

"I don't know," I said. I stood up from my chair, picked up the machine, and pushed the chair under my desk. I put on my coat.

"Hey, where are you going?" the intern asked, still holding the sheaf of papers she had brought for me.

"Somewhere," I said. "You'll hear something from me soon."

The machine caught the harsh light of the winter sun and glittered in my hand. Now that I finally knew what I had, what should I do with it?