Letters From a 21st Century Cynic

Letters From a 21st Century Cynic

Long lines of buses pull up along skyscrapers downtown. The 63, the 54, the 74, the 71, the 21. Coughing coal black on the street and spitting people out onto the curb and swallowing more. We stand beneath the lights of the bus station that stay on even during the day. These are hybrid buses with pictures of blue earth drawn on the side expected to save the environment from their smog. We are told that buses are better than driving – for the environment, for the cityscape, bravo for public transportation! But we wish silently that we could live in (or live through) the clean and happy future we were promised would be coming soon. Buses are all we get for now. The noise of morning traffic rises with the clamor of construction, of car horns, radios playing news and music and the voices of those who sing along. The screech of brakes, the rattle of hubcaps, the cell phones and police sirens. Someone yells good morning! to a friend across the street. Humans of the future will look back on this primitive time and laugh. They will look back at our violence, our pollution, our noise, our wage slaves and their love of work. They will laugh at us forced to live these primitive lives. Or they will pity us, perhaps, if they are generous. It is our mission then not to be cynical or complain, but to record a message of hope and hopefulness, a scribe of optimism or what the old folks called idealism before it died long ago. So when people look back at...
A Thousand Happy Lives

A Thousand Happy Lives

Youth. His father lived a thousand lives before he died at the age of 53. He worked as a security guard for Gem Lake Casino by highway 29, spending his days watching screens linked to cameras placed high above people playing cards, pulling levers, drinking, laughing, and shouting below. Drawn to the most interesting and dynamic outfits, hairstyles, mannerisms and physical peculiarities of the people who passed beneath his gaze, he invented stories for them, and gave each of them their own personality. In this, he was able to flesh out out unrealized pieces of his own being – his wishes, dreams, regrets, fantasies and inspirations – for them to live in his stead. At night he would share these stories with his son. The boy would stay awake long past what his mother told him was bedtime, waiting beneath the dinosaur bedspread for his father to come home, the bedside lamp still on and books on paleontology and planes scattered across the floor. His father sat at the foot of the bed, his face half-lit in the light of the lamp, and told him of the woman who was once a star goaltender for the German soccer team – she blew out her knee making a spectacular save at the World Cup. About the man who had written poetry in his younger years, published three books in French, but never reached his full potential and now spends his time losing at the blackjack tables. And the family of four on their first vacation together (their first time leaving their hometown of Blooming Prairie in fact) enjoying an experience...
A Restaurant from the Perspective of a Dishwasher

A Restaurant from the Perspective of a Dishwasher

It is nearly Christmas. The year is drawing to a close and I realize I will again be late on rent at the start of month. There is work available in my old friend Boron’s restaurant. He calls and asks, with a certain note of desperation, if I might be able to fill a dishwashing position recently vacated to, as he terms it, get him through the holidays. This is a notoriously busy time of year for restaurants, hotels, and other fixtures of the hospitality industry, when families come together, travelers arrive in town, and large companies plan large parties to spend excessive amounts of money on food and drink. A lot has changed – Boron tells me over the phone – I’ve had to make a few adjustments. All for the better, of course. The service industry is a volatile thing. Hospitality. What people expect. We must adapt or fall behind. I am to meet with him today to talk and take a tour of the restaurant. I wait for him at the bar, sitting on a stool and staring ahead at the colored bottles of cognac, chartreuse, fernet, gin and whiskey arranged neatly on back-lit shelves. My toes barely touching the hexagonal penny tile of the floor. When I finally see him I almost do not recognize him – he is no longer the young teenager I once knew, bright-eyed, unwashed and underfed. He is now a hardened man of twenty-four, with multiple employees under his direction, and the state of a stylish restaurant in one of the city’s most refined districts to manage, the success of...
The Depths of Finer Things

The Depths of Finer Things

The first time I died, Ima tells me, the sun flared its great, fiery disc and swallowed the whole world in a moment. And everything that had been was then no more. The second time I died, it was at the hands of a grand, dark army, their bayonets through my stomach and heart. And when I fell their boots marched over my corpse as though a body that falls was never standing to begin with.

Duality: On Conscience and Guilt

Duality: On Conscience and Guilt

The morning. Baby and I arrive in Berlin just after eight. It’s raining. A cold mist cleaves the streets. We left early and our eyes are half-open from half-sleep on the train. We lost our tickets crossing Karstädt and had to search our bags, our pockets, the floor when the conductor asked us where they were. We finally found them at the bottom of the valise, tucked away for safe keeping.