a jingle writer with an existential crisis

The hippies next door are making costumes. Spray painting fairy wings silver in the yard, and I imagine what it must look like from above. If I had a drone.

Later that night, the one guy who lives there is wearing a hat that looks like a lampshade even before he twists some switch and activates the LEDs inside, making it a glowing tie-dyed mushroom. One of the girls is next, to parade her surreal creation around. A sort of derby monstrosity, with what looks like from here to be fish bowls glued to the top.

She is stepping inside the house, cursing the tiny dog which has come to rest, naturally, right in the door jam while she tries to negotiate the correct angle for bringing this giant saucer shaped hat inside.

The clouds in the Midwest in the summer are astounding. Storm clouds. I tell my daughter to be here, be now, to have fun and be excited. I am giving this speech in response to her defiance, while I know that the defiance is just her modeling things she sees in the two adults in the room, and it makes me wish things were easier. That I had been nicer, that one time that we had more time to be alone, just the two of us. But that’s kids, they wreck you even as you pour your love into them.

I have been to parties like the hippies are going to, but always I felt alone, like I was never around my people, like I had to prove my value somehow, my reason to be there.

The clouds don’t need a reason, I think this, and far off there is the sound of slow and rolling thunder, or fireworks, or war.

Dear Brother With Whom I Disagree On So Many Things,

I am thankful this Memorial Day that I am able to text you. That no matter how much we disagree, you are there to respond. You have returned, unlike so many others who have not. You went away to war and pounded sand for five years but then you came back, and today I recognize how lucky I am because not everyone gets to feel this way.

Love, Your Big Brother

Deep Fakes

He sent the video clips and the speech that he'd prepared for her to the service. It was only $49. They were running a special this Christmas; one deep fake with the words of your choice said by the person of your choosing. He did it because he missed her. The only reason he’d even heard of this was because someone at work had showed him this clip of that famous Israeli actress saying she liked to munch pussy. The one that had blown up about a year ago and no matter what she did no one believed that wasn’t her until a forensic analyst came forward and pointed out some of the problems and the people who were still paying attention at that point exonerated her, while the rest of the world thought she was a bit of a lesbian, which wasn’t the worst thing when you were trying to continue to land roles in action movies into your late thirties. But, anyhow, because the guy who had showed him this video was something of a connoisseur of this phenomenon he took the time to point out to him how nothing in the video made it look like this whole thing had been composited and post-processed by an AI. After the net had got sick of pasting Nicholas Cage and Nick Offerman’s face onto everything, they moved on, and all the while they were getting better, so by this point they were practically indistinguishable from reality. They moved on to rewriting history, from the Moon Landings, to Jonestown, to the Holocaust. Some black nationalists who got really good at it started filming enough realistic looking clips of Malcom X in the White House that it had by this point moved from being just a line in a song to a movement. He sent them the material on Sunday night and by Monday morning when he woke up he already had the file waiting in his inbox. It was two minutes long. She apologized for everything she had said after she walked out. She asked for him back. She said she didn’t mean it when she said he didn’t get her. She told him she loved him, and she asked him to consider if he’d ever have her back. He liked what they had done with it. He felt not like the pathetic psycho he had pictured feeling like. He felt empowered. He liked to see himself considering his response.


...one of the terrible features of the pandemic was that you tried to put the pandemic out of your mind and then you ran the risk of actually putting it out of your mind and forgetting to be prepared; finding yourself in a situation where you didn't have a mask or were too close to someone or had been in a closed restroom area and could just feel the skin on the back of your neck crawling at the idea that you had been exposed...

Baxter had three sisters, two of which were several years older than him. When he was twelve, and in the habit of staying up late with the Internet on, streaming whatever it was this week, Moroccan pop or Haitian Jazz, he would catch glimpses of both of them as they snuck back in from their high school escapades. During the day they largely ignored him. He had the notion that there had been a time where they had taken more than a passing interest in him, this memory going way back of them on the porch playing peek a boo in the light pastel dresses that now lay stuffed in one or another of the wardrobes in the attic, in the hopes that baby Lucy would wear them someday.


The tart but not sweet taste of the Zestar apple Is something I never enjoyed before moving to Minnesota. That so much taste could be contained within a single bite. Now I see the reason for it being our national fruit, if you could ever say we really have such a thing. And yet most of the country eats Red Delicious. Fibrous, chalky, flavorless, missionary with the lights off and a thick condom on, No wonder we all are losing our minds. If only more of America knew about good apples, Or good rice, Or good anything. We have been deprived of so much of our history. Trained like rats to crave hot dogs, and Uncle Ben's, and oxy, By a process both expedient and intentional. God Save America, And bring me another apple 🍎

Epitaphs for the Digital Age

Here lies Jim, who kept all his devices charged.

Here lies Amy, who always had good ‘grams.

Here lies Paul, who knew just what to Google.

Here lies Abigail, may their body nourish the fungal substrate in which they were encapsulated.

Here lies Sarah, who kept the JIRA board clean.

Something of a feeling of normalcy today, and I fear it, because it feels like me getting used to this thing, my resolve wearing down, my will beyond being frayed and now it's just gone slack and attenuated and sort of weightless like you see in all those movies about space.

I got a jog in. We got a walk in. Talked to Mom.

Made Skyline for dinner out of the can so it felt like a special thing and not “what we do now because we can't get anything fresh anymore...”

She sat at the stop sign watching the scene of emergency vehicles clustered around the community building. The lights and color were all smudged from the rain on her windshield. A man in an orange medic's jumpsuit knelt on the ground and she could see him rifling through a large medical kit. She turned on the radio. The car had one of those old manual dials so you could actually tune the stations in and out as slowly as you so chose. She swept through a piece of Mexican Tehano music. The squelch of the signal was suddenly very loud. The wind outside had grown stronger, so much so that just a few seconds later a large gust whipped over the trees and flattened a sign advertising antacids on sale outside a small convenient store on the corner. What a strange thing to advertise, she thought to herself. A few more turns and there it was in crisp detail: the trial. Everyone was listening, it was all she over-heard wherever she went. But it went over her head, especially on the radio. What did one man’s guilt have anything to do with how things were going to turn out for her? It all felt a bit pervy, to tell you the truth, and to think that no matter what anyone did it wasn’t going to change anything about what had happened to those kids. She would rather listen to country music, she thought, as she tuned towards that identifiable residence on the high end of the dial, to get to which she had to travel through two more broadcasts of that same live courtroom feed. So they were all broadcasting it. She hoped the country song was good. She needed it to be good. Otherwise she would be start thinking about all those kids again and it would start to turn her stomach. The world was going to shit. Over by the community center, they were bringing someone out on a stretcher. She made the left turn, finally, and moved along on her way to buy groceries.

He sits all day long in his room—on the days when he's not behind the fryer at the deep fried fish-n-chips shop, or at the mall, or at the gun range— while the California sun burns bright outside, there in the pitch black, behind the windows wrapped in canvas tent fabric that he got from the Army Surplus Store and cut down to size with the Rambo knife, that really was as “sharp as a motherfucker”, just like he said it was, and I was like, “Damn, son, you look like some kind of actual serial killer holding that shit”, and it was probably the first but definitely not the last time I saw his eyes light up in a way that I was never entirely sure with J if I should be worried; or if, like most of the people I knew, he just had some, what you might call, sick proclivities but was overall a stand-up dude when it came down to basic human nature. He had hung each piece of canvas from the tops of the two windows and pinned them at very short intervals into the drywall to make the perfect set of blackout curtains.

When I asked him what he would do when he wanted to open up the windows, his jaw hung open awhile and finally he told me, “That isn't going to happen,” and so I took his word for it.

Even in the sunniest of days, his room was an envelope of black. The essential trappings of the besieged, of insomniacs, of daytime video game junkies. So it was here, in this ink black crevice, that he sat, all day, like some god-king, in front of his game machine. He was not just “playing video games”—J liked to put that in air quotes himself whenever he talked about his hobby—he was doing speed runs. Game by game, level by level, over and over again, going for the most perfect run of whatever game happened to fixate him and his group of “runners” at the moment, an execution of intent so precise that you could hold it up to God themself and They would all but shower you in emojis. Junior told me they even had Sex Speed Runs, where the object was to get laid as fast as possible, and, in the case of the Fallout series, once you had completed the final sex act, in the final quadrilogy of games, you were to strike dead the underground bunker's German nightclub singer whom you've just convinced to sleep with you, strip off all your clothes, and then run out into the hallway of the old irradiated hotel, at which point the run was considered complete. In the earlier games, it was more about bypassing certain enemies by holding to the left or right of the screen so as not to trigger their routines, and then you paid the right woman in the right bar, with bottle-caps and she took you to a private room and that was that.

These speed runs fascinated me, to say the least. Part of the time that counted for your run when you were doing a multi game marathon was the loading of one game to the next, so you had to have your discs ready, and you had better hope that the console didn't have any read errors while you waited. Some of the runners took that time to pee, mostly into bottles they held nearby, or to shove a hotdog down their gullets along with some Red Surge Mountain Dew.

J only did speed runs on his off-days, which varied throughout the two years that I lived in that house. Sometimes it was Sunday and Tuesday, sometimes Monday/Wednesday, but for a summery period in 2013 it was Tuesday and Wednesday, right in a row, which gave Junior a recovery day at the table in the kitchen. This was when we really got to know each other.

You'd see him at about 14:00 shoveling home a plate of eggs doused in hot sauce, and then you'd see him still that evening around the kitchen table. These were the only nights that he ever really sat with any of us at the kitchen table, which we ringed on the regular, with cigarettes and joints and tall cans of beer.

“Hey Junior,” I would ask him. “What is it about, all these runs?”

He would smile at me through the haze of a good load of tall cans and whiskey—Junior always drank a little too much, a little to fast, but to counterbalance that he had a crazy high tolerance for the booze itself, and would regularly be one of the last up at the tables.

“So, what is it about these fucking things?” I'd reiterate, five hours later. The dust and refuse of human beings lay about our feet and arms. A fetid taste like liquid mud lacquered onto my tongue. I lit what I told myself was the final, final cigarette, and leaned back and looked at Junior in the sad light of our single, naked 100W overhead bulb.

“It's the fucking perfection of it,” he says. “And the fact that when I play these things, thousands of people are watching me do it.”

I hadn't realized that, that it was something social, that you could watch other people play; but of course you could; that J was literally something of a rock star in this small but very active community, whereas I could barely get four people to read my blog, made me stop and think.

“Okay, I get it. It's like the Olympics, you know, you keep shooting to beat the other guy, and you watch for the thrill of it, because you never really know if the next guy can go any faster or not.”

Junior smiled at me with that warm insight of high drunkenness, “But that's where you're wrong,” he grinned. “Because there are bots; people on the boards have trained them. They run the games day and night, and they learn to get better, just like humans, but instead of having good days and bad days, and days when you feel like ass because your mom called and told you some more shit about her creepy sex life that you didn't need to hear, they just keep getting better. Because they don't have to do anything but plug in the numbers as electrical signals into the controllers.”

“So what you're saying is you already know how fast is as fast as you can possibly go?”


There was a long pause. Outside the sun was shining. It was a perfect San Francisco day.

“So it's just the people chasing records that the robots have already written?” I asked.

“Yeah, I guess that pretty much sums it up, if you look at it like that.”

“Doesn't that make you feel sad, at all?”

“Not really. I mean, I could go out to the bar and find a girl and get laid, but I don't want to do that right now.”

“And why the fuck not?” I protested.

“To be honest, I've got porn, and these chat cams, you know, they're all free, and they talk to you. Even if it's just other dudes, I'm ok with that. I get off. I go back to my game. And that's just enough for me right now. I don't want the trouble of a girlfriend. They're too expensive, and they whine a lot, and in the end it would just cut too much into my speed run time, and that's not something I'm willing to do at the moment.”

I missed simplicity. I missed sex. I stumbled to the bar, and found myself judging where to sit based on how close it was to a seemingly available female with an open seat nearby.