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Belknap, WRITE CLUB - Goodbye

Goodbye is one of the greatest words there is, because it is filled with “fuck this” and “fuck you”, and “fuck, no”.

The “good” of “goodbye” is a classic misdirection. It adds a thin shell of civility to the brutal finality of it. The “good” is like the skin of a Skittle – bright, brittle, and sweet. And then you bite into it and you crack your teeth off on this unyielding nugget of never again.

The most awesome trope in action movies is NOT the “punch you through a window” or the “crack wise and then shoot you in your face” or the “oh, thank goodness the unstoppable killing machine is dead after our protracted fight. I shall now turn my back on him SO HE CAN SUDDENLY SIT UP OH MY GOD HOW UNEXPECTED!!!” None of these.


The reason that this trope is a can’t-fail head butt of awesomeness is that everyone of us, at some point in our lives – even if only for an instant – has wanted to say the BIG GOODBYE. The TOWERING ORB OF FIRE GOODBYE.

“Hello” is tentative and skittish. “Hello” is a prairie dog or a meerkat – it peers out of its hole in the ground with a pleading look that wants you to fucking like it.

“Goodbye” doesn’t give a fuck if you like it. It’s done with you. You are dead to it.

“Hello” is voluntary, “Hello” is discretionary. “Goodbye” is non-negotiable.

“Hello” is a Yield sign. “Goodbye” says Stop.

“Hello” is an acorn. “Goodbye” is an axe.

“Hello” is a ribbon-cutting. “Goodbye’ is the tornado that rips your store to rubble.

“Hello” is a maggot. “Goodbye” is a flyswatter.

“Hello” is a kiss. “Goodbye” is a condom.

“Hello” is “Mother, May I?” “Goodbye” is “Hit the bricks, Shit Heel.”

“Hello” is a letter to the editor. “Goodbye” is a bullet.

I could go on.

You get my drift. “Hello” is soft and yielding and gutless. “Hello” is damp and recessive and smooooooooth as a fucking Ken doll.

“Hello” hopes like heck that you’ll like it and that you guys can sit together in a window seat and have caffeine-less tea together and knit fingerless gloves and wear cardigans and jumpers and repeat vapid horseshit to each other out of doughy faces white as fucking flour as you dab at your weird nose that is always, always running, no matter the season.

“Goodbye” is fierce and final and hard as a nightstick. “Goodbye” does crimes and smacks asses and breaks windows. “Goodbye” is cold and untroubled and deadly.

“Goodbye” will whip you with razor wire and roll you into a greasy puddle out by the Dumpsters and pitch a cinder block through your windshield and take a shit on your dashboard and collect your tears in a coke spoon and snort them like crank and grab your daughter’s doll out of her hands and light its hair on fire, and toss that flaming doll down the hole of a Port-a-Potty, and if she lives to be a hundred and seventeen years old, your daughter will NEVER forget the extinguishing hiss and sad spank as her doll lands in that horrifying shit stew.

“Goodbye” is much, much bigger than “Hello”. “Hello” is always a supplication. “Hello” is always, always, ALWAYS asking for something. But “Goodbye” is always a declaration – it is always an announcement.

Beyond bullets and hurricanes and axe handles, beyond suicide notes and crime scenes, “Goodbye” is also freedom, because “Goodbye” is walking out of that job for the last time without looking back. “Goodbye” is the guts it takes to hurl yourself out of an airplane – “Hello” is pulling the rip cord, but “Goodbye” is stepping out of the plane.

“Goodbye” is D.B. Cooper and Bigfoot, Ambrose Bierce and Nessie – “Goodbye” is having the balls to take a powder and avoid capture.

“Goodbye” is also the victory of sound ideas over shitty ones – it is Darwin’s boot on an evangelical throat.

“Goodbye” is hard to say, because it’s hard to mean. “Goodbye” is clasping your wife’s skeletal hand while you watch without flinching the life draining out of her. “Goodbye” is the heft of your brother’s casket when you serve as his pallbearer.

“Goodbye” is ministrations and tenderness and last kindnesses. “Goodbye” takes a whole hell of a lot more moxie and mettle than “Hello” does. “Hello” comes at the beginning, before there is anything at stake.

“Goodbye” comes by its nature at the end, when we have invested our time and treasure, when we have accreted secrets and sorrows, fondness and trouble, the savor and meaning and purpose we build with each other. At “Hello,” we have nothing to lose, but if we are lucky enough to get to “Goodbye,” then we will have arrived at that place where it matters to us, that rare and privileged place we sometimes earn where everything hangs in the balance.



On Memorial Day, I read this in a belated birthday celebration (I am now 45 fucking years old) and continuation of the Annual Manifesto tradition begun last year. Rachel Claff baked a mind-stopping cake, friends lent their attention, and the Hopleaf provided a swell venue. It was a humbling treat for me - hope you enjoy the text.

Last year, I bestowed upon myself super powers. I found that one man – even one with Oaken Fists of Flame and a ferocious brand of justice – is not equal to the rolling waves of tribulation.

The One Man Alone model cannot work. So instead, this year, in serendipity and solidarity with Memorial Day, I seek to raise an army.

An army unlike any the world has ever seen. An army that does not fight for nation, and does not fight for glory. An army that does not fight at all. An army that will never need to remember the fallen, because we will all die in our beds.

Welcome. You are the first foot soldiers. In The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That is Already Eleven Years Late. This army shall be self-directed and non-confrontational and super productive.

To join, you need not be the best and the brightest. We will take the middling and the passable, the dim and the hobbled. We will take the feeble and the crazed, the anxious and afraid.

One day soon, our army shall number seven billion, and have no chain of command. Our army will occupy every continent and be the master of every sea. Our army will patrol a perimeter that follows every line of latitude on every map. Our army already has boots on the ground and is ready to roll. There will be no rank – we are all foot soldiers. There are no tours of duty or recruiting offices. You self-declare. You say you’re in? That means you’re in.

Not all are welcome, however. Thugs and exploiters, the witless and wasteful, the belittling and dismissive, the quashing and vindictive, the paltry-hearted and puny-minded – need not apply. The rest of us – this army without precedent, the members of The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That Is Already Eleven Years Late – will surround them and take heart because they are hopelessly outnumbered. It is comical, almost, that these few – a handful of them, really – have drawn so much of our time and attention, and have snatched so much thought and worry and treasure and sorrow away from us. In a final act, we will bulldoze them all into a trench. We will dress them in oily rags issue each of them a lighter. They will erupt in a fireball of recrimination and self-justification right away.

We don’t even cheer, really, to be rid of them. We’re saddened by the time we wasted while mired among them. We fill in the trench and don’t look back. There is too goddamn much to do.

Victory is assured because we have already taken all the territory. What remains is ideology, which we will set aside. Altogether.

Listen to this. It no longer matters whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist. It is too late to be a pessimist. Now, as a person torn between paralysis in the face of the shit maelstrom and the desire to actually change the world, I can say that this is a good goddamn answer. It is TOO LATE TO BE A PESSIMIST.

As recruits in The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That Is Already Like Eleven Years Late, when next you are confronted by a freshly fizzing clusterfuck, I urge you: don’t stare at it. Don’t parse it and wring your hands over it. And for fuck’s sake, do NOT yearn for a rosier and more bountiful time before the clusterfuck. The clusterfuck is what you have. Remind yourself that it is too goddamn late to be a pessimist and roll up your sleeves. Lace up your boots and get cracking. For it is too goddamn late already. It is too late to be a pessimist.

Our weapons will be wooden spoons and surveying equipment; pitchforks and stop watches; pickling jars and ukuleles; crocus bulbs and computer code; rain tarps and egg timers; pitch pipes and bed pans; kite string and plumb lines; gauze pads and cinder blocks; calipers and protective eyewear; knitting needles and shoe leather.

We will take that next hill, but we will do it sheet music and grilled vegetables. We will occupy that next village, but we will do it with frozen yogurt and candle wax. We will storm that beachhead, but we will do it with swing sets and good conversation.

There are two ways you enlist:

  • The first is to dig deep and find the work that renders you expansive and truthful – the place in you where your greatness lies, the undertaking that enlarges your happiness and that of others. This is exceptionally difficult and daunting, but we are all foot soldiers in this same campaign and we believe in you. You will doubt and we will tell you: “There is greatness in you. Find it. Find it and grow it.” You will excel because it is in you to do so and because we need very badly for you to achieve.
  • The other is to look to your greatest outrage – the crime or loss or injustice that remains troubling and makes you grit your teeth and ball your fists, even if it took place a long-ass time ago. Keep clear sight of this thing, this outrage, for it falls now to you to help correct it. This is exceptionally difficult and daunting, but we are all foot soldiers in this same campaign and we believe in you. You will doubt and we will tell you: “There is abundance and tenacity in you. Find it. Find it and use it.” You will prevail because it is in you to do so and because we need very badly for you to create solutions.

Belief has never been the trouble. The FACT of conviction is not the trouble. The friction and the shower of sparks, the fireball and the impact crater do not come about because we have believed something. Conviction does not cause the hurt feelings and the split lip. It is not conviction that straps an explosive vest on you and detonates it in a market square, or sets you beheading hostages. 

It is the MISAPPLICATION of conviction that sends everything off the rails. I am like anyone. I am prey to shitty ideas. Sometimes, I am in the THRALL of shitty ideas. No doubt you are, too. Here’s what to do:


  • NOTICE your shitty ideas.
  • Get Hippocratic with your shitty ideas. The Hippocratic Oath holds  – first, do no harm. For my shitty ideas, that just means: don’t be acting on them, and don’t be shooting my mouth off. Unless there is a microphone. And people show up with the expectation that I give voice to them.


If you think that ideology cannot be extracted from us – and I’m not suggesting it will be easy – here’s what I propose: raise the bar for spouting off. To mouth off about something, just ask “Am I QUALIFIED to mouth off about this?” Here’s what we mean:  


  • If you wanna mouth off about abortion, have a uterus.
  • If you wanna get lippy about gun control, get shot.
  • If you wanna holler about the zombie problem, be eating brains or blowing heads off.


Here’s what I’m talking about – I am QUALIFIED to have a position on the death penalty because my family PAID for it with the life of my grandfather. He was murdered in 1985. My POSITION is that killing is never not wrong. Ever. For any reason. No matter who’s doing it. I can debate the merits of this position with somebody who has an opposing view – if their family has paid the price of admission. If there is murder in their past, believe me – I understand their desire to strap somebody into a chair and push a plunger that routs the life out of their veins.

But we could have a frank exchange – and it would be above all respectful, since a terrible cost had been exacted for both of us prior to such a conversation. Our beliefs will have arisen from events – we are not bending events to wedge inside the bucket of our beliefs.

What this approach will do is render the vast majority of human experience as what it has been all along: none of our goddamn business. The new way is this: just because we have been made aware of something does not render us  participants, or what they call stakeholders. Tons of shit – MOST of the shit, in fact, happens ALONGSIDE us, but does not require our meddling. By refraining from adding our voices to the shouting chorus, the discussions around all the hot buttons can get more focused and calm.

So, to review: If the token of your trauma does not fit in the turnstile, you cannot pass. If you haven’t paid the admission, you shut your fucking face and get busy.

This is one means of negating the constricting morass of too much conviction, this imposition of stringent standards for mouthing off. The other is a simple trick. This trick is not original, this trick is not new. But this trick is potent, and this trick can change everything.

The trick is this: expand your definition of self-interest. Expand it to include your neighbors. Expand it across your species. Expand it across your habitat and your ecosystem. Expand it across time. Expand it to include fairness, and tolerance, and while it is corny to say it, expand your definition of self-interest to include love. When your fellow foot soldiers are your brothers and sisters, it is a damn sight easier to serve alongside them, is it not? Of course it is. 

So, as new conscripts in this Great and Glorious Army for a New Millenium That Is Already Eleven Years Late, here is what constitutes our duty:


  1. Make Something. Make something every week. Make something new every week. And money doesn’t count. We will not be shifting our priorities. Our priorities are a tear-down. The phrase “making money”? It has always been a criminal mischaracterization and we are done with it. The kind of reverence we have had for “making money” will be reserved for things like “building a kick-ass tree house” or “making these mind-blowing waffles”. Income will depend upon impact. A third grade teacher in Englewood who reads to the blind will make ten million dollars a year. An investment banker who collects cars will make six bucks. That investment banker can find his way back, though. If he works in a hospice and roams around with one of pointy community service sticks picking up trash at the park, he’ll be back on top before he knows it. Here’s what he can mutter to himself as he attempts to retrain his brain: “If it is esteemable, it is lucrative. If it is esteemable, it is lucrative.” Or, if that’s too highfalutin for him, he can tighten it up to: “Quit being a scumbag. Quit being a scumbag. Quit being a scumbag.”
  2. Help Out Someplace. This one is super simple. Help somebody. A real, actual person. No check-sending or three-click petitions online. You can still send checks or sign petitions if you feel like. These things are fine, but you also have to do something. Ladle out some soup. Turn the soil in that garden. Shelve books in the library. Clean cages at the shelter. HERE’S where it gets tricky though: Help Out Someplace, But Then Don’t Brag About It. You go. You do your thing. You enjoy the work. Be satisfied with the effect it has. Accept the thanks of the people you help. And then you don’t say a word about it. This will be really, really hard for all of us at first, but it is guaranteed to increase the overall awesomeness of the world if we all just do good and zip it. It will grow easier to believe the best about everybody if we know it to be true about ourselves.
  3. Make Food. Every day. Doesn’t matter if it’s toast. Make something delicious every day. You are certain to grow weary of toast and expand your repertoire.
  4. Wander. This might actually be the most important one. Listen to this very carefully. A month CANNOT go by when you have not embarked upon a destination-less journey of some kind. It can be a walk around a new neighborhood, or you can book a train ticket to a city you’ve never been to – but you MUST WANDER. When we all become devoted wanderers, we will all begin more sentences with phrases like “You’ll never believe what I saw the other morning…” Or “Here’s something that never occurred to me before…” Or “You have GOT to try this…”
  5. Learn. An instrument. A language. Patience. Hardly matters. As long as your brain is striving after something, and you are seeking greater mastery, you cannot fail to become more interesting and interested. And imagine for a second if everybody who crossed your path was fascinating and engaged. Imagine yourself to be such a person.
  6. Teach. An instrument. A language. Patience. Hardly matters. If you say “I don’t know anything worth teaching,” I will strike you. If you don’t have it, find it. Teach fly tying. Teach taxidermy. Teach swimming. Notice what you know and try to impart it. Imagine for a second that everybody you encounter has secret knowledge and they are eager to grant you access to it. Imagine yourself to be such a person.
  7. Play. Play a sport. It does not MATTER that you are doughy and slow. There is value in it. Play a game. Run like you’re being pursued by bears. Jump like you can smack the top of the backboard. Be a teammate and a worthy adversary. The words I am speaking right now are your License to Suck. Everybody rules at some number of things. Everybody sucks at a bunch of things. When everybody’s doing it, judgment goes up the chimney. Results don’t mean dick - Grab a mitt and get in the goddamn game.
  8. Care For an Animal. A mammal is best. If you have allergies, then do what you can.
  9. Eliminate Self Regard. At the stroke of midnight tonight, every mirror in the world will explode into silvery dust. You are no longer able, and have never been qualified to self-assess. You will no longer decry your man-boobs or your turkey neck or your weird hairline or your cankles. You cannot see them. They do not matter. The means of assessing yourself and your performance in this life shall reside in the gazes of others. If you see fondness and regard, this is what you must see in yourself. Earn fondness and regard. Multiply them. Learn to see your own beauty by seeing it in the eyes of your fellow foot soldiers.
  10. Your Enslavement Ends TODAY. That thing. That burrows up under your eyelids or corkscrews down your ear canal. That thing that coils in your brain and controls. That thing that makes you say dumb, hurtful shit, or makes you skate away from the people you love, or makes you hide from yourself. Liquor. Or chips. Or strip clubs. Or the riverboats. Or rich, creamy cheeses. Or back alley handjobs. Whatever that thing is. You will be free of it. You will cop to it. You will cut it out. You will be free. If you need to go off someplace and get help, do it. Get free. Because we need every foot soldier we can get, and that thing – the one that rules you, even in secret – it is an oil slick on the precipice. Because it is too late to be a pessimist.
  11. The Great Inversion Begins NOW. “Making money” is dead. Fort-building with kids matters like hell. All the things we’ve been chasing. Do. Not. Matter. Prestige is a fiction. Teaching the neighbor kid to make a thumb whistle with a blade of grass is at the top of your To Do List. Posterity is a sad fallacy. Building a sand castle endures. There is care, it is true, and obligation. There are burdens. There are sorrows. I have known some. So have you. But all the bounty is here, all of it. You need no telescope to see the glory. Use your eyes. The physics of motor oil puddle rainbows cannot diminish their awesomeness. There is sanctity, I think, in the tender claws of daffodils stabbing skyward. Or the undulant dance of wind in the limbs of an willow. Or a hawk catching an updraft. Or the spazzy and frantic laughter of kids running through the twilight, when the sun has dipped behind the trees to cause a crisis of color in the west. Or sitting in a boat, drifting, while the reeds on the bank murmur and sigh. Or the lean of a dog, entrusting the weight of his head to your lap. Or the cool heft of a glass doorknob in a summer house. Or the rude music of a basketball hitting the rim. Or the yielding damp crumble of soil that, if you close your eyes, thrums with the promise of the vegetables that will grow in it. The fat of a baby’s leg. Or that hand on the small of your back when most you need it. There is no end to it. If you are paying attention, there is wonder beyond measure. If you are paying attention, the prizes are many and priceless. If you are paying attention, really paying attention, the husk of your pessimism falls away and you are new-skinned and new-eyed, and ready to march. For you will have joined The Great and Glorious Army For a New Millennium That Is Already Eleven Years Late.



Belknap, WRITE CLUB - Glory

I feel quite strongly that this one needed another draft or nine, but hell, man, whattaya gonna do? You're gonna post it unaltered, that's what you're gonna do.

Guts. When do we praise someone for having guts? After they have their ass handed to them, or when they are such a chronic chickenshit fuck-up that we have no fucking IDEA what to praise them for.

Guts is the fucking theme song of too little too late. Guts is the knife at the gunfight. Guts is the hug at the end of the Special Olympics sprint that took all goddamn afternoon.

We may SAY: “You showed a lotta guts, out there, kid,” but what we THINK is:

“My GOD, you are a broke-dick, bitch-ass fucktard. I both pity and hate you. To draw attention to your unrelenting fuckup-ery is by now so totally useless that we are basically mute in the face of it, except to give you a patronizing chuck on the chin and tell you got guts. Your jaw-dropping brand hyper-stupid prompts us to dismiss you with the faintest praise we can muster so we need not face the frankly daunting task of addressing the sad, wet soul fart that constitutes your best efforts. You are a dipshit and a beat-off and we can’t stand the sight of the precarious mess you have become. ”

So. This is Glory in a walk. This is Glory’s to lose.

The Oxford English Dictionary – he said what, now? That’s right – The Oxford Fucking English Fucking Dictionary – quake before my attribution! – defines “glory”, among other things as:

“Exalted (and in moderate use, merited) praise, honour – with an “O-U-R” – or admiration accorded by common consent to a person of thing; honorable fame, renown.”

Whereas the entry for “guts” states merely:

“Unfit to cradle the ball sack of a real word like ‘glory’.”

The OED goes on to inform us that that “glory” can mean:

“The majesty and splendour – again, O-U-R – attendant upon a manifestation of God.”


“The splendour – again – and bliss of heaven.”

It will come as little surprise that I am a pretty secular type of person, so I have nothing to say regarding this business of God and heaven, peppered though it may be with “O-U-R” spellings. I would likely botch the job and risk offending the ignorant and superstitious among us.

I will instead focus upon the final and, to my mind, the best, meaning in the entry:

“A state of exultation and splendour. In one’s glory: in one’s highest state of magnificence or prosperity; in a state of unbounded gratification or enjoyment.”

THIS is the glory that matters. This is the glory that sustains.

When I was a boy, my grandma and grandpa had a ramshackle old house overlooking a harbour on an island in New Brunswick, Canada. Deer Island, New Brunswick is a pine-covered hunchback that Quasimodos its way out from the Bay of Fundy. It is an undulant little thing – maybe five miles long and a couple miles across. It is dotted with landmarks like Mourner’s Delight and Chocolate Cove and Cow Rock. It is quite probably my favorite place in this world – not least because I have not been back that way since I was a child.

My grandparents’ house sat overlooking Northwest Harbour, which, naturally enough, faces due East. Close your eyes and imagine Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker’s place at the beginning of James and the Giant Peach, and that gives you a sense of it. The house is surrounded by lichen-covered rocks, and blackberry brambles and hollows where the moss grows two hands high. You can watch the osprey talon silver fish off the surface of the harbor like the best goddamn magic trick you ever saw. You can forage for swollen gooseberries under a cathedral of trees. There is treasure for the stooping along the rocky beaches – sand dollars and sea glass and driftwood.

The reason I tell you this is that this place – Deer Island, with its hillocks and sea spray and fog, its briny smells and snapdragons and brazen sea birds – is where I learned of Glory. The glory that can come of noticing.

My grandmother Barbara was an intrepid soul who leaned forward into everything. She had a sharp nose and a cumulus of salt and pepper hair. She wore green wellington boots, one toe of which I recall being repaired with a Band-Aid.

To get to the island, you take a ferry. You miss it, and you gotta wait anywhere from 20 minutes to like an hour. My grandma, instead of stewing in the car, would always tromp down the beach. As often as not, she would become engrossed in some find as the ferry’s diesel engine would send it chuffing toward shore.

My grandpa would yell to her – a quarter of a mile away, now, down the windswept beach. She’d come hustling back, clutching a bouquet of her discoveries – a spray of spindly caraway and Queen Anne’s Lace and rose hips; a dried sea sponge, like a chalky folded hand, a kidney-shaped piece of rare blue sea glass – and would take her seat in the Volvo – flushed and brimming with the bounty she had captured. She would turn to my brother and me in the back seat and show us the things she’d liberated from the beach.

“Aren’t they glorious?” she’d ask. “Aren’t they glorious?” 

And we would believe her. Because it was true. And grandpa would start the car. And we would drive over the surface of the sea to the island. And the gulls would wheel overhead, and the porpoises would leap. And the wind smelled of adventure, and all of it was glorious.



Formerly Attractive

I am a formerly attractive man. Which, I know – confronted by this – is a ridiculous thing to for me to say. On the face of it, my claim is completely without merit.

Presented with this lopsided mound of pale, haggard, slack and sexless neuter-flesh, I don’t blame you for calling into question not only my baseless allegation of attractiveness, but also everything that follows it. You would be justified in pushing me to the ground and calling me a liar, or in pitching a brick through my window. I have earned your contempt for trafficking in these falsehoods and deserve any misfortune that befalls me.

Look at me. I’m horrible. I should work in a dungeon or under a bridge. I should only hang out with moles and cave salamanders – the kind that have evolved to be eyeless and translucent.

But even as I concede that I am a criminally unappealing husk of nad-less failure, I stand by this. I was once attractive. I am – despite the evidence of your senses, a formerly attractive man.

Imagine THIS [indicate GUT] before it had become this marsupial repository for my self-loathing. Imagine THIS [indicate FACE] with the top layer of hard use scraped off it. Imagine I do not have THESE [indicate BAGS UNDER EYES] satchels stuffed with my thwarted ambitions. Or THIS [indicate DOUBLE CHIN] pelican pouch of my poor choices.

And let’s be clear. We’re not talking George Clooney hotness or anything. I’m realistic. I was moderately appealing in the uncomplicated way of like a sitcom neighbor. I was like that chunky blonde dude on Full House – the dude with the borderline mullet and all those asshole vests. Dave Coulier. I’m no Stamos. I know this. But I mean, who among us is Stamos?

I was good-looking in the way that clip art models are, for my limited appeal was of the stock photography kind.

And I realize – you’re probably still going: “He’s just straight making shit up.” But listen: I have evidence.

Three sad, dirt-baggity little scraps of evidence. They are:

Let’s take these in order, shall we?

1985. College. Rindge, New Hampshire.

This chick name of Tammy, high school friend of my roommate Marty’s, comes to visit our campus. She is quite taken with me. She wore an off-the-shoulder sweater in the Day-Glo green of a crossing guard’s reflective vest and a shitload of those rubber bracelets. And while I do not think it factual that she wore the kind of fingerless lace gloves required by Madonna at the time, that is how it is in my memory. She was loud and brash and not overly appealing, but she had the virtue of availability and evident interest. There was a carnal encounter.

She extracted from me an assurance that I would visit her in Philadelphia over spring break. As the date approached, I made noises about how poor I was – which was true – and how I was wicked sorry – which was not – but didn’t think I’d be able to make it down to Philly over break. A couple days later, a note arrived with I think 50 bucks and a schedule of flights.

Now let me say this: it isn’t that I INTENDED to bag out and blow her money a bottle of Bushmill’s and a bag of weed. It’s just that that’s how it happened to play out. To have visited her would have entailed effort and forethought – but the whiskey and weed were just THERE, man. Tammy ceased – quite suddenly, and I think rightly – to be into me. And she grew pretty insistent on the question of my paying the money back. Which I totally meant to do, you guys.

1986. Amherst, Massachusetts. My hometown. I was hired for a job SOLELY because the owner of the place – Donna – was attracted to me. The Fauve Gallery, a custom picture framer. I had never framed a picture before and had no fucking clue what I was doing.

Had we then been so equipped with the term, Donna would without question have qualified to be called a cougar. She was maybe 40 when I knew her – twice my own age. She was what passed for a free spirit in a small New England town – divorced, a business owner, a world traveler – “world” here meaning France. Donna had been to France more than one time, a fact I came to know because she seemed to wedge it into every conversation she could. She wore vintage men’s jackets with the sleeves rolled up – the style of the time – but her sun-streaked hair was not gigantic and she wore cute leggings and flat shoes. She wore giant Jackie O. shades, and rode a bicycle.

For a town that size at that time, she looked like she’d stepped out of freaking Godard movie. Needless to say, I was gripped by desire for her. Needless to say she terrified me completely and I never did a thing about it. For I was then as I remain today, what sociologists call a massive pusswad. There may have been a drunken kiss or two, but that was it.

And even IF my allegations of my lapsed attractiveness are to be believed, why would this accomplished and worldly woman – FRANCE, you guys –have anything to do with my ass? Simple. The darkness.

In 1986, I was a fledgling alcoholic and affected a brand of punk rock misanthropy that holds some appeal for a very slender minority of women. And the preceding year, my grandfather had been murdered. While this was unquestionably a horrible thing, I recognize now that I was milking it pretty bad. I would let slip that my Papa had been killed like a calling card – I was a figure of tragedy whose pain was humongous and you should really buy me a drink or two. Or nine.

Donna was among that slender minority. There is a kind of tourism to the dark side of human experience. It’s kind of like eco-tourism, but for bad feelings. There are those upon whom real misfortune has not fallen. For some among these, there is the sense that people who weather a shit storm are more authentic, or have come into possession of wisdom or secret knowledge, or are just cool and mysterious.

Now I can attest firsthand that not only am I chronically inauthentic, but I possess alarmingly little knowledge or wisdom – secret or otherwise, and as for coolness and mystery, you could set me next to a cup of tepid spit and have people vote for the most intriguing, and the spit would take me every time. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be close, but the spit would edge me out pretty consistently.

As far as Donna’s impulse for tourism in my darkness, it dried up fast when my dad killed himself later that year.

It is one thing to dabble in death. Dunking yourself in it is something else entirely. In the same way that it is a very different thing to VISIT an alligator farm than to be dumped in the Everglades on a moonless night. It is better and easier to check out the gators when there’s a sturdy fence between you than it is to splash down in the swamp where they’ll twist your legs off before you can scream. When there is murder and suicide in your family, you acquire a moonless Everglades kind of gator-filled darkness, and few indeed are the people than can hang with it.

Now, lest you think me some kind of a downer or something – I will close with the most compelling bit of evidence. This is before the curtain of darkness descended. When I was in high school and for a little while after, Uma Thurman had a crush on me. It’s a fact. Uma Thurman, wearer of the yellow jump suit, wielder of the Hanzo sword, driver of the Pussy Wagon. Uma. Fucking. Thurman. Was into me.

But instead of making an approach to this stork-legged wonder, I waited. I hung back. And then she took off and started modeling in Milan and Lisbon, and like, I don’t know, Stuttgart. And somehow, upon her return, she didn’t find me quite so alluring as she once had. It’s ALMOST like if you run with the most mind-bendingly beautiful people on the fucking hemisphere, you get all, I don’t know, DISCERNING. She gets back, and she’s all “there was a Norse GOD and a Tuscan satyr doing coke off my boobs in Paris last week, yokel. Whatta you got?” And she walks away. Forever.

And so she married Ethan Hawke and has known only misery and deprivation ever since. Sources – in my mind – report that Uma pines for me to this day. 

But my point, to the extent that I have one, your take away, is this: however shitty-looking you may be right now. This. Right here. Is as hot as you are ever going to be. There is only entropy and decay in your future. Don’t become like this. Don’t let the Dorian Gray shit happen to you. It’s too late for me – save yourselves! Carpe the fucking diem, you guys. You have nothing to lose. Look at me. Loss is all that awaits you. There is time aplenty to diminish, to bloat, to crease and warp and fail. Go you now. Go and be super sexy. If you believe it, it will become true. But do it now. Time grows short. The waning of your hotness draws nigh.



Ian Belknap - WRITE CLUB - Fall, 1/28/11