12.13.17

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What it’s doing to me
the lifting fragrance foretells
not a kind of doom
but a kind of kiss
and that’s the bliss of becoming
the essence essentially
backing out of the contract last minute
recesses turned dark by December
with trembling fingers
grasping the knot without knowing
and groping my hindsight
like I even give a damn

-r. miller

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12.11.17

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In the wind, swaying

but with less vigor than

you presupposed, it is the weak

fainting motion of your thoughts

that truly captivates. Now,

we must admit to being

less than before

in a time of violin music

and straw-bearing hearts.

Secrets pour through

the dazed eyes of a city

at night. Snow goes

gray and tussles

with the half-baked wind.

-r. miller

Snow Over the Atlantic

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2006, for me, started on a… Let’s say a strange kind of note. I was 18 at the time. I’d graduated high school the previous summer, and, having decided to forego college (at least for the time being), I found employment with a local order processing facility for various book- and CD-of-the-month clubs, along with my best friend. The work and paychecks were less than glamorous. We worked in two different departments. He packaged the books and CDs to be shipped out to customers, and I stacked the finished packages onto pallets to be loaded onto the trucks. Needless to say, it was tedious and numbing labor.

Not only that, but a few weeks before, I’d wrecked my first car, I had ended things with the girl I’d been seeing for just a little over a year, and I was now involved with not one, but two other young women, one of whom was 10 years older than I was, and the other I’d known for a while and unexpectedly developed feelings for.

Of course, looking back, these seem like such trivial things. But for my emotionally immature, teenage self, this was quite a lot to be handling. So the weekend after New Year’s day, I and four of my other male friends decided to head down to Ocean City, MD.

In the summer, Ocean City is a hectic mess. Families of all socio-economic classes, college and high school students, and retirees swarm the peninsula like a barbarian horde, in quest of sunshine, relaxation, and bacchanalian revelry. During the winter, however, it’s a tranquil and inviting refuge from the stress of every day life. Not only that, but the price of hotels drops significantly. We booked a two room suite at the Holiday Inn at a price that was more than affordable for five poor-ish young folks like ourselves. It even had a balcony overlooking the Atlantic.

We made the obligatory pilgrimage to the local record store, where I scored a pre-owned copy of Jawbox’s first album. For dinner that night, we ate at the Salty Dog Tavern, one of the few restaurants that was open during the off-season. My friend Ross had been raving about their cheese steaks all day. Which didn’t do me much good, because at the time, I was a vegetarian. I ordered a Ceasar salad without chicken or bacon, with oil and vinegar instead of the namesake dressing. The waitress forgot my order when she brought the cheese steaks the rest of my crew had ordered. How appropriate, I thought

We’d managed to save a handle of Vladimir vodka from a New Year’s party, and we spent the rest of the night drinking a cocktail of our own invention (The Slippery Nipple – Half a red solo cup’s worth of vodka, topped off with equal parts margarita mix and Sprite, garnished with a maraschino cherry and just a bit of the syrup. For color). Sometime around midnight, Mat (my best friend) and I came down with a case of the drunk munchies. We set out, braving the frigid January bluster, as we stumbled our way to a nearby 7-11, whereupon a random Good Samaritan made a point to inform the both of us that “Skinny jeans are for [expletive deleted].”

We arrived back to the hotel with our spoils: ramen cups and about a dozen varieties of chips. Alex had passed out, and Ross and Mike were listening to music on Ross’s iPod, with Mike chatting on the phone with the girl I’d unexpectedly developed feelings for. He asked if I wanted to talk to her, to which I said “Yes,” and handed the phone off to me. I took it outside to the balcony, where I plunked down in one of the plastic chairs the hotel had provided, and lit up a smoke.

“How’s the beach?”

“Great so far. It’s so peaceful this time of year. It’s practically a ghost town right now.”

“I’m glad you’re having a good time.”

At that moment, I saw a small troop of snowflakes begin dutifully fluttering down from the sky, gradually increasing in number until the beach in front of me was coated in a fine dusting of fresh snow. The little flakes continued to gently descend over the waters of the Atlantic, and something about the scene, in conjunction with the excessive amount of alcohol I’d consumed that night, moved me almost to tears. This wasn’t the first time I’d ever seen snow before. But it was the first time seeing it fall across a serene stretch of coast like this. An inexplicable warmth rose up in my chest.

There are moments, brief moments more often than not, that when we’re in them, give us the sense that everything in our lives has been leading us decisively to that point, like we’ve finally reached the conclusion of an arduous journey to the top of a mountain, and are now basking in the radiance of the view from its peak. Apex moments, I call them. And as I watched the snow over the sands and the ocean, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing such a moment.

I excitedly began telling my lady friend about the beauty I was currently bearing witness to, and repeating over and over how I wished she could have been there to see it with me. I remember she found my drunken enthusiasm endearing. After we finished our conversation, I sat for a while longer on the balcony, sipping on cheap vodka, chain-smoking, and watching the snow fall in gentle swirls over the Atlantic.

Aimless Splendor, or a Night With Fondue and a Journey to A-Town

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When I look back on the many December’s I’ve lived through, I must admit that the December of 2010 holds a particularly special significance in my memory. I was 23 then, and the maelstrom of my quarter-life crisis was stealthily gaining strength in the periphery.

But it would be another seven months or so before I’d experience the ravages of that storm. For the moment, I was relatively young, and had no obligations to speak of, save for my dead-end job as a counter jockey at a local convenience store. Beyond that, life consisted of open mics, where I’d strum half-competent songs of my own composition on a weathered acoustic guitar, binging “Dawson’s Creek” with my then-girlfriend at my parents’ home, and excessive alcohol consumption whenever the opportunity arose.

I think it was the first Saturday of the month when my ex had decided to host a fondue party at the apartment of one of our friends. It was a small place, the bottom floor of a two story house near downtown. Three rooms. You entered through the back of the house, where you’d find yourself in the living room. The kitchen was in the middle, and just after that was the bedroom. Like I said, it was a small place. But that didn’t stop my ex from inviting, quite literally, everyone we hung out with on the reg to attend this event. There must have been at least 25 people packed into this cramped apartment at the party’s peak. All of us drunk, boisterous, bellies full of carbs and melted cheese. Don’t ask how we managed that. The neighbors surely hated us. Especially because people would regularly venture out into the cold to smoke cigarettes in raucous groups of 5 to 10.

Anyway, in the midst of the revelry, maybe around 11 o’clock, we ran out of booze. Plenty of fondue to go ’round, but not a drop of alcohol. Our favorite bar was about a two block walk away, but they only offered 12-packs of beer for carryout, and at $10 a pop, nobody considered this a viable option. And we live in the great state of Pennsylvania, where all the liquor stores are run by the state government, and close at 9. We had a bit of a problem on our hands.

So it was decided that the most sober of us would drive to A-Town. A-Town was a bar/restaurant located about a half hour away in Hampstead, MD, that also sold liquor and wine in a little annex next to the main restaurant area until 1:00 in the morning. The place had achieved an almost legendary status among our group of friends over the years, in that, before any of us had reached the legal drinking age, we did not know exactly where it was. You’d be at a party, in a situation much like the one we found ourselves in now, and somebody who was old enough to buy booze would collect everyone’s money, leave, and return roughly an hour later with a full stock of liquor.

Our friend Kris had arrived to the party at around 10:30 and had consumed one beer, so he offered to drive. Only, he had never been to A-Town. In fact, the only one who knew how to get there was yours truly, and I’d only discovered its location a week prior when, after an awkward open mic night in Westminster, MD, I’d decided I wanted to buy a case of Pabst to forget the entire affair. I’d only had a vague idea of where it was, and following a long, unsettling drive through the Maryland boondocks, managed to find this proverbial Shangri La.

Of course, I was a slurring, stumbling mess by now, and since this was before everyone and their grandmother had a smart phone with easy access to Google Maps, I’d have to ride along with Kris and try my damnedest to remember how exactly I got there. So, at 11:15, after collecting money from anyone who wasn’t already broke, we set out on our mission.

Now, the rural parts of northern Maryland are frightening, especially at night. I recall driving home one night after spending an evening with a female companion who lived in the area, and subsequently turning onto the wrong road, getting lost for about twenty minutes on a winding, unpaved road that took me through a dense forest, complete with houses that looked like they belonged in a Wes Craven film. Not exactly the kind of place you’d want to be lost in. God help you if something were to go wrong with your car. But my friends were counting on me. I wasn’t about to let them down.

I tell you, I don’t know how I managed it in my inebriated condition, but I successfully navigated Kris to A-Town without one wrong turn. We even got in an epic Taking Back Sunday sing-along to make the drive enjoyable, rather than a chore. It seems almost miraculous, looking back. Even today, I couldn’t tell you from memory alone how exactly to get to A-Town.

We returned to the party at around half past midnight like conquering heroes, with a box of Franzia, and a bottle each of Captain Morgan, Vladimir vodka, and Tanqueray as the spoils of our victory. The festivities continued until well past dawn, when the majority of people in attendance went home or passed out in various spots around the apartment. Those of us who remained awake capped the evening off with breakfast at a local diner.

I guess the point of all this is that there doesn’t have to be a point to an experience for it to be meaningful. In the months following this party, I’d drift apart from my friends as work and my aforementioned quarter life crisis slowly consumed the better part of my waking moments. But still, I remember this night fondly, in all of its aimless splendor. That’s part of what makes being young so great, isn’t it?

12/6/17

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Something slipped casually
in the drink offers up
a fresh interpretation
of the surrounding space.
Suddenly, one’s eyes are filled
with keen intensity as they move
from left to right, taking in
the new mood emanating
from the previously familiar scene.
I don’t think it looks as good
in this particular green, but I take solace
in knowing my opinion
is of no importance
to the wishy-washy populace,
who cradle their heads despondently
in their laps and never bother
with the static in which
their existence is shrouded.

-r. miller

In words we understand

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The text has unfolded its intent,
spread it over the dry grass to bask
in the arid sense of wanting
to be elsewhere. The chapters
have charted a course for an obscure star.
You mull over the typeface index,
searching for an attractive way
to present a harsh but well-intentioned truth.
Like a tooth falls the moon
and its accoutrements, but the day
comes on darker than stained glass.
Your mouth is in no shape
for carrying graven images, golden calves
of commerce and oblivion.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to add water.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to make
dense predictions about the weather.
Still, when push comes to shove,
the tensile strength of the tether
makes all the difference.

-r. miller

What else can I say?

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There’s nothing more
I can contribute.
I’ve dried up in the sullen air
of this forgetful valley.
I probably look like
I could use a decent feeding.
Archaic deities are busy kneading
my brain into shapes
I barely recognize,
and my eyes have decided
to try on a shade of red
for the 2:00 lull. Funny,
yesterday I felt so full
of whatever they call “feeling”
that I could barely lift my body
to its various projects.
Now, I’m merely one object
among the others,
a cohesive chunk of particles
slowly fusing to the floor.

-r. miller