I wish I was good at stuff. Yeah, sure, I’m a writer, and that makes me good at writing. But writing is a life long process. It’s a slow-developing thing that goes through phases, most of them not good, such as the poetry habit in adolescence that hangs around into your mid-twenties like a head cold you just can’t kick.
And any respectable writer should have a drunk phase. In fact, surviving it is what weeds out the true writers from the amateur college drunks and hipsters. Then there’s the “branching out” phase where you think you’ll write something exciting like movie scripts, plays or hell, the Great American novel.
Eventually, you settle for writing anything at all. For whatever scraps and bones you can scrounge up. You find they’re just as delicious and that you could live on them alone. But you still dream of that feast, and the gnawing feels good, feels alive.
The thing is, you never get good at writing. To even become efficient at it would be a blessing. Writing comes like the tides, rising and falling with the sea levels. Sometimes you are full with the moon and sun and everything in between, swelling and fat and pregnant. Sometimes there is nothing except the black empty sky, hollow and thick at the same time. You wish for even the sound of cockroaches.
It would be much better to be good at stuff. Something, anything. Like cooking. I’d go in the kitchen and magically whip up a frittata. I’d even know what a frittata is in the first place. I think it’s something with eggs. I hope it’s something with eggs because I’ve been on a real egg kick lately. Anyway, I’d be cooking and then “blammo”—frittatas. Sometimes I watch those cooking competition shows. They don’t stop at just “blammo,” either. They whip up frittatas three-way, frittatas deconstructed, frittatas with something weird like goat cheese. They do crazy shit.
As a kid, I used to practice playing video games to get really good. That’s right—I didn’t just play them. I practiced them. It’s a very fine distinction, and I was vigorously training to compete. About four or five hours on Saturdays, and whatever I could squeeze in during the rest of the week, in between school, homework, dinner, and my TV shows. I was very busy. TV makes you busy. It does.
I was putting in the time on my favorite games, building up my thumb strength, and getting past the fourth levels. The fourth level is always the hump. I figured sooner or later they were going to call me and ask me to participate in the Nintendo World Championships. I don’t know who “they” were or how they were going to know who I was. This is the theme of my life. Even now, so many of my dreams and plans for life are vague and depend upon strangers sitting in a car outside my house with binoculars.
I hope you’re watching.
We always kind of hope someone is watching us—not in a creepy way, of course. We want to be watched by strangers admiring our expensive new jeans. Watched as writers, as performers, as artists, as clever and witty people who tell good jokes. We want to be watched by the girl, the one you know you’ll never get, but you hope she’s watching anyway. And then the one you did get, but don’t have anymore. It wouldn’t be so bad if she was watching, too.
We want to be watched over by our parents when we are children, asleep in bed, afraid of monsters. We want to be watched over by our grandparents who are no longer with us, and by our childhood pets, too. At least, that’s what my mother told me to comfort me when my pet mice each died. That I’d always have them watching. Mickey, Minnie, Strawberry, Firework, Sniffy, Snuffy, and Steve.
Steve is actually a very good mouse name.
We hope we are watched by a God. Some say it is a very specific God—one God and Father, and not two or three—and no other besides him. But I think in the dead of night they, like me, simply hope it is any old God.
Maybe I’d be a good inventor. I used to believe that adults could do anything they wanted. So I decided I was going to live in a house with an intricate sliding board system. Need a soda? You slide to the fridge. Time for bed? You slide to the bed. Oh yeah, and all slides slid to a gigantic swimming pool. I believe that’s what they call a “no-brainer.”
I was going to be the first kid ever to invent outdoor air conditioning, which admit it, is genius. I had no idea why it didn’t exist already, and I still don’t. I was going to make big bucks once I figured out all of the logistics, which I never did. That’s okay, because I had other ideas, too. Shoes that could make kids fly. Invisibility cloak. The world’s biggest taco. It would deliciously cure world hunger.
You know what I’d be good at? Being a dinosaur. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you were reading this from the point of view of a dinosaur? THAT WOULD BE SO SICK. ROCK AND ROLL.
But I’m not a dinosaur.
If nothing else, I could be good at watching the stars. I need a telescope. I’d sit outside and study the stars and search for UFOs. Hopefully I wouldn’t find any because that would be absolutely terrifying. Maybe I’d really get into it and learn the star classifications and the constellations. I’d brush up on my fifth grade science. Then I’d take the wife on a date to the planetarium, and I’d be able to identify even the obscure constellations like Camelopardalis the giraffe. She would be super impressed.
Afterwards, we’d have dinner at a pricey Italian restaurant overlooking the harbor, the kind of place that has floating tea candles on tables that are draped in a linen with hemstitched borders. Yeah, hemstitching. It’s classy. I don’t even know what it is. I’d be wearing my nice pants, and I wouldn’t even complain about the prices. I’d order a bottle of wine, and I’d do that swishing thing first before sipping it.
Inevitably, we would begin comparing the place to the Olive Garden, the big chain Italian restaurant that usually has a faint acidic odor that’s not unlike vomit but may only be marinara sauce. But hell, we like it there. Three words: those bread sticks. They’re delicious. They’re oily and they slide down your throat like adult baby food. And if you’re really lucky, they’re also warm. The wife is half Italian, so it’s okay for us to like the Olive Garden without shame.
Don’t question our rationale.
Other things we enjoy without shame: cable television, shopping at Target, Taco Bell, and Paul McCartney’s solo career. You know what? I didn’t get the whole Taco Bell lawsuit where consumers wanted to sue Taco Bell over not using real meat in their tacos. I think the real thing we should be concerned with is what the guacamole is made from. I always question mysterious green goop.
BULLETIN: The wife wishes to interrupt this essay with the comment that she does not—repeat, does not “enjoy” Taco Bell.
“Remember that time at your apartment?” I can hear her pointing out, ominously.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so content out here in the suburbs. It’s a weird thing to say, and I’m not even sure what I mean exactly. Except this is the kind of place I was going to get away from as a teenager, all the while writing angsty poems about how screwed up bullshit is. I was going to move to some place cultured, some place like New York City. I was going to be somebody fancy, somebody who wore tight pants and walked super fast everywhere, mumbling about all the slow tourists from places like Jacksonville trotting along. New York City is no place for the Jacksonville trot.
Yet, I’m happy anyway. Particularly because I’m not wearing tight pants. That’s enough, alone, I think. Sometimes I think happiness is something cumulative. Something that adds up. There must be a part of the brain that stores it. Perhaps people who are sad have a depleted reserve. Perhaps they could become happy people by eating candy or buying presents or playing music. Bit by bit, a moment at a time, a drop here and there, until it added up to something whole and something good, someone good.
Or I guess try exercising. I hear that helps.
Over the summer I attempted to grow grass in my too-shady backyard. It’s a mud pit when it rains, and a barren campground when it’s dry. I decided I wanted grass. Soft, lovely, chorophyll-y grass. So I bought grass seed, a seeder, fertilizer, and a hoe. And I hoed it up. I enjoyed typing that last sentence. I dropped at least a hundred bucks on stupid grass stuff. I even got a nice hoe, the kind with the heavy-duty rubber grips. I’m not the type to spend money on cheap hoes.
Everyone told me it wouldn’t work. The neighbors, my parents, the wife, her parents, signs from God written in clouds, all informed me that grass can’t grow without adequate sun. Like they’re all grass experts or something. Sure, the backyard was completely covered by trees and got absolutely no sun, but I like to think good intentions—not the process of photosynthesis—is really all you need. And well, love, of course. Just ask my houseplants. Actually, don’t ask them. That would be weird and possibly schizophrenic.
Besides, all of my houseplants are dead, so you can’t ask them even if you wanted to.
And the grass, in spite of what everyone said, did grow! It sprouted up in May, like the downy soft hair of a baby. I watered it gleefully, paying no mind to the local watershed wildlife I was probably slaughtering. Playing with the hose is really fun, whether you are ten or thirty years old. I like the mist setting best of all. It makes rainbows.
By June, my grass was still there, though it resembled the thinning hair of a man with pattern baldness. Hearty in spots, hopelessly gone in others. Then, in the heat of July, it withered and wasted dead. Dead. Just really fucking dead is all I can say.
Still, I may do it again next year. I’ll try that miracle grow stuff. I’ll be good at gardening, you watch. I hope you do.