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Yesterdays ago you were tired of wondering. Now you’re downright exhausted, but it’s all you think about anymore. Maybe today is The Day. No, maybe today is The Day. That’s how it is–The Day always hovering like the hope of a rest stop bathroom around the next turn when you’re too prude to pull over and piss on the side of the road.

Painful as it is to admit, the greeting-carders may be right, i.e., The Day will feel like lollipop color and blinding epiphany. Shining glittery swirls, dew drops, a tasty salad, lustrous hair, and digestive harmony. But today you could barely stomach your coffee or the day-old Danish you found in the teacher’s lounge. Anyway, today feels like yellow eye crust. You pop a couple of antacids and wonder if you put chalk in your mouth if you’d even know the difference.

Greeting-carders. Kenny Griffith’s mom is a greeting-carder, which means Kenny Griffith is a greeting-carder in training, which must be what feeds his alphabet-soup disposition. Last year the class slowly migrated away from his corner desk. Whatever it was—the Kenny Griffith aroma, the clicking jaw, the allergy snots—you don’t know. But through it all Kenny Griffith continued to tour the school like a cruise ship social director oblivious to the fact that no one cares about the Electric Slide or animals made from dingy cruise ship towels.

Your parents took you on a cruise last Christmas. It didn’t go well.

Five minutes to bell hell. You make a fleeting deal with yourself, something about enthusiasm. Moments later, as if he could smell your lukewarm attempt, Kenny Griffith waddles in. The first kid of the year, even earlier than usual.

“Morning, Mr. C,” he says.

“Hi,” you respond.

Kenny Griffith vibrates the floor, rippling the puddle of coffee in your Styrofoam cup. You wonder how many sandwich cookies you’ll watch Kenny Griffith sneak out of his desk and into his face today. The record is twenty-three.

He says, “You look different than you did last year, kind of—what’s the word—peppy.” Then he says it again as if a higher intonation will get you to buy it, “Peppy. Florescent pink. Did you lose weight?” That’s another mark of a greeting-carder: he sees what he wants to see.

“No,” you say.

“You’re just excited about the new year.” Kenny smiles and sits at his desk.

“That has to be it.”

“My mom got a Botox injection this summer. She says it tightens her turkey neck.”

Odd for a greeting-carder to get Botox. But you never know what they’re capable of. Case in point: you had Kenny Griffith last year and gave him a charity grade so he could move on to high school, but the greeting-carder asked for a special meeting where she said she thought that Kenny Griffith needed to do the eighth grade one more time and that it would be a “neat challenge” for him to be with a new class, make new friends, and on and on. She had the principal puckering his lips like he was releasing a particularly joyous fart.

You stand and rest your head against the blackboard, knowing all the while that you could walk out at this moment right here. Or this one. You could saunter to an amusement park for the day, have a corndog, charm a female carney into giving you extra time on the Tilt-a-Whirl, fall in love, have baby carneys, open your own amusement park, watch the sunset with a mouthful of cotton candy. But that’s awfully unnatural. Hell, that kind of self-determination only led you here.

If you don’t write something on the board, then the kids will think you’re an idiot. Only one thing comes to mind. As you write, the chalk squeaks like a door slowly closing.

You leave the chalk dust on your forehead.

“Nice, Mr. C,” says Kenny Griffith. “Back to school. Great way to start things off.”

“Kenny Griffith, why don’t you read something?”

To honor the boredom this year will hold, you sit and create a kind of haphazard chalk sculpture: the pink lying on the desk, the white propped against it, and the green watching nearby. When you pull your hand away, the white wobbles back and forth, and you find yourself hoping it will slip off its prop, it will succumb and run away because a single force has dictated that it shall be so, that it’s right. And if it does fall, you quickly bargain as you have many times before, you’ll take this small reaction as fate itself, as if a voice were whispering into your ear, This is it. Go.

But the rocking slows, the white sits on the edge. Stuck and untouchable.

“Would you say I’m the classroom captain this year?” Kenny Griffith waits for an answer. “It feels like I am since it’s my second year. So, can I do anything to help you?” he offers with greeting-carder concern.

You scoff. But it should be so easy. And though everything else has abandoned you, right now you have Kenny Griffith.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” you blurt. “I know you have a bladder the size of a breath mint, Kenny Griffith.”

He smiles. “Good one, Mr. C.” You stare at him. He wavers then says, “Well, I did have an extra glass of milk this morning.”

Kenny Griffith rises. You actually root for him as he tromps down the aisle toward the door, the vibrations immediately strong like menthol drops. Your nose burns with quick breaths, and you focus on the white chalk wobbling back and forth, creeping ever close to the edge of the pink. Clop, clop, clop. It trembles in your socks. And the sight of the white about to topple—it almost reminds you of confidence.

So you close your eyes, ready to hear the click of falling. Maybe you go somewhere else for a moment. Maybe you go to that amusement park, dizzy and giggling. Whatever the place, it’s nice, suffused in sunset orange. And eerily, uniquely quiet.

That’s what jolts you back, the stillness. Your eyes open but slowly. When the blurs clear, there are no colorful jumbles moving past you. Not at all. Only Kenny Griffith standing right there as still as can be, his gummy half-moon smile, his stubby fingers steadying the chalk on your desk, leaving it still there. The white leaning against the pink.

He cants his head and says, “Is this some kind of game?”

It must be.

-MC JLight

So I’m doing something new. Thought it would be fun to mix things up. The title pretty much explains it. Stock photo. Story to follow.

-MC JLight

The wind tossed her hair into scatters. She tucked it behind her ears and looked, but he still hadn’t turned away from the ocean. Like this, the two sat on separate beach towels for a moment.

Squint wrinkles in the corner of his eye flexed into a W. Through the small space between his face and his sunglasses, she could see his stock-still eyelashes in profile.

Doesn’t that hurt your eyes? she finally asked. They get dried out when you don’t blink.

I don’t really think about it. Why is it always the little things with you? he said.

I’m a noticer, that’s all.

He shook his head.

She slid off her wedding band, put it in her jeans pocket for safe keeping, and felt the beach. The wind blew some sand onto his blue towel; he looked down and brushed it away.

The sand’s just right for it, she said and smiled. And it doesn’t have to be a sand castle. It could be a sculpture, she smiled. Kind of like the kids used to make. Remember the time Brendan made that baseball field in the sand? It had dugouts and players. It had everything.

That was a long time ago, he said. And it looked like a triangle with dots.

The tide was out. Small breakers, like white party hats, played peekaboo out in the deeps. It wasn’t altogether impossible to ignore the early winter temperatures and allow the other four senses to say, Summer, in unison.

She pushed up her sweater sleeves, exposing a few small sunspots, and took one of the granola bars from her pocket. While she chewed, she held the wrapper above her head, let it flutter for a moment, and released it. It rose and dove in the breeze then skittered along the sand. The further it got, the more it looked like someone walking away from them.

So we’re littering now? he said and jumped up, chasing the wrapper down. He nabbed it and fell sideways into the sand.

She giggled. It’s only one wrapper. Trash can be quite pretty sometimes, she said.

Dammit, I got sand in my pants, he said while walking back. And one wrapper is one too many.

You should take your shoes off; it’s easier to walk that way, she replied and waited. He sat back down, again focusing his attention straight out, past the beach and the water and the horizon. All I’m saying, she continued, is that we can make anything. Remember those amazing sand sculptures we saw at my parents’ that time?

No, he said.

She played with the frayed edges of her pant legs.

It was Thanksgiving and we watched my dad’s old sixteen millimeter movies. There was one of me and Mom down at Santa Monica beach surrounded by all these beautiful sand sculptures. Sea turtles, mermaids, cars. Poking up all around us. The film color had faded to orange, like it was sunset all the time.

He smiled but didn’t face her. She stopped fidgeting and waited. I don’t remember that, he said.

She pulled herself up and grabbed each of the shovels she’d brought: the red, the green, the yellow, the blue. She fanned them out in the sand together, all pointing the same direction, toward the hope of a buried treasure X.

The point is we could make something cool for us to remember. She looked down, watching the sand sting her feet. I mean we could make a dog or a pirate ship… Or a stethoscope, for you.

He grabbed a granola bar and fought with the wrapper. His knuckles cracked.

Get it? That’s doctor humor.

Yeah, he replied.

Or something funny, she said and drew an outline in the sand with her heel. He gave up on the granola bar. She asked, What about a big, open book?

We’re not professional sand sculptures, he said. Ours would look like a square. Or just a mound in the sand.

That’s okay, she said.

No one would like that.

We have to leave something behind.

It’ll get washed away.

But that’s what you do at the beach. You leave something behind, something in the sand. And even if it washes away, you know it was there. She paused. I brought the camera.

She stopped and looked at him and the wind stung her eyes.

Couldn’t we try? she asked, the sound coming slowly like her last bit of voice.

He tousled the edges of his grey-tipped hair. Sure, he sighed. Why don’t… Why don’t we leave the shovels right where they are? That’ll be our contribution. It’s like a work of art, one of those abstract sculptures you enjoy so much.

She wiped the sting from her eyes and said, Okay, but we have to get pictures. She pulled out the camera. First, we’ll get one of the shovels alone, then we can take some of us. Okay?

Yeah, he said. She smiled and he smiled. Their smiles looked the same. Then we can go, he added.

She cradled the camera in her hand, guiding the focus ring. She tried kneeling and standing, moved near to far, angled high and low. Coaxing the shutter speed and f-stop just so. Waiting for the sun to clear a cloud. And eventually, everything overlapped and the shot was the best it would ever be. With her eye pressed against the camera she whispered, Okay, let me get this picture.

Then she depressed the button, and the camera went click. By that time he was halfway to the car.

When I’m in the middle of doing nothing—I mean, when I’m really doing it well—I’ll sometimes Google little questions that I’m looking to answer. Are soul patches cool? Turns out they’re not as cool as they used to be. Where did Waldo go? Somewhere in the South Pacific. How much money should I save each month? More than I currently do. Am I too old to get pregnant? Yes.

Here’s one that I did today, just cause I worry about this kind of thing: How old is too old to change careers? I asked Google this for several reasons. First, honestly, if I got a real job, even my dream job, I’d consider it a career change, as I am currently the VP of Jack Squat. Second, I’m extremely worried that my chosen career path is evaporating before me. And third, because I feel like I’m starting to get past the age where anything is possible.  You know, I’m not sure I can go back to school and I doubt if people want to hire someone my age as an intern and I’ve got to earn money somehow. So basically I wanted to know if all hope for me is gone… And Google seemed like the place to go for this vital info. Besides, my Magic Eight Ball was broken. It just kept saying, “Ask again,” so I threw it into a lake.

The first link that popped up directed me to a message board on which a man of my exact age came a-wondering if he was too old to become a journalist. The responses poured in and were all very positive. Of course not. You’re only as old as you feel. Never say never. One person mentioned many famous people who started careers later in life.

But one response stood out. In it the respondent questions the asker’s negative language, which, strangely, is a lot like mine, e.g. I won’t go back to school. I can’t find a job that makes me happy, etc. He suggested that the wannabe journalist ought to rework his vocabulary. Agreed. For many people, positivity has worked miracles in the past. Our forefathers’ positivity helped found this great country in the face of insurmountable Red-Coated odds. Positivity has helped countless sports underdogs (notably the 1997 Denver Broncos). And who hasn’t used a little positive thinking on a road trip through Nevada when there’s fifty miles ahead until the next rest stop and fifty miles have past since you stopped at Taco Bell for a bagful of bean burritos.

So me and the wannabe journalist should go with positive stuff. I will…. I can… Fine. Sort of. Perhaps I’m a Negative Nancy, but I usually reserve I will for certain things that I will do. I will take out the trash. I will eat some ice cream. I will take you to the airport. These are things over which I virtually have complete control. The wheels stop turning, though, when I try to be positive about tasks of less certainty (I will drive this ball down the middle of the fairway) or, even scarier, goals that depend on the willing participation of others (see below). Those scare the dickens out of me

Most applicable to my “professional” life is something like this: I will sell/publish this or that screenplay/story. **Silence, cricket chirp, cough.** Oh boy. Again, I may be a Debbie Downer, but how can I even begin to utter such a sentence. My brain starts working overtime: I have little control over such an event, I might jinx myself by saying it, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. C’mon, the only way I could convince myself that it was possible for me to write a novel was by getting a few words of it tattooed on my body as motivation. Because who wants to be the guy who had a small portion of an unfinished/unrealized novel permanently etched on his skin? Not me. So what’s next? Do I need to brand myself? (This is the kind of situation that leaves me wanting to eat a carton of fudgesicles and veg out on the couch watching The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. He makes me feel better.) Moreover, if I can’t utter the aforementioned difficult sentence, how am I supposed to get anything done, much less take myself seriously as a writer?

But wait. You’re saying there’s another word between will and won’t. And you’re right. There’s also that lovely word: try. I love this word. I fall back on this word. It’s cuddly. It’s theoretical positivity. It’s exact middle. It’s hoping for the best without being cocky. I like that.

But Yoda had to step in and be a jerk. In The Empire Strikes Back he clearly says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” He took a choice, the best choice, away. I can’t even try to be positive. I can’t try to not try. I have to do or not do. I have to either be negative, which is nearly impossible for me (even though I’m a quasi-pessimist, I don’t like quitting), or there’s that other thing…


-MC JLight