Cards

I looked over the cards – seven in total. Prime number…of course it was. I moved them around…habit, I suppose. The desire to make the inobvious less obvious.

I looked around at the other players – seven in total. All of us doing much the same in different ways. I tried to pry some truth from the situation, tried to understand what was happening and why with little glances that tried not to scream, “Is this for real?”

No one seemed inclined to voice such a question. A table of well-known strangers all acting like they weren’t mentally imploding. Each one wearing their own reusable mask of cool composure.

The one to my right looked the most out of place. A man who had clearly seen dark times and dark outcomes. He looked at his cards like a man who feared that everyone else was preparing to pry them from his hands. He seemed twitchy. His hands always moving, eyes glancing. He wore a tangled curtain of dingy, stringy hair. The odd man out. My gut told me he’d been as such for quite some time.

He took some chips from before him – odd-shaped things, seven-sided with a weird line design at the center that looked like a spiral. He seemed almost haphazard. Grab and throw. He didn’t even say anything.

I got the feeling he was a man who was used to betting recklessly. A man who had lived through enough bad bets that he just accepted that shit is what shit is. Deal with it and move on.

I looked at the others…the ones who would need to call or raise or fold before I had to do the same.

The next one to decide was clean-shaven. He had the look of a man who ordered whiskey, Black Label, neat. Maybe something more expensive. I don’t know enough about whiskey…never had the taste for it. He was like a man who aspired to be Don Draper. He looked like he might have succeeded. A man that made hard decisions. Big decisions. Used sentences like “The expected needs of shareholders” as regularly as other people talked about TV shows.

He barely looked around. Just glanced at his own cards, which rested in hands that only moved to find a glass of whiskey that should’ve been there, but wasn’t. He grabbed some chips in the right quantity while looking like it was accidental and threw them into the center of the table.

Part of me almost chuckled at the humor of the pretense. Like watching people wearing domino masks and acting like their identities were an enigma.

The next one looked like a man who had slipped his arms into the warm embrace of simple mediocrity. A man that worked a nine to five. A man that watched TV on his off time. Paid his bills. Mowed his lawn every other Saturday. A man that had an aura made of shoulder shrugs and self-resignation. He didn’t strike me as a gambling man.

He looked around the room with equal parts veiled confusion and disinterest. He looked down at his cards and then at his chips, weighing the risk and reward. He cautiously picked up some chips and held them. Looked like he might put them back down while moving his cards like he might fold. A little dance of back and forth, back and forth.

“Fuck’s sake,” the first man said, “in or out.”

His voice was even rougher than I imagined it would be. A smoker to be sure.

I remembered trying to like cigarettes. I hadn’t succeeded. Never understood how anyone else ever did.

The hesitant one finally froze in the midst of his little what-should-I waltz and cautiously put his chips in the center of the table.

While everyone at the table was different in their own way – apart in their own way – the next one seemed somehow more so. He didn’t have a red mohawk or a face full of piercings. He didn’t have a sleeve of tattoos like the man that sat just to his right. He didn’t seem like a man who drank expensive whiskey or a man who might be the Unabomber in training. And yet, he was the stranger of the strangers in this odd ring of uncomfortable familiarity.

Unlike everyone else, he wore a wedding ring.

With a brow that told as many common stories as his JC Penny attire and matching expression, he looked around the room with a look I couldn’t place. Discomfort, or apathy? Calm collection? Some neutral disposition that I’d never seen in myself and so struggled to recognize when I saw it now?

I’d looked around to play Sherlock Holmes at one point to see if there were tell-tale signs of recently missing rings on other fingers but they were all bare except his one.

I’d never been married, of course. Never even been close. Never really been close to close. I often wondered how people ended up there and why. I couldn’t help but wonder what roads I’d passed, lost, or ignored that might have ended up where I might have been a man with a similar ring.

He gave a little expression with his mouth. Not a smile. Not a grimace. One side pulled up and pursed at the corner, like his face was saying, “Hm…” without using words. He looked around at the table like…I’m not sure what. He made a little clicking sound out of the other corner of his mouth and put his cards down. He drummed his fingers on the table, gave a “Yup…that’s me…” raise of his eyebrows, stood up and walked away.

“And then there were six,” the Don Draper type said without even looking away from his cards.

“Well then,” the next one said. He looked over his cards and the chips in the center of the table. His arms were ink up to his wrists, his face shaved into a goatee that was grown down to probably his sternum. No piercings though. No rings on his fingers. No tattoos on the neck or face or scalp. He looked like the kind of guy that had driven adrenaline on highways of loud music. A man that was used to staring out at a group of strangers that would all look up at him with false visions of lovingly-crafted recognition. A man that had kicked down the door of “follow your passion” and realized that it was really all anyone had – that and the regret of never having done so.

He called with so little hesitation that it made me envious.

The next man sat quietly. That look of a man weighing everything and everyone. A mind running probabilities and wondering if any of them led anywhere other than right here and now. His hair was semi-short, leaving that always recognizable friar’s ring hair that you see in men of a certain age. He moved his cards around not unlike I’d done and had been doing. He looked around the table with a look that – in all truth – was more terrifying to me than the man to my immediate right who, I’m pretty sure, had at least one story in his arsenal of a time when he’d snorted cocaine off a dead body in an alley. It was a look of a man who didn’t really see anyone else at the table – just end results. Like a man counting up the value of collateral damage. His mind ticking by with an assessment of individual importance and coming to the same conclusion over and over again.

He cleared his throat and eyed his chips. Picked up the necessary amount and slid them forward.

Down to me then…

I glanced around the room in that way that people do. In that way that I’d always done. That way that I’d done the most when I wish I’d done it the least. That way I’d done when I used to look at Julie in my mid-teens. That way I’d done when I used to look at Sarah when she’d get a glass of water that was just close enough to my desk that I could always smell her perfume and watch her do that thing with her hair when she was mentally processing.

I never once asked what was on her mind, of course.

I didn’t want to intrude.

I wondered if the others had their own Sarahs and Julies. I suppose everyone does in their own way. I could have asked, but then none of us seemed willing to just ask the most basic question of all.

That question that existed because of that sentence I’d heard years ago. Some random thing I’d seen on the internet. One of those “What if…” type questions that makes you go, “Well, I mean…yeah…that would be kind of fucked-up…”

I tapped my chips. I tallied the numbers – likely not as well as the one to my left – hopefully, better than the one to my right. The math wasn’t lost on me. Seven players with seven cards. Forty-nine cards total. A deck has fifty-two. That leaves three in reserve. Clearly, this was not a game where there would be any new cards, only discards. You get what you have – you play it to the end or…well…you don’t play at all, I suppose.

I slid my own chips forward, driven – if I’m being truthful – as much by curiosity as I was by the drive that had driven me through so much. The drive to want to play and to want to win…even when the cost of winning was losing…and even when the only thing won was knowing that I’d done it.

The addict took a look at his cards and selected two, placed them face down. The kind of man that was used to reckless wagers. He was hard to read because he seemed the sort that didn’t know how to panic anymore. Life was a downward spiral – it only led one direction now – the rest was just window dressing.

“All in,” he said with a grin that showed a severe need for a trip to the dentist nearly two decades ago or more. He shoved his entire pile of chips into the center.

The suit seemed calm. Composed. He knew how to gamble. He did it all the time, and he did it with time and money…he did it with lives – his own and others. Life was a game of pick your poison. A game of keep-your-enemies-closer. He took two of his own cards, placed them face down and slid his own chips forward.

I doubt anyone was surprised when the man who had already seemed hesitant to play at all found his courage buckle and just put his hand down entirely. Even then, he seemed unsure about whether he should stay and watch, or get up and leave.

“Not really a voyeur kind of situation,” the one with tattoos said.

“Yeah,” the addict said, “in or out. If you’re out, then piss off.”

He got up, hesitantly and started to turn. “I…” he said, “it’s just weird, right? Like…it’s not just me, right? I mean…” he looked at the floor now, “I remember seeing this thing a long time ago and…I mean…”

“You’re out, yeah?” the suit said – more a statement than a question.

The one standing just nodded.

“Then you’re out,” the suit said coolly. “Be out.”

The man whose life must have been a long and empty raft ride through the gray waters of “why and what and who really cares?” clenched his jaw. He swallowed his words like he’d probably swallowed so many other words and outbursts in his life. He kept them inside like a man who had long ago decided that he had nothing to say that was worth saying.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m out…” and he walked away.

The man with tattoos chuckled. Plucked two cards from his hand and set them down – chips in.

“Fuck it, right?” he said like a man who had learned to stop worrying about things he couldn’t control because he’d decided that he couldn’t control any of it, “Games a game.”

The next man didn’t say anything. He calmly pushed his cards together and set them on the table and departed.

“Guessing we all know what he was going to say,” I said – more a statement than a question. Of course, we would. Beneath the minor differences and major alterations, I could see it clearly. Under a skin marbled with tattoos or a face of calm deliberation. Under a face that was wearing twenty more years than it had any right to wear.

I saw the same ticks and quirks. I saw the things that matched that outshined the things that didn’t. A game of “find the differences” and realizing that no matter how deep they went, they were still hard to pull away completely from the parts that were the same.

“Didn’t say there’d be a group,” the addict said.

“No,” I said, “but it’s compelling all the same.”

“You plan on doing something with those chips?” the suit asked.

“You late for a meeting?” the one with tattoos jabbed.

I took two cards from my hand and set them down. “I never asked her what was on her mind,” I said. “I wish I would’ve.”

“Julie?” the suit said. He chuckled a bit at that. “You would’ve been let down by the answer.”

I pushed my chips into the center of the table and I thought about the line that had been weighing on me. The line that was probably going to keep weighing on me. The one that made me fear what would happen when the chips settled and we decided to put our hands down so we could all really see what we had.

“What if hell is when the person you became meets the person you could have been?”

The addict was right, though. No one said shit about it being a group.

“Call,” I said – driven still by curiosity as I was by the desire to win. Even if winning meant losing. Even if the prize for winning was that I knew I’d won.

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Recompense

I see you in swamps and I cannot but rush to your side
Knowing, certainly, serpents are hiding there under the tide
And yet, without any regret do I follow
For life, without you, seems so terribly hollow
Like words from my lips lacking even an ear to confide

I see you in places you never existed at all
Like there in the midst of a desert, a cobblestone wall
And still, so approaching, I kneel for I need to
And say, with a heart hanging heavy, I need you
Like feet on the ledge of eternity destined to fall

I see you and hope that, in time, it’ll pass and become
No more than a shadow from days with an off-center sun
And yet, do I hope to forget ever wanting
The you that’s removed from the future I’m hunting
For hollow, it seems, such a victory, terribly won

I see you and all I recall are the reasons I need
To see you again, thinking naught of the cost that I feed
Nor care what had led me to where you were standing
Or what could become from the things you were planning
For, bowing to you was I willing to do like a creed

I see you, and maybe I shouldn’t, but always I will
As if an ellipsis that follows the word of until…
And so, without worry, and ‘lo in your travel
I follow and see that I slowly unravel
But love is a cost and I promised I’d settle the bill

Shots

Since America is the center of the solar system, it is impossible to not know that everyone and their mother’s, best friend’s dog’s litter’s owner’s cousin’s uncle’s extended family is caught up in the spectacle of the fact that – you paid for the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge – we’ve had yet another moment of gun violence.

This will, of course, be met with several things:

Some people will say that this could be avoided if there was someone else with a gun to gun down the gunman so that the gun violence could be neutralized like a gun vaccine. I can’t completely ignore the logic that states “If someone has the capacity to neutralize your violence with some of their own – it does – ipso facto – reduce said violence. This, of course, lending strange credence to the notion that fighting fire with fire does not – as one would assume – create a bigger fire.

Or does it?

Don’t worry. This isn’t about to devolve into a philosophical viewpoint of “Well…I mean…maybe that really is the best solution…” Because my viewpoint on this is as abstracted and convoluted as I am, and you all love me for being. And I’ll get to what that viewpoint is…

Later…

Others will, of course, say that the answer to gun violence is more laws to eliminate guns so that fewer people can have guns and fewer people with fewer guns is less gun violence. And, from a very static, mathematical point of view – this holds true. But then…it doesn’t.

Or does it?

Don’t worry. This isn’t about to devolve into a political moment proclaiming that “We need to remove as many guns as we can from as many people as we can so that more people without guns can be safe from the fewer people who have guns.” Because my viewpoint doesn’t support that rationale, because it’s faulty in a way that I find to be eye-rollingly absurd. I’ll expand on that…

Later…

Others will, of course, point out that we have a president that perpetuates violence and racism. And others will bring up evidence that he doesn’t. And some will say that, even if he does, blaming one man for the stupidity of others is, in and of itself, stupid in so many ways that they will not dignify such absurdity with a response.

Some will say that more religion is the answer. That we have strayed too far from the holy teachings of <insert holy teachings here>, because if we all <insert religious thing here> at the altar of <insert religious construct here> we would all be <insert better world metaphor here>.

Others will point out that there are cultures that are far more secular than America and have less violence and that there are cultures that are far more religious than America and that they’re far more violent.

Others will point out that there are cultures that are far more religious than America and have less violence and that there are cultures that are far more secular than America and that they’re far more violent. <- I don’t know that this is actually a thing – if I’m being honest. I haven’t found any stats to support this notion…but I digress…someone will still say it.

So…

We’re here now…

We’re at “later…”

I’m an atheist who does not agree with anything that precedes this sentence.

Religion doesn’t make people good or bad. Good people are good people and they help to inspire other people to be good. Bad people are bad people and they help to inspire other people to be bad. We can get into the whole world of nature/nurture. We can get into the whole, sordid idea of psychology, sociology, religion, philosophy, etc…

But I’m not going to…

And here’s why…

Too many answers hinge on a binary solution to a real number problem.

If you read that and understood what I meant – good for you. Give yourself a gold star, a pat on the back, and understand that I respect you more than you deserve.

If you don’t understand that line, then I’ll explain.

Binary is very basic. It is a system of one and zero. It is true and false. It is off and on. And it doesn’t compute for humanity.

The solution for alcohol in America was to ban alcohol – because saying “Hey, you can’t do that!” makes problems go away.

But it doesn’t.

It. Doesn’t.

Saying alcohol is illegal doesn’t stop people from drinking – it makes drinking a criminal enterprise. It is owned and operated by criminals. Its patrons are criminals. Saying drugs are illegal doesn’t stop people from doing drugs – it makes it a criminal enterprise. It is owned and operated by criminals. Its patrons are criminals.

Saying that guns are now illegal – in any capacity – will make it more of a criminal enterprise than it already is. It will have a greater share of ownership and operational oversight by criminals. More of their patrons will be criminals.

If you think this is somehow flawed – news flash. There are things that are illegal and people still get them. They buy them. They pay cash.

I recently watched a guy buy anabolic steroids.

Online.

With his credit card.

But they’re illegal – except where they’re not. And that place gets to make the rules they want because they don’t have to be concerned with what you want. Or if you got ripped off. Or if it’s safe. Because what are you going to do?

Call the cops?

So, if you believe that the answer to guns is “Well…simple…no guns…” Then you’ve learned far too little about that wonderfully terrible thing called history.

Humans know that things exist. They want those things. Telling them no doesn’t stop them.

Except for when it does, right?

Sure…except for when it does. Because some people won’t cross those lines. Some people are either legal hardliners or else they just fear being caught.

But it says nothing of the ones who cross lines. Who don’t care. Who don’t know anything beyond “I want this. I will find a way to have this. You cannot stop me.”

This extends all the way back to the moment not so long ago when I said that too many answers try to look at a binary solution for a real number problem.

Take every sentence between when I first said that and when I said it again. Apply it to everything that people bicker over from a legal standpoint.

You can’t flip a zero to a one and solve the problem. You can’t turn false to true and make things go away.

It doesn’t work that way, and if you don’t know that by now, then I’m sorry to be the one to break the news to you.

Fact is – you already know this. You support this same logic…when it suits you.

Don’t agree with abortion? Ban it. Problem solved…except that it isn’t. Not really. It just becomes a criminal enterprise. Ran by criminals who cater to criminals. But hey…at least <insert happy ending platitude here>.

And yet, you will see an attack on what you believe in. You will see a problem that others approach with the solution of “Just ban it…” and you will go, “No! It doesn’t work that way! It just becomes a criminal enterprise and anyone who uses their services becomes a criminal as well!”

Correct.

A+

But people love to believe that their position is unique and beautiful. Their fight is the good fight. Their war is the righteous one.

But you are fighting real numbers with binary solutions.

Real-life has complicated numbers. Decimals. Integers. Positives and negatives.

Binary is simple.

Binary is clean.

I love binary. I really do. But if you think you can apply it to humanity as a whole, then you – again – have a weak grasp of the last many years of human history.

You really do.

It’s all there.

We’ve been writing it down.

If you choose to ignore that, it doesn’t make you wise – it makes you ignorant. And if you think that your personal binary solution is the silver bullet for the werewolf of American gun violence, then you’re living in a land of beautiful delusion.

Side note: please share whatever you’re taking. I’d like to try some.

So later after later is here now.

All my rambling condensed to an actual point.

And you might be thinking, “You know, it sounds to me like you’re saying that you don’t have a point.”

Well…yes and no.

My point is that there is no easy solution. But, by that same standard, I’m prepared to tell you a wonderful fact about humanity that holds true on a very firm statistical basis.

1.) The more educated people are, the less prone to senseless acts of violence they generally are.

-> Someone will now point out someone who is wicked smart AND a lunatic/criminal/serial killer/assassin. And I’m sorry, but that’s called implying the exception is the rule. If you think that makes sense, then please brush up on your understanding of statics, bell curves, and outliers. If you think you get to call a mulligan on this because you can think of a handful of cases leveraged against the population of the world then math was clearly not your strong suit.

2.) The more financially stable people are, the less prone to senseless acts of violence they generally are.

-> Same thing as above. Someone is going to find the anti-Bruce Wayne and go “Oh yeah?! What about <insert name here>!” Please spare us your inability to grasp how numbers work.

And that’s it.

Seriously.

If you look at the world and you go, “What makes a place safe?” there are two things.

TWO

CONSISTENT

THINGS

And they keep showing up.

Educated people who are not impoverished tend to do a better job of “playing well with others.”

And why is that?

Well, it’s actually very simple. So simple that it’s almost binary – except for that whole…implementation…thing.

Smarter people tend to think about what they’re doing and what it means and who it affects and why they should and shouldn’t do what they’re doing…more.

And people who have something to lose are less likely to risk losing it.

People who are uneducated are less likely to have – what I call – mechanical empathy.

Empathy – of course – is our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another. For people who are very emotional, this is just “a thing that happens because it’s who they are”. But for people who are not as emotional, (yup…I’m one of those people…) there is (what I call) mechanical empathy. I don’t feel for you. I don’t care about you. You’re some person who works job A to pay bills B, C, D, E, and F and you live in location G and came from location H and whatever else..

And I don’t care.

But I understand that you suffering isn’t good.

And that more people suffering is bad.

And that I don’t want to be the cause of that.

And that when I fuck up and people suffer, I understand the consequences of that and what they mean, and why. And it’s not emotional. It’s mechanical. Numbers adding up and I can go “This isn’t good…”

And when I fuck up – because I do…because I’m human…I learn from that. And I do better next time. And even better after that.

Additionally, those with nothing to lose…well…they

HAVE

NOTHING

TO

LOSE

When you cross-pollinate those terrible flowers…that’s bad for everyone.

Now…if you’re thinking, “Oh…okay…so…you have some liberal concept of…”

Let me stop you there.

I don’t care about your politics.

I don’t care about your religion.

I have friends that I don’t agree with politically and I have friends who I don’t agree with in regards to religion. And I would never try to “pull them over to my side” because they’re still good people.

And that’s what’s strange to me – the fact that I – even now – can honestly say that, yes, people are…believe it or not…inherently good.

And if you want a binary decision to help guide yourself…or an entire country…on their way to a place where pulling a trigger isn’t a solution to every situation under the sky, how about we start right there:

People are inherently good, and maybe we should treat them accordingly.

People believe different things, but that’s okay because we’re all – inherently – on the same side.

People are different and that’s an absolutely wonderful thing and people don’t get told that often enough.

Because if I had to really sharpen this whole narrative into some kind of an actual point, then it’s this: the world suffers when we stop treating people like people, and when we feel like we have nothing that matters, then we act accordingly.

If that thing is god or your favorite red pen, I don’t care.

If that thing is your best friend or the flying spaghetti monster, I don’t care.

Because shit like this is a real number problem.

It’s complicated.

And it’s weird.

And we can’t just flip a switch and make it go away.

It doesn’t work that way. And if you still don’t get that, then you need to work on your understanding of world history, basic human psychology, mathematics, and statistics.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll become more educated and push us all closer to a world that’s less violent in those educational pursuits.

<insert witty closing line here>

 

Interpretation

Perhaps the poems I write for you are what my fingers trace
While following the scars upon a heart I can’t erase
The Morse code of the tapping tears that travel down your face
And so do I decipher them like sad binary code made from the burns of cigarettes and tattered lace

Perhaps the poems I write for you are raindrops in the wind
A book of lightning letters in the veins upon your skin
The prayer I wouldn’t say because for you I would’ve sinned
And so I search for you in all the words already written and inaccurately write them all again

Perhaps the poems I write for you or pressed upon your cheek
A record that my fingers play forever on repeat
The lines upon your lips that, when you’re silent, seem to speak
And so I deconstruct them into sentences and phrases like a secret that my heart could never keep

Perhaps the poems I write for you are what I choose to see
The memory of photographs that never came to be
The parts of you that led me to the better parts of me
And so I seek to paint them as a portrait of tommorow in the shades of every lost apology

Ribbon

You shifted like a sheet of silk
And called to my attention like a tiny golden bell
Left ringing a tower
Or a fragile, crystal flower
Winding slowly through the bower
To an opening where feathers slowly fell

From angels who had yet to soar
For, even now, they watch and wait and pray to see you there
With fingers long and slender
And their hearts forever tender
Offered forth in soft surrender
In the hope to be a ribbon in your hair

You drifted like a feather lost
And beckoned me to follow like a compass made of June
In lands of weary winter
Where the sun was but a splinter
From a door I couldn’t enter
To an opening where night was not immune

From little stars you left behind
When up and up you went and left your tower in the mist
And so I set to climbing
To the memory of chiming
From a bell that kept it’s timing
In the hope to be a ribbon on your wrist

Yesterday

I met a girl from yesterday that wore, as if reflections in her eyes,
The halo of a melting sun
Behind a grinning moon
So, in a sea of little coffee cups where books are a disguise
I heard, but also felt, as none
Could feel except when swept away by little paper notes of never, maybe, soon

Where distances were moments set between the soft facade of never – more
And music – even missing so –
Was made of lyrics still
Just like a faded, old impression left behind when pages tore
So that I needn’t see to know
That all departures were impermanent from there where ever – more was really real

I told her of tomorrow – but here eyes, they only saw the day before
Like silver crowns and banners blue
And palisades of chance
With gentle arms around the fair that should exist in love and war
I felt, but also heard anew,
The song her somber heart was playing as if asking me if I would like to dance

And there between the islands made of coffee cups and half-remembered books
Where people spoke, but rarely heard
How could I not but rise
As if a leaf within the wind that never cared just how it looks
For she had stolen every word
And my tomorrow, all the same, the girl with yesterday still shining in her eyes

Medallion

What can I say in prayer when she, it seems, is all the aura of the moon?
And burns as if a candle in the darkest room of night
So much I wonder, if before I knew her name, I knew of sight
As if my heart was made of thread, and she was nothing short heaven’s only loom

Upon her brow a crown that not an element in life could truly forge
Nor could a hundred million hands with all the time to spare
Or all the alchemists in all the world to lay the circuits bare
She is a queen within a palace in a land beyond the sea, beyond a gorge

What can I say in poetry for she who has a soul that is a sun
That lights a universe but sees herself as but a spark
When, to my eyes, she is a flare when all the world is cold and dark
And, from her lips, a simple word would see my soul, for her, as won

As if I were a crown, or else a pendant, or a ring for her to wear
Or just a bit of flint to light the candle of her day
Or else a hand upon her shoulder when her fears have gone astray
Or just the words, “I’ll always love you,” whispered in a way that only she can hear