“You come here often?”

“Uh, yeah. That’s kind of necessary when you work at a place.”

“Oh, I’m… Didn’t see your nametag. Melissa, huh?”

“That’s what my parents named me.”

“I’m Jay. Look, I… We didn’t get off to a good start. I’m not a creep. I mean, I read and everything. See? You read this one before?”

“It was assigned to me freshman year, yes.”

“Such a good book. Harold Caulfield was a great protagonist.”



“Never mind. Sorry, but I’ve got to get back to work.”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Okay.”


“Oh, it’s… It’s you.”

“You seem pleased to see me again.”


“Just finished this one. Really heavy stuff. Please tell me you’ve read it.”

“Required reading when I was a sophomore. At least we’re getting closer.”

“Tell me it’s not the best damn dystopia you’ve read.”

“I would be impressed by your proper use of the term dystopia if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that you googled it like point five seconds before walking in the store.”

“Guilty as charged.”


“Hey, at least I’m honest. I read it, though, for real! Umm… ‘Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me. / There lie they, and here lie we / Under the spreading chestnut tree.’ Come on… don’t walk away. You know that was impressive.”


“Me again.”


“Wait wait wait. Before you storm off and alphabetize, I simply need to know whether you’ve read this one or not.”

“Murakami, huh?”

“You like him?”

“He’s one of my favorite magical realists, actually. Not bad. More on the obscure side, too.”

“Impressive, right?”

“Meh. That old aphorism about broken timepieces periodically being correct comes to mind.”

“One of my favorite aspects of the book was the use of the present tense in the ‘End of the World’ section. I think that was the right call on the translator’s part, since the formal and informal versions of ‘you’, watashi and boku, don’t necessarily translate too well from the Japanese.”

“I can’t believe I’m actually agreeing with you, but yeah. Alfred Birnbaum is the only person I trust with translating Murakami’s work. I mean, 1Q84 wasn’t bad, but Jay Rubin didn’t give it the same linguistic flair that Birnbaum did this one.”

“1Q84? You mean 1984, right? That was last week’s read. Get with the program, Melissa.”

“Missed it by that much. Should’ve quit while you were still ahead.”

“Wait… what?”

“Look, it’s my lunch break and I’d like to spend it lunching. Shoo.”


“You’ve got a thing for dystopias, huh?”

“Only the good ones. You approve?”

“I suppose you get the Melissa seal of approval for this one. Although when it comes to post-apocalyptic anachronisms I tend to think Russell Hoban did it best with–“

“Riddley Walker? I completely agree. He clouds his deep-seated intellectualism in a story with such heart in a way that Miller doesn’t quite achieve.”

“Yeah, totally. I’m of the variety that points the finger at the use of language, at least if you’re going to compare them. Miller’s great, don’t get me wrong, but he veers a little too far into ‘Look ma, no hands’ territory at times.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got to grant that Riddley’s hobbled English would’ve fallen flat in the wrong hands. I mean, it already did in The Book of Dave. I like Will Self, and if you’re gonna crib someone you might as well crib Hoban, but at least do something with the genre we haven’t seen before ad nauseum.”

“Oh, I know. And don’t even get me started on the ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’’ section of Cloud Atlas, if we’re going to talk about cribbing Hoban. The constant apostrophes killed the entire atmosphere Mitchell was trying to achieve. I felt like I was being elbow-nudged more than I was being told a story.”

“God, yes. I’m glad someone else gets it. But anyway, I’ve got to let you do your job. There’s a line. Could you just ring me up on these ones?”

“Oh. Okay.”


“Here’s your change.”

“Until next week, mademoiselle Melissa.”

“Yep, uh, yeah. Until next week.”


“Okay, you did not read that in a week. Jesus, did you?”

“Not in a week, but I did. Read it, I mean. Footnotes and all, I’ll have you know.”


“It’s the truest exploration of the human condition I’ve ever read.”


“And sure, if there’s anyone who can be accused of veering into ‘Look ma, no hands’ territory as you so eloquently put it last week, it’s DFW, but good Lord does the story’s heart make up for it.”

“I cried when I read the last line. I’m not ashamed to admit it.”

“I’d be worried if you didn’t!”

“And I don’t give two shits, frankly, if some people think he left it too open-ended. Did they honestly think that DFW, the author who famously ended a novel mid-sentence, would wrap everything up in a tidy little bow and tuck them into bed?”

“Yes, yes, and more yes. I’d kiss you if it wouldn’t get me kicked out of this place.”



“The book’s great.”

“Yep, uh, yeah.”


“So, what would you say to – and you don’t have to say yes, mind you – but what would you say to maybe lunch once your shift’s up? I am quite the luncher, let me tell you.”


“Wait, really?”

“Yeah, really.”

“Oh wow. Oh… I mean, cool. Awesome. So it’s a date, then…?”

“Yeah. It’s a date.”



NOTE: I wrote the following when I was nine years old. I’ve transcribed it here, errors and all, from my barely legible writing. Enjoy!



I’m an unusual computer. Sometimes I work, sometimes I don’t. I’m always trying my best, but I’m a newcomer, so I mess up occasionally. I feel so sorry for Nick O., because he has to deal with me day after day, because I don’t know the basics of being a good-enough computer. I wish I could do better.

Hey!, don’t shut me down! I’ll do better, I promise! It’s hard to load websites. No! Hi. I’m back on. I just got shutdown for the fourth time today. I wish he would at least give me a chance! Every time I try to do something, I screw up, and the next thing I know, he shuts me down! I wish I could tell him I try as hard as I can.

Why can’t I work? I try and try and try, and just can’t do it. It’s as simple as that. I just give up. It’s Tuesday, and I heard Nick O. saying that he was going to throw me away tomorrow. How am I going to be a better computer in 24 hours? I know I can do it if I try.

Here’s Wednesday, the most extremely important day of my life, the day I could become an adult computer. I either become a better computer today, or never. I am so nervous, that I’d be sweating if I could. I’m too young to be disconnected! Wish me luck!

Mission: Computer, It’s still Wednesday, I don’t know why he’s taking so long, but that’s of course very good for me.

Let’s start on my modem. Just a few minor loading problems. Fixable. Okay, a little wire switching here and there, a little upgrading, and a little deleting of files, and I’ll be ready. Hmmm, this is harder than I thought. OW! It hurts when I clip a wire, but I have to do it. Oh no! Nick’s coming. I have to be quiet. Whhew! That was close! He walked past me and went outside.

“I’m going to bring you to the dump you dumb computer!

Come on, I have to fix my internet connection, but it’s way too slow. I’ve got to figure a way out of this!

“I can’t wait until 1:00, when I’ll take you to the dump!”

Wait! What did he say? 1:00? It’s 12:43 in the afternoon. I only have 17 minutes!

Internet connection is now fixed! Alright! Now it’s the free space. No wonder I’m so slow, all the free space is taken up throughout the Harddrive. 25%. 50%. 75%. 100%. Good! All the space is free! Now for errors. Error number one, not responding. Get into programs, general, there we go, a little wire clipping, done! Alright! That’s two down:

“Ten minutes, and you’re gone! My parents are going to leave at 1:00, and then I’ll throw this hunk of junk away!”

Did he say ten minutes? Oh no! Error number two, won’t run AOL. Initializing Data, Uninstall AOL. 2%. 5%. Full power! I’m going fast now! 75%. 100%. Now to reinstall it, but do some minor changes.

AOL, programs, reinstall, 75%. 100%! screename. There we go. Password, got it! AOL, settings, general, speed. No wonder! The speed’s on 0. There. 100. I’ll check my clock. Good. It’s only 12:52. Eight more long minutes of working.

Error number three, glitches in sound when I play a movie clip. That will be taken care of.

“Six minutes! I wish I could throw him away now!”

Okay. Six minutes. I only have a couple more errors. Three to be exact. Now for the glitches in sound. Where’s my sound card? Oh, here it is. The chip was put in the wrong way. There we go! One error down, two to go:

I’m cut down to three minutes. Next error, video card makes all video clips load slowly. The cord wasn’t plugged in! Two errors down, one to go, oh no! I have one minute left! I can do this!

Final error. Nothing is upgraded. Full power! 100%! AOL’s upgraded! 100%! Documents are upgraded. 100%! Downloads are upgraded! 10 seconds left! Oh no! Microsoft Word won’t upgrade. Wait. Here we go. 25%. 30%. 50%. 75%. 99%! 1 second left! I can do this! 100%! Time’s up! I did it!

“Time’s up! I’ll play around with this computer one more time before I trash it.”

Hey! It’s going into AOL! I can play movie clips! The sound works! Best of all, no errors! I guess I’ll keep you after all.

I did it! I actually became a better computer in 3 days.



Tiny eyes wide and skybound, watching clouds roll by in an endless procession, rain threatening from afar, but far removed.


Rites of passage all gone by in a flurry of laughter and tears, bike scrapes and bottle rocket burns.


Teacher sits you down and pastor stands you up, but neither tell you what you want to hear.


Playing on blacktop you know is cracked beyond repair, the older kids peddling their switchblades and cigarettes.


A baby bird in the street, cars barely miss, the kids make fun but you care.


Chemicals swishing all around your body haphazardly, sending that girl you know into another light.


Heartbreak’s first real bite as she gets away, your ulterior teenage motives on display.


Desperation to fit in as the seasons pass by in their staggered steps.


A tryout session, but your stomach drops at “let’s just be friends.”


Graduation’s here, all unreal–she’s moving away and so are you.


Life drips by and hangs on slowly without her there.


A blink and you’re done again, into the unknown.


A phone call late at night, fingers crossed.


Lunch goes well, is this a date?


Days turn into weeks and months.


A ring is shakily offered.


She actually says yes.


Now it’s just.


You and.






We were in Des Plaines, IL at the Fourth of July parade–July 4, 2002. Being Independence Day, there was about as much patriotism as you’d expect, but it seemed heightened, almost unreal after the events of 9/11. Everyone stood together, everything was in unison. We waved our flags together, waved at floats together, it seemed like we damn near breathed together.

I was nearly twelve at the time, and so my interest in candy was waning just a bit, being replaced by my interest in all the cool cars and illicit fireworks. And man, was it a parade. The music was in our bones, the Jesse White tumblers were performing acrobatic feats that you could only dream of, candy and Super Soaker spray were launched in equal abundance. I even managed to sneak away from my parents a few times and hang with my friends, which is always pretty cool at that age.

But I wouldn’t be telling this story if everything went perfectly according to plan, and you know that. I can almost sense you waiting for that complication, that moment when everything went wrong.

I don’t remember what the float was called, or what their banner said exactly. It’s funny how those pertinent details can be lost like that, just barely out of reach right when we need them. But I can tell you the gist of what it said, so I will. It was a sign of solidarity between the Muslim-American community and the rest of the United States. A gesture saying, “Hey, we’re not all like that. We’re hurting about this too.” The float was filled with the young and old, men and women, Muslim Americans from all walks of life. And they were smiling and waving, just like all the rest of the people in the parade. At least at first.

It was like a fog came over all of us, synchronized our movements just like with our choreographed waving and breathing. It came from the crowd closest to the parade’s beginning at first, from the people who’d already seen the float. And before the float had even made it our way, our little section of the crowd had already hushed up in anticipation.

It was judgment. It was fear. There’s no other way to say it. The men, women, and children on the float smiled and waved, and we did nothing. We didn’t cheer like we did for all the rest, didn’t wave. Practically ignored their existence.

I was young, but I knew this was deeply wrong. Hated the feeling with every fiber of my being, wanted to cheer and wave and be that one person to show support, but I didn’t. My mom and dad were silent, so I was too.

The adults on the float held out the longest before giving up the act entirely. The kids caught on the quickest, as they always do, and their faces said it all. Put their hands down in dejection, stopped smiling. Just wanted to leave.

I don’t remember when we started cheering and waving again. I know we did, we had to have, but I just don’t remember. For me, all the fun was gone after that.

Many years have passed since that moment, but I still think about it with each Fourth of July that goes by. Still wish I would’ve waved, smiled even.

All I can do now is tell this story and hope that something like it doesn’t happen again.