Plug red, white, and yellow wires into VCR.
Change TV to channel 3.
Turn on VCR (make sure no tape is in VCR).
If tape is in VCR, rewind to beginning.
Watch tape and follow as news report about Princess Di segues to home movie, then back again.
Make sure red, white, and yellow wires are plugged in.
If weird sound comes from TV, check that wires are plugged into proper color.
Scan VHS tapes for footage of your parents before their respective breakdowns.
Realize that this is all you have of that time, besides Swiss cheese brain memories.
Take out cartridge from game system.
Blow on the contacts and reinsert into game system.
Put in one of those VCR head cleaners to get past the tracking, magnetic damage.
Tell your previously-recorded mother that you’re okay now.
If TV flashes blue screen, try re-docking cartridge into game system.
Get cell phone footage of your LCD parents as the tape grinds, before it gets stuck in the VCR.
If other games don’t work, try Super Mario Bros.
Test the system.
Try to remember the last number you have for either of your parents.
Try to remember the last time you saw them.
Try to remember their faces.
If game system still doesn’t work, turn it off.
Watch the way the screen’s blue is intersected by clouds of static.
Ask for help.
Had a great conversation yesterday with my editor (and breathed a giant sigh of relief when I realized all his edit proposals were straightforward and minor, nothing super big or structural). Here’s my editing station–N64 controller, stolen CTA map and all!
I got to see the first draft of the cover for Here’s Waldo! There will just be a few more tweaks, minor edits, but it’s like 95% there, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT. I’ll post the final cover once it’s done and I’m allowed to share!
He used to work construction. Good money, decent contracts. A living. There was always another way to live, though. A golden, sloshing way to live. Sometimes a silvery shot, one then another way to live. A liquid friend till blackout came and got him through to another bleary morning. That way to live. His doctor, when he went to see him, called it alcohol use disorder. Or at least that’s what he put down on his chart in all caps, before he referred him to a couple organizations and groups that might be able to help. Charlie didn’t see that doctor anymore after that.
By degrees, it got to where after-work-before-bed drinks started getting earlier and earlier, blurry around the edges, and he’d put on a movie on Netflix, something he’d gotten into back in film school, when he was actively pursuing his dream. A wide-eyed kid, he’d say, shrug it off now, shrug off everything–working his way through college, moving and delivering pool tables, putting everything he had into this thing, making office hours and asking how he could improve as a filmmaker, all of it behind him now, flushed down the toilet with the booze from the last time he said he’d quit but just didn’t quite get there in the end.
The end. There’s something he hasn’t seen in a while. He used to draft scripts like it was his religion, taking communion in the form of late night Taco Bell and something with more caffeine than water to keep him going through marathon writing sessions, sometimes upwards of 40 to 50 pages at a go, slicing through entire third acts like it was nothing, and this wasn’t a late night cram, either. Not some procrastination thing. These scripts weren’t even assignments, just something he wanted to do on the side.
He’d write these drafts in a fever dream, no editing, just getting the words down on the page, sometimes writing for 12 or 13 hours at a stretch. When it was done, he’d get blackout drunk until all words, thoughts, and feelings escaped him. He drank till everything in and around him ceased entirely.
And that was it. At the start, that was the only time he’d drink. He told himself it made it okay to get it out in one big binge, that it was better than stringing along drunken moments until they became a drunken life, the way his dad did. Charlie wasn’t exactly living the unexamined life. He could see the parallels, the comparisons to be made. Could watch as those one-night-only binges became two- or three-night affairs, and this he justified by simply writing more, as if the output justified the input. He could sit, and he could breathe, and he could feel this for hours. This was his legacy. His family heirloom.
He remembered taking walks down by the river, catching the light-glint in his eyes, blinking past the migraine. He took the walks because he thought he needed to be outside, but taking them he realized that he needed to be outside of this.
So he’d walk down to the water, and he’d sit on the edge with his legs hanging over it, about a six foot drop and then nothing but retention wall and water. He thought of breathing, and what it felt like not to. What it would feel like to never breathe again.
Charlie could always just see what he had to do right before it became too late. Sometimes he acted accordingly. Sometimes he didn’t. He’d wake in the middle of the night and watch as the clouds rolled by his opened window, turn and vomit onto bed sheets where it’d then congeal, and he’d pass out and rediscover it in the morning. He stopped going to class, didn’t do his assignments. It’s not like he didn’t write. He wrote like mad. Just not what they wanted him to write. He shot films using scoured old stock he found in the film cage at his school, stuff that was no good but which he pocketed anyway. Didn’t realize at the time that he was staging reenactments of his childhood in front of the camera, but it turned out that way anyway.
The thing about radical honesty, or new sincerity, or whatever it is that he was going for, is that you’re going to inevitably over-extend yourself. You’re going to reach that hall closet of the mind that you haven’t opened in decades, and you’re going to have to lock yourself in it for hours at a time.
Charlie sobers up by the light of the morning, a sickly-sweet taste in his mouth, something that won’t wash out until he drinks again. He’s definitely in a motel. He checks the little mini fridge thing, but apparently he raided it the night before. There’s a breadcrumb trail of empty cans and polished-off bottles, maybe a handle left if he was really desperate, which he is.
Charlie watches the way the dust motes hang in the air like suspended planets in rented space. He feels the clothes on his body, the blankets under the clothes.
Working with Atmosphere Press and Nick Courtright has been a true joy. They’ve been fast and responsive throughout, Nick is communicative and kind, and he really “gets” the book. Bonus points for having the same name as me. 😂 But seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better publisher. Editorial work is officially underway (coincidentally exactly six years to the day since I started writing this manuscript), and a cover concept is coming soon!
Driving through my old neighborhood with the windows up and my mask on, and I’m thinking about the now-beatified times. The moments I thought I wouldn’t live through, couldn’t, now stuck in the cloudy bubble world of a snow globe on a quarter-life shelf. Counting the days down until something would happen, or not happen, always passing the time until a more desirable outcome presented itself, but never wanting to look at the possibility that This Is It. That maybe this moment is the thing. That it always has been and always will be.
I get a drink from the convenience store I used to haunt as a kid. Some sugary abomination in a tall can. The old shop owner’s still working there, and I tell myself that the reason he doesn’t recognize me is because of the mask, and not the fact that I haven’t been in my old neighborhood in way too long. The only thing that’s changed about the shop is that you can now do the contactless pay thing, which I do, and the old shop owner smiles and wishes me a nice day behind a plastic shield that’s been put up now at face-level.
I read reports that my town was one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 in the Chicagoland area, but Des Plaines officials were quick to qualify that not all of those cases were “in town,” that a sizeable number were in the unincorporated area, where I’m from, as if that’s some consolation. Another rug or municipality to be swept under, I guess. But seeing it makes it real, on these ghost-town-streets that used to be filled with kids on skateboards, BMX bikes when it was fashionable, when my friends and I wandered the streets as a roving gang, back when that was a thing that kids did.
I don’t see anybody. I know that that’s a good thing, or that it could be, but it’s still disheartening. All that’s left of this place that I once knew are the memories of it, and the bits and scraps that I’ve written down, some of it even collected in a book. It’ll be a tidy series of recollections, permutations that change with each retelling, every shadow of remembrance filled in with heat and light from a time far removed, like a dusty old polaroid.
I took this trip alone, which was for the best. Even if flying were a safe thing to do right now, I would’ve still made that drive up anyway. I needed to take that time for myself, watch the rolling hills segue to farmland and flatness, the eventual outcroppings of buildings in the distance, then that familiar old skyline, because if Chicago and everywhere else has changed, at least the shapes of its buildings are still the same. I don’t know what I’m here for, besides the obvious of seeing my friends and family. I had a general idea of what the city might look like now, but reality is always different. Right now it’s crueler. Maybe later it’ll be kind.
Everything has the quality now of a rough draft, and over and over again in the margins, someone’s scrawled in “TBD.” Even down Potter, and past it in Bay Colony, folks have been hit hard and it’s unclear when they might be able to get back up. I wonder why sometimes I identify so much of myself with that old neighborhood. If that place doesn’t technically exist anymore, why does it still feel so much a part of me? And then one further: If I got through what I got through living in that neighborhood, why would I ever want to go back to it and be reminded? Why not just keep moving forward? But it’s not that simple.
I walk over to where the old hideout used to be, where as kids we’d propped up a tarp and put down a wooden plank floor and ran extension cables into the woods so that we could play PS2 in the fort that we’d made, and one of the kids had snatched a hookah from his older brother, and we coughed and sputtered in between songs played in Guitar Hero. I see these moments as clear as the barren, patchy ground that stands there now.
But it’s getting closer. Or at least that’s what Kevin Parker tells me through the speakers of my car as I start it back up, as I take one last lap around the old block and let these things burn themselves into my mind. I drive, and I listen, and I breathe. I leave.
I’m really excited to share this: My alma mater, Columbia College Chicago, interviewed me about getting my debut novel Here’s Waldo signed for publication! In it, I talk about the genesis of the novel, its connection to my own life, and how instrumental Columbia was in the creation of the book. The link to the full interview is here!
I feel like I’ve got everything I always wanted. It’s a strange feeling, a foreign one, of not wondering when the other shoe will drop, not even thinking about shoes, rather kicking them off to finally relax a little. It first started to hit when I withdrew my manuscript from every other place I’d submitted it to, when I let these places know that I’d just signed with another press. It was sending those withdrawal emails, and it was realizing that I wouldn’t have to send this novel out anymore. I’d done it. It was finally getting published.
I go back mentally to the places I was at when writing it, diving back, taking half my lunch break to cloister myself in an unclaimed cubicle at work and pop open my laptop, squeeze out a little more writing time before going back to administrative tedium again. It was finding gaps in the story, holes in the memory, and filling those holes with something, dirt if I had to, because having something to remember is better than nothing at all. It was taking walks till exhaustion and listening to the same hundred or so songs over and over until their rhythms and patterns were baked into the story, into me, and I could taste freedom from the pain if only I kept writing about it.
I can track mental states in the pictures from that time, in the drafts saved in sequential order, cross reference with journal entries if I’m feeling particularly masochistic, but really just trying to get a snapshot of where I was then and how I was able to sustain a mental deep-dive of myself for that long. Because it was one of the most useful things I’ve ever done in my life, but it also nearly destroyed me. And so I’d touch on those images in the book, looking back on the past and risking salt-pillar-transformation, writing and rewriting traumatic memories until dissociation became the norm and it was all almost normal. We return to the thing that hurt us because that can become all we know. And that’s the tricky thing, because that’s also exactly how we beat it. We face it, we plumb the depths, we walk into that great dark, and we don’t stop walking until we come out on the other side.
I came out on the other side with this book, and now it’s going to be published. There are professional artists, designers, and editors working to bring this to life. When that’s done, there will be machines that will print it, and digital versions optimized for people to read however they want. I have to say these things because the unreality is still there, shock in the best possible way, and to say it is to realize that it really is happening. After so much time, so much work, the thing that I dreamed about is finally a reality.
This is what it looks like when a dream comes true. I can now officially announce that I’ve signed a contract with Atmosphere Press, and my coming-of-age novel Here’s Waldo is getting published!!!!! There’s still the process of development, editing, and publication ahead of us, but when that’s done, my book will be available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers, both in print and digital. I am honestly in shock right now, in the best possible way. It’s been 6 years since I first started writing this. I’ve put so much time and effort into this story, so much of myself into it. I was that poor kid living in the torn-up part of town. I was that young man struggling to make it in the world, and now I’m about to be a published author. A novelist. This is surreal. Dreams really do come true. To everyone who has read drafts of this over the years, followed along with all of my posts and updates, and given their support: thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!!