Edits and Updates!

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!

Rented Space

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.

Editorial Work on Here’s Waldo has Begun, and a Cover Concept is Coming Soon!

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!

 

Cloudy Bubble World

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.