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While browsing around Amazon, I came across this horrible ad for Courtyard by Marriott:

Courtyard by Marriot Ad

I realize he’s supposed to be jumping on the bed, but to me it looks like he hung himself. His bed was so uncomfortable, the people in the next room were so loud and unbearable, the air conditioner wouldn’t cool below 85 degrees, and to top it all off, the remote is attached to the nightstand. The wife looks up at him, thinking, “that man is always over-reacting.”

* * *

Over 6 years ago, when I was living with the roommate from hell, he woke me up by barging into my room and telling me that the next door neighbor was threatening suicide. Now, we didn’t really know the next door neighbors at all. They only things that I knew about them were as follows: 1) the father, John, was very quiet and reserved, 2) the wife was from a foreign country, 3) the children were scared to death of us, and 4) none of them ever left the apartment for any reason whatsoever.

 

I left my bedroom and stepped into the hallway, seeing the wife from next door standing in our foyer talking to my roommate.

 

“Please come,” she was saying with a heavy eastern-European accent. “Hees tried to keel heemself before. Hees locked in de bedroom and von’t open thee door. Please come.” She begins motioning with her hands and walked out our door onto our shared landing.

 

My roommate and I both walked into the neighbor’s apartment, fully expecting to be shot at. There was nothing on the walls except a huge poster of Jesus. One of the kids was sitting on the floor, happily watching cartoons, oblivious to everything that was happening in the apartment. I noticed they had a ceiling fan. Jealous, I made a mental note to ask the landlord about installing one for us.

 

“Hees in de bedroom. I vant you to see dat de door is locked.” She tried to turn the knob. There was a loud bang from behind the door. I stepped further away from the bedroom, back down the hall. My roommate started the negotiation.

 

“Hey, buddy! Why don’t you just open the door?” he blurted out.

 

Another thump from inside the room. I took another step away. John always hated my roommate.

 

“John?” I yelled, tentatively. “It’s me from next door. Look, I don’t really know what’s going on here, but your wife woke me up after two hours of sleep to come over here because she’s worried. So, could you just unlock the door and talk to her for me?”

 

No sound for what seemed like a minute. The door unlocked, and a second later, it swung open to reveal John standing there with no expression on his face. The room was torn to pieces. He looked at his wife, then turned his eyes towards my roommate, who could only offer a weak smile and a corny wave. John then looked at me. A chill shot down my spine.

 

“I was just trying to get some peace and quiet,” John said slowly. “She’s been ranting and raving all morning.” He looked over his shoulder, and closed the door a few inches. “So, thank you boys. But you can leave now.” His eyes narrowed.

 

That’s all it took for me. Roommate and I quickly shuffled back to our apartment next door. I latched the deadbolt on the front door, and then we both walked silently down the hallway to the back bedroom; the furthest we could get away from the wall we shared with the neighbors. We shut the bedroom door and barricaded ourselves in the bathroom, nervously smoking cigarettes and blowing the smoke out the window.

 

When the other two roommates got back from class a few hours later, they found us playing cards in the master bathroom, which by then reeked of cigarettes. We related that morning’s adventure to them, still freaked out.

 

The four of us spent the rest of the afternoon locked in the master bathroom playing poker for Q-tips.

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So maybe you noticed it the previous evening, but you didn’t really know what it was. You didn’t think to do anything about it because, after all, it’s just your vision. Who needs to worry about that? Eleven years after your last eye doctor appointment, and you find yourself on the waning days of your invincible twenties, and staring at the ceiling, because that’s when you notice it more.

Not that you know what it is, exactly. It’s a bubble. A distortion, really. It starts in the bottom left hand side of your peripheral vision of your right eye. Just a distortion. Like wearing sunglasses and having a drop of rain on the edge of them. Only you’re not wearing sunglasses, and you’ve taken your contacts out hours ago.

Maybe you went to bed last night, expecting it to get better. Wake up and shake off the bad trip. Consider going back to get another eye exam. So then maybe you find yourself standing in work at 6:00 AM because you couldn’t really sleep, and the little sleep you did get didn’t seem to heal whatever it is inside your eye causing you to see this bubble. Good days never start out this way.

Then your boss would come in to work, and hour or so later. Maybe they would ask you why you were wearing your glasses. A bubble is the only word you can think of to describe it. It causes concern in your boss, but a lot of things do. Don’t let it upset you. You resolve to call the optometrist who works in your shopping center. They open in two hours. You have tags to put up. Keep your mind off of it. Don’t think about it. It’s probably nothing. A bubble. A bubble is harmless. Child’s play.

Maybe around 8:30, you call them. They don’t open until 9:00, but you can see people milling around inside. Not that you are worried, mind you. It just needs to get taken care of. You go up to the manager’s office to make the call.

“Hi, I work next door. I need to make an appointment,” you’ll say to the receptionist.

“Okay, I have an opening on Tuesday at 1:30,” the lady will respond.

“You don’t have anything earlier?” you’ll ask.

“I’m sorry, hon. That’s the next available.”

Fear will take hold. And completely against your nature, you will refuse to take “no” for an answer.

You’ll tell the receptionist about your visual distortion. After all, you want someone to confirm that you are Just Being Silly. If she could work you in, it would mean a great deal to you. After all, I’m only yards away. She will put you on hold. A bead of sweat will appear on your brow, even though the air conditioner is on full blast.

The phone line will crackle back to life. “Are you at the grocery store?”

“Yes.”

“Can you come over now?”

Your pulse will increase a bit. You get over to the optometrist’s office. They unlock the door for you, because they aren’t open for another 20 minutes. You will be dilated while you fill out paperwork. They will take you back quickly and sit you down in the chair. The optometrist will ask you about what you are seeing. You’ll explain it the only way you know how; a bubble.

“That’s a pretty good description, actually.” The optometrist will stare in your eye. It will seem odd at first, but it appears she is somewhat giddy. You will begin to squirm.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight,” you’ll respond. “What’s there? What do you see?”

She sits back in her chair, and looks you directly in the dilated eye. You will shift your weight again. Your face will feel hot. That bead of sweat will return.

“You have a retinal detachment,” she’ll start out. “You have a tear in your retina, and your vitreous gel is leaking into the space between your retina and the back of your eyeball.”

Your heart will sink.

“This is considered an ocular emergency,” she will continue. You will watch her lips move in slow motion with your good eye. “You need to go to the emergency room right now. You’ll meet one of our ophthalmologists there.”

Walking out of the optometrists, you will feel sick to your stomach. You’ll call your girlfriend. In tears. You can’t help it. You just let go. All of your fears – all of your dreaded thoughts you’ve been having over the last few hours will crash through your stoic facade and force their release into your cell phone’s mouthpiece. You try to explain to her what the optometrist told you, but all you can muster is “emergency room” and “retina broken”.

And it will be during that long walk back to the store that you will feel more alone… more afraid… than you have felt in a very long time.

For the last few years, I’ve been slowly getting over my fear of farting in public. I feel like a new man, confident in my ability to release the pressure inside we all feel.

I suppose it all started back at Summer Camp. I was young – prepubescent, dorky, and self-conscious to begin with. I won this trip because of an exhilarating and important speech I gave entitled “My Summer Vacation”. I remember winning this prize and being vaguely happy at the time. I didn’t really know what “summer camp” was, and for that matter had never really been away from home. I had no desire to spend 8 days with a bunch of strangers when it was typically strangers whom I had spent the largest part of my existence up until this point trying to avoid.

My Father however, had different ideas about me going to Summer Camp. He spun incredible stories of art projects, campfire stories, playing sports, swimming, bug collecting and generally awesome superhappyfun things that went on at Summer Camp. Plus, he said, it was paid for – so his Mind Was Made Up.

During the Camp Orientation, we were told about when and where we could eat, when and where activities would go on, the fact that the Forbidden Forest was off-limits to anyone who did not wish to die a most painful death, and that each day this week, they were going to celebrate a different holiday. The next day we would celebrate Saint Patrick’s day. I finished up the rest of the day and signed up for activities against my will; entomology, archery, and CO2 Rockets.

My cabin mates and I made our way back to our home for the next week – Boy’s Cabin D. It smelled bad, and you had to sleep in close proximity to others. There was no bathroom within the walls of Boy’s Cabin D – that was a quarter mile away, near the girls’ cabins. I unpacked my sleeping bag and looked around at the other boys. They were more developed than me. And also the spawn of satan. They spoke about girls in ways that I was not allowed to listen to on television, and joked about the pranks they had pulled on each other in previous years. I zipped myself completely into my sleeping bag, knowing that the only way I could make it through the night is if they thought this bunk was empty. I closed my eyes. Eventually.

The next morning, Boy’s Cabins A-D and the Girls made their way to the Big Mess Hall for breakfast. It was the first day in our Week of Random Holidays. Apparently, the way this camp was celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day was to add copious amounts of green food coloring to everything on the menu that day. I had green pancakes, green eggs, green bacon, and even green milk. And here is where my troubles began.

That afternoon, in archery, my stomach began to rumble. In that way. The bathroom was probably very close, but when you are young and have to poop, that toilet may as well have been in Canada. I ran – or waddled – all the way there and locked myself in the far stall. For nothing, as it turned out. A few farts. More rumbling. A few more farts.

I left the bathroom and ran into our Cabin Counselor. He wanted to know if I was okay. I said I just didn’t feel too good. We began to walk back to archery, because the first thing you want to do when you have stomach trouble away from home is go to a big field and shoot arrows at targets.

We were almost back to archery range when I felt another fart coming. So I did what I had done for the past decade or more; I let it fly.

And shit my pants. At Summer Camp. Right near the archery range.

“It just came out,” I remember saying out loud, mostly to myself.

What?” said the counselor.

But his question was answered quickly by the stream of feces making its way down my leg. I took off running back to the bathroom. Past the pool. Past the Girl’s Dorm. With green-tinted poop running down my leg. And crying. “Why the hell not?” I figured. I had already shit myself, after all. On Day One, no less.

My 8 day bowel evacuation didn’t get any better. And now, two decades and several therapy sessions later, I think I’ve finally gotten over my fear of public flatulence. Now when people stand in the air freshener aisle and spray Glade all over the place, I walk past them and fart.

Only slightly worried that I’ll poop myself.

So there I was, for the first time in 16 damn years, sitting in the chair, restless and weary, waiting on the barber standing across from me to finish up with the Young Boy. He was screaming, after all, and all the other patrons of the barber shop would keep looking at one another and sort of smiling at each other, saying things that people say, like “well, he’s certainly angry, isn’t he?” and “boy, what a set of lungs on that boy!” when what they really wanted to do was to grab this kid by the shoulders, get right in his screaming, snot-smeared little boy face and yell at the top of their lungs, “SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU LITTLE ASSHOLE!” You could you just see it on their faces. These are the things that go through people’s minds when they are in public. There is this force called a Society that, while constantly being blamed as a cause for why young people go insane and kill other people, also has the audacity to make people hold back their true feelings and not kill each other of stupid things like a screaming 2 year old getting a haircut.

So yeah, I hadn’t been to the barber in several years. I took to cutting my own hair when I realised that all I ever got was a crew cut and why should I pay some asshole $9 every couple of weeks of my life to give me a crew cut when I could buy an electric razor and do the thing my damn self for a one-time outlay of $15. And that’s what I did. And that worked out fine until I let my hair grow out too much. Yeah, I got lazy. Sue me. I’ve been losing it up top for several years, and just let the back and sides grow. Just to prove that I could still, in fact, grow hair in some places on my head. I tried my clippers. They jammed up. I had too much hair. It would have to be shorn down with scissors first, and then the blade. And that, I could not do myself. I would need to seek the help of a professional. One of Those Guys. The Barbers.

There was one of the barbers who I recognized before my days as one of the great un-cut. He was still there, still wearing the same blue shirt, still sporting the same old moustach and same old blank, smirky stare that told me he never thought he’d have been here this long, either. The old barber who was usually next to him was gone – dead, I was told – and was replaced by a younger woman with red hair parted in the middle. She seemed oddly out of place in this barber shop. Like she belonged at a beauty parlor, but couldn’t quite pass all the tests. Perhaps she set someone’s hair ablaze, and subsequently walked out on her dream of working with hair dyes, gels, pastes, and walked into a low-rent barber shop on the poor side of town. She was fast, and did a good job, but you could tell by her eyes; she was dead inside. On the other side of the shop was the new kid. He looked like he just got his licence a few hours ago, and was scared to death of actually cutting hair, which would be a tough way to play barber. I sat in that shop, quietly, politely – like a good member of Society – and watched as others came and went. Two or three other haircuts apiece for the two other barbers, while this kid stood there, nipping at individual hairs for and hour with his guy. He asked for a 2 guard on the top and a 1 guard on the sides and back. Basically, he wanted an Army haircut. And this kid was going at it one by one. I would periodically look over to check his progress. At 30 minutes in, the customer looked exactly like he did when I walked in the door. I made a mental note to not get in this guy’s chair. I didn’t have that kind of time.

The child lets out a murderous scream. The other patrons look at each other, on the outside showing smiles and rainbows, and on the inside feeling daggers and napalm. He’s a young boy, and his brother is in the chair next to him, being held upright by the father. The brother is getting his first ever haircut. I’m not for certain, but this is what it seems like to me. The parents are Mexican. The kids are probably Americans by birth. The kids don’t talk much between screams, and the parents don’t speak any English. But you can always tell the look on a father’s face the first time his son gets a haircut. And the father had that look. The older kid is done now, and gets a lollipop. The mother takes him from the barber’s chair and plops him down in the seat next to me. He looks at me and holds his lollipop up to his nose, smelling it.

“See? That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” I say, pointing to my own hair. The kid doesn’t understand, and offers me his lollipop. “Your haircut looks good, pal,” I rubbed his head. “Muy Bueno.” At this, the kid’s eyes perked up and he looked straight at me. He says something to me. I don’t know what it was, because he is 2 years old and talking in a language that I don’t speak. It was my turn in the chair, finally. I got up, walked to the empty barber’s chair, and sat down. The cloth was draped over my shoulders and torso, and the barber got to work. The child continued to look at me, and tried to say something for the next minute or so. I smiled back.

“Haven’t seen you in here for a while, have we?” asked the barber.

“Nope. I’ve been cheating on you,” I said, beating him to the punchline of his own joke.

“What’ll it be today then?” he laughed.

I looked at the little boy again. He was still looking at me and muttering. He pointed to his hair, and then to his lollipop, and laughed. I think I understood that. Maybe this won’t be so bad, after all.

“Just make it shorter,” I said.

I removed my glasses. The little boy and the rest of the barber shop disappeared into a blandly-colored blur. I sat quietly, looking at what could have been the little boy, and thinking of what flavor lolly I would choose.

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Public Discourse

The Humans in the Wa… on Detached
Jonathan Woolbright on Preparing For War
Jonathan Woolbright on Amateur Hour
Jonathan Woolbright on Suicide in the Morning
Craig on Unfaithful