Monday, March 30, 2009

How to Pack a Suitcase

A lot of packing a suitcase depends on where you're going.

If you're traveling with your family on spring break, leave room for souvenirs. You'll end up raiding the hotel gift shop on the last night desperate for trinkets for your friends back home, and you won't know how much space you'll need. If you're going on a trip with your school, don't bother with the drugs or condoms. Let's be honest - you don't have any friends to do drugs with, and unless you plan on wrapping a hot dog with those condoms for an unsuspecting student to find, you're not gonna need those either.

Find out your boyfriend cheated on you? It's tempting to throw his clothes out the window sans suitcase, but don't take the easy way out. Jam his personal effects into that nice rolling Rick Steves bag he bought for his business trip, toss in your cat's most recent batch of kitty litter, and wait for your cheating-whore-of-a-man to return from work. As soon as you spot him outside, bombs away. Aim for his windshield.

Breakups happen, and it's okay to get upset. When your girlfriend of four years tells you she's just not sure which direction the relationship is going in and that she doesn't really see a future with you and you'll just be better off without her and take all the time you need moving out, she means you better be out of there when she gets back from jazzercizing. Turn on some sad music and spend your last few hours packing away all of your memories: the shirt you bought at the first concert you went to together, the picture of you two on Steel Force, your grandmother's ring that you were planning on giving her tomorrow night. Just remember, big guy - it's okay to cry.

Going on a music trip with your marching band? Don't bother packing at all! Instead, spend your time avoiding the inevitable mountain of homework due when you get back making fun of the PSSA's you took two weeks ago and hoping people remember what you're talking about.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I mean people say that they like someone else's smile all the time, they mean it too, smiles are nice, but the thing about him and the thing about her is that her smile had this way of lighting up everything, it had this way of making him smile too, and it was pretty obvious that her smile was connected to happiness (as most smiles are), so he tried to make her happy because it made him happy, he tried to make her laugh, even when she was crying he would make bad jokes, hoping for the kind of choking laughs that come out in between the sadness, and when she was upset at him it was hard because she almost never smiled when she was upset at him and so he could never get mad back, all he could do was get sad that she was not smiling, so he said things like what more is there to say and people make mistakes which don't really mean anything and what he was trying to say was I'm sorry, I can't change the past, but what I can do now is tell you that this is the present and right now all I want in the world is for you to smile because really that was all he did want and he knew if she could just read his mind everything would be fine but instead all he could do was tell her that the only thing he wanted in the world was for her to smile, and he could hope that she would believe him, and he could hope that she would smile.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Key Card

You always wondered about death.

I mean people wonder about death, sure - about whether there's a heaven or a hell or maybe just a void - but you're not so concerned about the after dying part as the before dying part, when your life flashes before your eyes.

You jam the key card into the slot, praying for the familiar clicking sound that means the door is unlocking.

Here's your issue:

Say you're crossing the street and the truck accelerates through the red light, but you don't just get hit right away. You see it coming. You have time to move out of the way.

Does your life flash before your eyes?

The door beeps, meaning the key didn't work. You take it out and try again.

If your life does flash before your eyes, you die. You watch all your mistakes, you watch your first kiss, the day you met your best friend, your eight birthday - a lifetime compressed into the instant before death - and it distracts you long enough for the truck to turn you into sidewalk splatter. Or maybe it doesn't flash before your eyes and you hit your teeth on the curb diving but you still lived, didn't you?

Another beeping.

You wonder if there's an advisory board for this sort of thing in heaven, where they stop time at every potentially fatal incident, where they decide whether to press a big orange button that says "MEMORIES", where they watch their clients freeze to remember all the times they got goose bumps when a pretty girl touched their neck.

The snow blower is an older model, like the one your dad had for those winters back in Connecticut - he did always say it drove itself - and you're not really sure how they got it into the hotel hallway, but as it bears down on you now, without an operator, its thrashers churning wildly, you jam the key in one last time.

The door clicks.

There's still time.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I liked a girl who used all sorts of things as bookmarks.

She rode my bus, and it started on a snowy early-dismissal Tuesday when I saw her reading in the mirror above the driver's head – her dark brown hair (almost black) pulled back into a bun, her knees pushed up against the seat in front of her, and her book – Brideshead Revisited – marked with an empty restaurant match booklet. A few days later she was reading Thirteen Reasons Why and keeping her page with a faded fisheye photograph of a farm; after that it was The Hotel New Hampshire and a plastic spoon.

I wrote her a love note – a long one on graph paper with little charts in the corner (fig. 3: "how happy I am vs. how close I am to you") – and gave it to her one day when we were sitting together on the way home. She read it and then looked out the window. I didn't push the matter further.

Right before her stop she reached into her bag, took out The Poetry of Oscar Wilde, and removed her bookmark, which was, in this case, a receipt for a vegetarian burrito from Chipotle. She slipped my note in its place and then kissed my cheek as she stood up to get off the bus.

Sometimes I see people with bookmarks for bookmarks and I laugh.


This is, by the way, my 500th post. Also thanks to Meredith for being such a great hand model.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another Note

I've been thinking about readers week, and it occurs to me that the idea of my judging your stories is pretty stupid. I'm no better writer than any of you, and my idea that I should be the one to pick which of your pieces gets posted is pretty conceited of me. I think in the future it'll just be my stuff up here.

Normal posts will resume as soon as I get some sort of idea.

I've recently been in contact with a few readers (read: family members) who would be interested in posting something. If you want to have something posted, email me a picture and a story (or other written piece) and I'll just post everything I get.

Monday, March 09, 2009


1. In an effort to feature my readers and also because I'm very lazy I'll be having a "reader's week" in the future - seven photographs coupled with seven written pieces. As soon as I get seven of each that I like I'll have the week, which will start on a Sunday and end on a Saturday. If any of you have already sent in photographs that I did not post but that you would like considered. Chances are I liked them but I didn't want to post multiple photos by one person in a short span of time. Otherwise, I encourage you to submit as much of either category as you like. Use my gmail address, and include "mostly harmless" in the subject line.

2. That snowball made a nice sound when it hit your window.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Most Ordinary Day

The most ordinary day had two records.

In Warren, Maine, 19-year-old Lori Brown dozed off briefly at 4:38 AM while finishing a dissertation on Ulysses, and, for one tiny moment, everyone in the small New England city was asleep. Thus the record was broken for the most populated urban area to ever have all of its citizens unconscious simultaneously - a title previously held by a slightly smaller town in Ukraine.

On average, days have a couple hundred records - most plastic spoons purchased, for instance, fewest socks lost, fastest construction of an endtable from Ikea in the 60 and up age group - so it was understandably a little unusual when the most ordinary day had only two records.

In a little flat in the Bronx, Brandon Mayers made the best glass of chocolate milk in the world. He drank it while he enjoyed half a corned-beef-on-rye and the latest issue of Time for Kids.

Odd things happened, of course - there was a prison riot in Japan and someone somewhere threw a frisbee inside a crowded movie theater - but the fact is unusualness is pretty usual and what would be really unusual is if nothing unusual happened and as far as unusual goes the most ordinary day was pretty usual. Some people argue that the most ordinary day had three records; they say it also broke the record for least records, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is the most ordinary day itself, and how extraordinary it was in its normalcy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Brief Instances of Invisibility

He's wearing socks that have an R on the right foot and an L on the left, explaining that they cost him twenty dollars down at the sporting goods store, where the manager's cap is as worn as the rafters where he spends his Sunday nights, dressed all in black, black pants, black shirt, and he tells you that the shirt and the pants don't matter, that you could buy them at kmart or pick them out of a dumpster or even just color all over your arms and legs with a black sharpie but what matters are the two things that he makes his own, that keep him from turning completely invisible - the socks and the tape.

The socks he picks up at the sporting goods store for twenty bucks, they're expensive, he knows, but he tells you about how while you're pulling them on they feel so uncomfortable, so tight, until you hit that sweet spot and suddenly you're not wearing socks at all, you just have on another layer of silky skin, and how he loves that feeling - so warm, so soft, so perfect.

The tape is black, he buys that at the sporting goods store too, along with the expensive socks. It's for boxing, and he has his girlfriend decorate it with a silver sharpie right before the show, they hang out after church, and then in the evening he changes into his gear and drives them down to the theater, she cracks his fingers for him, she kisses his cheek, she leaves to meet up with her friends in the city and he takes the caged elevator up to the rafters, he watches the mic check while he slips on the rock climbing shoes he wrapped up in grip tape, he lives the regularity, he made this routine his own because up in the dark it's easy to lose yourself so he spends twenty bucks on socks and gets his girlfriend to write him notes on the tape that keeps his palms safe while he digs them into sharp edges and scalding lights so that he can always be himself, so that he won't disappear, he tells you about the time he slipped up on a greasy beam in the middle of Anthony Sher's I.D., and he tells you about the nail that cut up his arm but saved his life, he tells you about the blood that ran down his wrist and elbow and dripped to the stage, where the actors fell easily into roles that were not their own while above them he struggled to hold on.