Theobromine, Part I


Houseman clumped up out of the basement with a bag of flour over his shoulder, like an underworld creature performing a dread task or whatever. Hauling malignant tumors to the concupiscent I guess.

I pushed the gin and tonic I’d just poured sort of out of the line of sight. On Saturday mornings we had an unspoken rule in the back-of-house at the bakery that it was okay to start drinking at 7:30—but since it remained completely unspoken, and I appeared to be the only one who indulged the rule, and might have been the only one who knew about it, it seemed best to keep it quiet. That’s the hard thing about unspoken rules. Houseman’s eye fell on me with force.

I grabbed the sprayer and tried to seem more or less utterly absorbed in my dishwashing.

Houseman had been across the room, but now here was his finger jabbing me in the ribs, like a detachable or spiritual finger sent to torment me from a distance. He turned the clumpy thug routine off with a switch. He moves from one state to another without even trying. Potato-footed to faun-limbed in the blink of an eye. A faun with a meaty finger buried in my ribs.

“Byron is unhappy with you,” he said, widening his eyes at the end to impress me. “He’s muttering about things he’d do if he had a hammer.”

“Oh,” I said. “Like the folk song? It’s good to know that even ruthless thugs take an interest in preserving the national heritage.”

“I think he suspects you.”

“Of what?” I asked.

“Of something. I don’t know. He mutters.”

“He would. He’s suspicious. When you’ve got suspicion, everything looks like a nail. Especially if you’re wishing you had a hammer.”

“You’re doing a great impression of a nail. Stay loose and light. Don’t piss Byron off today. He seems tense. He said he wants you to go downstairs when you get half a chance.”

I’m not a brave man, but I’ve never really been put to the test.

I once took a wrong turn in Philadelphia looking for a cheese shop that sold particularly excellent pecorino, and ended up stuck behind an Eldorado whose captain and first mate harbored it in the middle of the street and unloaded groceries for what seemed like five-hundred weeks, at a rate of about a head of lettuce per half-hour.

The streets around me were crowded with a diverse group of children who looked as though they’d never actually eaten the flesh of a scared white guy, but would try anything once. I survived the ordeal by never making eye contact with a particularly hostile sub-group of eight-year olds as they crowded around pointing and shouting some pretty racially charged slogans. The Eldorado sailed on, seemingly out of boredom, and I drove straight to a health-food store, then purchased and drank a China-Cola and started to feel really safe again.

The point is, I don’t like going into the basement if I know Byron’s down there, due to a natural inclination to avoid conflict. And a natural fear of boiling hot basements that smell like sulfur, and which are generally considered to contain six of the nine circles of hell.

Houseman scattered ingredients into the mixer and flipped it on. He stared at the shelf which contained vanilla, grand marnier, and impossibly expensive chocolate.

TheobromineChocolateBar“Why would we ever need chocolate this expensive?” he said. “Do you know how expensive this chocolate is?”

I shrugged. Houseman became instructive.

“A pound of it wouldn’t quite be enough for a downpayment on something with six bedrooms and a guest-house on a substantial acreage, but it’d get you most of the way towards something modest.”

I shrugged again. My shrugs were lies. I knew how expensive the chocolate was, but I had reasons for not telling Houseman that I knew how expensive the chocolate was. Or I had one reason: Emily.

I saw Emily for the first time one morning several weeks previous, and she had one of those faces that inspires men to make thirty dollar cups of hot-chocolate and give them to the owner of the face for free, so that maybe the face will keep coming to the bakery so that the dishwasher—and occasional bagel-maker and rogue hot-chocolatier—can believe in hope and joy and beauty again. If my reckoning was correct, Emily had consumed over five hundred dollars of hot-chocolate for free.

I realized suddenly that I hadn’t reckoned this amount. The thought surprised me to such an extent that I actually uttered the word “snap” with real feeling. “Snap,” I said, meaning every ounce and nuance of the syllable. That had to be what Byron wanted to talk to me about. He was onto me. And I’d stolen more than five hundred dollars right out of his pocket.

The sulfur smell of the basement wafted up. I heard footsteps. Byron. Coming up out of the basement.


But the voice saying “Walt?” wasn’t Byron. That was a voice from the front-of-house, wreathed in music and light. That was Emily.


Theobromine, Part I

A Blood Clot Desires Any Motion At All

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My parents let me house-sit for them for two months while they went on a cruise of the mediterranean to see what it feels like being unhappy somewhere warm. I got the run of the house, in a way I hadn’t had when I was growing up, because I’d been the middle of five children, which means I was surrounded, like South Dakota. It was nice except that in the history of my family, my parents went from Spartan to Libertine and then re-Spartanized just before I moved back in, meaning we’d lived without cable when I was at home, gotten dish-network TV when I left, and now that I was back, my parents had discontinued it again. The dinner plate dish was still pinned up like a button on the house, but dead. Which I said was fine, except that a night or two a week NBC and HBO seemed to be suddenly excellent. I was alone in the house except for Drake, the dog.

I had a stroke when I was 24. The best part about having a stroke is all the ice-cream you get during your recuperation period. But the whole piano thing was over. I was ascendant in the art music world and then retired in the time it takes a blood clot to move all of about 6 inches. Before I gained my feet again, I started playing, but one finger at a time, MISSISSIPPI hotdog, MISSISSIPPI hotdog, and even that gave me an old frustrated feeling I used to have while developing pathways in my brain back when I was 4, and the frustration went right to my bladder and I had to get up to urinate 4 times a lesson. I don’t know if this is common, but frustration makes me urinate. Except from my position in bed, a little MIDI keyboard on my lap, I didn’t even have to get up. The glory of catheters.

I was allowed to live in the house while my parents were gone, but they weren’t inviting me back on a permanent basis. I didn’t want to go back, but I wanted to be invited. When you do the math on my situation, disabled guy in his mid-twenties, once promising, maybe permanently convalescing, from bright and rising star to night-light, I’m not in a hurry to add “lives with his parents” to the equation.

My other siblings have all left. They all have a company together. Very successful. They make high-end wheel chairs for paralytics. Quadriplegic, paraplegic, any plegic. They all have advanced engineering degrees.

If a prophet of any size were to arrive and move from mat to mat saying “rise and walk” etc., my siblings would probably hunch their shoulders and look on with generic eyes, maybe run through a few choice words. But just in their heads, for practice. When they see a paralytic in the street, pushed by a parent or whatever, they see a loose conglomeration of high-dollar bills arranged in the shape of a problem they know the answer for, and that parent is practically thrusting the problem-shaped person towards them. When they see the “DON’T WALK” sign illuminate at a crossing they feel whiskey-warm and nod.

The first few days in the house I circle the piano and my nerves grind and I can’t sit down. The third day I’m there, at night, Theresa comes over. Drake goes a little nuts and Theresa kicks him. That surprises me. I’ve wanted to kick Drake—forgive me, Father—he’s got that idiot dog brain. But I know him. Theresa plants a high-heel in his chest and that sends him off to the girls’ room, probably to desecrate their rug. The rug they made by weaving all those loops. They started with hot pot holders and decided to make the ugliest rug a dog has ever urinated on. Theresa has never kicked me, but as Drake whines away I know what he means.

Theresa makes sausage and bacon the next morning and I get ready for the camera crew. I look like TV me. Theresa wraps the bacon around the sausage and calls it a sausage McMuffin. I am kempt. I tuck in my shirt, which billows at the sides, because I’ve lost weight. Theresa eats the sausage McMuffin without thinking, like she’s singing in the shower.

The cameras do not float in and just capture me and my life. It’s a waste of my time to explain the artifice of any documentary when everyone knows already. But this time every month they check in with me. I’m the subject of the most depressing film I can imagine. It’s one in which nothing will ultimately happen. I won’t make my way back to my former glory. But in the editing they will show me really make a good try at it, and I will be a triumph of the human spirit, just for learning to play through the first several Alfred’s Piano Books again, never touching Bach, but the triumph will only be for the viewer. Because they plug in and watch the easy thing happen, and me slopping through The Malaguena from Book 2 will warm hearts, but I still have to live with me and everything still has to be ditches and holes at the bottom of ditches. And Theresa will look supportive, even though she’s only here for the cameras. And of course, I don’t care because at least she’s here.

While the crew does endless takes of me practicing 18th Century Dance I feel the thing happen where the pulse in the music becomes easy, and I’m no longer wrestling the individual dolphins of my fingers. They’re as obedient as Flipper. This is an alien feeling, and I feel a light go on in my face. I play and don’t think. I lose myself in this song, which is called 18th Century Dance, a generic name, and a song that has never imported feeling and probably can’t evoke feeling. But I play it so well. I don’t mind saying that I play it better than anyone else in the world has ever played it. I play it and the sweat drips off my face. I’m dripping sweat and playing 18th Century Dance so well. I look up and the camera is turned away from me, focused on Theresa whose focus is out the window. And I watch this part of the movie in my head where Theresa is listening to the saddest thing, me playing this naive, idiot song. It’s like watching a eunuch dance. And you can tell at this point in the movie, that she’s just waiting to leave. The scene isn’t about me having this moment where I break through. In the scene as I watch it, unlike the scene as I live it, this is the scene where I play the inane song, again and again, and no one can believe Theresa’s bad luck.

I used to play Ravel and Theresa would cry every time. I’d have her so happy and then I’d play Le Gibet and she’d cry. I did it during a fight once. She had a thing or two right about me, and I made her cry with Ravel and it made me feel like I was kicking a dog.

And right then I suddenly feel surrounded, by the camera and sound guys, the producer and Theresa. The pressure in my bladder increases. I break off in the middle of 18th Century Dance and walk to the bathroom—cameras now snapping back to me, following, covering me from different angles, producers amazed that I’m giving them such a gift. They’re hoping I’m on my way to stand in front of my own window, look out the window, roll some tears down my cheeks. Then they can cut back and forth between doomed figures, both looking out windows.

They don’t know that I am directing my rage in all four cardinal directions, in a million compass between between. That I am stuck between every component piece of my life and on my way to my sisters’ room to urinate on the rug. For the cameras.

A Blood Clot Desires Any Motion At All

The Wire

It’s true that I was wearing a wire,
but it was a thin one wound around
my right thigh; just a piece of raw metal.
and it wasn’t connected to anything.

I just like to wear wires occasionally.

But when Tony Caprizzi asked me
“Are you wearing a wire?”
I answered truthfully, and didn’t
have time to explain before he
slashed me.

Luckily, I was also wearing a tiny 
webcam embedded in my glasses,
streaming video,
and the feds rushed in, shot Tony,
and I didn’t bleed to death.

Now I have a scar running across 
my stomach, about the width
of a thick piece of wire, 
hidden underneath my shirt.

The Wire


I’m adapting this story I’m telling you,
changing it to fit my needs.

Mostly my need to just keep talking
now that I’ve begun
and have started to realize
that this story isn’t very good.

It’s kind of off topic actually.
And I can tell by the look on your face
that it’s not as funny as I thought it was.

Oh, and that last part
would have made more sense
if I had remembered to tell you
this other thing.

That I always thought of you
whenever I told this story before.

No, it’s true.
I thought of your patient demeanor
even when confronted with
imminent boredom
and pointless stories.

But now I see you’ve changed.

Which is fine.
I can adapt this story to include that.


Out the Window

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My brother fell out the window. I was on the computer. Maybe playing Doom. Maybe researching something on the internet. Probably pulling up chords that could help me to understand the intricacies of certain Phish songs. Probably viewing guitar tablature. My four year old brother fell out the window. I was slow to act. But my ten year old brother was not.

The reason the four year old fell out of the window? He had decided to sit on the window sill.

The intricacies of the Phish song had so entranced me that I could not think to tell my brother, please don’t lean against the screen on the window. Don’t sit on the window sill. Get down. Stand on the floor or sit on the floor or sit on a chair but don’t sit on the window sill and lean against the screen on the window. Anything like that would have helped. But I couldn’t tear myself away.

So the screen on the window popped backwards, like a doggie door. The screen thought it was being helpful. The screen had good intentions, letting the four year old brother just crash backwards out of the house, all the way out of the whole house.

He fell out and we’d heard a popping noise, so we turned to see that he wasn’t there. My ten year old brother jumped through the window after him. Two brothers out the same helpful window. If I had seen both of them go out the window it would have been a great visual. One crashing backwards, another jumping on to the sill and then right through the window. Two humans out the window in such a short span after a long time during which no humans had gone out the window.

Quick thinking on my ten year old brother’s part, since running to the door and then around the side of the house would have taken a lot longer. You might have not realized that the window was on the first story, because I withheld that information on purpose. For reasons of suspense. It was on the first floor, but still pretty high up, because the Amish men who built the house had embedded it into a hill, and the hill slanted away along the side of the house, towards the back. So the bottom of window to top of ground distance was greater than you might first imagine. Sorry to bring the Amish in, but they’re part of the story.

The four year old brother landed in a bush, not flat on the ground. The ten year old brother scooped him up and held him up to the window, and I grabbed the four year old brother under the arms and lifted him back through the window. Alright now, the helpful window thought. So many humans going back and forth. This is definitely more like it, the helpful window thought. The helpful window felt more helpful the more humans passed back and forth through it. Finally, the helpful window thought. We’d always been fine with the window just fulfilling its standard offices—letting sunlight in and keeping wind out. We didn’t know the window had other aspirations, had bigger plans for itself. If its offices had also included not letting preschoolers fall out of the house we’d have been even more pleased, but it seemed unfair to hold the window accountable for that.

I did not pull my ten year old brother back through the window. He had to go around the side of the house and come back in.

The bushes outside had simultaneously helped and not helped. They had kept the four year old brother from smashing into the ground, but they’d scraped him up pretty bad. The four year old brother cried a lot, and we tried to cheer him up. When my ten year old brother got back into the house, we each took an end of the four year old brother. I had his hands, my ten year old brother had his feet. We swung him towards the window and pretended to count, as though on three we’d let him go, back out through the window.

The helpful window got quite excited. But we never threw the four year old out, frustrating that weird old window. Eventually the four year old brother laughed and we put Neosporin on his scratches. Then we picked him up by hands and feet again and pretended to stretch him out, tear him in half.

Watching us, that window really had no idea what was going on.

Out the Window

The Aye Aye’s Middle Finger

In Madagascar, the locals say that if an Aye Aye points that middle finger at you, you are cursed.

I was unaware of the Aye Aye’s middle finger. A weird stick stuck on, joints and bones and a bit of tendon. Do you know what the thin end of a winter dead forsythia wand looks like? That’s a useful analogue for the Aye Aye’s middle finger. Another shrub or tree even has the same color, and the knobby places where the twigs failed even approximate finger joints—but I can’t remember which shrub or tree that might have been, so you’re stuck with the forsythia.

My son already knew about the Aye Aye’s middle finger. He seemed bored by it.

Aye Ayes use their withered stem to tap around a log and look for weak spots where grubs have dug. The animals listen to each tap, hoping for a hollow sound. When they hear a little more nothing coming back to them, they salivate. They chew through the wood, down close to the hollow spot, and then that terrible finger reveals another use. The Aye Aye plunges it in, jabbing at a grub. The finger has a claw on it, a hook to catch something white and slick. The white grub, snared on the dark dead finger, comes free of the wood. The Aye Aye eats.

And I watched all of this on TV and experienced an epiphany on my couch in my living room. I was not prepared to learn about the Aye Aye’s middle finger. “I have never seen anything like that,” I said. And I wasn’t kidding.

The knowledge alone of the Aye Aye’s middle finger is a curse. Bored by it? That’s no response. There’s no way to live a normal life, having witnessed the Aye Aye’s middle finger. You fall slavering on the ground. It’s all over.

The Aye Aye’s Middle Finger

LaLaLand Spoilers Ahead

hey guys do you think that the coffee shop at the end of lalaland was the same coffee shop at the beginning

the one that she worked in at the beginning on the movie lot

and then at the end of the movie she went into a similar coffee shop

im not saying it was the same one for sure

but now

instead of her working at a coffee shop

they were the ones serving her coffee

pretty interesting reversal dont you think

if it is in fact the same shop


also guys i think theres no question that emma stone deserved that award from the academy

ill tell you why i think that

it basically comes down to one scene at the beginning

yeah you know the one

do i even have to say it

the audition

heres why that scene was so great

she cried in the scene

it was very helpful i think to know that she was acting

so having her cry in an audition meant that we had no doubts about whether or not the actor emma stone was pretending to cry

instead of pretending we could also say acting

sometimes i watch a movie and i forget that the actors are just people pretending

but in that scene i was sure she was an actor pretending to cry and that was the clincher for me

give that actor an award for acting because shes definitely acting a whole lot

thats what the voice inside my heart said

thank god that the hearts of so many others also had voices that said the same thing

thank god that emma stone got that award

thank god so much for that


guys i also enjoyed the fact that the characters in the movie did so many things with only the slightest motivations

life is like that

one day you might not care much for jazz

but then the next day you hear a song thats not really jazz and boy does it turn you on to jazz

that happened to me with jalapeno poppers

i had one at a new years eve party and was like no thanks

but then i had them at arbys

oh boy was that ever a conversion moment for me

if youre on the fence about jalapeno poppers i think you should stand up carefully and go get some of those amazing jalapeno poppers at arbys

ive been wanting to talk about jalapeno poppers for awhile and lalaland gave me the courage to do just that

thank you lalaland and the academy

we like you we really like you

thank god for you

LaLaLand Spoilers Ahead