Hostage Situation at Powell’s

The guy who smells like McDonald’s is not welcome at my hostage situation.

Neither is the barista working in the coffee shop today, who hasn’t smiled at me in months and clearly doesn’t love me anymore. Fuck you. It’s over.

The girl can come. Her stockings are exactly half shredded, sliced from the top down like the left side was the only one worthy of anger.

Maybe-Hostage #1: Chess Guy, his face born from a single straight line, sitting by himself with his board and his pieces and a dare. He’s going to be here all day if that’s what it takes to check every mate. It doesn’t take a psychic to read his sneer: Fuck all those fancy cellphone Asian kids with their ponytails and manga books and Fu Manchu moustaches. Fuck the dorks with their trench coats and cowboy hats and necessary noting that Go is more their style. Fuck those creepy twins with their matching hipster hairstyles and jean jackets and overloaded Timbuk2 bags. This is chess, goddamn it. You don’t play it with a computer.

I’m certain that if a gang entered sporting Dick Cheney masks and firing AK-47s at the ceiling until the overhead lights showered sparks and glass all over our screams, he would just keep sitting there until one of those bastards took a seat and made a real move.

Maybe-Hostage #2: The no-neck mullet man cracking up over the DSM-IV. He shouts to his friends excerpts from a diagnosis involving mirrors and folding chairs and chronic masturbation, laughing until he cries, his face collapsed over the book he won’t buy.

A hostage taker would surely spank him roughly with the heavy hardcover, shouting how unfair it is to oil up a book with your flesh stink and not surrender the appropriate nickels and dimes. The mullet man would cry and look for help from friends that would no longer look at him, desperate to press a previously hypothetical face back into the safety of page.

Every other maybe-hostage is forgettable, book store cliches, a menagerie of scarves and hoodies and plaid shirts and head scratches and thoughtful looks out foggy windows and rapidly drying quick-ink pens.

My eyes would be on the hostage taker. I think we’d get along. Maybe both of us find it disturbing that oil roiling the ocean doesn’t register as apocalyptic to everyone. Maybe we’ve both wondered if in our sleep an alien crawls through the window to harvest our precious bodily fluids for the preservation of Dick Cheney’s rapidly decaying fleshy sack. My Children of the Corn gaze would drink in every inch of his improperly held semi-automatic weapon, ears hunting for an accent so I know what middle eastern or eastern or south american country to credit for my unexpected action film.

Something art film would happen then, like the hostage taker would ask anyone speaking the language of plant life to come forward in the name of green. This announcement would paralyze an audience left with no choice but to turn to page 23 of their books to immediately read line 8 aloud to their peers. Whoever says “world of the story” first would be challenged to horse-shoe the squealing and fur-sprouting AK-47 with broken Bear Claws and day-old donuts. When not a single inch of the weapon was spared the stranglehold of stale confection, the newly christened Sugar Shocker would be surrendered to the sugar plum faeries until further notice.

Once the faeries came and went the Portland Police would arrive with curiously short arms and haircuts that look like harvests and a lot of long yellow tape no one would mention in the news. This happening would trigger the more active shelves alive, shuffling out of their places to reveal appropriate portals for hasty escape. Before parting I’d shout “stop loving me!” at the hostage taker, because without interference my something could leave him lost, could jangle his dangle until his eyelids stopped working and his jaw froze mid-grin. Then there wouldn’t be anything left but a shower of words and three hawks circling and sleep forsaken for eyes-open dream.

Eye Problem at Powell’s

There’s too many people trapped in this box together and I’ve got blood all over my keyboard. The outcome of an accident involving my pinkie, a screen, a window slam, and me feeling absolutely nothing. It was only after several seconds of typing that I found the red splotches peculiar. Never being one for cleaning when it counts the blood got forgotten and so did the cut, and now my finger is mangled and my keyboard is ugly and there are still too many bodies in this box.

The kid across from me has a face that’s never been broken into pieces, and he’s earnestly filling out job applications and formulating wholesome ideas about changing the world. I know this because he tells me. For a second I thought he was flirting, but I don’t attract such doe-eyed creatures. People gunning for me respond to my online presence with emails asking if they can describe in detail the many ways one might perform cunilingus. I respond that I am open to receiving such messages if it’s acceptable to retort with a finger-wagging dissection of prison rape. He hasn’t written back.

Anyway, the earnest butter-faced boy tells me about jobs he kinda might want to have and how he’d like to make some money over the summer, you know. I say I might know someone, but the person I mention has arms like fire-forged hammers and three missing teeth, and the interaction could end like a fight between a whiffle ball bat and a battle axe, so I nix it before numbers can be exchanged. Besides, this guy has other possibilities, and he tells me about friends he has who are setting up a school in a Latin American country, though he doesn’t mention why they might need a school or what qualifies his friends to set one up. Still: he’s so damn honest I can’t activate my mean, and I can’t picture him naked unless the scene involves me giving him a bath while he cries.

Now I’m distracted. There’s too many bodies in this box. One man is wearing a t-shirt that says “fuck the system” and based on logo production alone it’s pretty safe to say the system made the t-shirt. In other words, his t-shirt takes the long road to “fuck yourself” and I’m exhausted.

There’s a lot of people working here, and they mean business. This is not a dungeon for the unprepared. Asking the wrong person to borrow a pencil could mean a lot of moaning and groaning and maybe a loud sigh and some muttered statement about how if you’re gonna hang in the Powell’s cafe on a Monday, you’d better bring your own goddamn pencil. The man in the corner is all black turtleneck fierce and wire-rimmed glasses and he brought his macbook and a soul patch from 1993, and three times his snakey eyes have snapped sharp to the right in pursuit of whoever is snorting and swallowing phlegm over and over and over again. This isn’t enough to send him racing for the exit, but it has informed three audible sighs, two eyerolls, and a single disgusted dish clang.

Now it’s really on. A turquoise mohawk is yelling into her cell phone: “Look, I just had a shitty day and I thought you might want to hang out, but whenever you’re with them you don’t want to hang out, and it just seems a little weird that you always want to hang out, except for when you’re with them. I mean, what the fuck?”

I agree. Definitely warrants suspicion.

“Fine, I was having a bad day and I thought I might feel better hanging out with you, but I get it, you want to hang out with your friends, so go ahead and be a dick and hang out with your friends.”

ESP message to Mr. Anonymous: you do not want to hang out with your friends. Think about it man. THINK.

“Okay then, fine, fuck you, fuck yourself, fuck your friends. Seriously: FUCK. YOU. FOREVER.”

I never thought to add forever to fuck you.

She throws her cell phone against the table and it bounces into my lap in a perfect execution of awesome. “Sorry,” she mumbles. I hand it back with the guilty smile of someone who doesn’t have a very good cell phone plan. She notices the older woman to her right and adds an additional sorry, but the woman doesn’t look up, stays focused on her novel and I affix her with my fuck you glare for not bothering to acknowledge that our sister with a mohawk is melting down.

Meanwhile I’m mining through every trite piece of advice I’ve ever dispensed to uninterested parties, searching for a new morsel to present uninvited to this stranger. I’ve got nothing. There’s nothing in my experience that offers a silver lining to her cloud, if it even constitutes a cloud, there’s nothing that offers a something to hold out for or hold on to. It’s not that I don’t believe in puppies or unicorns or gold. I definitely believe in unicorns.

In the time it’s taken me to try and come up with something worth saying she’s gone and another someone has sat down and he’s wearing a bright green and black checkered shirt that’s just begging for coffee stains, and he’s smoothing his thinning hair over his bald spot and he’s tucking his pen into his pocket and he’s loosening his belt and hoping I don’t notice (sorry), and he’s scratching his nose and he’s tapping the table and he’s not yelling at anyone.

Only one person in this box is on to me, and he’s across the way with a hood over his head looking creepy and dark and in hate with every warm and cold body in the room. He spots my stare and stares back, and I try to out-stare him and he gets all David Blaine-eyes, so fearing for the safety of others I look away. He keeps looking for a full second, almost enough to push me into uncomfortable or at least demand a dozen roses and then he glares at someone else at least as deserving.

Read. I’m here to read. The magical return cart heavy with abandoned literature has given me little, just a rambling book by an author everyone keeps ordering me to like and I keep resisting, and the promise that beekeeping is the next chicken coop in Portland even if no one has figured out what that horrible disease means, so it’s just more yuppie white people floundering around in the dark. Then I wonder what it would be like to have a matching dish set from Ikea that enabled me to host winning dinner parties to a gaggle of friends boasting soul patches from 1993, and really thrilling statements to make about finishing salts and imported chocolate. Would I also have candles from Ikea, arranged in tiny glass containers that might float in bath water, but still look awful nice on the table? Would I have a seasonal table cloth like my mother used to, one with apples dancing across it in the fall and strawberries in the summer and snowflakes in the winter, even if no one sitting at the table ever bothers to go outside? I wonder what it would be like to never hold hands or other parts under the table and give all the wrong appendages a squeeze. I wonder what it would be like to be at that table and never look across at the loving couple and wonder what it would be like to destroy them, to pull the prettier party away for an unexpected tryst just so that for once it wasn’t so easy for them. Then an older couple sits down and looks beautiful and in love and I hate myself for always unearthing my own soul patch of bitter, and I wonder why I’m lying and stoking something that isn’t really there. I wonder if I wouldn’t long for any of it.

There are too many people in this little box, and none of them escapes me.