catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 24 :: 2009.12.11 — 2009.12.24


Clutching Dust and Stars

Kill Your TV

This is Chapter Six of Laryn Kragt Bakker’s new novel, Clutching Dust and Stars (read chapters one, two, three, four and five), published by *culture is not optional and available for purchase now.  We’ll be serializing the first part of the novel on catapult for the next several weeks.

He had decided to get a part-time job. There was a job fair going on today and he wasn’t sure he wanted to go, but he knew he probably should. His bank account had taken a hit moving up here, and besides, having no job wasn’t quite the Shangri-la that he had hoped it might be. Everybody else was busy during the day, and he was left to himself. As soon as they got home, he was itching to do something, so he would call, or stop by. He knew that he was probably getting annoying, but he couldn’t help himself. He needed people around him and things to do during the day.

The few days of camping had been great; hanging out with people during the day, and no one was worried about what time it was, or whether they had to go somewhere, or do something. He had been spending a lot of time in the library these past few days, reading magazines, drifting off into daydreams, thinking. There was a time when that would have sounded like the ideal life, but there was something missing-he needed some sort of goal to aim toward. He wasn’t researching for a newspaper article or writing a paper for school, and at first that hadn’t bothered him.

He pulled a grey polo shirt from the ball of warm clothes in the middle of his bed and spread it out. He brushed his hand over the shirt. It was still covered in little black streaks, and this was the second time he had washed it. The pants too, probably. He pulled them out. Shit.

You pay a dollar to wash the clothes, and you expect them to come out a little cleaner than they went in, or at least not dirtier. He’d have to have words with Gordon Nerburn about that.

He turned on the old computer and waited for it to boot up. Did he need to put an objective on the resume? He wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted, yet-he was hoping that he’d find it staring him in the face. Maybe something part-time with limited responsibilities. That didn’t get too boring. And had human interaction. He opened a blank resume template and deleted the objective. He typed: To obtain part-time employment.

He spent time staring at the computer screen, then the empty wall behind it or the rest of the apartment. He could use a few more pictures, or even posters for the mostly naked walls. He had a single piece hanging, a still life with fruit. He had picked it up last week at the second hand store where Natalie worked. The colors were very bright and the frame was quite ornate, but it wasn’t really his style at all.

It had been kind of an impulse thing. He had really just gone there to find a lamp to light the room better, but as he was passing the shelf with the pictures and frames on it, he had remembered that Natalie was painting again. She hadn’t been painting much when he had left town, but it sounded like she had sunk herself into it again.

When they had first known each other, she had often told him that he needed to do something with his walls. She didn’t like the combination of posters and bare walls. The framed print was a start. She hadn’t said anything about it at the time, but sometimes it was better to be subtle about things like this. He was sure that she had noticed it.

Other than the wall décor, he had things more or less set up in the new apartment-he had the hide-a-bed across from the sliding door and the balcony so that when it was a couch, it faced the only source of natural light. There was enough space to pull that out at night, leaving just enough room between the two for his recliner to sit and swivel freely. He used the fridge as a divider; it was the first thing visible upon walking into the room and it made it feel like there was a tiny space carved out of the room for an entryway. His television was immediately behind the fridge, facing the recliner. To the left, beside the closet, was his little desk and the computer. It was still tight, there was no doubt about that, but there was something about that which appealed to him.

When he went to Western, he went through a big downsizing kick, where he sold a lot of his belongings. Living in voluntary squalor appealed to him. He had slipped a little over the last years, slowly accumulating things. Giving Dave his bed and pitching the couch over the edge of the balcony had felt good. He was making a list of other items that could possibly be thrown overboard: the video games for one, and potentially the television, the computer? There was a freedom in it, a cutting away of ropes and responsibilities. If he didn’t have anything tying him down, he could pick up and go anytime, anywhere. And part of it was simply the knowledge that he still had the thinking capacity of his brain-the advertisements hadn’t yet stewed his mind completely.

The thing about working on this resume was that while he wanted to do something productive, at least part-time, he didn’t really want to do any of the jobs that were available. Then again, he could always quit if it sucked too much. The money from the accident could support an extremely spartan lifestyle for up to a few years, if necessary. But he had done some figuring, and by working part-time, and covering some of the basic costs of living that way, he could easily stretch the money out.

He printed a handful of copies of the resume and turned off the computer. They had little streaks across them, too, but he wasn’t going to worry about it. Sometimes the print head got little hairs or wisps of something on it, and they dragged across the wet ink and smeared little thin black lines out of the letters. Maybe that could be his trademark-streaks on the paper, streaks on his clothes. He looked at the calendar to get the address from where he had jotted it. It was Wednesday already.

Tomorrow was Philosophy Night. Had it been nearly two weeks that he’d been here already? He had finally gotten the balls to call and talk with Cindy last Wednesday-a week ago. And he had meant to just cut it off, let her know that there was nothing between them, to tell her that there never was, if necessary. They had talked at first about the details of the move, how it was going and all of that, which was what he had expected. Then she had gone and pulled out her revelation before he could pull out his-she said that she had made plans to come for a visit.

So he had eased off on his trigger finger. Instead of blowing her out of the water, he convinced her to give him some more time to settle in before coming on any kind of a trip. He put off the confrontation, was how he was trying not to think of it. But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if she came for a weekend, if he could convince her to take Dave and Tad along. Natalie hadn’t nibbled very aggressively at his hook and he might as well not burn all of his bridges down.


They had their tables all set up, lining the walls of the room with their banners and poster boards set up to suck every job-seeker in. It was like walking into a room full of advertisements and subjecting himself to them all, except they weren’t just televisions that could be turned off. They were real people, walking up and shaking hands and introducing themselves, and it felt like a personal insult not to smile, feign interest and take whatever pamphlet or print-out they were trying to pawn off.

They were passing out trinkets and other useless items with their logos printed on them: cheap pencils, pens, buttons, or keychains. One group had their information printed on a plastic bag, and it began to fill up with papers that he didn’t want. He wondered that these companies didn’t seem to notice or care that associating a company with all these disposable items cheapened the image, in a way.

He had never been to one of these before. It was different than any other time he had looked for a job-most of the freelancing that he’d done involved submitting queries and stories by mail. Instead of him competing with all the other job seekers, it was a combination: he was still competing with anyone else who might be interested in the same kind of job as he was, but these employers were set right up against each other, trying to draw prospects away from other tables, other possibilities. So they were smiling, working hard to be positive and upbeat in the middle of what must be an awful day for them.

He skimmed a few of the papers in his hand. Well let’s see. He could be a wireless telephone salesman, or be telephone support. Dental assistant. Warehouse worker. Clerical. All these opportunities. Janitor, part-time. Nine dollars an hour to start. Proofreader. That could have had potential, but it was a grocery store, not a newspaper.

Why did it feel like a personal insult every time that he wasn’t interested in a job? It was like walking through a yard sale and finding nothing. How do you politely say: sorry, I think your belongings are garbage.

He wandered from booth to booth for a while, but wasn’t drawn to anything. His leg was starting to throb and he decided to just can the whole idea. He dropped the bag with all the papers in it into a trash can on the way out, keeping his resumes in a folder in his hand.

What would a job fair be like if the booths were being manned by employees who had actually worked in the positions that were being advertised? People who would tell you all the bad points along with the good-all the stuff that the recruiters won’t mention and you’ll end up finding out for yourself later, after you’re on the hook.

He drove slowly around town, giving his leg a rest. He found himself near Natalie’s place, and forced himself to drive past without looking at it. He turned slowly down the next street and started to circle back around the block, not wanting to turn around but doing it anyway. She probably wasn’t home. This was stupid. He pulled into a parking lot to turn around again, and a Help Wanted sign caught his attention.

It was in the window of a dingy looking shop but the sign looked new. It was the only high contrast sign there; the others were sun bleached so all the magenta was faded out, leaving pale greens, blues and yellows. Pictures of waterfalls and palm trees and people, all washed out and sickly looking. It was a copy shop. He imagined working here and smiled. It was a funny picture.

He pulled into an empty spot and turned the car off. He went inside and filled in an application form at the little table, looking up now and then at the fluorescent lighting and the dirty self-serve area. He passed his resume and application to the guy behind the counter, without saying anything.

There. That was done.

He drove home and sat in his room. Chad was outside in the main room, cooking something that stunk like rotten fish. Rob opened the sliding door to the outside so that the fresh air would come in. He picked up the bag with his Playstation in it from beside his door, plugged it into the TV again and played hockey.


It wasn’t long after he turned the videogame off that a sense of isolation set in. What was with the mood swings? He probably had Seasonal Affected Disorder. It seemed a good excuse as any.

He wanted to go over to Natalie’s, and he almost did. He hadn’t talked with her or even left a message for her for days now. But she hadn’t called him, or stopped by, or left a message for him either. Which could be a very bad sign.

Maybe he had offended her this weekend. On Sunday he kept mentioning the fact that she had puked on the rocks, over and over. Everything had seemed to relate to vomit and alcohol. By the end, he knew he should stop, but the words kept coming out of his mouth. He thought she had started avoiding him more, but that might have been his imagination. Maybe he should call and apologize. But it had been three days already, and maybe she’d forgotten about it. Then she’d wonder why he let it eat away at him for three days before calling.

The telephone rang.


“Hi, sir, my name is Jagwad, and I was wondering if you would mind answering a few questions for me this evening.”

“Uh, no, it’s not really a good time for me to talk.”

“Why not-are you on the toilet?”


“Rob, I can’t believe that you’ve forgotten my voice already.”

“Dave. I just wasn’t expecting you to call, and the accent through me off.”

“Hey, I forgive you. Quit gushing. How have you been?”

“Pretty good. I’ve met a handful of people through Natalie and we seem to get along. We hang out now and then.”

“And Natalie?”

“Well, I don’t know. We’re getting along fine, but I can feel some kind of hesitation. I think she’s scared of me or something. Which is too bad for me.”

“So you admit it! You did go back hoping for more of her.”

“I don’t know. Depends on when you ask me.”

“Is it that time of the month for you?”

“I guess so.”

“Hey, this ties in a bit-last weekend Cindy was talking about making a little trip up to Bellingham to visit our little Ham-ster. Did you know about that?”

“Yeah, kind of. She was talking about coming up last weekend, but that didn’t work out for me, so I told her to put it off.”

“Well, she wants to come this weekend. Is that okay?”

Rob looked around. There wasn’t much space, but he wouldn’t mind the company.

“Are you and Tad coming also?”

“If we’re invited.”

“By all means-I’m not sure I’d want to be left alone with Cindy in this little apartment. Bring sleeping bags. There’s not a lot of room in my place; well, actually, there’s no room, but if you don’t mind being cozy, we can sleep on the floor in a few spots, and I’ve got a small futon from a certain someone who shall remain nameless.”

“I think Cindy’s working Friday night, and I’ve got some work I’ll need to finish up before Monday, so we’ll probably come up Saturday morning and leave Sunday morning.”

“That sounds good.”


The next morning, he woke to the sound of the telephone ringing. It was worse than his alarm clock; a bad way to wake up from a good sleep.

“Hello?” His voice sounded thick, even to him.

“Hello, is Rob home?”

“I am,” he croaked.

“Hi, Rob. This is Randall, calling from Copies On Demand. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, no. I just haven’t talked yet today.”

“Right. Listen, would you be available for an interview later this afternoon? Say around two o’clock?”

“Of course. That sounds great.”

“Alright, then. I’m looking forward to meeting you.”


He spent the morning going through his computer files, re-reading old stories he had written. Here was the legacy he was creating with his life: stories about traffic on I-5, construction, the concert that had been coming up and was now ancient history. Was being a scribe to the mundane details of daily life really worth a lifetime? His work didn’t really make any difference in people’s lives: all it really did was use up trees, fill up recycling bins and line the bottoms of birds’ cages.

So why was he going to go to an interview at a copy shop? Yes, he wanted to leave his mark on the world. People would remember him as the guy who made the best photocopies ever.

But in another way, the thought did appeal to him. Instead of running around and clawing over everyone else’s back to get to the top, why not sink slowly to the bottom? Forget about it all. Why let your work be your life? Be a failure, but actually have a life. It seemed somewhere on the path towards enlightenment, or it should be.

He didn’t have much interview experience. During high school, he had always worked on one of the farms near his place, and the only thing that might be considered an interview was really just a question from a man that he had known for years: do you want to work for me this summer?

The freelancing he’d done since then hadn’t involved personal interviews as much as impersonal ones. They might look over your portfolio of previous stories, perhaps discuss it with each other, and if they’re interested, they give you a new story. But that was always a temporary deal-you weren’t guaranteed anything past today. So you market yourself and hope that they continue to like your style.

This was going to be a sit-down interview with people he’d never met, seeing whether they would match to settle into some kind of a symbiotic relationship. It was just a copy shop-why all the formality? It seemed like it should be more of a quick handshake and get to work. But it was how things worked. He found his resumes from the day before and pulled one out.


He was sitting just inside the front door in an upholstered office chair which was stained with coffee. People lined the counters, picking up bundles of papers and dropping orders off. He read the bleached-out signs in the windows from behind, advertising desktop publishing and six-cent black and white copies. The carpets were grimy, unless it was just the light. A warbly radio played from somewhere behind the counter, a sound track for the workers to work by. If anything was voluntary squalor, a job here would qualify. It was perfect-it would be something to do, and it wouldn’t involve a whole lot of responsibility. And it wasn’t far from his place; though it was closer to Natalie’s-only three blocks from there.

He sat cradling his resume in his lap. It was almost two thirty already. Fifteen minutes was when he had began to think about just walking out of here. He was actually going to do it at half an hour.

The short, stocky woman he had introduced himself to at the front counter walked toward him. “Thanks for waiting, Rob. Sorry about that-all of a sudden we had this rush of people.” She held out her hand and he transferred his resume to his other hand so they could shake. “I’m Bobbi,” she said. “I’m the General Manager here. The gentleman on the other end of the counter is Randall, the Assistant Manager.”

She took him back into the office and showed him a chair along the far wall. “I’ll be right back. I just want to make sure we’ll be covered while we’re in here. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Sure.” He was surprised to find that he really wanted to be offered a job here. Maybe part of it was that he was thinking of this as the lowest job on the totem pole, and if they turned him down here it would be quite a blow.

The desk beside him looked like an old military issue-big and metal. The desktop was mostly bare, except for a computer and a shallow wooden box that was nearly overflowing with papers, a container for a mess. The yellowed computer monitor was shooting stars at him, perpetually in warp drive but going nowhere. There was another empty chair beside him, and one behind the desk.

Bobbi came back with coffee in one hand and a little container of cream and a packet of sugar in the other. She set them on the side of the desk nearest to him. “Here you go. We’ll be right in.”

He set the resume down and stirred the cream and sugar in with the brown plastic stir-stick. It seemed to catch on the bottom of the styrofoam cup as he stirred. Did they still make styrofoam cups? He remembered big anti-styrofoam rallies at school. Or, they had seemed big at the time. Obviously they hadn’t done much good. Hey! If you use styrofoam you’re killing the planet! And the world shrugged. But he had to admit that it was cool that you could turn these cups inside out without breaking them. He tapped the stir-stick on the lip of the cup to knock coffee drips off.

When he was younger, he had rescued one of these plastic sticks from the floorboards of the pickup truck, where his father had tossed it after grabbing a coffee on the way home from town. He remembered trying to suck juice through it. The edges were curled over and created openings which looked like straws but were so narrow that just about all he could do was create a vacuum in his mouth, and no matter how much pressure built up, the juice wouldn’t flow through it. He lifted his coffee cup up to his mouth with his right hand and held the stir-stick between the thumb and forefinger of his left. He began to suck on the end of it.

He heard the door and tried to drop the stick from his mouth, but it was stuck to his upper lip. He pulled it free and set the cup down, sloshing coffee over the edge. The ink smeared across the page as he tried to wipe it off with his palm.

“Whoops!” said Bobbi, as she walked behind him and sat down in the chair by the desk.

“You guys already have my resume, right?” He held it up with two fingers above the garbage can so the drips wouldn’t get on the carpet.

She reached into the stack of papers and flipped the corners of the top few pages. “I think so. But before we get into that, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?”

He let the resume drop and sat there, unsure of when or where to start, how little or how much to give.

“Oh! I’m sorry.” She turned to Randall. “Randall, this is Rob. Rob, Randall.”

He wiped his hands on his pants and they shook hands, and then Rob found himself sitting there again, with both pairs of eyes on him.

He cleared his throat. “What do you want to know?”

“Whatever you want to tell us. Here, I’ll start, to give you an idea. My name is Bobbi, and I’ve been working here for about five years now. I grew up in Seattle and actually lived there until I moved here. I never continued with my education after high school-I married the guy I dated all through high school and kept working at a local restaurant, moving my way up the ladder until I was an assistant manager there. When my husband and I divorced, I moved up here and took over the store. I have two boys, nine and eleven. I really like this town. And that’s my life, in a nutshell. Randall?”

“Well, I’ve been here for almost three years already. I went to Western and this was actually my part-time job while I went to school. As I was graduating, things fell into place for an assistant-manager position, so I stayed. Before here, I lived in and grew up by Nugent’s Corner, on the way up to the mountain, so Bellingham’s kind of like a big city compared to where I come from.”

He nodded. Great that we know each other so well now.

“I’m Rob, and I grew up just south of Seattle, near Bonney Lake. I came up to Bellingham to go to school at Western,” he nodded at Randall, “where I took journalism. Since then I’ve been a freelance writer, mostly in Seattle. I’ve just moved back up here.”

“Why do you want to work here? Why not continue freelancing?”

“Oh, well I might. I’m really just looking for a part-time job at the moment-you know, something guaranteed, so I can pay the rent whether I sell a story or not. And since I won’t be working full-time, I’ll still have the time to write, if I want to.”

“So, you’re just looking at us as a necessary evil.”

“Kind of. I don’t think I’d phrase it quite that way. And it’s not really necessary-I’ve actually got some money in the bank, so I could actually live without the job. For a while, anyway. I guess I’m looking at it more in terms of the structure it will give my life, maybe. I really like the idea of part-time work, because I’ll still put some time in, but I’ll still have most of my life to myself.”

They were both sitting there, still processing what he had said.

“And I don’t think the freelancing opportunities are quite as abundant in Bellingham, either. So I’ll probably be trying to figure out what I want to do with my life here. In the meantime, it’ll be good not to have too much time all to myself. You know when you’re sitting there with nothing to do, and it just feels like wasted time? I think working part-time will help to limit that.”

“I see. Well, that’s unique. Randall, do you have any questions for him?”

“What brings you back to Bellingham, Rob?”

There it was: the question everybody wanted an answer for. Well, he had a story, he might as well stick to it. “Health reasons, actually. I needed somewhere that wasn’t in a big city, a place near the wilderness, for hiking and so on. And, having lived in Bellingham before, I knew it was a pretty good option.”

“What would you say are your biggest strengths and your greatest weaknesses?”

“I’m very personable, I would say. I think that would be a strength. As far as a weakness, I don’t really know. I probably wouldn’t be very good at repetitive, boring stuff.”

“Well, this position will also include some desktop publishing, and will involve a great variety of jobs. But, I’ll be honest, there will probably be some jobs that will be a little more tedious than others.”

“The desktop publishing sounds fun. I didn’t realize that.”

“That’s actually one of the reasons we called you. You list on your resume that you’ve done some work with Quark XPress.”

“Oh, yeah. We had a class at school in setting up newspapers in Quark, and I worked on staff at the school paper for some time.”

“That’s important. We’ve got some basic templates that we try to use as much as possible for customer orders, but we want someone who knows their way around in the program.” Randall looked down at his paper again. “If you were to work here, where do you see yourself going in relation to the store?”

He sounded like he was trying to appear efficient and professional, as though he had polished his questions up like daggers the night before and would get to the heart of the matter in just a few quick cuts and thrusts.

“I guess I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

“What goals do you see yourself having?”

“Well, honestly, most of my personal goals would probably be set outside the store.”

Bobbi broke in. “So, you’re hoping to just come to work, do your thing, and go home every day.”

He nodded slowly. “I think so. I think that sounds good.”

He noticed Randall glance over at Bobbi, but she was looking at Rob. “You know, in our environment, it’s not really a job that you just come and do independently. There’s different customers to deal with every day. How do you feel about that?”

“That would probably be good. Part of the reason I want this is to get some forced interaction with people-instead of sitting home alone and writing, I think I need time away from what I’m working on, time to be watching people, listening to them, and talking to them before I can be alone again.”

Bobbi was looking down at the papers in her hand and she shuffled a page from the front to the back, then leaned on the desk and looked up at him. “Tell me something that has happened in your life that you thought was funny.”

That was an unexpected question. He sat there and stared into space with a half-smile on his face. Thoughts tend to disappear in harsh light.

“You’re smiling-what are you thinking of right now?”

“Well, I was just thinking that most of life is funny if you look at it right. But it’s not really the kind of funny that you can tell in words-you have to experience it, find the humor in everyday life, in common things. The fact that you walked in while I was trying to suck coffee up a stir-stick, and that I spilled coffee on my resume, and that the ink smeared. The fact that I am saying this in a job interview. The fact that I might work in a photocopy shop. These are funny things that have happened recently.”

Randall looked down and scratched the back of his neck. Bobbi was smiling.

They asked him a few more questions, and thanked him for coming in again.

“Thank you, we’ll give you a call tomorrow or Monday and let you know the decision we’ve reached.” Randall sounded like a man who wished he was a robot.

Bobbi seemed more human, at least. “Hey, it’s been good to talk, Rob. I hope we’ll be able to figure something out that will work for both of us.”

“Sounds good. You have the phone number, so I’ll wait to hear from you.”

He walked outside and down the street with a little smile still on his face. It would be kind of fun to send resumes around to all these different positions in town and then be a complete idiot in the interviews. Say things that put them on the spot, instead of getting put on the spot himself. What was he looking for? Well, maybe a job that he didn’t really have to do much, and there wasn’t much responsibility or expectation, but which paid well. A job where performance couldn’t easily be measured or assessed.

He could pretend to be homeless, and ask them if, hypothetically speaking, he were hired, he could sleep in the break room at night, or if he could use the telephone for personal calls and the address for personal mail delivery. Or he could pretend that he was illiterate. He could pretend to have an accent-a horrible and obviously fake accent. He could wear clothes that were too small or too big, or were from the 70’s, and then he could starch and iron them and make it look like he was really trying to look professional.

It was a cool day, but it wasn’t raining. He walked back to his car and pulled out his cane. He had left it there so that he wouldn’t have to take it in to the interview. It was funny how it had become a familiar appendage-it felt as though he were missing something if he didn’t have the head of the cane inside his fist, if he couldn’t rub his thumb against the knobby wood of the handle.

He was only a few blocks from the Herald building. It was strange to see it again-he hadn’t been near the building since just after they had come back from their travels. He had been living with Natalie then, and writing stories only occasionally; that was just before he went to Seattle. Before that, he had interned there for a year, while Natalie finished her last year at Western.

He kicked a stone into the street in the direction of the building. He didn’t want to write for the Herald. The ratio of menial stories to interesting stories was too large.

He was near Natalie’s house, and not far from the store where she worked. A week earlier, he would have stopped in at one or both places. Even now, he was tempted to. But he forced himself not to. He made his way down toward the waterfront instead.

He walked along the sidewalk down toward the harbor, past the pulp and paper mill. The posts of an old pier stuck out of the ground, set back from the water. They were eroded at the base as though a colony of beavers had come through years ago and started work on the pier, nibbling the posts all around and then abandoning the project to the barnacles and the sea. He could see the marina in the distance; the boat masts were congregated there like a floating orchard.

They were building a new fancy hotel down on the water. Just what the world needs-another ritzy hotel to help with the most pressing problems of the day. How did he slip into this pessimism again? Blame it on the rain-again.

He decided not to walk all the way around to the Maritime Park-it was misty out over the water and the telescope wouldn’t be much help through that, anyway. He walked over to the education center near the marina.

The pond in the middle of the room was home to a variety of species of marine life, all housed in a shallow pool so that they couldn’t hide. Maybe rockfish couldn’t remember anything from more than 30 seconds ago, either, like goldfish. Maybe they think that this is all there is to life. Or maybe there was something built in, something deeper than experience, that calls out to them, that they feel in their guts, so that even a rockfish that had been hatched in captivity would know deep down that he’s meant for something bigger.

He had that feeling sometimes. Quite often, lately. His life felt like an indoor pool, and he was just floating there. Every so often, he could swim from one side to the other, but he didn’t really go anywhere. Maybe if he could just think hard enough, long enough, he could remember something from before he was put in this shallow pool. There was something out there, an ocean that he was meant to be in. He just had no idea where it was, or how to avoid the sharks.

He was late to the coffeehouse and he sat on the fringes with a cup of coffee. The group conversation seemed not to have caught on tonight and people were clustered in pairs. The conversations were mundane, about coffee drinks and work. Rob thumbed through an old magazine until his coffee was half gone. He stood up abruptly, stiffly.

“Next time I get a comfy chair.” He slid the wooden chair under the table behind him. “I’m going to head out. See you guys later.”

Natalie glanced up from a conversation she was having with Dara, so he waved at her as he walked away.

There was a mumbled goodbye from everyone. These nights were a little like the evenings he’d had with Dave and Tad and Cindy, except the discussions weren’t about whose beer was thicker or darker or the worst. And they didn’t end up getting more and more drunk as the debates went on.

Natalie caught his arm as he stepped through the front door.

“Hey Rob! I haven’t heard from you for a while!”

“Oh, hey Nat. Yeah, I know. There’s been a bunch of stuff happening. I’ve been looking for part-time work; something to keep me busy.”

“Really? What are you going to do? Did you go back to the Herald?”

“No, it’s not really much of a draw for me. I’m not really sure what I want to do. All I know is I want to do something. The most promising option right now is to work at Copies On Demand.”

“What, just down the street here, doing photocopies?”

“Yeah. And taking orders. That sort of thing.”

She looked skeptical. “What about writing?”

“Well, if I do this, it’ll only be part-time, and I’ll still have quite a bit of time to do my own thing. For some reason, writing doesn’t really interest me the way that it used to.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’m not that interested in writing about whatever little stories they assign me. I want to write about things I want to write about, and they don’t really give much of a selection to people like me. The choice they give me is to take it or leave it.”

“So it’s not really the writing then, it’s the stories, the newspaper.”

“Yeah, I guess, but it’s really kind of the same thing. I can’t write stories for your store, can I?”

“No, I guess not, but you could write them for magazines or something, couldn’t you?”

“Maybe. I guess I could look into that.”

“Or you could write them just for yourself.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Well, seriously, if you enjoy writing, you should write. Just for its own sake. I don’t know-like my painting, I guess. I do it because I like it. I pour myself into it. If you found a topic you were interested enough in, you could write it out. I was thinking that you could probably write something about culture or advertising or the media quite easily-you say some great stuff in here.” She motioned backwards into the coffeehouse with her thumb.

“Yeah, but you show it to people, don’t you? Do you sell them? You don’t just paint them and put them in storage, do you?”

“Sometimes.” She laughed. “If they don’t turn out well. But I never really start with the idea of showing them to people. Not that I don’t think about it, but that’s not the reason I do it. I do show people the ones that come out well. I’ll have to take you through and show you some of them.”

“I think so.”


It was a good walk home. Natalie had come after him and touched his shoulder.

Maybe she had a point. Maybe he should just do some writing, without worrying about whether anybody would buy it. She was right about one thing-the thought of writing still appealed to him when he changed the terms. He could write whatever he wanted and not have to worry about an editor.

He would need to find a way to get the writing distributed, though. To write something and then pack it away, never showing it to anyone didn’t seem right. Personal journals and diaries had their place, but writing was meant for communication. Maybe he would try sending something out to magazines.

Or, maybe he could publish them himself. He could start up his own little media company, publishing bits and pieces of stories and ideas and designs, and then distributing them across town. Or, better yet, an anti-media company. How ironic.

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