The following, A List of Unappreciated Whatever, is something I wrote for Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore’s theme issue, Waste. You can buy a copy of the issue from Eight Stone Press, here: http://eightstonepress.com/hon/honwaste.htm
A List of Unappreciated Whatever
Since I don’t talk about this stuff very often, I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know how to unburden myself. No resources come to mind.
I have some friends. And they might be willing to listen even. I realize I’m not using them to their full potential. But I don’t want to bother them. And I don’t want to embarrass them either. We really aren’t all that good friends.
And I don’t want to embarrass myself. And I’m not even all that easily embarrassed. But at the moment I’m looking for anonymity.
So I add two items to the list I’m creating: “The ability to withstand humiliation,” and “The willing ear of my friends and acquaintances.”
Did I mention that I’m making a list? I am. And I need to share it with someone before I can begin crossing things off.
I haven’t been to church since I was an infant, although I’ve been told I’m a Catholic because I was baptized that way. My religion is another thing I’ve wasted. So, as the late-summer sun sets outside the twelve-foot windows I hardly ever look through, I add my religion to the list. I crumple the soggy paper in my pocket and head to what I think is a Catholic church. I’ve passed by the building a million times without paying much attention and it definitely looked like a church. But there are a lot of buildings in Baltimore that look like that. Old buildings that have gotten a lot of use, even if they don’t anymore.
I’m not sure what hours churches keep but I figure they’re out to serve the impoverished masses and whatnot, so they must be open pretty much around the clock. When I get there (I think it’s the right building?) the stained glass windows are dark but the arched doorway is being held open in the middle with a bucket. I step over the bucket and go inside.
Everything’s dark so I can’t see the church but there is a light on in what looks like a staircase down a little hallway to my right. I’m not sure where the confessional is supposed to be, but I figure I can ask somebody. I go down the stairs and find myself in another hallway. A yellow one that feels institutional, smells like cleaning products. There is a door open at the end of the hall. The room inside the door is dark, but I can tell it is a bathroom. I can kind of see the outline of the stalls. I’m about to turn around and walk out, when I see an orange flicker inside one of the stalls. Someone is smoking.
“Hello?” I hesitate. “In there?”
The voice that responds is choked with phlegm. It sounds like a garbage truck digesting refuse. “Hi there,” it says. “May I help you with something?”
“No,” I tell the voice, stepping further into the room. “Wait. I mean, yes. Maybe. Do you know where the confessional booths are?”
There is a chuckle and a sad cough. “Around this time of night,” the voice says. “You’re looking at them.”
I move toward the stall and feel around to make sure the lid is down before I take a seat. The voice seems a little surprised when I do this. Tense, even. I can tell. But as soon as I ask for his lighter, he slides it under the stall. I strike the flint and peer into the folds of my list.
“At least a dozen real friendships,” I begin. “And six underappreciated cats. Every plant that was ever given to me. My baseball card collection. The ability to hold my breath for long periods at a time. Seventeen job interviews. One foreskin. A lot of toothpaste. The larger half of every cent I ever earned. Four kind-hearted girlfriends. My balance. A million missed connections. A pair of pet lizards I gave away after I caught them fornicating as a child. Occasionally I have been told ‘potential’ although I am only now considering what that means. Five unlocked bikes. Forests of paper and supernovas of electricity. An abyss filed to the brim with unfinished cigarettes. Four video game systems that succumbed to dust. Seven perfectly good automobiles. My courage. A round-trip ticket to Nevada. A chance to hear my grandfather’s dying breath. All those little paper cups that hold cupcakes. A dog’s life full of decent memories. A mole’s life full of really crummy ones that I could’ve learned from but didn’t. The ability to sit still. Every second I could’ve spent making my mother happy. Too many pennies. All those worthless birthday candles. All that nervous energy. I don’t smell flowers. I don’t recycle. I barely chew. I sat next to Rick Moranis in the airport once and didn’t talk to him…”
And we keep on like this for what feels like ages until I hear the voice snoring and let myself out of the building. On the way out, I remember from the movies I’ve seen to dip my hand in Holy Water, but I can’t remember what I am supposed to do with it next. So I just smear it all over my face. In the humid summer night it feels like wet heaven. I find a streetlight to stand under and cross my religion off the list.