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23

Aug

Gold On The Ceiling

The project of the year is now complete. The past few months working on my new novel ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ have been a harrowing experience filled with twisted thoughts, doubts, hopes, fears, and a vicious whirlwind of thought on the condition of modern America and Generation Y’s place in it. The whole concept for ‘Gold’ came to me in a flash one summer night. I was at a bar in downtown Milwaukee with some friends. A notification from the New York Times flashed on my phone that George Zimmerman had been acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, a fact that disheartened and disgusted me and a number of the people I was with that night. After being asked by a friend the shameless Kanye/Gil-Scott Heron reference “who will survive in America?” I quickly gave a snide answer, “rich white men with connections.” I felt dazed for the rest of the night, and kept asking myself what the fuck we had become as a nation, where an unarmed teen can be murdered by a grown man and people will actually rejoice over the idea. It’s an example of how ludicrously divided Americans have become, and manifests itself as a prime example of how certain people can get away with far greater things in this country. The next day I started having ideas that loosely traced back to some experiences that I had while interning on Capitol Hill in Washington in the sultry summer of 2012. A story came to mind that I believed needed to be told. That night I sat out on my back porch, drinking bourbon, listening to the Talking Heads, and frantically taking notes for my DC intern story. It didn’t have a name at the time, but I kept on coming up with characters and possible scenarios that I could use. Everything was hitting me like a firestorm, it was amazing, beautiful, and terrifying all at once.

During my churning of these ideas I was reading Bret Easton Ellis’ transgressive satire on American greed and excess ‘American Psycho.’ (good movie, great book). A few months prior I had re-read ‘The Great Gatsby’ in preparation for the release of Baz Luthermann’s film. When i read both books I found both stories to be crazy of how well the American condition in the 1920s and 1980s could mirror the conditions faced by people of my generation. These two books as well as Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ served as major points of influence in my creation and development of my new novel, a novel that I would name after a popular song from a favorite band of mine, “Gold On The Ceiling’ by The Black Keys.

To me the song title is a perfect metaphor for wealth, power, and privilege in modern America. We like to believe that anyone can attain these elements, and that they form a key ideal in our national character known as The American Dream. When you actually get to understand the times that we live in, and the corruption that plagues us as a people you get to realize how unreachable these dreams have become for many Americans, unless they are already born at the top. This is what sets the tone for the story. My hopes when writing it was to tell an honest story about the conditions of these things. 

"Gold" follows a rag-tag gang of highly privileged, morally corrupt interns working in Washington DC during the summer of 2012. Each intern has their own elaborate back story regarding their family and their place in America. The story drew on a number of influences in order to convey its message. In addition to the aforementioned stories by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Ellis, the writer also took notes from Martin Scorsese films (most particularly the underrated masterpiece Gangs of New York), wealth-centric rap music (Jay-Z, Kanye West, etc.), the histories of Ancient Rome and the American Civil War (there are a number of references throughout the book to these periods), and 19th Century American realist paintings by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, George Bellows, and John Singer Sargent (I visited the National Gallery and wrote among these paintings on a number of occasions), as well as some of my personal experiences in DC. When bringing this uncanny list of influences together I came up with this story, a story that I would describe as being about the death of romanticism and idealism in a generation, and the rise of plutocracy and nepotism in modern America. I can’t determine whether you’ll like what I have to say, but it is an honest story at its core. So without further ado, here are a few chapters from my recently finished novel, ‘Gold on the Ceiling.’

Dramatis Personae (not all characters in story appear in the following chapters)

Russell Frederick- The protagonist. A good natured, idealistic, young man from a nouveau riche family in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. A former soccer star at the University of Wisconsin, Russell has come to Washington to intern in the office of Senator Nelson Isaacs, an esteemed progressive Democratic senator from Wisconsin. Well meaning in his actions, Russell hopes to become diplomat. Has sacrificed much for this dream including his potential futures as a professional soccer player and a writer.

Preston Revere- One of Russell’s closest friends’ and Hill colleagues. A former swimming team captain and fraternity president at Harvard, and an intern for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Thomas Dempsey of Massachusetts. Preston is from Lake Success, New York and is the oldest son of a Wall Street executive, whom Preston despises for his large absence in his life. The Reveres are one of the oldest families in America, and have a long history of being involved in American politics and business. Waspy, an avid consumer of booze and drugs, and prone to fits of braggadocio Preston is a true anti-hero. Greatly disillusioned by his blue-blooded family Preston aspires to be a populist figure and tries to relate to the struggles of average Americans, despite being egotistical, materialistic, self-entitled, dishonest, scheming, misogynistic, and largely out of touch himself. Takes Russell under his wing and plays a key role in the corruption of his personage. 

Clint Crockett- Russell’s DC roommate and a friend of Preston’s from boarding school. Clint is from Philadelphia and is an intern for Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Edward Morris. The son of a CEO of fast food mexican restaurants. A graduate of University of Pennsylvania, where he was in a fraternity and was captain of the lacrosse team. Clint has little interest in business and dreams of a career in politics. A fiendish cocaine addict with a penchant to get into fights and to sleep with unfaithful girlfriends of some of the other interns. Probably the most reckless of the gang.

Paul Edgerton- Preston’s roommate. A self-described ‘Rockefeller Republican’ from Trenton, New Jersey. He has recently graduated from Princeton University, where he was on the crew and in a fraternity. Spending the summer as an intern for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the office of ranking member, Indiana Republican Harlan Cunningham. Comes from a family of Hungarian Cold War refugees. Has a girlfriend named Emily who lives in New Brunswick, and his father is a federal prosecutor with an eye on running for Attorney General in New Jersey. Politically ambitious, Paul dreams of running for congress some day. Tends to keep his hands clean, but his slip-ups cause the hardline conservative interns to target him with threats that could ruining his career. 

Robin Miller- Russell’s main love interest. The daughter of a businessman and right-wing talk radio host in Orange County, California. A graduate of USC, and an intern for the Rendezvous Group, a lobbying firm that represents the interests of Wall Street. Despite self-describing as a liberal, Robin works to further a number of right-wing causes, causes that she admits she doesn’t believe in herself. Starts up an affair with Russell, who is drawn to Robin because of her physical resemblance to his ex-girlfriend. Will do whatever she needs to do to attain wealth and power, even if it means acting without any real convictions. Pretends to be quirky and docile, but is actually highly intelligent, cunning, and Machiavellian. 

James Brantley Thornberry IV- The main antagonist. Also known as J.B. The son of a Gulf Coast oil man and the nephew of Mississippi Republican Senator Jefferson Thornberry. The Thornberries are one of the oldest, most prestigious families in the southern U.S. and can trace their lineage back to the settlers at Jamestown. J.B. attended Ole Miss where he was president of his fraternity and starting quarterback of the Rebel football team, and was once considered an NFL prospect until a neck injury sustained in the 2012 Cotton Bowl effectively ended his playing career. Has a personality that is charming yet cold and sinister. Highly ambitious and arrogant, dishonest, hypocritical, scheming, sexually predatory, indifferent to human suffering, a vain braggart, enthusiastically ignorant, lazy, greedy, self-righteous, self-entitled, thuggish, highly xenophobic, classist, misogynistic, and homophobic (despite being a closest homosexual himself). An American and Southern Exceptionalist, J.B. is obsessed with the ‘honor and nobility’ of the Old South, and with duty to ‘God and Country’. Condescending toward interns from northern states. Him and Preston foster a grudging rivalry toward one another.

Kerry Dalton- The third wheel in Russell and Robin’s love triangle. An intern for Michigan Republican congressman Steven Studebaker. From Kalamazoo, Michigan and a sorority girl at Syracuse University. A passionate Midwestern conservative christian, but also highly promiscuous and psychotic. Kerry’s promiscuity can be attributed to mental problems she suffers from due to years of neglect from her father and physical abuse she suffered after losing her virginity at a frat party. It’s implied that Kerry suffers from bipolar disorder and potentially is a nymphomaniac. She takes Zoloft to cope with her depression. After a one night stand early in the story Kerry develops an obsession with Russell, that leads her to eventually stalk him and Robin. 

Courtney Gage- J.B.’s unfaithful girlfriend. From Nashville, Tennessee. A Vanderbilt sorority girl, Courtney is an intern for Tennessee Republican Congressman Justin Gunn. Has long suspected J.B. of being a closet homosexual, she starts an affair with Clint. Gives off the appearance of being a proper Southern belle, but frequently abuses drugs and has repeatedly turned J.B. into a cuckold. Her gold-digging nature prevents her from leaving J.B. as she knows that he will inherit his father’s oil company, ThorCorp, someday, and could potentially be elected to the Senate in Mississippi. 

Charles ‘Chazz’ Blackwell Jr.- J.B.’s right hand man and secret lover. A Duke frat boy from Winston-Salem, Chazz is an intern for North Carolina Republican Senator George Merriweather. A loud and obnoxious party-boy. Known to make frequent casual comments and jokes that express his bigotries toward poor people, women, gays, left-wingers, minorities, non-Christians, Non-Greeks, and Northerners. J.B. considers him to be largely unrefined, but keeps Chazz close anyway due to his impressionability and his willingness to do anything J.B. requests. Mocked by the other interns for his ‘dick sucking lips’ a phrase that Chazz gets upset about every time he hears it.

Alex O’Shea- The gang’s drug dealer. Also a Hill intern for an unnamed Maryland Democratic Congressman. Comes from a working class African-American family in Baltimore. Genius level intellect and the most socially conscious of all the interns in the story. Attends Howard University Law School, and sells drugs to rich Hill interns to pay off his loans. Refuses to sell to Republican interns and rarely goes out partying with the rest of the gang. Preston sees his brilliance and serves as a ‘benefactor’ for Alex. 

Chase Miles- A legislative correspondent for Senator Isaacs. Two years older than Russell, the two of them played on the soccer team together at UW. Got his job largely because his father was college roommates with a prominent East Coast Democratic Senator. Serves as a mentor to Russell on the Hill. Frequently serves as a moral conscience for Russell in attempts to steer him from making destructive decisions pushed on him through peer pressure.

April Vallon- Russell’s ex-girlfriend. An aspiring actress who has moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream. Sweet and largely apathetic to politics. Hoped to convince Russell to leave politics and to accept his tryout with the MLS club Chicago Fire. Largely mentioned just in passing. Appears in only one scene, a flashback.

Now that you got that right, here’s a few chapters. The ones posted are not told from the beginning, but should be a good means of understanding the character and the story. 

The Good Senator

Wednesdays were always the busiest days on the Hill. On this day most of the Senators held breakfast meet-and-greets for their constituents. When I arrived in the morning they were gathering in the front room and one of the meeting rooms. There was a breakfast spread laid out on the table, and staffer mingled with the guests. Chase greeted me and told me about the procedure. I’d be taking the constituents on a tour of the Capitol.

 As I talked to Chase, Senator Isaacs entered the room. He was shorter than I imagined him being, probably not even five and a half feet tall, and he was bald, but he wore a navy blue suit that made him look regal. Regardless of how he looked, Isaacs was still one of the finest men to ever grace the Senate chambers. Quite possibly the best Wisconsin senator since Fighting Bob Lafollette. He spoke up in a deep, but friendly voice, and the constituents greeted him with civil applause.

 “Welcome to your chamber,” Isaacs said, “At least that’s the way I see it.”

 The senator gave a brief talk about the national issues, and how they would affect the people of Wisconsin. When he was done, the constituents clapped, and Isaacs walked into the crowd shaking hands and greeting each person. Whenever someone introduced themselves, Isaacs always addressed them by name. He was warm and could hold up a conversation about any topic. Constituents talked with him about the health care bill, the upcoming recall election of Governor Walker, the future of labor in Wisconsin, and suggested potential draft picks for the Bucks. He owned the team.

 I moved through the crowd talking to constituents as I passed. There was a family from Kenosha, a music teacher and an owner of a guitar store that I ended up talking with about public education and punk rock. The husband was a huge fan of The Clash, just like me. He was more interested in talking about music anyway. The Stooges was one of his favorite bands, and he was surprised when I told him that I listened to Eddie Cochrane.There were few people my age that knew who he even was.

 Isaacs made his way over to us. He greeted me in a smoky voice. I introduced myself, and one of the LA’s nearby told the senator I was a new intern.

 “How has your internship been so far?” Isaacs asked me.

 “Good,” I said, “You’re a great man senator. I’m honored to work for you…and for the people of Wisconsin.”

 “Great. I always know my interns are sterling when I select them. I understand you played soccer for the Badgers.”

 “Yes. I did. I’ve always wanted to work in politics though. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid.”

 “I just met you and I’m impressed already. It’s a noble profession…but only if you serve with a dignity worthy of the office.”

 “I try to. I’d rather be a diplomat, travel the world, meet people, and bring about understanding. That’s more of my calling, senator.”

 “I admire your humility and your ideals, Russell. I have met so many interns that tell me that they want to become a senator someday, and I always give them one answer. Then you should already be distrusted with doing the job. Not you. You could still be something special. Your heart is in the right place.”

 I was responsible for taking the constituents over to the Capitol. It had been a long time since I had been on this tour. I remembered going back in high school, but I viewed the halls differently now. Passing through the entrance lobby and up into the Crypt I told them the story of the building and all the little details. I knew enough as is that I neglected the notes that Chase gave me. I could tell them about every statue in the Crypt from Samuel Adams to John Calhoun.

 The Rotunda is a majestic chamber of things that are glorious to the naïve and horrifying to the wise. All of the precious materials that the Rotunda is composed of can be plenty to distract you though, no matter how strong and astute a man can be, the marble columns, the stone frieze and canvasses glorifying rape and genocide, the bronze statues of Washington, Lincoln, and Jackson, the man that to the Natives is the American Hitler. All of this was done in the most romantic light. Its wealth and grandeur can be quite deceiving, especially when it is in your grasp.

 The most impressive part of the Rotunda is on the ceiling. The Apotheosis of Washington rises above every head. Its majesty represents everything grand, glorious, and exceptional about my America. Gold light shines in the center of the fresco. Its luster can be enticing and when you stand in its beams you feel mighty. From afar the gold feels attainable, a great light to raise you up to infinite possibilities, regardless of where you came from, what you believe, how much you have, and or what you do. It’s just an illusion. It still looked divine from afar. I explained all of this to the guests, even going to far as to point out Thomas Jefferson stomping on the foot of an ugly, pissed off little John Adams. After explaining every painting, statue, and panel we continued into the next room, the Statuary Hall. Bob Lafollette has a statue in that room. 

City On The Hill

There’s places in the Capitol that most people can’t go. My status and my badge gave me access to these places. In the afternoon Chase asked me if I wanted to see the top balcony of the Capitol. You have to have a senator with you to go on the roof. The boss was flying back to Milwaukee on Friday morning. Chase brought me into his office. Isaacs was sitting at his desk studiously reading a copy of the Post. He removed his bifocals and greeted me, and asked me what I knew about the subsidies that ThorCorp accepted annually. I gave him an honest answer, filled with glottal stops. When Chase told him our intentions Isaacs was glad to oblige me. He told me this was one of the few privileges of the job that he was eager to accept. Senator Isaacs did not go out much.

 The stairway to the top is guarded thoroughly. Nobody gets by without their senator, not even staffers. Senator Isaacs talked with his chief-of-staff, a fit looking fellow with a shiny bald head and a strong build, as we walked. He wanted to add an amendment to the farm bill to end corporate subsidies, and regulate the oil industry, though it seemed like a long shot. He told me you had to be bold to get anything effective done. Chase was by my side.

 “You see how much you can learn?” he said, he then turned back to Isaacs, “And this is just after one day. Good on ya, Senator.”

 We were above everyone now. Looking over the side of the balcony I saw the tops of the visitors’ heads as they gazed up stupidly at the golden oil paint. The mighty fresco rose above all. You were closer to it from the balcony, but still just out of reach of the ceiling. Then you go outside.

 I could see every inch of Capitol Hill from there. The Supreme Court and the Library of Congress were the first things I saw as I rounded the balcony in the pummeling humidity of the summer sun. Goddamn I wish I wasn’t wearing a fucking suit, no matter how nice it was. There were snipers camped out on the roof. From most places you couldn’t see them, but when you were on top you got the perfect scope of their position. In the front the National Mall stretched out as far as the eye could see. The Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial all fell in line one after the other. The view from the top was glorious, a vision that few people would ever gaze upon. I knew my privilege was great when I looked out on the land. I did not know how most of the other interns would feel, how Preston, or Clint, would feel about seeing this spectacular land, but it was a feeling I would remember the rest of my life. One of the few proud experiences I ever had in this town.

 I leaned against the stone rail looking out on the Mall. Isaacs stood next to me, keeping the composure of a monk. I was impressed that even in this overwhelming scape he remained calm and collected.

 “Impressive isn’t it?” he asked me.

 “I never thought I would ever be where I am now,” I said.

 “It’s what makes you most fortunate. I still am overwhelmed myself when I step foot out here. This is the land that I love. I’ll do what I need to make it the best place to live…for everyone. I do have one concern for you.”

 “What’s that?”

 “I know that you are smart, that you are capable. Your heart is in the right place, but is your mind, your soul? This town can tear a man apart. Kids like you come to this town, they want to do what is right, but they get distracted by other things, money, power, distinction. They see it as being far more glorious than service, than honor, and nobility, your ideals, your principles. It is very easy to let these things go too. If you are not careful, then you will come under your own ruin.”

 I never took my eyes off of Isaacs as he spoke. After his final word I looked out across the Hill. If there was any town that I could make things happen for myself it was DC. I admired the Senator since my first social studies classes. With those bastards Preston and Clint around I felt it made me vulnerable, but if I stuck with them then I could get places.

 “I’ll keep my eyes open,” I said.

 “Very good, my boy, very good.”

 Isaacs patted me on the shoulder. I stepped into the shade. The sun was making me sweat as that Hugo Boss suit felt heavy in the humidity. The site was beautiful, but I had to step down when the goddamn heat bothered me. I kept my composure around the Senator. 

When Our Bosses Left Town

Weekends felt like they started earlier in DC. All our bosses flew home to their districts on Friday morning. This story is not about them though. Thursday nights in DC every intern from Capitol Hill to K Street flocked to the bars to get shitfaced on booze, and find someone to fuck by the end of the night. This was our story.

 Happy Hour at Capitol Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue became a regular thing for us. The place was already packed with interns and staffers when we arrived, and ‘Ball and Biscuit’ by The White Stripes blared loudly. Preston ordered a couple pitchers of Liberty Ale and we played pool. I managed to beat Preston quite convincingly. Clint kept stepping outside to smoke cigarettes. Preston offered to strike up a bargain with the bartender like he did at Rhino, but Paul and I told him to quit being a goddamn rabble-rouser. It was a gift of Preston’s. He could incite people to action whenever, wherever. He knew how to strike a chord with most folks, though he’d never lived like them. Not bad for a kid with a house in the fucking Hamptons, an Escalade, and a closet full of Ralph Lauren threads.

 As I sunk the 8-ball in the right corner pocket, winning the game, Preston congratulated me. He loosened his navy blue pin-dot tie, and removed his gold whale-shaped tie-bar. He drained the rest of the Liberty Ale, and leaned against the pool table as Paul set up the balls for the next game, winner take all. We each had a hundred riding on this game.

 “You’ve got game, Wisconsin,” Preston said to me, “I’m sure the slampieces will be all over you tonight.”

 “You’ll need him, bro,” Clint said, “If you’re gonna be pullin’ any ass tonight, all know how much game you got when it comes to chicks.”

 “Who needs game, when you’ve got looks…and money. If I can’t get the slampieces to service me, I’ll drive drunk down Connecticut Avenue with a fistful of Benjamins hanging out the window of my Caddy for any slut that will gimme road head.”

 The game began. Paul broke the triangle, striking one of the solid balls into the left corner pocket. I had stripes.

 “If you didn’t have money you wouldn’t know what the fuck to do with yourself,” Paul said.

 “Neither would you,” Preston said, “At least I’m grateful for it.”

 “You are?” Clint asked laughing.

 Preston laughed and tapped me on the shoulder after I sunk one of my stripes, catching a second on a ricochet. I missed the second shot and it was Paul’s turn. I checked my phone. There was nothing from April.

 “You heard from your special lady-friend?” Preston asked me, “Autumn?”

 “April,” I said, “She ain’t my lady no more…and no I haven’t heard from her.”

 Preston shook his head.

 “Just face it, man. She ain’t gonna call. She’s done with you. Where did she go again?”

 “LA. She’s gonna to be an actress. She’s good too.”

 “All the way to fuckin’ California? That’s an entire country away and you’re still concerned about her? She’s probably gettin’ laid out on the casting couch, ridin’ some rich Jew producer’s toothpick dick trying to get a one-scene cameo on ‘How I Met Your Mother’. One month from now the video of it will be on every amateur porn site on the Internet, and I can’t say even then she’s guaranteed work, no matter how good she is. You know what…I probably shouldn’t have said that.”

 “It’d be better to keep you in the dark about that shit,” Clint said to me, “We don’t need to freak you out, Wisconsin.”

 I laughed and sipped my beer unconcerned.

 “Doesn’t matter to me,” I said, “She ain’t mine no more. Wish she was though.”

 “You know what that’s sweet of you. You’re a stand up guy, Russ. You’re loyal. That’s a good trait to have. It’s a rarity in this town. You may be in the Senate, but you’re not an insider. Not yet. This is the ol’ boy’s club. You’re the boy next door. You know how many slampieces wanna fuck the boy next door? They’re gonna throw themselves down in the fuckin’ street for you. The most humble in the room always has the biggest cock.”

 “Goddamn you must be small,” Paul laughed.

 “This isn’t about me for once. We are totally getting Russ some fuckin’ slampieces tonight. You oughta call it Slamapalooza. They will fuck you like a prostitute. Just so you forget about Autumn.”

 “How do you know what that’s like?” I asked laughing, “And it’s April…again.”

 “Just a guess.”

 “Don’t lie,” Clint said, “We all remember last August in the Hamptons. We didn’t pull any ass at the bars in Montauk so you spent the rest of the night tryin’ to call sluts on BackPages, but none of them would do gang bangs.”

 “Regardless, every summer DC becomes the great intern fuck-fest, the Fourth of July for your dick. I’m telling you how this is. We’ll go out to the bars, we’ll talk to slams, they’ll ask us what we do, you’ll tell them you work for a senator, and after a few Bud Lights and vodka gimlets they’ll magically develop this allergic reaction for wearing clothes. You know why? Cuz everyone in this town wants to know what you can do for them. In the senate you’ve got that power. Every slampiece will go to bed with you thinking they’re fucking the next senator from Wisconsin, maybe even the future leader of the free world. They want that power, it’s fucking golden. Be thankful you were born to the family you were born into. They gave you so much that most folks don’t get…and never will no matter how much they reach for it.”

 “You’re quite the optimist,” I said, “I’d like to help those folks get to where I am. Like my father did. He was dirt poor growing up, and now he drives a Lexus, and has a ski lodge in Breckenridge. He allowed me to graduate with no debt. He even gave me this suit.”

 “It’s a money suit too,” Clint said, “Who is that, Jack Victor?”

 “Hugo Boss.”

 The guys all nodded in approval. Paul told us his suit was by Jack Victor.

 “You father’s a good man,” Preston said, “Every young man should have a great father in his life, but idealism is overrated, meritocracy is a lie. You get further based on who you know, and nobody is gonna give a tupenny fuck about you unless you can do something for them. I’m not cynical, I’m just a realist.”

 “I always did feel strongly bout my principles,” I said, “I’m not opposed to gettin’ ahead though…or gettin’ head.”

 “You wouldn’t have anything to do with little Ms. Audrey Hepburn unless she was suckin’ your cock before you took the field. But when she did you scored two goals, and stomped the shit outta Northwestern. This town will give you the best head you ever had, but you need to know how to play the game.”

 I sank my last stripe. Paul had two more solids. I aimed for the 8, left side pocket.

“I’d say I’m doin’ pretty well already,” I said laughing, “Don’t expect me to become like you though.”

 I struck the 8 softly. It drifted into the left side pocket. I won the game. Paul and I shook hands. He was a gentleman.

 “You said you dated this chick for three years,” Clint said, “That’s three years she’s put a mortgage on your cock, like our friend Paul over here.”

 “A senator’s gotta have a loyal wife,” Paul said, “It says somethin’ bout his stability.”

 Paul was obvious about his ambitions. He clearly wanted to run for Congress someday. I doubted he could win the Senate race in New Jersey, but maybe in one of the southern congressional districts. Paul hated South Jersey though. To him it might as well been Iraq.

 “Loyalty,” Clint said, “That can be the best and the worst quality for a man.”

 “But you don’t need to have a wife till you’re in your fucking thirties,” Preston said, “Look at me. I’m not trying to get tied down, and neither is anyone else in this town. A squeeze is just preventing you from getting ahead for yourself. That’s why DC people flirt, they date, they even fuck, but they never commit.”

 “You’ve been out of the game for a while, Russ,” Clint said, “It’s like we just released a Great White into the trout pond.”

 “More like a Mako,” Preston said, “You’re quick, you’re sleek, you’re sexy, but you’re not big enough, not yet. As for me, I’m fucking Jaws, bitch.”

 Preston snuck up behind Paul and grabbed him by the waist pulling him back against the pool table obnoxiously humming the Jaws theme. After letting go Preston approached me.

 “If all else fails,” he continued, “just go up to a girl and whisper in her ear ‘It’s quite possible that I’m your third man, girl.’”

 “But it’s a fact that I’m the seventh son,” I said, “I get the reference. I can play it on guitar.”

 “That would probably suit you better,” Clint said.

 “Chicks dig a guy with talent more than some drunken douche in a Ralph polo,” Paul said, “Don’t listen to what this jackass has to say.”

 “It’s fine, it’s actually kinda funny,” I said, “That’s gotta work on like one outta a hundred.”

 “Probably one outta a million,” Paul said.

 “Pauly I think you’re selling our female compatriots a little short,” Preston said, “Either way it’s worth a try. Just once…just the tip…just to see how it feels? Who knows, you might find one that gets it.”

 “And if she does,” Clint said, “She’s down to ball on your biscuits.”

 Preston walked up to the bar and ordered one more pitcher of Liberty Ale. Then he closed his tab. He returned and poured me a heady glass.

 “What’s your chick’s surname?” Preston asked me, “She’s got one right? She isn’t like Kelis or Madonna or somethin’. Just if I ever see her on TV or at the movies.”

 I gave a second before I answered him. I hated the fact that her name was still on the tip of my tongue.

 “Vallon.”

 “April Vallon. That’s a pretty name. It’s got Hollywood starlet written all over it. Just from the sound of it you can tell she’s a dime. Not to make you look back in regret or nothing, but she ain’t here no more. You were a lucky guy to have her at one point in your life.”

 I was starting to get mildly annoyed by Preston. He meant well, but had sort of a fucked up way of showing it. He wasn’t trying to court my vote, not yet.

 “What’s the best place in town?” I asked him, “If we wanna find the kinda girls you’re talkin’ bout.”

 Preston filled his glass. He leaned against the pool table and smiled at me. There was a lotta shit going through his mind. You could tell from being around Preston that he believed in the shit that he spoke of. Whether he lived by it was a different question. He said he’d show me.

How To Get Girls in DC

On Thursday nights, half the interns in the city pack into the Madhatter, which sits in the thick of DuPont Circle. It was the best deal in town. Dollar Miller Lites and five-dollar Maker’s Mark tumblers. The guys and I always opened our nights there with a shot of Maker’s. There were girls all over the place. Preston told me that at least five of them that would make me forget about April. The ratio was good, almost three to one, and a lotta dimes were out that night. After the whiskey and about two beers I felt good and loose.

 “Remember the game plan,” Preston said to me, “You work in the senate.”

 We posted up at a long table in the upper level. The room was lit up and overlooked the dark, crowded dance floor below. The music sucked, Matchbox Twenty, Goo Goo Dolls, Hootie and the Blowfish. All the shit that rich white kids liked in spite of its vicious vanilla blandness. None of us gave a shit though. We’d been drunk all evening, and Clint was steaming off the coke he blew back at the dorm. Preston had even more in his Escalade, which was parked on Connecticut Avenue. Paul was apathetic as usual and lay back sipping a Stella.

 There was a clique of girls leaning against the bar. There were four of them, three were stunning, or as Preston called them slampieces, and they had one girl that was pudgy and homely looking. The ugly girl tried getting a word in with the three lookers, but was mostly ignored. It’s common for attractive girls to keep an ugly friend. It makes them seem more gorgeous in comparison, and even somewhat likable until you understand their fucked-up real intentions. What lies beneath is always the most terrifying part of a person.

 One girl was a tall brunette with olive skin, silky raven hair, and her sleek hard body was wrapped in a tight black cocktail dress. Her high-heeled strut suggested obscene confidence, like she knew she was the hottest bitch in the bar, the queen bee. She talked to two of the other girls, one was a redhead near replication of her but looked more like a bimbo or she was high on Valium. Her eyes kept blinking and she looked at the lights with dead gaze. The third was a tan blond with straight hair, a big rack, and a red backless dress hugged her curves, and five-inch heels made her profile look all the more stunning. Her facial features, smoky blue eyes half-squinted, glossy full lips, and rosy cheeks, glowed with holy vanity. I still glanced at her sometimes trying to avoid the awkward eye-fuck.

 After a little bit I could tell the blond was glancing at me in the same manner. She whispered in the brunette’s ear, glancing at me more intensely, batting her eyelashes, and smirking her lips ambiguously. Her facial features were so sour I couldn’t tell if she was attracted or repulsed by me.  That’s called ‘resting bitchface.’ I looked away talking to Paul and sipping my beer. The girls approached our table.

 “Y’all totally don’t look like stalkers,” the brunette said in a sweet southern accent.

 We all looked around at each other, not sure how to respond. Clint just nodded confidently. He was so lit he didn’t even give a fuck.

 “Can we join y’all?” the brunette asked shifting into a smile, “Please?”

 None of us waited for the other to respond. We all nodded and one girl sat next to each of us. The brunette sat next to Clint, the redhead with Preston, and the ugly girl with Paul, not that he gave a shit. He’d been texting with Emily all night. He wasn’t gonna fuck this girl. The blond sat next to me, and said hi in a shrill sorority girl voice. Her name was Kerry.

 “I saw you looking at me,” Kerry said, “Don’t worry I’m not offended. You’re cute. I really like your eyes. They’re so blue. What’s your name?”

 “Russell. I’m from Wisconsin.”

 “I could tell you were from the Midwest.”

 “How so?”

 “First with the lumberjack shirt I could tell you were from somewhere like Michigan or Wisconsin, or wherever. Also you haven’t asked me what I do yet.”

 “What do you do?”

 Kerry went to school at Syracuse. She was an intern for Congressman Stephen Studebaker (R-MI). Studebaker represented the Kalamazoo area, Kerry’s hometown. He came under fire from Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party for his support for labor unions, and from his association with the Main Street Partnership, he was dubbed a RINO. He was a hardline right-winger otherwise. He even got a primary challenger, but soundly defeated him with the stockpiles of campaign cash he took in from the oil industry. Studebaker was the chairman of the House Energy Committee and one of the prime apologists for big oil on the Hill.

 “So what do you do?” Kerry asked me, “You look like a good Midwestern boy. You don’t get too many of you out here.”

 “I’m in the Senate,” I said, “I’m an intern for Senator Nelson Isaacs of Wisconsin.”

 “Ooh fancy. In that case I hope you’re a Republican.”

 Kerry and her girls cheered vivaciously of how they were Republicans. Preston, Clint, and I rolled our eyes at them and Paul laughed light-heartedly. When I told Kerry I was a Democrat she responded with a callous ‘Oh’, and a slightly pissed off scowl. I made some snide comments to her about how she enjoyed selling her soul to the devil, though she was wearing a silver cross necklace.

 “You’re just saying that cuz you know were gonna whoop you in November,” Kerry said, “Once Romney gets his feet on the ground your false prophet is dead in the water, mister.”

 “You’re quite the charmer,” I said swilling some beer, “I wouldn’t get ahead of myself though if I was you. Also, who ever said that Obama was some kinda savior?”

 “Liberals look at him like he is god. He’s the closest thing you people will ever come to a messiah.”

 “You read way too much Ann Coulter you know that. Also I’m a Catholic. We shouldn’t let the politics divide us.”

 “I’m a total political nerd. Ann Coulter’s my hero. I could go on about this all day. I bet you watch Bill Maher.”

 “I do. He’s a funny guy. That doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. Didn’t they used to date, Bill and Ann? You talked to me before you knew my views. How different can we really be?”

 “You know what, you seem alright. You’re not terribly far from me, other side of the lake.”

 “Though I’m confident that the Packers would whip the shit outta the Lions. How’s that thing where you never win the Super Bowl going? Oh yeah that’s right, just fine.”

 “Ha ha,” Kerry said sarcastically, “why don’t we bank it all on the election and see who’s the real winner. I do wish that Mitt would pick your governor as his running mate. Or that hot piece of congressman, Paul Ryan. I saw him the other day in Cannon. Um…O.M.G., such as dream boat!”

 “Game on. And I thought we weren’t gonna discuss politics. I’d hate for our political differences to prevent me from knowin’ more bout Kerry…what’s your last name?”

 “Dalton.”

 “Right, Dalton. You said you went to Syracuse. How’s that?”

 “Oh my god, love it! Such a great place, the town, the Maxwell School, though my professors are a buncha raging hippies, the parties, my sorority.”

 “What sorority you in?”

 “Epsilon Zeta Kappa. Are you in a frat?”

 “Yes. I’m a proud brother of Gamma Delta Iota, GDI.”

 “Oh, one of those.”

 “Just kiddin’. Greek life at Madison sucks. I was an athlete.”

 “What sport?”

 “Soccer. I was the captain. All-American.”

 “Oh my god really?” Kerry asked ecstatically and cheered, “My little sister plays soccer at Northwestern. I love the sport.”

 “See that’s somethin’ we’ve got in common.”

 “I first got into it when I saw David Beckham play, when I was in like eighth grade. If you’re anything like him I love you already.”

 “I got a tryout with the Fire, but I decided to come here instead. I haven’t ruled out tryin’ to make the national team someday. I’ll play whenever I can. Just ain’t found a place for it yet in DC. I could break into RFK, but I doubt Senator Isaacs would approve of it. Did you play?”

 “I never played. I was a cheerleader.”

 “I like cheerleaders. They keep you motivated when it’s crunch time.”

 Kerry and I talked endlessly. Sometimes we digressed to talking about politics , but nothing too serious. When I told her I met Senator Boxer, she cringed and told me of how much of a feisty bitch she was. Kerry then told me that she wasn’t as bad as Congresswoman Jackson-Lee (D-TX). I evened it out and invoked Congresswoman Bachmann (R-MN), and Kerry rolled her eyes but not without letting out a subtle laugh.

 I did everything I possibly could to keep talking about soccer, music, and life in the Midwest. I’d gone camping in the Upper Peninsula a few times with my high school buddies. I’d even written some stuff about it, but I veered from the literary path when I accepted my internship. Isaacs’ staffers all thought I was a talented writer. They put me in charge of composing most of our response letters to constituents.

 My beer ran out. Kerry’s glass was still half full. When I got up to order another at the bar, she came with me, smiling and giggling as she walked by my side. We continued talking amicably at the bar. I ordered a Sam Adams and Kerry got a dollar Miller Lite. She and I exchanged numbers. I could tell that Kerry wanted me to call her. It felt whatever rift existed between us was fading away.

 When we got back to the table Preston and the redheaded Republican chick were taunting each other viciously. She was getting in his face pretentiously talking about how she was better than him because she was a Republican and went to Vanderbilt, which she called ‘the Harvard of the South.’ She bragged about SEC football and her southern pride. The girl was from South Carolina and was an intern for Congressman Duncan (R-SC).

 “Cute story babe,” Preston said, “I went to Harvard, which is the Harvard of the…world. My great-grandfather was an ambassador, and my dad’s chairman of the oldest investment firm on Wall Street. I’m the captain of the swim team and hold a degree from the Kennedy School of Government. Besides isn’t Vandy the whipping boy of the SEC?”

 “Regardless, it’s still a great school,” she said, “It’s right up there with Harvard. Only without all the liberals, which kinda makes it better.”

 “What are you studying? What’s your reason for being in this town?”

 “I’m studying communications.”

 “Why am I not surprised?” Preston said half-cocking toward Clint, who howled in laughter, ”A communications degree is just a waste of an education even if you went to the ‘Harvard of the South.’ There’s so much cheaper ways of becoming a fucking housewife.”

 This was the final straw. The redhead got up, and asked the girls if they wanted to leave. She gave a disgusted glare at Preston, and headed for the stairs. None of the other girls followed her though. Preston eased back in his chair and chuckled as her heels clicked down the hard wood steps.

 “She’s a dime,” he said laughing, “A dime a dozen.”

 Clint and Paul joined him in laughter.

 “Y’all are dicks,” the brunette said, “Now I’m gonna have to talk her down tomorrow.”

 “Don’t blame me that your friend can’t take a joke,” Preston said.

 Clint tried talking the brunette down. Kerry and I could tell that she was pissed off. He told her that Preston didn’t mean what he said and that he was very drunk. He didn’t know what he was doing.

 “Y’all are some lucky sons of bitches,” the brunette said, “I don’t know bout that asshole, but y’all Yankees are alright. Y’all could do a lot worse. At least in the south men know how to treat a lady. Do you know how to treat a lady?”

 Clint nodded in agreement. He didn’t even attempt tough talk. He was clearly trying to fuck her. Preston was dangerously close to cock-blocking him. He knew he had to do something to prevent the brunette from leaving. She truly was a dime.

 “We should get the fuck outta here,” Clint said, “This place sucks.”

 “Of course, there’s better places than Madhatter,” Preston said.

 “Where would we go?” I asked as Kerry looked up my shoulder.

 “Adams Morgan,” Preston said, “I know a place. I’ll drive.”

 Preston was tight at this point. None of us cared though. Hell, if he got pulled over he’d probably just try some of his rich-kid seventh son of a lawyer bullshit that he learned from his daddy, and he perfected at Harvard.

 I thought we were gonna get in an accident. I felt bad for Paul riding shotgun. We sparked Preston’s bowl and steamed as Preston swerved down 18th Street, a Chromeo CD playing so loud we couldn’t hear each other. I crammed in the back seat with Kerry on my lap. The brunette girl, whose name was Courtney, sat on Clint’s lap, and the ugly Republican girl sat in the middle. Courtney was mighty pissed at Preston, but Clint reassured her that he knew what he was doing. She had taken Adderall earlier and said she was coming down.

 The Reef is composed of three floors, a lounge on the first level, a club of sorts on the second, which has lots of fish tanks and is loud as fuck, and a rooftop bar that looks over the street. Kerry put her arm on me when we entered the second level bar. She didn’t have much of an interest in the place, but Preston was scoping out the chicks dancing and carousing at the bar the whole time. He was wearing a clean powder blue Ralph Lauren polo and felt he could easily find a girl to fuck him here. Paul hung with him as a wingman, though Preston said he didn’t need help. The ugly girl was still hanging on Paul. It was actually kinda sad by now. She clearly was not gonna go home with him.

 The roof was better. Up there you could get a beer in no time and actually hear people talking, though it was still hot as fuck outside. A Kanye West song was playing but not loud enough to be overpowering. Kerry stayed with me, and Clint and Courtney joined us.

 Courtney Gage and the redheaded girl were in the same sorority at Vanderbilt. Courtney was a real southern belle too. She was studying communications and interning for Congressman Justin Gunn (R-TN), a pro-life country doctor that made headlines for paying for an abortion for his mistress not once, but twice. He was also arrested for domestic violence in 2010, but still managed to win reelection because of gerrymandering in his district. He always had the hottest interns, and Courtney was a real prized peach, a modern day Scarlett O’Hara, if Scarlett O’Hara was also a functioning junkie. Courtney was always on something. It was how she operated. She took Adderall when she had to work, Xanax when she wanted to sleep, coke when she wanted to party, weed when she wanted to chill, and Molly because…why not. She had to pretend to support Gunn’s strong anti-drug policy. He was all for keeping marijuana possession a felony in Tennessee.

 At the bar I ran into the bearded intern from Udall’s office. He was with a pretty girl with auburn hair and smoky brown eyes, and her upper right arm was covered in tattoos. He introduced himself as Jack and her as Dawn. She was an intern for the International Economic Development Council. I talked with him a little bit. He was from Missouri, but had graduated from the University of Colorado a year earlier. Goddamn Jack loved to talk. He chewed my ear about everything from Premier League football to winter camping in the Rockies. When the bartender finally served me Jack told me that the joint had his favorite beer on tap, an Austrian beer called Stiegl. He’d acquired a taste for it after spending a semester in Salzburg. I told him that I’d studied in Leipzig, but before I could go into much more Kerry was nagging me. It was refreshing talking to Jack.

 “I don’t wanna stay here long,” Kerry said, “I wanna get outta here as soon as we can.”

 “Just one drink, then we’ll leave.”

 “I wanna be alone with you.”

 “We won’t be long. I promise. We’ll go back to my place.”

 “I wanna make you feel good. I wanna feel good with you.”

 The four of us were drunk as hell while we sat at a table overlooking the voluptuous ivory tits of Madam’s Organ. Courtney looked heavy-eyed at Clint who messed with her telling her dirty jokes. Kerry wrapped her arm around me, and sometimes she would move her hand up my Levis and rub in circles on my dick. I could feel myself getting hard the more she did it. I tried not to sweat. My shirt was light, but felt heavy in the muggy night air.

 “You look tired,” Clint said to Courtney.

 “I could use somethin’, sug,” Courtney said, “you got any caffeine, some Adderall, some coke? How could you make it through the day?”

 “Back at my place. If you wanna go soon we can leave my douchebag friend. He can find his way back. I’m talking about Preston, not you of course, Russ. You’re cool.”

 I toasted Clint with my beer. He lit a cigarette and passed one to me. Kerry and I shared puffs.

 “He’s got a knack for survival,” I said.

 “He does what he can,” Clint said, “And he can do a lot too. It’s our birthright.”

 “I should let y’all know that I have a boyfriend who’s internin’ in the Senate.”

 Clint looked at me and shook his head. I laughed back at him. Some guys got no luck at all, even if it’s in their birthright.

 “Don’t worry, sug,” Courtney said caressing Clint’s stubble-covered cheek, “he doesn’t get here till tomorrow afternoon. He’s flyin’ in from Biloxi.”

 “How early?”

 “I already told ya, not till the afternoon! We can get things out of the way and he’ll never know. I doubt he’d care much. He’s a fag anyway.”

 “How do you know that?” Clint asked lighting another cigarette.

 Kerry and I laughed. She stroked my chest.

 “He doesn’t make love to me no more. At least not like he used to. He’s such a stud though. I got all the girls in the south jealous cuz they all think that I’m the apple of his eye. Not every girl has the luxury of dating an SEC quarterback. It’s a shame how little I actually mean to him.”

 “He’s not that Ole Miss douche is he?” Clint asked, “I wanna punch him in the fuckin’ head every time I see him on ESPN.”

 Courtney paused and didn’t give Clint a straight answer. I moved my nose and lips up Kerry’s neck. She smelled like a peach. Her eyes batted and I kissed her on the cheek. She returned the favor kissing me on the lips. Courtney was still talking, but I didn’t give a fuck what she had to say. Our tongues massaged each other’s while we kissed. She put her hand on my crotch and rubbed harder. I breathed deeply, trying not to get too hard. Clint was getting pissed off. His voice muffled in my mind. All I could think about was how bad I wanted to fuck Kerry. I caressed the curve of her ass. When we took our lips off each other Courtney was staring at us like a prudish housemother.

 “Dear god almighty, Kerry!” Courtney said, “If you’re gonna kiss him do it where we can’t see you.”

 Kerry just giggled innocently. Clint put his arm on Courtney’s shoulder.

 “I don’t give a shit about your gay boyfriend,” he said, “It’s his own damn fault if he doesn’t wanna fuck you.”

 “It don’t matter. Y’all probably know real good how to please a lady, sug.”

 Clint leaned in for a kiss, but was brashly rejected.

 “Hold on. Not while we’re here. My boyfriend’s uncle’s a senator. He could have spies anywhere in this town.”

 Clint and I didn’t wanna wait much longer. We finished our beers, grabbed the girls, and left. We ran into Paul staggering drunkenly up the stairs as we were leaving. He told us that Preston had convinced a drunk girl to come back with him.

 Preston waited at his Escalade outside. Him and the girl, an innocent-looking strawberry blond in a blue polka-dotted dress, who said she was an intern at Amnesty International, made out drunkenly against the driver’s door. We were all fucked up. Paul still tried unsuccessfully for Preston to give him the keys. He was the most sober of all of us, whatever that meant.

 “Your luck’s gonna run out one of these days,” Paul said to Preston who blew him off.

 “Whatever. I’ll buy’em off. I don’t gotta deal with that shit. Fuck!” Preston shouted as he stumbled, “Let’s get to rollin’. Who the fuck wants a jumbo slice!”

 “Just fuckin’ get us home in one piece,” Paul said.

 Kerry and I made out and I cupped one of my hands around one of her huge soft tits. Preston was a surprisingly better driver now, like he’d gotten drunk driving down to an art. No wonder he had so much damn confidence. I would too if I could do this, and not have to face the consequences. At least my parents wouldn’t let me off the hook if I got busted. They wanted me to be extraordinary. I wouldn’t be that if I did things the Preston way. Kerry continued rubbing my cock through my jeans. Courtney and Clint were petting each other, but she wouldn’t let him kiss her, not yet. Nobody even gave a shit that we’d left the ugly girl behind. I felt bad for her.

20

Aug

After 9 months and 96,962 words I’ve finally got a complete first draft of my 2nd novel, ‘Gold On The Ceiling.’ Gonna edit this beast up, but then you better watch out. Feeling really confident about this one. Probably will post a snippet on my blog soon.

After 9 months and 96,962 words I’ve finally got a complete first draft of my 2nd novel, ‘Gold On The Ceiling.’ Gonna edit this beast up, but then you better watch out. Feeling really confident about this one. Probably will post a snippet on my blog soon.

15

Aug

White Stripes on vinyl. All else is irrelevant. #dclivin #thirdman #seventhson #ballandbiscuit #elephant #jackwhite

White Stripes on vinyl. All else is irrelevant. #dclivin #thirdman #seventhson #ballandbiscuit #elephant #jackwhite

14

Aug

Lunchtime. Derecho California common and the only book published during Hemingway’s lifetime that I haven’t read. #dclivin #dupontcircle #kramerbooks #hemingway #goodbeer (at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe)

Lunchtime. Derecho California common and the only book published during Hemingway’s lifetime that I haven’t read. #dclivin #dupontcircle #kramerbooks #hemingway #goodbeer (at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe)

12

Aug

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Yesterday one of the greatest comedians and actors of our time died. Robin Williams ended his life in the most devastatingly tragic manners possible. You could call this stormy Monday, and it’s carried on into Tuesday. It’s been raining all day, which means that I’ve been confined to my apartment until I have to go to work. I’ve been listening to the new Gaslight Anthem album, which is good yet builds on the melancholy of the dreary weather and on Robin’s tragic death. The driving rain has quarantined me to my apartment for most of the day. Today is a truly shitty day. 

I’m not usually one to be affected by celebrity deaths, but there’s just something about Robin Williams and the manner which he died that makes you feel like you just lost a dear friend or family member. Even if you never met the guy, you were probably still touched by his comic wit and philosophical intensity. The death of such a kind and humorous soul drives a stake through your chest and sprays acid on the perceptions that we as a people have of funny people no matter how we saw them publicly.

As someone that has lost friends and family to suicide, and as someone who for years hid much of my sense of pain and alienation behind an eccentric public personality I can say that the circumstances surrounding Robin’s suicide can hit pretty close to home. Growing up it was damn near impossible to find someone that wasn’t touched by Robin Williams in some manner. My friends and I would laugh ourselves to stitches over his slapstick lead roles in ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, we were blown away by his humorous yet spirited performances in ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘Hook’, and we got choked up by his Oscar-winning role in ‘Good Will Hunting’.

Hell, back in high school I had sort of a reputation as being a jokester, even reciting word-for-word some of Robin’s monologues about sex, drugs, alcohol, sports, and politics. Things didn’t always go so well in that department, and it often led some people that didn’t understand what I was saying to perceive me as a shady figure with a perverted mind, not understanding that I was just a kid with big goals in life that still tried desperately to be accepted by my peers no matter how shitty they might have treated me. The way that people tried labeling me after that caused me frustration, alienation, and even depression. I just still did everything I possibly could to hide such feelings, and prosper on my own, even if I was often dismissed as some mad eccentric. 

Robin Williams did play a vigorous role in how I was able to turn my frustrations and troubles into something better. In my high school freshman english class our teacher, novelist Terry Gavin, had us watch the classic film ‘Dead Poets Society’ early in the school year. Williams’ role as the ‘sweaty-toothed madman’ English teacher John Keating was like an awakening spark of erratic muse to my feeble youthful brain.

"Carpe Diem, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."

This was my favorite line in the film, a line that went on to become a means by which I live even to this day. There was so much more to Williams’ performance and the film that struck a power chord in my mind, body, and spirit. The film taught me to question authority, and to blaze a trail of my own. It taught me that it is vital for a young man to play an active role in the world, and to be well versed in a multitude of skills, arts, sciences, athletics, and philosophies, and most of all that our creative and intellectual pursuits above all make life worth living.

Some guys that I knew would say ‘writing is for fags and pussies, and is useless in landing a powerful six-figure job on Wall Street.’ I’ve heard this bullshit before, but according to Mr. Whitman, that’s not why we read and write, why we create and imagine. Without such pursuits a man would be nothing but an empty hollow shell of himself, a desolate island in an inhospitable sea of life (see Kerguelen Islands). Keating inspired me to pursue lofty endeavors for myself regardless of how much I was mocked or ridiculed for my madness, and trust me I took a galleon-worth of shit from people around me. Hell, I still get some shit from people to this day, only I’ve learned to push that outta my mind and keep on living as I wanna live, to make my life extraordinary.

This is how Robin Williams has touched my life, and has spurred me to act on my dreams and aspirations. It’s a sad day knowing that such a remarkable human being is no longer walking this earth, and that the manner of his death is so devastating. The gifts that he gave us however, are still in our grasp. It’s just up to us of whether we try to pursue such goals. For this unexpected gift I owe Williams a huge debt. He’s the guy whose acting inspired me to seize the day, to live extraordinarily. He’ll forever be my captain.

03

Aug

A Tale of Two Cities (Never Mind the Dickens)

Wise Owl is an old school barber shop that stands at the edge of Adams Morgan on 18th Street. The place has a rugged vintage sense of cool to how it looks, and how it’s operated. The walls are adorned with photos of rockabilly greasers and Brooklyn b-boys, as well as a massive buffalo head. Barbers talk shop about music, news, fashion, politics, weed, and anything else that comes to mind with each other and their patrons, all while a Dilated Peoples’ album bumps in the background. Nothing’s off limits and pretty much everyone has something to contribute. It’s sorta like when you enter Wise Owl you become a friend of the place, a regular, and family.  You can’t make appointments in advance at Wise Owl. There’s a list that you put your name on when you arrive. The list is long too. It took me about two hours to finally get my hair cut.

When I finally am seated, my hair is cut by a wild-haired, bearded and tattooed fellow named Ben. Ben’s a cool guy, and he really treats your basic masculine haircut and beard trim like it’s an art form. It must’ve taken Ben nearly an hour to cut my hair and trim my beard. Our time was spent chewing the fat about rap music, the Midwest, pot laws, and a lotta other random stuff. I mention to Ben that I have been in DC for several months, and that I’ve got a big interview with CNN later this month that I gotta look sharp for. Ben’s pretty thrilled by the prospect and we get into talking about DC culture. Then I mention to Ben that I used to intern on Capitol Hill. This is the part of the city that Ben is not too fond of. He claims that people in that part of town, are uptight, scheming, hypocritical, and drowning in a sea of their own sense of narcissism and self-entitlement. I gotta agree with him on that aspect. On the street is a far different place than it is in the halls of power.

You could say that Washington DC is two polar opposite cities that have been melded together in an area of about 10 miles. One part brings together some of the coolest, smartest, most forward-thinking people in the world. People that wanna create, and make an impact on our times whether it’s through humanitarianism, the arts and sciences, cultural advancement, and innovation. They want to do something that changes how people think, and of how the world runs. This is the way it goes at Wise Owl. It’s who the barbers are, and it’s the kinda people that brave the long wait-list to get a haircut from these gentlemen. 

Then there’s the other side of the city. Those that are obsessed with power, wealth, fame, and all that other bullshit. Folks like this tend to work on the Hill and K Street, and have a one-track mind. All of their time is spent trying to get ahead of others, and they don’t like wasting their time on things and people that don’t directly benefit them in their quest for power. You’d damn well better not waste their time, because to them supposedly it’s valuable. Wasting their time makes them more pissed off than anything. Ben told me that people like this tend to get worked up over how long the list at Wise Owl can be, and if they decide to just sign on the line, it’s gonna be a one time thing. Fortunately for Ben and the gang at Wise Owl most of these Machiavellian Type-A control freaks don’t have much hair to cut, as they’ve been going bald since the day they arrived in DC. 

My writing has benefited from being exposed to both sides of this city. My encounters with these people and their reactions to my writing have also differed with great polarity. When I mention to Ben that I was currently working on a novel regarding the culture of depravity and scheming inherent in the the typical amoral Hill intern, he thought the idea was amazing because of the core truths that it revealed. I’ve been received warmly for my writing and ideas from people in many of my favorite DC haunts, including the bar at Kramerbooks in DuPont, the art curators at the National Gallery, the laptop warriors that flock the cafes and bars of Chinatown, and from simple everyday encounters with this town’s more thoughtful folks, whether they be interns or executives. In these places, DC becomes a city of true innovation and open-minded thought. These people truly have a desire to change the world. 

The other half can be a different story. When I mention that I’m a writer and am working on a novel, the more ego-driven folks tend to look down their noses. Most are interested when i first bring up the fact that I’m a writer, and immediately become cold when I bring up my projects. Basically unless you’re working on some major research project that they can possibly use to further their own agendas they’ll just dismiss you as being some naive dreamer. These types love to gloat about how they only read non-fiction, and that they regard anyone who hopes to write fiction as having delusional pipe dreams. Most of the time it won’t even matter if I also am in grad school and am working on research projects, or that I also write articles on governmental affairs for a small political publication. I’m still one of those dewey-eyed types that they can’t latch onto for any kinda personal gain. None of this bothers me, because these people also give me ideas. It’s people like this that have contributed significantly to helping me create characters in Gold On The Ceiling, so I gotta be thankful to have these assholes too. 

Before I left, people back in Wisconsin would ask me quite a bit why I would ever wanna move to a town like Washington DC. Perception of Washington these days is overwhelmingly negative. People on the outside look at the place as being full of blindly ambitious Machiavellians that seem to be carved from the rib of Frank Underwood. These people do make up the more out front part of this town. When you get to DC on the street, it becomes a different place. One of the coolest, most progressive cities in the world. It’s also a place where there’s good folks trying to make a real difference in the world, without becoming obsessed with prospects of power.Spots like Wise Owl are meeting grounds for what makes DC a real diamond in the ruff. This city ain’t always pretty, and you gotta sift through a lotta dicks, but there’s also the potential to become part of a greater scene where people are smart, creative, innovative, thoughtful, and resilient. This is what makes one’s life a the nation’s capital a tale of two cities. Let’s just hope that when you come to this town you fit into the right camp. 

01

Aug

My writing has been running on the oil of Winslow Homer painting of late. #dclivin #nationalgallery #goldontheceiling

My writing has been running on the oil of Winslow Homer painting of late. #dclivin #nationalgallery #goldontheceiling

26

Jul

Motherfuckin Reignwolf! #dclivin #rockandrollhotel (at Rock And Roll Hotel)

Motherfuckin Reignwolf! #dclivin #rockandrollhotel (at Rock And Roll Hotel)

23

Jul

Papa and Me

Classes are done for the summer. My brain is fried from cranking out damn near forty pages of research over the course of the last week, and I’m in a nervous state of uncertainty of whether I will have a job or at least an unpaid internship by the end of the month. It’s days like this where you need to relax. Nobody ever wrote anything of note when they were anxious and uptight. Your ideas don’t flow like they should. I’m sitting in the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. On a muggy day like this I want to do nothing more than sit here and write. The courtyard is a beautiful and calming sanctuary, and a welcome escape from the fast-paced, cut-throat, stuffy landscape of the typical DC workday. The water from the floor fountains babbles like music, and the sunlight breaks through the glass ceiling marvelously. I’ve just wandered the gallery, and am now having an afternoon beer (Flying Dog Dead Rise) while I sit here letting my words bleed. 

"There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed."

These are the words of my greatest literary sage, Ernest Hemingway. Two days ago was his 115th birthday and it made me think about how he still has an effect on young writers like myself. People either think two things when you tell them that you admire Papa Hemingway. You’re either the ultimate badass, an embodiment of manhood, courage, and cool, or they think you’re a misogynistic asshole who drinks too much, finds entertainment in the killing of large animals, and longs to return to a time when men could sit around at lunch sipping martinis, and casually make un-P.C.comments about Jews. I for one came to regard Papa for entirely different reasons. 

My love for Hemingway started in Middle School when I was first assigned to read ‘The Old Man and The Sea.’ Around the same time the Milwaukee Museum was featuring a film on the novella as well as a feature on the life of Hemingway. My grandfather was a Hemingway fan himself and took me to see the film. I enjoyed it, but at my young age I didn’t understand certain parts of the story. Throughout High School I was assigned to read a number of Hemingway’s short stories, of course I was doing so much reading back then that I hardly had any down time between school, sports, and spending time with friends. Then during my senior year of college a history professor of mine asked me if I had ever read anything by Hemingway. Aside from the previously mentioned pieces I couldn’t say that I had. He recommended that I read The Sun Also Rises. He told me that the truly powerful nature of the book was how it has been able to cross generations in how people identified with it.

A lot in the world has changed since the 20s, but I was eager to give the book a read. In the Fall of 2010 I was living abroad, interning at the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria. I took Dr. Matson’s advice and brought three Hemingway novels along for the ride; A Farewell to Arms, For Whom The Bells Tolls, and The Sun Also Rises. I took the books with me wherever i went, both in the city and on my travels. I was struck. Each book spoke to me in a way that I couldn’t have imagined before. The more time I spent in Vienna the more I started to see connections between my time in the City of Dreams, and Papa’s time drunkenly carousing the streets of Paris with Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Pound, and Stein. I had my extravagant and indulgent band of ex-pats, thinkers and drinkers, writers, philosophers, diplomats, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and everyone else in between. We came from different places and all had different thoughts, but we were all trying to make sense of the times we lived in. Our gang of ex-pats were a wicked good company.

A lot had changed since the 20s, but certain components of human nature have stayed the same. We’re living in times that make us question our place in the world. A lot’s changing, and everything can seem a little fucked up. That didn’t stop any of us from enjoying ourselves, or from doing our best to be tough and resilient in our time. This was what connected one generation to the next.

The trip gave me motivation to be what Hemingway was, a man of his time. I don’t mean this in the sense of trying to copy his lifestyle or thoughts. I mean it in seeking to live with the same conviction and to be strong and courageous even as the world around you seems uncertain and dangerous. This is the case for the characters in Papa’s stories, whether they are male or female, and whether they are at war or just going on a lost weekend trip with friends. To me this is what makes Ernest Hemingway both a man and a writer that is worth my reverence. It is why I regard him as an influence on my writing. Reading and studying what he thought both good and bad gives me an idea of who he was as a man and of who I want to be.I write the characters for my stories in the same light.

Hemingway certainly had his negative aspects, but that’s just what made him human. If men were angels then there’d be no purpose in writing about us. We’d be fucking perfect all the time, and a story like that would be boring as shit. Some people may not live the cleanest of lives, but that doesn’t make them bad. It makes them human. That’s why I write, and that’s why I regard Ernest Hemingway as my greatest influence. He was a man of his time with great courage and conviction. That is what I seek to be both as a writer and a person. Happy Birthday Papa! May the sun always rise in your favor. 

10

Jul

The Sandbar and the Divide

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. I’ve been too busy balancing my summer classes with finishing working on Gold On The Ceiling to think about much else. After two weeks back in Wisconsin, away from the insane social-climbing, agenda-driven clusterfuck that is DC I found myself far more relaxed, and more sure of my writing.

Last night I randomly decided to scribble down a little short story. It can be nice to get back to your roots. It gives you good ideas. Much of my time at home was spent chilling out on my boat, hitting up Summerfest, beachcombing, fishing, swimming, frolfing, shooting guns, and reading Hemingway short stories. After reading the classic Nick Adams story ‘Summer People’ I decided to write down a little short story (maybe a shamless Hemingway rip-off depending on how you look at it) that came to me spontaneously. I managed to scratch down 2,000 words last night after a couple pints of Sam Adams. This is the first short story I’ve published to this blog. It’s set on a lake in Southeastern Wisconsin in the late summer. Anyway here it is…

_________________________________________________________________

The Sandbar and the Divide

The lake was calm. Our kayaks cut through the placid green water at a smooth pace, and ripples from our paddles dispersed behind our boats in rigid little chops of wake. It was quiet time. Nobody else was out on the lake, and the motorboats had been silenced for the evening. My Dad and I were all alone on the water.

 “There’s been a lotta bites by the sandbar,” he said to me.

 “We should fish there,” I said, “If that’s our best chance to land a big catch.”

 We paddled toward the sandbar, which was shaded by a lone willow tree. The water was rather murky, and stringy weeds had grown where there was once a bare bed of sand. I could see little schools of Bluegills swimming idly through the vines of the underwater forest. The Bluegills lazed about, then suddenly dart into deeper waters and then back again.

 I hung my left foot over the edge of my kayak, and dipped it into the water. The water felt cool and relieving from the humid summer air. After taking my foot out I leaned my head over the side of the boat and splashed the green water on my face and shirt. I immediately felt alive and refreshed, and turned up the music on the small radio I had stowed in my backpack, and a Bob Dylan song came on. Dad pulled up beside me in his kayak, and handed me a Mason jar full of dirt. He smiled when he heard the Dylan song.

 “Told you my music was better,” he laughed.

 “It’s good, I’ll give you that,” I said, “I prefer it to the music that most my friends listen to.”

 ‘Then you’re all ready for college. If you come in liking Bob Dylan, you’ll be one step ahead of your friends.”

 “Most of them like him too. Just not as much as me.”

 I took out my pole and tried getting a clean grip on the hook. Once I got the metal hook held firmly between my index finger and thumb I reached into the jar. As I fiddled through the damp dirt, I felt the slime of the worms. I grabbed one firmly and cut a segment off it before removing it from the jar. As I baited the worm onto the hook dirt scattered from my fingers and left smudges on my clothes.

 Dad had his line fixed, and cast it far out across the sandbar. The line stretched out across the divide between the shallows and the deep water. I was still baiting my hook.

 “Enjoy this while you’ve got it,” Dad said, “You won’t get this kinda scene when you go off to school.”

 “Chicago ain’t too far away,” I said.

 “An hour at most.”

 “I’ll still come back to visit.”

 “Once you go to college you’ll never wanna leave. That’s what it was like for me.”

 “How do you know I’ll stay?”

 “At least stay for one year. It’s the best party you’ll ever go to. That’s what my older brother always told me.”

 I fixed my reel, and cast my line toward the willow. It landed in the shallow water.

 “I like the sound of that. They don’t have fishing though.”

 “There is another thing they have at college.”

 He reached into the cooler by his feet. He pulled out two bottles of beer, and threw one to my boat, telling me to catch. The bottle splashed into the water next to my boat.

 “Figured you’d drink a lotta this when you’re at school,” Dad laughed.

 I took the beer, a Leinenkugel’s wheat, from the water. It felt cold in my hand I twisted off the cap and had a little sip. The beer was cold and reviving. I laughed with my dad and kicked back on my kayak dipped my left foot back in the water.

 “You might know what my friends and I have been doing,” I said lightly.

 “Only now I don’t have to pretend to be mad at you. We all drank beer when we were teenagers. We just have to wait till later to openly admit it.”

 “What’s so bad about beer?”

 “Nothing. Just so long as it doesn’t interfere with school and sports. You go to college to learn.”

 “I was a straight A student and I drank beer.”

 “And when you get older, you learn that beer makes some sports more enjoyable.”

 “Fishing can be exciting.”

 “Only if you have enough beer. It’s gotta be good beer too.”

 “Miller Lite is good beer.”

 “When you’re your age, yes. Get a little older and you’ll think it’s shit. This beer is far better than the crap you and your friends have been drinking.”

 “What’s wrong with Miller Lite?”

 ”Nothing. It’s just that once you get older you learn more. Your skills develop. Your tastes develop, and you know more about what’s best.”

 “This is good beer.”

 “I knew you’d say that. Now you’ll never drink Miller again.”

 “I don’t know about that. Beer is beer.”

 “One day you’ll learn.”

 The boat was starting to drift. It moved toward the shore. There was a bite on my line. I pulled back reeling ecstatically. It felt like a big one. The bobber had sunk down. I kept on reeling. As it neared the boat a Bluegill had bitten down on the hook, which was trapped between its mouth and its eye. The bluegill flailed around as I tried to grab it. The sharp fins on its back pricked me, before I was able to get a hold of the fish’s smooth slimy skin. I wiggled the hook carefully trying not to pierce the eyeball. I was nervous of what I could do to the fish. It freaked me out a little bit, and I told Dad where I had hooked the Bluegill.

 “Be as careful as you can,” he said, “But you got him pretty good there.”

 “Will it be fine?”

 “It’s getting cooked when we get back.”

 I wiggled the hook carefully till it was out of the fish’s eye. I tried not to harm the fish, though I knew it would die anyway. I fixed up a new worm and cast my line again. The boat was still drifting into shallow water. Dad was fishing along the divide. He had cast out several times and ha caught nothing. I took a sip of beer and had another bite.

 I reeled in another Bluegill. This one was about the same size as the last, and near identical in appearance. I yipped wildly and threw it in the boat. As I celebrated the catch my beer tipped over and spilled in the kayak. I tried saving it, but by the time I picked up the bottle nearly all the beer had spilled. I sat back down, pissed that I had spilled the beer, but happy with my catch.

 The water in the sandbar was alive with Bluegills. There was an entire school teaming through the weeds. In less than five minutes I had caught three more of them. I didn’t even stop my boat from drifting. In the shallow water I could catch more fish. I didn’t even need to cast out. I could see the schools of Bluegills lazing about indolently through the green water. I dipped my line in front of the fish and hooked one damn near every time. Before I knew it my boat was stocked with over a dozen Bluegills. None of them were as large as my first catch.

 Dad still hadn’t caught a thing. His kayak drifted along the divide. You couldn’t see the bottom out there, deeper down the water turned from a muted green to a murky, muddy brown.

 “My beer spilled,” I said, “Throw me another one.”

 “I think we’re all out. There’s more up at the house.”

 “I could go and get some. My boat’s almost full.”

 “Wait and we’ll drink one with dinner. Fish goes well with a sweet glass of wheat beer. That’s another thing you’ll learn when you get older.”

 “Will it go well with Bluegill?”

 “Beer goes with everything, as long as you have the right kind. Beer is good for far more than just a night of screwing around with your friends.”

 He cast his line out across the divide. The bobber floated on the surface for almost a minute. Then it went under. There was a bite. Dad’s pole bent dramatically, and he leaned back in his seat, and fought fiercely to reel in his catch. Based on how taught the line became and how deep it dove I could tell that this was a big fish. Dad continued to fight with the fish on the line. The harder the fish tugged, the tougher it was for him to reel the fish in. He summoned all the strength into his arms and chest and tugged assertively. The fish emerged from the depths. He had hooked a Large-mouth Bass, over a foot long, and with green scales that appeared like camouflage in the water. Dad had won the fight with the fish. He cheered heartily as he lifted the fish over the side of his kayak. I looked on in amazement, and then I looked down at my collection of Bluegills.

 “We’ve got our main course,” he said.

 “What should we do with the Bluegills?” I asked.

 “We can pan fry all of them. Not nearly as much meat on them though.”

 “Either way they’ll all go well with beer.”

 I pulled my kayak up next to my Dad’s. We examined the fish together, and I ran the palm of my hand against its slippery scales.

 “You won’t catch nothing like this in the shallows,” Dad said.

 “I do have large catch. I have over a dozen.”

 “But there is hardly any meat on Bluegills.”

 “How would I land a fish like that?”

 I pointed to the massive bass, which was gasping for life, about to die.

 “The Bluegills stay in shallow water, because they know it is the best place to avoid being eaten by bigger fish. Not like that matters. The bass swim along the divide in deeper waters. At nighttime they move into the shallows to feast upon the Bluegills. That’s why it’s best to fish the divide. You may not get as many bites as you would in the sandbar, and you may seem quite frustrated at times, but when you do get a bite, your catch will be greater than if you never left the shallow water, where you can see everything below the surface.”

 I looked down at my catch. The Bluegills seemed tiny in comparison. I didn’t know how much meat I’d beat able to scrape off of them. The bass could feed the entire family. Dad held the bass up and put it in the cooler. After he rested it on the ice, he took one more bottle of Leinenkugel’s wheat from the cooler.

 “I forgot. We have one more beer,” he said, “Do you want it?”

 “Sure,” I said.

 He handed me the beer. I opened it and took a big gulp. It tasted sweet and fresh, and for a moment I felt better. I now knew where the best spot to fish on the lake was. We lazed about for about ten minutes. The sun was glowing blood red in the humid summer sky. I finished the beer, and we started paddling toward the opposite shore.