Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Build an X-Wing

I was a little unsure whether to post this here, or to my more family centered blog ( But in the "about" area, I list this as my "whimsy" blog. If this project doesn't fit in "whimsy," I don't know what does. So, sandwiched in the middle of a bunch of dark shit about suicide, here is your "Lila Rose gets her first X-Wing Fighter" how to. Enjoy!

Oooooh, Star Wars... If they should bar wars... Give us those Star Wars... Don't let them end...

So, a while back, someone gave my daughter this goofy red hat. One day, she was sitting in her little chair that clips to the table, lookin' all adorable. And I noticed that the hat looked remarkably like a Rebel Alliance starfighter helmet. Well, for a baby hat it looks remarkably like it, anyway. OK, to a giant fucking nerd it looks remarkably like a Rebel Alliance helmet (for a baby hat).

And it got me to thinking: I should build my tiny daughter an X-Wing to call her own. It took a few weeks before I had time (thank you, Presidents' Day!).

But, with a three day weekend to burn, it was definitely time. You can follow along, with my easy to follow instructions. I make drawing fun!


1 extra large cardboard box (free)
4 cans of white spray paint ($3.96 total)
1 small can of red paint (I got a tester can at Home Depot for $2.98)
Foam paint brush ($0.69)
Box cutter
The Force (may it be with you, always)

1: Cut the end flaps off your box and set them aside.

Step 1: Cut Fuselage
2: Mark out the center strip of your fuselage (about 10" wide). Then mark out two flanges for the sides, at about a 22* angle and cut your fuselage out of the main box.

2a: Using your knife, score the inside fold line lightly to make folding easier.

 I should pause at this juncture and say that this process was entirely experimental. I went into it a) knowing what an X-Wing looks like, and b) with a lot of time on my hands. It's probable that someone with a little more technical skill would have done this with more forethought, but screw you. Also, I needed to fill a little text space to make the formatting not look so crappy with the pictures. I have now accomplished that. You may continue.

3: Using the piece left over from your outer edge cut as a pattern/template to cut the additional three wings from the remaining box. Now, you've got your fuselage and four wings.

Step 3: Cut them wings!
 **Star Wars riddle: What's got a light side, a dark side, and holds the galaxy together? That's right, duct tape. Get some. I know, I should have included it in the Materials section. Bite me. If you've started this project without reading at least this far and now have to drive to the store to buy duct tape, it serves your right.**

Luke, I am your father, eh. Give in to the dark side of the Force, you knob!
3a: Line the front (angled) edge of each wing with duct tape. This will cover up any messy cardboard, and also give you an excuse to use duct tape. Who doesn't love to use duct tape?
Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'...

4: Now it's time to make our engines. Remember those end flaps we cut off? Hope you didn't throw them away yet. Grab the long ones. Roll them tightly (like a poster) so that the cardboard loses stiffness. Once the cardboard is nice and pliable, tape the two ends together to form hollow tubes.

4a: Use the small end flaps and cut four pieces for the inserts. Tape these to the ends of your engine tubes.

Voila, engines. Perfect for interstellar transit

5: Now it's time for the blasters. First, start the base by rolling two of your remaining end flaps, then cutting them in half.

Great for blasting Womp Rats
5a: Cut pieces about 8" wide by 2' long. Roll each piece tightly till it forms a tight tube. This will be the barrel of your blaster cannon.

5b: Wrap the flap pieces around the end of your long tube and secure with duct tape.

5c: Cut four small, thin strips and wrap them around the cannon barrel about 3" from the opposite end. Then cover the muzzle end with duct tape to hide that ugly cardboard. It should look like this.

6: Ok, now it's time for the assembly to begin! First, let's get the point at the tip of our fuselage. Cut a wedge on each side of the tip about 3" wide, tapering down to a point about 10" up. It'll look like this:

The W is for "What the hell am I doing?"
7: Next, cut a new piece the length of your fuselage, and slightly narrower than the top center strip.

7a: Cut the end of this piece so that it tapers at the same rate as the top center strip.

7b: Cut narrow strips out of this piece, the same width as a piece of duct tape. Cut them on both sides, about 8" up and 18" up. Feed 8" strips of duct tape through these holes, wrap around, and secure the tape to itself. You should have about 6" left with sticky side facing in.

7c: Now, bend the pieces of the fuselage together, so that they form the point at the end. Use the remaining strips of tape to secure the bottom to the top. Then use duct tape to close the gaps and secure the end. Use additional strips of duct tape to cover the joints.

Not a Womp Rat
**Now is where the process starts to depend on your application. For me, the X-Wing is designed for my daughter, and I'm making it so it'll fit over her little frog jumper thing. Maybe you wanna wear it for halloween or it's for your larger kid. So you'll have to figure out the appropriate size/shape of step 8 for yourself.**

Now the next thing I need to do is figure out the cutouts to make it fit the frog. On an X-Wing, the wings secure almost immediately behind the pilot and droid navigator. So you wanna leave just enough space behind for the wings to comfortably attach.

8: So I set my frame over the support, and guestimated where the baby will come through. Then, I marked the sides where I needed to make my cutouts. I also cut the bottom off where the cutouts start. Here's what it looks like set over the frog.

Don't worry, it gets a lot less stupid looking later.

See the slits I fed the tape through?
9: Using the remaining length of the bottom piece, cut your tape cutouts, and wrap your tape through. Secure to the top starting at the back end of the cutouts. Where it reaches the end of your frame, cut in from the sides about 2".

9a: Bend at the cut, and fold to cover the back. You should have 2 tape slots on each side. Put tape through, and secure to cover the back of your frame. Cut off any excess.

10: Cover your seams with duct tape all the way along the bottom and back edges. This will make sure your X-Wing has a nice, even finish when we paint, and help keep it secured. Here's what it looks like on the bottom now:

11: Now for the wings. To make them fit securely, we first need to cut a piece from the body-end of each. Make sure they're all exactly the same by using the cutout piece from the first as your pattern. The flange should be longer than the width of your X-Wing's body by about 4-6" (more on why later). Here's what all four should look like when you're done:

You are the wind beneath my... Wait, no wind in space. D'oh.
11b: Now comes the tricky part. I'm sure someone from Ikea could figure out another way to do this, but I'm not so mechanically/spatially talented. So here's what I did. First, cut an upper slot on side A (A1), then a lower slot on side B (B2), each just wide just enough to fit the wing flanges through (doesn't matter which side is which, so long as they're opposite sides. Name 'em Luke and Leia for all I care).

Interior shot of the wings
11c: Next, Cut the lower slot in side A (A2) and the upper slot in side B (B1) by cutting from the back of your cutouts. Your first set of slots (11b) should be closed, and the second set (11c) should be open, all of them ending the same distance from the back of your X-Wing.

12: Time to start assembly of the wings. First, feed wings 1 and 2 diagonally through A1 and B2 (no, you didn't miss me assigning numbers to the wings earlier, this is just another random naming). The wings should overlap on each side, with about 4-6" of butt-end extending through the opposite slot.

12a: Next, slide wings 3 and 4 down through A2 and B1. Where they touch the first set, mark both sets.

12b: Remove wings 3 and 4. Using a craft knife/box cutter, cut tabs out of wings 3 and 4. Cut matching tabs from wings 1 and 2 where you marked them. You'll have to guess as you go, but be careful. If you cut too much, your wings won't line up. Keep cutting a little at a time until the four wings slide together and all are on a level plane.

OK, now it's time for painting. If you're like me and you have a fetish for spray paint, then you should use spray paint. However, it would have been a lot easier to just buy a small can of house paint or tempera. Again, if you went an bought supplies without reading the fucking instructions, not my fault. If you didn't, I'd buy white paint, and paint everything with a paintbrush. Quicker, easier, cleaner. You'll probably need a pint of white paint, instead of four cans of spray paint. But, if you're like me and you keep choosing spray paint for no apparent reason, then...

13: Set yourself up with a drop cloth, and spray paint the shit outa that fucker.

I wonder what this looks like to my neighbors. Certainly not like a fitting activity for a grown man...

Now, one way or another your pieces are ready to go and painted white, so it's time to add your X-Wing colors. First things first, you wanna mark the wings. I recommend using ST, SB, PT, PB (Starboard and Port, top and bottom), to keep your wings straight. It's important for the blaster cannons and your detail work.

14: Once you've got everything marked and separated, add your red paint. If you google image search X-Wing, you'll come up with about 15 different paint schemes. I chose a slightly personalized version of the classic from Episode IV. You should do whatever makes you happy. Remember to paint all four wings on their top side, though. I also added some red to the blaster cannons and engines, just for good measure. Here's my stuff all painted and drying:


15: While you're waiting for paint to dry, it's time to get your astromech navigator together. I personally went with the classic R2 unit. Very devoted, but a bit headstrong. First you need to print up a pic of the little guy. Don't try to paint him, it'll just look stupid.

15a: Once you've got R2's head and upper body printed (should fill about 1/2 sheet of paper), cut him out and glue him to a piece of cardboard.

15b: Leaving about 6" of blank cardboard below him, cut the remaining cardboard so it's just a little droid.

15c: Then cut two flaps from the cardboard at the base, running from the bottom to where R2 starts. Should look like the pic on the right.

15d: Cut slots in the X-Wing body behind your pilot hole to match R2's 3 strips (middle and edges). Feed those three through, leaving the two flaps outside and bent back. Tape these down. Now your R2 is nice and sturdy, and won't flop over on you.

***Interlude. It occurs to me that I never told you to cut a hole for the pilot. It doesn't really matter when you do this. But at some point, cut the hole through which your fighter pilot's head will emerge. If you can't figure out where/how to do that, I'm not going to help you.***

16: Still with me? Good. Grand. Great. Wonderful. NO YELLING ON THE BUS!!! Now your paint should be pretty dry. So it's time to attach the blaster cannons. First, cut two small slots in the end of each wing. These should be the same type as you cut in step 7b. They should be slightly closer together than the fat end of your cannon is wide.

Tape slots at ends of your wings

16a: Now, feed a long strip of tape through. Remember, the cannons are on the OUTSIDE of each wing, so the bottom wings they're below, and the top wings they're above.

16b: Put the cannons in place, wrap the tape tightly, cut off any extra. Now it's on to...

17: The engines. We're almost done. First, I don't like ugly edges, so wrap the front end of the engines with duct tape to cover the cardboard.

17b: Now cut one skinny slot on each (opposite) side of each engine. Start from the back of the engine, and cut to about 3/4 of the full length. You want to position these so that they're NOT in the center of the engine. X-Wing engines are also on the outside of each wing. That's not fully feasible here because of our construction model, but you should cut them at about 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock (you know, where your hands are supposed to be on the steering wheel, ass clown). That way, the engines will be mostly outside the wings.

This was a first run. The slots should extend almost all the way to the other edge to be flush with the wings.

18: Congratulations, you've made it. Now, just assemble the full deal. Insert the wings into the body. Next, slide the engines over the wings. And here's what it should look like...
Oooooooooh, SNAP!

Now it's time to get the kid in her sick new ride.

As you can see in this video, the weight of the blaster cannons is a little too much for the cardboard wings. If you're making something that needs to have structural integrity, I'd probably grab some 1/4" dowels and feed them through to support your wings. But for now, I'm happy just holding and taking pictures. In the end, this wasn't really for her to play in, it's for me to satisfy some giant nerd idea that I got from a stupid hat. And satisfy myself I did. Here are some pictures from the nerdfest.

Lila = Happy. Miles = Not so much

Warning: What follows next is a complete nerdout. If you have made it this far, you are clearly either a fucking nerd like me, or somehow related to me, or have a sense of morbid curiousity. From here out, it's all pictures of the cutest little girl ever to pilot an X-Wing (ok, cutest little girl ever). View them if you will, but do so at your own risk.

Red leader, this is Red 5, I'm going in!

I'm making my run...

I've got one on my tail!

I can't shake him!

Yahoo! You're all clear, kid! (I didn't make the Millenium Falcon yet, so this'll have to do)
 Use the Force, Lila...
Trust your feelings!
It's away!
Great shot, Kid! That was one in a million!
Yes, I know she's not in her X-Wing in the last picture. This one was taken the day I realized it looked like a Rebel Alliance helmet. Plus, look at that face! I didn't get any shots that said, "Daddy, I just blew up the Death Star" quite as well as this one does. So I used it. Booyah!

Saturday, February 12, 2011


From my journal, 03/10/01

I hadn’t even taken a seat at the counter, and they were already talking to me. It was a ratty, smokey little diner, across the street from a storage and shipping joint in what could’ve been just about any town in America.
“How tall are you, son?” he asked me. He had salt ‘n’ pepper hair and a salt ‘n’ pepper beard and sparkling old eyes and a goofy grin.
“Uh, six feet four,” I answered.
“Six feet four,” he exclaimed, “Now, that’s the perfect height for a center. Do you play basketball son?”
“Why not? You’d be a great center.”
“I might be if I could shoot the ball. I’m tall, but I can’t shoot.”
He didn’t seem to hear me. He just kept going. “Oh, you’d be a great center. Six feet four is perfect height for a center. I got that from the old basketball players. Now they got those real big boys, but six feet four is the perfect height for a center. You try again son. See, you let ‘em get under you, before. You try again, you’ll be great. You’ll see. Six feet four is the perfect height for a center."
He didn't care what I said, so I couldn’t really argue. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll try.”
I glanced around the place just as the waitress came up. Everyone in the joint was over fifty, and she was no exception. Her hair was dyed a tacky auburn and she looked tired and sounded worn out, and she had a bright pink tee shirt under her black sweatshirt. There were big, sloppy, neon pink letters running diagonally up the sweat. “RENO.”
“Didja need a menu?” she asked.
“Yeah, and a cup of coffee, please.”
“Okay, just a minute.”
“No hurry.”
I looked around the place again, and Salt ‘n’ Pepper was still smiling at me from his seat on the other side of the register. “How ya doin’ today?” I asked him.
“Oh, I’m wonderful son. I enjoy this as much as you enjoy basketball.”
I think he meant that he enjoys life as much as he wishes I enjoyed basketball. Truth be known, I couldn’t care less about basketball, but he certainly seemed to be getting a kick out of life.
“How much to settle up for the coffee?” he asked as the waitress came by.
“Ninety seven cents,” she answered.
“That’ll work out perfect,” he warbled, “I’m gonna give that three cents to this young man here.”
He came around the register holding his dollar. Then he caught sight of my backpack. “That’s a mighty fine backpack. But there’s one thing wrong with this backpack, you know what it is?” He looked up at me from behind his thick, rectangular glasses.
“No, what’s that?”
He grabbed hold of a black and grass green nylon zipper pull. “This right here. That’s the only thing wrong with your backpack. But I’ll take care of it for you.” He stuck his thumb through the loop and pulled, trying to snap it, but the braided nylon wouldn’t budge.
“Huh. Tough fucker,” He grunted, “And I don’t have my knife.”
The waitress had come back with my coffee in the standard issue chipped brown mug, and she brought the standard plastic eight ounce glass of water too. I watched her set down the napkin and silverware, and when I turned back, Salt ‘n’ Pepper had the nylon in his teeth, tearing at it and grunting. I was about to tell him I’d take care of it later, but his teeth slipped and he pulled away, apparently thinking he had won the fight.
“There you go son,” he grinned. “Now there ain’t nothing wrong with your backpack. You can just leave that corpse right there.” He was smiling a big, toothy smile, obviously pleased with himself. “You just leave that corpse hanging there,” he repeated, grinning.
The waitress came by and took his dollar and gave him his three cents change.
“That’ll work just right,” he said. He took up my right hand and pushed the penny hard into the center of my palm. He looked me square in the face, eyes gleaming behind his spectacles. “That’s for you.”
I smiled at him and he grinned back, then said, “Give me your other hand, son.” I held it out, and he pressed another penny into that palm, hard and flat and right in the center. “That’s for your wife.” He grinned wide, then said, “Now put them together, son,” so I closed my palms with my thumbs toward the green styrofoam ceiling. He slid the third penny under my thumbs and into the crack between my palms.
“That’s for your son,” he stated brightly, and he shuffled through the door, past the red and white Miller Highlife sign and into the lounge.
There was a woman with thinning hair and a pile of pull tabs in the booth behind me, and a man with no hair, a wrinkled scalp, eight or ten teeth and a pile of scratch tickets in the next booth over.
“Do you know what you’re having?” the waitress asked me. Her hair was done up in puffy pigtails, and the line of yellow light bulbs made a funny haze around her head in the loose auburn hair.
“Yeah, could I have a short stack of cakes and the combo with scrambled eggs please. And I won’t need any toast with that.”
“Short stack of cakes and eggs and hashbrowns then,” she echoed.
“Yeah, and can you tell me where the restrooms are?”
“If you go back over there, there’s a red sign that shows the way.”
“Thanks,” I said. I followed the sign past a couple of doors and around a few corners. The toilet seats were cracked and stained; there wasn’t a door on either stall, but when you gotta go you can’t be too picky. My shit was just this side of liquid. Probably because my last meal has consisted of Triscuits and cream cheese and a Butterfinger bar in the back of a Greyhound. Oh, and a pint of Kokanee and one of some local IPA in an Irish pub at 1:55 in the morning.
Sometime halfway into my flaky instant hashbrowns, an old woman in pink and blue pajama pants came up next to me, leaning on a copper cane. “Morning Laura,” she called to the waitress. Laura responded, but I didn’t quite catch the other woman’s name. Edith or Edna or something, I think.
“Is Michael working today?” she questioned.
The waitress got a strange look and said, “No, he walked out of here.”
“He did?”
‘Yeah. He was just standing around, talking about his cat, and I asked him to cook an order and he walked out of here. Broke all kinds of things on the way, plates and mugs. He slammed the microwave door and we had to replace that.”
“No! The microwave?”
“That’s not right, I mean, he had no business doing that. And he was just standing around, talking about his cat?”
“Yeah, and when I told him he needed to cook an order he started yelling and walked out.”
“Well that’s not right. Work is no place to be standing around and talking about your pet.”
“Not when there are customers anyway.”
“And then he just stormed out.”
“That must’ve been awfully embarrassing.”
“Well, I was just embarrassed for our customers.”
“And he just stormed out?”
“He must’ve been drunk.”
“I think he was.”
“Well he must’ve been, to do something like that.”
It kept going. So did the people. Coming and going. Everybody knew everybody else. Ruthie and Russ and Rob and Dan and a stream of tepid coffee and eggs over easy and more coffee and plaid shirts and worn out jeans and dirty baseball caps and coffee and ruddy faces and baggy eyes and pull tabs and coffee and a fella in a wheelchair with a foot missing and a black beret with a silver cross on it and hawaiian print tee shirts and coffee and people giving the waitress five bucks on four ninety and saying “keep the change” and pull tabs and the woman with the cane saying “he’ll kill somebody when he’s drunk one of these days, Michael will,” and coffee and cowboy hats and a girl with a cane who couldn’t have been more that twenty five but looked well past forty and twelve cent tips on six dollar tabs and coffee and coffee and coffee in a steady, brown, tepid stream and cream out of innumerable little plastic cups and body odor and baggy eyes and a guy in a plaid shirt and a baseball cap with a scraggly beard and dirty hands with long, uncut nails and fingers that shook and clenched his fork and a yellow bag of rolling tobacco, and when he saw me spin my pen in my fingers he stopped and turned towards me as Laura topped off my coffee.
“Wow, that’s cool,” he stated. “I had an uncle who did that with a quarter, or…or was it a fifty cent piece?”
“Right on. That’s tough. I could never do it with a quarter.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he stammered, “I did it one time. It had to, to uh, go under,” and he held out his shaky hand to try to show me, but his fingers wouldn’t do what he wanted. “Oh damn,” he half mumbled, half chuckled, “I did it once. I had an uncle once who could bend a fifty cent piece like that. An Uncle Joe, Uncle Joe.”
“Takes some strong fingers to do that,” I said.
He smiled, “Yeah, I had an uncle who could do that once.”
And they just kept coming. Old men with buttons and patches on their hats, saying things like, “Say, where’s the waitress,” and, “I’ll just let John blow in your face, he’s got the cold on him,” and throwing trash at the can in the corner and saying, “Damn, I missed that bucket,” and I had just noticed that the one guy had a tan leather coat when his friend said, “I don’t want no damn gravy on my chicken fried steak, what’s the soup?”
“Chowder,” Laura answered.
“I don’t want no damn chowder, what else you got?”
“What the hell is Soukatash? Aw hell, just give me a salad.”
“You want bleu cheese on that?”
“Hell no.”
“Well, what do you want?”
“Ranch, damnit. Isn’t this a cow town?”
I’d probably had eight cups of what we had all tacitly agreed to call coffee. The sign over the pink lemonade dispenser read
all in block capitals.
There was a machine dispensing Chicklets and one with Hot Tamales next to a newspaper box in front of the door.
The bus ride took almost six hours. It was raining when we started and I was eating Triscuits out of a box and using them to scoop Philly cream cheese out of the foil wrapper. I turned off my overhead light; I thought I had seen lightning. I started counting the cars somewhere outside of Issaquah. I was stuck on one eight seven for well over a minute. Getting through from two oh one to three hundred took longer than any other count of one hundred. The moon tried to poke through the clouds at two four seven. I saw snow on the ground at three one one. The fog came up thick at three twenty four. Three four eight came along and we hit the top of the pass and I noticed that it was snowing. At four seventeen the bus started braking and groaning and I figured I was gonna die just east of Snoqualmie. Four ninety three and it was still snowing. The driver stopped the bus and got out to adjust his left headlight. An Alaskan fisherman was coughing. At five seventeen the moon came through. I lost count somewhere around six hundred.
The sky cleared up. Somewhere around Moses lake a fog rolled in. It was heavy and thick and it fuzzed up everything. Fog creates all the visual effects of good acid, without that nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach. I hadn’t taken acid in years, but I had that nasty feeling just the same.
There was a rest stop with a burned out sign. One side read “Restau” and the other side “aurant.” Funny thing. It was missing “rest” and “rant.” The two things I had come to do. There were three radio towers with bright, flashing, white lights that looked like lightning.
I fell asleep on the open plains somewhere just east of Ritzville. I woke up as we pulled into Spokane.
“Everybody needs to get off the bus,” said the driver. “You can put your stuff on the seat if you don’t want to take it with you.
The streets smelled like middle America and there was dirty snow and piss in the alleys and the first motel I came to was closed.
I found an open one three blocks away. The room was forty five dollars for the night, and checkout was 11 am.
“If you need a little more time, just call down and let us know,” the attendant informed me.
“Is there an open bar around here?”
“Well, I guess the best place is Thudpuckers. That’s…oh, do you have a car?”
“No, but I saw it. I just came from there.”
“Oh. I guess there’s next door.”
‘Right on.”
He looked hesitant. “It’s a gay bar,” he choked out.
I just wanted a beer. I went upstairs and stashed my bank card and three hundred twenty six dollars cash in the microwave and went to find a bar. The bar next door had black cellophane over its windows and a silver and black awning. It didn’t look too inviting, so I went the other way. Four blocks up I heard shouting and saw a Ford Bronco pull away from the curb.
“I don’t wanna fight you,” the kid in the black coat said. Then the yellow hat started throwing punches. Yellow Hat got Black Coat on the ground and smashed his face into the pavement. He pulled him up by the hair and punched him again.
“Don’t you ever fuckin’ talk to me that way,” and he slammed Black Coat’s face into the sidewalk while a guy and a blonde girl in a black leather coat and miniskirt stood there watching.
I went into a shitty Irish bar and had a couple pints of beer. A minute later, Yellow Hat came in, blood on his fists, staggering and crowing. Half a beer later, the cops came and gave Yellow Hat a new set of matching silver bracelets and a ride somewhere. I went back to my motel.
I took a bath when I got back to my room. I tried to jerk off, but my dick just wouldn’t get hard. The towels were thin and rough, and my hair never really dried.
I must’ve woken up six or seven times, and every time I went back to sleep, I asked why I was running.

My dead friend was there, the one who slit his throat and knelt over the drain in a bathtub in Vermont so that he wouldn’t make a mess while he bled to death. Everything was wrong, he said, and he was gonna get the KKK to fix it. It’s this place, I screamed, can’t you see what it’s doing to us? It’s driving us all crazy. But he wouldn’t listen and he went off to slit his throat and die behind the bushes. Lets’ burn it all, I screamed. Alex came to help me. He busted all the gas lines behind the stove while I scrambled to get my shit from my bedroom. Computers and comic books, and I thought I had it all, but when I turned there was a bookshelf stretching away for miles in front of me. I had to take them all. Alex was screaming at me from the bottom of the stairs. Get the fuck outa here, we gotta light it, we gotta go. I started to leave, then went back for my bowling ball. I couldn’t carry any of it, so I dropped it all. When we got outside our friend was there. He had come back from slitting his throat and he had brought the KKK and the police, and there was a river of blood oozing from two nicks in his jugular and running into a puddle on the ground, and we ran off through the back yard. We were screaming. The house never burned.

I woke up ten minutes before checkout. For the first time, I knew why I was running.
I checked out at 10:59. “Is there a diner worth eating at around here?”
I barely heard what the girl said, but I thanked her and set out walking. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, but after a few blocks I saw the run down diner and went inside.
I hadn’t even taken a seat at the counter, and they were already talking to me. It was a ratty, smokey little diner, across the street from a storage and shipping joint in what could’ve been just about any town in America.
A guy with a bushy beard and a camo hat and wild eyes stumbled in just as I finished my last cold sip of coffee. “Who’s took my money?” he growled, and took a seat at a booth in the corner.
The shift had changed, and the waitress was putting on a new pot of coffee.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tunnel Vision

From my journal, 1/30/01
"I can't think of what else to say. It's not like that hole people talk about. It's not shock or grief. It's just a nagging feeling that I'm missing a clue or something. But where do I start?"

I was taking a class on modernism. My professor, whose name I forget, was something of a legend already at UW. Five foot nothing, young, and very strange. Always wore black, almost always dresses. Long, beaded necklaces with huge beads. And the one teacher I ever had who would cut you off if you repeated someone else's point. "Yes, Mr. Jackson already made that point quite astutely. Do you have something new to say, sir?" And we were reading something, right then, with a suicide in it. Ford Maddox Ford, maybe? I'd left class halfway through the day after Peter. Left at the break, and felt I had to explain why. When I got back to class the next meeting, she asked me to stay after. "You may not want to read the last two chapters," she said, looking me up and down, with softness I'd never suspected. "Forgive me for saying, but there's a suicide. I know that might be hard. If you don't read it, it won't count against your grade." I don't remember what I said.

From my journal, 2/15/01, the beginning of what I'm really trying to say
"...And the furnace shut down, too. I can only hear the scratching of my pen and the sounds made by the tiptoeing thieves who aren't really there."

And later in the same entry, releasing to rhyme which never lets me lie...

"I wanna run to New Orleans and Bangladesh. Turkey and Kazahkstan and Tibet and Liberia and Siberia and Moscow and Hawai'i and New Mexico. I wanna see Caracas and Tijuana and Tenochtitlan and Mazatlan and Argentina and Norway and I wanna run with the bulls and dive with sharks and get the fuck out from behind the books and screens and see the whole fucking world from Beijing to Boston and back again old friend no end to the bends in the trail the pail is a bucket with a hole in the bottom and we shot 'em with a 12 gauge sawed off till they looked like stew you do what you gotta do but leave a shoe for us to hold and say we remember the night in December 1993 me and the guys surprised you and you killed us in return burn down the bridges to Babylon rabbit's gone and Cheetah to what to do when the screw is all the way in spin the wheels and deal with it feel the shit hit the fans cheer for the XFL hell can't be as bad as all this piss on Mephistopheles unite and fight like Perikles Herakles buried those dreams in a drive through window in White River Junction function if you can and if you can't just fake it take it to the Maker's Mark whiskey frisk me I've been feeling whispy she kissed me missed me but she hit me with her next shot and got what she wanted dead or alive survive the ride and the tide'll get you sweat suits that don't keep me warm at night are a big fat fucking waste and I sometimes wish my friends would've kept on living..."

And now we're getting somewhere. Two weeks after that, the girl who tore my heart out to watch it beat got married, with me and my friends all there. Three days later, my first real love, Sonia, found the entry that said,

"I don't know how to tell her I don't want to be with her anymore. Hell, I don't know how to tell myself."

I asked for a week to decide. She granted it. And two nights later, on my way home from work, I stopped at the Greyhound.
I called my boss. "Em, I can't come in to work tomorrow night. I need to get my head straight."
"OK. Whatever you need. I'll get your shift covered. Just keep me in the loop, K?"

I didn't have a cell phone, yet. So I must have called from the payphone at the station. I don't remember what I told Sonia when I called her. I stopped at the
little corner store at 9th and Stewart while I waited for the bus. What's the first bus out of here? Spokane? OK, One way to Spokane, please. That's how I want to remember it, anyway. But the first bus was going to Olympia, and that wasn't far enough. So I waited for the second, the Spokane one. It left at 6:15pm. In my memory, it was already the dead of night. I suppose in Seattle at that time of year, it's dark by 4:30.

I had one change of clothes in my backpack from work. I bought a box of Triscuits, a tin of cream cheese, and some candy.

I sat on the left side of the bus. Halfway back, or so. No one next to me. I counted cars, and tried to figure out if the flashes over Bellevue were lightning or searchlights. I was on the road, without a plan. But the world was as narrow as my seat, at that point. Narrow and closing. I had a one way ticket on the first bus that was really leaving, and now I was on it. No idea where I was really going.

I've been hearing from people, for the last few days. Small comments and long emails. With images I never saw, and pictures I'd forgotten. Emails that start with
"it strikes me that the canyons where we were left in isolation were perhaps similar to the ones where the friends lost to suicide had lived,"
"I just started typing. It's long, and personal, and random."
With the kind of memories that stick, like,
"I began to drink too much. I lost my driver's license in a pair of pants after bowling one night, having forgotten it was there."

Where have you run to, when the world closed in around you? What happened in your mind that took you from fight to flight? What weird detail clings to your mind, so that when you turn just so it still comes to you in a flash, unbidden?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Twisting the Kaleidoscope

Full disclosure: I'm stealing the title of this post from a writer/friend who uses it as the title of her blog.

Over the last week, since I posted my first bit about Jason, I've been talking to friends, and engaged in conversations we never had. And what strikes me most is this effect, the kaleidoscope. One note in particular got me thinking, a little tweetback from an old friend:

There are other comments, and emails, too. Corrections on failed memory - Seamus collected the lumber for Peter's boat himself, carless, and brought it on the bus to the Summerhouse. Addition of forgotten pieces - the "PJS" we carved in the prow of Peter's boat. Holes filled in - Jason's journey cross-country with Lael after leaving Seattle. And confessions made in response to my own writing that I can't repeat here. And what continues to strike me are the ways that the cells change, as you twist it, and the strange places where the image crosses, intersects, and forms a new picture for everyone.

And what strikes me now, looking back on the five friends who took their own lives through suicide or overdose, is the isolation. Death is a lonely time, regardless. But not all death is the same. In murder, I felt community, as we rallied around our friend. In disease and old age, sorrow muted by family and acceptance of an immutable cycle. But I look at the strange chasm that opened and widened in my own life through those self inflicted deaths, and wonder how I didn't even realize at the time that I had stumbled into it alone.

My experience, looking now, was one of sudden isolation. At one moment, walking with friends through life. And then, without warning, suddenly wandering a series of deep canyons with sheer walls, the kind that close in above you and block out all but a sliver of the sky. The only comfort also a cold knowledge - my friends, recently walking beside me, were wandering in similar canyons. Their voices sometimes breaking through in whispers bending around curves. Occasionally finding one another around one turn - Seamus and I building a boat in our basement, or working with Diana, Michael and Brie to pack and sort Ro's things - only to be separated as suddenly at another corner. And the words, or voices, whispering "sorry," or "that's horrible," or "tell me if there's anything I can do," echoing from the canyon walls high above, disembodied and empty. Anyone who was not in a canyon like mine, anyone still standing on a place with a view of the horizon, was hopelessly lost to me. And everyone in another tunnel too close for comfort, too far for safety. And no way to describe the canyon walls.

Oddly, the one comment that ever made it through was the cruelest. Not meant as cruel, mind you, but the one that took any pity or sympathy and turned it into self interest masked in humor. It was fifteen months after Peter, still some four years before Ro. After nearly a year without death, Morgan was murdered and Judy succombed to cancer and hospital mismanagement in a two month stretch.

Sitting in the Irish Immigrant at trivia night, at one of the round cocktail tables, Brie was doodling on a page. "I dunno, I might have to stop hanging out with you," she said, sort of nervously glancing up from her sketch. "Being your friend is awfully dangerous." She chuckled in that way that means you're not sure whether what you said was ok or not. The whole table kind of stopped. I remember Darin was there, but not who else. And it was the only time a voice made it in. In many ways, it's the moment that drew me to her.

Because, after Peter, that was how it felt. That there was no safe ground, anymore. Jason was not a surprise, and in many ways a relief. I could see his pain, and his struggle, and relief mixed with guilt. That didn't change the isolation, but at least the canyon made some sense. For me, and for many of us, Peter was like stepping on stone only to find air. And when Morgan and Judy went, it started feeling like it would just be like that forever. Like no one was a safe bet, and the vanishing point was just waiting around the corner.

And somehow, to hear someone give credence to that little whisper I was holding in the back of my mind, that made it something real. It meant that it wasn't just some cold voice in the back of my head. It meant that it was something other people wondered, too. And somehow, that meant I didn't have to worry about it anymore.

It's strange, what's remembered and what's forgotten. I've been combing through old journals, reading little snippets of what I wrote in the aftermath. There's oddly little, especially at a time when I was otherwise writing prodigiously. One piece on Jason, nearly identical to a section of the post I wrote last week. I read it and wondered how it could have echoed back so clearly, like my hands remembered the pattern of the words and wrote them again in muscle memory. Of Peter, precious little. A few small snippets. An entry from the hours when we were still trying to convince ourselves that it was a stupid, drug induced accident, not a calculated execution. And then beyond, the slow slide into the mania that gripped me for months after.

I'll write a bit more about that time later. About the busses, and the train. About running so hard after a dream, and then running away once I found it. And I hope, as I sort through the lenses, that I'll keep hearing from my friends. Keep seeing the kaleidoscope twist in front of me. Keep finding the angled light that casts a completely different shadow, be shown the tunnels and crevasses that others saw. If only so that I can walk more in history than memory. And maybe, just maybe, really find my way out of that tunnel I've been running through for so long.