Pop Psychology

Part 2

22 June 2002, 3pm
Hot sunshine awakens me. On the pop art print across from where I lie, Lichtenstein’s little dots diffuse into solid color, only to sharpen when I focus. I rise from bed, light a cigarette, and play some music. From my bedside coffee pot, I pour leftover, lukewarm java into a dirty mug, and down it in three gulps. After the first chorus of the Mp3 playing, I turn it up and sing along: So you made me come/then you sent me away/like a messenger bird/so I circled the earth/blown away in the wind/but I always return/with some new little song/some sad story to tell/of a brief love affair/with a girl I compared/to you and she failed.

On opposing walls, collaged celebrities face off – doctors and scientists stare down lyricists and guitarists. In this conflict, my sympathies shift continuously. One day I want to heal the world, and the next I want to rock it. Despite these aspirations, I spend far too many hours at a fake-smile minimum-wage service job. But I’m hosting a homecoming party for Trevor tonight, so I’m off today and tomorrow.

Even before the Internet economy collapsed, Trevor was serious about web design and serious about money-laundering, but never serious about e-commerce. He was content making enough pages to clean up his finances and pad his portfolio, but we never recruited clients. After the NASDAQ implosion there were no clients to recruit, and I had to find work I couldn’t do wearing boxers in my bedroom.

When the song and the smoke end, I grab a guitar and head out to the screened front porch to play in the sun. Outside, rays slip between a maple and a pine in the yard, shining on the couch facing the house. I sit in this spotlight and fingerpick with two digits bandaged from workplace nicks. The rising roar of an approaching motorcycle brings me to my feet.

It couldn’t be Lyle – last I heard he was still cruising down the eastern seaboard. But sure enough, the Kawasaki he calls his ‘Cow’ rolls up our driveway. Sitting back down, I lay my guitar on a torn cushion as hiking boots knock a path through the slamming screen door of the porch. Lyle flops onto the corduroy loveseat, setting his patched knapsack and ancient football helmet on the hardwood floor.

“What’re you doing here?” I ask, lighting up a smoke, “Thought you’d still be able to see the Atlantic today.”

Lyle’s goofy smile spreads over a ratty drifter’s beard. “I checked my E-mail someplace in Maine, got your message about the party for Trevor, and I decided to come home a week early,” Lyle replies.

Because he was home-schooled on a commune in rural Newaygo County, Lyle and his siblings speak their own dialect. They use z instead of s and remove alveolar flaps in favor of diphthongs, so “city” is a homophone for “see,” and “decided” becomes “de-sie-ed.” They also have some bizarre verb forms. “Your e-mail remound me that Trevor was gone. We both left at the end of last term, but sometimes I still forget he’s not coming back.”

Then Trevor trots up the steps and onto the porch, gently closing the door behind him. Sometimes, because of his outsized charisma, I forget how small my best friend is – that his head ends at my neck. In the last six weeks, only his wardrobe has changed – he wears the studied casual attire of a surfer out of water. “Paul. Lyle. Lyle! Thought you were driving to that island.”

Lyle says he came back for the homecoming party.

“Rad,” Trevor affirms, then proclaims, “I’m home,” and in one fluid motion removes his shirt.

Trevor has a few habits that take some getting used to – how he walks around the house in pants, pecs, and a six pack, and how he climbs the walls. While somehow scaling a stone pillar that holds up the screened porch, he talks of climbing Yosemite, then asks Lyle how his drifting went.

“Good, good,” Lyle says, “Once you get past Quebec, the QEW ends, and there’s nothing for, like, five hundred miles. Only gravel and markers that say ‘You just crossed the Fee-first parallel,’ ‘You just crossed the Fee-second parallel.’ ‘Course I brought gas, strapped it on, but I had to buy another plas-sick tank. Otherwise I never would’ve made it to the ferry – y’ know, to earn the patch.”

“And how are all things Melanie?” I inquire. Lyle has been infatuated with Melanie since he met her in the fall of 2000. In the summer of 2001, she visited a Newfie friend and brought home a patch for him. The two-dollar speck of blue, embroidered cloth launched a month-long quest. Lyle insisted that wearing this gift would remain hypocritical until he visited the island himself.

“Fine. How are things with Chloe?” Lyle asks. I sigh, stamp out my cig, and shake my head. Trevor climbs down to discard my littered butt while I ask what route Lyle took home. While he speaks of the Atlantic’s edge and Ohio cops, I pick up my instrument and strum.

Seeing the guitar, Trevor asks me when I replaced the one that’s still missing. “Didn’t,” I say, “This is Chloe’s.” He asks to hear something new, so I play and sing. A day without Chloe’s/like a day without food/possible supposing/I don’t care about my mood/or instincts opposing/the lifestyle of a man who’d/for some reason chosen/to faithfully fast and brood/without Chloe. I finish, and he tells me he loves it, asks if she’s heard it. I nod, and light a Marlboro. He asks what she thought of it. “She told me I was the only guy she’d ever met who wrote songs that were good.”

“Oh, I get it – she strokes your ego. Chloe’s super-picky about music, but she likes your shit. That must feel good.” This is how Trevor and I talk about women, analyzing relationships in the vernacular of pop psychology. We become therapists practicing on each other. Using a hodgepodge of techniques, we analyze our behavior in terms of cognition, biology, and sociology. But in the end, our discussions always progress from and digress into musings about specific women. We talk the sun up, babbling psychology and citing song lyrics. At least, we used to – till Trevor went to California, left an aching in my heart.

20 April 2001, three am
A little over a year ago, Trevor and I had our wildest session. By three o’clock in the morning, I was two pots full of coffee, cramming for a nine o’clock Friday exam, but too wired to concentrate. Shooting repeated glances at my bed, I caught the celebrity headshots vibrating on my walls.

I kept scribbling scraps of songs in the margins of my notes – here a clever line, there a chord progression. Throwing my hands up, I decided to get the words out of my system. A few months before, after a brutal argument with my father about my musical aspirations, I had sworn off songwriting to focus on medicine. During my creative abstinence, focus sharpened for the first couple months. But by spring break, the build- up of unwritten lines weighed on me. I’d gone from writing a song a week to a song a semester; it only made sense that the work would be overlong. When I finally took a break to write during that day’s smallest hours, I couldn’t stop myself from crafting an epic. Sixteen verses I wrote, about a girl who’s all but irrelevant now.

I finished at six. The pull of the bed was strong, but I broke from its gravity. I knew if I slept, I wouldn’t wake in time for my exam, but I was crashing and needed a fresh face to talk me through the next few hours. A knock brought Lyle to his door but he shook his head and shut me out before I could say a thing. Frank had passed out only a few hours before, and needed to sleep off a post-exam celebration hangover.

Walking into Trevor’s room, I pleaded for a favor: “I need somebody to keep me going till my nine o’clock.” Trevor grunted, agreed, and grunted again as he climbed out of bed. “Meet me on the porch in fifteen,” I requested. My Marlboro was half-gone when Trevor stepped through the thick oak door. Behind the westward screen, a moon and two streetlights shone the same pastel orange. I looked up while stepping to the sidewalk and spied dippers through branches with buds I couldn’t see in the dark.

“Wait, where’re we going?” asked Trevor, rubbing blue eyes with a thumb and forefinger. I suggested we eat breakfast at the Sherman, deep into Roosevelt City, some miles inland from the college neighborhood of East Roosevelt. “’K,” he said, “I’m driving.”

We climbed into a clean SUV bought with dirty money. The bass of a folksy song boomed too loud for the genre playing. Ooh, get me away from here. I’m dying/Sing me a song to set me free/Nobody writes them like they used to/So I guess it may as well be me.

Walking into the all-night diner, we spotted and sat at a table in the back corner. Next to us, two middle-aged women gabbed too loudly for the hour. They looked like two pieces from a set of Russian dolls – same wide face and brown ball of a hairdo, same round yet solid body, except one was slimmer than the other. Round spoke soft quips while Rounder’s laugh rolled. I could barely make out my inner monologue over their banter.

The diner was a two-man operation before dawn. A methodical, twitching short-order cook never turned away from his griddle, even when there was nothing to grill. Our waitress had rose-vine tattoo sleeves on arms too built for her slight body. “What you having?” she asked both Trevor and me. Her repetition was broken-record precise. He got grapefruit juice and a side of Greektown hash – potatoes with a pile of vegetables heaped with feta cheese. For me – bacon, pancakes, and coffee.

“Chekhov said an obscure artist is like a gambling addict without money: All risk and no reward, or something like that,” I started, and lit a Marlboro, ashing on the floor. “It’s risking time like money, I’ve got none to spend. Words keep me up nights, steal hours from work and sleep. So I stop, say I’m going to focus on Russian or physics or psych, or the fact that somehow I’ve got to get into Med School, but the songs don’t stop, and I still wake up humming melodies, ignore my notes to slant rhymes in lectures. Songs are my obsession, writing’s the compulsion, and burnout’s the only cure.”

“You’re way too insightful to give up Psych – and you know I love your songs. It’s all about balance, y’ know? I mean, dude, don’t write a song every day, but don’t spend every hour working either. Like I always say, work less but harder; write less but better. And chill – dude, you must chill – enough to be cool, without getting all cold. Always remember, I love you, Frank loves you, Lyle loves you, even your parents love you – when your not trying to be a rock star.” An arm, all working muscles and flowery tattoos, slapped a check on our table and receded before I could tell who it belonged to. With his last sip of juice, Trevor stood and picked up the check before I could object. “You got your stuff with you?” he asked. I did, it was in the car. We got our bags and left his SUV to head east, up Liberty.

“So you know how I was saying the sub-striate pathways responsible for blind- sight could be construed as an unconscious mind?” I began, and Trevor nodded, his bleached dreadlocks bobbing. “Well, get this,” I go on. “The other day I’m walking by Dover Drugs, and it just comes to me: maybe it’s chemistry of the synapse, y’ know, neurotransmitters – maybe the biology of the brain is the unconscious Freud was looking for… Dopamine as Id, Seritonin as Ego, Norepinephrine as Superego – that kind of thing…” And we were off again, two future scientists talking in tangents and waking up the sun.

20 April 2002, three pm
A year later, I stood in our front yard begging Trevor not to leap off our roof. The album playing had ended – the only sound was a daredevil’s crowd murmuring in anticipation. He must have heard me over the crowd chanting ‘Jump!” because he made eye contact and shook his head. Frank handed the mailman a half cup of beer. The carrier gulped it down, and shouted “C’mon, little guy – you can do it.” Trevor nodded and flew. Stretching the center of our trampoline almost to the ground, he did a gymnast’s flip, bounced off onto the grass, and stuck the landing with arms to the sky. The few dozen at our graduation barbecue cheered. “Who is he?” Chloe turned to me and asked.

“Y’ know, Trevor,” I told her, “My best friend.” She rolled her eyes and crossed the yard to chat with the stuntman. The mailman congratulated Trevor and continued on his route. I went inside and put on the White Stripes, Chloe’s favorite, but only before the Lego video for “Fell in Love With a Girl.”

I recalled three conversations: all with Trevor, all about Chloe. I’d insisted that the closer I came to friendship with her, the further I’d felt from a relationship. He’d insisted that, while Chloe was rad, she stood five foot nine, four inches taller than him, and that difference too great for her to be worth his pursuit. Yet a few minutes into his longest conversation with her, Trevor was already brushing a stray amber strand from Chloe’s face.

Deciding to eavesdrop, I walked within a few feet of the pair and spoke with Trevor’s Little Brother. Every Saturday afternoon, Trevor used to spend several hours hanging out with a special-needs eighteen-year-old named Ishmael. That weekend, the kid got to attend his first college party. After gathering that Trevor and Chloe were only swapping lab job war stories, I asked Ishmael if he was having fun. “Yeah,” he beamed, “Lots of girls. She’s pretty,” he said, his crooked hand pointing straight at my friend. I introduced Ishmael to Chloe. “You’re pretty,” he gushed.

Chloe thanked him for the compliment and excused herself to fetch a second plastic cup of Oberon, summer ale rare and prized beyond Michigan. Trevor followed her and they resumed their shoptalk. I wanted to interrupt with a story of rat beheading, the real meat of Trevor’s job, but I never got in his way when it came to women, quite simply because I couldn’t. Taking a sip of coffee from my mug, I gave Ishmael some advice: “Chloe doesn’t take physical compliments well. She likes it better when you acknowledge her accomplishments. Tell her that her coffee’s great, her fashion sense is razor-acute – that kind of thing.”

Ishmael chuckled. “Ok, cool,” he agreed, then asked: “Jump on the trampoline?” I nodded, and we bounced for a while. At the peak of my arcs through air, I saw clips through the porch screen – Chloe and Trevor, all laughing teeth and grazing touches. Before too long, Big Brother saw Little Brother playing and left the porch to play along. Chloe followed, and seconds later the four of us were careening around like lotto balls. After a few jumps, I timed my landings to sap energy from Trevor’s bounces. During the third such theft, I flew so high I left the tramp for the knee-buckling ground. “Hey, watch where you’re going, you sloppy drunk!” Frank slurred at me, for big laughs.

I picked up my coffee mug, stood up, and remembered I’d left my guitar on the porch. For a graduation present, I had written a song about each of my housemates: “Trevor majors in hugging and snuggling/Frank’s double major is EECS and drugging/Lyle’s doctorate is in weird anecdotes/class never ends – don’t forget to take notes.” At the barbecue, I had performed on the steps of our house for attentive friends. After singing, I had set my instrument on the porch’s tattered couch and run outside to watch Trevor jump off the roof.

But when the screen slammed behind me, I saw no guitar. Figuring some guy borrowed it to amuse himself or impress a girl, I swept through an entirely familiar crowd and every room in the house. I didn’t find my ancient, pristine Silvertone acoustic with lowered action and a customized pickup. “Have you seen my guitar?” I asked, then begged, then pleaded, going through until everyone had answered more than once. Everyone said no, not since I had played. Everyone except Chloe, Trevor, and Ishmael, I should say – they jumped, oblivious all the while.

Dejected, I sank into a shadowy Lay-Z-Boy in the back of the living room. While chaining cigarettes like Christmas popcorn, I waited for someone to take notice and pity me. Seven smokes later, Lyle and Sara walked in and scolded me for sulking.

“You’re not allowed to be a sad bastard at your gradation party,” Sara sniped. I reminded her that I wasn’t graduating for another year – the party was for my housemates. “Just save the act for your bedroom mirror and come have some fun,” she urged me.

As we stepped back into daylight, Lyle reassured me, promised we’d find the instrument: “There’s no way anybody could’ve grabbed it from the porch when we know everyone here.” For the first time, it occurred to me that someone might have taken it while everyone was watching Trevor jump. The first thing I saw when I got outside was my best friend with a bicep arcing up and around Chloe, while she ripped on the Strokes to the chagrin of Frank. The thought of theft made me want to trade porcelain mug for plastic cup, be drunk enough to forget the whole mess. It only took a beer and a half for me to get wasted.

I don’t really like drinking and I like being drunk even less. I’ve always been the one sober friend of a bunch of party kids – holding girls’ hair and driving boys home. I suppose I could be codependent – addicted to helping the addicted – but that word is like ‘love:’ it’s been used so often to describe so many different feelings that it’s all but meaningless. I go out to people-watch and meet girls, I tell myself.

One of my favorite jokes was to follow a flaky move with, ‘Sorry, I’m totally trashed.’ The next several hours were a blur of me repeating that catch phrase to anyone who would listen. I must have said those three words plus a contraction a couple dozen times.

By eleven I was back to where I started – sulking in my Lay-Z-Boy. I hadn’t had a drink since seven –and that was only a small splash of Bailey’s in my beloved java. When Chloe stepped through the front door, her full lips were stretched into a sheepish smile. She didn’t stop laughing to herself till she hit the lights in the room where I sat and saw me. “Have you seen Trevor?” she asked before checking my expression. After I murmured something about my friend taking Ishmael home, she noticed my thick, frowning eyebrows.

“God, what’s wrong?” – with the face of someone whose puppy just got injured.

“Somebody stole my guitar,” I muttered.

“What?” – with the face of someone who’s broke but still hit-up for change.

“Somebody stole my guitar,” I enunciated.

“I know. I heard the first time. You’re sure?” – with the face of someone still hoping a fact is a joke.

“Almost positive – combed the house, asked everyone about it more than once.” She reminded me that I had forgotten to ask Trevor and her. “Didn’t want to interrupt anything,” I spat. She asked what that meant. “Sorry I’m taking this out on you.”

“Yeah you are. Why? Wait, no – I don’t want to know. Listen, I’ll give you my guitar – I can barely play Cat Power on it anyway, and you know how easy her songs are. Just get up. Everybody’s going to the Grant Street block party. You’re coming, and I’m going to cheer you up – by any means necessary.” I followed her like a twelve-year-old hound – droopy-eyed and slow but faithful.

Sara was waiting on the front porch with a cigarette burning, rolling her eyes. Parties and winos scrolled by as we walked. I skulked along a half-step behind. Somehow we found Lyle, Frank, and Trevor in the teeming mass clogging the road of the bash. By midnight a dozen trashed assholes were trying to flip an eighties-model Ford Taurus. After a half-hour effort, they’d barely tipped the car. Chloe left in disgust. Sara mused that the attempted riot was a symbol for partying in Roosevelt – no matter how hard we tried, we didn’t have the heart to get as wild as the other university kids. At a state school they would have burned the car and a couch. Here at Dover, Frank gave the rioters a mechanics lesson in car-flipping, which was largely ignored. Trevor couldn’t stop laughing.

At both ends of the block red, white, and blue flashed. Maglite beams cut through the crowd, and the flocks scattered. Somehow, I ended up walking home with Trevor after our flight. We plodded southeast down Cherokee. After a block or two, Trevor spoke with me for the first time since early afternoon. “God, at our party today, for some reason I just wanted to make out with Chloe. So bad, dude, so bad.”

“I know, she’s great,” I sighed. “Why’d you think I write songs about her?”

“Yeah. It’s just, I’ve seen her before – y’ know, like, once or twice – and she’s cute, I guess. But today she had this spark, passion, whatever – it just made me want her.” I shot him a stare that should have hurt him. “But, y’ know, nothing happened, of course.”

A pause. “Someone stole my guitar,” I reported. We stopped and Trevor hugged me. His concerned embrace sent insects through my skin. I’ve never met anyone better at casual comfort, but the last thing I wanted was for him to touch me. Trevor felt enough of my exceptional awkwardness to keep quiet the rest of the walk back to our house. He always seemed sensitive.

23 June 2002, twelve am
Our party rages. Orientation children pack the kitchen, staring at our kegs as if they’re too good too be true – a few hours ago Lyle and Frank handed out fliers in South Quad. In addition, two-fifths of the summer’s homeless population is in the house. On our stereo, Michigan’s own Iggy Pop screams “I got a lust for life!” I stand in a kitchen corner, catching up with Trevor, smoking a Marlboro Red, sipping tap water from a glass milk bottle. “So, honestly, what was the deal with you and Chloe?”

Trevor laughs, stops to say, “Funny you ask.” He laughs again and spills it: “I went over to her place tonight and said ‘Sorry.’”

“For what?” I sneer. A Pillsbury Doughboy too baffled to be anything but an incoming student splashes beer on our feet and moves on without apologizing.

“Babies, they look like babies,” Trevor quips with a winning grin. Through our speakers, Dust Brothers-era Beck blasts a guitar-string noose lyric. My best friend segues again: “This song’s great. I love it when he’s like ‘Saving all your food stamps and burning down the trailer park.’ That was my life in Fruiton. Sometimes I forget that shit – being a broke-ass kid playing in underwear between the doublewides.” Surveying him from head to toe, I figure that what he wears now – designer jeans, Italian wingtips, Swiss timepiece, and tailored t-shirt – is worth a few dozen pills.

“But Chloe, Trevor, Chloe,” I remind him, and we’re making progress again.

“Nothing happened,” he confesses, “You know that. Wanted her till she wanted me, then didn’t want her anymore. Still, after the chase, I just ignored her, avoided her, for a couple weeks – till I left in May.” Sara and Chloe burst into the kitchen as Trevor finishes under his breath: “It was a dick move, so I said sorry.” After the tiny dancer ends his sentence, he darts out of the kitchen.

Chloe bounds across the room, throws an arm around me, and hangs off my shoulder like a dress shirt. “I love this tie,” she flatters, tugging at it, “It’s so… so… wooly.” I nod, and question Sara with glances and shrugs.

“You should go Avril ,” Sara suggests. She slides open the tie, pops open my button-down and there I am with a tie around a t-shirt. Usually Sara can hold her booze as well as a Kegerator. Back home in Roosevelt Shores, she held hair for a group of girls who drank spiced rum by the pint. Now miles in from our rolling lakefront suburb, she holds hair for girls with higher SATs and lower tolerances than her hometown crew. Yet tonight even Sara’s tipsy.

I’ve already drunk a half-cup, and that’s plenty for one evening. But I’m besotted with Chloe, who’s quite the sot tonight. “This is the best outfit ever,” she observes. “Guys love the tube top, girls love the hair fountain.” On her crown, she’s pulled her tarnished blond bob into a miniature pony tail that spills up and over its rubber band. She continues: “At first I thought this beer tasted like a litter box, but now it’s just water.” With each sip, she tips closer to me, and I feel sleazy for loving it. “Oh, Talking Heads are playing! Let’s dance, guys.”

Chloe drags Sara and me along the first few steps to the living room. After David Byrne is done bellowing “Wild, Wild Life,” the Beastie Boys and Q-Tip rap “Get it Together.” The tune is only a few beats in before Frank and Lyle beg Trevor to break. He plays it off, thrice declining before he can’t ignore the circle forming around him.

Dropping and pushing off, he bounces up, right hand down, then left, then right again. Popping and locking bare arms, his feet slide underneath as if he were riding an airport walkway. Falling to the ground and curling up his limbs, he spins like a beetle on its back. Pulling his frame perpendicular to the hardwood floor, he finishes the dance with a head-spin and a handspring. Gaping and cheering, the crowd calls for more, but Trevor disappears into the back-patting throng.

Trevor’s circle closes to dance away the song. When “Just Like Heaven,” comes on, however, the couple dozen on the floor clear out. Only Chloe, Frank and I remain. Dancing in the base of a tall bay window, my smallest housemate flails in time. Chloe pulls my tie as a puppeteer strings along a dancing marionette, says “I want this.” For an instant I fool myself into believing she could ever want me. Then I forget my delusions as an adolescent shakes off a wet dream with a celebrity and know she means the tie and only the tie. Taking it off, I loop it around her neck, and we do our best to keep up with the beat. Next, the Jackson 5 funk up “I Want You Back.” Leave it to little Michael to fill a living room within a minute.

Sara and Trevor join Frank to groove on a windowsill of our big old Arts and Crafts style house. A meter from me, Lyle’s dancing to a different drummer. I wonder when we’ll all be in one room again and look at Chloe to ask. My hazels catch her blues, and she’s stilled. Chloe’s eyes close as she tips toward me. I glance at the bay window. While Trevor watches us, Sara points at me. Frank steps down after she whispers into his ear. When I look straight ahead, Chloe’s face is the closest it’s ever been. I give her a peck and scurry outside to smoke.

A group of gawkers brave the drizzle to watch lightning scar the sky. Thunder has been shaking the house for hours, but the earth’s barely damp. I take out a Red and think of a loving candle and wish my room didn’t smell like wax and Boone’s Farm. My eyes leak, but the sky breaks open and falls in sheets, disguising sentimentality. I take my first drag and notice Frank beside me, scratching his non-smoking hand on rock-hardened hair. “You know what’s worse than loving someone who doesn’t like you? Loving someone who only likes you,” he shares. Lyle and Sara gallop through a screen slam into the rain.

After a white flash, Lyle lectures as usual, relating a directionless anecdote: “Heat makes the air electric. Riding my Cow home at dawn, I had this red See sky behind me, the See of Toronto – brightening sky; I chased night. I knew there was going be a storm tonight, y’ know? ‘Buckets of Rain.’ We’ll need “Shell-er from the Storm.” How’s Chloe?” he asked. I shrugged, so my friend continued with the Dylan lyrics: “If you could only go back to when God and her were born…”

After a sky crash, Sara clarifies as usual, relating a thoughtful paragraph: “Just remember, Paul – ‘dance floor kisses don’t count.’ Chloe’s words matter way more to you than yours do to her. She kissed you to make sure you guys were friends. Why d’ you think she hates Trevor? She didn’t get her friendship make-out session, so how could she know if he liked her? I know she said ‘I love you’ – somehow you already told me that twice tonight – but she tells me that almost every day. Kissing means she just wants to be friends.”

“Yeah, Chloe doesn’t like herself enough to love anybody,” I say, and start to sing: “‘Cause everybody knows/she’s a Femme Fatale/The things she does to me/She’s such a little tease/See the way she walks/Hear the way she talks.’”

“Ok, no. Stop. Tomorrow’s parties never come. Stop.” Sara begs, and removes her mesh truck-stop hat to squeeze it onto my head. “She’s not a femme fatale – she’s not gonna kill anyone. You’re just in a relationship with her while she isn’t in a relationship with you. That’s all.” A pause as we put out cigarettes. “God,” Sara giggles, “my hat’s already as big as it gets, and it still won’t fit.”

“I’ve got a big fucking head,” I say, and laughter rolls. My friends couldn’t agree more. “No,” I insist as my foot goes further down my throat, “I mean, it’s really big. I have to get custom hats – eight and three-quarters,” but my details only turn chuckles into cackles.

Calling from our roof, I hear an old friend. I beg Trevor not to jump off onto a slippery trampoline, but he ignores the plea: “C’mon up to the roof – you can really see the storm up here!” My friends and I climb the stairs to join Trevor and Chloe above the earthly stars of a city asleep. Little more than silhouettes to the students below, seven lightning rods stand on the rain-slicked roof.

Dylan James Brock got his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and an MFA from Hunter College in New York City. He has worked as a reader at the Paris Review, a barista at Starbucks, a research assistant for author Kathryn Harrison, a dog walker, an adjunct teaching writing in Michigan and New York City, a sales associate at Best Buy, a founder of the record label Jumberlack Media, a ride attendant at a water park, and a freelance web developer.