T.J. Larkey

T.J. Larkey lives in the desert and tweets @tjlarkey.


THE LAST INTERVIEW: Blake Middleton vs. The New Guy at XRAY

Blake Middleton is an actual person. A Floridian. An American. The co-worker of your bartender friend who you immediately like better than your bartender friend after just a few conversations. And a poet. The kind of poet who just wants everybody to feel less fucked. Writing concise, concrete lines that once piled together form a sort-of meditation, a smirking mantra of “Fuck You” in the face of an absurd world.

What follows is a conversation/battle of wits between he and I, revolving around his new book “An Actual Person in a Concrete Historical Situation”—out now from CLASH Books.


Part 1: The Weigh-In


Hey dude. Have you done any 

interviews for your book?

 Whaddup broJust did one w Zac but tryna do more 

Nice. Well, I’m now “The Executioner” at X-Ray 

(self-appointed title) and was thinking about interviewing you

 Oh yeah damn I saw that earlier, congrats manI’m down for whatever, would love to do one w youI’ll send u pdf 

Hell yeah

 Just sentIt’s a small boy 

Nice, I like the small boys. 

Just sent a message to Jenn

 Jenn rocks thank u man 

Yeah she does

You rock too. 

But also fuck you I was playing you this entire time

 Fuck u idiot 

This was a test. Interview is back on

 Good, looking forward to our interview 

Me too buddy.

Fuck you and your extended family

 Gonna respond to all your interview questionswith ‘fuck you’ 

I’ve already planned ahead for this. 

May the best man win

 Damn it appears I have poked the bear 

Interview devolves into goal-less competition, morphing finally

into a ten-part doc investigating the death of one or both of us

 One of us. You, to be specific 

I started this, and I’ll be finishing it as well

 (Thumbs down emoji) 

Part Two: The Interview


Alright, first question. When I read that excerpt of your book on Neutral Spaces, I told you it felt meditative. Not just the space between lines but the space between images/ideas. A lot of writing feels immediately congested to me, or like a scam, something “not real” hiding in those paragraphs. But your book moved quick. Each sentence had its own purpose. And that created a soothing effect on my brain. What’s up with that bruh?

BM: I’m glad it created a soothing effect. Everything feels kind of overwhelming right now, our attention spans are getting worse, and we’re constantly distracted. So the problem is, I want normal people to read my book, but normal people don’t really read books. They purchase books sometimes, but I don’t think they finish them that often. I wanted to write a book people would read. So I wanted to make something spacious and minimal. A book where each line can breathe and stand on its own. A little book that is sparse, direct, no bullshit.


I think the white space does a lot of work in helping the poem feel meditative. It kind of reflects real life, in that there are a lot of gaps and juxtapositions between thoughts and experiences. But ultimately it’s all tied together because the lines are coming from one person, experiencing the world from a singular point of view/moment in time. So the lines aren’t as disparate as they might seem. And hopefully they’re also tied together by tone.

I’ve read the book a few times now. And the first go around, I felt like I was reading the thoughts and observations and memories of a person living in the middle of the pandemic. Then for the second read through, it felt more ubiquitous, just a person coping with and thinking about being a person, and bouncing between many time periods. Was the “life during covid” vibe something you set out to do, at least at first anyway? 

BM: Went through a rough draft and i lie in the sun and laugh at my bank account was the only line written during the pandemic that I used in the final version, which seems fitting. I think I felt like the disconnect between lines written before and during the pandemic would have been too jarring; I didn’t want to write about two totally different worlds from two totally different headspaces in a poem that was already so far outside of how I was used to writing. Also I didn’t feel equipped to write about that time period while it was happening—I had no idea what the fuck was going on. Was also probably just more focused on securing groceries and booze and trying not to die. So it felt like a good endpoint. Before the pandemic I viewed ‘an actual person…’ as a poem that could essentially go on forever, but when the pandemic started that didn’t feel like the case. The poem is radically nonlinear but that’s mostly because the days felt interchangeable to me back then, and the pandemic definitely changed that. Jenna and I were drinking margaritas/wine nightly at the very start of Covid and I wasn’t writing at all. Pretty quickly I realized that I couldn’t be drunk for the entire pandemic and shifted what little focus I had toward editing the book. So I edited the book right when Covid hit through around July. It’s weird to think back to early 2020. Seems almost unreal to me now.

I had something similar where I was writing a longish thing during the pandemic. My girlfriend and I had just moved in to our first apartment together at the end of February. So while I was still asking the leasing office for a working fridge shelf, COVID hit. I thought that was a good/funny start. But I abandoned it once things got worse, seemed impossible to write about it. Anyway your book made me think of this, so I am asking if you think we’ll ever get a good Covid novel? 

BM: Yeah, probably. I don’t think I would want to read a Covid novel for a long time though. Would read a book that takes place during Covid for sure, but not one that is totally centered around it. Would have to be really good for me to want to think about that time period again. Does that make sense?

Perfect sense. I’m most interested in stories of people being people. And it depresses me when I see movies/books that are just about a marketable thing, and the main character is just a device, like morally superior, something the audience can project themselves onto. Which brings me to the thing you said about writing for normal people, even though normal people don’t really read books. Do you think that’s dying, with most readers (of indie books) also being writers? Or is it the same as it was ten years ago. Just putting something out all for the slim chance a depressed kid somewhere stumbles into it? 

BM: I feel you on that one. I think sometimes portrayals of life get so far away from what life is actually like, what it actually feels like to be a person just trying to navigate existence. I like books where I feel like the author just paid attention to their life and then wrote about it, instead of following some narrative template or whatever to try to appeal to some imaginary group of people so that they can make one million dollars. But instead of getting depressed thinking about things I don’t like, I just ignore them, and focus on the stuff I do like instead. 

I think, for me, it helps to take more of a long-view, to stay focused and keep writing regardless of what happens with it. Because even if nothing happens immediately, the books will still exist, maybe they will get noticed eventually and I will make a million dollars and quit my job. But I’m also okay with nothing happening (more likely). I write because I enjoy it. Writing enhances my life and my experience in the world. And if other people enjoy what I write, then that’s good. I haven’t had any real success, as far as book sales go. But writing has improved my life/made it more interesting in ways I couldn’t have even imagined when I was just starting out. I think it’s better just to focus on becoming a better writer as opposed to thinking too much about the unpredictable, uncontrollable things that could happen with the writing once it’s out in the world. 

Another thing that I love is getting offline and venturing out into the real world to travel and to do readings. I don’t really promote my stuff online much. I don’t think anyone is really paying attention. It feels much more normal, fulfilling, life-affirming to get out there and read in front of and talk with people. It feels more real, and it’s a lot more fun. I would rather some depressed kid come to a reading and get drunk and have fun as opposed to finding one of my books on the internet. Oh and also, fuck you.

Point—Middleton. Alright. What do you think about a lightning round now? Phase three. Higher stakes. Even more intimate.

BM: Hell yeah, let’s do it.


Phase Three: Lightning Round


What book do you pick up most, when you feel anxious or shitty?

BM: The Collected Works of Alberto Caeiro by Fernando Pessoa.

Jackie Chan or Arnie Schwarzenegger? And why?

BM: Jackie Chan. Out of all the movies they've been in I think I've only seen Rush Hour and Twins. So I don't have strong feelings about either. Feel like I would rather hang out with Jackie Chan. Seems more chill/isn't a politician. But I don’t know though. This was a bad question.

From what you’ve said about both your books, I get the impression you write and write and write and write, then cut away at huge chunks afterward. Am I correct in this assumption?

BM: For sure. I ended up cutting about 80% of the words from College Novel, and about the same for this one. I like having a lot to work with.

Do you have a favorite memory from your readings?

BM: The first couple times I did readings I didn’t enjoy them. Was nervous and my voice was shaky. The third time I felt comfortable and was even having fun, felt in the moment and good, was a little drunk and surrounded by friends. Afterwards we had a little dance party at my friend’s neighbor's house. Or maybe that was after another reading. Either way, I cherish that memory/both of those memories a lot. Was the start of something nice. People always say this, but it's good to do things that make you nervous.

If it doesn’t put you in any danger, could you talk a little about your alter-ego Dough Mahoney?

BM: Went over to a friend's apartment and was drinking out of a glass that had ‘Dough Mahoney’ written on it in sharpie. I asked him why his beer mug had ‘Dough Mahoney’ written on it and he said it was his pen name. I thought that was stupid and funny and used that bit in College Novel. One day I wanted to publish something on the internet under a different name and Dough Mahoney was the first one that came to mind. Felt kind of good. A little freeing. I started feeling like a Dough Mahoney. I ate some potato salad after the Dough Mahoney story came out, and eating potato felt like something a Dough Mahoney would do. I thought maybe I really am Dough Mahoney. I changed my twitter handle to Dough Mahoney. It felt right. So I legally changed my name to Dough Mahoney. I bought a little name plate for my desk that said Dough Mahoney because that was my name. I submitted An Actual Person... to Clash and they said they’d publish it. But Leza did not like the name Dough Mahoney. I changed my twitter name and legal name back to Blake Middleton, but kept the desk plate.

‘An actual person…’ has a calm rhythm to it even when describing the most absurd images. Is there an album you feel ‘pairs well’ with it—or did you listen to a certain type of music while writing it?


BM: I listen to a lot of Destroyer when trying to write. I don’t sit down at a computer anymore. I ride my bike or sit by the river or go for a walk. I need to be out moving through the world. I need to feel different than I normally do. I don't know how to describe the state I get in but when you're there you just know. I think on average I probably wrote one or two lines a day. But Dan Bejar can get me in that state sometimes. I like his song writing because it’s calm, detached, world-weary, deadpan, dream-like, not hysterical or overwrought. Eerily good. Like it shouldn’t exist on this earth.  Even when he’s singing about the apocalypse it’s beautiful. You can tell he has so much love for life and that he’s also completely horrified/disgusted by the world. There’s nothing better. “Sing the least poetic thing you can think of, and try to make it sound beautiful.” It feels pointless to write poetry while listening to Destroyer and I like that for some reason.

Love Destroyer. Nice. Very nice. So, what kind of vaping rig you working with?

BM: (demands we strike question from the record, citing: “you’re an idiot”) 

Fuck you.


Round Four: The Last Question


There are some philosophical lines in your book. life should reveal itself as an increasingly moving series of recognitions. But are followed with one-liners or blunt statements of confusion. i know that i know things, but it feels like i don’t know anything. Which for me, gives it this endless looping feeling of introspection. Were you inspired/influenced by any philosophers/big-brain thinkers? Or was there any specific reading experience that sparked the idea for this book?

BM: Reading $50,000 by Andrew Weatherhead definitely sparked it. I loved the tone of that poem. The space between lines. It’s really funny and direct in a way that most poetry isn’t. Then I read The Rejection of Closure, an essay by Lyn Hejinian, which I won’t go into here because I did that in the interview I did with Zac and ended up rambling way too much. The combination of those two back to back really jolted me away from linear narratives and I felt much more excited by nonlinear, fragmented, aphoristic, non sequitur type stuff. Right after reading those I started writing An Actual Person...without really even thinking about it. It just felt natural and good, which is rare for me, so I kept adding lines. 

As far as big-brain stuff goes, when I was like 22-25 I read a lot of Sartre, Heidegger, Schopenhauer, Nietzche. Sartre was the big one for me. I remember coming across his essay Existentialism is a Humanism in college, feeling failed by public education for never having been forced to read it, then getting into all his other books. Lol. I almost don’t even want to think about it because I almost went insane reading all of that shit. I read so much of it that I’m sure there’s some influence there, but I don’t think I can pin-point anything. I don’t know why I stuck with it for so long. I thought I would find something that would make sense of things I guess. But nothing ever really did that for me. Lately I’ve just been really into E.M. Cioran. He’s an extremely emotional and unintentionally funny philosopher. He writes in aphorisms which I always enjoy. Like, I think this kind of shit is hilarious: “In the days when I set off on month-long bicycle trips across France, my greatest pleasure was to stop in country cemeteries, to stretch out between two graves, and to smoke for hours on end. I think of those days as the most active period of my life.” I keep talking about this excerpt from The Trouble With Being Born by Cioran in all the interviews I’ve done for this book so far because I think it kind of changed how I viewed things, almost put me at ease or something: “We cannot elude existence by explanations, we can only endure it, love or hate it, adore or dread it…” It seems so obvious and I’m sure I’ve read similar iterations of that same sentiment, but it really hit me. I think after reading that I felt kind of freed from trying to get at anything, and my writing got more playful. There’s really nothing to say. Or I’m just comfortable not really saying anything. I’m happy to just paint a little picture of the world/reveal things about the world and being a person on it that I think are funny or confusing or exciting. I don’t care to sound smart or like I know what I’m talking about. But I can look at things and describe them, articulate how I’m feeling, write about stuff I think sucks and stuff I think is good and hopefully do it in a way that feels new and hopefully say some things that other people also think but haven’t articulated. I’m still figuring things out. Or maybe I’m realizing that there isn’t all too much to figure out. 

And that’s match, Middleton. Well done. Anything else you want to add?

I’ll be reading in NYC at KGB bar with GG Roland, Shy Watson, Graham Irvin, Peter BD, Theo Thimo, and Alex Otte on July 22 if anyone wants to come hang. Also doing a reading with GG and other Clash Books people at the NYC Poetry Fest on Governors Island July 25th if that sounds like fun to anyone. *gif of that Miami beach dude in joker face-paint waving an American flag around while standing on a cop car*

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GENIUS by T.J. Larkey

I'd been a process server my whole life.

Well not really.

I remember my dad driving me around a lot after school, leaving the car running as he knocked on strangers’ doors.

At seven seeing his Vietnam Vet fearlessness for the first time, ducking a crackhead wielding a broken lawn lamp.

At fifteen working in his house/office, and at seventeen feeling so lucky to have a job that didn’t leave me smelling like grease.

And at nineteen using the savings to move away to California.

So it really only felt like it.

Like I’d never done, and wouldn’t ever do, anything else.

The rightful heir to King Larkey of Larkey Process Professionals.



I was driving to work in Tempe, hungover.

One of those apartment complexes I’d served since high-school, the same drive in the same car down the 101 freeway.

It was hot out when I left but even hotter when I got there.

I took a minute to get used to it with the windows down while I plugged in my headphones and found the right playlist, titled “That Real Shit.”

Then I started my circular walk around.

The same walk.

Est. 2010.

“Hi there!”—bitch-ass subservient tone—“Is ___ or ___ home?”—sheepish smile—“This is a late rent notice from the leasing office for you.”

And when done right, the response: “Thanks(?)”

It wasn’t hard to pull off.

Placating their anger with idiot grins and clown dances.

Climbing staircases like I expected a statue of myself hands to the clouds to be built at the top.

Dancing through the parking lot, shoulders and head bobbing.

Tapping lightly and rhythmically on doors to match the song I was listening to privately so others could enjoy it too.

And if they did get angry: just silently absorbing the shit with a smile, that half-lie in the back of my brain whispering seductively, “I’m not the bad guy, I have my own problems paying rent, and it might as well be me and not those dead-eyed chain-smoking creatures from the court.”



“Hi there!”

An elderly woman so happy to have company she didn’t understand what was happening.

A college kid too bro’d out to respond with anything but, “Fersher dood.”

A mom of three with a toddler on her hip, talking on the phone, too busy for words but angry enough to give me a look I wouldn’t forget.

I served and served.

Thinking only of ways not to have to serve anymore.

Fantasizing about anything else.

Numbing my surroundings with rap music.

Drifting into your life bringing change but on to the next door so quick you felt violated.

Stuntin’ like my daddy.



The rapper in my headphones was talking about being awesome, getting money because he was awesome.

I thought about becoming a rapper.

Another rapper made me laugh.

I thought about being a comedian.

The next rapper said, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy,” and I thought about being a genius.

Dear Kanye, is there another option for crazy people other than being a genius?

Dear Self, you are not a genius.


No fucking way.

Not even sure why you’re thinking that you fu—

“What do you want!?”

A big shirtless thing in a dark room, standing behind a half-open door, looking at me.

“Sorry,” I said, popping out my headphones. “Is Kyle home?”

“Kyle who?”

“Kyle”—checking paper—“Lind?”


“Oh, okay, well, I have a notice here for him from the Leasing Office.”


“Could you give it to him?”

“Nah there’s no Kyle here.”

“Uhh”—I looked at the paper, the number on the door—“But this is the apartment number listed, and it’s from the leasing office. Also I’ve served you before man.”

“There’s no Kyle.”

“None Kyles?”

“There are zero Kyles here.”

He closed the door.

I folded the paper up to tuck it in the door, then tucked it in the door.

He pushed it out.

I tucked it in again.

The door opened.

He said, “I will kill you dude, seriously.”

I said, “I will die willingly, just try it.”

No I didn’t.

I walked away briskly with my hands at my sides like I hadn’t heard him.

Because I am not the bad guy.

I just can’t do anything else.

I’m crazy for not doing something else.

Name one crazy that ain’t genius.



I got to my car and locked the door.

Laughing nervously.

There were still more notices to be served at the complex but I didn’t feel like serving them so I did my special process server trick that wasn’t really a trick and was actually just crumpling them up and throwing them on the floor underneath the passenger seat.

I had sparkling water cans, fast food wrappers, gas station pizza boxes, and my little snack bag down there too.

I grabbed my little snack bag.

Pulled out a beef stick thing (extra-large, to carry me through the rest of that day) and ate slowly, trying not to have a panic attack.

Then I checked my remaining work.

Only two stops left.

One on the way home, and one out of the way.

I decided to pull another process server trick.

Which really was a trick where you serve the close one and type the other into GPS so you know how long it would take to get to the place you didn’t really go to but then write the time down like you did go to it and then drive home where it is safe instead.

Because fuck all of Arizona except my apartment.

Especially Tempe.

Fuck every resident of Tempe, past and present, except the celebrated hip hop trio Injury Reserve.

Yeah—Tempe—yeah you—we were never really friends.

The absolute worst (I’d done no research whatsoever) stretch of college-ness ever.

College town, party town, number one at being the worst town, cop town, fuck town U.S.A.

I drove out of it as fast as possible.



Downtown Phoenix, the old historic neighborhood, off the 10 freeway at 7th Ave.

Out of College Town and into Artsy/Murderous/Fancy/Opinion Town.

I passed the old timey hipster diner on 10th..

Then past a row of houses all similarly beaten down until I hit the newest looking of them, with a small white gate like those in the old movies.

There was a dog barking as soon as I got out of my car and when I approached the gate, he made himself known.

Big drooling bastard, a killer, absolutely beautiful.

He poked his nose out of the gate, barking viciously at me.

Hello gorgeous—I said, reaching out my hand and almost losing it.

What beautiful teeth you have—I thought, smiling maniacally.

Suicide by man’s best friend—I fantasized.

The door opened behind him.

His barking stopped.

His owner said things and when I said things back his (the dog’s) barking started up again.

“Sorry! He usually stops.”

I said it was okay, that dogs acted differently around me than they usually do.

“He/She is not usually like this”—I heard that a lot.

My dick and balls had been sniffed, nuzzled, borderline molested by almost every dog I’d ever met.

They can smell genius—I thought, hiding a smirk.

“A notice! From the Realty Company!”

I waved the paper and the man understood.

He walked out and received it from me graciously but was not happy about it.

An understanding.

That feeling when people knew you were just doing your job and you had no control over the way landlords or realty companies operated.

It was something like a head nod between strangers on the sidewalk or when you find a loose cigarette under your passenger seat, under all that garbage—so human, so good.

“Have a nice day!” I said, but what I meant was I love you. “Sorry to bother you.”

“No worries!” he said.



Back at home I loaded the bad news papers along with the service info into my printer/scanner and sent them off to my dad’s office/home.

I was sitting on my hard little futon couch trying to get comfortable.

Drinking beer very fast.

A movie on in the background.

But distracted by my neck pain and my back pain and my asshole pain.

Prostatitis—or Trucker’s disease—from sitting on your ass too long.

I also wasn’t breathing very well.

I’d been hit in the face too many times, taken a few drunken headers on rock and concrete, and the result was a skull that didn’t sit right on my neck.

I had daily stretches and exercises created by this Russian-Israeli physicist named Moshe Feldenkrais—the only thing that worked, even after seeing doctor after doctor specializing in everything from the heart to TMJ to the psyche—but I hadn’t done them in a while.

I drank instead—i.e. lazy—until the pain went away and I didn’t care as much about my short breath or my racing heart.

Just as I was feeling a little better, my phone went off.

I ignored it.

It went off again.

I saw on the screen that it was the big man.

“Hey Boss.”

Like we were in the middle of a conversation already: “Did you serve that Buckeye?”

I lied and told him I had.

The papers were scanning now.

It was just my printer, that piece of shit printer.

“Never mind the printer, the guy said you didn’t serve it.”

“What guy?”

“The owner of the house. He lives next door and said he didn’t see you, or the notice on the door. He was watching all day.”

I said why would he do that.

My dad said that the owner wanted to see how the guy reacted to being served.

I said what a bitch.

My dad said you didn’t serve it did you?

I said how dare you question my work ethic.

No I didn’t.

I apologized, said that this was the first time—only because Buckeye was so far away—and that I was grateful for him and that it wouldn’t happen again and that I loved him.

“Cut the crap. I know it won’t happen again,” he said. “You’ll lose your license. You want to lose your license? You want to leave me stranded doing everything by myself for weeks?”


I hung up the phone.

Guzzled some cold coffee.

And walked out of my apartment and into my car.

My asshole still hurt.




A sort-of town out in the desert you never think of unless you’re driving through it to California, or you’re a process server.

A long two-lane road with not much to look at except signs and roadside memorials.

I had a tendency to seek out roadside memorials, a habit since I’d made the drive to Los Angeles and back so many times.

And I saw a few really new and beautiful looking ones and couldn’t help zoning out.

Feeling (something).

People around me though, they didn’t seem to be appreciating the view as much.

They were going twenty-five to thirty over the limit and swerving around me like assholes.

A testament to Man’s big fallacy that even the roads with the highest body counts never seemed to deter them from driving like assholes.

One asshole rode my bumper in a way that said: “I’m angry with you and need you to know it.”

Another asshole flashed his lights at me.

And the toughest of assholes—of course—throwing a potentially fatal fit so I can feel punished and shamed.

Yes absolutely, sorry, and thank you.

A single head nod and a smile for you, no eye-contact no matter how long you honk.

A one-handed clap for you, while the other rubs my sweaty stringy-haired balls.

A silent and immortal don’t care to all and good night—don’t even care how tired it is to say it.

You’re welcome.

I made it there safely.



A lot of the neighborhoods out in the middle of the desert were very nice and had protective gates because of the secluded area surrounding them.

Small winding road surrounded by cacti that lead into a narrow passageway with a keypad and nothing else.

I didn’t have a gate code though.

I looked at the notice for a gate code but there was no gate code.

I didn’t have any room to move to the side for others to get through to the keypad so I sat there waiting for cars for a few minutes.

No cars came or went—the community looked small.

I called the number on the notice—no answer.

I wasn’t expecting an answer.

It was late and most of the realty companies or landlords didn’t answer calls, afraid (I'm guessing) they’d have to speak like a real human with someone they were potentially kicking out onto the street.

Uhh-unh—that was mine and my dad’s job.

“Speak forth,” Dad said.

“Hey I’m stuck at a gate, do we have anything about a code? I tried calling already.”

My dad said he’d look and then went to look and then came back to the phone to tell me he didn't find anything.

“Someone will come through eventually,” he said. “Just wait.”

So I waited.

Rolled down the windows.

Lit a cigarette.

Listened to the desert sounds.

Smelled a pleasant familiar scent from a plant (they were all over Arizona) that I wanted to know the name of but didn’t know the name of because I was too dumb/lazy/disconnected to remember.

A few minutes of that until a car pulled up to the gate from the other side.

The exit side, which was not connected to the enter side.

I waited until the car was halfway out and then turned slowly toward him in case the gate closed back up quickly.

When the car was fully through, I sped up and, almost immediately, had to slam on the brakes.

Because the car leaving had slammed on his brakes first, blocking me on purpose.

I reached for the notice, evidence I wasn’t a thief, and rolled down the window.

The man in the blockade car had rolled his window down too, to give me a look.

There was something to that look.

I flashed my notice and yelled, “I’m a process server!”

Smirking, he replied, “I’m president of the Homeowners Association.”


“Yep. And I don’t know you.”

“Well fuck,” I said, then blacked out from disgust/anger. “Fuckety fuck shit blah blah (something about asking him if he’d like to be president of the ‘being headbutted to death association’) fuck and more fuck fucks.”

“Real nice,” he said, and drove off after seeing the gate had closed completely.

I reached for one of the cans under my passenger seat and threw it at him, hitting my hand on my door and missing badly because the can had no weight to it.

That useless adrenaline pumping through me now, shame and hatred adding to the trash medley smell.

Twenty minutes passed.

I was getting tired.

I pulled up to the gate, inspected it for weakness, decided I could go face-down through the bottom.

I pulled my car around and then onto another street close by, parked it.

As I walked through the desert I had a nightmare/fantasy about being bitten by a rattlesnake and having to go through many trials to save my own life, then being awarded some kind of certificate that entailed never having to work again.

I got to the gate, dropped to my hands and knees, took a deep breath, made it through, scuffing up my shirt.

My GPS took me past all these houses that looked the same.

It was taking longer than I’d anticipated and I started getting paranoid about my car being towed.

I picked up the pace, started a jog that turned into a run, until I was at the house.

“Hi there, is—”

“You alright man?”

A man not much older than me, staring at the sweat and pavement residue on my shirt.

“Yeah,” I said, still trying to catch my breath. “Just had to crawl under the gate.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“The president denied me safe passage.”

He laughed: “Oh, umm, okay, do you want some water or something?”

“Really? Yeah that’d be great thank you.”

He walked away, leaving the door open, came back with a big glass of ice water.

I drank it slowly but forgot to do the polite thing and not touch it to my lips.

He didn’t seem like he cared.

“So what’s up?”

I looked down at the notice. “I have a thing here, for you, I think.”


“No I mean, a bad thing. It’s a late rent notice. The wording on here is scary but really it’s just like a warning. The owner of the house has to do a lot more paperwork in order to kick you out, so you have time to pay.”

“Oh no worries,” he said, jerking his thumb at the house next door. “I know the guy. Knew something was coming eventually.”

I handed the paper and the empty glass over to him.

“Thank you,” I said, then stood there waiting in case he wanted to get anything out of his system.

“So hey, can I ask you something,” he said. “Do you do just these, or like, do you do the whole process serving thing?”

“You asking if I do what (Actor) does in (Movie About Process Server)?”

“Hell yeah man. One of my all-time favorites. In high school I wanted to do exactly that job.”

“Yeah, I can imagine, that was the golden age for us.”

“So you just like drive around all day getting stoned or what? You must have some crazy stories too.”

“Not really. Served a guy who flashed his gun and asked me if I wanted to ‘catch some lead’ once, but I just laughed and he kept the gun in his waistband the whole time.”

“Oh shit, you gotta be careful out there.”

“Yeah definitely, I have a routine though.”

“A real pro huh?”

“You could say that. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I mean kind of my whole life.”

He held out his fist and I bumped it.

“Anyway,” I said. “Sorry to bother you.”

“All good man, take it easy.”

“You too,” I said, and walked back to the gate to crawl under it.

I made it to my car, which hadn’t been towed.

Then I drove home.

Feeling an embarrassing level of excitement for the weekend approaching.

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I’m lying on my floor, next to my bed.

My bed is this big padded mat that rolls up and can be moved very easily.

It’s comfortable, but I like the floor better.

I believe that lying on the floor for a few hours a day will toughen me up.

I was a spoiled kid, very soft, so I’m always looking for things to toughen me up.

That’s how I got here.

I got it in my head that moving to a big city I’d seen in movies and television, where I didn’t know anybody, would somehow make me a tougher and overall better human. I was coasting around, not sure about anything other than wanting to live somewhere like that, when I lucked out and found the apartment online. It was cheap for being so close to the ocean and, even though I don't care about things such as close proximity to bodies of water or the correlating price of living in such places, I put down a deposit without even looking inside first.

I was on my way to becoming a tough guy.

It felt so badass.

For about a minute.

Then it transformed into panic.

A panic that remained all the way up until moving day.

I walked in to my new place with a laptop in one hand, a trash bag full of clothes in the other, and my bed/mat rolled up and tucked under my arm, hoping for the best. Hoping for a little more luck. Hoping for a place that would help me become… (something).

First, I looked at the kitchen/living room.

It had a microwave, a mini fridge, a sink, and a small couch that took up about thirty percent of the room. It was beautiful. I realized very quickly there was no bathroom (which I couldn’t remember being mentioned online) and that was beautiful too. I felt stupid for panicking. I thought to myself, this is the essentials, this is beautiful.

Then I looked at the bedroom. It had old brick walls, little bits of it breaking off on to the creaking wood floors, and in the corner of the room the ceiling slanted down because it was right under the stairs. I could hear people’s footsteps all day and night.

Then I noticed something very unusual.

The floor was wrong. It was crooked. If you put a pencil down it would roll to the other side of the room and disappear into the cracks between the brick wall. If I put myself down on the floor, however, no such luck.

At first, I thought the building was poorly constructed on uneven ground-- the first floor is street-level on one side of the building but not the other side. But later one of my neighbors told me that because of the age of the building, and the number of earthquakes it had endured, parts of the foundation had shifted over the years.

A building that could collapse at any moment.

My new home.

I threw my bed/mat onto the crooked floor and laid down next to it, like I’m lying down now, and thought, am I tough yet?



I’m in my kitchen.

It’s very dark.

The rest of the city is asleep and all I can hear is my own footsteps.

It’s usually my favorite.

The best time to be alive.

But tonight it reminds me of when I was kid.

I was afraid of the dark.

I remember looking into the darkest part of my room, restless and almost paralyzed, and picturing the worst things possible. I remember knowing that it was all in my head and nothing was happening other than my inability to stop imagining my own demise, but still I’d look in to those dark crevices and think, okay, just, kill me quickly please.

Then remembering that reminds me I’m still afraid of the dark.

I open the mini fridge.

What seems like blinding light pours into the room and I see something small move quickly away from it. Then I hear little scratching noises. It’s coming from behind the fridge and then it’s coming from behind the sink.

I make myself completely still. I tell myself it’s in my head. But the sound gets louder and I move closer, silently, tip-toeing, so quiet that I start to scare myself, always scared, so scared that whatever is making the sound will pop out and systematically list all of my worst moments in chronological order, starting from age five, then murder me.

I open the cabinets below my sink and find the source.

A little family of mice looking up at me, terrified.

“Hello,” I say.

“Don’t be afraid,” I say.

“Let’s be friends,” I say.

Then I reach over in to the fridge.

There’s beer, eggs, a plastic bottle of vodka, and processed cheese I get from the convenience store across the street. I pinch off a piece of the cheese and set it down in front of the mice family, then I eat the rest of it in front of them so they know it can be trusted.

“My cheese is your cheese,” I tell them. “Go on.”

But they seem skeptical.

I leave it and walk back to bed.

I open my laptop, put in a DVD, and hit play.

As the intro credits start, I’m distracted by another creature darting away from the light coming from the screen.

I look over and see the little guy hiding in the corner of the room, between the cracks of the brick wall and partially hidden by my bed.

“Hello,” I say, “You with them?”

I point to the sink.

The mouse looks at me for a moment, then runs away, up the crooked floor and back to the rest of his family.

“Nice to meet you,” I say, and lie back down.

I watch the movie without any further interruptions.

I close my laptop.

I pull my blanket up to my nose.

I shut my eyes.

I whisper good night to my new roommates.

Then after imagining myself dying horrifically in an earthquake for an indeterminable amount of time, I force myself to fall asleep.


In the morning I wake up to something tickling my leg.

It’s terrifying.

But it’s nice to have things going on.


I lift the blanket over my head and see my new roommate burrowed under my knee. The same little guy that was near my bed the night before. He looks identical to the rest of his family, but I can tell it’s him. Something about his movements.

“Hello,” I say. “Good morning.”

I want him to tell me everything is going to be okay.

Everything is fine, now that he’s here.

But he doesn’t respond.

Just runs out from under the blanket and back into the kitchen and behind the fridge.

Still friendless.

I sit up.

I get this cold sensation through my body and my left hand is asleep.

Then as I roll of the bed I feel something small like crumbs underneath me and it’s terrifying.

Always terrified.

I yank the blankets completely off, wiggling like a little child, and see a dozen hard little brown pellets, about the size of a mouse’s asshole.

It’s right there.

Wasn’t there last night.

But now it’s there.

A declaration.

A black flag.


I get up and check behind the sink cabinets but all I see are pipes, more mouse shit, and the cheese I left last night, untouched.

It’s too much.

Shit on my bed all you want, but refusing my hospitality is a capital offense.

As I get dressed angrily, punching my arms through the holes of my shirt and kicking wildly into my jeans, I decide that’s the rule, my one and only rule. I repeat it over and over in my head like a mantra, then walk out the door and into the convenience store across the street.

“Mouse traps?” I say. “They broke the one rule.”

The clerk points me in the right direction.

I march down the aisle until I find what I’m looking for.

They have the non-lethal, sticky trap device, but I don’t see the good stuff.

Give me the big bad lethal stuff baby.

I see the tag—Tomcat Metal Mousetrap—and the space where it should be.

But no mousetraps.

“Where’s the good stuff!?”

“Huh?” the clerk says.

“The Tomcat?”

“Oh. We’re out. But the Glue Traps work just as good.”

“Hah!” I say. “If you knew the kind of mice I was dealing with, you would be singing a very different tune my friend!”


I buy the glue traps and head home.

I stick one behind the fridge, and one under the sink and wait, checking every half-hour while sipping beer and watching old Humphrey Bogart movies (a 4-in-1 DVD collection, to toughen myself up) that I’d bought a few days before.

But nothing happens.


A few days go by before I see him again.

He’s back in the corner where I had first found him.

“You!” I snarl. “Where’s the rest of them?”

He crawls up on my bed, staring.

There hadn’t been any more shit in the sink cabinet and the traps remained empty.

He seems lonely.

I look into his sinister little eyes, his little whiskers twitching, and I can’t help it.

“You may stay,” I declare. “But if you poop my bed again, I’ll buy the good stuff. Tomcat. Metal. Very Lethal.”

Get your copy here.

Art by Zoe Blair Schlagenhauf @tndrnss_vrywh

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ROUTINE by T.J. Larkey

My girlfriend works late hours, without any real breaks to eat, so it’s my duty to feed us when she gets home. I take this duty seriously. Not serious enough to learn how to cook, but serious enough. I sit in bed fully dressed, waiting. Then she calls me as soon as she’s off and tells me about her day while I drive to the nearest fast food place. It’s our routine. I like routine. It keeps me in line. 

“You’re a boy that needs to be kept in line,” she tells me.

“Yes,” I say. “I like routine.”

I get to the fast food place. I always get the same thing and the kid that works the late-night drive-thru shift knows me well. More routine. Keep things simple, and nothing will hurt you. I pull around, collect the correct change from my pocket, and wait for the car in front of me to drive away from the window. On the side of the restaurant, amongst the rocks, the cacti, there are bugs and lizards crawling around. I’ve never seen this before. I watch as a grasshopper is struck down by a lizard, mid-flight, and it scares me. This is not routine. But it’s okay. Get the food, drive home, don’t die, feed your lady, go to sleep, repeat. Okay? 

At the window, the kid asks me how it’s going.

“I just saw a lizard end a grasshopper’s life,” I say. “It was ruthless and terrifying.”

“Cool. You want sauce?”

He always asks me if I want sauce. And I always want sauce. It’s routine. It’s comfortable. If he were to not ask me if I wanted sauce, it’s likely I would spin out of control, burn it all down-- the lizards and the sauce and the routine-- all torched. 

“Hit me with some ranch, young man,” I say. “And you know I gotta have that hot sauce.”

“Ranch and hot sauce?”

“Oh yeah.”

The kid walks over to the condiments. I watch him. He’s short and a little soft around the middle and he is missing an eye. I try to picture his life outside of the fast food place. And every night it’s the same. I imagine him at home, smiling, playing video games or watching his favorite TV show. I imagine him eating his mother’s cooking, a healthy redness in his cheeks, oh so happy and loved. But then it turns into picturing how he lost his eye. I imagine him screaming in pain, near death. Then I see him in the hospital, bandaged up and trying to come to terms with the fact that this is his new reality, his new view of the world, without depth or promise or opportunity. I feel so sad, thinking about him. I want to tell him it’ll be okay and have him believe me. I want to believe me. But mostly I want to climb into the drive-thru window and hug him and take over his shift so he can go home and play video games and kiss his mother. 

“Here you go,” he says. “Sauce and napkins in are the bag.”

“Thanks man,” I say. “Have a good one.”

On the drive back, I notice the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light is on. And my gas is low. I don’t get paid for another 3 weeks. The cost of fast food is cheap, but it piles up. I need to learn to cook. I decide cooking will become my new routine. I will become the greatest chef in the world but I will only ever cook for me and my girl. I’ll buy cookbooks, new pans, a spice rack, the whole thing. My girlfriend will come home to the smells of my love and labor. Scents so good it will become erotic. That’ll be the new routine. Learn to cook so well it makes you irresistible sexually, save money in the process, fix your car, don’t die, keep it simple, repeat.


At home, my girlfriend is in sweatpants, starving, tired, but smiling.

“I missed you,” she says. “How was your day?”

“It was good. I didn’t die. And the same cannot be said for everyone.”

“Did you see another accident today?” she asks.

I’d seen an accident the other day. It was bad. One casualty. I’d told my girlfriend all about it, then went on a rant about how my biggest fear is dying in a stupid way. Like a car accident because I was day-dreaming about becoming a master chef/sexual chemist.

“No accidents today,” I say. “Just nature’s routine.”

“Good. Now come here and stuff your face with me.”

I sit down next to her and we stuff our faces. It’s great. It’s routine. I feel full. I look over at my girlfriend and she appears full too. We are tired. I turn the TV on. My girlfriend needs the TV on to fall asleep so she doesn’t think about bad things that keep her awake. And I cannot sleep with the TV on because my brain latches on to everything. So I stay awake. Reading while the TV is on. I use a night light she bought me to further enhance the routine-- holding the book in one hand-- while the other hand is placed gently upon my girlfriend’s ass. Until she falls asleep. I turn the TV off. And for a few minutes I think about my day. I know a good portion of tomorrow will go the same, and it makes me feel calm. For the first time in my life, I feel calm before bed. Because of the routine. I fall asleep.


A few days later, at the fast food place, there is a disturbance in the routine. I order my food, but the line isn’t moving. I start to panic. I text my girlfriend. Long line. But I’m okay. I’ll be home soon. In the rearview, I see a man approach. He’s one of the employees. Belly hanging over belted khakis. 

I roll my window down.

“Hello,” he says. “Sorry about this line.”

His voice is soft. Soothing. A bit of a lisp. And his face makes me trust him.

“It’s okay,” I say. 

“The man at the window right now,” he says, looking around at the empty parking lot. “He won’t leave. I just called the cops but he still won’t leave.”

He smiles. I love him. I would do anything for him. His voice has pain in it and I want to bottle it up and take it home for him. Make the pain my own. 

“You want me to talk to him,” I say, unbuckling my seatbelt. “I come here every night so I feel kind of protective of it.”

He laughs. “No. But if you wouldn’t mind pulling out and walking inside we can get you your food in a few minutes?”

I wouldn’t mind. I would love to come inside. It’s not routine. But it’s exciting. A whole new world.

I back out of the drive thru and park near the entrance. The cars in front of me do the same. I’m first to the door and I hold it open as a group of people, all wearing clothes they wouldn’t normally wear in public, walk in one by one. The man that was in front of me is in flip-flops and tank-top, making a face that expresses how much he’d like everyone to know how annoyed/exhausted he is. And a group of three very large women follow behind, wearing sweatpants and talking about how crazy/weird this is. 

“He’s probably drunk,” one of the women says.

“Yeah, what an asshole,” another says.

I stand behind them. Thinking about other strange occurrences that have happened in this fast food place. There was the time an ambulance was called because a man had a heart-attack inside, right before the dining area was closed for the night. And there was the time a man tried to break in because they wouldn’t let him order through the drive-thru on foot. I think, how would these women react to those incidents? Then I stare coldly at them.

“We better get a free taco or something for this,” one of them says.

“Shush,” the woman who started this conversation says. “They might hear you.”

The man in flip-flop’s order is called and he walks up to the counter. He pays. I watch the man with the soft voice apologize to him and hand him his food. Then I watch as the kid with one eye scrambles around making the women in sweatpants’ food. 

“Your food will be ready soon,” the man with the beautiful voice says to the women. “And, umm, we threw in some free curly fries for you.”

The women all thank him. But it’s not good enough. Nothing in this world would be enough for the man with the beautiful voice. Nor the kid with one eye. I think about the man that started all this, and I hate him, yes, but in another way I love him for creating this beautiful scene.

“Three cheeseburgers, and three large cokes?” 

“And curly fries?” one of the women says, walking up to the counter.

“And curly fries.” 

They pay. I wait. The suspense building. When my order is called, I walk up to the counter smiling.

“Here you go,” the man says. “And I threw in an extra taco for you.”

“No,” I say. “You didn’t.”

“Yeah. For the wait and everything. We’re really sorry.”

“It’s no problem. The guy still here? Need me to talk to him?”

“Actually, I think he umm, heard me say I called the cops to those women that were behind him because he left right after.”

“Good,” I say. “Was he drunk or…?”

“Yeah. He took a really long time to order and I couldn’t understand him so he started cursing at me and umm, telling me I should go back to my own country.”

“Fuck that,” I say. “He should go home, forever and always.”

He laughs. The kid with one eye brings the food to him and gives me a thumbs up. The exchange is complete. I feel sad. But I understand.

“Well,” I say, “Hope you guys have a good rest of your night. See ya next time.”

“You too,” the man says, his voice seeping inside me. 

On the drive back home, I start thinking about my life before the routine. Through all the memories, one obvious moment sticks out. Years ago. I’d woken up in a strange place, still drunk, and decided to spend my last three dollars at a fast food place nearby, in order to sober up. I hadn’t had fast food in years. When I was drinking every day, I ate very little. Mostly eggs and nearly expired deli meat—in order to save money for booze. But that day I didn’t have a choice. I sat at a table near the empty play-area for children, eating a two-dollar cheeseburger and sipping free water from a small paper cup. After the cheeseburger was in my stomach, I just sat there, watching people eat, feeling sad and unable to move but not sure why. It seems funny now. Life before the routine. I laugh. My entire life before the routine seems absurd and distant. But I realize that very soon, I will need a new routine. I will feel that same kind of two-dollar cheeseburger sadness and a new me must emerge from that sadness. The discarding of and creation of routines will become a part of a larger routine and they will all build and be called my life. 

When I get home my girlfriend is wearing one of my t-shirts.

“How was your day?”

“Full of love.”

“Kiss me.”

“They gave me a free taco.”

We kiss. We eat. We have sex. She falls asleep. The routine is complete. And the last thing that goes through my head, before I drift off, is nothing.

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