There’s a law in several states movie theaters don’t want you to know about. In California, Oregon, Colorado, and recently Washington, if you, dissatisfied after a movie, say, “I want my two hours back,” the theater must return your time to you ironed, starched, even better than you left it.
Like all laws this one can be exploited. You can claim to have hated movies you never saw and over time siphon years from greedy multiplexes. Just don’t make eye contact with the elderly usher who earlier this afternoon was only a boy.
Strolling on my block, I’m thinking on the wild haircuts of trees, the bald spots, the cowlicks, the sudden too-stiff partings, when I look up into a tree I pass daily and affixed to a high branch, higher than I could reach without climbing (and I’m in no state to climb anyway) is an old tin mailbox labeled “love letters,” the words painted on with care.
But how to offer a letter? How to receive? I need not worry, the wise tree says via sway. These love letters are by trees, for trees, and this box is a space for them to make their intentions known to one another, in a language I am still weeks from deciphering.
Like people, trees have many ways of wooing, and brother they are working. On my walk home each branch I touch is hard and wet, each tree moaning as it scatters seeds almost indiscriminately in the unrelated rain. “Good for you guys,” I say to each of them, until back home my coven of lovers asks to discuss all these scrapes on my body.
It’s halftime: You are my team and I’d prefer you win. Don’t think for a moment you are better men than your opponents, your hearts purer, your moms kinder, your town richer in character. There is one town; there is one mother. Each of us an aorta in a heart too big to see.
Still, I am your coach. The other team has theirs. We delight in roles. Some ants forage while others dig. You boys are like sons who tomorrow could well be fathers to me. Happily I will wear this mask we call coach, just as at home I wear husband and dad. And so I state a preference for victory, our victory.
Perhaps we shall win. Perhaps we’d enjoy that, though indeed victory is a simple, addictive carb soon replaced by more hunger. Better to savor the wanting itself—you’re alive, boys, united in flimsy purpose within well-defined rules, encouraged for now to table other drives and to focus on just one thing. What a gift and a joy.
Dissolve your egos now in a team hug. I promise in 90 minutes your individual selves will be right there waiting for you outside the gym, better for the respite from individuation, ready for a snack.
Beneath the brain the skull holds it all up, way up, like a parishioner offering crops to the heavens, and we call this pious skull rack the subconscious.
Each time I bash my head into a table, I have an award-winning idea, and we call the brief period between numb buzzing and beloved thoughts the subconscious.
You’re a dog who wants to be good but cannot, and I love you for the struggle. Unless—have you gotten so good at feigning the struggle because I’m a sucker for it? And you’ve found a way to have it all, your badness and my approval? What a win for each of the devils on your shoulder, who when they team up are known to divinity scholars as the subconscious.
Unable to be tamed seems like a nice space: given up on yet beloved. You are in prison yet all these pen pals must marry you. Deep in the jungle is a sign that reads,
How sad. You’ll never see despondent microclimates so lush. All you can do is breathe extra while in there and in this way give back. We know what is after us and yet still we can’t help that what really worries us is, what if cannibals. The space between real threat and perceived is a jerk in a deli who one summer told us to start calling him The Subconscious.
Gabe, you’re attached to the baggage of your name. You meet a baker who knew another Gabe and he keyed her Infinity. You meet a florist who knew two Gabes who worked in tandem to saw down a tree onto the florist’s house. You meet a nurse who knew a trio of Gabes who at karaoke bars performed obscure joyless showtunes.
You have no control over how the baker, florist, and nurse hate you for the Gabes’ misdeeds. Or how they’ll tell two people and they’ll tell two people, and soon the verdict is in: You’re not a guy you’re a Gabe. A real Chadbecky of a Gabe.
It will hurt so much that you will show them you’re more than your name by buying a tailored beige suit and wearing it everywhere, and the blowback to your suit will be swift and hard because it’s so Gabe to try to unGabe. The other Gabes will say, “I’m a Gabe but no Gabe Durham,” and the gambit will work, the public will take pity on them, but not on you, never you, you they must destroy. Your shame was Media Mailed to you on the day you were born and it is now just arriving. It is the shame of the ages.
You will withdraw. You will shop in sunglasses and ballcaps. One night you will seek out actor Hailey Joel Osment to say you are sorry you’d always failed to see him as a real person because you’d let the world decide who he was. He will nod and then kick you down the stairs into the sticky street because he knows who you are. You are Gabe Durham and you are nothing like him.
Scratched up and bruised, you will finally resign yourself to the world’s verdict. You will tear the seams from your tailored beige suit and venture east out of the city, out of the valley, into the desert. There you will happen upon a fellow traveler, a young virgin, and you shall say to her, Greetings, You who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. And she shall be greatly troubled by your words.
A line just came to me stronger than all the rest. I’m enjoying turning it around in my mind, but I’m not going to write it down. This one’s a catch and release, going back in the collective pond so that one day, many years from now, someone (you?) will discover it yourself, and you’ll give it a quick search, and it’ll turn up zero results, and you’ll offer it up to the world (correctly) as your own.
When I read your words in a stimulating magazine, they’ll ring true, and I, long having forgotten this night, will bask in the same insight twice decades apart.
Only now, planting this gift for myself like a trap beat for you to rhyme over do I see it all, how lucky I am to cycle through knowing and unknowing. It makes me feel like a still, small bigshot, tossing bills out the sunroof of my own conscious mind.
I can tell you’re distressed, wondering, What if the words never find me? Honey, that’s not my department. I can lead a horse to water but I can’t keep you from being a dumb horse, you dumb horse.
Gabe Durham is the author of a novel, Fun Camp, and two nonfiction books about video games, Majora's Mask and Bible Adventures. He lives in Los Angeles where he is the founding editor & publisher of Boss Fight Books. He's @gabedurham on Twitter and @drboring on TikTok.