Journal #45 (in which Brian goes undercover)

I should preface this with something [said man] said to me during the early stages of his madness, before I knew what it was, that has stuck with me all of this time and is likely the best explanation for why I joined him (encouraged him even, nudged him out the door) on this road trip. He told me how in some primitive cultures, when a child began to hear voices or see visions or dream dreams of a certain variety, the shaman of the tribe would take the child under his wing and lead the child through the experience, not away from it, sometimes isolating the child in the wilderness so the child could confront the “madness” which was then seen as the divine. And the child would be okay. After confronting the experience, the child would return to society and, in time, become the new shaman. What was once seen as a gift is now seen as an illness, something to be suppressed and medicated.

Though there are some schools of thought that still believe in this approach — allowing the “madness” to run its course while guiding the patient inward toward its root — mostly it has fallen away in favor of mind-altering medication and the belief that something is wrong.

Which brings us, in a bit of a skip, to Annie. I didn’t tell you that she messaged me, maybe a week after I was notified of our match. This is likely an important detail, but honestly I don’t remember if this was before or after I picked up [said man] and drove him south through the desert and into the City of Orange. Anyway, I didn’t respond to her until a day or two after our arrival. I wasn’t sure I was going to, but for some reason I thought it important not to lose her.

I’ve deleted Tinder since, so I don’t have the conversation verbatim, but she opened with something in the vein of, “so what.. you going to say hello or hi or what.

Of course she was messing with me, I knew that, but given the number of matches she must get any given day, I also knew that her picking me to mess with meant something. For some reason she picked me. I didn’t know how to tell [said man] this. Seeing how fragile he was, how quick he was to lose it in either direction, I was careful with him to the point of ignorance.

In the meantime I had to respond to Annie. I had to keep her interested in this interaction. Later I would figure out how to tell [said man]. Later we could decide how to end this.

I would have to meet Annie. It didn’t take long to arrange this. You could tell she was the kind of woman who knew what she wanted. She chose me, she wanted me, that was easy to tell. She wasn’t one to play hard to get. She didn’t need to, so she didn’t. I couldn’t tell [said man] this either. What would I say? The longer I went without telling him, the worse I knew it would be.

But I was doing this for him! Surely he would see that. But also, I was flattered. She chose me. Surely he would see that too.

No, I couldn’t tell him.

The idea was we’d meet up for coffee. She lived close, in Orange actually (if she ever moved to LA like he claimed, she moved back). There was a little cafe across the street from the university and she suggested we meet there. By this time, Tom was with us, so I felt okay leaving [said man] in the In-N-Out parking lot.

I arrived early, about 25 minutes. As she chose the place, knew the place, I needed any advantage I could get. I told the barista I was waiting for a friend and sat down. The place was small, half-full with college students working on homework. Classical music played from an old stereo behind the counter, a soft, calming melody, but still I felt on edge. Like I was being watched. I looked around the place, hunched low over my table, when I saw her, watching me from an elevated booth in the back corner. She smiled at me, but she didn’t get up. She wasn’t about to give up her high ground.

Approaching her, I asked, “Annie?”

She smiled and said, “Yes, I was wondering how long it would take for you to notice me.”

There was a familiarity in the way she spoke to me, as if she didn’t need to break any ice. Either there was no ice or she liked ice, I couldn’t tell. She was comfortable in her corner. I grabbed the both of us some coffee though she didn’t, I noticed later, touch hers at all.

“What brings you to Orange?” she asked.

“What makes you think I’m not from here?”

She smiled at that, and suddenly I became self-conscious of my appearance. The boots, the paint-splattered jacket, the hair that hadn’t been cut in I don’t know how long, the facial scruff that was there but refused to grow. I knew I didn’t fit in here, proud that I didn’t fit in here, but for her to notice was something else entirely.

“No,” she clarified, as if reading my mind. “You were 1000+ miles away when we matched, now suddenly you’re here. You didn’t come all this way for me, did you?”

I froze. The air grew stagnant and hot beneath my jacket. Why was I still wearing a jacket? My pits streamed. My stomach closed in on itself.

She smiled.

OH. She was messing with me.

“Of course not,” I said, forcing a smile. “Just tramping around. Not sure where to.”

She was so calm, barely breathing, my own calm seemed to evaporate before her.

It suddenly hit me what would happen if [said man] saw us here. What if he found her on Tinder. What if he saw how close she was and used her distance to triangulate and approximate her location. Probably impossible, but still, it seemed like something he would do. And he knows the area. He could get lucky.

I should say something, I told myself, I should tell her why I’m really here.

“You look nervous,” she said.

“No, sorry. It’s the heat,” I said, looking over my shoulder.

“It’s not that hot.”

“Not for you.”

“Take off your jacket.”

“I’m okay.”

We did the usual small talk and slowly, a cautious kind of calm took over. Eventually I did take off my jacket, draping it over the back of my chair. She was very open, she told me how she went to school here for acting, how she’s given that up though. Now she writes screenplays.

“You write?” I asked.

She nodded, but didn’t elaborate. She spoke of her college years here and I listened intently, hoping for any mention of [said man], but she mentioned nothing about him. She fell in love with this area, she said, only living in LA for a year after graduation. She couldn’t handle all the rejection so she moved back to Orange to pursue writing.

“Writing is still a lot of rejection though,” I said.

“Different kind of rejection.”

“How so?”

She shrugged. “Writing isn’t you. When you audition and are rejected, it feels like they’re rejecting you, the way you look, the way you speak, but writing… you can hide behind words.”

“But having your thoughts rejected must feel deeper, like a rejection of the soul.”

“No. Maybe I haven’t reached my soul yet. I imagine when I do, I won’t be rejected. So I won’t have to worry about that.”

I nodded. She smiled. And we sat in comfortable silence for some time.

And in the silence I watched her, the way she brushed the hair from her eyes and over her ear without any sign of being insecure. She smiled at me. I smiled back. I remembered him. What the fuck was I doing? I have to come clean, I have to tell her about—

“You want to get out of here?” she asked me.


Her place wasn’t far, and uncomfortably close to the In-N-Out. Walking out into the cafe parking lot, I made for another car I insinuated was mine, but luckily she offered to drive and said she could drop me back here later. “My car” would be fine here. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment off Tustin St. Her roommate was always gone, she said, at her boyfriend’s place in the city. Moving into the kitchen, she opened a bottle of wine, poured two glasses, and without asking if I wanted any, handed me one. I sipped at it, and followed wordlessly to her room at the end of the hall.

She wasn’t thin, but she was by no means fat. I couldn’t help but watch her walk, her firm curves, her black hair falling down her back.

She sat down on the bed right away. I remained standing. I wandered the small room, looking at the bare white walls, her desk covered in notepads and screenplay pages, the window overlooking an alley.

“I keep meaning to decorate, but…” she trailed off.

I nodded, took another sip of wine.

“What kind of stuff do you write?” I asked her.

“It’s all over the place.”

“Well what are you working on?”

She hesitated. “Well,” she said. “It starts as a kind of love story. A young woman and a young man who meet in college. He’s quiet, still waters run deep, you know the type, and the young woman falls for him right away. They’re friends and nothing happens, but there’s a tension there. She knows he wants her too, but she does nothing. It starts out like this, your standard boy meets girl story, but then something happens, there’s a shift in the boy and the sexual tension strains into a sharper kind of tension. The girl pushes away and the boy begins to stalk her. She shuts herself off from him altogether and of course that only makes things worse. It becomes a sort of dark psychological thriller.”

“So what happens?”

“He kills her? I don’t know. One of them dies, I think. I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

I finished the rest of my wine and set down the glass. “So what’s the killer’s name?”

“I haven’t figured out his name.”

“What are you calling him?”

“Just ‘Man.’”

“Oh. ‘Man’ is a good name.”

“Is it?”

“As long as you eventually give him a name.”

She set down her glass on the bedside table, the rim of which I realized her lips haven’t so much as touched. She patted the bed beside her. My mouth was sticky, a deep pounding resounded throughout my entire body. She would destroy him, I thought. And then the thought was gone. I sat down beside her.

She turned to me and leaned in to kiss me. Her breath was roses, mine was all wine. I leaned back, she pulled off my top, kissed my chest, my stomach, undid my pants and slid them down. She paused before my open crotch, breathing heavily, and sat back up.

“Sorry,” she said.

“What?” I said, almost annoyed.

She took a huge gulp of wine. “Sorry. I’ve never been with a woman before—“

I gave her a look.

“No, sorry. Right, I—”

I could see her coming undone. Her display of grace and confidence shedding and falling off all around her. She took her glass of wine and took a large gulp. And another. She was shaking. Her skin was at her feet.

“What I mean is I’m used to dick. That’s all. I’m sorry.”

I should’ve gotten up, it should’ve irked me more than it did, but I couldn’t look away, she was self-destructing and I didn’t have to do a thing. She sat back down, took a breath, and without looking at me, leaned into my legs. There was something timid and inexperienced about her tongue that turned me on, I didn’t expect this, and I had to shut down all other feelings. She didn’t make me cum, not this time, but when she backed away, picking a hair from her teeth, I knew I wanted to make her moan. I looked into her and she knew, I saw right through her. She pulled off her top and fell back. I crawled over her, unclipped her bra, kissed her breasts, kissed her stomach, lifted her skirt and pulled down her panties, I didn’t need my toys to show her how it was done.

It didn’t mean anything to me. Really, it didn’t. Sex isn’t to me what it is to most people, and especially not what it is to [said man]. It’s more like a handshake between two people getting to know each other, who want to know if they want to know each other better. Still, knowing what it would mean to him, I felt guilty. I shouldn’t have done this, of course I shouldn’t have done this, and I got up to leave. It was half past two. Annie propped herself up, her skin pale even in this darkness, and asked where I was going.

I didn’t have a good answer to that. Certainly I couldn’t go back to the In-N-Out parking lot, back to the van. I couldn’t face him like this.

She watched as I paced the room. I told her I couldn’t sleep, would she mind if I played some music?

No, she said. She didn’t mind.

I plugged my phone into her desktop speakers. Remember why you’re here, I told myself. Remedy this. I found the “I’m With You” album on Spotify, asked her if she liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I heard her breath catch. “They’re okay.”

“Great,” I said, and pressed play.

I lay down next to her, and she was so stiff, her eyes elsewhere as the music played.

“What is it?” I asked her.


And she said nothing else. I could feel her pulse grow frantic though she didn’t move at all.

When “Annie Wants A Baby” came on, she got up and asked if I wouldn’t mind us listening to something else. Something calmer, maybe?

I said sure, I guess, but was impassively passive aggressive about it.

She changed the music to something else, something calm, might’ve been Blind Pilot, then she lay back down beside me, pressed herself up against me, and after a few songs she smiled, she was back to herself. She kissed my ear, bit it, whispered, wondered if I would fuck her again.

I told her yes, and that’s what I did. I fucked Annie again.


join Brian next week for journal #46 (in which nothing is Brian’s fault)

Journal #44 (in which Brian takes over)

We were in San Francisco when I found her. The two of us, [said man] and I, were both in the back of the minivan and leaning against its opposite sides as we scoured the Tinderverse for her. Outside it was black and a rare summer San Francisco rain came down drumming the roof. Though I wasn’t swiping nearly as fast as [said man], the longer we sat there the closer I came to matching his almost manic pace.

Suddenly I had to pause, my thumb twitching over the screen. I refocused my eyes and stared at her.

“What did you say she looked like?” I asked him.

He went on to list her traits: her black hair, her pale skin and her full, always pursed lips—

But I wasn’t listening. I was going through her photos, this Annie, age 25, black hair, black eyes, pale skin, full pursed lips… of course it was her.

“Why do you ask?” he asked me.

I shook my head. The possibility of succeeding only now struck me as impossible, just now as the impossible became possible. I looked closer at her photos, one in particular, the second to last standing out. She’s as Disneyland. She’s younger. But it’s not complete, the photo is definitely cropped. Someone had been standing next to her. You could see his chin in the upper left hand corner and it’s his, albeit beardless, but definitely his. It’s crooked and uncertain, and from it you could paint the rest of his face, five years younger but still his face.

“Wait, did you find her?” He was staring at me, and I was afraid to look up. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t prepared for her eyes. Those eyes would destroy him. Already have destroyed him. Suddenly I wondered if this was a good idea. She became real just then, no longer the fantasy he conjured, but a real and breathing woman being and what was I supposed to do? I know now, of course, what I should have done, but that’s easy to see now, isn’t it? Knowing everything that’s happened.

I backed out to her bio which read:

“Beware of false men who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

A chill ran through me. You will know them by their hunger.

“Give me that, what is it?”

He took a swipe at my phone, but I held it away. “It’s nobody,” I told him.

“If it’s nobody then let me see.”

He made another grab at it. I fell back onto the mattress and he on top of me. His chest pressing against my chest, my arm outstretched, us breathing against each other, and suddenly he had it, my phone in his hand.

My heart thumped as I pushed myself back up, watching his face. His face fell, disappointed, and he handed the phone back.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought…”

“It’s okay,” I said.

I looked down at the phone, and where once was Annie was someone else, some thin blonde, in the struggle I must’ve swiped her left or right; anyway, it didn’t matter because she was gone and no match came. Still, her eyes were lodged in mine, gazing up at me from inside. I kept swiping to keep up the charade, but he knew something was up, he must’ve seen the change in me, that I wasn’t really searching.

He put down his phone and watched me. It didn’t matter that he saw “the proof” that I’d been telling “the truth,” he knew that I couldn’t be trusted. His eyes appeared to have a conversation with themselves, with some “other” that wasn’t there, and his distrust for me only grew. I’m not sure how long we were in San Francisco, maybe a week, but by the end he wasn’t talking to me. I disappeared as usual, there was only so much I could take. His presence was heavy, like there were two of him, and so he outnumbered me. I played it calm, but inside I was a mess. Some other side of him was taking over, this blank coldness in his eyes, and I began to doubt our mission. Especially after finding Annie on Tinder and losing her, I didn’t know what the hell we were doing. This was supposed to help him.

During our last night in San Francisco (we didn’t know it was our last night), I woke up to him whispering to himself and watching me. I could see only his silhouette and his eyes, and the glint of something in his hands, turning. My waking had no effect on him, he just kept whispering, whispering, watching me without seeing me.

“Put down the knife,” I said to him, but my voice didn’t register. He only watched me as I watched him. I said his name. I said his name again.

Suddenly he started shouting, I couldn’t understand what, it was like some primitive language he made up, just shouting, no emotion in his voice. Then he lunged at me. If the action was honest I’m sure he could’ve ended me then, but just as fast as he lunged, he dropped the knife and collapsed into the mattress and started to cry. I hid the knife away under the passenger seat. I thought I could hear him whispering I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so sorry through the sobs.

I don’t like writing this. I don’t like telling you this. It paints a much different picture of the man you’ve come to know, because this couldn’t possibly be the man you’ve come to know. And it isn’t. It isn’t the man I know. This was a man taken by a madness, much more serious than his own writings made it out to be, whimsical and mystical and magical (I’m sure it was to him), but outside of him it looked like something else. The reality was worse.

It wasn’t always like this San Francisco night though, sometimes I felt as if he were close to something, something bigger, some great truth that only the mad are graced with. Maybe if he reached this everything would be okay, maybe he could benefit from this in the end, maybe we both could. I hoped that in allowing his delusions to play themselves out, he would find himself, he would come back into himself and find himself stronger. I didn’t want to see him medicated, to see him lose the light in his eyes that first drew me to him, but I was as naive and misguided as he was.

He became unresponsive during the sobbing fit in the van and the only thing I could think to do was to take him home, to his parents’ home. I knew we were close, they lived just south of here, so I took him home.

Honestly I don’t know if he remembered that night, he never wrote about it, and I’m fairly certain he was referring to something else when he wrote, repeatedly, that “nothing happened in San Francisco.” Something else happened between us, it seems unreal to me now but it did. I wouldn’t be surprised if he blocked it all out though. The “other” within him grew to be too much, and he shut down. When you become someone else your mind has to kill what it can, and memory is often the collateral damage.

I despise California. I hate being here. Every time I’m here, I find myself weary, there’s no other way to describe it. A fatigue buried in a place where simple exhaustion can’t reach. But after taking him home, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I felt responsible for what happened, of course I did, I was frivolous with someone who was mentally ill, call it a distrust for doctors, I don’t know, but I’m certain I made it worse.

Tom was always close behind us. I told him what happened and where I was, he came to meet me, and I stayed with him during the first weeks of [said man]’s stay at home. The place was heavy, Sunnyvale I mean, a perfect suburbia so perfect it bordered on a prison. We never felt at ease here, parking on of the side streets, main streets, anywhere. Everything here was clean, well-ordered, so we stuck out like dog shit in a museum. Tom wanted to go, for us to move on and leave [said man] be, but I couldn’t leave him. I’m not sure if it was guilt that kept me around, that kept me checking up on him, or if it was something else.

I’m not sure I really believed this was the end.

Visiting him in his parents’ home grew tough, I never could accept it as his home. He was calm, he was taken care of, and if it wasn’t for the failing light in his eyes, I would’ve believed he was okay. I couldn’t watch this. I didn’t want to be there when the light was finally gone, knowing I was responsible. I had to let him go. He knew this too. So I let him go.

Tom picked me up and we went away, booked it as far away from California as we could go. We took I-80 through Nevada, into Utah, its endless white nothing the perfect cure for California’s never-ending everything, and reaching Salt Lake, switched north to I-15 into Idaho and I believe this was where we were when Trump was elected, though I can’t be sure where we were when any of this happened. This story isn’t about that. We protested, we burned shit, we headed further east as the world fell apart, but this story isn’t about that.

[Said man] no longer texted. He drifted from my thoughts, from my reality, and though he’d crop up there from time to time (I had to wonder if he knew what was going on, if he knew the state of the world, and if he did, if he even cared, if it mattered to him), mostly he was gone.

I do know we were in DC when my phone buzzed, I remember this very distinctly, and since I was with Tom at the time, I thought it must be [said man], but it wasn’t. It was Tinder.

I had a new match.

I knew it was Annie before I even opened my phone. I looked at her but did nothing. I couldn’t look at her, I couldn’t make room to think about her. I closed the app, put my phone in my pocket and tried to think of other things. More important things. Like what Tom and I were trying to do here. But there [said man] was again, back in my thoughts, back in my reality, this story we started and failed to finish.

But I was right to take him home, wasn’t I?

Yes, you were right to take him home, Tom would reassure me. He wasn’t well.

Right, I would say. He wasn’t.

My thoughts strayed from what we were doing here. What we were doing here felt increasingly like nothing at all, burning things that couldn’t burn, touching things that couldn’t be touched, screaming at the inevitable tide of history as it slipped in on itself.

I thought about him. What I did to him. How I left him there alone. How if there was one thing in this world I could change, one way I could make a difference…

“I have to go back,” I told Tom.

Tom nodded. He knew where I was talking about, to whom I was talking about, and without hesitation he told me he’d take me. And in a manic-light-blinding-quick-pissing-caffeine-headache-dreamless-sleepless three days, he drove me the whole way.

Beyond going back, I had no plan. I debated on whether or not to tell him about Annie, that I had found her (she was here! on my phone! we can finally end this!), but when we arrived back in Sunnyvale, I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t approach him.

Tom dropped me off, told me he’d stay close, to text him if I needed anything. And I nodded, said okay, now go.

I watched the house. His room was dark, no movement there. I waited at the open end of the cul-de-sac and felt eyes on me from other dark windows, but I didn’t move. Three nights I spent like this before I saw anything, and it wasn’t much, just a shadow at his bedroom window as his blinds flitted open, closed, and open again. When the shadow was gone I crept to the window and peered inside. A car rolled down the cul-de-sac, its windows open, its driver tossing newspapers deep into driveways. I stayed low as the headlights sprayed shadows across the bedroom walls. When the car turned the corner, I peeked in again. Except for his slow breathing, he hadn’t moved. He slept how normal people sleep. He breathed how normal people breathe. But whether this normality was normal or something else, dormant, I couldn’t know.

Passing by his minivan in the driveway, I noticed it was unlocked. I don’t know why I got in, maybe it was for old time’s sake, my way of saying goodbye for good without saying a thing, but I got in. Coming here was a bad idea. Maybe he really was better. I sat there in the driver’s seat and put my hands on the wheel. The wheel was cold, dusty and unused. Below it was a glint dangling in the dark. His keys, just hanging from the ignition. I laughed to myself then. No, he was not okay. He was not okay at all.

I toyed with the keychain, felt it with my fingers, up to the inserted key, and turned it a notch.

No, he was not okay at all.

From the stack of CDs on the passenger side floor, I picked one up from the top and slipped it into the slot. At first it was silence. Then bass static. Then guitar static. Guitar screaming. CLASH! Singer screaming. CLASH! Funk beat— CLASH!CLASH!CLASH!

And I sat there, listening, waiting, waiting, waiting…

Just waiting.


join Brian next week for journal #45 (in which Brian goes undercover)

Journal #43 (in which said man runs out of people, finds himself alone)

Brian is gone.


Brian is gone.


Brian left, came back, but Brian is gone again.


I don’t know where Brian is.


Brian is gone.


If my memory has served me, and I’m not sure it has, Tommy still owes Brian one more letter.


Though Tommy never leaves my side, our little “van mansion,” it’s clear he lives in his own world. There’s always been a disconnect between us, a divide too wide to cross, but now it’s widening.


It’s a matter of story, I think. We live in different stories. I remember he’s a man on the run and his story is consumed by crime and the avenging of what happened to Brian back then. It’s easy to forget this, how his view of reality must be colored by this. This other color is in his eyes.

Sometimes our stories bleed together, his coloring mine and mine coloring his, but the colors never mix. My story isn’t his story. His story isn’t my story.


With Brian gone most of the time, Tommy becomes consumed with the fourth letter. Maybe if he finishes the fourth letter, Tommy thinks, Brian will stop disappearing.


I’ve seen the list posted on the ceiling of the DREAD NAUTILUS, right above the corner where he sleeps. On the list are three names crossed out, and one that is not—

“No Last Name Danny”

Tommy is trying to find Danny.

And this Danny has no last name.

He makes phone calls, he scours the internet, he rips through phone books from states away (how did he get these???), he doesn’t sleep. Maps cover the mattress, the tapestries, the ceiling — cities crossed out, cities circled and crossed out again. If I crawl to his side of the “van mansion,” he ignores me. If I linger too long, he gives me a look. Gone is the sympathy he had for me. Gone is the place behind his eyes. Suddenly getting Brian back takes priority over helping me find Annie.


It stings for him too, I realize, Brian leaving. It’s hurting Tommy too.


[Meanwhile,] Annie is nowhere to be found.


While Tommy searches for No Last Name Danny, I search for Annie. But there’s nothing. I’ve changed locations on Tinder, every godforsaken place in LA and surrounding, widened my search radius to its limit. I’ve tried Hollywood. Nothing. Studio City. Nothing. Pasadena. Nada.

Glendale Santa Monica Inglewood Burbank El Monte Beverly Hills Culver City Hawthorne Huntington Park South Gate Whittier Hacienda Heights.

Nothing, nothing, etc. Nothing.


What if I missed her? What if she changed her name? Her hair? Her nose? But I’ve been looking for her eyes! Just her eyes!


No, I couldn’t have missed her.


But what if I missed her?


Pooping is no longer a problem. I haven’t been eating. I’m not sure Tommy’s been eating either.


A cop taps on our window, tells us to move on. We say, yes, officer, absolutely, officer. His radio crackles, he tells us he’ll be back, we better not be here when he is, then he’s gone. We move our “van mansion” one parking lot row closer to the 24-Hour Fitness.


At night the vagrants come out. Gunshots echo from the East. The low dark mountains.


The cop doesn’t come back.


Tommy crawls to my side of the van. Through the opening I see his maps folded up, everything tucked away. His eyes look calmer, but steeled for something. He asks how I’m doing. I tell him I’m okay. He sits next to me and takes out his phone. He’s on Tinder and once again looking for Annie. But I can see his eyes, he’s not really looking.


[Later] I hear the shredding buzz of clippers, smell burnt hair flying next door.


[Later] I hear Tommy snoring.


Tommy is gone. He left during the night. A breeze sweeps in through the open side door to let me know it’s just me now. The planks lie on the parking lot pavement where the DREAD NAUTILUS had been. I close the door and lie down and think.


Nothing to do. Flipping through older notebooks. Come across a quote from Fitzgerald. Wrote down page 72, though not sure from what book. “…one is not waiting for the fade-out of a single sorrow, but rather being an unwilling witness of an execution, the disintegration of one’s own personality…

Good. Use this somewhere?


Annie watches me write. In a nearby cafe across the street from the university. It’s a screenplay I’ve agreed will be for her. It’s called Suicide Blonde, about a woman who picks up suicidal men at a suicide hotline, her own dating service for lonely, desperate, sensitive men. I will not sell the screenplay unless Annie’s attached as the lead. I’ll only write for her. In turn, all her acting will be for me. She’ll perform only my words, my work. We need each other, we tell each other.


LA was always where she was heading, but she never needed me to go to LA. I’m the one who needed her.


If Tommy had redirected the energy and resources he used in finding “No Last Name Danny” into finding Annie, we would have found Annie a long time ago.


I won’t find her cooped up in this van. I won’t find her in Orange, on Tinder, Passport location set to LA. No, if I’m to find her, I have to go into LA.


Nighttime. Brian knocks on the window. At first I think it’s the cop again, but seeing it’s Brian I let him in. He flops on the mattress and says nothing about Tommy’s disappearance. He says nothing about anything. He doesn’t want to look at me.

“Where have you been going?” I ask him.

He takes a breath, his eyes roll up as if to find the answer there. “I’m trying to help you.”


“Just know I’m trying to help you.”

He’s trying to convince himself, not me.

“If you want to help me, then help me. Come with me to LA tomorrow. Help me find Annie.”

Brian doesn’t say anything. He closes his eyes. At first I think he’s asleep — he’s not moving — but his breathing isn’t sleep breathing.

“Why are we here then?” I ask him. “Isn’t this why you took me here? To find her?”

“Here was beside the point,” he says. “I just couldn’t leave you there.”


“Do you really think Annie will save you?”

“She’s the only way to end this.”

“Only you can end this.”

“I’ve tried to end this. I was going to end this and then you came back, took me here, and stopped any possibility of ending it myself.”

“But—” he sighs. “You must see that’s why I had to take you here.”

“Well, we’re here. So what the hell. What’s the big next—”

“SHE’S NOT IN LA!” he shouts at me.

“How do you know?”

“Because she doesn’t exist.”

“What do you mean? Of course she—”

“That’s not what I meant — sorry — but she’s not the person you think she is, I’m sure of it. She’ll destroy you.”

“Maybe I need to be destroyed.”

He sits up, buries his eyes in his hands.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you coming tomorrow or not?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then I don’t know what we’re doing here. What you’re doing here.”

“I don’t know either.”


Brian is gone.


I start the car just as the sun rises.


I will find Annie today.


Traffic is slow. Sky a bluish gray, but at least you can see it. A good omen, seeing the sky. I will find Annie today.


LA skyline approaches. Gray stacks against gray.


One hand on wheel. The other on Tinder. Tinder set to “current location.”


Horizon, gone. Sun, gone. Stuck in the shadow of high buildings. Traffic at a standstill.


Haven’t moved in 25 minutes.


An hour. I can see where I was an hour ago.


The sun moves faster than this.


Looking around, I realize, I don’t know this place. I don’t feel anything toward this place. Keep eyes peeled for a familiar exit.


There is no familiar exit.


I don’t know this place.


Traffic moving again, steady. Must get off Tinder. Must put down notebook.


The unthinkable. The skyline south of me now. Pulled off on the side of I-5, Tinder tells me — “There’s no one new around you. Use Passport to choose a new location.


In LA?


I choose a new location. Every location imaginable, in LA and surrounding. Tinder tells me the same thing — “There’s no one new around you. Use Passport to choose a new location.”


My van shakes at the passing of cars heading for the northern mountains. I look back toward the city.

I don’t know this place.

I don’t like this place, but it’s only a place. I don’t know it.

I see that now.


My profile picture pulses on the screen. There is no one new around you.


I shouldn’t be here.


“…an unwilling witness of an execution…”


I need to leave.


“…the disintegration of one’s own personality…”


I look to the mountains. I could go home. This road, the straight road, would take me there.


I drive north only to take the first exit, turn around, and drive south.


None of us should be here. This place was meant to be a desert.


I’ve looked everywhere for [Brian]. I’ve waited in the parking lot, I’ve driven around the still fading streets, I’ve called [his] phone but it goes straight to voicemail.

I feel sick.

I need to write all this down.

There’s a park here, nudged up against the 22. I’ve pulled into the park drive and stopped. I need to write all this down.


“Why did you drop out of college?” people used to ask me.

“I hated LA.”


“Why did you stop screenwriting?” people used to ask me.

“I hated LA.”


And I’ve internalized the lie.

Because LA never had anything to do with me.

LA never wanted me.

No, I don’t hate LA.


But I fear it. It represents everything I couldn’t be.


I feel sick.


I need to write this all down. But I can’t see it. My thoughts are gone. The crack is wide open, but I’ve never felt more [sane?]. The delusions recede, the visions and voices recede — yes, this is what it feels like to be “an unwilling witness to an execution, the disintegration of one’s own personality” — leaving me alone in this world. My head is a vacuum. I hear only the scraping of the pen on paper, forcing out thoughts that aren’t even mine.

I need to write this all down. To get it back? No. Everything is too far away, my [interior?] has escaped the crack leaving me with nothing. I feel so terribly “sane” that I’m afraid I’ll forget what this feels like, if I ever lose it again, I want to remember how this feels.

I need to write this down. “Sanity” is the real loss, everything is surface, the real losing of things. I need to remember this. If I ever lose it again, stay down there, stay lost because then at least you won’t feel this [illegible—

The last half of this sentence is a rough scrawl. You could see his eyes drifting, catching something outside of himself as he wrote this, which incidentally became the last thing he wrote. You can make out an “L” but the rest is impossible. I’ve gone over it I don’t know how many times. I can’t make it out.

He saw something. After what he saw it’s hard to believe he’d care to write much of anything again. He put the notebook down, where it slid to the place between the seats, face down across the floor, the open pages bent and stained with dirt where he left off.]


join Brian next week for journal #44 (in which Brian takes over)

Journal #42 (which brings the second coming of Tommy Tinder)

I must admit there is some guilt in posting the writings of [said man] without [said man]’s approval, but seeing the way he’s been writing about me all this time, invading my privacy, I feel okay about it. 

I have the “privilege” now of having access to all of his notebooks and papers and, comparing them against his final posts, can see that he cut very little. He cut for brevity and tone, sometimes entire pages of impenetrable rambling slashed out, but he never cut (or so it seems to me) to hide anything; I believe he wanted to be as honest as possible. Any liberties taken I find have more to do with simplifying certain events and delusions rather than falsifying them; the essence of what happened remains much the same.

One omission does stand out however, and that is what happened in San Francisco. He never wrote it down, never mentioned San Francisco until later pages of his notebook (dated during the stretch he lived at home) which are smothered repeatedly with the same line: “nothing happened in san francisco. nothing happened in san francisco. nothing happened in san francisco. nothing happened…” As it’s clear he didn’t intend what happened there to be posted here, I will honor that and write nothing.

As for what he did write of our time south of LA, I can only assume he planned on posting it anyway. I should have no qualms. I have no qualms.

I have no qualms.

Of course it was Tommy who’s been following us. That should’ve been obvious from the beginning. Maybe it was.


Brian wakes before I can scroll through his messages to see just how long Tommy’s been following us, if they’ve been in cahoots this entire time.

“Hey,” Brian says, before he sees I have his phone.

“Hey,” I say, holding his phone.

Then he sees I have his phone. It takes him awhile to realize what this means.


[Later I’ll] remember the relief in his eyes when he saw the screen. There was also shame, apology, anger, but mostly what I saw was relief.


Brian gets out of the van and slams the door behind him. He’s out there for some time, in the parking lot, in his tank top and panties, talking to Tommy on the phone and giving Tommy directions. To here. Which I find odd because hasn’t Tommy been following us? The conversation ends but Brian doesn’t come in right away. He leans against the passenger door and lights a cigarette. Inside the van is stifling. I pull on some jeans. Brian flicks the cigarette into the pavement and joins me back in the van.

“That was Tommy,” he says.

“I know.”

“He’s on his way.”

“I know.”


[Later I’ll] think he wanted me to say something more, for me to get angry, upset, anything really. But I didn’t. I wasn’t angry. Which I could tell disappointed him because now he couldn’t explain, defend himself against anyone but himself.


Tommy arrives. The DREAD NAUTILUS pulls up beside us, that wind-worn, sun-faded green Honda Odyssey. Smoke rises from the exhaust, from the cracked windows. His eyes are bloodshot when he exits the car. His hair is long, filthy, and his beard is a mess. But his legs are shaved clean, smooth as any legs I’ve seen.

Brian and I get out of the car. Brian and Tommy look at each other but don’t say anything. Brian sits on the hood of the van — my van — and lights a cigarette. Tommy and I are at a standoff. Staring at each other. Then we’re both staring at our feet.


“Hi,” he says.

“Hi,” I say. When I look up, he’s grinning.


He walks toward me in a graceful, sensual way — those legs, my god — but from the waist up he’s haggard, caved in and jagged. He could be homeless. He is homeless. Except for the legs. He wraps his arms around me as if to tell me everything is going to be okay. But isn’t it? Isn’t everything okay? I feel okay. Though the delusions are still here, at least I know they’re delusions, and anyway they’re getting further away, drifting from me in widening spirals. Tommy reeks of alcohol and deep mud and I know he’s as real as anything. My arms crawl up his back and I hold him too. All of a sudden I’m crying into his shoulder and he pats my back and says, “There, there.”

“There there,” he says.

The moment’s over. His hands on my shoulders, he holds me back to look at me, picks something out of my beard — a cheerio? — though I haven’t had Cheerios since I was home. “We’re going to figure this out,” he says. And I believe him, though for a second I don’t know what we’re talking about.


We’re driving into Los Angeles and Tommy is with us.


Traffic is at a standstill. Fumes rise skyward, though there is no “sky.” The thick gray air around us simply merges with the thick gray air above us. I reach out the window and I’m touching sky.


Brian takes his foot off the brake, we crawl ten yards, he puts his foot back on the brake. He lights a cigarette, takes a drag, lays his arm out the window, and stares ahead at the brake lights in the smog.


Tommy and I are on Tinder.


“Is this her?” he asks me.



“Is this her?” he asks me.



“Is this her?” he asks me.

“I’m sorry it’s not.”



We crawl under an intricate network of onramps and offramps and overpasses under even higher overpasses. No one is moving. Music comes from all directions. Windows rolled down. Air bumping. Someone singing along to someone else’s music.


I don’t look up from my phone. I’m afraid to look up from my phone.


“Is this her?”

“It’s not.”


Not even close.


“Are we there yet?” Tommy asks.

“No,” Brian says.

I haven’t looked out the window but I know we’re not even close.


We turn around before reaching the city. I’m not sure who’s idea it is. There’s a collective sigh, and we turn around.


The sunset is a blood-red that recedes across the sky into dusk. All color washes to the West, where presumably, there is an ocean.


Only back in the safety of the In-N-Out parking lot does Brian take out his phone. Tommy is asleep in the van “next-door.” Outside, drunk college students crowd the In-N-Out entrance. A long line of cars threads into the drive-thru.


Brian is outside smoking a cigarette. I go out to join him.

“May I?” I ask him.

He nods, hands me one after lighting it.

I breathe in smoke.

“Doing okay?” he asks me.

I nod. The In-N-Out has locked its doors. Inside someone mops the tile.

A couple of vagrants sit on the drive-thru curb. One makes eye contact with Brian. Brian makes eye contact back. The vagrant gets up, I steel myself for confrontation, but the vagrant doesn’t even notice me. “Cigarette?” the vagrant asks. Brian nods and hands him a cigarette. It’s like I’m not even there. Like the vagrant knows I’m not one of them. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or offended. I pride myself on not being one of them, but I’m offended.


There’s of course the issue of pooping. Living in a strip mall parking lot, we have to time our bowel movements outside of closing hours. Though Brian is comfortable squatting in the palms, I’m not, making sleep an impossibility when I have to poop.

Daylight brings different poop problems. We have to space our poops, from business to business, in order not to arouse suspicion. Though Brian gets in and out with ease, my anxiety draws attention to itself. A clerk asks if he can help me, I say I need to use the bathroom, he says it’s for customers only, I say I just need to use the bathroom, he raises his arms as if I’m being difficult, and I go ahead and use the bathroom. I remember the unease I’d feel, so long ago now, when I’d be eating in a restaurant, a paying customer, when a drifter, a hobo, a vagrant, would come in to use the bathroom. My heart would race and I’d lose my appetite and wonder — my god, what are they doing in there?

Now I know, they were going to the bathroom.

Watching Brian sleep, desperately needing to poop, this is what I’m thinking about.


Brian is gone. He must’ve left after sunrise, in the afternoon actually, after I finally pooped and got some sleep.

My first thought is that Tommy must’ve taken Brian from me again, this was inevitable after all, but the Honda Odyssey is still there I see, and Tommy is sleeping inside.

I wake him.

“Brian is gone.”

He rubs the crust from his eyes and smiles. “Oh?”

“He’s gone.”

Tommy gets up and looks around. Though he’s not frantic like me, I believe him when he says he doesn’t know where he is, that Brian told him nothing.


It takes the sting off, knowing that it’s not just me he’s abandoned, but Tommy too. It helps knowing I’m not the only one.


Note to self — Tommy seems unaffected.


It’s a long night, waiting up for Brian. The vagrants are back but still they don’t see me. Eye contact is impossible because they won’t look at me.


Brian is back. He’s silent, he’s showered — for a second there I can’t smell him, I panic, but then there’s a whiff of shampoo — and it doesn’t take a genius to understand where he’s been.


Brian is gone again. Likely another Tinder excursion. This time I don’t wait up for him, but that doesn’t mean I sleep.


Tommy has the idea of turning our minivans into one big “Van Mansion,” as he calls it. He finds some plywood, scrapped by some dumpster somewhere, and with our two minivans parked side by side and the adjacent sliding doors open, we lie the planks across. He throws a tarp over the passageway, we pin aside the curtains, and our two vans become one.


Van Mansion… Vansion? No, never mind. Stupid. Stick to Van Mansion.


The company is nice, the extra room is nice, though we mostly keep to ourselves.


Brian is [still] gone.


I’m writing in my notebook when Tommy crawls through the passageway to my side of the “Van Mansion.”

“What are you writing about?” he asks me.

“Nothing. Just stuff.”

“Weren’t you writing a blog once?”

A fear rips through me.

“I haven’t read it,” he says.


“Brian mentioned something once. That was a long time ago though.”


“I didn’t think you were still writing.”

“I’m not.”


[Another time] he asks me about Annie. It’s weird hearing her name come out of his mouth. He asks me what I expect to get from Annie. What I’m going to do if I find her.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. And I don’t. Honestly I hadn’t thought that far ahead. If I had, it was under a different mind, a different perspective. I have to think about it now. All I can come up with is that she’s the key to something.

“A key to what?” he asks.

“A lock.”

“A lock to what?”

“I don’t know. I’ll know when she unlocks it. She’ll unlock something and I’ll know.”


I don’t completely buy what I told Tommy earlier. The question rocked me. Everything is different now. Everything is drifting further away. I have days when I see nothing, feel nothing. When everything is gone, will Annie mean anything?

I try to focus on her. Every detail. Her black hair across her back. Her makeup. Her splotchy skin without makeup. I try to summon her back. Her eyes, the whites of her eyes. Her fingernails chewed by teeth. The silence between us as we walk the dark campus. Something stirs. The way she looks at me. The way she doesn’t look at me. What’s going on in her head. She wants me. She doesn’t want me. In the darkness something stirs. Above the “Van Mansion,” above the light snoring of Tommy in the next room, a wind brushes the fronds of the high trees. My blood moves faster. My heart beats  even faster. My mouth is sticky. She takes off her top, she unclips her bra and — no, she never did this, not for you — SHUT IT, it doesn’t matter. She takes off her top, she unclips her bra and lowers herself onto me. Kisses my neck—


I tug at myself but not too hard. I must not shake the van, I must not wake Tommy. I close my eyes and grip harder, but I won’t stay upright. The images recede and no matter how hard I try I can’t bring them back. She lowers herself onto someone else, she kisses someone else, I let go of myself and feel nothing.


join man next week for journal #43 (in which said man finds himself alone)

Journal #41 (in which the beginning of the end takes place mostly outside an In-N-Out Burger)

The man you know as said man is no longer fit to write this. Shortly after arriving here, he lost himself again. His writings grew scattered and disjointed and he never had those moments of clarity (and if not clarity, then at least stability) that allowed him previously to step outside of himself and compile his notes and observations into comprehensible journals that he would then, unbeknownst to me, post here. This gave his writings an omniscient, almost hyper self awareness, as he would be editing and posting journals weeks after they were originally written. He was only barely able to piece together the last one, after which he continued to write, but as I’ve said his illness prevented him from posting anything more. By the time there was any “clarity,” he was already gone and writing would mean nothing to him. Los Angeles did something to him; I did something to him too. I will take some blame for what happened, but I cannot in good conscience take it all.

I’ve taken it upon myself to go through his notes and make sense of them, to compile them here to the best of my ability. I’ve allowed myself to correct typos and errors in grammar, but I am not adding anything he did not write. Having said that, what follows may be more claustrophobic than what you’re used to. Apologies.

His journals recommence with the two of us in Orange, California, shortly after our arrival…

The beginnings of things escape me. We’ve been in this [In-N-Out Burger] parking lot since we got here. When we got here, I think it was morning, we slept through the day and the following night as well. At least I slept. I can’t speak for Brian. He was here when I woke up anyway.


My head hurts. The wind hurts it. Everything is so open even the wind hurts it.


The In-N-Out reminds me of her. There’s a picture I remember, I might still even have it somewhere, of the two of us sitting on one of those white and red plastic benches and Annie has the straw of a milkshake lodged between her lips and she’s starting at the camera. I’m sitting next to her, hands in my jacket pockets, staring into the distance, but this can’t be true because within an In-N-Out there is no distance, just white walls and counters and the hallway leading to the bathrooms. I don’t remember who took the photo.


East of the college, down Chapman Ave and just past Prospect, the In-N-Out shares its parking lot with a 24-Hour Fitness, making it an ideal place to park overnight.

Across the street is another strip mall. I don’t think we’re the only ones living out of a car.


Brian goes inside to order. I give him my order first because I refuse to go inside myself. We eat both lunch and dinner in the car. Breakfast is leftovers, stale fries. We don’t talk. He won’t let me in. I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing any more than I know what he’s doing.


Palm trees spray up from the parking lot islands like geysers petrified in time. Clouds sift across the sky without a horizon. The world keeps going, forever flat in this desert of strip malls.

Sometimes it rains, but not often. When it does, everyone seems surprised.


I’m afraid to venture up into Los Angeles. Orange is as good of a place as any to camp out, to steel ourselves for our search for Annie. But I can’t bring myself to search for Annie. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? I want to ask Brian but I fear he’ll think the question is stupid. He’ll say something vague like, you know why we’re here, and I’ll be left where we were before I asked the question. Only now I’ll be feeling pretty stupid.


When we get restless, we drive. Brian always driving. We’ll wind through the backstreets, the suburbs, the Chapman campus, and sometimes Brian will venture onto the 22 heading west, then northwest on I-5, but never far enough north to reach LA. Which I’m grateful for.

I’m afraid of LA.


A lustful kind of fear.


Short pale-pink tank top, slim midriff exposed, pierced bellybutton, one arm resting on the black purse hanging low from her shoulder, her free arm swaying lazy on the other side. High waisted jeans. I watch her walk away.

Another. In the grass. A smear of dirt over her left shoulder. A mess of auburn hair falling across her back. Tired eyes drift open and closed. A Scottish Terrier nuzzles into her side. She rolls onto her back, sits up. She looks at me and I have to pretend I wasn’t watching her all this time. Suddenly I’m self-conscious — my skeletal arms, caved in cheeks evident through my unkempt beard. And my eyes—


There’s a romantic urgency to the city — any beautiful girl, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see her again. Very much unlike smaller towns where, chances are, you will.

Small towns breed romantic procrastination. Cities breed a lustful kind of fear.


Dreams of San Francisco, again. Revolves around something vague. There’s a center at the center of it that I’m missing. Clouds roll in from the ocean, erasing the bridge in their haze. The waters grow gray, the sky and water exponentially reflect each other until everything is black rather than gray. The wind sweeps in off the beach. It’s too cold to stay here. The sun is still in the sky, though muted, and feels more moon than star. I walk toward the center but I never reach it.


They’re just dreams. I tell myself that. There’s nothing there.


The van is so goddamn hot. So hot god-damn-it all, all the time.


I pace the parking lot. A breeze picks up, the palm trees bend. Fuck me, it’s cold.


In Southern California there’s nowhere to escape. Nowhere to be alone. Every person who sees me seems to take a piece of me with them, and I’m slowly drawn back into their world. People going to work, coming home from work, riding the bus, drinking in bars and talking about the surface. Suddenly I find that I’m lacking.


The crack is there. Everything inside me is open for the world. But there’s so much that’s escaped the crack — still escaping the crack — that there’s nothing to latch onto, none of the images take hold. I’m at the center of the delusions, watching the delusions, listening to the delusions, but I’m not part of the delusions, so I’m able to recognize them as what they are.

I’m grounded. I’m at the center of them. My fear is not in being taken by them — there’s just too many of them — but instead in losing sight of what’s real. Because from where I’m standing, I’m at the center of reality too. With all the images and voices flitting in and out of eye and earshot, I’m not sure of what’s really there. I have wondered, several times actually, if Brian is really there. Here. Since he hasn’t been too open, willing to talk, he’s more of a shade of what he once was. You could see that when he lured me from my parents’ home. He was different. He wasn’t all there. Something was wrong or something was missing or he wasn’t Brian at all.


But Brian proves himself to be real. The realization was simple — he smells. Though many of the images feel and sound real, they lack smell. Brian smells, of sweat and warm stagnant air, and this grounds him in the land of the real.

It’s when I can’t smell him that I begin to worry.


We drive through the drive-thru, only to park again in the parking lot to eat. I don’t have an appetite, so I sip at the milkshake but touch nothing else. Brian devours his burger, the last of his fries, he wipes the sauce from his lips and says to me, “We should get started.”

I tell him I think he’s right. We should get started. It’s understood we’re talking about Annie. He doesn’t elaborate, but it seems there’s something else he wants to say, something he needs to tell me, but I’m not [illegible handwriting]

I wonder it has something to do with the person who follows us. I haven’t forgotten about this. The presence of this pursuer is always there, though I’m still working out whether or not this pursuer is part of the “crack escapees,” or one of us, part of the land of the real. As the pursuer is always too far away for me to smell, there’s nothing to ground him in either world. The only thing that sway the pursuer to this world is the suspicion that Brian is also aware that he is there.

Brian is aware of many things but he can’t see the birds, the crosses, the dead baby cows, and the dreams of dead men that surround me, circling me, drifting further and further away. No, if Brian is aware of the one who follows, the one who follows is very real.

If I could just smell him.


I’m hesitant to take out Tinder again, but I do. I’m back at it. Swiping everyone left. I don’t see anyone. I can’t tell you about people I don’t see. My only hope is that when Annie comes across my phone, I’ll see her. And see her in time.

Names blur. Combine with other names. Every face becomes the same face. The One Face.

Brian’s swiping too. But sometimes he’s typing and I wonder to whom, we’re supposed to be looking for Annie, only Annie. Nothing else is important.

I keep swiping.

Outside, the palm trees are high and quiet. The last workers have left the In-N-Out. Brian is asleep. I want to fall asleep too, but my eyes are flooded with


I must’ve fallen asleep.

I wake with the first sifting of the light through the hanging tapestries. There’s the drone of cars passing but not much else. There’s the chirp of birds, but those might be imaginary. Music playing from somewhere. I sit up. Brian is still asleep, his phone hanging from his limp hand.

His phone buzzes, nudges itself from his hand. He doesn’t wake.

Two minutes later, it does it again.

I pick up his phone. It’s a text from someone named “T.”

I try to open it but the passcode screen comes up, and asks for five numbers. I take a wild guess, spelling out a name I once knew, a name that starts with “T.”

86669 is sufficient to spell it out. The phone opens, my stomach constricts, I open the messaging app where the recently arrived message reads—

“Good morning! Kisses, lol was pooping and cops were investing a crime. 100% ok, i wasnt who they wanted! Just interesting”

I look to Brian, who scratches himself in his sleep.

Of course.

I type in a response to the text—


Hi,” he types back.

You know who this is?

Yes,” he types. “I know who this is.

Then he adds a smiley face.

That’s Tommy for you.


join man next week for journal #42 (which brings the second coming of Tommy Tinder)