BOOKKEEPING

A short story

by Michael Priebe

Note: This story also appears in its entirety on the WIJAM website as part of its "Writer's Block." WIJAM is an organization committed to showcasing and promoting Wisconsin's writing and musical talent. Visit the site at www.wijam.net to discover more of Wisconsin's creative spirit.

Was that a knock at my office door? No? I guess the darn thing just trembles because it’s cheap and hollow and loose in its jamb—it must happen when forced air starts whipping through the ducts. I’m a bit alarmed by the drama of my startle reflex.

 

It’s the gray heart of stormy summer and I am, in fact, alone down here.

 

At first I thought my wife was checking on me—but that would mean we have a problem, which I didn’t think was the case.

 

I’m surprised I can hear anything over the hum of the dehumidifier, the rocking of the washer/dryer, and the pained noise the chest freezer has been making since last week. You see, that’s part of the problem with the basement—the subterranean sounds make it hard to hear visitors. Not that I have anything to hide. I’m always working.

 

Increased productivity is most of the reason I moved my desk and computer down here in the first place. I need to insulate my concentration when I’m trying to tackle important household business items: paying monthly bills, balancing the checking account, or calculating the years until we retire; circling car appointments on the wall calendar, sending e-mails about insurance policies, and the list goes on.

 

In fact, I’m so busy that my Facebook account is mostly an afterthought. I only allow myself forty-five minutes per night. On weekends, if my wife is working, I sometimes creep into the hour-plus category, but otherwise forty-five minutes firm … or less.

 

Yes, that is my Facebook account up on the screen right now—but spreadsheets and bullet lists are minimized in the corner, and I was just working on those. Not that I think my wife should get upset anymore.

 

Several months ago, we got into a fight about intimacy issues, and my wife threw the ’Book into the category of “addiction.” She said I was becoming distant. I disagreed. I explained to her that since the house dropped in value—and after the retirement investments went rogue—I've had to double my vigilance toward all our affairs.

 

During that argument—an exchange of misunderstandings, really—I made sure to explain to my wife exactly how I use my time down here. I keep us insured, fiscally balanced, and scheduled out at least a month for preventative car, health, and dental maintenance. Facebook is just a silly distraction, pretty much reserved for when serious business is finished. Since that clarification, she hasn’t said a negative word or come knocking. 

 

Still, the door rattle had me on alert for a second. If I’m on the ’Book for more than the agreed-upon forty-five minutes in a night, she seems to know. She doesn’t always say something, but she gives me a suspicious or hurt look when I come upstairs.

 

The pretty face on my monitor right now is Xui Li (American name Sara), and she’s showcasing her latest professional profile picture. Her head is shaped like an upside-down raindrop, so when she tilts it to the side like that, it always brings to my mind a gentle storm—you know, like a tiny piece of wet weather being blown in the wind. Something about Sara’s soft features can make me feel poetic.

 

Her smart eyeglasses are annoying, though. I bet they’re nothing but a cosmetic prop.

 

It's been two decades since Sara and I graduated high school together. I think she’s still pretty, but she’s been bothering me lately. Her “post” from this morning: My attitude of gratitude wouldn’t be possible without the generations of brave women who came before me.

 

Whether Sara is referring to her actual lineage I don’t know. I do know that she basically used all of last month to quote the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra, so the “brave women” she references could easily be quotable figures she found on the Internet.

 

Sara is always chronicling her personal journey of enlightenment. She’s always reminding people that she is a very tolerant person, but she’s quick to point out she has no tolerance for negativity.

 

Last year, Sara finished up her graduate degree in social work. Apparently those studies opened in her a reservoir of perspective and goodwill. I think she’s somehow active in the community we grew up in.

 

Last December, Sara posted a reminder to local business owners to keep their doors open to the homeless during a stretch of frigid weather. I’m not sure why she thought local business owners needed this prompt or why she would be the one to deliver it to them (or even what her association is to local business owners), but she sounded involved and that’s a bit impressive.

 

I guess my main gripe with Sara is her tone since grad school. She always sounds like she’s accepting an award. With every third post, she’s thanking the family and friends and night-school teachers and long-dead historical figures who made her latest steps toward success possible.

 

And she does seem successful. Her house is brick and massive, and her husband and two kids are flawless. Just look at this family photo. Everyone’s skin and hair and teeth are basically perfect. I would bet she has thousands of disposable dollars a year for everyone’s salon appointments and dental work.

 

Despite whatever allure social work holds for Sara, the open houses she “shares” on the ’Book suggest she’s retained her day job of real estate agent for the time being.

 

Sara used to sleep around and do a lot of shots in high school. I remember body shots.

 

I only “like” Sara’s posts occasionally—only if they’re not too preachy or self-promoting, and never if they involve her real estate. I haven’t actually spoken to her since high school, but if I do run into her, I plan on saying congratulations on the graduate degree.

 

Utility and phone bills paid: check. I hope my wife appreciates how we’ve never been delinquent with the energy companies and telecoms. Not once.

 

I see that Tommy must be relaxing again. Just an hour ago, he posted this photo of his Bud Light. The bottle is frosty, and positioned just so on the garage workbench next to the tools he used to patch a leak in his roof. Beneath the beer he wrote: Well deserved.

 

Tommy doesn’t actually take pictures of himself for the ’Book, he takes pictures of his drinks. He seems to be imbibing all the time. He’s always advertising a dripping bottle of Corona to celebrate the nice weather or a bloody Mary bar in his basement to celebrate a football game.

 

It’s funny, because I don’t remember him enjoying alcohol when we were growing up, not in high school or college. Sometimes I wonder if he really developed a problem with the stuff and is always inventing excuses to drink. Other times I think his puritan parents installed nagging guilt about alcohol in his head, and now he needs a long workday or a special occasion to justify the consumption of even a single beer.

 

Mostly, I think Tommy just doesn’t have anybody to take pictures with. He’s not married, and he’s an only child. And I don’t remember him as having many friends, so I’m pretty sure he poses his drinks like luscious, naked models, snaps his photo, and never really touches them at all.

 

Tommy was always plagued by a nasty case of rosacea. In grade school, kids used to make fun of his “slapped-cheek syndrome,” even though the school nurse had assured their parents that what Tommy had wasn’t viral or contagious. I think the stories about Tommy’s angry dad swatting him around contributed to that misnomer, too. In high school, Tommy avoided gym class and most social interaction—by that time, he’d identified physical exertion and even slight embarrassment as triggers to make the red shine of his cheeks three levels worse.

 

I haven’t seen Tommy since junior college graduation, but if I ever run into him at Home Depot or something, I plan on talking about baseball. I saw an oversized Brewers’ schedule above his workbench, and he posted a picture of a Miller Lite for Opening Day last year.

 

Insurance renewed for both cars: check.

 

The other day, after I finished scheduling oil changes for the vehicles, I noticed Tommy had “liked” a political post by Brad Thompson. Brad was popular in high school. He was an easy guy to be around, loose and fun. He was a connoisseur of fine weed and a lover to most of the girls on our class’s top-ten list. I don’t remember Brad talking to Tommy back then.

 

Anyway, the other day Brad shared an ominously hued text box from a supposed Tea Party affiliate group that read: Democrats need to protect Worker’s Rights. Those of us who work fund their Welfare programs.

 

Tommy not only “liked” that post, but commented on it with an LOL. Otherwise, Tommy shows no political affiliation.

 

Over the past few years, Brad’s “activity” on the ’Book has narrowed to right-wing cheerleading. He is always sharing encouragement for union-busting governors and “liking” seemingly unlikable people such as Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham.

 

 I remember sharing a joint with Brad at the tail end of a homecoming party. He kept telling me he would never vote or support a war, and he said he even turned down, on principle, an invitation from our teachers to run for student senate.

 

Two nights ago—unless I’m remembering wrong because I was fried from scheduling a tentative household budget for next year—I noticed Brad “liked” the idea of Jeb Bush for President in 2016.

 

At first I wondered if Brad’s Facebook activity might not augur a larger shift in the political consciousness of America. Perhaps more and more people are realizing that Ayn Rand simply got it right, and perhaps I should be realizing that, too. Then I began to suspect that maybe Brad was using the ’Book to build conservative armor against his own bohemian id.

 

Sometimes Brad’s toothy “profile picture” makes my nostrils sting with nostalgia; the sweet-garbage stink of that heavy weed comes floating right back to me.

 

I personally haven’t talked to Brad since high school, but if I do see him I plan on avoiding politics and instead commenting on music. I saw he “checked-in” at a Steely Dan concert last summer.

 

Cell phone bill itemized and reviewed: check. My wife went over her minutes again. She still uses phone calls to keep track of our friends. That gets expensive.

 

My wife doesn’t use Facebook. She once said it was a dangerous way to counterfeit human experience. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but I know she has problems uploading pictures and such, so I didn’t argue.

 

Well, this is interesting. Tony Muellers commented on the nice weather from last weekend. Finally some sunshine. Time to get out and enjoy.

 

Tony stopped posting about six months ago. I’ve seen this a few times before. The ones who stop posting are usually going through a transformation, could be a tragedy. They are usually overcoming loss or addiction or disease. Sometimes I find out about the tragedies from my wife. I usually find out when people are doing better by seeing resumed activity on the ’Book.

 

I always liked Tony when we worked together at the insurance company. My wife and I did Wednesday happy hours with him. She didn’t mention anything specific about Tony, but I’m glad to see he’s doing better.

 

I think I’ll go ahead and “like” his post about the sunshine. I haven’t seen Tony since he left the company last year, but I imagine I could run into him at NAPA or Fleet Farm. He used to post pictures of his auto-repair projects. If we do talk, I’ll compliment the pneumatic tool setup I saw in his garage.

 

Wow. Would you look at this picture? A half-naked girl spread out on a pool table. She’s almost sucking on the chalk and practically making love to the cue. That was posted by Will, or rather posted on his behalf by some pseudo-pornographic website he frequents. When is he going to learn? He certainly doesn’t realize that his entire family is seeing these images, and seeing them as coming from him. He certainly can’t be aware he’s causing dirty vibes to spiral through the otherwise wholesome Facebook environments of dozens or even hundreds of people.

 

Will surely doesn’t suspect his ’Book activity is, at this very moment, bringing to my mind butts and nuts and boobs and lubes—every scandalous category of Internet browsing I would rather not imagine as initiated by my wife’s uncle. I otherwise remember him as the stately orator who delivered the dinner prayer at my wedding reception.

 

The wedding was the last time I saw Will in person. If I do run into him at another family function, I won’t mention these ambassadors of erotica he sends my way. That would get embarrassing for both of us. Instead, I plan on making a joke about the stern resolve of his hair—I remember it as gelled to a crust.

 

Submission of application for mortgage refinance: check.

 

That’s a nice picture of Andres and his wife—teenage sweethearts from El Salvador. They immigrated young and wanting; now they’re staring down their fortieth birthdays from almost-middle-class comfort in America. I imagine they’ve been through it all together. Andres is all macho in this photo, his chest puffing out the double breast on his suit, and the crest of some faded tattoo poking above the collar of his dress shirt. His wife is a raven-haired beauty, size six and painted up perfectly. They look like they’re still very much in love.

 

He cheats on her—constantly. Man, the steaks on their table look massive.

 

Andres always takes his wife out to eat at expensive restaurants when he needs to salve the guilt of a recent romp. I noticed the pattern as soon as we became “friends” on the ’Book. On the days he spent his lunch break telling me about a date from the night before, a photo out to eat with his wife would be on his “page” by seven p.m. He never wore a ring at work. I never even knew he was married before he accepted my “friend request.”

 

Andres and I were born ten days apart, a fact we discovered from the company seniority list. He’s been married ten years longer than I have, a fact I discovered on the ’Book.

 

On his last anniversary, Andres scanned and posted a photo from his wedding in El Salvador. I can’t believe it’s been veinte years, amor. Te amo, esposa.

 

I don’t see Andres in the break room anymore, so I’m assuming he switched jobs. He was always complaining about how the company treated its maintenance staff like slaves. If he didn't leave the company and one day does return to the break room, I’m not going to talk about his wife or how good their dinners look. I don’t think I’ll bring up any of the other girls we talked about, either.

 

If I run into Andres, I think I’ll complain about rising insurance premiums at work.

 

Another ticket on the drive in this morning. #wageslavebullshit.

 

I’m not sure why Owen adds hashtags to his posts when they aren’t actually linked to Twitter. It seems like more people are doing that lately.

 

This is the second speeding ticket in a month for Owen. Three weeks ago he posted: Traffic stop this morning. I got harassed, detained and fined for being in a hurry to avoid getting fired from a job I hate so that I can pay the salary of the person who harassed, detained and fined me.

 

I “liked” that post from Owen and added an LOL, because I really did laugh out loud. He responded: Nothing funny about it.

 

That’s the thing about Owen: he’s had the life sucked out of him.

 

When we were growing up—ever since grade school—Owen’s devilish wit was a gift to those around him. Now he’s always angry, and all his posts are sarcastic. He’s always identifying the broken elements of society, but he never seems sure of a fix. He’s always making fun of an idea or a song or a way of life, but he’s never embracing anything.

 

Owen should have his own icon for sharing feelings on the ’Book, maybe a huge middle finger raised and pointing to other people’s posts to say, “Just another illustration of how messed up our existence is.”

 

When this whole Facebook thing started years ago, Owen was still very much into his music. I remember he wrote his own lyrics and guitar melodies. He even started a “fan page” to share videos of himself performing. Then I remember a post about him taking a good-paying job that didn’t seem creative at all. Then I remember him posting about the burst of the housing bubble for three months straight. The music posts slowed and stopped, and bitterness filled the void.

 

Owen’s profile picture is Ben Bernanke’s head with photoshopped devil’s horns, so I can’t say for sure if he still has the ratty, grunge-rock hairdo from his YouTube videos. I doubt it. His “profile” says he is still at that flat job. He must be able to go on the ’Book at work, though, because I notice his comments are evenly spread throughout the day.

 

Technically, the last time Owen and I spoke was seven years ago last month, but we’ve gone back and forth several times on the ’Book about movies and such. If I do see Owen at the multiplex, I don’t think I’ll ask about music, or his job or where he lives. I’ll ask him how much the traffic ticket was and how fast he was going.

 

AAA membership renewed: check. According to my projections, we won't be able to afford a truly safe vehicle for five years yet. In the meantime, at least all tows are covered.

 

 I see that Andrew “likes” NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I’ve also seen him “like” the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and a group called Rethink Mental Illness. Other than these “likes” and the Rainy Day playlist I saw him listening to on Spotify, Andrew is a mystery. He doesn’t even have a profile picture of himself. He’s just the gray, featureless head that the ’Book assigns to those who don’t want a face or can’t figure out how to create one. I remember him as prematurely balding.

 

Andrew was the assistant coach of my junior varsity basketball team for a half season. We never talked much that year, and we’ve never interacted on Facebook, with the exception of his requesting my “friendship” and me accepting.

 

I saw a guy I think was Andrew at McDonald’s once, but I don’t think he recognized me. I was going to say hi and talk about basketball, but then I remembered he didn’t ever seem too interested in the team, or the games or anything else about the almost-champion Rebels.

 

He just “liked” a group called Christians in Benzo Recovery. I’m not even sure what that is.

 

If I ever run into Andrew again, and if I can identify him with certainty, I might say hello. Beyond that, I honestly don’t know what I’ll talk about.

 

His and her’s ninety-day medication sets ordered: check. Historically, my wife and I don't agree with pills, but Dr. Fischer said this Alprazolam might help with frayed nerves and sleeplessness while we rebuild our finances. He’s been our family doctor for years. I trust him.

 

That’s J.B. sitting on a stool in his kitchen with a towel wrapped around his neck. That’s his wife with the electric clippers behind him.

 

Just gettin my fade did by boo.

 

J.B. is one of my only black “friends” on the ’Book. The “fade” he refers to is currently high and flat, a tribute to one of his childhood basketball heroes. J.B.’s posts are hearty in a way that makes them immediately visible on my “news feed.” It seems like he has a thousand uncles and aunts, and two thousand cousins. They’re all “friends” on here, and they have animated conversations in the comments sections of their photos. After two years of following the goings-on of J.B. and his relatives, I’m just now starting to catch on to their familial dialect.

 

I “like” some of J.B.’s posts, but I never comment because I’m afraid I would stand out like a confederate flag at an MLK Day parade. I don’t think J.B.’s family is angry at white people per se, but there aren’t any pale profile pictures within five shares of their activity as far as I’ve seen.

 

I might meet up with J.B. in softball league again, but I haven’t made up my mind about returning this year’s form—things around the house have just gotten so busy. I see he’s been checking-in at the fitness club, so I plan on telling him how big he looks. I might even say he looks “swollen.”

 

Rosalyn is in another picture-perfect location with her husband. It’s every other month with these two: Panama, Mexico, Jamaica, Acapulco. My wife and I haven’t gone on a vacation in years.

 

A while ago, this picture from the Bahamas might have made me a little jealous, but I’ve come to suspect that Rosalyn and her husband sweat away their “vacation” time staging pictures for the ’Book. She’s always reading a bus schedule, or pointing at a historic marker or “just getting ready” to go to the beach. She’s always doing these things in tiny shorts and raised shoes, showcasing thick-but-toned calves and ass cheeks.

 

Sometime last year, I started to wonder if Rosalyn and her husband ever actually rode the public transportation or ever actually arrived at any of those beaches to set up a picnic. Minus a quick walk through each location’s shopping district for pictures, they might spend their time in the cheapest hotel room available watching local TV stations or sick with jet lag. I mean, nobody who is busy actually doing or enjoying or immersing thinks to take thirty-eight photos of twenty different activities over the course of three days in Grenada.

 

Look at how she’s pointing at the restaurant menu in the window with hips cocked and mouth pouted. She probably never even went inside for dinner. She probably ate bad bagels at the hotel before going for a quick picture run. Nobody who is actually hungry has the time for theater like that.

 

I only met Rosalyn that one time at my wife’s company Christmas party, so I can’t say for certain if she truly enjoys her trips or not. I actually stopped going to holiday parties a few years back, because they get so exhausting—but I might go this year. If I do run into Rosalyn at the cash bar, I plan on asking if she tried the pargo or arepas in Venezuela. She probably won’t give me a straight answer.

 

Automatic deduction for new, emergency-only credit card authorized: check.

 

I made a joke the other month. I was thinking about Owen and about how his spirit has been neutered, and that led me to frightful ruminations about my own workplace and blunted ambitions. I posted: Human Resources sent me a memo yesterday. It read: We’ve been made aware there remains a flicker of fire remaining in your soul. We need you to come to the administration building immediately for purposes of extinguishment.

 

My attempt at cynical deadpan certainly wasn’t in the same category as Owen’s cutting observations, but over a dozen people “liked” that post. Owen commented: I wish I could like this twice.

 

One of the people who appreciated my humor was Cynthia. I thought I was dead to her.

 

Cynthia and I dated for almost two years in college, but she blindsided me with a breakup just before graduation. During the dinner that served as our farewell reception, she cited something about my “emotional neediness.” For years, I’ve worried she was able to see flaws in me that others just haven’t recognized yet. For years I’ve worried she still hates me.

 

Although Cynthia has always existed on Facebook under the category of “People You May Know,” I never dared to “friend” her. I’ve seen unrestricted photos of hers, but I’ve never commented on those or on any posts by our “mutual friends”—I wouldn’t want her to feel crowded all over again.

 

Then Tommy shared that joke of mine, and Cynthia “liked” it. She even commented: You’re too funny.

 

Cynthia’s latest profile picture has her in a navy windbreaker on the shores of some lakefront resort. Her hair is still blonde with natural curls, and it’s blowing towards the whitecaps.

 

I was considering sending a “friend request” to Cynthia when I saw her in the grocery store parking lot the other day. I thought she saw me, too, but she didn’t wave or introduce me to her family. She kind of hurried everyone into the car. I never had a chance to compliment the way she decorates her house or the garden she’s built in the backyard.

 

I’ve tabled the idea of a “friend request” to Cynthia, but if we see each other again at the grocery store, I plan on talking about raspberries and how it makes so much sense to grow your own like she does. Those little bastards have put me over my grocery budget more than once.

 

Liquor rebates ready for USPS mailing: check. My wife doesn’t like hard liquor in the house except for cooking, but these refunds make economic sense. Barring the unforeseen, I should be able to return to craft beer within eighteen months.

 

Why did the baker demand cash? Because at his store, they doughnut accept credit cards.

 

Man, these jokes from Frank are terrible. He posts one almost every day, and has for a year now. Years back, “corny” was not a word I associated with his sense of humor.

 

At our grade school, which was parochial and a bit over the top in its moral policing, Frank nearly got expelled for spinning an involved, fictional tale of humorous but perverted mishaps involving the lead pastor’s wife.

 

At our high school, also parochial, Frank received two full suspensions for jokes involving the principle’s wife and sweaty crotches, and the vice-principle’s wife and lesbian desires, respectively. The label of Filthy Frank stuck after that. In our little community, he was forevermore the kid with the dirty stories.

 

According to Frank’s profile picture, he combs his black hair flat now days. It used to be spiked and sprayed. That hair, along with his bony features, gave adolescent Frank a shadowy aura reminiscent of the salesman who romanticized my first used Buick, or the director of my grandma’s funeral.

 

I remember the unique stage presence Frank assumed whenever a teacher left the room. He brought his raunchy narratives to life with furious hand motions and vaudevillesque face contortions. After finishing a story, he’d slap a palm to his stomach like he’d just absorbed a gunshot, then he’d shake and cackle like an electrified hyena until a teacher or school secretary came through the door to restore order.

 

It does seem like Frank is doing a good job of rebuilding his image with these jokes on the ’Book, though. I even noticed one of our old teachers is “friends” with Frank and commented groan after a joke about out-of-shape wines and their labored breathing.

 

I haven’t spoken with Frank for almost twenty years, but I do make it a point to “like” his wholesome humor. He checked-in at Chili’s the other month. My wife and I go there too. If I run into Frank ordering chips and salsa, I have a G-rated knock-knock to tell him. I’m going to mention I want credit if he posts it, though.

 

Tiffany published another “selfie,” this one with a new ruby-and-diamond tennis bracelet that is almost falling off her skinny little wrist. Got this with my birthday breakfast this morning. Luv you hon.

 

Her pictures are a carousel of jewelry and purses; sometimes there’s a new car. Tiffany often references her husband, but I’ve never actually seen him in any pictures. I’ve personally never met him. Heck, I’ve never personally met Tiffany either. She is a “friend” of a “friend,” and the ’Book suggested our acquaintance. She probably didn’t check my credentials too closely before accepting the “request,” because I see she has over fifteen hundred “friends.” Tiffany lives two timezones away, and I don’t think I have to plan for being introduced to her.

 

LaKendra just reminded everyone that Administrative Professionals’ Day is coming up. She is one of the Human Resource ladies from my first job. There were six of them at that insurance company. They all had linebacker shoulders and wore tiny heels that seemed dangerous. They marched together to meetings, clicking and clacking down the halls like a pack of inverted Eiffel Towers. LaKendra is white, by the way.

 

Her comments never seem casual, and they usually involve stiff terminology like “appropriate” and “advise.” I even saw her use the word “netiquette” once.

 

I don’t like to mix work and the ’Book too much, so I didn’t accept LaKendra’s “friend request” until after I left that job. Truth be told, I occasionally comment from work. Plus it would be uncomfortable if someone took offense to a joke like the one I posted about soul extinguishing. But LaKendra was nice to me when I was fresh-faced in that office, so it was only polite I accept her “friendship” eventually. I don’t get the impression she strays too far from her apartment, but if I do run into her I plan on saying hi and commenting about how the office was always cold.

 

Fitness plan for winter put into spreadsheet: check. I think I'll change my profile picture after losing fifteen pounds and putting on a little muscle.

 

Sandra is ranting again. There is always some inconsiderate jackass taking the spot she was about to park in, or tailgating on the highway, or allowing his kid to make a scene in a restaurant. The tedium of her daily commerce is forever being complicated by heedless slobs.

 

Last week Sandra posted from Walmart: Cannot believe person in front of me is writing a physical check and marking balances in line. Those of us under eighty still have to get to work! Ugh!

 

Sadly, Sandra repeats many of the behaviors she complains about, contributing to a vicious cycle of societal conflict that might never end for her.

 

Just right now she wrote: Woman behind me in grocery store bitched because I had the clerk go through sales flier to find a coupon. Sorry for wanting to stay within budget! Some of us have kids!

 

Yesterday Sandra said she hates passive-aggressive behavior. She said it with exclamation points and used an angry cartoon face to indicate she was feeling “frustrated.”

 

Sandra and I talked quite a bit in high school. In fact, we planned to go to college orientation together. Then she got pregnant and started working full-time. I’m not sure how often she’s been pregnant since, but her pictures are crowded with kids who have her blazing hair and powdery skin.

 

My wife and I haven’t experienced birth yet—just miscarriage—so I can’t say for certain what it’s like to publish your child’s every instance of underdeveloped reasoning and fecal hilarity, and expect others to care. But I think I might do the same. If we do try for a baby again next year, and if it works out, I think I’ll put a hospital photo as my “cover image.”

 

The milky complexion of Sandra’s kids doesn’t help to explain the black guy who is always in her photos, so I only make unassuming comments like cute or fun. If I ever run into Sandra at a store, I plan on cutting in line. Then I’ll turn around and wait for her to recognize me. I think she will, and end up laughing.

 

Short ribs and baby red potatoes look delicious right now. My cousin Ben is always posting pictures of his food. Even though he and his wife only have one son, the surface space on his grill is always filled to the max. I’m assuming they eat leftovers; maybe Ben brings them to work for lunch.

 

Ben grills three to four times a week. His wife, Diane, is always making a new guacamole recipe, or pasta salad or a green mix from the garden. The food on the table is always arranged perfectly for pictures—partly just because of Diane’s homemaking skills, but also, I think, because that family loves the ’Book. I’ve even seen Max, the nine-year-old, post photos of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he makes himself for school. Those make me hungry, too.

 

I haven’t seen Ben since we were kids, but there is a family reunion being planned for later this summer. It’s on the ’Book. It’s an “event” and I was “invited.” I haven’t yet responded yes, no, or maybe, but if I do go, and if Ben is there, I plan on talking to him about charcoal. He’s certainly got the money for a nice gas grill, but with him it’s charcoal every time.

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking I should grill more, but it always gets so late working on bills and everything.

 

Sometimes it gets so lonely down here. It doesn’t seem like anyone else spends this much time administrating the details of life. They’ve all found elixirs to bring easy satisfaction and personal fulfillment. I feel stunted and inept. Despite my planning, everyone else is simply living more successfully than I am.

 

The evidence scrolls by in sharp pixels.

 

That person’s car has functioning air conditioning. He still has both parents. They all get together every weekend for games and cooking. He’s good at woodworking. She plays the piano. They enjoy wine after putting the happy kids to bed.

 

That couple still has the energy for clubs, and their friends have the intellect for musical theater.

 

My eyes hurt, and I think I need glasses.

 

Those brothers are like best friends. That lady has an unshakable faith in God. He drinks exotic beer in places you can’t get to without chartered transportation. His job is fulfilling. She’s great at public speaking. Those two are entrepreneurs and “never have to work a day in their lives.” That guy is putting an addition on the house. That girl is the picture of emotional balance and perfect skin.

 

That couple isn’t worried about finances, and their friends have season tickets in great seats.

 

My core is queasy, and thinking is painful. I wonder if this is what depression feels like.

 

Maybe I should take a small break from the ’Book. Maybe my wife was onto something when she suggested a two-week hiatus. I assumed she just said that because we were fighting. I tried, but only made it three days.

 

Like I told her, I’m staying in touch. I don’t want to isolate myself.

 

I should probably go upstairs. My wife mentioned something about making our own pizzas—although there isn’t much time left for that tonight. Maybe if I saved all my documents and shut down the computer this very second we could still make dinner and talk a little. She wanted to go over finances together. She said she had a few ideas for us.

 

But it’s almost ten o’clock.

 

Hmm. I’m not sure who this ultra-fit blonde in the tight skirt and knee-high hooker boots is. I will say the furniture in her house looks expensive, and so do her cars—although it’s basically impossible to say if they are paid for or leased. I didn’t go to high school or college with her. I’m not even sure how I got to this photo album. I see her son graduated grade school last week, and the whole family went camping to celebrate. The scenery certainly looks more pristine and relaxing than any campground I’ve ever been to.

 

List of possible vacation sites for next year organized by travel price: check.

 

Copyright 2014 Michael Priebe - Editing Acknowledgement to Valerie Valentine -Title Background Photo Acknowledgement to 99hdwallpaper.com