by EleCivil


Chapter Five - Canine



Once winter break hit, it felt like I had accidentally stepped into a wormhole that caused time to speed up.  Vacation days always go faster than school days, but I knew that by the end of this particular break, Mark would be leaving, and I was feeling anxious about that.  Whenever there’s something in the future that you’re not looking forward to, time speeds up even more.  On top of that, the days were getting a lot shorter, thanks to whatever cosmic jerk had decided that we didn’t really need all that much sunlight in the winter.


The vacation-speed, anxiety-speed, and quickly setting sun had swirled together into something the meth-heads at school could only dream about.  As with most school vacations, Mark and I spent most of the days working at Mom and Dad’s restaurant, bussing tables and washing dishes.  Somehow, not even grunt work could slow things down.  I’d wake up, close my eyes for maybe two seconds to get my head calibrated, and when I opened them, I’d be washing dishes.  I’d step outside to shovel snow or get the mail, and it would be night.  I made the mistake of trying to read a book, but by the time I had finished, three more days had passed.


The only thing holding time together for me was Christmas.  I was reasonably sure that it would fall on the twenty-fifth, and I used it as an anchor.  I would wake up and think, “Uh-oh, is vacation over?  Do I have to go to school now?  Is Mark gone?”, but then I’d remember: “No, it’s not even Christmas yet.”  It was a good system.  At least, until Christmas.


I woke up Christmas morning with a cold, sinking feeling in my chest.  Or rather, on my chest.  In keeping with a yearly tradition, Mark had snuck into my room and slid a snowball under my covers to wake me up.  I grabbed for it, but as usual, the combination of blankets and body heat had reduced it to little more than a puddle on my chest.  This particular ritual dated back to when Mark still believed in Santa Claus.  He would refrain from hitting me with snowballs for all of winter break, to keep on the “nice kid” list, but on Christmas morning, the loot was under the tree, and he could do things like this without fear of stockings full of coal.  Personally, I think coal – being flammable – would have been a bad choice, anyway.  I’d much rather wake up wet than aflame.


Once I was dried off and dressed, I went out to the living room, where Mom, Dad, and Mark were watching TV.  Even before I entered the room, I could hear the unmistakable shouting of Reverend Brimstone Patton’s Christmas sermon, before it was changed to the local news.  Nick was probably stuck there in the first row of First Baptist Church right now, listening to his dad, who sounded just as angry on Christmas as he did every other day he was on TV.  It occurred to me that, most likely, no one had stuck a snowball into Nick’s sheets this morning.


“Back from the dead?”  Mom asked, seeing me emerge from the hall.


“I didn’t sleep that long.”  I looked at the clock.  Quarter after eleven.  “Oh.  That is pretty late, huh?”


“Would’ve been up a lot sooner if they hadn’t stopped me.”  Mark muttered.


“We caught him carrying snow inside at eight this morning,”  Dad said.  “But we made him wait.  Consider those extra three hours a Christmas present.”


“Come on.”  Mark sprang up and walked to his room, motioning for me to follow.


Our Christmas tradition has always been to give gifts in private, rather than circling around the tree to open them all at once.  It was Mom’s idea, something that her family had done.  She said it was to remove any thoughts of competition and any insecurity about giving personal things.  I preferred not to think about what kinds of “personal things” Mom and Dad gave each other, and was more than happy to have them do it in private.


Mark handed me a box wrapped in newspaper – the comics section, of course – and wished me a happy non-denominational period of winter celebration.  And then he snickered at the word “period.”  Another Christmas tradition, dating back to his seventh grade year, when he was introduced to both sex ed and multiculturalism.


I unwrapped it to find a pre-paid cell phone - a nice, barebones model that was perfect for someone that doesn’t talk too often, like me.


“Now you’ve got to keep in touch when I leave.”  He said.  It was the first time either of us had mentioned his leaving out loud since the first day it was brought up.  “No excuse for not calling me.”


“I will.  Thanks.”  This brought whole new levels of reality to it.  In not too much time, I’d be talking to him through this phone, and that was it.  “Thank you.”


“You’re not getting all goofy on me, are you?”


I smiled, despite the conflicting feelings.  “Me, goofy?  Never.  Wait right here.”  It took me a few seconds to run to my room and return with Mark’s present.


He unwrapped it to find a hardback copy of Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons – his book about a small-town kid going off to college.  He had been hinting about wanting to read it even before he told me he was leaving.


“Hey, thanks, Bran.”


 “I hear it’s really realistic.  Apparently, he went around doing years of research, and he found out that college kids drink too much and say ‘fuck’ a whole lot.  Who would’ve guessed?”


“So…it’s like high school, but I don’t get to come home afterwards?  Damn.  I mean, ‘fuck.’”  He was joking, but I could tell that he was nervous about leaving.  Really nervous.  That was the first time I really and truly realized that it was probably bothering him way more than it was bothering me.  I guess, in my mind, I’d never imagined Mark as getting nervous about anything.  He always seemed to laugh off everything that halfway troubled him.  He was never hesitant to jump his bike off of something, pick up a spider, cut though a strange yard, ask out a girl – but now, I had to face the idea that maybe nobody was fearless, and that was scary.


The rest of the day ran smoothly – it was one of the days where I didn’t have to go to school or work at the restaurant, so I didn’t really know what to do with myself.  I gave Mom and Dad their presents, and they gave me mine – an enrollment in driving school and a promise to take me to get my learner’s permit as soon as Winter Break was over.  With all the other things I’d been thinking about, driving had slipped my mind, but now it was on the forefront.  Even if it meant that I’d be the official errand boy of the family, always being sent to “pick up a few things,” that seemed like a small price to pay in exchange for mobility.


As soon as it had come, it was over, and the rest of the vacation days as well.  I washed dishes, hung out with Dixie, spent some time with Mark, and generally tried my best to relax.  Not sure if you’ve picked up on it, but I’m usually a fairly high-strung kind of person.  In the end, like all vacations, it was fun, but way too short.




It wasn’t raining the day Mark left.  I wish it had been raining, because rain makes everything seem more dramatic.  That day was nothing but cold, grey stillness.  It felt like it was going to rain and looked like it was going to rain, but it didn’t rain.  You could almost feel the rain, perching there on the edge of the clouds, big black buzzards of moisture just waiting to dive at you, but something held them back.  I guess it was for the best, since we had to take a bunch of his stuff from his room to his car, and it didn’t get all wet.  Still, I wish it had rained.


With all of us helping, we got Mark’s car loaded up quickly.  That left us all standing outside.  Dad, doing last minute checks on the car.  Mom, tearing up and telling Mark how much she’ll miss him.  Me, standing with my hands in my pockets, not sure how to act.


Mark hugged Mom and Dad, which took quite some time thanks to Mom’s tentacle-grip.  Then he came to me.  It was awkward at first.  I’m not a huggy type of guy.  Usually, shaking hands is enough to make me uncomfortable.


He saw right through me, as always, and initiated it.  He pulled me into one of those quick, one-armed “Care about ya and everything, but I’m still a man” hugs.  I felt my eyes stinging, and blinked hard.  I wanted to say something, to shout to him, “Hey, I’m scared and confused and I’m not sure who I am or what I’m doing, help me!” but it wasn’t happening.


He pressed something into my hand before he got in his car and drove off.  It was a pair of socks.  Well, not a ‘pair,’ exactly, but there were two of them.  One was an ordinary grey work sock, and the other was a red and white candy striped sock that would make my one ankle look not unlike a barber pole.




It was the first Friday of the second semester when I found myself looking at other people.  I realized that I’d never really done that before.  I mean, sure, I’d seen them out of the corner of my eye and even talked to some of them face-to-face before, but I had never taken the time to really look at anyone.


Since Mark had left, the Weasel had made a grand re-appearance.  It seemed like my brain, in all its analytical glory, could only really deal with one major concern at a time.  As long as my brother’s leaving was still at the top of the list, the ‘am-I-or-aren’t-I?’ thoughts were all pushed to the back of my mental warehouse, sealed in a crate with the words “HOMO: Y/N?” stamped on the side.  That day, though, it was pried wide open.


It was quite the revelation.  I started by looking at the girls.  Seemed like a good place to start.  I would see a girl and think, “Oh, she’s attractive,” but the thought of she and I kissing (or more) did nothing for me.  It was one of those sinking-feeling moments that the Weasel seemed to thrive on.


It took until last period for me to work up the courage to take a look at some of the guys.  It took less than five minutes to realize that - if I was going to be honest with myself - yeah, I was probably gay.  Those thoughts that had no effect when directed toward girls?  They had a definite effect when directed toward the other gender.  I felt an intense guilt about it at first, using people I barely even talked to as tools of self-examination, but that was quickly replaced with something even deeper: fear.


I had been checking out guys.  Now, I knew Michigan was a “blue state” and everything, but that didn’t mean much when it came to high school.  This was a building filled with raging chemical imbalances, constant insecurities, clashing social groups, and in some cases, deep resentment at even having to be there.  Kind of like a prison, except we didn’t have an exercise yard or the slick neon uniforms.  My method of survival had always been to stay under the radar by having nothing about me stand out.  Somebody starts spreading it around that Brandon Collier stares at the boys all day, and all of a sudden, I’m a household name.  Low-key, that was how I was going to play it.  It wasn’t like I didn’t have any practice staying hidden.  It was just that now, there was something worth hiding.


After school, in keeping with my plan of hiding, I immediately thought of who I could tell.  Dixie, of course, since I had pre-emptively come out to her already.  Mark would be fine with it – hell, he’d probably think it was about time that I started doing something abnormal.  As for Mom and Dad, their views were made clear in our first major sex-talk.  It went something like this:


Dad had seated us in Mark’s room and said, in classiest attempt at euphemism possible, “I don’t care where you want to put it; I don’t want to catch you putting it anywhere as long as you’re living here.  And if you do put it somewhere - no matter where that may be – use protection.”


Mark, eleven years old at the time, had slowly reached under the bed and produced a bike helmet.  Dad sighed, realized that he’d have to spell it out further, mumbled uncomfortably for a few seconds, and recruited Mom to come clear things up.  I remembered thinking that maybe he hadn’t done it before, and that’s why he couldn’t explain it.  That Mom must have been an expert where he was a novice.


She had breached the topic then, basically giving us an “everyone is different and special and no matter what happens we’ll always et cetera” speech along with the standard birds, bees, flowers, love, and such.  Actually, looking back on it, I’m pretty sure they thought that Mark was gay, and were trying to make sure that he knew it was okay with them.  And now it turns out that he was just weird, and I was the gay one.  Well, they were close.


I took out the cell phone Mark had given me and turned it on.  The only numbers saved on it were Mark’s, Dixie’s, and Mom and Dad’s work number.  I decided I didn’t really want to tell my parents just yet.  Even if I knew they would support me, coming out is pretty much saying “Hey, I’ve decided who I want to have sex with!”, and that wasn’t a conversation I was dying to have with them.  Instead, I tried Mark’s number, getting only his voicemail.


“This is Mark.  You can leave a message, but I probably won’t get it, since my plan charges for opening voicemails, and I’m broke.”  It beeped, and I left a quick message telling him to call me back if he ever scraped together the fifty cents he needed to hear it.


I figured maybe it was for the best, anyway.  No need to tell him over the phone.  I could wait until he came back for spring break or summer break or whatever.  Next, I tried Dixie’s number.  Another voicemail service, but this time the impersonal drone of a pre-recorded default message.  I didn’t bother to leave her a message, since I saw her all the time, anyway.


That left me alone at home with nothing to do, and my thoughts started to drift.  It had been weeks since I had given Nick my number, but he hadn’t called.  Maybe I’d been reading too much into it.  Not that I’d been reading into it – rather, I’d been constantly telling myself to avoid doing just that – but I thought that he’d had fun when we hung out, and would want to do it again.  I did.  No insidious intentions here.  Whether or not he was fun to stare at, I just wanted a friend.


For the first time in a long time, I was lonely.  The house was empty.  I’d never been especially social, but now it was clear just how few friends I had.  Dixie, of course, and Mark if you can count family members…but other than that, no one.  It was a funny feeling, and I didn’t like it.   


I was riding a burst of jittery self-discovery, and felt like getting out and doing something.  Problem was, with Mark gone and Dixie busy, that didn’t leave anyone to get out and do something with me.


That’s when I thought of that encounter I’d had after the Cursives meeting.  The guy with the pins and patches, who told me to give him a call if I was interested in checking out his band.  Something that I would usually never think of doing, but things were different.  I was different, I was sure of it.  I was different, and I was alone, and I was going to do something about it.


I found the slip of paper he had given me still stuffed in one of my inside coat pockets.  For at least five minutes, I stared at it.  It had been weeks since I had bumped into this guy.  He probably didn’t even remember me.  What was I supposed to say?


I knew that if I thought about it any more, I wouldn’t do it.  I punched the number into my cell as quick as I could.  Now there was no turning back.  It was ringing, and chances are, he had caller ID, so I couldn’t just hang up.  In a way, I was glad, because it forced me to go through with it.


“Hi-ho.  Corey’s phone, Alex speaking.”


“Uh…hi.  Is Corey there?”


“Yeah, but he’s driving.  I don’t trust his driving skills enough to let him talk and drive at the same time.”  I heard something being yelled in the background.  “Alright, we just hit a red light, so I’ll let him talk.”  The phone was passed off, and another voice came through.


“Hey, who’s this?”


“Brandon.  You asked me before if I might want to write some lyrics or something…”


“Ohhh, writer-dude!  Yeah, yeah.  What’s up?  You up for it?”


“Yeah.”  I agreed before actually thinking about it.


“We were just on our way to practice.  You want to come?  See how we sound, see what you’d have to work with?”  I heard the sharp blast of a car horn in the distance.  “Oh shit, green light.  Hang on, talk to Alex for a while.”


The phone was passed again, and Alex’s voice came back on.


“So, you’re the writer-dude?  Cor mentioned talking to you, but we didn’t know if you’d ever call.”  I heard Corey say something in the background.  “He wants to know if we should pick you up.”


“Sure.  Oh, but I’d have to get back in a couple hours.”


“Hang on.”  Some more muted conversation between the driver and passenger.  “He can give you a ride back at around six.  Sound cool?”


“Yeah.  Yeah, sounds good.”  Mom and Dad would probably beat me home, so I’d have to leave a note, but considering my record, I didn’t think six was unreasonable at all.


“All right.  Now…where are you?”


I looked around.  “Home.”


I could practically hear his eyes roll.  “Okay.  But we need directions to where your home is if we’re going to pick you up.”


“Oh, right.”  I called up my mental map of Curson and gave them directions from there, along with my number in case they got lost on the way.


Once I was off the phone, I paced around for a while, checking the mirror every now and then.  Not in a narcissistic way, but in an “I hope I don’t look like as big of a geek as I think I do” way.  Eventually, just to stop myself from doing that, I did some homework.  That’s right – to alleviate my feelings of geekishness, I did algebra problems on a Friday.  Surprisingly enough, it worked.  The next thing I knew, I saw a small car pull into the driveway - a puke-green coupe with grey stripes down the sides.  I grabbed my coat and headed out.


The passenger side door popped open when I approached.  Corey leaned over and called “Our stuff’s in the back seat.  You’re going to have to sit on Alex’s lap.”


The guy I assumed to be Alex punched him in the shoulder and stepped out.  I tried to keep my base chemical urges under control.  Of all the days I had to pick to start looking at people, it had to be the day I saw him.


He was only a little taller than me, with straight blond hair that got caught in the wind as soon as he stepped out from the car’s shelter.  He was dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt with a logo I didn’t recognize.  Conservative compared to Corey’s safety pins and patches, but he might as well have been wearing a flashing neon sign as far as my eyes were concerned.  I had to physically pull them away from his soft, wind-swept features before things started getting obvious.  A strange thought hit me, and a small voice in the back of my head asked whether it was possible to impregnate someone using only one’s eyes and force of will.  Don’t spend too much time pondering that, because I didn’t.


Alex pushed down the seat and climbed into the back, re-arranging things as he went.  He then pulled the seat back into position, leaving it open for me.


“You coming?”  Corey asked.


I climbed in, closing the door behind me, and we took off.


“I should probably warn you,” He said, “Not everybody wants to have an outside writer.  Our guitarist, Sarah, actually thinks that she can write.  She can’t, and everyone else knows it, but if she gives you some passive-aggressive shit once we get in there, that’s why.”


I nodded.


“So, what do you listen to?”  Alex asked from the back.


“Uh…not too much, really.  I never really got into music.”


Corey grinned.  “Virgin ears.  We get to break him in.”


“So…what kind of music do you guys play?”


“Post-hardcore anarch-emo with some heavy oi and crust influences,”  Corey said, “Kind of like Reagan Youth meets Vincent Price’s Orphan-Powered Death Machine.”


“…Oh.”  I paused, then turned around to Alex, my blank expression apparent.  “What’d he say?”


 “Short answer, punk.  We play punk.  Badly.” He said, then raised his voice slightly.  “But it’s all our drummer’s fault.  I don’t know what’s wrong with that guy.”


Corey hoisted a finger in the direction of the back seat.  The rest of the trip was filled with small talk – I found out that Alex had just turned sixteen, and didn’t go to school.  Corey was eighteen, and graduating in June.  Eventually, we pulled up to a small house.  Corey parked on the front lawn, since the driveway was already occupied.


I followed them inside.  The living room was mostly empty – there was one couch, a few crates, and a stack of garbage bags.  They led me through a hall and down a set of stairs into the basement.  The amount of stuff in the basement more than made up for the Spartan living room.  There were two couches, a couple of recliners, and a table set up on one side of the room, facing a TV set.  None of it matched, of course, and most looked like it had been scavenged from a dump, but it was still cool.  On the other side were a complete drum kit, a bunch of amps, some guitar cases, and two vocal mics, along with some other equipment I didn’t recognize.


A slightly older looking guy, maybe twenty-one or so, was lying on one of the couches.  A girl who looked the same age as him was sitting in a recliner.  They both had long, black hair, and if it wasn’t for the girl having breasts, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart.  They looked over as we entered.


“Who’s the kid?”  The guy stood up and turned to Corey.  “I’m not running a daycare, man.”


“Our new lyricist.”  He said.


“You got a fuckin’ thirteen year old to write for us?”  The girl said, standing up as well.


“He’s not thirteen.  He’s…”  Corey looked back at me.  “Uh…”


“Fifteen.”  I said.


“Ooohhh, fifteen.  That’s a huge difference.”  She put on an awed expression.  “Why, I bet this one can even do long division.”


“All right, here’s the deal.”  The older guy said.  “Anybody asks, you’re sixteen.  And you don’t get to drink anything but water.”


I nodded.


“I’m Scott Maher.  That’s Sarah.  You are?”


“Brandon.  Collier.”


“Collie?  Like the dog?”


“Er, Col-”


“Yeah, he looks kinda like a dog.”  Sarah said, walking over and ruffling my hair.


“I’m sure she meant it in the best possible way.”  Alex said, lifting her hand off of my head.


“Uh, thanks.”


“Well, he does kind of have a lost-dog expression.”  Scott said.  “Oh!  What was that one dog?”


“Which one?”  Alex asked.


“The one in space.  Russian, or Cuban, or one of those countries we didn’t like for a while.”


“Space dog?”  Sarah cocked her head at him.


“Yeah.  I mean, look at him.  Isn’t that the kind of expression you’d see on a dog in space?  You know, dogs not being too familiar with relative gravity or whatever, they’d look pretty confused and out-of-place all the time.  Man, I know I heard that name before.  This is going to drive me nuts.”


“Yeah, I love the space program.”  Corey said, grinning and giving Sarah and obvious wink.  “Lift off.  Thrust.  Re-entry…”


“Dude, you know it’s really hard to think when I’ve got you propositioning my fucking sister over there, right?”  He paced for a few seconds.  “Gah!  I’m going to look this up.  One second.”


“He’s kind of…spontaneous.”  Alex whispered.  “You’ll get used to it.”


Of course, having grown up with Mark, I was already used to it.  I’ll admit, it was a little surreal, hearing them talk about whether or not I looked like a dog, and if I did, what that dog’s name would be.


“Laika!”  Came a shout from upstairs, followed by a series of heavy footfalls before Scott swung back into the room, slapping the doorway on the way in.  “First dog in space.  I knew I heard the name of that dog somewhere.”


“So now that we know the name of the first dog in space, can we practice?”  Sarah asked, rolling her eyes.  “Or do you want to look up the name of the dog on Frasier, too?”


“Nah, I already know that one.  So I guess now we can play.”


Corey and Alex set up the remaining equipment they had brought along, and they all got into position:  Alex on the bass, Scott and Sarah at the microphones with their guitars, and Corey behind the drum kit.


This is usually the part of the story where the narrator talks about how beautiful the music is - the lilting, uplifting vocals; the slowly climbing and falling drums and bass lines; the swirling guitars.  The way it moves him, touches him, lets him feel the soul of the artists.  Not quite the case.  It was, quite possibly, the most repulsive sound I had ever heard four humans produce.


I don’t know anything about music.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a rock band and an R&B band, except that the R&B videos usually have a guy with his shirt off in the rain, while rock videos usually have guys with their shirts on in the rain.  I can’t tell whether or not someone is singing in tune or on key.  All I knew for sure was that this music made my ears want to go on strike.


They played a handful of songs, I think, because every now and then they would pause and call out what sounded like a title.  Other than that, I couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began.  Maybe I just didn’t “get it.”  Maybe I wasn’t supposed to.  Anyway, aside from the horrible sounds that were invading my ears, they were pretty entertaining.  It was like, all that time that other bands spend learning how to play their instruments well and harmonize with each other, these guys spent learning how to strike cool poses and jump around wildly while they played.


Thankfully for me, all that jumping around got them exhausted after about an hour, and they came over and collapsed into the furniture, breathing deeply.  Corey in one of the recliners, Scott and Sarah together on one couch, and Alex and I on another.  I noticed that Alex had taken the seat next to me on the couch, even though there was another recliner open, but figured that he was probably too tired to care where he sat down.  There was a tiny stream of sweat creeping down his temple.  I briefly wondered what would happen if I took my thumb and brushed it off.


“So…”  Corey said.  “What’d you think?”


I thought that it was the most awful thing I’d ever heard.  I thought that I’d have a headache for the next week.  I thought-


“That was cool.”  I said.  “But…why do you need me?”


“We don’t.”  Sarah said, but everyone ignored it.


“What do you mean?”  Alex asked.


“I mean, I couldn’t really hear any of the lyrics.  The instruments were way louder than the mics, and since you guys were screaming most of the time…I couldn’t make out any of it.”


“Yeah, but think about the liner notes.”  Scott said.  “Sure, I could go up there and scream the lyrics to the Mister Ed theme song if I wanted to, and nobody would really know, but on the liner notes, we want to look like we’re saying something…worth saying.”


I knew even less about music than I thought.


“Didn’t you try the Mister Ed theme once?”  Corey asked.


“No, that was Green Acres,” Scott said.  “Which I understand is the place to be.”


“So, you think you can write something for us?  It doesn’t even have to rhyme or anything, though it’d be cool if it did.”  Corey said.


“Yeah, I could give it a try,” I said.  “Do you guys meet here every week?”


“Way more than that.  But, if you could throw some ideas together by next Friday, that’d be awesome.  We could pay you maybe ten bucks for each song we like.”  Scott said.


“Yeah, okay.”


A dog came bounding into the room, followed closely by a guy who I assumed to be its owner.  I wasn’t sure which deserved more attention.


The guy was dressed in dress pants and a dress shirt, an overall “business causal” kind of style, but his hair was gelled up in thick spikes that were at least five inches long and dyed bright red.  That, combined with his almost gaunt frame made him look like a rake standing on end.


The dog raced over to me and started sniffing my legs, my shoes, my hands – anything within nose distance.  I tensed up.  Whether or not I looked like one, I didn’t really like dogs.  At least, not big ones that jumped on me, like this one was preparing to do.


The guy whistled, and the dog’s head snapped back toward him.  It gave me one last look, then ran back to meet him.


“Brandon,”  Scott said,  “Our third housemate, Carl.  Carl, this is our new lyricist.”


“Maybe.”  Sarah added.


“Hey.”  He nodded to me.  “Uh, about the hair thing…don’t get the wrong impression.  These guys bet me I wouldn’t do it.  Speaking of which,” He turned to Scott, “You owe me.”


“One week.  It’s only been six days and…” He checked his watch, “Seven hours.”


Carl groaned and plopped down in the other recliner.


“He’s a poli-sci major,”  Alex explained, “Which, as far as I can tell, means he yells at the screen a lot when he watches CNN.”


The dog ran at me again, but Carl grabbed it by the collar and told it to sit.  It didn’t.


“What’s your dog’s name?”  I asked.


“Emma Goldman-Retriever.”  He grabbed the dog by the face, gently, and talked to it in that voice reserved for talking to dogs and babies.  “She stands for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth.  Yes, she does.  Yes, she does.”


I turned to Corey and gave him a questioning look.  He shrugged.  “Poli-sci humor.  Pretend to laugh at it, and people think you’re smart.”


“I’m sorry, Corey.  I forgot that you only get jokes that start with a man walking into a bar.”  Carl said, getting back to his normal voice.


“Not true.  Sometimes it’s a duck that walks into the bar.  Oh, or a mushroom.  The mushroom walks into a bar, goes up to this girl, and starts hitting on her, see, and they really hit it off.  After a while, she says, ‘You know, from the looks of you, I thought you’d be pretty boring, but you’re actually a fungi.’  Heh heh.  Fungi.  Fun guy.  No?”  He looked around.  “Well, screw you guys.”


We talked and joked around for a while, me feeling very much like a fifth wheel, mostly just watching the rest of them interact.  I didn’t get more than a few words in, but listening to them was fun.  I felt very much like a dog in space.  I was absolutely out of my element, which was unnerving, but at the same time, I got to mess around in zero gravity.