Mike Young is a writer of great grace, which is weird because the things he tends to write about are oatmeal muffins, garbage vacuums, robotic butterflies, Ice Cube, and pretty much anything you could find out in the dumpster behind a 7-Eleven in Weed, California. If that sounds like a mess, that’s because that’s a mess, but somehow Mike Young weaves monologues through it that sound sort of like a NyQuil kid who got banged on the head and came out better. Better yet, beyond all of that, there is something at the center that seems to actually care, to have a living, breathing heart made out of refuse, perfect timing, and best of all, true empathy for what makes a human a human.
A Mike Young poem might explain the time he met Tom Waits in a cafeteria in the same breath as remembering the night he told his friend Bryan he was going to kill himself on AOL Instant Messenger, and then a moment later mention: “The more a game fascinates you / the less chance you’ll win.” The verse is slim and grandiose somehow at the same time, neighborly and ancient, as likely to swing through the gas station to buy weird candy as it is to wake up on a bus several states away from home. Young has some vaudeville in him, some Harmony Korine-like want for entertainment in the everyday, but perhaps the best thing about his work is the way that it seems like an insanely huge sponge made out of eyes and ears, vacuuming up the moments that most often disappear, and cobbling together monologues that carry their aphorisms in the same arm as their jokes.
I’ll even go so far as to say Mike Young is the Dante of post-boredom, guiding us through the rings of hell, reawakening something new inside of us that we have yet to become, hidden underneath the repeating string of days. I believe that knowing certain people are alive can remind you to be a better person in your own life. Mike Young’s writing does that to me, but not in the annoying, “Dude, here is the eternal truth right before you ”kind of way, but also not not in that way either, you know? I’m saying: It feels good to remember people care, and that some of us have found a magnetic way to say it.
But the reason for all this talk of what Mike Young does comes on the occasion of his latest book, Sprezzatura, which also happens to be my favorite book of his, and a good introduction to him for anyone who wants to put his face into the feeling of a good, calm electricity.
ENOUGH TO HASH THINGS OUT
I like it when the audience camera accidentally catches
the kid who doesn’t give a shit about the home run.
Carolyn says you need to wait ten seconds before
CPR, which is a delay never depicted in movies,
Imagine living as a rollercoaster critic. Some people like
certain frozen meals so much they learn how to make
real versions of them. A Pop-Tarts restaurant opened in
Times Square. You can buy Pop-Tarts sushi. When you read
a lot of news stories about these kinds of things, you realize
that only one kind of humor is allowed in contemporary
journalism. The world suggested by this humor is something
distant, like a card trick you get in the mail. Do you ever take
overheard advice? Like if one stranger swears by coconut water
to another stranger, will you try coconut water? What can it hurt?
Aren’t there many people you have failed to thank? One of my
stronger memories is sitting in the Blueberry Twist, realizing
who made his living off poker. One girl who worked at
Blockbuster was always negative. Even when I saw her
excited about something the other day—maybe a coupon
for paper towels, maybe a new color of berry—she seemed
more anti-complaining than actually expressing happiness.
Speaking of anti, the father insisted bats weren’t real and tried
to get everyone in the car. One time Chris said he had nothing to
do on Christmas Eve and he was planning on driving by my house,
but he didn’t. He told me this around March,
CAN WE GET ICE CREAM AT THIS HOUR?
I am not that smart. Or that sad. So where do I get off
with your attention? Dear those who buy the salsa
suggested on the chip bag. Sons who ate caterpillars
when Dale Earnhardt died. Friends are the ones who
wave at you. Is your heart a bundle of shoelaces stuck
together by honey? Dear muumuus and instant potatoes.
We are all pretentious. Consider the flavors we choose
for bathroom aerosol. Dear Saran Wrap and gulch mud.
Is your life a milky dumafidget? Do you care about the word
in German for your loneliness? Let’s arm wrestle in the pantry
and straight up fuck this shit. My bros want poems to rap more.
Their fathers want less cussing. How do I explain that I have
bros who say bro in quotes? If it’s cold, there’s a blanket in the
pickup. This poem does not star a robot suit. Or a talking top-hat.
Those poems have all the nice clues for rain, but my dreams
are clogged with Folgers tins. Coupons for Hamburger Helper.
TV trays and powdered eggs. Dear aunts of shopping networks
in the dark. Dear coaches who still don’t quite understand
vitamin water. It’s like you fiddle all the ones you love across
the couch so they’ll each fit in the photo, except it never works
because it’s not their photo: it’s always just a photo of your love.
Dear men who conceive of suicide only by motorcycle,
you would have the most awesome beard if you would just
read poetry. It is true that I value their thermoses above others,
but why? Didn’t I break up with Amber over her use of the
word weird? Then there was the daughter of a Democrat who
sprayed his wife’s perfume behind the couch. Thank you
Pell Grant for the people I have met through you. Witty
dress shoes. The luxury to be congratulated for my loneliness
when I explain it through a fantasy of several million lonely
YouTube videos compiled together to form the definitive
trailer for The Season of Big Loneliness, which is a let down and
too long. It is true that I have friends and different friends and
rap videos we all watch. Except with certain friends I fall asleep
scuffling of feelings (as we are doing here, thank you) and others
who talk about how Egypt was built by the aliens and God alights
upon Kraft singles. Let’s hear about Hunter. He’s in Europe,
but only because of the Air Force. He dips Red Man and calls girls
biddies. We don’t keep in touch, and his mother believes he has the
soul of a deer outside the hospital, the one she heard shot dead during
labor. In the middle of the night she Googles his Wiccan horoscope.
I am not making this up. Dear sunflower seeds. Dear Superball tickets.
If I could make this up, wouldn’t I be the one who knows you?
NINERS WIN I LOVE YOU, NINERS LOSE I LOVE YOU
for BC after Portland 2009
They’re behind, but it’s not over.
38-25 and the Niners are driving.
My throat still hurts from fritter and lyrics,
while my search engine claims “Memoir of
environmentalist Greyhound driver”garners
no hits. Are we to believe they haven’t invented
themselves? In last night’s fog and cattle, I stole
a nap from my fever on the bus, chanting head songs
more sick than I really was, because a song’s the
epic you dust stir, and a body’s just an eep to sire.
What if you replaced the day part of on-the-road-
don’t-know-what-day-it-is with people? The Niners
tied it. There’s the going on, the went, the want, the we,
the shower you dream of, and the bath salts given to
me for Christmas that interact with my mistaken belief
that all gifts are instructions on how the giver wants to spend
time with the givee. Giraffes don’t play football. Environmentalist
Greyhound giraffe—his right-parted haircut sticking out the top,
plexiglass guarding him from passengers with chainsaws
and trail mix—screeches the bus to a stop in the desert, dust
muzzling the tires in a temporary cloud, all the yellow flowers
no passenger can name. Interstate stubble. No passenger knows
why we’ve stopped because no one looks up to see our driver,
the giraffe, coughing blood. I miss all my thieves. I miss my own
heart when it sneaks out, borrowing my cough syrup and windbreaker.
Three out of every eight readers are currently tolerating this poem
out of concern for the Niners. Sorry. I forgot. OK, there goes
a commercial. When the Niners come back, I will tell you
the score. Love is a giraffe with blood parachuting from its height.
Whoops. Arizona intercepted a pass. It’s all over. We blew it.
Our coach was too busy whispering into his playbook: You never saw
the pills that stole your friend. Pretty soon people will take photos
of you and call you after where they found you, because they can’t
remember how to call you what you are. That’s nobody’s fault.
When we say our own names, we make a weird face. Sure, even
the quarterback. Even the draft pick. Even the other team.
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Buy Sprezzatura at Publishing Genius