I Had So Much Trouble Coming Up With a Title for This

And other answers to unsolicited questions.

Photo: Dennis Skley/Flickr

“I can never figure out what to have be the subject of my emails. Why do they have to have subjects? Can’t it just be an email from me?” — Subjectless Sue

Naming things is hard. For a long time, I thought the names of my unborn children would be Hero and Champ. How could you feel bad if your name was Hero or Champ? Every day you’d be like, I’m a Hero! And now I think maybe that kind of name for a kid is just too much pressure to live up to. When I named my fish, I went with Sam and Dave. Classic, non-Shakespearean names. Instead of Pyramus and Thisbe. I didn’t want them to feel the pressure of having to be star-crossed lovers, that just seems like a bad gig. There is no King Dave tragedy. When Sam died, I named the next fish Peggy.

I have one good title for my kind-of-unwritten novel: The Coldest Night of the Year. (In high school, we wrote a play about homelessness and called it that.) But I want my novel to be a bestseller, so it’s not about panhandlers near the Boston Public Library. I usually steal the names of my poems from Blues songs. I don’t think a thriller called “It Serves Me Right to Suffer” would be a bestseller. Even though one of my favorite books is “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me” by Richard Fariña. It’s not a great title, but it is a great book.

It used to be so exciting to get emails. I mean, not as exciting as it was to get letters or mix tapes in the mail. But pretty exciting. Especially when the internet was new, and we had no idea how to connect with each other or what it all might mean to be connected to each other. I used to love to write letters. Now, I guess I just can’t think of anyone to write a letter to. All of my emails are like a sentence long. Crafted in mere seconds. Utilitarian, lacking any zeal or poetry. “OK, sounds cool.” That is fifty percent of the emails I have ever sent. “OK, no problem.” That one is the other fifty.

Do emails need subjects? I guess business emails do. Like “Oh No, Our Company is Going Down the Toilet!” I haven’t gotten that email at my job yet, thankfully. At the bookstore, most of the emails I get are “Books” or “Book Order.” I don’t ever even look at the subject of an email, just usually who sent it. Most of the personal emails I send are usually titled “Hey.” I thought this was a perfectly fine subject until someone told me that emails with the subject “Hey” usually came from ex-boyfriends looking to pick up underwear from their apartment after a break-up. Then for a while I tried subjects like “Bubbles” or “Cotton Candy.” I was dissatisfied. I may just start using “I Want My Underwear Back.” What I really want is to get fewer emails and more letters.

You can always leave the subject fields blank! That would make so mysterious! What is this email about they would wonder for like 3 seconds! Will they open Pandora’s e-mail? I am so lazy I often split the first line of an email into half subject, half message “I am sorry that / I put the non-stick pan in the dishwasher and now it’s all pale and faded.” These are not the grand messages I expected to be sharing with others through the power of the epistolary. Most poets have long correspondences with other poets about all the secrets of the universe. I am not that kind of poet. Today a Skittle fell into my navel and I couldn’t get it out. For a while. I mean, way too long a while. It was really jammed up in there. That is the kind of poet I am.

“I was at the grocery store today and I put my items down on the conveyor belt and the guy in front of me went nuts. His stuff was all the way at the front. There’s no way they were going to mix up his stuff and my stuff. There was at least ten feet of conveyor belt between us. Who is right, me or Crazy Grocery Store guy?” — Shopping Bob

Photo: quietlyurban.com/Flickr

I have to go with Crazy Grocery Store Guy here, Bob. Sorry. There are fewer and fewer rules that govern the behavior of humans in American society anymore. And we’ve got to stick with the ones that work. And the grocery store conveyor belt rules are built for us. For us to feel like we have earned the right to have a little space. That our oranges should not have to get mixed up with your Pop Tarts or whatever.

I was walking home from the grocery store the other day and two very small kids were playing badminton in their gated-in yard. (I live in New Jersey. Want some green space? Go to the graveyard.) So the shuttlecock comes out into the sidewalk and I stop, bend over and pick it up. One of these very small kids says “That’s ours.” Yeah, I know kid. I remember what happened five seconds ago. I am not that old. It was like the kid thought I was going to run away with this shuttlecock. Of course, I am just going in circles walking with grocery bags waiting for kids to let loose their toys in front of me so I can snatch them up, go home and make Crazy Kid Toy Soup with it. Now, in the kid’s defense I do look kind of like a guy who might make Crazy Kid Toy Soup. I am trying to grow a pointy beard out, again. Of course I gently tossed the shuttlecock back. And went on with my delightful day, affirmed. It’s a great feeling when a ball comes bounding your way and you get to throw it back to a bunch of kids, it’s always a thrill.

Anyway, the grocery store. When you are in line: first, your stuff goes up on the metallic lip of the conveyor belt. If you do not have an approved grocery store official plastic separator, you wait. I have seen people use separator-shaped items to separate their grocery purchases, Spaghetti in a box, or an eggplant. It doesn’t work. You are messing everything up. Just wait for the plastic separator. If the separator is in sight, you can carefully reach for it. If there is only one separator and it is being used, you must wait. When the separator gets removed by the customer and placed at the back of their stuff, it’s your turn, Bob. Your stuff goes up. As soon as you get the chance, the separator goes at the back of your stuff. Do not ever deviate from this simple pattern. We’ve already given away too much! Everyone is listening to my calls to my mom and dad, everyone’s reading my emails about wanting my underwear back. Can’t we allow order to beat chaos in this one case, the case of the line at the grocery store, Bob? We are not all shuttlecock-stealing monsters.

Don’t fence me in! But give me that little plastic grocery store separating thing, please!

“I’m not racist. But it kind of drives me crazy when I hear people on the subway speaking in different languages. I always think they are talking about me. Like, look at that dude with the weird pants over there. Am I being crazy?” — Ned Not a Racist

Why don’t people admit that they are a little racist? It’s always, I’m not a racist, but, etc. No one who is not a racist ever starts a sentence with “I’m not a racist.” It would be better if they said “I’m not a huge racist or anything, but….” “I’m kind of a racist, but not as big a racist as most people.” That kind of thing. This is America. You have a right to say racist things, clearly. People might elect you president for it. And if everyone just gave voice to whatever stupid, racist things they had in their brains, maybe things would be better off. We could have Racist Day, like that movie The Purge. Everyone would be able to tweet whatever crazy racist stuff they could think of and then we’d be able to see just what we were dealing with in America. I’m not sure we definitely want to peel that onion, but it could be revealing.

Photo: Ding Yuin Shan/Flickr

I love when people speak in other languages around me. Because they are almost certainly not talking to me. And I don’t have to do anything about it. I’ve failed English, Spanish, French, German. I can barely communicate with anyone at all. Overhearing conversations on the subway is usually pretty horrible if I do understand what people are saying. Because their conversations are usually so boring. I kind of hope people speaking in different languages on the subway were talking about me. That would be interesting! It’s really best to believe that everyone is always talking about you.

One time on the subway I heard a guy continually refer to Marcel Proust as Prowst. Those are the people we should be stealing shuttlecocks from. Build a wall around that guy.

Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works in a bookstore.