The Clunky Glory of S2ernJ0urn22
Est. Read Time: 12 minutes. Read Time brought to you once again by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections + Housing.
SHOWS! First show of 2023 is in… PASADENA! It’s free, come out.
I’ll be straight up. I think that, pound for pound, the Sternal Journal 2021 season was slightly better than the 2022 season. I was operating at a higher level more consistently, knocked out a decent amount of interviews, and generally had a bit more time to commit to it since, for part of 2021, things were still relatively locked down.
That being said, I think in 2022, the consistency of years of the Sternal Journal empowered me to really attack and achieve in stand-up, writing, and even getting more involved in trying to make my neighborhood a better place. And on top of that, I still made some pretty cool stuff here.
In honor of the clunky glory of 2022, below I’ve collected the various standalone poems, stories, and otherwise tied-up-nicely-non-rambly pieces that came out of the Sternal Journal over the last 12 months.
Enjoy them again or for the first time. I already have some plans to push 2023 into the best SternJourn year yet, and appreciate always you joining me on this Sterney Journey («« trademark: Kristen).
Notes in an airplane bathroom
I adore that an airplane bathroom won’t turn
on the light until you lock the door.
It’s so comforting, it’s so caring, a room telling
you, “don’t you worry, you’ve got a lot to think
about, don’t you worry, I won’t let anyone
come in while you do what you do in here.”
And that comfort comes in handy because
later when you flush and it makes the sound
unlike any land toilet and for a split second you
wonder if something’s gone haywire, the room
“Don’t you remember? Don’t you worry, you
know I take care of you. I’ve done it since the
second we met.
The Smile on Cantankerous Jackson
Cantankerous Jackson Smallville—or just Cantankerous Jackson as he was known to the the neighborhood kids, the bravest of whom would ride their Mongoose BMX bikes (with the pegs, of course) all the way down his dirt path to try to get just a glimpse of his feverish, sweaty, pipe-smoke-billowing face in the window—needed to write today.
He needed to write everyday too, but he also needed to write today. It was the first thing he thought when he woke up on his California King concrete slab, and the tatami mat he found on CraigsList and took really good care of because he knew it would be unlikely he’d find two such tatami mats on CraigsList.
He ripped open his sleep-gunked eyes and thought, “God fucking shit, I need to write.” He crackled out of bed, and he eased down the sturdy pine staircase his grandfather had built with such precision and care that it just needed some irregular oiling and a twice-yearly checkup to maintain its ascential and decential fortitudes.
A lone brillo pad on the table was for scrubbing the stink from his pits and his neck, and last night’s dinner from his now-breakfast plate. He fried two eggs and a piece of toast, devoured them over the sink, and sat down to a woodbound notebook and a needle dipped in a bowl of ink (also CraigsList finds).
His pipe was already packed with stale tobacco from yesterday. He lit the pipe, scrawled three lines, and dropped dead from some sort of medical failure induced by years of all the above.
The neighborhood kids—the bravest of them—watched it all, and wanted desperately to know what the three lines were. But even though Cantankerous Jackson had been extinguished, his pipe was still lit. So that wood journal and that pine staircase and that whole house went up in flames.
As those bravest kids watched it all burn to a pile of soot and a concrete block,
they argued over whether he was smiling.
Like a Good Neighbor
Or: In the Moment of the Stanky “Oh No”
This morning, when I went to buy her hangover Gatorades, the man who worked at the magazine stand around the corner–it has a truly formidable magazine collection but also carries cigarettes, paper towels, snacks, drinks–told me in a jovial enough way, “I feel like shit today.”
I asked if it was one of those days, and he said, “No. Well, I’ve been having these seizures.” But he was smiling and said it like I already knew it (which I didn’t), and like I already knew him (which I didn’t).
He wasn’t covered in tattoos the way some people are, but there were tattoos on every section of his visible body. One on a knuckle, one on the neck, something on the forearm, a little something for the face. I wonder if maybe sleeves are too expensive for a lot of people, but he still wanted to broadcast the desire to be truly all tatted up. Or maybe he’s just frugal and/or practical about his tats.
“I don’t know if you heard, but I had a seizure here last week.” Again, he’s smiling. Almost bashful. Almost proud.
“Oh, no, I didn’t.” I really put some stank on the “oh no” to let him know I was listening and I cared. This was for a couple reasons: first, it sounds shitty and embarrassing to have a seizure at work, especially when you work in outdoor customer service. There is something about someone who works at a magazine stand in LA in 2022 where it feels like they should be and are invincible.
Like even if they got robbed at gunpoint, they would have a bigger gun or quicker reflexes, and you’d see security footage of them turning the tables on the perpetrator on Instagram on some rap news meme account with a caption like “nobody want smoke like LA magazine stand cashiers!!! FACTS OR NAH???”
Like when you’re a kid, you think nothing bad can happen to your parents, and you grow out of that, but you subconsciously keep a bit of that delusional invincibility applied to some people and characters in your life.
So it just doesn’t feel like that guy had a seizure at work, but he did. “FACTS OR NAH???” I guess nah.
The other reason I wanted him to know I was listening and I cared is that I liked that he thought that I might have heard. That I was in the inner sanctum of neighborhood whisper networks.
I cared because I appreciated being elevated to the ranks of a local business owner or a nosy dog walker. Or maybe by being a person who wanted to show they cared, maybe that just is who I am. Maybe I’ve earned the title of neighbor just by being neighborly.
Maybe I’ve earned it by having a partner who loves to drink, but is terrible at processing hangovers. “Buy 10 Gatorades and get one instance of hyperlocal affinity FREE.”
I think about all that in the moment of the stanky “Oh no.”
“Yeah,” he grinned for some reason. “And yesterday? I had a seizure on the Metro.” He shook his head, still smiling. Tattoo by his eye still wrinkling.
“Well, I hope you feel better soon.”
“Thanks man, have a great day.”
Uncle Drew and Brandi
In 2018, I went to see a film called Uncle Drew with my friend Joe. It was the MoviePass gilded age when you would go spend two hours in a movie theater as a bit, and that’s what we were doing.
Uncle Drew was a basketball movie based on a Pepsi Max commercial. Although it was very silly and certainly didn’t need to be made, it was better than expected with performances from Lil Rel Howrey and Tiffany Haddish both a year out of being propelled to fame by Get Out and Girls Trip respectively, as well as Shaq, Nick Kroll and, of course, Kyrie Irving as Uncle Drew.
But none of that is why I remember the Uncle Drew experience. I remember it so vividly because, in this sparsely attended weekday afternoon screening, one of the very few other moviegoers that day brought his own basketball.
And none of us will ever know whether he had just come from a pick-up game or perhaps was headed to a practice. But it really felt like he brought his basketball with him that day for the express purpose of bringing it to see Uncle Drew, because it wound up being heavily involved in our cinematic experience.
Whenever anyone played basketball on screen—DUH-duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH-duh-duh—he would dribble along. And at first, we were like “What the hell? Is this guy going to be dribbling the whole movie?” But soon enough, it was exciting! I looked forward to the 4-D surround-sound dribbling. It kind of made the movie for me.
It reminded me that, even the things we engage with as a bit, or have pre-judged and written off, are very worthy of not just joy but passion to other people.
And I was thinking about the man who has gone down in the oral history of Joe and I’s friendship as The Uncle Drew Dude on Friday night. Kristen and I went to see Brandi Carlile at The Greek. It was an awful day for the one big obvious reason, and there was question as to whether a fun concert-going time should be had at all.
I was exhausted for reasons national and personal and really not sure if I was going to connect with the experience in the slightest, whether it was the “right” thing to do or not. In the end, we figured Carlile being a woman, a mother, a benevolent roustabout of sorts, and all-around stellar thinker and processor-of-emotions, the concert would more likely than not be as cathartic and communal an experience as one could hope for.
In the end, it was probably the best concert I’ve ever been to. Potential tie with the 2 Chainz concert my friend Winston took me to five years ago which was the same weekend as the BET awards so there were tons of incredible guests, but I still think this one wins. If you know me, you know how big that is.
She played recent hits, she played old hits, she covered Space Oddity, Creep, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She was runnin’ all over the place, riffing with a packed stadium, clearly having the time of her life, and still weaving in moments to talk about what had happened that morning, how it was affecting women all over the country, and how important it was that we were together and that we could be there for each other.
And that emphasis on community, which came later in the show, was so crazy—so serendipitous—because we were sitting next to this older couple. I specifically was sitting next to the more talkative and excited of the women. When we got there, I had a big-ass cup of wine because that’s how you give you a bottle of wine at The Greek, and she insisted on moving her seltzer from our shared cupholder.
I said “No, it’s okay,” she said, “No, I insist,” I tried to keep holding my wine for about ten minutes but when I needed to put it down to clap for the opener, she said “AH! SEE? I TOLJA!” And we laughed. And at one point, I asked if they’d seen Brandy before.
She said, “Ah, yeah, quite a bit.” Then regaled me with tales of seeing her for the first time 23 years ago at Lilith Fair, and catching her at a high school with 75 people in it in Alaska, and even meeting her a couple times before the real fame hit.
Then when the band took the stage, she would nudge me and whisper how the guitar player is married to Brandi’s sister, and they all live on this compound, and here’s who’s officially in the band versus just hired by the band, the drummer’s new! etc. I learned more about Brandi Carlile during that one concert than in the roughly five years I’ve considered myself a big fan.
And as these potentially annoying interruptions turned into the fabric of the experience, I realized—holy shit—this is the exact same spirit as The Uncle Drew Dude! A super-fan whose passion was going to amplify my passion as long as I let it.
At some points, I started to nudge her. When the Space Oddity cover started, I leaned in and said, “You know she’s gonna rip it on the chorus.” My neighbor chuckled and said “Oh-hoh yeah!” (She did in fact rip it on the chorus.)
And when Brandi, during a particular interlude trying to uplift us despite the events of the day, encouraged everyone to turn to their neighbors and know that there were good people around us, my row-mate and I already knew that. And that was, in a really bad time, really good.
All of this is to say: most of us have been forced to get pretty adept at mentally powering through times that indirectly and directly threaten our lives and the lives of our loved ones, local and global. This is another time that people are powering through and grasping at what to do.
And we’re so bombarded with ways to react, suggestions for how to feel, and implications that we haven’t even considered some of the feelings we’re supposed to be having, that’s it’s almost meta—we’re bombarded even with acknowledgments that we’re being bombarded.
So the only thing I could think of worth adding to the chorus (a happier type of bombardment) is to open yourself up to Uncle Drew Dudes and Brandi Carlile Ladies.
Life’s too scary and in need of solutions to write off any piece of art you’re engaging with. If you’re watching or reading or listening to something that you know is bringing you no joy and you’re still gonna spend your time on it? Find someone who can dribble you into appreciation.
And if you are looking to engage with some solutions, don’t just scroll through every Instagram story and news article about how to help. Pick a person who you think of as knowledgable and who you look to for solutions in times like these and dive into what they’ve shared. Let them be the one showering you with information, rather than the internet writ large. You can ask them about it too, but be careful not to burden someone with extra emotional work right now.
It’s easy to tune out by numbing ourselves with entertainment, and to get trapped in an endless scroll of ways to help, so my focus this week is going to be on engaging with people and not just let my brain run around the internet. If I hear dribbling, or somebody talking my ear off about what they care about, I’m going to try to follow it now more than ever.
An argument I got in with one of those text scammers
Uhhh I think this is hell guys (a poem)
I died boringly.
I opened my eyes. We were shoulder to shoulder. Chest to chest. All staring up at the Pearly Gates. Real and huge. Stories tall.
We were not a sea, but an ocean of people. We extended to the horizon.
“What’s this about,” I asked my neighbors. Many just jostled. One said “We’re in heaven. There’s just a really long wait.”
“We don’t know. Nobody’s gotten in yet.”
The Squirrel Questions
Who do we like better: the squirrel or the rat?
Why the squirrel?
Because it’s tail is cute.
But is it’s tail cute?
Or does it just cover its rats tail with cute fluff?
Is the rat not more vulnerable?
Is the rat not more proud of its little spindle of flesh?
Is the rat not more comfortable in its body?
Who do we like better?
The… still the squirrel.
But are we properly ashamed of the preference we give the squirrel?
Yes. Sure. Fine.
Some honorable mentions of SternJourns that were still pretty rambly include two different pieces about Jack Harlow, an ode to Barnes & Noble, and my prediction that we’re eighteen months (now about twelve) away from having an AI-generated Netflix special. In the six months since the prediction, I think we’ve only gotten closer.
We Caa Done. Song. New Popcaan song featuring Drake. If you like the version of Drake that made “One Dance” or “Signs,” you will like this song.
Vengeance. Film. I watched B.J. Novak’s directorial debut (he also writes and stars in it) on a plane, and while it kind of felt like a great plane movie, I really enjoyed it the more I think about it. I have not seen or read or listened to anything that has quite skewered the way *we* talk about storytelling as this movie did.
Fleishman Is In Trouble. Television. Finished it this week. Loved it. Gut punches galore.
Ambulance. Movie. A friend I have been trying to get to watch this Michael Bay movie for a long time finally watched it and I was reminded how great it was. In the same way everyone who loved Glass Onion this year is absolutely missing out if they haven’t seen See How They Run, everyone who loved Top Gun: Maverick this year is leaving joy on the table if they don’t immediately seek out Ambulance!
P.S. I spend anywhere between two and twelve hours a week on the Sternal Journal. If you enjoy receiving it (and are RICH) consider becoming a paying subscriber. For just a few bucks a month, you can provide me with a bit more time to come up with fun topics, poems, and interviews; and you with probably fewer typos.