Smile at Me, Stranger


Hello my friend

Day was fine, thanks for askin’ again

Gotta phone call from my Gram

as I woke up at DoubleTree, sayin’

what time will I work, and when


I said that I didn’t really know

when I was gonna make it home

Taxi for one, make that ‘round 2:10

He thinks, “well, aren’t you a little young, to be traveling alone?”

Yeah, so please stop callin’ me “ma’am”


Smile at me stranger,

You’ll have me at my feet

I’m not as cold as Burlington,

Fall in love with all I meet


I know I’m headed to NC

Don’t know how long that will take

It’s free boarding to my heart today

If you want a little hug or a peck on the cheek, find me at 15A




Laughing with the ahead-of-me guy

Took a glance this way and asked, “why

did you look so serious,” as her smile

dropped a thousand miles


I said that I didn’t really know

Wasn’t that intentional

How does it matter, for goodness sake?

Pats my body high and low, like a lover ought to know

Now I’m flying to spring break


Smile at me, stranger,

You’ll have me at my feet

I’m not as cold as Burlington,

Fall in love with all I meet


I know I’m headed to NC

Don’t know how long that will take

It’s free boarding to my heart today

If you want a little hug or a peck on the cheek, find me at 15A



Take 5

We call it a ‘Take 5′ when, at the opening time of 7:30am, all of the Student Stores’ employees huddle together to hear the dos and don’ts of the day. (Usually from a sleep-deprived manager who definitely has something better to do, and usually the topic-in-question is about new or recently expired sales.) Today, the theme is called ‘Bartleby’, a new subscription service that basically everyone fails to understand.

“And if you sell one as a cashier, you get a 5 dollar bonus.”

Which could pay for my lunch, so as a minimum wage employee, I was listening. However, I just don’t get how anyone would want to pay $9.99 a month after swiping their card for $400 textbooks, even with the ‘free trial’ period. The best ruse would be to get all the cashiers to purchase textbooks from each other, request Bartleby, refund the books, and cancel the subscription service. With the bonus, we’d all be millionaires.

After the gathering we all dispersed into our little niches. Cafe, pharmacy, textbooks, merchandise, web orders, et cetera, like a small colony of homo sapiens that never dared to traverse past those automatic doors, and so, grew interdependent of each other.

I went to the first floor register. An eight-hour shift at a bookstore sounds like it’s as enjoyable as a barefoot tour of the Sahara Desert, but without the added benefits of Vitamin D and exercise. I began pacing back and fourth, thinking how nice it would be to shelve law books, like usual, or to sign my name on Web Orders after stamping “packed with pride” (maybe too much pride) while pretending to be a celebrity.


“Oh hello. Sorry, I was distracted. How may I help you?”

The middle-aged dad reached in his wallet and placed a $100 bill in my palm, and in that moment, I wondered why this type of thing doesn’t happen to me more often.

“I’d like to exchange it for five 20s, please.”

I tell him that we don’t exchange money, mainly because the cash drawer doesn’t open unless you actually buy something. In response, he visually scans the entire register area and fixates on these stacks of answer sheets we call ‘scantrons’, usually purchased by students for their exams, and which, individually, run at about 25 cents.

“I’ll have one of these please,” he says, handing me the scantron and $100 bill. I give him a nasty glare and go about the dirty work of sorting out the change.

When not processing transactions, I’m tying together Nike hangers in the back and inserting the ring-shaped sizing indicators. Some stores call them ‘buttons’. Here we like to call them ‘donuts’, as in, “Go and fetch me the large box of unused donuts!”


This time, it’s a middle-aged lady with an affinity for eye makeup, mirroring a saucy grandma from one of those pageant reality shows. She’s wearing a baseball cap from the clearance section, with the tag still on it, and using sign language to communicate to her deaf/mute husband whom she is apparently making pay for the purchase.

“I can’t take this off because it will mess up my hair,” she says, pointing to the hat. Meanwhile, I’m astounded that she can be married to somebody with such limited vocal ability and still be worried by the state of the keratin on her head. I’m too secretly amused to be suspicious, and so I grab the scanner and twist it upside-down and she happily cooperates with me. In the background, other family members of hers are making faces at me that say, “Yep, this is who we’ve got, but we’re making the best of it.”

An hour after the Take 5, a manager comes over to notify me that we are no longer affiliated with Bartleby, and that I should ignore any indication that it ever existed.

“They think it’s a cheating tool,” she tells me, referencing the college professors who think a paid subscription service for experts to do your homework is a little sketchy.

Well, bye-bye bonus. I had never come close to selling one anyway, but sometimes it’s  just the idea more than reality, you know? Mentally, I was past the 5 dollar increase in salary anyway and envisioning myself as a master salesperson who’d figured out how to make everybody’s knees buckle for an exciting service called Bartleby. The cancellation made this minutely possible outcome unobtainable, and that made me a little sad.

Coffee break was calling, and there was practically a trail of caramel mocha scent wafting from the cafe to my nostrils. Almost there, I thought. Not before one of the employees got the chance to wave some sticky note cubes in my face.

“Check this out!”

He revealed that the bottom of the cubes had been vandalized with a handwritten note declaring that “The items in this store cost more than my college tuition.”

The guy must’ve thought he was a complete baller while defacing these. The irony is that if this snooty chap ever got found out, he’d need to pay for all the sticky note cubes, way more than he had signed up for in the first place. Perhaps he’d use them to vandalize other stuff, in which case the Student Stores would be to blame for being so reckless.

After fifteen minutes well-rested, I’m now sitting behind the Customer Service desk taking phone calls. A male voice rings the line just to ask me if we happen to have “A 7-inch kids basketball with two different college logos on each half.” A what?

“Did you see it on our website?”

“No. Just wondering if you happened to sell one.”

“Okay, let me ask if we have anything like that,” I said, knowing perfectly well that we have nothing like that. But now, the caller thinks he is at least on the right track.

Eventually, exhausted by the multitude of ill-informed phone calls, questions about if it’s possible to rent new books for the used price (no), and stopping students from taking suspicious photographs of the textbook shelves, I retire to the back room to pack book orders. This activity tends to be a joke, since literally none of the cardboard boxes fit the average order of books — they are way too large or too small, which is less than you’d expect from a place with a post office just up a floor. Like a reasonable person, I grab the smallest size which still accommodates the shipment and begin taping.

“Those boxes are much too large!” says a manager, stating the obvious.

“I know, but it’s the smallest that fits this order.”

Apparently I shouldn’t have responded at all, because the next thing you know she wants me to un-tape all five boxes I’d labored on in the past hour and replace them with the next size up, which makes about as much sense as complaining that your hamster makes too much noise and then replacing it with a howler monkey. (“What a waste! Those boxes we use for merchandise orders, like basketballs. Here, use these instead.”)

I’ve realized over the past two months that a job means complying with those above you, the managers and the customers, even it they, beyond a reasonable doubt, are completely insane. The old “customer is always right” adage is a mindset, or rather an illusion to be preserved, rather than a fundamental truth. We are paid to hand over an aspect of our dignity that gives our voice as much validation and strength as the others.

It’s true that working at the Student Stores sounds just like the textbooks we sell: black-and-white, tenacious, and boring.  However, I’ve found this preconception not to be the case — drama isn’t necessarily written in the cards, but quirky mishaps happen all the time. When you learn to appreciate them, your seven-hour shift becomes manageable and even entertaining. The box incident, the basketball call, bartleby, the mad hatter lady, and the strange exchange: now those are five that I’ll actually be able to take.

Eyebrows Deemed Important

Los Angeles — You may think the primary function of eyebrows is to keep sweat and debris out of your eyeballs, preventing mild annoyances such as blindness. However, this once undisputed fact is being disputed by a team of research professionals lead by Kylie Jenner, PhD. They  granted the writers of this article exclusive access to their data.

“As it turns out, eyebrows are hair,” began one of the research assistants,  “However, evidence suggests that having eyebrows that actually look like hair makes you fugly. Like, you can see all the spaces between the hairs and stuff — that is such a no-go.”

Thanks to Kylie’s team, the purpose of eyebrows is now recognized as ‘to frame the face’.

“And the best way to accomplish that is what we call the ‘natural look’,” continued the assistant, “That is, to tweeze pretty much everything and draw eyebrow pencil over it.”

Since the discovery, celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Demi Lovato, and Lindsay Lohan have gotten on board — and with great results. “They all just look so natural, with perfect arches and angles,” commented the newly-formed Kylie Good Brow committee.

In fact, the KGB focuses exclusively on ranking and scoring women’s groomed eyebrows. Arches with just hair are consistently ranked 1, 2, or 3, while waxed or threaded drawn-on brows are usually scored much higher. Eyebrows that have been shaved off and then tattooed back on are the gold standard, winning mostly 9s or 10s. “We judge density, definition, and shape,” says the KGB, “A permanent tattoo really accomplishes all three.”

Screenshot 2019-01-15 18.09.29.png
Above: a pair of natural brows

Still, there will be doubters.

Some question whether smearing makeup particulates on eyebrows compromises their functionality, while others believe that the pencilled-in brow trend was encouraged by Kylie Cosmetics to sell more products. “That accusation is false,” the KGB responds, “Kylie may have funded the eyebrow research and committee, but in no way are we promoting her brand. We stand for goodness and authenticity. If you want your eyebrows to look good and authentic, get the new KYLIE Brow Pencil for just $12.

Others think filled-in brows look “really fake.”

Luckily, it seems most modern young women are taking the Kylie train. Sacrifices need to be made, especially if it’s for beauty. After all, eyebrows are important not because of what they naturally do for you, but for what you can artificially do to them.






Ten Christmas Gifts Your Five Year-old Will Love

It can be difficult to choose presents for our little ones. After all, we want to choose an item that will be fun during playtime and also supplementing to their development. Often, it seems as though these qualities are mutually exclusive — but they aren’t necessarily. Below are ten educational items that your toddler will love this Christmas.

1. Canned Beans, $5

Not only tasty and nutritious, canned beans also come in a multitude of varieties such as pinto, lima, and kidney. Given a can of beans, your child will naturally learn about nutrition facts, serving sizes, percent daily value, and how to use a can opener.

2. A Roll of Bubble Wrap, $10 – 50

How often do you laboriously handpick a gift only for your kid to rip it apart and start popping the damn bubble wrap? The solution is simple. It is an undisputed fact your toddler doesn’t know what an acceptable present is, so you should just give them bubble wrap. Plus, it’s scientifically proven to lower levels of stress and cholesterol.

3. Porn Generation: Special Edition Coloring Book by Ben Shapiro, $10

Education about Pornography can never cum too early, and that’s why it’s important to get this relatively new book by Ben Shapiro. In addition to interesting and useful diagrams for coloring, your child will also improve their understanding about politics.

4. Bacon McDouble sponsored by McDonald’s™, $1.39


5. Apple iPhone X, $899

Technology is developing fast. Studies show that the number one way to protect your child from bullying at preschool is to equip them with an iPhone X. That way, your child can simply throw the phone at the bully and say that it “slipped.” Additionally, your kid will fare much better in the corporate world than that other dingus kid with the Nokia.

6. WARZONE, the new 2018 album by Yoko Ono, $12

The Beatles were arguably the most influential band of all time, but they’re not together anymore. That means the next best thing is Yoko Ono. Of course, it is always healthy and vital for your toddler to be asking you worldly questions. With the help of this studio album, your kid will be asking so many more questions than ever before.

7. The Quran, $300

Of course religious education is a must-have for children, but limiting them to the confines of Christianity is politically incorrect — even on Christmas day. Therefore, you should consider giving your toddler the Quran, untranslated as well so they can learn to read and write Arabic. Bonus points for adding a burka if you have a female child.

8. Snapping Turtle, $30

All kids wants a pet, but why risk getting a cat or dog if they could be allergic? Don’t risk your children’s health — instead, get them a snapping turtle. Regular turtles are docile and unexciting but snapping turtles are fun and noted for their ‘combative disposition’. Additionally, your toddler will learn about what it takes to care for a living creature.

9. Spongebob-Themed Yacht, $110,000

Don’t be like other parents and get your child a regular yacht. Rather, you should opt for one with a theme like Spongebob Squarepants. The benefits of the yacht are self-explanatory: boating skills are high in demand and your kid will get a head start. Additionally, the exciting cartoon theme will serve to boost their motivation to learn.

10. Reusable Razors, $10 each

Lastly, buying your kids reusable razors over disposable ones teaches them to cherish the environment and limit their waste production. Getting a razor also encourages your children to be more self-reliant. No more trips to the salon for the latest $40 dollar haircut; your toddlers can simply give themselves the ‘Skrillex’ in any way they please.

Skrillex and his awesome hair.

Out Of Place?

All the houses in my neighborhood had been typical. Gray siding with asphalt shingles was most common, occasionally garnished with white window shutters (what’s the purpose of shutters anyway?) and if you wanted to be impressive, all you needed were some bricks. A chicken coop or bench-swing in your front yard, now that was something.

It was 2012 when one of my neighbors wanted to paint his house. The house in question was visible, expansive, and right next to the three-way intersection that led to my street address. One day, I rode home on the school bus to see that this neighbor had started his project in a shade only describable as Robin’s Egg Neon. The newly-painted Turquoise House caused so many complaints within my family, I can recall them six years later.

Driving past the house prompted groaning, as if the blue exterior reflected so much light my folks were beginning to go blind. Comments such as “God, what were they thinking?” were normal, as well as the more diplomatic, “It could possibly have been a beach house.” It was as if Pippi Longstocking moved in and had tried to recreate Villa Villekula.


By 2018, the once obscene Turquoise House had melded with the rest of the neighborhood and we didn’t notice it anymore. It’s uninteresting, old news. Unless, of course, you’re new to the area and invited to our home for Oktoberfest — then, it would be, “Drive up the main road until you reach the Turquoise House, then take a right.”

We didn’t think the house was innately ugly. Just out of place. It reminds me of an incident my little brother was telling me about, the time he met Spiderman riding on Chapel Hill Transit. By then, September had just ended; he had boarded the city bus with a couple of his school friends. On the bottom row of seats, chilling with his legs decidedly stretched out in front of him, was a grown-ass man dressed up as Spiderman. Mask and everything. So naturally, as 13 year-old boys are inclined to do, they engaged in conversation with this peculiar dude. Turns out, not only did Spiderman once attend the same middle school as my brother, but he had one of his teachers too. Small world.

Out of place. Unexpected. In 9th grade, I had a small-statured, 70 year-old geometry teacher who was oddly reminiscent of The Lorax. He was, among other things, renowned at Durham Academy for drawing the most perfect circles anybody had ever seen. With one continuous arm motion and chalk, he made shapes that you could swear were laboriously stenciled in place. From the “oohs” and “aahs” he produced from the class, you’d think he possessed some sort of superpowers. Maybe so. I shuffled past him one morning and he was wearing a black leather jacket with diagonal zippers. “That’s cool,” I commented. “Thanks,” he replied, “I got it back when I was into racing motorcycles.”


Odd clothes are actually easy to come by if you know where to look. Generally, you find a local venue or market that is a little alternative and then visit it at late hours. If you do this enough, you will become an expert on what parts of the body are able to be pierced, as well as discover at least one article of clothing you never knew existed. No-name concerts at Cat’s Cradle are a goldmine, but occasional finds are even easier. One time, I entered Weaver Street Market and saw a man standing in the fast checkout lane. He was wearing a pair of jeans, one pant leg down to his ankles and the other cut off above the knee like a pair of Bermuda’s. Interesting. Hey, maybe only one leg was too hot.

Perhaps I’m being too judgmental. After all, what’s the difference between these lopsided trousers and a senior citizen wearing a biker jacket — a combination that my little sister would definitely describe as “cringey”? What’s the difference between that jacket and Spiderman randomly and unexplainably sitting on the bus one morning? What’s the difference between Spiderman and that godawful, good-for-nothing Turquoise House?

Should these things change and be more normal?

Here’s my take. As of writing this blog post I am 6755 days old exactly, but aside from holidays and special occasions and the few days preceding the current day, I hardly remember any specifics. That’s a big loss. However, the recollections I do have are of the stand-out things these stories are constructed from. Abnormal just doesn’t collapse and fall from our memory like normal does. Now I think extraordinary people and events are the most necessary building blocks of our lives — not out of place, but the capstone.

Screenshot 2018-11-25 22.36.05

Karlclaus: A Christmas Anecdote

For every gift you get off of my wishlist this year, the elves are grateful. Don’t believe me?

Once upon a time, in central Alaska, there was a little elf named Fred sitting under a Christmas tree. All the other elves were fervently sorting and packing toys in a 1920s assembly line type-of-deal, closely under Santa’s supervision. But not Fred. So, Santa came over to the tree to see what was up with him. The elf craned his neck and stared up at Santa’s button nose and flushed skin (probably rosacea) and shouted, “Where’s my F-ing presents!” Santa, initially surprised and even wounded by Fred’s remark, began to mutter some calming words — but quickly was interrupted. “Besides, man, this is communism”  said Fred, “Which is definitionally ‘a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities.’ That’s what we elves are doing, Mr. Claus — but for free!”

Santa, in response to these claims, began stripping off his hat and outer robe. This behavior startled the elves because they had assumed that these garments were part of Santa’s body like an earlobe or trachea. “He’s moulting!” exclaimed one of the elfen. Santa ignored these remarks and rather posed a question: “Why do you think these robes of mine are… red?” He then cackled in an evil fashion, and it is now apparent that Santa Claus is actually Karl Marx. “I created this midget factory,” began Karlclaus — for that he was called from then on, “To play out how my idea of a perfect society would function in real life!” The elves, of course, were shocked by this revelation. Was The Christmas Spirit just an ingenuine scheme to perpetuate enslavement of little people? Free stuff — is that why the capitalistic west allows it?

Suddenly, the front door to the X-mas factory blew open, and a chilly gust of wind hurled itself through the entryway. A snowman with a large birthmark on his forehead was standing outside the opening and now walked inside. “Да, it’s time for some glasnost!” announced the snowman. “Gorbachev?” exclaimed Karlclaus. While this exchange was getting started, Fred rocked back and forth by the fireplace next to the Christmas tree and rubbed his hands together. Gorbachev took notice of this behavior and said, “Well, I can’t end the cold, but I can end Cold Wars! And unfair treatment of elves. I can do that too.” He then began to negotiate with Karlclaus to work out a fair and viable system for the operations preceding the holiday season. “Yo, I just want presents,” repeated Fred, “We need Christmas too, you know.”

In thought, Gorbachev glanced down at his shoes, which happened to be a pair of rosy TOMS. A light bulb went off in his mind. “One for one,” he shouted, “Да, that’s it!” Quickly, the elves and Karlclaus huddled around Gorbachev in anticipation of hearing his solution to fair christmas preparations. “Well, Karlclaus wants a miniature communist society, and his elves want free christmas presents. So… for every present purchased by parents from an external source, we should start a campaign that convinces that source to send a copy of that gift to the elves!” The X-mas crew then pondered the feasibility of Gorbachev’s plan, and whether or not he was drunk from vodka. Fred exclaimed, “Dope. Still sounds like an evil communist regime, but at least the end game here is we get presents. Hella good plan, I’d say.”

Amazon and Ebay, and pretty much every store in NC, are becoming on board with #Elf Awareness and Fairness, and are now giving the X-mas Crew a miniature copy of every gift they sell. One for one.

For every gift you get off of my wishlist this year, the elves are grateful.

Now you know why.