Reflections of the Freshly Pressed

In May of 2014, I achieved one of my blogging goals:  I became Freshly Pressed.  It was a pretty cool moment for me, and one that many other bloggers would like to achieve.  But as amazing as it was, it didn’t play out like I had pictured in my mind.

So what was my experience like?

  • First off, it’s tough to explain to those outside the WordPress community why being Freshly Pressed is a big deal.  My mom told me congratulations of being “newly ironed”.

    Freshly Pressed / Newly Ironed.  Potato / Tomato

    Freshly Pressed / Newly Ironed. Potato / Tomato

  • I didn’t see the statistical explosion that I expected in terms of views.  I was expecting thousands and thousands of views of the Freshly Pressed post and a notable spike for other content.  That didn’t happen.  Granted, a lot of it has to do with the piece that was chosen:  2,500 words on the trap falls of paying NCAA student athletes doesn’t convey “this is going to be a fun read” like some of the other Pressed posts.
  • My traffic on the day I was Pressed was far, far below my personal best, and has been topped by several other posts before and since.  I don’t get a ton of traffic, but even with all of the exposure that being Pressed provided, that post will only be the fourth most read thing on this site for the year
  • That said, I received far more likes on that post that anything I’ve ever published.
  • Ditto for followers.  In the first two weeks, I gained over 200 followers, which almost doubled my count to that point.  Most of these were actual people and not the foreign language spam accounts that seem to be attracted to my blog of late.
  • Most of my posts do not get comments, but the Pressed post had over 50.  I had some excellent, well thought comments on that piece.

What advice do I have for those who aspire to be Freshly Pressed?

  1. Be patient.  I was at it for almost three years and 350 posts before I got picked.  And I’ll be honest – the piece that got me pressed is not my best work.  I like it, but I probably could find a dozen or so that I feel are better.
  2. Visit other blogs and comment.  I have no way of proving it, but the email notifying me of my Freshly Pressed selection came a day after I commented on a Daily Post blog post.  Would I have been selected if I hadn’t commented?  Maybe.  But I doubt it.  And almost definitely not that particular post.
  3. Don’t be afraid to break the rules.  In WordPress’s “So You Want To Be Freshly Pressed” guide, they list several recommendations.  You may notice that my Pressed post does not have any accompanying images.  They say “Readers are overwhelmed by huge chunks of text”, yet I have several lengthy paragraphs with not a lot of white space.  My headline (“NCAA Pay for Play (P)”) is not catchy, and the random letter in parentheses (part of an A-Z challenge I was in at the time) is odd.  And there are probably more of their recommendations that I didn’t follow.  Bottom line:  be yourself.

1,000 Reasons for Thanks

On Tuesday, this little ol’ blog hit a pretty big milestone:


One thousand followers.  Damn.

Now, as has been previously discussed, a notable chunk of these are likely spam accounts.  Why do I say that?  Here is the short version:

If a new follower has their own WordPress blog, the New Follower email notification I receive lists three of their most popular posts.  The idea is that if you follow me, I should take the time to read your work and possibly follow you back.  Through this method, I have found multiple blogs that I enjoy and now follow.

But over this past year, I’ve noticed that I have gained a large international audience.  The posts listed on the notification emails are often in a foreign language (including, but not limited to:  Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese, and one or more Asian languages).  I’m going to go out on a limb and say these folks are not following me because of my work, but because they think I’m going to blindly click on any link I receive in my email.

How bad has the spam follower phenomenon become?  A year ago, I had a little over 150 followers.  Certainly, I’ve had a good year on this site (including being Freshly Pressed in May), but when my little site is adding four followers a day (and my page views are increasing at the same rate) I call BS.

All of this said, I know that I am still adding human, English-speaking followers who arguably read some of what I post.  Follower 998 was my friend and former co-worker Nick Maestas.  Nick has a beautifully written blog that covers several topics that I’m too chicken___ to write about.  I’d much rather be followed by somebody like Nick than somebody like, say, Jenia568.  While I’m sure Jenia568’s post entitled “Трудный день”* would stick with me (and my virus scan) for years to come, I don’t trust that Jenia568 is a real person, and is definitely not a regular reader of my site.

*Yes, that is one of my “followers” and one of their top posts.  See why I think many of my 1,000 followers are spam?

There is a part of me that wishes my follower numbers were a little more indicative of the number of people who actually read my work on a regular basis instead of the number of spam bots who want me to click on their site.  But for those of you who do follow me, know that I am very thankful for you.  The number of true readers may be less than 1,000, but in my heart it feels like a million.


Spam Comment of the Day

For whatever reason, this blog has been receiving a lot of spam comments of late.  WordPress has a pretty decent filter that deflects a lot of junk into a Spam folder, but more have been sneaking through lately.

For the most part, the spam comments I get are generic, poorly worded statements telling me that they love my blog (duh, who doesn’t?) and complementing the layout of the site (which is a stock WordPress template).  Oddly, very few seem to be trying to sell me anything*, which is probably why they make it past the filter.  I skim them to make sure they’re not legitimate, then I punt them to the trash.

*Seriously, has anybody ever purchased something advertised in a spam email, blog comment, or pop-up ad?  How many people see emails for ED meds, website comments offering designer purses, or a pop-up offering discount insurance if you “know this one little trick” and think “I really need these things.  Instead of finding a reputable vendor, I’m going to click on this random link”?  

Do companies have media buyers who are telling their bosses “TV is too expensive, print is dead, and it is impossible to have a good radio ad.  Therefore, I propose that we spend our entire Q4 advertising budget on spam emails and flashing webpage ads.  The click rate is going to be ridiculous!”  

Spamming people seems like a ton of work (and a lot of legal risk) for very little return.

Yet, today’s comment is worth sharing.  It is such a garbled mess of broken English, bizarrely off-topic messages, and weirdness that I absolutely love it.



I’m not sure who “Charlie” is, but he sounds like a dude I’d like to have a beer with – so he can enlighten me about contractors, Democratic lawmakers and UV rays ending at my kids.

Happy Third Blogiversary to Me

I realized this morning that I missed the 3rd birthday of Feit Can Write.  Way back on August 17, 2011, I launched Feit Can Write with this post*.

*Technically, my blog was originally called “Feit for your Write” (hence the Beastie Boys reference in that initial post), and was launched on another blogging platform.  I upgraded the name and moved it over to WordPress about a week later.

Looking back at my very humble beginnings, I’m impressed by what I’ve built here.  In the last three years, I’ve posted 375 things, hopefully cementing my status as the web’s go to source for posts on Nebraska football, adoption, and silly lists.  A guilty pleasure is to go back and re-read some of my old pieces.  While there are some things I’d change (a phrasing choice here and there as well as the typos and dropped words that my editor doesn’t always catch), I’m almost always pleased with what I’ve written.  I like that.

In the early days, the readership was limited to immediate family members and a handful of Facebook friends who didn’t have anything better to do.  Now, WordPress shows me with almost 700 followers.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I think a good chunk of these are spam accounts, but I’m thrilled and honored to have a couple of hundred people who legitimately follow what I write.

And the readership…I distinctly remember repeatedly hitting refresh on my stats page on December 31, 2011, hoping that I would get my 2,000th all time view before the year ended (I did).  I was super pumped to hit 2,000 views in four months.  Earlier this month, I had over 2,000 views in a single day (a perfect storm of Nebraska Football, new uniforms, and a click-bait title).  Also this month, Feit Can Write surpassed 50,000 views all time.  I’m humbled and honored that people are coming here (even by mistake or bad Google search) and I hope people like what they read.

What’s next?  Well, football season is about to start so I expect to be busier with that.  The Feit Can Write world headquarters is moving in a few weeks, which means free time is going to be cut down.  I’m behind pace on the number of posts I want for this year, so hopefully I can pick up the volume while balancing work, home, and family.  I do take requests, so if there anything you’d like to see me write on, let me know.

As always, I appreciate the contributions for every one of you – your readership, compliments, shares, likes, comments, and continued support for this little endeavor.


Working around the Block (B)

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been in a writing slump.  A rut.  A one way street leading to a dead end.

I know this.  I don’t like it, but I know it.

But I haven’t really been able to put my finger on the “why”.

After 300+ posts (and another 100 partial drafts) have I been afflicted with the dreaded “writer’s block”?

Or, is it more of a motivation block?

Let me expand, and we’ll try to get to the bottom of this.

*   *   *

On one hand, I have felt a very real lack of things to write about.  Sure, right now I have about 50 different ideas jotted down in a “blog ideas” notebook, and another 75 drafts ranging from basic outline to almost ready to publish.  But few of those have inspired me enough to create/complete something and share it with the world.

When my writing is flowing and coming easily, it’s like there is this whole other guy inside my head.  He’s the one doing the talking, saying all these (hopefully) witty and intelligent things in a style that is (hopefully) easy and enjoyable to read.  We banter and have a grand old time conjuring up silly lists, sharing our passion for adoption, and talking about our Huskers.  When that guy is rolling, all I have to do is type whatever he says into WordPress and take the credit.

But lately, that dude hasn’t had much to say.  And from what little he has to say, much of it isn’t that interesting – or would require a lot of editing and massaging on my part.  I’ll be honest:  this writing thing is much easier when that guy in my head is feeding me all of the good lines.

*   *   *

But on the other hand, I find myself struggling to carve out writing time.

Time out.  Let’s be honest here – it’s not like I’m go-go-go busy 20 hours a day.  Yes, my workload at the office is higher than it was a year ago, and the addition of baby number three in August has not done wonders for my free time, but truth be told I do have a couple of good windows available almost every day.  I usually am able to take a true lunch hour, so I could pretty easily carve out 30 minutes of time to work on something.  Even with those three kids (and the messes they create), I’m almost always sitting down for the night by 9:00; 9:30 at the latest.  I’m a night owl, which means I typically three (or more) hours to be able to sit down and write.

But it’s not happening.

At lunch time, I like to get out of the office and either come home (where I’ll read the paper and take a few minutes to relax) or go out on a lunch date with Facebook and Twitter.

Once the kiddos are in bed, the kitchen is relatively clean, and anything else that needed to be done is done, all I want to do is sit in my chair, put my feet up, and get lost in my phone or a TV show.  I may try to tell myself that I’ll write in a little bit (after this show is over, after I run out of lives on Candy Crush Saga, after my wife falls asleep and I can turn off the TV, etc.), but when push comes to shove, I find myself wanting to do something  – damn near anything – other than write.  Twitter!  Angry Birds!  Solitaire!  Ooo, I think I have another life on Candy Crush!  This episode (that I’ve seen three times before) is a good one!

Before I know it, it’s at (or past) my bedtime and the day ends without any writing being done.  This has been especially problematic as some of the few things I’ve felt desire to write about have been on the topical/what’s in the news side of the street.  It doesn’t matter how potentially good my Olympics-related posts might have been, it seems silly to publish them three weeks after the games ended.

*   *   *

There definitely is a block going on, but I’m not quite sure where it lies.  Since I’m not finding myself with the need to write before the words start falling out of my ears, I think writer’s block is a fair diagnosis.  But if I’m really being honest with myself, I think the blockage is more on the mental side – choosing to waste time instead of using it towards something I enjoy.  We could spend another 1,000 words (or $200 an hour with a professional) trying to get to the bottom of what might be causing that…

And so, I am left with this vicious chicken and the egg cycle.  I don’t really feel like writing, and when I do sit down to do it, there isn’t much that sparks me.

That’s why I’m hopeful this A – Z Challenge will be the kick in the pants to force that guy in my head to do his thing on a daily basis, while forcing me to make time to get something out on a deadline.

Stay tuned.

*   *   *

(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Inside the Blogger’s Studio

A recent daily writing prompt asked folks to pretend to be guests on Bravo’s Inside the Actors’ Studio, an interview show where host James Lipton would ask each guest the same ten questions.

I’ll admit to having never watched a complete episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio*, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

*But I am familiar with the classic Will Ferrell spoofs of Actor’s Studio on SNL.  Close enough?

Your moderator for the evening.

I am a sucker for these types of questionnaires, be it in a blog prompt chain email, or Facebook meme.  Besides, who doesn’t love the opportunity to talk about themselves?

  • What is your favorite word?

Onomatopoeia.  Aside from it being a beautiful word to say, I love the irony that a word meaning “The formation or use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to” sounds nothing like the act of forming words.

  • What is your least favorite word?

Lots of options here.  “Moist” was one of the first to come to mind, but I feel like that is a clichéd response.  Besides, when used correctly (such as an adjective for cake), moist is wonderfully descriptive word.  My choice would probably be “panties”.  It is damn near impossible for a grown man to utter that word without sounding like a creepy perv.

  • What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

When an idea sparks in my head – a line that I think is clever, an opinion or insight that I must share, or I hear/read something that causes me to react strong (or with an excess of sarcastic snark) – it is amazing.  When that happens, I simply MUST write it down – even if it is just jotting a quick note in the electronic notebook I keep.

  • What turns you off?

I assume we’re still talking about creatively.  Otherwise, this is going to get uncomfortable for everybody.

My creative turn offs are a lack of time/energy to write; and dealing with stress zaps my creativity.  Frankly, I’d love to know what I could produce if I didn’t have to worry about / focus on silly things like work and paying bills.

  • What is your favorite curse word?

I’m going to give two answers here –  a PG and non-PG answer.  Why?  I feel that for the most part, “curse” words have lost their meaning.  An F-bomb in public, during a movie, or from your parent doesn’t have the same punch as it did 20, 30, or 40 years ago.  Shit, damn, bitch, and a host of other words practically feel conversational nowadays.  If you want shock value – which, lets face it, is a big reason why people swear in the first place – you need to go atomic by stringing together multiple curses into a Clark Griswold Christmas Vacation type rant.  Or you need to go to race or sexual orientation, which is not advised for day to day use.

My non-PG answer would be the f-bomb.  It is simple, classic, and timeless.  As others have noted, it can be a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and so much more.  It can express frustration, fear, disappointment, hurt, and a whole host of other emotions.

But since I have three kids under the age of five, I need some good PG alternatives.  As much as I believe traditional curse words are losing their meaning and power, they are plenty potent (and pretty damn funny) when they come from a little kid.  Therefore, when I need to express frustration, I go with one of three child-friendly standbys:  “Biscuits and gravy!!”  “God Bless America!” or “Sons of guns!”

  • What sound or noise do you love?

Absolutely, and without a doubt, the giggles and laughter of my children.

  • What sound or noise do you hate?

I can deal with screaming, whining, crying kids, fingernails on blackboards*, squeaking Styrofoam (my wife’s nemesis), and a ton of other noises, but I simply cannot stand a dentist’s drill.

*I’m realizing what a dated reference that is.  Also, fingernails on a whiteboard makes no discernible sound.

  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would love to be professionally retired.

  • What profession would you not like to do?

If my job involved selling stuff or contractor type duties, my family would starve.

  • If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“Trust me, this is most definitely NOT Iowa.”


How Original is Original?

The blogging platform I use (WordPress) has a number of very cool analytics, including the ability to see the search strings people are typing into Google that leads them to this site.

As I’ve noted before, some of these are rather…um…unique.  But I’ve noticed that there is one search query that shows up quite often:

“Write an original 40-60 word poem about your current or most recent job.”

A little back story:  In 2011, I was applying for different jobs, which meant I was filling out a lot of online applications.  One of those applications requested an original 40-60 word poem.  I found that request odd – especially for a non-creative, technical position – so I did a quick post about it.

Ever since then, that post gets multiple views every single week, and is probably my most searched post.

I find it ironic (and rather sad) that when asked for an original poem, many people turn to Google to (presumably) find something they can copy and paste, otherwise using some custom writing service.

Roses are red Ctrl + C is blue. Writing poems is easy When Ctrl + V is through

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.  After all, the internet likely contains millions of term papers, book reports, and job application poems.

To those who would borrow my job poem, please know two things:

1.  If you can find a poem online using Google, your future employer can (and will) to.

2.  Feit Can Write is a freelance writing service, ready and willing to assist with all of your writing needs – including employment poetry.  Contact me – I’ll work cheap.

Back to School

August already?

Boy, how the summer flew by.  Clearly, many of those well-intended plans would have to be scrapped – or significantly reduced.

Diet?  Er…that didn’t happen.

Finish that class for her Master’s?  Good intentions, but sleep and afternoons at the pool won out.

Having a garden full of vegetables and herbs?  Is crabgrass edible?

Janie hated the pressure she put on herself – the big expectations only led to big disappointment.

Kindergarteners – a whole new class of ’em would be starting their scholastic journey in a few short weeks.  Little faces full of fear, hope, and potential.

(Maybe there was still time for another weekend getaway before the reality of another school year set in….)

Nope, her principal kept nagging her for the list of required school supplies.  Only seems to get earlier every year.  Probably they’ll start back to school shopping for the 2014-15 school year in October….

Quit bitching, there were plenty of chances to do the things she wanted to do.  Really, Janie knew she had chosen to put off her responsibilities.  Stupid, selfish, and shortsighted?  True, but deep down Janie knew she was okay with it.  Understood that being a teacher is hard, underappreciated work for paltry wages.

Very soon she would be back in that classroom, teaching 26 letters to 26 kids.  Worrying that her failures could impact the rest of their lives.

(Xmas break was just over 100 days away, Janie reminded herself…)

Yet, as Janie hung the oversized letters above the pristine whiteboard, she knew it would all work out fine.

Z…where the hell was the Z?

*   *   *

Author’s note – The preceding was in response to a WordPress Daily Prompt entitled “Orderly”.  On the off chance you didn’t catch it, the goal was to start each sentence with a different letter of the alphabet.  I’d like to apologize to any teachers reading this for all of the grammatical and punctuation rules I broke.

Weaving Old Hickory

Author’s note:  This post is part of a WordPress Daily Writing Prompt, about weaving an object or symbol through three unrelated stories.

Don’t worry if this isn’t your cup of tea – there is another snarky Rejects list coming soon!

*   *   *

“Happy birthday, Andrew!”

Andy opened up the blue envelope and pulled out the birthday card his Grandpa had purchased.  He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes when he saw Snoopy staring at him from the front of the card.  Snoopy was for kids.  Andy was 13 now.  Practically grown up, in his mind.  Besides, Grandpa meant well.

Andy opened the card and found the jackpot:  a twenty.  “I’d much rather stare at President Jackson than Snoopy,” Andy thought to himself.  Andy lifted up the twenty for the room to see and thanked Grandpa for the gift.

As he held the twenty dollar bill, he was struck by the crispness, the rigidity of it.  This was a brand new bill.  Andy pictured Grandpa waiting in line at the bank, his gold Buick parked right next to the drive-thru lanes, asking for the newest twenty they had.

The bill was so new and perfect it almost felt fake.  Andy grinned slightly as he pictured Grandpa puttering around the back room of his apartment, counterfeiting twenties.  The perfect crime.  Who would suspect an 84-year-old man?

“What are you going to buy, Andrew my boy?” Grandpa asked.  “Something good, I hope.”

Andy thought about it.  He was going to meet his buddies at the mall later today, and there was a good chance President Jackson would not be coming home.

“Beats me, Grandpa.  But I’ll put it to good use.  Thanks again!”

*   *   *

Rachel wriggled free of the cramped dance floor and into the relatively peaceful bathroom.  You could still hear the house electronica, although it was muffled; the raw, thumping bass was the primary noise.

Rachel let out a relaxing sigh and sat down in an empty stall.  As she peed, she had the sort of epiphanies that seem to only come while on the toilet.

Her life was like this club – chaotic, packed, almost unbearably noisy, and far too expensive, but at same time fun, exciting, and full of people she knew – or would like to know.  She knew that there would be a time where she could no longer stand to go this club and wondered if there would be a time where she could longer stand her life.

Oy, that was depressing.  Rachel shook her head violently to clear out the dark thoughts and opened her small clutch purse.  No new messages on her iPhone.  “I’m like this club,” she thought, “No one will miss us when we’re gone.”

She laid the iPhone on her thigh and pulled the baggie from her purse.  She placed a small line of coke on the phone’s glass face and moved it around with her credit card.  She grabbed a twenty from her purse, rolled it into a tight tube and snorted the coke deep into her body.

As she left the bathroom, the wall of noise, bodies, and sweat hitting her like a ton of bricks, she spied her friends at a table in the corner.  Rachel headed to the bar, twenty in her hand, to buy some shots.  Before they drank the cheap vodka, they toasted with their favorite expression:  “YOLO, bitches!”

*   *   *

As far as class projects went, this one was at least somewhat interesting.  They were to use five pieces of paper money and enter their serial numbers on the Where’s George? website.

Jack was game for this.  Their Economics teacher had told them that you could track the movements of money – dollar bills mostly – as they were used to buy and sell goods, bouncing across the country through businesses, banks, and consumers.  Jack was hopeful that his bills had some good history – or at least some funny comments.

He opened his brown leather wallet.  He only found four one dollar bills.  He plugged their serial numbers into the site and clicked Continue.

Each time, his pulse quickened a little bit, he wanted something interesting, something unique, to feel more connected to the world outside of Waxhas County.

Jack still remembered the times in elementary school when released balloons, always with a note to call or write when they were found.  Jack dreamt of his balloons soaring across the sky, flying farther than everybody else’s, and being found by a famous celebrity who would not only write a letter, but would come of Jack’s town and shake hands with him in front of the whole school.

But Jack’s balloons did not have that destiny.  Only one was ever returned, and it was fished off of an electric line three blocks from school.  The power company raised a big stink and they stopped letting balloons go after that.

Four times Jack entered the serial number, hoping for excitement.  Four times he got next to nothing – a couple of random trips through the local Fed Reserve.  Jack was bummed.  What a stupid assignment.

Jack asked his dad if he could get the serial number of a dollar bill for a project.  Dad only had a wrinkled and worn twenty, and suggested he use that instead.

Jack entered the numbers and clicked Continue.  Out of habit, his adrenaline shot up, even as he mentally prepared himself for another letdown.

As the screen refreshed, Jack’s eyes lit up…

One Thousand Words (A DP Challenge)

Author’s note:  This piece is a bit of a departure from what I usually post.  For those of you who are expecting to read about the Huskers or get a snarky list, feel free to check back soon – there is much more where that came from.

I saw the “Weekly Writing Challenge” on the WordPress Daily Post blog, and was inspired to try something new.  The challenge (“1,000 Words, Take Two”), was to write a post based upon a picture.  While not a specific part of the challenge, I also wanted to make this exactly 1,000 words, which it is (minus these ramblings).

I’ve included the picture at the end of this post so you can see the genesis for this.  I’m curious to know if your mental image of the scene matches the picture that inspired it. 

*   *   *

Marco was upset.

He groaned and drug his feet slowly as he sulked around the kitchen of his family’s tiny apartment.

“You can pout all you want,” Mama said, “but you’re going to get your ass out there and clean up that mess you made”.

“Mm-hmm.”  Marco knew he had no choice.  He gathered up a brush, some rags, and a variety of cleaners from under the sink, dropping them into the old blue mop bucket.

As he walked out the door, Mama called after him “Don’t you dare half-ass this Marco.  I will walk by there tonight, and if it is not done to my satisfaction, I’ll drag your ass out there at midnight to do it again.  You got yourself into this….”

The slam of the door cut Mama off mid-lecture.  Of all the humiliation he’d received, this was probably the worst.

*   *   *

Marco trudged out onto the bright street, blinking away the early morning sun.  As he approached the scene of the crime, his home for the next few hours, he cursed under his breath, “Goddamnit.  The fucking tourists are out already.”  He plopped his bucket down and set up shop.

Why did he do it?  This was the question he could not answer.  Yes, he wanted to fit in.  Marco was tired of the teasing, the taunting, hearing “Polo!” called out behind his back as he walked the halls of his new school.  Maybe if he could show that he was tough enough and cool enough and bad-ass enough to be one of the New Market Eagles, he could transform himself from an invisible face to somebody who is known.  Somebody whose presence – in this school, in this city, in this world – MATTERED.

But was that really the reason?  Marco’s mind wandered like the meandering tourists behind him as he set about his work, rhythmically moving back and forth, up and down, side to side.  He thought about his old friends back home, about living in that tiny apartment above the Vietnamese restaurant that smelled like fish and feet, about seeing Lila again.  Picturing Lila always made the pain go away.  He missed her.

*   *   *

The clanging bell from the street car snapped Marco back into reality.  He had been at this for almost an hour, but it looked like he had barely begun.  Marco poured a bright purple liquid into the mop bucket.

Why did he have to do this?  What difference did it make?  Does Mama really think that if he served this punishment – “right my wrongs” as she always said – he’d suddenly be a better person?  He’d leave a bad path for the straight and narrow?  Did Mama think that he would fondly recount this story when he was elected President of the United States, became a judge, or one of the men in their fancy suits who never made eye contact with people who looked like Marco?  The thought made him snicker with disgust.

On and on he worked.  Knees aching, arms burning, a faint pool of sweat collecting in the small of his back.  Hunger was definitely setting in.  Marco could smell the street vendors setting up their carts.  The aromas from the hotdogs, empanadas, and other treats filled the narrow street and bounced off the walls into his nose.  Marco knew none of these delicious foods were waiting for him at home.  Today was the 28th, and Mama did not get paid again until the 31st.  Besides, Marco knew better than to take a lunch break before his work was done.

*   *   *

What was the worst?  The absolute, rock bottom lowest point?  Marco had been wrestling with this question too.  Was it having to face Mama?  Watching those stupid cops smirk as she lit into him, calling him “stupid” and an “embarrassment”?  Serving this punishment?  He still didn’t know.


Marco knew it wasn’t just the shadows from the tall buildings blocking the light, the yellow was definitely fading.  His optimism slightly renewed, Marco attacked anew.  But the blue…That blue was being a stubborn little bitch.  He continued on.

*   *   *

More laughter.

Marco’s face flushed and his ears burned red.  The people and the goddamn tourists continued to file past, suppressing their bemused looks and giggles at his expense.  The one time Marco didn’t blend into the background was now, as he performed this humiliating and exhausting task.

And then he knew:  the worst was the realization that his so-called friends bailed and left him holding the bag – literally and figuratively.

The worst was that he hadn’t actually done anything wrong.  He had not helped to shoplift the paint.  He had not defaced any public property.  Hell, he had not even touched any of the goddamn cans.  Marco was just standing there watching the other New Market Eagles tag that wall when the patrol car crept past the entrance to the street.

That is when the chaos began.  Luis yelling “Cerdo!” – the Spanish word for pig – and running faster than he’d ever seen that fat bastard run.  Hector thrusting the backpack full of cans at Marco – why did he take it?  Sam, who was actually holding the paint, hissing “N.M.E.’s don’t turn on their own” as he bolted.  The forceful shock as somebody – was it Tiny? – shoved him in the back.

Marco tripped on one of the steps, the backpack and cans flying everywhere, giving that damn cop enough time to pin him to the ground.

*   *   *

And so Marco kept scrubbing the wall.  Kept cleaning up a mess he did not make.  Made by people who were not his friends.  On a building in a town where he didn’t belong.  Just so the one person in the world who loved and respected him – Mama – would continue to do so.

The blue was still being a stubborn little bitch, not wanting to come off.  Marco did not know it, but that blue would be there until the day he died, forever taunting him.

(photo by Cheri Lucas, via WordPress.com)


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