Top 50 Albums of 2011 - The Preliminary List

It’s that time of year: When I compile my list of the Top 50 Albums of the Year. 2011 has seen a lot of great music, and I definitely have my work cut out for me on this list. After compiling a list of all of the albums on Pitchfork’s, Stereogum’s, Paste’s, and Spin’s respective end-of-year lists, as well as suggestions from friends and other prominent music bloggers and albums found on my own accord, I have come up with these 150 albums to consider for the Top 50. In the next few weeks, each album will be listened to (some for the first time, some for the 1,000th), reviewed, and ranked. The Top 50 Albums will become part of a list that will be published on all of my blogs/social media sites.

If you have any suggestions for additions to the list below, please let me know. I will begin reviewing these albums once I acquire them all.

The Preliminary 150 Albums (in alphabetical order, the order in which they will be listened to):
  1. Adele - 21
  2. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Toa of the Dead
  3. And So I Watch You From Afar - Gangs
  4. Animals As Leaders - Weightless
  5. AraabMuzik - Electronic Dream
  6. Arctic Monkeys - Suck It and See
  8. Atlas Sound - Parallax
  9. Austra - Feel It Break
  10. Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder
  11. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee
  12. Beirut - The Rip Tide
  13. The Belle Brigade - The Belle Brigade
  14. Beyoncé - 4
  15. Big K.R.I.T - Return of 4Eva
  16. Bill Callahand - Apocalypse
  17. The Black Keys - El Camino
  18. Black Lips - Arabia Mountain
  19. Bon Iver - Bon Iver
  20. Boris - Attention Please
  21. Boris - Heavy Rocks
  22. Bright Eyes - The People’s Key
  23. British Sea Power - Valhalla Dancehall
  24. Burst Apart - The Antlers
  25. Cage the Elephant - Thank you Happy Birthday
  26. Cake - Showroom of Compassion
  27. CANT - Dreams Come True
  28. The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond this World
  29. Cass McCombs - Wit's End/Humor Risk
  30. Charles Bradley - No Time for Dreaming
  31. Childish Gambino - Camp
  32. Chris Bathgate - Salt Year
  33. The Civil Wars - Barton Hallow
  34. Clams Casino - Instrumentals
  35. Cold Cave - Cherish
  36. Colin Stetson - New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
  37. Cults - Cults
  38. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
  39. Dale Earnheardt Jr. Jr. - It's a Corporate World
  40. Danny Brown - XXX
  41. Das Racists - Relax
  42. Dawes - Nothing is Wrong
  43. Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
  44. Deer Tick - Divine Providence
  45. Deerhoof - Deerhoof vs. Evil
  46. Destroyer - Kaputt
  47. DJ Quik - The Book of David
  48. The Dodos - No Color
  49. Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams
  50. Eddie Vedder - Ukulele Songs
  51. Eisley - The Valley
  52. Ella Riot - Love Child
  53. EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
  54. Eric Church - Chief
  55. Explosions in the Sky - take care, take care, take care
  56. The Feelies - Here Before
  57. Feist - Metals
  58. The Field - Looping State of Mind
  59. Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
  60. Flogging Molly - Speed of Darkness
  61. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra.
  62. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones
  63. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life
  64. G-Side - The One…Cohesive
  65. Gang Gang Dance - Eye Contact
  66. Gauntlet Hair - Gauntlet Hair
  67. Gillian Welch - The Harrow & the Harvest
  68. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  69. Gotye - Making Mirrors
  70. Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)
  71. The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart
  72. Holyghost - Holyghost
  73. Iceage - New Brigade
  74. Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean
  75. James Blake - James Blake
  76. Jay-Z/Kanye West - Watch the Throne
  77. The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
  78. Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place
  79. Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow
  80. Katy B - On a Mission
  81. Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
  82. Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for my Halo
  83. Liturgy - Aesthethica
  84. Low - C'mon
  85. The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
  86. Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes
  87. M83 - Hurry Up, We're Dreaming
  88. Martyn  - Ghost People
  89. Mates of State - Mountaintops
  90. The Men - Leave Home
  91. Middle Brother - Middle Brother
  92. Mister Heavenly - Out of Love
  93. Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die but You Will
  94. the Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
  95. Mungolian Jetset - Schlugs
  96. My Morning Jacket - Circuital
  97. Neon Indian - Era Extrana
  98. Nicolas Jaar - Space is Only Noise
  99. Noah and the Whale - Last Night on Earth
  100. Oddisee - Rock Creek Park
  101. Oneothrix Point Never - Replica
  102. Over the Rhine - The Long Surrender
  103. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
  104. Panda Bear - Tomboy
  105. Paul Kalkbrenner - Icke Wieder
  106. Pictureplane - Thee Physical
  107. PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
  108. Portugal, the Man - In the Mountain of the Cloud
  109. R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
  110. Radiohead - The King of Limbs
  111. The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love
  112. Real Estate - Days
  113. Robert Pollard - Space City Kicks
  114. The Roots - Undun
  115. Rustie - Glass Swords
  116. Rwake - Rest
  117. Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces
  119. Sepalcure - Sepalcure
  120. Seryn - This Is Where We Are
  121. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
  122. Siriusmo - Mosaik
  123. Smith Westerns - Dye if Blonde
  124. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
  125. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic
  126. The Strokes - Angles
  127. Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows
  128. Tapes ‘n Tapes - Outside
  129. Telekinesis - 12 Desperate Straight Lines
  130. Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
  131. Tom Waits - Bad as Me
  132. Toro y Moi - Underneath the Pine
  133. tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
  134. TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
  135. Twin Sister - In Heaven
  136. Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread
  137. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra
  138. Viva Voce - The Future Will Destroy You
  139. The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
  140. Washed Out - Within and Without
  141. The Weekend - House of Balloons
  142. Wilco - The Whole Love
  143. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
  144. Wire - Red Barked Tree
  145. Woods - Sun and Shade
  146. Wye Oak - Civilian
  147. Yop - Atma
  148. Youth Lagoon - The Years of Hibernation
  149. Yuck - Yuck
  150. Zola Jesus - Conatus


in the key of G
for the girl who saved my life about a year ago

now the drinks are running low
the smoke clears the room
i alone sitting alone
wondering what's left to do
i pull out my arm, i put it up
toward the light
see my veins, they're running through
where my skin was tight

all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here

on the stairs i sit and wait
for a body i can claim
it's not a way to fill my plate;
just way to say your name
i pull out a light, i light it up
all alone
it moves on through and through and through
all throughout my bones

all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here

walk away, the sunset gleams
like fluorescent light
here and there, the streetlights seem
to divvy up the night
look at my hand, look at the scar
it makes a little face
complicated as we are
you put me in my place

all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here
all in all i wish you were here

Home in the Trees

a song in the key of G

forces of nature that harbor her bright
come in to dance for this Muse's delight
motions engraving in soft lumber bands
fortunes remaining inside of her hands

now i sleep on her once bended knees
and she makes up our home in the trees

a train from Chicago through fields blooming green
bringing the night glow and red back to me
dreaming of farmlands—a golden wheat bed
smooth as my shoulder where she rests her head

and i think of her kissing the breeze
as she climbs to our home in the trees

drive home down M-10, she smiles in the lanes
basking in glories of our grayscale plains
raise up our glass to whatever we are—
more than the glances we made at the bar

now her hands are a beacon for me
while her arms take me home to the trees

Detroit Princess

a song in the key of E

the littleness of your black dress
shows me nothing but the crest
from your smile and rosy buds
of sumac lips
your shoulders pulled so taught in style
are deadly curves that make me smile
through the glass of gin i sip
while i scope your hips

your blonde hair on The Detroit Princess
sitting like a timid mistress
cowering by the heating vent
as it waits for more
the moonlight up behind the clouds
is glistening so up and proud
the moonbeams pouring from your eyes
fill my pours

i'm crazy but i can't complain
the beauty of the midnight wains
it's for you
the rainwater goes down the drain,
the thunder rolls, the angels frame
the sweet truth

though centuries of hurried waiting
finally gone contemplating
wond'ring if i'd grab your hand
you simply laughed
drove you home, you said before
you missed the lights on 94
the halo for your tired head
was taken back

the elements of sunny days
just threw all the cares away
drove to Lansing, who can say
if you thought of me
the carousel of tired eyes
left me with not great surprise
the telephone is not my friend
when i cannot sleep

a quarry for the crushed concrete
undeserved but very sweet
to nestle you
the drive home on the city streets
reminiscent of the feats
we wandered through

the hushness of the storm is tired
miles apart, our mouths are wired
to piano keys we know that we both
cannot play
the grimly sickled Detroit weeds
make me weezy, make me sneeze
make me wonder simply why
i miss your face

well on your way across the state
remember me; the way i made
you a rhythm for you feet:
i can't escape

The Right Way to Paradise

a song

the gray of the skyline
the smoke stacks in the night
the orange Woodward street lights keep me still
my drive home down Russell
befriends me; the bustle
of the 94 hustle that always kills

to drink from the River
came make a boy shiver—
the moon in a sliver rises high
on M-10, it's gorgeous
the bridges are for us—
the highways are porous at night

that old Detroit fire
the light-up desire
that douses the pyre for the dead
the right way to paradise
is right before our eyes
the winter supplies us with beds
to sleep
to dream

the smell of the Roseville Plant
the steam from the Griswald vents
so roughly circumvents the road
when i moved from Adrian
my car wheels were born again—
baptized in oil and cologne

when we look in hindsight
we'll think of the break lights
born right outside of where we live
kids play in the road
the Toyota lights glow—
but no one who knows will forgive

that old Detroit fire
the light-up desire
that douses the pyre for the dead
the right way to paradise
is right before our eyes
the winter supplies us with beds
to sleep
to dream

the milk from I-75
keeps all of us alive
the night is desire left to breathe
the black pothole coverings
is not a dark bloodening;
is all for a glowing for the free

To Guess; To Hope

a song

the smoke rings come up 'round my fingers and i
take another glass of bourbon before i go to bed
the raindrops keep rhythms for Ann Arbor's night
a deafening thump for each thought in my head
as i treat my displacement with curious songs
found an angel who lives a thousand miles east
but i cannot wait for her words for so long:
she wrote me in Harlem and she hugged me in Queens

there's no way to survive staring her pictures
when i think of her smile with its pearly gapped teeth
and her hair rough as wool; her eyes deep as Christmas—
the way they and entrance and they hypnotize me

give me I-80
give me 95
i'll drive to her with the radio on all night
twelve hundred miles
through rain and the fields
to guess what she's thinking; to hope for how she might feel

a suburban prison makes a new place to die
for the young and the restless, the ones who still dream
the hot New York summers make no one deny
how much holding someone creates barrels of steam
but i would still hold her if she led the way
through those Detroit winters that shiver and break
to the point of our demise, the grayest of grays
but still i will keep her and the snowfall at bay

there's no way to confront when you know she's so bold
when you see her lost pictures when alone in the night
the piles of loneliness open my eyes
but it's her who embraced me with her hearted demise

give me I-80
give me 95
i'll drive to her with the radio on all night
twelve hundred miles
through rain and the fields
to guess what she's thinking; to hope for how she might feel

Howling Dogs

a song in the key of F#

howling dogs
in the road
sniffing fog
gnawing bones
broken jaws
cold wet nose
cracked dry claws
on their toes

howling dogs
see through time
break the moon—
yours and mine
lie in grass
Deerfield Road
where's their home?
no one knows

howling dogs
have no home
eat the grass
throw it up
tracing teeth
to the bone
for howling dogs
in the road

Naked as the Stars

a song

my father built our house from railroad ties
my sisters poked me with a spike when i was young
we had a dog we caged with solemn eyes
my mother wore a badge but she never shot a gun

the Blissfield railway carries gasoline
nostalgia for the thirties makes my grandma weep
the virtue of the rust is trapped in seams
in twilight hours full of mugginess and sleep

with the songs we sang
and the games we played
i wanted to be naked as the stars
in the tired night
we take delight
in the sound of roaring tires from our cars

a rabbit rushes through our own backyard
the summer rain storms make us sink into the grass
the fire pit is nothing but a char—
a kind of smell that only autumn can make pass

a tired yawn, my uncles drink their beers
and tell us stories from their days in borderlands
the trainbells ring, the whistle brings out fear
in the chilly night and my mother grabs my hand

with the songs we sang
and the games we played
i wanted to be naked as the stars
in the tired night
we take delight
in the sound of roaring tires from our cars

I'll Remember Kansas City

a song; key of F#
for EED

I still feel your breath on the t-shirt I gave you;
The garlic and salt from the dinner I made you;
The tent in the rain; the coldness of April
The gin and the ginger; the way I repaid you

We both know Missouri is so far away
From the lights of Detroit where my passions will stay
Until 75 makes me make up a day
when the south is so north and tonight is a day

When we wake up with sunlight; we wake up to wind
And the church bells calling to relieve us of sin;
Our mothers will bathe us; they'll keep us akin
To the saints and the ways of the Church we befriend

A light and a darkness—we see the kids smile
From the years I spent writing in my own denial
And the numbers you love—the ones I defile
While your father shot bullets so deep in the wild

I'll read you a poem; I'll sing you a song
That I wrote while you kissed boys all over your lawn
Then slept 'til the liquor awoke you at dawn
And I was not there; I was twelve hours gone.

I'll remember the City that you call your home
And how you will live there, well God only knows
But the World is your cup and you'll drink it alone
While I sit and wish that this truth was unknown

The Ride

a song

The nurses in their scrub caps
Smoking at the bus stop
The hospital's a death trap
Where their feet and their hands rot
A pregnant woman sitting
Trying to hold her belly
She doesn't say a damn word:
Her frowning is what tells me
That she is left enamored
By her baby's kicking
She can't fall asleep
'Cause the ride is so sickening

Quiet on the highway;
Nothing but an engine
No signs to show the way
To the freeway's beginning
Lovers holding hands, how
They always seem to whisper
About how they fight now
'Cause it's so hard to kiss her
When reeking of a lipstick
Darker than her own shade:
Her lips are smooth and slick
But her body's not the same

Sound of the Night

a folk song in a key yet-to-be-determined

A semi-truck's leaving
The girl is conceding
To sleep in a bed with a new boy tonight
The stars are all hidden
By street lights, their giving
Is higher and high than the moon's ever bright

The fireflies whisper
As boys try to kiss her:
The girl who drank wine from a red plastic cup
The trees are unmoving
The boys are left drooling;
But she doesn't bother to hold her head up
To see them

The sound of the night is the sweetest delight
For the full moon, the stop signs, the cigarette lights
The monsters in hiding are soft and inviting
Though no one believes them when they say they're all right
It's just that time of night

The men are in waiting;
The girls are complaining
That their shoes make their feet feel so blistered and numb
They grab on to their hips
And sing soft from their lips
With false declarations of beauty and love
To feel them

The sound of the night is the sweetest delight
For the full moon, the stop signs, the cigarette lights
The monsters in hiding are soft and inviting
Though no one believes them when they say they're all right
It's just that time of night

It's nighttime in summer;
The singles and lovers
Are in full bloom and full force with every last drop
A blanket wrapped so tight,
A friendly kiss goodnight
To give all they give and to get what they've got

The sound of the night is the sweetest delight
For the full moon, the stop signs, the cigarette lights
The monsters in hiding are soft and inviting
Though no one believes them when they say they're all right
It's just that time of night


a song; indie; key of D

Hamtramck is old and gray
Royal Oak is getting paid
from chemicals my father made
long before my mother gave
a son for him to teach his charms;
to set all the car alarms;
to cover up his ugly scar
he got when lava burned his arm

Adrian has little birds
and girls who know the Spanish words
for "baby," "love," and things they learned
at seventeen while giving birth
they dress their daughters up in pink
with Dora, Blue, and rosaries
And then they taught them how to sing
For their daddies' sweet release

and i can't see through
the walls that I put up for you
but I can't hide from all the memories

i had a dream of Woodward's noise
thought Midtown, Highland Park, and Troy
with Ferndale as the home for boys
whose fathers were left unemployed
i drive my car down -23
75 and M-14
to understand why i am free
and try to find a place for me

and i can't see through
the walls that I put up for you
but I can't hide from all the memories
and i cannot say
that Metroland makes me ashamed
because it has unreal realities


I decided to take a course on Mexican labor in the United States during one semester of college in an attempt to learn more about my culture and heritage. The first portion of the course dealt with the history of Mexico and how its economy came to be what it is today. At the time, I was trying to raise money to go on the class trip to Arizona, all while attempting to fundraise to bring a prominent speaker to campus to lecture on men’s role in ending sexual violence on college campuses. I spent my days surrounding myself with spreadsheets and writing letters to potential donors, claiming that their help was greatly appreciated, while, at the same time, I had no idea what exactly they did. My victories came in the form of letters and emails from those who agreed; my defeats from those who denied my requests.

By the time it was all over, I actually believed that socialism was the only thing that could make me happy again because capitalism was driving me insane.

While trying to learn about the Mexican economy, the only thing I actually learned was that I knew nothing about economics and that Mexico did not have anything resembling an economy until 1994—until then, what they had was a cluster of debts.

My instructor tried to explain the history of the Mexican economy using a simulation game that involved paper money, cans of corn, hats, and a timer (I would tell you what each item symbolized, but, frankly, I don’t remember, and it all went way over my head).

The only thing that I remember about that simulation was that, in my head, I kept thinking that it was the world’s most depressing game of Monopoly.

Since then, I’ve realized that economics is just like Monopoly (and I base this on absolutely no prior knowledge of economics whatsoever): not in the sense of supply and demand or business savvy—it’s all about people you hate fucking you over.

Monopoly is a long, tedious game where people you formally loved—like your family—immediately take every opportunity to take every possible fake dollar from you that they can. It usually ends with deep frustration for the people who have made you go “bankrupt” (“Fuck you and you’re hotel on St. James’ Place, Grandma!”).

Economics is a long, tedious process where people you formally trusted—like your government—immediately take every opportunity to take every possible real dollar form you that they can. It usually ends with deep frustration (also known as “poverty”) for the people who have made you go bankrupt (“Fuck you and your cheap labor and economic prosperity, China!”).

I was never good at Monopoly—I will never be good at economics.

My Mother, The Son Whisperer

In no conceivable way can I say that my mother is the stereotypical nagging mother. However, mothers worldwide should condone my mother for developing a new form of nagging that will revolutionize modern familial desire as we know it.

My mother—a bright, idealistic, second-generation Mexican-American woman with a deep familial loyalty and a desire for her children and grandchildren to better their lives by any means necessary—has achieved nirvana in nagging.

She has mastered the art of nagging me without saying a damn word.

I no longer live at home, and I barely see my mother and father—I only make the trip back to Adrian for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the off-chance that someone I care about dies. However, even though forty miles of space and an hour of time separate my mother and me, I can never get her out of my head.

I cannot talk to an attractive girl in a bar without thinking of what my mother would think of her; in fact, I can’t even order a drink at a bar without hearing my mother’s voice in my head, asking why I would order something like that and calling me an alcoholic. I can’t go to the grocery store without hearing my mother’s voice in my head, asking why I have to spend the extra sixty-two cents on the organic eggs instead of the regular eggs, which she calls “just as good.”

How my mother came to achieve this level of maternal perfection, I will never know—nor do I care to know. Whatever caused my mother to obtain an excruciating level of motherly smothering must have been painful, unholy, and partially demonic.

The best example I have of my mother’s staggering internal nagging began when I was sixteen: at the time, my mother was working as the Personal Assistant for the Prosecuting Attorney of Lenawee County. On a daily basis, my mother interacted with lawyers and saw all of the nice things that lawyers would buy and all of nice things that lawyers buy for their mothers. She would come home from work and remind me of such:

“You know, Irv [the prosecutor] bought his mom a Cadillac for Mother’s Day.”

How is a sixteen-year-old supposed to compete with that?

“Yeah? Well, I bet Irv didn’t write his mom a really nice poem for Mother’s Day!”

* * *

I was getting my hair cut the other day.

My stylist and I were talking about random things: What I’m planning on doing after graduation; what to do in Ann Arbor on the weekends; and how college students have to always to have themes for their parties. And she was laughing hysterically the entire time.

I was afraid she was going to snip off my ear because she was laughing so hard.

Finally, she managed to stop laughing long enough to say, “You’re really funny! You should go into stand-up comedy.”

I replied with the following:

“I can’t go into stand-up comedy because I don’t write anything down. I don’t keep track of the shit I say. Something just pisses me off or makes me self-conscious and I rant about it until something funny comes out of my mouth and people laugh.

“The only way that I can make it in comedy is if I were to take my mother on stage with me, have her stand at the side of the stage and start asking me why I don’t want to go to law school, and I’ll eventually get so neurotic about it that I’ll just go off and people will think it’s funny.”

At that point, I realized that my mother need not be present, because—due to her tremendous, goddess-like skill—her voice is forever on loop in my head.

I’ll be at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase next week.

The Wendy's Cup

In high school, I worked at a Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburger Restaurant in Adrian, Michigan.

Anyone who knows anything about Adrian will know that it’s basically a little slice of Alabama north of the Mason-Dixon Line: Seeing Confederate flags and faded “Bush/Cheney 2000” stickers in the back windows of pick-up trucks was not uncommon. These sights—like the Confederate flag itself—were symbols of the culture in Adrian.

People often hear stories about how people who grow up in these areas are empowered. These stories often show the outcast (the minority) rise up against the majority (white people) and their blind bigotry and hatred to teach them an important lesson and to make them a little wiser.

My story is not that kind of story.

Adrian is about twenty miles southeast of the Michigan International Speedway (MIS), the annual site of three low-profile NASCAR races. For one weekend of each of the summer months, RVs and pick-up trucks (most of which bear the Confederate and/or American flag in some way, shape, or form) crowd US-223 on their way to these races, and poor Adrian becomes the stomping ground for hicks and yahoos alike.

The problem is that Adrian is the closest thing to a big city within an hour of MIS, so the NASCAR fans flock to it in order to keep their supplies in-check and to get a hot meal. The local WalMart is lined with more RVs than a Winnebago show lot; pick-up trucks and conversion vans fill up the parking lot of every major restaurant in town; every convenience store in town stocks extra Budweiser just to make sure that they have enough to satisfy the tastes of the visiting yokels—some from as far away as Tennessee.

This does not bode well for the seventeen-year-old who gets stuck in the drive-thru at the Wendy’s just off of US-223.

I started working there when I was sixteen. My sister and older cousins had all worked at the same Wendy’s and we had developed a sort of legacy there—we were a family of good employees. I followed gracefully in my family’s footsteps by earning “Employee of the Month” three times and becoming a favorite among managers and customers in my almost-three years there. Although fast food was not a glamorous part-time job, I still took pride in my work because I was damn good at it and (at least when I was at that age) a $300 paycheck was nothing to laugh at.

Over the years, the drive-thru became my favorite position. Sure, there was something about the wide-open steel and heartiness of the grill or the connection with the common folk at the front register—even the fry station had its moments of glory. But the drive-thru was for champions: working side-by-side with my manager who was responsible for putting orders together; striving to beat my record time by constantly keeping my eye on the digital timer above the automatic window; speaking articulately to customers who trusted me with their orders so that they could continue on with their busy lives. It became my domain, and I was damn good at it.

Of course, the true test of any fast-food employee is how one deals with difficult customers, and this sentiment was no truer than during Race Weekend.

The week before, I arrived at the restaurant to check my schedule for the following week. I went back past the kitchen and through the supply area to the employee lounge—nothing more than a small table, two chairs, a set of hooks on the wall for jackets, and a television for watching training videos. Taped to the wall was the schedule, and, when I looked at it, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I was scheduled from eleven in the morning until nine at night on Saturday and Sunday of Race Weekend.

I went to my favorite manger, Alaya (a small single-mother with long brown hair in a single braid and pale complexion), who was also in charge of the schedule, and uttered the following:

“What the fuck, Alaya?”

She turned to me quickly, as if she had a speech prepared.

“Look,” she said sharply, “I hate doing this to you, but Sharonda’s on vacation and I’m stuck closing both days. Ruby can’t work because she has a wedding to go to and Mandy’s already over thirty hours that week. I need a drive-thru person, and you’re the best I’ve got. I need you for Race Weekend—I need someone good. Do this for me.”

I couldn’t say “no” to her. She promised me the next weekend off if I could just help her get through Race Weekend. I conceded and got ready for my shift, trying not to think about the line of RVs that would soon clog the drive-thru.

The Saturday of Race Weekend was not so bad—most true NASCAR fans stayed at a campground close to the Speedway. My ten hours went off without a hitch, and, as I walked out the door at the end of my shift, Alaya told me to rest up for the next day.

The next morning was a typical Sunday morning: the after-church crowd filled our dining room to capacity and the drive-thru was full for a good hour, but it was nothing unusual. Gordon, the Sunday-morning manager, ran a pretty tight ship, and, with his number-one drive-thru boy at his side, he was unstoppable. After the crowd died down, he told me to go on my break (an hour for every five hours we worked), at which point he reached into his pocket, pulled out a five-dollar bill, and told me to go to the convenience store down the street to pick up an energy drink for myself because (in his words) I was going to need it.

As I returned from the store with two cans of SOBE Adrenaline Rush (sugar-free—sugared energy drinks give me a headache), Alaya walked in with a look of sheer determination on her face.

I had never been to war, but I had imagined that the look on Alaya’s face was similar to that of General George S. Patton before the Battle of the Bulge.

She stormed into the kitchen, put on her apron, washed her hands, and gave me a Look that said, “Bring it the fuck on.”

Too nervous (or, perhaps too jittery from the first can of SOBE) to eat, I sat in the lounge until my break was over. When the clock struck four, I was ready: I tucked in my shirt, put on my hat and apron, slipped on the wireless headset, washed my hands, and clocked in. The race would be over soon, and the race fans would be hungrier than ever.

My shift was relatively quiet at its start: a few families grabbing a quick bite before afternoon mass; an elderly couple coming by for their weekly Frosty; a few teenagers grabbing some cold drinks after a game of basketball on the humid June day. We passed the time by cleaning the little nooks and crannies that didn’t get cleaned to perfection every day and by talking about whatever we could find to talk about. Alaya—usually full of wisdom and input—was uncharacteristically quiet.

I opened the drive-thru window and looked outside: a dark overcast covered the once-bright June day. The air was humid and sticky—a sure sign that it was going to rain the next day. The air was sill and all was quiet.

Then I saw the line coming from 223.

Alaya walked up behind me and peered out the window. I looked at her quickly. She was as calm as the air.

“They’re here.”

Swiftly, she ran to the back and told everyone to prepare.

“Ben: Load up the grill. Michael: Get at least two more baskets of fries down and a basket of nuggets. Amanda: Make sure you have enough buns. Marena: Load the drive-thru up on ice and make sure the pops are all full.”

“What do you need me to do, Alaya?” I asked.

“Just get ready.”

The line came in and surrounded the entire building with an impenetrable wall of RVs and pick-up trucks—we were trapped by rusted Fords and a sense of down-home Americana that made me want to vomit all over my cash register.

With the first Berp! of my headset, I began a routine that would seem to last for an eternity.

“Hi. Can I take your order, please?”

The orders came in as if these bumpkins had small armies to feed (one might think they had the common decency to eat something at the track; but they wouldn’t do that because one can’t be fuddling with a hot dog while watching cars go around in circles): Three Number Fours, two Number Twos, a baked potato, two orders of chili, four Kids’ Meals, and Frosties for the whole lot. Three and four and five cars in a row had orders totaling well over forty dollars.

My coworkers were beaten up by the sheer size of the orders. Their foreheads dripped with sweat and their hands moved faster and faster: flipping their burgers; dropping their fries; building their sandwiches; and I hopped back and forth from my register to my window, sending each of the pick-up trucks off with their orders with a nearly-silent “Fuck you” muttered under my breath.

“Have a good night.”

“You too!”

Every car had the same musty smell of stale Marlboros and Bud Light fuming from the open windows. The kids in the back screamed over the Brooks and Dunn booming from the stereo. Everyone was dressed in stained tank tops and sleeveless t-shirts with photos of various NASCAR drivers printed on the torsos.
I lost count of how many times I heard “Y’all” from someone’s mouth.

The line remained robust and impenetrable for an hour and a half. We were all wearing down, but Alaya kept us all going.

“They’re not leaving until they get their food! Keep it up, Guys!”

Around 7:30 that night, my voice began to get horse and I was angered by every little fault with each of those customers: a man digging around in his ashtray for forty-five seconds for a dime so he could have exact change; a woman who couldn’t decide if she wanted a Pepsi or a Dr. Pepper; a mom yelling at her young son because he couldn’t decide if he wanted a Chicken Nugget or a Cheeseburger Kids’ Meal. With each delay in moving my line, I fell further and further into a dissent of mild rage.

7:46: Still no apparent budge in the line. Our defenses were getting weak, but Alaya and I (the colonel to her general) kept our troops rallied.

An order comes into my headset.

“Hi. Can I take your order?”

I could barely hear him over the roar of his truck. His drawl was thick and drenched in twang.

“Yeah. Do y’alls gots cheeseburgers?”

I had to restrain myself before I leapt out the window, ran up to his car, and punched him right in the mouth.

I looked over at Alaya, who was frantically bagging orders. She stopped and looked over at me with wide eyes. From the back, we heard a few chuckles from the absurdity of what we had just heard over our headsets.

I turned back to my register and hit my “Talk” button. Enough was enough.

Perhaps he didn’t realize that the sign out front read “Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers.” Perhaps he thought maybe we had hamburgers, but we refused to put cheese on them because it would be insulting to the beef. Perhaps he was simply too tired from hours of watching cars go around in circles. Still, in my mind, no excuse existed to excuse his use of that “word” and deplorable grammar.

My voice was sharp.

“No, Sir: We have cheeseburgers.”

I immediately slapped my hand over my mouth—I may have been trying to catch my words from the air and keep them from reaching the customer’s ears.

I looked over at Alaya—my hand still over my mouth—with my eyes wide. She had stopped her bagging and stared back at me, her mouth barely open. My coworkers in the back had gone silent, and the sounds of their food preparation ceased.

I turned back to my register and waited anxiously for the man’s response. I waited to be torn apart; to have my manager called up; to have a formal complaint filed with the corporate office; to be fired for disrespecting customers (no matter how stupid said customers sounded). I sat silent for a moment, until he finally spoke.

“Oh, good. Then I’ll have two cheeseburgers and a Pepsi.”

It took ten seconds for me to formulate a coherent sentence in my head.

“Uh, that will be $5.24 at the second window, please. Thank you.”


He drove off from the speaker without so much a word.

I didn’t know if he didn’t hear me or if he just chose to ignore me, but I all I knew was that I was in the clear.

Alaya came over and put her hand on my shoulder. She then opened the window and waited for him to pull up.

“I’ll take this one,” she said calmly.

She took his money and handed his order to him with no mention of my outburst. He smiled as she handed him his change.

“Have a good night, Sir.”

After he drove off, she placed her hand back on my shoulder.

“I should technically write you up for that, but—you know—I like you too much after that.”

I chuckled. She chuckled back.

“Just don’t do it again.”

Sex & Jesus: My First Time

My first time was with a boy named Justin.

Justin and I dated during my final semester of high school. We were the openly-queer couple in the rural-conservative school. For the most part, we kept our relationship a secret, but we were so deep in puppy love that if anyone had seen us alone, they would think we would be together forever.

After a few months of dating (and making out, groping, and everything but), Justin and I decided that we wanted to take our relationship to the next level: we wanted to be each other’s first.

Justin and I were both raised by Catholic parents who would have appreciated us waiting until marriage, but considering the fact that we were both going to Hell for being with each other anyway, we decided to give in to our lesser desires.

We arranged the encounter: One day, after school, I would drive Justin to my house because my mother and father would not be home from work for another three hours. Justin would tell his mom that he had a meeting after school and that she had to pick him up at four. This would give us time to do the deed and for me to drive him back to school before either of our parents could find anything out.

After the bell rang, we hopped in my truck, anxious to get to it all.

We arrived at my house, checked to make sure that no one was home, went to my room, plopped down on the bed, kissed passionately, and did what we set out to do (although, I must admit, two teenage boys with over-zealous hormones usually have no idea what they are doing, but the sentiment was what counted for us).

After we were done, we lied in my bed in each other’s arms. I had never felt more connected to another human being in my life. I had found the person to whom I wanted to make love to—we did, and a beautiful moment was born.

Still in afterglow, we lied in silence, occasionally kissing each other and rubbing our hands over each other’s bodies. I looked across my bedroom, and a gleam caught my eye.

I focused in on it, and saw that the gleam came from the rosary that my godparents gave me for my first Communion—my mother ensured that I hung it from my wall to keep the Evil Spirits away.

I saw the little Jesus, nailed to the Cross, His face in the deepest agony.

I thought about the little Jesus, looking at Justin and I from across the room. I realized that He had seen what Justin and I had just done.

I thought about our Catholic parents.

I thought about Leviticus 18:22.

I thought about the little Jesus again, thinking what he thought of what he just saw.

I began to laugh hysterically.

Life and Baseball: The World is Out to Get Me

The moment I realized that I was bad at sports was also the moment I realized that The World was out to get me.

My father’s innate desire for me to be a “real son”—one who played sports, chased girls and didn’t write poems in his daily third-grade journal—was cause for him to sign me up for the third-grade baseball team. I was not opposed to being a part of the team—just opposed to what my classmates would think of my inability to do anything even remotely athletic.

At age nine, I had already begun to develop deep insecurities about my ability to do almost anything. Nine was the age in which I had to have prove that the world was a good place. My life was not terrible, per se: my parents were (and still are) happily married; my sisters were not too terrible of an influence on me (although I still had occasions of being their doll); I was one of the smart kids in my class (most of my reassurance of this was my classmates’ collective attitude of calling me “The Smart Kid,” and I did not complain for good reason).

But gym class and the sports field were two domains that I could never conquer. My father insisted that I join the baseball team, much to my dismay.

A few years ago, I watched a documentary on puberty and learned that most pre-pubescent males tend to be clumsy and physically awkward because their bodies are growing at a rate that their minds cannot adjust to. I instantly thought that I had been going through puberty since I was four years old (and continue to do so).

When I think about it, I find that baseball is the worst sport for kids to play: Give a small, uncoordinated child a ball and encourage him to throw it as hard as he can (remember: the best pitchers in the world can get that ball up to speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour); have another uncoordinated child hold a giant metal stick and swing it to try and hit the tiny ball flying at the speed of a diving peregrine falcon; if the kid is lucky and hits the ball (rather than the unlucky punk standing behind him trying to catch the leather meteorite mid-air), it goes flying through the air where seven other uncoordinated kids try and catch it while wearing nothing but mittens. Plus, baseball is boring—how can you teach kids about athleticism while they’re standing out in left field (where the ball never, ever goes) waiting for something to come their way?

Whoever decided to let children play baseball is either a sadistic human being or was attacked by a peregrine falcon and is looking for some sick, morbid, and symbolic revenge.

However, my father’s attempt to get his own slice of Americana in his household led to him filling out the permission slip. I was stuck on the team, and my father did me one better by signing up to be my coach.

I didn’t know if he was merely trying to get closer to his son or if he was hoping that having himself there would somehow ease my embarrassment—all I knew was that I was in deep now and there was no way that I could get out of it.

The third grade was big enough so that we could have two teams: the Green Team and the Blue Team. I was a proud Bluer along with some of my good friends.

Through a few days of practices, I found that I actually was not that bad at baseball: I managed to actually hit the ball almost every time I stepped up to the plate and was a pretty good second-baseman. I—of course—had my faults: my depth perception was not the best and I missed a few pop flies here-and-there, but, for the most part, I could hold my own on the field.

Finally, the day of the first game was upon us. We gathered at the field just behind the school playground early one Saturday morning. The sky was grey and the wind was high; the grass was slightly damp from a brief misting the night before. We all showed up in our white baseball pants (although some of the less-prepared kids managed to play in their jeans) and our either over- or under-sized gloves. We remained clearly separated as we warmed up on the field—a Bluer dared not cross into the Greeners’ territory, and vice-versa.

The game started and nothing of note occurred. A few quick outs for the Greeners meant it was our turn at bat. My dad called out the line up—and I was to lead off.

Through my week of practice, I learned something about myself: I was okay with being okay. I didn’t need to be a great baseball player—I just had to survive. If I at least hit the damn ball, I would at least avoid the shame of striking out (or worse: being hit by the ball). I put on my helmet, grabbed my bat, took a few practice swings, and approached the plate.

I surveyed the field. Rory, the class athlete, was on the mound; Angie, whose dad was the coach of the Greeners, was on first; a few kids from some other classes filled up the rest of the infield; and my good friends Craig and Jacob took right and center field, respectively.

In left field stood Derek, a good friend of mine.

After years of pondering and contemplation, I have determined that there is no nice or politically correct way to write what I am about to write. I have tried and tried because Derek really was one of my best friends back then (I cannot speak enough to his kindness and great attitude) but one cannot hide from the truth.

Derek was the fat kid.

Rumors floated about that Derek reached the 100-pound mark by second grade. He loved to play sports and, like me, had his strong points: no one could break one of Derek’s blocks in recess football, and he was tall enough to block most shots from the key in blacktop basketball. However, most of these “skills” came from a very simple set of instructions from those on Derek’s teams:

“Just stand still.”

Derek was really good at standing still, and it worked well for him because he was not the fastest runner or highest jumper—in fact, he was the opposite of both of those things.

As I got into my batting stance, I didn’t think about Derek or any of that—I just had to hit the damn ball.

My mother sat clapping frantically in the stands. My teammates yelled for my in the dugout.

“Come on! Knock it over their heads!”

“You’ve got this!”

I tuned it all out and looked over at my father in the dugout. He looked at me, nodded his head and yelled, “You can do it, Buddy.”

I gripped my bat tightly and looked Rory in the eye.

He wound up frantically and threw one just to my right.

“Ball one!”

“Good eye! Good eye!”

The clapping from my mother (and others) became louder and louder. My teammate’s cheering now roared over the entire playground.

Rory wound up.

Right over the plate—crossing my chest.

I swung and missed.

“Strike one!”

The crowed boomed. Both teams were now on their feet, pounding the dirt with their cleats.

He wound up.

I saw it leave his hand and fly right over the plate. I remembered that I just had to hit it, and took a giant swing.


The ball flew over everyone’s heads. Rory watched it zoom into left field.

Everyone went silent

I watched the ball fly as I shuffled to first base—I couldn’t take my eyes off the ball because I couldn’t believe it was flying that far.

Derek perked up from his stance and ran as fast as he could (which was equal to my slow shuffle). The ball headed toward the back fence, just along the third base line. I could not believe what I was seeing: I was about to get a home run at my first ever at-bat.

I rounded first and headed to second. My eye was still on Derek, who still shuffled to the fence. I knew that I had the home run—it was mine.

Finally, Derek reached the end of the fence as I headed to third. The ball was just out of his grasp and was about the drop past the chain link. The crowd began to cheer again, and my mother yelled frantically with excitement. I heard my father yelling from the dugout.

“Good hit, Buddy! Good hit!”

Then, the unthinkable happened: Derek jumped.

I had known Derek since first grade, and I had never seen him jump in my life. Derek’s strength was that he could stand still—not move. He wasn’t supposed to jump; he couldn’t jump.

Almost in slow motion, his feet left the ground and seemed to hover in the air, just six inches above the ground.

It was just enough.

The ball landed in his glove with a soft thud and he hit the ground.

The cheering stopped—except for the Greeners’.

My first home run was ruined by the one person who was not supposed to ruin it.

The umpired called “Out!” as my foot hit third base.

I staggered back to the dugout and my dad patted me on the back.

“Good try, Bud.”

I didn’t even look at him.

I plopped down on the bench, took off my helmet, and came to my realization:

The World was out to get me.