American Music Video

It’s one hundred degrees and forty percent humidity. Is this Corpus Christi, Texas in the spring? No. This is a yoga studio in November, and you are paying for this misery in a vain attempt to stay fit. The war against piss-poor genetics rages on. Somehow you managed to find the one spot in the room that is leaking cool air. On any other day, this would be a blessing in disguise—the result of a generous instructor. As routines go, this one hadn’t been all that bad, except for your right knee.

“Take a deep breath in… Let it out,” the instructor says in her soothing, lightly-accented voice. “Relax your hands… Relax your feet… Relax your wrist… Relax your knees…”

Easier said than done.

Damn that knee.

Trouble always arises from that knee. It is as though Achilles implanted tendons of his shitty heel into the ligaments around your patella. The slightest chill sends it into a tizzy. The littlest strain unrolls the tepid biography of injuries you’ve had over your sorted lifetime.

The crush and twist of your ankle at thirteen. At age thirty-one, the 180 turn at the knee due, in no small part, to the shitty parking jobs on both sides of your car, forcing you to bend yourself in a shape a contortionist would hesitate before performing. There have been others that occurred over the years, but those two always stick out, as does the third that bridged the gap between thirteen and thirty-one, smack dab in the middle at twenty-two. Pangs from your leg being submerged in a snowbank are the phantoms that haunt you, as does the subsequent case of frostbite you sustained from your shin to your inner thigh. All these fabulous memories brought to bear by a single whispering chill.

There is no measure of irony calculable when the instructor brings out small ice bags for your inflamed joints. You would argue, for reasons that escape you, the ice bags do help.

Following your workout, you get dressed in your street clothes. Pulling at your coat, an elegant envelope falls out. You glare at it as if it were your telltale heart. It is the true source of your misery—your knee just joins it in solidarity. Asshole! That’s all you could think when you first saw the neon cardstock. When you noticed the return address and looked inside, your temper rose ten-fold to: FUCKING ASSHOLE!

It is an unwanted piece of news. You treat the letter like an IRS notice for an audit. Audit of the soul, perhaps. The sender could have easily been commander-in-chief, Mango Mussolini. Close to it, you think. Inside the envelope is an invitation to commiserate an old, dead ambition; a piece of the past you hoped would stay buried.

Who the fuck celebrates the anniversary of music video no ever saw? It is beyond peculiar for a band that no one has heard of, in a video directed by a nobody, to have a congratulatory party fifteen years after the fact. Michel Gondry, David Fincher—hell, even Michael Bay I understand. But Drew Larson? Who the fuck is Drew Larson?

You’ve tried your best to stop loathing yourself. In the game of life, you are a far cry from that Charlie Brown-esque gay kid who used to worry about everything under the sun. It’s not that you don’t care what people think. You go through a great deal of trouble to be presentable. But your past is a different story.

Driving home, the billboards for the various acts coming to the Reno casinos fills the ever-growing Reno skyline. You pass an electronic billboard that switches between advertising a non-profit fighting legalized drugs—Legal doesn’t mean safe—to another legal drug, the latest Marvel movie. The old you, which in fact was the young you, would have dreamt of your name being attached to whatever bloated-budget, mass-produced product was filling up the roadside. It is no secret to anyone that in your youth, movies were a driving force. It was a lynchpin with your parents when they didn’t approve of your lifestyle and changes. A motion that made real life inferior to reel life: a three-act structure, the orchestral scores, and the nice and tidy wrap-up at the end. Life, however, doesn’t roll by at twenty-four frames per second. It’s more like digital, clunky and at 29.97.

The music video was supposed to be your foot in the door, a debut into the creative world, leading from one job to the next, an escape from office drudgery and babysitting the technologically illiterate.

Reality wasn’t as accommodating. A legal dispute between the band and their label placed the video in limbo, preventing it from going to air. An anniversary party of the ill-fated premiere date is just another fuck you in a long series of fuck yous.

It reminds you of a call received out of the blue when you were on a jobsite.

“Hey Drew. You use Final Cut Pro, yeah?”

“It’s been a while.”

“A while?” He sounded bewildered. “What the hell does that mean?”

“It means exactly what it means, GE: it’s been a while since I used Final Cut. I don’t use it in my day job.”

“Why the hell not?” GE could be rather thick. Other times he would be confrontational when he didn’t get what he wanted. He couldn’t fathom your desertion of the arts. Judas and Benedict Arnold were held in a higher esteem by their contemporaries. The notion that you would choose an office gig and financial stability over starving for your passion was beyond him. Of course, this firm belief was in stark contrast to the rather conservative nine-to-five jobs he and his partner, Kirsten, both held. That he had the gall to put you on the spot during the early tenure of your IT career made your knee shutter. By that point, it had been seven years since the video was produced, yet he acted like it was yesterday.

“What version of Final Cut are they using? Six, seven, X?”

“I don’t know Mac shit. Final Cut is Final Cut, isn’t it? Adobe gay brother?”

Through a sigh, you gritted your teeth, ignoring the homophobia. You attempted to guide him through the “About” menu to locate the version of the software. The inevitable pushback went on longer than it should’ve. Eventually you found out he was calling you from a studio in La La Land. It was a modernized rival to the ill-fated Sound City. GE made an offhand comment that the studio’s support engineer was on vacation, so he called you since you were the only Mac user he knew. Despite the fact that the studio probably had a backup engineer for said circumstance, not to mention that you were over five hundred miles away. Two points that were just as painful to mention as it was to walk GE through setting up a TeamViewer session on the studio’s Mac.

To get under your skin, GE mouthed off, “What’s that whooshing sound? Are you outside in a wind storm?”

“I’m in a server room.”

“That’s a windy restaurant. Are you at a place by a pool?”

“Not that type of server room. I’m in the type with computers.” You weren’t sure if he was seriously this dense or if he was just fucking with you.

“Computers? Why would you do that?” He was fucking with you.

So you replied in an equally acerbic tone, “Because it’s my job. You know, the thing to do to pay the bills.” He chuckled, but you could tell he didn’t like being called out.

The obsequious bantering back and forth continued until the audio board engineer returned and told GE he had bothered to do a Google search. The solution was announced, followed by the line going dead on GE’s end for the next several years, until the arrival of the invitation.

At home, you plan to put the invitation through a shredder. Better yet, use your girlfriend’s. Carly has a shredder that could turn a cellphone into confetti. Yes, it’ll be overkill, but just having the invitation around raises your blood pressure to lethal levels. The sooner it meets a bladed end, the better. No harm, no foul. No need to think about it again. Take a neurolytic for your knee, take a moduretic for your hypertension, a few fingers of whiskey, nod off during an Expanse binge session with your girlfriend, and this whole episode will be out of your system. Or so you hope.

Your personal phone explodes to life like a claxon aboard a submarine. This has got to be a fucking joke. GE’s name and number show up on your smartwatch. Without thinking, you send him to voicemail.

Another call, another click to voicemail.

More calls are followed by a series of texts. ANSWER YOUR PHONE!!!

You grumble in irritation. Carly asks what’s wrong and you show her your screen. “Now that’s a determined booty call,” she jests.

“If only.” The phone rings again.

“You gonna answer that?”

“I’d rather not.”

“Must be serious,” Carly says as she points to your hand rubbing your knee. The number of times you’ve been touching it since you got that invitation have not gone unnoticed.

Without missing a beat, you explain to her GE’s part in one of your injuries.

“Jesus Christ, what a dick. Can’t he take a hint?”

“I don’t need the aggravation.”

More calls. More texts.

“He seems really determined.”

“I don’t recall this level of determination before.”

To get the madness to stop, you relent and answer. The first thing you hear is, “It’s about goddamn time.”

“Hello to you, too.”

Back and forth pleasantries.

“Do you still have the files from the video?”

Of fucking course, the video. It’s always about the fucking video. No chatting, no catching up, just the eternal gallstone that is the fucking video. Suppressing your disdain, you say, “That’s a tall order. I don’t even have the computers I made videos on anymore, let alone the files.”

“Don’t you have back-up files somewhere? The cloud, maybe?”

The all-mighty cloud. “On DVDs, but they’re probably unreadable by now. I only used consumer-grade discs.”

“Consumer grade? I thought you used authoring-grade discs.”

“For the dozen print reels we did for submissions. Not the files.” The dozen or so expensive discs you recalled and destroyed like Guy Montag, ass. You’re surprised he remembered the term “authoring grade.” He could never spell your last name right, yet somehow, he remembers the mechanics of DVD authoring. It wasn’t his money that paid for the discs, why would he care?

Though he could recollect the right terminology, he failed to remember your explanation about how even the authoring discs would evaporate over time. “That’s why they recommend backing up on tape for long-term storage, as opposed to optical.”

“Do you have any copies on tape?”

“Maybe. I think I have a few in storage. Do you have anything to play them on? I know I don’t.”

GE grumbles audibly at that prospect. As if it was your job to hold onto obsolete technology. You used to be that type of packrat, but after seeing ancient digital relics from dust-covered outposts in Nevada, your hording mentality wasted away like a seasonal desert lake.

Aside from GE’s irritable voice, you can hear his partner trying to get his attention in the background: “Ask her about the thing.”

“The thing?”

“You know, the photo thing. From when she was still a—”

“Oh yeah.” Clearing his throat, he turns his attention to you. “Kirsten wants to know if you want us to use a more recent photo than what we have from the shoot.” He takes an uncharacteristically long pause. “Cuz, you know.” Uncomfortable topics have never been GE’s forte. The notion of transitioning from one gender to another has left him completely tongue-tied.

But that doesn’t stop you from pushing his buttons. “I have no idea what you mean.”

Through an audible scowl, he says, “When you used to be a guy.” Carly’s eyes perk up. Not from the news you went from boy to woman—she’s known for years. She’s more surprised that you still have friends from before. “We have stills from the production and Kirsten wants to update them to reflect who you are now.”

You roll your eyes. “I don’t see why it matters. I don’t plan on going to the anniversary party.”

“Why not?”

You hear Kirsten ask GE, “She’s the director, why wouldn’t she go?”

“You’re the director, why wouldn’t—”

You cut off the echo: “I get that, but—” Before you can list all your objections from A to Z, GE and Kirsten devolve into a squabble. And somehow, after some back and forth, the phone call ends with plans for dinner at an Italian restaurant.

“How the hell did that happen?”

Carly turns to you. “How did what happen?”

Looking away from your phone, you ask, “Are you up for Italian tomorrow night?”


The evening begins with a stop at your storage locker.

“Not quite the five-star establishment I was expecting. I imagine this is a great refuge for a serial killer.” Carly can’t help herself. And she’s right: the rundown neighborhood looks like a prime location for the next film in the Saw franchise. With all the rusted metal and burnt-out wood, you know she’s trying to recall her last tetanus shot. All you can do is roll your eyes while unlocking the circular padlocks on both sides of your locker’s doors.

There is a considerable amount of dust around the door frame. Not a real surprise for an area that runs ten to eleven months without precipitation. It has been two or three years since you last visited. The temporary space became a permanent repository of crap somewhere between the first and second term of the George W. Bush administration. “I’ll empty it out when there’s a female president,” you used to say. You were afraid for a minute there when Hillary ran. Going through this crap might take until the next election.

With a bit of effort, the gate rolls up to reveal a dark and dirty cave. It is an ambition graveyard. Each plot is filled with multi-colored editing keyboards, beige PowerMac towers, tattered and yellowed scripts, screenwriting books and editing books littered by Post-It notes, and a slew of cameras and props that look as though they came from a battlefield. The camera lenses that are “intact” are only being held together by red and silver duct tape and black gaffer’s tape—the glue has almost evaporated.

Carly picks up the only piece of equipment that doesn’t seem to be in disrepair. A black and white rectangle turns out to be a chalk clacker board. A piece of chalk dangles from the side like Soap on a Rope. As with everything else in this tomb, it hasn’t been unearthed in quite some time. The chalk crumbles when she grips it in her hand. Faint writing on the board catches her eye: Lay-On, 2/26/2006. Director: D. Larson. She stops at a pair of J’s that were scratched out. “Who’s J. Juice?”

“Jesus Juice.”

“Jesus Juice? Seriously?”

“That’s the moniker he went by. At least until July ’04. I don’t know if he did after that.”

“July ’04? This says February 2006.”

“Yeah, I was holding out hope we would mend fences and work together again. That didn’t happen, obviously.”


“I think he went to law school, or became an MMA fighter. I’m not sure which. We fell out of contact by the end of summer ’04. Which is ‘round the time I met GE, come to think of it.” You walk over to a metal cabinet and open it.

“That’s a level of loyalty I’ve rarely seen in you.”

“I thought our three and a half years together would counter that opinion.”

“And your indiscretion in Monterey with the teenybopper?”

That fucking one-night stand is going to haunt me for years. “Hey, first off, she wasn’t a teeny-bopper. She was twenty-two or twenty-three.”

“Oh, that makes me feel better.”

“It should. And second…” But you don’t have a second point. At least not a good one. Flatly, as though you were saying it to a confessional, you finish with, “I didn’t try to hide it.”

“Yeah, you’re Mother fucking Teresa.”

“I did things just as dickish back in the day. More from having a dick, I guess.” You recount a botched audition at a local theatre company and the blunt argument you had with the director. The man was blindsided when you asked him the likelihood of you and Jesus Juice being cast in his production of Play It Again, Sam. Jesus Juice fumed the whole drive back to his place. It was well deserved when he told you to go fuck yourself.

“Not a strong argument for the Y-chromosome, but still,” Carly says.

“Enough of a reason for me to abandon that form.” You reach into the cabinet and pull out a MiniDV tape marked “Destination Apocalypse” music video print.

Carly stares at the tape, then at the shrine of unrealized wishes, and finally, back to you. “Abandon your former gender or a former dream?”

“One and the same.”

“Really? You still write. Quite a bit, if memory serves. Like a couple books’ worth.” She winks.

Looking around, you say, “At least I don’t create this… this level of destruction. Except for a few errand notebooks and printed reems of paper, I think I am rather self-contained compared to this swarm of chaos.”

“Who are you trying to convince?”

Lost in thought, tears well up in your eyes. “And I’m definitely not chasing windmills disguised as dragons in a conquistador baseball cap,” you say, pointing to the shelves of tapes organized by project and production from bottom to top. “Destination Apocalypse” tapes are on the middle shelf, under a group of tapes called The Metrosexuals, some commercials, and two rows dedicated to Lay-On, the project from the clacker board.

What catches Carly’s eye is the shelf below Lay-On—a small smattering of tapes next to a script littered with handwriting and Post-Its. The script is thick as a novel. “What’s Pneumatic?”

You wince. To say it is a sore spot would imply there were any soft spots during your tenure on that project. Carly stands there, waiting for an explanation for your cynicism. To paraphrase Robert Frost, you “have promises to keep / and miles to go before [you] sleep.” Those miles remain at a strip mall in Southtown and the past.

Saving your incrimination for the night’s main event, you say, “It doesn’t matter… It didn’t matter.” You exit without closing the cabinet.

As you’ll find out later, Carly takes a tape marked GE’s Pneumatic Promo Teaser. As if it holds some deeper meaning. A perfect complement to indigestion.


Francesco’s Italian Ristorante resides inside a shopping center on South Virginia Street, between the Interstate-580 exits for Neil Road and South Meadows Parkway—a destination with few options for an immediate escape. You know this area all too well, due in no small part to the copiers on your service route, which includes the neighboring Renown Medical and Microsoft campuses, the Concentra office inside the defunct Tower Records, and the NV Energy building. Francesco’s shopping center holds a particular spot of nostalgia for you. Many moons ago, before falling victim to a weak economy and the rise of Amazon, one of the shopping center’s occupants was an audio-visual store where you got your first digital camera. Now there is no trace of the store under the pink-purple-cream molding. Like the rest of Reno, the shopping center has rewritten its past, while outlining its future.

Pulling into the parking lot, you see GE and Kirsten’s SUV. The Japanese import from the early aughts has held up rather well. With the silver paint and chrome sections, including the rack on top, the boxy yet symmetrical SUV still manages to look futuristic. It is exactly the opposite of your pickup from the early twenty-teens. Your truck is contemporary, and although it has an aesthetically pleasing metallic-blue paint job, the oval frame, large tires and raised body say only one thing: ‘Merica.

Meet and greet. Introduction of all partners involved. For a Thursday night, Francesco’s is packed. Your party of four is seated at a center table. Menus in hand. Wine, appetizers and orders are taken. Even though Italian cuisine is forthwith, you still order your prerequisite bourbon, alongside the rest of the table’s wine, water, and cappuccino. GE can’t hide his surprise. He knew a Drew who was a teetotaler.

Looking at the couple in front of you, you can see that time has got nothing on good genes. Apart from the spare wrinkle or two around the neck and eyes, Kirsten, with her tapestry of dark and flowing hair, still looks as though she’s in her early thirties. That youthful exterior is complemented by an equally youthful vigor, which must be comforting for Carly, who is the youngest at the table.

If only she knew the woman she’s chatting up was two decades her senior. Lucky for me she likes older women.

Across from you, GE is exactly what he appears: an in-shape middle-aged man—dapperly dressed, hair slicked back with a dusting of white at the temples, pronounced widow’s peak, crow’s feet at the eyes, wrinkles on the forehead, and cleanly shaven. You remember when his hair was down to his shoulders and he wore a closely-cropped goatee. With his short, skinny build, he looked like Kurt Cobain. For a while, because of his left-handed guitar-playing and the fact that he hailed from Washington state, you thought he might have been Kurt hiding in Nevada like those rumors of Jim Morrison in Oregon, or Elvis in Florida. Like Elvis and Morrison, it was a ridiculous notion, especially once you read the Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven. But it is interesting to ponder what the grunge icon would have looked like in his fifties had he not swallowed that shotgun in April ‘94. Judging by Cobain’s heroin abuse, he probably wouldn’t look as good as GE—plastic surgery can only do so much.

Like the late singer, GE is hardly chatty. For a rare occasion, neither are you. You involuntarily keep rubbing your knee through your skirt and tights, as if you’re trying to buff out a particularly rough spot of bodywork on a car. That bourbon can’t get here fast enough. Carly takes your hand in hers and places it on her lap.

Kirsten responds to your outward show of affection: “So how did you two meet?”

Carly being Carly says, “Oh no, we’re not dating. She’s just renting me for the night. I have a decent flat rate for dinner and afterwards.”

“Of course,” Kirsten says, winking at you. She points to GE and adds, “This poor bastard’s been running up a tab for the past twenty-five years.”

GE grimaces. You shake your head. Carly and Kirsten share a laugh at the expense of their wayward partners. It is all in jest and under normal circumstances, you would join in. But the throbbing of your knee reminds you what tonight is actually about, so you stay quiet.

Staring at GE, you recount in your head the many nights you imagined reconvening like this. All those scenarios could only be fantasies. Such as him apologizing: “I’m sorry, man. You don’t want to be here and you don’t want to think about the video? It’s fine, it’s all good. All you gotta do is just keep living.” As if Matthew McConaughey had possessed him. That would never happen.

Other fantasies were nothing more than raged-filled yelling fests between you and him:

“How fucking dare you force me to deal with you and your bullshit again!”

My bullshit? That’s rich coming from the queen bitch who gets nothing done.”

“Fuck you!”

“No fuck you, you fucking know-nothing, know-it-all diva!”

“Diva?! That’s our word, you motherfucking, homophobic piece of shit!”

That fantasy always ended with someone bloody. It would be you, more than likely, since you don’t know how to fight.

Then there was the obscure fantasy. Pistols at dawn. Of course, it was a farce in the vain of Love and Death (1974). GE got the first shot off and the steel ball didn’t hit anything vital, just piercing your shoulder. While you cursed and wailed in pain, you accidentally fired your pistol only for the heavy bearing to fly up and come down on your other shoulder. “Son of a bitch!”

While you were incapacitated, GE reloaded his pistol and executed you on the spot.

Those bleak daydreams mirrored the last time you were alone with GE. It was in the kitchen of his and Kirsten’s house. The type of kitchen Martha Stewart would have been proud to call a modest abode—knickknacks and utensils all over the joint. GE was doing the talking, as usual. Dressing you down for a project’s failure. It might have been about that dashed attempt to create a psychological-gothic-industrial horror film, à la Rob Zombie. (A project he wanted you to make because, while he was more than capable of producing it himself, he needed a scapegoat-for-hire if it went down in flames.) Or it could have had to do with his latest music video for a song he assured you he held all the rights to, yet was pissed when you wrote the band into the script. Because God forbid a band wanted to promote itself by being in its own music video. What on Io were you thinking?

You can’t remember the exact dialogue, nor do you want to remember it. GE did this so often—whenever you had doubts—that it all melded together into one big pile of shit. He would praise your ambition but also insult your anxiety: “You have to be bold. Do something. Don’t be a pussy.”

As he went on and on, your mind wandered. You could see a dark future: the two of you standing there, older and fatter, having the same conversation over and over, again and again and again.

It was when GE said “is this what you want to do with your life, man?” that you suddenly got a flash of an argument you had with your rival—a fellow filmmaker nicknamed Roseville. You remembered comparing Roseville to Mark Borchardt, the focus of the 1999 documentary American Movie. That documentary wasn’t far from your mind in those days. Your vow was not to become like Borchardt—a man who suffered from delusions of grandeur, constantly discussing his indie film as if it were a big Hollywood production. Part of the doc was about a feature film Borchardt had been working on for half a decade at that point. Yet, by the end of the documentary, due to life struggles and his own incompetence, he only managed to complete a twenty-minute short film.

“Destination Apocalypse” was your only completed music video, amongst a sea of false starts and false promises and mounting credit card debt. Even your own feature film had to be shelved due to circumstances beyond your control. You can still see that empty meeting hall you rented for auditions as if it were yesterday. The only person to show up was Roseville, who made light of the farce: “Let me cut through this sea of people to get to your desk. I don’t know if there’ll be enough time for my audition.”

You were Borchardt. You were the Borchardt of Northern Nevada and no one else. “Destination Apocalypse” was your American Music Video.


The arrival of appetizers brings you out of your thoughts.

After a few sips of his minestrone soup, GE pounces on you: “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to come to the anniversary party. It’s going to be really big. Kirsten and I have been planning it for weeks. There will be a lot of prominent people there. It’ll be a hell of an opportunity for work, for contacts.”

He’s still using that line, those specific words: opportunity and contacts. You always fell for that tactic. But after a number of concerts that were nothing more than fanfare for a handful of people, you realized the declaration was nothing more than smoke being blown up your ass. It’s so pathetic, all you can do is laugh. It erupts from below your chest plate. The laughter explodes into a fit, a cackle, into a maniacal bray a supervillain would be proud to exude.

Stares all around. Carly turns to you. “Drew, please stop, you’re scaring the straights.” She shakes you a few times, but you keep going. It goes on and on. People at neighboring tables are edging away from you.

GE’s face turns into Heinz ketchup. He bursts out, “What is so goddamn funny?”

Through tears: “You are.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You are, GE. You.”

“How am I funny?” He stares at you quizzically. A mad part of you hopes he goes into the Joe Pesci routine from Goodfellas, but then you remember how often GE called Scorsese movies “stupid,” so fat chance of that.

A few deep breaths. You manage to contain your madness. The Joker is back in Arkham. “Why are you having this celebration? What exactly are you celebrating?”

“Our collected effort. The video coming out.”

“Coming out to who?”

“To the two hundred people that were there to see it.”

“The two hundred people? Holy shit, are you serious?”

“It was an audience—”

“—of one hundred and eighty people who were there to honor a colleague in UNR’s journalism department receiving a Pulitzer Prize. The other twenty were people we invited and a band.”

“Why are you shitting on it?” Kirsten chimes in.

“Why aren’t you?”

Kirsten turns to Carly. “Has she always been this cynical?”

Carly throws up her hands. “Don’t look at me, I wasn’t even in Reno at the time. I was still a Texas high-schooler avoiding straight-edge, pray-the-gay-away gangs.”

GE and Kirsten look back at you. GE leads the charge: “Well?”

“You want the truth?”

“I think I deserve it.”

Wiping your mouth and tossing your napkin for emphasis, you say, “The fact that you’re still doing this shit… it’s like you can’t face reality.”

“I can’t face reality? What about you?” GE tosses his spoon into his soup to equal your emphasis. “You’ve given up.”

“Yeah, I have.”

GE stiffens in his seat. Involuntarily, he taps at the table with his smoking finger. He sparked your nervous tic, it’s only fair you ignite his.

“What, are you gonna go out and puff away angrily into the snowy night, just like the old days?”

Kirsten turns to you. “For your information, he quit five years ago.”

You sure? You mean to say that, but instead you say, “Beats losing a lung.”

“Drew!” Carly exclaims.


“Yes, I am, and so are you.”

I’m an asshole? You just said, ‘quitting was better than losing a lung.’”

“Yeah, I meant to keep that thought to myself, but at least I’m in touch with reality.”

“Fine, what reality?” GE crosses his arms like a stubborn child. “What’s this ‘reality’ you speak of?”

“Gregory, please.”

“No, Kirsten, I want to hear this. Our dinner companion thinks I’m delusional, like I’ve lost touch with who I am, where I am. When it’s he… er… she who was full of pie-in-the-sky dreams and never did a goddamn thing with them in the past fifteen years while we’ve been busting our asses every day. So enlighten us, Drew, how are you in touch with reality?”

“Jesus Christ,” Kirsten says as she reaches for her wine and tips it back.

You finish your bourbon. After a long, deep sigh, you say, “The reality is this: we are all middle-aged.”

“That’s news.”

You ignore him and point to Kirsten. “She’s an office manager for the state.” You point to Carly. “She’s a lawyer at a national law firm.” Pointing to GE. “You’re a security analyst for a Fortune 500 company.” Thumb back at yourself. “I am a field technician for a copier company.” Straightening up, you say, “I have always been a technician. I will always be a technician. I am too old to be chasing something intangible. We all are.”

“That’s defeatist!”

“Is it? Or is it the truth? Chasing a dream is fine when you’re young. The whole world is in front of you and you have no idea of the shit that will be coming your way. But unless you are talented and incredibly lucky—and more the latter than the former—dreams are all they are: dreams. We’re not twenty-five anymore. We can’t go after the impossible. And this party is nothing more than celebrating an inability to let go.”

GE taps more vigorously and shakes his head. “That’s just fear talking. It’s always fear talking for you, Drew. You were a chicken shit, too afraid to take a chance.”

Of course he had to come back to that point. You realize immediately that you aren’t going to get through to him. GE’s head is as thick as reinforced steel. It was back in the day, and it still is.

“Maybe I am, but at least I know when to quit,” you say as you stand up. You place five twenties on the table—and, on top of the stack, the music video’s MiniDV tape. You collect your purse, put your coat on and leave without looking back.

Not long after, Carly joins you outside as you head to the pickup.

“What the fuck was that?”

You let out a big sigh. “It was what it was. Fifteen years of frustration in the making, give or take a few months.” She glares at you, snow dancing off her false eyelashes. “He had it coming.”

Carly shakes her head. Snowflakes fall against her exposed bangs. She brushes them from her hair. “You are unbelievable, Drew.”

“I know.” You touch her face. “Let’s go home.”

On the drive, hell is freezing over. Cloud cover has erased the Sierras from view. Downtown is wrapped in a blanket of colorful, sparkling showers. When you both finally speak, you agree to stop at the Golden Flower, since neither of you really got to eat more than warm bread at Francesco’s.

After a few rounds of tea, Vietnamese coffee, spring rolls and Chinese beer, Carly has finally cooled off from your outburst with GE.

“I’m still wondering what that carbonara I ordered would have tasted like.”

“Sorry, I didn’t feel like going back after telling off GE.”

After a bite of noodles, she says, “Yes, you had your mic drop moment, but we are definitely going back some other time. That wine smelled great. It would have been nice to actually drink it.”

“Let’s give it a month or so.”

“Want to be sure you’re not banned?”

“More like I want to be certain I’m not on a hit list.”

That manages to elicit a chuckle from Carly. She reaches into her purse. “I guess I can give this back to you.” She hands you the Pneumatic MiniDV tape. She explains she took it from the storage locker when you weren’t looking. “I was hoping to find out what this was all about.” She looks in your eyes. “But do I want to know what it’s about?”

You pick up the tape. Like an old habit, you spin it around your finger like a fidget spinner. It comes to a rest with the name facing up at you in your old handwriting. You sigh. “I dreamed a dream, but that dream is gone for me.”

“Huh. I’m sure you’re misquoting Les Misérables.”

“I was quoting the book, not the musical.”

“I know, but now we’re gonna watch that movie again once we get home.”

“Oh goodie, the flat Javert of Russell Crowe. My punishment.”

“Damn right!”

Over the Golden Flower’s PA, a familiar song bellows out: There’s freedom within / There’s freedom without / Try to catch…

You extend your hand, “C’mon. Let’s dance.”

“What? Are you crazy?”

“Yes, yes I am.”

Both of you rise to your feet as the song reaches it chorus: Hey now, hey now / Don’t dream it’s over…

Carly rests her head on your shoulder. You rest your check against hers. She catches sight of your leg. “Hey, you’re not dragging your right foot.”

“I’m not?” You look down. “I’m not.” You chuckle. “My knee no longer hurts.” Carly scoffs and kisses you. Then you both continue dancing.

The eyes of everyone—the proprietors, other customers, even those who pass by outside—are on the two women dancing together in a room full of crowded tables. It is just another snowy Thursday night in Reno, where dreams are frozen in time and pains blow in the snow.