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  He tried not to think of these things as he sat in a consciously hip—in an unaffected and humble, Seattle sort of way—café. But as it happens, the more he tried not to think about it, the more impossible it became to block it out. Outside distraction was needed. Fortunately, a familiar one came along.

"You know what I figured out?" Michael said philosophically, to his friend Chris. Chris sat down at the table across from Michael, and Michael noted with disdain the Amway shirt Chris was wearing. Why anybody over the age of thirty would voluntarily wear an ironic t-shirt was beyond Michael.

"I decided," Michael said, staring into his complicated and expensive cup of coffee, cradling it pensively for effect, "that I never want to have to clean up another person's—or thing's—shit." He looked up at Chris. "If I can get through life without having to wipe a baby's ass, or pick up dog shit…I think it’s the whole idea of it really. Not the fact that it's shit, the fact that it's someone else's."

Michael Irwin was the rare person that could begin and carry on a conversation like this straight out of the blue. Being a sales' rep meant that it was his job to make good conversation; a natural talent bolstered by self-confidence, yes, but also a learned and finely tuned skill. He would be the first to tell you that good small talk with strangers is one of the most complicated and intricate processes in the natural world. Chris looked at him momentarily, then at a girl with unconventional hair and a pierced nose sitting across the café. He then opened a copy of a local alternative weekly, and began scanning the "I Saw U" section, checking to see if anyone had noticed him in public, or rather, gone to the trouble of trying to find him after the fact.

Chris was used to these seemingly non-sequitur observations. His friendship with Michael could be measured in decades, and although they were different in a lot of ways – job, lifestyle, the way they dressed, the girls they dated – the mere history of their friendship kept them in touch. If they had met for the first time a week earlier, they wouldn't have exchanged more than a handful of words before half-heartedly excusing themselves and moving on to a different conversation. But the sheer passage of time had bonded them together securely – that and the fact that they had never pissed each other off enough to break off the friendship.

"It’s just," Michael continued, "I see these seemingly normal people, and they're walking their dog around the neighborhood, carrying a plastic bag full of dog shit. You know? Have they no sense of pride?"

Chris laughed.

"I know what you mean," he said. "There’s some weird sort of pathetic air about people who pamper their pets that much. They’ve got this stench of social dysfunction. Same with people who push their strollers down the middle of the sidewalk at one mile an hour: ‘Look out here comes a baby; a precious, helpless baby that I created. The adorable future.’ Like producing offspring lifts your social ranking to royalty. New parents and pet owners are fucking nuts. They place importance on beings they can manipulate. As if a baby is more important than an adult, an object of unabashed worship, some sort of simplistic perfection."

Michael eyed Chris blankly, passively signaling that he had no interest in Chris' abstract diatribe.

"Anyway," Michael continued on in his own vein, "I think it’s pathetic. It’s just gross."

They had both successfully cut short the topic of conversation by discussing it on two completely different levels—an occurrence that was happening more and more frequently when they got together and were sober. So they sat in vacuous silence, Chris again staring at the girl across the café. He was far too shy to go up and talk to her cold. Chris was a conversational reactor, at his best when somebody else was leading the discussion, him piping in with occasional clever insights.

"You used to go to church all the time, right?" Michael started again.

"Yep," Chris replied, "every Sunday. Now I'm in with the semi-annual crowd. Big holidays only: Christmas and Easter."

"Catholic, right?"

"I think—" Michael stopped and drained the dregs of his coffee. "My dad was…Lutheran or something. Mom was…Presbyterian? I don’t know if they even got married in a church. Anyway, we never went to church. Dad said it was ‘Full of hypocrites.’"

"Hmm…" Chris thought for a moment. "Well, I never had a problem with that. As far as I remember, everyone was cool at my church. It just got to the point where it all seemed redundant. They kinda recycle the same ideas and scriptures and stuff every year. You thinkin' about finding Jesus or something?"

Michael smiled.

"Nah, that stuff's for the weak-minded. Sheep. I don't know why I even brought it up."

Suddenly, Michael's cell phone rang. He answered, and began talking in a loud, congenial voice. The display gave Chris a chewing tinfoil sort of feeling, so he finished his coffee, got up, and waved goodbye to Michael, who barely acknowledged him. The sort of treatment you could get away with only with a good friend. He left Michael with his self-importance, as Michael garnered increasingly agitated disdain from nearby patrons.

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