Category Archives: Mini Fiction

Introducing Ina Boyd (a screenplaypoem)

ina-boyd

1.

-Ina says a dreamboat’s any man refrains demanding anal on like the third date.

-Dreamboat’s mother’s word.

-Mother’d pronounce it in-uh.

-Daddy said Eee-nah.

-Couldn’t even agree on that.

-Ina burns her fingers on the water glass.

-They served me coffee in a water glass.

-My first sensation in Berlin.

-A burn.

-A Flashback:

-Mother pretending drunk on balcony overlooking Mississippi.

-A balcony as architectural trophy of amicable divorce.

-Mother pretending drunk to make the saying…

-Ina needing no such excuse.

-…of certain things…

-Hard as some things are to say.

-…easy…

-Excuses are for those who can be bothered, says Ina.

-The darling child.

-Talks to herself openly in public.

-Sings oldies.

-Mother’s hiccup.

-Ma, it is only cranberry juice.

-Oh so you’re a drink inspector now too. My daughter the mind-reading drink-inspector who quits colleges to chase ratsafarians.

-The sunset a rich dessert.

-The mighty Mississippi.

-Dandan’s  mercurial grave.

-Ina thinking it is a Negro river.

-Thinking but never saying this word Negro…

-Okay she remembers calling Joanie Joplin my Negro once.

-Mother saying now Ina…

-Mother saying now do not look at me when I say this but.

-Sunset spectacular flambeéd entrails.

-Staring she said remember dear, gentlemen…

-Ina remembers and laughs out loud at table alone in café where they burned her fingers.

-I must look crazy.

-Suitcase beside me.

-Crazy but hot.

-Nazi folksinger looks up when she laughs.

-Again.

-He sure looks like a folksinging nazi.

-Looking pure but not benign.

-Probably Jewish just to teach me to….

-Half-Jew.

-Half-Jews…

-Mother through ruby depths of faux Chablis peering says remember dear, gentlemen.

-Cheeks both red as cranberry.

-Is this how she turns herself on now?

-Talking dirty to college-age daughter?

-Remember dear, gentlemen do not expect a lady…

-Ina hoots.

-To swallow.

-Ina hoots.

-Ina thinks how preciously naïve.

-Is that the scariest…?

-Ina thinks if only.

-I’d swallow a quart if that’s where it stopped.

-I’d be like, is that all you’ve got?

-Mother pronounced it ratsafarian.

-Please never tell me you’re pregnant with ratsafarian…

-And do not give me that look like it never happens.

-She’d say for all intensive purposes.

-Nucular.

-Flashback finished.

-Inscribing Department of Human Race Horses in her immaculate hand like preserve a secret for the ages in notebook and smile.

-Catch that nazi folksinger look again.

-I am wet as an eight-second egg.

-I am wet as a Mississippi.

-Looks again I’m saying something.

-Looks again it’s on.

-Let’s do this.

-I don’t give a chunky fuck.

-LED eyes Thou hast.

-Kiss these blistered…

-Sorry means never having to say I love you.

-Ina stands and goes hey um would you watch my stuff for a minute I need to go to the bathroom.

-Uncomprehending look in return.

-Look of the daze-ruptured put-upon.

-It is 15:40.

-Do you speak English?

-Do you?

-She laughs and squeezes between the tables wishing she hadn’t said need. Sounds so well I don’t know so irrefutably graphic to say like I need to go to the bathroom. Want would have been better.

-And what’s up with the word bathroom.

-It’s like I need to take a humongous dump.

-For medical reasons.

-Perforated duodenum and such.

-Can you hold my colostomy bag for a sec thanks.

-Batting her eyelashes. Do you find me alluring?

-Feels two eyes on her ass as she passes.

-The tables are just a thigh apart yet she squeezes through without even touching edges.

-Passed the buttock test with flying colors.

-Buttock the farm word.

-Fantasize he is infallible cool cyborg assassin scan rapid digit display scroll phosphor-green screen while geometric simulation of ass rotate 180 degrees on pulsating graph when target-circle zeroes-in on her anus.

-Assassin.

-Get it?

-Loo door swings.

-Thankgod no Americans in this bathroom.

-Clears throat.

-Would it offend anyone if I called this shitroom Mecca?

-I could stay here all day.

-Having grown to abhor the sound of Trustifarian English.

-This haven.

-If I’m in here longer than five minutes nazi folksinger will picture the taking of a humongous dump.

-Can’t have that.

-Though: would it not be funny to birthgroan loud as a whale?

-We are not comedian.

-We are hot like Joan of Arc.

-‘Tis only tinkle.

-Mother crying Jesus wept on the toilet.

-Door’s all wide open and I’m like Mother.

-Rotten jello smell: the pain of stench.

-Hemorrhoids mother hindparts acquired evacuating hero of our story.

-The mighty Mississippi.

-My little brother’s widow.

-This foreign toilet paper sucks.

-In-uh.

-Get it?

-Flashback finished.

-Srsly.

2.

-So he claims his name is Spinoza.

-He claims his name is Spinoza. Yes he does. I do. He do.

-That is a fuckedness.

-But seriously.

-Seriously?

-You are a name bigot?

-Your parents are hippies?

-So now she is hippie-intolerant?

-On top of everything else.

-What else?

-I am an honor student.

-What if I was black?

-Were.

-Was.

-Were.

-Whatever. What if I were black?

-You’d have an excuse. But your name would not be Spinoza.

-No, my name would be LaFoyer Grady.

-That is a pretty convincing job of black name random generating on short notice.

-You try.

-DeMario Smalls.

-I see we have our racism in common.

-Something to fall back on during lulls.

-Lulls aren’t the things we fall back on?

-So his name is seriously Spinoza.

-Yes.

-Just Spinoza?

-Simply Spinoza. Yes. I am a gifted young DJ. What is yours?

-LeKwanza Pinckney.

-My first black girlfriend.

-Whoa.

-Whoa?

-Things are moving quickly.

3.

-Ina thinking I recall now reading that a sweetish semen means it is diabetes.

-Which feels like far too intimate to know or to tell him.

-To wake and tell him.

-Rather text it.

-In a week I’ll text it.

-Spinoza in his fetal postcoital coma in the gloaming.

-Semen from her lips to his to close a circle.

-And also the Lego smell and Daniel.

-Daniel melted Legos on their bedroom lightbulb twice.

-Later died on a dare with the Mississippi.

-The varsity swimmer slash little brother in that mighty Negro river.

-Spinoza does not snore he fartles.

-Gnashing his teeth he fartles.

-Spinoza farts the smells of melting Legos to channel brother Daniel.

-Supine Ina sneers at posters of now-old or long-dead frog and wop actresses who wouldn’t even’ve as iffed him.

-Spiderwebs darkly drug-addled thoughts above his mattress.

-Said spiders watch his Jewy dreams.

-Said Ina too.

-Her mouth still sized to the proximate dick.

-The look called pursed.

-The boy she thought a nazi folksinger.

-The boy she thought pure not benign.

-He is fartling he is gnashing his teeth.

-Lo, a tugboat crosseth pudding lake.

-The anal flap and sputter.

-You just can’t imagine loving him less.

-In the spirit of which she note-writes about goodbyes and goodlucks and hinted-at manageable medical conditions.

-The dazzling legend of Nordic healthcare.

-Signed LeKwanza.

-Signed the first blowjob is free the next in dreams bereft ie fool me once.

-Signed I hate being an American on this Americans-choked sidewalk oh so looking the part of congenital Mallness.

-Like folks I just fell off the intercontinental turnip truck.

-But I will learn.

-She had a forty dollar haircut and birthcontrol bazooms and she was ready to use them.

-This rolling suitcase louder than the liberation of Paris.

-The airport handle.

-I am creditcard-dressed and distressed.

-Sweet-semen fed and obvious.

-Turning sees Spinoza in his briefs in window like mother on balcony overlooking mighty Negro brother-stealing river with a waving shyness mouthing call me.

-Call you what?

-Almost Daniel?

andy & patty

a filmsong by Steven Augustine

 

 

The Kiss Off

or

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Decline of the Aura 

 

1.  Art is Honkies Fucking 

The pedigree of the kiss in Western culture is less a matter of sex than of Christianity.  Spirit is breath, it utters the sacred word.  The early believers were enjoined to bestow on each other the kiss of peace.  Blasphemy is the sacred’s inversion:  the Judas kiss.    

The kiss started to become secularized around the time of the troubadours.  The fair skin of the beloved was a foreglimpse of the pleroma; through her lips poured the divine afflatus.  Soon most of the afflatus had leaked out, but there was still enough left to puff the white sails of religion’s successor, romantic love.  

By the time of the really iconographic kisses – Rodin, Klimt, Munch – many had begun to suspect that romantic love was a con.  Schopenhauer and Darwin had given the hint:  It was all about replenishing the racial stock.  Hence the three most famous kisses of the time were also the most equivocal – too strenuous, or too brittle, or vampiric.  

Along came Hollywood and pop music to re-inflate the tires.  It wasn’t just a question of warm bodies after all, a whole society had to be reproduced.  Rhett!  Scarlett!  Rhett!  Scarlett!  Some crooning, some swooning – then the Lent of mortgage payments, a new refrigerator, and picking a wallpaper pattern for the nursery. 

The flowery script on the warranty said Forever but it wasn’t until Pop Art that we were able to appreciate the irony.  Warhol’s Kiss (1963) would seem to spell the quietus est for twenty centuries of honkies fucking in frescoes and framed museum pieces.  But instead we have a culture in the grip of cynical reason:  I can’t stand to walk away . . . I can’t stand to stay . . . a generic pop tune in endless playback.  

Fin.  Repeat. 

 

2.  Art is Fucking Honkies 

Traditionally the kiss symbolizes union.  In the mingling of breaths, two souls meet and become one.  Art, too, is supposed to resolve contradictions.  It creates a unity that is “above” its determinations.  

“Andy & Patty” refuses this harmonization, staging instead the disarticulation, the incommensurability of the very materials it brings together.  They are not melded, only superimposed.  Each new frame reframes the others. 

The appearance of writing in a film destroys the unity of the image.  So far so Godard, but the filmsong’s writing goes further, deploying the rhetorical figure of chiasmus: 

 

            Art is Honkies Fucking

           Art is Fucking Honkies

           Fucking is Art, Honkies 

Chiasmus is the privileged trope of difference, of the production of difference-in-identity.  It is the double-cross that undoes the self, in the same movement founding and confounding it.  In this case, the universalist pretensions of Art are revealed to be a European narcissism, honkies pressing faces to the mirror.    

The filmsong is chiastic in its very structure, almost an elaborate pun on the inverted parallelism of chiasmus itself.  It opens with the straight couple from Warhol’s film but works its way to the mash-mouth of Warhol’s gay couple and a scene of two-fisted interracial monster-cock deep throating.  Sexual difference and racial difference – ideological coordinates of the Great White Kiss.  

In the era of cynical reason, however, nothing any longer has the power to shock, it’s all grist for the mill of social reproduction.  Since Patty Hearst’s turn as “Tanya” even terrorism has become part of the spectacle.  The only image to resist the tidal pull of banality is what would seem to be the most ordinary and everyday of them all, almost beneath notice:  the scaffolding against the side of the building. 

In the Greek alphabet the letter “chi” – the first letter in the name of Christ – is shaped like an X, a cross.  For this reason chiasmus was once the favored trope of Christian writers.  The scaffolding’s props and crossbeams also suggest a kind of Calvary.  The two workmen arrive for their daily crucifixion. 

The filmsong offers a chiastic pun on images of labor – labor as work, and childbirth as labor.  These were, after all, the curses stamped on Adam and Eve’s eviction notice:  “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . . In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.”  I almost said Andy and Patty’s eviction notice. 

The image of childbirth avoids the banal affirmation of “new beginnings” to the extent that it is by caesarian section.  Instead it is a parody of the Virgin Birth.  We see a gaping wound; there will be a scar. 

Every document of civilization has as its verso a transcript of toil, written in scars.  The same with love:  there was always someone before you.  It’s as if our kissing couple should separate for a moment and one – it doesn’t matter which – should say to the other, “Whose cock is that on your breath?” 

 

3.  Fucking is Art, Honkies 

Astrolabe, centrifuge, one-armed bandit – the Andy & Patty chiasmus-machine keeps turning.  Old binaries undone, their tokens may yet yield up an unforeseen combination or novel precipitate.  The one moment when a pair of eyes looks back at the viewer is in the clip of the blond porn-actress at work.  Like much women’s work, it must be performed on her knees.  With her hands raised to the sides of her head on the mahogany crossbeams of enormous cocks, it is another image of crucifixion.  Yet covered in sweat and spit and goo, her hair plastered and mascara smeared, she glistens as wetly as a newborn.  And look at the technique, the brio, the sprezzatura – she is good at what she does, and she knows it.  Colors mix on the palette.  A new millennium of poetry and fucking is in store for those who can divine this threefold mystery.  All others pay cash.  

 

                                                                                                           

Edmond Caldwell

February 2009

Sylvie: *A Nanonovel in 6 Chaptagraphs*

photo by SG

Chapter One: More than Words

Sylvie’s father was a writer whose time had come and gone, but he was fine with that. He’d invested the windfall with prescience. He had a house in a decent neighborhood in a city that scored with consistent impressiveness on all the quality-of-life surveys worth checking, along with some property a two hours’ drive up north. The property up north featured a rustic cabin he was going to write his comeback in, a cabin near a well he wasn’t allowed to drink out of, overlooked by the aerie of an endangered species of hawk he could do up to ten years in prison for harassing or killing. The working title of the book was More Than Words. The rest of the book would come to him in the cabin. Usually he’d creep around the immaculately decorated house long after Sylvie had gone to bed, stewarding wineglasses and adjusting picture frames, soothed by the hum of the climate control, which made the house feel like an airship in flight over the continent. Sometimes he’d rescue a volume, or two, belonging to one of the sets of collected encyclopediae, open on its face on a settee in the media room, and shepherd it, humming, back up the three polished steps into the tracklit library, pushing against a satisfying resistance the thing into its proper slot. Tonight he just stood by Sylvie’s bedroom door, listening.

Chapter Two: A Perfectly-Judged Death-while-Sailing

Sylvie’s mother had come from a large, self-consciously colorful family that only tolerated exogamy, apparently, because exogamy’s extremest opposite was frowned on by The State. There were the four charismatic brothers who had always looked like men; an eldest sister of chilling beauty, with her infallible eye for long scarves (with their tragic associations) and a father who would have to die before Sylvie’s future mother finally moved out of the house she was born in, a recently painted Georgian mansion with pillars on its porches and Amish hex signs carved in its gable shutters, mocked on all sides by encroaching slum. Sylvie’s mother was the baby of the family and had effectively fended off Sylvie’s claim on the title. Driving by that house, recently, Sylvie’s father felt oddly vindicated by the graffiti all over its pillars and even slowed down in an ill-advised attempt to read some of it, stepping on the accelerator when the first stones ponked at the trunk. Girls who hate their fathers are not, as Sylvie’s father had discovered, the worst, if you aren’t the father. All three sisters, Sylvie’s future mother and the other two; the polyglot and the choreographer; had gotten pregnant within six months of the old man’s perfectly-judged death-while-sailing, and he wondered if there hadn’t been a subconscious race to produce a vessel for the old man’s anticipated return. Sylvie’s future father had first noticed Sylvie’s future mother not for her spectacular pre-Raphaelite hair, but for her terminal t’s, which she tended to over-articulate. Didn’t you want that with some fruit bits?- was the last sentence she’d spoken to him before he finally confessed, waving away the dry mangoes that always put him in mind of floor scraps from a bris, that he wanted her to move out. He hadn’t put it exactly that way. He’d offered to move out and she’d demurred as predicted. She’d joked about Arabs being able to divorce their wives by repeating a certain word three times but couldn’t remember the word and he’d said but we’re not really married and she’d stood suddenly and swept breakfast off the table, very much the prodigy losing a game against someone avowedly casual towards chess. She remembered the word was talaq. He said talaq, talaq, talaq, waving a finger like a wand, both of them laughing. To be honest, she was relieved. She’d said, We’ll let Sylvie decide who she wants to live with; that’s the only civilized thing to do, and Sylvie had chosen him, as predicted. Sylvie’s father and Sylvie’s mother continued sleeping together for quite some time until the night Sylvie’s mother never came home, which soon became the week she never came home.

Chapter Three: Cancer Gets the Girl

He imagined her seeing the country on a wasp-sleek Japanese motorcycle. He reminisced on how they’d met. They’d met in a self-defense class. She was there, looking barefoot and good, in what she called her Chinese pyjamas, because of encroaching slum, while he was there to meet a girl. Or girls. The solidarity of self-declared prey, as his best friend, whose idea it had been to go, had put it. This friend had dozens of good ideas on how to meet girls and yet never met any. From as far back as Sylvie’s future father could remember knowing this friend, this friend had talked like a well-informed cancer patient, with an ease in jargon and the cadences down and really good at reeling off technical specifications, probabilities, outlooks on graded contingencies with this clipped, confident, guardedly optimistic voice. And then he got cancer, causing no break or modulation in the flow of the way he communicated. He found the personality tic of his preferred mode of expression astonishingly well-suited to the circumstance. It’s as though he hit the ground running as far as cancer was concerned, was how Sylvie’s future father had put it to Sylvie’s future mother over a milkshake (this was before the days of fashionable young people drinking recreational coffee) after class. Should he feel guilty? Was the irony a bear, or a bluebird? He’d used his friend’s cancer to get a girl.

Chapter Four: Dreadlock Combover

Before Sylvie’s future father and her future mother got serious about each another, Sylvie’s future father wavered in his intentions towards another, slightly older, woman. Older, but in no way inferior, except, perhaps, in age. The woman was cultured and fine and dressed well in a manner that showed off her jaw, an angular marvel reminiscent of the jaw on the actress Jodie Foster, who was then still young. Whether she wore a ruffled collar, a turtleneck or a collarless t-shirt borrowed from her son, the jaw stood out with its sharp origami folds. He was enamored of this woman and had slept with her several times with memorable results and poetry and expensive baseball-sized sourdough blueberry muffins from her bottomless pantry as rewards. The day before Thanksgiving they attended an avant garde opera in a ceremonial gesture towards the deepening cultural seriousness of both that region of the country and their relationship, standing by coincidence behind her ex-boyfriend in the white-wine-line during intermission. The ex was a balding soi-disant (pre-internet) tech-whiz with blond dreadlocks leftswept over his pink pate like fraying ropes on a castaway ham. Fairly or not, she became repulsive to Sylvie’s future father in her ex-boyfriend’s reflected aura, but there was still an hour of grindingly self-serious and overlit opera to sit through. The weightless warm hand that sought its habitual place on his thigh when the opera commenced found only tensed muscle to rest on. The hand knew before the rest of her body. Sylvie’s future father reflected self-pityingly on an inner recitation of the oral history of his failed romances while two local characters (descendants both of auto workers) in Bauhaus-ish costumes of vaguely animal abstraction cavorted on a minimalist stage, realizing in a panic that the time he lost to the experience would never come refunded, and the woman he decided he loved was elsewhere.

Chapter Five: Ich mag sie nicht in einem Haus / Ich mag sie nicht mit einer Maus

Sylvie’s future father hurried over to Sylvie’s future mother’s house right after the opera, unmindful of the fact that he walked unarmed through encroaching slum. He found himself not only thinking of, but looking at, really looking at, more than one black-or-Afro-American-Negro-of-color at a time, for the first time in his life. He’d never admit this to anyone; not even to a friend with cancer; but the first thing that struck him was the variety. Not only in tint but in weight, gait, hair texture, posture, girth, aura, odor, manner of dress, scale of possible threat (from benign to sinister), range of facial features and sexual attractiveness. Some of the toughest boys were pretty as girls in their white t-shirts and tight jeans. Some of the prettiest women exerted the narcotic allure of the scent of the motherland, smouldering after a bushfire, and he locked eyes with more than one, with their coal-smooth breasts, before being ejected, further in his way down the road, each time, by a playfully dismissive smile. Sylvie’s future mother was on the front porch of the white island of the mansion, drying her gaze-stuffing pre-Raphaelite hair with a shreiking dryer at the end of a chain of three extension cords. Sylvie’s future father tried breathlessly to speak, sucking every other word back in, over the anti-siren song of the dryer. He told Sylvie’s future mother half the truth, which was twice the lie: that he’d suddenly realized that he loved her in the middle of an opera. She asked which opera. She laughed, or, being from a family of high-culture insiders, tittered, and explained. To his initial bafflement, which matured to a rage which hardened into a manifesto, he learned that the libretto of the work he’d squirmed through po-faced for two hours (the second half of which was twice as long as the first) was taken from Doctor Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. In German. That’s the problem with postmodern so-called Art, he sorrowed. The joke is always on us.

Chapter Six: He decided to write a Book that Everyone could Understand

He decided to write a book that everyone could understand.

.

Azura’s Gift [from CITY OF AMATEURS)]

 

photo by SG

Like many young prostitutes in Berlin, Azura had a dayjob. Due to reasons too numerous to go into here, the fee a prostitute could typically expect in exchange for the usual requests had withered, over the decades, to a paltry fraction. A young prostitute of today could expect the kind of money a middle-aged whore would have been disappointed to earn in the 1970s.

Middle-aged whores were now limping up and down the Kurfürstenstrasse, the scarred habitat of tattooed junkies and African exchange students, offering the total inventory of their butchershops for a pittance. Like the feather-sprung, peg-legged pigeons these damp women shared the curb with, time appeared to be dismantling them with extraordinary impatience. There was even a rumor that one of the oldest had been selling off toes and now fingers to pay for bigger implants.

Four days a week, Azura worked as an intern for a fledgling film production company called Auslandish Films, on Rosenthaler Strasse in the Mitte neighborhood. Her wage as an intern was minuscule… barely “drink money”… but she believed she was getting her foot in the door of the film business. She resembled a film star herself, in a 20th century way, with a defiant posture her customers at the brothel interpreted as a challenge.

Azura’s boss at Auslandish Films was a soft-spoken Afro-American expat named Mr. Jeffries, fluent in German, with an arrogant wife and three cookie-colored children, the oldest, a boy, not much younger than Azura. The boy was trouble, but he rarely showed up at the office. When he did, he made such an exaggerated show of ignoring Azura that it was the same as staring. His hair was in soft slow shoulder-length loops the color of dirty butter, floating in the invisible currents he seemed to move through. His own lazy ocean of Balthazar Jeffries.

Saturdays were the only days on which Azura worked both jobs, stopping in at Auslandish in the morning (opening up with her own key and code to the alarm) to deal with the overnight mail and important answering machine messages and then riding her scooter far across town to the neighborhood of Charlottenburg, on Blissestrasse, where Lady Luck, her brothel, took up the second and third floors of a grand old building that had dodged aerial bombs during the war.

On the Saturday morning in question Azura inadvertently intercepted a private message from Balthazar Jeffries to Mr. Jeffries on the answering machine. It was the last message on the tape and was so long that the tape ran out in the middle of a sentence. She played it more than once, hugging herself in the cozy gloom of the office with its steel shutters still down over the windows and sun slashing through like razors. She recognized immediately Balthazar’s deep deep voice.

He went on in a far-ranging monologue to say horrible things about his dark-skinned father Mr. Jeffries. There were almost no gaps between the words in his Gregorian chant of a diatribe and Azura knew from experience which drug was involved. Balthazar hinted more than once that the message was a suicide note. Tell Mom and Becky and Gladys and so forth. Azura realized that she had to come to a decision as to whether or not to delete the message before re-activating the security system and locking up shop and driving across town to the brothel. If the message was all merely the inhuman animus of a drug in oration, Balthazar would be profoundly relieved to discover later that his poor father had never received it.

Azura dwelt on her decision, and the implications of her decision, the rest of the rainy afternoon in the brothel.

The truth is that the most lucrative services weren’t about sex at all. Azura’s colleague Lilly, for example, had consented to an incision (local anesthetic) about four inches long, in her abdomen, not far from the left kidney, which the medical student who considered doing this a refined pleasure then carefully sutured, returning a week later to undo the threads (local anesthetic again) and probe gingerly, with a sterilized implement, the smiling wound. For this Lilly received two payments, the first much larger. And Azura herself had once complied with a request to make dirt discreetly into a chasteningly-expensive triple-gusseted flapover briefcase. Real alligator. A perfect little shit of a milkdud. This month’s gas, water, phone and electricity bills all neatly dispatched with a grunt.

All this happened in the neutrally-decorated chambers of Lady Luck, a converted gerontological clinic, where Azura paid rent for a smaller room overlooking the courtyard. In the courtyard twisted a chestnut tree whose flowered arms reached up towards her window, nagging her about the past, wagging its finger when she bent over the little bed or mounted it on all fours with her face to the window.

Every weekend during her happy childhood, Azura had slept at her grandmother’s. Some nights she’d sit up in her little bed crying. Her Nana was a woman from a small country of ritual and habit who only took her hair down when it was bedtime, before her prayers and after her milk and a magazine, and she climbed the stairs to the room where the ceiling slanted down towards the window by Azura’s small bed and asked her Azura, with the militant compassion of a saint, why she was crying.

Weil der Neandertaler nicht in den Himmel kommen kann, the child answered, with a gulp after every word. Because the cavemen can’t get into heaven.

-Say again?

-The cavemen, she repeated, miserable. You said they were born before Christ Nana so how can they can ever be angels and go to Heaven?

-No, no, cooed Nana, softened by the truth, stroking Azura’s forehead with a trembling hand and confronting her blunder in this fine-cut grief. Bible stories were always distressing for younger children, who hadn’t yet learned to bend logic. In her diaphanous nightgown and shocking dark tumult of hair Nana resembled an excluded angel herself, cooing how the Christian God would never be so unfair like that, Azura. The good cavemen, they will go to Heaven. Don’t worry. Go to sleep.

-Even if they didn’t know it was a sin to kill Nana?

-Even so, said Azura’s grandmother, with somewhat less certainty in her voice but the persistent desire that the child should go peacefully to her dreams. She who was given to fevers and days on end of pretty speechlessness. Mother a stone and father an old suit in the closet.

The next night Nana was drinking her milk and re-reading a magazine (the hypnotic offense of raw youth in proud clothing; the communists would never have allowed it) when again she heard the prayer-like murmur of abject misery in the attic. Up the stairs she climbed, lifting the hem of her nightgown with one hand and clutching the candle holder with the other.

-The cavemen, Azura gulped.

-They’re in Heaven. Don’t you remember? The cavemen are in Heaven near God.

-Yes, answered Azura, but how can cavemen be happy in Heaven? They can’t talk with the others. They aren’t wearing good clothing! The others will treat them like animals Nana! How will the cavemen be happy?

Nana had to admit that it was difficult to imagine cavemen with angel wings flying around a standard Heaven, brandishing their clubs.

-The Christian God is wise, she responded, after thinking a while with her eyebrows so high they were straining. About such a problem he’s already thought, before creation, even. He has given the cavemen their own Heaven and there they are happy.

-There’s a caveman Heaven?

-Yes.

-And no one else can go there?

-No one else can go there, confirmed Nana. To point and laugh, she added, smoothing Azura’s astonishing hair. No one.

Rainy days brought out the worst kind of customer, for it was usually the type of person who would otherwise have been occupied, enjoying the weather in a convertible with a beautiful amateur had the sun been willing. She preferred the business of the damp white cast-offs who skulked in out of a glorious day, mocked by the splendors of existence. They were very quick and predictable and rarely had the money to propose something frightening. But of course such visits only covered a few hours of overhead.

On rainy days, as Azura’s colleague Lilly put it, the snakes use the staircase. Worst of all were middle-aged men with perfect bodies who mentioned the price they were willing to pay before describing the service they intended to pay for. The good news/bad news technique of the novice oncologist or seasoned sadist.

Azura was curled on the bed, gazing through the rain-melted window at a sky like cold dishwater and dishwater’s buried shapes, recovering from her last visit, toying with the idea of opening the window to let the bad feelings out. It was suppertime and she was daydreaming about Balthazar Jeffries. She daydreamed a knock on the door; she daydreamed putting on a bathrobe and telling whoever it was to wait.

She’d cross the room in three strides and sit at the vanity, the light from the illuminated mirror the only light in the rain-darkened room, and reconstruct the impenetrable mask of her makeup. Once, a customer had pressed her prone to the bed with his knee between her shoulder blades with such force while he pulled himself to completion that a perfect portrait of her face like a shroud of Turin remained on the pillowcase when he freed her to breathe again. Or, yes, more like that Munch painting.

She’d answer the door and like a horrible miracle and a gift there would stand Balthazar Jeffries, angered by rain and shivering off mud from the riverbed.

An Uncomfortable Moment at the Thirteenth Annual Delmore Schwartz Memorial Picnic

 

photo by SG

Grill smoke drifted as chalk drawings of tropical fish on the darkening air. A sudden calm suspended everything…the falling sun; Frisbees at apogee; the tiny crucifix of a jet dangling from the string of its vapor trail…in the mellow aspic of future memory. They all prepared to listen to Gregg read, conscious of the fact that many years into the unknowable they’d look back on this moment with intense affection. Affection for the city and the era and their former selves. Eric, Dave, Andy, Bill and Eric grinned open-mouthed with anticipated pleasure, their shadows long, as Gregg cleared his throat and lifted a finger of emphasis. All of RooseveltPark, along with their future selves, hushed for a moment to listen. 

 “ ‘Two decades ago, with her sculpted features, Alaia-friendly figure, and a languid drawl that spoke of nannies and finishing schools, this rangy, patrician beauty (her uncle was a prime minister of Belgium) was perfectly cast to play artist’s muse.’” He peered up from under the corners of his tinfoil hat and affected a lisp. “‘They were a very, very glamorous couple,’ recalls the artist Peter Blah Blah, ‘He was this powerhouse of creativity and bravado and interest and talent. She was so intimidating to look at; a camera couldn’t capture her outrageous beauty.’” He closed the magazine and waited a beat.  “Now, I ask you…”  

Andy said, “Kinda makes you see the world through Charlie Manson’s eyes, doesn’t it?” 

Dave adjusted his tinfoil hat, which suffered from being a hasty construction, and said, “And for that I’m grateful.” He sipped beer from his family-size jug of Diet Sprite. Gregg handed Dave the Vogue and Dave put the sloshy jug down between his knees and paged through the magazine with one eyebrow raised and nostrils flared, a patented Dave expression. He passed the magazine to Bill, who would have preferred the jug. 

“Whatever happened to the peasant class, anyway? Why don’t we hear from any of them on stuff like this? Aren’t we long overdue for widespread rebellion?” 

“Revolution these days,” responded Andy, as Bill passed the Vogue to him, “is atomized, permanent and absorbed by the system. If we could somehow organize all the yuppie muggings that take place during one year in this country and concentrate them into one day and location, that would be your uprising right there. But the revolutionaries are all lone wolves now and they tend to have crack habits.” 

Eric reached for the Vogue. “Where did you find this thing?”

“Wait,” said Bill, “You mean even bloody insurrection suffers from the same crisis of hot-dog individualism now plaguing the NBA?” 

“Gregg got a subscription for Christmas,” said Andy. Andy took off his tinfoil hat and looked at it with some interest. “Hey, am I just imagining it or are my thoughts a little…I don’t know…less staticky while I’m wearing this?” He put it back on top of his head. 

Gregg, with his perfect deadpan, said, “Now that you mention it.” 

“I don’t know about less staticky thoughts,” said the other Eric, “but I’ve had an erection since I put mine on…and that was at 5 in the morning.” 

“And they said he’d never screw again!” 

Who said I’d never screw again?”

They.”

“Oh, them.” 

“The same know-it-alls who said Christopher Reeve would never walk again, I presume?” 

Eric swatted Eric with the rolled up Vogue and Eric snatched it away and swatted Eric back and everyone laughed. A bumblebee lobbed over their loose circle in a wobbly arc as though it weighed a ton, and a beautiful girl in cut-offs and a vintage The Police t-shirt, oblivious in headphones, intersected the bumblebee’s flight path on her way to the water fountain. Eric and Eric had to twist on their spots to see what everyone else was gawping at. The denim lobes of her cut-offs appeared to inflate as she lowered her mouth to the spigot and she pulled her hair out of the way and slurped.

Dave said, “Hey, in all seriousness, how are those burgers coming?”

Bill crawled over to the hibachi on two knees and one hand, holding his tinfoil hat to his curly head with the other. He said, “The burger that’s directly over the one hot coal is getting there. The others appear to be incubating salmonella to varying degrees according to their distance from the one hot coal.” 

Dave chugged from his Diet Sprite bottle again and said, “I always thought that was the tastiest sounding food poisoning, you know? Salmonella. Salmonella spread, with pimento. I’d buy some of that.” 

Gregg said, “Let’s face it, it’s a major setback that our manliest member couldn’t make it this year.”

Bill chuckled. “Manliest member.” 

“Mark,” said Dave, wistfully, “was, indeed, an idiot savant of the hibachi briquette fire.”

“Is hibachi a Mexican word or a Japanese word?”

“A skill he picked up as a pyromaniacal adolescent of the upper-Midwest, no doubt.” 

“It’s a Japanese word that refers to a heating device but not a grill, actually. The correct word is shichirin, but that’s too difficult for the average American consumer to pronounce, so they were marketed as hibachi.” 

“I love being forced to learn things.”

“I told Mark he could bring Sadie if he wants.” 

“Well, the funny thing is it’s actually an ancient Chinese technology.”

“He obviously didn’t want.” 

“Will somebody stop this guy?”

“Maybe he was afraid we’d covet her.” 

“Or frighten her with these hats.”

“You asked and I told.” 

“Sadie. What kind of name is that, anyway? Is she a retired rhumba teacher?”

“Next time I won’t ask.” 

“No, but I bet she refers to sexual intercourse as ‘relations’.”

“He says they want to have kids.” 

“Quick, before the population falls under seven billion.”

“Anyone ever notice that the blink-rate of a baby is only something like once every three minutes? My sister’s kid…” 

Bill jumped up and said, “Okay, who am I now?” He folded his upper lip under itself, exposing his teeth, and stuck his thumbs into his armpits, but before he could finish the impression a very large black woman loomed, wearing camouflage pants and a hooded black sweatshirt which presented a picture of Albert Einstein with his pierced tongue sticking out. She was large not only in the sense of fat but of tall as well and physically intimidating. She spoke with such abrupt loudness that Bill flinched, his upper lip still folded under itself.

“Is this the thirteenth annual Delmore Schwartz memorial picnic?” She gestured with the classifieds section of the daily paper. 

“You advertized?” hissed Eric to Gregg.

I thought it would be fun.” 

“Well here’s your fun.”

Bill said, “Yes it is.” 

She gestured at Bill’s tinfoil hat. “Is that supposed to be funny?” Before he could respond she added, “Is mental illness funny? Is suicide funny? Is the suicide of a gifted 53 year old poet grappling with the debilitating effects of an untreatable mental illness funny?”

Gregg, with spell-breaking sang froid, said, “I’d prefer to conduct this interview in writing, if you don’t mind,” and Eric, Dave, Andy, Bill and Eric all laughed, grateful that he’d shown them the way.


Piotr and the Baby

photo by SG

Piotr had never seen such a small human being up close. Stretched straight from the balls of her feet to the crown of her skull, she couldn’t have been much more than two feet long. If Piotr had a ruler or a yardstick he would have measured her. Measuring her precisely, with scientific instruments (in no way expensive or otherwise intimidating but stringently reliable) seemed important, somehow. He pictured himself recording the measurements in a log of some kind and the fantasy was immensely comforting. Piotr in a white lab coat and a clipboard, licking the pencil tip and inscribing digits with professional detachment in his tiny, neat script. The hum and whirr of machines in the background and the bright white blur of a lab. Obsequious assistants consulting with Piotr in hushed tones. Excuse the intrusion, Professor Piotr, but can you look at this data for a moment? Piotr the famous seeker of truth, fair in his dealings with underlings but impatient with the time-wasting niceties of politic deportment. Yes, that would have been him had he not become the he he was instead.

He looked around the room and mentally toured the rest of the flat and tried to imagine, objectively, being a stranger and guessing the profession of the person who’d choose to live there. He couldn’t, however…couldn’t imagine what a stranger would guess about the inhabitant of such a dwelling by the clues of the dwelling’s contents…and he realized what was throwing him off.

The baby on the blanket on the floor in the middle of the room.Did Piotr, in his library, have some sort of measuring device, or a straight-edged object of a known length? He used up a certain amount of time on that question, without, however, getting up and venturing into the library to settle the matter. Instead of moving from the spot he peered out the little window over his bed, and guessed from the quality of light on the wall opposite that it was late afternoon. Which would mean he’d been staring at the baby for hours. Then he had an amusing thought: yardstick? The last time he’d seen a yardstick was in grammar school! Had he known anyone in all his adult life to have possessed a yardstick? A bright orange yardstick for measuring what, exactly?

He stared at the baby but the baby did not stare back and it seemed to him that she was strangely unobservant of her surroundings, glazed eyes scanning with a sparrow’s nervous methodology a few cubic feet of the middle distance. Staring vacuously into space whereas Piotr, had their positions been reversed, would have been without a doubt immensely interested in the giant kneeling on the floor nearby. If Piotr had been a baby in Piotr’s room, the last thing he’d do is take his eyes off Piotr, or any adult, or any living thing bigger than a fly, for that matter. Was her obliviousness the natural arrogance of the baby in its exalted ignorance, or the sign of a subtle defect? Some sort of recent trauma, possibly. Weren’t babies famous for wiggling and crying and generally making noise? This one simply lay on her back, breathing. The rise and fall of her ruddy little chest. Breathing and scanning the middle distance with both hands balled in fists and held to her mouth. Like an old woman in shock.

If you squinted and forgot you were looking at a baby it was easy to imagine that in all of her soft smooth heat and pinkishness she was some adult’s large-ish, heavy, temporarily-removed organ. Especially in that throbbing, docile state. She probably thought of herself that way, in fact, and was still in denial about external existence, the harsh lights and cold dry sounds, waiting to be stuffed back in and hooked back up to cozy wet infinities. Piotr was dying to go to the toilet but he dare not leave the room. He rocked a little on his haunches.

A breeze pushed at the curtain and he remembered that it was spring, albeit in a tentative way. Spring this year was like a machine with a faulty switch, a machine that sputters before coming fully on, mixing bits of winter, still, with the flicker of warm days Piotr had been so desperate for. He’d barricaded himself in his flat with November’s onset, ordering food to be delivered every Monday and reading his books morning, noon and night while the weather clawed at the city, leaving white scabs on the streets and bleaching the days of purpose. He’d passed the months in bookish hibernation, and what he longed for now was a park bench, some late-morning sunlight, a warm breeze laden with the sweet obscenity of flowers. Girls would traipse by in their short skirts and invincible legs and Piotr, as he did every year, would distinguish himself by not leering.

The baby had a swirl of thick black hair on her head like a calligrapher’s sable brush laden with ink. That would indicate Asian, or Mediterranean, parentage. Possibly.  Piotr felt the sudden urge to curse his luck: stuck in a room with a helpless creature relying on him for everything but the air it filled its small lungs with, what could he hope to accomplish? He was no longer even free enough to void his bladder, a freedom the scruffiest dog takes for granted!

Piotr sighed the sigh that meant that work on the novel would be indefinitely postponed. The need to urinate was another matter entirely. Piotr and the baby both knew this.

 

The Tourist

Photo0200

“That was great.”

“Did you really…?”

“I really liked it.”

“You’re not just saying that?”

“I’m not just saying that.”

“Me too.”

“Did you ever think…?”

“God no.”

“But I’m relieved.”

“You are?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“We both…that is, neither of us….”

“Of course.”

“You know what I mean?”

“I think so. But, really. I’m serious. It was quite…”

“Go on.”

“I was just going to say it was this unexpected intensity in an otherwise…”

“Yes.”

“Explosive.”

“Like…”

“Like the sun exploding.”

“Yes.”

“Like the sun exploding behind my eyes.”

“I’m still…”

“Me too. Shaking.”

“No guilt?”

“None.”

“That’s good.”

“Good. That’s not…”

“I know. Good is hardly…”

“I just hope it’s not. You know. You know? That we never…?”

“Do it again?”

“Exactly.”

“It’s more than that now.”

“But what will we tell people?”

“You won’t believe this…”

“But you only just thought of it now. I know, I know; same here. I was so…”

“Obviously. We were too…”

“It’s understandable.”

“It’s perfectly understandable.”

“We’ll say she fell.”

From Near to Eternity

photo by SG

On the centennial of the passage of the American Civil Rights Act of 1964, an act of Congress made the word ‘race’ obsolete and the concept that the obsolete word represented illegal. “The very concept of ‘race’ itself,” stated the document, known as the Personhood Bill, “is racist.” The replacement word was Somatype and it was determined that humankind breaks down into 22 major Somatypes, each Somatype divisible further into a dozen-plus-one S-Inflections, each of these S-Inflections either an “A” or a “B” of its kind, and each “A” or “B” a possible positive or a negative, according to specific markers in the genome. It was hoped that the unwieldy terminology would inhibit casual distinction-drawing in a kind of inverse of the way in which the intuitive simplicity of the original system had been a runaway success in framing and disseminating the uneducated hatred of diversity. Not a year later, in time for the semi-centennial of the inauguration of the First Earth Parliament of 202 countries (minus China), the Somatype standard was adopted as global law.

Another century plus forty years after that, Siegfried Olubodun was told by his nearest rival at the University of Hamburg’s department of Tempanthropy that the only reason he’d got the research grant was because he was black.

About Siegfried’s blackness there was no debating; you rarely saw a face that black in Europe. Siegfried’s blackness was only marginally less rare than the famed whiteness of a family (blue-eyed, blond) who lived in a northern suburb of the city and whose estate had become a zoo, practically; people came from all over Europe to see the throw-backs in their natural habitat (they were auto mechanics, dynastically; half of the 80 hectares of the family compound was given over to garages and test-tracks). Siegfried tried to remember their name. The Ziegeldorfs. Siegfried was ancestrally Nigerian to an unusually single-minded degree. Whereas the Ziegeldorfs were viewed in Europe with great curiosity and a bemusement bordering on distaste, the Oluboduns were sometimes suspected of reproductive fascism. The Ziegeldorfs had been, perhaps, as driven by self-preservation as by greed in the opening of their compound to the public. But the Oluboduns were not so many in number and were spread among a handful of baronial flats overlooking the Alster.

By the time of Siegfried’s thirteenth birthday, human Somatypes had dropped from 22 to 15 and, as a result of cheap travel and zero borders (but one) and the lure of exogamy, the number was still falling. Practically everyone on earth these days looked like a somewhat lighter or darker Brazilian. With the notable exception of the Chinese, who had long-ago absorbed Japan, the two Koreas, and much of Malaysia and who were exactly half of the global population. Africa (with its population density of one human per three hundred square kilometers) was still pretty dark but only in the range of bland toffees. There was something his father always said but he could not remember.

“Selbstverstaendlich,” said Siegfried. Naturally. Speaking German was considered an elitist affectation. But sometimes Siegfried couldn’t help himself.

“Ich wollte damit keinen Ärger machen,” I meant no harm in saying it, countered Marta, shrugging, but Siegfried suspected that Marta’s aggression (not the first time) was her clumsy way of flirting. No wonder the population figures in Europe were falling again. Perhaps it was on that topic, the thing his father had said that Siegfried could not seem to remember. Though it ticked on the rim of his memory.

“They can’t very well expect someone with beige skin and European facial features to infiltrate the living quarters of Igbo-identified field slaves of early 18th century North America, can they?”

“But there was mixing even then.”

“Not so much in evidence among the field slaves. House servants were another class entirely and my research is on the topic of field slaves, Fraulein Sauerwald.”

“It’s a major grant. You’re lucky.”

Siegfried lifted his chin. “I don’t, as you know, believe in luck.”

“But perhaps,” said Marta, with an unreadable pout, “you will need it.”

“Excuse me?” He touched his codpiece.

“Something could happen.”

“I’m sure you’ll agree that ‘something could happen’ in the faculty dining hall, as well.” Siegfried curled his lip with bravado and placed the call confirming his receipt of the notice of his having won the grant. He pressed the patch on his throat and spoke clearly. In a flash he remembered and the enormity of it filled his mind to bursting not only with the implanted knowledge of his era but the weight and roar of future history.

Like Prometheus…

Even as Marta, with her lustrous blue-black hair, arms folded (the aureole of the left nipple lurid against the bisque mound of its breast; an allergy; it was itching like mad) looked on with an impossible mixture of longing and resentment, Siegfried, along with all of his belongings there at Uni… family photos, clothing, equipment, nametags and gene-keyed snacks in the faculty locker… vanished. With no sense of motion, Marta, too, vanished and her haircut changed. She re-materialized on the other side of the campus and formed in the midst of a conversation with a PsySoc Prof who, by appearance, might’ve been her cousin. She was not surprised by Siegfried’s disappearance; she’d never heard of him. Nor had anyone.

That’s how time travel works, since no object can occupy two timestreams in one universe. The only options are A) sending a duplicate, or B) removing the original from one timestream completely before inserting it in another. A virtual googlebit calculator in quantum n-space is responsible for keeping track of (and eventually reversing) the transaction. The process is funded by shaving a billionth of a second from the very end of all Time. As a military option it made the oxygen fission bomb seem like a toy in comparison.

The first thing that met him was the smell. The smells. He hit 19th-century North America vomiting… he staggered and fell to his knees in a sunlit bush, vomiting his guts out and scratching his arms and chest on the brambles. The sweat, bad breaths and long reek of the open latrine hit him like a seething kiss. Or perhaps it was a side-effect of the massive dose of thought-modifiers he had taken in order to mask his true intent.

Woman, Older; Boy at Rest [from CITY OF AMATEURS)]

woman-older2

 

The car is a yacht. They are sailing under the dripping roof of the night’s weird cave in a black Cadillac convertible and he is freezing. She can’t remember the procedure for getting the dirty old rag top back up. She doesn’t know the year and wouldn’t even know the make if Cadillac weren’t in her mind a word like Hoover or Xerox or Biro, a brand name jumped up to a category through common consent. She has heard her husband say about a dozen times in twice as many years that the car is nineteen feet long, that’s all she knows. She feels lucky enough that the keys turned out to be in her purse and not in his pocket as she had initially believed. Her fur coat of course insulates her against feeling too bad about the top being down but her new friend, in his baseball cap and thin jacket, collar up, is on the brink of pneumonia.

“I never could stand the look of Berlin in the sunshine,” she says, “but at night she’s a real doll, don’t you think? Tragic ‘n sexy. Kinda like a teenage welfare mother in Old Tijuana.” She pronounces Tijuana correctly. You can just see her flirting with a Mexican pool boy. You can see her holding out a ten dollar bill with gentle insistence, offering a leaf to a fawn.

She looks much better with the yellow wig (now stowed in the glove compartment) off and her hair turns out to be a pearly bob raked by the wind’s dark fingers, thin as champagne but luminous and full of bounce, snapping back into shape at every available opportunity of stop light. Her facelift is a cartoonist’s allusion to speed, it looks intrepid, the way the corners of her eyes and mouth sweep back as she leans forward over the wheel, driving far-sightedly, but she’s a handsome woman with a softening jawline and a debutante’s nose, upturned, decorative, a master’s knifework. Her ability to snap back into sobriety in order to drive indicates that her husband is an incorrigibly boyish drunk and that she is the best kind of mommy, countering her little boy’s missteps at every turn. Flat-chested older women like her almost always have men who play the role of only child to the hilt, it seems to him. Runnels of the remains of a quick drizzle play across the Cadillac’s black hood like cold sweat.

“Where are we going?” he asks. But he doesn’t care.

“We’re escaping, doll,” she answers. “Can’t you feel it? Gravity slipping away?”

“Don’t you have to be back on the Queen Mary in the morning?”

Good joke. She laughs way deep down in her throat: a coughing growl. The kind of sound you make when your husband struts forth in his leopard-print undies. “We’re not complete tourists here, you know. As a matter of fact,” she says, with a half-hearted attempt at a posh British accent, “We keep a house in Grünewald. Little stone thing surrounded by trees. Care to see it?”

“Why not.”

“That’s the spirit.”

“Do you know that your husband offered to suck my cock for me at the party?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s going through a phase of late.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Not half as much as it would if I caught him picking his nose. You’re not a nose picker, are you?”

She asks him to keep a hand on the steering wheel while she retools her lipstick in the rearview.

“Much much better.”

She reaches across the armrest and the rain-beaded expanse of the red leather seat and rests a hand on his biceps, where it remains until she needs it again to hit the clicker and make a drastic left turn over a long iron communist-era drawbridge. The tires hum as they cross the drawbridge and the moon is a saucer and the saucer’s teacup is smashed in the water, smashed china, lilting away in shards upstream. It’s a scary old bridge that implies they are entering an earlier, unhappier era as they cross it towards a horizon either of low clouds or black trees. They cross it and see industrial fields left and right,  near and far ruins, a factory gaping rotten in the grass, squatting on a zipper of rusted tracks, staggered away from the tree-lined road, harassed and destroyed not by triumphant capitalism but by diligent little boys with their slingshots.

“No children?”

“Do I look like a breeder? My husband is enough.”

He can see that she had once been very striking, if that’s the word for it, and that she’d never been fat, or poor, or forced to beg for any favors. Her confidence strikes him as a kind of wisdom and he wants to pose questions to her as he would to an oracle. But he just can’t think one up, or fix on one long enough to body it forth in words. He is tired and cold and not averse to having his cock sucked at some point but not counting on it, either. Sometimes it’s just nice being looked at.

“When I was coming along, it was always a matter of pretending that the guy was better at stuff than you were…  this elaborate charade of deferring to the male as the default superior in everything but homemaking. God. My husband was the first man I ever met who was, in truth, truly better at some things than I was… which freed me to admit that I was better at the other things…  he wasn’t threatened by that. You know what I mean? What a relief! But of course he has his quirks. Germans seem funny enough to us anyway, don’t they?”

She asks, gingerly, “Have you ever been with an older woman?” and he laughs so hard and long at this that she turns as red as a silver dish of Thanksgiving cranberries on her grandmother’s white embroidered table cloth in 1957.

.

Improbable Tales #1: The Ring

Berlin (890)

There was a bear stretched to its full standing height, perhaps even up on its tiptoes, shaking the branch of a tree (she wished she could say exactly what kind of a tree but being a city kid she couldn’t) for whatever reason that would undoubtedly make utter sense to a bear, but the thing about the bear that was truly noteworthy (and made her assume at first she was dreaming) was its t-shirt. It was easily legible in the early morning light, the letters (black on white cotton) arranged in three fat lines like a stoner’s haiku bulging across the barrel contour of the animal’s chest: That Which Does Not /Kill Me /Pisses Me Off.

Because of the animal’s great height (she wasn’t a wizz at estimating lengths and distances but it had to be nine feet tall) the dirty t-shirt appeared to be a cut-off and gave the bear, with its exposed belly (coated in rills of articulated grime like tire-ridged curbsnow), a vaguely gay appearance. Not that there’s anything wrong with a gay bear. She’d have to get off her own belly and climb out of her sleeping bag and peek from a better angle to determine the bear’s sex with any certainty and common sense advised against it. Not that curiosity wasn’t berating her with its distant, cat-killing, megaphone voice.

Her little cafeteria argument with Aaron Waldauer about bears and periods suddenly came back to haunt her with a vengeance that would have had the brat in hysterics if he had but known. A lingering fingernail of moon was visible behind the bear’s ear and that plus several rindy clouds and the thickening spume of a vapor trail made Zoey think of debris in a swimming pool and the time she’d spotted a ring on the blue tiles at the bottom of the deep end and frog-kicked down to scoop it up and bring it to the surface like a pearl diver. Only to present it to Judy wrapped in lavender tissue and have Judy lose it.

Mom (who’d announced long ago that referring to her as “Judy” was perfectly acceptable, though Zoey, after toying with the option for a day or two, had reverted to the standard with a shiver of wise relief) was in one of her comas. Screwed so deep into the mass of her dreamless sleep and exhaling, through a mouth like a sprung valise full of gold, the rich breath of Marlboro and Merlot she reeled back again, her snore. Zoey decided against waking her. She was glad they’d been good campers: their bloody garbage deposited in a proper receptacle downwind. She also hoped that the air horn, the primordial fire extinguisher and the Taser (on loan from a possessive Mountie) were all where she thought they were (except the fire extinguisher, which was in the car) in the tent.

A shower of pine needles from the agitated branch glittered in the bright air like a static display that continued to function a while after the bear (satisfied, frustrated or simply bored) ambled off and the bear hadn’t been gone for five minutes before Zoey began doubting what she had clearly seen and wouldn’t remember again until coming to in a fog in her flower-choked hospital suite after the mastectomy.

Confidence

photo by SG

About a week after I went blind, my friend Dorman dropped me off on a bench in Roosevelt Park, just exactly as he’d done the day before, so I could sun myself for three hours until the end of his shift. It was Thursday. Dorman said, “Now don’t you go anywhere until I get back, you impetuous kid,” and patted me on the head. He crushed the sharp grass with his boots as he climbed the slope to the sidewalk that ringed the park.

“What am I looking at?” I called over my shoulder.  I could just feel him standing there with his hands in his pockets, peering at the back of a blind head. The cigarette batting up and down in the corner of his mouth as he spoke. “Some gay guys playing volleyball.  Asian yuppie trying to teach a bulldog to sit.”

I was partial to Roosevelt Park in part because of the courthouse bell tower looming over the park’s western corner and just as Dorman opened his mouth and said, “Well, adios,” the bell began bonging. It was two o’clock. By the time the bells were silent Dorman was gone, scrunched back down into his crappy little diesel-burning car with a plan to return at shift’s end.

I’d never truly appreciated the totality of the experience of sitting in sunlight on a late-spring day before the blindness. Less and less did I think of light as light and more and more as heat; I thought of it also as pressure and I knew that if the blindness kept up long enough the time would come when I could smell it and taste it too. I’d sniff the gray of an overcast day and the last gasp of twilight would reek achy blue. I sat there in my sunglasses, arms folded over my chest, face tilted towards the hum of that perilously huge and proximate star, inhaling it. I repositioned my head in one way or another, pretending to be watching things.

The sun felt so good. I could feel the smack of red palms on dirty white volleyball flesh, the green grunt (in a bouquet of gasps) preceding the smack each time and the grass-ripping skirmish of earthfall,  then pell-mells of yelps in pursuit of the ball to the opposite side of the net. And I could hear, at a forty-five degree angle to my right, at a distance of maybe thirty yards, metered out in human barks: “Sit.”

“Sit.”

“Sit.”

And I’m sure I could tell from the timbre of his voice, with liberal horror, that the person speaking was Asian. Dorman had told me as much; “Asian yuppie trying to teach a bulldog to sit.” So it’s possible that I’d colored the sound of his voice with the taint of prior knowledge.

Once every twenty minutes or so there came the cavernous flush of the public toilet behind and to the left, up the slope, beside the sidewalk. I could taste it, too, that deli tang of piss. There’s the brownorange of saturated vintage and the greeny-yellow of the day’s fresh pressed. Men like to piss outside the toilet bunker too, of course, much like those who helpfully toss their trash near a litter basket and the odor from such deposits has the sharpness of thumbtacks.

Holding my arm, Dorman had shepherded me to the toilet for one last drain of the bladder before he could take me down to the bench and park me here for three serenely helpless hours. Some lug was planted like a marksman at a stall already as Dorman and I had entered, arms linked, and I could feel the lug’s neck bones crack at us as his shoeleather flexed in the twist of his weightshift and his subsequent homophobe’s sniff and exit. Dorman tensed defensively but being blind I was far beyond embarrassment. Safe in my pod.

I had gone blind on a Friday. During the early hours. I wonder if a certain dream caused it. I sprawled there in bed for the longest time with a menacing sense of un-rightness. It was as dark in that room as I had ever seen on Earth but the noise that blew in on a temperate breeze through the window above the bed was the bright hustle and quarrel and stutter and screech of a wide-awake beast called a city.

“Sit.”

That bulldog was having a hard time paying attention to his master’s command to sit. Was it just not sitting at all, the bulldog, or sitting and standing again too quickly to constitute a proper sit? Was the guy pushing the dog’s flatulent rump down with every command? Was it a comically disobedient dog, with floppy jowls, peering up cutely from under a droopy brow? Or was it a bad seed, this dog? Destined to disappoint?

A funny effect of the blindness, which became evident after the initial panic subsided, after the first screaming-into-a-pillow day was out of my sytem, was the sexiness of it. I’d noticed a similar syndrome while travelling. I’d come into a new city, unpack a suitcase in a hotel room and develop a boner, an erection of adolescent persistence. Probably the possibilities implied by a maid-fingered bed in a virgin space, the thrill of knowing that anything can happen in a strange room simply because nothing had not happened there yet. And so it was in the Black Hotel Room of my blindness, my Pod; a state of constant arousal. I would crawl to the bathroom and finger the walls and fixtures until I oriented myself to face the blank mirror and milk the stiff udder of my imagination into the facebowl two or three times a day. Afterwards, I’d pull the silver knob that stoppers the sink, run the warm water and sluice them towards the pipe-encased sea of the city, my wiggling little atoms of need.

“How old is he?” I called out, boldly, wondering exactly how long I might fool somebody into thinking I could see. I tried to call out at a directed volume that might sound like I was aiming at him. Too loud would be a dead giveaway.

“It’s a she not a he. Five months. Stella.”

“Beautiful dog,” I said, nodding. I knew he was probably petting her, scratching behind her ears with pride. And the dog’s tongue was hanging out the corner of its messy mouth, ladling slobber on the grass.

“Bulldog, right?”

He didn’t answer; had I offended him? but then it dawned on me that the owner was grinning and nodding. Then the silence stretched out until the bell tower bonged three and I realized that the Yuppie and his bulldog had gone, of course. Yuppies become uncomfortable after three or four minute exchanges. They’re ideally suited for elevator quipping in buildings of ten stories or less, or in line at a very fast bagel or coffee shop. Then it occurred to me that he’d probably seen Dorman lead me to the bench and sit me there, an ambulatory invalid, and it was clear to him that I was blind and I had looked to him as either pathetic or insane for pretending that I could see. He had crept off, embarrassed for me.

The volleyball game raged on. I could hear, in the out-of-breathness of some of the game’s participants as they shouted out scores, or good-natured taunts against the other side, that some of the players were a bit older than others, or at least in worse shape and were playing the game on a different level altogether. The young ones were just batting a ball around in the sunshine; the old ones were involved in a life-and-death struggle. The exuberant selfishness of beautiful youth, never looking at anything other than itself in any real detail, helped the old ones camouflage the terror in their efforts.  I got caught up in it, hearing it that way, and noticed that the weak, the sick, the old, were the ones making all the noise.  Gasping jokes. Desperate screams with the winning points. Then I smelled coffee.

My bench jolted and creaked with slender company.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” I said, smiling in the direction that the “Hi” had come from. A female “Hi”.  A throaty, sexy, televisiony “Hi”. The kind of “Hi” that sounds like it knows full well it’s welcome, barging benevolently into your livingroom at primetime to sell you some kind of frozen gourmet dinner, or to warn you about the dangers of pre-natal smoking. Hi, I’m Lauren Hutton.

I cocked my head. “Actress?”

She hesitated before responding and I knew she was examining me with a skeptical squint.

“But you’re blind aren’t you?” she said. I reached out for her and we both laughed. She apologized. “I’ll bet that’s the bluntest anybody’s been all day.” She touched my shoulder while chuckling and I felt like a tuning fork being pinged.  “Isn’t it?”

“Surely.” I pulled off my sunglasses and gave her a quick un-look and winked and slipped them back on with both hands. “Not just blind, I’ll have you know. Nouveau blind. Blind for six days, thus far, but who’s counting? Sitting here trying to pass myself off as a guy with eyes.” I saluted her. “I’m still in the closet. How’d you ‘out’ me?”

“I live in those apartments…” she caught herself, “I live in a high-rise overlooking the park. I sit on my balcony doing crossword puzzles and drinking coffee in the afternoon. This is the second day I’ve seen your friend walk you over to this bench. I like the way you dress… you look kinda displaced. Your friend isn’t bad looking himself. He drives a Skoda, by the way. Vanity plates. ‘2 BAD 4 U’. Oh dear.”

I enjoyed a very clear image of her on her balcony, peering through the eyepiece of one of those expensive little telescopes that were so popular among the hip last year. Lauren Hutton with a telescope. Then I had a disappointing intuition. “You’re not about to ask me if my friend is married, are you?”

“Me? Heavens no. I don’t date smokers, or Skoda drivers, or guys with vanity plates, for that matter. Your friend looks too much like a writer. I have to admit I like the sideburns, though.”

“Sideburns?” Mock outrage. “He’s grown sideburns in the week of my tragic blindness?” Dorman had been talking about doing that for years, growing sideburns, but I always gave him shit about the notion.  “I must say he’s made the most of my handicap.” I shook my head.  “The Skoda he bought in East Berlin and shipping it cost more than the car is even worth, but his theory is that the kind of girl he likes likes funky little cars like that, so….”

“Whatever works. Beats swimming upstream for a little salmon, wouldn’t you agree?”

“How do you feel about painters?”

“Painters.” I could feel her frowning. “You were a painter?”

“Were? Am.”  One smart nod.  “You have admit it’s one helluva gimmick. Arrange the tubes a certain way, work with a limited pallet, I could even do you.” I leaned towards her. “By touch.” I reached but she pulled her face out of range.

“Sorry,” she said.

“No, no…” Hot faced. “You…”

“But you honestly don’t understand.”

A very long minute elapsed. I could feel traffic and the dramatic slaps and yelps of the volley-ball siege and her ladylike coffee-sipping. I could feel inland-wandering gulls pleading for life in a chain of circles across the sky. I heard a tree-shadow encroach on my left as the sun rolled right. I shrugged and smiled that ever-upwards smile of the blind and said,  “Spring.”

She made the muffled interrogatory mmmm? of someone busy with coffee. I cleared my throat. “This is the first Spring I’ve ever felt a part of. I can no longer see it, but I smell it and hear it… I am it. Like eyes are these holes in your head you’re always escaping out of. Now that I can’t get out anymore, I’m here… I’m present. Responsible for my atoms. ” I think I was smirking. It’s hard to feel, from the inside out, the difference between a smirk and some rue. In any case, I was thinking that she was obviously an old hand at diverting attention.  Ask her a question about herself and the next thing you knew, you were talking about you.

“So, uh, you still haven’t answered my question.”

“Which question was that, sweetie?”

“Your voice. It sounds so…  I don’t know…  so polished. Well-modulated.”

“Am I an actress?” Meaningful chuckle. Irony there. “You’re hearing the Finishing School, probably. You’re hearing some debutante shellack. I’m no actress. If I were an actress, I could only get certain parts, anyway. Well, not even then. Along those lines, there’s something I should probably tell you….”

I had another disappointing intuition. The voice was so deep. Deeper than Lauren Hutton’s.

“I love this coffee. Persian Mocha Royale. Wanna sip?” She carefully steadied the heavy mug in my hands and as I lowered my upper lip to the hot edge of the coffee she said, like there was poison in the drink, “Wait.”

“You’re a man,” I blurted.

“That’s right,” she said, with what sounded like real pleasure, “you wouldn’t even be able to tell, would you? Well, happy to say, no. But,” she took a deep breath, “when I was younger, very much younger than I am today, ten years ago or so, there was an accident, yes? and I’d really rather not go into in any detail now, but I had to have some pretty extensive skin-grafts… my face, my chest, my right arm…. the doctors were very expensive and very very good… but, uh, what can I say? I’m no longer what you’d call a pretty sight. I have a good body, knock on wood (she knocked on the bench) and I haven’t been a shut-in or anything and I’ve had more than my share of drug-induced one-night stands, because, as you may know, men will sleep with just about anything…but, uh, you know, nobody’s ever walked proudly down the street holding hands with me on a Sunday afternoon in Soho, if you know what I mean? People stare; the very old are as bad as children. Yuppies try so hard not to stare that it’s the same difference. Oh, plus: I get these resentful looks on the rare occasions when I decide that I’m human and want to dine in a nice restaurant… I guess it puts some people off their food. You know, it’s like: doesn’t she have the common decency to stay home?”

She shifted on the bench, getting a leg up on it, hugging a knee to her chest. I think. She said:

“God…”  

“You can’t believe you just told me that,” we overlapped, in near-unison, laughing. She touched my shoulder again. Again I pinged.

“I just wanted to get that out of the way.” From the inclination of her voice I could tell she was staring out across the park, away from me, remembering things. I wanted her very badly. “I mean, I suppose I could have kept it a secret and you never would have known. Until you touched my face.”

I was so glad I couldn’t see her. I found myself almost desperate that she’d stay. I experienced the astounding luxury of not giving a damn how she looked.

“Well, since you’ve already mentioned the unmentionable, how old are you? If I may be so rude.”

“Prefer not to say,” she said as pleasantly as possible.

“Ah. Mysterious older woman?”

“Not really. And there’s nothing mysterious about any woman over thirty,” she huffed. “That’s just a phony consolation prize men give you for your wrinkles…‘worldly’ ‘mysterious’…only teenage girls have any mystery about them and that’s only because they’re mysterious to themselves.” She sniffed. Sipped some coffee. Crossed a leg. I’d touched a nerve.

“What’s your favorite period of Picasso?”

She took long enough to answer that I realized (and I realized that she realized as well) that it wasn’t really just an innocent question on my part. It was a test. Anyone who answered “The Blue Period” failed. I could be friends with someone who answered “Cubism”, but never sleep with them. I was hoping she’d answer correctly, because I really, and not simply out of base biological need, wanted to sleep with her. In a very noisy way.

When I could see, I cared so much more about how I looked and the woman in your life is definitely an extension of your own appearance.  Would she, my deformed beauty with the luxurious voice, be the first in a long line of exquisite monsters?

“My favorite period of Picasso.” She sucked a lip. “Well, the last one. Just before he died. When he was painting like a death-obsessed child.”  She tapped my knee. “When he was painting those monsters.”

I got chills.

“Do you wanna know the weirdest thing about my current condition?” I could smell her dry saliva on the lip of the coffee mug. She wasn’t wearing lipstick. She scooted closer. This poor ugly lonely girl. How ugly? She smelled like Persian Mocha Royale and herbal shampoo and something else, something nearly-forgotten and I really wanted to eat her. Lick and chew that ugly face. Oysters are ugly too and don’t I love them?

“The weirdest thing about being blind,” I said, as I tapped my nose, “Is that I feel indestructible. I feel immortal. Back before, when I could see, I felt as flimsy as a fruitfly. Now I feel, I don’t know, like I’m in this very safe place, this Kryptonite vault in space. I call it The Pod. I feel like my ties to this tiny world have been severed. I’m only still participating in the banality of everyday life because why not?  But in reality, see, I’m flying through space in The Pod. Immortal and unbound. Cozy in the black-box recorder of the jet plane of existence or something.”

I was selling her on blindness, you see. I was offering it to her, to share it somehow, in order to keep her. She touched me through my light jacket and her touch left sweet burns of sex on my arm. She kissed me twice, first on the side of my face and then, giving into the impulse, she suddenly took my blindness in her hands and kissed me hard on the mouth.

“I’ll keep in touch,” she said, and she was gone.

I was so stunned that I couldn’t even say goodbye. I had a sad premonition of coming back to this park, this bench, at the same time every day, for years of hoping. Tilting my face towards her balcony. Wherever it was.

“Hey,” someone called. I cocked my head.

“Are you alright?” The panting of the dog at his feet. “She sure can spin a tale, can’t she? That sister can talk,” he chuckled. He patted Stella the mildly disobedient Bulldog. Or maybe he was scratching her belly. “But you’re fine, I see.”

He settled on the bench.

“Gary Chew,” he said. “She smells good for a homeless, too. I’ll give her that. See, I used to give her money when I first moved here. I look like an easy mark, I admit it! She’d cook up these real elaborate sob stories and it was kinda funny because she never seemed to remember me and came up with a different story every time. But I always gave her a buck anyway. Then one day I saw her approach a brother, you know, a black guy, in a business suit, a successful brother with a real air about him and he just shook his head and kinda straight-armed right past her and I thought, damn! If her own people won’t help her, why should I?”

The Asian slapped his leg and Stella jumped with great effort upon the bench between us and her master rubbed her vigorously as he spoke.

“You a dog lover?”

I felt sick.

Honi Soit: A one-act Radio Play for the Internet Age

 310520104826

Setting:
a chat room

Dramatis Personae:
Ann Ominous-a recently divorced Academic (34)
O’Sirus-a bisexual serial killer with an interest in Celtic murder ballads and Egyptology (43)

OS: I like you’re profile pic

AO: To the extent that you’re willing to ‘believe’ (i.e. suspend disbelief) that the picture is A) ‘me’, B) recent and C) un-photoshopped, I thank you. What is it that you ‘like’ about the image, specifically? (And please don’t respond with, ‘your eyes,’ since we’re all aware that references to the ‘eyes’ are always coded symbols of everything *but* the eyes in the context of online transactions of desire and power). It would be refreshing, I confess, if a man, just once, were to answer the above-stated question bluntly, with, for example, ‘the size, shape, and elevation of your breasts’ or ‘your truculent, fellatio-evocative pout’, though, I’d qualify this confession by saying that a man gets ‘points’ (a currency calibrated in what units?) for somehow reconciling the ability to be ‘refreshing’ (transgressive) with some degree of elegance or suavity. That is to say, a contextually ‘hermaphroditic’ presentation interrogating the vitality of ‘male’ aggression with ‘female’ strategies of mimesis-in-play (‘play’ as equal parts ‘agon’ and performance) might prove to be a delightful synthesis. Not that I’m advocating a totalitarian approach to the aesthetics of persuasion, though Henri-Levy did, of course, once quip, “The only successful revolution of this century is totalitarianism.” However, lest your eyebrows remain raised (*emoticon of mirth*) at my referencing such a camera-ready poppinjay as BHL, I will “raise my stock” (as traded on what FTSE of sexual metaphor?) by appropriating the gravitas of Levi-Strauss instead: “If the composer withholds more than we anticipate, we experience a delicious falling sensation; we feel we have been torn from a stable point on the musical ladder and thrust into the void.” Substituting, of course, the terms “cockmaster” for “composer” and “pleasure arc of masturbatory chatting” for “musical ladder”. Not that I expect (hope?) that this last ‘revelation’ (obfuscation?) will ‘up the ante’ (referencing as this colloq. does the ‘game’ of ‘poker’ and the demotic pun it redeems) in our ‘chat’.

OS: ?

AO: 551 275 1585

Evidence of Humor in the Obscure Works of Amis the Younger: a Thesis

evidence-of-humor

Qualos freezes before screaming. He teeters on his clogstilts like an icon of incredulity. He tells himself don’t. Don’t scream. Screaming will only serve to. The car is gone anyway. It’s long gone anyway. Fast as cars move these days the thing is a kilometer gone and screaming will only help Snatchers track him and how much is all the paper in these books worth, after all? The big book alone. 500 pages and he’s got three of them and here he is Qualos K. schlepping this royal stuff unattended. Fatty Snatchers are sub-verbal and post-culture and heartless as the useful dead (as the saying goes) and so anything of value…anything. Qualos shudders. Aware of the booming black market in azfat.

Don’t worry about the books. The books are fine. The trousers are ruined. The books (in aluminum overcoats) are no problem but the trousers are toast. Digression: Qualos’s young colleague Wahn did an etymological study on the word ‘toast’ and discovered that long long ago the word referred to a fermented beverage. The modern usage (pertaining to a thing’s utter uselessness) obviously relates to the deleterious effects of inebriation via this potent ‘toast’ drink. Anyway. What was the kunt doing offroad? 

Qualos’s one fucking good pair of trousers, his inheritance, 100 percent natural fibers. He was to be married in these ancient irreplaceable things and he only hazarded donning them in the first place on this day of all days because there was going to be this supposedly special department meeting with Chancellor Shahvez present and now look they’re oozing with cum-streaks of acid mud and wouldn’t you know it the meeting was called off (department head beheaded; El Ai for you) so… great. Might as well strip. Right down to the skinsuit. Kick the rags down a firehole and be done with it. Blend in with the tards and proles in his skinsuit until he gets home.

No, he thinks, raising his chins.

No, a scholar wears trousers.

He sloshes home with self-satirizing dignity past several garbage-ringed fireholes along the way. The trousers soon hang in strips from his waist the skinsuit shining like a lamp under the smoking tatters yet behold the chins of Qualos, so resolutely high-held. This is where his breeding comes into it. The resolute chins, the noble baldness. The shreds of the heirloom Armani.

My problem, thinks Qualos, as the rattan ginormity of Hotel 547 looms unreflected over its sludgy moat into view. Too proud to exercise my prerogatives. Could have txtd Muhreea with the car’s vassalplate and Muhreea could have txtd her dad and dad could’ve called in a personal airstrike. Two minutes tops and Mr. Sports Tank is bar-b-cue. Qualos can see it clear as day the six-wheeled chunk of metal spinning on its back like a turtle dropped on a rock by a gull and te fruit-dealing negritoe within: a guttering wick. This makes Qualos smile.

What’s the point of marrying into a Warlord’s clan if you’re too proud to indulge in the perks? Qualos shakes his head with mock-long-suffering pride in his pride. Just as he is sometimes afraid of his fear and disgusted with his disgust he is proud of his pride. Typical scholar. Muhreea says don’t smile, Qualos, it makes you look so weak but he shakes his head and he smiles. What Muhreea and the rest of her dynasty fail to grasp is how a perceived weakness cloaks an unperceived strength.

Qualos breezes in through the southeast checkpoint and gets the green flash and the strangely disparaging (and vaguely homosexual) he’s harmless from the screener chip. No one so much as glances up from their phoenbooks, frowning through loupes at all the little paradise-colored displays. The guests, the guards, the residents all hunched and loafing with their phoenbooks in the sweltering lobby. Because their rooms are shit. Most of their rooms are pure shit; are prewar toilets; are prewar toilets without toilets. How many of them have ever seen a genuine natural fiber example of what Qualos is carrying?

Digression: young Wahn the colleague informed Qualos once that way-back-when they pronounced ‘toilet’ as toy-lit.

Anyway. Paper-based books or unicorn eggs: same diff. But no one even looks up and Qualos, modeling his hissing trousers like they’re an antediluvian museum-piece of a grass skirt from the lost island of Haw-y-ee, makes a beeline for the lift. It’ll take twenty or thirty minutes to elevate to the 182nd floor (Senor Heyzeus owes him a saki and a handjob) and he wants to get this over with. So, up to the 182nd and then back down to his corner suite (in this case he must admit he indulged in a perk or two alright: he has a tubtoilet, a vertical bed, a kitchen and a closet) on the 160th. It takes longer to elevate to the penthouse (that he would ever have any business up there) than to drive to the next city. He hopes he can score a seat in the lift. Both directions. But he’ll settle for up.

As it happens, there is a free seat in the lift and it’s right next to someone Qualos knows, slightly, another scholar named Geeairmoe. Geeairmoe with the long hair and high forehead and the little mustache and mincing lips looking terribly like that guy on the Dreamervision show, the show that’s supposed to be so well-researched and so well-calibrated that it won’t even give you headaches after doing it solid for a month. Won an M.E. award.

Geeairmoe, who certainly knows his way around a paper-based book (and would recognize the aluminum protector plates as property of the Uni in any case), nods at the pile in Qualos’s lap and says, pretending to feign interest, “What you got there?” He doesn’t even mention the trousers. Geeairmoe’s tact is infinitely more wounding than a gaffe could ever have been. Lethal bastard. He’ll be a Head in no time. “Anything good?”

“Amis the Younger.”

“Ah.”

Geeairmo’s eyes twinkle with the soft reflected torchlight of the citadeled pleasures of youth. Like if Qualos had mentioned boysex or something. Saying Amis the Younger always gets this response, notes Qualos: that good old Amis twinkle. Not terribly unlike the so-called Rowling Effect, as SocPsyc Officers call it: even apeshit hammer-mad loonies go all placid (enough to tranq ’em, at least) when you chant a few paragraphs from The Potteriad. Likewise the number of times people have afforded Qualos himself the goodwill that Amis the Younger’s beloved works engender. As though Qualos were the centuries-dead Amis’s Sancho. Or his emissary. In fact Qualos often wonders if Muhreea… if even Muhreea… and so on.  He shakes his head.

“They’re all by Amis the Younger but it’s not the Little Paco series.”

“He… aha. He produced other books?”

“Quite a few, actually. Most people aren’t aware of the fact that Amis didn’t even begin the Paco until well into his seventies, which was considered an advanced age for intellectual activity back then. He first published in his early twenties, which people in those days considered rather young. Between his early twenties and his late fifties, he produced a fair amount of work, though only experts have read any of it, of course. We tend to refer to them as the minor works. The apprenticeship he had to serve, if you will…” Qualos sniffs, “in preparation for the masterpieces he’s remembered for.”

He strokes the scratched metal cover of the uppermost book. “I’m working on a Global Thesis Post (he can see that Geeairmoe is impressed, despite himself) to the effect that these so-called ‘serious’ early works…all of which Amis wrote in Old English, by the way… were intended to be every bit as comedic as Little Paco. It’s the radical difference in style and the shift from Old English when Amis made the all-important conversion of working only in Spanish (which in turn has to be converted into modern Spenglis) that throws the historians off, I believe. Not that I can’t commiserate with the clueless bastards. The ornate language of these early works can be pretty slow going. A pretty tough slog. I’ve been working on these three alone for a metric year. Trying to think of a comparison. Have you heard of a paper-based Old English book called Finnegans Wake?”

“Ah,” nods Geeairmoe, who neither truly understands nor cares.

Please Remove Your Shoes at the Door

I was utterly happy with my height…with my life…until the summer of my 18th year, in 1987. In that year, you may remember, music still sounded somewhat like music, and shoulder pads were the prosthetic of choice, and the destruction of the environment was only the concern of a rarely-fucked minority of jobless sour-grapes crackpots. Now, everyone’s worried. But that’s another story. The summer of 1987 was the summer that my mother, trying to be helpful, made the devastating remark that changed everything.

“Now you listen to me,” she said, standing in the middle of our kitchen with her hands on her wide hips…her hips were the wide base of a very tall A-frame of Scandinavian design…“you’re going to meet plenty of bloody nice girls who would be proud to have you for a boyfriend, do you hear?” Bloody…that was her word.

She was shaking with anger as she said this, and it caused me to reflect that she was taking the news of Gilda Fontaine’s decision to dump me by leaving a message on the family answering machine more seriously than I was. Those were the days when answering machines were still a relatively new feature in the well-equipped household and the outgoing messages that answering machine owners recorded on their machines in order to greet new callers could be ornate and well-rehearsed presentations. Our machine boasted a salutation in four-part harmony. It was composed and arranged by my father; a crafty ditty that stretched our last name (Smoot) into five distinct syllables, and had all four of us enunciating the terminal “t” with a clarity that bordered on being hostile. My father was the music teacher/ phys ed instructor for King of Prussia Junior High, and he probably felt pressured into coming up with something technical like that, considering his position in the community.

I remember the tune as clearly as any song by The Beatles, and sang it under my breath at Dad’s funeral the year I hit thirty, not long ago. He was a little man too, but seemed to burn up the fuel of his allotted years with the physical greed of a giant. We bought him a full sized coffin, out of respect, but I’ve always been a little disturbed by the idea of Dad rattling around in that lonely box like a little gray lozenge in an otherwise empty tin of cough drops. A little man should have a little coffin: there should be no shame in that. But I digress.

So Gilda Fontaine called that Saturday morning in 1987 and waited impatiently through our barber shop quartet of an answering machine greeting, and with cold-blooded precision delivered herself of the announcement that the plans we’d made for that evening, or any day or evening thereafter, for that matter, were off and no hard feelings ciao. I should have heard that message alone: I really wouldn’t have cared that much. I wouldn’t have made much of it. Maybe I might have kicked something but so what.

She wrapped the kiss-off up with a very reasonable sounding “I just thought you should know,” and I remember being grudgingly impressed that she’d made her little speech without faltering. She was that kind of girl, the kind of girl who could leave a message like that on an answering machine without stuttering, in 1987, when everyone else was still afraid of them, and knowing that my whole family would probably hear it, but I guess she wasn’t born with the name Gilda Fontaine for nothing.

Some people are better than their names (like my college buddy Bubba Rukeyser), and others never seem to grow into theirs, but Gilda Fontaine lived up to her labeling like something from an exclusive shop (with its own brass nameplate) that the average person isn’t allowed into; that the average person doesn’t even know exists. Mother and I alone heard Gilda’s valedictory message. Father was busy with concrete and fence posts in the back yard, and Shel was somewhere near Haverford learning to drive. Mother’s finger was still on the “play” button as I left the living room to go into the kitchen to get some apple juice and hide my shame. She followed me straight in there and erupted with the pep talk that ruined my life.

“Now you listen to me, you’re going to meet plenty of bloody nice girls who would be proud to have you for a boyfriend, do you hear?”

It never would have occurred to my ego that Gilda Fontaine’s rejection of me was anything more personal than an act of God until my mother’s rage about it showed me the truth: Gilda Fontaine was dumping me because of me, and not because of some faulty wiring in her brain…she was dumping me because I wasn’t good enough. And the only thing about me that I could isolate as noticeably different from everyone else to a degree that it could be considered some kind of defect was my height. Before that, it’s funny to say this, but I thought of myself as a perfect jewel of a young man…pretty as a girl, but well built, and sensitive as a pampered prince from ancient Persia. A musician, a poet, a wasp-waisted boy: that’s what I saw in the mirror when I checked, which was often. A gymnast, a joke-teller, a mystic, a gentleman.

I knew I was tiny, but my size back then made me feel special, and well-crafted…transistorized. And back then I had the whisperable litany of The List: Alexander the Great, Al Pacino, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Paul Williams, Friedrich Nietzsche, Tom Cruise, Ringo Starr, David Cassidy, Michael J. Fox, Roman Polanski, Francois Truffaut, Michael Dukakis, Rudolf Valentino, Napoleon Bonaparte, Dustin Hoffman, Toulouse Lautrec, Christopher Isherwood, Gary Coleman and Jesus H. Christ.

Well, seeing the compassionate outrage on my mother’s face in the kitchen that afternoon put a stop to those perfection fantasies; I might as well have been her hare-lipped birth control accident, chained to a pole in the cellar. I suddenly saw through my mother’s own eyes that I was fucked up and runty and I’d never be a leading man in the movie of my own existence. I was doomed to be a side-kick to some tall lummox at best, just like in all of those old cartoons where the smart little mouse tells the big dumb one what to do, but it’s always the big dumb one who has to save the little smart one from the cat when they sneak out in the kitchen for cheese accompanied by xylophone music.

The main point: my new knowledge changed me over-night. I became strategic rather than generous, and competitive as opposed to Aquarian. I divided the world into the complacent tall and the aggrieved short, and gave myself the rank of general in the secret war against tallness that I vowed to prosecute. But first there was the matter of acquiring a proper uniform. The footwear, at least.

One hour and ten minutes by car from our Elm-lined grove of a street was a shoemaker’s shop that I found after searching diligently all summer, poring over the Yellow Pages like a monk caressing an illuminated text. I found this beautiful old cobbler’s place…the smell as one crossed the shop’s threshold was the olfactory equivalent of rubies.

I got there minutes before closing time, but the proprietor of the shop knew my story in one half of a glance, and so he mercifully fitted me for a special pair of shoes which then came by special delivery the day before I had to pack my things and handshake my family goodbye for a private college set on the vertiginous flatness of the heartland. The proprietor of the shoe shop was a chocolate brown old African-American guy with the euphonious moniker of Elvinius Belkins, and his shop was called “The Shoe Fits,” and Elvinius, for three hundred dollars (a lot of money back then), gave me about twenty percent of my self-esteem back, plus a two year guarantee on the heels. They fit like new feet.

Now what would make more sense for a profoundly not-tall man-boy like myself, a man-boy who could just about achieve the low end of an average height with the benefit of teetering custom-made platform shoes? To pursue romances with the tiniest and most vertically suitable beauties available, or to measure himself against the quixotic challenge of scaling the lankiest amazons on the horizon? It’s a question, as always, of what might have made more sense, versus what really happened.

The administration of Fate is a concise business, I find. It tends to get right to the point (whether you know it or not). My first night at college I saw her: Mary Ford was that blonde redwood walking into my dormitory building as I looked down from the window in the second floor lounge, and because I was looking straight down upon the pale crown of her head, and the smooth topology of her breasts and shoulders, I couldn’t quite grasp her enormity, except by the shadow she cast in the glare of the floodlight mounted above the dorm entrance, which appeared to be five miles long.

It was evening, I had finished unpacking my things and I was thinking about meeting people, hanging out in the lounge down the hall from my single. I had opted for a single rather than a double because I wanted privacy (to strap into and out of my special shoes unmonitored, for one thing), but it hit me that the concept of privacy is separated from the condition of loneliness by the hairline fracture of self-satisfaction. And I wasn’t satisfied with myself. I wanted to meet people.

Mary Ford was walking into the building with another girl, a black-haired girl, and though they were neck-and-neck in the race into the building with their armloads of books and potato chip bags and whatever, Mary’s shadow was nearly twice as long as the black-haired girl’s…their shadows laid out were an umbral mother and child. “That’s my girl,” I said, out loud, as I watched her loom below.

It didn’t slow me down a bit when I discovered, looking up at her a little later that evening, that she had the heavy jawline and protuberant brow of a man, and hands that way too. Her new friend, that black haired girl, who was exactly my height when we were both in heels, was an exquisite Persian beauty. Her face and body were a study in delicates, and subtles, and rares. Her hands were sand-colored flowers. Her eyes were amber. But still, I wanted the big one. I wanted to be inside that particular Statue of Liberty.

“Farrah,” said titanic Mary Ford, with her surprisingly squeaky voice, “this is Albert…what was your, er-”

“Smoot.”

“Smoot. Albert Smoot! Smoot?” She nodded interrogatively, got my permission, and went on, “Albert Smoot. Farrah…what-”

“Dizadji.” Farrah looked directly at me while saying it. Then she clasped her hands behind her back and looked up at the giant who seemed to be finding us both so adorable and got up on tip-toe and said “Dee-zah-JEE.” Her voice was smoke and rosewater. “Dee-zah-JEE.”

She smiled, on the verge of repeating it, when Mary said “Right!” and clapped her big hands with pleasure, a young Ford discovering some of the acrid spices of the ethnic names to be found in the World beyond her high-wasp enclave in Connecticut.

Mary, daughter of Missy and Robert, sister to Hester, Paul and Ronald, granddaughter of Robert and Susan and Winston and Hester, niece of Robert jr., Ronald, Paul, William, Bob and Susan…

There was a gathering of people in the second floor dorm lounge. The lights were low. Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians were on the stereo. There was a keg of beer at the other side of the room, hoisted up on the aluminum counter beside the sink, and bags and bags of ice had been emptied into the sink, and stacks of plastic cups towered over two big yellow bowls of stale chips. There was no real food that I could gallantly offer to cross the room and fetch for either of them, and we all already had cups of beer to fondle as props, and the music was too loud for me to say much of anything to anyone but Farrah, whose ears were damnably close to being perfectly aligned with the axis of my mouth. Mary soon enough got tired of bending over to keep tabs on our conversation, and drifted towards the only other equally tall person in the room, a hyper-thyroid case named Wolper.

“Tell me something about your friend Mary,” I said to Farrah, with the innocent rudeness natural to my age and class, “do you think she likes me?”

“Why not,” she should have said, “You’re the perfect size for a pet,” but her manners forbid it. She said, instead, “Why shouldn’t she?”

“That’s what I was thinking,” I nodded. “Because I really like her,” I gulped my beer, “a lot.”

“She wants to be an actress,” offered Farrah, “So if I were you I’d try out for something in the Drama Department.”

What I ended up getting was the lead role in a Theatre-of-the-Absurd type play called ‘Oedipus Christ,’ a never-produced text unearthed by H. Frawley Caine, the school’s controversial (and soon thereafter ‘let go’) Drama Teacher. I played the Baby Jesus to Mary Ford’s portrayal of my character’s famous mother and there were plenty…too many…opportunities for closeness between us. By the end of the six weeks of rehearsal, I had mistaken Mary’s amateur professionalism for love. I confused the one for the other like a pitifully foolish mosquito, mistaking an onion for an elbow. So when she invited me to her door room “for a quiet little get-together,” on the night before the play’s premier, I misinterpreted her intentions with self-immolating raptures of stupidity.

“Knock knock!” I called through Mary’s dorm room door, coyly, at the appointed hour. Imagine the look on my face when Wolper opened it and bade me enter, the ominous prongs of undergrad cocktail chatter meshing behind him. I made to push by Wolper but he instructed me to remove my shoes and place them in a long row of conspicuously normal-looking footwear, on the mat in the vestibule, first.

But what’s the point of trying to mislead you? This is merely my attempt at a little creative empathy. I’m not short at all; the truth is, I’m rather lanky… it’s just that I haven’t reached the point “within myself” from which I can address my actual defects directly.

Dolores

dolly 

I remember everything about Dolly the first time I saw her and almost nothing about my self. Was I happy? Sad? Confused? Lonely? Driven? In great shape still or a wreck like I am today? Hairy or hairless? The prince or the toad? I can’t seem to remember being anything other than the bitter old me I’ve become. Useless old animal hands. Blessed is the forgetting. But I remember Dolly, what Dolly looked like, the tensile strength of her warm grip and that everyone in those days was walking around with a telephone. Talking not to the phones but to each other! The phones were merely a medium. You won’t know what I mean by that. You’ll shake your heads; you’ll wink at each other.

Too much has happened. Maybe it will come back. I will come back. As I talk about it. Get it off my chest. They told me to record my thoughts, all of my thoughts, don’t be selective. They said that they’ll be the ones to worry about what to throw away and what to keep and despite the fact that I’m more than sure (delusions of grandeur, right?) that I can out-talk anything’s capacity to record me, talking about it might bring, in the archaic parlance of a long-gone culture, ‘closure.’ It might even be what people who once read better books than the people who once said ‘closure’ called ‘cathartic’. Submit ‘cathartic’ and the know-it-all thingy will inform you that it comes from the Greek, meaning ‘to cleanse.’ I could use some of that now. I look around me at all these gleaming white surfaces and let me tell you I feel like the rag that was used to clean them.

Twenty five years ago. There was a lot more sex then. It took two, three, maybe four people sometimes to do it, actually. You’re snickering at that. On the day in question, the day I’ll call Dolly Day (or D-Day) from now until the end of time, I had just turned thirty and had been feigning horror for weeks, for thirty is the last milestone one can truly afford to mock. So true. Thirty is like the girl you’ll never forget or the song you’d forgotten you’d loved more than any other song you ever knew. Thirty is as fragile as an egg; a skull.

The sun was coming out after a terrific little tantrum of weather, on D-Day. It was the middle of May and the cloudburst was winter’s parting shot. Like an antique soldier charging, bayonet extended, after all the bullets are gone. The Daguerreotype buffoon in his mustache and his long underwear. The sun that emerged was so vital and fierce that it murdered the clouds and got busy drying the sidewalks and I was so warm, suddenly. It was so suddenly summer. The sidewalks steaming. I carried my jacket over an arm and walked up the hill past the park, looking for a café for breakfast and the café that I chose was the café that Dolly was sitting in front of, soaking up the rays with her eyes shut, smiling at the sky. I’m thinking, in retrospect: I’ll bet the sky knew. You know? I’ll bet it winked at her.

People of the past strike us as being so stupid. We know everything they knew plus everything we know and they knew only what they could have known at the time. The people of the past are like country bumpkins. Excuse me but it’s like watching a retarded or blind person walking right for an open manhole. All you can do is gaze with open-mouthed incredulity. You almost have to laugh.

I remember trying to remember the word for omelet. I ordered an omelet which came with two diagonally halved slices of toast, a pat of butter, a decorative wedge of orange and a suspicious sprig of parsley. Suspicious because I had a friend who claimed that the parsley was often recycled; he never ate it but also never left it on his plate. He’d slip it in his pocket with compressed lips and a curt nod like he was doing his civic duty. His jacket pockets were full of brittle sprigs of parsley. He later turned out to have a screw loose.

Inside the café was dark with cigarette smoke and greasy light bulbs and a half a dozen tables of couples and trios in dark clothing at work on their cappuccinos and puffing on Marlboro’s and complaining about either or both of the new governments. I told the waitress I’d be sitting outside and she handed me a rag to wipe my seat with.

Dolores and I were the only ones in the sun. The sun’s news hadn’t yet reached the cryptish-cool depths of the café. And I stared while wiping the seat of a chair at a table that was neither too close nor too far. I stared because I thought her eyes were safely shut but on closer inspection I would have seen her eyelids fluttering, sneaky little thing but the rag I was using on the rain-beaded seat was too wet already and didn’t much help to dry the seat. It was wet and greasy and Dolores, who was peeking, laughed as though she was watching a Chaplin film. Then she handed me her orange scarf. Orange. As they say: there are no accidents in this clever world.

“Use this.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.”

“I used it to dry my seat. Why shouldn’t you?”

“But.”

“Use it, take it home, wash it and dry it and return it to me tomorrow. As long as there are tomorrows, yes?” The trinket of her laughter. “I trust you to return it.”

I remember being nervous talking to her; not just because she was so beautiful but because of the age difference, which was obviously significant, without me having to ask. Anything seeing us talking… flirting… would be sure to think: what does this pervert want? With her? What a face she had. Her face the first time I saw it was half- dream, half-cat, voluminously-wrinkled like satin. Tooth translucence.

She was carrying already, of course. What I thought of as a stringent, crushing, unearthly beauty at the time (30! The last-call!) was, in fact, the oracular fingerprint. A fingerprint from the angel of that particular attitude towards extinction. The angel pressed his faint red fingerprint hard on the paper of her old white face and I mistook the blood-pattern for beauty. I gallantly offered to buy her a chamomile tea, if I recall correctly. Not that you’d know what that is. Hot water?

I keep telling them it was already in her the day we met but they don’t believe me. If I could speak with someone face to face I’m pretty sure I could convince them. Communication isn’t only about words but none of you seem to trust me; you feel safer on the other side of that glass, don’t you? But you aren’t.

 

 

.