Category Archives: Uncategorized

Challenge

This is a blog. It is a place to put things I write so that I will a) be held accountable (to whom, I am not quite sure) and b) let my nice friends read some things I write if they are so interested. Most, but not all, of the recent works on this blog are fiction. I don’t feel it’s necessary to distinguish which ones are fiction and which are directly from the horse’s mouth (if I am a horse). I would say that you could assume most are a little of both, but that is not really true. Sometimes the voices I write belong to men, of whose ranks I am clearly not a member. But then again, some of the male characters experience thoughts and fears and feelings that are very similar to what I do. Often the female voices I assume do too. And sometimes there are voices like the one in Wine Time, who I only have one (not insignificant) trait in common with: an unabated and indiscriminate appetite for middle-of-the-road wine.

I sought to undertake a month-long writing challenge of sorts to get back in the habit before I go to grad school, but it’s proving to be very beneficial for me personally to be reminded that there are many stories in my head that would like to get out. As far as challenges go, I haven’t been successful in posting something every day. But I have written something every day, and that’s more important to me. I might put a little more time into longer or more thoughtful pieces. Maybe they will turn out to be longer and less thoughtful. We will have to see.

Car Wars: Episode I

(Customer enters car dealership. Salesman hastily closes laptop playing funny cat video.)
Customer: Uh, hi.
Salesman: Hello! Welcome to generic car dealership. My name is Salesman. How can I assist you today?
C: Well, I’m not looking to buy anything today…
S: Uh-huh. Terrific. Fine and dandy. No problemo.
C:…But I have a few questions.
S: All right, no pressure at all. What’s your name friend?
C: My name is Jim Bob, or something like that.
S: Jimmy Bob, pleasure to meet you. You sure are a big fella. You play football?
C: (silence)
S: I used to love to toss around the old pigskin myself. Allrighty, let’s walk and talk JB. Mind if I call you JB?
(S & C go outside to blazing hot lot containing several dozen cars. The cars are all different. Or the cars are all the same. It does not matter.)
S: What kind of car do you drive now, Johnson Bob?
C: Me, I’ve had the same Chevy Silverado for well on nine years.
S: Chevy Sil! A man’s car. You ever drive straight down a mountainside with that thing?
C: Not really. I mainly use it to compensate for feeling inadequate and vulnerable.
S: Excellent. I get a lot of customers with the same story. So are you looking for something that more closely represents the true self you’ve been afraid to reveal up til now?
C: I’m not looking for me. My wife’s Honda is on its last legs and she’ll be needing a new car some time soon.
S: Honda. Great car. Not as great as our cars.
C: It sure lasted a long time. I think it might be nice to get her a nicer car though, you know? The old Accord was reliable. Nothing to write home about.
S: Oh yeah, no flash, no glamour. Your wife deserves all the bells and whistles, wouldn’t you say?
C: She wouldn’t want anything too fancy, now. She’s a good woman. She’s earned something nice. We are on a fixed income.
S: Oh, don’t you worry about that Jim Beam. I’m going to get you the best deal. You’ll want to write home about this deal! Heh heh. But we have to find you the right car first. Now, is this car going to be a surprise for your beautiful wife?
C: I was thinking so. If I could find the right thing. She usually wants me to make these kinds of decisions anyways. It’d be good to make it a surprise.
S: Amen. Happy wife, happy life.
(S steers C to the “perfect” vehicle)

Fin

…But the story doesn’t end here! The salesman will be back with further platitudes and misinformation in Episode II!

Family Bookshelf

The reading list never ends, and there are some major works I need to tackle or re-tackle for my upcoming thesis, and for pleasure. I often sideline lesser-known authors in favor of literary all-stars or one-off classics, but I’ve decided to change my reading habits for the next six weeks to take advantage of my dad’s extensive library. He is a veritable fanboy of several American writers who have reached icon status in literary circles but are not immediately familiar to the rest of the world. I haven’t read more than a short story or essay by any of these authors and I know they have a lot to offer. My mission before I leave for uni is to pick up one work by each of these authors. From what I’ve heard they might even contribute to a better historical understanding of the country I plan to base my thesis around.

The gang:

Gore Vidal – prolific creator, oft-described master of the historical novel and all-around oddball.

E.L. Doctorow – Doctorow, beloved among the literati, died recently. Tributes abound, from the Guardian to the New Yorker. The most obvious choice to read here is Ragtime, and not just because Dad has told me to read it 100 million times. Like so many of Vidal’s works, this book’s vivid depiction of a chapter of America’s history has been praised.

Edward Abbey – because obvi. I can’t believe I haven’t read a single word written by this man. I actually remember being fascinated by the cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang when I was a toddler. It’s time to get acquainted.

T.C. Boyle – another prolific contributor to American literature. As amusing and disturbing as his latest book, The Harder They Come, sounds, I’ll probably go with an earlier work. As I write, The Tortilla Curtain sits on the shelf opposite me and, I am convinced, is staring a hole through my head. “Reeeead me,” it hisses. It is mad because I already picked it up once and put it down after two pages. We’ll see what happens, Tortilla Curtain.

Philip Roth – For some reason, of all the authors on this list I’m the most jazzed about reading Roth. I really can’t decide whether to read American Pastoral, The Human Stain, or Portnoy’s Complaint. Probably Portnoy’s Complaint, because who doesn’t want to read about a profane, libidinous and therapized Jewish bachelor who is obsessed with his mother? Sign me up.

Wallace Stegner – We also seem to have a lot of Wally Stegner lying around. I don’t know if anyone ever called him Wally, but I hope they did.

My Life as a Dog in a Faulkner Novel

All I feel is light and light is all I feel. There is a band of white across my snout. It says good morning good morning good morning good morning and I want to give her the light but I couldn’t

Licking her face and she mumbles she’s mumbling “No. Nooooo-oooo” but I keep at it stubbornly, giving her all my love, telling her it’s morning, thinking does she know it’s morning does she know she can’t because if she did she would be

Now we are awake as one and the light chases us because we move. It is on her foot and I lick her foot to catch the light. I can’t get the light. Why can’t I get the light? I ask her but she doesn’t hear. She thinks I want food and ohmygod I do I want food and I didn’t know until she knew. How does she know she always knows.

Feed feed I am eating and crunching and snuffling and sucking up every morsel and it feels like it will never end and I will never have enough and then it is gone, it all, I search the bowl and it is empty. I look at her, imploring, begging, but she doesn’t answer back. She never answers back but she knows.

She eats slowly, gracefully, like if she goes too fast someone will come and say You’ve had enough now like she says to me when and they’ll take it away and she’ll say No and try to stop them but she can’t stop them. She eats like they are watching her and she knows she must be slow, knows she must be slow. I forget her slowness mission, I must for a moment, I drop my precious ball upon her. Ughhhhh she says and wipes my saliva off it her foot. Why can’t you wait just one second you dumb dog

But it is not long, I am not forgotten I am not lost and she throws it in an arc, a gorgeous motion, an effortless motion she has had so much practice and I dive headlong into oblivion, I fetch the ball it’s mine it’s all mine and I careen headfirst into the bush to retrieve my prize. It waits for me in a tangle of branches and I snatch it and I daub it in my slobber and I take it back to her because I love you I love you so much nothing is only for me, I must share with her she must know I

It was hours, it was a few minutes under the hot sun. I fall at her feet, I fawn, I nestle my shaggy head into her leg and I lie.

Wine Time

Recently I read an article alleging that working mothers who always finish their days with wine are alcoholics. The argument is that we simply can’t get on with our hellacious lives without this heaven-sent, grape-derived narcotic, that it’s some kind of crutch, something more sinister than a reward for never-ending work: an opiate to assuage the simultaneous dullness and overstuffing of our lives and provide a peaceful refuge.

This article was not only offensive, it also doesn’t accurately characterize me and my working sisters who are just trying to juggle it all while sneaking the teensiest bit of pleasure into our days. It’s not like our husbands are going to be responsible for that. My own husband hasn’t seen his toes since 1999. He can barely bend over to tie his shoes, let alone blow my mind in the bedroom. I gotta look for fulfillment elsewhere.

And it’s not that I’m not fulfilled by the kids. I love them, I really do. What kind of mother doesn’t? They’ve turned out a little chubbier than I’d hoped. They didn’t get it from me. I thought they’d inherit my mom’s sky-high metabolism. She’s as mean as a goat but at least she’s thin. It’s Bruce. His family thinks Velveeta is just about the finest delicacy the food world has to offer. I’ve always raised them on good food, but it’s like they inherited this obsession for Oreos or something. Like, genetically they know Oreos exist and they have to have them. It’s as innate as wanting to reproduce, which I’d love to tell them from experience is not an impulse worth listening to. Animalistic drives aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Just look at, well, animals. It’s not like an animal ever invented anything useful. The height of animal culture is licking oneself on a regular basis.

And I don’t need a glass of wine at the end of the night to get me through whatever bullshit was on my to-do list that day, that I probably didn’t get to anyway. That’s where the article really goes wrong, I think. I get that if you absolutely positively need alcohol to get through anything then yeah, maybe there’s a problem. I could just as well go without. But why should I? That’s like telling runners they should stop what they’re doing cause the runner’s high is bad. It’s so puritanical. It’s like we’re all supposed to live our lives as plainly and humbly as possible. I didn’t sign up to live in an Amish community, thank you. Those hats would look super weird on my head, I just know it. All the other Amish people would make fun of me and then we’d probably get in trouble for being rude or vain and have to say extra prayers. I don’t know.

I checked with my friends to see what they thought about this whole alcoholic working mom nonsense. My friend Carly was the one who sent it to me in the first place. “It’s so offensive,” she said. “And of course the writer of the article is a man. Little mystery why he slanders one of the few minor vices the average working mother gets to indulge in.” We certainly don’t have time for anything significant. “I fail to see how enjoying a glass of rosé while preparing dinner for my children makes me a worse mother than one of those rich women who has three nannies and spends all day at the spa,” Gina chimed in. By now we had an engrossing and thought-provoking email thread going. She’s right. We would all just love to spend more time injecting some fun into these humdrum days but when it comes down to it the options are limited. “What kind of publication would run with this misogynist drivel???” Carly wrote 5 minutes ago, in case we had forgotten this point.

I won’t deny I’ve been sipping on some Yellow Tail merlot as I type this. It’s sweet and delicious and a real bargain. I have my family’s finances at heart when I peruse the Trader Joe’s wine aisle. I’m not a snob. My kids need new shoes every 15 goddamn minutes and that means I don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room for finer blends. That suits me just fine. I have other things to worry about in life. I don’t just spend every minute of every day looking forward to that glorious moment when the kids are occupied, dinner’s on the stove and I can pop the cork, swirl my glass and take the first long, soothing sip of my best friend Vino. That’s some misogynist writer’s fantasy about the working mom, as Carly would say. That isn’t it at all.

The kids are in bed. Bruce is at poker night. He’s going to want some mac and cheese when he gets back, I’m sure. He only eats Kraft. Today is the only time I have for myself in between the meetings and the school runs and the chores and the driving, the endless driving. It hurts no one if I indulge a little bit in a frugally chosen varietal. It can only help.

Local Hero

Not a day goes by without the appearance of Speedo Man. He is guardian of the park, steward of nature’s kingdom. His exposed body is a glorious demonstration of nature love. His skin is withered, leathery, but a deep and supple brown. He is simultaneously a testament to the dangers of sun exposure and its greatest champion. Nothing will stand in the way of his love of sunbathing.

He may not be there in the morning; sometimes he does not arrive until the late hours of the afternoon. Mother Nature does not hold him to a schedule. Speedo Man goes with the flow. He slinks into the recreation area like a disinterested cat. His shorts are silk and bedecked with love hearts; his T-shirt is tattered and features a panda. The panda is eating bamboo. The bamboo is clearly delicious. Speedo Man gently removes his trusty apparel; he unfolds a towel next to which he can place his belongings. He sits in lotus pose, closes his eyes, takes a breath, and begins to imbibe the sun.

The grass is Speedo Man’s domain, but the pool is his playground. This is not to suggest that Speedo Man will not share his environment. In fact, no one is a greater encourager of outdoor enjoyment. “Please, join me,” he will say pleasantly to visitors, who are looking at the cool water and his scant banana hammock with trepidation. “The water is refreshing and I will not bite.” Probably the visitors will squeal and GTFO. “Heh heh heh,” says Speedo Man, unperturbed. There will be other days for his fellow citizens to bask in the glow of the beautiful park. For now, he will savor the wide berth allotted to him by other swimmers. It is peaceful, being Speedo Man.

He is known throughout town for his practice of Qi Gong. “Cool! Martial Arts!” yell some excitable youths passing by. Others imitate his sweet moves from a distance, shyly stopping and looking elsewhere when he twists in their direction. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and to see his passion attempted by others makes him grin. Sometimes, if he is doing yoga, he smiles at small children during Breath of Fire and makes them cry. It is especially disconcerting when he is practicing Breath of Fire while contorted in Destroyer of the Universe Pose while opening his eyes really wide at the same time. Once a concerned parkgoer said hey dude, you should really stop hissing at people. Speedo Man just smiled and shook his head. He knows that his yoga and Qi Gong practices are an inspiration to those who witness them. Stoking the curiosity of his fellow man gives him a profound sense of satisfaction, and he is happy to take time out of his Zen state to expound on the merits of meditation, breath work and mind-body harmony.

We will hear more about Speedo Man in coming days. After all, he will always be found in the park, communing with the birds and the trees, looking deep inside himself to quiet the demons.

Self Improvement

New Year’s Resolutions
1. Obviously, go to the gym six days a week and lose ten pounds. This is quite simple. The gym is literally three blocks from here. It takes 90 seconds to walk at a moderate pace from your door to the door of the gym. You know this. Just go.

2. Do not stop at Shake Shack every day on the way back from the gym. Milkshakes are poison. Your new athletic body does not want poison. It wants more kale and barre classes because that is what it loves now.

3. New you is also punctual. Your powerful new legs can easily carry you to work entire minutes before you are even required to be there. Not stopping at donut shoppe along the way will also aid in ensuring your timeliness. No longer will smug Lisa look at you smugly as you frantically hustle to your cubicle a mere 7 minutes past the hour. “What took you so long?” she will smugly smuggle no more.

4. Do not buy vaccum-packed sugar from donut shoppe on way to work.

5. Remember Mom’s birthday.

6. Send Mom flowers and card well before birthday so they do not arrive late.

7. Write birthday on calendar now so you don’t forget.

8. Write reminder on calendar two weeks before birthday so you have time to promptly send tokens of love. Do it right this minute. Do it now.

9. Stop drinking wine in the bath. You will spill wine and turn restorative soak into seedy wine-bath. Then you will have to have a shower, adding to already guilt-provoking level of water usage.

10. Don’t drink wine on the treadmill. If you drink wine on the treadmill, all that leisurely walking you’re doing won’t count as exercise.

11. Don’t spill wine on light-colored clothing.

12. Come to think of it, do not drink wine while wearing light-colored clothing.

13. Do not wear light-colored clothing ever again.

14. Feed inner creative person by undertaking artful hobby. Remember that watching TV is not a hobby and is in fact a waste of your precious time and potential. Will continue moderate TV exposure to keep up with the outside world, purely for purposes of social inclusion and definitely not for entertainment.

15. Artful and impressive hobbies include flamenco guitar, ice sculpture, orchid growing, tango lessons, home brewing, chess mastery and multilingual fluency. Hobby of choice TBD.

16. DO NOT leave straight iron plugged in lying on bed when you go out. Surely this is the way your world will end.

17. Meditate for ten minutes, twice a day. This will offer mental clarity, aid successful completion of other daily tasks and serve as a talking point with the yummy mummies at barre class, should you ever need to join their ranks for some dreaded and unforeseen reason.

18. Remember to take birth control at the same. fucking. time. every single day for the love of all that is holy.

19. Go to annual check-up. Inquire as to whether you will need five annual check-ups this year since it has been five years since you made it to the last one.

20. Hand-wash delicates instead of throwing them in the washer and hoping for the best.

21. Don’t be too hard on yourself. To forgive is divine, and surely nothing is quite so divine as self-forgiveness?

22. Resume spiritual education. You might be missing something.

Laughter and Forgetting

Tim’s uncle Jackie, well he was this old happy guy, just happy all the damn time with that toothless smile of his. He was missing six teeth but they lined up all matchy-matchy so it looked like it was almost on purpose. He was always smiling, that guy. He didn’t talk much unless you talked to him and he had some funny stories.

I always says hi to him like, Hey Jackie, when you gonna come play ball with us down the block? And he always says not with this bum leg of mine I’m not, but you all go on and have fun now. I says how you hurt your leg Jackie? And he tells me all about the war and his eyes look wet kinda like he’s fixing to cry but he’s got that big smile of his going, telling me about his buddy who was in the war and got blown up but he doesn’t talk about that part too much most of the time. He’s told me about the war lots of time cause I ask. I feel sorry for him that he can’t do much other than sit on the porch or in the basement when it gets hot but he doesn’t seem to mind.

One time he’s telling me about the war again, I think cause I says how can you stand this heat? And he says you think this is hot? This is nothing. Him with that big toothless grin. And I don’t know why, but this time I says to him, Jackie man, how come you live that life and lose all those teeth and see those things and you go on smiling like that? He kept on grinning, didn’t skip a beat. I laugh and I forget, he said. That’s how come.

My Life as a Dog

In the morning, all is still. The air hangs heavy, silently screaming for some joyful entity to burst through its stagnation and wake up the world. I am such an entity. I am driven not so much by the pleasures of aimless romping – as are so many of my kind – but by the demands of my full bladder. Perhaps I shall pee on the tomato bushes today. That will show them. They are not early risers. I waste no time this morning in my alert; I do not rise from an occasional whine to a persistent and voluble bark, as I often do. Today I start at full volume, three seconds between emissions, then two, now one. Arise, ye slaveholders, you who sequester me to this prison each and every night. Hear my ceaseless wrath.

I have not had my breakfast. The matriarch of the household came with sleepy eyes to release me from my cell. I have a strange response to these interlopers who pepper my day with their presence. Though I know they must ultimately pay for their authoritarian misdeeds, I can’t help but give each one a yelp and a wag when I first espy them after the long night. I suppose it comes from a place of pity. After all, it is mightily apparent that they know not what they do. For all the deprivations – the sun continues its arc, and still my chalice is empty – they seem to think we are the best of friends. Despite this embarrassing obtuseness, I can think of no real reason to dispel this notion of theirs. I have tried to show them the error of their ways, but the cold shoulder does nothing to increase my rations or belly rubs. It is just as well to let them rest in the cocoon of their ignorance.
The matriarch has fallen asleep again. I suppose I can afford her a reprieve of one hour, no more. I could use a nap myself.
Breakfast is a feast with no equal. Would I were a God, and life were one unending buffet of ambrosia and Alpo. As it is my meals are brutally partitioned to two 3-minute windows in which I gorge myself as quickly and fervently as I can. There is no time for caution; I cannot say I am proud of the colossal amounts of wet food that splash out of my bowl as I plow my snout into it, nor that I feel no shame when I siphon the displaced goods out of the grain of the deck. But I cannot stop myself. The excitement of the breaking of my long fast overwhelms me every time. When it is over, I flop my large body down away from the mess, spent, sated, in need of a good repose. Perhaps I am no better than the barbarians who keep me. I ponder this painful thought as my lids grow heavy with sleep.
There is no time for such musings when I awake from my nap. My eagle eye alights on a fruit tree that seems to have sprouted green orbs overnight. They are hanging temptingly low, can it be low enough…? I spring to my feet and fly down the steps to investigate, trying to calm my pulse as I fear I will be disappointed. But praise the gods, I am not, and in an instant my mouth is full of pulpy goodness, all bitterness and texture. I have no time to savor the complexities of unripe plums before one of the overlords is screaming at me. Another, I must have another before it is too – I am dragged by the scruff of my neck back into the looming abode, spitting juice and kicking my hammy legs in protest. The injustice burns in my sensitive facial folds. As the door is slammed behind us and a wave of cold air washes over me, I break free and stare longingly back at the plum tree through the glass, now so unreachable, and it seems as though it returns my gaze sadly. “No one appreciates me like you do,” it seems to say. I must wait. I must be patient. They forget things in the blink of an eye around here; there will be another meeting of the tree before long. And it will be glorious.
Another ignominious day has come to an end. They tried to put me in a dress today. I thought I might die of the shame. Sometimes at night it is all I can do to drown out the odious memory of their laughter, their accusing reproaches, their yelps of disgust when I push my face in their leg right after my dinner in a rare attempt at something akin to affection. It is not my fault that such a considerable amount of the evening repast collects on my chin. Believe you me, overseers, I would cleanse it if I could.
I thought tonight could be the night – the one where they forget I have a cell, forget I am a prisoner at all really, and allow me to join their slumbering ranks for once and doze when and where I will. It happens once in a blue moon, but tonight it will not be so. I felt a pull of rebellion this time and raced into the kitchen when they set out to collect me. They think they’re being so clever when they try to nonchalantly herd me to the holding cell; but I know what they’re up to. It was not long before the long-legged beasts caught me by the hams and ferried me back to my den. When the door was slammed and the lock turned I first looked out at the offender with pleading eyes. But there would be no sympathy tonight. I quickly adjusted my gaze to portray what I hoped would appear as a burning hate. Alas, it made no impression, and the light in the room was extinguished, gateway closed. I’ll get them one day. Just you wait. I’ll get them.

Betrayal

Milan Kundera writes on the subject of betrayal through the perspectives of two characters in his “Words Misunderstood” passage in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Betrayal is one of those universally reviled concepts, but as with several traditionally negative topics, Kundera reconsiders what this word means to different people. In the novel, Sabina finds the course of her life charted by her betrayals of family, lovers, and social conventions. For her, betrayal is a barely consequential siren call; rather than creating a burden of guilt, the temptation to betray leads Sabina to a truer expression of herself, more so with each treacherous deed. Sabina doesn’t believe a person can be exactly as good and honest in one’s private life as one is expected to be in public life. She thinks that the eyes of others inevitably change one’s conduct and even one’s understanding or justification of one’s behavior. So to Sabina, some acts typically associated with dishonesty and betrayal are actually a necessity of life, one which we as self-punishing humans are not content to admit as a given.

I’ve been thinking about small acts of betrayal, with regards to friendships. I don’t know if I have a single friend that I have absolutely nothing “bad” to say about, but that is because no one is perfect. And if they were, that wouldn’t be good either. I’ve met a few perfect-seeming individuals in my time. They were kind, generous, helpful, calm, and above all inoffensive. There was nothing to suggest that these consistently positive attributes were part of a façade, apart from the commonly accepted notion that all people have at least the slightest smudge of a dark side. And yet, this goodness was somehow irritating. It disqualified them as people to form a deeper connection with, because how could the average red-blooded person relate to someone who appearance suggests they have never experienced jealousy, pettiness, lust?

Kundera notes that we all “slander our friends at the drop of a hat,” but that when this universal truth is asserted in the public sphere, we could not be less comfortable with it. We are shocked by it. This is why the broadcasting of private conversations is one of the greatest and most reprehensible assaults against privacy. There is nothing more stifling that the idea that we cannot say what we want or mean in the safety of a quiet interpersonal exchange.

I think the guilt of criticizing a friend out of their presence comes mainly from the strange fear that the critique may be revealed to them, as though the friend has a secret power to take an omnipresent form and float at will through various scenes in the lives of others, occasionally stumbling upon a moment where they were spoken of cruelly. But perhaps it is only cruel if they can hear it. And in most situations, we know they won’t.

There are some not-so-nice things that are worth telling people about, because some bad behaviors necessitate change. Many people are quite aware of their flaws but feel powerless to make lasting changes, or simply don’t want to. But the other things, the trivial complaints and annoyances – if they’re not so serious, why speak of them at all? Why not keep all discussions of others centered on the undoubtedly extant positive attributes of the individuals in question? It would be boring, that’s why. Life offers many delightful subjects to ponder, and much of our little amusements come from the imperfect qualities, whether that is a person’s shortcomings, or the sometimes ironic and often cruel machinations of fate. We need our freedom to betray, to slander, to lie. Not in every place. But in a world where the sanctity of privacy is consistently challenged, we must maintain the right to say what we will behind closed doors.