Thought and Memory, by Ed Park
Ed Park has quite the résumé. He’s the former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement and one of the founding editors of the Believer. He’s taught creative writing at Columbia University and curates the Invisible Library, an online collection of fictional books that appear in other books. Pretty cool, huh? These days he holds down the literary fort over at Amazon Publishing. His debut novel, Personal Days, was called the “layoff narrative for our times” by the New YorkTimes and was nominated for the PEN Hemingway Award, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and the Asian American Literary Award. It was named one of Time’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2008 and one of the Atlantic’s Top Ten Pop Culture Moments of the decade.
In his increasingly valuable spare time, he makes bootleg covers of 80s new-wave songs and sneaks acrostics and anagrams into his very funny Twitter feed, @thaRealEdPark. (A recent tweet: “I need there to be a store called FOREVER 41.”) Somehow he still manages to knock out essays that examine continuums you didn’t even realize exist, like the connection between the magical logic of children’s books and Borges, plus write great short stories like the one below.
In “Thought and Memory,” the author of a mystery novel sets out on a book tour, and from there, things don’t exactly go as planned. The narrator encounters two talking crows, named for Odin’s information-gathering ravens in Norse mythology, who belong to a mysterious woman with a glass eye and an oddly chosen tattoo, before discovering the bizarre, time-bending novels of a science fiction writer, whose works we hope will get call numbers at the Invisible Library.
We paired Ed’s story with illustrations by San Francisco-based artist Yina Kim. We thought her work evoked the same sense of spectral absurdity, softened by an eerie and familiar pathos.
Back in 2008, when my first novel, A Tree Grows in Baghdad, came out, my publisher sent me on a West Coast tour. Sometimes folks came out in droves, sometimes they didn’t. It was great to see my public, regardless. The public, I suppose I should say. Most hadn’t read the book. And even though it was fiction, based more on stuff I’d heard about rather than experienced, I might as well have told all present that I’d written a memoir, and that in the pages open before me, every vegetarian pita eaten, and every thought thought, was true. No one cared about the book, really, only about what I’d been through in Iraq, and what my current position on the war was and whether I wanted to go back.
The audience tended to be older. The men were what you’d call barrel chested. The women, too.
I found I liked signing books. I mean, the actual pen-meeting-paper part. I started appending a peace sign to my name. I must have shaken a thousand hands.
By the end of the week, I was going a little crazy. In Seattle, I woke up at 6 AM to do a live interview with a radio station in LA. But why six? The cities were in the same time zone. It must be for a station no one listens to, I thought, and after I hung up the phone, I wasn’t convinced that an interview had in fact taken place. Had she really asked me about my health, my diet, my bad back? Had I perhaps called my mother, out of instinct, or simply dreamt it all? I’ve had dreams like that, where I think I wake up, but I’m still asleep. I’ve had dreams in which I slap the alarm clock, over and over again, until I’m finally sprung from the clutches of sleep, grateful and gasping for air.
Zanesville – New Fiction by Nathaniel Rich
Illustrations by Conor Nolan
Nathaniel Rich is 32 years old, and he’s written and accomplished more than you will if you live to be 100. His novel The Mayor’s Tongue, published a few years after he graduated from college, was praised by the New YorkTimes and everyone else who’s not illiterate, and it earned him comparisons to a young Paul Auster. Nathaniel’s new novel, Odds Against Tomorrow, comes out in April from Farrar, Straus and Giroux and will no doubt earn him similar praise. On the side, he’s also worked as an editor at the Paris Review and cranked out brilliant essays and journalism for the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and… well, you get the idea. He was inspired to write “Zanesville” after hearing the real-life tale of Terry Thompson, who killed himself a few years ago after releasing 56 tigers, bears, lions, wolves, leopards, and monkeys from the animal refuge he ran in Ohio. All names and details in Nathaniel’s short story, however, are entirely fictional. (Except for the bit about the monkey having a nasty case of herpes. That’s totally true.) “Zanesville” is Nathaniel’s first story for VICE.
If only Roger had bought the rabbit. Harriet had already picked one out, a mangy albino with red eyes like embers, but her heart wasn’t in it. Harriet’s heart wasn’t in anything, really, not since her visit to Dr. Doom. She said she had chosen the albino rabbit because it seemed like the saddest one. But all of them seemed sad to Roger. Not just the rabbits—every animal that wheezed and shrieked and rattled its cage at WeLuvPets!: the black-eyed ferret, who looked like he’d been socked in a bar fight; the degu trailing his long skinny tail like a strand of saliva; and especially the hedgehog, worrying a crumpled ball of newspaper until he fell sideways, panting from exhaustion, his quivers trembling in panic.
Between the incessant screeching of the cockatiels (“Help!” they yelled. “Help-help-help-HELP-HELP-HELLLLLP!”) and the odor—a soupy miasma of damp fur, urine-soaked hay, and formaldehyde deodorizers—Roger could feel a full-blown migraine coming on. A dark hand gripped his brain stem and began to squeeze. He handed Harriet his credit card and told her she could choose whatever damn rabbit she wanted. He’d be waiting outside by their bikes.
But on his way out he was distracted at the cash register by a pair of gleaming eyes. They stared from a glossy brochure, Exotic Pets 4 Sale. He recognized those eyes. He had seen them before, a decade earlier, during the war—it must have been somewhere in Quảng Trị province. His platoon had set up an ambush in a dense thicket of acacia and evergreen. He remembered the heat most vividly; he would never forget that, the sun much closer to the earth than it ever got in the States. Also the obsessive humidity, the weight of his jungle boots, the exuberant sucking of the mud, the mysterious fringe of yellow crust that formed on his neck where his steel helmet touched his skin. And he remembered that he had been lying under his thatch cover for nearly five hours, trying not to flinch too violently every time a blood-brown leafhopper flew into his mouth, when he’d felt a tug on his left boot. He turned, expecting to find Collins or one of the others, but he could only make out a bulky shadow advancing through the blackness like a floating blanket. There followed a loud, anguished scream. Roger and the other men, forgetting their training, leaped wildly from their positions, just in time to see a 400-pound cat dragging Collins by his ankle across the forest carpet.
The tiger, surrounded by the adrenalized soldiers, made an easy target. Its flank was perforated by approximately 80 rounds of ammunition. Collins escaped with only several light lacerations along his calves. The men dragged their trophy through the high grass to their next position. The Hueys weren’t scheduled to retrieve them for another 48 hours, however, and they worried that in the jungle heat the animal would rot. One of them had mentioned that tannic acid, which was used for curing deer hides, was present in urine. Two days later, back at camp, the five marines posed for grinning photographs next to the piss-pickled carcass.
Roger found Harriet at the register with Bunnicula and a five-pound sack of alfalfa.
“Honey,” he said, and Harriet looked up abruptly because he never called her that anymore. “I got a different idea.”
Sewing for the Heart
Art by Kike Besada.
Yoko Ogawa writes creepy, ominous gothic novels and stories—sort of like a Japanese Flannery O’Connor or Shirley Jackson. Except sexier and a lot more Asian. She came to prominence in the late 80s in her native Japan and has since written more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, all of them commercially and critically viable.
Hotel Iris (2010), for instance, tells the story of Mari, a teenage girl who works in a desolate hotel by the ocean. When she falls into a twisted romance with an older man, a translator of Russian novels who may or may not have murdered his wife and who also likes to beat and humiliate Mari during sex, the teenager has a realization: “It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” she thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”
“Sewing for the Heart” is from Yoko’s new collection, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Picador February 2013), and it’s as perversely tantalizing as anything she’s written. In the story, a comely cabaret singer with the outlandish birth defect of a heart that developed outside her body hires a reclusive bag maker to sew a satchel to protect the misplaced organ.
We’ve paired this story with Spanish artist Kike Besada’s collages. Kike dug through old medical journals that he found in an NYC thrift store and cut out pictures of bags, hearts, hospitals, and all sorts of other things in order to come up with just the right macabre imagery for a story that is heartfelt in the most literal sense.
“Dr. Y from Respiratory Medicine. Dr. Y from Respiratory Medicine. Please contact the pharmacy immediately.”
The public-address system had been repeating this announcement for some time. I wondered who Dr. Y was and where he could be, as I studied the hospital directory. Central Records, Electroshock Clinic, Conference Center, Endoscopy… It was all like a foreign language to me.
“Why do they keep paging this Dr. Y?” I asked the woman behind the information desk.
“No one’s seen him this morning,” she said. She seemed annoyed by my question, and I was sorry I had bothered her.
“Could you tell me where to find the cardiac ward?” I said, getting to my real question. I pronounced each word slowly and carefully, hoping to quiet the pounding of my heart.
“Take that elevator to the sixth floor.” She pointed past a crowd of people gathered in front of admitting; I noticed her nail polish was chipped.
I am a bag maker. For more than 20 years now I’ve kept a shop near the train station. It’s just a small place, but it has a nice display window facing the street. Inside, there are tables for the bags and a mirror, and a workshop in back, behind a curtain, with shelves for my materials. The window features a few purses, an ostrich handbag, and a suitcase. A jauntily posed mannequin clutches one of the purses, but her face is covered in a fine layer of dust since I haven’t changed the window in years.
I live on the second floor, above the shop. My apartment has just two rooms—an eat-in kitchen and a living room that doubles as my bedroom—but the place is bright and pleasant. On clear afternoons, the sun streams in through the window and I have to move the hamster’s cage under the washstand. Hamsters don’t like direct sunlight.
In the evening, after closing shop, I go upstairs, take off my work clothes, shower, and eat my dinner. This takes next to no time. When you live alone as I have for many years, daily life only becomes simpler and simpler. It’s been a long time since I’ve cleaned up the bathroom for someone, or changed the towels, or so much as made dressing for my salad. I have only myself to please, and that doesn’t take much.
But compared to the world upstairs, my life with my bags below is quite rich. I never weary of them, of caressing and gazing at my wonderful creations. When I make a bag, I begin by picturing how it will look when it’s finished. Then I sketch each imagined detail, from the shiny clasp to the finest stitches in the seams. Next, I transfer the design to pattern paper and cut out the pieces from the raw material, and then finally I sew them together. As the bag begins to take shape on my table, my heart beats uncontrollably and I feel as though my hands wield all the powers of the universe.
PRELUDE TO ‘SOLO PIANO MUSIC’ -
WHY THE WORLD SHOULD READ SYRIA’S FAWWAZ HADDAD
Artwork by Khaled Akil
yrian writers have been marginalized for decades, left to languish on the Middle Eastern edge of a genre that is often reductively labeled “world lit.” Since the March 8, 1963, coup d’état that brought the Ba’ath Party (and later the Assads) to power, loyalty to the state has been a defining aspect of the country’s literature. The distinctions between “faithful” and “treasonous” writing are determined by a convoluted array of institutions, ranging from the General Union of Arab Writers to Ba’ath Party officials; however, the censorship matrix in Syria doesn’t neatly fit into Western notions of “freedom” and “totalitarianism.” Writers in Syria must operate under conditions that, in my opinion, can best be described as “freedom with restrictions.”
Syrian writers are particularly well positioned to comment on the historical progress and degradation of the political situation in their country even though many are persecuted. Novels banned in Syria can still be smuggled in from neighboring Lebanon. But a ban functions as a scarlet letter for authors, a way for the government to distinguish between who is with them and who is against.
Like much of the literary elite in Syria, the novelist Fawwaz Haddad has watched his country disintegrate over the past 20 months without explicitly taking an outspoken position for or against the regime. As an author, he evinces a fusion of clear-eyed realism and careful optimism in his assessment of the Syrian situation. He signed off one recent email to me expressing his wish that we would see each other soon, “once peace arrives in my country.” But as his homeland falls deeper into civil war, Fawwaz’s neutrality may have reached its limit. He has left the country, although he intends to return to Syria, as much of his family is still there.
Fawwaz was born in Damascus in 1947 and studied law before moving on to work in the private sector. His early writings consisted of historical fiction, with an emphasis on Syria during the French Mandate and the early days of its independence. But he was a late bloomer—Mosaic Damascus ’39, his debut novel, wasn’t published until he was 44. His more recent work has veered toward hard-boiled realism, which has vastly increased his notoriety. In 2009, Fawwaz was short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel The Unfaithful Translator and in 2011 long-listed for God’s Soldiers. His stories explore the limits placed on the state and Syrian society, zig-zagging between high-minded principles and the dirty business of everyday life while offering insight into the workings of a broken system—one that seems impervious to both reform and revolution.
Fawwaz’s 2009 Solo Piano Music, an excerpt of which appears over the following pages for the first time in English, tells the story of Fateh al-Qalaj, a solitary secular intellectual who is assaulted in the stairwell of his Damascus apartment building. After he’s paid a visit by an investigator from the shady Terrorism Affairs Bureau, Fateh comes to believe that he is being targeted for his outspoken views on religion and the state.
In this Kafkaesque crime novel, the dance between “the investigator” and “the secular intellectual” is central to the narrative tension. Following Fateh’s assault, a childhood friend pays him a visit while he is recovering in the hospital. Fateh’s old friend reveals that he is mixed up with radical Islamists, and the role he played in the assault grows ever murkier.
In the book’s climax, the Syrian regime violently stamps out the perceived terrorist threat. Fateh is left feeling remorse for the murdered “terrorists.” He questions whether the Terrorism Affairs investigator had been lying to him, and whether he even works for the government. Fateh comes to the bleak conclusion that one has to rely on oneself alone.
Read Solo Piano Music.
Polish author Stanisław Lem is arguably the most celebrated writer of science fiction among the most stringent and hard-core guardians of the genre. His widely read 1961 novel Solaris revolves around the scientific exploration of the eponymous, completely water-covered planet and culminates with the researchers’ realization that Solaris is conscious, examining them, and somehow manifesting physical representations of their darkest repressed memories.
What most people don’t know about Solaris is that its initial English release (i.e., the one that’s on most English speakers’ bookshelves) was translated from the French version, which was translated from the original Polish text. Anyone who knows anything about literary translation understands that this is a great way to mangle a writer’s carefully considered phrasing and, at worst, the meaning of the text itself.
Last year, to mark the book’s 50th anniversary, a direct Polish-to-English translation of Solaris by renowned translator Bill Johnston was commissioned by the Lem estate, allowing English-speaking readers to finally experience the book as its author intended.
Bill was kind enough to provide us with “A Puzzle,” a short story by Lem that has remained unpublished in English until now. Its subject matter concerns a cyborg doctor of magnetics, robotic theology, “Jelly Brains,” and a lot of other esoteric and interesting topics.
Translated by Bill Johnston
Illustrations by Sophia Foster-Dimino
Father Zinctus, Doctor of Magnetics, was sitting in his cell and, squeaking since he had deliberately omitted to apply oil to himself for purposes of self-mortification, was poring over a commentary by Chlorofantus Omnicki, paying especial attention to his widely known Book Six, “Concerning the Creation of Robots.” He had just reached the end of the verse concerning the programming of the universe and was scrutinizing the pages of brightly colored illuminations that revealed how the Lord, having acquired an especial fondness for iron among the metals, breathed life into it, when Father Chlorinian tiptoed into the cell and stood discreetly by the window, trying not to disturb the eminent theologian in his cogitations.
“What is it, Chlorinian, my dear fellow?” Father Zinctus asked after a short moment, raising crystal-clear eyes from his tome.
“My lord and father,” said the other, “I’m bringing you a book recently prohibited by the Holy Office—a work engendered by the whisperings of Satan and written by the dreadful Lapidor of Marmageddon, known as the Halogenite. It contains descriptions of the sordid experiments he conducted in an attempt to refute the true faith.”
He placed before Father Zinctus a slim volume already stamped in the requisite way by the Holy Office.
The old man wiped his brow. A little rust sprinkled down from it onto the pages of the book, which he took briskly in his hands with the words:
“Not dreadful, not dreadful, my good Chlorinian, merely unfortunate for having strayed!”
As he spoke, he turned the pages. Scanning the titles of the various chapters—“Concerning the Creatures of Softness and Pallor”; “On Dairy Produce That Can Think”; “Concerning the Genesis of Reason from the Unreasoning Machine”—he gave a faint and entirely benevolent smile, then said casually:
“Listen, Chlorinian—you and the Holy Office, for which I have the greatest respect, you both take the wrong approach to things. I mean, what is this, really? Sheer gobbledygook dreamed up at the drop of a hubcap; balderdash; false legends brought back to life for the umpteenth time—all based on these squishy or squashy or fleshy beings, as the other Apocrypha call them, or the Jellymen, who allegedly created us at one time out of wire and screws…”
It took a while for the Canadian literary establishment to accept Lynn Coady—her unpleasant gritty realism, profanity, and fucked-up sex scenes didn’t go down too easily with the silk-stocking crowd. It wasn’t until her 2011 novel The Antagonist—a first-person narrative about a washed-up hockey player with a penchant for alcohol and self-hatred—was shortlisted for the ultra-prestigious Giller Prize that everyone sat up and went, “Whoa, she’s one of the best writers we’ve got.” We’re honored to feature her new short story “Season Finale” in this issue, and we’ve paired it with a couple photos by Francesco Nazardo. Francesco is an Italian photographer based in New York whose work was featured in an exhibition titledThe Future of Photography, which we think was a great call on the curator’s part.
Three Gangster Fables
A nightclub comedian is having a bad night. Through the hazy glare of the spotlight he notices a fat older guy staring up at him with particularly doltish indifference. He goes over to the edge of the stage and makes a wisecrack at this dimwit’s expense, something
about his girth, like, “Couldn’t at least one of you two in that chair laugh?” There’s a minor smattering of titters at this. The fat man blinks. He colors. He starts to get ponderously to his feet. The comedian keeps going and tells him not to worry, they’re finding a forklift to help him. This brings forth a few more weak laughs. The fat man sinks back down, staring stone-faced.
“Christ, what a load of corpses, I shoulda done a funeral service,” the comedian mutters, coming offstage at last. The club owner grabs him by the arm. He looks ashen. “Do you know who you just made a monkey of?” he rasps in a strained voice. To his shock, the comedian discovers he was taunting an organized-crime bigshot.
A meeting takes place in the club owner’s office, where the fat mobster is waiting. The sweating comedian apologizes cravenly, after his groveling introduction by the club owner. He tells a couple of brutal jokes on himself. (He’s good at that.) To the owner’s alarm he even starts to undress, in another wayward comic inspiration—to bare himself for the flogging, as it were, he deserves. The fat man nterrupts this performance humorlessly. “Knock it off,” he says. “You can make up for it. I’m having a party tomorrow night. We need more entertainment. But good stuff this time, not crap,” he adds. “Sure, sure,” the comedian assents, hastily getting back into his shirt.
The party is a loud, tedious affair at the mobster’s grimly ostentatious estate. The comedian gets up on the bandstand and tells jokes for 20 minutes while the middle-aged band takes a break. Most of the guests ignore him. Afterward he’s brought over to the host to accept his thanks. “Now we’re all square,” says the fat man, and he gives the comedian a thump on the arm that’s half playful, half not. The comedian cackles manically. “Now go enjoy yourself,” the fat man mutters, turning away.
The comedian wanders through the dowdy crowd, nodding at a few thumbs-ups he receives. Then he just stands to the side, grinning morosely, gulping his drink. He trains a furtive eye about for any kind of attractive presence, but sees none. The booze and the state of his nerves conspire in him to ignite another flame of deviant inspiration. All at once he starts to babble doubletalk, loudly, and when enough heads turn, he goes hopping about, peeling off his clothes, yelling, “Last one in the pool is a rotten stoolie!!” (There is a pool, of course, a big one, but his challenge is rhetorical.) Inside him, a smaller, clearer-headed version of his uproarious self looks on, thinking, “What am I doing, am I out of my mind?” A pair of two burly figures hurry through the gaping guests and bring a quick end to the performance.
The comedian is back in front of the mobster, in a private room. “I’m just craaaaazy, baby!” the comedian yelps with a sickened waggish grin, trying desperately for comedy’s jiujitsu reversal of mood and expectation. He has to hold up his trousers, having thrown away his belt during his fit of insanity. “This is my home, these are my guests,” the fat man declares, breathing heavily, one eyelid twitching. “You insulted them—you insulted me.”
This is not a word anyone wants to hear from a very heavyset gangster in late middle age wearing an expensive, outdated version of fancy dress: “insulted.” And certainly not in the plural. “Please—I’ll make it up to you—” sputters the comedian. “You gotta be joking,” the mobster replies, without irony. He flaps his hand in contempt. “Take care of him,” he says to the others in the room, turning away.
The comedian gapes left and right as hands seize his arms. He flails chaotically, somehow breaks loose, wriggles somehow to the door as the others stumble over the upended furniture. He rushes out into the corridor.
Clutching his trousers, he runs along, glancing wildly over his shoulder, like a frantic adulterer in a cheesy farce. He skids around a corner and crashes over a caterer’s cart and goes sprawling. He struggles up and flounders off as the waiter he knocked over curses him from the shambles.
Footsteps pound closer behind. He gapes back in despair. His pursuers heave into view around the corner. And then ahead—another bunch are massed now. He stops, turns this way and that. The two groups close on him and then halt. The comedian cowers in openmouthed terror. Very slowly, the tough guys all begin to laugh. Their laughter grows wild. They start whooping and pulling off their clothes, flinging garments into the air as they prance about. The fat man is among them suddenly, his tuxedo piled on his head like a turban. The comedian sinks to the floor, gibbering, his echoing laughter a thin cracked cackle.
He jerks awake. He thrashes up wildly. He’s in his own bed, in his own shabby apartment. He drops back onto the pillow, gasping, moaning in shock. “What a dream… what a dream…” he keeps mumbling, about to cry, throwing an arm over his face.
A sharp pain at the wrist hobbles his movement. He yelps. His eyes spring open.
And his brief invention of deliverance is over.
He’s not in his bed. He’s on a dingy cot. Naked. His wrists are tied to the legs of a table behind his head and his ankles are strapped down. His skull aches.
You really like to take off your clothes,” says the fat man, standing over him in his tacky tuxedo. “You think it’s funny.”
“What—happened?” the comedian gulps, disoriented. “In the hall—didn’t they—and you—” His voice trails off.
“Huh?” sneers the fat man. “Oh,” he says. “Feeling that punch in the head.”
An hour later they load him, bound and naked on his cot, into a van and drive out to the desert, and carry him into a fetid, still scorching remote cave. He shrieks when they start to leave. One of the men thinks he’s fine like that. But the other one raises the slight possibility of the noise attracting attention. So they go back in and tape his screwy mouth shut.
Gaudfingers - by Tony Burgess
It was 1946 and the beaches looked like leather. The shells were chairs and the shells were parasols. Everything that started blue became pink. Dads and moms posed to hide the white cubes of exposed winter thighs. This was the thing I was in. A picture like that. Towels and tufts of singing scrub. Pointy-titted ladies with wide crispy eggs for hats. Beefcakes. And the wind that is only invented ten feet from shore but it’s a bawling baby shredding the pages of magazines and raising lipstick bubbles on the backs of children. And I am bent in a corner of sky in the sand reading a comic. I deny that I am here. I am turned away. Turned inside. My sister is somewhere pretending to swim in four inches of water. My brothers are building bowls out of the droppings of seabirds. It is a joyful place, I suppose, but in my ten-year-old mind it is the bright sunshine of depression. The gold water and rose warmth of permanent intractable despair. I can’t say why it is, but I feel it. Like I’m living in a deep knot.
The sand on my knees covers scudded wounds and each grain is a cutting diamond. Earlier this week I teased a black kid at school. Not for being black, but for having the last name White. On Friday, yesterday, he tackled me on the sidewalk and brought me down under him. There was nothing for me to do but go home and lie. Maybe it’s that. The lying. Maybe that’s why I want to die today.
“Why don’t you go in?” My mom points out to the sea. She wears sunglasses as big as wheelbarrows. My God, this is an awful place. I bring my knees up under me and look at the back page.
“OK. Well, we’re going to walk down to the pier and see the fishermen.”
She pauses, adjusts the mad white ribs in her suit. She wants me to think. And yes, I really, really want to see the fishermen, but I’m suicidal today. She doesn’t sense this at all and pivots on her heels.
The back page. Sea Monkeys. X-Ray Specs. A six-dollar submarine that can submerge to great depths. If I had about 12 dollars to spare I could watch naked ladies in the cabana. If they caught me I could escape out to sea and drown. I would let my monkeys free to swing in the coral.
I despise this kind of thing. It is such obvious fantasy. The truth is I would be caught. I’d be standing by the cabana peering in through the side of a curtain. An old woman would scream and slap her hands to her bum. Everyone would hear her and everyone would see me. I can feel my knees blush, knowing that one day this will happen. I am changing, though, as the day goes on.
It was wanting to be dead. To be burned alive. Now it’s different. After seeing myself at the cabana and being taken that way, I have decided I will be alive. I will kill the old woman in her nakedness. I will pull parasols up like weeds and drive down them into sockets and mouths and bums. The whole beach will be crying and dirty and ashamed. Blood will be pumped into hollow poles and plumes of it will rise and spatter us all. This is where I get to at four in the afternoon. X-Ray Specs. Monkey submarines. Flies leaving the assholes of dogs and wiping their feet on the corner of my mouth.
Three Kinds of People on the Crosstown Bus - by Robert Lopez
ometimes I don’t make it out of the house. When I tell people this in the way of conversation, in the way human people can sometimes spill onto each other in broad daylight, they try hard to change the subject.
When I am in the house I watch television. I almost never do anything but watch television in the house. I do sleep, of course, and shower. I have a great shower in my house and if I’m not watching the television then that’s where you’ll find me. Sometimes I eat, yes, usually twice a day, something that stands for breakfast around noontime, perhaps boiled eggs and toast, and then again in the evening, which is usually catch as catch can. Maybe I open some soup or I order takeout and have it delivered. It never gets in the way of the television, though. I scan the channels from 2 to 80 and back again, whether I’m eating or not. I spend five or so seconds on each station. What’s on television isn’t important to me. That I am looking for something else is what matters. I am a seeker.
What I have never sought is a job watching television. I’ve also never sought fame or fortune, acceptable living conditions or Trina, but I’m not ready to think about Trina right now. Trina has her place, and it isn’t right here and now.
Trina says she only recently got a television herself, that for years she went without one. I have no idea how she spent time or what her life was like.
This is one reason I’m not ready to think about her.
Sometimes I am forced to leave the house, and it’s always a tragedy when this happens. Sometimes I am compelled to show up at a certain place at a certain time and perform certain tasks for several hours at a time, and after such I take the most direct route back to the house and television.
I have to take a bus to get to the certain place at the certain time. What happens is I rouse myself with great difficulty, shower, shave, eat something regrettable, dress, and vacate the house. I do all of this in 15 minutes. I know other people need an hour or so to do this, which is something I’ve never understood.
The buses in this city make a horrible noise when they stop. Sometimes my head comes off my shoulders when I hear it. I have to cover my ears with both hands to keep this from happening, and people look at me when I do this. I can’t tell what they might think.
The people at the bus stop are almost always wrong. You never see these kinds of people on television, though as I think this I realize it’s wrong. You do see these kinds of people on television, but I always choose not to watch them. These people are none of my business. One shouldn’t associate with these people, and one most often doesn’t.
Mostly it’s no-accounts and old ladies that ride the bus in this city. Most are fat and they are usually nice people, these fat ones, though that is not always the case, either. Sometimes when I start a thought I’ll think it correct only to realize halfway through that it isn’t. So, ultimately, I can’t be sure of something until I’ve thought it through for a while. The trouble is one doesn’t always have the time to think things through. This is what happened with Trina as a case in point.