Thursday, August 21, 2008

Things I No Longer Do

-Fry Daddy Roulette: Like Russian roulette, but involving your hand and six Fry Daddies, only one of which is plugged in. The main reason I'm now left handed.

-My hilarious Jonathan Richman imitation. Turns out it's not that funny.

-Write the scenarios for Hungarian porn films. You can only see the note "NEEDS MORE SYMBOLISM" so many times before you begin to question whether these Magyar bastards get where you're coming from artistically.

-Sneak into Philip Roth photo shoots and shout "Come on, love! Give us a smile!"

-Take banjo lessons. I was good, but I was only in it for the aesthetics and not the music, and that's just not genuine, no matter how good you look in overalls.

-Drink any clear liquid without first asking the person offering it what it is.

-Send care packages to Matthew Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces. They were addressed to YOU, Matthew. Your damn sister can find her own supply of homemade gorp.

-Rescue non-fly insects from the twists of fly paper hanging off our porch. I had to face the fact that my OCD was not an excuse to play God. Insect God, anyway.

-End my signature with "Esq." Apparently even if I had completed the course and become a Notary, I still wouldn't have had the right. Madness.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Aldred Comes Out of the Fog

The darkness is overpowering. He imagines it as a layer of moss growing between his brain and his skull. He ignored it for too long, and now the space between the soft and the hard is packed tight, and he is blind. Coherent thoughts and sensations that once moved freely between the inside and the outside now burrow halfway through the mossy darkness before being stilled, stopped and suffocated.

"What are you thinking about? Hmm?"

He wishes he knew.

"Oy, Aldred. Oy! Yo! Hello? Hello?"

Fingers snap beneath his nose. The sound comes to him through the olfactory center, synesthetically hitting his brain as the mixed smells of vinegar and burning moss. The smell overpowers the darkness, lightly, but enough that thoughts and sensations begin to move again.

The needy face of a small dog.
A sunny morning in Crete.
A heap of green oranges and orange bell peppers.
Mountford, in a tattered undershirt, yelling something about "foul cologne-drinking Portuguese ruffians."

"Oh lord, I remember that! They completely ruined his bootlegging operation and flipped him to the Guardia into the bargain. He was furious. He ran out and bought an atlas, an expensive one too, just to rip out the page with Lisbon on it to wipe his ass with. Appallingly childish gesture that, but that's Mountford all over, isn't it?"

It's a woman's voice, a voice he should know.

"I saw him recently," Aldred mutters. He is blinking, trying to see anything other than grayness, but his eyes are apparently a few minutes behind his nose and ears.


"It didn't end well."

"It usually doesn't." He can see a bit of motion in the gray now, and her voice seems to be coming from there. "Frankly, I don't know why you continue to have anything to do with him. Or he you for that matter. You're both terribly terribly bad for each other, and you're both terribly terribly aware of that fact. Yet you persist in getting in each other's way."

There is shape now to the movement.

"Couple of latent homosexuals if you ask me."

There is now sharp outline to the shape.

"You ought to let him tup you and have done."

There is now color within the outline.

"Or you him, whichever. All I'm saying is that it would do the universe a world of good —or maybe just the world a universe of good— if you boys would give in and get your silly repressed lusts out of your systems."

There is now a gray haired woman in her mid-fifties in the outline. She wears a smart tweed suit, a muted green check affair. She has the air of someone who has practiced at being clever long enough that it has become a near substitute for wisdom. A lit cigarillo is in her hand, an affectation designed purely to distract people by getting them to ask themselves the question "Where on earth does one even buy cigarillos in this day and age?"

"Did you say 'tup'?"

"I'm afraid I did."

"You do know it's the 21st century, right? Has been for a while?"

"I realize you're coming out of a bit of a fog and might feel a touch grumpy, but try not to be too much of a smartass, dear."

"Sorry, I don't know where my manners are. Hello Mercury."

"Hello Aldred."

"Pardon the cliché, but where am I?"

"Would you believe Bucharest?"

"I would not."

"Good. We're in Bethlehem."

"The Jesus town or the steel town?"

"The latter. You were found wandering around downtown Philadelphia, waving a reindeer antler in a threatening manner and shouting something about geometry. Spheres, I believe."

"Oh dear."

"Mmm. Luckily, I happened to be in town, attempting to clear my own head with a bit of history."

"What, the Liberty Bell and all that?"

"Don't knock it. Lots of strength to be drawn from an object like that, if one knows how to approach it sensibly. At any rate, I found you and instantly knew that you needed to be taken someplace quiet yet industrial."

"That's a very specific thing to know instantly."

"You're quite easy to diagnose dear. Oh, and I was already planning on coming out this way for some antiquing anyway. So things had lined up nicely. They often do."

Aldred is finally able to make sense of the room. It appears to be the sort of oppressively tasteful space that she has always favored. Probably a bed and breakfast, probably owned by an old married couple, probably banal and deadening and far too cozy. He's never understood why she favors places like this, but he can't deny that she draws a certain energy from them. Her witchery has always been a clandestine thing, disguised with tweeds and doilies. Aldred finds it baffling, but he's respected it ever since he saw her garrote a man four times her size with an eyeglass chain.

He tries to stand, and the room lurches sickeningly, gray pouring back into his field of vision. She grasps his shoulders and pushes him back down into what turns out to be a rocking chair.

"No dear, I don't think you should get up just yet." She tosses an afghan over him, binding him down with a series of sinister tucks and folds. "You stay right there. I'll just go and see if they've got something pleasant yet medicinal for you. Tomorrow we'll see about getting you back in...alignment, shall we say?"

Aldred smiles vaguely and watches her leave the room. As soon as the door closes he struggles against the afghan, but it's no use, he's bound tight to the rocker. He tries to resign himself to his fate, but the last time Mercury used the word "alignment" at him it resulted in a three month physical and metaphysical training course and a near psychotic breakdown. He'll have to start planning an escape soon , but for now there's nothing to do but let the accursed cosiness cover him and try to mend.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Movies I Have Hallucinated

Stabbing the Day Away: The Louisa May Alcott Story (Nutmeg): A heartwarming family oriented biopic about the author of Little Women and her lifelong secret passion for murdering transients.

Reichstag Follies of 1933 (Peyote): It was sort of like Triumph of the Will, but it had W.C. Fields, a very blond kickline, and several songs by Eddie Cantor. An extremely wooden comedy sketch featuring Der Führer and Olsen and Johnson was a particular lowlight (seriously, what''s funny about him saying "Vas ist dis HELLZAPOPPIN'?" over and over again?). The ghost of Keith Moon told me this was his favorite film, but he was pretty high when he said it.

Muppet VALIS (Mescaline): That special Jim Henson magic brought to bear on Philip K. Dick's thinly fictionalized account of his Gnostic experience/psychotic break. The scene where a beam of divine pink light pierces Kermit's forehead and fills him with cosmic knowledge is beautiful, though somewhat marred by the fact that you can totally see the top of the puppeteer's —sorry, muppeteer's— head for most of the shot.

Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland (LSD): 40 hour film consisting entirely of shots of helicopters flying over "The Forest City" and dumping buckets of brightly colored sand on it.

Jackie Chan Hits You in the Face With A Hammer While Laughing Hysterically (DMT): I think this was in 3D. Or maybe I hallucinated Jackie Chan actually stopping by and hitting me in the face with a hammer, instead of just hallucinating a movie about it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On the Counting of Legs

The strangest thing came out of the woods a few weeks back. The thing was kind of hard to focus on but we all agreed that it had long dirty white fur and an odd number of legs (though no one could agree on whether it was seven, nine or eleven). It limped into the town square and squatted there, just howling and whistling and clicking. Carl thought it sounded like someone swinging a burlap sack full of bobolinks over their head. Larry wanted to know precisely how Carl knew what that sounded like. Carl turned red and started to stutter. This of course led to Esmeralda rushing to his side and checking his temperature, supposedly because she's a medical professional. Now, none of us thinks that being a transcriptionist qualifies you to practice medicine, but none of us wants to point that out either. The last person to try to tell the truth to Esmeralda was Kathy Torkbeck, and none of us wanted to be stabbed in the throat with a ballpoint pen and then be left lying on a rented trundle bed in the middle of the High School gymnasium.

Poor Kathy. She only came here because she wanted a taste of small town living. One of these days we really ought to finish carving that gravestone, but nobody really knew how old she was and anyway, it's not like she gets a lot of visitors. Wish we'd spelt her name right though; but when the only stone carver for miles around is a mental deficient from Montreal "Torkbeck" is going to come out "Torquebecq." That's just the way things go.

Can't say what she expected life in a small town to be like, but we speculated that she was thinking "like a city, but smaller." She tried to settle in, but there were plenty of signs that she was going to have trouble. Her tendency to get mail from places more than fifty miles away was a problem. The way she cried when she found out the only readily available sweetener was birch syrup didn't sit well with anybody. She blew her social standing with her refusal to accept the mayor's gift of a hand stitched gingham anklet. And of course the way she cozied up to Carl pretty much painted a target on her back. Or on her throat.

Carl himself always appeared ambivalent about the attention he got from Kathy, but this may have been out of regard for Esmeralda, if not fear of her. Nobody liked to talk about it, but we knew that Carl was missing his right pinky because he once forgot to say good morning to her; and his left because he later joked about it being a "lover's spat". Don't recall him ever making a joke about anything after that, though that may have been because his stutter came in around the same time. He really had only himself to blame: he knew that Esmeralda regarded him as her property, but in a pure and uncarnal way, like how you own a fridge or a timeshare. If you're going to acquiesce to having that kind of role in life, you need to be awful careful how you joke about it. You should certainly never use the word "lover." It was a hard learned lesson for Carl, but sometimes those are the best. That stutter makes him damn hard to understand sometimes though.

Anyway, Kathy's tendency to smile at Carl was basically a criminal act if you understood how things work around here. The fact that she didn't understand simply compounded the criminality of it all; and while none of us condone murder, nobody wanted to bring in Esmeralda for doing something that was her natural right. We do all wish she'd been a little more discreet about it —and it's downright tasteless the way she wears the cap from that pen on a lanyard round her neck— but decorum and the law don't always go hand in hand.

When you saw the genuine tenderness she had for Carl in moments like this, where she stroked and slapped and pinched and scratched his cheeks while he sputtered and turned redder and redder, you knew everything was going right. A big dumb thing like Carl needs to be controlled and kept on the right path. No telling what he'd do otherwise, though you can imagine it might involve burlap and bobolinks. He's unwholesome at heart and if his life needs to be bounded by a woman who's more ministering wolverine than ministering angel, well then so be it.

Carl eventually calmed down and we all turned our attention back to the thing. It had stopped making that racket and was lying on its side. There was no sign of it breathing, though maybe breathing wasn't a quality possessed by this kind of thing. Anyway, it's been there for five weeks now and doesn't appear to be rotting. Funny how it's been perfectly motionless this whole time and we still can't agree on how many legs it has.

It's a mystery all right.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two Named Women Not Talking About a Man

Nancy and Andrea are standing in an open field, surrounded by barrels. It is a beautiful, slightly breezy day. Perhaps it is April. Perhaps it is not.

Nancy has been looking at the sky, the ground, the scrubby trees. Occasionally she wanders over to one of the barrels and has a look inside. She would like to be seen as one who is interested in the world around her. In actual fact, she is simply trying to avoid talking to Andrea.

Andrea has noticed this.

“They’re all empty you know,” she says as she stares at Nancy, who returns her gaze for a split second.

“No,” says Nancy, “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah, use the past tense okay?” Andrea stretches her meaty arms above her head, turns said head to the side, yawns, spits, and lowers her arms. “I’ve been watching you. I’ve been watching you, and I know for a fact that you have looked in every single one of those barrels. So in the past you didn’t know that. But now, here in the present, you know.”

Nancy adjusts her thick glasses, a move that’s all about the comforting feeling of a bakelite bridge sliding up a greasy nose and not at all about seeing. She glances at Andrea, considers –for a moment– trying to stare her down, and then looks away again.

“You make a very precise point. If an aggressive one.”

“Aggressive?” Andrea takes a few steps towards Nancy. Her big arms are a bad match for her petite frame, giving her the appearance of some sort of gorilla/ballerina chimera. “Are you calling me aggressive?” She steps closer still, sticks her head out like a turtle, her nose nearly touching Nancy’s barely existent chin. “What exactly do you find aggressive about me ?”

“Well,” says Nancy, surprised that in this moment of personal invasion, this moment of undeniable attack, that an unexpected calm is seeping into her “well, I think it might have something to do with the fact that you felt the need to correct me about something that is really none of your business.”

She gives Andrea’s shoulder what would appear to an outsider to be a gentle shove. Andrea falls over, quietly thudding into the ground, landing between two barrels. Nancy looks down at her.

“I’m sorry, was that aggressive?”

Andrea glowers up at her and doesn’t say a word.

This piece was written so that I would have something in my portfolio that passes the Bechdel Test.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Abandoned Hobbies

-Making my own glass using sand and matches

-RC frog racing

-Collecting cheese labels (I actually loved the hobby, but couldn’t hack the politics)

-Learning to stutter in Turkish

-Knitting phonebook cosies

-Constructing tiny villages out of acorns (basically just turning acorns upside down on a plate covered with glue)

-Amateur phone sex

-Moonlighting cosplay and reenactment (got sick of always having to be Allyce Beasely)

-Falling down the great staircases of the world