Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Successful Lies I Have Told

"I'm sick of productions of Waiting for Godot where they cut out the car chase."

"I don't know how all that blackberry jam got in your car."

"During the summer I'm the substitute mayor of a small Ukrainian village. So of course I can officiate at your wedding."

"LASIK gave me x-ray vision. But I only use it for good."

"I used to work as a house painter, but I quit when it got too commercial."

"A childhood injury rendered me incapable of giving change to the homeless."

"Reading is a wonderful town and I wish I still lived there. I especially miss all the outlet malls and Klan rallies."

"I love it when you talk about bacon."

"Of course I know what an ostinado is. Asshole."

"I wrote that book you're reading."

"I haven't really cared about anything since 1992."

"I don't know how all that blackberry jam got in your safety deposit box."

"I'm late because my chemo appointment ran over."

"See that building over there? It's made of Lego."

"I know the guy who invented silicone bakeware."

"I'm scared of clouds, especially the pretty ones."

"I was born with my bones on the outside."

"I was the voice of the pets.com dog puppet. The puppeteer was Colin Farrell."

"I collect pictures of abandoned drug stores."

"I don't know how all that blackberry jam got in your mouth while you were sleeping."

"I lived in a storage unit in Metuchen for eight years."

"Here's how you make a real Mojito: take three ounces of Triple Sec, muddle it with shredded carrot and serve at slightly above room temperature by warming it with your hands. That thing you're claiming is a Mojito? Real Cubans call that a Batista."

"Carol Channing died."

"This blog updates 4-7 times a week."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two Named Women Participating in Our Culture

The other day I went to a political rally in Elmire Park. I was unclear as to what it was for exactly, but I felt the need to engage with the democratic process. I was surprised to see Nancy and Andrea there. At first I thought they'd had the same impulse, but when they mounted the speakers' platform, I realized they were there in a more active capacity.

Andrea spoke first.

"My friends...Jesus, 'my friends,' how can I say that? Calling someone 'friend' is a big deal. There's like what, eight hundred of you here? Maybe a thousand. I know almost none of you, and the ones I do know aren't exactly friends of mine. They know why. Oh boy, do they ever know.

"I'll start over. My strangers: we live in a time of great upheaval. That means shit is fucked up. Way fucked up. It's all broken and scattered. It reminds me of the trash in our awful streets. That trash is evidence that something is going on, but you ever tried to put it together into a coherent picture? I have. I've spent whole afternoons dong it. What I'll do is pick up a bottle, a glass one, and some newspapers. Then I'll wrap the newspapers around the bottle, good and tight. When I've got that done, I look for the dirtiest part of the sidewalk. then I roll the bottle down that patch of sidewalk, pushing hard. I do this for about a block. It's a hard thing to do, because people will stare at me or call me crazy or try to mess with me. A lot of the time I end up getting into a fight and have to use the bottle as a weapon. Usually if that happens I have to get a new bottle and start over. I have to do this five, six, seven times some times. Often there's a hold up, because glass bottles are getting harder to find these days. But I keep it up, because this stuff is important.

"Anyway, when it works out right I get to roll that bottle all down the block. At the end I'm left with two types of evidence. I'm no egghead, but I know it's good to have more than one kind of evidence if you're investigating shit. The first type of evidence is the crap that's been pushed in front of the bottle. Usually this is what you'd call 'powder based,' because there's usually a nice sized heap of powder and bits by the end, all mixed together. Some of this stuff in the powder is pretty identifiable: grit, dust, ash, bits of dried tar from the road. But there's other stuff in there too, stuff that just confuses me. Like the purple stuff. You guys know about that?"

She paused, looking out at the crowd. She wiped one of her large arms across her forehead, joining the individual beads that had been sitting there into an even film. The pause went on, and Andrea started to look frustrated.

"Okay, I guess not. That wasn't a rhetorical type question by the way: I was really hoping that somebody here might know what this purple stuff is, because I think it's probably important. It's usually a good ten percent of the 'powder based' evidence, and it freaks me out that I can't identify it. It's this really dark shade of purple. The bits are usually no bigger than a match head, but sometimes they're as big as a pea. One time I found one that was the size of my thumbnail. I've got it here in my pocket, if anyone wants to have a look later. I thought maybe it was gum at first, but it's kinda more like stone, and it's got little holes in it.

"My point is, something's going on.

"The other type of evidence is all the liquids picked up by the newspaper. I know you're thinking 'Gross! Liquids!', and yeah, you're right. Pretty gross. There's always spit, there's always piss, there's always something sticky, and there's always something that smells really rank. And of course it all mixes together, into one thing, so I can't look at the individual liquids. But let me tell you something: that blend of liquids means something. Because the thing is, liquids evaporate, right? So even if these things are separated out on the sidewalk, they eventually get up in the air and blend together. I'm pretty sure that's how it works. Do you see what I'm saying? This is in the air we breathe. You can't tell me that's not bad. Or at least important. It's gotta be doing something.

"So, in summary: something's going on and I've got evidence. Uh, thanks."

Andrea left the platform to a smattering of applause. Later, I saw her talking to a couple of old black guys in matching pork pie hats. She had her hand out in front of her, so I assumed she was showing them the purple thing. One of the guys was nodding really slowly. The other was shaking his head. Andrea looked irritated.

After a few more speakers it was Nancy's turn.

"Hello," she said. "It may be of interest to you to know that not far from here, in this very park, when I was a child, I used to come and feed the ducks in the pond. Around the age of fourteen I stopped. I don't know why. Then I went away for a bit. Then I came back. When I came back I was a different person. I think now I might be the kind of person who feeds ducks as an adult."

Here she started rummaging in her handbag, eventually producing a surprisingly large bag of breadcrumbs.

"Today I intend to find out. Thank you."

No one applauded as she left the platform, but there was a murmur in the crowd that lasted a surprisingly long time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Recent Acquisitions II

A silent 8mm film of Orson Welles sitting on the toilet and drinking scotch. Possibly filmed by Peter Bogdanovich.

A stack of loose pages, apparently from an old dictionary, stapled together at the top right corner. Not in any discernible order. All entries for adjectives have been crossed out with a ballpoint pen.

A wooden box full of yellow and white glass marbles. Weighs approximately 60 pounds.

A poster for a regional theater production of Equus. "MATINÉES CONTAIN NO NUDITY" printed across the bottom in large red letters.

A pair of ceramic clogs, painted with flowers. I believe these were meant to be sculpture, but there's evidence that the previous owner wore them at least once (see below).

A "set" of four mismatched antique wagon wheels.

A red enameled gooseneck lamp with some very faded Pac-Man stickers affixed to the base.

A mostly empty photo album. A few Polaroids are stuck in haphazardly: a blurry shot of Mount Rushmore, A blurry shot of a man's arm featuring a heart tattoo with an indecipherable name in the middle, and a blurry shot of a woman in a flowing blue dress who appears to be wearing the clogs mentioned above.

Some WWII era blackout curtains. The bottoms are weighed down with what appear to be hand-stitched sachets of lead shot. Most of them are leaking; a few are completely empty.

A printer's job case, filled with a nearly unreadable Gothic typeface. Appears to have never been used.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Aldred and Enforced Hospitality

There's something ludicrous about a rocking chair, thinks Aldred. They're meant to be so cozy and homey and relaxing, but the reality doesn't measure up. They creak in a way that refuses to take a proper rhythm. They require far too much effort and attention to keep rocking, distracting you from fully devoting your attention to woolgathering. The ones with arms (as is the case with the model he's currently stuck in) are never built with the portly gentleman in mind. Worst of all the wicker seats are puritanical in their lack of cushiness and have a tendency to poke one. Intimately.

He's been here for six hours now, waiting for Mercury to return with the promised drop of something restorative. Rogue bits of wicker have firmly embedded themselves in his person. He's almost too distracted to worry about infection, or becoming permanently affixed to the rocker, but manages to devote a small part of his mind to this idle fretting. Mostly he's wondering what's become of Mercury. It wouldn't be the first time she's been gone longer than expected (her disappearance for the entirety of 1998 springs to mind), but she usually has the graciousness to not leave him bound with an afghan to an infernal device while she's off and about. He hopes that nothing has happened to her.

The door creaks open and a quaint and ancient man comes hobbling in, holding a trembling tray in his hands. He gives Aldred a carefully composed quizzical look that doesn't quite hide the fact that he knows, if not exactly what's going on, enough to not be as innocent as he's pretending.

"Ah, Mr. Aldred?"


"Miss Mercury called. On the telephone. Says she's been unavoidably detained. At the, uh, antique mall. Looking at antiques." The man gestures with the tray. "She said I should maybe bring you something. Said you were indisposed. Stuck in the room. Resting."

He looks over the afghan, lets a little more of his wry amusement slip out.



"Not too warm? I hope?"

"Yes, fine."

"Rocker treating you alright?"

"It's lovely."

"Great. It's a terrific old chair. Handcrafted."

"It shows."

"It's for sale. If you're interested."

"I'll have to get back to you on that."

"Just say the word. We can come to a price easily."

"I'm sure. You'll excuse me, Mister-?"


"Mr. Kliet, but as Mercury mentioned I am feeling under the weather and I'm afraid I don't have the strength to discuss this wonderful chair."

"That's real Belgian wicker-"

"Not. One. Second. More."

Kliet can see that he's pushed the doddering a shade too far. Aldred notices the tray has stopped trembling, is in fact now deadly still.

"Right you are. Well, there's coffee here for you. And some cookies too. They're from an old family recipe. The wife-"

Aldred looks a polite amount of poison at him.

"Okay, okay. Cripes, can't an old fella have any fun?"

"Have your fun when you total up her bill."

Kliet snorts as he lays the tray across the arms of the rocker. He carefully untucks just enough of the Afghan to free up Aldred's right arm, leaving the rest of Mercury's sigil or combat origami or whatever it is in place. His movements are deft and professional: Aldred doubts Mercury had to tell him what to do. Crafty old bastard.

Aldred reaches for the mug of coffee, spilling a bit as the rocker follows his shifting bulk. He gulps a good half of it down. It's strong and hot and perfect, the definition of perfect in this case including a generous portion of very good rum. He can feel it working immediately, blotting out the accumulated irritation of the last six hours and making a dent in the enervation that led him to this point in the first place.

"That's...very good coffee."

"She said to give you the good stuff. Said you'd be needing it. Said it was an apology of sorts. Said she won't be back for a bit longer. Said probably not until tomorrow morning. Said-"

"Said 'keep him tied up'?"

"Said that too."

Aldred sighs, but he can't find it in himself to get too angry at Kliet, who is certainly going to follow her instructions to the letter. He knows how persuasive Mercury can be. Confining him to a chair for a day will hardly by the worst thing she's ever put him through. And the rum is very, very good indeed. "Breaking the embargo" good. Maybe even "smuggled out of Fidel's private stock" good. Raoul's, anyway.

"It seems a pity to mix this with coffee."

"It does indeed sir."

"And to drink it alone."

Kliet gives him yet another complex look. He has quite a repertoire.

"Well, I imagine there's no harm in a friendly drink or three with one of our guests. I imagine."

Kliet leaves the room. Aldred hopes he'll be back soon. He doesn't begrudge the man his calculating suspicions, but really, he has no intention of trying to escape. He's just terribly, terribly bored.

When Mercury returns the next morning she's greeted by a very hungover Mr. Kliet. Aldred's snores come rolling down the stairs and play about the room like drunken puppies. They don't cause the pictures to rattle on the walls, but it's a near thing.

"my god," she says. "This is going to cost me a fortune, isn't it?"

Kliet nods, then winces.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Desperate to Get Into Prog

Run from the nightmare dwelling thing of fear
That drips with dread and creeps so near
To perch on your shoulder on its feculent rear
And speak the unspeakable into your ear.


The thunder of the morning
Was the new age boldly dawning
While the giants were still yawning
In their castle down below.


The alphabet of sorrow
Wrote the story of tomorrow
And the ghouls down in the barrow
Gnawed the bones of Mia Farrow.


Across the singing galaxies
The stars crowned a new king
To challenge mankind's fallacies
And stroll on Saturn's rings.


A million bright green changes were brought forth by Father Time
To push the evolution of the primordial slime.
But devilish Death was waiting by the ocean with a scythe
To fight his endless battle with the living host of life.


Earth turns in flagrant beauty
From cold to tropical and back.
Each man will do his duty
To keep the sun from turning black.


The swordsman swings his weeping blade
Through the tears of Guinevere
Each one a diamond in the glade
Of Arthur's horned and cheated fear.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bored in Dreamland

Hopefully, by the time you read this I'll have been found. I seem to have gotten lost in a dream, and I have to say it is not at all what I expected. For a start, it's terribly dull. I always assumed that being lost in a dream would be an exciting and vibrant experience, if at times a little harrowing. Turns out it's a bit like having an anxiety attack and being very sleepy at the same time. I imagine it might be like spending too much time in a country where you don't know the social mores and eventually get tired and frustrated from constantly doing the wrong thing because you simply have no concept of what the right thing is, or could possibly be.

That's not to say there aren't some nice things about it. I can summon up a talking penguin anytime I want, for instance. Unfortunately the only thing it wants to talk about is how disappointed it is that I never went to grad school. Which I guess means the penguin is a manifestation of my father. Except my father is here already. In fact, there's several little clones of him milling about, and all they want to talk about is fish and how frightened they are of polar bears. Which suggests that my father is just a manifestation of a flock of penguins. This is precisely the sort of thing that I don't know how to properly react to. It's pissing me off. I get enough of this in real life.

Then the other night I had a lovely dinner with Gurdjieff and Mamie Van Doren. But again, it was terribly frustrating. Gurdjieff's English is dreadful, and he overcompensates for this by bugging his eyes out a lot and gesticulating wildly with a forkful of spaghetti Bolognese. It's unhelpful and messy. Then I managed to derail things entirely by asking Mamie what it was like to be dead. Turns out she isn't. This cast quite a pall over the proceedings. Gurdjieff told me "you verra bad man," and then they both ignored me for the rest of the meal, carrying on a completely unintelligible conversation between themselves. I would have made my excuses and left, but it took me hours to figure out how to get out of the insanely complicated chair I was sitting in. There were straps and buckles involved.

After that, I tried to keep to myself. I couldn't find much to do, so I ended up spending a lot of time napping. Except of course that would just put me back in the dream world. It was a bit like walking out of the front door of your house and finding yourself back in the hallway, in that it was equal parts fascinating and irritating. I suppose if I was a mathematician or a psychologist I would have something insightful to say about this sort of folding of reality, but I'm just a schlub with a BA, so all I could come up with was "Whoa, that's kinda trippy." The penguin was terribly disappointed.

I tried all the touristy things one does in dreamland. You know, the classics: flying, going to class naked, being chased by an unknown assailant, being the president and starting a nuclear war. The usual stuff. It was all fun, but rather unsatisfying, like I was just doing the things so I could cross them off the list. Oh and consequence-free sex with whoever I wanted turned out to be a disaster. Like anybody would, I tried it with myself first and apparently my technique is really lacking. I thought that I knew what I like, but when I caught myself checking my watch, well, it was emasculating to say the least. I lost the taste for experimenting after that.

Eventually I decided to concentrate on asserting normalcy. Perhaps I could escape by turning the dream world into the real world. I created a passing simulation of my house and office, and tried to follow the same routine I do in the waking world. I'd get up in the morning after lying in bed pretending to be asleep for what I judged to be eight hours or so. Then I'd make myself a cup of coffee and feed the cats. This took a long time as the house was populated by every cat I'd ever owned or wanted to own. Then I'd have a shower, get dressed, kiss my wife, explain to the penguin why an MFA wasn't for me, and head out to work.

Work was always a blur. I mean, literally. I couldn't get it to come into focus at all. Vague walls, ill defined cubes, shadowy co-workers who made sounds like papers rustling and keyboards clacking at the bottom of a well when they spoke...None of it resembled reality in the least. Well, maybe it resembled my reality, but now that I was paying attention to it, it certainly didn't resemble real reality. I managed to keep this up for what felt like a few days, but the passing of time kept slipping away from me. I suppose a few months must have actually gone by, because I eventually ended up having a midyear review with my shadow boss. Overall, my performance had been "rustleclickrustlerustle ," but I needed to concentrate more on "clackclickrustleclack" if I ever expected to make "clickityshufflerustleclack." I promised to do better, and then let the whole thing evaporate into thin air.

And now I stand on a flat white plane that stretches to infinity in all directions, a white, perfectly hemispherical sky overhead. If you happen to see a place like this in your dreams, please do stop by and see if I'm still there. I'd love for someone to lead me out of this boring place, or at least explain to the penguin why an MBA isn't the guarantee of success it used to be.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Private Moment with Mountford

There are tears all down the front of his dirty undershirt, because as is often the case Mountford is upset. There are also tears down the front of his dirty undershirt, because he believes in getting as much wear as possible out of a garment. The tears leave wet and salty spots and release a strange animal scent from the fabric. The tears allow a surprising number of hairs to poke through, and expose sad patches of sallow skin.

He cares on some level of course, for he knows that a man who has made an enemy of...well, everybody, is never truly alone. There's a terrible risk of exposure, that some cunning paparazzo with a telephoto lens will capture those deep underarm stains when Mountford stretches his apish arms above his head while standing in front of the french doors; that this man who never leaves his palatial estate without a hat will be caught showing his true colors (a sort of sickening yellow). True, said paparazzo would be swiftly and fatally dealt with, but if even one person saw such a thing the damage to Mountford's psyche would be incalculable.

Perhaps he courts this exposure and subsequent pain as a masochistic act. Or perhaps he is simply tired and wants to unwind in a horrible t-shirt and boxers. As a sort of human being and a kind of American, doesn't he have the right to his slovenly leisure? Isn't that what we all aspire to? Stained undergarments and threatened dignity?

Mountford limps over to his favorite recliner. The hamstring injury he suffered in Singapore has been playing him up again. For the thousandth time he curses the aim of his doublecrossed business partner, feels the spiky durian slam into his back and send him tumbling over a second floor balcony at the Raffles. Fifteen years later he still can't eat the damn things though he has several crates flown in at great expense during the season. It's a point of pride.

The recliner receives his slight body. His bony ass nearly pierces the well worn seat. His fingers reflexively scratch the armrests, pulling up flecks of cheap and cracking leather. It's something of a miracle that there's any left to scratch away, but Mountford has always had an instinct for pulling the meat from a carcass.

The tears have stopped flowing now, and the ones that made it to the horrible undershirt have begun to dry already. The upsetting thing has passed from his mind so quickly that he is having difficulty remembering what it was. He's almost certain it had something to do with money, but all he remembers now is the petulant rage, the deep but transient sense of loss that comes with losing .0000001% of his fortune.

He reaches for the television remote and begins to flick through channels, pausing at any black and white image, trying to turn it into a rerun of Sergeant Bilko with the sheer force of his will. It was his favorite program, and airings were once plentiful. Now it never seems to be on. A newly hired assistant once suggested he watch Top Cat instead, claiming it was the same thing but "better, because it has cartoon cats instead of that weird guy with the fake glasses." Mountford attempted to drown him in the bidet, only pulling back at the last minute because the paperwork involved with an accidental death of this sort was more trouble than the deep satisfaction would be worth.

But again today Phil Silvers remains elusive. A fantasy begins to form in Mountford's head. He goes into broadcasting, creating a cable network that resembles the UHF channels of his youth: F Troop, Bowling for Dollars, a sea captain who hosts an afternoon cartoon show on the weekdays and a monster movie double feature on Saturday, a farm report every morning, a prayer at sign off, and of course his beloved Bilko. It would be a relic from the past brought lovingly back to life in the present age. it would be his cultural legacy.

For a moment it shines before him like a tawdry and pathetic jewel. Then it winks out, Mountford's interest having abruptly ended when he realizes that most likely there would be no money in it. He's through with labors of love. Labors of avarice are so much more rewarding.

He continues to flick through the channels for another twenty minutes, but finds nothing worthy of his attention. Eventually he dozes off, awaking an hour later with a stiff neck and a foul taste in his mouth. He rises and lopes upstairs, where a very fine suit awaits his attention. Enough of this lollygagging.