Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spots and Smiles and Scratches

Just before he stood up he noticed a spot on his pants. He was always noticing spots: on people's cheeks or on his shoes or over there against the wall. He never knew what to do when confronted with a spot, and so whenever he noticed a spot he would smile wanly, scratch his chin for a moment, and then try, with varying degrees of success, to go about whatever he had been doing prior to having noticed the spot.

So, having noticed a spot on his pants just before standing up, he smiles, scratches his chin, and then, slowly, arises from where he had been sitting. He looks about for a moment and then shifts uncomfortably. What was it I was standing up for? he thinks to himself. His eyes scan the room for some clue to what he had planned to do once standing – a bookshelf, a closet, shoes, a porcelain bowl with a spoon sticking out, an overcrowded desk, and then, as if from nothing, a spot. He is neither alarmed nor impressed by the spot’s appearance, but instead smiles wanly and scratches his chin. He tries after a time to discern what it was he was about to do prior to noticing this stray spot but, as so often happens, notices a small spot resting somewhere near his bed, and thus breaks into yet another smile and scratch.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Boat's Most Unfortunate Dispositon

Like all people, Boat despised nearly everything that he did. Shaving, for instance, was a great burden to him, as was dressing and combing and brushing his teeth. His contempt for things that he did was not limited to the things he did to groom himself, though. He hated speaking with others and walking about and nodding his head and consuming the rotten meals he prepared for himself. Most of all, though, he despised being introduced to others. Hello, Boat would say in as forced a manner as possible, my name is Boat. People, being the easily amused creatures that they are, would generally laugh at this. BOAT? They would say through smiles or chuckles or both, BOAT? Yes, Boat would respond dryly, and you are? Oh, the other person would say, suddenly growing grave and serious, my name is Steven or Katherine or Bill or Sarah (there were other names too, of course, but I do not need to catalogue them all here). Boat would nod curtly at this and then turn his shoulders slightly to the side, as if this slight transposition of his body were enough to obliterate the existence of the other person altogether. In short, then, like all people (e.g. Steven or Katherine or Bill or Sarah, &c.), Boat despised nearly everything that he did, and is only natural in people with such dispositions, nearly everyone that he met.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Long and Spindly Road

A young man with a bright shirt collar walks down a long and spindly road with a camera in his hand. He has decided that he is a photographer, and that as a photographer it is now his duty to take pictures. Thus the camera.

He walks down the long and spindly road, and with his eyes picks out what he will with the camera capture. There are trees, he thinks, and bushes and toads and flowers. There are other things too, he is certain, but for many of the things he sees he does not have a name. He thinks to himself that with a camera names are no longer necessary – a thing does not need a name if it has itself, he thinks. He points the camera at a bundle of things he does not know the names of and, with a simple, sudden click, captures the bundle with his camera. A smile breaks out on the young man’s face and for an instant it seems that his already bright collar gets just a bit brighter. He is happy.

As the young man continues down this long and spindly road he will no doubt have similarly happy experiences. He will encounter further bundles of things that he will photograph instead of name, and his collar will perhaps seem to brighten in several more future instants. Whether his camera or its pictures are ever seen by others, then, is not of any real significance, as if this were ever a question or concern. Let me conclude then by saying that he has taken and will continue to take many pictures, and that each time he does his collar looks for an instant like it has gotten slightly brighter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Soft Boiled, with a Spoon

Having boiled his entire supper, the man sat down with a spoon. He swallowed most of it up, wiping his mouth with a thin rag when he was done. For dessert, he thought, I ought to try something hard. He thought for a moment about hard things he might enjoy having for dessert, but in the end could think of nothing.

Boiled bread, then, was what the man had for dessert, and like his dinner he consumed it with a spoon.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stump Being Questioned at the Office

He had been asked, he felt, too many questions already. That she had just asked him another question, then, seemed profoundly unjust. Terrible things ran through his mind. He couldn’t even bare to look at the woman as he made his clipped, seething response. That must be it, he thought hopefully to himself. It was not.

Stump had been working in an office for several months now. His responsibilities were limited, and he rarely had to interact with anyone. People would occasionally ask him a question, but the infrequency of these questions was such that he could write them off as minor inconveniences to his otherwise uninterrupted indolence.

For the last three days, though, a woman had followed him about interminably asking questions. It was as if she were chronicling not only all the events that took place within the office, but all the events that had ever taken place and that could possibly ever take place in the office. Stump had reached a point, however, where no question, whether about the office’s history, present, or future, would be answered. He would not, he told himself, suffer this woman a moment longer.

He turned to her – his eyes carefully avoiding hers – and said: I don’t believe I’ll answer any more of your questions today. The woman looked at him for a moment and then smiled: Oh yeah? He did not say anything, but instead shook his head. She laughed, and then asked him another question. Stump, coward that he is, responded.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Jauntily, the boy descended the slight staircase. Three steps was all, and the boy, jauntily, covered them in two.

An older man – portly, upset, etc. – watched as the boy descended the steps. My, my, the man thought to himself, how that boy moves! This excited the portly, upset man a great deal. I must get myself a boy like that, he thought further. And like all terrible things, that was how this terrible thing was born.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Small List of Qualities

In her pocket she kept a small list of qualities that she would ascribe to the various people that she met. At work, for instance, she would be introduced to Mr. ---, a banker and philanthropist, and when asked later what he was like she would remove the small list of qualities from her pocket and declare: He was dull, loud, sincere, and gregarious. She would then place the small list back in her pocket, satisfied that the man’s character had been more than adequately described. Four adjectives, then, were ascribed to all of the people that she met. Nobody I’ve ever met, she would often tell people, has ever warranted more than four.

When people learned of this lady’s list they often grew resentful. Four? they would gasp in disbelief, she thinks she can sum me up in a mere four adjectives? Then, oftentimes, they would offer a snort or grunt to show just how preposterous an idea they thought this was: four adjectives? ME? Not possible.

But it was – this woman did it all the time. Dull, frightened, quiet, and awkward, for instance, or dull, vain, talkative, and tiresome – how many hundreds of thousands of people have just been summed up by these tiny sets of words? The woman, anyway, felt that many had been.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rightly Call Green

There are only so many things a person can rightly call green.

A very pretentious man once began a story with that line. He went on to detail a number of things to which this adjective could not apply – horses, fangs, telephone poles, etc. – without ever actually mentioning a single thing one could rightly call green. Which is fine, I suppose, but it did not make for a particularly engaging story.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dearest Plop,

I write you this letter only because I just realized that I’d nearly forgotten about you entirely. I was eating my beans, as usual, when one fell – plop. I laughed. I really must write to him, I thought. Then I thanked the bean. How have you been? I haven’t done a thing since last we saw one another. When was that? I don’t expect any of these questions to be answered, of course: I know you don’t write anything down. Still, what does one do in a letter if not ask questions? To talk of myself seems gross and presupposing (if inescapable); plus I know you never cared to know too much. “That’s enough, that’s enough,” you’d say anytime I started on myself. “That’s enough.” Do you still tell people that? Or do you even bother with others anymore at all? It’s difficult to say at this point whether there are others around or not; we’re all so damned sick with ourselves. “Oh that’s nice,” we’ll say as we admire something, and as the last syllable falls lamely from our lips we’ll recognize ourselves in the thing and nod, knowing as we know that we’re simply sick to death with ourselves. I thought of you when a bean fell to the floor, and I realize now I’ve only been reminded of myself. But listen to me: I sound just exactly like all those people that we hate.

Yours interminably,


Monday, August 11, 2008

A Felicitous Encounter

The girl’s pallid hand was cupped in the air. It looked about as if to catch something. Turning, turning, it saw nothing and so coiled back into a small white fist.

Trumpet, a hirsute man with a magnificent baldspot in the back of his head, approached the girl with the tiny pallid hand. He did not speak at first but instead stood admiring the little creature. She too admired the man, smiling and laughing at his bearded, silly face.

Trumpet then made a suggestion: we should buy a chicken. The girl’s fingers seemed to flutter at the idea, and her smile gave a slight twitch. Oh please, she said finally, oh please can we. Yes of course you little mutt, of course.

They took each other’s alien hands and walked briskly to the nearest shop. On their way they walked over all sorts of things: corks, geraniums, mollusks, celery, &c. Then, finally, they were there.

One chicken please, says the hirsute man.

Handing the chicken to him the vendor winks, knowingly.

The two walk hand in hand to a field. It is vast. They ascend a small hill, then sit. Come here you little mutt, the man says. She does. Give me your hand. She does. Now cup it. She does. The man stands up and raises the chicken in the air. Slowly, noiselessly, a small egg tumbles from the chicken and, gracefully, lands in the tiny cupped hand of the girl. The man, proud of his little mutt, winks at the girl. They both laugh aloud, admiring the egg and the cupped hand and each other.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Towards the back a small note: we regret to inform, it begins, that for some reason (no doubt) the author decided (more or less) to discontinue writing at (or around) this point. And then it ends. The reader, feeling a little overwhelmed after having trudged through so many parentheses, shuts the book with a sigh.

Why now? he thinks a few moments later. Why at this point? He had regarded the work as a whole to have been consistently, satisfyingly mediocre, and to cut it off just then seemed to him not quite right. He had persisted, oftentimes against every urge in his profoundly unexcited mind, in reading the novel; he had done this despite, and sometimes it seemed perhaps even because of, the book’s dullness, its level, ceaseless mediocrity; and now, somehow, without explanation, the author had chosen to discontinue the writing of the book.

This, naturally, upsets the reader. He glances down at the spine of the book and looks at the publisher’s mark. It is an anchor with three loons fluttering in the background. He walks over to his phonebook and flips through it. Picking up the receiver he presses a series of numbers. At last he speaks into it: yes I’m calling about the most recent book you’ve published…yes…yes, I am calling about the appendix…yes…well I don’t see…yes…yes…possibly then there is someone…yes, yes, I can see that of course but…yes…so then…yes…well I had no idea…no I didn’t…yes ok then…yes…perfect sense, yes…ok then…yes…yes…well thank you. He hangs up the receiver and returns to his chair and the book. Like the phonebook he flips through it, landing at last upon the book’s final words. He rereads them, mouthing each word slowly, and then, even more slowly, begins to nod his head. Ah yes, he mouths, I see it now, ah yes, and he continues shaking his head for some time.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Winnie Doesn't Care

OintMint was a potent drink. People drank it for all sorts of reasons. Winnie Shingle, though, drank it for no reason at all.

For breakfast her mother would come into her room and ask, Win, would you like your OintMint warm or cold this morning?

I couldn’t care less, mother, Winnie would always respond. You know that.

Of course I do dear, her mother would say, but it never hurts to ask.

This statement, while oftentimes true enough, was in this case actually very far from the truth – it hurt a great deal. Winnie’s mother was well aware of the potency of OintMint, and she also knew that as a result people were often very particular about how and when and why they were drinking the stuff. Her daughter, though, could not seem to care less, and as a result, Winnie’s mother worried greatly about her daughter. Thus when she asked, Would you like your OintMint warm or cold this morning? and Winnie declared that she did not care, her mother was genuinely pained, fearing her daughter might be a bit off.

One day Winnie’s mother developed a scheme to determine whether she was truly indifferent to OintMint or not. Instead of giving Winnie a glass of the potent substance in the morning, she brought her a cup of milk (this drink being the same color and thickness, naturally, as OintMint). Here you go Winnie, the mother said as she handed her daughter the cup. Winnie drew the cup to her mouth and took a large swallow. After finishing the contents of the cup she handed it back to her mother and, as she did everyday, and said, Thank you, mother, I think I’ll take a nap now.

Mrs. Shingle, an honest, dependable woman, was terrified. It’s true then, she thought to herself, she doesn’t care at all. Returning to the kitchen she drops the tray with Winnie’s empty cup on it into the sink. A small crash is heard as she makes her way to the kitchen table and falls into a chair to cover her face with her hands. She begins sobbing loudly for her poor daughter Winnie who is, she is now convinced, a bit off.

Friday, August 8, 2008

On Court St. or in the Courtyard, amongst the Various Groups, a Man Will Speak to You

In either place, Court St. or the courtyard, one will encounter groups of people. These people, none of them at all pleasant, all know one another, but none of them, not one, knows you. At first this is upsetting, hurtful even, but over time it develops into a source of pride. None of these people, you exclaim proudly to yourself, know me! As is the case with all sources of pride, this one has developed out of a profound insecurity. In any case, in either place, Court St. or the courtyard, people can be found.

One day, though, you will either be walking down Court St. or walking through the courtyard and a man, a not very tall or attractive man, will summon you over to his modest little group. Say there guy, he will begin, using a sort of affected language you find both charming and repulsive, we’ve noticed you walking through (or past, whichever the case may be) here a number of times and wondered to ourselves – why isn’t that guy ever with anyone else? Not knowing how to respond you will nod your head, confident that this response will be sufficient. You are wrong. No seriously, the man will continue, why is it that you’re always by yourself? Don’t you know anyone in the courtyard (or on Court St.)? Haven’t you anyone to be with? Recognizing the futility of a nod you will shake your head No, hoping that that will be sufficient. It is not. Look! Look at him shake his head! The guy can’t even talk! No wonder he hasn’t a person to chat with in the courtyard – he can’t even mutter a word! The others in the group will all chuckle at this, finding it strange that you will not speak to their happy, comfortable group. You, desperate to retain some dignity, say, No, I can talk. I can talk. The group will stop chuckling. They will all stare at your still, sullen face. The man will say:

He can speak! Look at him – all of a sudden he can speak! Well then, please, what else do you have to say for yourself? After he asks this he will look around at the other smiling faces of the group, all anxiously waiting to hear what you have to say for yourself.

Well I don’t know that I really have anything to say for myself, you will say, looking down as you say it.

The group will no longer be smiling. The man who had summoned you over, realizing finally that he has made a mistake, will scratch uncomfortably at his face. Well then, he will say with forced amiability, I suppose we won't keep you any longer.

Ok, you will softly say, ok thank you. Turning from the group you will continue on through the courtyard or down Court St., thinking to yourself what an awful lot of groups of people there are around here, and about what it might be like to be a part of one of them someday.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

At breakfast he was Claude, a man of some renown in a rather limited sphere of the business world. He sipped two cups of black coffee and nodded knowingly as he read an important newspaper.

By midmorning he was comfortably acting as Robert, the diligent and soft-spoken assistant to a not altogether prominent figure in Washington. His hair parted, collar relatively straight, he would go about pleasantly enough doing as he was told.

For lunch he was Bruno, a swarthy gentleman with an appetite for women and trouble; between bites he would snarl at one or the other.

His afternoons were either spent as Jacques or Pedro, the former being a member of a fledgling avant-garde painting movement, the latter being an athlete of some kind. Oftentimes the two were interchangeable during the afternoon hours.

At supper he was Reginald, an aristocrat with a taste for mutton. More mutton he was wont to say at about this time of the day, though he was rarely if ever brought anything even close to resembling mutton (he ate at a public house where the menu was chosen for you).

Most people enjoy some sort of postprandial something after supper, and our man enjoys Wilfred, a persona he adopts with great relish, though with little effect. Others - what few there are around - can rarely comprehend who exactly Wilfred is supposed to be, and some even believe him to be the closest thing they know to our man - that is, our actual man - that there is. Like any belief, though, it cannot be confirmed.

Before retiring for bed he is Augustine, a repentant, solemn man. He says his prayers on his knees and by the time he arises he is Iachimo, a duplicitous Italian philanderer. Sadly, though, Augustine rarely has a woman waiting for Iachimo in bed, and thus, being worn out from a day’s hard work, often goes to bed alone and unsatisfied.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Proper Thing to Say When Asked: What Is It that You Do?

When people meet, they often ask one another what they do for a living. What do you do for a living? one will ask. I do this or that, the other will respond. What about you? Well I do this or that. They then contemplate the various things various other people do, and sometimes, if that thing is in any way exceptional, will comment to someone else, Did you know that so and so does this or that?! I had no idea, the other person will gasp. How interesting! And it seems, for a moment, to truly be that: interesting. Upon reflection, however, what one initially found interesting will often turn into something one finds obnoxious. So what if so and so does this or that, what’s so special about that? What’s so goddamned special about doing that? Resentment will then begin to build towards the so and so who does this or that, until finally one comes to abhor the individual who, for a moment, appeared to have been doing something interesting.

This is the great risk, then, of meeting people and telling them about what you do. For a time, I tried to avoid the problem altogether by telling people that I did nothing. What do you do? Nothing. This, though, infuriated them even more than when I when I had told them I was doing something I knew they would have initially perceived as interesting. Nothing? Nothing?! They’ll stammer. You do nothing?!?! Yes, that’s right, nothing at all. I found that it took far less time to earn their abhorrence by telling them this, as I mentioned, than had I simply told them I did something interesting, because the idea of doing nothing is simply unfathomable to most people, and whatever a person finds unfathomable they must necessarily find noxious, gross, antipathetic, etc. Thus now when I am introduced, I tell people this: that I am a secretary, that it is a modest, steady job fit for a modest, steady person like myself, and that, were the office to keep me on for another hundred years (or more), I would be perfectly content continuing to do my secretarial work for another hundred years (or more). They are pleased with this response, often, and it almost never earns me any ire whatsoever. My advice, then, to those of you forced to meet other people: say, with great humility, that you are a secretary, and that that is all you ever hope to be.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Woman I Once Knew

An extraordinary young woman with extraordinarily dark hair once said to me: I don’t think I care for too much about you. I had to solemnly agree with her: Neither do I, neither do I – there are only some very few things about myself that I truly treasure. She smiled at this, but not in a particularly friendly way.

These two, her and I, had known one another for a few months. Neither was entirely certain where they had met the other, but both were sure that they had spent far too much time in one another’s presence since whenever that meeting might have been. I, for instance, despite finding both the woman and her hair quite extraordinary, felt in her presence a sense that I had discovered, at last, the paragon of disagreeableness. She, for her part, found me at times grossly uxorious, and at others smug and ungrateful, but at no time at all did she find it pleasant to be around me.

The reason why we were forced to while away so much time in each other’s company was, like our first meeting, somewhat of a mystery. The miserable reality of the situation itself, I suppose, had eclipsed our ability to discern reasons or beginnings. We were around each other a great deal, and we surely must have met at some point, but how or why were both somehow irrelevant when confronted with such perpetual unpleasantness.

Now, though, and for reasons equally unclear, I am no longer in contact with this most extraordinary of women. Instead, I sit alone in quiet contemplation, reflecting on all those exceptional qualities she possessed: her dark hair, her equivocating smiles, her fundamental lack of appreciation of so many of my finer points, etc., which is almost as unpleasant, I have found, as actually being around her.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Mediocre Story

When asked how it was he intended to conclude the novel, he said, I don’t know, hopefully he dies. Nobody had ever read the story, but many people had heard a great deal about it. One person, for instance, was intimately familiar with both the third and eighteenth chapters, but knew virtually nothing about any of the others. Not even his wife, with her interminable questioning, had much more than a vague sketch of the narrative arc of the story. Thus when he told a group of people that he hoped he died at the end of the book, many people present had guesses as to who the character was that the author was referring to, but none of them were at all certain. Some hesitant voice ventured, One man of some significance appeared twice, I think, in the span of only a few chapters. Perhaps it’s him! Perhaps, someone mumbled in response, but I remember hearing about So and So at least four times. This sort of blind sleuthing went on for a great deal of time, but only served to compound people’s confusion about who the author hoped would die at the novel’s end.

He had been working on this novel for well over three decades, and though it was rumored to be both quite good and quite long, people were genuinely concerned they may never get to actually read a page of it before they themselves died. Some mildly respectable figure gave voice to this concern and he, the novelist, looked sourly down upon this man and said, That’s precisely why I haven’t published it: even the most mediocre stories all end like mine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Not Properly Lauded Performance

She shuffled first this way, then that. Her hair wiggled about like an eel whose tail, caught in a pair of undersea pincers, struggles in vain to reel about. She then stops abruptly and bows: a grimacing, sharp bow. For a moment all is hushed, then, generously, a single bleating clap is produced.

(Anyone at all inclined to note the workings of man in the presence of other men will no doubt have noticed that a single clap will often serve as the catalyst for many other claps, that, oftentimes, a single clap will precipitate a roomful of claps, &c &c, but it must be noted here, for accuracy’s sake, that this single clap, as if in a vacuum, spawned no further claps.)

So that, then, was the way this performance concluded.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Taking a Bit of Hominy for Breakfast

She breakfasted on chunks of hominy. Throughout the day her tongue was darting across her teeth, certain that there were bits of her breakfast left to exhume from the gaps in her teeth.

For dinner she had radishes. Twelve radishes. A man ate with her and admired the way she ate without seeming to chew at all.

Do you just swallow them?

I’ve already got so much hominy in my teeth there’s hardly room for anything else.

Like a true gentleman, he nodded as if he understood what she was talking about.

Before going to bed she went to wash her mouth out. Pressing her face close to the mirror, she scrutinized all her teeth’s gaps. Resigned to the fact that she had disinterred as many bits of hominy as she was capable of, she went back to bed and joined the man she had eaten dinner with. He leaned over to her and began kissing her on the mouth. She thought, Oh yes, perhaps he can help, and thus let him continue kissing her on the mouth.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Split Man

On a split sofa in a split room sat a split man. Nobody knew for sure how he had gotten that way, though in truth not many people bothered worrying themselves about it. He sat, split, weeping then smiling then weeping again, afraid to rise yet shooting up at odd moments, only to fall back to his seat again. Someone once suggested calling him Hair, and while this elicited some laughter at the time, the name has not stuck. People do not know his real name, and thus he is referred to by all sorts of made up names. At times, of course, he is fine with this, but at others he gets quite frustrated. Why, he asks in these frustrated moods, can’t they just settle on a single name? Hair even, I’ll be Hair. Moments later, though, he will be relishing the inconstancy of the various names they attach to him. And that, I suppose, is just the way of such men, of split men.