Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Inscription: The Pale King


Dear S----

You'd told me before that you'd wanted to get into DFW but couldn't.  I don't know if, since we last talked, you've been able to, but I really think you should give The Pale King a chance.  It's incomplete and you can tell where it's patched together, but DFW, with kudos to his editor, is one of the few to have created a fiction work of art that's not finished.  Ironically enough, it feels that this book should be the beginning point for studying DFW.

I still remember that night we sat around my apartment table and drank beer and bemoaned the state of writers and artists dead too soon.  Do you remember that night's big wind storm?  Anyway, you're in another state now, and our lives have become different things and we won't likely have those times again.  When I read this book, along with enjoying it, I felt pain that someone as gifted as DFW couldn't bear to live and was besieged by depression and I realized there wouldn't be anymore after this.  He's being hailed as the most significant writer of his time.  How cruel for us all.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dear Spontaneous Combustion

Dear Spontaneous Combustion:

What's up, and why do you keep doing that?  People become fireballs, their existences turned into piles of ashes, spots of human grease.  No one has verifiable proof that someone has spontaneously combusted.  There is no defense against it.  Drinking vodka and smoking?  Eating greasy foods and smoking?  Not properly hydrating yourself and, um, smoking, or just being in an arid climate where the odds of combustion are greatly increased?

If I could draw your picture, you’d have a reddish hue, a devilish grin, be sort of like a devil but not really one, you know?  I wouldn’t give you a pitchfork tail or horns, for instance.  But a pointed black goatee?  Yes, definitely.  My neighbor has one and he’s devilish.  He lets his dog poop on my lawn and I know his kids stole bulbs from my Christmas decorations.

I know it’s kind of dumb for me to call attention to myself when you so rarely inflict yourself upon the human race so I’m just imploring you to consider I’m not making light of you here.  I take you seriously.  I know you’re real, that there’s a difference between you and pedestrian intentional fire setting.

Anyway, I know if you had a band you’d burn your guitars, you’d demolish your drums.  You’d sing, this ain’t no fooling around, implore us to dance with you, slam with you, take your partner, churn to the left.  We’d raise our hands.  We would obey.



Monday, July 23, 2012

New Car Smell

The first new car my parents bought was a Pontiac T-1000—a copy of the Chevrolet Chevette, the name later changed to just Pontiac 1000. My first dosage of new car smell, as we rode home in the pristine, burgundy seats and carpeting, the floors still with the paper covering the rubber floormats, clear plastic that had until recently covered the seats stuffed under the passenger’s seat. The old car, a used Datsun, abandoned at the dealer, the weird sensation of a trusted piece of the family now gone, efficiently replaced with some paper signing. That smell, I said, inhaling deeply. Yeah, my father said, but it goes away, it doesn’t last more than a few weeks. Maybe they should make a spray so you could always have it. My mother, in the passenger seat, was quiet, writing a list of things for Easter, which was just three days away, using the owner’s manual as a writing surface. My brother would’ve been there but he was off with his friends, playing pinball, finding trouble. The car would be his to drive soon enough—to be his own with dings and dents, a broken windshield winding handle. After the first traffic light, there was the beltway entrance, open space. He shifted gears; the car paused, then jumped to the on-ramp. I leaned against the window, counted passing Volkswagen Beetles to myself.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Orpheus, Don't Look Back, Dude

So, graduates, you've made it up the ladder and now it's time for you to keep going up into the clouds and as you do, I implore you to remember the words to Orpheus, don’t look back, dude, and also to Lot and his wife,  and, in this case with the ladder, said back is decidedly down.  Anyway, graduates, my words to you are, don’t do it, whatever it may be.  You're still too young to do anything correctly.  Wait until you're at least 30 before you try anything on your own.  One other thing I can impart to you is that it’s difficult being the god of thunder these days.  That’s a little joke slash pickup line I like to use, and as you can see from my list of invited guests, one that's met with painfully nonexistent success.  Yes, I know, painful, a term you're meditating on right this moment, and if you think of Thor and the Norse gods, you might also think, smelly, like mushrooms or old cheeses, or may I use the word mead?  People don’t talk about mead much anymore, like they did back in the sixth century.  They don’t talk about Grendel’s mother much like they used to either, if you've noticed, but if you’ve just finished college, which is what I suspect if you’re sitting here right now listening to what I'm saying because one, why would you be here and not among the passed-out dregs of an all-night kegger if you weren’t now finished college, and two, who wears these silly caps and gowns unless someone’s handing you a sheepskin?  Yes, I know, you’re probably thinking of various unmentionable scenarios—again, wait until you're 30.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking, here at the end of your college career, enough of the Grendel, his mother, Beowulf, Hrothschild or whatever that guy’s name was and all these answers to exam questions that I got wrong anyway and get me a freaking job already.  Yes, you, Mr. Speaker Dude, get me employed, why don't you?  Okay, here’s a job for you—translate Beowulf back into its native Spanish.  With your eyes closed.  Did you know that Beowulf was originally composed in Spanish?  Yeah, me neither!  Well, if you can do it, I'm willing to pay you what you're going to make in the coming year as you cash in on your major-related profession, which is the grand sum of bupkis.  Don't worry, though, the compensation you'll really get is the satisfaction of doing a noble deed, which will make you equivalent with the king of the Danes in my book, and when you reach my age, you'll realize is truly the definition of bupkis.  

Anyway, before you climb that corporate ladder—a completely different ladder than this college ladder you just climbed up, which means you're going to have gingerly climb down to the bottom and start anew—you’re going to need a haircut.  And you’re going to need a haircut that’s so deep that it trims those nasty bits of your conscience off.  You know, the moral/ethical parts, which hopefully you’ve let grow a bit while you were in college and on your parents’ or the federal government’s dime.  Graduates, I've seen the future of this world and it has had part of its brain removed.  After that, you're going to need several pairs of good shoes, because you're going to keep wearing out a pair every ten thousand steps you take up that ladder, and it's only right that you drop that spent pair right on the head of the guy or girl just below you, as such behavior is the basis of capitalism and probably an economics lesson you slept through three, four, five, six years ago.  So now, I'll send you forth, graduates, with this last piece of wisdom—there's going to be a huge party at the provost's place right after this, and you're not invited.  But take heart, this is also one of the tenets of capitalism, that you get to have wild indulgent parties and rub it in the faces of those not invited.  More appropriately for you right now, there will be wild indulgent parties, and you will not be invited.

So, if you think you've remembered enough of freshman literature and you'll be like Grendel and try to crash the party and exact revenge upon the merry noisemakers, think again.  We'll be armed to the teeth.  With that, you got an extra bonus nugget regarding capitalism, and, as it keeps trickling down, you'll get even another: nothing comes free unless you truly have all the money in the world and don't need it.  Now for the kicker--you'll be receiving a bill for these juicy tidbits, which is going to look awfully similar to the rolled up scroll that this grey-bearded dude is about to hand you.  Yes, it's quite pricey and for what, exactly?  This is the same question your parents are asking themselves right now.  So, again, don't look back, dude, and not because your loved one will be whisked back to Hades or turned to a mound of salt, but because your parents, they're not there anymore to foot the bill, but, man, they're laughing their butts off.  Truly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Sampling of Maybes

Maybe I’m wasted. Maybe I’m non-icon. Maybe I like using hyphens. Maybe I’m all about cultural stupidity. Maybe I’ll write a story about a man who does nothing but sit in his apartment and look at leaves fall. Maybe I’ll reflect the disgruntled stupidity of whatever. Maybe here we are in interstellar space.  Maybe there is the plethora of information.  Maybe I need to blow it all up and start again. Maybe I'd like to get back the buzz of old days.  Maybe the dark hanging tree the those dead yesterdays the shady days of young never will be.  Maybe I'll climb Everest and buy my own island and get into selling coconuts.  Maybe I am coconuts.  Maybe I'm partially asleep.  Maybe I'm so far asleep that I'm snoring and drooling and I don't even move when an air horn makes noise.  Maybe there once was a man.  Maybe you'll never see me again.  Maybe you won't mind when I use the word "bereft."  Maybe I'm the shallowest man on the planet.  Maybe I'm so polite that I can't even eat cake anymore.  Maybe not maybe.  Maybe you should think more of an English-style pub.  Maybe you'll become Kansas.  Maybe I'll become Wyoming if first you become Kansas.  Maybe I'll be road schematics.  Maybe I'll be road schematics with ink blotch roadkill.  Maybe the sun breaks through the trees and illuminates the room.  Maybe I'm writing to you from the future.  Maybe I'm writing to you from two seconds in the future.  Maybe I'm the coarse remains of a Chaucer scrap heap.  Maybe this is not autobiography.  Maybe the moment never fades away.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Postcard: Enjoy Indiana!

Flat lands, flowing wheat, blue sky.  The only souvenir we got were these postcards, free rest stop goods.  We went to Indianapolis.  They stole our team, Dad kept saying.  He would’ve cried seeing the Colts logos if he weren’t seething with anger.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dear Long Distance

Dear Long Distance:

Yesterday morning, after waking up, I put on the previous day’s pants and shirt, went to Dunkin’ Donuts for a cruller and coffee.  I thought I would sit in the shop, watch people come in and out at the starts (or in some case, the ends) of their days.  It was only 6:30, the day still like a fog, the gray haze of a sunless day that gave the world a Scottish feel, like marauding armies are waiting to strike.  I have not sat in a Dunkin’ Donuts since I was a child.  My dad would drive us to one fifteen miles away from our home and I’d get an orange juice and a strawberry frosted donut and he’d read the paper and drink coffee and give me the rundown on the previous day’s baseball games.  I loved those donuts but somewhere along the way they changed the frosting and now it’s like eating pink plastic.  Anyway, yesterday’s donut shop was depressing.  It was filled with older folks who sat in groups at tables.  Some read newspapers or worked on crosswords.  One man had a severe shrieking cough.  They said nothing to one another, looked at me once or twice.  Looking at them, I couldn’t help but feel that they were dropped off here, that there was nothing else for them to do.  People came and went, some their age with two coffees.  If my dad were still alive, I can’t imagine he’d be one of these folks.  He’d be one to come and go.  He always had things to do.

I remember when Dad drove home, I’d look out the window from the back seat and count the old Volkswagen Beetles.  Dad would fiddle around with AM radio, settle on songs from the 50s.  I remember one time counting 47 of those cars.  Yesterday, I decided to count them driving home and I saw not one.  I kept driving until I saw one.  It was cherry red and was sitting in a repair shop parking lot.  I smiled, wondered, how many miles does it have, how many stories could it tell?  Then I went home.

All the best,


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What I Was Thinking: Writing for Writing's Sake

What I was thinking is that it is more important to be immersed in the work, writing for writing's sake, actually performing the art form that you're working at, then doing anything else but that.  Writing, in its essence, is the solitary act of one sitting in front of a blank piece of paper or screen and writing words.  Recognition should be secondary to solitary pursuit of writing.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dear Border Town

Dear Border Town:

How’re things down by the, um, border?  I know we don’t talk much anymore and for that, I’m sorry.  Anyway, I‘ve been thinking that if there would be a movie version of Border Town, I’d want it to be a western, and I’d want it to star Peter Sellers.  Of course, he’d have to play multiple roles.  He’d be the sheriff who is also the snarling bad guy who’s trying to take over the town, the aging gunslinger who’s always drinking whiskey at the bar, the bespectacled accountant who hurts his wrists lifting a gun and, in a particularly comedic turn, the wise harlot who carries a parasol and is the town’s best billiards player.  Slim Pickens would guest star but unfortunately his character is a mute.  I know this is all silly because Peter Sellers has been dead for some time now, but they’re doing amazing things with CGI these days (do they even call it “CGI” anymore?), and there should not be any restrictions on one’s imagination.  Yes, this last point might bring up a sore spot, one of many between us, the accumulation of which is why we don’t talk much anymore.  



Thursday, July 5, 2012


Dear Brandon Lee:

I know that you're dead and can't respond to letters, but I've always felt a connection to you since I learned you died during the production of the film, The Crow.  I was 22 when that happened, in the middle of the best years of my life, when the untimely deaths of people I didn’t know stood in for the real thing, which now I know all too well.

The next summer when the film was released, I saw it and like many people my age then, was blown away by it.  Your performance was spectacular, and the film itself is dark and edgy and the hand of vengeance your raised-from-the-dead character delivers to that savage city’s criminals was most awesome.  It was like being an invincible hero in my own nightmare.  My friends and I would drive around with the windows open blasting the soundtrack to that album.  We were college age and carefree and could do whatever we wanted during the day while regular grownups were working and we stayed up late at night while they were sleeping.    We drove around in a ragged, rusted powder blue Ford Taurus station wagon that sputtered and stalled.  It was the best car ever. It was the last free summer.

That last free summer was going to be many things.  I was going to write a novel.  My friends and I were going to drive across the country and back.  We were going to start our own microbrewery.  We were going to live at the beach.  We were going to throw the biggest, longest party ever.  We were going to do all the things that were in our dreams.  Then you need money.  Then you start interviewing for jobs.  Then you don't stay out as late.  Then you start paying bills.  Then you start having real skin in the game and life isn't about grades and people aren't kind about giving you second chances and I suppose this is why some people start walking around with scowls on their faces and they take jokes seriously.

Brandon, I can't imagine what it was like to be a young movie star who had has life ended by a stupid accident.  I can't imagine what you were thinking when that gun was fired and there was supposed to be a blank and you were supposed to go into actor mode like you'd gotten hit by a bullet but you really did get hit by a bullet and you quickly died and, man, that was that.  One minute you’re fine, the next you’re not.  I remember people claiming conspiracy and the eerie coincidence of your father dying early at age 32 but it was really just a stupid accident caused by carelessness.  It's written in pen. There is no do-over.

Now, the old friends and I are thinking about getting together again for another ride or two.  Sure, that Taurus has long been scrapped and we’d likely be driving around in a minivan, but I’m going to bring The Crow soundtrack and it’s not going to matter.  Of course, nowadays, we always talk but never do.  Such is the way of things now that we’ve become our fathers.  But if we do, we want you to come with us.  There’ll be room for one more.  We're trying to recreate that feeling of being young and invincible and where anything is possible, so don’t worry about being dead.  One of my best friends is dead also and I plan to invite him too so you won’t be alone.



Monday, July 2, 2012

What I Was Thinking: At Long Last

What I was thinking today is coming at you at long last.  Does this mean that I have not started thinking on this day until right now?  No, it’s just that it’s taken some time to get motivated, to reach this point where I open up this document and start typing like this.  Some days are like this.  Some weeks are like this.  Don’t worry, I am still thinking.  This is not something you should concern yourself with.  Whether or not I am to channel this thinking into something with form is an all together different situation.  Sometimes, like Huey Lewis sings, I want a new drug.