When filming we use the old standby of ketchup for blood. Consider this a mere condiment on an otherwise exquisite entrée, I tell my corpse lying on the floor, who winks at me as I squeeze out a fatal wound. An old cap gun for gunshots. Plastic dime-store knives in stalker scenarios. Kid stuff. I use the same ketchup bottle on burgers, hot dogs, scrambled eggs. My father used it exclusively on fish but late in life confessed he’d grown fond of it on fries. On film it often looked too thick to be blood. Wipe off some, distort the focus, shoot from a distance—bargain basement guerilla indie aesthetic. When I was a kid we shot movies without cameras. Act and direct, but no historical document. The ultimate punk attitude. History is for suckers.
One night an expressway onramp was blocked by police. We moved closer to see. An overturned car on a curve. Sheet draped over body, a puddle of red on the ground. Real. The cop looked up, said, you want to see death? We ran away. The next day we scanned the papers and tv for mention of it. Nothing. No history. I pull back from my corpse, who blinks an irritated eye. Someday we’ll get it right.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
On Christmas Eve E and R were in R’s apartment, cracking open walnuts, drinking tap water. They were sitting at the dining room table, a tabletop artificial Christmas tree flickering before them. Outside a snow storm pelted windows, an erratic wind sent nonpareil flakes in all directions. R was apologetic to friend E about the sparse offerings. E, nowhere else to go this holiday, consoled his friend. They talked about old times, laughed into the night. At 2:00 AM, R encountered a walnut that just wouldn’t open. E tried also. Nothing. Like a stone. So they walked outside, the snow down to flurries, the world silent. Down to us and the world’s asleep, E said, just like old times. Remember back when? said E. Yeah, said R, the parties, the hearty food and drink, the music, the crowds of people. Where are they now? Where are we, E said, looking straight ahead, eyes frozen. R looked upward to the apartment. White ceilings, generic light. No decorations. The years kept disappearing. Erasure of what was, who they were. Wind, snow pelted them both. R thought he should’ve bought drinks, festive food, put up window lights. Somewhere old friends, dispersed geographically, celebrated. He threw the unbreakable walnut. It sunk into a mound of snow.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
S goes Gordon Gekko, orders the steak tartare. He looks down at the raw egg on raw meat. He’s an imposter. This isn’t his life. He wants to vomit.
***N is tantalized by the idea, calls around town. Nowhere. One place leads him to another and another. Other odd foods. Craving exotic, he heads off, never to return.
***X grabs what he can, jumps on his horse. Invaders all around, axes and dust, swords and blood. Somewhere in the sunset he’ll eat. Alone. The blood of his kinsmen in his nostrils.
***L, a gun to his head, prays. The fire in his assailant’s eyes tells him the situation is lost. Quick and painless. Protect my family. Deliver my corpse for closure.
***A sees things he can’t have. Money, prestige, power. If he gains some, there’s always more. Life unfinished. His existence a never formed product.
***V, in a world devoid of fire and electricity, forms a circle of uncooked meat, tops it with a fresh cracked egg. The question is, from where did the meat and egg come in this dystopia?
***Gordon Gekko, freed from prison, orders the steak tartare. He looks down at the meal and smiles. Greed is eternal. He’s got a plan. He takes a bite, reclaims his life.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
This was the day when you were going to show me how to prepare squid for dining. But you never arrived. Slicing into rings; stuffing with brown rice, snow peas, and red peppers; deep frying the tentacles—the possibilities, you told me, but you were absent. I was afraid of the squid, but once we started seeing each other, and you convinced me of your culinary skills, I started believing there was no food to be afraid of. Now, you’re gone. I called your house, you weren’t there. I called your work, nothing. The mail came and, there it was, a letter from you, signed and dated yesterday, multiple pages, blue ink on both sides. It’s not working out, you needed to move on—but nothing about the squid. Once you realized that I wasn’t the one for you, I suppose cuisine was secondary. Now, though, whenever I think of squid, I’ll think of this, and be distraught. As food, squid will be nonexistent, just as you now apparently are. I’ll be left to wonder, what happened, did I do something specific to make you disappear. Perhaps someday we’ll meet again, say, hey, how’re you, but I see elusiveness, you only appearing in my fading memory, as I eventually question you existed.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
We were in the bedroom upstairs when I told her the three people downstairs were not my family. The room felt like cotton, smelled like it had been enclosed for decades. Her hair was wet and she smelled like Bath and Body Works raspberries. At first she didn’t understand, thought I was joking.
Were you adopted, she said, because, you know, that’s okay, it can still be family.
No, they’re not my family. Not in any sense. I don’t actually have a sister. I’ve only known them for a few weeks. I’m renting them.
I was holding her hand as I told her. Thin, bones like delicate museum fossils in soft fleshy bag. She released herself and kept her hands tight under her arms, dropped her head and clenched her eyes shut.
That morning, we drove 200 miles to get there and she held my hand and slept. We moved through fields of horses and carefully groomed farms, all of it looking still, manufactured painting landscapes. Ate lunch at a Cracker Barrel. Browsed the collections of manufactured to look authentically worn knick knacks, bought glass bottles of Stewart’s Root Beer.
Exiting the highway, we had to travel through the remnants of a small town Main Street to hit the sprawling development of box houses. It still had a general store. Window signs advertised handmade ice cream and prepaid cell phone cards.
My real parents lived about 200 miles in the other direction from where we came. They were probably sitting around in their dilapidated too small house doing crosswords and reading remaindered books and not pretending they are waiting for a phone call or a letter. Who knows when I last talked to them. But long ago I determined they were too real. Dad would say three words in two hours and Mom didn’t know how to cook. I was the son who didn't care, didn't pay attention, couldn't be bothered.
So it’s time for dinner and I start to head downstairs. The smell of poultry ripe with spices filled the air. At the top of the steps, I’m waiting for her to join me, reciting the list of conversation topics I'd compiled in my mind. I stand there, waiting for movement, the two of us to descend as one, the bedroom quiet.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
I wish that I could have saved David Foster Wallace. I wish I could have stopped him before he killed himself, said, no, David, and have him walk away. I wish I could have had him over for dinner, taken him to lunch, done a culinary tour with him, have him consider the soft shell crab. The crustacean in between stages, shell-less and vulnerable to the world’s ravaging. We could have fried peeler sandwiches and he would go off on a tangent about you’ve never seen something so incestuous as a college level science fiction writing workshop. It’s like walking into a sci-fi convention and being graded, he would say, and you’re the only one not in costume and are thus sitting on the outside, the outsider ripe for devouring. I would nod, agreeing from my own life experiences, ripping off a bite of bread and crunchy legs. Sometimes, though, you must be willing to lose your shell and just be naked, I might add, and just be there, exposed. I could see him nodding his head, understanding but not fully absorbing, already knowing but not comfortable. Soon, our sandwiches would be done and we’d go our separate ways. Back to our homes. Climb back into your shell, David. Maybe just maybe.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Dear The Balance of Terror:
Sorry I missed you the last time you were around. I’m afraid people will look at this in the future when such things are inevitably made into consumable compendiums (compendia?) and think, what was this about and how could you write a letter to something called “the balance of terror”? The balance of terror is just what I was afraid of—this is what I can tell you. It’s complicated beyond that and it brings up some uncomfortable truths that I cannot share in this format. Please don’t, please don’t—I might scream deep down in those depths.
Anyway, I’ll go off on a tangent here (deflecting, denial, etc.). The Balance of Terror is the title of my lifetime collection of short fiction. It has no form yet since it is not yet completed (I’m still alive, as of this writing), but it is still somewhere, bound together in some unseen dimension, the one unbound by time. Flip to page 241. Yeah, I was amazed too. Will that be my writing? I can’t wait!
So, here at the end, some may wonder, what does that first sentence (Sorry I missed…) mean? It means I’m afraid, but I’m okay. You will find out more if you stay tuned. I hope you will.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Okay, I’m the one who’s been tasked to write informational notes for you, the extraterrestrial visiting our planet. Make it snappy, our head honcho said, give ‘em little bits each time, I know you can do it. Well, I’m going to assume you can either read English or have a nifty translation device. Let’s start with the end—death. Upbeat, huh? Well, you should’ve seen our twentieth century. I assume you know about death and aren’t immortal. Maybe you are immortal and you’ve been able to travel hundreds or thousands of years through space to reach us. I think immortality is boring. Perhaps you do too which is why you decided to travel the universe. My doctor told me to exercise so I don’t have poor health later in life like my father. My father lived when eating a rare porterhouse was the mark of a man. Depending upon where you land on our planet, eating dead bovine flesh is considered either decadence or sacrilege. My head honcho looks like a guy who might eat a porterhouse. But he’s not. He’s buried in debt, wears stained clothing, and we laugh at him. Anyway, here’s how life works—you’re born/created, you live 75 years if you’re lucky, then you die. What happens when you die, you might ask. Well, that’s a big debate. I won’t get into it here. My dad died and I miss him. That’s what I know. Next time, I’ll try to be more upbeat.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Expose yourself to radiation. Work out daily and lay off the Twinkies. Acquire large sums of cash. Learn to sew. Work in the pharmaceutical or genetics industry. Expose a predatory insect to radiation then have it bite you. Buy large rolls of spandex from fabric store. Have relatives or friends who may be clones. Rent a spacious top-level apartment in the city with a skylight and non-inquisitive neighbors. Drop out of school. Buy a journal and keep a list of excuses. Run wind sprints and lay off the beer. Use teeth whitener. Be at the end of your rope and take a head-hanging walk through the worst part of town. Learn how to dodge bullets. Find a town with a super villain and move there. Keep your girlfriend/boyfriend at a distance. Live in the worst part of town. Learn how to keep your cool and tell one-liners under stress. Keep a list of secluded spots for changing clothes. Go to therapy for your acrophobia. Be an orphan. Buy glasses. Work in law or the aerospace industry. Spend large sums of cash. Throw away your television. Have trouble paying your bills. Learn kung fu. Have your girlfriend/boyfriend and/or any of your relatives die tragically. Talk to yourself in long explanatory monologues. Have foster parents. Expose yourself to lab experiments that most likely will go awry. Have parents who you think are your parents but actually aren't. Be an enigma. Never age. Work the night shift. Die and come back to life.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Dear Animal Behavior:
Am I doing this right? I had an idea for a story and thought it was a good one but then as I was writing the story I felt that it was like writing with shackles, writing in a cage, if you'll pardon that metaphor since that is something sensitive to you. I know that you write—do you ever experience this situation, where you're writing and you feel like maybe, just maybe, you could do something more if you didn't go ahead and put this restraint on yourself? Why restraints, I often wonder? Why do we do this to ourselves? There are no awards to be gained by such a thing, no place where our names are forever enshrined. I know that you write the way people think you might—with abandon, ferocity, and insatiability. This is one thing of various things I admire about you. This is why I come back to you time and again for advice.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
This is not a George Saunders story. It’s not that story “Pastoralia” where people are living in a simulated theme park cave. No, it’s just me living in a cave, and I’m nowhere near as clever as George Saunders. You might be here looking for something else, something more profound or even biting satire of absurdism but, nope, just me in a cave.
If you come by, which I don’t recommend, I’ll be sitting there, staring at a dim crackling fire, listening to Nirvana feedback with my makeshift stereo system. Call this my navel gazing. Call this my whatever you want. If you reach the end and say, I like the conceit of this, I like how he uses himself and George Saunders and so on, you’ve missed the point. Remember, this is not a George Saunders story. It’s just me. In a cave.
Now, here’s the part where I complain. I need a vacation or, ideally, a paid sabbatical, but I am not getting one. So, this is how I ended up in the cave. I’m burned out. Like the flickering flame in my fake cave, my spark is dying out. You’ll read this and refer back to the previous paragraph and you might also be tempted to make a Kurt Cobain connection but don’t do that. If you stick around long enough, Nirvana’s “Marigold” will play and you’ll notice the lack of Cobain and search for meaning there, but please don’t. Just remember, it’s me in a cave. I need time off. I need a new perspective.
Now this is where I clumsily stumble toward an ending. I turn down the audio graffiti of “Endless Nameless,” a pointless reaction akin to turning down the car radio when you see a traffic accident. I look up at the cave wall and notice previously unnoticed writing in paint. Someone has lived in this cave before, it seems, and has written a narrative. It’s a story about people living in a simulated theme park cave.
But remember this is not a George Saunders story. This is just me living in a cave. I need a vacation. Cobain screams, silence, hear I am, hear I am, silent. The squeal of guitar drowns out voice. You might be looking for something else.