April 30, 2009
posted by Meredith Kooi
I came across an old MSNBC article a while ago about a “red iceberg that cause[d] a stir in Greenland”. The article talks about artist Marco Evaristti and his seemingly lunatic projects involving icebergs and paint and goldfish and blenders. At first, his comment about the iceberg belonging to him and his then ability to do what he wanted with it disturbed me. It actually really pissed me off. How could someone actually believe that Mother Nature “belongs to all of us”? Hell, Mother Nature belongs to none of us, really. However, I went to his website to find out if that comment was as egotistical as I originally thought it to be. Turns out, it is not. I actually like it. (Damn the media! I should’ve realized more blatantly the bias!)
The iceberg project mentioned in the article is part of a larger project called Pink State – where Pink State “is a pure utopia. A state of mind.” The project questions the constructions of borders and territories, and it calls for people to become citizens in the Brotherhood Union. The iceberg, in its manifestation as the Ice Cube Project, becomes part of this overarching community of the Pink State along with Mont Blanc as The Mont Rouge Project and other places. The places are physically real, but the actual “territory” of the Pink State is not; it is broader than the geographically and politically constructed borders that surround the places.
The Pink State has a constitution, and it states in Section II that:
§ 5 As a citizen of Pink State you are required to be good to yourself
§ 6 As a citizen of Pink State you are required to be good to others
§ 7 As a citizen of Pink State you are required to be good to nature
I like the sound of that. Without borders, would there be violence?
April 29, 2009
posted & written by caroline picard
Public Performance “a bob ross song, an orsen welles trick”
At McGuane Park Tennis Court 29th and Halsted
Isabella Ng and Millie Kapp investigate the performative capabilities of the Tennis Court on 29th and Halsted, examining how this space in particular operates as highly theatrical platform with physical directives, divisions, and information embedded in the space. Using six live bodies, they will investigate the idea of the “magic show” as the ultimate performative illusion.
imagine you are down in bridgeport. you are walking with elizabeth and devin. you have just left the nfo xpo on gratton avenue, and with the hubbub behind you, you notice the sky is skulking and gloomy, with all the dramatic airs of spring-is-a-teenager caught up in one of her moods. the air is warm and moist and summery so you only wear shorts and a t-shirt. elizabeth tells a story about how she got drunk at artchicago last year and this year promises to drink only three whiskies. devin tells a story in turn about how he got drunk in boston at a bar and tried to cajole a young woman into storming the stage with him. he remarks on the wit of her logic, for though she was a small girl, he nevertheless avoided the mishap of his exuberance and laid as low as his demands for champagne would allow.
you discover you have taken the long way about the park. the ruddy weed grass that spreads through cracks in the concrete makes a scuffing noise under your feet and at a certain instance you see a disembodied hand wiping the glass of a door from the inside with a towel. it smells like windex for but a moment.
you pass another house. this one, three stories tall and crooked is riddled with peeled siding and seems to crop up out of th midwestern urban jungle, alone and solitary against the threatening thunder clouds. the only sign of regular life appears from a well-meaning trinkets in the third story window–several glass jars of varying sizes, a glass prism and an ashtray. there are also shiny plastic garbage bins, one black for trash, the other blue for recycling–these things alone mark the house as something alive and inhabited, for otherwise it looks like a scarecrow, with broken glass porches and no curtains to speak of.
“this is one of those times when we should be on mushrooms,” elizabeth says.
“we would be on mushrooms if we were three years younger,” devin replies.
you assent. it would be a good day to do mushrooms. and better, perhaps, because none of you is willing to give up the eight or ten hours necessary for such a commitment. as such, you all swoon in the drama of the day.
“have you heard of salvia? it’s still legal,” says elizabeth. “i know this gang of mopehead kids. and one of them, the youngest one, is harchore on salvia. he’s a little odd, but noone has known him long enough to know if it’s really the salvia. nevertheless, he says that he’s done it so many time, and that when you do it it’s like you experience 52 dimensions at the same time–he says that he feels now like he’s always one dimension off.” You all giggle. She continues. “This other friend of mine, he did salvia–you know it only lasts like 20 minutes, but so I guess he was started earlier than everyone else and so when he came to, he saw one of his friends listening to headphones that weren’t plugged in and dancing around with this excruciating expression on his face. and then another friend had wedged his head in between the sofa and the floor and kept trying to scoot under it. then his last freind had two pillows pressed up against either ear with both hands; he kept shaking his head back and forth saying, ‘no no no.'”
you laugh because just the night before you’d gotten into a conversation with a friend about coincidences and synchronicty and vision quests. but you keep that to yourself, because it isn’t entirely relevant.
ON THE TENNIS COURTS:
the rain is spitting and peevish.
the video camera, used for documentary purposes, is wrapped in a plastic bag. you are sitting at the out line of the tennis court in bridgeport. the ice cream bike makes its regular but casual rounds back and forth about the park and each time it passes, its bells make a peculiar music. there is a softball game going on behind you in which parents give each other grief about their children. on the tennis court, six men in white tuxedo suits with red boy ties stretch their legs. they stand formally. they do not look at one another. another fellow, a younger lad wears a black tuxedo and carries an almost full glass of water. the glass is glistening and bright. it is particular enough that you suspect someone shopped it out for this particular purpose. the glass will be realized in the performance, you feel.
someone presses play on the stereo to your right, for you are sitting to the right of the net. as i said, you are sitting along the edge of the out line. an older woman sits behind you in a collapsable chair with an umbrella. she is one of the smart ones, even though the rain will hold off until the performance has passed.
and then the fellow in the black tuxedo begins to sing along with a recording of his voice on the stereo. he is singing the words of bob ross, though you won’t learn that until later. he sounds like a cross between a cantor and bright eyes and occasionally he takes sips from the water glass in his hand. he stands before a clock with bells and chimes. the clock is stuch at twelve and the chimes and bells blow perpendicular in the wind. as the boy sings, the men in white suits begin to move. also on the tennis court, there are four checkered boxes with yellow and white squares. these are placed in a mirror, as the performance is a mirror, and out the end of one there peek two legs, while out the end of the other, there peeks a head. as the white suits begin to move, mirroring one another on either side of the tennis court, the legs and heads move occasionally, belying life. nearby the boxes there is a saw and occasionally, throughout the course of moving suits, one or another of the suits picks up a saw to saw between the box of legs and the box of head. at intermittent points, a pair of men on either side of the net runs back and forth like a ball boy, from net to serving line, scuffing up the court, announcing something about gifts from the middle east with bows and formality.
after some thirty minutes, the boxes sawed, a pair of men picks up the box of legs on either side of the net, setting them upright. the boxes of legs each approach the net on either side. you can see cartoon eyeholes on each box. this makes you laugh. you can feel both elizabeth and devin laughing also. this makes you laugh more, for there is permission in number. and the boxes of heads, again on opposite side of the court scurry along, still parallel to the ground, they seem to glide towards the net, as though by some magic.
you hear a small child ask his father, “what is that?” pointing to the tennis courts on which you sit.
“i’ve no idea, no idea at all.” unlike the child, the father shrugs dismissivally.
along the outside of the fence there are more and more children, standing with fingers slung through the chain link, watching.
until, at last, the boy in the black suit comes to a final cresendo, the men in white suits have arrived a particular reflective formation and the box of legs and heads has rejoined, through the net.
the performance is over.
it has not yet rained.
but it will
April 29, 2009
Posted by Nick Sarno
The Fourth Annual Exhibition of Handmade and Altered Artist Books is taking place until May 31st at the Donna Seager Gallery. If you can’t make it to San Rafael, check out the website for some of the amazing books on display.
April 29, 2009
posted by Caroline Picard
This is an incredible passage recently sent me that I thought I’d share. In it, Rosalind is disguised as a man in front of her lover Orlando.
He was to imagine me
his love, his mistress; and I set him every day to
woo me: at which time would I, being but a moonish
youth, grieve, be effeminate, changeable, longing
and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow,
inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles, for every
passion something and for no passion truly any
thing, as boys and women are for the most part
cattle of this colour; would now like him, now loathe
him; then entertain him, then forswear him; now weep
for him, then spit at him; that I drave my suitor
from his mad humour of love to a living humour of
madness; which was, to forswear the full stream of
the world, and to live in a nook merely monastic.
And thus I cured him; and this way will I take upon
me to wash your liver as clean as a sound sheep’s
heart, that there shall not be one spot of love in’t.
April 29, 2009
posted by Caroline Picard
You should check it out! http://www.versionfest.org/a24.html.
April 28, 2009
Posted by Nick Sarno
I don’t know if anybody reads William Saroyan anymore. I don’t know how many people ever read him, I only know that I’ve never been in a single conversation about him. Which is unfortunate, because sometimes he could be really, really good. What follows is the preface for the first edition of his first collection of short stories The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. It’s pretty good advice for writers, but it’s pretty good advice for everyone else, too.
I am writing this preface to the first edition so that in the event that this book is issued in a second edition I will be able to write a preface to the second edition, explaining what I said in the preface to the first edition and adding a few remarks about what I have been doing in the meantime, and so on.
In the event that the book reaches a third edition, it is my plan to write a preface to the third edition, covering all that I said in the prefaces to the first and second editions, and it is my plan to go on writing prefaces for new editions of this book until I die. After that I hope there will be children and grandchildren to keep up the good work.
In this early preface, when I have no idea how many copies of the book are going to be sold, the only thing I can do is talk about how I came to write these stories.
Years ago when I was getting a thorough grammar-school education in my home town I found out that stories were something very odd that some sort of men had been turning out (for some odd reason) for hundreds of years, and that there were rules governing the writing of stories.
I immediately began to study all the classic rules, including Ring Lardner’s, and in the end I discovered that the rules were wrong.
The trouble was, they had been leaving me out, and as far as I could tell I was the most important element in the matter, so I made some new rules.
I wrote rule Number One when I was eleven and had just been sent home from the fourth grade for having talked out of turn and meant it.
Do not pay attention to the rules other people make, I wrote. They make them for their own protection, and to hell with them. (I was pretty sore that day.)
Several months later I discovered rule Number Two, which caused a sensation. At any rate, it was a sensation with me. This rule was: Forget Edgar Allan Poe and O. Henry and write the kind of stories you feel like writing. Forget everybody who ever wrote anything.
Since that time I have added four other rules and I have found this number to be enough. Sometimes I do not have to bother about rules at all, and I just sit down and write. Now and then I stand and write.
My third rule was: Learn to typewrite, so you can turn out stories as fast as Zane Grey.
It is one of my best rules.
But rules without a system are, as every good writer will tell you, utterly inadequate. You can leave out “utterly” and the sentence will mean the same thing, but it is always nicer to throw in an “utterly” whenever possible. All successful writers believe that one word by itself hasn’t enough meaning and that it is best to emphasize the meaning of one word with the help of another. Some writers will go so far as to help an innocent word with as many as four and five other words, and at times they will kill an innocent word by charity and it will take years and years for some ignorant writer who doesn’t know adjectives at all to ressurect the word that was killed by kindness.
Anyway, these stories are the result of a method of composition.
I call it the Festival or Fascist method of composition, and it works this way:
Someone who isn’t a writer begins to want to be a writer and he keeps on wanting to be one for ten years, and by that time he has convinced all his relatives and friends and even himself that he is a writer, but he hasn’t written a thing and he is no longer a boy, so he is getting worried. All he needs now is a system. Some authorities claim there are as many as fifteen systems, but actually there are only two: (1) you can decide to write like Anatole France or Alexandre Dumas or somebody else or, (2) you can decide to forget that you are a writer at all and you can decide to sit down at your typewriter and put words on paper, one at a time, in the best fashion you know how–which brings me to the matter of style.
The matter of style is one that always excites controversy, but to me it is a simple as A B C, in not simpler.
A writer can have, ultimately, one of two styles: he can write in a manner that implies that death is inevitable, or he can write in a manner that implies that death is not inevitable. Every style ever employed by a writer has been influenced by one or another of these attitudes toward death.
If you write as if you believe that ultimately you and everyone else alive will be dead, there is a chance that you will write in a pretty earnest style. Otherwise you are apt to be either pompous or soft. On the other hand, in order not to be a fool, you must believe that as much as death is inevitable life is inevitable. That is, the earth is inevitable, and people and other living things on it are inevitable, but that no man can remain on the earth very long. You do not have to be melodramatically tragic about this. As a matter of fact, you can be as amusing as you like about it. It is really one of the basically humorous things, and it has all sorts of possibilities for laughter. If you will remember that living people are as good as dead, you will be able to perceive much that is very funny in their conduct that you perhaps might never have thought of perceiving if you did not believe that they were not as good as dead.
The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.
April 28, 2009
posted & written by Caroline Picard
Talking of Michelangelo.
Brothers walk side by side, through the city’s wet streets. Because they are on the cusp of spring, a vague fog sinks and settles into the narrow, cobble stoned alleys and brick houses flanking their path peer through the gloom to watch them, hovering and closterphobic and ominous.
“I bet this is what it felt like when Jack the Ripper was at large,” Tobias says.
“You know what you should do,” says Fletcher dismissively with an arm around his brother. “You should get a job as a carriage driver. You could have your own horse here in the city. You would learn all about it’s history and every day you could go to work in a fancy top hat. Like a gentleman. Stick with me, kid. We’ll do great things together.”
Punk Rock Dave and the Plunk follow at a fair distance and when Tobias turns to look at them they shimmer like shadows, slouching through the mist. Turning back, he looks at his brother’s profile, distant, Fletcher is still talking. Tobias does not hear what Fletcher says, noticing instead the way his mouth forms words, the expression of his face, the apparent earnestness which Tobias knows is at first false, feigned and then, deeper down, absolutely true. And when Fletcher raises his arms to the sky, muttering still, “This is ours, Tobias. This is all ours,” Tobias follows the gesture, looking up similarly and in so doing glimpses a hairless patch on the top of Fletcher’s head. He looks beyond and up at the sky. The stars are impossible and wan.
As though feeling his little brother’s gaze, Fletcher turns to look at him. “I’ll show you how to get along. It’s going to be fine. It’s better that you’re here. You don’t need school. Not yet. This is better for you. I’ll take care of you, see? I’ve got you this awesome room, all set up and everything. Clean sheets. We’ll make dinner all the time. I’ll give you books to read. If you want to be alone, you can be alone. I mostly just write everyday anyway. You can do whatever you want. It’s going to be good. I’m glad you chose to live with me instead of Michael. I think that was a wise decision.”
“Edith freaks me out,” Tobias says. They are both looking at their feet now. “Probably if it hadn’t been for Edith I would’ve moved in with Michael.”
Fletcher lights a cigarette. “You want one?” he asks.
Tobias shakes his head. “Don’t call me your youngest brother, O.K? I don’t like it.”
What no one knows is that Fletcher is full of anxiety. He writes pulp fiction for a living, and by some strange circumstance has carved out a moderate success. He has written over 47 novels of the Romantic sort, using the pseudonym Johnny Tangiers. His books are all over the place—particularly in grocery stores.
Nevertheless, earlier today, Fletcher went to see his agent, Kathleen, before going to meet Tobias at the train station. Kathleen was angry at him. She said there had been phone calls that day, people from the press wanted to talk to her about his books. Normally she would have been delighted. In this case, however she felt like a fool.
“Apparently some moron has been reading stuff into your books,” she said. “Apparently this man, an academic? He’s been writing blog posts about your books and how they operate on multiple levels. He says the Romance is all a farce. I can’t believe it. I mean that’s great, if that’s what you’re up to, but you should have told me! I felt like an idiot, Fletcher. You made me look bad. I told them there was nothing of substance in your work—they’ll probably print that. And then I’ll have to call my other authors. I’ll have to explain that I think they are geniuses.” She shook her head. “You and I both know this is just my job.”
It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Fletcher had been sleeping with her for several months. She was married. He did not love her.
“I don’t know what anyone is talking about,” he said, adopting an air of nonchalance. “I write pulp. That’s it. I don’t know anything.” He shrugged. “I’m a hack.”
Kathleen shook her head. “It’s too conclusive. There is too much evidence. Barfly is actually a metaphor that describes flies crawling around limes in a bar? Or Chablis Soirée documents the entire history of the United States? It was supposed to be a blow job book. You told me you just wanted to see if you could write a 300 page novel that about a blow job. I thought the book was terrible. It is terrible, and you watched me try to hide that. You read my press release boasting its import. Because we both knew it would sell. Not one of your strongest books, either, but still. And now. Jesus, Fletcher.” She sighed heavily and shook her head, “This is going to change everything. All your readers, everything. You made everyone a fool. Already one book tour has been cancelled, they’re running an article in the paper tomorrow, Delacorte pulled out of The Fox and The Peacock and no one else wants to touch you.”
Fletcher cleared his throat. “Well,” he blushed, unable to decide whether or not to be honest. “Did I ever tell you about the Porn Library?”
“Take some time,” she said. “I need some time. We’ll talk later. Don’t call me. Write the Great American Novel for all I care, just don’t try to sell it like it’s something else.”
According to Fletcher:
His persona feels flimsy and thin, the interior landscape of his desire poking out from underneath in abrasive peaks. Michael will roll his eyes. Anna will hate him more. It shouldn’t be such a big deal, in a way, and yet. His private irony is falling into the public sphere. No one he will see knows this yet. They will know tomorrow. A moment forced into crisis.
“Let’s get a fucking drink!” Fletcher says, heartily clapping his brother on the back. “Come on Toby. Let’s bang it all up. I’m in the mood for some Romance.”
He begins to sing a song from the Modern Lovers.
According to Tobias, Outside the Royal Tavern:
Tobias sees the women walking down the street. He stands alone outside of the Royal Tavern. Of course he has no way of knowing that the women coming towards him are those Fletcher intends to meet, but something about the course of their purpose, (the evenness of the their pace?) makes Tobias certain that these girls will play some part in the evening. He reasons further that if these women are not the ones to be met, the ones to be met will be very like these, and therefore these are worth some study. After all, he has no way of knowing that he will later get the same chance of examination. It is more difficult to stare at women when they are close at hand; when they know your name.
Leading the group is a bleach blond, about 5’5.” She wears a single, short dress and a shiny red leather coat that stops at her hips. She has red leather boots that stop above her knees. Her arm linked through another woman’s—pert by comparison.
This other girl has thin sandy hair cut to her shoulders. She has a lean neck and her clothes—the tight black jeans, the small pointy pink shoes, her patterned polyester shirt—peer out of a similarly tight trench coat—revealing the curve of her body. She wears a Bermuda hat.
Behind those two, Tobias sees three others: a girl, a little heavier than those ahead, with long blond hair—this blond is not fake but equally pale. She curses and waves her hands until the other two chuckle.
Next to her and in the middle, a tomboy of equal age, also heavier, wears cut offs and flip flops, a thick black parka and a trucker hat.
The last girl, on the tomboy’s other side wears a night slip over tight white jeans. She has big black boots, these have high heels, but the girl walks easily. The boots are zipped up over her jeans. She also wears a pea coat. She has a large bandana around her neck. Jet-black hair and cold blue eyes.
Tobias lets them pass. He watches them enter the Royal Tavern, waits a step and then follows. Inside he sees his calculations correct, for Fletcher is greeting them. Tobias sidles up beside his brother. His brother is talking to the blond girl in the red boots. The vanguard.
While Tobias isn’t old enough to know better, everyone is being their most charming selves. This means their lips are bright with lipstick. Their jewelry, various plastic earrings and rings, look wet under the glum bar light. Their eye contact is endearing and lush and they touch one another’s arms often.
“You’re so mod!” Fletcher exclaims. “Darling. You’re beautiful!” The red boot girl looks away, red lips pulled back, frank and a little amused. “This is my brother Tobias—Tobias this lovely woman is Dawn.” He takes her friend’s hand—the sandy blond pert, kisses it and presents it to Tobias. “Tobias, this is Hope. Have you ever met such incredible women? Had I told you that you would meet both a Hope and a Dawn today would you have believed me? And they are best friends.”
“So this is your brother Tobias,” Hope says. “Huh.” She shakes Tobias’ hand.
He blushes. Her hand is cool. “Your fingers are very delicate,” he says. “I bet you could play a mean piano.”
“Yep. This is Tobias. This is my brother. He’s all set up and everything. Fixed him a room. Found a TV for his room like a magic lantern—he likes it. It’s nice having him here. We’re going to have a great time together. Dave sleeping on the couch—I kicked him out of my brother’s room today. He did the laundry.”
“I’m Tobias,” Tobias is still holding Hope’s hand.
“Hi,” Hope says. She takes her hand back “Who’s Dave?”
“Punk Rock Dave,” Fletcher says.
“Oh,” Hope nods. “That guy.” She giggles and Tobias notices a hickey on her neck. It peeks out from under the thin, small periwinkle scarf—he had not noticed the scarf earlier. Similarly he had not noticed how Dawn’s eyes were painted thick with eyeliner, bold and crisp and vintage.
“Hi Tobias, ” Dawn says. “I’m Dawn.” She licks her liips.
“Dawn just got a new job,” says Fetcher, winking.
Dawn nods. “It’s true.”
The other girls chime in.
“Hi,” says the tomboy, “I’m Anna.” Anna has a firm handshake.
“Hi,” says the real blond. “I’m Noi. This is Coat.”
Coat, the girl with jet-black hair, nods—an implied hello.
Fletcher leaves them and for a brief moment, Tobias is nervous.
“So, what brings you to Philadelphia?” asks Dawn.
“I dropped out of school, actually. You’re beautiful,” Tobias says. He says it indirectly, to the whole group.
“You should ditch the hemp necklace, kid,” says Hope.
“Coucher got his Queen bee today, it came in the mail,” Noi says. “It came in this little box with like five drones or something—is that what they’re called? It’s pretty awesome. The Queen came locked inside a cube of candy, and Coucher is waiting for the drone bees to eat their way through the candy to release the Queen. I guess that’s how they get to be friends. If the Queen was just loose, then the worker bee dudes would just kill her. But since they have to work at something they get used to it, and then they’ll accept her and work for her in the hive.”
“He put all that shit up on your roof?”
“Yeah. He’s paying me 20 dollars a month.”
“But that’s a lot of stuff to put up there. Where did he get it?”
“I don’t know. Whatevs,” Noi shrugs. “I don’t give a shit, I just think it’s awesome that he’s giving me money.”
“And because then you get to see him more. He’ll give you some sugar.”
“He better give me some fucking honey. I live in that house too,” Anna announced, one eyebrow raised.
Again, they laugh.
“Did Coat tell you how Fletcher offered her a job? How she was going to work for him as a Writing Assistant?”
Coat shakes her Joan Jet head, also blushing. “Oh my god,” she says. There are sparkles on her face. She walks away and disappears.
“For reals.” Anna’s mouth is wet with the whisky she pulled out from inside of her coat. “Serious. She was looking for a job, remember? So he told her he could pay her three hundred a week to help him out with his writing. She went to his house and when she got there he had her clean the kitchen. He tried to make out with her.”
“Did she?” asks Noi.
“She probably did,” says Dawn with a tone of admonishment. “Good lord. Those kids!”
“It was bad news, anyway,” Anna says. “He didn’t pay her.”
“Maybe he’ll make her a star in his next book.”
The girls stand in a cluster just inside the door and each time someone new enters, their eyes glance at the entrant at different times. Tobias stands a little outside of the group, closest to the door. It feels a little like hail, the way their eyes catch the light, glancing off him incidentally, like little pebbles; gunshots of conscience. They stand at different heights, and though in different styles, they share the same body language, the same inflection, as people well-used to one another’s company. Similarly they seem both bored and expectant, as though waiting for something big to happen, though they casually inhabit the same routines, the same establishments. They are in every respect unimpressed.
Yet in the dark paneled and smoky room, they shine together, the brightest constellation, though why exactly, Tobias can’t say. It is the exploration of this thought that diminishes his otherwise arbitrary presence.
Because he feels so much younger than they, he cannot see that they suffer ennui, indulging it as much as they resent its burden. They are self-absorbed, but pretty.
“Hey listen,” Tobias says. “I found this journal and I want to know who’s it is. I feel like I should return it. I wonder if you might know who’s it is?” He reaches into the satchel hanging on his stomach and pulls out the black book.
Becoming central at last, the women lean into him as he opens its pages. He can almost smell assorted perfumes, breath and hair products. The hair on the nape of his neck stands up, bristling.
“I don’t know who that belongs to. Sorry, buddy,” says Dawn. She lights another cigarette. She blows smoke in his face. Tobias can’t tell whether or not the gesture was accidental.
Unlike the other girls, Anna takes interest. Tobias wonders if he might have created the big thing they were waiting for. He hopes.
“Isn’t that the Plunk’s handwriting?” She looks meaningfully at Noi. “I think it is.”
Noi is flustered, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen him write anything down.”
“There’s your name, Noi. Do you see?” Anna points to the margin, takes the book from Tobias and presses the book into Noi’s face. “Next to the caviar entry. Did you guys eat caviar?” She laughs. “Oh my god! Is there a poem in here?” She pulls the book back, flipping through its leaves with haste. “I swear I just saw a poem.” Suddenly, she looks up. “Why is the Plunk counting calories? Do you guys do that together? Is that like your thing? Or has this been something you’ve never known about? A secret journal.” She paws Tobias’ shoulder. “Oh my god, where did you get this? This is amazing. Already you made my night. I could go home now.” Returning to the book, Anna finds the page she’d sought. “Oh my god. There is a poem. I never knew that the Plunk even read anything. What the hell was he thinking?” She looks at Noi again. “Does he read you poems in bed?” She laughs. Loud and long. So long as to make Tobias uncomfortable. When she laughs she sounds like she is in pain, a sharp punching high-pitched bark, again and again, her mouth open and brazen without apology. Like a yelping dog.
Noi has her nose stuck up in the air. She scowls. She scowls at Tobias. She snatches the book to her chest, both hands folded around its cover. “I think he had a crush on his English professor. Stupid bitch.”
“I want to see more!” Anna says. “Jesus. This is better than anything I could write.” She looks at Tobias and cocks her head, “I’m a writer,” she says. “Unlike some people we know, though, I write good shit.”
Hope leans into Tobias’ ear. He feels her breath along the nape of his neck, “Anna writes so she can drink,” she whispers.
Tobias blinks, a bewildered smile frozen on his face.
“That’s why she hates your brother,” Hope says. Her breath is warm on his ear, and for a moment he shivers, afraid. He tells himself to be careful but he is smiling the same frozen smile. “She’s jealous that he publishes such crap.”
Dawn sniggers, as though she knows what Hope has said. She coughs, raises a hand and speaks behind it. Her voice low and velvety. Her breath more damp than Hope’s. “I’ve always thought Anna kind of loved your brother. Or maybe she just loves his pen name. She won’t admit it, but she reads all his books. He gets her worked up, writing about all those ladies having sex. He wrote a book about a chick making dinner in the kitchen for her husband the wood-cutter and screwing with the milk man, among others—the next door neighbor, Clara, too. It pissed Anna way the fuck off.”
Hope stifles a laugh; she comes close to spitting out her drink. Tobias smiles differently. He’s relieved that they’ve moved their mouths away from his neck and, with new concentration, struggles to think of something clever.
This bar is dark with rich brown wood. Full of smoke and mardi gras beads, there is underwear in the light fixtures, old dusty knickers and brasiers, some of them as big as a baby’s head. A small disco ball spins sadly in the center of the ceiling, it is so small as to be hardly noticeable. Everywhere people in dark clothes shift about, leaning in on another—men in short sleeve button up shirts, smoking cigarettes, their faces flared by drink. Fletcher seems the most like them. He leans out of a window, waving his arms at a passer-by with some need to discuss. Tobias looks again at the women nearby.
“Hey Dude,” says the Plunk coming up to Noi. His eyes small and bright, his voice more natural than it had been at first. He does a little soft-shoe dance, animated once more. He shakes his head, grinning and alive and tries to kiss Noi on the cheek, pressing his lips out in a childish pucker—as much for an audience as it might be an expression of feeling. Though she lets him kiss her, she pouts, pressing the book against his chest. Her nose remains in the air.
“Did you maybe forget something?” she says without looking at him, her mouth frowning and cruel. She clears her throat, looking at him at last with a n icy glare.
The Plunk’s eyes go wide. He blinks. He stammers. He blushes and blinks again, teetering a little. “Oh. Well. I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen that book before in my life. What makes you think—”
“Shuttup and take the book,” says Noi. “I’m thoroughly embarrassed. Buy me a drink for goddsakes. Christ, Plunk.”
Plunk and Noi walk away, him chasing her, the crowd of drinkers swallows them up.
“What happened?” asks Fletcher coming up with Punk Rock Dave by the hand.
Dawn rolls her eyes, still smiling. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“What are you going to wear to court?” Tobias asks, looking at Dave.
“I don’t know, dude,” Dave shrugs. “This?” He opens his arms to show off his costume. “It’s the same shirt I slept in last night plus purple corduroys.”
“It’s the same shirt you’ve slept in all month!” Fletcher laughs, baring his teeth.
“Are you going to shave?” asks Anna. “You should shave.”
“I don’t have a razor.”
“You can borrow one of mine,” says Tobias, about to open up his bag again. “I have some extra.”
“You shave?” Dawn giggles. “You are cute.” She paws his head, but Tobias doesn’t mind. It’s alright, he decides.
“You better be careful,” he says, “I’ll sneak up on you,” his mouth pulled into a wry and blushing grin. He tries to raise a single eyebrow. It’s not a reliable muscle, however, so he can’t tell if it worked.
Anna rolls her eyes. “O.K. I’m bored. I need a drink. Ladies?”
The women go to get drinks and the crowd swallows them up, their brightness lost in the yellow smoke.
Watching them walk away, Tobias turns to his brother. “Is that girl always quiet?”
“Coat? Yes. She’s hot, though. Right? She’s real quiet until she gets drunk, or stoned, but if she gets stoned she just makes stupid jokes the whole time and laughs. She’s a teacher. She came over to my house one time—she was supposed to do some work for me, but she was stoned as hell. I think she’s pissed I never paid her any money.” Fletcher nods with his own assent. “Dave. I need to speak to you. Shall we go outside?”
The women return. Their conversation is fast, however, and hard to follow. Noi with her hair curling like Farrah Fawcett’s has long bangs that fall to bridge of her forehead. Absorbed in a new drama, the others observe with steady attention. She is complaining. She is holding court. Tobias can only catch the gist.
“The thing is that I changed my name first. I chose to have an Icelandic name. I changed my name five months ago and now Coucher is jealous and so he’s making up some stupid fake freak girlfriend that he claims is really Icelandic.” Noi’s eyebrows raised in crises, her cheeks are flush. She looks as though she might cry. “It was my fucking idea. I changed my name. I saw the movie. I named myself after a character. I came up with it first and now the Plunk is mad that I’m not really Icelandic.”
“I know, I know.” The other girls nod.
Dawn sips a martini with a fresh cigarette.
“The only reason I identified with the character in the first place is because he can solve the rubix cube and hates everyone else in high school.”
“Oh, I know.”
Tobias leaves. “Will you watch my bags?” he asks. He puts them down without waiting for an answer. It feels good to have his shoulders back.
Fletcher and the Plunk and Punk Rock Dave are standing around the strip poker card game machine. Fletcher has almost gotten the girl on the screen naked and he’s preoccupied with his efforts.
“She’s hot,” the Plunk says, nodding at a woman at the bar.
Fletcher glances away from the game a moment to see the woman in question. “She’s not just hot. She’s hot because she reminds you of a movie star.”
“Which one?” asks Tobias.
“You tell me.”
“Nikki Hunt?” Dave is squinting. He held up his thumb and squinted at her, as though to measure her relative proportions. “I didn’t wear my glasses tonight, so I can’t be sure.”
“She’s cute, I guess,” the Plunk shrugs. “I like that lady better, but I see what you mean.”
“Therefore—” Fletcher shrugs and returns to strip poker.
“Well. Fine,” the Plunk rolls his eyes. “It’s the same. All successful porn stars resemble hot Hollywood ladies.”
“Is that true?” asked Tobias.
“We’ve been in the middle of a longstanding conversation about celebrity culture. I say everyone wants to sleep with Hollywood, so we all think Hollywood tells us what’s hot.”
“Your brother has been talking about cigarette ads for months now.” The Plunk rolls his eyes again, and Tobias sees that it’s his most regular mannerism. Tobias decides that the Plunk is weaker than himself.
“I’m just saying the familiar is beautiful. Fuck. I didn’t win. I was so close to seeing her right nipple. I’ve never seen her right nipple not ever. This game is rigged, I swear.”
“Especially when you don’t realize it’s familiar—” Dave explains for Tobias’s benefit.
“Like when Julia Roberts convinces you to buy more minutes on the Sprint commercial.”
“Julia Roberts is the voice in the Sprint commercials, we realized.”
“I killed a puppy once,” says Punk Rock Dave. “I was only like twelve or something. That’s what made me punk rock.”
“That sounds more like metal,” says Fletcher.
“METAL!” the Plunk squeals. He high fives Punk Rock Dave.
Tobias goes back to the women with a heavy sigh.
He finds Anna telling a story.
“Did I ever tell you the making eggs story?” Anna asked. She is sitting on the bar, swinging her legs back and forth. Her feet are dirty. “It’s amazing. It’s the greatest story in the world, I swear. But you have to pay attention and you have to pretend you’re watching it like a movie. So this kid I knew in high school, Tom, he got a video camera for Christmas and he started making videos, of course, and then he started making videos of his girlfriend and him having sex, and then he realized, once people started getting into those, that he could make porno movies with other people in them, that people would be into them.
“So he skips school one day, after he’s been doing this for a few weeks; I think he made something like $500, which is kind of a lot to make all at once in high school. Anyway, he convinces his friend Scott and Scott’s girlfriend to make one of these videos and they cut school one day, drive back to Tom’s place on Long Island, and they have to do this pretty fast, because they’re leaving school for lunch and then skipping P.E., but they have to be back in time for fifth period, because Carmen (that’s the girl’s name) has skipped too many Social Studies classes, and she can’t afford to skip any more if she wants to graduate (which she does).
“So they start in the kitchen, and Carmen is wearing a thong bikini or something, and she’s got this frying pan and she’s got an open carton of eggs next to her. So. Begin, right? Imagine the eye of the camera: She’s standing there, she’s pretty cute, maybe cuter because she’s weird looking and in high school and trying to pretend like she’s cool about being naked, she picks up one of the eggs, puts her palm over the frying pan first, says ooo, that’s hot, and then all of sudden you see Scott walks into the frame, wearing regular boy clothes and vans. And he says, what are you doing? And she’s like, making eggs, and then they just go at it. It’s like they’re eating each others’ faces off, you know he strips off her clothes, she rips off his shirt, gets on her knees, unbuckles his belt with her teeth—but you have to remember it’s also just kind of cute, because it’s like they’re both trying to be grown up and he’s pretending he’s such hot shit, but he’s really got the most nervous erection, it’s hardly hard. And you know, his neck is kind of red and he can’t really stop smiling, kind of proud and super awkward—
“They move into the living room, he throws her on the couch, and the room’s like this, it’s like the couch has it’s back to the pool patio with the sliding glass doors, and the way the shot is framed you can only see about three or four inches of the pool over the back of the couch, except you start to notice something moving in the background and pretty soon, you realize it’s a fucking tie, and even though Scott and Carmen are still fucking like crazy you see the glass door slide open, you hear the Dad go Tommy?, and the camera drops, Carmen kicks Scott off her O my God and starts whimpering and kind of giggling and tries to push herself in the covers, Scott gets up and all you see his feet, but it looks like he’s just standing there totally still waiting for his reckoning, hands over his junk, and the camera’s on the floor, but see it’s still running, and Tom is running to the bathroom with his pants around his legs—that’s what you see, you see his pants around his ankles, and then, dad feet running after him, you hear the heavy dad voice I’m very disappointed in you!”
On the Way Back From the Bathroom.
“I just think that’s where we get our direction of being from,” Fletcher is drunk. He is leaning on the bar. He is talking to himself. “You see, it’s the one place where everything is consistent. I mean,” he grabs Tobias’ arm and takes a drink. He shifts his weight, “It’s all about repetition, see? We see the same face, the same type of face sticking on the same type of body, we see it so much we don’t even know what we want anymore.” He is acting. He is acting out a break up. “We don’t know. We just don’t.” His voice rises and he puts his nose in the air. “Don’t you see? I don’t know what is beautiful.” He grabs Tobias’s other arm, pinches it, “I want that beauty because every time I buy food at the supermarket hungry, I see those fucking faces and I think they’ll satiate my hunger. It’s a fucking Pavlov out there, kid. Seriously.”
Tobias took his arm back. He rubs his wrist. “Jeez,” he says. “You’re such a dick.”
“No really,” Fletcher has an air of desparation. “I have to tell you something. You can’t tell anyone, though. Tobias, I’m in trouble. I’m in serious trouble.”
“What is it?”
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ve been lying, Toby. I’ve been lying and I got caught. I didn’t think anyone would notice.”