Ghost in the Bathtub

April 30, 2010

posted by caroline picard

what follows is an excerpt from WOOF.,


“Want to go to the dead prostitute’s house?” Fletcher asks, pointing to an abandoned mansion on the corner.

“Sure,” said Anna.

“That one that’s boarded up?” asks the Plunk.

“Yeah. It’s boarded up because the prostitute died in the bathtub.”

“Is that true?” Tobias sounds doubtful.

“Of course it is,” Fletcher snaps. “I’ve lived here long enough to know. I’ve got a friend in the police force.”

“Oh yea?” Noi sneers, “Who’s that? Fucking sickko.”

“Quit hating all over the place,” Fletcher replied.

“Don’t be a hater,” Anna says. “Hater.”

A four-story house, teetering on the edge of the historical district. It has three entrances, each boarded by plywood, obscuring the Victorian trim.

“I know how to get in,” says Fletcher. “It’s easy.” He leads them to the front door but stops short. He leans against the house, bites his cheek and touches the plywood where a doorknob should have been.

Dave kicks the plywood in where the door was. “Oh,” he says. The board falls down with a full stop.

“There we are,” says Fletcher, entering first and disappearing into the dark.

“Let’s go,” says Noi. “Come on. We’re leaving.”

They leave, Coat, Dave, Plunk—Plunk lumbers and stumbles down the street.

“Leave your bags here,” Fletcher says. Pointing at the front door.

“But someone might—” Tobias protests.

“They’ll be fine. You don’t want to carry them, do you?” Tobias watches them disappear inside, as if  swallowed by the house.

Tobias, sets the bags down gingerly, follows Anna, enters the house last. He follows the dim glow of Fletcher’s Indiglo watch.

“Your watch is phosphorescent,” Tobias says.

“It’s like we’re at sea and you’re a wave or a flushed toilet.”
Under the reflection, Tobias could see Anna’s blue peach fuzz on her chin. “Whatever we do,” he whispered, “we can’t split up.”

The first floor is plain and bare. There is little beyond the emptiness to look at: boarded up windows and even the kitchen stripped of all its appliances. The counter tops bare and skeletal.

They follow some stairs into the basement. Kitchen utensils scattered and broken in the dirt, Tobias sees a single misshapen shoe and a bed cover coming out of the earth. He barely makes out a patchwork of seventies polyester prints. It rises out of the ground and stands stiff, with five folds that almost look like the fingers of a misshapen giant rising up from underground.

“Did the prostitute do this?” Tobias asks.

“That bitch,” says Anna.

“She gets angry sometimes and there’s no one to talk to,” Fletcher explains.
The basement is a maze of concrete pillars and white plaster walls; a tomb without windows. The air is chilly. Dust hangs in equilibrium and clings to any surface.

“Fletcher, where are you going?”

Her form recedes. “I don’t know,” it says.

“Dumbass.”

“We have to split up,” says her faraway voice, “it won’t be creepy unless we split up.”

“It’s already creepy.”

“Did you find anything?”

“Old dog biscuits. Whole box.”

When Tobias bumps into his brother, he moves away like a particle. He can’t see where. There is a trench on the left with a pile of loose dirt beside it. There is a shovel sticking out of the loose dirt. He strains his eyes to see in the dark but only sees shadows—variant shades of dark that created a landscape of unliving things—dirty castaways, broken plates. The milk bones crunched under shoes. He walks towards the darkest place, her hands stretched out in front of him.

“Bastards,” he scoffs. He picks up the shovel. Scrapes the bottom of the trench, holding the shovel with only one hand, the effort ambivalent and pointless. He drops the shovel but it doesn’t make any noise when it hits the ground.

It is black inside the trench. He feels the cold damp earth air rising out and touching him. He could hide in here as a joke. He should crouch. That’d be funny if then they couldn’t find him after he came all this way. Probably someone had been digging for pipes. It is only knee deep. He couldn’t see any pipes. He feels a lump of something under his tennis shoe and decides it’s a dead mouse. Something curled into a rigid ball with some give to it. It could be a squash ball. Its eyes probably eaten out. Dead rubber or fur and bones. The chill crawls up the back of his neck. Back cramps. He shifts the weight onto his knees. His knees ache. He’s lost track of the others. He hears different sounds. It sounds like a bird sneezed. Probably something else. He loses track of the mouse, skin crawling. Everything black. He closes his eyes, but it doesn’t matter. It looks the same. In front, behind, left, right, faraway and close: all the same.  He teeters, puts his hand out for balance, not thinking. When his fingers don’t touch the ground, the earth, his heart stops. A blinding light of panic shoots through the back of his eyes. Gags a moment, fingers nevertheless feeling fur on the hummock, despite his disgust he pats it, trying to discern what type of animal in the darkest part of the trench behind him, he imagines the mound is something dead. Maybe what Cassie would feel like after she thawed. Because he cannot pull away, he leans in, straining to see, imagining any moment something with teeth will spring from the afterlife, grip him by the throat and take him into hell!

Inches away, it doesn’t smell anymore. He feels an edge, realizing suddenly it’s a rug. A piece of shag carpet.

It’s more scary when there seems to be nothing.

In order to avoid that nothing, Tobias leaps up, scrambles out of the ditch and pisses in a perceived corner. Hopes his shoes aren’t wet.

He won’t tell about the carpet. They might make fun of him.

“Let’s go back upstairs,” he hears Fletcher say—spots his watch, a firefly.

“Where’s Anna?” Tobias hears his own voice; it feels faraway and weak.

“She’s not down here?”

“Anna?”

They hear a thump upstairs.

“She’s messing with us.”

“Unless it’s the dead prostitute.”

“Shut up.”

“We have to go see!” And then adds (because Tobias hit him upside the head as a joke),

“Where’s Anna?”

“Upstairs I think…maybe she’s D.E.A.D.” Fletcher laughs maniacally.

“Then kids would come see where she died.”

“She’d be famous,” Fletcher says.

“Let’s go find her.” They climb to the first floor. Tobias in the back. He keeps checking the darkness behind them.

“Maybe she’s in the bathtub,” says Fletcher, “Spooning a corpse.”

“That’d be creepy. I don’t like that idea. Anna?”

They stand in the plywood foyer, waiting, non-committal, the second story stairs before them. It feels like they’re standing in a clammy shadow.

“We should go get her,” Tobias says. “ANNA?”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“But what’s she doing up there?”

“I don’t know. Who cares.”

“What if something happened to her?”

“We’d hear her crying.”

“What if she died?”

“Then it would be silent.”

It was silent.

It was Fletcher’s turn to call, “ANNA?”

“Yeah?” her voice closer than they had expected.

Tobias could hear her smiling. “Anna, is that you?” He imagined her: one hand on the banister, four steps from the ground.

“Of course it’s me, dumbass. Who else would it be?”

“But. How can you see in this dark?”

“I eat carrots!” her voice lilting, triumphant. Moving farther away from them again.

“Now where are you ?” Tobias asked. His voice betrayed panic. “What are you doing?”

“I’m pissing. Shuttup.”

The smell of urine creates another point of reference. Piss, Plywood, dirt and Fletcher’s watch.

Fletcher clears his throat, “Didn’t find the dead hooker, huh?”

“Nope. But I did find the bathtub.”

They hear her zip her pants.

Anna appears, suddenly, at arm’s length. Suddenly close.

Under the cast of Fletcher’s watch her face looks blue, spectral and floating; reflecting an insecure light. Around the halo of his wrist the foyer looks infinitely large and endlessly receding. All sound hushes around the silent house. There is an in-breath and an out-breath where gusts of breeze find cracks to slip through and tussle the intruders. The house makes a breathing sound as plastic flaps pull in and out of the windows. As Anna comes closer and closer she regains the entirety of her form—shoulders, chest, arms, torso, legs and, at last, feet.
She is smiling and Tobias smiles too.

Outside finally, Tobias is once more harnessed with the weight of his bags—they are situated in his preferred position, the backpack over his chest, the duffle slung over one shoulder. They all of stand in the street under a street lamp barely lit, they stand with hands in their pockets. Orion is above them, static and remote in the sky. Cars drive past.

“The prostitute broke my watch,” Fletcher says. Its face was blank. He holds it to his ear. Shakes it. “Nothing, see?” He shows them. Shakes his head. “That wench.”

“You didn’t pay her.” Anna shrugs.

“You would take her side.”

“What’s on your pants, Fletcher?” Tobias points.

“I don’t know.”

“It looks like shit.”

They agree.

“The prostitute shit on my pants!”

They laugh. Anna the most. “I think she won, Fletcher.” She punches him, grinning.

“You should have paid her, I told you.”

“I didn’t know what she wanted.”

“Can we go yet?”

“Can I wash my pants?”

“Fuck, guys, we’ve got to get out of here. I’m fucking hungry.”

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posted by Caroline Picard

Inheriting Eyeballs

April 29, 2010

posted & written by caroline picard

what follows is an excerpt from WOOF.,

An Episode of Childhood: Cash and Pappi and the Woods.

Cash had two siblings and five boy cousins and one girl cousin. The boy cousins: Aaron, Zeke, Matthew, Neil and Sammy. Neil and Sammy were brothers. Frieda was the only girl cousin.

Cash had one older sister, Nora, and one younger brother, James. When he was born, their mother asked Nora to come and watch so that Nora could learn about where babies came from. Nora watched Cash breaching between their mother’s legs, she watched his head tear out of her, she watched his body wriggle out into waiting, bloody hands, she watched her mother screaming, her father pale with a mask on his face. Nora watched the nurse spank her new baby brother and when he started to scream she passed out. She didn’t talk for days afterwards, she was so horrified. Neither Nora nor Cash watched the birth of James.
Nevertheless, when they brought James home Nora did not recognize him as her brother, because she did not seen him come out. She called her mother a faker.

The cousins only saw one another once a year, during the summers, when their parents rented a house in the Colorado mountains—rentals were cheaper that time of year and the whole family, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, gathered together to barbeque and take hikes and read.

For the children it was paradise. For older members of the family there was no end of beneath-the-surface stress.

Pappi, the grandfather, and Mormors his wife. They liked to play dominos. Mormors always made popcorn and she always burned the popcorn, but everyone still ate it and everyone still liked it, even though the house smelled like burnt popcorn for hours after. They also liked to drink, a cocktail before dinner and wine during, coffee afterwards.

Pappi often took the cousins on walks. Usually he just took the boys. Mormors would have made them sandwiches with bolonga and mustard. She always wrapped the sandwiches in wax paper and he always put them in his knapsack and they would set out over the   He always encouraged them to pick up litter along the way, he turned litter into a game. They brought special trash bags and the children picked up bits and pieces of trash—old soda cans, candy bar wrappers, potato chip packages, anything and everything they found.

Every so often he took them to a special place, a few hours’ walk from the house, and the children followed Pappi into a clearing with a stump in the center and Pappi sat on the stump in the center and gave the children their sandwiches. (Nora came one time with Frieda, they dallied behind the others, picking flowers along the way they were especially excited, as they weren’t usually allowed to go with the boys and their grandfather).

When they finished eating, when they were full and eating handfuls of trail mix and laughing and telling their grandfather about what they studied in school and who was their favorite teacher and what their favorite movies were, then Pappi pulled the stump back.

Underneath the stump he had a package wrapped in plastic bags. He opened the bags and pulled out a stack of magazines. He passed the magazines around to show the children and everyone admired the naked ladies inside and Nora especially liked to look at the way the woman lay down in different positions with their hands on their private parts, spreading the skin back to show all of the folds of pink and grey skin.
When they got home Freida and Nora made pretend they were in magazines. They stole off to the room they shared and posed for one another like they’d seen how, admiring one another.

Everyone loved their grandfather very much.

Tattooed Mom’s I.

April 28, 2010

posted by caroline picard

what follows is an excerpt from Woof.

Tattooed Mom’s I.

At first it’s disorienting inside, Tobias holds onto Anna’s hand, “Hold on to me,” she said because the door was packed with people and it was difficult to squeeze through, especially with his bags, the duffel which kept getting stuck behind him. It reminded him of the movie with the migrating geese, one goose got stuck to a long string with a weight attached and the goose kept getting stuck places, he wondered the whole time how come the camera people don’t cut the damn string off the goose’s foot it’s not like it’s natural either way. For the first time it occurs to him to leave the bags behind but then then then he thinks about how that’s all he’s got and he’s come this far and so on and so forth if the strap breaks then he really will leave it but it doesn’t and they manage somehow to cut through the crowd, many apologies later. They manage. And it smells like refried beans and it smells like something sticky, it smells like salt and sour mix and stale hops and underneath those smells it smells like moldy summer carpet and over those smells it smells like cigarettes.
Tobias feels drunk as all hell but Anna leads him deeper back into the train car restaurant. They pause at the farthest portion of the bar, surfacing amongst Gitonga, the messy Sheryl girl he lives with, Cash, Gemma—her hat even more askew. Gitonga: talking about being an artist in America who actually came from Jamaica he doesn’t understand that politics, he says, even though people include him in them. He is not African American, he says. He doesn’t like to be called an African American painter. He’s a Jamaican painter if anything, but really he doesn’t want any of his paintings to be described in any particular way. Good art stands for itself universally. He shakes his hands often. He sweats and his teeth are very white. They’re all Tobias can look at.

“I’m the same way,” says Sheryl, “I hate it when people talk about why my work is about being a woman. It’s not about being a woman, it’s about making work…Still, you don’t mind showing during African American month. Gitonga always gets shows during African American month.”

Cash has his shirt unbuttoned. Tobias keeps glancing at the text, cursive, tattooed there but can’t see it all. Lets it go.

“Where are the others?” he asks. Changes his mind and reaches for Cash’s chest, pulls the shirt back like a curtain, Christina it says. “Who’s Christina?”

“No one.”

“It’s a joke. Don’t worry about it.” Anna pulls him away from those others and farther back and farther back to the table of faces Tobias remembers from before the Dead Prostitute’s house.

“He has Johnny Cash on his back, also,” Anna says. “A giant Johnny Cash. Like one of those Hispanic Virgin Mary Saints but Johnny Cash is modeled with shadows and cast shadows and highlights.”

DuckHunt

April 28, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

This is just one of the many glorious handshakes contained in the forthcoming title, First Impressions First Touch [Handbook] by A.E. Simns.

Spanking the Cat

April 27, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

what follows is an excerpt from WOOF., (what an uplifting book, right? jeez)

The first thing Tobias sees on the second floor.
A young man spanking a cat perched on a radiator in the far corner of the room. Crouching down on its front paws, the cat has its hind quarters in the air, its tail stiff and erect, eyes closed. The boy, smiles drunk, “It likes it!” he squeals, “It likes it!” happily, turns his whole body to bring the flat of his palm back, above his head, before turning his torso once more down, focusing the brunt of momentum on his hand and smacking it square on the cat’s back, just above its tail. “Hahahaha!” The boy laughs. “Hahahaha! My hand hurts. Hahahaha! She likes it!” and then turns his torso again, drawing his hand back again above his head, stretching the hand higher this time—

Medea in Kolchis

April 27, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

Last Thursday I saw a production of Robert Duncan’s Medea in Kolchis as part of the Poetry Project’s Robert Duncan Symposium. I loved it. We had to RSVP to get the address–an empty where house space across the street from The Hideout. The room was empty, about 20 people came. Being a spring evening it was quite cold. We sat in an assortment of folding chairs in the center of the otherwise plain space. And then, the players came out–I made some video clips of the evening and you might get a sense for things.

You might ask what the play is about. The truth is, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t know that I was supposed to understand that, even. I think instead I was there to absorb an impression, to take on the intuitions of performance and language. I know it is about a king (Arthur, played by Sandra Lim) who is interested in fiction. He names his daughter (who I think is played by 2 women–Monica Fambrough & Sara Gothard, though only ever referred to as 1) Medea and is always waiting for a “Jason” to come and take her hand. Arthur has fabricated an object he calls the golden fleece. He is a poet at the end of his life. Central to the play is the wonderfully lascivious nursemaid, Garrow, (played by John Beer, who also directed the piece), she goes between all of the characters serving them in their needs as much as she functions as the meta-glue between the play’s movements; a regular discussion of her age and the romantic exploits of her youth make into a kind of time signature for the whole piece. Jason (played by Patrick Culliton) arrives with whom I think is his tutor, The Doctor (Travis Nichols) who seems to represent a hard-fast reason, arguing against the self-indulgent Arthur. Doctor point’s to the way in which Arthur manipulates the people around him in order to make poems out of them. Jason as though to comiserate says, (what made me laugh out loud) “I don’t think [Arthur] likes my poetry.” Meantime the doctor continues to woo (and fail) and old flame, Edna (Nicole Wilson) who has terrific intuitions and believes in mystical things–I felt like her character probably listened to some combination of Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective–wanted Romance, not love (an interesting and curious distinction). The performers read from their scripts and sometimes read from cards, reflecting Duncan’s discussion of self-awareness (i.e. the emperor as one who makes fiction into real life in order to mythologize his experience). As you’ll see from the following clip, Arthur does a good job of his stretching exercises, what all emperors should do when imparting truth onto youths.

One of my favorite moments was when all the performers read their different lines out loud, at once, different characters overlapping cacuaphony and intermittent silence. At any rate, Medea (only ever dressed in white night dresses–one of them victorian, the other a kind of sweatshirt/cotton–the ruffles on the victorian one created a kind of focal point for me, which I found interesting to think about, i.e. what does it mean if a woman’s nightdress is a focal point in a play, especially if the surrounding action is so much larger and maybe that’s what those victorian ruffles were always supposed to do), falls for Jason and wants to seduce/marry him, Garrow tells them that in order to do so Jason must kill the serpant, Jason wants the golden fleece and in order to get the golden fleece must kill the emperor (Arthur), except he can’t at the last minute and so Medea kills him (Arthur/her father) instead. In the end, the Doctor tries to get back with Edna who refuses because he does not believe and cannot relate to her terrific imagination.  It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Victorian nightdress was the only focal point. Garrow was another, perhaps more obvious, counterpoint–and perfectly suited, I think, as the cross-dressing old wo/man, kind of like a sexy Tieresias, who’s experience and exploits and dark dress contrast with Medea’s own Virgin Suicide innocence.

Can you believe that this all happened in a tiny, unknown, cold little room in the city? It’s amazing! I love these sorts of situations because they seem to bring work I would not otherwise see to life–this kind of project seems very like the apartment gallery project, where much work goes into it, and the payoff comes in the sense of community and creative expression that results in an instant, i.e. the instant that the public sees the performance, (or art). There is no measurable affect that endures beyond that moment…it’s brilliant, I think. And always makes me very happy.