August 22, 2008
Shawn said he went to count interns.
And they were still there, and they were still fact-checking and looking at him with those big wide eyes like maybe he would give them a break when really all he wanted was to make it to the bathroom.
Derek caught him with the book under his arm. Derek sneezed and rubbed his nose.
“Shawn, there you are, Shawn. The server’s down, don’t worry about it.” Derek was always pretty smooth about things. He was always in a hurry and his hurry afforded confidence. Shawn was not confident, but the interns were still typing. The sound of their fingers on plastic letters made him feel better. He felt better when he heard a computer crash but worse when he saw that in the night the maid had cleaned his desk. She had tossed his favorite post-it notes. Derek was touching his arm. “Get some coffee and come into my office. Meet me in my office. We gotta go over some stuff.”
“I heard Boris is gone.”
Derek nodded. “Gone, I think, gone today. Yesterday was his last.”
“No one told me.”
“Aww, I’m sorry. I’m sure I meant to. What is that? What’s that book?”
“You got a new guy already?”
Derek was abject. He was looking at an old box of advanced copies.
“Should I still come in tomorrow?” Shawn persisted.
“Sure. Sure. Good thing about that fire, huh? I mean I thought we’d been burned down.”
“Me too. I thought we folded.”
“Heh. Yep, yep. Good thing. Pretty nuts. Could’ve put us under, man. That cafeteria in the basement? Loves? Yep. They’re done.” Derek sneezed twice.
Shawn hugged his book.
“I thought there were burglars in the lobby. I walked in and all I saw were flashlights. Like cat burglars, you know? All I saw was sorry on the door: did you see the sorry? What is that anyway? What have you got there?”
Proposals: For the Establishment of a Newspaper On Board the Ships Employed in the Discovery of a North-West Passage.
It has been suggested the establishment of a Weekly Newspaper may assist in enlivening the tedious and inactive months of winter. It is in contemplation, therefore, to try the experiment, by circulating the first Number of the “WINTER CHRONICLE” amongst the officers of the Expedition, on Monday the 1st of November.
As the design of this Paper is solely to promote good-humour and amusement, Captain Sabine, who has undertaken to be the Editor, will consider himself responsible, that no article whatsoever shall be admitted which, to his knowledge, will give a moment’s uneasiness to any individual. He reserves to himself, therefore, a discretionary power of omitting any contributions which may appear to him objectionable, either on that or any other account; and, of either briefly assign his reason, or otherwise, as he may think proper.
He begs it, however, to be distinctly understood, that he will be wholly dependant on the Gentleman of the Expedition for the support of the Paper; and, he suggests to those who are well-wishers to the undertaking, that their assistance and exertions will be especially required at its commencement.
Original contributor on any subject will be acceptable. The Sportsman and the Essayist, the Philosopher and the Wit, the Poet and the Plain Philiper-of-fact Man, will each find their respective places. It is recommended that an anonymous signature be affixed to each communication, and the hand-writing effectually disguised, to ensure the most rigid impartiality in judging and selecting the articles for insertion. A box will be placed on the Capstan of the Hecla to receive them, the key of which will be kept by the Editor; and it is requested that communications, designed to appear in the first Number, may be deposited in the box by the Thursday Evening preceding the Publication. –Winter Harbour, October 20th 1819.
There were Christmas cookies in the kitchenette. He hated them, especially the reindeer with a broken rack and a brown smile. It had weird eyes but the coffee was the same and the creamer was in crystals in a cardboard cylinder. It was commensurate with Parmesan.
The sound of snuffling came from an adjacent cubicle. Shawn shifted his weight with a squeak and was careful to sit straight. He could not lean back because the back of his chair was broken. In consequence he was prone to upright posture.
The computer crashed. He was mid-sentence and had forgotten to save. The sound of the computer sounded like a whoosh and he imagined an arctic current of air. Accustomed to such occasions, he thought little beyond the sound, which when sounded, swept him up to a faraway place.
Because he heard a car honk outside he blinked and came back.
It was possible he smelled fresh tar from the men in the street below, but he couldn’t be sure.
From his ration of six, he had already spent three.
There was a paperclip on his desk. The paperclip sat underneath the lifeless monitor. The wire was spread from its usual grasp, it was spread and kinked and hovered in a tense equilibrium just above the plywood desk. Its purpose had been revised. He was staring at it. He waited for spite.
Shawn and the paperclip looked at one another. They both waited until he picked it up, accidentally poked a nail bed he was always biting, and cursed. In the middle of the curse he stuck the tail of wire into the computer’s dirty hole. It was dirty because it was used so often. All three agents were used to the routine.
This would inspire a new start.
Shawn would begin again.
He was always counting, keeping and recording sighs. His mind was a ledger.
Inserting the clip, he remembered a thought.
He had checked into a hotel once. The boy at the desk had given him a towel wrapped, not inserted, in a plastic bag. The plastic bag was wrapped around the towel and taped. The integrity of the plastic bag had been destroyed because tearing the tape to get the towel would tear a hole in the bag. The use of one would destroy the use of the other, even though the other had never been fully used.
Perhaps the concierge had made a rule to keep himself and all things within his power pure. Probably he had hated pencil sharpeners. Mechanical pencils were no better. The concierge was a cripple.
What a terrible burden to put on the world. What a terrible burden to carry. Things like to be used, after all.
The computer screen went black and then beeped to announce a new beginning. In the onset of the second mechanical whirlwind, Shawn could not remember what it was he had been writing.
“Yes, I was just calling to make sure that you are still on 1331 North Clark?” Interns were fact checking. Their inflection was always the same and on good days, when he still had five spare sighs at five o’clock, Shawn pretended it was poetry.
There were still 150 restaurants uptown.
Off in the distance, there was a sneeze.
And a pause.
The new girl covered her receiver and said “Bless you.”
She didn’t believe in the cubicle walls yet. They were divided by cardboard that looked like wood. The cardboard mocked wood. It was pressed. It was blonde. The walls hadn’t yet convinced her. She didn’t realize they were pretend-soundproof.
Her bless you made the office cringe. As a tutorial, silence endured as treatment.
“How come no one says bless you? Did you hear a sneeze? I thought I heard a sneeze,” she trailed off. She was looking at the wall in front of her, Shawn could see. Despite different desks, they were staring at the same pre-fab pattern. Her voice was earnest, not indignant, and the back of her neck was burning. Shawn forgave her when he saw her neck.
He got up to go to the bathroom. He had a secret. He had stashed a book behind the vent that didn’t work and he had to be very careful whenever he went to read it. He couldn’t wait any longer. On better days without sighs he waited for five-thirty and called it a ‘snack’.
Sometimes when walking down the corridor, he bumped into wood-looking corners by accident and said ‘ow’ in anticipation of pain. Whenever he said ‘ow’ he was always foolish and apologetic—apologetic because the cardboard was usually damaged and foolish because he never felt anything.
The editor sneezed again. The editor was always sneezing.
“Ow.” Shawn was rubbing his arm and tiptoed in a hurry. Boris’ desk was empty. He hurried past.
The boss had a range of sneezes. Sometimes he sneezed in threes. The sneezing came from the corner office where he sat at a desk with his back to the windows that were otherwise blocked by his own cardboard partitions. They were six inches taller than the rest.
It took a few days before the interns realized the psychic influence of their boundaries.
“P.S. I forgot to mention to you, that I have some reason to suspect an attempt will occasionally be made to slide into the box communications which are not quite original, and therefore not quite corresponding with your plan; for a gentleman was seen at his desk late the other night, with a volume of the Spectator before him, while he was thawing his ink over a lamp. With all due deference to your extensive reading, I think it right to put you on your guard against such attempts; for I have no idea, Mr. Editor, of being obliged to read in the Winter Chronicle what our great grandfathers conned over at their breakfast tables more than a century ago.”
Deadline was tomorrow. Advertisements were increasing and written text diminished. The interns wanted publishing and their eyes told him so, entrusting him with a power he didn’t understand and didn’t really have. After giving their assignments he would retreat to avoid the energy of their struggle for competence. They wanted to write real bad, but they ended up editing instead. Though the paper was sinking their interns were increasing exponentially.
The public often asked in passing, whether New Times had folded yet.
Shawn said it was folded everyday.
Imagine a boat locked in the ice in Antarctica in the 1800’s. A boat full of men with nowhere to go and nothing to do in the freezing cold. And swarthy men too, men that stank like the most un-Romantic sea, and because they were stuck and thus prone to Inuit depression, they started a paper and they put on plays where men dressed as women to make the other men happy and less likely to miss their wives at home.
“WANTED, a middle-aged Woman, not above thirty, of good character, to assist in DRESSING the LADIES at the THEATER. Her salary will be handsome; and she will be allowed tea and small beer into the bargain. None need apply but such as are perfectly acquainted with the business, and can produce undeniable references.—A line addressed to the Committee will be duly attended to.—N.B. A widow will be preferred.
“WANTED immediately, a few BALES of READY WIT, done up in small parcels for the Winter Chronicle. This article being scarce in the market, a good price may be depended on. Samples will be received by A.B., Agent to the Editor. Please apply on or before Thursday evening next.
“LOST, on Monday evening last, between the two Ships, a PART of a LETTER, giving an account of the proceedings of the Expedition, with other Philipers or private nature, and beginning, ‘My dearest Susan.’ —Whoever has found the same, is requested to address it, L.A., Editor’s box. N.B. The letter is of no use to any body but the owner.
“FOR SALE BY AUCTION, By NICHOLAS KNOCKDOWN, at the Observatory, on the Coldest Day in January next, A QUANTITY of NANKEEN, the property of a Gentleman, who expected to get into the Pacific in September last. Flannels and furs will be gladly taken as part payment.”
He could hear the office typing. Keyboards were fierce. They nearly drowned the sound of traffic.
“Hey, can you help me?”
“Can you help me? Can some of your interns distribute these posters downtown?”
“I was just getting coffee.”
“Do they have time?”
“Oh, sure. Yeah, ask them. They’ll go.”
Celia turned to ask interns to post posters for her shopping spree.
Bored moments made Shawn type his name into the Internet to see what he might have done. His namesake was a mortician who lived in Evanston and prepared bodies for burial. He also wrote poetry. His poetry was about flowers and pretty things. He never mentioned anything about death or innards or weeping widows.
If they ever met Shawn would ask Shawn why he never talked about death, ever. And if he really believed that stuff about flowers. Or were the flowers simply vaginal?
Shawn passed ten empty desks. Ten desks collecting bunnies and copies of Kill Bill that nobody wanted. There were twenty copies of Kill Bill that had been sitting there for three months. He had watched it three times on a different copy every time.
His posture, when standing, was passable.
Of the 50 desks in the whole office, 15 were occupied and six were full-time. Four of the six worked closest to the front door which was made of glass and intended for visitors. They made the office feel full. If you were an investor, or an intern looking for hire, the office would feel like a busy place.
Shawn’s grandfather liked to say how Newspapers were a dying business. It was the same tone that he adopted to warn his sister Katie to stay away from sailors. “Look out for sailors, the newspaper isn’t any kind of job. People don’t read anymore.” Katie always giggled. She had never had any interest in sailors.
Except lately, she’d started giving them books when they came into her bookstore. It was a joke she didn’t explain. Incomprehension made Shawn rather lonely.
One desk had an empty box of pizza from a month ago. The chef was still tossing dough into the air.
His grandfather had an anchor tattoo that looked like a stain. It was an anchor because his grandfather said so. And Shawn remembered watching the tattoo after their grandmother had died and Katie was reading Catcher in the Rye (God he hated that book) while his grandfather watched Jeopardy and ate cereal simultaneously. The body had just been dropped off in the living room and his mother was making cookies. He could say something about the Catcher in the Rye instead. Maybe she has a braid and a vest and renessaince fair boots.
Shawn’s favorite thing was to sneak into the bathroom, the men’s bathroom that had an inexplicable shower that was never used except perhaps by the part-time fund-raiser. He probably slept under his desk and everyone pretended not to notice. Shawn snuck into the bathroom and quietly turned the lock so no one could come in. He stood on the toilet and lifted the vent and found his favorite book—a book that Katie came across and gave to him with an ingracious nod—Katie whom he’d only just found out was going to get married within the year.
He took a breath and touched the book and imagined all the hands that had borne the book through so many hundreds of years and he sat down on the toilet with the lid shut for a seat and read the passages he already knew, sinking into his secret life. And if someone asked him that day, what did you do today, he would never tell.
“Saturday—This morning Canis Vulpex*, a state prisoner, who had been confined in the Barrel, succeeded in effecting his escape by breaking the chain with which it had been found necessary to secure him, and went off with it appended to his neck. An immediate, though fruitless, pursuit was made, but it is hoped he will not long escape the vigilant eye of our police.
“TWO P.M.—One of our scouts, Don Carlo**, who has just returned, saw the prisoner in close conference with the proscribed traitor, Canis Lupus***, and his wife but he so carefully avoided surprise, the Don had no opportunity of serving the warrant with which he was charged. He gained, however, some important intelligence, having overheard the late prisoner disclosing to his companions the various scenes which he had lately witnessed. He described the cave in which he was confined as inhabited by animals standing upright on their hind legs, who were almost always eating; that notwithstanding their formidable appearance, he believed them to be a very timid race; for that, every morning, he saw a great many of these creatures meet together and all at once, upon hearing a sharp shrill noise****, which he thought was made by some other animal they stood in great terror of, they ran away and hid themselves in another cave they had under the first; and he strongly insisted on it, that this noise was not so terrific as that of Canis Lupus. His spleen was, however, more particularly directed against on which he supposed was a cub, who had not yet learned to walk upright, as he always went on all fours; his spite arose, he said, from this little creature making faces and growling, and doing all he could to annoy him, whenever he put his head out of the hole in the side of his cave. The conference ended by a mutual agreement to seize this unfortunate animal, as soon as opportunity offered, from whom they expected to learn more of the prowess and habits of their new foes; and of this purpose a variety of stratagems were proposed which will probably be put to execution.”
*A fox escaped from the Griper on that day.
**A dog named carlo.
***Wolves were often seen about the ships during the winter.
****The boatswain piping to breakfast.
Shawn washed his hands.
He didn’t put the book back.
He walked more briskly down the corridor, careful of the corners.
HAPPY INTERNS: They never seemed to notice the smell of Chinese when it leached out of a Styrofoam box and settled in every corner of the room. They didn’t seem to notice how Nolan usually smelled bad, that his smell took up a whole corner in the corner without windows where he kept his cubicle. They never remarked that the smell was in the cubicle even when Nolan was not.
They didn’t notice the absence of Boris.
Or that the Editor always wore the same outfit on Fridays which he called Chicano Friday when Derek wore Take Me To Aruba printed in Palatino in lime green with palm trees and denim jeans and shitkicker boots. Or the six pack of Bacardi bottles like the ones you get on an airplane that he kept on his desk, or how empty desks surrounded his corner box that blocked the light from everyone else even though every one else could still hear the traffic.
It didn’t smell like a good day.
Shawn only had two sighs left.
LAST NIGHT AT THE TWO-WAY: Boris said to Nolan that Boris had found a new position at a food magazine. Shawn showed up late after having seen a movie with his mom who said that Katie was getting married, “Nolan’s going to do my layout from now on. I’m doing layout for Gourmet.”
“What? Did we fold?” Shawn was joking. He thought they were joking too.
“I found a new job,” Boris said. He had been keeping it a secret for several months. He packed up his desk in secret. “I thought I’d spill the beans.” He spoke in clichés and sometimes Shawn borrowed them.
“The fuck you are, you’re not leaving.”
“I’m blowing this stand. You should get out too. Get out now before it’s all over.”
Nolan clapped. He was hopping on his stool and started hitting the table. He was drunk.
“I’m done fucking laying cheese.”
“What?” Nolan laughed, squinting his eyes, “you’re absurd.”
“Fucking red hair like a Romanian.”
“I don’t have red hair.”
“You’re Romanian, aren’t you?”
“Where do you boys work?” the bartender asked.
“New Times? I thought they were done. No, wait, my husband told me you all were finished. He said you folded.”
Shawn shouldn’t have punched her.
The New Times building caught on fire. There was a fire in the basement and Love’s Deli was destroyed. Nolan didn’t even bother going to work the next day. Shawn went in a panic. There was a note on the front door that said: sorry.
“THEATRICAL REPORT: On Wednesday evening was performed the Comedy of A Bold Stroke for a Wife; it gave us the most sincere pleasure to perceive, that the audience appeared to derive from this performance even greater amusement and delight that from any of the preceding entertainments. We are, indeed, of the opinion that none of them have been kept up with more spirit and success throughout, that the present; and this will be considered as no mean praise by those who have been accustomed to private theaters, and who are aware of the difficulty with which a five-act play is usually supported by amateur performers.
“The thermometer in the air was at 26 degrees below zero; but such were the improvements made in the warming of the theater that the snow upon the roof was thawing within; a degree of warmth that contributed much to the comfort of the spectators and performers. We shall only repeat our conviction of the extreme usefulness of our theatrical entertainments, and cannot better express our good wishes than by a hope, that they may continue to be conducted in the same masterly manner which has hitherto ensured their success.”
Shawn supposed their plays had been put on by puppets.
August 14, 2008
Mascots the Time Piece
Passing Time Piece
Aids, Healthcare For All and Ignorance is Bliss left early. All three left at 11:30.
A lonely quartet marched to its own separate cause below the marquee of the Congress Hotel. They marched in silence because their cause was old. They marched for their own rights, as aware of winter as they had been of spring.
Ten police motorcycles angled and parked with two paddy wagons in front. All stayed with symbolic promise on East Balbo. Perpendicular to these and lining the hotel, eight taxicabs pulled in, pulled up and pulled out with dark skinned and sometimes Sikh cabbies. Cars and commerce continued at intervals between hotel and lake. Across the street, across from the Hilton, 1,500 protesters supposedly gathered. More likely the number was a stringent 700 that ebbed flowed and ebbed more regularly as the day drew on. The protest hemmed the fence and spread the whole block wide. People carried two signs at once to make their number larger.
“Vietnam veteran against the war,” “Sport Center” next with a Cubby Bears “c,” Bush Bigot, Jobs Here Troops Home, Bush step down, State of the Union Emergency. The words jumped parallel to the ground.
A black man in mauve prepared to cross Michigan traffic.
He stroked an ascot around his neck and with a deep voice remarked to his neighbor, “This has got to be one of the most hated men in the world. He’s got to be more hated than that guy who caught that baseball.” The ascot crossed with its fingers plying. Ascot and man continued down Balbo to the lake, disregarding the words to their right and the city that stayed behind.
Impeach Bush, Out of Iraq, Honk to Impeach. One horn honked “honk.” Lead us to Peace.
“How do you get into the cage?” A lesbian pointed to the barricade with Support Cindy Not the War under her arm. She stretched her arm and the sign extended as a wing. A policeman pulled the barricade aside to let her into the throng. The blue cap nodded. He was polite but shivering. It was cold.
“Oh,” Support Cindy giggled and wrinkled her nose, her tongue resting on the edge of her lower teeth. She grinned at the precipice, “I see!”
“Right this way, ma’am. One at a time, please, one at a time.”
No one tipped the doorman.
Leaders start wars, People stop wars. Steel Pipe Jobs Yes! Bush’s war No!
One sign just said GRRR! With three moderate r’s.
Benjamin Cline was a suburban boy with sloping green eyes and dark curly hair. He was slouching against a tree smoking cigarettes with communist pamphlets in his pocket. “Right now we’re just trying to get people in the mindset of workers rights and women’s rights.” He hadn’t been a member for very long, only a year, long enough to know that the Young Communist League had many hands, one of which helped Martin Luther King, and another that hated McCarthy. “Blackball this.”
“Where are you from?”
“California, used to be. Suburbs now. Since a year ago.”
Send the Bush girls, Silence is Consent.
Patchouli chuckled in passing.
Six old women in Pt. Reyes picketed the only stop sign in town. Every day of the week. Honk to stop the War. The unemployed youth brought malt liquor in the afternoon to watch old crones shaking their fists at an empty intersection. The children chuckled into their long shirtsleeves. The Cline kid puked in his sleeve on his way home on the bus one day when he sat next to the meanest hairless wench of the group—the one who flipped a bird at the mailman because he was the only car that had passed through all day. The mailman never honked. Cline wretched beside her on the bus and she apologized with an “oh dear,” while his own mother said nothing. On a day in August twenty cars on Highway One made the women giddy. Twenty cars were triumphant and sounded—intermittent honks agreed.
Patchouli passed and was lost.
Five years after Pt. Reyes, Michigan Avenue honked four or five times, the honks making a mark. A boy on a bicycle with a dishtowel tied around his head carried an Iraqi flag and made laps around the Michigan island, weaving in and out of the traffic: Iraq was a racing pony without a motor. The police were boyish where they stood drinking coffee. Their signification was perhaps too big for them. Lt. Bill took a bite of a donut and sniffed. He was tired and it was cold. The taste of sweet in his mouth was sticky. He looked across the street at the pasture of witticism and listened to the drone.
An SUV with two young black men honked and the driver bounced the brake back and forth to match an assumed anarchy. The men were smiling in agreement. Cut glass flashed from the inside when it caught the outside light. “Fuck the war,” they said.
Punk rock cheered over chitchat.
“Someone involved in Steppenwolf is involved.”
“It’s hard to keep track of it all.”
“I’m looking for my friend.”
“Last time I came to a Bush protest they were all, like, he’s coming, and then we all just flipped him off.”
“This analyzes why Bush would want to take this country into a modern theocracy.”
“Revolution today?” Revolution had a paper called Revolution. It was subsidized originally but had since found private funding.
No Blood for Oil, they said. Another car honked as though someone was counting.
“He’s supposedly coming down there.”
“I thought he came already.”
“I don’t know, I think the meeting doesn’t start ‘till noon.”
The signs shuffled in a stream to hem the fence on Balbo in case he came. They were louder with new spite. CHICAGO HATES BUSH CHICAGO HATES BUSH CHICAGO HATES BUSH that caught on quick and the announcer yelled until he tired and then between the Chicago and the hate asked if anyone wanted to take over. A brown woman did, although her effect was less. MAKE STEEL NOT WAR.
“Steelworkers over here,” a woman snapped with gloved hands. Her gum snapped, too. Steelworking women embraced and snapped.
Larry Roth and Lou Diamond had been doing this for a long time.
“I had to go to the bank, I thought I’d stop by on my way. I’ve protested every president since Nixon. I started in 1971.” Larry was wearing his poncho. Faded buttons decorated his breast and he smelled like mothballs.
“I started in 1967.”
“He started before me.”
“In this very spot.”
“They always come here.”
“The presidents like the Hilton.”
“It’s traditional. It’s for all-American folk.”
“Did you get a whistle? Would you like one?” a protester peddled her wares. Her grin was as broad as her back when she got a dollar.
“Oh yeah, you gotta go over there. Did you see the blowjob sign yet?” Larry nudged Lou.
“Oh yeah, the best is it’s not just for Blowjobs anymore—you know because Clinton got impeached for the Lewinsky thing.”
There was a 20-year-old boy standing with bad posture beside It’s not just for blowjobs anymore. His mother said, “Randy, help me. Hold this for a while, will you?” Randy held it. The sign was unenthused.
In Memory of My Son. Money for war but they can’t feed the poor. CHICAGO HATES BUSH!
A sign took flight and blew to the island dividing Michigan’s directions. The flag pony boy rode around it. Deputy Lewis stared at it, unsure. To pick it up or—they left it; GO LY RE was driven over by a Taxi Shuttle. The sign folded clean as the shuttle honked. Lewis looked at the people on the other side of the fence. They were mixed. External symbols unified the others into one.
There was a young man wearing a Bush/Cheney hat. He had a prim polo shirt and liked
starch. He starched his navy blue and khakis. Unstarched beside him was a young man with tattoos and clean dreadlocks. The tattoos were yelling.
NAVY BLUE AND KHAKI: This is what you do. I know your tactics. I know your thing. (He pointed with his finger. The finger was flexed in a shiv.)
NO BLOOD FOR OIL: What the hell is a Bush Cheney guy doing here?
IMPEACH: I know that guy. He goes around to different rallies and starts talking Bush. I know this guy. He likes to disrupt things.
MAKE STEEL: Anyone want to sign a petition?
STREETWISE: He’s CIA.
NAVY BLUE AND KHAKI: Oh no, I’m a big fan of Nixon.
IT’S NOT JUST A BLOWJOB: Um, no, thanks. Not right now. Will you take this sign back already?
In a honk there was an ecstasy.
“Is he coming yet?”
“Did he come?”
Blessed are the Peacemakers.
WOMEN FOR PEACE: How many people are here, do you think?
ANTIWAR: I don’t know, what do you think?
WOMEN FOR PEACE: I don’t know. It’s hard to tell.
ANTIWAR: I think at least 700. There were earlier.
“When’s he speaking?”
“This afternoon, I think.”
On Michigan there was an amalgam of cause.
“Since I started working I stopped making it to the protests,” said a woman in a skirt. Her knees were blue under the stockings.
Three men walked down Michigan Avenue in Burberry coats. Suits were clean underneath, olive green, burnt umber and pinstripe strode abreast. Their tassels were a-rhythmic. They did not notice the Congress Quartet, but Olive considered piano music that tinkered from the Hotel taxicab stand. Elevator music but no heat lamp. Lunch had been $250. The food had been poor.
UMBER: Well, he didn’t say anything new.
OLIVE: He sure didn’t take any time on the war.
PINSTRIPE: Clearly, he’s become a much better public speaker.
August 8, 2008
If Marc Jacobs says so, it must be true.
Regarding Fancy Pants Stores:
I don’t really understand the not-so-new trend where boutiques put a whole mess of their stuff on racks, and in long rows of duplicates a hodge podge of high-end fashion. At this one store I went to, there are bins in the front by the door, brimming with identical flip flops, baseball hats, sunglasses, chunky plastic necklaces, whatever else: all shiny and new and relatively inexpensive (as compared to the racks with $235 dresses). The racks are behind the bins, but everything sits, crammed and janky on little hangers, all the merchandise pressed in so tight it’s hard to take a look at anything and even harder to believe that anything should be worth more than $35. Not because it doesn’t feel nice, or look fancy, but because it’s presented in such a shlocky way.
The bins out front are like the booby prizes, I think. Items you’d pick up on second thought once you realize you can’t afford anything else. The appetite for purchasing being so intense that, someone buys a dumb handkerchief that won’t ever, really, be worn. Sometimes I’m terrified by how predictable we all are.
I did, once, understand what it meant to buy expensive shit. It used to mean, in my mind, that you went to a department store bathed in golden light, somewhat innocucous, sometimes there was a fellow playing a piano, and at different areas there were different attendants waiting to pull out special things from the back that would be tailored to suit. Not that I’ve ever been through that experience, but I remember watching as a child, while my brother and I ran through the perfume aisles spraying each other with different vials – out of the corner of my eye I would watch these expert women, both the clients and the attendants, all of them soft spoken, poised, trapped no doubt in gender roles that I would now stomp on. And yet. As a child I understood, somehow, that I was witnessing money and value. A calculated body language, light laughter, comfort where it seemed (to me) comfort was impossible. A parade of sophistication and reserve.
I just don’t think we get down that way anymore. Trembling as we are between a populist sentiment for the every(wo)man and a desire to achieve and impress. A guilt about money, the weight of Protestant expectation thick in the bones of our culture, countered duplicitously by maxed out credit cards and shiny shoes. Everyone a peacock of one sort or another.
Which is to say: Lust&Cashmere should be your bedside book. It will fix everything.
August 6, 2008
I heard about a hedge fund manager who lived in New York City. He lived his office down in Tribecca, a live/work space where he was surrounded by women who each day came to work wearing nice clothes. Their hair in tight clean buns. One day they came to work, but unable to get up to his apartment realized that he had fled. Taking with him, the money of his clients; what was something like 10 million dollars.
Three years later he was turned in by a different group of women in Spain. He had been living with them–all eight, supposedly. By some gathering resentment they decided to report him, their shared lover. And as I heard it, he’d traded the 10 million for diamonds and then smuggled them in toothpaste (boxes and boxes) into Europe: first France, then Spain where he was eventually caught.
I imagine each of the eight Spaniards kept a diamond, unreported, for herself.
The story about the Chinese Emperor who, hundreds of years ago, united China under one rule. Building, in addition and due his weakness for suspicion, an army out of clay that he buried underground (As an aside, I heard also that each ceramic sword was covered in chrome: a material that the Germans and English each claim to have first invented in WWII). He sent the writers of the country into one great pit and buried them all alive to quiet any dissent.
Died only a few years later, drinking what he believed to be the water from the fountain of youth, what was brought to him in a vessel from a foreign country, (India?). It was cloudy, allegedly.
August 4, 2008
August 1, 2008
It’s a program that’s been going on for about half a year, now, which is to say it’s in full swing. It’s great too–basically, Terri Griffith and Joanna Topor MacKenzie and I get invite different writers to come and give a live reading on the first Tuesday of every month. Each author reads for about twenty minutes, we make coffee, there’s a little wine and some cookie, then there is a question and answer session AND THEN the big fanciness….then we post the recording a week later, so you and everyone you know can download the mp3 and listen to it at your leisure.
I’m pretty into it, but I’m likely biased.
In any case, because August is afoot, we have Parlor reading this Tuesday! at 7pm. If you’re in the neighborhood and feel like it, you should come on by. It’s a casual affair, and oftentimes we grab a drink at the Beachwood afterwards….
Here are the details:
The Parlor cordially invites you to attend the latest reading of their
2008 Summer Season.
Julia Borcherts will read a story called “Curandera.” It’s a dark,
gang-related, coming-of-age tale set in Humboldt Park during the late
’80s, about an 18-year-old Polish girl who has a life-changing
altercation with the Spanish Cobras and the subsequent lessons she
learns from a santeria-practicing Latin Queen. Following the 30 minute
reading, the author will take questions from the audience. The event
will be recorded and published on-line for your repeated listening
pleasure at www.theparlorreads.com
All readings take place at The Green Lantern 1511 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd Floor
Also, don’t forget to download The Parlor’s previous episodes,
featuring, among others Jonathan Messinger, Ben Tanzer, Amina Cain and
Visit www.theparlorreads.com today!
July 29, 2008
“In summer, the song sings itself.
“The perfect man of action, is the suicide.
“But all art is sensual and poetry particularly so. It is directly, that is, of the senses, and since the senses do not exist without an object for their employment all art is necessarily objective. It doesn’t declaim or explain, it presents.
“By listening to his language of his locality the poet begins to learn his craft. It is his function to lift, by use of imagination and the language he hears, the material conditions and appearances of his environment to the sphere of the intelligence where they will have new currency.”
– William Carlos Williams
We got together in Chicago this last Friday night for a reading/release party of “Fragments,” by David Carl. Reading on his behalf, Moshe Zvi Marvit introduced himself thus: “I have been working as a biographer of late, and, after reading Fragments a few months ago, I decided to write a biography about him. When I asked David for permission to do so, he said that instead of answering any personal questions, he would send me on missions in his place. I am reading for him tonight on that account. Later on, I am supposed to meet a girl he used to know.”
Moshe read for about twenty minutes, focusing on a previously selected series of lines that pertained directly to the male and female protagonists in the text. While the characters are somewhat obscured throughout the book by ideas and observations, they nevertheless exist, and, (I’d argue,) ground the book as a whole, lending it a linear course as their relationship with one another develops. By isolating the passages that involve this nameless he and she, Marvit carved out a public place for them; a place in which they might be discussed. He read under a yellow light, the Bitters signage on his left, the audience sitting in a crescent around him on borrowed folding church chairs.
He began at with the first line of the book, “There was no desire for arrival,” and skipping over other lines, his reading traveled through, “…What she calls poetry is certainly an inability to see the world./ over “…Waiting for faces to appear in the window./” and into “…She accuses him of pursuing the accumulation of knowledge. / Outside in the rain taxis sulked in isotropic spirals of isolation. / The ants were winding their way up the leg of the kitchen table. / He dried his tears on the sleeve of his camelhair jacket and fumbled for his hat in the dark as she slumped back against the light. / All one need learn from the past is that it existed. / Capable of infinite subdivisions. / To write down that storm. / If he must bear the burden of location then why not slip between the sheets of an epistemological space? / The toppling mind. / No ambition outstrips the poet’s folly. / His various forms of failure his most marked success. / Whether she should weigh more heavily single words or their combined effect. / What did she know of prisons, other than what the mirrors suggested? / It was the accumulation of layers that accounted for their distortion effect. / Alien genres of familiar forms. / Shared but mutually exclusive disappointments. / ‘Of course, there is something very permanent about death,’ she says. / Half mad from the absence of lists. / Dido’s pyre. / Deranged by virtue of her former cruelties and not to be found among the hungry. / Tumescent words cowering under her typewriter. / The skeletal structure that frames a diverse set of impulses. / The ravenous flow of time. / He wanted to give equal weight to every sentence, to make each one the beginning of what he had to say. / He perfected the art of appearing lost in thought.” And over the course of other passages, Moshe ended on page 30 with “Every word comes grudgingly.”
“Can you answer questions about the book?” someone asked. There were about fifteen of us in the room at that time, the chairs sitting a little more casually now as they had been rearranged in a sneaky succession of shifting weights over the course of the reading. The train of course, our favorite and intermittent guest, came and went over the course of the humming fans and summer heat.
“I can’t answer questions about the book, but I can answer questions about the author,” answered Moshe.
“Are you speaking on David Carl’s behalf?”
“Are you impersonating David Carl?”
“I have a question,” a poet said. Having once been a resident of the Green Lantern, she’s born witness to its various stages of development. “There is a quote from William Carlos Williams where he says that the poetry is sensual and consequently, that the subject of poetry has to be in the Objects. Not ideas. That the resonances come from the feeling of objects described. It strikes me that this book starts with the ideas. Do you think that’s true?”
“The passages that I chose to read are all about people. I chose to read about the tangible relationships. If people are ideas, then I suppose I’ve been reading about ideas, but I’ve always thought of people as sensual, and physical things.”
“I nevertheless got the feeling that, for the most part, the characters were hidden from view, in a way. That if you hadn’t, in this case, isolated those particular sections, the characters would have been disguised at first,” said another member of the audience. This one standing, one arm crossed over the other. A lurker in the back, I was surprised she’d say anything.
The voice of the poet was carried by another, a young woman with black hair. “It felt to me like each sentence of the book was trying to resonate. I am used to linear narratives, and often prefer them, where there is a stream of short, even awkward sentences, feeble things, that then rise up to a peak—that’s when something clandestine happens.” She shrugged. “In this case each sentence feels like it’s made to be very important in its own right. Each one can stand on its own.”
Another guest, leaning on the wall, a fellow in a plaid shirt smiled wry, “The passages feel like crab grass to me, instead of a tree that is growing straight up, in this book the lines extend outwards, covering a lot of ground. If you try to read it like a tree, you’ll be disappointed, because each sentence is given its own special significance. The individual lines are treated democratically, almost, with equal weight.”
The Lurker: “But I think that the people are important. More important than the ideas, they provide the vehicle for the ideas. I get the sense that there is a real tenderness in the book: a desire to say without saying. i.e. to tell about this couple, but in such a way that not everyone will notice them.”
The poet again: “Yes that’s exactly it. I’m frustrated when something isn’t plane. I like concrete poetry about concrete things.”
Another one: “But what about Joyce? There are many levels in Joyce, and most of them are not immediately plain.”
The dark haired girl, bright eyes confessed, “Joyce didn’t make sense to me until I read him drunk. Then it was simple.”
I said: “What’s funny is that I don’t think we’d have this conversation if David Carl was here. It’s so odd.”
“It’s a shame,” Moshe answered, speaking, no doubt, the sentiments of David Carl himself.
The poet in love with objects: “Joyce is still writing about a man walking around. A man doing concrete things.”
Moshe: “But you could say that it was based on an idea. The whole book was based on a myth. The objects followed.”
That other, The Joycean, still standing, but this time tilted a little at the hips, “Or Steinbeck, say. He writes, I think, on two levels. Only I feel he’s often passed over because his story is so cinematic and simple—people don’t often read into anything.” “Do you think Steinbeck could write today and be as successful as he was?” Moshe asked.
Another again, and having shifted, tilted the other way, “I don’t think so. I think that’s one of the issues in Fragments: this kind of self-awareness about trying to do something in an obsolete genre.”
Another young man who occasionally sports bloomers and plaid socks shook his head. “Once people said that the novel was dead, it became difficult for everybody.”
Moshe: “You can’t write simple stories anymore. Depending on what you want to accomplish, I guess.”
The Poet: “I think you can. I think Steinbeck could still be the same sort of famous writer today as he was then. He writes good stories. He’s writing myths. Simple, concrete stories. The ideas resonate out of them. We still love the Greek myths for instance.”
Bloomers: “What about Raymond Carver? He writes simple stories.”
It went on, pretty much this way, for a few more minutes and my favorite remark came out towards the end of the night, before we celebrated one last hurrah for the peg-leg pirate bbq. I went downstairs to lock the front door and pull in the sign, just as my dear friend and fellow accomplice at the space came at me, his hands waving in the air, in such a way I couldn’t tell if he was excited or horrified “There are so many Writers in there!”