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.”

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—

Noun Swap

April 26, 2010

posted and written by Caroline Picard

an excerpt from WOOF.

An Episode of Childhood: Coat.

Coat comes from Cincinnatti with a pretty little sister, Jessie, and a pretty mom and a handsome father who has worn eye glasses for as long as she can remember. They have always lived in the same house and every summer up until high school the girls went to the same camp and did very well in school and were well known as very nice girls, like their parents, everyone always said what a nice family Coat had. Her parents were academics and the house was therefore full of well-used books, pleasantly unkempt but always clean, their mother washed all woolen things by hand and though the family was not rich by any means, the girls never thought about money or things they couldn’t have or whether or not they could go to college. Their mother drank tea, their father coffee. They shopped at farmer’s markets and kept a garden where they made a pumpkin one year and always had squash and tomatoes and eggplant. Their father was an excellent cook. He made the family meal almost every night for the entire stretch of his daughter’s residence at the family home.

When Coat was six and Jessie was three their parents said “This is a cat,” while pointing to a dog and, “This is a dog,” while pointing to a cat.
Coat and Jessie learned a dog was called a cat and a cat was called a dog and Coat had some trouble at school for a little while because the difference ruptured her understanding of the world. It seemed like a consistent glitch, one that wasn’t caught for quite some time because it was such a small innocuous misunderstanding that no one thought her beet-faced frustration came from a prior conviction that was nevertheless inaccurate. Who knew that one’s world could hinge on the swapping of two nouns?
While she had always been a shy child, she was quite sure of herself especially when it came to the things her parents told her. Consequently, when Mrs. Clark, their second grade teacher, tried to correct the mistake, Coat confirmed earlier suspicions that Mrs. Clark was a batty old fool.
Coat asked Jessie about it and Jessie, who was not yet in school, was neither interested nor perplexed.
When Coat learned the truth she was thoroughly confused.
Her parents called it an experiment of logic.


April 25, 2010

posted by Caroline Picard

I’ve been a terrible poster the last week–you see I just (just, just) finished my thesis–that novel, some clips of which have been posted here over the last few years. It’s also the same thing that I exhibited work based on last summer at minidutch, a show called “Twilight of the Vanities.” At any rate, the book has edited significantly since then, there are an additional 50 pages, a new sub-plot…all of it. Thankfully I’m in that place with it where I’m still very pleased and excited by the material. I feel like the minute it is actually “done done” by which I mean that the advisor would have given it the final and rousing approval, and it will have been turned in, then doubtless I’ll start to think it’s kind of a dumb project and find any number of reasons and ways that it could be better. My secret suspicion is that those “ways of improvement” are actually just ways for me to avoid closure, i.e. it’s easier to think that something could be better and therefore needs more work than it is to think, well that’s done, what do I do next?

At any rate.

Over the next week, I plan to post different excerpts–passages that will hopefully function more or less as discrete storylines, though they’re part of a larger part.

And seriously? It’s seriously so awesome to be almost done with school. Take me to June, I’m ready.

posted by caroline picard

An Episode of Childhood

April 16, 2010

posted and written by Caroline Picard

What follows is an excerpt from WOOF., a novel that takes place primarily in and around hipsters in Philadelphia. The main character, Tobias (Toby), has just dropped out of college and moved in with his oldest brother Fletcher. Their mother, father and youngest brother (Freddy) died in a car accident about six months prior to the novel’s opening. The novel is interupted, periodically, with “Episodes from Childhood.” This particular episode is a flashback about Tobias’ family–his mother (Judith), Father (Mitch), oldest brother (Fletcher) and middle brother (Michael/Mike).

—Toby remembered when they went to the Lake once and they were supposed to jump off the cliff (before Freddy was born) and the cliff was very high and Fletcher and Michael were very big comparitively and (before Freddy was born) Toby was the youngest and they chided him always the big boys chided him and he was very brave and wanted to jump off the cliff like the other boys and Judith said, “Are you sure you really want to, Toby?” And Toby nodded because he was excited and Mitch said, “Of course he does, he’s a big boy, a little man already, he was born for this sort of thing,” and clapped Toby and the back and Toby was very proud and Michael didn’t care one way or another about anything—a nonchalant boy, their mother used to always say—and Fletcher was stretching and Fletcher took a long time stretching and rubbing santan lotion on his arms and legs and Michael was bored and Toby was bored eveyrone was waiting until Mitch said, “Come on Fletch, whatare you waiting for, you wuss?” Their dad was kidding and everyone chuckled but Fletcher looked mad and pink in the sun, “Mom will you put some of this on my back?” and Mitch got mad then and turned away a lumbering bear Toby always thought about his dad like a lumbering bear, “Forget it, we’ll go on. You catch up if you wantta go. Come on, Mike. Lets get outta here and let these sorries take their time if they need, we’ll get on and put on a good show.” Mitch turned away from the adjacent island of towels, corners covered in sand, he turned away and put his arm around Mike and they ambled down towards the end of the beach and Toby was indecisive (before Freddy was born), torn between opposing sides of his family he paused, watching Fletcher sullenly drawing in the sand, their mother rubbed white cream on his back, her hands banal and quick and comforting and Toby looked again to the retreating backs of his father and brother, he looked over to the cliff and saw someone leaping, suspended for the split second of fall and, without knowing he’d made a decision, Toby turned about face and dashed after Mitch and Michael playing at filling their footprints, enjoying the game of his failure as he bounded, irregular puppy strides.

It never occured to him not to be the youngest (before Freddy was born born born born) and he raced ahead of his father and he raced ahead of his brother, he felt the sweat breach the skin of his forehead and he lapped around his brother and he made laps around his father, his feet stinging with the nettles and sticks and leaves and rocks of the path. When they got to the top of the cliff, the path ended at the cliff, a vision of the whole small lake, Toby leapt up and down and up and down he clapped his hands he waved at Judith, she looked so small on their towels with the paper bag next to her full of their sandwiches and potato chips and trail mix, Toby covered her with his thumb he could cover her whole body with his own little thumb, and he smiled at his father who didn’t smile back and he smiled at Michael who absently ruffled his head and he hugged his father who looked down, squinting at him, and smiled and put his hand on the Toby’s head and knelt down, “Now when you jump, you just step out, away from the ledge. That’s it. Just take a step and push out so you get away from the rocks. And you want to make sure to keep your feet together.”

“Why?” Toby asked.

“Teeheehee…” Michael started giggling.

“HawHawHaw…” Mitch laughed the veins on his neck thick with new blood, stood up from his skin. HawHawHawTeeHeeTeeHee. “Well. Because,” HawHawHaw, “Just because. Trust me. Keep your feet together.”

“Wait, Why?” The panic of not knowing made Tobias uneasy, insistent.

“Because, Dumbass,” Michael swatted Toby’s chest.


Michael pointed to his  penis. “Because!”

“Because it’ll hurt if you don’t.”


“Mike you go first and wait for Toby in the water.”

Toby watched Michael step off the ledge and disappear. Down.

“Now, Toby. You. Just step off as far as you can.”

Toby felt fear lump up in his throat. He saw his mother wave on the beach. He smiled. Felt sick. He took a step toward the ledge. He looked down, Michael waved. Michael was very small. The water looked cold, “Is it cold?” Michael shook his head. Toby could see the cliff descend all the way down to the water he could see it stretch under the water he imagined himself hitting the rocks under the water he looked back at his father, “I don’t want to,” he said. Mitch smiled. “Sok. Just take a deep breath, its’ok—” and then the sickening sound of gravel chasing after him Toby half-turned, the wind—he gasped—something thrust him forward, arms fast around him, the wind knocked out of him, he gasped, arms fast and tightly wound the ground disappeared from under him, someone was laughing, Fletcher held him fast and they plummeted together Fletcher was laughing down down down Mitch looked very angry his face got smaller and smaller as they withdrew from his arms his strong hairy arms Fletcher’s arms were wiry and mean, crashed into the water, Toby yelped a searing pain between his legs he buckled, the pain enough to make him curl in a ball in the water, the reflex powerful enough that he  loosed himself from Fletcher’s grasp and hung for a moment, eyes tight shut absorbed/absorbing the pain of the universe under the water he was not heavy enough to stay there he felt himself rising he spluttered wincing a point of upset and misery surfaced at last spewing water shocked with the sky and the shock of cold from the air of the sky tears streaming down his face he wailed Fletcher was smiling smiling smiling and laughing he swam to Toby and rose up and put his hands on Toby’s head and pushed down laughing laughing laughing Toby splutted again, haed still searing with pain he felt water inside of his lungs he flailed with some miserable, unavoidable will to live, flailing with the fear of disappearing all over again forever and ever and ever Toby heard a crash, he saw bubbles, he saw his father’s body crash into the water, he saw his father’s hair stand up staright under the water, surrounded by bubbles of air, Toby surfaced screaming, coughing, sobbing, treading water, the sobs punctuating with him catching his breath he saw his father swim towards Fletcher, his motion swift, stern, unfeeling when their father was mad thier father was unfeeling, and Mitch raised his hand and smacked Fletcher on the face, he’d never done that before never never and Toby wailed again and Michael said “You’re such a dick,” and thwacked his hand on the back of Fletcher’s head and Mitch said enough, a low growl and Mitch swam to Toby and took Toby in his arms and Toby put his thumb in his mouth and felt the bubbles on his father’s body cushion him as they swam, the boys in silence, Judith stood on the beach with her sunglasses on they couldn’t see her eyes she had her hands on her hips her hands on her hips she was getting bigger as they drew nearer and nearer her lips pursed worried with quiet each of them Micth, Michael, Fletcher and Toby felt sure they had disappointed her, terribly. When they got there she shook her head ever so slightly.

Aliens and Encyclopedias

March 31, 2010

posted and written by caroline picard

I’m in the middle of finishing up my thesis–that novel about hipsters in Philly that I’ve been working on for what seems like forever. In any case, my advisor asked me to write another 75 pages which has been great. I’ve got about 12 to go, but I think I’m going to call it quits for the moment. In any case, I included this story–like a story within a story, which is more or less the style of the book. This story is told by a character called Anna. It was originally told to me, almost word for word, at a dinner party by a woman I’d never met before. There were a number of us at the table and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy, as far as thinking about narratives and reliable narrators and how, especially in a dinner party setting, it is presumed that everyone is telling the truth.

“OK. So my parents used to go on these drinking binges. I have like a bunch of little brothers and I’m the oldest, Tobias, but so most of the time I thought it was kind of cool because like I’d get to take care of everyone. And, you know, my dad was pretty much always a real shit so it was cool that he’d be out of the house and I didn’t have to worry about him being a dick and hurting someone.

“My parents would take off—they’d leave for like a night usually. But sometimes they’d leave for a weekend. No big deal, they’d basically get a couple of cases of beer and then take off to the beach for a weekend. I guess it started when I was like nine or something but then it started happening more frequently when I was like 12 and then this one time they left for a whole week. It was like they were just gone. And my brothers and I we just kept going to school and I like cooked for everyone it was pretty simple. I knew where there was spare money in the bedroom drawer of my parents’ room and we had a ton of mac and cheese and beans and stuff so it wasn’t really that big of a deal—I mean of course now, I’m like what fucking bad parents, but at the time, I felt like, you know, I could take care of things.

“So then our folks come back on Sunday, and we’re like, ‘Where were you?’ and they’re like, ‘We went to the beach, you knew that.’ And we’re like, ‘But you were gone for a whole week.’ And then they didn’t believe us. You can imagine too, like if your folks don’t believe you about something like that, then you start to wonder, kind of, but I knew and my brothers knew—at least my oldest brother. And so like whatever, you know, you kind of just forget about it.
“Then I’m 13 and my parents go away again and they’re supposed to be gone for the weekend but again they’re like gone for a whole fucking week. And then they’re gone for a week and a half, so like Sunday comes and goes and still no parents. And I start getting really freaked out, what if something happened to them, how will I know, what will I do? That sort of thing. I’m worried we’re going to run out of money. I worry that I’ll have to tell someone and they’ll split up the family. I mean like, fuck, right? Crazy shit.
“On Wednesday our parents come back. Just like that. They’ve got their beach blanket, the dogs are super excited to see them. They’re kind of pissed at me that the house is such a mess. They don’t remember being gone for more than a weekend. The school calls because the school got worried and I feel really guilty like they’re going to be mad at me for getting caught, but then our folks are just like, wow. That’s nuts. I guess we got so drunk we blacked out for a whole week. And they like promise never to do it again.
“Then my mom wakes up in the middle of the night and there’s an alien standing over her bed. And she realizes suddenly that the were abducted by aliens. They didn’t black out at all. And she has all of these flashbacks about how she’d been probed and the alien is standing over her bed and it like wants to take her with it up into the space ship. Luckily she knows that—and this is good for all of you to know, actually—she knows that if you just say “NO,” very fiercely and very strongly, aliens can’t abduct you, kind of like how vampires can’t come into your house unless you invite them. So she goes “NO NO NO NO NO NO” and wakes Dad up and they’re both sitting there going NO NO NO NO NO NO until the alien goes away.
“And the way they proved it? They proved it because the next day the alien stole the Tu-Wi Encyclopedia and the telescope.”