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christmas needs to come early this year

Karl was vacuuming the carpet like I had asked him to do while I flummoxed and flumped the furniture all over the narrow living room, making way for the fake but, to our eyes, gorgeous and redemptive Christmas tree.

‘Karl, Jonah,’ Manfred, our third roommate, stood in his coat, shoeless, spooning food from a foam plastic container into his mouth with his fingers; he and his fiance Victoria had been out to dinner, ‘I know you’re both lonely but-‘

‘Ahem!’ Karl cleared his throat forcefully and held the roaring vacuum up with arms outstretched towards Manfred. A warning.

‘It’s only November-‘

‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’ I said it more to the window-sill I was clearing of grit and low-wage-bachelor debris (cigarette butts, mugs, bits of paper, ash, two copies of Mad) than to Manfred. Karl and I had already dusted the high walls with the broom and strung three strands of lights around the room, making a quadruple layer of them, so long did they stretch.

‘I don’t know about anyone else,’ Manfred was not to be ignored, ‘but I’m not even done eating my Halloween candy, and now, what? Guys. Guys?’

‘Ahem! Ack ack ack.’ Karl ran the vacuum across the floor and just shy of Manfred’s shoeless feet, coughing on the dust and dog-fur storm scattered by the vaccuum.

‘I even saw some trees today on the way home, alongside the FDR, that still had green leaves, guys. Green leaves!’

‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’

‘And just ask the dog.’ Manfred was insistent. ‘Look at him, look at Pressler Dog. Look at neutered Pressler Dog.’ Pressler wagged his tail upon hearing his name, mouth open in what could have been a grin but just as easily could have been obliviousness. ‘He hasn’t even started growing in a new coat of fur for the wint-‘

‘Ack ack ack!’ Karl, vacuuming the corner, coughed after a gust from the open window blew some of Pressler’s hair – a harvest we walked through and upon daily – into his face.

‘The window, guys, the window! The window is open!’ Manfred ran across the room and pointed to the window in mock but genuine earnest, miming a mime. ‘You don’t have a window open in Brooklyn at Christmas time!’

‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’ I bit my tongue and waited, hoping to relieve the rising tension within me with flatulence, which did not arrive. In my heart, as little Lord Jesus knew, I was making hilarious if very unkind remarks about not having just been to a bourgeoisie dinner having romantic and personalizing conversation with a woman who not only gave proletarian handjobs (good ones) but related in some way to the goodtiming but utlimately emotionless male (Manfred) standing before us shoveling some sort of meat and rice into his open maw with three fingers. The tree, I figured, would stand on the empty and rather useless souvenir box.

‘Come on, guys, I know it’s been-‘

‘Ahem! Agh! Ack ack ack!’

‘-a longer period of isolation, rejection, confusion and meals-for-one than any of us could have imagined, even in our most feverish, thunderous and howling nightm-‘

‘Ah God, ah God, ack ack ack!’ Karl was vacuuming his pant legs, which of course needed it, but also gave him something to embrace. It was, if not necessary, at least beneficial, in that he did not need any further succor from us, so we let him be.

‘Victoria and I walked through the park tonight-‘

‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’ I rapped on the window to make a noise.

‘-and the lawn, the grass was just thick with greenness-‘

‘Yack hack hack!’

‘Come on, guys!’

Pressler Dog, standing, put his head low to the ground as though he wanted to whimper in pity and licked Karl’s face, easily done as Karl lay huddled on the floor, face already awash in tufts of Pressler hair, stuck to streaks of tears and now to Pressler’s saliva. Karl had turned off the vacuum and was spooning the appliance, which was at least two feet shorter than he.

‘Guys,’ Manfred warily eyed the decorations we had taped or stapled or hung from the walls, including the Christmas Ghost, which our married and departed former compatriot and roommate Derik had made two years ago from tissue and dental floss (to cinch the head and give it form), ‘Guys, we’ve barely finished celebrating Columbus Day and not even close to the celebration of the Pequot Indian massacre and you wanna-‘

‘Away in a manger – ack, ack – no crib for a place to sleep-‘

‘Karl, really.’

‘It’s a bed, Karl,’ I said, ‘no crib for a bed.’

Pressler had uncerimoniously crumpled himself onto the floor, his tail in Karl’s face.

‘Go tell it on the – ack, ack, agh! – mountain-‘

I harmonized.

‘-Over the hills and everywhere.’

‘Agh!’

‘Jesus Christ you guys.’

‘Jesus Christ is born,’ we finished in harmony. ‘That’s right, Manfred. That’s right, Karl. Go tell it on the mountain. I’ll shout it from the windows!’

‘Jonah, you don’t even like Jesus.’

‘Christmas needs to come early this year.’

‘-holy night – agh! yack, hog! – all is calm – … – utz! – all is…‘

‘Bright, Karl. All is bright.’

‘He’s gonna lose it on the virgin part.’ Manfred chewed the last of his leftovers loudly, swishing the food down with beer.

‘I’m gonna lose it on the virgin part.’

‘Me, too,’ Manfred said.

I stooped and retrieved Karl, slinging his left arm over my back like a wounded Hollywood soldier carried from a battlefield. Manfred clasped Pressler Dog’s front legs and walked with him – sort of inverted wheelbarrow style – and we harmonized in the November night, windows open to the chilly breeze and street illumination, somewhere up above our heads the dull Christmas star, which died light years ago, twinkling.

 

END

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cutup (jlc)

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misc eyebrows (1)

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top eye colors of the month (1)

top_eye_colors

1. blue

2. hazy desert brown

3. closed

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david foster wallace appreciation

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The rising moon looks like it doesn’t feel very well. – Infinite Jest

On Friday, September 12, 2008, novelist, essayist, professor David Foster Wallace hung himself in his home in Claremont, California. 46 years old, Wallace’s literary achievements included the enormous novel Infinite Jest as well as short story collections Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Oblivion; and essay collections Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

For a few years now I have perused the morning’s headlines looking for obits for Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, J.D. Salinger. Wallace’s death was startling and entirely unexpected. A character in Wallace’s short story ‘Brief Interviews’ describes the sensation thus:

My own experience indicates that the cliché [I can’t believe my ears] does not mean I can’t believe that this possibility now exists in my consciousness but rather something more along the lines of … I cannot believe that this possibility is now originating from a point external to my consciousness.

I do not wish to confuse or give too much significance to the idea that Wallace’s works should be studied in light of his biography. This belongs to the biographer, sure, but not to the literary critic. Nevertheless, not knowing Wallace in a personal sense my immense enjoyment of his works did, in a superficial but intensely personal way, leave me the impression that I was connected to him. What ‘The Suffering Channel’ describes as,

the feeling that celebrities were your intimate friends, coupled with the inchoate awareness that untold millions of people felt the same way – and that the celebrities themselves did not.

And yet the feeling of intimacy with the creator of an artwork is larger than this. It is being a part of a community of people who choose to read. Who choose to read the particular works that they read. Who choose to pay attention to the words in the books that they read. ‘When one reads,’ Stephen thinks in Ulysses, ‘these strange pages of one long gone one feels that one is at one with one who once. . .’ [The ellipses is not mine.]

. . . . . . [This ellipses is mine.]

In the opening college-interview scene of Infinite Jest our protagonist Hal, as he falls apart, thinks, ‘The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds.’ This panic at misperception weighs upon me heavily in my thoughts about Wallace’s suicide. A note, if one is produced, could enlighten. (And, I joked with a friend this morning, would be 1,000 pages long and have taken three years to write. Or perhaps each piece one writes is, in effect, a suicide note.) But unless the note gives a particular, practical reason (‘A loan shark was threatening to torture me’ or ‘I had to do this to save a little baby in some sprawling and almost incomprehensible but totally believable and true plot that I will now lay down for you and all future generations in the next X-thousand pages. . .’) it will leave us unsatisfied. As death, save perhaps for the old and ill, is unsatisfying. But, as is illustrated in Wallace’s works, if we are all experiencing the same familiar pains and horrors and joys in our own particular/subjective ways, what about now (as opposed to ten years ago? ten years from now?) led to this?

But now we are seeking the immediately practical and applicable. The easy to understand and be explained. But Wallace did not offer anything remotely close to a platitude; not without qualifying it to pieces to be sure it was genuine. Everything was grey. So grey that it took more sentences, more and longer paragraphs within more and longer essays and stories to explain all (all? no such thing) of the contingencies and ‘Yeah, but’ ‘s and qualifiers just to get to what was right there in front of our faces the whole time.

One character in IJ ‘looked at the windows but not at the foliage and blacktop driveway beyond the windows.’ Wallace saw both, saw the person who didn’t, saw the windowsill and the frame and wall around the window; saw the house around the window and town around the house and so on.

. . .

‘Deciding to go ahead and think somebody’s a stand-up guy: it’s like you drop something, you give up all your power over it: you have to stand there impotent waiting for it to hit the ground: all you can do is brace and wince.’ – IJ

I do not wish to imply that Wallace was not a ‘stand-up guy’ because of his conclusion. Because death is not a literary conclusion. The way in which a person dies – even when that person chooses – is still a consequence of millions of other factors, stimuli; many unknowable. It was a choice made in a moment like millions of other choices. A bit of bad mustard, an underdone potato, as Scrooge balks at Marley. Not that I wish to imply that suicide is a poor choice. Only that it is one that is seemingly full of despair and pain and is perhaps not the most selfless choice in one’s life.

I do darkly and curiously imagine Wallace standing in a room in California, applying noose and preparing himself for it. ‘Finally,’ he may have thought. I wonder if ‘his whole life (and then some) tear-asses across his mind’s arctic horizon, trailing phosphenes.’ (All these from IJ.) I imagine him having spent too much ‘Time in the shadow of the wing of the thing too big to see, rising.’ I imagine him looking like ‘shit something heavy had fell on.’ I imagine him pondering ‘the increasing emotional abstraction, poverty of effect, and then total emotional catalepsy – the obsessive analyzing, finally the paralytic stasis that results from the obsessive analysis of all possible implications of both getting up from the couch and not getting up from the couch.’

And it is weird. It is weird ‘to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know.’

Yet when Salinger’s Seymour Glass chose to shuffle off at the age of thirty-one, there was cause for the pain of loss but joy (somehow? yes? joy?) at the choice. David Foster Wallace did not write it (himself, his thoughts, the quest for the great thoughts, ect.) all down for us to see when he hung himself in a home in southern California. He spent over half his life doing so. And still, when we peruse the pages he filled with thought, one feels at one with one who once. . .

Post Script: ‘Keep Coming!’ some friends and I often joke in imitation of AA goers portrayed in IJ. ‘Keep Coming!’ It meant, ‘Whatever awful, down and out, woebegone, horrifying, blundering thing you just experienced, Keep Coming. Keep Coming back to us, back to the table, back to the morning, back to the work that you did not get done today. Back to the thought that you could not pen down yesterday. We see you. You are here and we too are here. You are speaking and we are listening. Keep Coming back to the place where we’ll always tell you no matter what you just Keep Coming Keep Coming!’ This is the gift Mr. Wallace, going forward, has declined.

 

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exasperated customer cannot imagine spending quality time with fellow customer

After ten minutes of waiting in a long line yesterday at the Duane Reade in Chelsea, customer Francis Key, there to buy tea and Hershey Kisses, had to conclude of the customer holding up the line that she “couldn’t imagine spending time with him.” The unidentified customer, who used several credit cards as well as cash and repeatedly changed the items he desired to purchase, was “totally inconsiderate of everyone else,” according to Key. “I mean, can you imagine what that person must be like to go to dinner with? To have Thanksgiving with? I’m so glad I’m not related to him,” Key said. The other customers in line agreed, according to Key, though she was the only one who called me about it.

 

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the week at charity case (1)

Monday: After cursing the copier and hanging his head, E.D.S. shrieks ‘Yikes!’ when he sees the enormous rat-trap on the floor next to jlc’s Wurlitzer organ.

Tuesday: jlc (having forgotten his phone at home) actually uses a phone-booth, having to ask for quarters and read the number from the ink on his palm.

Wednesday: E.D.S. calls the manufacterer of Charity Case’s copier and spends the rest of the night hoarding the Tums.

Thursday: JPC finds that chocolate, if given enough time, will melt on your finger the same as candle-wax.

Friday: Having tasted the worst cup of coffee to her recollection, T.Tawks cleans the coffee-maker three times with vinegar & water and prepares another pot, only to discover that the milk had gone bad.

Saturday: After having had significant trouble working the copier, jlc is found hunched in his bed like a wet blanket holding a steak-knife. E.D.S., finding jlc, lunges at him, grabbing the knife and screaming, ‘Me first!’ Also, Jon finished Far Cry 2 and almost completed reading through the edits.

Sunday: Comin down.

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cover (1)

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from the eazyztop (1)

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Were it 1:30pm a customer might have given a funny look or made estranged comment about the short young woman standing in front of the Slushie machine, her mouth agape.

‘”Standing” is the polite word for it,’ Blunt Boy said, adjusting his baseball cap by jostling the lid. I imagined it scratched the crevices on the backside of his ears when he fiddled with the cap and I wondered if he was conscious of it.

As the woman who worked at the Post Office exited the Quickstop Blunt Boy’s town rival, Stevie, entered, the mild beep of the Customer Alarm going off with the opening of the door. The Postal woman, after purchasing 2% milk, cigarettes, and caffeine pills, had stood with Blunt Boy and I at the check-out counter watching the transfixed young woman none of us knew hovering before the Slushie machine. ‘Like a goddamn gargoyle if you ask me, boys,’ Postal woman said before picking up her groceries and departing.

I thought she looked like the Karate Kid, I told Blunt Boy, ‘When he stands on one leg and holds his arms out,’ miming the posture from behind the counter. The police usually showed by 3:00am for coffee and diet sodas and Blunt Boy kept a red eye on the white clock by the door, which hadn’t ticked past 1:30am yet. It was the strange nature of the overnight shift at the Quickstop that I could see only head and brake lights when I looked out to the parking lot and street but, to those looking in, everything was fluorescently lit, displayed. To combat this harrowing exposure to the town I tried to tape as many sales and promotional posters on the windows as was allowed by Quickstop regulations.

‘It’s like her left eye is set solely on the red Slushie,’ Blunt Boy said after running a reconnaissance mission to the cooler nearest her (under the pretense of harnessing a soda) to settle our debate concerning whether she had one eye for each flavor or two eyes for one. ‘And her right eye is solely on the blue Slushie. And they’re both, the eyes, spinning round and round with the mixers inside the Slushie machine that go-‘

‘Round and round,’ I finished for him. ‘Right. Round and round.’

Stevie approached the counter, tossing a box of sandwich bags in front of me, which I scanned, the price illuminating the register display.

‘Making sandwiches?’ I asked.

‘Yep,’ he said, grinning. Low baseball cap almost completely hiding his starched eyes. Eyes that looked as though they been taken to with steel wool.

‘We’ve also got several varieties of bread in the last aisle there and ham, turkey, roast beef in the cooler,’ gesturing to the far corner. ‘Tuna in the middle aisle, too. And what’s a sandwich without pickles and must-‘

‘No no,’ he cut me off, laughing. ‘I’ve got all the makings in my car.’

‘Good good,’ I said. ‘Save a bite for me.’

‘And me!’ the Slushie transfixed woman said, unmoving.

‘Shit,’ said Blunt Boy after Stevie left, ‘I can make you sandwiches all day, dog. And you, too, Slushie girl.’

‘Well we’ve got all the makings right here at the Quickstop, Blunt Boy. There’s bread in the far aisle-‘

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hectic office

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December 1, 2008 · 6:00 am