Monday, May 18, 2015

Christopher

They found my bird's body in the river, a few miles downstream from the bridge.  A team of divers had pulled it up -- weren't even sure it was a bird at first, that's how bad it was, they thought it might just be a rat or a box filled with tissue paper or something, but they brought it ashore and got a good look at it and, sure enough, bird.  Investigators ruled it a suicide.

---

That night I went on a first date with this girl Vanessa at some bubble tea place.  That's the tea with the weird colored bubbles floating in it.  I asked for tap water.  She asked why I didn't get tea and I told her I didn't like it, and she said she didn't really like it either, so we left.  I asked her what she did.  "Who the fuck knows," she said.

---

I still remember when the call came.  There was a knock at the door.  Technically it wasn't a call, it was a knock at the door.  It was a police officer, looking down, hat in his hand.  He told me they had found my bird.  My heart leapt.  But then he said she had been dead for days.  I fell sobbing into the door frame.  The officer put his big hand on my shoulder, and told me I should get back out on the dating scene, try to move past my loss --

---

We tried to figure out what we should do.  I thought, vaguely, maybe I'd be able to go home.

"Dates," she said.  "What do people do on first dates?"

"We could go to a movie," I said.  I didn't want to see a movie.  "We could ride a ferris wheel."

"Let's go to that Duane Reade," she said, pointing to a big one on the corner.  "I have to buy a pregnancy test."

---

They wouldn't let me see the body.  "Our investigation isn't complete yet."  The woman at the front desk stared through me with contempt.  Did she know something?  Did the police suspect that I had something to do with my little bird's death -- that it wasn't a suicide at all?  Or did she merely blame me for whatever despair had brought my bird to such a lonely end?  "I can't stay," I said, "I have a date."

---

We dashed through to the back of the store.  She seemed to know, if not exactly where the pregnancy tests would be, at least the general area.

She picked up a couple boxes and compared them to each other.  "Generic brand!" she said.  "Should I shoplift them?" she asked.

"I don't know."

"It would be a hell of a story to tell," she said.  "To whatever's in there, I mean."  She frowned.  "It wouldn't be that good a story."

We went up to the counter.  "Two boxes of these," she said, "and a pack of batteries."  I scanned the cashier's face for a reaction, but she looked dead, out on her feet.

---

The first thing I did was take a walk, to clear my head.  Every tree I walked under shed dozens of tiny brown birds up into the sky.

Down the block I saw a crowd of people pour out of a church and start running towards me, furious, screaming and shaking canes and hymnals.  I knew it was probably nothing to worry about, probably just the congregation's weekly jog, but I had the thought that they were coming for me, and I started to run.  I stumbled trying to take the corner and I fell into a pile of trash bags.

---

We stood around outside.  It was hot, too hot to loiter anywhere.  We walked into a bar across the street that we had just seen a tiny man sweating through a green shirt open up.  He gave us a dirty look when we walked in, like he wanted some time in the bar to himself before anyone came in to bother him.  Vanessa ordered a beer, then said no, a Sprite, then winked at me.  "Just in case!"

---

I lifted myself out of the trash.  I had reached the end of my reserves of goodwill for my fellow man.  The congregation had run past.  I picked up a rock and threw it at a parked car across the street, but I missed.

---

I asked her when she wanted to take the pregnancy test.  You could do it now, I said.  I'd want to know right away, if it were me.  She said no -- she felt alive with possibility, and she didn't want to let go of it just yet.  I asked, the possibility of what?

"Willful self-destruction," she said.  "The possibility that there is something I've done that has yielded consequences."

The man in the green shirt threw up into a sink behind the bar, then swayed, then fell over.  We took our tips back and ran.

---

I missed the car.  I struck a bird.

---

Her name was Vanessa.  She had yellow feathers.  She couldn't speak, but she tried, I could tell -- she wanted to speak so badly.  I told her all my secrets, except for the big ones.  She would curl up in bed next to me when I slept and scoot up so her little head was under my chin, and we'd keep each other warm through the long winter nights.

---

She said her friend lived in this neighborhood and offered to get me high at her place.  I didn't really feel like getting high, but I said all right.  I didn't really feel like doing anything but getting hit in the face with a cruise missile.

I don't remember the friend's name.  Vanessa told her about the pregnancy tests she'd bought.  I got the sense that the friend already knew the story up to that point, whatever it was.  They started talking about having kids and names and stuff like that.  The friend said she didn't want to have a kid because it would interfere with her career.  I asked her what she did, and she said she lived in filth, like that was the answer.

Vanessa said that if she had a boy, she'd name it Christopher, after me.  I thought that was a pretty funny joke.

"All right," she said, "enough suspense."  She took the tests into the bathroom.  Her friend and I didn't say a word to one another the whole time she was in there.

She came out, wiping her hands dry on her shirt.  "Well?" her friend asked.  "I'll never tell!"  She sounded too joyful to have gotten bad news, but if I guessed what she would have considered good news I would have only been projecting.

---

We agreed to go our separate ways.  People were streaming out of the subway stop.  An angry-looking MTA guy in a gray jumpsuit was saying the station was closed -- the whole line was down.  We tried to figure out another way to get back but she gave up and hailed a cab.  She offered to get me high at her friend's place.

---

I woke up choking.  I reached into my mouth and pulled out a feather.  How did -- ?  I ran it into the bathroom and threw it into the toilet and flushed.  The water drained but the feather floated on top, and rose again, with the tide, as the bowl refilled.  I flushed again but there was a rattling sound and a stream of brown water slithered up into the bowl, as if in revolt.

---

I saw Vanessa a few months later.  She was deeply pregnant.  I told her congratulations.  She looked miserable, just, miserable.  I asked if this was the pregnancy from our first date.  She said, "I don't know."  She spit a seed onto the sidewalk, right by my feet -- I hadn't seen before, but she'd been chewing on seeds.  "I never took the test," she said.  "I dumped them out and flushed them down the toilet."  I asked her who the father was.  She told me it was to be a virgin birth.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Are you my son Jasmine?

It's dark in here.  I can hardly see.  Who is that?  Jasmine?  Come closer, son, if that's you.  Come closer, whoever you are, regardless.  Maybe I'll be able to tell who you are.

Let me feel your hand, Jasmine.  Aah yes, there's that rough skin I associate with Jasmine.  Although other people have rough skin, always have.  Are you still working at the pizza factory?  I can't really hear you very well, the winds are howling.  Close the window, if you're not too hot.  Squeeze my hand if you still work at the pizza factory -- aah, you've dropped my hand, to close the window, I hope.  Be nice to that Mr. Pepperoni.  I know he works you hard, but he's a good man at heart, and he's lived a tough life.  He only came into owning that factory by accident, and he does not like pizza.

Mr. Pepperoni got you that job as a favor to me, Jasmine, you do realize that, don't you?  It was not easy securing you a position at the factory of such an important member of the community.  I know he can be a difficult boss.  What you might not know is that I worked for Mr. Pepperoni too, years ago, before you were born.  You didn't know that, did you?  We were just school-boys then.  He started a business in the neighborhood, giving haircuts to shut-ins.  We'd go around to all the apartments of neighborhood shut-ins with scissors and a mirror and hair cream and an apron and such and cut their hair.  He was the one who cut their hair, the "barber-boy."  My job was simply to carry the scissors and hand him the cream when necessary and sweep up the hair when the job was done and stand still when he was working.  The "scissor-boy."  If I moved or flinched or made a face he would have to pause the haircut and take me into another room and slap me with a wet, rolled-up barber-boy's towel.  As they were being delivered, I felt his punishments were overly severe, but in the fullness of time I've come to recognize that such measures were necessary to keep a disciplined work force and run a profitable business.  And the business was profitable, because he barely had to cut any of the shut-ins' hair, because hair doesn't grow well when you never go outside, and because they had a poor grasp of time, we could give them haircuts every day, sometimes twice a day, and charge a lot for them because they forgot how much haircuts cost.

Don't kick the bed.  Stop.  Stop kicking the bed.  Is that you?  Stop kicking the bed.

So give Mr. Pepperoni a break, and try to remember that he has reasons for everything he does.  Are you listening to me?  Kick the bed if you're listening.  Ok, that felt like a kick.  That's what you never understood about other people -- they have reasons for everything.  Mr. Pepperoni treats his employees roughly because he needs to to get the best out of them.  I named you Jasmine, over the objections of your mother and the doctors and nurses because I thought it was a beautiful name.  And it is.  Why is it that we give our daughters beautiful names, like Jasmine and Jennifer, and leave our sons with dull, ugly names like Gerg and Guff?  You were a beautiful boy and I wanted to give you a beautiful name to match.  Jasmine is a lovely flower and an attractive and masculine shade of yellow.

I still can't see you, so if you aren't Jasmine, then please convey these things to my son Jasmine at your earliest convenience.  And who are you, anyway?

It was originally a grain factory when Mr. Pepperoni bought it -- the pizza factory where you now work.  Ground-up grains.  He bought the grains, and then he ground them up.  Then he shipped them off, to his customers.  It was a thriving grain grinder, but as soon as Mr. Pepperoni bought it, his business dried up.  I told him no one would ever buy grains from an Italian.  Not that people don't like Italians, they'd just never bought grains from one before, they didn't know to trust the grains of an Italian.  You want to buy your grains from a German or a Scot -- ask Mr. Pepperoni, next time you see him, where he buys the ground grains he uses to make his pizza dough.  I can't ask him.  As you know, we had a bit of a falling out.  He wouldn't accept my counsel and turn the factory into a pizza factory, until he did, almost too late, and then he was too prideful to credit me with saving him.  Oh, he hated that I was right, just as much as he hated that pizza he still manufactures, disc by sauced disc.

Who's that, who just came in?  Aah, Mr. Pepperoni!  I can see your face as plain as day.  Come to finish me off?  To silence me once and for all?  To kill me off and rewrite history without me?  Go ahead then.  Wrap your fingers around my throat, yes, like that.  No, Jasmine, let it happen, if that's you.  Let Mr. Pepperoni put me in my grave.  Let him erase me from his successes.  Let Mr. Pepperoni finish the story.  Just know, Mr. Pepperoni, that I never begrudged you your success, and I never told a lie about you.

But the kind mister pepperoni did not kill me and instead the cowardly old man (me) apologized to him for lying cheating stealing piggy-backing and ankle-biting to his success and he laughed at me in his supreme position earned by his own hard work and nothing more and left me to die alone which I did shortly thereafter with my own fingers imprinted upon my neck because I had grabbed it in fear earlier THE END.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Coriander

As your master of ceremonies, I've been asked to list all the herbs I can think of.

Coriander.

Ummmmm.......

Ok, there's another one that -- it's like coriander.  Something similar, with a similar sound and letters.  Like, celery, but obviously it's not...

Aaaahh.  Jeez.

Coriander.  Cor...cor.......something with "cor," I feel like.  Or "co" or "cuh."  That's just the one I'm thinking of.  Obviously I know there are others, but I'm hung up on this one......

Let's see.  I'll start over.  "Coriander."  Ok, so I said coriander, and then the second one was........

Wow.  Ok.  Let me try to find another angle to attack this from.

Ladies and gentlemen, please, stop showering me with your disapprobation and with your garbage.  I know you are impatient, and you have every right to be.  It is not helping the process of helping me think of herbs, which is merely the first part of tonight's ceremony.  We have much to get through -- the introducing of the acts, the various transitions.  And that's just my job.  But my job can't begin until I name all the herbs I can think of.  And if I can only think of one, well, technically I can start the show, but I wouldn't be very satisfied with my own performance.  I'm going to need to name, minimum, three herbs before we can proceed.  Does that sound fair?

Coriander!  No, sorry.  Colander?  Calendar?  Was I thinking of calendars?  Or is Calendar also an herb?  Maybe one was named after the other?  Does anyone -- can anyone look that up on their phone or something?

Ok, calendars, listen.  We can move on and forget about naming herbs as long as I can name the months instead.  January, February...uh, pass.  April...August...pass.  November?  One more, and that's it.  If I can name one more month.  What month is it now?  April?  Well, I already got that one.  What was the previous month?  Well, the one before the previous month was February, I remember that.  Pass.  When were you born, miss?  April?  Well, that's this month, isn't it?  Happy coriander.

I've been muttering to myself for sixty minutes?  Well, thank you all for coming.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Cly-tem-nessss-tra

I'd been playing basketball at the rec center with a few other guys.  I played three games and lost them all, even though we kept changing the teams.  In the third game I'd gotten a rebound and tried to pass it out, but no one was where I passed it to and the ball flew into the pond and everyone else made me wade in and get it.  It wasn't that far in but it was the part of the pond where nobody swam and nobody dove in, so I didn't realize how deep it was -- how deep it was, I came to realize, was why nobody ever swam or dove in there.  Very quickly the water got above my waist.  After I got the ball out they wouldn't let me play anymore so I dried myself off with a sweatshirt I found in the back of the car and drove home.

I opened the garage door and there were two deer inside.  One with antlers, one without.  They were just standing in the spot where I needed to park my car, still and serene.  One of them was chewing on something, maybe just air.  I flashed my high beams at them but they didn't move.  I beeped.  They didn't seem too interested in going anywhere.

I backed away and closed them back in.  I didn't have a key, so I couldn't get into the house through the front door.  I drove down to Cumberland Farms and put a quarter in a sticky black payphone just a couple steps away from the gas tanks.  If something exploded, they would have swept me up in a dustpan.

My mom was out of town so I had to call my dad.

"I'm locked out of the house," I said.  "There are deer in the garage."

"What do you mean you're locked out of the house?"

"I don't have a key," I said.  "Should I leave the door open and let them out?"

"Don't leave anything open.  I'm down the road," he said.  "I'll be home in three hours."

"You can't come home before that?"

"No."  He hung up.

I checked on the deer.  They were still in there.  There were three now.  I'd closed the door, so I guess there had always been three.  I closed them back up.  I walked around the house looking for a window I could open or something, but they were all locked.

I walked over to Steve's.  His parents opened the door.  Both of them, for some reason, like they didn't have anything better to do than answer the door.

"Steve is over at Jen's," his mom said.

"He went with a few other people," his dad added.  "We figured you were over there too."

I hadn't been over at Jen's in a while.  It had been a couple weeks since we'd seen each other.  We were breaking up with each other, without confrontation, the easy way -- slow, like boiling a lobster.  Sometimes they go quietly and sometimes they start screaming and pounding on the side of the pot with their claws.

Lobsters, I mean.

But I was locked out and bored and embarrassed and I didn't have anywhere else to go.

Jen's mom answered the door.  She seemed a little surprised to see me.  "Everyone else just left," she said, "but Jen is down in the basement."

I stood there for a while, deciding what to do.  Jen's mom started to look a little worried.  A leaf blew through the door and she chased it down and picked it up and threw it outside.  "All right, I'll come in," I decided.

I shuffled down the stairs into the basement.  Jen was laying on the floor, with a sweatshirt over her eyes.  She had huge headphones over her ears, but they weren't plugged into anything -- the cord just coiled and died halfway to the wall.

She didn't move, she just groaned.

Who knows if she'd even known it was me, but she might have.  By this point we could identify each other by the sound of our steps on a staircase.

"There are deer in my garage," I said.

"I'm pregnant," she said.  The basement was finished, but everything still echoed down there.

"Well..."  I hadn't done anything with her that could get a person pregnant, so I felt ok.

She was wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt, a few sizes too big for her.  It was probably her brother's, although he was smaller than she was.  The front said "FUCK FEAR," with a skull in place of the U, so it kind of looked like it said "FOCK."  I think the back said "DRINK BEER," but I couldn't see it.

"I'm not pregnant," she said.  "That was a test."

"How'd I do then?"

"It was one of those tests that doesn't have an answer."  She slapped the floor with her hand, like, come on over.

I sat down next to her.  She traced my arm with her fingertips, then shook them out, like something'd stuck.

"What were you guys doing?" I asked.

"Blowing each other," she said.  "Skateboarding.  Playing video games."

"What video games do you have?"

She groaned again.  "I can never tell when you're kidding," she said.  I didn't really know if I was kidding either.  I tried to look into her eyes, meaningfully, if possible, but she wouldn't take the shirt off her face.

"Want me to turn off a light or something?"

"The light isn't the problem," she said.  "The problem is all these fucking objects."

"I could clean up a little if you want."

"That's good, thank you.  Keep saying things that seem like they would make sense."  It made me a little scared, the way she said it.  "For once your rock-headed literalism is helpful."

"I need to use the bathroom," I said.

"All the downstairs bathrooms aren't working," she said.  "You'd have to use the one in my parents' bedroom."

It didn't seem worth it.  I moved a little closer to her, so I could feel her arm on my leg, but she flinched politely and moved just far enough away to be not touching.

"Do you want to see the deer?" I asked.

"All right," she said.  "I don't want to take this shirt off my eyes, though."

"You can take my hand and I'll lead you up to the car."

"Yeah right."

"Fine, then just follow me."

She staggered over to the stairs behind me and pulled herself up with the handrail.  Her parents were in the kitchen when we got upstairs and they glared at me but they didn't say anything.  Jen felt her way over to the front door with one hand on the wall and one hand keeping the sweatshirt over her eyes.

I let her out onto the front porch.  "Don't you want shoes?" I asked.  She was barefoot and they had a gravel driveway.  But she didn't answer, she just stepped down onto the rocks and stepped slowly over to where she figured I'd parked.  I directed her a little bit but she wouldn't have let me touch her to guide her over, so I didn't try.

I started the car and she flipped on the radio.  She knew how the stations were programmed, which I didn't.

"Why don't you take that thing off your face?" I asked.

"I don't want to."

"You're going to have to at some point."

"No I'm not," she said.  "I'm going to claw my eyes out like Clytemnestra."

"That was Oedipus," I said.  "Who's Clytemnestra?"

"Cly-tem-nessss-tra," she said.

We pulled into my driveway and I opened the garage door.  The three deer were still inside, but they were dead.  I stopped the car and got out and checked on them.  They didn't have any bruises or injuries.  I thought they must have gotten into a can of paint or something and poisoned themselves, but I couldn't find anything like that.

Jen was still sitting in her seat.  I opened her door.

"They died," I said.

"Who died?"

"The deer."

"How'd they die?"  Her head was tilted up because she couldn't see where I was, so I was talking to the underside of her chin.

"I don't know.  They must have suffocated, although I don't know how, it's not like the garage is airtight."

"Maybe they just died," she said.

"I guess."

She peeked out from under her shirt, pushing it down sort of over her mouth.  "Where are they?"

I brought her over to see them.  We stood there for a couple seconds, then she picked up a basketball and tried to dribble it, but it was flat, so she just rolled it out the door behind her, onto the grass at the side of the driveway.

I started dragging one of the deer out of the garage.

"What are you doing with that thing?"

"I don't know."

"You should bring it down to the ol' general store," she said.  "You should barter it for some lye and wax and pelts."

"What?"

"You should cut it open and live inside it.  I'll live inside it.  Both of us, together.  We can make a home of it."

"I guess I'll just drag it into the woods."  Its legs were stiff, which made it easier to hold onto.  Jen went over to one of the other ones and started dragging it out behind me.  I told her I'd do it, but she kept dragging.  She was wearing the sweatshirt around her neck now, tied up like one of those circle scarves.

The deer were weight, heavy weight.  Like gravity worked twice as strong on something dead.  In truth, I was just tired, and deer were probably just heavier than I'd ever given them credit for.

We dragged the third one into the woods together, two legs each.  After that Jen walked off.  I tried to figure out how best to pile them up.  The woods were pretty shallow where we'd dumped them -- the neighbors would definitely see them when they walked out to their car.  It would have taken too much thought to figure out a better way.  The deer were dumped -- that was good enough for now.  At least now I could park.

We'd dragged them right over some of my dad's flowers, I noticed.  He'd be mad about that.  He'd probably tell me how I should have done it -- how I should have chopped up their bodies and put the parts in a suitcase or something like that, making it seem like I was an idiot because I didn't know the proper way to drag a dead deer out of the garage, like, how did I really think I was going to last fifteen minutes in college?

Jen was gone by the time I turned around and stepped out of the woods.  Her sweatshirt was balled up in the middle of the driveway.  I picked it up and got in the car and threw the shirt in the front seat.  I pulled out onto the road and the streetlights snapped on with a shock and a buzz of dumb, blaring, wasted energy.  I figured I'd find her on the road and pick her up and drive her the rest of the way.  I drove back and forth between my place and hers three times, but I couldn't find her.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Photo of Candace Bushnell, author of Lipstick Jungle

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
- Candace Bushnell, author of Lipstick Jungle

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Photo of Candace Bushnell, author of Lipstick Jungle

"I put on my lipstick as I stepped into the jungle-like environs of New York City.  Hmm, I thought to myself.  Jungle.  Lipstick.  Lipstick Jungle.  I should open a restaurant by that name or"
- Candace Bushnell, author of Lipstick Jungle

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Photo of Candace Bushnell, author of Lipstick Jungle


"As I walked into the snowy streets and looked up at the skyscrapers above me, I only had one thought: truly this is a Lipstick Jungle."- Candace Bushnell, author of Lipstick Jungle