entry_134The very things I do so willingly in real life cripple me when they’re part of an assignment. While in this incapacitated state the very structure of my brain changes and I am suddenly filled with a sense of euphoric wonderment in the most mundane things. Everything becomes fascinating because fascination is a relative thing. This is why people are able to read the March 1983 edition of Highlights Magazine when they’re in the dentist office (a decent issue, don’t misunderstand).

Right now I’m late for a deadline, and my agent has been making my phone ring. Therefore I’m standing on my chair looking out my single window, which is more like a porthole on an old ship. It’s pretty high up, so I have to stand on the chair to see outside. With my palms on the sill, I’ve watched for hours as people–or randoms, as I refer to them–scurry by. Indeed, I’ve spent so much time up at the window that I’ve taken to keeping snacks, usually gumdrops, stuck to the wall for convenience. Lick ’em and stick ’em. That’s good food. Raw bacon works too, even without licking.

There’s hardly a reason to get down, though this is an unusually wobbly chair, I must say. It hasn’t been the same since I tripped over it this morning. I awoke, as I usually do, with a scream. I have this recurring nightmare that I’m waking up in the morning screaming; it scares the hell out of me. And when I do wake up screaming it just perpetuates the nightmare. But still, it’s better to be awake than in that coffin of sleep. I hate going to sleep, I guess, is what it comes down to. I once dreamed that I had insomnia and it took me nine hours to wake up, except they weren’t dream hours. Not the kind that go by like minutes or seconds. They were real hours, and I had to sit there in my dream waiting until I got tired enough to wake up.

As my breath clouds the glass I wonder what the randoms are thinking about. Are they thinking about other randoms? Are they thinking about a particular color? Or perhaps they’re procrastinating like I am. And who would know? I’m deep in procrastination now, and it’s like being drugged. I’m pondering drugs when an entire memory surfaces from a lobe of my brain dedicated specifically to procrastination.

In college I roomed for a while with S., who was nice enough, even though he had a tendency to refer to people in the third person neutral. Probably because of this he didn’t have close acquaintances, but I never had any semantic hang-ups. S. was also heavily into drugs, but not the usual kinds. He liked to experiment with his own drugs. He designed them using chemicals he’d appropriated from the lab, and he was good too, as chemists go. After one of his binges I once found him face-down in the empty shower stall with a section of two-by-four clenched firmly in his jaw. His teeth were embedded so deep in the wood that it took us nearly a half-hour to remove the damned thing. But he was on the recovery path by the time we became roommates, and his most unfortunate performances were behind him. Mine were just beginning however, as illustrated on the night I discovered “Godzilla.” S. had cleverly decided to store this substance in an old orange juice container in the fridge. I couldn’t have foreseen the visitations that would await me that night, but it was something I would never be able to forget afterward: the horror of being hopped-up on Godzilla. Why “Godzilla?” To put it simply, it’s because there were three primary side-effects caused by the ingestion of this substance: The first was that it made you feel like a giant by causing your surroundings to shrink away. Second, it caused a burning sensation in your throat, so you felt you were breathing fire. And last–and most importantly–you felt desperately compelled to destroy Tokyo.

Which reminds me of my high school gym teacher’s thundering thighs. I loathed and feared this man because he was an immense, bald Mr. Clean-type creature genetically designed to promote competitive group activity. He was toxic with enthusiasm, and would try to rally us by clapping his giant catcher’s mitt-sized palms and shouting, “okay, troops.” Hiding behind the bleachers I would watch him pacing back and forth, and it was impossible to pry my eyes off the veins running down his left calf because they–the veins, mind you–were as thick as my upper arm. How could this be? Was he wearing a secret tourniquet around his upper thigh? The thought brought on one of those involuntary faces you make when you spontaneously think of driving a pin through your eyeball. I recall one day when I was in formation with the other troops, and my Gym teacher caught me wincing, and he immediately pounded over and yelled in my face like a foghorn. I think I had to do nine thousand laps as a result, but all I could think about was that his breath smelled like toothpaste when he said the word “perimeter.”

Obviously I think next about the balls in my toothpaste. Last night I looked down at my toothbrush and found the sticky dollop riddled with the little orange balls. What a welcome change, I thought, to what is, typically, such a bland and uniform material. But I could not help but wonder what they were, these tiny spheres. Flavor crystals, perhaps? Or retsin? Crunch berries? There was simply no telling.

As I’m standing here wondering all this, the earthquake hits, and I instinctively take my surfer position and ride it out on top of my chair. They’re onto me, I think.

I get off the chair and consider it for a second. I got it from my ex-girlfriend. It feels strange to have this remnant still, especially since it’s such a flimsy remnant. The chair. The inert chair from an old relationship. In my experience there’s no drama in a chair unless you’re in the act of tripping over it. It certainly doesn’t speak of the pain at the end of a relationship. If it were stained from top to bottom in blood, now that would be a real token. Something you could tell your friends about at parties, and they would all nod and understand and regard the chair with a quiet respect. The chair survives the couple, like a cockroach in its aftermath.

I’m thinking of getting another chair, actually, right after I finish my assignment.


entry_133Hey, Steve.


What’s that guy’s name?

What guy?

Next office over, the guy with the tall hair, glasses, and he slouches.

I need more than that.

You know, the guy whose name I can never remember. I’ve asked you this before.

How am I supposed to know?

Because–we’ve had this exact conversation. I can never remember his name, so I always ask you what his name is.

And what do I say?

You tell me his name. You know his name.

Well I don’t know who you’re talking about.

Oh, come on. You knew last time, and I know you didn’t just stop knowing. Tall hair, works in the office across the way, glasses, slouches. The same clues I gave you before.

I don’t have time for this.

You can’t stop now, we always finish it! Come on, we’re almost done, and I need this.

God, okay. What do I say next?

His name! Which is…?

No idea. Marcus.

Yes! That’s it! Marcus. See? Why didn’t you just say that right off? Could have saved us the trouble.

I don’t remember remembering before, and I don’t know who you don’t know.

Well you know one thing I don’t know, so next time I don’t know something just say Marcus and we can skip the whole conversation.

What if you don’t know something else?

Wouldn’t know the difference.



The Last One

entry_130“Don’t use that one!”

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because it’s the last one. We won’t have any more.”

The conceptual gulf between none and one is much larger than between one and many. As long as you have at least something, the thinking goes, you’re not left with nothing. There’s a stigma in our hallowed land of blind consumerdom against having nothing. You can have anything your heart desires, as long as it’s not nothing. That’s where the line is drawn.

The belief is so pervasive that it affects even me. Try as I might to have as little as possible of anything, when I get down to the last little bit I find myself rationing portions to ridiculous degrees to avoid running out entirely. I can make the last of the shampoo–just the filmy residue clinging to the inside of the bottle–last for three weeks. Further, I’ve found my rate of consumption dropping steadily to nil as supply dwindles just so I’ll always have that last one. The last animal cracker, the last clean towel, the last straw.

We fortify ourselves against the eventuality of nothing by stocking up, buying bulk, filling our crawlspaces with stores of dry grain, purified water, drums of baby oil, latex body suits, and at least one extra riding crop–just in case.

“What if they’ve stopped selling this kind?” I ask. “What if this is the last one in the world?”

“Then we shrink-wrap it and put it in the freezer next to the bodies of our parents.”

You can never go home again.

Empty Words

entry_129My friend, whom I hate, just had his second book optioned, a fact that haunts me because “The Killness” is not a good book. And it’s not as good as his first book which, though it was spectacularly bad, was also optioned.

“So what?” he says, “All books are optioned these days.” Mine wasn’t. “They’ll probably just end up sitting on it anyway.” The book isn’t good for much else, but my disappointment stems from a larger question. Namely, why is banality not only accepted, but so consistently rewarded? I don’t put the question to him quite this way, but his explanation goes, “It’s got a compelling hook, and that’s what sells. Think about it: Peace, it turns out–peace among humans–is the result of a genetic defect from way back. A mutation at some point. And when modern scientists accidentally develop a cure for it, we’re all savages again! Killness. That’s totally pitchable.” Indeed, I might have said the same thing. “And it’s got style. It’s Crichtoney. Or no, it’s like… Dean Koontz meets George Romero.”

“No,” I say, “it’s not any of that.”

“Come on,” he says. “Look, you’re just anxious about your book being published. And no worries there–it will be. Mainstream potential!”

Mainstream potential? That’s not even a sentence. To me it sounds more like the prognosis of some terminal condition. It makes me nervous when people start speaking in quotable jargon. If I nodded and said, “Mass appeal!” my friend would kiss me on the lips, clearly.

No, if I’m anxious then maybe it’s because it’s taken me three months just to start on the last chapter of my own book. I reached a point where even thinking about getting back into it was enough to fill me with dread and revulsion. And not even the story per se, but the physical act of writing. Articulation is taxing. Sometimes just writing my name seems to be pushing the limit of my abilities. Take for example the writing of a check. I’ve found myself in a self-destructive thought spiral that goes like this: Begin to sign name. Realize that I thought about signing my name last time I signed my name, and the act of becoming conscious of the activity caused me not only to lose my place, but temporarily to lose the ability to write at all. Try not to think about it. Concentrate on finishing what I had begun. Squeeze pen in hand and make illegible marks on check. Neck muscles strain, and I raise my pen arm over my head and bring it down repeatedly on the table while making torn, hoarse woofs and swinging my head back and forth. Warden puts me in solitary.

Writing is an odd thing. Muses run hot and cold. Agents are fickle. I’ve never considered myself a writer except in contrast to other people–particularly those who find a way to succeed in spite of having burned all their bridges, hacked some bit of fluff inspired by the back of a cereal box, and had a tryst with their own agent’s wife. I guess I’m thinking about this one person in particular now.

When he told me that he’d been made an offer I had one of those moments where things stop and you’re suddenly at the center of the universe, and the audience is waiting to see what you’ll do so they’ll know whether to laugh or hide behind their hands. See, I knew this guy’s work. I knew it for what it was: logorrheic dandruff. And there we were standing on the sidewalk and he had the nerve to tell me that he was going to be published?

Later on, when I was by myself, I finally summoned the nerve to read the draft of “Jejune Moon” he’d given me. A quick scan reminded me how wretched it was, but I’d forgotten the exact flavor of wretchedness, or emotionally blocked it off. To be fair, it was conceivable that I’d missed something redeeming about the work, a small thread of satire perhaps, or a bit of self-referential sarcasm. Or maybe something so extremely subtle that it’s not actually there. An implied wit.

I opened to the first page, which was typed and formatted just like a real book, except the words were arranged in this manner:

“You know what? You can’t stand that you lost. You can’t believe that you lost and that I won. Well you’re going to have to believe it because its true. There can be only one winner here, and that is me, and that is more than you can handle. But you’ll have the next twenty years to get used to it. Not to get used to losing, but to get used to the way you have been put in your place so firmly, so decisively. Your loss will be with you like a child now, and when it finally leaves you in twenty years you’ll be left with nothing. And in a way you will miss the loss, because you are comfortable with it, and are quite familiar with it. Incestuously so. And you will miss the loss because, finally, it was all that you ever really had.”

The problem with this setup, other than the fact that it’s terrible in so many separate and unique ways, is that it’s never resolved. Never, never ever. Indeed, it’s never explained in any way whatsoever, not in this book or any other. We never learn who is being addressed, who is speaking, or what was won and what was lost. And most importantly, we can never come up with a reason to care one way or the other.

I told him later that I thought the loss concerned that of the reader who, after reading this opening, would never be able to care about anything that might follow. And that wasn’t really a loss, because there never really was a chain of events, as such. Oh sure there were paragraphs strung one right after another, but they were more like people shoved together on a subway train at rush hour. They didn’t know each other, didn’t really want to know each other, and couldn’t wait to be home. His paragraphs were vignettes from the uninteresting parts of other stories. I told him that if there was any karmic justice at all, after reading this offal the reader could take comfort in the fact that the next ten books he or she read would be brilliant. I felt righteous.

I don’t know why we’re still friends.

Artful Redistribution

entry_128I’ve been redistributing the world around me piece by piece. The idea first occurred to me as a practical solution to the observation that I simply owned too many things. But for one as reclusive as I, the practice of divesting from material goods is fraught with difficulty, particularly when faced with the possibility of having to interact with people. Yet how is one to one rid oneself of extraneous possessions without resorting to arson?

The answer was deceptively simple: I began leaving things behind. Each time I left my fortified penthouse suite I would bring along one item from my world, be it a small ceramic penguin given to me as a birthday present, a Babylonian battery I discovered at the back of my cupboard, or blood encrusted shackles hanging from my bedposts which I can’t remember how they got there at all.

Bear in mind that a certain level of artistry is required for this practice. For the most part these things, though they be redundant, obsolete, vestigial, do hold a certain sentimental value. They represent historical mementos, and therefore cannot simply be cast into alleyways or lobbed through the window of my annoying neighbor. To be sure, their destinations must be chosen swiftly, but thoughtfully. And this is precisely how I conducted my redistribution.

Each time I attended a restaurant or party, every time I visited an acquaintance or loved one, I would wait until I had a moment of privacy, and then I would remove a single object from my pocket and place it with great finesse. Initially I found ways to mingle my objects inconspicuously among stands of like objects. Or I would position them above or beyond the normal range of sight, on the tops of bookshelves, or just behind the toilet. But as I meditated on my actions I realized that I was neither paying proper respect to the objects, nor to their new environments. And furthermore, simple placement was not befitting my artistic station.

So I sought to refine my methodology. It was my belief that, with the proper skill, I should be able to camouflage my placements solely through a fine understanding of interior design. And, after a number of outright failures, including at least one instance of obviously naive complimentary juxtaposition, I began finally to master artful redistribution. In gaining an appreciation for the gestalt of a room, I discovered that I could drastically improve its appeal–molding its feng shui like so much warm clay–by the mere addition of a single well-placed heirloom.

Eventually I was creating soul-replenishing wombs of well-being wherever my meanderings took me, and people began to invite me to still more public outings. They were at a loss to describe why they felt so whole and fulfilled in my presence, but these outings presented me with the chance to hone my craft, and though my own home had grown almost empty in under a year, this didn’t prove to be a setback.

At about the same time my skill peaked, I found myself experiencing occasional, yet overpowering, kleptomaniacal tendencies. Every now and again I would redistribute the possessions of others rather than my own–but always with an eye on improving my surroundings. As my offenses grew in number, and as my desire for absolute discretion overshadowed all else, at heart my intentions remained pure. I felt a curious mix of shame and manifest destiny.

Now I find myself burdened both by conscience and by paraphernalia. My clothing, over time, has become a patchwork of cleverly constructed pockets, the better to conceal my displaced acquisitions. The ascetic in me is sickened by the jangling bulges that jut from my person like so many pilfered lesions. Indeed, it is perhaps ironic that I now possess more things than I ever have before, but I remain confident that I will be able to divest myself of it all, in time, once I have everything sorted out.

Economy of Movement

entry_127Dear Gloria, your erratic vibrations are draining my very life force. The way you churn your lips as you whisper to yourself is–I assure you–unnecessary, unless it is your conscious desire to amass the impressive volume of foam spittle at the corners of your mouth, which I witness daily. Also, though the industrial cleaning agent you wear for perfume makes your eyes water without abatement, I hope that, each day anew, you’ll reconsider your decision to carry around a blotter kleenex that you nervously crumple, and rumple, and work, and work, and work, and work, until little balls of ruined fluff drop like silken spider eggs from between your palsied fingers. I hope you will not think me cruel for mentioning these things, but I’ve found that the way you obsessively touch anything that comes to your attention–picking it up, putting it down, moving it just slightly, or just touching it… touch… touch…–is stirring up a demon inside me whose intentions I am not yet entirely clear on.

It’s true that I have, lately, found my attentions focusing on the inefficiency with which people go about their daily routines. Let me be clear, Gloria: I refer here to basic movement. My eyes masked only by strategically lowered brows, I watch with smouldering contempt as these creatures exhibit themselves, obliviously inelegant, and ungainly to the point of being a threat to those around them. The frivolous motions they practice–the receptionist’s valley girl head wobble, the doorman’s extraneous facial expressions, the forever-gesticulating sales staff swinging their appendages around like tassels on a rodeo rider–do not act in the service of accomplishing a discrete goal. If dance is like visual poetry, then my days find me beset by some unnameable screed of black vulgarity.

I have honed my own physical processes to such a fine state of economy that I can regulate the very pucker of my follicles in such a way as to allow the wind to pass most efficiently through my hair. I have made the odd compromise, I’ll admit, as it is not yet possible for me to move through solid matter in a predictable way. But even then I have kept my calculations strict, and adjust only as necessary. Several of my familiars have protested when I breeze by them with only molecules to spare, tiny arcs of static electricity crawling across our skin momentarily. But those same people will accrue miles upon directionless miles by the time they reach the end of their lives, and all that time heading nowhere, like derelict sailboats in the unyielding gale.

It takes timing and coordination, to be sure, and great attention to detail. But the alternative, Gloria, is dire. To squirm and convulse yourself into oblivion, eroding joint and joint, is just not dignified. Consider the Portuguese Man-of-War who thinks of nothing more each day than this: Dangle. And ingest. What shall I do today? Dangle. And ingest. You’ll not come across a skittering or giggling or fidgeting Portuguese Man-of-War, because they are content, secure, and planning for something which we may all come to know in due time.

In the meantime, Gloria, I beg you: please be still.


entry_127What is the subtle chemical thing that prevents us from acting on our every whim? What restrictive tincture in the broth of our brains acts as the arbiter of proper conduct? Given the limited time during which we have the physical capacity to realize any notion, why not simply exercise absolute free will, to celebrate the myriad possibilities life has to offer?

These are the thoughts that consume me as I drive safely in my lane, or stand inert in the shower, or as I’m sitting in meetings, or–especially–when people are telling me their secrets. To what extent are these strictures self-imposed? That’s really the crux of the matter. Are we by nature creatures of resigned abstinence? I’ve long pondered this notion of self-control–or call it morality if you insist. And I bring it up only as I wonder: What is the first thing anyone would do without this governing thing?

Imagine for a moment a single redemptive act, a determined, decisive act of will from which there can be no turning back. This act is not meant to be sustainable, for you do not seek order, balance, or stability. This plan is beautiful in its simplicity. Imagine selecting a town at random, and renting a hotel room there, a large room, positively the largest that cash reserves would allow. It is the Presidential Suite, and it is excessive, gratuitous, vulgar. The liquidation of savings necessary to procure this room is of no concern to you. Now, finally, imagine filling that room with as many dogs as could possibly be collected.

After securing the room you head out to the animal shelters, to the pet stores, and you answer every classified ad for dog and puppy adoption that you can get your hands on. You acquire hundreds of dogs–thousands–with a cold righteousness. You are a tireless machine, driving the creatures back to your hotel room, slamming the door behind them, and then you’re off for still more.

When you spot a dog you catch it. You clamber easily over chain link fences into peoples’ yards at night to collect their unsuspecting dogs. You intimidate the dogs into compliance, or use mental tricks to confuse them. You drug the creatures if you need to, but not lethally. You want them alive. You want them alive in that hotel room.

How long would it be before someone noticed? How long could you sustain the lie to keep the curious at bay? How long could you distract the management with the clever use of the “do not disturb” card?

Why do we not swerve into traffic? How is it that we resist? It would take but a slight nudge of the wheel–less energy even than it takes to open a jar of capers. What prevents us from gleefully breaking the things most precious to us? Are we not curious beings? Why do we not smite the elderly with reproachful slaps as they lean in for life-affirming hugs? Surely it’s not retaliation we fear.

Each time you hesitate you lose a piece of yourself.

Instead, do what you need to do. Be not confined by the need to continue a reasonable life after this defining event. Stake your claim to the present, and let each action become a mechanical, inevitable realization of fearsome purpose. Financial concerns, the fear of tainted reputation, a lengthening arrest record, or even about the prospect of serious injury–those distractions must be discarded.

And now, finally, use every resource at your disposal toward this one end: filling a hotel room with dogs until they are stacked to the fucking ceiling.