entry_179The world as I knew it didn’t seem any less implausible the evening that mom died. No, I never really questioned what “real” was until about a month later, the day the stranger showed up on our doorstep. That may sound like the beginning of a second-rate cliche, but I prefer to think of it as an homage. The story actually begins a lot earlier though.

It had never occurred to me before to ask what truth was because, frankly, the concept held no weight in my family. And anyway, the truth is simply that which is, right? The truth is malleable, not some obelisk standing sacrosanct in the garden. I say this because the question of reality, never popular among my elders, was held in high regard by guests to the household–or “audiences,” as my family referred to them behind closed doors. I come from a long line of actors, see, only our performances had no beginning or end. The play was ongoing, and rehearsal an interwoven part of my everyday life. I knew that our family was different–I wasn’t a fool–but our way of conducting ourselves was familiar to me. There was a method to it, a pattern that I could rely upon. Our ways were reasonable.

To say that I was an actor aloud would have been gauche, on the level of vulgarity. Our lives were those of implicit performance. And there was no greater performance than the annual dinner party. All the lies that were my life–my relatives–gathered with their friends in our home once every September. It was our cherished annual gala, always a reliable setting for drama. But I looked forward to them as opportunities to witness the craft of master thespians, each of whom had honed their roles to sharp perfection.

The dinner party was my family’s metier, settings of choice because they allowed for exposition on several levels, in a controlled environment. Yet, while these matters of logistics reached an easy consensus, other more basic things kept my family at odds: namely, the application of acting itself.

Mom was a strong proponent of the physical Chekov system of acting, her slight frame contorting like punctuation marks around a flood of words. On this she lost points by my father, who saw her physicality as a liability. Mannerisms were, to him, frivolous wastes of energy. But that’s because he was a Strasberg man.

I remember the last good party our family had, now twenty odd years past. We’d all spent a month prior in focused rehearsal, and we wore tension like wet sweaters. Hours before the arrival of the first guests Mom was already pacing. This was characteristic, and I could forecast that night’s proceedings as accurately as a meteorologist watching a cloud bank pulling in from the sea. “Always late,” she grumbled, and that’s all she would say. The rest was a frenzied blur of arms and elbows, slammed cupboard doors, and a single dropped martini glass, inconspicuously anointed an hour before curtain call.

“Don’t do this to yourself, Margaret,” Dad said, but he knew she wasn’t listening. “You need to relax,” he said toward the kitchen. “You need to think.” He was frustrated with her, but it was something he would use. It wouldn’t be evident until after the guests had left, by which time his blood would have turned to acid, and his words would press drapes to glass.

My grandmother was a purist who didn’t cotton to the “canned techniques,” as she called them. She was a self-taught improvisor, and wielded a particularly keen intuitive sense. Her terse rejoinders were lethal. Where Dad was prone to fishing around in his past to summon the emotions for a given scene, grandma liked to roll into a situation cold. “What’s it going to be today, Waldo?” she would ask, though my father’s name was Walter.

“Resentment,” my father said, and then he looked up at her from the dog-eared pages of his bible. “And I think you’re to blame.”

She flicked her cigarette at him from across the room and belted, “Don’t I know it!” Only it was funny when she did it.
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Ek_formica.tifThe first time I went through a car wash it was simple, because I had no idea what I was doing. That’s how it always is in the beginning. I am a little bird, beak open and pointed skyward. All I have to do is to look clueless and I’ll be told what to do. Drive up to the line? Sure. Align the front tire to the automated track? I think I can manage that. Pay at the other end? No problem.

The first time is always easy, and it follows that the next time will be easier still. With familiarity, they say, comes understanding. Another of the world’s mysteries unfolds before us, and we gain satisfaction in knowing something new. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. For me, however, knowing a thing only reveals new complexity. As I cast light into each dark corner, I find that I’m actually in some kind of fifth dimensional hypercube, and there are at least 15 more corners to take into account.

The next time I’m at the car wash I’m already thinking about each of the steps involved. Should I take the initiative this time? Shall I see if I can improve my efficiency, shave off a few seconds by anticipating what comes next? I’m so lost in thought that the guy behind me lays on his horn as if to say, “Aaaaaaa! The residue on my car grows thicker by the second!” I align my front wheels to the track, and this time, I think, I’ll hold the steering wheel steady so that the tire rim doesn’t pull against the side rails. As the wheel begins to wobble, I tighten my grip, and the steering wheel nearly jumps out of my hand, and I come this close to derailing entirely. Must remain calm, it’s nearly over. The chamois brigade have surrounded my car. Now how did I get out to pay so easily last time? The first time I was here I slipped out with nary a thought, but now I find myself trapped in my car by seven car-wiping urchins in red track suits, and there’s no conceivable way that I’ll be ready to roll by the time residue guy is on my ass again.
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“Best of Me Symphony”

entry_177This humble journal of frivolous screeds placed strongly in the Best of Me Symphony for the week ending August 2nd. Judged by the elusive (yet tireless) Isabella, “Figuring it Out” was cited among a bevy of spirited pieces, which the dark forces at will now systematically mine for ideas that we may later repurpose toward our own ends, in accordance with prophecy. In the meantime, a socially-awkward thank you to our favorite flight risk for drawing the homunculus from his damp warren, if only for a moment.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got to know Jane over the course of several weeks, in a recurring dream. In this dream I would be working at my desk when, invariably, she would show up and wait for me to notice her standing behind me, making faces. Then, around an ill-concealed grin, she would ask: “You ready?” And with those words it was as if she had unlocked something.

I was filled with a sense of freedom as we set out, leaving behind us the geometric clusters of oblivious toilers, and we wound our way through a maze of crooked, narrow passages. A row of belching furnaces ran the length of the final chamber, at the end of which was a bank of monitors. Each screen, set within a panel of knobs, displayed a different view of the hive upstairs in flickering chiaroscuro. There was something familiar about the equipment, though I’d always wait for Jane to explain it. “This is how they adjust the company,” she would say, and as she turned one of the knobs at random the cubicles on one of the monitors would flick in and out of existence.

Then we would chat, and that’s when the dream became lucid. “We been here before,” I would say. “I remember it now. So let’s talk about something else this time.” And we would, sometimes for long stretches. These conversations weren’t always linear–in fact they tended to meander–but in spite of that, or because of it, I felt like I had a confidante, a partner in crime, and I looked forward to our discussions.
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