Friday, February 15, 2008

Prompts 1 & 2 for next reading, March 3

Here are the emails the writers have received so far:

Your mission is to write 250 words in the genre of your choice,
keeping in mind the theme THE FUTURE and to include the phrases:

With any luck, it will have been forgotten that I


cook the books

and the words


You must include all prompts.
You may change tense, person, number, or conjugation as you like.
Findings due by bedtime Sunday.

and prompt 2:

This week same drill, only:

And the thing I most fear may come to pass, that

and words:

tablecloth and

Episode 2: January 7

This reading, a hoot and a holler, featured Jenny McLean, a little me, Franklin Bruno, Marty Smith, Israel Bayer, and Randy Bemrose as musical guest. The theme was FEAR.

Prompt 1:
A list of my fears, in no particular order:
and the words
and inchoate.


Alice cringed, the muscles around her mouth grew tight, as she listened to Benny, her fiancĂ©, muttering to himself. Someone had given him a word-of-the-day calendar earlier that week, and he was attempting to learn a month’s worth of words each night.

Recently, Alice had the misfortune of being invited to a cocktail party hosted by one of her co-workers from the newspaper. The invitation had initially elated her. Alice worked in the sales department but, after multiple painful attempts, had managed to make friends with a writer on the metro desk. She was hoping the party might open a door onto the editorial side. However, the invitation clearly read, “Bring your spouse!”

Alice feared Benny reflected poorly on her, and she now felt nauseous as they walked up the steps to her co-worker’s condo. Benny still struggling with inchoate. The sporadic ebb and flow of party banter escaping under the door. Benny knocking. Too many times.

Several minutes later, Alice was in the kitchen with the host when she saw Benny shuffle into a conversation with two of the senior editors. Desperate, she strained to hear the conversation.

“Did you read… latest? … victim’s sister … letter to her shrink… ‘A list of my fears, in no particular order.’ Inadmissible … but he did it.”

Benny leapt, “And that’s exactly why I never pay attention to heresy!”

Alice crumpled beneath the blow. A longish pause, unlucky ebb in the banter, one of the editors, “Don’t you mean hearsay?”

A list of my fears, in no particular order:
Aerosol cans and other things that might blow up; water heaters, pressure cookers, etc.
Food-borne pathogens
Convenience store hold-ups
A world with no manatees or tigers
Climate change.

It freaks me out that in my gmail account the sidebar keeps suggesting a website to help me get my ex back. I don’t want any of my exes back. Why would I? Does gmail know me better than I know myself? Is a shadow life transpiring? Is what I perceive as my good fortune misfortune in some alternate dimension? My dissatisfaction with my life is at this point only sporadic, and never to do with whom I said I do to. I admit an inchoate longing, but not to have married otherwise, or undo. I regret that I never inhabited a juvenile science fiction novel, my time never wrinkled, I never got to tesser, I have no super power.

I am afraid that I am not a superhero. Is that what the Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is really about? The heresy of who we are versus who we meant to be as children?

When we did the round robin at parties during my undergraduate years, and named the super power we’d choose if we could, I picked talking to the animals. In retrospect, I’d have chosen talking convincingly to the animals. I can easily imagine my dog, Vera, replying, if I asked her to bite an assailant, “Why should I?”

A list of my fears, in no particular order can be boiled down to being shanked by a stalker without reason, and the devil, or some form of it, as in being possessed. Which seems odd, considering I don't believe in a God. Possible this scares me even more. Possible it is the heresy that punishes me.

There have been times in my life when I've felt a very real, dark presence around me. It's the same every time. I internalize things to the point of being powerless, like an inchoate thought that lingers, and doesn't stray. It's rarely sporadic when I feel such things. The presence is calculated, and always cold, sometimes lasting for hours, sometimes days.

You tell yourself this can never happen. You ponder, and lose yourself in the mystery of the unknown, until logic interjects its magic back into your life. Each time the darkness seems to dig a little bit deeper, and each time, it takes longer for things to return to normal.

It's very haunting not grasping the opportunities that have been given to you. The gift you have been given, the struggle within. Sometimes the voices inspire, other times they are like a collapsing strain on the heart, and stomach, much like a heart attack must feel like. Knowing you have wasted too much time appearing to be ready for the fight, but the misfortunes of knowing you will be out-dueled - like an underachiever with a powerful gift that never matures.

Diary of the Guy Who Lives in the Apartment Upstairs From Mine, Part I

January 12: Too depressed to sleep again last night, so I did what I always do: tied a rope to an old cinderblock and dragged it back and forth across the floor at sporadic intervals until I was exhausted. Usually, three or four hours of this makes me forget my misfortunes, but for some reason it didn't do the trick this time.

At this point, a lesser man might have given up and lay quietly in bed till morning. Not me, though-- I'm not going to let an inchoate mass of unspecified worries get me down! I decided to write a list of my fears, in no particular order, on a gross or so of empty wine bottles I had lying around. Then I sat myself down next to the ventilation shaft in the bathroom-- you know, the one that runs throughout the entire building-- and smashed those bottles into a 55-gallon metal barrel. Take that, global warming! In your face, airline disasters! How you like me now, each individual member of my entire high school graduating class, one at a time!

At around 7am I cooled it with the bottles, though. I don't like to disturb the guy downstairs while he's getting ready for work. Instead, I sat silently on the edge of the tub, turning my hot water on and off at 90-second intervals for no discernible reason. I'm such an angel! I hope that's not heresy. Better write it on a bottle for tonight.

Would you like us to seat you while you wait for your party? Don’t mind the death squads - they’re here for someone else. In a sufficiently large open-plan dining room, every conceivable misfortune is occurring somewhere – “befalling” someone, as one says. This very moment, for example, there are nine choking incidents at wait-stations in other time zones, and by the bay windows, subpoenas are served with the polenta fries. They’re mostly for inchoate crimes, or so legal tells me – solicitation, conspiracy, that sort of thing. If we refused reservations to everyone with a possession rap for plasticine, we’d be out of Zagat’s faster than you can say The Anarchist’s Cookbook. Don’t ask why the busboys are wearing gas masks. All right, not masks, exactly. It was worse when we used to get busloads of Gnostics in here, just trust me – you never had to give them a wine list, they matched courses by pure intuition. Have you ever seen a master sommelier from Brussels “go postal”? Not pretty. Now the only heresy is asking for catsup instead of Bernaise. If the sporadic gunfire disturbs your amuse-bouche, we’ll add the truffle supplement to the prix fixe dinner, compliments of the management. I have radio confirmation that your guests have arrived, but what with the four-hour walk from our bar, you’d best settle in. We’ll issue them a GPS and a flight of salt pills while I send over our seasonal menu: a list of my fears, in no particular order.

Prompt 2:
As a child, I would
Morning glory

There was this one particular summer routine, that, as a child, I would, rail against with a great fervor unbefitting my age. So much did I resent going to confession with my Nana, who - in some heart-wrenchingly misguided divination – believed she was, through it, imparting something absolute and necessary, that I would offer to repeat the rosary with all the frantic widows in the front pews instead. Nana’s voluptuous piety hurtled violently over my daily pleas – little inglorious defeats - as she scurried me to the dark back corner, our fingers wagging to the trinity.

“Remember that God is within earshot. That usually helps me.”

I was ten, my sins saplings at best. But I knew that only the darkest of sins deserved to be expunged in the upright coffins. My Nana would go first, leaving me to organize my wicked doings, the torrid misdemeaning actions carried out by my tender lilac-scented limbs.

Each time Nana would emerge, her pale powdered face flushed with penitence, and I would pass to take my place. Shaking. He was within earshot, after all. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. And I’m really sorry. I masturbated. At the apartment pool. And behind a house on that unfinished housing tract on State Street. And I disobeyed Nana twice.”

On the way home, she would ask me if I felt lighter. From our collective unburdening. I didn’t. I felt heavy, black, my childhood falling, tiny lines criss-crossing across the palms of my hands.

Diary of the Guy Who Lives in the Apartment Upstairs From Mine, Part II

January 13: As part of my ongoing effort to be more sophisticated, I've decided to wear only tap shoes around the house. I can't tell you what a thrill it is to come home and kick off those inglorious crepe-soled Hush Puppies I wear to work and slip into my glamorous, hard-heeled Capezios. I just slip a sprig of lilac in my lapel and I feel like Fred Astaire all night long! Plus, they're great for killing those really big roaches that only come out in the wee, small hours.

January 14: Ordered a goat. Good for divination, also for milk. Who says you need huge tracts of land to raise livestock? Not me, that's who!

January 15: Did I mention I also ordered a piano? Well, it was delivered today! I was so excited I couldn't contain myself -- I spontaneously went into one of the dances my mother taught me, that Russian-Cossack-style dance where you squat down and kick out your legs one at a time for, like, three hours. As a child, I would do this barefoot, but now of course I wear wooden clogs. Anyway, after that I was far too tired to actually move the thing to where it's supposed to be, but I figure I can do that much, much later tonight.

January 16: Finally got around to renting the Jackass movie. Who knew you could improvise powered roller skates out of portable belt sanders? Well, I'll tell you who knows now: me. Goodbye, wasted weekend, hello, project!

As a child, I would sit on the top concrete step in early afternoons, crying, because I hadn’t received a letter. Having learned from children’s television that a letter was a wonderful thing, I waited, delighted in the opportunity for self-pity. Inglorious, yes, but when I think of childhood, it is with the desire to compose a tract on the joys of adulthood; my childhood was filled with anxiety and shame. For years, I disliked children as a result. I got better. Now I have friends who write letters.

Having friends, I live in anxiety around whether I’m keeping in touch with them sufficiently. “Hello,” I will say, calling someone I worked with in New York in 2000. “I am touching you.”

Dear Ramona, dear my child, pre-verbal and thus pre so many difficult, bad things, There are things you should know, things that would have appeared to me, as a child, as a glorious divination to maybe unseat the terror of the world over which, young, you have no control. The summer I was 25 I grew morning glories inside my bedroom. I planted seeds in a row of Goodwill coffee cups, rigged trellises from yarn and typewriter ribbon to the empty curtain rod. That room, through which passed bad, negligent lovers, drunk painters, derivative writers, was the most beautiful place I will ever live in. The 1910 lath surfaced through pale green paper printed with bunches of purple and silver grapes. Places, good places, will feel like home to you, eventually.

You know it isn’t freedom, but you don’t know quite what else to call it, this capacity to choose -- or appear to oneself to choose -- between description or expression, to toy with the tense of one’s memories at will, to organize one’s life around something less inglorious than a strict budget, menu planning, and a “big shop” once a week on the way home from work. It certainly doesn’t feel like anyone else’s life, but in what sense is it yours? A stone building at one end of the road, a brick one at the other – and between them, you, a power plant in a snowglobe. Trembling on the lip of a mise en abyme: the dollhouse inside the dollhouse (and so on), precisely where a dollhouse stands in your pleasantly appointed tract home (and so on). Move a chair or ottoman at one “level,” and find that the corresponding item has moved – has been moved – at every other; so did you move it, or were you moved by it? It’s convenient when you need to vacuum, until you come to suspect that the pattern of ridges in the carpet could be a map for divination, if you only knew the code. It all adds up to the sense that you’re being revised by an obsessively meticulous author, drafting and redrafting a single sentence in lilac-colored ink on large, stiff cards. As a leaseholder, a small suburban squire, I rarely indulge such fearful speculations, though as a child, I would.

As a child, I would swim a lot at a small beach on the Mississippi River in West Alton, Missouri, only miles south of Hannibal.

Growing up on the big muddy, the mysteries of that uncertain body of water always caught our childhood fantasies. From roaming the woods along the rivers edge where lilac's and birch trees dot the landscape, to fishing and swimming, the winding river was a part of childhood.

When I was nine, one of my classmates and his father drowned in Piasa Creek, a small but swift tributary that has captured more than its fair share of life. My classmate was taken under by a swift current, and upon jumping in, so was his father. I often wondered what kind of divinations could have occurred during those desperate moments, if any.

Once when I was sixteen, we were playing frisbee near the rivers edge. The frisbee veered off and flew into the river. I jumped in, and immediately was taken out about twenty feet from the river's bank. I panicked, and then gathered myself, as the river began to take me downstream.

Several minutes passed before I finally made my way to shore. A lot of thoughts went through my head during that time. Would I end up another statistic in the local paper, a tract of some sort, and how would it read? Nothing inglorious of course, possible just a short in the local newspaper reading, “Teen drowns fetching frisbee in river.”

Intermission: Randy Bemrose

Prompt 3:
I would feel safe if only
and the words

Karin was getting her MBA at one of those smallish universities that advertise in the New Yorker. This one was tucked into a listless suburb 15 miles outside of Phoenix, but it boasted a primarily international population and Karin had hopes of marrying a European.

After her first week there, she phoned friends to report that the odds were in her favor. There were 86 men in her program and four women.

“I would feel safe if only it weren’t for this whorish 38 year old from Czech,” she complained.

On weekends, Karin, the only one with a driver’s license, would drive a group of classmates, along with the Czech whore, to Sedona, windows rolled down, all seven Blackberrys ejected from their belt holsters.

The men liked to push their heads out the sunroof and shout obscenities in their native languages. The women would disguise their mutual hatred of one another and exchange invented, but painful, childhood memories in loud quivery voices, hoping to win the sympathies of the sensitive Europeans.

Once, the Czech whore came close to victory when she claimed to have seen her entire family eviscerated at the hands of a neo-fascist Slovakian youth gang.

Blind with rage and lacking any immediate comparable account, Karin jerked the steering wheel hard and abruptly to the right, forcing her car off the road.

The incident gave Karin time to conceive her best vile recollection, which she began, in an exaggerated quaver, against the backdrop of American red rock strata.

I would feel safe if only the world slowed its pace. Otherwise, it's free for all, a bust, one unmet deadline after another, never pausing to reflect on, well, anything. That's fine by me. Remembering when you dropped everything to concentrate on freelancing. Stepping out to finally take the plunge into the red.

It was finishing the novel of course. Writing news story on the side for anyone that will pay you. Some gems, some trash, whatever it takes.

Finally it starts to fall down, slowly closing in, fucks you over and whoever you happen to be sharing the bed with at the time. All you have to show for your efforts are bad scribbles, and overflowing ashtrays. Everyone around you flees, no longer an interesting commodity.

It’s back to the newspaper, back to deadlines, where I feel safe, sheltered from the eviscerating openness of blank pages. Back to building a relationship with an editor, who will learn to love and hate every bone in my body. Back to the social strata, where things go down, back to ejecting egos.

I don’t mind the gig one bit. It’s just the game that gets tired. Chasing down off the record conversations, the research, the follow-up, and the rush, layering opposing points of view, half of which are full of shit.

The final read, and one more last cigarette. Off to the editor, the proudest hack of them all. What would we do without them? Feeling safe again locked in deadlines.

A spur of the moment thing in a life lately shorn entirely of spurs, I popped thirteen dollars for a manicure in December at an unassuming place on Hawthorne, boy short and dark red.

No Emily Post advice is extant on how much to talk or not talk when having your forearms massaged by a sweet looking woman who speaks little English. My girl had an American romance novel translated into Vietnamese tucked under the corner of the thin white towel beneath the nail works; a dusting of modest glitter across her clavicle. I ejected the desire to reach with my wet nails to touch her there, next to the neck pulse, the strata of dermis, epidermis, the skin we have in common. Why am I not a more natural person like my mother wants me to be? The sign over the sink read “WASH YOUR HAND”, and another nail technician grated dead skin from the feet of a lady with a laptop, for whom time was clearly money, on her cell phone, radiating tinny office laughter. The mat her tech knelt on, faded black rubber, read BUILT FORD TOUGH.

Dear Nail Technician:
It’s me, the white lady in the torn coat and good hat who tipped you ten bucks recently because another white lady there talked incessantly on her cell phone and ignored your co-worker. I look like her, kind of, but I feel like you, which is kind of obnoxious, I know. In my mind, I am still 19, selling newspapers in Kalamazoo, MI, to the PhDs at Dow Chemical. I would feel safe if only I could stop wanting to eviscerate everyone who has money and is rude to service personnel. Have a nice life.

“You’re not in any danger, as long as you’re willing to sing.” A man with a handlebar moustache stood over me whispering, his kind eyes fearful behind Ben Franklin spectacles. I gasped, wordlessly; I remembered nothing between pulling the eject lever of the two-seater above the Pacific and waking up here, on what seemed to be an island, though I never saw the shore. After assuring himself that nothing was broken, he led me on shaky legs to a tiled clearing and presented me to the other inhabitants: an immense frog with the voice of a child and unvareigated green felt for skin, an equally monstrous owl decked out in several strata of worn cloth pin-feathers and a professor’s tasseled mortarboard, and a mincing hippo with pink injection-molded hide and hollow red nostrils wider than my head. My gorge rose. At first, I thought these were costumes, but no: you could enviscerate any of them and come away with nothing but fistfuls of foam and plush. My rescuer wasn’t kidding about the singing: puerile chants in 7/4 on themes of trust, sharing, and tidiness, repeated to exhaustion and accompanied by impossible-to-follow ring dances. It seemed to be our task to socialize, or at least distract, these beasts that stood like men. At night, shivering in our Potemkin treehouse, he would spin tales of the quaint macrobiotic B&B we would open in the Castkills upon our escape, vainly hoping that, at least in my dreams, I would feel safe. If only.

Diary of the Guy Who Lives in the Apartment Upstairs From Mine, Part III

January 17: Flamenco lesson today. I can't really afford these, but I do enjoy them so, and I'll need some culture if I do ever climb out of the lower economic strata, n'est-ce pas? Plus, I save some money by allowing Miguel to do the lesson at 2 am to accommodate his porphyria -- I figure the rest of the shortfall I can make up by using enormous metal frying pans in lieu of castanets.

January 20: Eviscerated a live pig in the den while sleepwalking last night. Oops.

January 18: A bottle of red, a bottle of white-- a big box of the complete Billy Joel discography tonight!, don't go changin'-- today you made my easy listening dreams come true. I put "Piano Man" on repeat and sat down for a 8 or 9 hours of uninterrupted bliss.

Unfortunately, when I was ready to turn my stereo off I couldn't get the CD to eject. I tried putting the speakers face down on the floor, but it was still pretty loud, so I left town for a few days. I'm not very good with mechanical things.

January 26: Back from my mini-retreat. I thought a lot about some pretty heavy spiritual stuff, and frankly, I kind of wigged myself out. But I would feel safe if only I knew the answer to this simple question: What sort of a God would allow people to have terrible things happen to them, like, say, losing their faculties, or being maimed in accidents? I don't know, but I'll bet hosting an all-night theological debate for hard-of-hearing men with peg legs would help me figure it out.

Prompt 4:
Yet of all my flaws, the most fatal, I fear
and the words

-- These are the new vowels: elevAted, severE, hIgh, lOw, gUarded.
-- Aren’t those in the wrong order?
-- Yes, that’s what makes them new! And they’re color-coded, as well.
-- Let me guess: black, white, red, green, blue.
-- Three out of five – not bad. Do you want to know the others?
-- Do I have a choice?
-- E, or Yellow, or Elevated, though a “primary” color on the old wheel of combinations and complements we once learned in art class (now underfunded out of existence), now corresponds to a transitory state, as of temperature or density. Think of the early stages of crystal formation.
-- Hmm, anxiety isn’t the only thing that’s free-floating around here. Is there another?
-- I, or orange, or High: a color that once produced a spike in the heart-rate now forms the background to every veridical perception. See the tint in my Ray-Bans?
-- Just out of curiosity: what became of black and white?
-- Oh, shivering cowslips, corsets of flies, all that? Far too Manichean, like this invidious dichotomy between “good” and “bad” cholesterol.
-- You seem to have absorbed this new learning into your very bones.
-- Perhaps. But every time I paint from this new palette, the result is unreadably gray, as though all ten digits or twenty-six letters were superimposed on one another, forming all words, and none.
-- Don’t despair: synaesthesia and paragonnage may conquer melancholia yet.
-- Of all my flaws, the most fatal: I fear.

Letter to Ramona, Part 2
Dear Child,
I miss my melancholia, and the devotion I once lavished upon objects: a tin of cobbler’s nails dug from a trash heap in my grad school neighborhood, a silver hand mixer with faulty wiring, a cigar box full of old, beautiful, chokeable buttons. Ephemera I owned and saw myself the agent of, helping spent things through their transitory flight across this mortal coil. A rusted railroad spike I thought charming now appears the thing you might take up and fall upon. I am afraid that my neuroses may make me, for you, a difficult mother. I worried tonight when you earned your first real nosebleed, tripping over The History of Numbers and face-planting on the end table; I will worry when you don’t confide in me; I will worry when you tell me everything that you are not individuating. I will continue to worry about your eating lead paint. Yet of all my flaws, the most fatal, I fear, is a propensity to take everything personally, all the time. I hope that you eventually hate me, but briefly. I hope you become a Republican, but briefly. I hope you date a bad, wrong person, who makes me physically nauseous. I hope you think, when older, that the photograph I took of you with a bloody nose, after you were calm again, is kind of punk rock. I hope you get enough calcium, encounter magnificent danger, and survive me by a hundred years.

When the Homecoming Queen finds your diary after it’s dropped out of your ugly old JC Penney backpack, it’s a lesson to never, ever write down your fears.

“Stick her big fat stupid head on a spike,” is what I wanted to write after the Vice Principal returned it, or what was left of it.

But creeping home through the back alleys, clutching the ripped entries, forlorn little unloved orphans, I resolved to write only things I wanted strangers to read.

Now, if I lapse and reveal too much melancholia on a particular day when, for example, my lungs feel like they’re wrapped around a dead goat because nobody is returning my calls, I simply go back and recast it. “Finally got some time to myself, recharged….”

There’s no limit to what you can rewrap in nicer paper. Take that whole pooping in bed thing – it’s way better as “I lost all inhibitions and pity his closed-mindedness. A transitory love.”

Lately, I’ve even started pretending to drop my journal. Like on the bus. Open to a particular entry that I want to be read. “December 17th - and yet of all my flaws, the most fatal, I fear is my penchant for recklessness, to ride naked on a motorcycle at night, steal a diamond necklace and mail it to a family in Rwanda…”

I drop the journal using a lot of arm motion and then move to a different seat and wait. Someone, pick it up. Pick it up.

Yet of all my flaws, the most fatal, I fear is that depression, and self-doubt have consumed my being, a sort of melancholia that knows no pity. A shell hopelessly roaming in a transitory state that doesn't recognize what is right and what is wrong, true schizophrenia. The bizarre and unorganized voices line up in an orderly fashion, like a cheap cliché that you've stopped trying to shake or understand.

At some point the realities of the streets lodge its wicked insanity into your brain. Beautiful tragedies appear on a daily basis. Those thoughts seem to never last for more than a moment and rarely do they have any consistency. Like a railroad spike driven deep into red earth, or river rats feeding after the fair, you’ve come to find comfort in the odd things that most don’t recognize.

Of course, like any human being, you once told yourself it wouldn’t last long. Undeveloped plans have slowly amassed like building blocks in your mind. One by one they lead you to the unknown, safety and chaos.

Unfortunately, you’ve lost context. Everything went from bad to worse. The days turned into months, then years. Faceless. Begging for change. Wet. Dignity lost, unkempt, abandoned, all except for the voices. Everything has retreated, inconsistent. I have an important message, but I’ve forgotten. The darkness is comforting. The train howl is relieving. The big shops are desperate; the shallows are unclear. Dawn is murky.

Diary of the Guy Who Lives in the Apartment Upstairs From Mine, Part IV

January 31: Whew! What a party! I thought theological debates were brief, transitory things. Who knew they could go on for four days straight?

I learned a lot and made a lot of new friends. My favorite is probably Cap'n Spike, a peppery old Greek gentleman who smashes a plate on the floor whenever he makes a particularly good point, or when somebody else makes a good point, or, really, pretty much any old time he can get his hands on a plate.

Of course, I wouldn't want you to get the idea that it was all deadly serious; we had plenty of fun as well. I doubt I'll soon forget the lusty, improvised rendition of "One Singular Sensation" from A Chorus Line that we managed to pull together one night. The seven hours of continuous practice were well worth it, and if you've never seen 25 peg-legged men arm-in-arm doing Rockettes-style high kicks -- well, you've never seen 23 or 24 peg-legged men fall to the floor in a tangled heap, many inexplicably wearing suits of armor.

February 2: Saw the guy from downstairs by the mailbox today, and I have to say, he's looking bad - sallow complexion, melancholia, dark circles around his eyes.

You already know I'm considerate to a fault. Yet, of all my flaws, the most fatal, I fear, is my insatiable need to help others. That's why I can't rest while my poor neighbor is obviously being tormented in by evil spirits. Well, I know just the thing to drive them away: fireworks! And Chinese New Year is just around the corner! Gung Hay Fat Choy!!!

Archive of 1,000 Words, episode 1, November 5, 2007

Reading 1, done up on November 5, 200, featured Laura Moulton, Don McIntosh, Greg Purcell, Zach Dundas, and a little of me. Larry Yes was the musical guest. The theme was PROGENY. It went like this:


The prompts for this section were to include the phrase, “it took me months to place the smell,” and the words tinfoil, terrible, and sneak.

This is what a dead mouse smells like:
Rust, curing leather, old barbeque on tinfoil. A small scent, but terrible. While I was pregnant, I had a superhero’s sense of smell – better than canine. I smelled the fish that flipped out of the aquarium and expired behind the tank. I rooted out the dead bird under our bed – more bone and feathers than any substance.
And the mice. Mouse after mouse, ferried in through the cat door, courtesy of our cat, and then set free – a kind of reverse catch-and-release program. I smelled them in the grates, behind the oven. Everywhere.
The boy was sleeping, so we whispered to each other at the foot of the bed:
“I think we have another dead mouse problem,” I said.
Ben said, “No way.”
“Yes way – it took me months to place the smell, but when I find it now, there’s no doubt.”
He crouched down and stuck his head into the closet, above the tumble of shoes and boots, and shined his little blue reading light around.
I whispered “It looks like the Blair Witch Project when you do that.”
“Ugh, you’re right.” Ben fished the thing out by its tail. A big one, and rank.
He stepped out and I sat on the edge of the bed thinking dishes in the sink, laundry pile growing, and now wildlife moldering in the closet. And I hugged myself hard, so that from behind maybe it looked like someone else’s arms.

My baby’s head used to smell like yeast, caramel, a celestial baking above the nascent brain of Hungry #1, the miss who was eviscerating the “I” out of family, woodchuck, monkey, little chicken we called her. She aged and ate: avocado, rice cereal, lead dust, it turned out, as a white-knuckle blue-streak scream of a blood test proved. I have never known such terror as loving the helpless—I like my love, typically, unrequited and difficult, I like to be overmatched, rejected, and petitioning. Now Ramona says Mama, and when I ask, Where is Your Baby, she teeters off young Godzilla style toward the likely Chinese made, likely poisonous seven-dollar plastic newborn with uncanny open-close eyes, which she seizes up and roughly presses to her breast, saying, be-bee, be-bee.
My baby’s head now smells like a concert t-shirt, specifically, the brand-new number I paid $18 for at my first concert ever, a black one screened with Robert Smith’s leer, oversized to hide the excruciating abundance of my 14th year. A smell new and chemical: at Pine Knob, the ancient 19 year old in the next seat, all bones and disaffection, had sneaked in a whole bunch of pot, and lit up during set breaks, carefully replacing the darkening roach in a nest of tinfoil he tucked in his pocket.
My life has changed so much, and so little. It is as though my version of the bell jar is still there, but I have fitted it out with cushions and good magazines.

It took me months to place the smell—the acrid whiff wreathing the cardboard boxes packed with my brother’s so-called “effects.” I received the boxes in June, and left them in the basement until New Year’s, a terrible leaning tower I just couldn’t bring myself to sift through. Every time I hauled laundry to washing machine, stowed a crate of newly archived propaganda posters or tanned a fresh-killed hide, the smell said—in a voice very much like Karl’s—open us, you pussy. Open us.
On January 1, my blood was, of course, a stream of half-metabolized alcohol. I wandered downstairs in the super-lucid fugue of hangover to clean my Ruger Super Blackhawk. (I often seek solace in firearms.) I tried to force oxygen to my clotted brain, and in one inhale I figured it out.
Charred chalk. Incinerated paper. Pencils, desks and old-fashioned yardsticks turned kindling. It was the smell of our school, William Tecumseh Sherman High (home, ironically, of the Fighting Scorchers), in flames, combusting against the night sky.
My mind flashed back a decade, to clandestine nights when we—Karl, Natasha, Sligo, Rakavich, Esselin and I—would sneak through our suburb on missions of small-scale destruction. I recalled the concussive snap of pipe bombs. I saw the tiny nine-pointed stars, cut from tinfoil and stapled to our jackets, marking us as members of the feared teenage cultural-terror gang, the Sons of Night. I remembered the night Sherman High burned. And at last I knew: my brother did it. Alone.

Between the monkey-type things we were and the bigheaded things we’re to become there stands you, son. The genetic roller-coaster ride we call heterosexuality. I guess you just couldn’t wait. When’s she due, you say? Six months. Well, with that skinny little meth addict frame of hers I guess it wasn’t going to be too much longer before we figured it out for ourselves.
Upward and outward, tits and hair. Spawning. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t freak me out, kiddo, the way you blew up. I always thought I’d be kind of interesting to do one of those stop-motion jobs on a baby, just set it in a corner of the room and film it for 18 years, give it lots of food. I suspect you could pass it around to enemy countries and watch their birthrates shrink. With the kind of cameras they’ve got now, I guess it wouldn’t be hard to do. Have you decided on a hospital? Oh, so now she’s a Catholic? Or she always was. Well, she’s the one heaving on the hospital bed. What the lady wants the lady gets, right? I suspect the free morphine will be a plus. Christ, I need a beer. You want a beer, pal?
We’re hurtling towards our graves, me more than you, but that’s just the numbers. And hey, anything we can do that doesn’t involve money or fluids, just let me know. I guess that sounds kind of weird. Just, you know, congratulations.

For this section, the writers had to use the phrase “it was with an uneasy confidence that I began” and the words nebula, mineral, and ostensibly

It was with uneasy confidence that I began to pry the six-inch shard of glass—a splinter with the rococo curves of a Turkish dagger—out of my mother’s eye socket. The tapered end had somehow found its way under her eyeball, deep into her skull. There was lots of blood, but I felt that a steady tug would pull it free. I tried to proceed with a certain sangfroid. Still, it was a delicate scenario—especially, I must say, given my mother’s condition.
“I am seeing some shit right now,” she announced as I eased the glass out about a millimeter. “It’s like a nebula, like a supernova, like a superterrestrial light show designed by God!”
Ostensibly she had suffered an unlikely and unfortunate kitchen accident. (So we would tell the insurance people.) In reality, she was on hallucinogenic mushrooms. She would likely be in contact with the “spirit world” for some time.
“Quiet, Mom,” I said. “This is sort of…tricky.”
“And, like, the feeling,” she continued. “I can really feel the essential mineral origins of the glass—its granularity.”
“Granularity, eh? Please stop talking.”
As she often does, she became suddenly accusatory. “You, of all people, should recognize the transformative value of opening the doors of perception. Are you or are you not a psychonautical explorer?”
“Actually, Mom, I’m a mortgage specialist. You know this. When you caught me dropping acid in high school, I didn’t realize it would give you ideas.”
“Well, it did. It did.”
“I know, Mom. Hold still.”

It was with an uneasy confidence that I began leaving the house again
after the boy was two months old. Old enough that someone else could
care for him. I realized how much better I liked him when I’d had
time away. So I took my neighbor Julia to a garden store: seventy-
six, diabetic, mostly blind, head hard as a mineral, with a life
philosophy that could be boiled down to: Root lil’ pig, or die poor.
I started the car and waited until she’d buckled in.
“I’m a free woman,” I said. I tried not to bite my
“Where’s the boy?”
“He’s sleeping. I nursed him good, so we’ve probably
got 2 hours.”
Julia shook her head. “He’ll wake up to a stranger.”
“Well, actually it’s a babysitter we know, she’s helped us
“But it’s not mama.”
Ostensibly I was doing this woman a favor, driving her across town to
buy flowers. Flowers that I would most likely plant for her, given
her stiff joints.
She looked out the window. “Well I don’t know, but on the news you
hear of babysitters doing terrible things to the babies they tending.”
“Yeah, well I’d never leave him with somebody I didn’t
“Like shakin’ ‘em real hard,” she said. “You see on the x-ray
machine how they been shook. Brain like a milkshake.”
At the nursery later, she picked up a tray and said “Is this one-a
those nebula you got in your rock garden?”
“Lobelia,” I said.

Son, you ask at what point did you go from the proverbial gleam in my eye to the animal, vegetable or mineral product basting in neurochemical processes you see slack-jawed in the bathroom mirror every night. That whole gleam business has been oversold, I think. It suggests a charm and vitality at odds with the whole experience.

It was with an uneasy confidence that I began to court your mother. Ostensibly there were knife stabs at the back of my neck and for every two calculable steps I took away from her moist areas, the knifes stabs would prick me forward in turn. This went on for a few months, and if as a result either her eyes or my eyes were gleaming in the backseat of that Ford Thunderbird I didn’t see it. We were at odd angles anyway, my head folded into the space between the back seat and the window roller, her head sort dribbling condensation onto my sternum. Stars may have stuttered and blinked out, Poseidon might have kicked in the great rubber plug at the bottom of the sea, and whole space-type nebulas might have billowed forward like bedsheets far out of sight, yet by my watch the whole thing took between a minute and a half and two minutes. There was squirting. Soon after, tears, recriminations.

We walked the aisle three months later. There was surely a gleam in your grandmother’s eye that day, because I saw it, fixed to me like a rifle.


For this section the writers had to employ the phrase “they have pills now for nearly everything,” and the words tornado, fungible, and forlorn


They have pills now for nearly everything. Rectal polyps, ennui,
double vision. But nothing to make your kid sleep in on a Sunday.
Nothing legal, anyway. That winter when he turned one, he’d crow from

his crib into the frosty dark. We’d lie still, each waiting for the
other until one of us gave in, sighed forlornly and put bare feet
onto the chilly wood floor. Our strategy was simple: deposit boy in
the next room with a pile of toys, and keep the doors open in case he
needed us. Then crash back into bed. To his credit, he wasn’t
offended by the brush-off. Wasn’t clingy. But ever generous, he hated

to exclude us from his projects, so he ferried items into our room
and deposited them next to us on our pillows. Back and forth, leaving
a tornado’s wake behind him, until our bed was piled with items. A
stuffed dog here, books there, diapers and oversized Legos. One time
I raised up groggily to discover the toilet brush next to my head on
the pillow.
Now almost four, he still wakes early, but often entertains himself
in his room – we hear him chanting his own rhyming nonsense while he

plays: dungible, fungible, kungible. And now I find I miss him a
little, the part of him that called out in the dark to us. Maybe I
need a pill that that cures nostalgia, one that will summon those
dark mornings and remind me of the cold.

They have pills now for nearly everything. And yet my sister and I can find nothing to convince my father that he was not the Fifth Beatle. Pharmacology doesn’t help. Logic is useless. My father likes to talk about how “that bastard McCartney fucked me outta my share.” This is what he says. We point out that he does so with no Liverpudlian accent. We point out that perhaps this is because he spent 40 years as a contractor in the forlorn corner of Oklahoma where he was born.
My father is undeterred. “They fucked me after Hamburg,” he says. “I was their secret weapon. A bunch of half-fags from England? They needed my American balls—that’s right, balls.”
My father’s sense of self has always been…let’s say fungible. He sank a bunch of money into racing the regional funny-car circuit. He became a serious player in evangelical Republican politics, but then lost interest. Et cetera. He made a lot of money in his career—we suffer a lot of tornado damage around here. Now he is retired and frequently flies to England, where he stands in front of the famous Cavern Club, handing out fliers pressing his case.
“Epstein takes over, and suddenly old Clyde’s out,” he’ll say. “And you know why? I know too much—about McCartney. That pervert would fuck anything that moves. Little boys, anything. Epstein feared me. I knew too much. Hamburg…that cesspool…”
It has been like this since my mother died. I don’t think it will change.

Here’s something the president of Tanzania once said. He said, “the greatest contraceptive one can have in the developing world is the knowledge your children will live.” Well, that may just be true for darkest Africa, where folks still have large backyards in which to weep over the death of their tenth, eleventh, twelfth little tadpole, oh hell, out there gurgling from typhus or the hanta virus or tornadoes or whatever it is they can’t tamp down in those hotter climates. I do feel forlorn, thinking of the burdens those sophisticates must bear.
Yet for this here developed world, I would say the greatest contraceptive one can have is a Saturday afternoon trip to the K-Mart. Seeing so many children in one place does give the lie to any argument on behalf of natural freedoms of the inalienable order. The plain fact of their fungability, this one drooling, this one kicking, indistinguishable, one to the next: it’s like you can see democracy dying right there in the diaper aisle. What’s more, I read somewhere that it does affect your generative parts on a biological level to see a lot of babies in one place. This is why they’ve got the negative population growth in Japan, which to Japan must be like finally breathing after enjoying a large hotdog meal.
Will America suffer negative population growth owing to K-marts, alongside other-type stores? Well, they do have pills going the one way, so I suppose they have pills now for nearly everything.

To begin the final prompt, Don McIntosh, who wrote a whole story, read his 1,000 words all at once. The fourth prompt required use of the phrase “before this I knew nothing of terror,” and the words freestyle, unctuous, preening, and jack.

He pushed her dusty body against the naked tree trunk. She straddled
him. He stood, thrusting. They smelled of sweat and cannabis.
Great and terrible, Nature possessed them: Dirty hippies, they danced
at the altar of Eros.
His seed snuck into her woody undergrowth and found a soft, wet place.
She marked him, too, with the stain of her wildness. Those shiny shrubs

she'd pissed on during their walk in the woods? Poison oak. Now the
venomous sap was on him, where his outer leg rubbed her inner thigh.
Both felt inflamed, but her swelling ran on. Nine months later, a
daughter entered the world, in a tub full of water, but also of blood
and shit.
They named her Bohemia. Bohemia Bentley, after his last name.
Bentley-Ordonez would have been like scones and chorizo, or a mouthful
of tinfoil.
At first the child was to him a crying, drooling blob, eyes unfocused,
unseeing. It slept a lot, but it woke a lot too. Soon she grew and
formed a personality. Bohemia had the will of a weed; her parents
exposed her to the light; pruned, but not too much; and gave her water
and nutrients and lots of warmth.
A free spirit, Bohemia was rebellious when ruled, and brilliant when
And echoing the moment of conception, her skin was full of splotches.
Not birthmarks, but allergies, angry rashes, and the little girl would
scratch them raw, but never complain.

It took Bohemia’s father months to place the smell.

Bohemia’s breath smelled earthy, musky, like a mushroom. Ostensibly a

human child, she was in spirit a wild thing. She was not afraid of the
dark, and felt at home in quiet places. She laughed to see other
children’s terror at snakes and insects.
She seldom spoke, but when she said something, she meant it.
Very early on, Bohemia declared her love for animals, and would take
their sides in any argument. She hated to hear them disrespected in any

way, including failure to give praise when eating their eggs, milk and
flesh. For it was their individuality she respected.
If you offered her milk, Bohemia would say, "yes, cow's milk please."
When you asked her "would you like some eggs?" she would answer, "Yes,
chicken eggs," as if to correct.
Moreover, it wasn't just any chicken whose egg one was eating, but that

of a particular chicken, whose sacrifice should be acknowledged,
thought young Bohemia.
And if her parents tried to ground her flights of fancy with the
shackles of reason, she would explode like a nebula of angry energy.
You could corral her with effort, but Bohemia was incapable of true
She was 14 when she met her first peer, a boy at school. He was two
years older, a scrawny junior, and a feral loner, but smarter than the
It was with uneasy confidence that she began to walk up to him, drawn
by the glint of mineral in the flinty glance he'd given her.

When she got to him, with a forlorn expression, she punched him in the
arm as hard as she could. They became fast friends.
Aside from Lukas, Bohemia had no time for teenage boys. She was too
busy with older men.
To meet them, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and when she found those

men too tame, she switched to Narcotics Anonymous. She drew an
arbitrary age limit of 42, and told them all she was 18.
It was a brilliant stratagem: How could her parents forbid her efforts
at voluntary rehabilitation? How strange that they never found alcohol
or narcotics in her room, nor required evidence that her life had been
buffeted by the tornado of addiction.
As for risks with the men, well, if something went wrong they have
pills now for nearly everything. And nothing went wrong, because she
didn't have THAT kind of sex.
She was a virgin, she explained to them, and they respected that
boundary, because, though they never asked to see identification, they
didn't truly believe she was 18.
At 14, Bohemia was still a hard peach warming to the sun.
Not till her first year of college did she ripen.
She was quite indifferent to the dorm social scene. She found most of
her classmates fungible, one gum-chewing blank-eyed desk-sitter the
same as the next. She majored in art, of course, and was obsessed with
discomforting ideas about beauty.
She made a plan to lose her virginity on Samhainn, the Celtic pagan

Disappointingly, the boy she selected for the task turned chicken,
saying it was too planned out, too contrived. In truth, he feared that
his preening cock would wilt in the grip of such a self-sure young
No matter. Slender, dark-haired Bohemia, in boots and jeans, drew other

Samhainn passed, but Beltane was coming, and Jackie — Jack for short

volunteered to perform the rites. Bohemia would be deflowered, not by a

prince, but by a rather husky Amazon.
They drove to the Gorge in Jack’s beat-up pickup, and hiked to the
forested glen of Bohemia’s conception.
The act would defy all moralist fairy tales. The woods had been
forbidden to Goldilocks and Little Red Hiding Hood. The woods were to
be feared, though not because of the wild things that dwelt there. The
woods were to be feared because of the wild things that dwelt within.
So it was that Bohemia, like a migratory fish, swam freestyle on the
ground where she had been spawned.
Before this, Bohemia knew nothing of terror. But fear flashed on her
face as Jack’s hands and tongue disappeared in the place where
Bohemia's pale thin legs came together. Bohemia's hands, flailing,
gripped the nearby wildflowers at their base, pulling them up in tufts.

An unctuous issue flowed out of Bohemia, and mixed with saliva,
trickled down to anoint the soil below.
To a late-blooming seed, it was the kiss of life.
On that spot a flower grew. Prickly. Proud. Distinctive.
A wild flower.

The six-year-old—my niece, Sarah, daughter of my sister, Amy—sat on my filth-encrusted couch, evaluating the litter of empty beer bottles, overflowing ashtrays and overturned bongs with a cool eye. “It’s dirty in here,” she observed.

“Yes,” I said. “It is sort of.” I looked back down at my sister’s handwritten letter.

…I know this will come as a shock but it is the right thing, I know it.

Amy always takes a freestyle approach to grammar and punctuation—not to mention logic and life.

I am doing this for my daughter, I look at her and see all the good things about humanity but something must be done NOW and it won’t happen if I just stay home with an unctuous—

Did Amy know what “unctuous” meant? I did not.

—husband and hang around with his preening corporate friends.

Two days before, my sister had jacked a sport utility vehicle as it sat idling at a stoplight in our hometown. I was told the driver, though shot twice, would live. (Girls. Such a weakness for low-caliber weapons.) She had left a note declaring her intention to join the Green Liberation Army, some kind of eco-guerilla outfit. The carjacking was the first act of her personal war against capitalism. Her second act, it seemed, was to stick her daughter on a Greyhound, with a ticket to my college town and my address.

I know you’ll care for Sarah even if I am dead.

Before this, I knew nothing of terror.


I’ll conclude this little speech, firstly, by saying it’s the unctuous freestyle preening that gets me about the teens these days, and secondly, by asking you to grab me another beer from the fridge. Fine, then. Would you like to see how quickly I can drink this, when confronted with great care-fruited responsibilities? Or otherwise, in a state of bonhomie and direct statesmanship? Here it goes. (Drains can, looks at it.) Ah. Before this, I knew nothing of terror. Bonhomie, I mean. Statesmanship.

Now, fine, you tell me to go screw myself and I’ll accept that, because I’m your father. It’s what I told my father eons ago, back when screwing was criminal all the way down to the evocation of it. Now you go on the internet and tell it to yourself. It’s a culture of endless two-minute screwing and saying screwing. These little mangas they’ve got. Japanese boobies. The locked-room jack-off sessions, which are like jazz for you dummies.

In my day we fondled ourselves like men, out in the public arena, at baseball games and directly into public fountains, even the women. We had hairdos that would blend back into the crowd afterwards so we wouldn’t get arrested. Well I didn’t have that type of hairdo, but my father did, which shows you how far afield we’re getting.

Son, you’re pregnant. Or you did it, made it, whatever. Give whatshername my best. You kids have my burstings, blessings, beers and ripe hosannas. How about a drink?

Marguerite Duras wrote about the “unctuousness” of blood in The
Lover. Young French girl losing her virginity to the older Chinese
man, in French Indochina, somewhere tucked away in a room with din
and dust outside. She: a little bird preening her feathers and he: a
black bathrobe, the smell of whisky, English cigarettes. That’s what

I wanted: to be a lean girl in a silk dress, elbows resting on the
rails of a ship, arms draped, with a straw hat like she had. It’s
what I got, only it was in Hong Kong, and instead of a silk dress, it
was khaki shorts and I wasn’t waify-looking so much as a little
chunky. And instead of looking dreamy to attract attention, I spilled
a bunch of change out my pockets; the coins rolled many different
directions on the deck, freestyle. And the man I met was Swiss, not
So blood was unctuous, a French girl, Duras – years
later it all came back to me when the boy fell down and rose up
wounded. Before this I knew nothing of terror. He walked along
holding the couch edge, since he couldn’t yet walk on his own, and
suddenly he tripped, my little jack-be-not-very-nimble. I grabbed him
up and looked into his face, watched the yawn of his cry fill with
blood and saw he’d pierced his tongue with his one tooth. Dial-a-
nurse said “It will heal. It has already started to heal.” And it

1,000 Words Hits Cyberspace

The 1,000 Words series, a bi-monthly reading based on a challenge to the writers who accept it, will hereafter exist not only in its ephemeral moment every second first Monday at the Maiden in the Mist, but also here on the interweb. It works like this: Every other month, 4-6 writers and a musician agree to write 250 words per week for four weeks based on a set of pretty twisted prompts--usually a phrase or sentence and a list of words that must be included in that week's effort. At the end of the month, the writers agree to read their findings in public in exchange for a free drink. In the future, the archived writings from past readings will be availeble here, and I will post each week's prompts for anyone to see and respond to if they like as I send them to the writers. I'll also provide links to works by the coming reading's featured writers and post writings by the general public. In?