Category Archives: Fiction


Seldom songs will just be played
When it’s not the music
That we need, but
The words.
I would want your love, laying
Right at that couch, in
The living room.
I would want that touch, not
For I need what love gives
But to realise,
All what it failed to make
Of our lives.


Picture : Well, that’s me chilling at the beautiful coastal city of Kochi

Family and Freedom in Drutse’s Shorts

Ion Drutse reflects his deconstruction of modern Moldovan family and all its collateral affairs in ‘Let’s Talk About Weather”. Set in the humbled hamlet of Soviet era, the narrative boasts of this naive conception of expectations within the schemes of familial love.

An old man who once toiled at quarrying fields, finds himself living amidst a set of grown up children famous across the village for their gross under achievements. What irks his already worn out soul is the return of his youngest daughter who was destined to break away from this family failure and make a career for herself in medicine. However, despite being welcomed with funny jokes and warm hugs every time she came back home, this homecoming of the youngest daughter in the house was treated with intentional apathy.

What intrigues me the most is the simplicity Drutse manages to create while dealing with such volatile psychological situations. The calmness that he builds around the father of the house is a characteristic of his belief in the persuasion power of emotional estrangement. Inferences of patriarchy can be traced by the puny description of the aunt and the cautious verbal manufacturing by the mother. The evolution of mother’s character is in consonance with her own realization of problems that are beyond the repair as we desire. However, it would still reinforce the idea of ethics that prevailed in the context of early Soviet societies.

Nothing ceases to take attention away from misplaced protagonists of this plot. One would want to believe that this is the story about a quintessential middle class father in Soviet Moldova, however, the quick and not so swift twists in plot are hard to reckon with. The vivid description of the distinctive loss that each member of the family carry with themselves is probably the only characteristic that reflects their commonality.

It’s hard to trace humor in what literally might appear to be humorous. This is a signature move of Drutse to keep his readers in this self indulging pity by blurring the lines between humor and awkwardness. One would be forced to look into themselves and their social capital while trying to make sense of this peculiar family. Peculiar? Well, if we call it so, it would be reflective of the pretense that we have gone on to normalize by taking ourselves too far from the soil. The dramatics of Drutse’s plot formation is the honest reflection of not so latent realities of many societies. That is precisely the reason that makes this story a must read in post colonial nations. Drutse’s narrative would pierce through our frame of unconsciously acquired identities like the strands of sunlight invading a dark room through a small round opening. It is pathetically original and would push us to feel uncomfortably exposed.

Well, in this galaxy of familial bodies of all shapes and sizes revolving around this inescapable force of destiny, Drutse flirts with the idea of freedom. The prodigious youngest daughter of the family becomes the operative matter of freedom in all its degrees. She is freedom, and freedom is her presence. But is she actually free or just a study for explaining what freedom ought to be? Well, that’s for the readers to decipher, so much so, that even Drutse pulls his hands off the strings on this matter. Personally, the presence of the youngest daughter seems like a journey of freedom itself. In my opinion, she represents what freedom might have been if it wouldn’t have been this. This unsettling account of freedom takes me back to Drutse’s catalyst style of writing where he becomes this invisible force that literally collides his readers with reality with no pretense or warning. And if you feel unsettled, it’s time for you to introspect your own affair with reality.

Despite being a brief read, Let’s Talk About Weather comes as a pill to grasp the familial maladies of the Soviet Moldovan society. It is an intelligent display of loss and sacrifice presented in a manner that knows no intelligence but knowledge. After all, it’s Drutse we’re talking about.

Picture Credits – Worldly Rise

Stoner (1965)


John Edward Williams led a life that many people would envy. Born in 1922 to a working-class family in northeast Texas, he earned a PhD in English literature from the University of Missouri, and went on to direct the Creative Writing Program at the University of Denver. His historical novel Augustus won the National Book Award in 1973. He died in 1994, presumably feeling some sense of accomplishment in life. Over the past decade, Williams has become famous in the literary world, not for his successful novel about a Roman emperor, but for a long neglected novel about a loser.

Stoner, which was published in 1965 and sold only 2000 copies before going out of print, is not about a Grateful Dead fan who smokes too much pot. It is rather an attempt by John Williams to imagine what his life would have been like had he been born a generation earlier, and had he achieved nothing but a modest teaching position at a Midwestern state university. Like John Williams, William Stoner is born into a working-class family. His parents run a small, hard-scrabble family farm in rural Missouri. Stoner goes onto publish a book and to become a tenured professor at the University of Missouri, but unlike Williams never rises to become chairman of his department, or even a marginally popular teacher, let alone the director of a nationally famous creative writing department and a National Book Award winner. The book, a pedestrian study of the influence of Latin rhetoric on Medieval drama, is largely ignored. His wife hates him. With one or two exceptions, his colleagues in the university English Department either ignore him, or actively conspire to ruin his career. He has a brief love affair with one of his students. He’s much too passive and unimaginative to leave his wife, so it all comes to nothing. His only child, his daughter, gets pregnant, marries young and is widowed young. When we last see her, she’s a miserable 25-year-old alcoholic who has given up the care of her child to his grandparents. She already looks middle-aged. Finally after a lifetime as an obscure state university English teacher, William Stoner discovers he has inoperable cancer, and dies a painful, lonely death at the age of 65. Not even one of his former students pays him a visit, or writes him a letter.

It’s easy to see why Stoner failed so miserably in the 1960s. It is a reactionary, and deeply misogynistic book from the point of view of an entitled white male. William Stoner may consider himself a failure, but in the age of the neoliberal university, where the typical academic lives in poverty and hustles short term adjunct positions, he’s living the American dream. He gets a tenured position at the age of 27. He teaches at the same university for over 40 years. He buys a house in his early 30s. The Great Depression barely touches him. Stoner’s father in law, a corrupt banker, does commit suicide, but he’s such an unimportant character that in the closing chapters of the book Williams forgets he killed him off, and continues to refer to Stoner’s wife’s “parents” in the plural. William Stoner doesn’t so much seek out his modest career as a university professor as it drops into his lap as a gift. His parents send him to the university to study agriculture, but a senior professor pushes him into continuing onto a PhD in English. Stoner’s parents, who realize that the era of the small, Midwestern, family farmer is over, make no objections. William Stoner is in fact living in a golden age, a brief period in American history when a university degree opened the door to a stable, and secure life in the upper-middle-class.

There are two snakes in William Stoner’s academic Garden of Eden. The first is Hollis Lomax, the chairman of the university English department, a crippled hunchback barely five feet tall, who tries to bully Stoner into granting a PhD to a graduate student so incompetent he doesn’t even know that Lord Byron wrote English Bards and Scots Reviewers. Trust me on this one non-English-majors. For a PhD candidate with a focus on the English Romantics, it’s a big deal. The student, Charles Walker, is lazy and unfocused, but he’s a master at playing faculty politics. A deformed cripple like his mentor — yes, Stoner has not only one shriveled, hunchback villain, but two — he manipulates Hollis Lomax’s resentment of the tall, able-bodied Stoner not only into granting him an advanced degree in a subject of he knows nothing about, but into plotting the destruction of the teacher who, rightfully, gave him an “F.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why Walker’s book never caught on in the 1960s. Williams writes from the point of view of the “Greatest Generation.” He deeply resents any attempt to politicize the already politicized university — the University of Missouri even today isn’t a particularly friendly place for black students — and looks at a critical,self-assertive student as a burden a tenured professor has to carry. Walker is a fool, but he’s also a straw man. If you read between the lines, you can see the shadow of the Beat Generation and the radical counterculture behind his badly articulated argument for individual genius and inspiration against the dry, classical tradition William Stoner holds so dear. In John Williams’ fictional University of Missouri, Stoner is a hero. He flunks Charles Walker even though he knows it will bring him the enmity of the university administration and ruin his career. His real life counterpart, however, the crabbed old man who hates the younger generation and expects them to keep their place, wasn’t an outsider. He was the establishment.

If pointing out that dramatizing an ideological opponent in the form of not one, but two twisted, crippled straw men is a heavy-handed rhetorical maneuver, however, it’s also necessary to admit that Williams pulls it off. Charles Walker is such a vivid depiction of a bad student that he reminded me exactly why I never managed to get through graduate school. I was exactly the kind of bad student he was. I would bluff my way through classes where I hadn’t done the reading. When I lost focus, I could often derail the whole class. When a professor called me on my bullshit, I imagined that the professor had a personal agenda against my genius. Thankfully I had no talent for playing university politics, or I could have done some real damage. Walker’s character was painful for me to experience. Given the right political influence, a bad student can be a genuinely destructive force for evil. Teaching is a delicate art that requires the instructor to slowly, and over time build up the trust and interest of his students. It’s easier to destroy a class, a course, and a college instructor, than it is to cultivate one. John Williams may be a reactionary, but he’s a reactionary with a deep love of learning and a bitter resentment against the social climbers and political hucksters who would cheapen it.

Indeed, while I find much of Stoner’s rhetorical agenda suspect, I think the novel transcends the writer’s intention. Stoner does in fact live up to the hype that followed in the wake of the 2003 and 2006 re-issues and the 2011 French translation. Like all great works of literature, it’s more than an argument. It’s a massive fact of life that the reader must confront even if, no, especially if he agrees with the author’s politics. To quote William Blake on John Milton, John Williams is a true poet and of the devil’s party without knowing it. The devil of the novel is William Stoner’s wife Edith on whom most of the hero’s misery can probably be blamed. It’s not that Edith is an especially original character. She’s the vindictive, mentally ill 1950s housewife we’ve seen in the work of Betty Friedan, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath. But watching her depicted by a writer who’s using every once of his literary genius to silence her, and watching that writer largely succeed is fascinating. William Stoner the poor farm boy meets Edith Elaine Bostwick the banker’s daughter, when he’s a 27-year-old virgin and she’s a 20-year-old virgin. On the surface, pretty, educated, refined, she’s the “prize” that an upwardly mobile young man aspiring to the academic elite wants to win. He wins her almost overnight. They get married a few weeks after they meet. But within a year after their wedding, Stoner realizes that his prize is no prize at all. She’s a deeply unhappy woman without a career or a purpose. Her education was designed to put her in a bubble of “privilege.” That she marries a poor academic with no inherited money is initially a form of rebellion. She doesn’t want a fancy church wedding or a big reception, just a quick civil ceremony and a honeymoon in nearby St. Louis. As soon as she tires of that initial act of rebellion, she looks around for something new.

First she tries to play the part of the good faculty wife. She fails. She tries too hard, so hard she almost has a nervous breakdown. Just about the only thing she really succeeds is earning the initial resentment of Hollis Lomax for her husband. If you’re paying close attention you become more and more creeped out by the “chaste” kiss the shriveled hunchback plants on the lips of the pretty Edith Stoner as the novel goes on. William Stoner may not have sex until the age of 27, and he may wind up sleeping with only two women in his entire life – even less than me, for what that’s worth – but Hollis Lomax either dies a virgin or pays for it. After she fails as a hostess, she tries sex, announcing that she wants a child, and pushing her husband into sleeping with her as compulsively as she once avoided him. After she notices that her husband is starting to enjoy the house she pushed him into buying, and, even worse, is starting to bond with Grace, their daughter, she decides that what she really wants to do is be a sculptor. That gives her the excuse to kick him out of the study he’s carefully and lovingly built up over the years, the “room of his own” where he’s beginning to flourish as a writer and as a father, and convert it into her studio. That accomplished, her husband banished to a miserable sun porch, she tries the piano. Then the theater. Finally she realizes that the only thing she has any real gift for is to make her husband miserable, and applies herself to destroying his soul with the same relentless discipline that John Williams applies to writing his novel.

If William Stoner is classical form, the disciplined pursuit of language and scholarship, then Edith Stoner is the demonic, the malevolent engine that gives the novel its purpose in life. Stoner’s idealized love affair with Katherine Driscoll, a graduate student with a love of Latin poetry who seems just a little too much like a female version of Stoner himself, is as cringe worthy as any middle-aged man’s mid-life crisis. That Katherine is mainly used as a rhetorical device against Charles Walker – who attacks her in class – and Edith Stoner – Williams tries hard and fails to suggest that Stoner would have had a great life if only he hadn’t gotten married so soon – is more than evident not only by how easily Stoner gives her up, but how quickly we forget about her once she’s written out of the plot. Edith Stoner, however, remains in our imagination, so vividly in fact that after her husband dies of cancer we wonder exactly what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.

SPOOKS: a dystopia (2014)

SPOOKS, a self-published novel by the pseudonymous writer E.M. Quangel, is a roman à clef about the world of hipster journalism centered around Vice Magazine. That SPOOKS is effective satire is attested to by the way one of its targets, the “artist, activist, writer and entrepreneur” Molly Crabapple, has recently gone out of her way to “dox” Quangel, and try to get her fired from her job. While Crabapple argues that she outed Quangel as an act of spontaneous outrage over Quangel’s views about the civil war Syria, I wouldn’t be surprised if SPOOKS also had something to do with it.

While you don’t have to be familiar with the feud between the upwardly mobile Crabapple and the communist Emma Quangel to appreciate SPOOKS, it helps to be familiar with social media. In fact, the more addicted you are to Twitter, Facebook, live streaming, or Instagram, the better you will understand Quangel’s novel, which grounds its dystopia in the class conflicts that get carried over from “real life” to the Internet.

SPOOKS is set in Brooklyn in the not so distance future. New York in the year 2031 is a more extreme version of the New York of Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio. Just having a place to sleep costs most of your monthly income. The police are a heavily militarized, occupying army. For a recent college graduate lured to Brooklyn or Manhattan by the promise of an upwardly mobile career path and an active social life, all the good things about the big city are tantalizingly close, yet unreachable to anybody without a trust fund or the right connections. Caroline, an underemployed, over-educated writer of 25, has three masters degrees, works 14 hours a week at Starbucks, and lives in a 50-square-foot micro-apartment on Atlantic Avenue.

Probably the best thing about SPOOKS is the way it dramatizes the false promise of the Internet. Social media is not democracy. It is an illusion of democracy, a world dominated by a small number of well-connected players with ties to big corporations and to the military industrial complex. The more time Caroline spends online, the shittier her life gets, or rather, to be more accurate, the shittier her life gets, the more time she has to spend online to make it bearable. One day she attracts the attention of a social media star named “Amanda Abbey,” a thinly fictionalized Molly Crabapple. Abbey invites Caroline to a “burlesque show” then offers to read some of her “long form writing.” After a brief perusal of Caroline’s work, Abbey convinces her friend Dan Hemingway to hire Caroline as a contributing editor at a new publication called Dilettante, an “edgy” new publication that’s funded by individual subscriptions to its writers.

Suddenly, Caroline’s life improves. She gets to live in a real apartment, not a 50-square-foot box, has access to good food, even wine, which in 2031 is far beyond the means of all but the most privileged, and, above all, to an active social life. Caroline, who chooses to ignore how Amanda has chosen her more because she’s young and attractive, because she’s an effective salesperson, than because she’s a good writer, becomes a big time social media star and alternative, left journalist. Eventually we realize that she’s not a real journalist at all, but a minor, and unwitting cog in the national security state. Earlier in the novel we had learned that Caroline had a degree in “Security Studies,” was $2,236,781.38 in debt for student loans, and had unsuccessfully applied for jobs at the CIA and the NSA. Her reporting, which involves wearing “Spectacles,” a more sophisticated version of Google Glass, will be familiar to anybody who’s followed the development of “live streaming” through the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. Caroline provides an unfiltered look at the story, but her subscribers, and, more importantly, the police and the various national intelligence agencies, can also monitor her. Eventually her “reporting” seems more like snitching than journalism.

Soon we learn that Amanda Abbey, and the various hipster journalists around Dilettante, are anything but real journalists. Rather, they are upwardly mobile opportunists acting the part of left journalists for fame, high-salaries and access to the rich and powerful. If you argue that “well, that’s what real journalists are”, you would be correct. Quangel just takes it to its logical conclusion. Why hire cranky old men like Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather when you can hire pretty young girls who will double as prostitutes? Eventually Caroline gets an “opportunity” to visit a “CIA black site,” a trip that’s as tightly manipulated by the US military as the “embedded” corporate media was manipulated in Iraq. While Caroline learns the truth about CIA blacks sites from one of her “trolls”, a young man who uses the codename “Peter Parker,” Quangel makes it clear that even if Caroline had tried to do any genuine reporting, it would have been impossible. She’s not a journalist. She’s an actress.

To me, the last quarter of SPOOKS, which ventures into the same territory covered by the classic film The Manchurian Candidate, reads more like an exclamation point than any further development of the plot. Quangel has already done such a good job of showing the upwardly mobile left media to be populated by opportunists and frauds, that it almost seems beside the point. Why would the United States military even need to put a character as shallow and venal as Caroline through an elaborate, and costly, series of paces designed to manipulate her into reporting what she would have probably reported of her own free will? But perhaps I’m just not being cynical enough. The United States military has so much money, and so much control over the corporate, and the alternative corporate media that it all becomes a game for them after awhile. What’s more, the military industrial complex, which is both highly familiar to the average American — a lot of people serve in the military — and yet operates undemocratically and in secret, has to wage a constant battle against reality, to stage a long running and ongoing public relations campaign to justify the amount of money they spend and the number of people they kill.

What better spokesperson for the military industrial complex than an easily duped “leftist” journalist just as eager for money and access as anybody at Fox or CNN?

The Long Black Clown Car

Though the major events of his life had occurred in Los Angeles and Manhattan the funeral was held in the small backwater where he’d spent the final years of his life painting and repainting the walls of his wife’s house different shades of green. No indications were left whether he’d found the desired shade. The choppy gradient between the final two shades suggested he hadn’t. His wife had, understandably, shown no interest in this project and had no light to shed on the subject. No one asked about it; there had been few visitors.

He’d been on the Ed Sullivan Show several times when he was much younger and not dead and Ed Sullivan was still on television. His estranged son showed up but none of the other mourners recognized him. They’d never met him. No one cried. The plain green casket was lowered into the ground with pulleys.

An anonymous admirer had sent a single rose. His widow held a banana and stood next to the grave and spoke.

“He…we all laughed a lot. And this banana…one of his bits, one of the ones he did on Ed Sullivan, it involved a banana. I’d do it but…uh…I couldn’t do it justice. You’d just have to see it. I have it on a tape somewhere.”

She dropped the banana in the hole. It landed next to the rose. A shovel was pushed into the pile of dirt next to the grave. We each took our turn shoveling dirt into the hole. The dirt concealed the long-stem rose, the banana, and finally the dead man.

Most of the mourners, friends of his wife and lifelong residents of the backwater, had shown up knowing he’d been on Ed Sullivan and little else, hoping to hear juicy tales of his show business exploits. However he had outlived whoever had known these tales. A small catered reception was held in the back of a sports bar after the burial.

“So…uh…how did he die?”

“His liver hardened.”


“It solidified.”




“Then he died.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It took about two years.”

There were more details about how his liver hardened. But the tray of pasta in cream sauce had been uncovered and the mourning had made us all very hungry.

The conversation after that mostly revolved around the quality of the cream sauce.

After we ate the widow read the note that accompanied the single rose to the people seated at her table.

“A wonderful companion, a shoulder in my times of need. I’ll never forget the wondrous times we had together; the way your body felt in my arms; the way my body felt wrapped in yours. I’ll see you on the other side.”

It was signed “Miss Bavaria.” No one at the funeral remembered a Miss Bavaria.

The widow guessed he’d arranged the delivery of the note and the rose himself before he died. As a practical joke.

“That’s the kinda guy he was,” she said. “Anything for a laugh.”

Operator’s Manual for Hillary Clinton PotUS Unit, Mark II: An Excerpt

A Note: All those wishing to write letters to Robotical Presidential, Inc. complaining that people are always judging Hillary Clinton’s appearance because she’s a woman, be aware that the purpose of this excerpt is to demonstrate and assess her operational realism solely in her capacity as a politician. That even those lovely jowls on Chris Christie don’t make him look as much like a bunraku puppet as Hillary Clinton is not a reflection of either of their looks, but rather a reflection of Clinton’s exceedingly well-programmed politician expressions and cutting-edge artificial intelligence providing her with the general cognizance not to become too emotional in public. Conversely, Christie’s psychotic tirades make it apparent that he is exceedingly human. Thirty-five years ago, this would’ve been an Operator’s Manual for a Ronald Reagan PotUS Unit (also Mark II, incidentally).

8. Uncanny Valley and Your Clinton Unit

When operating your Hillary Clinton PotUS Unit Mk. II robot, it is important to note that Clinton-bot’s various modes are accompanied by expressions that convey varying levels of realism. The more emotional or otherwise-stirred-up a crowd is, the more susceptible they are to comments delivered in spite of robotic expressions, audible distortion, or visible discharge of mechanical fluids.

Boot System Malfunction: Please note that Hillary Clinton PotUS Unit Mk. II bots still contain a minor design flaw of the prior Hillary Clinton PotUS Unit Mk. I and Senatorial Unit bots. If, when booting up your Hillary Clinton PotUS Unit Mk. II, you engage the activation mechanism too quickly, Clinton-bot’s enthusiasm circuits will receive excess stimulation. You can most quickly identify issues of this sort should you be greeted after turning on your Clinton-bot with an expression not dissimilar to this:

Should your Clinton-bot begin acting erratically–eschewing pantsuits, talking about Barry Goldwater, or reminding you that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican–consult your nearest shotgun in order to engage the “active shutdown” method. By no means should your Clinton-bot be used as a sex-bot, although your Clinton-bot doesn’t really mind if you use a proper sex-bot as a sex-bot in the next room while your Mk. II is activated.

Folksy Back-Home Type: Though not a distinct mode with its own unique library of expressions as it was on our renowned Palin-bots, Clinton-bot’s shameless adoption of her “true” accent when campaigning the South demonstrated to us that this feature was an important-enough element of the PotUS Unit Mk. I to justify bringing back in our Mk. II units.

Now we can get on to the modes proper.

Enough is Enough mode: With all the authenticity of a Turkey Italiano Melt from Subway, your Clinton-bot will fiercely scorn her most threatening adversaries with complaints about disingenuity and the vagueness of policy proposals slightly less vague than Clinton-bot’s own. Though Clinton-bot’s policy parameters can be updated with the most recent polling from Pew Research, we recommend avoiding the “policy” elements of Clinton-bot’s functionality.

Advantages: Clinton bot es un robot muy fiable y puede hacer muchas cosas excelentes . Para obtener instrucciones en francés, por favor refiérase a la sección 17.3 en el manual “G”, que se encuentra en el tercer disco en el segundo aglutinante de instrucción proporcionada con el bot Clinton.

Disadvantages: Watch in horror as Clinton-bot cries “Shame on you!” for reasons you could never quite grasp at black politicians threatening her foretold ascension to the Presidency. Clinton-bot’s movements in this mode appear cold and mechanical, so it should be used when there is a podium for cover. Clinton-bot has been known to engage fins not unlike a Dilophosaurus before similarly shooting acid at observers when highly-agitated while in this mode.

Capitalization Mode: Clinton-bot takes advantage of ham-handed opposition attempts to impugn her integrity, causing area-of-effect Democratic victories in off-year elections. 

Advantages: In addition to the area-of-effect, Republicans fail to notice actual shortcomings by Clinton-bot for another three turns (this effect is stackable). Mana pool is fully restored immediately, Clinton-bot takes a turn in place of her next opponent’s turn. 91-98% chance of supporter applause and subsequent statistical buffs.

Disadvantages: Republicans still hate Clinton-bot for imagined and outright-slanderous reasons. Media continues airing their grievances with minimal accountability.

Hell Hath No Hillary Like a Hillary Scorned: The most-realistic and possibly even the only outright-genuine of Clinton-bot’s expressions. Denoted on the graph by red, the color of passion and of hatred. Best summarized by the quote “He’s a hard dog to keep on the porch.”

Advantages: Victim sympathy from the left.

Disadvantages: Victim-blaming from the right. Also that acid-spitting thing from earlier.

I must say, in reading this manual excerpt combined with other reviews I’ve seen for the Mk. II Clinton-bot, I feel that it seems Robotical Presidential, Inc. has fallen into the same bad habits of other technology companies, purveying new, cyclical editions of items that are of little improvement upon their predecessors and are even less durable. Additionally, this new and “improved” Clinton-bot’s much-touted “Capitalization” feature was used to poor effect in the latest Democratic debate when she invoked Nine Eleven to defend her ties to Wall Street. I was thinking I’d hang on to my Obama v1.1 (the more resigned 2012 upgrade; poor Bo didn’t get his own second version outright for the re-election), but as it is, an old, balding politicobot with rusted circuits has gone rogue in my home and taken up residence in the downstairs guest room. I’m not quite sure what his angle is, but he keeps hollering on and on about how we already live in a socialist country and demanding I stop trying to plug things into him and instead give him some food.

Pretty Princess

(This is a story I wrote for my spoken word album. Check out the full album here.)


This is a story. The story of the continuing adventures of Pretty Princess, her many tragic loves, meals she ate, and her preferences in consumer cosmetics.

In the morning she, scoffing at the cowardly preferences of the plebs, preferences like orange juice, oatmeal, steak, and eggs, insisted on a tuna salad sandwich on two toasted pieces of rye bread, and she would follow each bite with a small sip from an eight ounce paper cup of Sanka. For digestion, she said. Many in the kingdom experienced self-doubt in the customs they’d long held, their pale mockery of the potentials held in the breakfast meal, and started eating tuna sandwiches every morning. Those young maidens who didn’t were stigmatized from ever finding suitable suitors.

In the afternoon she took three Fruit By the Foot rolls and, after removing them from the paper, would, for a good deal of time, knead them in her hands until they were perfectly round like the pearl earrings she wore to bed. On their roundness reaching a quality acceptable to her understandable perfectionism, she would dip them in slightly moistened Sanka powder and wash down each bite with a small sip from an eight ounce paper cup of Sanka. They were small bites, almost nibbles. You might imagine her bobbing her head quickly and nervously at them like a squirrel. But this is because your crude regrettable mind was never meant to comprehend the true daintiness possessed by her majesty, Pretty Princess.

Some wondered if Sanka was the secret of her curious and sanctified luminosity. Many sad lost souls, hoping hopelessly they might derive the path to her beauty, who thought wrongly her beauty was the result of a rational process susceptible to reverse-engineering, experimented with Sanka in a variety of delivery systems. Systems that bordered at times on the alchemical. None discovered the secret. There were accidents. Horrific accidents.

Some wondered if in fact there was no possible way to match her daintiness; if God had simply smiled only once, on her and her alone, that God left her here to float among us out of the understandable spite he held for all who were not Pretty Princess, spite understandable. Because they were not Pretty Princess.

Reports came of large rocks inexplicably falling from the sky on the humble shacks of the peasants, and in each story, on each rock, were purportedly scrawled the words “Tough Shit” or “God Don’t Like Ugly”. The town mystics could do little but speculate whether the hand-writing matched that found on the earlier rocks handed down at Sinai.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to hate her, we couldn’t even bring ourselves not to admire her; when we were told taxes were raised her image sat atop the letterhead; we couldn’t revolt. Not against that face. We could muster little beyond “daw” and hopeful glances at our daughters, knowing such a phenomena as Pretty Princess was verifiable, she was real despite the playful titles we threw in her direction, titles that she hardly needed to deflect; she was protected in a sort of force field that filtered without fail such aspersions. So we glanced at our daughters, eyes cast in slight optimism. We thought, somehow, they might someday, though chances were slim, be like her. That they might seem when they walked to be forever in mid-skip, that they could make the most trivial of trinkets seem the most precious of jewels by the force of their presence, that they mightn’t age but ripen perpetually without the attendant signs of spoilage, that their metabolism might render the special alchemy when fed the Sanka.

When she attracted men, the most fair and eligible, they would be reduced not by her haughtiness or disdain, for she was incapable of either, but rather the magnificence of her totality, to the most pitiful groveling wretches. And in the ways these men were diminished we did not empathize or feel pity with them, but felt more thankful and warm for the enchantment she exerted on us all. Her magnanimity in not casting them aside like insects touched us deeply.

She had a soul of untold beauty. But of course she did. She was Pretty Princess. Our memories of lost relations, fond acquaintances, over time they all came to sour, but our recollections of Pretty Princess would never curdle; they never could. They didn’t work in the way living memories did; they sat with calm confidence waiting to be admired or coveted the way gold bars do in vaults.

And like gold, many were maimed, several killed, for seemingly no better cause than that they had the audacity to look at Pretty Princess. No greater cause was necessary. She was Pretty Princess. She was the momentum and inertia and beauty in all things. She was cause. She was effect. She was her own justification and the justification for that that happened round her. Many had been blinded on having seen some crude approximation of her visage in a dream. We cast them out; we regarded them as we did lepers; rightly so, for it was clear in their blindness they’d failed the crucial test. They were summarily unworthy. A pestilence on our civilization, weeds in the garden. Christ might’ve asked us to cast our lot with them. But Christ knew not of Pretty Princess. And this, finally, was why he had to die.

And some might ask me, the humble narrator, how I know such things. On what authority I might claim them. And to them I reveal without fear, devoid of interest, beyond the crudity of “intent”, that I, yes I, am Pretty Princess. And hope fervently that I, in my prettiness, find it in myself, in my embodiment of all that men, in their weakness, call “adorable”, to take pity on your souls.

The Calling Card of Posterity, or: We’ve Tried Nothing (And We’re All Out of Ideas)

Night after night they sat in restless repose, watching beer commercial after beer commercial and car commercial after car commercial, not necessarily in that order, ten and thirty feet respectively from where a 24-pack of clearance-sale Budweiser resided in an ice box and from where a Cavalier resided in a carport, doors and skirts rusted out courtesy of design flaws and thirty years of being parked in that pointless structure. Some commercials beckoned them to rise while others intimidated them to remain in repose, or coaxed them deeper into their slouched reclination with sweet songs and elegant whispers. All the commercials served the same ends, of that they were certain, but in time they grew less certain and forgot entirely what the ends themselves were, only that all of the commercials were serving those ends. Then they became uncertain as to whether the ends were their allies or their enemies.

When they did rise, it was on command, at the beckoning of the television. The programming congealed into a continuous shrift of the intellect, but It was welcome, they’d said, We had the right to turn our brains off after a hard day of work, they’d said. There would sometimes be stirring programming snuck in-between the commercials: a noted athlete on a political tirade, or an allegory snuck past the censors in artful fiction, or a program that found humor in social discord, or a protest on the news. On rare occasions, the protest on the news would sometimes cease to be narrated and for but a moment, in the wild chorus of voices heard between the end of a news reader’s spiel and the first of the next commercials, some truth they knew to be incontrovertibly true would be heard and, just as quickly, washed away by a commercial for a 39-gem luxury watch, with all the finest movements and impeccable timing provided for by the large number of gems incorporated. They were not watchmakers and so did not understand why the gems made for such impeccable timing and movements, but the glints of light on them and the gold that housed them, the silver and gilded gears that surrounded them, made them salivate for water and their minds could not shake them of this association, even as they failed to comprehend it superficially.

Their most prominent source for the time, the display upon the cable box, glowed proudly with the hour.

The children, as expected, proved more responsible than the adults. Sometime toward twelve, after giggling their way through the Tonight monologue with hands clamped over their mouths, they would pull blankets over the unconscious adults up to their shoulders, and then slink quietly away to their beds. The adults would wake in the mornings, mouths dry with the pungent vapors of hops and ethanol, heads foggy with a night’s dreams of fantastic products inserted and infomercial scenarios throughout. Then, as expected, the children proved more wily than the adults, soon catching on to this trend and selectively turning to stations before they went to bed, ones which would be advertising items of interest to the children toward the morning and the more-remembered portion of the dreams in the adults’ slumber.

Though the adults disregarded any stray thoughts they had of obvious children’s toys, an affinity for the more technological of wonders permeated through, and soon the rusty Cavalier was outfitted with a GPS and a satellite radio, the Budweiser came to be housed in a refrigerator with a screen in the door that you could look up recipes on and order groceries through. Soon the cathode ray tube television that occupied the place in the family room that a throne occupies in a throne room came to be usurped by a smart t.v., the sort that records shows for you and goes on the internet and can use your cell phone as a remote control, slipped surreptitiously onto the wall with its scandalously-small footprint. With all of these changes the intellectual capital of the children rose, and in response to the customary cries of the adults of illiteracy with the new technology they would come and make the technology do what the adults could not make the technology do, and would increasingly chastise those of majority age for adopting the newest technologies and then still remaining the loyal base of media consistently informing them of their own powerlessness and lack of worth. They were convinced of their immobility even as the GPS in their car beckoned to take them on a three-state tour in the space of two hours.

The children came together in frequent meetings to discuss these developments, wondering with one another whether to smash all of the devices as they’d once considered doing with the television, or to continue attempting to usurp the influences upon their progenitors with positive ones. In the end, as the children became adults themselves, it was decided that the existing adults’ ignorant tendency to vote, validating fixed elections, would be permitted until the day the children had come to replace the fixed elections with true ones. They pushed the adults to exercise this civic tic through voting for American Idol contestants and new M&M colors, tried with futility to compel them to at least vote Democrat or third-party if they had to vote at all. When the children were still too young to seize upon the day for actions of their own, Election Day would be occupied by a ceremonial banging of their heads against one another. They began to understand and appreciate why the athletes did it, and soon ascribed a cultural warrior status to those who engaged in university sports for no immediate reward and at great risk to themselves. They were personally indifferent on the matter, but doing so pushed the adults from their fascination with gladiatorial athletics: the young had seized, had ruined it for them by injecting their politics into the adults’ sports. They had learned the trick when adults once dissuaded them from an interest in anime by pretending to think anime was cool too. With the television occupied all day Saturday and Sunday with college and professional sports, the adults found themselves uncertain what to do.

They took the three-state tour their car’s GPS had promised. They met people of the sort they never would have met before. They went on the internet and argued futilely and made friends with people who thought differently. They grew as individuals under the guide of their children and their own usurping technologies, the machinations that had pushed them down, from their careers and any belief in their own triumph, into their repose. The children finally went to them after this development, hoping their conversation to end with the return of the adults into the intelligentsia.

“Fathers and mothers, now have you found the source of your restlessness? Now have you found why your repose has been so uneasy all of this time?”

“We have. And we miss the targeted advertising. We hate shopping, but love buying. We miss the gladiatorial combat. We hate pain, but love seeing it inflicted. We miss social warfare. We love to be respected, but hate respecting others. We miss class warfare. We hate being poor, but love being richer than others. We wish we had never produced the lot of you, for we did not need to be awakened, or reminded of the forces which move against us. We knew these things once and we discarded them willingly, and had we known you would wrest us from our slumber we would have discarded your lot willingly as well.”

The children mulled this revelation over for a brief time, before deciding wordlessly, with glances amongst them, that the adults’ time was running out anyhow and as their successors knew now to shift from re-education to marginalization. Such it was that they came to sit the adults back before the televisions, disabling the “smart” functions that allowed them to convene with the outside world and urging them again to take in the algorithmically-manicured advertising as the t.v. had before beckoned them to do.

In the end, it was decided that the adults would be tolerated but disregarded.

Notes from Berkeley, fragment 1

I think the voices aren’t in my head because if they were I think I might have some control, although to be honest I have lost track of the dimensions of my skull, which anyway I have never seen. It is very difficult to explain the way a thought can sometimes stretch and break open into a sound, or somehow multiply into two, three simultaneous thoughts which really look more like a shape than anything which one voice could use. My lifelong habit of working things out in imaginary conversations with friends and heroes fails at this point and really I am left to myself, although sometimes others remain but are not interested in listening. They speak sharply and with dramatic dynamics, sometimes pitching up to a violent frenzy of feedback which ultimately pops physically in my ears. But then they are still behind some cloth, or whispering, and I hear nothing recognizable. When they walk it is behind me at night and in silence, although they are careful to tap their heels audibly and crush leaves. This is not imagined, because once when I described it H said, “yes, I know about the footsteps.” Or sometimes sound plays tricks as well; in the cities, walking by the hard base of towers where the young move in laughing packs, and I hear only what fits between a few cement squares. The words echo unconvincingly, I am really not sure they were speaking at all, and here sound becomes thought. Eventually I try to sleep. This takes time because until I am unable to open my eyes they won’t close. Tonight I hide in the park behind a tree where the roots dip into shadow against a wood fence. I am stretched into my sky blue sleeping bag which unfortunately reflects the street lamps. Above me branches are sharp and naked against the light pollution. This always hurts because once when I lost my mind I was looking out the window of my apartment and the winter branch silhouettes were so bad and frightening and even the music did not make them less frightening, and it really hurt my eyes and skin to know they were out there growing. I paced and held my arms in themselves, I pressed my back against the wall and sank, but even though I was shocked I did it slowly because I did not want to wake the girls because I knew that they would try to comfort me but would find out that they couldn’t, which would be too much to know. I press my sleeping bag hard against my clenched eyes and don’t make a sound. My chest is tight which makes me laugh at myself and I think of other places I have slept. Or lain awake, for instance in the little bed in T’s room, almost falling onto the floor because K jealously demanded to sleep between us. I felt my arms and back bruised and satisfied, tasted flakes of blood under my nervous fingernails. I was winedrunk and nervous and achingly satisfied, and embarrassed because the smell of his breath meant she could feel me against the small of her naked spine. I was watchful in the dark of their practiced position; they seemed together in sleep. She could no longer feel me and I was wakeful. I slipped self-consciously out of the sheets and into my pants, first backwards then forwards. Downstairs I must have closed the front door slowly and quietly because the house was a wooden cavern built to spread music. I walked and faster, under and away, the street lamps and the familiar block. Breathing quickly now I felt sixteen, and feeling that they saw this I wondered, why would they take me in? Who are they? And the wine went to my legs and the grass looked impossibly bright and real in the night, so I lied down in someone’s lawn and stretched out happily. A hot white lights up my eyes, and before they open I know that I am awake and that the police have come. They open and I am right. What’s up man? I manage gruffly. Where are you from, kid? His voice is a real growl and his eyes look joyful. New York. Immediately I recognize a mistake. Oh yeah? I don’t know how it works in New York, but in Berkeley, all the parks close at ten pm. I rub my eyes and sigh expressively. So find somewhere else to sleep or come back at six. He’s already walking away when I ask, Any suggestions? No, he turns and laughs, probably a sidewalk somewhere.