Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Milk it...

Janine has a reputation for milking her friends for all they're worth. Janine works at the local drug store. In her spare time she wrote a short story, a piece of fiction about a female author strung out on pep pills who gets trapped in milkweed chimera. She sent this story over e-mail to a good friend of hers who edits a literary magazine. Janine was confused when the e-mail bounced back with a cryptic “Unknown” message. She put the story on the shelf and let it collect dust. Months later, Janine encountered her editor friend in the dairy section of the grocery store on the north side of the city of Chichugo. He had removed his raincoat and was pouring milk all over himself. “I really loved your story about redemption.” He told her. “It changed my life. We’re running it in the next issue of the Unknown Review. You'll be paid handsomely.” Janine left the store feeling satisfied and accomplished. She has another friend who is a podcast producer. Janine is scheming now to see what she could get out of that friend. If Janine could audiopublish, whew, just think of all that would spill in Cyperspace, just think of all the benefit Janine would milk!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On What a Poem Can Inspire

George runs a greaseburger business, and he never reads poetry, much less secret poetry. But one day he came across what the editor called a “secret” poem in a trade magazine, of all places. George figured, “What the hell!” And he read a poem called “On Stage” that had been written originally in Greek but translated by a marvelous man who had a brow three feet above his head. The poets name was George Seferis; the translator’s name wasn’t important to George, but coincidentally his name was also George. Maybe it was the mention of Helios. Maybe it was the dramatized murder or the voice of the whore or the festering sea-foam or the bed left cold as a sheet of ice. All of the images hit George right between the eyes. But he remembered this line best, “The sea was glazed like honey / when I swam in it as a child, plunging into the swirl—/ only to resurface later, when, as a young man / trying to find my own rhythm, I studied the shoreline.” For the next three days, George couldn’t get that line out of his mind. Finally, he rid himself of the earworm when he decided to add a new item to his menu: the honey-dipped greaseburger. Indeed, his business boomed.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Surreal Feast

The news reporters came on the scene wearing robes and beating gongs. Celebrity midgets offered them coffee in cement mugs. The accused woman mumbled her rant in a Styrofoam microphone. The only listener who applauded the speech was the Tough who had cymbals for hands. The whore’s butler rang. Everyone sat for a feast funded by the local grocery girl. Toast! To the gathering of the wrong place at the wrong time. Everyone raised their glasses at the moment every drinking vessel shattered. Hands dripped wine and blood. During the meal, cameramen grinned while chewing the shards.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Rivi Songa has never met her father. She lives in Brooklyn Heights. He lives somewhere in Oceania. Since childhood she’d only heard stories about him: he was a coconut clergyman then a vanilla bean bandit then a swimming banana god. When she was old enough, Rivi journeyed to the Pacific Islands to search for him. Her search was distracted when she visited the King of Tonga. The King said Rivi could never leave the island unless she performed Slam Poetry at his feet for three days. On the first day Rivi made up a rhyme about coconut milk flooding the mean streets of Brooklyn. On the second day she made up a rhyme about the borough hall bitches who sat around teasing their papaya salad hair-dos. On the third day she was rhyming about the Coney Island hula cats when a white-bearded man walked in, sat at the right side of the King himself, and whispered in the King’s ear. The King leaned over then straightened up and thought for a while until he addressed Rivi saying, “Ms. Songa, your father has just given his blessing. I am urged to beg your hand in marriage.” Rivi looked at the bearded man and blinked. At the bat of her lashes, the old man’s beard turned into a wandering albatross that flew clean off her father’s face. “Papa!” She said and ran to embrace him.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

BEAt & Ballyhoo

Joan Unlike is a dyke. But that makes no difference to anyone at this book conference in P.C. Joan Unlike is also a very famous author who is uncomfortable with the techno trend of libraries going digital. She stands at the podium telling good old stories about the bookstores of Garvard Square in the 1950s. She remembers when Key Worn City’s Fifth Avenue was the rub-a-dub book hub of the world. She urges booksellers to guard their citadel. “Keep up the fine work you’re doing! Keep publishing fewer titles and concentrate on glamorous marketing schemes. Knowledge imparted by the written word should be most accessible to those who cough up the cash. Creative endeavors shall remain controlled by economic forces FOREVER!” She said, and everyone clapped and sighed with relief. “Amen!” Some P.C. native shouted out and nodded. The high-profile dyke took her seat with her chin held higher. Yeah, no one dare one-up this dyke.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Megan’s husband is a wealthy banker and arms dealer. He is worth 24 million dollars. She would never have dreamt of hiring a hit man, but she often fantasized what a beautiful widow she’d make; she’d cry at his funeral and then collect on the insurance. Two days ago, police found Megan’s body in the river with her arms, hair, and skirts fanning out, her body bloated and buoyant, her face shimmering like white diamond. It looked like she had drowned herself. “Suicide. But hard to tell if there wasn’t foul play involved.” The cops coughed and itched themselves when they delivered the news to the widower. “There was no play involved.” Megan’s husband said. “That was the problem. Megan drowned herself to preserve her vow of chastity.” Huh? The police officers didn’t get it. “I wanted to make love to my wife, for once. Can you believe it? Even for gifts and money, she wouldn’t give up her virginity.” One of the neighbors had witnessed Cupid, up in arms, running circles around Megan’s house the night she died. “I can’t explain it.” The neighbor said. “It’s like a scene the old French masters would have painted.”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kitchen Korea & Kitsch Korea

Finally old enough to travel, Lee Jung Mie came south to work in a new bar just opened up in Seoul. Her grandmother cried to see her go; Jung Mie thought it was a shame that her grandmother did not come along to the new, hip scene. "I have bad hips" was Grandma's excuse. At the bar, Lee's boss could care less that she has never opened a bottle of beer in her life; she’s never even seen a bottle of beer until tonight, and she doesn’t know how to open it. “Here. You open.” Lee Jung Mie gives the unopened bottle to a customer and hurries back to the kitchen. Raised on cornmeal, Lee Jung Mie knows nothing about the dishes the bar serves, even though the cuisine is supposedly North Korean. Lee Jung Mie never had the right connections up north to get more quality goods. Tonight there's a bar customer, Park Bo Yong, who leans back with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He stretches his arms over the back of a bench. “This is what my father’s life was like in the 1950s and 60s, before the money boom." Back then goods were poorly made, service was bad, and people were bored. We all feel nostalgia now and then. On a stage lit by The People's bulbs, Jong Su Wang now sings North Korean standards that his big uncle taught him. “Sounds like my country cousin!” Park comments and cheers and chugs down his Taedong River Beer, a North Korean brew that North Koreans can’t seem to find anywhere. Park asks the waitress if he could show her around the city when her shift ends. Lee Jung Mie puts down her tray, removes her apron, and says, “Okay, let’s go.” They leave, and a dozen customers sit for an hour or two without service.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dogs Don't Listen to America

Mister Chin watches out for ideas that sell. He reads three newspapers a day: The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and the L.A. Times. He notices that the papers reveal a lot about their geographical locations. Today he is noting the comparisons of the report about the famous Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. The New York Times discusses Mr. Millan’s ambitious business enterprise. Entertainment moguls are quoted saying that “this is not a flash-in-the-pan sort of thing.” Millan’s method attracts clients, and he has his own television show. Chicago’s paper mentions a list of celebrities’ dogs Millan has treated. The L.A. Times didn't report on Cesar Millan today. Two reports were enough for Mr. Chin to notice that though Millan may not heed the laws of national borders, Millan says he lives by the laws of Mother Nature. That makes Mister Chin scratch his chin and wonder. The NY Times reports that Millan is an immigrant who “evaded border patrol from Tijuana into Southern California.” The Tribune also reports that Millan “entered the country as an illegal immigrant,” couching the term in such phraseology that you’d think the guy ‘s status remains criminal to this day. Whether he holds a green card or works as a dog whisperer is not what interests Mr. Chin most; but the different ways the papers present Cesar Millan’s immigration status makes Mister Chin most curious. Furthermore, the Tribune reports that the high-brow veterinarians disapprove of Millan’s old-world methods. Meanwhile, the Times encourages readers to stay tuned to see if Cesar Millan will remain calm and assertive in the wake of fame and fortune, what with all the litigation he is attracting now. Either way, something Mr. Chin learned from the NYT article: Pets walk behind. Something he learned from the Chicago Tribune is that there is still a huge gap between lack of formal education and institutions like the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Something he gained from both articles is that so long as Mother Nature condones migration, there will continue to be all methods of border crossing. Hmm. Mother Nature's boundaries are not national. Mr. Chin wonders if that idea would sell.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Putty-nose on Talk Shows

It was recently reported that a species of Nigerian monkeys, called the putty-nose, is revealing hints about the origins of language. Scientists say that the monkeys string two different warning cries together, which suggests their ability to work up to complete sentences. A popular prime time talk show host heard this news and urged his staff to get the monkeys onto a future episode, so he could conduct interviews. Several of the producers quit over the subsequent scandals that erupted. The chatty monkeys made too many demands on the show’s budget, demanded too much compensation. The hotel, travel, and dining expenses the monkeys incurred put the show in the red. On top of that, the monkeys got on the air and couldn’t answer a single question about narcotraffikers and money-lauderers in Nigeria.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


“I’m not feeling like myself today.” Vanessa told her lover. “What do you say we finish the snow sculpture tomorrow?” She led her lover by the hand, through the eye of the needle and into the cave. “Are we safe here?” Her lover asked, still trembling from the cold. No answer. Only the beat: mud-lump, mud-lump, mud-lump mud-lump; tribes drumming and stomping. “Vanessa? Are you there? Vanessa!” Hands clasped. Grips tightened. Murmurs glowed in the dark. “Don’t speak.” The voice entered the ear like a needle. “You’ll wake the water colors.” The heart of the cave beat wildly. The space filled with sounds from the Light Ages. They rubbed their palms over the walls. They wanted to speak; they wanted to ask: Who painted these walls? Wash-tease or Sun-blast? Nudes. Cavewalls flaked and fell. Vanessa and her lover slept soundly.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Press Pass to the Roach Motel in Translation

After the agency’s thorough investigation into Riva’s background, she finally secured a press pass to the Bite House. She searched the palace, crouched and sniffed all its darkest corners until she begged the roach regime into the light and asked the question she needed an answer to in order to complete her report: “Why?” Louder. “I said, why? Why do you send your young to die in unintelligent wars without a plan to bring them home?” The roaches bared their fangs, but Riva held her ground. “Answer me!” The woman screeched and clawed. That ancient madwoman method actually worked for dear, old Riva. The roaches went into epileptic fits; in the midst of their tantrums, Riva bit their heads off and then used her hands and feet to squash those roaches into the floor. Pressing harder. Pressing. Press! Later, Riva’s husband came home to a devastating mess in their apartment. Today, Riva was a bad housewife. She forgot to do the dishes and used the excuse that she was hunting roaches all day. Her jaw was too sore to deliver the rest of her report, but there was enough evidence that she was telling the truth: white goop dripped from her tight, sticky lips.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bab al-Shams in Translation

Riva just bought the English translation of Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun from She intends to read it this summer. She told her husband that it’s a saga about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the late 1940s. Riva grew up with a girl named Mona whose family was from Lebanon; they immigrated to the U.S. to avoid civil war in the 1970s. Today Mona works for the Jerry Springer show in Chicago. She dislikes her job. Mona and Palestinian refugees have nothing in common, but until Gate of the Sun, Mona was Riva’s only real connection to that tiny Middle Eastern country between Syria and Israel. Riva’s husband, Oscar, took up Gate of the Sun and started to read the first page and a half to see if the prose held his interest. Those pages described people running and weeping; loved ones were dead. Oscar stopped reading and said that the Arabic names slowed his reading a bit. Riva left the room and returned to show her husband a piece of paper on which she’d printed a bunch of names of civilians who’d died in Iraq since the U.S. military invasion. Muhammed Summaidai, Yasser Salihee, Abd Alglel Aoda… Riva said, “I read these names every morning with the hope that these souls find Ground Luminosity of enlightenment that is so important in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition.” Her husband gave her a confused look so Riva thought she had to defend herself. “Well, you know, every morning Oprah Winfrey lights a candle and repeats the names of slaves who lived and died on the Southern plantations!” “Isn’t it corny to model your behavior after Oprah Winfrey?” “Please don’t judge, Oscar. Some people seek refuge in Lebanon, some in daytime TV.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Paul refused the Rabbi’s advice. He wouldn’t sit and write down the story of his ideal departure from this world. Paul’s condition was getting rapidly worse; how could it help him to stop thinking he was aging and start thinking he was sage-ing? Paul never met a sage. He understood the aging process as an accumulation of indignities—drool then incontinence then dementia. Man left howling alone, weeping, falling in the dark. Paul had read many compelling novels by J.M. Coetzee, and he knew that aging only promised shame. “I’ve lived such an extraordinary life. I’ve raised money for great causes and made the world a better place.” He cursed the pain in his back that kept him bedridden for days. Yes, the Rabbi was mistaken, and Paul knew very well that aging is decline not transformation. That night Paul’s attractive nurse encouraged him to watch a DVD she lent him. It was a documentary called THE LINE KING, about Al Hirschfeld and his life as an illustrator. After watching the film, Paul took the next few hours to scare up blank paper and a pen. His nurse found him the next day, still seated on the couch with a pen in his hand and a pad of paper in his lap. Paul was doodling with a mischievous grin on his face. He hardly noticed when the nurse crouched before him to wipe a dangling string of drool.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Bagaa’adwe is the Ojibwe name for the sport invented by Native Americans, commonly known as lacrosse. The Ojibwe name literally translates to the English phrase “bump hips.” In Native cultures lacrosse games went on for days and assumed sacred meaning. Riva Buckley was studying Ojibwe language and culture when she overheard her father’s voice while he spoke in his office next to her room. “We’ll get the media involved.” Mr. Buckley was saying. He was always so busy; he had become a respected attorney defending athletes accused of rape. Thirty cases tried; thirty acquittals! Yes, he knew how to sway public opinion in favor of celebrated athletes. The three lacrosse players, Moe, Larry, and Curly, were grateful he was on their side. Half the community agreed that the uneducated, towny dancer shouldn’t get the best of our University talent. This courtroom tournament kicked off when Gerald Flint glanced at the article in the paper before he went to jury duty. But his mind wandered elsewhere while he was being questioned, he’d forgotten, in that moment, reading about “Fantastic lies” and a prosecution that ignored evidence. His mind was on the real estate deal he was closing, the property in Boca Raton. “The judge should have ordered the gag rule,” said a know-it-all federal clerk far away in Chicago who’d read the same article and remembered it and seethed. That clerk’s wife used to be a dancer, and he knows what kind of public reception dancers receive. Miriam, the rape victim, wouldn’t be able to support her two children without a dancer’s cash flow. “Local residents don’t even make as much money as the college boys spend,” she sighed. Days later, Riva Buckley got on the bus and bumped into Miriam Swanson as the dancer was on her way to court to testify. When Miriam was making her way out of the bus, Riva called after her, “Ma’am. You dropped your book.” Riva bent to pick it up and saw a title she’d never read, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach their Kids about Money—That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!” But the woman had already rushed away.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Militarization of Flood Relief

The president of the Urination States of Armpitica will address the nation tonight. He’s going to tell concerned citizens that they needn’t fear anything; the federal government plans to send National Guard troops to patrol coastal regions of states that border the Gulf. Before he delivers his speech, Mr. President practices in the mirror. He’s rehearsing this line, “Aw, c’mon people; don’t pout! We’re not militarizing flood relief efforts, but we’re just testing the National Guard’s capacity to stand there and aim their weapons at the water during the flood season. It’s a temporary situation.” Then, in the privacy of his water closet, the President raises a water gun and squirts water all over the mirror, imagining he’s hitting his target: “Take that, you wussy levee!” Between you and me, the President loves to imagine he’s fighting water with water: “Move over M60; here comes H2O!” He shoots! He scores! He blows the barrel of his water pistol just like the cowboys in the movies. “The citizens cheer!” He straightens his hair and laughs about what a good time he’s having. That night, one citizen named Joe Banks turns on his TV set to lament the President interrupting Prime Time TV. But Joe Banks hears the speech, and says to his wife, “There’s a fine leader. Now I definitely won’t have to buy flood insurance.” After the President’s chat, lots of people feel as comfortable as Mr. Banks. Everyone sleeps soundly. Years later, while Joe’s house sits in water for three weeks and the insurance agency raises its damages estimate to over $24,000, Joe is mighty pissed off at the government for not using bigger weapons to stave off the waters, and just as pissed at his wife for not buying flood insurance.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sophia's G Spot Didn't Check Its Blind Spot

Sophia was enjoying one of those “only in the movies” moments in which the heroine falls for the hero with just one look across a crowded room. Sophia didn't know his name, but she noticed Hermmy was so poised, so clean-cut. Sophia raised her glass in his direction and mouthed the words, “To you!” then tipped her head back, swallowed the last icy drop of her G and T, let it slide down her throat. “See if he can catch that subtle hint,” she thought to herself. Meanwhile, the blues man, Lindsey Alexander, was working the room with his guitar cocked and ready and his voice full of grumbles about his uppity women. His music put Sophia in an outgoing mood. Sophia saw Hermmy still looking at her, so she raised her eyebrows to the stranger, intending to welcome more flirtation. Hermmy didn’t seem shy at all because he kept his eyes glued on her. He stared at her, and she liked the attention, so she winked. She wanted him to understand she was available every night. She thought it especially charming that he carried a cane with him, like an old fashioned gentleman, “a gentleman and a scholar,” her mother would have called him. Her mother was married to such a man for nineteen years before she ran off with that carnival boss. Sophia welcomed Hermmy’s gaze on her “like a fly on pooh” she cried to her best friend later. Without warning, Lindsey Alexander approached Sophia to serenade her while she was busy flirting with Hermmy. Lindsey rubbed his trembling guitar strings against Sophia’s bare arm. Lindsey closed in on Sophia, his whole body ashake with song. He sang, “Woman, can you bake my biscuit good and brown?” Sophia rolled her eyes, hoping Hermmy would notice that she wasn’t interested in the seductions of a moody blues musician. Hermmy had already won her heart. The blues guitarist turned away and worked his riff on another woman. Sophia blew Hermmy a kiss. Hermmy rose from his stool. Quick. Sophia took out her compact to powder her nose. He approached her, using his cane as a feeler. “I beg your pardon.” That’s all Hermmy said, while gazing in space, when his cane bumped Sophia’s foot. Then a good Samaritan guided Hermmy to the club’s exit. Sophia’s heart sank in between her legs; she scolded herself for being so stupid but recovered quickly. She spent the rest of the evening, alone, blowing kisses to the dartboard in the back room. Man, if she only knew how to sing the blues…

Friday, May 12, 2006

Macabre Matrimony

Marya, trained in St. Petersburg, enjoys critical praise. “Divine! Bravo!” Each night she curtsies in the sold-out theater. Back stage she removes the doll mask and hair pins. She ices her knee and privately curses. She’s sick of wearing this tutu and wishes she could be cast in the bully ballets instead. “Good news!” The choreographer shouts. “The Metropolitan Ballet Theater hired us! We’re moving the show to Keyworn City!” Marya unlaces everything, rubs and cracks all her throbbing joints; tonight had been the 68th performance of the experimental Gilded Ballet. She nurses her knee and clenches her eyelids until the pain subsides. When she opens her eyes, Vladimir is before her, on one knee. He thanks her for covering up his mistake: when his Trump Tower wig flew off, Marya recovered gracefully, made it look like an intentional move barrowed from the dance tradition of former Soviet fantasy puppetry. “You’ll marry me?” Vladimir proposes. “I have a better idea.” Marya responds. “Would you like our union to be more perfect?” Vladimir nods his head vigorously. “Get up off your knee; we’ll need it for my replacement.” The honeymoon passes and then all the surgical procedures succeed. Soon Marya becomes world famous because she executes impossible dances, like the solo pas de deux; she shifts roles: Prima Ballerina, sautĂ©, Danseur Noble then she pirouettes and she’s Prima Ballerina again. Nowadays she can perform all the moves of all the sissy and all the bully ballets herself. She owes her success to her dear Vladimir, rest his soul; if it weren’t for his generous donation to experimental theater science, Marya would be back humming revolutionary songs to her dying grandmother in Russia. She curtsies again then considers how expertly her new double tongue could manage rebellious lyrics. Well, she’ll tough out this last ballet season. Next year she’s determined to debut as an Opera diva, show off her haunting vibrato, baritone to soprano in one deep breath, falsetto, scream and whisper simultaneously; oh, the highest drama! The audience will flip its wig.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Planned parenthood, eat your heart out! Coming to you live from the urban jungle is a woman who defies the maternal script. Maria dared to ask, “Father, what does a woman do when she cannot feed her young? When the screams become so piercing that the earth cracks beneath our home?” Joctopus, her older son by three years, said he didn’t know how the dog got in and tore up the family bed where the baby lay, screaming and quaking. “Mama, the baby stopped crying. He’s sleeping in the dog stuff.” Maria’s heart squeezed with guilt, “Father, I do not feel remorse for leaving the infant in Joctopus’s care, but will God forgive me for feeling relief there is one less mouth to feed?” The priest blessed Maria and instructed her to pray. While on her knees with her eyes squeezed shut, Maria received a vision from God: a strong baby black eagle was pecking the weaker baby black eagle to death while the mother eagle looked on, indifferent. Instantly, Maria understood and forgave her own brother; he used to laugh while waving his knife at her; he even cut her once with the same knife he used to slaughter the stolen chickens. Now a paternal voice boomed throughout the village, “Fear not. Nature’s law sees justice in siblicide. It’s a burden, I know, for those of you who are civilized and pious. It’s a great burden. Lay it down. Lay it down.” The voice faded and the vision faded and Maria felt comfort and agony. She realized she was not a desperate mother, a sinner, or a demon. A chill rose up Maria’s spine and spread through her skull. She was fathoming a whole new idea of the maternal instinct. Was that really a divine vision guiding her to take comfort in exercising her own instincts? What would the Father say if she told him?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Croak in Translation

They didn’t speak the same language, but the leader of the General Council knew that his young conquest was infected; nonetheless, nothing could stop his advances. A sensible man, he sensed that she enjoyed his attention. They smiled at each other often. If the smiles could rise off their faces and link, their detachable, upturned lips could form perfect circles, like smoke rings, in the air all around them. Her ease with him answered his longings. Besides, he was skillful at responding to earnest desire; he was a good leader who listened to the people, and the people always voiced their deepest desires; he always answered them; now he answered hers. They’d sat this close in his Lovannesburg garden years ago. Back then they’d silently agreed to feel relaxed in this sexual tension. But this time the pull was too hard to prevent their collision. Even the weather permitted it because now was the frog-mating season, for crying out loud! Who can ignore the appeal of the male frog’s croon? The collective croaks turned both of them on. They petted, kissed, fucked, and promised. Later, he was left wondering why she exposed him? Well, he had no regrets. If their mischievous translator ever came to visit this refurbished gulag, he would ask the translator to teach him to say “Do you want to play leap frog?” in his Lover’s muddy, wart-covered tongue. Maybe, when his Lover noticed that he was serious about abandoning his life and his voice to be close to her again, he’d win a visit from her. But after spending years practicing and making himself fluent in her tongue, he received news that she was killed in a hit and run at The Hour of The Star in Rio de Janeiro.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

TEN World Voices

A distinguished panel, moderated by the novelist Canue Imagio, met at the Global CafĂ© in Keyworn City. Mister Imagio asked the panel about Faith and Reason. An underground man from Syria said, “I have faith that the Turks will get out of the upper Euphrates waters, and the reason is because our People’s Council says go away.” A dying mother of five from the Isle of Man removed her tube and said, “I have faith that my country’s tourist industry will boom because my children are building a huge amusement park at which people will only be allowed to speak the reviving Manx Celtic language.” An illiterate girl in Benin said, “I have faith that my uncle will die tomorrow, and the only reason he will die is because AIDS has no regard for human life.” The leader of the Secret Fraternal Order in Switzerland said, “The reason I have faith that we’ll reduce the drug traffic through my country is because I’m an effective leader.” A beggar from Brazil asked, “If a man falls in a forest of ghetto blasters and no one hears his cry for help, does that man exist?” A saint from Jamaica argued, “In this era, faith and reason are conducting illegal cross-border trade.” A fugitive from Cyprus said, “There is no reason why I have no faith.” An Innkeeper from Hong Kong said, “I have faith in eco-friendly products and the moral high ground and the reasons are all very obvious.” When they finished speaking, everyone clapped. Only one person asked a question that wasn’t really a question, “I’m proud to be a US citizen becasue in the US everyone speaks English at the amusement parks.”

Friday, May 05, 2006

Beijing Road

Becky is an American girl who goes by the Chinese name Zhang Beiqi when she travels to China. Her name in Chinese means Precious Queer, and the name suits her just fine because the queerest things happen to her in China. For instance, one day she saw the film director Chen Kaige on a street in Guangzhou. Kaige was standing at a bus stop, weeping, and pounding his fist over a movie bill of his latest work “The Promise.” Beiqi, with two braids flying behind her just like all the beautiful village heroines from Chinese peasant movies, rushed to her hero Kaige and asked him what was the matter. He sniveled and said, “It’s a shame. My new movie earns box office success at the expense of artistic quality. So hard to make money and art at the same time.” Beiqi made a gesture to offer Kaige a listen on her ipod. “I’ve downloaded music that Jews brought to Shanghai in the 1930s. There was a lot of depression among Austrian refugees who didn’t fit in here or there, and this music uplifts any downtrodden heart. You wanna hear it?” Kaige allowed Beiqi to stick the earphones in his wiggly ears. “That tickles.” He said. He listened to the song and felt relieved. He asked her if she wanted to take a stroll with him on old Beijing Road, a street in downtown Guangzhou that has a clear, fiberglass covering; pedestrians can look down and see layers and layers of exposed roadwork dating back to the Song Dynasty. As they walked, Kaige was asking Beiqi about what it’s like for an American to learn Chinese. “Like the rat who ate books and became literate but then could no longer relate to her rat family and friends. I became literate in Chinese and that alienated me from just about everyone I’ve ever known and loved.” She told him she still hasn’t found a way to bridge gaps and doubts she ever will. “So you have the essence to make art.” Kaige said, nodding and grinning. Then Beiqi taught Kaige her favorite song; it’s a Yiddish, romantic, ghetto ballad called, “I Left My Heart in Little Vienna.” But Little Vienna vanished when the refugees fled Shanghai as civil war broke out in China. When Beiqi and her companion stopped singing, she asked Kaige if he knew of a good place where she could leave her heart.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Carpool and Crapulence

Four entrepreneurs—Will, Steve, Les, and Doug—started carpooling to work because all of them agree that gas prices are a rip off. They’ve already enlisted their favorite lobbyists to urge the government to investigate price gouging at the pumps. Some mornings, Les drives while Will reads aloud passages from Daniel Yergin’s THE PRIZE. Other mornings, Will drives while the men sing show tunes or pub ballads and scratch each other behind the ears. But this morning, there’s tension: Doug slouches against the passenger door playing with the window. Down. Up. Down. The price of gasoline has gone up again, and now Steve is also resenting the wind in his hair as they do 55 mph on I94. “Quit it, Doug!” He snorts and continues the edgy conversation. “Wouldn’t you know it? Way back in the 1920s during Prohibition, the intention was to fix instability in oil rich regions such as Nigeria and Iran. Look where all that has gotten us! We may have been more clear-headed if they’d allowed people to consume alcohol while prohibiting engines to consume gas.” Doug pouts and interrupts, “Steve, how come you never drive?” “Doug, you know I haven’t volunteered to drive because my car’s tied up at PA meetings.” “PA?” “Yeah, it’s the new, hip temperance movement: Petrol Anonymous. As soon as my car kicks its junky habits, I’ll be able to drive us all to work.” Les interrupts what he thinks is an asinine conversation to tell the guys that he’s secured a national endowment. “I’m going to do lab test to see if my wife’s home-brewed, water-based, solar-and-wind-powered Love lube might not be used to fuel our engines.” Doug perks up and starts singing: “We'll get some overhead lifters and some four barrel quads oh yeah.” The other guys join in. “Keep talking whoa keep talking.” Doug: “A fuel injection cutoff and chrome plated rods oh yeah.” The guys: “I'll get the money. I'll kill to get the money.” Doug: “With a four speed on the floor they'll be waiting at the door. You know that ain't no shit we'll be getting lots of tit! In Grease Lightning.” Everyone: “Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go!” The tension exits the car through the turned down window, and all is well again.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Geographer Shrugged

Ian Moapolis was the guy who went around asking American college and high school students if they could find foreign countries on the world map. Through the years, he grew less and less amazed that Americans don’t know their geography. In one class Ian Moapolis visited, Betty Miller asked her history teacher, “Mr. Simon, did the founding families of Plymouth or the suffering slaves of the tobacco fields know how to locate Afghanistan on a map?” Mr. Simon scratched his beard then answered, “Most likely they did not. Guess it’s part of our legacy.” Then Gregory, the valedictorian, reminded Betty that when the Natives first saw Western Europeans on their soil they mistook the white men for gods, and they were wiped out because of their ignorance. He argued, therefore, it’s good to know geography. Betty snapped that she didn’t see the practical use of pointing to this or that country on an abstract map, “Unless, of course, you’ve got interest vested in boosting the tourism industry. If not, we should all just back off because my mom says pointing is rude.” Ian Moapolis was folding up his map and getting all its creases mismatched; for some reason he never could fold it neatly together once he’d unfolded it; Betty asked him how it is that knowing geography is the same thing as being well informed. Betty claims she knows that everywhere you go there are good people and bad people and people who own ipods and laptops and people who don’t and people who drive sports utility vehicles and people who don’t and people who eat and people who don’t. Will it change the desperate international situation if I, Betty Miller, know how to find Darfur on a map? Will knowing where Darfur is on the map help me nurture my poetic sensibilities and develop what John Keats called negative capability?” Ian Moapolis felt bowled over. He shrugged. That afternoon, due to faulty Map Quest directions to a school in the next district, Ian Moapolis drove his 1998 Impala into a brick wall and died instantly. He was a good soul.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


There is a coffee shop on 49th Street and 9th Avenue in NYC. As usual, there are people sitting in the coffee shop, reading the news and sipping hot drinks. There is a woman named Lu Anne who is ignoring the bustle around her. She’s engrossed in a graphic novel called PERSEPOLIS; it’s a story about a girl growing up in Iran during the Revolution. “Close that book!” A police officer orders Lu Anne. “Close that book because it’s all about fanatics and veiled women. And you may not know this, but we Americans don’t approve of Iran and its opposition to the UN!” Lu Anne looks up from the book. “Billy!” She shouts when she recognizes her Ex. She closes the book to stand up and give him a big hug. It’s been three years. “What brings you to Hell’s Kitchen in your work uniform?” He removes his cap and sits at the table. “I’ve been thinking.” He finally says, a little nervous. “I was too hard on you when I pushed you out of my life because you read comic books.” Lu Anne, trying to be discreet, pulls the closed PERSEPOLIS into her lap. “I tried to change but failed you.” She says, lowering her eyes. “I’ve been reading the Art Spiegelman you gave me, and I’m changing my mind about the genre. I’m sorry I was so hard on you; it’s just that the NYPD has more traditional literary tastes.” Lu Anne keeps her head lowered; she can’t help but grin. “Lu Anne.” Billy sighs. “I’ve been thinking about giving us another chance.” Lu Anne looks directly into Billy’s soul and says, “In your dreams pal! I wouldn’t date you again even if you promised to build me my own atomic power plant!” She throws the book at him and leaves.