Saturday, July 29, 2006

When Riva Djinn Received an Arts Grant

In Rome there is a museum called The Institute for the Pathology of the Book. Subterranean tunnels contain mounds of blackened paper and parchment, proof that war brings literary holocaust. During World War Two, millions of books in over 250 libraries in Europe were destroyed. Apparently, books do not survive gunfire, bombings, blazes, floods, military incursions, or hungry insects.

One hot day in July our heroine, Riva Djinn, snapped her fingers and secured herself a generous arts’ grant from the Dead Letters and Languages Society. Riva decided to use the funds for a translation project that would involve a visit to the Pathology of the Book Museum in Rome.

When she arrived, Riva met a hunchbacked tour guide who informed her: “Most visitors, and there have been too few, turn white as ghosts when they see the Grim Reaper of literature, science, history, poetry, and civilization.” The hunchback scratched at the festering wound on his inner right thigh. “And no one, I mean no one, can long endure the moans and groans released from dead books.”

Riva pouted her rouged lips and simply said, “May I be left alone here for a while.” The hunchback, who feared nothing, almost turned white himself. He said, “You must be mad, but suit yourself! My ears aren’t what they used to be, so I can only promise that I will not hear you scream.” He climbed the stairs, alone and wheezing, then he slammed the door.

In the dark, Riva sighed then wept over the dead books. Riva, being only five inches tall, could comfortably curl herself up inside the center of one book whose pages had been hollowed out by fanged and foamy-tongued beetles. Nature and war will be cruel, but Riva noticed that words clung here and there. Maybe a story could form around all the words the insects hadn't eaten.

To help her think, Riva sang a song. She sang a tune the Bedouins used to repeat to her. Riva sang of the copper moon over the desert as the books repeated their repulsive dry heaving.

At last, Riva fell asleep, curled up in this book whose pages had been eaten away; the books parchment and broken spine coughed up dusty despair that settled in Riva's long, dark, worm-like braid.

When Riva awoke, she went straight to work. She squinted over the dove-shaped letters; she strained to piece the old words together again; she become intimately involved with this one volume, a cycle of mawlawi drum poems. What did these words mean? Could she ever deduce all that was missing?

Riva hunkered over this translation project for nine lonely years. Finally, she had interpreted a master work by a Bedouin poet, a whirling dervish who had hidden an uncommon love for a sacred whore in the desert of North Africa. Would this volume find readers? Was this the kind of poetry that Book Sellers were regarding as too passé?

Riva didn’t care. She’d spent nearly a decade of her life kissing the trembling feathers of doves. She had wrung gentle words from her dark eye lashes.

This was the least she could do to prove herself to her father, who had lived an accomplished life as an esteemed scholar. Now Riva had something to recite to him on his deathbed, and she could whisper these verses to him in Arabic, French, Russian, Sanskrit, and English. Surely, her father would be pleased.

“Just think!” She grinned at her friend, the hunchback, who had been bringing her fresh pots of Moroccan mint tea for the past nine years, as it was Riva had never once surfaced from that museum's underground tunnel, “If every man, woman, and child in the world came down here to visit and stayed through one night to read and translate, we could restore all these volumes, rebuild entire libraries! Tell me, don’t you think that would be more interesting than mooning over the boob tube?”

The hunchback shrugged then nodded then itched his groin.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Scribble Bitch Book Club Has a Crisis Hotline

The Scribble Bitch Book Club currently has three members: Rebecca Jane, Sheela Swift, and Riva Djinn. (See the post below entitled "The Scribble Bitch Book Club" to know exactly what titles they are reading).

These three women met at a small club in Chicago called the Rhythm Room, a nightclub that hosts Friday night drum circles.

All three of these women happen to play different varieties of hand drums. Rebecca plays an inverted steel drum; Sheela plays an Irish bodhran; Riva plays the Middle Eastern dumbek.

These women met two weeks ago at the Rhythm Room's weekly drum circle. Drumming together quickly made them into a classic example of fast friends. They all discovered that they share interests in reading, writing, and talking at high speed.

All three women worry over the crisis in the Middle East, and they have anxious personalities, so they decided to form a book club to start reading, talking, thinking, and writing about this problem amongst themselves.

After exchanging phone numbers, they agreed to be available to each other anytime, day or night. The three of them created a kind of Middle East Crisis Hotline, thus agreeing in this way to be within reach of each other, all the time.

Last night, Rebecca picked up the phone.

First, she called Riva, who was busy indulging in a foam bath. Riva splashed and laughed. Rebecca, being as reverent as she is toward a woman in her bath, couldn’t imagine disturbing her dear friend. Rebecca needed to quietly rant; her reading had inspired an urgent and pressed mood in her, so she explained to Riva that she'd just call her later; she'd bring her concerns to Sheela first. Riva agreed, and they hung up.

Rebecca called Sheela, who had bathed in rose petals and goat's milk an hour ago. Sheela was ready to listen closely:

"I have just read this scene in the novel Beirut Blues by Hanan al-Shaykh. The scene made me think about something. May I read you a paragraph?" Rebecca asked.

Sheela took her friend off "speaker phone" and whispered, "Sure. You have my ear, Sweetheart."

Rebecca read this paragraph from page 21:

“Kazim was listening to what Ricardo said, but he rephrased it in more ideological terms; he said that religious faith was now the solution but that this was a gut reaction after the failure of the other political parties. ‘We confronted Israel with weapons, nationalism, guerilla operations. What was the result? If we’d fought them with our religion, we would have overcome them. Look at them. Because they operate on the basis of a single religion, they’re the strong ones. Religion must become the authority."

"May I share with you what this paragraph made me think of?" Rebecca asked.

"That's what our hotline is for. Speak, girl. Don't be timid!" Sheela gently urged.

"In this novel, this passage strongly suggests that Hezbollah, which regards itself as a political party of God, was created in reaction, a 'gut' reaction is the way this novel's characters state it, to the idea that perhaps the Israeli army draws its strength from its religious affiliation. This makes me see that these two sides, these fighters, are like two sides of the same coin. They are mirrors of one another. True. I am afraid of the way the US government and Britain will point to Hezbollah as the ONLY and MAJOR problem in the Middle East. It's not right. It's not that simple. The problem is a human one and needs a human solution. No more violence, please! I am desperately afraid of the kind of bullying the Bush administration probably has in mind."

"Also, reading this made me think of something I'd recently read in Tin House, an interview with Roddy Doyle. Many of us 'Westerners' and people who feel more cynical about religion may feel like dismissing warrior mentalities that appear to be flawed and simplistic and steeped in religion. It's more complicated than that."

"Anyway, in this interview with Roddy Doyle, who is a writer I admire and respct, he wanted to dismiss all religion—he included yoga and vegetarianism under his 'religion' umbrella—as silly. Religion may be silly, but like other silly urges such as war and revenge, we need to admit that many people embrace religion; it's a human force..."

"I wish writers who become cultural icons and spokespeople would not be so careless, dismissive, and cynical when dealing with other people's choices, affiliations, and actions, especially when the consequences are war and death. Dismissing actions as 'terrorist,' 'fundamentalist,' 'radical,' or 'silly' does not seek to understand the very human forces that compel people to act the way they do. Our mind needs to kick out its habits of judgment if we want to deal effectively with one another. We need to think in terms more compassionate. Enemies are mirrors of one another. The characters in al-Shaykh's novel seem pushed by desperation, i.e. Israelis have religion; they're strong; we need religion... Oh, how shall we ease this suffering, this urge to fight, this despair??? You see, Doyle wishes to define himself as Dublin-Irish. You see why this is still problematic? At the rate we're going, Dublin could be taken away from him any day now. He could be exiled involuntarily from Ireland. What then? What is left when you let go of designations such as American, New Yorker, Syrian, Israeli, Indian, etc.? Is there a place for all of us to grieve together, to finally acknowledge the extent of our exile?"

"In a poem called 'As He Walks Away,' Mahmoud Darwish's speaker recites the lines of Yeats' Irish Airman:

Those that I fight I do not hate.
Those that I guard I do not love."

"Oh, I'm sorry my thoughts are so scattered over this. I'm just feeling a little desperate too."

Rebecca's voice, exhausted, fell silent.

Sheela nodded and winked, and by some odd magic (or perhaps through an excellent Verizon connection) Rebecca could actually hear Sheela nod and wink over the phone.

"I am listening." Sheela assured her. "I have heard all you have said. I have received your words, warmly, absorbed them into my consciousness. Now, I will be silent and think."

Before they hung up the phone, Sheela thought of all this:

'I was reading too, and now I am thinking of all you have said and of a very powerful passage in Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun. A French writer is interviewing the Palestinian fighter, Yunes, asking him if he’d ever killed anyone and how he feels about it. Yunes is telling Monsieur Georges that in war, killing is like breathing, you do it without thinking about it, in war you are a fighter and you shoot and shoot, fighters live and die shooting. In a warrior consciousness, it's as though one can never really know the extent of damage he can do. I suppose we always sort of live like that, not knowing how we hurt each other, but maybe it's not always as obvious as a military battle. Killing each other; hurting each other; experience teaches that fighters get swept up into the vertigo of it. I can show you vertigo.'

'Anyway, this passage, Khoury's whole book, makes me realize that war is a way of being for displaced people who have been falling too far into despair. History has been repeating the obliteration and annihilation of people, masses of people killed violently and erased. Even their erasure is being forgotten.'

'It's not just Israelis and Arabs; we all must stop killing each other! Where do we begin?'

'Do we agree to go down together? The earth enshrouded, a white sheet over her eyes?'

'I'm on my stomach, my lips press to the ground. I'd do whatever it takes to stop this nonsense, nothing more and nothing less than complete submission. Surrender. Israel! Western Europe! US! You've won. So rape me. Palestine! Arab nations! Islam! Ugly martyrs, all! You've won. So veil me!'

'Lock me away in your gas tanks, your refugee camps, and your bombed out harems! I care less. Stop this nonsense, at once! Listen to your Grandmother's stone-cold heartbeat, sounds like this: Live! Age! Live! Age!'

'Grandmother's heart tightens in your fist. Let go. Slow down.'

'This is a desperate situation! Makes me want to sit back and do nothing but drink lots of brandy and listen to my favorite Billie Holiday tunes! Where's my silk robe? Oh yeah, and I also need to oil my legs and rub my clit. Ah! Fuck you, cruel world! Go ahead! Destroy cities! I'm busy giving myself an orgasm. God, Sheela, man, I love you!'

'What else can I do? No one can hear it anyway.'


Though they were both silent, only breathing, Rebecca heard all of Sheela's thoghts; she even heard Sheela's self-induced orgasm and her tiny cry for help. Rebecca hoped that she was not the only one who had observed Sheela's silent, wicked beauty. Rebecca hoped their phone line was being tapped.

Finally, Sheela whispered, barely audible, "Call again, tomorrow. I must hear your sweet voice repeat another bedtime story!"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Riva Djinn's Consciousness

Riva Djinn is a small woman. No, she is tiny! She stands 5 inches 3 centimeters, precisely. She lives in Chicago, in a low-rent studio that is not much larger than a Neti pot.

Yesterday, while the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spoke to Congress, Riva Djinn marched herself all the way to DC then marched back and forth outside of the House chamber. She was wearing a t-shirt and waving a placard and shouting a slogan in her elfin tongue. She was feeling really political; she was in one of her hot-blooded protest moods.

Her t-shirt and placard read the same long-winded slogan:

"Yo, Democrats! You will have no impact if you stay away today just because the ineffective leader of an occupied country refuses to criticize Hezbollah; the fact that al-Maliki takes a tough stance against terrorism, yet at the same time does not answer questions about whether or not Hezbollah is a terrorist organization means that the US and Iraq really ought to sit down and dicuss what they mean by the word 'Terrorism.' Stop playing fast and loose with the word Terrorism and Terrorist. Start trying to deal with the crisis in fresh terms that capture nuances. And, by the way, don’t go looking for the definition of Terrorist in John Updike’s latest novel!”

She may be a miniture woman, but Riva Djinn was able to fit all that on her extra petite t-shirt and protest placard. She shouted that mouthful for hours.

Then she wondered why nobody's head turned her way. No one noticed Riva Djinn's protest. After three hours of marching this way and that, she finally rested in a crack in the sidewalk. Forlorn.

‘Maybe my t-shirt is the wrong color.’ She thought. ‘No, I know.’ She re-thought, ‘No one is listening because I am a woman! Ugh!’ And her blood started to heat up again, and she started to feel the urge to change her t-shirt and go right back out and protest.

Little did she know that a more likely reason why her long-winded protest went unnoticed was because she is only 5 inches and 3 centimeters tall. Ms. Djinn's consciousness is not raised enough to know that this country has yet to fight for the liberation of small djinns, whose existence is still a dubious matter to begin with.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Insider

Dylan hangs his head, a haggard inmate, posing now like Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Years ago intrigue destroyed Dylan’s promising career; he had been a lobbyist for the “Pay Me My Money Down” Fiscal Task Force. Impressed with his work, the Force entrusted Dylan with a job that involved enlisting troops of blowflies. When the feds investigated, they found Dylan and his allies guilty as Hellenized barflies. Dylan denied all charges of espionage, conspiracy, corruption, and fraud. He only admitted to petty larceny, “Yes. I stole thunder from a macho bard.” Eventually his bugged secretary, Ingrid, teased out all the more incriminating information during one of their innocent intimacy exchanges inside an insolated closet. Then Dylan’s allies volunteered insinuations to interrogators that tipped them off to the internal medical professional who revealed the truth about Dylan’s irritable intestine syndrome. Old medical records were lost to incineration. Dylan endured incarceration. Now that he had spent several years in prison and could finally admit that he had no future in a political career, Dylan decided it was time he told everyone the truth. His mother probably already intuited Dylan’s preference, and his father was long dead so no one could wonder about the inbreeding. Dylan’s lover, whom he had met at the Stonewall Inn that fateful night of June 27, 1969, could finally abandon the incognito routine. Poor Ingrid; she would be most surprised and disappointed. Dylan sighs, raises his head, and winks at the guard. Then he says, “Sir, it’s ‘bout time I quit bein’ so friggin’ insular.” He smiles, “It’s ‘bout time I was out!”

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Scribble Bitch Book Club

We've established a book club for writers who have their pens poised, ready to spill a well of ink for every pool of blood and tears, to try to read and write about the human side of the crises—with all the nuances—in the Middle East.

Here's a list of what we will be reading over the rest of the summer:

1) "Gate of the Sun" by Elias Khoury
2) "Her Body Knows" by David Grossman
3) "Beirut Blues" by Hanan al-Shahk
4) "The Panther in the Basement" by Amos Oz
5) "Operation Shylock" by Philip Roth
6) "A House at the Edge of Tears" by Venus Knoury-Ghata
7) "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow" by Faiza Guene

We will also be reading the poetry of James Fenton, Mahmoud Darwish, Naomi Shihab Nye, Agi Mishol, Yehuda Amichia, and others.

If you want to join in, contribute, or discuss any of these, please write to Rebecca's e-mail address: winebowl at gmail dot com.

Read This Then Run For Your Life!

Fear never ruffles Riva Djinn. She rolled over this morning and discovered that the man next to her in bed had turned into a giant insect. She made love to him. Afterward, she left a note saying she was going for a swim in the lake. She didn't mind the filth, the sludge, the weird froth left over from the nuclear spill. She minded even less when a Grendel-like creature splashed her, nibbled her toes, and scratched at her back trying to untie her impossible G-whiz-string bikini; she just let down her hair and showed him: 'See how deep I can dolphin dive!' Later, she returned to her apartment to find her bugged-out boyfriend tied up, enduring a tickle torture by forty thieves. She shrugged and said, "I'll just return when you're not so busy." In a local coffee shop, run by a friendly man named Malik who immigrated to Chicago from Syria, Riva met an even friendlier man from Morocco named Jamal Rahid. He bought her a green tea latté and then challenged her to a game of chess. During the game, Jamal Rahid proudly proclaimed he was a terrorist then told Riva all about his years in prison. Riva lost the chess match, but that didn't bug her so much because she always sleeps really well after she's had a bizarre day.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Weboholics Anonymous

“I am [insert your name], and I am a Weboholic.”

This is the sentence that could be heard over and over last night in the overcrowded Wigwam Room at the Union League Club of Chicago. Is it any surprise that the city where fast food began, and that is now pushing for fast food chains to kick out the trans. fat oils, is also the first city to set Weboholics Anonymous in motion? WA held its first meeting to discuss the twelve steps on the road to recovery for those who suffer from addictions to surfing online. Experts agree that unless you live in a country that is ruled by an authoritative regime, you really have no business spending more than one-hour on the Internet per day. And a group of concerned megalomaniacs scared up enough funding for a project to spread the word: Good people are becoming incurably addicted to the high-speed influences of Web surfing. One old woman—folks just call her G-Ma—lamented, “My family fled Europe; my nine children grew up feeling rootless. Now my techno grand-babies run away wireless! Aw, criminy! And they say I'm losing my wits. Hell! At least I got wires!” Are you one of those who might make G-Ma uneasy? Or are you one of those who can’t go a day without an online hit, fix, or blow? If so, don’t be ashamed to enroll in the twelve-step program. The first step is admitting you are an Internet junkie. Here's the test: If you can do the “www dot” dance while sitting on your ass then you have real problems! Report to your local chapter of “Weboholics Anonymous” immediately! The sausage king of Chicago was glad he did!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In Defense of Flash Fiction

Yesterday I posted a blog entry on the Metaxu Café litblog site. Another blogger posted a short piece after mine called “Geopolitical Flash Fiction: The Odd Couple”. This entry discussed the blogger’s thoughts on George Bush’s utterance of an expletive at the G8 conference. At the end of the post, this blogger wrote a post-script, “I just noticed that the post below is from a site entitled Flash Fiction. No offense is intended in the title of this post.”

This blogger was referring to my site, and I do not take offense at the title of his post; however, I do think he may be using the term “flash fiction” in a way that distorts the understanding of flash fiction as a literary form. His title and post also highlight why flash fiction still falls in a "sub" status as a literary art (flash fiction is commonly referred to as the "short short story"). After reading the "Geopolitical..." post carefully, I understood that this blogger seemed to suggest that the choppy, blurb-like quality of the news flash is somehow akin to flash fiction. The news flash and flash fiction are very different and should be understood as vastly distinguishable from one another, and not just because of the fiction/non-fiction difference.

In this essay I also wish to defend, or demonstrate the merits of, flash fiction because my own writing buddy recently attempted a piece of flash fiction herself; and although I enjoyed her piece, she insisted that she still dislikes the form because she feels that most flash fiction writing tends to be too blurb-like or is merely a novel synopsis.

I have been practicing flash fiction for four months now. By no means have I mastered the form, but I have found writing flash fiction to be useful in my growth as a writer. I appreciate the way flash fiction can correspond to and inform the challenges of writing the novel.

Definitions differ, but this is how I define flash fiction: Flash fiction rises out of a writer's attempt to write as epic a story as possible in as few words as possible. Word count is not necessarily important to me, but some writers attach word count to the definition of flash fiction, for instance “a story of no more than 750 words.” But for those who are serious about their word craft, it is not advised to get too hung up on word count. What is important in flash fiction is the relationship that this form cultivates between writer and reader.

The flash fiction form stresses the writer’s trust of the reader. I regard flash fiction as the most intensely interactive kind of reading experience. That means that the writer must respect what the reader will bring to the table. In flash fiction, a writer is able to make larger leaps between sentences. Or years may pass within one sentence. Flash fiction offers enormous challenges to a writer who wishes to concisely convey the passage of time. Also, the writer may wish to convey ideas that are merely suggestive, and it is up to the reader to fill in the rest. Another challenge is trying to develop a character in three words or fewer. To tell the truth, I found this to be a refreshing way to write after spending months working on a sprawling novel. The novel holds higher regard for the verbose.

Though they appear to be opposites, the novel and flash fiction should be regarded as more akin than flash fiction and poetry. Why? Because good flash fiction should convey a sense of rubbing up to epic narrative, like a "three-penny opera" version of the novel form. Writing flash fiction helps with the problems I am having with my novel, mostly character development and dialogue. Flash fiction encourages a verbose writer to trust the reader so the novelist can move away from the urge to write exposition and description and move toward an urge to write prose that reveals the story through action and subtext.

Here’s a link to the title of a useful book Writing Realistic Dialogue and Flash Fiction. I am most interested in practicing flash fiction to improve the writing of dialogue.

You’ve heard the expression someone utters when they’ve experienced a near-death trauma, “My life flashed before my eyes.” Though it’s a cliché, this expression aptly represents what a powerful piece of flash fiction might be able to attain. It should be as though readers experience that sense of a whole life passing before the eyes or through the mind. I don't know if that is really attainable, but it is marvelous to imagine and aim for that kind of artistic possibility. I've found flash fiction to be a form that helps me celebrate the humanity of all the strangers I encounter as a city dweller. These days, while walking through the city streets, if I should happen to catch and hold a stranger's gaze, I like to whisper to myself, 'your entire life flashed before my eyes.' It's a phrase that helps me enter my imaginative space as I silently greet a real stranger on the street while contemplating that he or she embodies one, whole lifetime in all its sorrow and glory. I suspect that this little chant, this practice of imagining a stranger as a whole life force, fuels much of the writing that I have been attempting on this blog. Flash fiction suits an urban rhythm and saved this city dweller from the burden of feeling "alienated."

Flash fiction is suitable for blogging because of its shorter length; the reader is able to see the entire story in one computer screen without scrolling down. Some flash fiction enthusiasts consider it the “next frontier in writing.” This site, 365 Tomorrows expresses the common attitude that flash fiction fits with a “breakneck-paced” contemporary society. I argue that flash fiction is more of a nod, a recognition of the idea that there is an Internet world culture out there. To be an effective writer, one must read a lot. At this year's PEN World Voices conference in NYC, Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany answered one of my questions with a piece of advice that an ancient Egyptian poet gave to him: "Read everything; then forget it." Nowadays there are so many fascinating individuals sharing their words online that reading time interferes with writing time. But this should not frustrate writers. Always keep a pen and paper close at hand; it's delightful and necessary for a writer to take notes and jot down words and ideas as she reads.

There is so much information and so many people sharing their ideas online that it seems very unrealistic to assume anyone spends more than two to five minutes on any one site. With flash fiction it is hoped that at least a reader will get to read an entire story before moving on. I never lament the assumption many people hold that we modern beings generally have shorter attention spans. I still have confidence that any artwork that does its job to hold interest will be able to hold a person’s attention for at least fifty minutes. But if there is a tendency for us to spread ourselves too thin then we may as well have art forms that suit our sensibilities.

I am also inspired by my studies in Chinese literature because in the Chinese literary tradition there is such a form called the classical tale; this is very short fiction written in the literary language, i.e. the language that is written but not spoken. I studied literary Chinese as a foreign, dead language and found short short fiction most satisfying because I could comprehend it much more quickly and easily than the enormous, canonized Chinese novels written in colloquial Chinese. Pu Songling wrote such tales during the Ming dynasty (17th Century), and his tales remain popular in China today. I'd argue that Pu Songling mastered flash fiction, and flash fiction has a literary tradition that reaches all the way back to the Taoist masters. I am only recently becoming re-acquainted with the Western ancient examples, but Aesop's fables stand out.

But for an accessible discussion of a Chinese writer who wrote short short non-fiction, see Scott McLemee's column that discusses the Chinese writer Lu Xun, a writer of 1920s ans 30s China. McLemee describes Lu Xun's later non-fiction style by cheekily claiming, “Lu Xun invented the blog entry.”

There are some good anthologies and growing interest in flash fiction, but still not much written about the craft. It isn’t a short story; it isn’t poetry, nor is it subordinate to either of those. Flash fiction is a serious literary genre that demands a writer's conciseness and precision in dealing with epic drama. As a fiction writer who loves a good writing challenge, I have quickly grown smitten with this literary form and hope that someday it receives regard that lifts it out of its "sub" status.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Mint Fan Alley's Overture

Here are the first 537 words of a sensual, impish novel that is seeking a publisher and readers. This novel is entitled Mint Fan Alley. It follows the struggles of six women who own a nightclub in Hell's Kitchen in the 1990s. They struggle to indulge in the pleasures of Broadway's vaudeville past while the entertainment industry transforms their once-sleazy neighborhood into something more Disneyified and commercial.

After plenty of rejection, I am still pursuing the traditional query process with hope and enthusiasm, but please write to winebowl at gmail dot com if you have any comments, suggestions, or advice for an unpublished-in-print novelist.


Without a doubt, Cyril Digges was the sexiest music man in Manhattan; indeed, he must have put the M-A-N in the word Manhattan. That's why it flattered us to bill him as the featured act at our Hell's Kitchen nightclub. He sounded as good as Sinatra. He looked as bad as Banderas. And he smelled as sweet as danger.

Maybe it would have been wiser if he'd kept his songs off of my jamboozled sisters. But if he had, wouldn't now be indulging in gossip that is as sonorous as impassioned fingers scraping velvet. Besides, how could anyone blame him? He didn't know, hell we didn't even know the severity of the croon damage already done to our minds.

Cyril played piano as if he’d been gifted two pairs of hands from Tommy Flanagan and Thelonious Monk and played the vibraphone as if the spirit of Lionel Hampton stomped all over his pulsators. He also riffed on reeds as if Sonny Rollins could have heard him while meditating in that cave in India. What's more, Cyril sang on the horn as if he could charm Miles Davis into a snake dance on the banks of the Mississippi. To top that, he beat the drums so as to sink James Black deeper into his New Orleans grave. Yeah, Cyril Digges was big enough; he was a one-man-around-the-world band and a lady's man.

I was told that when Cyril Digges made love to a woman, she saw her name in lights.

Now, I ask you: is this true for all men who kick open the door of blameless women's nightclubs? Is it true that they are at once heroic and disruptive?

We wouldn't have known. I mean, before Cyril Digges spewed his symphony into our rough club, we'd never known a man could be so puffed up with song. Sure we'd heard playful whistles from bare-chested guys at Coney Island, but never had a rare talent's arpeggios penetrated our ears. We were only twenty-six years old and all of us, virgins. He came in our club and played 'til everyone shuddered in their crawling skin. Patrons squeezed into the club and then left behind the sweat and rind of their nightfall fashions. The dance floor flooded every night.

What? You don't believe me? The truth. Why get so hung up on the truth? Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned, west-of-Broadway exaggerated realism? The truth is that once upon a time Mint Fan Alley was a club where you could wear the magic hat backwards, kiss the honey off your buddy's skin, and everyone received celebrity salutations. In this cozy room, sextuplet sisters knew how to throw a party where, every midnight, the Law dropped the gilt ball and blew one giant champagne bubble.

Well, please do lean in close because I really shouldn't even speak the saga aloud. I'd rather whisper every word into your ear, tell you under my mint-laced breath, how a cymbal-crashing stud stymied and seduced six cabaret divas, divas who could high-kick higher than any dear ol' Radio City Rockette. You needn't worry; you can lean in even closer; I promise to keep my legs still, but I can't say the same for my tongue.


Careful. Stories that begin with strawberries end with trickery. This is a story about a benevolent, petty thief named Riva Djinn; she's an ancient woman who lives in an empty wine bottle in a city of fruit and dust. On this day in July, when the heat index was reported to reach 105 degrees, Riva received this knowledge from her trusted informant, Mister Whispers. “Psst. Inside a bowl are a dozen fresh strawberries; the bowl is inside a refrigerator; the refrigerator is in the kitchen of an abandoned home that has been taken over by a nomadic urban professional (a nuppie) who hadn’t fought in the war but who has benefited from being on the winning side.” All Riva needed to do was sneak through the window, open the refrigerator, grab the bowl, and run for it. The operation was a complete success. The drowsy man occupying the house didn’t even turn his head from the TV. With the bowl tucked in a hidden sleeve sewn to the inside of her gown, Riva walked to the busy intersection where a homeless man sat on a bench; he was nearly passed out from the heat. Riva knelt before him and fed him the strawberries one-by-one. The dirty man jerked and chewed and muttered incomprehensibly while berry juice burst on his tongue. He regained enough energy to lean over and pick up a wine bottle that had rolled up against his blistered feet. When he overturned the wine bottle and saw that it was empty, he wept. Riva gathered his tears into the bottle. She tasted one that had fallen on her index finger. Sweet. She put a cork on the bottle. She waited three weeks for fermentation. Then she added aniseed and waited another three months for the second distillation to be complete. At last, it was November, she retreated to the mountains of Lebanon and invited all the high-rolling nuppies to join the drinking party. All commented on the perfection of the wine. “This must be what God’s tears taste like,” said the man Riva had stolen the strawberries from four months ago. Riva rubbed his shoulder and thought she was drunk enough to repeat something wise, "The seasons change, and everything changes. Celebrate."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Piece of Flash Non-fiction...Ugh!

Mona Halaby is my closest girlhood friend. Her father and mother emigrated from Beirut in the 1960s. Mona grew up as my neighbor and has become like a sister to me. Her mother and father speak Arabic, but they never taught Mona the language. Mona grew up 100% American, perhaps—one might argue—nowadays she is even more “American” than I am. She studied Broadcast Journalism at Arizona State University then moved back to Chicago to work as a producer for the Jerry Springer show. I studied Literature, Writing, and Chinese language; I do not even own a television. Mona and I grew up delighted by our differences: she listened to Motley Crew; I listened to R.E.M.; she liked parties; I liked practicing piano; she liked the prank call; I liked the ding-dong ditch. We both liked boys.

Eventually, the daytime TV job gave Mona way too much stress, so she quit. She will marry a man named R.T. next spring. R.T. was raised Catholic, and at their engagement party he and I had a long discussion about his interest in convincing Mona to send their children to Catholic school. Mona went to public school, as did I, and her family is thoroughly secularized. R.T. and Mona have challenges ahead of them, but that only keeps a marriage interesting.

Mona still has relatives back in Lebanon, and I am concerned about their well-being. I am reading Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun to help me comprehend the magnitude of the ordeal and to gain more of a sense of humanity.

I was reading this powerful interview with Elias Khoury that discusses an astonishing moment in Gate of the Sun—the story about the boy who cried for pita-bread. That story made me think of a childhood memory (though my memoy is much less horrific). When we were very young, Mona and I were taken on outings with our mothers. Her mom and my mom used to love driving around town on long summer afternoons so that they could shop at garage sales. In the car, Mona and I would play and laugh; when we got hungry and started to get on our mothers’ nerves, Mona’s mom would open a knapsack and cheer us up by giving us circular slices of pita-bread. Mona loved the bread because it is what she ate with hummus at home. I loved the bread because it was round, different from the square slices that my mom buttered for me at home. Mona and I were girls with our own pita-bread story. Here's a simple riddle: I'm shuddering; why?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

When Amna Gave Birth

“Is it true that we often betray the people we love…because we love them?” Amna asked the haggard midwife. “After thirty-six hours of labor and a stillborn delivery, you insist on asking impossible questions about paradox! Have you gone mad?” The midwife offered the spent woman tea flavored with raspberry leaf. “Drink this. Sleep.” Amna dreamt of her dead sisters, her dead mother, her father, uncles, and brothers. She rested with a lethargic hope that her husband, Abu, would return. Her dark hair spread out and eventually turned gray upon a pillow that was filled with decaying flower petals. The ashamed midwife had eventually grown older talking to Amna and caring for her, rubbing away Amna's bed sores when Amna escaped into a coma. Years passed and then, “You lie!" Amna jerked awake to accuse her caretaker who had finally talked Amna out of her long sleep. "Abu is not dead. My husband has merely betrayed me. But he will return. He will!” The midwife lowered her head and wept; she'd lost the strength to wail. This time her tears fell onto Amna’s forehead. Marked by tears, Amna’s own face went rigid with horror. Now she knew her husband had been tortured, and killed by desperate exiles, then by the displaced, then by those people who despair feeling like they are superfluous and become so desperate that they turn into fighters just to prove they are still alive. To prove they are still alive, they become determined to kill, to die. Without an answer to that paradox, Amna forced herself to stop breathing.

(You see, quiet reader, what happens when I try to write humorless prose. This post is much too sad, too disturbed, I think. ???)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fog Over Chicago

Leonard flicks the ash from his fat cigar into the lake and leans on the gate. He looks out at the 1000 mooring cans and noble vessels that gussy up the Monroe Harbor. When he tokes again, his brow furrows. He’s fighting off any feelings of regret. Days ago, just moments before the Blue Line derailment, the angry bastard in the Cubs jersey had called Leonard’s mother a slut, most likely because Leonard was donning his White Sox cap. That strange fuck knows nothing about my mother, Leonard thought and then he tsked and spit. He didn’t help the guy when he could have. When the train violently squeezed, all Leonard had to do was pull the Cubs fan out of danger’s way, but he had chosen to do nothing. Now that guy is in critical condition at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Serves him right, Leonard thought. He smoked slowly, doing his best to forget his misery, watching his breath merge with the morning fog. At last, Leonard tossed the cigar to the ground and mashed it under his foot. Now it was time to return to the hospital’s ICU where his mother lies unconscious in a bed next to the stranger who had called her a slut.

What to Read While Beirut Burns

In 2002, Elias Khoury’s novel Gate of the Sun was named Le Monde Diplomatique’s Book of the Year. This novel is great supplemental reading to all the articles about the recent violent (thus BORING) development in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Khoury's novel is considered a Palestinian Odyssey set in Lebanon, so be prepared for heavy reading. I had a dream about Oprah last night, and she told me that Gate of the Sun would top her book club list but that it may be a bit too hot-button, even for her daytime audience.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I had a Crush on Zinedine Zidane

This is my last post in my “essayist” voice. After writing a half-dozen posts in this voice, I’d say I still enjoy it much less than all the possibility that writing pure fiction offers. I dedicate my last essay-style post to the most gossiped about athlete of this year’s international football World Cup—Mister Zinedine Zidane, or Zizou as he is nicknamed. Let me warn you, I have always been a sucker for a man with a strong head on his shoulders, and Zizou doesn’t disappoint. Zizou received international attention with his two headed goals in the 1998 World Cup finals against Brazil. Should it be any surprise that he retire from the game with his final moments slamming that same head into another man’s chest? A perfectly good tool—his head—had became a weapon.

I heard an interview on NPR with a woman who could read Marco Materazzi’s lips and deciphered what vulgar term he uttered that made Zizou so upset. Allegedly, Materazzi said something about Zizou’s mother and sister that was not very nice. My husband said he’d heard something about Materazzi accusing Zizou of being a terrorist! That made him wonder what the world is coming to. Later we heard Zizou state publicly that indeed Materazzi had offended him by degrading his mother and sister. Then Zizou swore he wouldn’t regret his actions because, and this is the kicker, if he regretted his actions that would mean Materazzi was in the right.

I don’t know Zizou, old boy. Regret works to wound all pride; regret never puts anything right. Materazzi's regret should feel as bitter; he ought to bow down before your mother and sister and women everywhere! Say you're sorry! But Zizou, I still wish you would have thought twice before defending your sister and mother’s honor with violent action.

The reson Zidane's plight interests me as a writer is because his red card incident makes me remember a lesson that Anya Achtenberg taught us at this year's International Women Writers Guild workshop. We were doing writing exercises that encouraged us to write about moments that had changed everything forever. Zidane's career came to an end at that kind of moment.

Okay, tomorrow I will return to my old flash fiction habits. I am not an essayist, but who can blame a fiction writer for trying?

Coping With the Tragedy in Mumbai

The so called "war on terror" is not working, and frankly it is boring! I don't understand why, after a terror attack, the media picks out common people to quote who say things like, "We're not going to let this stop us from living our lives as usual." Good for you! Right on! But is this really doing anything to stop terrorism or respect the dead? No. The way we live is the way we will die. If we want more effective strategies for combating terrorism, individuals need to take action. Live close to work, so we can walk to work? Find ways to live lives that do not have to destroy so much of the earth's natural resources? What? Individuals must be able to do something, right? Governments are clearly not effective and are only increasing tensions. I am literally sick of hearing that more people are dead from extremist violence. These are my questions: how can we all contribute to showing The Dead some real respect? How can individuals change their own lives to avoid the wrath of extremisits?

Hey Extremists, what is it, exactly, that would make you stop senseless, random violence against civilians? I'm a civilian; put down your gun and talk to me; I'm willing to listen. What? You can't put down your gun? Have you ever noticed that even if you kill me, there are billions more like me who live as they please anyway? Your strategy isn't working either. Can you hear me, Extremist? I think violence for its own sake is stupid. Try writing for its own sake, instead! Didn't your mama ever tell you that violence is a lazy man's cop-out? A violent action hurts its perpetrator most. Ask Zinedine Zidane! Extremist, who allowed you to immigrate to earth from Hell, illegally? Go home, but if you're too frightened of the monsters you'll find there then go to some quiet place where you can think of a way to put violence to rest. Civilians the world over would regard you as heroic if it is your own violent urges that you annihilate. Heal. And, by the way, any government who supports more military spending might learn a thing or two from the recovered Extremist. Hm?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Now, Nothing is Taboo

After our headbangers ball, we slept well and woke late Wednesday morning. We watched Portugal lose to France then hopped in the car for a five-hour road trip to New York. My friends drove me to a subway station in Brooklyn. “Yes! Let me loose in the city!” I sang as I jumped out of the car. My comment made Mrs. Blackbottom shutter with mild concern. On the subway ride to Penn Station, I read Yusef Komunyakaa’s Talking Dirty to the Gods. I LOVED this book and have read it three times over since! Poems like “Spirit Traps,” “The God of Broken Things,” “Sex Toys,” and “Genet,” jazzed me up, psyched me up; I was feeling a mysterious balm in my gut. I repeated the poems, memorized two on my way out to Little Silver, New Jersey. I nearly missed the stop getting too day-dreamy, thinking I had promiscuous wings and the world was nothing but light and sap, and I was approached by the beggar with the erect penis who said, “Yes, they say if you shave a monkey / you’ll find a pragmatist, the president.”

I had parted from the Blackbottoms, and now I was staying at what is known to my friends as Raisincrest. My hosts for the next three days would be Dr. and Mrs. Raisin and their daughter Woogie Raisin (also nothing but stage names. See why it’s better to write fiction!). On Thursday we went to a grocery store and picked up more food; another party would begin on July 6. This time we’d be celebrating my husband’s birthday. We’d need to prepare more food!

My writing buddy and I are both Libras. She follows astrology more closely than I do, and she tells me that Libras tend to enjoy indulging in pleasure. Thus one of the challenges Libras face is curbing their tendency to indulge. In my case, I would say that indulgence and pleasure go so far as to seek me out. On most days, I have no intention to indulge, and yet an opportunity for pleasure simply arises. It’s one of those strengths I have been unable to fit on my colorful résumé. Anyway, by Thursday I am nearly zonked out from over-indulgence. I appreciated the trip to the beach Friday morning with the Raisins. The Jersey shore is gorgeous this time of year. Ah, let me nap and dream of the beggar with the erect penis!

New Hampshire Rock Out

By Tuesday July 4, most of our party had dispersed, and only a handful of us were left together to enjoy a more private gala. After we ate rice wine haddock over white rice, this gala took a surprising turn into a headbangers ball! July 4, 2006 marks a very important day for me because I experienced my own new discovery: Heavy Metal music. Have you ever read that novel by Umberto Eco called The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana? It is a fascinating variation on the “coming of age” story. The protagonist Yambo recovers from a stroke with part of his memory destroyed. He can’t remember his past. He can’t even remember what sex feels like; consequently, he has turned into a sixty-year-old virgin when his wife deflowers him again. The narrative is full of fascinating description of rediscovering for the "first" time simple sensations like brushing one's teeth.

Well, before July 4, 2006 I’d say I did not have a taste for Heavy Metal music. I preferred world music and jazz. But I was wrong to attribute my dislike to a matter of taste; I was merely a metalhead virgin. At our ball, I lost my virginity. We listened to the Melvins and Black Sabbath. We were literally head banging in Woody and Clara’s living room, and my friends got such a big kick out of it because I have a ton of hair on my head perfect for swinging in a circle. We played a dice-rolling game called Farkle. I won the game, and I dare say it had something to do with the boost the music was giving me. Woody Blackbottom is a professor of philosophy, and he claims to write and think while Heavy Metal plays as his background music. My friends were really supportive of my initiation into Metalhead-dom. I look forward to exploring this new interest, see how it influences my writing. Just the night before my sweet husband and I were making fun of this music calling it “angry white male” music. But I intend to look more closely into heavy metal and see how my mind can change about it. My older brother Charlie used to walk around the house roaring, “bang your head for mental health.” I could never tell whether he was promoting or mocking the genre, but last Tuesday night I felt like banging my head actually worked. I was banging my head and felt that I shook off lots of hang-ups and grief. It felt like transformation and the pleasant sensation of revelation and new discovery and possibility. Imagine the new persona I will be able to take on when I write! On a practical level, headbanging porves completely effective for drying my hair after I shower.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Crazy Diamonds

Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, died on Friday, July 7. “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” was written for him, about his dissent into nervous breakdown and his long seclusion. I wonder what he did with his solitude. Why was he so rerouted from rock musician to hermit? What extremes did he taste that made him withdraw? In the rock world it’s commonly known as the “too much too soon trap.” But perhaps it’s not such a trap. Accomplishing something so intense as the inception of psychedelic rock music seems grand, even mighty, enough to me. The world had been enough with Barrett; it's no biggie to take a load off. I’ve gone through some smaller scale ordeals, and I live a solitary life. For the longest time I have been a bit bitter about my solitude, but I am gradually growing to regard it as dear. What did Emily Dickinson write about the “admiring bog?” What of fascinating careers that come to odd, unexpected conclusions? Tell it to Zinedine Zidane!

New Hampshire: More Mischief than Musing

Saturday, July 1 we spent watching Portugal play England and France play Brazil. I was rooting for Portugal just because I have recently become so fascinated by the writer Katherine Vaz who is of Portuguese descent. Between the games we held our own soccer match in Dr. and Mrs. Blackbottom’s backyard. That night a whole crowd of guests came over, making the party that much louder. We ate Man Salad, Salt and Vinegar potato salad, and for the meat eaters there was House Pulled Pork and Pickles on Portuguese Rolls (no one spoke with her mouth full; the food was that good!). We feasted on savory grilled halibut fillet. We drank vermouth with mangos. To recover Sunday we lounged on the beach and played croquet. We ate oysters and jumped the waves. Spirits would have remained high; however, Dr. Blackbottom’s computer crashed, and he lost all the data on his hard drive, which included several chapters of his book and hundreds of the coolest downloads of party music. Lesson: always make backup copies. Monday we didn’t do much but lie around and talk. Later in the afternoon we jumped off a local bridge into a lazy river; the bridge had been half destroyed by the floods this past spring; floodwaters ripped a colossal hole in the pavement. At night we steamed shellfish over the fire. When the bugs became too fierce, we retreated inside to play the card game Skat around the dining room table. We each tossed in five jerks; indeed, playing for money brought out the best in us. Monday we enjoyed a long, slow breakfast; Dr. Blackbottom makes the best slow-cooked eggs in New England. We spent the day napping and observing a family of Pileated woodpeckers that lives in the oldest Sycamore tree in Newmarket; a lovely spectale right there in the Blackbottom's front yard. Just as Don Hall thinks it is purest joy to watch his dog run through the woods, I think it was purest joy to glimpse the stunning, white under-wing of the adult woodpecker; she swooped down from the tree’s hollow that is almost 25 feet off the ground; she disappeared to retrieve carpenter ants and rose again to drop the insects into the open mouths of her hungry babes. So eager! So alive! They may as well be honored guests at this party in the land of the free and the well fed.

New Hampshire: The Errands Last Friday

This year’s Independence Day festivities were hosted by close friends whom I will refer to by their stage names—Woody and Clara Blackbottom. Last Friday, Clara and I had lunch at the Friendly Toast then ran to the health food store, the library, the fish store, Shaw’s Market, and the liquor store. We bought almost $250 worth of seafood and five bottles of Vermouth and a bottle of rum. “Are you feeding the troops?” The fishmonger had asked. While driving around town we talked about Clara’s third-grade students and the progress they made this year in spelling. We talked about book club reading for the beach. Another big topic of this year’s talk was about cervical mucus, morning temperature reading, and thoughts we have about a book for women on taking charge of our fertility. Yeah! Clara is trying to get pregnant, and I hope maybe someday to attain that state of grace, too. We made it home to the Blackbottom residence, unpacked, and waxed the floors. Guests arrived around nine. We ate lima bean puree with bread, fennel and olives in oil followed by mac and cheese with Peekytoe crab and chive flowers. Dessert was pure bliss: Manjari Chocolate-stuffed figs with ice cream. We supped, talked, and listened to the new Ice Cube and our favorite Fela Kuti tunes late into the night. The afrobeat jazz funk got us feeling all American and revolutionary, ready for our Independence Day weekend. Yes we do love world music, and we did follow the World Cup even though the US had already been defeated. Anyone out in blog-land thinking that’s Un-American? Let’s talk. Let’s sing! As Mr. Kuti would intone, “So I waka waka waka. I go many places. I see many people. Dem dey cry, cry, cry. Amen. Amen. Amen.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Goofing Off In New Hampshire

In Donald Hall’s The Museum of Clear Ideas, a poet explains baseball to a dead German artist. As poets will do, Hall has found a clever way to discourse about topics oddly juxtaposed—baseball and German art history; the two subjects must be among those that the poet K.C. holds as dear to himself as the glares he sneaks at his wife Jenny’s rear end. Baseball, German collage, and a wife’s rear end commingle to offer quaint surprise in this collection of poems that is structured like a ball game—nine innings of a Northeasterner reciting lyrics from the bleachers at Fenway. Play Hall! These poems seem to be a rustic hermit’s musings on all things sacred in the cozy corner of American idyll (not Idol!). Lucky for me, I brought this collection on our summer 2006 trip to New Hampshire not because I am a huge baseball fan, but because sports of any kind are not really my forte, but I am always eager and willing to learn almost anything.

While my flight descended over the suburbs of Boston, I must have counted twenty baseball diamonds. The meticulous lawn care and the careful drawing of boundaries do make those ballparks look rather graceful from up above, as if they are outdoor, dare I say, sacred spaces. Imagine ages hence if ruins cover these baseball parks and all evidence of our culture is lost and buried so that scholars have to piece it all together again. Perhaps they’ll speculate: “These arenas were temples where spectators worshipped the sound of a bat cracking a ball.” Just kidding. On a more optimistic note: while my flight descended, I was admiring the ballparks and wondering who would win the 3006 World Series.

But I didn’t come to New England for baseball. I came to celebrate July 4 and the World Cup finals with my good friends.

I wished I had a poet with me who could have explained soccer. I mean I know the basic rules of the game (played on a Baskin Robins team when I was wee); but it would be nice to know, in a more poetic way, all about the nuances that excite soccer fans. I hadn’t a soccer poet with me, so I took it upon myself to read up on the game on the Internet. My friends hosting the party in New Hampshire happen to be soccer fans and former players, so in the interest of preparing for fruitful party conversation, I’ve been studying what inspires billions of people around the world to work up fever over futbal. Please do check out this interactive World Cup map brought to you by the BBC.

I’d provide an interactive map of my East Coast summer vacation, but I don’t have the techno savvy to indulge such pleasures. I spent Friday in Boston, Saturday to Wednesday in and around New Market and Portsmouth in New Hampshire, and Thursday through Monday in and around New Jersey and New York. I enjoyed the breeze whooshing through the trees in New Hampshire while I read Donald Hall’s essays about Eagle Pond. I learned that in the 19th Century, Portsmouth rivaled Boston as a boomtown. You might not really guess that unless a poet with a good nose for history told you.

This first week of July, storm clouds teased us during the long afternoons, but there wasn’t any of the mud of October that Donald Hall writes about. Donald Hall experiences New Hampshire on a farm in Danbury that his hard-working ancestors owned. I am experiencing New Hampshire by spending a few days in a house my friends own, friends who feel as close, or perhaps—sadly—closer to me than my blood relations. To some degree I do envy Don Hall’s connection with his ancestors. My maternal grandmother owned a farm in Southern Illinois. I spent some memorable summers there as a child, but that old house and all the land and relics have been sold. What I do have now are good friends who live in a small town in New Hampshire. They’re all transplants from the city, but we love to escape to small town New Hampshire to sit back with nothing to do but talk and drink and reclaim a sense of intimacy. We are almost the precise “types” that Donald Hall opposes. But Hall is in error if he assumes that city people do not appreciate a strong historical sensibility. Many urban folk enjoy a much more sophisticated connection to the past than Don Hall gives them credit for. Hall has his back chamber full of relics, his huge Glenwood range, his sap house, his tools, his chopped wood, his satellite dish, his strong community, and his country ghosts. More power to him! Perhaps we urbanites and transplants are the ones who have stripped down to the basics; we live on our wits and financial chutzpah alone. Perhaps we’ve been misrepresenting all along, and it is urban folks who keep life simple. Wink.