Thursday, April 20, 2006
Finding Mr. Nemoponte has proved a baffling task for all the organizations, agencies, institutions, and associations involved. “He’s a marked man. We’ll find him.” Mr. Fureaucracy told reporters. But the folks at the groupthink tank aren’t making things easy for Mr. F. He had to deal with more dissent today. He wished that everybody would just wear their damn Uniform Resource Locator as requested, but one sticky chap refuses to accommodate that rule. Says the unwieldy URL wrinkles his lapel. The meeting ended with more than half the committee members and all of the sub-committee members leaving the conference room with red faces. Chaos erupted. Ms. Overhaul tripped on a wireless connection. Mr. Power lost his balance. Mr. Security took sick suddenly and vomited all over Mr. Threat’s brand new Cordovan shoes. But everyone went home and made love to their spouses and then all was well again. Except for Mr. F. His wife didn’t make love to him. How could she? Though she tried, she had trouble helping him off with that bizarre uniform.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
My husband is a high-ranking military man as courageous and heroic as General Jiggles. Even though I’ve warned him that his recent misbehavior is punishable by death, he insists on arranging classified trysts with his newest mistress. I don’t know what she’s got that I haven’t got. Let’s see if you can guess who she is. I’ll give some hints. Sure, she’s fissionable, but I’m fashionable. Sure she’s fun to ask out for radiometric dating; I’m fonder of traditional double dating. She may be radioactive, but I do aerobics. She may be pyrophoric, but I’m euphoric. She may be teratogenic, but I’m hygienic. She proves “might is right” while I’m a quiet creature of the night. She brags of making something of herself even though she grew up in the Manhattan Project. Big deal! I grew up in the Galfatten Trailer Park. I think my husband likes her because he says when she’s depleted, she can still be used as shielding to protect tanks; she can be used to make bullets, kinetic energy penetrators, and missiles. When I’m depleted, he says, I look like I’m good for nothing but hitting the pillow and falling fast asleep. So I’m not nearly half the woman as his new paramour. You guess who she is? Give up? Ms. Nunu Cleo Weepun. Ah! You know the extent of her power, do you? Okay, you’re right; I should let him go; let him have her. Divorce him. He isn’t even half the man as my former lover, that good old Adam Iqbalm. God rest his soul.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The study indicates that Laura is among the victims who have moved an average 3.5 times since the hurricane. The study also shows she’s one of those 40 percent of women who suffers depression. According to the study, all three of her children have developed disorders; one is convinced there is a tempest in the fridge; one wakes from nightmares to hoard the valuables; one is among the 34 percent who suffer asthma. The study has found that Laura’s family also makes up part of the 14 percent that didn’t get prescribed medication during the three months of the storm’s aftermath. The trailer shakes with loud crying and uncontrollable fits of laughter. Through all the disorder, Laura was able to finish reading a memoir written by a man who survived San Francisco’s quake of 1906. He attributes his longevity to a healthy sex life. Now Laura thinks: shouldn’t Public Health officials in Louisiana spend more time teaching hurricane survivors the mysteries of the Kama Sutra? Seems that’d be more fruitful than harvesting meaningless statistics. Laura knows better than to trust cold numbers. She’s no poor victim. She’s got her sex drive, plenty of wind in her sails on that score. Laura wonders: why do those studies insist on counting complaints rather than tallying the scores?
Monday, April 17, 2006
Lydia stepped on a nail in the pedestrian tunnel under Lake Shore Drive. She felt relieved she’d chosen to wear her old flip-flops on this unseasonably warm day because the blood was streaming out and ruining the shoes while Lydia hobbled home. She entered the apartment and called to her husband who came running with the bandages and peroxide. While Max cleaned and dressed his wife’s wound, he told her a story about his father. “My father’s family was wealthy. Before the revolution, they harvested bamboo and owned property in the province of mountains and groves. After the red guards killed my great grandfather in front of the family, everything crumbled. My grandparents escaped their arranged marriage, and my father, only a boy, was left alone with the devastated mountains and groves. Vengeful folks used to make him collect wood and manure. My father had no shoes then, and his feet endured deep slashes and splinters. He used to soak his feet in the rushing river to freeze the pain. As soon as he got some shoes, he decided to go looking for his father. What else could he do?” Max finished telling the story, stroked Lydia’s hair and assured her that all would be well. "We’ll get you another new pair of sandals." He assured her. Lydia decided this was not the right time to tell her husband that she was pregnant with another man’s child.
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Rolfgang is Ugo’s older brother. When they were boys bunting balls in the yard, Ugo shadowed Rolfgang. But when they got older, Rolfgang became the shadier of the two. When the two sealed a contract with the mug boss, their brotherhood grew stickier. After three or so slug jobs and a clip, both brothers got all their limbs tangled in an affair with a crooked dame and all their wits tested by an intrigue with a wily, old lady. Desperate to fulfill the mug boss’ last contract, the older brother pulled a gun on his younger brother. While rain fell on the windshield, Rolfgang rubbed an 1840s French pistol under Ugo’s nose; but, Ugo couldn’t take his brother seriously; he started to sing some nincompoop nonsense song until Rolfgang shook so violently with laughter that he dropped the gun. The next evening, around midnight, the mug’s gang avenged betrayal by giving Rolfgang the meat hook. Although Ugo was able to remove the hook from Rolfgang’s left nostril, the offense stirred Ugo’s passions so much so that for once in his life, Ugo stopped thinking of girls. Thoughts of revenge consumed the youger brother. By high noon the next day, court was in session and Ugo had worked up the balls to confess. “Have you ever seen such an undersized wharf hand hang his stinking guts on the rope like that?” Wharf workmen gossiped. After the committee made the final decision, the wharf hands turned their cheeks and became less afraid of the mug boss. Next they all waited for Ugo to tell them what to do. Ugo gave a riddle: “Gentlemen, what creatures have got plenty of thug muscle while they still act with the virtue of wee, cutie babes?” The wharf hands turned this way and that then shrugged and gave up. “Men, that's who, Men when they finish working overtime act like babes who crawl and suck, right? But Men crawl the pubs and give suck to the pint! Let's go!”
Friday, April 14, 2006
George is a reporter for Violent Times News. He’s the paper’s Bureau Chief in Iraq. He worked so hard to secure the respectable position. And he almost lost the opportunity when a bus ran him over on 5th Avenue. He nearly died: suffered trauma, remained in a coma, provoked his malignant melanoma, and had metal pins and plates installed in his back, in his head, and throughout his soma. George recovered so admirably, and through the great pain he was still able to realize a successful journalism career. Violent Times News always turns up award-winning headlines from Iraq because they only assign their best reporters to the front lines. That’s why, as soon as he recovered, the paper sent George Gutsmansoni. While in Iraq, George kept in touch with his doctor over email. He wrote a message that read: “Is there anything I can do to avoid blood infection in these conditions? There are car bombs everyday.” His doctor offered only a one-line reply. The doctor wrote, “Perhaps you’d benefit from more stable conditions.” The Bureau Chief turned to Alex Tibbs, his staff reporter who has been in Iraq for the full three years now, and asked, “What do you make of the doctor's cryptic message?” The reporter shuddered, “Cryptic? Ah!” He screamed, dropped to his knees, and crawled under the Chief’s desk for cover. “Get out from under there, Tibbs.” The Chief crouched low. “What the hell bit you?” Tibbs grinds his teeth and trembles. “Sorry Chief. But I don't interpret that line as cryptic; rather, your doctor’s words are apocalyptic!” “Tibbs, you’re overreacting!” “No, I beg your pardon. I’m nuclear reacting, sir.”
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Horst is a novelist who is now hunkering over an old trunk. The hinges snarl when he lifts the heavy lid. The trunk contains smutty books. A diligent researcher, Horst reads every page; all the stories are set in the village of broad lawns and narrow minds. The transparent characters and frivolous plots do not interest this serious writer. One item does catch his eye, however. A handheld trousseau mirror. Cracks tell that long ago, the mirror endured a devastating blow; and afterward, careful hands fit pieces back together. That’s nothing special, as cliché as Humpty Dumpty, but Horst notices dark stains in the cracks. The stains suggest dried blood. He runs a trembling index finger along the cracks. His mind starts spinning a story when his thoughts are interrupted by the cold, loud shatter of glass two floors below. He hears a cry, a cough, and laughter. Horst abandons his lofty space with its mildew fragrance and austere relics; he runs down to the piano parlor where that notorious writers group known as the Art Party Crashers has gathered to play a game they call “Smash the bottle.” Outrageous! The serious writer concludes. “What game is this? The schoolboys always called it ‘Spin the Bottle.’ It’s lewd. You’re all…!” But this version has nothing to do with removing clothing from the body. This game has everything to do with removing the garments with which we adorn our minds. “Oh hoh, Horst. Whatever gave you the impression that we are naked? Come. Then you must play!” Horst declines the invitation and returns to the attic. He won’t play, and he won’t write because now he’s got nothing on his mind.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Mr. Peters travels the world to taste wine. He’s a seasoned sommelier but has not yet achieved the qualification of “Master” from the Institute of Masters of Wine in the UK. The exams are much too rigorous, and the examiners are dissatisfied with Mr. Peters’ ideas. Still, he’s got his iron backbone; so he keeps insisting on the merits of a sweet Chinese wine distilled from bamboo. “The finish! Absurd!” The master says, and he turns the glass and pours the green liquor all over Mr. Peters’ horse-hide shoes. Mr. Peters ignores the insult and continues through the blind tasting part of the exam. “You know,” Peters says, “in the nineteenth century, people believed that grapes ripened better in the year a comet traversed the skies. Mm?” He concentrates on the tongue’s after-smack. “This must be a comet-wine. The cosmos is in the Nose.” At least he passed the blind tasting portion of the exam. But they’re still laughing over his tasting notes. “Ha! The Chinese aren’t known for making wine!” The masters claim, “They probably think good wine ferments in the Chairman’s underwear! Ha!” Mr. Peters respectfully approaches the master with the stiffest lips and pleas, “Will you consider my tasting notes on a wine made from Job’s tears?” The master scowls and tells Peters to wait until the next comet shoots across the sky. “Then we’ll reconsider.”
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Angelique participated in a national day of action. She stood on Archer Avenue and held up a protest poster with the words: “Immigrants are NOT criminals.” She and her mother make some money from their fast-food service jobs, but Angelique still can’t afford to go to college. Angelique knew that people were gathered there to remind a congresswoman that she broke promises. Angelique’s boyfriend recently promised her a ring and a date to a Cajun bistro. He reneged too. Angelique felt like her poster’s slogan was confusing the issues; she’d rather her sign read more like a beggar’s: Need Money for College Tuition. A lobbyist and a reformer stood next to Angelique. They discussed whether or not convicted felons should own dogs when they get out of prison. “They don’t want a friend; they want a weapon!” Angelique wondered if these more articulate gentlemen could give her advice about higher education. “Work!” They said. “And save all your paychecks from the Greasy Burger. This country rewards hard work.”
Monday, April 10, 2006
At the Palmer House, Deogratias stood at a podium before a crowd of medical students. He wore a blue suite with a yellow shirt and tie that Diana had chosen for him the night before. He hadn’t seen Diana in over a year. He’d been too eager to see her, but that was last night. Now he had to focus on giving this presentation. Nothing progressed smoothly. The staff didn’t bring the projector to the Monroe Room on time. Deogratias did not have his visual aids. He couldn’t show the mass gravesites, the infirm who are imprisoned rather than hospitalized, the devastation in Rwanda and Burundi in 1994. He filled the time by discussing his work with Paul Farmer at Partners in Health, a Harvard organization. Finally, they brought the equipment. Deo took the stage. Diana cried over the bloated, the malnourished and those afflicted by splenomeglay. She was secretly glad that she was already married when Deo had asked her to marry him some years ago. The pharmacy, in the place Deo called home, didn’t even have one aspirin pill in supply. How could he expect a New York girl to marry into that? During the question and answer session, several people raised their hands to ask, “Can you connect us to opportunities working with Partners in Health?” Deo blinked and didn’t respond to that question at first. Someone asked again. Deo had gotten the job after running into Paul Farmer on a street in Boston and swapping similar life stories over a beer.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Ben, a soldier home from Iraq, met Kate on the Long Island Railroad. He was heading to a pain management clinic in the city. She was returning from a beach outing at Fire Island. When Ben got up nerve to talk to Kate, he fell for her. His current girlfriend, Gretchen, the nurse at the clinic, would be an easy commitment to shake. Kate made it clear she just wanted to have fun, but when Ben proposed she didn’t say no. After they were married, he picked up the habit of forgetting his wallet. He also turned paranoid and belligerent when he heard unfamiliar noises, especially pips and squeaks that came from children’s squeeze toys. “We won’t have children.” Kate agreed. Ben’s pain got worse. Kate never grew fat. Ben would eat no gristle. Kate would eat no lean. Kate flew off the handle when they told her to quit caffeine. She boarded the LIRR and never came home again.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
In Chicago, Ursula rides her cruiser bicycle on the Lakefront trail every day, even when the weather willl not offer its blessing. She rode on Friday in April. Heading southbound, she laughed at Michigan’s waves boiling up and the splash shooting off cold fireworks against the breakers. Ursula thought a big lady must be taking a bath somewhere way out there; she's rolling over; she's kicking up all the chaos. Ursula cruised at 20 miles per hour while she continued southward; she was much too proud to realize it was the tail wind pushing her. She thought: my, today I do ride fast; must be shaping up. Then she U-turned herself around and the wind nearly scooped her arse clean off the bicycle seat. She pedaled against the wind for hours at the slowest speed. She thought: well, endurance is much more interesting than speed, anyway. When she arrived home, her roommate, Mister Toro—who has golden teeth and would have been the next in line to wear the mask of Zorro if he weren’t so notorious for his bad breath—told her, “Why, you look like you’ve lost fifty pounds since this morning! And just look at your thighs. They are so…firm!” Ursula blushed. “Why, thank you, Goldie Chops.” She called him Goldie Chops when they were in a more buddy-buddy mood. Then he lifted his mask. “You’re welcome, Pursula!” That’s what he called her when he wanted to borrow some money. “Tell me,” he continued, “what was this morning’s bike ride really like?” She sighed. “If you must know, Mister Toro,” she used his common name, which meant she wouldn’t loan him any more money, “it was like wrestling The Angel.”
Friday, April 07, 2006
He refused to go alone. No one had told him whether or not this would be a black tie affair. He couldn’t imagine what would be the most appropriate attire. Important people would be there: his superiors, the judges, the critics, the analysts, and the entire Swashbucklers Drum and Bugle Corps. Would they serve wine and cheese? Would there be a parquet dance floor? The invitation mentioned nothing, not even the time and place. The colorful card with images of confetti, noisemakers, cone hats, streamers, and balloons bore only those two words outside “You’re invited…” and those four words inside. Does this party have a theme? He wondered. It had better be a fresh theme, something that’s never been done before. “I swear I’ve seen it all: the come as you are party, the toga party, the masque, the debutant ball, the greed party, the make-out mischief party. Themeless. But will you come with me anyway?” He asked Hugo, though he’s unreliable. “You’re worried about going alone? You’re lucky, at least you were invited to your own funeral.”
Thursday, April 06, 2006
I was born, oh, 5 billion years ago. Came out of the wide-spread legs of Ms. Universe. I crawled through dust and gas of Orion's nebula. I suckled the teat of the Milky Way. Then I scratched an itch under the aurora borealis (the American Revolution); stretched an achy shoulder muscle (the French Revolution); and wiggled a foot that had fallen asleep (the Communist Revolution). I have hosted parties for all varieties of dancing beasts. I have felt cities crumble on my head, shoulders, knees, and toes. I have felt premenstrual cramps erupt my molten interior. And still the creatures slither, claw, hunt, and bleed all over my sial. Should I keep up these calisthenics to slim my Middle East? Got to lose these metric tons somehow. Mars has got an Earth Mother Rhythm Band that sings, “Let's rock and roll!” And by that he means we are mature enough, ripe to sound our own hard music that could form new planets. I roll over in my own sun-warmed bed. I'll think about it.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
The inquisitor, disguised in black, asked her to think back to an incident that happened before her first year serving here. She didn’t remember scandalous documents. She couldn’t recall grotesque photographs. The inquisitor gagged. That reminded her: she dredged up the memory of dogs baring their blood-stained teeth. She spoke quietly for hours. “But I still cannot recall how long I have served. Nor can I remember whom or what I serve. In the military? On the bench?” “You never served in the military or on the bench. You are serving a prison term, a life sentence. Remember?” Life sentence? She thought. What is that? Life is a beach. Life is a bitch. Life sucks. Life is a bowl of cherries. Those are life sentences; how does one go about serving them? She reconsidered, “I’m not serving; I’m doing…Time.” Yes, sounds more risqué. They troubled her with no further questions.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The deadline passed. Sal passed the bottle to James. “Drink to next year.” James swallowed the bitter brew. “There won’t be a next year, according to the diagnosis.” Sal glared between his younger brother’s eyes. “If you want to win that contest, prepare the portfolio and choose to live to see the result.” James, holding the foaming mug with both hands, turned his gaze from his brother’s. “We don’t have that kind of choice.” He heard the defeat in his brother’s voice; Sal sighed. It couldn’t be proven, but Sal deeply believed people survive by will. “What if the doctor had said ‘two years,’ not ‘two months’?” Sal’s brother dropped his head as if he’d fallen asleep. Then his whole body flopped to the floor. To Sal, James’ last motions seemed to take two years. Sal howled while his brother took a last breath in his arms. Beer spilled everywhere.
Monday, April 03, 2006
In our 60th anniversary photograph, he stands beside me in the garden, wearing his favorite dark suit. My face looks dreadful without powder; his looks fine, unshaven. He was still moving stray hair out of my face when the picture was taken. The pink hydrangeas behind us bend in the late-August breeze. The cat licks her paws, her head bent before us. The pink of her tongue rivals the high color of the hydrangeas. And then there is that dreadful atrocity that the photographer’s lens caught, the critical glimpse that put my husband away for the rest of his life: the limbs of the slaughtered, unnamable beasts, buried, recklessly, beneath the bushes. Once I wanted to visit him when he was rotting in that hot, dreary prison cell. I mean sixty years of blissful marriage without a single error. Who knows why he decided to butcher and bury my genetically engineered menagerie. My new beau tells me that burial site is enough ground for divorce.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Grandmother taught me to read at the mosaic table. The table stood, patiently, in the one lit corner of Grandfather’s hookah lounge. I can only guess what happened in the three darker corners of that friendly place. While tobacco bubbled, surrendering molasses and cherry fragrance to our air gulps, Grandma sounded out words while pointing to text. In another corner, my brother played the bookah drum; my uncle blasted the wookah horn; Pazadookah—our patron saint—hummed on the kazookah. Yes! Yes! My family’s music woke the royal ma’fookahs. The whole sound jived well with the frog croaking in Grandma’s lap. Nobody slept for three years because the sound inspired everyone to whistle together and walk all around the city walls for days and nights without pause. Now Grandmother paused her talk; after sipping the smoky tea, she continued reading through me. Her breath never ceases. Grandmother whispers in my ear every time I open to read a story about heroes.
Saturday, April 01, 2006
She’s given a nickname to the upstairs neighbors: The Gustompo. They walk all over the hardwood floors with elephantine footfall. Once, she knocked on their door and mentioned her concern that the floor might fall through. “You’re paranoid.” Humphrey told her and pat her on the left shoulder. The next night they threw a whoopee party; didn’t invite her, but shook her apartment enough to make her throw an epileptic fit. When she peeled herself off the floor, she heard that fateful thump she’d been anticipating. She rushed to the room; yes, Humphrey had fallen through the ceiling. “Good thing the bed broke your fall.” He was so drunk. “Sure.” She’s easygoing. “Stay the night.” She went to the kitchen to brew some coffee. When she came back to the bedroom with two steaming cups, she noticed that Humphrey’s guests had all jumped through the hole in the floor. “He dared us!”