Wednesday, October 24, 2007


For the past eight months, Leslie Strange has been cowed by this acronym: “LMP.”

First of all, Ms. Strange despises acronyms; to her, they are like Dixie cups or swizzle sticks, things once intended to be useful but eventually inadequacy renders them kitschy. She doesn’t think it’s cute the way the newspapers refer to an institution as NATO or the UN. Why not just write out the whole stinking phrase to avoid confusion? NATO could stand for “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” or “National Association of Theater Owners” or the name of that Queen album “Night at the Opera.” Likewise, UN might stand for “United Nations” or “User Name” or “Uranium Nitride.” Acronyms and abbreviations might seem convenient and cute, but they can cause confusion, especially if a reader only gives the content a cursory eyeball. Considered in this way, acronyms reveal themselves as unstable little beings that might be diagnosed as Bipolar or Schizophrenic if they were to pay a visit to Doctor Dictionary.

Leslie Strange cringes when she reads LMP.

To Ms. Strange, this acronym stands for both “Literary Market Place” and “Last Menstrual Period.”

Ms. Strange is a struggling writer who also happens to be eight months pregnant. When she fills out medical forms, the box asks “Date of LMP?” She assumes the doctors want to know when she had her last menstrual period, not the date of the latest rejection she received from the Literary Market Place.

But as Ms. Strange’s pregnancy nears its final stages, well-intentioned women, who like to offer advice, warn her about PREGNANT BRAIN. “Pregnant brain,” referred to by some as PB, is a mythological condition in which the pregnant woman is supposed to experience some sort of clumsiness in her intellect; she loses her normal mental focus and turns into a veritable dumb dumb. That hasn’t happened to Leslie quite yet. But supposing it may happen, Leslie Strange is likely to get confused about the meaning of “LMP.” Perhaps she’ll start to worry that the Literary Market Place has ceased altogether on that fateful day in March when she ceased needing a tampon. She’ll assume there’s no use writing another word or trying to get published because her pregnancy is the equivalent of the financial industry’s Black Tuesday market crash. She thinks about this prospect with some narrative distance: "The writer Leslie Strange’s menstrual cycle is on hiatus; consequently, the Literary Market Place experiences a Great Depression." Now, Leslie thinks, that’s not a bad beginning for a wild-minded story.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Ethical Drinking Game

Doctor Viagrossi and Senator Novote are two men who have built reputable careers that make their mothers proud, but they turn to Drink if they cannot resolve all the ethical dilemmas that arise in Medicine and Law.

Now, these two high-strung brothers-in-law are eating dinner at a local pub in Hell’s Kitchen while their wives are at The Ballet and the kids are with The Sitter. The men engage in one of their favorite drinking games: they have a talk about some work-related issue that arose that day, and for every ethical dilemma they face and fail to overcome, they agree to take one sip of drink.

“Darkface, my sly man at the Justice Department, told me all about the simulated drowning, head-slapping, and frozen temperatures, but I’ll be damned if I’m taking what I know to the press.” Senator Novote turns the tumbler around on a coaster. “I’m sticking to the official line: the US does not endorse torture.” The good Senator sips his Scotch.

“Today, I refused to sign medical exemptions for parents who felt religiously and philosophically opposed to vaccinating their children. You know, the US is the only country in the world that does not allow parents an informed choice in the matter of how and when to vaccinate their children? Parents have no choice about which vaccinations to give children and which not to give? Still, I am loath to break the law and sign risky medical exemptions. What about my reputation?” The good doctor sips his beer.

“Torture is one thing, and vaccination a completely different thing all together. Mandating certain vaccines before a child can enter school does not qualify as torture.” The Senator thinks the Doctor’s dilemma does not qualify as ethically volatile. “Of course kids need vaccines.”

“There’s no scientific proof they work. It’s all a ruse cooked up by the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. Parents are coerced into vaccinating their children!”

“So. That’s not torture!”

“Perhaps not. But how do you know that the ingredients in certain vaccines are not torturing your child’s immune system or neurological development in the same way a detainee is tortured through waterboarding at the prison in Guantanamo?” The Senator is not sure he understands the Doctor’s analogy, but the Doctor continues growing more passionate, “…vaccines are administered recklessly and have adverse effects that we may not be aware of.”

“What kind of recklessness and adverse effects are you talking about?”

“For instance, the state of New York requires newborn babes to receive the vaccination for Hepatitis B.”

“Well? There must be some scientifically sound reason for it.”

“Nope. Think of this. How does a person acquire the Hepatitis B virus?”

“It’s transmitted through blood…?”

“Here’s how a person gets the Hepatitis B virus: Intravenous drug use. Tattooing. Sex with someone who is infected. Contact with blood of someone who has the virus, particularly among health care professionals.”

“Hmm. Yeah? So?”

“When Tessa and Sylvester were newborns, did they engage in any of those activities?”

“Hah! I see your point.”

“You know the ingredients in the Hepatitis B vaccination?”

“Can’t say I do.”

“Aluminum hydroxide, Thimerosal, yeast. And according to a 2006 physicians desk reference of studies compiled by a former FDA investigator, the ingredient Thimerosal is a ‘recognized developmental toxicant.’ You should see what it does to lab animals.”


“Makes them have small brains and small penises.”

“This is just a load of alarmist crock.” The Senator wants to win this drinking game, but he feels himself on shaky ground. How can he top complicity in the epidemic of shrinking heads and dicks? “Capitalizing on the public’s fear of terror and authorizing secret torture is more worrisome than whatever little damage some chemicals might do to a kid. People are living longer than ever these days. It does no harm to require immunization for school children. It’s the law. Not signing those exemptions, you were just biding by The Law. The Bush administration is acting as though it is above the law.” He knocks back the last drops of his Scotch and waves to the barmaid. Another round.

“Alarmist crock? Well, if terrorists don’t get us first then the next generation of leaders may be autistic, asthmatic, allergic, and ADHD. Future presidential candidates will campaign on issues of whose neurological development is most stunted. Hey, maybe we’ll find a way to turn it into sport.”

When the waitress comes, the doctor orders something much stronger: Vodka, neat. He has a strong feeling he will be out-drinking his brother-in-law tonight.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Fine. Don't Bring Them Home.

Agent Winks has been spying on the Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran. Today he is called to report to his Superior Officer about the level of threat Iran poses to the US. The Superior Officer would never doubt Agent Winks’ credibility on the matter because he’s the Officer who promoted Winks after this good-ol’ Brooklyn-boy sniffed out the hiding places of a group of cave-dwelling extremists who hinted at their terrorist orientation in Afghanistan.

The Superior Officer would never expect Winks to disappoint him. But today, Winks reported that the Tehran facilities pose little more than a “wee threat.” The only thing Winks had discovered was an underground arcade where members of the Corps were engrossed in a video game that simulates an attempt to rescue two Iranian nuclear experts kidnapped by the US. The Superior Officer screwed up his face into a scowl and commanded that Winks think carefully over the wording of his report. The word “wee” was misspelled, the Superior Officer explained, and it should be spelled i-m-m-i-n-e-n-t. And, the Superior Officer gave Winks his most patronizing glare and asked him if he didn’t know that the phrase “nuclear experts” was code for “terror cell” and “video game” code for “death to America.” The Officer asked if Winks was trying to get himself dishonorably discharged. Winks hung his head and said nothing. He'd nearly gotten himself killed gathering what he thought was near-useless intelligence.

That night, Winks, who was in the throes of considering what an awful bad day he’d had, received a letter from his young and gorgeous wife, Julia, whom he had impregnated just before being deployed. Her letter was a rambling account of how she had just joined the New Mom and Pop Strollercize Workout Group in Prospect Park. The mission of this group was to “prepare parents to push”—a far cry from Winks mission abroad, the young agent thought with sadness. Julia’s letter went on to give him a running account of all the “baby loot” she had acquired from the shower and how now she was rearranging the furniture. There was just enough room for the Baby Schwarzenegger Playgym to fit their one-bedroom, so now “it’s looking like a wee Kiddie Land ‘round here,” Julia wrote.

Winks concentrated on the word “wee,” a word Julia was fond of using in her letters to him: I’m blowing you “wee” kisses, my darling. I’m more than a “wee” bit in love with you, Beef Cheeks! Can’t wait for your return, so we can be together with the “Wee” One as we push through a Strollercize workout.

After all Thomas Winks has been through, he had to admit to himself that he did not know how he would ever again be able to readjust to life back in US if this war should ever come to an end. No. Please. Let the fighting continue indefinitely as it has become such a comfortable habit. After all, what sane person could ever reconcile Iranian video games and US military anxiety with baby playgyms and Strollercize outings in Brooklyn?

Monday, September 24, 2007

In No Mood for Mahmoud

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, appeared at Columbia University in New York today. The whole city buzzed with various reactions to this event.

Some nodded approval: a civilized and free society should allow even the most despicable views to be expressed; it’s up to each individual if he so chooses to lend an ear. Others got their panties in a bunch: how dare a respectable American university give the floor to the leader of a nation that is known to harbor terrorists!

Columbia students and elected officials held a rally to protest the event. I attended Columbia from 2000-2002. During that time, I recall only one professor ever expressing his surprise that Columbia students at that time did not protest the results of the 2000 election or the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision. At that volatile time, not a hint of vibrant nor even visible political activity existed on campus.

Why now? Why this?

This morning, WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” featured a discussion about Mahmoud’s Columbia visit. One part of the talk focused on academic institutions as places to exchange ideas, and radio talk show guests expressed their concern that by having Mahmoud speak at Columbia, the institution was tolerating his ideas. Columbia’s president Bollinger defended the decision, proclaimed it a reasonable gesture in an open society that extols the virtues of free speech. The talk radio guests didn’t buy this argument. The whole discussion made me wonder why Columbia’s President Bollinger is challenged with such passion by the community and today’s students? Why no news of students taking equally passionate grievances to President Bush that denounce his continuing campaign to destroy the U.S. with thoughtless foreign policies that show no regard for the possibility of civil dialogue? It would seem that Bush’s “might is right” approach to foreign policy threatens the core existence of Columbia’s School for International and Public Affairs. What distorted legacy runs through the veins of that university that allows students and the press to give voice and go nuts over certain objections and not others? The vigor that this event stirs seems to reveal a host of misplaced attention and energies, the symptoms that we are one hell-of-a distracted and deluded nation.

I wasn’t surprised by Hillary Clinton’s claim that if she were president of Columbia, she would not invite Mahmoud to speak. But her original vote to go to war with Iraq shows that when she’s in office she will not be able to come up with an effective diplomatic approach to the problem of Iran. A vote for her would be equivalent to voting for “More Of The Same” for the future. Is she eager to occupy Iran, too? How will she confront this enemy and encourage it not to pursue nuclear weapons when her approach is likely to be no less reliant on brute force? Unfortunately, Hillary comes off as showing no reverence for conflicted discussion in the academic arena; hence, this Flash Fiction blogger is loath to endorse her.

Hillary is a bit off subject, so back to Mahmoud: I would argue that after the bloodbath of these past six years, I am a tiny bit relieved at Columbia’s bold gesture: someone out there is attempting the Talking and Listening approach. Cynics won’t think it’ll work, but encouraging the dialogue approach must survive somehow!

WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” invited listeners to call in with a question they’d ask Mahmoud if they could attend the talk at Columbia. One listener suggested this: it’d be even better if Mahmoud were questioned by an excellent trial lawyer rather than fielding questions from heads-in-the-clouds academics. According to the caller, a trial lawyer has the skill to use the art of questioning to make the interviewee look bad.

I’m not a trial lawyer, but in that spirit I did try to think of a question that might reveal Mahmoud as a crackpot-clumsy-drip of a leader. Here’s my question:

What useful end does Mahmoud’s “death to America” campaign serve his own economically poor people in Iran? Is this campaign misplacing his energies and effectiveness as a leader and distracting and deluding his people?

I realized through my own question and those of all the callers to the radio program that questions have a similar reflective quality as the surface of a mirror. All questions revealed as much about “Us” and about “Them.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Review of Tinling Choong's novel FireWife: A Story of Fire and Water, Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, 2007, $21.00, 206 pages.

Tinling Choong's debut novel tells the story of a woman named Nin who lives as a dutiful daughter and wife. Beneath her respectful demeanor, Nin copes with an overwhelming feeling of guilt: she holds herself responsible for the drowning of her younger sister, who fell into a tapioca mud well while the girls played an innocent game as children.

Now, Nin is a grown woman who holds a high corporate position and lives with her loving husband in California. But the death of her younger sister still haunts her, making Nin restless in her cookie-cutter life. She yearns to travel, and resolves to document the lives of unnoticed women and women involved in the sordid sex industry around the world.

This past April, Tinling Choong told a crowd at a PEN-sponsored New York Public library event that her idea for writing the novel came from a photograph she saw of a woman in Japan who was lying naked and being used as a table in a sushi restaurant. Men ate delicacies off the woman’s bare flesh. This photograph affected Choong, and that night she started writing. This writing blossomed into her main character Nin—a guilt-ridden, fledgling photographer who travels to Taipei, Bangkok, Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam, and New York. In each city, Nin encounters women who endure some form of degradation, whether it is commercial exploitation or prostitution. Through these encounters, Nin comes closer to the essence of her dilemma, which turns out to be one of mythic proportions. She grows ever more determined to learn the truth about women.

The novel is structured with Nin’s story framed by a death—that of a woman named Lakshmi in India who was burned on a pyre as a sacrificial wife—and a “prologue misplaced”—a creation myth about Nuwa who cracked open the egg at the start of time and bonded eight women to one another for eternity. Though in the present-day story with Nin and the photographed women, the eight incarnations of these ancient women only encounter each other for the instant it takes to shoot a photograph, through these encounters they are restoring the balance of fire and water that sets women free.

Tinling Choong’s novel is written in English, but it celebrates qualities of the Chinese language, revealing Choong as an accomplished “threshold writer.” For instance, happiness is described as “pinkpink” and a woman’s devotion is described as her “forgetting-own-stomach type of giving.” These phrases echo the way descriptive phrases are used in Chinese. This fresh and poetic use of the English language fills Choong’s first novel with lyrical prose that makes it a purely satisfying read. Please visit Choong’s website for more details about this author and her novel.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jihad: The Musical; the show must go on

In Mark Twain’s Notebook, he once wrote, “American[s]...are irreverent toward pretty much everything, but where they laugh one good king to death, they laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave, and the account is squared. Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.”

It’s been six years, 10 months, and 19 days since the tragic events of 9/11. Finally, I have heard of the first and only authentically American comeback to that terrifying blow, and this properly irreverent response to the tragedy was not even created solely by Americans, but by a community of international artists who will stage a provocative performance at one of the Edinburgh Festival’s Fringe events, that is, if this performing troop is allowed to go on with their show.

The show is called Jihad: The Musical. This musical is described as “an all-singing, all-dancing madcap gallop through the world of Islamic terrorism.” The chorus line performs The Can-Can in pink burkhas while holding automatic weapons (probably supplied by an arms deal negotiated with the U.S. president). The story is about an unlucky Afghan peasant who winds up with a group of wanna-be Jihad terrorists who sing catchy tunes to lyrics such as “I Wanna Be Like Osama,” described by shock theater enthusiasts as a real show-stopping number.

The Guardian Unlimited quoted protestors of the performance from the government’s petitions website: “The idea of making light of Muslim extremism is extremely offensive, most especially for its victims.” However, BBC World News interviewed one of the creators of the musical who hoped the production will help audiences talk about the provocative topic of terrorism in a fresh way, and they believe satire is a good lens through which to look at things that frighten people most. Unfortunately, because the world seems too far removed from Mark Twain’s irreverent spirit, people actually need to debate about banning this musical. How sad! It is the trend nowadays for everyone—terrorists, victims, and nobodies alike—to take themselves way too seriously.

This blogger firmly believes that Jihad: The Musical’s show must go on precisely because it is already way too late for this kind of reaction to the terror plots the world over. Besides, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival prides itself on showcasing artistic license that cannot exist in any other realm.

In Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, Twain wrote, “[t]rue irreverence is disrespect for another man’s god.” If these extremists, whether they are Muslim or not, take violence and death as their god, perhaps the most effective way to fight them is for the entire world to poke fun at them with thoughtful mocking and good ol’ song and dance. The musical comedy is one artistic form that can effectively deal with sham, superstition, and religious drivel in ways that no geo-political context can ever manage. If we do not allow the irreverence of musical theater and Jihad: The Musical to thrive the world over, then we have already experienced, without even knowing it, the death of human liberty.

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Good is Google's "Street Views" Function?

Lauren Jackson worked as a bank teller on Chicago’s West Side for twenty years. She owned her own home, had no family, and bothered nobody. Then she became ill with ulcerative colitis, the same disease that got her mother. Consequently, Lauren missed lots of work and lost her job. Alas, mortgage costs have no regard for human illness and unemployment, and Lauren inevitably fell behind. Hard times forced Lauren into desperate need for help with her mortgage payments. She heard of a company called Home Happy Financial that would allow her to sign the deed to her home over to their trust fund; they’d refinance her home and invest that money in a lucrative real estate deal that would earn a handsome some so that in five years Lauren would be able to pay off her entire mortgage. Meanwhile, she could stay in her home and make small monthly rent payments directly to HHF. She felt conflicted, but Lauren decided to go along with the deal. Though she had diligently researched the legitimacy of the company and consulted a lawyer before opting in, the HHF plan turned out to be a scheme cooked up by a guy named Felix Daniels whose office was based in Detroit. Lauren’s suspicions started to rise months after entering the deal when she received a letter from an unknown woman named Doreen Lyle, stating that there was foreclosure on Lauren’s house, and it was up for sale; Lauren could buy it from Doreen if she wished. Lauren flew into a ladylike rage. She bought a whip (because, cops told her, you can’t own a handgun in the city of Chicago), and she drove all the way to Detroit. She arrived at the address posted on all the letters from Felix Daniels’ HHF company and found the location to be nothing more than a UPS drop box. She didn’t get a chance to use her whip, so now Lauren Jackson is suing for fraud.

If only Google had offered its “Street Views” function for the city of Detroit, that would have saved Lauren Jackson a heap of trouble. She could have zoomed in on the physical location of the Home Happy Financial from her own home right at the start to see if such a place existed; she would have realized then she was being tricked. While Lauren is in the suing mood, she might as well sue Google, too, for discrimination. Why is it Miami, New York, San Francisco, Vegas, and Denver get the privilege of “Street Views?” Even if Lauren Jackson doesn’t sue Google, maybe people like Caitlin Jones, a low-profile New Yorker, won’t feel their privacy is being violated by “Street Views” zooming in on their buildings when they realize the function could be used to check up on addresses used by people concocting fraudulent schemes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

An Achamenid Battle-ax and The Pomegranate of Love

The Words Without Borders online Magazine for International Literature features an Iranian author today. Her name is Goli Taraghi. I read a great story of hers, and I wanted to share it with anyone in the blogosphere looking for something fresh and powerful to read. If you’re someone who has ever been irritated, delayed, humiliated, or upset by the security checks at today’s airports, this story will stimulate you. If you’ve ever had a chance encounter in an airplane that turned into a drama larger than you expected, you will identify with the characters in this story. Most of all, if you are a parent who knows what it means to love your children with excruciating ardor, this story will strike a resonating chord. Even if you do not fit any of the abovementioned description, the story will give any reader a memorable tweak.

The story is entitled The Pomegranate Lady and Her Sons

I appreciate Goli Taraghi’s work, and I am grateful that Words Without Borders makes her stories available to read online. Would love to hear from others what they think of her.


Monday, July 09, 2007

We Never Met Online

Tracey started out doing this strange work as favors for friends, but her college sweetheart encouraged her—she had a special gift and a fresh idea; she could make some money. She decided to set up her own small business that customized and distributed “How We Met” stories and scripts for couples that have already picked each other up online and know each other well, but who are too ashamed to admit they met over the Internet. Tracey got the business started a little over a year ago: she placed an ad in the yellow pages and set up her own website. Soon she was writing “How We Met” narratives for hundreds of customers and charging each a modest fee. The customers placed orders for a fascinating Meet-Up story that they could tell people whenever someone asked, “How did you two meet?” And for a slightly higher payment, the couple received a script adaptation of the story so that in case they wanted to re-live their first encounter in the real world versus carrying around the memory of their lame virtual “love at first byte,” they could do so according to the situation Tracey scripted for them. Tracey made up all varieties of tales about the first time her lovers / customers encountered each other. Some involved elaborate and clumsy run-ins where, possibly, one party sustained an injury. Other scripts detailed dramatic entangles in which both parties were in the process of ending previous long-term relationships when they happened to encounter the “new” love at unlikely times and place, such as while creaming their coffee at The Starbucks or while gassing at The Pump. The scripts ranged from simple encounters in local bars to lewd mistakes at mask parties and risky dares on nightclub dance floors. The idea was that the customers would receive their stories, pretend as if they had never met, put on a ruse for one evening as if this were the first time they were ever meeting, and then engage in that activity set up in the premise of Tracey’s story. The couple would follow Tracey’s narrative and script to a T, and then fall in love after that “first” real world date. Later, if people asked, the couple could safely say, “We never met online.” Tracey was also able to claim that hers was a GREEN business; some of the "How We Met" stories narrated love at the recycling plant or portrayed urban neighbors helping each other out with separating paper from plastic and consequently falling in love. After a time, Tracey’s business went on to bring her much success, culminating in Yahoo and Google entering a heated bidding war to buy her out. Google won. Tracey made millions. Now she’s married, pregnant, and filthy rich. She has no friends because they all envy her too much, and the guy who originally encouraged her to make money off her idea died last year in Iraq; unfortunately, he’s not around to celebrate and share Tracey’s wealth. But these days you’ll find a lot of couples out there who are quite content with the lovely stories of how they met. Thanks to Tracey’s efforts, no lovers need to feel ashamed of having met online.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Good Read

Phillip Dietrich lives on 73rd Street. Every morning he walks to the subway in his well-shined horsehide shoes, and he is always careful not to step in the piles of dog droppings that proud dog-owners leave fermenting smack in the middle of the sidewalk. Phil is especially disgusted by this situation when the temperature outside reaches the 90s and a sticky walker in the city can see steam rising off the neglected feces.

Phil has been riding the subway from the Upper West Side down to Wall Street every weekday for fifteen years and often on weekends when there are big deals in the works. His usual subway reading? The Wall Street Journal. His life is peaceful and predictable. However, he did go through something of a crisis after his wife left him for a class action prosecutor who has more money, and after winning a few big cases now he’s got more leisure too. The Ex-Mrs. Dietrich took their eight-year-old son, Max, just when Phil felt he was secure enough at the job to start spending more time with his boy. In the wake of the separation, Phil decided he didn’t care about the woman, he was always so much better dealing in unit trusts and investment trusts; he never really grasped the idea of spousal trust, but did she have to be so cruel when she used bribes and coddles to turn the boy against his own father?

Recently, Phil attended a wedding of one of his junior colleagues where he was assigned to the same table as a guy named Tom, a retired editor and CEO from some fancy literary press. The guy was talking to a woman—decidedly attractive to Phil—named Marlene Kelly, who said she was a budding novelist. While Phil listened in on their conversation, he heard Marlene asking Tom if he ever came across a novel that he felt didn’t need a whole lot of editing work. He gave her a title he did little work on: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The two became so engrossed in discussing that book that Miss Kelly didn’t notice the way Phil studied her lips, neck, hair, tits, etc.

The next day, Phil couldn’t get the woman out of his mind. Filled with renewed joie de vie, he practically skipped out of his apartment building in his horsehide shoes. Instantly, he stepped into a hot pile of dog stuff, probably dropped by something as big as a Doberman. Phil cursed, flew into a rage, and tossed his shoes into a nearby fermenting garbage heap. He ran home in his dress socks and decided not to go into work today. Instead, he visited a Barnes & Noble, determined to buy a book written by that young woman he had met at the wedding. He asked around and looked around, but there was no novel and not a soul in the crowded bookstore had ever heard of a writer named Marlene Kelly. Crestfallen, Phil wandered around the store until his eyes fell upon a copy of the James Herriot’s 1970s novel All Creatures Great and Small. What the hell? Phil thought, and he bought a copy.

Phil spent the rest of the day drinking an herbal detox infusion tea and engaging in odd bathing rituals that involved insane amounts of aromatherapy. He cracked open the first novel he’d read in years, and he was surprised to find that James Herriot’s story was about a struggling, young veterinary surgeon working in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. Though he didn’t think the topic was his cup of tea, Phil did feel moved by the hardships of a veterinary surgeon’s life—all that need for putting a strong arm up a cow’s or a horse’s rectum to feel for the causes of an illness! Reading the easier-to-stomach parts of the book, Phil appreciated the descriptions of the taste of fresh bacon from the newly-slaughtered pig; and he adored the description of a “family’s house cow’s rich yellow offering that finds its way into the family porridge every morning or appeared heaped up on the trifles and fruit pies or was made into butter, a golden creamy butter to make you dream.” The novel treats farm life with a fair balance of the rough and the delightful, not to mention Phil’s relish in the descriptions of the beautiful landscape and scenery of the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s.

While reading, Phil forgot all about his divorce. The promising young woman from the wedding slipped completely out of his mind. All Creatures Great and Small transported Phillip Dietrich to another time and place, softened his heart just a bit, and worked a subtle transformation in the bitter man. The next day was like any other: Phil engaged his usual stride to the subway station, avoiding the smears of dog do that stained the street. In days past, he would encounter such piles and curse the dogs and their owners; however, today—basking in the euphoric aftermath of finishing a good novel—Phil looked down at those filthy piles, smiled, and said, “All creatures great and small, whether in city, dale, ‘burb, or beer hall, let every big and little beast shit our dwellings. Shit them all!”

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Blood & Thunder

Rain in New York City keeps most of us indoors this afternoon. However, there is a madwoman sprawled and clinging to the top of a red Buik Terraza that happens to be speeding down 73rd Street; the madwoman is imitating the sounds of a fire engine while the falling rain soaks through her hair and clothes. Lightning flashes and thunder claps as the Buik passes a certain residential building. Inside the building, one being is experiencing a profound life change that is likely to make one feel trapped in a real-life Doctor Frankenstein moment. Is the change happening to Lady Leisure, who is playing her piano in the fifth floor apartment? Is the change happening to the college kids making love on the fourth floor? Is the change happening to the stray cat that is flicking a roach with its paws in the deserted apartment on the third floor? Is the change happening to the nanny who forces a red-eyed child down for a nap on the second floor? Is the change happening to one of the Bruscoe twins who are arm wrestling on a card table set up in the first-floor apartment? Or is a change visiting one of the three plumbers in the basement who are arguing about the statistics of Pat Venditte, trying to weigh the pros and cons of the Yankees drafting an ambidextrous pitcher? No. The change is not happening to any of these characters. A dramatic change is happening to one adolescent female, Lady Leisure’s pupil, Tamara. Tamara is using Lady Leisure’s powder room. The moment the lightning strikes and the thunder claps, Tamara looks down between her legs at her white satin panties, and she discovers The Blood. Now, how is she going to explain this to her old hag of a piano teacher? What should she do? What should she say? The old woman is engrossed in Beethoven’s piano concerto No. 3 in C minor, as if she chose that perfectly haunting piece to scare a girl who is being visited by her first blood. Tamara sighs; she sits on the toilet, listening to the storm and the piano. She tries to be in this moment, so she might remember it into her old age. She tries to absorb everything going on in this tenement building. This puts her in a contemplative mood. She looks down at her panties and thinks about the monster that is her menstruating uterus. She hears the madwoman’s siren cries in the distance and suddenly Tamara feels the urge to squeeze her fists and cry out, “It’s alive!” There's more lightning followed by another clap of thunder. Tamara hopes the piano teacher didn't hear her outburst. The girl stuffs wads of toilet paper in that discreet place then dashes out of the old woman's apartment. The woman rushes to the door and shouts down the stairwell to Tamara, "Where are you going? Hey, don't forget: more practice with those finger exercises before the next lesson!"

Friday, June 08, 2007

Orgasmic Birth

It is not easy to find quality literature that examines the sexual and intimate nature of giving birth; there's little about about home birth and water birth. One has to dig to find such sources. Also, there are only about five midwives in the New York City metropolitan area who attend home births. Today, during my research about childbirth and home birth, I came across this website describing the documentary film in progress called Orgasmic Birth.

I have been disciplined about my pelvic floor exercises. I have been taking long walks around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir pond in Central Park. My diet is simple: fruit, nuts, rice porridge, H&H bagels, eggs, and PB&J. I am mentally and physically preparing myself for a quiet home birth experience. I hope this documentary film will be complete and ready to view before I deliver in December. But the filmakers seem to be needing some help with funding to finish the project. This film is certain to challenge ideas society imposes on us regarding childbirth. As far as I am concerned, this documentary is as essential, if not more, as that one with Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. Some say that most healthy women can birth their babies in a beautiful, loving, and ecstatic way without drugs and medical intervention.

I was thinking that these Orgasmic Birth filmmakers should even shoot a scene in which a woman is giving birth in a water birth pool that is set up right on top of the John Lennon shrine in Strawberry Fields, right on top of that word IMAGINE. Wouldn't that be a fabulous scene? Maybe the filmmakers should petition Yoko Ono with such an idea; that chick's got a wad; she funded Strawberry Fields anyway. Do you ever wonder why it is so easy for us to watch people killing each other, but when a birthing video shows a live birth scene, they display warnings before the show about the graphic nature of what you are about to see? Childbirth is not ugly or frightening. Why do we turn our heads from it and refuse to talk about it honestly? Feelin' good: a rush, a push, and a primal ROAR! Welcome human life!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Film: "Spider Lilies" Directed by Zero Chou

Last Friday was the New York premier screening of this extraordinary film, directed by Zero Chou, “Spider Lilies.” The story involves two Taiwanese women: Takeko is a serious tattoo artist who owns and runs her own parlor; Jade is an eighteen-year-old, barely post-pubescent, cheerful girl who entertains curious patrons who visit her webcam sex site. Jade encounters Takeko when someone urges Jade to get a tattoo in order to make her strip-tease act more colorful. In the tattoo parlor, Jade meets Ah-Dong; he’s another tattoo enthusiast who regards Takeko as a genius and is constantly begging her to tattoo samurai blades on his arms. Ah-Dong asks Jade what tattoo she wants, and she points the elaborate image of spider lilies that hangs framed on the wall amongst thousands of other Takeko designs.

“That is real skin.” Ah-Dong informs Jade, meaningfully. He is referring to the material that unique tattoo is printed on.

When Jade tells Takeko that she wants the spider lilies tattoo, Takeko looks stunned and refuses to give her a tattoo.

“The spider lilies are the flowers that grow along the path to hell.” Takeko gives this vague, folkloric excuse. Then asks Jade why she wants such a tattoo. Jade explains that she had a friend from her childhood who had that same tattoo. “You must be mistaken.” Takeko insists. “Childhood memories can never be trusted.” Jade leaves the parlor that day, but not before giving Takeko her card and urging her to visit her website.

The next time we visit Jade’s website, it is through a cop who is assigned to cracking down on sex sites on the Internet. When he visits, Jade believes her visitor is Takeko. Jade launches into a sweet story about her first love complete with a heartfelt song about jasmine flowers. Here the narrative turns for the lovely. When she was nine-years-old, Jade danced into the road in front of Takeko’s bicycle while wearing a shocking green wig. The older Takeko asked where Jade’s mother was and Jade told her that she had died in the recent earthquake. Feeling sorry for Jade, Takeko rode her home on the back of her bike. That’s when Jade fell for Takeko and when she saw the spider lily tattoo on the older girl’s arm.

The story of the present follows Jade persisting in convincing Takeko to give her a tattoo, while the younger girl also tries hard to jog Takeko’s memory about their encounter nine years before. Will they end up lovers, or will the opportunity be lost? Will Jade be busted by the Internet police? Will Takeko’s own past haunt her to the point that she decides to abandon her tattoo art? We do learn all this, plus the truth about Jade’s family and Takeko’s spider lily tattoo.

The developments of the plot get more surprising and more revealing as the film progresses, and in the end this film conveys a well-developed tale that is accompanied by images of both tenderness and horror. If you’re learning to speak Mandarin, I urge you to feast your eyes on this indie film along with the more well-known titles directed by Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, and Tian Zhuangzhuang. Zero Chou is in their league.

(This blog post is dedicated to the memory of the massacre that took place at Tiananmen on June 4, 1989. Regardless of pro-Beijing Hong Kong leaders’ denials, people do remember that sad day.)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Boycotting a Bestseller

Riva Djinn is attempting to organize a boycott of book #28 on the NY Times hardcover Non-fiction bestseller list. That book is entitled Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez. Riva Djinn encourages friends and members of the Scribble Bitch Book Club not to buy this book because content in this book has put Afghan women’s lives in danger. The consequences of writing such a book brings up issues of the ethical responsibilities of authors and publishers in the U.S. Where should an author draw the line when exploiting other people’s lives for sensational material that will surely secure a fat book deal? Random House gave Rodriguez an impressive advance that she did not share with her sources, as they claim she had promised (though Rodriguez claims the women are mistaken); when she knew there would be great risk in revealing these women’s stories, why would she do it in such an artless way so that the women would get into trouble? This brings Riva to her second point, which is this: doesn’t this whole indignity reveal something about the American reader? In the U.S.’s current bestselling literary climate, could Rodriguez have secured an equally fat advance if she had written something more subtle, more subversive, more underhanded in such a way that the same story could be told while maintaining some level of recognition and respect for the fact that it is dangerous to Story-Tell-All in an American way about women living in a utterly different kind of culture? Riva Djinn distrusts an American readership that is so hungry for an intimate glimpse into the lives of women in cultures that American mainstream culture knows so little about when the American glimpse comes with the high price of endangering women’s lives. There must be a safer way to communicate, express, and artistically represent Afghan women’s lives without exploiting these lives in a memoir that is going to put their lives in danger. Finally, Riva would also argue that it is the genre of the memoir itself that is the problem here. In fact, Riva would go so far as to say that The Memoir is an artistic cop-out. Memoir stories exist in the realm of the evasive True. These days, it’s not so hard to record a “true” story, change names and hair color, and hawk it to a nation full of voyeurs. Try writing something more creative, more sophisticated. C’mon! At least try to write something that will escape the detection of stupid extremists in a far-off land! Riva is getting riled up and interested in starting a mission to expose the shortcomings of that hip and hot-selling genre—The Memoir. And when the battle against The Memoir is through, Riva believes her story would make a juicy epic poem.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Film: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" Directed by Duncan Roy

The 2007 Newfest LGBT film festival opened with a modernized revision film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s late 19th Century novel. This story is frightening. Dorian Gray (played by David Gallagher), young and innocent, attends a party where artists and art enthusiasts are indulging in philosophical talk and cocaine. Inspired by Dorian’s beauty, the artist Basil Hallward gets his camera rolling—which in itself turns into a very erotic activity. This early scene gives the audience a powerful sense of the pleasure an artist gets from being behind a camera, having license to gaze upon another human being as if the gaze is not intrusive, being allowed to “shoot” at someone with the intensity and sensual indulgence that, say, one might use during tender touches of sexual foreplay, and confining the youth and beauty of the gazed-upon being to a recorded mock-up. From this erotic video session, Basil creates a film installment capturing the purity, allure, and beauty of Dorian Gray, a kind of beauty that could get people to do almost anything for him. Basil and Dorian fall under the strange influence of this masterpiece video installment, and it changes their lives for the worst. The beauty and aesthetic pleasure of the video installment juxtaposed with the horror story that unfolds creates an unusual movie-going experience.

To start the descent, the prominent Henry Wotton tells Dorian that his best asset is his beauty and the asset will inevitably fade. When his beauty is gone, Dorian can be sure he will be rejected by the world. Dorian wishes the installment would grow old, not he. He gets what he wishes for, and the consequences of maintaining youth translate into a life of cruelty that descends further into evil. We witness Dorian committing a series of cruel and horrifying acts through a ten-year period. Basil falls victim to Aids; Henry ages; as for Dorian, however, not a wrinkle or a scar sullies his lovely brow. Some wonder how he’s done it while others know his secret. Dorian grows gradually more deranged as the changes within his soul do not reveal themselves on his face. Of course, Dorian blames the video installment, and the film gives a final philosophical wink and nod to the idea that “all art is useless.”

I was interested and surprised to learn that Oscar Wilde drew some of his ideas for his novel version of The Picture of Dorian Gray from Daoism and his exposure to Herbert Giles’s translations of the Chinese philosopher Zhuang Zi. In his journals, Wilde wrote about how the honest men and healthy families mocked the philosophers, but if they only looked beneath the surface and realized what these philosophers were saying, they’d be terrified by the “Inaction” someone like Zhuang Zi preached. According to Wilde, common man would be terrified by Zhuang Zi’s message that all is meaningless. I was fascinated to read this because Oscar Wilde got it all wrong. Wilde read a poorer translation of Zhuang Zi than those we have today (Burton Watson is more approriate for today) because Wilde’s interpretation is not precisely what the old Daoist was saying. Zhuang Zi’s message is more one of be in the world but not of the world and that message was supposed to liberate not horrify. One could do a most thorough study on how Westerners of the past misread the Chinese, but I’d rather use this opportunity as an example of why translation is so important and why it is such a difficult, slow, grueling, never-ending process; the practice of translation could always use more attention, appreciation, precision, and patience. That’s all I wish to preach, if I preach anything. When I have a child, I’ll discipline the child by lovingly saying something like: “Brush your teeth, and learn to translate…”

Getting back to Duncan Roy’s new film version The Picture of Dorian Gray and the ideas and sources he drew from: The director claims he took much of the content of the film from Wilde’s more pornographic writings as well as the earlier version of the Dorian Gray story as it appeared in 1890 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine before it was revised and published by Ward, Lock, and Company in 1891. This earlier Lippincott version contained more blatant homoerotica. So the director’s idea in creating this movie from this particular novel was to put the homosexuality back into the story and bring the characters out of their 19th century Victorian society and into the 21st century New York City art scene.

If you like a film that explores the major themes of aestheticism, obsession with beauty, hedonism, and homosexuality, you’ll appreciate this film. And upon writing this blog entry, I catch myself wondering how old Zhuang Zi might have directed this film. He probably would have included some random scene about how to subsist on a diet of clouds and morning dew.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Yikes, I've Been Tagged!

Daphne Ven Der Meulen has tagged me for a meme, and a meme is the cultural equivalent of a gene; it’s an idea passed from one generation to the next. Daphne is a Dutch painter, architect, and designer. I dream of one day purchasing one of her original jewelry designs: The Potato Ring. She is also my neighbor.

She tagged me.

Once I have been tagged, I am supposed to reveal seven random things about myself. I’m not sure I quite understand this dimension of the meme custom, but I’ll play along because this kind of thing, in my mind, is associated with the old “Chain Letter” custom. Remember that? For the Chain Letter, if you didn’t participate in that strange fun of copying that letter seven times and sending it out to seven different friends, you were supposed to have a curse put on you and your family for nine generations in the future. So, in the spirit of avoiding curse, I will take part in this meme deal and reveal seven random facts about myself.

1. I am pregnant.

2. I play an unusual instrument called a Hang Drum, also called a UFO.

3. I am waiting for a delivery man to deliver an air conditioning unit, and he is late.

4. I will see a film tonight: “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

5. I have a dear friend who is a Chocolateur.

6. I speak Mandarin Chinese fluently.

7. When I write by hand, I use a Mont Blanc Bohème cartridge fountain pen whose retractable 14 K gold nib has platinum inlay; the barrel and cap are made of black precious resin inlaid with the Mont Blanc white star, gold-plated rings, and a clip set with a ruby gem stone. The Bohème proves a fine tool for a writer, and she forces me to mind whatever I write; my hand-written words must equal her elegance because if I should ever write prose that does not rival the Bohème’s richness, well, then I am just not worthy.

The other part of the meme deal is that I am supposed to tag others. I don’t know what it means for those I tag: You’re IT? Freeze? No tag-backs? Whatever it means, I am tagging Matt, Almond Princess, Rob, Rocketboom, Frances, Bud, and Tom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Questionnaire: Are You an Adult?

If you would like to determine whether or not you qualify as an adult, regardless of your age, you need only take the six-question test below. This exam is like a driving test or a test to enter the military, but in this test all your answers should be written in an eloquent essay form. Think. Whether you are a real adult or not all depends on the clarity and reach of your expression.

1. Describe ten reliable resources you feel you could turn to if you were in serious financial trouble.

2. Explain several ways you go about manipulating other people.

3. Elaborate on which one of the following you yearn for most: power, sex, peer-approval, accomplishment?

4. On a scale from one to ten—one being intolerant and ten being relaxed—how do you feel when another driver cuts you off on the highway? And generally, how do you cope with the joyous rage of being alive?

5. Who do you prefer: Billie Holiday, Cindy Lauper, Judy Garland, Britney Spears, Édith Piaf, or Janis Joplin? Why? Of these women, who would you want to be? Who would you want to undress?

6. If you have good reason to suspect that someone is hatching a terrorist plot that could hurt lots of people, and you also know that The Authorities follow a strict official policy to torture any suspected terrorist until he or she reveals every detail about the plot and exposes all who are involved, would you turn that person in to the torturous Authorities? Explain.

After taking this test, you can telepathically send your answers to the dead Doctor Seuss, and he’ll be sure to get back to you. He’ll send you a dream message assessing whether or not you are a true adult. If you’re under the age of eighteen and the good rhyming Doctor tells you that you pass the test, then you should feel free to tell your parents that you transcend the artificial status of childhood or adolescence; move straight into adulthood with all its benefits—no bedtime, drink alcohol, and have all the sex you want—because everyone knows what a privileged and thrilling experience it is to be grown-up.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Whore's Throat

Just because she refused to star in anymore Judeo-Christian porn films, the Morality Board wanted her rubbed out. Just because she didn’t eat red meat, the Lower Manhattan Construction Crew wouldn’t hire her. She was too loose to enlist in the army, they’d said. She was too eccentric for stuffy academia, too fat to be a model, too crooked for the CIA, and too tall to be the First Lady. Out of desperation, she sold her body. Wouldn’t you know it? Her first john was a cop who screwed her and then threw the book at her. She shivered for countless years in an unmarked prison cell; she’d failed at everything. The day she was released, the estranged brother who met her at the prison gates noticed all the bruises around her neck.

“What happened to you?” Those were the first words he spoke to her.

“Oh this?” She felt her hands around her neck. “I often stripped and tied my prison clothes together to try to strangle or hang myself. God only knows why they never failed to stop me. These are just the marks from all my failed suicide attempts.”

“Well, you should be grateful,” her brother lectured, “some years ago, people finally realized that Success is completely overrated. Failure is the new in thing these days. Nowadays, people like you get their own TV shows.”

And without another word, they drove off into the sunset.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ask a TV Expert

On public radio, a talk show host once interviewed a cultural critic who knew everything about what makes good television. He was contemplating the question of how to make the college loan issue everyone was ignoring into a television drama that Americans would want to watch, one that would receive high ratings because for the networks it’s all about the ratings. The talk show host speculated that such a show should start with a dead body of a college loan officer, then an over-achieving and anti-social student, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, would be charged with the crime followed by a courtroom drama and then revelation that the murderer was actually a girlfriend of the loan officer who had been sleeping with the guy in order to get a sweet deal on student loans. The cultural critic added, “And there should be an explosion during the last episode of the drama; it should always end with an explosion.” Cheryl—a bald, bohemian city girl—was listening to this radio show because she didn’t own a television but liked hearing radio chatter while alone and eating her potato pancakes for dinner; when she heard about the loan officer saga, she thought to herself, ‘that’s funny; that TV synopsis is exactly like my real life story in a nutshell; she shrugged and thought ‘Never figured my life would make good television drama.’ Cheryl lived out the rest of her life—into her early nineties—always refusing, or forgetting, to buy a television and always fearing that at any moment she was going to be the victim of some gruesome explosion. Fortunately, she never had to worry over going gray.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Listening Steps Through Central Park

The poem below was written after a meditative listening walk through Central Park, guided by the poet and teacher Jonathan Skinner.

Listen, Mister Acoustic Tunnel, Listen to
demolition drill men: dtt dtt dtt dtt dtt dtt dtt,
basketball boys: b aw p b aw p b aw p,
all the belch bounce beep busy bull noise

Gather noisemakers to this
sound space slam clamor whirl dance party.

Honored guests Jonathan, Gale, Stephen, and Rebecca
Display the hip, new Listening Step

Zen left, Breathe right:
Moved by city soundscape,
let your
nose, lungs, and diaphragm become ears.
Scratched-at dog tags mimic shaking key rings.
Here, Chinese Er Hu players and live rock musicians fracas.
a beggar’s lament, a cell phone buzz, and the blowing of balloons,
the squirt from a bottle of sunscreen, and feet shuffling in the grass.

Inhale, exhale, and wonder
What would all this sound like from within Sad Clown’s red balloon?

She blew up an acoustic balloon around these walking companions.
She heard Stephen exhale relief shifting the bag on his shoulder.
She heard the even corduroy swish of Jonathan’s trousers.
She heard Gale clear her throat.

Welcome birds, flies, and squirrels; noises inflate us; welcome The Voices, cabs, subway trains, volleyballs, basketballs, roller blades, and carriage rides.

Breathe right, Zen left
expand universe; resound: balloon-call-bird-burst...
echo Infinity; explosive whisper: grass-falls-water-blades...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Devil Reads Dada

Clarissa orders her nervous assistant to “Lay it all out on my bed. Carefully!”

Tonight, Clarissa will attend the single most important cultural event of the year: The Dada Legacy Poetry Reading. The assistant must not mishandle the posh party clothes of this fashion icon of belles-lettres. If she does, the girl can kiss her enviable career goodbye.

Tonight, Clarissa will wear a Duchamp ribbon dress: black, slinky, and corseted with a Marcel Janco fox fur shoulder wrap. She will wear her silver Man Ray stiletto heels, carry her Emmy Hemmings clutch, and adorn her ears with platinum, anti-war teardrops designed by Tristan Tzara.

The dress lacks a hole through which to put one’s head. The shoulder wrap is long enough to wrap around the world. The silver shoes have claws that sprout out like those of a cat in after-nap stretch. The clutch purse doubles as a cell phone. The platinum earrings turn into real wet teardrops after midnight, and they fall to form silver puddles on the floor. Clarissa’s is the prefect outfit for such a high-profile, surrealist poetry function. The paparazzi will go wild!

But if the outfit should be torn, wrinkled, or mishandled in the slightest way, Clarissa will pee on her assistant and then, horror of horrors, she might loose this great job as assistant to the famous Clarissa Holloway.

Lucky for this assistant, she performs this task to perfection. So, afterward, Clarissa gives her a more impossible task. “After you’ve finished cleaning up after the poodles, get on the phone and book the Cabaret Voltaire for my daughter’s Sweet Sixteen.”

“But the Cabaret Voltaire doesn’t do Sweet Sixteen Parties.”

“I don’t care. Tell them she’s a boy, and we’re throwing a Bar Mitzvah.”

“But…?” Before the assistant could say anymore, Clarissa had already given her a sharp, dismissive look and turned away. That was all.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Book Review of As You Were Saying: American Writers Respond to Their French Contemporaries; Dalkey Archive Press, 2007; 73 pages.

Attending PEN World Voices events comes with special charms of hearing extraordinary writers from the world over offer their on-the-spot insights on various great questions, such as what is Dutch humor? What dangers revolve around writing about sex? What is the next big taboo subject to confront in literature? What was it like to return to Iraq after living as an exiled Iraqi poet for 28 years? As precious as the conversation is, dealing with these kinds of questions in panel discussions is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the kind of reach and influence PEN World Voices may be having on the world’s literary scene. More than a mere conversation, we are beginning to see the possibilities and visions for cross-cultural, literary collaboration.

Anyone who attended any PEN event last week received the free gift of a small book called As You Were Saying: American Writers Respond to Their French Contemporaries. The idea behind this tiny anthology is very simple: seven of France’s most talented contemporary writers were asked to write short stories that were then translated and sent to seven equally talented American writers; the American writers were asked to write some kind of story in response to the French author’s story. The collection contains such collaborations between Marie Darrieussecq and Rick Moody, Camille Laurens and Robert Olen Butler, Jacques Roubaud and Raymond Federman, and four other pairs.

The idea of this project charmed me to the bone. I read the whole collection several times in a few short hours and felt it such a pity that more collaborations like it don’t seem to exist. I am surely hungry for more of this kind of thing.

Fabrice Rozié, Esther Allen, and Guy Walter edited the 73-page collection, and Esther Allen wrote an introduction that discusses the idea out of which this book emerged. Allen admits that the editing team thought that the idea “was startling, audacious, and, on first contemplation, almost entirely unworkable.” Rozié, Allen, and Walter feared that no one would go along with such a stunt because they assumed a kind of animosity between Americans and French. But when they pitched the ideas to the writers, they loved it. A collection of writers, translators, and editors birthed As You Were Saying, and every story proves not only a satisfying read but also a fresh and engaging exchange of ideas.

I am deeply in love with the idea of literary collaboration, especially across cultures and even regions within the same culture. I have been searching all my writing life for the proper outlet to explore my own funky ideas about collective authorship, but haven’t yet found willing or receptive partners for these ideas. In China, during the Ming dynasty, a huge novel was written called Jin Ping Mei Ci Hua or The Plum in the Golden Vase. Many scholars are confident that this multiple-volume novel was written, not by one author, but by many authors who circulated manuscripts among the literati and added stories, details, scenes, and characters as they saw fit. The result became one of China’s greatest classics. There are so many writers in the world, why insist on sitting alone behind a keyboard? Why not, once in a while, collaborate? I know that we prize individuality in our society, but when one author responds to another, they play with each other through a fictional medium, that is not compromising individuality but seeing it thrive.

In As You Were Saying, check out what happens when Rick Moody shifts perspectives from Marie Darrieussecq’s story of a man who gets the first-ever face transplant; enjoy the thoroughly chilling effects of surprise in Camille Laurens and Robert Olen Butler’s “She Had Waited For This;” notice the one or two words Raymond Federman uses to respond to Jacques Roubaud’s gory story “The Josephus Problem” about suicidal gladiators. You will want to read this volume over again because the stories are compelling, but also because of the delightful undercurrent exchange of ideas, the conversation, the writer-to-writer respect that becomes such an important layer in the reading experience.

I hope another collaborative volume emerges real soon of more world writers engaging one another on this level. It’s a fabulous idea and deserves international celebration. Cheers!

Friday, April 27, 2007

PEN World Voices: From Page to Stage I

This year’s International Literature Festival brought about the first collaboration between PEN American Center and the Martin Segal Theatre Center. Thursday afternoon, a Polish, Russian, and Portuguese playwright gathered in this intimate theater setting with moderator Tom Sellar, editor of Theater Magazine to talk about the challenges of bringing the private work of a play into the public eye. How does it feel for authors to see their work produced? To what degree do they get involved in the production process? How do they deal with issues of translation when their plays cross borders to different countries and cultures? What’s the difference between the work of translating plays and translating other literary forms? Those were some questions that Dorota Maslowska (Poland), Vladimir Sorokin (Russia), and José Luis Peixoto (Portugal) confronted during this session.

The highlight of this session involved a group of young actors, whom were not introduced to the audience, giving dramatic readings of the English translations of these playwrights’ recent plays. First up was Vladimir Sorokin’s Dostoevsky Trip. The premise of the play grew from the idea that literature is a drug. In the future, perhaps, we will live in a time and place where people can get their favorite literary fix in the form of a pill. In this play, seven literature addicts decide to take some pills together. They go to the dealer who is prepared to sell them Alexandre Dumas pills that offer a mellow trip, suitable for twelve friends. When the dealer realizes there are only seven of them, he shakes with disapproval; the Dumas pill will not work for seven; they must try the Dostoevsky drug. The friends make the purchase, pop the pill, and are suddenly transported to scene in The Idiot in which The Prince is admitting that he would like to marry Natasha Filippovna.

We heard a dramatic reading of an excerpt from José Luis Peixoto’s The Winter Arrives. The playwright was influenced by Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Faulkner’s pregnant woman character from Light in August who changes the lives of the three men in the sanitarium. In Peixoto’s scene, three men talk nonsense over a grave then we see them sick in an asylum. Personally, I felt this play might be a more interesting read by an individual reader. It didn’t come off as well as Sorokin’s.

Dorota Maslowska’s play A Couple of Poor, Polish-Speaking Romanians includes two young Polish people who have this idea of dressing themselves up to try to convince others that they are almost homeless Romanians. Over the course of the play, their ruse breaks down. It is a play about hatred. The actors read lines that came off as crude, sad, and funny. Their dramatic interpretations were quite gripping, and I would have loved to see the whole play in context to get a better idea of these characters’ motivations.

Overall, I felt that the discussion with the playwrights relied too much on this idea of drama being difficult to translate. Instead, I wished the discussion could have focused more on the playwrights’ writing practice, craft, and influences. For instance, it turned out that the only answer Vladimir Sorokin could give to the question of his involvement in the production is that he doesn’t get involved. That is not his business. His business is the text. He admitted that he has walked out on the opening nights of his plays because he is so overwhelmed by what monstrous creations they become once they are produced. He laughed that he was sure the same thing would happen again in the future. But he also admitted that a writer shouldn’t get involved in the production of his plays. Maslowska and Peixoto echoed these sentiments. A play, in its life, goes through many layers of translation and interpretation, and everyone participates: directors, actors, and audience members. These playwrights agreed that variety is something to celebrate. There seemed to be a lot of consensus on this panel, though we had just witnessed vastly different dramatic creations.

Saturday, April 28th at 6:30 pm, the Martin Segal Theater Center at the Graduate Center, CUNY will host “From Page to Stage III: Whose Translation is it Anyway?” Speakers include playwrights Charles Mulekwa from Uganda and Koffi Kwahulé from the Ivory Coast. Their plays will be read in English and discussion will follow. Again, the discussion is supposed to focus on cross-cultural challenges. I wonder if there will be a future PEN festival that won’t be so hung up on the challenging aspect of translation. Of course crossing borders poses challenges, but aren’t the audience members who are hungry for this PEN festival showing that they are willing and ready to cross borders, face the challenges, become more aware of the World out there? Perhaps someday panel discussion will better reflect our readiness to feel at ease with the challenges, confront them with grace, and move on so that we can ask these artists and translators about craft, transitions, adjustments, and fusion. Crossing borders is nothing new, really. It’s been going on for thousands of years. When people learn that I speak and write the Chinese language, they often will say, “Isn’t that a hard language to learn?” I have not figured out a good answer to this question yet, but I know the question unsettles me. Usually I tell them, compared to English, Chinese grammar is very simple. So what if learning a language or translating a text is hard? Life is hard for most of us, and a hard life is also a good life and is someting to celebrate. No?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Home & Away: The PEN World Voices Festival

This is the theme of this year’s PEN World Voices International Literature Festival: Home & Away.

Last night, the festival began with an amazing line-up of writers reading from works, others’ and their own, with the theme of “Green Thoughts: Writers on the Environment.”

Here was a splendid literary banquet: We heard Geert Mak read a Frisian poem; Gary Shteyngart read about SUVs melting in Syracuse; Roxana Robinson read a Chekhov story about the Steppes of Mongolia; Moses Isegawa read about machines making the farmer’s life easier; Billy Collins read about gated communities; Janne Teller read about a Norwegian hermit and hunter; Colson Whitehead read about a father and son post-apocalypse road trip; Jonathan Franzen read about a polar bear raised by a generous father who then let the polar bear eat him; Pico Iyer read from Peter Matthiesson’s Snow Leopard; Marilynne Robinson discussed the perils of nuclear power and read from her amazing essay “Wilderness”; and Salmon Rushdie read from Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

For Vimeo coverage of the event, check out Bud Parr's site Chekhov's Mistress.

Last night’s was a splendid opening event for this year’s festival that is in its third year running. I can boast perfect attendance, as I have been a fan of this festival since its initial run in 2005. At that time, PEN’s idea was to provide New York City (and America) with a service that it was missing: A real dialogue between the U.S. and the rest of the world. As Salmon Rushdie commented, at least we can do this in a cultural realm. Now through Sunday there are over sixty events and over 100 writers from all over the world giving readings and speaking on panels at venues all over the city. It’s thoroughly refreshing and inspiring. I don’t even have to say, “I wouldn’t miss it for The World” because this festival is for The World.

Below are my own five little riffs on the PEN Festival theme:

When she’s home, she often thinks of those she loves who live far away. When she’s away, she often thinks of those she loves who stay home.

Home is where, even if you don’t speak their language, they understand you, or more often where you do speak their language, and they don’t understand you.

Away from home, the supple mind will surrender to a home away from home.

Home offers a place to invite friends and keep rivals away.

When the situation at home overwhelms, away sweet away.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Ghosts of All Aborted Fetuses

Riva Djinn has been hanging out with the acid rock band again. She’s not a groupie in the traditional sense. She’s more like their occasional muse, though the rhythm section likes to refer to her as its throbbing wet nurse. When it’s looking for a sharp lick, the band follows Riva’s whims; and this week she just feels like slapping any joker who mistakenly refers to the medical procedure of Intact Dilation and Extraction as “Partial Birth Abortion.” Not only does Riva think that the Supreme Court’s most recent decision about “Partial Birth Abortion” can be easily dismissed by its lack of concern for medical science, women’s health, and Constitutional rights, but also the majority opinion is fraught with mistaken terminology. How can we have a real debate about women’s rights to choose when we’re caught up in the issue of fetal viability? So what does The State plan to do with all those “Viables” anyway? Plenty of living, breathing children are ignored by The State every day, plenty of children are left behind. Where is federal protection for an unwanted child once it is living in the cruel world? Why does The State give such a hot damn about fetuses and then ignore children? So this week, Riva felt obliged to experience her morning sickness vomiting episode on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. Write a lyric about that, acid rock band!

Though the musicians of the acid rock band have tried on many occasions, none have discovered what is eating Riva Djinn; they have tried to discover the secret in Riva’s heart. They’ll never find it, and that’s because they’re looking in the wrong place. Riva doesn’t keep secrets in her heart. She keeps them in her womb, which is much more central to a woman’s physiology than the heart ever was. While someone like Don Juan will seal his doom when he dines with the ghost of the father of a woman he tricked and raped, Riva Djinn feasts with ghosts of aborted fetuses who are more than grateful they never saw the daylight that slips off this greasy planet. And it’s not her doom Riva seals during this feast. No. She seals a promise that in the Land of the Never-Have-Lived, no being ever knows the dehumanizing feeling of rejection.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Belly Dancer is Expecting

Lyric Evans worked years at mastering her skills as a professional Belly Dancer. She recently received the good news that she is pregnant. And, yes, the pregnancy is desired. As of this week, Lyric is eight weeks along and feeling the unpleasant effects of the first trimester. But she is also feeling how silky and luxuriant grows the lining of her uterus. When she is supremely relaxed, quiet, and indulging a state of bliss, Lyric feels a miniature sensation, a tiny, rapid beating, a primitive heart rhythm, a fluttering yearn for human life surging up from her core. This is pure joy, and Lyric, who is normally very composed in her “too-cool-for-school” urban attitude, can hardly keep her eyes from tearing up, due to the unspeakable elation.

On the other hand, a few days ago, she was taking a leisurely stroll down Broadway. She passed the old “It’s a Wrap” sandwich shop whose window had gone dark. There was a sign that read: “We’ve closed. Thanks to the neighborhood for ten great years!” At this, Lyric started crying, no, grieving over the done-for business, even though she’d never even been to that sandwich shop. A funny-faced stranger felt sorry for her and handed Lyric a clean, folded polka-dot hankie. He said, “Dry your eyes, Lady! Nothing to cry over. That was a lousy lunch dump, anyway! Wasn’t even organic.” Lyric wiped her eyes and thanked him and said, “You mind if I soak your hankie with my pregnancy hormones?” Lyric didn’t even see what happened to the man next. He either ran away or tripped into the gutter or disappeared or fainted. What did it matter? She had a crying fit to work her way through and then she had to vomit and then it was off to the studio to rehearse.

Lyric considers herself most fortunate because her pregnancy will never get in the way of the growth and mobility she will enjoy in her career. Pregnancy is to a professional Belly Dancer what a fat holiday bonus is to a financial analyst: abunDANCE!

Dance on, Lady Lyric, dance on!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Who is Doctor Pablo Delgado?

Pablo Delgado is a scientist who writes erotic graphic novels in his spare time. He has secured a mobster’s trunk-load of grant money to continue his highly confidential lab research. Doctor Delgado is concocting The Elixir of Immortality for our planet Earth. He pulls his dread locks out trying to come up with the perfect eco-chemical equation that will save the Earth from its environmental demise. Indeed, Doctor Delgado has got a tough job to do.

But who wants to have the job of breaking the bad news to Mother Earth?

“Mother Earth, darling, you have a condition. I’m sorry, it’s terminal; it’s fatal; there’s no cure.”

Breaking such news to the Earth would be as challenging as convincing the Bush administration that the War in Iraq was always, and will forever be, a deadly mistake. Face it. It's a bust.

But Pablo Delgado is not someone who takes war stories, nationalism, or violence all that seriously. Nope. When Doc Delgado has had a hard day's night, he removes his lab coat and goggles and gets busy airbrushing the genitals onto his wild-haired fictional characters. In fact, right now he is finishing up a story about two lovers who met in the Pentagon and made the humiliating mistake of consummating their relationship on a desk piled with documents revealing some doped-up enemy’s weapons plans. Delgado is working out the scene in which the tears, jism, blood, and shit left by the lovers on the documents lead to a totally misguided military occupation.

Keep the midnight oil burning, Doctor Delgado! Someday, even if it is the last day of Earth, there may be an audience for your deranged scribbles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Inconvenient Idiom

Priscilla Charles owns a cherry farm outside of Washington D.C. Her small, all-natural operation is being threatened by Big Business dairy farms. And if those dairy farms are renowned for anything, it’s for their inclination to pollute. Ms. Charles lobbied a small-farm initiative to the central government. No one listened. She motivated other small farmers to join her in loud protests. She wrote a book. She went on the radio. Finally, she got the government involved but only on a local level. “We need to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. We need to become energy independent.” She would proclaim high standards for environmental change. Still, no one listened, until after Al Gore's documentary won an Oscar. It followed, one evening that Priscilla Charles was featured on a local television station on a show called Sixteen Minutes. Ms. Charles presented a fascinating lecture on “A Small Farmer’s Solution to the Energy Crisis.” Those in the studio who witnessed it said that Ms. Charles’ speech could blow Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth out of the nitrate-overloaded water. Unfortunately, during the airing of Sixteen Minutes, when Priscilla Charles gave her stellar and convincing presentation, the show was interrupted by a national broadcast of the President reporting on dire international absurdities from his Safe Seat in the Oval Office.

So, this year, when Spring Weather hits his heels to the cement and takes off running to his girl, Summer, don’t be surprised if you see fewer cherries on top of children’s ice cream treats. It’s not because Summer isn’t willing to put out; it’s because the independent cherry farms are being wiped out by the overrated delusion that "bigger is better," which, by the way, as it turns out is one of the most environmentally destructive American idioms in our langauge and it should be banned in the same way that the "N word" has been banned in The City.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Coming this April...

This April will be an exciting one for The Scribble Bitch book club. All five of its members will attend the third annual PEN World Voices Literature Festival.

In case you haven't heard, and there is no reason you should not have heard of the Scribble Bitch Book Club; it's popularity is second only to that one hosted by that woman with the talk show...what's her name?...oh, yeah: Oprah. The Scribble Bitch book club is an exclusive group of people who share a peculiar talent: they can write, read, and bitch simultaneously.

Members include the following playful beings:

Rebecca Jane
Riva Djinn
Sheela Swift
Bei Qi “Precious Queer” Chang

And the Scribble Bitch book club is proud to invite its first and only male member. He describes himself as a ravenous reader, rogue writer, and a renegade bitch; thus, he qualifies to join the club. His name is Pablo Delgado. He writes and designs erotic graphic novels that have been rejected by every publishing house from here to Timbuktu.

You’ll hear more about Pablo and Timbuktu later, but for today, click over to PEN’s website to see what plans they have for the April Festival. Here’s a quote from PEN:

“This April, PEN will host an exhilarating range of international writers along with some of the best-known U.S. authors. Programs touching on the Festival’s theme, Home & Away, will include conversations and discussions on the effects and implications of today’s migrations, changing notions of nation and identity, the literatures of travel and exile, and the essential characteristics of home.”

Here’s to literature in translation! Cheers! Here's to Home & Away! Cheers! Cheers!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Flash Drama

Paul Silvers; 31 years old & deformed
Pablo Delgado; 31 years old & dangerously handsome

The two men stand in the center of a shabby studio apartment. One barred window with sunlight pouring in onto Paul's deformity.

PAUL: Drop it.

PABLO: Never.

PAUL: Drop it, or I’ll tell the lawyer you’re sleeping with his wife.

PABLO: He already knows it!

PAUL: Does he know you’ve also seduced his daughter?

PABLO: And his cleaning lady and his shoeshine boy!

PAUL: You agreed to drop it. You promised.

PABLO: That was before I knew the truth about you, before Alice told me that you’re a…

PAUL: She lied. She always lies. I’m not a cop.

PABLO: She didn’t say you were a cop. She said you were a prosecutor. Narcotics Unit.

PAUL: C’mon Pablo. You can’t believe that. Why would I be trying to get you to drop acid with me if I worked for The Feds.

PABLO: Because that’s the way The Feds get people to talk. They drug ‘em. I have nothing to say to you, Sir. Get out of my house.

PAUL: Pablo, it’s me. You’re telling me you don’t even recognize me. It’s Paul Silvers, your old college roommate from Northern Illinois University. I served in Iraq. This accident? My face was blown off in one of those damned suicide attacks, and the surgeon gave me this botched job. Fuckers. My wife left me. All I’ve got now are the hallucinogens. Drop it with me.

PABLO: Paul Silvers…? But in college you organized the Students Against National Government. You called yourself a Neo-Tribalist back then. You attended your classes in the nude. What the fuck happened to you? No, you’re not the Paul Silvers I knew in college. That guy never would have served in a war that was a lost cause to begin with!

Paul drops his pants to show Pablo proof of his identity. An unusual birthmark.

Pablo does “drop it;” he drops his jaw, that is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lunch with Lady Leisure

She is ravishing. Her name is Clowdia Neuvogue. She hails from baroque Bohemia. She has survived from way back then and on into the modern ages because she consumes the secret elixir.

Clowdia Neuvogue lives on Manhattan’s Upper Wild Side. She makes tomato soup that you could just die for, regardless if you are God or Godzilla. Whoever you are, Lady Clowdia Neuvogue, the Divine Giver of Leisure invites You to her table (yea, You! dear Reader).

Accompanying today's blog post are two photographs: one reveals what Tomat d’Immortalite looks like before it is consumed; the other photo reveals what Tomat d’Immortalite looks like after it is consumed.

Clowdia Neuvogue speaks ever tongue, every dialect, every language ever spoken by humans and animals on this earth. But she only knows how to say one sentence; in every variation, she can only say this: “Welcome to my table!”

If you haven’t met her yet, you really must. Oh, darling; You must!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Epistolary Flash

Dear Nuala,

Your last letter sent me into a frenzied desire for revenge. I agree to do as you instruct.

I’ve dropped the petals from the dying blood roses into my foam bath. I lit the temptation candle and repeated the incantation you taught me. The gris-gris dust has been sprinkled under his pillow and in his trousers. It was hard enough for me to get myself into his apartment to spread the dust in these intimate places; there’s no way I’ll manage the dash of gris-gris in his bourbon, unless I pull some impossible stunt like make myself invisible. The liquor cabinet was locked, so I tried to use the expert lock-picking skills I learned in that Fine Arts program. But I heard his wife coming home, and I had to make a hasty exit out the window and down the fire escape.

Regardless of my failure to spike his drink, I hope your methods work as you have promised. I want the man responsible for my unjustifiable dismissal to get what he deserves. And I’ll owe it all to you, the Hoodoo Queen. I’ll send the two grand I owe you when I see the results. At that time you will receive payment through my messenger, Lord Fatface. You’ll find the money I owe you under his tongue.

‘Til then, keep your crystals hot and your agenda free and easy.

With respect,

The Nymph

Monday, March 19, 2007

Live and Die in Bed-Stuy

On Saturday night, Wren threw a birthday party for her girlfriend Bianca at their digs in the formerly-notorious-now-on-the-rise-hip-gentrifying neighborhood of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. The theme of the birthday party was Flashy Clothing. Guests were encouraged to dress in their best. Prizes would be bestowed on the most impressive outfits.

Simona belongs to Wren’s Park Slope book group. She was invited to the party. And Simona invited Alissa because Alissa was always thrilled to meet new people.

Simona wore a tailored suit and wide-collared disco blouse that made her look like the Chief Executive Officer of Funk. Alissa wore a Betsy Johnson dress made of snowflake lace with matching, white fingerless gloves. They both brought a dessert.

They followed the Mapquest directions to get them from Simona’s place in Park Slope to Wren’s place in Bed-Stuy. They arrived at 5551 Willoughby Street at around 8 pm. It didn’t take long to find parking, but it was a little challenging to parallel park the Camry on a dirty snow embankment that must have been about a foot high.

“Do you think we’ll be able to get out?” Simona said.

“I guess we’ll find out after dessert and a glass of wine.” Alissa shrugged.

They left the party at one am. The temperature had dropped a degree or two. After spinning the wheels in vain, Simona was unable to get the car out from the parking spot. Both women got out of the car. They tried to break snow away from the front and back tires with a window scraper. Alissa eventually found a snow shovel abandoned on top of a pile of garbage. But this snow shovel proved of little use for breaking up the snow under the car. They kept busy with the ineffective tools. They’d be here all night.

Then a man with wild eyes and missing teeth approached them. “I got a shovel!” He cheered. He held up a classic iron farm shovel that looked like it had experience digging mass graves in the Iraqi countryside. He was wearing a beat-up, red leather top coat that had Yusef Komunyakaa verses embroidered all over its long tails. The rugged man promised, “I’ll get you out of here!” He scooped up a monster’s mass of snow, put all his strength into his work, and tossed the mass over his shoulder so that it might have flown all the way to Park Slope, or even Manhattan for all the women knew.

While the man worked, Alissa slipped into the car to warm her frost-bitten toes. She was wearing her Italian ankle boots. While the boots may have had mini firearms for heels, they were certainly not ideal barriers to the freezing wind blow. Simona remained outside with the helpful man. His name was Louis. His mom died three weeks ago; he had only recently cleaned up and gotten himself off the streets. Now he was shoveling snow to make some money. He prayed God for more snowfall.

Alissa sat in the passenger seat of the car, the heat blasting on her feet. She got crisp bills out of her wallet to give to Louis. While she watched Simona chat with the shoveling man, Alissa remembered meeting another man who lived in this neighborhood all his life, a man who sat down next to her on a bench in the park at Borough Hall three Springs ago. He had just started talking to Alissa for no other reason than she looked lovely, queer, and alone. This stranger told Alissa that his family was from Barbados. Once, he went to visit Barbados; he described the beach like so: “I could see the hand of God holding all the water back. It’s the grace of God,” he said, “that is keeping that water from drowning us all.” He added, “I had to make that pilgrimage to Barbados because I don’t want to live and die in Bed-Stuy. No, I don’t want to live and die in Bed-Stuy.” He said it with a jazzed attitude, and the words sounded, to Alissa, like a song.

When the car was finally out of the snow embankment, they paid Louis who said, “God bless you beautiful ladies. Now I’m gonna put all the snow back! Ha ha!”

Simona was driving Alissa back to the L train that would bring her back into Manhattan. She told Simona the story of the man who didn’t want to live and die in Bed-Stuy and went elsewhere to seek God’s grace.

“But didn’t that guy with the shovel remind you of God?” Alissa asked Simona.

This question surprised Simona because she knew Alissa was not religious or pious. Alissa prided herself on not prescribing to any dogmas, doctrines, or religions. Hell, Alissa was so secular that she thought a crucifix was a backscratcher. Alissa was well-known for her civil disobedience; she liked to boast that she did not “support our troops.” No, she supported people who enlisted and then had the balls to desert the U.S. armed forces. Alissa spent half her days calling up the Fort Knox Desertion Center to check in with the latest stats on service men and women who she thought were choosing real freedom by deserting. Yes. Alissa had some odd political leanings, but Simona didn’t know she cultivated any kind of relationship with God. Simona considered herself a feminist, anti-war activist, and agnostic. Now Simona was worrying that Alissa’s newly-revealed, quaint spirituality might put a wedge between their relationship. Either that, or else Simona was feeling annoyed because their Flashy Clothes did not win any door prizes.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Female Weightlifter's Erotic Nightmare

Stella Carpenter lifts 350-pound barbells with strength reminiscent of the Incredible Hulk lifting a 150 billion ton mountain range. After breaking the state record, Stella is ready to move on to the national competition. She has been training hard and is eager to prove herself. The night before a big competition like this, she usually gets a little nervous; so, her mother rubs warmed almond oil over Stella’s muscles until the girl drifts off to sleep. Tonight, however, her mother can’t find the bottle of almond oil; she’s looked everywhere. Really, she forgot to buy a new bottle because while last at the market, she’d been distracted thinking about the date she planned with someone she’d met on At last, Stella’s mother was able to scare up some Habanero Exotica Oil that she had received as a gift from a previous date she’d had with a South American she’d met on That date hadn’t gone over too well, but as for the Habanero Exotica Oil, Stella’s mother figured “This will do.”

Indeed, Stella fell sound asleep during the ritual rub. Deep in the night, she had a weird dream about Fidel Castro taking a long stroll with Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The two men talked of all things absurd and surreal; they talked of what it's like to be 80-years-old; they talked of male secrets while Stella overheard it all in her dream. All of Havana turned into a scene straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

Stella awoke so wet that birds could bathe in her underwear. Strange. She hadn’t even been using performance-enhancing drugs. She could only blame such excited dreams on eating way too many nuclear-powered protein bars she'd bought from the General Nutrition Center. With that bonus round of wet dreams, sleep had surely refreshed her. Stella went on to win the National Championship for Female Weightlifting. Little did she know, her record wouldn’t be broken for another two centuries, and then only by a woman who was also famous for writing erotic poetry.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Yes, they say if you pull the veil off a virgin
Bride you’ll find a realist, the CEO of wireless
Service, a Yoga tycoon, or the micromanager of Military Spending

Who owns a Neo-Byzantine villa
Decorated with Edgar Degas’ Blue Dancers
& Brittany Spears’ underwear. Disguised
In Lady Liberty combat boots,

She plays a drum with her tongue
& teaches the city-dove songs to draw suicide watchers
To urban gardens. Injected with enough methamphetamines
To instant message the Daylights out of us

All, she’s the fertility clinic’s
Most valuable player. But contrary
To what you may have heard, this
Athena, she wouldn’t make a good mother.

Trans-fat-free Fiction

If you’re going to have a heart attack, choose a weekday for any such cardiac mischief. Why? A study conducted by a network of New Jersey hospitals revealed that a heart attack victim receives better care during the weekday than on weekends.

If you’re terminally ill and happen to use marijuana for medical reasons, avoid making your appeal in federal court on Wednesdays because in nine out of ten such cases that fall on a Wednesday, judges will decide you are not immune to federal prosecution. You’re terminally ill; you’re immune system’s on the fritz anyway; why did you think you’d be immune from government intervention, the worst sort of dis-ease?

If you’re a National Football League player who is feeling the onset of Post N.F.L. trauma or a soldier returned from Iraq feeling the onset of PTSD, for crying out loud, don’t choose a Friday morning at 6 am to check into the Psycho-social Ward at places like the Walter Reed Medical Center because at that time Doctor Dementia hasn’t had his Venti White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks Coffee. In that condition, he’s likely to misdiagnose you, steer you to the wrong supportive network, and you’ll end up in a talk session with a bunch of victims who suffer from IRS-related allergies that have gotten them into severe trouble for tax evasion. And those poor darlings were just too embarrassed to submit their tax forms because they had sneezed all over them. What a mess? Who needs it? Be well. Eat trans-fat-free.

Monday, March 12, 2007

On Being Curt

Jim Utterbug is a host of public radio’s Community Hour. His show has earned high regard over the years, and last year it won the prestigious Radio Activity Award for Best Talk Radio 2006. Listeners throughout the community tune into his show at 10 am every day to hear engaging interviews with featured guests that include celebrities, experts, poets, thinkers, professionals, and officials from the local community.

Today, Jim Utterbug has invited a state court judge to speak on his program. This morning, he was running late to work and did not have time to eat breakfast. What’s worse; he bought coffee at the drive through for the first time, ever, and it spilled all over his favorite work shirt when he had to take a sharp turn. He cleaned himself up, but it all felt like the wrong way to start the day.

When his polite guest arrived at the station wearing a pleasant smile, Jim Utterbug did the best he could to bite back his irritable mood. The interview started with discussion about mandatory retirement versus life terms for judges. That topic was followed by how to make divorce proceedings less acrimonious.

Of course, Jim Utterbug invited listeners to call in to the radio station to ask questions. When someone called in to ask the judge about judicial immunity and appealing her own case to a higher court, Jim Utterbug quickly cut her off because she was talking about her personal dispute, about losing custody of her son. This show was supposed to focus on judicial policy only, not personal cases. After Jim’s curt reprimand, the nervous caller curbed her question to make it more applicable to more people. Jim Utterbug was pleased to move on with a show that would satisfy all his listeners.

Next, a senior citizen called in to ask why state court does not have an option allowing Senior Citizens to opt out of jury duty. The federal courts do have such an option, why not this state court? Jim Utterbug quickly became frustrated with this caller too because he wasn’t getting to the point and wasn't stating why he thought it was important for Senior Citizens to be able to opt out of jury duty. The Senior Citizen said, “Jim, you’re cutting me off, not letting me finish.” Jim responded with a curt, “That’s my job!”

Little did Jim Utterbug know that, later that day, the woman who lost custody of her boy would break down in her psychotherapist’s office. She would tell the doctor she knew she shouldn’t let this happen, but Utterbug’s curt tone shattered her fragile emotions. She would cry for what she felt was “no reason at all,” and that would just make her even more upset at herself.

Little did Jim Utterbug know that later that day, in the afternoon, the Senior Citizen who called in to ask about opting out of jury duty would take his regular afternoon nap at 3 pm and would never wake.

This is not to say that Jim Utterbug should not be curt with his callers and not try to steer their comments to the proper ends so that his show maintains its stellar reputation. This is just to show how little Jim Utterbug knows sometimes. And also, this story might point out that while Jim Utterbug did not let that old man finish, Death did. So, maybe Jim Utterbug is not absolutely clear about what his job is because who is he to determine, really, whether a person is or is not finished?