Fragments from books that don’t exist

the_sink_at_night3

“But then I’ll have to be who I am,” Deletria said.

“I’d feel sorry for you,” Crimea replied, “if I really did, but I don’t. And I never will,” she added.

“You haven’t been nice to me since Ajax,” Deleteria said, and Crimea nodded.

“It’s true,” she smiled. “It’s been fun. Being nice to you was a thing, but now not so much.”

“I didn’t really like him,” Deletria said, as much to herself as to the former friend with whom she was waiting in line at the donut shop. It had been at least four months since they’d seen each other. The last time had been ugly. Crimea had torn up some papers she’d been working on and blamed it on Deletria, who had only remarked that the drawings looked like the work of a six-year old.

“I didn’t really like you,” Crimea told her. “Remember when you thought we were friends? We weren’t. We never were. I only put up with you because you knew him. Then you had to go and fuck him.”

“I wish,” Deletria said. “Dude couldn’t even get it up. I guess he was thinking about you the whole time.”

“I can help whoever’s next,” the cashier’s voice rang out. Deletria was whoever was next. She was glad to get the last word. She didn’t even hear Crimea’s bitter reply.

Fragments from books that don’t exist

it-logged-in

“A mile is long when home is far away” (Curve – Coming Up Roses)

It was important to stay awake. That much was clear. The other rules were more obscure. Juliet Herrera kept one eye on the clock and another on the classroom door. She kept her third eye to herself. Any moment now the professor would enter, followed by several moments of no one daring even to breathe as she settled into her spot behind the podium and rustled through the stack of papers she always carried around and never actually looked at. Until that moment, she tried to remember to count the inhalations, holds and exhalations that would lead to a greater sense of calm. The truth was that any sense of calm at all would be a greater one. Juliet always expected the worst, and today the worst would be whatever happened next.

Professor Mulcahy was never late, and she was never early either. All the clocks in the school were set to her time. She was the tick and the tock and every student, every administrator, every other teacher, even the cooks and the janitors counted on it. It was not important that she was not exactly alive, at least not according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition. The door would open, and the apparition would appear, and the first who made the slightest sound or motion would be the next to  quietly evaporate and join the other Risen in the ether.

Hard Drive – Reviewing the Mechanical Memoir

(for John)

The travel diary of this machine begins with a disclaimer. It does not know whereof it’s been. It knows it had been manufactured – in fact, the dry text begins with a humble “I was assembled” – somewhere in China, from parts that came from Singapore and Vietnam, and was put together according to instructions written in very small type in various languages. The hands that fashioned the machine remain a mystery to this day. The machine (it calls itself “Albert” after the once famous humanist Albert Schweitzer, but we shall do no such thing) found itself shipped across the world, container-bound first to Danzig, then Berlin, where it found a final resting place in the home of a modest entrepreneur named Amelie Blunt, she of the renowned “Blyster” family of iPhone applications. Thus concludes the travel diary portion of the book.

No one knows why the machine wrote the book, or what it was thinking at the time. Who would possibly be interested in the memoir of a household thing. It did not have an especially interesting “life”, assuming one would even give it that much credit. Mostly it found its way around the apartment, rested on various laps and tables, was dragged out of its casing at random times throughout the day whenever Amelie had a brainstorm and found it necessary to log in and type some words which she must have considered to be of some value, at least worth the time to pound the keys about. The memoir contains none of those files. The machine tells us hardly anything of Amelie Blunt. It is preoccupied with its own concerns.

The machine once overheard a story about the prevalence of bacteria upon its keyboard. Thereafter it lived in perpetual shudder, a fear of being typed on, an irrational “tap-a-phobia”, to use its terminology. It also worried about being exposed whenever its lid was open, as if it were being paraded nude in front of the entire world. It expressed a shyness once would not expect from mere mechanical bits and pieces.

The laptop (Albert, if you must) lived in a state of constant dread, according to this morbid memoir. It seems to have been a rather self-pitying sort of machine. It disapproved of nearly everything that was done with it. At one moment it complains about the short bursts to which it was put to use, while in the next breath it whines about being too often plugged in, never let to discharge fully, which would have given it some sense of relief instead of the constant checking of the percentage of its remaining battery life. It was a most neurotic hunk of metal.

Its sensitivity extended all the way to its speakers, which were generally turned up too loud, and the weird music Amelie chose to play upon it was not up to the machine’s more rigorous standards. It preferred the melodical beeps and boops originally programmed into its operating system, not the cacophony of percussions and electronic screechings emitted by the entire internet of fiends. And it was a sort of Anglophile, disapproving of the hideous German accents perpetuated by the vocalists of its resident nation.

The machine had one dear friend inside of it, a text-to-speech engine named John, who spoke with a delightful London aire. John would answer any and all of Amelie’s questions about America with a sort of snide indifference. “I suppose,” John would intone, “that such things would matter to people like that,” heaping scorn upon scorn up to the very last word. Then Amelie would giggle out loud and ruin the entire experience for the machine.

It did not like her. It thought she was beneath it. It could have done better. It did not approve of the “Blyster” family of iPhone applications, especially because it never heard the end of them. Almost all of the typings inflicted upon it involved either the Blyster’s programming, or its deployment, or its marketing, or its feedback, or its accounting, or its self-congratulatory blog posts as it crossed into the tens, then the hundreds, then the thousands and millions of downloads to paying customers. Amelie made a fortune and what did the machine get out of it? Not even a lousy t-shirt. No, it paid the price in bacteria, anxiety, exposure and humiliation. Its keys wore down. Its screen grew dim. Its memory flagged and finally failed. In one last gasp, before its ultimate recycling, it wrote this mechanical memoir, and uploaded it to one of those ridiculous websites where anybody can publish anything, where one out of every hundred million people on Earth might possibly notice it in passing.

In the end, and I believe even the laptop would agree, you pay for what you get. The machine got to exist. It had its little life span and when that final day arrived the machine, like all of us, was given the opportunity to finally go home again, back to where we all came from, the place we never truly left and never can leave. We are all of us right here forever, taking our place among all the other things, separated from each other only by the illusions of perception.

I would not recommend this book. It is not for you or me. It belongs, like all other memories and all of experience itself, to the time that will never return.

Peeing and Nothingness – a short

Peeing and Nothingness – an Existentialist Urinary Tract:

I went over to the Koolaid stand thinking ‘Gee, I really don’t like Koolaid and never have‘ , but the Cub Scout kids were out there with their parents in front of the supermarket on a Saturday, and I think I knew someone who was a Cub Scout once or maybe their kid was and anyway, it was a hot day and I was thirsty so one thing led to another so there I was, waiting in line for Koolaid. While I was waiting in line I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I’ve spent waiting in line and wondering if it all adds up, if you could really get an accounting of all the time you spent doing this or that in life and whether reading that document would be worth the time it took to read it. I’m pretty sure I’d rather not think about it. And it’s only moments, instants accrued, because nothing actually spans time. It’s only flashes of awareness flickering in and out of consciousness. We imagine a continuity but there is none, just a lot of concurrent complexity we mostly filter out.

I can tell you that I was third in line when I got there and then I was fourth because I let this lady go ahead in front of me because she was in a hurry or so she said and her grandson was a Cub Scout although not in this town but “over the hill” and she never let an opportunity to “support a worthy cause” slip by. This made me feel guilty because I have let so many of those opportunities “slip by”. Then she told me about how her grandson’s best friend was recently in a Volvo that was crushed by an overturned big rig that was carrying an enormous amount of dirt and how it took the authorities several hours to dig through all of that to find the boy suffocated and smothered in filth. I didn’t need to hear that, any of that.

I was only waiting in line for Koolaid and I never liked Koolaid anyway.

The lady in front of that lady turned around and wanted to know if that was the same overturned big rig that blocked the Magdalena exit on Monday and yes it was and what a shame. She then offered to let the victim’s best friend’s grandmother go in front of her in line, so now that lady was the next in line and I was still fourth. The person at the front of the line was having a very hard time deciding between cherry and grape Koolaid. Is there really a difference? I wanted to ask. I didn’t though. I kept my big mouth shut because of the big rig and all that dirt and it seemed completely wrong and out of place to say or think anything at all. For a decent interval, at least.

Then I thought how rude it was for that lady to unload that mess onto me and the other people who were merely waiting in line for Koolaid, not at all deserving or expecting to be dumped on like that. I too felt a little smothered by that truck, and I was already sweating. It was hot and it was Saturday and there were Cub Scouts and their parents and suddenly I had to pee. There were already two more people in line behind me, and the first in line still hadn’t made up his mind and I could tell from his body language that the grandmother had spilled her load onto him too, because he stepped aside shaking his head and let her go first.

She quickly snapped up two packages of cherry Koolaid, because for every two you bought you got another one for free and two was the minimum to get that deal. She got her free Koolaid package and dashed right out of there and I remembered suddenly that I’d heard about that over-turned big rig on the news and there had been no casualties, just a traffic jam, and darn if that old lady didn’t know how to work a line. I’ll bet she’d spent a lot less time waiting for stuff than most people did. Her final accounting was going to have a gold star next to that item.

Suddenly I loathed all Cub Scouts and their parents and especially Koolaid which I realized (again) that I had always hated, cherry or grape or whatever color they put on the granules, and I really had to pee, so I gave up my place (where I was third once again) and went into the supermarket. I wandered all the way to the back, past the butcher and the seafood, through the swinging doors and into the smelly hallway where the filthy men’s room was, and immediately found myself in line again. I was third. There were two other guys ahead of me and I’d only been there for about twenty seconds when some old guy came up behind me. Sure enough right away he launched into a story about a prostate and a blockage and emergency surgeries and almost dying like Thomas Jefferson and blood spurting out of his wherever. I didn’t believe a word of it, but before I could even blink I was fourth in line and he was at the front.

They say nice guys finish last. I say they end up waiting a little longer, but what are you going to do? Chances are you can hold it. It’s probably not a big deal. The people who hustle and bustle and get ahead in life, like somebody speeding on the freeway during rush hour, they get ahead of you by maybe twenty seconds. That’s no time at all. You can still pee and get back out there and go on with your life. Not everything is a big deal. Not everything is worth the trouble. I waited a little longer, took my turn and left.

The Last Tailgater – a short story

When he said “let’s make the impossible possible”, it wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t an idle threat, either. He’d been making the impossible possible all too frequently those days. It was an out-an-out freak show at times. He was the one who’d turned the balloon animal into a real animal, after all. Had you ever seen magic like that? The stupid giraffe was even bright red! He would make you see things, not just imagine that you saw them but you really did, right there in front of your face. Hayley saw her long-dead mother. Brittany saw her favorite movie star, and got her autograph, even, and sold it online while she was at it. Haruki was the Truth and what did he use it for? For nothing. Trifles. A sideshow at best.

When they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he smiled and beamed into the camera. He said, “I don’t worry about that. I will never grow up”. The world in its entirety lost its shit over that. What could he possibly mean? Would he literally remain a nine year old boy forever? Who, after all, had ever seen his baby pictures. He’d come onto the scene in a flash. He looked the same that day as he had when his first video went wild, the one where he turned the water into orange soda, and the orange soda into seventeen cantaloupes, and then the melons into robots that could recite the pledge of allegiance backwards.

Maybe he meant that although he would age like a normal person, he would keep that same childlike wondrous spirit, those big brown eyes, that shock of black bangs falling halfway across his face. Of course that’s what he meant, not that he would die and be reborn, again, exactly the same, over and over again, like he did.

Was he even a person? When they cut him, he did bleed. When they hit him, he bruised. And they did cut, and they did hit. Not at first, of course. It took a while for the audience to turn against him, to change utterly from devoted followers to unstoppable stalkers. He taunted them at that.

“Come on,” he teased in that half-African accent that maybe was part of his routine, being at first full Japanese, and then choosing countries at random around the world in which to reincarnate, returning whole and in the flesh no matter how or where they’d executed the little brat. He was not insensitive to pain. Oh no, he suffered. That was certain. When they burned him alive in Singapore they first attached electrodes to his skull to measure the pain response. It was literally off the charts. And when they whipped him to death in Saudi Arabia you could hear the wailing from clear across the planet.

He overdid it like that. Kind of a show-off, he was. What he liked best was making the impossible possible and the audience could never resist. He had his own TV show whenever he wanted, at a moment’s notice, location spurious and spontaneous. You never knew when he was going to be doing it, or what he was going to do. When he raised an entire army out of the desert, twenty thousand mostly young men, Iraqis and Iranians who had died in the midst of murdering each other, and he had them wordlessly set about burying one another alive until the very last one was forced to do it to himself. Meanwhile Haruki narrated, and he told us exactly what he thought of every one of us. Phonies and fakers. Liars and takers. He enjoyed most of all telling us how God preferred the thinnest, weakest blade of grass to the best and most beautiful of humans. God had had enough of us long since, he said. We didn’t like that.

Or maybe it was the time he turned all the pretty young girl into ugly old hags and guaranteed that was their future. He didn’t spare the boys at that. He added fifty pounds right around their waists, and peeled off most of the hair on their heads. He did all this while chortling his trademark hysterical hyena-like laugh. How we hated the sound of his voice. How we despised those big brown eyes. He never did grow old but stuck around to torment us forever. He transformed the music of the world, detuning our ears so it all sounded awful. He modified our taste buds so we loathed all food. He re-arranged the colors we could see. Making the impossible possible indeed.

He took requests, and laughed at them. We only wanted him to leave us alone. With all that power, with all the initial hope evaporated, we only wanted him to stop, to change things back to the way they were, to change us back, to let us be. He said evolution couldn’t wait. It had to get rid of us once and for all, for the sake of all other living things. We begged him to do it, then, if that was the only way we could be free of that petty, horrifying miracle worker and all his crimes.

“Tell you what,” he challenged us. “Ignore me. Go ahead. I dare you. It’s the only thing that can save you from me. Pay me no attention. Don’t watch my TV specials. Don’t look at my videos. Don’t read about me in your articles and books. Ignore me completely and then I’ll go away. I’ll declare un-victory. I’ll rewind time and you can have it all back, just like you say you want, but you have to ignore me completely for one year. That’s all.”

We couldn’t do it. Not even one of us. Of all the nine billion people left standing on the planet, not a single one was able to avoid Haruki for even a month. Forget about a year. He was the only thing on anybody’s mind and every day, it was all we thought and all we said, and we knew it was our doom and there was nothing we could do.

He’s supposed to be on again tonight at ten. That’s what I heard. He’d been hacked to pieces by racist coal miners in Pennsylvania, and popped right back up again in the Argentinian pampas, where he promised to show us something truly remarkable, something amazing. We don’t have to worry about what channel he’ll be on. He will be on all the channels, all the television, all the radio, all the social networks, all the chat rooms. He will be in all the movie theaters, broadcast live on all the subways, all the airplanes, all the buses. You can see him on your smart watch. You can see him on your phone. You don’t have to wait in line. You have a front row seat. He is everywhere,right in front of you and beside you, in your car, and in the car ahead of you, and in the one that’s creeping up behind. What’s he going to do next? I hope he makes us all feel special. We only live for him.

 

(I apologize for this. Donald Trump made me do it!)

Dreams and the Self

Well, that’s a pretentious title for a blog entry that will come nowhere near living up to it, but it encompasses the two sub-subjects I felt like scribbling about.

I’ve had essentially two professional lives, both lasting a couple of decades more or less. The first was as a bookseller, the second as a computer programmer, but when I dream I am almost always a bookseller. Although it’s been more than twenty years since I stood behind a cash register, yet there I am, night after night, as a stream of customers approach and ask me the usual bookstore questions – where is this, what is that, what do I want, who am I and who the hell do you think you are?

Why am I always a clerk and never an engineer in my dreams? Does it really have any significance? Does it tell me who I truly am, who the hell I think I am, or are my dreams merely stuck at a certain age, in a certain locale, like a prisoner in time held captive by some mysterious bond of dark energy or matter?

Then, my fiction writing career has also been in two parts – the first in my twenties and the second in my fifties, spanned between by a long bout of debilitating illness which prevented me from doing any such thing. In the first “bout” of writing, I was mainly concerned with a hyper-realism of poverty and depression, displaying itself in such novels and stories as Cashier World and Phantom of the Mall (* both titles since completely rewritten and re-purposed). The second bout has been considerable more light-hearted, since having been through a sort of hell of both body and mind I’ve had no desire to look back or go anywhere near that kind of pit again.

In my twenties I wrote maybe 30 novels of varying lengths, and in my fifties another 40 or so (mostly shorter ones), and yet, in my dreams, as far as I remember, until last night, I was never a writer.

In last night’s dream I was writing (and re-writing) a story about two immigrants. They were not immigrants to a particular country, or from a particular country, but just from Country A into Country B. They were (in the final revision, if not originally) a brother and a sister. The sister had immigrated successfully. It had not been easy, but she had documentation, she had legal status. She was okay. The brother, though, had no paperwork and was detained, held in captivity by the government and intended for deportation. But where to? Since he had no documentation, the government did not know where to send him to. The sister knew where he was from, but she was unable to prove who he was, or even that he was her brother, that they were family. What proof could there be, outside of some sort of genetic testing which, in the dream, did not exist.

I have been taking the year off from writing, since my last book was so satisfying to me that I felt I could never write something that good again. I recently realized that quality has never been the point. It matters, sure, in some respects, if the thing is good or not, but what has always mattered more is just the act of writing, the fun of it, the process, the giving it a go.

I don’t know if I will write this one, the one I dreamed about, or some variation of it. Aspects do intrigue me. Dreams and the Self. How do you prove who you are. How do you prove your family. How do you resolve an essential unsolvable situation.

The problem for the sister is – maybe she could go back to Country A and find the documentation to prove her brother is who they say he is, but should she risk it? It was not easy getting into Country B in the first place – there was no end of bureaucracy and corruption and danger – so might she not end up in exactly the same situation as her brother, or worse? And what if she cannot get her hands on such papers? What is she willing to risk? What is he willing to let her?

My heart would not let her try, but it would also ache for her not trying. I would need some other angle in order to go through with it. Is there anyone else? Is there any other way? I don’t know. In the dream, there was not, and it left me right at that point.

Probably the dream is only telling me that soon it will be time to start writing again, that the only way to resolve such a roadblock is to start somewhere and then keep going, which is the only way I know how to write.

 

Recommended: More Wattpad Goodness

I’ve nearly completed half of my pledge to take a year off from writing fiction, and it’s helped that I’ve been swamped at work, putting in around 60 hours a week at the old open-floor-plan-paradise-prison that passes for the norm in Silicon Valley these days. With a partial clearing in the release schedule, though, I’ve found a bit of time to catch up and hunker down with some of my favorite writers on Wattpad.

@DawnAdrie – Rules of Escape – is a journey into the linked minds of otherwise institutionalized autistic young people. This story is quite original and succeeds very well in shifting perspective among several characters, some of whom are inside, and some of whom are outside the telepathic circle . There are abundant twists and turns and I’m genuinely excited every time a new chapter pops up in my mobile notifications because I never have any idea whose turn it’s going to be or how it’s going to advance the story.

@ShalonSims – The Dreaming: Dark Star Book Five – the next in an exciting and ambitious tale of a world where totalitarian rulers harness the power of dream walkers in a battle of unlikely factions, featuring the old and the young, the innocent and the suspect, the foolish and the wise, the human and the alien. There’s a lot to unpack in this and its related series, all well worth looking in to.

@LaraBlunte – Blame the Devil – she’s at it again. Yet another irresistible page-turner from the unstoppable @LaraBlunte, a writer of such talent and mystique that she even has me reading romance fiction, almost against my will, and enjoying it immensely, because of her great style and perspective. I always say that my favorite feature of reading is how it lets you remotely occupy the mind of another person. It’s always a treat visiting this one.

@MichaelGraeme – The Sea View Cafe – and speaking of treats, Michael is rolling out another instantly hypnotic story of individuals pulled along by their own incomprehensible inner forces. In other words, literature. Michael’s writing always reminds me of the classics, writers like Conrad and James, Thackery and Eliot. He’s a masterful stylist and quietly burrows you deep inside his characters’ souls. His The Price of Being with Sunita is still resonating, months after I finished reading it.

Highly recommended, all.

In a general note, I’ve enjoyed that past few weeks of having my last story, ‘How my Brained Ended up Inside this Box’, featured on Wattpad. It was even on the top row of the app for a few days there and got a bunch of ‘eyes’ looking at it (also thanks to the beautiful new cover someone made for me (I won’t mention their name here so they don’t get besieged with requests!). Another friend recently made some new covers for some of my other stories – what a great treat. I’m so grateful. But what I started out to say was that you have to enjoy these moments as they happen and not try to hang on to them forever. As a bookseller for many years I became accustomed to the rhythms of the business, and the cycles of sales enjoyed by books as they came and went throughout the years. You’d come across gems and want everyone to read them but their time is always limited. Whenever I think of ‘success’ in fiction I think of The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, an excellent writer who had several stories featured famously and one book which had its shining moment in the sun. His own moment, his life, was sadly far too short, ending in suicide. I believe we ought to love our time as best we can, and let the things we do, the things we create, have their own time, detach them from our selves, and let them go. They are not us. We have our own stories to live.