Displaying articles for: April 2010

Gone with the Windshield

TO THE OWNER OF THIS CAR:

Accidentally dinged yr pssngr door while coming around corner. Couldn’t wait to xchg insurance info now (late for screening of “How To Train Your Dragon”) but my e-mail & phone below. Pls call – sorry!!

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TO THE OWNER OF THIS CAR: 
Got yr message. Sorry could not call back but I threw my phone off bridge in anger after finding out “HTTYD” was not a documentary. Pls e-mail, we can xchg info.

P.S. Sorry – accidentally hit yr rear bumper while parking behind you. No damage but I think yr airbag inflated?

P.P.S. HTTYD = How To Train Your Dragon

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DEAR CAR OWNER:

Me again. Did you e-mail? Sorry, I share acct with my gf and she has not been giving me messages. Been fighting lately about dumb stuff. Anyway pls contact me at new address below – really want to make this right.

sorryihityourcar@mymailbox.com --also follow me on Twitter! @carhitta9

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HEY BUDDY:

Sorry, accidentally sheared off yr sideview mirror pulling away from curb after leaving that last note. Add it to my tab!!!!

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WAZZZZUPPP! 
Remember that commercial? Good stuff. Don’t know if you tried to contact me – I decided to move last nite after my gf left all my stuff on front porch. No e-mail/phone/running water in new place yet. But leave me a note here on yr window, I will come back and check later and we can put this behind us. How have you been?

(Oh also re: smashed glass. My gf’s new bf was chasing me with his fraternity pledge paddle. Guess he thought yr car was mine and he bashed in windshield. Sorry I didn’t stop him but I could have been srsly hurt. Hope you understand.)

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Hey, you got a new car! I like it. About time too, that old one was in bad shape. Didn’t know if this even was your car at first but I jimmied lock with coat hanger and looked thru your stuff to make sure. If you left me a note, it was not on car when I arrived. I will come back tmrw ok?

(I borrowed yr Erykah Badu CD from glove compartment – THX!!!)

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LOL nice try man but I don’t think putting a sign on yr car that says “LEAVE ME ALONE” is going to stop ppl from hitting it. Case in point: check out the dents I made while driving up to see if you left me a note. Scratches look good on yr new wheels, I think – makes it look “lived in.” Anyway, you gonna get in touch w/ me or what? I am going out of my way to be a good guy here.

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WAZZZZUPPP!

Ha ha never gets old. Thought I might catch you if I slept in your car overnight (also new apt. not working out – did you know it is illegal to breed tree shrews in your apt?!?!?) Thx for letting me crash. Left my boxers in front seat – do u mind washing for me? I think it would be a show of good faith on your part. Be back tonight – what time is check out? LOL

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Hey pal hope you are ok – cops all over your car when I showed up. Had to phone in bomb threat at local elementary school to get them to leave. What happened? Anyway look, don’t want to be rude but I am running out of patience. Doesn’t help that you keep moving your car farther away from your house – taking me forever to find it. LET’S FINISH THIS.

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Hey just realized - where are my boxers?!?! Really thought you were above stealing another man’s underwear. Not cool, bro. I hope nothing else “happens” to your car. (Did you notice the quotes???)

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HEY WHERE R U? YR CAR NOT HERE. HOPE RAIN DOES NOT WASH THIS CHALK MESSAGE OFF SIDEWALK BEFORE U GET BACK. WHY IS THERE FOR SALE SIGN ON YR LAWN?

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WAZZZZUPPP?

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TO THE OWNER OF THIS CAR:

Just kidding! It’s me, buddy! Took me a while to find you but I used yr license plate info to call in a hit-and-run and told them the car was stolen, then followed police to yr new house. Nice place! Anyway, once you post bail and get yr car from this impound lot, give me a call so we can settle up. New e-mail and phone below.

 

Jason Reich is a television writer whose credits include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and VH1's Best Week Ever.

Lobby U.

BERKELY, CA – On March 18th UC Berkeley's student senate voted 16 to 4 in favor of divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation…Jonathan Kessler of the American Israeli Political Action Committee said, "We're going to make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote.  That is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.” 

      --The New York Times 

 

March 20th -- The powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC has taken new steps to ensure the continued support by the student body. The group is now vowing to replace the captain of the ultimate Frisbee team and co-chairs of the Slam Poetry club.  “If ExpressionZ will not use their spoken word performance art to stand with Israel, we will find someone who will,” said a representative of AIPAC.  

 

March 23nd – The annual Homecoming Games at UCLA have been marred by controversy as agents of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have moved to unseat the strongly pro-Israeli leadership of the Greek Council.  “First we will defeat the stooges of the American-Zionist regime at the traditional tricycle race, couch-burning, and flip-cup contests,” said a defiant representative of Iran at the model UN. “Then we will wipe them off the beer-pong table.”  The Iranian delegation to the model UN is already facing sanctions over their alleged production of highly enriched marijuana.

 

March 30th – Hard on the heels of the recent peace agreement that put an end to the decades long conflict between jocks and nerds, new tensions have sprung up at America’s universities, this time among agents of foreign governments, intelligence agencies, and industries that have infiltrated student organizations.  Experts suggest that it may no longer be possible to identify sources of campus conflict based on traditional groupings like meatheads, preppies, geeks, dirty hippies, or the lacrosse team.  “We must look instead at a web of subtle international governmental and non-governmental associations that have begun to commandeer our campuses,” according to a RAND Corporation report.

 

April 12th – With the rise of lobbying of all kinds on-campus, increasing numbers of students are turning to non-traditional spring break destinations.  One contingent that spent its break in North Korea has nothing but praise for the hospitality they received in the rogue Communist dictatorship.  “It is the sacred duty of all young people to defend and glorify the ideology of Kim Jong-Il,” said one Boston University party-goer just back from a re-education jaunt in Pyongyang.  "I mean, you never hear about the revolutionary and bodily purity of the North Korean people!” said  Duke Junior Mike Malone, adding that no one he saw was in a concentration camp.

 

April 15th – Financial experts have concluded that the increasing number of college students in thrall to foreign governments is at least in part a result of a faltering economy, as graduates in the US find themselves under the burden of usurious student loans and a job market the worst since the great Depression.  Investigations show that many have discovered that becoming undisclosed agents of foreign powers is an increasingly viable career option.  “Their own country clearly has no use for them, so even Philosophy majors can secretly become lobbyists for any number of foreign institutions," said a National Security Agency official who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals by those same groups.

 

As I write this dispatch on my brand-new iPad, I feel compelled to add that I'm struck by the glorious partnership between The Republic of Uzbekistan and The United States.  Like most US young people, I like to surf the web, while texting and tweeting my friends, all of whom agree that Uzbek President Islom Karimov is a leader of vision and purpose whose commitment to human rights, a free press, open democratic elections, and the distribution of free iPads is unparalleled.  I see no reason why this alliance between our two great nations should not continue well into President Karimov’s fourth, fifth, and even sixth terms.


Will Menaker is a drain on society whose writing has nevertheless appeared on The Huffington Post, The Raw Story, and Talking Points Memo.

From the Sea Journal of Dr. Ridley L. Honeycomb

On board His Majesty's Sloop Winslow


May 3, 1804:

First patient—a ruddy-faced seaman of nineteen. Strong in spirit; most powerful. Complaint: stomach distress. A fever that stubbornly refuses to subside. “How are you handling the disquietness of the first few days shipboard?” I ask. “Most honorably,” he responds. “That makes me glad,” I counter. “Please, good surgeon, may I request an elixir to relieve me of my discomfort?” This uttered by the lad, through clenched teeth. At this, I can only smile. Naïve youth!

 

Wordlessly, and with pipe in hand, I motion to the framed “Ph.D. in Psychology” certificate on the wall. “You are no fine surgeon?” he asks, somewhat plaintively. I aid him to his feet with: “Worry not, good boy. We have months to sort this through.” The young man eventually retreats into the quarterdeck, a little worse for the wear, true. But—one can only assume---commencing to be more sound of mind?
 
 May 6, 1804:

Attacked by a Napoleonic frigate! 35 wounded; 9 unlucky men banished from this good earth. The screams, you can only imagine! The rivers of blood, only in your most frightful nightmares envision! So many injured, so much unhappiness! “You must help us, good Doctor!” they cry, almost in unison. “Help starts here!” I shout in response. I point to my head and my heart. They may have turned away in disappointment and pain, but as with the sea itself, much work is done below the surface.

 

May 15:

“My arm! ‘Tis severed!” This from our valiant Captain Jenkins, pinned ‘neath the formidable weight of a fallen topgallant . Said I: “May we converse a bit upon this dilemma?” And he: “My arm . . . she is no more!”  And I: “Would you care to express your distress through a pencilled rendering of this predicament? Here—with your good hand . . .”

 

As I now recline in my hammock, sipping sunflower-blossom tea and observing, with both wonder & joy, the stars that guide us toward our eventual destination, I cannot help but ponder how I might have handled such a ticklish situation differently: less severe love? More? New breathing exercises pilfered from my colleagues in the Orient? I then think back fondly on similar, hypothetical cases from graduate school, minus the severed arms and fallen topgallants. Life is indeed deliciously humorous when arriving full course!

 

P.S.—The Captain perished.
 

May 26:

More progress (& humour!) today. Assist’d the men in loading guano onto the vessel. Men complain of numbness in hands from this hard labour. When I counter with  a deeper and more complex rationale (repressed rage over Mothers' spankings), they laugh as if the mighty ocean Herself just passed gas. What foolishness we enjoy together! Good opening for future academic article? Thesis to come.
 

May 29:

We are down to 18 tired & disenchanted souls & I thus find myself as lone commander. Trust Games ’neath the mizzen staysail at high noon. . . .
 

June 4:

Down to 16 men. Officers Wilson and Barrett did not take very kindly to “Falling Backwards & Being Caught By Another.” (Must pay special attention to Boundary Issues at upcoming Talk Circle assembly.)
 

Aug. 4:

Pirates! The devil sweeps over us all! Buccaneers have overtaken our vessel! And most quickly! We are most likely be put to death at dawn’s earliest light! Or perhaps by early afternoon. Maybe by nightfall. Why am I forever doubting myself? Go with the first instinct . . . ‘tis almost always more salubrious!.      My heart breaks for all; most ‘specially those who have grown emotionally, even if they have suffered grievous physical agonies, these past six months!

 

Nightfall:

A breakthrough of sorts with Arthur, the one-eyed leader of these imperfect, noble rogues. So much has been learnt over the course of our 50 minute hour together . . . & yet (& as always) it comes down to all matters pertaining to the Sexual. In Arthur’s circumstance: impotence brought on by the shame of an empty orbital cavity. I proffer that this phenomenon has less to do with his absent eye and more to do with the elderly shoe cobbler Arthur spoke about earlier in Group—the creepy one from the village over. The chap with the wandering hands. Positive changes begin now! Off with that shameful eye-patch, Arthur!!!
 

Later:

Arthur returns to show he has removed the “shame spiral” eye patch. In its stead: a gaping wound that is most disgusting to look at.  It sickens and nauseates me and I wish to gag. It is beyond nature & outside the realm of what we consider “human.” And yet (& almost impossibly) I consider this an invaluable first step. . . . Huzzah, Arthur!

 

Later Still:

Still gagging. Back goes the eye-patch & not quickly enough. A lesson of sorts: one must sometimes go with the second instinct . . . ‘tis often better-considered.


Aug. 13:

Glorious life & all she has to offer! A gusty storm raged for the entire Evening! All intrepid souls driven overboard into the Sea’s ferocious churn, my new friend Arthur sadly included. Now I stand alone but not lonely. First order of business: to complete academic paper to be entitled: “To Survive Without the Benefit of Adequate/Fresh Water.” (Thesis to come.) 

 

Second order of business: To replace objectionable pirate flags with more inspirational offering:  WARNING! LOVE IS THE ONLY FORCE CAPABLE OF TRANSFORMING AN ENEMY INTO A FRIEND!  ALL ABOARD THE SMILE SHIP!!!!

 

 

Scott Rothman is a screenwriter living in New York City.

 

Mike Sacks is a writer on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. His first book, "And Here’s the Kicker," was published in summer, 2009.

Dear Patient

Because I’ve gotten some concerned phone calls about the “Coming Soon” signage that suggests my office will soon be converted into a Tangy Persimmon yogurt franchise, the time has come to let all of you know that I am retiring from the practice of medicine. This has been a difficult decision.  Let me say that each of you is very special to me.  As a group, however, you’ve made it easy for the Persimmon people to secure my prime corner location.

I took it in stride when Margie Bouton, empowered by the wisdom of the comment section on WebMD, became convinced that her son’s simple hay fever was actually Plotkin’s Syndrome, a metabolic disorder last diagnosed in 1912 in an 80 year old Latvian man who was bitten by a peddler.
 
I was caring and patient when Fred Macklin whipped out a 50- page printout which proved I was treating him all wrong for his shingles.  He loudly demanded that I replace the anti-viral therapy with a de-tox program starting with caffe latte immersions.

And I could manage Sheila Doyle, who would spend hours explaining to me that lactose would interfere with her unborn child’s ability to relate to small farm animals.  Thank you holisticpregnancy.com for that one.

But it was the apps that finally did me in. There  I am, telling Jim Margolis that he had better cut down on his bi-weekly cote de bouef consumption, and he whips out an app called Preditrix, which says that based on his family history, his score in Dungeons and Diagnostics, and the number of his friends online now, he’ll live to 95.

Then there was Francis Muldoon, who downloaded an app called HealthDerivatives.  She claimed it reduced her risk factors to zero. You just enter your test results, and the app turns them into a CHO – that’s a collateralized health obligation.  Then you sell these on the secondary market, thus shifting the entirely of your personal risk to someone else.

All these apps also give my confidence you’ll be in what you believe are good hands without me.  

For those wondering about my plans, you’ve shown me the joys of learning new things.  So I’m looking forward the exploration of many new fields.  Next week, I’m flying a 747 from New York to Paris.  I’ve never been in a cockpit, but that shoudn’t be a problem, since I learned avionics at flightsim.com.

The moment I land, I’ll be whisked to La Grande Repast, where I’ll have a chance to demonstrate the pastry skills I picked up after an hour or so at MySimpleSouffle.com.

And then it's off to Vegas, with the skills I picked up in half an hour from StandUpp.com.
 
In closing, let me say again what a pleasure it was to take care of you and your families -- in those days before I became as vestigial as an appendix.
 
Sincerely, Dr. Vance McCardle

 

 

Adam Hanft is the founder and CEO of Hanft Unlimited. He blogs for the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Fast Company and is a frequent commentator on National Public Radio's Marketplace. He is the co-writer, with Faith Popcorn, of The Dictionary of the Future.

Coming Out

Various forms of same-sex sexual activity have been recorded in more than 450 different species of animals … from flamingos ... to warthogs. 

     --from “Can Animals be Gay?” by Jon Mooallem in the New York Times Magazine
 
Dear Mom and Dad,

 

It was really great to be home over Spring Break! To see Grandpa Willy still rooting for rhizomes with the best of us. Amazing! And the two of you in such fine form--Dad even in middle age grunting the mating call like like a young boar and mounting you, Mom, while you were doing the dishes, as if you were the youthful sow that you'll always be in spirit, even though you're eleven years old! Unbelievable!  And I'm already three and just about to graduate from Witwasersrand.  Time goes by like a cheetah (hopefully)!

 

I wanted to tell you this while I was there, in that chic abandoned aardvark burrow you've made into such a comfortable home, but I couldn't find the right time, what with Aunt Wanda visiting and poking her tusks into everyone's business.  So here it is: I'm gay. I didn't even know it myself  for sure until I met Warren a few months ago here at the university. Warren is an Eritrean warthog--a little different from us--but he is extremely handsome and gifted. He will finish in June with a First in  Stochastic Processes and can also stare down a hyena pack as if they were so many short-eared savanna mice. He's nothing like the stereotyped gay bristle-salon stylist, I asssure you.

 

This revelation of mine probably won't come as a surprise to you--and at least it isn't hitting you up for more money. (Yet. Ha ha. I don't have to tell you how tough the foraging scene is for graduates these days.)  You must have noticed that I've never shown any interest in estrus sows, and don't think I don't appreciate your not talking about that subject. Unlike Aunt Wanda, who keeps on asking me about when she'd get to allosuckle some grand-nephews and grand-nieces.

 

And I've heard you discussing completely nonjudgmentally my Cousin Woodrow's  proclivities.  Still, I thought I should make it official, so that's why I'm writing. I'd like to bring Warren home after graduation for a week or so--he's eager to meet my enlightened parents, so different from his own stuck-in-the-mud family.  I hope that's OK with you.  Warren and I will then try to find an abandoned aardvark burrow near yours, so that we can stay close and find you some succulent tubers in your old age.

 

Love, your farrow Winston

 

Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic and the author of a new book, "A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation."

Tourism Board Emergency Session

-- Let’s all agree at the outset: this whole thing has backfired -- pun intended. And by the way, whose brilliant idea was it to drop that dynamite down there?
 
--Hey, let’s not start! One, we don’t even have an air force, and two, are  we in charge of the global wind patterns? There’s two meteorologists in all of Iceland! What I’m saying:  Who knew?
 
-- Wait, wait! We all agreed in this very room a few weeks back that a live volcano would be something to build the spring tourism drive around. Molten lava, billowing smoke columns, dramatic rumbles-- people love that stuff. And we’re Iceland. We can’t do, like, the Olympics, host college spring breaks-- not on our beaches. Not even a soap box derby, because we don't have any wood. 


-- No question, Iceland has its apparent limitations as a tourist destination. 
 
-- And God knows the economy needed something.
 
-- Wait a Rekjavik minute, people. Duh! Your wonderful exciting erupting-volcano tourism brainstorm was an ironclad guarantee that no tourists could even get here to fill the hotels and restaurants and buy the souvenirs. Brilliant!
 
-- Thank you, Lars, for that twenty-twenty hindsight.
 
-- Souvenirs? We got souvenirs? What’s an Iceland souvenir--pewter trolls?
 
-- That’s another discussion, if you don’t mind.
 
-- I’m serious! I’d really like to know!
 
-- In any case, I say at the very least we rename the thing, pronto. “Krakatoa” was
bad enough. Not even the cab driver on the way over here could pronounce “Eyjafjallajakull.”
 
-- The volcano was an honest mistake, because we sure needed something. Let's all forgive ourselves. The
old geysers and gnome legends haven’t worked. And Bjork--Bjork’s over.
 
-- Hey, hold everything! Just got a message on my cell. They’re starting to let the airlines fly again!  But the backups will last for weeks.
 
-- Let's go back to souvenirs--we have to salvage something from this catastrophe. How about souvenir volcanos! Miniature exploding Evjafjallajakulls! You know--like Snow globes. And "ash" trays. And figurines sleeping on little airport rows of seats. And framed cancelled boarding passes. And volcano-scented air fresheners.   

 

--Hmm. Maybe we should try to restart Bjork's career.  

 

Bruce McCall is a New York artist and writer whose work frequently appears in the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Happy Earth Day!

Well, I've got some big news I want to share.  But first, I should say thank you:  The new recycling facility is just wonderful.  And honestly, you just can’t have enough of those.  Even in Berkeley.   Oh, and the international treaty curbing arsenic poisoning of my lakes and rivers is a nice gesture.  Let me know when you get everyone to sign.  Or anyone!  It's the thought that counts.

 

I really appreciate the cards and posters from the schoolchildren.  It’s always so great to know that a certain small percentage of all the millions of tons of things slowly decomposing in my landfills – the old tires, the Styrofoam shells from computer boxes, the half-eaten Lunchables – will be hand-lettered banners that say "Let's Take Care of the Earth We Share."  With pictures of smiling polar bears -- Adorbs!

 

It's so sweet that you all set aside one day for me.  All 6.6. billion of  you -- at least, those of you who don't have other things to take care of.  Believe me, I understand -- you're all so busy with your lives. You don't have to tell me, I know. I can feel you driving here, there, everywhere -- to fencing class, to that outlet mall, back in time for some strip-mining, or a critically acclaimed series on HBO.  You know what it feels like?  Hordes of  tiny insects crawling around on my skin.  Oh, no--it's not so bad.  Makes me feel connected to you all.

 

So while I know it would be easy to call “Earth Day” just a sort of Hallmark holiday -– well, excuse me if I’m a sentimental old planet!  I know you mean well, and that's important. Oh, watch your feet, by the way –- I just calved a few more glaciers, and the sea levels might be going up a weensy bit.     

 

Now, about my news -- I'll just come out with it.  I’m moving.

 

Where?  That’s a little complicated, but here's the short answer.  You remember that superconducting supercollider that those scientists created in Europe?  And how everyone was afraid that it would create a black hole?  Well, let’s just say that physics is interesting.  Anyway, I have been communicating with the most fascinating celestial bodies.  Have you ever heard of the Horsehead Nebula?  I've always meant to go but I've never had the opportunity.  And I've been signalling back and forth with some of the gas giants out there and they say it's a really exciting neighborhood.  And -- all right, I guess it all comes out now --  there's a binary pulsar there who's been just bombarding me with this very exotic radiation!

 

Why now?   Listen, I don't want to shock you kids, but things just aren't the same between the sun and me anymore.   As long as my ozone layer was in good shape I could overlook a lot.  Oh, there's been lots of warmth, that’s for sure.  But it's not a healthy dynamic, when one of you stays in orbit around the other for such a long time.  And if I'm not even able to keep my family from getting burned, I really don't see the point in pretending.

 

Oh, I’ll have lots of company.  You have no idea how many of us there are, all over the galaxies, us “planets of a certain age.”  We spend millennia fostering life in all of its complexity and glory, evolving species, and -- I'm sorry to be the one to say it -- wind up getting those telltale deforestation scars all over.  And the methane!  I'll admit it: I've just never liked cows.

 

I beg your pardon? Oh, well, I don’t exactly know where you’ll stay.  Unfortunately, you can’t come along with me through the wormhole – this is going to be a planets-only community.  I might even say goodbye to the old atmosphere – just have it all shaved off.  Pretty radical for ol' Mother Earth, huh?   Anyway, I was imagining that you’d be taking those rockets you’ve been so proud of and trying to find a new place of your own.  I guess you have to. But you shouldn't mind that much. I'll always love you guys, but you’ve made it pretty clear for some time now that you've got better things to do than look after your old Mom.

 


Bill Tipper is the Managing Editor of the Barnes & Noble Review.

Inert Gas

According to a new study ... college students who use [Facebook] have significantly lower grade-point averages ... than those who do not. --Time Magazine
 

Tuesday in chemistry class DR. FLEISCHMAN says he’s giving us a quiz on inert gases. I think, “I have so got this knocked, because the answer is "I am argon." I’m impulsive, and I talk a lot when I’m nervous, but I have a core of kindness that draws others to me—argon, right? And then he passes the quiz out, and there’s nothing about my qualities on the whole thing.    

Dr. Fleischman  may wonder why some of his student evaluations aren’t very good. Maybe it's  because he gives such dumb quizzes.

But tonight this really special thing happens. I’m walking past the library, and the doors are open, and there’s this golden kind of light coming out of them and falling on the library steps, almost like it’s beckoning to me. Also, next to the doors, there’s a statue of a famous smart guy from history, and his face is all lined with wisdom, and you can tell he had a great life because he knew so much. It’s this very cool moment. So I become a fan of the doors, the light, the steps, and the smart guy, and then I go to Jeremy’s party.   

Jeremy’s party is pretty good. I give KEVIN GRADY a One Night Stand using Long Island Iced Teas.  KEVIN GRADY would be a much more inert gas than he probably thinks he would be.    

Friday morning I start doing my European History paper, but I stop after a few minutes, because this is a time in my life when there’s so much going on, and I have to balance. My friends are important too. I now have 1,804 friends.

So I go outside, and Nick, Bethany, and Sara are in the quad. They’re talking about bosons, which is this completely confusing thing we’re covering in physics. I'm not sure if they're animals or people or what. Bethany says, “So two bosons can occupy the same space, right?”    

And Nick says, “Yeah, if they have the same energy.”    

Sara says, "Wait, I still don't get it."

Then there are six more comments, but I don’t listen to them, and then Sara smiles like her eggplant just came up in Farmville and says, “You guys, this is great! I finally understand bosons!”

I'm going to go right home and friend bosons.

Tomorrow is econ class. I will / will not attend.

 

Charlie Haas’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, and Narrative Magazine. His novel "The Enthusiast"  is published by Harper Perennial.

Director's Commentary

Hello, I’m director Eric Wenger, pleased to be providing recorded commentary for the twentieth-anniversary DVD re-release of “Daniel Kaufman’s Bar Mitzvah Video: The Director’s Cut.”

 

Boy, this brings me back! August, 1989: I was three months out of NYU film school, broke and living in the basement of my aunt’s house in Hoboken, and I suppose the Kaufmans, old family friends, did me a favor.

 

Our troubles really began in that heated pre-production meeting in their kitchenette. I suggested we shoot on a Northern California mountaintop at the golden hour for that lush Terrence Malick cinematography; they booked a Forest Hills synagogue on a Saturday morning. I wanted something Bergmanesque—allegorical, muted Scandinavian chiaroscuro. They preferred a derivative remake of their neighbor Jessica Cohen’s rather mainstream bat mitzvah video. I was set to attach a taller, blonder actor for the lead, preferably a Gentile. They insisted on their own son. You make concessions.

 

Oh, this scene! It took me hours to get it just right: a long, slow tracking shot through the window and then up to the dais, where Daniel stands reciting from the Torah—an homage to Welles’s “Touch of Evil.” Knocking down the protagonist with the camera was completely improvised, but I kept it in; it just felt true. Look at the anguished expression on Daniel’s face as he hits the ground—very Bobby De Niro as Jake LaMotta.

 

By the way, I had most of Daniel’s dialogue and speeches punched up by a script doctor in post-production. That would account for some of the dubbing problems, as well as the catch-phrase “It’s Torah time!"  (which, inexplicably, failed to take off with the twelve-to-seventeen-year-old demographic).

 

Can you make out Daniel’s grandfather sitting in the front row? The elderly wheelchair-bound man in the throes of spiritual ecstasy? Weeping softly, tenderly, with patriarchal love? Now, without warning, he’s performing the hora by himself in the aisle and swinging his tallis overhead in the manner of Slim Pickens with his cowboy hat in “Dr. Strangelove”? I wasn’t satisfied with the original take, so for the re-release I had that last bit computer-generated. Adds some visual movement to an otherwise flat mise-en-scène.

 

Also new is the hundred-person African-American choir leading the congregation with a gospel-tinged version of “Baruch Adonai.”

 

Act III. I endlessly focus-grouped the climactic scene with various members of the Forest Hills Jewish Community Center. Should it be uplifting—perhaps the bar mitzvah boy triumphs over the synagogue bully by French-kissing the hottest girl in Hebrew School? Or tragic—Mrs. Kaufman succumbs in the rabbi’s loving arms from an unnamed terminal illness? I eventually went with my gut and an ending that elegantly captured the Talmudic origins of “bar mitzvah,” meaning “one to whom the commandments apply.”     

 

Thus, the food fight.  Certainly, I had Buster Keaton’s deadpan sensibility in mind here, although, given the air of urbanity and cynical underpinning, one could surely make a case that it owes a greater debt to Billy Wilder. The theft of my tripod just before the shoot became a blessing in disguise—the hand-held camera lends the scene some Cassavetes-style vérité, as does my audible cursing. True, Mr. and Mrs. Kaufman never really “got” my artistic vision, and they mostly seemed concerned with the dry-cleaning costs. That, plus Nana Ruth’s concussion.

 

Wow, what a rite of passage this whole experience was for me as a director! Here are the title cards foretelling what happened to the main characters. Daniel never attended rabbinical school, as his parents hoped, but ended up getting expelled from Syracuse for a nationally covered frat-hazing incident. The Kaufmans opted not to bankroll additional feature projects with me as auteur, but instead stopped returning my calls after I hand-delivered the original Betamax cassette. But that’s showbiz: One year, you’re the new Coppola; the next, you’re substitute-teaching phys-ed at Hoboken High.

 

Am I proud of my work? Sure—despite crediting myself as John Doe-Schwartz.  Do I wish I’d done things differently? Of course. Which is why I'm discussing a sequel with investors—Adam and Judy Birnbaum of Weehawken. Two decades later, and the filmmaking world has finally caught up to my aesthetic: Rapid-fire pop-culture banter! A non-linear, multiple-POV narrative! More handsome, Goyish-looking characters!

 

Hang on to your yarmulkes. It’s Torah time.

 

Mike Sacks is a writer on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. His first book, "And Here’s the Kicker," was published in summer, 2009.

 

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel "Kapitoil," available from Harper Perennial.

 

Sudden Endings

     “In Denmark music downloaded by subscription self-destructs when the subscription expires. So does my annual subscription to the online Oxford English Dictionary unless I renew it.”
      —Jason Epstein, The New York Review of Books, March 11, 2010 

 

Many subscribers to the winter concert series of the Copenhagen Chamber Society were startled when composer Gregos Jørgensen’s trio for piano, violin, and Pentaerythritol tetranitrate ended in an explosive finale that took with it most of the stage at Charlottenborg Hall. But those who had read the program notes distributed before the Tuesday evening performance knew the controlled detonation of the musical composition was all part of "destruktive-ophavsret," a new initiative of the Danish government aimed at preemptively protecting the rights of intellectual-property owners. 

 

Denmark first introduced the program in an effort to revive its ailing record industry, which, like most, has seen profits suffer with the rise of electronic file-sharing. In a pilot program launched in January, popular songs like “Party i provinsen,” “Jeg vil have dig for mig selv,” and “Empire State of Mind” were issued on disposable media players programmed to self-destruct a week after purchase. 

 

Pop music fans seemed unfazed by the change—some barely appearing to notice—while copyright holders were thrilled by the prospect of their properties becoming goods that consumers must replenish continually. But as destruktive-ophavsret expanded to cover all copyrighted works, many Danes had some  concerns about the program. Literary enthusiasts, for example, took a while to warm to the idea of e-readers wired with military-grade charges, not to mention traditionally bound volumes that burst into flames when the last page was turned and the book was closed.

 “I was really enjoying 'Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,' but I skipped ahead to see how it ended, and the next thing I knew my shirt sleeves were on fire,” said Lærke Lund, a Danish book lover who plans to enroll in a speed-reading course so she can get through a new translation of "Anna Karenina" before its government-mandated one-month subscription expires. 

 

While some artists have complained that destruktive-ophavsret is an infringement upon their work and perhaps even constitutes censorship, others, like composer Jørgensen, have found inspiration in it.   And many Danish novelists argue the policy has helped them to break free from the boundaries of the printed page. “It’s nothing short of a revolution in how we experience the written word,” said Magnus Vestergaard, a writer of apocalyptic fiction. “When your novel ends with the destruction of the entire known universe, nothing conveys that idea better than the simultaneous explosion of a bit of C-4 tucked into the binding.”

 

It remains to be seen whether Denmark’s strategy to combat digital piracy will be adopted by other nations. Many publishers have voiced worries about liability issues, particularly following an incident last week in which the Yale University's Beinecke Library was leveled just as an undergraduate finished reading the entry for “zyxt” in the Oxford English Dictionary.  

 

Danny Mulligan is a musician with the Flanks and a contributing editor at The Onion. He lives in New York City.

Dear Mr. Salman Rushdie

I am a writer named Rhon Penny (silent h) and I am no longer married. I am writing to you today because I seek advice on how best to deal with a large group of people trying to kill me. That is not to say a large group of people want to kill me at present, but it is my hope that—with your kind help—I can entice a large group of people to want to kill me in the near future. You see, as far as I can discern, the reason I have not yet enjoyed financial success is not a lack of writing talent. Rather, I have yet to stumble upon a really great gimmick, such as the fatwa you were  lucky enough to be associated with for so long!   

After much consideration, and after talking about this subject over Snackwell Crème Sandwiches for hours with my mother, who is currently limited in her activities due to an as yet undiagnosed scalp condition, and who is a long-time subscriber to Writer’s Digest magazine, I’ve decided that the following groups upset me the most: 
    
DENTISTS: Isn't it about time someone called them out for their hypocrisy --like saying "uncomfortable" instead of "excruciating"--and moral ambiguity? Everyone despises these so-called doctors! There’s a built-in audience for this one.
    
WOMEN: America is literally swarming with women. And yes, I know an anti-woman book runs the risk of coming off as “sexist,” at least within the mainstream media, but I just think they are primed for a good skewering. Also, I also don't find them threatening because they are so weak. 

 

SACRED COWS: Literally. (I am now writing a screenplay called "Sacred Cows" which I’d be happy to send your way. Imagine if the movie "Babe" met the movie "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" and they adopted the movie "Hoosiers" and then raised them together in the same ranch-style home. It's exactly like that.) 

 

DOG TRAINERS. I can’t stand these people, for very, very personal reasons. But the more I think about it, the less happy I am with this idea. I would prefer groups with good media connections. 

 

Okay, now onto more practical matters. Salman, where should I hide so that people can't find and kill me? If you could pass along the location of where you hid all those years, that would be grand. However, if you prefer that I pick my own secret hiding place for enjoying my own fatwa, I could certainly use some assistance in narrowing down the following list. (Actually, I already narrowed it down from a list of 120 or so):

-A spider-hole I built myself in my backyard.

-The crawlspace above my ex-wife and her new husband Stew's newly refurbished living room. They have a flat-screen, which should help pass the time nicely.

-Room 54 at the Hampton Inn in Paramus, New Jersey. (Did some online research and they offer a free continental breakfast.)

-I could also just keep moving from one Chipotle franchise to the next until fatwa is lifted . . . or I tire of burritos.  

-Your house (if you can guarantee a working humidifier and ample time to talk with your newest houseguest. If you could also pay for my shingles medicine, that would be fantastic). 
     
Salman, I hear the opening jingle to Wheel of Fortune and, like the regal fish you yourself were named after, I must return to whence I was born (mother's TV room). But before I scoot, I would be forever in your debt if you could forward me the contact info for your ex-wife Miss Padma Lakshmi. She is very pretty, and I feel like she might benefit from getting to know me better. This will also prove that I am not “anti-women.”

I look forward to your response. Just so you know, you are free to keep the enclosed “Will Write For Chocolate” baseball cap. Now that your fatwa is over, I bet you’re more than a little eager to strut around like a fancy, half-British peacock! There’s a whole world out there for you, Sal. Let it be my time to hide now...

Yours in the words, 
Rhon Penny

 

 

Scott Rothman is a screenwriter living in New York City.

 

Mike Sacks is a writer on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. His first book, "And Here’s the Kicker," was published in summer, 2009.

It's Not Fitness

It’s Not Fitness. It’s Life.

—Advertisement for the Equinox gym


I’m already running late when I get to the gym, and right away I can see it’s a mob scene. The marital-discord simulator’s tied up, most of the people doing cardiac haven’t infarcted yet, and some woman in a red leotard is at the Googling-old-flames station (and you can tell she’s going to be there all morning).

I go over to the mirror and do some balding to warm up.

I haven’t pressed anything all week, so I find an empty bench and start pressing my luck. Right away I see people looking at me like, “It’s so little luck--what kind of benefit is he going to get?” so I stop. I start to pick up a medicine ball, but I get a look at the co-pay and I’m like, Screw that.

There’s the treadmill, of course. There’s always the treadmill.

I wait around for this guy to get off the elliptical reasoning machine, and I’m able to knock off a few cycles —”There’s enough in checking if I don’t get fired, but really part of me wants to get fired, but not if they put that Melanie near me, but if the banks collapse, it all doesn’t matter”—so at least I can say I’ve worked out.

But now I look at my watch and it’s already time to get out of there. I don’t even get a chance to work on my abs, which is terrible, because they all need toning—my abject dread, my absentmindedness, my abhorrence of genuine feeling—pretty much every ab I’ve got. By the time I leave, I’m running even later than when I came in.

Waiting around and running late—sometimes it seems like that’s the whole gym experience, right there.

 

 

Charlie Haas’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, and Narrative Magazine. His novel "The Enthusiast"  is published by Harper Perennial.

Bad Publicity

Dear Media People Whose Names I Found on Mastheads:


Everyone asks me, "What's your novel about?" And I always answer, "It's about 300 pages!"  I don't know, someone laughed at that once. Tell me if I should drop it.


Anyhoo, I think you should totally cover it in your book review. Wait, do you have a book review still? I thought they were all closing down, because, you know, your industry is dying. Sorry—our industry. On that note, if you ever find yourself out of a job, let me know and I'll see what I can do. And vice versa, right?


Here's a link to the YouTube video trailer for the book. Isn't it ironic—using the very medium that's destroying literature to promote it? Actually, is that the definition of "ironic"? I know people mess that up all the time, like Alanis Morissette and Winona Ryder and probably every other iconic nineties brunette. Isn't it ironic that I just rhymed it with "iconic"?


I've set up a book tour for myself that I hope you'll publish along with your review. Although I wasn't able to land any brick and mortar bookstores. More like libraries. School libraries. Nursery school libraries. I'll be reading to passersby when I get breaks from substitute-supervising recess, so the tour schedule is subject to change. Stay tuned to my Twitter for updates, once I figure out how to set up an account.


As for the novel itself, it's a lyrical, searching journey into the heart of a woman's unrequited desires set against the backdrop of a nation divided by ... Sorry, I was plagiar--I mean emulating jacket copy from a few Oprah books. Do any of you know Oprah, by the way? If you do, and feel like mentioning something about the book, well, let's just put it this way: Go ahead. 


Gosh, I'm sure I should say more about the book, but it's been so long since I wrote it, and I haven't really had the urge to reread it. To be honest, I was zonked out on a cocktail of Vicodin and codeine through most of the writing process, thanks to a few root canals and a dentist who got his degree in the Virgin Islands. As I recall, the hero watches a lot of daytime talk shows in the background, and procrastinates on Wikipedia, and texts friends about that night's plans. Or maybe that's what I was doing at the time. But I do know that it's a sort of Fellini-esque art-merging-with-life metafiction. There is definitely an exciting confrontation of some kind in it--I think it's a policeman and an icepick killer. Or an ice-cream man and a police-killer. Something like that.


You know what? I don't want to influence you. You read it, and form your own opinion. I guess I should say "opinions," since I always try to write correctly and am mass e-mailing this letter out indiscriminately.

I'm available for interviews. At noonish--or even after one--is a good time. 

 

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel "Kapitoil," available from Harper Perennial.

The New Publishing

By happy coincidence, the release of my novel comes just in time to take advantage of a whole new suite of technologies in the rapidly evolving world of book publishing.

 

THE TP SPOOLER: For the ultimate in bathroom reading, the entirety of my book is printed on a 500-sheet roll of two-ply toilet paper. The cardboard core contains an alternate ending.

 

THE FLINTSTONE: A reading experience that will stand the test of time, the FlintStone Tablet contains 293 barely portable stone tablets, each to be engraved with a page from my book by the attached Oxford-educated pterodactyl.      

 

THE SKYREADER: For the bargain price of $4,995, you can enjoy reading on a sunny day outdoors as a skywriter pens the entire novel out across the sky-blue background. (Airplane fuel and skywriting "ink" not included in the cost).

 

THE E-READER E-READER: This e-reader displays a smaller e-reader of its own, upon which one may read my book. Also perfect for metafiction or "The Cat in the Hat."

 

THE GATSBY READER: The cover of my (or any other) novel is placed over F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterpiece. Therefore, when people ask what you are reading, you can tell them, truthfully, that it is the Great American Novel.

 

LIT CRAWL: While you watch a TV show of your choosing, the text of my book will be displayed across the screen via a news crawl. Who knew "Jersey Shore" and experimental literary fiction went so well together?

 

ME: For a sandwich (a nice one), I will show up at your home and personally read to you from my book. For an additional cup of soup, I will read to you in bed in a soothing voice, tuck you in, and, as you drift off to sleep, kiss your forehead.
 
Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel "Kapitoil," available from Harper Perennial.

Talkback

 

THE SCENE: Opening night of a new play at the Grand Community Theatre. It’s 8 PM and the audience has assembled in their seats. Judith Mayberry, the Grand’s Executive Director, walks out onto the stage. 

 

JUDITH: Good evening and welcome to the Grand. We’re honored to present the world premiere of a new work by renowned playwright Logan Alexander. And because this is the very first night, you’re in for a special treat. As director of this theater, I’ve taken note of how much you enjoy our talkbacks at the end of our shows. So we’re going to start tonight’s performance with the discussion!  

 

The audience applauds loudly and happily. 

 

JUDITH: Without further ado, here’s Logan Alexander.  

 

The playwright walks out onto the stage.  

 

JUDITH: Logan, would you like to kick off the discussion by telling us a little bit about your play?  

 

LOGAN: Certainly. Well, one of the main things I wanted to express in this play was -- 

 

A woman interrupts Logan before he can finish his sentence.  Her name is Alma Van Bergen.

 

ALMA: I’d just like to say one thing. I hope your play isn’t a downer. That last play I saw here put me in such a bad mood I had to buy three bags of M & Ms at the refreshment counter during intermission just to perk myself up. 

 

Another woman, Marie Dockstader, stands up.

 

MARIE: And you rustled the bags during the whole rest of the play, ruining it for the rest of us. Alma, when are you going to grow up? Life is depressing. 

 

ALMA: Then why do we need to go to the theater to feel worse? 

 

MARIE: Because if you see a really depressing play you’re so miserable for two hours that you forget about everything else and just stare at your watch hoping it’ll be over soon. Isn’t that right, Logan? 

 

LOGAN: Actually -- 

 

Before Logan can finish his sentence, he’s interrupted by a man in the third row, Jack Miller. 

 

JACK: Don’t listen to Alma, Mr. Alexander. She never likes anything anyway. You go ahead with whatever play you want to give us. Just make sure you know your facts. The last play here my wife dragged me to was ridiculous. The guy who wrote it didn’t stick to history and made a lot of stuff up about Roman times.  

 

ALMA: Oh, for god’s sake, Jack, that was Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar."

 

JACK: I don’t care who the playwright was. And the costumes were absurd. Romans didn’t go around in three piece suits. 

 

MARIE: That was an attempt to make the play relevant to our times. 

 

JACK: What does Shakespeare know about our times? He’s been dead for four hundred years.  

 

ALMA: Marie’s right, Jack. For once.  

 

MARIE: At least I don’t yack on and on about my divorce the way Alma does in these talkbacks. 

 

ALMA: It’s called exploring the themes of the play.   

 

Brent Hall, a young man in the back, speaks up.  

 

BRENT: You three are monopolizing this talkback. I’d like to ask the playwright my own question. 

 

LOGAN: Please! 

 

BRENT: Are you aware you have a very odd stain on your left sleeve? 

 

JUDITH (interrupting before a bewildered Logan can respond): I just looked at my watch and saw that it’s time for the intermission. We shall resume the talkback in fifteen minutes. 

 

The audience gives the first act of the talkback a standing ovation. Logan Alexander takes a bow and the curtain comes down to still more clapping. Moments later, Marie, Jack, Brent and Alma congregate at the lobby bar. 

 

MARIE: What a great evening at the theater! 

 

JACK: Best production they’ve ever done at the Grand. 

 

ALMA: Usually I head out the door at intermission and have dinner at a restaurant on theater row rather than sit through the rest of the play. But not tonight. 

 

BRENT: Logan Alexander is our finest living playwright. 

 

 

Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker. She can be found on the web at  http://pollyfrost.com.

Decision 2048

 "The early verdict is that the President will secure re-election in 2012.”

      –Allan Lichtman, political historian at American University in Washington.

  “Palin told Oprah Winfrey that her gig as a Fox News contributor does not preclude her from running for President in 2012.”

     –ABC News

  "No matter what she says right now, there really is every reason to suspect that Mrs. Clinton will end up running for President again—in 2016."

     –Steve Kornacki, NY Observer 

 

The 2012, 2016, and the emergency 2017 elections have been all but decided--Palin, Clinton, and Justice Sotomayor. We must now look even further up the road to prepare for what may turn out to be the biggest decision this country will ever make--election night, 2048.

 

Most political experts agree that if the Democrats have a shot at winning, it lies in the hands of current fourth grader Nicholas Pullman of Easton, PA. Pullman has already demonstrated leadership skills after successfully organizing a pickup game of touch football with kids he didn’t even know. He has also shown keen understanding of environmental issues in his school report, “Whales,” which concluded with the poignant sentence, “Time is running out.” And with a robot uprising almost a certainty in 2051, the Democrats will almost certainly have to turn to Pullman, who has already outlined plans to not only defeat the robots but to do so with a balanced budget, because, according to Pullman, “We will find gold on the moon.”

 

The only thing holding Pullman back is a sex scandal from 2009. In August of that year, Pullman allegedly yelled “Boobies!” to no one in particular. Pullman issued an apology later that day, but he looked at the floor the entire time, and you could tell he wasn’t sincere.

 

This scandal leaves the door if not wide open then at least slightly ajar for (probable) Democrat Margret Fillmore, of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Fillmore was spotted by Democratic Party leaders at a dance recital last night. The charming and folksy Fillmore knows how to work a crowd. But some believe Fillmore is under-qualified for the role of President, and will lack the political expertise needed to deal with the tree shortage that may occur in 2049, to say nothing of the extremely possible War with Brazil II. Plus she has been labeled a “chatterbox” by her peers, and her stance on standardized testing is vague at best.

 

The Republicans meanwhile, have little to debate. It’s just a matter of time--almost four decades, to be exact--before seventh grader Mike Rodgers accepts the nomination. Despite worries of the asthmatic Rodgers’ possibly declining health by the year 2048, most Republicans are certain that he has both the intelligence and personality needed to run the country. “The guy has, like, 6,000 Facebook friends,” said one Washington insider. “And he only received a C last semester because his teacher, Mrs. Jacobs. was being a total b-word about a make-up test.”

 

The Republicans' ace-in-the-hole does come with a few problems. For one, Rodgers occasionally uses rough language, especially on Twitter, where he is often claiming that things--like  A Tale of Two Cities and his sister Jamie--are “gay.” His other difficulty is that he wears his jeans low enough that his boxer shorts are visible from behind. This is not only in questionable taste for public appearances but is already so last year, and by then will be so last year  X 38.

 

Rodgers' handlers will probably be able to reign in his language and pull up his pants, but just in case they can't, the GOP may look to Dakota Butler, of Los Angeles, CA. The 16-year old Butler is a wild card at this point, but conservatives love her less-government approach to politics. In a text message made earlier this year after receiving her first paycheck from her after-school job with McBurger's, Butler said, “What the hell? Taxes are suck.” This was the text message heard some of the way around the world, and rumor has it that either "What The Hell" or "Taxes Are Suck" will be the title of Butler’s first book, expected to be published as part of her campaign strategy in April of 2048.

 

All these  candidates will have to act fast if they want to rally supporters and generate enough campaign funding in less than 37 years. Asked if they were up to challenge, Fillmore giggled, while Rodgers, Butler, and Pullman cannily replied, “I don’t know.”

 

 

Dan Bergstein is mildly allergic to eggplant.

Thanks for the Memory

Scientists have successfully created false memories in fruit flies.

    -- Science Times      

 

Until a week ago, much of my own past was hidden from me. I don’t know why this happened. Maybe the vividness of my history, with its surfeit of loves and accomplishments, simply overwhelmed my mind. Maybe there was a persimmon. Who can say? The mechanism of forgetting is a mystery, to scientists as well as layflies.     

 

But recently -- call it a miracle, or a healing, or simply the indomitable reassertion of truth -- the fog lifted. Pictures of my life, real and vibrant, have flooded my consciousness. I never before believed in “recovered memory,” but trust me: What’s lost can indeed be regained.

 

Where to begin?    

 

Like most of us, I entered October of 1962 blissfully unaware of the crisis confronting our nation -- until the summons came from the White House. They sent a long black car for me, with a beautiful mushy pear in the back seat. In a few hours, I was hovering in the Oval Office.     

 

“Look at this,” the vigorous young President said, laying out a series of aerial photographs on his desk. “These are secret Soviet missile installations in Cuba. They’re aimed at us.”     

 

I looked over the photos, then turned to face him. He needed my counsel, and he needed it now.

 

“Call Khrushchev’s bluff,” I said. “Get him on the hot line. Tell him you know all about this. Have Stevenson confront their ambassador at the U.N. Then find a big bunch of grapes. Threaten to drop them on Cuba, but save some for me."    

 

Kennedy looked at me, his primitive, single-faceted eyes filling with gratitude and resolve. “Except for the thing about the grapes, you’re right,” he said. “Thank you.”      

 

He asked me to stay for dinner -- just himself, Jackie, Oleg Cassini, Robert Frost and a really good leftover compote at the end -- but I had to get back to New York, because Bud Powell was sitting in with my combo at the Five Spot that night.

 

And it was a night to remember, now that I can. On the third chorus of “Cherokee,” Sonny Rollins made a harmonic breakthrough that laid one of the crucial cornerstones of bebop. He always credited what I was doing on vibes as the inspiration, and sent me a lovely Thanksgiving basket from Harry and David every Christmas for years. But it was collaboration -- let’s leave it at that.    

 

She didn’t come to the club that night -- another long rehearsal with Marlon and Gadge -- but she was waiting when I got uptown, and I told her all about it. To think that I might have forever forgotten my time with her! The wild nights of her premieres; the mad lovemaking; our desperate eleventh-hour glider flight to recover the stolen plutonium from the Argentine Nazis -- it’s hard to believe that these precious moments could ever have been papered over with false, dull eternities of  circling over the three-day-old produce of a thousand suburban kitchens.  

 

These are some of the memories I can now bring to mind -- some of the happy ones, that is. I have spared the reader, as I try to spare myself, the harsher side of my history, like a sundial that “only counts the sunny hours.” The childhood abuse? The abduction? The angry hands of Nelson Mandela barely missing  me over the brown bananas? I just don’t go there.


Charlie Haas’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, and Narrative Magazine. His novel "The Enthusiast"  is published by Harper Perennial.

Decision 2048

 "The early verdict is that the President will secure re-election in 2012.”

      –Allan Lichtman, political historian at American University in Washington.

  “Palin told Oprah Winfrey that her gig as a Fox News contributor does not preclude her from running for President in 2012.”

     –ABC News

  "No matter what she says right now, there really is every reason to suspect that Mrs. Clinton will end up running for President again—in 2016."

     –Steve Kornacki, NY Observer 

 

The 2012, 2016, and the emergency 2017 elections have been all but decided--Palin, Clinton, and Justice Sotomayor. We must now look even further up the road to prepare for what may turn out to be the biggest decision this country will ever make--election night, 2048.

 

Most political experts agree that if the Democrats have a shot at winning, it lies in the hands of current fourth grader Nicholas Pullman of Easton, PA. Pullman has already demonstrated leadership skills after successfully organizing a pickup game of touch football with kids he didn’t even know. He has also shown keen understanding of environmental issues in his school report, “Whales,” which concluded with the poignant sentence, “Time is running out.” And with a robot uprising almost a certainty in 2051, the Democrats will almost certainly have to turn to Pullman, who has already outlined plans to not only defeat the robots but to do so with a balanced budget, because, according to Pullman, “We will find gold on the moon.”

 

The only thing holding Pullman back is a sex scandal from 2009. In August of that year, Pullman allegedly yelled “Boobies!” to no one in particular. Pullman issued an apology later that day, but he looked at the floor the entire time, and you could tell he wasn’t sincere.

 

This scandal leaves the door if not wide open then at least slightly ajar for (probable) Democrat Margret Fillmore, of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Fillmore was spotted by Democratic Party leaders at a dance recital last night. The charming and folksy Fillmore knows how to work a crowd. But some believe Fillmore is under-qualified for the role of President, and will lack the political expertise needed to deal with the tree shortage that may occur in 2049, to say nothing of the extremely possible War with Brazil II. Plus she has been labeled a “chatterbox” by her peers, and her stance on standardized testing is vague at best.

 

The Republicans meanwhile, have little to debate. It’s just a matter of time--almost four decades, to be exact--before seventh grader Mike Rodgers accepts the nomination. Despite worries of the asthmatic Rodgers’ possibly declining health by the year 2048, most Republicans are certain that he has both the intelligence and personality needed to run the country. “The guy has, like, 6,000 Facebook friends,” said one Washington insider. “And he only received a C last semester because his teacher, Mrs. Jacobs. was being a total b-word about a make-up test.”

 

The Republicans' ace-in-the-hole does come with a few problems. For one, Rodgers occasionally uses rough language, especially on Twitter, where he is often claiming that things--like  A Tale of Two Cities and his sister Jamie--are “gay.” His other difficulty is that he wears his jeans low enough that his boxer shorts are visible from behind. This is not only in questionable taste for public appearances but is already so last year, and by then will be so last year  X 38.

 

Rodgers' handlers will probably be able to reign in his language and pull up his pants, but just in case they can't, the GOP may look to Dakota Butler, of Los Angeles, CA. The 16-year old Butler is a wild card at this point, but conservatives love her less-government approach to politics. In a text message made earlier this year after receiving her first paycheck from her after-school job with McBurger's, Butler said, “What the hell? Taxes are suck.” This was the text message heard some of the way around the world, and rumor has it that either "What The Hell" or "Taxes Are Suck" will be the title of Butler’s first book, expected to be published as part of her campaign strategy in April of 2048.

 

All these  candidates will have to act fast if they want to rally supporters and generate enough campaign funding in less than 37 years. Asked if they were up to challenge, Fillmore giggled, while Rodgers, Butler, and Pullman cannily replied, “I don’t know.”

 

 

Dan Bergstein is mildly allergic to eggplant.

 

Shoe Fits

I have a problem. It’s superficial, judgmental, and immature.  But it’s not going to change. I judge men by their shoes.

 

I think it started with my first real boyfriend. Our first date: we’re at a diner. He had on tight jeans that tapered at the ankle. My eyes continued moving down and settled on his feet. He was wearing something that seemed to hope to be sneakers but were more like slipper-sneakers. They were made of a fine, soft leather and the soles were whisper-thin. I was surprised when I recognized a famous sneaker logo. What athlete would use these, and for what sport? All I could picture was a ballerina, practicing pirouettes and leg extensions while shopping for vegetables on her day off.

 

 “Where, um…where’d you get those sneakers?” I pretended to be absorbed in the menu, but I could feel this irritant growing within me.

 

He slid into the booth seat.  “My mom. She works at a store where they sell designer stuff for a quarter of the cost.”

 

“Oh,” I said, flipping the menu over, pretending to study it.  “Are they ... women's sneakers?”

 

Where did this sudden preoccupation come from? What was wrong with me?           

 

 “Oh, yeah, of course,” he said sarcastically “I’m also wearing a matching bra and girdle." 

 

Still, he tossed the slippers out for me, and switched to more acceptable footwear. For a while.  Our romance had started to fade, and then, one day, several years later, a new, even more aerodynamic version of those slippers showed up. I was moving anyway.

 

My very first date in New York  drove  all the way down from upstate for dinner. We had talked on the phone once, for five minutes. Even though several people were standing in front of the restaurant, I knew who he was immediately: he was hunched over, as if apologizing for existing. “Hi” he beamed.  My eyes fell to his shoes: square toe, with a thick seam down the front middle. They were the color orange Bob Ross would use to create an Autumnal sky. Now I knew I really had a problem—not always with Homeland Security Colors –but with mens’ shoes in general.

 

Next was the monotone and emaciated anesthesiologist, his face so narrow it seemed like two profiles pasted together. His body ended in a pair of bloated sneakers that, instead of laces, had a thick zipper up the front of the shoe. He looked like an exclamation mark. A man should have only one zipper, and in only one place.       

 

Then came the botanist who was always late, and whose once-lime-green ankle-high sneakers were always untied, the laces blackened with age, the ends like Rastafarian hair. These shoes really should have been thrown out before he turned 16.

 

Next was the dyed- platinum-blonde publicist who, on both our dates, wore shiny red cowboy boots so pointed they could have been used as toothpicks. He took a call once when we were meeting for coffee. “Sorry, I have to take this. Sooooper important?” I nodded. My eyes were drawn again to his blood-red boots. I bent close. “Oh my God, are those, like, alligator or something?” I asked, ignoring the phone call. He shook his head quickly and smiled. He covered the phone’s mouthpiece. “Armadillo!” he whispered proudly. At least I had another date that week.

 

That date turned out to be a man who wore cotton, Ninja-like shoes; they were split so that his big toe was separate from the others. He walked with a heel-to-toe movement so exaggerated that it was as if there were an invisible tightrope beneath him. As we were leaving the coffee house he pointed at my feet. “See, see? That’s not right. You’re not feeeeeling the ground upon which you walk.”  How could a man who was essentially wearing mittens on his feet be criticizing me. Already.

 

So, I will keep dating – shoe-shopping, that is—until I find a supremely smart, tall, handsome guy wearing well-worn but still elegant wing-tips made of beautiful cordovan leather.  Of course he will also have to forgive me for my lips rings and several nose studs. But if things go well, he and I will end the evening barefoot.

 


Amy Portnoy is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and illustrator. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, and other publications.

Tax, Man

Memo from your Internal Revenue Service: 

 

Dear valued citizen #XXX--XX-2573:
 
The IRS has received your 2009 tax forms, along with the enclosed loose change. Thank you.  (Please note that we are returning the subway tokens, as they no longer qualify as legal tender). A few matters of concern have arisen that we hope you may be able to address:
 
While we understand a “freelance haikuist” may deduct certain entertainment costs as part of his business expenses, we must disqualify $467.83 worth of pay-per-view purchases from the Spice Channel—in FY2009Q1 alone, although we recognize that the winter was a long one.
 
You are required to fill in and calculate sections 43-57; it is not permitted to strikethrough them, and and we do not recognize the disclaimer “Haven’t done math since high school! LOL!”,
 
Under “Withholding,” you pasted a photo of your girlfriend.  This response must be numerical.
 
In the section for “Dependents,” you crossed out the “ts,” added “ce." We do not recognize Bud Weiser as a qualified deduction.
 
We are not qualified to pass judgment on your attached undergraduate honors thesis on political violence in Northern Ireland, but in any case it has nothing to do with line 15a, and you will still be penalized for your early IRA distributions.
 
Valid attached payments do not include promissory notes from The Game of Life.
 
Likewise, you may not declare real estate expenses for your three little green houses in Marvin Gardens.
 
For the third-party designee of another person the IRS may talk to you about your taxes, you listed “Amelie” star Audrey Tautou. We contacted Ms. Tautou, who is a French citizen and thus unable to discuss your taxes.  In addition, her lawyers consider this a violation of the restraining order against you.
 
Lastly, we are unable to process, under  "amount you owe," the sentence “[Cough] thousand and [cough] hundred dollars.” Please also note that you have been placed on the no-fly list in response to the flight itineraries to the Cayman Islands doodled in the margin of your return (next to the crossed-out words "Or Switzerland?").
 
An IRS agent will visit your place of residence shortly to discuss these matters and to verify the agricultural subsidies you have claimed for your 10,000-gallon bathroom hydroponic farm.

 

Teddy Wayne's debut novel, "Kapitoil," will be published by Harper Perennial later this month.

One Hell of a Season

Is everybody here? Everyone out of the showers? Good. Good.
 
Team, now that our season is complete I want you to know one thing: I am very, very proud of all of you.
 
Oh, we heard the predictions when the season began: “Kansas City can’t make the playoffs!” And they were right. Our season ends today with the post-season well beyond our grasp.


But you know what prediction really bothered me as your manager? “The Kansas City Royals will be losers again this year.” And we are not losers. YOU are NOT losers! I mean, sure, if you're  just talking about baseball scores, technically, yes we are absolutely losers. But that’s not how we judged ourselves this year.
 
After opening the season with fourteen straight losses – not just losses but thrashings, contests where other teams would laugh at us on the field and point, we realized that the World Series was not going to happen. That’s when club management decided to go with youth. Veterans were shipped off to other “good” teams and we loaded up with promising young players.
 
It was a good plan on paper. Sadly, those promising young players, it turns out, want to win, and we don’t do that here. After a while, many of our players would disappear from the team only to turn up on other teams a few days later under fake names and wearing large artificial mustaches in order to circumvent their contracts with us.
 
That’s when we decided to go even younger and sign a number of players from high schools and middle schoolers from the  metro area. Seemed perfect: they could go to school in the day, be Royals at night. And it worked!  For a while. We lost but we had FUN. Until the child labor lawyers came along. Then it got ugly.  
So we thought, Hey, instead of looking ugly, why not look great? We signed models. Men, women -- didn’t matter. Gave them gloves and cleats, trotted them out there.  Not supermodels, mind you. More like catalog models. A few ballerinas. I’ll tell you this: We. Were. Gorgeous! 

 

But the losses continued. Weren’t even really losses by then. Weren’t even games. Other teams would just hit the balls and run around the bases, our models would sort of run around in different directions. It would go on for hours like this until the players and fans would simply start to wander out of the stadium. 

 

Well, ultimately it wasn’t the losing that started to bother team management. It was our consciences. We could do so much more important work. Fired the models, hired scientists, researchers, scholars. Put Royals uniforms on them and let them do their important work on the field during games. Chemistry equipment right there in the infield. We were still losing every time, mind you, but if we could cure Parkinson’s, that would matter even more than a baseball game. Might have happened too if it weren’t for all the hit baseballs crashing into the equipment and beaning our scientists.

But we were committed to the science. So we signed some security guards to protect them. Goons, really.  Opposing players would get within a few feet of our physicist and BAM, blow to the head. Alex Rodriguez got his skull fractured, which is apparently a big deal. (I had kind of stopped following what was going on in “baseball” by then.) 
We weren’t fielding a legit baseball team by any means but we still had a chance to run a decent society on the field. So we kept the goons and the brains and brought in light manufacturing facilities, merchants. We brought in young families and opened a school on the field. We designed a flag and began minting our own currency. Fans would come to the ballpark but they wouldn’t be allowed to leave and would be naturalized as citizens and given Royals uniforms that they were required to wear.
 
By mid-August, we were a police state. We ruled by fear. It wasn’t the decadent thrill that other ballparks offer, mind you. Instead of beer and hot dogs we served cloudy water and a porridge made of meat by-product and paper. We felt that life is suffering and society should reflect that.

Well, you know what happened next. Management became decadent, erecting gold statues of themselves in the luxury boxes. The fans organized a protest movement in left field, and then came the uprising and the capture and the beheading and the burning down of the ballpark and the Missouri National Guard and the salting of the earth where the ballpark once stood.
 
Me, I stuck around. And I’m just so proud of you! You’re a group of hobos and dogs who wandered on to this field and built crude shanties. You don’t even know what I’m talking about with this baseball business. It’s possible you aren’t even real. I’ll be honest, I’ve been hallucinating pretty hard since around the time of the ballet dancers. I’m pretty sure a yeti played second base for us round about Labor Day. But I just want you to know that, real or not, you’re all winners to me. So rest assured that if there isn't another  Plague outbreak,  I’ll see you at spring training!

 

John Moe is a public radio host with American Public Media and lives in St Paul, Minnesota. He is a contributor to McSweeneys.net and author of Conservatize Me.

Quality Time

4:57 PM
“Hey, I’m really glad we’re getting together tonight. It’s been way too long since we spent some quality time with each other.”
“I know, I can’t wait to see you, either! There’s so much I have to tell you.”
“Same here. You’re the one friend I can count on to really listen and give me good advice.”
“So, 8 o’clock at the Rainbow Grill on Parkway Avenue?”
“Sounds great. But we’ll check in with each other as the hour approaches, right?”
“As we always do. See ya!”

7:52 PM
“Hey, I called to say I’m running a little late and my ETA now is ... uh ... let me think. How does 8:15 sound? I got sidetracked by my cat, Lulu. She was attacking my pillow and it was too good not to get on video. You are going to laugh your head off when you see it. Don’t worry, I’ll bring it on my iPhone to the restaurant.”

8:21 PM 
“I just got your message and 8:15 is fine. I’m still at home myself. Oh wow, I’m looking at my cellphone clock. How’d it get to be 8:21? Okay, so I’m walking over to my closet and throwing my boots on. Where are my boots? In any case, I’ll see you no later than 8:40. No, wait a minute -- can we do 8:41 instead?”

9:14 PM
“Hey, no problem. I stopped off at the comic book store on State to kill some time rather than wait for you at the Rainbow. Did you know that there’s a new Frank Miller graphic novel out? I have got to get it, but first I need to find an ATM because they don’t take credit cards at this place.”

10 PM
“Where are you?”

10:12 PM
“Where are you?”

11 PM
“I’m not sure. I think I just walked into a Walgreen’s.”

11:27 PM
“Hey, what’s with the pharmacy? Are you all right?”

11:46 PM
“I’m fine. I passed the 24-hour Walgreen’s on the corner of Parkway and Fourth and saw they were having a special on toothbrushes. Now I’m back in my car headed to the Rainbow.”

12 AM
“Hey, you picked up. It’s a real live person on the other end of this phone! You do know it’s illegal to talk on your cellphone while driving.”
“Don’t make me laugh! I nearly ran over a bicyclist.”
“Wait, I just drove past you at the intersection of Parkway and Temple Street. You’re going the wrong way to the Rainbow.”
“That’s not possible.”
“My GPS doesn’t lie.”
“My GPS says it does.”
“Oops, there’s a cop. Gotta hang up.”

12:35 AM
“Hey, I’m driving up to the Rainbow and I saw your car pulling out of their parking lot right now.”

12:40 AM
“Yeah, they closed up at midnight. Can you believe it? What is it with this town? Don’t they want for friends to get together? Anyway, no problem. I know this lounge on lower State that stays open ‘til 4. At least I think it’s on State. At any rate it’s a rockin’ place. Just wish I could remember the name of it. But you’ll know it when you see it.”

1:16 AM
“Hey, I’m not finding any lounge here on lower State. There are, however, three dive bars and none of them look like any place I want to walk into.”

2:32 AM
“That’s okay, I suddenly realized I might have left my laptop on and went home to make sure the battery hadn’t run down. I’m actually kind of tired now. Don’t know why. But I’m going to turn off my cellphone and get some sleep. Let’s connect in the morning and make a plan to get together. Can’t wait to see you! Hey--how about coffee at 10 at the Beanery?”  

 

Polly Frost is a playwright whose humor has appeared in The Atlantic and The New Yorker. She can be found on the web at  http://pollyfrost.com.

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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