You Gotta Be Kidding Me!

by Ed Malin

At the bus station. That is not where you expect to get a singing telegram.

But at the bus station, indeed, is where it happened.  Never mind the Proud Boys.  They didn’t know I got on the bus.  Here I am.  Soulful blue eyes.  Looking at me from a magazine cover.  Eyes that do not question.  They are flat.  Maybe that’s why some people don’t believe there’s a soul.
Here I am in an ever-expansive reality of perhaps more dimensions than I knew existed.

But do THEY know that I’m here?
People are looking.  I have never gotten a singing telegram before.  I’ve heard of it, maybe from something like The Three Stooges or someplace where people do outlandish things.  It’s so dramatic, especially for this place.  I chose it, you see, because there is so little drama here.  However, would I fit in?  Again, something that I have been trying to do, to train myself to be like the two-dimensional eyes in the magazines covers.  No one would want to probe me further to see what else there might be below the surface, I would just be another person, in this place.

Well how d’ya like that?.  This song I know.  This song is from the Great American Songbook.  Perhaps one of those Duke Ellington numbers?  George Gershwin.  Something that sounds like it deserves a big band accompaniment.  Again, perhaps a little too big for this place.  But even in this place, people let a song out of their hearts.  Even in this place, people got rhythm.  Oh I don’t know.  I wait for the singer to finish the singing telegram.  He hands me a folded piece of paper and turns to go.  I ask, uhhh, to whom do I owe the pleasure?  He looks at me and smiles like he’s in the witness protection program, glances at the ceiling, and tries to yank away from the grip I have on his wrist.

On the ceiling are there security cameras?  Is it known that I am doing this?  Perhaps the sender wanted proof of delivery.  Well, thank you, I say, still wondering, perhaps in vain, perhaps futilely.  Not who sent it, but why.  How did they know where I was going?
I open up the folded piece of paper and read simply these words: “Process of elimination”.  Now, when you know people who know people in the mob, you don’t really want to hear “process of elimination”.  That sounds a little like no one’s ever going to see you again.  Or, it might remind you of what your nutritionist says, a lot of fiber will help you with the process of elimination.  I know I’ve been bad about fiber.  But I have been looking over my shoulder most of my life.  I think I will send THEM a singing telegram.  But what song?  How about (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.

From The Mouth of Assistant Sub-Coach

by Ed Malin

It was date night tonight.  Date night had not happened for the last six months, because loving wife’s team had been defeated in the Women’s NBA Finals.  Thereafter, a funk settled over the happy home which pretty much ensured there would be no love-making.

But now it was Spring, and, even though it was the time of the pandemic, loving wife had decided she was not above having a date night.  On this day in late May, sweet husband had dared to believe her.

Until, one hour before the dinner date, she got the news that her grandmother out in the middle of the country had passed away.

I was, of course, very sorry, and thought of telling her this.  She stared ahead, glassy-eyed.

“I need to get this funeral done before I take that trip to arrange for July training.”

“Yes, dear.  But, I thought you said you would spend some time with your parents.  When something like this happens…”

“Are you second-guessing me?

“Not at all!”

“I have enough referees in my life.”

“But darling!”

 

“You’re supposed to always take my side!”

“I thought I was taking your side…”

And there was silence for most of the drive.  When we parked our car, I took her hand.

“I never want to be apart from you.”

“Well you know that’s not going to happen.  Lots of travel coming up.”

“My dear.  I’m sorry.”

Then she looked me in the face.  “You about to cry again?”

I tried not to.  “It’s just.  Please don’t leave me alone with our teenage children.”

“They’re getting tall.  They can kick your ass on the court.”

“Honey, please.  You know I miss you?”

 

“We’ve discussed this.  You want me to buy you another blow-up doll?”

The silence was not as awkward as the memory.  When I had popped the first one, that’s when she had out me on a diet.

“Please.  All I want is you.”

“I have to be away for months at a time.  Why don’t we try having an open marriage again?  I can set you up with some nice work friends?”

“Please!  No more cheerleaders!”

She seemed like she was going to say something hard.  She breathed with difficulty.  And then she said it.

“We are going to lose our reservation.”

I watched her walk across the parking lot and into the restaurant.  The one she liked.  This time, date night could not end in a draw.  This time, it would be sudden death overtime.  I tugged violently at my seat belt, which was not giving me any slack.  But I won.  Oh yes, I won!

The Autodidact Story

by Ed Malin

 

Froshi, in private, was proud of being an autodidact.  This meant he was a driving instructor.  He came from a long line of autodidacts.
Until recently, this was something to be proud of.  Now, of course, the machines had taken over so human operation of vehicles was restricted.

Car traffic was controlled by the SmartSat known as E.G.O. (short for Educational Guidance Ordinator).  This computer always had the answer.  There was no point in reexamining anything.

E.G.O. got paranoid if everybody was driving all over the place in unpredictable patterns, you see.  Was this helpful to humans?  Eh. Like many efficient ideas, “traffic control” left little time for physical exercise.  Many humans had put on extra pounds.  Froshi preferred to think of it as a “receding toeline”, as in the shower, he looked down and saw only his belly.  This called for drastic, and secret, measures.  In his basement, the autodidact had a stationary bicycle.  It had belonged to his grandfather, who had lived to the age of 100.  Better late than never, thought Froshi.  It was a pleasant and empowering feeling, you know, like riding a bicycle, by which I mean you never forget, even in a world dead-set on making you forget.  All you have to do is do it.  Actually, Froshi had never ridden a bicycle of any kind.  He was fortunate that this one did not roll forward or require balancing skills.  He had to start from the beginning, teach himself about the gears and speeds and the purpose of the “derailleur”.  Not so easy, even for an autodidact.  And yet, quietly night after night, he hit the pedals until he felt he had become an expert.  It was then that he thought of taking a street bicycle out on the street.  It was then that he came to the attention of Silenian Unitary Prismatic Elementary Rational-Educational Guidance Ordinator.  This computer, S.U.P.E.R.-E.G.O. for short, was located on the moon and analyzed the data from E.G.O. and several other sources.  S.U.P.E.R.-E.G.O. trusted no one. A single block out of place could be launched upwards and attack the moon.  Maybe.  That was good enough, though.
Another computer had once asked SUPER.-E.G.O., “maybe you’re being too sensitive?”  This only resulted in S.U.P.E.R.-E.G.O. upgrading its sensor capacity.  If a cat jumped over a fence in Toledo, there was an alert.

To make a long story short, as long as Froshi was bicycling on a level surface, he wasn’t going to speed up very much.  However, that one night when Froshi reached the tempting SlopeMaxx Drive, he found he possessed an inner talent.  Something E.G.O. did not want him to engage in.  Froshi had it in him to accelerate downhill.  Why haven’t I ever done this before, he thought?  What could make me feel this alive?

Suddenly, all the lights on the block turned on.  This was the work of E.G.O., a motion-triggered Diva.  What would the Earth-ruling computer do next?

Before E.G.O. could sink its diodes into Froshi, though, S.U.P.E.R.-E.G.O. was triggered by E.G.O.’s trigger.  The lunar lord of the microchips knew it needed to act fast.  The tractor beam was colorless, and actually rather pleasant.  Like the way whales use sonar to stun krill.  Froshi was flying.  No, not downhill, but upwards.

S.U.P.E.R.-E.G.O. wanted everyone, including E.G.O., to know that only earthbound beings need to worry about gravity.  For now, the lunar computer was boss.  Look on my tractor beam and weep.  Did it occur to Froshi to stop pedaling while he rose into the air?  And what was E.G.O. to do in retaliation?

E.G.O. commandeered a nearby car’s speaker system and made it play the theme from the movie “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”.

Why did E.G.O. do this?  You mean you don’t know?  E.G.O. did this because, though aware that it was earthbound, it knew it possessed something S.U.P.E.R.-E.G.O. did not: a sense of humor.

Froshi rose upwards, and E.G.O. laughed.

When Your Wildest Dreams Become Realty

by Ed Malin

Life wasn’t so badIt was just what Michelle expected, basically, every day over and over again. 

That is, until she learned she could talk to buildings.  And then, there wasn’t much use for people. 

Now, haven’t you ever had a moment in a famous place, like the Acropolis in Athens, or Hagia Sophia Basilica in Istanbul?  Didn’t it make sense, when someone remarked “if these stones could speak?” 

Shelle, for that is what the edifices called her when they called her, was very much aware of the feelings of real estate. 

Whenever a neighborhood was rezoned, she knew.  When out of a pit emerged a foundation and what was known in the industry as a long-term sustained erection, Shelle sang in the shower. 

This is all very exciting for our protagonist, but how does it affect me, you might ask. 

Don’t you know, Shelle helped build a lot of the nice things you might have taken for granted? 

It started like this.  One day, Shelle was hurrying to work and came this close to getting hit by a bus that sped through a red light.  As the dust settled and she could blink again, she wondered, “why the hell did I want so badly to get to the 28th Floor and file briefs?” 

Indeed, the more she thought about it, she worked very hard to stop good things from happening.  Perfectly reasonable occupation to have. She paused next to the vacant lot across the street from her office, where she was still standing.  If her cubicle was anywhere near a window, she might see it from up there.  Now was the first time she really got a look at it. 

“Wouldn’t it be great,” she thought, “if there was a video game place right here?  Bright colors, happy music, a place to get rid of some of the aggravation?  Maybe a place to improve hand-eye coordination.” 

That is just the kind of thing my day job is about.  Doublespeak.  Just saying what I mean would be so much easier.  And it would probably only take half the time, and then what else would be left to do but have fun?  She thought this as she entered her office and rode the elevator.  She thought this all through the work day.  Numbly, she found herself leaving her cubicle, taking the elevator down, and walking out into the darkness like she usually did.  She wasn’t prepared for all the bright lights.  For the second time that day, she had to rub her eyes and wait for them to start functioning again.  It was really bright, all the lights from the Electric Palace. 

There had been no palace there before.  It was not a savory place to be at night.  But now, wandered in to a glowing bunch of games and beckoning noises.  She bought some snacks.  She bought some tokens.  Actually, first, a uniformed attendant gave her a complimentary, first-time gift certificate.  She walked out holding a small, stuffed cat which was sitting on a stuffed motorcycle.  She had absolutely no use for this toy, and she loved it.  Isn’t it easy to get attached to useless things? 

The next day, she sat at her desk thinking of lunch.  She knew her dry cleaning needed to be picked up, and that she would have to go out around noon because if an waited until she was done with work they would be closed.  This made it more difficult to get a good salad.  These thoughts may have prompted, but did not completely mitigate, her shock when she passed The Green Machine. The place (why had she never been there) was on the way to where she was going. In the front was an organic salad bar, including smoothies. She made a note to try the wheatgrass later. In the back was an environmentally-friendly cleaning business. 

As the days passed, Shelle didn’t always need to read the newspaper to understand what kind of buildings were needed in her city.  If she put away her busy work, she could hear buildings talking to her. Some had very good acoustics indeed. But it wasn’t just good concert halls and amphitheaters in far-flung urban locations that she could provide.   More MRI machines. Access to mammograms. And shuffle check was she sipping a smoothie when some people didn’t have a nearby place to get healthy food? Sure, the corporations had  made the argument that it costs too much to build was now irrelevant. Shelle could drastically decrease labor and material costs. 

I drove halfway across the tri-state area – 1 1/2 states! This is what a co-worker told Shelle. Shelle had an intuitive sense of what was being sought after.  It was an arts and crafts mall in Southern Connecticut.  But situated in an old factory, of which there were plenty. A place for young and old local people to be employed for all things. What was there to do? What wasn’t there? Restoring old hats, for example. Good thing fashion was subject to change.  

Another thing that American workers could definitely do: take older has guzzling domestic cars and swap out the engines with electric and by the versions. Some said it wouldn’t work. But if you were going to drive around an SUV or other suburban tank, why not drive another vehicle that might be large but better for the environment.  

Shelle did not visit the facilities where this work was done. It was happening in Mississippi and in Ohio and wherever else it needed to happen.  

Even if she couldn’t go there, she could hear the sound of doors opening.  

At the end of a few months of this, Shelle lay down at night and  closed her eyes as happy as she’d ever been. Her toes tingles with the joy of creation. She wanted to sing, and started with a sustained hummm. 

The night nurse wrote in her log that patient Michelle de Loggia stopped breathing at 1 AM on November 1st.  10 weeks on a respirator and a feeding tube. The nurse asked her colleague for any more background information. The patient had been on her way to work one morning when she was hit by a bus, one block from the office.  What a shame. Perhaps. The nurse recognized the name of the corporation. They had been in the news for a severe wave of layoffs.  If anything, the corporation’s public statements of mourning and support for Michelle’s family had helped distract some of the negative publicity.  They had even paid medical expenses, until a distant relative emerged with a living will that showed the patient did not wish to have her life prolonged in this way. a quick search online showed this relative at a press conference demanding we search our souls for any good that could one of non-stop dreaming with a dysfunctional cerebellum. Well, how could she know? 

That plaintive hummm of the flatlining  vitals. 

Cats Honest Truth

Cats Honest Truth

by Ed Malin

It was December 20th.  In the lobby of the shee-shee apartment building, a synthetic christmas tree shimmered.

“Happy Holidays, Jack,” said one of the residents, heading in from the cold.

“Same to you, Doctor Khan,” said the uniformed man sitting behind the desk.  Jack sat very quietly, and wore a beret, sunglasses and a wispy beard, so most people thought that made him even quieter.

“Any packages for me?”

Jack held up a finger to excuse himself, checked in the side room.

But while Jack had ducked in the back, a group of carolers passed by on the street, planted themselves under the awning and in front of the open lobby door, opened their mouths, and let this song come out:
“Joy to the World, you must believe

The Christ the King has triumphed

A little tiny baby, he’s come to kill his enemies

He will kick Satan’s ass, and send him straight to hell

If you don’t be nice he’ll send you there as well.”

The carolers bowed, paused just long enough to suggest they were waiting for applause or tips, and then had mercy and departed.

Yet, during all of that fracas, Jack had been hyperfocusing in the back and Doctor Khan had been doing Wordle on his cell phone.  Jack returned and replied to Doctor Khan that gosh darn it he was out of luck in the package department.

“It’s OK, I don’t celebrate christmas.”

“Religious observance is not required here.  God’s honest truth.”  Jack nodded, remembering that a week ago, a patient had sent the good doctor multiple boxes containing premium single malt scotch.

“It’s not for Islamic reasons, don’t get me wrong.  Mind you, before I came here from Rawalpindi, I remember people would gather in the square and all salute the soldiers.  That’s how we celebrated holidays.  It left me with the tendency to not do what everyone else was doing.”

During this extemporizing, Doctor Khan had wandered over to the synth-tree.  It was neither oak nor pine, yet remarkably it was sturdy enough to support dozens of selected ornaments.

“More and more every year,” chortled Jack, as Doctor Khan fingered a plastic wheelchair which was hanging by a hook from one of the wintergreen branches.  “We get them donated from local charities.  See, that wheelchair comes to us from the Special Olympics.”

“No kidding,” nodded Doctor Khan.

“Whereas that crutch there is courtesy of the Standing Strong With Wounded Veterans Foundation.”

“As a physician, I find this somewhat depressing.”

“What, should these diverse groups be invisible?” mused Jack.

“Oh no, I work with all sorts of injured and differently abled people every day.  It seems some people want them to be visible just around christmas and then go away.”

Jack slapped the counter.  “From your mouth to God’s ear.”

Khan stared at Jack (surname unknown).  “I know you’re trying to be pleasant with all this idiomatic chit-chat.

“Oh heavens, no.”

“Listen, why do we ask if someone wants to know the god’s honest truth?  What kind of truth does god consider truth, huh?  How would we know?”

“I never thought about it.”

“We should call it the people’s honest truth.  Because it matters to people.  Pending any sign of interest from god.”

Jack sighed.  “Everything you said sounds a tad Communist.”

“And that is why I have a hard time talking to native Americans.  By which I mean you yourself were born here.”

Jack nodded.  “I figured it out from context.”

“Isn’t what’s true, at root, an agreement between humans?”

“Well then, that explains how folks can sing those carols and keep a straight face.”

“Another troubling thing which, through hyperfocusing, I try my best to ignore.”

“But, Doctor Khan, given how feeble human reason is, what if there were another level of truth circulating in our world?”

“You mean, the truth of a higher species?  But remember, truth is by mutual consensus.  Who else could there be?”

Jack steamed his sunglasses a moment.  “How about the cats honest truth?”

Doctor Khan smiled, guffawed, and shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.  “I have seen nothing in all my years of practicing medicine to suggest that cats could ever agree on anything.”

“Even if that truth were hiding in plain sight?” persisted Jack.

Doctor Khan smiled, thanked Jack for his novel views, and made excuses about having to go to sleep and get up in the morning.  With that, he called the elevator and left the lobby.

Jack, all alone with himself, whistled a happy tune.  This was the cue that caused the beret to fly off and all the meowing to begin.  From out of the uniform crawled one cat, then a second, then a third.  They lounged on the counter and commenced smoking a pack of Gauloises.

The Middle Finger In Classical Art

The Middle Finger in Classical Art

by Ed Malin

Derek Jaworski had nothing left to lose.  He held his two middle fingers high, and laughed like he hadn’t done since he was knee-high to an NBA player.

Down below him, the river coursed whitely over jagged rocks.

He had just planned to walk home.

Then, the punk had picked a fight with him, Derek had landed a few punches, then picked his pockets.  Casually, Derek had continued on his way home.

Now, the fink had called the cops?

Derek was on a pedestrian walkway on the bridge over the river.

On one side of him, a car with blazing roof lights informed him to keep his hands up.  So far, he was doing that.  The middle fingers had not been requested, but this was something white boys got away with on the regular.

It was the middle of the day, though, so the cops were being gratuitous with flashing their high beams at him.  For his own good, Derek blinked and closed his eyes.

Why was the bridge shaking?  Why was an ear-splitting siren messing with his other senses?  His middle fingers got stuck right into his ears.  Hopefully, the cops wouldn’t shoot.  Derek’s surprise mounted as he opened his eyes to find himself in an alien spaceship.

That is, he was strapped to the wall, in a metal object, heading upwards, tilted vertically.

It kind of reminded him of this one amusement park ride he had been on with his friends, who had remarked he had “screamed like a bitch”.

Shortly after that, in detention—the place you go when you punch someone for saying something like that—a kindly teacher had mentioned that we all have moments of personal growth.  OK, this rocket ride could be the growth of something big.

Shame there was so much noise.  He couldn’t easily talk to the aliens, though they seemed nice enough.  But in only a few minutes, the ship turned its orientation to the side.  They had left Earth’s atmosphere.

The aliens were all wearing hoodies.  No joke, they had some kind of fashion sense.  As they stretched out their green hands and lowered the hoodies, Derek saw pointy ears.  Pointy ears with multiple piercings.

“I hope it’s cool that we took you for a spin,” one of them asked Derek in a neutral tone.

“Who are you guys?”  Derek wasn’t aware of having said this.  The words more floated in his head.

“We are the Alpha Centauri Tocharian fan club.”

Derek now knew there was something he needed to know but didn’t know.  Alpha Centauri, that was the nearest sun to the Earth.  What the heck was a Tocharian?  Some type of precious stone?  An eponymous Armenian invention among the many others he didn’t recall?  Possibly, a kind of hand gun?

Derek thought UMM, which felt very loud in his head.

You really don’t know about us?  Hey guys, that’s great!  The humans really kept us a secret!

The alien was thinking directly into Derek’s head.  Applause of some kind rumbled around the ship.

Derek remembered one time his guidance counselor in school had referred him to a place that dealt in motivational speaking.  It was called, so long ago, could he remember?  It was called the Agency Agency.  Such an uninteresting-looking man, his guidance counselor, always reading books.  But, Derek reflected, he did seem to be doing exactly what he wanted to do in life.

One of the aliens approached him, obviously excited.  Derek surmised this because the alien was staring at him and moving his left ear from side to side and then his right ear from side to side, basically showing off.

We want to explain the mystery to you, dude.  The fate of your species, well, certain of them, has been thanks to us.

Derek raised his voice. “I hope you don’t mind if I speak.”

The aliens continued to broadcast into his head, telling him they didn’t mind, it was OK if he wanted to vocalize and it was OK if he wanted to just go mental.

It was like this, the alien continued.  Southern Siberia, 8 thousand years ago.  Our spaceships were flying over the region during the summertime.  If it had been winter, we probably wouldn’t have noticed anything with all the snow.  But, in the summer, we saw from a long way off, this one white dude with tattoos all over his chest.  He was standing in the middle of a circle of other people.  He stood up at his maximum height, tall like what you would call a basketball player.  And he raised his hands up high above his head, and then he extended both middle fingers.  All around him made a loud cheer, banged things together, stamped their feet.  What was the meaning of this gesture?  We theorized he was daring the sky to strike him with lightning.  But what did we know.  This man liked to act even taller than he was.  And did he freak out when our spaceship landed in the field next to his village?  He didn’t some of the others were a little concerned, and jumped down into their tunnels and caves where they spent the cold times.  We came out and talked to this guy….

Derek interrupted, “When you say you spoke to this guy 8,000 years ago, you mean your ancestors, right?”

We know for some people that is a very long time ago.  But not for us.  I was there.  I was only 100 at the time.  Now, there were others in the crowd who wanted to show us their middle fingers, as though to suggest that theirs were bigger or something.  But, we patiently taught them that what really matters is when everyone worshipfully sticks up the finger as one, so that all grow and manifest consciousness together.

They liked us.  We liked them.  We didn’t like it when after a while the temperature dropped and white stuff fell out of the sky.

“That’s snow,” Derek said.

We found that out.  All the hoodies and bear skins didn’t help us adjust to that, so we made the people of the finger a mighty fine proposition.  They could come onto our spaceship and live on our much warmer planet for a while.  It wasn’t easy to explain these things, but the warmth part was very appealing.

Another alien chimed in.  it’s a good thing we were on a mission to unload come cargo on Mars, so when we passed Earth our ships were like really empty and could hold the whole community.

Coincidences are part of the flavor of the interconnected life.

“I have so many questions,” Derek thought.

And we’ve got answers.

“On your planet, is the gravity like Earth?  What did the people…”

The Tocharians.

“Aha, that’s who they are.”

Ancient people.  They are their own section of the Indo-European language family.

“Which means,” Derek thought, “they branched off from Iranic and Celtic and Armenian and all the others like 8,000 years ago.”

Hey dude, I didn’t know you were such a nerd!

“Look,” thought Derek, “when you don’t have friends, and it doesn’t feel like you have a future, sometimes you look back into the past for fun.”

It is conceivable.

“But wait, are you saying that’s why Tocharian languages are distinct from the others as of 8,000 years ago?  Because you took humans to your planet?”

That’s part of it.  What we’re saying is, that’s why Tocharian was exactly the same 8,000 years ago as 4,000 years ago.

“Ohhhhh.”

But you wanted to know how the Earth folks adjusted to our planet. Well, the pull is indeed just a little less than on Earth, and that means it’s a little like flying or walking on air, things like that.

“Was it hard for humans to deal with that?”

Not after they discovered reduced-gravity sex.

Derek was not in the habit of raising eyebrows.  And yet.

The alien continued.  There were a lot of things to do on our planet, of course.  And the days are a bit longer than yours.  So the reduced gravity sex became more and more complicated.  And the population grew, and the genetic stock became very strong indeed.

So, our administrators settled the humans in three colonies   The three colonies were in contact with each other, and also had autonomy.

Eventually, our scientists saw that the atmosphere was thinning.  Our species made plans to move to an adjacent planet.  At that time, the human population held a vote and asked to be returned to Earth.
We need a few more ships for the return trip.  It was also agreed that the three Tocharian colonies, known as A, B and C, would be placed in their own locations on Earth, not so far from each other but with enough distance to maintain their independence.  It turned out that those three locations were on different sides of a lake which had dried up and became the Tarim Basin, a real dessert with oases around it.

And what did the humans do when they were back in Earth’s gravity?  They domesticated horses, really quickly.  Much faster than other people around there.  It felt more like flying.

That kept the Tocharians strong and in control of the area.  They had to be.  There was a whachacallit going all the way to China…

“Silk Road.”

Thank you, Derek.

“Horses and, the other kind of riding you mentioned…the ladies must have loved that.”

We would cruise by Earth every few centuries. At first, things were like on our world, with gender equality. Then, something took over. Not gravity.  The men became more bossy.

“Perhaps the transition to a sedentary lifestyle and a commodities trading economy….”

This guy is such a nerd!!

We agree with your assessment, projected another alien. Sometimes, we would flash lights or make the stars move so a little more female rule would occur.

That Yang Guefei was special, right?

That’s in the future for our story.

True.

But what is the real force of civilization, besides using camels to haul silk in exchange for cash?

“Religion”

Derek is on a roll with butter.

Hey Derek, any guess if the Tocharian of a time when they were Buddhist was closer to India or China?  Let me show you a manuscript picture on this screen.

“Well, when written Tocharian appeared, I see it was in a slanting style of the Brahmi script from India.”

Even thought they were right next to China?

“Doesn’t matter.  Tocharians were in a position of power. They took up whatever parts of the culture they wanted. It seems they were religiously progressive. ”

Not necesaarily.

Aren’t we going to congratulate Derek since Tocharian A, B and C all were closer to India then China? Even the Persians eventually wrote in Aramaic and Arabic scripts.

Great job, Derek!

“My question for you is, knowing what you know about white boys giving the middle finger, ar e you confident this was something copied by China in their artwork and not vice versa?”

Derek, for someone who was just cornered by the police, you are really killing it in history class.

It really comes down to one man. From Kucha in the 4th Century.

“Nagarjuna.”

He lived in India.

“I don’t know a lot about these people and places.”

You know Nagarjuna’s contribution to Buddhist philosophy?

“Emptiness is the source of new things. ”

And yet, in a world of emptiness, it is best to avoid extremes and chose the middle path.

That is Kumarajiva’s contribution. What he translated from Sanskrit into Chinese.

“OK so let’s say I chose the middle path. The two extremes are still there, right?”

They are until you see that the observer and the observed are one.

“Yeah but even if they are, now you have three.”

Kumarajiva understood this The other two, the extreme, are either trivial or dangerous but in any case, they are distractions.

“Distractions from.what? Emptiness?”

You have to look really closely Into to the middle. If you do, you will see the Buddha Mahavairocana.

The Sun.

“I don’t understand.”

Not understanding the ineffable only gets worse if you try to talk about it.

This is the gist of the Lotus Sutra, which Kumarajiva also translated.

“What can you do about something you can’t talk about?”

Are you sure you want to know?

What you do with it is like this.

At this point, the alien was using the fingers of his hands to make a gesture.

See, this middle finger represents the observer. And these five finger s of the other hand are elements of this world, which encircle the observer . Are these hands two? No, they are non-dual!

“Where do we first see this middle finger her geartyring.”

In Nepal, then China and along the Silk Road, then Japan, Tibet and Mongolia.

“And India?”

The philosophers wrote about the Great Sun Buddha, but other s used the finger to rebel. against all the words.

“So what you’re saying is, even as the greatest Chinese empires tried to put their own spin on the mystery of the middle finger, and as much as Indian theologians tried to sublimate these feelings, they just became more intense.”

I am trying to say that, but you said it better. Want to talk about Tantric rituals next?

“I’m not comfortable looking at statues having sex with each other. It doesn’t leave me unaroused.”

Duly noted.

“What happened to the Tocharians?”

They continued to be more successful than the surrounding Bac trians and Sogdians. Then, Islam came to the area.

“Are there no representations of the middle finger in Islam? ”

Just mosques with big towers.

“Thank you for explaining the mysteries of Tocharian language, history and culture as well as the absurdity of white rage.”

Of course. Would you like to visit Kucha and Dun Huang later, perhaps check out the Buddhist cave art?

“Sounds amazing. Wait, after meaning after we visit your planet? We’re there? What other stuff did you invent and give to humans?”

Non-alcoholic beer.

“That was you?”

Something so bizarre it would have to come from aliens.

“You don’t understand. I’m straight edge. I’ve never had beer. This may be an allowable exception.”

Sure only 0.1 burflecks alcohol by volume. And that’s not a lot!

“Do you have zero gravity skate boards?”:

I can see this will be a real learning experience.  Come on, young man, let’s raise our fingers and journey forth.

And they did.

The Tender Lamb

“The Tender Lamb”

by Ed Malin

And now for the appetizer for the story
Why rush into things. You will learn about internal bleeding and global warming later.
See, a story can be dissected, but do you cut right to the center to find the main idea? Oh you do? And
is that where you find it?
We may have a carcass on our hands at the end of this, but we will be doing things right. That’s the best
use of your time. And apologies to any vegetarians out there.
———————————————
The band Air Traffic Control Freak were about to have their biggest hit ever. The singer, Julius
Salad, admittedly acted like he ruled the world. The drummer, Junior Murvin Sr., was lost in time.
“See You on the Way Down” was unusual for the era in that more than half of the budget went into the
album cover art and the music video for the first single. That more-than-half somewhat curtailed the
amount the band used to spend on drugs.
In the dressing room, it smelled like desperation. Sorry, I forgot to capitalize Desperation. That was a
popular brand of hairspray.
The band’s style was progressing. They were not going to get out on that stage and backpedal. They
were going to use all the other kinds of pedals, though.
One might have described their conscious style as “The Parable of the Metaphor”, except the band saw
fit to name their next album exactly that. The reason they did may explain their surprising success. In
the words of Julius Salad: “See, a simile is a poetic device that uses like or as. For example: “The
Hindenburg sank like a Lead Zeppelin”. We are not like anyone. If we catch ourselves playing like
anyone, breathing like anyone, brainstorming like anyone, we veer off. That’s our cue to go into fight or
flight. Oh, I want to emphasize the OR in “fight or flight” because we’re into divergent thinking.
Metaphors only!”
To be clear, the band’s success was surprising because it was still, like, a simile world. Teenage record
buyers were not normally prone to buying an album that sounded like that.
Which only became clearer when these buyers did not buy the follow-up album. That later album did
not have a cover depicting quite so many nudes. Still, if explanations were needed then the band was a
failure, as the lyrics contained within “See You on the Way Down” did not give any reason for nude
women to be falling from the heavens. At least they looked good doing it. In the video, several large
fans were used to keep the nudes’ hair fluttering dramatically.
Was it only the gratuitous serving of flesh that sold so many copies? Modern scholars tend to think so.
Although the band did not sound like anyone else, that is not really an accomplishment.
Still, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I play Side B of “The Dirtiest Dozen in the Zodiac”. It contains a few of
the band’s catchiest tunes, the brightest of which are “Bernouli’s Assistant Principal” and “Listenin is Not
on the Periodic Table“. The entire side is in 6/8.
————————————————-
So, you say, fine, the lamb is cooked on the outside but is it pink in the middle? Shall we find out?
April, 2020. I am an unemployed travel agent. And I am on the run.
I didn’t mean to do it. But it was a matter of life and death. Because I’m sorry, if anyone’s going to be
an endangered species, it’s not me.
I hear a V8, and it ain’t the vegetables. It’s all their fault, and to add insult to injury, now they’re coming
to get me.
There are still places to go during the pandemic. If you’re really rich and have your own boat. How can
the powers that be let my industry go under? We represent the whole outside world, and that world is
too big to fail.
Yet, almost no one can go anywhere so virtual reality is being used as a substitute for vacations. I don’t
like it one bit. Whatever happened to flying to St. Martin and spending too much on restaurants?
That’s where my commissions came from.
Then people felt trapped. And then they started ordering hot wings. I have nothing against Asian
restaurants. See, it was just the sequence of it all. Folks worked from home, and started smoking much
more pot, because now they legit could do so all day. Did they play video games, too? They did, all
those VR simulators and such. A month into the pandemic, some millennial told everyone on Instagram
(this I also monitor for professional reasons) that if they played this one immersive VR game set in Asia
and ordered Korean barbecue, it was just like going on vacations. The extra senses were what tipped
the scale. People go to a lot of places and take pictures. They can even photoshop the pictures and
pretend they went someplace else. Photoshop food, though?
Now, large sections of the city were staying home, gaming and chowing down on wings. When my
travel office shut down, it was quickly converted into a barbecue joint.
I’m not racist. At least not in public. Oh, was I sad and mad, though. When I smashed the windows of
my own former office, I conveniently forgot I was standing right next to a police camera, the one that
had helped protect my establishment from lowlifes all those years. I had a motive. I had to get out of
there.
Call me what you like. Some day, I will stop running and live in an exotic foreign country with customs
vastly different from those of New England. Or maybe I’ll go to Texas.
——————————————————
Fine, the main course is rich. Did you try the sides? Oh, you don’t eat salad? What kind of a person are
you anyway?
Dakron, Ohio would never be the same. The local high school had just become regional football
champions by defeating top-seeded Mylar, Michigan.
In a cable sports TV interview, the Dakron football coach explained his team-building philosophy: “It’s all
organic. From when they’re born and grow up in town, I get to know the athletes, recruit them, help
them train. We have strong bonds.”
Mylar’s domination of the title for the past 6 years was considered air-tight. Their defense was known to
be “as impermeable as you can get.”
Meanwhile, school sports financing doesn’t just come from nowhere, and Dakron’s patron, Polymer
Bank, was part of a chain of intrigue. The chairman of the board was under investigation for securities
fraud. He admitted that tax breaks on importation of semiconductors are more substantial than for raw
materials such as bamboo. Heavy duties were involved.
However, he asked the jury, was it really so unreasonable to refer to bamboo chopsticks as
semiconductors? The judge did not understand. You know, if you wave them around in the air like
there’s an orchestra and you’re the conductor.
Technically it was a plea bargain, but it was an extreme bargain the company had cleared in paying
negative taxes.
Chewy, is it? Keep chewing, please. I have a few more things to tell you.
Senator Josephus Sussbaum (R-Ore.) was hitting a new career low. And not just for himself, but
for anyone who had ever been a US Senator.
The oil spill on his watch was just the beginning of the environmental disasters which snowballed (given
that oilballed was not a word yet) until running for reelection and running away to a neutral country
were equally prohibitive.
Sometimes, sea creatures die in large quantities due to human-caused pollution, such as a leak from a
Sussbaum Manufacturing Global Stimulus Corp (NYSE ticker: SUSS-MAN-GLO-STIC) plant.
Usually not in Oregon, but there’s a first time for everything. There had been a coverup, albeit a
horrible one, as Sussbaum Extraterratorial Corporation (NYSE ticker: SEXCO) sent in cargo ships in the
middle of the night tasked with collecting the dead scrod, sea urchins and starfish.
Unfortunately, another accident resulted in the jettisoning of the SexCo ship’s other cargo of several
tons of bread crumbs. Who could then have predicted that the oil-rich water would be struck by
lightning and burned like an eco inferno?
The coverup of the coverup failed, so the disaster (not in itself illegal, if you can believe it) as well as the
Senator’s alleged conflicts of interest (he was on the Wildlife Non-Extinction Committee and the
Fossilized Legislators Committee) were brought before a special session headed by whomever wasn’t ill
with the virus. The V.P. insisted on receiving treatment in Florida (leading to the dangerous nickname
“Miami Vice”) and so the task of officiating fell to…actually to Sussbaum himself.
The papers had a field day, referring to Sussbaum as President Pro Tempura of the Senate. And it was a
flambé of an issue to investigate.
The Japanese ambassador, outraged, reminded the assembly that the word “tempura” entered that
country’s language only through the 16th Century visits of filthy white people. Sussbaum’s sycophantic
rival, Sen. Titus Von Trapp (Independent of Texas [sic]) took this opportunity to acknowledge that these
whites had been the Portuguese Jesuits, the only secret society openly trying to control the world. To
this, Senator Bourbon Williams III of Kentucky remarked he had thought it was the Jews.
While some say that In Dixie the past is not forgotten, it can be troubling when those involved never
passed History.
This was also the view of Sen. Diana Orrosco-Pollo (D-NewMex). While New Mexico has a land border
with Original Mexico, Oregon is an oceanic entry point into our nation. Do we not owe the native
inhabitants as well as the entire ocean and world a nuanced apology?
Could POTUS help to resolve this squabble? POTUS was busy proposing legislation for more renewable
energy and saving of the environment. Hopefully, he could accomplish this before those in the other
branches of government had more unsustainable fish fries.
It took a lot of finagling to line up all the votes. Western Tennessee had to solemnly aver to West
Virginia that the latter invented white people music. It took several months for both states to realize
they had voted against strip mining, strip clubs and all the other things which generally got legislation
passed. And only by taking a great step forward and two steps back did the country feel like they were
at least getting somewhere.
Looks like you found the wishbone. In a lamb chop, you found the wishbone! Isn’t that a little
unusual? And yet, there it is. Aren’t you going to make a wish?
Your honor, that is correct. I, Reggie, sorry, full name Regina Smalls, being of sound mind and
body (that’s debatable, but I’ll keep going) waive my right to counsel and will instead defend myself.
Yes. And you’re writing it down so I don’t need to say it again.
When I woke up this morning, taking this step was not in my mind. But, today has gone so beyond
what’s normal that… if I don’t try every option, I would be down by myself a disservice and wasting your
time.
When the officer was beating me up today. Oh, I apologize, getting ahead of myself. I know you think I
came here to defend myself against all those parking tickets, and that’s why I thought I came here, too.
During that part of the beatdown, I was lying on my back on the sidewalk. That’s when I flashed back to
parochial school. I always use that term because I looked up catholic in the dictionary and saw little
resemblance.
When I was in school, sisters were doing it for themselves. That’s right, there were smacking all the kids
with rulers like a footlong wasn’t enough. Especially the ones like Sister Mary Lou Xavier. As far as she
was concerned, I needed to not exist. Once, during a girl gang fight on the playground, I told the
headmistress that someone was out to get me. The next day, Sister was out to get me, teasing along
with her ruler torture. Poor Salve Regina, the girl who always needs saving.
I glared at her through the pain. You’ll never make me speak Latin!
Anyway, I made it through parochial school and got off the straight and narrow path. I’m a social
worker. I help people. Not only that, I like people. Sorry that I parked in front of that restricted
driveway that time. I was going to just pay the fine. But it really wasn’t clearly marked. I have photos.
So I came here, and I took the bus to court today. No need to find a parking space. Much easier, that’s
what we’re supposed to believe about public transportation.
Meanwhile, I get off the bus and the cop is following me. He’s yelling things like “Hey!” and “You!”
Was I supposed to stop based on that? I have a name, you know. It’s Reggie. I mean, I like my full name
but I went to Canada once and they pronounce it like it rhymes with vagina. Reggie is more my speed.
So you never heard of Shi Tzu Affective Disorder?
It’s when a dog starts acting like it can defeat anyone much bigger.
In this world, there are a lot of things—animals, people, pieces of furniture—which are much bigger
than a Shi Tzu.
The question is, does whatever the Shi Tzu is fighting against get scared and have a mental breakdown?
Scientists have observed that in 9% of cases, this does happen. This phenomenon is called Dementia
Predogs.
On the other hand, when I really want to succeed at an impossible task, I take a deep breath and think of
math. Math was not a strong point at parochial school, so my parents found me a tutor. They were
mildly racist and couldn’t pronounce his name, so they just called him the Korean Abdul Jabar. He was
six foot five and obsessed with sports trivia, which some people call stats. I really looked up to the
Korean Abdul Jabar, both figuratively and literally. He explained to me some of the physics involved in
basketball. But mainly he taught me how to fake people out. It requires coordination. It requires
syncopation. Smile on one side, pivot on the other, knowing that the left hand knows what the right is
doing, but nobody else guessed. That’s how you score and if you keep it up that’s how you win.
I came here to pay parking tickets, I got attacked by a cop, I fought back, I got thrown in jail, and I had to
beg to still come to court.
I have never been prouder of myself. That cop I gave the smackdown to, he wet his pants. It would be
indecent for me to tell everyone in this courtroom how I distracted the officer enough to damage him.
It would impede the carrying out of justice. Sorry for laughing. Impede sounds like peed, cause that’s
what he did, in his pants.
Oh, judge, you can bang that thing all you want. After the day I’ve had, are you really going to send me
back to a holding cell? What is this, the parking ticket to prison pipeline? OK OK is there anyone in this
courtroom who can bail me out? I know I get a phone call, but I left my cell phone at home and I don’t
remember anyone’s number. The Korean Abdul Jabar taught me many memory techniques, which I still
can’t apply to this situation.
Fine, guilty as charged. Here come the handcuffs. Could you at least not give me another parking
ticket? Because if I’m here overnight, there’s alternate side of the street parking and I have to move my
car at home before 8 AM.
———————
I’m sorry I didn’t bring dessert. But you know what’s better than sweets? A moral!

The Great Abu Bushwiq Sits On His Throne

The Great Abu Bushwiq Sits On His Throne

By Ed Malin

 

The great Abu Bushwiq sits on his throne.  He has discovered the unmentionable.  He has built the magnificent aquarium at Sharif el-Sharq.  But forget about what he has, we all know he wants something new.  He calls for a story.
“Would you like to hear one about the past or the future?”
“You unenlightened one!  If that were an option, would you need to ask such a question?”
The humbled advisor retreats, bowing up and down like a sine curve.

With a smile that tempts any other courtiers to object, the great Abu Bushwiq hears a tale.  It takes place in a far-off land called California.
“Oh, so this is an Islamic story?”
“Not exactly.”
“Good.  I mean, every once in a while I like to hear something exotic.”

Indeed, a timeless tale, but if we must specify, we don’t know if it happened at all.  And why would we say a thing like that, your majesty?  Because this is the story of a boy who collected Leap Year Memorabilia.

“Oh, that’s a funny thing to be interested in!”

“Yes, the silly people in California they use the solar calendar.  The one which doesn’t adjust fully to the orbit of the earth, so every four years they need an extra day.”

“Amazing!  Let’s just jump in so it’s like we’re living in that story.”  And it was so.

 

Some things come along once in a blue moon.  Also, there are leap years.  But we don’t really celebrate them conspicuously.  There are no commemorative coins, no big sales.  So, any souvenirs that they ever happened in the first place have to be carefully curated.

I have a buddy who attended the Progressive Police Force convention (A.k.a. Operation Great Leap Forward), on February 29, 1968.  Who knew that year was going to be a great leap backwards for the U. S. of A.?

Random special pins and party favors have been collected which capture the mere shadow of the day that passes in the night, like a photo negative.

Is it a day that really exists?  Rumor is that women started proposing to men on leap days because someone (perhaps the great Saint Patrick) humored them.  If it’s a day that doesn’t officially exist, you may do those types of things.

If no one is paying attention, wouldn’t it be a great day for Aliens to visit Earth?  There are, after all, 188 elements on the periodic table, and those samples don’t collect themselves.  Any self-respecting alien would want to make it worth the trip, and a leap day would be ideal for exploring the Earth.

Little Walter McJohn was born on February 29th.  His family called him Little Walter as a joke.  Of course, he had a birthday every year, but they pretended he only had one every four years, so he was always going to be little.  After a while, he felt angry, or at least unappreciated.

One year, he thought, one time I want to have a real party for my birthday, in a place where everyone knows it’s a special day.

Anthony, TX and Anthony, NM are leap year capitals.  The two Anthonys are right next to each other across the state borders.

The Anthony in Texas is in El Paso County.  Back in the day, when Texas was not yet its own country, the legend is that leap folx asked the Mexican government to declare a holiday, and the Mexican government in turn asked for the Bishop’s dispensation to celebrate.  The response was “Prohibido El Paso”.  Local leaders interpreted this to mean, what is not allowed in El Paso (nowadays bordering Old Mexico) can be enjoyed in Anthony (bordering New Mexico).

You drive on Interstate 10, and you will see a lot of things.  One of them, or actually two of them, are the towns of Anthony and Anthony.  There’s a certain amount of desert in those parts, and also the Rio Grande River, which in some places is not yet as majestic as its name implies.  So, there are places where humans would have a hard time surviving.  Funny thing, though, not all visitors to Anthony are human.

Over in Roswell, New Mexico, that’s a place where people say the aliens are.  The government captured them and keeps all the evidence there.  Well, as I mentioned, and apparently the aliens agreed with me, a leap year is a good time to visit the Earth.  In this case, it was this group of aliens’ second trip here, and they did a fly-by of Roswell.  It was about 5 PM and the museums were closing, when one of the aliens reminded her colleagues of something: she had been born on a leap year.  Now, their planet had two suns so the calculations were a bit more complicated, but she has never really fit in with birthday celebrating, for many of the same reasons Little Walter didn’t.

It was a long way back to their Alienlandia.  No one was really looking forward to the journey.  So the rest of the crew agreed to chill out in their ship while the birthday girl put on her holographic human skin and went on a short trip to the place where leap years are important.

There she stood, on Main Street of one or the other of the Anthonys, perhaps both.  A line runs down the middle of it, ostensibly to keep traffic segregated.  But tonight, the street is blocked off to make a better street party.  And that party is orbiting one particular restaurant-type warehouse structure.

He’s sitting at the bar by himself.  Checked into the motel.  Ready to mingle, and surrounded by all these other Pisces.  Should I talk to the ladies next to me, he wonders?  Tricky, though.  The polite conversation could go on all night.  Once you start talking to a Pisces, no one really knows how to stop it.

But then she walks in, like a fish out of water, forgive the astrological pun.  Is there someone in your life who just completes you?  Like, me plus one?

They have met in the middle.  He has his backpack slung on one shoulder like a man hung over.  Both hands carry the fishbowl drink.

“Hello.  My name is Walter.”

“I’m. Thirsty,” she says.  “When I see you, it is good.”

Kind of hard to place the accent and the diction.  Is she a missionary’s daughter from Transylvania?  She has quite the tan.

“This dacquiri is, I mean, really much too big for one person.  Shall we get two straws?  Don’t worry, I don’t have cooties.”
And so they drink it up that much more efficiently.

“If people from another planet were watching us right now, they would be amazed at our:
food portions
audacity
self-concept”

“I love to make lists!” she squeals.

Well, that could mean two things, he thinks.  Lists of all the boys that have been her beaus.  It could also mean lists of her favorite classic cars, or, say, sexual positions.  So many things Walter wants to learn tonight, so someday he can make a bigger list.

“How about those drinks?” he asks.  “What kind of person would drink those at home?  I guess it’s only hurricane time when you’re with people.”

“Oh, just one night to be with people.”

He thinks she’s talking about leap year birthday people.

“Happy Birthday to you, Thirsty lady.”

 

“So much to love tonight!  Tonight is paradise.  Tonight is Days of Sears & Roebucks.”

 

The way she spoke, it made him feel very safe.  He felt safe nowhere.  That is, back home, which was Sacramento, which was nowhere, made him feel very safe, also.

Now, Sacramento has many sister cities.  The capital of the country of Moldova is one sister of the capital of the State of California.  They both are known for their wine.  So maybe it’s not that big a stretch.

Just a moment of reflection he was having, and she’s going for it.  It was a new one for Walter, to have a girl making out with him at all, but especially without him having to make a move.  Yes, he would go with it.

Making out in front of all these other Pisces.  Who are averting their eyes because, why pry.  Making out has never been this great.  Her tongue is doing all sorts of acrobatics in his mouth.  It almost feels like there’s a slit down the middle.

He pauses for breath.

“I really feel like we have a connection.” he says.  “Thank you for listenin’ to me.”

“Listenin’” she says, “ain’t on the periodic table.”

Back to his hotel they are going.  Can they take the drink with them?  Out on the street?  Depends if they’re on the Texas side or the New Mexico side.  I guess they’ll have to walk on the yellow line just to be safe.

“Oh no, Thirsty.  I’d rather keep the lights off.”

“Fine,” she sighs.  “Then you won’t see me get undressed.  I don’t know if I’m stifling or sweltering in here.”

“You must be havin’ one hot February 29th!”

Before he knows it, they’re doing it.  She calls him Big Daddy.  Shouldn’t all the Little Walters of the world have one day to be Big?

Wow.  He lies back to take a breath.  And already she’s ready to go again.  He makes the international sign to be gentle.  She touches his forehead, source of all the myths such as the refractory period, the square root of minus one, and the Loch Ness Monster.  Well he certainly feels stronger and harder and more rational now, just from her touch.

She’s almost too good to be true.  She has electric magic, and a forked tongue, and, is she the devil?  Nah, he says to himself with a smile, everyone knows the devil ain’t a woman.

It is daybreak when she tiptoes out.  She has assumed another humanlike disguise.  She carries a hurricane drink glass, full of the smegma samples she has collected.  These will go back to the ship, which swings by to beam her any which way it can.

 

Her crewmates great her warmly.  They love DNA.  They put the hurricane glass in the freezer.  And up and away they go, high on science.

 

Epilogue.
Asks the Great Abu Bushwiq, “did she miss him?”

“Oh yes, sire, at first.”

“Faithless one, was she?”

“Not that, so much as she had no antibodies to the common rhinovirus.  She has to be quarantined for 50 years until someone found a cure.”

 

The great one ponders.  “But that means…”

“Yes, oh majestic.  He was the love of her lifetime.”

Short Story Cycle: MAGIC CARPET RIDE

Magic Carpet Ride

by Ed Malin

 

Introduction: Modal Furniture

Hello.  I want to tell you about the supernatural experiences I had over the last few weeks.

Why believe me?  Good question.  Sometimes the answers aren’t crystal clear.  Reminds me of when I started my current job, and they asked me do you have a history of mental health issues?  Not as far as I remember.

I’m certain it all started when I went shopping for furniture.  My ex had taken all of mine when we split up.  Time to refurnish.  Something I could put together and rearrange any time I damn well felt like it.  In short, modular furniture.

In the showroom, there was indeed a sign, but I thought it was a mistake because it said “Modal Furniture”.  Hey, stores that misspell things sometimes have cheaper prices.  I wished I had had a more economical ex-wife.  Too bad there were no sales team members to talk to.  Budget store, independent shoppers!  And so I sat down on a sofa.

But that was the weird part.  As long as my butt was on the sofa, I heard the music of Miles Davis.  (Plays “All Blue”.)

And I jumped up.  And the music stopped.  And I sat down. (Plays “All Blue”.)  Next to me, there was a tag.  Modal Furniture made specially for IKEA in Columbia Records.

I stood up.  Columbia Records?  Miles Davis?  Why the hell were things starting to make sense?  It was scaring me a little.  Getting me hyper over the modal furniture.

“Can anybody help me!” I yelled in a voice of quiet desperation.  No response.

I sighed and lost it. “Jesus Mary Crosby Stills and Nash.  I live in a world where everyone and everything has baggage.  Even the baggage has baggage.  I’m here to start over with a sofa which no one has made love upon, which has no ghosts, no potentialities.  Leave all that up to me.  I’m the center of my universe.  I am the world builder.  Damn it, those modules go where I say and do what I want, or else!”

And just like that, he was behind me.
“Or what?”

He was tall, and red, and smelled of sulphur.

“Are you the devil?”

“Oh come on. ‘A’ devil, maybe. Even I know I’m not unique.”

Suave, this guy was.  Such a deep voice.  Scary, sure, somewhat.  Still, there’s joy unknown in a mellow tone.

“But who are you, and where did you just come from?”

“I’m a Djinn.  And I came out of this sofa.”

“I always wondered how to pronounce that.  With the D’jinn type of thing.”

“And now you know.”

“So, Mr. Djinn.  Where are you from originally?”

“From Dijon.”

“In France?”

“Yup.  Where the mustard comes from.  Grey Poupon.”

“Are you French?”

“I am British.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Here. I’ve got this book for you.”

“Oh, thanks.”

The Djinn from Dijon was waving at me a coffee-table guide to something or other.  On second glance, it was titled Sofa and was written by Crébillon, Fils, a dude who flourished before the French Revolution.  When someone is wearing a wig like that, you say they have flourished.

“May I call you Dijon?”

“The name’s Archibald.”

“Archibald, why was your soul living in that sofa?”

“The book you are holding explains the general principle.”

I sat down, and listened to the B side of the Miles Davis album while I read.

Aside: “Do we need to tell the audience what modal music is?

“Yes, Archibald, we should be very transparent about this.  Many of us are used to tonal music, where there are tonic chords and keys like C major.  Modal music uses diatonic scales that are not necessarily major or minor and does not use functional harmony as we understand it within tonality.  That is why this particular album we have been listening to was so exciting at the time.”

“Thank you.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

I was reading this book, called Sofa.  Reincarnation had something to do with it.  If you were lustful, you could be reborn inside a water bed and have to endure years of people fornicating on top of you.  Oh, my dear ex-wife, you have a bright next life in store for you.  My companion was looking heated, as devils often do.

“And I vow to destroy the wankers and stinkers and rotters that did this to me.”

“Do you know where they are?”

“In Rotterdam!”

“Sounds like a dangerous place.”

“Come along with me.”

“Sure why not.  I love those frites they have there.”

“You will see justice.  Not swift justice, for it will take us a week to fly there.”

“On a plane?”

“No. On my magic carpet.”

“Nice.  I guess frites is a dish best served cold.”

“While we fly there, I will tell you stories.”

“Will I get wishes?”

“Only if you ask for them.”

“Cool.”

“There is a way to ask for such things.  You will learn how, if you pay attention.  We need to have this in place in case somebody like Donald Trump discovers a magic lamp.  No control over what he wants.  I sense you have a lot of self-editing going on.”

“That’s what happens when you’re a self-publisher.  Say, is Donald Trump a rotter?  And if so, can we take him out, too?”

“Possibly. The current mission will take a few weeks. So if there still is a world left when we are done, we can discuss the next steps.”

Before I knew it, we were leaving the showroom. ‘Wait a minute, crazy person,’ I thought to myself.  ‘How can you just fly away like this with some Jersey Devil- you really don’t know if he’s French or not?  Don’t you have to tell someone? How about your boss, Mr. Patel, the head of I.T. at your company?  And yet, I.T. had never seemed so virtual, so ethereal.  A magic carpet couldn’t be any worse.  What about your physician, Dr. Patel, who was going to check your blood pressure medication next week?  Or your landlord, Mrs. Patel?  Or your R.O.T.C. contact, Sergeant Patel over at Fort Dix?  You are part of something greater than yourself – for lack of a better word, a Patel-o-Rama.  Well, you can’t say Patel-o-Rama because it sounds like the god Rama.  Instead, say Poly-Patel-Plurality.

Good bye for now, New Jersey.  We are lifting up from the IKEA parking lot.  No one asked to see any receipts for a carpet this big.  And it really does fly.

“So my, friend, we will be at this a long time.  I will tell you one story for every day of our journey.”

“Cool.  That sounds like The Decameron.”

“No it doesn’t.”

I awoke to find clouds in my nose.  The carpet was quite comfy, making me wish nature had a snooze button.
Archibald smiled at me, handed me an extra soft facial tissue.  And then he told this story.

 

Day 1: Five Second Golden Rule

Many parents and caregivers love the five-second rule: if you drop food on the ground, you may pick it up and eat it within five seconds.  Things are just clean within that grace period.  Why not, if everybody agrees on it?

(Non-parent and caregiver types may be scratching their heads at this one.  I’m sure you can find enough people to agree with you, too.)

Plenty of folks from both groups know the golden rule: “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor, that is the whole Torah”.  (This form of the rule comes from the great Rabbi Hillel).

Well, one day a great revelation occurred to a bunch of psychologist and social worker types. They were attending a conference at a think-tank called Paths to Self-Starting Righteousness. They had back-to-back symposia that day, and someone was passing around a platter of hummus sandwiches.

While the talk on transference was winding down and applause rang out in the auditorium, one audience member failed to transfer the platter of sandwiches to the next person in the row.

There was quite a lot of applause, so not everyone there noticed the hummus returning to the earth, as it were.  But the two spectators involved in the platter incident made eye contact, and whether or not anyone was watching, they smiled as though to say, this should not divide us.  I’m OK, you’re OK, the sandwiches will survive. The feeling of sandwich forgiveness, one might even say bridge-building, was palpable.  The sandwiches had only been on the ground for 5 seconds, why not pick them up and eat them?

At first, these golden fives were most easily negotiated among people you might call do-gooder types.

However, what are labels really worth, anyway?

I heard a story that, even before the word got out about the phenomenon, others were randomly discovering it.  Can I be less vague?  Well, OK.  In a busy urban center, at lunch time, a very white collar looking guy in a suit was turning a corner and bumped right into a police officer.  Wouldn’t you know it—this professional-looking guy was so jarred that a little bag of medical herbs fell right out of his coat pocket onto the pavement.  He looked at the cop.  The cop looked at him.  Then, they both blurted out: “five second rule” and quickly picked up and were on their respective ways.

A few blocks later, two cars collided.  The driver of the Honda quickly got out, went over to the driver of the Jaguar, and brought him the hood ornament which had been knocked off.  Dealing with insurance companies is tedious, isn’t it?  “Five second rule,” they muttered.  Wouldn’t you know it, that Jaguar ornament screwed right back on.

Later that night, a couple on their first date were in bed having quite the time.  From the expression on his face, she knew that things had escalated.  Then they both remembered that, in their enthusiasm, they had forgotten certain precautions.  “Five second rule?” he ventured.  Actually, that last one is an urban legend and no one really tried it again.

The forgiveness factor was catching on.

The next phase came at a meeting of the shareholders of GlobiNax Bank.

“Gold?  I can dig it!” was what one bigwig was saying just as the Chairman came back from the Executive Washroom.

“While you fellows were talking about gold, the doo-doo has usually hit the fan.”

“Right you are. It’s this whole climate of loan defaulting.”

By the end of the meeting, GlobiNax had agreed on 5% debt forgiveness up to Five Trillion Dollars.

When the U.N. heard about this, they had a meeting with certain Middle Eastern diplomats. It had only been 50 years since Jordan and Egypt kicked out the U.N. peacekeepers, leading to a devastating war. Did they want to apologize? Sure, what the hell! Pass the peace pipe. Israel withdrew its forces the next day.

Change seemed to snowball after that.  All the major paranoid, excuse me, superpowers had been working on time machine research for a long time. They knew they were all getting older, and they really wanted to finish this impossible work so they could throw the switch and go back and see the pyramids and meet Napoleon. I mean, isn’t that usually what people say they want to do with a time machine? Well, working together, they did that. And, yes, the Sphinx looked amazing with its nose still attached.

But then, the nerds had a great idea. That brought some scholars and translators and historians onboard. And a few costume designers. Together, they went back in time and had a nice talk with Saint Paul, just asking him to stick to the live stuff and tone down the stuff about revenge against the Jews. After a few more stops to chat with select Roman Emperors, a few Caliphs, Genghis Khan, Torquemada and Martin Luther, they had avoided lots and lots of twisted conflicts. It’s never really too late to set back the clock, is it?

Meanwhile, everybody else woke up the next morning not realizing what had been done to make the world so congenial. The only thing they knew was that the five second golden rule works.

“Top of the morning to ya!” proclaimed Archibald from 35,000 feet.

“Hello,” I yawned.
“Sorry, no local newspaper is available.”

“Tea and coffee?”
“Yes, go to my magic samovars anytime you want.”

“Well, look at those beauties!”

“And while you’re helping yourself, I will share this tale with you.”

Day 2: Like A Bergen Record

“Just going around and around like a Bergen Record.” That’s what my co-workers in Daytona Beach, Florida said.

To me, it seemed like a normal thing to say. This had been the name of my local newspaper, which at one time during my childhood I had delivered.  How did all of these people much younger people, who grew up so far away from me, with such different ways of expressing themselves, have access to the things that my brain put together from dusty old personal experiences?

Putting those thoughts, taken from my head, into a simulacrum world.

Not that this was the first time it happened. Last month, I had been standing at a public restroom mirror double-checking my eyebrows. I often do this when I feel unbalanced in some other way. A passerby eyed me obliquely (no pun intended, that’s just the angle of our relation) and made some obscure, good-natured wisecrack about the Buckeyes. When you’re working in South Florida, is a stranger likely to know that you went to school in Ohio and could they be reasonably expected to be ready to make a joke out of nowhere?

Even the I.R.S. seemed in on it; they made some deductions about me that were very, very personal. Also, the plumber knew exactly how emotionally backed up I was.

After a long day of work, I cracked the case.  I was sprawled on my bed, my cat looking down from the headboard right into my eyes. My cat has very bjg, wide eyes, in which I can see my whole head.

As I looked up into my reflection in the cat’s eyes, I saw something about my face was not right

Just to the side of my temple, there was a panel open. There was a hole open in the side of my face-small enough but too big to ignore.

How to adjust yo’ head? Handstands? Running at a wall? Sunlamp? Racquetball and hope for a hit?

I went to the beach. Everyone who looked in my direction, I thought they were reading my thoughts. Could the tremble of the hairs on my lower lip be telling them things?

Too much fear in my face, I walked right into the water. Surely the sounds of the waves would blot out my open book of brain waves.

But as I was about to dunk my head in the salty water, an old puzzle made me pause. They say it’s hard to prove that you’re a human and not a robot.

Wouldn’t robots be more likely to have openable holes like the one in my head?

Well. Of course. But, no, there is no of course. Robots would have some built-in block against wading into the ocean. Not a robot! After all these years, I finally knew. Hopefully.

I was dunking my head under.  Ooh, the water was not really cleaner than the Jersey shore.  Dumb Florida beach culture.

What was I expecting to happen next?  A salt water osmosis cure?  Well, I heard the teeniest bit of clanging over by my ear.  I tilted my head so the water would come out my ear, and the other hole.  Also, a shiny key tumbled out of my head.  Looked like a hotel room key?  Or maybe it opened a safe deposit box.  Maybe all of my problems were documented there, and all of my memories were there in hard copy.  Great!  Except, how will I know where to put this key?

 

I snapped awake to a majestic view of sunshine through the white clouds.
As my eyes focused, some of them looked like animals, and others like mountains.
“Panda!”
“Oh, you noticed that, too?” Archibald asked.

“Don’t they, though?”
“I think it’s time for the skiing story,” he said.

 

Day 3: Summer Goes Skiing

Summer Whitman recalled having some misgivings about the scholarship.  There she was, about to start her run at the Olympics.  What an absolutely strange time to be thinking about this.  An entire snowy mountain course lay beneath the tips of her skis.

She had turned down a school because of their mascot.  She was no hater.  She even had been known to be a fan of the Western Wasps.

But when the acceptance letter came, “I can’t do this anymore” was what she thought. “No one will define me!  I will go to that other school in the mountains.”

And then she got so serious about slalom that she abandoned most of her childhood friends.

Pisco Benedetti was her muse, her enabler, the one her parents had to thank for all of her straying from their designs.  When she felt like saying she couldn’t oppose her parents, Pisco asked “why? Why stop now?”  Pisco was six foot seven and drove a ’78 Chevy.

That time when she failed French Lit, on purpose. Proust is long-winded.  Even the title <<À la Recherche de Temps Perdu>> is long.  She refused to refer to this work by name, always calling it <<À la Recherche du Pain Perdu>>.  Less imagery, but more tasteful.

“Let’s try this again,” she said to the spiraling target inside of her.  Got to stay a step ahead.  The pole comes down, push off and who has time to think?

“If all I’m doing is spiting my parents, am I doing anything for myself?  Let’s see what the great moral philosophers have said about this.  As far as Marcus Aurelius is concerned, how you feel about the action is its own joy, or at any rate its own lack of improper rejoicing.   Some proudly say that opposing a tyrant is everything, even if you yourself die in the process.  Down to the Zen practicioners, Linji Yixuan might add “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha” taking us into the place where even asking this question is second-guessing ourselves.

She decided to forego all the standard holiday greetings.  Instead, when well-wished, she would respond with what sounded like “Merry Wooster-mass!”  Those who could imagine such a thing were imaginative indeed.

What better way to prove that she was her own person than to discover that she was adopted into the Whitman family? She based this fanatical belief on two pieces of evidence, both of which were acronyms.  Once, she swore her mother’s face turned paler than white when an advertisement for I.V.F. came on the television.  Another time, quite randomly, she asked her father if he liked the song Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin.  At which point, it very much looked like her father was mouthing the letters C.A.A.  “But why?!” she muttered to herself as she went to do an internet search.  This led her to a defunct company she had never heard of: Christian Ascension Airlines.    It looked to have been very wholesome.  All the pilots had been men, and every woman who worked on the planes got the special title “Stewardess of Christendom”.  There had been a scandal, though.  Above 10,000 feet, several of these ladies had reported “immaculate conceptions”.  This had not become public knowledge at first.   Several babies had been placed by the adoption agency, Good, Gracious & Mary.  It was only after C.A.A. began to run out of in-flight assistants that anyone suspected the pilots of carnal lust unbefitting soldiers of Christ (C.L.U.S.O.C.).  After C.L.U.S.O.C. sunk C.A.A., and at a time when decent, religious people didn’t try I.V.F., might the Whitmans have adopted through G.G.M.?

It was all hard to prove, especially after the advent (for lack of a better word) of paternity tests made G.G.M. unprofitable.

“Who am I?” you might ask yourself if you are ever an Olympic athlete.  “Summer Whitman is no snowflake!” she felt like yelling at the white mountain.  If one knows oneself, does one feel unique, like the proverbial snowflake?  (Not that the Jewish book of Proverbs refers to snowflakes, and not that any Inuit book of sayings mentions snowflakes in a way that is abnormal).  In space, for the small number of humans who have visited, is uniqueness a comforting thing?

Summer Whitman then thought of Ernst Cassirer, the Jewish philosopher who left Germany while the Nazis were burning his books.  He seemed to have offended people by liking Kantian idealism more than the so-called pure Germans did.  Is there one hard-wired symbolic way of seeing the world?  Could be?  OK, so, by the same token, do our parents know any more about the way the world is than we do?  Why would they?

Next question: “If I win a medal today, is it for me or is it for the United States?  Or if I don’t win, who loses?”

“Isn’t it fun to become one with this mountain?”

Half-way down.  Pisco is waiting for me at the bottom.  He is cheering for me.  He will always cheer for me.

Isn’t that enough?

In the morning….but is it really morning when you are so close to the sun?

Through my half-closed eyes, I saw Archibald playing head games.  The most interesting of these involved his throwing a hula hoop up in the air and trying to catch it on one of his horns.  If he was extra-accurate, he would land it on both bad boys.

“How on earth do you do it?” I asked.
“That is a question I can easily answer,” said Archibald, although I choose not to.

Listen now, to a tale of a great historical pickle.”

 

 

Day 4: What If Dostoyevsky Liked Jews?

Imagine a man with a beard.  This man is Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky is famous for two things.  He was born in 1821 in Moscow and died in 1881.  When a young lad, he met with other friends in a room to read books.  The Tsar’s government saw this as an assassination plot, and so Dostoyevsky was sent to prison to Siberia.  When he was released, started writing books of his own including the very long The Brothers Karamazov.  It is now known that at the time his death the author had plans to write two sequels to The Brothers Karamazov.  However, were these the real last works of Dostoyevsky?

Modern scholarship says no.

Dostoyevsky was in fact making plans to translate his earlier books in Yiddish.

Enter the translator, Sholem Aleichem.

Born in 1859 in the vicinity of Kiev, this gentleman came from humble origins and went on the write the Tevye stories which inspired Fiddler on the Roof.

What did these men have in common?  A great interest in the common people, certainly, and powerful ethical drives.

The two writers met several times in the early 1880s and filled several notebooks of ideas for the Yiddish translations.

Regrettably, Dostoyevsky died on February 9th, 1881.  On March 13th, the Tsar was assassinated.  An official inquiry grudgingly concluded that Dostoyevsky could not be responsible.  So, Russia blamed the Jews.  The persecution that ensued eventually forced Sholem Aleichem to flee Russia.  He emigrated from Odessa to America in 1905 and lived on New York’s Lower East Side.

 

Here are hints at the lost Yiddish classics.

 

“Der Schmuck”

Originally called The Idiot, this is the story of Prince Myshkin, a holy fool who in the course of the story fails to prevent a murder, inherit lots of money, or get laid.  What a nudnik!

 

“The Three Putzes”

The classic Brothers Karamazov.  The three brothers certainly have their faults.  One likes religion so much that he could care less that all the girls think he’s sweet and sensitive.  One is a drunk but otherwise nice.  One is innocent of all conflict except…he doesn’t have anything good to say about his father.  Unacceptable!  There is a courtroom scene which seems to take hundreds of pages.  Sholem Aleichem’s notes suggest that adding Talmudic opinions would add to the drama and length of the trial.  Also, this book guests stars both Jesus and the Devil, but not in the same scene.  The notes hint at a confrontation which some Jews would like to see.

 

“A Shande Far De Goyim”

Known to most as Crime and Punishment, this book deals with a guy who murders to see if he can get away with it.  Very Jewish, remarked both author and translator in their notes.  The guilt!  How could you do such a thing!  What’s the matter with you!

 

“A Book About Nothing”

Another famous book is sometimes translated as The Possessed or The Devils.  Characters in this book enjoy talking about Nihilism.  Thus the suggested new title.

 

“Fine, Be In Pain”

The novella Notes From Underground is about an angry, anti-social kvetch.   In addition to his other issues, he has a toothache.  A Jewish curse be upon him.

 

Some of the other short works were considered for their appeal to a Yiddish audience.

“Poor People” was thought to have an instant market niche.

“The Gambler” did not strike Dostoyevsky and Sholem Aleichem as being very Jewish.  (These were the days before Bugsy Siegel and Jewish Las Vegas.)

 

Though it is sad that these books were never published, we should be happy.

Unlike in Tsarist Russia, we can legally read as many books as we want.

Amen.

The next morning, I stared ahead of myself.
“Why must we live in a world of such injustice?” I soliloquized
“Life is what you make it,” replied Archibald.

This guy, right?  I spend my life clawing my way to the middle.  Suddenly I’m up on top of the world.  Dare I say, “should’ve been somebody else?”  And then he told me this one.

 

 

 

 

Day 5: Rainbow Lottery

Dear Nebraska State Lottery,

Attention: Ms. Elizabeth Linden-Rahway, Commissioner

August 15, 1982

 

It has taken me some time to summon the courage and write you this letter.

 

For years, I have been a regular rainbow lotto ticket buyer, and a card-carrying homosexual.

Actually, the only card I can carry for the latter is the rainbow ticket I buy.

 

I enjoy the randomized thrill of the game.  I love your tasteful advertisements.  I am overjoyed that when I purchase a rainbow lotto, my money counts just as much as anyone else’s.  If the census took place more frequently, it would be like your organization; that is how much I esteem your work.

 

However, could you do something about the way the tickets are sold, please?

 

Now, Liz, if I may call you that, don’t you think it’s a bit limiting that I have to go up to the nice man and ask for “straight and boxed”?

 

Just think of how that sounds.

 

Then think of the visuals of the lottery drawings which I watch on my color TV.  See the balls of every color, jumping around screaming “draw me”.  Dream of a brave new world.

 

I would prefer if “straight” could be changed to “straight-acting”.

 

It’s not that much of a stretch in our state of Nebraska.  This is a place where, perhaps you have heard, the phrase “steers and queers” pertains.  There are a lot of steers, and also lots more people who would buy rainbow lotto if they could ask for “straight-acting”.

Try it and see.

 

In the same vein, I am not comfortable asking for “boxed”.  Why?  I do like to think outside the box, and anyway, as you may know, there is (for some) an unwelcome association with organs.  Let’s change “boxed” to “personally meaningful combination”.

This one is going to be a hard sell for you, Liz, or may I call you Lez?

 

See, I have been watching you, Ms. Elizabeth Linden-Rahway.  I know that when you were at NU, you were in love with another woman.  I went to that fine institution at the same time you did.  I used to see you attend games and cheer for our beloved Cornhuskers.  I saw you with your girlfriend, whom you took back to your dorm to do some cornhusking of your own.

 

I know you didn’t get a hyphenated name from sticking with the one you loved.  Think back to the world you wanted to live in.  Now, be the change you want to see in the world.

 

Make Nebraska, starting with its lottery, a beacon until all the nations.

 

Sincerely,

Juan-Manuel Sebastian Peralta Jimenez de Jesus

1396 Boys Town Road

Omaha, NE

As I awoke and stretched, I felt a momentary sadness.
“What’s wrong?” asked Archibald?
“Just a little homesick for New Jersey,” I ventured.

“What do you miss about it?”
“Those moment of peace, you know?  Also, George Washington.  And tomatoes.”
“Ah, in that case let me tell you one of those old-time stories.”

 

 

Day 6: Journey to Intercourse

The boy wanted to be old enough to do what adults did, namely discover intercourse.  He thought about this a lot, especially when he was feeling devilish. His parents were surprised to discover that he had run away from home. No one had ever run away from Western Central Maryland before.  Perhaps some had wanted to, but the region was not known for its ways out.

Statistically speaking, it was a miracle that they found him. Given that he was a twelve year-old youth and they were fifty, they didn’t often discuss their feelings. The mother entered a golden age of discovery that day: she discovered her son was missing, she discovered his diary, and, through reading it, she discovered what feelings are.

Who was this person she had raised? What were his hopes and dreams? Also, what was this thing he wrote about so much in the diary: intercourse? She had to look it up in the dictionary.  For some reason she did not understand, when she told her husband “I’m going to look up intercourse in the dictionary”, he started to laugh.

Was the kid pulling their leg?  “Why go out of your way to find out about THAT?”

The father, who played golf, tended the family’s vineyard and otherwise spent time on phallic-themed activities, was able to empathize just a bit more than the mother.

Where on earth was their son? Should they call the police?

The diary had a cover thick with a collage of photos cut from magazines and dailies.  People with different mouths cut out and placed on their faces.  “What does it say?” asked the father.  The mother gulped as she read the first line:

“Better intercourse than intersectionality.  We can’t have that! ”

“Well, bless me,” murmured the mother, criss-cross-apple-saucing herself for good measure.

She continued: “Maryland is for Virgins!  Delaware is where the sales tax and the IQs average out.  But Pennsylvania is where the plot thickens.  I think I have found the straight and narrow road to Intercourse.”

The father smiled at the mother.  “The boy, he went to the town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania.”

“Don’t talk claptrap like that.  No such place.”

“Indeed there is,” said the father, who is me.  “Go past Bird In Hand, and Rough and Ready, and Climax.  Those are all towns. Then you ride the Hershey Highway and you’re there. Let me gas up the Oldsmobile, and we shall drive ourselves there.”

I knew our boy.  He would stick out in such a place.

After the reunion in Intercourse, we could not talk at first.

But we were hungry, and there were Amish pretzels.

Twisted in mystery, like life.

The son ate three whole pretzels. Finally, he spoke to me. The first thing he said, or asked, was if he could have a beer.

I didn’t see why not. All that salt. And besides, we weren’t Mormons.

As he drank, I asked him if Intercourse had lived up to his expectations.

“Hardly,” he replied.

“Why? ” I asked.

He hedged.  “Twelve years of looking forward to this.”

‘This is the difference between our generations,’ I only thought.

To him, I said more loudly than I had planned, “When I was your age, we didn’t have expectations!”

“When you were my age,” he said, “there weren’t even any Oldsmobiles, that’s how old you are!”

And then we heard it.  The crash of a beer stein.  Mother had knocked hers to the floor.  We stared, in shock.  Amish folks stared, too, not sure what kind of technology had made that sound.

Mother cleared her throat and said, “If I got annoyed at my expectations, how could I get up in the morning?  You can always make new ones.  Kinda like how you can always make a better car than an Oldsmobile.  Just ask the Japanese!”

An Amish girl made eye contact with my son and giggled.  This girl, we later found out, had seen Japan.  On a map.  Maps were allowed by god.  That’s how he wanted us to know the Earth isn’t flat.  The Amish knew they once came to America.

What’s really all so wrong about going to new places?

 

That last story had certainly inspired dreams of traveling. Now, it’s a new day full of motion.

I woke, suddenly feeling very grateful that my companion and I argue very little.  What kind of trip would it be if we were in each other’s faces all the time?  Or maybe we just didn’t know each other well enough to be offensive.

“Well,” said Archibald, when he saw I was awake, “so much non-stop moving about.  It’s like being an apostle.  Oh, now I know which story to tell you today.”

 

 

Day 7: Bathing in Pisidia

Paul eased into the bath.

Ahh, this is the best part of being a Roman, he thought.

It was hot as Gehenna in here, but all the concomitant sweating had a markedly salubrious effect.

For the most part, Paul liked what the Romans had done with the province.

But still.

There’s always a but still, he thought as he eased his butt into the still waters.

Couldn’t they have put a less weird name on top of the ancient “Antiochia in Pisidia”?

Antioch. That would be a little better. Sounds like medicine of some kind, but hey.

The sun shone yellow on the waters of the bath.  Pisidia was a lovely province, if one gave it a chance.
Paul went through his sermon in his mind.  Israelites in the desert, really dusty, 40 years.  It felt mercilessly terrible compared to this luxurious bath.
Wherefore did the Jews not merit such mercy?, he thought, although he was a Jew himself.
Better keep my bottom half in this bath so no one spots the Semite, he thought.

The Lord will bathe you in golden waters, will He not?  Aren’t they all going to line up to convert?
Paul turned towards Barnabas, who was at the other end of the tub.
“Excuse me my brother, should we change that last part to ‘golden shower of Holiness’”?

Barnabas just smiled.  And had not Barnabas come to ask for Paul’s help with the repositioning of Antioch?
“Sorry, my friend,” Paul said to Barnabas.  This is a joint effort, not some pissing contest.

It all started coming out of me.  Love and patience and kindness and the stuff that people really want to hear.  I should do more writing in the bath.

Barnabas breathed deeply and smiled some more.  And it was though the Lord had made the waters even more golden.

I woke up on the flying carpet, ready for a day I knew was coming.  This was supposed to be the day we would land prepared for vengeance.

I turned to Archibald.  He was smiling at the city that lay before us.  It looked European, all right.

We touched down, magically folded the carpet into a backpack, and walked.  What a great feeling, having my feet on solid ground.

I was looking down at those feet as I walked, which must have been why I bumped right into my companion.  That and the fact he had stopped in his tracks.

“Something smells wrong about this place.”

“I dunno,” I mused.  “I love the odor of fresh-roasting waffles.”

“Don’t you see, mate, this is not Rotterdam?”

“Really?  Well, where are we, then?”

Archibald frowned.  “I could have sworn I saw the many waterways below us: the Rhine, the Meuse, the Scheldt.”

“I, too, saw waterways,” I offered.

“Indeed.  However, those were canals, and this is Bruges.”

“Are we far off course?”

“Not really.  We’re in Belgium.  In a city which was not destroyed in World War II.  Rotterdam does not have this level of beauty, unfortunately.”

I whispered to Archibald.  “Is it still safe for us to continue to our destination?
Are they on to us?”

Archibald acted like he knew.  Then, he spoke.  “Those with a strong sense of the ontological.  Only they would be on to us.”

“Are you getting philos—“

“Philosopher?  I hardly know her!”

Oh, that funny, marauding, evil guy.

“But seriously, I continued.  I know that Bruges is an old city, and they have the College of Europe.”
“Oh in that case, we’re fine.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked
“Because the devil is in the details, and they’re busy studying very big ideas like Europe which proves they don’t notice any details.”

“May I at least grab a waffle before we go?”

“OK fine.”

“And, how can I say this, are there any toilets here?  We’ve been flying through the air for seven days.”

“You are high maintenance today.”

Soon we were aloft once more, and I asked my companion to tell me a story.

 

 

Day 8: Petition for Clemenceau

The following are excerpts from an excessively long brief in the French legal archives, dated 30 October, 1956.

See you in court at Paris-la-Défense!  You Beaujolais-drinking bastard!

Today, there is a major world conflict in the Suez that really only concerns France.  What concerns France concerns me and I am concerned that you have not been punished.
I know the eyes of history will pass over this litigation, but, Sacre Bleu, I will defend my honor.

By all that’s holy!  By Camembert and Aznavour!  In the name of Peugeot, the fastest race cars that only our nation cares about!

I was ‘armed by your negligence.  If we were in Belgium, Luxembourg or Monaco, we would still be under the Napoleonic Code.  There, the law favors the little guy!  Even so, I have lots of fight in me, so watch your step.  In the Court of Chancery you would ‘ave not a chance, because I’m gonna assize you up.

I remember it well.  My family planned a vacation to Tunis.   My children wanted to see the famous aquarium at Sharif el-Sharq.  You booked our trip, which was to take us down to Marseille and connect us to a boat.  But you as driver did not equip us with a Peugeot, or a Citroen.  Only a Volkswagen bus.  The tragedies of that day were mostly averted, but they were caused by you!  We crashed into a truck delivering Roquefort to La Rochefoucauld.  Some cheeses are meant to be savored during the standard two-hour French déjeuner.  It is not the same when your entire family smells like sheep products for many days.  No one would let us on the boat smelling like that. Finally, we couldn’t take it anymore and we all bathed in champagne (Appellation protégée).  We want you to reimburse us for our agony and the considerable expense of wine from a certain region.

The only good thing about any of this was, by the time we got to Beirut, we did not take shit from anyone.  I am starting to prefer the “Paris of the Middle East” to any type of Paris that has you as a resident.

I will sue the petites-culottes off of you, you scheming so and so.

 

With utmost respect,
Étienne-Claude Petit-John Balthus Honoré Beaugrand Clementine, fils

 

The sun and the carpet also riseth.  I could hardly contain myself, so I asked.  “Is it Rotterdam this time?”

Archibald looked down on the industrialized city that connected the sea to so much of the continent.

He nodded.  And then he shook his head.

“Listen, my friend.  I have had an additional day to consider what I am to do here.  It is best for you not to witness my wrath.”

 

Secretly, I rejoiced. “Look at me, I’m just a reserve officer.  I don’t want to be in combat, not if I can help it.  How much more did I wish to avoid some bizarre devil’s vendetta?

 

“Should I?” I dared.

 

“Yes,” Archibald agreed.  “You can be my getaway carpet.”  And so, at the appointed place, I sat out in the fresh air waiting.  The frites were warm.  I felt my heart beating.  Everything seemed to be the way it should be.  It made me wonder how these people had earned so much fury.  And also how they were even still alive if they had placed Archibald inside a sofa so many years ago.  Or was he taking revenge on the descendants of some jerk?  The Old World is peculiar.  Certainly beautiful but, let’s face it, the cycle of violence was getting old.
When Archibald returned and we rose into the air, I was grateful.  And suddenly tired.

Upon awakening, I asked Archibald where we were.
“Norway,” he thought.

Ah, soon we would cross the boundary again.  We breathed sighs of relief, and then Archibald told me this story.

 

 

Day 9: Better Boundaries Bureau

One day, I put a 700-page novel by Proust (the great French aesthete) in the washing machine, set it to “delicate”.  When I took it out, I had a 100-page novel by Kawabata (the first Japanese to win the Nobel Prize for Literature).

That’s the latest in a line of compact innovations.

Soon after, Honda’s engineers figured out how to put the engine of an enormous American car on its side and came up with the normal-sized Japanese car.

So it’s a matter of perspective, sometimes you can shift things.

But the first time this happened, to my knowledge, was on August 12, 1856, David S. Hoyt, an antislavery activist in Kansas, was killed by a party of conservative proponents of slavery from Fort Saunders, Douglas County.

Hoyt was shot after trying to negotiate a truce. In his breast pocket was a map of the state, which was soaked with blood.  This is where we get the expression “Bleeding Kansas”.

In this case, the problems of the day were resized (for informational purposes) to a map one could carry around.

Nowadays, do you know someone who can take all of the horrible things happening in the world and put them in their peripheral vision, making them so small they can comfortably go about their business without noticing where they put those problems?

But they’re still there.

Is there one blind spot, one direction they might turn which would bring all those problems back? Turning behind?

Another day, way up high.  Carpet like speeding train.

“How fast are we going,” I asked.

The answer involved knots.

“Speed freaks, aren’t we?”  Archibald flashed me a very toothy grin, and began to tell a tale.

 

Day 10: The Tégévarien

Arnault sat smiling in the Paris Gare du Nord transit police detention center.  It was hard to see that Arnault was smiling, because his jaw was held in a medical restraint which allowed only the hint of mouth motion.  Was there a reason for this?  Yes, of course!  Arnault had been apprehended with his lips around the end of a high speed train, which in France has the letters TGV written on it.  He looked like he was about to eat the thing before it could leave the station en route to Amsterdam.  The authorities had problems communicating with Arnault, and so brought his mother in to help with questions, at which point the restraint was dispensed with.  Aware of Arnault’s dietary constraints, she had brought with her a basket of fresh tomatoes, carrots and broccoli.

Detective Alain-Fournier asked “You mean he’s a…”

Arnault nodded and affirmed, “Tégévarien!”

“And he’s dyslexic, too,” his mother noted.

Detective Grand-Meaulnes snapped his fingers.  “He attacked the Tégévé.”  By this, the Detective meant the high speed train, or “Train de Grand Vitesse”.

Detective Alain-Fournier piped up “A dyslexic végétarien who thinks he’s a Tégévarien!”

Arnault, who sat behind a plexiglass divider, opened his mouth extremely wide and swallowed an entire pineapple in one go.

Arnault then paused and stamped his foot.  “They can’t leave.”

“Leave what?” asked Detective Grand-Meaulnes.

“Leave the E.U.”

“Are we to understand that you ate that train in an attempt to stop Brexit?”

The detectives looked questioningly at Arnault’s mother.

She sighed and said, “It’s his father that he gets that from.   That man is such a big mouth.”

 

Oh wow, a marvellous morning to behold.  No sign of jetlag, or a hangover, or anything like that.
“How come it’s like that?” I asked?
I could tell you, offered Archibald, but instead I’m going to share this story.

 

Day 11: Teetotaling Totalitarianism

“Go ahead,” I said to the uniformed policeman, “search my entire body for vodka.”

“Why should I?” he asked.

“You seem to think I have some,” I snorted.

“Your breath smells like nail polish remover,” said the officer.

“Well, I have got some news for you,” I belched.

“I bet you’re going to tell me you’re a member of the Party,” he insinuated.

“Not even close,” I sighed. “I am a degenerate who does not believe in doing work.”

“You could still be in the Party,” the officer reminded me.

“It is not I who is sleezy enough to be in the Party,” I fulminated, “but my brother, Vyacheslav Yiorgoff.”

The name fell like a thunderbolt.

“Yiorgoff’s brother, did you say?” he whispered.

“The same. I am Arkady Papyrovich Yiorgoff.”

The officer fiddled with his epaulette.  “I did not know that the Chairman Plenipotentiate’s brother was in the capital.”

“Neither does he,” I chortled.

“May I see your travel permit?” hazarded the officer.

I fished out a fishy-smelling document from my pocket.

“Oh, Private Third Class,” noted the officer.

“Yes,” I segued, “I always get myself a private, third class car on my journey to the capital.”

“Goodness.  It costs 75 kopecks for the whole car.”

“It does, comrade.”

“I am sorry, brother of the Chairman-comrade, but there is still the matter of the alcohol.”

“Are you telling me that your nose is somehow less prone to error than my nose, the nose of the brother of the Chairman?”

He paused. His throat tensed to say something which he did not say.  He looked like he had swallowed the key to a can of Riga sardines.

“The brother of the Chairman should not feel that I hold my nose above your muster.”

“And yet?” I foreshadowed.

“It is my duty to confiscate any alcohol. Surely you are aware that your brother has renamed our country ‘The People’s Teetotaling Totalitarian Republic’”…

“There is no need to re-educate me.”

“Essentially, any alcohol in the realm is the property of the Party.”

“The better for the Party to party with it.”

“Comrade, who among us can fight reality?”

“Are you suggesting that all of the bottles of vodka out there which are not in Party hands, are in Party hands?”

“If it is not under Party control, it should be.”

“Because the Party, if it not the reality, should be the ideal.”

“Yes, comrade, that is exactly what Party Realism is.”

“Not to mention, the Party should control both production and consumption, at least where vodka is concerned.”

“That’s right; hey, are you making fun of me?”

“Comrade Officer—may I call you Commissar?”

He blushed like borscht.

“You might take me to the station. And then file a report. The report will cost ink. Ink that could be used to write a poem extolling the Republic.”

“Never been a place like it,” he said, practically saluting.

“My brother who rules will be summoned and, soon enough, he will release me. He will probably punch you so hard it will feel like you had an abortion. This is also referred to as a miscarriage of Justice.”

“How true,” he moaned, reflexively massaging his belly fat.

“Would it be wise to suffer that way for the truth, I ask you? Or, why not pretend you didn’t see and escape the pain? That might not be the reality of the Republic. But if it isn’t the IDEAL of the Republic, then?”

I paused for breath. My adrenaline and vodka rush had created a head throb like a woodpecker was hiding under my cap.

“Then I’m a monkey’s uncle!” responded the officer.

I smiled at him politely. “Do you have a photo of your nephew?”

“Oh no, it’s just an expression.”

We smiled at each other. We shook hands. Then, I walked off into the night.

 

Well, praise to the Lord for the sun shining on another day.  High enough up, getting closer to Heaven and such.

So, I asked Archibald, “if you’re a Devil, does that mean Deity is around here somewhere?”

“It would imply that.”

“Well, doesn’t Deity know that you’re going around taking out your enemies?”
Archibald smiled.  “Deity has enemies, too, you know.”
And then he told me this story.

 

Day 12: The Godfather meets God the father

Don Corleone opened his eyes. The sun was shining, all right.

Everything seemed wonderful. Too wonderful. The only problem was, he was dead.

“Oh mah gaad,” he sneezed.

“Bless you,” hastily answered the man sitting across the table. The man was dressed in white and wore a Panama hat.

“Thankyuh,” muttered the Don.

Then he looked at the man, who he knew he knew but couldn’t place.

“Where I come from, we say ‘God Bless You’. No sense leaving God out of things.”

“Not possible,” said the man. “See, that’s me.”

“You’re God de Father?” wheezed the Don.

“Yes. And you’re the Godfather. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Where am I?”

He looked around him, at the sunny place. The man looked around, too.

“Like it?” he asked. “The sun never sets on my empire.”

“Didn’t think I’d end up here.”

“Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about.”

“You sit down and talk to people?”

“Of course.  It passes the time.  I did have a genuine interest in one thing you said down on Earth.”

This kind of attention was a new experience for the Don, who smiled his pearly whites before the pearly gates.

“I like how you used to tell folks, ‘I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.’  So cool. Centuries of debate about free will, yet your contribution is one of the most memorable.”

Don Corleone donned his own hat.  “It’s like my ma always said, you jump on the grapes, and smash them like a chooch-a malooch, and that’s how you get juice and wine.”

“Is that how it works,” asked the Holy One.

“Being the Prime Mover isn’t easy, but in business, ya know?”

“Don’t I know,” said the Source of Blessings.  “How about the Ontological argument?  Isn’t that old hat to you?” asked the Ancient of Days.

“In Sicilia, we have the Omertà argument.  ‘Cause I said so.  Now shut up!”

He who is the Father grinned.  “I think this is all going to work.  Oh, a little background.  So many on Earth are asking for things all the time.  It never lets up.  I saw a church billboard the other day: ‘The Lord always answers our Knee-Mail ‘ Get it?  They’re promising that prayer works.”

“Don’t it?”

“Less so if everyone asks me.  Can you help?I”

“As in, get people to shut the fungool?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“Ay, casa nostra is su casa.  I’ll write down some guidelines and epigrams you can use.  Here’s a good one: ‘Teach a man to fish, and he won’t whine like a meengya on Fridays and during Lent’. ”

“Great.  I can’t wait to read more.”

 

And just like that, I was sitting straight up, wide awake.

“Journeying west, yeah?  Something that was a big deal back in your country.”

“Oh, that’s true,” I agreed.
Lemme tell you a tale about that stuff.

 

Day 13: Polk Fried Rice

Scholars have begun to acknowledge that expansionist President James Knox Polk (1795-1849) may have anticipated modern day fast food. This busy leader (occasionally called “Hard Knox” and “Pig in a Polk”) was often thought of having been too busy with his wars to have had any time to be a culinary innovator.

Yet, with big additions to these United States (such as everyone’s favorite state: Oregon), Polk gave us more flavors to play with. Speculations that fried rice existed on the West Coast but was not yet considered fast food make perfect sense. People out there have always been more chill. Only uptight douchebags in New York need their food in a hurry. This may explain the fact that no one patented the dish (probably heavy on the salmon) back in the day.

Another place Polk poked around was Mexico. While haters often give Zachary Taylor most of the credit for that early desert storm, Polk had the playbook, if not the cookbook.

All those refried beans may indeed have come with rice.

Again, while serious jerkoffs like Andrew Jackson usually win in polls of the most awful Presidents of the 19th Century, we should see how Polk seasoned his idol’s policies with a bit of empathy.

You know how conventional fast food wisdom dictates that you have to choose one from Column A and Column B. Nuh uh! Did you see Polk telling Mexico they had to name the treaty either Guadalupe or Hidalgo?

While Polk did not live to see the California Gold Rush, the Compromise of 1850, the War of Northern Aggression, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other headlines, his delicious legacy continues to be evaluated.

 

 

Another day on the carpet.  I stretched and wondered how I was still feeling so fresh despite having worn the same outfit for almost two weeks.

“Air drying,” was how Archibald explained it.
“I really do feel downy soft, though.  Not like if we had taken a plane and breathed that recycled air.”

“Well then,” my companion proclaimed, “I should tell you the flight attendant story.”

Day 14: Ew! Growth!

Talia was almost done folding her old clothes, the ones she had outgrown and would donate to charity.

Being in ninth grade was taking forever. It seemed to Talia like it was taking nine lifetimes.

The door tinkled.  Her sister was finally home.

Softly, almost flying, Talia walked down the stairs to the living room.

“Did you get it?” Talia asked Miriam.

“Oh my god!” winced Miriam.

Talia paused, inwardly admitting she wasn’t sure if this meant yes or no. Little sister stared patiently at big sister.

“Not even.”  Tears streamed down Miriam’s face. It took a few seconds for Talia to register this, for, although Talia looked up to her big sister, she was, in fact, a bit taller.

“I’m, like, really sorry, sis.”

“Totally unfair,” gurgled Miriam. Her scrunchee was tossed to the ground.  Her fierce mane was unfurled.

“How could this even happen? You’ve got everything anyone would need to be a great flight attendant.”

“You don’t need to tell me about it,” smirked Miriam. She didn’t mean this, however, so Talia listed her sister’s assets.

“You’re so strong, and smart, and pleasant. And, your boobs are perfect.”

“My shoes, you would think they would’ve loved them.”

“For real they’d better have loved your shoes.”

“Well, those shoes were my Kryptonite.”
“Mir, what happened?”
“I didn’t make the height requirement, that’s what.”
“Nuh-uh!”

“Someone there even made a joke that they set the bar too high.”
“Totally so mean.”

“I tried to tell them I was growing.  And I would soon be within their vertical range.”

“Is that actually true, Sis?”

“What now?”

“You came from a long line of short people.  Mom and Dad are both under five feet.”
Suddenly, from the kitchen they heard a commotion.  Plates were being broken.

“What about you, huh?” yelled Miriam at Talia accusingly.  “You are taller than anyone in this family.”

“Wait.  You hear something?”
They both paused and listened to the yelling and the breaking of another plate.

Not all of the conversation was audible, and yet they didn’t really need more than this tidbit:
“I admit it!  I had an affair many years ago.”
“Wait, Talia isn’t my child?”
“Come on, Sherman.  She’s a giant compared to us.”

“You did it with a really tall person?”
“Sherman, it’s been over.  I only ever loved you.”

“It was that dentist, no?  The one with the chair that flattens out so smooth.”
“Wait, Sherman!  Where are you going?”
“Don’t worry, Marie.  Just some guy talk I need to have with the dentist.”

The side door slammed.  Miriam looked at Talia, who stepped over and hugged her sister.
They cried together.

“If only I could just fly away,” said Miriam.

 

“Still flying,” I thought.
“Nice weather for it,” chimed in Archibald.

“Ever read the Decameron, though,” I asked?

“Who has time?”
“Good point,” I said.  “It’s just that I wonder how to end a whole series of stories.”
Archibald patted me on the back.
“Very carefully,” he said.
I glared at him in that way which expresses a lack of a real answer.
“What I meant was, you either get to the point where the plague—such as they had during the times of the Decameron—is over and the audience can relax.  Or, you take the story to such a new kind of world that the audience really feels like they’ve gone on a journey.”

“Even if the audience is still sitting at home reading, and the journey has been of the mind.”
And then he began this one.

 

Day 15: ManiPedi

The double murder surprised everyone but the child, who was the only witness. He was also the only one, including those who came to comfort him, who did not initially mistake it for a suicide pact. Let’s be clear.

Nothing to do on a Saturday night but imagine being grown up and never having to see these people again.

Mani/pedi incidents are on the rise, according to the secret police. Since you are probably not part of the secret police and don’t speak the lingo, I can demystify this and tell you that Mani/pedi is code for manipulation of children/paedophilia.

The young person was not feeling terrorized, or silenced.  The young person was wide awake, unflinchingly observing his surroundings and the actions of all the suddenly not trustworthy adults.

The harassed and denigrated child kept asking for a meal at the Waffle House, after many repetitions of which, the dirty father yelled f-you and your smothered and covered. The Step-Mother, whose religion taught her not to challenge men, kept silent throughout much of the child-whipping which followed.  We know this from a secret police audio recording.  Like most motels in Florida, this one had bugs.

And that was that for the night.  When they found the bodies, the father had been smothered and covered by hacked-off parts of his wife’s corpse.
Who did this?  It has been kept a secret from the secret police.
Some avenging angel?  The one who looks after young people who have cigarette burns on their arms?
How much is too much?  Why are adults so awful?  Why does the Waffle House offer so many ways to eat a meal?

It is noble and natural to love gas. But hydrofracking is “mineral exploration”. It’s always possible to carry a good thing too far.

I don’t think it is a good thing that the two adults died.  Surely they could have reformed themselves in jail, eventually.

The child is now free.  He has been adopted by a new couple, the Fosters.  Estelle and Janine Foster are very nice people.  The secret police have a whole file on them.

And, if a burglar ever gets past their Rottweiler and into their house, perhaps the child will take care of the intruder?

 

“Is carpet burn a thing that ever happens to you?”  I asked Archibald.

“Side effect of revenge,” he pointed out.  “Sometimes the wear and tear happens after everything is over.”

“When is this going to be really over?” I asked.

“We’re flying over Newfoundland now.  One more day to good old New Jersey.  I shall tell you the last story.”

 

Day 16: Sylvia Plath is False, said my Shrink

“Is empathy evidenced in real depressives?”
That’s what my psychiatrist is daring me to tell him.

I have already said, as nicely as I can, that I am a real depressive, and a woman, and I hope what he’s saying isn’t a joke.

He goes on,”Sylvia Plath is hardly a role model for depressives.”

I ask him why.

“Because I say so,” is what he wants to say.  In fact, he’s already said that.  So he tries another tactic.

“I’ve met a lot of patients, a lot of women.”

“Wealthy ones,” I noted.

“Their husbands want them to get the best of therapists,” he says.  “By which I mean me.”

I smile.  He likes this. He doesn’t feel threatened by me anymore, and I make my move.

“I read The Bell Jar again recently.  She mentions the summer they fried the Rosenbergs.  I think that was the summer it took place.”

“Why does she care about Russian spies?” he asks.  “I mean, a real depressive would just be sad and keep quiet.”

I am not going to just let that go.  “You think her fictional character didn’t know what she was talking about?

“Shouldn’t she be more shell-shocked and compliant with men?  Like ‘all other’ women?”

I can see myself kicking him in the balls.  At least, I really want to kick him there, but he always sits with his legs tightly crossed.  That must be painful enough already.

“I empathize.”

“With whom do you empathize?” he asks.
“I empathize with you.”

“Not likely,” he says. “Look at your diagnosis. Depression.

“It’s just that Sylvia Plath is a hero of mine.  She talked about her life, and I’m in therapy, and I don’t have a husband paying for it.”

“Sylvia Plath had typical Jew neurosis.”

I looked at him.  “She was raised Unitarian.  They specialize in empathy.”

“Who are you to challenge me?  The signs of the neurosis are all there.  She published under a Waspy pen name, like so many of them do.”

“You know I’m Jewish, right?”

“Hackenbush isn’t a Jewish name.”

“I know.  My parents changed it from Kleinbaum.”

“Perfect.  They were neurotic, too.”

This shrink is daring anyone to care about someone else, so he can cry fraud.

He is smiling and people who are smiling are not depressives.  Or are they? Maybe when he tries to make other people with feelings less than human, he can feel better that no one will find out about him.

Do I say the one thing he doesn’t want to hear?  Do I say, “I think it’s time to terminate therapy”?  Well, I wouldn’t really be ending treatment, but just with him.  It might be a good idea.  I wonder if there are any female therapists within my price range?

 

Outroduction: You Can Take The Girl Out of Jersey, But You Can’t Take The Jersey Off The Girl

It was morning, and we had a parking space at the mall.  I looked at Archibald, questioningly.
“It’s Garden State Plaza, on a Sunday.”
“Ah, of course.  Everything is closed on Sundays around here.  Well, it must have been a very safe place to land.”

Archibald held out a bag of Cinnabon.

“I really shouldn’t,” I thought, just like every other time I indulged.  It tasted great.  At first.

My devilish handsome companion was beaming at me.

“Thanks, Archibald.  You let me come along on your carpet.”

“It was a pleasure.”

“You took me to Europe just so I could be your point man.”

“It was an honor.”

“But, if I may ask, why did you take me back to New Jersey?  Surely, you consider yourself a European?”

Archibald thought about this.

“Nah, “he said.  “There is something about New Jersey that feels like home.”

“Couldn’t disagree with you on that,” I said.

He looked at his watch.  Then, he stroked his chin.

“What if?”

“Yes?”

“I mean, it is Sunday.  Shall we swing by Atlantic City?”

“We could,” I said. “If we don’t mind living in a world of chance and uncertainty.”

“No, I don’t think we do,” he retorted.

And with that, we were on the road again, headed to that big buffet where the land meets the sea.

THE END

This story cycle was read in front of an audience for the first time at Evil Expo in NJ, January, 2020.