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.
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?”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
Juan-Manuel Sebastian Peralta Jimenez de Jesus
1396 Boys Town Road
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.
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?”
“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.”
“Less so if everyone asks me. Can you help?I”
“As in, get people to shut the fungool?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
“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.
This story cycle was read in front of an audience for the first time at Evil Expo in NJ, January, 2020.