Author Archive

Terse Verse O’erheard

August 31, 2011

“Yo, check out Vinny. He’s going

Out to get girls, I think. Look:

He’s even got his teeth

In.”

-South Philly gothic, August ’11

Terse Verse O’erheard

August 18, 2011

I. Woman

“I never think when I

Write

My songs. That’s how I wrote,

‘My enchanted kingdom,

My castle in the sea.’

It just came out.”

 

II. Man

“My imagination is crazy. I dreamt

My head was

Shaved.

My hat was

White.

I was in this room of

Mirrors.”

– subway passengers simulateously insulting the creative process and making compelling case for me to jump from moving train and seek refuge in the rain-slimed tunnels beneath the city. Aug ’11

Terse Verse O’erheard

August 17, 2011

“I once heard that if you

Cut a vegetable

While listening with a high-powered

Microphone

You can

Hear it

Screaming.”

– Pathmark butcher. Northeast Philly.

Terse Verse O’erheard

May 18, 2011

“I used to have

Onetwothreefourfivesix

Pets but they

All

Got

Tooked.”

– wee neighbor’s unprefaced tale of woe relayed to me from his doorway as I passed on my way to work.  Like if Edward Gorey wrote dialogue for Ralph Wiggum.      S. Philly.

Terse Verse O’erheard

May 5, 2011

“My one daughter is 14. She’s a real

Picky eater. She only eats

Like lettuce and canned foods.

She always dresses

In hoochie dresses.

I’ll bring in some

Pictures.”

-coworker causing me to fear his approach forevermore, May 2011

Terse Verse O’erheard

October 26, 2010

“No

Problembo.”

-coworker denies existence of problem, convinces no one.   Oct. ’10

Terse Verse O’erheard

October 25, 2010

“So on my Facebook page

He’s all like,

‘Don’t let your mouth

Write a check that your

Fists can’t cash.'”

-subway rider providing the latest developments, Oct. ’10

Blueberry Fade

October 22, 2010

This is an actual barbershop in my ‘hood. Every time I see it I stop in my tracks, shocked by the sheer audacity of the choice of name. Someday I plan to stop in and see if the guy can get a little acai flavor going in my scant locks.

Terse Verse O’erheard

October 21, 2010

“So you’re all-Irish, huh?

My friend Jean, she’s really,

Really Irish, too: she’s, like,

Italian.”

-coworker accidentally turning nearby associates’ brains into gray soup, Oct. ’10

David Sedaris’s Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

October 19, 2010

Once, when I was in sixth grade and charged with babysitting my younger brother, I came home from school to find him waiting on our front steps. He’d discovered a small, spongy football by the tire of a parked car and was beaming over the find. I was in a dark mood (my studied scowling act hadn’t kindled a single female heart at recess) and now I was jealous: Happiness for him was something found curbside, found too easily. I snatched the ball from him and, ignoring his protests and pleas, rolled it down the sewer and then we both felt terrible.

If you found this ugly little tale funny, you’ll like Sedaris’s collection of nasty, brutish, and short-short fiction wherein the author has, in the tradition of fabulists and folk tale-tellers, gifted his animal characters with human-strength powers of speech and cognition. Except Sedaris’s, with few exceptions, employ their abilities to relentlessly miserable effect. Most tales open with a character thinking ungenerous thoughts toward another. He or she then emerges from the reverie and, blinkered by a stingy spirit, acts callously or violently or stupidly toward his neighbor and the act succeeds or backfires. It’s like a print version of “The Itchy and Scratchy Show” but with a less winning brand of cruelty. Some didactic message is usually available and so are some illustrations but you’ll likely not bother lingering over either; each tale is so singularly unsatisfying, so insufficiently funny, that I found myself plunging ahead, keeping things moving the way you walk off the pain of a dashed shin, feeling hopeful, then less hopeful, then frowning, then quitting with a quarter still unread.

This is a collection that would not have seen print had it landed on a publisher’s desk with an unknown author’s name beneath its title. If only this were an early work, some scrap of juvenilia that Sedaris’s agent had greedily bullied him into releasing. But I’ve heard no such news. Seems Sedaris expected we’d devour these deadening stories, each as small, hard, and bitter as an acorn, and come away smiling. Me, I’m backing away, shaking my head, wondering what happened to the man whose books used to make me laugh so hard that I wouldn’t let myself read them on public transit. I can only hope the author finds an improving message in the tale of this book’s inglorious and inevitable relegation to last place on lists of Sedaris fans’ favorites.

The Delicious Madness of Murakami

October 18, 2010

I need this Takashi Murakami piece in my apartment. I bet licking different parts of the sculpture would leave light candy tastes on the tongue. Think about it: Mornings with fresh-brewed mushroom tea and a bit of a chat with the pot-bellied, horned homunculi. At night not a moment’s peace under the withering gaze of with the walleyed overlord. Prolonged exposure to the sculpture would induce fun fevers and languid ice cream dreams.

See more at the website I’ve linked, including a couple hilarious figurines whose presence on your desk would get you instantly fired. Of course, their presence on your computer screen might be enough to earn you a pink slip, too, so proceed with caution.

Subway

October 14, 2010

This morning, a man seated next to where I stood in the subway car’s aisle bade me take a seat behind him. He looked homeless. Maybe not homeless, maybe just fixing to be homeless soon. We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that he owns a home but sometimes, for the thrill that’s in it, sleeps instead in a puddle of dumpster drippings behind a Chinese takeout joint or lopes by moonlight through weedy lots where he barks bits of poems when he isn’t telling phantom enemies how it is, how it’s going to be. Maybe he treats himself to a walk to where he can see planes taking off from the airport and with one hand clutching a chain-link fence for support he masturbates—a big man for wanking alfresco, this one—and with an inhuman cry brings himself off under the gaze of a starving cat. Not impossible. His canvas sneakers featured pictures of little animal skulls. Of this much I am certain.

I told him I’d stand and went back to reading my book.

“Siddown, man,” he said. I told him no. I tried to read but out of the corner of my eye I watched him. He was sawing his jaw, right, left, right, left, like a man battling a bad taste in his mouth. That, or a man reliving a delicious meal of undercooked beef tendon. I’d not feel comfortable saying for sure. After a moment, he wheeled toward me and said, “I don’t like when people stand over me.”

To which I replied, “I don’t give tuppence for your petty dislikes.” Except I really said, “I’m getting off in a few stops so I’m not sitting.” And then was mad at myself for explaining myself. The other passengers were paying close attention but pretending to be absorbed in their own shabby thoughts, in their own trifling affairs. Some did better jobs than others. The woman wearing a face made of raw dough, a face to which some joker had applied makeup, who just stared baldly at me, for instance, did what we might call a bad job.

“Move over there, then,” said the cagey creature. I told him no, even though moving away was exactly what I wanted but was now the one thing I couldn’t do, lest I appear to be following orders from the loon. Important, in moments like these, to preserve your pride when absolute strangers are looking on, to continue reading your book even though your eyes are averted, your head turned some, so that you’d have to be reading your book with your ear. The train clacked onward. Important to take a stand and then spend the rest of the day deciding what the stand was for.

Imaginary Breadth

October 13, 2010

Encountered this with little context. No, not another excerpt from 2666, but one from another Bolaño novel that I’ve not yet cracked. It’ll be my last quote of his for a bit. Promise. Like I said, I’ve no idea what it’s about; it was a sharp-toed boot landing between my ribs and I’m just now waking and demanding to know who aimed the kick. If ever I write such a stunning trio of sentences, I’ll recline in my chair, park my own boots atop my desk, and from there the undertaker will in time come to collect a most smiling young stiff.

I followed them: I saw them go down Bucareli to Reforma with a spring in their step and then cross to Reforma without waiting for the lights to change, their long hair blowing in the excess wind that funnels down Reforma at that hour of the night, turning it into a transparent tube or an elongated lung exhaling the city’s imaginary breath. Then we walked down the Avenida Guerrero; they weren’t stepping so lightly any more, and I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic either. Guerrero, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.

-from Roberto Bolaño’s Amulet

Re: History

October 12, 2010

Know how sometimes you look back on decisive moments in your life and they burn and the only thing for it is to fan the flames? No?! Well, good day sir, and kindly leave off reading now.

For the rest of you, here’s a bitter bit of Bolaño from his novel 2666. Thinks one character, “… history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.”

Sorry to wax maudlin, but on days like today, that rings true. (Understand that at some age immemorial I hocked my heart for a tin tuning fork that returns the cleanest notes when answering dark sentiments like this one. It wasn’t a wise bargain, but the huckster has dashed, taking with him all traces of the flea market he oversaw.) How ’bout a hug? Hmm?

Writing All Fancy-Like

October 11, 2010

The word “per,” as commonly used in business writing to mean, “according to” or “through the agency of,” enjoys a misguided cult following at my office. I can’t dampen the enthusiasm for it. I can’t kill it. Like a bionic bedbug, the little guy endures and pops up in the worst of places, like in the sign shown below. I couldn’t abide it and subsequently offered an unsolicited correction with my pen, but the damage was done. Read and weep:

Making Mom Proud

October 8, 2010

Spotted this on a train station platform in N.E. Philly. Must’ve brought a tear to Mom’s eye to encounter such warm wishes during her morning commute. (Since her sweet son wrote part of it in pink, it’s hard to read where it says, “Have a good day at work….”)

Caul of the Wild

October 7, 2010

Everyone knows a baby’s primary use is to infuse pale and purposeless existences with meaning. But, Did You Know? Babies have lots of other uses. Suggested use #7:

HOOD ORNAMENT

God, Help Them

October 6, 2010

The Pew Research Center has released the results of its poll measuring Americans’ religious knowledge. On average, Americans managed to answer correctly only 16 of 32 questions.

A fully-recovered Catholic, I took special delight in this finding: “More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ.” Um, guys? This ghoulish tenet is key in distinguishing your branch of Christianity from its close-as-clones cousins. Embarrassing. Or encouraging, depending on how you look at it.

Am I done being smug? Almost, but not before admitting that I was pleased to read that atheists and agnostics performed better than all of the religious denominations in answering correctly 20.9 questions on average. Don’t be jealous: None of us atheists could get elected to the presidency any time soon and few of us would be wise to identify ourselves as non-believers at the jobs we can get, so allow us this small victory and then check out the rest of the findings and take a shortened version of the quiz yourself here.

This is England

October 5, 2010

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALEXANDRIA NELSON-BECKETT
aluxembourg@gmail.com

Madding Come Monday

October 4, 2010

In my next life I’ll be hitting the stage as the best backup whistler the world has yet seen and you can come to my show unless you persist in acting like a pernicious cunt and a twaddler. Until then, tide yourself over with The New Pornographers performing “Crash Years” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. (85% of my delight in this song comes from Neko Case singing the lyric, “Above the madding crowd they’re ruined….” I just like the sound of it and won’t bother trying to explain it or myself.)

Happy Hour

October 1, 2010

Friday springs into view and stands before me grinning proudly like it’s been here all along, like it hadn’t run out on me a week ago, leaving me to pine for it like a prisoner in an oubliette pines for the retina-searing blast of light overhead. But Friday is sometimes a too-cheerful chum, a beamish brat who needs a cuffing like the one Denis Johnson deals out in his short story “Happy Hour.”

The day was ending in a fiery and glorious way. The ships on the Sound looked like paper silhouettes being sucked up into the sun.

I had two doubles and immediately it was as if I’d been dead forever, and was now finally awake.

I was in Pig Alley. It was directly on the harbor, built out over the waters on a rickety pier, with floors of carpeted plywood and a Formica bar. The cigarette smoke looked unearthly. The sun lowered itself through the roof of clouds, ignited the sea, and filled the big picture window with molten light, so that we did our dealing and dreaming in a brilliant fog. People entering the bars on First Avenue gave up their bodies. Then only the demons inhabiting us could be seen. Souls who had wronged each other were brought together here. The rapist met his victim, the jilted child discovered its mother. But nothing could be healed, the mirror was a knife dividing everything from itself, tears of false fellowship dripped on the bar. And what are you going to do to me now? With what, exactly, would you expect to frighten me?

Friday’s power to liberate is myth, one we give ourselves permission to credit collectively, but one I’d not dispel, even if I could, because a world without a grimy happy hour is world I’d not soon look upon.

Terse Verse O’erheard

September 29, 2010

Chorus of Kids: Yeah, with your best shot!

PigWoman: It’s, “Hit me with your best shot!”

Gabriel, get the fuck off that truck unless you want to

Get cracked.

Woman’s Roommate: Quit shouting like that. It’s 7:00

In the morning. The neighbors are going to get a petition

To get us kicked off the block.

PigWoman: I don’t care about no petition. I ain’t

Going nowhere. These neighbors can

Suck

My

Cunt.

Chorus: Hit me with your best shot!

-neighbors chatting outside my window, S. Philly, Sep. ’10

Warnock St, Friday, 11:05 AM

September 24, 2010

At one end of my block, sanitation workers are inspecting the illegal dump that has sprung up over the past few days. Yammering at their side is my drug-addict neighbor. She has her arms thrown wide as if beseeching the heavens for redress.

At the other end of my narrow alley of a street, a police officer is arguing with my fat, shirtless neighbor while a man from the gas works looks on.

In the middle of the street, artfully arranged and looking like a portent or a sign left by a clan specializing in dark arts, is a single severed pigeon’s foot.

Something’s got to give.

Terse Verse O’erheard

September 23, 2010

“I like the fruit-on-the-bottom ones.

They’re the best type of

Yogrut.”

-coworker putting a hruting on the English language as per usual, Sep. ’10