February 28th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · General
February 27th, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · #NowReading, Beautiful Words, New Work
Have you ever begun reading a book that you thought was going to be great, only to find yourself losing interest within the first one hundred pages? Of course you have. It happens, and sometimes – especially if you’re a blogger who promises a review of said book – it’s rather inconvenient. The book practically fell from my hands after C. Lispector spent her thirtieth page describing her mental state in reaction to the cockroach in her former maid’s quarters. I’m just not in the mood for solipsis, I guess, or the ambient sort of thing she was going for. Or something. One of the things I’m trying to work on in my own writing is narrative structure and progression – basically, how to move things along. I too can dwell for damn near forever, muse on minutia till kingdom come, but if you’re not telling a story – or at least leading the reader to believe that you are – you’ll surely end up losing your audience. Or at least that’s my fear with my own work. So, in short, it’s really not “Goodbye, Clarice” – it’s “See You Later.”
Just about the time when I put down The Passion According to G.H., I started watching HBO’s new series crime drama, True Detective. It’s easily the best thing on television right now – a noir-y, psychological thriller set in rural Louisiana, the show features Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as partnered detectives trying to find a serial killer. It’s like a mix of The Wire and Twin Peaks; how can you resist?
- Classic Marty (Woody) & Rust (Matthew)!
The series is written solely by a fella named Nic Pizzolatto, who happens to be a novelist. He wrote a book called Galveston which I’ve just finished reading. It features a lot of the same themes and structural elements as True Detective, but I’d say he realizes his vision more fully in his television series. Not that it’s not worth reading. For a sample of his work, check out two short stories he’s got published in the Atlantic, here and here.
Lastly, I’ve got another fiction piece for y’all. It’s a little ditty about leaving Chicago. I’m fond of the piece for many reasons, and I had a lot of fun writing it, but I’ve been told that it “falls flat.” I’d love to disagree, but I can’t be the reader and the writer. Check out the piece here, and let me know if you think it works or it doesn’t in the comments section.
February 21st, 2014 by Dustin Parmenter · Beautiful Words, New Work
I recently sent out a packet full of pages to a couple close friends / fellow writers in Chicago (you know who you are, or at least you will by Saturday) as well as to a couple people here in Brooklyn for their consideration. Those pages contain a handful of stories I’ve been working on, and quality-wise I think they probably range from “readable” to “as done as they’ll ever be.” One of the aforementioned people happened to refer to this packet as a “manuscript”, and suddenly it occurred to me that I’m actually working on a collection of stories, though I guess I’m only about 25-30% done. But that’s 25-30% more done than I was before I got here – doesn’t that count for something? It’s working title is Looking At Old Photographs. I like it, but who knows if that’ll stick. 83 pages and counting.
Anyways, over the next several weeks I’ll be posting the aforementioned stories here, for your reading pleasure. This one, called “The Curiosity Shop”, was the first *full* story I ever put down in a paper. I guess you could say I was feeling feverish in the library stacks during finals week sophomore year of undergrad, it sort of just poured out of me in a fit. I came across it not too long ago, and thought it could use a little dusting off, so I reframed it and cleaned it up a bit. Well, cleaned it up a lot. Caveat: it’s weird / gross, but it’s other things too, and hey, give me a break, I was 19. Maybe even 18? Anyways, click here to cop it.
It’s been a while, huh? Lots of changes on my end since 2013 – how about yourselves? I’m sure you’re still waiting with bated breath on that Clarice Lispector review. The book is coming along, albeit slowly, but it’s shaping up to match my expectations pretty squarely. That is to say, it’s starting to rattle the ole cage. In the meantime, read on – if you care for semi-personal updates from the author of this blog.
If one thing is certain about living in New York City, it’s that things are never not changing. I jumped ship from my old apartment on Bleecker Street in Bushwick just after the new year, due to general landlord shakiness – see the article clipping below; I just happened to chance upon this in a Williamsburg coffee shop, and I have to say I’m not surprised to see his name in print – and moved out to Fort Greene in an apartment right across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Surprisingly, the rent is $150 / mo cheaper, and the neighborhood is infinitely better. If I can survive the winter here, the area is going to be paradise in the summer – Fort Greene Park is gorgeous, and it’s a totally different stretch of Myrtle Ave than in Bushwick, not to mention the proximity to DUMBO and Downtown Brooklyn. Definitely an upgrade, all things considered.
(Avoid renting from JBI Management at all costs)
Apart from that, I also left my job at the welding shop. I’ll refrain from publicly disparaging my former employer, but suffice it to say that she wasn’t easy to please, and circumstances had been changing rapidly over the past couple of months. Imagine working in a small room with the air quality of a chimney, the temperature of an igloo, and being surrounded dozens of screaming power tools that’re pretty much always ready to make you bleed. When I wasn’t being yelled at, I was probably getting myself cut or burned. I’ve still got metal splinters in my hands, and only just got over the sinus infection I got from working there. I was still blowing out black metal dust snot a week after I left. I don’t have a job now, but student loans are disbursing tomorrow – I was only holding on to this job until then, even in spite of the upcoming trip to Israel I was supposed to take – and I’ve been interviewing over the past few weeks for what looks likes very well may be a dream job (aside from writing, of course). But it’s been five weeks since the initial point of contact, and the process has been exhausting to say the least. It’ll be over by the end of the week – or at least it should be – and no matter how it ends up, I’ll be glad to have it resolved. It’s been driving me to distraction, calling to mind all sorts of questions; if I were to be offered this job, I’d almost certainly have to leave the QC MFA program, resign this blog, and put my writing on the sideline for a while. On the other hand, it would provide me the kind of financial security that I’d previously only been able to dream of, while giving me the opportunity to do meaningful work at the same time. Would that make me a sell out? Or is that line of thinking just the height of naivete? Having little or no financial security is almost always more oppressive than liberating; I’m tired of surviving on hard boiled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches. But if I’m working 40 hours / wk, can I still call myself a writer? All things to consider, but they’re still all speculative questions. I haven’t been offered anything just yet. I’ll keep you posted on that too. Any way you slice it though, definitely another upgrade for the 2014 life forecast.
With all these changes, both present and pending, combined with the rising tide of free time and increasingly indoor living, I’ve been forced to give perhaps too much time to my thoughts and anxieties about what exactly it means to be a writer, both within and without the context of an MFA program. Throughout the past weeks I’ve found myself losing and regaining degrees of faith in what I’d previously considered my best intentions – moving halfway across the country to “start over”, to get my dreams down on paper in hopes that they might connect or even resonate with an audience of one more people, in lending credence to the possibility of meaning in what I’m striving to create with my words. Then I found myself thinking of a quotation I used to rely on to bear up during such crises – it comes from Alejo Carpentier’s prologue to his novel The Kingdom of This World, where he took a stand in addressing the nascent Surrealist movement, which in his opinion was producing art borne out of little more than empty, juvenile shock-posturing:
“There is clearly no excuse for poets and artists who praise sadism without practicing it, who admire the supermacho because of their own impotence, who invoke spirits without believing they answer to incantations, and who found secret societies, literary sects, or vaguely philosophic groups with passwords and arcane goals that are never achieved, without being able to conceive a valid mysticism or to abandon their pettiest habits in order to risk their souls on the frightening card of faith.”
Faith is a small word with enormous implications. But if you don’t claim it for yourself and your own art, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone else who will do it for you. It’s essential, I think, to not only surviving in a world that doesn’t do any favors for talented people who have yet to prove themselves, but to keeping your own artistic vision intact. Believing in yourself, and in your art – in things that, for all intents and purposes don’t exist, at least not in the forms that you want them to yet – seems to be its own kind of mysticism, requiring an enormous wager on seemingly impossible odds. But to not make that bet is to give up before you’ve even begun; it is to admit defeat. Faith might be a gamble – but what if that’s the only way to realize your vision? Let me know what you think. In the meantime, stay warm – it’s cold out there, and a storm’s coming.
December 18th, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · Beautiful Words, General, Thoughts
In honor of Queens College’s designation of the academic year 2013-14 as the “Year of Brazil”, all of us writers here at QC Voices are taking a moment to discuss certain interesting cultural, economic, and social aspects of this enormous country that has, in the past decade or so, become one of the most important and influential developing countries in the world.
After delving briefly into Brazil’s cultural history, I found it happy coincidence that I might have the chance to investigate a literary figure that I’ve been curious about after encountering some of her works at the Center for Fiction in Midtown Manhattan, the enigmatic novelist Clarice Lispector.
Born in 1920 as “Chaya” in what is now Ukraine, Clarice emigrated with the rest of her family to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1922 to escape the devastating pogroms taking place in the revolutionary aftermath of WWI, and at thirteen she claimed her desire to write after encountering Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf. She eventually took up journalistic work while studying law at the prestigious University of Brazil, and rose to national literary fame at the precocious age of 23 with the publication of her debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, a partly autobiographical stream of consciousness bildungsroman reminiscent of the works of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Clarice Lispector was also the wife of a Brazilian diplomat, which marked her life with a profound sense of cultural hybridity, as she went on to live and write in places as varied as Italy, Switzerland, England, and Washington, D.C.
As usual, I have a long list of things I’d like to read. But lately I’ve found that in both my reading and writing, I’ve been stuck in a rut – all the voices I’m encountering have begun to sound alike, their stories intersecting with each other in unexpected places, and my own words seem to spiral into the same points time and again. Last time I found myself in this place, I made myself read James Purdy’s In A Shallow Grave, a short, surreal novella about a southern war veteran whose skin has been turned inside-out from a combat injury; subsequently, he hires young men to rub his feet and deliver his letters to a woman he’s courting (and yes, it got weirder from there). But it did the trick: it freshened my prose, and made me refigure in my own imagining of what’s possible in literature.
In researching Lispector’s life and work, I came across some of her words on her own creative process, that suggested I might find some similar refreshment in her work as I did in Purdy’s:
“I read what I’d written and thought once again: from what violent chasms is my most intimate intimacy nourished, why does it deny itself so much and flee to the domain of ideas? I feel within me a subterranean violence, a violence that only comes to the surface during the act of writing.”
-C.L., A Breath of Life
Through her words, I sense that Lispector is possessed of that sort of iridescent, introspective darkness, an inward look towards spiritual depths, that has more than once served to point the way towards my own creative wellspring. I’ve just ordered her novel, The Passion According to G.H., a story about a woman who has a mystical experience in her Rio penthouse, which leads to her eating a cockroach. Not exactly conventional holiday reading, but I think it’ll do the trick. I’ll be posting my review sometime after the new year, and leave you with a few more eery words from Clarice, this time on traveling home (for the holidays?):
“And now — now it only remains for me to light a cigarette and go home. Dear God, only now am I remembering that people die. Does that include me? Don’t forget, in the meantime, that this is the season for strawberries. Yes.”
December 1st, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · Thoughts
It seems that the subject people living in New York most enjoy talking about at bars and coffee shops is, of course, the terminal uniqueness of New York living – its workaday joys, trials, tribulations, etc. – or, if one or more of the conversants has been here too long, the discussion inevitably turns towards their various stages of planning in the inevitable move to Los Angeles. Though I typically find the latter conversation to be a bit of an eye roller, the former conversation can often be bearable, and even pleasant if you’ve lucked out with the right crowd. I find it especially engaging when in the company of native New Yorkers, who are generally cynical enough to avoid the jading that seems endemic to so many transplants; they’ve absorbed the city’s rhythm without having to constantly reflect it onto passersby, adopting its very fabric as an undershirt rather than as conversational armor or weapon.
My coworker at the metal fabrication shop – I’ll call him “L” – is 19, and a native of Park Slope. On lunch and cigarette breaks, he’ll sometimes talk about how much the city has changed. Though I have to actively restrain myself from wondering just how much of this change he’s actually seen or comprehended with his being less than two decades old, I’m always interested to listen to his laments over a pastrami sandwich, e.g. the rapid gentrification of his neighborhood, a white yuppie’s laughable and insulting fear of native minorities, the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk program, and how his brand new tech high school in Greenpoint was the last bastion of Brooklyn’s rough-and-tumble yin. He’s grateful to have graduated without a rap sheet, and glad that he no longer has to deal with being patted down going into and out of school every day, or routinely harassed by police officers at nearby subway stations, but there’s a certain note of longing in his elocution of the phrase “hallway race riots” that makes me smile into my sandwich, and cease to question his credibility.
Native or not, his line of argument is almost always the rule in discussing the lost merits of a pre-Bloomberg, pre-Giuliani New York City. The recent death of Lou Reed prompted much discussion of this “lost era” of cheap rent, a truly underground youth counterculture, and the irreplaceable grit of the Lower East Side that my generation is still looking for all over, from the Bronx to Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights. I’ve always thought it curious how often people – read: mostly young, urban(e), mostly middle-to-upper-middle class white people – desire the veneer of decay or blight without being conscious of its actual human consequences, and how that same desire tends to be coupled with a failure to appreciate renewal in terms otherwise than gentrification. I suppose many desire hardship, or at least its semblance, so that they can tamp down their overweening privilege and feel like they’re a part of nothing less than their own American dream of intemperate individuality, of hardship (real or imagined; and what’s the difference, anyway, for most?) overcome, and ultimately, freedom from want. But I think we’ve all met those in their late 20s and 30s who seem to have needlessly transfixed themselves in this pose of hardship for far too long; they either refuse to make constructive personal or professional choices, or fail to see that their stasis is a consequence of a quixotic quest for a lost cultural authenticity, or both. That this adolescent obsession with the new or the novel – or worse, the “avant garde” – generally expresses itself in consumption of new and used clothing, the latest product at the end of the latest “green” distribution line, the banality that is now craft alcohol, and the latest in exotic drugs, instead of in the act of creation, is – at least in the eyes of this writer – is now not only a defining aspect of the “Millenial” generation (if such a thing indeed exists!) but a seemingly permanent feature of American youth culture. I don’t dispute that New York City has changed in the past 30 years, but I know that people – especially young people – haven’t, and that we more than anyone other age group are responsible for influencing our surroundings.
My friend Dan, while sitting outside a poorly chosen bar (they had better specials on oysters than they did on drinks) perhaps too near to the Williamsburg Bridge, recently remarked – and I paraphrase – that New York City was an interesting place to live because “it somehow manages to stand on a cultural past that at this point it is almost completely disconnected from, and yet it is still an enormous, writhing, and impossibly influential thing.” I like Dan – more importantly, I respect some of his opinions — and I wanted to believe not only in his tipsy eloquence, but also in the substance of what he said after that handful of boilermakers. But his words were too neatly said, and too easy to buy into for me to trust in the moment; sure enough, his words the next day sounded very much the comment of someone who’s lived here less than a year. And the preponderance of young people I’ve met in my first three months here are not at all from here, and don’t intend to settle here; I am certainly one among these tourists.
For the most part we now arrive in Brooklyn more than any other borough, and even relative newcomers such as myself no longer bat an eye at the thought of things like pre-dawn lines for the latest innovation in pastries, thousand dollar rents for bedrooms the size of a clean coffin, six figure salaries for entry level positions at tech startups that make apps that won’t exist in three years, and dreams made and murdered by crowdfunding. New New York (read: Brooklyn) is more than the sanitized playground for white people that Lena Dunham’s Girls is selling, but not much more; that’s the New York City I know. It’s certainly still that “enormous, writhing, and impossibly influential” thing, and that people like me move here is both the cause and effect of that condition. I moved here for want of opportunities in the Midwest; the only thing I still bat an eye at here is the things over which money and prestige change hands and names. Only when I’ve looted enough of both will I remand myself to a place of lesser pretense, expense, and noise; of greater malleability, potential for growth, and need for renewal. Because this city is only so much money, and there’s enough young, creative, ambitious, hardworking individuals to keep this city regenerating itself for decades – for every one of us to leave, there’s at least one more sucker to take up the same space – and the same obviously can’t be said for those other places. For the sake of everywhere else, I hope I won’t be the only one to leave after five years.
The other day, when L and I were taking off our welding jumpsuits to knock off work for the afternoon, he looked at me with a cocked head and the devil’s own grin, and said:
“You know, I was biking over the Williamsburg Bridge yesterday and I saw this scissor lift some construction crew left there, and I realized how if I was wearing this outfit I could probably drive it right into the back of a truck, no problem, and sell it for around $10,000 cash. Because the thing is, when you’ve been here long enough, working this kind of gig, you can throw on a jumpsuit anywhere, put a few traffic cones down, and suddenly no one at all notices you – it’s like you’re invisible.”
December 1st, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · Cheap Tobacco
I’ve been meaning to do this for some time, but haven’t gotten around to it till now. Anyways, for all you desperate smokers out there: I’ve made it my mission to find and document the locations where one might find especially good deals on premium packs of cigarettes, those certain bodegas offering incomparable value for tobacco consumers young and old, of all shapes and sizes and colors. You know what I mean. So, in our first edition, we’ve got this fine institution under the Myrtle-Wyckoff MTA station.
More locations forthcoming. You’re welcome.
November 30th, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · #NowReading, Beautiful Words, Reviews
Apparently, every few years one critic or another will break out a well-worn soap box in order to to tritely proclaim John Williams’s Stoner as a “forgotten” American classic, an “overlooked” literary gem, etch. I will try and refrain rom using that selfsame platform, though it might be difficult not to use a corner or two in lauding Williams’s prose.
It is a brief, bracing, and beautiful bildungsroman of William Stoner, a young man who leaves his family farm in rural Missouri at the turn of the 20th century to enter the world of the University, the institution that will ultimately define his existence, and be the only thing to provide the minute solace to be gotten from a life rife with mounting disappointments – a failed marriage, a sabotaged career, an exposed affair.
Thankfully, Williams is not a stylist; the essential quiet in Stoner’s bearing of life’s impossible, untragic indignities could not be captured in any other Mann than the author’s spare, unsparing prose. I loved this book, and highly recommend the New York Renew of Books’s wonderfully crafted paperback edition.
4.5 / 5.0
October 14th, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · Beautiful Words
I came across this poem some months ago while following The Paris Review’s Instagram account. They had a photo of the physical page that they published it on, and it’s stuck with me ever since, this poem. Though I’d since uninstalled Instagram from my phone - because at some point, if you’re like me and looking for distractions from the real Task At Hand (writing, obviously) wherever you can find them; you just sort of need to cut yourself off, no? – I reinstalled it today so that I might spend hours finding this poem in the back logs of The Paris Review’s posts. I blindly scrolled down in order to get to the older posts, and after a few swipes my thumb accidentally clicked into this very poem, the thumbnail of which hadn’t even been loaded yet. Just dumb luck, or fate; either way, this sort of thing has been happening to me rather often lately. I know I can’t ask why.
Anyways, Albert Goldbarth is the reason why I started writing poetry again after a long hiatus from a long career of writing heart-wrenchingly bad Love poetry. Which is available to ye readers at anytime, free of charge and upon request. Anyways, here’s the incomparable A. Goldbarth, in living color (I don’t know if it’s legal or not for me to republish this, seeing as I don’t own the rights, or really have any rights, really; but if you’re going to sue me for sharing the work of this incomparable poet, then you can go…):
Albert Goldbarth, “Lithium Sonnet”
Judith, I’ve seen the CPA. She showed me two
indomitable columns, numbers rising like the legs
of a statue god. And where they add up, where
they meet in a kind of pedestal at their bottom, they
declared such a sense of solidarity and completion, you,
especially you, would have wept at the beauty.
And Judith, the carpenter visited. We joked about her
many minor trials, making a go of it in
a “man’s world,” then she got down to the monstrousness
of a chainsaw, and the nearly-pubic delicacy of shavings.
At the end, she had an instrument: its bubble centers
whenever the work is centered enough to be done.
Let them be totems, let them be invoked.
For the balance. For the level.
October 8th, 2013 by Dustin Parmenter · New Work
My workshop professor (the wonderful John Weir) asked to us to write an “homage” or “cover” of the short story of our choice after reading Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” (available for your reading pleasure here), which itself is a cover / homage of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” (available here). I didn’t really like either of them – but covering them was an opportunity to work on writing dialogue, which I tend to shy away from for fear of being fuc**** terrible at it. You don’t necessarily have to read the other stories to get a laff or two out of this one, but hey, let’s not be lazy eh? (Download story here [PDF].)
What We Balk About When We Caulk A Dead Dove
“For example consider the fact that you have no name.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Since the day I was born, my parents –“
“Now you know very well that’s not what I’m talking about,” he said, deftly cracking the spine of an ice tray and snatching four cubes out of the air that they popped into. “I repeat, you have no name, dear, you’re a nobody. A lovely nobody, yes, a sweet nobody that’s good with sweet nothings and making those clever little cards of yours, but you’re off the map. Not even close to being on the map; no one knows your name outside of this little shit Chicago neighborhood of ours.” He dropped two ice cubes into each of the two glasses on the counter and pour four fingers of terrible bourbon into each glass. Gesturing broadly with both hands and adorning his face with a ridiculous expression, “And if a girl is born into the world with a name that nobody’s ever heard, does she really have a name at all?”
“Christ, Adler, you’ve not been in my apartment ten minutes and already with this? This lecture again. You’ve not a name yourself, you know – you call yourself a poet? Ha! Now that drink, give it here, you fourflusher! Give it here!”
“My my, look at you! Long day at the card table? It’s barely noon… But you know, about my being nobody, that’s neither your concern at the present moment, Claire, nor is it mine. You see, I know I’ve no name. I’ve always known it, and I work with it; I wear it, and I use it to my advantage. You’d be amazed at what you can get away with, the absurd inner transgressions and moral paradoxes you can suddenly bear like feathers, if you live your life knowing you don’t even exist.” Adler brought the bottle and a small bowl of ice over to the coffee table between them.
“You know, for all those brains and clever words of yours, you think you would be somebody, by now.”
“I’m finding that I prefer my present arrangement; I feel that I’ve really been coming into my own non-existence of late. Now what, my sweet nothing, are we toasting to?”
A shrug and a sigh, “Nothing.”
“Yes! There you go! To Nothing and Nobody!”
Claire was caught with all four fingers in her mouth when the buzzer rang, and she was barely off the couch before Trince, a buxom blonde mute nugget of a girl, was standing in the doorway, silent as a dead lamb and somehow simultaneously both chewing pink bubble gum and blowing bubbles with it. For all her jaw moved, neither Adler nor Claire nor anybody they’d ever intercoursed with had ever known Trince to pronounce so much as a syllable. Her pale skin seemed to reflect all the light in the room as though she were the moon itself, and it was night; her ample (and what with the crop top and jean shorts, amply exposed) flesh rippled like a struck pond with every stomping footfall, and her mammoth thighs rubbed together with an audible SWISH-SWISH, so that there was veritable rhythm of gum chewing, popping, feet stomping, thighs rubbing whenever she deigned to move. She ambled across the living room to the chair across from Claire and Adler, and plunked a black plastic bag down on the coffee table.
“Say, hey Trince. Penny for your thoughts?”
“Oh for chrissake Addy, give it a rest. Why’d you invite her over if you’re just going to berate her?”
“Well Claire Bear, honey, my sweet nothing, I didn’t invite her over at all. I assumed that you had.”
The happy couple gave each other a long stare before turning their heads, slowly with terribly forced smiles, to face the unspeakable Trince and probe the best they could without touching it, the black plastic bag, the one from which there was a remarkable odor emanating.
“I suppose there’s not much point in asking you what’s in the bag, eh Trincey?”
Trince blew a bubble as big as a big fist and held it here, staring at the both of them while it slowly deflated.
“Ah yes, of course. Well Claire, suppose you just ever so gingerly…”
“Oh you worthless sot. Pour me another and I’ll think about it.”
“Alllllrighty then. Maybe just let’s just have ourselves a wait-and-see about this, no? Gary and Lena will be here soon, after all, and Gary’s twice the man I’ll ever be… He’ll open it, won’t be able to help himself…” Adler mused, now at the cusp of his intoxication, tilting his glass to hear the cubes clink. “It’s starting to stink up the room but it’ll be a nice little party favor, yes? Might lubricate the whole encounter, so to speak, and I think we both know this stuff,” raising his glass slightly, “just isn’t cutting it anymore, with those two boors…”
“Good god you love to talk. Hand me that bottle, would you Trince?”
Trince stood and grabbing the bottle by the neck handed it over to Claire and began rummaging through her purse. Leaning over, her breasts hung like great eggplants; Adler, conspicuously taken with them, Claire added another finger and a thumb to her glass on top of the already generous pour. Out of her purse, Trince produced a small bag of marijuana and a glass pipe, and plunked both down on the table.
“Well, this might be just what the doctor ordered.”
Claire sat up straight and squared up to both Adler and Trince, and gesturing broadly with her glass, pronounced: “Well, I really do hate to harsh your respective mellows here, but I won’t have a thing to do with that.. that stuff of yours, Trince. Sorry, well, no. Not sorry.”
“Darling, it’d be a shame to… it’d be a shame to deny our, uh, guest here the pleasure of a friendly toke. Gary’s a straight shooter, but I imagine Lena knows her way around a… um… pipe?”
The look of incredulity on Claire’s face was aborted prematurely by the buzzer.
“I suppose we’ll see what our counterparts think about all of this then.” Adler nodded at Trince, who commenced to breaking up the plant and putting it into the pipe. “I don’t know why the hell you’re here Trince, but you’re a damn good buffer. Please now, don’t feel obliged to say anything…”
Bent over the coffee table, she looked up at him without moving her head, expression unreadable, and burst another bubble.
“Say then, who are you really, anyway?”
Gary and Lena could be heard clomping up the stairway to the third floor apartment, and Claire stood gripping the open door for stability, listening to Adler’s clipped monologues, waiting to greet the new arrivals.
Gary, just shy of six-and-a-half feet, ducked into the apartment, and Lena, his waifish wife, scuttled in just behind him, the closing door barely missing her.
“Gary!” Claire yelped as she threw her arms around him, “It’s just so damn good to see you. Did you get taller? Oh, Lena, there you are… You’re looking… healthy… come in come in, let’s have a drink – it’s a sort of whiskey afternoon, is it not? Addy’s over there on the couch, and that’s, well… that’s my friend from my old job at the corner store… her name’s Trince, but she doesn’t really talk… try and play nice, alright Gary? Oh it’s just so good to see you…”
“That’s all fine, Claire, thank you,” Gary said, trying to detach the inebriated hostess from his enormous bicep. “Lena, grab me a drink, would you? I think we’ve got some catching up to do… Oh my… Trince, is it? Has anyone ever told you… well no, I suppose that they wouldn’t… not in your crowd… but I’ll be damned if you don’t look just like the Venus of Willendorf! Lena, get a load of her… she’s really something!”
Trince glared at him without any affect at all in her face, and blew a bubble that seemed to be threatening to float her across the apartment, out the window and into skies rather more azure than the bleak air one finds in Chicago. She detached the pink sphere from her lips, tied off the end, stuck it on the wall, and finished packing the pipe.
“Yes, she is, isn’t she?” Adler chirped, fondling an unlit cigarette. “You don’t find many like her anymore, I’ll tell you that much. Not in this town, at any rate…” He lighted the cigarette and blew out an enormous load of smoke into the apartment air.
“You know I hate it when you smoke in here, Adler,” Claire lamented.
“Care for one, dear? You really should try it sometime.”
“Oh shove it, you bastard.”
“How about you Gary? Wouldn’t take you for a smoker, but… no? Lena, it’s never too late to try something new, you know.”
“You know what, Addy? I think I will! You’re very kind. Mind if I squeeze between you two gentleman?”
“Oh not at all, I imagine you could fit yourself on a windowsill… You may have noticed our friend Trince here – strange bird that she is – took it upon herself to bring some drugs into our – well, Claire’s, really, though I’m known to stay here on occasion – lovely home. Whaddya say? That is of course, Trince, if you don’t mind… Just say the word if you do. Ha Ha! I guess that settles that.”
“My my, she’s rather reserved isn’t she? Well it does remind me of my college days… How about it Gary? It’ll be just like old times in Champaign!”
Gary up-ended his full glass of well whiskey. “Well, I’ve sort of lost my taste for it… You know, with my being a cardiologist and all… Lives depending upon my fine motor skills and incomparable depth perception… But I suppose one only has so many chances to recapture the past… Claire, are you joining us? Claire?”
Claire, having consumed an enormous quantity of whiskey over the past hour, was in a bit of a trance looking at Trince.
“Trince… what’s in the black plastic bag? It smells… awful. Trince, answer me now.”
Trince didn’t look at Claire, nor did she seem explicitly aware that anyone else was actually in the room; she herself was looking at the loaded pipe, which she picked up and lit, filling the room with yet more smoke and an aroma that masked the pungent scent of decay in the room.
“Claire, if you’re just going to berate her…”
Claire drained her glass of whiskey and attempted to throw it across the room at Adler in a sort of anemic softball throw – she’d been First Team All-County at her high school in Dekalb IL (until a career ending rotator cuff tear involving a marathon prom night handjob) – but it made it all of a foot and a half through the air before shattering on the ground, nearly a yard away from Adler’s head, as the crow flies.
“Oh boy… I’m afraid Claire has overserved herself, she got up early today, you see… Honey, why don’t you come join us, it’s alright… yes that’s right, sit right on my lap here, and uh, Trince, I hope I’m not interrupting you over there, but could you pass that pipe? Here Claire, just inhale and don’t breathe out for about five seconds… Yes, wonderful! Don’t worry, everyone coughs their first time… Now go ahead and pass that there guy over to Gare Bear, or Lena, rather, wouldn’t want to fiddle with the rotation,” Adler said, trying his charming best to assuage the frayed nerves of his consort.
Things grew quiet thereafter in Claire’s modestly furnished Chicago apartment. Stoned as they all were, the rest of the day passed almost in cinematic montage, with clouds racing by and the sun setting on them all before anyone though to check their watches, especially Trince, who was completely used to this sort of thing.
“Well I suppose someone should say something,” Adler began suddenly, breaking them all out of their stupors. “After all, I mean, I do enjoy spending time here… with everyone… but…”
“Well what do you propose we talk about, Adler?” said a now reasonably sober Claire.
“I mean I was thinking we could talk about the Holocaust, to be honest.”
“God dammit, this again… Are you going to try and show them the crawlspace too? That really went over real well with my parents, for chrissake…”
“Oh Claire, I thought that little nap of yours would have cheered you up… I was only joking, after all. And your Dad really took a shine to me after that, figured me for a handy fellow I think… But really, what I want to talk about, is Love.”
“Oh fuck you to death, Addy. Gary? Lena? Can I get some help here?”
“Oh… I’m sorry… Gary, where are we? Are we home?”
“Is he OK? I mean I’ve seen that color on faces in movies, but…”
“Oh this tends to happen with Gary from time to time. Or it did, in Champaign. During our bohemian days. He’s a big man, but certain things go straight to his head, you see…”
“Right then. Well how long have you and Gary been dating?”
“Well, each of our parents subscribe to the whole arranged marriage thing, actually. We met for playdates when we were about four years old, and our folks sort of cozened us into falling in love. Lots of ‘chance’ meetings, you see – running into each other on vacations, ice cream parlors, they even set up our bar and bat mitzvah’s at the same venue, on the same day. Lots of that sort of thing really.”
“I wasn’t aware that you two were Jewish.”
“We’re not. Holiday Catholics, if anything. Our parents were just really enamored with the idea of the whole coming-of-age ritual.”
“Really the whole business was about combining family fortunes, in the end. An almost purely fiscal decision.”
“But it’s worked out, for the most part. We sort of keep… well we have an open arrangement, to be perfectly honest.”
“Oh. That’s something I’ve discussed with Claire, but, you know, we’re still very fresh in terms of considering ourselves a couple.”
“Asshole! We’ve been dating for three years! We live together now, ever since your good-for-nothing ass was evicted… Is there any dope left? I don’t usually smoke, you know, but it really took the edge off…”
“You’d have to ask Trince, honey.”
“Trince goddamimit do you have any dope? Grass? Weed? Pot?”
“And what’s in that bag? Goddammit it’s really starting to stink here, you tell me now what’s in there! Now, you hear me?”
Trince chewed no slower and no faster than she had been all night, and stared flatly back at Claire.
“Claire, maybe if you calm down just a teensy weensy bit our lovely Trince here will let us a take a peek.”
“I’ll do the honors… If you don’t mind of course; I just do love surprises,” offered Lena, placing a small, pale hand on Adler’s thigh.
“AHEM, well then, go right ahead, open ‘er up. Trince, if you have any objections, just, you know, say the word…”
Lena slowly moved her hand towards the black plastic bag, waiting for any sign from Trince that the bag was hers, and hers alone to touch. She gave no such sign, and Lena, upon opening the bag and looking inside, let out a shocked wail and threw the bag up and away from her.
“Trince! A dead bird? I mean I’m all for being avant-garde or whatever, but this…”
“It’s a dove,” said Trince.
They all became silent for several minutes, as if to make up for Trince’s sudden lapse into the communicative world.
“…Well, Trince, I for one sure am glad you came over. You really managed to freshen things up in a way that I – well perhaps I should speak for myself only, what with all the bellicosity on one end and untoward advances being made from the other, I wouldn’t want to somehow step on any more toes here – that I for one never really expected to see in this life or the next. I don’t know who you are or what you really do, but whatever it is Trince, you keep on keeping on, alright? Care to maybe chime in on this one, Gary? No? Still feeling under the weather I see, that’s alright. Well anyways, I just can’t hardly wait to see what’s going to happen next.”
“Will you just shut up already, Adler.”
“Oh Claire, don’t be so harsh on our Addy. He may be talkative, but I have to say: he sure does talk pretty.” Lena’s hand advanced slowly up Adler’s thigh.
“Let’s say we all three of us sit here for a bit and get blitzed on what’s left of this terrible bourbon, shall we? Well, Claire, we know you’re game… here you go… a little for you, Lena… and a lot for papa… Gary?”
“Maybe just hold off then, huh big guy? Trince, care to imbibe? Ah, back to not talking I see… I’ll just take care of the rest of this myself then, if no one objects…”
Trince stood up abruptly and made her human noise, her flesh toned music, as she pranced over to the closet, returned with a tube of caulk and its correspondent gun, and picked up the dead dove. Staring at Trince, the blonde now faux-pistolero bearing the caulk gun fully locked and loaded, the still-verdant Gary began panting audibly, beating his ham-sized fists against his knees in staccato fashion.
“Gary, sweetheart, are you OK?” Claire said, with a firm grip still on Adler’s upper thigh.
“Don’t fret Lena; sometimes one can get excited, under the influence of certain things… We all have our curious proclivities, no? I suppose this isn’t Gary’s first time getting all aflutter witnessing amateur taxidermy – that’s where this is going, Trince? Trince? A simple nod will do…”
“Goddammit Addy, will you stop her? It’s just unsightly, and we’re out of this terrible bourbon now besides… I can’t stand it… Though I think I have some reserves under my bed somewhere…” said Claire, putting a conciliatory hand on Adler’s previously vacant thigh.
“Claire, sweetheart, do shut up. We’re missing the show, and frankly I’m riveted.”
Trince had begun filling, through its gaping rictus, the dead dove with caulk, and it seemed to be slowly inflating, taking on an almost life-like appearance. With every brief expansion, both Lena and Claire tightened their respective grips on Adler’s legs, and Gary could only be heard to pant progressively louder, and beat his fists upon his own legs at a more rapid pace.
The dove was now inflated to almost cartoonish proportions, with the white adhesive substance spilling over and out of its mouth and rear-end, its eyes bugging out horrifically.
“Ladies, I can appreciate the tension inherent in this scenario, but I think I’m beginning to bruise. Gary… Would you say that you’re a Hunter Green now? Yes? No?”
Just when the dove seemed set to burst, Trince pivoted towards the wall next to her and began affixing the bird to it with the remainder of the caulk.
“Trince goddammit you’re going to ruin the wallpaper!”
“Now let’s just maybe see how this plays out. I do hate to jump to conclusions.”
“That poor bird. It reminds me of myself – small, trapped, and yet somehow overfull of something, some instinct that seems to spill out of me beyond my control… Trince, could you maybe twist its head around just a bit, towards us? I hate to think of myself having to stare at the wall forever, even in death…”
“Spot on Lena. Claire, don’t you think she’s got excellent taste? Maybe if you put in a few more hours at the shop this month, we can have her consult on how to make this house a home, so to speak.”
“See that stool over there Adler? Flip it over and squat. Or get a job – your choice.”
“Hmmm… Talk about a rock and a hard place… I’ll have to sleep on that one, Claire… Trince, maybe just a bit higher? A bit closer to that Kinkade painting we all love so much…”
Trince whirled around and gave Adler an impossibly hostile stare; her entire body seemed to shake violently, which, it can be said without any lack of confidence, did very little good at all for the state Gary was in. After what seemed like a brief eternity to the stoned collective, in which they all thought independently that Adler might be made to burst into flames from Trince’s gaze, Trince turned back towards to dove and began pumping more caulk into its mouth.
In a moment of intense empathy towards the bird, Lena gave out a shrill squawk just as it exploded all over the room, covering everyone present with a mixture of decayed bird innards and caulk. Lena burst into tears; Gary passed out; Adler promptly vomited all over the coffee table; Claire ran frenzied circles around the room.
Trince, however, remained silent as ever. She wiped off what gunk had gotten on her face, and with a flick of her wrist put it on Gary’s sweater. She extracted a piece of pink bubble gum from the diminutive pocket of her jean-shorts, and popped it into her comely mouth. She sat down on the floor, legs crossed in a becoming meditative pose, listening to the human noise she’d made everyone make, her eyes downcast, chewing furiously until blowing an enormous bubble that threatened to take her far, far away, then not moving once thereafter, not even when the room went dark.