Exercises in Style

Today my niece was watching me do a bit of writing, and asked why I had written a certain sentence. I explained to her that I was writing in a certain style, and we decided to write our own story to practice different styles.

First, I asked her to think up a place, a person, a problem, and a solution. She came up with:

  • The beach.
  • Izzy and her uncle.
  • Crabs were pinching us.
  • Use a rock to push the pinchers away.

This is the story we wrote:

One day, Izzy and her uncle were at the beach. They were having a wonderful time, but then crabs started to pinch them. Izzy said, “Let’s use a rock to push the pinchers away!” So her uncle found a rock, and tried Izzy’s solution. It worked! They went back to having a wonderful day.

Here’s the same story with shorter sentences:

It was day. Izzy and her uncle were playing ball. The ball was at the beach. It was fun. But then there were crabs. They pinched. Izzy said, “We need a rock!” Her uncle found one. The rock stopped the pinchers. Hurray. They played more ball.

Here’s the same story again, with me showing off and being extremely silly:

On a glorious summer’s day replete with heady sunshine and the kind of breeze that made you pine for chocolate ice-cream under a snow-white veranda, Izzy, aged 5 and her uncle, who was too old to count, were frolicking on a sandy beach that stretched from left to right for miles and miles. They were having so much fun, they didn’t even see the hoary legions of crabs that were marching forth-with from the frothy surf. So, it was much to their dismay when the fell crabs began their pinching. Such woe and suffering. But Izzy, aged 5, had a brilliant idea, the likes of which had not been seen on God’s green earth since the invention of bread cut into slices sufficient for making toast and/or sandwiches. “Find a rock, Uncle, and put to rest this foul and most horrendous succession of deeds accomplished in a pinching fashion.” And lo, her uncle searched the expansive sand-bars and found the perfect amalgamation of stony pebble construction. He pushed it, with puissance and determination, into the pinchers. The crabs were thus thwarted. And so, Izzy and her uncle were able to return to their most joyous adventures of fun-having.

My niece, by the way, is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.

Bones and All

My wife and I and our son were down from Seattle, visiting her sister, and their parents from Huntsville were there as well. Also my wife’s father’s sister’s son, who is my wife’s cousin as well as my wife’s sister’s cousin, and from San Francisco. Also his nephew, from Atlanta, although the nephew did not participate in this story. I don’t know how it came up, but my sister-in-law told my niece, who is also my wife’s cousin’s mother’s brother’s grand-daughter, that they, her grandparents, almost named her Schumpta (if you don’t hear the name often it sounds like SCHOOMP-THUH). My niece was not impressed by this, so she went with her second cousin into the play room to make a tower out of Magnatiles for my son, who was at the time taking a nap, to knock over.

So I mentioned to my wife that if I had been a girl, my parents would have named me Angela. And I said if they had, it would have been awkward for her, falling in love with an Angela and everything. My wife said it would have been no problem; she would have just called me Mangela. This made me laugh uproariously, and I tried to think of a way to use Mangela in a tweet about gender fluidity, but I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t potentially offensive.

My wife’s cousin was explaining how he and his wife had a business that sourced gluten-free flour to companies. And my mother-in-law said she was very proud of all of the cousins (her sibling’s children and her sibling-in-law’s children). My sister-in-law made a joke about our stripper cousin. (We don’t have a stripper cousin but if we did I would respect the job, as I have had the privilege of watching a stripper perform and it would be hypocritical to judge. Also, it’s a job that I imagine is much more difficult than it looks, and something I couldn’t do, even if I wasn’t middle-aged and out of shape and going bald and a man and have terrible taste in g-strings. Basically, I’m too lazy).

The conversation got a bit garbled and we had to repeat what my sister-in-law had said, and my wife laughed and replied that our stripper cousin’s name was Mangela. And again I tried to think of some kind of joke, like maybe Mangela was a special-needs stripper, and in much the same way that people reference a so-called “short bus” for special-needs kids, Mangela him/herself worked a half-pole, or a “short-pole,” but again I couldn’t think of a way to bring it up without being offensive, not to mention the difficulty in even setting up the joke without being ponderous and tedious.

And then my wife mentioned how “Mangela” was a funny name because it sounds like “Manjula,” a not-uncommon Indian name. Upon hearing this my father-in-law said he had a masi named Manjula, masi being a word for your mother’s sister. Incidentally, the word for father’s sister is foi, so my wife’s cousin’s mother is her foi. That’s not material to this story either. But when my father-in-law mentioned his Manjula-masi that made my wife and her sister laugh, and then I had to explain to my sister-in-law how we got to Manjula in the first place.

This sparked my father-in-law to ask if I didn’t have an ex-girlfriend named Angela, or a friend maybe, and my wife and I said we did, once. Friend not girlfriend. My sister-in-law asked if she was the crazy one, and we said yes, although that might have been another friend of ours. And then she asked if that was the friend who’s brother went missing on a hike for three days, and we had to keep saying that Angela didn’t have a brother. Which made us think she must be referring to a different crazy friend. And to be clear, crazy in these contexts means mentally ill, not zany.

At this point I was trying to think of other woman’s name with “man” in them, so I could add a W-O, and I came up with “Samantha is such a hard-core feminist, she changed her named so Sawomantha.” I may tweet that. I don’t actually know anyone named Samantha.

Finally my wife remembered that the friend who had the brother who went missing for three days was her co-worker Anne. Who isn’t a friend at all. And that Angela, by the way, was also a co-worker, and a friend, and by coincidence our neighbor before she moved to Austin. Also, she suffered from a crippling depression, poor thing. But I think she’s better now. And I might as well mention that Angela’s ex-boyfriend bought her house from her, not right when they broke up of course, but after she had rented it to another coworker for a while, who, when his wife got pregnant, ended up moving just a few miles away from where my wife and I had moved, although we still own that first house and rent it to some very nice people. Angela’s ex-boyfriend got married and they had a baby but they still live in that house he bought from his ex. But never mind. None of that has anything to do with this.

Anne’s brother, the one who had been missing for three days on a hike, it turns out, is a cardiologist. In fact, when my father-in-law was in Seattle, visiting my wife and I and our son, he was having some chest pains, so first we called his sister’s husband, who is a cardiologist, the same sister’s husband who’s son was visiting my wife’s sister at the same time we were. And then we called my wife’s sister for some reason, maybe because she knew someone who knew cardiologists, because she gave us the number for a cardiologist in a San Francisco, who recommended we talk to someone he knew and highly recommended in Seattle, who was, you guessed it, my wife’s co-worker’s brother, the one who had once gone missing for three days.

My wife remembered all of this and reminded us about it. And then my wife’s cousin asked us if we’d read that long article in the new York Times about the four Indian’s who had died on Mt. Everest, about how their families were trying to recover the bodies. He’d brought it up, he explained, because a cardiologist had also been on the mountain that day, and he had not only filmed the four Indians, way above him on the mountain, as they died, but he had felt bad about not helping them, even though doing so probably would have gotten him killed too.

My sister-in-law’s father asked who was the Indian with the camera, and my wife said not an Indian, a cardiologist, and I made a joke about it wasn’t an Indian, but instead a cardiologist, as if an Indian can’t be a cardiologist, which was funny given that my wife’s father’s sister’s husband, who is also my sister-in-law’s cousin’s father, is a cardiologist, and also Indian. And I tried to think of a joke about how if you’re Indian and studying cardiology you spend so much time inside with books that you turn pale and aren’t Indian anymore, but I also tried to think of a way to tie in how climbing Mt. Everest would turn you white, especially if you died. But nothing came to mind.

Then my wife recalled than when she and her sister were kids, they went to Switzerland, with their parents, and it was pointed out to them that a person who was travelling past Jungfrau could see little black dots on the mountain face, and those were people who had died, and been left there, as it was too expensive and dangerous to retrieve the bodies. I managed to say something that wasn’t a joke about how folks could use drones to retrieve the bodies, these days, and then I found a way to turn it into a joke about gung-ho drone-flying bros upping their game from drone racing to a competition to see who could fetch the most bodies off a mountain. Everyone laughed.

My wife’s cousin’s mother’s brother then mentioned how there were some Indians, Parsees, who don’t burn or bury their dead, but hanging them in a well for birds to eat. I replied that not only was I aware of this, but that I happened to know that there was a Parsee sanctuary very close to where his brother lived in Mumbai (a place my wife and I had visited before we were married). Then my wife’s mother asked what did Jews do with their dead, and my wife’s cousin made a joke about not knowing if she’d said Jews or Juice. I was going to try and think of a joke about Jews and Juice, but instead I told my mother-in-law that Jews bury their died just like Christians do, something I know because my wife and my son and necessarily the coworker who had moved out of Angela’s house when he and his wife had a baby, live within a few miles of a Jewish cemetery.

My sister-in-law’s cousin’s father’s wife’s brother’s wife then said she thought that Jews and Parsees were a lot alike, which is why she’d asked, but my wife’s sister’s daughter’s second cousin’s grandmother’s brother said no, the Parsees had originally come from a different part of the Middle East. I tried to think of a way to use the word “Semitic” but couldn’t. But I did mention how it was odd that when I was growing up in Wichita, I happened to live with a few miles of several cemeteries, and now, in Seattle, I also live within a few miles of several cemeteries.

I explained this was because when these towns were smaller, the cemeteries were outside of town, and then as the towns grew, they overtook the cemeteries. My mother’s in-law’s nephew then said that in a town on the East Coast, which I am assuming was not far from where his nephew’s grandfather the cardiologist lived, they kept their cemetery right in the center of town, which was a problem because when hurricane Sandy came through it uprooted several large elm trees, which unearthed lots of graves, bones and all.

I don’t remember what we talked about after that.

100 Micro-Reviews of Well-Loved Novels, Most of Which I Have Not Read

This list comes from the BBC, in 2003, of England’s most loved novels. I don’t know why I decided to review them all. I think this was sent to me as some kind of list to check-off, to see how literate I am. Results: not very.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Have not read it but saw that movie Clueless which was based on Emma so we’re good, Jane?

The Lord of the Rings series by JRR Tolkien
I read the first one, saw the first two movies. I think I got it.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Not only have I not read this, I don’t even know what it’s about. At least I’ve heard of it.

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
I liked the warm coziness of hanging with HP in the dorm, but in book 5 he turned into a whiny little jerk.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I read this book but I don’t remember much. I remember thinking that Scout kid was a little too big for her britches.

The Bible by God, Allegedly
I’ve read this part and that. Since I don’t read Greek or Aramaic, I’m pretty sure what I’m seeing isn’t the real deal, so I’m not too chuffed to read more.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
If the Bronte sisters were brought back from the dead and vied for my heart or some such crap they’d have to reconcile themselves to the fact that it wouldn’t be the quality of one their novels over the other that swayed me, as I have read neither.

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
I should read this so I can irritate the crap out of intellectuals by saying George was right but 30 years too early and inverted.

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
I have not read this but I have a son and I want to read everything he reads so if I don’t read this one I bet I’ll end up reading something like it. In my day it was The Chronicles of Prydain, FYI.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Chaz was a serialist, right? So reading him’s more about the parts than the sum, right? I mean, if you’re that kinda critic. And I am. And if one was going to read a lot of Chuckle’s oevre, that’s a lot of parts to get to. Me, I’m satisfied with my Dickens parts. Such larks!

Little Women by Louisa M Alcott
I have not read this book but it would be the kind of weird thing where I’m awake at 2 am and for no good reason watching clips from the Winona Ryder film adaptation. And if that happens I’ll tweet about it.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I’ve read some Hardy, easily the most readable of all the boring dead old white dude novelists. Kind of a stereotypical British version of Gabrial Garcia Marquez, in terms of readability, in my opinion. When I’m old, and don’t have a good memory, I will keep Hardy and Marquez by my bedside, and just read random passages until I fall asleep.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
I did a character sketch from this book, in highschool, which included taking all my clothes off (down to skivvies) in front of the whole class.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare by
I’ve read my fair share of Bill S. Not the boring ones. Not Troll boy and Crescent Wrench. Not the duller histories. Also, my vote on the “its not supposed to be read, it’s supposed to be performed” debate is: it’s not supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to enact procreation, but that doesn’t stop most of us.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
In another review I said I don’t know what Jane Eyre is even about. Let’s go up a notch: I have not even heard of this book.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
I’m going to be real honest here: the book is fine, whatever, but whenever I have occasion to think “Bilbo Baggins” I start to giggle. It’s a long story, involving memes, 4chan, my brother-in-law-n-law, and the Big Bang Theory, and I don’t even like two out of those four things.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulk
This book had such a huge impact on me, in a manner of speaking, that manner being I’d never heard of it so who knows how many paths it never took me down to wind up here.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
My god who hasn’t read this book. No review necessary.

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A girl I knew once thought this was great and asked me to read it, so I did, and I did not care for it. And in a weird twist this was one of the few girls’ I didn’t have a crush on, so I told her what I thought. Probably why we’re not friends anymore. One of the reasons.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Although I have not read this book, I loathe someone who has. Not anyone, just this one person in particular.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Someday I’m going to read this novel just for the novelty of having read it, and yes, I see the pun there.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
I will admit I didn’t really get it. I mean it was okay but I’m too naïve to get all the references to class and whatnot.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
In another review I said I was one and done with Great Expectations. But I have to admit, this title is interesting. I wish Stephen King had written a book with this title.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Too long. Seriously. There’s too much bad TV to be seduced by these days.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Myself, I’ve never visited Brideshead, so I don’t know how to revist it. Wait, is that a virginity reference. Was Madonna channelling Waugh?

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Someday I’ll dip my toes in this book if only because someone for whom I have a lot of respect called this, more or less, one of the few “novels” he has any kind of time for.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Did you know I’m part Okie? Everybody thinks Steinbeck is the bees knees but those of us he used for his little screed don’t appreciate it too much.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
When pedophiles take LSD. Don’t laugh at that.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
My cousin really loved the Redwall series when he was a kid. This novel is the adult version, right? I’d be able to argue why if I’d ever read it.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Yes, I’ll read books if a girl I have a crush on is reading it. But not this one, even though, at the time, I was so full of hormones I’m pretty sure I glowed in the dark.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
I haven’t read this book, but I did see David Copperfiled perform at a small theater in Las Vegas. There was a Q&A afterwards and he answered my question! I don’t remember what it was.

Chronicles of Narnia seriesby CS Lewis
I’ll admit it, I have this bias against a) knowing what a book is “about” before I even read it, and b) Jesus stories. Not that I have anything against Jesus. I like main characters who are assholes (that’s not blasphemy, but respect i.e. John 2:13-16)/.

Emma by Jane Austen
I sort of ruined this review by having already mentioned Clueless in my Pride and Prejudice review. Having read neither, that probably doesn’t even matter.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Sigh. How many books has Jane Austen written? Hint: all the ones I haven’t read.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
See above re: The Chronicles of Narnia. I have not read the series at all, so I have not read this one especially.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I see this on people’s book shelves and not only do I not remember what they tell me about it, I don’t even remember if I asked them.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
I read his trilogy, the one that starts with The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. Oh my god those books were amazing. I should review those. And The Milagro Beanfield War triology.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
There was a big hulabaloo about this book a while ago so I bet could find a free version on some e-book pirate site if I wanted to. Maybe someday.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
I have a two year old. I’ve read umpteen tiny book about Winnie the Pooh, if not the OG tome. I also have not seen any of the new Star Wars movies but they’re everywhere so I feel like I have.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
I have not read this. It’s about socialism, right? Or something.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Like a drug, this book fools you into thinking you’re reading something. Kind of like falling down a staircase fools you into thinking you’re going somewhere.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In another review I said Thomas Hardy was kind of a stereotypical British version of Gabrial Garcia Marquez, so I’ll double-dpwn here and say GGM is sort of a wealthy Mexican version of Hardy. I mean I haven’t read this one but I read Love in the Time of Cholera, so there’s that.

A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
I have not read this. But Wikipedia tells me Irving has confirmed it was inspired by Grass’s nove The Tin Drum. Say, did you know Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” was insipred by “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Have not read it. Is it about a ghost? A bride? A ghost bride? Now I don’t want to read it just in case it isn’t.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Not only have I not read this book, if I was at a pub trivia night, and the question “who wrote Anne of Green Gables?” came up, I would drunkley buly my teammates into answering “Thomas Hardy.”

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
After I got done with this one I thought “Well, that was no fun. I wonder what else this Hardy guy has up his sleeve.” So I read Jude the Obscure. Holy crap, dude, take some welbutrin.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I didn’t read this, but I saw the old movie version before the cool HBO version came out. And I did read something else by Atwood, Cat’s Eye, maybe, I’m not sure. It was for grad school. I didn’t do well in grad school.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I’m going to read this someday just so I can write a steampunk Lego Marvel-SuperHeroes Muppet noir parody of it. I am serious

Atonement by Ian McEwan
I think I’d like to read this one. I have a friend who recommends it. I thought I was reading it when I started reading Notes on a Scandal, but that’s because I’m bad with titles.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Spoiler: he lost me when he found that “island.”

Dune by Frank Herbert
Whoa. Way better than I thought it would be. I should read more. Did you know his kid wrote a book too? It was kind of weird. Fun, but weird.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
I haven’t heard of this one. But once I made a “meme” about a gibbon with lupus. I have no idea why.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
For the love of god, how many Jane Austen books that I haven’t read am I going to review? Maybe I should just $%^&* read one.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
I might be wrong about this, but I think someone gave me this book, and the age count was, like, “I don’t even read books I like that are this long.”

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Really good. And what’s ironic about that “nano” review right there is how woefully terse it is compared to Zafon’s engaging, fluid style.

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This is how immature I am: I haven’t read this book, but every time I see the title, I do the spoonerism thing to make it naughty. What if I ended up reading the whole book this way? “It was the test if wimes, it was the terst of bimes…” Oh brother.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
One of my dad’s favorites, so I’ll read it this someday.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
A Spot of Bother was better.

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Still can’t believe a human being wrote this.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
You know, if I could find someone who was as plain as sparse as Hemigway, as plain as Steinbeck, and as devious as Faulkner, I’d eat it up like ice-cream.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
And The Collector by John Fowles and The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer. Go pervs go.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
In another review I mentioned a guy who I said likes Dostoyevsky. He used to love this book. I think cause of the Greek stuff.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
This is one of those books that I think might be good but then I reasd the inside flap of the dust jacket and the description makes me want to play video games instead.

Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I think I’ll read this one someday. I like sword fights. Dumas is the guy who’s always writing abour sword fights, right? And I bet it’s, like, free to download and such.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac
I like gimmicks as much as the next person. But too many finger-snapping poetry-slammist who want to secretly hump Hunter S. Thompson’s corpse have turned me off of writings Kerouacian.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Holy crap was this depressing. I mean I really really liked it. I am in therapy now, and take drugs. That’s just a coincidence. Listen, if you read one Hardy, read this one.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
I know people are always saying that the book is better than movie. What if you’ve never consumed either? Then which one? Based on Pride and Prejudice.

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
I tried to read The Satanaic Verses and it just felt just too unnecessarily complex in sentence structure, like David Foster Wallace with olive skin. So I’m probably not going to try this one.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
I don’t need a manual on whale hunting. Abridge the good bits, maybe I’ll look ‘em over.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Yet another Dickens novel I have not read. Book club idea: books on tape that you only listen to while going on epic walks across London.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
I tried to read this when I went through my Vampire phase, which unfortunetly coincided with my “keep it real” phase (like eating burgers with no condiments only drinking Coca-Cola. It was a dumb phase.) I was too young for the language. Now I’m too old. Ah, life.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When an adult told the child me that this was right up my alley, since I like secrets and mazes and stuff, it only took about ten pages before I realized I couldn’t really trust adultsd anymore. A coming of age story.

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
This Bryson guy, he’s a professional writer. It’s his job. He shows up at the office and writes books and then goes home. I feel like the one I did read by him, although it wasn’t this one, sufficed.

Ulysses by James Joyce
I am still, to this day, convinced that James Joyce secretly hated everyone who thought “writing” was “art” and wrote this to mess with people heads. And when that didn’t work, he wrote Finnegan’s Wake. And when that didn’t work, he died of being Irish in the wrong century.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Got to admit, there’s a sneaky part of me that wants to stop taking my medication, wait for the suicidal thoughts, then read this. A sneaky, stupid, self-indulgent part of me.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Sounds like an adult film title as written by someone who thinks they get the joke of adult film titles but doesn’t. Sorry if that’s irreverant. Have never even heard of this novel.

Germinal by Emile Zola
Myabe I’ll read this just to be able to use the word “germinal” in sentence, correctly. Tell me if this is even close “He put his germinal hand on her shoulder and she winced, insid.”

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
While I have not read this, I have read books by the food critic who writes for a magazine I often get confused with the one named after it.

Possession by AS Byatt
Haunting. Okay I don’t know if that’s right. I read this so long ago, all I remember is that it was one of those “multiple literary styles” novels. Or, I was reading another book at the same time that was.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Had to read this a lot as a kid, in school. Now I wonder what they were trying to teach us. This story is all over the place. I mean, do people even ‘read’ the book anymore? Just go watch the Bill Murray version.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Stumbled across this one by accident, found it aweseome, read lots of his other stuff, also awesome.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Saw the movie. Made me really mad and sad. So did Fried Green Tomatoes. That one I read though.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I may have read this. I may have seen the movie. I may have had a sandwhich yesterday. I can never be sure about things. Anyway. did pmen just straight ask women to marry them, no fuss no muss?

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Although I took French, I never took enough French that I had to read this book. Not sure why else people read it, unless it’s, I don’t know, good, or whatever.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Wow this look like a long, complicated book with lots of characters and such. An Indian Tolstoy, maybe. I’ve never read Tolstoy, either.

Charlotte’s Web by EB White
Read it when I was a kid. Who hasn’t. As I said in other reviews, what where they trying to teach us back in the day.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom
If someone told me those five people are Dopey, Happy, Sneezy, Lucky, and Smelly, I would read this book.

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I haven’t read all of them, but I watched the brilliant TV series, and I did read one of those “writing as Sir ACD” books, and I liked it.

The Faraway Tree Collection by Enid Blyton
I have not read this book but I sure do like that title. That’s the kind of title I would come up with. Yes I’m tooting my own horn. (Story title idea: ‘A Collection of Self-Tooting Horns’ … okay nevermind).

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I started reading this because “It’s short! Piece of cake!” But damn, it took forever. Kind of how long it took to get from the novel’s publication to the movie Rushmore.

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Is this a whole book, or a kids’ book with pictures and stuff?

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Everytime I try to remember if I’ve read this book, I remember parts of it, then I re-read it to see if I was right, and I was, and then a few years later I go through this little pageant again.

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Is this a sequel to The Wind in the Willows? All I remember is that scene in the movie, which I saw on TV when I was a kid, where the guy was hanging from the wheel and turning it and then he died. Oops, sorry, spoiler.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Not only is this book a heck of a lot of fun, and well written, and when you’re done reading it you can tell your friends you read a “picaresque,” but someone I really don’t like hated this book, so it’s even better now.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
This has an intriguingh title. One of my all time favorite stories is ‘A Rose for Emily.’ If this is a whole novel like that, I’m in.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Never read it, but love that dudes named after guns are more famous for their swords. Betcha Dumas didn’t plan for that.

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Bill contemplates suicide. I wonder what was going on in his life that he had to hash this one out in his longest play (note to self: check to see if that’s true). I’ll bet it was existential angst. It’s the kind of uncle that would sleep with anyone’s mother, let alone yours.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The other day I read a review of Ready Player One that said it was basically this novel, modernized. Well, heck. I didn’t much like Ready Player One.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Read the book, drove halfway across the country to see the musical with a girl who I thought loved me, drove halfway across town to see the musical with a girl who loved me enough to marry me. I liked the Napolean parts; they weren’t in the musical.

Politically Motivated Noir Parody in Ten Tweets

(posted on Twitter 12/6/2017 

Sitting at my PC and trying to decide if staring at Twitter or the half-empty bottle of gin on my desk was going to do me more damage. The bottle used to be half full, but at 9 am I realized the day wasn’t even half-over yet, so I improvised. #TweetNoir 1/10

Then she walked in. And by she I mean another tweet from one of them liberal types with the long legs and a longer list of grievances. Actually, I’m guessing about the legs. But never mind. She had something to say re: Trump #TweetNoir 2/10

“Look here, dick.’ She cooed. “How’d you know my name?” I snarled. “It’s written on your door.” And she wasn’t lying. There on the cheap glass in cheaper acrylic, “Dick Detective, Twitter Addict.” Not the pithiest, but then I’m not even sure what pithiest means. #TweetNoir 3/10

“Alright,” I burbled. “Let’s hear it.” She took a seat in my feed and let loose. “Mueller’s got Trump’s bank records, see. The big cheese is about to get busted or embarrassed.” She smiled the smile of a thousand lethal retweets. #TweetNoir 4/10

“What do you want me to do about it,” I said. “I’ve got, maybe, a 100 followers, 150 tops on a good day if I lure a few ‘bots with gratuitous hashtags.” #GratuitousHashtags, by the way, is my middle name. I guess Mom was on some major painkillers when I was born. #TweetNoir 5/10

“Every little bit counts,” she said. “Get creative. Write one of those stupid #TweetNoir things. Make it a thread. Go crazy, ya lazy, privileged, upper-middle class white man.” That one wasn’t written on my door, but she had me pegged, but good. 6/10

“Fine. I’ll see what I can do,” I managed. I started rummaging in my desk for a pencil and the legal pad I’d swiped from a lawyer’s office, which is just the kind of self-indulgent irony that kept me from getting too many followers in the first place. #TweetNoir 7/10

“That’s all I’m asking,” she coo’ed. Again with the cooing. Either she was trying to seduce me or I was in serious need of a thesaurus. Most likely the latter. I’m good with words like I’m good with booze: the more I have, the less I know what I’m doin’. #TweetNoir 8/10

She got up and left, which is to say, my feed was starting to fill up with video game tweets and dad jokes. It ain’t easy, being a Twitter addict. Hence the booze. But then nothing that’s easy is worth it, according to some crap I read in a book once. #TweetNoir 9/10

Speaking of booze, I took another look at that bottle of gin. Now that I had a case, something to occupy me for a few minutes, the bottle was starting to look half full. I guess I’d call that a win. #TweetNoir #ImpeachTrump #GoMuellerGo theguardian.com/us-news/2017/d… 10/10

Went up to Big Wine Country for Thanksgiving

Went up to Big Wine Country for Thanksgiving. That’s what I call Pioneer, CA, up in the mountains about ninety minutes east of Sacramento. Not that we were there for the wine. My parents live there, and it was high time my toddler got to spend turkey day with his grandparents.

It was a nice and nothing long weekend. We got there on Thursday, and made it early enough to help with some of the preparation. My mother, bless her heart, asked me to peel “six or seven” potatoes for mashing. I tripled that. Anything less than five pounds of mashed potatoes and it’s not Thanksgiving.

On Saturday we drove into Jackson to meet Santa Claus and watch the lighting of the holiday tree. Yep, I’m going to call it that even though I just mentioned Santa Claus and virtually everyone in Amador county is Christian (with most of them leaning right on the political sway). But the big thrill for my two-year-old was, of course, the fire truck. The look on his face was like an early Christmas for me.

The weather treated us nice, with temperatures in the 50s until Monday when it finally snowed. I managed to get a run in- a four mile jaunt that started at 3900 feet, dipped down to 3800, then peaked at 4200 a mile and half later at the turn around. It was the return, that 100 foot climb over half a mile at the end that about killed me. But a cheap Mexican beer and a few shots of cheaper tequila afterwards brought me back to life.

When it did snow it wasn’t all that much, but enough for grandpa to scrape the deck and build a snowman for the kid. Grandpa also helped the wife turn a pen (that’s shop talk for: put a block of wood on a lathe, shape it, insert pen parts, coat in plastic, rejoice). And grandma made me some notebook covers (“fauxdori”) out of a few leather scraps. It was a crafty weekend.

I finally told mom and dad about my depression and anxiety. They took it in stride

It’s a quarter to 7, PM, which is post meridian, which means after noon. It’s an excruciatingly beautiful June day in northern Seattle. Not that Seattle is so vast that I need to differentiate different parts of it to assign the weather appropriately. It’s excruciatingly beautiful all over the god damned place. I’m walking to Starbucks.

Which is not true, but more interesting that what I was actually doing at that time: falling asleep as my wife sang a song to our son, about an alligator eating monkeys out of a tree, one by one. First there were five of the little bastards, teasing Mr. Alligator, so he snuck up and snatched one. Then there were four, but the monkeys didn’t seem to notice, and kept right on hassling the guy. So he snatched another. I was actually fighting sleep because I wanted to know how it ended. Would the last one figure it out, maybe repent his ways?

Nah, he got et too. Idiot.

But that’s boring, so instead, I’m walking to Starbucks. It’s warm outside, all the trees are green, and the sky is that deep blue color you get when you give up using four-letter monosyllabic words for colors and look for something fancy and poetic and crap. Like “azure” or “cobalt.”

We like our coffee here in Seattle, mostly because it’s overcast all the time and we need the caffeine to fight off the drearies. People who don’t drink coffee either take heroin or make music, or if it’s the early 90s, they do both. But today the only heroin a person could think of is heroine, with an e, like Wonder Woman, because the sky is the color of Linda Carter’s eyes. There you go.

Which begs the question: why am I walking to Starbucks at 7 PM on a gorgeous day? I dunno. On the one hand, I’m not; I’m mostly asleep on the floor in my kids room as my wife tries to get him to sit still while she changes his diaper. But there would have to be a reason, even if I’m not really walking to Starbucks. Go ahead, find Wonder Woman, have her throw that lasso around me, make me tell the truth. I’d love to know myself.

I mean, on the one hand, I’ve been dipping my toes into philosophy via books and podcasts and browsing Wikipedia. That can get a man down, whether he’s literally down on the floor in his son’s bedroom listening to his wife fight a sleep sack onto the little rascal, or merely spiritually down due to the hop-skip-jump journey he just took from Plato to Descartes to Camus to The Matrix. So there you go. Again. Even the deep warmth of Linda Carter’s deep blue eyes are nothing against a single toe frozen in the ice-cold waters of existential angst.

But on the other hand, there’s this Mindfulness thing that’s been going around. An antidote to angst. Or, an antidote to Angst’s little brother Anxiety, who is way more annoying if you ask me. And to be sure, if I’m lying on the floor of my son’s bedroom as my wife rocks him in the glider and sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (his favorite song) five times in a row, I can hardly consider myself “mindful” if I’m imagining myself walking to Starbucks underneath skies so blue it’s like everything else’s not-blueness just contributes to how blue it is. Maybe, though, I’m so immersed in this imaginary walk I’m mindful of the walk.

Afterall, I’m not feeling any anxiety, thinking about the sky, the press of the cement through my shoes, the traffic tootling by, the siren call of a venti mocha. I am in THAT moment. Sort of. And it’s all in MY head, see. My wife puts our son in his crib with his lovey and a stuffed rhinoceros, and I adjust my face just a bit to move out of my drool spot, and she turns on the white-noisemaker and turns off the light, and there are no shadows on the cave wall in my head, there are no demons messing with my five senses. I am really good at imagining things. I’ve got the Matrix right there inside my noggin.

My son starts to snore. I mean, I get to a crosswalk. I dutifully wait for the light, and when the little white man appears, I get up off the floor. Starbucks is just there, but it’s kind of hard to see in the dark. I am also hard to see in the dark, and a car totally ignore the red light. Probably some jerk on his cell phone. Or maybe the sky is too blue for red to even exist anymore. Camus decided that there’s no purpose to anything, so you might as well just do what you’re good at. I smile at my boy. I’m pretty good at that.

The car is a 1957 Facel Vega, of course, and it plows through me like the fifth dad pun in a string of a dozen. I never make it to Starbucks, but I do make it out of my son’s room. I walk downstairs, find my shoes. There where I took them off. It’s nice when things work out like that.

Donut Day

It’s 6 pm or maybe closer to 7 on a Friday, in the beginning of June, in Seattle, the year 2017, only a day after whatisface announced that he was ready to really destroy the earth. Really destroy it this time. I’m standing in line at Krispy Kreme. Every single teenage girl in Seattle is here. Every. Single. One.

They’re just being people, for the most part. They’re not being geese. They’re not being stereotypes. I wouldn’t even have noticed if I hadn’t noticed. Me, I’m here because I promised someone donuts as a kind of mea culpa. My wife has shanghai’d the gesture to get some donuts for herself and her parents as well. Fair enough. I’d do the same. I really like donuts.

And so does every single teenage girl in Seattle, apparently. No, really, there are a lot of them here. This is how many of them there are: if there were one more, it would be one less than too much. And one less of too much creates anxiety. Almost like, go ahead, squeeze one more in, let’s have that tipping point, let the universe collapse on itself here at the Krispy Kreme on 125th and Aurora under the weight of every single teenage girl.

That’s angst. But we’re still one away from that. The prepunultimate teenage girl is maybe that one by the door, with the blonde hair, blue eyes, braces, shirt, shorts, shoes, cell phone, donut-hungry grin. She represents pre-angst. Let’s call it prangst.

I am, me, hungry for prangst. I have been noticing a lot of things lately that are semi-connected which add up to a kind of frisson. I listened to a podcast today about Camus, and absurdism, which drifted into a discussion of Mindfulness. I have a friend who has been encouraging to me to try mindfulness, by coincidence. I have anxiety. But I value it because it makes me hypervigilant, which I take pride in. If I give up my anxiety entirely, I’ll lose my identity. But it’s making me miserable. I need to be almost anxious. Prangst.

And that’s where the frisson comes in. I am not worried, yet, that the number of teenage girls in here will reach a critical mass, yet. But I am maybe worried that I’ll be worried about it if one more comes in. And, here’s the thing, I’m being very mindful of my worries. I am in the moment. I am surrounded by almost but not quite nearly too many teenage girls.

At no point whatsoever do I wonder, at all, WHY there are so many freakin’ teenage girls here.

Somehow, the lines moves, and I’m in front of the counter. I look back– the line is exactly as long as it was when I came in. For every teenage girl that left, a new one has come. I don’t know you, whoever you are, reading this. I don’t know what teenage girls symbolize for you. And I don’t want to guess, and I refuse to worry about what you think I must mean by saying I don’t want to guess. I’m just saying that these teenage girls are not a mass of individuals, but are collective consciousness, and they are timing their exits and entries with mathematical precision. I’d thank one of them if I thought she could speak for all of them. But of course she can’t.

The guy behind the counter asks me what I’d like to have. He is utterly oblivious to how many teenage girls are in here. That’s either because he’s not hypervigilant like me, or he’s used to it. Probably, this precise number of teenage girls has been here all day. Every day. Teenage girls, it turns out, existentially, are defined by how there are always the exact same number of them in the universe, and this Krispy Kreme on 125th and Aurora is a splinter of the hologram that reflects that entire universe.

I tell the guy I want three of those and two of those and one of those and one of those and two of those. He asks me if I want a free donut.

The question is so straightforward, so simple. “Do you want a free donut?” In any other context I would assume it’s a rhetorical question. I mean, the answer is always yes. Always. Even after I’ve chose nine other donuts that I clearly have every intention of paying for, the answer is yes. And so, despite myself, I say yes. It’s automatic. And he asks me which one I want. He doesn’t mean one of the ones in the box he’s building for me. He means a tenth donut.

I glance around. The line is now one teenage girl longer than it was before. I start to sweat. I need to leave. I tell him I’ll have one of the hot ones. He tries to hand it to me, I point at the box. I glance back at the door. There’s a teenage girl standing outside of it, dark hair, dark eyes, jeans with holes on the knees, baggy sweathshirt. She’s not coming inside yet, she just talking on her cell phone. A baggy sweatshirt in Seattle on absolutely gorgeous day, a warm sunny day. We’re all going to die.

The guy scoots over to the registers and I follow suit. You know those new chip-card readers? If you have a credit card with one of those chips on it, what you do is you try to slide it like you used to do with your older credit cards, and then the machine tells you, no, stupid, insert the chip part and wait. Well, this time I don’t fuck it up. I insert. The machine almost sighs. Like, finally. For myself, I am willfully not using my peripheral vision to see if that final teenage girl has come in yet. Because my peripheral vision has already told me that  none of them have left.

The guy hands me my receipt. I try to grab it but I’ve already got my box of nine donuts plus one free one in my hands. I can’t use a number higher than nine anymore, because that’s one too many and I don’t want the impending teenage girl singularity and the donut singularity to fight over which one will collapse the universe and which one is just going to be along for the ride. I don’t even remember the guy handing me the box in the first place.
It occurs to me that whoever wins, the donuts or the teenage girls, I better call “shotgun” because you don’t want to be in the backseat when the universe ends.

But it doesn’t end, and I make it outside. I get in my car and sit there, looking at the teenage girls swarming in the door, out the door. I could say what it’s like, but I’ve already said I don’t know you, don’t know what you think of when you read the words “teenage girls.” So I can’t say what it’s like.

I start the car. The radio blares. The DJ is blathering about something, and doing an excellent job of it. Earning that daily bread. He says that I shouldn’t forget that today is Free Donut Day. I can here the capital letters in his voice.

Well, shit.


I don’t know if I know exactly what a McMansion is, but I know the term is disparaging. I heard a podcast about McMansions once, and it wasn’t very nice. The way these houses were described makes me wonder if I’m standing in one right now. Or, outside one. But inside, as I’m on a covered porch, open on three sides, the fourth side connected to the rest of the house with eight-foot doors so wide, I have to look for them to be before I’m assured these people don’t wear bulky coats indoors all winter. Then again, there are directional heaters installed in the roof of this porch. And skylights. There are skylights in this porch roof.

I hesitate to describe why I’m here (lest someone read this and recognize who I’m talking about) because, as I said, I’ve already been disparaging and I shouldn’t be. We’re at a party for a friend, and the people who own this house have very graciously offered up their home to host. I mean, I’ve already had a beer, and will soon have another. To say anything even bordering on judgmental about people who invite you in and give you beer is not just bad manners, it’s downright shitty.

And yet, I can’t help but judge. I’m a judgmental prick. But that’s no excuse- just because I call myself an asshole, doesn’t excuse such behavior. In fact, that makes it worse. So I’ll focus on other things. Other generosities. That table overloaded with homemade food. A house like this, they could have easily afforded caterers replete with black bow-tie servers. But it’s all home-cooked, and although I over indulged with some leftover Chinese for lunch, my wife insists I eat something. I’m holding the baby, so she stabs food with a plastic fork and shoves in my face. It’s fucking delicious.

Some kind of music is trickling out of the overhead speakers. This damned porch ceiling is festooned with speakers, heaters, and skylights. The baby is my arms, let’s be clear, is a 25-pound toddler. He feels good in my arms. His weight anchors me, keeps me from drifting around the party. I don’t know anyone here, not the hosts certainly. I suppose I know the guest of honor and her husband, but I haven’t seen them in, literally, two years. They look great, by the way. They’re beautiful people.

My wife takes my anchor away to go find said guest of honor and talk about women things. I don’t say that disparagingly. I say that as a good excuse to not describe further what they’re going to talk about. It’s utterly alien to me. So now I’m weightless, and I drift around, off the porch, into the sun. On their perfect green grass. I end up chatting with a fellow about his impending child. Another guy joins us, they’re old friends, he also has a child looming. Another guy joins us. A fifth. No, a fourth, because they’re all old friends, and their conversation drifts to memories and such. I manage to get a few jokes in:

“I’m the only one who married a shiksa,” one guys says.
“Well, I married shiksa too,” I say.
They all look at me. A different guy says “Are you Jewish?”
I smile. “No.”

It feels like their laughter is genuine. One guy gives me a high five. Then their conversation returns to old memories, and the sun is in my eyes, and my beer is empty, so I drift away again. Making people laugh, or at least trying too, is another anchor of mine. But I don’t want to try too hard. I go find the beers. They’re on the porch.

It feels like coming home. Not really, but it’s familiar. It’s starting to get crowded at this party. These beautiful people sure do know a lot of fairly beautiful people. Maybe that’s where my wife fits in. She’s a beautiful people too, and so is my son, and the jokes my wife brings back from the guest of honor about her daughter eventually marrying our son. A good old Bollywood wedding. How we’ll go dutch on the dowry. A Jap and shegetz. It’s not disparaging if you belong to one of the ethnic groups being made fun of, right?

Let’s face it: I’m a middle-aged middle-class white guy originally from the Midwest. My very existence is racist.

You know what? Fuck that podcast. Fuck the whole idea of “McMansions.” This place is lovely and I would love to live here. I would love to throw a party here for my kid and his gori fiancee, invite all these people back, drink my own beer, drift around, peer up through the skylight as the night comes on and look at the stars and when some says to me “penny for your thoughts” I’d say, “My son’s a Guju getting married to a Jew, so I’m going to maybe have to bargain with you on that price you’re offering me.”

But that’s years in the future. For now, little man needs to get home and get to bed. We say our goodbyes, get to our Subaru, strap him in his car seat, drive home. He’s feisty because it’s past his bed-time, but once we get him settled he’s out, snoring, in no time. Yeah, my toddler snores. Loud. It’s god damned adorable.

We do chores, my wife and I, in our own house. if I had stepped into our house when I was teenager still living in Wichita, I would have called it a McMansion, easily. Talk about judgmental pricks.

We turn in, and as we’re drifting off to sleep, my wife does this thing she always does. You know how some people have that last, pre-sleep jerk-spasm; my wife sometimes has a last, pre-sleep blurt, something that’s on her mind that needs to be said. “They had two laundry rooms,” she says.

“That house. They had two full laundry rooms.”
“I don’t know.”
“What, like, one upstairs, one downstairs?”
“Oh. I guess that makes sense.”

Approaching 5 PM on a Beautiful Summer’s Day In Seattle

It’s approaching 5 PM on a beautiful summer’s day in Seattle. No clouds, not a single one, and the sky a deep uniform blue, as if it had always been that color, always would be. Temperatures hover around the mid seventies, warm enough to be warm, but not hot enough to be hot. People like talking about the weather because it’s something they have in common. Even people who dislocated by a thousand miles will talk about their own weather, because it’s something the other person has probably experienced. They can empathize.

I’m pushing my toddler son in one of those jogging strollers. Three enormous wheels, black, festooned with pockets and holders. Snacks and drinks and a garage door opener and my cell phone. I’m dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt, sunglasses and a ballcap. I’ve got a bushy beard that needs trimming. I’m one can of beer away from being identifiable as a redneck or as hipster. I don’t think I’m either, but I’ve been accused of being each. And to think there are people who will claim one or the other and wear the description proudly, even defiantly.

We’re passing a church, my son and I, 45 minutes into our walk, 15 left to go. The final stretch. We happen to be on a stretch of sidewalk, one of the few parts of our daily loop that doesn’t require us walking in the street. We tend to stay off the busier avenues, so there isn’t much traffic, and when cars do pass us, they usually swing well onto the other side of the road. I always acknowledge them with a wave. Half of them wave back.

But this sidewalk is narrower than a road, and approaching is a girl on a bike. She looks to be about six or seven years old. Drak blakc skin, still wearnig her baby fat, but wearing it well, and a sturdy bicyclle helmet sat firmly on her head. The chin straps maybe a bit tight. I shouldn’t stereotype, but I do: there;s a Mosque not far from here, and I assume she’s Somalian. I catch myself. Her parents are maybe Somalian, but this girl was probably born here.

She’s about a hundred feet away, weaving inexpertly all over the pavement, in her own world. She looks up, and without hesitation, rides the bike off the sidewalk and into the road. Actually, it’s a bunch of parking spaces, not the street itself. She glides towards us,makes eye contact.

I want to to wave, to acknowledge her, but I can’t. Her mother strapped that helmet to her head, tight, because she knows that’s the right thing to do. And she raised her child to respect her neighbors, because that’s also the right thing to do. If I wave to her, she’s going to wave back, automatically. There’s no stranger danger here- it’s a beautiful, sunny day, I’m a guy puching a baby stroller, complete with toddler. We’re next to a church, for Christ’s sake. She’ll take one hand off the handlebars to wave back, lose control, wreck her bike.

But I have to acknowledge her. She gave us the sidewalk, and I want to say thank you and encourage to continue this courtesous lifestyle instilled in her by her mother. So, as she get’s closer, I reach up and tip my hat. She’s only seven years old, her parents are Somalian, she probably has no idea what I’m doing, if I’m doing anything at all.

And she glides by us, she smirks. Her smirk says it all. She knows exactly what tipping a hat means. It’s something cowboys used to do when they passed genteel ladies on the streets of Loredo. “Ma’am,” they’d say, touching the brim of their stetson, moving it almost imperceptibly. She learned about it in school, saw a film.

A cowboy, a redneck, a throwback, a hipster. I don’t need a beer in my hand to collapse that waveform. She smirks, because her mother raised her to respect her neighbors, but that doesn’t mean she’s a syncophant to every tool wandering around the landscape. The next time she’s on a sidewalk and somebody walks by, she’ll get out of their way too.

Not just because she’s going to be polite. Because she’s the one with the power. It’s her sidewalk, she rides it four or five hundred times a day. No matter what the weather. Yesterday there were four or five clouds in the sky, and she was weaving up and down. They day before that it was overcast, with patches of sky in the clouds, and she was out there. And they day before that it was raining, so she was inside, watching her mother make canjeero, but in her head she was out there on that sidewalk.

She’s got the power, and she’ll cede that bit of pavement because she can, not because she has to.

My son and I get to the end of the block, make a left turn, out of the sunshine and into deep shade. The change in temperature makes me shiver, as all my crevices are filmed in sweat which rapidly cools. My son yells, suddenly, a non-word, his sound for acknowledging a dog on the street coming towards us. My son loves dogs. The dog’s owner looks up at the sound too, smiles, waves. I wave back. It’s no problem, steering the stroller with one hand.

Things Sure Do Get Boring Without You Here

fiction by Jason Edwards

Remember that time we ate thirteen ninjas? We spent the summer building a time machine and then went back to medieval Japan and impersonated a particularly evil overlord. When the ninja showed up to assassinate us we let him, since that’s the only way to return to your own time, but not before getting into a wicked katana battle and covering ourselves with his DNA. Boy, you really know how to swing a sword, I’ll give you credit for that.

Then we used the blood to clone him and grew him in a vat and ground him up into hamburger and had a nice little barbecue. But you put way too much relish on yours, man, and that kinda made me mad. And I tried to tell you, but all you wanted to do was tell me some anecdote about the first time Amos Tvesky tried to order a hamburger with relish in Michigan. And I kept saying “who the hell is Amos Tvesky” and you kinda got mad at me for saying that over and over. You never did finish your story, and I’m sorry about that. I really am.

And then one day we’re walking down the street, I think it’s 5th or 15th or 125th or something. There was a five in it. Between Nickerson and Mount Baker. Or Bakker with two Ts? Anyway. Walking along and talking about baseball and, I don’t know, Helga Lovekaty or whatever, and all of a sudden you’re like: “He wasn’t a ninja.” Then we got coffee.

And we got into this deep existential conversation about how just because we had, like, a firefighter’s DNA, and we cloned him (you kept saying “or her” like we needed to be feminists, and it almost derailed the conversation, and it was only later that I figured out you were saying it because the barista could have been listening and she was cute in that not-gorgeous-but-attainable way, which is, when you think about it, a really sexist way to describe someone, dude) if that clone had never fought a fire, was it a fire fighter too? Our ninja clone never went around ninja-ing stuff. You can’t ninja in a vat.

I’m going to be honest with you, I forget who was saying “definitely ninja” and who was saying “definitely not ninja” by the end of it. We talked about destiny and potential and collapsing wave-forms and social constructs and crap. I pointed out that a table with only one leg wasn’t a table, except it was, and you pointed out how using a cardboard box to hold up a plate of spaghetti while you watch TV wasn’t a table either, except it was.

We got back to our time machine. Coffee jittery and sort of itchy. It was hot that day, our allergies were going nuts, the ninja-clone-growing vat had this weird smell coming off it, like formaldehyde dancing with pine-sol and a stack of old strawberry-scented scratch-and-sniff stickers. I got a sudden craving for root beer. And you said “Fudge it,” and shoved me into the time machine. You never could curse very well.

The first ninja we found got away because, while we were waiting for him, lurking in some bushes and giggling, I pulled out my cell phone. It’s like a habit. I don’t know what I was going to do, maybe play Angry Birds. But I had two bars! I was getting a cell-signal! In medieval Japan! So when the ninja comes waltzing along you sprang out and grabbed him but I screwed it up. I mean, sorry, not sorry, finding out there are cell towers in medieval Japan seemed like a more worthwhile thing to pursue than capturing, killing, field-dressing, butchering, barbecuing and eating a damned ninja.

Okay sure, we figured out that the signal was coming through our time machine from the future to my phone. But still. That in and of itself was pretty cool. Those service providers who talk about comprehensive nation-wide coverage? Being able to say that have not just any-where but any-time coverage? That would be one hell of a commercial!

Whatever. Next ninja, not as easy as the first. He got away too. Good for us, though, he came back, with friends. Man, you really know how to swing a sword. Did I say that already?

We got a taste for it, I’ll admit. Back home, you and me, another walk, 6th this time, or maybe 16th, or 166th, talking about how when you were a kid you thought “a quarter-after three” meant 3:25. And I kept asking “PM or AM?” Did you know, when you get frustrated, your face turns this weird purple color? LIke fuschia, but angrier.

I tried to change the subject. Which baseball teens would specific porn stars probably root for? Like, if they didn’t just root for the Angels since most of them live there? And I don’t know, the conversation just naturally kind-of moved into eating ninjas and how we sorta had a taste for it, and you said you wanted to go back and try one with relish.

Three months! Three months we spent tweaking that damn time machine, trying to figure out how to take a jar of relish back with us. The experiments! A plastic bottle of ketchup and a visit to colonial America. I never told you this, but that lieutenant? From the 6th dragoons? He didn’t give me indigestion. I was just mad because I thought this was such a stupid idea. But I bet you kind of already knew that. Or that packet of soy sauce we took back to the Battle of Hastings. You, running around, shouting “Why does everyone know the date for this battle? Why is it so important?” and then you got a bow and arrow off a guy and, who knows, maybe you’re the reason everyone knows that date now.

We were on our cots, remember? Looking up the ceiling, where we’d pasted those glow-in-the-dark stars to accurately depict what the night-sky would have looked like in medieval Japan on a clear autumn night. Man I was I tired. I don’t remember what you said. I thought you said we needed to go to a 7-11 on the other side of the country and get some lemonade. But that’s silly, of course that’s not what you said. And I was so tired, I should have pointed out how we live, like, really close to a 7-11. There’s on on 4th or 144th or something. I said, “Let’s just make our own.”

You jumped off the cot. Started screaming. Called me a genius. Scared the crap out of me. “We can make our own!” You shouted. Shoved me into the time machine. Medieval Japan. Again. “Now let’s go find some pickles!” you said.

Well, the didn’t have pickles back then did they. Did they? Fine, we hunted up cucumbers. None of those either? We went to China. China! Oh man, can I tell you something? Your face, when we finally got back to Japan with that sack of cucumber seeds and a jar of sea salt, and we found that old farmer, and he was eating pickles. Serendipity? You were so mad, you killed that farmer, made a quick relish out of what was left of his pickle, and screamed and screamed about how bad it was. So we told the local constable or whatever the called ’em, what we done, got executed, and when we got back home, we broke into Heinz.

It’s funny how things work out, I mean, all those ninjas we fought and killed and ate, and there we were, going full-ninja on that Heinz break-in. We were one with the shadows, weren’t we? I don’t think they had key-card locks and motion detectors in Medieval Japan, but we made it through just fine. Found that secret recipe, on that computer. I’m not going to say I told you so, but when we were kids? And you called me a nerd because I liked computer games more than baseball? Just sayin’.

And the whole time you were reading the recipe. Shaking your head. “I knew it. I fudging knew it.” You never were good at cursing.

One thing I always liked about you was how fearless you were, and how many ridiculous fears you had at the same time. You’d take a sword into a crowd of ninjas like it was nothing. But then you’d see a black cat and freak the fudge out. I’m bleeding from, like, fifteen different places, you’ve got ninja blood up to your knees, and you’re standing behind me, gripping my shoulders, yelling at me. “Make it go away! Make it fudging go away!”

That’s what got you killed, you know. Those stupid fears. That’s my theory, anyway. We killed and ate our twelfth ninja. With our homemade Heinz recipe relish. Fine, I’ll admit it, I can see sort of maybe why you liked it so much. And then one more ninja showed up, and I had my crossbow all ready, and you we’re like, “No way man. Thirteen is an unlucky number.” I guess we need to get back anyway. You had that paper to write and I was supposed to pull a double shift at work.

But, like, what if we had killed him too? And we’d eaten him? See, thing is, we’d already eaten thirteen if you counted the first vat-ninja. I guess that’s ironic. I guess you were right. Because we got back and everything was fine for a long time. We dismantled the time machine and sold the cloning vat on Craig’s List and you got married and I started seeing Jackie and life was just life, you know? We robbed a few banks, a few casinos, a train, even. No big.

I guess I’m telling you things you already know. How we were rappelling down the side of First National because there was a company on the 14th floor that had some files you wanted. We could have gone through the front door. We could have just asked for them. But you said stealing them would make them more valuable. And your stupid fear of the number thirteen, telling me how tall buildings never have a thirteenth floor.

But First National was built, like, three years ago. Superstitions like that are dead, man. Wrong floor, security guard, and you with no sword. I like to pretend, sometimes, that you traveled here, to this timeline, from the future, and we grew up together, and when you got killed you just went back where you came from.

Look, I have to go. I’m supposed to see my parole officer this afternoon and she gets all snotty if I’m late. Here’s another jar of relish. I’m sure the cemetery custodian keeps taking them, because they’re always gone when I come back. But I like to think that, somehow, you’re the one who takes them, wherever you are. Fudging relish.

You know what? I just thought of something. My parole officer? She’s Japanese, I think. And she’s always wearing black. Huh. We’ll see I guess. I’ll see you later. Things sure do get boring without you here.