Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I saw a woman this morning sitting in a black station wagon waiting to make a left turn and her face, in those moments as I rode by, shifted and twisted, her lips, for example, parting and closing, puckering and sucking in. Her fingers slipped down from the steering wheel, where they had clung by the insides of knuckles in a row. A caramel-haired guinea pig emerged from the woman’s lap, made its way up her shirt, claw clamouring the way, and nestled in the crook of her neck.

Its name was Max, from the bights of Benin and Biafra.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

I've had this idea now for a few days — an idea for a new theme restaurant.

I call it The Feeding Tube.

[Fragments of shredded executive-level memos, the strips of which are arranged in the following order on the desk of associate marketing coordinator Leonard Waxman and reprinted here faithfully, without editorial. Shredmaster Industries, Bloomington, Ill., on 24 March 2005]

of the line model. invoke the contract if he balks at the offer. remind him of previous agreement an

is Dolby. consider him at your disposal until further notice. Reach me Tuesday at the Gran

don’t care! I told you to call me Thursday at the Grand Hotel. If you deny this you’re a

the last time. When I say the numbers must be met, I am not starting a negotiation, I

ired of having to nudge him. If he can’t take the initiative, we’ll have to take the initia

lby seems unwilling to compromise at this point, we might have to extend his contract unt

nk you. the books look right. let’s get on with it, though, while the iron is still hot. i have

nnsylvania Avenue, if memory serves. I’ll bring the list personally, which reminds me, lun

glad we were able to keep our lunch appointment. Did you get a chance to send the contr

at comes to nearly half a million over the past two years. Deregulation was only the first ste

otted line! Keep this on the qt until we get the signed copies. Even then I guess we shouldn’t

Sunday, March 20, 2005

We sit two rows from the back of an old bus that will take us to a town twenty minutes from the Mexican border. The bus has windows that slide open horizontally and all those windows are opened as far as they will go. The June air as hot on our faces rushing in as before, when the windows were closed and the mist and stench of a packed old bus had some of us heaving. Now the hot air whirls in, calms the stench, but does little to help with the sweat, which grows into buglike droplets that roll down to my elbows and patter down onto the rubber ridge of the bus aisle and there tremble in a vermiform pool that collects and flows down a thin rubber canyon the length of the aisle.

Becky is nervous because she left her dog in Dallas with her brother, who is slow, mentally. She has asked me a series of questions about his ability to govern the canine's life affairs properly. I say the most reassuring things I can think to say. That her brother is a compassionate and thoughtful person despite his inability to form sentences without wearing a special helmet. That he loves animals. That he would often watch five straight hours of Animal Planet without blinking. But Becky is still nervous. We are allowed, at least, to smoke on this bus. The driver has been very understanding.

We have between the two of us, Becky and I, only three suitcases, two hers and one mine, and a small backpack, mine, containing everything we'll need from here on out. I left my toothbrush in a gas station rest room in Austin. This will complicate things only slightly. I am wearing cutoff jeans and the teeth of the fringe are gray and wet with my sweat. My eyes sting, every now and then. My bandana saturated. Becky, it seems, does not have the capacity to sweat. She is gifted in this regard, although I have seen her pant on occasion, over the last few hours, when she's not asking me if her brother could at the moment be feeding her dog loose change. The light hair on her skin still sparkles dry in the hot wind. I assure her that her brother has the situation under control w/r/t pet care and maintenance. Becky lights a cigarette, dubious.

I no longer know what road we are on, what highway, but it seems that we are entering the most desolate place in the South. There are hawks here and there, circling majestic in the sky. My eyes well up with something that is not tears. Becky taps her finger on the metal bar of the seat in front of us. She hums, too, unaware of the distress she's causing in the immediate area. Lazy smoke escapes from her nose.

Friday, March 18, 2005

[Overheard through Level C executive bathroom vent, Shredmaster Industries, Bloomington, Ill., 18 March 2005, 7:55 a.m.]

“Call our guy at the Trib. Disavow him, McClurg. That’s right. I’ve never met the man and if he claims to have met me, well then he’s a liar and a pederast. I don’t care about payroll records. No. Nope. The tabula, as they say, is rasa. He’s never even been in the building, tell them, and if he has a working knowledge of the floorplan, well then that’s just further evidence that he’s been planning this unsubstantiated attack all along. Stick to the language we discussed in the memo. The plan will go forward as planned. He’ll be in Door County until April with his wife, their two children, also her son from previous marriage, one chocolate-brown labrador retriever with three legs and an ear flap with a hole in it, one late-model Volkswagon, three laptop computers, and the full complement of cross-country skiing equipment. Yes. And they’ll doubtless be in possession of no fewer than five marijuana cigarettes, if anyone’s interested. What? Go with it anyway. Yes, I meant to tell you I met him last night in a parking garage outside Towanda. He’s held up his end of the bargain, although he insists we now call him the Unicorn. Computer wizard, that guy. Really excellent work. So now our subject is currently on digital record standing naked as a jaybird with several prominent choristers of the Mormon Tabernacle. You bet your ass it looks authentic! This will be, if I may speculate, a scandal of international signifigance. And if this doesn't stir the pot and confuse our detractors, well then we institute another plan of attack. Yes, defense. What? Certainly I thought about that but remember, McClurg, this man is going to go on the record. He’s prepared to possibly destroy this entire company, for chrissakes. Huh? What do I care if he’s been circumsized? We’ll cross the bridge when we get to it. I’ll call the Unicorn, if necessary. We can’t just have our chief accountants going on national TV spewing intimate details about our business practices to outsiders. It isn’t right. [Inaudible.] To hell with the choir boys! [inaudible.] Collateral damage, my good man. Yes. I’ll be waiting.”

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Waxman’s loathing lived close to his center, in the untouchable places inside of his body. To touch the loathing would require opening his chest with a T-shaped incision and spreading the rib cage apart into a blossom of bone, tendon, other assorted tissues of the main cavity. Only then could you look down and see Waxman’s loathing and say “I can now see the loathing with my naked eyes.” And the loathing, cold, would shiver. What would it say if it could speak?

Waxman spent most of his time in the break room. His cubicle reminded him of a playpen in only the most depressing ways — a place for vomit and the passing of gas. His computer, his mouse, keyboard, coffee cup, picture of wife Muffy akimbo in shorts and large sunglasses, standing before the Grand Canyon smiling. The telephone, the company phone, red eyes blinking, dead, blinking again, like the cursor, there, on the monitor, on the last line of the document. Humans cannot function properly in such conditions. Waxman’s loathing pulled him out.

To spend time in the break room is to have change in one’s pocket. The bill slots rarely accept bills that show any discernable wear. The change machine likewise. Curled corn twists, orange, bright orange and powdery, might cling to the vending coil. Chocolate bars might wedge themselves against the chute. To spend time in the break room is to plum the depths of human frustration. The steel foot of a plastic chair might lose purchase, slide, and Waxman might go ass-over-teakettle, jam his shoulder against the mop bucket, catch a splash of gray fluid. The corn twists might budge only slightly.

Loathing will pick one for Waxman.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

(Overheard in the second-floor break room of Shredmaster Industries corporate headquarters, Bloomington, Ill., 16, March, 2005, 10:13 a.m.)

... best-seller. The fountain from which everything pure and quite possibly evil, if you take your time and look past the purity, springs. Stain-resistent fabric that whisks fluid away from vital documents. Destroy sensitive personal information with the new-and-improved Shredmaster 1800X, providing the finest in document shredding utilities and services since 1973. Government contract. Patented, pending review by a board of patent agents who could very well be double patent agents, in which case the patent might end up being awarded to a toothbrush company in Norway, in which case the Company’s efforts might have to be doubled, or redoubled, as it were, to ensure meeting fourth-quarter earnings projections. Roger in accounting called upstairs yesterday and told the president of Shredmaster that the figures were looking good, for the most part, but that some of the numbers themselves were a bit odd, as in they were not actual numbers, and that the whole thing had been traced back to someone in Product Development who was submitting invoices using Roman numerals. Stocks and bonds, my friend, stocks and bonds — that’s the future of America. Profit margins, capital gains, offshore accounts, trading against the dollar. We’re going to have some nice yachts, Waxman, like the ones in rap videos. You watch rap videos? Anyway. Roger tells me this morning that after decoding the Roman numerals and plugging the new figures into the fourth quarter fiscal efficacy report, we came out some three, four billion dollars ahead of projections. Yachts, Waxman. I would not shit you on the matter. He has to, Roger does, make the pie charts for his afternoon presentation, and then the trickling down of the corporate wealth should be in full swing by 3 p.m., provided the overhead projector does not malfunction again. People are shredding their personal, private, sensitive documents like never before, buddy. I tell you, it’s really something. Last year’s political contributions, the hard money, the soft money, all of it the company sent to one party. Huge gamble. But boy oh boy did it pay off in spades. Is that right, spades? Anyway. Once the 471-D initiative went into effect, something like this was bound to happen. Shredder deregulation, Waxman, shredder deregulation. Roger said he was afraid the move sent projections a bit too high. But three, four billion bones, boy. Yachts. Vacation property. Plates at the political dinner table. Access, my friend. We still have a long way to go, but now we’re driving a fast car, so to speak. You catch my drift? Is the drift explicit? I want you to know, good buddy, that no matter where we go from here on out I want us to be in this thing together. My wife says she and your wife get along, and if that should mean invitations to dinners are extended, then I hope that it leads to a rewarding friendship for all parties involved.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Last night a couple things occurred to me. One, the secret to writing is levels and repetition. Two, nothing is ever as difficult as I think it’s going to be. The first thing might be true; the second is definitely false. But they occurred to me and that’s all that mattered, because later that night on the phone I could not get the enthusiasm out of my throatbox and, well, whatever, everything (which wasn’t much, I admit) culminated in a flurry, an absolute flurry of hunting and pecking. I wrote in quantity and read back and felt like I had something. I feel the same way this morning. A film scraped from the frontal lobe, a shaft of light through the ...

“I smell breakthrough.” [Dr. Jay, p. 136, TBOTS, DFW]

This whole thing comes as quite a relief. At the age of 30, I could just as well have thrown my hands up and run home. I could have pulled my pants down and run home. I could have walked home, really. My knees aren’t the well-oiled hinges they used to be. Let’s not get carried away with the running. Chill the fuck out and enjoy getting there.

Did you know that for schools to receive federal money for the No Child Left Behind initiative, they have participate in a program that mandates they release information about students under the age of 18 to military recruiters without parental consent? I shit you not. My interest in politics has reached scandalous proportions. I have established an independent commission to find this one sweet-ass ball-point pen that I like.

Help me celebrate.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

“Put on your best trunks. The temperature’s just right. Swim the calm waters of personal responsibility, splash around in the shallows of self-righteousness, go off the deep end. I’m here for your safety,” said the short old man in the purple suit.

I didn't normally trust old men who hung out near pools. And I wasn’t about to start. I had what I thought was a healthy level of skepticism when it came to such things. A skepticism that said things like “Whatever you do, don’t jump in.” or “Maybe some badminton today.” There were gears and levers churning about in my head that lived for these situations, that flourished when quick thinking could mean the difference between a few awkward laps under the watchful eye of a lonely pervert and a relaxed afternoon anywhere else, please.

I took a couple slow steps backward. Be casual. “I think I forgot something.” Perfect.

The short old man in the purple suit fished a cigarette out of the nook between the arch of his right ear and a waning tuft of wiry gray hair. “Want a cigarette? The environment will be fine, regardless.” Fresh smoke clung to his lips, then face, then head, smoke trembling in breezeless air, illuminated by noonish sunlight, the old man had a glowing halo drift that made his head seem to change shape. The environment. What was he talking about?

“The earth is here and has everything we need,” he said. “If we don’t use it, it will be left over. You understand? We are the fighters of the last round. What we leave we waste.” A long, smooth puff, here. “About those trunks. That design. Is that the new thing now?”

Two steps more. Backward, again. The man in the purple suit, despite my efforts to increase it, had closed the gap between us. Two steps more. Four then. Six total. No time to let math become a distraction. I am horrible at the discipline. Would much rather ...

“Did I startle you?” We stood now chest to chest. “What’s startling is how we must drag the weak behind us. They are the yoke on our necks. The ball and chain. That we have chosen to drag them along instead of cutting them lose shocks me. Does it shock you? Aren’t you even going to get wet?”

I turned on my heel, shifted off from the shoulder and created space. Turned again for balance, reared back and began running. I vaulted over the fence and turned left upon landing, every muscle a tight coil ready to go and. There! No foggy dream jog. No slogging. I rocketed off as the tendons worked their magic. Fast twitch.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Technological advances now allow cities to provide free wireless internet access for all residents at a very low cost. (In some cases, nonprofit groups offer to bankroll such efforts, citing benefits to people who can’t afford such access and improvements to general public safety.) Philadelphia, for example, is completely covered for wireless access.

So why are state politicians introducing bills across the country to keep cities from doing something that makes their constituents’ lives better?

Well, there are corporations that make us pay for wireless access, and they don’t like to see anyone getting anything for free.

Watch as it happens here in Texas.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Paragraph 4.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Pale Fire tore down everything I thought I knew about writing, scattered the pieces, then reassembled them, creating a whole whose parts have found their proper place. Nabokov, clever devil. I shall pick a sentence at random: “There he is, I would say to myself, that is his head, containing a brain of a different brand than that of the synthetic jellies preserved in the skulls around him.” (I did not, by the way, pick this sentence at random. But I really wanted to. And so I did.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

For something that doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way, there sure has been a lot of talk about the Liberal Press. Talk, well, yelling and shouting and finger-pointing, really. And the issue, the construct of this supposed Liberal Press, has been shoved down the throats of a complacent public by people who have everything to gain by crippling the messenger. This campaign has been so succcessful, as a matter of fact, that journalists themselves, in many cases, have become one of the most self-loathing demographics on the map. It’s as if a room full of kindergartners has been accussed of writing obscenities on a bathroom wall and instead of demanding to see the actual graffiti, the scared pupils instead all blame each other. Nothing abets unbridaled power like the ability to divide and conquer those who would question the way that power is used. What do we have now? A dialogue driven not by facts, but by analysis and commentary.

There are people out there who know this is happening. Many of them have deconstructed this phenomenon at length, only to be shouted down or have their personal lives subjected to public scrutiny. And that may well be part of an effective process, but often what happens is the shouting down and scrutiny reach such a pitch that the original point gets lost in the shuffle. Alas, the original point is much less glamorous to a bloodthirsty public than youthful peccadillos. Here, where corporate largess dominates the landscape, verity plays like a distant fiddle, speculation like a trumpet.

Be big and please many. They will stomp back to your teat.

Few have said it as well as Eric Boehlert in this Salon piece. I think you should read it, and talk to as many people as you can about the direction of things. I used to keep my mouth shut. Look where it got us.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Jogging every day after work is going quite well, thank you. My knees are holding up their end of the bargain, and this time I make it around the blocks with ease. My lungs are rockin’ the brown gunk. Think faster feet. My eyes are glued to the prize. Most Americans believe eyes and glue don’t mix, according to the latest Gallup poll. Gallup indeed, I do so at top speed. Good for me.

And so I get back inside after negotiating the circuit. I fight the urge to smoke at once.

Minutes later, I stand outside watching traffic, cigarette in hand, smoke in lung. Exhale. Much better. Inhale. I count four — count ‘em four — sports cars in a row speeding by on University, which let's face it these days is pretty strange. A four-wheeled iron hippo breaks the streak. Then iron hippo after iron hippo ad nauseam. That's more like it.

But this cigarette might just be the best ever. And my legs will recover. (Insert an important statement here. Must finish strong.)