Going to see the moon

She’d been alive for over three decades, but had never witnessed a lunar eclipse. She wasn’t sure why not. Maybe because they always happened at night, when she was more likely to feel shattered, celestially undeserving, or too strange to go outside, where she might meet a strangeness more sublime than her own. So she’d just look at the moon’s picture in the paper the next day and tell herself that life wasn’t passing her by. But on the night in question, the Sunday night of the blood moon, she had this person with her, and except for his dubious beliefs about UFOs and the U.S. government, he seemed to feel pretty much the same way that she did about the sky.

They decided to watch the moon from the park. To get to the park, they had to walk half a mile uphill. The incline made the sidewalk resemble a ramp to the moon, or maybe her legs were just tired and any route, including the one from her bedroom to her bathroom, would resemble a ramp to the moon. Already the eclipse was happening. Only 221,752 miles until they reached their destination. They hurried along as much as they could while shuttling three flavors of ice cream between them on little plastic spoons. They kept losing the moon behind buildings, light-polluted clouds, and nebulous treetops, but then they’d reach an intersection and there it would be, shining.

A festive atmosphere encircled the park. Someone played guitar on a front stoop across the street from a playground. An adolescent boy had set up a flimsy telescope on the sidewalk and was busy making adjustments to his lens. A steady stream of couples entered the park gates holding hands. They followed suit behind. It made them both happy to see other people out late at night for reasons unrelated to the consumption of alcohol. They were part of a community event. They hoped the community event was not the end of the world.

They settled on a grassy bank and waited for the clouds to clear. At first she was reluctant to lie down. They hadn’t brought a blanket with them and most people had a bad habit of not cleaning up after their dogs when they urinated in public. But then she remembered that she was in nature and nature does not make you dirty. And the sky was not a television set, even though the number of people currently watching it was comparable to the viewership of the final episode of Lost.

They lay down and waited for the moon’s face to blush. They had hoped for contemplative silence, but a nearby woman was reading aloud from her cell phone about the prospect of life on other planets. She was not just reciting a paragraph here and there to titillate her male companion; she was regurgitating the entire Internet. So they moved further down the bank, where they were annoyed to discover that they could still hear the woman’s impromptu audiobook. In some ways the annoyance was comforting. She frequently experienced annoyance, thus the feeling was familiar, unlike the stellar bodies overhead. Her gripe with the sky had always been that it never seemed very interested in her. There was probably a good reason for this.

“You know what we forgot to do before we left for the park?” she said, squirming to alight on her reverential mode. “Drop acid.”

The moon was slowly being consumed by an anti-moon. For the astronomically ignorant, an eclipse could only be interpreted as a harbinger of end-times. And yet there she was reaping all the palliative benefits of modern science, cognizant that the blood moon did not pose an actual threat to life and limb, and she was still feeling anxious about the darkening mass over Brooklyn. Not because she expected the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse to trot across the baseball field, but because life on Earth had felt so ominous lately, and here was one more glaring symbol of their impending doom.

But for her, even the doom was impersonal. In a way, she longed for the doom. In a way, her separation from the doom was what made her so anxious. When had she disassociated from the future, and her respective role in it? When had she become subhuman? Was it at the same time she’d become sublunar? She felt foreign to this universe blooming all around her. If aliens descended, she would have nothing to say to them, and vice versa. Her orifices weren’t worthy of their implants.

It would be difficult to eclipse the self-pity of that statement.

They lay under a popular flight path. Every so often a plane would pass over, wingtips flashing red, and she’d trace its dark underbelly across the sky and think, “What is that flying object? I can’t seem to identify it.” He joked about bringing a laser pen to the park and scrawling it across the moon, just to be obnoxious. When the moon was finally overtaken by its evil, ginger twin, spectators clapped halfheartedly and all the dogs in Brooklyn began to bark. Why did staring up at the night sky make her miss her father? No wonder she avoided stargazing. He belonged to that particular universe, and she did not.

On the walk home they encountered two men standing on a street corner, trying to locate the blood moon behind cloud cover and a church steeple. One of the men quickly lost patience with this activity. “Whatever,” he said petulantly, then they both turned their backs on the park and descended the hill. She was appalled. “That man just whatever’ed the moon,” she said. “Who does he think he is?”

They took their time getting home. He said he wanted to absorb as much of the moon’s female energy as possible in hopes of reading her mind. They stalked a caravan of wailing fire engines to an apartment complex that was not on fire, only bathed in red emergency lights. She tried not to be disappointed. A fire was the blood that would bring her back to earth. That night she got her period several days before it was expected. Maybe the sky had a tracking device on her after all.

She knew exactly which people were going to post blurry iPhone shots of the expanding universe on their Instagram accounts. They wanted other folks to know that they’d seen the moon. It was important to broadcast their primitive lunar connection. She was also pleased that she’d finally taken the moon’s picture. Only later did she feel the need to publish it.

On building street cred in Brooklyn

At the Brooklyn street fair they buy a pina colada in a magenta cup shaped like a naked lady. For three more dollars the booth attendant will serve their rum in a coconut, but they decide to stick with what they know. The attendant generously ladles clear alcohol from a dirty white bucket at his feet, and they wonder if the pina colada is safe to drink. Will they go blind? “My vision is already starting to blur,” he says, looking up at a cluster of Mylar balloons shaped like animals. “More for me,” she says.

A man lures them down a side street by promising them free bicycle helmets. Their lack of bicycle helmets has been a source of domestic contention for weeks. She doesn’t object to wearing a helmet, but she doesn’t want to have to shop for one. He likes to spend money on things, and also not get head injuries. Free helmets would end their stalemate once and for all. They join a line that goes halfway around the block. The Department of Transportation staff administering the line contains some of the most amiable people she’s ever met in her life. When it’s finally her turn to be fitted for a helmet, a man in a NYDOT t-shirt rubs sanitizer into his hands, then unspools his measuring tape around her cranium. His touch conveys the same gentle authority as a skilled physician’s. Her head is sized medium.

They return to the main thoroughfare of the festival wearing their helmets, then they put them in the backpack. She also puts the empty naked lady cup in the backpack, so she can wash it out for later use. They pass vast kingdoms of bouncy castles, beer vendors and impromptu beer gardens, arepa stands. They pass a booth that promotes its Biggie Smalls merchandise with a cardboard cutout of a little blond girl. They eat warm slices of pizza. They eat cronuts. They eat turkey drumsticks. They find a fleet of vintage buses that the Transit Museum has wheeled out for the kids. They board a city bus from 1982. So far her favorite part of the street festival is being on the parked bus, just sitting, resting.

Their friends arrive with a small white dog. Suddenly she sees small white dogs everywhere. Half of the Mylar balloons are small white dogs. Every other woman’s purse contains a small white dog. She wonders if the pina colada’s hooch is affecting her too. They pass a band playing classic rock. He’s a little tipsy. “Please don’t yell ‘Free Bird,'” she thinks. “Free Bird!” he yells. She considers getting a small white dog just so she can name it Free Bird and constantly call for it in crowded public spaces.

M and K drop by the festival. K brings her own Tupperware of homemade food, and everyone else feels bad for spending $20+ on street meat when K is so resourceful. They pass a lady with an albino python wrapped around her neck. M gives them a wide berth. “Wouldn’t it be weird,” she says, “if women acted around snakes the way they act around puppies and babies, and sort of threw themselves at them, reflexively cooing and trying to hold their slithery bodies?” “Yes,” they all respond.

Every once in a while a mysterious hole will open up in the street’s teeming river of people. She will suddenly realize that she is no longer being jostled from all directions, and she’ll look around for an explanation. But none of the holes make sense, except for the one around the python.

She arrives at her street fair emotional threshold about forty-five minutes before they’re able to wade through enough humanity to reach their locked bicycles. She puts on her new helmet just as the good DOT doctor instructed. “No part of the helmet should touch your ears,” he said as he fitted her. “This isn’t Virginia.” She was taken aback by his comment because she’d never told him that she was from Virginia. Perhaps he was a phrenologist and had used her scalp to glean geographical data. “If I were from Virginia,” he told her, “I would never leave.” Yes, cities can be overwhelming, and no, one can’t always trust the turkey legs being grilled on the curb, but a person can make an eddy for herself in any urban river, just as long as she keeps her head protected, and her Virginia street smarts (aka Biggie t-shirt) about her.

Adventures in Medicaid 1 & 2


Google Maps leads her to a haunted house that’s recently been through a tornado. This can’t possibly be the doctor’s office. The patient calls the number. “No, you’re in the right place,” says the receptionist. “We’re in the basement.” The patient opens the iron gate and the hinges fall off in fragments. A small piece of paper is taped to the exterior of the Brooklyn brownstone. “OB-GYN THIS WAY.”

The waiting room is reassuring. It feels vaguely medical, perhaps due to all the fashion magazines. But it is not somewhere that the patient wants to remain for two hours. Two hours later the doctor summons her into a cramped, dusty office. The walls are mostly comprised of narrow closets. The patient wonders what’s in those closets. The patient suspects it might be human skeletons. The doctor tells the patient that she can’t trust her own boyfriend not to give her AIDS. The doctor tells the patient that if she wants to have viable offspring she should probably get pregnant by mid-afternoon. Then the doctor leads her into a dimly lit exam room. It’s a challenge to navigate the exam room without knocking into the rusty metal tables that hold the doctor’s instruments. The patient drops her bra on the tile floor. When she retrieves her undergarment, she must disentangle it from a sizable hairball of diverse DNA.

“Now what have we here?” says the doctor during her vaginal safari. “Is this your uterus?” She pokes around with animated perplexity. “No, I think this is your uterus. Unless your uterus is anteverted.”

“It’s not,” says the patient.

“Then what on earth could this be? Oh! Maybe it’s my finger. You’re skinny so I could be feeling my finger.” The patient wonders if her vagina is so cavernous that fingers can be misplaced in it. “I’m going to send you to diagnostics for an ultrasound.”

“Do I have cancer?” asks the patient.

“It’s probably just my finger,” says the doctor. “But you can never be too sure.”


The patient takes the F train to Brighton Beach. The air smells like Atlantic Ocean and dryer exhaust. After a fifteen-minute walk, the patient locates the psychiatrist’s office. It has a steep, sharply pointed roof and the patient wonders if a witch lives there. The sign on the window says, “ATTN PATIENTS THIS OFFICE NOT CONTAIN NARCOTIC DRUGS.” The Russian receptionists are friendly as can be. The patient fills out her paperwork and takes a seat. The patient deduces from a chorus of grumbles that the other three people in the waiting room have been there for over an hour. More patients arrive every few minutes. Each time someone enters or exits the office, the two exterior doors slam shut violently. When the patient hears this sound, all of her muscles seize up and she feels that something bad is about to happen. The psychiatric traffic continues to increase.

One man has clearly lost command over his grey beard and his overall personal hygiene. His mind seems to be in mutiny as well. He paces back and forth in the waiting room, demanding to see the doctor. “I’ve been here for fifteen hours!” he shouts. He has been there for five minutes. He’d taken the patient’s chair while she was in the restroom. A heavily tattooed woman enters the office wearing a swimsuit and cover-up. She looks as if she’s been tanning all day, every day, buttressed by a bank of mirrors, since April.

“I’m a walk-in,” she says over the counter. “How long is the wait?”

“An hour,” says the receptionist. “There are four patients ahead of you.”

“Do you think they’d let me go ahead of them?” says the woman. “I’ve got my baby with me.”

“You can ask them,” says the receptionist. The woman turns to face the crowded room like an actress under the glow of a spotlight that can only adore her.

“Would it be all right with everyone if I go first?” she says. “I’ve got my baby with me.” A couple maternal-looking Russian ladies shrug their shoulders. “Thank you so much!” gushes the woman. “I’ll only be with the doctor for like two minutes. In and out.” She leaves the office. The doors explode in her wake. Through the window, the patient sees the woman and her partner smoking cigarettes over a baby stroller. Her partner has a teardrop tattoo under one eye, indicating that he probably killed someone in jail. The patient is annoyed.

A lady in a floral housedress sits down next to her. A lap dog pants erratically in the folds of her skirt. The lady soon starts up a conversation with the receptionist at the opposite end of the room. “Are you going to watch the Republican debates tonight?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” says the receptionist shyly in her heavy Russian accent.

“Donald Trump might be a little obnoxious,” says the lady in the housedress, stroking her unstable dog, “but look at all he’s accomplished. He must be doing something right to have made all that money. You have to be pretty smart and resilient to come back from so many bankruptcies.” The patient texts her boyfriend furiously.

The tattooed beach bunny and her partner return to the waiting room with the child they made together. After ramming the stroller into a table from several different angles, causing In Style magazines to rain down upon the rug, the family settles in the corner. The woman turns to the patient and asks her point-blank if she can go ahead of her. The patient seems to be the final barrier between the woman and her shameless line jumping. The patient huffily consents. Shortly thereafter a receptionist summons the woman into the doctor’s office, where the woman remains for 20 minutes.

During this interlude the baby wakes up and the father removes him from the stroller. He sings and coos to his son with an exemplary amount of tenderness. And the baby is hands-down the cutest baby the patient has ever seen. The new parents are probably feeling overwhelmed, but they’re doing the best they can, and it’s understandable that they’d need to get their meds an hour before everyone else. The patient regrets being such a raging bitch about the line jumping.

When it’s finally the patient’s turn with the doctor, she’s already established a tentatively low opinion of him based on the fluctuating sea of poor mental health that constitutes his waiting room. She sits down in a stained leather armchair and tries not to read the names on the medical charts stacked messily across his desk. The office is relatively quiet, and the doctor seems sane enough. He begins her evaluation. First some easy questions: age, marital status, history of drug abuse. Then he begins alternating the easy questions with bizarre questions, as if trying to throw her off.

“What do you think of homosexuality?” he says. “Is the money in your wallet sequentially arranged?” Meanwhile the patient can hear a new male voice through the office door. The voice seems to be berating the receptionists about something. They ask him to please settle down. He becomes louder and more belligerent. The doctor seems utterly disinterested in all the waiting room drama. The patient wishes that he would hurry up and fill out her prescriptions so the angry man and his pathological brethren in the waiting room can have their turn and stop freaking the fuck out. The exterior doors begin slamming again. The patient’s nerves are popping like blown fuses. She imagines guns, cops, homicidal rampages. “If you found a stamped envelope on the street,” asks the doctor, “what would you do with it?”

At the end of his interrogation, the doctor peers closely at the patient. “I don’t think you have […],” he says. “I think you have generalized anxiety disorder.”

In the interest of concluding this interview with maximum grace and celerity, the patient does not respond, “Who the fuck wouldn’t develop generalized anxiety disorder after spending an hour in your medical establishment?” She takes the prescriptions, shakes the doctor’s placid hand, and departs through the waiting room, trying not to think about all the eyes burning through her back, especially the dog’s.

“Generalized anxiety disorder my ass,” the patient thinks, while wondering if any psychiatric patients are following her to the Neptune Avenue F station. She sprints up the stairs to the Manhattan-bound platform. After a few stops her crowded train car empties out. “What the hell does he know?” the patient thinks as she slowly inches away from a woman on her plastic bench because she thinks that the woman doesn’t want her to sit so close to her now that there’s more space, but the patient also doesn’t want to hurt the woman’s feelings by making her think that she doesn’t want to sit so close to her. Even though it’s been driving the patient up the goddamn wall that the two of them are still sitting so close together.

“That appointment was horseshit,” the patient thinks as she walks down 7th Avenue behind a cluster of people that includes a teenage boy wearing headphones. The boy disregards a red pedestrian light and steps out in front of a car. “Watch out!” she screams. The driver of the car lays on his horn. The boy does not get hit. “I should have done more,” the patient thinks. “I should have leapt forward and pulled the boy out of harm’s way. I should have thrown myself into traffic and used my body as an organic barrier. The boy could have been killed and it would have been my fault.” The patient stops at the next intersection and a man taps her on the shoulder.

“You just saved that kid’s life,” he says. “He should’ve at least said thank you.”

“Oh no,” the patient sputters. “I didn’t do anything. I think he just heard the car horn.” The patient walks the rest of the way home worrying that she’d mishandled the exchange with the man. He’d just been trying to make a point about the boy’s ingratitude, not her heroics. So it had been narcissistic of her to steer his observation back toward herself.

“What a charlatan,” she thinks, mouth dry and hands twitching. “That psychiatrist needs to go back to medical school.”

How to be human & not hallucination

You wish to be perceived a certain way, and you tend to become agitated and embittered when your work is misinterpreted. You’re sick of people seeing you the way they see you and not the way you want to be seen. You trusted them and they betrayed you. You never trusted them and their views still register as bottomless disappointment. You resent these obtuse outsiders for questioning your worth, the nature of your project, the value of your cultural contribution. These critics take no time, have no courage. You grapple with their ontological judgments. This is your art they’re talking about.

You are a female novelist who wants to be read like a male novelist. You are a white American poet who wants to be read like a Chinese poet. You are a female visual artist who wants to be treated like a male visual artist. You are a writer with a name who wants to be read like a writer with a different name. You are a writer with a name who wants to be read as anonymous. You are an Asian Poet who wants to be read as a Poet. You are a famous author who wants to be read as a debut author. You are a young and beautiful novelist who wants to be read like a novelist without a body. You are a middle-aged author who wants to be read like a literary ingénue. You are a Serious Male Poet who wants to be read as “a lesbian writer of girls’ school stories.”

I’ve always had a severe distaste for all the mindless biographical drivel that serves to prop up this or that writer,” Pearson admits in an interview in a publication called Cow Eye Express, part of the auxiliary Web material associated with the novel. “So much effort goes into credentialing the creator that we lose sight of the creation itself, with the consequence being that we tend to read authors instead of their works. In fact, we’d probably prefer to read a crap book by well-known writer than a great book by a writer who may happen to be obscure,” the unknown writer asserts.1

It’s human nature to take mental shortcuts, to deposit individuals into preexisting accounts. Art is expansive, but first it must be seen. Art can hold multitudes, but first the mind must consent to dilation. Other people are complicit in creating your art. You don’t have the privilege of prescribing their brush strokes.

All intellectual and artistic endeavors, even jokes, ironies, and parodies, fare better in the mind of the crowd when the crowd knows that somewhere behind the great work or the great spoof it can locate a cock and a pair of balls. (“Harriet Burden” in Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World)

You’re desperate to transmit signs that will communicate your value and challenge the reigning taxonomies. The female novelists with medical degrees are read differently than the female novelists without, despite the relative merits of their fiction. The women with PhDs are automatically granted more substantial intellects, no matter what field they’re in. You’re not as smart as they are. Perhaps you’ll go back to school. But school would be more of the same:

The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.2

And your credentials can only do so much. You’re a woman citing a canon of dead male philosophers and dead male scientists who would discount you at the first opportunity. You reflexively assign them an authority that you don’t naturally assign to yourself. Your brain is a bedlam of footnotes and references, each clamoring to prove something vital to the skeptics and reductionists. You’re like a lawyer whose whole case is based on the testimony of expert witnesses. You no longer know why you know what you know.

“I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she says. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”3

You sense that it’s futile to dictate the terms of your critical reception in the maddening world that exists outside your head. Rationally you get that you can’t control the brains of other people. You can’t always overcome their generalizations and implicit biases. (Often you fear you’re just as guilty of these charges.) You’ll run yourself ragged trying to counteract their sexism, racism, homophobia, myopia. Unless you intentionally exploit their cognitive failings. Unless you beat them at their own game! And so you carry out hoaxes. You employ subversive tactics that will, when discovered, either endear you to your audience or forever lash you to the whipping post. You try to manipulate perception in order to be pure. You try to be someone you’re not in order to be pure. Be nobody in order to be pure. Have no mythology, no smiling photograph, no biography on your book jacket, in order to be pure. You erase or distort yourself in order to please the tastemakers.

And it’s the way, frankly, that many of us read, regardless of background, identity, or politics: we bring our own dreams or baggage to bear upon whatever we have chosen to lay our eyes on. We might abide by different critical cues, but we are all looking for something. And when culture turns into an extended game of “gotcha,” it can be an act of self-preservation to assume that everyone is always acting in bad faith.4

What is the upshot of all this masquerading? You want to befuddle the establishment so every critic responds to new work with the fear that Thomas Pynchon might have written it or that Picasso might have painted it. To avoid embarrassment, they’ll learn to treat every piece as authoritative, at least until it betrays them. But you are not a trickster. You just want to examine things as you see them. You want to be considered legitimate, whether you’re appraising the walls of a bedroom or the fucking Milky Way.

[Diane Johnson] observes that male readers at least “have not learned to make a connection between the images, metaphors, and situations employed by women (house, garden, madness), and universal experience, although women, trained from childhood to read books by people of both sexes, know the metaphorical significance of the battlefield, the sailing ship, the voyage, and so on.”5

You write a story about a dollhouse. You write a story about a war. Your war might as well take place in a dollhouse.

Recently, when the novelist Mary Gordon spoke at a boys’ school, she learned that the students weren’t reading the Brontës, Austen or Woolf. Their teachers defended this by saying they were looking for works that boys could relate to. But at the girls’ school across the street, Gordon said, “no one would have dreamed of removing ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Moby-Dick’ from the syllabus. As a woman writer, you get points if you include the ‘male’ world in your work, and you lose points if you omit it.”6

You want to transcend this phallocentric point system. You can’t keep up with it. You’re too bad at math. (You kid, you kid.)

Have you heard anyone say recently about any book written by a man, It’s really a woman who wrote it, or maybe a group of women? Due to its exorbitant might, the male gender can mimic the female gender, incorporating it in the process. The female gender, on the other hand, cannot mimic anything, for is betrayed immediately by its “weakness”; what it produces could not possibly fake male potency.7

You write a poem about a black man. You write a poem about a white man. The poems might as well be about blackness, about whiteness.

You pretend to have authority as they define it. You fake it till you make it. You can only make it on their terms. But wasn’t your ambition to be pure? And good? And lasting? What is “making it” with regard to eternity? And the few in your boat who are victorious only demoralize you further because they substantiate your deepest fear: that it’s you who’s not good enough. That it’s not the establishment at all. But that’s the power talking. You’ve internalized it. You’ve turned it against yourself.

You’re underrepresented and you seek acceptance from the same dominant culture that subjugates you. You need to be validated by the mercurial patriarchy. You let the existing power structures dictate your worth. Because the same power structures helped create you. You’re the artist you are in part because you’re reacting to their mold.

Subjection exploits the desire for existence, where existence is always conferred from elsewhere; it marks a primary vulnerability to the Other in order to be. (Judith Butler in The Psychic Life of Power)

But what if this subjection can be reversed? What if you pull the sovereigns into your system? Make them vulnerable to your vision, and not the other way around.

Yes, I hold that male colonization of our imaginations—a calamity while ever we were unable to give shape to our difference—is, today, a strength. We know everything about the male symbol system; they, for the most part, know nothing about ours, above all about how it has been restructured by the blows the world has dealt us. What’s more, they are not even curious, indeed they recognize us only from within their system.8

You want your audience to be colorblind, but you don’t want your color obliterated. You want your audience to proclaim the death of the author, but you’d rather not be murdered. You want your audience to commit to a list of rules before judgment, but not everyone can be so circumspect. You want to be a cyborg, but you feel your flesh and blood. You want to be a god yourself, but this country breeds disciples. You want to be the judge, but you keep pleading your case to the jury. You want to tell them all to fuck off, but you also need to make a living.

Heller did survive, of course, and four years later the critics decided that the flighty little upstart who had had such trouble piecing together a sentence, or narrative, worth more than a few minutes of their precious attention had undergone some miraculous metamorphosis in which infelicities were replaced by seamless elegance, plodding one-liners with timeless apercus.9

They tell you there’s a chip on your shoulder. It doesn’t look like a chip to you. Informing people of what is and isn’t on their bodies is the height of lunacy. But then you remember: the way we see each other is always part hallucination. And then you return to your work.

Child Portrait #4: Surviving Daycare

At home he liked playing with his trains, showing people his naked belly, dancing to Top 40 radio, pretending to trim the lawn, and running back and forth across the living room, yelling “Bumpus!” and then falling into hysterics. But eventually the boy’s mother had to rejoin her husband in the workforce. One morning she snapped her chatty son into his car seat and drove him to a daycare facility near the bowling alley north of town. The boy thought they were on the highway in order to identify big trucks together. “Biiiiig truck,” he’d say, lowering his voice to a manly decibel whenever he saw something more substantial than a pickup through his rear window. His mother was usually his equal in appreciating truck dramatics, so the boy did not understand why she pulled into a parking lot full of sedans and then tearfully delivered him into a padded room comprised of broken toys and a handful of other crestfallen children.

At first the boy tried to replicate the good times he had at home at his new daycare facility, but he was used to doing things a certain way. When he pooped his pants, for example, he expected to be able to continue playing for a few more minutes before a strange woman snatched him violently off the rug by his wrist and then detained him at the diaper station. When he was dumping air compost onto the floor from a plastic dump truck, he expected to be able to finish the whole load before the dump truck disappeared in a joy-killing vortex called “clean-up time,” which consisted of another strange woman kicking toys toward a crate in the corner as if dolls and Legos were so many plague rats. The boy was used to being able to share his thoughts freely, whether they pertained to weed wackers, cranes owned by the telephone company, or the relative merits of chicken fingers cut into pieces or left unscathed. He was accustomed to carousing outside with his peers, but these daycare children were depleted and dispirited, and they were not allowed to go outside unless the barometric pressure fell within an undisclosed five-millibar range. Thus the boy spent his daycare hours sitting by himself on the play rug that was always freshly tidied, waiting in contemplative silence, unsure of what to do with himself.

(Each of these hours was agony for the boy’s mother, who obsessively watched the daycare’s live video feed on her computer at work, and could read all the quiet bewilderment in her son’s small, stooped body as he sat there in his monster truck t-shirt while hired caretakers punted toys over him. Pretty soon she made the mistake of giving the feed’s online password to her mother-in-law, who didn’t have a job and could therefore surrender herself entirely to the addictive qualities of real-time, streaming daycare video. The women would call each other up whenever another child was jerked out of frame. “I can’t take it anymore,” said the boy’s mother. “I’m going to go get him.” And the boy’s grandmother would have to talk her down. Meanwhile they were both searching frantically for an alternative daycare situation that didn’t so closely mirror a totalitarian state.)

But the boy was resilient, and he did not permit his three weekly mornings in kinderhell to dampen his afternoon élan. After a month of daycare, his parents gave him a toy lawnmower because they were so ridden with guilt about the psychological torments they were subjecting their child to, and the boy found that he could process much of his angst through imaginative yard work. He was beginning to sense that the world could be a cruel caretaker, and he took refuge in the ordered routines of lawn maintenance. When he was at home, there were few hours when he could not be seen roving the property, making loud engine noises around the mulched flowerbeds. One afternoon the boy was taking a nap at his grandmother’s house while her neighbor was running a weed wacker. His grandmother thought she heard the boy’s voice on the baby monitor, so she went upstairs to check on him. He was lying on his back in the crib, wide awake and perfectly serene.

“What are you doing?” she said. He gave a blissful sigh and cocked his head toward the open window.

“Just listening to the trimming,” he said.


Notes from the 18th Hole

She secured her summer job at the local five-star golf resort during a period of wreckless personal abandon. The things she would only say yes to included shots of Wild Turkey, narcotics, one-night stands, pornography, drunk driving, self-pity, cigarettes, and parties hosted by Eastern European amusement park employees. She only applied for the job because the golf resort was owned by the Anheuser-Busch company and she’d heard that once a month every resort employee received a free case of Bud or Bud Light.

She was hired to drive the perimeter of the 18-hole golf course from 8am until sundown in a tricked-out golf cart with coolers on the side that she’d fill every morning with snacks and cold beer. It was a dream job. Most of her time was spent parked at the top of manicured green hills, waiting for businesspeople to tee off. The rest of her time was spent circling the course at high speeds, hoping that she wouldn’t get hit by an errant ball. If a businessperson felt desirous of her refreshments, he would flag her down, and she would pull up alongside whatever corporate retreat collective he belonged to and sell him Buds and turkey sandwiches wrapped in plastic.

Though overnight guests tended to have charge accounts with the resort, it was mostly a cash business. She quickly realized that Misters Anheuser and Busch weren’t trying to profit from her golf cart—they merely wanted to provide their clientele with a convenient service—so she provided the convenient service and then skimmed off the top accordingly. She would have gotten rich that summer had it not been for the Wild Turkey and narcotics.

But this lucrative era of driving a golf cart around a landscape radiant with sunlight and Round-Up had its dark and weedy side as well. She soon discovered that the high-calorie snack food she was charged with transporting in her felonious gyre was actually quite tasty. And not only was it tasty, but for minutes at a time it could quell her raging hangovers and self-hatred. And the food was right there, within arm’s reach, in her mobile 7-11, at all hours during her shift. And if the food ran out, she could just drive back to the kitchen for more, because no one was overseeing her inventory.

Foods she could only say yes to: hotdogs, ham and cheese sandwiches, oversized chocolate chip cookies, relish packets, 3 Musketeers Bars, Snickers Bars, fruit snacks, granola bars, Cheetos. The binging would start at 8 in the morning and not end until she plugged in her cart. It was a nightmare. She just could not keep her hands off the hotdogs. If she had been leading a wagon train on the Oregon Trail, she wouldn’t have made it five miles without devouring all the supplies. Her whole family would have starved to death or eaten her younger siblings. She felt miserably ashamed of herself, but the only thing that made her feel better was a pork product washed down with Gatorade and Skittles. Sometimes she pulled off into the woods just so she could smoke, cry, and eat potato chips at the same time.

She soon outgrew her work uniform. Not only was she sweating through her Cintas-issued khaki mom shorts every afternoon thanks to a malodorous physical cocktail of alcohol withdrawal, social anxiety, and her immune system’s infuriated response to all the nitrites, but her gut had burst open her zipper as well. The old white men on the course stopped flirting with her. The cute boys in the kitchen no longer hustled to replenish her sandwiches. She found out that the resort’s other two beer wenches—both slim and pretty blondes with the ability to say no to things—had been wing-womaning each other at the bars after work without extending her an invitation. Her tongue and the corners of her mouth were stained orange with processed cheese. In the cart she felt like one of those morbidly obese people who had to get around on motorized scooters. It was only a matter of time before she got fired.

But against all odds she did not get fired. She just stopped showing up for work long enough that some distant supervisor decided that she’d quit. She didn’t even collect her final case of free beer because she was so mortified that she’d finally been broken, not by hard drugs or two-day blackouts, but by mundane American gluttony. She could no longer pretend that her depression was continental and poetic when it involved six tons of Doritos. She was just a fat girl on a golf course—less like a tormented Woolf or Plath and more like a pouty Trump. She didn’t get out of bed for several weeks. When she finally did, it was to say no to something: the suicide spiral, which in her mind looked a lot like those circuits around the green.

*This has been a paid advertisement for Anheuser-Busch.

Trivial Pursuit, 1981 edition

We are playing this game because it’s the only game that I own. Now sit down on the picnic blanket, shut your faces, and enjoy the trivia. This is my party. Not everyone possesses a copy of Cards Against Humanity. You don’t need to joke about bleached assholes to have fun. I do not care that most of you were born after 1981, the year in which this game was manufactured. I do not care that you did not personally experience the Nixon/Kennedy debates. Let the board game that I stole from my grandparents lead you back in time to an era before cell phones, Kendall Jenner, and Chick-Fil-A. For the entirety of this holiday afternoon, while the frisbee is still accounted for and some wine yet remains in the jumbo bottle, Bill Cosby is a beloved family man. A hockey game just decided the Cold War. Both the Berlin Wall and Audrey Hepburn are alive and well. You cannot argue with the facts, at least as long as you’re drinking out of my cooler. So please try your best to win colorful plastic pies by answering the following questions correctly:

Q1. What New York City complex has 208 elevators and 43,600 windows?

Q2. Who was the first black to win the U.S. men’s national tennis title?

Q3. Who drowned at Chappaquiddick on July 18, 1969?

Q4. What former Miss America was a panelist on I’ve Got a Secret?

Q5. What train leaves Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four?

Q6. What five young ladies were born May 28, 1934?

Q7. What type of acts were barred from the Miss America contest in 1948?

Q8. Do beavers eat fish?


A1. The World Trade Center

A2. Arthur Ashe

A3. Mary Jo Kopechne

A4. Bess Myerson

A5. The Chattanooga Choo Choo

A6. The Dionne Quintuplets

A7. Animal acts

A8. No

Oh no my worst enemy has hijacked my blog

Hi I’m Wistar. I am a stupid asshole. I write mean-spirited things. My inner life is impoverished. I sweat profusely. I am late to doctors’ appointments. I am not the kind of person that anyone likes to read. I have bad dreams. It takes everything I have not to broadcast them to the world. My body has stopped absorbing nutrients. I keep an envelope full of coupons in my purse. Last week a friend’s dog went sniffing around my purse at a party and suddenly the floor was covered in my coupons. I felt as if the dog had dug my maxi-pads out of the trash can and dragged them across the living room for all to see. I collected the coupon scraps and returned them to my purse, but due to the bite marks at the corners, I could no longer tell if the coupons were for 5-, 10-, or 20-percent off my next purchase. They are probably expired now. I don’t even like to shop.

Literary Idol

Katie barely made it through preliminaries. At the infamous prop desk she wrote a few anemic lines about her childhood, but then hit pay dirt when the weary judges asked her to switch gears from “nostalgic prose” to “political poetry.” Somehow she hauled an amusing limerick about Kaiser Wilhelm completely out of her ass, and so the judges sent her on to the next round with one of those golden bookmarks. She was going to Hollywood, baby. Along with a few hundred other writers who were most likely better than her.

But on the plane from Newark, Katie began to reconsider her impulsive decision to try out for Literary Idol. In some ways auditioning made sense. She self-identified as “Writer.” She aspired to publish a novel, and the show was in its ninth season of launching authors’ careers with guaranteed, six-figure book contracts. But those in the winner’s circle weren’t always the brightest bulbs on the studio lot. Often the judges seemed to be influenced by looks and personality more than originality and syntax. This was unfortunate because Katie lacked a personality altogether. She wondered sometimes if she remained intentionally boring so that people would only judge her by her soul. Personality was just how good you were at parties.

That morning she’d read about a social experiment where a famous chef cooked two identical-looking dishes, but Dish A was made with gourmet ingredients and Dish B was made with expired chicken bouillon. When the chef brought the dishes to the table, he told his diners a heartwarming story about the care that he’d taken with Dish B and how he’d modernized an old family recipe with saffron and dragon’s blood, etc. Because of the celebrity narrative, the diners preferred the taste of Dish B over Dish A ninety percent of the time, even though Dish B tasted like the Passaic River. The top chef’s charisma was enough to alter the diners’ sense perception. Katie assumed that the Lit Idol judges were just as desperate and stupid.

But when you subtracted personality from Katie’s author profile, all that was left was forty excess pounds and some writing talent. And what did that talent signify, anyway? That she could string sentences together? That she also vomited words into the void? She’d only been published once, in a regional lit journal called the Garden State Review of Letters, and that was just because her roommate Greg was a copy editor there and he’d withheld Wii privileges until she submitted a short story. He’d told her she was going to do awesome on the show. “You’re going to do awesome on the show!” he’d said.

When Katie walked into the Hollywood hotel that had been appointed to lodge the Idol contestants, she was greeted by at least thirty pens working aggressively at bistro tables in the lobby. She rolled her suitcase toward the concierge and tried not to be intimidated by all the leather-bound journals. The atmosphere comprised coffee, brooding, expensive haircuts, jubilation, despair, emotional support animals, bonding strategies, envy, other elements to be recorded later. Attractive people in their early twenties held bold and clever conversations under artificial palm trees while they internally congratulated themselves on the quality of their discourse. Generally, Katie was too self-conscious to speak aloud wherever anyone might hear her. She took her phone calls in the bathroom even when her roommate wasn’t home. She knew she’d never be a public intellectual. But would she ever be anything?

This was a terrible time to doubt herself. Hollywood Week began tomorrow. She’d bought a new pair of stirrup leggings. The Literary Idol judges had seen something in her writing, and she’d just have to trust them even though they expected great books to wear top hats and dance around for them. She checked in at the front desk and proceeded briskly to her room to draft a 500-word essay about her mounting anxiety. Then she opened her gift bag from the network. She appreciated the thought behind it, but she would never deign to use a dictionary made by Coca-Cola.

The caravan of black buses came for them at 6 the next morning. Katie and her rivals were then delivered to the historic Paramount Library, where F. Scott Fitzgerald used to write his screenplays and a young Jennifer Lopez used to read back issues of Vogue. For a week Idol would have exclusive use of the library. Katie imagined the tantrums of all the children who would be turned away for storytime.

The contestants waited introvertly in the stacks while a camera crew circulated, looking for b-roll footage: complacent dude chewing on pencil, nervous chick reviewing her creative affirmations. Luke Patterson, the long-time host of Literary Idol, arrived in their midst at 9am like a snort of cocaine laced with baby laxatives. Katie watched as he flitted about the bookcases, seeking interviews with the most promising writers. It was as though he’d memorized a script beforehand that said things in the margins like, “Keep it playful!” and “Corporate softball game!” and “Flirty, but NO blow jobs!”

Patterson had been writing two GLBTQ murder mystery novels a year for the past twelve years. The man was hugely popular before he launched Idol’s American version, and his fame had only increased thanks to his ten weekly hours of airtime. Katie wondered how it made him feel that no genre writer had ever won the show. A romance writer once made it to the final round, but she had a strong back story. Something about a dead mom. Or maybe a dog.

Patterson did not approach Katie in her Cer- section of the stacks. That was okay. She’d prefer to meet the ghostwriter who was actually responsible for his books.

Katie’s time slot wasn’t until late afternoon, but that morning she was able to watch the round’s live feed on the big-screen TV that had been wheeled into the room as a psychological torture device. She’d already seen two people bomb at the desk. One guy who seemed to think he was Samuel Beckett took the prompt to “rewrite Disney’s Cinderella from the point of view of an ugly stepsister,” and was undone by his own pretension. Sentence fragments do not a fairy tale make. One girl had clearly memorized a sample of her erotic flash fiction beforehand, which made it all the more embarrassing that her piece was so bad. Nipples definitely did not prance as she alleged. Plus the prompt had been “You’re the captain of a submarine. You look at your Motorola Moto 360 watch and realize that if you don’t get your crew to the ocean surface within two minutes, everyone will die. And then the lights go out. What do you do?” According to this girl, sex is what you do.

Katie tried not to revel in the creative implosion of her rivals, and instead attempted to read the judges. Theodore Pincho was the main one she’d need to impress to avoid being eliminated. Pincho had written one novel, a critically-acclaimed first-person narrative that honed closely, if not exactly, to the writer’s real life, but was considered an intellectual tour de force and not a 200,00-word entry in his domestic diary because the literary establishment deemed him a Serious Male Writer. Pincho had subsequently also made a name for himself as a frequent contributor to online debates about the impact that social media was having on literature. His eyes rolled with abandon. He was invited to all the New Yorker holiday parties.

Though Katie found his writing overrated, she knew that Pincho at least deserved his reputation as the resident asshole on the judge’s panel. He loved dismissing writers as hackneyed, derivative, neuro-impoverished, and—worst of all—cute. Contestants’ tears made his dick spring out of his khakis. And his gravelly tone carried so much authority that the opinions of the two other judges seemed unduly influenced by his critical reactions. Katie wondered if Pincho sometimes hated on good writing and raved about bad writing just to test the impressionability of his peers. She found him to be humorless and unapologetically full of shit. Recently she read that he was working on a “richly imagined” and “astonishingly original” novel about a brilliant celebrity judge on a hit writing reality show.

Katie wasn’t scared of Sally Delacroix, who wrote bestselling police procedurals structured around brutal sex crimes and was universally known as a softie. If writers managed to sneak in a reference to birds or hearts, they usually got her full approval.

Cecil B. was the wild card. He wrote obscure, experimental fiction that everyone respected but few people read. He liked to use his time at the mic to monologue about things that concerned him. Certain adverbs. The death of culture. Sobriety. The IKEA catalog. He would use some poor contestant’s love sonnet as an excuse to think aloud about sewer drownings. He took copious notes on his own ideas. He strenuously pretended not to be stoned.

And these were the gatekeepers to America’s love and lifelong readership. Not that Katie expected America to like her either.

That morning all three judges seemed immediately besotted with L, a uniquely beautiful young woman whose initial-only name was very on-trend for people as well as fictional characters. L’s glasses and lab coat seemed calculated to remind the judges that she was also a scientist. “I write about the body,” she said when asked about her craft, as if “the body” was some new element on the periodic table. All of this combined to dupe the judges into attributing a wealth of allusive meaning to L’s second-person stream of consciousness about Dove Body Wash. “Wow,” they said after she left the desk in graceful triumph. “Stunning.” Katie didn’t know if they were referring to L’s beauty or to her extemporaneous writing, or if they’d somehow conflated the two.

“Her background as a scientist infuses her line about the ‘cognizant bubble of her womb’ with breathtaking authenticity,” said Pincho.

“She’s a genius,” said Delacroix. “Did you see the Harvard emblem on her lab coat?”

“What this national stage could really use,” said Cecil B., “is a brain surgeon. Those suckers can really write.” Katie wondered if she should have established a satellite career for herself as well so her fiction would be more marketable. But only traditionally masculine job titles like mathematician and lawyer seemed to wield this positive effect on the literati’s hive mind. Her plan would surely backfire if she told readers that her oeuvre was informed by her previous career as a preschool teacher or a stay-at-home mom.

Katie liked one writer’s performance immensely, probably because the young man didn’t officially consider himself a writer and apparently she loathed herself and her own community. Ben was a Division-1 lacrosse player who’d recently discovered the works of Stephen King. “I just wanted a challenge,” he said, when asked why he’d first auditioned for the show. “Coach told everybody to try something new this fall to keep our brains from atrophising in the off-season or whatever.” He got a lob—”a 300-word freewrite about 9/11″—but shortly after starting out strong with an image of a burned Xerox machine, his thoughts veered back to athletics, and he ended up composing a story about a locker-room brawl that Katie found mesmerizing. The judges reprimanded him for breaking the rules, but Katie could tell he’d charmed them. After Ben left the set, the judges made a big show of looking up “atrophising” in their Coca-Cola dictionaries.

Finally it was Katie’s turn. A production assistant with an air of illiteracy escorted her into the library’s main reading room where the three judges sat behind their reference desk. Before they saw her, Katie registered the look of annihilating apathy in their eyes. They were all writers themselves, and she assumed that they’d never be in love with anyone else’s work the way they were with their own. She felt as if she were about to give a reading at a venue where everyone in the audience was a writer who resented that she was the one giving the reading.

“Just, whatever you do,” she told herself, “don’t be trite.” No one could come back from trite. Katie didn’t need to win the contest, but she wanted to be able to hold her head high when she returned to her apartment. If Greg still let her play Mario Kart on his Wii from time to time when he wasn’t using it, she will have been a success.

Her three executioners watched as Katie took a seat at the prop desk and picked up the stylus that said “Wacom Intuos” in shiny letters. She thought about telling the judges a story about how she used to be a terrible writer, then her grandfather who’d always believed in her had bequeathed his magical stylus to her right before he died, and she could suddenly write beautifully, but then one day the stylus was crushed under the wheels of a taxi cab and she thought that she would never write anything good again, but then her dead grandfather came to her in a dream and said that the stylus had never been magical. “It’s been you all along,” he whispered. And then they hugged. And then she woke up.

Katie did not tell this story. Instead she accidentally sneezed on the digital tablet she was supposed to write on, wiped off the spittle with the sleeve of her shirt, and awaited her writing prompt.

“You have cancer,” said Pincho. The panel hated small talk. “The only person who can save your life is the alien warlord who raped and impregnated you as a teen. There’s a spaceship parked in your backyard (fertilized with Scotts Turf Builder). What do you do?”

“The,” wrote Katie. Then she stopped. Most of the prompt’s ingredients seemed to indicate that she should write a sci-fi piece, but the presence of cancer made Katie wonder if the judges expected her to write something lyrical about sickness. Like have a girl with leukemia observe a tree through a hospital window and personify the movement of its branches in a way that indicates she trusts in the will of God and has resigned herself to death.

Katie erased “The” and thought hard for a moment. “The,” she wrote again. She would never get used to seeing her digital handwriting blown up on the overhead monitor. She thought about writing the word “penis.” Anxiety tended to make her regress to a vulgar degree. Penis penis penis. Maybe Delacroix expected her to focus more on the rape, and all those feelings, because of her sex crime fixation. Maybe the judges wanted to know what happened to the alien love child. Could the baby be all grown up and willing to be used as an interstellar bargaining chip to save his mother’s life? And then exact revenge on his father?

“Two more minutes,” said Cecil B. He was fanning himself with an Advance Auto Parts flyer, barely interested in Katie’s mortal struggle with her ego at the desk. She was even too boring for the world’s most boring reality show. Her grandfather was very much alive and only emotionally invested in matters occurring within the sports pages, but if he were a sage ghost visiting her from another realm, he would probably tell her that great writing stems from the soul and souls can’t be celebrities. And she would tell him, “Easy for you to say when you’re dead and no longer have a bank account.”

What was the point of having so many writers? So many portholes into so many brains? Why did Katie’s alien warlord matter more than Ben’s alien warlord? Why did Katie’s white blood cell count matter more than L’s? She wasn’t having any fun writing for the public. She preferred to write in a vacuum, taking frequent breaks to ride the Mario Kart.

Even if she did write something amazing for the judges, chances were it would be discounted because she was just a trifling, unfashionable girl. For instance, she couldn’t foresee Pincho ascribing any intentionality to her work. These days art required the full backing of science. Though literature was supposed to be responsible for developing empathy, the selective dissemination of books and authors was controlled by a literary-industrial complex wherein empathy seemed glaringly absent. “…hell with you,” she wanted to write. “I’m going to audition for The Voice instead.”

How would Henry James handle himself on this national stage? What would Tyler Durden do?

The judges were all on their phones, probably deriding her on Twitter. Katie didn’t want to join their club anymore. Could she still be an outsider after her fleeting appearance on Idol? Could the outside actually be the inside? It was time for Katie to return to her regularly scheduled programming.

“…end,” she wrote, and put down her stylus.

Child Portrait #3: Baby at the Wheel

The baby was remarkable for his calm. Perhaps he knew that in order to survive he needed to distinguish himself from his older brother, a two-year-old bon vivant who commanded the attention of everyone in a room with a rotation of behaviors that included mania, exultation, violence, and hysteria. Thus the baby was content to recline passively in his mother’s arms, winning her over with his unflappable sweetness and tranquility. He was confident that his sibling’s charisma would eventually hoist him with his own petard, and then only the baby would be left standing, or lying down as the case may be.

But he knew that at first he risked being perceived as a “blob.” It was a testament to the baby’s imperturbability that he did not let these critical judgments upset him. If he was a blob, he thought, he was a Blob Triumphant, because look who was unilaterally soaking up Mama’s love on the shady park bench while the firstborn child wore out his father on the playground equipment with a series of taxing and repetitive demands that could not help but engender resentment over time. Meanwhile there was the baby, angelically faking sleep, with all the milk to himself.

The baby had to admit, however, that his brother had his moments. For instance the elder son could identify every kind of truck on the road with feverish joy: dump truck, trash truck, moving truck, etc. The baby was also interested in trucks, so he always paid attention when they were the topic of discussion. He was not above learning what he could from his brother before disposing of him. It did irritate the baby, however, that his sibling was able to charm his way behind the wheels of cars and tractors so easily. “May I please ride on your Gator?” he’d ask their uncle the farmer, and sure enough their uncle would pull the boy onto his lap and let him vroom around for half an hour. The baby also coveted rides on the Gator, but he had to remind himself that he was playing a long game. Did he want to ride on the Gator now, or did he want to ride on the Gator everyday, into perpetuity, just as soon as he could convince his parents that he was their only child worth keeping? It was merely a matter of time, he decided, and doubled down on his show of serenity.

Sometimes the baby wondered if he’d originally made a strategic error and if he should have joined forces with his hyper, high-maintenance sibling instead of trying to divide and conquer. His brother certainly seemed to have a lot of fun. When they were at the pool, the baby had to sit quietly on the sidelines while his parents took turns launching their eldest into the water again and again. The boy would soar through the air in his floaties and swim diaper, sink nearly to the bottom of the pool, then come up sputtering and choking with both delight and chlorine. “More dat,” he would say, and of course their parents complied because they found his derring-do hilarious. The baby would like to go swimming as well, but at this point everyone would be alarmed if he started crying, and he’d probably end up at the pediatrician’s.

The baby was ashamed to admit that once or twice his brother had threatened to win him over as well. The most memorable incident involved trucks. The baby was still strapped into his car seat on the kitchen floor (though his onesie was pasted to his back with sweat, he hadn’t complained about it, thus no one had thought to remove him), when his older brother—naked except for the Hawaiian lei around his neck—approached him cautiously with a small box of raisins. The baby watched in horror as his brother stood at his chubby toes, staring down at him intently while trying to extract single raisins from the rectangular clump. Was his brother on to him? Had he finally figured out that his baby sibling harbored ulterior motives for being so chill, and that all those motives led directly to the elder son’s demise? The baby’s sudden terror was almost enough to expel the binkie from his mouth.

But to his great astonishment, his older brother addressed him personally. “Do you like trucks?” he said. “Do you want to share my trucks?” The baby didn’t know what sound from his small repertoire to make in response. Pretty soon half a dozen toy trucks had materialized in his big brother’s hands, and he was running them up and down the baby’s tremendous belly, making truck noises and explaining earnestly to the baby how the vehicles operated and what their purpose was, and the turning wheels tickled the baby’s arms and legs, and the baby started laughing even though he’d made a pledge to himself never to lose his cool with his brother, and then his brother also started laughing as he made the trucks go faster and faster in their chaotic circuits around the baby’s body, and for a moment the baby saw an alternate reality, one in which he and his brother could be allies, and they could own a Gator together, and take turns riding it, and putting gas in it, and changing the tires when the tires were low. And maybe there were enough parental resources to go around after all, and maybe it was okay to cry sometimes, and maybe if he didn’t like the Raffi song that was playing on the car stereo, he could just vocalize that dislike, and not worry so much about being put up for adoption.

Then again, the baby thought as his brother continued to use his belly as a racetrack, consider how amazing it would be if I had all those sweet trucks to myself.