Author Archives: Wistar

A fun thing I’ll keep doing whenever I have the time and the money

When David Foster Wallace set sail on a luxury cruise ship in the mid-90s, he was pampered to the point of despair. Sending a brilliant, hypersensitive, agoraphobic depressive on a solo Caribbean cruise is like sending a gregarious jock who does his best thinking aloud and in his underwear to an artist’s residency. It somewhat exceeds the bounds of journalistic ethics to assign such uncharacteristic vacations to these poor souls.

Fortunately for me, my 4-night Royal Caribbean cruise coincided with a period of my life when I’m all jacked up on antidepressants and boat drinks have never been more appealing. I had a blast. I did not miss land at all. If I could go back in time and direct my career less towards becoming a writer and more towards becoming an officer on one of these buoyant utopias, I would do it in a heartbeat. Even now I’m considering joining the Navy and/or pursuing a degree in hospitality. If I had a job, I would retire from it immediately and move myself and all my earthly belongings onto the Liberty of the Seas, where we would be more comfortable.

To explain my newfound love of cruising and to proselytize to my family members who think cruises are cheesy and who don’t get goosebumps when they hear “the flatulence of the gods” reverberate across the water, I offer the following highlights from my Royal Caribbean vacation:

No one ever told me “no”

On board the ship, my every request was met by the crew with a fervent “Yes, Madam.” The closest we came to negative treatment was when a crew member politely asked M not to drink his bottle of Corona in the whirlpool sauna that hovers 11 stories above the ocean. It was probably 2am and we’d been hitting the bars pretty heavily since 9 the previous morning, but still, we were shocked that anyone would make such a request when broken glass is so easy to remove from a hot tub. Shortly after this outrage, however, the crew member came to his senses and returned to pour M’s Corona into a complimentary Royal Caribbean keepsake cup and ask us if we needed any more alcohol or fresh towels.

I was entertained by war orphans

As part of the on-board entertainment showcase we saw Canadian ice dancers and Russian aerialists and people of unknown origin dressed like pandas, but one of my favorite boat performances took place in a near-empty theater at 4 in the afternoon. We’d first seen these child performers while waiting to embark from Port Everglades. There were about 100 of them—97 girls and 3 Justin Biebers. In line we were intrigued by the group’s numbers and their monochromatically blond ponytails and their matching blue t-shirts. They told us they were a youth dance troupe from Australia and this was their first time performing on a cruise ship. They usually danced in Disney World. I made it a priority to see them perform, whether or not that would interrupt one of my six meals of the day. The choreography was severely limited by the size of the troupe. It’s hard to coordinate 200 jazz hands while also doing feet. There was actually no reason whatsoever why the dance troupe had to be so large, unless the kids were recruited by a benevolent stage mom as a way of liberating them from abusive Australian orphanages or child prostitution rings and getting them onto a boat where they would be safe, in a sort of Schindler’s List scenario. Which is of course what was going on. The kids only did one show and roved the pool deck unchaperoned for the rest of the time. M and I often saw the older teens bobbing seriously in the hot tub, steam camouflaging their tears, likely discussing the wretched lives they’d left behind.

I learned to fold towels and napkins into exciting animal shapes

My daily program came with me everywhere and I consulted it religiously, not wanting to miss activities like the International Belly Flop Competition and the Captain Meet & Greet. But one of the hottest activities on board was the napkin-folding class that took place in the piano bar everyday at 10am. Though I didn’t participate personally, I watched in awe with a breakfast margarita in my hand as the ship’s resident folding expert belted instructions into a microphone and young couples on honeymoon hunched over their bistro tables with furrowed brows as they tried to construct 3-dimensional swans out of 1-dimensional fabric. On the last day of the cruise the more advanced students learned how to fold bath towels into the shape of baby elephants. I never would have considered this a useful vocation if I hadn’t I walked into our stateroom one afternoon and found a penguin sitting on our freshly made bed, wearing my sunglasses. I almost took him home with me, but I was afraid he’d get smashed out of recognition in my suitcase and I wouldn’t have the skills to rebuild him.

I came to know the joys of binocular ownership

It’s unclear to me whether dolphins feed on chum or a more exotic bait like puff pastry, but in any case I was annoyed that the ship didn’t have an entire crew dedicated to attracting these aquatic mammals for my viewing pleasure. Left to my own devices, I trained my binoculars on the wake behind our ship countless times a day, hoping that I’d see dolphins frolicking in our sewage. I also searched the ocean for castaways on a pretty regular basis. One afternoon I saw what I thought was a raft containing a solitary man who had probably eaten his fellow shipwrecked crewmates, but it was just a log with a bird on it.

I met fascinating people 

M and I could barely get through a shuffleboard tournament without meeting people we would’ve happily spent our lives with on dry land. On Deck 4 we encountered an elegant woman who used to take pictures of Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra. I lent my binoculars to a retired firefighter who once responded to a call where a man on a railroad track was so drunk he didn’t realize a train had taken off his leg. And then there was the whirlpool crowd, who were always a joy to be around, probably because the hot water lowered their defenses.

I ate so many desserts

At least three with every decadent meal. In for a penny, in for a pound.

I got off the boat only long enough to get on another boat

On excursion day in Cozumel, my travel companions and I boarded a catamaran at 11am with a small group of passengers that included four female dentists who were each about three pina coladas deep. These girls were better at partying than they were at snorkeling, so they spent most of our time at the disintegrating reef clinging to the handsome dive master. The stronger swimmers among us saw rays, parrot fish, barracuda, and bottom-dwelling scuba divers who seemed oblivious to our presence. I liked to float above these latter creatures because the bubbles from their scuba gear tickled my skin in an arousing manner. On our way back to the cruise ship the catamaran crew served us drinks and blared dance instructions masquerading as songs, leading us in Mexican interpretations of the Macarena, the Cupid Shuffle, etc. After a few spins around the deck the dentists became over enthused and started doing keg stands which resulted in them flashing their sunburnt boobs to a passing motorboat. It was good to spend the day observing the natural world before humans managed to spoil it.

I was encouraged to dress like a hoochie mama

Four-inch heels were standard discotheque attire. Not since our time in Miami had I so keenly felt my absence of butt implants.

I became overly emotional at the piano bar

According to M, the piano bar is always the most happening place on a cruise ship, at least in the realms of nightlife and napkin-folding. (I would argue that in the afternoon the Sprinkles soft-serve ice cream machine beside the children’s swimming pool was the center of our maritime universe.) The piano bar was home to a comedian-pianist who’d been playing cruise ships for 24 years and was a one-man Library of Congress as far as music and lyrics were concerned. He frequently recruited members of the audience to join him at the piano, and he had an uncanny ability to size up strangers and determine which songs they’d know from memory when he handed them the microphone. These impromptu performances were an emotional roller coaster. We saw an old man sing “You Make Me Feel So Young” from his wheelchair while his daughter videotaped it. We heard a young couple’s duet of “Endless Love” that would have Christina Aguilera’s Voice chair spinning in circles. And I was moved to tears by an elderly lady’s rendition of “Cabaret,” during which she got the whole crowd singing and took us all back in time to a 1940s nightclub where she wore a slinky red dress and rolled seductively across the piano and was the hottest ticket in town. I don’t know how the pianist managed to keep it together night after night. The sound effects on his auxiliary keyboard seemed to help. If one of the guest singers left him reeling, he’d just hit the fart button.

I appreciated the crew’s sense of irony

For instance, AA meetings took place in the Champagne Bar. Actually, that’s the only example of irony I can think of, and it was probably just poor planning on the crew’s part.

We outsmarted the casino

It only took us $20 to realize that we were not going to win $1,000 on the machine that has you maneuvering a pole into an irregularly shaped slot, thereby causing cash money to fall into a dispenser, making you rich. After we realized that the money was fastened securely to the roof of the machine, only to be dislodged by tidal waves or maintenance men, we made it our business to swing by whenever we walked through the casino. There would inevitably be a crowd gathered around the machine as one sweaty individual tried for the 60th time to make a square peg fit into a round hole. We always tried to counsel these people into letting go of their impossible dream, but we were only successful about half the time. The arcade proved to be more challenging to our wits, and we lost about $100 playing skeeball, coming away with only a packet of fruit erasers.

I did not pick dead skin off my feet in the hot tub

That must have been someone else.

I thought of DFW two times total

Once when gazing down at the black water at night from the uppermost deck of the ship, I felt that force in the ocean that wants nothing more than to swallow you. The feeling was so visceral and terrifying and primitive—despite DJ George’s soundtrack of club hits playing in the background—that I had to step away. And another time, off the distant coast of Cuba, I saw a small black bird squawking on the sun deck, appearing extremely disoriented. I think it had fallen asleep on the ship when we were docked at Port Everglades and then had woken up in the Gulf of Mexico. Unless there was some aviary on the Liberty that I didn’t know about, there were no other birds around for miles, and I watched as that fact seemed slowly to dawn on this bird. His lonely presence made me appreciate the company I was with all the more.

I had a hard time saying goodbye

This week I’ve been experiencing intense cruise ship nostalgia in the form of maintaining my day-drinking regiment and feeling our new apartment in Chicago rocking back and forth as if the waves are hitting our starboard side. Even though it’s freezing cold in Illinois relative to Florida, we still see the occasional Midwestern man walking around in flip-flops, and I want to accost him to see if he’s recently disembarked from a ship, so we can talk about it, and then maybe he’ll join us for a tequila sunrise in a local piano bar. We’ll sing mournful songs and reminisce about the days off the coast of Florida when we were all sea captains and despair was just a lost bird that eventually flitted away.

Where the sand goes

On the same day we see a 6-foot tiger shark at the beach where we like to bob for hours in the water, we see a young woman emerge from the ocean, lie flat on her back on a towel, and proceed to bury herself in sand from the neck down. When she’s done digging herself into the beach like a nesting turtle, she rubs the sand into her bare belly in a sensual, exfoliating motion, and then gets out a book. I applaud this head and two arms reading amongst the seashells.

The sand spills out of his tennis shoes and disperses under the kitchen table in an area he likes to call his litter box. I tell him it’s his turn to sweep the condo.

Clumps of sand adhere to my scalp when I return from the beach and I gleefully pull the grains through my hair likes bits of scab.

Every morning a Sunny Isles employee turns his leaf blower to the Sisyphean task of clearing all the sand from dozens of public access pathways to the beach. It’s unclear why these long carpets of blue rubber that lie on top of sand and also terminate in sand must routinely be cleared of sand when sand is obviously their element. I worry sometimes that the Sunny Isles employee will eventually get carried away and blow the entire beach back into the ocean with his infernal machine.

The first thing I’m going to do when I get old is buy a metal detector.

What’s the proper etiquette for shaking out beach towels from condo balconies? I’d normally hesitate before raining sand upon our neighbors at lower levels, but no one else in Florida seems to use the balconies, because that would require experiencing a world without air conditioning.

Never have sex in the ocean. Revenge will be exacted on your genitals.

The heavyset Latina women stand in the breakers, pointing toward the water and yelling in Spanish to their heavyset husbands, who are drinking beer on a sandbar. It’s comical to watch the men dash toward the shore juggling beer cans and snorkels. Then I realize that they’re running from a shark.

Through the hourglass. Only one more week in Miami.

Life: Some Practice Sessions

*

You inherit a chunk of money. You fritter it away because you feel you don’t deserve it and its association with death makes you sad. You find yourself relating to Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting when she dramatically breaks down and says something to the effect of, “You think I wouldn’t give all of this up to have my father back??” Except instead of being at Harvard studying organic chemistry, you’re in Miami drinking margaritas at a tiki bar.

*

You entertain the idea that you’re either bipolar II or an empath. You can’t decide which one is worse. Either way, you should probably get yourself some mood crystals.

*

You take a short break from enforcing a new policy around the condo. The new policy stipulates that you are invisible and your boyfriend is invisible, but it says nothing about palm trees, and there is a palm tree on fire in the parking lot. When you tap on the glass of the hurricane door, your boyfriend joins you on the balcony and together you watch the palm tree burn to the ground. The fire seems energizing, unlike everything else in your world of late. Perhaps the tree sensed that you were emotionally depleted so it spontaneously combusted as a personal favor. It knew that those few smoky moments of peace might diffuse the negative charge in your general atmosphere. Or perhaps an island arsonist is at large in Miami. He wears a Hawaiian shirt and goes from beach to beach burning down palm trees and lifeguard stands. He rides a Vespa scooter in his flip flops. He drinks from flaming coconuts because he likes the taste of toasted milk. Could the island arsonist be your boyfriend? You wouldn’t know because your boyfriend is invisible today, per the new policy, and he’s vanished again behind the hurricane door.

*

You FaceTime with your nephew and right away he requests that you sing him a song about trucks. Before you hang up he tells you—after prompts from someone off-camera—that he loves you. Twice he falls over during the phone call and you have to talk to the floor for a while. You wonder why all human conversations can’t be like this.

*

You don’t know how to live. You constantly pursue the question of how you’re supposed to live. It may be that you have too much time on your hands. Or should you continue to give the question your full attention even if that seems to preclude gainful employment?

*

This next one is about paddleboarding. You’re out paddleboarding with your boyfriend. You didn’t rent the waterproof speakers that were offered with the paddleboards for fear of scaring away the fish. But now that your boyfriend has paddleboarded you for at least a mile down a murky, Evergladian canal where you must lie flat on your stomach to pass safely under the thickets of mangrove trees spanning the water and you haven’t seen humans or sunlight for two hours and you might as well be in Apocalypse Now, you sort of wish you had some music to ward off the alligators. Eventually you start humming a song to yourself.

*

You spy on professional beach people. An old man walks down the boardwalk wearing a t-shirt that reads “Baller for Life.” A young man leans over the railing of his hotel balcony and tells a pretty woman below that she dropped something. When she anxiously turns to inspect the bricks behind her, he clarifies what she’s dropped: his jaw. A man in board shorts who might be homeless spends a full 30 minutes lathering himself in soap under a public beach shower. Salty children wait in line for him to finish bathing.

*

You’re starting to fear that there are too many books in the world. It’s impossible to make room for them all, and their numbers are beginning to annoy you. You wish you liked James Patterson novels because then you’d just read those exclusively. The fact that you assume most books are pointless anyway makes you wonder why you wrote one. Why write a book when you’re still learning how to live? Maybe you’ve become a nihilist or a philistine during your extended beach vacation. Maybe you’ve given up on art altogether. Maybe you’d rather learn how to sail a boat.

*

He calls you shortly after he leaves the condo. He needs a hair elastic for his ponytail. Says he’ll drive around the building and idle below the fifth-story balcony if you could please throw one down to him. You stand on the balcony and wait for his car to appear. Because of the wind, you decide in advance that the best way to deliver the hair elastic to him accurately will be to shoot it like a rubber band. Then you remember the games you used to play, when you’d look up from your computer and he’d be pointing a hair elastic at you, ready to fire, and you’d squeal and cover your face with your hands, and then he’d do it again, and you could never return comfortably to your work because you could still sense his weapon aiming at your nose. Maybe it wasn’t so much a game as a torment, but it was still something lively that you did together. While you remember this you look down at the sun-bleached parking lot and try to decide whether you’d aim for clear pavement or for the roof of a car if you were to throw yourself off the balcony. Of course you choose pavement because who are you to dent a stranger’s vehicle? His car finally arrives and he gets out and looks up at you impatiently. You almost don’t shoot your missile because you’re afraid he’s going to interpret that as another act of hostility, but you also don’t want the wind to carry the elastic into a bush or onto a lower balcony and be lost forever, so you launch it towards him anyway. And there’s no playfulness in its trajectory. And your heart aches from the contrast. Then you and he exchange small, somber waves from a great distance and you go back inside, where you can take your hands off your face for the first time since the morning’s troubles began.

*

You sit on the beach watching two men in wetsuits try to out-parasail each other. It’s a windy day and their parasails whip around the sky in unpredictable currents, sometimes launching the men several feet above the water. A helicopter approaches from the north. It flies low, dangerously close to the parasails. If the wind changes direction even slightly, the helicopter will get tangled up in the parasail lines. The lines and the colorful swaths of canvas will then spin around the propellers until the men are sucked up into the machinery and the whole craft goes down in flames on a nearby dune. For the rest of your time on the beach, you cannot get this image out of your head. You thought the beach was supposed to be relaxing.

*

You place a rubber dolphin under the sheet on your boyfriend’s side of the bed for April Fool’s Day. That night he jumps into bed without looking under the sheet and he lands directly on the dolphin. It squeaks wildly into your boyfriend’s butt. It is hilarious. In your wildest dreams you never imagined that your prank would be so successful.

*

When reckoning with the needs of other people, is it normal to forget that you are also a person? Other things that you could be: a squeaky toy, a burning palm tree, a baby sea lion.

*

You’ve been stealing your boyfriend’s medications. But he’s stolen yours in the past, so you call it even.

*

You practice putting out positive energy rather than taking in negative energy. The first person you practice on is a naked woman on the beach. She seems oblivious to your energy emissions because she’s already been burned by the sun today. Plus she’s busy playing volleyball. The second person you practice on is a little girl on the boardwalk who smiles back at you with sheer delight, then runs straight to a water fountain as if you’ve just made her incredibly thirsty. The third person you practice on is a cat.

*

Your boyfriend goes jet skiing with his buddy. You stay home to write and do laundry. You used to wish you had exciting hobbies, but now you understand that for some people, doing nothing is an exciting hobby. It can also be a full-time job.

Beach Justice

All the other beach authorities have a vessel or a crib that distinguishes them from the spring-breakers. You’ve got the guys in helicopters, searching the high seas for man-eating sharks or whatever. You’ve got the guys on ATVs, patrolling the dunes for illicit picnic activity. You’ve got the lifeguards in their stands, keeping an eye out for pretty people who might need resuscitating. But I, Ben Cube, originally from the land of New Jersey, do my law enforcement on foot. When someone is in danger, I don’t need to arrive on a glimmering white jet ski or leap out of a pastel cabana on stilts. I don’t even need the sanction of the South Florida government. I just need my swimming trunks and my impeccable sense of right and wrong. Yes, you’re correct. Mine is the face of vigilante beach justice.

On a typical day I wake up before dawn so I can reach the pier while the local rednecks still think they can fish with impunity. Many of these fishermen know me, having been on the receiving end of my justice in the past, and they pack up their gear and their coolers as soon as they see me coming. It takes all my self-restraint not to frogmarch them back down the boardwalk. But there’s always at least one oblivious tourist, or some doofus kid partaking in his first fishing lesson with Daddy, who needs to be taught the rules. “It’s right there on the sign,” I say as I approach these latter miscreants at the end of the pier. “No fishing. Read it and weep.”

The father stops reeling in whatever endangered sea creature he was reeling in. “Are you a game warden?” he says.

“If you don’t throw those squid back into the ocean by the count of five,” I respond, “I’ll be forced to make a citizen’s arrest. Do you really want your son to see that?” Nine times out of ten, they don’t.

Once the pier is purged of its lawbreakers, I extract my Sharper Image binoculars from their all-weather case and train them on the horizon. If I see too many people in a catamaran, or not enough lifeboats on a cruise ship, I don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements. Though as far as I can tell, the Coast Guard just sits on its collective ass 24 hours a day.

Next order of business is the nude beach. The nude beach attracts your standard law-abiding soul who just wants to sun his or her privates, but unfortunately it also attracts the scum of the earth. If you wonder where all of Florida’s creeps and perverts congregate during daylight hours, it’s here, where boobs and wangs can be tossed about freely in open air. If I see a young female spring-breaker, lounging on a towel, shyly baring her breasts to the sky, you can bet that right behind her will be sitting a fully-clothed troll filming her incognito with a camera hidden in his duffle bag, as if he’s a degenerate James Bond or some shit. This does not fly with me. Babe or no babe, this young woman does not deserve to have her boobs live-streamed to the internet.

So what do I do? I plop myself between woman and pervert, effectively obstructing the camera’s view. Sometimes I leisurely remove my swim trunks in the duffle bag’s line of sight so the pervert will be treated to artsy footage of my jiggling testicles. The pervert usually leaves quickly with his contraband, and after that my only duty is to inform the young woman of the valorous steps I’ve just taken to thwart her career in amateur porn. When I reach for a business card in my pocket so she knows that she can call me anytime if she ever sees anything suspicious, even if it’s in the middle of the night, I often forget that I’m still naked, and my hand skips comically over my thigh and collides with my sweatiest area. But such is life on the nude beach!

Next I break for lunch in the shade beneath the lifeguard stand.

In the afternoon most outlaws tend to be sun-stricken and lethargic, so I try to round up some beach cats for Animal Control. While securing one of these stray varmints in a sand dune last weekend, my hand got scratched up pretty bad, but I’m watching the wound closely. Plus I have faith in the ocean to sterilize 99 percent of infections, even rabies.

After the cat round-up comes my least favorite part of the day, but every hour can’t be a heroic hour when it comes to justice. You would not believe the amount of garbage these Spring Break hooligans generate during their week-long revels on the beach. I’m talking Silo cups, plastic bottles, water-logged underthings, cans of Bud Light, broken sunglasses, abandoned kiddie pools, candy wrappers, and once even a papasan chair. It takes an entire industrial trash bag to clean it up every afternoon, and that’s only for a two-mile stretch of beach. You’d think these kids were raised by animals. Still, I appreciate their youthful spunk. I was also a boy once. Though I don’t recall ever disposing of used condoms in the sand. Speaking of which, what kind of woman gives it up on a family beach? If I ever catch any of these litterbug hedonists in the act, trying to hide their hanky-panky under sun umbrellas or thinking that I can’t see them blatantly humping each other in the surf, I won’t stop until they’re registered as sex offenders. The occasional glass bottle? Fine. A loud radio every now and then? Fine. Sex on the beach? Not on my watch.

At the end of the day there’s always some human flotsam who thinks it’s a good idea to empty her bag of Cheetos into a quiet arrangement of seagulls and warmly invite hell to rain down upon us. This is intolerable beach etiquette. In what world is it okay to feed human snacks to nuisance birds so that everyone within a five-umbrella radius must flee like extras in a horror movie to avoid being pooped on? Or worse? No no no. This old woman has earned herself the full heat of my errant frisbee.

Finally, as night descends, I remain seated on my towel until I’m sure everyone has vacated the beach in a timely manner, before they start thinking about singing songs around an illegal bonfire or drunkenly setting off fireworks as if they’re somewhere in Mexico. When the last of the nudists put on their cover-ups and the final spring-breakers hurl their Silo cups into the ocean, I can finally return to my bungalow knowing that I’ve preserved the sanctity of the beach for another day. If I could afford a white jet ski, this would be my moment to ride it into the sunset.

South Beach selfies

For the next few days, the girls must inundate their Facebook pages with staged bikini shots. They stand in glossy clusters up and down South Beach, documenting their spring break cleavage. You get the sense that the girls selected their vacation companions based purely on how physically complementary they’d look in photos. Every thirty seconds, someone exercises veto power over a group image and the bikini shoot begins again. These young women are modeling spring break, rather than living it. They’re starring in a swimwear catalog available exclusively on their social media accounts. And Poseidon pity the boyfriend who’s conscripted to take photos of his lady as she rolls around suggestively in the surf, thong pointed to the sky like an arrow. In the distance, a dolphin splashes merrily in the Atlantic, but he doesn’t make it into the picture.

The newlyweds wander hand in hand through the historic lagoon gardens of Vizcaya. A selfie stick precedes them like a carrot promising relived experience later on. The cell phone on the stick’s extremity shoots amateur film of the man kissing his new wife on her sunburned cheek, then the man sweeps the camera around to include some unknown future viewer in the tour. Here is the picnic pavilion that resembles a sailing ship. Here is brackish water being pumped into a fountain made from limestone and coral. In the background, other tourists wander obliviously through the honeymoon video. Once they’re in, there’s no way out.

Florida Republicans keep snapping pictures of Miami. To foreign investors they text photos of Bahama-white sand, DJ Paris Hilton dressed as Barbie, and private yachts the size of naval destroyers cruising Biscayne Bay. Then the Brazilians send cash for new luxury condos they’ll never inhabit. No one takes pictures of the seawater flooding the streets at high tide. No one takes pictures of the storm surges that swamp ritzy nightclubs on the barrier island. The recent flood of real estate development is the only way to save the city from the actual flood. “There’s no such thing as climate change,” say Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, as they frantically delete Miami’s selfies from her phone.

Fuck yeah Everglades

How to observe the birthday of someone dead

Sleep late. Ponder your dreams. Feel queazy then remember you ate a jar of Nutella the night before. Get up when you’d rather stay in bed. Stare out the window. Watch the palm fronds whip around the parking lot. Text your mom. Mentally high-five Obama for his Selma speech. Grow morbid. Understand that your inborn disposition is far from presidential. Think about the birds. Wonder how the birds are doing. What do they do when it’s windy like this? What do I do when it’s windy like this? What do I do when my person is dead? Take a run along the ocean. Feel lucky to have an ocean. Feel lucky that he had an ocean. Smell the ocean. Smell it until your eyes burn. Try not to be depressed. Think of him casting his line into the surf. Think of him catching a big saltwater fish. Think of us eating it tonight at the party. Think of all the cake! Remember that there is no party. Consider having a party anyway because no one should be deprived of cake, especially since you’ve just determined cake to be a portal to the afterlife. Acknowledge the self-serving nature of this determination. Watch a beach cat devour a dune mouse. Note the cat’s resemblance to your childhood cat and the mouse’s to your childhood mouse, minus the blood. Come back to reality, which is death, which is what we’re all capable of bearing, according to our president. Cling to the reality of birds and fish, cats and mice, because human reality is a battering ram. Convince yourself that the man walking by is wearing flesh-colored underpants and isn’t just trying to show you his penis. Realize that you’ve strayed onto the nude beach. Admit that you’re the kind of person who’d probably wander around crying in a field of land mines as well. Forget the words to his birthday song because it’s been five years since you’ve heard it. Forget the words to everything. Just watch the seagull bobbing on the ocean like a flame you can’t blow out.

 

 

 

Interview with celebrity diarist Albert Knox

Interviewer: We’re here today with Albert Knox, the famed diarist who made his living documenting the day-to-day lives of high-profile celebrity clients. Hundreds of people, from pop stars to presidents, can rest easy knowing that their mundane emotional moments were preserved for posterity by Mr. Knox and his ubiquitous spiral notebook. On the eve of his retirement, Mr. Knox was kind enough to grant The Diary Journal an exclusive interview reflecting on his career accomplishments, his plans for the future, and his own dear diary. Mr. Knox, thank you for joining us.

AK: It’s a pleasure to be here.

I: Let’s begin with some softballs. Can you describe a typical day with one of your long-term clients, say Katy Perry?

AK: Katy hired me to write her personal diary for her California Dreams Tour [2011-12]. She told me that she’d kept a diary as a child, then got too busy to maintain it, so she was thrilled to be able to delegate the job. On a typical day I’d start by writing down her dreams and what they might signify, then we’d eventually move into thoughts and feelings on musical performances, meals, social interactions, and outfits.

I: Did you ever have trouble gaining access to the talent?

AK: I was always competing with photographers and film crews for access [Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour was the basis for the documentary Part of Me], but as a diarist I usually developed a more intimate relationship with my clients than most full-time staff members. For example, Katy liked seeing pretty pictures of herself, but by the time we reached Japan she was even more addicted to reading about her complex emotions, as captured in my longhand prose. Only I could offer her that. They say a photo tells a story, but I told actual stories about Katy’s mental trajectories as she coped with the ups and downs of everyday life on the road.

I: Did the talent ever object to the way you depicted them in diary entries?

AK: If I couldn’t wrangle a client’s vanity, pettiness, insecurity, cruelty, rage, and selfishness into an endearing diary entry, then I wasn’t doing my job. I would not be where I am today if I couldn’t turn a celebrity tantrum into a profound existential crisis through my gift for language. I remember Justin Bieber throwing a fit on the tail end of his Believe Tour because he found out there was no coconut water within a 100-mile radius and his hydration depended on the unique chemical properties of the coconut. I sat in that armchair in Iceland with my spiral notebook in my lap as Bieber hurled whiskey bottles at his hotel wall, and I wrote, “I feel sometimes as if I’m living in a desert of my own design. It might seem from the outside that I don’t understand the vapidity and ephemerality of my fame, but I thirst for genuine human contact, a relationship to God that isn’t beset by panoramic ego challenges, and the liquid warmth of a nut.”

I: When I think of Justin Bieber, I think of those words, and they are precisely why I own eleven of his albums.

AK: The power of the diary can’t be underestimated.

I: As our readers know, your ample skills were put to the test by more than Caucasian pop singers. Political figureheads came to you as well when they needed someone to articulate their hopes and dreams in a diplomatic and easily digestible format. Let’s talk about the former President of the United States.

AK: He was committed to our collaboration more than any client I’ve ever had.

I: Why do you think that is?

AK: He thought about his family more than most world leaders, and many of his geopolitical and military decisions came from a place of anxiety about how his father might judge him. So that conflicted pattern of wanting to please a parent, wanting to rebel against a parent’s expectations, wanting to exceed a parent’s accomplishments, etc., was particularly conducive to the diary medium, for obvious reasons. And tear stains always lend authenticity to the page.

I: Whose tears were they, if you don’t mind my asking?

AK: Sometimes his. Sometimes mine. It was a long eight years.

I: Did you ever feel limited as to what territory you could cover in a client’s diary?

AK: The parameters were usually dictated by the client, but my expertise and literary finesse got me through most doors. When I first started working for John Travolta, for example, he was skeptical about my work. I think I was originally his publicist’s hired gun, meant to squelch some scandal or another. But once John saw what I could do, he began dragging me into the bathroom with him. He told me I was a fecal alchemist. I spent hours in there, sitting on the edge of the crystal bathtub, just jotting down notes. He still calls me sometimes when he’s shitting.

I: Do you keep your own diary?

AK: I did for a while, but when I was working I realized that I was just writing a diary about writing other peoples’ diaries, and then their diaries became about what it was like to be in my diary, and it became this weird sort of ouroboros literature, so in my meager free time I just focused on my poetry.

I: You’re a poet, too?

AK: Like diary entries, poems aesthetically temper experience so you don’t despise everything.

I: Do you despise everything?

AK: Let’s not talk of hate. I’m in love with elevating life to the uppermost reaches of linguistic activity. Does a photographer try to reproduce exactly what he sees, or does he try to filter the image through his particular aperture, and in so doing make the world seem like a more beautiful place? Do the right words make people more likable and humanity less bland and disgusting? Be honest with yourself: would you rather be purple or periwinkle?

I: A few final questions. Would you ever write a novel?

AK: Fuck no. I have to draw the line somewhere.

I: Are Jay-Z and Beyonce really headed for divorce?

AK: They’re considering a personal unpeopling, but their erotic energy will forever be united on a cellular level.

I: Were you ever starstruck on the job?

AK: If anything, my celebrity clients were starstruck by themselves. They were often moved to tears by the impact of their own words. As transmitted through my hand, of course.

I: Do you think your position will soon become obsolete because of video diaries and Vine and the like, or will the famous continue to need professional emotional translators?

AK: The inner world is in less demand every day. I don’t think anyone would care to read Kim Kardashian’s diary when he could see a photo of her bare bottom instead. But I continue to hope that other people like me exist in the world. People of great depth who yearn to know what Kim dreams about, and what she desires in her heart of hearts, and where her deepest doubts reside. People who value psychological substance over superficiality. But between you and me, the older I get and the fewer diary entries I write, the more I just want to see Kim’s ass and leave it at that. You could bounce a pencil off that ass.

Sea cow

I am a manatee. I excel at being a manatee. I am a manatee in a man’s world. I swim amidst the yachts at the marina. Sometimes I feel compelled to poop on them. My thoughts are all tremendous. It’s a wonder this ocean can hold them. My tail is worth its weight in pearls. The dock pilings lean orgasmic when I make ripples, swimming by. If you are a boat propeller, you have another thing coming. That thing is my dong. In the end, everything will sink, but I will still be on top. There are fish, and there are sea cows. It’s an unhappy fate if your lesser heart can’t grasp the distinction.

 

Minor improvements on the Space/Time Directory

This morning I read about the New York Public Library’s Space/Time Directory, an interactive Google map that will employ historical data to walk users through a virtual Manhattan of yore. This is a terrific idea, and I should know because I thought of it way back in 2008 when I was snorting amphetamines, day-trading away millions of dollars, and decoding the lyrics to Britney Spears’s “Womanizer.” [I was a happy housewife at the time, but my internal biography reads more like David Carr’s (RIP).]

Granted, my idea was a little more inchoate than the one with a $380,000 grant and the full support of the NYPL juggernaut behind it. Let the historical record show that I wasn’t envisioning a simulated time machine for New York City alone, which would have been a good place to start. I was thinking of one for all of human civilization (much harder to beta test). I imagined people being able to wander digitally through their neighborhoods 200 years prior to see what the land looked like back then. Or, if their homes were standing 50 years ago, they could virtually knock on doors to see who lived in them. They could look at photographs and read diary entries, birth certificates, obituaries, etc., of the people who once inhabited those domiciles. And while all this historical data was being explored, contributors would be populating the present moment with the same material, so people could rest assured that they’d exist in time and space long after they were gone, even if they hadn’t left behind a bestselling memoir or a compelling Twitter feed or something.

But this is basically what the NYPL plans to do. The Space/Time Directory is an aggregator of information, information that is then applied to an interactive atlas in limitless layers. It’s a way of taking everyone’s photos, documents, and personal histories and bringing them back to life in one interactive organism. The directory has the potential to revolutionize the entire concept of the past. I foresee people moving to the S/TD (ha) like they moved to Second Life, and watching their great-grandparents grow up as avatars.

Which is all well and good, but I have my own system-wide improvements to propose to the NYPL:

1) Once you’ve compiled the history, so the entire human journey is contained within a single computer program, hit the button that will determine whether or not any of it makes any fucking sense.

2) Let’s say it does make sense. Then you can build an algorithm! Out of math. And the algorithm will give S/TD users the option of messing things up in the past and consequently changing the future, a la Marty McFly. I imagine this will be a fun learning experience for the kids, so they’ll stop putting their grubby little fingers all over everything.

3) Include astronomical data so we can know what the moon was doing at the exact moment of our conception and we won’t have to pay our astrologers so much money.

4) Make cemeteries interactive so zombies actually pop up when you scroll over graves.

5) When your users click on a virtual movie theater in the distant past, they should be able to watch the films that were showing at the time. When your users click on a virtual bookstore that’s since gone out of business, they should be able to read digital versions of the books that sold best on the shelves. That would be the way to attract nerds, as if nerds weren’t the only people cruising the past anyway.

6) Other entities that should be in the Space/Time Directory: dogs, bugs, extinct mammals, Best Buy phone booths.

7) The S/TD as conceptualized by the NYPL has 4D but if we could step it up to at least 5D then we could see different universes that might have arisen in human history and they might be awesome and this whole project might merge into World of Warcraft oh my god.

8) I suspect that 6D might just be pornography and very few people want to see their great-grandparents having sex. But I’m not an astrophysicist. In this non-computer-generated life, anyway.

9) My head is exploding my head is exploding. The implications of this technology are infinite! If only I were a little smarter and could think of everything! But I’m all jacked up on speed (spinach frittata) and history is moving too fast into the future. I’ll come back to this later.

One honey bee, four near-death experiences

Spring

The drones sent me into exile. They said that I was worthless to the hive if I wasn’t going to mate with our queen. But I only want to mate with the boy bees. It almost makes me wish I were a worker, because the workers don’t have to put out. They just get to sit upon the flowers. I’ll have to find someplace new to live. Yesterday I landed in a bucolic meadow, but a black bear almost stepped on me, and then I flew up his nose for a second, and it was just bad times all around. Until I met Mulligan sucking nectar from a dandelion.

Summer

This afternoon I fell into the deep end of a swimming pool. It was stupid, I know, but I was only trying to skim the surface of what I thought was a pond. It took me a while to realize that not only was the blue water undrinkable, but its vessel was a death trap. My wings became sodden and useless. I could barely stay afloat. I knew it was only a matter of time before I drowned. But then a flightless man spotted me as he swam by with a pincher on his nostrils. He seemed to take pity on my frenetic form. With the flat of his hand he began pushing the water in which I was sinking toward the edge of the pool. He never made contact with my body, presumably so he wouldn’t be stung. As if I’d be so ungrateful! At this point I was about to lose consciousness, but the thought of Mulligan in the meadow kept me going. At last the man splashed me onto the concrete, my antennae still clinging to life and love, and I felt my wings slowly begin to drink up the sunshine. I would be reunited with my fuzzy, striped companion after all.

Fall

Mulligan seems to be ailing and I’m afraid he’s not long for this earth. I wonder if he stung one of the old lady’s cats while I was out foraging in her garden. He wouldn’t have told me if he had. And his anatomy seems to be intact. That handsome, bulging thorax. That perky stinger. But what is he saying now? Speak up, Mulligan. You make no sense. All I hear is buzzing. Don’t eat the goldenrod? But I love… oh. The old lady sprayed it with poison, didn’t she? That explains the collapsed colony behind her garage. I saw the corpse of the queen herself. You…you saved my life, Mulligan. Here, let’s lie together on this purple flower petal and watch the setting sun.

Winter

I see the geese flying high with their mates and the horses stabled with their foals, and here I am, alone, luckless, deprived of all society, just trying to keep my compound eyes from freezing in this malicious cold. Though I miss Mulligan terribly, I’m grateful he never had to suffer like this. All my enzymes are shivering. I’m drawn to the fragrance of a smoky chimney and I know my time has come. But frost glazes my wings before I reach the rooftop and its eternal stupor. I tumble like a pistachio nut into a snowbank. So this is it. At least the ants won’t eat me in this icy weather. But what’s happening now? I’m perched in a human palm. Warm clouds of air heat up my wings. The old woman holds me like that, enveloped in her breath, until I thaw back to life, and fly once more toward the promise of honey.