Category Archives: More Bullshit

The Rat Queen of Park Slope

For three days last week M and I were responsible for a small, helpless animal named Betty. Even if Betty had been the most self-sufficient of puppies, able to feed and water herself in the wild, she still would not have survived long under our care because we didn’t trust her with keys to our Brooklyn apartment. Thus a few times a day we had to escort her down two flights of stairs and up the street to the local dog park.

Our local dog park resembles nothing if not a prison yard. It’s surrounded by chain-linked fencing and filled with gravel three inches deep. You have to breach two security gates to enter and exit. But the dogs go bonkers for their gravel oasis. In this park they call their own, they can race back and forth with frenetic impunity. They can indulge in impotent orgies while their owners play on smartphones and pretend their pets aren’t indiscriminately humping one another. To a farm dog, the dog park would seem restrictive and dusty and depressing. To a city dog, the dog park is a blissful reservoir of freedom from the 400-square-foot apartment where he spends 99% of his time.

I get the sense that dog people typically bond by talking to each other about their dogs. How much they weigh. How much they like to eat socks. How they’re getting a bath later yes you are aren’t you cutie yes you are. But at our local dog park, nobody was interested in discussing the coddled, yapping creatures lunging at our ankles. Our neighbors wanted to talk about the rats.

Here is the nightmarish gossip that initiated me into dog park society: A few weeks ago the dog park’s rat situation was so bad that a rat emerged in broad daylight to bite a dog on the leg, prompting public health officials to shut down the park temporarily. A subsequent inspection of the park and the neighboring children’s playground yielded the discovery of 125 bordering rat burrows. Sensibly, the rats had dug their vast empire along the perimeter of a promised land brimming with their favorite foods: dog shit, garbage, and the Cheddar Bunny crumbs that frequently get stuck to toddlers’ faces.

One acerbic older woman whom the other dog park regulars barely seemed to tolerate blamed yuppies for the rat infestation. “Park Slope didn’t have a problem with rats until the yuppies arrived and started eating brunch all over the place.” She said she’d gotten in trouble at the playground recently for shrieking about rats and scaring the children. She also said that the authorities had managed to eradicate 100 of the 125 local rat burrows by setting traps and clearing the brush that served as the rats’ cover, but then the city had gone ahead and planted some new shrubs immediately outside the dog park gates, which was just stupid.

While the woman shared these facts, Betty was happily plunging her adorable puppy face into a mound of rat feces. We shooed her away in a panic, but minutes later, while being chased by a horny pug, Betty dove headfirst into the same pile, effectively atomizing the feces so we humans felt an urgent need to step away, shielding our mouths and noses from the hantaviral shitstorm.

On later visits to the dog park, we found that everyone there had something negative to say about the rats. We were encouraged to gaze over the fenceline so we could see into the dark apertures of the remaining burrows. We were encouraged to become students of the city’s anti-rat poster campaign warning against not cleaning up after your dog. We were told that the bubonic plague is alive and well.

Naturally, I was horrified by what I was learning about my idyllic neighborhood. It was like finding out that your long-term boyfriend has an STD that will eventually chew off your privates while you’re unconscious. Rats are gross. Rats are pests. Rats have collapsible rib cages and unplated skulls that allow them to squeeze between the bars of birdcages and devour pet canaries. But something about the unquestioned flood of rat criticism made me want to step in and defend the little monsters. Many of the harsh things that the dog park people were saying about rats could just as easily be applied to humans, or to dogs for that matter. Looking around the park, I saw a whole bunch of stocky, inbred, social, ravenous animals that mindlessly shat and pissed and served as vectors for disease. One could argue that the main difference was that they wore collars. (And used smartphones, haha.)

I decided to do some research. I was prepared to dazzle the dog park people with a recitation of rat facts that were both positive and fun. I was going to change hearts and minds, and make a real difference in interspecies relations in my neighborhood. But Betty peed on our rug one too many times and our dog-sitting adventure came to an end. And I think loitering in a dog park without a dog is probably the same level of creepy as loitering in a playground without a child. Fortunately I still have you people. Here is what I learned about our rat friends, primarily from Jerry Langton’s Rat: How the World’s Most Notorious Rodent Clawed Its Way to the Top:

  1. Rats have friendships with each other and if a member of their clan is disabled, they are just as likely to feed him as eat him.
  2. Rats are neophobics, meaning they’re scared of new things, the exception being new environments. If you give a rat an island to take over, as humans have been doing for many centuries, the rat will explore every inch of that island, and then it will swim for three days so it can reach the next island, and explore that one too.
  3. Rats love scrambled eggs!
  4. Rats can’t belch or vomit. They can actually die from drinking carbonated beverages. Exterminators have attempted to use Pepsi as rat poison but the soda usually goes flat by the time the rats are brave enough to enjoy it.
  5. Rats are omnivores just like us! (With the exception of Pepsi products.)
  6. Rats are shy and they struggle with obesity.
  7. These things exist, and I’d like to be a part of them somehow: American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association, Rodent Control Academy, New York City Rodent Complaint Form.
  8. Rats only bite babies when they’re sleeping because the babies smell like food, which sounds like Mommy’s fault to me.
  9. I once knew a drug dealer who kept two rats as pets and those rats were a lot cleaner than he was.
  10. Rats have superior digestive systems. They can poop up to 200 times a day. Amazing!
  11. In the Middle Ages, rats were cheap and efficient torture devices. A rat would be secured to someone’s abdomen, then a hot object would be brandished over the rodent until it got so frightened that it began to burrow into flesh.
  12. Rats used to provide humans with hours of entertainment by getting violently slaughtered by bloodthirsty dogs in basement arenas.
  13. Rats have figured out an ingenious way to heat their burrows in winter by using their own fermented urine!
  14. The world’s most popular lab rat was named after one of my ancestors.
  15. Rats love to reside in thatched roofs, which is part of the reason that medieval people had such a plague problem, and also why 10% of people in Mozambique can expect to be nibbled by a rat while they’re sleeping.
  16. In 1664 the Lord Mayor of London decided that cats and dogs were causing the plague, so he had them all killed, removing the rat’s only nemeses. The rat population boomed. Dopey mayor!
  17. Rats always build an emergency rear exit into their burrows. If there’s an earthquake, they wisely flee en masse through these “bolt holes” because they fear the roof caving in. But sometimes what they think is an earthquake is actually a jackhammer at a construction site and there are the rats anyway, swarming up from the earth and comically surrounding people in hard hats.
  18. Rats can develop an immunity to rat poison.
  19. Rats can sometimes be so playful with each other that their tails become tangled together. Then they can continue playing as a team without interruption until they all die of starvation. Silly!

If these fun facts don’t win over even the most passionate of rat haters, I don’t know what will.

The alternative to learning to love the rats is continuing to despise and destroy the rats. I also understand that impulse. Personally I would like to see a sky full of hawks. They would dive through the air right and left, taking out the bad rats but leaving the friendly ones. Unfortunately many of the smaller dog species in the dog park could get mixed up in the carnage. But they would be martyrs and we would honor them accordingly.

I could also volunteer to lead the rats away, maybe into New Jersey, using my iPhone playlist. This is the least I can do for my beloved neighborhood. I wouldn’t even ask to be paid! Though I might attempt to lure the cutest children on the playground into our photo studio later. So I can make money they can be safe from the rats.

In defense of (crazy) love

When love chooses you, you’re limp in its arms. Let’s say that he was your classmate. You had every class together. He sat beside you. Sometimes the right side, sometimes the left. You exchanged pens, thoughts, numbers. You sipped each other’s coffees. His was milky, yours was sweet. Class became an exercise in grappling with his energy. It’s not that you intentionally tuned out the teacher; it’s that her vocal frequencies couldn’t contend with the static between you and your classmate. You found ways to write about him in your homework assignments. Your homework suffered as a result. Everything suffered as a result. Everything but him, and he was everything.

You fell in love the way Russians do. You surrendered to a Regime of Fate. You tried to unearth a rational, self-advancing agency in the matter, but this love was a train of the sort you see in great fiction, or in the final Back to the Future movie. Your first fight introduced you to internal mechanisms that had never previously been broken, and to bits and pieces that had never previously been torn apart. But who are your friends to say that love shouldn’t run you over or send you soaring off a cliff? This isn’t some romantic ideal you decided to realize as a girl because you read one too many novels. This isn’t the kind of love you’d request if a spectrum of options from Ned & Maude to Sid & Nancy was laid out before you. But this is what’s happening. You really are tied to the tracks. Life takes you places.

The drama tends to tip the scales. You’ve been happier than you ever thought possible. But you’ve also been debased. You’ve been undone. You’ve been fucking miserable. At those times the answers should be clear, but they’re not. You’ve questioned yourself into the occasional nervous breakdown. You emerge bigger, better, your heart more open with grace and forgiveness. You do it all over again. Or rather, you do it to him, he does it to you. You inflict pain and joy on each other. Which doesn’t seem to be allowed in this day and age. You wonder why you can’t be a feminist and completely batshit boy crazy at the same time.

What feels bad: trying to make sense of it. Trying to define it once and for all. Trying to match your childhood to his as if the wounds would disappear if you could only reconcile on the playground. Something rubs you the wrong way about the standards to which modern American relationships are held. You read up on this stuff trying to rationalize what isn’t rational and perfect what isn’t perfectible. You consume literature devoted to categorizing partners and partnerships. You try to reduce the deeply personal to affairs of black and white. You subscribe to healthy/unhealthy dichotomies that make you feel ashamed and sick and stupid. You read too many self-improvement articles that treat your partner more as a gadget for your own growth than as a complex individual. Vast portions of the population are dismissed as toxic. You wonder what happens to all those people who the gurus say don’t deserve to be loved.

The dominant storylines aren’t true for you anymore. You’re no one’s languishing victim. You aren’t weak for occasionally trusting in forces that exist beyond your human frailty. You aren’t weak for being kind. You aren’t weak for conceding to metaphysics. You aren’t diminished by your vulnerability. Honoring difference does not equate to self-sacrifice. Love is not “womanly” or submissive or something to be ashamed of. Love is a beast. Love makes you a fighter.

What feels good: loving, having faith, working through it, staying loyal, staying strong, asking for help when you need it. You stick to that.

You’re aware of how naïve you sound when someone says “leave” and you counter with “love.” But you have studied every inch of both alternatives. The love is not what you would choose, but you respect the forces, and you remain.

You shouldn’t have blown off your homework assignments. You know better now. You shouldn’t have failed to thrive just because you became two instead of one. You know better now. You regret your self-neglect. You regret feeling compassion for him and not for yourself. You know better now. You apologize to your teachers for a year of not listening. And you forgive yourself for past mistakes. Because love does not crush you in this narrative. Love calibrates you to be a person who connects, and to whom one can be connected. And that, dear boys and girls, is everything.

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.