Literal and literary street harassment

Lately the news (aka my Facebook feed) has been broadcasting this video, which draws attention to the problem of street harassment and catcalling. Frankly it’s never bothered me much when a strange man says, “Hello beautiful!” or “Have a nice day!” as I pass him on the sidewalk looking beautiful on a nice day. This seems like pure friendliness on his part, and the comments help challenge my working theory that I’m a ghost. It’s annoying when a strange man tells me to smile, but at the same time the directive makes me question why I’m not walking around smiling all the time because it’s such a nice day and I look so beautiful. Maybe I should be smiling. Maybe this guy trying to contort my face into a different position using only the power of his voice has been to hell and back and is now wise to the ways in which a smile turns a frown upside down and he wants to share this happiness with me and the rest of the babes.

It’s hard for me to distinguish between my sensitivity to street comments and my sensitivity to people in general. I don’t know whether to look someone in the eye when I pass him, to give a little wave, to steal his iPhone, etc. It’s just like how I get nervous standing in line at the post office or visiting the bodega downstairs where I might run into one of my amiable neighbors. Other people are scary. They throw off my equilibrium. Sometimes they even say things out of their mouths, which can be horrific.

When a stranger speaks to me on the street, I don’t know when a response could be construed as flirting and when a lack of response could be construed as rude. It sucks to be put in that position every time you leave the house, but a lot of people for whatever lunatic reason like to stay socially engaged. They like to interact with the transients who enter their communities, especially if those transients seem carved out of marble. I condemn sexual harassment and catcalling, but most of the time people are just saying hi or telling me how wonderful I am. We exchange niceties and continue on our business, no harm done, sometimes with a little glow about us because that social interface went so well. I’d honestly rather live in a world where people notice each other than in a world where we pretend strangers don’t exist and where my beauty isn’t recognized for its cataclysmic power.

My other objection to shutting up everyone on the street is that I, too, am a street harasser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared out a coffee shop window and have proceeded to write down graphic details about a stranger’s dress or stride or baleful countenance. I put words into their mouths. I ascribe feelings to them. Sometimes I write explicitly about their butts. I violate the personal privacy of innocent passersby again and again by way of my notebook. You’re going to wear those hot pants outside my coffee shop window? You deserve to be written up. I might even put a baby in you. (But in 25 years that baby will discover that his absentee father is in fact the President of the United States, which is ironic because the baby has been trained as a political assassin.)

No one has the right to take physical or vocal possession of anyone else’s body. But humans are naturally interested in each other. So I think someone should make a video that doesn’t shame men for their interest, but instead tells them what kind of speech is invasive or prurient, and what may genuinely put a smile on two faces. (Kinda like this?) And also teach them that NO ONE IN THE HISTORY OF URBAN LIVING HAS EVER GOTTEN A GIRL’S NUMBER BY HOLLERING AT HER WHEN SHE ALREADY HAS SOMEPLACE SHE NEEDS TO BE. For god’s sake. But, to paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, if we can’t build elaborate fantasy worlds wherein every passing woman is a potential future wife or perhaps a serial arsonist on the run from Johnny Law (according to my notebook), then who will build them for us? Not the Republican Party, that’s for sure.

And now I must adjourn to pace the block where the half-blind men in their 80s hang out on their stoops just waiting for an angel to walk by and make their day.

Erotic French poetry translated without a dictionary

Con large comme un estuaire

Con large comme un estuaire
Où meurt mon amoureux reflux
Tu as la saveur poissonnière
l’odeur de la bite et du cul
La fraîche odeur trouduculière
Femme ô vagin inépuisable
Dont le souvenir fait bander
Tes nichons distribuent la manne
Tes cuisses quelle volupté
même tes menstrues sanglantes
Sont une liqueur violente
La rose-thé de ton prepuce
Auprès de moi s’épanouit
On dirait d’un vieux boyard russe
Le chibre sanguin et bouffi
Lorsqu’au plus fort de la partouse
Ma bouche à ton noeud fait ventouse.

–Guillaume Apollinaire

Vagina Large Like an Estuary

Vagina large like an estuary
Where my sperm goes to die
You taste like fish
The odor of the butt
The fresh scent of holes
Oh woman with the uncrushable vagina
That I can’t forget
Your niches distribute the sauce
Your voluptuous thighs
Even your menstrual period
Is bloody and violent
The pink tea of your pubes
Makes me faint
A person might say it smells like an old Russian drunk
The buffered and happy place
When my mouth inhales your nest
With more power than a vacuum cleaner.

–Guillaume Apollinaire

Mignonne

Mignonne, sais-tu qu’on me blame
De t’aimer comme je le fais ?
On dit que cela, sur mon âme !
Aura de singuliers effets;
Que tu n’es pas une duchesse,
Et que ton cul fait ta richesse,
Qu’en ce monde, ou rien n’est certain,
On peut affirmer une chose:
C’est que ton con vivant et rose
N’est que le con d’une putain !
Qu’est-ce que cela peut foutre ?
Lorsqu’on tient ces vains propos,
Je les méprise, et je passe outre,
Alerte, gaillard et dispo !
Je sais que près de toi je bande
Vertement, et je n’appréhende
Aucun malheur, sinon de voir,
Entre mes cuisses engourdies,
Ma pine flasque et molle choir !…

–Stéphane Mallarmé

Hey Cutie

Hey cutie, do you know that people blame me
For loving you like I do?
Swear on my soul people say that!
It’s so weird that
You’re not a duchess
And yet your butt makes you rich
It’s also weird that in this world
Where nothing is certain
We can be sure of one thing
That your rosy and spirited vagina
Is only the vagina of a prostitute!
Now you’ve done something terrible to my penis
And I don’t like you anymore.

–Stéphane Mallarmé

Les bijoux

La très-chère était nue, et, connaissant mon coeur,
Elle n’avait gardé que ses bijoux sonores,
Dont le riche attirail lui donnait l’air vainqueur
Qu’ont dans leurs jours heureux les esclaves des Maures.
Quand il jette en dansant son bruit vif et moqueur,
Ce monde rayonnant de métal et de Pierre
Me ravit en extase, et j’aime à la fureur
Les choses où le son se mêle à la lumière.
Elle était donc couchée et se laissait aimer,
Et du haut du divan elle souriait d’aise
A mon amour profond et doux comme la mer,
Qui vers elle montait comme vers sa falaise.
Les yeux fixés sur moi, comme un tigre dompté,
D’un air vague et rêveur elle essayait des poses,
Et la candeur unie à la lubricité
Donnait un charme neuf à ses métamorphoses ;
Et son bras et sa jambe, et sa cuisse et ses reins,
Polis comme de l’huile, onduleux comme un cygne,
Passaient devant mes yeux clairvoyants et sereins ;
Et son ventre et ses seins, ces grappes de ma vigne,
S’avançaient, plus câlins que les Anges du mal,
Pour troubler le repos où mon âme était mise,
Et pour la déranger du rocher de cristal
Où, calme et solitaire, elle s’était assise.
Je croyais voir unis par un nouveau dessin
Les hanches de l’Antiope au buste d’un imberbe,
Tant sa taille faisait ressortir son basin.
Sur ce teint fauve et brun, le fard était superbe !
Et la lampe s’étant résignée à mourir,
Comme le foyer seul illuminait la chambre,
Chaque fois qu’il poussait un flamboyant soupir,
Il inondait de sang cette peau couleur d’ambre !

–Charles Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal

The Bangle Bracelets

My sweetie-pie was naked, knowing my heart.
She was only wearing jewels of some sort,
Which made her look like a conqueror
That owned Mauritian slaves back in the day.
When the conqueror shouts a lot of things while sexy-dancing,
This world shiny with metal and rocks,
Making me ecstatic, and I love to a furious pitch
The things where the sound gets mixed up with the light.
All of that wore her out and allowed me to do her.
And from the height of the couch where she smiled with no problem
At my love deep and gentle like the sea
That mounts her like she’s a boulder,
Her eyes staring at me, like a male tiger.
With a vague and dreamy expression she tried out some poses
And her candor made her wet
Giving a new charm to her metamorphosis.
And her arm and her leg, and her thigh and her kidneys,
Polished like oil, undulating like a swan,
Passing before my calm and all-seeing eyes.
And her stomach and her chest, her grapes of my vine,
Advanced, more callous than nasty angels,
To trouble my reposing soul
And to disturb my crystal rock
Where she sat down calmly by herself.
I thought I saw the haunches of an antelope
united to the boobs of an umbrella
Which her body was sorting out.
On these brown colors, the farts were superb!
And the lamp was okay with being turned off
Because the room was lit from the lobby
And every time a breath of light came in
It drowned the antelope’s skin in blood.

–Charles Baudelaire, Les fleurs du mal

One-paragraph heterosexual marriages

He studies geology. She has butt implants. When they go to the grocery store together, they try to fit everything into two baskets because they like to hold hands when they shop. If they need to buy a lot of heavy items like jumbo margarita mix and Thanksgiving turkeys, they reluctantly enlist a metal cart. She likes to stand on the cart and be pushed, but it’s awkward because her bottom is so big. In the produce aisle, many fruits remind him of her contours, especially the watermelons. One summer afternoon they start feeling frisky during checkout, then immediately have to go make love in the backseat of her car in the grocery store parking lot. All their ice cream melts, but the bananas are okay. Shortly thereafter the butt implants begin to sag, and with them the woman’s love. She files for divorce. The man now wanders alone through the grocery store, unable to find enough appealing food to fill his basket even halfway. “Why,” he asks himself as he squeezes a grapefruit in his forsaken hand, “didn’t I secure a more top-heavy bride?”

She runs an organic vegetable co-op. He works for a moving company, but would prefer to be a crocodile hunter. The woman’s gardening ventures yield very little income, then they start yielding dramatically less income when an objective party tests her soil and finds it to be full of lead. The man has been breaking his back all day moving someone’s entire wardrobe collection into a box truck. When he comes home to hear that his wife has been inadvertently poisoning middle-class urban children for years by selling their parents spinach grown on what amounts to a toxic landfill, he briskly loads a van with all his things and flees the townhouse. The wife declines to file for divorce on the grounds of desertion, and instead waits to hear that her husband has been killed by a crocodile, because then she can move on with her life. At night, alone in her marital bed, she dreams of harvesting freshwater prawns.

He has loved her since they were both eighteen. She grew to love him after an aggressive courtship on the space shuttle. Now they’re each 200 years old, napping in the twin beds that they, with some help from their robot, pushed together long ago. The woman wakes up first and is struck by the pattern of wrinkles on her husband’s forehead. They form a circuitboard while his age spots form a constellation. She rouses him with a freshly-baked cupcake smell, one of several thousand she’s formulated her skin to emit. He opens his eyes and says, “I love that you’re so old-fashioned.” They smooch on the lips. That night they die a natural death, meaning their souls are uploaded to a martian computer and their worn-out bods are shot into space.

This article has everything I look for in an article

I grew up next to a funeral home in Easton, Maryland. At least once a week a white truck lumbered down the alley, pulled into our neighbor’s rear parking area, and left with mysterious boxes labeled BIOHAZARD and INFECTIOUS WASTE. Because I was a kid, I usually watched these proceedings from a tree limb or a swing or a bicycle seat, and I didn’t think too much about the cargo’s hazardous contents. But I was vaguely aware that the boxes issued directly from the garage that doubled as a mortuary, the place where the hearse delivered all the bodies. And I assumed that strange things happened in there that probably had to do with bloodletting. Eventually every dead body that arrived at my neighbor’s house was disassembled into the tidy corpse that would be displayed at the front of the home and the remains that would be shuttled out the back.

This Atlantic article by Saira Khan, “Smelling Death: On the Job with New York’s Crime-Scene Cleaners,” was so grim and unnerving that it brought back my whole childhood. (Kidding, Mom. Sort of.) For me, a red plastic bag full of carnage is like Proust’s petite madeleine. So I’m reading along, just savoring my heartwarming memories of the morgue next door disgorging body parts to men in hazmat suits, when I hit this passage:

Anything that gives personality to the dead affects crime-scene cleaners—things like a neatly folded jacket hanging over a chair, a Victoria’s Secret bag from a recent shopping trip, a pot of macaroni and cheese with the wooden spoon still in it. “It’s like someone literally hit the pause button on someone’s life,” says Baruchin. “It’s actually one of the most serene things you could see, a preserved moment in someone’s life, but when you think about the death part of it, it can get upsetting.”

Renner adds, “It can be very surreal, or freaky, kind of like a snapshot because you can actually picture what the person was doing right before they were killed or died.” Both men say they prefer to know as little as possible about the victims.

I guess I never thought about a crime scene as capturing a moment. Detectives do this with a specific objective in mind: they’re trying to decipher the etiology of a homicide. But when the body is gone and there’s only the immediate aftermath to contend with—those frozen objects all around—it’s tempting to imagine what the dead were doing, seeing, and generally experiencing at the moment their lives were cut short. Like right now I’m sitting at my desk with an empty bowl of watermelon (at least her last meal was one of her favorite foods), an empty glass of water (a shame that she was thirsty though), a to-do list with many open items (this delay on buying a bicycle helmet proves that she was courting death), and photos of my loved ones (man, she’s gonna miss them). Unfortunately one of the prostitutes living in the illegal strip club/brothel across the street has pointed a rifle through my window and shot me through the ears. Does this moment of dying represent me? Do these scattered, splattered objects on my desk tell a story? Can they communicate a life to a cleaning crew? If I just step away for a moment, can I ever come back?

Maybe we should treat all moments in time and objects in space with the delicacy and absorbing interest we’d grant those that belonged to the dead. I can hold up my sticky fork that once pierced a watermelon. What if this is my last fork? What do its little tines tell me about the life that I’ve lived? I can smile back at my nephew as he grins up at me from a photograph. Where did you come from, you little goof? And where are you going? I can contemplate the tree through my window before the prostitute’s bullet tears through its leaves. It would be nice to be a kid perched in that tree, heedless of the worlds that are drained from people when they die. These surroundings may not form a crime scene (yet—for now I’m still in the whore’s good graces), but they are worthy of attention. And it’s indeed criminal that one day they will all disappear.

I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and so effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized their voice the spell is broken. We have delivered them: they have overcome death and return to share our life. (Proust, Remembrance of Things Past)

A review of Want Not by Jonathan Miles

My older brother and his wife are both doctors. (I know, I know. Less about them, more about me.) This means that they receive a lot of text messages from me and M containing photos of our body parts. At 2 in the morning M will be craning around in the bathroom mirror, trying to get a good angle on his back. “Would you please send your brother a picture of this mole? I think it might be cancerous.” If one of us sprains an ankle or might need stitches, we immediately get out our iPhones and start shooting. If we didn’t do this, we might jump to conclusions that reflect our art school, not our medical school, degrees. For instance last night before bed I was concerned about a little scab on my clavicle. “Do you think I was bitten by a bat?” “Don’t be silly,” said M. “That is the mark of a king cobra.” This morning the wound looks even smaller so I guess my superior immune system fought the venom and I won’t have to text my brother.

Regrettably, filial telemedicine has its limits. Two months ago when I came down with acute pyelonephritis, I couldn’t exactly call it in. I had to go to a Brooklyn emergency room and receive intravenous fluids, painkillers, antibiotics, anti-nausea meds, a CT scan, a roommate who wouldn’t stop farting, etc. Then I had to lie there shaking uncontrollably for five hours, getting my blood pressure checked every 30 minutes, bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t just take care of this over the phone. But because I was an ER virgin, everything felt new and exciting, and though I was sick to the point where I felt sure I was going to die and be buried in Potter’s Field on Hart Island because my family physician lives so far away, I kept counting my blessings because depression is worse. (The physical and mental illness combo is the cruelest, however. With this double whammy the patient feels deathly ill while also convincing herself that all her caretakers would secretly prefer she be dead, and might in fact be trying to kill her, and that would probably be for the best.)

I originally started this post because I wanted to write about introducing scorpions before surgery, but then I went somewhere else with it, so I’m sorry. I think I really just needed to open up about my traumatic experience in the hospital.

One day I would like to reciprocate my brother and sister-in-law’s cell phone ministrations, but I’m not sure what form that would take. If they ever go on safari in Africa they could text me pictures of animals and I could help identify them. “That is a giraffe,” I could say. Or, “That is probably an elephant.” If they are ever reading The New England Journal of Medicine and don’t know what part of speech a word is, I could probably say with some certainty, “That is a noun” or “No, that seems more like a verb.” My assistance might be less dramatic than responding to a selfie with, “Yup, that’s cancer. You have two months to live.” But it’s something. I work with what I have. And right now I have a headache that mimics a hangover but is caused not by a bottle of Albarino, but by the bite of a stealthy nocturnal tarantula.

You should read Want Not by Jonathan Miles. It was good and I liked it.*

*I’ll stop doing this soon because it’s so misleading, but man do I love driving a joke into the ground.

A review of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Despite being a jaded and cynical person who’s grown weary of fashionable literary enterprise, I’ve decided to start using this wildly popular soapbox as a depository for my reviews of trendy new book releases. I haven’t written any of these reviews yet, nor have I read any of the books in question, but I’m looking forward to having firm convictions about the art of other people. I say this as if it’s a joke when in fact insightful reviews are the lifeblood of the book industry—an industry which would immediately be overtaken by Big Oil or the pharmaceutical lobby if influential critics like myself were suddenly to cease their bloggings.

But it’s hard to know where to begin. I reject most contemporary novels because they recount events that clearly didn’t happen and describe people who clearly didn’t exist. The fusty old guys didn’t have this problem. No one would ever dispute that Anna Karenina, Charles Kinbote, Julien Sorel, Heathcliff, Emma Bovary, and Moby Dick were once alive and walking/swimming around. No one would ever allege that H.G. Wells wasn’t close personal friends with an English scientist who traveled by time machine 800,000 years into the future where he was threatened by Morlocks. My chief criticism of today’s novels and works of short fiction is that they’re not real. And it’s annoying. You think Lewis Carroll wrote about Alice’s adventures using his imagination? No. He did the research. He went to Wonderland, interviewed its inhabitants, ate the cakes, smoked pot with a caterpillar, etc. Readers deserve at least that much due diligence from modern authors.

I suppose this old-fashioned interest in being real is where metafiction was born. Reading David Foster Wallace or Lydia Davis or Martin Amis for the first time feels as if you’re being let in on a secret. And naturally their books ring true because the self-aware authors responsible for them are so miserable and exacting. Having your attention drawn to that extra layer of contrivance endows the made-up story with dumb reality, to which everyone can relate. It’s like being occasionally reminded of your own hands holding the book. You don’t continue to think about your hands as you read, because that would be distracting, but you appreciate that the author is kind enough to acknowledge the existence of your humble appendages because they’re always going to be in the background anyway (unless you’re a spambot, which, judging by my comments of late, most of you are). After all, you’re a character too, even when you’re utterly lost in a book. It feels good for everybody to be on the same page: The reader has two hands and the author has a word processor. From here fabulous things will happen.

But for some writers the established metafictional techniques are not enough to drive home the truth of what they’re saying. Their reverence for the real takes them deeper into authorial self-awareness until the book is them and/or they are the book. Or at least that’s what they’d like you to believe. The reader is encouraged to identify the narrator with the author, either through name (“Sheila” in Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?) or circumstance (both the narrator and Jenny Offill have similar career trajectories in Dept. of Speculation). It’s daring, I think, to pretend to be the author of your book, when in fact you’re the author of the author of your book. People might look at you funny (as my mom did when I named my nymphomaniac, first-person narrator “Wishter” in the first draft of my novel). But it’s damn effective as far as vraisemblance is concerned. It channels the memoir vibe without ever purporting to be a memoir (as many novels also do to great effect). The writer is simultaneously perceived as a creator of art and a willing confessor, making both these books seem deeply private and real, though only Heti explicitly states that hers is “a novel from life.”

But ultimately it doesn’t matter because it’s the language, not who’s writing it, that is going to make or break a book. That, and the action has to take place in a city that actually exists, like Hogsmeade or Kings Landing.

Finally, read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. It was good and I liked it.

 

 

Taking the role seriously

Because every blogger’s opinion about the world at large is valued and unique, I have decided to weigh in on some of the day’s top controversies. By doing this I hope to prove that I am a woman of broad social engagement. A political being who won’t be silenced. A tastemaking culture vulture whom other people turn to when they want to know how to think about things.

The World Cup

I’m totally for it. What began eight years ago as my excuse for day-drinking has now blossomed into an aggressive spectator sport that has me rooting for any number of obscure, rowdy nations that somehow manage to exist outside of America’s borders. But as much as I enjoy learning about the soccer players’ family backgrounds and signature hairstyles, every once in while, because I am a refined and cosmopolitan person, I vaguely wonder what’s going on within the homelands of these athletes, and where those homelands reside on a map. So it would be helpful to me if this information could be printed somewhere on the team’s jerseys. The players can still keep their numbers and their names (as long as those names aren’t interminably Greek or Russian), but the jerseys should also incorporate a news headline or two from the originating country, and maybe a diagram so I can tell how far that country is from America.

Student debt

I have very few friends who aren’t at least $100,000 in debt. I write that, and I’m shocked. Shocked. What am I doing hanging out with such impecunious people? From now on I’m only fraternizing with peers who never made it past the eighth grade, so they can buy all my drinks.

Sexism

This bizarre and hurtful essay came to my attention last night as I was trying to decide which of my poorer friends to de-friend on Facebook. As far as I can tell, Ed Champion (a popular literary blogger known for being persnickety) had a playground crush on Emily Gould (a writer and Gawker gossip alum), which Emily never reciprocated, so Ed stole all the Number 2 pencils from Emily’s classroom desk and then stabbed her with them a million times. Then he had a mental break and got sent to reform school. If Ed’s rant (and I was almost with him until the third paragraph) hadn’t been written in misogynistic earnest and didn’t involve real people and was included in a first-person novel about a narcissistic boy who never grew up or learned how to use English properly, then I would be thoroughly entertained. But the whole thing made me want to protect a difficult woman’s vagina, and that is a weird place for me to be. I will continue to relish literary eviscerations, but they shouldn’t be so ad hominem that every female writer in America feels the need to rally around the victim. That is just too many voices, and we all know there can only be one authoritative voice in random cultural affairs—my own.

Racism

How can Ta-Nehisi Coates allege that racism still exists in America when every once in a while we white people look up from our gimlets of Grey Goose to the martini bar’s high definition television set and cheer on a BLACK man in an uninformative soccer jersey? How?!

Income inequality

This one really bothers me because yesterday I discovered that my roommate has an entire BOWL full of dimes and quarters in her bedroom while I could not come up with ten cents to help my boyfriend buy a loosie cigarette from the bodega downstairs. I even looked under the couch cushions because in movies these often conceal a great wealth. I am okay with my roommate having more change than I do, but I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to know that some people in the world have their pockets bursting with coinage while I have to scrounge around in filth so I can buy a soda. Hey rich person, you were in the right place at the right time to beat the slot machine, so just take your winnings and go. But if you stay, and you want to live on this great green earth with the rest of us (or potentially share my microwave), then at least scatter some pennies under the couch cushions from time to time so we can keep the bodega in business.

The oceans

Say goodbye to the whales, everybody. I would not be surprised to find out that an early version of man existed around the time of the dinosaurs but we kept putting poison in their food and water dishes again and again until we killed them off and sterilized their babies and then we were all butt-hurt because the dinosaurs didn’t share our superior survival skills and then a meteor came and wiped us out because we suck.

Iraq

I’m not afraid to tackle the hard stuff. At heart (when they haven’t been exploded), terrorists are miserable, desperate people. Let’s find out why they are so miserable and desperate so those conditions can be addressed. Maybe they can all play in a soccer tournament with their grievances stitched onto their jerseys. I would definitely watch those games on TV. But from a bar in a well-off, gentrified neighborhood. Not in person because that would be terrifying.

Watermelon

Still delicious.

Kesha

She is probably going to be okay.

My time being the wise and lucid spokesperson of a generation

Up.

Drunk and in Danger in Luna Park

Because I’ve been working nonstop on my miserable books, I think I’ve forgotten how to write (as opposed to revising/copying/pasting/crying/hating/etc.). It’s been a long time since I stepped away from the same two stories I’ve been trying to tell for two years and faced a blank page. Writers are supposed to write things, or at least I think a superior said that to me once in an expensive MFA program somewhere. But here are the current mental obstacles impeding my elite practice of the literary arts:

1)    Fuck writing

2)    Fuck that I’m even sitting here writing about writing. Let’s go to Coney Island instead.

Every few weeks Coney Island summons me with its don’t-go-in-the-water-if-you-have-so-much-as-a-paper-cut-or-you-will-die-from-sepsis siren call. The last time I went swimming at a beach of better repute a maxi pad brushed past my leg like a menstrual jellyfish, so the film of grease on Coney’s fair waters doesn’t tend to bother me. Something about this Brooklyn resort town resonates with me deep inside, tickling me and delighting me and stirring up all the Chlamydia I caught the last time I swam there.

I really don’t get why I like the place so much because I’m always too broke to ride the rides and I don’t eat hotdogs due to the nitrates and the freak show performers always strike me as bored out of their skulls even when those skulls are firmly fastened to their persons by the swords stuck down their throats. Coney is the kind of place where most of the girthy sunbathers are simultaneously chain smoking and drinking Pepsi. It’s the kind of beach you bring your portable television to. If you want soleil, go to the French Riviera. If you want to step in sandy dog poop, take the F train to the end of the line. For whatever reason my idea of a fanciful getaway is much more aligned with the latter.

My last visit to Coney was particularly fun. I was a touch drunk, which makes everything free because money is just pretend, so I was tossing dollar bills at the French fry vendor and quarters at the skeeball machine like I was freaking Beyonce. And then M suggested that we ride the Cyclone, the ancient wooden skeleton held together by pipe cleaners that dominates Luna Park. On all my trips to the Island, I’ve never approached this terrifying roller coaster, not necessarily because I’ve feared for my life but because it costs $8, cash that is better spent on cheap sunglasses or two ounces of beer from the boardwalk. But fortunately money was no longer an object that day. We had already lost $30 to a carnie who inveigled us with the empty box that a Macbook Pro once occupied. We had already paid $10 to watch a man squeeze his entire body through a tennis racket. What was eight more dollars to me, a rich and famous pop diva? So we bought our tickets and got in line.

[Note that I’m now switching to the present tense after all that preamble.]

And we wait and we wait. And we get sunburned while we wait. And then we’re not Next but Next After the People Who Are Next, and we are so goddamn excited. Counting down the seconds until it will be our turn. Adrenaline coursing through our veins with the pricey light beer. Making sure we have nothing valuable in our pockets that could fly out.

The four or five sleepy high school boys who operate this roller coaster of death so they can use their seasonal paychecks to buy Crackerjacks or whatever have been hustling trains through the loading area with the utmost boredom and efficiency. It makes me a little nervous that they ask all the women in any mixed gender pairings to take the far seats of the cars. This means that the Cyclone lawyers want more weight distributed on the outside of the train so it won’t topple off the tracks when going around bends. But all right, that’s fine. No one ever requests that of me at Busch Gardens, but I get it. Still feeling pretty good about my survival prospects.

The People Who Are Next wait in their coveted positions as a train pulls up with passengers in various states of heart attack. These passengers stumble from their cars, and the People Who Are Next take their sweaty places. But one car in the back is clearly off-limits for whatever reason. Maybe its safety bar is broken. Maybe it has throwup in it. Maybe if any weight, male or female, is inflicted upon it then the whole coaster will go down in flames. Whatever, it doesn’t bother me. I am Next.

But this teenage girl a few people down from me is also Next. And after the high school boys gruffly lower and lock all the safety bars and the train starts to shoot quickly down the tracks, this teenage girl who is Next leaps into the empty, off-limits car in the back. She does not understand why any solitary car would remain empty on its journey through the pits of hell. She does not understand why she can’t just ride the Cyclone now instead of with her natural community, the new and improved People Who Are Next. She does not understand why she can’t just sit quietly atop the safety bar permanently locked down at the tail end of the train and enjoy a little spin at 60mph, 85 feet above the pavement, around harrowing loops that look and feel like 90-degree angles. She does not understand that a safety bar is supposed to be in your lap, not under your butt.

The train is now speeding toward the loading area exit where it will immediately drop 20 feet and then throw its entire being into trying to buck people off. And this teenage girl is just riding in the nethermost car as if she’s in Cinderella’s carriage or the Popemobile or something and not about to lose her life.

We all start screaming. The high school boys are now wide awake and wishing they’d gotten summer jobs at Arby’s instead. One guy who looks as if he might be a veteran Cyclone operator because he’s over the age of sixteen shouts things like “Fuck!” and “Retarded!” and sprints to a tall metal pole on the far end of the tracks which I gather is the universal roller coaster brake. He seizes this pole and yanks on it with all his hotdog-fueled might. With a lot of screeching, the train gradually slows to a stop. Then the teenage girl nonchalantly climbs out of her car and rejoins the new and improved People Who Are Next, who are still too shocked and dazed to tell her that she’s been banished from their number for life.

M and I think the crisis is over. We search the teenage girl’s face for some indication that she’s recently had a lobotomy. And then, while everyone is still distracted by this near-calamity, another full train comes barreling into the Cyclone loading area. And naturally it rams into the back of the braked train, giving passengers whiplash on both ends of the collision.

Fortunately the car that would have suffered the most from being rear-ended is now empty of its teenage stowaway, but overall the atmosphere is chaos and confusion and the high school boys seem utterly astounded that no one has been maimed or killed on this fine June day. But the boys don’t have time to gather their wits about them because the Cyclone is committed to its infernal schedule and before anyone in the first train has a chance to escape or call a chiropractor about the pain in his or her neck, the cars start moving again and the accident victims quickly disappear in a violent jerk around the corner. Back in the loading area, looking like people who’ve just survived a Great White feeding frenzy, the passengers in the rear-ending train bound from their cars, women first. I look at M in horror. We are Next.

Everyone is depressed, but not everyone has squirrel rabies

A couple days ago M and I were walking through Riverside Park at sunset trying to work up an appetite for dinner because not an hour beforehand we’d eaten Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for lunch, as grownups do. Pretty soon we discovered a city squirrel on our heels. Feeling proud of ourselves for attracting [I have rabies] such an exotic creature, we began coaxing it closer to us with terms of endearment and fake food. The squirrel [Rabies is what I have] inched close enough to M’s outstretched, empty hand [Rabies what] to realize he was being faked out, then he scampered away. “Damn,” said M. “Do you [Rabid rabid raps a lot] have any food in your purse?”

“Yeah right,” I said, insulted that M would assume I’m some kind of snack hoarder [It’s time to bite everything]. I reached into my bag to indicate that it was empty save for my wallet and great literature, and like some kind of witch I pulled out a packet of Chick Fil A granola [Heads off chickens] I’d been hoarding for a week. Never has a more ideal squirrel food [Blood] materialized [Blood] out of nowhere [Blood]. And so began our quest to feed a squirrel [I’ll come in the dead of night like a vampire bat] from our hands.

You know how Emerson said if the stars only appeared one night every thousand years or whatever [I’ll suck the blood from the stars], everyone would freak out because they’re so beautiful? Well city squirrels are actually really cute. Their adorable little faces [Eat the eyeballs first]. Their soft fur for petting [Clot with pink saliva]. Their teenie tiny paws that press down on your hand while the teeth crunch granola [Foam at the mouth]. I love them so much.

After thirty minutes of vigorous effort, I earned the trust of an adolescent squirrel in a tree. He followed the trail of Chick Fil A cereal directly into my palm–who wouldn’t?–and began [I’ll eat you then you can eat me and we can all be the same] chewing ecstatically. It was perhaps the best moment of my life. And then a dog [Sink my teeth into your skin] walked by. The squirrel dropped the granola in its mouth and clamped down on my finger instead. The Disney cartoon I’d been inhabiting [I’m not naturally aggressive I just want to eat everybody] suddenly turned into a remake of Cujo and I was shaking a filthy, rabid rodent off my hand before it could inflict me with its poison.

M and I both felt a little sheepish afterward. M lit a cigarette. We texted my mom. Had I gotten the tetanus shot she’d told me to get when my nephew was born? No. Karma. We left the park in a hurry. Googled “squirrel rabies.” So far I think I’m okay [Cow blood tastes the best], but I’m monitoring my emotional responses more ardently than usual. Now if I feel especially misanthropic or ferocious, I have to wonder.

The most telling part about this story [Last night I killed four subway rats with my bare hands] is that the night after the squirrel attacked my finger, I dreamed about an animal biting the same digit. Except in the dream incident, my subconscious saw fit to transform the squirrel into a bald eagle.

Lullaby

The other night I was lying in bed, trying to sleep, because it’s important to sleep at least 18 hours a day, when a punk band started up next door. The apartment buildings on my street are of such a nature that a punk band playing next door is exactly like a punk band playing on top of your eyeballs. Except in the case of this band, the drummer was playing on one eyeball and the lead guitarist was playing on the other eyeball and suddenly I couldn’t coordinate my blinks. What I’m trying to say is that the band wasn’t very good. But I wasn’t too indignant about it because I really didn’t have anything else to do but lie there and listen. Eventually I fell asleep.

I was woken up at 2am by another punk band, this one far superior. They were loud and snotty but technically skilled, and I found myself regretting that no one had invited me to the party next door. Then again, I hadn’t invited anyone to come party with me in my room with the Hulu and the mac and cheese and the regression and the tears, so it was probably karma.

Then the superior punk band started playing a familiar song. This was the last thing I expected to happen, for the night I start recognizing songs that bands play at Brooklyn rooftop house parties is the same night that I’m officially cool, and I’m just not equipped to handle that kind of pressure. But I immediately recognized the song as “Sleeping Aides and Razorblades” by the Exploding Hearts. I fell asleep thinking, “Wow, the Exploding Hearts are right next door. I must have made some respectable life decisions after all.”

Then I woke up and googled The Exploding Hearts, just to confirm that I’d caught the Brooklyn leg of their Summer 2013 tour. I read that in July of 2003, when driving back to Portland from a gig in San Fransisco, the band’s van crashed on Interstate 5 in Oregon, killing three out of four members. They were 23, 21, and 20 years old.

Life is like this too often. You hear music in the night. It brings you a moment of pleasure. And then in the morning you find out that all the musicians are dead.

But I’m reluctant to leave on that note. In a few days the psychotropic drugs will finally kick in and make me regret being so liberal in my sadsack observations. So let’s try to fantasize about what it was to be happy, what it was to hear music, what it was to make it. One book I have about beating depression says that you should store up ten joyful memories that you can access when you get down. Number one: I cruise down the highway in a van with all my best friends. Number two: I win the heart of the girl next door.