Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sketch: Three Sentences

I

After thirty years of loneliness, the dreamer packed up his belongings and spent his savings on a house in the countryside, far away from most civilization with a luxury bed and breakfast as its intent, and so he set about this new life of pastoral simplicity, through eight months he renovated this hermitage by himself.

II

Yet as the second guest did not show, as instead the cobwebs fattened on the corners of the chipped eaves, he resigned himself to simply keeping the hotel functional, that is, he sought to feed it whichever capital-producing patrons might stay; he booked the degenerates, the molestors, the errant truckers and local vagrants; he contracted a neon sign to steer passers to the front door with good cheer.

III

That is, when the hotel was at last full he set it ablaze, giving berth to the gas-filled tubes for fear they might pop.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sketch: The Berlin Coloratura

This happened several years ago, on one of my stays in Berlin while I was there on adjunct work, attached to the University of __ on research that had me from morning to night in the library with only enough recovery time to scrub the dust from my fingertips, which is to say I needed my sleep on this particular stay, in fact I was sorely despondent when I did not get my sleep and in fact would not get my sleep throughout the majority of the trip because, from the first day, there cracked above the car noise the sound of a caloratura, that is it was a soprano’s voice, I know that, her notes like acrid darts disrupting through the night my needed sleep, she sang only during the after hours, Die Zauberflöte or maybe as Cunegonde—my American palate, retarded as it was with the preference for musicals, could still tell she was not Wagnerian—these notes would sway from pitch to pitch, sweetly at first, within a week they had stopped being sweetly, as the first Saturday hit they had switched from being a sweet bird call to a more panicked piercing, as it was always the same song, with no variation the song came through the same, day and night, finely defined notes like layers of rich perfume and just as saturating, in my boarder’s room I had first pulled the blinds then the shades then erected a wall of books to damper the sonority, but of course it didn’t hold, and instead I’d been enraged moreso than inconvenienced so that by the time it stopped, I was delirious, by the time the nights returned to the lapping of the passing cars and discharging bus doors, my rage had settled to a shallow lowing; I became more rested, my research on Language and Destiny had at last cohered, and I thought no more of this woman as the sunlight stopped its daily ridicule, I thought no more of her until I found out she had died mid-aria, in fact she had spent her 80-year-old frame on the very last run and then slumped over, and exhausted, parted, this 80-year-old woman and former vocal teacher had died in a whisper, and although I didn’t recall it I suspected my own ill thoughts had been the culprit, that is I had wished her dead and now she was dead and if thoughts could sharpen into return salvo, then the peculiar vitriol that my thoughts had taken would have been cause, but it didn’t cause it, because of the absurdity of such a notion, no matter how much I wished it I couldn’t have caused it, thoughts don’t load into slings, I would remind myself, it was only an old woman, I would say, in her waning years this old woman was simply looking for solace, I would repeat, it was just another action I'd come to hate, I would confess.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

White Room Transcript: The Book Tour

Q: But you've mentioned that the internet has made us all the interrogator.
A: [...]

Q: But that's because of the ease by which the material can be come by, by which I mean it's research.
A: [...]

Q: But doesn't that suggest that information itself has become a form of currency? But of course I mean it always has been one.
A: [...]

Q: But that doesn't me we can't all have some control-
A: [...]

Q: But what I was going to say before you broke in was that can't we all have some control over the flow of that information, at the heart?
A: [...]

Q: Because we can't just choose between the latter and the former.
A: [...]

Q: By former, I mean the withdrawing of capital, in the same way a fencer may withhold his strike.
A: [...]

Q: But in its place you've only seemed to replace it with anxiety.
A: [...]

Q: By which I see you're ceding my point.
A: [...]

Q: But I wanted to talk to you about the upbringing that brought you to be here.
A: [...]

Q: I would say I found those to be the most fascinating sections of the book.
A: [...]

Q: By fascinating, I meant that it was so obvious your parents were an early foil in your life.
A: [...]

Q: But I'm not sure why it's not relevant.
A: [...]

Q: And you didn't carry the anxiety from the rafting experience?
A: [...]

Q: But I would assume the drift would carry back to the dock.
A: [...]

Q: But didn't you say you had been paddling upstream? 
A: [...]

Q: And instead that informed the remainder of your 20 years afterwards, being adrift with the banks out of reach.
A: [...]

Q: But I would assume it did inform the remainder of your 20 years.
A: [...]

Q: What if you hadn't gotten back to the dock at that point?
A: [...]

Q: Back to the cruelty of your mother, the stone-faced lashing of your father.
A: [...]

Q: But my research said otherwise, that you didn't get back to the bank at that point.
A: [...]

Q: But what would have informed the 20 years, if you hadn't surfaced?
A: [...]

Q: Because I wouldn't have such supply to source my questions.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sketch: Snow and Tusk

At the same dinner reception I happened on a professional speaker, a man who had gained a certain amount of notoriety and amassed a comfortable fortune applying the philosophy of becoming to the world of advanced technology. In fact the reception was held in part in his honor. By the time he and his assistant arrived we well into our cordials, and as he removed his coat he let it be known he was through with his speaking engagements. He then joined us for a cordial of his own. Of course, his revelation had left us all with pause, and so finally he explained that after doing this for several years, the speaker had realized that it was impossible to separate himself from the speech, the speech that he had given over the course of several hundred engagements, that instead of the constantly shifting becoming that was its theme, he felt the speech cast in tones more rote, and that he had started to resemble his speech, that same roteness, if that's at all possible. I’d found, said the speaker, that if it were so easy to rest on static through simple consistency, then that put his entire thesis under question, the speaker added. The reception drew quiet from that point, in fact the only sound was the undulating of the sherry in the slowly draining glasses, until one of the guests had asked him what the speaker had been doing since then. A study of white, the speaker said. He exclaimed that for all the colors, the range of variations grows smaller and more entrenched until you only have black, a single color form for which the eye only picks up one shade. He intended to look at it from the other side, to look at the shade that had inspired the snow, stained the tusk and created the Death, the destroyer of all worlds, and for what it was also worth the color that, regardless of whether it hued a more pink or yellow or a puce-like green, the eye and mind, the sense-making apparatus as it were, was always resolving it back to the same shade, that of white. The speaker had not re-entered my thoughts until about a week ago, when I saw his obituary in the Times and its mention, in passing, that for the last twenty years he had been fighting an macular degeneration, and in fact by the time he died was completely blind.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sketch: Dinner Party

I was at a dinner reception several years ago when I found myself next to a documentary videographer. A lifelong pacifist, he shot primarily industrial films, videos meant to prevent accidents when working around the gauges and digitized monitoring systems that represented the bulk of contemporary machinery. As the night went on, he told me about some of his earlier works, about his first forays in the industry, about the make-up effects he cut his teeth with, the false noses and prosthetics that dominated film, at least for a period. Soon enough we ended up talking about one film for which he had remembered a particularly bout of exhaustion, the exhaustion coming about for one scene which required the extras to eat human flesh. Although specifically he made sure to point out this was not a film about zombies, nor was it going to be real human flesh, but rather an early post-colonial work primarily shot in the rain forest, primarily focusing on the aborignals and the rampant beliefs both that cannibalism was widespread and that this type of savagery somehow alleviated the savagery of what was then international (he specified white, western) intervention. They had finally settled on cold cuts for the sequence, sliced roast beef and pre-cooked sausages for their visual look, and bathed each in a combination of dyed-red corn syrup and mustard powder for the color. But the extras, a good half of them, could not keep it down, so much so that on several of the rehearsal takes they would keep buckets to the side, so much was the overall simulation of the take that the extras had had a hard time keeping the prop down. He had worked and worked on the recipe, trying to figure out exactly how to make it the most palatable, or at least to remove the mental association of the fiction with the reality, even reminding the cast fruitlessly that most of the items had rather come from a catering truck, until at last they had devised a way to burn incense just off the screen, positioning it so that the smoke would not be caught on camera but still close enough so that the actors would have a floral association which in turn would help with to complete the dissociation. And it worked, the documentary videographer said. In fact, the incense was so important to the finishing of the production, that it had been given a credit in the final roll. Fascinated, I asked him if he could remember what the scent was. But he was at a loss for words: he couldn’t immediately recall.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sketch: The Broadway Beacon

One day, as I was digging my way through even more coursework, this time in a seaside town along the Maryland eastern shore, some locals told me the story of two boys, twins, who had stopped going to school and began building a tower from anything they could find and re-use, old rakes and broom handles and wooden deck chairs and planks from doors and broken ladders and the blue-hued tops of desks, they built this day and night until one day it was too tall for their ladders, in fact, too tall for any ladder, and so they erected scaffolding, then stitched together a tarp using the same general model—these two boys who were previously only remarkable for their shared stupidity—and after the tarp was included one could almost see the spire from space, or so the twins had insisted, and yet because of their ambitious plans, they had also completely run out of supplies, the tower stopping midway through the next level so that the last post from a neighbor’s fence stood naked, its splinters hard and bristling from the afternoon winds, and in fact the winds themselves had become a menace, as with every gust the structure moaned and creaked and whistled throughout the cul de sac.

When a retired insurance adjuster happened upon the structure, he was immediately filled with thoughts of making it an attraction, of removing the tarp for all eyes to behold the grandeur after paying the appropriate admission; he bought it outright, he went to work on a name, first the “Pikesville Pylon” then the “Recycled Tower of Babel” then the “Backyard Broadway Beacon”–not that it was anywhere near a Broadway, but rather he felt the name added a certain strength and panache, so enormous were his thoughts that he had already christened it the Eighth Wonder and placed ads as far as his pension would allow, he had booked radio time and local news and a photographer to record, and in a sixty mile radius had papered all available billboard space because the adjuster was dead set on making this thing a sensation, he had plans made to have it gilded, or if not gilded, then at least strung with lights—meanwhile the rains had wilted the ground and the twins had vacated the house and along with the rest of the neighborhood, now gushing its residents, none of them waiting for the sheer slope of the tower to collapse under the weight of all this bluster.

As the story goes, on the day the last one left, the tower did.