July 2008


   And the bane of my existence as a fiction writer has been suffering the jokes and japes of colleagues, friends and family who point out the obvious challenge confronting a writer with my background. Oh, your writing’s a cure for insomnia is it? 

   Needless to say I stopped bringing up the topic of my fiction a long time ago. I also stopped writing under my own name. This blog was originally intended as a place to find the perfect pseudonym to write under but I had so much fun assuming different identities that I started pretending I was well-established writers along with other people in the public eye. Now I’m being threatened with a number of lawsuits and so I have to officially announce the truth:

   My name is George Tannenbaum. 

   I hope you enjoy today’s story…

 

 

Arms Entangled in Glory

 

     The game of twister has gone too far. Tim pulls at his left arm which is trapped somewhere between Heather and Susan. His other limbs are no better off. Heather tugs at her right leg which is braced between Tom and Tammy. All the rest of her limbs are likewise preoccupied. Susan can’t move her arms which are plugged in between Tim and Tom. Oh, it’s a nightmare entanglement of everything. “ Does anyone have a free arm?” someone with a level head finally asks.  As there’s no eye-contact upon which to guide communication, there’s a jumble of responses which communicates nothing but confusion. Tom shouts above the noise to get silence. “Okay we’re not going to get anywhere with this noise. We’ve got to set up some rules. Otherwise we’ll never get out of this bind.” Someone starts to cry loudly and everyone feels the shudder of her weeping body. “I have a cheerleading practice at seven,” she blubbers.  “Crying’s not going help,” Tom shouts. “Let her get it out of her system,” Tim, deep beneath the pile of friends, shouts back. Tom and Tim exchange opinions which in the frustration of the situation turns heated. It’s a horrible first evening for everyone. They fall asleep one by one late in the night with promises of a better world tomorrow.

   The next morning Heather wakes up to the sunrise peering in through the living-room windows. With her cheek pressed against Susan’s back she is forced to see nothing but the sunset. There’s a kink in her neck and she rocks her head gently back and forth so as not to wake up Susan. She notices the rise and bloom of the sun. She’s never seen anything like this before. “Now I wake up in wonderment,” she thinks (she’s an English Lit major) “but over the next couple of days, as we will be forced to deal with hunger and other unpleasant bodily functions, what will I think of this sunset then? Will it become an emblem of oppression? Will I end up hating the sun and forever after seek refuge in a cave? Will we be found in time?” And so writes out her thoughts in a diary  that she shimmies out of her pocket. A pen is retrieved in the same way. 

    That’s how I came to know their story and the 32 days of horror that they suffered through bickering over Milton Bradley’s liability, (but they did break the rules of playing with more than four), the nature of the universe – a globe, a sphere, a cluttered mass, the nature of man – good, bad or indifferent and when their skeletons were found in a heap of bones by their concerned landlord, I was called in to investigate their situation. 

     And now months later I wander the streets telling strangers the tale of the entangled teens. Some days I’m optimistic: insofar as none of them lost that game, they all won. But what a horrible victory.

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   And while I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the blogability of my name, I do want people to know I’m a persistent mo-fo of the literary variety. I’ve been writing  poetry and prose since the 70’s and with the advent of this interweb thingy a couple years back I got to thinking, why not expand my ambitions into the digital realms. Hence, this blog where I’ve been writing a story (almost) everyday for the past six months. To make things a little more interesting (and potentially litigatious and therefore fun) I’ve been writing under a different assumed name everyday. 

    Don’t believe everything that you read, might serve as the subheading to this blog. Or perhaps: Fiction is the only fact. Something along those lines.

   Enjoy today’s short-short story…

 

On this Tip of his Something

 

     At six o’clock on the nose, he wakes up with an enormous amount of pep, as if each limb and organ in his body came equipped with its own built in alarm clock. From head to toe, ringing with energy, he shuffles in his bare feet to his bathroom in the cold Montreal apartment. He is sixty-two years old but you wouldn’t know it from his heartbeat. He does, however, have a problem.

     It’s somebody’s birthday today.

     He inspects his face and neck in the mirror, searching for cancer spots, new wrinkles, the increased puffiness of morning-eyes. His face is a calendar for decades past. He turns the X-shaped faucet for cold and gives his face a splash. It is the 14th of October, he reminds himself, the 14th letter of the Phoenician alphabet stands for this day. Alphabet. He wonders why he thought “alphabet.” Technically, the Phoenician script was an abjad, the term to describe a system of consonants. Vowels were too slippery and protean to waste letters on three thousand years ago. He muses while he scrubs his face vigorously. The harder he thinks, the fiercer the scrubbing. In his previous life he was a professor of ancient languages. 

   Who’s birthday is it, he wonders as he looks at himself in the mirror. He’ll meet some colleagues for lunch. Is it one of theirs? If he can remember whose birthday it is he’ll be able to buy them something appropriate. Has he bought something already? He’ll check the living room but by the time he shuffles through the living room he’s forgotten that thought. He clings to this lapse in his memory the way an overboard sailor holds to a piece of wood in the wide ocean. 

    When he looks at the calendar in the kitchen, his wrinkles zig-zag with sudden tears. It’s his birthday. He can’t deny any longer the onslaught of the disease.

    This too he will forget.

 

   And just as man doesn’t live by bread alone, or wine alone, or cheeses or meats alone, so too do writer’s need variety in their diets. I’ve been penning novels and some short stories over the course of my – by some accounts – sixty-year career but of late I found that I wanted to taste something different. It is for this reason that I embarked upon a “blog” wherein I could write a fantastical little story everyday. I did however want to keep it at a distance from my other writings – as the stories were rough and unedited – therefore I’ve been writing under an assumed name with each and every story for the past six months.

   Today I felt it was time to reveal the truth.

   I hope you enjoy today’s short-short burst of fiction.

 


 

Forevermore at Most

 

 

    The father with a prosthetic arm is taking his five-year-old son out to the large green park five minutes from their doorstep. Their Siberian Husky, Bobo – named after the father’s favorite jazz pianist, Bobo Stensen, is on a leash and the boy holds onto the strap which is looped around his father’s hand. In this touch, the son feels like he’s responsible for taking the dog out for a walk but by the time they reach the park the son is tugging at the strap, hoping to take full possession of the dog. But they’re at the park and the son might as well be trying to leash the wind or sun because their dog knows that now’s his time to run up and down the green field. Bobo tugs at the leash and the man is pulled forward. Bobo, he says firmly and the dog’s ears move back but he still smiles. I want to hold him, the five-year-old boy cries and stamps his foot on the green grass but it’s too late because Bobo is running with his tongue hanging out of his mouth the way his head would be hanging out of a car window. The boy sniffles and shouts, bad dog but Bobo is already at a distance. The father notes this new insistence in the boy who’s just started school. Perhaps, he’s trying to regain control over a world that’s changing. The father is a psychologist and tinkers all day with people and theories about their actions. The father tells the boy not to cry but this only serves as a challenge and the boy cries louder. Bobo wags his tail in the distance and then starts to run back. He looks up waiting for the familiar orange of the plastic ball. The father throws the ball with his right arm which is his flesh and blood arm. Do you want to go home, he asks his son who then starts to wail like a siren. Other people in the once quiet park look over to the pair. Bobo is already back with the ball in his mouth. His tail wags like a metronome on its fastest setting. At the sight of Bobo, the boy cries all the harder, reaching his own loudest setting. The father can’t explain this dramatic display of grief in his son. Bobo drops the ball between the boy and his father. Do you want to throw the ball, the father asks but the boy doesn’t want to release anything, he wants to hold something in his hands but how can the father know this? After all he’s not a child psychologist. Distracted, the father puts the ball into his left arm which, when he goes to throw the ball, flies out into the air with the ball. The dog is impressed with the variety of choice and brings back the prosthetic forearm. The boy wipes his tears, takes the arm from the dog and gives it to his father. Here’s a simple solution to all their worries. All three are happy once again.

   Yes and I’ve been having no small measure of bullshit problems recently. I keep getting blocked from the Internet!! Can you believe that? Me! That’s why I haven’t been posting stories with any regularity over the past two weeks. Somebody’s out to get me and I suspect it’s that Berners-Lee. Yes, the dude who started the WWW back in 1989. Okay, I know this shop-talk bitch fest is a little insular. It’s like watching nerds throw their glasses at each other. All I’m saying is that I want to have access to the web like everyone else.

   Before the troubles began I was writing a short-short story everyday on this blog. Everyday I pretended to be somebody different as an experimental new FaceBook application. I’m working on code that will generate a story to your specifications. You can send a short-short story to a friend as a gift. Just put in the name you want the main character to have, some kind of object that will be the main character’s demise and finally a setting. But for some reason – which I won’t get into here – Berners-Lee claimed to have come up with the code for this and then I suddenly keep getting blocked from the web. Can you believe that? Me? Mr. Facebook himself!! (I have 31,356,549 friends)

   Anyway here’s a ridiculous story for the day…

 


 

The Difference is Spreading

 

 

    He opens his hand and reveals another hand which opens in turn to reveal another and so on and so forth until there is a tiny hand that opens up to nothing. This is the trick the twenty-armed man likes to play for his siblings. His arms are like tree branches that sprout at the top of his shoulders and then slide down to make room for more. On their way down his side they get larger and larger. Right now – at the age of 13 – his lowest arms come out from the sides of his knees.

     His 4 brothers and sisters – normal except for the youngest who’s cross-eyed – applaud their brother’s game of suspense. Sometimes there’s a candy or a uniquely patterned pebble at the end and sometimes – like a sad ending to a European movie – there’s nothing but emptiness but it’s worth the price of admission. It’s thrilling to see so many hands consecutively open up. So many identical palms revealed one after another. The children are poor and know no other form of entertainment. In the past they used to climb their brother’s arms like a tree but since he reached 13 he’s complained about aches and pains in his bones and he doesn’t want the little ones scrambling up his limbs. Soon, he tells them, soon.

    They are a happy family who live on a farm in the middle of Saskatchewan but their father is an alcoholic. He’s a happy alcoholic who smiles widest when he drinks deeply from his homemade moonshine. He wipes the remnants of liquor off his lips and sings some kind of song in a language no one in the family comprehends. In fact, in French he sings about the wonders of having a 20-armed son. He stole normality, my heavily armed son, is what one line translates to. He loves to spit when he’s in the mood.

    The matriarch of all this moves quickly from room to room to house to barn and back again and it’s almost impossible to keep up with her long enough to get any detail straight. She’s fast and productive and proud of her deformed son, proud that he’s productive. He does more in the kitchen in five minutest than ten women could do in an hour. He’s a time-saver but she still has many things to do. She needs to keep the children out of the living room when her husband is labouring under a hangover.  She needs to keep the taxman at bay with baked goods. She needs to collect the dappled eggs. She needs to do so much but she’s so disorganized that she runs around doing very little. But she’s happy. Proud.

     I’m the dog that sits by the fence in front of the house. I wait for a car to stop so that I can jump in and wag my tail while I stick my face out the window. That’s my basic dream. In other dreams we’re driving after cats in fast cars. We drive just as fast and when we hit the horn the car barks. The car in front of us is packed with hundreds of cats that sometimes fall out the windows. I reach out the window and grab them and throw them into our car. When I wake up from my dreams I look into my paws and I realize that I can’t grasp a thing.

   And this blog is the result of a plea bargain of sorts with the powers that be in the afterlife. You see I couldn’t stand it another minute in the beatific glow and hum of the Great Beyond. There were more spirits swirling around than you could shake a stick at. Believe me I tried. I tried to chase off the angelic revelers to find some solitude to contemplate just a little inner gloom but it was to no avail. Heaven knows how I made it to heaven but apparently they’re letting almost everyone in these days. It’s like Woodstock but instead of mud there are angel feathers littering up the joint and everyone takes the rainbow acid which you get by opening your mouth in the presence of God himself and it never produces a bad trip. La-de-duh.

  I hated it.

  So I found an escape route. Through a complicated corporate web which I can’t get into here there are deals that link heaven with certain corporate bodies on earth. (Yes, accountants have supplanted writers as the creative forces of the 21st century.)  Within this network of tax-sheltering schemes, there is a link between the Pearly Gates and Penguin Books. Basically, I get a couple hours of solitude everyday to write whatever I want. I can attempt to dig into the depths of the rock bottom of my soul and break shovel-blade after shovel-blade, day after day. For my part I also have to produce something everyday on this blog. Penguin gets exclusive rights to everything that I produce and this blog is intended to promote that first book which is coming out next spring. The book, a collection of fragments of stories that fail miserably, is entitled, “Burn this Book.”  Some of the stories on this blog are featured on it.

   It’s one way to make an afterlife living.

   Enjoy…

 

 

Setting the Record Straight: a Correspondence between an Uncle and a Nephew on the Topic of a Kafka Submission for Mcsweeney’s Internet Tendency

 

Email #1:  Rejection 

 

From: Web Submissions <websubmissions@mcsweeneys.net>

Date: June 5, 2008 4:16:06 AM PDT (CA)

To: Kevin SPENST <k.spenst@shaw.ca>

Subject: Re: If Kafka Wrote Stock Market Reports

 

Hi, Kevin –

 

While I think this is how Kafka would indeed write stock reports, I’m going to pass. We ran a Kafka-themed piece a short while ago and are not ready to return to him just yet.

 

Best,

Chris 

 

 

 

 Email #2: Uncle to Nephew 

 

Josh,

 

  They are so coy in their rejection letters.

 

Uncle Kevin

 

 

Begin forwarded message:

From: Web Submissions <websubmissions@mcsweeneys.net>

Date: June 5, 2008 4:16:06 AM PDT (CA)

To: Kevin SPENST <k.spenst@shaw.ca>

Subject: Re: If Kafka Wrote Stock Market Reports

 

Hi, Kevin –

 

While I think this is how Kafka would indeed write stock reports, I’m going to pass. We ran a Kafka-themed piece a short while ago and are not ready to return to him just yet.

 

Best,

Chris 

 

Email #3: Nephew to Uncle

 

 

Well he does have a point.  It’s not called “McKafka’s”.

 

 

~J

 

Email #3: Uncle to Nephew

 

kakfa suffered his entire 41 years of life on this miserable earth and mcsweeny’s can’t celebrate that by having two kafka pieces in one season?

 

Email #4: Nephew to Uncle

 

Kafka was a crybaby…

 

Email #5: Uncle to Nephew

correction, Kafka is a thinking man’s crybaby

   Pleased to meet you. I imagine shaking hands with an untold number of people, my arm stretched out through the looking glass of my computer screen and into your world and yours and even yours. It’s not that I’m running for office or trying to sell you a used lemon of a car, it’s just that I need to have a sense of my readership. I need to know that all my hours spent scribing away result in some kind of human touch. Or at least the idea of contact with another soul.

   I took almost two weeks off from my daily writing on this blog in order to reread Kafka on the Shore. I’ve published a number of books since then but it’s become one of my favorites (even though authors, like parents, aren’t really supposed to have favorites) and I wanted to return to this novel in English. Apart from this blog, all my writing is in Japanese and then translated into English by a number of superb translators that I’ve been lucky enough to work with. This blog, however, is my direct link to my English readers. Everyday for the past five months I’ve been writing a short-short story from a different point of view. An experiment in styles. A place for me to play with English. But today is Kafka’s birthday and it’s time to tell the truth. 

   Enjoy today’s whim of a short-short story…

 

Sounding the Curse

 

     It was a dangerous language to learn. That was the joke that Al kept making as his friend Abdi demonstrated the intricacies of a glottal stop. Abdi straightened his back, lifted his chin and made the sound, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. “Not alphabet, it’s a script. Alphabet comes from the Greek language. Arabic script,” Abdi said, remonstrating his friend once again. “Well, whatever you want to call it. It’s a deadly language to learn,” Al said and then tried to make the glottal stop but found himself choking on something in his throat. He coughed and coughed and took another sip of the bottled water he’d purchased for an arm and a leg at the coffee shop. 

     “It’s much simpler,” Abdi said, motioning a gentle wave with his hand, trying to tap into some hidden reserve of patience. “Think of the shortest sound that can be made and then locate it deep in your throat.” Abdi pointed at the middle of his throat and made the sound again. 

     Al tried but this time his coughing fit was worse. When he had first attempted the vowel he’d hammed it up a bit but now he found that he really couldn’t get past the sound without his throat going into convulsions. He took another sip from the expensive water. “This is a deadly language. Learn our language and die. It’s a terrorist language.”

    Abdi’s eyes widened. Al had crossed the line. In the five years that they’d known each other Abdi had put up with all sorts of blasphemy but this was going too far. Abdi slammed his “Teach Arabic Now” textbook firmly shut, stood up from the small table, and picked up his backpack.

   “I will not tolerate that sort of small-mindedness. Whatever you curse in life comes back as an enemy. You have made it so.” 

    And true enough the spirit in the sound behind Alif was offended (I mean wouldn’t you be?) and like a broken vial of gas something emerged slowly from the shattered sound that Al had made. You will never succeed in anything again, it whispered in his ear. You will be filled with optimism as you attempt the first step of the basics again and again. You will believe that you can do it but you will fail eternally. Your futile hope will live longer. 

    As far as curses go, Al didn’t mind. 

    It could’ve been much worse. 

    But he did lose a friend in Abdi who he tried to win back again and again for the rest of his life, never losing faith in his ability to fail and try again.