inspired by Beckett


   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.

   On my good days. On my off days I’m simply a fugitive with too much time on his hands. I’ve been writing these posts over the past five months as a way to communicate and practice the lies that are my daily bread and butter. When I arrive in a town I have to introduce myself with another identity. This is where I get some practice at saying, Hi I’m Jeff Ladouceur, or Hi I’m Lee Henderson, etc.  So why am I now stooping to the truth ?
   Even liars need a break once in a while.
   Don’t you think?

 When the World Withers Away

  I think it’s June. A hundred little signs tell me so. Of course the stuff of the world has dwindled from years ago when the world was so much more, this new world which I was the first to discover. I was a late 21st Century Columbus but there was no colonization, reward or even fame to follow. I never went back to earth. Couldn’t. They have no space programs on this planet.  Otherwise everything is like home with seasons, months and even people running from place to place with an eye on the clock. But happier. In some ways.  For one thing nobody dies on this planet.
   The world dies around you.
   I couldn’t believe it myself and when someone tried to explain this to me I thought I’d landed on an asylum planet with schitzophrenia being the order of the day.  But they looked and talked normal otherwise and were very hospitable to me as a stranger, offering me citizenship in the country that I landed. They even set me up with a job selling dice – a huge industry on this planet.  Through these early years of learning the ropes the only nagging worry was this denial of death but I never saw any cemetaries. There were no bereavement cards in stores and nobody knew what a coffin was. One night over beers with some of the guys at work I pressed the issue of death.

    “So absolutely no one dies?”

    This was probably the hundredth time I’d asked and so Joe finally caved.

    “The world dies around you.”

    “So there is death. Everyone else dies.”

    “It’s not really death per se. It’ s just everything slips into non-existence around you, as if it never were. I mean this is heady stuff. You can’t put it into words. I mean you can try but they’ll come up short.  They’ll disappear too but that’s nothing to be sad about. That’s nothing.”

   We stayed up extra late that night. I felt like I was ten years old again looking into the sky, contemplating infinity or something. It was odd to feel young in the face of such strangeness but when I went to bed and my face hit the sheets the nothingness seemed like a preview of the future.

    And here I am at the beginning of a shrinking world. I’ve retired because I can’t be counted on. Some days I’m gone. People don’t ask where I’ve been because they know I’ve started to slip into the other realm. This existence of an eternal one that flat-lines onto itself in a beep that goes on forever and ever. I don’t know how people know that. I suppose I’ll find out myself what it means. It’s funny to think that I can learn anything in this state. The sun didn’t come up yesterday. Otherwise it was a nice June day somewhat short of flowers and grass and distances but the warm breeze was enjoyable.  It reminded me of something. Somebody, maybe.

   I wonder how people on earth are doing? I forget more and more about my life as an astronaut on Earth – off of Earth. 

    June.

   The month I was married. 

   The photo I kept of her disappeared yesterday. Well it was an empty square.

   An anniversary blank.

   And when I was a precocious five-year-old I thought to myself, why is it that children of talent have made names for themselves in music, mathematics and so many other fields but not literature? (Apart from Ashley Daisey but then again her book, written at the age of nine, was a pile of tripe on trifle.) At five I realized that I had my work cut out for me and I set about reading and writing in a rigorous regime that covered everything (imagine a Rocky montage but with a kid doing push-ups over a pile of Penguin Books). And so four months ago I started this site, which begins with a Moby Dick kind of first line, and I’ve been writing a short-short story everyday since. Each day I pretend to be somebody I’m not in order to play with various frames, after all fiction always comes encased within at least one narrative frame or another. Well I threw myself at the idea of creating a story within hundreds of frames. Imagine that Rocky montage again but this time with Robert Rauschenberg – R.I.P. – in his heyday placing a frame within a frame within a frame within a frame, and on and on over a hundred times.  I wanted to create a literary equivalent of that. I figured that would get a nine-year-old some modicum of recognition. So without further ado: hello, my name is Andrew Kincaid.

   And here I am embarking on my head start to a literary career.

   Because I know puberty is going to fuck me up for a while.

 

Rejection

 

   I know I’m neurotic. I know one of my strengths is that I’m neurotic. I think that’s one of my strengths. You see, an hour ago I was trapped between two decisions which had grown to such a size that I felt – figuratively speaking – that I was squeezed in between two walls. The choices were pressing up tight against both sides of my body. I couldn’t move. I was standing outside in the mid-day sunshine trying to decide whether or not to post something. My right hand held a large manila envelop over the mouth of a mail-box. If you post this you will become a pariah of the publishing industry, I heard a voice inside alliterate. I usually try not to pay any attention to that inner alliterative voice because it’s simply niggling worries megaphoned into something noisy and distracting. My theory is that I have a subconscious stutter which manifests itself into alliterative thoughts. I mean that’s just a theory but it’s odd that my inner voice always comes equipped with at least three parallel consonants. I mean why? So there I was in a stand off with a post office box trying to decide whether or not to mail that envelope which contained a creative non-fiction submission for a magazine contest. The piece itself consisted of critiques of fifty rejection letters that I’d received over the years. I thought it would be funny to write reviews of all the rejection letters that had piled up in my closet from PRISM, sub-terrain, Geist, Event, the Walrus and Prairie Fire. In a high-falutin’ stuffy tone, I trashed the editors’ choices of verbs, nouns and logic, e.g. “Ostensibly, Anne Polter’s central motif of ‘enjoyed reading this but we’re going to pass,’ is muddled and evades the central issue of whether the work is good or not. Once again, we find her pussy-footing around prose.” I held all these damning critiques of reviews wondering if they’d be enjoyed as literary caricatures or despised as bitter volleys against individuals. I mean the idea came out of frustration (tepid frustration) but I was hoping that my “artistry” had turned the piece into something more. But I wasn’t sure. My hand wavered over the top of the mail-box until I finally put it to use. I sat down at an empty bus-stop bench a couple meters from the mail-box and started writing all this on the back of this envelope. An extra introduction to frame “Reviewing the Rejection Letters”. A last minute confession of fears. I’m neurotic but I think that’s one of my strengths. It keeps my pen moving and you’ll be hearing from me again and again no matter what. I think.

    Lonely Planet has been rocked by scandal recently with the warts and all memoir of a former travel writer. In Do Travel Writer’s Go to Hell? Thomas Kohnstamm reveals that he never even visited Colombia. “The amount they gave me wasn’t even enough for the flight.” Elsewhere in the memoir, he explains that he sold drugs to finance a trip. 

   So what.

   I’ve been working for Lonely Planet for fifteen years. In 1998, on my way home from a 4-week stint in Central America, I was caught at the Mexican border with 3 kilos of cocaine behind my beard – I was dressed as Santa. Since then I’ve been incarcerated in California. I’ve also managed to continue writing for Lonely Planet, contributing to books on America, England, China and countries in South America. 

   How do I do it?

   I have internet access and I’ve managed to befriend a lot of inmates by writing up prime spots for their relatives’ restaurants, bars or taxi services.  I’ve also entertained everyone on the inside with this blog where I’ve claimed to be somebody different everyday. The guys get a kick out of it.

   I get out this afternoon, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to reveal the truth.

   I’m also launching my own book, Do Travel Writer’s Go to Jail?

 

 

 

Always Something There to Remind Me

 

 

   He opens his eyes to a white ceiling and then slams them shut under the rush of white pain. His head feels like it’s been stuffed with his stomach; an unfamiliar nausea coats his thoughts. He opens his mouth but no words come out. A voice next to him fills the room:

   “Hello, I wish to lodge a complaint regarding your Quickwhip Blender. Yes. Now, who am I speaking to? How do you spell that?”

    He tries to turn his head but pain stops him short. He lifts his arms up to his head but his reach is blocked by some kind of metal contraption, a metal frame boxing in his head. He tries to remember.

   “Yes, well Ezekiel, I purchased your product three weeks ago. I had high hopes at the time and didn’t expect to be speaking to somebody in a complaints department in the hospital. That part wasn’t mentioned in the infomercial. Do you know what I’m saying Ezekiel? Yes, in the hospital, all thanks to your fine product.”

    He wants to laugh at the story unfolding next to him but he senses it’ll just cause him more pain. He once again tries to open his eyes to orient himself to the world. White slowly grows visible until the ceiling comes into full view but it’s just like his memory: blank.

   “Well, I took the QuickWhip Blender out of the box, read the instructions fully. I spent a good ten minutes on them. I had a tea while I read them. That’s about ten minutes. I plugged it in and then it just took off. It was like a wild bird. A rabid bird. I was on the floor and it was all over me. There was nothing in the instructions that said, stand ten feet back from the QuickWhip when you plug it in.”

     He tries to remember anything but keeps coming up against blanks: name, age, occupation. He knows he’s American but that thought does little to comfort him. He’s a man. Of course he knows that too. 

    “Well then my son came into the room with a baseball bat to get it off me. Can you believe that? A baseball bat!! He’s not a violent boy. And then it was on him. You shouldn’t program these things to attack their owners. Good owners. Well my boy has his share of problems. 34 and still living at home.”

     Does her voice sound familiar? He briefly wonders if he’s the boy who she’s referring to. He waits for more clues, while she outlines the basic problems she has with her boy: posture, diet, erratic volume of voice, etc.  He prays to a God – who he may or may not believe in – that his life was something a little more glamorous. 

   Before falling into this empty blank.

   He waits.

   Perhaps you read about me in the latest issue of Wired Magazine where I explained my supermemo memory system. Well, improving memory isn’t my only passion, I also love literature. In fact, this site is where my two passions dovetail into something wholly unique.

    Over the past one hundred days I’ve been introducing myself each day as someone completely different who presents a story which he or she claims to have written. The reason why I’ve busied myself with what appears to be a fools game of a 100 Masks is that each introduction and accompanying story is an ornately detailed mnemonic that symbolically holds all the important details of the day.

   For example, when I claimed to be Tom Cruise, on January 16th,  I was traveling by boat (cruising) with a group of friends. Each word in the introduction is code for some event through the day. Downloading my supermemo memory system will explain how it all works. 

    Does it sound a little crazy? Maybe. 

    Does it work? 

    Definitely.

    Or my name isn’t Tom Cruise, I mean JK Rowling, I mean Troy Craig I mean Piotr Wozniak.

    See I have a sense of humor.

    Today’s story, on the other hand, is a little on the sadder side of things.

    A stab at something beautiful.

 

Memory Slips Like Soap 

 

     I’m suspicious of that bar of soap on the edge of the tub. It seems to be in a different location from where I last laid it. I think it moved of its own volition through the night. I’m sure that sounds crazy but what other sane conclusion can I draw? I live alone and nobody has a key to my flat. Ergo, either something is wrong with my soap or something is tremendously wrong with me and as I pride myself on never forgetting anything I think it’s clear: I’ve been washing myself with a half sentient bar of soap these past two weeks and now it’s trying to escape.

     I mean wouldn’t you?

     I’m not saying I have a grotesque body or hideous features, I’m considered quite handsome by some. Well it was said once. My wife said I was handsome once, just after we met for the first time in a trigonometry class in university. We were three months into the semester and friendly chit-chat had given way to pure mathematics. It was after class and I was at her desk, bent over her notes in great concentration, trying to get hold of the answer. She whispered that I was handsome but I didn’t let on that I had heard her. I let her believe that my singular mind had blocked everything but numbers out of my head. In fact I had glanced at her cleavage twice. 

   She was beautiful. A picture of her is held in the back of my mind. I’m not suspicious of that picture for it’s a perfect replica of what she was. I have an excellent visual memory that holds millions of faces and formulas. 

    And the everyday positions of an errant bar of soap.

    I have to get into the tub and wash because there’s an interviewer coming over at 5:35. I told her to come over exactly at that time because I’ll be studying Arabic until 5:30. That’s what my schedule tells me, but I’m off schedule. 

    The dominoes fall. 

    I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to the interview but it’s for a popular magazine that will help publicize the research I’ve been conducting upon myself. I’ve been working outside of any university and so there’s no hope for funding there. My only recourse is to private funding. I haven’t left my house for three years and I need to take a shower before she comes over. 

    I’ve had showers before: 1,034 to be precise.

    At the back of my mind there are not only faces and formulas but also numbers that slowly revolve forward: so far I’ve written 435 words, breathed 47 times in and 48 times out and blinked 112 times. To name a few figures.

    Everything in my house is arranged as a mnemonic. There are two toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste scattered in a loose triangle on the floor. They stand for the three years that I’ve spent memorizing everything under the sun. The shower curtain is on the floor which reminds me of the exact shape of the Rocky Mountains (her favorite place in the world). The phone is off the hook and beeps incessantly. It’s been beeping like that for three years.

    Everything is as it should be but that bar of soap is in a different position.

    I think.

    It’s not where it was three years ago when I came home to her body. This is a memory that emerges of its own volition from time to time. Sometimes when I’m trying to fall asleep, I see her on the floor and I run to get the phone and I fall and it starts to beep. When I came home after the funeral I didn’t move anything but set about perfecting my memory so that I could hold everything in place.

    But.

    I have never had such a powerful memory of her in the middle of the day. Not at 4:53 anyway.

    Grief grows in unturned directions.

    This morning at 8:05 I briefly forgot her favorite color. 

    As if moths in the back of my mind have started to chew holes in my memory.

    Lacunae as larva for even more of less.

   This blog has served as a kind of sketchpad for the past four months, a place to lay the foundation for a future art project. Each of the previous characters I’ve claimed to be on this blog are at the center of an online art project which will be like Never Been but with different directions. 

   Here’s a story about dinner in a small village. A piece that’s been inspired by one of the drawings in Never Been, a story about a fictional village somewhere in Eastern Europe. 

   Enjoy and thank-you for dropping by.

 


The Drunk Giant Distraction

 

    Mother made all sorts of announcements to get my four younger brothers to come to the table but they remained fixed at the front window, waiting to see if the giant would fart or belch or make some other larger than life obscenity. The window by now was littered in tiny, dirty fingerprints made in the condensation from their breath. They held their heads at odd angles, peeping through these temporary openings and then they’d touch their little view back into existence. For my part, I sat at my place at the table and cursed the giant.

    “Piotr, please, let’s not have that kind of language at the dinner table,” Mother said, placing a large bowl of steaming potatoes in front of Father who lowered his head over the cloudy heat and inhaled. He believed it was good for his weak lungs and had promised me on numerous occasions that someday, when I became the head of a family, I would get this great privilege. It was the kitchen’s cure for anything that ailed you. My ambitions, however, were larger than this kitchen. Or even our village.

    “Boys, come away from that window. The Giant will be there after you finish dinner,” Mother shouted. “What a waste,” she muttered to herself and as she had just scanned her kitchen, the food, my father, brothers and the outline of the Giant outside, it was hard to tell what she was referring to.

     I cursed in a combination I’d never considered before.

    “Piotr,” Mother shouted, “no more profanity at the dinner table.”

    “But the breakfast table is fine?”

    “Boys come to the table.”

     “Ahhhhhhh,” my father moaned as he inhaled deeply over his potato cure.

    “I will stop spewing profanity in this house if I can hear you utter the worst words that you know,” I said to Mother who looked at me in disbelief. There, an exercise of my ambitions, I thought to myself. I didn’t expect dinner to get interesting for my interest in the Giant had waned weeks ago.

     “He’s vomiting,” one of my younger brother’s shouted from the living room.

     My mother cursed quietly under her breath.

      “No, it must be loud enough for Father to hear.”

     She looked at me over top the haggard bags beneath her eyes, as if she were peering at me from behind a tired rubble of memories.

     “Where is the spoon for these potatoes,” my father shouted.

      “Again he vomited again.”

     Mother tore the house asunder with vile words that shocked my brothers into action. They all rushed to their places at the table and bowed their heads in preparation for prayer –perhaps speaking to God even then for Mother’s endangered soul. My father stood up to get the spoon for himself. Even the Giant was startled, rolling from his position on our garden patch and into the middle of the street. 

     I placed a forkful of potatoes into my smiling wide-open mouth. 

     I thought of my future.

 

  I’ve been writing these blogs everyday for the past four months in order to lure out any weirdoes on-line. If you’re not a weirdo and you’re reading this I apologize profusely. You – the non-weirdoes- are what makes this country tick and talk to the rest of the world with kindness and confidence. I’ve been trying to attract the kind of strange people who think they know a thing or two that the rest of us don’t. The kinds of weirdoes that would find it funny to abduct a child and train him to play the Beatles’ music. It is cute but come on! can a child understand the depth and profundity of those lyrics?  Would John have wanted it that way? Let a child learn to enjoy the Beatles slowly and gradually at a natural rate. There are so many videos of children doing unnatural things – like explaining the Star Wars trilogy, etc- that I’m convinced there’s a ring of kidnappers abducting children and making them learn these strange tricks of amusement.

   Anyway I’m trying to find my boy, Bonobo Samuel Kingston the 3rd, and that kid in the video sure looks a lot like my adopted child from a country with extremely lax adoption laws. Could anyone confirm this? 

  And so here’s a story about another child that I’ve written from the grief in my heart over the disappearance of my boy, Bonobo.

 

Who Cares about the King ? Not I

 

     The King’s officially sanctioned shoelace tier has taken the day off sick (pancreatic problems?) and failed to provide a suitable substitute. Well, a child of four can hardly be considered a stand in for an expert, can he? Even if he is the son of the fastest and most graceful shoelace tier in all the land. Fortunately, our current King is progressive, he swings with the times and so no one need worry about being beheaded,drawn and quartered or iron maidened. Our current King cares(his slogan).

     The King stares down at his unlaced shoes. So far down. He remembers the time he toured the Dominion of Canada and went on an official trip up the CN Tower. At the time, he thought he’d been transferred to another world and he tried to reach down through the glass to crush the ants dressed as people. The King’s handlers sledge hammered the glass to allow him to reach down but his reach took him nowhere. Looking down at his laces, the King wonders if there is some trick of optics at work, some glass in the way, some as of yet undiscovered challenge in getting his fingers down. 

     Try.

     The King stands by the door of his chamber where few are admitted. The shoelace tier’s son jumps on the bed but the King concentrates on his untied laces. Once my fingers are down there, how will I distinguish them from my laces, the King wonders. He looks at his fingers and he looks down at his white laces. They seem different from this distance but side-by-side who knows what confounding similarities will emerge? The King’s neck is getting sore.

     He turns his head slightly to look at the other show but there is no lace. Confound it! The day is already a disaster. The King looks up at the large wooden door (which he may not be able to exit from on this day) and lets out a sigh of discombobulation. He looks over to the bed to see the tip of what appears to be a shoelace sticking out from the bouncing boy’s mouth. 

     In response to the King’s rage, the boy starts to sing a cutesy, childish rendition of the Beatles’ Hey Jude.

     The King is appeased.

     But I ask you all, should our taxes go towards this fickleness? 

Next Page »