Kafkaesque


   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.

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   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


   When I was a boy, I had a teacher named Mr. Zuckermann whose calling in life was to correct the wrong-headed ambitions of his students. At the age of eight or nine I had one hankering for the future: I wanted to write. Mr. Zuckermann took it upon himself to help me amend my dreams. He listed a litany of miserable vices that accompanied the lives of most writers and he emphasized how they were the lucky ones. He slammed his large hand on the black board and asked me if that’s really what I wanted. 

    “I want to write,” I said in an epicenter of silence that had to be the most defining moment of my life. Mr. Zuckermann, stunned by my tenacity, gave up on me and turned back to the topic of the American Revolution. I don’t remember what got us so far off topic but that was the pedagogy practiced by Mr. Zuckerman. From 1776 to the current dreams in the hearts of his students. Who knows what dreams he himself had given up to grow into such a proselytizer of pessimism.

    I’ve carried this ambition throughout my life but as I have had it in various forms and at various ages I’ve necessarily developed a superfluity of writing goals. I have inside me the eight-year or nine-year old writer who wants to doodle simple playground stories into existence along with a host of other previous selves who want to tell their story. 

   It’s no surprise then that I’ve taken on a coterie of identities.  I’ve written some genre fiction under the name of August Van Zorn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Chabon and more recently over the past five months I’ve been writing a short-short story everyday on this blog under a revolved door of different guises. 

   Because inside I still hear that voice, standing up to everyday: I want to write.

   Here’s today’s play on fiction….

 


 

If Kafka Wrote Stock Market Blurbs

 

    Dell lifts up stocks from pitch-black abyss of toothless grimace

NEW YORK – US stocks are holding up after stronger-than-expected earnings from Dell, but gains are limited as weaker consumer spending weighs like an obese but smiling corpse of a neglected Father upon shares. Dell holds the heavy body of this Father, asking whose? 

 

      Tadpole staggers like a drunken horse trampling people in a bar to second-half pretax loss

BRUSSELS – Software product developer Tadpole Technology staggers like a drunken horse trampling people in a bar to a second-half pretax loss from a profit last year due to increased investment in training. Investors are hiding under the table trying to drink the dividends per share from previous years, pretending the horse is of no relation to them. Market opportunities remain strong.

 

                  Efes Breweries Q2 pretax empty heart incapable of receiving love UPDATE

PARIS- Efes Breweries International lamented a wider first-quarter pretax loss due to increased expenses which piled up higher and higher like a pile of sullied laundry destined not for the wash but the flames and said it expects the cost pressures to be apparent in the gross profit line throughout 2008, a line that – with the help of rusty clothes-pins – will receive the brittle and charred remains of the burnt cloths and the wind is forecast to blow them apart. Investors, however, remain confident. 

 

Mixed day for chemicals firms like sun followed by rain followed by drenched child being stabbed in the arm

LONDON – Shares in chemical firms plummeted after manufacturers jointly announced they expect financial performance for the full year to be below market expectations. Like a children’s game of tag played with knives the groups’ gross margins also decreased in number. Dramatically and clumsily. The first two months of the financial year have begun well with record revenues in March.

 

  In yesterday’s blog entry I claimed to be the Olympic Torch. Well that’s just not true. I’m a boring old pack of forgotten matches in City Light Books. I dream of something more however. I’ve dreamt of protestors putting out the Olympic Torch and then somebody trying to use me to start it up again. I would refuse of course. I would be the famous matches that refused to light. That’s a story for you.

  But today’s short-short story is about something completely different. 

 

A Bad Day

 

   Around ten o’clock at night the silence that rested all through the house was shattered by the electronic rattle of the phone. Pansori woke up with a bewildered start. His main duties at work immediately lined up in his mind when he realized it was only ten. Why was the phone ringing? He shuffled in his slippers to the phone.

   “Hello?”

    “This is Inspector Park from the Guri Police Precinct. We need you –“ the voice on the other end coughed and then coughed some more, “we need you to come in tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock.”

    “May I ask why ?” Pansori said while rubbing his eyes.

    “You are a suspect in a hit and run. We need to ask you some –“ again he coughed as if he were choking on a baby’s rattle, “questions.”

    The next morning, Pansori awoke from dreams whose shape he couldn’t recall but they nevertheless cast a shadow over his mind. He would have to go to work and explain that he needed the afternoon off but Mr. Lee wouldn’t be happy. Mr. Lee was never happy and he was always in search of some explanation for his misery. This morning Pansori would be his excuse.

   “Do you think we run a charity here?” Mr. Lee shouted so that all of Pansori’s colleagues could hear. A single vein ran down Mr. Lee’s forehead. It resembled a bolt of lightening.

    “No, sir.”

    “What did you hit and run? A curb? A duk-bo-gi stand?” Mr. Lee snorted. Everyone held back bewildered expressions. Mr. Lee was their boss and he was trying to make a joke so they should laugh but he was also very angry so maybe they shouldn’t laugh.

    One man, who always ate duk-bo-gi at lunch, laughed a single “Ha”.

    “Shut up and get back to work,” Mr. Lee fumed. “Alright Pansori take the afternoon off and try not to hit anyone on your way to the police station.”

   “Thank-you sir.”

    After a two-hour drive through heavy traffic, Pansori was outside of Seoul and in the district of Guri. It took him some time to find the police station and then he had to find parking. Finally, he was inside the station.

   “Who?”

    “Pansori Kim.”

    “Have a seat.”

     This went on several times until finally a large police officer appeared in the waiting room. “Pansori Kim!” Pansori felt like he was back in the military. “Come this way,” the large officer said and then coughed into his ham-shaped fist.

     They walked through several corridors that all looked the same. Pansori began to wonder if they were going back to Seoul through a secret network of hallways. Finally they arrived at a room. 

     “Where were you last Friday night?” Inspector Park asked and then he coughed and Pansori had to wait.

    “I was at home.”

    Inspector Park looked at Pansori carefully.

    “Thank-you. That’s all.”

    “Thank-you,” Pansori replied but deep in his heart two words slowly emerged: “up yours.” These were English words he’d learned in Vancouver while studying ESL, words that were little bursts of freedom.

   

 

   Well that’s not on my passport or anything and there are no books or even songs written about me but that’s who I am. There’s always an uncomfortable silence that follows my introduction at parties and people wait a couple seconds for me to tip them off regarding my absurd joke but as there is a profound seriousness on both sides of the family I simply mirror their stare. 
   So how did Eleanor and Franz meet ? some people will ask.
   It’s a long story but suffice it to say that Eleanor found out about FDR’s affair with Lucy Mercer she set off for Europe for one month to get away from it all. She went to a sanatorium  in Kierling near Vienna to practice her German where she met a shy man from Prague by the name of Franz Kafka. That’s where my grandfather was conceived. Certainly, I don’t want to imagine the intimate details of their intercourse but the moment was so historic and strange and important to my genesis that my imagination is paralyzed between the desire to know and pure revulsion. They were my great-grandparents after all. 
    My grandfather was left at an orphanage in Columbus Ohio where he was raised by nuns. When he was ninety years old he received a letter that explained his background. The letter was written by both Kafka and Eleanor; it was simultaneously full of hope and despair. It was a letter that had traveled around the world and it was coated in stamps which ensured its long and safe passage.
   To prove to the world the authentic nature of my claims I started this blog over three months ago. Everyday I write a short-short story in some vein of strangeness. It’s in my blood which if examined at a microscopic level will reveal dung-beatles and other entities from my great-grandfather’s imagination. 

 

 Daydream Believer

    He dreams deep. He’s a lucid dreamer and every night as he drifts off to sleep beneath soft sheets he tells himself that he will wake up within his dream. He will wake up and control his dream self. He repeats this three or four times and then he’s snoring. When his dreams start he’s playing basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters in 1978 or he’s hanging from the cables between telephone poles and the birds are sitting on his knuckles like rings or he’s grown a beard that’s been weaved into an itchy and ugly suit that he’s wearing at his own wedding. Whatever the situation, he tells himself: “I’m dreaming. This is only a dream.” Now, in his book on lucid dreams which always lies on his night-table close to his snoring head there are accounts of people hijacking their dreams and flying or doing something they’d always only daydreamed of doing but in his dreams he simply lies down on the basketball court or lets go of the cables to fall to the ground or stretches out at the front of the church in his beard-suit. He tries to get comfortable so that he can fall asleep within his dream. Once he is snoring, his dream self starts to dream of having a basketball hoop mounted on his chest (the balls bounce off his face and into the hoop) or having a bird-run mining company excavating gold from the back of his mouth or having a lock of his lover’s hair wrapped around his liver. Within this dream which is sharper and heaver than normal dreams, he once again tries to regain control; he tells himself that he’s dreaming within a dream. Once again he lies down to sleep. With varying degrees of depth and success this goes on every night while he snores away. His dream is to reach the one dream that will never change, the dream that will be blindingly powerful and will dictate only one course of action: arms raised to block out the warmth and luminescence of the sun. In that last dream where all strangeness has been shed he will find the true posture of his soul.

    I’m studying English at Tokyo University. I also count bald heads for a wig company on the weekends in Yoyogi Park. Yes, just like that book by that writer. Okay to be perfectly honest I am that guy. 
   I’m Haruki Murakami. What else would explain the strange directions the stories and lies have taken on this blog for the past three months? 
   Here’s today’s little ditty of a story…


Dear Neighbor…


     I do apologize for the noise I might have made last night. As I tried to tell you in the elevator last week, I’ve just arrived in Tokyo to teach English for the next year. My first week of work had me racing from subway station to subway station; I spent most of the time in transit. I guess that’s why I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I can’t turn off at the end of the day. Last night I also had terrible dreams to boot. I woke up and my place was a disaster zone which I figure was from me thrashing about in my sleep. I knocked down a shelf with some heavy items on top and then there was that Ronald McDonald that I knocked down too. (The previous tenant, an American from Ohio, got drunk with his friends one night and abducted one of those Ronald MacDonald’s that you see on the sidewalk. He was a nutter that last guy. He left me the Ronald MacDonald.) So I woke up this morning and I was pretty surprised. I think I was wrestling with him in my sleep. The thing is I’m a sound sleeper and I’ll snooze through anything – including the havoc that I’ll wreck on a place during the night. So if you were woken up by any of that thrashing last night, I do apologize.
    I had a terrible dream.
    Well I was on the subway and all the people were pressed in around me but in my dream everyone had a clock on their face. Or their faces were clocks. That’s a better way to put it. And I could see that I was running late for my one o’clock. The subway was delayed for some reason and when we finally arrived at Mimomi Station (it’s way out in Chiba) I couldn’t even get out of the train. The clock-faced bodies were packed too tight. And the doors closed and I was stuck with dozens of faces that all showed me how late I was. That’s a pretty strange dream isn’t it? How do you say dream in Japanese?
   Well anyway I do apologize for the noise I must have made. I tried to talk to you about it this morning but I might have been talking too fast. You can take your time with this note. I’m also going to study a bit of Japanese while I’m here. I’m starting with some basic words. Do you know what “dream” is in Japanese? I’m going to translate this note into Japanese for you and then things will be clearer. The next time I can’t sleep, I’ll translate everything above into Japanese. I have an English-Japanese dictionary. 
   Once again sorry about the noise.
   And that blood in the hallway.


Scott F.

     I have to confess that I’m not a single mother aspiring to be a writer, or JK Rowling, or a real estate salesman from Vancouver (all claims in previous posts). In fact I’m a male nurse from Winnipeg, Canada ad I have multiple personalities. All the previous entries that were written under various names were actually the different personalities that are bottled up inside me. I’ve decided to start this blog as a way to release these different voices.

    In future entries I’ll discuss the challenges of living with 14 different people inside you and how hard that makes it to decide what to order in a restaurant. But for today, I’d like to share a short-short story that I wrote recently.

 

 

 

 

The Soap Maker’s Tale

 

 

 

     On the morning the soap maker drew blood in the shower, he’d been pondering the future of soap made in the shape of a hand. While the funnel of water came down over his shoulders, the soap maker turned his hand around, opening and closing his fingers, wondering what position the hand-shaped soap should come in. Would people be drawn to a hand-shaking position or would they rather scrub their belly with a fist ? Business had been terribly slow the past year and he needed a radically new idea to save his skin and soap.

   With his free hand, the soap maker scrubbed his body. The more he thought, the harder he scrubbed until he noticed that a ribbon of red was streaming down with the water. Oh, God he’d washed himself free of his skin, he thought to himself. He put the exfoliating soap down on the tray, rinsed himself free of suds and turned the shower off.

   Stepping out of the shower, he noticed how badly he’d hurt himself. There was a palm-sized patch of blood on his shoulder. It was producing more red. The soap maker grabbed a towel and tried to stop the blood but he realized he was only succeeding in ruining a white towel.

   “Will you get that off us !!” came a muffled shout from his shoulder.

    The soap maker froze with the towel pressed tighter than ever to his shoulder.

    “People need to breath, don’t they ?”

     The soap maker did a quick mental check of what he’d eaten the previous night. Nothing strange. Nothing foreign or unknown.

    “And that light was good, give us more of that light,” came another voice.

    And that’s when the soap maker learned of the family of four that had been living inside of him his entire life.

     Freeloading in some sense.

     He stayed at home for a week to let the wound scar over and then the voices were silenced.

    When he went back to work, he set about making molds of hands for a new soap shape.