theater of the absurd


   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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     I suppose that’s always been my downfall. I open my mouth to say something profound but near the end of my discourse – fearing boredom on the part of my listeners – I want to jump up and down waggling my tongue to make everyone laugh or conversely if I start telling a joke I end up wanting to go off on some philosophical tangent. (for Ludwig Wittgenstein did suggest that an entire book of philosophy be written consisting of nothing but jokes) Hence this site which swings from funny to philosophical on a day to day basis. This site where I put on the cloak of another identity everyday. This site which charts the ups and downs of my moods. This site which I thank you for visiting on this your precious day.

    My name is Haber Klaustein and I live in Germany near the French border. I am five feet tall and when I’m laughing people think I’m weeping but when I weep people think I’m laughing.  The problem I suppose is that I’m so short people have no idea what I’m doing when my head is down. If I were six feet tall the world would know my emotions. As it stands, only children and dogs know my feelings but they of course are indifferent to such matters. This makes me weep and then people – thinking I’m laughing and wanting to get in on the joke – will throw in their two bits, telling me the one about the blind midget and the two-by-four.  Sometimes this makes me laugh. Sometimes it only serves to make me cry harder and then more people gather to make even more digusting jokes.

   In the end, what usually happens is that I come to this site to compose an identity – anyone taller than five-foot eight – and I climb up the ladder set up next to the computer and I dream of looking at the world from another height.  But today I pushed the ladder onto its side to write as myself.  Today is different because you’re reading and I realize that in communicating with another human being there is no height or weight or even nationality but simply the gist of what is to be shared.

    “I’m five feet tall,” I can write in a sentence that might make you laugh or think. I’m not sure which but the important thing is that it’s true.

   And here’s a story with the same problem…



 
The Clown that Could Compose Immortality


     The juxtaposition of the external self and the soul has never been greater than that of the case of Uli Stampenklammer a clown with the Klintskloppen circus which toured the smaller towns of Bavaria in the 1950’s and 60’s. For while Uli was famed for falling from great heights and then yelling some gibberish that inspired laughter (like “shizenhimmersvelt” or “kunstkoppenglimmerklop”), it was only revealed after his death that he also wrote under the pseudonym of Bernhart Strom, the famed mystic who wrote about the depths of the suffering of the soul. At his funeral on June 8th 1968, circus folk stood shoulder to shoulder with religious mystics from around the world. Moments of awkward silence potholed the ceremony like an old road that could barely be travelled. Where did his heart and soul really lie? To this day, Germans have a word –  Stampenklammerstrom- to describe the awkward feeling accompanying a decision to be made during a dilemma.  Some secretly take pleasure in this feeling.

   In all probability, if you’ve taken a philosophy class in the past three decades you’ve had to read “What is it like to be a Bat ?”, my 1974 essay exploring consciousness and the inescapable mind-body problem. A little known fact is that my first draft of this essay was called “What is it like to be a Sock ?”  
  Over the past three months I’ve explored the intractable question of consciousness through the following questions: “What is it like to be Pac-Man ?” “What is it like to be George W Bush ?” and “What is it like to be a Sled Dog ?”
  I sincerely hope that today’s short story proves to be as thought provoking as the rest…


The Solitary Sock 

    Nobody understood. Beige tried to explain this to the therapist but his efforts were met with the same professional nodding of the head.
   – I mean, she was my soul mate. We spent so much time intimately tucked away inside each other. She was so soft when I went inside her. Sometimes she went inside me and it was just as warm and wonderful.
   The Therapist briefly opened his eyes with real interest but then he realized that the sock was simply describing a folding of the laundry.  He felt cheated, tricked into remembering the mundane. Yes, he needed to do laundry when he got home.
   – But it was healthy. We spent at least one day every week doing our own thing. I sometimes went onto his right foot. Sometimes his left. And vice versa her. Once the shoes went on we wouldn’t see each other for the whole day. I trusted her. Of course I trusted her. Where was she going to go? But it was in that orgy of a drier that things started to change. One day, we got split up and I was matched up with this French Beige sock that obviously wasn’t meant for me but well spent the entire week together. Nothing happened.
   Why was he so embarrassed about the inevitable? One indolent sock fretting over the inevitable, the Therapist thought. Can’t he just pick up some hobby and get it out of his system? Hockey. Golf. S and M twister? The Therapist felt self-conscious about his own socks. They were old. He’d have to buy a new pair. He’d never felt self-conscious before. It was because of the stupid sock who just blathered on and on.
   – Well when we got matched back together again the following week I wanted to find out if anything had happened. If it meant anything to her. I mean French Beige, a sophisticated sock. And brand new. I harped on it all week but what else was there to do. We’re folded up inside each other in the dark and what do we have to do but talk. You can’t keep your worries in under those circumstances. And then the following week she was gone and I was thrown on my own to the bottom of the drawer. Grief was compounded by guilt and I spent a lot of time in that little sock-dungeon. 
    -Well Beige I think we’re getting somewhere but once again we’ve run out of time. 
   The Therapist could feel the hole at the back of his sock. Here was a perfectly good sock sitting right in front of him. What if he just grabbed it and put it on. Oh it was tempting. But wouldn’t it be suspicious that Beige had gone into his office and hadn’t come out. His receptionist would wonder. 
   -See you next week then
   Unless he accidentally ran into him in the bathroom just outside his office.
   There was a plan for a perfect little abduction. 



     Okay a confession. Yesterday I wrote that I used to be a dealer in Barbie dolls. That’s not the case. I’ve never bought or sold contraband Barbies. I thought it would be funny to write a story from the perspective of somebody with that kind of background.
     The truth is that I’m just an ordinary man in Seattle with 1.4 children and a wife and a garage and an average amount of debt suitable for our position in life.  I’m normal. Almost. I do, however, play with Barbies. That’s my other confession. I play with Barbies and make plays with Barbies. When Barbara (just a coincidence, I swear) has fallen asleep beneath some piece of chick-lit, I sneak out of bed and into my study where I quietly lock the door and pull out two Barbie dolls who I position at a table. Then I write script after script of what they’re doing and saying. I imagine a string that’s pulled in their back and this is what they come up with: 

Barbie Blue: When will it end ?

Barbie Bardot: What ?

Barbie Blue: It.

Barbie Bardot: It ?

Barbie Blue: You see the problem is with that tiny little word “it”. That tiny little word that’s like a keyhole that you stick your eye up against and you try to peek through it but you don’t see much of anything. 

Barbie Bardot: I had my eyes tested last week. The optometrist said that I have perfect vision. I know it.

Barbie Blue: Your last word is a keyhole that I use to peer into the meaning of the rest of your words but I don’t see much of anything. “Vision” that’s interesting. I think of an optometrist with different versions of angelic visions contained in his parking-meter sized eye-tester that goes up flush against your face. The eye-tester flashes different visions of paradise in front of your eye. “Is this better ? Or this ? Now how about this or this ?” You see the Mohammadean heaven and then the Christian heaven flicks up in front of your eye and then the Buddhist heaven clicks in place. Which is the perfect vision ? Which is the eye of the needle that we can ram our perfect paradise through ?

Barbie Bardot: I’m waiting to go shopping.