Tuesday, December 28, 2004

NetFlix strikes out.

I finally finished watching the last of the three movies I've had out from NetFlix forever now. And what a disappointing crop! Ugh!

First up was "The Last Temptation of Christ." There was controversy over this? The only controversy there should have been was over it was, in any way whatsoever, a decent film. Willem Defoe was absolutely dreadful. The only salvageable pieces of this movie were Harvey Keitel as Judas (although the cheesy hair just has to go) and the scene where Jesus meets John the Baptist and his followers. Everything else? Dreck. And a lot of it! The running time on this sucker is nearly three hours and it feels much, much longer. Two thumbs up whoever's ass thought Willem Defoe would make a good Jesus.

Next was "Boogie Nights." I kept hearing how great this movie was. NOT. Holy crap, was this bad! And again, way too long. A bit over two and a half hours. Guess what, guys? I figured out the message of "porn stars are airheads" after about fifteen minutes. Not even William H. Macy could save this movie. Oh, one guy I did really like in this film: Don Cheadle. Great performance as Buck, the only character I could give even a tiny damn about. Burt Reynolds was tolerable, too. Mark Wahlberg? Uck. I'd give two thumbs up the ass for this one, too, but that might be considered a rave for a film about the porn industry.

Finally was "Like Water for Chocolate." Okay, I sorta liked this one. But it could have been so much more! The magic realism elements were great, although the mother as ghost was just cheesy. But the food igniting passions and setting the bathroom on fire? Great, great, great! My biggest problem with this film is that I just really didn't like Marco Leonardi as Pedro. He just seemed so damned whiny. Lumi Cavazos, on the other hand, was completely endearing. Her smile was just radiant. I also really liked Yareli Arizmendi as Rosaura. Pilar Aranda really grated on my nerves with her oh-so-fake giggles. Bleah. So this one was a mixed bag for me. There was a lot in it I loved and I found myself smiling a great deal. However... it was still a disappointment, because it came so close to be truly great, and wound up being only a decent rental.

Hopefully, the next three will be better. Looks like next up on the list are "Donnie Darko," "The Deer Hunter," and "Rashomon."

Monday, December 27, 2004

Album of the Year

I don't buy a ton of music, really, so this is sort of presumptuous of me. I believe the only albums new this year that I own are "Live From the Mountain Music Lounge, Volume 10" (which is a very, very limited release, sold only in Seattle) and the album I'm going to plug as being the Album of the Year. The "Lounge" CD is better overall, but after nine previous compilations of great live performances, it was to be expected. These CD's, released annually, are absolute treasures. I also wanted to pick up Carbon Leaf's "Indian Summer," but this li'l hick town I live in seems not to have any copies of it anywhere. So...

William Shatner. Yes, I'm serious. If anyone had ever told me that I'd intentionally buy a William Shatner CD as anything other than a joke, I'd have thought they were insane. But this thing is genuinely great, containing, among other things, perhaps the saddest song I've ever heard, "That's Me Trying." The song features Ben Folds and Aimee Mann, and was co-written by Nick Hornby (no, not the cheesy musician... the good writer). Other tracks feature folks like Joe Jackson and Henry Rollins.

Anyway... click the title of this post to go listen to some samples. It's surprisingly good, and it's my album of the year, mainly because it's so completely unexpected.

(And thanks to Nance Knauer for turning me onto it.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Many thanks to Myfanwy Collins for pointing out this delightful little piece in InkPot. Go read Kathleen McCall's Pigs. It's a charmer.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Kurt Vonnegut

Y'know, I knew that Kurt liked to draw, but I'd never really seen that much of his work. So this is a fun surf. Here's an example I like, "Mondrian's Socks." Click on it to go to his site.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Christmas Gift

Oh, yeah. One other thing. If you're still looking for gifts for the readers on your list, pick up SmokeLong Annual. It contains the afore-mentioned Steve Almond story and interview, as well as 73 other stories and 72 more interviews. At the risk of sounding immodest, it's a great book, absolutely perfect for bathroom reading. All of the stories are under a thousand words, so you can squeeze in a couple while squeezing one off, if ya know what I mean. It's also dirt cheap. We sell it at our cost: $13.90. So go buy it for your special someone. And get a copy for yourself while you're at it.

Steve Almond addenda

Of course, immediately after posting that, I wandered over to candyfreak.com to see if Steve had ever added SLQ to his list of sites where his work appears. He hadn't, alas, but! He has a new book coming out: The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories. I've read the title story and it's great. Not yet aware of what else is contained, but I'd definitely recommend pre-ordering.

Also, I just remembered the terrific interview that Ellen Meister conducted with Steve in the issue she guest edited. To this day, it remains one of my favorite interviews we've published: Smoking With Steve Almond.

Steve Almond

Y'know, I've been reading all these "Top 100," "Top 5," "Top Whatever" lists lately, and it's sorta made me think about my own top stuff. I'm kinda slow on the uptake reading new stuff, unless it's by one of my all-time favorite authors (like if Murakami or Dybek has something new out, and come to think of it, Stuart did put something new out, so I'll talk about that, too). But my "Top 1" for the year has to be for favorite author discovered. Not that he hadn't already been discovered by tons of other people, but I didn't discover him until this year. I'm talking, as the title would suggest, of Steve Almond. Steve Almond, let me just say, is hella cool.

The story of the discovery goes something like this: late last year, I joined Zoetrope, where I read a ton of great stuff by writers completely new to me. One of the pieces I read there was Does it Please You? by Ellen Meister. I solicited it for SmokeLong. Happily, Ellen agreed, and we got to chatting and became purty good buddies. I asked her to guest edit our next issue. She agreed to that, too. Yay!

Now, Ellen isn't in the habit of writing fan letters, but a few years before, she'd read something of Steve's online (and I wish I could remember what it was; I'd link to it). She loved it. She emailed him. He emailed back. This is something I've since discovered myself about Steve--if you email him, he emails back, and does so pretty quickly. They became email buddies of a sort. So when she was our Guest Editor, she asked him if he ever wrote flash, not seriously expecting that he'd submit. After all, he was a big deal, having been published in some pretty swanky places. But he sent us The Evening of the Dock. This, of course, sent me off on a mission to read as much of his stuff as I could. I checked out My Life in Heavy Metal from our local library. It was official: I was in love. I needed more.

Fortunately, it was easy to get more, as Steve's Candyfreak was about to hit bookstores everywhere, including Seattle's Elliot Bay Book Book Company, where he'd be doing a reading. Yippee! I bought "Freak" a few days before his appearance here and devoured it. One of the funniest books I've ever read. An actual laugh-out-loud-and-read-it-aloud-to-people-around-you books. An excerpt:

...the Marathon Bar, which stormed the racks in 1974, enjoyed a meteoric rise, died young, and left a beautiful corpse. The Marathon: a rope of caramel covered in chocolate, not even a solid piece that is, half air holes, an obvious rip-off to anyone who has mastered the basic Piagetian stages, but we couldn't resist the gimmick. And then, as if we weren't bamboozled enough, there was the sleek red package, which included a ruler on the back and thereby affirmed the First Rule of Male Adolescence: If you give a teenage boy a candy bar with a ruler on the back of the package, he will measure his dick.

While I never actually measured my dick with a Marathon Bar, I found myself stunned that I hadn't. Perhaps I was too young by a couple years. I remember the bar from just before I was ten. The whole book is filled with great nuggets about the candy industry, and is flat-out hilarious, while also surprisingly poignant.

Anyway, I strongly recommend both of the preceding books. "Heavy Metal," by the way, is a collection of short stories from a genre sometimes referred to as "dick lit," the "chick lit" for guys. It's great, great stuff, and I found that I easily placed myself into the protagonists' shoes far too often. When I told Steve after the reading how much I identified with one character in particular, he replied, "God, that's too bad. I'm really sorry."

So... buy his books. And if you're looking for more news about Steve, check out his site at candyfreak.com. His readings are a joy above and beyond the books. Firstly, he's a terrific reader (many writers aren't). Secondly, he feeds you. Really, really good candy. Get your freak on.

Oh, and Steve, if you stumble across this via Google or some other happy accident, send us another flash, would ya?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Lemony Snicket, Haruki Murakami, and blogging

Once again, I found myself smiling at a literary reference last night while reading one of the Lemony Snicket books. In this case, it was specifically about someone I'd just blogged about. Crazy! I've blogged about--what--three established authors here? Murakami, Snicket, and briefly, Rowling. And sure enough, one of the patients at "The Hostile Hospital" turned out to be... Haruki Murakami. I think I'm falling in love with this guy. I wonder if he ever writes flash under his real name. I wonder if he'd ever stoop so low as to submit to an online 'zine.

My list of "name" writers I want to get to submit to SLQ for one reason or another:
1) Stuart Dybeck - first of all, I love his writing. Second of all, when I first moved to Seattle back in 1990, it was to start a theater company. Our first production was an adaptation that David Hollander, our Artistic Director (and now the creator of the TV series "The Guardian") crafted from Stuart's short story "Blight." We all got to meet Stuart at a reading at Elliot Bay Bookstore and go out for beers with him afterwards. Not only a great writer, but a great guy to quaff brews with. Plus, he's a Chicago boy like me.
2) W.P. Kinsella - Kinsella basically turned me on to the idea that flash was a relevant and viable literary form with "The Alligator Report," his book of what he called "Brautigans." In so doing, a guy whose work I loved due to his mixing of baseball and magic realism in books like "Shoeless Joe" and "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy" set me off on a writing path much richer than I ever imagined it'd be. Plus, he lives in the Northwest.
3) Daniel Handler - because he keeps making me grin while reading his stuff written as Lemony Snicket, by throwing in references I love.
4) Haruki Murakami - because he's probably my favorite living author (although David James Duncan comes close), and because apparently flash fiction's most devoted readership is the bullet train commuters of Japan.

On another note, someone I don't know actually reads this blog. Cool! Got an email today from someone who'd read the site asking some questions regarding the submissions process at SmokeLong. Nifty! I'll looking forward to reading his submission(s).

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seven

Wheeeee! Just finished making the new issue of SmokeLong live. It's funny... I've been a little moody during the submissions period for this issue. I was starting to feel a little burnt out. Okay, a lot burnt out. But the past couple of days working on it have been great.

As much as I love reading the interviews, I don't particularly enjoy doing them that much usually. But this time, they were a lot of fun, particularly Tom Jackson. He and I started swapping emails about magic realism, baseball, and W.P. Kinsella after the initial interview was done. Fun!

Oh! And then I got to put the cover together, which I always love. This time was especially great. We wound up using what is probably my favorite painting by Marty Ison of all time. I LOVE this piece, "Disillusionment and Metamorphosis." I just think it's absolutely gorgeous. And I'm thrilled with the way the text worked with the painting. Found a blending feature in Photoshop that I'd been seeking forever and FINALLY found. It came out well, don't you think?

Anyway... everyone should go read. The content this issue is breath-taking, if I do say so myself. It's funny... at times, I wondered if we were being too picky with submissions, but now that I see the final product, I'm glad we were. So many, many thanks to Kathy Fish, Ellen Meister, and especially our Guest Editor, Maryanne Stahl. We done good!

So click the pic. I'm so excited!

Friday, December 10, 2004

Haruki Murakami

Oh, this is lovely. I'm a huge Haruki Murakami fan and just came across his personal site. There's the beginning to a short story entitled "On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning," with a link to an illustrated version of the story. The illustrations are by Steph Tai. I love the way she's laid this out. Such an interesting way to present literature online. If you read all the way through it, you'll get to see some links to some of her other stuff, notably e.e. cummings and Italo Calvino. Definitely worth checking out.

The picture below is the cover page of the piece and is clickable to continue to its first page.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Expecto Atronum?

My five-(soon to be six-)year-old is running around waving a Burger King toy (the stick that makes the Patrick Star top spin) yelling, "Expecto Atronum!" at his brother. Thanks, Jo Rowling, for a creative way for my kids to fight. Hmmm. Apparently, the three-year-old thinks that spell turns him into a cat. Maybe when it's miscast (it should be "Expecto Patronum"), it does turns its subject into a cat. Meeow.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Life Less Ordinary

I have nothing interesting to say about writing today. Finally, finally, FINALLY got to spend some quality time with the wonderful woman last night. Her kisses startle me. They make me forget every other kiss I've ever had. Between kisses last night, I tried at one point to remember another kiss ever, and I simply could not. That's some kind of kissing. Ah, the happy sighs I heave.

Anyway... in lieu of anything about writing, I thought I'd post some lyrics to a song that just makes me do a little jig when I'm driving along.

"Life Less Ordinary"
by Carbon Leaf

Live a life less ordinary
Live a life extraordinary with me
Live a life less sedentary
Live a life evolutionary with me
Well, I hate to be a bother but
It’s you and there’s no other, I do believe
You can call me naïve, but
I know me very well at least
As far as I can tell and I know what I need

That night you came into my life
Well it took the bones of me,
You took the bones of me
You blew away my storm and strife
And shook the bones of me
You shook the bones of me
By the way I do know why you stayed away
I will keep tongue tied next time

Live a life less ordinary
Live a life extraordinary with me
My face had said too much
Before our hands could even touch
To greet a hello
So much for going slow
Well, a little later on that year
I told you that I loved you, dear
What do you know -
This you weren’t prepared to hear
I’m a saddened man, I’m a broken boy
I’m a toddler with a complex toy
I’m falling apart since the ambush on your heart

That night you came into my life
Well it took the bones of me,
You took the bones of me
You blew away my storm and strife
And shook the bones of me
You shook the bones of me
By the way I do know why you stayed away
I will keep tongue tied but

Honey understand
Honey understand
I won't make demands
Honey understand
Honey understand
We could walk without a plan
Honey understand, honey
Honey understand
I won’t rest in stone all alone
Honey understand
Honey understand
I’m all ready to go
But you already know

Live a life less ordinary
Live a life extraordinary with me
If I could name you in this song
Would it make you smile and sing along
This is the goal-- to get into your soul
If I could make you dance with joy
Could that be the second chance to coy
The 'bird in hand' I would need to help you understand

That night you came into my life
Well it took the bones of me,
You took the bones of me
You blew away my storm and strife
And shook the bones of me
You shook the bones of me
By the way I do know why you stayed away
I will keep tongue tied next time

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

More Lemony Snicket

So last night I read the sixth book in the series. I'd have preferred to have waited, because the fifth book hasn't come from our library yet, but ah, well. Two literary references jumped off the page at me. One was an obvious reference to Thomas Pynchon, as Lot #49 was referred to several times regarding an auction.

The other reference might not have been as obvious, although it really hit me between the eyes. Let's see if a) anyone reads this blog, and b) anyone knows the reference. One of the major characters in the sixth book was Esme Squalor. So, quiz time: where does that name come from?

Monday, December 06, 2004

what caused me to start writing "Cacophony"

Warning: this is going to be a very long post. I'd originally envisioned Cacophony as a short story, perhaps ten pages tops. Well, it just kept going, and I hadn't really gotten to the point of the story itself. At least not much. Magda was originally supposed to be the focus, although I didn't know at the time what her name was. Christy was just supposed to be a plot device to get the narrator to Magda. And yet, as I continued writing, it was all about Christy.

The following was written over a period of a couple weeks, and there are obvious discrepancies within the text. Information about the characters changed as I was writing, and I never went back to correct it. I just wanted to ride the wave of these characters as far as I could before editing.

I don't know how much of this text will actually be used in the novel, but maybe it'll be of interest to see where some of the ideas for Cacophony came from. It's also not a bad reference point for me to use on occasion. The character who is most strikingly different in this story versus the novel is probably the narrator.

At any rate, here are the 38 or so pages of Cacophony's genesis, typos, plot irregularities and all (oh, and a lot more sex, which has not yet made it into the novel, but will):

Cacophony. That was the word that Christy used to describe the music building by day. And she should know. She lives in Chapin Hall, just across the parking lot from the music building. She says that people are in there practicing until they close the building at eleven o’clock at night. Which is about when I come in.

Maybe I should explain a little bit about Christy. She’s a Philosophy major. I’m not really sure what one does with a degree in Philosophy, but she’s going to get one. I tend to take a lot of electives in Philosophy, fulfilling the liberal arts requirement for my major. I don’t know why. Or rather, I do.

The first time I took a Philosophy course, it was an Intro deal. Someone, I don’t remember who, had told me that it was an easy A (it was). I was a sophomore then. Christy was a freshman, and was in the class. The class itself didn’t interest me that much, but Christy did, and I found myself signing up for a Philosophy course every semester until I graduated. Sometimes she was in the class, sometimes she wasn’t. Whether she was or not, it always gave us something to talk about.

It wasn’t until the second class we had together that we hooked up. It was a C-level course, History of Religion. The professor was her advisor. He was fairly religious himself, but also pretty damned tolerant. She liked to poke at him. In one class, she started questioning whether or not animals take pleasure in sex, and raised the example of her female cat. Based on her cat’s actions, she was certain that the cat not only had a clitoris, but was very aware of it. The professor blushed. I was enthralled.

We ran into each other at a party off-campus not long after that and started talking about the whole animals and sex thing. Before long, we were back in her dorm room, pounding away. And it was interesting. She gave me her phone number and I gave her mine, and we both pretty much understood that we weren’t going out, but that it’d be okay to call each other from time to time when the mood hit.

When I got the work-study job doing janitorial work, she and I hooked up again the night before I was due to start. I think I called her, realizing that my nights were going to be shot for a while. I told her what I’d be doing and where, and that’s when she told me the building was a cacophony. We did our level best to create a cacophony of our own. Did I mention that her cat often yowled while we were screwing? I don’t know how she got away with keeping the cat in her dorm room with all the noise it made. Pets were strictly verboten.

Anyway. That’s Christy. And that was what I was thinking about the first night I started emptying trashcans and mopping floors in the music building. But the building was closed, so it was dead quiet, but for the sounds of my work and the squeaking of my Nikes on the tile.

It was a fairly old building, although not one of the oldest on campus. It had probably been built in the forties or so. It was eminently practical in its way, but not very attractive. It was red brick with white wood trim. The paint was peeling away from most of the trim, exposing the wood to the elements. It didn’t seem that upkeep of the building was high on the administration’s list of obligations.

I found the work surprisingly soothing. There was a certain comfort in the activities of mopping floors, clearing debris, giving the forlorn building some much-needed care. The garbage I found even interested me. I neither play nor read music, but the discarded sheet music I sometimes found intrigued me. I had no means of understanding what the various notes meant; their patterns reminded me of hieroglyphs. There was something both romantic and lonely about the crumpled sheets of hand-written music. This was further reinforced by my discarding them somehow.

After I’d been working there for maybe a month, I heard Christy’s cat yowling from across the parking lot. Even though we didn’t have a relationship per se, it still sort of bothered me that she was attempting a cacophony with someone else. I systematically moved through the building and closed every open window to shut out the sound.

And that’s when I first heard the cello.

The strains of music were very faint, almost inaudible. Even the occasional ticking of the radiators was louder. Straining my ears, I tried to trace the sound. At times, it seemed to be growing louder. At others, I lost it completely. I tried to find the source of the music throughout the night, forgetting to tend to my cleaning duties until sunlight started scratching at the dusty windows. Startled by the time, I made a half-assed pass at the building, trying to get it in passable shape for the rest of the day.

Each night after that, I closed up all of the open windows as soon as I arrived in the building. I made sure to tend to my work, but kept my ears pricked for the music of the cello. Almost every night, I caught at least a few bars of something, but I often wondered if it had only been my imagination.

Two weeks passed and I hadn’t found the cellist. The weekend had arrived and I decided to call Christy. She seemed happy to hear from me and invited me over. We took another stab at creating a cacophony. I listened closely to her cat and was pretty sure that I was making it yowl louder than Christy’s other guest had.

When we finished and were lying in bed smoking, I told her about the cello. She propped herself up on her elbow, drew in another lungful of smoke and regarded me through lidded eyes as she let the smoke drift from her lips up over her face.

“You heard the ghost.”

If anyone but Christy had said that, I’d probably have laughed. I knew she was serious, though, and treated this revelation appropriately.

“What’s the story?” I asked.

“I dunno,” she said. “It’s one of those things they tell you during freshman orientation in the dorm. I remember there being a story about a ghost in the music building, but I was really stoned for most of that week, so I don’t remember much else.” She took another drag of her cigarette. “I’m pretty sure it was a woman, though.”

She stubbed out her cigarette and walked over to her window, which faced the parking lot. “C’mere,” she said.

I walked over to her and looked over her shoulder out the glass.

“Let’s try to wake her up,” she said, and heaved up the window.

I looked down at her and she placed her hand behind my head, pulled me down into a rough kiss. With her other hand, she reached down and started stroking me back to erection.

Breaking the kiss, she looked at me seriously. “Do me up the ass. We gotta be really loud.” I grinned in spite of myself. “I’m serious,” she said. “You know this isn’t about the sex. This is about waking up the ghost.”

I made an effort to compose my features. “Right,” I said. She continued staring at me and finally decided that I was serious enough. She nodded once, quickly.

“Okay,” she said. “Try your finger first.”

“Okay,” I replied. I moistened my finger in my mouth first, and then slowly slid it up inside her. She seemed to be holding her breath. Once I’d inserted it as far as it would go, she exhaled. “Okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “It kinda hurts, but that’s okay. Do another one.”

I couldn’t moisten another finger of the same hand without removing the first finger, so I very carefully inched a second finger up inside her.

“Ow, ow, ow,” she said.

“You want me to stop?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said. “But pull out your fingers and try to do your cock.”

“Are you sure?”


“Shouldn’t we use lubricant or something? It’s probably gonna hurt,” I said.

“I think it should hurt,” she replied. “We’re trying to wake up a ghost.”

I thought about this and sighed. “Okay,” I said. “Tell me if I should stop.”

As carefully as possible, I began to insert myself into her. “Have you done this before?” I asked her.

“Nope,” she said through gritted teeth. “You?”

“Nope,” I said, and continued pushing further into her. She made small, pained noises as I entered deeper and deeper, but didn’t tell me to stop. Finally, I was all the way in.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she said. She was pounding her fist against the windowsill. Tears were leaking out her eyes.

“You okay?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “This really fucking hurts.”

“We should stop,” I said.

“No. We’re gonna wake it up. Just give me a second.”

I held myself in her for a few moments while she took a few deep breaths. Once she’d stopped sucking air through her gritted teeth, she looked back at me.

“Okay, go.”

I slowly pulled out from her, feeling her tightly closing in around me as I exited. As I entered her again, she cursed, but with a little less vehemence. Before long, I felt her moving against me instead of just hanging on to the ledge of the window. Our breathing became more rapid and the sounds she was making sounded less pained, although just as loud.

I’d never heard her quite this loud in our love-making before. She was really starting to yell, incoherent things, animal sounds. Her cat was going insane, yowling so loudly I thought it’d explode. When we both came, we slammed into the wall, knocking a framed poster to the wall. Until that moment, we’d been able to hear nothing but ourselves and the cat. But then…

Then, as we caught our breath, we heard it clearly. Someone was playing a cello, playing it well, playing it loudly. Christy turned to face me. “The ghost,” she panted. “Let’s go.”

She practically leaped off of me, diving for a tattered terrycloth bathrobe on her floor. I threw on my jeans. Before I could put on anything else, Christy was out the door. I grabbed my shoes and shirt, and followed her, dressing as I went.

She was already at the door to the music building by the time I got my shoes fully on in the parking lot. She was rattling the door, but of course it was locked. I ran ahead and fumbled the keys out of my pocket. The cello was still in full force.

We had no difficulty at all following the music down into the basement, a disused portion of the building. Students rarely went down there, so there was rarely much for me to clean. Nine nights out of ten, I didn’t even bother checking it.

The music was emanating from a doorway at the end of a poorly lit hall. Christy reached the door first and had already opened it. She stood in the doorway as I arrived.

The musician was not a ghost. There, in a room perhaps five feet on a side, sat a middle-aged woman on a folding chair. Her head was thrown back, almost orgasmic, and she took no notice of us as her arms churned across the instrument. Her clothing lay in a neat pile on the floor next to her. Her body moved against and away from the cello as she played. I would have sworn until that moment that my sexual energy was spent for the evening, but the sight of the cellist playing was arousing me again.

Christy stood, transfixed, and I watched over her shoulder. We scarcely dared to breathe. Minutes passed and still the woman took no notice of us. She seemed so attuned to the cello that Christy and I could’ve yelled and she’d not have noticed us.

Christy turned to me and I saw that she was crying. “Go,” she whispered. “Just go.”

I backed out of the room and Christy followed, closing the door gently behind us. She looked at me again. “I told you to go. Get out. Go away,” she said. I hesitated.

“I really shouldn’t leave you in here.” Her eyes flashed.

“Get the fuck out,” she said.

I wanted to respond, but had no idea how. Instead, I turned away. At the end of the hallway, I looked back. Christy was lying in the corner of the hallway, tucked into a fetal position. I couldn’t hear her over the cello, but I could see from the movements of her back that she was sobbing.

I didn’t hear from Christy again for several months. I also didn’t hear the yowling of the cat or the playing of the cello. I started to hate the job. Even the mysteries of the sheet music no longer held my interest.

I tried to call Christy several times, but always got her answering machine. Sometimes, I’d leave a message, but I always knew she wouldn’t call back.

Finally, toward the end of the school year, she called. I was watching a movie with a girl I’d just started dating. I don’t even remember her name now.

“Hi,” Christy said.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Do you want to come over?”

“Yeah. I’d love to.”

“I don’t want to fuck, though. Is that okay?”

“That’s totally okay. I’ll be there soon.”

“Okay. Bye,” she said.

I hung up the phone and started putting on my jacket.

“Where are you going?” asked my date.

“I gotta go,” I said. I couldn’t think of any possible explanation that would satisfy her.

“Should I wait?” she asked.

“If you want to,” I said. “But I might be late. I’m really not sure.”

She nodded and I bent down, gave her a quick kiss. Within five minutes, I was knocking on Christy’s door.

The person who answered was not the Christy that I’d remembered. Gone was the day-glo green hair. Gone, too, was the inside-out nose ring. Gone, in fact, were just about all of the things that visually defined Christy. Instead, she’d let her hair return to its natural dishwater blonde color. She was wearing blue jeans and a university sweatshirt. In short, she looked like just about every other girl on campus.

“Hey, c’mon in,” she said. She stood on her tiptoes and gave me a quick peck on the cheek, something else I’d never imagined her doing.

I took off my jacket and tossed it on her bed, as I’d always done before. No cat leaped away this time, though.

“Where’s your cat?” I asked.

“Huh? Oh. I don’t know. She’s probably at home.”


“Yeah. My dad’s house.”

“I thought she lived here.”

“No. She just always seems to show up whenever I’m going to have sex. Weird, huh?” She laughed a nervous laugh. She just didn’t seem at all like the person I’d seen two months earlier.

“So your dad lives nearby?”

“You didn’t know that?”


“Yeah. He’s a professor in the seminary here.”

I realized that I had never really known very much about Christy before. We’d never really talked about our personal lives at all. We rarely talked at all, in fact. When we did talk, it tended to be about philosophy or about a professor we had in common.

“Do you mind if I sit down?” I asked. She smiled.

“That’s perfect, actually.” She motioned to the bed and then bounded to a chair by her desk. She sat in it Indian-style and looked at me for a minute or two as I settled on the bed. “There’s something I wanted to ask you.”

“Shoot,” I said.

She kept her eyes fastened on me until I was still. “Do you think I like myself?” she asked. I started to open my mouth, but she stopped me. “No, don’t answer right away. You’re not thinking about it. I want you to give me a well-considered answer.”

I closed my mouth and thought about it. Leave it to Christy to come up with the mental equivalent of “Do I look fat in this?” Did she like herself? Shit. My face must have registered my discomfort.

“Okay. Now you can answer.” Until then, she’d had her arms folded across her chest, assuming a defensive posture. Very slowly, she uncrossed her arms and laid them gently on the arms of the chair, hands gripping their ends.

I sighed. “No,” I said. “No, probably not.”

She puffed out her cheeks and blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes. “Why do you say that?”

“Shit, Christy. I don’t know. I don’t think people who are happy with themselves ask that kind of question.”

“Are you happy with yourself?” she asked.

“I really haven’t thought about it.”

“So you are,” she said.

I thought about it for a second. “Yeah. I guess as much as it’s possible to be, I’m happy with myself.”

She digested the information for a moment and then nodded. “Well, that just sucks. I mean, I’m happy for you, but that just doesn’t seem fair.”

“What about it doesn’t seem fair?”

She blew the wisp of hair from her eyes again. “You sleep around?”

She had a way of asking question that made me crease my brow. “Some.”

“Okay, that’s what’s not fair. Why is it that a guy who sleeps around is just sleeping around, but a girl who sleeps around probably has self-esteem issues?”

I gnawed on that one for a while. “It’s societal,” I said, finally.

“Damned right it’s societal. And it sucks.”

I smiled. For that one moment, she sounded like the Christy I remembered. “You’re right,” I said. “It sucks.”

She stuck the end of her thumb in her mouth and gnawed on the nail. “Do you know how much sex I’ve had since the last time I saw you?”

I coughed. “I haven’t heard the cat.”

“Exactly.” She laughed. “Damn, you’ve known every time I’ve had sex with someone else, haven’t you?”

“Yep,” I said.

She gnawed on the nail again. “Okay, here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know. Guess how many guys I’ve had sex with more than once.”

I thought about it for a moment, doing mental gymnastics, trying to come up with some formula based on the numbers of times she’d likely had sex and guessing at when she’d lost her virginity.

“I’ll save you the trouble,” she said. “Ask me how many.”

“Okay,” I said. “How many guys have you had sex with more than once?”

She held up both fists. Very deliberately, she unclenched her index finger.

“One?” I asked. I didn’t believe her. She turned her hand so the finger was pointed at me and made the motion of a gun firing.

“You got it, bucko.”

“But that means…”

“Yep.” She accented the “p” sound. She seemed to enjoy watching me squirm.

“Why…” I couldn’t quite finish the question.

“Why you?” she finished it for me.

“Yeah. Why me?”

She sighed. “This is so pathetic.” She locked her eyes on mine. “You were the only guy who didn’t call me first.”


“Every other guy that I hunted down… before I had the chance to get horny again, they all called me. And I ripped all of ‘em new assholes. You didn’t call. I was all set to go out hunting one night and realized that you hadn’t called. So I called you.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Wow.” I leaned back on my elbows, looking at her.

“Know something else?” she asked.


“Almost every guy tried to make a relationship out of it. Some even told me they loved me. Can you believe that? We sleep together once, and they think they love me? What is that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe guys have a self-esteem thing, too.”

She thought about that for a minute. “But you like yourself.” She blew the wisp of hair from her eyes again.

“I guess so. Like I said, I don’t really think about it much. Maybe I’m avoiding thinking about it.”

“Maybe.” She nodded slowly. I didn’t want to pursue this direction of the conversation. Surprisingly, she didn’t seem to, either. I realized we were both picking at invisible lint on our clothes.

“Okay,” she said. “Here’s the deal. You want to stay tonight?” I must have hesitated too long or betrayed something in my expression. “Oh, shit,” she said. “You have somebody waiting for you, don’t you?”

“Sorta,” I said.

“Is it serious?” she asked. There wasn’t a hint of jealousy in her tone; she seemed genuinely interested.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You don’t know.” She laughed. “But you left her to come see the psychotic chick that you occasionally screw. You’re an idiot, you know that?”

I laughed, too. “Yup,” I said. “That’s me. Idiot.”

She threw a pillow at me. “Go home, you dumbass.”

“Wait,” I said. “You want to know why I came?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

I puffed out my cheeks, blew the air out in a slow stream. “I didn’t think I’d get another chance to see you again.”

“Ah,” she said. She crossed her arms over her chest again.

I regarded her closely. “What happened that night?” I asked. “Who was that woman? You recognized her, didn’t you?”

“Shit,” she said. “I was afraid you’d ask.”


“And… I don’t want to talk about it. Yet.”

“Yet?” I asked.

“Right,” she said.

“Meaning you’re not going to disappear again.”

“Right,” she said.

I scanned her features until I was satisfied that she was telling the truth. She’d grabbed another pillow and was hugging it to her body. She returned my gaze openly, though. I could see it took some effort.

“Okay,” I said.

She breathed a huge sigh of relief and her face lit up. “Yay!” she said, and bounded across the room to the bed. She flopped herself down next to me. We lay next to each other, staring at the ceiling. We didn’t say anything for several minutes. Every now and then, we’d turn to look at each other. We were both smiling. Finally, she propped herself up on one elbow.

“Okay,” she said. “You need to go home. But… I want to see you tomorrow. Okay?”

I thought about it for a second, then shook my head.

“No?” she asked. The smile was gone. I shook my head again. “You don’t want to see me tomorrow?”

“I do want to see you tomorrow,” I said.

“But?” she asked.

“But nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow. But if it’s okay, I’d rather stay here tonight. What’s at home isn’t important right now.”

She processed the information. “Dumbass. She’s going to dump you.”


“And?” she asked.

“And that’s fine. If it’s okay with you, I’d rather lie here staring at your ceiling, catching you smiling at me than go home and explain where I went.”

“Dumbass,” she said. But she was smiling again.

We lay there on her bed for a while, just staring at the ceiling and smiling, even giggling occasionally. Every now and then, I’d turn and look at her and see that she was still smiling. I’d never seen her smile quite like that before, without a hint either of derision or lust. Other times, as I stared at the ceiling, smiling myself, I’d feel her eyes on me. One such time, I turned to meet her gaze.

“Know what?” she said.


“We’ve never just kissed. Kissed for the sake of kissing.”

“No,” I said. “We haven’t.” Our smiles turned more serious, then, and we moved toward one another. We kissed.

In describing our sex, I realize now that I haven’t been exactly shy, but there was something about that night that I have difficulty sharing, even now. It was probably the best kiss of my life. We didn’t cram our tongues down each other’s throats. We used tongues, yes, but far more gently than that. Our mouths weren’t wide open, plastered to each other, devouring each other. It was… I want to say exploratory, but that suggests that a goal beyond it was in mind. Tentative is another word that comes to mind, but it wasn’t exactly that, either.

The kiss lasted a very long time. I caressed the curves of her face, sometimes letting my hand go to her neck, but never any lower. Our sense of touch were both very involved in the kiss, learning one another’s faces better than we’d known them through months of sex. I don’t know if I’d been in love with Christy before that night. I know that I was completely in love with her at that moment, though. At least some small part of me has been in love with her ever since. The kiss, at risk of sounding like a Harlequin writer, held that kind of promise.

I won’t lie and say that I was never aroused. I was frighteningly aware of my arousal. I felt, though, that Christy had set the parameters for the evening during the phone call and then again during the invitation to kiss. When at last we broke the kiss, we lay with our foreheads touching, our hands on one another’s cheeks. We didn’t speak for several minutes, our eyes traveling over our faces.

“Christy?” I said, finally.

“Yes?” she said. I started to speak again, but she stopped me, seeming to suddenly wake up. “Wait,” she said. “Don’t say it. I’ll believe you if you say it and I don’t quite want to believe it yet.”

“Not saying it doesn’t change it.”

“I know,” she said. “Just don’t. Don’t say it. Not yet. Okay?”

I thought about it. Every bit of me wanted to tell her I loved her. I’d never said it to anyone before and meant it. I’d thought I’d meant it before, but suddenly realized it had always been some form of lust. It felt like a monstrous defeat not to be able to tell her, but I had the horrible feeling that if I did, she’d run away again. And this time, she wouldn’t invite me back. “Okay,” I said.

She smiled. “Thank you.” She could see that it hurt me not to tell her. “Maybe tomorrow. Okay?”

I smiled back. “Maybe tomorrow.”

She beamed. She started to say something, then caught herself. She laughed.

“What?” I said.

“Damn it. I almost said it.”

I beamed. “So,” I said. “What’s tomorrow?”

“How much of my tomorrow do you want?”

“As much as I can have.”

She laughed again. “Dumbass,” she said. “Okay, tell you what. Why don’t I tell you what my tomorrow is, and you can tell me which parts you want. Deal?”

“Deal,” I said.

“Okay. Sundays are my favorite days. I’ll bet you didn’t know that.”

“Nope. Tell me about your Sundays.” I settled back a little from her, resting my head again on my hand.

“Get up. Breakfast. Sunday crossword.”

“Okay,” I said. “You can have the crossword if I can have the funnies.”

She laughed again. “You call them the funnies?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Although they almost never make me laugh anymore. When I was a kid, they were all funny.” My brow creased. “How odd.”


“I don’t think I ever really realized that the comics don’t make me laugh anymore. Just sort of occurred to me now.”

“Ziggy just doesn’t do it for you anymore?” she teased.

“Ziggy sucks,” I replied, and found myself smiling again.

“Okay, enough of the Sunday paper. After breakfast, shower.”

“I like that.”

“Alone,” she said.

“Okay. Alone. Next?”




“Huh. I wouldn’t have guessed that.” Church absolutely did not fit my image of Christy.

“Any given Sunday. I never miss church on Sundays unless I’m too sick to get out of bed.”

“Okay. Church,” I said. “Then what?”

“Usually, I study, but the middle part of the day there’s no set routine. I don’t have anything planned for tomorrow afternoon.”

“Okay. Let me think about the afternoon. I’ll come up with something.”

“Nothing sexual,” she said.

“Okay. Sunday afternoon, something together, no sex. Got it. Sunday evening?”

“Dinner at my dad’s house.”

“Ah. So I get you through the afternoon, then?”

“You don’t want to have dinner?” she asked.

“You want me to go to dinner at your dad’s house?” I was surprised.

“Actually, that’s the one part of the day I was most hoping you’d join me.”

“Wow,” I said. “I figured… I mean, I just sort of assumed you wouldn’t want me at your dad’s house. I thought it’d be weird.”

She laughed. “It will be weird. But I want… well… is it okay if I don’t tell you why I really want you there?”

“Why does that sound ominous? You’re not going to tell him you’re dropping out of school or that you’re a lesbian or something, are you?”

“Shit,” she said. “For a dumbass, you’re too smart.”

“You’re a lesbian?” I joked.

“No, you dumbass. I do want to take some time off from school. Not actually drop out, but… that is something I want to tell him tomorrow.”

“And you want me there? He’s going to think it’s my fault.”

“Well, that’s still not the reason I really want you there.” She started gnawing on one of her fingernails.

“Then what?” I asked.

“I really want to wait to tell you that.” She must not have liked the look on my face. “It’s nothing bad. Please?”

If she gnawed on the fingernail much longer, she’d have bled. “Okay,” I said. “But I don’t like it.”

“I know. I wouldn’t like it, either. Thank you,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “So, dinner. After that?”

“Nothing planned. But if we don’t study in the afternoon, I should really study tomorrow night.”

“Gotcha,” I said.

“So which parts do you want?”

I grinned. “I’ll take ‘em all.”

“Even church?” she asked.

“Especially church. You in church I have to see.”

She laughed again. “It’s really not that exciting.”

“I still want to see it. The girl who wears a cross inside her nose going to church.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are such a dumbass.” I tickled her. “Stop it. I already have to pee.” I stopped tickling. She caught her breath, and started to speak, then stopped.

“You caught yourself about to say it again, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Pretty smart for a dumbass.” She grinned at me again, then leapt from the bed. She retrieved her toiletries and headed for the bathroom. I knew what she’d been about to say because in that moment, I’d caught myself wanting to say it, too. I didn’t know it then, but we were in that phase when every single thing your lover does or says is a delight. I wanted to run to the roof of her dorm and shout across campus how I felt about her.

While she was out, I stripped down to my underwear and climbed under the covers. When she came back in, I was staring at the ceiling again, grinning like an idiot. Her face was red from scrubbing. It made the blue of her eyes stand out. She reached under her sweatshirt and removed her bra, then kicked off her jeans. Like me, she was wearing men’s boxers.

From the doorway, she said, “Good night, dumbass,” and flipped the light switch.

“Good night, John-boy,” I replied. She padded across the tile and wormed her way under the covers. She gave me a quick peck on the nose and then turned away from me, sliding into the curve of my body. We lay like spoons until I heard her breathing deepen. I kissed the back of her head and mouthed the words, “I love you.” Despite her hair tickling my nose, it wasn’t long before I fell asleep.

I have found over the years that there is at least one moment of potentially excruciating embarrassment in every relationship. Such a moment happened that night. Nestled against Christy, sleeping together chastely for the first time, I had a wet dream. The suddenness of it bolted me awake, and I snuck from the bed. I stubbed my toe in the unfamiliar dark, but eventually found her dresser. Working by feel, I found another pair of men’s boxers in one of the drawers and slid them on. They were tight, but just made it over my hips.

I felt my way back to the bed, banging the big toe on my other foot this time. Christy stirred, but didn’t wake. At the bed, I stuffed my own now sticky boxers between the mattress and the box springs and slid back between the sheets.

Sunlight through the window woke me before her. I lay in the bed lazily, enjoying the sensation of waking up next to the girl I loved. Everything in my life felt perfect. I stayed perfectly still, watching the early rays playing across her sleep-tousled hair, listening to her soft snore. Before long, I fell back to sleep.

When I awoke again, it was to the sound of the door shutting. She was just coming in, bearing a Sunday Times and a bag and drink carrier from McDonald’s. “I hope you didn’t have any big expectations about breakfast in bed,” she said. “Sausage McMuffin okay?”

“Perfect,” I said. She tossed me the bag and the paper.

“How do you take your coffee?” she asked.

“Lots of cream, no sugar.” I pulled the food from the bag, two McMuffins and two hash browns. After she’d finished putting three creams in my coffee, she returned to the bed and handed it to me, setting her own black coffee on the nightstand next to her.

She then went to her closet and grabbed a robe. She whisked off everything but the boxers and put the robe on and then got back into bed beside me.

“Gimme,” she said. I handed her a McMuffin and a hash brown. She wolfed down the hash brown immediately. “You know I hate the corporate greed of McDonald’s,” she said, “but damned if their hash browns aren’t the best thing in the world on a Sunday morning.”

I raised my coffee cup. “To greedy corporate hash browns,” I said.

“Amen to that.” She gulped down half of her coffee and made a face. “Too bad their coffee sucks.” She did a little scooting dance with her butt then, settling into the perfect sitting position. “Now where’s my crossword?”

I leafed through the paper and handed her the appropriate section, then found the comics for myself. I read in silence as she moved the pen rapidly across the squares. “Ziggy still sucks,” I said. She held up her hand to me, palm out.

“No talking during crossword. It’s the law.”

I finished the comics and silence and rooted out the Sports page. Reading through the box scores, I was amazed by how many names I didn’t recognize. Had I really stopped paying attention once I’d hit college?

By the time I’d finished reading the sports, she’d finished the crossword. She looked over at her clock. “Thirty-two minutes. I’m slowing down.”

“Show-off,” I said. She kissed me on the nose again.

“Church starts in about an hour. Let me get you some soap and stuff for the shower.”

“Am I going to be okay dressed in jeans?” I asked.

“Yep,” she replied. “It’s casual. But you still need a shower. You’ve got serious bedhead.”

She rummaged around in her closet and brought me a bucket with soap and shampoo in it. She grabbed a towel from over the radiator and tossed it to me. Then she grabbed her own toiletries and headed to the women’s bathroom.

I got out of bed and stretched. I hadn’t noticed, lying in bed that morning, how tight the boxers were. Stretching, I noticed. Looking down, I saw that, although they were boxers, they’d been made specifically for women. The words “Riot Grrrl” were printed all over them. I quickly stripped them off and wrapped the towel around my waist. I tossed them into a pile of laundry on her closet floor and hoped she wouldn’t notice.

It had been a while since I’d showered in an unfamiliar dorm. When sleeping with Christy previously, I’d always headed home after waking up and showered there. Walking down hallways past the doors of people I didn’t know, wrapped in a towel always gave me an awkward feeling. On that morning, I had to step over one impromptu poker game, three guys and a girl. The girl wolf-whistled as I passed. I resisted the temptation to flash her, but made sure to drip on the cards coming back.

When I reached the room, Christy was already dressed. I flipped the towel at her. She whistled, too. For her, I had a smile. I grabbed my jeans from the floor and put them on sans boxers.

“Ooh. Commando,” she said. “Aren’t you forgetting these?” She held my semen-stained boxers, dangling from her finger. I blushed furiously and grabbed them from her. “Aw, can’t I keep them to get me through lonely nights when you’re working?” I held them in my hand for a moment and then tossed them back to her.

“Shouldn’t you be thinking of something else before going to church?” I asked.

“You’re cute when you’re embarrassed,” she replied, and tucked the stained boxers in her underwear drawer. “And I really hope you were thinking about me when you did that.”

“Actually, I was thinking of Mother Theresa,” I said as I tied my shoes. “Can we go now?”

“Yep,” she said. “Let’s go. But I have to tell you. I’m seriously rethinking that ‘no sex’ thing I said about this afternoon.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the hall. Once in the hall, she pulled me into a deep, long kiss and pulled the door closed behind me. Something about the action made me feel as if I’d assumed the female role in the relationship.

We walked to the church hand in hand. It felt right. I don’t think I’d held hands so deliberately since high school. It was an unseasonably warm day, one that tricked birds into returning north too soon. It felt like Spring, like everything in nature was going to start fornicating at the whisper of a breeze. And we were going to church.

The church was about a mile off campus, a long enough walk to exchange stupid jokes and grin like idiots a lot. Between the smell of the air and the still new realization of love, it was all I could do not to throw her down in the grass and go at it.

The church was fairly modest, a Methodist structure built in the 1940’s. At its construction, it probably served mostly housewives praying for the safe returns of their husbands. Over the years, the congregation had evolved into an interesting mix of townies and students. Many of the people we saw greeted Christy by name.

Inside, we found our way to the middle of a pew toward the front, perhaps five rows back. The minister delivering the sermon looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. He was perhaps fifty years old. He stood about 5’8”, was balding and wore glasses at the tip of his nose that he removed from time to time.

The sermon he delivered was about Lot’s wife. I barely caught any of his meaning. Rather, I was completely wrapped up in his bearing as he spoke. He seemed unbearably sad. I’m not unusually empathetic, but I found myself wanting to cry for this man as he discussed a woman who couldn’t bear to leave her past behind and died for it.

Occasionally, as the sermon progressed, I was aware of Christy’s hand on my thigh, digging in as a specific point made an impact on her. I looked at her at those times, but her face was unreadable, focused completely on the minister.

It wasn’t until perhaps 45 minutes into the sermon that I began to notice a resemblance between Christy and the man speaking to us. At first, I thought that was why I thought the minister looked familiar, but I quickly realized that wasn’t it. I’d seen him somewhere else before. I was almost sure of it.

The resemblance between the two picked at me, though. Finally, after Christy had squeezed my thigh again, I leaned over and whispered into her ear. “Is that your father?”

She just shot me a look as if to say, “Duh.” She’d told me she was a preacher’s kid. Why I hadn’t made the connection, I have no idea.

When the sermon ended, we all filed out as usual, but I found my palms getting sweaty in anticipation of talking to her father as he shook hands with his parishioners. When we reached him, Christy made no motion to introduce me. I stuck out my hand and thanked him for the sermon. He held my hand a bit longer than the other parishioners and looked over at Christy. She was stony-faced.

“See you tonight, Dad,” she said. “Set an extra plate.”

He nodded once again to me and gave Christy a kiss on the cheek. “See you tonight,” he said to her, and then turned to the next parishioner in line.

Once we’d gotten a reasonable distance from the church, Christy turned to me. “Thanks for coming with me,” she said.

“I enjoyed it,” I replied.

She took a step back and looked at me. “Really?”

“Yeah. It’s like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. That just gave me another piece. I have no idea how it fits yet, but it’s good to have the piece.”

She shook her head, bemused. “You’re weird. You know that?”

I smiled. “I’ve been called worse.”

“So what now?” she asked. “Afternoon was your part of the day.”

“I want to go back to my apartment and put on some clean clothes. Then maybe some lunch. Cool?”

“Cool.” She slid her hand back into mine and we walked back toward campus, bumping hips, generally being idiots.

I lived in the basement unit of a house that had been converted into apartments. It was fairly small: a bedroom, a closet, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom. My bedroom doubled as my living room. The television and my computer were both in there.

When we entered the apartment, everything seemed to be in its usual place. I pulled a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt out of the closet and pairs of boxers and socks from my dresser. Christy flipped on the television and started laughing.

“Looks like someone has a very high opinion of you,” she said. Written in lipstick across the TV screen was the word “ASSHOLE.”

“Shit,” I said. “I totally forgot I left her here last night.” I grabbed a pair of boxers from the pile of laundry on my closet floor and wiped the screen clean. Looking down at the boxers, I grinned. “I always wanted to have lipstick stains on my underwear.”

Christy laughed. “Thanks. Now I can see Doug Lewellyn properly.” I rolled my eyes and stripped off the shirt I’d worn the previous day. “Hey,” Christy said. “Have you ever thought about me when you’ve masturbated?”

I stood with the clean sweatshirt held over my head for a second, thinking about it. Pulling it on, I responded. “Honestly?”


“I almost always look at porn when I masturbate. So no, I don’t think I have.”

“So last time was the first time you ever came thinking about me that we weren’t actually having sex?”

“Yeah.” I unbuttoned my jean and was starting to unzip them while she considered this.

“Can I watch you masturbate?” she asked.

“What?” I stopped unzipping.

“I’ve never seen a guy make himself come.”

“I thought you said nothing sexual for this afternoon,” I said.

“Well, we’re not going to fuck. I’m leaving my clothes on,” she replied. “I just want to watch you. Please?” She said the “please” like a five-year-old asking for candy.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never masturbated in front of anyone before. I might get stage fright.”

“Please?” she whined again.

“I usually have something to look at.”

“You can look at me,” she said. “I want you to look at me.”

“But you’re not taking your clothes off.”

She thought about this for a few seconds. “How about if I describe something to you while you do it? Would that work?”

It was my turn to consider it. “I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe. What did you have in mind?”

“Take off your clothes and lie on the bed,” she said. “I’ll sit over here.” She got up and moved to the one chair in the room. I hesitated. “Pretty please?”

I heaved a sigh and finished unzipping my jeans, then pulled them to the floor. The fresh sweatshirt soon followed. Walking to the bed, I noticed that I was starting to get hard. Stage fright probably wouldn’t be a factor. I lay down on the bed, propping myself on pillows to look at Christy. She licked her lips. I folded the fingers of my right hand around my penis and started gently stroking. She wriggled in her chair.

“Ooh, this is fun,” she said. “Okay.” She composed her features and looked at me seriously. “I’ve just come over and we haven’t seen each other for a week. I’ve been thinking of you all the way over from the dorm and I’m totally wet. As soon as you open the door, I give you a really wet, deep kiss. My hands are opening up your jeans. Your hands start to go under my shirt, but I stop you. I want to tease myself, make my excitement really last. So I pull away from you. I put my hands in your waistband and pull your jeans to the floor, dropping to my knees. Your cock is huge. You’ve been thinking about me, too.”

“Oh, Christy,” I moaned as I continued to stroke myself. Her concentration wavered.

“Do you usually make any noise when you masturbate?” she asked.

“I guess not,” I replied, frowning.

“Then don’t. I want you to do it just like you usually would, except you’re thinking about me instead of using porn. Got it?”

“Got it,” I said. My breathing was already starting to become ragged.

“I cup your balls in my hand, trailing my nails backward almost to your ass. I lean forward and gently kiss the tip of your cock. I feel you tremble.” On the bed, I did tremble at precisely that moment. “I gently lick the slit, tasting your pre-cum.” Her eyes were locked on my penis and I’m sure she saw the pre-cum already glistening there. “Slowly, my lips open and slide over the head of your cock. My tongue is rotating around its perimeter. I can feel it pulsing against my lips. I wrap my lips tighter around your head and suck as hard as I can, hollowing out my cheeks. My teeth press lightly into the tender flesh just underneath the head.”

Lemony Snicket

I've been reading these books lately and I have to say they're a lot of fun. I'd been dying to know who Lemony Snickett was. Thanks to Jeff Landon for finding an interview with him. The guy's name is Daniel Handler, and he's written a couple adult novels as well (about which I'm admittedly now quite curious). The interview is really interesting. I hadn't thought at all about the Judaic aspect of these stories, but now that I've read the interview, it makes perfect sense. Click the title of this entry to read the interview. Interesting stuff. An excerpt:

Handler has also said that the books follow the great Jewish traditions: The Baudelaire orphans behave well and bravely because it's the right thing to do, not because it will get them ahead. "Judaism doesn't really promise any reward, they just emphasize that good behavior is more or less its own reward, " he said.

As a kid, Handler ate up the books of Roald Dahl and Edward Gorey -- two dark and funny authors. Today, what he can't bear are moralistic books for children.

Friday, December 03, 2004

something cool

Some very great folks are putting together an anthology of work by one of my favorite writers and have asked me (among many, many others) to select a favorite story and write an introduction for it. I can't say who it is, because that'd ruin the surprise, but I'm very, very excited about this. When the book is a reality, I will definitely be posting about it here so everyone can run out and buy a copy. (Believe me, you should. The guy in in-fucking-credible.)

Cacophony--Chapter Four

Hmmm. I believe this is the last chapter I've written (that I like). So I'm gonna have to get cracking again soon.

Chapter Four

"This is pretty dry," said Magda, upon finishing the third chapter. "Your writing is usually much more conversational than this."

"Well, it's exposition," I said.

"Ah," she replied.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked.

"Well." She paused. I could tell she was thinking carefully about her words. "I guess I'm wondering if you're trying to protect yourself."

"From what?"

"From memories. From pain. From Christy."

"Ah," I replied.

"Sorry. Maybe I should read it again." She shuffled and arranged the papers before her.

"No, that's okay," I said, and took the thin manuscript from her. "Do you want to hear a story?"

"Yes, tell me a story," she said, and settled her chin on her arms as she sat sideways on the couch with her legs tucked under her. Her listening posture never failed to remind me of her daughter. As always, the effect startled me, despite having seen it by then thousands of times.

I cleared my throat. "Once upon a time, there was a lonely little boy named Jonah. He never knew his mother and his father was frequently away on business."

"This should have been your first chapter."

I shot her a look. "This is fictitious. My father was always there."

"If you say so."

"Do you want to hear the story or not?"

"Sorry, go ahead."

"Because Jonah was often left alone, he learned to do many things for and by himself, including keeping himself entertained. He taught himself to read by the time he was four and particularly delighted in comic strips. He came to think of Pogo, Hagar the Horrible, the Wizard of Id, and many others as real friends.

"When Lucy pulled the football away from Charlie Brown, Jonah always envisioned an unseen panel in which he helped Charlie Brown to his feet and dusted him off. When Elmo interrupted Dagwood in his bath, Jonah created stories of how he and Elmo went out to play kick-the-can, giving Dagwood some peace and quiet.

"The friendships that Jonah imagined were very real to him and began to be established at such an early age that by the time he was old enough to attend school, one of his comic strip friends was always with him. Teachers often found him deep in conversations or play with imaginary friends. In children of that age, they didn't find it unusual, but they worried that he rarely, if ever, left his imaginary friends to socialize with any of his classmates.

"This continued through kindergarten and first grade. Most of the other children had established relationships with one another, whether as best friends for life or as bitter rivals at four-square. Of all the children, though, most could not even recall Jonah's name. Few even teased him—he was odd enough to frighten them too much to make even that kind of contact.

"In the second month of second grade, however, a new girl joined Jonah's class. When the teacher introduced her, Jonah didn't even bother to look up from the math problems he was working at his desk. He remained blissfully unaware of her until recess.

"When the children were out on the playground, clustered in their usual groups around the monkey bars and the paved kickball court, Jonah was at the far end of the field by the fence playing with Booboo Bear (he didn't much care for Yogi). The little girl was intimidated by the larger groups of kids and wandered her way out toward where the single boy was playing seemingly by himself.

"At first, she only watched Jonah at play. She realized fairly quickly to whom he was talking and was fascinated by how real the interaction seemed. It wasn't until Jonah and Booboo had settled on their backs to watch the shapes in the clouds that she spoke.

"Standing looking down at Jonah, she said, ‘Hi.' Normally, Jonah would have continued his description to Booboo of the precision with which a cumulus cloud imitated a seahorse, but in that moment, he completely forgot about his comic strip friend.

"His eyes went wide as he found himself staring up at a little girl who looked precisely like the female character in the strip ‘Love Is...' He'd conversed with the male from the strip before, but had always been too intimidated by the nudity to speak to the girl. To his horror, he now found himself visualizing this apparently real little girl without any clothes on.

"Aghast, he stood up quickly and ran back to the safety of the school. Inside, he made his way to the principal's office and stayed in the waiting area there until the bell rang sending everyone back to class.

"Throughout the rest of that day, Jonah kept finding his eyes drawn away from the work on his desk and toward the ‘Love Is' girl. On a few such occasions, she caught him staring and smiled and waved. He always blushed fiercely, still imagining her naked, and pretended to be deeply absorbed in his cursive.

"The school day eventually came to an end and Jonah raced home as quickly as he could. He took the key from under the front mat and let himself in. Once inside, he bolted the door behind him and fled to his room, which he also locked.

"In his room, he pulled the week's newspapers from under his bed and returned immediately to the comics. He was fairly sure that the girl character had been in some of the ‘Love Is...' comics in the past week, but every oval he scanned was only the boy character doing some loving task for his unseen partner. Where had she gone?

"Jonah's brow creased as he continued scanning the illustrations for clues. But she simply wasn't there.

"It was only after he'd almost given up that he spotted her. He'd only been looking at the comics in which she'd always appeared previously. Now, suddenly she was in every comic strip except the one that had always been her home. There she was playing with Dot in ‘Hi and Lois.' There she was again, fighting her way out of a scrape alongside Annie in ‘Little Orphan Annie.' Suddenly, the girl from school was in every frame of his private world.

"The night was a sleepless one as Jonah tried to understand what this new turn of events meant. Who was this girl and why wouldn't she leave him alone? His usual companions were now just as invisible to him as they'd always been to everyone else. They offered no advice.

"The following day, Jonah felt too ill to attend school. He'd never missed a day of school in his life and this was to be the first of many. As days went on, he continued to sleep poorly and never quite felt well enough in the mornings to face the girl in person. She continued, however, to inhabit all of his favorite comic strips.

"The days turned to weeks and Jonah's father eventually got concerned enough to send him to a psychiatrist. The doctor proved helpless before this odd boy's predicament, however. Weeks turned to months and it became clear that Jonah was going to have to be held back a grade, in spite of his fierce intelligence.

"On the last day of the school year, Jonah got up and opened the newspaper to the comic strips as usual. ‘Love Is...' had suddenly been replaced with a new comic called ‘The Far Side.' Further, the little girl had completely disappeared from all of the other comics where she'd haunted Jonah all year long.

"Finally, the image of her was taken from Jonah's eyes and he became more aware once more of the world around him. His comic strip friends were still invisible and silent, but he felt ready to face the world once more. He decided to go to the last day of school.

"At school, the other children hardly recognized or remembered him. There was, besides the seat he'd left behind, one other empty desk. The little girl was gone. Nobody spoke of where she'd gone or how long she'd been missing, but every time Jonah looked up, expecting to see the pig-tails and freckles, there was only an empty desk.

"And he never saw her again. The end."

Magda sat silent for a little while before responding. "See?" she said. "It's always about Christy."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

SLQ Issue 7 line-up finalized.

Whew! Just closed the door on submissions for the issue coming out on December 15. Good line-up of writers. A lot more men than usual. Seems like we're usually dominated by women. No clue why. Maybe more men were drawn to Maryanne Stahl, our Guest Editor. :)

Here's the line-up:

David H. S. Hubert
Andrew Bomback
Roderick Leyland
Tom Jackson
Jim Devitt
Sade Ng
Bob Thurber
Rusty Barnes
Judd Hampton
Ann Walters
Paul A. Toth
Gary Cadwallader
Steve Dunn
Grant Bailie
Saundra Mitchell
M. Lynx Qualey
Scott Ford
Randall Brown

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Cacophony--Chapter Three

I really do have some things in mind for some upcoming chapters, so there will be some newer content, which would make things interesting for anyone actually reading this, to have to read things completely out of order. Unfortunately, I haven't yet forced myself to sit and write them. Keep an eye out for a new chapter in which the author reveals that everyone's name is really Dave. In the meantime, one of the older chapters:

Chapter Three

That chapter was a fairly straightforward narrative, no? See, I can do it, and I promise there will be more like that. But I'd also like to point out that while it took one day to write the first chapter, it took three days to write the second chapter. This is why I take on so many oddball routines when writing the story of Christy--in most of my work, the narrator is suspiciously absent, but in writing about Christy, I'm absurdly self-conscious.

I lied about how old I was when my mother was killed, by the way. Well, actually, I didn't. I really was two days old, but I want to use something from a previous draft of the story here, and in that, I stated that I was three years old when she died. So I'm going to use that here, because I have a fairly intense headache, but I need to advance the story. The nun costume isn't working and I'm worried about Charles. So bear with me, if you will. I'll make comments in italics on the following as appropriate. And then I'm going to tack on the next chapter I wrote, too, because it also applies. And at some point, I should probably explain who Grace is. Actually, I'll tell you now. She's my niece. She will make more sense after I've talked a little bit about her mother, my sister. And this section that follows illustrates a little of that relationship. Here we go:

Women disappear. At least that's my experience. All my life, the women around me have vanished, leaving nothing behind but photographs and memories that grow cloudier with each passing day.

It began almost at birth. I was a surprise child, born to parents in their late thirties and early forties well after they'd thought they were done with child-raising. My birth was about six weeks early and I came into the world with a twin sister, double the surprise to which our parents had resigned themselves. I spent my first two months in an incubator. My sister, Leona, spent her first and only month in an incubator. As I gained strength and worked my way into this world, Leona faded and worked her way out of it. One month into my life, a theme had been set. The female that I'd lived with (in exceptionally close quarters) for eight and a half months was gone.

The preceding paragraph is almost entirely a lie. I wasn't born a twin. Sometimes, I like to imagine that I was, though.

At home, I was introduced to my father, a daydreamer who to this day disappears mentally for long stretches at a time, and to my sister, Jeannie, who was already thirteen and beginning the adolescent disconnect. Mom wasn't in great shape after childbirth, but neither Dad nor Jeannie was much help. The first three years of my life passed primarily in the company of my mother, an increasingly weary woman. She loved me as much as her energy would allow, but I was often left to my own devices.

The effects of her death were seen most visibly in my father. Jeannie picked up most of the household chores, but not without resentment, and so my father often faced the day wearing shirts marked by iron burns. Even by three, I'd begun to learn how to fend for myself and so my daily routine did not change all that much. I was capable of pouring myself Cheerios and milk, of dressing myself, of going potty. It wasn't long before I learned to bathe myself, a task that my mother had always undertaken.

This isn't true, either. I've never really been very self-sufficient, as evidenced by my lack of underwear the day the police picked me up.

Her disappearance was sneaky. She'd gone out to pick up groceries one evening and had never returned. Dad only realized that he was hungry and hadn't been fed. Jeannie was at a slumber party. I was on my way to bed. Until the following morning on Jeannie's return, no alarm was sounded. Mom just wasn't around. Toddling around, I was surprised to still be watching television at eleven o'clock, but otherwise it seemed a fairly normal morning. Dad was building something again and Jeannie was out of the house. Nothing unusual.

Jeannie quickly noticed the absence of the wood-paneled station wagon, however. She'd been promised a trip to JC Penney for back-to-school clothes. Where was Mom? When neither of us had the information she needed, she began calling neighbors. None of them were aware of Mom's location. It wasn't until close to twilight that we were greeted at our front door by a state trooper.

Our phone, it seems, had been out of order for the better part of two days. Outgoing calls had been possible, as Jeannie had proven, but in one of his experiments, Dad had somehow disabled the ringer. To this day, I'm not sure of what Dad had been doing, but I think it had something to do with Pavlov's work with dogs and bells. He'd needed a ringer and the phone had provided the necessary parts.

The state trooper held his hat in his hands and asked my father if he could accompany him to the county morgue. Dad, bless his wandering mind, never considered that he might have been on his way to identify his wife's corpse. Jeannie, of course, knew right away. I think at some level I knew, too. In a rare display of protectiveness toward her little brother, she offered to stay at home with me while Dad accompanied the police officer.

The wagon was totaled. Mom was worse. In an odd twist, Dad was able to identify her by an old scar behind her knee, a relic from an incident in which Dad had tried to improve the radiators in our house. Little of the rest of her was identifiable, but Dad immediately recognized the cicatrix, one of the many scarlet letters against his life of daydreams and experiments.

For years, as soon as I was able to understand what had happened, I was furious with Dad for having had her cremated. In retrospect, of course, I realize that parental instincts took over and led him to the conclusion that seeing his wife in this state would do neither of his children any good. At the time, however, I was only aware that the primary influence on my life to that point had, without warning, disappeared.

Actually, I was telling the truth about having been three when Mom died. The two days old thing? That seemed like a more dramatic way to begin a novel.

Jeannie remained the woman of the house for almost a year. Upon her seventeenth birthday, however, she decided that she'd had enough. She loaded up the Volkswagen Bug that had been purchased with money from the station wagon's insurance and took off. I was, at four, the last of our family to see her. Dad was inside, working on an automatic kitty litter box. I was puttering around the driveway on my Big Wheel, watching as she carried box after box to the car.

Once she'd finished loading the car, she wiped her hands against each other before placing them on her hips. She looked once at the car, then at the house, then at me.

"So long, squirt," she said.

"Where you going?" I asked.

"I'm leaving," she replied. I thought about it for a moment, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.


Jeannie considered the question, weighing whether she wanted to get into a long round of four-year-old "whys." She decided against it.

"Tell Dad--" She hesitated.


"Fuck Pavlov." She stared at me hard. "Can you remember that?"

I repeated it carefully. Neither word was familiar. "Fuck Pavlov. Like that?"

"Yeah. Just like that."

"Okay," I said. I repeated it once more to myself to be sure. I then remembered that she was leaving. "Bye," I said.

I couldn't tell if she was laughing or crying. "Bye," she managed to get out before getting into the Bug and driving out of my life.

By the age of four, I was three for three: three women, three disappearances.

But not really.

As a writer, I look back over the preceding exposition and curse some of it. I know that I've told more than I've showed; that I've summarized in scant paragraphs huge events in my life. In spite of that, I ask your indulgence. Truly those events do serve as mere exposition in the story I wish to tell, the story of the woman whose disappearance most changed my life.

Do you sense a trend? Even in this, which was my second attempt at telling the Christy story, I was already apologizing for not doing it justice.

Although Leona, Mom, and Jeannie all made their marks on me, it is Christy who forever altered me, and Christy about whom I have always written. No less than Christy's mother has pointed this out to me.

And Leona never existed.

"Why is everything you write about Christy?" she asked.

"It's not," I said. "I write fiction."

"Ah," she said. She knew better.

It is also Christy whom my father remembers. Although he never met her, he always asks about her when we get together.

"How's Christy?" he might ask.

"Christy who?" I inevitably respond.

"The Christy from college."

"I don't know, Dad. I haven't seen her in years."

"Oh. Too bad. I liked her."

Dad, it should be said again, never met Christy. Over the years, he met other women that I dated. He didn't and doesn't remember any of them.

So. Perhaps I have always written about Christy. Who am I to argue with her mother? Is it time, then, to exorcise her once and for all? Should I now tell the real story in hopes that I'll be able to move on? Irving had his wrestlers and Austria, until he wrote "The World According to Garp." I've had my philosophy majors and ghosts. If Christy's mother is right, it's time to lay them to rest, to move on to my own "Cider House Rules."

Don't you love the presumption here?

So. Christy.