Archive for February, 2010

Letter (goes with Monologue)

February 24, 2010

Brisbane:

It’s been a while since my last letter. Though I don’t know how much I should apologize, since this is, more or less, a one sided correspondence.

Sorry, that sounds like I’m mad. I’m not. And it’s not like someone has put a gun to my head about writing you, so… I don’t know.

Anyway, I guess the main reason I’m writing is to tell you that I finally finished In Search of Lost Time. Should I have underlined that or put it in quotes? I can never remember which. But I finished it! It only took three years, but I did it. Quite the labor of love too. I really struggled with “The Fugitive”, but “Time Regained” really flew by. And to think that when I started “Swann’s Way,” you laughed at me and thought I’d never wind up finishing all seven. But I did it. I think it helped to treat the seven volumes like the Harry Potter series. Except these were better.

But reading Proust made me think of that day we played scrabble and I tried to use the word… what was it… Panjector or something like that? Total bullshit, I know. But I had a great definition for it. A projector for panoramic views: a Panjector. If that hasn’t been invented yet, I’m sure it will be and then I’ll have the last laugh.

That scrabble day then got me thinking of other things, sadder things. The way our relationship soured and then fell apart. I wasn’t mad that night, and I hope you know that. It was never about being mad. I didn’t care that you were at some guy’s apartment. I mean, it says something that you called me and asked me to pick you up. But you refused to address it afterwards, like it didn’t happen at all. You couldn’t even pay me the respect to discuss it. Because it mattered to me, even if I had already forgiven you.

Whoa.

I didn’t really mean for this letter to turn out this way. I guess I just start writing and then it all freefalls onto the page.

It’s great out here. Moving back East was the right decision. And I’m getting a lot accomplished, not just reading Proust, but actually putting a life together. I’d love it if you came to visit, but I can understand if it won’t work.

I really don’t want to get sentimental or hokey or anything like that, but I do miss you. And I hope things are going well for you.

Think about picking up “Swann’s Way.” I left my copy in your bookshelf.

Write back?

Bart

Monologue (goes with Letter)

February 24, 2010

It was the time when you called me in the middle of the night, remember? It was in January, the night when you and your friends went to the club opening? We had been inside all day because of the snow or the cold.

Upon waking up, I had remarked that, ‘It feels like a Fitzgerald day’.

You, in your obstinance, rolled your eyes and, through lips parched from sleep, replied that, ‘It could be nothing but a Faulkner day.’

‘Certainly be one of those days, anyway,’ though I’m sure you didn’t hear me because I only mumbled it as I hoisted myself from the bed. That apartment was bigger than the one you have now, and the acoustics weren’t as good. Probably better that you didn’t hear me, since it was one of those days.

We slurped our coffee and chewed our oatmeal in meditative silence, and the clock your grandmother had given you was the loudest thing in the apartment. It was like that nearly every morning, wasn’t it? We each needed our quiet time, moments to collect our thoughts for the day or something like that.

After breakfast I had suggested a shower, but you declined, offering that you, ‘didn’t have the energy for it.’

I countered, in vain, that, ‘You’re going to shower anyway. How much more energy does it take to shower together?’

You just looked at me, and your eyes, under their heavy lids, dared me to keep going. I smiled and went into the bathroom alone.

I think things got better after the showers, because we did manage to play a game of scrabble while watching something inane on the television. You’ll remember that I would have trounced you, but you claimed that, ‘There is no way that “Panjector” is a word.’ And so you won, as always.

I think the rest of the day was spent reading, not talking much, except when you asked me, ‘Proust uses “panjector’ throughout “In Search of Lost Time”, doesn’t he?’ though there wasn’t much of a smile on your face and I had trouble bringing one to mine. You weren’t very interested in my attempt to read Proust, remember how you’d shunned my idea to read it simultaneously? So you read whatever you were reading and I read about Swann on my own. It’s how it went.

Anyway, you got the call from your friend, was it Jordan or Sam? I’d asked, ‘Was I invited?’

‘Don’t be silly. You wouldn’t have any fun at all with us,’ as you put on makeup for the first time in over a week. And you were dressed and out the door within fifteen minutes, leaving me alone in my sweatpants.

I’d eaten leftovers and continued reading Proust. The apartment wasn’t any quieter with you gone, which struck me as odd. I went to bed around eleven, assuming you wouldn’t be home before midnight.

Your call woke me from a dream; I think it was about dogs and basketball? I was groggy on the phone and you were drunk. You needed a ride, but you weren’t at the club. You were at someone else’s apartment. His apartment. I continued to talk to you as I pulled on socks and a shirt and then my shoes.

I don’t know why I did it. I don’t know why I charged out into the night, like Menelaus after Helen. My mind was in a thousand places, none of them good. But you had called me, had asked me to pick you up, and I could do at least that.

You were waiting in front of his building, and you didn’t have your coat. You got into the car without a word. I looked at you and smiled, but I didn’t say anything. And, as I pulled away from the curb, I placed my hand on your thigh.

That was the only time I’ve ever seen you cry.

An Unreliable Narrator

February 17, 2010

My friends call me Ladies’ Man. Which they wouldn’t do unless it was true… because that’s the sort of nickname that you have to earn. If I were no good with girls, they’d call me something like Lonely Boy, or No-Skill. But they call me Ladies’ Man. Because I earned it.

It was the day before Valentine’s Day and I was busy locking down a date. I had been putting in work on the hottest piece in the school, Ashleigh DelMonaco. You’ve never seen her, so I’ll do you the favor of explaining her: Ashleigh’s got the biggest… well, you know… that you’ve ever seen on a tenth grader. I’m pretty sure that she’s been wearing a bra since we were in fourth grade. And her hair has a lot of volume, which I know is important from reading my mom’s hair products in the shower. And she smells like cotton candy. I love cotton candy. I figured Ashleigh would be falling over herself to go on a date with me, because neither of us is that into schoolwork or boring things like that, it should have been a perfect match.

So I was putting in mad work. I had gotten her number from Tristan Guerrer, who sits next to Paul Swensen in Biology, who plays hockey with Chubby Scalecki, who is dating Andi Cooper, who is BFFs with Ashleigh. I didn’t want to ask Ashleigh directly, because that would have spoiled the surprise. But I had her number and I was sending her so many texts. I have study hall with her during fifth period, and I must have sent her one text every minute. And I knew that she was getting them. And she was getting so excited that she was squirming in her chair and looking around. Her green eyes, that Jolly Rancher green, never looked my way, so the surprise was working. She got so excited that she turned her phone off so that she could study and, I think, so that none of her friends would feel too jealous of all the attention. Those texts were great too. I sent her real Romeo Shakespeare stuff, like u r hott, I like the way u smell, I m watchin u, and I will c u soon. Girls love that stuff.

And I had been writing little notes and sliding them into her locker. Nothing too serious, but just things to let her know that I was thinking about her all of the time and that I was going to be seeing her on Valentine’s Day. I’m pretty sure it was the most romantic thing she’d ever experienced.

By prolonging my drink from the fountain nearest her locker, I had found out that Ashleigh was going to the Mall with some of her friends that night. So I also planned to be at the mall, even though I had already made plans to throw bottles off of the 12th Street Bridge with Brad Ferndale. That’s commitment.

She was with four other girls, who were totally less hot than Ashleigh, and they all wore the same dark skinny jeans and pastel colored sweaters around the mall. But Ashleigh had light skinny jeans and a green polo, which shows that she’s the leader with the keenest fashion sense. I followed them as they walked the mall, making sure to keep a safe distance. They almost spotted me in the food court, because they got in line for Corn Dogs & More!, but then ended up moving to The Pizza Villa. I couldn’t give away my position, so I was stuck buying a Corn Dog, which is a huge sacrifice because I hate Corn Dogs. It’s the sort of sacrifice that I have no problem making for Ashleigh.

To be cute, I texted Ashleigh the name of every store that she entered. It was my way of letting her know that I was watching over her, always by her side. I don’t know what happened, but at some point I must have lost track of them and they wound up leaving without me. I watched them go into the Abercrombie and Fitch store, but they never came back out. I eventually got tired of waiting, so I left.

At that point, I was pretty sure that all of my hard work and super sweetness was going to pay off. There was no way that Ashleigh could ignore all of the attention that I had been paying her. To seal the deal, I sent her one last text before I went to sleep. It was a homerun for sure: I will b dreaming of u 2nite. You couldn’t find that sort of skill in a book. That’s God-given.

On Valentine’s Day, I got to school really early. I set up in front of Ashleigh’s locker with a gigantic, stuffed panda that was holding a smaller, brown bear that was holding a heart. I also had a bouquet of flowers, mostly carnations. People started showing up for school, but there was no sign of Ashleigh. Everyone was walking by my gifts and me, and I could tell by the way that they stared how jealous they were. Everyone was pointing and talking about me. I was for sure the best Valentine the school had ever seen.

The first bell rang before Ashleigh showed up. The second bell rang too. There was no sign of Ashleigh anywhere. I had to get to class, so I left the bear and the flowers in front of her locker. When I got back from class, the gifts were gone, but there was no sign of Ashleigh anywhere.

I asked about her throughout the day and finally got an answer. The answer came by way of Anthony Townsend, who has a locker next to Brianna Hoffman, who eats lunch with Jill Middleton, who carpools with Madison Maxwell, whose mom works with Charlene DelMonaco. Turns out Ashleigh transferred schools because there was some guy here who had been stalking her. I guess he was doing really creepy stuff like messaging her phone and writing disturbing notes for her locker. And what’s really messed up is that I never saw this guy once. I should have been able to protect Ashleigh, but I didn’t and now she’s gone to another school. Her phone number is changed too, because my messages aren’t being received. All I can think of is poor Ashleigh and how scared she must have been because of that creeper.

Man, some people.

Partially Completed, with Blisters.

February 16, 2010

We visited my mom’s parents in Odebolt, Iowa several times a year, and one of those visits was invariably in the summer. I remember the weather during those summer trips to Odebolt as being hot and dry, the sort of heat that limited us (my two younger siblings and me) to drinking lemonade and panting in the shade of the tall oak trees in front of my grandparent’s house. Our grandparents’ house had a few toys. Looking back now, I remember that those “toys” were wooden spools and a pair of boxing gloves. There was a big backyard, but it was too hot for running around. What got us through the heat of those summer visits was the Odebolt Municipal Swimming Pool.

The pool must have been there since forever, because our mom had learned to swim in the pool and worked there as a lifeguard. It was a big, blue rectangle of a pool, with a shallow three feet on one end that sloped to a depth of twenty feet at the other. There was a standard diving board and a high dive in the deep end. I had worked up the courage to climb the high dive several times, only to become petrified as the world bounced gently below me. Eventually (I’m sure it was less than several minutes) I would topple off of the board and smack into the water below. Despite the smarting pain and cloudy head, I would resurface with a determination to have a better jump next time.

The bottom of the pool was not smooth. It was rough like a textured ceiling, and it tore through the soggy, raisined flesh of our feet as we bounced around in our play. The lacerations weren’t deep enough to draw blood, but our feet always looked chewed on after a day of swimming. There was also too much chlorine in the pool. The tangy, chemical aroma was noticeable from the parking lot. Though the levels were no doubt high enough to bleach hair and clothing after prolonged exposure (photos of my mom offer plenty of evidence to this), we were in the pool just long enough that our eyes became a burning, bloodshot red, which caused us to squint even tighter in the summer sun. But the water was cold, and it was a delightful break from the heat of the day.

One day at the pool stands out more than others. And that was the only day that I neglected to slather myself with sun block. As a child, you don’t think about how much sun hits your body while swimming. Sure, there are the children who realize that lying prone on a towel will allow their skin to roast and crisp into an idyllic golden brown, but few are aware that the sun is ever present within the water too.

Standing chest deep in the water, I had effectively placed myself into a convection oven. The sun’s rays reflect off of the bottom of the pool and dance on the reflective surface of the pool’s water. The sun assailed my fair, Dutch-Irish-Norwegian skin from all sides. Of course, as I threw a ball back and forth with whomever (we make friends much quicker, and with much less thought, as a child) my skin’s tone turned from cream to carnation to strawberry to maraschino to burnt. I’m not sure when I became aware of the sunburn, but it made its presence most felt as I toweled off before heading home. The soft fluff of the towel was a rasp against my shoulders and neck. I gingerly tugged on a shirt and leaned forward, off of the seat, in the car ride home.

Later that night, the blisters appeared. One on each shoulder. They were the diameter of silver dollars and rose a half-inch off of my shoulder. I couldn’t wear a shirt because the skin of the blisters was stretched paper-thin and any contact with them caused the skin to tear, and the blister would weep its angry yellow fluid, the color of snot. My mom dabbed them with ointment and covered them with thin gauze, but I slept sitting up that night and the two following. Eventually, the blisters receded and the loose, dead skin flapped and tore away. My siblings went back to the pool everyday during that visit, but I stayed in my grandparents’ house.

I could be mistaken, but I think that might have been the last time I went swimming in Odebolt. It seems to me, that shortly thereafter, my grandparents got sick and each successive visit was spent at nursing homes and hospitals rather than at the local pool. Weird.

Somebody Else

February 10, 2010

(This is a pretty weak re-envisioning of a story. The POV changed from Closed 1st to Reminiscent 1st. Forgive me.)

It would be easy to say, “neighborhoods aren’t what they used to be” and leave it at that. But even when I was younger neighborhoods were already changing, becoming something other than what they used to be.

When I was fifteen, maybe sixteen, I was the last remaining member of the Shamrock Gang. We used to be tough, in the way that kids turned their bikes around when they saw use coming. Tough in the way that Moms used us as a threat to their children, like “Get home before dark or the Shamrock Gang will get you.” Real tough. Or so we thought. In truth, we were just some ambitionless punks who liked to fight.

I guess I shouldn’t say ambitionless, because I had ambitions. Big dreams. But they were in all of the wrong places. Like when I quit school. Just dropped it, like the way that priests give up sex or blind people give up sight. I didn’t need what school had to give me. Instead, I was going to be a writer. Not the kind of writer who scribbles the truth onto paper or seeks out new venues to expose the faults of humanity. I wanted to be a graffiti artist, tagging everything in sight with my name, Chato de Shamrock.

But the Shamrock Gang fell by the wayside as our neighborhood fell apart. The neighborhood was bought up by some Trucking company and as house after house was torn down, the families moved away across town. My father, in an act of bravery and stubbornness, the kind of which I didn’t think him capable, stood out on our front step holding an American flag. He wouldn’t sell the house, because it was his. His sweat had paid for it and that meant something. So our house remained, a sagging two-story that stood like a bastion amidst a sea of bulldozed holes. Pieces of the destroyed homes spotted our lawn like flotsam tossed onto the shore.

So I took up the banner of the Shamrock Gang, whatever banner there was left to carry. I wrote my name everywhere: on street signs, sidewalks, and storefronts. You name it, I tagged it. But there was another gang, one whose neighborhood hadn’t been bought up, that I had to look out for. Without the Shamrocks to keep them in check, the Sierra Street Gang had grown in size and area, which meant that we competed for tagging space. And since they were many and I was one, I tried to keep a low profile. Of course, I tagged over their name every chance I got, but I wasn’t looking for trouble. Really, I wasn’t looking for anything.

I look back now and realize that my whole “Rebel Without a Cause” act was just an attempt to keep the world from slipping away. My neighborhood had disappeared. My friends had moved away. So I went bad. But I went bad in the sort of way that called attention to my problems. On the day that I quit school, I still went to the Boys Club. It was a cry for help, for someone to tell me that they cared about me. Sure, my father had lamented my choice, but I couldn’t take him seriously because he lamented every choice I made. I see it all of the time in the kids I work with: they act out because they want and need the attention. They crave any sort of involvement, whether it’s positive or negative. And that was me back then, too. I didn’t care about any rivalry with the Sierra Street Gang. I cared about someone caring about me.

I had a long way to go (and a lot more names to write) before Chato de Shamrock could become Mr. Montoya.

Rejection!

February 10, 2010

Hi, Pizza Doctor –

Fun, but reads just a little too much like a short story for us to use. We pretty much stick to short, conceptual humor. Thanks for the look, nonetheless. Hope you’ll try us again sometime.

Best,
Chris Monks
Website Editor, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency