Friday, May 22, 2009

Space Shuttle Atlantis is perched obliquely in outer space, orbiting at thousands of miles per hour, gravity and radio its only tethers, waiting on the weather.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A creased photograph of a dreary street appeared on the luggage carousel, between suitcases.

We're back in France, the country that smells of coffee and perfume and sweat.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 6

For the next four hours we inhabited an amplified and manic world, full of rocket ships and cannonballs, chases and escapes; the personification of things and creatures into caricatures of longing and of fear. A ceaseless refrain of noise and pain sung by nemeses trapped in hopeless, eternal conflict. Cartoons taught us to identify with protagonists, sure, but they indoctrinated us into tragedy and futility too. Who among us has not rooted for the Coyote?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Medical Equipment I Have Seen

The Kowa VX-10 fundus camera.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 5

The remote control was in my sister's hands. She held it to her chest, preciously, and without hesitation I grabbed for it, trying to gain purchase on a corner of the black rectangle edged in chromed plastic, prying at her damp and dirty fingers, surprisingly tenacious, the golden retriever Alex peering at us, tongue extended; I was about to give up when it broke free and fell softly in the burgundy shag. We scrambled for it, exclaiming angry nonsense, cries of ill will and dismay: Give it! Give it! Give it! No! No! No!

It was never over until someone got hurt. Pain was the solemn and incontestable signal to progress to the next step in a program of events, the chime in the filmstrip of our lives. If no one got hurt, nothing new would ever happen. Often there were tears. Sometimes there was blood. So it was that my sister konked me on the side of the skull with the flat of the remote. It was OK. It was over now. It was time to watch TV.

She pointed the remote with an overhand dipping motion, like a magic wand. A tiny dot appeared in the middle of the emptiness, a singularity. In an instant, light and color and form and motion expanded to the edges of the screen, and words and music burst forth, too. It was 7:59 am, the penultimate. The last commercial before the show.

A boy and a girl riding skateboards; the girl complains she's "getting hot and thirsty."

They cry out into the void: "Hey Kool-Aid!"

Their savior appears at once, bursting through a wooden fence and past astonished workmen, lumbering down a hill, an enormous jug with legs and cartoony feet. He bears a real jug of purple drink in his rubbery paw. Glasses filled with ice have materialized in the children's hands. Kool-Aid Man fills them up and the kids quench themselves greedily.

"Tastes great! Our friend's cool," says the girl.

"Our friend's Kool-Aid," says the boy.

"Kool-Aid brand soft drink mix!" says the girl.

Oh yeah, Kool-Aid's here bringin' you fun
Kool-Aid's got thirst on the run
Get a big, wide, happy, ear-to-ear Kool-Aid smile!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 4

I'd go down to the paneled rec room and take my place beside my sister on the purple beanbag chair, perched on my belly like a sniper on a rock. The television not five feet away, the twenty-six inch screen of miraculously curved gray glass in an ostentatious dark-veneer cabinet of neoclassical design, the Zenith: a magnificent totem, in apotheosis, toward which every object in its vicinity was turned. It seemed more powerful when it was off and sat brooding, mysterious. When the television was off, it was watching us.

The Acquisition - 3

My second interview was with Kevin Morris, with whom I'd had some previous contact in the context of our tiny startup's occasional projects in partnership with the enormous company. In those interactions he'd seemed remote, brusque, somewhat imperious. He'd dart in and out of e-mail threads with prickly requests and seldom reply to those of others. Now here we were in a tiny, windowless room. Kevin gazed to his left and skyward before responding to any question, and sometimes while formulating questions of his own. His right leg fidgeted like crazy. He had white hair; cold, blue eyes and the faintest trace of a lisp.

He lifted his head and, wide-eyed, seemed to scrutinize an imaginary breach in the drop-panel ceiling revealing the secret lair of a race of dark and hunching man-beasts who peered back at him with immobile, glinting eyes, computing the cost-benefit of fight versus flight; or the building's foam-sprayed steel beams, its truest inner nature either way.

"Mmmm..." he hummed, his right leg going. Then he turned to look me in the eye.

"Do you have any questions for me?" he asked, fingers poised over his keyboard.

It had to be a trick, a trap. A mindfuck. If I don't have any questions, they'll know. But what does the questioned ask his questioner?

"Sure, I said. "How did this idea come about? The acquisition."

Kevin did not move his head. The corners of his mouth curled into a vaguely lascivious smile.

"The acquisition," he said, "was my idea."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Autobiography of Someone Else - 3

To recognize that another might impede one's progress – is that not respect? To deflect them, to wrestle them aside – that's how we acknowledge each other's existence and thus our shared humanity.

And so it was that if I met my older sister in the hallway, we'd shove each other to the wall. Automatically, almost listlessly. It was a gesture of greeting more than anything else.

I'd go downstairs and to the kitchen pantry to examine the glorious row of fortified sugary cereals occupying nearly an entire shelf: Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, Peanut Butter Crunch, Franken Berry, Trix, Cap'n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, Boo Berry, Honeycomb, Crunch Berries, Count Chocula and Fruity Pebbles in magnificent, cartoon fluorescence: screaming orange, purple, lime-green, lipstick pink and thousand-flushes blue. It was all so beautiful I was often at a loss for what to do. I'd try combining cereals, but the result was always somehow less than the sum of its parts. It left behind a murky pool of milk not rainbow-hued but gray-brown-blue, the color of space-age toxic waste. I'd lift the bowl to my lips and drink it dutifully, like a sacred elixir, and feel the unholy solution of vitamins and minerals and artificial flavors and colors, the red 40, the niacinamide, the pyridoxine hydrochloride, the blues 1 and 2, the sulfiting agents, the annato color, the BHT, the trisodium phosphate, the tricalcium phosphate, the yellows 5 and 6 all the rest of it penetrate each and every molecule of my being.

And yet I was not happy. It began to dawn on me that every waking hour of the day deepened my indoctrination into American dissatisfaction: to have it all and then some but to still crave more.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Notes About Home

My mother and my brother playing badminton at dusk, at the back of the backyard. My dad limping out of the car after coming home from far away. Waiting for the school bus with the girls from across the road. Hoping it would never come. The paths in the woods through breaches in old stone walls, past overgrown foundations, across the post road wide as a horse and carriage, an Atlantis buried in the leaves. There were two or three abandoned cars, rusted, skeletal. We'd sit inside them to be spooked by spirits. The brambles and blackberry bushes on the left side of the house, past the entrance to the driveway loop. Down the road the cemetery, and further still the river, the bed of pine needles on its hilly banks the color of dried blood. Pale pink winter morning embers buried in the ashes. Lying on the living room couch with an ear infection and staring out the picture window, tracing my agony through the maze of branches and sky. The garden and the compost heap. Rain pouring off the inside corner of the roof like a faucet. We never did have gutters.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Acquisition - 2

The enormous company owned the sixth floor and the fifth floor too, possibly the seventh. We exited the elevator six, in the lobby between two wings, one keycard-protected and the other guarded by a three-seat reception console. A large flat-screen TV on the wall behind it broadcast news from the cable station the company ran in partnership with a major network, the anchor burbling as atrocities and market prices paraded mutely in the crawl.

We were instructed to sit in a waiting area beside a glass-walled cluster of enterprise servers; tall, black towers with blinking lights, sinister, mysterious. Computing God-knows-what for whatever reason. A display of what you're meant to never see.

We were greeted by Buckley Bean, a rotund and genial man in his forties. We were to have rotating interviews with him and his three colleagues, who were waiting in separate, windowless rooms, as though to turn us against each other. I hoped we'd get our story straight.

My first was Buckley. He questioned me cheerily, tapping away at his laptop. He wore braces and consequently spoke with sodden diction; each syllable seemed to emerge out of a puddle. Frothy spit accumulated at the corners of his mouth and a droopy strand ran from his upper fang to the back of his retainer, giving him the curious air of a rabid puppy, or a cherub with a venomous bite.

The interview was going well.

"OK, here's kind of a weird question," said Buckley. "It's not my idea to ask this question, we always ask a question like this."

"OK," I said. I'd heard about these questions.

"There's no real right answer. Well, there is a right answer. But we don't expect you to get it."

"OK. All right."

"I don't want you to worry about this question."

"Sure. I won't."

"It's just a question we ask. Kind of to get you thinking. To see how you think."

"Sure, sure."

"OK! So don't think this is too weird. Ready?"

"I won't. Yes."

"Keep in mind you don't have to get it right. But I'll ask you why you answered how you did."

"Got it."

"How much tea is there in China?"