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?

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Streak - 30

Evan, Matt and Joe walked back into living room. Sugar was tickling Melinda's neck while the others sat stiffly, as though awaiting news from a surgeon. Evan saw from the looks on their faces that they craved some kind of reassurance.

"It's OK," he announced.

"You OK?" Kyle asked.

"I'm OK."

A cheery melody erupted from the vicinity of Kyle's groin. He sat immobile, ashen, not sure what to do.

"Aren't you going to get that?" asked Jackie.

"You can get that, Kyle. It's cool," said Evan. Boy, could he use a bump or two.

"I can get that? It's cool?" asked Kyle uncertainly. The alarm repeated its idiotic music.

"It's cool, Kyle. You can get your phone," Evan insisted, winking extravagantly.

Kyle was at a loss. He reached slowly into his pocket and withdrew the phone, gripping it wonderingly like a moonrock. The alarm grew louder in the open space.

"Like I said, Kyle. It's cool to get that."

Kyle tremblingly stopped the alarm and put the phone up to his ear.

"Uh, hello?" he said, fixing Evan with a panicky stare.

"No, Kyle. I mean you can really get that. You can really get your alarm."

"Oh, I can really get it?" said Kyle finally, ignoring his imaginary caller.

"Yup, for real, for real. Everybody's cool with it."

Kyle put away his phone. He pointed back and forth at Matt and Joe and looked to Evan for additional affirmation.

"Everybody's cool," Evan repeated.

"These guys are cool with it?"

"I swear to you on Babe Ruth's grave."

"They, uh..."

"Let's ask them." Evan turned to Matt and Joe. "You guys want some blow?"

"Yeah, sure," said Joe, puzzled. "Is that what the phone call was all about?"

The tension broke at once and everybody laughed. Kyle took out the bullet and tapped out its contents onto the glass coffee table. Evan and the men took seats around the table and everyone leaned forward in happy anticipation.

"The alarm is for discipline!" said Kyle as he carved out seven lines.

"The alarm is 'cause you're such a freak," said Jackie.

"You really are a freak of nature," added Sugar.

Evan felt compelled to defend his friend. "It's to try to trick us out of our compulsions," he offered. "To civilize desire."

"That's a losing battle if I ever heard one," observed Melinda.

"It might be sick. It might be stupid," said Evan. "But fuck it, he's the one who's holding."

"Not for long," said Kyle. "Lisa baby, I'm gonna need to get into your stash."

"It's an innovative approach, Kyle. Bravo," said Joe.

"You guys had me worried," Kyle said. "I thought you were narcs."

"We look like narcs and we think like narcs but we are not narcs," said Joe.

"And that's what counts," added Matt.

"So what are you?"

"We're going to take leave of you fine people in fifteen minutes and at that point it will be entirely up to Evan to judge whether telling you who we are and what our mission here tonight has been is consistent with his values and his persona," said Joe.

"Pressure's on, Ev."

Lisa came back from her room with a pill bottle half-filled with cocaine and tossed it to Kyle.

"Help yourself," she said.

"You're the best."

Kyle refilled the bullet and rolled up a twenty-dollar bill. He handed it to Jackie, who got on her knees at the corner of the table, leaned in, held back her curly hair and deftly snorted her line. She mopped up the residue with the pad of her index finger and rubbed it on her upper gums, then placed the bill back on the table and sat back on the couch. They each took their turn in this procession, each kneeling or crouching according to body type and inclination, tapping the tip of the rolled bill two or three times on the glass, pointlessly unrolling it and rolling it back up, plucking at their noses and pinching them after; a parade of idiosyncratic variations on ritual.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Streak - 29

Lisa opened the door in her baby-blue terrycloth bathrobe. She held a small marijuana pipe in her left hand, the classic high schooler's model with the threaded-pipe stem in an orange plexiglass tube. A wisp of pungent smoke curled from the embers in the bowl.

"Guys! Evan!" she exclaimed. Kisses on the cheek. "Evan, there are two dudes here for you," she said with a look of mild consternation.

"I'm not in the mood to broaden my sexual horizons tonight, Leese."

She swatted him on the shoulder.

"No, they're from the Yankees. They want to talk to you."

"Who are they?"

"I don't know. Two guys. Two dudes."

"Do you know them? Do I know them?"

"I don't know. I don't know. They're wearing jackets. Come in."

Evan and Kyle followed Lisa into the living room. Jackie was sitting on the couch beside some Latina girl they didn't know. Sugar Carrol, the Yanks' embattled, big-swinging outfielder, sat beside the girl, his enormous chest twisted to face her, his left arm suggestively perched along the top of the cushion behind her head, his wrist bejeweled with a magnificent diamond bracelet. The two men, wearing matching navy jackets and khaki pants, sat primly in chairs on the other side of the coffee table.

"Sug, what's up," said Evan. Fist bump. "Jackie." A dainty handshake. "And what's your name?"

"Melinda."

"Melissa, nice to meet you." Evan leaned low to shake her hand and Kyle did the same.

"Melinda."

"Melinda, sorry."

The two men waited courteously for the ritual of greeting to end before rising in tandem.

"Evan Benjaminson?"

"Yeah?"

"My name's Joe Maines. This is Matt Gillis. We're from the Yankees."

"I'm from the Yankees too."

Joe smiled patronizingly. "Can we have a word with you in Lisa's bedroom?"

Evan glanced reflexively at Lisa, who made a puzzled shrug.

"Yeah, sure."

Evan followed the men into Lisa's gloriously disordered lair, a comforting and familiar place to him. It was a low-lit sanctum of modern femininity: bras and silky blouses hanging on the back of a boudoir chair, pants piled on its seat; shelves of romances and tchotchke souvenirs; a mini-stereo with CDs stacked erratically beside it; a flat-screen television draped with a negligee; a forest of moisturizers, hairsprays and perfumes cluttering a faux-Louis dresser; fuck-me pumps strewn underfoot and an unmade bed, sheets agape, for her to fall into with a man. The scent of rose and jasmine permeated the air.

"Let's sit on Lisa's bed," said Joe.

Evan tossed aside a pair of sheer panties and sat on the end of the bed. Joe and Matt sat down on either side.

"We understand you have a double," said Joe.

"An impersonator," said Matt.

"A doppelganger, if you will."

"Jesus Christ. How do you guys know–"

Joe waved off Evan's question. "Don't worry how we know. We know."

"We know," echoed Matt.

"Are you OK, Evan? You're sweaty," Joe observed.

"I... I've been... I have been sweating..." Evan stammered.

"Are you high?" Matt said.

"That's OK, you can answer him," Joe reassured.

"What?"

"You can answer him. We do not make heads or tails of what you do with drugs. Not our department," said Matt.

"Not our department."

"What department are you... in?"

"The name of our department is Special Player Relations. I'm the Assistant to the Secretary of Special Player Relations."

"What's Joe?"

"Joe's the Secretary of Special Player Relations."

Joe nodded solemnly. "So you can tell us in the strictest confidence. Acid? Crack? PCP?"

"PCP, dust? A little dust?"

"A little meth, a little crystal meth?"

"Heroin? You can tell us, Evan. Why, we were just getting high ourselves, weren't we, Joe?"

Matt leaned back and smiled at Joe behind Evan's back.

Joe chuckled. "That's right, Matt. Hear that, Evan? Matt and I were getting high. With Lisa."

"I'm high on ecstasy," Evan confided. "Really pretty high, actually."

Joe and Matt nodded and smiled admiringly.

"Nice!" said Joe.

"Nice!" said Matt. "A little E on a windy night."

They all sat in smiling silence for a moment.

"So, back to your predicament. Your double," announced Joe.

"Your other you," said Matt, patting Evan on the back.

"This isn't an unusual situation, Evan," Joe continued.

"Not unprecedented," said Matt.

"Not by any means unprecedented. We're here to help you, how should I put it?" Joe gazed at the vanity above Lisa's dresser.

"Navigate the situation," Matt offered.

"Yeah. That's right," said Joe. "We want to help you make the most of this very peculiar, very delicate situation."

"Make the most of it?!"

"No, I wouldn't say the most of it," said Matt, looking behind Evan to Joe.

"Yeah, no," said Joe. "Not the most of it, exactly. The least of it?"

"That's more like it. We're going to make sure you make the least of it. If that makes any sense at all," said Matt.

"OK. I guess so," said Evan. "What, uh... what do I do?"

"Here's the first thing you do," said Joe, tapping his left palm with his right fist for emphasis.

"This comes first. This is important," added Matt.

"What?"

Joe gripped Evan by the shoulder to focus his intoxicated consciousness.

"Continue to behave exactly as you have behaved before."

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.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Streak - 28

Evan hung up his phone and gazed dully at the muted backseat screen as it counted down the best oxygen lounges in the city.

"Do your best not to fuck with me, but where have we been the last couple of hours?"

Kyle suppressed the urge to lie. He was startled by this at first, and disappointed, viewing it as a failure of imagination and a craven disavowal of his duties as a man. Under normal circumstances, Evan would want and expect to be fucked with. Even after requesting not to be. Especially after requesting not to be. Mischief and insult were their currency, the code by which they communicated. But Kyle could tell there was something the matter with Evan and he felt a strange sensation welling irrepressibly within him: an incandescence, glowing like an ember, absolute, all-encompassing and unadulterated. He ceded to it unconditionally.

"OK. Where were we? We were at the cop bar. Didn't go nowhere else. Remember Seanie? Remember Big Bill? Old Bill? Big Old Bill?"

Evan nodded slowly.

"Why, man? Didja talk to Leese? What did she say?"

"I'm OK," said Evan. "I'm alright."

"Yup. Yup, yup, yup. You are. No question about it."

"Lisa says Jackie says she saw me at Bungalow 8."

"Tonight?"

"Tonight."

"Well, you weren't there, dude. Case closed."

Evan turned to face Kyle. The sheen of sweat on his face lent an alarming urgency to his expression, which the big, black pools of his pupils already gave a fearsomely demented air.

"But why would Jackie lie?"

Dah dah dah dah dadedah!
went Kyle's phone.

"Time! Time out!" exclaimed Kyle.

"Umpire calls time!" said Evan.

"Kick the dirt out of your cleats, one-seven," said Kyle merrily, handing Evan the bullet.

"You're going to have to refill this soon," said Evan after snorting.

"Crunch all you want, we'll make more."

"So yeah," Evan said, rubbing his nose and sniffing. "Lisa says maybe I have a double."

"Someone out there pretending to be you?"

"I guess."

"Fuck it, right?"

"I dunno. You wouldn't mind if someone was telling people they were you?"

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

"What if he's a total asshole?"

"He's probably not that good an impersonator."

"Cocksucker. I mean what if he kills somebody, or rapes a chick?"

"What if he's a saint? Take your chances."

"I dunno, man. I might have to cut this off at the pass."

Kyle beheld Evan with a comically wary squint. "Evan Benjaminson, are you planning on murdering your doppelganger?"

Evan sighed. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I need someone else to be me for a while."

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Streak - 27

The obvious place to go was Lisa's, so Evan dialed her number from the cab. Lisa started out as a party girl; a groupie, to be blunt. But unlike certain others, she seemed to have no devious designs on the men; no one's wife ever got a call from her, no one's management company ever got a FedExed video of her sucking his cock, and she never rifled through a wallet while its drunk and naked owner lay snoring on a bed. She knew other girls, the ones to trust and the ones to avoid. She provided something more than sex: an anti-home for stunted boy-men lost in the fiction of a life of play. Her seedy virtue had made her exceptionally popular among the team and eventually she graduated to the status of private Yankee icon, a sort of underground Bob Shepherd or Yogi Berra, an object of unquestioned, dogmatized affection. The players loved her for fairly obvious reasons. But management loved her, too. She kept the players out of lots of trouble by inoculating them with a little.

She disliked the game of baseball and did not care to learn thing one about it.

"Hey, Ev."

"What's up, Leese?"

"Not much. How's Bungalow 8?"

"What? I'm not at Bungalow 8. I'm in a cab with Kyle."

"Oh. How was it, anyway?"

"What makes you think I was at Bungalow 8?"

"Jackie saw you there! You remember Jackie."

"What makes Jackie think she saw me there?"

"I dunno. Your face? She saw your face?"

Lisa cupped the phone with her hand and shouted into the din of her apartment. "Jackie! Evan wants to know why you saw him at the club!"

A few moments of indistinct speech and laughter followed.

"She says you bought her a fucking drink."

"What did I do next?"

More muffled conversation.

"She says you acted like you'd never met her. She says you were pretty drunk."

"But that wasn't me."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it, I get it. And this conversation is not happening."

"No. I mean that person that she saw. Was not me."

"This telephone will self-destruct in –"

Another pause.

"She says you were hooking up with someone else. You don't have to lie to Lisa, baby. Who's the other girl?"

"Jesus, Lisa. I'm high as hell right now but the one thing I know in the world is what I didn't do tonight." Even as he spoke the words, he doubted them. Cold sweat soaked through the back of his shirt.

Lisa laughed. "Maybe you have a double."

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?"