Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oil & Hay - 15

After Jürgen retook the wheel I lay on a bench and slept fitfully as the sober world, full of purpose and authority, circulated about me and cast its shadow on my incoherent dreams. When I awoke the car was already loaded in the lorry.

I changed back into my civvies and was about to bid farewell to the crew when Anja, our communications director, came rushing in from the track office bearing a Telex.

"Urgent for you, Mal."

It read as follows:




It was nearly six-thirty now. I could make it to Paris in less than an hour, flying on the A13. But there would be traffic coming into the city.

I took a moment to will away the hazy torpor in my brain. Then I shouted my goodbyes, strode out to the parking lot, and got behind the wheel of my blood-red Cavallo Nero spider.

The trip to Paris was quick and uneventful. I roared down the left lane of the motorway with my headlights on and the speedometer hovering at well over 200 kilometres per hour. I reached the Porte Dauphine at a little past seven and that's when the trouble started: There was a long line inching up the exit ramp. The Avenue Foch was a little better but the Étoile was an inferno: crisscrossing rings of chaotic, clamorous traffic, scooters darting in and out, taxi drivers shouting at lorries, every horn ablare. I dared not glance at my watch as I sped down the Avenue des Champs Élysées, weaving between the other cars and burning lights. I tried to heighten my peripheral awareness, to become unconsciously aware of any looming hazard, any old lady crossing the street with her dog.

I zigzagged past the Place de la Concorde, nearly striking a cyclist, and raced along the Tuileries. When I saw that haunted-looking building to my left that signaled the beginning of the Louvre, I thought I'd make it. Honestly I did. A city bus emerged lazily from the Place du Carousel and I darted in behind it, into the square—regal, open like the sky—then under the opposite arch, up past the Opéra and finally off the boulevards and avenues and into the belly of Paris, real Paris, where the statues give way to the masses and the streets run red with wine.

It was mad: to get around a rubbish lorry I had to drive halfway on the sidewalk, past an elegantly dressed woman with her back against the wall. The workers derided me: "Sale con, eh!" "Enculé, va!" I nearly killed a man in a white suit walking across a little square who stared impassively as I swerved around him, tyres squealing.

Melanie was up there waiting for me, I thought. It gave me tremendous satisfaction to conquer each obstacle, great and small, that stood between us. My heart was aflutter now, not for the treachery of my journey but for the glory that surely awaited me at its end. What could be more romantic than to defy eternity to meet one's beloved for a quarter of an hour?

My ultimate travail arrived on the ancient cobblestones of Montmartre as the evening sun shone goldenly on the white façades. A gaggle of tourists, possibly Japanese. I waited, fuming, revving the engine in brusque bursts to vent my agony. Finally they'd all crossed the street. I drove around the basilica and screeched to a diagonal halt atop the hillock overlooking the crepuscular city. I knew she would emerge like Venus, in a diaphanous robe, radiant, her arms outstretched. Now. Now! Now?

My watch read seven thirty-two. The sun was setting and she wasn't there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I drifted through this day in a daze, leaving for work an hour early and forgetting my wallet besides. At the sandwich place a man reproached me for cutting in line and I stared at him mutely. No offense was meant; it's just what I did.

Monday, October 25, 2010

At the Franklin Street station I sat near a man who groaned morosely and buried his face in his hand. When the train came he zipped up his bag and got on board.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gimme What I Want

A one-act play.


THE PROTAGONIST: A man in his early forties.
THE ANTAGONIST: A man in his early forties.
THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: A woman in her early thirties, very attractive, dressed in a sexy skirt and knee-high boots.


The present.


The interior of THE PROTAGONIST's apartment, in a sparsely furnished living room. THE PROTAGONIST sits on a couch, fumbling nervously with his cell phone. Finally, he dials a number emphatically, leans back, crosses his legs, and fidgets his foot. Two rings are heard, followed by the faint click of the call getting picked up.

THE ANTAGONIST: (on the other end of the phone) Yeah?

THE PROTAGONIST: (sighs) Hey. It's me. You got it yet?

THE ANTAGONIST: (after a beat or two) No.

THE PROTAGONIST: (sighs more heavily) No? When? When, then? When?

THE ANTAGONIST: Three to five days. Been waiting on something else first. Soon as that's uh, taken care of. Promise.

THE PROTAGONIST: (a tinge of desperation in his voice) Three to five? So four? Probably?

THE ANTAGONIST: Three to five. Days. Thank you for—

THE PROTAGONIST: (whimpering, softly, almost speaking to himself) Three to five fucking days! (He goes limp and sinks deeper into the couch, in a defeated posture.)

THE ANTAGONIST: Thank you for your patience regarding th—

THE PROTAGONIST:  I need it. Bad. (His legs convulse a little and he pounds the couch pillow with the flat of his hand.)

THE ANTAGONIST: (after a beat) I know.

THE PROTAGONIST: (suddenly inert) Business?


THE PROTAGONIST: Business days? What type of days are we talking about?

THE ANTAGONIST: Business. Business days.

(THE PROTAGONIST, eyes squeezed shut, holds his phone high up above his head. The static sound of the line suddenly goes quiet as he presses the button to hang up.)

(Curtain)SCENE TWO

The interior of a New York City subway car, seen from one side. A dozen or so riders are sitting, doing what subway riders typically do: reading the paper, watching their smart phones, staring blankly ahead of them, drifting in and out of sleep. A few are standing and holding poles or railings. The sound of the train moving along the tracks is heard and the riders are sometimes lightly jostled by the motion. THE PROTAGONIST is seated at one end of the car, his eyes fixed on THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN, who is standing around the middle of the car, holding the railing above the seats.

About a minute passes, during which
THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN notices that THE PROTAGONIST is staring at her. Her body language and expression indicate that she's becoming progressively more annoyed.

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (addressing THE PROTAGONIST with a curt nod) Whadda you want?

(The other riders on the train faintly register the commotion. Two or three look up very briefly, then return to their private preoccupations.)THE PROTAGONIST: (startled, indicating himself by pointing to his chest) Me?

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: Yeah you. The fuck do you want?

THE PROTAGONIST: (defensively) I... nothing. Nothing!

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: Bull fucking shit nothing.

(A couple of the other riders on the train look up again and smirk at the unfolding drama, then again turn away.)

THE PROTAGONIST: (shakes his head dismissively, in the manner of someone who is contending with a crazy person, and puts up both his hands) Hey. Seriously. I don't want—

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: You wanna fuck me? That what you want?

(THE PROTAGONIST hangs his head and shakes it softly, offering no reply.)

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (caustically, venomously) I know what you want.

(THE PROTAGONIST keeps his head down and remains quiet. Again, the attention of several other riders is piqued slightly. They stare dully at the scene.)

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (barks out a toxic little laugh, then sarcastically) What, you want my pussy? That it?

THE PROTAGONIST: (raises his head, and earnestly) Come on. No.

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (with smoldering anger) You fucking little liar. You fucking little man. Sitting on the train staring at me like I don't know what you're fucking thinking!

(THE PROTAGONIST again shakes his head.)

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (slowly approaching THE PROTAGONIST) You gonna go home and jerk off your little cock now?

(A guffaw is heard from the gallery of riders.)

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (now only about six feet away from THE PROTAGONIST) Why don't you do it now, fucker? In front of everybody.

(THE PROTAGONIST fidgets and looks left and right, seeking some kind of escape.)

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: (She brusquely lifts up her skirt, revealing sexy, lace panties.) This is what you want if I'm not mistaken. Asshole.

(THE PROTAGONIST stands up and backs away from THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN.)

THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN: Whip out your tiny fucking cock and jerk it off. You fucking loser.

(Most of the other riders are watching with mild amusement now, though several remain completely oblivious. The train sound winds down as the train arrives in a station. The chirpy voice of the prerecorded station announcement is heard, ending with the warning to "stand clear of the closing doors, please." THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN keeps approaching and THE PROTAGONIST keeps backing up until his only option is to flee the car. He exits just before the doors close. Inside the train, THE WOMAN ON THE TRAIN lets her skirt drop and turns around as though nothing has just occurred.)



The interior of THE ANTAGONIST's apartment, which is nearly identical to THE PROTAGONIST's apartment except that the couch is a different color and the incidental furnishings (end tables, rug, etc.) vary slightly and are arrayed differently. THE ANTAGONIST is sitting on the couch reading a copy of Field & Stream magazine.

The doorbell rings.
THE ANTAGONIST throws aside his magazine, walks over to the door and peers through the peephole. He backs away with a start and stands still for a moment, dismayed, wondering what to do. The bell rings again, followed immediately by an urgent knock. THE ANTAGONIST looks at the door, his body tense like a prey with nowhere to turn.

THE PROTAGONIST: (from the other side of the door) I know you're fucking in there! Open the fucking door!

THE ANTAGONIST: (pauses a beat, then trepidatiously) I don't have it!


THE ANTAGONIST: I don't have it yet. I will have it soon. I promise.

THE PROTAGONIST: Let me the fuck in! Open the fucking door!

(A few seconds pass as THE ANTAGONIST, his chest heaving, stands pondering. Suddenly, a loud thud is heard as THE PROTAGONIST kicks the door, hard. THE ANTAGONIST immediately opens the door.)


THE PROTAGONIST: (barges in and staggers around wildly, then breathlessly) You gotta! You gotta give it to me, man!

THE ANTAGONIST: (imploringly) Listen, I just told you, I—

THE PROTAGONIST: Gimme something! Gimme something, at least!

THE ANTAGONIST: I would if I could. I swear.

THE PROTAGONIST: You said three to five days!

THE ANTAGONIST: Business. Business days.

THE PROTAGONIST: (holding up his hand, five fingers splayed) This is day five, motherfucker! Business day five!

THE ANTAGONIST: I need another day.

THE PROTAGONIST: (shouting) I can't wait another day!

THE ANTAGONIST: (with exaggerated calm) You have been very patient, and I apprec—

THE PROTAGONIST: (livid) Gimme what I want!!

(THE ANTAGONIST suddenly pulls a handgun out of the front of his waistband and shoots THE PROTAGONIST in the chest. THE PROTAGONIST falls back hard against the door and collapses, dead. THE ANTAGONIST sits back down on the couch and picks up his copy of Field & Stream, shaking his head slightly as he leafs through the pages to find his place.)

(Final curtain)
Here's something intriguing about Virginia Thomas's disgraceful phone call to Anita Hill: She asks Hill to apologize for what she did "with" her husband. Not "to."

Is Thomas suggesting that Hill had a consensual affair with her husband? If that's what she's thinking, then she is upholding a grotesque, archaic, sexist meme: that it's the fault of the other woman - the temptress, the whore - when a husband cheats. It's remarkable that this is somehow less humiliating to Thomas than what most of us accept as fact: that Clarence Thomas was a loutish, harassing boss.

Or maybe not. It's always easiest to blame the woman.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Physics 101, or An Incident in Line at the Brooklyn Public Library Snack Bar

The man at the head of the line was gathering his cheeseburger and his tea from off the counter when he exploded at the man behind him.

"Couldja get a little closer to me? Couldja? Couldja get a little closer to me? Couldja get a little closer to me!?"

The other man protested mutely, giving a little shrug.

The first man stepped over to the coffee station now, hanging his teabag to drip into the cup.

"Fuck!" he shouted.

I watched him impassively. For a moment our eyes met and it appeared he was appealing for sympathy. He turned away quickly when none was forthcoming.

"Shit," he said, shaking his head and stirring his tea. "There's some weird-ass motherfuckers in this library."

I thought it was all over when again he bounded over to his foe.

"Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time!" he cried. "S'physics! S'physics 101!"

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oil & Hay - 14

Before I did as I was told, I poured a glass of water from the little carafe on the shelf. Some of it splashed on my trembling fingers. If I can't fill a glass with water, I thought with dread, how can I drive a car at speed? I gulped it down morosely, the last sip of a condemned man.

I pull out, past the Esso sign hanging at the end of the pits, between the bales of hay that line the straight, and down the hill into the first corner, a gently sweeping righter, feeling alright so far. I contemplate the ditch along the steep bank to my left with a shudder.

And all these patches in the asphalt! Had they been laid in the few hours since I'd last been at the wheel? It alarms me that I am just now giving them a conscious thought. The chassis rattles and skids over them. I can feel every seam.

I can also feel cold sweat through the palm of my glove when I grip the gearshift. It terrifies me to be strapped to this contraption, out here alone among the fields and the trees and the silvery sky, each blade of grass oblivious to me, indifferent as to whether I miraculously navigate the course or fly into the woods. Is it at times like these that a man cries out for his mother? What a stupid thought. In a succession of stupid thoughts: This is the moment; this is it, it, it. This is what a man does. He does what he's afraid of doing. What am I doing? Here comes the hairpin. The Nouveau Monde. Downshift, downshift, downshift, and around, grind a little shifting up, get on the throttle, a bit too soon: the tail goes wavy, then I'm back in shape. I love to climb, to feel the power at my back as it wrenches the car from gravity. What was Melanie telling me? Something new is coming. But it's not lurking in these woods, unchanged for a hundred thousand years but for this sinuous band of asphalt and its rude freight. Or is it?

I'm driving now, really driving. Scared out of my wits but driving. To press the accelerator requires a tremendous exercise of will but I'm damned well doing it. This is what a man does. If I can get around this track a few good times I can step back into the pits, tell Tex what he wants to hear, find a dark corner somewhere to hang my head and cry. And be alive.

Finally they call me in.

As I decelerated and pulled into the box I began to quake with relief. They all looked at me with bewildered expressions. Was the motor on fire? The chief mechanic, Derek Owens, leaned in to me.

"What's wrong with her?"

"Nothing," I replied, taken aback. "Nothing I can tell. Why?"


I shook my head as he turned to survey the engine and exhaust.

"Are you alright?" he asked with an air of grim concern.

I felt a jolt of shame, suddenly seeing myself as he must see me: freakish, fumbling, incompetent. I decided to let my pride go. To tell the truth. A little.

"I've felt better, if I'm honest. I'm not in tip-top form."

Derek nodded slowly.

"Why do you ask?"

He showed me his stopwatch.

"You're thirty-five seconds off your pace from this morning," he declared.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oil & Hay - 13

I sat at the back of the pits at Les Essarts with my hand in my race suit pocket, rolling the soft ball of hashish between my fingers. Von Schlosser had given it to me before taking his turn at the wheel of our newest Star.

"Have you smoked?" he had asked me in his oddly melodic accent.

"Ever? This? Before?"

He nodded.


"Empty out your cigarette a little bit. Put the hashish inside. Smoke it."

"Thanks, Jürgen."

I decided to do as he said. I was done driving for the day, after all. There was naught to do but watch the car come in and out of the pits, to stand over the motor with an expression of thoughtful concern, to occasionally bow my head into the cockpit, pretending to understand my German teammate's breathless observations.

I took it out back, in the paddock by the lorries. Discreetly ground out some shag from a Gauloise and packed the cylinder with crumbs of the claylike material. I lit it up. The thick, sweet smoke settled into my lungs like a fog. I erupted into a fit of spasmodic coughs and as soon as it was over a curious warmth spread over my face and neck. My mouth grew dry. In the distance I heard the Apogee engine whining against the gears as Jürgen wound through the Forêt de la Londe.

It was a grey day. The cold air moved around my arms in streams as I walked back to the pits. Tex was seated at a table, ruminating.

"I been thinkin' 'bout puttin' wings on the car," he declared.

"Wings?" I exclaimed. "Good Lord. Are we now permitted to fly?"

"Upside-down wings. Think about it."

"Won't that slow us down?"


My mind was aswim. Tex bit off a new cigar and spat the tip of the butt at the cinderblock wall.

"It'll slow us down in a straight line," he said. "Ya get my drift?"

I felt my heartbeat quicken. "No."

"But speed us up around a corner."

As I pondered the implications of his remark I felt as though a new world were opening its doors.

"How'd it feel out there, Mal?" he asked after some time.

"Smashing. Bit of understeer." Why did I say that? Had I said the proper thing? It seemed like a reasonable thing to say. I was aiming for maximum plausibility.

Tex clamped down on his cigar and scrutinised me warily.

"Why, Schlossie just told me he got oversteer."

"That so?"

"Mal, I need your ass back out there."

"Beg pardon?"

"You an' the Kraut, ya gotta getcher stories straight. Car ain't that temper-mental."

I felt the cold sting of panic overwhelming my soul.

"Putcher helmet on, Limey," Tex said as he navigated his wide girth off the chair and back towards the track.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Medical Equipment I Have Seen

The Biosonic US100R ultrasonic scaler.
Here we are on the night of the great trapped miner rescue of twenty-ten.

On Columbus Day we embarked on a series of rather mundane errands in the early evening. The frame shop, the Y to get a discount membership, the grocery store.

They're inserting the rocketlike rescue pod into a hole in the ground. Steam is rising out of somewhere. The terrain is bald, barren rock. O, cruel mother earth! It's like the set of some bad sci-fi movie.

Our kitchen timer rings.

When we left the house it was seventy-three degrees. The rain was pelting the street in fat drops by the time we left our second stop and it was falling steady by the time we reached our third. We parked up close to the automatic doors.

There were few people in the vast supermarket. A surly woman watching over the organic health and beauty department. A couple we kept bumping into. As we left, a stockboy smiled and expressed a cryptic warning about the world outside: "Exercise caution on account of extreme conditions."

It was raining hard, harder than before. We turned the corner out of the parking lot and found the intersection to be flooded who knows how deep, maybe a foot, or maybe fifty. We turned around and found another way.

The streets were matted with yellowed leaves. Weren't the trees still green? It poured in places, it was still and dry in others.

When we turned onto our block it seemed to have been inundated with foamy, toxic waste. It was ice, piling up, leaf-flecked and tire-tracked. It produces a strange effect, a familiar sight appearing incongruously early.

Upstairs, our home was intact but for one thing: one of our window screens was torn to ribbons.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A strange event occurred on the F train as we were soaring above Carroll Gardens on the elevated track. An Indian boy sat across from me, between his mother and his sister, it seemed. I had my eyes on my phone screen when I perceived a mild commotion, voices raised imploringly. I looked over to find the boy lurching toward the passenger seated to my left, a serene old lady with a book. In defiance of the women's protests he reached down to touch her knee. The mother quickly stood up behind him and pulled him away.

"Sorry!" she said. "Sorry!"

"Sorry!" echoed the sister.

The old lady murmured, "It's all right."

At once I was agitated, wary, the reflexive response of the guarded city dweller. I peered at the stocky boy as he settled uneasily into his seat. He had a sheepish smile but he still appeared to be flailing slowly against the restraining hands of his kin. There was something very wrong with this boy; this must be what it's like every time he's out in public. That's what was really going on.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Everything I Touch Turns Blue

Part 1: At Home

Everything I touch turns blue.

I first noticed one morning as I returned my coffee mug to the kitchen. I found a trail of softly glowing ultramarine stains: on the light switch, refrigerator handle, cupboard. I thought of the ink bombs that banks put in the moneybags of thieves: had some inept criminal left his mark around my house?

I placed my mug in the sink and, seeing that it too was spotted, realized with a flash of shame that it was me. But when I looked down at my fingers there was nothing. They were clean.

I leaned over the counter and examined the richly dappled surface of the soapstone. I touched a painted fingerprint; it felt like nothing. Nothing wet and nothing dry. Nothing of substance. Yet when I drew a line it appeared in blue. I made a zigzag and covered it with a spiraling scribble.

Everything I touch turns blue.

Part 2: At the Doctor's

"Everything I touch turns blue," I told Doctor Kleschnick.

"What do you mean?"

"When I touch something, there's blue. Like paint, or ink."

"Are your fingers stained with paint? Or ink?"

"Absolutely not."

"Show me."

I removed the yellow dishwashing glove from my right hand and traced a line across the brittle paper that ran loosely over the exam table, creasing and tearing where I sat.

"Well I'll be goddamned," Kleschnick said.

"What's wrong with me?"

"We're going to have to run some tests."

"What kinds of tests?"

"MRI. CAT. OGTT. CRP. LFT. CMP. CFT. Give me a minute and I'll think of a few more."

"All those tests?"

"We're going to hit you hard and heavy, Donald."

I gazed at my errant digits, still pristine.

"I'm also going to get you over to a shrink."

Part 3: At the Psychiatrist's

"Tell me what's going on with you."

"Everything I touch turns blue."




"When I touch something, it turns blue. With my fingers."

Doctor Thomashefsky tore a sheet from his prescription pad and handed it to me upside down.

"Make a mark. Show me."

I drew a stick figure of a man beside a burning house.

"Interesting," Thomashefsky commented. "Interesting."

Part 5: At the Shaman's

Kuakito shook a rattle, peering at me gravely.

"Why no touch?" he barked.

"Everything I touch turns blue."

He nodded. As though he'd expected my very answer.

"What do I do?"

The mystic rummaged through a large plastic tub behind his desk. Finally he produced an ovoid, organic object and a sharpened stick. He handed them to me.

"Penetrate it!" he commanded.


"Stick it into it!" He pantomimed a stabbing action. I mirrored him meekly, bringing the point just to the surface of the flesh.

"PEN-E-TRATE!" Kuakito howled.

I speared the green gourd and a pus-like substance erupted from its core, streaming down and dripping on my knees. The shaman was pleased.

"Go home you now," he said, accepting the consummated objects unceremoniously and tossing them in the trash. "Today, problem. Tomorrow-" he put his hands together at his cheek, the universal sign for slumber - "problem no more."

"No more? Just like that?"


Part 6: Dénouement

When I awoke the following day I immediately drew my finger across the face of my clock. Could it be? It left no trace!

I walked outside to pick up the paper from my stoop. It was a beautiful day. Clear sky. A little cold. Mrs. Purdy walked by with her beagle, Sam.

"Hey Eileen!" I called. "Hey Sam!"

They did not respond. Though they gazed vaguely in my direction, they did not seem to see me.

"Eileen!" I yelled. "Hey!" I was waving at her now. "Hey! Hey!"

Suddenly she turned toward me. I smiled and continued waving, more frantically now. Why didn't she answer? Her gaze was eerie, vacant. She was looking somewhere else.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

It's a pleasure to find oneself at the beginning of something. Football: four weeks in. (Already!) It goes by fast, too fast. But for now, it's just good to be inside of something, not knowing what it is. Are the Vikings so terrible? The Chiefs so good? Each season is a life, lived from summer to the dead of winter.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Though the wind blew the misted air around it wouldn't rain.