August 21, 2006

Baby Steps (by Matthew)

Robbi has been encouraging me to chime in here, as I've grown reticent in the face of her budding stardom. Remembering that this site was launched to promote both her illustration and my writing, I am considering a return to the fold.

I've never written a story about commercial airline travel, which seems to be the prevailing theme. Perhaps in reviving the furloughed muse I should set myself the challenge of writing about the airline industry?

I was sitting in a meeting the other day, not paying much attention, and was struck with an idea that I think might have some traction. The idea is little more than a title right now, but the title appeals to me and seems to hold potential grist. Before the idea molders and fades, as such ideas often do, I am stating my intention to develop the story called Theories of Ted. Can you see it?

This, in addition to my stagnant opus about one man's love of Laura Ingalls Wilder, will be in the hopper some two weeks from now when I am once again a free man. Will stepping away from the 9 to 5 deliver the literary bliss I imagine? Time will tell. But you heard it here first: Theories of Ted. Can you see it?

Posted by bogenamp at 07:27 PM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2006

Back to School

In which an error yields enlightenment, injury, and anxiety.

The autumn comes and we lament the loss of innocence.

"Standing here now, it's clear how much we've changed since April," says Dougie. "Our peers are the mirror we needed. They are naive. The are small and immature."

"Not at all like we who spent the summer on and around the Ocean City boardwalk," says Renee.

"And beneath it," says Dougie.

Renee blushes. I blush as well.

We walk down the hall and notice how short the lockers are, how short the water fountain.

"Have you been in the men's room?" Dougie asks me. "How one's perspective can change in light of mere experience. I know I have not grown and yet I feel so literally large."

"It was kind of hard to pee," he continues. "I actually had to stoop."

It is not long before we realize the error. The bus has dropped us at the elementary school. Mrs. Gilbert recognizes us.

"Dougie," she says, "Renee, so good to see you both."

"And you," she says, frowning at me. "Still doing your best to ruin these two darlings?"

Mrs. Gilbert takes us back to her nurse's station for some coffee. We are adults now. She offers cream and sugar.

"Do we have to go back to the high school, Mrs. Gilbert?" says Dougie.

"I don't see why," she says. "Nothing much happens on the first day, does it?"

"Nothing at all," says Renee. "What should we do instead?"

"Would you like to help me treat the wounded students?" says Mrs. Gilbert. "It's awfully diverting."

The first one that comes in is a second grader who has stapled his finger to the floor. Mrs. Gilbert gives him a shot and he howls. Then she puts his arm in a cast.

"You've really taken things to a new level, Mrs. G," says Dougie.

"Back in the day, we only got the shot," says Renee.

I volunteer that once Mrs. Gilbert gave me an IV.

I see her smile briefly and then return to frowning.

We play Life, Operation, and Sorry before we get bored and order Chinese.

"I'll use the school's credit card," says Mrs. Gilbert. "I figure they owe you, after all."

"It was rough," says Dougie, "but I feel we kept our spirits up in spite."

"You were real troopers," says Mrs. Gilbert. She places her hand on Dougie's back in a way that raises Renee's attention.

"Don't touch him that way, Mrs. G," she says.

Mrs. Gilbert is surprised. "My, how you have grown," she says. "Asserting yourself with confidence. A woman already."

"I spent my summer in Ocean City," says Renee.

"I was just about to ask," says Mrs. Gilbert. She puts her hand on Renee's back.

We go out for recess with the rest, trying to commingle. I am chosen as the captain of one kickball team and Dougie captain of the other. Renee rolls the ball. We are disgusted with the children's lack of power and quit, discouraged.

"Were we so weak and ineffective in our day?" says Dougie.

A few of the sixth grade boys are offended and tackle Dougie in a group. It takes some doing to get him free.

"Well, well," says Mrs. Gilbert. "This is like old times." She puts ice on Dougie's face and gives me an IV.

"Is this is necessary?" I ask. Mrs. Gilbert smiles and the room goes swimmy. When I awake, she and Renee are sitting at her nurse's table, sipping tea, crying.

"It's been so long since I've had this kind of conversation," says Mrs. Gilbert.

"Me too," says Renee. "In fact, I never have."

"Where is Dougie?" I ask. "We sent him back to high school," says Mrs. Gilbert. "He was beginning to get on our nerves."

I look at the clock. The school day is nearly finished. Soon we'll have to line up for the busses. I think of my backpack. Where have I left it? Is there any homework? Will there be time for my paper route before it starts to rain?

Renee and Mrs. Gilbert are gone. I'm alone in the nurse's station. I feel a sense of deja vu.

I get disoriented in the fifth grade hallway and miss the bus. I cut behind the school, through the drainage ditch, and walk home along the railroad tracks. There is a bum with a stick and a hot dog. He's roasting it over a fire.

"Those are some healthy embers," I say.

He looks at me. "You got some money, buddy?" he says. I have no money. He does not seem to mind. He seems kind. I am not afraid.

I sit with him a while. He shares his hot dog.

"How did you end up like this?" I ask, once I am comfortable with the question.

"Never finished school," he says.

That night I talk with my parents about drugs and sex. They've been wanting to have the conversation for so long and I've been putting them off. To my surprise, I learn a few things.

"We'll still need to cover rock n' roll," my father says.

"But it can wait until tomorrow, honey," says my mother. I kiss her and head up to my room.

I take out my telescope, train it on the moon, and wonder how it's changed since the last time I looked, late last spring, when I was still a child. My focus drops, as it always does, to the window opposite, where Jenny Fienbaum, true to her habit, is undressing in plain view. Her bust has grown. She is smoking a cigarette, carefully blowing the smoke out the window into the lonely night.

She is perfect there. A thing that's almost something else. I pull my gaze away and let her be.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:27 PM

April 06, 2006

The Dawn of the Fats

In which demand outpaces supply and ugliness ensues, like death.

We were standing in line to get some funnel cakes. It seemed reasonable to assume that there would be enough for each of us. We were hungering for those deep-fat-fried curls of dough, dusted with sweetness. We wanted to eat our cakes and feel the warm weight of fatness as it came. We cared for nothing else but filling our mouths, chewing it up, making it part of our selves. Five bucks for that was nothing. But the line was moving slowly. Things seemed to be reaching a head near the vendor's cart.

Funnel cakes were four dollars. The man who worked the register was out of change. No more cakes until I get some ones, he said. That caused a row. We were willing to murder the folks without the right change, sure. It would be easy. All of us had various guns. But that wasn't the problem. Each of us had fives, crisp and new. Most of us had at least two fives, actually. Most of us would want to eat more than just one funnel cake. Our goal was true American fatness, not some mealy European imitation. No, the problem was not a lack of exact change but an unwillingness on the part of the cashier to deviate from policy, which clearly stated that without ones in the change drawer commerce as we knew it would have to halt suddenly and with no regard for our feelings or hungers.

Also there was the issue of dough and the fact that they were out of it.

I caught word of these two sad facts as the din of collective disappointment circulated throughout the lengthening line. Everyone was angry but passive. The invectives were harsh but what could be done? I pulled out my stepladder and climbed until I rose above the crowd. Heads turned and took me in. I was basking in the aura of dumb wonder.

Is this what it feels like, I thought for the sake of my memoirs, what He felt like on top of that mountain, speaking to His people?

Friends, I spoke, friends, why are you standing, mute and passive? We have the right to be fat! I said.

Fat, fat! They echoed. Their eyes were full of light.

We deserve for supply to meet demand, I shouted, when we are willing to pay our Christian wage for the sake of jolly fatness!

Fat, fat, they said. Fat! Some of them began to rock from side to side.

We will run amok if they try to stand between us and our fat, I said. We are good men and women and we will not be denied our share of--

FAT, FAT, FAT, the crowd was foaming. Three fat women seized the tub of hot fat and were hoisting it aloft. Other fats lay upon the ground while the fat cascaded from the tipped tureen. Open-mouthed, they thirsted for the fat and they were not unsatisfied.

In the fat melee my ladder was knocked over. I fell to the ground.

There beside me was the funnel cake vendor, obviously broken. We lay prone in a sea of dancing fats. He looked at me with pity. You see, he said, why we have these rules?

A fat stepped on my arm, pinning me to the hot earth. Another fat died upon me, crushing me down, denying my lungs, ending my life.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:30 PM | Comments (1)

March 05, 2006

Cruelty in Love

In which Mort adjusts his attitude, finds love in his mind, and goes to bed alone.

In love there is a kind of cruelty, thinks Mort. He stands on the corner where Bella has not kissed him. He holds expensive roses. His being longs. In the window above, Bella's lights come on. He watches her alluring silhouette as she writes honest unpleasant things about their recent date in her diary. Where was his flaw? Is it fundamental? Is her objection aesthetic or something else? Is he unfunny? Unmasculine? Unkempt? The roses were expensive. He'd bought them from a vendor.

"You got fleeced," Bella had said at the time.

It starts to rain.


Mort is a maverick of sorts. He tries to sell people on the idea that men can be improved by attitude alone. He has a video that he markets at the front desks of companies. He would like to sell it on TV, but the process of getting the spot is tricky and political.

"If I could get one of those infomercials," he thinks, "watch out, Baby."


Mort says "Baby" more than he should. He says it to clerks in stores and to potential customers at the critical moment. He thinks it's cool and confident. A mentor told him once that "Baby" was the answer. And charged him $50, after, for the advice.

"Look at me," the man had said, "and disagree if you can."

This man had had a hot tub and supple leather bucket seats. Mort could not disagree. He had signed on.


Recently, Mort had become religious. It was surprising to Mort, considering his latent rage about god and god's denizens. But lately he had had a need to feel supported from the other end of the log.

"When I stand in the middle of an open space," he had told Bella, "it sometimes feels like I'm going to fall up into the sky."


Bella's breath was minty. He'd gotten close enough to notice this, when leaning in to take the check. They had eaten expensively. The entrees had been small and Mort was still hungry. He walked in the rain to his favorite burrito stand, only to find that they were out of rice.

"How does this happen?" thinks Mort. "Are they messing with me?"

He eats a burger instead, and it gives him indigestion, and it is a bad burger because they primarily make burritos and put little energy into burgers. Mort is full but unsatisfied. He goes to the casino. He loses money on blackjack. He goes home. Calls it a day.


The call from Bella is unexpected. He is in his pajamas when she calls. He feels unprepared, stammers. He makes a funny joke, accidentally. Bella laughs. Says she had such a good time on the date. Mort is swimming in emotion when he hangs up the phone, wondering what went right, wondering how to repeat it at the zoo this afternoon.


They watch the monkeys for a long time. The monkeys jump wildly and fornicate. Mort and Bella speculate on which monkey is related to which. Some are small and some larger. Are the smaller ones the children of the larger ones, or different types of monkeys? Bella wonders. Mort makes up a story about the monkey family and Bella smiles a real smile. The rain is gone. Mort buys her a hot dog. She eats it. She eats another.


When Mort calls his mother to tell of Bella, his mother is happy.

"What is her background?" his mother asks. "Is she Jewish?"

"She's not, mom," says Mort. "And that's ok by me."

"Of course, Honey, I'm just wondering," she says, and Mort has the feeling that she is distracted by something like television.


Mort thinks carefully about everything he does with, for, and about Bella. He takes notes and plans. He carefully prepares his attitude. He practices funny phrases.

"You're different," she says, frowning at the ice rink. "Are you the Mort Lowenstein I fell in love with?"

The word "love" causes him to fall on the ice. Later, in the ER, Bella clutches his good arm and tells him that it's going to be all right.


When Bella tells Mort about Chaz she averts her eyes and holds her hands in her lap.

"It happened suddenly," she says. "I'm sorry."

Mort remembers Chaz from the ER. He had been kind to Mort, instructing him to count backwards from ten as the IV did its work.

He had wondered why Bella had not been there as he came to. His mother, instead, had stood over him, preening.


On the corner, with the roses, Mort sees it all before him. The incestuous monkeys, the broken wrist, the relentless presence of his mother. He puts the roses in the garbage, walks home through the rain, and takes his phone off the hook. He goes to sleep. He will wake up in the morning.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:23 AM

February 19, 2006

Too Much Coffee

In which the dangers of caffeine are revealed and the meaning of life realized too late.

Too Much Coffee

Perched on a cliff, with a belly full of strong coffee, Micah Jones wondered what it would feel like to fall toward the rocks below. Would it be a pleasant feeling or would it be unpleasant? He couldn't decide. He was twitching while he wondered, so agitated was the caffeine making him. He twitched so violently that he fell, and, in his surprise, forgot to reflect upon the feeling of falling such that when he died, he died not knowing what it felt like to fall. Later his mother sued Dunkin Donuts for not cutting him off sooner. The clerks felt guilty but won the case, coffee consumption being one of those things you shouldn't have to regulate. The clerks were Indian, and entrepreneurial, and started a fund to build a sturdy fence near the cliff to keep this sort of thing from happening again. Donations poured in and they built the fence, but there was enough left over to purchase new signage for the building's facade and business doubled. This did not sit well with Micah Jones's mother, who was the angry sort. Hoping to do harm, she rammed the fence with her car and, since it was shoddily made, ended up crashing right through and into the ocean below. As the car fell toward the sea, she felt a surprising calm. The thrill of falling opened up a new place in her heart. She felt forgiveness and even love then died.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:23 PM

January 06, 2006

In the Grass

In which someone lurks and someone else runs out of lighter fluid.

In the grass with complex visions in our heads, we wish for paper but have to tell each other our stories and hope that they will be remembered, however approximately. Janet says she sees a rainbow but the sky is dry and the angle of the light all wrong.

I'm using my imagination, she tells us.

I'm imagining that I don't see a rainbow, says Charles.

Why are you being so contrary, Charles? says Midge.

It's how I am, says Charles. Plus, I'm trying to make an interesting point. Is what I imagine any less valid than what Janet imagines? Even if what I imagine has an uncanny resemblance to reality?

We are tired and don't want to think too hard about what seems like bad logic. Chad seems satisfied by our silence, interpreting it as a victory.

Leavenworth speaks: I think your argument is flawed, he tells Charles. You're just being contrary. We listen to you because you are smart in other contexts, such as investing. I'd love to have your sense of where to put my money. In human relations, you are spiteful and your comments uninteresting. Be quiet now.

We chew on individual stalks of wheat to pass the time. Eddie eats sunflower seeds.

Are there sunflowers here? says Franny.

Brought them from home, says Eddie. Want some?

I'd like to harvest my own, says Franny.

Suit yourself, says Eddie.

Thanks, though, says Franny, though most of us think her gratitude seems forced.

When the sky begins to darken, John suggests that a bonfire might be appropriate.

Is there wood? says Ulrich.

The forest must be full of down wood, says John.

I'll look for wood, says Sallie.

Me too, says Julie.

Thanks, guys, says John. We should have enough in no time, considering your energy and enthusiasm.

I have a lighter, says Mordachai. When the time comes, I may let someone use it.

His name isn't really Mordachai, thinks Phillip. I know it. His name is probably Phillip, too.

The girls collect the wood. Mordachai uses up all of his lighter fluid trying to make the wet wood catch. We sit around the wood in a circle. It crosses through someone's mind that lightning could strike, but it does not. We do not sing. No one feels like singing.

When the dark comes we wonder if there are ghosts.

Monica says it aloud.

There aren't ghosts, Monica, says Jasper.

He says it with such patience. I am touched. I would have taken this moment to ridicule Monica. She is an imbecile.

Then again, given that Monica, with her comment, betrayed a certain degree of vulnerability, perhaps she deserved the benefit of the doubt.

I know that, Jackass, says Monica. I was just making conversation with Jim. I'll say it again, Jim are there ghosts?

I dunno, says Jim. Want to go in the woods and make out?

Did you bring a blanket? says Monica.

No, says Jim. I bet Phillip did, though.

I did, says Philip.

Right on, says Jim. Throw it over here?

Philip does. The rest of us sit silently as Monica and Jim make out in the woods. Eventually we fall asleep.

In the morning we are surrounded by cows.

Camping is just as interesting as they said it would be, says Midge.

Are these cows dangerous? says Trista.

Occasionally cows are dangerous, says Phillip, but bulls much more so.

Is that a bull? says Trista.

No, says Phillip, no horns, see?

No, that one, says Trista, pointing at the one with the horns.

We work up a sweat, but find ourselves on the other side of the fence, eventually. We're behind the supermarket now. A refrigerator truck is unloading produce.

Let's swipe some lettuce, says Hoedel, while we're still young.

We'll each remember the camping trip differently, I imagine.

Phillip will remember the moment he lost his blanket. He changed after that weekend. He slept with all the girls from then on.

Mordichai will remember the day he lost his army.

Samantha will remember her birthday in the dark after Mordichai's failure. I read it in her journal. She was genuinely afraid and was so glad when Monica mentioned ghosts so that she didn't have to.

I'll think of it as a time of contemplation. I spoke to no one. I lurked and watched. No one knows that I was there. I am not well-liked.

I may go on to succeed in life, financially at least. I will not have peaked that night in the clearing. It was I who wet the wood. It was I who made a sound like ghosts, who recruited the cows. Who fed on the fear of my classmates.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:43 PM

October 13, 2005

At the Altar

In which there is mild promise but no resolution.

Sara sits on a boulder by the edge of the quarry, watching Elton work his cutsaw.

Eltons enormous muscles are necessary for cutting that lime, she thinks. Without lime, there would be no baseball. Without baseball, there would not be a first pitch to throw, and therefore no president of the United States.

She takes a sip of her milkshake.

Without a president, there would be anarchy, she thinks. And without milkshakes I would be quite a surly girl.

She loves milkshakes. She loves granola and koalas and Chinese kites.

I am a girl who loves wearing pink, she says. This does not distinguish me, exactly, but it does describe me.

Get to know me, she says to Elton, who, after the kiss, has asked to come inside.

Elton studies in his books. He has books. Shelves and shelves of books inside his house. He is a laborer. I am a laborer with books, he says.

A laborer with books, she says, Is like a penguin with a heat lamp.

If I was a penguin, he says, I would like a heat lamp.

You have a point, she says.

They are standing at the altar. Time has passed.

Will you marry him? says the pastor.

I will, she says.

And will you marry her? says the pastor.

But Elton is silent. He looks at Sara and is not certain. She is so small. How can someone so small be considered reliable?

All the rice is recycled to make gluten.

And what is gluten? says Milo, who runs the organic farm Elton belongs to.

Elton wonders about Milo, thinking he should know about things like gluten.

How can I trust that his chickens are truly free range if he does not know what gluten is? thinks Elton.

How can I pull spinach from his soil or berries from his bushes?

Milo leaves, on a motorcycle, for the golden frontier. Elton never sees him again.

Elton moves into the empty house on the grounds of the organic farm. Jessica, a high school student, is in the guest room.

Milo made love to me sometimes, she says. He made me feel like a woman and also gave me food.

Elton indicates that she can stay. Though he encourages her to stay in her room instead of in his room, as she indicates she would prefer.

Youd better study for that algebra exam, he says.

Aye, aye, Capn, she says.

He marvels at the trim plane of her flat belly as she walks down the hallway to her bedroom.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:59 AM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2005

Floating on the Ocean

In which there is salt and sea and sky, the tragedy of repetition, and endless doldrums.

Howie regrets the time hes spent in lifeboats. So many ships hes been on have sunk.

It seems like bad luck, he suggests to Su, but perhaps thats too easy an explanation. The laws of mathematics would suggest that it has something to do with me.

How many large, commercial boats have you been on? she asks him.

Seven, he says. And all of them have sunk.

It seems uncanny, she admits.

They are sitting in a lifeboat now. Sus halter top is straining beneath the pressure of her enormous breasts.

Its my little sisters halter top, she explains when she sees him staring. I grabbed it when I felt the boat lurch. I know it is too small.

Not a problem, says Howie. He aims to be a gentleman this time.

They examine the box of provisions and are confident that there will be enough for the present.

Ive spent time in much less well-provided life boats, Howie assures Su, who is weeping uncontrollably. He resists the temptation to embrace and comfort her. A good cry should go a long way toward helping her move to a more rational place, he thinks. He takes out the harmonica provided in the survival kit and plays a few riffs.

Youre pretty good, says Su, after a while.

Lots of time to practice, says Howie.

Su beats out some percussion on the tin of crackers. Are we playing an actual song? she asks him.

Were just improvising, he tells her.

The boat floats. There are no oars. There had not been time to grab any.

Their conversation is thin. There is nothing to learn or to calculate. Su is from New Jersey, Howie from the California coast. They share nothing but proximity, a steady diet of hard tack and Gatorade, and a likely grisly end.

Distract me, Howie, she says in a while.

All right, he says. And does. He has known that this would happen, that people turn to easy routes to pleasure when the opposite asserts itself.

I suppose that my sister is dead, says Su. She was set to turn sixteen on Tuesday. Her eyes are sad, looking out over the water. The setting sun creates a field of diamonds.

Its beautiful, she says. At least its beautiful.

Howie tells Su about Sister Augustine, who had sat where Su now sits, her habit stiff with salt. Their conversation, he tells her, had started with God and the beyond.

But eventually turned to here and the now, says Howie. Situations have a way of asserting themselves. Things change. The perspective of a life boat shows us were really coming from.

Youre philosophizing now, says Su.

I am, he says. But what is the alternative?

What is? she agrees. She dips her hand into the water, trails her fingers as they float. I think were moving, she tells him. I think this boat is going somewhere.

Howie scours the stars at night, searching for a familiar configuration. My luck has been balanced, he says. For every sinking, a rescue. For every test, a successful walk across the embers.

And have your feet been burned? she asks. Have there been scars?

Howie reveals his feet. They are sunburned but otherwise intact. Theyve always carried me back to the land, he says, considering.

And why do you keep on taking these trips? she asks. Considering all, its a little inconsiderate.

Your sister, you mean? he asks.

Among others, says Su. My fianc was on that boat as well.

You havent mentioned him before, says Howie.

I didnt like him so much, says Su. In some ways, I am grateful to you.

Its hard sometimes, says Howie, to end a bad relationship.

It is, she says, reflecting.

When supplies grow thin there is tension, gamesmanship, lack of trust. But it passes.

The hardest times . . . says Howie.

Have a way of bringing us together, says Su.

By us, you mean people in general? he asks.

I mean just you and me for the present, says Su. Theres no more room to talk in platitudes.

And Howie is touched. Theres something real in her affection. He shrugs it off in a moment, confident suddenly that the boat will wind up circling the middle of the ocean forever.

Time passes. Su grows emotional.

In some real ways, says Su, You are my best friend now.

By definition strictly, Howie says.

Yes, she admits, But let that not lessen the importance.

I love you, Howie, she says.

I love you, too, he says. He hates this moment when it comes. There is a duplicity. He still corresponds with Marthya, Janice, Sister Agnes and the others. All of them are living in the same city in Kansas, as far as possible from the sea. It makes visiting them both efficient and complex, creating the conditions for his need to seek new oceans to explore.

Will we die? says Su. She is lying on her back. The food is gone. She is so thirsty. She is only hoping now for easy answers.

Yes, says Howie. In time, he says.

But not today? she asks. By the way she says the question, there is only one answer.

Not today, he says. He closes his eyes. When they wake, there is sun again. Sun and blue and not a cloud in the sky.

When they are rescued, Su is sheepish.

All that worry, she says.

Theres still your sister, Howie reminds her, to feel bad about. You can still regret this trip on her account.

Youre right, of course, she says. But right now Im only thinking of a shower and a plate of food. Is it wrong, in your experience?

Its completely natural, he assures her. It happens to the best.

Did it happen to the nun? says Su. Her eyes are pleading.

It did, says Howie, though the nun had immediately returned to doing good once back on the deck of the rescue ship.

Standing on the land, Howie is adrift. There is a pattern to acknowledge, he thinks. Shall I keep in touch with Su, he thinks? Shall I get her contact information? Weve shared some moments, good and bad. Will I wonder down the line whether she chose nursing or decided to pursue her MFA. Will his nostalgia turn to suffocation if I cannot look into her satisfied Midwestern eyes?

He realizes he will know were to find her should he ever want to. He finds a comfort in it.

He scans the papers for another cruise. There are so many to choose from. Until someone tries to stop me, he thinks, Im going to keep floating on the ocean.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:54 AM

June 26, 2005

Holding Up the World

In which there is infidelity, infelicity, and indecision.

I am concerned throughout the first half hour of my relationship with Judith. She is inconsiderate at the start of things, refusing to ask me where I come from and what it is my people value. Instead it is, Have you been to this place before? and Do you like the wine?

Eventually I bring her around. I assume it is my rapid blinking.

Is there something wrong with your eye? she asks, which leads to, This is common among people who come from where I come from, to which she replies, And where do you come from? Which cheers me.

The Hamptons, I say, which cheers her.

This is at the 32-minute mark. A few minutes later the waiter brings our salads and then we are in love.

Have you ever eaten loin before? I ask.

I think its heavenly! she says. Just heavenly!

Try the soup, I suggest.

The soup! she says. Just lovely! Heavenly!

Where I come from, I say, We have soup all the time.

Judith swears on her bible that she wont do it on the first date.

Are you very religious? I ask.

Not so much she says, But a bible is a bible, and I do so fear the fires of hell.

They are terrifying, I admit. But, here, have some more wine.

After we do it, I ask about the bible and her fears.

Are you ready for another go? she says.

To which I respond by pretending to fall asleep. To which she responds by falling asleep.

In the morning we remember our other lives and feel wretched in our guilt.

Hernando, she says. He trusts me. How he trusts me!

For me, the problem is named Megan, I say. Which brings me to the question of whether you would mind keeping it down a bit.

At which point I hear Megan from the other bedroom. Apparently, she is awake.

Could you keep it down in there? Megan yells. And that goes double for that hussy Judith.

My wife, I explain. We have an understanding.

She knows my name? says Judith.

I went through your purse, Megan yells through the wall.

Later on we call Hernando. He comes over. The four of us have lunch. Hernando is upset but also intrigued by our suggested solution to the problem of his anger.

Where I come from people dont get angry about things like these, I say, after.

Im not angry, he says. Not any more.

He is lounging in the bed, smoking a long cigarette.

Is this an ultralight? he asks.

Im afraid so, I say.

Give me another then, he says.

He smokes them both at the same time. He coughs.

Thats better, he says. He loses consciousness eventually.

The girls went out to get some chicken, I say.

How long have I been out? he asks.

A while, I say.

I guess thats what happens when a man gets too happy, he says.

Go figure, I say.

Go figure, he says.

We are keen friends now.

On the other side of the street, the Jeffersons are finger painting with their kids. Bob Jefferson folds his undershirts and reviews the stock columns. Betty darns socks, boils eggs, waters plants, and paints the walls a more cheerful color.

Or so I imagine. For the sake of contrast. The thought of it heightens my own understanding of things.

The girls come back. We eat and drink and gorge. Afterward, our fingers are greasy.

Ive stopped caring about my work, says Hernando. My efficiency has dropped as a result, and yet I keep on getting a raise each year.

I love to eat fried foods, I say. As a result, I am getting fat.

Its true, says Megan. Ive been meaning to say something.

For me, its a failure to think beyond my next new miniskirt or what I will order for lunch when we go to the lodge next Tuesday, says Judith.

We each pity the others and admire the others and envy the others. We admit, in concert, that we are past the best parts of our lives, that we are fading. That there is little pleasure in accepting this and even less in lacking the will to do things any differently.

Megan and I have a dog. His name is Charles. He eats one half-cup of high-protein kibble in the morning and another half-cup just before we go to bed. His life involves a series of goings out and comings in. There is a worn blue pillow where he lies. He seems content.

Do you admire Charles? I ask the other three. They ponder on the question and decide that they do not.

The drama, says Hernando. Does he miss it?

Charles is asleep on his pillow by the window. It is late afternoon. The light on his back is rich and honey-colored.

I dont think he does, says Megan. But I think that I would.

Charles chases things sometimes, I say.

When was the last time you threw his rope chew? says Megan.

You have a point, I say.

I reach beneath the chair and grab his rope chew. I throw it across the room. But Charles keeps on sleeping. It almost looks like he is smiling.

Dogs always seem to be smiling, says Hernando.

It doesnt make me feel any better, I say.

Hernando and Judith ask if they can spend the night. Were giddy with the thought of it. We move the coffee table and gather all the pillows in the middle of the living room. We drink beer and get drunk. We brag and tell lies and tremble on the verge of committing unspeakable acts. But nothing happens. We look at one other.

This isnt thrilling, says Hernando.

We did it all this morning, says Judith.

Is that the problem? I say.

I think so, says Megan. The mystery

Kaput, says Judith.

Kaput, says Hernando.

We put our clothes back on, slide into our sleeping bags, and talk about the things that most concern us. There are no flashlights. There is no campfire. We will fall asleep and then we will wake up.

But in the dark, tonight, there is a pause. The four of us are holding up the world.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:40 AM

June 25, 2005

Who Should Be in Charge

In which there is discussion, desire, and denouement.

B: Not sure. What about Elton?

G: Not sure. Not sure. What about Veronica?

B: Perhaps. What about Stanley?

G: Not Stanley.

B: Moriah?

G: Good thought. Moriah is available. But often reticent.

B: What about Tiffany?

G: Tiffany has ulcers.

B: And yet, she is strong.

G: She is. But what about Gwen?

B: What about Stephen?

G: Steven. I hadn�t thought of it. Steven.

B: Steven.

G: Is he honest?

B: He is strong.

G: Is he honest?

B: Not very.

G: What about Gwen?

B: How painful are Tiffany�s ulcers?

G: Painful.

B: Painful?

G: Painful.

B: Bleeding?

G: Yes. How about Gwen?

B: I�ve been thinking about you lately.

G: You have?

B: I have.

G: And?

B: And there are things to discuss.

G: At this point?

B: Unless you�re busy.

G: I�m not.

B: Well then.

G: Shall we sit?

B: It might be best.

G: That�s better.

B: I�m glad.

G: Will you join me?

B: I think I�d rather stand.

G: Stand then.

B: I shall.

G: Begin then.

B: I will.

G: When?

B: Sorry. Now. I�ve been meaning to tell you.

G: Yes?

B: I think it should be me.

G: What?

B: Me.

G: You?

B: Yes.

G: No.

B: You haven�t thought it through.

G: I have. Many times. It cannot happen.

B: It must.

G: It won�t.

B: You mean?

G: I do.

B: You beast.

G: I�m sorry. I wish that I felt differently.

B: As do I.

G: I don�t suppose that Gwen�

B: You�re right.

G: Why not?

B: She simpers.

G: She doesn�t.

B: She prevaricates.

G: She never does.

B: I don�t like her.

G: Now there�s an honest moment.

B: There are a few.

G: There are.

B: I�m not so bad.

G: You�re not.

B: In some ways do you love me?

G: In some.

B: Could you name a few?

G: Would you consider Gwen?

B: Is it a quid pro quo?

G: I think it is.

B: That seems unfair.

G: In a way that I like.

B: You are cold.

G: At times.

B: It comes as a surprise.

G: You shouldn�t. Remember the day in the parlor?

B: How could I forget?�the lights, the haunting music, the ruinous words on the blackboard.

G: How did you feel in that moment?

B: Who would do such a thing?

G: You still don�t know?

B: Not until today.

G: I�m known to be malicious.

B: You aren�t.

G: I stand among the martyrs.

B: The martyrs?

G: You know them.

B: I don�t.

G: Think, why don�t you?

B: The Hendersons?

G: The same.

B: What is their cause?

G: Do they need one?

B: By definition.

G: I�ll look it up.

B: Please do.

G: It seems you're right.

B: There was no doubt.

G: This is the problem with you.

B: There is just one?

G: There are many.

B: Then be more specific. List them all.

G: Do you have some paper?

B: Don�t be so literal.

G: You drive me to it.

B: In a car, you mean?

G: There are times when I love you desperately.

B: I cannot disagree with you.

G: Why are we shouting?

B: It is vexing. We came here for the quiet.

G: So many books. So many even shelves.

B: Inspiring, the words of those who came before.

G: Exacting, the librarians; quiet, the reading patrons.

B: Expensive, the fines. I have been remiss.

G: I reminded you weeks ago.

B: I know. I forgot nevertheless. So often you are right.

G: So often I am.

B: There is business to resolve.

G: Do you think we can agree?

B: At what point does it cease to matter?

G: We�re left with ulcers or incompetence.

B: Are you speaking of Gwen?

G: I am.

B: You will admit it then?

G: But she�s terribly charismatic.

B: You think that is enough?

G: It always has been. Think of the examples we could cite.

B: I�d like to hear a few.

G: You�ve read the same books I have.

B: And then some.

G: Perhaps you have read more.

B: At least twice as many. And I have seen examples of charisma gone awry.

G: Can you describe them?

B: Alas, I cannot. I forget almost everything.

G: I know this to be true.

B: You do. You have suffered my company so long.

G: I�m something of a martyr.

B: Like the Hendersons.

G: I�m much less wicked than they. They have motives.

B: And your motive?

G: Attainment of position.

B: You are wicked, too.

G: Though less so.

B: I�d have to admit it.

G: You would.

B: But likely not in writing.

G: You�ve always been so careful.

B: And why not?

G: Because it�s made you hard.

B: I am a man.

G: You are. It is my bane and my delight.

B: Shall we attempt to knot things up?

G: They�re closing soon.

B: They are. The heat is draining from the room.

G: I cry at sunset.

B: Is this new?

G: It is.

B: It�s been so long.

G: Too long. What shall we do?

B: Shall we agree?

G: But who will compromise?

B: Can either of us manage the feat?

G: Most likely not.

B: Where does it leave us?

G: There must be other options.

B: I think that I could do it.

G: Perhaps you could. But I will never let it happen.

B: I�ll try to forget it, this betrayal.

G: I think you will. You always have.

B: I always have.

G: There is Elton.

B: Elton.

G: He is not disputed.

B: Is he cruel?

G: He can be cruel. It can be useful.

B: Can he be kind?

G: He can. He knows when to be, and to what degree.

B: It makes some sense.

G: It does.

B: And then?

G: And then.

B: And then we leave?

G: We do.

B: For good?

G: Imagine it.

B: I can�t.

G: Neither can I.

B: I don�t think we can do it.

G: Things could fall apart.

B: We�ve built so much.

G: For many years.

B: Elton is an idiot.

G: The worst kind.

B: What shall we do?

G: Let�s ruin them all. I have some strong opinions.

B: And I the iron fist.

G: I�m happy.

B: It happens sometimes. Let�s try to remember the road to this place.

G: I have already forgotten.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:19 AM

June 24, 2005

Death of Henry

In which Henry and Melinda experience love in different ways; death ensues.

Henry has a helper who is shorter than Henry and less intelligent.

�When I say jump�� says Henry.

�I know, I know,� says his helper.

Henry�s heart is full and round and red. He is the picture of compassion. Melinda is the object of his doting and affection.

�How can one woman be so sweet?� he asks.

�It�s a matter of physics,� says his helper.

�Have you ever heard of a rhetorical question?� says Henry.

Melinda crosses the street. Cars swerve and crash as the drivers gawk at her beauty.

�It is dangerous to live in this world with me in it,� thinks Melinda. �Though it�s hard to blame these drivers for being so agitated at the sight of me.�

Melinda goes to the army/navy surplus store to buy a hat.

�Perhaps if my honey-colored hair were more obscured,� she explains to the clerk.

He hands her a turban.

�I picked this up over in the Gulf,� he says. �Give it a try.�

Melinda is amazed. Her hair is gone.

�Where did it go?� she asks.

She is not worried. She knows that her hair is inside the turban. But she likes how men get excited in the presence of a stupid woman, and how it clouds their reason, making them easier to rob.

�You are one pretty lady,� says the clerk.

�Give me all your money,� says Melinda, pulling out a surplus grenade.

The clerk knows that the grenade is not live, that it is a fake grenade, but he opens the register and gives Melinda the contents, $47 dollars and a handful of change.

Henry and his helper, sitting in the shade on a hot day, eating sandwiches, hoping for a sighting.

�I feel that she is near,� says Henry. �See how my leg is shaking?�

�Yes, look at that,� says the helper. He is learning to discern what Henry wants him to think. What Henry wants him to say.

�I think we should go north,� says the helper.

Henry looks at his helper, studying him.

�North, you say?�

�Almost certainly,� says the helper, who feels no certainty. �We�ll find her there.�

They go north. They find Melinda.

�You�re a good man,� says Henry. �Oh my god!� he says. �Where is her hair? What has she done with her hair!?�

Melinda is on a mule, playing the Arab in a way that compliments the turban. She has joined a convoy of others in like disguise. She is unnerved at the sight of Henry running toward her. He is shouting.

�He will blow my cover,� she thinks

�Can one of you do something about this?� she asks the others.

The others are, like her, women in disguise, on muleback for the first time, wielding sabers for the first time, showing themselves to the world for the first time without their luxurious hair.

One of the women dismounts her mule, removes her blade, and runs Henry through as he approaches.

There is a great deal of blood.

�Oh my,� says Melinda. �Is this what I requested?�

�Approximately,� says the woman, whose name is Margaret.

�I suppose you�re right,� says Melinda. �I suppose I�ll have to be more descriptive next time.�

The helper is adrift. He holds Henry�s lifeless body in his arms, as he is certain that he should. The blood is getting on his pants and it irritates him.

�I�m feeling so ungracious,� he thinks, �thinking only of my pants. This man has done so much for me.�

�Someone get that fellow and put him in a wicker cage,� says Melinda.

The others do her bidding. She has asserted her authority once, and now they fall in line to do as she commands.

�Bring him to me,� she says.

They bring him. The helper looks happy in the cage. It suits him.

�Are you prepared to be my canary?� Melinda asks him.

�I am,� he says. �Though I cannot sing to save my own.�

�I do not need you to sing,� Melinda says. �Only speak to me of Henry, and how he loved me.�

�Where to begin?� says the helper. And indeed, there are so many things that he could say.

�Let�s start with the many things he had to say about your hair,� says the helper.

�Capital!� says Melinda. �Begin.�

And on they march, quivering with the novelty, into the frontier. And now, adequately entertained.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:27 AM

June 23, 2005

Charlemagne and His Men

In which Charlemagne leads his men with dignity and grace but finds them wanting in valor.

Charlemagne and his men mount a charge up a hill they hope to take. At first the going is good. Then the pathway gets steeper. And then steeper still. Suddenly there are burrs. And loose rocks that irritate the horses. Morale seems in jeopardy.

We must take this hill, says Charlemagne, for strategic advantage. He tugs on his war tunic, attempting to convey a sense of confidence. He lifts his sword toward the sky.

We must take this hill.

And yet�

Later at the ice cream parlor, the men are moaning.

100 scoops, says the girl behind the counter. The man who thought of it was certain it would never be done. Here is your prize, a wacky hat.

Made in Hong Kong, says Charlemagne in protest. And just one hat for twenty mounted men?

The girl demurs, produces two more hats.

That�s all we have on hand, she says. And it�s against the rules, besides.

Charlemagne reflects. Was it a bad leadership decision to take them out for ice cream in spite of their refusal to mount the hill? Should he have taken a �tough love� approach?

He marches down to the general mess and demands the hats. The men reluctantly oblige. Two hats are produced.

The third, Says Charlemagne?

The men are silent and sit on their hands.

Charlemagne threatens use of the hairshirt if the third hat is not produced. The men boil with fear but refuse to betray their guilty confederate.

One man is killed instantly as an example.

This is bad for morale, another man suggests. He is killed instantly.

The hat is produced. The guilty party is promoted to field general.

I�ll need your wiles tomorrow, says Charlemagne, when we attempt to mount that hill. Now get some rest.

The men oblige. They have no other choice.

The next day there is rain. Charlemagne keeps to his tent, broods, plays a game of solitaire.

As directed by the field general, the men stand at attention, waiting for battle, the rain hammering on the metal of their war helmets. When the summer sun falls they are directed to the general mess where they fall into profound stupor prior to the arrival of the salad course.

The men are woken when the plates are cleared.

Tomorrow we take the hill, says Charlemagne, smacking his lips. Today was but an echo in your minds.

In their fatigue, enough of the men believe this to make it so.

Once a week women arrive in wagons from villages recently sacked by other units. There are never enough, and so the men learn how to share.

This is good for my men, thinks Charlemagne, this learning to share. The battlefront is a place of moral improvement. My men will return to the homes they have left behind enlightened and enhanced and better able to serve me in perpetuity.

Unless they are dead, he reflects, which suggests that more women will be left for the rest of them.

In which case they will have to share less, he reflects, which makes this moral improvement less necessary.

Which makes this expensive importation of women and the values it instills largely moot, he reflects. He scowls.

He discontinues the program. The decision is met with such contempt that he makes an unprecedented reversal.

He increases the number of women to an amount that still requires some sharing, but less than before. The men are elated and promise to mount a lusty charge up the hill the next day.

I have found the balance I seek, thinks Charlemagne. My expenses have increased, my men are slightly less moral�though moral still�and I have inspired them to go forth and kill unequivocally as a means of expressing their general enthusiasm.

The women are shared to the point of exhaustion. Consequently they lose their looks and generally wither. Charlemagne sends them off to found a nunnery and asks his men to focus on the final charge. He feeds them steak and ale and anoints them each with fundamental oils. He bestows a number of honors and compliments. There is cheer. There are tears as somebody makes sentimental comments about the road behind, about the road ahead. Charlemagne finds his spirits buoyed by the unfolding of events.

These men will charge up the hill in spite of the difficulty, he thinks. They will fall on the pikes of the swarthy enemy in such numbers that the enemy will be overwhelmed. In spite of the losses.

I have so many men, he thinks. And luckily, luckily, all of them are stupid, stupid, stupid.

The women do not found a nunnery. They gather tar from natural pits. They carry it to the hilltop, spread it generously in the hollows. They cover the hollows with leaves and grass. They wait in the thickets with sharpened sticks and heavy stones. The men come. The men become mired. Charlemagne watches from his horse as the confusion sets in. And then the killing begins. There�s nothing about it that�s expected or valiant or useful to him and his lusts and his aims.

The laughter of women resounds. The trees shake. The men die. The women weep, regretting.

Charlemagne is not touched. It�s important that he see this, the women decide. It�s important that he have to take this home. The road back is long and straight and good for reflection.

The women melt away, back to another life, damaged and vindicated but ruined anyway.

There is a lesson here, thinks Charlemagne, on the top of the hill. He looks down at the new valley below. Smoke curls up from chimneys.

I wonder what I�m meant to discover, he thinks. I wonder how to understand this moment.

He takes out his pad and paper and sets out to write letters to the mothers of his men. Your men died valiantly, he writes. You men were good men who loved their general, who loved the women in their lives. They climbed a hill, they mounted a charge, and they will spend eternity in paradise.

Satisfied, he turns, and descends into the new valley, guaranteed to make himself a saint, he thinks, with the stories he will tell.

The suffering I�ve witnessed, he says to himself, has tremendous cache.

His horse plods on. At length, a village. Charlemagne is cheered again and aches for his dinner. He aches for women. He aches for his home.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:03 AM | Comments (3)