10 October 2007

Oral Hygiene (Or: How to become a Literary Success!)

The worst type of writer is the Instant Hit, reflects Albert brushing his teeth. He spits, rinses and smiles. Elaborates no further on his profound revelation, satisfied with this stand-alone statement. Albert writes beginnings of stories. Takes pride in his conciseness. Brushes his teeth until his gums bleed waiting for the rest of the world to catch on. His prolific work consists of volumes of disjointed one-liners that he thought up while taking a shit or in queue at the movies. A fortune-cookie philosopher. In fifth grade he learned the value of mystery and, a true fundamentalist, took the lesson to heart. Since then he’s refused to write more than a paragraph, Let the reader wonder what happens.
Deirdre can’t decide whether it’s laziness or genuine artistic merit that drives Albert’s abruptness. She crouches in the corner of his room and leafs through one of his manuscripts, trying to imagine ends to a couple of Albert’s beginnings. But Deirdre’s not a writer – she can’t transcribe abstract ideas into widely understood signifiers. Why do you do it? She asks and turns another page. But he keeps brushing his teeth. She falls back into those short-striped pages and tries to understand Albert’s art.
He brushes harder. Now he realizes that eventual recognition will warrant his death. Navigates the freeway and sideswipes a semi-truck. Watches his body ejected through the windshield; upward toward the grandeur he’s dreamt of his whole life. Adoring fans flock to the scene – They suddenly understand! Or at an annual checkup the doctor discovers he’s ill with an incurable strain of tuberculosis (like many Great Writers before him). He suffers through the illness of passion and bids farewell to the world with a virgin white kerchief stained crimson fluttering from his fingers. The more dramatic his death the more famous he may become. Once my work becomes finite!
Now Deirdre’s overcome by terrible pain in her head. She strains to appreciate Albert’s staccato stories! The gentle swish of his toothbrush grates her brain like a block of Parmesan. She clutches, squeezes and oozes it from between her shaking fingers. What a mess she makes –
gray matter splatters the ground, staining some of Albert’s volumes. She crumples then in that corner but Albert will notice nothing.
He brushes still, his mouth dripping red. Postulating the perfect death to turn him into a gradually recognized classic.

The lowest class: A diatribe

Beware of the homeless. The lurching leeching poor infect the streets and prey upon our children. They siphon our hard-earned tax dollars into their welfare hands. Spending food stamps like Monopoly money at the local diner – disdainful ungrateful sons of pushers and prostitutes. Smell sour like sun-dried ketchup and sweat as they ravage our garbage seeking empty cans to support their alcoholism. Inhuman. Freaks. They destroy our downtowns with their perverted and pervasive personalities. They must be decimated!
Like Leon the cart-pusher. The collector. He gathers scraps to carry on. Even the bridge of his greasy nose balances piled-high pairs of glasses separated by a square of paper towel (layering is in style!). Leon traverses town daily shoving that cart – or hoists a shiny black garbage bag over his shoulder. Sports gray-blue sweat shorts with a small hole over the ass that reveals a pink peek of commando flesh. On the hottest days of summer he wears his black winter jacket with the hood up and drawstring tied. He babbles aloud – but nobody listens (not even he) – about turquoise raccoon and Bethlehem and silver drupes, squidly balloon. Leon smiles and reveals his two moldy teeth, separated by grapefruit-pink gum. Santa won’t return those chompers. He carts around downtown between the shelter’s great breakfast, lunch and dinner specials (God Bless the Free Market!).
Then Dennis zips by in his motorized wheelchair and parks beside an unsuspecting girl. He twists and slips his quadriplegic hand into the back pocket of his seat. Grabbing the laminated sheet printed with information, he points to his name and then to himself with stuck-shut hands – a graphic introduction. The sheet is full of useful words. His family’s names and dates of birth. Yes. No. Thank You. The alphabet and zero through nine. He seeks out the innocent girls. Pulls up beside them and spells out his tragedy about the seventeen year-old drunk driver who put him in the chair and the lawyer-father who helped the kid escape a sentence. I was supposed to die three times, he points. He spells about his complicated birth and Vietnam. Poor-speller-story-telling Dennis can’t laugh anymore (on account of the accident). But he gets excited sometimes and releases a blood-curdling squeal from his open-mouthed grin that scares away most girls already terrified. Oh look! An anthill! The girls exclaim and sprint in an opposite direction.
Dejected Dennis wheels off defeated past John the ex-computer programmer. He used to earn a hundred thousand dollars a year. But he blew it all on fancy cars and the multiple mothers of his many children. Squats every Tuesday beside the hot dog girl in front of the Federal building. Tells her she’s got dreamy eyes he’d like to kiss. Charms passersby and wistfully recounts better days. His tired black eyes droop as he smirks and laughs. They call him Uncle John. He’ll hook any brother up. That’s his side job – an entrepreneurial pharmacist. His main avenue of income comes through the mail to compensate his service to the United States of America during ‘Nam.
He talks about the war with his buddy, Doug the white-collar criminal, a convicted felon who discusses gonzo journalism and public radio. Makes his money as a lab rat since he can’t get hired anyplace else. Lives with other vets in a house just outside of downtown. He’s a broken man with parts missing. Like his eyeteeth (whose absence becomes instantly apparent to those he engages in conversation) and a snippet of his left ear. He complains of PTSD and raves about the latest book he’s finished (as an avid reader and member of the public library). Shows off a dated photograph of his daughter. Looks with yearning eyes at the picture he still carries in his wallet of his ex.
Just look at them – the scum! We want nothing to do with them – herpetic sores on our pristine community. Pussy ooze. Avoid them at all costs for they are heart- and soulless creeps who want to eat your baby. Think twice before surrendering that quarter.

An unfortunate family reunion

A nasty bout of homesickness overtook Evelyn, and she couldn’t recover that nauseating omen lingering in her abdomen. So, succumbing to the condition, she dropped all previous plans and battled through traffic back to her hometown. She burst, delirious, through the door. Saw a blotchy-faced family and the illness spread throughout her body. They cried It’s bad blood! A (we hope temporary) death sentence for her father. It makes no sense! They wept in unison. He’s feeling better than ever before. She looked skeptically at her newly defeated dad. Surrendered disbelief and squeezed him tight, sobbing into his sunken shoulders. Soon as she recomposed, daughters and mother rushed him to the hospital. Morbid Evelyn recited a eulogy silently and watched with eyes like tomato slices as a blind bottle-blond nurse stabbed at father’s veins. Together they cursed the patriarch’s toxic circulatory system.
They left late with reluctance and returned the next morning. Kept him company before the doctors pierced a port through his chest. I’m a tough guy. Whimpered sick and dying (at least for now) father. The telephone lines swelled with condolences and well wishes. Pots of pasta accumulated in the refrigerator from well-meaning outsiders but the girls back home (mother and daughters torn from their husband and father by that damned disease that translates like a death sentence) couldn’t even bring themselves to lift the fork.
For the first time in young Evelyn’s life, her father’s existence had proven transitory (just like hers, but she was too young yet to realize outside of isolated incidents late at night when she’d mourn her own mortality). She repented remembering too many occasions in which she’d declined his invitations to quality time, grieved the movies they never saw together and art galleries never visited. And mid-yearn she coughed. I’m sick! She gasped, and so she couldn’t visit her much sicker father – into whose body the doctors pumped a barrage of chemicals intended to murder his malevolent marrow.
Family from both coasts and both sides flew in. They’d planned their trips for a birthday celebration, but instead took the opportunity for a last visit. What an unfortunate family reunion! After the hospital, they went to the State Fair and pretended they didn’t think of that hourglass they’d seen in their father-husband-uncle-brother-in-law, or the complications that’d come when (if!) time ran out. At night, they played with their dinners and swallowed sleeping pills for dessert, exchanging sad smiles and passing out in their respective rooms not before praying for a positive prognosis.
When they said goodbye, they hoped it wouldn’t be their last. And sure enough, after only four weeks (hellish, though, for him, all chemoed in the hospital!) father came home, feeling bald but fine. All rising action and resolution, Evelyn smiled, Life is not literature.