What to Read

“She aspires to write literary fiction,” Elaine tells Mercer of Leigh, all three characters in John Grisham’s Camino Island (2017), “really impenetrable stuff that the stores can’t give away” (112). Literary fiction there is shorthand for critical analysis of the obscure, a kind of stereotype that avoids ambiguity. Mercer is also a stereotype: adjunct instructor deep in college loan debt who has just lost her teaching position to budget cutbacks at a state college, her two books, a novel and short stories, already out of print. But the loss of her teaching job might provide a way for her to do what she really wants to do, which is, well, to write literary fiction. But not the impossible stuff, but books that when signed by the author in first edition hardback copies with covers in fine condition become collector’s items worth thousands of dollars, and might even wind up on a clandestine market. Books like Catch-22; The Naked and the Dead; Rabbit, Run; Invisible Man; The Moviegoer; Goodbye, Columbus; The Confessions of Nat Turner; The Maltese Falcon; In Cold Blood; The Catcher in the Rye; The Sound and the Fury; Cup of Gold; This Side of Paradise; A Farewell to Arms – all listed on page 52 of Camino Island, and are, in a sense, what Grisham’s book is about – the illicit market for such books, that is, not their value as literary fiction, other than to suggest, in an argument of proposal, that these are the kinds of books we should be reading. And to make a search for them easier, Grisham provides, MLA Style, the author’s name and year of publication.

I was going to say I did not have to resort to a black market to obtain my paperback copy of Camino Island (Dell Mass Market Edition, 2018, unsigned, but in good condition), but it might be argued that I did: Susan had pulled it out of the neighborhood free library share box located in the vacant lot near the Line 15 stop down around the corner from our place, had me read the back cover, adding the counsel, “I think you might like this.” Certainly not impenetrable – I read to page 116 last night before putting out the light. And I do like it.

One thing I liked about Camino Island, placed rudely on top of the stack of reading in progress books and magazines on the bedside table, is that it assuaged my guilt over leaving my recently legally purchased copy of the 50th Anniversary edition of Dune so early, in the middle of Chapter Two. The plan was to read Dune along with one of my out-of-town brothers, another Pandemic exercise, and we would compare notes and reactions over the phone. Dune appears to be a book that involves, as the Baron tells Feyd: “‘Listen carefully, Feyd,’ the Baron said. ‘Observe the plans within plans within plans'” (23). I thought I might get a leg up on Dune by watching the 1984 David Lynch film, but I only got about the same distance as I had in the book, although recognizing not much from the book’s opening, before giving up. But my problem with Dune was not that it is impenetrable. So what is the problem?

Meantime, a reading friend wrote in an email to ask me why I read what I read, and even spend time talking and writing about that reading. The occasion of his question was my putting up here at the Toads those recent posts, one on the new quarterly journal “Firmament,” the other on the two stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini, both published in small book, small press format, both just out this month from Sublunary Editions (Seattle), and both, as Grisham might have it, some form of impenetrable. The question stirs the pond of paranoia in the pit of my stomach. For the act of reading is subversive; yet, paradoxically, reading is mostly considered a virtuous activity. To learn to read, to know how to read, these are valued as good activities. Knowing what to read is a different matter.

“The Morning” & “Just Write Anything!”

Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini, translated by Jessica Sequeria, just out from Sublunary Editions (Seattle), measures a mere 80 pages (4 and ½” by 7” by ¼”) and contains the pieces “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!” and also an introduction (by Cesar Aira, translated by Adrian Nathan West), an acknowledgements page, a 4 page translator’s note, and 62 endnotes (in a font size so small this reader’s used eyes required over-the-counter reading glasses of +3.50 strength), almost as long as either story – indeed, a third story – as well as a Parental Advisory warning label (suitable for bookmark use), modified to read:

P A R E N T A L
A D V I S O R Y
OSVALDO LAMBORGHINI

One is tempted to form a review as response in a supposed style of the stories:

In the beginning was the word. And the ice dam(n) broke, the word escaped, and all hell broke loose, as in a Blow-up. A devil’s drool (“Las Babas del Diablo,” Cortazar). It was all done on a typewriter. That tin bell kept us awake. Its tintinnabulations. And he had to send his only son, or daughter, as the case may arise, to supply some endnotes, but he didn’t explain to what end. And the notes musical, in a sense, pleasant. One confessed to eating the plums. Bless me Father, for I have eaten the plums. They were purple. And the season Lent. We had given up meaning for the season, without reason. And the church filled with words, every pew stuffed end to end. And every word related. In each word all the genetic material of the language, of all the languages, of the uttered universe. Prokaryotic flagellum. To allow word movement. The words stood, knelt, sat, stood, and filed out, one by one, pew after pew, line after line. Some disappeared. Through the blank pages of the cosmos, along the gaucho trails along the green rivers in the gorged valleys below the ghastly ghostly mountains, seeping through the pampas and the full drainage basins, out to sea. The sea, the sea! Wordomics. This is my body, a comics: “To ourselves … new paganism … omphalos” (Joyce, Ulysses).

Of the two stories, “The Morning” and “Just Write Anything!,” the latter is perhaps the more accessible, comprehendible if not understandable, than the former, but the first, “The Morning,” one might find more enjoyable. The two stories might have been written for two different audiences (although Aira’s introduction suggests Lamborghini didn’t write to any particular audience), but neither seems within the purview of the common reader. But what is within the purview of the common reader? Slogans? Well, slogans are comprehendible, but rarely understood. They become like magic words, spells. In the US today, MAGA might serve as an example; an argument of proposal in no need of backing, it is not an argument at all, but an order, a command. Authoritarian. Enter, sex, and why we need a parental advisory. Sex, like politics, manipulative, special interest, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. For the working class, sex is one thing, for the middle class, something else. The middle class wants relief from guilt, a guilt the working class does not feel. The middle class wants to enjoy, to experience pleasure, guilty it has benefits others don’t, but not enough that it can’t also enjoy envy of those who have more. Thus the middle class craves perfumes and brands, must have fantasy and escape, ritual that includes punishments and rewards. The working class has not time nor appetite for values which can’t readily be seen, measured, felt. As for Peronism and whether or not readers need a background in Argentine history to appreciate Lamborghini, Peronism might not be substantially different from any other ism around the world seeking to exploit one class by numbing another class for the enrichment of a third class, except that Peron started out wanting to make all of the people happy all of the time. But of course there are always those who don’t want to be happy, or don’t care to be made happy. Politics is sex without love.

In other words, for the working class, the word innuendo means exactly what it sounds like, while for the middle class, it can only suggest what cannot in what is sometimes called polite society (on the endangered species list) be directly talked about, and must be submersed in ambiguity, doubt, and mistrust. Enter Peron, that is to say, to wit, an imputation that what is valued most in each class can somehow be conjoined, but the ballroom can’t hold everyone.

Click here, on the belly button, where you were tied to your mother, treading water in the salt marsh. You were still nullifidian then. All gills and fins. Your mother’s voice coming muffled through the cloudy water. And then your cry, and then your sucking, and then your sleep, and then the tin bell, and the rhythm rolling. The next time you awake, you are swaddled in the bottom of a dory, your father at the oars, your mother tending a fishing line, all against a muddy current in coastal waters.

Lamborghini’s writing is probably not egalitarian, not as evidenced by these two stories or the three poems appearing in Firmament No. 1 (Sublunary Editions, Winter 2021), not that it needs to be, yet it contains all the characteristics readers generally value. Humor surrounded by horror. The sweets and sours and bitters and salts of life. It is a writing of associative addition, one image conjuring up or giving way to another, the narrative like a bus ride, the bus stopping at the end of every sentence to let someone off and to take on another rider. Though these riders are not necessarily characters – they may be ideas, or props. Repetition is therefore valued, and memory encouraged. So that at the end of “The Morning,” if asked what it is about, we can say it is about a character savaged. But the common reader wants her back scratched, not whipped.

The form (forms) of these two short stories appears very different in each, the one on the open sea, the other back and forth where the rivers spread in the tidal marsh. Jessica Sequeira’s “endnotes” are indispensable, and actually a pleasure. For one thing, it’s comforting as a reader to know you’re in the same boat as other readers, translators, critics. That is to say, the difficulty is not yours alone, not yours at all. You are now able to read. And while the endnotes clarify, elucidate, inform, they also project, surmise, guess.

Sublunary Editions is an independent press out of Seattle. You can find a copy of Two Stories by Osvaldo Lamborghini here.

A New Modernist Journal

One of the characteristics of the small press literary journal is its short shelf life, if it makes it to a shelf at all. But its practitioners blast away nevertheless, their voices barely audible rising from the bottom rungs of the literary ladder. Another of its characteristics is the constancy of its myriad rebirths, even if in limited print runs, the first 30 signed and numbered by – someone. Another of its characteristics is its often assumed lack of what in academic argument is called ethos, by which is meant credentials, credibility, reliability, experience, imprimatur. A lack of ethos may fail to persuade even a cursory glance or worse garner a quick list of lit-snub snarks. The local librarian will probably file the journal with a few other self-published efforts on the free books and discards shelf. But the serious critic is always looking for the exception to assumptions and presuppositions, even if his leaning is hierarchical. Peter Molin’s blog, Time Now: The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars in Art, Film, and Literature, provides a recent example of the critic wrestling with the ladders and scaffolding: “Small and indie presses help bridge the divide between professional publishing realm and amateur online authorial ranks (does an analogy to distinctions separating Special Operations, Regular Army, and National Guard troops work here?).” But Molin has already somewhat equitably posited, “The divide between professional and amateur vet-writing is a thing, but cross-boundary pleasure and pollination are everywhere possible.” More of course could be said about that divide, a literary no man’s land. The small press literary journal can only exist on one side of the divide. When it crosses over, it becomes something else; when it dies, it awaits discovery, or recovery, or rebirth.

Consider what is now called the Modernist Journal, indie starts from around 1890 through the first quarter of the 20th Century, most of which survived but briefly, but contained writing by contributors now considered influential if often still controversial, journals full of now canonical writers who at the time were experimenting with new ideas and forms, and many other writers who were mostly unknown and remain so. Readers can research, browse, discover these journals in the Modernist Journal Project, now housed at Brown and the University of Tulsa. Examples include Blast, Des Imagistes, The Egoist, The Little Review, The Masses.

All by way of introducing another new indie journal on the literary block, its first issue, Winter 2021, now in circulation – Firmament: A magazine of considered miscellany from Sublunary Editions. I received a print copy because last year I subscribed to the full suite of Sublunary publications via the annual subscription. Monthly and 6-month subscriptions are also available – all include the quarterly magazine, Firmament. The Sublunary productions, called “objects,” are thin (Firmament No. 1 is 63 pages), with extreme care taken with design – typeset, layout, arrangement, presentation. Monthly, I get something from Sublunary in the snail mail.

Firmament is edited by Jessica Sequeira, a translator of Spanish texts who has also written a few original books, one of which, “A Luminous History of the Palm,” was published in April, 2020 by Sublunary. I put up a short review of that book here at the Toads back in July. In her “Editor’s Note” to Firmament No. 1, Jessica mentions several journals as examples of like, and liked, precursors, including Sur, 291, Der Sturm, and Claridad. The first issue of Firmament contains poetry, short fiction and excerpts, interviews, and nonfiction and columns – from an international cast of writers and translators. I count 23 contributors, 14 sections, in the 63 pages. I find that remarkable (and so I remarked on it). There is also a page devoted to drawings of a cat creature (tyger?), but it’s uncredited (but it appears to be from the cover of the forthcoming Chevillard book). Another page is devoted to a preview of the upcoming April, Spring 2021 issue of Firmament, and another page listing more Sublunary objects forthcoming for 2021. And a page of “Endnotes.” The issue contains a striking color scheme of red, white, and black. Clearly the editors are serious and professional, busy, planning ahead, with dedicated resources and action plans.

Eric Chevillard, French experimental author, is featured in Firmament No. 1, translated by Chris Clarke – both come with awards and previous publishing successes. “Chronology” (pgs 4-10) is a biographical summary of the life of one Thomas Jean-Julien Pilaster, compiled by one Marc-Antoine Marson, both fictional characters created by Chevillard. All three are writers, real and imagined, at least they live the lives one imagines a writer might live, born, perhaps, to lose (that is to say, live on the wrong side of the divide), as they are artists by temperament.

A poem by J. A. Pak follows, “Love Tattoo,” and, yes, isn’t a tattoo often a poem, often one of love penned on skin, though love can be removed.

Tony Messenger’s “Fragments 1, 2 and 5,” reflections on the divisions language may create (there’s that theme of divide again), read like journal entries, notes, ponderings. I liked them enough to find Tony’s blog, Messenger’s Booker – the beauty of quick links. The name Tony Messenger was familiar, but the Firmament Tony Messenger is not the Tony Messenger who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, not unless we’re back in Chevillard territory.

If Firmament No. 1 were a syllabus, it would have to be for a year long course. “Lamborghiniana,” an interview/conversation between Agustina Perez and Jessica Sequeira, about Osvaldo Lamborghini, makes this clear. But that is yet another characteristic of the small press literary journal – to suggest new directions of writing and reading, thought, expression, translation, literary virtual travel. Three Lamborghini poems are included, translated by Louis Chitarroni.

So, Firmament appears to be concerned with experimental and international writing. Yet, in Joshua Rothes’s (founder and publisher of Sublunary Editions) column, “Pith & Self-Defeating,” he says: “What I aim to propose in this inaugural column is that 1) most writing done with a specific set of aims is, after Parfit, ultimately self-defeating, 2) this process of undermining our stated aims is the most important part of the creative process” (38). Paradox, paradox, paradox, Thoreau might have epizeuxisly said. And Vic Shirley, another of the Sublunary editors, follows with this, in “Commitment to Chush”: “Chush is Russian for nonsense,” beginning a bit of a rant that seems both nonsensical and right on simultaneously (40).

I was glad to see comics represented, even if sans cartoons or drawings, with Maurizio Salabelle, translated by Jamie Richards, who has apparently translated some cartoonists. This I’ve yet to follow up on, but it’s on my list of things to do.

And more, including two poems by Rilke, translated by Kristofor Minta, and fiction by Anna de Nosailles, translated by Christina Tudor-Sideri, and Carol Rodrigues, translated by Adrian Minckley, and poetry by Tim MacGabhann.

On the back cover, we find this brief description: “Sublunary Editions is an independent press dedicated to publishing brief volumes of innovative texts from authors past and present.” True that, if Firmanent No. 1 is any example.

Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library

I returned to the fallout shelter to retrieve the books, carrying out several full boxes through the tunnel. I also carried up the bookcase, recruiting Cajetan’s help, our second Right On Moving Company job. I was living now in a monthly room on the 3rd floor of Hotel Julian, Seattle and Walter and my Risk Management career receding like a Ship of Fools in a bottle on an outgoing tide. Sylvie was preoccupied, occupied, post occupied, and will have been occupied with her baseball team and league business commitments. She enjoyed the game: the travel, the players, the games from the press box, the scouting, the trades, the score and stats keeping, the smells of the locker rooms, bats and balls and gloves and towels, the lighted ballparks – oasis in the urban night, where she arrived early and stayed late. I set up a self help lending library in the lobby of Hotel Julian with the books from the fallout shelter. I didn’t bother organizing the books but filled the shelves hodgepodge, figuring they’d just get all messed up anyway. I made a card catalog using some 3 by 5 cards I’d found in Rosella’s. I pasted an envelope on the inside flap of the back of each book. In the envelope I placed a 3 by 5 card, cut to size for some of the smaller paperbacks. On the card I wrote the name of the book and drew a table with three columns: name, date checked out, and date checked back in. On the wall above the bookshelves I affixed a card rack and posted instructions: patrons are encouraged to take a book, one at a time, sign your name and your checkout date, place card in rack, return book when finished, find the book’s card, write in check in date, and return book to shelves. Inside the front cover of each book, I wrote: Property of Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library. I made an index of the books in a spiral notebook that sat on top of the shelves, and took a simple count. At the launch of the library, celebrated with Dawn and Eve and other members of the hotel staff, and also Rosella and Ramon and their four girls, and Cajetan and Minerva, the following books were available for checkout: War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Letter, The Voyage of the Beagle, Experiments on Plant Hybridization, A Tale of Two Cities, The Death of Ivan Ilych, Vanity Fair, Lorna Doone, The Red Badge of Courage, Trilby, Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, Heart of Darkness, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Little Women, Principles of Geology, King Solomon’s Mines, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Works of Li Po The Chinese Poet: Done into English Verse, Chinese Military Dictionary (War Department Technical Manual), Flatland, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Time Machine, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Dracula, Not Without Laughter, The Turn of the Screw, Moby-Dick, McTeague, On the Origin of Species, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, Banjo, Speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, Mansfield Park, Ulysses, The Last of the Mohicans, The Plays of William Shakespeare, The Holy Bible, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, The Call of the Wild, Winesburg Ohio, At the Mountains of Madness, and Wuthering Heights. Also, Webster’s New International Dictionary (second edition, 1934). Thus the library consisted of 58 books.

“Hotel Julian Lobby Lending Library” is episode 36 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.

Rosella’s Market

Rosella’s, the neighborhood grocery in the space on the northwest corner of the ground floor of Hotel Julien, was open, more or less, 24 hours a day, year round. Occasionally, Rosella’s might close, without notice or explanation, for an hour or two or more, or for an entire day, and would reopen unceremoniously as if it had never been closed. Rosella’s specialty was not-quite-fresh fruits, vegetables, and breads she sold past their sell-by or best-by dates: day old breads and pastries, bruised fruits, withering vegetables. Her suppliers included the large supermarkets located not too far away but throughout the Southland, and local bakeries, and truck farmers in from the valleys. Her buyers (or collectors, for they usually hauled off the food without cost) included a family of 12, including 6 boys and 4 girls, and her husband, Ramon, though he and his oldest sons spent most of their time busy with the family bricklaying business – Ramon’s specialty was brick patios, walkways, outdoor fireplaces, walls. I found it hard to go into Rosella’s, even if just to buy an apple for an afternoon snack, without wandering around considering the diverse displays of other things for sale: hats, tshirts, and flip-flops; guitar strings (but only one kind – Augustine Red Label Classical); magazines and newspapers (English and Spanish), and used paperback and comic books; kites and windsocks; plastic bats and balls, kazoos, hula hoops. Also beer and wine; candy; canned goods (most past their sell-by date); beef jerky; bubblegum (the kind with the cartoon prizes); pizza by the slice cooked in a microwave and hot dogs from a table top machine with bun warmer (several tables with chairs and umbrellas provided sidewalk sit out space for eating); cereals and nuts; cat and dog food; flowers, dried and almost fresh; peanut butter and oatmeal. Rosella also sold postage stamps. You could purchase a money order. You could pay your utility bills. Milk, pop, juice. Single, double, triple A batteries. Cookies, spices, pastas. And the bins of fruits and vegetables: lemons and limes, apples, oranges, bananas, garlic, mushrooms, potatoes, peaches, onions, tomatoes, avocados. And the breads: como, sourdough, brioche, baguette, rye, pita, bagels, tortillas, biscuits. Surfmats and swim fins. From the shelves, walls, floor, and ceiling of Rosella’s, was stacked, hung, crated, or boxed, something for anyone.

“Rosella’s Market” is episode 35 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.

Bingo at Xavier

Xavier Roman Catholic Church was within walking distance from Hotel Julian. Hearing they hosted bingo every Monday night, I walked over to play a few cards. About 20 players sat at tables in the church hall, Father Juan calling the numbers from a podium on a stage. I bought half a dozen cards at 50 cents each at a table set up at the entrance, took a paper cup of coffee, and found a seat at a table where sat a couple of ancient nuns wearing simple blue scarves, rosary necklaces, short black smocks, and Jack Purcell canvas shoes, white with the navy blue stripe on the toes. The night was hot out but the hall was cooled by three electric fans dropping from the ceiling. At one table was a family of seven: father, mother, grandmother, and four children aged about 6 to 12, three girls and a boy. They were all attentively playing multiple cards but occasionally one of the kids pointed to another’s card where a call otherwise might have been missed. A new game began, and I paid attention to my own card, intending to play but one card per game, in no hurry. I would drop my winnings, if any, into the donation box on my way out. The room was quiet, Father Juan calling the numbers in a sonorous, serious voice. The night passed on peacefully. If one of the kids shouted Bingo! a polite applause ensued, and the nuns smiled their approval. I sipped my coffee, unused to late evening caffeine, and after a couple of cups began to feel more alert to the musty smell of the hall, the noises – shuffling of cards, shoes, chairs scraping as someone got up for a trip to the refreshment table or restroom – and in the quiet between calls I could hear the soft whir of the big fans slowly turning above.

“Bingo at Xavier” is episode 34 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.

Walter and the Panhandler

The gods and one's nature. Metamorphosis. Unhuman. Inhuman. Panhandling. Gold. Plutocracy.

Most gods have little choice but to follow their nature. It’s not so much that they are bound to, but that they want to. It’s what fulfills them, brings them happiness, even if its taste is bitter. It’s true though, that with a lot of hard work, one may achieve a kind of metamorphosis of one’s nature, changing, over time, but then that very change has always been a part of one’s nature, waiting in the wings, as it were. Metamorphosis is different from mutation or mistake or accident. The snail wants to be a snail, slipping and sliding slowly along its trail to and fro its eats. The seal is at home in her wavy salt water coves, climbing the rocks to dry in the sun after a meal of fish. So too the human can not be unhuman. Inhumanity is a different matter. One follows a slippery slope toward inhuman behavior, landing in the pond of selfishness, fed by streams of stinginess and hoarding. If you are happy, you will hand over some change to the panhandler on the corner, and not think twice about it. His cardboard sign may be filled with lies (veteran, three hungry kids and no place to call home, need money for ticket back home); so what, of these lies? Doesn’t all advertising fib? Appeals to the emotive, the passions. So when Walter and I reached the corner where sat the fellow with his sign (can’t work – groin injury), and Walter scoffed what was he, an NFL quarterback? I gave the fellow a greenback. Why Walter should care, Ray having just recovered the missing transaction of $300 million, is a story not of metamorphosis but of one’s nature. Walter is a miser. And, one of the wealthiest men in the world, he is, by nature, a panhandler who advertises by pandering to the base desires of a soft audience he detests. The language of the gods is not made of words. The best prayer, as Thomas Merton has told us, is wordless. As a flight of birds. As a sea breeze. As a flight of bills falling into a hat sitting on a sidewalk between two wretched legs. Words are seeds in bloom, flowers and weeds, wanted and unwanted. The bee is on your lips, her long tongue slipping through for the nectar of your words. It will take many bees to change these words to honey. The panhandler is working, similar to Walter, sifting his investment pan for gold nuggets, panning for gold. As an enterprise, it’s one of the most efficient. Surely, I told Walter, even you must appreciate at least that much. Money in one’s pockets, like gold, does nothing. It’s a dead weight. It must be circulated. This wretched state of affairs is part of human nature. Zeus blinded Plutus so that the god of money could freely pour the goods of his cornucopia without regard for worthiness. Thus we arrive at our current plutocracy, which affords sans philosophy, sans religion, sans love, sans hope, sans charity.

“Walter and the Panhandler”
is episode 13 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Sylvie’s Dream of Counterpoise

Desultory. Defunct. Deconstruction. Debunk. Defunct. Deride. Decide. Depot Bay. 

Sylvie dreamt an invisible wave of counterpoise forced all mortals to wear masks covering nose and mouth. Thus individual identity, what Freud called the id, was lost, and people would have to look into one another’s eyes when speaking and could only speak truth. Those refusing to wear a mask would be called liars and deniers and would be subject to debunking. Society would be detoxed of retail. Skilled jobs would return, though no one would be forced to work, and those who chose to work would not commute but work from home in building and making useful tools and items and providing useful services for daily life. One person might make beer, another shoes, another tiny houses. Another would keep the books. A livable wage would be guaranteed for every citizen of every country. The wave of counterpoise would cause disruption through widespread removals and reversals, humans moving down and away from commercialized statuses. Some would move literally underground. Already people were reinhabiting the Seattle Underground. Others were moving onto beaches or into the woods or turning abandoned malls into suburban campgrounds. Society would be deconstructed. Education would be deschooled. Police systems would be demilitarized and decentralized. Mortals would lose interest in their personal DNA and the social status of individual ancestry. It wouldn’t signify where one came from. The elderly would not be forced into retirement, but would assist with the care and teaching of the young, in growing community gardens, in making music, in writing and reading. Health care would be available to all and its underlying purpose would be health and not medicine. Cities would grow quieter, people moving around less, walking and biking, riding open air busses, trams, and light rail. Many things people had long taken for granted would disappear. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity would return. As would civil disobedience. People would be responsible for their own entertainment. When I asked Sylvie how this counterpose, as she called it, was to come about, she said she did not know, but had awakened too soon. At the end of her dream, she was swimming with the whales off Depot Bay.

“Sylvie’s Dream of Counterpoise”
is episode 12 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Behind the One-way Mirror

Accident. Mistake. Agency. Transaction. Mirror. Comments. 

The difference between accident and mistake is agency. I caught a glimpse of myself in the one-way mirror window. I knew they were watching me. Sylvie also. I looked pretty none too natty having slept the night in my new black and white camel hair jacket, the to the hilt popping blue diamond tie with bright orange accent circles now loose and wrinkled and hanging as low as my attitude. Feeling none too benevolent about myself, not at all, as I stared at my reflection in the glass. As soon as I got this god anger management problem under control, I was going to start in on my self image, I really was. But they had asked me to handle the transaction for them. These transactions are especially complicated. The stars must align pin point right, the players all set up. And there’s risk. I was by the skin of my teeth their agent. They were on the transaction, watching every move. They knew the risk, gave the authority. I didn’t sit at a computer and do all this. All I did was get the players to the table. Relationship bits and bobs. Trust. But how would the transaction disappear like that? Somebody broke into the stream and stole the file. Simple as that. Could be some kid from some small town in Kentucky for all we know. Some high school hacker, not even sure of what he’s got, no way to cash in on the instruments. The file could still be in cyberspace, and we’ve lost the tools necessary to pull the transaction up. Like something lost in real space, the file will continue to travel like the unraveling of pi. Unless the file was destroyed by a random noise issue, randomness, maybe an agent with a randomizer. A supercomputer. Behind a one way mirror. I drive the rig. I’m the race car driver, not the builder, not the mechanic, not the sponsor, and certainly not the owner. I don’t bother lifting the hood to see if the car’s propelled by an internal combustion engine or a nuclear reactor. Makes no difference to how I need to execute. Sylvie notes that’s a mistake. Who knows, who knows what they think. Very few comments, though the comment light was on. Walter is a fairly secluded and elite group of owners. Nothing in common with one another that I can figure out. These transactions are like poker games with them. And I’m on the carpet. The board room table is even covered with green felt. You dig that? I’m trying to figure out what’s meaningful here, and I have to tell you nothing too obvious at this point. I stood on the corner of Pike and 1st, above Pike’s Market, watching a Vashon ferry come across a disturbed bay. The air bit cold into my skin cut deep and found bone. The wind was blowing in circles, rain pouring down and around, puddles, running gutters. Rain now with sleet and snow flurries blowing in my face. I seemed to be the only person on the street. I hustled down to Pike’s to grab some breakfast at the Athenian. I wanted to talk to Molly. I needed some help. I needed a friend. I was about to make a trip, and I didn’t know if I was coming back. It was probably all a mistake. Or it might have been an accident. I was trying to discover any kind of reciprocal relationship.

“Behind the One-way Mirror”
is episode 11 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous view of all episodes.)

Defenestration of the god Tchotchke

Fear of falling. Pub of the gods. Bubblebath.  

Most of the gods are afraid of windows, because they fear falling. I met up with the god Tchotchke at Pog’s Place. Vetteboy said he wanted to transfer some risk, and when I asked him how much, he said he wanted it all back. The Pub of the Gods is where we conduct our defenestrations in the Seattle area. There is no coming back from your deicide, I told Tchotchke. He said he understood. I gave him his bar of soap, the traditional send off gift (gods may bathe, but they don’t wash). He wanted out. He said he was looking forward to being fully human. The corporate gig as keeper of the thingamajigs had not been a good fit. I asked him what his plans were and he shrugged his shoulders and he said simply he did not know. He was going to spend his bar of soap on a long bubblebath. A quietness had settled over his face. His shoulders lowered, his chest fell, and I could see he was breathing differently, from his stomach. He handed me the keys to his candy apple red Corvette. We finished our pints and got up and walked to the window, and I pushed him out, and he fell into the Sound.

“Defenestration of the god Tchotchke”
is episode 10 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads

Tchotchke

Vetteboy. The god Tchotchke. Big Pharma sales. In the evening when the sun goes down.  

I might have known Vetteboy was a god by the way he could not hold his temper. I spent the day at the Seattle Library researching contemporary minor gods. You have to know where to look. And he was a corporate god. That also made sense and helped explain the candy apple red Corvette with the id vanity plate. Tchotchke was involved with Big Pharma sales. But he hated his job, so there was still some hope. What did he do, exactly? He was a sales cadet specializing in promotional payoffs. He was, quiet literally, a little head. He designed, had made, and distributed gewgaws to the winners of global corporate sales campaigns. He was in charge of baubles. He was a whim-wham man. It wasn’t a bad job, though, really. He got to travel and enjoy exotic settings, even if artificially created and catered for the rich tourist and corporate convention goer, and he had an impressive expense account. It seemed though that Tchotchke had always wanted something else. He thought as a god he deserved something better than keeper of the knickknacks. He did not understand the nature of godhood. He did not get along well with humans. He didn’t get the symbiotic relationship. As Sylvie put it, what good is a god who can’t sit still in the evening and watch the sun go down?

“Tchotchke”
is episode 9 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads