THE body double's alibi

"And then I feel the audience's anticipation and nervousness when I get in the car real late at night, and they're all holding their breath, waiting to see if those two gloved hands come up from the back seat and strangle me, or slit my throat so I squirt blood all over the windshield. And if it doesn't happen? That's okay, too, 'cause it just means it was a foreshadowing shot, and it helps build up the tension and anxiety for a scene coming later in the movie, right? When the hands really do appear. 'Cause every scene in a good movie is there for a reason, right? And, you know, I want my life to be a good movie, like a real Oscar-winner, right?"

"Wow, Fitz," Matt nodding enthusiastically, suddenly looking around for a lit joint that wasn't even there – now where did that roach go? "I always knew you were smart, man, but...."

Fitz picked up his Schlitz, leaned way back in his chair, put his feet up on the desk, put one hand behind his head, looked out the window at the rain, at all the leaves changing colors, and was just getting to feeling good and comfy when the chair broke to bits under him, sending him crashing ass-first to the floor.


MR. piggy goes to market

He picks her up in front of the Westwood unbelievably promptly. There’s something disconcerting in this. When he’s pulled out onto Wilshire she says, “This is the softest, softest leather I’ve ever sat on in my life. What is this insane -- fucking -- batmobile we’re in?”

"It’s a Bentley, sweetie.”

She blinks twice. Looks around herself. “It’s a Bentley, sweetie,” she says.

“And that’s sheepskin, not leather.”

“Sheepskin, not leather,” she says, stroking it more tentatively now. “This is the part, of course, where I express righteous leftist indignation at the very existence of anything as ludicrous as a quarter-million-dollar automobile.”

“So go ahead.”

“With teachers buying toilet paper for bathrooms in Detroit public schools.”

“So go ahead.”

“I will, I will. It’s just this seat is so, so soft.”


RIP me a new one

Where is the child I never conceived? Does he or she appreciate the oblivion?


DAGWOOD bumstead rots in hell

Tara has a pregnancy test in her linen closet. A gag gift from the last woman she slept with, a Packer U media professor who left the school to become Bebe Neuwirth’s personal assistant in Manhattan. She stands in the bathroom doorway, watching Angela unpack the kit.

I can’t look, the latter says several minutes later, sitting on the toilet, left hand covering her eyes, right one holding out the stick she’s just peed on. Tell me.

Tara steps forward. Looks. Pauses.

Oh sweetie, she says. It’s an old test. It’s probably no good anymore.

Angela, mouth agape, looks now herself. Then catches a glimpse of her horrified expression in the compact mirror on the sink beside her. I’m never five days late, she says. Ever.


LIKE a bomb you can eat

Well bully for them. The man who says this chortles. I mean, what good is what they’ve got if it’s hidden?

That’s why they’re in groups, Rob.

No way. Every network is visible on some level.

Hey, that’s nice. We’ll put it on our tombstones.

It’s not a network. They’re insular. They’re forming clusters of three, four, five. That small. And probably the clusters have no idea others even exist. Although of course they can’t be totally insular. Each individual has to keep ties to the straight world, if only to keep the group invisible. So they’re in community colleges. They’re in minimum-wage jobs.

Why those class affiliations?

Think about it.

A pause.

Are they in church?

Someone laughs.

If they’re smart. Camouflage is of the essence.


WHAT it takes to be champ

Confront this: you are God, and you are dreaming.


YOUR advertisement actually made me vomit

What’s more, I saw that this death, unlike the death of bronze coffins and waxy lilies I’d first encountered at five, spoiled utterly, once grasped, whatever life preceded it, just like knowing the alarm clock will buzz in 47 minutes spoils utterly the last hour of sleep. Every one of the fifty or so years I had left would now, I knew, be that last hour. Every one of those fifty or so years was now a priori pointless, was as good as lived and deleted. Because the next fifty years would go by at least as fast as the last thirty. Because the screaming panic that would be my last experience of the world (there was no way I was lucky enough to die in my sleep) was on me already.


PARAGNOSTIC capitulator

"There's simply nothing left to conspire against."


LAZARUS sure can play guitar

I'm the guy in the threadbare tight white t-shirt at the carnival with the five days' stubble on his face who pulls the levers that make the twist-a-whirl go round and round. You love those orange, yellow and blue lights, of course, and you love the trails of light they leave in the air when they spin. All this taken into consideration you might kind of love me, too, standing there in my t-shirt and jeans, taking the kids' tickets and pulling the levers to make the big whirlygig spin, watching to make sure no one gets decapitated. Cause I'm the guy who makes it all happen: I am the carnival made flesh, and there's nothing in the world better than the carnival. I mean, this is what we live and work for, so we can come to the carnival, right? You let me know when I get something wrong. Oh you think I'm something pretty special all right, and there's something romantic, you’re sure, about my gypsy carnival life. But let me tell you something, and I'm gonna give it to you straight and true: when I go back to my trailer after the carnival closes up, after all the kids have gone home crying on daddy's or big sister's shoulder, and I eat tuna out of the can with a plastic thing that's half spoon and half fork -- well now, there's nothing so romantic about me now, is there? And I'm willing to bet you don't think I'm so romantic. And I'm willing to bet you ain't in such a big rush to swap places with me after all now, are you?


NEVER get too proud, son, to share water with a plant

21. Shopping in a “discount” clothes warehouse across the street from the World Trade Center with two Brazilian twins calling themselves Faster and Harder, finding, on the disheveled racks, traffic cone-orange Italian T-shirts reduced from $199.95 to $129.95, razor-frayed French jeans slashed from $499.99 to $279.99, Turkish army sweaters discounted from $1999.95 to $1299.95. Realizing, though I’d grown up in Jay Gatsby’s back yard, that I’d entered some new stratum, that money in this New York was incidental and arbitrary, that exchange value was here usurped by some mysterious symbolic value whose terms could be known only to a seraphic few whose bodily functions only superficially resemble yours and mine.


PARTIAL fish wins!

"Look. What you have to get your head around is maybe there are some questions that just don't have answers. By which I don't mean they don't have answers yet. I mean they'll never have answers. 'Cause the answers aren't out there anywhere to be had. Not even when you die. You beat your brains out asking is there a god, is the universe real or computer simulated, if a bear shits in the woods and no one steps in it does it stink. Look. There are no answers to these questions. It's just the language you frame them in tricks you into thinking there should be. Find something else to do with your time."


WHERE'S this going, anyway?

helped C_____ out of her jacket. He found two plastic champagne glasses in the cabinet above the sink -- the same ones he and Laura had used two New Year's Eves ago. He peeled away the foil on the bottle and twisted the cork. When it exploded like a gunshot, C_____ bolted head‑first into the door beside her, then fled to the corner by the closet. She shrank into a crouch, holding her nose.

"Oh, shit," Will said. "I should've warned you." He went to her and took her wrist and pulled her hand away from her face. She ducked his hand at first, then relaxed and let him touch her. Her nose didn't seem hurt. He touched her cheek.

She followed him into the living room. He filled one of the tall plastic glasses and she swallowed the champagne down in a few gulps. Her eyebrows raised and her lips pursed. He smiled and drained his own glass. He said, "I thought you'd like that grape juice." He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and said, "Wanna watch some tube?"

The TV didn't interest her anymore. She sat on the floor with her back to it, her empty glass on its side by her knee, drawing with Will's Parker on the sheets of paper he'd given her. She drew only one thing: circles. Unnervingly perfect circles. Her hand never moved faster than a clock's second hand. He sat watching, bleary eyed, following the motion of the pen. The news was on TV. A blonde woman was doing the weather. Clear and cold tomorrow.


YOU will make it; i will love it

At the appointed time, I left. Within two hours I was checking into a Marriott in a small city in Pennsylvania. I chose this city because there was no reason on earth I should be there. I chose it too for what its name elicited in me: nothing. The thing I was approaching was not to be approached directly. If I got too close too fast it would scamper. What’s more, my powers were such by now I could, I believed, if I positioned myself at the thing’s periphery, make it approach me. What’s more, such things as what I was approaching are where they aren’t, not where they are. What’s more, I had only the vaguest notion what it was I was approaching. The attractive 45 year-old woman behind the check-in counter at the Marriott was needlessly rude. This was reassuring. This was one of several reactions this new version of me, one year old, regularly provoked from strangers. Another was fawning adoration. Another was determined indifference. It was this last reaction I prized above all others. I asked the woman at the counter for a bellhop to carry my single suitcase to my room. She glared hatefully at me, nostrils flaring prettily. Within several minutes a buck-toothed but otherwise attractive teenage girl in a red Nehru jacket arrived to wheel my single suitcase to the 14th floor. She demonstrated my favorite of the aforementioned reactions. When she got to my room, I told her at the door I wanted a kiss on the cheek. This, after two initial refusals and as many indignant snorts, was finally given. I gave her a twenty. Word of me, I knew, would spread. This was easy. This was not the difficult part.


OUR self

Silence. Then:

Nuh-uh. That’s not what I’m thinking. Listen. Just a few of them get together. A handful. The usual grist for the usual mill. Charismatic. Young. Energetic. Intelligent, as far as it goes. Freakishly attractive. Of course. But the thing is, they hide it.

They hide what?

All of that. All of it.

A pause. Which lengthens. Someone sighs.

All right. They hide it. But there’s always been X percent of the population that fits that description, Carol. I’ll go one in ten thousand. Maybe fifteen. Baggy clothes, shit haircuts. They eschew cosmetics, keep their mouths shut. Maybe some nun scared them shitless when they were nine. Maybe they’re --

No, I don’t mean they quash it. I mean they hide it.

From who?

From everyone. From us. From everyone but each other.

Well why? No, don’t tell me. Anarchists again. They want to wear bandanas over their faces, burn SUVs. Throw trash cans through the movie screens that would otherwise, what. Steal their souls.

Those are just the religious again, Mike. We’ve been through that. These aren’t anarchists. They’re thieves.

Another pause. The second hand sweeps a considerable ways around the face of the Swiss clock over the door.

They’re stealing from us. From the system we created. That’s essentially what’s happening here. If it’s happening.


IF you need me, just holler into the sewer

The next evening, Rob and Angela meet at the local brew pub for dinner. Neither wants to cook, and Angela can’t be in her own restaurant a minute longer. If she’d known -- really known -- what she was in for with this restaurant shit --

They sit in a booth near the bar, the Friday-night crowd coalescing around them. Rob scans faces, battling the uneasy feeling he’s being watched. Half an hour ago he found a business envelope under the Land Rover’s windshield wiper, the inscrutable sentence SOMEBODIE’S GOT SOME EXPLAINING TO DO magic-markered on it in big, childish letters. In the envelope, judging by what he could see through the paper, a stack of photos. He didn’t open it: his cohort, Dave Duvall, whose E-Type was in the garage for the second time this month, was a few steps behind him, needing a ride. Then, as he was dropping Dave off at the brand-new condo building catty-corner to the brew pub, Angela was pulling up in the Jetta right behind him. So the envelope had stayed under the Rover's seat.


MIMETIC justice

Orphaned comets. Preheat condoms. Demon arts epoch. Manhood scepter. Torpedo a mensch. Damn crepe so hot. Resonated chomp. Chomp Senator Ed. Democrat phones. Poached monster. Anchored tempos. Modest chaperon. Smoothed prance. Cad smother peon. Anecdotes morph. Compared honest. Demon heats crop. Postmodern ache. Toned ham corpse. Corpse doth name. Creamed photons. Demon corpse hat. Poached mentors. Corpse had me not. Damn speech root. Demon heat corps. Specter manhood. Methadone crops. Mooched parents. Cohered tampons. Death once romps. Porn death comes. Oh demon spectra. Demon roach pets. Tampons echo red.
Semen odor patch. Hotrod spacemen. Demon tears chop. The nomad corpse.


THEY want to give you the horn

It was the most depressing thing she'd ever seen: a sagging gray horse standing in a fenced-in field, alone, kicking, at regular intervals, with the weariest of gestures, the empty steel drum to its aft, for no other reason, clearly, plainly, obviously, than that the rusty-gong sound so produced helped fill the sun-baked hours here on Earth. It was an awful thing for a city girl to realize, that even a beast could suffer the hot whips of bone-aching boredom, and it made the universe seem an even crueler place.


ALL is mind

Or this one: I'm driving through the mountains of Southwest _______ on my way home from college in the Spring of 19__. In the passenger seat beside me is a pixie of a girl who speaks with a German accent, has dyed jet-black hair, and who has just, in a nut-achingly lurid gesture, taken down one side of her black tank-top to rub lotion into a brand-new tattoo on her left shoulder blade. I can't tell you how this chick impresses me, being, seemingly, all things urban, all things worldly, talking, as she incessantly does, about nightclubs in cities I'll never see, records by bands I'll never hear. The Honda veers wildly as I watch those fingers of hers rub white lotion into that blue crescent moon.

I ask her if she has others of those -- those --

She says yes.

I ask what of.

She says a rose.

I ask where.

She smiles, looks at me, and says -- you have to hear it with the German accent -- "Ze rose is on my ass."


THE hole the jackrabbit lives in

The afternoon was spent in quiet contemplation of shambling, malnourished spiders high up in corners, of cigarette burns in the linoleum kitchen floor. Jay struck yoga poses on the threadbare living-room rug while the sun sank, the blinking yellow light over the intersection down the street winking hypnotically through the window. At eight o'clock, when the footsteps came up the decrepit wooden stairs outside, when the knock came on the aluminum kitchen door, he was there in his metal folding chair in the kitchen, loafered feet on the collapsible card table, sweaty bottle of Bud Light in his hand. He called: "Get in here."

In walked beauty through the squealing screen door, faux leather bag on her shoulder. She stood there, hand on hip, coatless, grease stains on her uniform. "About time," ventured Jay.

"Howdy, baby," the waitress replied vacantly, eyes scanning the apartment as if she'd been expecting somebody else.

"I'd sure like to know your name."

"Well," she said, "they call me Terry."

Jay nodded thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. "Now what kind of girl," he wondered aloud, "comes after dark to the room of some strange man she doesn't even know, Terry?"

Electing, apparently, to answer with a gesture, she withdrew a snub-nosed handgun from her purse. "Did you say something about wanting a gun?"

"Well, I guess I did."

She cocked the hammer on the thing, pointed it at his head in such a way he figured she knew how to use it. He began to stand up. "No no, don't get up," she said. "No need for friends to play polite." Her other hand was procuring something else from the bag: the fifty-dollar bill, of course, he'd left on her tabletop. This she crumpled like she'd done his address that morning, then chucked it across the kitchen into the corner by the stove.

"You get down on your hands and knees," she said, "and crawl and get that money."

This Jay did, feeling the grime on the linoleum floor under the heels of his hands. Having fetched it, he sat there on his knees, holding it hopelessly. "Now you eat that fifty," she said, a vaguely insane warble in her voice -- and this he did, too, tearing the bill into bite-size pieces, gagging now and then as they went down.

"You got anything else," she said when he'd finished, "you want to say to me?"

Jay swallowed repeatedly, struggling to get the last piece down. "I'd say we've talked enough," he said. "Now get those fucking clothes off."

She crossed the kitchen, slapped him once stingingly across the side of the head. "You little slut," she said. "I swear to God. Get on that bed in there or I'll kill you."

When Jay's tongue was in her navel she said, "I reckon my husband ain't gonna like this."

"Fuck him."



When he sees her spot the turd on the roof of the Lexus, he smiles. Didn’t even expect to, really. Thought he was putting it there perfunctorily, dutifully, just because something should mark the six-month anniversary of their divorce. But when she finds it and curses a tiny thundercloud into the cold air, he smiles involuntarily and broadly, watching himself in the rearview mirror. It’s a reminder: Don’t ever underestimate the peevish, childish pleasures. The pleasure of pulled hair. The pleasure of Indian burn. The pleasure of smashed toy. It’s so good, in fact, he follows her home, staying well behind her (he doesn’t want that turd on his windshield), seeking some further shabby gratification. Hey: Six months is an accomplishment. And he’s got an hour to kill before he picks up his niece anyway.


WE received your prayer

It's a horrible fantasy. It terrifies me. But I come to sometimes, my attention having slid off the book in my hands, and I know I've been thinking about it. I know I'm moving towards it.


MOST of the rest of the dead

parking place in Georgetown, and they walked to a crowded bistro on M street, one of his old girlfriend's favorite places. The hostess sat them by the window up front, and immediately C_____ leaned over and pressed her palm to the glass. People standing on the sidewalk outside looked in at her.

Figuring she could use some protein after whatever trauma had caused the faded bruises, Will ordered her prime rib. But when the waiter set it, two Molsons for Will later, on the checkered tablecloth in front of her, her expression was instant and violent revulsion. Then she was sobbing, wailing, tears running out of her eyes. The whole place was silent as Will leapt up, telling the dumbstruck waiter they'd take it in a bag.

Outside, C____ seemed afraid of the Saturday-night crowd. She looked up at Will in what he thought was a pleading manner. Every few dozen yards she turned and walked blindly into his side or leapt mysteriously, apparently startled. When they reached the corner of Wisconsin and M a man with no shirt was jumping up and down, screaming, "Yeah! Yeah!" Two kids with half‑shaved heads and Harley jackets stared unapologetically at C_____, and she stared back, animal dumb. Will hurried her away, noticing how her hands were swallowed up by the sleeves of the sweater he'd put on her. The bottoms of her jeans dragged on the sidewalk.

There were


I thought i told you to shut up

"I used to be person. Human being. Now, I am American."


SLOW train to paraguay

college town whose name you’d forget even if I told you. Nothing from my first two years there warrants comment. In the third I befriended the newlyweds who’d moved into the apartment under mine in the creaky Victorian house I roomed in. The husband, Perry, fresh out of grad school at Santa Barbara, was the school’s new philosophy professor; the wife, Sarah, was a soon-to-be psychotherapist. A nice couple in the throes of culture shock. Not only was there no good Thai food in town, but hubby and wife were woefully unaccustomed to brain-baking boredom. Geographic or romantic.

We spent evenings in our building’s lush back yard, drinking screwdrivers, grilling burgers and corn ears, rehashing this or that movie, book, or sitcom from childhood. I surprised myself, going on and on about Smurfs, Willy Wonka, Doogie Hauser. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone in two years. Occasionally husband and wife would give me heavy-lidded looks, but I couldn’t tell if it was sexual interest or sleepiness.

If you’re standing on an infinite plane, do you see a horizon? Or does the ground just seem to fold upward and enclose you?


ENOUGH to kill a rhino

Jackie Newman has Mr. Valentino right where she wants him: in the girls’ room. Maybe she’s done it to see if she could get a full-grown man to do something so stupid. (It was easy.) Or maybe she’s done it to test her friend Holly’s claim that it’s way more exciting doing it somewhere you might get caught. And she is pretty worked up, truth be told, even though Mr. V is kind of old, even though she’s got a larger agenda tonight, even though the chances of their getting caught are pretty much zero: The only thing going on in the building at this hour is cheerleading practice, which she got out of early, telling Coach Taylor she had cramps from hell. And that’s a quarter-mile of dark corridor away.

Her ass -- no longer a butt, but an ass -- is on a sink; Mr. V. is between her knees, rooting into her neck, making these funny grunting sounds that almost crack her up. But then she sees her face in the mirror on the opposite wall, sees the scene playing out as in an mpeg clip on some porn site, and it suddenly feels serious. She watches her eyelids droop, feels herself smile into his collar, feels his -- his -- thing pressing now against her -- her --

Is it true, she whispers hotly against his ear, you’re gonna be hosting that new Bethel sports show every Saturday?

When, after a moment, he registers the question, he smiles, sucks her lower lip. Nods.

I want to be on it too, she says. Every week. Right there with you.

He grins expansively. I can make that happen.

Really? Promise?


To reward him, she lets out a little gasp -- a tiny squeak -- when his fingertips brush her inner thigh just inside her sweat-damp gym shorts.


SHOE of magnanimity, fist of incandescence

It stopped him instantly, one step into the room, like he'd hit glass. The thing suddenly and inexplicably there in the middle of his office. It was a filthy steel drum, some tar-like substance stuck to it in gobs, an incongruity amid the gleaming furniture pieces like a coffee pot in a mound of panties.

"What the fuck is it?" he asked Siegelman. Who was on the couch. And whose expression was utter delight.

"It's a barrel of oil!"

Krantz took a stop toward it, looking at it like it like it should be explaining itself and wasn't. "What the -- fuck is it doing here?"

Siegelman was hysterical now, screaming in laughter, clutching his ribs. "Whaaaaaah! Eeeeee! It's a -- it's a...!" He was gasping for air. "It's an actual fucking barrel of oil!"


UNTITLED (for francis)

"You're overestimating."

"I don't think so."

"Definitely overestimating."

"Look. Science, right? Science can't get anywhere near the big questions. Why is there anything rather than nothing? Why a universe instead of no universe?"

"We'll get there."

"Does anything exist outside of consciousness? There are two ways to take that question."

"Fuck you."

"To what extend does the fact of there being all this stuff -- all this stuff instead of no stuff -- indicate that unconsciousness, nothingness, oblivion are impossibilities?"


CREAMED photons

Will led ______ to the car. Once he got a seatbelt on her, he drove toward Arlington, past the Pentagon, which was shrouded in fog and light. They arrived at the opulent shopping mall at Pentagon City, and he parked in a multi‑level lot not unlike the one he'd found her in. If it sparked any memories for her, she gave no hint. He led her through the cold air to Nordstrom's entrance and pulled open the heavy glass door for her. They walked into the store, greeted by marble, oak, glass, piano music. They wound their way through people, ______ clutching Will's hand and staring up at the mannequins they passed. When they neared the tuxedoed piano player by the escalators she pursed her lips and howled softly with the music. The man's brow furrowed.

Will took her to the Gap and Banana Republic. Envisioning what might happen if he sent her to a dressing room alone, he guessed her sizes and bought her jeans, t‑shirts, a black leather jacket. He put it all on his MasterCard. Everywhere they went people


HANDS off the box, dude

A trenched monsoon port. A moron retched nonstop. A condemner's hot pronto. A contender's moth porno.


STIFFY: cock, corpse

"You're pregnant."

She looked up from the day planner. "I'm what?"

"You're pregnant."

"I'm pregnant? I'm pregnant?" It was like she was doing an impression of a flabbergasted person. "How the fuck did that happen?"


SEX addict at the breakfast bar

25. Being introduced, in the dim private lounge of a Lower-East-Side nightclub, to an Armani-clad, amply scarred and bejeweled man who, I knew the second his callused hand enveloped mine, the second the fat Bronx bruiser behind him stepped forward to inspect my jacket for bulges, was one of those individuals one should take great pains to keep the fuck out of one’s life.

26. A scary moment in a New Orleans bar when a drunk in a Harley jacket tried to stick what I think was a steak knife in me because I’d told him he’d have to blow me for an autograph.

27. A guy I’d occasionally smoked weed with in high school calling me in a New Haven hotel room, taking thirty minutes to chat me up before asking, inevitably, if he could borrow four thousand dollars.


KINGDOM, phylum, entry wound

One night while he was sitting in a Chelsea bar with his girlfriend Sandy, Patrick Donnelly turned into a woman. There was no warning it was going to happen; he simply became aware, suddenly, of the strange new weight of breasts on his torso and an unfamiliar girth at his hips. Sandy, for her part, didn't seem to notice. Just started calling him Trish. Unsure what to do, Patrick excused himself and went to the restroom, stopping abruptly in his tracks when, by force of habit, he almost walked into the men's. Having corrected himself, he stood in front of the mirror in the empty ladies' room, noting that he’d turned into not just any woman but the sort you might see in a Victoria's Secret catalog. He marveled at his new arched eyebrows, his translucent blue eyes, his upturned nose, his bee-stung lips. It was like a stranger's face looking back at him -- but not entirely. There was something familiar in it, too. Something in the shape of the eyes, the height of the forehead, that reminded him of the Patrick he knew. Or had known. Examining his clothes, he found himself vaguely approving of what was apparently his taste. He sported a white V-neck T-shirt that showed a bit of freckled cleavage, a pair of loose, faded jeans that hung provocatively on his hips, a pair of earthy sandals. The crimson red polish on his toenails was chipped.



When he got to his apartment, he paused at the entrance to the Schroedinger's box his place had become. He stared at the door's wooden surface, wondering if he was being watched through his own peephole. Then he twisted the key in the deadbolt and pushed the door open.

His mouth fell open when he saw the mutilated drapes, the gallon of milk splashed across the hardwood floor, the strewn contents of his bookshelf, the toppled stereo components.

He shut the door. He stood there dazed for a long time. Then he started walking through rooms, surveying the damage. A broken picture frame, spilt cereal boxes. A roll of unwound toilet paper. This trail he followed till it disappeared under the bathroom door. When he got there he reached slowly for the knob. He turned it and pushed the door open with his fingertips.


WHITE people still don't get it

"Cripes," he moaned, grabbing a fistful of his own hair, "I don't understand how things work." He squirmed, turning his knee to meet hers, saying, "Do you know what Fitz says? He says we're all screwed up, we all think we're on TV."

She shook her head. "Poor Fitz. He almost got it right. See," hair falling down over her left eye again, her breath so close he could feel it on his face, "it's just that some people want very badly to be on TV. And they go nuts from frustration because they know they're not."

Matt blinked. "Why would anyone want to be in that stupid box?"

"Because!" grabbing his wrist. "It's easy to think your life doesn't mean anything unless someone draws lines around it. It's easy to think something's not real unless someone’s taken a picture of it."

"No,” bewildered, “this is no good. I want my life to mean something. I want to be real. Someone’s already taken your picture, Chloe. What if no one wants to take mine?"

"Uh-uh," grabbing his shoulder, sinking her nails in pretty good. “Now you’re just going the wrong way. Because once you’ve got the picture that made you real, your picture can't be real till someone takes a picture of it. See?"

He grabbed his head, shook it.

"It's a bad road," Chloe, unhanding him, giving a little shudder he felt against his thigh. "I'm telling you. Don’t go down it."


HERE comes sulfur

Well, I’ve now got these clusters, right, of not only genuine usurpers but Christ knows how many clusters with how many deluded usurpers who think they’re beating the system and so, for all intents and purposes, are.

How so?

How so what?

How are they beating the system?

Well what’s to disprove them? Once they’ve gone into their frumpy hiding, there’s nothing to tell them they weren’t otherwise bound for, for, Jay Leno’s couch, right? And if that’s the reality they subscribe to, then. What. That is their reality.


I'M with stupid

When the girl left, I stood alone in the hotel room, listening for a long moment to the whisper of sanitized air through vents. I let my eyes travel the room without moving my neck even a little. Faux colonial furniture. Brass lamps. Prints of watercolors of farmscapes. A big TV. Everything just as you’d expect.

I walked to the window and pulled aside the rubberized curtains by their plastic rods, looking down on the “city” 14 stories below. Cars turned cautious lefts. A dozen people weaved their way past each other in a crosswalk. An old woman tripped over a curb and fell. Beyond a public park, all autumnal oranges and yellows, the afternoon sun glinted off a river whose name I didn't know.

I sat down on the edge of the pleasantly stiff mattress behind me, feeling the warmth of the slanting sunlight on my legs. I rubbed my penis through my slacks until it was semi-erect. I inspected my fingernails. Then I got up a little unsteadily, crossed the room and looked at myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror on the closet door. I wore a midnight-blue Tom Ford suit, black Prada shoes and belt, a shimmering gold Hedi Slimane tie. My hair was an artful tussle. My skin was fair and clear. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.


THE water in my daughter

Hey, that was a terrific idea!

He marched back to the house, beaming, waving at cars. Ten minutes later, grunting and sweating, forcing his now-criminal fingers deep into the happy and horny-making mass of silk and cotton that was Chloe's hamper, thinking he might not, in an instance as unique and special as this, be above trying some of these items on, his knuckles struck something hard. Hello. What was this? He fumbled for it, got a hand on it, pulled it up from the musky depths. It was...a videotape! What could it be? Well it could be just about anything!

With no hesitation whatsoever he trotted the thing down the cedary-smelling hall to the living room, marching gleefully, knees lifted high. He squatted in front of the dusty TV/VCR combo, stabbed his finger at power buttons, heard gears whir to life, shoved the tape into a slot that sucked it in and swallowed it up, mmm, yum-yum, mmm.

And then, suddenly, after twenty seconds of fuzz, rolling lines and white noise, he saw...Chloe! This was too good!

But where was she? What was this she was doing?

She was sitting at what looked like a folding card table, in some ugly wood-paneled room, in front of -- wow -- a big Texas state flag thumbtacked to the wall behind her. It appeared there was also a big plate of...spaghetti in front of her. Which Chloe -- virtual Chloe, pixelated Chloe, who had just shot a ferocious look at whoever was behind the camera, like he (Matt already knew somehow it was a he) was gonna owe her big for this one -- picked up a fork and laid into, gobbling away.

Then Matt's initial suspicion there was potential here for some weird fuckin' shit to happen was suddenly realized, as the person -- indeed male -- behind the camera, watching Chloe, shouted, apropos of nothing, "Ooh baby yeah!" Matt, squatting there, feeling the swelling evil that had entered the scene, made a weird noise in the back of his throat, hunkered lower, not sure if he really wanted to be seeing this, man.


AXIS makes prefect

outside to jam sticks into bee holes. Which was about the only thing there was to do at that place.

So I was outside, sitting there in the dirt by the street breaking up twigs, when I heard footsteps coming down the stairs behind me -- the other family's stairs, on the other side of the house. I got scared again, of course. And next thing I knew the girl was standing there beside me in this little green terrycloth outfit, hands on hips, her eyes squinting at me in the bright sun. I remember the freckles on her nose and cheeks and her dusty toes clenching and unclenching in her flip-flops. Or at least I think I do.

She just stood there a while, staring at me. Then she said, "I saw you looking at me, you know." I just ignored her and went on breaking up sticks. She took a step closer to me, so she was almost on top of me, and she said, "Do you want me to tell my dad?" I didn't say anything, didn't even look up at her. I was mad at her, though -- real mad, don't ask me why -- and I was trying to think up something mean to say to her as I was sitting there in the dirt.

"Stupid," she said.

"Stupid girl," I said.

Then she said, "I'm telling." She turned around and


HUMAN noose

Simone was one of that type. You know: something right off a Vogue or Cosmo cover, something right off a New York fashion-show runway, something right out of the collective American supermall unconscious. Green cat eyes, impeccable cheekbones, zero body fat. The type you'd think had never worked harder in her life than logging thousands of hours on nautilus machines or prancing in front of cameras. The type you envision lounging half-naked and sun-kissed by sparkling swimming pools in South-of-France resorts, politely declining the attentions of vacationing Polo-shirted executives with Aston Martin keys jangling in their pockets, sculpted cabana boys looking on hungrily from a distance. The Chanel type, the Saks Fifth Avenue type. The type that's a little disconcerting to meet in three dimensions because peripherally you keep seeing the edges of magazine pages and TV screens floating around her, the type your eyes keep trying to flatten back out into glossy photographic image, as if her actual physical presence marked some irksome rupture in the capitalist space-time continuum. She was the type other women love admitting is gorgeous because she's way out of their boyfriends' leagues anyway, the type even the most alpha-male frat boys can't bring themselves to ogle, reduced instead to the type of sanctimonious, deferential silence usually associated with art galleries and churches. Regal, stately, way past the crude discourse of hot, hers was the type of beauty so surface-slick even fantasies slide right off.


MIRROR = death

When she'd finished the grape juice, she smiled, her lips and face a mess of purple, her cattish eyes narrowed in joy. She laughed and said something he didn't understand. Her hands made ambiguous gestures.

She followed Will back into the living room. Since the TV had survived her wrath, or whatever it had been, he turned it on for her and went back to the kitchen to start cleaning. When he came back out a few minutes later, dish towel in hand, he found her crouched in front of the screen, murmuring to herself, touching the glass like she was trying to touch the images trapped inside. It was a PBS show about bats. They swooped from one edge of the screen to the other.

Will put down the rag, went to his bedroom and pulled an old tape recorder from the closet. In the living room he found a cassette on the floor, loaded it into the machine and recorded several minutes of her yammering. She gave no indication she understood what he was doing. He cleaned up the milk, picked up his books and rewired the stereo. Then he went and sat on the carpet beside the girl. He’d meant to get up and keep cleaning, but he wound up staying there beside her, watching TV for several hours instead.


THAT'S one word for it

First, the house, square and plain and lonesome, crowded up on a two-lane highway bisecting a vast, flat cornfield in a state with too many vowels in its name. Weathered white clapboards, rusty oil tank, squeaking water pump, two skinny wires sagging from a pole by the road to the peak of the house's roof. There are storm clouds, maybe, in the sky's deep distance.

Then I'm in that house, I'm in it, I'm in it, I'm


EN la bolsa

Tara’s ex-husband Rick Newman sits in his car at a dark edge of the Norelco plant’s parking lot, across the street from the television studio. He too once worked at WGTV. For one glorious year, in fact, he was the weekend anchorman. The anchor. The man. He and Crazy Whore started there at the same time, both of them 22, both of them just graduated from Packer, boyfriend and girlfriend, news-tape editors working side by side. How’s that for an eternity ago. Now, thanks to her, he sells Saturns. He still gets recognized, though. Every now and again.

When he sees her spot the turd on the Lexus' roof, he smiles. Didn’t even expect to, really. Thought he was putting it there perfunctorily, dutifully, just because something should mark the six-month anniversary of their divorce. But when she finds it and curses a tiny thundercloud into the cold air, he smiles involuntarily and broadly, watching himself in the rearview mirror. It’s a reminder: Don’t ever underestimate the peevish, childish pleasures. The pleasure of pulled hair. The pleasure of Indian burn. The pleasure of smashed toy. It’s so good, in fact, he follows her home, staying well behind her (he doesn’t want that turd on his windshield), seeking some further shabby gratification. Hey: Six months is an accomplishment. And he’s got an hour to kill before he picks up his niece anyway.


OVERBESE? overbose

All right, all right. That's it, goddammit. Stop right there. This is what I get for making the aesthetically and politically progressive gesture of providing you a forum for expressing your own ideas: dementia, perversion, willful senselessness. And don't think either I'll let you con yourself, however desperate you may be, into believing what you've been witnessing here is some mitopic self-division of the narrating persona: The ideas expressed in this text, dear reader, are yours and nobody else's. You know it; I know it. I saw it was coming off the rails when you let loose with that filthy business about your half-dozen orgasms, a comment so unsuited to the tone of this piece -- its tone as I conceived it -- it about makes me want to __________. We'll have no more such rot. If we can't uphold something as fundamental as a subject/object split, where are we as a culture, a people, a nation? Where will this relativism, this anarchism, this rude indeterminacy end?


FISHES, ditches, wishes

It was three blocks off Main Street that he found the thing that had been calling to him in his sleep: a shot-to-hell Victorian house with a cardboard sign in its window reading APARTMENT FOR RENT. This was truly a city of signs.

Jay parked in the ditch, jogged up the dusty front lawn and knocked hard, hard on the door, grinning ruthlessly when, after a moment or two, an obese woman emanating the funk of fried chicken opened it. She saw him standing there in his wrecked chinos and jacket, looked at him like he was fucking insane, but still left behind a screaming child to take him around back of the place, up some perilous wooden stairs and into a third-floor apartment. Inside, Jay rapped on the walls, stepped repeatedly on a squeaking floorboard, pressed his fists into the stained mattress on the wildly careening iron bed frame, then announced to the woman, who was visibly nervous by now, that he'd take it. He paid her the necessary deposit in cash from his wallet, she babbling something in that grating accent about her husband sending up a copy of the lease. Then he showed the good woman the door.

Alone at last in his new home, Jay removed a silver flask from his jacket pocket, unscrewed the top, took one slug from it, then another. He drew his lips up over his teeth, turned round and round in self-satisfied circles, examining the walls. "My walls," he said. He stepped into the bathroom, saying, "My bathroom," and discovered an old-time bevelled mirror on the back of the door. Feeling some obscure, some unnameable, urge, he stripped naked before it, then stood there, his clothes in a tired pile at his feet, turning his body left and right, examining his profile, saying, "Oh baby. You're so fine. You're so fine."


IS this what you meant by "byzantine"?

The people once indigenous to this region bore stone axes, and so rendered all mathematical computation useless. On the ground they fled we built the institutions of praxis: public libraries, grocery stores, and the music of the boneless. Our good fortune is in our trees, which grow a fruit suspected peerless. Though long thought to be invisible, it's ruddy and delicious.


COCKSUCKER blues, orthopedic shoes

Rubbing her chin, raising her glinting Zippo to her Camel Light: "You never even told her, did you?"

"Told her? Told her what?"

"That you loved her, you worm."

He tried to smile, succeeded only in showing some dental work. "Well, once, on her couch, in her dorm room, at school? I, I, I, I– "

Chloe snapped the lighter shut, blew smoke at Matt's nakedness, spun a hand in the air.

" I almost told her."

"Oh. You almost told her. That’s great."

"But, but – "

"No buts about it, you wet noodle. What did she look like?"

"What'd she look like?"

"What did she look like?”

"I don’t know. Short. Blonde. Curvy."

He stopped abruptly. Realized he’d just described Chloe.

She narrowed her eyes, blew more smoke through her lips, which were pursed so tightly now it could only be to keep from grinning. "Well that’s interesting, isn't it?"

Matt, wide-eyed, said nothing.

"So tell me, Matt my buddy. Just how good of friends are you and Fitz?"

"I...don’t know."

"Mmm, I see, I see.” A strand of hair fell over her left eye. “And what about me, Matt? Am I your friend?"

"I think you’re the devil."

Chloe threw her head back, loosed a Satanic laugh. Matt stood there, a jerk.

"Let me give you some advice, buddy," she finally said, picking her navel under her T shirt. "You might want to get dressed, fast, ’cause your friend just pulled into the driveway."

Matt scrambled for his clothes, grabbing one article after another, sticking this limb into that hole, unbuttoning this thing and re-zipping that, getting his jeans on inside-out, his shirt on backwards, finally hitting the couch, holding Nietzsche up to his face, upside-down, just as Fitz, with the neighbors' one-eyed, malnourished, highly noxious cat following at his heels, came through the kitchen door, announcing, "Today was another defeat!" The cat trailed him into the living room, where it jumped gracelessly onto the coffee table and, as Matt, Chloe, and Fitz watched horrified, delivered up, after some violent torso spasms and hacking, a slick, steaming hairball – or maybe a half-digested mouse. Then he/she/it bolted, hurling through the storm door in the kitchen, leaving a tattered cat-shaped hole in the screen.

"What," queried Fitz, "should we have for dinner?"


WHATEVER it is, i'm eating it

Once you realize maybe one person in a hundred is worth talking to, you start worrying about whether you're one of them. It's the sort of thing you figure out in a Japanese restuarant, when you understand, in a flash, the only way to write is to tape these assholes secretly and transcribe their conversations later. Nevermind nobody'd want to read it; that's not the point. The point is the recorder's a gun in your pants.


MELLIFLUOUS, not carnal, intent

he won't be corporate, anyway he can't seem to get incorporated, but if faced with anonymity, unfamous, unspecial, unheard of, he'll whoop it up, quietly, as what he wants most, anonymity, not corporated, and he'll make a plan, a good plan, a humane plan, to drive to delaware, without strings, without could'ves, not incorporated, or someplace like that, with smellable ocean, not landlocked, stay to the edges, and get a job, a job of sorts, a little job, a humane job, like write a newsletter for the humane society or deliver mail or sell some vegetables, grow some vegetables, sell some vegetables at a wooden stand on the side of the highway, with a wooden sign, "pumpkins," the most benevolent vegetable, just like him, it's a plan with symmetry, a good plan, yes a humane plan, not corporate, not incorporated, just himself, doing his thing, in his house, that old house, that little house on the side of the highway with wooden siding and a rusty oil tank and a zucchini garden and the smell of patchouli and not a single mirror in which to glimpse himself chewing that zucchini, that lonely sad zucchini


LIBRARY genitals

theater’s upstairs bar on a Thursday night. The pink- and blue-haired kids who packed the room were, no doubt, a generally timid, taciturn lot. Shoegazers. But something about the White Devils made them need to smash beer bottles against the walls. Something about us made them need to whip aluminum ashtrays at each other's heads. Something about us made them need to crawl on the floor, gnashing their teeth and tearing their Yo La Tengo T-shirts. Something about us made them need to scramble up on the stage and run in frantic circles, like mice, then tear our instruments from us so they could break them, break them, and throw them down to where others could break them more.

After our set we stood backstage, panting, hands on waists and knees. There, a hard-faced guy in his late thirties lurched through a fire door, sweating. “Who the fuck are you?” he wanted to know.

It was like he was angry at us.


NIPPLE sipper, exeunt!

The first thing you have to understand is they’re not like us. Catching attractive strangers’ eyes, they -- without deliberating, without consciously deciding anything -- hold their gazes. They smile. It’s just instinct to them. That’s how completely different they are from you and me. In hotel lobbies, in international airports, in uber-hip bars we could never even find because their entrances are in dark alleys we’d be afraid we'd be mugged in -- they hold strangers’ gazes. And smile. They do these seemingly simple things we like to tell ourselves we could do if we really wanted, that someday we will do when it’s more appropriate, when we're less encumbered, when we’re feeling bold or electrified or horny. Though we won’t. And so they open up to themselves realms of possibility that remain closed forever to the likes of you and me.

Forever. That’s a long time.

It is a long time. And for that portion of it we’re alive, we get to contemplate daily the pain of our alienation from that place they inhabit.

That place. That psychological state.

That’s right.

Not a geographic locale.

Well. Strictly speaking, no. But it’s a psychological state that sometimes articulates itself in geographical terms.

Actual physical space.


Major urban centers, of course. And coastlines.

Of course.

It goes a long way, doesn’t it, towards explaining the discomfort we feel when visiting those places.


Proximity, of course. The abject pain of being so close to a world we’d like to inhabit but are barred from utterly. It’s just behind that garden wall. It’s just eight stories up, behind that window with the glowing Japanese paper lanterns. It’s just at the end of that pier there, behind that locked cabin door.


Oh lord. They’ve only just met, just three hours ago, but they’re in that cabin at the end of that pier having the type of sex we spend our whole lives fantasizing about, stimulating our sad little parts while thinking about, trying to tell ourselves no actual human beings ever experience it in actual reality anyway, shamelessly and without even asking permission doing things to each other we won’t ask even our chubby and slightly asthmatic partners of all these years to do, licking things we’d never dare lick, saying things we’d never dare say, making bold and thrillingly rude gestures to these strangers they’re with, staring hard and unembarrassed at the particular parts in motion.


Thinking and saying simultaneously. Reaching


MONKEY kill donkey

She was what a cad might call a hellcat in bed.

One afternoon we were drinking Coronas on the deck of a barbecue place near Charleston when a tall guy in a lot of linen introduced himself sheepishly. He was the editor of a local tourist rag. Were we local? Were we together? He’d love to put us in his Charleston’s Most Beautiful Couples issue.

It wasn’t till she left a note at the hotel desk – a trope miles beneath her – informing me she’d gone back to Miami, back to her CIA-operative husband, that I realized I’d fallen chemically in love with the Norwegian. I had 48 hours of shakes, nausea, cold sweats. In my hotel room I punched a mirror, knocked over a television, stomped my wristwatch. Only the tinkle of broken glass could comfort me.

Is there any such thing as subjectivity outside of ideology?


A mind turned insular

He carried her down the long, florescent-lit hallway to the movers' elevator. He pushed the button and the doors opened. As the elevator climbed to his floor, he stared at the girl's white feet in the orange light of the number buttons. She smelled like flowers. But not the springtime sort. Funeral flowers.

The elevator doors opened and he carried her down the hall, turning around to look behind him when he reached his door. The hall was long and empty. There was a droning sound like a wind blowing.


LET'S have an affair

realize at this point there are two key facts I haven't told Shelly yet. The first is that my family didn't rent the whole house. The place was broken up into two different apartments, one upstairs and one down. My family always had the upstairs one, and some other family was always in the one under us. The second very key fact is that my family's upstairs apartment, if that's what you call it, had a wooden patio out back, with a plastic picnic table and a hibachi grill. It was my dad's favorite spot. He'd stand out there every night around sunset with a cigarette in one hand and a paper cup of whiskey in the other, looking out at the other A-frame houses like he was trying to figure out what was going on in them.

None of this is what's important about the wooden patio, though. What's important – and this is what I figured out that summer when I was eight or nine – is that it had the house's outdoor shower stalls, like all beach houses have, right underneath it. Smack dab. I also figured out that if I got down on my hands and knees and pressed my face to the boards, I could see through the cracks between them right into the showers.

I tell Shelly this, and she barks out a laugh and says, "You little pervert."

"What?" I say. "I haven't told you what I did."

"I don't think you have to," she says, and actually looks genuinely disgusted for a second. She takes the last swig of her Rolling Rock and wedges the empty bottle between her thighs. I try not to notice this. She says, "I guess I should've expected as much."

"What?" I say. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," she says.

I go on with the story, since it's on my mind.

So this particular year, I tell her, the family underneath us had a couple kids with them. At least I think there were a couple; I only really remember one for sure.

"The one you spied on in the shower," Shelly says.

"All right," I say. "You're right. You're right." Might as well admit it so I can go on with the story.
I keep talking. The girl, the kid, I spied on in the shower, I tell Shelly, was probably ten or eleven. A little older than me. What little kids call a big kid. So one afternoon, probably the same day I made my discovery about the house's little design flaw, I was out on the back porch playing with my Star Wars figures or some such shit when I saw this girl walking up the flat dirt road from the beach, her towel dragging on the ground beside her, her hair still slicked back and wet. I got excited then, because I realized


AVUNCULAR hideaway

________ College in ________, Virginia was a dirty limerick, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of blacklight, a bass tone, a bad habit, a sick nostalgia, a psychedelic dream. It was white boys with dreadlocks throwing up on the stairs of the lamp-lit Georgian library on Thursday night, used condoms and crushed beer cans in the outstretched hand of bronzed Dr. Pinkerton, founder, by the doors of the administrative building on Friday morning. It was frat boys screaming and mauling each other in the streets, sorority girls in miniskirts careening down the sidewalks, howling out the same old Jimmy Buffet songs over and over and over again, plastic cups of the Beast that made Milwaukee famous in their manicured hands. It was night clubs in bombed-out bus depots, strobe-lit and sticky-floored, packed wall to concrete wall with horny drunk sophomores who staggered around through heat-lightning clouds of cigarette smoke and hormones, passing off "yes" stamps from the back of one hand to another by licking and pressing.

But that was all on the east side of town, where the school and its culture had invaded and conquered like some sort of Dionysian warlord. In the west



When I burn the fuckin' monkey, even the devil sweats.


PRAXIS makes immortality the only feasible principle of governance

The Devils’ story is reasonably well documented – on fan sites; in two encyclopedias of rock; in one vapid, photo-dense volume issued from a British fly-by-night publisher. So I won’t burn a lot of space rehashing it.

But a montage of memories from that Devilish period might prove illustrative of whatever point I’m trying to make. And might provide textures heretofore unavailable to the public, should anyone still give a shit.

So here are 31 memories, in glorious disarray. One for every year I’ve endured.

1. Someone clinging to my leg on the sidewalk outside the Scala in London, weeping, sobbing out, “I just want to be you.”

2. Our drummer Vince laughing and threatening a bloated wax dummy in a Tribeca gallery with his lit Zippo. Then getting too close and the thing going up like a drum of rubbing alcohol.


INVERSE rarity, piercefoot

He was angry now. But crying. His fists were on the desk, on either side of the keyboard. "There is no such thing as nothing. There is no such thing as unconsciousness. There is no such thing as oblivion. The distant light the dying see is the light at the end of the vagina."


WEATHER in reverse

She’d been shocked when Phil, after some surreptitious tête-à-tête with a realtor, had driven her out to see it three weeks before they were married. “A McMansion?” she cried in horror, staring at the brand new edifice through the Range Rover's windshield. “You went to the Cooper Union, Phil. Surely you know a crime against aesthetics when you see one.” But it wasn’t, of course, about aesthetics for Phil. The brick leviathan, with its Mayan-pyramid front stoop, garish Doric columns, and painfully treeless, sun-baked quarter-acre lawn, bespoke not beauty to him but belonging, stability, some perversely willful American capitulation to Normalcy his own parents – stinking rich Fifth-Avenue alcoholics whose only hobby had been lobbing heavy objects at each other’s heads – had forgotten to make. When he responded to Sharona’s derision by extending a trembly lower lip, salty pools collecting on his lower eyelids, she dejectedly relented. She’d never worked up much of a resistance to that particular awful ploy of his. Besides, it wasn’t permanent. And her work hours were so crazy, she knew, home wasn’t much more than a place to crash for eight unconscious hours anyway.


BEAT them harder

Every individual consciousness is a single cell in the brain of God.


WHAT jake said

i out off my of slippers sitting on them the down room bed and and sink to poured got into bed this the was glass brett turned an kitchen that i the had felt like crying both off about brandy kicked then a took glass i thought was in of her half-full walking the up the street and stepping on into the car as i had glass last dining seen her and of course in a little while i felt like the hell i again it is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about table the everything in the soda and the daytime gas half-full empty but at and night it is another thing


ASK again later

14. Bobbies, as they’re degradingly called, stopping our only London Palladium show three times in twenty minutes because the crowd kept stampeding over a portable barrier to get at the stage.

15. A girl who absolutely would not remove her fishnets inquiring, after every aberrant act we performed together in her Toronto apartment, some party howling outside the locked bedroom door, if I’d ever done that before. Determined, it seemed, to discovery the one perversity that would prevent her vanishing from my brain the second I was back in the airport.

16. Ivan "the Terrible" Towson, a 32 year-old Geffen legal consultant with a lot of hair and a skinny tie, quitting his day job two days after we told him, backstage at our second Wild Boar gig, sure, what the fuck, he could manage us. This guy with a wife, a two-grand-a-month apartment in Brooklyn, an adopted Chinese baby. Me realizing, Holy shit, I think we’re gonna get famous. This is exactly the type of idiocy that goes on when someone’s gonna get famous.

17. Going alone to a bar in an East-Village Russian restaurant the night after the Devils played Letterman. Getting ripped on Stoli martinis, eventually realizing the stunning black girl at the far end of the bar was staring at me over her date’s shoulder. Me deciding, on fledgling rock-star legs, to get a drink thrown in my face when she went to the women’s room – or a punch thrown in same by beau much sooner – by tonguing the crotch of my index and middle fingers at her. But she just smiling slyly at the gesture.


CONSTABULARY fools, take note

What was my self doing while I wasn't there? (A question for sleepwalkers, blackout drunks, those who fear death.) If my self can be about some business while I'm not with it, then what?


ERSATZ obsequies

The next evening, Rob, after leaving Hoffman & Flynn, Architects, meets Tim Valentino, vice principal and baseball coach for Liberty High, at the Penalty Box, a South-Bethel sports bar. Rob no sooner gets a drink in front of him than Tim starts yammering about some weekly high-school sports review he’ll be hosting on the local cable channel every Saturday from –

Hang on, dude, Rob says, holding up a palm, taking a gulp of watery 7 & 7. He hates this sports-bar shit. You remember the New York indiscretion? Of last fall?

Oh yeah. Tim sips his Heineken. The one indiscretion every man must, in a just and decent society, be permitted.

Annually. That’s right. So listen to this. Angela and I are at the movies last night – that Beaches Near and Far flick?

That unrated thing? You got Angela to go see that?

Yeah. And ten minutes into it –

He breaks off, laughing riotously, slapping his own thigh. Oh, Jesus, dude. Ten minutes into it, guess who suddenly walks on screen?

Tim’s face slackens. You’re joking.

No, man, Rob laughs, passing a knuckle under his eye. I swear to God. I almost had to go jerk off in the men’s room.

No effing way. Tim stares at Rob. Not Kelly Merchant. She is not the chick you – who you met in that martini bar by Cooper Union. Who got loaded on cosmos. Who asked you to walk her back to the Hilton.

Rob gulps at his drink, whimpering, Hey, man, all I ever got was her first name.

Who spent half the night sitting on your face? Dude, do you never turn on the fucking television?

Rob reaches for the peanuts, tosses one into his mouth. I’m a movie man.

Tim shakes his head, looks around to make sure none of his colleagues are present, plucks a cigarette from inside his sports coat. Lights up.

I tell you, Rob says, it’s really something. He grins thoughtfully now, staring at college-football highlights on the TV over the bar. It makes you realize how pretty much any of us could’ve wound up famous. You know? I mean what’s the difference between them and us?

Dude, we are famous. Tim exhales grey lung smoke. We’re Bethel famous.

Rob snorts.

We’re famous in miniature.

Yeah, Rob says.

Tim has another nervous look around. Then, in a lowered voice: Hey, man. Remember that senior cheerleader I told you about? Jackie? The one I’ve been having the whole crazy-ass flirtation with?


Well, I think it’s finally gonna happen. Later tonight I’m supposed to –

Dude, Rob says, grinning, holding up a hand. Do I legally want to hear this?


PET vibrator

Dear God, he finally said. It was your husband, wasn’t it?

She kept tapping the spoon. Your name is an anagram of anal, she said.

Oh lord. There are some words it’s simply too much to hear a beautiful woman speak aloud, you know.

It’s funny, she said. Every British guy I’ve ever known. All of them, what’s the word. Cads.

No no.

That’s it. Cads.

No no. I’m no cad.


A cad, he said, is a man who propositions women fully expecting to be turned down.

Alan. Dearest.

But you haven’t even heard the best part, he said.

The best part? Is it when we fit my husband with horns? After the photo shoot is through?

A pained smile. He looked wounded. Or did a good job pretending. Now Meg, he said. You know I respect the institution of marriage much too much for that.

Har har har.

The best part, he said, is that we could actually publish the pictures.

She gave him a blank look again. An expression effectively communicating that she was staring into a vacuum where a human being used to be.

Your face won’t be in them, of course. Which I admit is regrettable, because, you know. But it just isn’t possible, is it?

She was smiling again. It’s really rather funny, she said, we should be having this conversation today of all days. She noticed how she slipped into Britishisms – rather, quite – whenever she conversed with him. Like that. Conversed instead of talked.

Why’s that?

This naked but faceless business.

Haven’t you come across _______.com yet? he asked. In your what you cultural-studies people pass off as research?

She became hysterical then, bending over laughing, taking care not to spit out her mouthful of Diet Coke, taking care to keep her knees together, since she was wearing a skirt and he was right opposite her, sitting a little lower than her on her tired old Ikea couch, a grad-school leftover, this British cad who spoke every desire that came into his grimy head and was no doubt hoping for a nice up-skirt sitting where he was.

What? he said, grinning. What?

I think I can guess what _______.com is, she said, recovering. All asses, no faces.

Well you needn’t make it sound crass. The genius of it is anyone can post pictures there. These aren’t models. They aren’t prostitutes. No one’s making money. These are possibly your own mates’ wives. Or your own dental hygienist.

Your own dental hygienist? She was doubled over again, nearly crying now.

All right, then. Maybe the cute sophomore in your 11:00 modernism seminar.

Or her professor.

Ah. See? You’re catching the tune.

Oh please God, she said, wiping her eyes, don’t tell me you’ve posted naked pictures of yourself on this website.

What? Are you joking? There are no men on it. No one wants to look at anonymous naked men.

SAY, what's this all about, anyway?


MOLAR, molecular

I was a coin someone dropped into a vending machine. Then I was the machine.

One day three guys in jumpsuits came and took me from my place in front of the WalMart. They put a blanket over me, strapped me into in a van, drove me a long, long ways. We seemed to be going in circles. When they uncovered me again, I was in a gleaming white corridor in the bowels of an office building, far beneath the surface of the earth.


IS it in?

Let me tell you what I'm looking at.

We have, in the immediate foreground, a window. It's a tall, thin window. An old window. A house window. It is, I mean, a window in an old house. There are, it's worth noting, cracks in this window. Long, delicate, arcing cracks that meet at a point on the rattling wooden frame and that are, under a fingertip, sharp and cold as the edges of razor blades.

We have, under this window, a rooftop. The one covering the kitchen on the floor – on the storey – under us. It's gritty, flat and grey, this rooftop, littered with twigs and branches fallen from trees overhanging it, repaired, in spots, with patches of tar the exact same black as a blackboard. There are gutters, loose nails, laundry vents. There is, at this rooftop's corner, a brick chimney, sooty black, with a leaning television antenna above it.

We have, in the middle ground, a thousand houses, all crushed together, the peaks of their glistening slate-shingled roofs straining upward for light and air. They're brick houses, white-clapboard houses, century-old working-class houses, some intricate and Victorian, some hard and square and plain. Jutting up between them, there are, we see, bare trees, leaning street lamps, telephone poles, sagging black cables with


IT'LL stretch

striding into the laundromat, bold as you please, kinetic and American, golden limbs flashing, blonde ponytail bouncing, big plastic basket of shadowy, mysterious unspeakables under one well-toned arm. It's like an ad for something. We observe her together, eyes in synchrony, me and the old townie on the other side of the drone-filled room. The local university's crest is on her tank top. She starts sorting clothes, filmy things slipping through her fingers into two different washers. Me, I force my attention back to my book. But him, he's still staring, thin lips parted, eyes blinking, mesmerized. When I pass him on the way out, a bulging Hefty bag of damp jeans and T-shirts hanging pendulously from each hand, I for some reason make eye contact. What am I thinking. How long until I learn. Needless to say he follows me into the parking lot, keeping five feet behind me. It's sunny and hazy, half hot already. As I'm opening the car door, thinking maybe I'm gonna get away clean after all, he starts in.

"You know how you got here, don't ya?" he wants to know, his voice unexpectedly loud. He's sixty-five easy, Amish-looking, wispy white chin beard and all. Like an old Thoreau. I gradually discern "here" to be the laundromat: a woman's place. I get three or four minutes, furious at myself for standing there and taking it, about how the goddamn feminists have wrecked this country, about how his wife always knew her place was at home like he knew his was at the Steel. This is how they raised their two boys -- the one even went to college. He concludes, predictably, with a denunciation of that fuckin' idiot in the White House (it's 1997), then, suddenly embarrassed, like he didn't want to spew this shit at me but couldn't help himself, turns back to the laundromat and leaves me behind, walking weirdly briskly, a farmer making tracks over his acres. I'm embarrassed too. He's told me he hates women. He's told me he's got no one, not even his two good boys, to talk to. Why do I even go out. Throwing the Hefty bags into the front seat, I drop my keys on the blacktop, then accidentally kick them under the car.



girl was in the tub, crouched in the corner. When she saw Will she started shrieking and screaming in a language he'd never heard before. He opened his mouth to say something, but she was already out of the tub, bolting past him, knocking him down. He hit the floor hard. From there he watched her streak through the bedroom, into the living room, where she ran headlong not once but twice into the sliding glass balcony door. Then she fled to another corner and cowered there, wild-eyed.

He lay there breathing, heart pounding, wondering what to do. He stood up very slowly. He started walking cautiously toward the living room, keeping his eyes on the girl's squatting figure. Her crouch tightened. He was imagining dragging her out of the building by her flailing legs. But getting closer, he saw her eyes for the first time ‑‑ blue ‑‑ bruises the color of violets in their corners. He stopped and looked at her. She stared back, breathing.

Suddenly he was trying to soothe her. He was speaking gently to her and offering her a piece of Wonder Bread from the loaf he found on the floor. After a couple minutes she crept forward and took it from him. She chewed the crust, then stuffed the whole piece into her mouth, jaws working furiously, eyes fixed on him. He went to the kitchen and retrieved different foods from the refrigerator: a carrot, a Del Monte pudding pack, cold pizza. Only the bread interested her, though. She devoured three quarters of the loaf, then followed him back to the kitchen, always staying five feet from him, and washed the bread down with a quart of Welch's grape juice. When she'd finished drinking, she smiled, her lips and face a mass of purple, her



One crisp, cloudless October morning, Jay Johanson, 27, carried a suitcase out to his hand-me-down BMW, got in, and started driving, filled with nothing but a certain dubious inclination. He drove and drove and drove, ten non-stop hours on interstate 81. Then, somewhere in southwest Virginia, surrounded by all the splendor of that country's autumn, he saw an exit ramp for a place called Savage and, titillated, veered across three lanes of traffic, nearly causing a terrifically bad accident, to take it. In this way he was deposited onto a sinuous two-lane highway with busted-up guardrails and an uncanny amount of roadkill that he dodged for six long miles, arriving at last at an impossibly ugly town with a sign greeting him thusly: WELCOME TO SAVAGE, THE HEART OF APPALACHIA. Spray-painted beneath these words were two more: EAT ME. Lordy, it was better than he'd dared hope for.

He drove into town, passing leaning clapboard houses, cinderblock laundromats, a pack of dirty-faced boys on Huffies whose blank-faced stares he returned as he motored by. He turned corners on potholed streets with no curbs or sidewalks, the BMW's suspension rattling and banging, the transmission screaming as he fought through the gears. An ancient black man sitting on a careening front porch began to wave, then stopped. A burned-out house with two satellite dishes and what appeared to be a tombstone in its front yard appeared after he passed the volunteer fire station. It was three blocks off Main Street, though, that he found the thing that had been calling to him in his sleep: a shot-to-hell 19th-century Victorian house with a cardboard sign in its window reading APARTMENT FOR RENT. This was truly a city of signs.


THERE are no innocent pleasures

The whole problem is it's in a fucking gallery.

THE irascibles

I bet you look just tremendous naked, don’t you?

This from Alan Belk, the Welsh post-doc who’d this semester fallen into the habit of spending every noon hour in Meg’s office.

She sucked the plastic spoon with which she’d just finished her yogurt. Thinking he was getting pretty bold. Deciding how big a bone to throw him.

Actually, yes, she said. Outside of a knee-surgery scar, I do, in fact, look pretty tremendous naked.

Oh my God.

He was thirty pounds overweight, smelled of cigarette smoke, mild B.O. But there was something to him. There was something to him. The charm of the utterly unrepressed. Plus which he got a good bit of mileage out of the accent. Just two days earlier she’d overheard a sophomore in the Humanities Center telling her friend something really rather remarkably debauched she wanted to do to him. If he spoke like a Philadelphian there’d be none of that.

I’d so love to photograph you, he said.

I bet you would.

Naked, he said.

She smiled. That's what I figured you meant.

I’m serious. How can you be working on a book on pornography and not on some level want to be photographed naked?

Who says I haven’t been?

I don’t mean by your bloody husband. There’s nothing pornographic in that.

She tapped the spoon on the edge of the yogurt cup, looking out the window over his shoulder. The trees were budding. Birds and bees.

Dear God, he finally said. It was your husband, wasn’t it?


The road of excess leads to the palace of excess.


PRUDENCE never pays

I went for a month to Southfields, London. There, an old prep-school buddy known to the world only as the Wrangler had a dreary row house, withered gardenias in the window boxes. While he edited computer manuals in the afternoons, I went for rides on the famed red buses, slept in pubs, talked to homeless men. One gray morning at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park I persistently begged cigarettes from strangers, then stood listening for a while to the resident white supremacist, a dozen lit fags in my nostrils, ears, mouth.

One evening while the Wrangler was out with his Swedish girlfriend, who despised me, I called the Norwegian in Miami. I told her I’d studied history in college. I told her a kid in second grade had punched me in the stomach on the bus and made me vomit. I told her I’d been in a celebrated rock band with a hit in the U.S. and U.K. Hearing that last she blew air out her nose, amused. “I knew,” she said, “it had to be something like that.”

“Why don’t you leave that gun-toting jerk-off?”

“What on Earth are you doing?” she asked. “I mean, with your life, what are you doing?”

“You nitwit. The same thing everyone else is.”

“Oh yes? What is that?”

“Waiting to die.”

I materialized next in the not-so-deep American South. A sleepy state-university town whose


IT should be declared its own country

When his alarm went off the next morning, Will sat straight up in bed, still in his shirt and tie. His reflection in the window looked hung‑over, and for a moment he figured it was Saturday.
Then he remembered the girl. His back was sore from carrying her. He realized he'd been dreaming about her. He'd dreamed he was standing with her on a vacant dirt lot, possibly a soon-to-be construction site, watching her throw rocks at bottles.

He went to the bedroom door. He opened it a crack and looked out into the living room. Sure enough, she was still there on the couch, breathing spastically, like a wounded animal.

He went into the bathroom and showered and dressed. He stuffed a silk tie into his pocket. When he came back into the living room the girl was still asleep. He went to try and wake her, but kneeling beside her found himself awash in the same wave of pity he'd felt the night before and couldn't raise his hand to shake her. So he left her sleeping, a box of Hostess powdered donuts and an explanatory note on a yellow legal pad on the coffee table beside her.

"Oh my God. You're insane," his cohort Jay said at lunch.

"Seriously, Will," Rebecca said, gazing at him huge-eyed over her tuna sandwich. "Jesus Christ. She's probably got a, a U‑Haul over there right now, cleaning the place out. You've gotta go home."

He slurped from his empty drink cup. Melissa was also staring at him in amazement. "Hey," she whispered. "What if she dies?"

Jay said, "Will? Hello?" But Will just shook his head. "I'm not worried," he said cryptically.


WE eat mice

Though there was a dim, flickering light. To which her eye, like a dumb bug, was instantly drawn. Across the little living room, in a closet she’d never seen open before, was a…an altar of some kind. Covered in purple cloth. A fat black candle burning at its center, in a mound of its own pungent drippings. As she was drawn to the corpse in the funeral home that day, so to this...this...whatever it was. Unable again, though dimly aware of trespassing, to stop her feet’s forward progress. There were weird things there. Loose cigarettes. Black sunglasses. Some purple flowers in a glass, maybe from the cemetery out back. A weird little statue of a black man in an old-fashioned military uniform, sideways plumed hat and all, head disturbingly too big for body. A plain black wooden cross. A half-empty bottle of some amber liquor. Some saints’ pictures in cheap tin frames: St. Bridget, scribbling away; St. Expedite with walking stick; St. Gerard with lilies and skull.


BESTIAL seasons, seasonal beers

And it was just that strange, too: a psychiatric disorder, ontodormichosis, in which the patient can't tell the difference between waking and dreaming life. It wasn't a problem, obviously, when she was asleep: We all mistake the imagined for the real then. The problem was when she was awake and started mistaking reality for dreams. Then anything -- a ringing cell phone, say -- could fill her with such unutterable dread she'd hurl herself at a plate-glass window or a dead-bolted door to get away from it. Or a child's toy could bring on spasms of hilarity. Or a meal might inspire such fury she'd find herself smashing plates against walls. In short, "real" things took on all the symbolic import of dreamed ones -- and so, as you can probably guess, it wasn't long before


driving through Delaware on a hot day in June with this friend of mine named Shelly, telling her all about this time when I was seven or eight. My parents, I'm saying, used to rent this house on the bay when I was a kid, out near Dewey or Bethany, maybe, not far from where we're driving. It was one of those A-frame things you see all over the place out here, one of those houses built ten feet off the ground on thick phone-pole stilts so it's protected from floods and hurricanes and what not. And the land all around the place, I'm telling her, was nothing but flat, flat dirt that seemed to go on for miles, with another A-frame house on stilts pretty much just like ours every fifty or hundred yards. The ground there was full of bee holes, and the bees would crawl out of the ground and fly away, leaving tiny clouds of dirt in the air behind them. I used to break up sticks and stuff them in the holes so the bees couldn't get out.

Anyway, I don't know why, but I'm spending a lot longer than I probably need to setting up this story for Shelly. I'm telling her all about this goddamn house, with its orange and green vinyl furniture like beach houses have, and its '50s-style refrigerator. I'm telling her about the fishing nets hung on the living room walls, and the fake plastic crabs and lobsters stuck in them. I'm telling her about the crankable glass slats on the storm doors, and the dresser that made my whole bedroom smell like cedar whenever you opened a drawer. I'm telling her about how the first thing my family always did when we got to town was go to the A&P up on the highway and buy all the groceries for the week, and how I used to try to get my mom to buy me a carton of Yoo-Hoo when my dad was off shopping in another aisle, and how we had to lug all the groceries up the sandy wooden stairs to the kitchen door, and how this was 1978 or so, so my favorite T-shirt had a picture of a Star Wars stormtrooper on it.

"Yeah yeah," Shelly finally says, "it was a beach house, you were at the beach. I get it. What's the story?" She's got her seatbelt off, and she's twisted around sideways in her seat, her back against the passenger door. There's a Rolling Rock from the cooler in the back seat in her hand, and there's a bright green cornfield streaking by behind her. She's grinning at me, looking hard at me. She's been looking at me all afternoon, and I'm starting to wonder what it's about.

"I'm getting there," I tell her.

I realize at this point that there are two key facts for my story that I haven't told her yet. The first is that my family didn't rent this entire house. The place was broken up into two


SIMIAN helmet

for it, and because she was a strong advocate of what she called infinite-complexity theory: ever more powerful electron microscopes, ever more powerful space telescopes, it didn't matter, you'd just keep finding more: more sub-atomic particles, more galaxies, more space, more time, until finally the distinction between the infinitesimal and the gargantuan became meaningless, the one at some point simply collapsing into the other. What was especially disconcerting, though, was her unswerving faith in a


FINALLY, a blog by, for, and about sex workers

Which are the words forbidden from appearing here? And why?

IF you call that living

were rumors of secretly circulating demos. There were hipsters loitering outside the band’s Avenue D rehearsal space, hoping to catch a tune wafting up through the laundry exhausts. They needed a second guitar to fill them out. They wanted me.

“You got me,” I said.

“Fuckin’ A,” clutching my knee, hard. Trent threw back the second half of his martini, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Don’t you want to know how I found you, sexy?”

“Tell me an elaborate but instructive lie.”

“I followed the buzzards.”

When he passed out on my couch four hours later, a girl from the Googie place draped over him, I walked gingerly out. Wallet in hand.

Fourteen hours later I was in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I couldn’t seem to escape the heat. There, in a gleaming Hyatt bar, I met a legally separated Norwegian, a beautiful woman in the James Bond tradition. She was Sorbonne educated. She had mile-long corkscrew curls, green cat eyes. She spoke five languages, could get dinner or a lawyer in five more. She liked discussing Russian economics, Caribbean religions, Wole Soyinka. Rich men had approached her in night clubs in New York, Rome, Geneva, wanting her to fly with them to Madrid, Colombo, Monterey.

She was 31.


THE meat man cometh

When he recognizes the girl on the movie screen, Rob Laurel nearly clutches his wife’s arm in glee, stopping his hand at the last possible millisecond. Christ was that close. Grinning in the dark, feeling his heart knocking against his ribcage, he studies the luminous wall-size figure for several minutes, making sure. But that’s her, all right, even with the fake British accent – and when, an hour into the flick, she strips down to nothing on a Caribbean beach, heart-shaped ass swinging like a metronome as she strides into the surf, he has to struggle again not to grab Angela’s arm. Babe, he wants to tell her, you’re never gonna believe this!

It’s too much. Five minutes after the beach scene, whispering to Angela something about that second Guinness he had, he gets up and heads for the lobby, actually forgetting to check out the cute brunette teenager working the snack bar. In the men’s room, staring into the mirror, still grinning, feeling his hard-on pressed against the edge of the sink in front of him, he leans forward, tells himself, Hey, buddy. You fucked a movie star.

* * *

Despite her exhaustion, Angela slips into character when spotted on the sidewalk outside the theater: Mitch Gable this time, the local attorney who’s just made the city's front pages by arguing City Council into green-lighting slots casinos for the old steel-mill sites. Angela, Mitch groans, that restaurant. Rob, amused, watches the old codger’s hand knead Angela’s lower back – then sees Mitch’s poodlish wife observing the same. You’ve really hit it out of the park. That bouillabaisse. Never had anything like it this far from Manhattan. Whatever you’re paying that chef, double it.

Aw, thanks, Mitch.

How’s work, Rob?

Busy busy.

Saw that interview with you on the news last week, about the new arts center. And that bartender of yours, turning back to Angela.


First proper martini I’ve had in Galilee in twenty years.

Yeah, it’s her martinis you love, Angela thinks as they walk back to the car in the cool November air, not her ass, which you leered at all night, never mind your wife was sitting right across from you.

In the Land Rover, Rob actually tries to get a hand into her skirt. Oh God, you’re joking, she says, right? I just put in ten hours at the restaurant and – get off – went with you to see that god-awful, male-gaze-privileging – ow – flesh bonanza.

Just let me touch it, just for a sec.

She goes limp, puts on a long-suffering face. All right? she says. Done? He starts the engine, grinning. That Kelly Merchant slut, she says. There should be a warning to wives and girlfriends at the start of her movies.

Oh, if he could only tell her! You have no idea, he says.

She doesn’t bother asking what that means.

* * *

They roll up to a pre-fab manse dropped into the middle of what was, till two years ago, a cornfield. It’s surrounded by a dozen others just like it. Last week Angela parked in a wrong driveway, ambled up a wrong front walk, tried to put her key into a wrong front door. Inside she

WHAT bigger said

tried i to forget times 'em but of i couldn't lots they wouldn't room let me no bigger's eyes me were wide give and unseeing wouldn't his voice they rushed on close mr. max too i didn't me mean to crowding do what was i did they i was all trying to that's do something to else but had it seems i like i felt never could i i was 'cause always wanting folks something and hurt i was i feeling that max nobody would mr.let me truth have it the so i that's fought 'em nobody i thought hurt they was to hard and wanted i acted never hard he i paused then really whimpered in but confession but now i ain't right hard mr. all max i that's ain't well hard even die a little to bit he going rose to his i'm feet but it i i get won't be to crying going none when i'm they take know me to that i chair but i'll hysterical b-b-be feeling inside growing of me was like i bigger was crying


NICE caboose

"The canon has opened," Dr. Doctor tells them, abandoning his notes, "to every sort of literature but one. Bad literature." The students, relaxing, snicker. Their pens and pencils stop their dutiful scratching. Beyond the window, a hundred miles from the nearest city, an unspeakably beautiful snow is falling on the Appalachian hills. "Unspeakably." That is a trope unto itself.

Pushing his spectacles up onto his forehead: "When are we going to give bad writers their day? When will we acknowledge the efforts of those voiceless thousands?" Some hung-over kid barfs sloppily onto her desktop, all orange juice and scrambled eggs. "It's art!" cries another. Dr. Doctor smiles approvingly. "Listen, son. Nothing you think matters for shit if other human beings don't like you. Willy Loman was right, you know."


TIGERS don't belong in zoos

that his own brain marked the center of the universe, that it had created the world he went out into every morning, had created itself, and was, as he only now realized, controlling everything that happened. Everywhere. Will had quelled this suspicion for a long time. Now he hoped confronting it would prove the first step in reconciling the conscious and unconscious halves of his mind, the divorce of which had possibly brought the cosmos into being.

Late one October night in the near-empty parking garage under his office building, Will found a body sprawled across the hood of his Passat. Seeing it, he froze in his tracks like he'd hit a pane of glass, a taste like battery acid filling his mouth. Then he began his slow and cautious approach. It was, he saw, a young woman. Rather scantily clad. White legs, mane of dark hair, one arm stretching up across the windshield. She was on her stomach, one leg protruding off the fender. Within a few feet of her now, Will leaned in and saw she was breathing – panting, sort of. Her face was tinged with bruises.

He straightened up and looked out into the echoing shadows. Then he quickly dug his car keys out of his pocket and opened the passenger door of the car. Working gingerly, not wanting to rouse her, he slipped one arm under the girl's neck, the other under her knees, scooped her up, and placed her in the passenger seat. Then he shut the door, walked around and climbed in on driver’s side. He started the car and watched the shadows as he drove to the exit ramp, half‑expecting whoever had left the girl here to leap out from behind a concrete pillar. But no one did. The gate swung up in front of him, and he aimed the VW out into traffic.

GWU was nearby. He'd drop the girl off at the hospital there. Driving up Pennsylvania Avenue, though, past the hotels and offices washed in light, he got his first really good look at her. She was tiny and thin. She had a child's face and a mop of black hair. There were goosebumps on her arms. He watched the streetlights creep across her face and was filled with a strange rush of emotion, a crushing pity, and he


UV index

Once you realize the hills of Malibu are ascending to a point you can never reach, the only thing to do is start following their slope downward to some other point equally unreachable but vastly more interesting because vastly more unimaginable to our culture as it now exists.



could always, owing to the accident of her sex, start squeezing out young’ns. Her 35 year-old architect husband, Phil, would love nothing more, in fact. When they married at St. Bridget’s in Alexandria, he was 32 and between between 87 and 92% positive he’d never want yard apes. Now, three years later, his wife conveniently unemployed, often literally barefoot and in the kitchen, he heard his biological clock ticking. Hence the pug he’d bought her. And hence the robot – the Baka 3000. Clearly he was trying to rouse whatever maternal impulses lay dormant in her. But the wall-eyed pug sulked and cried all day till Phil came home. And the bucket-sized Baka – a Neiman-Marcus frivolity whose price tag Sharona trembled to contemplate – laid it on a little thick. In thunderstorms it scurried into the master bedroom, making the pug howl, squealing “Mommy!” with its synthesized voice. She and Phil would lie there with it between them on the mattress, all three of them staring at the ceiling, the Baka actually shaking in terror at each flash and boom. And Sharona would wonder if Phil had had it specially programmed to speak that creepy word.