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SPECIAL ISSUE • SEPTEMBER 23, 2012


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CONTE TS The Literary Issue

September 23, 2012

Prologue

Timeline | A History of Digital Fiction Q+A | Junot Diaz Data | Literary Tour of NYPL

Chapter 1 preface | A Note From Electric Literature

Fiction | The Red Ribbon by Aimee Bender

Poem | On Crying Wolf by Don Share Moving Image | Bookstore Diving Poem | Desertion by Jacquelyn Pope

Chapter 2

preface | A Note From Granta Fiction | The Perfect Code by Terrence Holt

Poems | Valet Angelus

and Post-Coital Discourse by John Hennessy


Chapter 3 Poem | After Five Words

Englished From the Russian by John Matthias

Sketchbook | Diary of Arthur

Conan Doyle’s Arctic Adventure

Poem | Fitzy and the Revolution by Ishion Hutchinson

Reviews

Peter s. Goodman | Uber-Rich Porn Stuart Whatley | Asshole Rising Lucas Kavner | Apocalypse Later Gazelle Emami | Lonely and Laughing In Brief | Book Reviews

Epilogue Music & Literature | Essays by

Cass McCombs, Peter Silberman, Jim Shepard, Rick Moody

Q+A | Mark Mothersbaugh Writing Prompt from the editor | Timeless Truths about THIS issue | Why We Went Literary ON THE COVER: Illustration for Huffington by Si Scott PHOTOGRAPH BY WENDY GEORGE


HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Letter from our editor

Timeless Truths

TIM BOWER

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

OUR IDEA WITH Huffington was to create a different kind of reading experience—with longer pieces, deeper reporting and beautiful images. Each issue is meant to be taken in over time, instead of gulped down on the way to work. In our hyper-connected world, it’s easy to know the facts, data and statistics about a story, but facts are different than truth. And one way to get at deeper truths and meaning is by the kind of long-form reporting we’ve been featuring at Huffington since the first issue, with reporters putting flesh and blood on the data being thrown at us. But there’s also a kind of truth that you can only get through untruth—through fiction. And that’s why we’re now adding fiction and poetry to our menu at Huffington. As practically any fact in the world has become more and more easily available to us, the timeless truths have become more elusive. So each section in our fiction issues will have a timeless theme, and explore that theme in different ways through stories and poetry. This issue’s theme will be explained in our editors’ letter on the next page.

ARIANNA


About this issue

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Why Huffington Went Literary BEFORE THIS ISSUE was a reality, before it was even an idea worth talking about, it was an ellipsis at the end of a lively discussion about Don DeLillo, George Eliot and Zadie Smith. After a busy day reading the wires for the latest political scandal or celebrity mishap, there was a good chance some of us editors were gathering at happy hour to spar over a recent New Yorker piece and trade Joan Didion for Jennifer Egan. ILLUSTRATION BY TIM BOWER


About this issue

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Before this issue was a reality, it was a question that we asked ourselves so frequently it became a refrain. “Why not?” Why couldn’t The Huffington Post go literary for a bit? This spring, when Arianna Huffington and Tim O’Brien launched Huffington, the time had come to stop asking “Why not?” Designed for the relaxed weekend read, Huffington expressed their shared desire to slow things down, and it seemed to be the perfect medium for us to celebrate the literary community we love — and for which we see a bright future, even in times of great change. Though there have been grumblings about new technologies’ detrimental effect HUFFINGTON SEEMED on more traditional forms TO BE THE PERFECT of literature, we believe that MEDIUM FOR US TO these media are not mutually exclusive. We can hold CELEBRATE THE on to, and elevate, the things LITERARY COMMUwe love about books and still NITY WE LOVE — AND embrace the worlds opened FOR WHICH WE SEE A up by more recent developBRIGHT FUTURE ments. And so, in the spirit EVEN IN TIMES OF of celebrating the past, presGREAT CHANGE. ent and future of literature, we chose the theme of preservation, and explore it through the excellent poems, stories and essays within these virtual covers. Each chapter of our issue explores a different facet of this human defiance of the powerful entropy that pulls at our families, our lives, and even our cultures. Chapter 1 focuses on the social ties that bind us — love, domestic life, communities — and the ways in which they may be loosened. In it, we spotlight an enthralling short story by Aimee Bender, first seen in one of our favorite literary reviews, Electric Literature. “The Red Ribbon” offers


About this issue

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a haunting glimpse into a marriage decaying quietly from within, as Bender masterfully reveals the heartbreak that can be created by the uncertainty of our own desires. In Chapter 2, we focus on the sharpest threat of all: death. The renowned literary review Granta presents a stunning piece of fiction from doctor and writer Terrence Holt, who vividly communicates the urgency of an attempt to save a dying patient in “The Perfect Code.” Holt unflinchingly reminds us of the tenuousness of life itself. Chapter 3 widens the frame, encompassing the preservation of culture throughout generations and across geographic divides. A daring new WE HOPE THIS poem by acclaimed poet John ISSUE OF HUFFINGTON Matthias, “After Five Words SATISFIES, IF ONLY Englished From the Russian,” FOR A MOMENT, is this chapter’s centerpiece. THE BOOKWORM IN Matthias’ poem throws toEACH OF US. gether different languages, cultural references, and histories, allowing the reader to watch these disparate cultures dissolve before our eyes. These three features and a variety of engaging, original pieces — from reviews of notable new books to stunning photo spreads — highlight the diverse achievements of the literary community, further enhanced by Huffington Art Director Andrea Nasca’s beautiful design. We hope this issue of Huffington satisfies, if only for a moment, the bookworm in each of us.

CLAIRE FALLON, NICHOLAS MIRIELLO, DANIELLE WIENER-BRONNER, AND STUART WHATLEY


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Timeline

prologue

An Incomplete History Of Digital Fiction

Long before three w’s together was a word, writers have been pushing the boundaries of fiction and reality on digital platforms. In a world of Kindles

and iPads, as we remain ever impatient for the next technological leap, here are some highlights from the past 35 years of narrative evolution. — Andrew Losowsky

SWIPE TO SCROLL TIMELINE

prologue


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Q&A

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Junot Diaz

Takes on Love and Loss photographs by

Miller Mobley


prologue

IKE GREAT WRITERS before him, Junot Diaz can’t leave himself off the page. In his three works — Drown, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and his new book, This Is How You Lose Her — Yunior, Diaz’s literary alter ego, looms large. We first encounter Yunior in the short story collection Drown as a young adolescent torn between the projects of New Jersey and the open campos of the Dominican Republic. In Oscar Wao


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— the novel for which Diaz won the Pulitzer — Yunior takes a backseat to tell the life of Oscar, a science fiction-obsessed would-be writer trying to unearth his family’s history and get laid. Returning to the short story in his new collection, This Is How You Lose Her, Diaz turns his focus on Yunior, excavating the narrator’s early adulthood relationships, littered with loss and love. Yunior’s story gives voice to Diaz’s explorations of his own youth — as he puts it, those years are “the well I always seem to draw from.” —Nicholas Miriello

IF CONRAD HAS THE RIVER IN THE CONGO, I HAVE MY TEENAGE YEARS IN LONDON TERRACE, WRESTLING FIRST WITH MY BROTHER’S CRAZINESS AND THEN WITH HIS CANCER.

David Long has said, “Novels are mostly middle; stories are all beginnings and endings.” Do you agree with his analysis? Any answer about forms so diverse will always be necessarily incomplete. Whatever I say about the novel or the short story is more about my own aesthetic than it is about novels or short stories per se. With that said: My sense has always been that the novel traditionally is better at conjuring a world than a short story. Part of what gives many of the novels I’ve read their immense power is the way they are able to immerse readers into the world of its characters. Not only the time-space, the characters, but the worldview, the sensibility, the historical and material and social moment. In the novels I’m most familiar with, a reader literally leaves their world behind in order to inhabit this new world which the writer has drawn up. There is something demiurgic about novel-writing. Stories can do worlds well too — one only has to recall Octavia Butler’s


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short fiction — but in general a world is best made real, made credible, over the long span than the short. Fictional worlds flow best, live best, when a book has built up a relationship with its reader. Stories, on the other hand, gain their power from their very brevity. While a short story cannot build the same kind of relationship with a reader


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that the novel can, the short story can far more convincingly remind the reader of life’s cruel brevity and of how irrevocable some of the shit we decide and that happens to us can be. In your experience, how do you negotiate the demands of writing in these different structures? For me, novel-writing is all about coping with the form’s utter imperfectability. Short-storywriting, on the other hand, is all about coping with the form’s vexing perfectibility. In This Is How You Lose Her we follow the character Yunior in fragments, constantly returning to his familial relationships and the close quarters of London Terrace. What about Yunior, Rafa and New Jersey keep you coming back? Stories about less-than-brotherly brothers are one of those timeless formulas in our culture which, for some of us, have unlimited appeal. But more to the point, if Conrad has the river in the Congo, I have my teenage years in London Terrace, wrestling first with my brother’s craziness and then with his cancer. It’s my foundational narrative chronotope, the well I always seem to draw from. In this moment where, for better or worse, a huge part of who I would become was made. I still don’t really understand all that happened in those years, and I think part of my compulsive returning to that time is the predictable desire to comprehend. As an artist, if your internal space asks you to draw boats, you draw boats — nothing you can do once that call arrives. With me, I find myself called upon again and again to return to those years and [there’s] really nothing I can do about it. John Updike once said, “I have written in the first person. In the end it becomes a kind of trap, one wouldn’t want to call the masterpieces of first-person fiction monologues, but there is that danger always of never getting outside that one voice and that one head.” As someone who uses the first person masterfully, do you sense that “danger” when writing so closely to one voice and, in the case of Yunior, with one character for a


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long period of time? Each narrative mode has its benefits and its dangers. Third person, for example, runs the risk always of being dreadfully etiolated and sounding like it’s been dipped for a decade in an acid bath made up of the pulped voices of 1,001 old dead white males. Third person runs the risk always of being something that doesn’t dance. And first person clearly is always in danger of becoming a narcissistic pinhole, an all-or-nothing bargain. But again, THIRD PERSON I don’t think one writer’s preferRUNS THE RISK ence says much about what is posALWAYS OF BEING sible in the form. One thinks of DREADFULLY the grandeur of Ellison’s Invisible ETIOLATED AND Man, first person, and the mad intelligence of Nabokov’s Lolita, and SOUNDING LIKE also of the brainy, frenetic insouciIT’S BEEN DIPPED ance of Stephenson’s Snow Crash, FOR A DECADE third person, and it becomes clear IN AN ACID BATH that neither first nor third has any MADE UP OF THE monopoly on greatness, on piercPULPED VOICES ing our bifrost hearts. When one OF 1,001 OLD DEAD considers how third person in some Victorian novels was little more WHITE MALES. than a masked first person — with the third-person persona even addressing the Dear Reader — one is reminded that the two modes have a lot more in common than one might think. Ultimately the power of a narrative mode derives not from some theoretical default setting but from how its practitioner deploys it. What are you reading now? Percival Everett’s classic Erasure and Diana Thung’s amazing graphic novel August Moon. I’m definitely one of those writers who doesn’t stop reading ever, not even when I’m writing. Shit, when I’m writing, I read even more.


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data

GOOGLE EARTH 3D MODEL (NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY)

New York’s Literary Jewel Box

The New York Public Library’s Schwarzman Building, sandwiched between the lions on 5th Avenue and Bryant Park, sits on a deep pit of knowledge. The stacks beneath the library hold three million volumes. Under a plan designed to push New York’s last temple to the analogue into the present, these books could find themselves stored in New Jersey. The renovation, which would see the library

circulating more books, has sparked a debate between those charged with charting the library’s future and traditionalists eager to preserve an inspirational building. The common ground in the debate is reverence for the library’s lasting role in American letters. Huffington has compiled a sample of books for which the library has served as muse or research assistant.

TAP BOOK COVERS FOR INFO


PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK

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illustration by si scott

PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK


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Preface

A Note from Electric Literature COVER ARTWORK: TRIMSPA BY ADAM CVIJANOVIC / ISSUE DESIGN: BILL SMITH, DESIGNSIMPLE.COM

by

Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel, co-editors We’re thrilled to share with you Aimee Bender’s “The Red Ribbon,” which originally appeared in Electric Literature no. 3. It’s a story about secrets and identity, about how much of ourselves we are willing to expose, about the consequences of taking con-

trol of our desires. “The Red Ribbon” asks what happens when a couple surrenders to fantasy and must struggle to find their way back. Perhaps most compelling is how far the story pushes their relationship, so close to revulsion and yet always within reach of tenderness.


R The RED RIBBON

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by aimee bender


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IT BEGAN WITH HIS FANTASY,

“The Red Ribbon” is excerpted from Electric Literature no. 3.

told to her one night over dinner and wine at L’Oiseau d’Or, a French restaurant with tiny gold birds etched into every plate and bowl. “My college roommates,” he said, during the entrée. “Once brought home.” “Drugs?” “Women,” said Daniel softly, “that they paid for.” Even in candlelight, she could track the rise of his blush. “Prostitutes?” Janet said. “Is that what you mean? They did?” The kitchen doors swung open as the waiter brought a feathery dessert to the table next to theirs. “I did not join in, Janet,” Daniel said, reaching over to


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clasp her hand tightly. “Never. Not once. But I sometimes think about the idea of it. Not really it, itself—” “The idea of it.” “I never once joined in,” Daniel repeated. “I believe you,” said Janet, crossing her legs. She wondered what the handsome couple sharing the chocolate mousse would make of this conversation, even though they were laughing closely with each other and seemed to have no need for anyone else in the restaurant. She herself had noticed everyone else in the restaurant while waiting for the paté to arrive, dressed in its sprig of parsley: the older couple, the lanky waiter, the women wrapped in patterned scarves. Now she felt like propelling herself into one of their conversations. “I’m upsetting you,” he said, swirling fork lines into his white sauce. “Not so much,” she said.   “Nevermind,” he said. “Really. You look so beautiful tonight, Janet.” On the drive home, she sat in the backseat, as she did on occasion. He said it was to protect her from more dangerous car accidents; she liked thinking for a moment that he was her chauffeur, that she had reached a state of adult richness where you did nothing for yourself anymore and returned to infancy. She imagined she had a cook, a hairdresser, a bath-filler. A woman who came over to fluff her pillow and tuck her in. Daniel turned on the classical music station and a cello concerto spilled out from the speakers in the back, and from the angle of her seat, Janet could just catch a glimpse of the bottom of her nose and top of her lips in the rear view mirror. She stared at them for the entire ride home. Her nose had fine small bones at the tip, and her lipstick, even after dinner, was unsmudged. There was something deeply soothing to her in this image, in the simplicity of her vanity. She liked how her upper lip fit in-


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side her lower lip, and she liked the distance between the bottom of her nose and the top of her mouth. She liked the curve of her ear. And in those likings and their basic balance, she felt herself take shape as Daniel drove.

B

RIBBON: TROY DUNHAM

ACK AT HOME, she spent longer than usual in the bathroom, suddenly re-discovering all the lotion bottles in the cabinet that were custom-made for different parts of the body. For feet, for elbows, for eyes, for the throat. Like different kinds of soil that need to be tilled with different tools. When she entered the bedroom, fully cultivated, skin stenciled by a lace nightgown, the lights were off. Only the moon through the window revealed the tiny triangles of skin beneath the needlework. “Time for bed, honey,” she said cheerily, which was code for don’t touch me. But there was no real need; his back already radiated the grainy warmth of sleeping skin. She slid herself between the sheets and called up another picture, this one of Daniel, a green bill wrapped around his erection like a condom. The itch of the corners of the bill as they pricked inside her. His stuff all over the faces of presidents. Stop it now, Janet, she thought to herself, but she finally had to take a pill to get the image out of her head; it made her too jittery to sleep.

D

ANIEL WENT TO work at the shoe company in the morning, suit plus vest, and Janet slept in, as usual. Her afternoons were wide open. Today, after she had wrested all the hot water out of the shower, she went straight to a lingerie shop to buy a black bustier. She remained in the dressing room for over twenty minutes, staring at her torso shoveled into the satin. “So, Janet,” called the saleslady, Tina, younger and suppler, “is it lovely? Does it fit?”


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Janet pulled her sweater on and went up to the counter. “It fit,” she said, “and I’m wearing it home. How much?” Tina, now at the cash register, snapped a garter belt between her fingers. “I need the little tag,” she said. “This isn’t like a shoe store.” Janet inhaled to full height, had some trouble breathing out because her ribs were smashed together, and said, sharply: “Give me the price, Tina. I will not remove this piece of clothing now that it’s on, so I either pay for it this way or walk out the door with it on for free.” When she left the store, emboldened, receipt tucked into her purse, folded twice, Janet thought of all the chicken dishes she had not sent back even though they were either half-raw or not what she had ordered. Chicken Kiev instead of chicken marsala, chicken HE HAD ASKED HER with mushrooms instead of OUT AGAIN, AND chicken à la king: her body was made up of the wrong chickens. AGAIN, AND TOLD She remembered Daniel’s first HER HE LOVED HER ON THE FOURTH DATE, insistent kiss by the bridge near the Greek café on that AND BOUGHT HER Saturday afternoon and she FANCY CARDS INSIDE hadn’t thought of it in years OF WHICH HE WROTE and she could almost smell the LONG MESSAGES schwarma rotating on its pole ABOUT HER SMILE. outside. He had asked her out again, and again, and told her he loved her on the fourth date, and bought her fancy cards inside of which he wrote long messages about her smile. By seven o’clock that night, all the shoes in Daniel’s shoe store were either sold or back in boxes and clip-clopclip came his own up the walkway. The sky was dimming from dark blue into black and Janet sat in the brightly lit


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hallway, legs crossed, bustier pressing her breasts out like beach balls, the little hooks fastened one notch off in the back so that she seemed a bit crooked. Daniel paused in the doorway with his briefcase. “Oh my,” he said, “what’s this?” She felt her upper lip twitching. “Hello, Daniel,” she said. “Welcome home.” She stood awkwardly and approached him. She tried to remember: be slow. Don’t rush. Removing his coat and vest and laying them evenly on the floor, she reached into the back of his pants and pulled out his walnut-colored wallet. He watched, eyes huge, as she sifted through the bills until she found what she wanted. That smart Mr. Franklin. He usually used the hundred-dollar bill to buy his best friend Edward from business school a lunch with fine wine on their sports day. She waved it in his face. “Okay?” she said. He grabbed her waist as she tucked the bill inside the satin between her breasts.   “Janet?” he said. She pushed him onto the carpet and began to take off the rest of his clothes. Halfway through the buttons on his shirt, right at his ribs, she was filled with an enormous terror and had to stop to catch her breath. “For a week, Daniel,” she whispered, trembling. “Each time. Okay? Promise?” His breathing was sharp and tight. “A week,” he said, adding figures fast in his head. “Of course, I would love a week, a week,” and his words floated into murmur as she drove her body into his. They forgot about dinner. They stayed at that spot on the carpet for hours and then tumbled off to the bedroom, his coat and vest resting flat on the carpet. He stroked the curve of her neck with the light brown mole. She fell asleep first.


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N WEDNESDAY, Janet heard Daniel call Edward and cancel their lunch date. “I’m just too busy this week,” he’d said; Janet smiled to herself in the bathtub. He brought her handfuls of daffodils. “My wife doesn’t love me,” he told her in bed, which made her laugh from the deep bottom of her throat. She put a flower between her teeth and danced for him, naked, singing too loud. He grabbed her and pushed her into chairs and she kept singing, as loud as she possibly could, straddling him, wiggling, until finally he clamped a hand over her mouth and she bit his palm and slapped his thighs until they flushed pink. When it was over she felt she’d shared something fearfully intimate with him and could barely look him in the eye, but he just handed her the hundred and went into the bathroom.   HE BROUGHT HER On their wedding day, HANDFULS OF Daniel had given her a card with a photograph of a beach DAFFODILS. “MY on it. “You are my fantasy WIFE DOESN’T LOVE woman,” he’d written inside. ME,” HE TOLD HER “You come to me from my IN BED, WHICH MADE dreams.” It had annoyed her HER LAUGH FROM then, like a bug on her arm. THE DEEP BOTTOM I come to you from MichiOF HER THROAT. gan, she had told him. From 928 Washington Street. He’d laughed. “That’s what I love so much about you, Janet,” he’d said, whirling her onto the dance floor. “You’re nononsense,” he’d said. She’d spent the song trying furtively to imitate Edward’s wife, who danced like she had the instruments buzzing inside her hips.


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Y THE END of the week, 900 dollars nestled in her underwear drawer. She put the bills on the ironing board and flattened them out, faces up, until they were so crisp they could be in a salad.   She’d thought about buying a dress. ‘My whore dress!’ she’d thought. She’d considered ninety lipsticks. ‘My hooker lips!’ she’d thought. Finally she just tucked the cash into her purse and took herself to lunch.  Thirty dollars brought her to the best bistro in the area, where she had a hamburger and a glass of wine.  The juice dripped down, redbrown, and left a stain on her wrist. “Ah, fuck you,” she said to the homeless man on the street who asked for change. “You really think I can spare any of my NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS that I made by SELLING MY BODY?” The man shook his head to the ground. “Sorry Ma’am,” he said. “I never would have guessed.” “And don’t you GOD BLESS ME,” she yelled at the man from down the block. “I will not,” he called back. “I have no interest in blessing you at all.” Once she was home she couldn’t stand to sit down. She couldn’t move or answer the phone. Breathing felt like an enormous burden. She took an hour getting dressed in a pressed navy blue suit she’d never worn before but had bought because it was on sale and elegantly cut. The jacket had this slight flare. She swept her hair into a bun and clasped a pearl necklace from their fifth wedding anniversary around her throat. Daniel came home and she served him rosemary lamb and chocolate nut truffles, all bought at the gourmet food store with one hundred dollars of her money. Re-invest for greater profit later. She did not eat, but massaged his shoulders,


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and brought him coffee and when he seemed calm and satisfied, she sat down with him at the table. “You’re being so loving,” he said. “What a week we had, didn’t we?” He warmed his palms against the mug. “And you look great in that suit, Janet.  Like one hot businesswoman.” She brought a piece of paper onto the table. And then nodded, as if to signal herself to begin. “I know it’s odd,” she said, with no introduction, “but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to summon up any desire right now to do it without payment.” Her voice was the same one from the lingerie store when she’d walked out with the bustier on. “I need a specific amount, each time,” she said, “or,” clearing her throat, “I feel SHE ADJUSTED I will melt into nothingness.” THE CUFFS OF HER She adjusted the cuffs of her SUIT JACKET SO suit jacket so that the buttons lined up right with the gateway THAT THE BUTTONS into her hand. LINED UP RIGHT “What’s that paper?” WITH THE GATEWAY “Just for notes.” INTO HER HAND. “Are you going somewhere later?” he asked, sipping his coffee. “Did you hear what I said?” “I’m getting to that,” he said. “You’re just all dressed up, I was trying now to figure out why.” “I’m not going anywhere,” she said coldly. “I dressed up for you.” He replaced his coffee in the center of the small white napkin. “Well, you look very nice,” he said. “As usual. But Janet,” he said, “please, will you tell me why, more money, why? If it’s to please me, I am so pleased. You and I had a wonderful time this week and I will remember it forever.” “Me too,” she said, nodding. “Forever.”


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“But then why more money?” he asked, moving his chair closer to her. “Wasn’t it just a game? Don’t you like our sex? Isn’t sex its own reward? What can we do differently?” He reached out his hand, warm from cupping the mug, and placed it on her collarbone, tracing the line with his finger. “It’s good,” Janet said briskly, “I like it, I like how you touch me on my back, I like the pace and the kissing and I like it.” Daniel moved his finger to the dip at the hollow of her throat, but her voice did not shift or relax. “But Daniel,” she continued, “let me make something clear. Maybe you did not know this, but nothing is its own reward for me.” She stared at his face as directly as she could. The words felt like fireballs in her mouth. “I want you to understand that. You don’t have to understand why, just that it’s true.” “That nothing is its own reward? Really?” She sat up straighter. “Now, we can of course reduce the fee to make it more financially feasible. Fifty?” He took his hand off her body and placed it back on the table. “I mean Janet,” he said, “do you have any idea how hard I am working my ass off to make—” “Twenty?” she said. “I know you’re working so hard, honey, I know. But it would mean so much to me.” As soon as her voice softened, it began to break apart. “I can hardly explain how much it means to me.” “Twenty?” he said. “Twenty?” He stuck out his lower lip, thinking. “Twenty? Jesus. I suppose I could do twenty for another week but I don’t like it. I don’t want to. And is nothing its own reward, Janet? Really? Isn’t love its own reward?” “Or thirty?” she asked, sorry now that she’d gone so low. “Twenty, Janet,” said Daniel. “And then come on now. How much money can you really make in a week off twenty dollars? Do you have something you need to buy and don’t want to tell me about? Do you think you should reconsider going back to work?” “Twenty-five?” she murmured, tears in her eyes.


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He sipped the last of his coffee very slowly, and when her eyes spilled he leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Twentyfive,” he said. “Fine. Until November 1, though, and then we’re back to regular. Okay?” “November 8?” she asked, brushing dry her cheeks. “Janet!” She moved closer and pressed him desperately to her. “Our love is wonderful,” she said. “I know that. I know it’s true.” His nose pushed into the smoothness of her hair. “We’re each other’s reward,” he offered, but she just dug her head deeper into his shoulder and whispered blanks into the caves of his neck. “November 8, then,” he said. “And that’s it-it-it.” “Thank you, Daniel,” she breathed. “You have no idea.” After they hugged, he went to watch TV. She wrote it all down carefully on the paper. November 8. Twenty-five dollars. Seven-hundred and seventy currently. As if she would forget.

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TARTING THE NEXT morning, she initiated sex every day. If the week before had been largely his fantasy enacted, now it was all hers. In the shower, in the darkness under all the covers of the bed, at his warehouse among the shoeboxes in his work boots. It felt slightly pathetic to her that she had to do four now to each one before to make the same amount of cash, but she was ravenously hungry for contact all day long and Daniel, who had grown accustomed—before the previous week—to a steady but slightly lackluster sex life, let her enthusiasm spark his own. He took a lunch with Edward as a break, and only begged fatigue a few times when Janet’s demand was kind of overwhelming, he said, since he’d just gotten home and just this morning in the shower and he needed some food and couldn’t they watch TV tonight? She laughed with big red smudge-free lips and fed him and bathed him and let him watch four sitcoms in a row,


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but before he fell asleep she was on him again and said he didn’t have to do anything at all but just be still and sleepy and she would complete all the movement. At the end of the week, on Sunday afternoon, she presented him with a tidy bill, type-written, accounting for each time, and labeling where/when it had happened, with a dotted line and a $25 at the end. The total for that first week was 250 dollars. A small amount compared to the easy near-thousand of the previous week, but a clear exchange nonetheless. Daniel paid it into her palm, in cash, counting backwards. “Sunday’s my day off,” he said, when she started to undo her bra. “Go do something else, honey, please.” He plopped in front of the TV with a bowl of rice cereal to watch some football and Janet gathered herself into the pale blue bathtub and attended to her body quietly in there, moaning softly under the whir of the bathroom fan; afterward, she paid herself fifty dollars by transferring funds from her savings to her checking account. That made $300 for the week.

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OVEMBER 8 SHOT around the corner in a blink; it was probably the quickest two weeks of her life. And it was not enough. That much was clear instantly.  She had started, by now, to see the entire world in terms of currencies. She considered charging her few friends for their lunches based on who demanded more time and attention during the lunch itself, charging strangers a quarter in the supermarket aisle when they did not move their cart in time. Charging for each meal she cooked, including tip. One afternoon, when her father sailed off into one of his long monologues on the phone, she actually tape-recorded their conversation and then took four hours and typed it out as a script, with his endless speech on the right side of the page and her responses on the left: yes, uh-huh, of course. It was amazing,


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to see the contrast. How long were those pageful reports. How little she spoke. How wealthy she would be if she just charged him a dollar a word.   I am twenty-four-hours resentment, said Janet, in her bustier, to the glinting mirror. I am every-cell resentment. I am one hell of a big resentment, she said. The mirror and wall did not answer. They knew very well what she was like by now. But when had it shifted? In high school, she’d walked tall in her own deprivation and had volunteered at the homeless shelter in her free time. She bought her dad charming birthday gifts and the homeless shelter made her a mobile saying she was wonderful, with each paper letter brightly colored, hanging from the stick. The N and R fell off in a week, so over her bed, for years, the stick slowly turned, announcing WODEFUL. I am grateful, she’d said every day in high school, grateful for the food I AM TWENTY-FOURon my plate and the roof HOURS RESENTMENT, over my head. Grateful for SAID JANET, IN HER my dad. Grateful I live in a BUSTIER, TO THE country where we have opGLINTING MIRROR. I tions. For our beautiful enAM EVERY-CELL REvironment, she said on SatSENTMENT. I AM ONE urdays, sorting through the sticky plastic bottles at the HELL OF A BIG RErecycling center. SENTMENT, SHE SAID. Now, years later, even washing a single dish irritated her. I do everything around here, she grumbled to herself while moving the sponge over the circle. Even though she knew it wasn’t true. She hadn’t done the dishes in weeks. Daniel changed all the light bulbs and paid the bills. He rubbed her feet and listened to her com-


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plaints. The truth was she just didn’t want to do anything at all. She did not want to have a job or have children or clean the bathroom or say hello. She only did a dish with happiness just after Daniel had done a dish. She only bought Daniel a present after he’d just bought a present for her, and even then, she made sure her present wasn’t quite as good as his. It disgusted her as she did it, but it was the truth. She certainly liked the image of herself as the benevolent wife with arms full of flowers but if she bought the flowers she would spend part of the ride home feeling so righteous and pleased that she had bought flowers; what a good wife she was; wasn’t he a lucky man; until by the time she arrived home with the flowers, she’d be angry he hadn’t bought her flowers. She reached out a hand to touch the cool sweep of the wall. “It seems,” she said to it, “that I have lost my generosity.” Her whole body filled with a sparkling panic, painful and visceral as poison champagne, as she did not know how to get it back.  

T

HE GRAND TOTAL on November 8 was $1,245. Daniel paid her the money and gave her a fake sad look that could not disguise his relief, and then trundled off to the bathroom to get ready for work. She ironed the new bills, and packed the grand total into her tiny pocketbook of black velvet with the glittery clasp. The cash poked out its green fingers and her heels made pointed bites in the cement as she walked down the street, past the stores. She kept opening up the clasp of her purse and sticking her hand in there and stroking the money like it was a fur glove or a child’s hair. What with the angle she held her bag and that look on her face, to passersby it seemed vaguely like she was masturbating.


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People looked away. It was either that, or stare. She was magnetically disturbing to watch. She stopped when she reached the mall, big and curvy. She roamed the three floors and mingled with all the people milling about with their big paper shopping bags and worn, drawn faces. Inside the biggest and fanciest department store at one end of the mall shops, she walked around the various sections of women’s clothing, and observed all the different desks, and all the different sets of salespeople. She watched for almost an hour, noting how each saleswoman interacted with customers, and how she looked, until PEOPLE LOOKED she settled on the one she liked AWAY. IT WAS EITHER best. This was in the women’s impulse department. The THAT, OR STARE. saleslady was about Janet’s age, SHE WAS MAGNETIa little younger, and had a red CALLY DISTURBING velvet ribbon tied neatly around TO WATCH. her neck, just like the horror story Janet had once heard about a woman who wears a velvet ribbon around her neck her whole life, every second of every day, until the one night when her curious husband removes it and her head falls off. “Excuse me,” said Janet, resting her pocketbook on the counter. “I have a question for you.” “Sure.” The saleslady re-upholstered her salesface in seconds. “How can I help you?” “Do you support yourself?” Janet asked. She smiled, as amiably as she could. “Pardon me?”   “I know it’s an unusual question, but do you support yourself? Are you self-supported? Financially?” The saleslady squinched up her nose. “Well,” she said.


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“As a matter of fact, I am. Why do you ask?” “And do you have a boyfriend?” Janet took in the bare left ring finger. Then she refixed her eyes on that red ribbon. The more she looked at it, the more it did seem to be glued to the woman’s neck, and the red of the ribbon was the perfect shade to bring out the red in her lips and the brown of her eyes. It was the kind of glorious and simple fashion move you could stare at for hours in admiration. The saleslady laughed, uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, are you looking for clothes, ma’am? These are fairly personal questions. There’s a sale on pencil skirts on the right.” “But do you?” “Why?” “I’ll look for clothes in a second,” said Janet. “I need a cream turtleneck. Ribbed. Wool. Expensive. I’ll need two, maybe three. But I’m just curious. Do you?” “Well, yes,” said the saleslady. “Then please, let me just ask you a little bit more,” Janet said, leaning on the counter. She hugged her pocketbook into her chest. “It’s for a study. Who talks more?” she asked. The saleslady squinted at Janet, and then relaxed against the cash register. Business was slow; only a few other customers rotated around the perimeter of the department. “You mean when. Like during dinner?” asked the saleslady. “Whenever. Sure.” “Depends on who has more to say that day, I guess.” “And who pays, if you’re out?” “We usually split it,” said the saleslady. “We both make about the same salary. Or one will take the other. There’s no rule. What kind of turtleneck? You might want sportswear instead, that’s one floor down. Did you say wool?” Now, in addition to the ribbon, Janet noticed how the delicate mole punctuating the tip of the saleslady’s eyebrow looked just like Venus at the tip of a crescent moon. Perfection.


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“And, do you regularly orgasm?” asked Janet. “Excuse me?” Janet held still. She could hear the cash registers erupt into sound around them. Printing out receipts over the sounds of pens signing shiny credit card paper that curls into itself.   “Please,” said Janet. “I know it’s very forward, but please. It would mean an enormous amount to me to know.” The saleslady’s eyes dodged around the store.   “The turtlenecks are downstairs,” she said. “You’d better go down there. There’s a woman downstairs in that department who likes to talk about things like this. You should ask her. Molly. Look for Molly.” Janet shook her head. “I want to ask you,” she said. The saleslady was fidgeting all around the cash register now, pushing buttons, ripping tissue paper, as if she were trapped in there. Janet took a breath. “Look,” she said. “I’m sure I seem crazy, but I’m not. I just don’t know what it’s like for other people. I live a sheltered life. Do you keep track? I don’t want to ask Molly because I don’t want to be like Molly. This will be my last question, honestly.” Janet fumbled in her purse and pulled out two hundreddollar bills. “I’ll pay you,” she said firmly. The saleslady stared at the bills and balled the ripped tissue paper into hard pellets. “Two hundred dollars?” She glanced over her shoulder. “For one question? Are you serious?” Janet didn’t even blink.   The saleslady’s eyebrows crunched in, and the mole pulled closer to her temple. “It’s for a study?” A nod. “A self-study.” “And then you’ll stop?” Another nod.


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“And are you a member of this store?” Janet fumbled in her wallet again and this time produced a bronze store credit card. “Well,” the saleslady said, nodding tightly, “if it’s worth that much to you. Fairly regularly, yes. What would you call regular?” “Majority of the time,” Janet said. “Fine then,” said the saleslady. “Majority of the time. About seventy percent, through one method or another. Easier on some days than others. I don’t keep track, no. Better off the pill than on. Nicer for me at night than in the morning. Now. Done! The turtlenecks are that way.” Her face was flushed. The red ribbon matched, in perfect harmony, the blush high on her cheeks. Janet thrust the bills forward and held herself back from taking the woman’s hand and kissing it. “Thank you.” She felt her eyes watering. “You are really very beautiful.” The yearning in her voice was so palpable it caught them both by surprise. The saleslady stared at the money and broke into uncomfortable giggles before she grabbed it and strode off into the suit section. The older blonder manager meandered over from across the room, sensing a need for managerial skills. “Can I help you?” she asked Janet, now standing alone at the register. “I need a turtleneck,” said Janet.   N THE HORROR story, the woman tells the man that she loves him, and she will marry him, but he must never remove the red velvet ribbon around her neck. It is the one thing he can never ask of her. At first it’s the easiest trade; he agrees for years and they are blissfully happy but after awhile it begins, in a slow broil, to burn him up inside. Why all the mystery? He unties the ribbon late at night, while she

I


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sleeps, and screams when her head rolls onto the floor. Before, at summer camp, the story had always made Janet puff with righteousness. What a pushy spoiler of a husband. Wasn’t their happiness enough? Couldn’t he respect her one rule? One? But in the dressing room, her nose full of the clean smell of new turtleneck, she felt the story tugging at her. Something she couldn’t quite put a finger on. As she paid cash for the turtlenecks— three—cream, fuchsia, black—she told a quick version of the story to the blonde manager, a woman who clearly knew her way in the world. Strong shoulders, proud large hands, open smile. “What do you think it means?” Janet asked. Far off in the distance, “THANK YOU.” she could see the saleslady of SHE FELT HER EYES her choice re-hanging blousWATERING. “YOU es on a rack. The manager flattened out ARE REALLY VERY the receipt to sign. BEAUTIFUL.” “I remember that story,” the THE YEARNING IN manager said, sighing. “I had HER VOICE WAS the cutest camp boyfriend.” SO PALPABLE IT “I mean, why not just be CAUGHT THEM BOTH happy with the way things are, BY SURPRISE. right?” said Janet. The manager took the signed receipt and put it in the register’s pile. She folded the turtlenecks, separating each with a sheet of tissue paper, and then slipped all three into a bag.  “But can you blame him?” she said, handing the bag to Janet. “I mean, I’m all for clothes, but at a certain point, they’re supposed to go away, you know? How long were they married?” “I don’t know,” said Janet, taking the bag. “Story doesn’t say.”


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“Take it all off!” said the manager. She winked at Janet. “Turtlenecks are good that way too.” Across the room, the woman with the red ribbon finished lining up the blouses and had moved onto the slacks. It was true, what the manager said. That ribbon was practically made to be removed. Even Janet herself wanted to slide over and undo the knot and unspool the choker from the woman’s throat. So, the man didn’t know what was coming, Janet thought as she walked to the escalator. They’d been married for years, and he wanted her to give up the last thread of cover, so she would stand before him, nude, and he could make love to her entire skin. Well, of course that made her head fall off. Of course.

A

T HOME THAT NIGHT, wearing her new fuchsia turtleneck, Janet made a simple dinner of spaghetti and red sauce from a jar. She and Daniel ate together in silence. When they were both done, he cleared the dishes and put them in the sink. “Thank you,” he said, at the counter. “That was very good.” She watched him run water over the forks. His hair needed a cut—it was getting too long on the sides. “It’s November 9,” he said. “I know,” she said. “Thank you again.” He dried the forks with a cloth. He seemed unusually quiet. “You know, you were right,” she said, brushing crumbs off the table into her palm. “What you said a few weeks ago. About your wife.” He didn’t turn from the sink. “When I brought you flowers?” “Yes.” “And what did I say again?” “That she does not love you very well.” He ran his finger under the tap, back and forth, and


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poured a glob of dish soap on the pile of plates. “Actually, I think I said something different.” She picked up the drying cloth. “Oh?” “I think I said that she doesn’t love me at all.” He cleared a dish clean with the sponge. She leaned over, to touch his arm. “Oh, Daniel,” she said. She could feel the turtleneck, climbing up to cover over her neck, her shoulders, her torso. Pants, covering up her legs. Socks, over her feet. Underwear, over her pubic hair A bra, over her breasts. “I want to do better,” she said, quietly. He placed a dish carefully in the dishrack, lining the circle up with the bent wire. “Do you ever think about leaving?” he asked. “No,” she said. He turned to her. His eyes were bright. “Sometimes, I do,” he said. “Do what?” “Think about leaving,” he said.     She shook her head at him, confused. “But you can’t leave,” she said. “You’re the devoted one.” His eyes were kind, and sad, at the sink. And she could see, suddenly, that they were on their way to leaving already, that this conversation was only walking through a door already open, and once those eyes left, they were not going to return, and the clothing would be no barrier at all, nothing, shreds, tissue, air, for all the pain then rushing in. Aimee Bender is the author of four books, including The Girl in the Flammable Skirt and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Her short fiction has been published in Harper’s, Granta, The Paris Review and many more as well as heard on PRI’s This American Life and Selected Shorts. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches creative writing at USC.


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On Crying Wolf by

Don Share

Don Share is senior editor of Poetry magazine. His books include Squandermania (Salt Publishing), Union (Zoo Press), Seneca in English (Penguin Classics), and most recently a new book of poems, Wishbone (Black Sparrow), and Bunting’s Persia (Flood Editions).

I'm not going to live it down, but I'm not going to live it up, either: Remember when you took us apple picking, back when there were apples, when there was picking, when there was us? Even though I didn't want to be home, I wanted to go home, to wallow in the marrow of another awful supper-and-dessert instead of knucklewalking through history with the angel of Death, who's all ears. I tell myself not to be ashamed that my bite is my bark, because if it punctuates equilibrium, all it means is that I'm crying, but not wolf.


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Bookstore Diving

Strand Rare Books Room We love our iPads – really, we do. But sometimes we crave the aroma of aging paper and the feel of a well-thumbed book. So we visited a few of NYC’s most beloved independent bookstores to capture the joy of being surrounded by... books. At the Strand, fine old books are in abundant supply. PHOTOGRAPHS BY MOYA MCALLISTER


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There’s no reason not to read these things. It would be sad to think nobody is ever going look at these pages again. —Joseph Fouse

Employee Joseph Fouse says scents associated with old books are caused by the chemical breakdown of lignin in wood pulp. It’s “why secondhand bookstores smell like good baking,” he says.

Illustrations from an 1866 first American edition of Alice in Wonderland.


Stephen King inscribed this first edition of his novel Dark Tower: The Gunslinger during a book tour.

The Strand’s Rare Books Room is a quiet oasis, perfect for getting lost in an atlas like this.

We often get the question: ‘So what’s a rare book?’ To which the answer is, ‘Yes.’ —Joseph Fouse This 1953 edition of Richard Dimbleby’s Elizabeth Our Queen sports a lavish “fore-edge painting” — the sort of art, manager Vasilis Terpsopoulos says, “you can only get in a book.”


Mercer Street Books A long-time haunt of local writers, Mercer Street Books is a literary treasure trove — whether you’re looking for used fiction or anecdotes from the proprietor about famous authors.


Proprietor Wayne Conti discovered this striking metalcovered book, The Machine, on the floor of a warehouse he was hoping to rent.

What’s nice about a bookstore — outside of the smell — is browsing. The idea of the book you never knew existed. —Wayne Conti After his friend, painter Jack Levine, died, Conti made a section just for Levine’s book collection and a few mementos.


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Mercer is known for its offbeat sections, such as this shelf of “Curious and Valuable Books.” Conti says Mary Gaitskill once responded to his complimentary “I love your stories” by retorting, “Which ones?”

People are very attached to their books. The books I consider my own I couldn’t sell. —Wayne Conti

William Steig personalized this volume of cartoons for a friend: “From one neurotic to another.”


Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books This isn’t a traditional bookstore. Jim Drougas and co-owner/wife Indiana Bervis curate an ever-changing collection that has made their store a West Village institution.


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The whole slogan fits into the community, what the community represents. —Jim Drougas

The Dylan-centric front window display is a beacon to local bohemians and intellectual families.

Unoppressive has about 35 Dylan books in stock at all times.


“We choose books that people discover,” says Drougas — especially kids.

Even before you get to the level of the book itself, you’ve got the feeling of the store. —Jim Drougas “We don’t have to be all-purpose because of who we are,” Drougas says. “We can have a whole shelf for one particular author.”


Westsider Books Westsider stacks books to breathtaking heights and lines its narrow staircase with VHS tapes and unshelved tomes.


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People come in here and say, ‘Wow, I love this smell, it smells like my grandfather’s house.’ —Patrick Wilson

Eque ne doluptionet lique sernatquo et harum quatesciet volo consecero ium et repe. Most quis dolorio natio omniet entet ut a rolland no massie

This 1896 etiquette book by Maude C. Cooke warns a lady: “Do not tell more than two or three stories or anecdotes in the same evening.”

“There’s something about an old book, even if you’re not going to read it,” says employee Patrick Wilson. “There’s a sense of history.”


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Stacked books are inches from the doubleheight ceiling.

“Older books, especially children’s books, always end up having titles like As Queer as She Could Be,” says Wilson.

There are old Boy Scouts books with more tragic titles than this one — like Scouts—Patrick in Bondage . Wilson

Eque ne doluptionet lique sernatquo et harum quatesciet volo consecero ium et repe. Most quis dolorio natio omniet entet ut a rolland no massie

“This is another case of things that belong in a time capsule,” Wilson jokes of a book of vintage pornography photos. “Or at least in your house.”


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desertion Summer’s stock is steam and rows repeating: pickle, pudding, jam, the ribs of stairs, porch white as a wedding.

Home is half habit: stacks of salt, a measure of milk whisked, wiped and soured. Days come notched in quarter-hours and hope, scant as sleep, goes slippered down the hall. Home is silt and settling, a ring, a rose, a reason. Adrift with the day’s dust, heat insisting on a castiron cure. The door opens on dark advice, swings on a severed string of chance.

by

Jacquelyn Pope Jacquelyn Pope is the author of Watermark, published by Marsh Hawk Press. Her poems, essays and translations have appeared in journals including Poetry, The New Republic, FIELD, and The Common. She is the recipient of a 2012 PEN Translation Fund grant.


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Preface

A Note from Granta “The Perfect Code” in a hospital is as rare and as volatile as a perfect storm at sea. An announcement is made over the P.A. system, doctors and nurses and interns scramble, a human life hangs in the balance. This barbed and insightful view into emergency care — from the perspective of the doctor — is

a bittersweet paean to the delicate harmonies which can rise, if only briefly, from the mess of hospitals and human bodies. Terrence Holt is a writer gifted with the lyricism of fellow medic William Carlos Williams and the pinpoint psychological accuracy of Patricia Highsmith. — John Freeman, Editor


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The Perfect Code


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A FAINT CLICK OPENS THE AIR. “The Perfect Code” is excerpted from Granta 120: Medicine.

A disembodied voice calls out: “Adult Code 100, Adult Code 100, 5 East. Adult Code 100, 5 East.” Or it might be “Code Blue, Code Blue 3C, Code Blue 3C.” From place to place the wording varies, but the message is always the same: somewhere in the hospital, someone is dying. Hearts stop. Vital signs droop. Whatever the nature of the emergency, the response is the same: from all over the hospital the code team comes running, and the attempt at resuscitation begins. I’m not sure, still, just what I learned running to so many codes, but the experience haunts me, long after the fact. As if somewhere in the tangle of tubes and wires, knotted sheets, Betadyne and blood, I lost track of something important. Listen.


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N THE HOSPITAL where I work, codes go something like this. A nurse finds a patient slumped over in bed. The nurse calls her name. No answer. The nurse shakes the inert body. No answer. Harder. Still no answer. The nurse steps to the door and calls, in tones that rise at each syllable, “I need some help here.” The rest of the available nurses on the floor converge. Within a minute, every bystander within hearing is gathered at the door. In the basement of the hospital, an operator listens intently to her headset. She flips a switch, and a faint click opens the hospital to the microphone on her console. “Adult Code 100, 6 South. Adult Code 100, 6 South.” The message goes out on the hospital PA system, her disembodied voice filling the hallways. It also goes out to a system of antique voice pagers, from which the operator’s measured words emerge as inarticulate squealing. The pagers are largely backup, in case some member of the team is, say, in the bathroom, or otherwise out of reach of the PA system. The team consists of eight or nine people: respiratory techs, anesthesiologists, pharmacists, and the residents on call for the Cardiac ICU. On hearing the summons, the residents drop whatever they are doing and sprint. In their voluminous white coats, from whose pockets fall stethoscopes, penlights, reflex hammers, EKG calipers, tuning forks, ballpoint pens (these clatter across the floors to be scooped up by the medical students who follow behind), the medical team’s passing is a curious combination of high drama and burlesque. The team arrives on a scene of Bedlam. The room is so crowded with nurses, CNAs, janitors and miscellaneous onlookers that it can be physically impossible to enter. Shouldering your way through the mob at the door, you are stopped by a crowd around the bed; the crash cart, a roll-


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ing red metal Sears Roebuck tool chest, is also in the way, its open drawers a menace to knees and elbows. There are wires draped from the crash cart and tubing everywhere. At the center of all this lies the patient, the only one in the room who isn’t shouting. The patient doesn’t move at all. This time it is an elderly woman, frail to the point of wasting; her ribs arch above her hollow belly. Her eyes are half open, her jaw is slack, pink tongue protruding slightly. Her gown and the bedding are tangled in a mass at the foot of the bed; AT THE CENTER at a glance you take in the old mastectomy scar, the scaphOF ALL THIS LIES oid abdomen, the grey tuft THE PATIENT, THE between her legs. At the head ONLY ONE IN THE of the bed, a nurse is pressing ROOM WHO ISN’T a mask over the patient’s face, SHOUTING. THE squeezing oxygen through a PATIENT DOESN’T large bag; the woman’s cheeks MOVE AT ALL. puff out with each squeeze, which isn’t right. Another nurse is compressing the chest, not hard enough. You shoulder her aside and press two fingers under the angle of the jaw. Nothing. A quick listen at her chest: only the hubbub in the room, dulled by silent flesh. Pile the heels of both hands over her breastbone and start to push: the bed rolls away. Falling half onto the patient, you holler above the commotion, “Somebody please lock the bed.” Alternate this with “Does anyone have the chart?” A nurse near the door hoists a thick brown binder, passing it over the heads jamming the room. “Code status,” you bawl out. “Full code,” the nurse bawls back. You reposition your hands and push down on her breastbone. “Why’s she here?” There is a palpable crunch as her ribs separate from


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her sternum. “Metastatic breast cancer,” the nurse calls, flipping pages in the chart. “Admitted for pain control.” You lighten up the pressure and continue to push, rhythmically, fast. You look around, trying to pick out from the mass of excited bystanders the people who belong. The noise is immense. On the opposite side of the bed you see one of the respiratory techs has arrived. “Airway,” you shout, and the tech nods: she has already seen the puffing cheeks. She takes the mask and bag from the nurse and adjusts the patient’s neck. The patient’s chest starts to rise and fall beneath your hands. “What’s she getting for pain?” “Morphine PC A.” “What rate?” The question sets off a flurry of activity among some nurses, one of whom stoops to examine the IV pump at the patient’s bedside. “Two per hour, one q fifteen on the lockout.” “Narcan,” you order. By this time, the pharmacist has arrived, which is fortunate because you can’t remember the dose of opiate blocker. You doubt this is overdose here, but it’s the first thing to try. Out of the corner of your eye you see the pharmacist load a clear ampoule into a syringe and pass it to a nurse. Meanwhile on your left, the other resident and the intern are plunging large needles into both groins, probing for the femoral vein. The intern strikes blood first, removes the syringe, throws it onto the sheets. “Send that off for labs,” you shout. Blood dribbles from the needle’s hub as the intern threads a long, coiled wire through it into the vein. The other resident stops jabbing and watches the intern’s progress. With a free hand she feels for the femoral pulse, but the bed is bouncing. You stop compressing. The resident focuses, shakes her head. Start compressing again. A nurse reaches around you on the right, trying to fit


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a pair of metallic adhesive pads onto the patient’s chest. You shake your head. “Paddles,” you shout. “Get me the paddles.” Then, into the general roar, “Somebody take that syringe and send it off for labs.” A hand grabs the syringe and whisks it off. “You!” you shout at the med student, who is hanging by the resident”s elbow. “Get a gas!” The resident throws a package from the crash cart, then steps back to give the student access to the patient’s groin. The student fits the needle to CLAP THE PADDLES the blood-gas syringe, feels for the pulse your compresON THE PATIENT’S sions are making in the groin CHEST. OVER YOUR and stabs it home: blood, SHOULDER ON THE dark purple, fills the barrel. TINY SCREEN OF THE The student looks worried; he DEFIBRILLATOR A may have missed the artery. WAVY LINE OF GREEN The nurse at your elbow is LIGHT SCRAWLS still there, holding the defiHORIZONTALLY brillator paddles. She stands as though she has been holdONWARD. ing these out to you for some time. Clap the paddles on the patient’s chest. Over your shoulder on the tiny screen of the defibrillator a wavy line of green light scrawls horizontally onward. You look back at the other resident. “Anything?” You both say at once, and both of you shake heads. The intern has finished with the femoral catheter. He holds up one of the access ports. “Amp of epi,” you say, but there’s no response. Louder: “I need an amp of epi.” Finally someone shoves a big bluntnosed syringe into your hand. Without stopping to verify that it’s what you asked for, you lean over and fit it to the port and push the plunger. Another look at the screen. Still nothing. “Atropine,” you call out, and this time a


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nurse has it ready. “Push it,” you say, and she does. Stop compressions, check the screen. Suddenly the wavery tracing leaps into life, a jagged irregular line, teeth of a painful saw. “V fib,” the other resident calls out, annoying you for a moment. You clamp the paddles down on the patient’s ribs. “Everyone clear?” Everyone has moved back two feet from the bed. You check your own legs, arch your back. “Clear?” You push the button. The patient spasms, then lies limp again. The pattern on the screen is unchanged. The other resident shakes her head. You call over your shoulder, “Three hundred,” and shock again. The body twitches again. An unpleasant smell rises from the bed. The pattern on the screen subsides, back to the long lazy wave. Still no pulse. You start compressing again. “Epi,” you call out. “Atropine.” There is another flutter of activity on the screen, but before you can shock, it goes flat again, almost flat, perhaps there is a suggestion of a ragged rhythm there, fine sawteeth. “Clear,” you call again, and everybody draws back. “Three sixty,” you remember to say over your shoulder, and when the answering call comes back you shock again, knowing this is futile. But the patient is dead and there is no harm in trying. As the body slumps again, there is a palpable slackening of the noise level in the room, and even though you go on another ten minutes, pushing on the chest until your shoulders are burning and your breath is short, and a total of ten milligrams of epinephrine has gone in, there is nothing on the monitor that looks remotely shockable. Finally, you straighten up and find the clock on the wall. “I’m calling it,” you say. Against the wall, a nurse with a clipboard makes a note. “Time?” she says. You tell her. There is more. Picking up, writing notes, a phone call or two. There is a family member in the hallway, sitting stricken on a bench beside a nurse or volunteer holding


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a hand. You need to speak to her, but before you do you have to find out the patient’s name. And then you go back to whatever you were doing before the code went out over the PA.

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HERE IS A GREAT deal of mess in hospital medicine, literal and figurative, and the code bunches it all into a dense mass that on some days seems to represent everything wrong with the world. The haste, the turmoil, the anonymity, the smell, the futility: all of it brought to bear on a single body, as if to point to a moral that I would understand better if only I had time to stop and contemplate it. Which I don’t. Not today. We’re admitting and there are three patients, two on the floor and one down in the ER, waiting to be seen. There is no time to read the fine print on anything, least of all the mortal contract just executed on the anonymous woman lying back in the room. I can barely make out the large block letters at the top: our patients die. And very often they do so in the middle of


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a scene with all the dignity of a cafeteria food fight. We can’t cure everybody, but I think most of us treasure as a small consolation that at least we can afford people some kind of dignity at the end, something quiet and solemn in which whatever meaning resides in all of this may be — if we watch and listen carefully — perceptible. Which may be why one particular code persists in my memory, long after the event.

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OHN MONGAY WAS the name I got from the medicine admitting officer. I wasn’t sure what to make of the MAO’s story, but I knew I didn’t like it. The story was a 72-year-old guy with a broken neck. He had apparently fallen in his driveway while picking up his newspaper that morning, cracking his first and second vertebrae. I had a vague memory from medical school that this wasn’t a good thing — the expression “hangman’s fracture” kept bobbing up from the well of facts I do not use — but I had a much more distinct impression that this was not a


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case for cardiology. “And ortho isn’t taking him because?” I said wearily. “Because he’s got internal organs, dude.” I sighed. “So why me?” “Because they got an EKG.” The MAO was clearly enjoying himself. I remembered he had recently been accepted to a cardiology fellowship. I braced myself for the punchline. “And?” “And there’s ectopy on it. Ectopy.” He then made a noise intended to suggest a ghost haunting something. Ectopy, meaning literally “out of place,” refers to a heartbeat generated anywhere in the heart but the little knob in the upper right-hand corner where heartbeats are supposed to start. Such beats appear with an unusual shape and timing on the EKG. They can be caused by any number of things, from too much caffeine to fatigue to an impending heart attack, but in the absence of other warning signs, ectopy is not something we generally get excited about. And it sounded to me as though a man with a broken neck had enough reasons for ectopy without sending him to the Cardi-


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ology service. “So?” I said. “So he’s also got a history. Angioplasty about ten years ago, no definite history of MI. You can’t really read his EKG because he’s got a left bundle, no old strips so I don’t know if it’s new.” We were down to business. “So I rule him out.” “You rule him out. Ortho says they’ll follow with you.” “Lovely. And once I rule him out?” “Ortho says they’ll follow with you.” I said something unpleasant. The MAO understood. “Sucks, I know, but there you are.” And there I was, down in the ER on a Sunday afternoon, turning over the stack of papers that John Mongay had generated over his six hours in the ED. There was a sheaf of EKGs covered with bizarre ectopic beats, through which occasionally emerged a stretch of normal sinus rhythm, enough to see that there was, indeed, a left bundle branch block, and not much else. The heart has several bundles, cables in its internal wiring. When some disease process disrupts a bundle, the result is an EKG too distorted to answer


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the question we usually ask it: Is this patient having a heart attack? Of course, the bundle itself is not a reassuring sign and, if new, it merits an investigation, but plenty of people in their seventies have them and it’s pretty much a so what. But the ectopy on today’s strips was impressive — if you didn’t know what you were looking at you might think he was suffering some catastrophic event. I read between the lines of the consult note the orthopaedic surgeons had left, and it was clear they regarded John Mongay as a time bomb and didn’t want him on their service. Which I couldn’t help noting was exactly how I felt about having a patient with a broken neck on my service. But I didn’t get to make decisions like that. Instead I wadded the stack of papers back into their cubby and took a brief glance through the curtains of Bay 12. From my somewhat distorted perspective, most of what I saw of the patient was his feet, which were large, bare and protruding from the lower end of his ER blankets in a way that suggested he would be tall if I could stand him up. At his side sat a small, iron-haired woman who


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at that moment was speaking to him, leaning in close. She wore a faint, affectionate smile on a face that looked otherwise tired. I watched her for a moment, her profile held precisely perpendicular to my line of sight as though posed. For a moment her face took on an almost luminous clarity, a study in patience, in care — and then it wavered, receding into a small, tired woman with grey hair beside a gurney in Bay 12. The patient’s face was obscured by the pink plastic horse collar that immobilized his neck. I watched the woman for a minute. Her expression, the calm progress of their conversation, suggested that nothing too drastic was going on. I took a walk to the radiology reading room to get a look at the neck films. There were many of these, too. They showed the vulture neck silhouette all C-spine films share. There were several unusual views, including one that I decided must have been shot straight down the patient’s open mouth: it showed, framed by teeth palisaded with spiky metal, the pale ring of the first vertebra, the massive bone called the atlas, and clear (even to me) on both sides of it were two


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jagged dark lines angling in on the empty center where the spinal cord had failed to register on film. The break in the second vertebra was harder to make out, but I took the surgeons at their word: C1/2 fx: cont immob pending halo. Will follow.

I Granta 120: Medicine Design by Michael Salu Illustration by Kaniita Meechubot Photographed by Nadegé Mèriau

THIS WAS STILL RELATIVELY EARLY IN THE DAY AND I WAS CAPABLE OF BEING CHARMED.

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WAS NOT IN the best of moods as I made my way back to the ER, grabbed a clipboard and parted the curtains to Bay 12. Still, I managed an adequate smile as I introduced myself. “John Mongay?” I said tentatively. The woman at his shoulder blinked up at me, wearing that same weary smile, brushing a lock of hair from her face. “It’s ‘Mon-zhay,’” she said, with an odd combination of self-deprecation and something else — perhaps it was warmth? — that made me like her. “It’s French,” she explained. She welcomed me into Bay 12, which I had been inside more times than I cared to count, with a curious air of apology, as if concerned about the quality of her housekeeping. I was charmed. This was still relatively early in the day and I was capable of be-


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ing charmed. I shook myself a little, and straightened my back (her posture was perfect). Her husband made a less distinct impression. The cervical stabilization collar has a dampening effect on most people, as would the eight milligrams of morphine he’d absorbed over the past six hours, so it was a bleary and not very articulate history I got from him. His wife filled in the relevant bits. No prior MI. Occasional chest pain, hard to pin down. Otherwise a generally healthy, alert and active man. On the one really critical point — what had caused the fall — Mr Mongay insisted on giving account. He had not fainted. He had not been dizzy or breathless or experienced palpitations or anything of that sort. He had tripped. He had caught his toes on the uneven edge left by the damned contractor who’d resurfaced the driveway two years previously, and gone down like a stupid ox. As he said the last he shook his head vehemently within the confines of his collar, and I caught my breath: you’re not supposed to do that with a broken neck. Even so I was partially reassured. The history didn’t suggest a cardiac cause to his fall, and he denied any of the other symptoms that go along with impending doom. The physical exam was similarly reassuring, although hampered by the cervical collar and my dread of doing anything that might disturb his neck. He was a tall, bony man, with a nasty-looking cut across the scalp above his right eye and dried blood crusted in his bushy eyebrows. The cut had been sutured already, and the blood made it look much worse than it was. Aside from the cut and a large bruise on his right ribs (none broken), he seemed fine. Except for the neck, of course. I stayed another few minutes, making idle chat with the wife, who promised me that her son and one of her three daughters would be coming back soon, and then excused myself to write my orders.


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E RULED OUT with the 4 a.m. blood draw the next morning, which I announced on rounds a few hours later with less pleasure than I would have ordinarily. I knew what was coming. “So now what?” the attending asked. “I guess I call ortho.” Everybody — from attending to fellow to the other resident on the team and the intern, even the two medical students — started to smile. “Well, I can call them, can’t I?” “Go ahead,” the attending said. I made the call, and after three or four hours the ortho resident returned the page. I knew by that time that I was already defeated, but I went ahead and asked the obligatory question, and received the inevitable answer (the ortho resident having anticipated as well) that the ortho attending did not feel comfortable taking the case, “. . . and besides, it’s not that bad a break. We’ll follow.” “How long?” I asked. “What do you mean?” “How long does he need to be in the hospital?” Puzzled. “When will you be done with him?” “We’ve been done since eight this morning.” “You mean you’d send him home?” “Except for the neck thing, yeah.” “Oh.” This he hadn’t anticipated. “So what does he need from you?” “He needs a halo.” A halo is one of those excruciating-looking devices you may have seen somebody wearing: a ring of shiny metal that encircles the head (hence the name), supported by a cage that rests on a harness braced on the shoulders. Four


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large bolts run through the halo and into the patient’s skull, gripping the head rigidly in place like a Christmas tree in its stand. A little crust of blood where the bolts penetrate the skin completes the picture. They look terrible, but patients tell me that after the first day or so they don’t really hurt. Getting one put on, however: that hurts. “So when does he get it?” LIKE THEIR MOTHER, I asked. Again, I knew the WITH THEIR QUIET answer. It was already past noon. I was pretty sure it was GRACE AND GENTLE Monday. GOOD HUMOR THEY “Well,” the ortho resident PUT ME IN MIND OF replied, “it’s already past FACES I’D SEEN IN noon.” OLD OIL PAINTINGS, “And you’re in surgery.” GLOWING AGAINST A “Yeah.” WARM CHIAROSCURO. “And tomorrow?” “Clinic. All day clinic.” I didn’t say anything. I waited a long time, biting my tongue. “I guess we could do it tonight,” he said. “That’d be nice.” “Unless there’s an emergency, of course.” “Of course.” And of course there was. And clinic ran overtime the next day, or so I was told. Their notes on the chart (they came by each morning at 5:45) ran to five scribbled lines, ending each time with “Plan halo. Will follow,” and a signature and pager number I couldn’t quite decipher. This left me holding the bag. Not only had I one more patient crowding my census, one more patient to see in the morning, round on and write notes about (this during the month our team set the record for admissions to cardiology), but I also had the unpleasant responsibil-


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ity of walking into Mr. Mongay’s room on Tuesday and Wednesday morning to find him unhaloed, and making apologies for it. It would have been unpleasant, at least, but for Mrs. Mongay and her children. There were four in all. The son, John Jr., was a very pleasant fellow in his late thirties, intelligent, well educated, unusually sophisticated about medical matters. The three daughters were hard to tell apart — I never did learn their names — but they accepted my apologies with a sympathetic understanding. Like their mother, with their quiet grace and gentle good humor they put me in mind of faces I’d seen in old oil paintings, glowing against a warm chiaroscuro. All of which only made the situation even more intolerable, driving me to want to do something for them — and the only thing I had to offer lay in the gift of the inaccessible ortho resident. Wednesday I was on call again and had pledged myself, in the brief moments between admissions, to track down the ortho team and make them come up and put that halo on. Unfortunately, this was the day we admitted fifteen patients, as the failure clinic opened its floodgates and the Cath Lab pumped out case after case. The sheer volume of histories to take, physicals to perform, notes and orders to compose was overwhelming. The phone call — with its necessary sequel of waiting for the paged resident to call back — never happened. Sometime in the late afternoon, however, I looked up from the counter where I had been leaning, trying to absorb the salient features of yet another failure patient’s complex history, and saw through the open door of Mr. Mongay’s room a strange tableau: two tall men in green scrubs wielding socket wrenches around the patient’s head, a tangle of chrome, and the patient’s hands quivering in the air, fingers spread as if calling on the seas to part. Sometime later


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I looked up again and the green scrubs were gone. Mr. Mongay lay propped up in his bed, his head in a halo. From the side, his nose was a hawk’s beak, the rest of his face sunk in drugged sleep, but his mouth still snarled as if it remembered recent pain. He looked like a strange, sad bird in a very small cage. Still later — time on that service being marked by missed meals and sleep, I can say only that I was hungry, but not yet punchy — a nurse stopped me. “Fourteen,” she said. She meant Mr. Mongay. “How’s he doing?” I was harbouring some vague hope that he was awake and asking to go home. “He’s complaining of chest pain. Ten out of ten.” “Crap,” I said. The nurse looked at me. “Get an EKG.” My vague hope vanished entirely ten minutes later as I watched the red graph paper emerge from the side of the box. The squiggle on it looked better than the initial set from the ER, but that was only because the ectopy was gone. What was there instead — Mr. Mongay’s souvenir of the activities of the afternoon — were T-wave inversions marching across his precordium. This was not good. T-wave inversions generally signify heart muscle that isn’t getting oxygen. What I was seeing here suggested that his LAD — a major artery supplying blood to the heart’s strongest muscle — was about


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to choke off. I looked up at the nurse. She had been reading the strip as well, upside down, as cardiology nurses can. “You gonna move him?” she asked. “Yeah.” “Write me some orders.” “I’ll write you orders. Just get him to the Unit. Quickly,” I added, with a backward glance through the door of 14.

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DIDN’T GIVE MONGAY much thought the rest of the evening, beyond getting him scheduled as an add-on for the Cath Lab the next day. Around two in the morning the three of us — my partner Sasha, the intern Jeff and I — were gathered at one end of the long counter, pushing stacks of paper around and trying to count up the score. We were on admission twelve for the day, we decided, but couldn’t remember who was up next. I was digging in my pockets for a coin to flip when my pager went off. I swore as I tugged it from my belt, expecting to find yet again the number for the ER. I found instead the number for the CCU, followed by “911”. At that moment the overhead paging system called a code in the CCU. The three of us ran. It was perhaps thirty yards to the CCU, but by the time we got there three of the six nurses on shift were in Mongay’s room, one at the head squeezing oxygen through a bag-valve mask, another compressing his chest, a third readying the crash cart. I had a moment’s awareness that something was unusual — the whole thing looked too emptily staged, some kind of diorama in the Museum of Human Misery, but the scene only appeared that way for an instant and then we were in it and perspective fell apart in a surge of activity. Sasha and I had never made any formal arrangement about who did what in a code. I was the first one on the


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far side of the bed and started feeling the groin for a pulse. It was faint, driven solely by the nurse’s compressions, but clear enough. I grabbed a finder syringe from the tray a nurse held out to me and plunged it in. Nothing. Pull back, change angle, feel for the pulse again and drive. The needle ground against bone. On this pass I saw the flash in the syringe, pulled back to confirm, then flung the syringe aside and put a thumb over the hub of the needle while reaching for the wire. The nurse had JOHN MONGAY’S it out already, handle turned BODY ROSE FROM toward me. It threaded the THE MATTRESS, vein without resistance. HUNG FOR A I had the catheter in place MOMENT, COLLAPSED. a minute or two later, met at each step in the process by the right item held out at the right time. No one spoke a word. On the other side of the bed, Sasha stood with her arms folded across her chest, nodding at two nurses in turn as they pushed meds, placed pads on the chest and warmed up the defibrillator. Her eyes were on the monitor overhead, where green light drew lazy lines across the screen. At some point in the proceedings anesthesia had shown up and put an endotracheal tube down Mongay’s throat; respiratory therapy was wheeling a ventilator to the head of the bed, looping tubing through the bars of the halo and cursing at it. “Hold compressions,” Sasha said. The nurse stopped pushing on the chest. I saw for the first time that the halo was supported by a broad sheet of plastic backed with sheepskin that covered the upper half of the chest: the nurse had to get her hands underneath it to press; with each compression Mongay’s head bobbed up and down, up


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and down. He was out, his eyes blank at the ceiling. The nurse at my elbow was hooking up the ports of my catheter, pushing one of the blunt syringes of epinephrine. We were all staring at the monitor above the bed, the long horizontal drift of asystole. As the second amp of atropine ran in, the lines all leapt to life, frantic peaks filling the screen. “V-fib,” a nurse said quietly. “Paddles,” Sasha replied in the same voice, taking the offered handgrips of the defibrillator from the nurse as she spoke. “Clear,” she said quietly, and thumbed the button. John Mongay’s body rose from the mattress, hung for a moment, collapsed. On the screen we saw scrambled green light settle for a moment, a rhythm emerge. Then the peaked lines consolidated into a high picket fence. “V-tach,” said the nurse, and turned up the power on the defibrillator. “Clear,” said Sasha. The body arched and fell again. It went on for twelve more minutes, Mongay’s heart flying through one arrhythmia after another. Each time we responded it would settle briefly into sinus rhythm before flinging out again into some lethal variation, until finally, after two grams of magnesium sulphate and another round of shocks, it found a rhythm and held it through another flurry of activity when his systolics dropped to the sixties, then rallied on a minimal infusion of dopamine. And through all of this, as the atmosphere in the room maintained its eerie calm, the nurses kept up their surreal economy of gesture, and Sasha intoned the ritual of the ACLS algorithm, I felt my own adrenalin surging through the night’s fatigue in an approach to exultation. It was almost beautiful. This, I thought as we left the room (the lines on the monitor dancing their steady dance, the ventilator measuring breath and time to its own slower rhythm), this is what a code should be. A clean thing. A beautiful thing. The patient hadn’t died.


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HE REST OF THE NIGHT was anticlimactic. There was a note to write (there is always a note to write), for which we had to puzzle some time over the strips churned out by the telemetry system, the notes scribbled on a paper towel recording what drugs had been given when, the values called over the phone from Core Lab and written in black marker on the leg of a nurse’s scrubs. There was the call to the family: I had to temper my enthusiasm as I searched for words to use when calling from the CCU at 2:35 in the morning. It was the son who answered. He took the news well enough, asked if I thought they needed to come now. I assured him his father was stable. I assured him everything was under control; I had anticipated MR. MONGAY HAD the code, I realized, when I CODED, CODED moved him to the CCU. He BEAUTIFULLY, AND was in the safest possible HE HAD SURVIVED. place. “In the morning then,” WE HAD DONE the son said quietly. EVERYTHING RIGHT. “In the morning,” I agreed, and turned to the call room at last, where I spent perhaps forty-five minutes on my back, replaying the code against the springs of the empty bunk above me, until my pager went off again and this time it was the ER. And then around five, another code on 4 West, where we found a man bleeding from a ruptured arterial graft and I had to put yet another catheter in yet another groin, and this time there were fourteen nurses in the room,


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all shouting at once, so that I had to bellow over them to be heard as I requested, repeatedly, the proper catheter kit, something big enough to pour in fluid as fast as he was losing it. The patient was alive when I saw him last, a scared and tousled surgery intern kneeling right on top of him to hold pressure as the entire ungainly assemblage — patient, intern, and tree of IV bags — wheeled out the door to the OR. Back to normal life, I said to Sasha as we trudged back to the cardiology ward. Whether she knew what I was talking about I couldn’t say, and didn’t really care. I was still warmed by a vague sense of something right having happened. Mr. Mongay had coded, coded beautifully, and he had survived. We had done everything right. The next morning on rounds, we were congratulated for our management of Mr. Mongay’s arrest, although there was an ominous pH value from a blood gas obtained early on in the event that occasioned some shaking of heads. He had not responded since the code, being content to lie there unconscious in his halo, his chest rising and falling in response to the ventilator’s efforts. But his vital signs were stable, his labs from the 4 a.m. draw were looking good, and I had my hopes. No longer for an early discharge, but I was hopeful, all the same. I shared these hopes with Mrs. Mongay and the family when they arrived at seven. She stood at the bedside looking down, and her eyes were wet, her mouth unstably mobile. She reached out almost to touch the bars supporting the halo, down one of the threaded rods that pierced her husband’s skin above the temple, almost touched there, then withdrew her hand. “Is this the . . . thing? What do they call it?” I was silent a moment. “A halo,” I said finally. “They call it a halo.” “Ah,” she said.


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OHN MONGAY DIED five days later, having never regained consciousness. As each day passed and he gave no sign of mental activity, eventually it became clear that not all of him had survived the code. The family decided, once pneumonia set in, to withdraw support. Even though I had anticipated the pneumonia, and was pretty sure I could get him through it, I had to agree it was for the best. He had become something unreal to me — something beautiful, like a work of art, but unreal. Amid all the mess and squalor of the hospital, with its blind random unravelling of lives, in their patient dignity and kindness he and his family stood apart. In his case, for a little while at least, everything had gone exactly as it should have. The perfect code. And it hadn’t made any difference. After a bedside service, I pulled his tube early in the afternoon, and took my place at the wall while the usual drama worked to its conclusion. They sent me a card that Christmas, Mrs. Mongay and her daughters. I kept it for a while, until it vanished in the clutter on my desk. She had written a text inside, something from the New Testament I had admired at the bedside service, but soon forgot. I do remember vividly the picture on the card. It was like the Mongay women: sober, attractive. It showed a medieval nativity scene, all saints and angels with their burnished golden ovals overhead. Their faces were sorrowful in profile, as if anticipating what will crown that rosy newborn, perfection laid in straw, with pain in time to come. Terrence E. Holt is a physician practicing in North Carolina. Holt’s first book, a collection of short stories entitled In the Valley of the Kings, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship for Writers.


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Valet Angelus by

john hennessy John Hennessy is the author of Bridge and Tunnel (Turning Point Books/Word Press 2007), a collection of poems, and his work appears or is forthcoming in The Believer, Poetry, The New Republic, Harvard Review, The Yale Review, and other journals and anthologies.

Shirt first I pull him out of sleep, curry, clip, preen, tog, bear clean

underwear, hoist him into darkness, rude as that first blue shake while his mother bled (the midwife saved her with a shot of pitocin stuck hard in the thigh, postpartum contractions— some other era surely she’s gone and he and I enact a Dickens plot), straight-faced he suffers me, long yawns, magnificent, my tiny gentleman, my morning wren, his pants with skulls on both back pockets, he faces hell’s new Punch and Judy with complacency, now he’s too old but I used to kiss his feet, their hint of vinegar, I’m still fierce as any disciple, these convert works before the school bus comes, I’d use my hair, anoint him, here, he’s laughing, here.


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Post-Coital

Discourse

by

John Hennessy

With the pillow turned and crushed between them they constellate, make a quincunx, head in the sky, ankles and feet stuck in the sea. His breath still comes quickly and she laughs, twisting her nightgown across her waist, the minute’s ivy crown. His hands press his hips where hers just were. Ghost ships. He feels their wake. She braids half her hair. She rises and navigates the hall, leaving him alone as the tide ebbs, still moored to the bulkhead of the bed. The tap startles, splashing behind the wall. By her return he’s mid-sentence, his urge a squall touching down lightly, carrying almost all she’s said.


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illustration by si scott


chapter 3 chapter 3

poem by john matthias

After Five Words Englished From the Russian


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Horseshoe or dingbat, Sir oh just the one he thought, even if a hoarsepshaw brief Cyrillic Ж was altogether confidential then. Sadistic counsel goofy as it was to hit a mark an iron-shod method like an actor on the methadone for bad habits, pitching his good luck to brain the brain-damaged boy, altogether his intention Master Craft, I swear swore it when he outran a goddamn dawn a good man reigning through obsessive thought that inning out to bean him break his neck Focus on the other’s head a dingbat or lucky shot pitching high and inside fucking up the outdoors, even fireworks on the Fourth can’t you do an elementary task? However, He Who Finds a Horseshoe fires a synapse begs a question but in time bags his quarry by the marsh even brags about it, flees as far as Moony Lake running in the tallest grass and crouching down they say it’s possible to drown in mud and sand and shoreline stagnant pools in short order, Sir.


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I Babel’s unit, Blogmeister Ulyanov. A thrice- beaten hoarse without a pshaw is very dark indeed. In the long run in short it was like this: He stumbled bleeding into foreign camp where all the officers played dice with nasty dingbats, bits of backbone lacking, they maintained, in cowards who’d run off. Their poet said that what he said was never said by him. But also Three times blessed is one who puts a name in song. Mandelstam. Ulyanov. Babel: No iron can pierce the human heart with the force of a period just exactly in the right place Aplysia at just that point in time became, like injured campers, Useful slugs in neurobiological associative tasks. Aplasia, though, prevented both the classical and operant conditioning.

Iron bomb’s your balalaika too? And you an anarchist like me? In this day and age, the pleaЖure is entirely mine.

II & shhhhhhh . . . sashays to Жay . . . & does shay & No iron can pierce and so on just a way of betting on the pen that’s mightier than the sword? You think that babble saved him. All that playing Cossacks was to chess what Cecka was to his submerged cliché: No one gets the period in the right place. Full stop, Bakunin. A friend of ours saw him finger-fucking the countess, then went off to a commune called K’ Klarity. Stammered it so long ago at Horseshoe Camp they only managed checkers,


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chests puffed up by golly nonetheless in pride. And no! Not a commune merely but a country: It’s Charity. And that’s a virtue too, Great Aunt Calamity: tell me Muse what E flat played as an harmonic on a single string can say to the amped-up soundtrack rocking the whole square until the child screams and holds his ears and Dingbat’s prancing Lipizzaner slips on the cobbled street and breaks a leg. Then you must put him down. A mistake: They pitched their good luck then and brained the brain-damaged boy. All that rock n’ roll at such a volume it would surely damage anybody’s brain. Had you been at the May parade, it would have damaged yours. Even had you volunteered as number one sadistic counselor. After all, it was a job. So too the bold advance of Ivan Chesnokov right up to the gates of Chugunov with his regiment of cavalry. They asked him could he read and write, and could he maybe put some order in the Orders of the Day. He took his rimless glasses from his pocket, but did not dismount. What he did was read aloud the lewd jokes told at the Second Congress of the Comintern. A kind of poetry in that. A kind of horseshoe thrown with malice at the eyes, the mouth, the balls. Cousin Klarity, I was only at a camp but you were in camp a. Rabbi Mordecai was putting into verse the harsh sayings of the one from Dobryvodka called Inert.

Person of the book, Bookie of the Downbeat. Dingbats all in order for an answer to the ringing red & black phones.


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III Picks up the black: Name and patronymic. You think all this security is just a game? Interrogation’s terminal. Means you integrate, and don’t fill out that line on race. Do fill out the item re your mother’s maiden name. Tartar, no? When I first went to Paris with the orderly for mess we asked for steak tartare. Didn’t know the local customs, raw egg on raw meat. Nearly barfed, but stayed cool, & ate it up. Did you clean your plate at camp? No you can’t phone Mother now. You’ll answer only to the bad cop at mass. I hope for your sake, Soldier, all of this can be resolved as expeditiously as possible. Hello up there & looking disingenuous and fat. Here’s a joke. Guy goes to a shrink. After a while the shrink says, Man you’re absolutely nuts. Man says Please sir I’d like a second opinion. Shrink says OK, Man, you’re bloody ugly too. Man says, Mein Herr, but I’m the Revolution of the Word. Shrink says: Well then speak He doesn’t though, he can’t. He’s gagged by then. And look at how his hands are tied behind him. If he could speak he’d improvise a panegyric on his old Prof. Then they’d let him off. For example, Camper Klubnik might begin, speaking as a prisoner in the nether fields of play: By God they had me walk upon the water, bored. That made all of them electric. The men in protective cover took Aplysia by the tail & shocked him good, found that serotonin is a modulator and that neurons form connections where a new protein is required for growth. Our team, my Champion, seeks out long-term memory: Your own. Our mistake in Paris was in not ordering the snails in white wine sauce. (If you’ll just attach those wires to his name and patronymic we can all go home) Camp A is not ballet in Voronezh, although it’s true they have a company. The dance we’ll do


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together’s called the Nimble Neurons. Simple stimulation with the horseshoe, hard. The Presbyterian (head) Master got so angry that he cast dung about him, rang the orthodox bell,

hid the weapon in the tall grass of long-term mnemonics, left it there to find. Fend for yourself, my boy, who called him friend.

IV Picks up the red: Koba Steel here. . . . (No, not a CEO.) So stop and think. You’re at a high point in telephonic history. He asks you now about your friend. Wants to know is he the Big One. For a moment you are overcome by envy. Iosif the Georgian – Koba, Mr. Steel – thinks your friend and rival maybe is the Big One. He’s waiting for your answer on the phone. Horseshoe, you know I don’t . . . So think again. You’re having dinner with some friends And Джугашвили (-shvili is the suffix meaning child) telephones and asks you is your rival really great. It isn’t Harry Truman on the line, not General Eisenhower, not even J. Edger Hoover. It’s the Ossetian, the herd of sheep. Yet another name is сталь, suffix -ин You’ve heard of sheep, but not from Georgia. (Georgia doesn’t border Florida.) He takes an avid interest in the welfare of the motherland’s bards. Three times blessed is one who puts a name in song. Boris Leonidovich, for example. He says, I think you liked the summer camp we sent you to. We gave you a dacha all your own; not a day, not an hour did you spend like some Denisovich. You know. You’re grateful, But you’ve got these dinner guests. Koba, we will have


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To keep it short. You’re so frightened now you’re shitting in Your pants. Can we take this up another time? You feel gagged, and look at how your hands are tied behind you so you have to cradle the contrivance with your chin. Boris Leonidovich, have a pleasant meal. An old camp counselor, a bully Boy Scout grown into a what? A what? . . . writing for him on Yagoda-Checkist checker board, black squares and red, king makers, triple jumps, a bowl of raspberries lodged in each man’s lap, a rasp in both voices, a rattle then: Were I to take my pencil up for the supremist praise, I would speak of him who shifts the axis of the world and call him by his dobrydawnsong name, Dzhugashvili

Koba was a nom de guerre, and he darkened eighteen others. Dzhugashvili only an aubade. V The telephone, the book, the pencil, and the bomb. The horseshoe, the letter Ж, Aplysia, a prod. Full stop, Aplasia No codes where none intended. No modes where all roads lead to home. No Rome. Beneath her stone, Arachne spins an Acmeist revival. Rest with mother, bested brother, shining on a harvest moon. Frost at midnight, steel reflecting starlight: Stella, Stalin, Blogmeister Ulyanov. He Who Finds a Horseshoe fires a synapse, begs a question, bags his quarry in due time but fears it was a  Nihilism was your nickelodeon, Clarity

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12


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embracing nil, your dingbat more than that but only half the whole. The other half in plus fours Told it as a crime, a time when the brakeman was annoyed at Nickerbocker, who was there for re-hab in the -ilitation for an injury sustained to his cerebral cortex from the wreck of nations on the railroad track that used to be an outback songline, wrack of notions that were once all viable ideals, and so he hit him HARD with what was handy: horseshoe. He could have put him In a  or gouged out his eye with a  These are conventions that you see in Children’s books. Child Aplasia failed all exams. Aplysia could respond. But where exactly in these snail brains did one locate the long-term memory, let alone the Ego and the Id? Could they, anyway, be trained by pain, subjective and unconscious? (No codes where none intended. No allusions that have not offended. No mimesis. No thesis.) If you cross synoptic cleft, target ion channel and inject The catalytic element, you’re under way. Dingbat is an object used as missile in the absence of a horseshoe. Or a gizmogadget with an utterly forsaken ancient name. A typographical ornament . A silly jerk. A slug releasing ink.

What I’m saying isn’t said by me. This is your whingding moment: dug out of the ground like gold. John Matthias, editor at large of Notre Dame Review, has published some 35 books — poetry, translation, memoirs, literary criticism and scholarship. Shearsman is publishing his Complete Poems in three volumes.


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Sherlock, the

Prequel I

T’S SAFE TO SAY that most of us are familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legacy, as the writer behind Sherlock Holmes. The onscreen Holmes revival we currently find ourselves in has featured not just Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch in the main role, but also Lucy Liu, who will play Dr. Watson in an upcoming CBS reboot. A new book, however, sets its sights at the start of Conan Doyle’s creative life, before there was Holmes. ‘Dangerous Work’: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, edited by Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower, makes public for the first time the sketch-filled journal Conan Doyle kept as ship surgeon on the Arctic whaler, the Hope. The future writer was only 20 years old and still a medical student at the time of the 1880 expedition, which proved to be a formative stint. Conan Doyle would later remark that he “went on board the whaler a big, straggling youth” and “came off it a powerful, well-grown man.” —Claire Fallon

SCROLL DOWN AND ROTATE IPAD TO VIEW NOTES AND SKETCHES FROM ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S ARCTIC DIARY, EXCERPTED FROM ‘DANGEROUS WORK’: DIARY OF AN ARCTIC ADVENTURE (UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS/BRITISH LIBRARY, TO BE RELEASED OCTOBER 2012).


HUFFINGTON 09.23.12 “Dies creta notanda [A joyful day for Crete],” Conan Doyle wrote on March 17th. The Hope had just come upon the icefilled Northern waters, and he sketched the ship among “little hillocks of it, rising and falling with the waves, pure white above and of a wonderful green below.”

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Just two days later, Conan Doyle attempted a full-color drawing of the Hope amidst the ice, though he described poor weather for sketching: “A thick haze with the lumps of ice looming out of it. Could see about a hundred yards in each direction.�

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PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK

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Rum quodit re volesediori doluptatus ut la vel molenet vent eos et ut magnis et aut aut voles inus pel et voluptam reicidu cillias pelest hicidus aliquam enimoditi autes velluptate necte nobisci doluptate rerrupt urendam ius, consed etus, verunt. Vera alistianist acea dolorem non conseratis doloremporis apitas ratia consed que evenis adio optus quos veliqui illupti offic tor alibus ma cus, utem et ea dolupta turion parunt ut id escia et alibusam il magni reptinctatur alit vel iur, omni odi quo od quae od mo et haribus, cullab illit audit voluptatium, ne mi, sus as ent qui sumquis imenissunt ese volorest, nosam nonse nos atis est, omnis non poritat emquasit, consentiorum estios eostiam, sus alibusam quatis nonse prat aut aut ereperi onectas esto miliqui offici sitis mil moluptusdae doluptiae ipic torum, tota nienem verit exercie ndanimus reperit, voluptam rere nulpa num vendiorio et aut imet eos es doluptat hil id qui cores doluptiam sit od quas aute expelluptas rest quia voluptur sam quae enimus quas dus dit, ute am enemporerume voles vent ut quam ulparci endaepe mollorro ducimi, sequam volupta nus quis qui quas et quis evelic tem et la ipisintur? Unt, nonsed mo od et eost lant. Ipicimenis maios di aut erum quiandia site parchil iquatur, qui andit, ut adipiet id ut quata idis verro et pa quid mo eum fuga. Itatur? Liat et quis dolorestrum imusanimpos aut landem fugia volesto eatusandio cuscill iatempos nus nonsenis et laborent faceprerciis adi omnihillest idenimi llorpor umendit veritio vit voluptaquis dolorum quuntem nonserspero dolupta ped molore nemoluptat que earchitiunda sitasperepta inimusa ectatus volupta tissimp elluptae parchicto et ilit es es earum harunto et autem faccatiatio. Ebissin ctatium harum fuga. Me eliquis cietur, ut voluptat que qui dolorrum aut repelibus mod eos alit, quo tem etur sae diat imi, odissit la sitibus apellab in plisi occum quia voluptas ut


HUFFINGTON 09.23.12 On April 16, one of Conan Doyle’s crewmates shot a hawk “about 18 inches high with beautifully speckled plumage.” He humorously sketches his idea of a hawk (“Had the smallpox in its youth”) and the “Captain’s idea of a hawk” (“Looking out for prey” with the help of a telescope).

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HUFFINGTON 09.23.12 On May 8, Conan Doyle wrote that he was “amused by a sailor’s auction. Manson Turville a Shetlander was auctioneer & was particularly eloquent about a very dilapidated and seedy old coat of his which he wanted to palm off.”

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HUFFINGTON 09.23.12 “Captain and I were knocked up at 6 am,” Conan Doyle wrote on June 24, “by the mate’s... singing out ‘A fish, sir,’ and disappearing up the cabin stairs like a lamplighter.” Conan Doyle illustrated the whaling boats pursuing the sighted whales, but they ultimately had to “let the whale alone” when heavy winds arose. TAP ARTWORK TO ENLARGE

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poem

Fitzy & the

Revolution

by

Ishion Hutchinson

The rumour broke first in Duckensfield. Fitzy dropped the shutters of his rum shop. By time it got to Dalvey there were three suicides. The mechanic in Cheswick heard and gave his woman a fine trashing; but, to her credit, she nearly scratched his heart out his chest during the howl and leather smithing. The betting shops and the whorehouse Daylights at Golden Grove were empty; it was brutal to see the women with their hands at their jaws on the terrace; seeing them you know the rumour was not rumour, the rumour was gospel: the canecutters did not get their salary. Better to crucify Christ again. Slaughter newborns, strike down the cattle, but to make a man not have money in his pocket on a payday Friday was abomination itself; worse canecutters, who filed their spines against the sun, bringing down great walls of cane. You’d shudder to see them, barebacked men, bent kissing the earth, so to slash away the roots of the canes; every year the same men, different cane, and when different men, the same cane: the cane they cannot kill, living for this one day


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of respite when they’d straighten themselves to pillars and drop dollars on counters and act like Daylights a suite at the Ritz and the devastating beauty queens with their gaulin fragile attention gave them forever to live in a tickle, the whetted canepiece, this one day, forgotten in a whore’s laugh. Suddenly these men filled Hampton Court square demanding the foreman’s head. They were thirsty for blood and for rum. Fitzy stayed hidden in his shop behind the shutters. He heard one man say it was not the foreman’s head they should get, that would not be wise. The man continued: it must be fire for fire; the factory must be burnt down. But the men murmured. They were afraid. Someone made a joke, they roared, and soon they were saying fire can’t buy rum, they were roaring money, then rum, pounding Fitzy’s shutter, shouting his name for him to set them on fire. They grew hoarse against the shutters. The sun had taken all motion out of their voices. Fitzy could hear them through the zinc, like dogs about to die, cried out children, that dry rustle you hear after the crop is torched and the wind bristles the ashes. No men were out there. Only a shirring noise. That was when Fitzy opened the shutters. Their red eyes in charcoal suits looked up at him, and with an overseer’s scorn, he nodded them in. Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. His first collection, Far District: Poems, won the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award. He is an assistant professor of English at Cornell University.


PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK

Reviews

illustration by bryan christie

PHOTO OR ILLUSTRATION CREDIT TK


Review

peter s. goodman

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Uber-Rich

Porn by

Peter S. Goodman HuffPost executive business editor

SCOTT KLEINMAN/GETTY IMAGES

B

ACK IN THE QUAINT TIMES of the previous economic age — the era before private jets and Manhattan socialites struggling to subsist on mere tens of millions of dollars a year — rich people generally understood that they were rich primarily by dint of lucky happenstance. Most had been born into well-endowed families, ensuring their lasting material comfort, and they tended to accept an accompanying social responsibility: They were expected to share some of the spoils with the less fortunate via public works. Those who did not abide risked


Review

WENDY GEORGE

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else By Chrystia Freeland The Penguin Press 336 pages October 11, 2012

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HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

the wrath of the populist mob or the tax collector. This loose social compact endured more or less as the industrial revolution delivered a Gilded Age. It lasted into the 20th century, as the masters of industry grasped that their new mass-produced wares — from automobiles to kitchen appliances — needed no less than a mass market, and that required a prospering middle class. But this traditional accommodation between the economic classes is today all but inoperative. An emerging global elite is increasingly intent on amassing more than ever while writing the rules to ensure they hang on to as much as they can. This is the fundamental takeaway from Chrystia Freeland’s important new book, Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Freeland, global editor-at-large for Reuters, argues that the old order in which the rewards of capitalism were distributed progressively through taxation and lasting public works has been supplanted by a winnertakes-all marketplace, one that has driven economic inequality to alarming extremes. The ultimate haves — not merely the 1 percent, but the .1 percent — have grown so powerful that they threaten to capture the organs of government, wielding authority in pursuit of their own financial interests, at the expense of opportunities for us non-billionaires.


Review

peter s. goodman

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Much of the story behind this concentration of wealth is familiar. Globalization has placed the best and brightest kids in New York in direct competition with their counterparts in New Delhi, creating new opportunities and new pitfalls. Roaring economic growth in China, India and other emerging markets has produced a fresh crop of billionaires. The spread of technology has accelerated globalization while rendering many jobs vulnerable to automation, pitting the interests of cost-cutting corporate overseers against those of ordinary workers. But the key insight in Freeland’s book — an expansion of a widely read magazine article she penned last year in The Atlantic — is how these forces of change have become so potent that they have managed to sow angst even under the roofs of mere multi-millionaires cognizant that billionaires now rule. Faced with new opportunity twinned with widening inequality, nearly everyone worries about their hold on their station. Even the occupants of the lower rungs of the 1 percent feel insecure, making them disinclined to split their winnings to finance government services needed only by those who have, to their minds, failed to master the game. (In an age in which $25,000-a-year preschool seems a prerequisite for Harvard and lucrative careers ever after, who wants to pay taxes to finance public school for other people’s children?) In Freeland’s telling, one crucial factor distinguishes today’s uber-rich from their forebears: They carry a striking sense of entitlement, seeing themselves as people who have constructed their own fortunes, as opposed to aristocrats who inherited their affluence. Freeland calls them the “working rich,” and she makes clear that this is indeed how they see themselves. Given their self conceptions as rugged individualists whose wealth reflects not the accident of birth but their own pluck and savvy, they


Review

peter s. goodman

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

are of little mind to share their rightful winnings with anyone else — especially not with losers who failed to erect their own fortunes, or government bureaucrats sustained by taxing other people’s loot. Freeland seems a tad infatuated with these supposedly swashbuckling capitalists. She celebrates the Russian and Chinese oligarchs whose commercial empires were hived off from the old Communist state sector in a process that looked more like looting than free enterprise. She devotes similar treatment to Carlos Slim, the Mexican magnate FREELAND SEEMS who manipulated the privaA TAD INFATUATED tization of the national teleWITH THESE communications infrastrucSUPPOSEDLY ture to yield his own lucrative SWASHBUCKLING chokehold over the market— CAPITALISTS. one that has kept prices extraordinarily high, to the detriment of small business. “Even today’s rent-seeking plutocrats work for a living,” she writes. “Carlos Slim or the Russian oligarchs owe their fortunes to rents they captured themselves, not to estates conquered by distant ancestors.” She adds: “The bulk of their wealth is generally the fruit of hustle, intelligence, and a lot of luck. They are not aristocrats, by and large, but rather economic meritocrats, preoccupied not only with consuming wealth but also with creating it.” Freeland is a bit too inclined to accept at face value the assertions of the fabulously rich, apparently confident in her ability to sort out speech served up in the service of commercial interest from genuine sentiment. In discussing the philanthropic efforts of billionaires, for example, she tells us that the Koch brothers — famous


Review

peter s. goodman

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

financiers of right-wing campaigns — “have pushed for less government regulation of industry, including state efforts to protect the environment.” This, she explains, reflects their innermost convictions. “They are lifelong libertarians who are genuinely skeptical about climate change. They also happen to own a company whose assets include oil refineries, oil pipelines and lumber mills.” Quelle coincidence! But if Freeland’s charitable inclinations toward the superwealthy are the price of admission to the ball, she does indeed bring back some decent snapshots, giving us what feels like an intimate glimpse into the daily calculations of people whose annual incomes reach ten digits. She introduces us to Holly Peterson, daughter of Pete Peterson, a founding partner of the private equity firm Blackstone, who harvested nearly $2 billion in his company’s IPO. Here we get a glimpse at the home economics of Manhattan’s Upper East Side: “A lot of people under forty years old are making, like, $20 million or $30 million a year in these hedge funds, and they don’t know what to do with it,” Peterson says, before relating a conversation at a dinner party. “They started saying, if you’re going to buy all this stuff, life starts getting really expensive… and if you’re going to have four houses, and you’re going to run the four houses, it’s like you start spending some money.” When a guest mentions that $20 million a year ends up nearly halved by taxes, everyone at the table nods in agreement. Freeland’s book is full of this sort of uber-rich porn: hedge funders complaining about how hard they work, how much they fly, how they never see their children. Yet despite the promise of the book’s subtitle, she devotes scant ink to assessing the prospects for “everyone else,” leaving us wondering how we might earn our way as more of the wealth slides toward people who already have so much.


Review

Stuart Whatley

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Asshole Rising by

stuart whatley

DAVID TROOD/GETTY IMAGES

HuffPost senior blog editor, possible asshole

EOFFREY NUNBERG STATES early in his new book, Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years, that, “What I’m interested in isn’t a distinct species of congenital jerks, but a social condition and a disposition that everyone is liable to on trying occasions.” He dismisses those who would limn the subtle distinctions between “asshole,” “assclown” or “douchebag,” writing, “everyone recognizes asshole as the primary name of a basic category of Ameri-


Review

WENDY GEORGE

Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, The First Sixty Years By Geoffrey Nunberg PublicAffairs 272 pages August 14, 2012

Stuart Whatley

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

can moral life.” Which is to say, we know it when we see it. Fair enough, but it must be said, his book dedicates much ink to bolstering the word’s distinctions. “When you hear someone proudly declaring himself an asshole, it’s a fair conclusion that he’s not an asshole at all, he’s just a dick,” he later writes. A dick knows what he is and how people perceive him. But according to Nunberg, an asshole is a singly different species. Plagued by “obtuseness,” he “… imagines that his role or status gives him privileges that aren’t really his to claim.” Nunberg cites a man barging to the front of the line in a crowded car rental agency on 9/11 to demand, “Where’s the Hertz Gold Card line?” This is the vague, yet precise, definition he establishes before moving on to his larger beast: “assholism,” a form of public behavior whereby, “The more of an asshole you can make your adversaries seem, the more of an asshole you can permit yourself to appear, so as to bond with your fellows with provocative gestures of insensitivity…” As one example, Nunberg mentions Ann Coulter’s Muslimbashing, which he suspects she does for the sole purpose of rallying her fans and enraging “the libs.” He lists others, left and right, from Paul Krugman to Donald Trump, but it’s worth noting that here we’ve already replaced his earlier meaning with something else. If assholism is the witting provocation of one’s adversaries, then its defining characteristic is not ob-


Review

Stuart Whatley

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

tuseness so much as the effective opposite: intentionality. Let’s agree that the man with the Hertz Gold Card is probably an asshole (here the word has a kind of verisimilitude, or as Nunberg puts it, it’s just the “shoe that fits”); but if that’s assholism, it isn’t the same thing as what so many politicians, media personalities and their followers do. Aren’t they just engaging in plain old partisan dogwhistling, central in any democracy? Nunberg asserts that the nature of our politics, the media and the Internet have “created a host of new occasions for acting like assholes and new ways of performing assholism,” which constitutes a new age. But he is at pains to distinguish assholism from that tired old saw, “incivility,” which he admits is nothing new. He says it’s assholism because of its tone and method of delivery — because we’re uncivil in new ways. But isn’t this the same light source merely refracting through a newer medium? Nunberg also argues that this is the Age of the Asshole because we now “find the phenomenon and its practitioners so interesting.” But a cursory glance at past literature shows plenty of compelling and “compellingly repugnant” characters who fit Nunberg’s asshole, from Homer’s Agamemnon to Melville’s Ahab to Chekhov’s smug, fatuous huntsman, Yegor Vlasych. Nunberg himself invokes Shakespeare’s Malvolio. Why are characters such as these so compelling, then as now? It’s a valid question, but the phenomenon itself isn’t new. For the Greeks and Melville these characters served a didactic purpose to warn against hubris. Perhaps we enjoy watching assholes tempt their fate, or even overturn it. Perhaps we all have an asshole id in need of succor. Or maybe assholes behaving badly aren’t what’s compelling at all. There are plenty of assholes, boring as a doorknob, who get no more attention than anyone else. Nunberg’s diagnosis of public life seems unnecessary. The book is far more interesting as a linguistic study. Its middle


Review

Stuart Whatley

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

chapters return a profit tracing the historical evolution of the word’s meaning. WWII soldiers coined it. It took to literature in Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, then was adopted by the counter-culture of the 60s, by country singers like Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe, by the feminist movement, and so forth. This signifies an unprecedented occurrence: an obscenity emerging from traditionally “low society” to be used by all classes. Never was a word that you’re not supposed to say naturalized in such a way. This is the discussion, fascinating on its own, NEVER WAS A that leads him to his grand theWORD THAT YOU’RE ory of assholism today. NOT SUPPOSED But, ultimately, what’s most interesting isn’t that “assTO SAY NATURALIZED holism” might encapsulate IN SUCH A WAY. early 21st century life. It’s that we as a culture would need such a word in the first place. What void did it fill in our shared consciousness, our exchange of ideas? Perhaps the answer lies with George Orwell, who, in the same decade that asshole began its ascent, lamented the bleeding of all meaning from words of former force and import. “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable,’” Orwell wrote in “Politics and the English Language,” also listing “democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice.” These terms, still constantly bandied about, are bereft of substance while asshole is so potent as to be proffered to label an entire age. If this is the Age of the Asshole, it isn’t because we suddenly find assholes compelling, or because it’s easier than ever to be one. It’s because it’s one of the few words left that we all seem to actually understand. These days, if you’re not a socialist then you must be a fascist; but we’re all assholes now.


Review

Lucas Kavner

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Apocalypse

Later By

Lucas Kavner

THOMAS JACKSON/GETTY IMAGES

HuffPost arts & culture reporter

S

IMON RICH IS probably the funniest writer working in America right now. He also might be the most prolific young person in the history of time. One of those sentences is a hyperbole, but both, at times, feel genuinely true when you consider what Rich has put out in the last few years. Before Rich turned 25 he was already publishing essays in The New Yorker and books of satire, which parlayed into jobs writing for Saturday Night Live and touching up screenplays for Pixar. Now the guy’s already on his second


Review

WENDY GEORGE

What in God’s Name By Simon Rich Reagan Arthur Books 240 pages August 7, 2012

Lucas Kavner

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

novel — the first of which, Elliot Allagash, was recently optioned for film by director Jason Reitman — and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Rich’s newest work, the novel What in God’s Name, continues with his brand of deceptively simplistic, often laugh-out-loud prose. The story focuses on Craig, an overworked angel in the Miracles Department of Heaven, Inc., who loves his job more than anyone. Craig is a master of small miracles, like that time he anticipated that an elderly professor at Oxford “was about to refer to his only black student, Charles, as ‘Jamal.’” To save the situation, Craig short-circuits the fire alarm, which empties the classroom just in time. He also helps people catch buses and avoid puddles.   In Rich’s world, Heaven is a sprawling campus of departments and buildings complete with sushi restaurants and workout facilities for the staff, all under the watch of God -a bumbling, self-obsessed CEO with a predilection for televised NASCAR races, golfing and reuniting Lynyrd Skynyrd. God doesn’t like working very much and hasn’t even touched the overwhelming stack of unanswered prayers on his desk.   He’s tired of humans, and doesn’t feel like helping them anymore.  “I’m gonna level with you,” God tells Craig at one point. “With that whole mankind thing? I bit off way more than I could chew.” After a particularly overwhelming day, God decides to


Review

Lucas Kavner

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

scrap humankind entirely so he can open an Asian fusion restaurant called Sola. Craig is devastated; ­humans are his life’s work. So along with his angel-crush, Eliza, Craig decides to save humanity from God’s wrath by answering one very complicated prayer from God’s endless stack: They must force two very awkward humans to kiss.  Now, certainly Rich isn’t the only satirist to imagine the afterlife like this. I found myself thinking of Defending Your Life, the 1991 romantic GOD’S NAME OFTEN comedy by Albert Brooks. In RESEMBLES A JOHN that film, heaven was “JudgHUGHES FILM, COMment City,” made up of allPLETE WITH AWKyou-can-eat buffets, comedy WARD LOVE, NERD clubs and bland office buildings, where human beings go POWER AND KNOWto have their entire lives inING REFERENCES. spected in a court of law, determining whether they stay around or go back to Earth. What Brooks and Rich both realize, however, is that none of this satire works without a love story at the center. Brooks gives us Meryl Streep, and Rich gives us two — Craig’s relationship with co-angel Eliza, and the two earthlings that the angels must force together, NYU students Sam and Laura.  Rich’s tone is always cinematic, and God’s Name often resembles a 1980s John Hughes film, complete with awkward love, nerd power and knowing references. His comedy is never anything but spot-on and succinct, continuing in the vein of his other work, which combines the best of Douglas Adams and early Woody Allen with the heart of a classic Neil Simon play.  In God’s Name, we know what’s coming from a mile away, but who cares? Rich moves us toward a potential apocalypse quickly and with a humor and heart all his own. 


Review

Gazelle Emami

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Lonely and

Laughing by

Gazelle Emami

Senior culture editor, Huffington.

GETTY IMAGES/AGE FOTOSTOCK RM

D

ON’T GO CALLING Sherman Alexie’s stories universal. “When people say universal they mean white people get it,” he argues. His assessment is even more damning when you consider his subject matter — modern-day American Indians. If there’s any group white people get, this is not it. But scan through the themes recycled in Alexie’s stories (loneliness, grief, depression), and universal would seem an obvious word choice, one selected by approving reviewers with the best intentions. Alexie is partially to blame for the


Review

WENDY GEORGE

Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories By Sherman Alexie Grove Press 480 pages October 2, 2012

Gazelle Emami

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

confusion here. Yes, his characters follow such culturally-specific trajectories that their loneliness is probably like no loneliness you’ve ever known. Where Alexie trips us up is by making such distinct loneliness feel knowable. Blasphemy, his latest collection of 30-odd short stories, is shot through with an emotional strain that’s come to characterize his writing. Equal parts old favorites (“What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” “The Toughest Indian in the World, “War Dances”) and new additions, it’s Alexie’s most comprehensive collection to date, and a powerful thwap against mainstream knowledge of American Indians (largely written in cliches from the Dances With Wolves school of learning). The American Indian PEN/Faulkner winner for 2009’s War Dances, Alexie grew up on a Spokane reservation in Washington state, but the stories here concern themselves largely with urban Indians, living with one foot off the reservation, and one foot perpetually in. Alexie tosses them in and around Seattle, with a host of identity issues that come with leaving the reservation, or alternately, never being on it — rejecting identity, overidentification, guilt at not being Indian enough. (“I suppose if you’re indigenous to a place and you’re still searching for your identity, that’s pretty ironic,” Alexie once explained to the Atlantic.) Laying bare the modern Indian psyche, he approaches it by way of his loserish protago-


Review

Gazelle Emami

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

nists — unfaithful wife, accidental murderer, washed-up basketball star who cries too easily, alcoholic father, 7/11 worker — many of whom represent exaggerated pieces of his own personality. Their stories are all distinct and self-contained, but together they impress a strong sense of mood, a sadness that drifts from one into the next. Strangely, amid all these downers, Alexie is able to keep your spirits up by toggling between sorrow and humor, and skillfully crisscrossing the two. “Lonely and laughing” is the sort of image evoked often in his characters, who wobble between sanity and madness. The laughter keeps them sane, the loneliness drives them mad, and sometimes, you’re not sure which is which. Grief is a trickier beast to laugh off (“Mr. Grief always wins,” we’re reminded), and it’s what pushes Alexie’s characters fully into madness. In “Breakfast,” a son cracks an egg and sees his father’s “impossibly small corpse” floating in the mixing bowl. In “Salt,” a senile widow thinks pouring salt on her husband could return him to her. As crazy as his grief-driven imagery is, it bristles with realism by meeting his characters’ pain at eye-level. For every grieving widow, you also have a compulsive joker who is full of tumors (“my favorite tumor is just about the size of a baseball”), a cop amazed by a homeless man’s good humor (“You Indians. How the hell do you laugh so much?”). Alexie’s heroes are losers in the most expansive sense of the word, and by making them laugh, he nods at how his culture has often responded to losing. Toward the end of this 480-page collection, these heroes begin to wear a little thin. But for the most part, each story is a page turner, the longest hitting 57 pages, and the shortest falling just under one. Long or short, Blasphemy’s stories feels like a series of literary sprints, each one quickening your heart rate and leaving you pausing to catch your breath before you’re on to the next.


Review

in brief

HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

Q uickTakes on

WENDY GEORGE

Three Books

SWIPE TO SCROLL CONTENT


Music & Literature

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Authors Talk Musicians Talk Authors

What Happens When Writers Listen and Musical Artists Read

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Singer/Songwriter Cass McCombs on Things He’s Been Meaning to Read Even when I travel, I always carry around too many books. Eventually, I find the time or the reason, but there’s never any pressure because generally I read for pleasure. Which means the list of things I’m interested in has a tendency to grow. Last month in New York City,


Music & Literature

The Decameron

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friends had me come away with a stack of things to read. Fortunately, these people know me so well I can bet they wouldn’t throw nonsense my way. Wish I never did read Pynchon, McCarthy, Henry Miller, etc. or any of the dozens of new age and self-help books, long-winded crime and sci-fi novels or near-sighted art theory essays that made their way into my hands. Maybe that’s what it is to be young — reading bad. Although it probably made me a stronger reader, I’ll never get back those hours. Now if the thing flinches in the first chapter I cut it off and send it to the thrift store. Maybe that’s what it is to get older — reading lazy. A friend at Sequence Press gave me The Number and the Siren — a decipherment of Mallarmé’s Coup de Des. I was glad to take a break from Twain and move to poetry, especially Mallarmé, who’s always a mystery to me. Which reminds me, add to the list — back to Poe and Hamlet. And find later Mallarmé. Another friend gave me Ferdydurke and Reader’s Block. Says the former is the only book banned by Nazis, Stalinists and Polish communists — good sell. Now I will add these to what I had: Finish The Decameron Ronald Firbank Voodoo and magic pamphlets Find more Spanish Picaresque novels Religious stuff Finish all Twain, London, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Willeford, etc. Music: Interviews by Ornette Coleman; Schoenberg; English and Scottish ballads And last but not least: reread all my favorite books.

The Number and The Siren

Cass McCombs is a singer-songwriter and storyteller who resides in San Francisco. His most recent album is Humor Risk.


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The Antlers’ Frontman Peter Silberman on Returning to Earth With Kurt Vonnegut It’s easy to lose perspective. When writing, I tend to get caught up in life’s specific frustrations and push them to their extremes. I think overreactions are some of the truest expressions of real human feeling, like little alarms that let us know that something’s important. Acknowledging, exploring and verbalizing these issues helps me understand them. But the fundamental limitation of this approach is that it’s an almost entirely inward investigation, a scrutiny of


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Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

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memories and relationships as they relate to me. It’s a solar system with people as planets, memories as moons and me as the sun. It’s a tactic that works, but largely by ignoring what I believe to be a pretty fundamental truth — the Universe is infinitely huge and mysterious, and none of these said frustrations and overreactions are really that important. In turbulent times, that reminder has been a reliable comfort, and it’s been a useful boundary in determining what’s worth writing about and what’s petty, narcissistic bullshit. But that line frequently needs the dust swept off it, as it fades in the face of unanticipated problems and real emotions. In the past year or so, I’ve come to understand this distinction much better through Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s The Sirens of Titan. By crediting all of human evolution and history to something seemingly inconsequential, ridiculous, yet entirely logical, Vonnegut has completely transformed my notion of significance. He’s made it nearly impossible to think of my daily concerns as more than the microscopic byproduct of an elaborate cosmic joke. But rather than allow that notion to render everything meaningless, it’s helped me develop a better perspective, to approach writing with patience instead of urgency, and to seek out meaning in the massive as well as the minute. Peter Silberman sings and plays guitar in Brooklyn-based band The Antlers. Their most recent album is Undersea.


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Music & Literature

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Author Jim Shepard on the Albums That Blew His Mind The Yardbirds Featuring

MICHAEL LIONSTAR

Performances by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page My lifelong connection to the British Wave began when I awoke one morning after a sleepout with a friend (we were on the cement floor of my screened-in back porch) to my older brother having cranked up The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” in his bedroom over my head. I was flattened by it, like so many other people were. It was 1964. I was seven. The Kinks became my soundtrack for anarchic release, as did The Dave Clark Five, with their cheerfully unsubtle and headlong string of hits, as well as The Bea-


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tles, of course. Within a year or two, I had, again through my brother, discovered The Yardbirds, through their 45s, and by 1967, when album (as opposed to singles) buying really took off, we owned The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits and Five Live Yardbirds. But it was The Yardbirds Featuring Performances by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, a U.S. compilation on Epic featuring the best tracks from all three of the band’s Guitar God lineups, released in 1970, that locked me into a lifetime of listening to mostly blues-based and virtuosic electric guitar. Emotions expressed in shockingly visceral and slightly inchoate ways: what could be more appealing than that, when I was thirteen?

Who’s Next by The Who

The early British Wave seemed to me all about anarchic joy, but being the sad figure I was, I was soon attracted to the darker elements driving the adolescent fascination with rock, especially to The Who, who seemed to have cornered the market on rage in the service of self-pity. I played Tommy so often and so obsessively I wore out two copies of the double album and the one I have now is the third I bought. Live at Leeds has to be one of the two or three best live albums ever made. But Who’s Next features that synthesized organ in “Baba O’Riley” that constitutes one of the most electrifying openings in pop music, and, of course, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” If you don’t understand the greatness of that song’s achievement, then you and I have nothing more to talk about.


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Fathers and Sons by Muddy Waters

Speaking of the blues: Brits like Clapton and John Mayall drove their fans back to listening to the real deal — the guys they were sometimes so palely imitating — and by 1968 my brother and I were driving my father out of the house with albums like B.B. King: Live and Well, The Late Fantastically Great Elmore James, and Taj Mahal’s The Natch’l Blues, but Muddy Waters’ Fathers and Sons in 1969 was a blow-off-the-roof revelation of just how much passionate exultation could be added to the amount of pain the blues were intended to express: one studio disc and one live with an all-star band including Michael Bloomfield and Otis Spann and Paul Butterfield and Duck Dunn and Sam Lay and Buddy Miles. The live half, the album cover informed us, was recorded at The Super Cosmic Joy-Scout Jamboree and featured a two-part forest fire of a version of “Got My Mojo Working” that I might cite on a short list of reasons to live.

A 25th Anniversary Show Business Salute to Ray Charles I’d grown up listening to Ray Charles — my father and his best friend were both fans, so that at any point during my childhood I might go from hearing The Music Man to Earl Wrightson to “Hit the Road, Jack” — but it was only when I came across this ABC/ Atlantic compilation double album from 1971 that I realized he was the greatest and most influential vocalist in pop history. If you imagine a spectrum on


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which you locate somewhere everything from country to easy listening to gospel to rhythm and blues to soul to the various species of jazz, the 36 tracks on that album seem like effortless apogees in each and every category. It’s like the best sort of aesthetic primer on the importance of the empathetic imagination.

69 Love Songs

by The Magnetic Fields I’d heard The Magnetic Fields before but it was my friend Charlie Baxter who turned me on to 69 Love Songs in 1999 as we tooled around Asheville, North Carolina, during one of our rare afternoons off from teaching in the Warren Wilson MFA program. That nearly three-hour boxed set shoulders aside a regiment of other amazing and deserving albums for the last spot on my list. There’s nothing quite like it: a three-volume concept album originally conceived as a music revue that simultaneously sends up and celebrates a kaleidoscopic array of theatrical and pop songs as well as the notions of love — with all its follies, ardors, ironies, and anxieties — as well as the love song itself at the same time. What else, finally, needs to be said in support of an album that features a Marxophone, a tremoloa and Chicken-shakes, and offers you Stephin Merritt’s impossibly deep and comically depressive bass vocals, and lonesome-cowboy lyrics like “Home was anywhere with diesel gas/love was a trucker’s hand/never stuck around long enough for a one-night stand”? Jim Shepard is the author of six novels, including most recently Project X, and four story collections, including most recently You Think That’s Bad.


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Music & Literature

Author Rick Moody Lists Five Albums for Five Decades Here’s a chronological list, one album for each decade of my life. Because my taste has changed so much over the years it seems sort of inaccurate to indicate where I am now and nothing more. This is perhaps another way of saying that music is always about change. It’s always moving, and so are you.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

THATCHER KEATS (MOODY)

by Simon and Garfunkel

My mom was afflicted with Simon and Garfunkel in the sixties — I’m pretty sure we had every note they had recorded in our house — and those albums had a great impact on me. Not only because the harmonies were extraordinary, but also because the lyrics were ambitious. There are some incredibly sophisticated songs on this particular album, but almost anyone can understand


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what’s happening in the title song. Art Garfunkel’s voice in “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is so impossibly beautiful that it’s hard to fathom. It sounds so American, and so young, as if it carries all the burdens of those days in it — the war, the youth movement, the despair, the faith. Everyone knows now: it took Garfunkel something like a hundred takes to do his vocal. Until he had driven Paul Simon and everyone else crazy. It was all worth it. And here’s some advice for future music aspirants on American Idol and The Voice: stop singing this song. You cannot compete.

Armed Forces

by Elvis Costello and the Attractions The seventies were the decade when I started to pay attention to music, instead of just hearing it on the radio, and therefore there were many, many albums that had significance for me: Roxy Music, Led Zeppelin IV, One Size Fits All by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Station to Station by David Bowie, Foxtrot by Genesis. But those were all things that I heard before punk happened. One day at the high school radio station (where I worked) I was meant to play Armed Forces as part of a show on new releases we broadcast. I knew nothing about this record. I thought it was kind of adorable at first, not much more, until “Green Shirt” came on. Wow. Not the usual thing, not the usual love song, not the usual rock-and-roll posture: “You can please yourself but somebody’s gonna get it.” Tuneful, strange, futuristic, ominous and played with great style by the band. The Attractions, probably road-weary from incessant touring, sound like they are attached to one very complicated brain. A truly amazing record, and one that changed the way I thought about the popular song ever after.


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Music & Literature

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New Day Rising by Hüsker Dü

This record was released in 1985, on SST Records, and I was in graduate school at the time, at Columbia, and drinking too much. This album, therefore, was a great tonic in bad days. The track that made the deepest mark was “Celebrated Summer,” which featured: “Getting drunk out on the beach, or playing in a band / And getting out of school meant getting out of hand.” Beside the nostalgia of this thought, the tenderness of it, which was not something we associated with Midwestern hardcore in those days, there was an acoustic guitar break in “Celebrated Summer.” I got it, the loud and fast part and the quiet part, and falling in love with this track then led to their great cover of “Eight Miles High,” originally by The Byrds, which led to their masterpiece Zen Arcade. Bob Mould, who wrote 51 percent of the songs, made some great music later, but no one who was in Hüsker Dü ever again scaled these heights — of tenderness, nostalgia, vulnerability, and rage. I was never quite that way again, either.

Anthology of American Folk Music Various Artists

I guess if I’d had especially hip parents, I might have heard about this recording in the sixties, but I didn’t have hip parents. So I was primed for the CD re-release by Smithsonian Folkways in 1997. I had started gravitating toward quieter things by then, things that preceded digital recording, things that had traditional arrangements (where banjo and fiddle were especially relevant). I also loved (and love still) the lyrics of old folk songs. Those songs were all murder and union halls and disconsolation.


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This was the music I was listening to, and most moved by, when I started playing music myself in my thirties and forties. This particular anthology, assembled by a lunatic genius called Harry Smith, re-engineered American popular music twice over (both on vinyl and on the occasion of the CD re-release), in the process reminding us how unimportant ornament and musical pretension are. These are some of the best songs ever produced in the American musical tradition. And some of the simplest too.

Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy by Sun Ra

In my forties, I began to like music that didn’t sound like everything else. I liked music that was casual about genre. I liked music that prized its ability to express emotion above all else. By this I do not mean songs about teenagers in love, but rather music that expressed the complexity of feelings. Jazz, it turns out, does this better than almost anything else. Who knows where Sun Ra came from? He says he came from Saturn, I believe, though he probably came more from the racially segregated South. He had some strange ideas, some sci-fi obscurantisms, but these ideas did not keep him from being one of the very greatest bandleaders in the history of the jazz idiom. Players stayed with him forever; some of them stayed after he died, because what he did was so singular, so unusual, so exuberant. I didn’t quite get Sun Ra until my forties, but once I did, I found him inexhaustible, especially in this period in the mid-60s in which he was experimenting with the free jazz approach. This is really what beauty sounds like to me now. Rick Moody’s acclaimed books include The Ice Storm, The Four Fingers of Death, and most recently, On Celestial Music.


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q&a

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Q&A

Mark Mothersbaugh Revisits His Literary Roots HUFFINGTON 09.23.12

photographs by

Sam Comen


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EVO FRONTMAN Mark Mothersbaugh has a lot to say about literature. Most famous for his musical talents, both in Devo and as the composer responsible for the sounds of Rushmore, The Rugrats and The Sims 2, Mothersbaugh is also a visual artist who has ventured into painting, drawing and customized ‘art rugs.’ While his exploits in the world of letters have been less well-documented, Mothersbaugh’s literary roots run deep. He spoke with Huffington about his obsessive writing habit, love of Pynchon and secret desire to accidentally run into Jonathan Safran Foer. —Danielle Wiener-Bronner


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Q&A

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What was the first book you remember thinking was worth reading? Gravity’s Rainbow. I grew up in the Televangelistic capital of America – Akron, Ohio. I became very curious about what was really happening in this world we lived in – what was real, what made sense and what didn’t. I loved Gravity’s Rainbow’s dealing with free will and predestination and turning a lot of common assumptions upside down, and the fact that it easily moved between references and footnotes that were very scientific or philosophical or academic and juxtaposed them with fictional ones, little mindless ditties and poems and the ridiculous kind of clutter that’s in everyone’s mind at some point in the day or in their life. I just loved that so much, and it made it a book that helped make the I LOVED GRAVITY’S world make sense to me. RAINBOW’S DEALING

WITH FREE WILL AND PREDESTINATION AND TURNING A LOT OF COMMON ASSUMPTIONS UPSIDE DOWN.

Which author or work or fictional character do you most identify with artistically, and why? Probably our main characters in 1984. I was really impressed with Winston Smith. The book that most moved me in the past 10 years was Everything Is Illuminated. I liked Jonathan Safran Foer’s storytelling methodology, and I felt there was something fresh in his writing style. He seemed like somebody I would really enjoy having lunch with, Jonathan. If we were somewhere where nobody felt like it was awkward or weird that we were there together ­­— like if we were waiting in an airport for a delayed flight, or something. What role has literature played in your life? While I was taking an English class in either my freshman or my sophomore year


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Q&A

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I heard these teachers complaining about this student named Jerry Casale. He had written this kind of beat, acid, sex story — short stories — and had turned them in for something at school and these teachers were like, “He’s such a smartass.” When they started talking about him it made me go, you know what, I want to meet that guy. I don’t know if it was his major, but his secondary study was English, so through him I met very interesting people who had a whole different set of references. And it was through Jerry that I ended up finding out about


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Q&A

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Thomas Pynchon. I think literature, because of Jerry’s references, was very important when we started Devo. Your book, Beautiful Mutants, is mostly image-based. Have you considered delving more deeply into writing? Yes. I write all the time. I do artwork that’s part of a diary, and I write short stories to go with them pretty much every day. I was just counting things up because I’m doing a museum show in a couple of years — there’s close to 300 books that have 100 drawings with stories that go along with them. They’ve been an image bank, a source of lyrics and just a reference point for all sorts of things. My intention [for the exhibit] is to have one room look like a library, where the books would be laying out so THE STORIES I WRITE you could go through them. When I was a kid, the book ARE OFTEN LITERthat I liked the most was Aesop’s AL TO EVENTS THAT Fables. There was a version of it HAVE HAPPENED that my father read stories to us OR OBSERVATIONS kids out of. I liked the idea of the THAT I’VE MADE, AND short story format. The stories I SOMETIMES THEY’RE write are often literal to events FANTASTICAL. that have happened or observations that I’ve made, and sometimes they’re fantastical. What do you read to your kids? When they were really young, before they could read at all, I was reading Dr. Seuss. [Recently] I bought a book called How to Disappear and they both seem to really like that one, they’ve gone through it a couple of times. And Where the Wild Things Are, of course. They like all the normal stuff, because they go to a school where all the other kids are reading Harry Potter and Coraline and Emma. They write stories, they love writing stories, both of them. They make little books all the time. I really like that about them.


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writing prompt

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Pencils Out!

WENDY GEORGE (NOTEBOOK); SHUTTERSTOCK (DESK)

We’re sure by now you’re itching to write your own great work of fiction. Here’s a little prompt to get you started. Click on the comment bubble below to contribute the beginning of your story, and scroll down to see the tales others have dreamed up.

“The batteries in your flashlights have just died. The temperature’s dropping and your tent doesn’t feel quite as safe anymore. You have two options...”


Editor-in-Chief:

Arianna Huffington Special Issue Editors: Claire Fallon, Nicholas Miriello, Danielle Wiener-Bronner, Stuart Whatley Contributing Editor: Andrew Losowsky Executive Editor: Timothy L. O’Brien Executive Features Editor: John Montorio Managing Editor: Katy Hall Senior Culture Editor: Gazelle Emami Senior Politics Editor: Sasha Belenky Senior Voices Editor: Stuart Whatley Quoted Editor: MacGregor Thomson Viral Editor: Dean Praetorius Social Editor: Mia Aquino Editorial Assistant: Jenny Macksamie Editorial Intern: Emma Diab Creative Director: Josh Klenert Art Director: Andrea Nasca Photography Director: Anna Dickson Associate Photo Editor: Wendy George Designers: Eve Binder, Troy Dunham, Greg Grabowy, Gloria Pantell, Susana Soares Production Director: Peter K. Niceberg AOL Mobile SVP Mail & Mobile: David Temkin Head of UX and Design: Jeremy LaCroix Product Managers: Mimmie Huang, Luan Tran Developers: Scott Tury, Mike Levine, Carl Haines, Terence Worley, Sudheer Agrawal, Jacob Knobel, Eisuke Arai Tech Leadership: Umesh Rao QA: Scott Basham, Eileen Miller Sales: Mandar Shinde, Jami Lawrence AOL, Inc. Chairman & CEO:

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