Monday, March 17, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: If you edited a short story collection…

If I could have my own personal collection of great short stories, it would open with E.B. White’s short poem, “Critic.” That poem reads:

“The critic leaves at curtain fall,
to find, in starting to review it,
he scarcely saw the play at all,
for watching his reaction to it.”

Then the first three stories would be:

-Mark Twain’s “Cannibalism in the Cars”
-Eudora Welty’s “Where is That Voice Coming From?”
-Stephen King’s “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet”

The interesting hitch is that, besides them being three writers I love and three stories I can’t stop re-reading, Welty studied Twain and King studied Welty. In a very abstract way, you’d start the collection with a literary descent. It would also help that Twain’s story is delivered from a questionable narrator, whose questionability is strongest as it ends, Welty’s story was written by such a strong and inexplicable voice that she actually titled it to admit she didn’t know how she was coming up with all of it, and King’s story is literally about where inspiration comes from.

After that, we’d go to:

-Percival Everrett’s “The Fix”
-Gabriel Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”

I don’t know enough Gabriel Marquezes to use his middle name. You’re among friends here, Gabe.

-James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
-George Kaufman’s “Annoy Kaufman Inc.”
-Ray Bradbury’s “Zero Hour”
-Ron Carlson’s “The H Street Sledding Record”
-Steve Martin’s “Changes in the Mind After Fifty”
-Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
-Jonathan Swift’s “Battel of the Books”
-Philip Dick’s “The Eyes Have It”
-Roger Zelazny’s “The George Business”
-Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”
-Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”

I would close it out with “The Things They Carried,” being such an amazing piece of voice, but Asimov’s story about reversing entropy is too fitting an end. As not to spite either modern American literary tradition or science fiction canon, though, I’d actually close the collection with Fredric Brown’s classic short short, “The Last Man.” That goes:

“The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

I’m going on another trip, folks. I’ll be back on the 25th. I may post fresh Bathroom Monologues from the road if I get internet access, but I have no idea if that's feasible right now. If you would do me a small kindness, list some of the short stories that would be in your personal collection in the Comments section. With any luck I'll have a lovely little reading list when I get back. Themes are very welcome.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bathroom Monologues: "I like how certain sides of your brain are female." –Randall Nichols

Some weren't just female, but downright hermaphroditic. Reggie Dickens figured it was best to keep one’s mind as limber and fertile as possible, and that meant keeping every piece of the human mind operating. It provided him a prolific career in American letters, though his family only discovered this through his estate when he passed away at 63. While he'd never gotten his crack at the Great American Novel published, he had published many lesser works, under two separate names.

Christopher Pytens had a decent line of hardboiled mysteries, notable for their gruesome murderers and shrewd caricatures.

Regina Delacroix had published a good wealth of poetry in regional magazines, and had two novels about growing up in the South - rather interesting considering Regina was actually an overweight man from Oregon.

His sisters were quite surprised to find that Regina Delacroix had even done book signings, and one of the store managers they tracked down said she was, "a simple delight, if clumsy. She was such a big woman, you know."

The Dickens sisters were afraid their mother would find out her son had been a cross-dresser, until they found he didn't own any dresses. Or make-up. There were no secret panels in his apartment or skeletons in his closet (except the plastic one he put on the porch at Halloween).

And the Dickens sisters were positively mystified when one store manager mentioned that Regina Delacroix had done a book signing with Christopher Pytens.

"For two people of such different subjects, they really seemed to get along. Rather adorable to watch that slight man chat at her," she said.

They tried to track these phantoms through the publishers, but there wasn't a single lead or photograph, even on the dust jackets. Apparently they’d managed everything through Mr. Reginald Dickens.

A strange anonymous couple showed up to Reggie's funeral, though: a small man and a moose of a woman, both in black, both wearing veils. From all sights, Reggie’s death had really broken them up inside. They sobbed and whispered something before the coffin, and were out of the place before either Dickens sister could snag them. Only their mother got the chance to chat the couple up, and she reported that they were just fans who had been, "touched so deeply by Mr. Dickens' writing," that they'd just had to come up and say their goodbyes.

Their mother couldn’t say anymore about them without bursting into tears. You see, they'd had his eyes.
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