Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Kick a Child, Save a Life

I'd like to ask you a question about violence.

Consider the platform at any train station. The sky is grease-grey today. Many adults are lined up waiting for the train to come in, and it blares its horn to signal its closeness. One of the adults is a mother, who looks exhausted, smudged with grime, leaning for a moment's respite against an advertisement board.

Her son springs from her side and runs down the row of waiting adults, arms out at his sides, pretending he is flying. He whirls around a bench and flings himself toward the train tracks. Just as he crosses the warning line at the edge, one of the adults whirls around and kicks him squarely in the chest, such that the boy falls on his butt on the concrete rather than fall onto the tracks. The boy opens his mouth to cry as the train rushes into the station ahead of them.

How do you feel about what the adult did?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Segregation of the Best Man

Finally, here comes the bride. I didn’t know they wore white, too. Looks funny against her… brown. Why don’t they call them ‘brown’? You should call a thing what it is.

Think better thoughts, man. Think warm thoughts; look like you’re thinking warm thoughts. Look at Jasper; look how he’s looking. Okay, less lust than he’s got. What a perv. You can ogle her later tonight, dude. Her parents’ are in the front row.

Front row left. Front row right are Jasper’s. White on right, or, I guess kind of beige. His dad is kind of turnip-colored now. Souse.

Why are my guts churning? Why does this feel wrong? Jasper’s so happy he’s rocking on his heels. The perv looks horny as hell, which is as close to happy as he gets without pot in hand and baseball on TV. He isn’t wrong. My guts are wrong. Look at her.

Am I wrong?

Rainbows. When we were really little and I drew rainbows, I’d have all the colors in their own bars. Nobody said that was wrong. I’d look out and see a real rainbow and all the colors would mix into each other, and I go, “Oh yeah, that’s what it is.” But the next time I got out my Crayolas, damned if I didn’t scribble all the colors in their own lines. That wasn’t wrong. Everybody draws rainbows like I did, except sometimes I forgot orange.

That’s just how people work. Jasper knows this. Akeelah knows this. You jump rope during Gym, and you draw rainbows during Art, and then you put all your papers together in a binder. You have a sock drawer, and a shirt drawer, and a pants drawer. If the economy isn’t crapping on you, you have a bed room and a kitchen. You put kitchen things in the kitchen, and bed things in the bed room, and socks in the sock drawer. Akeelah didn’t get that dress from a pile of crayons and used books. She bought it off a rack of dresses at a store that sells dresses, because that’s how order works. Wish she’d bought a looser one.

Okay, smile. Smile. Yes, smile for Akeelah like you don’t think this is weird. A little nod. Let Jasper make the big gesture. Don’t make it seem weird that she’s not wearing a veil at a freaking wedding.

Think of sports. Think of all the players in all the teams in all the cities in all the divisions in all the conferences in all the leagues in all the world. Number 67 from the Red Sox can’t just join the White Sox because he feels like it, or because he loves the shortstop. They’d holler at him, just like my mom would have hollered at me if I tied a red sock and a white sock and called them a pair. People have sock drawers for a reason.

Is the room dizzy?

I am not going to pass out. No, I am not. Jasper will never forgive me. Okay, he’ll forgive me a minute later, but he’ll never let me live it down. If I pass out on top of the groom, or worse, fall onto Akeelah’s side. Onto the black side. The brown side of the wedding. Then I’ll be the one messing up the order of all things, and Jasper will never stop making fun of me.

Jasper! Stop eye-banging her like that. She’s a person, not a pair of floating mams.

She’s a person. He’s a person. They want to be together. Isn’t like I’m going to scream, “Rainbows!” when the pastor asks for us to speak now or never yadda-yadda. I know I’m wrong.

Do I know I’m wrong? My guts know one thing: sock drawers, baseball, Gym class and English. Separating things is the way. It’s human nature. Can I go against it? Is that possible? I mean, if I know that what I know is wrong, then don’t I also know another thing that is right, and isn’t that also in me? Am I right and wrong, stowed away in the same brain drawer?

I mean, I don’t have to marry her. I don’t even have to touch her. Jasper will take the ring and then he’ll touch her. They’ll handle all the touching themselves. God, she looks so happy.

I will not pass out. I will not pass out.

Say your vows already! I need to sit down. About now, I need a bottle of Grey Goose and the head off of that ice sculpture.

Not that ice sculpture heads go in drinks. Cripes, she’s getting to me.

They’re not even listening to this priest. He probably cost a lot of money, and all you’re doing is salivating. Jasper, your mom is watching. Your bride is watching. And Akeelah, you, you…

Man, she is watching. Has she been looking in his eyes like that this whole time? Why isn’t she mad at him? Don’t they get mad? How can you not be mad at such an obvious perverted fuck? I mean, he is my friend, but he wouldn’t be if he stared like that. I even want to slap him, and I’m not on her side. I mean, the best man is never on the bride’s side, but that’s only… fuck it.

Did she wink at me? Is she happy I’m here? Lady, you would not be winking if you could hear my thoughts. Unless you can hear them. In which case… I mean, why didn’t you wear a veil? Also, is his horniness funny to you, or do you actually love him? Because I don’t know if I can handle this. I’m really sorry if I pass out at your wedding. You look very nice, as Jasper is making obvious. I think I wouldn’t mind red and white socks going together if they looked as happy for it as you do.

God, please make them say their vows already so I can get drunk.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Life is Backgammon

“Backgammon is the game of our age. The Munenori and their Contiguities see it as a sport for kings, able to be played sitting. For the commoners, though, it is the correct balance of chance and strategy. In Chess, there is nothing uncertain save your enemy’s strategy. That’s nothing like life. And in Dice, there is nothing planned, only the value of a face roll. In Backgammon, you roll and are given this many spaces to move your units, and must move wisely. You plan into chance, and you organize what you’re given, all at the peril of another person who is doing the same. You need to build blots of defenses, but you also need to expand beyond them, into increasingly perilous territory. To each player there is a reassurance. To the strategist, there is strategy. To the layfolk, there is the luck of the roll. Neither skill nor chance will grant you victory every time. Best and last: you can get exceedingly lucky and make it all the way to the end, then not roll the proper numbers to get your pieces off the board. It’s the board game equivalent of losing a war to budgeting, which is the theme of our age.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Never Okay

"What if her blouse is soaking wet?"

"Then that's gross."

"What if she doused it on purpose? Then she's inviting it."

"Then she's gross, and you shouldn't give her the attention she wants."

"What if she's wearing a really bright green bra that I can see through her tank top, and it catches my eye because it's so unusual, and I can't help but look for a second on instinct?"

"Then look for one second. No longer."

"What if she takes her top off?"

"In what situation are you going to see someone do that?"

"Well, besides with you?"

"That's becoming iffy as it is, Samuel."

"What if her tanktop snags on a passing truck, tearing it off? And she's thrown to the pavement by the sudden blow?"

"What the hell?"

"She could be hurt from her fall, and I'm the only one around. Surely I should go over and help her, and in the course of being a good Samaritan, I'd look occasionally. I'm her only hope of medical attention."

"Then throw yourself under the truck to stop the driver, and ride with her to the hospital."

"Cripes. That's just mean."

"It was your stupid hypothetical, Samuel."

"Well, is it at least okay to look at her boobs while we're riding to the hospital?"

"For one second. No longer."

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Big R.A.Q. 2012

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this year's Rarely Asked Questions. Hopefully I'm in a cake-coma right now, but rest assured when I regain consciousness I'll be very grateful to you all. Cheers!

Jihan asked: Have you ever wished you were a girl?
Certainly! What man hasn’t stood in a long line for the Men’s Room, seen the empty door to the Lady’s Room, and pondered a temporary swap?

Jamie Cameron asked: You are briefly transported to a universe where everything is the opposite of what it is in this universe. (Everything in this universe still exists in that one, however. So, for the case of this question, the opposite of here is there, not nowhere.) You track down your parallel self. What is your parallel self like?
Parallel John never shaved his beard. I watch him from afar for several days, in mixed awe and disgust. He walks away in the middle of most conversations, not out of deliberate rudeness, but because he's bored and uninterested in pretending otherwise. He's at least a hundred pounds heavier than I am, having clearly indulged in every food I've weeded out of my diet. He's made quite a living writing formulaic Genre fiction with no prose style on the Kindle, and using a pseudonym to sell positive reviews to self-published authors. He's never gone bankrupt over a surgery like I have, though he's needed more surgeries. He talks to himself so much that even I feel sorry for him, though he seems to enjoy his imaginary friends more than I do. I think our crucial difference is that a decade ago when he started serious critical thinking, he applied it outwards to the world rather than inwards. I can't be certain, though, because a decade ago I focused my criticism inward and thus suffer from irrational degrees of self-doubt.

Karen Wojcik Berner asked: What's your favorite vegetable?
Every one that came to mind is actually a fruit, so I’ll say fruits are my favorite vegetables.

Tony Noland asked: Has your life turned out the way you expected it to? So far, anyway?
I’ve developed far fewer superpowers than I’d expected at age 10. Certainly, with the neuromuscular syndrome, none of my adult life has been what I anticipated. But I think by the end of my teens I developed a reasonable outlook, if a little pessimistic, and where I’ve deviated from there has largely been positive. I’ve been more successful in publishing and making friends than I’d imagined, for instance. Also, I really can’t undersell how much I did not expect dieting and exercising to destroy my gallbladder. Healthy living, baby!

The Elephant's Child asked: What is your biggest regret? And thank you so much for giving us your birthday present. A truly generous gesture.
My regrets can be funny things. My biggest regret ought to be letting the doctors perform such egregious malpractice that they crippled me at 13, or exercising myself into a gallbladder failure, or at least not figuring out my girlfriend was cheating on me sooner. But I’m at peace with those, possibly because they were so big that I’ve thought them through. My long-festering regrets tend to be petty, like not thinking of a clever thing to say until an hour after an argument ended. I’m writing this before going to a major literary convention, and I almost guarantee you that as of this posting, on that day, I’ll more acutely experience regretting not asking another author out to coffee than I do never getting to know my paternal grandfather before he died. I can be a petty little beast, even in hindsight.

Joshua Londero asked: Will you remember the little people when you are famous?
Never. Godzilla was an early and profound influence on me.

Ross Dillon asked: Which 21st century technology are you most intrigued by for its future?
Digital data storage might be it. If cognition, of a human, transhuman or other stripe, can be stored, invented, duplicated and modified as such, we’re looking at a punctuation in our evolutionary equilibrium. The problems it poses, for the replication of self, the loss of the analog original, and a suddenly laterally expanding society, are only rivaled by the wonders it offers. Never in medical history would we have such a shot at isolating and treating mental illness. Is your knee inoperable? Try this new prosthetic body. And just imagine where fetishes will go once Dad’s midlife crisis causes him to download his consciousness into a Corvette.

Helen Howell asked: What is the best lesson you have learnt so far in your life?
By far, it’s how to be alone. I’m at my worst when I forget that one.

Tim Van Sant asked: If we describe the best of the questions you get as being well done, how will you resolve the paradox of something being both well done and rare at the same time? And what medium will you use to resolve it?
High quality does not require high frequency, so there is not actually a paradox to begin with. There is some coping necessary, though, to handle persistent mediocrity or poor quality. This I will remedy through passive aggression and ice cream cake. I’m told there’s an ice cream cake in the house right now, so I’m ahead.

Tom Gillespie asked: When is it due?
The doctor has begun drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s teeth, so I should say it will only be a minute.

Susan Cross asked: Do you take your cell phone into the bathroom with you?
I only have my cell on me when I go out, and it would be suspicious to leave the phone outside a public rest room. Historically, I prefer talking to myself than listening to messages while on the can.

Peter Newman asked:  Right, so a question I wouldn't ask of anyone... On judgement day (or equivalent), what crimes would be weighed against you?
My sense of humor. I imagine cheating on my diet so often will come up, especially when I kept claiming to strive on it. The money I spent on anything except charity, I imagine, is something I’ll get hit with, just like every other human being. We’re all going down for that.

Samari Smith asked: How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood?
There is no way that this is a question you ask rarely. I’ve only reproduced your question here to publicly shame you.

Marc Nash asked, with his own unique choice of capitalization: who wrote THE post-war Epic American novel, Don Delillo ("Underworld") or Philip Roth ("American Pastoral")?
Don Delilo strikes me as likely to live longer, thus sucking up to him has a better chance of bearing fruit. Thus: Don Delilo’s evanescent masterpiece, Underworld, best captures the post-War heart of America.

Larry Kollar asked: Indie or trad?
In a decision between a major publisher or an independent publisher, it’d probably go to whichever had the healthier marketing plan. It’d be something of a dream to work with Tor, and they have such admirable editors that I think I could get a lot out of the collaboration, in addition to giving them someone who is to the left of Scalzi on the Goofy Scale.

Anonymous Sylva asked: As you are someone who would be categorized as 'awesome' by even the most conservative estimates, I believe you to be uniquely qualified to answer this two-part question. First, what do you consider the most radical of dinosaurs? Second, how would you have made said dinosaur even more better on a redesign?
It’s hard to deny that Grimlock am king. I’d make him even more better, and perhaps demonstrate finesse, by granting him the Autobot Matrix of Leadership and putting him in charge of the good guys in my new robot cartoon, The Incompetons.

Beverly Fox asked: What's the most messed-up ill fate you've ever wished upon someone? (This someone, BTW, can be a fictional character you really hated or a superhero that was too cocky for you to stand- it doesn't have to be a real person.)
I’ve routinely wished evil fates on hard bosses in videogames. The one that amused and horrified the most bystanders was, “I hope your kids need things you can’t pay for.” I feel like that’s at least a start.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Praise for Lindsay Cavanash’s New Novel

“…possessing a unique merit…”

“Cavanash’s novel is so funny you’ll almost laugh.”

“A sure bet to be nominated for many obscure awards, and to likewise win none.”

“Fearlessly apes the least appealing strands of [Hawthorne] and [West].”

“Seldom does fiction have such a sense of place….
I thought we’d all gotten over that.”

“…America’s only heir to J.D. Salinger, surely chaffing to be disowned.”

“One is almost disappointed she did receive warrant a fatwa.”

“Painfully funny, achingly entertaining, rigorously enthralling–
[C]avanash simultaneously captures what we go to novels for
and sucks the fun out of it.”

“Comes with a flashlight app.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Sleep in Your Mother

He slept in his mother. She held him safe and stiff until the Devil came. God was always there in a square of incognito, but you couldn't see Him all the time. Only when the Devil came. He shone through the gap and illuminated all. His fingers got into the boy's eyes, and he shrugged off his mother for the day ahead. He never abused her. He stayed in her arms no longer than he was asleep, and always reset her sheets. Respect was important in the room.

He had twenty-one guards. Three were horizontal, and eighteen stood vertical. They were cold, standing near enough that no one could slip between them. Not even when the boy was first born and thrown into the room was he small enough to escape. The guards only stepped aside when his meals were brought. Afterward, they always they swung back to cold attention.

There was firma and incognita. He spent most of his time on firma, allowing his mother to slumber while he stared at the guards. Firma was supportive. It never shifted or sent him away. It was always cool beneath his bare feet. In the winter it grew bitingly cold, but not of its own volition. It had no more choice in its temperature than incognita did of its ungraspable height. Some days he looked at incognita, high above and housing the square that was God. Some years he wondered when he would grow tall enough to touch them. No year yet had he gotten tall enough.

As much as he enjoyed the sight of God, the ability to regard the guards and fathom incongnita, he loathed the light. If he sat in it too long his skin ached and burned. It was sent of the Devil. The Devil illuminated all and woke up the others. In the halls beyond his guards, mad men screamed nonsense. They threatened, fought and murdered each other - always in the presence of the Devil. Never in his absence. Never when God was alone, when it was dark and when mother welcomed him into her lap.

He showed the Devil his strength. He showed him that he could clean his mother and keep her straight, and showed him that he did not need her. He spent hours laying on firma with his bare skin. He would sit up over and over, or climb the guards and suspend himself. Every day he exercised his body, not until it was sore, not until the veins in his limbs stayed out, not until he was so tired that eyes quaked - but until the Devil ran away. Then it was dark. Then he lay there in his mother's grip and whispered to her how brave he was. He promised into her down that if the Devil came back, he would do it all again, and show that beast he was strong. The Devil always came back.
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