1.27.2013

Alphus

This is part of serialized short story. I posted the beginning on 11.03.2012, and if you click on the label, “The Adventure of Alphus Gibb,” you can see all the available pieces together. I’ll be posting new segments on Sundays. I hope you like it.
***
13/13

Masha had only broken into a slight sweat while given birth and had requested nothing for the pain. The delivery room was crystalline white and smelled deliberately of nothing. There was a bed, a silver bedpan, and a washbasin on a lone table with sharp edges. The window was crosshatched by thin lines that led out into the hospital hallway. Lisa and Suzan stood on tippy-toe to try to watch their mother. Their faces showed little amazement, and in truth, they would remember very little of the birth; it was so dull. The doctor merely moved between table and bedside, and on the last trip he held Alphus in his hands. Masha was covered in a sterile green tarp. The girls would remember the thick window, strange because it did not lead outside, and the rolling metal carts that would bear down on them. The carts had two shelves that were covered in metal objects and plastic bags. The people pushing them did not have any definable facial expressions. What was the smell of birth? The baby boy looked withered and fleshy. His skin was covered in fluid carved from his mother’s womb, and his eyes were tightly shut. The doctor spanked him; he needed to hear him wail to know that he was breathing. Alphus didn’t cry, but he breathed nonetheless. A steady, if labored, in and out. They were alone in the delivery room: Masha, Alphus, and the doctor. There was no sound but breathing.

Masha Gibb, her son Alphus, and her two daughters lived in a small town. Masha settled her family there because the wheat had not yet been harvested and shone like Rumpelstiltskin’s gold. It grew up and down hillsides like flaxen waves of a frozen ocean. Masha’s hair was the color of the wheat, and she cropped it short. She was average height but had a slight build and was often mistaken for being younger than she was. Her shoulders were narrow and hard.

She bought a house for cheap, the previous owner having fallen upon hard times – a mortgage, a divorce, no work and less motivation. The bottom half of the house was made of brick and the top was wide paneling, a shade of blue so light it was almost white. Brick stairs led up from the driveway and through a cement arch to a small shaded landing at the front door. Masha let the previous owner, Kevin, stay with them for a while. They had a bad mole problem in the backyard, and Kevin, a man of tan complexion and nasal drawl, would sit on a folding chair and throw back beers; he’d wait, mallet in hand, for a mole to show himself upper-terrestrially. Masha would occasionally find him passed out in the grass, the yard as extensively moled as ever. The underground rodent colony actually made the ground rather soft; so soft that one afternoon it simply swallowed Kevin up. Masha found the yard empty, upon returning from her new job, and Alphus and the girls investigating a sandy human-shaped indent that had formed in the ground. Kevin’s chair was empty and a beer bottle, some liquid still inside, lay on its side by the sandy grave. Masha led them into the house. Lisa cried. The next day Masha set about pouring the yard with concrete.

Alphus had been born on the morning of the shortest day of the year. The day after his eleventh birthday, school was canceled, and the next. The school building stood empty, snow piled almost up to its eaves. There was a road from his house that ran, like a trench, downtown, past the McHenry snow farm, and around one round-about to the vacant plain of snow that was once, presumably, the school parking lot. Alphus remembered how Ms. Kingsly would park in the far corner of the lot and take her naps in her car during lunch.

While the other kids would play together, chase each other and make up rules to their own games, Alphus would sit in the corner of the gravel field outside the school. He would watch the sunlight play through the tree leaves and count as many pebbles as he could without running out of numbers. Sometimes he would watch the other children, watch the way their heads and bodies would move when they ran. During morning recess he would pace the border of the red gravel field, searching the ground with his eyes just like the old neighborly man would sweep the field for metal. Both were looking for treasure of sorts. Alphus found a new rock each day. He’d pick up the one he had chosen and finish pacing his circuit, rubbing the rock through his fingers and turning it over in his palm. He preferred rocks that had been cleft and smoothed on one side. He would put his rock of the day in his pocket and then put it on his shelf in his room once he got home. His favorite rock, a white limestone with pumice-like holes on one side and a smooth basin on the other, was kept on his bedside table. When he couldn’t sleep, he’d rub the smooth side with his thumb and imagine the light dancing through the leaves. The leaves would fan from dark green to a shade that was so bright it was almost yellow but still the deepest pure green he could imagine.

           The snow quickly covered up all the rocks in the red gravel field, and he could no longer pick out his favorites. After a week of snow, Ms. Kingsly, having just woken up, found Alphus tunneling, hands bare and raw, through the snow. When she snatched up his wrist, she found a pebble cupped in his palm. It was so round it may have been tumbled smooth by a glacier or sanded down by ocean waves. Though the glaciers had been melted for centuries, and there wasn’t an ocean for miles.  

-
The End

1.24.2013

Pipes and Beards

I read The Revolution was Televised by Alan Sepinwall, lately. (The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers who Changed TV Drama Forever.) I raced through it as I alternated between being enthralled and just wanting to finish. There's this throwaway paragraph on Mad Men that says:

"Though the fashions and popular culture still resemble what we think of as the 1950s rather than the '60s, hints of the counter-culture become stronger when Don is pushed to hire a pair of clever young copywriters named Kurt and Smitty, who can give Sterling Cooper access to the youth market that's so hard to reach. [...]

"It's [...] a huge leap from someone like Paul Kinsey, a Draper underling born only a few years before Smitty, but who grew up in a generation where being older was something to be admired, not feared. (Paul takes on various middle-age affectations like a pipe and a beard and is, unsurprisingly, left behind as the decade marches along.)"

"Pipes and beards -- I know those," I thought when I read that. When I was in college, it was very common for junior men to take on both those things. Heck, some of them even golfed! And later they moved on to scotch and Lipitor. I just never associated it with reverence of  middle-age.

I thought everyone of my generation was like me in that I was deeply affected by Peter Pan in my youth. "Never grow up" was the most sound advice I had ever heard. I mean, have you MET grownups?

Note: it's not really that I dislike beards. Some people look very handsome in them.

It's just that it makes me worry about my generation, this drive to look and act older. I worry as if it were identifiable or measurable. I know that by lumping so many people into a generation I render my statements meaningless -- generalized, simplified, inaccurate, not real. And of course, I'm really just noting a somewhat-common trend among college-educated white men that I know.

But guys, I thought we were the lost boys....

1.22.2013

A Late Christmas

Traditionally, late January is the time of year that my family sends out its Christmas cards. So I figure, a la Brown, it's not too late for me to do a Christmas reflection.

Christmas-Eve-service reflection, more specifically. My thought (I have one) on this might be confusing -- Lindsay looked at me in silence for several seconds when I was telling her about it. The good thing is it's also very boring. So if you don't get it, you're not missing much. Mastery in this area is non-required.

My favorite part of the Christmas Eve service is right before we do the candle-lighting bit and the pastor stands up front and explains the etiquette for not singeing your neighbor's clothing or scalding them with wax as you grow the candle flame along the rows to all the congregation.

Of course, the part after it is great - the lights going dim, the rise and fall of all those points of light, the heat coming off small flames indoors, the hands all connected to the light attached to a people who, let's be honest, don't really get together much.

But once the candles are all lit, it's back to the weight of Christmas. People in a crowded room, the solemnity of a divine birth, the silence of trying to get a little bit of that wonder back - the wonder of being a kid at Christmas or the wonder of believing in something.

The weight gets to be a lot to handle for me, and it's nice to have a sudden break from all that magnificence. The pastor has finished his or her sermon; I'm feeling that incomparable joy one gets at a church service almost being over; she's been talking about the lowly conditions of our savior's birth, about the conditions of our very cold world, about the pain and heartache and loneliness that often accompanies Christmas.

And then she needs to lead us in transition to the candle lighting. She explains, almost apologetically, sorry for breaking the mood, that the person with the unlit candle needs to tip their candle up to the already lit one in the hands of their neighbor. Not the other way around, don't want to burn anybody. And parents, will you please keep a close eye on your children.

I like it because we finally get some instructions I can handle. Joy to the World! is too much for me. And the instructions set the tone for the rest of it. I love watching the people be extra careful with their candles, strangers taking pains to not set one another's hair on fire.

And maybe it's sacrilege. Maybe I'm faint-hearted. But I'll take that -- that moment when one candle lights another and, as instructed, the people are briefly acutely mindful of their neighbor's well-being -- over feelings of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

1.20.2013

Alphus

This is part of serialized short story. I posted the beginning on 11.03.2012, and if you click on the label, “The Adventure of Alphus Gibb,” you can see all the available pieces together. I’ll be posting new segments on Sundays. I hope you like it.
***
12/13

“Raisins,” Lisa said, holding the small pellets in the palm of her hand. She popped one into her mouth. Suzan was scowling next to her, unhappy she had found no treasure herself.

“Oh!” said Kevin, leaning forward in his chair to watch Lisa handle the mole poop.

“Here, Alphus,” Lisa pulled Suzan over to where their brother was sitting.

“Lisa, don’t give those to your little brother,” Kevin said.

“Why?” her face confused with a tint of suspicion.

Lisa told him how they were grapes that had grown wrinkly like old women. She said maybe they used to grow them, right here in the yard, a million years ago. Maybe the dinosaurs put on aprons and baked them into pies or mashed them into jelly.

“That’s why these ones are so hard,” she told Kevin. They were dinosaur raisins. She rolled one over her tongue.

“Is that so? And uh missy, how many of them dinosaur raisins have you had?”

She shrugged.

“They’re delicious. You can have some if you want. They’re all over the yard. I can find more… do you think I could sell them?”

Kevin eyed her face intently. She was busy moving the poop around on her palm. Suzan sneered at her.

“How much would you be selling them for?”

“Fifty cents.”

            “I s’pose I could eat fifty-cents worth.” And he fished around his pockets, producing two blackened quarters. Lisa counted him out eight pellets, seven of which she watched him eat. The last one he gave to Suzan. 

1.13.2013

Lincoln Park Zoo








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Alphus

This is part of serialized short story. I posted the beginning on 11.03.2012, and if you click on the label, “The Adventure of Alphus Gibb,” you can see all the available pieces together. I’ll be posting new segments on Sundays. I hope you like it.
*** 
11/13

Gauss Anne was sitting at Alphus’s kitchen table not drinking the hot chocolate Alphus had put in front of her. It was four in the morning, and it was the most Alphus could do to keep his eyes open. She had made a discovery.

“Call me Copernicus!” she had said.

Alphus stared at her from across the table, his chin on his hand and burgundy robe snuggled around him.

“You know how I’ve been telling you about the snow’s equilibrium point? …Alphus?”

Alphus lurched upright before his chin slid completely off his hand and crashed onto the table.

“The snow should be up around our ears! Well, I mean, it should be up around an elephant’s ears or someone quite as tall as an elephant. Eight meters. Eight meters and 47 centimeters, based on the data that I have extrapolated. And it’s certainly not that since you yourself saw me manage to make it to your front door. It’s got to be going somewhere – I am not willing to throw out all conservation laws on account of this phenomenon! And I believe I know what’s causing the sink –”

Alphus had fallen asleep. This time he had slid backwards in his chair and rested, mouth gaping open. Gauss Anne talked long enough without any encouragement for Alphus to dream.

Alphus dreamt that he was in an attic. He was at the top of a robust set of stairs, at least robust by attic standards. The floor was unfinished blond pine, and there were dead beetles; they lay squished everywhere. Alphus was standing at the top of the staircase and off to the side. A blue vapor was all he could see at the bottom. A group of people, two men and a woman, were grouped at the other side of the attic. Their backs were hunched so much that they looked to be almost crouching. They were carrying black pipes made out of metal or plastic, Alphus couldn’t tell which. They all stared at him and started to creep forward. They were moving in sync with one another: left foot forward and a bounce as if they had springs and right foot forward….

The girl, Jennifer, was folded up behind Alphus, between him and the wall. He knew they were after her. They wanted to capture her and put her into a jar. She had been in a brief case, but she had escaped. She had been on the run until they cornered her up in the attic. He looked down at the girl; in his line of vision his legs looked like tree trunks, tall and sturdy in his black jeans.

“Aller!... Va!” Alphus had taken French in school and it came back to him in his dream. The second time he shouted he remembered to conjugate the verb. He was commanding the people who were trying to get Jennifer; he was pointing for them to go down the stairs.

“Va!” He could feel his anger streaming out of his eyes as he willed them to obey. They seemed not to notice and kept coming towards him. All he wanted was to protect her, to scream at the bad people that they needed to va, to get out. Maybe they didn’t know they were doing a bad thing, or maybe they knew but they needed to be told not to do it. Maybe he could scream at them long enough for Jennifer to escape, to make sure that, if nothing else, the bad people were alone.

“Va!” Alphus yelled and pointed, thrusting his whole arm. “Va!”

“Alphus, that’s not an appropriate response to my discovery.” He had yelled, and Gauss Anne had woken him from his sleep.

“I rushed over here to tell you because you are my friend and I thought you cared about this. That’s exactly what I get for acting on the basis of an assumption instead of fact. Based on your behavioral output you have not been listening and the only thing that I can think to conclude is that you do not care about me or my research!” At this she started to cry.

Alphus was much more awake now than he had been before. He sat at his table across from his friend in silence, as if turned to stone.

“The rigors of scientific life are taxing and could seem selfish to other people in a scientist’s life, but in the long run any form of discovery is for us all, isn’t it? And someone needs to be measuring, making quantitative analysis, so that we know that seven plus five is twelve, though our senses might deceive us. I know that they sometimes do, but I have the audacity to project that mine do not, and I conduct tests in order to get useful results, but for what? For no one to listen to my work, to appreciate my labors…”

            Alphus helped her from the kitchen table and guided her to the front door. He was tired and not sure what to do with someone who spontaneously erupted in such fashion. Gauss Anne’s tirade was starting to fade as she fell short of breath and tears, and she gulped for air more regularly. When they reached the door, he patted her hand reluctantly as if she might burn him, shuffled her out, and closed the door behind her. With her thus muted, he walked back over to his kitchen chair, having judged the bedroom to be too far, and slumped back down into it, asleep, his head on the kitchen table. 

1.06.2013

Alphus

This is part of serialized short story. I posted the beginning on 11.03.2012, and if you click on the label, “The Adventure of Alphus Gibb,” you can see all the available pieces together. I’ll be posting new segments on Sundays. I hope you like it.
*** 
10/13

            The hospital had big square tiles on the floor. Alphus was watching the squares. The nurse started talking to Masha. Some tiles were burgundy and the rest were white.

            Masha told Alphus that the hospital was borrowing Suzan for a while. He slept during the ride home.

            “Safety is an illusion.” Masha told Alphus. She sometimes had these flashes of parental guidance.

            “Feeling safe comes from comfort and denial. Comfort comes from denial, too. From lying. I’ve been told to have my keys out before I walk to my car and to not jog by myself or sleep with someone I don’t know very well, as if that would be enough to get through life. They should have told me to go around naked, and start drinking at 3:00, and to take the doors off the hinges. Because glass can break, and locks are only an inconvenience. People in line at the grocery store can say things that make you want to take a shower afterwards. Or a couple of showers. Going to sleep at night is a wildly irresponsible act. You’re right to be afraid of the dark.

“The only thing for it, Alphus, is bravery. Alcohol and bravery. Only if you’re very good at lying to yourself can you count on feeling safe.” 

1.03.2013

Not Alone

Mitch and I went to Bristol Brewery in Colorado Springs over break. (We had Winter Warlock and Compass IPA on nitro.) (Rachel was supposed to meet us there but ditched us.) I was telling him how growing up, by which I really mean my whole life but especially when I was younger, being a woman was regarded as being a bit silly. Silly and unreliable. Sometimes someone would say something directly along those lines, but for the most part it was just part of the atmosphere. Watery sexism for the masses.

I was telling him over my second beer how, in the past couple years, there's been some budging away from that in my life. My strategy used to be that if I could show no signs of woman-ness or girl-ness, then I could maybe do something cool with my life, be taken seriously. Frustration at other girls who would do things that confirmed that girls were emotional, attached -- or when they made mistakes -- compressed a kind of rage within me. All these girls, where was their self-respect?

But I've been reading Alice Munro this year, and she turns girl-stuff -- role expectations, the pressures of desire, the duplicity of one's mind -- into first-rate, suspenseful human drama. She can have a character make an apple pie without dragging in rolled-up puffy sleeves and a red-checkered napkin. Munro does fiction always real and always with semi-paralyzing gravity.

And then there was WILD FLAG at Pitchfork and Carrie Brownstein playing her guitar -- and I mean, not like I'm used to, not self-conscious, not to look pretty or sexy or to look anyhow to anyone (even though she is a performer up on a stage). She played to the music -- and I mean, she also played the actual music, but she played to it in that the way she played it made the music more awesome, like she was lifting it up and giving it to everyone. (Janet Weiss was amazing on drums.)


Julia Gillard breaks into this speech in the Australian parliament. You can feel the rage coming off her as she methodically, perfectly butchers the leader of the opposition on his sexism and the sexism that has been tolerated in Australian politics.


I won't even mention GIRLS from this year, even though it's very worth mentioning. But there's this comment on an AV Club article written by the author of the article (Todd VanDerWerff) in response to someone's remark (presumably a snarky one that says something disparaging about Lena Dunham based on how she looks - the actual comment isn't really the point); it makes me tear up a little reading it. It's well-written, well-considered and makes me feel stuck-up-for and, moreover, he seems right! He's seemingly done a stand-up-against-sexism-and-general-poor-dialogue thing without losing his credibility.

(Talking to Mitch about all these things would require more than two beers. The actual conversation cut some corners and was more like "Mitch, there have been some things (!) this year, and I think women might actually be cool.")

And most recently there's been an article by A.O. Scott in the New York Times about heroine movies in Hollywood. It's, again, extremely well-thought out and written, and it contains the paragraph:

"The stated desire for more, better or different kinds of movie representation, like other forms of feminist advocacy, is often met with defensiveness, or heard as special pleading. Girls like action movies, too, so what’s the problem? Women talk about men all the time, don’t they? Lighten up! I promise I will, but not before noting a deep and ancient bias that underlies the way we talk about movies, and what we see in them — namely the assumption that stories about men are large, important and universal, while stories about women are particular, local and trivial."*

There are people out there saying and doing these things; I could have spent my adolescence being myself and it would have been possible, after all, to matter to people.

We drove home to my parents's house. We played cards with my brothers. I was feeling a little tipsy. One of my brothers taunted the other one by comparing him to a girl, and the rest of that discussion is a bit fuzzy to me. I do know that I left the room saying, "I'm fucking serious," (with tears).

See, because unlike these other things, these other people that I've mentioned, my standing up for women and feminism and All That is not measured, is not well-spoken. (I have this thing where I yell at people.) It's a crush of that rage I've been compressing and the frustration of convincing people that I know what I'm talking about and that what I'm saying matters.

My brother told me I was being irrational and that it was just a joke. My mother looked at me from across the room with a face that said -- how dare you scold my precious sons!

I went downstairs to my old room and sat on the floor between my bed and the wall. I saw it as an unfortunate end to what had been a nice evening with my family... who I don't get to see often. (Shit.) (And the other thing with my walk away line: my mom and brothers really don't like swearing. It's a whole other debate we have.) I figured I'd just go to bed, then. Too mad, anyway.

And if you have made it this far, I hope it pays off like I want it to because my mom walked downstairs to me without turning on the hallway light. She told me she remembered one time when she went home to her parents's house, and her brother said something that made her so mad she started arguing with him. "And everybody was looking at me like, 'What's her deal?'" She gave me a hug, and I felt a lot less mad.

Not so alone after all.

*I found those last two bits thanks to the NPR blog "Monkey See," which is also great.

1.02.2013

Go Somewhere

You know those bikes with the broad seat and the scooped frame and the upright wide handlebars? Those are not the epitome of bike-dom. I feel this needs to be mentioned because I've seen those bikes in advertisements and romance photos and greeting cards. You'd think they were top of the line or something*.

I found a few examples online. (In both, there's only one bike between the two of them... (?))




I've never actually seen someone who looks like she's having fun ride one of those bikes. A fun bike is one with drop-down handlebars a light, durable frame, a narrow seat -- something aggressive and fast. People can certainly own whatever bike they want, and cruisers have some advantages for beginners (easier to balance, e.g.), but going in for a bike as a prop rather than as a toy/ vehicle of transportation, exercise and enjoyment is selling the experience short.

*Of course, their presence in advertising has nothing to do with their quality as bikes. They're meant to induce a nostalgia or to vaguely reference a simpler, more serene life. Things like aggressive handling or speed have no place in this intended world.