Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Nine

Part eight is here.

Part nine: Direction, not speed

The thing about being on an open road is that it is an open road: open to possibilities, limited in direction.

Agatha, in her stolen Taurus, drove along a highway in Ohio and it stretched out before her like a prophecy--so straight and sun-baked that nothing was unpredictable. She could foresee each dip. She could anticipate each hill. The signs were pre-ordained because she could see them coming miles ahead before blowing past them in the car.

“You miss me yet,” one sign said. A picture of a former president grinning at her.

“Stay at Motel 6 THIS EXIT,” another sign demanded.

“Evelyn’s Consignment. Turn your threads into material wealth.” A picture of a charmingly moth-eaten coat.

Agatha’d started calling the two headless child corpses in the back of the Taurus “Moulder” and “Dee Skully.”

Several hours had passed since she fled Dubuque. In those several hours, Agatha had wearied of ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack, had discovered both an absence of replacement CDs in the car and an absence of radio broadcasts. So she drove in wind-thumping silence. So she started talking to the children.

“Hill coming up in a mile or so,” she called back to headless Moulder and Dee Skully. Or, “More trees to your right, if you want to look.” Or, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Why I’m driving. Civilization is clearly over, so why fight it?”

The thing about a road of prophecy, where every bend and dip and hill stretches out before you like a foregone conclusion, is the clouds pass the sun and you see the shadows on the earth. The emptiness surrounds you, and you feel alone. The awareness that the road ahead is one of many roads, leading to more roads, leading to highways and driveways and to the overwhelming expanse of space and time.

Agatha focused on the billboards.

“Hey kids,” she called to the backseat of the Taurus. “Wanna go to the Thurber House?” she’d ask.

“Hey kids, Ingrid Hansen really wants to sell our house. Look at her smile!”

A cop pulled her over just outside of Columbus--he’d been hiding behind a sign, maybe. For the first time in miles, Agatha glanced in her rearview mirror, saw flashing lights, took a good look at the road stretching out behind her like a fulfilled promise, and pulled over.

Just like that.

Pulled over. The wheels of the Taurus rolled into the dirt, kicking up pebbles that hit the passenger’s side of the car and made the sound of static. Her hair settled into a bit of wind-beaten, aged architecture around her face. “Wow kids,” she said. “Flashing lights in daylight are mostly useless.”

A few days earlier, Agatha had spoken to her mom. She’d hung up. She’d tried to write a thesis about ‘Notes from Underground,’ which she began--she thought cleverly--with these sentences: “I am a poor student. I am a terrible student. My brain hurts.”

The Taurus rolled to a stop, and behind it the police car parked. The driver’s door opened. A short, pregnant-looking man scrambled out, notepad in hand.

“Well kids,” Agatha said. “Little Moulder. Little Dee Skully. Looks like this is it.”

Agatha knew the policeman would understand she was mad. Agatha knew the policeman would see she was driving two child corpses down a highway in Ohio, headless child corpses, and he would immediately call for back-up. The policeman would run the license plates of the stolen car. The policeman would discover she’d shot two men and strangled a woman back in Iowa. Jail, trial, death sentence.

The policeman scribbled down the license plate, then moved forward, approaching the open window to Agatha’s left. She could hear the crunch of the broken asphalt beneath his boots, and could suddenly smell the stench coming from the backseat. Agatha brushed her hair away from her eyes and practiced her innocent smile which had always worked with her father.

When the gun was placed against her flat forehead, she managed a gasp.

“Don’t look at me,” the policeman said. “Look at yourself.”

She did. She looked down. Looking down seemed just as normal as staring down a long highway in Ohio. She saw the hills and dips and curves of her body and knew them just as well as any highway, and knew those hills and dips and curves held as many possibilities as any road leading inexorably forward to a destination--death or New York.

Her left leg shook from fear.

“Yes sir,” she said.

“What do you see?” the policeman asked.

“Me,” she answered.

“You see you.” The gun pressed harder into her head, and there was a clicking sound that didn’t sound promising.



“Do you not notice the two decapitated bodies in the backseat?” Agatha asked

“You.” The policeman’s voice seemed to come from the gravel of the road. “You do not exist unless you actually look at yourself.”

“I must’ve been going 100. Maybe 150.”

“It’s not your speed I am concerned with. It’s you’re direction.”

Agatha turned her head to look. The gun slid along her sweaty forehead as she moved her eyes up, away from her lap, to take in the vision of her arresting officer. Had Moulder and Dee Skully still possessed heads, they might’ve joined her in the assessment of Officer Racigan, a short man with a bald spot and large gut who had joined the force to have an excuse to wear a hat to work (he’d tried for minor league baseball, but failed).

Agatha repeated. “‘It’s not your speed,’” she said, “‘it’s your direction?’ Really. So I can go as fast as I want with as many corpses as I can carry.”

“You’re going East, right?” Officer Racigan pushed the gun deeper into Agatha’s forehead. “If you were headed the other way, I wouldn’t give a shit.”

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Eight

Yeah, I'm so going there. Here's part seven.

Cobble's Monologue

“In the beginning was the word,” Cobble began, “and the word was ‘Fuck.’”

Elena nodded. She dropped into the chair hoping her hips would stop burning.

“‘Fuck’ was the proper response. Grandma.” Cobble dropped to one knee, took Elena’s hand in his. “You didn’t know this? You didn’t notice it happening?”

She was in her chair, which was comfortable, and she was sitting beside her window. The sunlight leaked in along with a soft cool breeze which stirred the curtains and stirred the fronds of her fern and stray hairs on her head. Below her, Mrs. Guzman’s ghost stared at the half-devoured corpses of the Leibowitzs.

“I’ve spent three days,” Cobble continued, “in the Cloisters. Three days. I don’t spend three days anywhere.”

More breeze. More listening. More decaying Leibowitzs.

“James was torn apart,” Cobble said.

Elena nodded.

“He loved me, you know. He loved me.” Cobble touched his cheek to Elena’s hand and tightened his grip. “He said he loved me. And I loved him, I did, I loved him even though I didn’t say it.”

Elena nodded. Breeze moving fronds. A Guzman ghost staring at corpses, glad not to be hearing a voice, missing a daughter, a husband, a body.

“So ‘fuck’ was all anyone could say. People we loved were torn apart in front of us and there was nothing we could do about it. Death all of a sudden, and the only thing you can do is stand there, say ‘fuck’ and then run like hell because you might mourn, right, you might want that loved one to be running with you but, fuck, you just saw that loved one torn apart and there’s no chance he’s running anywhere. You’re alone. You can run to safety or you can stay and be torn apart too.”

Elena nodded. Settled into her chair. Wished she had a nice cup of coffee to drink.

“So you run. I run. I ran. I ended up in the tower of the Cloisters with a few tourists from Omaha, you know, a few guys from Washington Heights, just people, just some people who’d lost or hadn’t lost, had survived and I don’t know... I don’t know. I don’t know who any of those people were but they were there, and we survived. We held off whatever was banging against the door, whatever, whatever was trying to use the elevator. On the second day, we raided the museum.”

Elena tightened her own hand. She leaned forward in her comfortable chair and grasped her grandson’s hand with both of her own. Squeezed.

“There are a lot of things in the museum you can use,” Cobble said. “Daggers. Swords. Suits of armor. Statues. Herbs. Heavy things, sharp things, holy things, projectiles. Things. We used them and I hope to hell they’re still using them since I left because being there for a few days....”

Cobble smiled.

Elena nodded. Her hair moved in the breeze from the window. Her desire for sugared coffee increased. Mrs. Guzman stopped feeling sorry for the Leibowitzs and started hating Cobble’s nasal voice.

“The thing is,” Cobble said, “Jesus has returned.”

Elena stopped nodding.

“Returned what?” she asked.

“Himself,” Cobble answered.

“Returned himself to what?” she asked.

“The world.” Cobble clutched Elena’s hand, Elena welcomed the breeze. “Jesus is back.”

“Oh, dear. He never seems to leave.”

“No. Grandma, he’s back. Everyone’s either been chosen for the Rapture, or left behind, or slaughtered. Don’t you watch TV?”

"Haven't we been through this already?"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Seven

Here's part seven. Part six is here.

Agatha Guzman was just outside of Dubuque, Iowa, in a stolen car, chewing the fingernails of one hand while steering with the other. Today, she had killed three people--two with a gun, and one with her bare hands.

Agatha was driving a 1989 Taurus, and there were two corpses in the back seat, strapped upright like crash-test dummies by seat belts. The corpses had once been children, maybe four or five, and if they had still possessed heads, those heads would be lolling forward like late-summer sunflowers.

The windows of the Taurus were down, which helped kill the stench of rotting flesh.

Before stealing the Taurus, Agatha had tried to remove the two corpses from the car, which was abandoned in a parking lot of a gas station. The corpses were in the back seat for so long that the decaying flesh had mingled with the fabric of the seats, and Agatha was in a hurry. Best, she thought, to drive with the corpses than to waste time working them free.

It was a nice day, really. The sun was out, the air was bright and clear, the drive--aside from the shifting to the left or right, depending on derelict cars--was smooth and easy. And the Taurus had come equipped with a CD--a key in the ignition, two corpses in the back seat, and ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack blasting from the speakers.

The kids in the back seat lurched one way, then the other. Their headless necks strained against the seatbelts, which in turn dug into their headless skin.

Here’s what Agatha knew: A lot of professors had disappeared. One day, she was studying for finals, and then another day she wasn’t required to take those finals. Then another day she shot two men. Then, just before diving into the Taurus, she strangled a woman. The woman said, “He’s risen but I haven’t,” and tried to smash a Coke bottle into Agatha’s skull. Agatha put her two hands around the woman’s throat, screamed in a way she’d never screamed before, and watched the woman’s face strain, then go blank, then go dead.

Since Agatha was to have been taking her Latin exam at that moment, she could only think, “So this is declension,” tensing her hands on the woman’s neck, watching the color of the woman’s cheeks go from red to blue.

Then from blue to periwinkle. The rosy color of Agatha’s hands remained constant.

The rosy color was the same in the hand gripping the steering wheel as it had been when both her hands gripped the woman’s neck.

Agatha passed an elderly man, standing on the hood of a car, mostly naked, and he was shouting this: “I’m left behind! I’m here because I need to be!”

And Agatha thought this: “You should have on pants.”

She bit one fingernail, and it started to bleed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Six

Here's part six. Part five is here.

Part Six: Terrible Swift Sword

Elena sat quietly in her green chair, magnifying glass poised over a particularly memorable passage of Great Expectations. She was unaware that she’d read the passage at least five times in the past ten minutes, delighting in Dickens’ description of Miss Havisham over and over again. Unfortunately for Mrs. Guzman, sulking around a large potted fern near the open window, Elena was in the habit of reading aloud to herself in her firmest, mostly unbearable voice.

“If I hear about that goddamn withered bride inside her withered bridal gown one more time,” Mrs. Guzman said in her firmest, completely inaudible voice, “I’m going to murder you with this fern.” She reached abruptly for the pot, and her hands passed through it.

“...everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its luster,” Elena sang out, “and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress...”

Mrs.Guzman screamed silently to herself.

Cobble burst into the apartment just as Elena was beginning the passage once more. Elena, several feet away, looked up sharply from her book, dropped the magnifying glass, and was just about to gasp when she recognized the general shape of the figure in her hallway to be her grandson.

Cobble appeared to be carrying a large cane, which he wielded like a sword.

And of course the cane was a sword. If Elena’s eyes had been better, she would have been terrified at her grandson’s appearance, which was that he had blood and bits of human insides all over him, one eye was swollen shut, one pant-leg was ripped from the thigh to just below the knee, and his left arm badly bruised.

“Cobble,” Elena said, placing the book on an end table beside the now-cold, untouched cup of coffee. “I’m glad to see you dear, but please knock. You scared me half to death.”

Cobble limped down the hall. “Alive,” he said. “Thank god.”

“I said ‘half to death,’ dear. Of course I’m half alive as well.”

Mrs. Guzman, who could see just fine, noticed the blood and the bits of human insides, dismissed it all as probably a new fashion of which she was unaware, and locked her eyes on the sword gleaming dully in the sunlight. It looked very old and probably belonged in a museum. There were jewels embedded in the hilt and along the blade, which was also covered with blood and matted hair.

Mrs. Guzman, for the next five minutes, continued on unnoticed as she tried desperately to steal the sword from Cobble with the intention of shoving it through Elena’s voice box.

“Do you not know what’s happened?” Cobble asked.

Elena got to her feet. “Let me put on my dress. You have a seat. You look tired.”


“I’d get you some coffee, but it tastes horrible without sugar, and I’m out of sugar.”

“It tastes awful because you brewed it with--”

“Sit.” She started off across the living room to her bedroom.

Cobble dropped the sword to the hardwood floor, where it rattled and clanked. Mrs. Guzman lunged for it and ended up in the Leibowitzs’ apartment downstairs--and saw, incidentally, that the Leibowitzs‘ had been slaughtered and partially eaten some days ago.

“Grandma, listen.”

“What is it?” She was squinting at the deceptively heavy cane on the floor.

“Something has happened. No one knows what.” Cobble approached his grandmother, his hands reaching out to grab her lightly at the wrists. “People have gone insane. They have. They’re... have you not watched the news?”

Elena’s hip was hurting. Sharp pains. She took a step back, towards her chair. “I don’t watch television. I can’t see it. The last time I had it on, every channel was playing horrible horror movies, so I turned it off.”

“That was the news,” Cobble said.

“They mentioned the return of Christ,” Elena said. “I figured they were all Easter-themed horror movies.”

Downstairs in the Leibowitzs‘ apartment, Mrs. Guzman wished Cobble would stop engaging his grandmother in conversation, and would just deliver a lengthy monologue. Not that his voice was much more pleasant. Too nasal.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Five

Jesus, this may never end. Part four is here.

Part Five: Done

Elena took a step forward, into her hallway. She was still thinking of the sugarless coffee sitting blandly on her semi-clean kitchen counter, and of the book she’d read a dozen times but would be surprised, yet again, at its conclusion.

The air in the apartment was stale. It had been months since she’d last opened a window to let in fresh air, and almost as long since she’d actually
ventured out into the hallway--living moment by moment in the staleness of her apartment, then taking a brief journey out of it, then returning made Elena realize just how oppressive the air in her apartment had become.

Now she had a task. Before the coffee, the book, the chair beside the living room window she never looked out of, she would now have to pry open that window to let in the soft early spring breeze.

She would try not to look out at the park across the street. Too depressing. It reminded her of her late husband, and the walks they once took, and of his death, and of the walks she took there to console herself, and of her decaying body full of creaks and sharp pains.

“I hope I die before I get old,” she croaked to herself.

Behind her, Mrs. Guzman flinched. That awful voice, she thought. Jesus, it must be destroyed.

Mrs. Guzman tensed her muscles, and was unaware that she was floating a half-inch above the obnoxiously-patterned hallway carpet. When she sprang forward, she screamed. Elena didn’t hear the scream. Elena had one hand on her doorknob and was taking the last shuffling step across the threshold.

Mrs. Guzman slammed into the old woman’s back.

Then Mrs. Guzman slipped through Elena. Then Mrs. Guzman, too, was inside Elena’s apartment hallway, staring into the tunnel of light.

Elena shut the door behind her, passed through Mrs. Guzman without a word, and limped her way to the living room window. She parted the curtains, nearly toppling forward into the glass. Grunting slightly, Elena’s twisted fingers pried open the window and shoved it upwards. Even though she’d promised herself she wouldn’t look, she looked.

Inwood Hill Park had changed since she last looked out on it. For one thing, she didn’t recall so many dead bodies, ripped and bloodied. Last time she’d seen the park, most everyone playing on the hill was alive, moving, running, laughing, talking. She was certain about that.

“Bloomberg,” she muttered. “That man can’t do anything right.”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Guzman, through a series of observations, was coming to terms with her current corporeal state and the many implications of not, in fact, having one. “Elena,” she said sharply, loudly.

Elena didn’t respond.

“Your apartment smells like cabbage,” Mrs. Guzman said.

Elena stared out of her window. There was a small child on the hood of a car. The child's left leg was missing--it appeared to have been shredded before removal--and a portion of her head was gone.

Elena stepped away from the window, promising herself she’d never look out of it again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"You got Bush in my Kanye." "You got Kanye in my Bush."

On the ‘Today’ show, which is still on believe it or not--I guess the unemployed are good for the economy by keeping daytime television workers in business--Kanye West recently apologized to former president George W. Bush for making Mike Myers extremely uncomfortable during a live Hurricane Katrina fund raiser.

The fund raiser, which featured a variety of celebrities performing, manning phone banks or delivering PBS-style “give money” pitches, aired five years ago. It became an overnight sensation. Here’s why it did not become an overnight sensation: a poignant performance of Randy Newman’s song ‘Louisiana 1927.’

Here’s another reason why it did not become an overnight sensation: random shots of a malicious-looking Jack Nicholson answering phone calls from obliging pledgers (“Hi. I’d like to donate money to the Katrina fund,” some poor housewife in Omaha might’ve said. “Weeell. Let’s see. For every article of clothing I’m able to guess you’re wearing, what say you give 10 dollars. Howsaboutthat? We’ll start with... panties. You wearing panties, Midge?” “...Yes.” “Well that’s 10 dollars, isn’t it. Now let’s see what else I can guess you have on.”)

Here’s the actual reason the fund drive became an overnight sensation: Kanye West, standing next to a clearly terrified Canadian actor, calling then-president George Bush a racist.

A lot of people, in the weeks and years after that moment, have had an opinion about what Kanye said. And Bush’s opinion came out recently. “It was,” Bush told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview, “one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.”

Which isn’t true, obviously--the most disgusting moment of George Bush’s presidency was the moment he was sworn in in 2001.

Anyway. Kanye apologizing to Taylor Swift: appropriate.

Kanye apologizing to George Bush: inappropriate.

When Kanye said what was on his mind in 2005, he was reacting to observations he’d made. When Kanye said what he said, it really did seem as if George Bush cared more for one brain-dead white chick than he cared for thousands of suddenly-homeless, suddenly-lifeless Black people.

And what Kanye West said made Bush’s administration a bit more sensitive to the racial undertones of Hurricane Katrina--I mean, Bush’s mom had just given an interview where she said this:

What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.

After Hurricane Kanye hit the airwaves, there were no more comments like that from any Bush.

There’s not a person alive who should apologize to George Bush. Not even Kanye. For two reasons.

1.) He didn't call George Bush a racist--his only mention of Bush is, "George Bush does not care about Black people." Not caring isn't racism. Not caring is simply not caring. Until Kanye said what he said, it had never occurred to the Yalie grad to care about minorities, or that some members of a minority group might need care.

2.) Most of what Kanye West criticized had nothing to do with GWB. Kanye started off this infamous Mike-Myers pants-shitting moment by criticizing the media, which did in fact do what Kanye says they did: "We see a Black family, it says they're looting. See a White family, they're looking for food."

Here's the iconic picture of Katrina, from the media:

Kanye West might apologize a lot, for good reason.

For any reaction he might've had during Katrina, tho, no apology needed. Unless he wants to apologize to Mike Myers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Four

Looks like it's a five-parter. Here's part three.

Part 4: Narwhal

The narwhal tusk was beside a fireplace in the room where the unicorn tapestries were hung. The tusk was long, and it was elegant--a sharp spike, a deliberate point, an answer to the question ‘why’.

James and Cobble entered the room. They were making their way through the Cloisters castle.

“Narwhal,” James said.

“What?” Cobble asked.

“Narwhal. Look.” James pointed to the tusk. Cobble tried to not seem annoyed--James had insisted on coming to the Cloisters, had insisted Cobble accompany him, had oooh’d and aaaaah’d over obscure medieval trinkets, and was now standing in the same room, a few feet away, with one of the most famous works of art in dorm-room decoration history. However, James was ignoring the unicorn tapestries. He was instead pointing at a tusk.

“It’s gorgeous,” James said.

“The light in here is terrible,” Cobble replied.

“It’s a castle. They didn’t have track lighting in 1400.”

“They didn’t have a snack bar either, but we just spent 20 bucks on two sandwiches.”

“Narwhal. Tusk.” James smiled. Touched Cobble’s cheek. “Thanks for coming with me, by the way.”

“I get it. It’s a tusk.” Cobble gestured to the tapestry. “Oh look, it’s the most famous thing in the museum. Why aren’t we looking at it?”

James flicked his eyes to the tapestry--a unicorn trapped in a flimsy fence. “He looks comfortable. And his horn is mythic. This one is real.” James pointed at the narwhal tusk again. “Unicorn fake. Narwhal real.”

“Both horny,” Cobble said.

“Ha-ha.” James moved to the unicorn, struck a dramatic pose, pretended to be awe-struck. “Happy?”

Cobble was. He’d always loved the piece, which was one in a series of tapestries depicting the hunt and imprisonment of a unicorn. And he was loving James, standing in the dark stone room, and he was loving the people who were in the room with him, and he was loving the morning light sneaking in through the gothic windows.

“Fine,” Cobble said. “Gonna take a picture of you.”

“Please do.” James moved to the side of the tapestry. Brushed a hand through his hair. Cleared his throat for effect.

Cobble retrieved his camera from his pocket, pointed it at James, and was about to tell him to smile when a thing--no other way to describe it--a thing grabbed James, pulled his chest to the left, his hips to the right, and suddenly James was in two pieces and his blood was on the tapestry.

Strange, Cobble thought.

Shit, Cobble thought.

Narwhal, Cobble thought.

The thing was human.

It happened quickly: James was split like an atom, blood spraying into the weak morning light. The camera flashed, then fell to the floor. The thing, the human, stood in the blood and the entrails and the whatever-else of James’s insides. The thing was wearing a blue blazer, khaki pants, had skin the texture of bad papier mache, teeth the color of burned coal, eyes the color of rubies, and its breathing sounded like the asthmatic fat kid from Cobble’s 5th grade gym class.

People screamed.

Without thinking, Cobble grabbed the narwhal tusk and shoved it into the thing, the human. He felt the point pierce the thing’s chest, shatter its breast-plate, slide into the heart. Now he was in a room with panicked tourists, a decidedly dead James, the unicorn tapestries, and a pissed off, not-dead thing. The narwhal tusk jutted from its chest.

“Should probably run,” Cobble said.

“No shit,” someone responded, pushing past him.


Here’s what will happen: Cobble will not make it to Elena’s building in time to stop Mrs. Guzman from ripping out Elena’s throat. But Mrs. Guzman will not rip out Elena’s throat.

And, not that it’s much of an issue, but Mrs. Guzman’s daughter, Agatha, will never learn that her father left her mother.

Also, even less of an issue: no one will ever learn why Elena’s water was the color of urine, was foul. The reason, in case you’re wondering, is rather boring: the city’s water supply was clogged with thousands of rotting, shredded corpses. No water purification system on earth could filter away such impurities. Elena’s coffee was made with the putrefaction of New York’s latest disaster.

‘Putrefaction’ is a strangely delightful word to type.

One other thing: no one would ever learn what happened in New York. No one would ever understand why humans became vicious, mindless, murderous creatures determined to tear one another limb from limb because the humans retaining their ability to ask ‘why’ were too busy avoiding the humans who’d stopped asking why, who’d stopped caring about reason and instead simply ‘did’. They ‘did’ as much as they could, from coast to coast, acting on impulse, and the impulse was to rip and tear and bite and destroy.

Elena stood in her apartment doorway, one shaking hand pressed against her doorjamb, her fingertips coated in blood. She still thought the red smears were from paint. She didn’t know the red smears were once on the inside of the Carter kid, who had rushed to her apartment out of fear and had been ripped apart by Mrs. Guzman.

Elena thought the hallway leading from the door to her living room was beautiful.

So much sunlight. The sunlight rushed in through the living room window, tripped over her green chair, washed across the wood floor, made everything glow white. The hallway was a tunnel of light. And at the end of the tunnel, should she choose to go into it, was a cup of sugarless coffee, sitting on the counter in the kitchen, a foul cup of coffee that would warm her as she sat in the green chair to read Dickens through a magnifying glass.

Elena took a step into the hallway.

Mrs. Guzman lurched forward as well.

Half a mile away, Elena’s grandson dodged a treelimb which had fallen to the street. It was burning. Everything was burning.

Elena took another step. Her joints hurt. She needed to sit for a moment, rest for a while.

Mrs. Guzman took another step. Ruby eyes. Black teeth.

The cup of foul coffee, by the way, continued to sit on the kitchen counter, waiting to be consumed or dumped down the sink’s drain.

When Mrs. Guzman attacked, finally, Elena moaned.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Elena Callahan's Very Big Day Part Three

Yes, I'm determined to finish. Here's part three of four. Part two is here.

Part 3: Dubuque

Mrs. Guzman was home alone. Her husband had left her a few days earlier, and she hadn't yet gotten the courage to tell her daughter. Her daughter was at a college in Dubuque, Iowa. Her daughter was studying for finals.

Mrs. Guzman did not want to burden her daughter with anything right now. Studying for finals was difficult enough without learning your father had abandoned his family, had gone off to an ashram with one of his students, had left his office at Fordham fully stocked with books and ungraded papers and a cheap bottle of booze in a desk drawer.

Mrs. Guzman was waiting. "Let her get through finals," she told herself, "and then she'll know."

Agatha, her daughter, called her the day after Mr. Guzman left her. Mrs. Guzman said as little as possible, and when Agatha asked to speak to him, Mrs. Guzman improvised. "He's walking the dog," she told Agatha.

"You got a dog?" Agatha responded. "When did that happen?"

"Last week. Your father went down to the ASPCA and brought home a dog."

"Daddy hates dogs."

"He hates not having you in your room at night too," Mrs. Guzman said. "Now the dog sleeps in there."

To make it less of a lie, Mrs. Guzman planned on going to the ASPCA, pick up a dog. Any dog--a furry anything to give credibility, to deflect, to distract both herself and Agatha from the fact that Mr. Guzman had gone to a goddamn ashram, cut off all contact, abandoned his family, moved on.

Mr. Guzman said this when he left: "Agatha is on her own. I never loved you, and Agatha's empty room reminds me of how little we have to keep us together."

And Mrs. Guzman said this: "Don't leave me." She later regretted the "don't" part of that statement. She revised it in her head. Hours after Mr. Guzman left, the statement became "Leave me." A day later, the statement was "Leave me. I don't love you either." But here's the facts Mrs. Guzman knew: Her husband left her without warning, and she had said, "Don't leave me."

Incontrovertible facts. Inarguable facts. He left. She asked him not to leave.

He left.

An ashram. Who goes to an ashram anymore?

For those who need answers, there are none.

There were no answers to the question, "Why does Mrs. Guzman want to rip out Elena's throat?" and there were no answers to the question, "Why is Cobble, Elena's grandson, currently driving along Dyckman Street towards Broadway on a bicycle?" Some things just are. Mrs. Guzman watched Mr. Guzman walk out the door of their apartment, a single suitcase hanging like a ripe fruit from his left hand, and there was no answer to the question pounding around in her head: "Why?"

"Why?" is an overrated question.

(Here's why Mr. Guzman walked out: he was horny for his TA, a young woman named Tenna Slowski. Here's why Cobble braved the burning streets of Inwood, on a bike: to save his grandmother from certain doom. Here's why Mrs. Guzman wanted to rip out Elena's throat: Elena's voice annoyed both Elena and Mrs. Guzman.)

Why. It's the most dangerous and annoying word in the English language.

So Mrs. Guzman didn't ask why she'd hidden herself the instant Elena entered her apartment. She didn't ask why she wanted to kill the old woman. She didn't ask why she'd stalked down the hallway as soon as Elena turned to go back to Elena's own apartment. 'Why' was not a word she bothered with anymore. There was only "Do."

Do creep up behind Elena.

Do reach out your hand.

Do take her by the throat.

Do sink your nails into her sagging flesh.

Do squeeze your thumb towards your fingers, ripping through Elena's flesh and closing around--what--closing around her voicebox, her larynx, blood pumping out of Elena's neck and coating your hand.

Do. Dubuque.

Mrs. Guzman stepped delicately across the obnoxious carpet of the floor of the fifth floor landing, her eyes on Elena's back as the old woman used blood-laced fingers to feel her way to her own apartment. Mrs. Guzman, why-free, was all about the doing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sanity and/or Fear Rally

I'll preface this thing: I don't care if the Republicans take the House tomorrow. It's of little consequence to me. Pinky swear. I'll be disappointed, but I've long thought it might work in Obama's best interest to sacrifice the House for two years because it'll put the Republican obstructionist strategy front-and-center, and demonstrate how a consistent "Just Say No" strategy never works (how's that drug war going, eh?). While I may be shocked and appalled in 2012, I refuse to believe that a majority of Americans want to stop moving forward, prefer to reach back in time to recapture the 'values' of earlier American generations which preserved segregation, allowed workers to be exploited, shrugged off violence. And while liberals have thrown the baby out with the bathwater this election cycle, hopefully they'll come to see that there's a distant goal, rather than petulantly demanding that goal be moved forward to save them the effort of marching towards it. That said, here's my entry about Saturday. I stole the picture from another source. I wish I had my own pictures to accompany this entry, but Greg and I spent our time negotiating the crowd. And 'negotiating' is a good word, right?

Two things: I don’t get out of bed at 3AM on a Saturday for just anyone, and I certainly don’t take five hour bus rides for the hell of it. So imagine my surprise, this past Saturday, to find myself--bleary-eyed, bed-haired--on the A train at 3:30AM, heading towards a transfer to the 7 train which would take me to Citi Field in Flushing, Queens (I should also add that I don’t go to baseball stadiums or Queens for just anyone, either).

My civil-unionized compatriot was with me. Greg. In the ten years we’ve been together, I don’t think he’s ever known me to be getting out of bed at 3AM, only into bed.

Across from us, on the A, was another couple huddled together, chatting quietly to one another. The woman was soft-featured and slight, the man more gregarious and a bit older, wearing a periwinkle suit, crisp white shirt, and a yellow bow-tie. The man read Greg’s shirt aloud (“Sanity, Not Hannity!”) and asked if we were going to the rally in D.C.

“Why else would we be up at this ungodly hour?” I responded. “I didn’t realize they still made 3AM Saturday morning--I thought it’d been discontinued during the Enlightenment.”

We shouted a conversation at one another for a while, our voices fighting with the clacking train. They were going as well. And at each stop, more people got on who were clearly going to the rally--people fighting with homemade signs and placards, dressed in shirts blazoned with ironically appropriate slogans, each person sleepy but energized.

All of us were taking advantage of Arianna Huffington’s very kind (and very brave, really) decision to foot the bill for transportation to D.C. for The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. None of us knew how many others were converging on Citi Field, couldn’t guess the number. None knew what to expect. I, for one, was wholly unprepared for the number of people already on site when we arrived, and the number of people who continued to disgorge from the 7 train and stream down the station steps to the line.

Over 10,000 people arrived at Citi Field that day. If you’ve ever seen 10,000 people, you know what it looks like, and if you’ve never seen 10,000 people, imagine Times Square on a typical summer's day.

I should say here that I am extremely grateful to Arianna and her staff for their efforts, even if the whole ordeal came off as a giant clusterfuck and we never did receive our promised refreshments (beggers, choosers, etc.). It took nearly two hours for Greg and me to make it to a bus, standing in freezing wind while watching the sun (“rosy finger dawn!” some hipster from Williamsburg kept shouting behind us) rise over the train station across the street. And then nearly five hours for the bus to make it to D.C. And then another hour to make it from RFK Stadium, where the HuffPo buses parked, to the National Mall, where the rally was being held.

If 10,000 New Yorkers crammed into a relatively small area at Citi Field seemed gloriously enormous, imagine what 200,000+ people look like. Imagine if every person in Huntsville, AL (population: 177,000), decided to go to the mall at once, and some of those people brought a few friends, and they all tried to cram into Hot Topic simultaneously.

Because our bus didn’t arrive in D.C. til late, Greg and I got nowhere near the stage. We didn’t even get near a spot where the stage was visible. And it took nearly two hours for us to work our way around to a spot where the speakers near said stage were even audible. If you’re hoping for a run-down of the things going on on the stage, you can stop reading--I have no clue. Jesus himself could’ve been singing “Peace Train,” and I would not have known it (imagine my surprise later when I learned who had sang it!).

What I can supply is a run-down of was the crowd itself.

Let’s do this. Last April, Greg and I attended a Tea Party rally in downtown Manhattan, which seemed to me at the time a ridiculous thing to do. Here’s what I said about it: “unfocused, undisciplined and confused.” Absolutely true. The Tea Party rally lacked cohesion because everyone there had their own pet peeve. This remains true of the Tea Party; they don’t have a platform--they have a chest of drawers, and each drawer contains something different, and none of those contents mix (they have a sock/birther drawer, they have an underwear/anti-tax drawer, they have a jeans/Christian drawer, and so on). Platforms are planks working together to provide a foundation. Chest of drawers are compartments used to keep things separate.


The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear crowd was made up of like-minded individuals intent on both having fun and mocking the system. I am not implying there was a lack of earnestness at the rally, but the earnestness was the subtext. There were signs and costumes and all the things we’ve come to expect from a good rally, but these things lacked the strident, screedy absurdity of a typical rally.

My shirt, by the way, was this: A picture of the FOX News logo, with the words, “Keep Smear Alive!” written above it.

There were no angry chants condemning anyone as Hitler or a war-monger. Everyone said “please” and “thank you.” No one ranted about anything. The crowd--all 200,000+ of it--was genial, agreeable, co-opertive, understanding, patient, and completely unconcerned with the events on the stage.

As one woman told me later, on the bus heading back to Citi Field, “I didn’t go to see Jon or Stephen. I went to be counted. I wanted my body to be one of the little specks in the pictures of the crowd. And I would do it again.”

Right. So. In short, when I woke up at 3AM on a Saturday and took a five hour bus ride, I did it for America, to prove that it’s okay to be sane, reasonable. To prove that anger can only get you so far. The trick is to stay on message, and continue being sane and reasonable despite the temptation to scream back at aggressive, cognitive-disassociating loud-mouths who’d rather rail against government than discuss how to improve it.

As a final note, I’ll say this about Arianna Huffington’s free busing: certainly it was ill-planned and poorly executed, but her buses got a lot of like-minded strangers to sit together, and talk, and share an experience. We made several friends, exchanged contact information (even shared cabs home together). I don’t know if it was her intention, but Arianna managed to create a loose network of enthusiastic, determined, reasonable progressives, and we are just as ready to shape government to our liking as any other group. We just talk a bit more softly.

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