Saturday, August 31, 2013

pulled pork

it's what's for breakfast, lunch and dinner most of the next three days.

the last book I ever read (Pastoralia by George Saunders, excerpt three)

from Pastoralia by George Saunders:

Sea Oak’s not safe. There’s an ad hoc crackhouse in the laundry room and last week Min found some brass knuckles in the kiddie pool. If I had my way I’d move everybody up to Canada. It’s nice there. Very polite. We went for a weekend last fall and got a flat tire and these two farmers with bright-red faces insisted on fixing it, then springing for dinner, then starting a college fund for the babies. They sent us the stock certificates a week later, along with a photo of all of us eating cobbler at a diner. But moving to Canada takes bucks. Dad’s dead and left us nada and Ma now lives with Freddie, who doesn’t like us, plus he’s not exactly rich himself. He does phone polls. This month he’s asking divorced women how often they backslide and sleep with their exes. He gets ten bucks for every completed poll.

So not lucrative, and Canada’s a moot point.

Friday, August 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (Pastoralia by George Saunders, excerpt two)

from Pastoralia by George Saunders:

At Sea Oak there’s no sea and no oak, just a hundred subsidized apartments and a rear view of FedEx. Min and Jade are feeding their babies while watching How My Child Died Violently. Min’s my sister. Jade’s our cousin. How My Child Died Violently is hosted by Matt Merton, a six-foot-five blond who’s always giving the parents shoulder rubs and telling them they’ve been sainted by pain. Today’s show features a ten-year-old who killed a five-year-old for refusing to join his gang. The ten-year-old strangled the five-year-old with a jump rope, filled his mouth with baseball cards, then locked himself in the bathroom and wouldn’t come out until his parents agreed to take him to FunTimeZone, where he confessed, then dove screaming into a mesh cage full of plastic balls. The audience is shrieking threats at the parents of the killer while the parents of the victim urge restraint and forgiveness to such an extent that finally the audience starts shrieking threats at them too. Then it’s a commercial. Min and Jade put down the babies and light cigarettes and pace the room while studying aloud for their GEDs. It doesn’t look good. Jade says “regicide” is a virus. Min locates Biafra one planet from Saturn. I offer to help and they start yelling at me for condescending.

“You’re lucky, man!” my sister says. “You did high school. You got your frigging diploma. We don’t. That’s why we have to do this GED shit. If we had our diplomas we could just watch TV and not be all distracted.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (Pastoralia by George Saunders, excerpt one)

from Pastoralia by George Saunders:

After closing we sit on the floor for Debriefing. “There are times,” Mr. Frendt says, “when one must move gracefully to the next station in life, like for example certain women in Africa or Brazil, I forget which, who either color their faces or don some kind of distinctive headdress upon achieving menopause. Are you with me? One of our ranks must now leave us. No one is an island in terms of being thought cute forever, and so today we must say good-bye to our friend Lloyd. Lloyd, stand up so we can say good-bye to you. I’m sorry. We are all so very sorry.”

“Oh God,” says Lloyd. “Let this not be true.”

But it’s true. Lloyd’s finished. We give him a round of applause, and Frendt gives him a Farewell Pen and the contents of his locker in a trash bag and out he goes. Poor Lloyd. He’s got a wife and two kids and a sad little duplex on Self-Storage Parkway.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt six)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

In retrospect, it’s not one bit surprising that Big Star failed to make any commercial headway. They lacked full-time management and weren’t signed to a booking agency with clout. They were located in the middle of the country, about as far away from the rock music business power centers on the East and West coasts as you could get without leaving the continent (they never even played a gig more than a few miles west of the Mississippi River). They played music that at the time was considered to be somewhat anachronistic rather than innovative. And, of course, no one could buy a record that couldn’t be found in stores. Absent a smash single, Big Star was doomed.

Oddly perhaps, no singles were released from Radio City until well after its release. Ardent had made a decision early on to hold off on singles until the album had gained expected momentum that in the end never developed. As edited version (at 2:50 minutes, nearly two minutes shorter than the album version) of ‘O My Soul’ was mastered on April 5, 1974 and presumably released soon thereafter. ‘September Gurls’ wasn’t mastered for a 45 release until July 26. Whatever critical acclaim the album did garner didn’t carry over to AM radio and the singles went nowhere. By the time ‘Gurls’ was released, Big Star as a band in the traditional sense of being a defined and ongoing recording and performing unit was effectively over. After the spring tour ended in April, the group performed in Memphis in May, were idle for the summer, then played a swan song gig in Memphis in September with Alex Chilton as the only original member.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt five)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

Big Star’s reputation as a studio band is well-deserved. Ardent Studios was a de facto home away from home—for rehearsal, recording, or just hanging out—beyond which the band rarely ventured. The original four-piece lineup played a grand total of seven gigs. By the time Andy Hummel left the band late in 1973, well before the actual release of Radio City, the three-piece lineup had only played a handful of dates around Memphis (including the Rock Writers Convention) and performed two nights at Max’s Kansas City in New York. Certainly there was no chance for them to progress through the time-tested way of extensive roadwork. But for a band that existed only in the studio for all intents and purposes, Big Star could play live with a punch and precision that showed that they had tremendous untapped—and underestimated—potential. Listening to the basic band tracks for Radio City exploding out of the speakers, it’s easy to imagine that with a few hundred dates under their belt, a proper sound system, and perhaps one additional musician on stage to fill in the parts (much like The Who post-Keith Moon), Big Star could easily have been a potent live act.

Monday, August 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt four)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

Alex Chilton’s negative assessment of his songs on Radio City would undoubtedly seem overly harsh to the legions of listeners who would rate ‘You Get What You Deserve’ or ‘September Gurls’ as certified classics. But when you separate the songs from the performances and the sound, it’s a bit easier to understand his point of view that while the song structures are indeed compelling, the lyrics might not be on the same level. In Chilton’s view, a good song needs to be the complete package—an interesting melody or structure matched with well-crafted, memorable lyrics, no matter how simple. Being all too well aware of the slapdash, “just get something down,” even assembled-by-committee manner in which Radio City’s lyrics were usually written, they come up short in his estimation compared to a song like, say, Johnny River’s ‘Poor Side of Town’ or the Stax classic ‘B-A-B-Y’. Chilton isn’t an artist who feels compelled to write songs because he believes he has something important to say or views writing songs as an absolutely essential part of who one is as an artist. Like a jazz musician, he embraces cover songs rather than seeing them as a sign of artistic weakness. If you’re comfortable, as he is, singing ‘April in Paris’ or ‘Rock With Me’ (two songs he has performed frequently in recent years) while knowing all along that the audience would probably freak out if you pulled ‘Daisy Glaze’ out of your back pocket, then you’re probably also comfortable thinking “these lyrics are better than what I could come up with.”

Sunday, August 25, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt three)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

Alex Chilton’s reluctant to nonexistent relationship with the rock press over the past 30 years can make a noted curmudgeon like Van Morrison seem downright friendly and accessible. In a drawn-out brush-off to writer Barney Hoskyns for a 2004 MOJO article he explained, “A lot of people do their best and still completely misunderstand everything about me, and I’ve just completely had it with cooperating with it or playing along with it in any sense whatsoever.”

Saturday, August 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt two)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

If Radio City sounded like an album that had been created in the past and then beamed to a time and place somewhere in the future for the world to eventually discover, it never really did have much of a present. It sold few copies when it was released in March of 1974—somewhere under 10,000 is a reasonable guess. If you had a copy, the cover most likely had a promo sticker or a corner cut off. What copies made their way out into the world found their way into the hands of people who played it over and over. Radio City became much sought after, and once secured, treasured. Odds are that if you had a copy, it wasn’t just another record in your collection. It was a directive for a mission—you had to spread the word. You had made a point of playing it for your friends and gladly made a cassette copy when they shook their heads in amazement. When you met someone who already knew about Big Star, it was like a musical handshake that made you part of an underground of true believers. A lot of those handshakes were the beginning of new bands. Some of those bands went on to enjoy the success that their inspiration had optimistically hoped for—even expected—during its brief life. If influence could be measured, Radio City would have now gone platinum many times over.

Friday, August 23, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt one)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

If you spend enough time looking at records, you develop a sixth sense about how good a record might be just from looking at the cover. On first glance, Radio City looked quite promising. The front cover featured a big photograph of a bare light bulb against a bright red room and struck me as being at least several notches above your typical album art. It would be a few years before I knew that the photographer—William Eggleston—was a world-renowned artist and a friend of the band. Curious—okay, desperate—I picked up the album. The sturdy cardboard cover sheathed a nice thick slab of wax. Like a vintage Blue Note jazz LP, it felt like a record made by people who cared about the music and knew what they were doing. On the back cover there was another cover photo—this one an informal shot of three guys—presumably Big Star—hanging out in a club (the original T.G.I. Friday’s it turned out). They had an air of cool and confident informality—a band that didn’t bother with rock star poses. Below the picture was some minimal information: song titles and a few credits. Nothing rang a bell except for the words “distributed by Stax,” a de facto seal of approval for any self-respecting rock snob.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt twelve)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

After 1991 skyjacking disappeared entirely from America’s aviation landscape: over the next nine years, not a single commercial flight was seized in American airspace. As the skyjacking threat grew more remote with each passing year, airlines came to view security as an expensive nuisance ripe for trimming. They doled out contracts to private firms that submitted absurdly low bids; those firms, in turn, routinely provided less personnel than promised, or hired screeners whose only training consisted of watching twenty-minute instructional videos. By 2000 the average salary of an airport security officer was just $12,000.

The airlines saw no reason to update their hijacking policies, which remained unchanged from the mid-1960s. Crew members were still instructed to offer hijackers their complete cooperation, on the assumption that such compliance would ultimately save lives. A hijacked crew’s main directive was to connect their captors with officials on the ground so that negotiations could commence. The airlines had every confidence that open dialogue would always lead to peaceful resolution.

No one in a position of authority fathomed a scenario in which skyjackers would have no interest in using their hostages as bargaining chips.

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt eleven)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

In October 1981 Holder burned his unfinished memoirs in the fireplace of his room—dozens of handwritten pages went up in smoke. Shortly thereafter he left the château without saying goodbye and checked himself back into the psychiatric clinic in Rambouillet. The count, who had treated Holder like a member of his own family, never heard from him again.

Holder spent over a year at the Rambouillet clinic, where his therapy focused on helping him deal with his memories of combat. He was discharged in early 1983 and returned to Paris, where he begged old friends for money. One of those friends invited him to a dinner party, where Holder met a sharp-tongued journalist named Violetta Velkova, a six-time divorcée a dozen years his senior. The leftist Velkova, who was paralyzed on one side of her body due to a stroke, instantly fell for Holder, whom she adored for having embarrassed the United States in such dramatic fashion. The two instantly became lovers as well as colleagues; Holder took charge of lugging his new girlfriend’s photography equipment and typewriter from one assignment to the next.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt ten)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

The French magistrate handling the case had asked Western to supply two witnesses from the first plane, the Boeing 727 that Roger Holder had seized on approach to Seattle. Jerome Juergens, the flight’s captain, had committed suicide in 1978, so Crawford had been picked to represent the cockpit crew. Gina Cutcher, the stewardess who had spilled bourbon on Holder’s Army dress uniform, had also been called to testify.

At the Los Angeles airport, a Western official handed Crawford a thousand dollars in traveler’s checks and a first-class TWA ticket to Paris. When Crawford arrived in the French capital on June 11, 1980, a car from the American embassy whisked him to a hotel, where Cutcher was also staying. The two witnesses were instructed not to venture outside, for they might be targeted by rabble-rousers seeking to disrupt the trial. An armed guard was posted outside their adjacent doors as they slept that night.

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt nine)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

When he read Holder’s interview, Cleaver decided to do the Christian thing and help a man in need—even though that man had long despised him as a revolutionary poseur. With the help of his new evangelical friends, Cleaver reached out to Representative John Buchanan of Alabama, who had been a Baptist minister before entering politics. He hoped the congressman could secure a passport for Holder, then convince the Justice Department to offer a plea agreement that would take into account Holder’s combat-related trauma. But Buchanan discovered that the French government, which was still planning to try Holder for hijacking, was afraid to cooperate; even if Holder left on his own accord, the administration of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing worried that French voters would accuse it of engaging in “disguised extradition.”

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt eight)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

As could be expected, no one from the Carter administration contacted Holder to discuss the deal he proposed to the Associated Press. But one person did take action upon reading the published interview: Eldridge Cleaver.

Despite his comfortable circumstances in France, which included a vacation apartment near Cannes, Cleaver had quickly wearied of life in exile. Suffering from writer’s block, he had switched creative gears and tried to establish himself in the world of fashion, designing a pair of men’s pants that featured an external pouch for the genitalia—a codpiece, more or less. “All these designers are concentrating on the bottom, you know?” Cleaver explained to a group of curious Harvard students who came to visit him in Paris in 1975. “They’re all accentuating your ‘boo-boo,’ you know? They’re not concentrating on those areas that really differentiate a man and a woman. This is what I’m trying to get away from.”

When Cleaver failed to move his pants past the prototype stage, he sank into a deep depression. He was disturbed by his children’s growing preference for speaking French instead of English, and by how his son, Maceo, loved soccer but didn’t know the first thing about American football. Many of Cleaver’s activist friends were gaining real power back in the United States, becoming mayors, state legislators, even congressmen. “So I contacted these old friends and said, ‘Hey, remember me? How about helping me get back home?’” Cleaver would later recall. “Surely, if the astronauts can come back from the moon, I could stroll through California again.”

But no one could make Cleaver’s attempted murder charge disappear. His friends advised him to “settle down and become a black Frenchman and enjoy all those French pastries.” Despondent over the prospect of living the rest of his life in France, Cleaver retreated to his Cannes apartment and contemplated suicide.

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt seven)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

On the afternoon of June 6, just as they had been promised, Holder and Kerkow were driven from the Hotel Aletti to the presidential palace, a pristine Moorish villa guarded by saber-wielding soldiers in long white capes. They were met by Salah Hidjeb, the secret police chief who had welcomed them to Maison Blanche Airport three days earlier. He escorted the couple down a narrow marble hallway to a wood-paneled office with exquisite antique rugs. Beneath a gold-framed painting of praying Algerian peasants sat a stern-looking man with an aquiline nose and a bushy mustache. A dark cloak was draped around his slim-fitting suit. Though so skinny that his cheekbones nearly jutted through his flesh, he exuded the air of supreme authority.

President Houari Boumédiène rose to shake Holder’s hand, though he ignored Kerkow. Without offering any further greeting, he began to converse with Hidjeb in Arabic so that the hijackers couldn’t follow a word. After a few minutes of this discussion, Boumédiène signaled for Holder and Kerkow to be taken back to their hotel. He had decided their fates based on a single glance.

Monday, August 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt six)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

At the behest of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, the FAA formed a special antihijacking task force to develop possible solutions to the crisis. The group was immediately inundated with thousands of letters from concerned citizens, who recommended inventive ways to frustrate skyjackers: installing trapdoors outside cockpits, arming stewardesses with tranquilizer darts, making passengers wear boxing gloves so they couldn’t grip guns, playing the Cuban national anthem before takeoff and then arresting anyone who knew the lyrics. The most popular suggestion was for the FAA to build a mock version of José Martí International Airport in a South Florida field, so that skyjackers could be duped into thinking they had reached Havana. That idea sparked serious interest at the agency but was ultimately discarded as too expensive.

As the FAA’s task force sifted through the mountain of proposals, the hijackings continued apace, each more outlandish than the last. A seventy-four-year-old World War I veteran pulled a knife on an Eastern stewardess in the skies above South Carolina; a Black Panther, wanted for his role in a San Francisco shoot-out, hijacked a TWA Boeing 707 over Nevada; an alcoholic used-car dealer from Baltimore took over an Eastern flight while wearing Bermuda shorts and sandals, so that he could hit the beach upon landing in Havana.

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt five)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

To facilitate impromptu journeys to Cuba, all cockpits were equipped with charts of the Caribbean Sea, regardless of a flight’s intended destination. Pilots were briefed on landing procedures for José Martí International Airport and issued phrase cards to help them communicate with Spanish-speaking hijackers. (The phrases to which a pilot could point included translations for “I must open my flight bag for maps” and “Aircraft has mechanical problems—can’t make Cuba.”) Air controllers in Miami were given a dedicated phone line for reaching their Cuban counterparts, so they could pass along word of incoming flights. Switzerland’s embassy in Havana, which handled America’s diplomatic interests in Cuba, created a form letter that airlines could use to request the expedited return of stolen planes.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt four)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

But though Castro welcomed the wayward flights in order to humiliate the United States and earn hard currency—the airlines had to pay the Cuban government an average of $7,500 to retrieve each plane—he had little but disdain for the hijackers themselves, whom he considered undesirable malcontents. After landing at José Martí, hijackers were whisked away to an imposing Spanish citadel that served as the headquarters of G2, Cuba’s secret police. There they were interrogated for weeks on end, accused of working for the CIA despite all evidence to the contrary. The lucky ones were then sent to live at the Casa de Transitos (Hijackers House), a decrepit dormitory in southern Havana, where each American was allocated sixteen square feet of living space; the two-story building eventually held as many as sixty hijackers, who were forced to subsist on monthly stipends of forty pesos each. Skyjackers who rubbed their G2 interrogators the wrong way, meanwhile, were dispatched to squalid sugar-harvesting camps, where conditions were barely better than nightmarish. At these tropical gulags, inmates were punished with machete blows, political agitators were publicly executed, and captured escapees were dragged across razor-sharp stalks of sugarcane until their flesh was stripped away. One American hijacker was beaten so badly by prison guards that he lost an eye; another hanged himself in his cell.

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt three)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

Before Bearden could do anything drastic, Gilman punched him in the ear with all his might, shattering a bone in his right hand in the process. As the hijacker crumpled to the floor, the FBI negotiator spun and tackled Cody, who had let down his guard while listening to his father’s rant. Within minutes the two Beardens were lying prone on the tarmac, hands and feet chained behind them as if they were hogs. The dozens of newspaper photographers and camera crews who had gathered around the plane documented their humiliation; the media instinctively grasped the appeal of a lurid hijacking yarn.

On the afternoon of August 4, the Senate Aviation Subcommittee convened an emergency hearing to address the rash of hijackings. A weary Leonard Gilman, his broken right hand heavily bandaged, testified about his heroism aboard Flight 54. The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Najeeb Halaby, presented a six-point antihijacking plan that called for cockpit doors to be locked and for pilots to receive firearms training. A Justice Department official announced that his boss, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, had authorized a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in “the actual, attempted, or planned hijacking of aircraft.”

The senators, meanwhile, decried their colleagues’ failure to make hijacking a crime back in 1958, a blunder that meant the Beardens could be prosecuted only for run-of-the-mill kidnapping. Senator A.S. Mike Monroney of Oklahoma vowed to rush through legislation that would make air piracy punishable by life imprisonment. But Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas pronounced that penalty too light. “When civilized nations begin hanging air pirates,” he said, “piracy will disappear from the air lanes.”

In the midst of all the aggressive posturing, a senator asked the FAA’s Halaby if he and President Kennedy had discussed the possibility of requiring airlines to screen passengers—perhaps by searching carry-on bags, a tactic that likely would have prevented the Beardens from boarding Flight 54. But Halaby scoffed at the idea as wholly impractical: “Can you imagine the line that would form from the ticket counter in Miami if everyone had to submit to police inspections?”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt two)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

When she entered Marshfield High School in 1965, Kerkow was going through an awkward phase. The shy and gangly girl threw herself into the sorts of extracurriculars that proper young Coos Bay ladies were supposed to enjoy: chorus, the Latin club, and a Christian group that provided meals to elderly shut-ins. She made straight B’s and became close friends with one of her fellow sopranos, Beth Newhouse, the daughter of the town’s leading attorney.

As Kerkow progressed through Marshfield, though, she shed her gawkiness and blossomed into a talented athlete. She took up running, which had long been the biggest sport in Coos Bay—the town’s temperate climate allowed for year-round training, and the surrounding hills were ideal for strengthening young legs. The Marshfield track team was a powerhouse in the late 1960s, led by the best schoolboy miler in the United States, a scrappy carpenter’s son named Steve Prefontaine. Kerkow made the varsity squad as a junior and set a school record in the eighty-yard hurdles, an achievement that earned her special mention in Marshfield’s yearbook alongside her friend and classmate Prefontaine.

the last book I ever read (Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us, excerpt one)

from Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking:

Holder and Kerkow were ordinary skyjackers in many ways. He was a traumatized ex-soldier motivated by a hazy mix of outrage and despair; she was a mischievous party girl who longed for a more meaningful future. Neither was a master criminal, as evidenced by the utter zaniness of their hijacking plan.

Yet through a combination of savvy and dumb luck, Holder and Kerkow pulled off the longest-distance skyjacking in American history, a feat that made them notorious around the globe. Their success set them apart from their peers: by the end of 1972, virtually all of the year’s other skyjackers were either dead or in jail. In its annual “The Year In Pictures” issue that December, Life ran a rogues’ gallery of a dozen skyjackers who had already been convicted of air piracy, along with captions detailing their stiff sentences: twenty years, thirty years, forty years, forty-five years, life without parole. Holder and Kerkow were notably absent from that catalog of failures.

Friday, August 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt twelve)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

Trevor came by after his day at the garage, still wearing his coveralls. Mary liked seeing her children in their uniforms. She had raised them not to be afraid of hard work, and each one of them had a solid job. Not every mother could say that. Trevor stood in the bedroom doorway watching as Ellie packed Mary’s clothes, while Mary sat on the stripped bed, worrying a mattress button. It was a good bed, and she’d grown accustomed to its particular contours, but it would have to go to the dump. Goodwill wouldn’t take mattresses for fear of bedbugs or worse.

“Looks like you two got everything squared away,” Trevor said. He had a habit of reminding people that he was of no use to them. He’d had one wife who left him and another who was about to do the same. He was aware that it was going to happen but didn’t do anything to stop it because he knew that, big as he was, he couldn’t stand in the way of his life.

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode 18, with Olympic gold medalist Benita Fitzgerald Mosley

"I think it was Joan Collins who said, “Being born beautiful is like being wealthy and getting poorer and poorer as each day passes.” And I thought, It’s kind of like an athlete’s body. You’re at the peak of physical specimen when you’re competing, and there is never a day in life when you will be that good again. Ever."

from the 18th installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, with Olympic gold medalist and the United States Olympic Committee's new Chief of Organizational Excellence Benita Fitzgerald Mosley.


the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt eleven)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

Now, Mary thought. Time was always being split between then and now. Then she had been a child in Tahlequah. Now she was a mother in California learning how to care for babies. Then Toby had been alive, now he was dead and she’d had to bury him and accept other men into her bed for reasons besides love. Then she had seven children. Now she had six. Except this separation of time was a false one. Because you never stopped being one thing when you became the other.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt ten)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

Trevor stood behind Ellie, bowing his head as the doctor spoke. He was a big man used to hunching and stepping back so others could see. As the doctor delivered the bad news, he covered his eyes the way men did when they wanted people to think they were simply tired, but Mary saw his shoulders shake. She would have given anything to be able to hop off the examining table and wrap her arms around him, but she didn’t have that kind of agility anymore, and her robe would certainly fall off, which would do Trevor more harm than good. He didn’t question what the doctor said; he didn’t have the imagination to expect more than what was in front of him. It was her fault, Mary thought. You can’t raise children the way she did and tell them that they can be president of the United States if they just work hard enough. She’d always told her children the truth. The sharp and dissatisfied ones like Ellie and Ray shut their ears to her and wanted what they wanted. The quiet ones like Trevor and James listened closely and believed what Mary told them more than she wished they had. Trevor was a good son and a loyal man, a quality that had kept him with women who loaded all their unhappiness onto his broad back like he was a mule and then left without collecting their baggage. There were times when it would have done him good to be more defiant like Ellie because it took a little bit of ill humor to make yourself up out of nothing. And Ellie was a good daughter in her way, which was the way of making decisions about the right route to take to get from here to there or where a person ought to live out the end of her life.

Well, there was nothing Mary could do about that, either.

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt nine)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

Empire, California. Another town. When Walker arrives in a new place, he knows without ever having been there how it will be laid out. Historically, certain areas, often the north or the west sides, were typically the wealthiest, and if any remnants of architectural grandeur remain, this is where they will be. Whether there are actual train tracks or not, there is always the other side of something—a river, a gully, a dump—some division that allows a town to organize itself along class lines so that people know where they belong. Things are less insidious now than they were fifty or a hundred years ago, but the psychic territories remain.

Although there is sometimes a modestly refurbished old hotel in towns such as this one—a Mission Inn or a Pacific Arms—Walker always chooses whatever version of a Motel 6 lies off the highway. He likes the practical sterility of these places, the way the rooms seem to float in and out of time, bare stages on which scenes appear and then evaporate daily. It is June now, and the heat of the Central Valley has settled in for the duration of the summer. His room is dark. He forgoes the overhead fluorescents and turns on the bedside lamp. Somehow, the stucco-ceilinged room looks more correct in a tawdry weak light, as if shadows and obscurity are the natural characteristics that allow for what takes place in motel rooms. He phones the rest home, learns that visiting hours begin at four o’clock.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt eight)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

The three of them spend days sifting and organizing. The work is exhausting and unexpectedly emotional. Angela and Beatriz are practical about getting rid of useless fripperies like the plates with the unnerving big-eyed children Walker’s mother collected, while at the same time they are mindful that items that strike Walker as valueless will be of interest to someone else. They seem to hold in their minds the exact layout of any number of their relatives’ homes and know that a certain chair will fit perfectly in a cousin’s kitchen or that a brother-in-law who is a fool for a game of dominoes will find a great use for an old folding card table. Beatriz reveals herself to be the quiet keeper of Dodge lore and she makes sure that Walker holds on to a certain hooked rug his mother made when she was pregnant with him, even though they all agree that the pattern of amoebic blobs is hideous. Beatriz demands that the set of iced-tea tumblers go to Walker’s brother, whose young children will surely be delighted by the built-in glass straws just as Walker and his siblings were, and as George was before that. Each of the three is occasionally caught off guard by sorrow. When this happens, the other two pause in their zeal to toss and save until the moment passes.

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt seven)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

“What time is it?

“It’s the afternoon. It’s four-thirty in the afternoon.”

Philip had been born at ten fifty-seven in the morning. Miller at three forty-nine in the afternoon. She’d made Everett look at his watch. Time mattered. A picture doesn’t bring someone to life. A picture is a death of the moment when the picture is taken. Whenever you look at a picture, time dies again.

Papa drew the covers up to her chin. He told her to lie still so that it wouldn’t hurt so much. He told her she looked fine.

Dead Man’s Float. The picture could be taken from above if she stood on a stepladder. Or she could stand in the hallway and include the frame of the door and maybe only a bit of her side and her hand and a fraction of smooth sheet. But she could not take the picture. She was the picture. It was being taken of her. The light was too bright. She held up her hand to shield her face.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt six)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

When Miller was six, he had taken to carrying a rucksack on his back all day long, even during school hours when he was sitting at his desk. And what was in the pack? Rocks. Certain rocks he had found and imbued with particular personalities or meanings. Happy rocks. Sad rocks. Angry rocks. Rocks for killing bad guys. If the exact rocks were not there when he looked in his pack each morning—if Philip had stolen one, or if Mrs. Wilson had unloaded the pack to shake out the dirt and neglected to replace them—Miller would burst into tears and refuse to go to school. As Vera drove, she thought of her boy with that bag of rocks bouncing on his back as he played a game of stickball and she sat forward in her seat as if this would get her to him faster.

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Mary Silver, excerpt five)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

The Hudson had broken down the night before outside Nipomo, near a pea field. The baby had a chesty cough. It would not do to have him sleep out-of-doors in the tent, so everyone slept cramped inside the car. When Mary woke, the windows were fogged, and she wiped her sleeve on the windshield. The hood of the car was up, and Earl was bent over the engine. She put her lips to the baby’s forehead. He was warm. His eyes were glassy. She opened the car door and stepped outside, tucking him beneath her coat. Her shoes broke through a thin layer of frost. A cold wind carried voices from the clutter of shacks in the pickers’ camp. She would find out if someone there had medicine they were willing to give her. She could ask about jobs, too. There was no hiring sign, but it was cold and people could be sick. There might be at least a day or two of work for Earl.

“The radiator is busted,” he said.

“You wouldn’t happen to know how to fix it?” she said.

His look was his answer. Ellie came out of the car, pulling on her coat.

Monday, August 12, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt four)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

She ended her first session in the new darkroom disheartened. The images she’d made in the desert were unconvincing. The beauty she’d seen with her eyes was inert, the forms taking the shapes of platitudes, generic postcard images that travelers would buy and send home to prove they had been to a place. Her close-up pictures of a cactus flower, the shed skin of a black-tailed rattlesnake, and the sun-scorched bones of a dead cow were rank imitations: flat, unyielding, without resonance, as though her mind was already made up about what she was looking at before she lifted her camera to her eye. The pictures were evidence of her dulled imagination.

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt three)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

She reconsidered the party. It was foolish to think she could hide in an elegant outfit when her history was as plain as her plain face and was apparent to anyone the moment they saw her take a step. She could summon the exact details of her illness and its aftermath as if it had all happened yesterday and not thirteen years before, when she was Vera Duerr, a seven-year-old in Hoboken, New Jersey. She’d woken in the center of night, feeling like she was balanced perfectly between dreaming and wakefulness. Her brother, Leon, was asleep in the bed next to hers; she could hear his adenoidal breathing, the slurp and effort of it. There was another person in the room, too, a dark shape by the closet door. She was not frightened the way she was when she had nightmares about kidnappers, only curious that a stranger should be standing near her closet, as if he wanted something to wear. She had always known there was a shadow world of ghosts and goblins and witches, known that life was made of things you could see and things that you couldn’t, like your thoughts or wind. These ideas often absorbed her, and Miss Hildt had sent a note home saying that if Vera didn’t learn to pay attention she would have to repeat the second grade. Her mother had given her a stinging potch on the fanny and said dreams were for sleep. Period. Das Ende der Geschichte. The end of the story.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt two)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

“He’s been taken away,” she said to her children, who were waiting outside the tent. And then she changed what she’d said, because right at that moment she stopped believing in God. “He’s left us,” she said. And that was not right, either, because it suggested that he had made a decision to abandon them. She sat down on the ground and let the children come to her. “We’re alone,” she told them. This is what it all amounted to in the end. Toby’s brothers and their wives had been generous through the worst of the illness, making up for Toby’s lost earnings by giving Mary extra potatoes and carrots, a bone for her soup. But they could not continue to cut into their own supplies to keep her and her kids going. And she couldn’t bear to stay with them. It was too difficult to watch Robert’s and Levi’s children run to greet their fathers when the day was done. It made her angry to see gestures of affection pass between the couples or to lie in bed and hear the low murmurs and laughter coming from their nearby tents. And although they would never say as much, Mary’s sisters-in-law counted Toby’s death as her failure just as they thought her six children were her folly. Mary knew it was the meanness of the times that made them think this way. Each day, the camps were flooded with families, and there was not enough work to go around. People became competitive in all sorts of ways, as if a better dress or a laughing child or a living husband as proof that a person would make it.

Mary sustained the weight of sorrow that would descend on her freshly each morning when she woke up and had to remind herself all over again that her husband was gone. But what terrified her most was that she knew that what had happened to her had not really happened yet. Right now there was only waking and feeding and sending the big children to school and taking the little ones into the field and wiping sweat and filling a bag and standing on lines. A larger grief was still out there, waiting to overtake her when she was not looking. She had to be careful.

the last book I ever read (Mary Coin by Marisa Silver, excerpt one)

from Marisa Silver's Mary Coin:

The following days are a struggle. There is intermittent rain and it is cold. The cabin Walker rented is small and damp. After an initial burst of excitement about fishing, Alice gives up and spends long hours sitting on rocks by the edge of the Trinity with a blanket wrapped around her or lying in the infrequently appearing splashes of sun. Isaac is a valiant fisherman, but Walker has the feeling his son is summoning interest for his sake. Walker gives in to an emergency trip to the nearest mall and movie theater and an unnecessarily expensive sweater purchase meant to endear him to Alice. When the weekend is finally over, he drives the children back to Petaluma. The rigors of so much concentrated time together sap all three of them, and the quiet in the car has the quality of surrender. Isaac gives Walker a tight hug before dragging his backpack and fishing gear to the house. Alice’s kiss is as frictionless as a bug’s wing. As he watches her walk away, Walker remembers when she was thirteen. He had casually tickled her back only to feel her unexpectedly stiffen. It turned out that she had been wearing her first bra. He supposes the complications of the moment—Alice taking on the habits of womanhood while he tried to drag her back to her childish, sexless self—were too much for her, but the removal stung him just as it does now. The screen door closes before she can get her sleeping bag inside. As she struggles, she sees that he is watching her. Her face forms into a mask of scorn, as if this were his fault, too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

the last book I ever read (In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders, excerpt six)

from In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders:

The night of the Latvians I was out with Cleo from Vehicles. We went parking, watched some visiting Warthogs practice their night-firing. Things heated up. She had a room on the side of a house, wobbly wooden stairs leading up. Did I call, say I’d be late, say I might not be back at all? No I did not. Next morning I came home, found the house taped off. For the body locations, the cops didn’t use chalk. There was just a piece of loose-lead on the stairs labeled “Deceased Female” and one on the kitchen floor labeled “Deceased Male.”

I tell myself: If I’d been home, I’d be dead too. The Latvians had guns. They came in quick, on crack, so whacked-out they forget to steal anything.

Still, Mom’s sciatica was acting up. She’d just had two teeth pulled. At the end, on the steps, on her back, she kept calling my name, as in: Where is he? Did they get him too? Next day, on the landing, I found the little cotton swab the dentist had left in her mouth.

So if they want me home right after work, I’m home right after work.

Friday, August 9, 2013

the last book I ever read (In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders, excerpt five)

from In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders:

Next morning the stink is gone. The office just smells massively like Pine-Sol. Giff comes in around eleven, big bandage on his humongous chin.

“Hey, smells super in here today,” he says. “Praise the Lord for that, right? And all things.”

“What happened to your chin?” says Rimney. “Zonk it on a pew while speaking in tongues?”

“We don’t speak in tongues,” says Griff. “I was just shaving.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

the last book I ever read (In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders, excerpt four)

from In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders:

In a lovely urban coincidence, the last two houses on our block were both occupied by widows who had lost their husbands in Eastern Europe pogroms. Dad called them the Bohemians. He called anyone white with an accent a Bohemian. Whenever he saw one of the Bohemians, he greeted her by mispronouncing the Czech word for “door.” Neither Bohemian was Czech, but both were polite, so when Dad said “door” to them they answered cordially, as if he weren’t perennially schlockered.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

the last book I ever read (In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders, excerpt three)

from In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders:

I stumbled out to my Nova, putty-knifed myself a sight hole, drove home.

There comes that phase in life when, tired of losing, you decide to stop losing, then continue losing. Then you decide to really stop losing, and continue losing. The losing goes on and on so long you begin to watch with curiosity, wondering how low you can go.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders, excerpt two)

from In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders:

So I went to Boys and slept on the floor, it being too late to check out a Privacy Tarp.

And I was pissed/sad, because no dude like to think of himself as a rabbit, because once your girl thinks of you as a rabbit, how will she ever again think of you as a lion? And all of the sudden I felt very much like starting over with someone who would always think of me as a lion and never as a rabbit, and who really got it about how lucky we were.

Laying there in Boys, I did what I always did when confused, which was call up my Memory Loop of my mom, where she is baking a pie with her red hair up in a bun, and as always she paused in her rolling and said, Oh, my little man, I love you so much, which is why I did the most difficult thing of all, which was part with you my darling, so that you could use your exceptional intelligence to do that most holy of things, help other people. Stay where you are, do not get distracted, have a content and productive life, and I will be happy too.

Blinking on End, I was like, Thanks, Mom, you have always been there for me, I really wish I could have met you in person before you died.

Monday, August 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders, excerpt one)

from In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders:

And when Carolyn said Question No. 3, which was, How do you now find your thought processes, his brow darkened and he said, Well, to be frank, though quite advanced, having been here three years, there are, if you will, places where things used to be when I went looking for them, brainwise, but now, when I go there, nothing is there, it is like I have the shelving but not the cans of corn, if you get my drift. For example, looking at you, young lady, I know enough to say you are pretty, but when I direct my brain to a certain place, to find there a more vivid way of saying you are pretty, watch this, some words will come out, which I please excuse me, oh dammit—

Sunday, August 4, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt eight)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

The men of the burial society lifted the corpse, opened the window, and recited the justification of God’s decree. They placed Jacob with his feet toward the door and set two candles at his head. Pious men gathered to recite the Psalms. The news that Jacob had died spread swiftly through the district. Even though he had lived in obscurity for twenty years in the land of Israel, how he had conducted himself was not unknown, and he was thought of as a righteous man. The original cemetery plot was long since fully occupied, so Jacob was given ground in the new part. The body was cleansed and taken to the study house were the rabbi spoke the eulogy. The whole town attended Jacob’s funeral. When the gravedigger broke ground for Jacob’s grave, his spade struck bones. He began to dig more carefully, and soon a body was seen that had not yet completely decomposed, perhaps because the earth there was so sandy and dry. From the skeleton and from pieces of clothing, the burial society women saw that it was a female. Strands of blond hair still entwined the skull, and it soon became clear that this was the grave of Sarah, who had been buried unshrouded in her own dress. The community had buried Sarah outside but the dead had gathered to take her in. The cemetery itself had ordained it; Sarah was a Jewish daughter and a sanctified corpse.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt seven)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

After a while, most of the Jews recognized their error, realized Satan had seduced them, and lost faith in the false Messiah. But some still conspired and kept up their pernicious idolatry. They met at fairs in distant cities and made themselves known to each other through various signs. They wrote the initials S-Z on the books, tools and other merchandise sold in their stores, and they exhibited talismans invented by Sabbatai Zevi. They were united not merely by the illusion that Sabbatai Zevi would return and rebuild Jerusalem, but by commerce. They bought and sold from each other, formed combines, worked for each other’s profit, and intrigued against their enemies. When one was accused of swindling, the others testified to his honesty and threw the blame on someone else. They soon became wealthy and powerful. At their meetings, they ridiculed the righteous—pointing out how easy it was to deceive them.

Friday, August 2, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt six)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

He had warned her many times about the unclean days, reminding her that when she was menstruating she could not sit on the same bench with him, take any object from his hand, not even eat at the same table unless there was a screen between her plate and his. He was not allowed to sit on her bed, nor she on his; not even the headboards of their beds ought to touch at this time. But these were some of the things that Sarah either forgot or ignored, for she kept on insisting she must be near him. She was capable of running over and kissing him in the middle of her period. Jacob rebuked her and told her such acts were forbidden by the Torah, but she took these restrictions lightly, and this caused Jacob sorrow. She was very scrupulous about less important things. She immersed all the dishes in the ritual bath, and kept on inquiring about milk and meat. At times she forgot she was a mute and broke into song. Jacob trembled. Not only was there the danger of her being heard, but a pious daughter of Israel should not provoke lust with the lascivious sound of her voice. Nor had she let the bath attendant shave her head like the other women’s, though Jacob had asked her to. Sarah cut her own hair with shears; occasionally ringlets pushed out from under her kerchief.

Though Jacob had built them a house, Sarah complained nightly that she wished to leave Pilitz. She could not remain silent forever, and she feared what would happen to her child. The young must be taught to speak, and given love. She kept asking whether her Yiddish had improved; Jacob assured her she was doing well but it wasn’t so. She mispronounced the words, twisted the constructions, and whatever she uttered came out upside down. Often her mistakes made Jacob laugh. Even a few words dropping from her tongue and there was no mistaking she had been born a gentile. Now that she was pregnant Jacob was more frightened than ever. A woman in labor cannot control her screams. Unless she could endure the birth pangs in silence, Sarah would give herself away.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt five)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

The matchmakers were busy trying to marry off Jacob, and one of the men who had ransomed him was among those who had found a prospect. Jacob at first said “no” to all these suggestions. He had no intention of remarrying, would remain celibate. But the contention was that he should not travel so dangerous a road. Why endure temptation daily? Moreover, he should obey the precept: “Be fruitful and multiply.” A widow from Hrubyeshoyv was among the possibilities and she was to come to Josefov shortly to meet him. She had a drygoods store in the Hrubyeshoyv market and a house that the Cossacks had neglected to burn. The widow was a few years older than he and had a grown daughter, but this was no great handicap. The Jew does not tempt Evil by denying the body but harnesses it in the service of God. Jacob knew that he could never love this woman from Hrubyeshoyv, but possibly he might be able to find forgetfulness with her.

He was exhausted by the struggle within him, sleepless at night, weary during the day. He found he lacked the patience to teach and had lost his taste for Torah and prayer. He sat in the study house longing for the open air, dreaming of gathering grass again, scaling crags, chopping wood. The Jews had ransomed him but he remained a slave. Passion held him like a dog on a leash. The hounds of Egypt bayed but he could not drive them off.