Saturday, December 31, 2016

the last book I ever read (Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya, excerpt three)

from Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya:

In the gas station, he stalked back and forth between the aisles, his back straight, an important man making a decision, letting his fingers rest on bags of potato chips that he knew he’d never had a taste for. He stopped only after the clerk, a boy in dark frames, sent him a sidelong glance.

“You got gas on two?” the clerk asked.

“Yeah,” Job said, in his best imitation of an American.

Friday, December 30, 2016

the last book I ever read (Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya, excerpt two)

from Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya:

Ifi glanced back at the store. Now that it was illuminated, she saw the miniature ark and stuffed giraffes, elephants, and tigers. A train of crucifixes followed a Mother Mary doll. What kind of prostitute owns such a store?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

the last book I ever read (Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya, excerpt one)

from Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya:

This was the fourth of the residences Job had occupied since his arrival in the United States at nineteen years of age. Before this, a basement apartment with a separate entrance. At every month’s end, the old man had cornered Job to make sure he paid the rent on time: We’re all living under the foot of the Man, right, man? He’d also lived in a closet of a room in a dormitory-style men’s residence hall, complete with communal showers. It was a place where walls were so thin that he was troubled by the most intimate of sounds: tears, passionless sex, and yes, farts. One of his homes had been on the topmost floor of a building scarred by the scents of mingled garlic, curry, and stockfish, regarded with collective disgust by guests of this nation, international students like himself, unlucky in their ability to smell American.

All of these places had been available to Job then. When he found the advertisements tacked to bulletin boards in campus buildings or in the American Classifieds, he needed only to tell them that he was a medical student who commuted to UNMC three times per week for his studies. The thin voice on the other end of the telephone would dismiss the accent. He needed only to arrive for the interview in scrubs, and the eyes would forgive the dark skin. But that was long ago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt ten)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

Mingo's daughter Amanda shook on her knees, her family absent. Her bouquet had shed its petals. She gripped the naked stems, the iron wires the blacksmith had drawn out on the anvil last week, just for her. The wires cut her palms, she gripped them so tight. More blood in the dirt. As an old woman she would read about the Great War in Europe and recall this night. She lived on Long Island then, after roaming all over the country, in a small house with a Shinnecock sailor who doted on her to excess. She'd spent time in Louisiana and Virginia, where her father opened colorful institutions of learning, and California. A spell in Oklahoma, where the Valentines resettled. The conflict in Europe was terrible and violent, she told her sailor, but she took exception to the name. The Great War had always been between the white and the black. It always would be.

Monday, December 26, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt nine)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

It was true. When she told of her escape, she omitted the tunnels and kept to the main contours. It was private, a secret about yourself it never occurred to you to share. Not a bad secret, but an intimacy so much a part of who you were that it could not be made separate. It would die in the sharing.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt eight)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

Tennesssee was cursed. Initially she assigned the devastation of Tennessee—the blaze and the disease—to justice. The whites got what they deserved. For enslaving her people, for massacring another race, for stealing the very land itself. Let them burn by flame or fever, let the destruction started here rove acre by acre until the dead have been avenged. But if people received their just portion of misfortune, what had she done to bring her troubles on herself? In another list, Cora marked the decisions that led her to this wagon and its iron rings. There was the boy Chester, and how she had shielded him. The whip was the standard punishment for disobedience. Running away was a transgression so large that the punishment enveloped every generous soul on her brief tour of freedom.

Friday, December 23, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt seven)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

Tennessee proceeded in a series of blights. The blaze had devoured the next two towns on the cindered road. In the morning the remains of a small settlement emerged around a hill, an arrangement of scorched timber and black stonework. First came the stumps of the houses that had once contained the dreams of pioneers, and then the town proper in a line of ruined structures. The town farther along was larger but its rival in destruction. The heart was a broad intersection where ravaged avenues had converged in enterprise, now gone. A baker’s over in the ruins of the shop like a grim totem, human remains bent behind the steel of a jail cell.

Cora couldn’t tell what feature of the landscape had persuaded the homesteaders to plant their futures, fertile earth or water or vistas. Everything had been erased. If the survivors returned it would be to confirm the resolution to try again somewhere else, scurrying back east or ever west. No resurrection here.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt six)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

Jasper wouldn’t stop singing. Ridgeway shouted from the head of their little caravan for him to shut his mouth, and sometimes they halted so Boseman could climb into the wagon and clout the runaway on the head. Jasper sucked the scars on his fingers for a short interval, then resumed his crooning. Quietly at first so that only Cora could hear. But soon he’d be singing again, to his lost family, to his god, to everyone they passed on the trail. He’d have to be disciplined again.

Cora recognized some of the hymns. She suspected he made up many of them; the rhymes were crooked. She wouldn’t have minded it so much if Jasper had a better voice, but Jesus had not blessed him in that department. Or with looks—he had a lopsided frog face and oddly thin arms for a field hand—or with luck. Luck least of all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt five)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

Ethel thought a slave was someone who lived in your house like family but was not family. Her father explained the origin of the negro to disabuse her of this colorful idea. Some maintained that the negro was the remnant of a race of giants who had ruled the earth in an ancient time, but Edgar Delany knew they were descendants of cursed, black Ham, who had survived the Flood by clinging to the peaks of a mountain in Africa. Ethel thought that if they were cursed, they required Christian guidance all the more.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt four)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

“I don’t get where it says, He that stealeth a man and sells him, shall be put to death,” Cora said. “But then later it says, Slaves should be submissive to their masters in everything—and be well-pleasing.” Either is was a sin to keep another as property, or it had God’s own blessing. But to be well-pleasing in addition? A slaver must have snuck into the printing office and put that in there.

“It means what it says,” Ethel said. “It means that a Hebrew may not enslave a Hebrew. But the sons of Ham are not of that tribe. They were cursed, with black skin and tails. Where the Scripture condemns slavery, it is not speaking of negro slavery at all.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt three)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

No wonder the whites wandered the park in the growing darkness, Cora thought, her forehead pressed into the wood. They were ghosts themselves, caught between two worlds: the reality of their crimes, and the hereafter denied them for those crimes.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt two)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

To hear his valet Prideful tell it, James confined his erotic energies to specialized rooms in a New Orleans establishment. The madam was broad-minded and modern, adept in the trajectories of human desire. Prideful’s stories were hard to believe, despite assurances that he received his reports from the staff of the place, with whom he’d grown close over the years. What kind of white man would willingly submit to the whip?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, excerpt one)

from The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:

When the music started and the dancing commenced, they appreciated the extent of their gratitude for Jockey. Once again he picked the right day for a birthday. He had been attuned to a shared tension, a communal apprehension beyond the routine facts of their bondage. It had built up. The last few hours had dispelled much of the ill feeling. They could face the morning toil and the following mornings and the long days with their spirits replenished, however meagerly, by a fond night to look back on and the next birthday feast to look forward to. By making a circle of themselves that separated the human spirits within from the degradation without.

Friday, December 16, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt fifteen)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

The blues don’t jump right on you. They come creeping. Shortly after my sixtieth I slipped into a depression like I hadn’t experienced since that dusty night in Texas thirty years earlier. It lasted for a year and a half and devastated me. When these moods hit me, usually few will notice—not Mr. Landau, no one I work with in the studio, not the band, never the audience, hopefully not the children—but Patti will observe a freight train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and running quickly out of track. During these periods I can be cruel: I run, I dissemble, I dodge, I weave, I disappear, I return, I rarely apologize, and all the while Patti holds down the fort as I’m trying to burn it down. She stops me. She gets me to the doctors and says, “This man needs a pill.” I do. I’ve been on anti-depressants for the last twelve to fifteen years of my life, and to a lesser degree but with the same effect they had for my father, they have given me a life I would not have been able tto maintain without them. They work. I return to Earth, home and my family. The worst of my destructive behavior curtails itself and my humanity returns. I was crushed between sixty and sixty-one, good for a year and out again from sixty-three to sixty-four. Not a good record.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt fourteen)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

This was the first time where an illness would sideline a band member into missing shows. Danny Federici had contracted melanoma and now needed serious medical treatment. Danny had been misdiagnosed early on and the cancer was now moving through his system. He had been quietly receiving care for a while but could no longer keep it from the band, and so began a long and difficult journey. Charlie Giordano from the Sessions Band was tutored for a few shows by Dan, then quietly stepped in to take over the organ duties while Danny was treated.

One evening on one of Danny’s short returns to the band, he stepped into my dressing room before the show and sat in the chair opposite me. He basically explained things weren’t looking so good. At one point he seemed to run out of words and, gesturing silently, moved one palm over the other, trying to tell me what I already knew. His eyes filled and finally we sat there looking at each other . . . it’d been thirty-five years. I gave him what assurances I could that might ease his mind. We stood up, held each other for a long moment and went out and played. Not long thereafter, Danny appeared with us for the last time, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 20, 2008. In the band we all knew this was it. We wouldn’t see Danny onstage again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt thirteen)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

The Rising had its origins in the national telethon we were invited to be a part of the week of September 11. I wrote “Into the Fire” for that show (it remained incomplete, so I performed “My City of Ruins,” the song I’d written a year earlier for Asbury Park). Of the many tragic images of that day, the picture I couldn’t let go of was of the emergency workers going up the stairs as others rushed down to safety. The sense of duty, the courage, ascending into . . . what? The religious image of ascension, the crossing of the line between this world, the world of blood, work, family, your children, the breath in your lungs, the ground beneath your feet, all that is life, and . . . the next, flooded my imagination. If you love life or any part of it, the depth of their sacrifice is unthinkable and incomprehensible. Yet what they left behind was tangible. Death, along with all its anger, pain and loss, opens a window of possibility for the living. It removes the veil that the “ordinary” gently drapes over our eyes. Renewed sight is the hero’s last loving gift to those left behind.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt twelve)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

After our divorce was final, I took a few days and visited my parents, gave them the news and listened to my mom hector me with “Bruce, three years, your limit! . . . Whaaaaa!” They loved Julianne, but I was their son. I stayed awhile, having my wounds treated with home cooking and sympathy, then headed back to New Jersey. My dad drove me to the airport. Ten minutes out he turned to me and said, “Bruce, maybe you should move back home for a while.” I was tempted to mention that I was a nearly forty-year-old self-made multimillionaire and the prospect of moving back into an eight-by-twelve-foot room in my parents’ house, still holding my stuffed Mickey Mouse, was . . . not impossible, but not likely. Nevertheless, when I looked over at my pop, his suspendered girth squished between the wheel and the driver’s seat, all I could say was, “Thanks, Dad, I’ll think about it.” The old man finally wanted me around the house.

Monday, December 12, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt eleven)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

The songs of Nebraska were written quickly, all rising from the same ground. Each song took maybe three or four takes to record. I was only making “demos.” “Highway Patrolman” and “State Trooper” were recorded only once each. “Mansion on the Hill” was first, “My Father’s House” last, with the song “Nebraska” serving as the record’s heart. I tapped into white gospel, early Appalachian music and the blues. The writing was in the details; the twising of a ring, the twirling of a baton, was where these songs found their character. As in The Night of the Hunter, I often wrote from a child’s point of view. “Mansion on the Hill,” “Used Cars” and “My Father’s House” were all stories that came out of my experience with my family.

I wanted black bedtime stories. I thought of the records of John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson, music that sounded so good with the lights out. I wanted the listener to hear my characters think, to feel their thoughts, their choices. These songs were the opposite of the rock music I’d been writing. They were restrained, still on the surface, with a world of moral ambiguity and unease below. The tension running through the music’s core was the thin line between stability and that moment when the things that connect you to your world, your job, your family, your friends, the love and grace in your heart, fail you. I wanted the music to feel like a waking dream and to move like poetry. I wanted the blood in these songs to feel destined and fateful.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt ten)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

Now, after the unrelenting seriousness of Darkness, I wanted more flexibility in the emotional range of the songs I chose. Along with “gravitas,” our shows were always filled with fun, and I wanted to make sure, this time around, that didn’t get lost. After some time recording, we prepared a single album and handed it in to the record company. It consisted of side one: “The Ties That Bind,” “Cindy,” “Hungry Heart,” “Stolen Car,” “Be True.” Side two: “The River,” “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch),” “The Price You Pay,” “I Wanna Marry You” and “Loose Ends.” Everything, in one form or another, with the exception of “Cindy,” appeared on the final version of The River or later on Tracks, our collection of “outtakes” released in November of 1998. That first version of The River was completely engineered and mixed by Bob Clearmountain. It sounded beautiful, but as I spent time listening to it, I felt that it just wasn’t enough. Our records were infrequent and by now I’d set up my audience to expect more than business as usual. Each record was a statement of purpose. I wanted playfulness, good times, but also an underlying philosophical seriousness, a code of living, fusing it all together and making it more than just a collection of my ten latest songs. (Though, that worked out pretty well for the Beatles.)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt nine)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

I’d gotten to know Patti Smith a little through our work together on “Because the Night.” When I visited her during one of her performances at the Bottom Line, she gave me the name of a South Jersey photographer and said, “You should let this guy take your picture.” One winter afternoon I drove south to Haddonfield, New Jersey, and met Frank Stefanko. Frank had photographed Patti at the beginning of her career. He worked a day job at a local meatpacking plant and continued to practice his craft in his spare time. Frank was a rough-edged but easygoing kind of guy. My recollection is he borrowed a camera for the day, called a teenage kid from next door to come over and hold up his one light and started shooting. I stood against some flowery wallpaper in Frank and his wife’s bedroom, looked straight into the camera, gave him my best “troubled young man,” and he did the rest. One of those photos ended up on the cover of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Frank’s photographs were stark. His talent was he managed to strip away your celebrity, your artifice, and get to the raw you. His photos had a purity and a street poetry to them. They were lovely and true, but they weren’t slick. Frank looked for your true grit and he naturally intuited the conflicts I was struggling to come to terms with. His pictures captured the people I was writing about in my songs and showed me the part of me that was still one of them. We had other cover options but they didn’t have the hungriness of Frank’s pictures.

Friday, December 9, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt eight)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

Vini could be the warmest, most soulful guy inn the world one minute, truly kind, and then go completely postal within seconds. As time passed this wore on some of the band members who bore the brunt of the Mad Dog’s wrath. Danny had taken his lumps. Steve Appel, Mike’s younger brother, who helped out on the road, took a pop in the eye, and so did countless strangers who’d stumbled across the Dog’s intemperate side. Going out with Vini was risky business. One night we headed to a second-floor beach bar. As I was climbing the stairs to the entrance I saw a body tumbling by me on its way back to floor one. It was Vini. He was being thrown out before we even managed to get in! The accompaniment of Big Danny stepping in at the right moment and altering someone’s attitude occasionally saved us from trouble. Vini showed up at a gig one night all bruised and scratched up. He had his enemies, and someone had found out Vini rode his bike home down the boardwalk to Bradley after the gig every night at three thirty a.m. Some vengeful soul had stretched a thin wire from the railing across the boards right at bicycle tire level. Mad Dog hit it at speed and got launched head over handlebars into an ass full of splinters, cuts and bruises.

Then . . . he took it one step too far. One afternoon he managed to drive Clarence Clemons around the bend. C went off, strangling the hell out of Vini’s skinny neck, holding him down on the floor and smashing a heavy stereo speaker inches from his head in an attempt to bring the enlightenment. Vini got up, ran out of the house and made a beeline to my garage apartment in Bradley Beach. He looked like he’d just escaped a hanging but had spent a few moments too long dangling, eyes popping, legs shaking, at the end of the rope. He showed me huge red welts around his neck, screamed that Clarence had tried to murder him and uttered the immortal ultimatum, “Brucie, it’s him or me.” Not the best way to sum up your grievances on E Street, but it was my band, my town, I was mayor, judge, jury and sheriff, so I calmed him down and told him I’d look into it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt seven)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

I was called in to see Charles Koppelman, head of A & R, to review the album. We played a good piece of the first side and I was immediately informed the album was unreleasable. Mr. Koppelman said the musicianship was simply not up to snuff. He asked me to meet him down at a Columbia studio in a few nights and he’d show me what some “real” musicians could do with these songs. I am sure he meant well but I explained I could not do that. I told him this was my band, I was committed to them, I thought the record sounded great, I was proud of it and wanted it released as is. Mr. Koppelman was blunt in his assessment of my prospects. If I insisted on the recording being released as it was it would most likely go in the trash heap, receive little promotion and, along with me, disappear. What could I do? I liked it the way it was, so I fiercely insisted it remain unmeddled with, and what Mr. Koppelman promised was exactly what happened.

When we toured to promote The Wild, the Innocent, few even knew it had been released. I hit one Texas radio station where I was told a representative from my record company had visited and, while promoting several new Columbia recordings, literally told them to remove mine from airplay, adding, “The songs are too long.” This was a new twist. My own record company trying to get my records off the radio. It was only the beginning. A battle royale broke out between rock ‘n’ roll drill sergeant Mike Appel and the new powers that be at CBS. Mike sent all the executives coal in a stock for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt six)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

Dylan was preeminent amongst these types of writers. Bob Dylan is the father of my country. Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived. The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside. He put his boot on the stultifying politeness and daily routine that covered corruption and decay. The world he described was all on view, in my little town, and spread out over the television that beamed into our isolated homes, but it went uncommented on and silently tolerated. He inspired me and gave me hope. He asked the questions everyone else was too frightened to ask, especially to a fifteen-year-old: “How does it feel . . . to be on your own?” A seismic gap had opened up between generations and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless. Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become. He planted a flag, wrote the songs, sang the words that were essential to the times, to the emotional and spiritual survival of so many young Americans at that moment.

I had the opportunity to sing “The Times They Are A-Changin’” for Bob when he received the Kennedy Center Honors. We were alone together for a brief moment walking down a back stairwell when he thanked me for being there and said, “If there’s anything I can ever do for you . . .” I thought, “Are you kidding me?” and answered, “It’s already been done.” As a young musician, that’s where I wanted to go. I wanted to be a voice that reflected experience and the world I lived in. So I knew in 1972 that to do this I would need to write very well and more individually than I had ever written before. I’d saved a few dollars playing her and there since I got back and for the first time in my life I stopped playing with a band and concentrated on songwriting. At night in my bedroom with my guitar and on an old Acolian spinet piano parked in the rear of the beauty salon, I began to write the music that would comprise Greetings from Asbury Park.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt five)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

We had three days to get to California. We had no extra money for motels and no camping gear, so we would not be stopping. We would drive in rotating shifts around the clock, pausing roadside only for food and gas. I didn’t drive . . . at all. I had no car, no license; at twenty-one my transportation was a bicycle or my thumb. I had hitchhiked everywhere I went since I was fifteen years old and had gotten very comfortable with it. When I say I didn’t drive, I mean I DID NOT KNOW HOW. I could not safely operate a motor vehicle. My old man never had the patience to teach me, and after one sprint spinning and jerking my way through the Freehold Raceway parking lot, Tex himself had thrown up his hands and quickly quit too. I was completely incompetent behind the wheel. I was not counted as one of the drivers for this trip. That’s why we were glad to have the extra guy. There would be no “racing in the street” for me for a few years.

Monday, December 5, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt four)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

Just a brief year or two after Jimi Hendrix played the Wha?, the Castiles played regularly on Saturday and Sunday next door to the Fugs on MacDougal Street. The Mothers of Invention were around the corner at the Warwick Theater. Steve and I caught Neil Young promoting his first solo album, his signature black Gibson plugged into a tiny Fender amp, blowing out the walls of the Bitter End. Nobody paid us much attention with the exception of a small group of a bridge-and-tunnel teenybopper girls who latched on to our band and showed up regularly. This was the big world, the free world; in Greenwich Village in 1968, I could walk with my freak flag held high and nobody was going to bust me. It was a world I could call my own, a little piece of my future beckoning.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt three)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

Also south, down Route 9, stood Freewood Acres, the first subdivision any of us had ever seen. What distinguished Freewood Acres was not just its “first ever” status as a planned community but the fact that it counted as its inhabitants descendants of Genghis Khan: Mongolians. It was a long ride from the Russian steppes, but due to the grace of Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of Leo of War and Peace fame, they’d arrived locally in the late forties after the war. Alexandra had a foundation that assisted in getting them out of the Soviets’ reach, so, persecuted by Stalin and rabidly anti-Communist, they settled in Monmouth County. It was Siberia or New Jersey, a close one, but they were sprung from Stalin’s cages and ended up literally on Highway 9. Their children became my classmates at Freehold High.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt two)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

Bart would shortly give up the sticks for good and join the marines. Rushing in one last afternoon, a goofy grin on his face, he told us he was going to Vietnam. He laughed and said he didn’t even know where it was. In the days before his ship-out, he’d sit one last time at the drums, in his full dress blues, in Marion and Tex’s dining room, taking one final swing at “Wipe Out.” He was killed in action by mortar fire in Quang Tri Province. He was the first soldier from Freehold to die in the Vietnam War.

Friday, December 2, 2016

the last book I ever read (Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen, excerpt one)

from Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen:

In this house, due to order of birth and circumstance, I was lord, king and the messiah all rolled into one. Because I was the first grandchild, my grandmother latched on to me to replace my dead aunt Virginia. Nothing was out of bounds. It was a terrible freedom for a young boy and I embraced it with everything I had. I stayed up until three a.m. and slept until three p.m. at five and six years old. I watched TV until it went off and I was left staring alone at the test pattern. I ate what and when I wanted. My parents and I became distant relatives and my mother, in her confusion and desire to keep the peace, ceded me to my grandmother’s total dominion. A timid little tyrant, I soon felt like the rules were for the rest of the world, at least until my dad came home. He would lord sullenly over the kitchen, a monarch dethroned by his own firstborn son at his mother’s insistence. Our ruin of a house and my own eccentricities and power at such a young age shamed and embarrassed me. I could see the rest of the world was running on a different clock and I was teased for my habits pretty thoroughly by my neighborhood pals. I loved my entitlement, but I knew it wasn’t right.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt twelve)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

Black people don’t even talk about race. Nothing’s attributable to color anymore. It’s all “mitigating circumstances.” The only people discussing “race” with any insight and courage and loud middle-aged men who romanticize the Kennedys and Motown, well-read open-minded white kids like the tie-dyed familiar sitting next to me in the Free Tibet and Boba Fett T-shirt, a few freelance journalists in Detroit, and the American hikikomori who sit in their basements pounding away at their keyboards composing measured and well-thought-out responses to the endless torrent of racist online commentary. So thank goodness for MSNBC, Rick Rubin, the Black Guy at The Atlantic, Brown University, and the beautiful Supreme Court Justice from the Upper West Side, who, leaning coolly into her microphone, has finally asked the first question that makes any sense: “I think we’ve established the legal quandary here as to whether a violation of civil rights law that results in the very same achievement these heretofore mentioned statutes were meant to promote, yet have failed to achieve, is in fact a breach of said civil rights. What we must not fail to remember is that ‘separate but equal’ was struck down, not on any moral grounds, but on the basis that the Court found that separate can never be equal. And at a minimum, this case suggests we ask ourselves not if separate were indeed equal, but what about ‘separate and not quite equal, but infinitely better off than ever before.’ Me v. the United States of America demands a more fundamental examination of what we mean by ‘separate,’ by ‘equal,’ by ‘black.’ So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty—what do we mean by ‘black’?”

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt eleven)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

As I lay, not exactly dying but close enough, I thought about Marpessa. Who, if the position of the sun high in the gorgeous blue sky was any indication, was at the far end of this very same street taking her lunch break. Her bus parked facing the ocean. Her bare feet on the dashboard, nose buried in Camus, listening to the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt ten)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

Sometimes I wish Darth Vader had been my father. I’d have been better off. I wouldn’t have a right hand, but I definitely wouldn’t have the burden of being black and constantly having to decide when and if I gave a shit about it. Plus, I’m left-handed.

Monday, November 28, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt nine)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

The philosophy professor on sabbatical inbounded the ball. A personal-injury lawyer hit a corner jumper. Displaying a surprisingly good handle, a fat pharmacist cross-overed a pediatrician, but bricked the layup. The day trader air-balled a shot that sailed out of bounds and rolled toward the parking lot. Even in L.A., where luxury cars, like shopping carts at the supermarket, are everywhere you look, Foy’s ’56 300SL was unmistakable. There couldn’t have been more than a hundred left on the planet. Near the front fender, Foy sat in a small lawn chair, dressed in only his boxers, a T-shirt, and sandals, chatting into his phone and typing on a laptop almost as old as his car. He was drying clothes. His shirts and pants hanging from hangers hooked onto the car’s gull-wing doors, which were in full flight and hovering above like wings on a silver dragon. I had to ask. I got up and walked past the basketball game. Two players vying for a loose ball tumbled by. Arguing over possession before they got to their feet.

“Who’s that off of?” a player in beat-up sneakers asked me, his outstretched arms a silent plea for mercy. I recognized the guy. The mustachioed lead detective in a long-canceled but still-in-syndication cop show—big in Ukraine. “That’s off the dude with the hairy chest.” The movie star disagreed. But it was the right call.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt eight)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

It wasn’t necessarily a case of saving the best for last, but as Hood Day approached, Hominy and I had managed to install some form of segregation in nearly every section and public facility in Dickens except for the Martin Luther “Killer” King, Jr., Hospital, which is paradoxically located in Polynesian Gardens. Polynesian Gardens, aka P.G., being a majority-Latino neighborhood that carried a rumored reputation for being hostile toward African-Americans. In fact, local legend had it that the injuries black Dickensians suffered while driving through P.G. to the hospital were often more sever than the afflictions that had caused them to seek medical attention in the first place. Between the police and the gangs, navigating the streets of any neighborhood in L.A. County, especially any section not familiar with you, can be dangerous. You just never know when you’re going to get rolled up on for being or wearing the wrong color. I’d never had any problems in Polynesian Gardens, but if I were to be honest, I never went there at night. And the evening before our planned action on the hospital, there’d been a shoot-out between Varrio Polynesian Gardens and Barrio Polynesian Gardens, two gangs with a longstanding blood feud over spelling and pronunciation. So to ensure Hominy and I got in and out with our asses intact, I attached two small purple-and-gold Lakers pennants to the front fenders of my pickup truck and, for good measure, flew a giant Iwo Jima-sized, 1987 Championship Lakers flag from the roof. Everybody, and I mean everybody in Los Angeles, loves the Lakers. And driving down Centennial Avenue, even behind slow-moving lowriders that refused to go faster than ten miles an hour, the Lakers flags billowed majestically in the night wind, giving the pickup truck an ambassadorial vibe that allowed us to cruise through with a temporary diplomatic immunity.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt seven)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

For ten years, ever since our breakup, I’d periodically park outside her crib, wait until the lights went out, then through the binoculars and a sliver of open bay window curtain, I’d take in the life I should’ve been living, a life of sushi and Scrabble, kids studying in the living room and playing with the dog. After the children went to bed, I’d watch Nosferatu and Metropolis with her, crying like a baby because the way Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times circle around each like two dogs in heat reminded me of us. Sometimes I’d sneak up to the porch and, in the screen door, leave a snapshot of the growing satsuma tree on her porch with Our son, Kazuo, says hello written on the back.

Friday, November 25, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt six)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

I balked at telling her about my father locking my head into the tachistoscope and for three hours flashing split-second images of the forbidden fruit of his era, pinups and Playboy centerfolds, in my face. Bettie Page, Betty Grable, Barbra Streisand, Twiggy, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn, Sophia Loren; then he’d force ipecac and okra smoothies down my throat. I’d vomit my guts out while he blasted Buffy Saint-Marie and Linda Ronstadt on the stereo. The visual stimuli worked, but the auditory stuff didn’t take. To this day, whenever I’m feeling down and troubled, I crank Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King from the stereo, all of who were shouting-out California way before Biggie, Tupac, or any of the Ice Coons. But if you look carefully, and the light is just right, you can see the afterimages of Barbi Benton’s naked centerfold burned into my pupils as if they were discount plasma TVs.

“It’s nothing. I just don’t like white girls is all.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt five)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

That wintery day in the segregated state of Alabama, when the Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, she became known as the “Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement.” Decades later on, a seasonally indeterminate afternoon in a supposedly unsegregated section of Los Angeles, California, Hominy Jenkins couldn’t wait to give up his seat to a white person. Grandfather of the post-racial civil rights movement known as “The Standstill,” he sat in the front of the bus, on the edge of his aisle seat, giving each new rider of the once-over. Unfortunately for him, Dickens is a community as black as Asian hair, as brown as James, and after forty-five minutes of standing-room-only, all-minority ridership, the closest he got to a white person was the dreadlocked woman who got on at Poinsettia Avenue toting a rolled-up yoga mat.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt four)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

I minored in crop sciences and management, because Professor Farley, my intro to agronomy teacher, said that I was a natural horticulturist. That I could be the next George Washington Carver if I wanted to be. All I needed to do was apply myself and find my own equivalent to the peanut. A legume of my own, she joked, placing a single phaseolus vulgaris into my palm. But anyone who’d ever been to Tito’s Tacos and tasted a warm cupful of the greasy, creamy, refried frijole slop covered in a solid half-inch of melted cheddar cheese knew the bean had already reached genetic perfection. I remember wondering why George Washington Carver. Why couldn’t I have been the next Gregor Mendel, the next whoever it was that invented the Chia Pet, and even though nobody remembers Captain Kangaroo, the next Mr. Green Jeans? So I chose to specialize in the plant life that had the most cultural relevance to me—watermelon and weed. At best I’m a subsistence farmer, but three or four times a year, I’ll hitch a horse to the wagon and clomp through Dickens, hawking my wares, Mongo SantamarĂ­a’s “Watermelon Man” blasting from the boom box. That song pounding in the distance has been known to stop summer league basketball games mid-fast break, end many a ding-dong-ditch, double-Dutch marathon early, and force the women and children waiting at the intersection of Compton and Firestone for the last weekend visitation bus to the L.A. County Jail to make a difficult decision.

Monday, November 21, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt three)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

Dollscape I featured Ken and Malibu Barbie dressed in matching bathing suits, appropriately snorkeled and goggled, cooling by the Dream House pool. In Dollscape II, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, and a brown-skinned, egg-shaped Weeble toy were running (and wobbling) through a swampy thicket from a pack of plastic German shepherds leading an armed lynch party comprised of my G.I. Joes hooded in Ku Klux Klan sheets. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a small white Christmas ornament that spun slowly over the bog, glittering and sparkling like a disco ball in the afternoon sun.

“That’s the North Star. They’re running toward the North Star. Toward freedom.”

Sunday, November 20, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt two)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

We lived in Dickens, a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, and as odd as it might sound, I grew up on a farm in the inner city. Founded in 1868, Dickens, like most California towns except for Irvine, which was established as a breeding ground for stupid, fat, ugly, white Republicans and the Chihuahuas and East Asian refugees who love them, started out as an agrarian community. The city’s original charter stipulated that “Dickens shall remain free of Chinamen, Spanish of all shades, dialects, and hats, Frenchmen, redheads, city slickers, and unskilled Jews.” However, the founders, in their somewhat limited wisdom, also provided that the five hundred acress bordering the canal be forever zoned for something referred to as “residential agriculture,” and thus my neighborhood, a ten-square-block section of Dickens unofficially known as the Farms was born. You know when you’ve entered the Farms, because the city sidewalks, along with your rims, car stereo, nerve, and progressive voting record, will have vanished into air thick with the smell of cow manure and, if the wind is blowing the right direction—good weed. Grown men slowly pedal dirt bikes and fixies through streets clogged with gaggles and coveys of every type of farm bird from chickens to peacocks. They ride by with no hands, counting small stacks of bills, looking up just long enough to raise an inquisitive eyebrow and mouth: “Wassup? Q’vo?” Wagon wheels nailed to front-yard trees and fences lend the ranch-style houses a touch of pioneer authenticity that belies the fact that every window, entryway, and doggie door has more bars on it and padlocks than prison commissary. Front porch senior citizens and eight-year-olds who’ve already seen it all sit on rickety lawn chairs whittling with switchblades, waiting for something to happen, as it always did.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

the last book I ever read (The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty, excerpt one)

from The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty:

Most times cops expect to be thanked. Whether they’ve just given you directions to the post office, beaten your ass in the backseat of the patrol car, or, in my case, uncuffed you, returned your weed, drug paraphernalia, and provided you with the traditional Supreme Court quill. But this one has had a look of pity on her face, ever since this morning, when she and her posse met me atop the Supreme Court’s vaunted forty-fourth stair. Under a pediment inscribed with the words EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, squinting into the morning sun, windbreakers dotted with the dandruff of fallen cherry blossoms, blocking my entrance into the building. We all knew that this was a charade, a last-minute meaningless show of power by the state. The only one not in on the joke was the cocker spaniel. His retractable leash whirring behind him, he bounded up to me, excitedly sniffed my shoes and my pant legs, nuzzled my crotch with his wet snot-encrusted nose, then obediently sat down beside me, his tail proudly pounding the ground. I’ve been charged with a crime so heinous that busting me for possession of marijuana on federal property would be like charging Hitler with loitering and a multinational oil company like British Petroleum with littering after fifty years of exploding refineries, toxic spills and emissions, and a shamelessly disingenuous advertising campaign. So I clear my pipe with two loud raps on the mahogany table. Brush and blow the gummy resin onto the floor, stuff the bowl with homegrown, and like a firing squad commander lighting a deserter’s last cigarette, the lady cop obligingly flicks her BIC and sparks me up. I refuse the blindfold and take the most glorious toke ever taken in the history of pot smoking. Call every racially profiled, abortion-denied, flag-burning, Fifth Amendment taker and tell them to demand a retrial, because I’m getting high in the highest court in the land. The officers stare at me in amazement. I’m the Scopes monkey, the missing link in the evolution of African-American jurisprudence come to life. I can hear the cocker spaniel whimpering in the corridor, pawing at the door, as I blow an A-bomb mushroom-cloud-sized plume of smoke into the faces that line the giant friezes on the ceiling. Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon—these veined Spanish marble incantations of democracy and fair play—Muhammad, Napoleon, Charlemagne, and some buffed ancient Greek frat boy in a toga stand above me, casting their stony judgmental gazes down upon me. I wonder if they looked at the Scottsboro Boys and Al Gore, Jr., with the same disdain.

Friday, November 18, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt ten)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

Someone on the field whistled. The football was placed on the ground in a patch of limp grass, then each team gathered in a huddle. The Giants huddle was rapidly generated and ill-formed. It dissolved almost immediately, and the defenders spread out in rough formation, awaiting the offensive alignment. The Redskins huddle was a perfect and intimate order, elemental and domestic, like a log cabin in the wilderness. Sarah and Deirdre, Brandon and Paul—they could perhaps sense in the huddle the origins of civilization. The men bent at the waist, hands on knees. Their helmets nearly touched inside the private sphere, where ten men listened for the secret, the invocation against evil. Their breath rose together from the center of the circle. They broke their huddle with a synchronized and disciplined clap, not bright but dulled by gloves and tape. They jogged to the line of scrimmage. Even the quarterback jogged. He wore number 7. His face mask was old-fashioned, a single bar. It was nearly ten o’clock, November 18. The rain fell steadily through the fog. Passing cars honked from the street, and a passenger in a truck yelled something mean-spirited and vulgar. It was odd, Paul thought, not to begin with a kickoff. He did not know what he hoped to see, failure or something else. The quarterback was under center. He looked to his right and then to his left. He looked again to his right, then to his left. He called, “Yellow forty-one,” he voice wavering. He called it again. The hooded man and the man with the baseball cap leaned forward, elbows on their knees. The sales associates sat closely together on the top row of the bleachers, their shoulders touching. The man in the yellow poncho stood completely still beneath the scoreboard. The ball was snapped then, and something happened, a single ruinous play, a discrete unit of chaos, violent and unlovely. The players grunted, their damp pads clacked through the fog. The entire play lasted perhaps five seconds. “Shit, flea flicker,” Brandon murmured as the running back pitched the ball to the quarterback. “Uh-oh,” he said. “Throw it, throw it.” But the quarterback had not thrown the ball. He had stepped up into the pocket to avoid the rush, and then crumpled beneath a lineback who had leaped onto his back. “That was not good,” Paul said. “Those old guys are not up for this.” Other defenders jumped on top of the quarterback, and a muffled scream came from the pile of bodies. Like a spell the scream lifted the players from the pile. One player, the one who had brought the quarterback down, gestured frantically to an empty sideline. He put his hands on his helmet. It was something the sales associates would remember.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt nine)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

Out in the hallway, something or someone slammed hard against the door, and the men laughed and coughed. Then Nate told a story. The story began with a kind of rustling or scuttling sound in the basement. Carl gritted his teeth. God help me, he thought, this is going to be a story about an animal in the house. Carl had been at the hotel for a little more than twenty-four hours, and he had already heard six or seven stories about animals in houses, identical in dramatic contour—the strange noise or scat or smell, the mystery, the false hypothesis, the persistence, the breakthrough, the discovery, the grim and triumphant resolution. The unstated moral: It’s my house. But Carl tried to be patient, he did. He understood that each animal in each house felt unique to the home owner. A man with an animal in his house is an archetype. He joins a long narrative tradition, and yet for each particular man in each particular house the event is not allegory. It is an urgent and singular encounter, exceptional and unrepeatable. Carl remembered very clearly the bats in his own attic. Those terrible little fingers. He knew that each man was entitled to his story about an animal in the house, and he tried to pay attention, tried to nod and sound surprised when it turned out to be a raccoon. “Are you serious?” Carl said. “What did you do then?” Nate had good hair, and it was a pleasure to cut. He had, at least in the decade that Carl had known him, always parted his hair in the middle. It was time, Carl thought, for a change.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt eight)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

(Chad had missed some of the story, but it seems that Peter had been roasting marshmallows by himself with his gas stove in the middle of the night when his seven-year-old son entered the kitchen and witnessed the scene. I thought I smelled something, the child had said, staring at Peter warily, refusing to return to be. Peter just stood there with two perfectly golden marshmallows on the end of a barbecue fork. Big deal, Adam said, still staring out the window. Continue, Charles said. He had the look of one betrayed, Peter said. I think he had a hard time with it, with the idea that this person he loved and trusted could roast marshmallows while he slept. It’s been a couple of weeks, and he’s had trouble falling asleep. He’s wet the bed a couple of times. I shouldn’t have done it, I guess, Peter said. It wasn’t a dessert night. A phone vibrated in a duffel bag. I’m glad you’re here, Charles. Charles, I’m glad you’re here. Chad waited in his wet socks, and the waiting felt emblematic.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt seven)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

Gear exchange was a chaotic and inefficient and lengthy and primitive process. Over the years there had been several sensible, even elegant, proposals for a more orderly exchange, but each had been ignored. As they did every year after the lottery, the men now roamed hallways with helmets, shoulder pads, and uniforms, searching for the men who required their gear, as well as for the roaming men who had the gear that they required. The cumbersome burden of the equipment was essential to the rite, as was the notion of quest, as was the act of bestowal, as was the inebriated sociability among fellow wanderers. “I hate to say it about my own kid,” Nate told Vince in the stairwell, “but he’s about the sickliest little thing I’ve ever seen.” In the fifth-floor hallway, Robert, having received downstairs the pristine Jeff Bostic gear from Randy, bestowed his Harry Carson gear upon Nate. “Carson,” Nate said, wiping his palms on his pants. Robert could hardly expect Nate to notice the mended chinstrap. In fact, if Nate noticed the chinstrap, it would probably mean Robert had not repaired it well. And he had repaired it well. When Robert was a child, his father had told him that there is never a need to draw attention to one’s own accomplishments. People notice a job done well, his father had said, but in Robert’s experience that had not been true. What people notice is tardiness, failure, moth damage. Robert’s father had been a corporate whistleblower who was pilloried in the press. He now lived alone in rural Illinois, where he sat erectly in a folding chair, listening to police scanners. He carted around an oxygen tank, but still had the power to humiliate Robert.

Monday, November 14, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt six)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

Trent picked Gil’s ping-pong ball from the pillowcase, and Gil, who had not been on the Redskins line in the past four years, was compelled by rule to select a lineman. Scowling, Gil chose right tackle Mark May, whom he considered not a good selection but the least terrible selection, given his options. Bald Michael, who had been Mark May three times, and Andy, who had been Mark May last year, made eye contact across the room. Gil was disappointed now, but he wouldn’t be for long. Once you had played May, you understood.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt five)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

Out of habit, Robert checked his watch, but failed to perceive the time. He looked up, squinting into the shabby light of Carl’s projector. How is one to live? When Robert helped his wife prepare a nice meal, he invariably thought of all the dishes they would have to wash later. When he loaded the car for his family’s summer vacation to the beach, he thought of how unpleasant it would be to unpack the car a week later. Even if the family vacation was “fun”—and often it did contain pleasurable moments for Robert—it would soon be over. While it was happening it was ending. As soon as the vacation began, it was eroding. How do you enjoy something that has, by virtue of beginning, commenced its ending? How, for instance, do you put up a Christmas tree? (All those fragile ornaments, wrapped in tissue.) There was in fact no beginning, or middle. It was all end. How silly, then, to load the car, to drive eleven hours for something that was just going to be gone. Wouldn’t it be easier to remain at home? That’s where they would end up a week later, with their sunburns and sandy towels and a thousand digital pictures of that time—which year was that?—that they went to the beach. Everything that had happened to Robert in his life was over, and the things that had not yet happened were on their way to being over. Some would be over sooner, others later. He often looked forward to watching a game on television, but when the game started, it was ending, and so he could not enjoy the game. Robert glanced at Charles, who was scratching his armpit. He wondered whether Charles was respected by his peers. When Robert heard a song he liked, he was aware that the song was dissolving in time, second by second. I like third verse, he would think. Here comes the third verse. Here it comes. Then the third verse just evaporated. What did it even mean to like a song? There was no song. The song wasn’t there. It was just like that cocktail in the screened-in porch after a day of hot sun at the beach, the happy pink children eating watermeln, the handsome and serious wife reading a frivolous magazine, her feet propped up, her toenail polish flaking, a breeze coming through. It wasn’t there, either. Anything good that would happen to Robert would be converted instantaneously to something good that had happened. And something good that had happened was, because it was already over, something somber.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt four)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

Since Peter used a side entrance, the men who had entered the lobby—even Robert in his stuffed chair—did not notice him. The woman at the front desk looked up and smiled at Peter as he passed, but he did not acknowledge her. He walked to the dining area, where he filled a cup with water at the juice dispenser. Upon opening the microwave he was momentarily stunned by the miasma of irradiated popcorn. He blinked his eyes against the vapors, steadied his legs. The interior of the microwave, like the interiors of all public microwaves, resembled the scene of a double homicide. He put the cup inside, closed the door, and programmed the oven to heat the water on high for one minute and fifty-six seconds. The start button was concave with history, like the stone steps of ancient cathedral. The microwave rattled and popped. A dim interior bulb cast a faint yellow glow on the revolving cup and the spattered walls. A sign on the top of the microwave, framed like the photograph of a family pet, asked that microwave users please demonstrate a respectful attitude toward fellow users. The clip art image on the sign, inexplicably, was of a guitar. Peter paced as the green digital numbers descended toward zero. He touched the new mouthguard in his pocket. On his phone he checked the weather, sent a text, renewed a prescription. He stood on his left leg, flexing his right knee. He had reached an age when a sore knee might mean either that the knee was sore, or that the knee was shot. He frequently had occasion to consider the phrase bone on bone. The microwave oven rattled along like some World’s Fair exhibit. Could this really be, in our age, the fastest method for heating things up? Peter looked around, but there was nobody else in the dining area. A long banner above the continental buffet station welcomed Prestige Vesta Solutions. On television, heavy wind pushed a car across a tennis court, eliciting nervous laughter and censored profanity from the amateur videographer. Peter ran his hand through his hair, which he had allowed to grow long in anticipation of a Saturday afternoon haircut from Carl. He did not particularly like Carl’s haircuts, but he got one every year, and he worried that he would hurt Carl’s feelings if he did not sign up. Peter stopped the microwave with two second remaining, and removed the hot cup of water. Then, following directions he knew very well, he dropped the new mouthguard into the slow boil. It floated there like a translucent semi-sessile annelid, the kind of tubular aquatic worm that is capable of regeneration. He left the guard in the water for slightly longer than directed, and instead of rinsing it quickly in cold water, as the instructions exhorted in bold font, he placed it directly into his mouth. He bit down hard, sucked vigorously to remove the air and water. He looked around, but there was nobody to remove the air and water. He looked around, but there was nobody else in the dining area. The plastic was soft, and it tasted like synthetic butter. With his finger Peter pressed the scalding plastic into his gums; with his tongue he pushed the guard into the back of his top and bottom teeth. He sculpted the guard, made it his own. It was now unique. After a minute, which he counted more or less accurately in his head, he extracted the mouthguard and rinsed it in cold water from the juice dispenser. He put the mouthguard back into his mouth, and looked around. If the fit was not good, he could boil the mouthguard again. The fit was good, but he decided to boil the mouthguard again.

Friday, November 11, 2016

the last book I ever read (Chris Bachelder's The Throwback Special, excerpt three)

from The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder:

“Our branch is closed on Tuesdays! Serious cuts!”

“Sorry to hear that,” Andy said into his cleats. The rain slid down the windshield and windows. Andy’s anxious breathing began to fog up the inside of the glass. George became a wet and indistinct blur, but Andy could still hear him speaking slowly through the window. He was disappointed about a tax referendum in his county, but he still had faith in the democratic process. The information was out there. The people could find it, make informed choices. Then something about either wetlands or weapons. Andy remained silent, hidden in his fortress of condensation. He was not, at this point of the weekend, having a good time, though he knew that good times were probably just for teenagers dancing around a big bonfire in a clearing in the woods with loud music playing from an open hatchback. After a few minutes, the talking stopped and the foggy blur disappeared from Andy’s passenger window. Andy had been inconsiderate, he knew. He thought of his wife, what she would say to him. She would say that he had been cruel to George. She would say that George wasn’t so bad. She would say he’s lonely. But Andy’s wife was the person who invariably, at any social gathering, ended up cornered by a gesticulating freak. The eccentrics preyed on her, sensing her weakness, her gentle open face, her listening skills. They had things they wanted to share—their health problems, their pets’ health problems, their unpublished fantasy novels, the fires that nearly destroyed their childhood homes, their long estrangements from their felonious sons. Andy’s wife would stand for hours with her back to the artwork, so careful not to touch it, clutching an empty glass of wine, making eye contact, nodding at the lunatic. And then on the drive home she would brim with misanthropic rage. Why, she would want to know, had Andy not saved her? Could he not see that she was trapped by that woman with her fringed vest tucked into the elastic waist of her skirt? With those huge feather earrings? That woman talking for over an hour about chestnut blight? Andy recalled how strange it had been, in the first giddy months of marriage, to introduce her, to consider her, as his wife. And now it would be just as strange to think of her as his ex-wife.