Monday, June 22, 2009

AARON (pt. 2)

The day before Aaron flew, his uncle died. His uncle had been dying for a decade, and everyone already thought he was dead. When Aaron received the call, he agreed. When he realized that they meant that he had died today, he was shocked. But not for the same reason they were shocked. They sent their condolences and asked him to write the obituary.

“Oh, I’m not really good at public speaking. Especially in public”

“No. Not the eulogy. The obituary, for the paper.”

“Oh. Do you know if he served in the Army?” Aaron asked thinking of what to put in the middle.

He didn’t.

The average obituary was 5 sentences, and Aaron had the first and last written in his mind. But what did he do in the middle, he thought? Aaron stood in the airport practicing, writing obituaries for every bald man that walked past. From pictures, he knew that his uncle was bald and he thought that a bald man would have a different second sentence than a man with hair. How could it be otherwise? The man coming out of the bathroom: credited with having come up with the idea of placing billboards on benches, Arnie always thought of new places to hide his messages. His friends called him “Mr. Idea.” The man underlining passages in a soft-bound Bible: before being reborn, Peter was the first person to put a new spin on the art of self-portrait in two centuries by adding just the tip of his erect penis into the busts. His art retrospective included chalk outlines of faded empires. The man who insisted on three seats of buffer zone: his one true love in life was his childhood band, The Tender & The Vulnerable. Aaron created a backup to this exercise, in case he ever found himself in the bar, midway and too far into this story about writing obituaries for living traveling bald men, forgetting where it lead. In this instance he would say that he was writing haikus on those who walked past, rather than an obituary. He once wrote a eulogy for a man who was still alive, and no one understood. A haiku, he thought, would be more defensible.

He wondered if anyone in Smook, Texas would notice if his uncle’s obituary were in the form of a haiku. I bet they clap when they count syllables, Aaron thought. He pictured the diner where he was told the cowboys used to hang out clapping as they read the death notices. He wondered if he could justify himself by adding that that’s what his uncle would have wanted.

Aaron decided to write the obituary on the plane over Texas, or the midland, because that’s what his uncle would have wanted. He secretly hoped that a pretty girl would sit beside him on the plane, because he wouldn’t judge a pretty girl as harshly. If the pretty girl sat next to him, he would get drunk on five-dollar gin and tonics, he decided. He would mention the funeral at the second drink, and receive free drinks and lovely shoulder strokes thereafter. The aging stewardesses would smile when he showed them his license, remarking how young he looked. Apparently, at 64 he would still look like he were 12, or by the stewardesses calculations 24. They thought this attractive. He thought this repulsive.

The pretty girl did not sit beside Aaron, so he spent the flight fighting for the middle armrest. Long ago he had come to the conclusion that it belonged to him. He forgot the logic employed, but the entitlement had taken root. He rubbed his arm against that of his fellow traveler and conquered the shared armrest. The man wasn’t bald, but Aaron wrote his obituary nonetheless. He wrote it in the soduku boxes, presuming that the man had served his country courageously, bravely in war and courageous in peace, and left it in the in-flight magazine for the next passenger to make sense of.

Aaron had a plan for when he arrived in Texas. He planned to cover his discomfort with sweat, remark often about the heat and humidity, and take frequent showers at the motel. This cycle, he thought, would always ensure small talk and an exit strategy. He also played with the possibility of taking advantage of the afternoon nap during times of grief. Though he had little to do in Texas, they would understand the notion of sorrow engendering sleep. It was natural.

At the airport, Aaron’s uncle’s common-law wife waited all day.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Every time that Aaron walked into an airport, he thought that he’d have stories to tell. The lines of the building always curved in a way that seemed extraordinary, if not meaningful.
With so much space with which to extend, there must have been a reason to restrain the building in this arc. It was always the same—parking lot to a tunnel of sorts, to an escalator, to a transparent gate of windows.

After being cleared by security, Aaron’s gait became more confident.

Through the endless windows, the distance could always be seen, at least three quarters of a mile’s worth. The distance was just enough to bring the eyes out of focus and force a daydream. It was shaved grass for close to a mile, and then a line of trees. Softwood stood between the airport and an unforgiving wilderness that needed to be flown over. It was a zone of confidence, always visible.

In an airport, Aaron dreamt up stores that he thought magnificent. He had no wild dreams about imminent adventures or anonymous eyes behind indoor sunglasses, but the airport gave him a feeling of dull possibilities. For a moment, Aaron stood in a crowded but expansive corridor and tried to pinpoint the element that put him in this mood.

Everything repeated itself around the corner, and yet he always thought that there was something better beyond. He always thought that they should install a series of concave mirrors along the corridor, so that one could see everything at once. Or was it convex.

Along the corridor, all the food would be delicious, except for the food behind the stands before him. He knew from past experience that it would be greasy, but not salty, and he’d have no place to wash his hands properly.

This seemed like the perfect place to experience déjà vu, and yet it wouldn't occur. Aaron stepped in the bathroom and it was the same as before, but he knew it was different. There had to be at least one toilet that stood unflushed. The smell necessitated it.

In the newsstand and gift shop, they don't mind if you browse the racks and read the magazines. But they wrap all the top magazines in cellophane, and they judge you more than at the 7-11. At the airport you get used to the fact that everyone is judging you. Aaron thought of riding the Greyhound, but you pay for that kind of anonymity.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Remy was always coming apart. The skin about his nose was always falling off and his blonde hair was always filled with snow. If Remy saw your eyes wander to his shoulders or chest he would quickly announce his hobbies. He solders, he says, small tiny electronic machines. He sticks tiny colored wires in inviting holes, and when positioned perfectly, he seals the deal with a drop of hot runny metal. And a brief puff of smoke is exhaled. Steam really.

The microchips he explains, are very sensitive. He has no rugs in his home, he remarks. Because static electricity is everywhere, he marvels, like snow. And it is the scourge of tiny machines.

He keeps the humidity low in his apartment, he explains. For the machines. This prevents him from keeping orchids, with their fragile blooms and thirst for airy water, in his apartment.

When, on the first day of graduate school, everyone created a username that would attach to their official email addresses, Remy chose remydelights. One day he sent out an official correspondence to all of his contacts to explain that his full first name was "Jeremy" and his last name was not "Delights".

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


When Mr. Nelson was just Richard, he graduated from high school a year early. At 17 he matriculated at a small liberal arts college. He received a bachelor’s degree, with an undistinguished thesis. He left town for 2 years, and received a master’s degree. Immediately after writing a second thesis, he received a call from a former professor who said that the college was in dire need to fill a professor position, and that he should interview immediately. The hiring committee was uniformly unimpressed as Mr. Nelson lumbered about the lectern. A few days later he was offered the position because no one else was available. This fact was made clear to him.

Mr. Nelson had taught at the college for 26 years. He taught Greek and poetry, and it was rumored though unconfirmed that he wrote an important book on pathology.
Mr. Nelson often had scars from where he would fall while doing home improvement projects. He always had spackle on his elbows. Some thought he was sick.

He liked to talk about how Charles De Gaulle retired to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises. It was a small town in the east of France, and De Gaulle translated Aeschylus in a small study. Mr. Nelson loved to recount this fact. Because it showed that every great man’s life eventually converged with his own. Mr. Nelson had effectively retired at age 17, and worked on his Greek. So had De Gaulle. And this relayed fact was essential for him to label his life good.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


The alarm clock began to ring softly softly at first. It seemed to grow louder as its tones grew louder and began to make punctuated sense to Jackson. Jackson’s sleep could no longer absorb the acute rings of a clock. Digital, it had no breath, only a staccato scream.

He didn’t want to wake up, but he didn’t mind getting up. Who was he to stand up to the strength of such organic synonyms?

He couldn’t lie there, because he didn’t want to sleep—not this way. He didn’t want to smack the alarm clock, because it was just doing its job. Jackson just wished that the clock would doubt itself for once. He hoped that in that dubious instant it wouldn’t be able to bring itself to ring. If it was unsure about the correct time, or the correct alarm setting, or perhaps divided on whether or not it had already rung, it would remain silent in a state of striking angst.

Jackson wondered, what gave the clock so much confidence? What has it ever done that makes it so sure? If someone would have asked Jackson if he resented the clock, he wouldn’t have said it, but he would have meant to say, “a little bit.”And the word, ‘resent,’ wouldn’t stick or separate properly in Jackson’s prostrate posture. He understood resent, or at least he felt as if he did, but it shifted so naturally to resent with a consistently repetitive Sierra. With Sierra, one acted again in sending and with Zulu one felt disdain, possibly for the first time. He massaged the word in his mind and tried to find its natural fault line. He had always placed it at the re, because he always assigned the longest Echo he could recall. But what if it was after Sierra? What if it was Latin instead of the repetitive English? Res ent – a thing insect. It didn’t fit well, but it fit better than re-sent, and there was no logical third way.Jackson thought on resign. He shifted the fault in the same way. With a long Echo it was a contradictory action in etymology from the aggregate. Resign is not to re-sign. Otherwise, Jackson thought, it was res-ign—a thing on fire or a thing fired. One who resigns is not a thing fired, but that was contradictory in intention; it was just different. That was merely a matter of pride on the whole.

Jackson thought of the etymology of etymology, and wondered if he could parse it cold under a sheet. The end felt familiar, but that was not enough.Jackson turned to the clock, “You’re so cocksure.” He collected his overflowing body and gathered himself out of bed. His limbs always seemed to want more than his timid section could offer. Jackson’s elbows always ached.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Livery of Seisin

What follows in an excerpt from "The Livery of Seisin", originally published in Paper and Carriage #2

At a certain age in Yeshiva, the child is weaned off of vowels. The rabbis look for signs that the child is prepared for this process; signs which we apparently exhibited. No one of us knew what these signs were, but we all had informed ideas. I was sure that it was because my feet had started to smell sour after basketball. The smell, which I could not decide if I wished gone or wanted more of, was what chiefly stood in the way of my fulfilling Lev’s request. I had other plans for my prayer wish, and the Messiah might just have to wait.

The new books had no vowels.

Pictures of the Lubavitcher Rebbe hung everywhere in the halls and rooms of the school. He was the George Washington of our civics class, the Shakespeare of our English class, and the map of the world in our geography class. His beard was fuller than any rabbi’s at the school, in the way that the Capitol vertex is higher than any other building’s apex in the District. The photo was a bust with no chest. It was all face and beard, in color, but black and white because those were his only two colors. A thin black frame with no matte provided the space in which his face could suspend on the wall above the class. The Lubavitcher Rebbe stood in silent authority in the front of the room, above the clock, looking forward with an air of deserved dignity. Beside every intercom in every room, he smiled silently to us in the crease between his mustache and beard.

No one spoke his name, only his title. Perhaps it was in keeping with the Jewish tradition of adhering to a strict distinction between the sacred and profane. Our mouths being profane, his name sacred.


I had heard it said more than once that if I visited him in Crown Heights, he would give me a dollar to give to charity.

I had plans to visit him. And I had plans for that dollar.


Chesed was the word they used to speak of the Rebbe. I was told that there was no translation to this word, and I left it at that. Rumors about the Rebbe’s chesed spread from the back of the class, where Yechiel, Allon, and David formed a powerful trio. Yechiel’s reputation was built upon the axiom that he had never indulged in nose picking. Though none of us would voice our marvel, for fear of giving away a dirty little pleasure, we each knew the burden that Yechiel lived with every moment that he stood bored at the urinal.

Allone was a type of tree, he would say, amused that the Hebrew meaning of his name was different than its English homonym.

David had a well-accepted theory that if one was touched an odd number of times by the same person, he would stop growing. The textual proof was apparently rooted in the Midrash, while the actual proof took shape in Lev—the shortest boy in the class. Allon swore that Rabbi Loebenstein touched Lev’s shoulder once goodbye before transferring to a New York yeshiva when we were in second grade. I questioned his memory silently, but he would add that a tree never forgets.

David’s theory made the playing of basketball at recess difficult. One had to privately keep a tally of incidental brushes, touches, and taps, where each is equal to one and only one. At the end of recess, as we were called in, each boy collected a final count, different than the final scores and had to make up the difference on the way back to the classroom. The walk back from recess was a complicated dance of incidental touches, not amenable to a zero sum. A touch, a tap, a smack, a grab, a push, a bump, they were all allowed. There were a variety of ways to even out the oddities of one’s dealings with every other. Everyone had unfinished business with every other, that had to be settled by the time we were seated in class. But one touch always engendered more touch, as your evening made someone else odd.

As I returned from recess in the afternoon, I considered Lev’s earlier plea on what to silently pray for during the next day’s morning prayers. He had pulled me aside and asked me to pray that the Messiah would never come. Lev had been bothered by the rabbi’s earlier mention that there are as many commandments as the seeds of a pomegranate. He had known already that there were 613 commandments—we had all known—but this strict analogy bothered him. That day he asked me rhetorically if I had ever seen how many seeds were in a pomegranate. Later, with his tiny hands outstretched for effect, he asked me if I realized how many seeds were in a pomegranate. Now, with fingers dyed red from a secret evening count, he asked me for this secret favor.

I stayed the question for later as I tried to even my own count before class. After one accidental bump into Rafi and Shmuel, I returned to my desk. I quietly decided that the Messiah would have to wait. Sitting slanted was a new Bible at my desk.

The new books had been distributed to every boy in the room, and we were told that our old books—which were now missing—could only take us so far. I made a joke to my best friend Yechiel that this must be how the goyim must have felt.

The Hebrew language is all consonants, with vowels added in to aid those who would either make too much or too little of linguistic ambiguities. As a child, one accepts the vowels as gifts of legibility and certainty. At a certain age, the rabbis begin to pull them away.

The new books had no vowels, just strings of consonants broken up with grammatical marks that appear as errant Hebrew vowels. The words became meaningless, as they demanded so much from us. They relayed only a series of hard points, and we were supposed to be able to add movement and turns to these serial stops. I sat in my chair and was unready to give. A general shame descended on the room, as we each became illiterate, unable to remember the last time we sat in such ignorance.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


The following list is the index of Urbesque. Because sometimes an index can tell you more about a book than the table of contents.