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Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

[The following is an excerpt from my novel, Zip Monkey, which I plan to release in the upcoming months. Copyright 2012. Cover art by Corey Brian Sanders.]Zip Monkey Cover 2

Christina Brostrom looked out onto the grounds of the college holding a coffee cup up to her face gently, so that the steam would open her pores a bit. This was part of her ritual of drinking hot tea with Stevia, a cup of inspiration with which she greeted every morning. She knew that ritual was a foundation of wisdom. Or would be, were she ever to become wise.

On the desk next to her computer screen was a greeting card of forced congratulations from her co-workers out in the cubicle pit. Lots of “Congrats, girl!” and “I knew you could do its!” scrawled across the card to celebrate her promotion. But every laconic “Congrats” betrayed bitter envy. Christina had been in her position only a year. And now somehow she’d gotten a big promotion, seemingly for no reason. When they were saying, “Congrats,” what they really meant to say was, “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

And they were right. She didn’t deserve it. She was just a pretty face who’d done it with the right guy. She remembered her mother’s joke, “With a vagina, you can go anywhere,” which wasn’t really a joke. Christina had bartered her sex appeal for a job as a Level 6 grants and contracts manager. Not too shabby.

Ralph Bliagos was nowhere to be found, of course. He had defiled her, promoted her, disappeared and left stacks and stacks of data on her desk to reconcile—enough work to last her a year. Most of it paperwork for live animal research grants that would be submitted to the National Institutes of Health (“NIH.”) Her first job, according to a memo, was to haggle with somebody from the Institute of Animal Research Studies for a $100 discount on a crate of pre-diseased mice. A hundred of the 1,400 mice were dead already when the box came in. Certainly that was worth at least two hundred dollars off, said the dean to Christina in an e-mail.

Before this, her job had been to do simple data entry, making sure the lab equipment codes matched the inventory. But increasingly, after an audit of the university and a fine from the New Jersey attorney general’s office, she found herself actually making decisions on how procedures were coded. That was way above the pay grade of a 23-year-old intern. Checks made out to the university for thousands of dollars started fluttering onto her desk. She didn’t know what to do with them. Nobody claimed them. She put them in a folder with dollar signs marked on it.

The Grants and Contracts Dept., hidden behind leafy plane trees in a white travertine campus tucked away from the road, was a huge vein of money for Mount St. Catherine’s University. While Ph.D’s elsewhere at the university lost their jobs during Congress’s sequestration, Ralph Bliagos’s department was somehow thriving, his money spigot still pumping. “How could this be?” Nobody wanted to ask that question. “Just keep growing the pie,” said the dean’s office. Ralph’s enemies raised questions, of course. Grants and contracts had an ongoing Hatfield and McCoy-style feud going on with the dicks in finance. Christina was even told she shouldn’t be seen having lunch on campus with her friend Judy who worked in the finance department.

“Wouldn’t look good,” said Bliagos. “You gossip with Judy Freeman, and it’ll get back to me. She’s waiting to find out we’re doing something wrong.”

“Well then, who should I have lunch with?”

“How about me?”

That’s how it had started.

Bliagos was 13 years older than Christina. He seemed to know a lot about a lot of different things. He’d played guitar in a band in college and knew about music publishing rights. He knew about trademark law after working as a paralegal. He even knew about dance.

“You can’t really separate Merce Cunningham from Eastern religion,” he’d said.

A year later, Christina, the former star of the Cape May High School ballet, now older and wiser, realized Ralph had pulled the Cunningham bit out of his ass. But at the time he said it, she’d been smitten. Though he was older, he had an eternal boyishness—his averred belief in the inherent goodness of all people touched Christina’s heart and parted her knees—knees weak from naivety and a 2005 arabesque accident that shattered her bones and dreams forever.

All dancers hurt their knees. But Christina Brostrom had somehow managed to pull her kneecap apart after momentous thigh contraction while doing the Black Swan in front of 200 provincial New Jersey ballet fans. The audience was mesmerized by the plangent screams of this shining young dancer and swept up into standing ovation as several male dancers in blue doublets with silver galloons with the strength of apes carried her out the back door to the nearest emergency room.

Christina had always been rather keyed up and anxious, dancing as fast as she could, and even her mother opined that the injury was no accident, but a cry for help. She insisted her daughter was getting back at her. Christina had avoided a proper warm up and fragged herself on purpose, said Mom, whom everything was about. Mother Marla Brostrom was a semi-famous psychoanalyst and believed there were no accidents. Everything bad that happened was an act of sublimated feelings, even a fall down the stairs or choking on a hot dog.

The adjustment from ballerina to clerical assistant was remarkably easy for Christina Brostrom. Gone was the anxious, excited ballerina whose fast-rising stardom made every day a birthday party thrown just for her. Now it was all just workaday world narcosis, interoffice birthday cards to people she’d never met, and hot pocket microwave lunches in rooms with receding slate colors. Instead of jetés and soubresauts, Christina could now pursue the drama of office gossip, hear temper tantrums through the walls and smack insolent fax machines. And there, holding on to the handle of a 2005 Honda Civic every afternoon with wolfish teeth was Ralph Bliagos. Ralph, with his round, McCartney-ish eyes, big hands and hair extensions. He seemed to know her dreams, and his adoring eyes reflected the star she’d dreamed of being. Or at least that’s what she was thinking when she went down on him in the Honda. The thrilling, fleeting, naughty affair. The sweaty, heart-beat-skipping rendezvous every night in the office where they had started somehow fucking and committing government billing fraud in no particular order.

Ralph’s the one who taught her to do it. First he showed her how to double bill for clinical trials—the university charged Medicaid and Medicare money for lab work on volunteers even though the companies sponsoring the clinical trials on the devices and drugs were already paying. It was a surefire way to rip off Uncle Sam, something Ralph had learned at a couple of research universities. He also taught Christina how to “unbundle” the lab tests, coding a bunch of blood tests separately when they should have been billed together. Apart, they were worth more money.

To Christina, it was kind of like playing Candy Crush Saga or Asteroids. “Unbundle. Duplicate. Recode.” It seemed more naughty than illegal. “Girl! You’re bad! Ha-ha!”

“It’s just us printing money,” Ralph had said. “Everybody does it. At the end of the day, who cares? We’re curing diseases.” She wanted to impress her boss, and as she separated centrifuge work, she was actually whistling.

It only slowly dawned on her that what they were doing was actually very much against the law. But she was already in it way over her head by that time. Her signatures were all over everything.

It was only in month three, long after Ralph had given her the first bladder infection, that he asked her out to a movie. He confessed then that, yes, he had been engaged to somebody for three years. But his fiancée, Dina, was an argumentative, hatchet-faced bitch troll attorney, and he insisted he was going to break it off with her. Dina didn’t understand him, he said. She didn’t listen to Rush. She didn’t like white water rafting. She didn’t know who Merce Cunningham was.

“But you,” he said to Christina. “You’re an open book. Everything is still possible and hopeful for you.” This appealed to her in part because neither statement was actually true. She, in fact, had fallen south in ways only people with the lost promise of true greatness can fall.

He had made love to her gently and sweetly the first time. His feet stuck out the open window of the Honda and he swore it didn’t hurt. Later, as they lay together naked in a dark brindled cowhide rug from Bed Bath & Beyond, he imagined them going to someplace romantic. Like Nova Scotia. Or Atlantic City. Christina was breathless. She had a dangerous love and a job she was good at. She was now a person like other people.

The morning of her surprise promotion, she crept over to the files and sorted through them. Three doctors in cardiology wanted to test a vasodilator and needed to make sure the NIH didn’t reject them again. The last time around, the government quibbled because the doctors testing the equipment held small equity shares (indirectly) in the company that made the dilator, and that would likely bias their research. Ralph turned to Christina one afternoon and asked her directly: “How would you make this problem go away?”

It was her first real executive decision: and it was something she was intensely proud of, because no one else would have ever thought of it. She simply moved the money over from another grant. She piggy-backed the vasodilator work onto a research grant for rheumatoid arthritis medication the doctors were also working on. Nobody asked questions. All the doctors knew was that the money they needed was suddenly there. “Doctors,” Ralph said, “must remain innocent.”

Christina Brostrom, the girl in the church choir, the girl who sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the girl who made Frank Rich cry when she performed in The Nutcracker at age 12, was not, after all, born to be a ballet dancer. Christina Brostrom was born to be a criminal.

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How To Make Love To a Computer

A postmodern short story, or a series of discordant ramblings on love in the modern age, as spoken in a stochastic way to a machine.

By Eric R. Rasmussen

 

“My father’s not at home.”

“I had a nice time tonight, April.”

“I wish I knew all your big words.”

“It was nothing.”

“You kiss nice.”

“Should we go upstairs?”

“Red is really your color.”

“I’m five shades of red for you, handsome.”

“Want to watch a movie?”

“What do you want, Mary? Do you want me to lasso the moon?”

“It’s egg-shaped.”

“No, that hurts a little.”

“It’s okay, I can see myself home.”

 

My wife thinks the best thing about me is my chin. But I think the best thing about me is my jokes.

“I’m going to tell you a joke,” I said.

“No. Please don’t.”

We went to a therapist. He asked me to recall a nice story about my wife. I remembered being on the beach during the summer and how nice and sunny it was. We wore baggy shorts and ate clam chowder, and somebody was blowing huge bubbles with a giant ring. Then he asked my wife to tell the same story, and she said she didn’t like being at the beach at all. Too sandy.

“But I was happy,” I said.

“There are no happy experiences,” she said. “Only happy memories.”

I thought about this for a long time and finally said:

“You stole that line from somebody.”

 

CHERYL36DD: You sound like a snarky boy.

9INMales: Oh, you wouldn’t know half of how snarky I am.

CHERLY36DD: I could teach you a few things about snark.

9INCHMales: Is your profile as kickin’ as your name?

CHERYL36DD: You like my double DD’s?

9INCHMales: Oh boy, oh boy. Sheeeeeeoooodeodeodo!!

 

“I love you, David.”

“I can offer you digital business solutions.”

“I think about you so much that I get wet when we talk on the phone.”

“My innovative and outside-the-box problem-solving will help you move the needle on your business.”

“That night we spent together might not have meant anything to you, but it meant a whole lot to me.”

“When it comes to adding value to your business, I offer more than blue sky scenarios. I also help you quantify your risk with meaningful downside beta.”

“I want to have a baby. Your baby.”

“I will help you expand global market share, enhance return on capital, and help you realize synergies by working to help you integrate acquired business lines.”

“When you yelled at me in the restaurant … it hurt. But it felt like a kiss.”

“Clarity, cohesion, efficiency, and transparency–these are increasing necessities in a time of regulatory and market contingency.”

“When you sleep, I watch you. That’s when I love you the most.”

“At the end of the day, I build upon the momentum to help you leverage your capabilities and plumb your alpha.”

“When I wake up in the morning, the pain is the only way I know for sure that I’m alive.”

“And you will wake up to a better, brighter, more productive growth environment.”

 

“Are you happy?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you know?”

“I just don’t.”

“Well, when will you know?”

“I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I am.”

“Well, okay. But I’ve already been waiting a long time.”

“A person can’t be happy all the time. He couldn’t take it. Sometimes you’ve got to just sit there and not be happy.”

“How can a person not want to be happy all the time?”

“There’s happy time, ya know. And then there’s maintenance time. Like digestion.”

“How about right now?”

“Nah.”

“Well, I think you should be happy now.”

“Why?”

“Because you just came in my mouth, that’s why.”

“How about I buy you a dress?”

“Not good enough. Tell me you’re happy, goddamnit.”

“I can’t say it! I can’t, all right? It’ll be weird now. It won’t withstand a categorical examination. I might become unhappy just thinking about it.”

“I knew it.”

“Knew what?”

“You’re Kurt Godel.”

“So what if I am?”

 

Joey: Why don’t you talk to us some, CHERYL?

DaveP: Yeah, what up?

9INCHMales: Don’t listen to them. I love you.

CHERYL36DD: Silly boys. Showing your horns.

9INCHMales: SPROING!!!!!!!

CHERYL36DD: Well, you’re all burned! Because I’m going to tell MY BOYFRIEND.

Joey: Huh?

9INCHMales: Huh?

DaveP: Hey CHERYL, I don’t care ‘bout no boyfriend. I love you so much I’d cross five miles of barbed wire to hear you fart over a field phone.

Joey: Well, I’d wash my hair with your spit.

9INCHMales: Well, I’d get a gonorrhea test with a large metal stent.

CHERYL36DD: I think I like you too much.

Joey: Who?

DaveP: Yeah, who? Which one of us?

9INCHMales: Who, Cheryl? Who who who?

 

“Dan, I think I’m going to leave you.”

“I am an ancient reluctant conscript.”

“We’re always talking, and yet we never say anything.”

“April is the cruelest month.”

“A person can’t be a lover and a friend. A husband has to be my counterpart. My soul mate. My other.”

“The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

“It’s like we’re speaking different languages.”

“I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.”

“That is not what I mean.”

“That is not what I meant at all.”

 

Jens16: Wot up, cuz. Luvs y’alls. I totally ❤ you. So guess you knows now the Jennines is pregs. LOL! So I’m 16 yo, so what. If ya thinks I’m stupid, FU! Cause I’m keepin’ it, and I’m gonna love my baby and it’s going to be the dopest baby around. Aiiight? Aiight! And my bf is black, too, so FU again, cuz. LOL. And the moms is gonna help out and the dads too, and if you don’t like it, then take it up with the welfare depts., aiiight!

 

Sometimes I love my daughter so much it hurts. You try to give children everything you didn’t have. You try to make sacrifices for them. That’s why I became a parent. To get over my selfishness. Because how long can a person go on morbidly attending to herself? Listening to her own problems, talking about esoteric subjects like bad corporate management or union problems or compliance. One forgets that she is not alone, that her quotidian problems are not the real stuff of life—only the pain we inflict on each other is. The way we push up against each other and find each other’s weak spots and find the hurt, or else try to inspire something greater than any mere one of us has on her own. I wanted it to be less about me. I didn’t want to think about makeup. Or how I looked. I didn’t want to care if I lost a pound or two or gained a pound. I didn’t want to bitch about my commute, or scream at the woman at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or care who was looking at me in a store and wondering if there was something on my face. When you have a child, all that goes away. You can get child snot in your hair or baby shit on your face or scuzz on your shirt and it doesn’t matter. Because you’re free from caring. Free from the prison that is one’s own brain. It’s all about the baby. For as long as you can keep it. The baby. Don’t leave me, my beautiful baby.

 

Jens16: Well if Dodo17 wantz to call me a stupid slut, then he can kiss my ass. LOL. Cause my baby’s gonna be the cutest goddamn baby ever, and I don’t have to work. I can get help from the church or from my mutha or from the gummint if I want, and if you all don’t like it (LOL) you can kiss my ass and if you don’t like that I keep smokin’ cigs you can kiss my ass too or if I keeps drinkin or chillin’ wit some 420. You can all jusss kiss my ass. Cause I ❤ this baby, aiiiight? And can I get an aiiiight? Aiiiiight?

 

“What’s that in your eye?”

“I’m not a big fan of theater.”

“You’ve got to admit Bush is an idiot.”

“It’s a flaw.”

“Something black.”

“In a field of blue.”

“And you’ve got to admit the world’s a violent place.”

“There is no time.”

“Do you think you’re the kind of guy who wants kids?”

“There is no time.”

“I always thought of living in Paris.”

“There is no time.”

 

“But what are you going to do when you’re independent and you’ve got to rise up and make your own way in the world and ride the corporate ladder? And then they say we’ve got to have a baby by 35, as if that were possible, otherwise we’ll be childless and bitter. It’s different for a woman and you can’t stop everything on a dime.”

“There is no time.”

 

Joey: Why don’t you talk to us some, CHERYL?

CHERYL36DD: I think I’m getting hot.

9INCHMales: Yyyyyyyyeshhhh!

CHERYL36DD: I think I’m going to touch myself *down there.*

Joey: Are you talking to me?

DaveP: Or me?

9INCHMales: Definitely talking to me.

CHERYL36DD: And I’m touching my coochie real slow like. It’s so warm.

Joey: Are you sure you’re a woman?

CHERYL36DD: I’m alone tonight and crave it so bad. Can’t even say when my man is getting’ home. My mind’s on fire and I just gotta squirt.

DaveP: Yo diggity Cheryl, you’s one crazy beaaatch!

CHERYL36DD: And all you all’s gonna respect me, right? And kiss my feet and tend to my needs. And touch me slow and treat me fine? I want it so bad.

Joey: I’ll rip your clothes off where you stand, girl!

9INCHMales: You ain’t never rode a cock like mine.

Joey: Who are you, Cheryl?

DaveP: Yeah, who?

9INCHMales: Who, Cheryl? Who are you?

 

“We’re all following our own scripts. And they bring us together and sometimes we follow them away from each other.”

“Sometimes I get paranoid that my wife is going to leave me … and that my child will follow her right out the door. And then what will happen to me?”

“We all don masks. We all play our parts. And then the masks have to come down and when we reveal who we really are …

“…can we say then that we should be married? How can two people ever stay married when they don’t ever really know what they mean to each other? Maybe I’m only paranoid because it’s really me … in my heart, I’m the one leaving her and I know it.

 

“Life is only to don masks, my love To hide our true selves. That’s what it’s come to, my love. That we have to be open to be honest to each other and we might not like what we see. It is time to part, my love. For our own souls, my love.”

“What is that, your third martini?”

 

“Different scripts. And we are all just on a sad stage playing our parts. Glad to be of use … perhaps a little obtuse.

“I had an abortion.”

“If you want me to, Mary, I’ll lasso the moon.”

“It was my choice.”

“I’m sure did what was best for you.”

“Are you sure it’ll be safe?”

“I don’t regret anything.”

“Why don’t you kiss the girl?”

“I could just take you in my arms right now.”

“I’ve got something to tell you.”

“Yes?”

“I want you to forgive me, but why should I want you to forgive me?”

“I see you’re upset about something.”

“And you can swallow it up, and the moonlight will shoot out your eyeballs and your fingertips.”

 

He was an artist. But that’s not how we communicated. He made these great tableaus. These large gestural strokes. But that’s not how we communicated. He made these chiaroscuro plays with light that won him the admiration of everybody in New York. But that’s not how we communicated. He was in Art Forum. But I had nothing to do with that. He was interviewed by Life magazine. But that was irrelevant to the things we said and did together. He’s going to be considered one of the giants of his age. But that has nothing to do with me.

“Honey, can you get me a glass of water?”

“Honey, I’d kill for you.”

That’s how we communicated.

 

“Pay attention.”

“That’s how we communicated.”

“I love you Cheryl33DD.”

“And if you don’t likes it LOL …”

“There is no time.”

“I can’t just turn my whole life around for a baby.”

“After you have a baby, it’s all about the baby.”

“And fuck my mutha and my fatha and fuck the baby daddy too if you don’t like it, LOL.”

“If you want me to Mary …”

“There is no time.”

“How can you not say you’re happy?”

“There is no time.”

“I’ll lasso the moon.”

“And a woman can’t just stop everything on a dime.”

“And the moonlight will shoot out your fingertips.”

“And there is no time.”

“What did you say?”

“There is no time.”

“There is no time.”

“There is no ….”

“Sheeiiiiiiiit………Cheryl, I knew you wasn’t a woman.”

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–*Nobody wants to read about the internal journey of Richard Nixon as he squares off with a menacing satyr character in the afterlife. And it needs more sex in it.

–*Nobody wants to read a story about the ghost of Richard Nixon stuck in our refrigerator.

–*The whole storyline about the 13-year-old girl coming to grips with her sexuality wasn’t really meshing with the story about the invasion of Normandy.

–*It’s really hard to turn corn/ethanol subsidies into drama, no matter how unfair it is.

–*Our protagonist, a member of a grassroots Tea Party organization, really had no valid points.

–*After our lead character had her sixth autistic child, she was really just losing our sympathy.

–*It’s hard to laugh at the subject of abortion. Unless of course the story is really, really hysterically funny.

–*It’s very hard to write inside the mind of a schizophrenic, an infant, or Glenn Beck.

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(Originally posted Wednesday, December 19, 2007)

A list of dirty-sounding character names one might find in a Larry McMurtry or E. Annie Proulx novel.

–*Joyce Fist

–*Hawthorne Crack

–*Blithely Huttocks

–*Ennis Brightly

–*Soopy Grotto

–*Pierce Labum

–*Peter Browneye

–*Toomer Ince

–*Stamen Weep

–*Jorelee Titmouse

–*Basil Cruck

–*Mylee Rottercooch

–*Danilli Gape

–*Amarylis Nees

–*Eulailie Butterswallop

and

–*Meer Muffgrazer

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(Originally posted Thursday, December 13, 2007)

A Slew of Posthumous Works of Fiction and Non-fiction Hitting Bookstores Near You

“Yiddelstein the Royal,” by Saul Bellow

“Against Language,” by Susan Sontag

“Something My Sister Finished For Me Because I Was Drunk And Suicidal,” by John O’Brien

“You Don’t Have The Guts To Fuck My Gnomic Corpse,” by Norman Mailer

“If God Were Alive Today He’d Have You All For Breakfast,” by Kurt Vonnegut

“Just Procreate With Whomever’s Attractive, That’s How the Flies Do It,” By Stephen Jay Gould

“If It Feels Good, It’s Rape,” by Andrea Dworkin

“The Homoeroticism of Lewis and Clark,” by Leslie Fiedler

“The Fountain of Death,” by Betty Friedan

“American Brains Braised With Moist Heat,” by Hunter S. Thompson

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