The Conversation Continues
Welcome to Page 6 of my “forum.” The subject matter here is anything to do with literature, books, reading, and writing, with a little philosophy thrown in, as well as other tangents and revelations that spring naturally from “intelligent” conversation. To participate, send an e-mail. That’s all there is to it. When I receive your message, I will add it to the bottom of the newest page — unless, of course, it is rude or crude, in which case I retain the right to not post your message. The same goes for blatant advertising. Pertinent recommendations of reading material and related websites, though, are welcome within the natural context of our conversation. We all have plenty to gain from each other’s knowledge and experience. So, whether you are just reading or actively participating, enjoy your visit. I will post new messages as soon as possible after they are received. Be sure to check in often for the latest responses.
To add a message, click here, or on any of the “Join Conversation” links scattered along the right side of the page. I’d rather you use your real name, but you can use a screen name if you prefer.
To return to Page 1 of the forum, click here. For Page 2, click here. For Page 3, click here.
For Page 4, click here. For Page 5, click here. For Page 7, click here. For Page 8, click here.
For Page 9, click here. For Page 10, click here. For Page 11, click here. For Page 12, click here.
For Page 13, click here. For Page 14, click here. For Page 15, click here. For Page 16, click here.
Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26
Page 27 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36
Page 37 Page 38 Page 39 Page 40 Page 41 Page 42 Page 43
To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Daunting, isn’t it? Look at all this space we have to fill. But I’m sure if we work together we can get the job done. First, let me say that our old friend, Phil E. Buster, is dead. A maid at his motel found him in a dumpster. They’re calling it a suicide, but I have my doubts. Phil had his share of problems, as you guys know, but he was an optimist at heart. Do you know that poem, “The Optimist”? It goes like this:
The optimist fell ten stories.
At each window bar
He shouted to his friends:
“All right so far.”
Well, that was Phil. Poor guy. I wonder who killed him? I don’t know. Maybe the government. After all, he had some pretty outlandish ideas — probably read too much. On the other hand, I know Phil wouldn’t want us to sit here and mope about his death. I’d say we should have a drink in his honor, but the rat polished off everything we had, including my stash in the cellar. Oh, well. Such is life. Or, as J.B. might put it, the future is so eternally retro. But the real question is, who is going to bring up a new subject? I’m fresh out at the moment.
John Berbrich: How about food? What did you have for lunch yesterday?
William Michaelian: Lunch? I was so upset about Phil, I couldn’t eat. But for supper we had lamb stew and several slices of fresh-baked bread. Unfortunately, when I was making the dough, I forgot to put in the salt, so it was rather flat. The texture and aroma were great, though. All in all, it was a wonderful experience. Then, later in the evening, I wrote a poem about James Joyce. Here it is. What do you think? Is it crazy, or just plain bad?
John Berbrich: Well, I need to mull this one over. The poem is wonderfully crazy and not all bad. But before we proceed further I should say a few words regarding the demise of our drinking buddy, Phil. Phil was a man who really appreciated the merits of our great-uncle, Walt Whitman. He was a citizen of the cosmos, sprinkling his breakfast cereal with stars. Phil was opinionated, always thirsty, a terrible flirt with the ladies, and had a delightful way of sneaking the brandy when you weren’t looking. He will be missed. I think that it was the mention of a dumpster that got me started on the subject of food.
William Michaelian: Wow — crazy and not all bad. Coming from the editor of Barbaric Yawp, that is high praise indeed. And thank you for your touching eulogy. I have a feeling that Phil was listening to every word.
Phil E. Buster: Well, if that don’t beat all. A guy takes a little nap, and right away you bury him. And what’s this nonsense I hear about a dumpster? I will say it loud and I will say it clear: the news of my death has been greatly exaggerated. I was only dead for a short time — scared the maid half out of her wits when she found me in the bin looking for my breakfast — that’s what really happened. It was that, or walk across the street and pay good money for doughtnuts, something I am against in principle. She was a pretty little gal, too — looked kinda like I figure a Martian would look, a real healthy sorta green, with eyes big as baseballs — kind of a fresh spring look, you might say. She’s new at the motel. That’s what threw her. And speaking of food, that stew sure sounded good, Willie. I used to whip up some mighty fine stews myself, back in the day, back before I — hey, that Cendrars feller sure musta been somethin’. I’ll bet he could make a stew, arm or no arm. A Moveable Feast is sure a good title for a book. Hemingway, huh? I’m not sure about him. He was either a rat, or a horse’s ass. Maybe both. His sentences are all sorta rat-a-tat-tat, like he took music lessons but only got as far as staccato. Willie? What’s this I hear about booze in the cellar? You been holdin’ out on me? I didn’t know you even had a cellar. Musta been someone else — Hinshaw, maybe. Well, anyway. I’m back. Either that, or I’m dead and don’t know it. It’s happened before. Oh — Willie, I read your poem. Congratulations. It makes about as much sense as Finnegan’s Wake. But it’s sad, you know. Real sad. Makes me feel like I’m in more than one place at the same time — something else I’m familiar with. It ain’t enough just to be alive, just sittin’ here with our clocks ticking, waiting for the alarm to go off. We gotta see beyond that. Otherwise we might as well be in a dumpster. Right, J.B.? Right, Judy? Hinshaw? Anita? Hmm. Maybe I am dead. Wouldn’t that be funny? Lord, I wish I had a drink.
Judy: [nods head in agreement with Phil]
William Michaelian: Judy, you’ve given me a brilliant idea. See those empty bottles all over the room? They’re not really empty. Thanks to our enthusiasm and haste, each still contains a few drops. If we pour them all into one bottle, it should make a fine brew, and be enough for everyone to have one more drink. . . . Ah, there we are. Easy, now. Don’t spill any. . . . Oops. Are my hands shaking, or yours?
Judy: Some breads have beer in them as well as salt. We could make some bread to go with some more stew. I think it goes one for the bread, one for the cook. Glad Phil didn’t die after all. . . . I am slogging through a 1974 book called Pigs, Cows, Witches and Wars, or something like that. It tells the real reason Jews and Moslems avoid pork and other such things, so Mr. Homeland Security, you would be surprised to learn that the hand of God did not come down from the sky and give us these edicts. I usually speed through non-fiction books, but this author takes a long time to get to the point, and I keep falling asleep before the end of the chapter, paragraph, perhaps even sentence. Or word. And I really like to get to the end of chapters. The U book club has helped me gain a new appreciation for fiction.
Phil E. Buster: Stew, eh? You guys are all stewed. That’s what I like about you. Judy, that book you’re reading sounds about as interesting as a brick — not the subject matter, just the way it’s presented. But I guess it beats taking sleeping pills.
William Michaelian: You know, it’s funny. I’ve learned a lot more about history from reading fiction than I have from reading history.
Phil E. Buster: Willie, most history is fiction anyway. You have to look at why it’s written, and who’s doing the writing.
William Michaelian: Right you are, Mr. Buster. And then there’s the time-honored category of historical fiction itself. Anybody have any recommendations?
John Berbrich: I’m not big on historical fiction. I’d prefer to read real historical documents, like the letters of Pliny or the travels of Herodotus. These are fascinating works. Or even the Confessions of Saint Augustine, not so much for the theological speculations, but rather to learn what it felt like to grow up in a city in northern Africa in the fourth century. And Judy, guess what? — I have that book, Wars, Witches, Pigs, & Broomsticks or something like that. It’s on one of my shelves, I simply haven’t gotten to it yet. Sounds like slogging through the bog of its prose could be rewarding.
William Michaelian: Also it’s companion volume, Figs, Hitches, Spoons and Chopsticks. Speaking of history, have you read The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle? I picked up a used copy years ago in Berkeley and still haven’t gotten around to it. I like the note about Carlyle at the front:
“The legend of Thomas Carlyle as a truculent husband and a misanthropic genius is a persistent historic libel which is gradually being revised to do justice to the qualities of his mind and character. His ghastly experience with the manuscript of The French Revolution was in itself enough to embitter his outlook on life. Having finished the first volume of his work, he entrusted the only copy of the manuscript to J.S. Mill for comment and annotation. By an accident, it was burned. Carlyle thereupon set to work and rewrote the entire history, achieving what he described as a book that came ‘direct and flamingly from the heart.’ The world has since concurred in this estimate of The French Revolution.”
It’s an old Modern Library edition, but it doesn’t say what year it was published.
John Berbrich: I’ve tried to read Carlyle’s book more than once, & I’ve yet to make it beyond the first page. Something about his style, I just have been unable to get into it. Oh, and by the way, let me welcome Mr. Buster back. I see he’s already muscling in on the booze and the girls.
Phil E. Buster: I like that — Mister Buster. You know how long it’s been since someone called me that?
William Michaelian: I see what you mean about the first page, J.B. It’s riddled with exlamations! Good heavens! Never a good sign.
Phil E. Buster: Anyway, as I was saying, no one’s called me Mister Buster since, well . . . Willie, are you sure there’s nothing left in your cellar? I’d be happy to go downstairs and check while you guys talk about the French resolution or whatever.
William Michaelian: I hate to say this, J.B., but you’re right. He is muscling in on the booze.
Phil E. Buster: And the girls. Don’t forget the girls.
William Michaelian: It’s nice to hear you admit it, anyway. Okay, here’s the key. I expect you back in no more than two minutes. I’d ask Judy to go with you, but she’s shaking enough as it is.
Phil E. Buster: Don’t trust me, eh? Willie, you’re smarter’n you look.
William Michaelian: That’s a comfort. Now. Where were we?
John Berbrich: Good move, Willie. Phil doesn’t realize that the booze is up in the attic.
Anne: came across this site just now while following links to dylan thomas and missoula. odd how those connections arise, but comes from a bike trip back in ’91. here’s the story:
when i was biking up to canada with the fella from madison that i met at crater lake in southern oregon, and after biking across the east oregon high desert by moonlight after hanging out with the homeless guy living out of his car by a reservoir who caught some trout and cooked and shared it with us for dinner, and then after having got drunk at the bar on a subsequent day of riding after convincing my partner not to fling his bicycle wheel with the broken spokes across a field full of sheep, after which we ended up getting drunk at the bar where we only intended to have a nice cold beer — and expectedly crashing in the small park behind the place, as the elderly woman bartender had predicted when she saw me gulp the first one, but which i lost track of after the guy from california who’d newly moved there kept treating us to further rounds — and following the next day’s ride with a hangover the 90 miles to the jerry johnson hot springs on the lochsa river followed by the hot sex in a cold creek in idaho . . . we made it to missoula. riding around town, we came across a korean acupuncturist’s office, and I went in to say hello and ended up talking about my recent stay in kwangju. the doctor was very conservative, even reactionary in his politics, it seemed, and i ended up arguing with him about politics, but departed on a civil, even friendly note. so naturally, i was surprised that later he actually brought his wife over to introduce to me while i was sitting on the lawn in front of the court house a few doors down to hand me a $20 bill and add “please accept our contribution to your journey.” next to me was a drunken native american man who’d just spewed and passed out after telling me of how he had toured the country by seeking assistance from the local social services office or church for a “bus ticket home,” thereby gaining fare to his next destination. seemed like a good working model, and i could see why they’d be anxious to send him on his way . . . which provided them with a compelling motivation to provide a ticket to wherever he wanted to go.
a thunder storm broke out before we had even found a place to camp, and, being in a university town, i had the notion to ask for permission to camp in the back yard of one of the frat or sorority houses on frat row. they all turned us down. finally, we came to a private house where a young man in his 20s greeted us at the gate even before we could knock with the words, “I know exactly what you want, and i’m going to heat up the hot tub.” as it turns out, he was a young filmmaker living as a boarder of an elderly woman (also perhaps his lover) who they said had also been a lover to dylan thomas. she was already really soused when we arrived, and continued to drink through several bawdy songs she sang while accompanying herself on the piano that she remembered from her old days as a wac in wwii — songs about rubbers and so on. . . . she told us to eat anything we could find in the fridge and to help ourselves to drinks, which we did. then we got in the hot tub that the young man had prepared and finally went to sleep. her name as I remember was virginia. she was an avid environmentalist who maintained an extensive correspondence of letter-writing campaigns to save the old growth forest. besides the piano, the other most distinctive piece of furniture in her living room was her writing desk, strewn with papers, and she showed us some of her more recent correspondence over the monopolistic timber and paper processing company that sought to expand their powerful tentacles deeper into the wilderness. among her personal papers was supposed to be correspondence she had had with dylan thomas, but now i’ll never know. . . .
our next destination was west glacier, where my buddy said he had a friend from madison staying at a house out in the woods. so when we went there I was surprised to run into a guy who had lived in the berkeley house where judi bari and her s.o. had been staying the night before their car was bombed who said that after that the fbi turned the house inside out on a regular basis, and, unable to take it anymore, he’d gone to chill in the woods (even if it was a conventional house in a semi-rural setting).
when we arrived in glacier national park, we biked up going-to-the-sun road until the afternoon thunderstorm, cooked lunch, then continued up to logan pass, by which time it was getting dark. attempted to camp at the rest stop at the pass, but the ranger caught us and insisted we leave the park to protect his grizzlies from gaining a bad reputation for eating us for dinner. . . . so fortunately, we had headlamps, and rode down from the pass by this means and with the help of the light from the moon until we reached a place where we could guerrilla-camp just short of the park’s border and the spot from which you can see the convergence of the source of 3 (or is it 4?) major waterways at a peak across st. mary lake — the continental divide.
ps: like your site. and bring in some strippers!
William Michaelian: Howdy, Anne. We’ll take that under advisement. And thanks for the background. We were all wondering what happened on that bike ride of yours. Too bad Phil’s in the basement. He would’ve loved your story.
Anne well, being a high school math teacher (boring . . . NOT!) — no really, i was ever so popular the next day at the school where i used to teach in daly city the day after i was arrested for protesting the passage of an initiative to try and jail our youth as adults and put them in adult prisons, especially after having gained my 15 min of fame by being interviewed by the news anchor on the way to the police van in cuffs . . . but couldn’t help but sit down when i saw john riemann do so, considering he had been kicked out of the entire “brotherhood” of capenters after being accused of “leading” a wildcat strike at sfo over a bad contract the union leadership was willing to sell them down the river on. . . . but not having tenure, and having already questioned the aft local leadership for having literally signed away the employment rights of our tenured teachers in doing away with their right to grieve their own firing, which would be on the advice of a so-called “peer review committee” and having questioned as well the use of cope (committe on political education) funds for slush funds for the democratic party without any accountability to the working people who put them in office, well, i wasn’t long for being considered for employment the next year, despite the repeated attempts by the math dept. chair to put me on the hiring schedule, which he finally abandoned when the principal told him to “cut it out”. . . with the union pres. lo & behold aspiring in the end to become a district administrator. . . . but that’s neither here nor there . . .), i recently interviewed some colleagues and students on our return from spring break this past thursday, and found that people had spent their time mostly at home, having nervous breakdowns, being bored, listless, no romance, and so on . . . so i told one of my former latina students who’d come by to soak up the aura of my classroom-which-is-a-roving-party that perhaps after all we should have all had a rolling keg party all week long instead of all being bored at home (especially because the farthest anyone had been was tracy . . . ugh!), with the added comment that we had to consider that they were too young for the beer and so, well, maybe not such a good idea after all. so naturally it surprised me when she said (and especially being an english language learner, at that), “no, we’re not too young for the beer. . . . and bring in some strippers!”
William Michaelian: Hmm. Maybe we should send Phil to the attic after all.
Anne so one day i’m working a temp job in san francisco at the junior league (a high society women’s club) and then-mayor diane feinstein’s personal secty calls up to inquire as to who is the pres of the jr. league in fresno, where she’s scheduled to speak (and we’ll overlook how she ordered 2,000 sets of plastic handcuffs in anticipation of mass arrests at the people’s convention outside the 1984 democratic national convention — the one where they screwed jesse jackson out of being a presidential contender and where my former lover got arrested with the bass player from black flag and all the other “war chest tours” members who had planned to give the delegates a walkabout tour of all the corporations that made contributions to the democratic party, in addition to the republicans . . . and who were all arrested for “conspiring to block traffic”). so i tell her, “well, it’s so & so, and the name ends in -ian, and that’s an armenian name and there’s a huge armenian community in fresno — whose members often protest in los angeles upon the arrival of the turkish govt. delegation over the armenian massacre in the early 1900s that they never acknowledged nor apologized for . . . and yet the u.s. readily accepted turkey as a full nato member. in addition, there’s the literary legacy of beat author william saroyan, whose fresno childhood home has become an historic landmark.” “oh, i didn’t know,” responded feinstein’s secty. “i’ll let her know.” “i certainly hope so,” i replied, “as the mayor of san francisco, and a major political figure at that, should not arrive in town ignorant of this significant social and political history.” i think the jr. league and feinstein’s office got their money’s worth out of this minimum-wage worker that day.
John Berbrich: Whew — Anne, take a breath! We might be able to rustle up something cold for you to drink, if Mr Buster doesn’t find his way out of the cellar. If he does show up, be careful — he’s got big hands, if you know what I mean.
William Michaelian: Poor Phil. There you go, talking behind his back.
Anne: so willie, have you read much in the way of isaac bashevis singer? his _crown of feathers_ collection was one of the books on my mother’s reading shelf when it first came out decades ago. i particularly liked “the ghost of 42nd street,” among others. any spinoza? certainly vonnegut. . . . and then there’s philosophical/political commentary by antonio negri, who has recently been released from an italian prison for having been accused by means of his inflammatory prose of having contributed to the assassination of some italian political figure. . . . while recognized as a leader of the worldwide anti-globalization movement for his work with radical labor groups through the years as well as his political philosophy. and being a spinozist (mid-17th-century philosopher and humanist), it’s an interesting read, if at times dense. try reading _empire_, not to mention recent interviews in _negri on negri_ and recent studies on spinoza. singer also a spinozist despite coming from a long line of hasidic rabbis on either side of the family. (spinoza was kicked out of the amsterdam synagogue, accused of being a heretic, btw, for his metaphysical constructions that placed both man and god in a natural world in the context of a greater spiritual and physical universe).
William Michaelian: I haven’t read Singer, and I Kant read Spinoza, ’cause it does something funny to my Vonnegut. But J.B. is up on philosophy. In the meantime, I think I’ll go see how Phil is coming along.
Anne: ah yes, something to drink would be nice. . . . but since i’m already on my fourth guinness for the day, it might be nice to ease off with some soothing green tea before my stomach and the rest of me either rebels or is laid waste.
John Berbrich: I’ll boil some water for the tea. Meanwhile, by placing God in the context of a greater spiritual universe, does that mean that there is a God higher than God?
Anne: perhaps, but then, maybe it’s just contradictory and i don’t know what i’m talking about, which you will surely respect. then again, that’s pure heresy, contradiction or no, and don’t forget the guy was kicked out of the synagogue for reasons other than bringing in some strippers or lingering in the basement of his libido, so . . . go figure, and maybe we need to find j.b., cuz you said he knew his philosophy. so where is that fellow — in the attic? and did he find the booze? and the girls . . . where are the confounded grrrls?? and what of phil? did your alter-ego phil get lost in the basement or what???
William Michaelian: Anne, this might be hard for you to accept, but J.B. is sitting right in front of you. And Phil has suffered enough in his life. If he wants to stay in the basement for one or two hundred years, that is entirely up to him.
Judy: Leave for a weekend, and this little gathering really changes. Anne, do you think God is a man or a woman? In the Hogs, Bitches, Wars and Weapons book, the author says if he were just looking at the physical differences between men and women, he would think women would have been the dominant sex all along because they could choose which babies to nurture or neglect and could nurture the nurturing side of boy babies. This is a paraphrase, understand. But he also said he would have expected God to be referred to as She. Yes, I said to myself, this book was definitely written in the Seventies.
Anne: well, first of all, with all the discussion of food and drink to imbibe here, i’m really disappointed i didn’t get offered breakfast. not to mention coffee. hey, what kind of joint is this, anyway? and, judy, to answer your question (unless you’re merely a female alter-ego in this little menagerie) i would assume as a matter of course that god be a woman, because, in the absence of any specification to the contrary, i would assume that god thinks just the way i do, as it makes perfect sense to me and besides, i believe i think rather well, or at least it’s a language i understand. and then there was that zen buddhist guy at songgwangsa (temple in mountains in korea) who told me that it’s all good no matter what you believe anyway. . . . but being an atheist, i think god is of course merely a construct or a figment or an alter-ego in the first place, and is probably down in the basement, so to speak, and doing something with phil, anyway. you might want to keep an eye on them or check in from time to time to see if the dust has settled. . . . just make sure they don’t imbibe all the booze. cuz we gotta save some for the dancing grrrls.
Judy: Yes, I believe God thinks the way I do, too. I don’t understand why all other mortals on earth don’t.
Phil E. Buster: Rats. No girls down there, either. But I did find a case of somethin’.
William Michaelian: What? You couldn’t have. There’s nothing down there.
Phil E. Buster: Ha! I knew I could catch you! Send ol’ Phil on a wild goose chase, huh? Well, well, what have we here?
William Michaelian: Oh. Excuse me. Phil, this is Anne. Anne, meet Phil. We were just talking about God.
Phil E. Buster: How-do. Yeah, I heard the whole harangue. That old God is a man, God is a woman blather. As if God had to be either. Far as I’m concerned, anyone dumb enough to be God has my sympathy.
Anne: you know, given the dichotomous choice between male and female, we overlooked the very great likelihood that god is really a transsexual. that way there are elements of both, and no gender is excluded. . . . and you know how these unconsidered options are left out of so many important arguments these days. so stew on that, and i think i need a guiness about now, unless you have that water ready for the tea. and why is phil so upset? i mean wasn’t god down there in the basement with him and all? ain’t he never happy? and who’s going to volunteer to do the dancin’, cuz obviously no one’s called the dancing grrrls, and it sure ain’t gonna be me. how about phil? anybody got some lingerie to dress him up in? i’m sure it will have quite an effect. hey judy — got any nice little pieces you don’t mind having stretched out a little bit? something that might compliment phil’s brown eyes — or are they green? so hard to tell in this lighting. it’s like a cellar in here. so phil, what did you find a case of or think you did? and is willie just in denial, or what??
John Berbrich: I understand that Willie is indeed in denial, and it’s the happiest he’s been in months. When you’re in denial, at least you agree with yourself.
William Michaelian: I deny that.
Anne: i almost never hear of women speak of being in denial, but men often speak of it with relish, and seem to relish the state it brings on. why is that? are we womyn missing out on something, and can you help us out, j.b.? how can we get into that mental framework. i envy it — lust for it, even . . . but can’t quite seem to get there and don’t know why. whaddya think, judy? and whatever happened to anita?? either of you got good tales of denial going on?? anything to do with basement-level living (one can only hope and pray)? and where did all the hooch go? or is everybody on the wagon, and i am the last to be informed? i’m damn well sick of all the false advertising you people put out, and i’m frankly disappointed that i haven’t got a single drink of any sort in this joint yet. pretty soon i’m gonna need some coffee. . . . and then with all this traipsing around going up and down stairs between the basement and the attic, why, i’ve plumb forgot what level we’re on here, and can’t be held responsible for any inappropriate responses from the resulting confusion.
William Michaelian: That’s a good one — demanding hospitality, then refusing to claim responsibility. It’s a great way to bring out the best in people.
Anne: yes, yes, i know i’m an incorrigible guest. that’s what all my friends say — can’t take me anywhere. then again, it also makes me a much-sought-for-guest at some parties, because i just won’t toe the line, if you know what i mean. can’t stand all them silly social rules & regs. really makes me grouchy. and having said that, i’ll just say you seem to be your ol’ grouchy self, and i’ll add that t’would appear there’s a whole lot of it goin’ round . . . except for me. i’ve just been strangely disengaged lately. pretty soon i’ll be watching myself sleep, as if that would be any more entertaining than what i’ve been doin’, which is too much sleepin’ an’ thinkin’ and not enough doin’. maybe i should take up farming. every time any of us got off on some neurotic tangent or other or pissin’ & moanin’ or gettin’ angry at each other he’d just say, “my dad always said to try to make things grow. why be destructive? just be patient.” ha! that’s one thing i definitely lack — patience. and if i plant something, by golly i want to see it laden with fruit in the space of a week, otherwise, it’s time to give up and move on. i’ve got to find some goddam satisfaction somewhere. and by god, i need some coffee, i think. . . . and what’s for breakfast this morning? and is god still putzing around in the basement with phil? and when i come back tomorrow and the next day and the next, will i still come to find phil hiding in the lower reaches? too bad you and j.b. finished off all the brandy. . . .
William Michaelian: Hmm. Looks like this denial business runs both ways. Oh, well. Anyone read any good books lately?
Anne: ok, back to a saner, printed page. i mean, if i could only see straight, i’d read chernychevsky’s _what is to be done?_ again. but it all relates back to maddening angst, anyway, so what’s the diff? sooner or later, i’ll be back to my old demanding, uningratiating self, as if that were any surprise. . . .
William Michaelian: In that case, I suggest you read Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.” It’ll cheer you right up. And here is the key to the basement. You’re welcome to anything that’s down there, including Phil.
Judy: All I know is, denial ain’t just a river in Africa. Yeah, I know, I can hear the groans now.
William Michaelian: Actually, what you hear is Anne. The cellar door locks automatically when it’s shut, and she just found out that it only unlocks from the outside. Heh-heh.
Phil E. Buster: Holy cow! I got outta there just in time.
William Michaelian: Sorry about that, friend. But the situation called for drastic measures. The good news is, my friend the bootlegger is just pulling up out back — right on schedule, I might add. So refreshments are on the way.
John Berbrich: Willie, put on some music. Something to get those dancing girls wiggling and shaking. When they get here. Think Anne likes country music? — I hope not. What sort of music would God really like?
William Michaelian: Funny you should ask. I dreamt I was in a night club once, and God was playing the saxophone. The strange part was, He wasn’t that good. He’d stop every once in awhile and sing, “Man, isn’t that a heck of a racket coming from below?”
Anita: I have it on good authority that God really likes Elvis. Say there’s a mini-bus outside full of Vegas show-girls. More feathers in there than a chook farm. Also a couple of suspicious looking characters unloading crates of what looks like bootleg. That Homeland Security guy is calling for back-up, something about his sister is being held hostage by a crazy author. . . .
William Michaelian: I might be crazy, but this is the sanest thing I’ve ever done. Hey, Oscar — watch it with the forklift! You might scuff the linoleum.
John Berbrich: Anita — where you been? You made it back just in time, the party is starting to
Judy: Woo-hoo, party time! Anita, I was thinking about leaving till Anne showed up, now she’s gone, glad you’re here. Somebody mightta had the idea to play strip-poker or something. The U book club met and talked about Shadow of the Wind last night. It was at my house so we could listen to the music the author Zafon composed. I thought it was just some music, but the different tracks had names of characters or events from the novel. We all agreed the music sounded suspiciously like movie sound track. We talked about the mystery and intrigue of the novel. All through the novel we all imagined night or dark or a stormy ambiance, there was apparently little brightness or sunlight. Then I skimmed through the rest of Cows, Pigs, Wars & Witches (with its chapter on broomsticks) by Marvin Harris. Some of the “skimming” was probably more like “skipping.” Not sure I can claim to have “read” it. The author sure would have a lot of the conservative Dutch Reform community around here upset. I do admire that about him.
William Michaelian: Yep, sounds like my kind of guy. By the way, if you’re not comfortable in Phil’s lap, there’s still room in John’s.
Phil E. Buster: Party pooper.
William Michaelian: What do you mean, party pooper? I’m just trying to be a gracious host, that’s all.
Oscar: Man, it’s getting crowded in here. Well, Willie, that’s the whole shipment. Same time next week?
William Michaelian: Yeah. If anything changes, I’ll call you. Oh. Oscar? Before you leave, would you mind telling us what you’ve been reading lately?
Oscar: What. Is this some kinda joke? You know the only thing I ever read is the Racing Form.
William Michaelian: Of course I know. I just wanted to hear you say it, that’s all. It does my spirit good.
Oscar: You’re weird, you know that? Just plain weird. Well, I’ll see ya.
William Michaelian: Good old Oscar. Salt of the earth. Well, come on, everybody. Don’t be shy. The drinks are on me!
Jeff Witte: Got any absinth? Mind if I bud in with a tangent or more appropriately a revelation about one of your contributors, namely Mr. Hinshaw? I’m not too literareilly (is that a word?) inclined but my next door neighbor, Miss Estelle, who is in her 90’s (she has been in her 90’s since I moved to this area of New Orleans about 14 years ago) was named after William Faulkner’s wife because her aunt was their long time housekeeper up in Oxford. Anyway, I’m here to set the record straight about Hinshaw’s horrendous 30 day tour of duty in Nam. “Escape the underbrush of war!?” Please. . . . If my mind will allow, it seems to me our main mission there was to build a brick bar-b-que pit for the quartermaster. Then the most dangerous mission, in my opinion, was to score some grass, to make the mess hall food more palatable. We ventured beyond the redoubt of Long Bin with that Spanish? guy who agreed to sneak us into Saigon (who was that guy anyway?). When we got to Saigon he dropped us off at a bar and we were immediately surrounded by about 6 or 7 beautiful women who escorted us to a table. The guy told us he would be back in an hour or so. We proceeded to order a beer and then the girls asked if they could drink with us. We said sure why not, never realizing we were racking up a serious bar tab. After a few beers the guy finally showed up and we were presented with the bill and we said man we don’t have enough to cover this! The guy was a bit perturbed and seemed to have known the people there and bailed us out. We continued our search for grass. At the base they told us to ask for “cigarette numb-ba one” in our best Vietnamese accent, ha! After those beers we asked everyone that we encountered on the way back to Long Bin. We finally realized no one knew what the hell we were asking for, especially after asking that man at a roadside fruit stand, because he brought out a beautiful young girl (I presumed she was his daughter) and we said “no no no, I mean no, yes yes she is very nice but that is not what we are looking for!” It was not until we got back to just outside the main gate, when a young kid came running up to us and said “you want to buy you want to buy?” We said “buy what?” He started digging in the sand and came up with a pack of Marlboros. We said no no. He said yes yes and proceeded to show us that each cigarette had the tobacco removed and carefully replaced with grass. It was dammed good stuff as I recall. Of course for me the most stomach churning event was when we had to laterally pick straws, not once but twice, because someone cheated and broke his straw in half, to determine who was going to stay in Nam for the duration since no one from are group wanted to volunteer. Then we lucked out and got orders to go to Japan because Shaw overheard a conversation between two commanders discussing our situation, but that’s another story. Remember Tim? So how the hell have you been? It’s been what forty two, three years! yikes! I see your still doing that wounded sparrow routine “why’s everybody always pickin on me” was a dead giveaway! I came across your site and read your short stories. I enjoyed them all. Now I know why I could not find you in Wawa during our cross country hitchhiking venture to Portland. “Annie’s War” was very touching. That was probably the worse part of being in Japan having to see all those poor moaning amputees lining that hospital ward for two+ years not to mention the blind guys in their sky-blue terrycloth robes wandering around the base in Asaka. I guess they all go to Germany now. Ah, the wonders of cutting edge modern war hospitals in this upside-down world of ours, ain’t it grand!? Anyway I’m glad I found you and I’m tempted to post one of your “early writings,” a letter from Japan in 1971. It ended: “P.S. I drove my car into Tokyo Bay Saturday.”
Tim Hinshaw: Jeff, you old dog, great to hear from you. What’s this about living in New Orleans? I remember the straws and the kid with the dope, old friend, but nothing about driving my car into Tokyo Bay. Send me your e-mail address to my AOL acct. on the website and I’ll fill you in on the haps since last we parted.
Anita: Gadzooks, Tim and Jeff, you two must be positively ancient or you were boy grunts. Forty-two, forty-three years ago I had just reached toddlerhood. I recall just before Anne turned up, the gaggle of dancing girls and Oscar, a mention of historical fiction. This is one of my favourite genres although, like John, I enjoy reading historical non-fiction. Today I borrowed a book called More What If? in which eminent historians imagine what might have been (edited by Robert Cowley). Not surprisingly this book is the sequel to the acclaimed What if? An advertising jingoism from the Seventies comes to mind here: when you're onto a good thing, stick to it. Postulations on questions such as What if Lenin was too late to start the Russian Revolution? What if the Chinese had found America 500 years before Columbus? What if the Enigma code had never been cracked? and, provocatively, What if Pilate had set Jesus Christ free? I guess if that had happened, I wouldn’t have had the idea to make a mould for a chocolate Jesus on the Cross for Easter. The biggest What if? and this is one that strikes at the very heart of Western civilization: What if Pizarro had not found potatoes in Peru? No Irish Potato Famine. Thousands of liberal art graduates never having to say “Do you want fries with that?” Rice n chips. Bangers and burghul. Makes you wonder (well, me at least) about the smaller What ifs? What if Henry VIII had sired a living son with his first wife and had not married Anne Boleyn nor sired Elizabeth I? If that had happened, Philippa Gregory would not be the fine writer of historical fiction of the Tudor and Elizabethan era that she is and I would not be also reading her latest book The Virgin’s Lover. Oh yeah, and Rowan Williams would not be the Archbishop of Canterbury and an honorary Druid because the Church of England may never have been created and he’d be shortlisted for Pope. This is mighty fine hooch, William. Tastes like it’s made from potatoes.
William Michaelian: Well, as Jackie Gleason used to say, it pays to buy the best. But this will do. That’s quite a compilation of what ifs you dredged up there. And I’ll bet Jeff and Tim have a whole long list of their own. The question is, will they tell, or keep them to themselves?
Judy: What if Al Gore had won the 2000 election???????????????
William Michaelian: Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw back in 2003. It said, “Re-elect Gore in 2004.”
Judy: And its flip side: Redefeat Bush.
William Michaelian: That reminds me of another bumper sticker I saw. It said, “If you can read this, you’re not the president.” Now, let me pour you another drink. I propose a toast to Mr. Hinshaw’s car. I wonder if it’s still in the Tokyo Bay?
Jeff Witte: Go ahead Tim . . . my brain to index finger function is still recovering.
Tim Hinshaw: It would have been a blue 1961 Corvair if indeed I drove it into the bay. Hey, coulda happened. Jeff beat me back to the States by a couple months and I lost my guiding light, so anything was possible. He kept our gang alive in Vietnam by jumping on hand grenades, almost every day. We were almost out of grenades for him to jump on when we were transferred to Japan, where he had to save us by jumping on plates of yakisoba.
Jeff Witte: Yea . . . and I could have gotten out of the “Tokyo Hilton” much earlier if I had ratted on you guys. . . . When I got out — by the way the guard told me that I was in the same cell that Paul McCartney was in — the CO said I had to give up my apartment downtown. In comes Bush and talks the CO into letting me stay with his family which included that humanoid dog of theirs. He said he would make sure that I would not get into any trouble, ha! I moved into their closet. It all came back to me when I recently read a letter from Tim shortly after being stateside. In part dated 2/22/71: “The asylum’s still the same. Bush has been firing me up to quit the BOQ and move into his closet but I’m holdin out to the end, by God. I’m not about to become a raving lunatic. I went over there Friday morning and Sue (Bush’s wife) and I got turned on (grass). I think I tried to rape her or some friend of hers (oh yeah it was Kim somebody) and got hit over the head. Don’t remember. My feeble mind is weaker than ever.” Later in the same letter Tim drives his car into the Bay.
John Berbrich: Boy, those were the good old days! Tim, are you volunteering for DD tonight?
Tim Hinshaw: You bet, JB. We could all swim with the fishes in Tokyo Bay. That’s assuming DD stands for designated driver and not deranged druggie or drunken degenerate or deputy dawg. I’d forgotten about the term “fired up,” Jeff. I think that began as an Ed Manleyism (Terror of the Bronx). You remember Ed. He bought a bunch of bananas one day and wandered along the streets of Tokyo insisting people take a banana, shouting, “Fire it up! Fire it up!” He was also famous for teaching a group of Japanese businessmen to chant “Shoot a beaver!” in unison at a band while we were all soused in a rooftop beer garden one night. The sight of fifteen red-faced Japanese men shouting “Shoot-a-bee-ba!” was priceless.
William Michaelian: You know, considering the literary merits of Mr. Hinshaw’s letter, I find it odd that neither of you have mentioned spending time at Japanese libraries, or anything about the Tokyo literary scene.
Tim Hinshaw: I didn’t go to the Tokyo libraries because I couldn’t read Japanese. I either bought books or checked them out of the base library. On the literary scene, one thing of note happened when Jeff and I were there. In 1970, firebrand poet and novelist Yukio Mishima took over the Diet Building in Tokyo and offed himself after a speech berating the government for losing the old bushido (Samurai spirit). He did it in the classic fashion with the short sword in the belly (seppuku), and one of his loyal followers followed up by cutting Mishima’s head off with a longer sword. Took him a couple of whacks to get the job done. Everyone thought Yukio went out in style, but I figured he was just twisted and confused. Haiku was big there, but I never could get the hang of it.
Jeff Witte: Kanda, as I recall, was the book selling section of Tokyo. I took a night course at Sophia University downtown to figure out the language. A student acquaintance there took me to Kanda to get text books. The book stores lined the streets as far as the eye could see. The student informed me that he was a member of Zengakuren and brought me to a huge demonstration there protesting the arrival of the Haddock? a US nuclear submarine. It was a bit unnerving. However, if the periodical Playboy is worthy of being a literary subject, perhaps Tim can tell us about his dating the first Oriental to grace one of its centerfolds. She was also the owner-operator of a bar, the “Gogo Hippy Crazy Club.”
John Berbrich: I read Mishima’a novel The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea some years back. A group of boys murder a sailor, simply because he had turned his back on an ideal, as I remember it. That gogo hippy crazy club, was that up in the Yoshiwara?
Tim Hinshaw: Of the dusky damsel in question I remember a few episodes, most of which occurred in the wee hours of the dawn after she’d closed up her club and we sought adventures elsewhere. On one of those quests we found ourselves at a sushi bar in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. After generous helpings of sake to stir our palates, I ordered ebi (shrimp) sushi. My “date,” apparently dissatisfied with my choice, fired off her own order to the guy behind the bar, who smiled and brought out two huge live prawns. The lady of the hour then proceeded to lift up her shirt — as she seemed prone to do on numerous occasions, perhaps reliving the Playboy years — and placed one writhing prawn on each of her obvious assets. The joint went wild. Definitely a lady born way too soon.
William Michaelian: Well, J.B., so much for the Yoshiwara. It’s amazing what a few drinks will do. On the other hand, life has to be lived before literature can be written. And if that sounds like it means something, I’m sorry.
Phil E. Buster: Never mind that, Willie — we’re out of yakisoba.
John Berbrich: Willie, it’s the phone — for you.
Anita: Don’t tell me. It’s either your neighbours complaining about the noise or whining that they weren’t invited.
John Berbrich: Well, whoever she is, she sounds pissed.
William Michaelian: Okay, okay, give me that thing. Hello, Gogo Hippy Crazy Club. . . . Pardon me? What’s that you said? . . . I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak a little louder. . . . Oh, it’s you, Mrs. Logan. How have you been? . . . What’s that? . . . No, I’ve just been sitting here reading all evening. In fact, I was about to turn in when you called. . . . Uh-huh. Uh-huh. You don’t say. Well, it might be those new neighbors who moved in up the road. I’ve only seen them once, but they looked like a pretty wild bunch. . . . Uh-huh. Uh-huh. . . . Oh, yes, I agree completely. They should all be taken out and shot. . . . Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yes, Mrs. Logan. I know you would. . . . Yes. I know how precious your sleep is, you old bat. . . . No, I said it’s getting to be old hat. . . . That’s right. Well, good night, Mrs. Logan. Thank you for calling. Oh — by the way — how are you coming on Madame Bovary? Mrs. Logan? Mrs. Logan? That’s funny. She hung up.
Phil E. Buster: What’d she want, Willie?
William Michaelian: Oh, the usual. She said it sounded like there was a big party going on at my place, and that she could hear someone screaming in the basement, and that if she wasn’t crippled she’d come right over here and give us all a good thrashing. The funny thing is, she lives almost two miles away. Wow. Are we that loud?
John Berbrich: Willie, did you ever get the feeling that we’ve all died and gone to Hell — or maybe we’ve all gone to, you know, the Other Place.
William Michaelian: If you mean the Gogo Hippy Crazy Club, I think it’s entirely possible. But if you mean, you know, the Other Place, I seriously doubt Homeland Security would let us in.
Anita: You mean this isn’t the Other Place? Last time I looked Mr. HS was outside.
Judy: I guess Mrs. Logan wasn’t disappointed not to be invited after all. I invented a new word over the weekend, and I’m going to write to Mr. Webster and suggest he put it in his dictionary. The word is skimmp. To skimmp means to read more than skipping parts of a book and at the same time to read less than skimming parts of a book. After skimmping Satanic Verses for a bit this weekend, I soliloquized that life goes by very fast, we’re only dancin’ on this earth for a short time, we were meant to enjoy life as much as possible, and I put Satanic Verses on the books to give away stack. I began Peter Mayle’s last novel, A Good Year. Not a lot of depth, but instant gratification. I have another change I wish to suggest to make to Mr. Webster. I think I should be a grand-aunt to my sister’s grandchildren, not a great-aunt. “Great-aunt” makes me sound even older than I am, and grand-aunt would correlate with grandmother, and after all we are in the same generation. Do any of you have words that ought to be added to Mr. Webster’s dictionary? I don’t know how the view outside your windows is, but the weather outside my window is frightful. We must be in the Other Place, because none of the snow is melting here. Oh, and speaking of enjoying life more, I was made acquainted with peach schnapps this weekend. I brought some for everyone to try — got some little glasses, William? No? We’ll just have to use the bottle up then. We can forget the peppermint stuff, this is so good.
William Michaelian: We had several small glasses, but with Witte and Hinshaw slamming them down so hard, they keep breaking them. About two years ago, I read Peter Mayle’s Chasing Cézanne. It was light-weight and predictable, but entertaining, and contained enough tidbits about French cuisine to make it all worthwhile. So. That’s the end of Satanic Verses. At least you gave it a chance. Now, let’s give this schnapps a chance. These tumblers oughta work.
Judy: Yeah, we can finish the peach schnapps off in no time, toss the bottle out the window and hit Mr. Homeland Security on the head. I read Chasing Cézanne as well and all of Mr. Mayle’s other novels. They are all the same novel. Divorced man who has been doing a lot of womanizing gets in financial trouble, has a reason to go to France, meets a woman who has also had a checkered past, and they’re sooooo good for each other that everything turns out OK.
John Berbrich: Sounds peachy. Hey, Judy, I’ve invented a word. It’s “lickle,” which means to tickle someone with your tongue.
Judy: I might have known one of you yahoos would come up with something like that. . . .
William Michaelian: Oh, well. You were the one who asked. And you can hardly blame him, considering the number of girls in his lap.
Phil E. Buster: Hey, there’s room over here.
William Michaelian: Yes, but have you changed clothes since your adventure in the dumpster?
Phil E. Buster: What is this, Willie? What’s with the technicalities? I was only in there for a few minutes.
William Michaelian: Oh. That’s different, then. But at least you could adjust your tie. That is a tie, isn’t it? On the other hand, it looks kind of like spaghetti.
Phil E. Buster: Yeah, well, I got involved with a cookbook. And then I got involved with the cook. You know how it goes. A glass of wine here and there, a little music and a few pots and pans — well, a guy can’t be neat all the time.
John Berbrich: Phil — it really is great to have you back. What was it like, being briefly dead in a dumpster? Dead in a Dumpster — I like that phrase.
Phil E. Buster: It’s more than a phrase. For some it’s a way of life. But not me. No, sir. Of all the ways there are to be dead, being dead in a dumpster rings in at about number two hundred and thirty-seven on my all-time list. In case you’re wondering, number two thirty-six is dead in a hollow log, which I have also tried, until the termites got to me. Personally, I like dead in a meadow, dead in a Chevy, and dead in bed. How ’bout yourself?
John Berbrich: When it comes to this death thing, I’m just a neophyte. I bow low to your vast experience. I feel positively juvenile right now. Not only do I invent words, but I invent tongue-twisters. One of my favorites is: “Selfish shellfish.” Try saying that three times fast, especially after drinking a bottle of peach brandy.
William Michaelian: You know, J.B., with this “gift” of yours, I’ll bet you’d be great fun on a long road trip.
Phil E. Buster: I also died in a freight car once.
William Michaelian: Are you sure it wasn’t under a freight car?
Phil E. Buster: No, that was someone else. But it coulda been me. Came dang close a couple times.
William Michaelian: The scary thing is, you’re starting to make sense.
Phil E. Buster: Oh, yeah? Selfish shellfish. Selfish shellsh . . . fish. Snellfish . . .
John Berbrich: See? It’s tough. Another one is “aluminum linoleum.” A freight car, huh? What was it carrying?
Phil E. Buster: Not a thing. It was parked by a road outside Bakersfield and overgrown with weeds. I was dead in there for about a month, ’til some kids found me and told their ma, who was hangin’ out her wash and said, “Leave the poor fool be, fer heaven’s sake!” And the kids said, “But, Ma, he’s dead,” and she said, “All the more reason, then. Now, get on over here and help me with this wash.” At least I figure that’s what they said. I didn’t wait around to find out.
Anita: Say, Phil, weren’t you that dead cat I found on my front doormat twenty-four years ago? Man, I came home from work and saw you lying there all still. First of all I thought someone was playing a sick kind of joke and then I thought about it. Obviously some poor dude had skittled you with his car outside my place, thought you musta belonged to me and left you there. Honestly, I tried to find out who you belonged to and I went around knocking on neighbours’ doors and I finally found this old lady who was a bit hard of hearing. I told her I found a dead cat on my front doormat, kinda mangy looking tabby with torn ears, and I wondered if it was her cat. She goes: “No, no, I don’t want a cat. And if you don’t want it, dear, just shoo it away. Just shoo it away.” “But it’s dead!!” “Dead!!! I don’t want a dead cat. Young lady, if this is your idea of a joke, I am not amused.” Then she slammed the door in my face. Man, I’m so sorry but I had to leave you on the nature strip for the garbos to take you away. I didn’t think you’d be back to haunt me like this and I wish now that I had buried you myself in the hole we dug in the backyard for the hangi. The soil would have still smelled of lamb, chicken and pork bones. Would have been real nice for ya. More peach schnapps anyone?
Phil E. Buster: Dead cat, eh? No, twenty-four years ago, I was makin’ boxes fer a little grape-packin’ outfit in the valley. Got more nails in my thumbs that way — proved to be a real nuisance. But I’m flattered you thought it was me. Speakin’ of dead, I guess that old lady’s made her grand departure by now. Bet she wishes she’d been a little nicer. Ya might ask her if you see her around.
Judy: Anita, I just learned of something called Mayers lemons that are rounder and sweeter than the regular lemons. They are Chinese and were probably crossed with Mandarin oranges or something in olden times. Might be Meyers lemons. I know, there’s a phrase for people like me. But do you know of them? They might be good with certain alcoholic beverages. They grow them now in — where else — California.
William Michaelian: Judy, thank you so much for bringing up lemons. But what is the phrase for people like you? You neglected to say. I know Anita is the lemon expert here, but before she begins her meringue — I mean harangue — let me say that Meyer is indeed the name of the variety, and it’s definitely sweeter than your average lemon — too sweet, in fact, to use in some recipes.
John Berbrich: I like that word, lemon. If that old lady did die, it’s possible that she’s gone to Hades and is the one who keeps calling Willie on the phone. Maybe she’s still looking for Phil the cat.
William Michaelian: Lemon is a lovely word — an exciting word, and lemon trees are a joy to be around. So are pomegranates and olives. Yes, I remember that you don’t like olives, but the trees are beautiful, especially when they’re old. No one buried in an olive grove would stay dead for long. Hold on — don’t answer it.
John Berbrich: Don’t worry — I’m not touching it. I doubt it’s for me.
William Michaelian: There. It stopped.
Phil E. Buster: Hoo, boy. You guys are in worse shape than I thought. What phone?
John Berbrich: Who said anything about a phone? It’s your head Phil — it was ringing. . . .
Phil E. Buster: Is it? Darn. I’ve got to get that thing fixed.
Judy: One word of the phrase starts with A, and the other word starts with R, and is it hyphenated or not? I finished Mayle’s A Good Year last night and do not recommend it even for light reading. The characters and plot are flatter than usual. Maybe he should go back to nonfiction for a bit. A few years ago I read a book called Burial Brothers by Simon Mayle, and I’ve wondered if Simon is Peter’s son. This is a non-fiction book about Simon and a few friends who bought a used hearse to travel from the U.S. to Rio de Janeiro for Carnaval. They had to contend with car repairs, horrible roads, and even, since they were traveling through politically unstable areas, gunshots fired more or less in their direction. I think everyone but Simon bailed out along the way, but he made it to Rio, came down with a bad stomach flu, and watched the merrymaking on the TV in his lodgings. I like the word lemon also. Another beautiful word is cypress. I like its sound, and it conjures up all kinds of beautiful images.
William Michaelian: That it does. Every time I hear or read the word cypress, I think of Van Gogh’s paintings of them. I also think of the cypresses in some of the small cemeteries scattered around the countryside where I grew up. On foggy winter days, they are watchful, silent. In the spring, birds build nests in them, and for several weeks they are noisy apartment dwellings.
Judy: Cypress, cypress, cypress, cypress. . . . Anne’s been very quiet.
John Berbrich: Anita too. That duct tape really works.
William Michaelian: That reminds me — it’s about time to order another shipment. Phil, is your head busy?
Phil E. Buster: It is, but I still have one line free.
John Berbrich: You ordering more duct tape? This is really turning into a party.
William Michaelian: Yes, and speaking of duct tape, I remember reading once about a small literary publisher called Duct Tape Press. But I think they’re gone now. Probably ran out of duct tape.
Judy: Not to change the subject from lickle and duct tape or anything, but Sherman Alexie was in town last night. Unfortunately I had not been paying enough attention, so didn’t go to see him.
William Michaelian: That’s too bad. Didn’t he write The Duct Tape Chronicles?
Phil E. Buster: Hello? Hello? Dang. He hung up.
John Berbrich: Maybe it was a wrong number. I had lots of wrong numbers back in grade school arithmetic. Plenty of odd numbers too.
Phil E. Buster: What? No, I will not hold.
William Michaelian: You know, I’m beginning to think this guy needs professional help. Not that I’m any judge, of course.
John Berbrich: I think Phil’s head is tapped. Either that, or it’s a party line.
William Michaelian: That would explain a lot. Look at that expression, though. It’s priceless. He’s wholly occupied, like a child. . . . Anyway. Did you see these three used books I picked up awhile back? I got The Web and the Rock by Thomas Wolfe — you remember me saying how great his Look Homeward, Angel is. Well, if I remember correctly, this 700-page tome was pared down by his editor, Maxwell Perkins, from Wolfe’s massive manuscript, and published soon after the author’s death. I hope to start reading that soon. Then there’s this little paperback, a Dover Thrift Edition of eleven Luigi Pirandello stories. Pirandello, as you probably know, wrote Six Characters in Search of an Author. It says here on the back that he won the Nobel in 1934 for his stories, plays, novels, essays, and poems. And then there’s this 1937 reprint of the selected poems of Robert Burns, with a neat little glossary in the back. Fodgel is squat or plump. Gashin is conversing. Bluntie is a sniveller, a stupid person. Brankie means well attired. And here’s another one I like: Benmost bore. It means the innermost recess, or hole. Isn’t that great?
John Berbrich: Truly amazing, Willie. Several years ago I read the Harvard Classics edition of Burns’s poetry, over 400 pages. It was outstanding — sweet, sad, funny, lyrical, & a little bawdy. Burns didn’t even make it to the age of forty, yet he left behind a heritage of precious poetical
William Michaelian: And children. Fifteen, I think it was, and he wasn’t exactly in the Church’s good graces. You have to wonder what the upstanding stewards of our venerable human institutions would do if they didn’t have artists to try to keep in line, and to protect the people against. It makes me feel good, just thinking about it.
John Berbrich: Fifteen? Really? He was a high-spirited lad. With a bonnie young lass, I suppose he was never content with merely gashin.
Judy: Do any of those used books have interesting hard covers? Just wondering.
William Michaelian: No, as you can see, they’re very drab. Now please put those scissors away.
John Berbrich: That Judy is so sneaky. And I’m simply not in the mood for a paper salad. Willie — do you have anything good to eat around here?
William Michaelian: As in, like, food? Nah. But I could go out and shoot a carrot if you want, or maybe a box of wild crackers.
Phil E. Buster: Any dumpsters handy?
William Michaelian: Phil! You’re off the phone! Be a good friend and order us some pizza.
Phil E. Buster: Forget it. That takes money.
William Michaelian: Don’t worry, Hinshaw will pay. Or maybe his buddy from Japan — that is, if we can scrape one of them off the floor. . . . No, don’t get up, boys — the pizza’s not here yet. Hmm. I wonder what Robert Burns would have done in a situation like this.
Anita: I believe he would start singing.
John Berbrich: Probably impregnate some wench. Then write a poem.
William Michaelian: I’m sure you’re both right. But the question remains, in what order? Or would this all happen simultaneously?
Phil E. Buster: Me, I wonder if ol’ Rabbie’s head rang like mine. But now that I think about it, it didn’t start ’til I knew you guys.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but what was Burns’s excuse?
Phil E. Buster: Oh, same as mine, I guess. Nuts, and maybe a little too glad of it.
John Berbrich: Delirious with the joy of being alive. What could be finer?
Phil E. Buster: Well, as a person who’s been dead many times, I can honestly say that living takes the cake. How ’bout you, Willie?
William Michaelian: Oh, I’m with you guys. You know me — in for a penny, in for a pound. But if you’re not going to call for pizza, I wish you’d stop talking about food.
Phil E. Buster: Sorry, pal. I just got word that I’m wanted on a conference call.
William Michaelian: Oh, no. Here we go again. Hey — are any of them dead authors? If so, ask them if they’d like to join our discussion. . . . Phil? . . . Phil? . . . Oh, well. Maybe he’ll rejoin us on the next page.