31 August 2005
It's Best Not to Complicate Simple Things
Professor Abacus Flatscreen had a vast collection of cookbooks with little room to store them. She posed the problem to the students in her combinatorics class: How to store thousands of objects in a limited space. The students offered many novel solutions, including feeding the books into black holes and running them through miniaturization machines. These are charming fantasies, Abacus told her class, but I need a solution based in reality. What I would do, said a student, is memorize all the recipes, then discard the books. Abacus looked stunned. The student beamed. Abacus went home and built many bookshelves.
30 August 2005
We found baby dragons at the front door in a basket made of scales. We immediately looked to the sky for signs of impending doom. Seeing none, we scooped up the babies and brought them inside. They singed our hair with their tiny fiery breaths. They wailed all night. We knew stories of dragon mothers leaving their babies for humans to raise. Such stories never turned out well. One of our elders counseled us to leave the babies on a mountain peak to raise themselves. We promptly did so. Upon our return, we found our village burned to the ground.
29 August 2005
Beltbuckle Listprice grew the best tomatoes in the county. When they reached their peak of ripeness, she took her tomatoes fifty miles away, across two county lines, to a farmer’s market in a strange town where she traded them for jewelry, which she displayed in a glass case back home. Visitors to Beltbuckle’s house sometimes asked her why she went to all that trouble when there was a perfectly good jewelry store not three blocks from Beltbuckle’s front door. It’s about recognition, said Beltbuckle. No one gets noticed by their own tribe. That’s why many of us need to roam.
28 August 2005
Skyblue Screendoor lived in a large apartment building. One day she installed a painting of a hole in a ceiling above her bed. Just before falling asleep, Skyblue studied the painting, which showed stars in a dark sky. When she woke up the next morning the painting was still there. Starlight poured into her bedroom. Skyblue remained under the covers and stared at the picture for many minutes before rising and getting ready for her day. Skyblue ate a plain breakfast and wore plain clothes that blended into the world. People did not see her. Many walked right through her.
27 August 2005
No One Asked Her Why
Listprice Cleanplate spent her nights and weekends working on her book, a magnum opus tentatively titled Waste Not: A Defense of Cannibalism. The book included many recipes. Listprice was an acknowledged expert on humans eating humans. Movie producers consulted her about the specifics of eating human flesh whenever their films had such scenes. Listprice was happy to talk to them. She also gave talks on the subject to any group that asked her. For free. Birds eat birds, said Listprice, and fish eat fish. I see nothing wrong with humans eating humans. Listprice lived alone. She liked it that way.
26 August 2005
Pinkslip Throwrug’s aunt had no children and never married. When she died she left most of her money to Pinkslip, who was unaccustomed to the burdens of buying power. Pinkslip lived in the woods in a crude shack. He placed the check from his aunt’s lawyers into his wood stove where it created a second of warmth. A few months later a man in a suit came to Pinkslip’s shack. He explained to Pinkslip how his firm’s books were unbalanced because Pinkslip had failed to cash the check. Fear not, said Pinkslip. I put the paper to very good use.
25 August 2005
The Limits of Power
The car broke down in the desert, many miles from any gas station. The king in the back seat was powerless to help. The ship’s captain beside him could do no better. They ordered the driver to make the car go. Now! I’ll get out and see what’s going on, said the driver. While she poked around under the hood, I turned to the king and the captain. We’re probably going to die out here, I said. The king closed his eyes and cried. The captain pointed at the sky. Don’t worry, he said, a whirlwind will come save us.
24 August 2005
The Perils of Going On Assignment
I draw to possess the world, said the artist. Why else draw? The interviewer turned off her tape recorder. I love your pictures, she said, and therefore I’m probably in love with you. I want to know everything about how you make your art. She turned the recorder back on. You shouldn’t ask me these kinds of questions, said the artist. He flipped open his sketch book and drew the interviewer with quick flowing strokes of his pencil. The interviewer melted. You don’t want to get mixed up with an artist, said the artist. We don’t care about anyone else.
23 August 2005
The French-English dictionary talked to Buttercup Tablemanners. She knew no French, so the conversation quickly went nowhere. Instead, Buttercup sat on her couch and let the words wash over her. One minute Buttercup was sipping espresso at a sidewalk café in Paris. The next she was tasting a glass of wine in the south of France. The dictionary spoke for a long time then stopped. Buttercup opened her eyes. What happened? she said. I’m not here for your dreams, said the dictionary, I’m looking for meaning in life. Buttercup’s face suddenly felt warm. There’s no such thing, she said.
22 August 2005
The apple trees were busy making apples. We slept in the grove on hot summer nights. Bears came scavenging for the apples. We heard them snuffling around our cots, felt their hot breaths. They sat and gorged themselves on apples. Hey bears, we said, come over here so we can pet you. The bears ignored us, as did the trees. In the winter, when the leaves were all gone, and the trees got lonely, we heard their crackling voices calling to us. The bears sat on the edge of the grove, waiting. We hoisted mugs of hot cider to them.
21 August 2005
The spider had a short lifespan, but nevertheless expended enough energy to capture us. She wrapped her thread around us, binding everything: our clothes, our skin, our flesh, blood, and marrow. It was comforting. We remained cozy for several generations, or so it seemed. It couldn’t have been more than a few days. Then the spider began slipping away. We knew it by the fissures that opened up in our skulls, releasing far more than we wanted to let go. We saw her shrivel and fall. We moved our limbs again, and acquired a taste for insects of all description.
20 August 2005
It was the interiors of all those skulls that intrigued the secret researchers who all worked behind innocuous storefronts scattered throughout the world. They e-mailed each other with their ideas, and collectively dreamed of harnessing the brainpower of the world. It would be marvelous, they said, to build a parallel processor composed of all the individual brains on the planet. The lone dissenter was drowned out in the general buzz of excitement that most of them felt for the mere possibility of ultimate power. The dissenter does not understand reality, they said. The dissenter is not part of the loop.
19 August 2005
Lugwrench Onionbreath hit the snooze alarm and returned to sleep. His doppelganger wafted out of his mouth like smoke rising from a campfire. The doppelganger coalesced into firmness, put on one of Lugwrench’s suits, and went to Lugwrench’s job where he tapped a keyboard in a cubicle all day. Lugwrench’s colleagues asked the doppelganger if he was feeling ok. The doppelganger pointed at his throat and shrugged his shoulders. Laryngitis, huh? said the colleagues. The doppelganger nodded. After that they left him alone. The doppelganger got home and crawled back down Lugwrench’s throat. Thanks for the day off, said Lugwrench.
18 August 2005
Pillowcase Marsdust took his tape recorder into the old house a few days before it was scheduled to be torn down. He climbed the stairs and crawled up into the attic. Soon the spirits of the house came out from the walls and corners and gathered around Pillowcase. Your home is about to be destroyed, he said. I’m afraid there’s nothing anyone can do about it. I know you all can’t live anywhere else, so I’m here to take down your oral histories while there’s still time. The spirits wept. Pillowcase wept with them. Then they talked and Pillowcase listened.
17 August 2005
The Difficulty of Letting Go
Shotglass Collarbone was dizzy for years. Then he boarded a plane. As soon as he became airborne Shotglass lost his dizziness. The vertigo returned when he landed, but Shotglass now knew what to do. He would live off the ground. Shotglass built a treehouse in a solid old oak and moved in. He was immediately free of any signs of dizziness. The creatures of the air welcomed Shotglass to their world. They offered to outfit him with wings. Shotglass considered this carefully, then politely declined. I have connections, he said, to my former realm. I need to maintain my roots.
16 August 2005
The Fundamental Theory and Practice of Love
Psychward Snakeskin fell in love with atoms. He adored these fundamental building blocks of the observable universe. Then he discovered atoms are made of protons and electrons and such. Psychward took a deep breath and accepted these as the ultimate constituents of matter. But no. Protons and electrons are made of quarks. Fine, said Psychward through clenched teeth, I love quarks. But wait. Quarks are made of strings. Psychward was punch-drunk and brokenhearted. I can’t switch loves again, he said, it hurts too much. No one has had the heart to tell him that strings are made of donut holes.
15 August 2005
They Really Need to Learn to Read Between the Lines
Dragonbreath Mainsail kept the books for most of the small businesses in her little town. Everyone trusted Dragonbreath, mostly because they did not know she skimmed a little off the top of every transaction. It was not enough for anyone to notice, but over the years it added up to a substantial fortune. Dragonbreath retired early. Her clients were heart broken. How will we ever find an accountant as good as you have been? they asked. I wish I knew, said Dragonbreath. I only want to thank you all for your enduring trust. It has meant the world to me.
14 August 2005
Corkscrew Speakeasy was all in a twist over her stuttering, which eventually got so bad she simply refused to converse at all and instead took to drinking substantial quantities of wine. Thus pleasantly marinated, and to her surprise, she began to channel a spirit who lived at the center of the Earth. Hello air dwellers, Corkscrew would say in perfectly unstuttered speech, how’s the weather up there? Her friends liked hearing the spirit’s words. Hot enough down there for you? they asked the spirit, by way of Corkscrew. I miss my life, said Corkscrew. C-c-c-can you f-f-find it f-f-for me?
13 August 2005
Bitpart Stripmine received an e-mail in 2005 that had been sent on the 43rd day of Spring, in the year 2172. The e-mail claimed to be from a descendent of Bitpart, who was doing genealogical research and wanted personal information about him: where he was born, his marital status, the names and ages of his children, and so on. Bitpart immediately wrote back: When am I going to die? An answer came back: We're not allowed to tell you that. Information can only go one way. Bitpart put the e-mail in his trash. Temporal spam, he muttered, the worst kind.
12 August 2005
Nenad Dragicevic isn’t a bad name at all. It’s exotic, difficult for many people to pronounce, and elicits perplexed looks whenever I say it aloud. It is, in other words, a name that pulls the rug out from under people. Nenad Dragicevic was a minor poet with a correspondingly small body of work and the most modest of reputations. I met him many years ago. I asked him if he ever regretted devoting his life to poetry. Sometimes, he said, I wish I had devoted my energies to getting just one poem right. Then I would truly have been myself.
11 August 2005
A few years ago we went to see J. S. G. Boggs give a talk on the topic of money. Boggs, an artist with strong technical skills and an urge to question the meaning of value, draws money, then attempts to spend the drawings for goods and services. During his talk he drew some bills and then we all went with him to a nearby pizza place where he bought pies with the fake money and even persuaded the manager to give real change in return. It was a marvelous demonstration. The money was fake, but the pizza was real.
10 August 2005
Thirty-one years ago Philippe Petit and three accomplices disguised themselves as construction workers and gained access to the top floors of the World Trade Center. While there, they strung a steel cable between the two towers and in the early morning hours of August 7 Petit walked across that cable eight times. Years later, he recalls the event: "I was completely in another world...I wasn't really hearing like you would normally be hearing. It was more like a feeling of sound. And...in that soup of sound, I did hear boats—beautiful, like people leaving for a faraway country."
09 August 2005
The Solace of Entropy
We bought a reverse shredder and fed in our shredded papers. Out popped the source documents in their original pristine condition. We shredded these restored papers, then fed the results through the reverse shredder. We did this dozens of times. On each cycle we examined the restored documents. After the first few de-shreddings we noticed a few minute differences: a comma dropped here or a seam visible there. By the time we got to the thirtieth cycle the restored documents were difficult to read. Eventually they became a mishmash of gray lines and indecipherable glyphs. We all felt much better.
08 August 2005
The End of the Rainbow
One year we painted the house every month. Lavender in January, orange in February, sky blue in March. After that we had a few arguments. Some wanted red for April, others insisted on violet. We flipped a coin: violet in April, then red for May. We were weary after that so we let it go for June and July. The house stayed red until August. Then we painted it a deeply glorious green. After that we stopped for good. Our house has been green for years. We sometimes consider beige, but these are idle thoughts. Nothing ever comes of them.
07 August 2005
The stranger arrived at our door. I am a weary traveler, he said, and humbly ask for the favor of a simple meal and a night’s rest. He seemed like a decent sort so we invited him in. At dinner he told stories of his many travels. I have stayed in thousands of houses, he said, in each for only one night. I usually search out haunted houses. Ghosts appreciate my brevity and love my stories of other ghosts I have known. We leaned closer to the stranger. Tell us more, we said. Tell us all about our distant cousins.
06 August 2005
Do I Know You?
Woodgrain Soapstone kept insects in a terrarium. He spent hours watching the bugs and grew to appreciate their single-minded approach to life. They each had an ability and a task that meshed perfectly, and they seldom wavered in bringing those tasks to fruition. In the evenings Woodgrain did yoga poses of his own devising which mostly mimicked insects. His physical exertions liberated the ghosts of insects from the hidden crevices and corners of his house. The ghosts floated to the terrarium, where the living insects paused and waved their antennae in the air. They were often frantic for several seconds.
05 August 2005
We signed up for a one way trip to the stars, each of us knowing we would die on an alien world, but hoping we would have long productive lives of exploration before that. Half way there we passed another spaceship, very much like our own, going in the opposite direction. None of us knew what it meant. The navigation team suggested they were reflections of ourselves. We scoffed at such nonsense, but when we arrived at the stars we found people just like us. They were annoyed. Why did you come back? they asked. We thought you hated us.
04 August 2005
Maybe It Wasn't All Bad
Crabcake Seahorse lived in the ocean for many years but grew tired of the intrusive neighbors. There’s just no privacy here, he told himself as yet another school of fish swam by and nosed around his cave. Crabcake crawled up onto a rocky shore and began building himself a cozy little house. Some land creatures approached, but as soon as they saw Crabcake’s stern expression they retreated and let him be. Crabcake finished his dwelling and moved in. It was very quiet. Crabcake missed the way sound carried in the ocean. He used to listen to conversations from miles away.
03 August 2005
Nothing Up My Sleeve
Peppercorn Flyball was a magician for many years, but eventually his skills deteriorated. People began to guess the card he was holding and figured out where his beautiful assistant was hiding. Soon no one hired Peppercorn to do his act anymore. His fellow magicians arranged for Peppercorn to be retrained, but he didn’t take to the new techniques and tricks that fooled contemporary audiences. He announced his retirement. His beautiful assistant found employment assisting another magician. Peppercorn took a job selling used cars. I’m not trying to trick you, you would say to prospective buyers. I’m not capable of that.
02 August 2005
Accepting the Mysterious Ways of Nature
It was a good year for sun rays. We harvested sheaves of them and hung them in the shed to cure. We diligently monitored the shed’s humidity and kept fairies, who would steal anything, well away from the bounty. Before long we had a good assortment of light jerky. We gave away most of them to our neighbors to use on dark winter nights when building a fire was too much work. The rest we saved for ourselves. We broke off small pieces of them to use for night lights. Their concentrated illumination gave us a warm feeling of security.
01 August 2005
Just Look Away if You Have to
Beancurd Funnelcloud invited her whole town to a party. Most of them came. Beancurd brought in a band, staged a bonfire, and put out a lavish banquet. A small woman with green hair, rotting skin, repulsive aroma, and an indecipherable accent came to Beancurd’s party. None of the other guests seemed to know who she was. Don’t mind her, said Beancurd, she’s my shadow being. This made the other guests uncomfortable. We didn’t expect to see shadow beings here tonight, they said. We all left ours at home. Of course, said Beancurd, so did I. This is my home, remember?