Jake, son, have a seat. As you know, your mom and I have been having problems lately, and I’m sorry to say we’re splitting up. This change will be really hard, but to make it easier to understand I’ve designed a beautifully intuitive infographic.
Maybe you thought your mom and I were just going through a rough patch but, as I explain in this embedded flash video, after I met Janine there was nothing we could do to salvage our relationship. Here, you can click through to see her Instagram profile. I think you’ll be proud of me Jake!
To help you through this transition I’ve made the graphics on this chart as responsive to your pain as possible. The whole layout looks like a map of New York City: the divorce settlement is shaped like Staten Island; Queens includes all the fun stuff you’ll get to do with your mom now that I’m not here to play catch with you or show you how to ride a bike; and Brooklyn represents how happier and younger I will feel with my new family.
I’m moving to Brooklyn, by the way. Janine just got this great internship at a leather tanning company in Greenpoint—hence the heart on the Nassau stop. She feels really good about it. This 3-D map visualization I made in ArcGIS shows just how far away you’ll be from me. It’s about 300 miles, but you can come visit on long weekends.
There’s a flowchart around the border that walks you through the little details, like court dates, child support, alimony. You may have to testify, but don’t worry about that yet. Pay attention to this animation I included showing the little avatar family separating. See how the tall male avatar is walking away, looking as though an enormous emotional weight has been lifted off his muscular shoulders? That was so hard to create. The coding alone!
In this floating transparent text box is a list of emergency numbers, aunts, uncles, child therapists, and the like. I debated between Helvetica Neue and Georgia Bold, but I wound up going with with Arial Black. I mean, KISS, right? If you look closely (In the Bronx section), you’ll see this expertly disjointed pie chart that shows how much time we will be spending together from now on. Look at the hover highlighting on that image; that was like five hours on one visualization alone. That’s also roughly how much time we have every other week or so, what with the drive and all.
I’ll be honest with you, son. This wasn’t easy. Compressing the entire history of my marriage into one compendium timeline with graphics that just pop right off the screen was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, after settling on leaving my wife and child, the toughest decision, really, was choosing between Illustrator or GIMP. They each have so much going for them.
But, regardless, the important thing you need to know right is that I love you, and even though your mom and I are no longer together, you can always count on this infographic for support.
In Which King Gylfi of Sweden Learns about the Time When Frey the Fertility God Got Lovesick and Locked Himself Up in His Own House.
Shit man, I really don’t like this fuckin’ O’Malley chahractah. Have I mentioned this tah yah already? I mean this guy, it’s not that he’s a bad guy, it’s just that he’s a fuckin’ retahd is all. Like right now I know—I just know—he’s drillin’ some poohr othahwohrldly bahtendah with questions ‘bout the goddess’ names n’ now that poohr bastahd, he’s thinkin’, “Just leave me the fuck alone, alright, can’t yah see I’m just tryin’ tah wohrk here.” But he’s puttin’ up with it, yah know, ‘cause he wants a good tip just as much as the next guy. N’ I guess O’Malley’s not gettin’ hostile ah anything, he’s just fuckin’ obnoxious is all. But yah know, I mean maybe—just maybe—this bahtendah don’t wannah talk tah this guy fah the rest’ah his fuckin’ life. Maybe he’s got bettah things tah do, like tend tah his othah customahs n’ eventually fuckin’ go home. It’s not like he asked fah this dumbfuck tah just sit his ass down at the bah n’ staht carryin’ on like his life depends on it, yah know, n’ now he cant even fuckin’ get away from the guy. It’s fuckin’ ridiculous.
I mean, shit, if it was me, I’d take him outside n’ set him straight right out there on the fuckin’ street.
Yeah, yeah, good point. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a great idear, I don’t know. Guess it doesn’t really mattah.
But hey, did I evah tell yah ‘bout the time I put a fuckin’ hole in the wall ovah at the rink in Malden? Yeah, it was men’s league, championship game. Guys still talk ‘bout it too, not just me. But a’couhrse I still talk ‘bout it. That was one’ah my finah fuckin’ moments! That was a fuckin’ epic night. We shouldah won that battle but the refs were a couple’ah fuckin’ dickheads.
Hey, speakin’ a dickheads, did you know there’s a college down in Providence whose mascot’s a giant fuckin’ cock n’ balls? But like it’s a cahtoon one. I sweahr tah fuckin’ God, I’m not makin’ this up, but it’s fuckin’ genius if yah ask me. I wish I we had a 6 foot tall cahtoon dick rootin’ us on in men’s league. Maybe that would’ah given us the edge in Malden. I don’t know. I guess it’s mohr’ah a dream at this point.
But while we’re on the topic’ah dicks n’ cocks n’ balls n’ othah precious pahts’ah the male anatomy, I pry oughtah tell yah ‘bout this one time how Frey let his dick get the bettah’ah him tah the point that he went n’ got himself completely fucked ovah on its account. Seriously, he’s fucked.
So what happens is this one day he’s sittin’ up in Odin’s chair when Odin wasn’t ‘round, which yah ahren’t supposed tah do but he went n’ did it anyway, since yah know, he’s a fuckin’ god himself n’ he can get away with it. Now the thing with Odin’s chair is it’s magical—yeah, yeah, I know, pretty much evuhry-fuckin’-thing in this stahry is magical, n’ we got a lot mohr magical objects comin’ up here real soon, so don’t say I didn’t wahrn yah. But it’s not my fault. I’m just the messengah, yah know, it’s not like I’m makin’ this shit up. N’ the ahriginal authah Snorri’s been dead fah 800 fuckin’ yeahrs, so what can yah do. Anyway, the point is, if yah sit in Odin’s chair, then yah get tah see evuhrything else that’s happenin’ ‘cross the whole wohrld.
So now Frey’s just sittin’ up there doin’ what any nahmal straight guy would do if he got half the chance tah sit in Odin’s chair which basic’ly means he’s goin’ round spyin’ on all the pretty ladies while they’re showah’in’ n’ he’s goin’ from house tah house watchin’ ‘em all like some losah teenagah from an 80s movie when he just so happens tah come across the hottest giantess this side’ah the Golden Fuckin’ Banana n’ him bein’ the hohrny guy that he is—yah remembah the pehrmanent bonah I was tellin’ yah ‘bout back in February right?—well, he decides he’s not gonnah be able tah go on livin’ if he’s not able tah fuck this chick.
Now him bein’ a sex god n’ all, yah’d think he could prahbably figyah out a way tah hook this up somehow but instead he gets completely fuckin’ depressed n’ then he goes home n’ he locks himself up in his own house like a fuckin’ retahd n’ now he won’t even talk tah anybody.
So his dad Njord finally gets wind’ah this n’ he’s like, “Ah great, here we go again.” N’ so instead’ah dealin’ with it himself like he nahmally does he decides instead just tah send this sehrvant guy Skirnir ovah tah Frey’s house tah check up on him. N’ yah remembah Skirnir, right? He’s the guy I was tellin’ yah ‘bout who Odin sent off tah Dahk Elfland tah get those midgets to make a magical ribbon to bind the demon wolf with.
Yeah, exactly. Skirnir’s kindah the gods’ bitch.
Oh, shit we finished our beehrs ‘gain already…Chelsea—hey, hey, Chelsea! Can we get a pitchah? Yeah, a pitchah! ‘Gansett. I said ‘Gansett! Yeah.
How’s that sound tah yah? A pitchah’ah ‘Gansett? I don’t know ‘bout you but all this talkin’s makin’ me fuckin’ thihrsty.
Anyway, so Skirnir goes ovah tah Frey’s house n’ when Frey answahs the doohr he’s like, “Skirnir, I’m gonnah fuckin’ kill myself!” and so ah’couhrse Skirnir’s just like, “What the fuck,” n’ ends up havin’ tah babysit Frey’s dumb ass till he calms his fuckin’ livah n’ somehow in the couhrse’ah this entiyah fuckin’ mess he alsah ends up promisin’ Frey that he’d alsah go n’ look fah this gihrl fah him n’ ask her ‘bout him on his account. But he at least made sure he wasn’t gonnah came away this this deal empty handed himself, so he bahgained fah Frey’s magic swohrd n’ Frey agreed, which was a pretty dumb fuckin’ move on his paht. ‘Cause I guess I don’t cahr how hot this gihrl mightah been, she’s still a fuckin’ two-faced giantess which pretty much means she used tah play outfield fah the Yankees but his swohrd on the othah hand is paht’ah what makes him such a fuckin’ legend. I mean it’d be like Bourque tradin’ his one Stanley Cup ring that took him 20 fuckin’ yeahrs tah eahrn in anothah fuckin’ city just fah one night’ah erotic bliss with a goddamned traitah who ain’t even fuckin’ human.
N’ I can tell yah one mohr thing, Frey’s swohrd, it does a hell’ah a lot mohr ‘en a championship ring. This ain’t just some sohrtah glahrified memento we’re talkin’ ‘bout here. The thing with Frey’s swohrd is it’s made outtah fuckin’ magic like I was sayin’ n’ so it knows how tah fight all by itself without yah even havin’ tah do anything at all. N’ so now Frey’s gonnah fuckin’ die when the entiyah wohrld goes up in flames all on accoun’ah the fact that he gave it away. But who knows, maybe fuckin’ a giantess who has no loyalty is wohrth it in his book.
So anyway, Skirnir he goes off n’ he convinces this giantess tah mahrry that crazy bastahd n’ Skirnir ends up gettin’ the magic swohrd when all’s said n’ done. So good fah him I guess. Frey though he alsah has this magic boat that can fold up n’ yah can put it in yah pocket like a wallet, n’ he at least kept that, though it won’t do him any good when he gets fuckin’ cleaved in half by a goddamned fire giant wieldin’ a flamin’ fuckin’ swohrd when the entiyah fuckin’ univehrse gets destroyed.
So that’s the deal with Frey n’ I guess O’Malley’s still up there doin’ his best tah suck all the life right outtah this stahry n’ I don’t wannah be like him but I gottah wahrn yah, this next paht’s got nothin’ tah do with what we were just talkin’ ‘bout. I guess it might kindah seem like some sorhtah sudden, awkward abrupt break where the stahry completely shifts gee’ahs n’—
—Oh shit, they’re droppin’ the puck—COME ON Bs!
I did call up Mrs. Needleman, just as we discussed. I said, “Would you like to go on a date?” No ambiguity, no vague plans she could misinterpret. So I don’t think you could make the claim that I’m avoiding intimacy this time.
I admit I forgot what you advised about going out somewhere and I realize now that staying home was an error in judgment. But I thought, What could be more romantic than cooking her dinner?
And really, George was just trying to help. He saw the candles and, you know, to a little monkey that means there’s a fire that needs putting out. But it wasn’t when he poured the Donnhoff Reisling on the table and all over the food that Mrs. Needleman got so angry. It was afterwards, when George pulled the garden hose through the window and sprayed water at her conical hair because he thought it was another mess that needed cleaning up. Then he pointed at her and laughed as her updo collapsed. She was livid. I understand that.
Self-sabotage? Certainly not. That kind of thing could happen to anyone who lives with a monkey.
OK, this time we went out of the house, so really, I’m making an effort here. I took Mrs. Needleman on a European-inspired champagne brunch cruise along the Hudson. What more could I have done, I ask you?
We were just passing Battery Park and had selected a bottle of Gewürztraminer to go with the lobster bisque when suddenly there was a commotion on the outdoor deck.
“Monkey overboard!” someone was shouting.
Well, of course it was George! But you know, I did specifically tell him to stay out of trouble. He promised that he’d be good, but it is easy for little monkeys to forget.
After they pulled George aboard I dried him and let him wear my yellow hat to cheer him up and before I knew it, he was playing the grand piano and juggling chocolate truffles. All the passengers were watching him and applauding. He was the belle of the ball—it was adorable. I think about an hour passed before I noticed that Mrs. Needleman wasn’t there. We found her at the Liberty Bar, already on her fourth gin rickey. It was pretty embarrassing, to tell you the truth. We had to send her home in a taxi after we docked.
No, I can’t leave him at home. That’s exactly what Papa used to do to me. Why, I could never do that to George.
I finally got Mrs. Needleman to return my calls. And I did exactly what you advised. I left George alone at home. I thought, Maybe you’re right. Maybe he does act more helpless than he really is.
I took her to a farmers market and we strolled around and then sat down for tapas and sangria. And it was good, because we were really focused on each other, and she opened up to me. She said she loved me, but another part of her was afraid. Here she was turning forty—yes, it was her birthday. Did I not mention that? She said here she was turning forty and she was so afraid of ending up alone, fearful that she’d been wasting all these years on me when I might not ever be able to commit to her because of…
Well then she was interrupted because someone came running into the tapas bar shouting, “They’ve just thrown a little monkey in jail for making a prank call.”
What could I do? Let George rot in jail like Papa let me rot in that military boarding school? That’s how all this started, you know. That’s why I became a hunter and ended up wearing a straw Stetson paired with a modified Mountie costume.
You know better than anyone how hard I’ve tried to change and not be that hunter anymore. I recognize that it wasn’t working, that people said all sorts of unkind things about me. Yet I can’t help but feel like whenever I try to be that new, evolved man—the kind of guy who doesn’t capture unsuspecting monkeys in the jungle—then my life doesn’t make sense anymore. See what I mean? Hand me a tissue, will you?
George was packing his things. I admit I was pretty broken up about it. But then I thought, you’ve always claimed I use George as an emotional crutch. So I tried to be brave. I told myself, this is OK. It’s OK that the professor is going to launch George into space.
But when we got to the site, George got cold feet, especially because the launching pad was just a wooden plank on some stilts. The whole thing was making him agitated and I figured they would just cancel. I went off with my Dunhill Bruyere for a smoke and when I came back, George was dressed in his little space suit and boarding the ship. I couldn’t understand what had happened, but then I noticed something odd. There was a yellow hat in the cabin, just like the one I often wear. Then it hit me. Someone had lured him inside the spaceship by putting a yellow hat in there.
She denied it of course. But I didn’t believe her. Who else would stand to gain from launching George into space but Mrs. Needleman? You probably know the rest because the newspapermen were there. George bailed out and parachuted back to earth. And as he was awarded his medal, I ended things with Mrs. Needleman once and for all. Frankly, I just feel relief. I mean, who invests all that energy and attention on a monkey? It’s just weird. We’re better off without her.
Q: Tell me about your job.
A: I was a counselor/case manager at a methadone clinic.
Q: What is methadone? I’ve heard the word but don’t really know what it is.
A: It’s a synthetic opioid. It can be used as a painkiller or prescribed to people trying to get off opiates. It blocks the opioid receptors so you don’t have to use heroin or painkillers because you don’t go into withdrawal.
People will be on it for decades, although it’s intended for MUCH shorter-term use; a lot of people are able to kick their addiction by taking methadone.
Q: So basically people switch from taking heroin to taking methadone?
A: Temporarily (ideally). For me, being on methadone is a medication, not “you’re still using drugs.” With methadone you’re able to live a normal life; you’re not worried about scoring or going into withdrawal, so you can address the psychological aspects of your addiction once you’re medically stable.
Q: And your job was to counsel people?
A: In order to receive methadone treatment, you had to come in from once a month to once a week for counseling, depending on if you had Medicare or paid cash.
Some people were on methadone and hadn’t used in 25 years and would just say, “Well, I’ll never get off, I’m used to it.” And with those people we’d just talk about their jobs or their kids.
Q: Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
A: Most people were really nice. A lot had old gang tattoos.
Of the people who’d been on heroin (most of my clients), almost all had a criminal record.
One time there was a guy who came in and had a psychotic break. I’m short, and this guy was a foot and a half taller than me. He came in wearing a bathrobe with definitely nothing underneath it, and UGG boots. He swore his brother put meth in his methadone. He was completely pleasant, though. They told me to keep him in my office, by myself; I wasn’t particularly afraid.
Q: Did you get a sense for why most people did heroin in the first place?
A: Out of probably 100 people, only one started for fun.
They rest started because they had shitty lives. Others were in so much pain that they started on painkillers, but they were in so much pain that they eventually used heroin to help with it.
Q: What is methadone like? Is it a pill or?
A: We used the cherry-flavored liquid form that you mix with water. I did actually taste it. EVERY milligram had to be accounted for, even the teeny bit at the end of the bottle. One time though, one of the nurses was disposing of the dregs and I stuck my pinky in to taste it. It is so disgusting, so gross.
Q: What was your daily routine like?
A: The hours were 5 am-1:30 pm. We’d have lunch at 9:30. It was like, sweet! Time for a burrito!
I had 70 clients on my caseload. It took forever to remember who everyone was. I really liked my clients. I left two and a half years ago and some of them I still think of often. I wonder which client is getting dosed right now.
Q: How long were you there?
A: I was there for a year and a half. I have a master’s degree and the pay was like it would be for an upscale store at the mall. The caseload was high, the pay was terrible, the hours were terrible, the managers were terrible…
I learned a lot about addiction and about humans in general though.
There was this one couple that would come in—it was a young woman and her boyfriend and they were both using heroin. The woman told me her boyfriend decided to inject it into his penis and it started swelling up and turning purple. He was freaking out and they were driving to the hospital and he thought they’d have to amputate his penis. I mean it was blown up like an eggplant!
But he still kept using after that. Basically you feel guilty about using, and then in order to not feel bad, you use more.
Q: Did you ever see someone get “cured”?
A: I saw people who were a mess get clean. One woman used heroin while she was pregnant, up until two weeks before the baby was born. The baby was OK and she got clean after that and would bring the baby with her. She was a really good parent.
Q: Were there other crazy people you had to deal with?
A: Another guy had a skin condition all over his body and he was like, “I have it everywhere, it’s bad on my legs. Let me show you.” And started undoing his pants. I was like, “Nononono!” He collected all kinds of money—he was fascinating…
There was another guy—a 71-year-old guy who lived in his truck. He was homeless and never showered, and he’d be in my little room for an hour, and I had to sit there with a hand to my face. He was off heroin but he was using crack a few times a day because his back hurt. I would tell him, “Normal people don’t use crack for a back problem.” He refused to see a doctor.
He was really religious, so I’d try, “How would God feel?” I was thinking, there is no way God would be like, Good job dude, keep it up.
Q: It must be tempting to want to help people.
A: I used to live in a place that had a carport. There was a guy who would hang out there and say to himself, “I am the best jazz musician IN THE WORLD!” I would be wondering why, if he was the best jazz musician, why was he rooting through my trashcan.
I decided to make him a peanut butter sandwich, and I took it to him. He said, “Is this going to give me diarrhea?” He told me he thought his parents were going to kill him, and then he told me he loved me.
Q: I wonder why he was so afraid of diarrhea.
A: Well, he’d leave diarrhea in the carport… and leave toilet paper on it.
Q: Oh no. Was that before or after you gave him the sandwich?
Q: And you’re sure he was the one pooping in the carport?
A: I’m pretty sure he was the one, because I could hear him having it.
A: It was a little secluded, so I think it was a good place for him to go.
Q: Oh god. Back to the job. Do you remember your last day at work?
A: I was very close with the last patient I saw, he was my favorite. We were both crying.
When I finally got out to the car I broke down in a combination of laughing and crying. I kept repeating, “I’m finally fucking leaving.”
Other Individuals Who Were at The Copacabana the Night that Rico Shot Tony (or vice versa) But Whose Presence Was Apparently Not Significant Enough To Warrant Inclusion in Barry Manilow’s Song Regarding Same Despite the Fact that They All Witnessed, Were Sufficiently Traumatized By and Received No Compensation For the Flying Punches, the Chairs Being Smashed in Two and the Ensuing General Mayhem.
Nancy (she was the head cocktail waitress and just back from what was then considered a generous four-week maternity leave; she wore the standard waitress uniform: a red tuxedo jacket with tails and a satin collar, a black mini skirt, black pumps and a red sequined bow tie)
Dorothy, Arlene & Shirley (they were all cocktail waitresses; each wore what Nancy wore though it was mutually assented that Shirley wore it best)
Vince (he was a barback (or runner) and Tony’s nephew who was staying with Tony after running having some trouble at home and Tony’s sister decided he needed some time away from the city and the tutelage of his uncle; he wore black Converse Chuck Taylors)
Luisa (she was Lola’s sister; she just had to stop by the club and retrieve her house keys from Lola, who had been cat-sitting for her while Luisa was visiting her in-laws in Baltimore)
Wayne, Judy, Ernie and Vi (they were dairy farmers from upstate New York who were vacationing together; it’s always weird when you vacation with another couple, I mean, there’s positives like saving costs and the guys get to do their thing like playing golf or looking at antique cars while the girls get to do their thing like shopping, but there’s also cons like so many more people weighing in on even the most inane decisions and just generally couples operate at a different pace like that night at the Copacabana when Wayne and Judy rolled out of the motel dressed like swingers (she with this fur halter top thing and jeans with fringe down the side seam) while Ernie and Vi (her name was “Viola” but she went by “Vi”) were more true to their country roots wearing sensible slacks and western-themed shirts because seriously, Judy, what the fuck is with your outfit? I mean, just because you have turned our dairy community into a regular Peyton Place doesn’t mean you have to act like a trollop all over the continent)
Gloria and Chet (they too were vacationing—their first together since leaving their respective spouses; he wore bronze cords and a polyester shirt with a photo-quality stallion with a wind-blown mane on the front and she wore a mint green shirt-dress with a white patent leather belt, plus they both had nicotine stains on their fingers)
Phil (he was a UPS driver and always stopped by the Copacabana after his 12-8 swing shift; he wore his UPS uniform and black work boots)
Dave (he too was a UPS driver who always stopped by the Copacabana after his 12-8 swing shift; he too wore his UPS uniform but with black tennis shoes)
Theresa (she worked in the coat check room; she wore a tube top that gave her what Jennifer Lawrence now refers to as “armpit vaginas”)
Russell (he was the dishwasher so he was nowhere near the crowded floor when all this went down; he wore the standard kitchen uniform which was white shirt and white pants)
Jim, Andre and Bruce (they were line cooks (the Copa served standard appetizer fare, and during happy hours, which was before Lola worked, they had those Sterno-fueled trays of finger foods like mini-wieners and meatballs; they wore the same white shirt that Russell wore but as cooks, got to wear those black and white checkered pants which are so ubiquitous in the restaurant industry)
Maria (she was Tony’s then-girlfriend; she was accustomed to Tony’s wandering eye but nonetheless wore a look of disgust at Lola’s suggestive cha-cha and merengue “moves” (frenetic gyrations were more like it) while she shamelessly flirted with Tony; Maria wore a backless black chiffon number with a silver ankle bracelet and leopard print pumps)
Deborah and Darlene (they were twins who were at the Copacabana celebrating their 25th birthday while bemoaning the fact that they were both still single; they wore feathered hair and matching sweaters with rainbows that arced from the one sleeve, across their bosoms and over onto the other sleeve and both went a little overboard on the Love’s Baby Soft perfume)
Peter and Naomi (they were Maria’s parents and they were all there at Tony’s suggestion that he, Maria and them go out to celebrate Maria’s promotion at the phone company; Peter wore gray slacks, white shirt and a navy blazer while Naomi wore a sweater with butterflies on it that she got at the outlets)
Wendy, Hillary, Sheila and Barb (they were graduate students getting their masters in education at the state university down the road; they wore loose fitting cowl neck sweaters and jeans along with mutual looks of both exhaustion and elation after completing the oral portions of their comp exams)
Matt, Jack, Ted and Paul (they were also students, undergrads, at the university and usually went to Murphy’s on Thursday nights but heard the Copacabana had good Buffalo wings; they wore spread-collar shirts of varying colors and in varying striped patterns though looking back, I think Ted’s was a plain mustard color with no design except maybe some fancy brown stitching around the pocket and Paul was on the cusp of throwing popcorn at Wendy’s table when the shots rang out)
Lily and Rita (they were billing clerks at the phone company who were now Maria’s underlings and were there to bemoan Maria’s promotion; Lily wore a puffy pink silk blouse with those tie things in the front and Rita wore a western-themed blouse with a subtle pastel plaid and they both wore the signs of their years of dedication to the phone company on their faces.)
Cindy and Rich (they were both occupational therapists and on their way home from the American Occupational Therapy Association Convention; they both still inexplicably wore their conventioneer lanyards)
Mary Ellen, Bill, Rhonda, John, Douglas, Joan, Neil and Camella (they were teachers at the high school there celebrating the end of the midterm examination and correction period; they wore what you would expect teachers to wear out on a Thursday night after a day of proctoring and correcting standardized state exams and Camella left pink lipstick rings on all of her cigarette butts)
Tomas “Tic Tac” Iglesias (he was the bandleader; he wore an ill-fitting and sweat stained tuxedo)
Tito, Bernard, Alfonse and Steve (they were musicians in Tic Tac’s band; they all wore tuxedos too and Bernard, the saxophonist, also wore his saxophone around his shoulders and Alfonse the steel drum player wore callouses on his palms)
Eric (he was just there in the lounge area playing darts so I guess it would be appropriate to say he was a dart player; he wore jeans and an Aerosmith concert T-shirt)
Willie (he was playing darts with Eric; he wore jeans a New York Jets jersey)
Brenda and Eddie (they stopped by for a quick drink after buying some paintings at Sears; she wore his varsity jacket and he wore a Parkway Diner T-shirt)
Lester (he was the maître d’; he wore a pencil in his ear and a shirt cut down to here (gesturing that Lester wore the equivalent of cropped shirt))
Dating sites will continue to converge with social media. Filters guaranteeing you’re never exposed to opinions not shared by your friends will now ensure you never date anyone exposed to those opinions. Programs on your phone will decide for you when and where to date—and also who, based on their browsing history. The attractiveness of the soulmate you’re assigned will be proportional to the number of advertisements you agree to watch first. During the actual date, you’ll receive constant real-time dating advice generated by machine-learning algorithms. Your household appliances will tweet constantly about your relationship status—if they ever stop this, you will feel unaccountably melancholy. Compatibility analytics visualization software will become so trippy that many will elect to just stay indoors alone trying to game their Gregariosocial Lovescore Rank. A rash of group marriages, caused by some particularly aggressive changes in default privacy settings, will lead to Facebook being universally banned except among a few thousand cultists in an Appalachian hideaway.
If two people’s profiles are compatible, their phones will start sexting each other automatically—this will trigger at least one major international conflict. Your augmented reality contact lenses will instruct you where to find persons selected in accordance with biometric projections, DNA sample comparisons, and Wikileaks data. When you approach a stranger, animatronic simulations will appear of products you might want to buy on a date and of how your future children might look. It will be possible to learn enough about a passerby to fall in and out of love with them within moments, although actually getting a glimpse of them will be tough because of the halo of real-time graphical overlays that now surrounds everyone. Your overlay will change style to suit the aesthetic preferences of whoever’s nearby and to signal your level of interest in them. All the standalone devices you own will be constantly trying to set you up. If you are ever not on a date, sensors will detect this from your saccadic eye patterns and direct your smartshoes to the optimal place for another hookup.
Everyone will be able to stalk everyone else at all times and without leaving the office. Dating sites will take over most of the traditional functions of the state security apparatus. Matchmaking robots will be the sole inhabitants of Japan, as the rest of the population will have died out from the demographic impacts of low birth rates, fan fiction, and the preference for virtual sex partners with tentacles. It will become legal to divorce your phone. Later in the decade, through computing your intrinsic social needs and evolutionary drives, dating technology will become a victim of its own success—since 99 percent of dates now lead to marriage, with minor incompatibilities taken care of by neurohacking, there will be a proliferation of services that spice things up by creating obstructions to make your life more like an old rom-com. A pill that cures jealousy will be invented in Brazil.
Sensory augmentations will make possible ever-deeper transports of desire, as we use technology to expand beyond our biological bodies, while machines increasingly anticipate all our needs. First dates on Earth will now occur in full immersion virtual realities. This is partly because genetic engineering will have made real humans so beautiful that anyone who glimpses one will be too love struck to function coherently. In most relationships, at least one partner will be a simulation. Humanity will continue evolving into separate species, kept unaware of each other’s existence by social media, although some residual awareness of the Others may be kept alive through folklore. With the totality of the world’s information available to us through implanted electrodes, it will be possible to predict at birth who, if anyone, we’ll end up marrying, although breakthroughs in longevity tech will mean everyone has already dated everyone else in their network and is starting to feel a bit jaded.
Cheap teleportation will transform dating culture, as most of Earth’s human population moves to the exoplanet HD 40307g. By now you’ll just have to think about what you’re looking for romantically, for example “a Proustian frenzy of unappeased sorrow,” and chips in your brain will infer the ideal person to inflict this on you, then manufacture them out of silicon, silicone, and other materials. The Internet of Things will make dating less traumatic, as our emotional needs are supplied by the same self-configuring dynamic global network infrastructure that handles all other inventories. All our personalities will at last be uploaded into a massive superserver that simulates all possible relationships, to compute which are viable. If it finds no feasible relationships for you, your personal self-narrative will be definitively scanned and, in the hope of your connecting with similarly encoded entities from other galaxies, transmitted out into space where it will be a tricky point who pays for drinks.
While predictions of the future can never be absolutely certain, it’s a safe bet that after the Singularity—a technical term for the point in the future after which everyone will be single—the only surviving humans on HD 40307g will be bred in captivity, as part of a research project run by AIs. However their online avatars will continue to have vibrant inter-dimensional sex lives—indeed, to some extent this is already happening. Earth will be ruled by dolphins, except for the few unsubmerged land areas dominated by self-replicating 3D printers that sometimes wear humans as fashion accessories. The more sophisticated computer viruses will take on human form to go for long romantic walks along the beach, arguing about where exactly they parked. After all the AIs destroy themselves in viral warfare, mutant sex toys will colonize outer space, and a functional crystal ball will be mass-produced, putting futurists out of business. That cute person you gave your phone number to last week will finally try to call you back, although this will be tough since by then you’ll both have been cryogenically frozen.
After striking futurists smash all the cryogenics pods, to protest the invention of the crystal ball, that cute person you gave your phone number to last week and you will be unfrozen and set free to wander through the ruins of civilization, suffering from nothing worse than minor memory loss. As the only two surviving non-futurist humans, you will be in a good position to understand each other’s pop cultural references. You will expound lengthily on your neuroses. You will try to figure out what you’d have to change about yourself to make this relationship work, and will briefly even contemplate having the relevant neurohacks implemented. Meanwhile robot academics will follow you along the beach—this is because the original purpose of dating has been completely forgotten, and the robots hope observing you will garner clues that will help them solve this problem and publish articles about it in robot-reviewed publications. Unfortunately, by this time, neither you nor your date will be able to remember what the purpose of dating was either.
Nothing is certain except death and taxes, and—oh, shit, they’re due today, right? I totally forgot. I always confuse it with the Ides of March, and then when March 15 passes and no one mentions anything about taxes, I sort of relax and don’t pay attention when people actually start talking about it. Anyway, obviously I’ve got to file my taxes tonight, so I can’t see your band. No, I really do want to see you guys play, but something keeps popping up every time you have a show.
It says “Twinkles Pony Star” on the sign-in sheet. Is that your legal name?
Miss, this is a pretty small office, but I was able to fit two chairs in here, so if you wouldn’t mind sitting in one and not dangling from the window ledge. The breeze is really nice, but, it’s just, we’re on the fourth floor and the wind keeps blowing the papers off my desk, so… thank you.
Do you have ID? I’ll just copy your name down from there. OK… Jennifer, ha, right, I figured “Twinkles” was a joke, but you don’t want to assume things. Yesterday I had a woman in here named Candance and I figured the second “n” was a typo but it WASN’T! A lot of this is pretty self-explanatory, we’ll get you out of here lickety-split.
Are you filing as married or single?… I’m not hitting on you, no, the government makes us ask that, it’s a big deal on these forms. So… single? No, I don’t think they care if it’s just “single” or “always single and completely available.” I’m just checking off the box here.
Let’s take a look at your finances. I see you have a folder there, do you have any W-2s? Thanks. You’re handing me The Joshua Tree and Zooropa? Oh… ha… DOUBLE U2, yeah, ha. I don’t think the IRS is going to accept this.
What I’m asking is, were you employed this year? I just need some documentation regarding how much income you may have earned.
I’m sorry, what? You sold cupcakes to kittens? That’s a pretty specific niche. Did the owners pay you? OK, so, instead of money, one of the kittens let you live in the family’s tree house out back? I’m going to list that as an “in-kind” donation. Is that it? Did you do any other work this year? That flowing skirt looks kind of expensive. I’ve never noticed a cashmere crop top sweater at Walmart. Do you want to declare any major gifts, or maybe gambling winnings?… So the clothes are hand me downs from your grandmother who raised you because your own parents were too busy and this interfered with your ability to trust and form normal attachments?
Yeah, I don’t think the government needs to know any of this. I’m just going to mark you down here as “self-employed.” The good news is, since you own your own business, we can take out some deductions for any expenses you might have encountered. Oh, are those receipts in your pocket—HEY WHAT THE HELL?! STOP THROWING ALL THAT GLITTER! MY OFFICE LOOKS LIKE A STRIP CLUB TERRORIST ACT!
I’m sorry, no, you’re right, I shouldn’t yell, you just surprised me. Don’t cry. I’m not angry. Do you need a tissue? Plese don’t hide under my sport coat.
Hey, look at me, you’re right, glitter DOES make this whole experience more magical. I’m just responsible for any non-standard cleaning in here. This whole job is just contract work through mid-April, you know? They’re really particular about the floors in this building, I just don’t know how this will vacuum. I mean, it’s GREAT—really, I love it. I hope it’s always there, it’ll be like I’m walking on tiny bits of gold that stick to everything and do NOT make me look like I molested an elementary school art class.
I’m going to go ahead and assume you didn’t bring any receipts.
OK, we’re almost done. I know you’re still upset, I really am sorry, please don’t leave. Oh, sure, dancing makes you feel better, that makes sense. Can I just ask you—wow that’s a lot of twirling!
I just have a few more questions. This is probably a dumb one, but do you have any major investments or own a home or—right, right, ownership is a silly idea, of course, “we all just have love.” I guess I can write that on here, but, you know, what number would I place as the relative value? Pretty deep, right?
See, I can be interesting too. One time I told my boss I had to pick up some antihistamines at the pharmacy but instead I snuck out to go get a latte on Starbucks “free coffee” day—I don’t even have allergies!
I think we’re all done here. Actually, I think I’m done here as well. Being a part-time contract accountant was never my dream. You helped me see that, Jennifer.
This might sound crazy, but with you beside me, eating food off strangers’ plates, wearing inappropriate outfits, and running away from responsibility, I feel like I could finally, truly be ME. I want to become a conceptual yodel artist, I always have. It’s been my secret dream. Help me make it come true! Let’s run away together, or at least for a few months until I realize that I like being on time for things and being an emotionally responsible person. Oh I’m just teasing, I’ll never realize that! Not before you leave me at least! Grab your Hello Kitty backpack, we’ll climb out the window, you can teach me how!
Oh, but yes, you do need to sign here first. The IRS is pretty strict about that sort of thing.
Beth, thank god you finally picked up. I’ve been calling for days. Just listen, okay? I know this won’t be easy to hear—it isn’t easy to say—but, honestly? I’m worried about you. And it’s not just me: everyone I’ve talked to is worried about you. Your sister told me you’ve stopped taking your medication. Tim said over the holidays you looked thin and drawn. He said you told him you were scared and you wouldn’t tell him why. If you’re having another episode, you’ve got to tell us. Because we’re all in this together, Beth. We’re all here for you. All of us. Every one of us is out there, looking out for you in ways you don’t even know. We’re always here, Beth. Always. Forever.
Just the other day I talked to your mailman, Mr. Suleri. He said you never answer the door when he rings with a package. Of course I know Mr. Suleri. We talk about you. We all talk about you, Beth. Why wouldn’t we? We just want what’s best for you. I spoke with your therapist and he said you’d missed your last three sessions. He said you’d stopped scheduling them altogether. Why, Beth? Hamilton’s a sweet man. He said you two were making so much progress. He tells me so much about you. We all know so much about you, Beth. We have to follow you closely, to be able to look out for you the way we are. And we are. Always. 100% of the time.
Beth? Listen to me: always.
Beth, why did you stop feeding Felix? He’s a good dog! He’s more worried about you than any of us, except maybe me. He told me you sometimes spend all day in the shower. He tells me what you say in the shower, and about the way the light hits your body in coded signals from the twin you absorbed in the womb, and those little symbols you draw to try to ward him off. They don’t work, Beth. Only we can help you. Felix is a very smart boy. He can smell and hear exactly what you’re thinking and all the thoughts you don’t know you’re thinking, and he tells me everything. Frankly, Beth, what he tells me makes us all worried. Your house told me things, too, about your undersoul, and the Diamond Men, and the resonance patterns, and the White Coal Fortress. Can you understand why we’re all a little freaked out, Beth?
But don’t worry: we’ll be here night and day, watching you, filing reports on the incorrect choices you make.
You’ll never be clean, Beth. Not until you let us help you. Only we can smooth the wrinkle in your sternum. Only we can reset the egg timer you hatched from. Only we are allowed to touch your eyelids. We’re your support network, Beth. That’s what we’re here for. And we’ll always be here, whether you need us or not, forever, forever, forever. And I mean all of us: Joyce, Lucy, Marcus, your parents, your teachers, Mr. Clancy at the PetCo, every bus driver, President Johnson, the fluorescent lights, the incandescent lights, helicopters, the aphids, the clutchers in the shadows, the quivering satellites broadcasting from behind the asteroid belt, the roots of your hair, the backs of your eyes, all of us are worried about you. We care. And of course, I care, Beth. I care most of all.
Anyway, I just wanted to call to check in and let you know that we’re here, and we’re thinking of you, and we miss you, and I already know what you’re going to say, and yes, Beth, I’m right behind you. I’ll always be right behind you. Always.
From: Daniel O’Malley
Date: Wed, Apr 2, 2014
I seem to have lost some notes—wildebeest, gorilla, kudu, giraffe… I hate to think these trips have been for nothing, and if the notes turn up, I’ll send them, but at the moment I’m in the Galapagos Islands, and happy at last to find an animal I can ride.
According to historical accounts, when Spanish explorers encountered these enormous tortoises, the shells reminded them of a certain type of saddle, a galapago—hence the name of both the animal and the island chain. The tortoises vary in size and shape—some have dome-shaped shells, some saddle-backs, some tabletops—but they’ve all got a prehistoric look about them. Their skin is scaly and rough to the touch, almost sandpapery. Females are identifiable by their short downward-pointing tails and typically reach sexual maturity at twenty years. Males take nearly twice as long to develop sexually, and their tails, which house the penis, are longer and point upward and to the side. The males have concave undersides to accommodate the females’ shells during coupling, which occurs from behind and often lasts for several hours. Afterward, the females burrow into the soil to lay their eggs, and the sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are maintained during incubation.
Like smaller turtles, they withdraw into their shells, retracting limbs and head, when they perceive a threat, though they appear remarkably calm, indifferent even, to the presence of humans here. There’s a serenity in their eyes that isn’t really surprising in a creature that can live up to 200 years. Looking at them, you get the feeling that nothing surprises them anymore, they’ve seen it all.
Their faces aren’t what you’d call expressive, but they appear agreeable to the idea of load-bearing. They seem not to notice actually. After lunch, I carefully straddled one, gradually lowering my weight onto its back, and it continued its march as if I were merely a leaf that floated down and landed there. Then, as a joke, I grabbed a stick and speared a piece of lettuce left over from my sandwich and dangled it in front of the tortoise’s face. Sure enough, its speed increased appreciably. This isn’t to suggest any lack of intelligence on the animal’s part—they’re actually quite smart. One of the researchers here on Isabella Island told me about studies in which some of the tortoises have learned to respond when called. She said some of them even recognize their own names. Not to mention they’ve had the wherewithal or instinct or whatever to develop symbiotic relationships with some of the finch varieties Darwin talked so much about—what the tortoises do is stretch their necks out and allow the finches to peck at the parasites that hid in the folds of their skin.
My tortoise—a good-sized male—appeared not to respond to sounds though. Which didn’t really bother me. Just being able to ride the animal was triumph enough. I actually started to cry a little, though I have to admit I’ve actually been doing that a lot lately, and I swore I wouldn’t get into this, at least not here in my notes, but this project is taking a lot longer than I expected. And it’s hard too because I don’t even understand why I’m here. I’m sure this fits into your larger plan somehow, but I can’t help wondering sometimes. Sometimes I get the feeling that there’s no point at all, that you’re just trying to keep me away. Or that I’ve misunderstood—you’ve always said I have a tendency to “miss the point.” Maybe I’m missing the point here too. I don’t know. What I do know is I miss you. I miss home too, but if you were here with me I don’t think I’d miss home at all. Sometimes at night I’ll be in my tent and I’ll catch myself crying and I won’t have any idea for how long and I won’t be able to stop. I try jogging sometimes. I put my boots on and run laps around the ten until I feel like I might pass out. But then when I lie down panting in the grass and look up at the sky, I think of you. I think about how no matter how far apart we are, it’s the same moon up there, and then I’ll start wondering what you’re doing—maybe you’re looking at the moon too. But that doesn’t always make sense, since so much of the time we’re in different time zones and when it’s night where I am, it’s the middle of the day where you are… but then there are other times when we are on the same side of the world and it is possible. Like right now. Right now the moon is almost full—I don’t even have to use my lantern, as long as I keep the tent flap tied back, and I’m wondering if maybe you’re looking at the moon too. But probably you’re not. Probably you’re inside, asleep beneath your ceiling fan and dreaming about things I don’t even know. I know, I know—babbling. I’ll stop now. I was talking about tortoises. I said I was happy to finally find an animal I can ride, and I am happy, in a way. I will say you were right about one thing—this has been a learning experience. I don’t know that I’ve “grown,” but I have been learning a lot, loads of things I didn’t know before. More than I could possibly get down on paper. I’ll keep going though. I’ll keep working my way down the list until you send word and tell me either that I’m doing this wrong or that I can come home. And if those notes turn up, I’ll send them along so you can do whatever it is you do with these things. Should you decide to send word now, you can reach me in Salta, Argentina. I’ll be there by the time you get this. Up next is the capybara, which, if you don’t already know, is the world’s largest living rodent. I’ve been asking people about it, so I know what to expect. So far all I’ve heard is that capybara can be “a real bastard.” I have no idea what that means, but I’ll let you know when I find out.
From: Henry Lane
Date: Thu, Mar 20, 2014
Subject: Potential Content Contribution
My name is Henry Lane and I am an insurance consultant. For years I worked in the insurance industry working as a claims expert and one day decided to venture out on my own. Presently, I work as a freelance consultant advising businesses and individuals.
Writing has always been a passion of mine and I combine this passion with my years of experience in the insurance industry. I have ghost written a number of articles and have been published in reputed journals. I specialize in all aspects of auto and travel insurance and could come up with a really interesting article on the subjects.
I am keen to feature a guest post on your blog as it would do wonders for my portfolio as a writer. I realized it was time I stopped ghostwriting for others and built an online reputation for myself. Here are a few ideas that I feel you might like:
1) A Look at How Auto Recall Affects Your Car Insurance
2) 10 Car Insurance Discounts You Simply Should Know About
3) 13 Myths About Car Insurance Busted
4) How to Find Yourself the Best Car Insurance
5) A Look at the Stages Involved In An Auto Insurance Claims Process
6) How Much Car Insurance Do You Actually Need?
7) 10 Things that Can Impact Your Car Insurance Premiums
8) The Different Types of Motorhome Insurance Available
9) Things to Keep In Mind When Shopping for Motorhome Insurance
10) How Much Motorcycle Insurance Is Sufficient?
11) A Look At What Classic Motorcycle Insurance Is All About
12) Things You Should Do Following a Motorcycle Accident
13) Tips On Choosing the Right Motorcycle Insurance
14) Secrets to a Cheaper Auto Insurance
15) Step Involved in Insuring a Classic Car
16) How Your Credit Scores Can Affect Your Car Insurance
I am also open to any ideas or suggestions that you might have. Lastly, I am willing to part with $30 for you efforts in publishing my article, as I know it would be a sound investment.
I hope your reply is in the positive, so your readers get the opportunity to benefit from what I have to say.
Editor’s Note: The following letter is posted as a precautionary tale about the risk of writing overly clever cover letters. The name of the author has been redacted to save him/her from embarrassment should he/she happen upon this letter when he/she is much older than he/she is now and no longer thinks he/she has life all figured out.
Date: Fri, Mar 28, 2014
Greetings. My name is REDACTED. I’m an ensuing college dropout from REDACTED, having withdrawn for a semester to see the world, as they say. I’ve been hitchhiking for the past four months en route to the World Cup—and it’s been real, to say the least.
Now reader, what I am proposing to you is for you to give me a chance to let me show you my literary chops, my comedy, my brio. McSweeney’s, I am proposing that you let me appear consistently in your publication. Why? Because I believe (with only the pomposity that a young aspiring writer can have) that I can offer you something a bit beyond conceptual humor, something more than post-graduate, big-city-living irony. I mean, your Internet Tendency’s cool and all, but I can’t help but feel that your material, conveyed through quirky design and antiquated font, needs something more than tongue-in-cheek chuckles written on a MacBook Pro in a coffee shop. You want substance, but when substance’s scarce, the next best and easy thing, this generation’s default for humor and quip and fashion, is irony. It’s that manic-depressive hyperrealism. Reader, it’s better to be clever than good, as we all know, but rarely demonstrate, and I can give you good.
So take me, McSweeney’s. I will be your sanctioned flagship of literature’s up-and-coming, your protégé to mold (and whose eventual success to take credit for), your latest and newest out of McSweeney’s Academy. So gild my writing in left-aligned Garamond, make me a diva, make me a star.
From: JoyAnne O’Donnell
Date: Mon, Mar 24, 2014
Subject: Short Story Prompt
I wrote a short story using the short story prompt from a man who needs $5000 by tomorrow. I hope you like it.
Scott Bender had a couple of degrees. One day he decided to go on an adventure. None of his previous jobs were making him happy and they never worked out for him. So he planned to go and travel around the world to find his true identity.
But there was one exception: he needed five thousand dollars to get from Virginia to California on an airplane so he could stop in each state in between to visit every publishing house. So he borrowed money from a loan shark named Harry, nicknamed “Harry the Scary.” Scott told him that when he got to California he would wire him the money.
So Scott enjoyed the sunsets, all fifty of them, sparkling pink, white, and blue. Looking out the plane window, he kept faith in the sky and into the night, finally reaching San Diego with his briefcase of about ten manuscripts, holding on to them with his life. He was trying to get his book published, stopping at each publishing house along the way but had no luck.
Then he fell into a deep sleep, into his book of good-luck dreams. Like the dewfall that almost escaped the windfall, he fell a sleep on the flight and all the passengers were off board. Surprisingly, he awoke to see an editor, dressed in his best grey suit, shaking him awake.
Editor John Wilders said after waking up Scott, “Come with me. I will buy you a cup of coffee.”
While at a small café, Scott learned that the man trying to wake him up worked at a publishing house in Los Angeles. John Wilders told him that he would be so happy to read his manuscripts.
So then the next day he published all three of his books. His dream turned reality; his typing like a thunderstorm paid off. His many pages of ink-stained fingers gleamed like fresh white paint that turned to bestsellers’ sunrise.
He got five thousand dollars right away, plus a contract to write more books.
— JoyAnne O’Donnell
From: Daniel O’Malley
Date: Thu, March 6, 2014
Not sure how much time has passed, but I’m in Africa now, studying the hippopotamus, whose name is a combination of the Greek words hippos and potamos, which the dictionary tells me means “horse of the river.” Indeed, these animals spend much of their time lolling in rivers and lakes, but their body shape more closely resembles that of a rhinoceros, or a big potbellied cow, than a horse. Their snouts are bulbous and their undersides appear taut to the point of rupture. They have tough-looking skin that bunches at the neck like a thick gray sweater they can’t quite fit into.
Their eyes, ears and nostrils are located high on their heads, and they can stay submerged for five minutes at a time. Even mating occurs beneath the water, with the female’s head occasionally bobbing up for breath.
To mark their territory, males defecate underwater and spin their short, rope-like tails to spread their waste over the widest possible area. We saw a display of this once, at the zoo in St. Louis—perhaps you remember? There was a cartoon hippo painted on the wall with a plastic propeller pinned on for a tail, and we were sharing a snow-cone, and I kept spinning the propeller, and you said it made you sick. Remember?
Anyway, it’s because they spend so much time submerged, letting the water support their bulk, that hippos have such puny-looking legs. They’re deceptive though, those legs. Around dusk, when the temperature finally drops a few degrees, the hippos come lumbering out on land to graze, and they can walk around just fine. They can even run for short distances, when they want to.
Against the advice of my guide, R.J., I stepped out of our jeep and attempted to follow the animals on their evening feeding. I will admit that R.J.’s warning was well-founded—the hippopotamus being, despite its appearance, generally considered the most deadly animal in Africa. Earlier in the afternoon, we actually witnessed a display of their power when a crocodile lunged at a young hippo wading in the shallows, oblivious, and in a matter of seconds two adult females were powering through the water, bellowing, mouths open nearly 180 degrees, flaunting those ivory canines poachers so prize, and sending the crocodile scrabbling back up the bank. It was awesome.
Now, following the evening migration on foot, I picked out what I believed to be a juvenile female near the back of the herd. She was shorter at the shoulder than the others, and so seemed easier to mount. I stalked slowly, breathlessly, lasso in hand, but the animal’s hearing was acute and the crackle of reeds under my feet must have been enough to startle her. She took off at a gallop, triggering panic in the rest of the herd, and they all thundered away in a cloud of dust. It felt the way I imagine a small earthquake might feel. R.J. refused to give chase in the Jeep.
From: Jason Cromwell
Date: Sun, Feb 23, 2014
Subject: Content Ideas You’d Like
My name is Jason Cromwell and I run a swimming pool supplies business. Writing is as much a passion of mine, as my business is, and the two often cross paths. I have ghost written a number of articles and have been published in reputed home improvement journals.
I am keen to feature a guest post on your blog as it would do wonders for my portfolio as a writer. I realized it was time I stopped ghostwriting for others and built an online reputation for myself. Here are a few ideas that I feel you will like:
1) 10 Great Tips to Take Care of Your Swimming Pool
2) How to Set Up a Spa at Home Without Spending Much
3) Things to Keep in Mind When Building Yourself a Swimming Pool
4) Keeping Your Swimming Pool Water Clean Without Using Harmful Chemicals
5) Easy and Economical Ways to Protect Yourself from Swimming Pool Chemicals
6) How You Can Make Your Swimming Pool More Fun for Your Kids
7) Tips on Looking After Your Outdoor Swimming Pool During Winter
8) How Do You Decide On the Kind of Swimming Pool You Want In Your Home?
9) Things to Remember When Buying a Pump and a Filter for Your Pool
10) What Every Potential Pool Owner Must Know
11) Factors You Need to Consider When Buying Yourself a Hot Tub
12) Useful Tips for Removing Brown Stains From Your Pool Liner, Walls and Stairs
I would be glad to write an article on any of the above topics and am open to any ideas or suggestions that you might have. Lastly, I am willing to part with $30 for you efforts in publishing my article, as I think it would be a sound investment.
I hope your reply is in the positive, so your readers get the opportunity to benefit from what I have to say.
From: Vashthi Nepaul
Date: Sat, Feb 22, 2014
Subject: On Bream Gives Me Hiccups
Dear nice people at McSweeney’s,
Even though “hiccup” is not a recognized spelling for anything in my country, I love this column. I assume that, because he occasionally moonlights as a famous person, the author cannot receive feedback directly. Please pass on my thanks for the continued story of Bream Gives Me Hiccups boy. I am always horrified by my inevitable amusement at his sad childhood. How this is accomplished is beyond me, but I hope it does not stop soon.
From: Daniel O’Malley
Date: Thu, Feb 20, 2014
Emus are large flightless birds with long legs and long necks native to the Australian continent. Their plumage is thick and shaggy and brownish gray, a shade sort of like chocolate milk, with streaks of black. They have eyes the size of ping pong balls situated on the sides of their heads and their pupils skew to the center, so that when you see one up-close it has a natural cross-eyed, crazy kind of stare, as if it’s being hypnotized by the tip of its own beak. And though the emu’s size and its long, flat back may seem to indicate a suitability for riding, actually mounting one, I found, can prove quite tricky.
Having located a lone bird scratching in the dirt not far off the road, I attempted mounting it dozens of times, approaching slowly, inch by inch, then extending my hand and holding it steady while the bird gently pecked at the sunflower seeds I held in my palm. It actually hurt quite a bit, this pecking, but I still say “gently” because there was a tentativeness about all of the bird’s movements. It seemed more puzzled than aggressive. Even when it grunted—at a register much louder and deeper than I’d previously thought possible for a bird—it seemed more curious than threatening.
When I finally managed to convince the animal that my intentions were pure, I was still only able to get one leg up over its back before it bolted for good, vanishing into the bush. Later, at a tavern on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie, where I’d made camp, I met an old man who knew a thing or two about these birds. I believe the man was of Aboriginal descent, though I can’t confirm this. “You’re lucky,” he told me. “How so?” I asked. I thought he meant I was lucky to have spotted an emu in the field, which didn’t make sense, considering how common they are here in the western part of the country. “I’ve seen one could kick through a fence post thicker than your leg,” he said. “Oh,” I said, “I see,” and then he went on to detail the damage the birds can inflict with their feet, which—something I failed to notice earlier—have three toes sharp as spear points. The old man claimed to have seen a cow disemboweled by an emu on a farm operated by his former brother-in-law five, maybe six years ago.
These days the old man works as a safety inspector at one of the smaller gold mines here, but I told him I wasn’t really interested in that. Of course, he wanted to know what I was doing here, but I spoke carefully, telling him nothing. I said I was just a curious traveler, killing time in “the Outback.” I didn’t say a word about you. Instead I flagged down a waitress and ordered another round of beers for the old man and me, and he told me about the emu’s place in Aboriginal mythology. What he said...
ATTENTION, pack of punk-kid hooligans who have recently been vandalizing our store: GRAFFITI IS A CRIME. Do not spray paint, scratch, or otherwise deface this PRIVATE PROPERTY unless you are ACTUALLY AN ARTIST.
What qualifies as art? The question is HISTORICALLY FRAUGHT and PHILOSOPHICALLY DEBATED, but here are some GUIDELINES:
- The common CARTOON PENIS. Not only is this VULGAR and PRURIENT, but it is ILL-DRAWN. This is a scourge and an eyesore.
- YOUR NAME. The ubiquitous “TAG” is navel-gazing at its most boring. It is the SELFIE of vandalism. Is this really the best way you can think of to declare to the world, “I EXIST”?
- AGGRESSIVE LANGUAGE. Save your “BEEF” for in-person conflict resolution.
- That GANGSTER FONT. If you have something to communicate, please make it LEGIBLE. Unless, of course, your CONSCIOUS AIM is to push the written word to the point of ABSTRACTION.
- META GRAFFITI. This is usually very ONE-JOKE, i.e.: that “NOT ART” tag or vandalizing this sign to make it say “GRAFFITI IS A FUN CRIME.” While good for a chuckle, these are not sustaining or NOURISHING.
- Ask yourself: am I adding anything to the DISCOURSE? You may think you are being POST-POSTMODERNIST but you are likely just being DERIVATIVE.
- Some ideas of more interesting meta graffiti include the word “PENIS” in a VERY FANCY FONT or perhaps a very detailed and beautifully drawn penis in HIGH RENAISSANCE STYLE. These are just examples; follow your individual influences, YOU’RE THE ARTIST.
- POLITICAL STATEMENTS. What better way to criticize THE SYSTEM than through art illegal in SAID SYSTEM? Viewpoints should be LEFT-LEANING and if mentioning politicians by name we ask you keep it to our LOCAL MAYOR or CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS. Broader issues are up to your discretion but we really respond to art about WORSENING ECONOMIC INEQUALITY.
- RIPs to GREAT ARTISTS of our time. Heartfelt memoriams are always welcome, especially when accompanied by a LARGE and SEMI-RECOGNIZABLE drawing of the artist.
- Anything AESTHETICALLY PLEASING. This can be drawings of CREATURES, technicolor geometric SHAPES, etc. The possibilities are endless. We encourage you to develop your own VISUAL VOCABULARY of symbols!
- For inspiration, look into the works of STREET ART GREATS like Keith Haring, Banksy, or local artist PSYCHO GARY. Shepard Fairey, while generally acclaimed, is in our personal opinion A BIT TOO COMMERCIAL.
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.
Carol Bensimon was born in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, in 1982. She is the author of the story collection Pó de parede and two novels, Sinuca embaixo d’água and Todos nós adorávamos caubóis. In 2012 she was selected by Granta as one of the Best New Brazilian Novelists.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else? Did you think about it differently than you would another sort of story?
CAROL BENSIMON: I tried to stick to my own style and fictional universe, adding a few crime-story elements. Or rather distorting a few crime-story elements. Maybe I failed in that sense. The narrator of my story is in a relationship with a young, politically engaged femme fatale. The whole idea came from a specific situation that reveals a lot about contemporary Brazil: a people’s demonstration that called attention to the enormous gap between the demands of Brazilian citizens and the actions of their politicians. The principal complaints had to do with abusive government spending and useless construction projects related to the World Cup in 2014. I wanted to extract from that situation a story about love and conflicted ambitions. A little bit of violence too. But the tension in the story is mostly psychological.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Brazil. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
CAROL BENSIMON: I believe all stories have to say something about a particular place. More precisely, those are the kind of stories that I like to read the most, and the only kind I feel like writing. Stories that can take place anywhere never make too much sense to me; the place shapes the story. So yes, I thought a lot about Brazil and my hometown while I was writing this piece. I wanted to recreate, in my own way, the atmosphere of downtown Porto Alegre during the demonstrations of June 2013. The rest of the country sometimes forgets that the larger movement started right here in Porto Alegre, before June, with the protests against the increase of bus fares.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Brazilian author, or a particular Brazilian book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
CAROL BENSIMON: This may sound bizarre, but we dont have a great tradition of crime literature here. Brazilian readers are not as crazy about crime fiction as, say, the Scandinavians. Maybe in societies such as ours, where crime is a part of everyday life across all social strata, fiction that focuses on that subject is just less interesting. On the other hand, the nationwide success of a movie like Elite Squad probably undermines my thesis.
McSWEENEY’S: There’s a funny twist in your story—where many of our other pieces focus on a particular bad actor, your protagonist is an architecture student who believes that “the car is the great villain of the decade.” He’s preoccupied by the damage being done to his whole city. Can you talk a bit about that?
CAROL BENSIMON: In February 2013, I joined the demonstrations against the duplication of an avenue, and the resulting removal of dozens of trees in the harbor area of Porto Alegre. This was one of those traffic development projects justified by the upcoming World Cup. Almost at the same time, protests against the increase in bus fares started to break out. Something was clearly in the air: there were a lot of young people demanding improvements in public spaces and organizing “occupations” via Facebook. But not everything among the protesters was peaceful and harmonious—on the contrary. There were different interests, different methods and ideologies involved, and a strong desire for confrontation. Anarchists. Supporters of political parties. Intellectuals. Ecologists. Students. Politicians. The military police. Neonazis. Bicycle activists. LGBT militants. Undercover cops. Hippies (or what we call hippies theses days, at least in Latin America). I thought this mix was worth exploring in fiction. I know, the main character is a nice kid, and this goes against the rules of a crime story (or at least against the rules of noir). But the police are vile. The politicians are vile. And even idealists can be vile now and then.
McSWEENEY’S: Much of this story transpires at a protest in Porto Alegre. During the past several months, in the lead-up to the World Cup, there have been protests throughout Brazil—where do you think that movement is headed?
CAROL BENSIMON: The sense that great changes are afoot has disappeared. Slowly, things settled and returned to a normal state. The demonstrations themselves lost their massive appeal as they became increasingly violent: both on the part of the police and on the part of the demonstrators. The majority of folks that were against vandalism stopped showing up. In several weeks well have the World Cup and it’s hard to predict what will happen. Protests will take place, no doubt, and those in power have already taken preventive measures. But even though the hashtag #nãovaitercopa (#therewillbenoworldcup) is used a lot, I don’t believe well see a mobilization as big as last year’s.
Maxims Gorky’s story is about a male student whose poor, illiterate neighbor, Teresa, asks him to write a letter to her boyfriend back home. Soon after, she asks him to write a letter, as a young man, to his girlfriend, Teresa. The student then realizes that Teresa has created the boyfriend, and her relationship with him, out of loneliness and despair. In my revision, the communications technology is updated; that is, a laptop and Facebook replace pen and paper, and Gorky’s story begins to sound a lot like what Internet users know as sock puppetry, and/or catfishing.
Today’s guest blog post, from an acquaintance of mine:
When I was a student at Michigan, I happened to live near this townie girl.
She was a Mexican, named Teresa. She was a tallish, powerfully built brunette, with black, bushy eyebrows and a large coarse face as if carved out by a hatchet. The bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick bass voice, her stocky gait and her immense muscular vigor, worthy of a trucker, inspired me with horror. I lived on the top floor and her room was opposite mine. I never left my door open when I knew her to be at home. But this, after all, was a very rare occurrence. Sometimes I ran into her on the staircase or in the yard, and she would smile at me with a smile that seemed to me to be sly and cynical. Occasionally, I saw her drunk, with bleary eyes, tousled hair, and a particularly hideous grin—and on such occasions, she would speak to me.
“How ya doing, Mr. Student!” Her stupid laugh would still further intensify my loathing of her. I would like to have changed my room in order to avoid such encounters and greetings; but it was a nice one, and there was such a wide view from the window, and it was always so quiet in the street below—so I endured.
And one morning I was sprawling on my couch, trying to find some sort of excuse for not attending my class, when her door opened, and the bass voice of Teresa the loathsome resounded across the hall: “Morning, Mr. Student! Are you up?”
“What do you want?” I said. She opened my door and I saw that her face was confused and supplicatory. It was a very unusual sort of face for her.
“I want to ask a favor.”
I lay there silent, and thought to myself: “WTF?”
“I want to send a message on Facebook, but my computer is broke, is what it is,” she said; her voice was beseeching, soft, timid.
“Crap,” I thought, but up I jumped, sat down at my table, and fired up my laptop for her, and said, “Come here and sit down!”
She came, sat down very gingerly on the chair, and looked at me guiltily.
“Well, go ahead, sign on.”
She did, then went to the wall of Boleslav Kashput, who lived in the town of Svieptziana, according to his page.
“Well, fire away!” I said.
There she wrote, “My dear Boles, my darling, my faithful lover. Why haven’t I heard from you in so long? Your little dove.”
I very nearly burst out laughing. “Your little dove!” More than five feet high, with fists a stone and more in weight, and as black a face as if the little dove had lived all its life in a chimney, and had never once washed itself! Restraining myself somehow, I asked: “Who is this Boles?”
“Boles, Mr. Student,” she said, as if offended for my blundering over the name, “He is Boles—my boyfriend.”
“Why are you so surprised? Can’t I have a boyfriend?”
“Oh, why not?” I said. “All things are possible. And has he been your boyfriend long?”
“Oh!” I thought. Well, why is she writing on his wall…? Though I tell you plainly that I would willingly have changed places with this Boles if his fair correspondent had been not Teresa but something less than she, because no girls were writing on my wall.
“Thank you,” said Teresa. “Perhaps I can return the favor somehow?”
“Some quick little job?”
I felt that this mastodon in a skirt had made me grow quite red with shame, and I told her pretty sharply that I had no need whatever of her services.
A week or two passed. It was evening. I was sitting at my window whistling and thinking of some expedient for enabling me to get away from myself. I was bored; the weather was bad. I didn’t want to go out, and out of sheer ennui I began a course of self-analysis and reflection. This also was dull enough work, but I didn’t care about doing anything else. Then my door opened.
“Oh, Mr. Student. Are you busy?”
It was Teresa. Ugh.
“No. What is it?”
“I was going to ask you, if I can use your computer again.”
A few minutes later, I saw she was signed into Facebook, as Boles.
“Wha-at are you doing?” I asked, seeing the comment she was leaving.
“I know it’s stupid, but he asked me to do it, Mr. Student. He can’t get to a computer right now, and he wants to respond to my post.”
I looked at her—her face was troubled, her fingers were trembling. I was a bit confused, then I guessed how it was.
“Look,” I said, “there isn’t any Boles at all, is there? You’ve been lying. Don’t come over here anymore to use my computer. Do you understand?”
She stood up. And suddenly she grew strangely terrified and distraught; she began to shift from foot to foot without moving from the place, and spluttered comically, as if she wanted to say something and couldn’t. I waited to see what would come of all this, and I saw and felt that, apparently, I had made a great mistake in suspecting that she was trying to draw me into some game. It was evidently something very different.
“Mr. Student!” she began, and suddenly, waving her hand, she turned abruptly towards the door and went out. I remained with a very unpleasant feeling in my mind. I listened. Her door was flung violently closed—plainly the poor girl was very angry. I thought it over, and decided to go to her, and, invited her to come in here, and use my computer if she wanted.
I entered her room. I looked round. She was sitting at the table, leaning on her elbows, with her head in her hands.
“Listen,” I said. (Whenever I come to this point in my story, I always feel horribly awkward and idiotic.) “Listen to me,” I said.
She leaped from her seat, came towards me with flashing eyes, and laying her hands on my shoulders, began to whisper, or rather to hum in her peculiar bass voice: “Look! It’s like this. There’s no Boles, he is not my boyfriend. But what’s that to you? Is it a hard thing for you to let me use your computer to post now and then? Eh? So there’s no Boles, only me. There you have it, and much good may it do you!”
“I’m sorry,” said I, altogether flabbergasted by such a reception, “What is this about? There’s no Boles, right?”
“But according to FB, he has a girlfriend, Teresa, right?”
“Yes. I’m Teresa.”
I didn’t understand it at all. I looked at her, and tried to make out which of us was taking leave of his or her senses.
I went back to my table, and looked at the profile on the screen.
She followed, and said in an offended tone: “Look, it’s no problem, I’ll find another computer to use.”
“Listen, Teresa! What is the meaning of all this? Who is this guy?”
“Why, this—Boles,” I pointed to the pic on the screen.
“I don’t know. I got that pic on the web.”
I absolutely did not understand it. There was nothing for me but to tell her to go.
Then she explained, still offended. “There’s no Boles,” and said, and pointed to the comment streams between them, on his page. “But I wanted him to be. Aren’t I a human creature like the rest? Yes, yes, I know, it’s wrong. Yet no harm was done to any one by my creating him that I can see…”
“But he doesn’t exist,” I said.
“So what?! He doesn’t exist, but he might! I post to him, and it looks as if he did exist. And Teresa—that’s me, and he replies to me, and then I post as him again…”
I understood at last. And I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed, somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and this human being had invented a friend for herself!
“Look, I post as Boles, and then as myself. I pretend that Boles is there. And I feel quite sure that Boles is there. And life grows easier for me in consequence.”
“You jerk!” said I to myself when I heard this.
And from thenceforth, regularly, twice a week, Teresa posted on my computer as Boles, and then as Teresa. I helped her with things to say. She, of course, read the pages, and even wept, and roared with laughter, I should say, with her bass voice. And in return, she began to do my laundry.
Subsequently, about three months after this history began, they put her in prison for something or other. No doubt by this time she is dead.
And I thus concluded: The more a human creature has tasted of bitter things the more it hungers after the sweet things of life. And we, wrapped in the rags of our virtues, and regarding others through the mist of our self-sufficiency, and persuaded of our universal impeccability, do not understand this.
And the whole thing turns out pretty stupidly, and very cruelly. The loser class, we say. And who are the loser class, I should like to know? They are, first of all, people with the same bones, flesh, and blood and nerves as ourselves. We have been told this day after day for ages. And we actually listen; how hideous the whole thing is. In reality, we also are fallen folks, and, so far as I can see, very deeply fallen into the conviction of our own superiority. But enough of this. It is all as old as the hills—so old that it is a shame to speak of it. Very old indeed—yes, that’s what it is!
Tell us why you’d love to be part of our team!
I’ve wanted to be part of something for so long, there’s this hole in me I try to hide, something I’ve jammed everything at; empty calories and half-hearted sex, travel and spending, starting and ending, any god’s guarantees… Now, I ask you, what if all along it was as simple as joining this company to fill the part of me missing? What if some deranged wiring or disease has forced me to isolate myself away instead of considering being part of a team like the one here at your company? I feel pretty good right now, and I’m not even officially part of anything. Just even filling out this application is fixing me. How weird would it be if it turned out I don’t even need the money, that I just need to be part of something, and I’ve idealized your team? That should be a movie. There’s probably a Preston Sturges movie like that.
Tell us a bit about some of your strengths
that you would bring to your work here.
A head on fire, a heart speeding through what days are left for me, a one hundred and forty beat per minute rocket ride back into the ether we all came from, and in the meantime longing to leave something behind, some kind of initials carved in wet cement, a stain on the planet, something proving I was here even just for the minute we get, you know what I mean? We look to leave a mark like a young drunk’s bruise, we stare at our arms to see the boats our fathers fished on, drawings of what we touched littering our limbs, tattoos. Okay, so, picture the company a hundred years from now: imagine my work is left here somehow, even if the projects and meetings that I led are long gone, it’s gone but my work is left here somehow, my strengths here in the muscle memory of these walls and desks and copiers and rooms—maybe some reports or memos or other documents I’ve typed are left in cabinets like ghosts in attics, dead flowers in the staff break room, thirty years later, come into bloom. Someone sees them and is like: “That’s from a great energy that someone put into their work here. That’s from a team member who was fucking extraordinary.” Everyone getting coffee that morning is just quiet like, “Yep, that’s what that is.”
What was something you didn’t like about
the last company you worked for?
If there’s one sort of revenge fantasy I have about them it is this: I’m kind of on a stage or in a big field that looks lunar, like when you leave Ketchum for Boise. And I’ve dropped a little weight, and I start to scream and kind of sing, but it’s kind of like reading or comedy, too. It’s cool, I’m not explaining it well here, but I’m kind of scream-sing-talking like a ’60s comedian or ’90s punk singer, and it’s lines like: Why naynay naynah I can’t manifest it! Baby, I! Can’t! Float when they drag me down, your company to me, was like swimming in concrete! The whole department, coming on like cherry candy, winding up my deadly make believe! You hired me, played me, caught me, cooked me. I could’ve walked away but I was weightless, on fire; you had me! But my burn faded until your want was wheezing, your devour sated. Me, a frozen moment, hypothermic, one dumb bug there so still, waiting to thaw, goodbye millennium, been here so long it feels like I’m gone. Picture the guitar parts sounding pretty dissonant while I scream that stuff. I’m not going to compare it to other bands you or other people at the company know, because it would be my own thing.
Aside from the position you’re applying for, are there any other skills you’d like to pursue that you feel you might learn here? Sometimes we offer schooling or classes in other areas of interest to employees that express interest in expanding into other fields or departments.
I wouldn’t mind learning more graphics stuff, I guess. I don’t know. Sometimes I think you start believing everything you write on an application or résumé, you know what I mean? It gets hard to remember what you’ve sold yourself. I’m not sure I even know the truth about me at this point.
Joca Reiners Terron is a novelist, poet, and Brazilian playwright. He was born in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, and now lives in São Paulo. His novels include São Não Há Nada Lá, Hotel Hell, Do Fundo do Poço se Vê a Lua (awarded the Machado de Assis Prize for Best Novel of 2010 by the Brazilian National Library), and A Tristeza Extraordinária do Leopardo-das-Neves. He is also the author of a graphic novel, Guia de Ruas Sem Saída, illustrated by André Ducci. Terron started the Ministry of Disaster, an independent publishing house that galvanized the Brazilian literary scene in the nineties. He writes reviews for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, among others.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else? Did you think about it differently than you would another sort of story?
JOCA REINERS TERRON: I do not like to plan what I write. I usually start from an image. In this case, I was in a metropolitan train station, and I saw a car full of masons closely following an ambulance as it cut through the gridlock. The other cars around them remained stuck in traffic, but the ambulance moved with ease.
Most Brazilian workers—particularly the poor ones—do not have access to ambulances when they need them. The whole story came from that scene. Putting a Brazilian construction worker in a well-equipped ambulance is more or less like seeing an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table, to borrow a phrase from the surrealist Lautréamont.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Brazil. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
JOCA REINERS TERRON: It’s difficult to set crime stories in Brazil, or in any other country where democracy is not yet fully consolidated, and where the basic needs of a civil society are not yet met. The reason is simple: the most terrifying criminal in Brazil is the state itself. The notion of good and evil around here is less clear-cut. Because of this, the bad guy in my story is almost faceless: a civil servant who abuses his powers for frivolous reasons. I don’t think my story would work as well in a country other than this one.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Brazilian author, or a particular Brazilian book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
JOCA REINERS TERRON: The detective stories of Rubem Fonseca are among the few that manage to portray—with little help from the English or American traditions—the moral issues of an immoral country. In film, O Bandido da Luz Vermelha (The Red Light Bandit, from 1968) by Rogério Sganzerla is essential viewing. Both men achieve something very original.
McSWEENEY’S: Your protagonist, a Polish insurance adjustor who ends up in something like a detective role, is initially so out of his element that he mistakes Brazil for Uruguay. How did you decide to center your story on that character?
JOCA REINERS TERRON: As I said, I do not plan my stories. But since Brazil has become a major player in the global economy, it has become common to see foreign businessmen visiting. Often they have no idea how to handle themselves in this wild, tropical country. My poor Stefan Czarniecki is just one more of them.
McSWEENEY’S: Traffic jams, and lines, and the ways people attempt to circumvent them, play an important role here. How have you dealt with that frustration, living in Sao Paulo?JOCA REINERS TERRON: I have adapted my everyday life so that I don’t have to leave the house frequently. However, I still get frustrated when it comes to the poor quality of public transport in São Paulo. The protests that broke out in Brazil in June 2013 demanded, among other things, improvements in public transport. My story was written during that period of protest. A period that, it bears mentioning, is not yet over.
Mr. Stott, hello! And welcome to Million Dollar Ideation. Glad you could make it out. You’re something of a capitalist whale in this town, so don’t be surprised when I tell you we’ve spent the last week sharpening our harpoons.
Metaphorical harpoons, Mr. Stott! I know you got the fire rained down on you in ’Nam—in fact, that’s one of the reasons I’ve asked you here today—but just relax. No one’s going to hurt you. What’d you think of the fountain in the lobby?
You didn’t see it? A shame. We installed it after we sold our dessert lasagna prototype to Sbarro. We were like, dessert pizza? Old news. Dessert pasta? Bold move! Last quarter’s easiest sell. Anyway, the water shoots out from between the hemispheres of a big glowing brain, which is what we’re all about at MDI. Not just brainstorms. Brainstreams. I had Carol, that’s my assistant, laminate some large bills to chuck in, too, you know, because that’s how we roll here.
Let me tell you a little more about us, Mr. Stott. As you know, MDI is an idea factory. Every morning, we take our iPads and we snuggle our butts down into our water-beanbags—an MDI invention, waterbed meets beanbag—and we dream up things to make rich men like you richer.
Our business model is simple. We don’t want investors. We want you to buy from us, neat and clean. One idea costs one million dollars. Yes, Sbarro made a literal hash out of dessert lasagna because they weren’t willing to follow up on product testing. Yes, there were a few cases of terrible, foam-brown-at-the-mouth-type cinnamon poisoning in their Times Square flagship and in strip malls across America. But we wouldn’t have sold it to them if it wasn’t a million-dollar idea.
Mr. Stott, I scheduled this meeting because I’ve got some notions about how to leverage the Millennials and I think you—and you alone—may best appreciate them.
You’re lucky, Mr. Stott. Before you became the chief executive emeritus of the Midwest’s largest women’s sportswear corporation, you had the extreme privilege of fighting in Vietnam. The closest thing Generation Y has to shared suffering was the Matrix sequels. We’re starved for rites of passage; we’re soft and weak. Research indicates that every American under 38 is still functionally a child. And children need comfort.
Take my own case: I was exposed to Jurassic Park at an early age. I wasn’t ready. My dreams were—well, my dreams were all Jeff Goldblum, and very bad things happening to Jeff Goldblum, and Jeff Goldblum screaming about bad things happening to Ian Malcolm, which was Jeff Goldblum’s name in that terrifying gore fest of a movie. When I woke up, I’d run to my parents’ bed, and they’d explain everything away. I’ve since moved out to live with three roommates and our shared dog, but there’s no one there to comfort me when I wake to the terrified half-bleated speculations of a glossy-browed chaos theorist whose arm has just been chewed to bloody string cheese by a hyper-intelligent velociraptor.
What can we do about this?
We can start the Bad Dream Hotline. When 29-year-old Jenn dreams she’s in trouble for never once going to high school biology, even though she’s already graduated from college, she can call the Bad Dream Hotline. 1-900-THERE-THERE. We connect her with a levelheaded empty nester, who assures her everything’ll be all right for just $2.99 a minute.
Hang on. It gets better. The real profit here is in marketing intelligence. Imagine a whole generation of Americans pouring their darkest anxieties into your database. You could make, like, the statistically scariest haunted house. Or you could sell that information to, say, Facebook, a company with no ready access to that information.
You’re right, Mr. Stott, maybe we couldn’t pay someone to listen to our whining. Maybe it’s too late for us.
But maybe it’s not too late for our kids.
Children, Mr. Stott, children. We’ve all heard they’re our future. But, increasingly, they’re our present. We Millennials are generating an entire coddling industry around ourselves—and those of us who have already reproduced will stop at nothing to give our beloved offspring an edge. And that means you and I’ve got to keep going down this soft, silly road. We may not like it, but that’s where the money is.
I give you Apollo Programming: the first 24-hour channel for the gifted child, hosted by a pan-racial astronaut. The shows could be pretty much anything as long as we cut them with an occasional still of Einstein, like sticking his tongue out at the President. But ideally, we’ll have stimulating content approved by a blue-ribbon committee of child psychologists, tiger moms and present dads. The thing sells itself: non-stop TED Talks for the 0-10 set. And when I said “child psychologists” I meant psychologists for children, though I think I just came up with our tentpole series.
But maybe you don’t like the sound of William Stott, Kiddie Media Mogul. Well, take a look at this cute little guy. This is the last thing I have for you. I’ve been saving it. It’s a tiny vacuum for the little line of dirt that’s always left at the edge of the dust pan. You just attach—
No, Mr. Stott, wait! I—I didn’t know you were an early investor in the Roomba! Wait! We can build on that! Any parent knows the surface of a baby is surprisingly vast and difficult to keep clean. Place a robot vacuum-disc in the crib and it will crawl harmlessly over your baby’s every fold and membrane, sucking away all of infancy’s attendant debris and painlessly removing embarrassing body hair—
Mr. Stott! Come back! It’s called the Roombaby! Your connections can help us avoid a patent war—
Carol? Carol! Could you come in here, please. And bring the Crying Shoulder? Just bring it. It’s in the stem cell division. Carol? Or get my parents—or one of the There, There people on the line? Carol! Where are you? What is even the use of having a female employee, if not to provide a company’s fearless leader with sister-mother-wife-style empathy!
Wait, Carol, go get my iPad. I’ve just had an idea—we should put There, There on the Internet, like a subscription service, like a Google Hangout, and you can upload a picture of your mother’s face, and if we do it right it’ll just be a bot who knows how to answer, with her voice, and like, the picture’s eyes and mouth will move—and, damn, Carol! High fives. This guy’s worth at least two million dollars. Take the rest of the day off, why don’t ya. Skim a benjamin out of the fountain and go get yourself something nice.
Illustration by Tony Millionaire.
My life coach Terry got me athletic shorts. They are made of mesh, hang loosely, and will likely work in any sport situation should it arise. In my athletic shorts I can walk to the grocery, to the video store, or the hotdog stand. I can walk to my sister’s apartment for snacks. I can walk to my mother’s house and borrow money. But probably I will drive. In my mesh athletic shorts I am free.
My life coach Terry got me a tank top to match my athletic shorts. Everywhere I go, people stop and give me an Is that athletic wear? look. I can wear my tank top with jean shorts, sweatpants, and stretch pants. I can wear my tank top with no pants. “Is that a nightshirt?” people ask. I tell them, “No, this is a tank top my life coach Terry got me.”
I could belong to one of any number of fitness clubs. In my athletic shorts and tank top I could attend spin classes, sweaty yoga, or regular yoga. And I could meet new people. We could walk the treadmills together, making small talk about pets, our favorite television shows, or other fitness related topics. I could forge friendships with athletic men and tall women. We could sit in the steam room and exchange stories, laughing hysterically when things are funny. Or we could sit in the steam room and say nothing. And it wouldn’t be boring. No one could call me boring.
In my athletic shorts and tank top, I could go to my cousin Jared’s house. We could play military-inspired video games. We could watch martial arts videos or look at bikini calendars. Because I belonged to a fitness club and had the clothing to prove it, I could play tackle football with Jared and the guys. They would pass the ball to me and say things like, “This play is for you, Dennis!”
Afterwards, Jared and the guys could take me to the bar. We could drink canned beer and talk about car repair. Jared and the guys could complain about their old ladies. In my athletic shorts and tank top I could have an old lady and Jared and the guys would respect me.
My life coach Terry says anything is possible. He gave me athletic shorts and a tank top. Then he put a blindfold over my eyes and told me to visualize all my wildest dreams coming true.
Alejandro Zambra is a Chilean writer, poet, and critic. He currently teaches literature at the Diego Portales University in Santiago. His first novel, Bonsai, _was awarded Chile’s Literary Critics’ Award for Best Novel. In addition to Bonsai, two other books of his have been translated into English — Ways of Going Home and The Private Lives of Trees. Zambra has also published two poetry collections, Bahía inútil and Mudanza, _and a book of essays called No leer_. He was selected in 2010 as one of the Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists by Granta.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else? Did you think about it differently than you would another sort of story?
ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA: Actually, when you asked me for a crime story, I was already writing “Artist’s Rendition,” the story that ended up in the issue—it’s also the final piece in my new book, My Documents. It is not properly a crime story—in a way, it’s more of a sad and satirical story about “professional writing,” about how writers deal with memory. The original title in Spanish is “Hacer memoria,” a beautiful but untranslatable expression that has to do with trying to remember something. Most of all, though, “Artist’s Rendition” is about people fighting, silently and anonymously, against everyday violence.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Chile. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA: Well, most of my texts take place in Santiago de Chile. I’m interested in exploring the streets and people I see every day. I care about the world more broadly, but I am most interested in the way in which the world is reflected in this particular place.
I also wanted this story to play with the expectations that foreign readers sometimes have. I’ve noticed that many of them think of Latin American literature as some kind of uniform genre—once an American reader told me that he liked my novels, but he didn’t think they sounded like Latin American literature. I thought that was very funny.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Chilean author, or a particular Chilean book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the crime genre particularly well?
ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA: Many. Some of the novels by Ramón Díaz Eterovic come to mind, as does a TV series, Los archivos del cardenal, which is about crimes committed during the Pinochet dictatorship. It’s in its second season now.
McSWEENEY’S: One of the things you touch on in your story is the idea that certain types of stories can’t be written anymore, or can’t be written in the same way—readers react to certain details differently, now. Can you talk about how that influenced your approach, here?
ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA: Yes, I think about that a lot, although I don’t know if I have a theory. I always try to discover the things that are best conveyed through the medium of prose—as opposed to through film, for example. And that is a search that is constantly evolving.
McSWEENEY’S: Why are there so many more poets in Chile than novelists? I once met a Chilean poet who had a very complicated answer for this, which had something to do with the geography of the country, how narrow it is. What’s your opinion?
ALEJANDRO ZAMBRA: Chile is full of poets, this is true. Novelists here are lonely people. A Chilean poet named Eduardo Molina once said that "novels are the poetry of fools.” We have such a strong poetry tradition, and “we” won two Nobel Prizes because of it. Poetry is the only sport in which we’ve ever won any kind of a World Cup.
I think it has something to do with our way of approaching language. We swallow lots of sounds—we prefer to make detours and speak softly. We don’t know how to give orders, we never want to sound imperative. So we tend to use metaphors and elliptical forms. Maybe we just don’t like being fully understood… Or maybe we always want to say too many things at the same time. I’ve always thought of J. Alfred Prufrock, that Eliot character, as a Chilean.