Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Pirate Walks into a Bar.

This is a man who looks good in doorways, backlit and on the threshold of action. The Pirate is bull-chested, a little bowed in the legs but otherwise sound. He is sea-aged and therefore ageless. Still, he might have been a boy not so long ago. The bar—let’s call it a tavern, this being the 18th century—he finds it vacant save for the Innkeeper. A rag slung over one shoulder, the man polishes tankards without looking at his hands. His eyes are not elsewhere; in the used-up light of the tavern you can’t see anything but what’s behind you. If you aren’t staring into a madeira, you’re looking back at a whole life of regrets. The Innkeeper acknowledges the stranger with a nod. The Pirate does not frighten him. He gets all types.

Interposed between them is the bar. A length of pale oak with a bullnose rail, brass fittings. The surface is stained with the footprints of mugs and snifters. They stretch out like a tedious lament: OOOOOOOO. Here is the ghost inside the joke: its breaking heart.


Where a Belt Buckle Ought to Be, the Pirate Is Wearing the Wheel From a Ship.

He does not order a drink. The Pirate is only ducking in out of the rain. Here, on the coast, a storm can reduce a tri-corn hat to a felty stew, and the Pirate is fussy about his hat. Funny, he’d come ashore to dry up. Now he’s soaking wet and damn thirsty. The Innkeeper doesn’t ask what he wants. He has a more pressing question.


“Why Are You Wearing a Ship’s Wheel Where Your Buckle Should Be?”

He asks this gently. He can see that the Pirate is in pain. The Pirate is not an eccentric man, not a man prone to embellishing his loins with steering apparatus. Clearly not that type of guy. The wheel is a cross, truss, albatross. The visible symbol of his place in the world, it checks his bodily heading like a ship on the sea. The Innkeeper watches the softness in the Pirate’s eye, the surrender. His shoulders slump, his parrot flies off in a fit of pique: “Awk! Loser!”

“Sit, captain, and tell me your story.”

“I would,” says he, “but….” An impotent gesture, he fondles the spokes of his wheel. He might be a child, thinks the Innkeeper. Might be my child. Wash off the cannon soot, shave the beard, scrub away the Maori tattoo that stains his salt-bitten face, and a pirate is but a boy. What we love in a boy we fear in a man: the idea that adventure has no consequence, that ships are never becalmed in mid-voyage, that bedtime stories have no lousy endings. Boys can not regret. The Pirate rests his burden on a barstool, wrings the wet from his beard. What he wants to say: I can’t go back.

And here (after the laughter dies down) we return to the bar, to the dense fact that separates our Innkeeper from the rueful Pirate. The bar is the Innkeeper’s wheel. It has, since his youth, marked the outer limits of experience, his window to commerce with humanity. He has never been to sea, though as a boy he felt the pull. The Pirate answered his boyhood urges and now suffers the hard consequence of that fairy-tale. The Innkeeper did not, and he suffers for what he does not know. “So,” says the Innkeeper: “What’s up with the wheel?”


“Aarrgh, It’s Drivin’ Me Nuts.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sorry That I Can't Get Exactly What You're Looking for All in One Arrangement

Thank you for choosing Edible Arrangements. A representative will be with you shortly.

You are now chatting with 'K_______'

K_______: Hello, how may I help you today?

you: Do you have a category for bereavement or funerals?

K_______: There are sympathy arrangements on our website

K_______: Would you like some suggestions?

you: I see. I'm looking at them now.

you: I like them, but I'm worried that these fruits might be too upbeat for a funeral.

K_______: The best suggestion for a funeral type arrangement would be our Delicious Fruit Design. It's one of our most popular for this occasion actually.

K_______: Have you seen this arrangement?

you: I'm checking it out now. Do you think chocolate-dipped pineapple is appropriate? I don't want to offend anyone.

K_______: I don't see any reason that would be considered offensive. I've seen plenty of people order it as sort of a method of a little tiny bit of cheer for someone who is grieving. They might need a little pick me up.

you: Probably true. Can you do any other flowers besides daisies? I think of lilies and baby's breath for funerals.

K_______: We only do fruit arrangements so unfortunately I would not be able to add any flowers to your arrangement.

you: I guess I mean different shapes for the pineapple. Like you have checkered flags for the NASCAR dipped banana arrangements. The deceased was actually killed by a pony at a petting zoo—believe it or not. Can you do cantaloupes shaped like ponies?

K_______: We do not offer pony shaped pineapple pieces. I understand that you would want something more personal, but we wouldnt be able to offer that for you.

you: Okay. Thanks very much for you help.

K_______: You're welcome and I'm sorry I couldn't be more help.

you: I suppose I could substitute the web-shaped pineapple from the Spider-Man bouquet. Those might evoke a more somber mood. Do you think that would be tasteful (no pun intended!).

K_______: You would have to speak with the store to substitute anything because we do not offer the option online to substitute things. The arrangements are copyrighted and we cannot change them

you: I see. Do you think it might be better with the webs? I just don't want to have a basket of cheerful fruit around when everyone is grieving. Some more "sad fruit" seems better to me. I think of kiwi as, I don't know, more sorrowful. Or coconut.

K_______: Well, kiwi is a seasonal fruit, so we wouldnt be able to put that into an arrangement. Also, we do not put coconut in the arrangement unless it is something dipped in chocolate and then rolled in coconut

K_______: As for the webs, I don't really see it being a problem

you: That seems like it might send the right message, like bananas rolled in coconut. The deceased was kind of "bananas," but in a good way. He didn't actually work at the petting zoo, but he made his own caretaker uniform and would pretend to work there.

K_______: Our bananas do not come rolled in coconut. The only fruit that we can usually roll in coconut would be our pineapples after they've been dipped in chocolate

K_______: Also, sometimes the stores might roll strawberries or apple wedges in coconut after they've been dipped on limited arrangements or specific occasions.

you: This is really shaping up! So for the funeral you'd recommend strawberries dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut plus the web-shaped pineapples and maybe a single banana? Now for the vase: do you have any animal shapes? (Because he loved animals.) But it would have to be kind of a serious animal—nothing too happy, I guess. What's your most serious animal vase?

K_______: Like I was saying, we cannot change the arrangements. But there are a few childrens arrangement containers. There is a duck, an elephant and a bear. All of which can double as a bank.

you: The duck seems like the most "sympathetic" of those animals. I don't think the bank would do him much good, though! Like I said, he wasn't paid to work at the zoo. Have you ever known someone who faked his way through life and then died because of it?

K_______: The duck container is also specific to an arrangement that goes into the container. This arrangement could not be transferred into that container unfortunately.

you: That's too bad. Sorry to ask these personal questions, but this guy's death has just made me think a lot about stuff. I mean, I'm not exactly living my life totally honestly, either...but it hasn't killed me. Probably everybody is faking it in one way or another.

K_______: I understand and its alright. I'm sorry that I cant get exactly what you're looking for all in one arrangement.

you: I'll work it out. You've been very helpful! Thanks so much for your time. And happy new year.

K_______: You too thanks. Have a great day and thank you for choosing Edible Arrangements.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Things I Would Recommend a Horse Ought to Do in 2011

Finally go see Tron Legacy. (Skip the original; you’ll figure it out.)

Sink up to your fetlocks in the warm pluff mud of the Carolina coastal plain and shout: “I’m in it now, baby! Right down in it!”

Apologize to donkeys. You have no doubt said some hurtful things in the past.

Take your groomer to lunch. (Someplace nice.) Pick up a sugar cube with your front teeth and gently drop it into your companion’s coffee, all the while rubbing his or her leg under the table with a front hoof.

Learn to operate a motorcycle and ride back and forth in front of my house. (Please!)

If you give carriage rides through Central Park, turn to imaginary camera, shrug, and say: “Eh, it’s a living.”

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Tortas Chamber

My friend Alex Gilvarry (a painfully funny writer) has a terrific new lit mag called Tottenville Review. They're all about reviewing underexposed books and conducting interviews with emerging writers. Already they've done amazing Q&As with Rivka Galchen, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, and Porochista Khakpour. So why they wanted to interview me is anybody's guess. My pal Jason Porter (another painfully funny writer) and I ended up talking mostly about sandwiches and Martin Amis's underpants. Then we ate sandwiches, but not underpants. Check out the results. And subscribe to Tottenville.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Scrapbook and I Vote, vol. 1

The Unknown Knowns spawned a bunch of ancillary projects including a mini-comic, dioramas, a song, two cocktails, a pair of videos, a website, and even a t-shirt (available for barter or purchase). Lately I’ve had reason to dig through all the old computer files those projects generated. Sketches, photos, audio files, recipes, etc. I’m hoping—on a semiregular basis—to post some of these rags and bones here on the blog. Because if I don’t, well, who will?

First, there’s this rough sketch of a Nautikon skull that my wife, Margaret McCartney, made in preparation for the comic, which she also illustrated. The Nautikons were a race of aquatic humanoids who occupied the floors of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. (Duh!) Note the wide-set eyes and the sloping forehead. The ruffle on top is the sagittal crest. Like a bone mohawk, or “bohawk.” I think it has a Dürer-like, memento mori, aspect to it. (And a whole lotta Jack Kirby, too.) I love this Dürer engraving of St. Jerome in His Study.

Jerome featured prominently in my research. I fixed many of the dates in the Nautikon mythology using his Chronicon. It’s a fascinating document. Like Herodotus, Jerome freely mixed folklore with history in ways that now seem hilarious.

Check out this very reasonable note on the 17th century BC: “According the opinion of some, Prometheus lived in this time, by whom men recall that they were created. But the truth of the matter: because he was a wise man, he transformed their savagery and excessive ignorance into refinement and knowledge.”

Because, come on, Prometheus didn’t fashion humans out of clay and steal fire from the gods in a fennel stalk! That would be ridiculous!

Elsewhere, Jerome provides both the name of the man who invented the four-horse chariot and the date when Hercules took down Cerberus. In his sober-minded presentation of crazy horseshit, he’s like the Wikipedia of Constantinople.

It’s this casual blend of the real and the fantastic, the anatomical and the bohawk, that I admire in Margaret’s Nautikon skull. The sketch eventually found finished form in the title page of her beautiful comic, which can be found at the rear end of the paperback edition.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

whirled books

I wrote a little thing about the great big World Book Encyclopedia:

"When I was just beginning to read, pre-search engines, the most fertile source of truth in our house was The World Book Encyclopedia. We owned a late-seventies edition. It was so huge the set occupied its own shelf beneath my parents’ child psychology texts, The Whole Earth Catalog, and Erica Jong. The curdled, almost stony texture of the covers, the embossing, and the copious gold leaf lent the set an almost biblical authority. Actually, in my lapsed-Catholic, professorial household, it seemed more reliable than the Pentateuch. Truth was a scrimmage between Catholic school and In Search of (two fantastic sources), and World Book was the ref." [read it all here.]

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Heat Rises

Just moving this up top again.