Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

The Little Ones

June 17, 2017

I have been thinking of unearthing some of my old prose pieces that I wrote when Extrasimile was a mere babe in my arms. Though some of the material is dated, most is not. Or it is dated in a good way: it will help by providing a perspective on our current situation. Much of Extrasimile was written during the internet explosion. And when I was teaching at City College. I remember asking a teaching assistant I had had he ever heard of the Wikipedia. He shook his head. No, what is it?

I will start with a short story. It name when first published was A Thanksgiving Tale; that is still a good name, but I like The Little Ones better.

When he read it John Looker (then John Stevens)  wrote:
I thought I’d save it for later but read as far as: “the enormous faux pas of inviting Friedrich Nietzsche for Thanksgiving dinner” and was immediately hooked. What a hilarious idea!
It’s several decades since I read a bit of Nietzsche in my efforts to manage a youthful transition from faith to unfaith. I remember thinking that he created such an appallingly bleak vision of a godless universe that it strapped crampons on my feet before I slipped all the way down into nihilism.
Then I reached your bit: “There is a kind of parallel between the idea, held in such contradiction to the facts, and the believer who thanks God for His blessing, even as this God (who must be responsible for the bad as well as the good) rains down adversity.” So by now I was hooked on the ideas in your story and not just the humour. Where would you take us?
Then at the end you gave us the phone call from Jocelyn, the gasp, and an explanation for that early reference to the hospital that had been left hanging in the air.
A clever tale and woven very tightly. Not very comforting, but then why should it be? We have to find a way to cope. Perhaps May in the story in right (along with many millions) but that way simply won’t work for many of us. It didn’t work for FN either but he didn’t offer much of an alternative unless you find comfort in the thought of eternal rebirth in an arbitrary existence.
Perhaps Voltaire had a point: keep digging the garden? Raise turkeys. Enjoy your turkey today Jim and happy Thanksgiving.

John is a good reader of my stuff; his comments are introduction enough,

“Look, he practically begged me to invite him. He’s alone, he’s lonely, but in truth, he’s a nice guy, we shoot the breeze now and then, he’s very smart. Once you get past the silly mustache…

“Yes, I did know he can be contentious…

“Yes, I did know he can be overbearing…”

“And he brought those horrid sausages.”

Well, yes.

“And that beer….”

Okay, yes.

“…which incidentally had everybody so blitzed there was no one to drive me to the hospital.”

Yes, true, but…


A short segment of a very long conversation I had with my sister after I committed the enormous faux pas of inviting Friedrich Nietzsche for Thanksgiving dinner.

Yes, I should have told her I was inviting a stranger, but it was a last minute thing. The man’s a famous philosopher, after all. Okay, a philologist. I still think it was more about turkey gravy in his mustache, then about what probably is a stupid idea—that which does not destroy me, makes me stronger. Sure, everybody had a little too much to drink, but that whole ‘grace thing’ my cousin May does every Thanksgiving set him off. It doesn’t mean that much to me. May wants to pray; I’m cool. But Friedrich Nietzsche…it’s obviously… you know, he’s made a name for himself, Mr. Anti-Christian.

“Father Sprit, blessed Jesus, Lord of the land, sea and air—please bless this table and those who sit in common communion at its portals…”

“This ‘Father Spirit’, liebchen, what does it signify…?”

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August 30, 2013

At its beginning, every life goes through a phase in which a mild two-person illusion defines the world.
—Peter Sloterdijk

You don’t see watermelons with seeds so much anymore. But of course, once upon a time, we thought that was how watermelons were reproduced. We even thought, the more seeds the sweeter the juice. My sister and I, we’d sit on the back steps spitting seeds and telling wild stories. We’d drip juice all over our shirts, running around barefoot on hot August nights, pretty much like this one. Sweet indeed.

‘I think I’m having what’s called a Proustian experience,’ I said to my kids, Chalmers and Searle. ‘Sitting here. We’d have story telling contests.’ The look they gave me suggested the empty sky.  ‘After the French author, Marcel Proust. He wrote a very long book called The Search for Lost Time, I haven’t read the whole thing, six thousand pages, but it’s about stories and finding the truth in memories. Maybe I’ll read some to you.’

Two looks, four worried eyes. ‘Softball tonight, Pop,’ Chalmers and Searle said. ‘Last game of the season‘.

‘Only if you lose,’ I said.

‘We will.’ They were both of the same opinion. The game was against the Russian all-stars. The best players in the whole country. Russia is a big place. Eleven time zones.

‘Have faith,’ I said. ‘The Russians can hit, but they can’t play defense. Get past that star pitcher and you’ll be okay. She’s supposed to be a wizard.’

‘She?’ Chalmers and Searle looked genuinely surprised. ‘There’s a girl on the team?’

‘Of course. Got something against girls? Wait till you see her pitch.’

I gave Chalmers and Searle the book, the first volume of Proust, Swan’s Way. Marcel Proust wrote in French (but of course you know that). I have a translation by Lydia Davis, who writes very short short stories. To be fair, Chalmers and Searle were still recovering from my reading Walden to them. Every word of Walden. Page by page. It took us a whole year. Chalmers and Searle are 13 and 14. They really can’t be expected to get into Thoreau. That day, all they could get into was their uniforms. They wanted to be carrying their cleats, not Proust. ‘Beware all enterprises that require a new set of clothes,’ I said for perhaps the um-teenth time. Big game tonight.

‘Whoa…’ I tried to slam on the brakes. We rode past what seemed to be a body too fast to stop. Was that a dead girl back there tossed in the meridian?  Chalmers and Searle had a good view, sitting in the back. It was a girl, all right. It was a woman. We had to turn around.

But the game, the Russians…

No, we had to go back. ‘I’ll tell you later about Kitty Genovese,’ I said.  I pulled out on the access road and turned around. The cars were whizzing by. No one was going to stop.  I eased the car up on the grass. It was a girl, and she was not dead, thank God, only dazed. She had fallen out of the bus, she said. She spoke English well, but with a Russian accent.

Turns out, she was the pitcher for the Russian softball team that I was taking Chalmers and Searle to play against. She said she was fourteen—but, well, how to put this?—she was a very mature fourteen. Remember that tennis player, Anna Kournikova, I think her name was. That’s what she looked like. Blond and athletic. A goddess in a baseball uniform. Chalmers and Searle stood gaping. If she was fourteen I was Mahatma Gandhi. How do you fall out of a bus going seventy miles an hour?

You do it by drinking vodka out of a bottle in a paper bag and then try to climb out the bus window. There was a traffic jam, she told us.  ‘I take my chances,’ she said. ‘I want asylum. I’m the best softball pitcher in all Russia. I want to get rich in America.’

‘Don’t we all,’ I said under my breath. I had to make a decision. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I grant you asylum. You can stay with us. This is Chalmers and Searle. They are your new brothers.’

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