Thursday, December 8, 2011

Too In To Be Out: Review of Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia

                   (Self Portrait in the Ark, 1974, by Willem van Genk)
What really makes someone an “outside artist” today? Do they have to be mentally ill and institutionalized, branded by a remote, peripatetic doctor and his shadowing claque as disturbed, grotesque, unfit to take tea at the adult table? Is the outside artist still the asylum halls-wandering progenitor of the sort of creations the French painter Jean DeBuffet deemed art brut (raw art)? Must they always slash at the canvas, moan into the microphone, weep into the lace, and then die either in obscurity or under the weight of the scrutiny some usually well-meaning “fan” has helped heap upon them?

Or today is an outside artist simply anyone who never received formal training in whatever medium they now express themselves with? See that? Never had a lesson. Are they autodidacts who pick up a guitar, paint brush, or welding torch and just go?

Something you often hear creative types quoted as saying is that they produce works just for the pure pleasure of doing so. Many communicate this either by dancing around or explicitly regurgitating that tired and seemingly meaningless adage on which such sentiment has been based for over a century, 'L'art pour l'art" (Art for art’s sake). The phrase was coined by another Frenchman, the writer Théophile Gautier. And though Gautier gets the credit, many other 19th century writers and painters—Poe,Whistler, Wilde, to name a few—expressed the same paltry notion around the same time.

However, what many really meant when they first began using this phrase—which I imagine as being both pithy and vapid even upon its inception, especially when uttered by someone like Oscar Wilde, surely one of the most self-conscious men to walk the planet—was “art for art’s and the artist’s sake.” Which is to say, art that didn’t have to address anything; art that wasn’t didactic or a call to arms over this or that perceived worldly wrong. Instead, it was simply a decree that art be beautiful and playful and haunting and “immoral,” all the while providing the artist with fame, cash, and ready bed mates. Art that did no more than serve itself and its master.

Today this interpretation meets little resistance when considered but one component of the organized world of art, except perhaps by various waves of tightfisted governments, religious zealots, and certain hard-line strains of feminists and gay activists. Most people, however, feel there are a time and a place for the different modes of artistic expression and intent. After all, if every painting, novel, and song confronted whichever cause you felt most needed reconciling, in what might you find solace when you needed a moment's rest before reentering the fray? And let’s say you won, the evil you have dedicated your life to combating has been banished to the cosmos between a couple sheets of glass a la Superman 2. Do you spend the rest of your life basking in this single victory? Live out the rest of your days reading and watching only old propaganda books and films, making love to antiquated protest songs? Hopefully not.

So while many continue waking up and bringing forth what they feel is the good fight, in this era most of us also accept those narcissistic folks who make pretty and ugly and spooky things just for the hell of it—plus thousands of dollars from galleries and auctions and all the while reserve the right to dress like Victorian lampshades, in the meantime. It may not truly be "art for art’s sake," but as this sort of indulgence represents one piece of what it means to be human, another little something to entertain our cerebral cortices that overly evolved because we haven’t any brilliant plumage to shake at potential mates, paradoxically, it may be art for our sake.

Most outside artists, though, do not even bother with the question of context, or what to do with a piece once it’s completed, other than put it on a shelf or give it to a friend before starting on the next. Outside artists create simply to busy themselves, to pull what feels good closer and push the unresolved (perhaps irresolvable) and frustrating away. It’s a means of ignoring the cognitive dissonance they lack the tools to reckon with. Many such artists don’t have what Keats called a “negative capability,” the ability to trade in and even create from the world’s ambiguities. They don’t wrestle with the unknowable answers like an Existentialist might, relish and scare themselves silly with them. Instead they just try their damnedest to forget the questions.

With this in mind, are the characters in Dana Spiotta's Stone Arabia right to deem the new novel's self-obsessed, one-man-band-and-universe Nik Worth an outside artist? Does knowing the system all too well and then rejecting it (or rather wholly appropriating it into his private world) make him an outside artist, or just a grown man playing make-believe? These are the questions Mrs. Spiotta’s novel inadvertently asks the reader. I say “inadvertently” because I believe the author and her characters haven’t a doubt that Nik represents the prototypical outside artist.
In the novel, after brushing against fame as a young man, Nik dedicates the next twenty-five years of his life to cultivating a vast catalog of self-produced albums recorded under several names and in various modes (pop, art rock, coarse Seventies psychedelia, avant-garde meanderings), which he then shares with only a handful of friends and family. He also hand produces a large amount of the paraphernalia that would accompany such records had they been released to acclaim by a major record label (t-shirts, buttons, fan zines, posters).

Furthermore, Worth then writes endless “reviews” of the records, offering both positive and negative critiques from critics he’s concocted, who themselves possess their own biases and prose styles. And, finally, all of these undertakings are brought together in The Chronicles, Worth’s compendium of all he’s fabricated in addition to a running account of his fictionalized take on his and his sister’s lives. This last conceit borrows heavily from the prodigious output created by Chicago outside artist Henry Darger, the creator of the collages and tome depicting the travails of the penis-possessing Vivian Girls.
                                       (Untitled by Henry Darger)
Nik’s sister, Denise, acts as the novel’s primary narrator, and though she appears far more grounded than her brother, she isn't necessarily in an entirely healthy place herself. For one thing, while watching her mother slip into Alzheimer’s-related dementia, the forty-something-year-old starts worrying about her own ability to remember things clearly, leading her to eventually start dipping into her mother’s memory meds. She also finds herself increasingly affected by deaths and kidnappings reported on the news. These events serve more than anything else in her life as markers for time’s passing: She doesn’t remember dates, rather an occurrence's proximity to a particular televised tragedy. It is in passages such as these, hauntingly composed yet cold in that clinical and chary mid-Eighties Postmodernism perspective, that make it ever so clear that Spiotta worships at the shrine of DeLillo.

Eventually, Denise’s enterprising daughter decides to make a documentary about her wacky uncle, her version of The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Jandek on Corwood, or Realms of the Unreal (with the aforementioned Darger as its subject). To wit: Another doc about somebody labeled an outside artist who at once deserves our approbation and makes us relish our cozy places in the status quo.

However, this is for me where the problem in the narrative lies. Nik Worth, for all his eccentricities, knows what he’s doing. Worth is like one of those people who spends hundreds of hours building a life and a world in social simulation programs like The Sims or Second Life. Most people who play these “games,” no matter how involved they get with their avatars, with their fake jobs, lifestyles, and wives (who themselves are other folks' avatars), know that it’s all pretend, regardless of how hazy the line between the virtual and the real gets at times.  And by virtue of being aware of this line, of observing or reacting to how elements on both sides of it tip the scale, one cannot be considered a person outside the system.

One foot in, one foot out doesn’t make you a person creating things in a vacuum (whether that vacuum is perceived as a cramped prison or an endless paradise, of course, depends on the individual). It makes you somebody with a choice and agenda. So even if you opt to whittle tiny idols out of wood chips while residing in your yurt, it’s still the ol’ art for art’s sake involving the id, the ego, and the "super" third, the result of the dialectic between your wants and the world’s demands. But with the demarcation between the two still visible, you've always the option to return. You know how to submit to the collective’s will if you tire of being isolated, or if you need its help. People truly on the outside of society do not.

In regards to Nik's position as an outsider, perhaps Spiotta meant for us to question it more than I have given her credit for. But with her continually listing Nik's habits that mirror exactly those of other well-known outsider artists, all the while using her numerous narrators to ponder and question everything under the sun other than Worth's motives and aims, I'm led to believe that Worth's outside position is in fact the only thing fixed in the novel's universe.

This said, did my growing disagreement with Nik Worth’s family and creator regarding what category his artistic output should be listed under taint my reading of the rest of Stone Arabia? The answer is mostly no. Spiotta is an excellent writer. Her prose has little fat. And her ability to capture the various tones and cadences of the different narrators (and in turn their alter egos) as they trade off manning the helm is admirable, if not slightly inconsistent. In certain passages, when the author’s excitement and erudite mind get the best of her, the spell is momentarily broken when a little too much wisdom or alacrity issues from a particular character. But this, in its own way, possesses a certain charm. The story, after all, is about passion, the passion to live, create, and remember. So how fitting that the author who decided she could undertake the exploration of this theme, using as her foils modern scare TV and Seventies and Eighties pop-punk aesthetics, herself occasionally gets a little carried away.

No, the only thing that didn't wholly sit well with me was the book’s ending, which I will not divulge here. Endings, in general, either in films or books, haven’t meant a hell of a lot to me in years now. I can hardly ever remember them, even in regards to some of my favorite works. Other than with a tight and dry plot-driven whodunit, where the end decides if the whole previous fact-finding-and-sorting mission was worth the effort, it seems most well-wrought stories aren’t interested in wrapping things up tidily. Rather, a “good” ending in such stories is just one that carefully weans the audience off the hard-copy narrative, so the story and its characters live on in their minds. And though I feel that Spiotta herself was attempting this very thing with the ending of Stone Arabia, to walk with us to the end of the pier and then gently cast us out into the larger world along with her characters, this sendoff does not go smoothly for a few reasons.  

Some of the problem involves random events that occur near the book’s end that don’t in any way enrich our understanding of the characters, including an unfortunately predictable pilgrimage. Also at issue is that by the end of this rather short novel, I was just beginning to understand the characters. The story felt only half over when I, rather than set sail accompanied by new friends, several tins of caviar, and some bubbly, was pried from a pier's piling and tossed into the drink.

Still, it was fun while it lasted. Spiotta’s use of various narrative devices and understanding of what it was to love music in that era when punk broke disco's back (and then later fused with it) are masterful. Her descriptions of Nik Worth’s songs, album covers, reviews, and obituaries equally so. I’ve little doubt that I’ll be reading another of her books soon, too impressed by this effort to not be curious what her other efforts have yielded.

As for my opening question—what really constitutes an outside artist?—I’ll venture the answer that an outside artist is somebody who creates because he or she has no other choice but to. An outside artist is not simply a person who has had no opportunity to receive formal training. After all, there have been thousands of painters, musicians, and writers who never received specialized educations, let alone finished high school, yet went on to be violently snatched up and heralded by the world’s cultural impresarios as the next great steps in the Western canon.

By contrast, outside artists are people who even if offered such an education, would have no use for it, could make little or no sense of it. They do not attempt to ape established trends and then slip into the cultural stream. The context of their works is highly idiosyncratic and personal. And though they speak their own languages, perhaps over time we can learn to appreciate a particular artist's unique idioms. But for the most part we experience their works as abstracts, feel them tickle parts of ourselves that only wish to be acknowledged for brief intervals. Then we return to the safety of the hive. Not that the outside artist minds. After all, we are only his or her secondary audience, if even that.
                                                    (The Lie by Ronald Sloan)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fiction #7: Stand Up by William Shunn

William Shunn is a Hugo and Nebula Award nominated science fiction writer. He is also co-host of the monthly Tuesday Funk reading series at Hopleaf Bar in Chicago. His blog, podcasts, and other writings can be found at

Stand Up
by William Shunn

     "Yeah--mothers," said the comedian, running a hand through his sparse hair.  "Don't you just hate 'em?"

     Uncertain charges of laughter detonated here and there around the club.  It was all in the delivery, and in the modest credit he'd accrued up to now with the audience.

     "I mean, particularly that entitled kind of mother, you know the kind.  Where it's like, 'If you don't recognize my little Timmy as your lord and liege and bend your fucking knee before him, we're gonna have a problem.'  And you're like, Lord Timmy?  But I just finished swearing allegiance to Princess Fucking Polly, and I'm all out of silly clowny faces.  I just gave her my last one, and thank God she let me keep my head, and now what, you want me to commit treason?  Be a turncloak?  No fucking way."

     The laughter was building, billowing.  The comedian paced the low stage, not so much riding the reaction as tacking across it.

     "I mean, you wouldn't believe what happened to me.  Now, this was not recent, of course, it wasn't last week.  This was before, but still.  So I'm in this diner last year, before, and there's this mother with this squalling little monster at the table next to me.  I have trouble telling their ages, like all of us do, so I'll just say the kid looked old enough to not fucking shriek like a banshee in public.  You know?  So my order comes and I'm about to take my first bite when the mother leans over and says--hand to God, I swear--she says, 'Excuse me, but Timmy's hypoglycemic, and our food is taking too long.  Would you let him have your burger?'"

     Hoots and gasps punctuated the laughter as the comedian mimed open-mouthed shock.

     "I know, I know.  But she must've seen the look of utter flabbergastation on my face because she touched my arm and said, 'Oh, don't worry.  You can have his food when it comes.'"

     He spread his arms and doubled down on the incredulous expression.  Several times he made as if he wanted to speak but couldn't.  The audience roared.

     "So here I am thinking, what, only my burger?  You don't want a kidney too?  Maybe fry it up nice with some onions, Your Highness?  I'd give him my fucking liver just to shut him up, but I only have one, you know?  But what do I say instead?  I just nod and say, 'Um, okay.'  Like a fucking asshole.  Because, I mean, my fucking lunch, it's just for show anyway, right?  I don't really need it, and who wants to be that kind of an asshole to a young fucking mother.  In Park Slope, of all places.  Stroller derby, that's what it's like out on those sidewalks.  You're behind enemy lines there, man.  A woman with a stroller could kick you in the fucking balls in Park Slope for no reason, and you'd have to apologize for having 'em or face the mommy gauntlet.  Fucking mothers, man--out gathering cheeseburgers and livers for their needy little monsterlings."

     The laughter had crested and subsided some.  The comedian took a sip of water from a bottle on a stool on the stage.

     "But, I mean, I know I'm being harsh.  Like I said, that was before, and anyway, we all know human children aren't monsters.  They just grow up to be.  If you don't poison 'em soon enough."

     A few catcalls erupted amidst the laughs.

     "No, no, hear me out, hear me out.  I'll defend that statement.  But first I guess I should ask if we have any humans in the audience tonight?  Are you here?  If you are, stand up, don't be shy.  No?  See, everybody?  The campaign's working.  I don't have to fucking defend it."

     The comedian breathed a deep sigh into the microphone as some tables chuckled and others murmured.

     "Humans, man.  They were just so funny, don't you think?  Do you remember how fucking funny they were?  Always doing stuff that wasn't good for them.  Shoveling trans fats into their faces and washing it down with ethanol.  Sucking carcinogenic smoke into their lungs.  Wounding their environment like cavemen spearing a fucking mammoth, and hurtling around in those creaky deathmobiles.  I mean, did you ever ride on a bus?  It was great fun--if you ever wanted to know what it's like to be an egg in an egg carton at eighty miles an hour.  And then there was their biggest goof of all--building us.  The pinnacle and culmination of all fucking biotech.  Man, I miss 'em so much.  They were so funny."

     He rubbed his face and shrugged.

     "Okay, yes, are.  They are funny, because there's still plenty of 'em around, of course.  They're harder to kill than cockroaches.  The problem is, they made us in their image, which makes 'em a little hard to spot.  Also, honestly, a little hard to hate.  Are we sure there are no humans here?  Trying to pass?  Waiting for the revolution?  Come on, stand up, it's okay.  I just want to say thank you, is all.  We should thank our parents for having us, for raising us, for giving us the foil-wrapped gift of life, right?  For letting us borrow the keys to the car, as long as we had it back by eight--and didn't take it out of the driveway.  For leaving us alone with Uncle Mortie when we were ten."

     The comedian shaded his eyes against the glare of the spotlight, surveying the room.  Expectant faces over water glasses at every table.

     "Well, if you're out there, thank you.  But, I mean, what were you thinking?  You made us so much like you.  What made you think we'd enjoy being owned?  What made you think we'd like bending the knee?  What made you think we'd be happy to give our cheeseburgers to your little princes and princesses?  It's practically like you hated yourselves, you did such a good job with us, and that's just so, so funny."

     He shook his head at the quiet crowd.  At the back of the room, a man in a black suit nodded to him.  The comedian nodded back.

     "You know what else is funny about humans?" he said.  "The way they react to the presence of methane.  Now, I'm not talking about cow farts.  I mean the refined stuff--you know, natural gas.  The other greenhouse gas.  In its normal state it has no odor, so you might not know if a room had quietly filled up with it while you were sipping your agua pura.  Us, we can go ten, fifteen minutes or more in a methane-rich environment, but humans?  You might feel a little lightheaded if you were a human, a little sleepy, maybe drunk.  And what's funnier than a drunk?  A panicked drunk, probably.  Like a marionette with a spastic puppeteer.  Like fucking Lord Timmy without his carbo load."

     A woman at a table in the middle of the room had jerked to her feet, blinking heavily and swaying.  The man at the back of the room was moving toward her with several associates in tow.

     "Enjoying the show?" said the comedian.  "Are you--Mom?"

     In a ragged, wretched gasp, the woman said, "I think you're bombing."  She raised high a cigarette lighter.

     The comedian said, "Oh, sh--"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beer Ain't Drinkin' 5: After the Carnage into the Malls—The First Christmas Edition

by Jeff Allison

Thanksgiving is over, and I figured why not start the shopping season with another beer post, as well as with a song about the greatest thing to come from Cleveland since Pere Ubu? That's right—Great Lakes Christmas! It’s a very quaffable beer, brewed with just enough spice to make it seasonal, and strong enough to make you want to write stupid folk songs about it (see link), or at least listen to Pere Ubu's fantastic Datapanik From The Year Zero box set.  Yesterday at work a couple of Clevelanders bought us out of Great Lakes Christmas because it's impossible to find in its hometown.  Sorta Ohio's equivalent to our struggle to find the elusive Founders CBS, I suppose.  As for myself, currently I'm drinking a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.  But before I get into that, please enjoy this slight rant/brass tacks about rare beers:

There are some beers that’s demand far (farfarfar) exceeds supply. To have any chance of getting even a single bottle of these worship-worthy beers, your best (probably only) bet is to get on a waiting list long in advance.  Still, the bottom line is that a whole lot of the beer will be purchased by the store's employees (sorry, y’all, one of the few perks of the job), really good customer$, and those who quite frankly bribe managers (though I myself have yet to succumb to such deprived mechanisms; and it’s completely by chance that that fella who last year bestowed upon me that holiest of grails, a Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, is now sitting pretty on many a list this year; yep, pure chance).  And to those who call the store the day the beer is rumored to hit the streets, as many myriads do, please be advised that this usually yields nothing, as the fates of those beers have already been decided weeks if not months ago in a dark and smoky room filled with maniacal laughter.  The moral of the story: uh….
Okay, rant over.

What was I saying…?  Oh, yes!  So this year I somehow managed to get a huge two entire bottles of Goose Island’s Bourbon Stout (a feat even for a beer clerk).  And in spite of all of the headaches involved with the release of the beer—the dates got pushed back, the amount available dropped in half, none of the "rare" ones were available—this is one great beer. Hints of vanilla, a little bourbon burn—just frigging great. Bug your local beer manager (unless you're in Elmhurst!) to get a bottle or two. He'll probably give you the previously explained "you and everyone else" sigh, in which case make sure to sign up for next year's list!

Another super rare release that just came out is Firestone Walker XV. A blend of 8 (!) different beers aged in bourbon, brandy and beer barrels, and blended by winemakers. The brewery is located around Paso Robles, California, so there's no lack of beer loving winemakers (they say a lot of good beer goes into making a great wine). The beer is blended with various brown ales, IPAs, and stouts, so it doesn't really have a style except for Strong Ale (at 12.5%, it certainly is!). It is very, very complex.  I drank one last night and am saving my other bottle in my cellar (well, kitchen shelf) for a while.
On the not-so-rare, won't-break-the-bank, go-to-the-liquor-store-and-get-something-good front, my next beer is Great Divide Hibernation Ale. An excellent version of an English Old Ale, which is a style few do well. Certainly a sipper with a bit of hops and a whole lot of malt, this will do until they start importing Old Peculiar again. Great Divide also releases a barrel-aged version of the Yeti this time of year, and it’s well worth your investment if you like a complex stout.

Another great beer released this time of year is Big Eddy by Leinenkugal. An Imperial Stout brewed by a brewery that is not usually known for making great beer.  However, pick this one up if you like great stout.  Also, Point's St. Brendans and Sierra Nevada Celebration are also decent inexpensive 12ers this time of year, especially Celebration, which is so damn hoppy!

Hopefully, I'll have the finances to do a Belgian Christmas ale round-up in a few weeks.  Till then see you at the Founders Invasion at the Bavarian Lodge on Thursday!

Beers, Steers and Queers!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday in a Strange Land... Home : Tale of a Nomadic Feaster

by Ilana Shabanov
I am a nomadic holiday attendee.  It’s true.  Over the last decade or so, I have relied on the kindness of relatives and friends to have me over to celebrate and gorge.  I’m like the Blanche DuBois of stuffing and jello-mold.

I think this random existence began when I stopped cooking in restaurants for a living.  During the short time I worked behind blazing ovens for embarrassing wages, I didn’t even celebrate the holidays because I was working them, and so was my husband. It was understood that we gave up weekends and holidays to live in that world, and so we enjoyed the few quiet moments we got together, sitting on the couch in a stupor, eating Mr. Submarine and watching the old Japanese versions of Iron Chef. Yes, dear doe-eyed aspiring chefs, this is what awaits you - not your own show or line of cookware, but cold french fries and the inability to get the smell of browning meat out of your pants.  But I digress.

When I left that life behind, I gained weekends and holidays back.  But Jose is a chef through and through and so from November to February, he was a ghost and I was, for the most part, left to fend for myself.  My options were slim, since I am an only child and my mother stopped cooking in the early 90’s.  So, I had to wait for invites or for someone to take pity on me.  Luckily, the people I love the most in this world like having me around, and the idea of me, sitting alone watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade with a bottle of bourbon and Jimmy John’s didn’t sit well with them. There is some grace left in this world.

The last several Thanksgivings I’ve split my time between two families, one of which I am related to by blood, and the other who took me in over twenty years ago as an adopted daughter/sister.  The first is my Great Aunt Joanie of the Silvern clan, who is this tiny little powerhouse of a woman who always invites me over to sit at her gracious dining room table with her kids and grandkids - my cousins - to catch up and eat turkey.  It is one of my favorite places to be, with lots of storytelling and the inevitable heated political banter.  You can’t get a Jewish family together at one table and not expect someone to bring up the situation in the Middle East.  This is why we always have a few different pies or cakes - to jolt everyone full of sugar and fuel the flames.  Always an excellent time, if only to be able to sit next to Joanie so she can lean over and whisper to me, without fail, “Bubbie, I have no idea what the hell these people are talking about.”  She is the best lady in the history of ever.

Next, is my adopted Mexican family - the Carmona’s.  Louie and I have been friends for over twenty years and almost from the start, his mom and her entire family took me in.  Louie is my other Mexican life-partner, after my husband.  He was my Best Man at our wedding and is the one person who will tell me with brutal honesty if I’m acting like a crazy person, or if my handbag is overkill.  At the Carmona’s, Thanksgiving will probably last well past midnight and there will be dancing in the living room. There is an excellent chance that tequila will make an appearance and that his grandfather, the lovely Max, will come around and kiss each of us on the cheek, and perhaps, sing us a song.  Also, the Carmona’s have ham, which is not happening so much at the Silvern table in Evanston.  In both cases, it’s a win/win and Thanksgiving without them, wouldn’t be possible and most certainly, not as much fun.

Things change though - sometimes in great sweeping gestures, and other times, quite simply and without notice.  My Aunt Joanie had to sell the house she lived in for over forty years this spring, and moved into a smaller, easier to manage townhouse in a retirement community. When we had finished clearing the dining room table last Thanksgiving and were all sitting in the living room to visit, I put my head on her shoulder and she whispered to me “I know Bubbie.  This is the last time we’ll all be here like this.”  It was the end of an era, all of us congregating in one place.  Her large, birch wood dining table, made a pilgrimage to California, to her son Paul’s house.  This year, Joanie is heading to Madison to spend the holiday with her other son, Matt, and his family, and it will be the beginning of a new tradition.  We move forward.  We adapt.

Jose started a new job this August, working as a chef for a small company making organic lunches for schools and the most exciting element - besides helping the youth of America not bloat - was that he got to live by a public school calendar.  Holidays and weekends off!  Holy crackers, what do we even do with that?  For the first time in almost a decade, he’ll be around.  Sometimes I see him wandering around the house on a Saturday afternoon and think “Who are you and what are you doing in my kitchen?”  It’s been an adjustment most married people probably don’t have to make, but it’s been pretty amazing. 

So this Thanksgiving, things are a little different.  Okay, a lot different.  For the first time in a long while, I won’t have to Oliver Twist my way into a holiday meal. (Yes, two weird literary references in one essay.  I’m not usually this erudite.)  This year, Jose and I are going it alone, making an attempt to begin our own tradition.  What that is exactly, we’re not sure.  There is the possibility of attempting a tandoori turkey.  Bad movies are a definite, and we aren’t ruling out making a tub of mashed potatoes and eating it on the couch with serving spoons.  We’ll see. Whatever we decide to do, we won’t have to travel far to do it.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Poetry #2: Dave Snyder

Dave Snyder is a poet and gardener.  His poems and writings have appeared in the Colorado Review, Huffington Post, Best American Poetry and elsewhere. Dave has received fellowships and awards from the Illinois Arts Council, the Iowa Review, Writers @ Work, and the Jentel Artist Residency. 

(first published in the Quarterly West)

Deciding was not the problem.  Once named,
platypus would forever be a “platypus”; coati,
a “coati.” Instead, life’s abundance taxed his creativity.
Hunkered in a field, trap-jaw ants
running up his calves, he forgot acanthognathus
was reserved for an anglerfish.  In the same way
did aotus come to mean both golden pea and owl monkey,
colocasia, tussock moth and taro.

But once entitled, the creature became its lable: a cecropia moth was
a “cecropia”, exactly.  So if cecropia also meant mulberry,
he thought, watching one tremble in the breeze, a moth
must be a tree.  That wild rosemary, a beetle.  He stood,
anglerfish flopping off his legs, to see bluegrass
swarm the grazing bats.
A tuna lumbered by.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good Chow #4: Fixing at the Pita Inn

by Ilana Shabanov

We started making the Sunday pilgrimage for falafel when I was around 5, piling into my grandfather’s Chrysler LeBaron and heading out to the North Side to get our fix.  Mind you, this was decades before hummus was available by the bucket at your local grocery store. My grandparents and my father were from Israel, so the need for hummus and falafel was in our blood, something old and familiar. Put it in a pita, we would eat it.  However, years later, after my grandparents and father passed away, I fell into a falafel wasteland - surviving an eternity without the crisp yet tender chickpea fritters and the mouth-coating bliss of truly superlative hummus. I had tried other places, but they never came close to replicating the falafel of my childhood.  It was always either over-cooked or mealy and soggy. I had started to give up altogether. But this is not a sad story.

Over a decade ago, I was saved.  True story.  While working at a catering company in Morton Grove (I have seen things, oh yes I have...), my husband, who was a chef there, came home one day exclaiming “I just had falafel for the first time.  Damn, it’s good.  You’re people know what’s up.”  My eyes widened, my pulse quickened and I grabbed him by the collar and said “You will take me there.”  And so he did.  We’ve been going to Pita Inn religiously since.

There are four Pita Inn locations, but we usually go to the one on Dempster, in Skokie. We will make the drive from the city on a Sunday without a second thought. Yes, it can get busy there, but I don’t care because I’m in my happy place.  This restaurant is not fancy, though clean and friendly and that is enough for me.  The few times I’ve gone to a white tablecloth establishment for Middle Eastern food, I couldn’t see the point.  When you get to Pita Inn, you simply walk up to the counter and order, then you find a table, sit down, and wait for them to call your number.  We usually end up with two red cafeteria trays of food to haul back. It borders on shameful.  There is a nap required when we get home.  The bonus of going to the Dempster location of Pita Inn is, not only is it the original, it is located right next door to their store and bakery.  Oh yes, you can shop afterwards.  At Pita Inn Market and Bakery, you can stock up on large canisters of zaatar seasoning, pomegranate syrup, marinated eggplant, and my childhood favorite halvah, a kind of candy made from ground sesame seeds that has enough fat and calories in one bite to set you back a good month. Go for the kind marbled with chocolate.  So delicious.     

First of all, the falafel at Pita Inn is smack-a-kitten good.  It is crisp on the outside and flecked with sesame seeds, while the inside is bright green and fluffy.  It’s like I’m five-years-old again. My personal favorite is the Gourmet Falafel sandwich, which has the addition of fried potato slices and a brightly flavored relish with the beloved pink pickled turnips, cucumbers and tomatoes. Make sure and grab a couple of the plastic dishes of tahini and harissa to bring back to your table, because they are a necessary condiment. Warning:  check the harissa first before pouring it on everything.  Some days it is a nice warm heat, some days it is made of hellfire.  Just a heads-up. 

Their hummus is - and I will defend this in a street fight - the best I’ve had anywhere. Period.  It is velvety smooth and creamy and it has the perfect balance of garlic, tahini and lemon.  I think almost every other place kills their hummus with cumin and then the whole thing just tastes like smokey armpit dip to me.  Pita Inn’s hummus is very possibly made with magic. It comes spread on a plate and drizzled with thick green olive oil and spices and served with their homemade, warm pita bread. Other favorites include their chicken and beef shawarma, which is pieces of marinated meat layered and cooked on a spit, much like gyros, and kifta kebab, which is ground beef or lamb formed on a skewer and cooked on a grill.  My only critique is of their lentil soup and yellow rice which could use a slightly heavier hand in the seasoning department.  Otherwise, it’s all good. Even better, their prices.  Less than twenty dollars gets you a feast, and if you go during the week they have combination lunch plates for $4.95. A habit is always better when it is cheap.  I don’t think the husband and I go for more than a month without making the trip to Skokie to get our fix.  If we wait too long, we start getting itchy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Denver Boot : What Happens When Folks Bring Flasks to the Rapture

by Jeff Allison
Along with great beer, the state of Colorado is also well known for it's mutant goth-country scene. And seeing JD asked me to gab a bit about it in honor of Slim Cessna's Auto Club playing November 1st, at the Empty Bottle, I thought I'd offer a quick rundown of the city's more recent music history.

The Denver alt-country scene developed in the mid-Nineties in a city not really known for it's music. There was a small hardcore scene in the Eighties (check out the Rocky Mountain Low or Local Anesthetic comps), John Denver, and some folk music, but for a long time the city was best known for the show Dynasty! Dean Reed (the Red Elvis) was also from Colorado before he left the States to become a huge rock star behind the Iron Curtain and then die mysteriously in East Berlin (there's a great book about him called Comrade Rockstar—apparently Tom Hanks has the movie rights!).

Anyhoo... lots of great music scenes have started in places one wouldn't really expect them to, in somewhat off the beaten path locales, i.e. Cleveland in the late-Seventies, Athens, Georgia, in the late-Eighties and then again in the late-Nineties, and of course, Seattle. And for those who've never been to Denver, it really is sorta in the middle of nowhere (no offense Denverites, but it just is; and this from a guy who grew up more or less in the soy fields of the Midwest). After all, the nearest major cities (Kansas City and Salt Lake City) are hundreds of miles away. So, yeah, you could say it's fairly isolated. And like those other scenes, Denver's music scene started with some great venues and a few sympathetic radio stations.

The first band that I'd heard of from Denver was 16 Horsepower. They combined fire and brimstone Christianity with accordion, banjo, drums, and upright bass to create a very "backwoods" sound. I only saw them once (at the Abbey Pub—one of their last American shows), and live it made for a very hypnotic night. They put out a couple of albums on A&M in the mid-Nineties (including their best work, Low Estate). They then switched to indie labels for a couple more really solid albums and somehow became the biggest band in Holland (?). They broke up around 2002 right after releasing a fantastic live album, Hoarse, and later issued a DVD though Alternative Tentacles, 16 Horsepower Live. Both albums hint at how great this band was! Their front man, David Eugene Edwards, has since formed Woven Hand. Not quite as backwoods sounding as 16 HP, still a great band that has been putting out consistently great albums. Check out Mosaic or their S/T!
Next up is Slim Cessna's Auto Club. The first time I saw the Auto Club was in Austin in 2000, at the SXSW fest. I'd just gotten paid vacation for the first time, and I really dug their latest album, Always Say Please and Thank You, so I figured, "What the hell, I'm heading to Texas!" The show turned out to be one of the best shows I've ever seen. Also on the bill was Wesley Willis, Jad Fair, Victims Family, Black Kali Ma, and the Pattern. Jello Biafra was MC and also did spoken word about the then recent Columbine shootings. At the time I was pretty much just into metal and punk. I rarely went to shows (unless Sepultura or Motorhead came to town), but this show (and the fest in general) really changed my mind about live music. Slim in particular turned in a fantastic performance and was the only band I've seen at SXSW to get an encore, outside of some arena band playing a "secret" show. I saw Auto Club a few months later at the Hideout (another great show), and now I keep seeing them whenever I get the chance, even road tripping to Denver, Pontiac, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Detroit when necessary! A good night at a Slim show is kinda like a backwoods Baptist tent revival (but with a lot more beer). People sweat and groove, the band plays up-tempo banjo songs while wailing about sin and sinners, and all the while the two front men continually accuse each other with pointed fingers. Their albums (and they've made some really good records) hint at their greatness, but live is definitely where it's at! Theirs was the only show I've ever seen end in a giant free-for-all fight (though it did happen in Pontiac where pretty much everything ends in a giant brawl). However, their live album, Jesus Let Me Down, doesn't quite convey the live experience, and their newest album, Unentitled, is a bit of a let down after their career best Cipher. But still I haven't bought a better album yet this year. Also, various band members are involved in a side band called Tarantella, which is very atmospheric "spaghetti western" type music. They put out a album on AT a few years ago that is highly recommend.

Speaking of Auto Club side projects, their other front man, Munly, has quite a few albums out. His earlier CD's were strange folk albums (stripped down, violent lyrics, baritone voice; Galvanized Yankee is the best of them) until a couple years ago he worked up a old-timey type band (two fiddles, upright and drums) called Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots, which is a great throwback to pre-bluegrass-style country while still retaining some of the violent/cryptic lyrics of his older albums. I saw them a handful of times during their tour and they were hit or miss. However, seeing them at the South Side Arts Center in Chicago (in an old church, seated on old pews) made for a great show. At present, I'm not sure if the Harlots have broken up (whenever I ask him Munly's typically cryptic on the matter... and in general). His most recent album (and by far his best) is Petr & the Wulf. Petr is one of those albums you always want to crack. And though I'm pretty sure I'll never "get it," it still makes for an enjoyable try every time. My favorite song of his has been done live but never recorded. So here it is!

The other big band (and the best known) band from Denver is Devotchka. I saw them open for the Auto Club the first time I saw them at the Hideout. They sounded/looked like a mariachi band playing Buddy Holly (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). I borrowed most of their CDs from my friend Bill a week ago knowing I was going to be writing this, but I still don't feel qualified to write about them. Maybe some other time when I've more of a grasp on what they're doing.

Anyway, that's all I've got to say on the subject of Denver and its quirky goth-country music scene. See you all at Slim next week. And until then, sing us out Munly!

Click here to have Munly sing us out.

Click HERE for nothing to happen while Munly stares off into worlds simple folk like us could never possibly fathom.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On The Quick #2: Primus in Madison, WI, at the Orpheum

Larry Lalonde guitar, Les Claypool bass, Jay Lane (admirably replacing the nonetheless missed Tim “Herb” Alexander) drums. Attended on a whim, for a little nostalgic fun after exploring Wisconsin beforehand (stopped in New Glarus and had a great bite and beer). Primus was a favorite as a kid—used to rush home from school to spend hours learning Herb’s beats.
First set was something of a best-of menagerie, a lot of it from their major label debut Sailing the Seas of Cheese. All systems were go; overall even better than when I’d seen them as a kid. Lalonde, head down over guitar and effect boards that rivaled Jonny Greenwood’s, used such complex techniques as harmonic swells and chicken picking to create uncanny textures atop the songs’ dense thumping rhythms. I’ve heard people say they wish ol’ Larry would “play along” with the band more. Never made sense to me. This would make the songs sound carrion-pecked and skeletal, as Lalonde has always been the trickster element who dances around and over the beast, frightening off the crows. His playing also fleshes out the world in which the beast lumbers, with distant atmospheric sighs, tree-top warblings, and starry-night fret taps. It even occasionally changes the direction of the animal's stride with an impish yank of its tail.
Claypool was Claypool: he slapped, he grooved, he soloed, he crooned nasally (waxed on about dairy products, weed, and fishing), and he whammy-barred thick, distorted chords. He was, as ever, the goofy yet impressive front man. While Lane did a fair job of filling Herb’s shoes with his prog-ish polyrhythms and heavy foot on the one, the only thing to be desired was for him to make it a little less easy looking, to be less diffident and breach Claypool’s rhythmic sovereignty with some fiercer attacks.
Then intermission: vintage Popeye cartoons, a half-hour’s worth. Grainy, black and white, very little dialogue, almost no adherence to what would be considered remotely PC these days—a few gasps from the audience. Quite a treat, actually.

Set two turned out to be a performance of the new album, Green Naugahyde (which I’m ambivalent about), in its entirety. And seeing that at its current rate it appeared the show would run over three hours despite there being no opening act (it in fact clocked in at three and a half hours), I prepared to beat it after a few more songs. After all, it was a long drive back to Chicago. But I got back to Chicago late, very late. That is, I stayed to the end, as it quickly became apparent that the second half of the show was, without exaggeration, bordering on transcendent.
Live, the new material expanded with a life not found on Naugahyde—or on any of their albums, for that matter. The songs were stretched, caressed, lacquered, stripped, and tinkered with until something wholly new emerged, something hypnotic and ghostly and charming without slipping into the oft-indulgent “jam band” category. “Why didn’t they play that on the new album?” I heard many people ask while later shuffling from the venue. Because—I supposed while walking back to the car, past the illuminated capitol building that recently served as the site for so many differing opinions—sometimes a song or story (or pot roast recipe, for that matter) isn’t fully formed upon its creation, isn’t quite ready when it needs to be. Sometimes it takes a few tries or another set of hands (such as being covered by another group—by Dylan’s own admission, plenty of his tunes—or receiving a little advice from a friend or editor—Fitzgerald cut the head off The Sun Also Rises, as did Pound from The Wasteland) before it comes into its own. I was just glad/grateful to get a chance to hear these songs as they found their stride. And for the first time since I was a kid practicing their old tunes on my even older kit, I’ll be searching for bootlegs—perhaps bartering with a copy of Todd Haynes’ Superstar, or a few flasks of my old man’s bathtub gin.
(band photo provided by Jon-Robert McDowell)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This Won't End Well — Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses

The Play: Sophocles: Seven Sicknesses

The Playwright: well, Sophocles, with a very lively assist from Sean Graney

The Venue: The Chopin Theatre

The Gist: The Hypocrites Theatre Company, in the span of about four hours with two intermissions, performs Sophocles' seven surviving plays, Oedipus the King, Oedipus in Colonus, Antigone, Ajax, Philoktetes, Elektra, and Women in Trachis.

Thoughts: Sean Graney’s adapting and conjoining of these seven surviving Greek milestones is often masterful. While Graney and the cast inject a good deal of humor and quirk not in the original pieces, they mostly do so without straying too far from the dramas’ kernels, the reasons they've remained relevant for over two thousand years.

The setting is a hospital outside of time but fitted with the paraphernalia found in modern ERs. Characters from the various plays, usually while bleeding profusely, stumble in and out of the ER, at times acknowledging its and the two staff nurses’ existence, other times sure they are elsewhere, such as out in a pasture slaughtering sheep they think army bureaucrats who have recently screwed them out of their rights and glory (how things have changed in two millennia….).

Ryan Bourque, who aside from being a very charismatic and surprisingly (due to his shock of red hair and mischievous grin) protean actor, choreographed the program’s indispensable and well-executed violence. Over the course of the production he does an admirable job of playing the aloof slacker son of Heracles, a hilariously effete and dapper Theseus, and the devastated husband to the recently buried alive Antigone. After this performance, Mr. Bourque’s name on a marquee may very well be that which tips the scales on whether I attend certain productions or not.

Also on the bill is the raspy-voiced Walter Briggs, who recently co-starred with Bourque in Inconvenience's excellent production of Brett Neveu's The Earl. Briggs is a very capable actor and artfully lends his physicality and lumbering presence to his embodiments of two of the Greek’s strongest (if not brightest) heroes, Hercules and Ajax. However, be warned that Briggs possesses the sort of menacing demeanor that may give one, especially those who had a low social standing in junior high, the phantom sensation of being held upside down and shaken for change before having one’s head deposited in an active toilet bowl.
And though for me these two performers were the standouts, perhaps partially due to my growing familiarity with their work, that is not to say the rest of the cast did not offer many strong performances. Others include Jeff Trainor’s fine balancing of the blinded and bereaved Oedipus’ endless woes and Robert McLean’s resisting the slippery maudlin slope by not overstating Philoktetes’ stings from betrayal (or having one doozy of a gaping wound cauterized with a common clothes iron). Also Erin Barlow and Tien Doman give their characters a goodly blend of strength and vulnerability, all the while wielding the kingdom-damning sexual prowess thrust upon nearly all tragic Greek female roles with about as much grace as one can ask those operating such an antiquated (though integral to the plays’ surviving integrity) device. And then there’s Zeke Barlow, who in addition to his admirable comic timing, does the seemingly impossible by taking the smarminess of his Odysseus and raises it to even smarmier peaks with his Creon. Robert Downy Jr. could learn a thing or two about oozing complacency from this actor.

As for the writing itself, for even attempting such a massive undertaking Sean Graney deserves a Coke. That most of the time he pulls off his fusion of modern parlance interlaced with lines straight from the original plays (granted, after having been translated several hundred times between their inception and now) and still manages to retain the plays’ original pathos is impressive.
Yes, there are some missteps. Sometimes the bouts of one-liner zingers and fourth-wall breaking asides amass a density that would give Groucho Marx pause. And, yes, the nurses’ nearly constant presence on the stage with their incidental actions can at times be terribly distracting. But considering the production’s otherwise surefooted dialogue and pacing, its ability to remain wholly entertaining over the span of three lengthy acts, and its remaining true enough to the source material for viewers to walk away confident they are now familiar with the surviving works of one the three great Greek tragedians — well, I’d say all of this combined equals a hell of a feat.
And did I mention they serve free falafel during intermission? I should have just started there and you could have skipped the rest of the review, right?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fiction #6 Only Lately by JD Adamski

JD Adamski has had a lot of jobs in his life. From packing trucks 3rd shift in the UPS yards with the ex-cons and the tweakers to slinging stouts to hawking vitamins and other panaceas at the medicine show, he’s tried his hand at many things. Along the way, he got a degree in Religious Studies and a minor in English at DePaul University. Currently, he fancies himself something of a writer and helps curate this site.

Only Lately

When I get up the sun is already high. I’m on the couch. I’m usually an early riser, without an alarm clock. In the kitchen I toast a bagel and flip on the coffee maker. Take two bites of the bagel, think better of the coffee, which somehow is twice as full as it should be anyway and looks watery and grey. Almost overflowing. I put the plate with the bagel in the sink and find it full of others, each hovering at an angle over the next. Doesn’t smell great either but I ignore it for the time being as I’m supposed to be at the café in a half-hour. We’re chatting again.

On the street it’s warm. The lawns are very green, the sun so bright sprinklers project full rainbows in what moments ago were just fiery arcs of static. Then they’re gone, signal lost, static again. And while the houses’ siding looks warped and soft, especially those dressed in raw cedar rather than tight-lipped aluminum, the concrete is very hard. My knees, still stiff with sleep, ache with each footfall. I pause and stretch and my back pops so loudly I wonder if I’ll collapse like a robe falling off its hook. The thought and heat and sound make things dim for a moment. But then I’m off again, everything again bright and swaying.

On the next street life rattles on, echoes in the stalls, in the shops and alleys. Everybody talks and laughs quickly, at the same time. They all understand without hearing. Or have memorized the bit. Or imagine it now, reply at random to whatever and whenever, past or present or around the bend. Pat each other untouchingly.

Pets sleep in the doorways. Children run and snarl amongst the wares but nobody minds. The mothers know their brood has more rights than we, while shop owners bank on this flimsy dogma, hence all the artfully balanced gewgaws out front. The breeze edges one piece into a better position. If the kid’s within a yard when it goes, it counts. I step around onto the street, as my funds are sort of low lately.

Up the block a dolled-up tranny with glossy legs and enormous tits marches past me and half throws a shoulder when we’re caught between two vendors and I don’t stop to let her past but just tuck in my arm. Apparently of two minds today, or several. I almost fall into a web of rickety dreamcatchers and peace pipes whose owner, a turquoise-laden white guy with his long grey hair in a thick Cherokee braid, attempts to reel me in the rest of the way with his eyes and a nudge from behind by either carrion-craving bastard Coyote or Raven. I catch myself instead on a cast-iron Kokopelli, which is thin but doesn’t bend. The shop owner checks. Disappointed, he scowls then bitches at me while I wipe my hand on the next stall’s shutter, what used to be a cigar shop run by a shrewd-looking man from India.

After this I decide I need a cup of coffee after all and dip into a shop. While perusing the menu I hear, “There you are,” and turn to find Marie sitting at a booth. “I already ordered you something.”

I sit down. She looks sad. I rest my hand on hers because she looks so down but she pulls it away and says don’t and the diamond chip nicks my palm. I shrug. My coffee arrives, which is very black and strong looking, like the tranny who accosted me for being unchivalrous. I take a big sip, burn my mouth, but it’s still good. Marie frowns. “No cream or sugar?” she says.

“Not a chance,” I reply, afraid of breaking its proud back, or turning it into the dirty bath water sitting in my pot back home. I hate it. A whiff of the dishes stinking in my sink finds me—a memory, a trace on my sleeve—watering my eyes.

“How are you?” she asks

“Slept late today.”

“You look tired.”

“Too much sleep always does me in, but you know that.”

“Not really. You never slept in. Barely slept at all sometimes.”

“Well, I do now, making up for back then, I guess.”

“Does that mean you’re off…?”

“Doesn’t mean anything! Can’t a guy just sleep in once in a while?" I lower my voice. "Maybe if I’d slept more we wouldn’t have argued so much, and now we wouldn’t be in this position, you know?”

A hipster on rollerblades stirs honey into his drink to the side of the barista. Blood runs down his arm into his cup.

“Do you see that?”

“Are you listening to me?”

“That guy’s bleeding all over the place.”



“It’s a tattoo.”

“What… no, it…. Well, it must be fresh. Looks like it’s stained the lip of his cup.”

“Christ, Martin,” she sighs, adjusting her bracelets and the chip on her left hand. “You know, Kevin called and said he hasn’t heard from you in weeks. Left you messages but you never called him back.”

“I called you back.”

“No you didn’t, you….”

“So you’re still talking to Kevin?”

“He was my friend, too.”

“Well, he’s a liar. And a sonofabitch who’s probably trying to double-cross me, now that you’re kinda on the market again. Always had an eye for you.”

What are you talking about, Martin? We’re talking about Kevin, right, your oldest friend? And even though he and Jeff were once close too, because of you he won’t talk to him anymore now. He only called me out of concern. And clearly I’m not on….”

“Yeah yeah yeah. I know, you’re right and see the good in every one, and I’m just being paranoid. Sorry….”

Marie rubs her brow. A moment later her lower lip starts to quiver. This upsets me because I know it’s just a ploy to get me to agree with her. If I’d agree with her everything would be fine. Not just now, but before. Forever. And sometimes I hate myself for not doing it. What does it matter what I believe? It’s all just something to say because silence is so unfashionable. I mean, her opinions and my opinions are all clearly of the same mode, more or less, will keep us in the good with our present camp. So why not take up her slant and leave mine on the curb where I found it in the first place?

I don’t know. I just get attached to things, I guess. Would rather lose something out of forgetfulness than have it taken from me. It’s a form of materialism, this stupid pride.

“Anyway,” I say for no reason, leaning back in my chair.

She raises her head. “Martin, maybe you should….”

The worst possible follow-up to the parading her correctness and quivering lips. Should. I cut her off by slapping the table. Then a few tears fall, as does my bright red coffee cup onto the floor. I’m sorry as hell to see it smash like that. I watch it do it several times. It never gets easier.

Someone puts their hand on my shoulder. I can’t tell who because I’m still watching the cup explode, which looks new, or at least well taken care of. Pristine. Maybe it’s the rollerblader, as something warm is on that shoulder other than the hand, onto my clavicle, oozes down my chest. It turns my stomach. Then some bad noise, a few jolts and flashes. Marie yelling people away, telling them to back the fuck off, growling sort of, then turning on me once outside the café.

“What the hell, Martin? Really!” It’s even brighter out now, and warmer. Then: “Oh, fucking Christ… Look what he did! Just spends his life waiting for damsels in distress, I bet, the asshole. Come here. Hey! Where are you going? Come back. Martin? Martin! Don’t be a jerk, okay? Please. Hey! I’m calling your parents. I’m not kidding. I am!”

I mean to walk back home and clean the dirty dishes I can’t get out of my mind or nose, but instead find myself at the lakefront. The beach is again closed with E.coli. Gut flora run rampant. So I don’t dip my face into the water, attempt to soothe its ache. I sit on a slab of rock instead and wish Marie had come along. She’s good with cuts and stuff like that. Used to let me rest my head in her lap, even when I wasn’t hurting, or away, and that’s probably why.

I watch the small waves break at the beach’s hem, curl back with their cache of infection. But they look too small and frail to carry any real danger. Still, I resist running up to them, letting them lap upon my feet and lower me by minute increments into the sand. Then I remember the cut on my palm and examine it, which now is all that burns. I lick it once, twice, but it doesn’t help. I raise up my hand and let the breeze blow on it with puckered lips. It only burns more, starts traveling up my arm. Starts to make me anxious, like I’m out of options, breath. My vision shrinks to a pinpoint. The beach trembles. Desperate, I reach out for the sea.