Monthly Archives: December 2010

> Language > Place blog carnival

The ever-prescient Nicolette Wong has included a blog post of mine, “Democracy for $11.75, or, Serendipity”, in the > Language > Place blog carnival that she’s hosting.  This has always been a favorite post of mine.  I think I would have made a story out of it had I not blogged about it.   Scroll down a ways to find me over at Nicole’s, and then come right back here.

Anyway, Nicole is in Hong Kong and is a fine writer in her own right.  Check some of her pieces out.  And don’t neglect to have a look at the 23 other blog posts from just about everywhere.   Thanks!

Rolling towards the police

British police pull a young man with cerebral palsy from his wheelchair and drag him across the street during protests in London.  The BBC announcer asks the young man, were you “rolling towards the police”?

Yes, clearly when the police pull a handicapped person from his wheelchair, a person who cannot physically move the wheelchair under his own power, it’s the handicapped person’s fault.

Rolling Towards The Police.  Sounds like a meme in the making to me.

Good ole England.  See for yourself.

And what would the bobbies do when confronted by protestors not in wheelchairs, operating under their own power?  Oh, that’s right.  Charge them with horses:

Three old friends

The other night I re-read three old friends.

The gentleman.

The first was Nagai Kafu’s “The Peony Garden.”  I re-read this story every few months.  I read it the first time in 1999 or 2000, if memory serves.  I think it is probably my favorite short story of all time.  If I could write a short story this good, I would be satisfied.

It is pitch-perfect in every respect.  Simple and elegant, yet a portentous aesthetic achievement.

I once had a goal of doing a new translation of this story from the Japanese.  But then what with all my and then my family’s nomadism these last years, my copy of the Japanese volume got lost somewhere.  Also, my Japanese has slowly ossified and I don’t know that I’d be up to the task any longer, not without lots and lots of help from a dictionary, which no doubt would render the translation not an improvement over the one we’ve got.

Anyway, even in current translation, as fine a short story as exists in my known universe.  I re-read it every few months just to see where I’m trying to get, one way or another.

Speaking of nomadism, moving into our own house has finally allowed me to free a few shelves of books from dusty boxes in the basement out at the farm in Nebraska.  Among them was Best American Short Stories 2001, which I bought somewhere along the line.  Read all the stories faithfully that year, I’m sure, then promptly forgot them all.  Except for “Labors of the Heart,” by Claire Davis.

The lady.

The utterly unsentimental tale of a very fat man in love with a very thin and bitter woman stuck with me for years, even after I’d forgotten the title of the story and its author.  Last night some googling around revealed that I had the story back in my possession.  So I sat down and re-read it, for the first time in, what, 9 years.

I’ll admit, I was inwardly cringing a little, afraid that the story would not measure up to my memories of it.  Not to worry.  If anything, I appreciated it all the more for the years of writing and living since the last time I read.  A story packed to the gills with wisdom, packaged as a wonderfully orchestrated sentences.

I think I’ll be re-reading this one every few months from here on out, too.

The rock star.

Lastly, Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, which, like Brad Watson’s “Visitation,” managed to get into the New Yorker despite not being composed of sleeping pills masquerading as sentences.  It’s the only one of these three available online; read it here.  I did, again, last night.

Like “Labors of the Heart,” it’s been some years since I’d read this piece.  I must have read it in Best American Short Stories 2004, possibly while I was first in Thailand, or maybe one time when I was back for Xmas or something.  I can’t remember.  Anyway, it was another of those stories that stuck with me through the years, the image of the homeless Indian heroically wandering the streets of Seattle trying to get back his mother’s pow-wow regalia.

Quirky and fantastic, not a word out of place.

Old friends.

Maybe the best way to support the troops is to have less of them

It appears that the US is set to start raising mercenaries:

The Pentagon’s manpower chief says a measure to legalize young immigrants who came to the county illegally is an obvious way to attract more high-quality recruits to the armed forces.

Clifford Stanley, the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, says it would be unconscionable not to enact the so-called Dream Act. It would give hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16 a chance to gain legal status if they joined the military or attended college.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that we can’t get enough high-quality recruits

Clearly what we need is more of these guys around.

into the armed forces, it’s that we need so many of them in the first place.  No one seems to consider this.

How many bridges, college degrees and medical care would, say, half of this year’s $600 billion that is siphoned to the Pentagon buy in the US?

Now, in general, it seems to me that government expenditures are not “wasted”; someone uses it, somewhere.  It’s mostly Americans building the armaments and transporting the troops to their training grounds and manning the KFCs in the base towns, so to a large extent, that money isn’t disappearing, it’s cycling right back into the economy.

But billions do disappear, one way or the other.

It seems to me that any reasonable person who wants to talk about cutting the cost of government has to put the Pentagon on the chopping block with everything else, too.

It is strange to me that patriotism in this country has come to be strongly identified with “supporting the troops.”  Strange that we feel it so necessary to constantly state that our freedoms are upheld by loaded weapons and the men  carrying them.  Strange that it is so little thought of that perhaps the best way to support the troops is to have less of them.

Consequences & apocalypse

1) A friend’s dad is a prof out on the Left Coast.  Let’s call him Mr. M.  A while back, a student came to Mr. M at the end of the semester distraught. She was all set to get into law school, but she had failed to meet the requirements of Mr. M’s class, and failed.

She couldn’t graduate and couldn’t go to law school in the fall.  Her whole future was falling apart before her eyes.  Couldn’t Mr. M see his way to having a heart, maybe changing her grade so she could get on with her life?

“No,” said Mr. M.

Actions (or the lack thereof) have consequences.  It’s a lesson more valuable than any she learned (or failed to learn) in his classroom.

Recently a student came to my office distraught.  She had failed to meet the requirements of my class, and so had failed.  Wasn’t there some I could see my to … you get the idea.

Now, I know something of this student’s personal situation.  It’s a difficult one.  I felt sorry for her.  I wavered.  Then I remembered Mr. M.

“So?” said the student.  “Do you think we can work something out?”

“Yes,” I said.  “You can re-take the course and not get an F this time.”

Actions (or the lack thereof) have consequences.

2) Sign of the apocalypse #45289: My wife eats Rice-a-Roni.

I don't believe there's a single "wild" ingredient in this box.

As long-time readers know, my wife is Thai.  She grew up on a steady diet of fragrant delectable Thai jasmine rice.  Watching this heir to perhaps the world’s finest rice-growing tradition attack a plate of the artificially flavored, colored, and processed San Francisco treat sends little shivers down my spine.

Then, being hungry, I dig in, too.

New short story, “The Haymaker’s,” up at decomP

I have a new short story, “The Haymaker’s,” up in the December edition of decomP.  Here’s how it begins:

Halfway to town a careening car rushes past with music blaring and a hurled empty beer bottle strikes Bunk in the hindquarters. Bunk sidesteps and rears and throws Herb into the borrow pit. As Delia tries to calm Bunk who tosses his head hard at the reins Herb gets up without brushing himself off and runs into the middle of the road making an obscene gesture at the car as it is swallowed by the rise.

Also included is an audio recording of the story I made.  Never done one of those before.  (*Gulp*)

Please hop on over to decomP and have a look and / or listen.  Thanks to Jason Jordan, Editor-in-Chief, for making it look pretty.

Don’t neglect to read the other stories in there, too.  That’s where I’m headed right now.