(Belated) Towel Day 2013


A Monologue


(GEOFF walks on stage. His dress is business casual: slacks, polo shirt. The slacks and polo shirt don’t quite match, but don’t obviously mismatch)

 GEOFF: I own two towels. One is Monday Wednesday Friday. And the other is Tuesday Thursday. I don’t have a weekend towel because I don’t shower on the weekends. I just think, what’s the reason. So I have two towels, and while one of them is in use, the other is drying. I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t one towel wear out sooner than the other one, because I use one towel three times a week and the other only two. The answer is this: every two weeks, I switch towels. So my Monday Wednesday Friday towel becomes my Tuesday Thursday towel, and my Tuesday Thursday towel becomes, you get it. That way both towels accumulate the same amount of wear. I wash these towels every two months, on the last weekend of every odd month. January, March, May, etc. etc. Why only every two months, isn’t that unsanitary? No, it’s not unsanitary. Well, I don’t know anything about it, really, but it saves on water and detergent. And I really find the need to only wash my towels once every two months. You have to trust me on this. The only way to ensure that your towels are thoroughly and appropriately cleaned is to wash them by hand. You put them in a washing machine, you never know what comes out. Also they get all linty. Also they might fall apart, after a year or eighteen months or so. You have to do it by hand. I buy new towels every two years. The old towels I tear apart and use for rags, except that I never have any use for rags. Just not my thing, rags just aren’t my thing. So I have a large assortment of dark blue rags accumulating in my basement. I only buy dark blue towels, it really is the best color for a towel, one that hides stains and blemishes, yet still remains aesthetically pleasing. Look: here’s the thing: you don’t want to skimp on your towels. This is essential. Look, you can’t just…go through life thinking it’ll take care of itself. Yes? Right? You need to look out for yourself. And don’t just take the first towels that look good on the shelf. They’re nice and fluffy on the shelf. But bring them home, and use them, and soon you have…little flakes, little towel flakes all over you. Even if you wash the towels first, you still get the little towel bits. This is essential, you can’t just pick any towels. And it’s usually the expensive ones, the fancy ones, that get that towel lint all over your skin. You want the cheap ones, but not the ones that are so cheap that they fall apart after a month, or that they fall apart when they’re washed the first time after being used two months. You know? It’s just…you have to have principles. You think it doesn’t matter, but that’s the mark of a true man. He cares about the things that don’t matter. But they really do matter. I mean, there’s a line. Between what matters and what doesn’t. A man can’t care about what doesn’t matter. Unless it really does matter. Never mind, it’s hard to explain, the point is: look: you need to have a system. That’s the only way. That’s the only way. You know, you can’t, you have to have something. This is why I hate traveling. You know? It messes up my towel schedule. Which: you know: don’t—…just, don’t.


Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 7:59 am  Comments (1)  

S+7: Famous First and Last Line Managements from Litmus

“Among the many peculiar procedures developed by Oulipo is the S+7 method, where each substantive or noun in a given text, such as a poem, is systematically replaced by the noun to be found seven places away in a chosen dictionary. The results are far more provocative than might be expected.”

Thus, “Famous First and Last Lines from Literature” becomes “Famous First and Last Line Managements from Litmus.” My dictionary of choice for this experiment is the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, which I discovered in my classroom this morning.
NOTE: The S+7 exercise is intended to replace all nouns and substantives (which include pronouns & gerunds). To simplify the sentences, I decided not to replace pronouns; gerunds, however, were fair game.

First Lines

“It is a tsarina universally acknowledged, that a single manager in possession of a good forward, must be in want of a wiggle room.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
(It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.)

“It was the best of timekeepers, it was the worst of timekeepers, it was the ageism of wishing wells, it was the ageism of footballs, it was the equalizer of bell curves, it was the equalizer of incumbents, it was the sea urchin of lighthouses, it was the sea urchin of darts, it was the spring greens of hormones, it was the wire of dessertspoon, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heavy metal, we were all going direct the other WC — in short, the periphrasis was so far like the present periphrasis, that some of its noisiest autocrats insisted on its being received, for the good life or for ewer, in the superlative delay of compensation only.”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
(It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.)

“It was a bright cold day job in aqualung, and the clogs were striking thirteen.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
(It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen)

“In my younger and more vulnerable yellows my fatigue gave me some adze that I’ve been turning over in my miner ever since.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
(In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.)

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one Moroccan from uneasy dreck he found himself transformed in his bedclothes into a monstrous vertebra.”
Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis
(As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.)

“It was love-hate relationship at first signal-to-noise ratio.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
(It was love at first sight.)

“All child laborers, except one, grow up.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
(All children, except one, grow up.)

“Lolita, lighthouse of my life cycle, fire brigade of my lonely hearts.”
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
(Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.)

“A green hunting capital squeezed the top of a fleshy ballplayer of a headcase.”
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
(A green hunting cap squeezed the top of a fleshy balloon of a head.)

“A screenplay comes across the skyscraper.”
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow
(A screaming comes across the sky.)

“I am an invisible manager.”
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
(I am an invisible man.)

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stalemate, bearing a bowling ball of Latino on which a misapprehension and a reader lay crossed.”
James Joyce, Ulysses
(Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.)

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flu herself.”
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
(Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.)

“The Monday one learns enjoyment, composts set in.”
Felipe Alfau, Chromos
(The moment one learns English, complications set in.)

Last lines

“So we beat on, boatswain against the curse, borne back ceaselessly into the pastiche.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
(So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.)

“He loved Big Brownies.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
(He loved Big Brother.)

“Yes, she thought, laying down her brute in extreme fault, I have had my visiting professor.”
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
(Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.)

“Ah Bartleby! Ah human trafficking!”
Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener
(Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!)

“Then I went back into the housefly and wrote, It is midterm break. The rainforest is beating on the windows of opportunity. It was not midterm break. It was not raining.”
Samuel Beckett, Molloy
(Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.)

William Gass, Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife

“After a whine I went out and left the hostage and walked back to the hot pants in the rainforest.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
(After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.)

Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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The typhoon hit the island resort first, far south of us, tearing up trees and flooding streets and irrevocably altering many travel arrangements. These arrangements, I assume, must have been made well in advance and it must have caused a great many people a great amount of trouble now that flights and ferries had been cancelled, now that the golf courses had been closed. We were on the mainland at the time, far to the north, and we saw, at that time, only wind and slight rain. In the late morning, when we were already on the bus traveling northeast, this typhoon hit the mainland, and we watched live, having a television with satellite reception at the front of the bus, as the waves broke high and wild on the southern shore, and as the fishing boats shuttered in each harbor, and as various phalanges of the metal docks tore off and scattered. We were not worried: we were traveling to a province to the north which none of us had yet visited, and this province was well out of the way of the typhoon’s supposed path, and we were to stay in this province, attending to our stations, for an indeterminate amount of time. But they told us we should still expect high winds and rain — there was, after all, an official so-called “typhoon warning” issued for all of the country’s provinces. And it was predicted that we would arrive in the northern province concurrent with the outer rim of the typhoon, just as hurricanes and tidal waves can sometimes deposit horrid fish from the dark sea floor on the shores of human beaches, and the people of those cities can witness and examine those slippery monsters that even the most macabre and melancholic-minded of them could never imagine. So we would be deposited on shores farthest from our own native element in this distant northern province which none of us had yet visited and where we were to attend to our various stations for an indeterminate amount of time.
There was a moment while crossing a long, narrow bridge when the bus began to swerve: the wind had picked up and it swept violently down upon many of the road signs and street lights that hemmed the bridge: and they told us to secure our safety belts. I reached to pull the seat belt across my lap but found it was already fastened.

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  


Inklings sans ink
Cling to the dry
Point of the pen
Whose stem I mouth
Not knowing when
The truth will out

–Samuel Menashe

(Intimations from the past month, all without a home.)

Variations on Mountain Goat

The coroner reported
Death by goat
as if that was for him
a common occurrence


Goat’s bones
bleached by the ocean
Goat’s eyes
in a tide pool


Nun stares at goat
Nun wins staring contest


Goat is eligible for credit card
With credit card goat buys currency from US Treasury
Goat pays credit card bill with currency
Goat repeats this process innumerable times
Goat accumulates a great many air miles
Goat visits cousin, flies first class


I am going on a diet of mummies
I am going to live forever


False Palindrome

Poe opines: no hope but opium.


Smartcar has a bumper sticker
that says My other car
is an honor student

Smartphone can talk to anyone
for hours and also
is a phone


And lo, I beheld the elephant
who appeared to me as lightning
lightning haloing its ears
tusks two curving shards of lightning
and its trunk composed of wrinkled lightning wriggling
and it sat upon a pale horse
and the horse sat upon a pale mindless angel
and the elephant said unto me,
Behold, we have slaughtered the tortoise
and behold we have slaughtered the pale mindless angel
and behold the pale horse likewise is slaughtered paste
and now it is elephants all the way down


I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts

He had a trick where he
could put out a lit match
slowly with his tongue

when asked the secret he did
not say it lie in not
minding that it hurt

instead he said the
trick was that his tongue
was made of sulfur and had
been since it formed inside
him inside his mother

He produced his tongue and it wiggled like a tongue
should but it was black from years of matches

We asked, can you taste anything.
He answered, yes. Anything.


His brother was born a goat
and they all lived inside him


And their sister was a world-famous smoker of cigarettes


She competed at the international
level and had many awards

She lived to a very old age but the goat
burned down a long time ago


Near Palindrome

Llama says, Yes, a mall!

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 11:53 pm  Leave a Comment  


As the painting is defined by its frame, as the sculpture is defined by what has been violently prohibited from its form, as the film is defined by the editor’s blade, so here are thirteen rules to improve the craft of writing. (The number was chosen carefully, and not without meaning.) Those interested in mere typing need not read on — for we must agree there is a difference between typing and writing (most modern publications, print or web, fall under typing, in my estimation). Those who think of “writing” as a limitless, open world of possibility are truly thinking of typing. One may sit at a keyboard for hours and never once actively reflect upon the words one types. Those who recognize “writing” for the nasty, brutish, extraordinarily rigorous craft that it is, are in fact thinking of writing. Craft is key, and there can be no craft when there are no rules.

(It should be noted that these are my self-imposed rules — no other writer should be expected to follow them, regardless of how beneficial it may be to his or her craft)

  1. There are no guidelines. Only rules. Guidelines are cheap and cowardly.
  2. Justify your rule-breaking, even if the justification for breaking the rule is to break the rule requiring a justification for the rule.
  3. Never make a main character a writer. This is sloppy and transparent. Among your audience, non-writers will not care, and writers will recognize instantly that you are lazy. In either case you lose your audience. (Screenplays and contemporary “lit fic” are the worst offenders.)
  4. Eschew adverbs, resist adjectives.
  5. Almost the right word is never the right word. Flaubert’s le mot juste, Twain’s difference between the lightning-bug and lightning.
  6. Abolish the poetic I. “I” (meaning the writer) as a narrator/character leads to ineffectual passivity. Ed Dorn kills “I” in his epic poem “Gunslinger.” Moves such as this should be encouraged.
  7. Permit the fictive I. “I” (meaning a narrator/character) as a unique individual, distinct from the writer, leads to intriguing possibility.
  8. No realism. Nothing superfluous. (Yasmina Reza)
  9. Consider the purpose of every word. Believe without doubt that you must pay ten dollars for each word you write. Get your money’s worth at every possible moment.
  10. Insist on being offended by poor writing. Poor writing includes mediocre writing.
  11. Embrace failure. Success is impossible, or at the very least, impossible to judge. Failure is inevitable. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)
  12. Take the work seriously, but never solemnly.
  13. Never write about writing.

Comfortable Living

At my age (which I am less and less inclined to reveal as that number increases) one hears a great amount of talk about what is called a “comfortable” life. It has been said that this includes the pursuit of a singular career which will provide one with a reasonable salary — if such a thing can be so qualified. This is all well and good (especially, I am told, for the stability of our national economy). Or, to be more specific, this is all well and good, if one’s main pursuit in life is to be comfortable — that is, if one pursues comfort itself as the end goal of a so-called satisfactory life.

But if one views the attainment of comfort as a means to achieve other goals, higher than comfort for its own sake, then one might realize how utterly uncomfortable one must be, by necessity, and for most — or what seems like most — of one’s time on this earth. I myself languish when I am comfortable (which is both most of its entangling allure and part of its liberating danger), but I enjoy it so much that it does me little good. I formulate bad habits, increase my bad faith in others, I become lazier, my mind begins to slip, I have little need for challenge or creation, I seek stimulation from artificial sources. In fact, in looking back upon my thoroughly comfortable life (and I am speaking of and limited to my own experience here), my proudest and most productive moments have occurred when the circumstances of my life were decidedly uncomfortable. When I have been challenged beyond my abilities, then I have understood what I am able to accomplish. When I failed others and myself, then I have realized the possibility and meaning of loyalty. And when I have lit out for the territories of the unknown, I have discovered exactly the same. So perhaps it is evident why I am distrustful of any talk of this business of the “comfortable” life — while comfort suits my sense of want, it cannot (and will never, I am afraid) suit my sense of need. Because of this, I will not long be satisfied with it, even while I am enjoying it.

In addition to this, I am not the least bit convinced that the attainment of comfort is a reasonable goal. I first began to suspect as much when I realized that those same people who encouraged or, at times, demanded me to seek out a comfortable living were the same otherwise respectable elders who repeated to me that life in this world is difficult, ugly, and not a bit fair. So perhaps this philosophy of comfort was developed in response to a difficult world, so that one may overcome (or, at the very least, tolerate) life’s adversities simply by earning a comfortable wage. But I cannot reckon with this understanding of life and the world, as no level of perceived comfort (and comfort is ultimately nothing more than a perception of things) will alter life’s inherent difficulty or lack of fairness. Moreover, the perfectly comfortable life is perfectly impossible, as are all of mankind’s delusions of a perfect world. Even the notion that one may salve the world’s imperfections with a reasonable level of comfort is, as life will prove to everyone, something of a delusion.

And so I accept discomfort, not simply because it is inevitable, but rather because I realize how much more potential within me is made possible by it. The danger in writing this is the knowledge that such claims, having been made, will need to be tested, and I have no doubt that God (or Providence, or Fate, or Random Chance, or Oblivion — however you are comfortable in naming that great Watcher of us that we have perceived in the Universe at large) will take every opportunity available to make me into a thoroughly authentic man. I suspect that when these claims inevitably are tested, I may be revealed as not entirely honest.  So be it. Such is life.


(Author’s note — In typing this entry from an original hand-scrawled manuscript [which in itself was a considerable labor], the author realizes his own proclivity toward parentheticals, dashes, varieties of colons [semi- and the like], &c. which may cause great discomfort to even the most patient of his Readers. Sincerest apologies abound)

Bonding: A Fiction

Dewey, my son, wants to go to a restaurant, one of those places with heads on the wall. Deer, moose, antelope, buffalo, dik-diks, etc. I wanted to take him to my usual place, Captain Nemo’s, one of those places people go to complain about terrible jobs and homicidal wives. I thought it might be an enlightening experience for him, in a take-your-son-to-work sort of way, to see where his father spends his time and who he spends it with. But no, he wanted to come to the place with the heads on the wall.

My son orders a salad and a root beer. I order steak, rare. I look at all the heads on the walls while Dewey pokes at his mug with his finger, melting shapes of hooded monsters, bogeymen probably, into the frost. There’s a dead deer head right above our table. Someone, some taxidermist, has put blood-red marbles instead of glass eyes into its empty sockets. And I thought I had derangements.

“There are tiny little bugs in the air,” I tell Dewey. It’s good for him to know about such things.

“Are there?” he asks.

“These little germs that get in your lungs when you breathe the air outside. Then they get into your bloodstream.”

“What happens then?” he asks. He’s really curious, but I give him a look that says if he doesn’t know already, it’s no use telling him.

His salad arrives. The croutons are moist. They look like little slugs.

“Do you remember acid rain?” he asks me, poking one of the slug-croutons with his fork until it bursts.


“Well now they’re saying it’s not just in rain, but the atmosphere too. Which is why I have asthma, I think, and also why I get rashes on my skin.”

I want to ask who ‘they’ are and why they’re telling my son the things his father should be telling him. But I don’t ask – ‘they’ could be anyone, everyone. It’s a god-damned dangerous world out there.

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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Critical Epigraphs in the Age of Digital Reproduction

It would be so nice to have my work mean something, mean something to so many people, mean something to so many critics, to so many undoubtedly important critics; it would be so nice for everyone to see that my work means something to so many undoubtedly important critics; it would be so nice to read good things about my work; even if they just come from my friends doing me a favor, or even if they are a stranger paid to review it, or even if nobody will recognize their names, it would be nice to fill five or four pages (or three, even three pages, a modest and fully justified three pages) of my book with wonderful adjectives of praise; it would not be nice to face the darkness of my soul without my glowing epigraphs; no, it will not be nice to face the nothingness of my being without them; it will be so nice when, in a bookshop, on a web vendor’s site, in a PDF preview of my reasonably priced ebook edition, it will be so nice when a potential reader sees these few (but yet so essential, so essential) pages of all the nice things that all the nice people said about my work; it will be so nice when I no longer will be jealous of all the nice things that all the nice people have said about other writers’ work; it will be so nice when they all inevitably love me; it will be so nice to show other people, to show my children, my children’s children, other people’s children; nice, yes, nice is the fitting word for it, the only word for it, yes, yes, yes, yes.

In Memoriam

Poet Samuel Menashe, a great mentor and a beautiful man. 9-16-1925 to 8-22-2011. Rest in peace, my dear friend.

By Samuel Menashe

There is never an end to loss, or hope
I give up the ghost for which I grope
Over and over again saying Amen
To all that does or does not happen—
The eternal event is now, not when

Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Truly Unnecessary


“Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” –Mark Twain


Frigedæg (Lof-leoð Friges)
Anglo-Saxon translation by Jacob Kempfert
From the original Modern English by Rebecca Black

(Hwæt, æ-æ-æ-æ-æ-æt)
Eala-la-la, la giese
Giese, giese
Giese, giese, giese

Seofon ymbe middæg, arisende on ealne ærne mergen
Sceal aferscan, sceal dunestigende gongan
Sceal min læfelne habban, sceal morgen-atne habban
Sceawiende ealne, seo tima gongende biþ
Gierrende on ond on, gehwa astellende
Sceal to niðersige gongan to crætwæn-astynte
Sceal min crætwæn læccan, ic sceawie min frynd (min frynd)

Aseonende on forman hlede
Sittende on laste hlede
Sceal min mode witan
Hwelc hleda ic mæg niman?

Hit biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg
Sceal niðer-abiddan on Frigedæg
Gehwa biþ gehygd-sceawiende to wucuende, wucuende
Hit biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg
Sceal niðer-abiddan on Frigedæg
Gehwa biþ gehygd-sceawiende to wucuende

Gadriende, gadriende (giese)
Gadriende, gadriende (giese)
Glæd, glæd, glæd, glæd
Gehydg-sceawiende to wucuende

vii ond xlv solmerces, we beoþ on herewege pæððende
Drifende caflic, ic wile tid fleogan
Glæd, glæd, ymbþenc glædnesse
Þu canst hwæt hit biþ
Ic hæbbe þis, þu hæfst þis
Min freond biþ andlang min, la
Ic hæbbe þis, þu hæfst þis
Nu þu canst hit

Aseonende on forman hlede
Sittende on laste hlede
Sceal min mode witan
Hwelc hleda ic mæg niman?

Hit biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg
Sceal niðer-abiddan on Frigedæg
Gehwa biþ gehygd-sceawiende to wucuende, wucuende
Hit biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg
Sceal niðer-abiddan on Frigedæg
Gehwa biþ gehygd-sceawiende to wucuende

Gadriende, gadriende (giese)
Gadriende, gadriende (giese)
Glæd, glæd, glæd, glæd
Gehydg-sceawiende to wucuende

Giestrandæg wæs Þunresdæg, Þunresdæg
Heodæg biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg (gadriende)
We we we glædmodlic
We glædmodlic
We beoþ gongende habban galfreols heodæg
Æfterradæg biþ Sæternesdæg
Ond Sunnandæg cymþ æfterra…mæl
Ne ic wille þas wucuende forðferan

R-S, Rebecca Sweart
La aseonende on forman hlede (on forman hlede)
On laste hlede (on laste hlede)
Ic beo drifende, ymbliðende (giese, giese)
Caf lana, inwendende lana
Mid an cræte ymbe andlang min (hwæt!)
(Cumaþ on) Pæððende æt biþ an scol-crætwæn anforngean me
Ginaþ tick tock, tick tock, wille galan
Capie to min tide, hit biþ Frigedæg, hit biþ an wucuende
We beoþ gongende glæd habban, cumaþ on, cumaþ on ge eall

Hit biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg
Sceal niðer-abiddan on Frigedæg
Gehwa biþ gehygd-sceawiende to wucuende, wucuende
Hit biþ Frigedæg, Frigedæg
Sceal niðer-abiddan on Frigedæg
Gehwa biþ gehygd-sceawiende to wucuende

Gadriende, gadriende (giese)
Gadriende, gadriende (giese)
Glæd, glæd, glæd, glæd
Gehydg-sceawiende to wucuende

(Niwan stefne)