The Naming of Things

Good Times, Good Memories

Wandering the halls of a hotel in Veliky Novgorod, trying to find an ice machine. Never finding it. Breaking icicles off the cars in the parking lot and using them.

“Speak, Solipsist,” Said a Voice Not Hers

“There’s a blueberry festival.”

“I hate blueberries.”

“Who hates blueberries?”

“I hate blueberries.” Sloan handed the tablet back to her assistant. “You should know this.”

“So, you don’t go to the blueberry festival. It was just a suggestion.”

“I don’t want to go up at all.”

“They invited you,” said her assistant. “You said yes.”

“You said yes,” Sloan accused. “You said yes for me.”

“Your agent said yes. The studio said yes. Everyone who represents and controls you said yes.”

“Except for me.”

“Because you would have said no – and who else, who other than you would ever say no to this?”

“Me.”

“Yes. You and only you.”

“It doesn’t feel real.” Sloan Niedzwiecki crossed her arms. “Have you ever given a commencement address?” Just one spring prior, Sloan’s assistant had sat in Yankee Stadium to hear a former senator deliver a commencement address. “Of course not. It’s tedious. Platitude upon platitude. You’re there for the parents and the Board of Regents. They want the message of your speech to be that no one in no way wasted any money.” Sloan sighed. “There. There’s my speech – ‘None of you wasted money.’ I could just tweet that at them and they can put it on the screen and I never have to leave the house. ‘None of you wasted money #CongratsClassof2015.’ How many characters is that?”

“This will be great publicity for your next film.”

“Free publicity, you mean – and, hey, think about it, what better publicity could I stir up than having the first commencement address that could be retweeted in its entirety? Now there is a headline. Text Ellen. Tell her that’s what I’m going to do.”

“She’s not going to like that.”

“Ellen does not like anything. That is why she is a publicist.”

———

“Sloan? Sloan?”

“Hm?”

“There’s a blueberry festival.” Her husband was holding out a flyer he had printed off.

“I hate blueberries,” she told him.

“Since when?”

“I’ve always hated them.”

“Is it because you have to pick them yourself? We don’t have to do that.” Her husband pointed to all the other activities that were bundled together to justify calling it a festival. “There have tents of different pies and jams and stuff, and there’s music. It’ll be fun, and it’s not far from Collin’s. He tells me it’s a good time.”

“And why are we visiting Collin?”

“Don’t pull this shit. You said you wanted to go up and see him and Jackie.”

“I do. I’m just thinking. I can’t remember. Don’t yell at me. Is it his birthday or her birthday? An anniversary.”

“Ellen’s graduation party. She just graduated from Grand Valley.” Her husband pointed to the invitation that had been on the refrigerator door for two months. A recent photo of Ellen flanked by a baby photo and a middle school portrait. “Hello?”

“That’s right. Sorry. Do we have a gift?”

“I’ll write her a check.”

“She’s not going to want a check.”

“That’s all she’s going to want.”

———

“I cannot begin to express what an honor it is to meet you,” said President Jackie Frestal, shaking Sloan’s hand. The din of a collegiate cocktail party was behind her. The university’s president, as per decorum, had greeted her personally in the foyer of her campus residence. The president actually lived an hour away for security reasons. “I am so pleased that you could come up a day early. So many people cannot wait to meet you.”

Jackie led Sloan into the drawing room, where work-study caterers offered up appetizers and cocktails to deans in tweed and tenured lecturers in sweatpants. There was an explosion of fanfare as Sloan was introduced, followed by a rush of hands to shake and “pleased to meet you”s to smile at. Eventually, the excitement mellowed, Sloan found the bar, and she was able to tackle her fans one-on-one. Her assistant trailed behind slightly, drinking prudently, keeping an eye out for fanatics or – worse – boring people.

“I understand you have a new film coming out,” someone said.

“Need to stay busy,” said Sloan.

“So true.”

“Yes. Isn’t it?”

“Indeed.”

“Yes.” Sloan smiled. “Excuse me.”

———

Sloan locked the basement bathroom door behind her. She sniffed. Someone had already been drinking too hard and thought the basement would be discreet. She flushed the toilet without lifting the lid and sat on it. She hadn’t even seen Ellen yet. Not that she was in any rush to hand over a check for a hundred dollars for someone who had taken out four years of student loans to get a degree in sociology and a minor in French. Sloan had groceries to buy, an HBO package to keep, a kitchen that would need to be redone in the next two years if they wanted to move before she and her husband were 50. What was Ellen going to put that hundred toward – hostel reservations for a gap year?

———

Collin asked his brother how Sloan was doing.

“Fine. Still a little ….”

“Yeah,” said Collin because he had nothing better to say.

“She blew nearly two grand on her last little movie.”

“What was it called?”

The Money Pit.”

“Really?”

“No, but that’s what it should have been called. Hey. Listen. I love my wife, and I love her little hobbies, but goddamn – we have a kitchen that needs to be redone. We can’t be throwing away money left and right because she thinks she’s Alfred Hitchcock.”

“I’ve never actually seen any of her stuff.”

“No one has,” said her husband. “I haven’t, and I’ve looked. Looked on her computer. Looked in the closets. Under the bed. In the attic. Like a damn kid trying to find the stash of Christmas presents. Nothing.”

“Bizzarre.”

“Yeah. No kidding. And she tells me, she tells me that she’s always making these films. Seven features and three shorts, I think. Yeah. That’s what she’s up to – and I haven’t seen so much as a minute of footage. Not a script. Nothing. No movie to show for it, but the money … the money’s all gone.”

“Maybe she’s building up to her own little festival.”

“Maybe.”

———

Sloan raised her head from the edge of the sink and smiled at her reflection. “A film in which … in which ….” She stared deep into her eyes. “A film in which I am me. Just me. No actors. No script. Just me living life fully. No. No. I’ve already done that. No. A film in which I am the best version of myself. In which I have energy and passion and, most importantly, am surrounding by people who recognize my energy and my passion and me. People who recognize me surrounding me, and when we’re close we generate so much energy and so much passion that … that … that we become one person, and then that’s how we get people. No one is just themselves. I am six people who met in another plane, and Dennis is … Dennis is three people, and Ellen … sweet, beautiful Ellen is like twenty-five people. Yes. A film exploring how we are composites and then after we die … we meet other people in another plane and we become another person. We recycle ourselves, and we’re moving toward singularity. Yes. Yes.” She kissed the mirror. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Next month, I will be in Denver and San Francisco. Sleeping on friends’ couches but probably left to my own devices during the day. Anyone familiar with either area care to offer some insights, secrets, or recommendations?

aspergerhamburgerhamhamburglar, can you factcheck this?

A Teachable Moment

You pick up things when you have to interrogate a student. “Why did you do that?” “Why did you say that?” “What were you thinking?” “Can you tell me why you thought that was appropriate?” You learn more when you have a conversation with them, though. When they volunteer information, explanations. When they illustrate the hours they spend without you willingly, without your guidance or fill-in-the-blank forms.

Angela … Angie on the nametag she had drawn the first week of class, Scarecrow derisively, Toto affectionately, sweet Angela to me. I had given her parents the boiler-plate compliments for students like her. Smart. Brilliant. Energetic. Passionate. “She’s twelve,” I remember her father telling me. “Just tell us if you think there’s some late-stage autism or something.”

"No," I said. "She is very gifted."

"But normal-gifted, right? None of that Rainman gifted shit, right?"

"Sir. Please. Your daughter is remarkable."

Angela’s father was not happy until I told him that his daughter was normal. Her mother said nothing, not even a recognition that our conference had started or that it had ended.

For a week, Angela came back to class late after recess. She did not file in with the other students. It was easy not to notice because it was winter, and there was the ceremonial removing of snowpants and hats. By the time the last person had pulled unwrapped his or her scarf, Angela would saunter into the room and take her seat – not a melted snowflake in her hair, not a single red blemish on her cheeks.

The next week, another student, Clive, a tattle if I ever saw one, came up and told me, “Angie goes to the library on recess. That’s against the rules. She comes back late after recess. That’s against the rules.”

Clive was not wrong. He was just a shithead, and his whiny, tiny, pubescent voice made me want to ignore him, but other students heard, and they agreed that Angie had broken rules and had to be punished.

That day, I noticed that Angie was in latch-key, so I went in and asked if she wanted to come to my room and help me cut some things. She told me that her mother wouldn’t pick her up for an hour. No one would notice that she was gone. We went to my room, and I sat at a table with her, and we cut something that I didn’t need cut.

I asked Angie what she did at home. She told me that she read, and I was not surprised. You can guess a lot about the type of person a twelve year old will be when you give them ten minutes of free time after you’ve spent a half hour trying to teach them long division – and Angie always had a book ready.

She started crying. I must not have been paying attention as well as I thought because her face was very wet by the time I noticed. “What’s wrong?”

"You’re right," she whimpered.

"Right about what?"

"You said that books can’t be just escapism," she told me. That sounded like something I would have said – but never to a twelve year old and certainly never to Angela. Then again … I’m not perfect.

"I didn’t mean it like that," I said.

"But you’re not wrong."

"But that doesn’t make me right."

She looked at me. She looked confused. I was confused. I never should have become a goddamn teacher. Fuck my life choices.

The Toast … McSweeney’s … [someplace else] – they pay people to mock others’ writing, and I do it for free? Seriously need to rethink my approach.

mikeyj529 replied to your post:Film № 22

The progression of a work in progress. Ingenious. I nominate you for the Academy Award for Best Idea Never Been Done in a Film.

Film № 22

Our Editor Quit

A film that includes each take of each scene, as well as the between-takes-interactions among the director, actors, and camera operators.

Honestly, I just want to direct a movie in which Richard Jenkins has a role. “Just go out there … and, uh, act like a … like a dad.”

Groucho Mac Reviews: Six Feet Under (season 2)

What happened to all the dead people sitting on the counter, all nonchalant and shit? I can’t be invested in Rico’s quest to become a partner. Not after six seasons of Mad Men.

  • The Merkowski kitchen. Threefold. Stage left, center stage, stage right, refrigerators with their side facing the audience. When opened, the audience can see what is on the refrigerator doors. No lights. Only the light from inside the refrigerator, which lights up the characters' faces in profile.

  • Stillness but not silence. The hum of the refrigerators. The mouthwash-like slushing of unseen dishwashers.

  • Father, Mother, and Daughter are positioned in front of their respective refrigerators. I do not care what any of them look like – and neither should you. Just make sure the right actors get the roles.

  • When a character speaks, he or she opens the refrigerator door, and when they stop, he or she closes the door.

  • Daughter:

    Chinese ... Chinese ... Chinese. Paranoia playing in the living room. Racism on the car radio. A deadbolted doorwall. But the whole top shelf is Chinese ... Chinese ... Chinese.

  • Daughter removes a styrofoam container, leaky at its sides with bright red sauce. She appraises it critically from multiple angles.

  • Daughter:

    I return and everything sounds like gossip. At what age does that happen? I hope not soon.

  • Father:

    If I'm just going to shit it out, if she's just going to throw it out, if they're both just going to complain about it – why waste good money on it? 10 for 10, sales, deals, manager's specials, off-brand – why not?

  • Mother:

    Why can't we eat well? Sugar, fat, fat, processed – I want fresh. I want leaves and greens. I want to feel healthy.

  • Daughter:

    Pizza unfrozen. Pizza reheated.

  • Mother:

    Portion control. That's his problem. That's why he's unhealthy, unhappy. Growing up, they ate like animals. I saw it. You didn't eat fast, you didn't eat fiercely – then you did not eat. It's never been like that.

  • Father:

    My kids never went fucking hungry. I get attitude for it.

  • Daughter:

    The dining room. Dead space, empty space.

  • Father:

    They hate me for it. Fuck them.

  • Daughter:

    A dead zone. No man's land. Hunched over the counter or doing a balancing act on our knees. All under the TV.

  • Mother:

    Castle's on tonight. We need a vegetable.

  • Daughter:

    Rape and murder, serial killers and the like, leering over my knees, my dinner, my evenings.

  • Father:

    Who gives a fuck if the hamburger comes out of a tube?

  • Mother:

    Is this spinach still any good?

  • Father:

    She went to the grocery store yesterday and tells me we don't have anything to eat?

  • Daughter:

    Sloppy Joes again?

  • Father:

    Fuck you.

  • Mother:

    He cooks in pounds, eats in pounds. Meat in tubes, ingredients in boxes. How can we be healthy?

  • Daughter:

    What is health? I try to feel the answer.

  • Mother:

    Eat. Sleep. Repeat. His habit, my habit. A lifestyle now.

  • Daughter:

    Why do I even come home?

  • Father:

    Steak every night no longer stays steak. Cadillacs ... steaks ... they're not nouns. They're adjectives.

  • Mother:

    I don't want to eat like this anymore.

  • Daughter:

    I don't want to feel like this anymore.

  • Father:

    I miss the old Chinese place. You don't get enough at this new place.

"I must recuse myself," said Barbara, rising from the arts and craft table. "I have a conflict of Pinterest."