Sunday, October 31, 2010

Steve Strong: A Tale of Two Attitudes

My oldest son was 13 years old when he told me in no uncertain terms that he would have nothing to do with picking grapes in a vineyard. That was the beginning of the problems between him and me.

I explained to him that this vineyard was an organized Welfare Farm. That the recipients of the raisins will be poor people, some of them desperately hungry, and that this is the least we can do when we’ve been so blessed to live a life of plenty. I was shocked to hear him say that he didn’t care for anyone but himself, and that he’d run away before he made a trip to the vineyard to work in the dust and heat of the San Joaquin valley for poor people he didn’t know.

True to his word, he did run away. He ran out of my reach. He ran down the street. He ran for a mile. And then he walked back to his mom’s house. His mom had no such requirements for a young man to serve other people. His mom would let him sit in his room and relax, while others stepped up and did the work he would have done if he had gone with us.

As it was, my second son (who was seven) witnessed the tension between his brother and me, and quickly volunteered to go with me to the vineyard. Although he was a bit young to be doing that kind of work, we went together. I put a grape harvesting knife in his right hand, a glove on his left hand, and together we went to work, toiling away for the benefit of people we will never meet.

It’s been eight years, and a lot of rough road since that landmark day. I can see the scenes of our lives pass by since then – so many days of heartache, of struggle, of a few precious wins, and many deflating loses. My eldest son’s life has few highlights anymore. He’s 21 years old. A high school dropout. Unemployed. No intention of ever applying for a job. A drug addict.

My younger son is now 15 years old. He is a typical teenager in most respects, and of course, he tries my patience at times. But he is a young man who has never missed an opportunity to work with me at the vineyard on that one day a year we harvest grapes. He gets up with me at 5:00 on a Saturday morning so we can be in the vineyard by 6:00. When we finish our assigned rows, he’s right at my side as we help others who are short-handed. And when we finish, he and I can look each other in the eye and feel like we accomplished something. And we did it together, like a team.

What is it that makes individuals like my sons so different? Is it genetic? Is it the way they were raised? Can it be as simple as the difference in their spirits – that soul that entered their bodies as babies?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I feel like it has little to do with work ethic, or respect for parents and their rules. I think the attitude is all about selfishness.

As I get older I see selfishness as the root of so many problems in our families and our society in general. Youth are constantly being told to “be yourself” or “do what makes you happy.” In the 1970’s, when I was a teenager, people used to say, “Do your own thing.”

But that’s certainly not the attitude that made this country great, or enabled us to live an economic life that is so much more comfortable than most other countries. When my father was young, no one cared if he liked his vocation or not. He just went out and worked – and did his best to provide for his family. If he did blue-collar work, or if he worked in an office, it made no difference. It was all about working hard and providing for your loved ones. How did we fall so far from that ethic in just two generations?

To combat the disease of selfishness today, our church manufactures opportunities for youth to be in the service of their fellow man. Teenagers are expected to do service projects on a small scale every month, and once or twice a year they will do a full day of major service for the community (like tree planting, graffiti removal or something like that). And then, twice a year they go to the raisin vineyard to prune vines or to harvest grapes.

With this service training as a background, by the time LDS youth are young adults they have learned to respond quickly when others are in need. Young women can step up to offer childcare to those in a pinch or can quickly whip up a casserole for a neighbor in a time of crisis.

Young men are called on once a month or so to help someone move. By the time an LDS man is 40 years old, he may have helped 50 families move. If he owns his own pickup truck, the number may be closer to 100.

Some families will be totally prepared, with boxes packed, carpets cleaned and the kids sent to grandma’s to be out of the way. But most families will not be pre-packed. Sometimes I’ve had to do dishes before I could pack them. Sometimes I’ve had to do laundry before I could fold and pack some stranger’s items. And yes, I’ve picked up couches and found moldy food underneath.

But I tell my younger son the same thing my mom told me, “Hands are washable.” That was code for: Quit being a baby. Get back to work.

I’m thankful my mother taught me to be a good worker. And I pray both my sons will put their own wants aside, and learn to serve other people.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Josh Grimmer: Something You Don't Do to Somebody You Love b/w State of the Union for October 30, 2010

Our first date was Halloween. It was the culmination of years and years of devotion – sometimes implicit, more recently explicit. Time spent talking on instant messenger, then on the phone – for hours, every night, despite the fact that I had to wait up until midnight so her unlimited cell phone minutes would kick in, seeing as she was an entire country away. There was a lot of buildup for this one date.

We had started talking online probably three or so years earlier, having met on a message board for a now-defunct comedy website, like so many couples do. She said something mean to somebody I hated on the Internet, so naturally I fell in love. That's how guys work, by the way – especially guys on the Internet. We fall in love very quickly, and for any reason we want to. “She made a joke about David Byrne. She and I must be soulmates. Better latch on FOREVER.” So I latched on.


A few weeks before Halloween, I got invited to a party. Now, I hate Halloween and I hate parties and I hate costumes and I hate everything and ugh Jesus I'm a wretch. I told her about the party, and how I wasn't going because I didn't have a date. That was a lie. I wasn't going because, y'know, fuck that noise, right? Being social? Having fun? No thank you.

“What if I were your date?”
“Yeah, right. You fly out to Massachusetts and I'll go to this party.”
“Done. I have that weekend off. See you then.”

Shit. Well, now I have to go this horrible party full of jerks. (NB: I really don't actually hate everybody who was at this party, just everybody in general. You understand.) On top of that horror, I had the unenviable task of meeting my, I suppose, girlfriend. Meeting somebody from the Internet is a scary thing. I've done it a handful of times now, and it never gets easier. Meeting someone you've only spoken to a few times is nerve-wracking, but there's something much worse about spending years and years getting to know somebody – falling in love with somebody (because, let's be clear, I was completely in love with her) – and then having to actually meet her. It's not a voice on the phone anymore. It's not text on a screen. She's an actual person who knows everything about me. Fears, hopes, shame. Everything.

And there she is, getting off the plane. And I can read it on her face – she hates me.

I was awful. Just the worst. I was sweaty and pimply and exhausted and poorly dressed. She had every right to look at me and immediately turn around, get back on the plane and fly back to Los Angeles. I now know that she would have, if the plane hadn't already left the terminal. Planes work the same way buses do, right? They have a circuit that they just follow all day? I'm pretty sure that's how they work.

So we drove back to my parents' house. They were much more interested in meeting the mystery girl I'd been spending years talking to than I was, and I helped pay for her flight. We couldn't even look at each other for the whole first night. It was too surreal. I figured the best way to simulate a phone call would be for her to sit on the bed and for me to lie down on the floor next to it. We turned off the lights and just talked for a few hours. It helped, but it didn't solve the problem. I think we ended up breaking up three or four times that weekend.

So it's Halloween. She's some kind of vampirate thing or whatever. She looks good. I'm something that involved dress pants. I can't remember what. Tom Waits? Probably. Sure. We'll say that my costume was Fat Tom Waits. As we left for the party, my mom asked where we were going.

“There's a party over at Rachel and Julie's place.”
“Really, Joshua? 'Rachel and Julie?' You don't do that to somebody you love, Joshua.”

I'm not entirely sure what she meant by that. I guess if you love a girl, you shouldn't take her to parties at other girls' houses. That makes a certain kind of nonsense, if you squint your eyes and turn your head. Whatever. We drove to the party in relative silence. We stopped at Burger King so she could get some chicken nuggets or whatever. The moment we got to the house, we were accosted by a girl whose costume appeared to be “drunk pregnant girl with cat ears.”

Important: I'm terrible at parties. I have crazy anxiety around strangers. Frankly, I have crazy anxiety around familiarers. The ratio of strangers to familiarers was like, 40:1. It was too much for me to bear, especially considering I was certain that I had gone and ruined my friendship with the girl from the Internet. We broke up. Again.

We talked and talked and didn't talk and didn't talk. Finally, we decided on going to a different party over at my friend Joe's house, which consisted of Joe, the rest of the Magnuses, Joe's girlfriend, our friend Nate and nobody else. I was instantly at ease, although I can't remember if that was a result of the familiarity of Joe's house, or the fact that I started drinking the moment I got there. Whatever it was, something clicked. I explained to Nate and Joe that the girl from the Internet and I were just going to be friends. We had broken up for the Nth and final time. It's all over. We're just friends. Phew. At least we were still friends.

That night, we were both hanging out in my bed. My mom poked in and asked us if we were in love. That's the kind of question a child of divorce asks his mom and her new boyfriend. It's awkward when a kid says that, and boy was it ever awkward when my mom said that. The thing is, we probably weren't. The rest of her visit was a blur. We went out for breakfast the next day. It snowed, which made her cry – not in a fun, “oh this is so beautiful” way, but in a “GODDAMNIT WHY CAN'T ANYTHING BE THE WAY I WANT IT TO BE” way. We watched State and Main. I drove her back to the airport. I cried the entire way home. We got married a little over a year later.

Josh Grimmer lives in Hollywood with his wife (who he met on the Internet) and cat (who he met in person). He kinda sorta runs this blog, and has another one at Twitter him up at


Trick or whatever who cares. How was Halloween week for you guys? Good, I hope. What are you guys and gals going to dress up as tomorrow night? I'm thinking Doughy Elvis Costello. No, not for me. For you. For all of you. Each and every reader of this blog should dress up as a Doughy Elvis Costello. Put on the weight, I don't care. Just do it.

Living in Hollywood, every day is like Halloween. Oh, except for Halloween. That day is like getting punched in the solar plexus by Halloween. Thousands of people in costumes, clogging the streets. It's difficult to get anywhere. You can't drive, you can't park, you can't walk. It's utter misery. Second worst day of the year for me, right behind Oscar night. Good thing I'm moving soon.


Speaking of moving, that's next week's theme! Starting tomorrow, we'll be posting a bunch of great essays about moving from all of your favorite writers, including Katie McMahon, Sarah Vowell, Steve Strong, Charles Bukowski, Marsi White, JD Salinger – all of them and more! (Can you say “special guest writers?” I'm not saying you should expect something from Mark Twain but uh... I hope you like Southernisms. That's all I'll say.)

The next theme for submissions is fashion. Now, I know what you're thinking. “Great! I can write about Etsy.” You know what? Go ahead. If I get a dozen essays about Etsy, then cool. Please, though, be sure to be interesting. That's all I care about. Oh, interesting and before the deadline. November 5. That's a Friday, just like every deadline.

The week after that, the theme will be “Listen to This.” I'd like to receive essays about your favorite mix tape, or the time your friend took you to see a band that you hadn't ever heard of but you ended up liking, or the time you dated a girl who was really, really into Tori Amos so you ended up becoming a Tori Amos fan by osmosis. There's something very scary and intimate about giving somebody some music to listen to for the first time. Hopefully there'll be nothing scary about submitting your essays by Friday, November 12.

I'm running woefully long, so this'll be my last thing. Do any of you write music. HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION. I know some of you do. If you have a song you've written or would like to write about any of our topics, I'd love to post them. Songwriting is still writing. Let's make this thing an Internet multimedia extravaganza or something.

Grosses bises,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief

Friday, October 29, 2010

Barbi Beckett: Scary Things

Threats to my family’s safety and health are what scare me now. And paranormal activity. That spooks me. Strangely, (or not) the things that scared the pants off me as a kid, mostly involved my mother. This was literally true for my brother.

One of mom’s favorite things to do was tease her hair into a giant, gnarly mane, remove her false teeth and burst out roaring at Ken, with her arms raised and hands all clawed. He would sprint outside screaming in his Fruit of the Looms. She’d be sure to surprise him in his skivvies because, while it was funny to see him terrified, it was hilarious to see him standing humiliated on the sidewalk. I’d be inside watching this over-weight, gummy maniac chuckle at the screen door while saying, “Come back in, sweetheart. It’s just your mother.”

At least two of my brothers were tormented by my mother’s velvet clown painting. They truly hated it so, of course, she made a game of agreeing to put it away and then randomly hanging it around the house. As I played quietly I’d hear a boy scream, followed by a woman’s cackle. I was very young and could see the creepiness of the painting but my discomfort was born of my big brothers’ fear. They were the older, tougher ones. It was unsettling when they were afraid.

Years after my parents were divorced I spent two weeks with mom in Pecos, Texas. I was twelve and traveled the three hours to get there in a truck with some guy my mom knew but my dad and I had never met. Why no one deemed that scenario scary baffles me still. The man turned out to be harmless but the visit did not. One afternoon I told my mom I wanted to watch the Exorcist, which was showing on HBO. Of course I had no idea what the movie was about but she wouldn’t turn it off because I’d said I wanted to watch it. For months, after I returned home, I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing Linda Blair in various stages of possessed.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d had some experience as Satan’s spawn. There’s a photo of me in an early Halloween costume, I’m a year and a half old and wearing all white, with black whiskers painted on my cheeks. There are some feathery ears on my head and around my neck hangs a sign that says, “Rosemary’s Baby.”

They don’t show this in the movie but, apparently, the antichrist sired a kitten.

For the short time I was under the same roof with my mother and all of my siblings, I existed in the relative safety of being the baby, too young to understand the things that scared my brothers and sister. I was often confused and worried, picking up on tension around me, but it wasn’t until I was grown that I understood more about their real fears. My oldest brother told me about a time he’d gone with our mother to drag my sister from a friend’s house where she was hiding. Sabrina had been trying to escape our mom for some time. Jimmy painfully admitted that he hated to see what was happening to her at home, but the survivor in him said, “better her than me.” As they arrived at the friend’s house, Sabrina flew out the back door and Jimmy was ordered to go after her. They ran, jumping the rock walls that fenced all of the backyards in our town. She crossed a street and disappeared behind a house on the next block. When he climbed the wall in that yard he looked down to see our sister crouched against it on the other side. She stared up at him, panting, but they didn’t speak. He lowered himself down and took the long walk back to tell everyone that he’d lost her.

Occasionally at night, back in those very early years, my mother would instigate a game of Murder in the Dark. We’d turn off the lights and draw the curtains to make the house as dark as possible. Someone would have pulled the “x” from a bowl of torn papers and that person would be the murderer. The rest of us would hide under beds, behind furniture, and in closets until the murderer came creeping around. You’d freeze and try not to breathe but, inevitably, you’d hear a whispered, “You’re dead” before they’d slink away. At some point, the lights would be turned back on for a trial where the murderer would defend him/herself. I didn’t really understand anything beyond the hiding, but I liked the game because I always got paired up with someone. I was so desperate for family unity and it brought us all together. Snuggling up in a dark hidey spot with my mom or a big brother protector felt consummately safe and cozy. We’d squeeze each other extra tight as we felt the killer’s breath upon us. I would advocate multiple rounds of the game in hopes of being rubbed out with each member of my family. Eventually, interest would fizzle and everyone would disperse but, while it lasted, Murder In The Dark was a tender reprieve.

Cari Shanks: Halloween Happened

Ah, the sweet smell of decaying leaves. The laughter of children scurrying from door to door yelling “trick or treat!” in a shrill that only comes from the anticipation of sugar. And oh, the whores! Wait, I mean... nope, I was right the first time. Whores.

When did Halloween become the new Spring Break? Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief that summer was over and I could break out my hoodies and indulge in some serious stuffing and pumpkin pie, Halloween happened!

How did my princess and fairy costumes from few years ago get replaced with the slutty witch and the FBI agent with a leather mini skirt and thigh high boots? Where did the few months between bikini season and my New Year’s Resolution go? Wasn’t I supposed to be allowed some eggnog and fun size Snickers somewhere in there? I'm not trying to sound bitter about the lack of carb and sugar loading that I can indulge in during my later years, but honestly when did the innocence of Halloween disappear?

I understand Halloween originated with the Pagans and Los Dias de le Muertos, and basically every aspect of any religion that believed in spirits and the continuation of one’s soul after the body has left this life. But just like many of these cultural staples is one’s religious and historical background, stories today have been “Disney-fied” to create a PG strobe light of images of classic literature and scripture. Charlie Brown’s “It’s The Great Pumpkin” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” have all but faded away in their gloriously Hallmarked grandeur and left with visions of stiletto stalking mistresses and Jersey Shore wannabe Snookis. I look at the younger kids today and their Halloween costume choices and I see shorter and shorter skirts the younger the girls get and more testosterone driven outfits for the strapping young James Deans of our generations.

With a holiday stemming from the mischief and unknown of spirits among us, there will always be some devilish behavior, but in all honesty, what happened to the joy of getting a king size candy bar? When did we start having to check candy wrappers for needle holes? And why does every costume I think of this year end with the word “whore”?

I can only request that we all revert back to our youths of fully clothed ghastly characters and pretty princesses. Try to reclaim a hint of our innocence with a touch of a toothache. And for ghoulish sakes, I want more this Halloween than a hangover, I just want some candy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Marsi White: The Costume in our Garage

The box sits in my garage. Buried. When I say box, I really mean one of those 50-gallon tubs with the snap-tight lids that are supposed to keep stored items safe from dust, water, rodents, what have you. Ours needs protection from all of those things. Simply put, the garage is the victim of a home remodel and its predecessor, the inheritance of a plethora of keepsakes, clothes and junk from our parents.

Otherwise known as “the stuff house” to his boyhood friends, my husband’s parents’ house was rented last year in order to help pay the increasing health care costs for his ailing mother. It is amazing what you find when you are forced to clean out a house that was lived in by a family for more than 40 years. Especially a family influenced by depression-era saving. A whisper shy of hoarding, everything was safely stored so it could be re-purposed. Or, as they would call it in today’s lingo, “being green.” Empty Kleenex boxes served as jewelry receptacles. Keepsakes were found in toolboxes next to the hammer. Drawers contained a mixture of coupons, receipts, pictures, books and maybe a scarf or two.

This house was “green” on steroids. Fifteen years ago, my husband and I spent the first two months of our marriage living in the study of “the stuff house.” Still trying to impress my new in-laws, one interminable summer day, I thought I would clean out the cabinets of the upstairs bathroom. The cabinets were old, as were their contents. Not necessarily dirty though, so my job was more along the lines of sorting my findings. I do not remember all that I threw out or all that I sorted that day, however I do remember ending up with a basket brimming over of give-away plastic key chains, stamped with the logos of almost every business in town. This was in the age before the recycle bin, so I put them out for the trash collector. As I found out months later, every last key chain was, in fact, collected from that curb -- by my mother-in-law, who quietly snuck each one back in the house. I guess an extra key chain, or a hundred, are handy to have around?

Despite my protests, last year, the senseless treasures of the “stuff house” matriculated into my garage. I fought it. I really did. But in the end, efficiency and sentiment triumphed and every week, more boxes found their way into my husband’s car and our house. Mind you, it is not all bad: when we were invited to an 80’s party last year, my husband handed me his original acid-washed blue jeans, dug out of the piles that flanked my parked car. He even had a paisley shirt to match. Done and done.

We have been trying to organize. So, after I finished reliving my teens in my like totally awesome acid wash jeans, I deposited them into our costume box. The costume box contains nothing in a child size. Instead, the box contains reminders of Halloweens past, bringing back memories of wild nights and pre-children, even pre-marriage, morality. Some of our costumes were more conservative. The time we were salt and pepper shakers our costume required nothing fancier than black and white street clothes with billowy, hand-made aluminum foil hats. There were outlandish costumes, such as the year we were Drew Carey and Mimi. That blue eyeshadow I wore was exquisite, like blue frosting iced across my eyelids. That night we danced under the stars in a rural neighborhood where loud music escaped heedlessly and good friends tried to drink each other under the table.

Our 70’s costumes are also in the box. Now that is a sexy dress: brown with yellow and white flowers and lots of cleavage. Lots of cleavage. I was pregnant that Halloween. We returned to the same house. Again, we danced under the stars until the wee hours of the morning.

And then there was the year we were pirates. I don’t remember much about that year, except that I think we may have been on a double decker bus touring downtown San Diego like a wild bunch of banshees. Pre-kids. Not pre-marriage. Ten years later, we took that bus trip again. Me as a sexy nurse, my husband as Dr. Feelursnatch.

This year, there will be no organized parties for us. We are getting smarter or lazier, take your pick. We will take our children trick-or-treating, but the effort we previously put into our costumes will now be channeled into pulling our cooler full of beer down the block, as our kids run from house to house. The first year we pulled the cooler, we forgot drinks for the kids. When my daughter (age five at the time) cried from thirst, I was lucky enough to knock on the door of another mother that I knew from PTA. As she handed my daughter water, she spied the cooler through the dark night. Her puzzled look was quickly followed by scowl of disgust as she realized what made up our cooler’s contents. My daughter did not notice. I did not mind. I did not have a crying child to deal with anymore. Done and done.

So why do we save the box of costumes in the garage? Honestly, mostly because we treasure our authentic 80’s clothes contained within. Saving the Halloween costumes is just a bonus.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

J. Allen Holt: Don't Get Too Excited

Once upon a time, I would get really excited for Halloween. Then, I would get a little bit excited for Halloween. Now, I mostly just dread trying to come up with the obligatory costume. It's a shame, really, that what promises to be a very awesome holiday just isn't, at least not for me.

As a kid, my favorite costume ever was a black ninja outfit. I tried it on probably a dozen times the week before Halloween. I even wanted to wear it again the following year. The only problem was that I was growing very, very fast. Too fast for my ninja costume's sleeves and pants. I didn't love it enough to be the high-water ninja that next year. My brother was able to squeeze one more trick-or-treat out of his ninja costume, and I was extremely jealous.

One problem with that Halloween and several others was that I lived where nature always liked to take a dump on my costume plans. Now the Ohio River Valley is great weather if you like sudden changes in climate and digging your car out of the mud. It's not so great, however, for ninja costumes at the end of October. My mom carted my brother and me around all night with our sweet ninja costumes hidden by big, puffy winter coats. We were two little flashers, whipping open our coats to show that underneath we were, in fact, deadly assassins simply masquerading as two cold, wet little kids. I don't know exactly what material they used to make those costumes. It wasn't quite cloth. The cheaper ones were like wearing toilet paper stitched together. Whatever they were made of, they were not made for braving the elements.

Halloween is good at that, in my experience: being utterly disappointing. I was naïve and blissful enough to not care when I was 10 and leading the charge with the “ninjas are cool” movement. Now, it's something I'm prepared for. The best way not to be disappointed in this life is not to expect too much in the first place. I know that sounds like an awfully cynical way to live, but that's just because it is.

The bright side is that at least I'm not a kid now trying to enjoy Halloween. In the 80s, it was merely potential razor blades or poison that put a damper on the socially accepted mass begging of October 31st. Now, it seems like even darkness is too dangerous for kids. When I was a kid, anyone who went trick-or-treating before the sun went down would have been labeled the biggest pussy to ever walk through our school doors. They would immediately pass over the kid who started crying because he went too high on the swing set. Unfortunately for that kid, Eric, our current extreme level of over-protectiveness had yet to be seen before his time at Sinking Fork Elementary had come to an end. Sure, we had a couple of kids who didn't believe in celebrating Halloween, but they had even more problems than Eric, which might be difficult to believe for anyone who actually witnessed him howling while clutching that rusty chain for dear life.

The last time I went all-out for Halloween in the costume department was when I was living back in Kentucky again. A friend had invited me to his place for a party. I got this crazy, evil priest-type robe and a small, scary make-up kit. My freshly shaved head I covered in white make-up while I accented my eyes and lips in black. It was extremely satisfying admiring my transformation into a scary looking creature of the night. I may have overdone it though. I showed up at the house and rang the door-bell. A girl in a cat suit (one of four cat girls that night) opened the door, took one look at me, and slammed it in my face. After a moment of standing there, my friend opened the door and let me in. “I know you, and you're freaking me out.” That was the last time I really tried. There's just so little pay-off for the effort. My best-received costume was probably the one in which I just stuffed a pillow in my shirt and went as my fat friend.

So, for all you spooks and spookettes out there: Dress up like a princess or a prostitute. Beg for candy or swill tequila. Whatever your age, go all out. Just don't expect me to be impressed with your cat ears.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Steve Strong: A Mormon Gorilla with a Human Head

Everyone who knows me knows I’m a Mormon. It’s no secret really. It seems to come up in business conversations all the time because I can speak Japanese, and people seem interested in knowing how I learned that language. So, depending on the nationality of the person I’m dining with, I get loads of questions about my faith/culture.

If I’m eating with Asians, they want to know why I’m not drinking alcohol. Then they spend the rest of the trip trying to entice me to do just that. If I’m eating with a European, they may ask me about Salt Lake City, and assume I make a pilgrimage there every so often. They’re usually shocked to find out that not only am I not from there, I have no relatives or business ties to Utah.

I spent some time last year with a business acquaintance who was also a Baptist Preacher in Brazil. When he found out I was LDS he asked me if I thought Barack Obama is the antichrist. I told him no, he’s a Democrat. Anyway, I thought that was funny. But this guy missed the humor and kept pressing me about the President. He actually was shocked that everyone in America didn’t see that he’s the antichrist.

But it’s Americans who seem to have the wildest questions for me everywhere I go. People often tell me that I’m the first Mormon they’ve met they feel they can speak frankly with and can ask any question without worrying that I will get upset.

So what kinds of questions do I get from Americans?

- Are you Christian?
- How many wives do you have?
- Have you been saved?
- Are you allowed to dance?
- What do you think about Harry Potter?
- Do you celebrate Christmas? (substitute Easter, Birthdays, etc. here)

Maybe you’ve been sitting on some of those same queries too. If so, allow me to help: Yes; one is plenty; so far so good; allowed to but not willing to; it’s a book – it’s not real; yes indeed!

As to that last question, I usually say something to the effect of, “If it’s about kids having a good time, we’re all for it.” So yes, we celebrate Christmas, and yes we hang stockings and have Christmas trees, and yes we think the whole thing is too commercial and takes away from the real meaning of the season, but yet we celebrate the same as other Christians.

Besides the spiritual hymns associated with Easter, we also decorate and hide eggs and give the kids baskets. I have no idea what all this fascination with eggs has to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but I don’t really dig that deep. We celebrate spiritually at church, then go home and have a nice ham dinner with Easter baskets for the kids. So you see, Mormons aren’t really all that different, right? Not so fast. It seems inquiring minds want to know how Latter-Day Saints handle the subject of Halloween.

In the past few years I’ve had well-meaning “Christians” witness to me that Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling were agents of the devil. I’ve been told that Star Wars was troubling because of “the Force.” But perhaps weirdest of all was when I did a little sleight of hand number I freaked out several people at work who told me that if I continued to do that I was opening myself up for demon possession.

OK folks. Let’s relax a bit and take a breath here. Bewitched was just a TV show. Jeannie didn’t really turn into smoke and hide in a bottle. Criss Angel doesn’t really levitate. And by the way, the WWE is fixed. And allowing my kids to dress up as Power Rangers is not paving their personal road to Hell.

Now, on the subject of Halloween, yes, Mormons decorate their homes and pass out candy to neighborhood kids who come trick-or-treating. We also usually have a Halloween party at our local church building. But for some of you, it may be a bit different from some of the Halloween parties you’re used to. For one, it’s not all that dark. It also will usually have tons of carnival type games for children. But the biggest difference you will see is that none of the costumes include masks. The simple reason for this is that some people may change their behavior if they think their identity is hidden. So to encourage a good time without nasty teenage pranks, LDS parties enforce the no mask rule. It doesn’t mean you can’t use tons of makeup though. We have some wonderfully frightening vampires and zombies at our parties.

But through the years my favorite attendee at an LDS Halloween party was a 12 year old boy who clearly was having problems with his parents' rules. Andrew had purchased a gorilla costume with his own money and was determined to wear it to the Ward party. But the problem was what to do about the mask. His parents told him absolutely no, he couldn’t wear the mask to the party. But Andrew complained that it wasn’t fair and that he bought the suit with his money. He wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to bounce around in public like a simian.

The compromise was the funniest costume I had ever seen: A gorilla with a boy’s head. Even better, Andrew was a red-haired freckled faced lad. Everyone at the party had the same question I had: What was he? Robin Williams? Some kind of mutant? I guess he was a darling half-man. Maybe some kind of comment on evolution.

But my Christian friends demand an answer: How can Mormons recognize Halloween when its origins are so, I don't know, questionable? Hey, haven’t you ever heard of “don’t ask, don’t tell?” The origins of Halloween are probably no stranger than the way we all celebrate Christmas and Easter.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Katie McMahon: Not a Drop

Apple picking. Cider drinking. Pumpkin carving. Baking cookies, cakes, pies, muffins, loaves of sticky, crumbly breads. These were things that had to be done. All at once. I wanted the feeling of fall on my mittened fingertips. I wanted marshmallows floating in mugs of hot cocoa, peering out of the top like little eyeballs, watching and waiting to be chewed up and swallowed. I wanted the wind to blow in my face and make my cheeks cold and red. Raindrops on my glasses. To walk inside any building, anywhere, and for my face to get redder from the warmth. To connect, maybe with you or with him or with her or with anything at all.

We try too hard to get back there.

I needed it and I needed it instantaneously. I took the day off from school and I spent it alone, driving to the cider mill. I brought my green glow-in-the-dark ghost purse. I wanted apples and pumpkins and things made of apples and pumpkins. I found two pumpkins. They were both orange and round and looked just how you would imagine pumpkins would look. The apples were too expensive and I could not understand why I could not pick my own. And why would an apple cost so much money? A huge crock pot of cider sat near the exit and I ladled some into a white paper cup. Cinnamon sticks floated near the top of the pot. The donuts were not fresh, but they were covered in sugar and cinnamon, so I grabbed one with a crinkly piece of parchment paper. I paid for the donut and the cider, walked outside and got into my car and then sat there. I ate the donut and drank the cider until it was completely gone. I started up the car and drove home, passing by fields of pumpkins and signs for fields of pumpkins and children walking home from school.

And I felt like it was not enough.

On Halloween night, I stood in the kitchen, baking pumpkin muffins out of a box, and covering the kitchen countertops in powdered sugar. I laid out old newspapers and brown paper bags across the table and set out different sized knives, like preparing for the pumpkin’s surgery. I sat near the vent in the wall to keep warm and I drank half a bottle of cheap red wine while scooping out the insides of one of the pumpkins. I wanted it to be simple, so I carved a tree into the pumpkin. I found a package of tea lights in my bedroom and carefully placed one inside the carved pumpkin. Then, I turned off all the lights and looked at the empty tree. I took a picture. I moved across the room to get a different angle. I took another picture.

I drank more wine. I put on a black dress that I never got to wear and teased my hair. I put on dark red lipstick and painted fake blood around my neck to look like my head had been cut off. I put on lots of black eyeshadow and rubbed it around my eyes, so I would look like a dead person. I took a picture.

I went to a party and made fun of the music. I flirted with someone’s boyfriend. I drank someone’s expensive vodka that they left on the table. I drank my own vodka. Words formed in my mouth, but I drank them down my throat so I could come up with better words. I could tell no one was listening, so I said the words very loudly and then left. I drove around in the rain. I called him even though I didn’t want to call him. He smelled like cigarettes and wore gloves he got from his grandma last Christmas. We ate with friends. We left and I went home. I called him again and cried my whole drunk self into the phone. I drank more and cried harder until there was not a drop left.

Someone else called me and he said, “Are you okay?”

I said, “No, I am not okay.”

Then, the sky got lighter and lighter and suddenly it was not Halloween anymore. And suddenly it was Thanksgiving. And then it was my birthday. And then it was winter.

Katie McMahon is a lady who lives in the North Hollywood area. She has a bachelor's degree that she keeps on her bookcase and looks at sometimes. She is getting a master's degree to put on her nightstand. Sometimes she takes pictures which you can look at here:, but you don't have to if you're busy right now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Moura McGovern - Pumpkin Skies

This Halloween I’m going to be either a) Nurse “Juana be Betta,” b) a love bug, or c) a dream woman. That’s right, this Halloween, I’m going to be a slut.

I’m very excited. I’ve never been a slut before (at least not for Halloween).

Actually, the last time I celebrated Halloween, I was still young enough to have my mom make my ghost costume. And by “celebrate,” I mean to put on a costume, of any kind; or to participate in trick or treating, of any kind; or attend a Halloween party, of any kind. This may or may not be sad. I am trying to decide. Mostly Halloween looked to me like a reason for people to pretend to be something, someone else. I have always had a hard enough time being me.

When I was teaching and going to grad school at Penn State, I had the unfortunate experience of being on the “trick” side of trick or treat. The night was cold enough to shatter glass, which is what happened when the first egg hit my storm window. Another egg stained the house’s aluminum siding, which then baked into a nasty splotch that power-washing could never remove. And to think: I thought I was a nice teacher. And to think: I would prefer to believe that those eggs were aimed at the professor who lived in the house before me.

On the topic of before and after: Before I went off to grad school, I worked hard at being a respectable wife and businessperson. I wore a lot of navy blue, and I frowned a lot. Somewhere along the way, I forgot how to have fun. I also forgot how to be me. I poached a lot of eggs. Perhaps I should have thrown them instead.

For many years, I had a recurring nightmare in which I was lost. Different versions of the dream played out: I’d be walking through the rain, trying to catch sight of Boston’s Hancock Tower so I could locate myself. Or I’d be driving in the rain, but it would be coming down in sheets, sheets so thick that I wouldn’t be able to see the exit signs. I used to try to be who my husband wanted me to be (nurse, love bug, dream girl, respectable wife, or business person). Then one day, I woke up and realized I didn’t celebrate anything anymore. I avoided Halloween. Thanksgiving was a nightmare to be borne. Christmas was a pain in the nether regions. Forget about celebrating the beauty of every day life. I was blind to the sunrises and sunsets that saturate the horizon in a pumpkin glow.

Then one fall night, I woke up realized I couldn’t be who someone else wanted me to be. That’s when I got divorced and went back to school. During that time, I had the nightmare again, and it turned into a dream. I was on a long road, and -- finally -- I could read every sign before me. I could navigate. I drove, and I walked, and I rode, and I found my way, with every twist and every turn.

It has been a long road. So, this Halloween, I might be a) Nurse Juana Be Betta, because I have in fact made my life better. I might be b) a love bug, because I have learned to love -- and to celebrate -- again. Or, I might be c) a dream woman. Because now I am who I dreamed I would be, back when I was still young enough to believe I could be anyone I wanted to be. Just me.

Moura McGovern is an editor and writer who lives in Philadelphia, PA. You can read more of her work at

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Josh Grimmer: State of the Union for October 23, 2010

Another week of writing is, if you'll forgive the expression, in the books. Looks like buildings and food was a bit tougher a subject than I thought it would be. No matter, onward and upward. The next subject is Halloween. Spooooooooky! We'll be posting a bunch of great, possibly scary, possibly depressing stories all week long, so stay tuned.

Topic reminders: October 29 is the deadline for your essays about moving. New town, new house, new whatever. Pack up your stuff in a box and write about it.

The Friday after that, November 5, will be fashion. Write about some kind of clothing or whatever. Listen, I'm late for work. You guys know what fashion is.

Grosses bises,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief

Friday, October 22, 2010

Marsi White: Stuck in a Box

Buildings and food. Food and buildings. Food in buildings. Food in front of buildings. Food on top of buildings. I feel like I am about to read Green Eggs and Ham, Sam I am. My perfectionist mind had a hard time NOT taking the assigned topic for Writing, Writer, Writest literally. I “googled” food and buildings and it came up with random blogs about food and buildings. It was not until I searched again that I came up with the Talking Heads album, More Songs about Building and Food, which I guessed might be the inspiration for this week’s topic.

I read the Wikipedia explanation of the album. While admittedly interested in why my music-lover husband nor I had ever heard about this album, its description had me craving a trip to the record store. A real record store. And I was particularly entertained by a quote offered concerning the title:

“When we were making this album I remembered this stupid discussion we had about titles for the last album," Tina (Weymouth) smirked. "At that time I said, 'What are we gonna call an album that's just about buildings and food?' And Chris (Frantz) said, 'You call it more songs about buildings and food.'"

But none of this helped me. My brain was still stuck.

What the heck was I going to write for this WWW entry? Tick, tock; tick, tock. No, I got nothing. I asked my family. Hounded my husband. I even asked my kids. Some incredibly talented people contribute to Writing, Writer, Writest. Fantastically creative people. I spent some time trying to channel some of those creative juices. I read past entries from fellow WWW contributors. I thought, what would I like to read about?

My tired mind again answered, “I got nothing”.

I enjoy the discipline and the challenge of writing my weekly submissions. The challenge wherein I not only have to find time to write but also find time to write well. Finally, in my stress of finding what exactly I might put together this week, I decided that what I needed to do was just start writing! One of the oldest tricks in the book. I thought something would come to me along the way. Not so much. Just a bunch of half-brained ideas floating in the white space where the brilliance should be.

Surely, I am missing something. I could have contacted the WWW community for advice, I supposed. But part of me did not want to do that either. I wanted an idea I could own. So far the only thing I owned was my perfectionist mind stuck in a box with four sides and a top, awaiting an idea to seep through the tiny cracks.

Buildings and Food. There is the obvious: one of my favorite things in the world to do is eat in a beautiful building, i.e. a restaurant. As opposed to eating out of a building, i.e. outside. You could eat a building if it was made out of cake or Rice Krispie Treats or chocolate, like the masterpieces from the show, Ace of Cakes. There are hundreds of recipes online describing how to make a castle cake, which is something that I never plan to do in my lifetime. Though, I am ecstatic that there are people out there with such ambition.

However, I have no desire to write about these things, either.

I should also say that I do not intend this piece to mock this topic. I am sure written genius will be plentiful on this topic, this week. More so, I began this piece out of desperation and the common sense knowledge that writing anything is better practice than writing nothing. This was the goal in creating this collaboration, correct? And, thus, this is my tribute to WWW. Hail to the chief.

Today is my husband’s birthday. He is turning 40. Shortly, I will be leaving my office to go to a warm, cozy, inviting building to celebrate his birthday with greasy, delicious food and libations. And we will eat a building, too. Or, maybe mud pie. The building will be full of people, young and old gathered together to celebrate a very special friend, dad, brother, son, colleague and partner. We will laugh. We will toast. We will laugh while we toast. And I will send this to Writing, Writer, Writest, though my creative brain is still trapped in the box. Better luck next week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Patrick White: Fast Food

48. 49. 50. Jimmy, delivery boy extraordinaire, caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection of the elevator doors. He was delivering a six foot party sub, and had decided to holster it across his back, like a samurai from a delicatessen of death. He had practiced this specific carrying technique to induce tips (AND free beer) from frat parties thrown around town, and had guessed by its apparent success that it looked pretty badass. But he had never actually seen what he looked like, and now, even he had to admit that it made delivering a sandwich look about as awesome as possible. “It’s not all fun and games folks, but it certainly has it’s perks.”

Ding! Floor 54 had arrived, and he quickly ‘unsheathed’ the sub into a less intimidating stance. Unfortunately, this was a professional place, and they would want the food to be delivered professionally, by someone who would of course themselves be a professional. Not a Zatoichi-wannabe. The doors opened, and Jimmy stepped out of the elevator, and into an office.

The receptionist pointed towards the back room (decidedly unprofessionally, Jimmy thought), and he made his way through the cubicle maze to reach his destination. The ‘party’ room, whose true identity seemed normally to be a conference room, had large windows making up the far two walls, giving a panorama of buildings across the street, unusually dull by even office building standards. A few streamers and signs had been placed around to celebrate some business milestone, but it seemed like trying to cover a wall with a 4x6 photograph, merely highlighting the deficiencies present. It was at this point that a particularly nasty gust of wind came by and blew out the window Jimmy was standing in front of.

Floor 54. Jimmy himself, briefly teetering forward, quickly fell back. The fine piece of food he had been carrying was not so lucky. It slipped right out the window and began its fatal descent.

Floor 53. The sub had just begun to fall. It still had not turned fully vertical. The wrapper was already most of the way off, the wind tearing at it, and soon it floated away, escaping the scene. Two tomatoes had dislodged themselves, but otherwise, the structure of the sandwich was quite strong. It had been tied together to ensure maximum integrity upon delivery, and those ties showed no signs of tossing in the towel now.

Floor 46. The sub now was fully vertical, a drill ready to bore into the earth. It weighed only 5 and half pounds (with just 80 grams of fat!), but because it refused to be torn asunder into its smaller, lighter components, it was quickly picking up speed (at a rate of roughly 9.8 m/s^2). Its sleek design, crafted so carefully by a master for simple aesthetic pleasure, now caused it to slice through the air with deadly purpose.

Floor 33. It had been created on regular wheat bread, and contained three two-foot sections. One end was a Vegetarian Spinach Garden, that was seasoned with light dijon mustard, oil, and vinegar. It contained tomatoes (two of which had now floated off), spinach, peppers, swiss cheese, and avocado to spice things up. The middle section contained the “Dagwood”. Ham, turkey, roast beef, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes (which had not floated off), peppers, mushrooms, swiss, cheddar, and muenster cheese. There was a noticeable bulge in the sandwich over its middle section to accommodate its unwieldy, and thoroughly unreasonable size. And the far end was the cheesesteak. Green peppers, lettuce, steak, provolone, and onions populated this end. The entire sandwich was sprinkled with a touch of fresh ground pepper. It would have been quite delicious.

Floor 24. George Milton, twenty-four stories lower, stepped onto the curb in a rush. His head was swimming with thoughts of something, and those thoughts were about to be forcibly pushed out.

Floor 12. The first sighting of the sandwich took place. Nine people sat bored to tears (literally in one case, as a man had excused himself to go cry in the bathroom) as some asshole gave a presentation on the rising market for Louisiana swampland. The phrase “Crocodile proof fence” had exited his mouth when the sandwich dropped by the window. It was only for an instant, but everybody saw it. One bored member thought, “I guess they ran out of pennies up there.” It was an event odd enough to allow a forced recess and stall the meeting. Everyone left the room for lunch, gleeful, except for the man crying in the bathroom.

Floor 2. The last sighting of the sandwich, while it remained definable as such, occurred among three pedestrians. They gasped at the sub falling (and rightly so, as it was probably the strangest thing any of the three had ever seen), but their gasps vocalized only after the sandwich had finished falling.

Floor 1 (or “L”). Ding! The sandwich, a furious 130 mile-per-hour bullet, arrived at its destination, colliding with George. Approximately six seconds after the initial window blowout fifty-four stories above, George Milton had been put into an irreversible coma due to massive brain trauma and hemorrhaging. A few seconds later, pieces of glass began to rain down, too light to cause anything but superficial cuts, followed by the unceremonious landing of the two tomatoes: one of them on the sidewalk about ten meters away, the other on top of a parked taxi.

Jimmy looked out the window and saw the commotion several hundred feet below him. He could only see a mess on the sidewalk, unable to extract the finer details, and suddenly wished he had gotten the secretary to sign the receipt.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Steve Strong: Gramercy Park Place

She was already eighty years old when I first met her, and for the next 15 years I was required to sit with her a few days each year. Although she was a native English speaker, I never understood her. We were from different planets, she and I. I endured our visits. I begrudgingly attended, held my breath, and gave a great exhale as I motored away from her home.

Who was she? Why was I required to do this? She was no relative of mine, and no relative of anyone related to me. She was my ex-mother-in-law’s godmother. A woman with no children of her own. No living relatives of any kind. And anyone she ever loved had died in that very house I visited her in, on Gramercy Park Place, in Los Angeles.

Her name was Helen Browne, but she asked to be called Sunny. She had been a movie star, you see. She had appeared in several motion pictures of the silent era. When asked to identify them, titles rattled off the top of her head along with silver screen stars I’d never heard of. But you know, that’s not what really matters. She told me the really important roles were in the theatre. And she showed me pictures of her playbills and her schedule as she toured the Western U.S. in theatre troupes with the likes of Ralph Bellamy and Jason Robards, Sr.

She had a birth name, a married name, a nickname and a stage name. And she was all about drama. You see that house across the street? Why, that’s where the young man lived who wrote “When the Swallows Return to Capistrano.”

I had no idea if that was important or not. I was a Michigan country boy. I’d never heard of the song. I’d never heard of the town. I kept trying to find a way to relate to this ancient woman, but it wasn’t easy. Something told me she was a big fake. I was convinced all this strangeness just couldn’t be for real.

When she was still mobile, she insisted I drive her to the Brown Derby or El Chollo for lunch because that’s where the stars eat. I had my choice of driving her dusty old 1966 Mustang or her dusty old 1966 Continental. Both had under 30,000 miles on them, and both only moved if I drove them.

She would tell me things like how healthy urine is for your eyes, and how to communicate with the dead through séances. But mostly, she would talk about the life of an actress. Oh! How the young men adored her. Oh! The suitors. Oh! The proposals of matrimony. But she had steadfastly fended them all off. She remained aloof until middle aged when she married a ship pilot for the Port of Los Angeles who died ten years later.

The house. The house was her mausoleum. Her father built it in 1905 and she moved in when she was two years old. And she never moved out. Her parents each died in that house. Her husband died in that house. Eventually Sunny died in that house in 1998 at the age of 95.

In her final years she was confined to her bed and often mistook me for a doctor or some kind of accountant. She would tell me how she had been dancing around downstairs earlier in the day, and I would tell her how nice that was.

Having no offspring, she left the bulk of her estate to the Norman Vincent Peale foundation. But the task of sorting through her home fell on me. I was supposed to clean it out and look for items of interest for my in-laws to sell at auction. I figured I could go through the whole house in two days. I ended up being there seven.

I started out down stairs, which was sort of clean and always ready for company. I found the Chinese snuff bottle collection which was the most prized asset in the house. In a cabinet in the living room I found an unused Lone Ranger game from 1936. It was in mint condition, so I delivered it to the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in exchange for a lifetime free pass.

When I made my way upstairs my task became truly strange. Most rooms were stacked to the ceiling with junk so that the doors couldn’t be opened. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, the hallways, closets, offices were packed to the ceiling. In fact the only room that had an access way was the room Sunny died in.

So I started in the corner bedroom. I had to pry open the door, and then reach my arm around and start pulling things out to give me space to open the door wider. I used this technique for all the rest of the rooms in the house. For the next two days I worked in that room and the hallway. We ordered in a forty-foot dumpster, and I ended up filing more than two of those.

I discovered all kinds of weird things in that room, and was always worried I’d find a skeleton. But I didn’t. Instead, I found boxes of canceled checks from the twenties and thirties. I found hundreds of dresses, shoes, jewelry. When I got down to the floor level, I found a made bed, and items on the dresser that had been covered for 50 years.

It took a full day to get to floor level in the hallway, but at the bottom I found a cedar chest with two newspapers on it. Both were defunct Los Angeles papers and both were dated November 11, 1918 and the headlines heralded the armistice.

In the hallway, when I could finally get into the cabinets I found glamour shots of silent movie stars I’d never heard of. I recognized the names of Lillian Gish and Tom Mix. But beyond that, they were just stacks of head shots.

And then I found the pictures of Sunny. They were stunning. She was certainly beautiful back in her day. She had long flowing blonde hair and often had furs draped strategically around her bare chest. It was so hard to picture her as a teenager and starlet. But there was the proof in front of my eyes.

In the second bedroom upstairs I worked my way to ground level again to find a bedside table. I think this was Sunny’s room as a child. In the drawer by the bed I found love letters. Dozens of them. I read the words of Ralph Bellamy and Jason Robards, Sr. as they confessed their undying love to Sunny. These were passionate letters.

There were many other letters from actors and names I didn’t recognize. I put them all in the stack of stuff for the auction house to sort out.

I spent a full day cleaning out a big walk-in closet, only to get to the bottom and discover it was actually a small office. There was a working desk in there. As I went through the desk I found the police files for a case from Philadelphia for indecent exposure against her husband Brownie. It was funny reading it. Who knows what he was up to our how drunk he was, but the charge was from the 1930’s and described in detail chasing him down and arresting him. At my in-law’s request I destroyed the file.

Towards the end of the week I was working very late hours. I would work about 14 hours, then go to a hotel and sleep and start again the next day. Whenever I was on a roll, I hated to stop. Frankly, the stuff I was finding was so interesting I was running on adrenaline a lot of the time.

The last room I ventured into was the storage room at the top of the stairs. Like the others, the door wouldn’t open, so I had to reach in and start pulling things out. It was getting late, and I was excited to see what this room had in store, so I pushed myself to work late into the night.

The light was very poor, so I got floor lamps from around the house and set them up in the hallway as I started pulling things out of this storeroom. When I pulled enough junk out to get the door open halfway, I saw the room had shelves around all four walls, and there was a closet in the back.

The shelves were filled with black boxes about 18 inches square. There were probably 100 boxes in there in total. Each box had a sign on it. Some said, “Fall 1938”. Another might say, “Winter 1927”. I was absolutely mad with curiosity to find out what was in these boxes. As soon as I could push my way in, I started pulling those boxes out to find each one had a fancy women’s hat in it!

By the time I had reached the closet in the back of that room it was nearing midnight. I had to step over a pair of beautiful green marble lamps that I took home and re-wired for myself.

At last, I opened the closet door to find it was also packed to the ceiling. By one o’clock in the morning I was ready to go home, but I saw in the back of the closet a most unique object. It was a treasure chest, like a pirate might have used to keep doubloons in. I was intrigued and got a new burst of energy as I lugged that trunk into the hallway.

I positioned the floor lamps and took off their shades so I could get the maximum light from the bare bulbs. As I opened the trunk, I found it had been filled with newspapers as packing material. The dates of all the newspapers were 1919. It occurred to me that this trunk had not been touched since it was sealed up 79 years ago.

One of the first things I pulled out was a little Eskimo doll made with real seal fur. It had a badge on it that said, “Admiral Byrd Expedition – 1919.” I also found several toys, including a little hand-held game called “Beat the Kaiser” in which you tried to roll little BB’s into Kaiser Wilhelm’s eyes and mouth.

At the very bottom of the trunk I found what looked like three small logs wrapped in newspaper and neatly tied with three strings each. As I inspected the first, I noticed that it too, was wrapped in 1919 newspaper. My heart was pounding with anticipation to find what was hidden in the most remote corner of the most remote room in that creepy old house. I tugged on the bows of the string and it easily removed itself. I unrolled the newspaper to find two blue eyes pop awake to look back at me!

My heart stopped, and I nearly dropped the thing. When I caught my breath I realized it was a doll. All three were antique dolls from France. Their eyes could open and close. I was relieved, but I called it a night after that.

As I look back now, I can picture a 16 year old girl, active in drama and looking for a career on the stage, putting away the things of her childhood. She wrapped up those pretty dolls and saved them for the children she’d never have. And she never opened that trunk again for the rest of her long life.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coco Higgins - Unmasked

I admit I’m a little rough around the edges. Sometimes my mouth doesn’t have a filter. If you’re actually ever around me in person, you might even witness a mind-->out verbal excoriation of sorts.

Once upon a time, I was with a group of girls in gym class. It was the end of the period, and a girl I (secretly) didn’t like announced, “I think I’ll go change now,” to which I immediately and thoughtlessly responded: “INTO A BETTER PERSON?”


I’ve also been known to rip new assholes into employees and strangers.

Exhibit B: Back when I was a business tycoon/captainess of industry, I managed about 150 peons. I was quite demanding at first, before I mentally checked out and stopped giving a shit. I used to hold weekly collections meetings with my account managers in which I would ask for status reports of when we could expect customers to make progress payments against their contracts. I would routinely run down the list of accounts and the minions would update me. The expectation, obviously, was that they would be prepared with answers.

Well, one time, an account manager had the audacity to come into my office ill-prepared.

Matt was one of the nicest guys in the company, which says a lot because I was otherwise surrounded by a bunch of misogynists. It was the construction industry after all, and my employees were about 95% male. Never mind that Matt’s co-workers complained that he farted at his desk, or that one time I caught him napping in his cubicle. For the most part, he was always amiable and had a strong work ethic.

He came into my office with a bunch of “I-don’t-knows” and “I’ll-get-back-to-you-on-that” type of responses. After hearing about five of these in succession, tendrils of smoke issued forth from my crimson ears and I exploded. I yelled at the poor kid, something along the lines of: “How dare you come in here and waste my time with these useless answers? What the hell have you been doing this whole time? This is completely unacceptable! Don’t come back in here unless you have something useful to report. But you better do it by this afternoon. Now get the hell out of my office!”

After being subjected to a few minutes of verbal abuse, Matt walked out of my office with his tail between his legs. Am I proud of this? No. (Maybe.) Did Matt’s behavior warrant a tongue-lashing? Not necessarily. Reprimand, yes, but not in the way I delivered it.

Then there was this other time just this past summer. I was at a coffee shop with two friends when a stranger came up to us to bum a cigarette. Anthony offered the guy -- let’s call him Douchebag -- an American Spirit. Douchebag declined it and asked for one of my Camel Crush menthols. How dare he. But I gave him one, thinking it was because he preferred the minty taste. And that’s fine because I can relate to it.

But then Douchebag said, “Yeah, I like these better because these are real cigarettes.” Something then clicked in my brain, unleashing a monster.

This sub-human creature inside of me then pointed at Anthony’s pack, glared at Douchebag, and exclaimed, “Oh, so you’re saying those aren’t REAL cigarettes? Those are as real as you can get! They’re organic!”

Douchebag was a bit flummoxed and said something about how the Camel Crush cigarette was fun to smoke. So then I thought, “Okay, he likes to squeeze the filter and hear it pop, just like me. Forgivable.”

But then he didn’t even pinch the cigarette. Instead, he proceeded to rip. it. OPEN, essentially rendering it unsmokeable, to which I asked, appalled, “What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know how to smoke a fucking cigarette?”

Apparently not. Douchebag responded, “I thought these were those cool cigarettes you can take apart and smoke. But I guess not. Man, these cigarettes suck!”

That was it. The floodgates opened, and a rushing torrent of verbal whitewater came out of my mouth to drown the dumbass. “First you come here asking for a cigarette. Not just a beggar, but a chooser. Then you insult my friend’s American Spirits, and then you fuck up one of mine because you don’t even know how to smoke one. Then you say my cigarettes suck. WHAT KIND OF AN ASSHOLE ARE YOU?”

I had at least three opportunities to bite my tongue and let the issue slide. And most people probably would’ve just let it go to avoid confrontation. But for some inexplicable reason, I decided that the best thing to do was to cause a scene. In a coffee shop. In broad daylight. With a complete stranger. Yeah.

Well maybe it’s not so inexplicable. Just the other night, I was with a group of colleagues (yeah, that’s how we obnoxiously refer to each other now that we’re in grad school). Anyway, we were at a coffee shop and it was past midnight. Half the group was getting ready to call it a night. I guess no one else has a near-inverted sleeping pattern and is a vampire like me.

I jokingly called one of them “a big fucking baby” for wanting to go home so soon. Then one of my other new friends, also lightheartedly, said I was “so mean.” I smiled and admitted that I was, and she replied, “Yeah, it’s because of all your self-loathing.”


This made me think of a few things. First of all, we’ve only known each other for a couple of months, yet she was able to make this psychobabble assessment of me that kind of hit like a dagger to the heart in its precision. Is she that perceptive, or am I that transparent? I mean, it’s taken some of my other close friends at least a year or so to figure that one out. Quite impressive, really, if you think about it.

More importantly, just how true is that statement?

Well, I do engage in acts of self-loathing. I revel in agonizing episodes of unrequited love, and along the same vein, stay in terrible relationships longer than I should. Then there’s the addiction and general lack of moderation - cigarettes, awful food, alcohol and other substances. And again, I can be a bit of a reclusive nocturnal creature. At times, I envision myself as a decadent bohemian in fin-de-siècle France, wallowing in my self-pity and ennui. I brood to Fiona Apple on repeat. It’s a sad and pathetic existence sometimes, but I love it in its own twisted way. It makes me feel alive.

But I’ve just been talking about acts of self-loathing. To take it to a more literal definition - do I actually really hate myself? I don’t think so. On the contrary, I feel like sometimes the exact opposite is true. I know I have minor freak-outs about my insecurities, but I actually love myself to the point of megalomania sometimes. I won’t elaborate on that here because it will probably just alienate me further from friends. Just take my word for it for the moment. So why do I subject myself to acts of self-loathing when I am, in fact, a narcissist?

Now that I’ve identified the dialectical tension between self-loathing and sheer narcissism in my personality, what next? Nothing really. I’m not up for trying to figure out the root of that right now, nor do I believe my personality will or should change. I just am.

Oh right. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with this week’s theme of buildings and food. Well, I started thinking of all this when I was at a coffee shop (a building) with people who were eating sandwiches and pizza (food). Also, my friend who pointed out my self-loathing, an act that served as the impetus to this entire inquiry, is a huge Talking Heads fan, and she probably loves their album More Songs About Buildings and Food. Truth.

Coco Higgins is an aspiring art historian, post-hipster, obnoxious Twitterer, proud owner of delusions of grandeur, has a knack for remembering useless trivia of all kinds, all in all an extraordinary machine.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barbi Beckett: Gladys

My dad thought I should drink milk, for some reason. I appreciate milk as a grown-up, with a warm cookie or some chocolate cake but, as a kid, the only thing it was good for was moistening my sugar cereal. We call it “cow milk” now, which would’ve been like saying “earth dirt” back then.

I use to fantasize about falling ill and having a doctor gravely tell my pop, “Mr. Beckett, your daughter has a rare disorder and will die if she drinks any more milk. In fact, it is of ‘up’most importance that she drink only coke from now on.”

Coke meant any corn syrupy carbonated beverage – Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Sprite. What kind of coke do you want?

Fortunately, I did get my share of coke. When my mom would blow through and take me on some weird road trip where we’d sleep in the back of her Pinto and wash-up at rest stops, I’d always get to enjoy her breakfast of choice; Dr. Pepper and Hostess Cupcakes, the kind with the creamy filling and white curly cue on top. She got her false teeth before she turned twenty. I wasn’t going to remind her that mine were real.

Much more nurturing, but still nutritionally challenged, was my grandma. My short, round, Kool smokin’, instant (hot water from the tap) coffee swillin’ grandma introduced me to Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup mixed with margarine, in a bowl, as a snack.

I spent every weekend at Grandma’s little house. She was a packrat (aka, hoarder) so there was always something to explore. Grandma had only been to Muskogee, Oklahoma and El Paso, Texas but she had an affection for all things ”Oriental”: Pictures of Japanese huts and fisherman, a low, round, black coffee table with abalone inlays and Chinese scenery, a red Buddha that sat about a foot and half high, whose nubbly head I rubbed for years. I passed hours laying on her couch, head hanging off, imagining the ceiling as the floor. It seemed so clean and Asian. I’d have to replace the doors with paper screens and justify the tiny walls between the rooms but it was a nice break from the chaos of her right-side-up house. I mostly loved her clutter though. The treasures were not buried deep.

My grandma mothered me and pampered me in ways that I craved. Growing up with my dad, I’d get hugs now and then but he wouldn’t think to, say, hold my hair back and rub my tummy when I threw up. My grandma would give me bubble baths and then lay me on her bed and dowse me in a cloud of baby powder. She was an Avon lady. She wasn’t a good Avon lady. Being an Avon lady cost my grandma a lot of money. There was the bubble bath, powder and Skin So Soft, but also the perfume bottles shaped as animals or fountains. She might have been her only costumer.

A major weakness for Grandma was the Avon candles and candle holders. She had hundreds and every once in a while, when we were feeling fancy, we’d have a candlelight dinner. That meant rounding up all of the candles, which was like an Easter egg hunt after finding the first twenty obvious ones. We’d end up with more than fifty candles of varying shapes and colors. A frosted purple tulip, a red globe, tapers, votives, tea lights. We’d light them and place them all over the messy dining/living room space and then turn off the overheads. The room sparkled and glowed so bright. The bedlam faded to the background as all those little points of color and light stood up front, creating a magical illusion.

Dinner would already be prepared and was always the same; Snickers, sliced into bite-size rectangles, eaten with a fork, and to drink, a lovely wineglass of coke with ice. Grandma and I would linger at the table long after the meal, just chit-chatting. The room would gradually dim as a candle burned out here and there. Eventually, we’d turn on a light and start blowing out the rest of the candles. If there had been a smoke alarm, we would have heard about it then. I don’t know how many candlelight dinners we had, but there were enough that they are burned into my mind as one perfect evening of love.

As a teenager I spent less and less time at Grandma’s house. I couldn’t stand the cigarette smoke. When I pulled up to her porch on my bike, I’d see her in her special chair, frantically stubbing out the fire on her Kool as she waved the smoke around with the other hand. I also hated how desperate she was to be touched. It made me uncomfortable and yet, had she not put her hands on me so much as a little girl, I might not have survived. I grew uneasy with her emotions and how quickly she’d tear up when telling a story. I knew then that it was because I had inherited her sensitivity and fought it daily. I couldn’t bear to see her cry and she couldn’t not cry so, I began to stay away, then moved away, and then, six months later she died.

When I received her ashes in the mail, my boyfriend and I took them to a beautiful spot by a river. As we sprinkled the ashes on the banks, the sky, honest to God, opened up. There was a solid cloud cover and then, a huge circle of blue sky right above us. The geese went nuts, honking their heads off for a full minute. She was diggin’ the scene of this place. (When I was little, my grandma would spot shooting stars and say, “money money money”. I’d always miss them but on one visit to the place where I’d taken her ashes, I sat picturing Grandma perched atop the tall wooden foot bridge, against the night sky, about to do a swan dive and, in that very moment, I saw my first shooting star).

After the ashes were spread and the geese calmed down I went, with my swollen eyes, into a 7-11 for provisions, then we returned to our unfurnished apartment and balanced a shelf on two speakers for a table. We sat on the floor for a candlelight dinner of Snickers and Coke, without wineglasses and with a paltry five candles.

I still have the wrapper from that candy bar in a little drawer of her black Japanese music box. When Grandma died, my mother made it to town before I did and had a massive yard sale. Most of the objects that Grandma treasured were gone. I did get that frosted purple tulip candle, the black coffee table with Folger’s rings and cigarette burns, that music box and a note in my grandmother’s handwriting that said, “To whom it may concern, Barbi Beckett can have anything from my house that she wants to keep.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sean Tabb: The Meek Shall Inherit the Kitchen

I was a college sophomore when I rented my first apartment, a roach-infested flat I shared with three older roommates. The Council of Elders, I called them. It was safe to assume the roaches had been there a long time, given the age of the building and its proximal location to the known nexus of the cockroach universe (Allston, MA). Then there was the X-factor, the untold grunge of our unknown fellow tenants; the screamy sex-ers in the apartment next door, and the kimchi enthusiasts living below. A roach’s apartment building is his castle, and they don’t respect the boundaries formed by walls and doors with multiple locks. They roam, baby. They roam. But by some mysterious barometer, the Council of Elders discerned a spike in our apartment’s roach-to-human ratio, coincident with my arrival. An inquisition began. I was accused of being messy with food.

Denise was the Council potentate, a 30-something actress, thin as a whisper, beautiful and fastidious. She once told me that she slept with her asshole clenched tight to keep the cockroaches from using her as a hotel, a comment I mistook for flirtation. Her boyfriend, who looked like a perfect roach hotel, made his living as a beetle-browed musical composer, and drank the rest of any opened bottle of wine he ever found. They ate like royalty, these two, and never offered me a bite. It was the unspoken rule of the apartment, delibly inscribed in invisible ink on the lease. Buy what you eat, eat what you buy. They never left a crumb behind.

Kate, the Council magistrate, was a set designer of indeterminate age; she might have been 25, but in my mind she was closer to 40. I thought of her like a mother, and studiously avoided her like I avoided my own. The glowing ash of her ever-present cigarette was counterweight to the red-hot fireball of hair that leapt from her head, and she thrust it at me like a sideways exclamation point whenever she found evidence of my dealings in the kitchen: “CRUMBS!” Handy with a welder’s torch, a tool belt slung around her hips, she flung hammers for sport. It was hard to tell her laugh from her cough. She never ate a thing, and so couldn’t be held responsible for the roaches.

Gabe, the Council flagellate, was an actor too, a chewer of scenery. He would lounge around the house naked, a white feather boa strategically placed, more for effect than modesty. Gabe was like the older brother dressed in drag I never had. He taught me how to make coffee when no maker was handy; “cowboy coffee,” he called it, boiling water and grounds together in a pot and drinking the unfiltered brew. The dregs would lodge in our teeth for days. He subsisted on a diet of fancy olives and sardines.

For $200 a month, the Council of Elders let me sleep in the pantry behind the kitchen. It wasn’t much; barely room enough for a futon mattress and a stack of milk crates to house my clothes and books. We were on the third floor, and I had a window. There was no door. Kate gave me a remnant from a theater curtain, which I hung for privacy. The roaches were unsympathetic.

My relationship with food was underdeveloped. I had gone from living at home, being fed by my mother – first at her breast, then later from her Moosewood Cookbook – to living in a college dorm, where the food was laid out cafeteria-style three times a day and no one complained when I inhaled four bowls of Fruit Loops and a rasher of bacon for breakfast. I was pampered and ill-prepared to forage for myself, as the contents of my grocery bags irrefutably proved.

At the supermarket, I went for durability over taste. Anything processed was bound to keep, and I needed to stretch my meager food dollars as far as I could. Expiration dates were anathema. Plus, I had a tooth for kiddie comfort foods, the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, the Spaghetti-O’s, the hot dogs. Gabe sneered and taunted me for the pre-packaged, pressed meat cold cuts I purchased, waving the foil packets in my face: “You know what that is? It’s the lips, and the hooves, and balls! They drive over it with a steam roller to make it look like that.” The thought hadn’t crossed my mind.

Worse, knowing this didn’t stop me from eating it. I was drawn to the convenience, and cowed by the idea of saddling up to a genuine deli counter, taking a number, asking for a half pound of roast beef sliced wafer thin. I was afraid of doing it wrong, sure to look like a fool before the sausage guy and all the other deli customers. My only concession to the penchant for processed foods was my all-natural peanut butter. It wasn’t that I went looking for fresh ground. Some smart marketer put the plastic tubs on a grocery store aisle end-cap. It was the first thing I saw, so I grabbed it.

Cockroaches appeared to favor these junk foods as well, perhaps because the preservatives fortified them against the pending apocalypse, or the exterminator, whichever came first. My slovenly habits of post-meal clean up certainly weren’t helping. I’d heard somewhere that “cleanliness” was next to “Godliness,” and since I was approximately eight degrees of separation away from “Godliness,” I didn’t feel a whole lot of compulsion to wield a sponge. SOS pads did funny things to my finger tips, made them look all sloughed and shredded. As a result, our kitchen had suddenly become the hottest cockroach speakeasy in town. In the dark you wouldn’t know it, but the instant you flipped on a light, BAM! A thousand tiny roaches would freeze for a moment, snap their heads in your direction, then one of them would mumble “shit,” and another one would yell out “RUN!” and they would scatter, leaving their cocktails and their hors d’oeuvres behind.

And so it came one morning that I stumbled from my pantry hovel, stomach growling like a junkyard dog, and thought to make myself a fancy, healthy breakfast: peanut butter on toast. All natural peanut butter on toast. My assigned cupboard was wall-mounted, way up high, in the corner by the sink. I reached up and grabbed the tub, pulled it down and, seeing what had become of it, dropped it in horror. “Denise! Kate! Gabe!! COME QUICK!” I shouted, and all three responded to the alarm, huddling around me.

Something, some unfathomable force of animal nature, had smashed the lid of my peanut butter container into plastic shards, done a kind of happy dance in the now exposed butter, and left behind a scattering of poo, like a signature, like a warning, like its own personal Mark of Zorro.

“Cockroaches?” I whispered, reverently.

“MICE!” the Council of Elders shot back in angry chorus. I was nearly evicted on the spot.

These pests clearly meant business. Their skills for survival were evolving, mutating, like a virus or a bacteria evolves to beat the world-class brains who arrogantly believed they could erase it. We were up against something far more powerful than sealed food containers and an immaculately clean kitchen could protect against.

What followed was a long period of reform. Under the Council’s tutelage and wary eyes, I was schooled in the art and science of disinfectants. Denise taught me to scrub beneath the stove top, down by the pilot light of each heating element; Kate introduced me to Lestoil. Gabe showed me how to dance with a mop.

It all seemed a bit futile to me, but I wasn’t positioned to argue. Buildings are meant to shield us from nature, but food is a powerful magnet. These four walls around us mount an effective defense against the larger of God’s scavenging creatures, the wolves and the bears and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they’re no match for the smaller ones. The meek shall inherit the kitchen. I was anxiously aware of that fact as I lay in my pantry at night, clenched in body and soul, awake to the sound of skittering feet just beyond the crumbling horsehair plaster.

There’s a pretty good chance that Sean Tabb resembles the guy your sister dated in college. He gets that a lot. There’s an almost equally good chance that he DID date your sister in college, and just doesn’t remember. He does his parenting, husbanding, living and writing from his home in Portland, Maine. Check out his website at, or follow his drivel on Twitter at

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Josh Grimmer: Before the Flood b/w State of the Union for October 16, 2010

And the rain came down, like they were hoping
The great grey belly in the sky split right open
They sing hand-in-hand to the river
The Lord will keep us forever

- Piney Gir, “Great Grey Belly”

Growing up in the New Englandy area, we got more than enough weather. Insane humidity. Snow for days on end. Buckets and buckets of rain – every year, without fail, on my birthday. We never really got event weather. Two of the three big weather memories I have come from age five or so. There was a night where we got what seemed like ten feet of snow. I went to bed, things were fine. I woke up and the snow was easily twice as high up as the very highest I could stretch my neck.

About six months later, Hurricane Bob came and knocked a bunch of trees down. This was expertly rhymed about by Meg earlier this week, so I feel like I don't need to talk about that. Nothing really notable happened, weather-wise, for another 15 or so years.

I had just failed out of Bridgewater State College (go Bears). I wanted to major in English until I realized I couldn't read. I have this horrible block in my brain that forces me to shut down the moment I open a book. It gets worse as I get older. It's amazing that I can stand to be around my wife, considering how she's always walking around with her face buried in a book. She's like Belle, except she's friends with two talking candelabras. Anyhow, after the English debacle, I switched my major to physics. I love physics – I'm too dumb to major in it. Oh, and I slept through class every day. That didn't help.

So I failed out of school. A lot of people do that. I moved back in with my parents. A lot of people do that. I lived in their basement and wanted to kill myself. A lot of people do that, too. After the initial adjustment period, life sort of rolled on like it does. Job to job, paycheck to paycheck. A basement full of crap – clothes, records, comic books, whatever. I wasn't really dating, I had a terrible car. I worked at Blockbuster Video (RIP) for the stunningly insulting rate of seven dollars an hour. I could feel another low coming along. It was one of those periods in my life – one of a few – where each morning I woke up felt like another loss. I was fighting with my parents every day, my mom especially. I never really got along with my mom. I was a terrible son, she was a terrible mom. We decided to just kind of live with that.

It all came to a head the night of the hurricane. Whatever hurricane it was - I honestly don't remember the name. Norma? Jerry? Partario? I forget. It doesn't matter. Really, it might not have even been a hurricane. All I know is it really started dumping down when I was at work. From 5pm to 1am, all it did was rain. Oppressive, painful rain. If you went outside, it hurt. I somehow made it home with my broken windshield wipers and dim headlights. I got in, took the hottest shower you could possibly take without melting, and went down to my bedroom.

By the time I got home, the water had risen to just beneath the lowest stair. The I fumbled around in the dark for the light switch. The whole basement was flooded. All my stuff - the aforementioned records, clothes, comic books – was destroyed. I sloshed over to my bed to find it soaked through. I pulled back the covers to find a family of mice, huddled up for warmth and hoping not to drown. I wasn't about to shoo them away, so I went back up to the living room and fell asleep on the couch.

Remember my mom? Well she shoved me off the couch at about 5am, asking me if I was on meth. If I had been on meth, I wouldn't have been asleep. That, as they say, was the last straw. I'm pretty sure that's what they say. I had spent years threatening to move away from home. After years of making excuses to stay, I finally had my excuse to leave. The flood might have been the best thing to ever happen to me.

I quit my job. I sold my car. I bought a plane ticket. Four days later I was in Los Angeles. I'm never going back.


Oh, hello there. Welcome to this week's State of the Union post. Yeah, it's a bit long. I decided to shove my weather essay in there, just to save space. Consider that space saved.

Weather week! What did you think? Favorites? Unfavorites? You probably shouldn't talk about your unfavorites, that's not what we're here for. I personally enjoyed Patrick's essay about tornado monsters and supercats. I really enjoyed weather week. The whole shebang.

Now, as for this week, it's buildings and food week. We've got a handful of essays, one from a new contributor, even. Who will it be? Well, obviously you don't know. It's a new person. Duh.

Deadlines! Friday, October 22 – I want your essays about Halloween. Costumes, candy, spookiness. Remember the time you dressed up like the Roadrunner three years in a row? You could write about that. Or the Ghostbusters costume you made all by yourself that turned out to not actually be what the Ghostbusters wore. Write about that, too.

The week after that, I think we're all going to write about moving. Why? No reason. Just figured it would be nice to write about. I just closed my eyes and thought “what is the first word that pops into my mind? Moving! Oh, moving. What a great topic!” That is the genesis of this incredibly random topic. I'm certainly not moving to North Hollywood next month, that's for certain. Wait, what? I am? Oh shit. Oh that explains everything. No wonder I'm full of box-related dread. Poor Peepopo won't know what hit her.

Here's my challenge to you, readers. Hell, writers too. Everyone within the sound of my voice – leave more comments. I know it's not just the writers who are reading this. Without getting too pretentious, I'd like each essay to open a discussion here. Get people talking about stuff. I dunno – listen, it's late. I just want people to talk to each other about the stuff that they write. Ask questions. Prod. Whatever. Is something unclear in the text? Ask about it. I feel like Meg and I do a pretty good job of editing this stuff, but sometimes ambiguity slips through.

Still looking for a logo, still looking for more writers, still looking for more readers. Tell your friends.

Oh, and one last thing – if it's playing in your town, go see Tamara Drewe. It was directed by Stephen Frears, who also did The Queen and High Fidelity. It's about a bunch of writers. I mean, it's about a bunch of stuff – love, infidelity, teenage obsession, nudity – but so much of it is about writing. And most of all, it's brilliant. Go check it out.

Grosses bises,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief

Josh Grimmer lives in Hollywood with his wife and cat. He kinda sorta runs this blog, and has another one at Twitter him up at

Friday, October 15, 2010

Patrick White: In the Dark with the Monsters

Sometimes when I was, and am, scared, I lock the door to the basement. It’s the scary place where the monsters dwell, and on particularly threatening nights, they come out of the basement, feeding off your fear, and do whatever it is that monsters do. Unless you lock the door. In that case, they are stuck down there, pacing up and down the stairs, helpless until the door is unlocked, in which case you are no longer scared, and they are no longer real.

When I was ten, I had recently been granted the privilege of going home after school instead of to a daycare (which I attended until an embarrassingly old seven years old, the shame) or to my Mom’s office. On this fateful day, there was a storm brewing. I was watching Wheel of Fortune on NBC before the news came on. The wind was howling and the rain was pelting the window behind me, so I had to turn up the volume to hear. On the bottom of the screen, the scrolling bar listed Sioux county (“That’s where I live” I thought) as under a tornado watch. Of course, I knew even then the difference between tornado watch and tornado warning. "Watch" meant nothing, an empty threat. Maybe I’ll come and be a menace, just you wait and see, and there’s a chance I’ll come and possibly get you. Warning meant everything, a threat come to fruition. You’d better run and hide because I’m not coming anymore. I’m already here.

Partway through a commercial break, it started to hail outside. I could hear the house being struck repeatedly by marbles of ice. Thunder crashed around, and the sky was dark purple, giving that color about as ominous a presence as possible. I, a child who delighted in scaring others, was now on the receiving end of fear. I was waiting for Mom, Dad, someone to get home so everything could be okay. Pat Sajak and Vanna White checked to see if there were any RSTLNE’s on the board. I saw the contestant pick, but could no longer really hear, their additional letters and vowels. MCDO. Not much help, this one would be difficult. And the timer started. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. No right answer yet. Five. Four.

Then the sirens went off around town. Knock, knock. Guess who? I knew the drill: go to the basement, it’s the safest place in town, get away from all windows and glass, and bunker down ‘till danger passes. I chased after and grabbed my cat, then sprinted to the basement entrance, where I stopped.

I stared down the stairs, which changed direction a quarter of the way down, leaving the rest of the basement in mystery until you were already there. It was a large place, and it felt old, almost a dungeon. There were several rooms, many of them with offshoots, and nothing was quite level. The walls were white stone of some kind, but you could see the individual bricks, and the wall bowed in and out. Some doors wouldn’t shut unless real force was applied, and then they were twice as difficult to open. And of course, this was where the monsters lived.

I used to go “monster hunting” with friends, snorkels refashioned as guns, and even at two o’clock in the afternoon, I would feel uncomfortable in the basement. After all, we were just playing. We didn’t want to find an actual monster. Monster hunting was much less intimidating looking around the shrubs around the neighborhood.

I looked downstairs, struggling to find the courage to do what I knew had to be done. Outside, the wind and hail were creating a background of apocalypse. I closed the basement door behind me, sealing myself in. I exhaled, reaffirmed the grip on the cat in my arms, and took the stairs one by one. The small, feeble basement windows rarely let enough light in on the brightest days of summer, and at present I could see virtually nothing. And step by step I descended below the ground until I felt the cold floor under my feet. I was in the main chamber, and I traveled by memory to the next room, shuffling along, holding out my cat-free hand feeling for the door, dreading finding something else or, even worse, something finding me.

The door knob was in my small hands, and I slipped into the laundry room, windowless and as tornado-proof as any room in town. I closed the door tight, and wandered forward, now in complete darkness, swinging my arm to find the light cord. I was petrified, because I knew that this was the room where the monsters sprang from, and even though I wanted the light, I was reasonably certain that when I turned it on, there would be something right in front of me. At least in the dark I wouldn’t know, and maybe it would be over before it began.

I gripped the cord, the moment of truth at hand, and I tugged. But something went wrong. The string snapped, leaving the light off, and I was suddenly trapped by the darkness, unable to see or perceive the orientation of the room. I frantically grabbed for the rest of the cord, hoping it had broken low, but to no avail. It was out of my reach. I grabbed my cat closer, and sat down, as terrified a child as possible. Outside, thunder crashed relentlessly and the sirens continued to blare. And I sat, alone in the dark where the monsters lived, clutching my cat, crying for someone to save me.