Friday, November 27, 2009

idyllic whatever

I found a neighborhood I'd never heard of before, east of the East Village. Its main feature was a large castle-like structure blocking the entire length of Houston right at the entrance, beyond Avenue D and the FDR overpass. People came from all over the city to look at it. Apparently it was built by a bored and very rich fourteen year old whose parents never let her leave the house. She built the entire castle inside the main room of her parents' mansion. Her parents were so proud of her work that they had it transferred to Houston as a permanent installation. I guess they were rich enough to pay off all the fines for blocking traffic in perpetuity.

The castle itself wasn't that remarkable, aside from the fact that it was in the middle of the street. I was able to walk right up to it and peer through the narrow windows built into the sides. It was hollow inside and full of trash and blankets.

Beyond the castle, the neighborhood felt like a mix of Franklin, Michigan and the Cotswolds. Lots of sloping green fields and adorable houses and a little main street full of antique shops and art galleries. I decided it was my new favorite part of the city. I went there one day with a friend of mine for a summer picnic. Hundreds of people were gathered in one of the big clearings, sitting on the grass and laughing their heads off.

Then my friend started kissing all the girls around us. We got up and walked down the main street holding hands, and at each house a girl came down to the front gate for a kiss while I stood awkwardly to the side. I realized all these women were people I went to high school with who had since married, some of them with kids of their own. I also realized that somehow, probably in a way Freud could explain quite nicely, all of the above means I am totally psyched out by the prospect of my impending high school reunion.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

team spirit

I moved to an island off the coast of New Zealand to coach the locals in a sport I had invented. It was kind of a combination of ultimate frisbee and volleyball. I called it racquetball.

When I arrived on the island, there was nothing there but a goat and some carrots. My assistant coaches and I managed to live off the land for many years until we eventually cozied up to the native population. We found them, conveniently, in a large gymnasium inside a sporting goods store. I picked up my racquetball equipment (a soft frisbee-like disc) at the front of the store, fighting off several sweaty white guys in tennis clothes and headbands. Then I gathered some local kids and showed them the rules.

We got a pretty good game going in the gym. Kids were swarming out of the woodwork to join the team. Then all of a sudden all the kids cleared off the court except for my original five players. Thousands of people crowded around, packing the bleachers and spilling over onto the sidelines. Six very large local men sauntered onto the opposite side of the net and challenged us to a match. I gave my team a pep talk. We were ready for our big debut. But then the men pulled out a volleyball and my kids panicked. I called a time out and we removed ourselves to the hallway.

"We can do this," I told the kids.

"No we can't."

"Yes you can."

After a few minutes of this, we decided to play the game after all. We'd do one set of volleyball followed by a set of racquetball. The overall winner would banish the other group from the gym forever. The stakes were high, but my team was ready. I was doing the Peace Corps proud.

Friday, November 20, 2009

kill your editor

Corporate capital punishment had been reinstated, although in the book publishing business it was mainly used by authors who were unhappy with the way their editors handled their books. I had the unfortunate luck of having two separate authors sentence me to death at the same time. The authors in question did not believe in coordinating their plans with others, so my first execution was scheduled for the morning and my second for that same afternoon.

Author #1 was a very successful entrepreneur, and a bit of a showman. He rented out a large public atrium and set up ticket booths. The public was welcome at $20 a pop, but he promised an especially gruesome old-school decapitation for their money. I'd be put up on a platform while someone ran at my neck from behind with an authentic samurai sword. As the crowd began to gather, I snuck out from back stage and began pleading my case with them. I hoped that if they got to know me as a person they would be less willing to let my author go through with the beheading. They pretended they couldn't hear me.

At the last second, author #2 rescued me from the chopping block. His motives may have been somewhat self-interested (he didn't want to have to execute a corpse), but for the moment I was grateful. I was kind of upset that author #2 was going through with this. I thought we had a pretty good relationship. But he was very sensitive, and he claimed I had never paid enough attention to him or called him often enough to talk about his work. I suppose that may have been true. I have been very busy lately.

We discussed all this on the car ride upstate. He had rented out a cabin in the woods for a small private ceremony. Just him and me, the still lake, and some geese who would flap up in the air in a big flurry when he shot me in the back of the head and let me fall face-forward into the water. The blood would spread out around my head in the water like a halo, he said. He asked if he needed my permission to write about this in his next book. I told him I thought the imagery was actually rather derivative, but I knew he wouldn't listen to me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

where i live and what i did

A city has been developing, night by night. It's increasingly hilly in the east, where I live, in a neighborhood full of coffee shops and churches and private clubs for horse enthusiasts. Its subway system is labyrinthine. At least four lines intersect at each stop, in cavernous stations with tiered platforms set up like an Escher painting. The newest stations are shiny, metallic mega-malls, full of stores and robots. The station near my house is older, dirt-packed and grungy. Trains stop at random spots, sometimes on different tracks that are only accessible by jumping down between the rails and scurrying across with all the rats.

On weekends I take the train west. At the far end of the city, the densely-packed neighborhoods give way to a series of narrow islands. A single road and multiple bridges connect them, lined with palm trees and roadside diners that specialize in key lime pie.

Most recently, I left the town entirely and ended up in Las Vegas, my least favorite place on Earth. I wandered through themed hotels and ended up with some guy who looked like Eric Bana in the backwoods on the outskirts of town. The heavy forestation seemed unlikely. We met in an abandoned campsite in someone's backyard and fell into step with each other as we beat through the underbrush.

We eventually parted ways, only to run into each other a few hours later. Eric Bana was going nuts. He was jumping over cars and sweating profusely. "You have to help!" he screamed. Apparently someone had called him and told him they had been kidnapped and taken to an unknown location, where they were tied to a chair, stabbed with a very large fish hook, and left to die. Eric Bana was trying to locate this person. "Call 911!" he told me. So I did.

* * *

I woke up early the next morning in a cold sweat, knowing I had done something horribly wrong. The 911 operator had put me on hold, so I told Eric Bana I'd call them back in a few minutes. He ran off to jump over more cars and break into houses and crack some skulls. I wandered back to the main strip and completely forgot about the unknown person gutted like a fish in some rec room somewhere. Vegas does that to you; it's so distracting. I desperately called 911 again, and left a message for Eric Bana, but in the back of my mind I knew it was too late.