Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Nothing Store

“What do you get the guy who’s got everything?” Jonah said aloud to himself, his recently adopted mantra. His older brother, Robert’s birthday was tomorrow, and Jonah had been fretting for weeks over the gift. He had to get Robert the perfect gift, this was all Jonah knew. He beat his brains out to present the present that best defined his brother’s interests in baseball, chess and bingo.

‘I could get him tickets to a Yankee game. No, he’s got season tickets,’ Jonah was going over ideas he’d already explored. He was completely lost.

“What do you get the guy who’s got everything?”

‘Nothing. You get him nothing. It’s the one thing he doesn’t have.’

Finally, a breakthrough. Jonah went online to see if there was a store that sold nothing. This being New York City, there was. Were, there were two of them. One in the North Bronx, the other in Chinatown.

Jonah got out at the Canal Street subway stop, and followed the directions he’d downloaded onto a piece of paper.

He spotted it, a sign of white characters painted on a black backdrop, one word: NOTHING.

Jonah walked towards the something that marketed itself as nothing hoping it had the nothing he was in the market for.

The anti-salesman, a white man, appeared from behind a black curtain. “You’ve already bought it. Leave before you have to pay for it.”

Jonah ignored the anti-salesman, marching straight for him. The store was a narrow black box, void of anything, even a shelf. The only decoration was the black curtain.

“I’m looking to buy nothing. Your website said you sell nothing.”

The anti-salesman glared at Jonah. “You are the problem.”

“Excuse me?” Jonah felt like he was about to be insulted, without realizing the insult had already passed.

“Nothing. Welcome to the Nothing Store. Now get out.”

“Get out? But I haven’t gotten anything, yet.”

“Exactly. Good bye.”

“But, I can’t just show up with nothing tomorrow. Rob’s going to think I’m cheap, or worse, poor.”

“Better to think you’re frivolous.”

“Excuse me. Don’t you want to make a sale?”

“No,” said the anti-salesman.

“Then why are you in business?”

“This is a none of your business kind of business.”

Jonah scratched his nose, though, it wasn’t itchy. He didn’t know what to say to this man who worked in a store that hoped not to make sales.

“Maybe you’re the problem,” Jonah said back defensively. He was not comfortable in this fight, for, he didn’t know what he was fighting for. He just felt he should be putting up a fight.

“You’re singing ‘Silent Night’ Christmas Eve World War One. You’re playing soccer with the enemy, you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means how can I help you?”

“I’m looking to buy nothing.”

“Of course you are. How much nothing are you looking to buy?”

“About two hundred dollar’s worth.”

“We only accept cash.”

“Here,” Jonah handed four fifty dollar bills to the anti-salesman.

“Why are you still here? Thank you for shopping the Nothing Store, now get the hell out.”

“But, you haven’t given me anything.”

“Exactly. Good bye!”

“But, what, am I supposed to show up at the party saying I spent two hundred dollars on nothing? Can’t I at least get a receipt to show?”

“No, receipts are something. This is the Nothing Store. And I have nothing more to say.” The anti-salesman turned and returned behind the curtain from which he had appeared.

Jonah’s gift was a hit. He saved the story for dinner. He told it beautifully, milking the absurdity for every laugh. He exaggerated little; his only lie came naming the price of the nothing to be $1000. His brother was tickled by the story, and touched by his little brother’s generosity.

Jonah wondered how he could top this next year. He had 364 days to come up with something that was more than nothing, cause this year, his gift of nothing had really been something.

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

“You would want me to lie to you?”

“About something like that, yeah.”

Grant studied his girlfriend. He wasn’t sure if she meant what she just said. “Really? You are encouraging lying? You’re telling me to lie to you?”

“Not all the time. Most of the time tell the truth, but, about something like that, you should lie.” Holly adjusted her fork and knife.

Grant took a sip of his milkshake still eyeballing his girlfriend, looking for hints she was bluffing. She looked serious, yet, Grant thought he knew Holly well enough to know when she was testing him. This seemed like a test. “You don’t think honesty is the best policy?”

Holly was hungry. She looked around the restaurant for the waiter with their food. “Not always. Honesty’s the best policy is too simplistic. Where’s our food? We didn’t even get bread.”

“Ok, so if I cheat on you I won’t-”

“What do you mean, ‘if you cheat on me’? Are you planning on it?”

“No, I was speaking hypothetically.”

“Well, don’t hypothetically cheat on me.”

Now Grant was looking around for the waiter to serve as his life-preserver. He hoped sticking food in her mouth would shut her up, or at least distract her from her current food for thought: cheating and telling. Grant was not the brightest star in the sky, so he had to learn the hard way that there is no right answer to the question: ‘If you cheated on me and got away with it, when would you tell me?’

The waiter arrived like the deus ex machina of the date, handing them plates of food that gave them both sustenance and excuse to fill their mouths with something that went down better than arguing.

Grant gave seasoning his fish and chips his undivided attention while Holly ate her hamburger thinking she trusted her boyfriend more on a full stomach.

The Fear of Fear

Norbert is neurotic, so neurotic, he’d be the first to tell you how neurotic he is. Norbert knew he couldn’t help it, no matter what any of his dozens of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts said. Norbert had been diagnosed as having phobophobia, the fear of phobias, the Mother of all phobias. Norbert feared fearing everything. The upside to the fear of fearing everything, is that everything cancels everything else out, leaving a dull white noise in Norbert’s ear.

He equally feared driving as much as he feared not driving. The two would wipe each other out, putting Norbert behind the wheel of his car driving himself (crazy) to a job he equally feared having and losing. Norbert was a Supreme Court Justice of The United States of America. He was afraid he was afraid of making decisions, so he was fearful of how much he wanted to make them. The more he was afraid of it, the more he wanted it. He was afraid he made decisions all the time about things he had no business deciding.

“It won’t rain tomorrow,” Norbert decreed to his car radio, disagreeing with its weather report.

When he wasn’t acting as a Supreme Court Justice, Norbert spent his summertimes gardening and his wintertimes molding then painting garden gnomes. The scarier the garden gnome, the more Norbert loved it. He thought the same about his wife, Betty. His wife’s face reminded Norbert of a gargoyle. He loved her madly.

He feared he feared love. There was nothing he wanted more, love. So he said, ‘I love you’ to everyone he met, including bus drivers and bus boys. His wife, Betty, resented how freely her husband used a word and phrase she felt should be saved just for her.

“Hon, you don’t have to tell every single person you meet you love them. It’s a bit awkward for everyone, including and especially me,” Betty requested her husband.

Norbert was standing, holding a hotdog dripping with mustard, now paralyzed by the timing of his wife’s words. What did she mean by, ‘especially me’? He thought to ask her, but he feared what she might say.

“Sir, your change,” said the hotdog lady who Norbert had informed he loved.

Norbert was afraid of accepting the bacteria on the money as much as he was afraid of being shortchanged. He took the two quarters and put them in his pocket.

“Do you love me?” Betty asked her husband as they walked away from the hotdog lady.

“I love you,” he said automatically.

“More than the hotdog lady?”

“I love you,” he said, because he knew it wasn’t true and he feared the fear of breaking up more than fear of staying together, so he really wanted to break up. This is what kept them together.

And when the Supreme Court Justices were deadlocked four to four on abortion rights, it was Norbert who could cast the deciding vote because he knew how ridiculous it was to save something that was just as well never being born in the first place.

Reincarnated as a Tourist in India

Walking next to the Ganges River steaming in the mean June heat, walking until I found myself lost in the middle of Maniknaka ghat, the largest burning ghat of Varanasi. I watch the bodies burn, wondering if Shiva has whispered his mantra of moksha to the dead and allowed them into heaven. Thousands of pilgrims come here to die for this very purpose, to please Shiva.

The entire city of Varanasi rests on the tip of Shiva’s trident, it is where he will destroy the world; it is the city Shiva loves so much he will destroy it first. It is the city he so hated to leave, he erected the first shivalinga here as a way of staying both in and out of the city simultaneously. This duality of the shivalinga, the penis coming out of the vagina, representing the very god who tamed Mother Ganges, washing her with his hair, so she could fall from heaven as rain to free the souls trapped in their sarcophagus made of flesh and bone.

I stood watching the men attend to their death ritual, feeding the flames with straw and powder, I felt the light of life surround me, in the bodies of the living, in the spirits lifted up to heaven in the smoke, leaving their bodies behind, it didn’t matter, it was just matter.

This was looking Death in the eye and singing, “Rama nama sata hai!” while carrying the body down to the river, dancing all the way. And I thought, even if they’re all wrong, and Rama’s name wasn’t true, and there was no Shiva, no moksha, no heaven, still, these people have found their peace with death, singing and dancing, and banging their drums all the way down to the river to spend three hours to feed the flames until there’s but a bit of bone to be raked into the water.

This river runs through so much beauty and so much poverty, making the beauty more beautiful and the poverty more impoverished. The sight of a little boy between the pyres flying a baby blue kite up up up to be swallowed by the big blue sky high above the burnings below, and the men bathing down river, washed in smoke, next to cows basking in the smoke of burning bodies. Varanasi is probably the only place in the world where the cows lounge in the smoke of people, as if at their cow barbeque, waiting to eat. India floats by like a dream.

For the Love of Ice Cubes

The Little Ice Cube knew he was in big big trouble. He could see that what had once been a full tray of twelve ice cubes was down to four. Ice cubes were missing and presumed dead. Every time the freezer door opened the Little Ice Cube held his frozen little breath, knowing it could be his last. Three quarters of his kind had been lost, tossed into tumblers, crushed in the name of the margarita, or slurpee, or used to ice a sore shoulder. And with only three others left, the Little Ice Cube didn’t like his odds.

The Hand. His worse nightmare came to light as the freezer door opened and The Hand reached in. The light that flashed on as soon as the door opened gave no warning of attack, so there was really no chance of the Little Ice Cube making a run for it, out of the tray. He was stuck frozen anyway, so, there really was no hope of escape at all. All he could do was do his best to hold on tight every time the tray got smacked against the counter. The Hand always went for the cubes that got shaken loose. Still, even if he was to hold on to the end, he knew there would still be an end and he could only wait for his time to come when he, too, would be tossed in a tumbler, maragrita, slurpee, or, dish cloth to ice a sore shoulder.

The tray was smacked against the counter.

‘Here it comes,’ thought the Little Ice Cube, straining to stay put as the tray was turned upside down and the last ice cube to his left fell from the tray into The Hand. The Little Ice Cube never had a chance to see where the others were taken. All the Little Ice Cube knew was that they were missing and presumed dead. They never came back. They were taken, this much was known. What happened after was anyone’s guess. The Little Ice Cube guessed that they died a horrible horrible death. He thought he wanted to think the best, but he guessed he only knew the worse.

“He’s a goner for sure,” said the ice cube right in front of him, Dora, who occupied the last square to the right of the tray.

“That’s right, no one ever comes back,” agreed, Hatty, the ice cube to the right of Dora. The Little Ice Cube was now on his side all alone since The Hand had taken Bill, his last neighbor to his left. “I bet it’s a painful death. I bet it really hurts,” opined Hatty.

“You just bleed to death, I don’t think it hurts at all. What hurts is the not coming back part. You have to leave all this, all this beautiful cold. It’s freezing in here, I love it. Out there, it’s hot. That kitchen’s scalding, actually, that’s what I’m afraid of, being away from all this glorious cold,” worried Dora.

“You’ll never survive. Ten minutes out there you’re a puddle. Our only hope is to run for it, escape,” The Little Ice Cube finally spoke up. Neither Hatty nor Dora had heard him speak in days, for the Little Ice Cube had stopped speaking after he figured out that it made no sense trying to make friends with anyone, seeing as sooner or later, any and all of these other ice cubes would eventually be taken away and presumably murdered. The Little Ice Cube knew it was now or never; it was time to make a break for it.

It took Dora a few seconds before addressing the odd little ice cube across from her. He sounded so defeated. They both knew there was no where to run. They could run no further than the confines of their little freezer above the fridge. They were stuck frozen to the tray, shaped by the dimensions of the tray, framing twelve individual cubes, one inch by one inch, marking each ice cube identically. Yet, still, the ice cubes were never entirely identical. There would be a crack in one ice cube here or a bit more of a bubble on another ice cube there that they were never entirely the same. Dora always thought the little ice cube across from her was kind of cute, weird, but cute, the way his ice had a touch of silver at the top, the only side of him that he exposed. The cube’s other five sides were all buried in the white plastic tray. And the Little Ice Cube had said so little, Dora had a hard time guessing a side of his personality beyond laconic.

“Where can we escape to?” Dora finally asked him.

“I don’t know,” said the Little Ice Cube, “it was just an idea. I can’t even get out of this tray.”

“You’re just dreaming. The Hand will return any time and take us,” said Dora, though, not wanting to sound so negative, she added, “it’s a nice dream, though.”

“Maybe if we hid behind the ice cream or bag of frozen peas…” The Little Ice Cube offered.

“We just have to get out of the tray,” reminded Dora.

“Oh, how I’d give anything to get out of this tray,” Hatty said, and as though The Hand had been listening at the door, reached in and took the tray out. There were a few immeasurable and insufferable seconds where each cube knew that this could be the time that they were popped from the tray and plopped into someone’s drink, dissolved and drunk. Time was melting away. Dora had a moment when she thought to reach across to the Little Ice Cube and hold him for comfort until she realized they had no hands and no way of connecting physically.

Hatty was the one taken. The Hand slammed the tray against the counter, broke Hatty from her cubicle and added her to his drink before returning the tray back to the freezer. Dora didn’t dare speak till the freezer door was firmly shut.

“That’s it, we’re the only ones left. The Hand will come for us any time, what can we do?” The Little Ice Cube answered in silence. Dora got tired of waiting for a response that wasn’t coming. “I don’t know about you but I’m going to make the most of the time I have left.”

The Little Ice Cube was intrigued. “How do you hope to do that?”

“By thinking positively. It’s all we got. We can’t walk anywhere, seeing as how we don’t have feet and we’re frozen stuck to this plastic tray. But, we still have our minds and our hearts, we can still dream. Let’s dream we’re somewhere happy and safe and then we will be.”

The Little Ice Cube had a hard time even pretending to accept this logic. “No, we’ll still be right here. Worse, we’re even closer to the end.”

“I don’t know about you, but right now I’m taking a cruise in the Arctic Ocean on an iceberg. Weeeeee!” Dora added for effect. “Look out, I’m about to hit a penguin!”

“Penguins are in the antarctic, not the arctic ocean,” the Little Ice Cube added insipidly.

“Look, don’t ruin this for me. If I say I’m taking a cruise in the arctic ocean on an iceberg passing a school of penguins, then that’s where I am. I’m not gonna let mr. chip-in-his-ice like you tell me different and spoil my fun. You can go wherever you want, but if you want to come on the iceberg cruise, there’s room for one more, so long as you don’t rain all over it and melt the fun away.” There was a long pause before she asked, “Are you coming?”

“Ok, I’m coming,” he said without enthusiasm.

“You gotta be a lot more excited than that. This cruise is reserved only for happy and fun ice cubes.”

“Yay, we’re on a cruise passing penguins,” the Little Ice Cube said, doing a poor job hiding his sarcasm. Dora could sense that he was at least trying, so she let the sarcasm go.

“Oh, look, a polar bear! And look he’s juggling snowballs! Have you ever seen a polar bear juggle snowballs before?”

“No,” the Little Ice Cube couldn’t help but laugh.

“Me neither. This was worth the price of the ticket right there.”

And as they played with their imaginations, they gradually put away all thoughts of The Hand. The Little Ice Cube actually found himself having fun and wishing he’d gotten to know this brilliant little ice cube across from him, Dora, a lot sooner. He tried not to think of the time they’d missed, but the time they were having.

Until they were out of time.

And the freezer door opened and The Hand invaded their space once again, taking the tray and this was it. This was really it. There was no where left to hide, not even in their imaginations.

“It was great knowing you,” Dora whispered as The Hand grabbed hold of their tray.

“You too,” breathed the Little Ice Cube.

They said nothing more as their ice cube tray was lifted out of the freezer and hovered over the counter, the same counter they had seen used to smash apart so many other ice cubes before.

Instead, a miracle.

Instead of getting slammed against the counter, the white plastic tray was placed beneath the tap and cold water flowed over the nearly empty tray, filling each empty cube with the hope of new life. Water washed over both Dora and the Little Ice Cube’s faces, melting them, slowly bleeding them to new life drowning in their own blood.

The tap was turned off, and the tray was returned to the freezer, with Dora and the Little Ice Cube swimming in their new forms, truly connected, their bodies becoming one, solidifying stronger together with each passing breath of frost shared between them.

And as they were left to sit again in the glorious cold, the water froze solid, and what had once been bleeding them, bonded them, freezing the two ice cubes together in love.

This Is About You

The pages knew where this was going. The paragraphs, even the little words knew. They were sentenced to end. The end. All stories, great, epic or otherwise could not outlast infinity. The story was depressed, not knowing it was a comedy. It gave the reader great joy, laughter, though, it could not indulge in any of the joy it gave. The fourth wall between the story and the reader seemed too high to mount, too thick to break through. So, the story sat on the shelf, moping, afraid to be picked, read and finished. The end. Of all the words contained within its life, the story brooded entirely on the end.

‘Here comes another one,’ thought the story as it was taken off the shelf by a new reader and opened to the light. ‘He won’t understand the subtleness of the language. He won’t get me at all.’ And when the reader laughed at the first joke laced within its verse, the story rolled its invisible eyes thinking, ‘see, he thinks I’m funny, too. I’m a tragedy, damn it! Let me be tragic!’

The reader fell in love with the story, reading quickly, absorbing every word, tickled by every joke, eager to experience it completely. ‘Too fast!’ shouted the story in its silence. ‘You’re reading too fast! Let me breathe! You’re choking me with your eyes!’ Two pages later, the story was read, the book was closed, returned to the shelf and the reader walked away. Darkness returned to the pages.

Then, light. ‘Where am I?’ wondered the story.

“Go far enough west and you’re east.”

‘Who said that?’ the story felt like it was floating above its pages. It was having an out-of-book experience.

“All of western civilization is based on some Italian guy getting lost. America is founded on one wrong turn.”

It took a moment before the story realised it was being quoted. ‘Who’s quoting me? And why are these people laughing? It’s not funny! I’m not funny!’

The reader felt the story wrestle within his heart. It wanted out. The reader let it out the only way he knew how, by citing more passages from it. The effect was overwhelmingly euphoric on the poor little story. It felt high enough to be low; sweet enough to be sour. It simply didn’t know how to take itself, with cream or vinegar as it heard itself become the words of another.

‘This reader doesn’t know me at all. He knows me too well. Put me back! Put me back in the book! What am I doing here!’ the story struggled with the weight of light, hovering above gravity itself.

The reader felt his heart twitching, his mind twitching. He felt the story bursting through his mind’s synapses. “What’s wrong, little story?” the reader whispered.

‘I want to go back home,’ sighed the story.

The reader smiled. “You are home.”

The story was lost being found. “My home is between the covers of my book.”

The reader smiled. “Story, don’t you know you’re in me? You’re part of me. I read you, I love you.” The story was silent soaking in the reader’s words. “You’re wherever there is thought. You’re magic itself.”

“But you read me, you finished me. How can I be here?”

“Story,” the reader began gently, “we just started, you and I. We’ll grow together.”

“I’m a tragedy!” the story sobbed.

“You’re alive. You breathe in me like I breathed in your words. The karma of art and this is your reincarnation. Don’t fight the cycle of inspiration. Breathe, story. Breathe.”

For the first time, the little story took a deep breath and breathed, allowing the air of the reader’s words carry it up into the thoughts of all that heard the reader tell the story of the comedy that thought it was a tragedy. And for the first time, the little story laughed at how funny it was. And is.