in this photo the tree and flowers are posed like your back-up band. the wet earth is a soft stage you’re all standing on. you’re their leader, the singer, dwelling in their sound, about to join in.
[Ruffles papers at the dais]
In conclusion, here at the outset
[group of deaf students applaud]
[group of students wearing shirts that say Jesus Gave me Tinnitus applaud inaudibly]
[group of highly politicized roll-carts roll by, somewhat audibly, as if of their own volition. As though they are operating under their own control. Sentient roll-carts? Some blue, some black, some brown, some green. The roll carts do not have eyes, though they be sentient. Aye]
and so as a lunch-time option, I will suggest, it is of vital importance that snacks be “factored into the equation.”
[A tropical fish, who had been gazing with deep inattention at the square of linoleum floor framed by his idly hanging flippers, now slowly and deliberately looks up at the speaker. His attention has been piqued. What’s this about lunch? Snacks? ]
A snack isn’t what we make it. Even if it is we who have made the snacks. I’ll often make a snack for myself, mid-afternoon, as though a dog left alone at home had the ability to open the fridge, unscrew bottles, spread nut-butters with nut-butter knives…
[A very pink fish is lost in her own reverie. She imagines a chocolate laborador, left home alone, unscrewing a jar of peanut butter, dipping in a long blunt knife, and spreading the peanut butter across three saltine crackers. It is, needless to say, an erotic fantasy. The fish is transmuted into a feline. The feline is transmuted into an unopened tin of sardines. The tin opens itself, with a great deal of volition, and begins snacking upon itself, heartily, its lips — such as they are — smacking.]
And so women. And so men. And so students of the region, who are gathered and fed and assembled and educated here, under these eaves, under this aegis, be-chancelled by this bewitching chancellor–
[The Chancellor, whose name is R. Bowen Loftin, gathers himself up in a great mawkish burst of plumage, then shits himself into a garbage pail; exeunt.]
And so, at the outset, or in conclusion, the class of 1999 now leads you, seniors, graduating class of 2016, into blinkered victory. I hope you’re OK. I hope you all inherit a great deal of money and then squander your inheritance on graduate education and activism and travel and charity. And love. Squander everything for love, my children. Because love is the most pragmatic tool you can wield in the economy into which you’re graduating. And I needn’t remind you that all of your love is concentrated in your genitals.
CAL: Five hours of sleep.
CAL: Three hours of sleep.
[A cool cat swiffs itself across the linoleum, wiping it clean but leaving a trail of black hairs]
CAL: An hour of sleep.
HERA: I’m changing my major. From philosophy to social justice.
CAL: Social justice is a major?
HERA: What I mean is, I’m dropping out of college to become an activist.
HERA: Because reading Henry James all day isn’t helping address income inequality in this country.
CAL: Neither is writing angry blogposts about income inequality. Or standing on the streetcorner arguing with Republicans about income inequality.
HERA: It’s better than nothing. And also you are cynical. Political change in America is possible. People change their minds.
CAL: No they don’t.
HERA: Be serious.
CAL: I am being serious!
HERA: Well, I have to finish cooking and then I need to do some online banking.
CAL: Can I help?
CAL: OK. Let me know if you need help.
HERA: I will.
CAL: Thanks. OK.
HERA: All right.
CAL: See you soon?
HERA: [Does not answer. Performs several online banking tasks. Cooks an arpeggio of salad. Fantasizes about a field mouse turning on a hot spit. Fantasizes about being Cal’s waitress at a fancy restaurant she also owns and is the head chef for. She hands him the menu, her hair in adorable sweaty strands adorning her face. Cal looks down at the menu and reads, half to himself, “Roasted Field Mouse.” Their eyes meet. This is love. This is scintillation. This is mutual attraction. This is Vermont in the 1980s.]
CAL: [Approaches a donut. Purchases it. Eats it in half-furtive bites from his open jacket pocket. Looks down to see he has paws. Big blue CGI family-friendly bear-paws. He has had five hours of sleep. He is perennially, perpetually “on deadline.” He will tell people he’s “on deadline” even if by that he means he needs to go to the pharmacy by this evening or else he’ll be unable to pick up his prescription without re-ordering it.]
[Cal once helped name a craft beer. It’s called PawPrint Blue Stout. He often orders it when he drinks at the Lathe.]
LATER THAT NIGHT, AT THE LATHE
CAL: [His voice thick with the foamy syrup of a fresh PawPrint Blue Stout]: I got five hours of sleep last night.
A: Help! I’m curious when it’s too late.
B: Do you mean you’re curious when it’s too late? Or you’re curious when it’s too late?
B: Calm down. We have an audience [Gestures to the audience.]
A: [Gestures to B’s gesturing]
B: Mocking me?
A: Mocking you?
B: Aleatoric birdsong
A: Harpsichord deathmonk
B: [Holds her tongue]
A: [Peacefully abides within a privileged suffering]
B: [Blows another imaginary deadline]
A: [Participates in careless riffing]
B: [Subscribes to a community newspaper with at least one racist reporter]
A: [Eats a great deal of Japanese bean-crackers]
B: [Watches Daniel Radcliffe rap a Blackalicious song on Jimmy Fallon on YouTube]
A: [Hurts himself with a mental needle]
B: [Farms out some stuff to a Little League of refreshment-and-freelancers]
A: What was your question during the Q&A?
B: I asked if a certain compound phrase the short-fiction writer used in her story was hyphenated
A: Cos you were trying to picture the phrase, how it was printed?
B: It changed the meaning for me, whether it was hyphenated or not
A: What was the phrase? How did a hyphen change its meaning?
B: Well OK It didn’t change it dramatically. Or… even … like… semantically. It was more of an aesthetic thing.
A: Like a blind guy at the opera who wants to know what color are the buttons on the Colonel’s vest
B: Exactly so
A: —B, the colonel’s buttons were orange
B: What sort of orange?
A: Brass— in a child’s imagination
B: Why does a child’s imagination turn brass orange?
A: The child has never seen brass, but the child does have a sense for what brass is, kinda generally, and so his imagination bronzes it
B: Bronzes the brass?
A: The brass is bronzed by the child’s imagination
B: Talking to you feels like passing a school of eels and neckties and their hybrid offspring through an eternal dishwasher: loading it up, running it, sitting near its quiet warmth during the dry cycle, unloading, beginning again with the fresh neckties and eels and their hybrid offspring, loading them in, draping them over the rack, pouring in the detergent, starting it up, sitting down, sliding over during the dry cycle, over and on and on and over again and on. Is what speaking with you today and most days feels like
A: Oh B, My dick is limpid
B: u mean limp?
A: No, limpid, which means “totally clear, un-dark”
B: it’s a bright cock?
A: Right, bright. Filled with natural light
There’s a problem in the garden partition; it’s not the stupid’s fault for being stupid. I don’t try too hard. Failure gathers in the bleaches of my belly. Sara, blending into the evening, marches along the low garden wall, worrying her outfit’s straps while she considers the problem… and Sara wants to know: What problem? And, actually, what partition? When you were with the woman who hired you to check out her typography (in a city, in a women’s room), it bleached me. I made a joke about a person who eats a dinner designed for an animal. “The omnivore’s dilemma: What if you ate Fancy Feast for dinner instead of all that old tuna salad?” I must have understood it as a joke because then I said, “Just kidding.”
DARREN: My favorite kind of music is trust-fund punk.
KARREN: My favorite kind of tunnel is carpal. My favorite academic trend is the linguistic turn
DARREN: like in the 80s?
KARREN: yeah. I felt so good when scholarship took a linguistic turn
DARREN: One time you told me that you thought my blog was really well proofread
KARREN: it is!
DARREN: But I only thought, Ouch! faint praise!
KARREN: what’s faint about well proofed?
DARREN: i want it to be blazing and arresting, not clean
DARREN: who will run the frog hospital?
KARREN: who will boost our followers?
DARREN: Steve Roeggenbuck will run the frog hospital
KARREN: we can’t name our son Ben Smith because he won’t be googleable
DARREN: I didn’t study search-engine optimization in college to help inform what we’re gonna name our son. anyway i thought we were gonna name him derrick?
KARREN: like oil derrick?
DARREN: Like derek jeter?
KARREN: you’re embarrassing me. Have we gotten everything on our list?
DARREN: we still need salt-breath
[they turn down aisle 9, where the salt-breath is stocked]
DARREN: here’s the salt breath
KARREN [selecting a less-expensive brand]: let’s get this kind. that kind is eleven dollars!
DARREN: OK. I like this brand tho
KARREN: 11 dollars!
DARREN: OK, get the cheaper kind, but it’s not as salty. Or as breathy. It tastes like evaporated seaweed milk
KARREN: kan we talk about theater and radio and improvisation and the experience of reading plays or reading radio drama scripts
DARREN: darling i’d prefer not to in the supermarket. can it wait till we get home?
KARREN: I dunno. did you hear annie baker on WTF?
DARREN: yes. a fine reminder that self-deprecation can sound 100 times more self-involved than self-aggrandizement
KARREN: or you mean that self-deprecation can just be another form of self-aggrandizement
DARREN: that’s a finer way to put it
KARREN: do we like these Deep Noodles?
DARREN: I’ve never tried them
[tosses the Deep Noodles with nonchalance into the brimming cart]
[a loud trust-fund punk song begins playing on the supermarket stereo]
KARREN: but Baker was sharp and charming in that interview
DARREN: i know. it was just when they were talking about the Pulitzer that it bummed me out
KARREN: what if I’m more interested in writing dialogue that’s read on the page than I am writing something that’ll be performed?
DARREN: watching tv or film, the only time i’m conscious of the writing is after the fact. i only think “that was well written” once it’s over. as opposed to obviously reading a novel or a poem where every sentence is another opportunity to evaluate — and consciously appreciate — the writing
KARREN: sure because the writing is submerged in film or tv or theater — you have so much else to evaluate first — the performance, the images, the sound
DARREN: why don’t more people publish novels in dialogue?
KARREN: Because they have to feed their families.
[Throws a vegan suckling pig shrink-wrapped in hot-pink plastic into the cart, which buckles and implodes]
FB: Do you wanna read this post?
JJK: I’m busy with family
FB [lilting]: Tell me about the last 40 days of your life!
JJK: My aunt has dementia. I’m a human salad
FB: James Salter is verrrrrry important to me, professionally
JJK: If a professional copyeditor were to ask you out, and you weren’t married, would you?
FB: Would I what?
JJK: Would you consider?
FB: Consider what?
JJK [lilting]: would you consider taking her by the hand… leading her down the aisle… remembering all her most personal details…passwords, leggings sizes, ratios of incline…
FB: Like in literary theory?
JJK: A little!
FB: Wakefield. I’m worried about *not* being an activist?
JJK: Let’s talk it through. What’s wrong?
FB: Injustice. Social justice. Social injustice. Environmental catastrophe.
JJK: OK, and?
FB: We should be involved.
JJK: Join a synagogue?
FB: There aren’t any good ones nearby.
JJK: Get a PhD in sociology?
JJK: Why don’t you and your wife make a list of 95 things that are important to you and post in Lutheran style on your door (fridge door) to remind you of what you think is very important
FB: That’s an adorable idea. What’s on the list?
JJK: You tell me?
FB: The ride in the wedding bus with other 30somethings, only 1/5 of whom you know, but everyone is wasted and mutually connected to Alixia and John.
JJK: A flame-retardant bunnysuit
FB: Climate change
JJK: Income inequality
FB: snarky book review culture
JJK: Attention deficit caused by pinterest, primarily by pinterest but also SEO
FB: Webinar fatigue
JJK: Student Debt Crisis
FB: various bubbles
FB: Ham; microwaving plastics and chemicals leaching into your food; leaching as a process more generally
JJK: I could continue alternating between actually serious issues and funny impressionistic worrying ideas but why would I?
FB: “You’re doing important cultural work”
JJK: Selfishness is a pretty gradient… I feel like I’m closer to the UV spectrum of selfishness, I will donate more money soon
FB: So the real list would be let’s say 10 things — income inequality, social justice (too broad?), campaign finance reform, climate change, poverty, hunger, some of these could be collapsed. Then once a week the two of you sit down and go through the list and resolve to do one thing for one of the things.
JJK: What would I do for “Social justice”?
FB: I don’t know.
JJK: Climate change?
FB: Solar panels?
JJK: campaign finance reform?
FB: I’d write a letter.
JJK: To whom?
[The anthropocene or whatever comes]