Monthly Archives: June 2008

duty free

I have been given a bottle of Cachaça Sabiá. Tonight I drank it and then shaved. Imagine me, sugar-drunk, hacking at my neck with a Mach 3, singing the old Brazilian songs! That’s inaccurate—that’s not how I shave. Today on the street we saw a man use a whip to whack a cigarette out of someone else’s mouth—three quick strokes toward the nose, in between much verbal build-up. That’s how I shave—with a whip, and cigarettes, and another man. After I shaved I went back to practicing that gesture they have here, the one that means “Yes, I am enthusiastic about doing that” or “Hurry up over there.” You whip your index finger into your thumb and the middle one, and even without any snapping it sounds like you’re snapping. You snap your wrist, but that’s it—nothing above the wrist is snapped. It’s done best by the guy who’s moving to San Francisco soon, the journalist who’s changing jobs to be a test subject at a newly opened psychedelics-research institute, where he’ll be working with Quilty—just kidding! Quilty will not be administering treble doses of jimson weed to him via eye dropper twice a day, for no pay—the whole operation’s volunteer-run. The eye dropper will have been donated, and inappropriate for clinical use. Not long ago the gesturing journalist brought back two hundred lucid-dream-inducing pills from a seminar in Hawaii. “You can do anything,” he told us. “You can fly; you can fuck.” “But when you wake up, do you still feel tired?” my coworker asked him. In America, his gesture can’t mean much besides “There’s something stuck to my hand,” but I will learn it.

Continue reading


I don’t remember seeing Hey spelled with more than one y until I read Remainder earlier this year — there’s a funny recurring joke, at a Seattle-themed coffee chain the narrator visits with increasingly pathological frequency, “when you order they say Heyy! to you, then they repeat your order aloud.” Every time a barista in the novel says “Heyy–short cap” — which is many times — it made me laugh or at least inwardly smile. So I was happy when Caleb Crain on his blog said

At home my boyfriend and I use a certain physical gesture as shorthand to describe [the internet’s jazzy, hectoring style]. To make it, extend your index fingers and your thumbs so that your hands resemble toy pistols. Then waggle them before you, like a dude in a cheesy Western, while you wink, dip your knees, and lopsidedly drawl, “Heyyy.” The internet is always saying, “Heyyy.” It is always welcoming you to the party; it is always patting you on the back to congratulate you for showing up. It says, You know me, in a collusive tone of voice, and Wanna hear something funny? and Didja see who else is here? This tone is not absent from print; in fact, no page of New York magazine is without it.

Ed Park, alone in his hotel room in Seattle on his blog accepts a piece of praise from The Stranger:

“Nabokov writing The Office,” something like that, heyyyy, I’ll take it!

Let the googling begin:

novelist blah blah blah

DOG: Doug
TORQUEMADA: [Concerned] Guys?
DOG: Pizza
DOUG: [to DOG] Pizza? Do you wanna pizza? Yes you do! You’re the cutest! Yes you are!
TORQUEMADA: Sheesh. Peace. Ministrations. Memories.
DOG: Seriously, though, pizza
DOUG: Yes you do! [Ministrating] Yes!
DOG: Stereolab
DOUG: College; Stereolab. I actually love you guys.
TORQUEMADA: What’s on tap?
DOUG: For tonight?
DOG: Ruff
DOUG: Cuteness! Get over here
DOUG: Badness. What’s on tap, though, you’re right
DOG: Let’s repair to tha parkq
[The three begin pantomiming walking as the background scrim rolls from a living room scenario to a park scenario. TORQUEMADA takes out a pack of cigarettes. Removes a cigarette from the pack. Rolls it in his fingers. Brings it up to his face — smells it gently. Lowers his hands. Holds up the cigarette, still unlit, as if it’s smoking and he’s taking a break between drags.]
TORQUEMADA: I did a number of things I wasn’t supposed to in my dreams last night.
DOUG: Like what?
TORQUEMADA: Things I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do. Drugs, people, etc
DOUG: Was it a relief when you woke up and those things were in reality undone?
TORQUEMADA: Yeah, totally, of course. I didn’t even realize fully that I hadn’t in reality done them until just now. When I was holding this cigarette.
[TORQUEMADA makes like he’s gonna put the cigarette in his mouth but then suddenly smooshes it smashes it into his face, rubs it on his face, crushes the fag and rubbbs the tobbacky all over his face. lets the filter fall. DOUG and DOG are IMPASSIVE. TORQUEMADA removes anudder schmoke from the pack. Puts it in his mouf this time. Lights it.]
TORQEMADA: [Puffing luxuriously on his schiggarette] In my dream I was riding on a stairmaster, making love to a sexy teddy bear
DOG: Damn

The Beefeaters’ Briefing

About me:

Likes: Harper’s Weekly emails, childhood obesity

Dislikes: Suffering, grinning rictuses

Alibi: FunZone

Weedsmoke: Puffins in the Arctic


Homework for tonight:

  • Find at least 10 novels with possessive apostrophes in their titles
  • Name all of the varieties of macaroni and cheese currently on the market in the U.S.
  • Compose a 200-word (or longer) argument against the practice of SRI, or ‘Socially Responsible Investing”

Japanese Detective Fiction

I’m writing a tiny thing about a forthcoming feminist Japanese detective novel but it hadn’t arrived yet so I read some older “defining” works of Japanese detective fiction. Seicho Matsumoto is supposedly a main influence on the contemporary female Japanese detective novelist I’m geekily refusing to disclose the name of. He brought a more social element to Japanese detective fiction — created a subgenre called shakai-ha, the “social school.” I read The Voice and Other Stories today — all of the stories originally published in Japan in the late fifties. There were some really goofy Scooby-Doo moments, where the final two pages of a story will be the solution to the story’s puzzle, elucidated at banal length by one of the main characters, e.g. “I thought that a little odd, although at the time I didn’t suspect anything. But when I reported that Mr. Machida moved to Chiba and you transferred me there, I began to get suspicious,” and so on and on and on. There were also a few moments where it was possible to see the solution long before you felt you were supposed to. But still I sucked the whole thing down in a sitting. The stories are fast and well-written and I was surprised at times by their literary self-consciousness.

seicho matsumoto

My favorite line came from “The Face.” Ryokichi Ino is on a crowded train traveling through the countryside with his pregnant girlfriend Miyako who refuses to have an abortion and whom he’s luring to the mountains to murder. She is a “hostess in a cheap bar” (as are many of the women in this book; I need to understand better the protoprostitute status of Japanese cocktail waitresses — I guess they’re call girls, but there are apparent nuances and cultural differences and allegiences I don’t really get), and they’ve been pretending they don’t know each other on the train, each for their own reasons. But then Miyako sees Ishioka, a regular customer from the bar, and she chats with him, which totally pisses off Ryokichi, who smokes and stares self-consciously out the window without saying anything. It’s taking me forever to contexualize this one line. Anyway later the scene is replayed from Ishioka’s perspective, who observe that

The peel of a mandarin orange lay at their feet, hinting at their intimacy. They must have shared an orange they had bought near Hagi.

This initially made me laugh out loud, as I imagined sitting on MUNI and trying to construe any scrap of the mounds of crap littering the bus floor as a symbol of intimacy. But ultimately I relaxed and found it kinda poetic. Later when the police ask Ishioka if Miyako was with anyone, he says, “I could tell they were together from the orange peel lying at their feet.” I love this meaningful orange peel.

edogawa rampo

I also read a few stories by Edogawa Rampo, who wrote mostly in the 1920s and 30s, and is acknowledged as the inventor of the modern Japanese detective story. If you imagine a Japanese Vincent Price saying “Edgar Allen Poe” very slowly, you will discover where Edogawa Rampo got his name. The two stories I read were scarier than Matsumoto, though scary isn’t exactly the adjective I’m looking for. They feel closer to the tradition of Poe or Doyle (whom Rampo translated) than Matsumoto; the stories are freakier and all about crazy plot twists and genius detectives, not to mention rigorous applications of deductive logic. Matsumoto’s stories give a much broader social view of the Japan in which they’re set, with lots of details — scraps of orange peel, etc — though they’re still quite “procedural.” In Rampo, the emphasis seems to be on crafting ripping yarns.

Like Matsumoto’s Scooby-Doo moments, Rampo also lets some wonderful old-timey detective fiction cliches rip. At one point, pondering the murder of an old woman by one or the other of a pair of high-school students, the District Attorney of “The Psychological Test” muses that

Here, indeed, was a conundrum worthy of the mind of a master sleuth.


[both collections are also illustrated with great anachronistic b&w illustrations, including some by “M. Kuwata, who may have done the above Batman]