REPORT A PROBLEM
DEAR EXTREMELY REMOTE PARALLEL UNIVERSE ME, AGE 14:
Here are some things I wish I had known at your age. I hope this helps.
— Take care of your suction cups, and your suction cups will take care of you. Get plenty of iron, and practice grappling against the big rock near the bubbly place. That’s what it’s there for.
— You don’t need to fertilize every egg pile you come across. It’s fun now, but in 30 years you’ll wish you’d been more judicious. Avoid Tammy’s egg piles altogether.
— Don’t obsess about how pale your ink is. It’ll darken just fine.
Q. CAN YOU CITE A WORK OF FICTION WHERE THE SETTING PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE?
benefits somewhat from its subplot setting, the Pequod, which plies the ocean blue, though the star of the show is Nantucket Island, a jaunty New England vacation paradise that’s home to an unforgettable cast of small business owners, a "crabby" clergyman, and an unconventional gumshoe named Ishmael. If you haven't read
, dedicated to famous lobsterman Nathaniel Hawthorne, do yourself a fav-
and "walk the plank" to your local library, or there's probably a copy floating around online.
DON’T FORGET TO:
— Set your clocks back an hour
— Rotate your refrigerator 90 degrees
— Empty out your bottom bookshelves
— Re-dust, -grime your rugs and carpets
— Hang all pictures one foot higher
— Scuttle up, then down, then up your staircase
— Reschedule your next teeth cleaning
— Eat a food you’ve never eaten
— Measure yourself against a door frame
— Spin your desk globes to next time zone
— Glower for an hour at your sofa
— Have your hoses, extension cords professionally re-coiled
— Spray de-icer in your car locks
— Change out the magazines in your bathrooms
— Donate a thumbtack/pushpin to charity
JOHN WINS POWERBALL
SO YOU’VE WON $585 MILLION. HOW’S THAT FEEL?
Pretty good. Everyone's very happy for me.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE MONEY?
YOUR PLANS FOR THE MONEY.
What do you mean?
WELL, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SPEND IT? ARE YOU GOING TO QUIT YOUR JOB, OR —
I’m sorry. I’m not sure what you mean by “plans,” my “plans.”
I DON’T UNDERSTAND.
What ... I’m just trying to help you out. What is this “plans” part?
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THE MONEY?
YES. SURELY YOU —
All right! Yo! Listen up! HEY! Dis here's Sezzeme Street: Joisey, brought to you by Passaic County Welding, the lettuh P (for Paulie, that’s me), and the numbuh six: what the hell, throw it a bone. Anyhow, let’s meet some Muppets. Come on, let’s go. Keep up, there, Timithy, you can do it. OK, everybody! Sheila! Alfonse! Mr. Forgot-His-Lunch! Eyes front. On me. Listen up! Mike says we’re throwin' to commercial, but when we come back I guarantee you'll see the biggest, fluffiest boid you evah seen in your whole entire life. I seen it and it is immense. Stay tuned.
MY NOVEMBER 6 RESOLUTIONS
— Lose 25 pounds or more by bedtime
— Memorize the street name in front of my house
— Finally listen to at least one song
— Add pillows to pillowcases for extra support
— Look into why my smoke detectors have been shrieking
— Conquer fear of press releases
— Study Portuguese/Canadian conflict. Where do I stand?
— Buy push-up hat, shorts, cleats, duffel bag, shirts, hydration system, scarf, mat, mat shammy; do a push-up
— Read Facebook cover to cover
— Draw a line down middle of mattress: my side, bedbugs’ side. Be firm!
— Write this sentence all the way throug
ON THIS DAY: NOVEMBER 7
1867 — Marie Skłodowska-Curie, French-Polish physicist twice awarded the Nobel Prize for her work on radioactivity, is born.
1893 — Colorado becomes the first state to grant women the right to vote.
1929 — In New York City, the Museum of Modern Art opens to the public.
1944 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt wins unprecedented fourth term in office.
1962 — Richard M. Nixon, who failed in a bid to become governor of California, tells reporters, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."
1987 — Boy meets girl, embarks on adventure of his life, in Ewing, New Jersey.
ROADS NOT TAKEN
I studied communication and journalism. Before I split with my bachelor degrees, my favorite instructor urged me to apply for grad school. She said she’d love to recommend me, as I was a promising communication scholar. I considered it, but decided to look for work in newspapers instead.
I bought a book on building outdoor play structures for children. All the plans, the parts lists. Every time I walked past that bookcase on my way to the kitchen, I’d read that spine. Never built any structures. When I moved out, I packed that book in a box.
This is it.
— I don’t like it. It’s spooky.
It’s just been neglected. Overrun. We’ll reclaim it. You’ll see. It’ll hum.
— Stop. Don’t go in.
— I ... I don’t want to. I’m not ready.
But we’re here. This is it.
— I know. I’m sorry. I don’t have a good reason. I just ...
We have to fix the machine. Then you’ll feel better. You will; you’ll see.
— I’m sure you’re right. But the machine isn’t fixed, and so I don’t feel better, and I do not want to go in there. Stop trying to make me!
— LEAVE ME ALONE!
— Good. Tight, I guess. How tight is this supposed to be?
Snug. Don’t cut off circulation, but you want to feel it.
OK, take this, and feed in in there.
Yeah. Loop it through. Feed it around. Here, let me…
Yeah. OK, good. You look ready.
— I feel … a little nervous.
OK, but you’re ready?
— Uh huh.
OK. Keep your eye on this gauge. Like we talked about, OK?
— Yeah. “Eighty percent green; eighty to sixty, yellow, get out; don’t go below sixty, that’s red; fifty is strobing red, pray for help.”
WHERE’S THE DIAMOND, Mr. Graxton?
I don’t got it, boss. But it wasn’t my fault! That Spider-Man come swoopin’ down from the shadows and webbed up Joey and Blackie; I’m lucky I got out of there alive!
He let you go?
“Let me”? Boss, I musta set a record for the hunnert yard dash! I never ran so hard in alla my life. But I did good; I made it down into the subway and mixed in good with the crowd. I escaped ‘im!
You fool. He’s followed you here!
Impossible, boss! Impossible!
Oh? Explain this!
A spider-tracer! He’s here!
following his exile in Prague.
“Mendelssohn? Really? Then I suggest £1 million was a bargain. That’s what Ernesto believed, and that’s why he went to the Inspector. And that why both were killed a day later. And so sloppily at that.”
This was Rosseler’s Achilles’ heel, thought Mangrove. The poor bastard would have to tip his hand. And with this concession — such sweet inevitability — Rosseler would betray the heiress, his friends at Sector 11, and, most deliciously, Mathilde Poincaré.
Rosseler’s back and shoulder’s stiffened at the bar. Just for a moment. Then he turned to Mangrove, smiling his devil’s smile.
HE’S DOING IT AGAIN.
That daredevil. What’s-his-name. Another stunt.
That man we saw on television?
Yeah. Likes running into brick walls. A nut.
Oh, my. I thought he had retired.
Says here he’s trying it again. At the Garden.
Why do they keep promoting that poor man? He never makes it through.
It’s just so horrible. I don’t know how they can show that on television.
Heh heh. Last time he hit so hard you could hear the crack of his head from the bleachers.
Happy anniversary, dear.
EN MENTO, cam struh, cam bruh! Per de real, nischt cam neddit.
Vescht per na?
— Par, vescht dedde struh, bruh, par orchketet...
Escht var pa: en mento menne, nischt targus welteshep. Tappet pa... teppet en de real par cla ...
. Farschtet en mente pe real, porbus de ente ven vellet.
— Dep. Dep. Per, schtorvet en mentet, de par mentet par te kinteteket: Anten per Benten. Antennischt per te ket.
— Per na?
Bar mentet! Dar pe nischt te arpetet; targu en nischtketet, parpet pa
. Par Anten ... ar pa mente me real.
— Vescht, Anten? Var pe Tatenu?
I live upstairs from my landlord and his wife. My ex confided in me that this couple isn’t going to make it. He drinks and is borderline abusive; she loves another, and is likely to move out.
Today a ruckus, then the landlord’s wife wrote me this: “Sorry about the screaming and door slamming. things are really bad right now between me and [husband]. i soooo very much apologize for the noise. i am ok. you do not need to reply, just wanted to let you know.”
I’m grateful my wife and I were never like that. Not our style.
Arnaldo! Man, where are you at? Get your head in the game.
“Sorry” don’t cut it. Fuck “sorry.” We need you right here, right here with us. Focus, man. This is the line. Watch the line.
Things happen fast around here, man. You gotta stay up with it. One-two-three; bam-bam-bam.
You’re OK, but are you here?
You know what I’m saying? Everybody has to do his part. I do my part, Sharon does her part, Gary does his part when he’s not on break, which is for fucking ever, it seems.
Fifteen cents more after six months, man. Focus!
OPEN THE BOOK. Fast, hook around, turn around, sprint.
It’s like this, Sam Malone. You gotta take the drive to the booyah. Know what I’m sayin’?
— No, I -
Make it like tango! Make it real in the paint; gonna be fine, turpentine. It’s like they said on Knots Landing: make it rain, Jellybrain!
— You’re not making any sense.
It’s a freewrite, Holmes! You gotta be fast to the Pas-ter-NACK. You dig?
— What’s with the street patois?
It’s where I go, to go with the flow. Look
, chump: I’m everywhere. Yeah, you know.
— Uh, OK then.
— This again.
Yowzaflowza! In radadda-damulate!
Sheeepai! Ip ip ip! Corrrrret!
— I’m sorry, folks.
Hiffenattata! Ha ha! Wezlebeezle.
— This -
— This is just another freewrite, apparently. Nothing to see today.
Ogush McPlaivin. That’s-a-lotta ham!
— Yep. Ham. Thanks.
You don’t like now the ham? Oh, you come on with that. I seen you eat-a-lotta the ham.
— This has nothing to do with ham.
Oh, now you the big expert ham? I tell you what. Come up to the Bronx, you tell that to my cousin Joey.
tell you about ham.
— I’m just so embarrassed.
HERE. WE’VE RECONSIDERED. Take it with you.
— Wh- Are you sure?
— Oh my God. Wow.
We hope this helps.
— It will. It definitely will. ... This is amazing. I don’t want to ask any questions, you know, to jinx it. But are you really saying I can take this book with me? It’s mine?
Yes. It’s really and truly yours, John. Is that OK? You don’t seem as happy as some of us expected.
— I ... I am happy. I’m grateful. It’s all here? The appendices? All the sections?
Every word. The whole story. Annotated.
— All these years...
Add to it.
— Forty-four years later, I suddenly dig candles and incense.
— I’d like to be a houseplant person. The place needs plants. Plants and curtains and shelves, and borrowed poetry.
— Bennett is a docile cat until I coo, Nice kitty, and then he roars — Mrraaauuuu! — and leaps, dragging us down to the couch or floor, his claws popped, tearing at me hard and fast. Mrraaauuuu! His rage frightens me a little, but I hold him.
— “Something in the way she knows / And all I have to do is think of her...”
— I check my mail often, fearing I’ve said too much.
DADDY GOT ME a sundae. It's in a glass. You can't have it. It's mine. See? It's chocolate. You're too little. Babies don't eat sundaes. You only can have formbula now, Daddy's formbula. I'm gonna play a song. Daddy, can I have a song? How much monies is a song? I can do it. Daddy, it's not going. I can do it! I can do it! What do I press? Daddy? Daddy? What happened? Can I see? I wanna see! What happened? I don't see anything. Did that car get hurt? What happened? Daddy, can I give Shelly my sundae? Daddy? Daddy?
“YOU HAD SWINGS of emotional states: very intense and happy, and then something would come in your eyes. ... I wondered and felt helpless about all the pain you carried.”
What would I have said had you told me that 25 years ago? It’s not something I had a language for yet.
By the time we met I had largely had my fill of people: Even Matt, which made it easy for me to betray him.
I funneled all my passion for life, and it was considerable, into us.
“You and me against the world!” I said.
Poor goddamned John. Agh.
WHAT THE HELL is that?
— It’s a guy.
— Some dude. He just, like, flew up there.
— Yeah. I don’t know what’s going on. It must be some kind of publicity stunt.
How the hell is he ... Look! Look!
— What the fuck!
How is he doing that?
I thought he was hanging by wires, but...
— No way. No way.
— Look! Here he comes again!
He ... He’s ....
Ha ha! He buzzed us!
— How the hell is he doing that?
He was laughing!
— I know!
He was laughing and flying!
— Where’d he go?
Straight up! Ha ha!
THAG SAYS HE saw a stranger down by the water.
— What stranger?
Forgive me, but I do not know. Thag is frightened, and does not wish to tell you. He said he prays the stranger might just go away.
— A stranger like a man? Or like an animal?
A man, I think. Thag speaks of it as a kind of man, who carries his cave with him.
— I am annoyed. Why does Thag tell you this, but not me?
He fears you, Poko. We all do. All respect to Poko.
— This is good. But I want answers. Bring Thag here.
THAG, WHAT ARE you doing?
— Preparing ablutions. Tonight She-eke-Ra will be fully awake, and I will pray in His sight.
We have seen strangers before. Is this one so different?
He hunted? Or crept as a spy?
— This one is just different, Ava'al. Conceal yourself at the hand of rocks, see the stranger, and then return. We will purify ourselves. We-
No. Poko sent me.
Come. Tell your story to Poko, and he will know what to do.
— N-no. Say you could not find me.
But I have found you, brother. You are here.
Day 18, 0830 local
Returned from botanical survey to find Dr. Carstairs missing, our encampment wrecked, and signs of a protracted struggle. BeThere confirms Carstairs was set upon by natives, perhaps mortally wounded, and carried unresponsive toward the settlement upriver.
Carstairs’ beacon is unresponsive as well. Encampment safety field was off, but aside from night use, we’d found the field unnecessary and inconvenient.
Inventory suggests Carstairs or his attackers are in possession of the following gear:
— Trench spade
— Web belt (with compass, canteen, iodine tablets, etc.)
— Soil probe
— Log book (but not pencil)
Attempting search and rescue.
"OK, Bob. It’s all yours."
"Thank you. OK. Good morning, everyone. We lost contact with T21 three days ago. First Carstairs, then Atkins. As you’ll see, we had them down in the Dordogne region of France during the early Upper Paleolithic period, ah, 30K BP, near a settlement of the Aurignacian peoples, here. (Thanks, Jeff.) They were ambushed."
"Are they alive?"
"They’re missing. We had a chirp from Atkins — you’ve got that in your packet — and we suspect (slide, please) that Atkins’ SAR landed him in hot water. We don’t have beacons for either of them."
"We don’t know."
"MA’AM, IF YOU’LL just wait here, the colonel will be with you momentarily. Can I get you anything? A refreshment?"
"No, thank you."
"OK. Anything you need, you let my attaché know. You’ve met Mr. Billings. And as I said, the colonel will be in with you directly."
"I’ll be fine. Thank you."
"...Ma’am, if I may, I’m sure your husband ... He and Dr. Carstairs have had the same basic field training our Marines receive. It’s the same training I received, and I can tell you it’s rigorous. Your husband and Dr. Carstairs..."
"Thank you. You’re very kind."
“YOU’RE A SPEEDSTER?”
“What do they call you?”
“‘Did.’ What ‘did’ they call me.”
“OK. I’ll bite. What ‘did’ they call you?”
“I, my friend, am — or was ... gotta be specific — that gallivanting hero, that streak of mean justice, that thousand meter flash you and the rest of the world knew as ... wait for it ... The Night Ranger.”
“In the flesh.”
“You’re The Night Ranger?”
“Jesus. No foolin’?”
“That was a million years ago.”
“You spoke at my school once. St. Mary’s, in the city.”
“It’s all a blur.”
“You ... was that a joke?”
WHERE IS THIS?
— Hello. Welcome to my laptop.
I was... elsewhere.
— You were nowhere. I pulled you together out of impulses.
And here I am. A miracle!
— I suppose. A miracle of limited duration.
Is that so? Just like you then; no different.
— Ah! I like that. Very good. Head of the class.
And so? Here we are. I’ll tell you what: ask me anything. I’ll answer to the best of my ability.
— OK. Um. What do you most want to be?
Me? I would like to be a novel. But that’s not looking likely.
— No. I’m afraid not.
The Tip Jar