Iowa City junket great success, wraps with revived social skills, totaled livers

We were back in the IC this weekend and managed to see a lot of folks, most of them we found to be drinking. Our first time there with no car, we took the Airport Shuttle, which was driven by a small, elderly man who was quite capable of finding the most circuitous, lengthiest routes to familiar places, such as, -- after a few stops east of town having come into town from the west -- the Bostick Guest House, where we were to stay.

Our first appointment was at Trevor and N.'s. Lasagna never tasted so good, though we were so rusty from lack of social exposure, due to living for the last three months out east in a remote, abandoned beach town, that many times our conversation faltered. Unlike TV characters, these people evidently expected something from us, and it was a struggle to oblige them. However, as is always the case with Trevor and N., this dinner turned out to be formative in restoring to us our enfeebled conversation skills, and soon gave way to laughter and banter. After overstaying our welcome, following the stubborn and erroneous line of reason known as "if we keep it up, we might force ourselves to burn all the way through to brilliance," we walked back to town from Court and B Streets, gratefully taking in the fruits of the long Indian summer that we used to fondly call Autumn. Since George's was so close to the guest house, we decided on one nightcap for old time's sake at our old haunt, where three hours whipped by like no time at all.

Next morning we attended a lovely Simhat Bat naming ceremony (our first), for J. and bR's N. R., to whom T. is godmother (not the fairy kind, I was gently informed) in which we celebrated the creative darkness of the womb and implored the little one's future sons and daughters to continue to enjoy vigor and fragrance as they grow old. It was refreshing and inspirational to attend a ceremony where the main point was not to fasten the unwitting child to a well-established racket of tithing and groupthink, but to dedicate her to doing good works and accepting the responsibility of becoming a citizen of the world. Brando and TLB were in attendance, and plans to meet up later for drinks and Takanami were formulated.

Walking back again from the east side, this time in daylight, we encountered Dan Coffey, aka Dr. Science, trudging up our sidewalk, who hailed us and declared that we had had a baby. "No, wait, you bought a house." He mentioned that he was now teaching at a Quaker college somewhere in Iowa, the name of which presently escapes me, and confirmed upon being asked that he did in fact wear the oatmeal mascot's cumbersome attire in the classroom. "And I do a lot of thee-ing and thou-ing," he added.

Reaching the guest house, I collapsed for a nap while T. strutted and prowled the town. She ran into N., who had barely had time to clean the lasagna off her plates before being confronted with her guest again, and when I met T. a little while later, we again were proved to be stalking N., accosting her this time in Prairie Lights, where she showed us the book Monkey Portraits by Jill Greenberg, one of whose subjects, Josh, graces this post with his worried look. Buy the book -- as we did -- but don't spill beer on it -- as we did. Succumbing to our relentless tracking skills, N. accepted an invitation to have a drink at Atlas, which was closed, and then at Martinis, which was closed, and finally at Donnelly's, which was not closed and where we attacked a basket of shelled peanuts and apologized for our faltering conversation of the night before. Trevor was then summoned from his home, where he had no doubt been recovering from the boredom we had visited on their lives, and he joined us for one beer which turned into two which turned into a scramble to make it to Brando and TLB's place by the appointed time.

We met Jones, the new cat, a fluffy orange love-addict, and watched the jealousy of his veteran colleagues play out from behind our wine and beer glasses. Then we walked to Takanami, me in a ludicrous winter coat shlepping through the warm thick air, tortoise-like, with just about everything heavy that I own stuffed into my straining, 99% superfluous backpack. I was drenched in perspiration by the time we sat down, but by now, though, our banter had been sufficiently honed so as to avoid desperately peppering them with questions about the weather or insurance or whether we like people in glasses or not. It was a great delight to see them in such good spirits. We learned that often Brando hears from downstairs, when TLB is winning at online poker, "Eat it, bitches!" and, "Eat it, bitches! Oh, NO!" when she is not winning. Afterward, we walked to a corner near our B&B and parted, but when T. and I returned to our small room, and considered the TV the size of a toaster, we turned around and set out for another nightcap at George's, where we watched the new clock, the only thing that had changed in the whole place, creep toward a shameful time. Then home to "second dinners" consisting solely of Cheetos.

In the morning, which was a Monday, cursed with my usual if-I-just-get-up-and-pretend-it's-okay optimism, I staggered out for coffee and the composition of my projects' status report, due to the publisher on such mornings, leaving T. alone in bed. It was while she was in that place that the knock came on the door, accompanied by a sweet voice asking, "Could I talk to you for a minute?" My love, who imagined having to rise, dress, and deal with this person and decided she'd prefer not to, bellowed out her reply, which was the only sensible one under the circumstances: "No." A note was then pushed primly under the door. The note was to advise us that our credit card had been denied and to request that another might be tendered. A call was soon placed to me at the Java House, where I had been staring, bleary-eyed and in vain, at the work I was supposed to be doing. My darling was requesting that I deal with the situation. I called the inkeeper and managed to splutter that we had canceled that card, and, squinting, read off the numbers of the new one, ignoring my liver's exasperation at the added, unexpected toil.

A lunch at Oasis Falafel, with two of T.'s former coworkers, had been planned, and it seemed like a good idea to pile-drive our bellies with Middle Eastern comfort food, but in fact the lunch merely enhanced and publicly displayed my well-deserved misery. At one point I was asked whether I were feeling okay as I fiercely concentrated on chewing up my gyros sandwich as quickly and carefully as possible. I remember pausing mid-chew and blinking at the interruption, like a bear in the middle of finishing a deer might, having heard a gunshot in the distance. When I saw that I had no more food in front of me, I mumbled my intention of "getting some fries" and unsteadily made my swerving way to the swerving counter. And when I was done with those fries, the dim recollection that I was in fact at lunch with three other people finally pierced the dull armor of my pain, forcing me to explain where I was going as I once again found myself rising, and knocking my chair out of the way, and donning my huge down-filled coat, and that was: back to bed. T., not being a napper, scampered back to town. She called me an hour later, and I told her what I was doing: writhing in the bed, moaning, and sweating. She then came home and we laughed at the Monkey Portraits book until, feeling refreshed enough at last, and just in time, we headed out again for our final public appearance.

Which destination was the Sancturary. There, we were joined by SER and B., Trevor and N., TLB and Brando, Cheeni and Kat, bR and J., and Gillymonster and T-Bone. We took up a series of connected tables so long that it seemed a fire hazard for those trapped on the wall side. We started out all mixed up, but gradually there was a drift into separation according to gender, where the males gathered on one side to discuss wrestling, especially singlets, boxing, other sports, music, and eventually politics. Glasses were raised to the Democrats. As for the women, from downtable, as the result of a conversation about That's Rentertainment having moved to relatively tiny digs, in which the question was put about which films might have been jettisoned, and the speculation ran free along the lines of perhaps it was the adult movies that were gone, and that maybe one would prefer to rent those online anyway rather than shuffle around pretending that those are not eye-popping DVD tags clutched so close to one's person, the two sides were brought together again when TLB hurled to Brando a request to know where one obtains porn on the Internet. There was then a sentence begun in pursuit of whether it is better to rent video erotica bricks-and-mortar style or via mouse and keyboard, about how some people, such as a man who had been seen rolling around the old That's Rentertainment a few times, might prefer to not have to venture out for such a necessity, which ran something like, "Now I'm not saying wheelchair-bound people shouldn't masturbate like the rest of us..." A little later T-Bone floated a trial balloon about her secret new idea for a business, the _____ _____, which was celebrated by everyone as ingenious and for which I hope she finds venture capital soon. Amid promises to visit us in Holland, if we ever get there, and if you have a friend in a position of authority in a Dutch bank give me a holler, we said our goodbyes to everyone except Brando, who had suggested the Dublin Underground as a nice place to meet up with MSF, whom TLB had hustled off to pick up at the airport.

At the "Dub," Brando and I loaded up the jukebox and enjoyed along with T. the surprising and welcome addition of Smithwick's to the tap collection. By now, oiled by enough ale, the stories were coming fast and furious. Brando told us of a time when TLB asked him to go upstairs because his brother wanted to show him something. Appearing in the guest room, Brando's brother, having pulled down his trousers and underwear and lain prone across the bed, his head pointed away from the door, asked, "Does this look okay?" And we were apprised about how slipping roadkill and live mice into someone's car can be enjoyable to most everyone involved (though not all). MSF was looking HOT, if I may be permitted the honor of saying so, as she unburdened herself of certain events surrounding the acquisition of bridesmaid's dresses, and pertaining to calling Dr. Mulder to come to her place and kill a giant spider but getting instead TLB, who had been babysitting and who went on to apply one of MSF's shoes to the creature several times before it finally expired.

It was Monday night, after all, so things had to come to an end. They and everyone else involved in the tour are to be congratulated on their troopertude and for putting up with our relentless company and chatter. And bR, J., and N. are to be thanked for providing a ride to the airport. N. especially is to be commended for only crying once, and for an extended period, when her glance happened to fall on T., who sat next to her car seat. In short, we wrung about three month's worth of socializing out of three nights. Thanks to everyone who made our return visit so much fun. We hope to make it out one more time before heading out in the other direction to our longer-term destination, where we hope for and expect many visitors, and plan to return your hospitality Dutch-style.


George Saunders on Borat

I'm really not sure what I think of this. It's the only piece of Saunders' writing that has not made me laugh (unlike Borat). He seems to be taking Baron Cohen to task on the exploitation issue, which is fair enough. But anyone could do that -- when I see me some Saunders, I want me some Saunders.


Yet More Erotic Adventures of Allen Ruskin, Headmaster of Educational Aid

Allen Ruskin stood at his window, naked, staring out across the college green. His tumescent tubificid truncheon trailed from the tuckshop of his tumorous tuna-tinctured tundra like troublous Triton, tuckered and tromped, tired and twisted from truculent tug-o-war and timorous trousseau troughs. He had a strange feeling in his heart.

"Pip -- I have a strange feeling in my heart."

Pip looked up from the bucket of ice he was sitting in, naked, cooling his conk after another long evening orgy of connubial connection. "What do you mean? You sound strange."

"I know. Something's different this morning."

Baskerville and Cerebus looked up from the buckets of ice they were sitting in, clearly sensing something strange with their master. Cerebus let out a whilting whine of woeful worry.

"Perhaps you are getting tired of all this," said Miss Havisham from her bucket.

"I don't know what it is," replied Ruskin, his rapacious eyes rivetted on a pair of riotous rockets and their owner running by his window. The girl looked up and saw his shame. She smiled. He smiled and waved his fingers. The girl stood for a second, clearing waiting for some ravishment to happen (as no good lady would ever walk the path near Ruskin's window without mens rea and an alterior motive that needed no legal degree or translation from the Latin to understand). She glanced at the trees and bushes, tensing for a pounce. She was beautiful, and for a moment, the lecherous lout considered sending Bart out with his net. Just to make her feel good. Her flesh was like smooth butter cream ready to be spread on the sweet sponge cake of his loins. He waved her away and turned from the window.

"I am empty!" roared the repellant Ruskin as if challenging the very Kosmos.

"Wait -- don't be hasty," said Alice, tearing her lips away from Dottie, who was sharing her bucket. The two were feeling a little recovered and had gone ahead and poured champagne in along with the ice. Champagne and ice splashed to the floor.

"You'll ruin the floors," called Bart from the other room. "Professor de Broon has already complained twice about strange fluids leeching through her ceiling."

"I don't understand," said Pip, his eyes quivering as if he were about to burst into delicate tears.

Ruskin pulled on his beard. "I'm not sure we will be deserving of the helper monkeys -- what are we doing to create a new and better world?"

"It's not our problem -- at the moment, I can't even walk," said Miss Havisham tartly, pointedly readjusting some ice.

Ruskin, the dastardly deflowerer, paced nude around his desk. The others watched him quietly.

Finally, he stopped.

"That's it! No More! Bart! Get this filth out of my office!" He walked over to his bookcase and started launching pills and sticks and rods and ropes and cuffs and leather and sketchbooks and pictures and oils and ancient idols and stuffed animals and electrical devices out the window. Out of nowhere, students emerged to grab the toys as soon as they hit the grass.

"What are you doing?" asked Pip with fear.

Ruskin grabbed one of the bodies they'd stolen from the masoleum and tossed it to some medical students. "Be good to her! Now, Pip, you and I, yes, you and I Pip, are becoming men of God!"

*** Has the ribaldry become a reeking relic of rusty rememberance? -- stay tuned!


El Gordo de Amore Interview, Mark 36

EG: It’s been a long time since we talked.

EGdA: Long time -- a lot of stuff going on.

EG: Like what?

EGdA: Well, the family is out of town for the next two weeks, so I have some time to work on my writing.

EG: You’re still doing that?

EGdA: Yea – kind of – I guess – I …

EG: And what have you been writing?

EGdA: Victorian Era erotica about a guy who teaches in a law school.

EG: Who seems very much like you – with some obvious fictions.

EGdA (laughing): Yea, the necrophilia and what not …

EG: I was talking about women being interested in you. The necrophilia seemed dead on.

EGdA: Oh. (sound that sounds like a duck – tape inaudible for several moments)

EGdA: I would consider that working, although the itching was unbearable.

EG: Hey, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Four years after graduating from Iowa – is this what you thought you would be up to?

EGdA: Probably not.

EG: We did. We had a betting pool. Dunkeys won.

EGdA: Oh.

EG: I thought Kclou was going to pull that one out – I really saw you lying drunk at the bottom of a Taco Bell dumpster.

EGdA: My wife always believed in …

EG: She had you writing press releases for the Bush Administration.

EGdA: Jesus? Really?

EG: I know – I’m sorry I was the one to tell you that. But, you’ve been pretty much sitting in molasses for years now.

EGdA: I had some babies –

EG: So, back to your writing, do you send these little “ero-idiocies” out?

EGdA: I sent two to McSweeney’s – Here’s the emails: “El Gordo:I'm going to pass on this one, but I do appreciate the look. Best, John Warner Website Editor McSweeney’s El Gordo:Not something for us, I'm afraid. Best, John Warner Website Editor

EG: Wow – fame and fortune here you come!

EGdA: I haven’t heard back on the last one I sent.

EG: Don’t hold your breath.

EGdA: You are very mean.

EG: What are you going to do about it, lit boy, try to chop off my dangling modifier?

EGdA: Hey – honestly –

EG: Come on! Put them up! Stop holding them like a girl! I’m about to go all Blood Meridian on your ass!

EGdA: We don’t have to –

EG: Oh yes we do! Traca de Broon! CRY HAVOC AND LET LOOSE THE DOGS OF WAR! (a loud Valkyric scream comes from the kitchen, followed by banging doors and claws clattering on the floor)

EGdA: Ahhhhh!


EGdA: AAABBLAGOAGLAAHHKQLAPPAA! (sound of rending and fighting)

EG: But, I have to admit the mahogany desk was pretty good.


IcelandAir, you owe me five outfits and eleven hours

I was just trying to fly to Amsterdam on IcelandAir. You would think that Icelanders would have their shit down. What else do they have to do than be blonde and Nordic, fly the planes, load the luggage, go home to their hearthsides and their expensive liquers and turtlenecks, and coats with fur, or fake fur, collars. They had a good idea, let's give them that: start a discount airline that flies people from the U.S. to Europe, and vice versa, making a stop in their capitol for folks to spend their money. A no-brainer. But, you see, Reykjavik is windy, out there alone on the Atlantic, and sometimes it's too windy for some of those planes full of tourist dollars and euros to land in Iceland. When that happens to a plane flying from, say, Boston, the captain interrupts your Radiohead to say, "Unfortunately, the weather in Iceland has too much heavy winds, and so we will have to divert to Glasgow." Like, oh, that seat has gum on it, I will sit on the next seat. I was on such a plane.

Eleven hours in the Glasgow airport, sitting in an admittedly nice foux leather seat, but with nothing to do but read David Copperfield (yes, I am reading it again, having abandoned it a couple years ago two-thirds through, but it's even better this time) and order super-strong but tiny cappucinos and those little cookies that have an undefinable, but foreign, flavor. But at first, naturally, before the leather seat and coffee, we crowded around the IcelandAir info desk at the Glasgow airport. "We have no information," was the testy reply. But then it seemed they did have information, because it trickled out in the form of rumors. Reykjavik airport is closed, so they can't fly the pilots out to save us, for example. So we in the crowd appealed to the the info desk attendant: "Please just make an announcement, so we know! So we know what to do, how long to wait, and so on." And the attendant said she would make an announcement. And in a few minutes the announcement echoed through the terminal: "Please move away from the IcelandAir information desk."

Arrived Amsterdam around midnight with no place to stay (I was supposed to be picked up by a friend, but I had called him from Glasgow to say go about your life and pray for me, and the train to his city had finished for the night) only to find out they had failed to load the luggage on the plane. Inside my bag were all my nice clothes in which I was supposed to convince real estate agents and finance people that I am respectable and worthy of buying a house (turns out it's amazing how long you can get away with buying a few shirts, socks, and underwear and wearing them with one pear of jeans). Also in the bag was the video camera so I could show Traca the viewings on my return. Every day for five days I was told there was "no information" about my bag. Had it vanished from the earth? Then yesterday, the day before I am to leave, they sent my mobile a text message. "PLEASE CONTACT KLM GROUND SERVICES." KLM is handling the problem for IcelandAir. So I went to the airport and picked up my bag, which was mostly useless to me at that point. So I swapped out my backpack of dirty socks, underwear, and t shirts for clean ones and left the bag in airport storage. My bag spent five days in Glasgow and then never left Schiphol Airport.

I board my return IcelandAir flight in a few hours, prepared to spend eleven hours in Greenland.

To be continued...


Iowa City Arts: November

Apologies for the tardiness. Hope I didn't miss too much last week raking my leaves. As we slide on the downslope of the fall semester, the events let up a bit but not in terms of quality.

November Lectures
  • TODAY (yikes, sorry for the late notice), 11.07, 11 a.m., Frank Conroy Reading Room, Dey House - Francine Prose: "Close Reading--Reading Like a Master"
  • Thursday, 11.09, 7:30 p.m., UI Main Lounge, IMU - Frank McCourt: "If You Want to Know Yourself--Teach!"
  • Tuesday, 11.28, 11 a.m., FCRR, Dey House - Nicholas Delbanco: "Writing By Imitating the Great Masters" Be sure an catch his fiction reading the night before (scroll down).
November Movies
  • Through Thursday, 11.09, at the Bijou: John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig & the Angry Inch) offers up his next sexual/textual treatise/dram-edy Shortbus. Also playing is the Kirby Dick documentary examining the MPAA's hypocrisy-in-practice This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Trailers and showtimes here.

  • Friday, 11.10, through Thursday, 11.16, at the Bijou: Michael Kang's "heartfelt" look at a first-generation Chinese-American adolescent in The Motel and a documentary following a girls' high school basketball team, The Heart of the Game. Trailers and showtimes here.
November Readings
  • Thursday, 11.09, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Tim Miller reads non-fiction.
  • Thursday, 11.09, 7:30 p.m., UI Museum of Art - It's a three-for-all: Workshop director and fiction writer Lan Samantha Chang, poet Cole Swenson, and Atlantic-award-winner and non-fictionalist Matt Davis all read as part of the Writer-in-Residence reading.
  • Friday, 11.10, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Did you miss Sam Chang the night before? You can catch her at PL with Doug Bauer and Sue Miller. The three will likely read their contributions to the collection Death by Pad Thai: And Other Unforgettable Meals.
  • Monday, 11.13, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - S. L. Wisenberg reads from his just-out-in-paperback Holocaust Girls.
  • Tuesday, 11.14, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Investigatory journalist Steve Hendricks reads from his book-length examination of the FBI's war against the American Indian Movement, The Unquiet Grave.
  • Thursday, 11.16, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Kevin Moffett, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, reads from his collection, Permanent Visitors.
  • Monday, 11.27, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Nicholas Delbanco likely reads from his new novel, Spring and Fall.
  • Wednesday, 11.29, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Katherine Fischer reads from Dreaming the Mississippi.
  • Thursday, 11.30, 7 p.m., Prairie Lights - Ashley Capps reads poetry. Workshop grad Capps is the 2005 winner of the Akron Poetry Prize for Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields. Examples of her work here and here. Love that second one.


Teaching Opportunity, Earthgoaters and Babies and Other Assorted friends

A friend of mine who teaches at a state university is looking for someone with an MFA and writing-class experience to fill a one-semester lectureship starting in January; full benefits, teach writing classes, pay is 20k (for the four months; the cost of living is low in this place) and it can easily be parlayed into a three-year job at the same school starting next fall. They're looking to fill the position quick-quick (next few days), so if you're interested, get in touch with me and I'll pass along more info as well as the department chair's email address (it's that urgent and direct). Sounds like a good opportunity in a neat region of the country, and it's a nice shot to get good experience for anyone sick of adjuncting for little to no pay. Email me at marlette85 at yahoo dot com.


The Road

Has anyone read Cormac McCarthy's new novel? I finished it last week. I was pretty excited about it -- a load of glowing reviews talking about how he was getting back to his roots (whatever that means -- The Orchard Keeper, maybe?), and claiming that The Road was his greatest achievement besides Blood Meridian.

I started reading McCarthy in college, on the recommendation of Phil Jackson. This wasn't a personal recommendation -- I'd just read an article in which the Zen Master lauded some strange writer. So I picked up the first book I found at the library, All the Pretty Horses, and it stunned me: western myth, romantic, weird gnostic demons huddling in pools when characters puke, and oh those pure simple horses. Nothing personal, Grendel, but Gus McCrae just don't hold a candle to John Grady Cole. I read The Crossing and loved it, and then Blood Meridian, which still freaks me out. Then Suttree a couple years later, which sealed the deal (Outer Dark, Cities on the Plain, Child of God, and the aforementioned Orchard Keeper didn't much do it for me, at least in comparison). Anyway, McCarthy was for years my favorite living writer.

Then he stopped writing and I discovered Nabokov and I went to Iowa and one day Frank mentioned McCarthy. Frank didn't rail against CM or anything -- he just gleefully mocked him in class once, which was a little strange; but still, I thought, Blood Meridian: American Masterpiece. When that new book came out last year, I didn't read it -- it sounded stupid (a crazy guy running around killing people with a cattle prod?). But The Road intrigued me. Friends said it was great. The reviews were solid. So I picked it up.

Today, at this moment, my view has changed: I think McCarthy is at best a blip in American literature. I'm guessing other people who contribute here have always thought this -- maybe some haven't, though. I'd like to hear from anyone interested. For me, the thing about The Road (no plot spoilers, I promise) is that it's quintessential McCarthy only stripped down, and so the novel reveals the simplicity of his entire ouevre: he thinks Evil is everywhere and Good can fight it but will lose. Kierkegaard it ain't.
To me, The Road is like Blood Meridian but with only a couple 'characters', and now the physical world is itself the Judge (or maybe The Road is like The Crossing . . . or maybe Lester Ballard appears, or maybe we see the crazy killers from Outer Darkness . . . and so the derivations continue). The Road is McCarthy's philosophy -- that's a generous word -- laid out plain, and what it's made me realize is that all his books (save maybe Suttree?) are this same philosophy playing out in absurd circumstances. And also people are really good at rigging things by hand (I bet Cormac McCarthy, if he watched TV, loved MacGuyver.)

I remember another contributor on Earthgoat once being unimpressed by Borges's stories; if memory serves, he thought they were simple philosophies wrapped in fiction; but in my mind, at least Borges is playful. At least he laughs at himself a little. McCarthy is actually serious about himself. He takes his Magneto vs. Professor X vision with the utmost gravity, and now that I feel I can 'see' his project -- and more importantly, it's sad lack of complexity -- even that great book, my long time favorite, Blood Meridian, is little more than a childish indulgence.

Interesting chart from a reader