Tag Archives: writing

Covid-19 Diary, part 24: More buckwheat.

25 May

Things Beth and I have argued about this week:
Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s movies
The meaning of a single frame of the movie Junebug
Birth of a Nation
Sexism in movies versus racism in movies
The definition of the German word, Wunderbar. (Beth was right on this one; it’s painful for me to admit it, but I thought Wunderbar meant, “Of course!”)
The novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. (Beth was wrong about this one; it is a superb book.)
The meaning behind specific sighs
The meaning behind specific eye-rolls
The definition of “jejune”
What constitutes the Deep South

One week.

Me: Buckwheat is actually good for you.
Beth: I’ve been trying to buy it, but everyone’s out of it.
Me: People have heard about all the magic I’m doing with it.
Beth: Your “buckwheat johnnycakes” has ruined everything. 

I re-watched Slam Dance, an odd 90s movie starring Tom Hulce (he played Amadeus). It’s a murder mystery, sort of. Or is it a romance? And there’s only a single scene with slam dancing. It’s bad, but in a memorable way.

I first watched it when I was 12, while my parents and sisters frolicked on the beach. My family took a beach vacation once a year, renting a condo for three days. I usually spent them watching movies. The beach house had Showtime and HBO. I was in hog heaven. My parents thought I was nuts. 

Over the years at that beach house, I watched Kelly’s Heroes. I watched Relentless. I watched Thief of Hearts. I watched Salvador. I watched Silver Streak. I watched Revenge of the Nerds. I watched Airborne. I watched Repo Man. I watched Commando. 

(I can’t remember the rest.)

Here’s the thing. My memory of Slam Dance doesn’t match my experience of it. The movie is bewildering, it is confusing, but not because it’s mature, but because it’s kind of bad. 

What did I get wrong? 

I remember the main character looking like the lead singer of Bad English. He doesn’t. I remember the movie exploring a punk subculture. It doesn’t. I remember the film having an East German villain. Nope. I remember a sex dream; that scene is in She’s Having a Baby. I thought it was set in London. I thought Kelly LeBrock was in it. Nope and nope. 

Beth: Unless you’re in prison, I don’t want to hear about what a terrible mother you are.

100,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. Our government’s response has been, “You’re on your own; we’ve won!”

The death toll equals twelve plane crashes a day. 

I spent two days working on a new book proposal while also working on grad school papers and the corrections and revisions for South. My thoughts have been divided. It’s left me depleted and cranky. 

Beth read Wow, No thank You this Week, a book of essays from Samantha Irby. She’s been laughing out loud, reading passages. She also told me, four or five times, that I was forbidden to put on the blog what she just said. I really, really want to; she was on fire. 

We watch What’s Up, Doc? with the kids. I love this movie, a slapstick, live Warner Brothers cartoon. (Barbra Streisand, here and in The Owl and the Pussycat, was my first crush.) Simone guffaws. She chortles. 

Running in the park today, Beth overhead a dude say into his phone, “I mean, liberals . . . science science science.”

I’m still walking at night. Someone has lit a mannequin from the inside, dressing it in bright red robes that glow crimson with inner light. Each night I come across the illuminated headless body floating in the air. It’s indescribably beautiful.

I stop by some hedges to avoid a dog walker. Behind the bushes, inside the first floor of an apartment, is an enormous, glowing blue sphere. It looks like a message from another world. 

I listen to music on the walk. “Do right Woman,” comes on. I can hardly breathe. Midnight Oil’s “Maralinga” is next; “I want to be there at the end,” is the re-occurring line. 

I randomly get Spoon, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Sam Cooke, and The Strokes. For this chilly night, on the empty streets, these songs are perfect. 

I keep thinking of the curse of knowledge. Once you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it was like not knowing it. 

Looking for something in one of my old notebooks, I stumbled across this line: “What has not believing gotten you? What is the world but the delusions of a half-mad race?” (In this notebook I only have fiction, a few poems, and draft sections of South. I don’t remember writing these lines.)

In the park today, a muscled old shirtless dude screams at some thirty-something skaters. I can’t make out the problem, but the shirtless dude seems like he has a legitimate beef, but expresses himself in ridiculous drama. “I’ll fucking die out here!” he screams.
Beth: What are you going to do about that in the middle of pandemic?
Me: I don’t know, maybe see if there’s some sort of compromise.
(Beth sighs.) 

Simone and Pearl and some other neighborhood children put on a talent show today. The theme was Elton John and cartwheels. There was a lot of Elton John. And a lot of cartwheels.

Me: The kids should do a play. You could be the stage manager.
Beth: You could be the stage manager . . . and then shut the fuck up.

Me: I just think buckwheat is my future, somehow.
Beth: If I had a blog, I would put that on it.


Beth: Why did you turn the fan off in here?
Me: I didn’t turn the fan off in here. You must have.
Beth: You turned the fan off!
Me: Why would I turn the fan off in here?
Beth: I don’t know why you do the sick things you do.

Covid-19, Diary: Part 3. Death and Lee Marvin.

25 Mar


All memory is processed as fiction. Paul Fussell wrote that about World War I. Time passes and real events transmogrify into novels, plays, movies, and, eventually, into parables. Tidy little lessons. Disturbed people become monsters. Decent people become heroes. The messy truth flecks away.


We are in week two of our shelter in place. We’ve gone to grocery stores a few times. Taken a few walks. Bickered. Squabbled. It’s messy, volatile. Everyone is in everyone else’s way. Plus, we have a one year old. Quantity time. 


A memory: It’s 2007, Beth and I watch fireworks from a bridge in Iowa City. An undergrad curses freely, dropping motherfucks and shits left and right, and with some children around her friends ask her to tone it down. I’m not going to censor myself, she says. We watch the explosions in the sky with our dog, Pepper, who is freaked out by the noise. The distant fireworks echo in the clouds like bomb blasts. We walk home, it’s late, I feel exposed and harried by unknown forces, let’s call them invisible tigers, they are pursuing me at every step, I don’t understand how or why but I feel besieged by sinister forces. I wasn’t alone. The subprime housing crisis is just around the corner. Beth goes to sleep. I pace the house. Someone outside is breaking beer bottles by throwing them into the street. I peer through the windows into the astral night. I can’t see the thrower, but catch glimpses of my own, aging face in the glass. 


I’ve always been fascinated by the last people to die in a war. We know the last American who died in World War II: Anthony Marchione. Three days after Japan surrendered, he was strafed by Japanese fighter pilots. He was taking aerial photographs, as evidence that Japan was honoring the terms of their agreement. 


I like to think when we die, there is some transition from life to non-life. Charon ferrying us to the other side. Death, in my thinking, would look something like a clean-shaven Lee Marvin. 


In The Big Red One, Lee Marvin plays an American soldier who bayonets a weaponless German. A few minutes later Marvin learns that an armistice had been signed earlier that day. The war was over. He murdered an unarmed civilian. He committed the last kill. 


Irony? I don’t know. The movie is fiction. But there was a last German killed in the first World War, and odds are it happened after the war was over.  


Twelve years earlier, Lee Marvin stars alongside Toshiro Mifume in Hell in the Pacific. An American GI and a Japanese soldier duel on a tiny island where they’ve both been marooned. The war is over. They work together, then betray each other, and it’s all for nothing. The movie ends with them both killed by an errant explosion. Nothing is resolved. The entire movie is pointless. 


Metaphor? Sure. But for what? 


Camus wrote The Plague in 1947. The Plague follows the exact storyline of the Corona-Virus, only in a smaller city. The citizens are quarantined. The religious leaders ignore medical advice and lecture the townspeople, saying that this is happening to them for a reason. God’s judgment. The doctor in the novel knows better. The virus kills without morality. It has no function beyond contagion. God is unnecessary. The word will find ways to kill you without divine involvement. 


Lee Marvin’s last movie was The Delta Force. Chuck Norris is the star. A sad ending to a great career. Not sure how Marvin got into my thinking today. 


Clearly, I’ve seen too many movies. 


The last two Americans to die in Vietnam were Charles McMahon and Darwin Lee Judge, killed by a rocket attack. They died on April 29, which happens to be my birthday. Saigon fell a day later. 


Covid-19 sounds like a science fiction death ray. Something out of a dumb Michael Crichton novel. 


Here’s the end of every person’s story: One day you wake up and something random kills you.


That’s a mean-spirited thing to write. I could delete it, but I won’t. 


No one really remembers McMahon or Judge or Marchione. These are names that have been sublimated into the larger narratives of war. In the ancient world, individual lives didn’t matter. When kings and pharoahs died, their servants and animals were often slaughtered and entombed with them. 


Are we so different now? I hear Trump in his press conferences bump up against the rising death toll. He doesn’t care about the individual people. We’re all just numbers.


So who will be the last person to die from Covid-19? And how will they be remembered?


Put another way, how will we fictionalize the world we’re living in?


Put yet another way, how will this world-wide crisis be condensed into some digestible lesson?


A memory: In 2007, I am walking Pepper one evening. I notice a man watching me from his window. He ducks when I look up at him, and then sort of peeks over the sill. He sees me looking up at him and ducks again. I am bewildered. I walk faster. I look back. The man is still watching me, half-hidden. Something’s not right. One early morning a week later, I see twenty-somethings running out of a house carrying guitars. I walk Pepper along, curious, and look back to see that their house is on fire. The house on fire is the same house with the odd peeper. I want to help, but I am walking my dog.


Lee Marvin died from a heart attack in 1987. He was 63.

First lines. Work in progress. Novellas.

28 Jun

Finished second draft of new novellas. They are tentatively titled 1. The Sleepless Dragon on the Snow-white Sands; 2. The Utility Organism; and 3. The Brotherhood of the Eye and the Nation of Perverts. Here are the first lines:


Sleepless Dragon:

“February 5. Dear Evan, You’re in Afghanistan by now, and I’m in Pensacola, and I don’t know who has it worse. That’s a joke.”


Utility Organism:

“The dawn appears in silver ribbons and Joe’s head aches with his love for the world.”



“September 14. I’ve been instructed by my doctor to keep a diary. He’s established some rules.”

Will keep people updated. Wish me luck.