Tuesday, April 17, 2007

(April 17, 2007)

Walter must be sad.

Tony must be sad.

Brian must be sad.

There was the picture of all of us, Math Award winners in eighth grade. We had practically the same oversized glasses and short frumpy haircuts. I was the only girl. The rest went to Virginia Tech.

It is sad, thirty-three dead is awful.

The students must be scared.

Living with fear is awful. Living with grief is a challenge.

Some days there are more than thirty-three dead in Iraq and some days, less. Sometimes they report the numbers and sometimes they don’t. It’s been so many days in a row now.

People are wondering why. Why does a student kill students.

We've sent so many students to Iraq. ROTC is a great way to go through college if you don’t have money for college. My first love went ROTC, narrowly missing the call for the Gulf War.

Right now, students are killing Iraqis in order to save their own lives.

Right now, students are killing we-don’t-know-how-many-or-who Iraqis: armed or unarmed, school children or uneducated, old or young. We don’t report these murders, we report suicide bombers. We report sectarian conflict.

Right now, veterans you sent to war are living with themselves in this country, with your question Why?

Tax season had just ended when the shooting occurred.

This year I paid $68 in federal taxes. Some percentage of which goes to fund students killing Iraqis.

The road to Blacksburg is dangerous. Your car is hugging mountain curves, and the tractor trailers are right up there with you, above the ravines and the quarries.

But when you get to Blacksburg, the air is thin and clear. The sky is beautiful. The hills around you are a comfort.

Elizabeth says her uncle in Danville, Virginia has an arsenal in his basement. Untold numbers of guns.

Elizabeth says that Danville’s National Guard is on the top of the list of units to be called, because they are known for being so adept with guns.

The gunman at Virginia Tech, this student, was armed to the teeth. He wore a vest for ammunition, he had two automatic weapons, he had back up bullets. He scraped off serial numbers. He knew his way around a gun.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute is a former military academy which still has its own corps of cadets.

Killeen, Texas, site of the second-biggest shooting in America, is home of a U.S. Army base.

San Diego, site of the third-biggest shooting in America, is a well-known military city.

It’s only been in the latter half of the war that they started reporting Iraqi deaths.

The American press is still banned from running photographs of the American coffins.

Last year at this time, I was at an estate sale where the bereaved family had price-tagged rifles next to paper clips and armchairs and twenty-year-old bottles of anise.

Nineteen years ago at this time, I was on a tennis court in Blacksburg, losing the Virginia state tennis championship. I cried to lose the last match for my high school team.

A few months after that, I was in Blacksburg to rendezvous with my first love, who was forbidden to visit me in Charlottesville.

We were staying in the dorm room with Tony and Brian, and we visited Walter and Angela.

In Blacksburg, I lost some of my virginity to my first love.

We had already broken up, and we broke up again afterward.

It was sad.

Tony must be sad.

Angela probably cried.

Walter must be sad.

Brian must be very sad.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007


R______, who has worked at the bookstore since 8:25 AM on ___ __, 1966, R_______ started his book career in the book department at the National Record Mart, a now-defunct Pittsburgh record-store chain. The National Record Mart, a family-owned company, one year got to pulling its weight to bring musical acts through the city. In the early 60s, they brought in The Beatles.

Well, the big day had arrived, The Beatles were coming to Pittsburgh, and here they were, on their way to the National Record Mart to play some songs and sign some autographs. R______ is out on 5th Avenue with everyone else, lining the sidewalks, and here come The Beatles, driving down the street. The Beatles are making it very slowly down the street, with the crowd attaching itself to the car like a many-armed octopus.

And who does R______ also see, also crawling down the street, one car behind The Beatles, but his father. Cursing, shaking his fist behind his windshield, red-faced, cursing, cursing.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Excerpt from Joseph Mitchell, "My Ears are Bent," orginally published 1938

Describing Dick's Bar and Grill, a reporter's bar near the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan:

"There are two steady waiters, and they also hate the customers. One is named Horace. He is an Italian who suffers from adenoids and never shuts his mouth. He has a delusion about his head. He was in the Italian Army during the war, and he believes his head was shot off and that the doctors got the head of an Austrian and sewed it on his neck. He claims that the new head is not satisfactory because it is the head of a young man and often urges him into adventures in which the rest of his body is not particularly interested.

" 'My other head had a big mustache,' he said one night."

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

And everyone else

"Nobody goes there anymore," complained Yogi Berra: "It's too crowded."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

But I was a clerk in a filing room when I did

Dream: Harvey Pekar kept calling me and leaving me messages, or getting me on the phone and getting the brush off. I was busy, I’d tell him. He was calling me the way a customer would get my attention; he wasn’t calling because we were familiar, but because he needed me to retrieve something from a shelf. However, we lived several cities away from each other. I kept brushing him off like even the snidest clerk in me wouldn’t, because he wasn’t really my customer--I was no longer working a customer service job, and he wasn’t really calling a store. It was as if (after 11 restaurant jobs and almost a decade in retail) I’d turned into the Everyclerk; if you called me, I’d get you something from a shelf. Harvey Pekar knew it, and I didn’t yet.

As I said, I was brushing him off constantly. I would delete his messages before I listened to them and I would self-righteously slam-hang up the phone if he reached me. Some guilt started to eat at me. What was he trying to tell me? His calls were increasingly angry as of late. Was he threatening me, now that I was treating him so?

I was busy. In my mind, I was very busy and I couldn’t believe that yet someone else needed me and demanded of my time and energy.

The space I existed in was like a long warehouse, sectioned off by suggestions of different rooms but not by walls. The floors and walls were concrete; there were no windows. It was hard to say whether this was specifically my place of work, or whether it was some nuclear-bomb-shelter future society; whether it was just where everyone existed. For one thing, I was doing various tasks there. In the fathest back section, I was shopping for records from some snotty twenty-year old guys. Slightly closer than that, I was folding the Sunday paper sections as they came in. Even closer to the front, I was visiting Morgan, who had returned to Brooklyn with his family, left his house in Italy behind and had to get a job in a pet store. Our heads were surrounded by bird cages and hanging plants as we talked about his disappointment in this turn of events. At the front end of this windowless space (why it seemed the front I can’t say) there were stacks of the complete Sunday paper, with a thin version of Harvey’s latest book stuffed inside as this week’s supplement. At this end of the place, people were starting to gather, for a variety show to celebrate Bryan’s wedding. I turned around and saw Bryan, Phillippe, and my brothers, all in plastic bowler hats and various other costume accessories, looking like they were dressed for St. Patrick’s Day. I shook hands to congratulate Bryan.

Parallel to the pet store, there was a room-sized bird cage of sorts. It was like a tiny studio apartment with walls of black-metal piping. I seemed to work for the person who lived there; I had come to water her. On one side of the cage walls, the metal piping was interrupted by a row of what looked like black hot-air balloons, or dry-cleaning bags for Abbot and Costello, hanging from the ceiling. These were supposed to be all the rage now. I was fluffing these balloons up for the resident, when I saw Harvey Pekar charge around the corner. “I’m Harvey Pekar!” he yelled in my direction when he saw me. I was stricken by fear at the sight of him, because my anxiety at having ignored his calls, and my confusion as to whether he was somehow inherently my customer, had grown so high. He looked terrible, his skin looked that transparent-elderly-Irish, plus liver spots. One of his eyes was bandaged. He got closer to me and was still yelling at me. Now I was fearing what threats I had erased off my answering machine, as if I wanted to know his plans. As if I somehow deserved them more because I had ignored their build-up. Then Harvey lit a match and set me on fire, and ignited the hot-air balloons, yelling that he told me he would do this if I didn’t take his next call.

I woke up.


Last Sunday night’s dream: Harvey Pekar was being held hostage by terrorists, and the City of Cleveland was being asked for the money. Harvey had his own demands for the terrorists: He told them that his plans were to finish eating his meal now, a whole roasted chicken, and then to defecate the following morning.

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