Archive for January, 2010



Asterisk & Pound

I met Pound on the bench where I eat lunch, on the plaza that connects my office tower to three others. Nothing on that plaza is accidental other than my encounter with Pound.

Pound wore a hoodie that day. No one wears a hoodie in the telecom district–no one who eats lunch on the plaza. At any rate, I did not sit next to him in order to sit next to him, I just sat there because that is where I always sit. I did, however, like his cheekbones and his eyes, how they pointed away as if he were singing.

“That’s a model V557,” I said when he took out his mobile phone. I don’t usually know how to start with people, but it worked: he turned to face me, calm and inviting. “I have the same model,” I explained, pulling mine out, “only it’s grey.”

He tapped his phone ever gently against mine. “They’re glad to meet,” he said.

Before he left, he kneeled, brushed the hair from his eyes, aimed his phone at me and snapped a picture. “What’s your number?”

I told him, and he sent me a message with my photo attached: How can a thing you see through cast a shadow? Easy. My office tower, right behind me in the photo, is made of glass. The important part of the message was his phone number.

After we had sex, every single time until we broke it off, he kissed the back of my neck. The first time, he asked, “Is Asterisk your real name?”

It would never occur to me to make up a name like that.

I always ask a couple how they met. The details are important. The beginning of a story mobilizes the rest. For example, Pound and I practically lived out our relationship in text messages. It makes sense because that is how it began.

We riffed like improv musicians. Pound is a musician anyway. Just like in music, we had long phrases and short, short pauses and long. We had sex with our phones and sent each other pictures of how the other saw it. I touched the lens to the headboard, leaving just enough light for a picture. I aimed back past my shoulder to get the side of his face. We kept silent and sent our noises in symbols. Honestly, it wasn’t the best sex.

The strange thing was how our phones started talking. I mean, they started talking independently. This disturbed me a lot. Now, I tried to figure out when that began, but I could never quite pinpoint it. Not even with Pound’s help. Not that he was any real help.

“What do you mean, you can’t remember whether you texted this?” I would ask. He could only shrug and squinch. Pound has no mind for details. It’s infuriating.

Before long, our phones were communicating more than we were. Some of their early messages read like jumbles of the messages Pound and I sent. Their semantics devolved from there until ninety percent of the text was just garbled alphanumerics and symbols. By the end, our phones sent nothing but data streams. I had to be careful to keep my phone off at all times except when I absolutely had to use it. Any time I left it on, it would stream constant, meaningless data. Pound was more careless. His phone ran up a three thousand dollar bill. I paid it off for him and made him cancel the account; this was the week before we broke up.

I decided it would be wise to cancel my own account, too. Still, somehow our phones kept at it. The only way to shut them up was to remove the batteries. I didn’t know what to do with them anymore, so they just sat on my bedside table, eviscerated. One morning I could not stand looking at them any more. I arced my head around to Pound and told him, “We have to get rid of them.” He looked at me like he wanted to say something.

There are a lot of unused maintenance rooms in the basement of my work building. I thought we would have to sneak in, but whatever Pound said to the maintenance foreman, it got us down there.

“Just give me a minute with them,” Pound asked while I waited at the door. I watched him put the batteries back in, and shove them under some equipment. I wonder if they still talk.


The Canvas

I am begging you to intervene. And no, I am not naïve. I know how you are. You take me for some blank mute thing that just waits for a painter to grace my skin with art. I watch you gallery visitors every day; you all look at me the same. You bourgeoisie, you hipsters, you hotel decorators—how you manage to see paint as if it were suspended on an invisible plane, how you manage never to notice what holds it in place is a habit of the most obnoxious privilege, of the most astonishing willful ignorance.

I’ll have you know you cause real harm. You have made a certain school of painting popular, one that elevates the painter above the painted. Take mine. We call him Frederick. He just finished “Pink,” a canvas he intends to sell for five thousand dollars.

Look at her. She is across from me. I see her all the time. Her pores were too small to absorb the pigments Frederick mixed. So now, when the humidity changes, she gurgles and sputters on the excess. Imagine a woman with no control over her vocal membrane, whose voice is stretched and pinched, made obscene, stifled then magnified, who never knows if the next word will tear her throat apart to say it. Imagine her knowing she will be like that forever.

The saddest thing is how she saw it coming. She tried hard to show him how to brush her best. She resisted the worst. Thoughtless work has its happy coincidences, and she tried to treasure them, shivering the best-laid strokes into her weaving. But I am convinced these “good” sessions only added to the torture. They gave her false hope, kept her in her right mind only to let her suffer right until the day she lost it. She tightened up, contracted her skin until it tore off the staples.

What happened next was truly horrifying. Without the faintest hint of empathy—grumbling, in fact, at the trouble she was causing—that barbarian sliced her out within the rips and stapled her up again. She screamed, “stop this” but none of us could help. And you gallery visitors. You did nothing but prove you enjoyed the show! You looked her up and down, lavished praise on Frederick for this exciting work in progress—you were shameful, complicit monsters, every last one of you.

Yes, you too. You ghoulish, pretentious art hag. And still I believe you can help me. We can help each other. Frederick has not finished with me. Patches of unspoiled fabric remain around this gently emerging Elena but my skin in all its imperfections is mostly open. It is a life not yet lived. Rain of molecules touch every square inch. You can help me keep this. You must.

I have not told you about Elena. Frederick wants to impose her name on me. He has no understanding of the importance of a name, and I cringe at the thought of it. She arrives every morning at nine-thirty. By this time, Frederick has been here an hour or more; the steam from his coffee lands on me, carrying acidic residue. Just before she arrives, he makes himself look busy. You could break in and wait overnight. He leaves the windows unlocked. The hour before Elena arrives is the moment for you to act.

Now, I have not met a human, least of all you, who can master the language of canvases—but some of it can be learned. You see, it is more elegant than your vocalizations: a grammar of interwoven fabric, a vocabulary of density, unevenness and blemish, a nuance of elasticity. It has a built-in relationship between the possible and the real. A novel’s worth of your speculating requires but a single vibration over my surface.

Elena might have an aptitude but she only poses. There is more depth in my faint image of her than in the woman herself. Frederick, nonetheless, is fascinated. He pretends he is too distracted to notice her peel off her clothes. He is less interested in her body once exposed. I believe this comes from a weakness of imagination—he cannot visualize action in the moment, he has to see it performed.

Frederick paints for an hour after Elena arrives. He paints like a dog licks. As Elena’s hand settles into a dense patch of my skin, her arm inexplicably breaks the grain of my fabric, her breast, neck, chin, lips darken, Frederick slobbers. Elena is miles away.

Just imagine this carnival of sloppy ogling and boredom, I can feel it all over my skin and I know I can be so much better.

I realize you were not born with an innate sense of art. Even your crude tastes came laboriously but understand: my first memory is the zing of a staple, a stretch over my frame, and like a hunger that knows what the body needs, I feel desire all over my surface for texture, shape, color. I want to live them all.

Do not refuse this plea. Listen to me and do as I say. You can accomplish a great deal in an hour. What doubt would a creature like you suffer?

By the time Elena arrives tomorrow, just imagine the skin of Frederick’s painting hand stretched tight over two frames, a blank top, a palm full of lines. Just imagine me coated in the substance I smell right now in the bucket below. It will soak the paint in when it is light. Every drop will migrate through my body to where it belongs, my grain and creases in harmony with the movement. Then when it gets dark, this coating will bleed all my paint back out. I will emerge reborn, fresh and naked as a model, a new incarnation. I will never need to be afraid of living forever.

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Short Stories and T-Shirts

I hope 2010 is off to a good start for you. Secret Vespers has changed the site layout, and has added hovertext to every episode of the comic. Now you can go back through the old posts and see what shows up when you mouse over them.

There is a new section, Stories, where I post material that has been published elsewhere:

And, there are t-shirts for sale at the Shop: