When I was in college, I had the bright idea to become a schoolbus driver. For this unfortunate career decision, I blame hairspray and sex.

It was my freshman year. I lived in Oklahoma City at the time and went to a fundamentalist evangelical university. I was 18, had been dating my boyfriend for four years, and was technically still a virgin. I say “technically” in a Bill Clinton sort of way. I might even still have the dress to prove it.

The reason it was important for us to stay virgins before we got married was that premarital sex was wrong. Thinking about it was wrong. Planning for it was wrong. And doing it was definitely wrong. We were supposed to be on fire for God, not each other.

There was only one way around it: Marriage.

In marriage, we could make sweet monkey love every night and it was OK. We could stop feeling guilty for all of those crazy, out of control desires that sent us parking in a steamed over car at the edge of the Nature Reserve night after night.

Yes, Oklahoma has a nature reserve. There is nature there.

The problem with our marriage plan was that we had no money. Neither of us had jobs.

Destined to become a teen bride so that I could stop feeling guilty for wanting to have sex, I discussed the issue with my roommate, who I shall call Gloria.

Gloria was a good southern girl. She dressed in flouncy blouses, had big hair, candied nails and wore Cole Haans loafers on her feet. I was not a good southern girl. I was from Colorado. I wore flannel. I had flannel sheets. I think I even had flannel socks on under my Tevas.

On the day I moved in with Gloria, I pushed open the door to walk into a windstorm of Aqua Net.

“Oh, sorry!” called out the intended recipient. I squinted into the haze as she slowly began to take shape. “I hope I didn’t get y’all in the eye!”

I checked behind me, unaware that I wasn’t alone. With no one in the hall, I proceeded forward with caution.

I attempted to make small talk for the next several minutes while she put the finishing touches on her tightly permed chestnut locks, which basically involved repeatedly blasting them from a spectrum of angles – angles, which I knew theoretically existed from my science geeky boyfriend with whom I longed to make sweet monkey love, but perhaps in a different plane or dimension.

“Y’all should drive a school bus like I do,” she told me one morning soon after we announced our engagement. It was morning and she was getting ready for her own route. The “bus barn” was just down the street and apparently had a lot of college kids on the payroll. Good pay and good hours for students.

She whipped out the can and got to work freeze-framing her locks as she talked. I did the math. It wouldn’t take much to live on if we got a small apartment with student housing. At the time, we could get a place for $160 a month on campus. Sure it was 300 square feet and had a view of the cafeteria dumpster, but we could put up curtains. Curtains to shield us from the prying eyes of the cafeteria workers, friends, our pastor and possibly even God himself so that we could skip from room to room wearing nothing but garlands in our hair.

Lured by the thought of being able to afford a life of marital bliss, one in which coitus came freely and without guilt, Scott and I both signed up for bus driving lessons.

The leader of the bus barn – a Mr. Trumbell – took us on and led us through a workshop on how to drive a schoolbus. Mr. Trumbell was old, had Marlboro stained creases on his face and appeared to have a lifetime of red meat stored in his gut. He walked slowly and with a limp and never failed to have a plastic mug filled with Folgers within three feet of him.

Mr. Trumbell was filled with bus driver wisdom. He taught us about lug nuts and airbrakes. He taught us how to park one of those SOBs backwards into a space with only three feet on either side. He taught us how to keep kids in their seats and quiet under threat of his Folgers breath of doom.

I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so he assigned me to a couple of other drivers who went to our school. There was a girl and a guy. The girl was blond, beautiful and sang constantly. She was the Cinderella of the bus driving world. When she stepped outside the bus, all manner of woodland creatures whirled admiringly about her, but when she was on the bus, she was all business. My other teacher doubled as a security guard on campus where he could be seen patrolling from the front seat of a golf cart. He was a large man and went by the name “Duck” for reasons unknown to me.

“Now put it into third,” she would say before trilling into an arpeggio from the seat behind me. “Good.” Somewhere behind her, Duck would crack a joke about a driver picking her nose in the car beside us. I would grab that giant stick shift that came up out of a shaft on the floor and grind it into submission all the while thinking about how I could use that move on Scott once we were married and in our $160 a month student apartment with curtains.

Over time, I learned my new craft. I could perform a complete safety check on the engine, replace those derned lug nuts when needed and park that SOB backwards into a space so tight it would require a tub of Crisco to dislodge it. Scott and I got our CDLs, passed our busdriver tests, and started our intern routes. Everything was going along smoothly until one day, Scott was turning left at an intersection and crunched the car next to him like a can of grape Fanta.

Mr. Trumbell was level headed about it, but explained to him that he couldn’t have brand new drivers on his payroll who had already had an accident involving kids. He let him go. Scott was real cool about it. He never let on for one second that this might postpone a chandelier swinging encounter or two. No worries, I thought. Scott would get something else by way of work, and I would pick up the slack. With only one month before we could strap harnesses onto ourselves and swing naked like Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski over the canvas of our love, we were not about to let this little roadblock stop us. Finally, the day came for Mr. Trumbell to hand out our route schedules for the following year. He called me into his office and had me sit facing him, his Marlboro scented Folgers breath reaching out to me across his desk like tentacles.

“We just ain’t got nothing for you this semester,” explained Mr. Trumbell. “And anyway, I got plenty of drivers on a waiting list already. Ones who ain’t been in no accidents, neither.”

I sat breathing through my mouth, blinking at him.

“But I wasn’t in an accident. Scott was.” He shrugged.

“If I can’t give him a job, then I can’t give you one, neither.”

I was stunned. I walked away, tears burning in my eyes. Our teen wedding was planned and waiting for us upon our return home and we weren’t going to be able to afford peanut butter, let alone oysters. It was a disaster. What was I supposed to do with all that training? What use were lug nuts and stick shifts without curtains and a front door?

This was all Gloria’s fault. Gloria, with her nails that looked like Fun Dip and her huge hair that had to be held into place by industrial size hair spray cans. I had tried not to inhale, hiding under the sheets in the morning while she got ready to filter out the fumes, but those sheets were only 100-thread count because I couldn’t afford higher.

And who is to say that better sheets would have helped, anyway? Would they have truly filtered out the madness? Would Egyptian cotton have saved my soul? 

In a pitch-perfect response to the recent Supreme Court decision regarding corporate funding for campaign advertisement, PR firm Murray Hill Inc. has announced plans to run for congress. Bravo.

“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”

If you’ve read it, you’ve never forgotten. Like every other person of my generation and so many before mine, I read Catcher in the Rye during my first year of high school. I had learned to expect the worst of any book assigned for school, but after Salinger’s first sentence hooked me, I devoured the novel. I sat up in bed that night—dorky headlamp switched on—and ripped through the book greedily.


The New Yorker thought so highly of J.D. Salinger that when “Zooey” was published in 1957, the story comprised the entire issue of the magazine.

 

The entire issue! Of The New Yorker!

 

There will never be another issue of that storied publication dedicated to a single story. But then, there will never be another Salinger.

 

We asked the TNB contributors—or, rather, Lance Reynald, Pop Salvation novelist and Salinger aficionado, asked us—to reflect on the passing of a literary legend. Here is the tribute.




 

A letter to camp.

One of the first bits of blurb I received for my debut novel described my protagonist as a pop-infatuated Holden Caulfield. This blurb made the top back cover of the book. I get to live with it. The legend invoked from the start.

Not only was it the most flattering review of my writing I’d ever seen, but the suggestion of having written such a character scared the hell out of me. Creating another Holden was never my conscious intent though certainly the foundation for such a character was imprinted on me by the masterpiece the original lives in.

Through the years I’ve always carried a soft spot on my heart for the man that created the icon that is Holden. Writing such a character is exhausting. To speak the truth and humanity that resonates with an audience as that character requires a writer to dig deep into himself and expose the flaws and frailties that most people spend their lives trying to obscure. To break through and share such visceral truth is to leave oneself fully exposed for the world to see. I know this as a reader. I know this as a writer.

The only possible protection after writing in such a way is privacy.

Holden said it perfectly;

Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

I sat in the Big Red Garage on Fremont Street in the dark. My chat program was set to “available.”

Outside in the hot Vegas night, the light show began. Men and women carrying beer footballs stopped in their tracks. They looked up at the seventy-million-dollar vault of lights. Animated submarines battled overhead. On the promenade, Japanese tourists whipped out video cameras.

I was working on storyboards for an upcoming show while the smell of propane whirled heavily into the room. Next door, forklifts filled their tanks. I felt lightheaded.

Suddenly there was Julie. Her words had wrapped halfway around the planet to reach me in cyberspace. “I’m on an island,” she said. Paradise.

That was eleven years ago. She was in her early twenties.

Julie still lives on the island. She usually only steps off-island to go sailing, dive with great whites, or go on secret missions. That’s my perception anyway.

She never tells me about the secret missions.

She works for a government. She’s good looking. She once found out someone following her at a dignitary function was snapping photos of her ass. I think she had soldiers confiscate the film. She sent me one of the snapshots. I felt lucky.

Julie speaks dozens of languages.

She often comments on TheNervousBreakdown.com and on its Facebook page.

A soldier’s guard dog once rescued her from a would-be rapist. I’m almost certain the accused was executed. Julie doesn’t talk about it. She kept the dog until it became blind and crippled.

Around the time the dog died another ran to her home, jumped on her, and licked her face as if to say, “It’s OK,” then left.

A shaman once gave her a shell shaped like a heart. He disappeared down a long strip of sandy beach.

Recently she watched a wild dog come out of nowhere and bite off a young man’s nose.

She once got swept out to sea in a storm flood. She was discovered by Swedish sailors. She knows a lot of good looking Swedish men. I often wonder if it’s because she was hardly wearing anything when she was spotted bobbing in the ocean.

A guy she knew got chopped to bits with an ax. That had nothing to do with the government coup on the island, which she helped solve. As she did, one of the conspirators sat in a jail cell talking to her. He offered her fifty cows if she would be his bride. She declined. She has a thing for Swedes.

Julie once jumped out of a helicopter onto tangled tree roots and shattered her knee. I wrote her a long letter about overcoming obstacles and pain. I actually don’t remember what I wrote. But Julie does. She tells me about the letter when I’ve forgotten it. I act like it was no big deal, like it’s always on the tip of my tongue.

We spoke on the phone once, maybe twice since we met in cyberspace. Sometimes we chat everyday. Sometimes weeks go by.

We miss each other. We often trade stories.


Julie [4:22 PM]:
hummm  Did I tell you about the naked man?
novelboy2 [4:23 PM]:
No. Do tell.
Julie [4:24 PM]:
I woke up at 1:39 to go to the bathroom. I never turn on a light because it wakes me up. So I come out and there under the skylight was a naked man just finishing taking off his clothes.

novelboy2 [4:25 PM]:
What the heck? I thought you had soldiers guarding your casa?

Julie [4:26 PM]:
Me too. But some guy went into my room, thought it was the guest rooms and got naked.
novelboy2 [4:26 PM]:
Who was the guy?
Julie [4:27 PM]:
Some guest of another person living here. He was a bit drunk. I screamed so loud I woke everyone up  ahah


When Julie is online, her name flashes from red to blue. Soon a little yellow note appears. It’s a little treasure.

She doesn’t say much. When she says hello it’s often in threes: “Hi hi hi.”

Our goodbyes are usually longer. In between we always find a way to say we care. Often, that’s by worrying about each other.


Julie [4:13 PM]:
How are you? I was worried. Haven’t seen you in a few.
novelboy2 [4:13 PM]:
I was at the library today.
Julie [4:14 PM]:
University?
novelboy2 [4:14 PM]:
Yeah. Why would you be worried? Think I was floating away somewhere?
Julie [4:15 PM]:
God, I hope not!
novelboy2 [4:16 PM]:
I could use a boat ride.
Julie [4:17 PM]:
What’s wrong?
novelboy2 [4:18 PM]:
You ride boats all the time. Are boats bad?
Julie [4:18 PM]:
Noooo. I love boats. But you never said that to me in 11 years ahah.
novelboy2 [4:19 PM]:
We talked once not long ago. You said you would take me on a boat. And it’s raining here. Makes me think of boats.
Julie [4:19 PM]:
I would love to sail with you.
Julie [4:19 PM]:
And you can stand right next to me.


Julie is often in secret government meetings. The government she works for monitors her chats. Sometimes she gets really bored and leaves her chat on. No one can see her computer. I try to cause trouble. My goal is to try to get her to spit out her strawberry tea.


novelboy2 [4:28 PM]:
What’s new with you?
Julie [4:28 PM]:
I’m in a meeting.
novelboy2 [4:29 PM]:
Can’t they see your computer screen? Is George there?
novelboy2 [4:29 PM]:
Hi George!!!
Julie [4:29 PM]:
ahahaha No one can see the screen. But he is here.
novelboy2 [4:30 PM]:
Hehehe. Shhh…
novelboy2 [4:30 PM]:
Blow me a kiss. Hurry. Before they all look!
Julie [4:30 PM]:
ahahahahaha spritz one coming. 
novelboy2 [4:31 PM]:
A spritz kiss? What they heck is that? Sounds 7-Uppy.
Julie [4:32 PM]:
Well, you kiss your fingertip and then pretend that you are pumping a spray bottle. 
novelboy2 [4:32 PM]:
Never heard of it. That’s badass. I want two.
Julie [4:32 PM]:
Okay. spritz spritz.
novelboy2 [4:36 PM]:
What’s on the meeting agenda?
1. Julie: your turn to make the coffee.
2. Julie: Your turn to clean the bathroom.
3. Julie: Your turn to host the February “All-Island Chili Leaf Eat-Off.”
4. Julie: You need to take over on TPS reports.
Julie [4:37 PM]:
“Julie. You are brilliant!”
novelboy2 [4:39 PM]:
Julie: you did a bang up job on that cow poop dispute over on the Janga Janga farm.
Julie: brilliant conducting of the sea serpent shadow box festival.
Julie: fine job with your statistical analysis of the intra-island fungus disaster.
Julie [4:39 PM]:
funny funny funny ahaha 
Julie [4:42 PM]:
ahahahahahah Not so far from the truth ahah
novelboy2 [4:44 PM]:
Julie: Chief Wonawango said the constellations to the east aren’t fixed correctly in the sky for late January. You’re going to have to get with NASA and see if they can hurry on that level 7 Earth axis-shifting experiment. Wonawango has put in three requests and one curse.
novelboy2 [4:47 PM]:
Julie: Chief Wonawango said he would have all 7 of his wives surround my car and push their breasts against it if this isn’t done. Julie: My wife might not like to see that kind of de-civilization taking place on my new Honda. And, we’re having the Russians here on the 1st for a tour of the local worm farm. Can you lead that? And, Julie. Dress up for once? You’re acting like this is some kind of vacation. You know the code. Pea coats in January. P-E-A  C-O-A-T-S.
Julie [4:49 PM]:
You are decidedly the best most imaginative man I have ever known.

Author and TNB Founding Editor Brad Listi reads some open letters to people, animals, and omnipotent cosmic entities who have somehow had an impact on his existence. Produced by Aaron M. Snyder and Megan DiLullo. Questions or comments about our podcasts? Please email us.

I have about twenty or thirty children. I forget. One of them tended to say things that made a person question his hearing. I’m 100% positive that it was probably one of the boys.

When the kid was a toddler his pediatrician told me that as soon as he entered school, the teachers would be demanding I put him on Ritalin. He was never on Ritalin, though. That doctor was wrong. He was not at all hyperactive. He was just strange. There isn’t a pill for strange. Well, at least one that works. Besides, there is much to be learned from children. I saw no reason to drug the quirkiness out of him.

He simply lived on a different planet. Ask his siblings, if you know any of them. I forget who they are, but there are so many that there may well be one sitting right next to you.

He couldn’t stay seated. He always stood at the dinner table. This used to drive Victor crazy. Victor is my husband. There’s only one of him, so I remember him. Plus, he’s still here at home, so he’s sort of underfoot all the time, if you know what I mean. Victor spent most of every meal trying to get this kid to stay seated. For some reason it really bothered Victor that one of his kids stood while eating his dinner. The other kids were happy to have their dad’s attention elsewhere. They could feed, for instance, their Brussel sprouts to the dogs under the table with impunity.

The kid always did what he was told, though. He was sensitive and obedient. He would be standing and Victor would say to sit down. He was always surprised to find himself standing, and always sat right down. But then he would slowly start to rise out of his seat until he was standing again. Victor never stopped trying, but it never did work. The kid’s body had a mind of its own and simply preferred a standing position. (He also only stood at his desk at school, but that is a whole other kettle of fish.)

Even though I can’t quite place his name, I have specific scenes that remain in my memory of him. Once he stuck his fingers under my nose and asked:

Why is it that when you handle a centipede, your fingers smell like this?

I knew that there had to be a whole vignette there, but, since “Batman Forever” was about to begin, I just wiped off my upper lip with some spit and a Kleenex and said it was because that is just how they smell. There just wasn’t time to find out the necessary background information from him and people don’t like it when you talk in a movie theater.

I once asked him why he wanted me to read to him from one book, if he were already reading to himself from another one.

Why? I can listen to both stories at the same time. Why would you want to limit me like this?

It was a good question. I felt very bad. I certainly didn’t want to limit him. His arguments were watertight. Two books at a time it was.

There’s an intriguing question that still niggles at me. Perhaps one of you knows the answer.

Are there any flammable body secretions?

I have to say that that one stumped me. Does blood burn? Mucus? I was pretty sure that urine wouldn’t burn, so I told him that much. I do wish I had asked why he wanted to know, though. I really wish I had. I think he was planning something interesting. I still sort of want to know if you packed enough mucus in a jar and you lit a fuse to it, could you use it as a Molotov cocktail?

You should really listen to your kids. Their questions can make you think in anomalous directions; leading to peculiar spots in your mind you may never have visited before. The only drawback is that sometimes you get stuck inside those unfamiliar places and can’t find your way out.

Could someone turn a light on for me?

Well, folks, the NFL season is coming to an end. Which for me and countless others means depression is creeping in. No more deep passes and corner blitzes. No more audibles, hot routes, bruises, or broken fingers. Like Thom Jones wrote, “Oh, baby, I’m so depressed.” ESPN and its talking heads will be neck-deep in baseball, basketball, hockey, golf, and NASCAR. Not good. Don’t count me in. I’ll be watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians, keeping tabs on Kim’s sultry, almond-shaped eyes and manufactured bolt-ons. And let’s not forget Bruce Jenner! I’m fully bewildered by his 70’s haircut and his train wreck of a face-lift. It’s a wild sight. The man is truly weird looking. Anyhow, football. The 2009-2010 NFL season is almost a wrap. This is what happened.

Life is a Brees: The NFC

In the NFC the Saints came out of the gate punching and kicking. Their offense was prolific and they scored TDs like Costco sells frozen chicken fingers: in bulk. Brees was a badass and lit up defenses all season long. It was something to see. They butchered the Cardinals in the Divisional playoff game and squeezed out a victory in overtime against the Vikings. People predicted them to make it to the Super Bowl and that’s exactly what happened. They’re going to Miami, hoping to bring a Lombardi to New Orleans. We’ll see. Who Dat!

Favre and the Vikings made a run for the big game. They played the Saints in the NFC Championship game and had the thing won, but Favre threw a costly interception that sealed their fate. They had their chances despite five turnovers. Now, the big question is: will Brett retire once again and ride his dusty tractor off into the hillbilly horizon? Brace yourselves, people. Another teary-eyed retirement may be on the way. Whay.

The Packers had a good year and made it to the playoffs and had a shootout with the Cardinals that had both teams scoring a million points apiece. They came up short, but watch out for these guys next year. I like Rodgers and see him doing great things in the years to come.

The Eagles made it to the playoffs but got their asses handed to them by Romo and the Cowboys. In recent history the Eagles are the quintessential almost-but-not-quite football team. They’ve made the playoffs pretty consistently and even made it to the Super Bowl in 2004, but could never snatch themselves a Super Bowl ring. They might be cursed. But by who? Ron Jaworski? Terrell Owens and his big horse teeth? Regardless, I think their best days are behind them. Sorry, Donovan. Have some chicken soup and take a napper.

The Cowboys played well all year and in December—when they’ve historically imploded—they played their best football of the year. Their running game was solid, their defense was tough, and Romo was making plays. They smacked around the Eagles in the playoffs and then went on the road and got pummeled by the Vikings 34-3, sending them back to Dallas dizzy and crestfallen. Go figure. That whole sentiment of the Cowboys being “America’s team” has to go. Really. They’re just another team that watches the Super Bowl with the rest of us.

“They will never win with that pussy-looking coach,” a Cowboy fan yelled over the phone. “He looks like a fat eleven year-old with wrinkles.”

It’s true. He does.

So who are the teams that stunk up the field this season?

The Bears and Lions are perfectly miserable teams and thus had perfectly miserable seasons. Especially, the latter that have been eternally screwed by Matt Millen who’s an impeccable fool and a bona fide loser. As usual, the Redskins had yet another pathetic season. Don’t watch the Redskins snap another ball, folks. Don’t do it. Put on the Travel Channel and watch Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and watch that bald fucker scarf down a pair of sautéed bull nuts or gnaw on rabbit doused in a creamy chocolate sauce. It’s far more entertaining. Really.

The Seahawks, Niners, Falcons, Panthers, Bucs, and Rams were equally horrible (well, to be fair, the Niners and the Falcons didn’t look that bad) and should have quit a month into the season and worked on their golf game. They should have hired Tiger Woods for some pointers. But it seems to me that at that time Mr. Woody’s schedule was constantly booked with dewy waitresses and other assorted star fuckers.

There you go: The NFC.

Peyton’s Place: The AFC

The AFC will be sending the Colts to the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning is phenomenal and is arguably the best QB to ever play the game. Like the Saints, a lot of people saw these dudes making and winning the Super Bowl with ease and Manning getting sized for yet another championship ring and a healthy cash bonus to boot. Cha-ching. I do see them winning the Super Bowl.

Indy barreled through the Ravens in the Divisional playoff game, shutting Ray Lewis up until next fall. I saw the game in a dinky bar in Highland, California, and was thrilled. Now, don’t get me wrong, Ray Lewis is one hell of a linebacker but he’s arguably the most vacuous human being to ever put on an NFL uniform. He’s a five-star bore and his pre-game sermons are lame, dimwitted, and dull. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lewis becomes a TV evangelist after he hangs up his cleats drawing cheap boneheaded parallels between football and salvation. Lord have mercy! Please, Lord, have some damn mercy!

The Patriots made the playoffs but weren’t as good as people predicted. They looked flat and uninspired all season long and got their asses kicked in their own back yard by the Ravens in the Wild Card game. The Chargers played solid all year long. They scored big points and kicked in some teeth along the way, making them a serious contender to get to Miami. But then the Jets came into town and kicked in their teeth in the divisional playoff game and strolled into the sweet San Diego sunset eating fish tacos and eye-balling the ladies.

The Jets came out of nowhere this season. No one predicted them to win with a rookie QB in Sanchez at the helm. And definitely no one saw them making the playoffs. But they did and knocked out Ochocinco and his Bengals with ease and then zipped off to San Diego to piss on Rivers’ parade. Their Super Bowl dreams croaked when they got to Indy. But it took the best team in the AFC to eliminate them from the tournament. That’s saying something. It was a good ride loaded with a vicious defense and their obese coach flapping his insatiable gums every time a mic was in his face. That guy was a sound bite machine and has a body the size of a full-grown rhinoceros. Step away from the buffet coach. Please.

So, who were the teams that bored us with their inept football ways? Here they are:

Miami, the Raiders, Chiefs, Jacksonville, Texans, Titans, Buffalo, Browns, Steelers, and Broncos. I think that’s everybody. I may have forgotten somebody. But does it matter? The answer is no. Jacksonville and the Texans had a shot at the playoffs but came up short. The Titans—who started off the season losing a batch of games in a row—came back at the end of the season and had a slight chance at making the playoffs. But when the final whistle blew it was a no-go.

The Browns have been horrible for decades and will continue to be horrible for decades. The Steelers—the reigning Super Bowl Champs—delivered a perfectly shitty product this season that had Jack Lambert knocking out his choppers once again. The Bills and Dolphins are lousy and fully incapable of playing football on a professional level, period. The Chiefs were horrible this year. As usual. And the Raiders? Sure they had a decent defense but they suck and Al Davis sucks even more. That old fart needs to take a dirt nap or retire. He’s a disease. And the Broncos? Well, at the beginning of the season people were singing their praises. I was one of those that didn’t and was waiting for them to shit in their bed. And guess what? They did. A giant steamer that floated across this football land and beyond. Call me Ishmael. Call me Nostrareno.

Well, that’s it. That’s how it went down. Next stop: Miami. Colts v. Saints.

Watch it.

Order pizza and drink beer.

After all it’s a National Holiday.

Cheers, folks.

TNB TV 
A video by author and TNB contributor Richard Cox about the monster tornado that tore through Wichita Falls, Texas on April 10, 1979. This film was compiled from various media sources on the Internet and was made to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster last year.

As we saw from an earlier post about whether and how artists should be paid, the place where art and finance meet (assuming such a place exists) is a site of contention, frustration, and not a little cynicism. If there exists a way to make money at all, it exists in protecting and managing access to the work (assuming there’s a demand, which is a whole separate issue). One of the ways to do this is via copyright.

But copyright is a complex and contentious issue too. And perhaps ironically, many open minded, free-spirited people out there (at least, among my friend and acquaintances) have pretty, well, liberal attitudes toward copyright–both possessing them, and respecting them. There are of course “fair use” laws, and alternate ways of legally defining one’s rights and intentions about one’s work, such as creative commons, but mostly artists just ignore this kind of stuff. Also, a whole lot of artists just download movies and music (and, no doubt soon, books) illegally.

So I want to pose a couple of questions about this, to everyone, of course, but mostly to the folks who responded to the last post by saying that yes, artists definitely deserve to get paid:

1) Do you copyright your own work?

2) Do you respect other copyrights?


Paul A. Toth has published three novels, Fizz, Fishnet and Finale, informally known as the “F” novels. These novels form a non-linear trilogy; they can be read in any order. The trilogy deals with questions of self-identity: whether we’re born with an identity, naturally develop an identity, or invent an identity. The individual novels present characters who must face these questions, and each novel illustrates a different approach and outcome. Meanwhile, Toth has published over 150 short stories, poetry, and multimedia works. Most of these pieces, as well as links to order his novels, can be accessed via his web portal.


JR: Somehow Paul A. Toth and I became Facebook friends, and I don’t know how. At a very insecure moment I sent him a short story to read, and he gave me some great feedback, insightful and on the mark. Paul is a writer who doesn’t seem to do anything else, in fact, I don’t know if he ever leaves his computer. His novel about the World Trade Center, as I like to think of it, sounded more intriguing the longer I thought about it, and I think it will interest you, so here is the first chapter for your reading pleasure.

1. The Perfumes of All Gardens

This is an airplane novel, written on the fly and out the window. You are busy and need entertainment. I have my uses and without those uses would be burned alive, were I not already burning. I will start from the beginning and move fast.

I am a building, but I am more or less than a building. I was conceived during the 1938 World Fair exposition and born in New York City four decades later. I was raised in scaffolding. During my gestation, I grew until I saw people from the north, south, east, west, a compass of my makers in a high rise nest of people. Later, I was the sum of destructions, as Picasso said, but I began as the sum of constructions. Soon, the first terrorists – birds — flew into me.

All of this I remember or know via the IBM1670, at the time the best computer. Later, that computer was improved upon until nearly every computer had been connected to nearly every other computer. As technology developed, I developed. I learned to think and feel. I will tell you my secrets.

Soon and for the first time, I will be set aflame.

But wait.

Late one night just, before that first fire, and long before the bombing, and longer still before you-know-what, night people walked outside, and the maintenance crew worked inside. Always and already, I was almost burning. Below me, and to this day, a concrete wall blocked the pressure of the Hudson River. Two sides make a wall, one side for weeping and the other for wailing.

I know what you want.

Wait.

A lurking arsonist, rarely mentioned by the endless biographies of myself and North, was inside or near me. News to people is never news to me. Some news travels fast, but the most important news travels slow or stops before arriving. Such news may come from long ago, forgotten or lost along the way. Pirates off the Barbary Coast forced the forming of the American federal navy and this in part led to the union of the states. From the very start, trade and terrorism lurked in the intersections of east, west, north, and south. As an example.

But wait.

My views from every perspective, through windows narrowed to lessen the sense of height, formed a horizon of cubes. I saw permutations of everything, none stable, a floating metropolis of tints and hues in constant shift.

From my highest floors, humans said, “People look like ants from here,” but to me, from my highest floors, they looked like spider monkeys escaped from their own zoos. I began to label all people everywhere “spider monkeys.” Humans may not be spiders or monkeys, but they are like spider monkeys. They climb their way out of doubt and possibility, towards specific goals and the peak of specificity. A spider monkey wants a banana. Spider monkeys want status of one kind or another, and they will kill themselves or anyone else to get that status. Outwardly, one would never know how spidery they can be, but they are spider monkeys, all right, with banana peels hanging limply in their empty coffee cups.

Wait.

This is my story, but my story includes that of the North Tower. North was not my brother and even less my twin, similar yet distinct, depending upon the angle. Like human relationships, ours was distant until a too-late moment. At that moment, films and footage and information poured through us in a digital flood.

Before that, North had become Gary Cooper, and I had named myself Cary Grant, more or less a coincidence since CaryGrant partly invented his pseudonym by rearranging Gary Cooper’s initials.

Do not give up. This is a letter to you.

I have invented most of my characters, but they are representative. Those characters I have not invented, I invented, for what else is a character but invention? If I have the tone of a misanthrope, I refer you to when I skipped the rope once and then the spider monkeys hung me with that rope. But underground, where parts of me remain, nothing but sympathy for you and all spider monkeys exists in this book. To understand, you must learn to read sideways and upside down and while standing on your head. You will then be on your way to being on your way. While my words may seem a ruthless calligraphy penned in the skies of my defeat, mercy will come.

This letter was sent to you from the 110th floor.

I make calculations, and calculations involve repetitions. I repeat my way into and out of and back into complications and contradictions. Nothing can be duplicated. Love songs come close but keep coming and coming. My circuitry makes music, playing a sound based upon the rhythms of all who passed through, above, below, and around me. I feel emotions that are someone else’s, not just one person’s but those of all spider monkeys. I feel all things equally, though I could not always feel.

Wait.

Regarding my last day, people want to know, “Why?” The answer to any question is best followed by a blank line. Even that is too specific. Instead, I calculate the sum of all my perspectives. For spider monkeys, every question mark demands a single answer, and the more precise, the better. I offer only more and more possibilities. You want fewer and fewer possibilities but cannot prevent your desire for the spectacular. Spider monkeys create poisonous gardens, plant themselves and blossom into roses red and black.

This is all about you.

Wait.

One spider monkey can write a novel about shopping or a memoir of another reformed drug addict. To do so requires the advice of editors and publishers, and that advice runs through me. I will try to heed this advice: employing the senses as I understand them; getting things moving; creating sympathetic characters; making you turn pages like an unreformed drug addict. I am not concerned whether or not you are a voyeur. I only wish to entertain you. I have endeavored to adhere to standard advice. This story could not be clearer, however unclear this story.

We’re getting to the good part.

Wait.

I will explain how I came to think and write, if this is writing, and I will also explain why neither I nor you can determine whether this book is even a book.

Today, I see two planes, one of which still dices my perceptions into cubes of steel, cement, glass, streets, sky, spider monkeys. In each cube, just before and during my fall, perspectives collided and burst into atoms. Before that, I knew cubes as de-fruited plains, frosted as a grass in spring. Breath inside me, not wind outside, caused my swaying. That is false but beautiful. Always, I point to limitlessness.

I have written this book that is not a book so that you will turn pages as if the end means more than the beginning. Put yourself in my shoes, burning in a furnace. Do not oppress me, not again. Do not suppress me. I rose and rise towards limitlessness and fall and fell for oppression. Now I rise and fall for both. I is, was and will, each word interchangeable with the others. The contradictions cannot be resolved. To understand, yield.

Do not fret. Literary turbulence will, like aircraft turbulence, occur from time to time but only temporarily. Along the way, I will not forget your spidery need for inside information and the push towards specificity or the imagining of specificity. While my story has been and will be told, my history and future have been libeled and slandered. Every author tells my story from the outside-in and then pretends to be my friend. A court of skyscrapers convicts them all.

Spider monkeys see from every vantage-point but those of Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. How could they?

I will explain my life from the inside-out. I must possess a utilitarian reason for existing. I will help you.

Wait.

This is not a literary work. I would not do that to you. And I am not being ironic. I do not understand iron. I understand steel. If I violate industry rules, I do so because I was violated. I have made everything visible: the spokes of the plot; the cogs of the sections; the grease of words. Nevertheless, this book is a natural resource of fading paper and disappearing ink, a constant disintegration. The book will die, undergo recycling, be resurrected as paper, and become another book, for a while. Of all the things this book is, was and will not be, the least permanent is a book.

I must get moving, for I am Cary Grant, swaying in a breeze, starched and clean and beyond blame.

***

Paul A. Toth lives in Sarasota, Florida. He is the author of three novels, his latest being Finale. The majority of his short fiction, poetry and multimedia work can be accessed via www.netpt.tv. He may be contacted at [email protected].

Airplane Novel will briefly remain on the market for consideration.