Pola said she needed space and time, then gave me the hat she had finished crocheting, which, I noticed, after she left, smelled exactly like comfort and security and happiness and her bedroom, so I stuck it in my bureau, so cigarette smoke or fresh air couldn’t take that away from me. One of the trucks from my job swerved and flopped onto its side, and there was footage of it on the internet which I watched over and over while intermittently looking at the truck itself standing upright in the garage with a gouge instead of a windshield. Whoever sequenced the stoplights and walklights at this intersection, did it with the intent of killing people. A part of me wishes I believed so deeply in astrology that I could explain this all away with mercury retrograde. When I listen to music in the shower in the morning, it’s often interrupted by alarms I neglected to turn off, and I get frustrated, but then I feel a little guilty because they were only trying to do what I instructed them to do, so then I think, “I’m sorry for getting upset with you. You were just trying to wake me up.”


You might’ve noticed life’s a bit bleak right now. Most people I know, myself included, are glued to their phones looking at  doomsday algorithm after doomsday algorithm, Trump fuck up after Trump fuck up.  I check the confirmed cases and death count every morning, while I drink my coffee, after I go on my jog and before I teach my classes on Zoom.

My point is that these are not normal times. And during these not normal times, I want to celebrate the people who are writing on their blogs and on Medium because this is where I’m finding stories that feel the most human, vulnerable, transformative and emotionally impactful. So I am going to be, as often as I can, sharing links to these blogs as part of this COVID-19 Diaries series.

 

Late into the night, the traffic lights outside start to blink, as if to say, “Go ahead, do whatever you want, I don’t care.” It’s easier to apologize profusely for my room being messy than it is to clean it. I remember two times I called 911, although there may have been others. The crossword clue was: “Message written on a car window” and my first guess was SAVE ME, and my second stab was CALL ME, when the answer was WASH ME. When I was on the cusp of graduating college, I ended up in a psych unit for three days instead. Pola and I walked down the same street in different directions so that we could bump into each other to walk in the same direction and it was dark and drizzling and the headlights and streetlights didn’t help so everyone walking towards me was Pola until they got close enough and were not her until it was her. People often give me the heads up that my fly is down. As of now, I think the most beautiful song lyric is: If being afraid is a crime, we hang side by side. I much prefer phone calls to texting. I had to explain the messy details all over again when I met with a new mental health professional. I’m not sure which parts of me are worth keeping secret. The olive oil sputtered and got me, and I held my fingers and arms under the faucet so I’d have smaller blisters to deal with. Learning that the name for something that has been happening with me is OCD, has heightened my OCD. We were watching Big and Pola fell asleep before Josh Baskin returned to the Zoltar machine so he wouldn’t have to be Tom Hanks anymore. In a coffee shop, Pola taught me the basics of crocheting, and a man in a wheelchair wouldn’t stop saying to me, “Yes, that’s a good thing. Crocheting is good. There’s nothing wrong with crocheting. It’s a good thing.” For months now, Pola and I have been stealthily planting two specific mayonnaise tubes on each other’s person each time we see each other and today I found one tucked inside my Zoloft bottle and the other fell out of my hat when I got back home. My belts break at a rapid pace. I dreamt that I lost my cool at work and when I told my coworker about it, he laughed. In lieu of dinner, I ate two Ben And Jerry’s. The scab from my blister got crusty and yellow and looked like a booger and even though I knew better, I fiddled and fussed until it fell off and now the exposed skin is tender and deep red. I’m much more embarrassed when the embarrassing thing occurs in private. But there are major drawbacks to having an audience as well. I think I may have just committed the most brutal act of self-sabotage that I have ever committed in my life. While I was sobbing in a Lyft, my driver made a fatal wrong turn and, at the end of the ride, he gave me three dollars from his own pocket and said it was for making me late to work but I choose to believe it was out of compassion for the crying. I bailed on the movie with Pola because I haven’t really slept for three days. How do I write definitively about something that’s yet to be defined? I’m learning the distinctions between unhealthy sadness and healthy sadness. My phone died and forced me to listen to the things I was thinking and feeling. Cliffhangers are devices used in fiction to keep audiences hooked, beside themselves with anticipation for the next chapter or episode, and a lived life can present you with things that feel like cliffhangers, you’re left wondering what will come next, what another person is thinking or feeling, it can drive you mad, but it’s best to keep in mind that life is not a structured narrative, it happens and it keeps happening, and so I cast off my frantic anticipation and sit here patiently waiting for tomorrow without torment.

 

 

A small black bird flew directly toward my window and settled on the ledge. Which, I suppose, is a testament to how quickly things can change. I still haven’t caught my breath. On the bus, I was so captivated by an article on “How To Make Your Relationship Better” that I missed the stop right by my girlfriend’s apartment and the stop after that and the stop after that. In my bedroom, I have a bed and a fainting couch. I was worried that a good night’s sleep would skew the data of my neuropsych evaluation. I’m my truest self while waiting for someone to show up. Each time I log into my email, I unsubscribe from a different mailing list. When my depression had more of a hold, I would sometimes find myself jolted into awareness in the middle of a street by the headlights and brake screeches of a car I subconsciously wanted to hit me. I’ve conditioned myself to always smile with my mouth shut because my teeth are yellow. Sometimes, Pola and I will use the third person to talk about each other to each other instead of the second person to simulate an element of jealousy in our relationship. I insisted that nothing was wrong and tried to keep washing dishes through the nausea. When I bit off the crescent of a fingernail, I felt a rush of synchronicity. If you happened to see me on the bus this morning, please keep it to yourself. The last thing I want to become is one of those people who will hold a door open, not out of the goodness of their heart, but a sick thirst for a “thank you.” Pola and I stood by her stoop in the cold and kept hugging and our shivers didn’t matter because the abstract kind of warmth was that potent. Before leaving my apartment, I fill my backpack with all the things I may consider maybe using while I’m out. When I google a thing to make sure I use the correct term in a short story, the internet becomes convinced that I am interested in purchasing one and inundates me with images and prices. I wonder who Leslie Walton is and if she knows about the roses addressed to her that have been wilting on someone else’s welcome mat for over a week. The smoke detector went off at the precise moment the timer to flip the chicken went off as if both alarms were conspiring to force me into a crisis and see how I would handle it. In high school, I had this nasty habit of passing off art made by others as my own. As I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams, I found myself transformed in my bed into a gigantic insect. A man said “Hey! How you doing man?” while I was selecting an onion but my recognition of him was vague to none so I said I was okay and didn’t engage further. At the feedback appointment for my evaluation, I learned that there wasn’t an easy fix. After paying a lot to look at awful art, we stepped outside and the heavy rain had stopped. I swapped backpacks with Pola to give her a break from the weight but it wasn’t long before the straps cut off the circulation to both my arms. I’m sick but not sick enough to shirk responsibilities. The misdelivered bouquet has finally been disposed of. My jaywalking made a car get stuck at a red light. My headache feels like it could explode into a star. My sense of humor entails resuscitating a horse so I can make it dead again.

 

 

Rod McKuen is the Odd Man Out in the history of American pop culture. Music encyclopedias almost never included him even though he released albums for over 40 years. Surveys of contemporary literature overlooked him despite (or perhaps because of) his enormous sales. Rod’s work as a musician and poet didn’t lend themselves to easy categorization. Over the decades, he was associated with the San Francisco beat poet scene, the Twist dance craze of the early ’60, the folk revival, the Great American Songbook school of pop, the early days of New Age environmental recordings and 20thCentury classical music.  Yet none of these genres or movements claim him as even an adjunct member. He remains sui generis by his own choice or otherwise.

His fans didn’t care. Try to see him as they saw him at the height of his fame: a rumpled, slightly stooped 30-ish man with lemon frosting-colored hair ambling into the spotlight to the sound of orchestral fanfare. Inevitably, he is dressed in a sweater, jeans (or chinos) and high-topped sneakers – no amount of success could change his outfit. There’s a laid-back cowboy charm about him, as well as the romantic melancholy of a French cabaret singer. He laughs bashfully, gives wistful sideways glances, rises from quiet murmurs to emotional crescendos. Now close your eyes and hear his voice – hoarse, pitted, compelling in its imperfection. It adds to his pathos and his sexiness.

 

I was asked over the summer to review the new David Berman album, the debut self-titled release of his new project, Purple Mountains. It was his first release, besides a one off with The Avalanches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTrz0yvxe0), in around a decade. The album is very good, and often brilliant, like the rest of Berman’s records. And his book of poems, Actual Air. And The Portable February, his collection of cartoons and doodles. And his essays, which are not plentiful, scattered and uncollected. I planned to write about the album and its relation to Berman’s genius, and his mastery of language and form. How it is the work of an old, tired master—an album without flash. One that is smooth, perceptive, prescient, and weighted with pain. I was to finish the piece after seeing Purple Mountains play a concert at Brooklyn’s Murmrr theater. That would have been in late August. 

This plan made sense to me for a few reasons. First, the symbolic. Murmrr was once a synagogue. And as a writer of a vague and intrinsic Jewishness, I feel a sort of kinship with Berman. We are wanderers in the same diasporic and Freudianly horny tradition. And, at least to me, a devoted fan, Berman, across his output, proffered something spiritual. What one might call a rabbinic element. A gesture at a fuller life beyond bodies and their doldrums. A life of language. A life of more and less living. 

noom

By Aram Saroyan

Opinion

Recently, going about daily errands, I came across an ad, on social media and on the radio, for a diet program improbably called noom.

Half a century ago in the sixties, in my minimalist phase as a poet, I came up with a one-word poem: noom.  It was published that year, alone on a page in outsize type, in John Perreault’s little magazine, Elephant. It also appears in my poetry collection The Rest (1971).  When Complete Minimal Poems (which includes noom) was published in 2007, followed by a rave in the New York Times Book Review, it went through four printings and was honored with the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams award.

Cul-de-sac

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Forty-Two

 

I was unemployed for three months. I came back to work at the oil refinery for one day and told them I was going on vacation for ten days starting Friday, and they said, “Holy shit.”

But this is also the story of three roommates. Stacey. Lindsey. And Rae.

 

Friday morning, 6 a.m., I got on an airplane with Rae. We flew out of Newark, bound for Los Angeles. As we boarded, one of the flight attendants let Rae go, but stopped me at the door, and served all of first class its orange juice and coffee. I didn’t care, I thought it was pretty funny. But the people behind me began to murmur. And then yell. And then scream. The flight attendant with the coffee went back into the kitchen and got more. She came back and filled more cups. A riot was about to break out. But then we were all let go, and we filled up the rest of coach. Rae said, “What the hell happened to you?”

Good Luck: Episode Forty-One

 

Attn: All living memories currently living in the house of memory, the Good Luck novel is now open for submissions.

We are seeking short fiction to be published within the novel. Word limit: 8000 words.

One winner will be selected, receiving a prize of $10,000 plus publication within this novel (attributed). Good Luck is expected to win top prizes, possibly National Book Award, maybe Pulitzer, could win the Nobel, hard to say right now.

We are looking for writing that will make our skeletons jump out of our bodies and scream Death in the face till Death jumps out of its skeleton’s skeleton or whatever. Send stories about clouds that want to be rivers. Birds that swim deep. True love that is wrong. Fantasy day jobs, reality moonlight occupations. Memories of memories. Music that can knock over a brick wall. Rainbows that disintegrate dreams. Dust and gold nuggets and no animal fear. Sentences that will make our souls explode, bridges combust in flames or flowers, spaceships say fuck it and fly into a black sun. Stories full of uncomfortable joy, monkeypaw wishes, jackasses. Please, no semicolons, metaphors, or exclamation points!

This is a great opportunity to launch your own writing career, on the coattails of Bud Smith.

Memory House

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Forty

 

I got a call to come back to work. An outage at the oil refinery. Four weeks, maybe five weeks. I got my welding stuff together. I couldn’t find my work boots and then I remembered they were in the trunk of my car, buried under the beach chairs. 

This call was good. I was out of money. 

I’d been unemployed for three months. I scraped by doing any odd job I could beg. I worked one weekend razing a small bungalow to the ground, clumsily operating a rented bulldozer. And I helped my friend set off some dynamite near his farm, to collapse the entrance to a cavern he worried children would wander into. I recorded some voiceovers for a podcast on sleep in a studio on 9th Avenue. I sold all my old Levis to a woman in Belarus.

QQ && AA

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Nine

 

Death writes in, “Who is God?”

 

The Editor writes in, “Did that say Death? Death is in this book now? I don’t know about this, man. I’d cut Death if I were you.”  

 

Yeah, I’m not happy about it either. I guess, mentioning The Seventh Seal is what did that. Not sure how to fix it.

 

Jackson Frons writes in from Los Angeles, California, “What’s the world’s biggest dog?” 

 

Nah dude. I’m not letting the world’s biggest dog in this novel, we’re already dealing with Death, his scythe, his hourglass. Look it up yourself.

Q & A

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Eight

 

A living memory asks, “What is time?”

 

Webster’s Dictionary says it is, “A nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future.”

 

But they are wrong.

 

Time is when the lightbulb burns out and you’re down in somebody’s basement doing a job, no clue where the stairs are, and in that darkness I remember another darkness, missing you, before you died, when you were off gathering sticks to make our campfire, while the moon rose, and I was just a child, sitting cross legged on the dirt, and you came back and said, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, Buddy.” And soon after the trees danced with light and everything was glowing, sparks popping, you saying there’s nothing in the dark, which is true, after a time, my eyes have always adjusted to it, and I slowly make my way out, find the stairs, open the door back to the bright present.

 

Anonymous from Unknown asks, “What happens when we die?”

 

Great question. I am trying to find out myself. So far, jury seems out. But I’m hoping within the next few days to get an answer. Check back in the novel later. Thanks.

Survival

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Seven

 

 

I brought the U.S. Army Survival Manual to the beach.

She brought yarn and knitting needles.

My driver’s side window was broken.

I opened the door, and leaned out, gave ten dollars to the ranger in her tiny hut.

We drove down the narrow road. Pine scrub, Juniper (you can roast the berries and grind them, use as a coffee substitute according to the army), turtle crossing.

Rae put the receipt on the dashboard.

I’d been reading FM 21-76 to her at night like it was a bedtime story. I suppose it’d saved many lives.

I was halfway through it.

One of the best books I’d read in forever.

I’d learned how to make a swamp bed, and how to avoid a passive outlook. I’d seen engineered blueprints to construct my own igloo, which I could heat with a lone candle.

Note to self, get some candles.

But FM 21-76 was also accidentally hilarious, accidentally poetic, accidentally thrilling.

You should read it one day.

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Six

 

Before I called it the first draft, I changed it.

The screen door slashed open, a woman stabbed the man through his belly with a katana. She let go of the handle, he fell sideways on the kitchen floor, sword stuck in. He groaned. She stepped forward, yanked out the sword, his guts spilled across the tiles. She started a fire in the bedroom. This was my final draft of the first draft.

In the second draft, the story went on, all the way to ‘the end.’ The man crawled out of the house as it was burning down, ending up in a glass atrium, where he listened to rain slap on the roof. The last of his blood oozed out. Black smoke filled the atrium. As he was about to die, he thought of how squids hide themselves on the ocean floor, how they make a dark plume and disappear.

Later, in draft twelve, the squid ink thought was edited out, and I was satisfied. The story was stronger when it ended abruptly. Now I had the penultimate ending, and it stayed that way until the actual final draft.

I called the story “The Squid.”

Then I called it “Whatever Forever.”

Then I called it “Young Turks.”

Then I called it “No Cats.”

Then I called it “Love Birds.”

Then I called it “Beauty and the Beast II.”

Then I called it “The Raft of the Medusa.”

When it was published the editor didn’t like the title “The Raft of Medusa.” They asked what else I had, I said I didn’t have any other ideas for titles, so it ran that way.

My back hurt. I stood up from the chair and stretched. I’d thrown it out so bad. I’d thrown it out exercising. So I’d stopped exercising. But then my back hurt worse because I’d stopped exercising. I needed to exercise to get my back stronger so it didn’t hurt but I’d hurt it exercising. I sat back down in my chair.

Good Luck: Episode Thirty-Five

 

Dear lighting bolts, no thanks. Dear thunderclap, no thanks either. Love to you both anyway, Bud.

 

Dear Mom, it was good to see you the other day. I’m sorry that you had identity theft on your clamming license and someone else is out there pretending to be you and getting your clams out of the Barneget Bay. Love, Bud.

 

Dear Dad, happy birthday, one month late. Here is one hundred dollars. Also, Happy Father’s Day. If you think one hundred dollars is too much for your birthday, maybe just think of it as fifty for Father’s Day and fifty for your birthday. Also, thanks for telling me that story about seeing the UFO flying over town hall when you were running those drills with the volunteer fire department, I enjoyed the diagrams and I do agree with you that UFOs would be attracted to flashing lights, I mean, everything else is. Love, Bud.