Snap

By Steve Sparshott

Memoir

“Let’s climb that hill” isn’t something that anyone ever really says – unless it’s some kind of figurative hill – but I’m pretty sure Tom said those exact words. It was that sort of day. Any sophistication we possessed had dissolved into last night’s booze and evaporated in the day’s heat. I didn’t think of it that way, because back then I was living a life, I didn’t have the time or inclination to test the safe working loads of creaking metaphors, I just, like, did stuff. We all did. It was cool.

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.


These arrangements of empty chairs are what’s left of celebration, argument, meditation, sleep and revelation.  They huddle together like still animals in the cold.  From a chair beneath a plane tree, the round tracks of a cane disappear into the gravel.

The single chairs are absent of their poets, readers and afternoon philosophers.

Those side by side and face to face are absent of their lovers, their chess players, the soon to be married and the just abandoned.

The great groups of circles and strange half-moons have lost their lecturers, their students.

The first I gave you was Farewell, My Only One by Antoine Audouard, a novel written in French, translated into English and shipped across the ocean where I found it on a shelf in the mountains. I lay it in my suitcase and took it back to France where I put it in your hands.

I sit down at the bar, next to a friend.

He says, “Hey, what’s been going on?”

I take off my jacket. He waits. I take a moment.

Then I say, “Tell me: why do people always have to have stuff going on?”

“I don’t know how to break this to you, but I’m baking the penis cake.”

My wife shook her head, defeated. She knew that morning that there was nothing she could do to stop me. So instead, she made me promise that if the cake wasn’t well-received at the party, I would make a public announcement saying that she had not approved of it.

I agreed.

The brilliant idea had come to me the night before, when I was thinking of what hors d’oeuvres to bring for my friend Jessie’s Inaugural Ball. This hang out, drink and dance party was an excuse for a bunch of graduate and post-graduate students to dress up in formal wear and celebrate the joyous swearing in of Barack Obama.

Looking over recipes in my kitchen, I was struck with what my filthy mind perceived as pure genius: What if I made a chocolate penis cake in honor of the first black president? It would even come with its own tagline: Barack Obama—Breaking our nation’s long history of white dicks in the Oval Office.

It was perfect. But was it so completely politically incorrect that my cohorts would recoil in horror? Would I become a social pariah? The “inappropriate girl” who doesn’t realize that she has grossly offended everyone in the room?

I needed a second opinion. So I emailed my friend Travis.

And I found my first measure of support with him. “Two things come to mind,” he wrote. “1) It would only be a social faux pas if the penis were anything shorter than 12 inches, because let’s face it, Obama ain’t swinging a little dick, and 2) try to avoid having any white icing spewing forth from the tip in a celebratory, I-just-got-a-new-president load.  Otherwise, I think you’d be fine.”

Before bed, I floated the idea past my wife, who would be accompanying me to the party the next night.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Not if I’m coming with you.”

“But what if I snuck it in and it just ‘showed up’ on the snack table?” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow. “Everyone would know it was you.”

She was right.

In the morning, I called my older sister—who shares my corrupt mind, as do all my siblings—and mentioned my vetoed pastry creation.

“Oh my God! You HAVE to do it,” my sister insisted. “That would totally make the party.”

My second measure of support was all the more justification that I needed. I hung up the phone and went to the store to get cake mix.

Fast forward to the party: When I walked in the door with a large bag in-hand, someone asked, “What’d you bring?”

“Oh. Snacks,” I said, and made a bee-line for the kitchen. I set the cake out on the counter, along with its accompanying “inaugural balls” cupcakes. Then I abandoned ship.

“Did you bring cake?” my friend Sara asked before I could get away.

“What?” I said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She leaned over the cake pan and gasped. “Oh my God,” Sara said. “This is fabulous.” She picked up the cake and brought it to the living room. The other guests passed it around like communion, changing it from hand to hand and laughing. When it made its way back to the kitchen, it came with friends.”

“This is fucking hilarious.”

“Awesome cake, Laura.”

“Did you have a mold for this? Or how did you make it?”

All night long, I received a stream of compliments. They shook my hand. They hugged me. People I didn’t even know greeted me in a warm embrace. The chocolate fudge phallus cake—extra moist—was a raging success.

I wish the same for our new leader.


I’m standing and painting gravestones as weird red squares, twenty yards from where the coffins of President James A. Garfield and his wife (name?) lie in the gray basement of the Garfield Monument, and I’m thinking about how much I hate my banking job.

I’m thinking about how I kinda love ATMs because they keep customers out of my bank, but at the same time how I hate loading them with cash in the mornings.