eyes

In the backyard, a hammock stretched between two trees like a fishing net. It was just before our speech communications department’s welcome potluck with fruit-in-wiggly-Jell-O and foil-covered casseroles and jalapeño-cheddar burgers. Amy, the director, was sick. So, Christopher, the assistant director, had hosted it. Out by the hammock, he asked one of the new graduate students if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his fiancé. She walked away.

When it happened, I was looking through the porch’s screen. My girlfriend Lauren and I were ready to eat. The evening tinted darker despite flames licking out of the fire pit.

***

I found porn on my computer, Lauren texted.

I had checked the time on my phone as I made copies of rubrics for class. I wondered what the porn was and how I hadn’t deleted it. I didn’t use my laptop for the Internet, only Lauren’s which was always on. I always covered my tracks by clearing history, emptying cookies, and refreshing the cache. I never downloaded anything and never paid for anything. The laptop had pop-up software and virus detectors. It almost would have been easier to deny the porn if I could pass it off as randomly appearing. Without more information, I needed to be vague.

Do you know anything about this? Lauren texted.

What?! I texted back and then turned off my phone and shoved it in my pocket.

***

One of my students was advocating for emergency poles on campus. Her plan for installing poles in the line of sight all around campus made sense. Then she began to list off other colleges to support her argument. While our university was a public research school, the ones she used were historically women-only private institutions.

I’d had another female student attempt to turn in a persuasive topic calling all women to not walk alone at night. In office hours, I had asked her if our town was unsafe. And were only women at risk? I didn’t ask if all crime—want of money, want of flesh, want of power—was mostly done by men. The girl changed her topic to suggest every college student not walk alone.

During the emergency pole speech, I didn’t interrupt. I let her finish. The class applauded as they always did. I wrote on the notes section of her rubric: So, are men the real problem?

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i.

This is not an instance of communication breakdown but an example of wounded pride. I am the type of vengeful, petty wraith who is at her most compelling when she’s scorned, a shiny new convert to the scorched earth policy. You think that the act of writing is an easy, thoughtless pastime, a hobby that does not require the fried mechanics of an exhausted, Möbius strip imagination and fraying patience. You think that the act of writing is an exercise in the ego’s masturbatory need for proof of life, the unquenchable hunger for outside validation. You think that the act of writing is a symptom of a space-bound dreamer, that the process of reading and comprehending literature in order to form a cultural dialogue is as fruitless as shouting in an empty, padded room.

You fail to realize that I am writing for my life.

bull-charging-rodeo-clown-escape-horns-cowboy-hat-dirt-reality-show-i-will-try-anything-once-on-air-promo-cablevision-video-photo

When I was a young boy, there was no greater adventure in the world than visiting my grandparents’ ranch in Eastern Montana. Among the things that made this place magical were the people who populated the area, including a kid my age named Kelly Kornaman. Kelly was a typical ranch kid…tough but shy, quiet but very easy to talk to once you got to know him. He had a perfectly round face, and a high cackling laugh that always made me laugh along with him.

Catalog

By Joey De Jesus

Poem

many manly men
manly men in menswear
many men swear
manly men swear, fuck,
men wear pinstripes and paisleys
man’o’man a manly man
manly men align their ties
many men tie the knot

Campus sits west of the Chicago river, at the circle interchange of the Kennedy and Eisenhower expressways.  In the 60s UIC wedged its way into and consumed Chicago’s Little Italy, grew tentacles into the near west and south sides.  At one time called Circle Campus after the knot of concrete ramps where the two arteries bisect, it was built similarly of concrete in a style called Brutalism, emulating Soviet public housing, “riot proof,” with double-layer covered walkways akin to parking garages, an open-air amphitheater and massive concrete wheelchair ramps to 2nd floor entries reiterating the circle motif.  A miniature replica of an Eastern Bloc city, and likewise now with crumbling concrete, permanent scaffolding erected to protect students and faculty milling on (and off) grass lined footpaths under trees that replaced the severe web of covered walkways in the 90s.  The circular quad in front of 24-story University Hall underwent a decade-long project (that should’ve taken about a year) to add grassy knolls, flowered borders, and (perhaps a reminder of Brutalism) tile-lined fountains that rarely run because they’re broken.  But I walk campus without envy for Northwestern, University of Chicago, DePaul, or Loyola.  They have tradition, bigger trees, a vine-covered brick building probably called “Old Main.”  We have Brutalism.  It’s where part of me –  a native Californian – lives, has lived for almost 20 years.

I wish the magazine Parenting would just go the full shot and rename itself Mothering; it’s never too late to be honest.

It’s a magazine by women, about women, and for women, with only a few obligatory Man Ghettos, a page or two on which fathers rear their dense and uncomprehending heads. I won’t bore you with comparative page counts or (follow the money!) an analysis of the advertising: more tampons than pickup trucks (and the latter at least can be gender neutral).

Someday This Will be Funny, Tillman’s collection of short works, takes us through a myriad of subjects and styles—some with fast-paced quirkiness and economy of language, others with monotone didacticism.It’s amazing that the writer who turned out a multi-layered piece of flash fiction about a woman who hoards unpaid parking tickets in her glove compartment is also the same writer who produced a dull, overly sentimental and philosophical, essay-story-hybrid about mourning doves sitting at her window—unfortunately, the first piece in the collection.

I’ve started dating again, after a full year of being as far removed from the scene as I could be without being on a different planet. Two dates in and a third around the corner and do you know what I’ve come to realize?

I hate dating.

* in a dryer

* on a clothesline

* wringing thoroughly

* with a blowtorch

* tying to car antenna

* laying flat on helicopter landing pads

* with the steady breath of babes

* placing anywhere near the bottom of the ocean

* fitting onto shorn sheep

The other day at the gym I noticed a beefed-up bodybuilder wearing a white skintight spandex workout shirt with the black lettering “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” sprawled across his sculpted chest. With every pulse of his muscles, every bicep curl, I found myself wondering what, exactly, was being constructed, how was he constructing it, and when, if ever, would its construction be complete?

Start with typical.Stand in front of your kitchen cupboards wondering what you’re going to make for dinner.Something quick and healthy and delicious and still quicker to clean up.Haul out the same pots and pans you just washed from lunch.Get the food into small, yammering mouths through concerted negotiations or last-ditch ultimatums, then remind three times about both the importance of brushing teeth and not unrolling the toilet paper.Then shuffle the little bodies now emitting their last crescendo of energy into bed where you read a book and sing a song and answer correctly a question about what you will do to save everyone if a volcano full of sharks erupts in the middle of the night and then kiss goodnight.The lights-out silence that follows reverberates against the walls with such a contrast to the uproar of the day that you’re left too disoriented to clean the kitchen or speak in complete sentences.Wake up the next morning much earlier than you thought possible and immediately throw together a breakfast and dress everyone and comb hair in a way that must be as painful as a Civil War hospital amputation because of the wails that accompany each stroke, and then speed up to get the shoes and coats on in time to reach the school entrance before the final bell, after realizing you didn’t match the socks with the top and never combed your own hair which might explain some of the looks from the teacher’s assistants at the door.But it doesn’t matter now because you’ve got a day of folding the socks (the ones that do match) into neat piles ahead of you and now it looks like mildew is growing in the shower which you’ll need to be on your knees scrubbing before it’s time to get the littlest one, who has developed a cough in the two hours since you last saw her that you should probably make a doctor’s appointment for just to be on the safe side.Before that though, it’s lunchtime where you’ll be back to the cupboards pondering the exact same question you didn’t have a good answer to yesterday.The only thing you can say, to yourself and your starving children, is “be patient.”

My friend’s husband Paul came over to cut down trees in the woods behind our house. He arrived with a gas-powered chainsaw, an electric chainsaw, soundproofing earmuffs and protective eyeglasses. My husband, misty-eyed, watched him unload his Jeep. Then they shared a manly handshake.

“I want to get rid of that one, those two over there, and that big one over there is dead, so let’s take it down, too,” I said to Paul.

“C’mon, Rick,” Paul said, slapping him on the back. “Give me a hand.”

As the men scrambled down the hill into the woods, I was secretly glad it was someone else’s husband who would be doing the dangerous work. But I wondered whether Ricky had been harboring resentment: I had refused to let him get a chainsaw or any other power tool that can chew a hand like a hungry bear.

When Ricky moved into my Upper West Side apartment 10 years ago, he had old-school hand tools: augers, planes, gimlets, awls, spokeshaves — nothing that needed gas or electricity. We kept them in the trunk of our car because there was no place inside to store them safely — and because no torture museum was in the market for artifacts. I used to say that one day a sheriff was going to stop us and ask, “Sir, can you open the trunk?” and we’d be detained for hours.

“Why don’t you get rid of these old tools?” I’d ask.

“Because one day I’m going to build something using hand tools,” he’d promise.

When we moved to Rockland County, Ricky got a shed to store his hand tools, but he insisted we needed an all-in-one Black and Decker battery-operated drill driver for our 150-year-old house.

“You can’t call the super every time something breaks,” he said.

Over the years, my husband has come to the rescue more times than I can remember, tightening towel rods, fixing cabinets. He crafted shutters, built planting boxes and framed a patio.

Until I married Ricky, the men I knew, my father included, hired other men to cut, drill and fix stuff. I had at first assumed my husband, who grew up in urban Canarsie like me, descended from similar stock. But his late father was a power-tool dealer who brought every newfangled gadget to their weekend Catskill house. Ricky’s boyhood toys were drills, saws, tractors and Sawzalls. He learned to fell a tree when he was 12.

It’s comforting to live with a man who knows his way around a toolbox. It’s even sexy, so long as he’s not in danger of getting mangled or disfigured.

Three years ago, Ricky wondered if I would consider buying him a stationary table saw for his birthday.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A flat table with a blade underneath it,” he explained. “You turn a crank and the blade rises from the table.”

The only thing rising at that moment was my lunch.

“Why do you need that?”

“I’m thinking about building a greenhouse.”

The following weekend when we went to look at the contraption, I turned white.

“I guess you’re not too comfortable with this?” he asked. We didn’t buy one.

Weeks later, we were with our friend Peter. I noticed horrific scarring on his hand.

“I severed my hand using a table saw,” he said.

I shot Ricky a look. Even he looked a bit queasy when Peter explained how the paramedics brought his thumb on ice to the ER so it could be reattached.

Father’s Day is around the corner. I asked him what he wanted. He said a slick.

“It’s a chisel with a blade you use for post and beam construction,” he explained. “I’m going to build a timber-frame studio the old-fashioned way, using hand tools.”

I can live with that.

The moment he realised he was a hero was the exact moment when he knew he would never be a hero again. It was at that instant he knew that what was necessary was almost certainly that which was furthest outside the boundaries of possibility.

As a young man, Stephen had travelled the world, rapidly, and with abandon—fearlessly, some said. Idealist. Schtick. He was big on other people’s dreams. And fulfilling them: To expose them as nothing more then received aspirations – the third-hand smoke of a disinterested Empire: To spite them.

He’d followed the trail, strung farther and farther out across the third world like a garland of adolescent spittle gobs, hiding behind a Lonely Planet – glossy shield against the appetite of some diabolical gorgon.

A pair of low green hills were shaped like a pair of breasts in the Transylvanian mountains when he was 18. He remembered wondering to himself at the time what exactly the point of travelling could possibly be:

If you could go there, why the hell would you want to go anywhere else?

If truth be told, that ambition had never really left him.

Proust reckoned, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Pico Ayer has it that, “one really travels in one’s head”. Colonial Belgian explorer of Central Africa, Jérôme Becker identified the cause of his departure as, “nostalgia for the unknown.” Rimbaud was all about, “traffiking in the unknown”, in his aimless wanderings around same.

In a warped psalm ninety-one to the hard-on of Moses; in the mistaken belief someone wanted to share his sleeping bag for the red-granite sunrise, Stephen sprinted 2000 metres up Mount Sinai with the gold meridian of the sun at his heels.

He crucified himself on a swift and frantic Siamese emigration, like a trans-hemispheric Saint Valentine’s Day martyrer – marking the anniversary of a purple and orange Balinese high with cold memories of a hot rainstorm. He wound himself round the thread of a ballet-dancing Ariadne, tearing himself out of her eyes—Theseus abandoning himself on the beach instead of her. He eclipsed his existence for a glimpse into the diamond life of a Japanese actress with lips like the plumula of an orchid.

He wandered the art galleries, museums and religious monuments of the world, flattening the ostensibly wild, varied and fascinating continuum of his existence into a psychedelic gestalt of unending indulgent stimuli:

If there was ever an aesthete, it was Stephen Darlington.

Nursing Spanish hangovers, he lusted after the Reina Sofia with Picasso’s bent eyes. He saw the womb in Anish Kapoor. He paid for Ubud primitives over the mystery of the feminine. He broke his mind on Vietnam—hallucinating that he wasn’t even there, man. By New York, he couldn’t even look at the walls: Every minute he spent not desperately trying to inveigle himself into the lives of the genetically-stellar made him feel like he had wasted his entire life.

In flight, he escaped on the wings of opened books — delving into the recesses of esoteric knowledge; mining compensatory sapphires.

It didn’t matter that everyone else’s dreams were not his own, he followed them anyway. The long, slow pixel degradation of his unarticulated ambitions exposed the dark fissures in his life, like the black papyrus absences threatening to eclipse the hieratic on the Egyptian Book of Dreams:

British Museum recto 10683

“The dreamy blue of Italian skies, the dappled shade of summer woods, and the sparkle of waves in the sun, can have accorded but ill with that stern and sinister figure.”

-James George Frazer, The Golden Bough, 1890 – 1935

Freud believed that neuroticism is the inability to tolerate ambiguity; that contagious magic is a delusion of the neurotic – that things once in contact with each other do not continue to act on one another after physical contact has been severed.

Keats wrote that poetry is the ability to hold equal and opposite ideas in the mind at the same time—that an equal propensity for the greatest ecstasy and the greatest despair at one and the same moment is eminently necessary.

No wonder those men had a go at the face of the sphinx: The inscrutability of the silent and unknowable ancient enigma is impenetrable and absolute. But Oedipus beat the riddle with his head, didn’t he? He didn’t rely on torso alone.

“The mind is what one must consider, the mind. What is the use of physical beauty, when one does not have beauty in the mind?”

-Euripides, Oedipus, fr. 548