Hi again, Cynthia Hawkins! I guess this was inevitable-we’ve spoken about the past history of action films (or at least, that part of it that fell in the 1980s), we’ve waxed lyrical about The Expendables and how it’s a modern-day retelling of those older stories… but we haven’t covered the extensions of those series; your Predators, your Die Hard 4.0s, your-and I’m sorry to use this words on such an august site as TNB-your Crystal Skulls.

Man, I hated that film.

It has come to my attention, and perhaps yours as well, that virtually everyone in the digital age considers him- or herself an artist. A glance at Facebook is like a trek through the Casbah, with so many people hawking their photos, their music, their writings, and so on.

How can a seasoned artist make a buck in such a climate? It was never easy, and it’s getting harder all the time, as the competition expands. Soon aspiring creative types will outnumber regular folk, who can only spend but so much money on things that—let’s face it—are almost always headed for permanent obscurity. Then, too, a lot of “artists” give their stuff away for free, leading audiences to think all creative output should be free, unless, for instance, it’s written by Jonathan Franzen, whose wealth must approach Illuminati levels if he charges by the metaphor.

This is a continuation of a series of personal observations about my native country on its golden jubilee. For items 1-16, please see part 1. For items 17-32, see part 2. In this final installment I include a few observations I’ve culled from my father’s memoir of his life in Nigeria and abroad “Seeing the World in Black & White.” (SWBW) (AWP, 2006)¹

33. Modern Nigerian literature, ever vibrant, is certainly on the up. Young as it is Nigeria has already had an early generation of great writers, household names such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, not to mention the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, Amos Tutuola, Christopher Okigbo, Flora Nwapa, Buchi Emecheta, and even the prolific pulp novelist Dan Fulani. It’s almost too much to ask for more, but as it happens, we have much, much more with new generations exploding on to the scene, including poets Chris Abani, Uche Nduka, Olu Oguibe and lesser known contemporaries such as Chinweizu. But the real earthquake manifests in novel form, with the emergence of the likes of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi, Sefi Atta, and Nnedi Okorafor. I can’t pass without a word for the recently deceased poet and playwright Esiaba Irobi. One of the neat aspects of these 21st century blossoms is that so many of them are young women.

This semester, I’m taking a Representative Authors course on Toni Morrison. My professor is a white woman. There are two black students in the class, and the rest are white. One of the white students frequently comments in class and, though it’s usually in context, I’m beginning to suspect that he registered for this course because he wanted a safe place to say the word ‘nigger’. I’ll come back to that.

I used to be friendly with a movie star (though her career was in a slump at the time I knew her), and once, when we were talking about road rage, she said, “I always feel funny about flipping people off. I think it might be someone who can give me a job.”

For similar reasons, actors tend to be unnaturally upbeat in interviews. What did you think of the director? Oh, he’s great; he’s a genius. And the cast? They were wonderful, all of them; I was in heaven every day on the set.

But actors in private are a different story. I think such-and-such is awful, they’ll tell you; it’s bullshit that he got such great reviews. Of course, it also works the opposite way: actors love as much as they hate, though they might not want their enthusiasms broadcast, knowing how easily they can be misconstrued.

1) Working as a caddy in a country club does not entitle one to liberalities of sexual congress with fellow caddies or with the beautiful daughters of influential club members. Also, you are worthless, and no one will ever love you.

2) Well-to-do businessmen do not wear plaid polyester golf pants with yellow golf shirts and still hope to maintain their spheres of influence. That you don’t know this already may stem from the fact that your own sphere of influence is negligible.

3) Bill Murray does not have a funny speech impediment. Speech impediments are not funny. What is the point of your even existing? This is not a rhetorical question. There is no point.

4) Rodney Dangerfield does not insert himself into awkward social situations with his trademark boorish remarks and make light of country club members’ stuffy, patrician lifestyles. Rodney Dangerfield is dead, and you still haven’t learned the importance of fiscal responsibility.

5) Chevy Chase is not a rakish playboy dropping one-liners for the entertainment of all. However, he does have nice teeth, nicer teeth than you, in fact. How hard is it to get to the dentist every once in a while? Everyone thinks you’re a dimwit who can’t go to the trouble to use proper oral hygiene.

6) Caddy scholarships do not exist. But if they did, you would never get one, because that would involve carrying a golf bag for an extended period of time. This is much too hard a task for you and your feeble body.

7) Leering at the legs of young women is not considered charming, but, in fact, makes you a sexist and therefore someone who doesn’t understand what it is to live in a civilized society. Do that society a favor and isolate yourself.

8) When a teenaged boy is found out by his Irish girlfriend to be cheating, she does not roll her eyes and make sarcastic remarks. She cries and says that she hates him over and over. Likewise, when this girl relates to her boyfriend that she is pregnant by another man, the boyfriend does not propose marriage but sinks into a deep depression, all of which would be perfectly fitting for someone like you, since you don’t deserve happiness.

9) Baby Ruth candy bars are not mistaken for feces, nor are country club swimming pools drained and sterilized, even when contaminated by real feces. But as a side note, suicide is a perfectly reasonable answer to the absurd conundrum that is your existence.

10) Let’s say that large amounts of money are being wagered on the outcome of a game of golf. When during said game, the field of play is destroyed by a lunatic setting of explosive charges, the tournament is postponed of canceled. By no means does such interference benefit the person who had been losing the game before the explosions happened. Such wanton flouting of rules and basic safety is not funny. Society benefits nothing by the depiction of this kind of reckless behavior and pretending otherwise only reinforces the banal absurdity of everything you think or say.

11) Kenny Loggins does not write music that anyone wants to hear. Why can’t you read a book or something?

12) Stuffed animals do not dance, and your life has no meaning.

If you imagine in a dream some sort of bank vault, your subconscious will instinctively shove all your secrets in there, typed single-spaced on resume paper with “confidential” stamped across the top in red ink.That’s how it works in Inception, anyway.This is your brain: an empty dining room with sliding doors and paper lanterns.This is your brain with secrets: a combination safe behind a painting on said dining room wall.My, aren’t you clever?My brain, however, keeps its secrets in a hollowed-out coconut guarded by Gilligan. Or is it Mary Anne?I’m not telling!

Recently I sat in a dark auditorium to watch a screening of “The Maltese Falcon” for what must have been the 100th time. Most of the others in the audience were college students, and within minutes they began to titter. By the third scene, the titters turned into belly laughs.

So here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure Cynthia Hawkins is a nice person. In Cynthia’s piece “The Movie Formerly Known as Avatar,” I can really appreciate her reporting from the Avatar: The Last Airbender hysteria in her living room. I mean, as it happens, I have a nine-year-old who just now put her grandmother on hold so that she could watch the last ten minutes of Book Three. But — and no disrespect here — I could practically hear Cynthia’s big-eyed blinks of innocence as I read the rest of her review.

For instance, I heard them right around the time that she made this point: “If [Shyamalan] pulls it off, he’s set for the next installment and perhaps a clean cinematic slate at last.” I’m just wondering if, when Cynthia typed this sentence, the tumbleweeds had yet to blow in and skim across her shoes in the big, vast aloneness in which she was about to find herself. I mean, it’s kind of cute the way she thinks that there’s an “if.” And I feel a little bit sorry to be the one to point this out, but everyone else — and I mean everyone (even Drunk Hulk)  — clambered, frothy-mouthed, to lob something sharp at M. Night Shyamalan’s head on the occasion of The Last Airbender’s release.

At least Cynthia is aware of the fact that most critics and a big segment of the movie-going public had written Shyamalan off somewhere around Signs, and that Shyamalan was setting himself up for further scrutiny in taking on the beloved Nickelodeon series. But wow. Cynthia seems to be completely ignorant of the extent to which this man is reviled. Look, plenty of films deserve a pitchfork gathering of the masses, but even they don’t garner the kind of collective rage that awaited M. Night Shyamalan for The Last Airbender. We’re talking a ginormous, horizon-blinding, boat scuttling wave of sheer vitriol.

Rotten TomatoesThe Last Airbender page is like a Shyamalan roast without the funny. Only eight percent of the reviews gave a positive rating. Roger Ebert wrote: “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” Random fans weighed in: “Shyamaladingong, you suck! You ruin everything you touch! Fuck you!” Drunk Hulk tweeted: “DRUNK HULK FIGURE OUT WHAT TWIST IS! M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN CAREER WAS DEAD WHOLE TIME!” To read such reviews, as well as the blogs and the tweets and so forth, you’d think Shyamalan had filmed himself taking a dump on the feet of Christ or something. But that’s the way it is, and how Cynthia failed to understand this beforehand is a mystery.

A wave of vitriol, and there’s Cynthia, tossing out a few positives, saying things that amount to, “You can do it M. Night Shyamalan! I know you can!” Like the last kid on the block who still believes in Santa when everyone else is trying to tell her that Santa is really Uncle Leo on a bender with a bag of lead-laden cheap shit he’d pocketed in the Dollar General. Who am I to decide whether or not Cynthia should align her opinions with the masses? What I am saying, however, is that Cynthia may want to consult Drunk Hulk more frequently before she purports to know what the masses think about anything.

Hannah, age nine, sits on the sofa with her folded legs drawn in, the remnants of a sandwich assembled on a bright melamine plate on the table behind her, rings of condensation off her water bottle progressing across the table’s surface.She fits her chin in the bridge of her joined knees, and if she’s blinked in the last hour I’ve missed it. For days Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has been streaming in back-to-back episodes in my living room.I’d queued the first episode of Book One for some quick research and within minutes Hannah emerged from the recesses of the house, trudging across the living room rug and toward the siren call of a child’s voice:“Water.Earth.Fire.Air.Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony.Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them.”As the sofa cushion reclaimed its shape after I stood and walked away, Hannah’s fingers crawled over to the remote.Then she took over.Or, rather, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” took over.

For starters, someone must be dead.  That’s the golden rule to remember here.  And if that someone is mom, you’ve got a hit on your hands.  Nanny McPhee.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Cinderella.  Annie.  Harry Potter.  Jumanji.  Beauty and the Beast.  The Game Plan.  Nim’s Island.  Bambi.  Snow White.  Fly Away Home. Hannah Montana. What do they all have in common?  That’s right.  A musical score.  Oh, and a dead mom.

Fill your screenplay with adorable creatures.  Animated, not animated – doesn’t matter.  Maybe they talk.  Maybe not.  Just have them.  But no cats.

And for the love of all things Jiminy Cricket do not kill off your adorable creature!  We’ve come a long way since Where the Red Fern Grows and Old Yeller. Those films are relics of a bygone era.  We just don’t kill off animals anymore.  It’s upsetting.  No one likes to see that.

The only exception would be, of course, if your adorable little creature is a mom.  Then you can kill off your adorable creature.  Think Finding Nemo. Think carnage in the opening sequence.  Imagine those teary-eyed little children watching from between their wee little hands squashing their little faces at the heart-smashing tragedy of it all.  Now imagine their gazes drifting over to their mothers beside them as they think, “Wait a second.  You mean … I could lose you?  Forever and ever?  Out of the blue?  All of the sudden?  Nooooo!”  You’ve just made fans for life.

All right, all right.  If you must have a cat, the cat can be the villain or the companion of a villain.  But that’s it.  No strutting around looking cute.  Villainy only.

Repeat after me: flatulence is always funny.  Always.  It doesn’t even need a set-up.  That’s the beauty of it!  And your children’s movie must have it.  Or belching.  Please, though, do not involve the mom in the flatulence or belching because mom is not here to be funny.  Are you saying you think death is funny?

Dead within fifteen minutes of the opening credits, recently dead, long dead, doesn’t matter as long as you remember that one or both parents must go.  We can’t have our lead characters running around under the protective supervision of a couple of doting parents without even an inkling that said parents could be horrifically ripped from their lives at any given moment.  Trust me.  The people who want to see that kind of thing don’t go to the movies.  They’re too busy holed up at home knitting and playing Jenga and watching “Little House on the Prairie” marathons.

So, let’s say that despite everything you’ve learned here you still insist on including a mom in your children’s movie.  Fine, but I would advise you under such circumstances to make sure that only mom’s legs are visible.  As in Toy Story.  Possibly hands, if need be.  Might I suggest she be a faint voice from afar, like the humming of a refrigerator in the kitchen.  Three houses down.  Listen, I’m warning you.  If your mom has more presence than the wallpaper, you can forget about developing any conflicts because she can solve a problem faster than you can say “half pint.”  Even better, have mom abandon the central character early on, a la Meet the Robinsons or Enchanted, and then go away forever.  As if she were dead.

And I will make this final allowance for you:  if you’d like to make it seem like your adorable creature is dead for at least five minutes, maybe ten, this would be acceptable.  Like in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Over the Hedge, or G-Force.  Bring your young audience to the brink of tears and then reassure them by showing them the creature was just playing dead.  Make them laugh about it, even.  This is a good time for that fart joke.  Let them know everything is just fine.  Unless we’re talking about mom.  Mom is dead, and they’re just going to have to deal with it.

JR: I probably fell in love with Mr. Peanut around page 3, much earlier than I thought I would, when I noticed Adam Ross wasn’t there anymore, and it didn’t seem like writing to me. David Pepin wanted to kill his wife, I wanted him to kill his wife, and then I met his wife, and I really wanted to kill her, but I was only on page 3. At this point I noticed the seamless language and how brilliant it was to read. If you don’t believe me, read the first three pages. Then I didn’t realize how much I’d like David Pepin until he wasn’t around, and Ross introduced me to Ward Hastroll who is investigating David Pepin, because David’s wife Alice has taken a dirt nap. But Ward Hastroll’s wife won’t leave her bed. It was this section where I felt like the book launched itself into to another world, Ross delivers the details of a miserable marriage in ways that remind me of Carver, Cheever and the brilliant Revolutionary Road. And then, Dr. Sam Sheppard, the older investigator who works with Ward Hastroll, is imagined by Mr. Ross, imagined is the wrong word, Ross writes it like he’s standing right next to both Hastroll and Sheppard, and peering into both of their lives, for real. I’d be a fool to tell you how this turns out, or how Ward Hastroll relates to Raymond Burr, I’ll let you work that out for yourself, but lets just say, we never really know what’s happening in a marriage, even if we can see in through the bedroom window. One more thing, it really is that Dr. Sam Sheppard Ross writes about in Mr. Peanut, and it will send shivers up your spine when you figure it out. I’m just giving you broad strokes here, I can’t tell you more, well, okay, there is this trip to Hawaii that Alice and David take together, read it, you’ll see. Mr. Peanut will be a New York Times Top 10 of 2010, take it to the bank. Here is his contribution to the WWFIL series.

When We Fell in Love

From the youngest age my reading and writing were inextricably bound, and I don’t remember a desire to write so much as the act of regularly telling stories, the telling of these intertwined with everything I read, so really this is an exercise in tessellation, recursion, and echolalia. (A favorite book from my childhood is Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm, a series of circular narratives: It was a dark and stormy night, we were standing on the deck, the ship was sinking, the captain said to me, “Tell me a story, my son,” and so I began. It was a dark and stormy night…the ragged copy of which I read with great pleasure to my daughters now.) The tales I wrote stole all the color, event, and gadgetry from Tom Swift, the intrigue from the Hardy Boys, and the teamwork and faux-science from the Doc Savage series, the narratives that grew out of these in turn amalgamations of movies, age-inappropriate films of action and adventure likeThe Guns of Navarone and The Magnificent Seven, sexy stuff like A Clockwork Orange and Logan’s Run, plus anything I could watch on Channel 11’s The 4 O’clock Movie before mom made it home (Planet of the ApesThe Omega Man, andDamnation Alley, to name a few). I stole the plots of horror films deemed too scary by my parents to watch but reported to me by my father, his re-telling of the ending of Don’t Look Now, with that horrific dwarf in the red raincoat driving a butcher knife into Donald Sutherland, trumped the film when I finally saw it. I confess a deep-seated love for Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and from those ancient superheroes, I graduated to comic books: Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Champions and Uncanny X-MenWalt Simonson’s Thor, with its inspired re-telling of the Ragnarok myth—no primary source material for me—and Bill Sienkiewicz’s The New Mutants. Under the anxiety of those influences, I developed my own universe of superheroes and villains, material liberally hybridized with characters from the Marvel universe, cross-pollinated with Frank Herbert’s Dune series, and melded with Piers Anthony’s Magic of Xanth books. In middle and high school, I passed on nearly everything Trinity’s English curriculum had to offer, falling too far behind in To Kill a Mockingbird,Animal FarmBrave New World, and The Catcher in the Rye ever to catch up, not even interested enough to purchase the Cliffs Notes—why read about reading that bored me in the first place?—though I dug Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, wept at the injustice of The Old Man and the Sea, and immersed myself in The Bible (my school’s reverend was beloved mentor), so that on the rare occasion our teachers let us write “creative” pieces, I did spinoffs of Old Testament stories, being partial, not surprisingly, to the Yahweh-anointed superheroes of Judges. In college, I didn’t fall in love again until I encountered the Romantics junioryear, Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell comic books of a kind, Coleridge’s Xanadu in “Kubla Khan” like something out of Xanth, though I did get a kick out ofGulliver’s Travels, the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, and the short stories of Raymond Carver. I was more of a philosophy nut, jazzed on the existentialists and their forefathers: Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas, and Foucault. It wasn’t until I was graduated and out in the world that, having decided to become a writer, I changed my reading habits entirely, not only to figure out just what being one required but also to bring a degree of order to all this chaos. I began to read authors in their entirety. Walker Percy was, memorably, the first; I read The Moviegoer and, after reading the last paragraph, started at the beginning again, ultimately making my way through all his work in chronological order. From there I moved on to Italo Calvino, Vladimir Nabokov, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Isaac Babel, Don Dellilo, Donald Barthelme, Joseph Conrad, and Richard Ford, which led to a more systematic approach to writing, to routine—three hours at least in the morning, no matter how early it required me to get up, with rewriting done only at night. Flash forward two decades and, with my first novel, Mr. Peanut, publishing in June, I’m adding additional stories to my collection, Ladies and Gentlemen, while making my way through all of Alice Munro—though sometimes when it’s raining and I take my kids to the bookstore to play, I grab the bound edition of either Frank Miller’s Ronin or The Dark Knight graphic novel and read it front to back. All of which is to say, there’s no when to my love. The beginning is for me the end. Or, as the little boy on that boat recalls: It was a dark and stormy night, we were standing on the deck, the ship was sinking, the captain said to me, “Tell me a story, my son,” and so I began…

–Adam Ross

Captain Kirk, yellow shirt, crouched in thinking-man pose on the original captain’s chair, maintained a dominant place on our Christmas tree until Kirk shimmied down the branch last year and made a kamikaze plunge to the tile. The lower half of his leg snapped at the boot, sitting morbidly askew from the rest of him. “Damnit Jim!” I said in my habit of making a joke to stave off tears. My nephew had given this ornament to me when he was three because he thought it was his Uncle Joe on an elaborate toilet. What? You thought I’d cry because it was Captain Kirk? Well, you’d be wrong.

* * *

A five-inch tall polar bear led the mutiny, and Kirk and Spock, locked in the cheap plastic chute of the transporter room, waited for a lucky break. Moments before, the ship-wide chaos of Scotty’s IBS attack had seemed to be just this sort of break, but I, and by “I” of course I mean Dr. McCoy, had repurposed two pieces of Styrofoam that had once cradled either end of a wireless router to magically cure Scotty of his flatulence problem when sandwiched between them for precisely three seconds. Undeterred, the polar bear, wedged into the captain’s chair, then pointed all four paws toward Ceti Alpha Five.

This crew always goes to Ceti Alpha Five, polar bear or not, because I like saying Ceti Alpha Five. I say it the way Ricardo Montalban’s Kahn, with his shiny prosthetic pecs, had said it. Like he’d forced his hand into a mug of scalding coffee and was going to keep it there and talk all the while to prove his craggy masculine resilience. Ceti Alpha Five! Through gritted teeth. Each syllable lingering on the verge of turning into: Mother fucker, that’s hot coffee! That and because I don’t know any other place in the Star Trek universe besides Vulcan – which is always a bummer locale. All tunics and poker faces.

I was on elbows, stretched out on the playroom floor, marching Bones around, making prints in the carpet, when my daughter Hannah began to pack everybody back into a boot box, completely unimpressed by magic Styrofoam.

“Forget it,” she said, “If Scotty can’t fart anymore, what’s the point?”

I’m ninety-seven percent sure Hannah had asked for this Star Trek set for her birthday. Eighty-two percent, maybe. Point is, it’s hers and not mine. Spock, Spock is mine. But the rest is hers. Spock and Bones. And Uhura. Those are mine. But that’s it.

* * *

Okay, look. Let me explain it to you this way. When I was a kid, we had a room under the basement steps big enough for an array of musical instruments including an accordion, a harmonica, a ukulele, bongos, and a Sear’s wish-book-variety acoustic guitar with plastic strings. If we wanted to play, that’s where we had to play it, in the same space designated for tornado warnings and the piss-warped toy trunk that wouldn’t shut. Long story, but I’ll just say that the two are related.

I can tell you how I patiently wrestled with one instrument at a time, trying to eek out something remotely like “You Light Up My Life.” I can tell you the guitar was my favorite, and I strummed until the plastic strings snapped with a sproingy sound like they do in cartoons. I can also tell you how I grew up to take guitar lessons on my pawn-shop Stratocaster from a guy named Bob who looked like a Spinal Tap roadie and told me to sing whenever I played so someday it’d be just like walking and breathing. This could be the back-story of a Jack White, say.

What are my prodigious musical accomplishments to date, you ask? Why, I can play the intro to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the verses for Radiohead’s “Lucky” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” and the entirety of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” And that’s it. Nothing original. Nothing else. This is pretty much the story of me and Star Trek – a lifetime of exposure with absolute minimal retention or impact.

What else is a kid without cable to do but scour all available airwaves for that wonky one-off channel that could only get its hands on old, syndicated shows like “Perry Mason,” “Dobie Gillis,” and “Star Trek” coming through between scrolling bands of static? It was just there, like my older sister swabbing spit out of her flute on the sofa or the rake leaning in a corner ready to fluff the shag rug. Then, when the movies came along, somehow my little sister and I just ended up at the theater, on opening weekend, first showing. I don’t know how that happened. It’s like when Kirk and McCoy beam down to M-113 in “The Man Trap” and meet who they think is McCoy’s old flame Nancy, but Nancy isn’t Nancy. She’s a shape-shifter who in reality resembles a grimy, suction-cup-fingered Sherpa rug on the move. That wasn’t us in those theater seats shrieking at the first appearance of the opening titles. I don’t know who that was.

You know what really got me, though? Whenever any one of the Enterprise crew would arrive in some strange place, the developed Genesis, Nimbus III, or the penal colony on Rura Penthe, I’d hyperventilate from the anticipation of whatever horrible fate potentially awaited them. I even choked on a Jordan Almond in Wrath of Kahn when Chekov and Captain Terrell poked around the containers housing Kahn and his rock-opera rejects. It’s like J. J. Abrams had a direct line to the darkest recesses of my childhood fears when, in his reboot, he sent Kirk to Delta Vega and the guttural howling of an alien creature commenced in the distance. Word is, Abrams’ next installment will focus on a young Kahn! Well, you know, the word that other people who aren’t me who care about such things pass along to those of us who listen on accident and think, “hey, yet something else I can add to my useless knowledge of things I really, really don’t care about at all.”

* * *

Hannah and I stood by, my hands clamped around her slight shoulders, as Joe applied Gorilla Glue to Kirk’s nub, Kirk’s boot resting on a folded paper towel in the shadow of Joe’s hands. I mean, it’s not like I was holding my breath in this very moment. It’s not as if I’d ever gotten misty eyed while attending a concert by the great Jerry Goldsmith leading a symphony through the Star Trek theme or bought a box of cereal just for the beam-up badge inside or dreamt that Leonard Nimoy drew a unicorn for me on a fast-food napkin. I was just there to keep Hannah out of the glue.

“I think it’d be cool if we put a toothpick on him instead of his boot,” Hannah said.

When Joe affixed the boot, the glue squashed out in every direction leaving what looked like a lip of a white sock. A toothpick would have been okay with Hannah, but this, this sloppy aberration of Kirk’s attire was not. After it dried, she got a black Sharpie and colored it in.

“Kirk wouldn’t let his sock hang out like that,” she said, and she was right.

I gave Kirk a lick-of-the-thumb spit shine like a mom cleaning ketchup off her kids’ face and let him convalesce in the china cabinet right next to the figurines of the holy family.


Mine was the first family on our street to own a VCR.I’d walk the neighborhood kids in and show them the buttons on the player the size of an industrial microwave oven.“We can record stuff on T.V.,” I’d explain, head cocked back with the smugness of a Scorcese gangster, “and play it back.”The irony being we had nothing to record, although we had found an airing of Nighthawks on a Saturday matinee.We were the first with a VCR, but the very last with cable.Dad was holding out on principle.“Pay for television?Only a fool would pay for something that you should get for free,” he’d say before queuing up Nighthawks.Again.

I overthought high school. During my senior prom, for instance, a whole host of gestures seemed to be called for and I performed only a portion of them.When my date and I hit a lull in conversation or a group dance number began, I waited for cues that never came as to how I should proceed.I excused myself for a drink I didn’t want.The trips to the punch bowl provided the illusion that I knew what I was doing to an audience I imagined might be watching my every move.

Then, fifteen years later, I stepped toward another table spread with a fresh confidence.I swaggered in my tux like I should have the first time.My elbows knew how far out to jut.I lifted one of the glasses from the white tablecloth.My new date smiled, on an unspoken toast.