“I am a nervous and emotional reader. I hold up a book to my face and it takes only a good sentence to turn my brain into a volcano; I begin thinking of everything at once and a regular lava of thought pours down my sides.”
It was a holiday edition of the writing group, and for this one, we had to write six word memoirs around three different themes. These were mine.
Time to reflect about the year.
Got too attached. Been recovering since.
She kept looking at the door.
Bah! Humbug! A year older but not a penny wiser…
What would my ghosts of past, present, and future say? What would they have me change? One can only find these answers in sleep.
You see and hear it, too.
You just can’t call its name.
— Amiri Baraka’s “In Town”
The Unnamed resonates with me the way few books do. It describes something I’ve seen but can’t name. Joshua Ferris chooses not to name it, either, which makes it all the more potent.
I’ve shared the book with friends who may now question my taste in novels. I didn’t understand why then, but it was likely describing something they’d never seen.
But maybe you’ve seen it, too. I just can’t call its name.
I got an e-mail today from someone I had just seen at a lunch over the weekend. Oddly enough, it went into the Spam folder.
I was a bit surprised at this since the first paragraph of the message clearly referenced a number of things that had happened at the lunch. Then I read the second paragraph, which was a standard form letter, and it became clear the e-mail was trying to sell me something, and it was something I neither wanted nor needed. The third paragraph was more of the same. Above the message was a note explaining the decision:
Why is this message in Spam? It contains content that’s typically used in spam messages.
With a few edits, this Samurai Code Quote from the Hagakure (or Ghost Dog, if you prefer), is more broadly applicable: “When one has made a decision … even if it will be very difficult … by advancing straight ahead, it will not do to think about going at it in a long, roundabout way.”
Her name was Dorothy, and she had an extra ticket. Little did I know that Dorothy would lead me to a tornado that symbolized The End. Toto, I don’t think we were in Kansas… ever.
Dorothy had recently retired from UC Berkeley’s Chemistry department and was without a doubt a fan of Radiolab. She had grown up in Oakland and had been around for the end and revival of The Paramount*. She mentioned that when the doors of The Paramount were first reopened, there was still pop corn on the floor from its earlier close. We made smalltalk before the program began, hours before its inevitable end.
Then there was the beginning, with the host of Snap Judgment, a band, and the entrance of Jad and Robert with an MGM-like banner across a backdrop of three screens with a fancy cursive heading: “The End”.
Jad and Robert then proceeded to discuss what that meant for the dinosaurs and wove a fascinating, forensic, adjectival tale of the final hours of the dinosaurs (minus the ones that would become birds, of course), which took place some time between June and July some hundreds of millions of years ago, complete with animatronic dinosaurs, music, and explosive special effects.
They described the moment of impact, the vacuum that would have been created in the atmosphere, as the meteor on its tail end hurtled down towards Earth like a tornado, threw gaseous rock up out of the atmosphere, where it reformed as glass, returned to the Earth due to the planet’s gravitational pull, and now spread out across the planet to create the world’s most intense meteor shower, enough to heat the Earth’s surface to the point that all dinosaurs’ blood would have boiled across the planet within a matter of two hours.
I remained skeptical about the tale, particularly how anything would have survived (e.g., my great-great-great-great-…-grandmother), but then they explained how, and I suspended disbelief.
It was around this time that Jad and Robert needed to take a break, so they brought Reginald Watts to the stage, who entertained with his brand of comedy and music, thanking Disney, Nickelodeon, and NPR in a final song that had the audience laughing.
They returned to pull out the periodic table, whereby they discussed bismuth**, its criticality to producing a bottle of the pink stuff, and concluded the segment with a toast to what I imagine was actually strawberry milk, lest they suffer from nightly indigestion.
The program ended with a poignant tale of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame*** as it was performed by two actors suffering with Parkinson’s disease.
The night concluded with some music, not by Jim Morrison or The Doors, but by Mr. Watts and the Radiolab band.
It was the perfect button to the weekend.
* An impromptu improv performance at the Continental Club in West Oakland on Saturday was purportedly once an Oakland institution and featured Richard Pryor(‘s grandson) as well as Redd Foxx(‘s nephew). There were empty beer cans, perhaps remnants of its own apocalypse.
** At a monoscene practice this weekend, a hospital room contained a periodic table that highlighted the element bismuth.
*** Is this one even necessary?