Sad Sock Story


This story tells itself. A first grader gives his socks real personality. And attitude.

Debate Predictions

With an hour til tip-off, here’s how my money rides. The number of times Trump does the following ten things:

Sniffs the mic: 120+
Makes a tiny circle with his thumb and forefinger: 30+donald-trump-vs-hillary-clinton
References rigged elections: 20+
Notes Hillary’s lies: 15+
Notes Hillary’s corruption: 15+
Says “Crooked Hillary”: 12+
Lauds his business smarts: 12+
Speaks of a wall: 10+
Mentions Bill’s Chix: 6+
Reveals policy: 0*

*”It’s gonna be so great” is not a policy.

The number of times HRC does the following ten things:

Smiles disingenuously: 25+
Turns a positive moment into something unlikeable: 15+
Wears us down with wonky policy detail: 12+
Lets Trump have the floor to his own detriment: 12+
Overspeaks her time, to her detriment: 10+
Coughs: 8+
Coins or re-uses a corny slogan like “Trumped up, Trickle down”: 7+
Uses the slogan “Trumped up, Trickle down”: 3+
Arrives onstage wearing pantsuit: 1
Pleads the Fifth: 0*

*Liars only need the Fifth when under oath and Chris Wallace isn’t swearing the candidates in. (Nor is he moderating for facts).

Mr Trump, Will You Whitewash that Wall?

sawyerI never did like Tom Sawyer. He’s a second rate figure against Huck Finn. His story’s no match for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and when he comes into that great book he ruins the end.

Today’s Tom Sawyer is Donald Trump*.

Tom’s best known for the art of the con. He cons the boys of St. Petersburg into doing his dirty work and paying him for it in the bargain. Sap can’t remember a single line from the Bible, instead trading loot for tickets to win the Sunday School prize—and the attentions of Judge Thatcher, father of his beloved.

Turning to which… There I am, reading Twain’s classic to my eight year old. He’s totally into it. He loves the voice, the heavy Hannibal 19th century accent, so rich and full of color. Then we hit Tom’s seduction of Becky Thatcher in Chapter 7. Becky wants to know more about being engaged.

Becky hesitating, Tom took silence for consent, and passed his arm about her waist and whispered the tale ever so softly, with his mouth close to her ear. And then he added:

“Now you whisper it to me—just the same.”

She resisted, for a while, and then said:

“You turn your face away so you can’t see, and then I will. But you mustn’t ever tell anybody—WILL you, Tom? Now you won’t, WILL you?”

“No, indeed, indeed I won’t. Now, Becky.”

He turned his face away. She bent timidly around till her breath stirred his curls and whispered, “I—love—you!”

Then she sprang away and ran around and around the desks and benches, with Tom after her, and took refuge in a corner at last, with her little white apron to her face. Tom clasped her about her neck and pleaded:

“Now, Becky, it’s all done—all over but the kiss. Don’t you be afraid of that—it ain’t anything at all. Please, Becky.” And he tugged at her apron and the hands.

By and by she gave up, and let her hands drop; her face, all glowing with the struggle, came up and submitted. Tom kissed the red lips…

There it is. Tom Sawyer, like the Republican presidential candidate: con man. Glory-seeker. Rapacious predator.

*To acknowledge  an earlier post in which I likened DJT to Roald Dahl’s  dishonest, intellectually-depraved used car salesman.

For the sake of bi-partisanship, I also assigned HRC her own literary forebear. Surprise! Not Nurse Ratched.

Absentee Ballot

img_9514Here I sit, brokenhearted
Came to vote but only farted.*

How the air is thickening!
Oh, the stink is sickening!

I have to choose between these two?
I’m on the throne just let me poo!

I’ll never again vote absentee
While squatting here, in luxury.

Don’s soft wipe will be mine soon
That hair of his just makes me swoon.

Note: Before there was DTTP there was KitchenTalkWithDonaldTrump

*Alert, I am plagiarizing and pretty much ruining a classic graffiti item from the third stall at CCSU’s Elihu Burritt Library. Sorry guys.

Kitchen Talk with Donald J Trump

The Republican candidate sounds off on Swift, Pope, and ‘The Poors’

What I do is, the way I like to cook babies is, I like to stick ‘em in the pot head first. You know, so it doesn’t hurt. Like little red lobsters—unh—headfirst, right in the pot.

trump-palin-pizza2What? I’m just saying. Just kitchen talk between you and me, right?

Who doesn’t eat babies? I eat babies. I reach right out and grab ‘em and stick ‘em in the pot head first so it doesn’t hurt. It’s terrific. Really terrific. So terrific. I got the idea from Jonathan Swift. You ever heard of Jonathan Swift? Terrific writer. So great. His solution to help all the Poors? Let the Poors eat all the Baby Poors. Boom, boom, two problems solved at once. Terrific idea.

After I stick ‘em in the pot I put the babies on pizza and eat ‘em with a fork. Cause I’m a gentleman, you know? A gentleman. Look, this is just kitchen talk, right? Kitchen talk about smart ideas.

Another smart writer, another terrifically smart guy I never read from the same era: Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock. Love it. Love it! Terrific title. I could reach out and grab that book with four fingers, all four fingers on this hand here.

You know my rapist Mexican cook and I don’t agree on this. We share lots of recipes, lots of kitchen talk between us, but when it comes to grabbing things we don’t agree. He says I should only use my finger and thumb.

“Mr. Trump,” he says, “you should hold your fork with your finger and your thumb.”

I’m like “No. No way, Hector. If you see something you like you grab it with four fingers, just like that.” Unh.

Like see that cat over there? If I wanted that cat, I mean really wanted it, I would just reach out and grab it up with all four of the fingers on this one hand little hand. Not little. Yuge. These fingers are huge and I’d grab that cat up with all four fingers.

Other recipes? Chinese babies. They make terrific Chinese food. No chopsticks, though, I draw the line there. Too ethnic, too foreign.

You know the foreigners are just invading this country, right? Look, all these Mexican rapists taking over my favorite pastime. Too much. Too much. Not good.

Just between you and me.

A little kitchen talk between us.

Photo credit, Fox, who else.

Like this satire? Me too. Here’s more—Diplomatic Security vs. The War on Terror.

Short Stories from the School for Damaged Children

ARE-YOU-HERE-by-Brian-Booker-9781942658122Deep oppression pervades Brian Booker’s collection of seven stories Are You Here for What I’m Here For? (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016). The mood is confining, suffocating, maddening, the writing evocative of a heart pulsing beneath the floorboards of a cabin far from anywhere. Booker awakens—allays—awakens—allays—and awakens again profound tensions: Something is wrong. Everything is ok. But something is wrong.

Prepare to contend with psychic turmoil, ordinary figures sick in unusual ways: “…The bus didn’t come and Francie caught a chill. Then she got sick, lost her legs; they burned her toys in the backyard. She ended up in that school for damaged children, sweet Francie among the mongoloids and midgets…”

Francie’s case is bad enough. And this isn’t even Francie’s story. It’s Gina’s story, Gina who let her sister catch a chill while she—Gina—awaited the attentions of a lifeguard on the last day of summer: “Gina’s mother had never let her forget that day at the pool.”

The collection’s eponymous story relates Gina’s stay, many years later, a grown woman, at a Caribbean resort, her pursuit of escape, a quest for release from the damage of the past. She’s enrolled in Sun Club Be* (don’t expect to be told what the asterisk is for; you’ll have to use your imagination), which as the brochure explains, offers “An experience for our guests whose journey includes a health challenge.” A hotel, she imagines, that is in fact a hospital “attended by nuns in starched habits, a Caribbean breeze blowing in at the window.”

Nothing in Gina’s stay is concretely wrong; rather the malice lies beneath: She couldn’t shake the notion that behind the sunglasses Russell/Raoul had a milky white eye or a ghastly scar. ‘Then we shall see you in the theater,’ the hypnotist declares.

The settings include wide-ranging diversity: a wealthy Langley neighborhood in the shadows of CIA headquarters; a mountain resort for slope-side partying; contemporary seaside towns and long-forgotten histories of remote American settlements. Throughout, Booker’s eye remains as focused as it is true. Regardless of time or place the human condition holds the center, riddled with self-doubt and confusion as the body gropes blindly through the dark, recoiling in discomfort at the unknowable objects it touches.

It’s in this groping that Booker excels. He removes us from group therapy on the committed psych ward and plants us inside the lives and the minds of those committed at a time preceding incarceration. His stories are like glimpses into the broken lives before Chief Broom and Randall Patrick McMurphy and Billy Bibbit appear in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all the terrible realities that drove the Chronics and the Acutes to the hospital in the first place.

Reading this collection feels like holding your breath until you need to breath, letting out a little, a little more, a little more, a little more. Disturbing, unsettling, portentous—then fading all to black.

Memoir: Set This Submarine on Fire

Memoir’s a tough genre. For memoir to appeal to a broad audience its got to succeed in one of two ways.

wildEither the voice asserts some irresistible quality: rich, engaging, dynamic, inspiring, insightful without being pedantic. Or the narrative relates circumstances of an extraordinary nature: the subject is a half-Kenyan young lawyer who rises to become the U.S. President; a soccer team survives a plane crash in the Andes by feeding on fellow passengers; a scientist’s submarine catches fire at the exact moment she discovers a new species capable of saving the planet.

So much the better if the voice and the sublime work in cahoots.

But in memoir where these traits are lacking altogether, we wind up with a book like Devon James Hoffman’s Wild Enough to Get to You. The narrative voice tends toward the abstruse, and the undertaking is a well-traveled road.

As a memoirist Hoffman’s first order of business is to bring clarity and coherence to his experience. He explains his efforts this way: “You may be disappointed to find that this book isn’t about my service but is, instead, about what my service was about.” The stories, he tells us, “may seem disconnected and eclectic, but they are my memoir. This book achieves its unity by following the journey of my changing paradigm, instead of my physical body.”

Original review in its entirety at Peace Corps Worldwide

Joe Camel, Still Cool

Yesterday a friend of mine posted our first-through-fourth grade photos online. Got me thinking about this old story in the hopper 20 years. I dragged it out and dusted it off and submit it now for your entertainment. It’s all about that first cigarette. This is to the memory of those no longer with us, Trevor and Chad.


camel-cigerettes-logoI ROSE IN THE DARK of a dead cold winter morning, my week serving Mass at St. Barnabas. Dad dropped us outside church with a dollar each.

After Mass we bought hot chocolate and Hostess Donettes at the 7-11. In the waning dark I followed Didi and Jack back across the street to the school behind the church. Jack stayed alone to eat on the fire escape; inside Didi went upstairs to the sixth grade classroom.

I offered Mrs. Kidney a Donette soon as I entered. She declined.

Mrs. K, the fourth grade teacher, was a Yankees fan. She called herself the walking dead that fall, eyes drawn and black as the Yankees chased and lost the pennant.

Cheeks tingling, I sat on the back counter beside the radiator. St. B’s was a steam-heated, wood-floored, high-ceilinged old school. The first floor ceilings were painted white and ornately carved, like wedding cakes. The ceilings upstairs were low, office-like, with fluorescent lights and Styrofoam rectangles. Moving from fourth to fifth grade, the ceilings closed in. I was drawn to the prospect of low ceilings as I was drawn to toads belly up in the sun. Horror. Fascination.

I dangled my legs, sweaty in corduroy, over the counter. Outside the drafty windows the frigid morning turned gray.

“How are your parents?” Mrs. K said.

“They’re fine.”

“How’s your sister?”

“She’s fine. She came early, too. To avoid the bus.”

“Ohhhhh, the horrible bus.” Her eyebrows rose in dark, sarcastic arcs.

“It’s not so bad.” I liked the bus, especially in the afternoon when the high schoolers got on. They boarded from another world, the world of long hair and black tees, studded bracelets and heavy boots, cigarettes rather than chewing gum. It was the world of the office ceiling and it fascinated me even as it terrified me.

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Oscar Keye Is Dead, Long Live Oscar Keye!

20140213-161543Oscar Keye is dead and I am free: I just delivered my latest manuscript to the publisher. Freedom…

Fiction always begins as escape, a jailbreak, a mad dash for wild, unknown quarters. Fiction itself is freedom, turning the mundane into the extraordinary!

The bones of my being are loose-jointed things hooked by springs and oiled on make believe.

As master of this space I evade boredom: an egg addiction here, an improbable love affair there. Turn a harmless momma’s boy into a vicious boss, his barbershop quartet face photoshopped onto his mug-on-a-mug mug. Swallow the shredder guy’s tie in his equipment and install elevators no one can use.

Oscar Keye’s story, The Artificial Intelligence of Oscar Keye, gave me all this and more besides. I’m grateful. I liked Oscar Keye. But now he is dead.

Oscar Keye was just an ordinary servant, a workaday commuter, a bland victim of his environment. The fiction process turned him into three men at once: fatigued senior manager Howard Graves; Manny Teague, the middle-aged family man who can’t stop talking about his kids; and the bewildered graduate student intern on the fast path to disillusion, Gabriel Dunne. It was Keye who got off the train at Foggy Bottom, but by the time he trudged up the street to his dreary federal office he’d become a trinity. His point of view disappeared, replaced by a dozen perspectives: those who helped and those who hindered, friends and foes, antagonists, meddlers, wise-guys. Beasts.

Despite these inventions, over time the novel sank its claws into me. The novel itself became a prison. Three years on, the novel imprisoned me. Graves’ mysterious Mason Jar of fluids; Teague’s endless childhood fart jokes; Dunne’s quest to “improve government”; these skeletal structures soon became inflexible iron rods, cell bars and prison stripes, locking me into their own vision of life inside routine.

After three years behind those bars I’m free again. Oxygen, deep breaths, I can breath. No longer am I pinioned by the inventions threading the latest work. I’m free to come up with new ones: a food truck; a morning drive time radio host; a boy trapped indoors building fanciful cityscapes out of old shoe boxes?

Anything. I am free to invent, again.

Until the invention, too, imprisons me.

From The Artificial Intelligence of Oscar Keye

Foggy Bottom

Oscar Keye rode backwards on the train. Behind him, in the direction toward which he moved, all of Washington lay in deep fog.

Keye’s eyes returned to the sign: IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING. And there, on the stained carpet at his feet: a black bag with no owner.

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Thank You Hollywood, No Thank You

Dear Mr. Hollywood,

Austin Hargrave

Austin Hargrave

I read with interest your letter and proposed film adaptation of Two Pumps for the Body Man. Though your concept falls short of my artistic vision for a film version of the book, I’m not opposed to exploring the matter further if you will concede a few preliminary points:

1. Our femme fatale needs to be younger than what you propose. True, Angelina Jolie is ruinously beautiful, but she’s also ruinous, period. I can’t see past her lips.

sjInstead I suggest Scarlett Johansson. I do not like her very much, and find her unwatchable even in good movies like Lost in Translation—can Bill Murray cameo as Ambassador Glyder?—but when the two collide, personal taste must be subservient to artistic vision.

Ms. Johansson possesses all the right qualities for the role of Vanna Lavinia, a full-bodied mix of intelligence, assertive beauty, and blondness. There is something lascivious in her that is both repugnant and attractive at once. I want this.

chiwetel-ejiofor-april-2014-bellanaija-012. Jeff Mutton, our poor gumshoe on the diplomatic beat, needs to be trim, sharp, and assured—until he becomes distracted, frightened, and overwhelmed by the threats—real and imagined—that surround him. I’d be willing to take your suggestion of Edward Norton for the role, but that does nothing for diversity in Hollywood.

Instead let’s get Chiwetel Ejiofor to play the part. He’s smart-looking, sexy, and knows how to act like a man under threat. Just re-watch 12 Years a Slave, which even the Academy had to admit deserved praise despite having so many black people in it. (I do worry about Ejiofor’s British accent, though. Can you do anything about that?)

While we’re on diversity: major characters such as my one-handed explosives specialist GLASSCOCK, my spy chief No-Lips, Colonel Windsock from the Office of Overseas Predator Strikes (OOPS), the Marines, Nurse, and the FARSA party coordinator Miss Wellstone, all should be representative of our diverse society. Ditto on the secretive submarine crew of Listoner, Buzz, and Specs.

3. Starter Roles: The novel’s other secondary figures need to be young unknowns who will turn around to become Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe after The Outsiders, or Jon Voigt after playing Joe Buck and Milo Minderbinder; Josh Brolin years after Goonies; Kevin Bacon after Animal House; Leo after What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?; ditto Johnny Depp and Nightmare on Elm St.

ceraThe exception to this rule is getting Aziz Ansari or Aasif Mandvi. Either will lend a swell comedic turn to the tragic fate awaiting the lone Muslim-American, Mohammed Amr Khan. Another exception on unknowns: I want Michael Cera, that lovely, lovable, dark Canadian dork. He can play anything, and play it well. He can bring out the pinstriped nerd in Tinker, the dark force behind bomb-builder GLASSCOCK, even the wry bemusement of our all-seeing Marshall Clements.

4. Director Finally, because the cast is necessarily low on female talent, zero-motivationlet’s put a woman in the Director’s chair. Talya Levie. Her 2014 satire of life inside a female unit of the Israeli Defense Forces, Zero Motivation, gives me hope of striking the right blend of Catch-22 and M*A*S*H. And there are important geopolitical implications to having a female Israeli Director for a film set in Saudi Arabia—perhaps a turning point for peace in the Middle East?

5. Finally, I will not attend film festivals and award ceremonies. Period, please, and thank you. But I am ok with hosting after hours parties. I’d like to get Tom Petty, Dire Straits, and Jack Johnson to play. At midnight, we can switch to Flo Rida and have him duel it out with Green Day.

Zeig heil to the president gasbag
Bombs away is your punishment
Pulverize the Eiffel tower
Who criticized your government

floIf you are ready to concede these points, I’ll allow you to review a draft of my overall cinematic vision (attached).

Peace out,
B.A. East

Read the original cinematic statement here.