Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why Do You Think That is Such a Good Idea?

A story exactly 6,000 words in length, "Why Do You Think That is Such a Good Idea?" is the third story to be posted on Flying Houses, boasts perhaps the greatest potential in its first few pages, and quickly devolves into a rushed, ineffectual denouement. Another unsuccessful story, due to my own impatience, the gravity of the situation foisted upon me--I now know I must be moved out of my apartment by next Thursday--and frustration at giving all of the characters their proper due, which is obviously insufficient. Mrs. Bryerson could have been one of the best characters and is not even given a first name! You will see at which point the story stops being minutely-detailed and begins getting extraordinarily broad and stupid. It might be possible to revise it to a more publishable form, but it is a rather enormous theme and difficult to portray seriously. There has been a great deal of discussion on (the way I desperately attempt to appear busy while at work) about whether or not there are too many writers, and certain people talk about how there are writers who, like painters, feel as if they have created a masterpiece after their final brush stroke and will not change a thing about it, and are huge idiots for giving their work such import. That is the way I felt upon reaching word number six-thousand. The next time I post a story, I promise it will be much more evenly-paced.

Why Do You Think That is Such a Good Idea?

By Christopher J. Knorps

Mrs. Wollman dropped off her only son at the public school parking lot at 8:50 AM and turned around to go home. What an exciting day. The same exciting day it had been for the past three years since little Jamie had started first grade, and the same exciting day it would be for the next three until he would start junior high, when finally, the destination would change. It was Mrs. Wollman’s duty to take care of her son, to make sure he had a suitable breakfast and to make sure he arrived at school on time and to make sure he did not panic after school were the familiar family car not to be there on time. She had recently given him his own cell phone on the off chance this might occur, but it never did. The only thing little Jamie used his cell phone for was to make prank calls to his parents while they would all be in the same room at the same time.
Thus her weekday mornings passed. Angela Wollman (nee Bryerson) was 38 years old. She considered herself a very fit parent—the best mother a child could ask for—but she remained anxious about the question of her occupation in life. Before she had met her husband Martin (on a weekend trip to Lake Geneva between mutual friends when they were in their late 20’s) she had made her way through life on minimal wages and skills. She had worked as a receptionist for the annuities department of an investment securities company, never quite gaining a grasp on the daily functions of her superiors. She had worked there through her wedding, and after returning from her honeymoon, for several more months, until she was persuaded to claim disability and take her maternity leave.
Mrs. Wollman thought she would go back to work soon after the little baby Jamie had been born, but she did not count on the nurturing of the child to be such a strain on her energies. When he began pre-school at age three, she thought finally she could get back into the workforce. She was embarrassed to be unemployed. She did not want to turn into the stereotype of the overburdened mother who had enough to do as it was around the house. But she could not find a job that she thought was fair. She had tried temping at a few different companies but the positions never became more permanent. For the last year, she had been trying her hand at writing. This gave her something to do that she could at least trick herself into believing was useful. After she would finish a story, she would give it to Martin, and he would tell her how talented she was, and how soon she would be a famous writer, and how soon she would be leaving him because of all the other single literary men who would want to take her away from him.
She had sent out a few short stories to various journals and magazines—The New Yorker, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s—but she had only been met with rejection. Kind rejection, but no acceptance. Polite rejection, but no glory. While she felt the need to improve her craft in the short story genre in order to be accepted for first-time publication, she grew tired of limiting herself to little stories that she had never grown up admiring very much anyhow. Oh, there were a few short stories she had enjoyed—the works of Raymond Carver in particular—but she had always envisioned herself as a great novelist. And so, without any publications to her credits, she had begun working on a novel for the last six months.
On this particular exciting day after dropping Jamie off at school, she had stopped for a bagel on the way home, and had taken it into her study with her. After she took her first bite, the phone rang.
“Angie, did you see the news?”
“No, what is it?”
“Turn on the TV, any channel. I’m coming home immediately.”
Mrs. Wollman walked over to the television and flipped it on. There were typical news anchors on the air, but with different special guests, scientists. On the bottom of the screen it said: Breaking News: Black Hole to approach Earth.
At first Mrs. Wollman thought it was a joke, or a hoax played on the cable television community by some anarchist group. As the scientist continued to describe in full detail the effects this would have on the whole of humanity however, she began to accept it as fact. Her heart felt heavy, as if she had just been stopped by the cops for a minor traffic infraction, and she knew she had to cooperate even though she knew she didn’t deserve to be stopped. She didn’t know how to react, she didn’t know what she was supposed to say. She waited for Martin. She called Jamie’s school. The secretary didn’t know anything was going on yet. She told the secretary to turn on the TV, and the secretary asked if she could put her on hold. She came back a few seconds later and said they were getting flooded with phone calls and parents would be allowed to pick their children up. Mrs. Wollman called Jamie on his cell phone.
“Jamie, mommy’s going to come pick you up.”
“Why? Why are we getting out of school early today?” he asked, confused.
“It’s very complicated. I’ll explain in the car.”
“Everybody’s acting different. It’s weird.”
“I know. I think it’s weird too. Don’t worry—everything will be fine. Daddy’s coming home too. We can all go out to dinner tonight.”
“Oh yay! I love going out!” Jamie exclaimed.
Mrs. Wollman picked him up fifteen minutes later and he asked again, what was going on.
“A few kids said there was a black hole. What’s a black hole, mommy?”
Mrs. Wollman didn’t know whether he would understand it or not, but she decided to explain it as gently as possible.
“A black hole is a dead star. Like, if the sun were to go out, it would become a black hole. Only it doesn’t just disappear. Nothing in the world ever truly disappears. It just goes away, turns into something else. Well a star turns into a black hole, and it keeps moving, and it sucks things into it.”
“Are we getting sucked into one?” he asked.
“I think so,” she said.
“Are we going to die?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet, but probably. You don’t need to go to school anymore, Daddy doesn’t need to go to work anymore, and I don’t need to worry about my career anymore.”
“But how can we just die like that?” Jamie asked.
“It happens to everyone sooner or later. Look at it this way—we all get to die together—so we don’t have to be alone.”
“But that’s not fun. I thought we were going to Disneyworld soon. I don’t want to die; I want to go to do Disneyworld.”
“Well even if we were at Disneyworld, we would die just the same way. It doesn’t matter where you are.”
“Well how long until it happens?” he asked.
“They said we have about a week.”
“A week! It’s going to happen in a week!” Jamie started crying. Then Mrs. Wollman did too.
They stopped at the train station and waited for Martin’s train to arrive. They had a few more minutes.
“Do you want to go into Sweets and get some candy?” she asked her son.
“Yes, that would be the best thing ever!” Jamie said, tears subsiding.
She shut the doors to the car and locked it and walked the two blocks with her son’s hand in hers. They arrived at the store front and found it empty. No one was working there, but the door had been left unlocked.
“Where did they go, Mommy?” Jamie asked.
“I am afraid we might not be able to go out to dinner tonight. I think everybody is going to leave their jobs,” she said, immediately deducing the situation.
“Well what are we supposed to do if there’s no one to pay?”
“Just take whatever you want. Paying doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Isn’t that stealing?” Jamie asked, “Won’t we get in trouble?”
“It’s not stealing. There’s no more rules,” Mrs. Wollman said.
Jamie hesitated for a second.
“Go on, take whatever you want. We have to go to the grocery store next and stockpile our food for a week. I am sure that is where everyone is right now.”
“But I want to go out to dinner tonight! I don’t want to eat at home!” Jamie complained as he took packs of Nerds, candy lipstick, Bottlecaps, Sour Patch Kids, Warheads, and candy cigarettes.
“Honey, I just think everyone is going to leave their jobs.”
“But don’t they care about making people feel comfortable? They make the best food at restaurants!”
It was seriously distressing to Mrs. Wollman that her son would not be getting what he most wanted in this situation where it appeared all wishes must be granted rapidly, for there was nothing else that mattered. She and Martin had lived nearly forty years, had had the majority of experiences a human being should by all rights experience in that time, and poor little Jamie was only 9, and had such simple desires, and to think that she wouldn’t be able to grant them…
“We will try to go out to dinner tonight. When we get home we will call around and try to make reservations wherever you want, okay?”
“Oh thank you Mommy! You’re the best!”
“But we still have to go to the grocery store. We can’t eat every meal out. Is that okay?”
“That’s okay.”
They walked back to their car as the train pulled into the station. Swarms of professionally-attired men and women rushed out from the trains to find their loved ones, who were waiting in the parking lot along with Mrs. Wollman and Jamie. Mr. Wollman saw them, walked up to them with a concerned face, not so much rushing, and said, “So, looks like the curtain is going to drop a little earlier than we expected, eh?”
“We have to go to the grocery store, Martin.”
“No problem, how you doing little buddy?” he said to his son, ruffling his hair. “You got some candy there? Can I have one of those candy cigarettes?”
“I need to save them, Dad, sorry.” Jamie said seriously.
“We can always go get more,” Martin said.
“We have to go to the grocery store first,” Jamie said.
“Oh right, nobody is working anymore.”
“But I promised Jamie we would try to find a restaurant that was still open tonight,” Mrs. Wollman said to her husband.
“Well that’s going to be a laugh, but okay. Hey, do you think they’ll have any filet mignon left? Or lobster?”
“My guess is not. But we have to hurry. We can still beat most of the crowds.” Mrs. Wollman said determinedly.
“It’s going to be just like that old TV show—supermarket sweep! I always wanted to be on that show!” Martin laughed nostalgically.
“What’s supermarket sweep?” Jamie asked.
“It was this great show,” Martin said, “Where you got a shopping cart, and you got five minutes, and you were supposed to go around and find all the most expensive things in the grocery store, and pile them into your cart, and whoever had the biggest bill would win. People always bought diapers. You wouldn’t think diapers are that expensive but they are! Do you know how much money we spent on diapers for you, Jamie, when you were a baby?”
“How much?”
“At least a thousand dollars!”
“That doesn’t sound like that much, if I wore them for two years.”
“Yes, you were very good about being potty-trained. I have to say, you figured that out right away.”
They went into the grocery store and there were dozens of other families flitting about the aisles as if they were on that formerly popular game show that Martin had referenced. The Wollmans were able to grab a few packs of filet mignon and a few lobsters. People had wanted to take them, but they were not so rude as to take all of them—they had taken a little bit and left some for others to be fair. Apparently they still wanted variety in their diets.
“Oh, please go to the liquor aisle!” Martin said, you know that’s going to get cleared out real quick!”
They grabbed bottles of wine and a couple bottles of alcohol and a few 24 packs of beer. Then they got soda. They had to get a second cart. They stopped in the produce section and liberally took a sample of every single fruit and vegetable on display. They stopped in the aisles with marinara sauces and pastas and Mrs. Wollman planned out an extravagant Italian dinner, besides the filet mignons and the lobsters. They stopped and picked up hamburgers and hot dogs and decided to cook out one night. They rushed out of the store, threw their stuff in the car, and went home.
Mrs. Wollman went to the phone book and start calling restaurants. At almost every number, no one picked up. Finally, she got through to their local pizzeria, which was Jamie’s favorite place to go.
“Oh my God, you’re still there?” Mrs. Wollman said, amazed.
“We are staying open,” the man on the line said, “We have been getting an incredible amount of requests for our pizzas.”
“Oh my God, you are a life-saver! My son will be so happy!”
“I think other restaurants will come around eventually, when they realize people still need to eat, and they want to eat something good, but there is the problem of working, while no one else is working.”
“You are saints!” Mrs. Wollman exclaimed.
“That is what keeps us going. People say they appreciate it, and it makes us feel what we are doing is worthwhile. But we are not staying open past Friday.”
The day was Monday.
“Well, can we make a reservation for tonight then, 7:30?”
“7:30 it is, Ms?”
“We will see you at 7:30.”
“Thank you, you kind saint!” Mrs. Wollman hung up the phone and called Jamie and told him and Martin that they would be going out to dinner tonight.
“Man, I really wish I knew where I could get some weed,” Martin said.
“What do you mean, weed? I can go pull some dandelions from the yard for you,” Jamie said.
“Oh, that’s so sweet, Jamie,” Martin said, “But no, I mean weed as in marijuana, which is a drug, which you should never do.”
“Then why do you wish you had it?” Jamie asked.
“Because nothing matters anymore—and it would take the edge off the concept of total annihilation,” Martin declared.
Several hours later, the Wollmans made the five minute drive over to the pizzeria. In the meantime they had played a game of wiffleball in their backyard and called their parents to decide whether or not they should try to be together. Angela’s father had died several years earlier, and so she had urged her mother to join them at her house. She lived in the southeast corner of the country but agreed to drive the two-days journey to the metropolitan section of the Midwest to be there at the right time. Mrs. Bryerson said it would be nice to get to see the country on a grand scale one last time before such a monumental event. Both of Martin’s parents were still alive, and lived roughly an hour away. He urged them to stay at their house with them, and they agreed to arrive the next day. There was also the matter of their siblings. For Martin had two sisters, both of whom lived near the northeastern sea-board, and Angela had one brother in the same region. They felt it appropriate to be together, but they said it was too much trouble to pack up and leave their own families, but they would stay in close touch over the phone over the coming days. Thus, at dinner that night, it was the three lone Wollmans together for the last time.
“I don’t know what there is to say anymore,” Martin said, as they opened up their menus after sitting, “We’ve had our lives—what else are we going to do for the next week? We are so limited in terms of our options. Nothing else matters anymore. Are we supposed to watch movies and play games and tell stories? I can’t think of anything else.”
“Well tomorrow we’ll have grandma and grandpa Wollman and the next day we’ll have grandma Bryerson,” Mrs. Wollman said, including Jamie in the conversation, “And maybe they’ll have some ideas of how to spend our time. They’re older and wiser—they probably have a better concept of how to deal with this situation.”
“You deal with the situation by letting it happen to you,” Martin said, “You fill in the final hours with whatever’s going to give you the most pleasure.”
“Why can’t we go to Disneyworld then?” Jamie pleaded, “We could see grandma down in Florida and go to Disneyworld with her!”
“Jamie, nobody is going to be working at Disneyland.”
“I don’t know Martin, a lot of people might want to go there,” Mrs. Wollman countered.
“Look you can’t be sure that anything’s possible to do except what you yourself are capable of while you are still alive and mobile and able to think and talk and use the rest of your senses. Imagine if we went all the way to Florida and found the place to be deserted with no rides working—that would be positively dangerous! You’d try to operate the rides yourself, and you could very well die! Now imagine that kind of gyp. It’s bad enough we know it’s all going to be over soon, but imagine if you died before that—that would be ironic!”
“I’m sure plenty of people will be dying in the next few days before it happens,” Mrs. Wollman argued, “People want to have control over the way they go out. Maybe there will be a lot of people who want to go skydiving, but then forget to open their parachutes.”
“No, you see, there is still a glimmer of hope that nothing will happen, and that this is all an elaborate hoax meant to bring planetary society to its knees,” Martin considered, “I mean, how are we even sure that this is really happening? Because a bunch of people on TV told us it was? Because a bunch of news bureaus are reporting that it’s the truth? No, we have to stick around and see what actually happens. I’m not going to be played for a fool.”
“So we might not die after all?” Jamie asked.
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Wollman said, “I have a hard time believing everybody could be played for a fool like that, I have a hard time believing they want to incite mass panic. I think probably, they knew it was going to happen for a very long time, and they just waited until the week before to tell us, because they didn’t want us to let society fall apart too early.”
They ordered their pizza, and the two elder Wollmans ordered drinks.
“Time to get drunk!” Martin said as he took the first sip from his Manhattan cocktail, “Always remember Jamie, liquor before beer, never queer!”
“There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don’t even know where to begin,” Mrs. Wollman said.
“What’s queer?” Jamie asked.
“Well in the olden days it meant ‘strange’ or ‘weird,’ and nowadays it means ‘gay,’ but in this context it means ‘puking,’—I suppose I should have said, ‘never fear’ or ‘you’re in the clear’ but that seems like kind of a moot point now, huh? I’m very afraid! And there’s no way we’re in the clear! I don’t care if I’m ‘the man of the house,’ I’m scared to death right now! I mean, do you have any idea what it is going to feel like as we get sucked into that hole? It’s unimaginable!”
“I prefer to think it’s exciting,” Mrs. Wollman said, “There’s nothing we can do about it, we should just feel privileged that we’re going to be there for the end. It will be a sensation unlike anyone has ever felt before.”
“A sensation of unimaginable pain!” Martin emphasized.
“Dad, can I try a sip of your drink?” Jamie asked.
“Oh of course, I don’t think the drinking age is going to be enforced by anyone anymore.”
Jamie sipped from the glass and his mouth puckered inward as if he had just tasted the sourest of the sour candies he enjoyed.
“That’s the grossest thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!” he said, “How can you drink that, Dad?”
“It’s not the way it tastes, it’s the effect it gives. You see, now I’m going to be all loose.”
“Why would you need to get loose?” Jamie asked.
“Because this is a really stressful situation. I mean, I am supposed to be a good companion to your mother, and I am supposed to show you the appropriate way to face death with dignity, and I am absolutely unqualified for that! I always tried to eat healthy and exercise so that I could live to be really old, and I figured I’d have plenty of time to figure out the right way to die, but this really came up on me unexpectedly, okay, and to be honest Jamie, I think you probably have just as good an idea of what to be doing in this situation as I do.”
Their pizza arrived shortly thereafter and Jamie was much pleased. After they had finished he told his mother that she was the best for getting them to go out to dinner that night. They returned home and Martin began drinking beers, as did Mrs. Wollman. Jamie asked if he could have a beer to see if it might taste better than the cocktail and after a sip decided to have a Coke instead. They turned on the TV briefly and after a few minutes, Martin insisted that watching TV was no way to spend their time.
“Well, what do you recommend?” Mrs. Wollman challenged.
“I don’t know, we should be reading a Bible or something,” Martin said.
“That’s boring!” Jamie said.
“We don’t even go to church—you suddenly want to start acting all holy so you can get into heaven?” Mrs. Wollman questioned.
“There’s a Bible here somewhere. From my college years, an Oxford Study Bible, in paperback form. If we read something from Revelations we might gain a better grasp on what to be doing these days. It’s the best advice we could find, and I know it’s somewhere in that library.”
Martin took a swig of beer and rushed into the library.
“Why don’t we go to church, Mommy? A lot of my friends do.”
“Well your father and I, we were raised Catholic, but we stopped believing in it, because we wanted to be realistic about it, and we don’t like having to apply a moral code to everything we say—religious people are judgmental, and I had awful experiences growing up in that environment—but you could say, in a situation like this, it doesn’t hurt to have faith that this might not be the end.”
“Here!” Martin screamed from the library, bringing his Bible with him, “This is what I’m talking about—and I quote, Book of Revelation, Chapter 10: “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire, and he had in his hand a little book open, and he set his right foot upon the sea and his left foot upon the earth, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth, and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.” --“See, it’s all pre-recorded—this angel is the black hole coming for us! Now what to do, to make peace with this angel, I wonder!”
Martin skimmed a while through the rest of the chapters while his wife and son looked on expectantly.
“Okay well it just says we’re supposed to go worship God. Do you want to go to the church? I think it would be kind of fun to go when it’s late like this and off-limits.”
“Can’t we do it tomorrow, Martin? We do have six more days,” Mrs. Wollman pleaded
“Better safe than sorry!” Martin emphasized
“Better late than never how about!” Mrs. Wollman corrected.
“I’d go to church and pray,” Jamie said.
“Fine, your mother can stay here and watch TV and be dumb, and we will go to church and pray before God and we are going to know how to deal with this situation.”
“You know, there is lots of coverage on TV about this black hole—it’s probably the best preparation to watch it.”
“Well, you watch it, take notes, and summarize it for us when we get back. We are going to pray, and you just know there’s going to be hundreds of people in that church. We can be in two places at the same time.”
“Fine, go have your little religious ceremony. I’ll see you when you get back.”
They hugged and kissed goodbye and Martin took Jamie over to the nearby Catholic Church. There were dozens of cars in the parking lot. When they arrived, there was a sermon being delivered by a priest, and they took a seat in the back of the church.
“We must find strength in each other,” the priest said, “We must have faith in God that we will now be delivered unto the kingdom of heaven, but until that day comes, we must find strength in each other. You are all familiar with the Ten Commandments, I am sure, but you must also realize that we don’t exactly have the time to be worrying about them anymore. That is, we should not take the lord’s name in vain, we should not kill, we should not steal, we should not covet another man’s wife—but we do not have the time to be thinking about these things—we only have time to be thinking about the two most important rules Jesus set forward, beyond the ten commandments, which of course, is to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love the lord your God with all of your mind, body and soul. That is all you must do until this Day of Judgment reigns upon us. That is all you have to keep in mind. Help your neighbors, help your friends, recognize that now we truly have nothing separating us from one another and it is the time to show that the spirit of love can save everyone in their darkest hour. Believe that God will be there at the end to save us—that this day which has been predicted from the beginning of history has finally arrived, and that God will be there to take care of us at the end of history.”
They were in the middle of a regular service, it seemed, despite the odd hour, and when the Eucharist was offered up, both father and son went down the aisle and received it, despite Jamie’s never having been taught how to receive the sacrament. He chewed on the white tablet and said to his father, “It tastes like nothing,” and his father whispered back, “I know, but the wine is good, next time you should get the wine, it flavors it, and speaking of that, let’s get out of here, I think we’ve learned enough for now.”
They returned home and Mrs. Wollman was watching the cable news channels.
“Well, is there any way we can escape the planet?” Martin asked.
“It’s not looking particularly good. Even the moon is going to be sucked into this hole.”
“Well, just have faith, and we’ll be in heaven, and it will be okay. Oh, and we are supposed to love our neighbors. We should go have a block party or something this week. That could be kind of fun.”
They went to bed around midnight. Mr. and Mrs. Wollman performed the motions of intercourse twice, and Jamie dreamed of a class-wide field trip to Disneyworld.
The next day, they had breakfast and went to the local park afterwards for a few hours. Jamie played on the playground and Mr. and Mrs. Wollman threw a Frisbee back and forth. Martin’s father called him on his cell phone and told them they would arrive around 4:00. They decided that night to make their elaborate Italian dinner, and left the park shortly thereafter in order to have plenty of time for cooking. Mrs. Wollman prepared a plate of antipasto upon the arrival of the elder Mr. and Mrs. Wollman.
Ned, better known as Grandpa Wollman to Jamie and Angela, said, “We’ve thought about this a bit and don’t think we will be able to spend the night. The accommodations are not comfortable enough for us.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Dad,” Martin said, “Won’t you stay though, over the weekend?”
“Yes, I do think we should all be together on the eve of destruction,” the elder Mrs. Wollman, better known as Patsy, offered.
“Fine, though I do believe the best way to spend these days would be in the utmost comfort. A nice, soft, properly-sized bed is what I have in mind,” Ned conceded.
They took pieces of cheese, roasted red pepper, and prosciutto from the antipasto plate, and had glasses of wine.
“Your mother will be coming in soon, I understand?” Patsy said to the junior Mrs. Wollman.
“Yes, she should be here tomorrow.”
“Crowded house!” Ned reiterated.
“Well what do you want Dad, would you rather we all be alone in our separate little enclaves? It makes the most sense for us to be together. We have some extra mattresses. I promise to make it as comfortable for you as I can.”
“I always made it comfortable for you,” Ned said, “All of the sacrifices I made for you, I barely had a life so you could have all the advantages I never had. What was it I always sad Patsy? ‘Only the best for Martin?’”
“Honey, don’t get angry at a time like this. We should be reflecting upon all the good times we had together. You know what this reminds me of Martin? When we had that tornado back in ’84 and we all had to go in the basement, and you were so scared!”
“Yes, but it’s a little different this time. I was Jamie’s age. Boy, you wish this was just a tornado, huh Jamie?”
“This is boring. Can I go play video games?”
“Oh he is so precocious!” Patsy laughed.
“Go play your dumb XBOX and communicate with all the other losers who would rather spend their last minutes in front of a screen than before the splendor of nature,” Martin gave as approval.
“Nature is a cruel thing though,” Angela said, “It has no thought to our proclivities or entertainment.”
They had their elaborate Italian dinner, and then the elder Wollmans returned to their home an hour away. The night passed similarly to the one before, and the next day Mrs. Bryerson arrived. She was more than happy to be offered a mattress on the floor of their library. She felt most at peace in a room surrounded by books.
Meanwhile, preparations for the block party had begun, with Martin and Jamie going from door to door around their street, asking if their neighbors would be interested in joining them. Roughly half of them were not home, roughly a quarter of them said they were sorry but they had other plans for Friday night, and the other quarter said they would attend, which came to a total of about 15 other guests.
“Not a very big block party!” Martin asserted. “But we’ll show them. We’ll play our music extra loud and your mother will write a poem for the occasion. You should write a poem too, Jamie, and we can organize an actual baseball game since we should have close to 18 people.”
The next few days included boredom, fear, lovemaking, story-telling, video-game playing, telephone-talking, movie-watching, and mall shopping. Mrs. Wollman said she wanted to get an excellent outfit for the block party, so she went to their local mall, and was able to find an elegant yet revealing dress from Macy’s which would best be suited for nightclubbing. She came home and began working on her poem, and she called Jamie into her room and made him write a poem as well.
On Friday, around 3:00, the guests began arriving in the backyard, where Martin would be cooking out. He offered everyone beers and suggested they move over to the local school’s baseball field to play a game. Everyone participated and the team the Wollmans were on lost badly. They returned and began cooking out and continued drinking, and then Martin announced that they would celebrate the occasion with a poetry reading, first with Jamie, and then with Angela. Martin had set up a microphone connected to an amplifier.
“This poem is called ‘When I Die,’” Jamie said.
“When I die, I won’t be able to eat any more pie
There won’t be any more days to cry
I think God is a cruel person
For letting me be born to die in transit
I’ll never grow up or know how it feels
To be the type of person who kneels
Before the altar because the Eucharist is bland
Time is running out, all the grains of sand.”
Everyone erupted into applause, amazed at Jamie’s ability to perform slam poetry. Angela clapped and then stepped up to the microphone.
“This poem is called ‘My Whole Life,’” she announced.
“My whole life I’ve been under pressure
To perform nothing more than an empty gesture
So many hours I’ve wasted typing
To find myself tightening
A legacy beyond death
Immortality on the page
An empty echo in the forest
Not to be anymore.”
More applause resounded, and then Martin stepped up and took out a guitar and plugged it into the amp.
“I’ve written a special song for the occasion—I would like to title it ‘The Hole from Hell’”
He broke into a death-metal riff and sang in an impossibly high voice.
“Oh Satan! What did you do this time? You grabbed it all out from under us
You made our time so short
You threw me in your river of death!
I don’t care!
I don’t care!
I don’t care!
Suck me in, spit me out, send me back to the place I came
You’re not gonna last any longer than me
Because once there is no prey the predator has had his day!”
Their neighbors clapped politely, as they were all getting more and more drunk, and suddenly, Mrs. Bryerson pointed into the sky.
“Look! The sky is turning green!”
They all looked up in fear.
“They were wrong about the time,” Angela said.
Ned Wollman bickered, “The government never stops lying, even at the end.”
Patsy embraced her husband and buried her face into his chest, “It’ll be just like a shot, or a band-aid, quick and painless, dear.”
Jamie hugged his mother and Martin hugged the two of them. The neighbors embraced each other. They looked up.

No comments: