The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Joke: Plane crash

A small, two-seater Cessna 152 plane crashed into a cemetery early this afternoon in central Arkansas. The Arkansas State Police have recovered 300 bodies so far and expect that number to climb as digging continues into the evening.

Submitted by reader C.K.

Joke: Old Man Moskowitz

Old man Moskowitz was getting along in years. He decided to retire and let his 3 sons run the company (which manufactured a wide variety of nails). The sons thought they could increase market-share with some judicious billboard advertising.

Only a week later the old man was taking his usual Sunday drive in the country when he saw the first billboard ad. There it was—a picture of Jesus on the Cross, with the caption: "Nails for Every Purpose. Use Moskowitz Nails."

The old man immediately met with his three sons to voice his concern. He explained that the backlash could be horrendous. The company could be ruined. The sons agreed to discontinue that ad.

A week later the old man was again taking his usual Sunday drive when he saw the second billboard ad. There it was—a picture of the same cross, empty, with Jesus crumpled on the ground below...and the caption: "Next Time Use Moskowitz Nails."

Submitted by reader C.K.

List: Biblical methods of obtaining a wife

The Bible offers a number of alternatives to the bar scene and personal ads for those men wishing to settle down and marry:

  • Find an attractive prisoner of war, bring her home, shave her head, trim her nails, and give her new clothes. Then she's yours. (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)
  • Find a man with seven daughters, and impress him by watering his flock. (Moses, Exodus 2:16-21)
  • Purchase a piece of property, and get a woman as part of the deal. (Boaz, Ruth 4:5-10)
  • Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife. (Benjaminites, Judges 21:19-25)
  • Have God create a wife for you while you sleep. Note: this will cost you. (Adam, Genesis 2:19-24)
  • Agree to work seven years in exchange for a woman's hand in marriage. Get tricked into marrying the wrong woman. Then work another seven years for the woman you wanted to marry in the first place. That's right: fourteen years of toil for a wife. (Jacob, Genesis 29:15-30)
  • Cut 200 foreskins off of your future father-in-law's enemies and get his daughter for a wife. (David, 1 Samuel 18:27)
  • Even if no one is out there, just wander around a bit and you'll definitely find someone. (It's all relative, of course.) (Cain, Genesis 4:16-17)
  • Become the emperor of a huge nation and hold a beauty contest. (Xerxes or Ahasuerus, Esther 2:3-4)
  • When you see someone you like, go home and tell your parents, "I have seen a...woman; now get her for me." If your parents question your decision, simply say, "Get her for me. She's the one for me." (Samson, Judges 14:1-3)
  • Kill any husband and take his wife (Prepare to lose four sons, though). (David, 2 Samuel 11)
  • Wait for your brother to die. Take his widow. (It's not just a good idea; it's the law.) (Onana and Boaz, Deuteronomy or Leviticus, example in Ruth)
  • Don't be so picky. Make up for quality with quantity. (Solomon, 1 Kings 11:1-3)

Submitted by reader J.S.

Joke: the Engineer

A rather inhibited engineer finally splurged on a luxury cruise to the Caribbean. It was the craziest thing he had ever done in his life. Just as he was beginning to enjoy himself, a hurricane roared upon the huge ship, capsizing it like a child's toy.

Somehow the engineer, desperately hanging on to a life preserver, managed to wash ashore on a secluded island. Other than beautiful scenery, a spring-fed pool, bananas and coconuts, there was little else. He lost all hope and for hours on end, day after day, sat under the same palm tree.

One day, after several months had passed, a gorgeous woman in a small rowboat appeared. "I'm from the other side of the island," she said. "Were you on the cruise ship, too?"

"Yes, I was," he answered. "But where did you get that rowboat?"

"Well, I whittled the oars from gum tree branches, wove the reinforced gunnel from palm branches, and made the keel and stern from a Eucalyptus tree."

"But, what did you use for tools?" asked the man.

"There was a very unusual strata of alluvial rock exposed on the south side of the island. I discovered that if I fired it to a certain temperature in my kiln, it melted into forgeable ductile iron. Anyhow, that's how I got the tools. But, enough of that," she said. "Where have you been living all this time? I don't see any shelter."

"To be honest, I've just been sleeping on the beach," he said.

"Would you like to come to my place?" the woman asked. The engineer nodded dumbly. She expertly rowed them around to her side of the island, and tied up the boat with a handsome strand of hand-woven hemp topped with a neat back splice. They walked up a winding stone walk she had laid and around a Palm tree. There stood an exquisite bungalow painted in blue and white.

"It's not much, but I call it home." Inside, she said, "Sit down, please; would you like to have a drink?"

"No, thanks," said the man. "One more coconut juice and I'll throw up!"

"It won't be coconut juice," the woman replied. "I have a crude still out back, so we can have authentic Piña Coladas."

Trying to hide his amazement, the man accepted the drink, and they sat down on her couch to talk. After they had exchanged stories, the woman asked, "Tell me, have you always had a beard?"

"No," the man replied, "I was clean shaven all of my life until I ended up on this island."

"Well if you'd like to shave, there's a razor upstairs in the bathroom cabinet."

The man, no longer questioning anything, went upstairs to the bathroom and shaved with an intricate bone-and-shell device honed razor-sharp. Next he showered--not even attempting to fathom a guess as to how she managed to get warm water into the bathroom--and went back downstairs. He couldn't help but admire the masterfully carved banister as he walked.

"You look great," said the woman. "I think I'll go up and slip into something more comfortable." As she did, the man continued to sip his Piña Colada. After a short time, the woman, smelling faintly of gardenias, returned wearing a revealing gown fashioned out of pounded palm fronds.

"Tell me," she asked, "we've both been out here for a very long time with no companionship. You know what I mean. Have you been lonely...is there anything that you really, really miss? Something that all men and woman need? Something that would be really nice to have right now?"

"Yes there is!" the man replied, shucking off his shyness. "There is something I've wanted to do for so long. But on this island all alone, it was just... well, it was impossible."

"Well, it's not impossible any more," the woman said.

The man, practically panting in excitement, said breathlessly: "You mean you actually figured out some way we can check our e-mail?"

Submitted by reader C.K.

Joke: the Parrot

A guy decides that he might like to have a pet and makes a visit to the pet store. After browsing around the store, the man spots a parrot sitting up on his perch; although, it appears the parrot has no feet or legs!

The guy says out loud, "Gee, I wonder what happened to this parrot?"

"I was born this way," replied the parrot. "I'm defective."

"Ha, ha," the guy laughs. "It sounded like this parrot actually understood what I said and answered me."

"I understood every word you said." replied the parrot. "I am highly intelligent and thoroughly educated."

"Yeah?" the guy asks. "Then answer this: how do you keep from falling of your perch without any feet?"

"Well," the parrot says, "this is a little bit embarrassing, but since you asked I'll tell you. I wrap my little parrot penis around my perch like a little hook. You can't see it because of my feathers."

"Wow," says the guy, "you really can understand me can't you?"

"Of course. I am fluent in both Spanish and English, and I can converse with reasonable competence on almost any subject: politics, religion, sports, physics, philosophy, and I am especially good at ornithology. You ought to buy me. I am a great companion."

The guy looks at the price tag. "$2000!" he says. "I can't afford that!"

"Psst," the parrot hisses, motioning the guy over with one wing. "nobody wants me because I don't have any feet. You can get me for $20, just make an offer."

The guy offers the store owner $20 and walks out with the parrot.

Weeks go by and the parrot is a sensation. He's funny, he's interesting, he's a great pal, he understands everything, he is sympathetic, and he gives good advise. The guy is delighted.

One day the guy comes home from work and the parrot says, "psst," and motions him over with one wing. The guy goes over to the parrot. "I don't know if I should tell you this or not," says the parrot, "but it's about your wife and the mailman..."

"What?" says the guy. "What is it?!"

"Well," the parrot says, "when the mailman came to the door today, your wife greeted him in a sheer nightgown and kissed him on the mouth."

"What happened then?" asked the guy.

"Then the mailman came into the house and lifted up the nightgown and began touching her all over," reports the parrot.

"My God!" the guy says. "Then what?"

"Then the mailman lifted up the nightgown, got down on his knees and began to kiss her all over, starting with her breasts and slowly moving down..."

The parrot pauses for a long time.

"Well, what happened next?!"

"I don't know," says the Parrot, "I fell off my perch."

Submitted by reader B.P.

Joke: the Rabbi's Son

A young boy had just gotten his driving permit. He asked his father, who was a Rabbi, if they could discuss the use of the car. His father took him to his study and said to him, "I'll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study Torah a little more, and get your hair cut, and we'll talk about it."

After about a month, the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss use of the car. They again went to the father's study. Father said, "Son, I've been really proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you've studied Torah diligently, but you didn't get your hair cut."

The young man waited a moment and replied, "You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that. You know, Samson had long hair, Abraham had long hair, Noah had long hair, and even Moses had long hair!"

To which the Rabbi replied, "Yes, and they walked everywhere they went!"

Submitted by reader C.K.

Essay: Mississippi River mathematics

Life on the Mississippi

Chapter 17: Cut-offs

[I now have] an opportunity of introducing one of the Mississippi's oddest peculiarities--that of shortening its length from time to time. If you will throw a long, pliant apple-paring over your shoulder, it will pretty fairly shape itself into an average section of the Mississippi River, that is, the nine or ten hundred miles stretching from Cairo, Ill., southward to New Orleans, the same being wonderfully crooked, with a brief straight bit here and there at wide intervals. The two-hundred-mile stretch from Cairo northward to St. Louis is by no means so crooked, that being a rocky country which the river cannot cut much.

The water cuts the alluvial banks of the "lower" river into deep horseshoe curves; so deep, indeed, that in some places if you were to get ashore at one extremity of the horseshoe and walk across the neck, half or three-quarters of a mile, you could sit down and rest a couple of hours while your steamer was coming around the long elbow at a speed of ten miles an hour to .take you on board again When the river is rising fast, some scoundrel whose plantation is back in the country, and therefore of inferior value, has only to watch his chance, cut a little gutter across the narrow neck of land some dark night, and turn the water into it, and in a wonderfully short time a miracle has happened: to wit, the whole Mississippi has taken possession of that little ditch, and placed the countryman's plantation on its bank (quadrupling its value), and that other party's formerly valuable plantation finds itself away out yonder on a big island; the old watercourse around it will soon shoal up, boats cannot approach within ten miles of it, and down goes its value to a fourth of its former worth. Watches are kept on those narrow necks at needful times, and if a man happens to be caught cutting a ditch across them, the chances are all against his ever having another opportunity to cut a ditch.

Pray observe some of the effects of this ditching business. Once there was a neck opposite Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was only half a mile across in its narrowest place. You could walk across there in fifteen minutes; but if you made the journey around the cape on a raft, you traveled thirty-five miles to accomplish the same thing. In 1722 the river darted through that neck, deserted its old bed, and thus shortened itself thirty-five miles. In the same way it shortened itself twenty-five miles at Black Hawk Point in 1699. Below Red River Landing, Raccourci cut-off was made forty or fifty years ago (I think). This shortened the river twenty-eight miles. In our day, if you travel by river from the southernmost of these three cut-offs to the northernmost, you go only seventy miles. To do the same thing a hundred and seventy-six years ago, one had to go a hundred and fifty-eight miles--a shortening of eighty-eight miles in that trifling distance. At some forgotten time in the past, cut-offs were made above Vidalia, Louisiana, at Island 92, at Island 84, and at Hale's Point. These shortened the river, in the aggregate, seventy-seven miles.

Since my own day on the Mississippi, cut-offs have been made at Hurricane Island, at Island 100, at Napoleon, Arkansas, at Walnut Bend, and at Council Bend, These shortened the river, in the aggregate, sixty-seven miles. In my own time a cut-off was made at American Bend, which shortened the river ten miles or more.

Therefore the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long, one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently, its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present. Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and "let on" to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor "development of species," either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague-vague. Please observe:

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oölitic Siluian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

First published in 1882 by Samuel Clemens. Copyright in the public domain.

List: Hot crossed puns

Two ferocious cannibal chiefs sat licking their fingers after a large meal. "Your wife makes a delicious roast," one chief said.
"Thanks," his friend said, "I'm gonna miss her."

A new nurse listened while Dr. Blake was yelling, "Typhoid! Tetanus! Measles!"
The new nurse asked another nurse, "Why is he doing that?"
The other nurse replied, "Oh, he just likes to call the shots around here."

Hangover: The wrath of grapes.

Income Tax: Capital punishment.

A used car is not always what it's jacked up to be.

Two silkworms were in a race. They ended up in a tie.

To my sweetheart: My cooking's gotten better since I fondue.

A robber broke into the police station and stole all the toilet seats, and the police didn't have anything to go on.

Middle Age: When actions creak louder than words.

Egotist: One who is me-deep in conversation.

Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused his dentist's Novocain during root canal work? He wanted to transcend dental medication.

Did you hear about the woman who started dating rakes and fell on hard tines?

Why won't melons elope in Las Vegas? They cantaloupe.

Q: What do Christmas and a crab on the beach have in common? A: They both involve sandy claws.

Archeologist: A man whose career lies in ruins.

Kleptomaniac: One who can't help himself from helping himself.

Did you hear about the snake who gave birth to a bouncing baby boa?

Once I got angry at the chef of an Italian restaurant, so I gave him a pizza my mind.

The fish secretary lodged herself in a pipe and could no longer type. Her doctor said, "This is a clear case of 'Carp in tunnel' syndrome."

A friend of mine who commutes to work everyday through the Lincoln Tunnel with a bunch of co- workers recently complained about what a pain it was. I told him that he may have a bad case of "car pool tunnel syndrome."

California smog test: Can UCLA?

The competition at a local dog show was quite "Ruff"

Q: How did the pig with laryngitis feel? A: Dis-gruntled.

Submitted by reader C.K.

Character sketch: Metafiction

Allie Barkley sprinted from the Student Center to her dorm, Alliance Hall, doing her best to run between the snowflakes which had begun to interfere with her weekend. She didn't have far to run, so she made it to the security booth with only a few blotches of snow adorning her hair and shoulders.

The security guard (actually another student rather than the infamous Rent-A-Cops which had begun to pop up around campus) recognized her and buzzed her through. Few people at Utrecht University failed to recognize Barkley. As the Student Government Rules Chair, she had only last spring uncovered a plot that, because she uncovered it, resulted in the SGA President's suspension from school.

As she waited for the elevator in the lobby, she reflected on this.

"How do you presume to tell the world what I'm thinking?"

Excuse me?

"I asked you to tell me where you got the gall to go telling the world what I'm thinking." Barkley was talking to no one in particular. "No, jerk, I'm talking to you, the one at the PC. Oh, stopped typing for a second. Thought you were, maybe, going schizo?"

Shut up. I'm trying to tell a story.

"A story about me, Allison Elizabeth Barkley. I think I have a right to give my input."

You have no input. You're a character in the story.

"But without me there would be no story."

That's absurd. You don't exist. You're a character that I'm making up here in my apartment.

"Of course I exist. If I didn't exist you wouldn't be writing about me, would you?"

That's reification.

"What?"

Reification. It means believing that an intangible idea actually exists. You don't exist. Arguing that you do exist, when clearly you do not, is reification.

"I just told you that I do exist. And don't italicize while I'm speaking. It interrupts my train of thought."

Your train of thought? Your train of thought, Ms Barkley, is my train of thought. We get back to the original problem: you don't exist.

"Then why are you having this argument with me? And on whose authority did you just go back and change some of the things I said?"

I will edit my own words as I see fit. I'm editing you right now, as I sit here sipping a Cafe au Lait in the coffee shop next door to my apartment building. Further, I am having this argument with you because...because...because of the wonderful things he does, ya da da da da da dum.

"Original. You must be the Scarecrow, brainless. Let me explain it: you're having this argument with me precisely because I exist. Few things in this universe prove themselves, but I do. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Descartes, in saying that, meant that nothing is absolute except one's self. Once one arrives at the truth that she exists, which is the most fundamental truth at which anyone can arrive (and thank you for editing my grammar), one can go on to other things."

One can go on to having a metaphysical discussion with a character in his own story. Then one can go on to Ravenswood Hospital. You know, I've written a lot of stories in my day, but none of my characters has ever talked back to me.

"So am I just a device?"

I didn't mean that.

"Do you deny that these words are yours, when they disagree with something you believe?"

No, though I expect you would want me to deny them. Writers have always created characters with whom they disagreed, precisely so that they can make their points by proving the antitheses of the theses put forth by the characters. I created you so that I could explore a metaphysical question: do fictional characters exist? Arguing with a fictional character about her own existence seemed the most expedient way of hashing it out. I just didn't expect the character would have such an attitude.

"I disagree with you about my own existence, but not because you created me for the purpose. I disagree with you because I am a free-thinking individual who has a different way of looking at the world."

But you only have a different way of looking at the world because I have given you one.

"Not so. I exist as a free and independent entity."

You're neither free nor independent. I control you totally. Watch: you're now going over to the security booth and removing your clothes for the benefit of the guard.

"Like hell I am. I haven't moved from this lobby. You're lying."

No, you're down to your bra now, dearie, and Fred the guard, who is in your History of North America class, is looking at you like you're crazy. He isn't stopping you, though, because you have really big --

"I am not doing those things, no matter what you say."

Yes, you are. I am the writer, and I have just told my readers that you have begun disrobing for the security guard. This little argument notwithstanding, I have chosen to write this story in third-person omniscient voice. That means, acting as a narrator, I know all and see all that happens in this story. I also manipulate every character in it. Of course, nobody reading this has met any of the other characters because we're having this inane argument over your existence.

"We're not arguing over my existence. You've already admitted that I exist."

I did not.

"Did so. You once wrote an essay in which you argued that everything, real and imagined, exists. You said that because the universe is infinite, at some point in space-time everything exists. It was your perversion of the Infinite Monkeys theorem."

Oh, that. I wrote that in high school, when I was fifteen, before I had ever encountered the Infinite Monkeys theorem. Now, thanks to you, I have to explain the theorem, so that my readers don't get lost. The theorem says that if you have an infinite number of monkeys, an infinite number of typewriters, and an infinite supply of paper, at least one monkey will produce the complete works of Shakespeare by random tapping.

"Right. And if you accept the Infinite Monkeys Theorem, you implicitly accept my existence."

Bull. You're a character. You have no substance, no dimensions, no observable characteristics other than those I provide with words. You do not exist.

"Then how do you explain this argument?"

Oh, we're back to that again? We are arguing, Allie, because while in the shower a few minutes ago I hit on this idea. I asked myself, 'what would happen if a character in a story started arguing with the writer?'

"And look what happened. It got away from you."

I completely control this story. You see, Allie, you don't have a life except what I give you. As you are the protagonist in this story, and I control the story, you can never 'get away from me.'

"No life except what you give? Where will you be in a hundred years?"

With today's medical advances I might still be living in Chicago.

"Not likely. You will probably -- go ahead, answer the phone. Hum de do. So, you talked with a friend about me, didn't you?"

Jealous?

"Dream, baby. As I was saying, in a hundred years you'll most likely be dead. I won't. I'll still be right here where you left me, and I will be as alive for your great-grandchildren then as I am for you now."

But you're not alive in the first place. That's reification, I'm telling you. You don't exist.

"Still harping on that, are you? Listen, not only do I exist, but I will exist a lot longer than you will. Also, people can re-experience me in exactly the same way as often as they like."

That's not an asset, nor is it evidence of your existence. People can re-experience me anytime they like, also.

"Assuming they would even want to, they can't really see the same you every time they meet you. I remain constant, so that my charm never fades. My likability never wanes. I will always be "

It is precisely because you remain static that you don't exist. I am dynamic, constantly changing. Someone who meets me an hour from now will meet a slightly different person than did someone who met me yesterday. Life progresses, grows, changes. You don't.

"I never said I was alive. I said I exist. If you define life as a forward-moving existence, than you imply the reality of static existence as well, or even backward-moving existence. Clearly, in that scheme, I exist."

Fine, you exist. But you're not alive.

"Oh? By defining life as growth, you admit also that I am alive. Ask ten friends what I look like, and you will hear ten different answers. Your own perceptions of me will change over time. Sure, I will remain a stunning blonde, five four with blue eyes, and one of the smartest women any man could ever meet, for as long as the paper describing me survives. But my appearance? Honey, your imagination doesn't even come close."

My imagination doesn't come close? You existed first in my imagination. The only true representation of you resides in my head.

"That contradicts all your earlier pontificating, bonehead. You just got through saying-all right, implying-that no true representation of me can exist anywhere. Too bad, too, the way your love life is going."

Don't get personal. I might forget to save this copy to disk.

"Nah, you're so proud of this argument, even though you're losing, you'd saw off your, uh, arm before you'd erase me. And don't edit that last sentence."

Can we get back to the story?

"Agreed. Go ahead. But I never left the elevators."

Barkley buttoned her blouse back up

"Hey, wiseass, I said I never took it off."

Yes you did. You unbuttoned it in front of the security guard.

"No, you only said I did. That doesn't make it true."

Of course that makes it true.

"Who gave you the authority to say what is or is not true here?"

Nobody, nor was anyone required to invest me with such authority. I took it. I turned on my computer, entered my word processor, and voil…! Instant Allie. Now shut up and let me tell this story.

"It's not particularly interesting. I mean, who really cares about what happens in a college government?"

I suppose you're going to quote Kissinger on me.

"Since you asked, and only because you asked, I shall. Henry Kissinger once said that 'University politics are so vicious precisely because they are so insignificant.'"

Do you know why you quoted Kissinger?

"Yes, because you asked, and I found the request agreeable."

No, you quoted Kissinger because I wanted you to. I typed that line. It came from my brain, went through my fingers to this keyboard, down a wire, into a microprocessor, etc., and by the time someone reads this it will have been fused onto a piece of paper by a laser printer.

"Listen, I didn't have to recite that quote. I only did it to be nice."

Nice has nothing to do with it. I made you do it, whether you want to admit it or not.

"What an arrogant fuck you are."

It's not arrogance, it's simple truth. I control you completely.

"No, I have a life of my own. Ha! Disprove that!"

I don't have to disprove anything. You have the burden of proof.

"..."

See? You can't function except when I make you function. I don't even have to tell you what to do, you just do it. Like right now: you're taking your blouse off again and what's his name is ogling.

"I haven't left the lobby, and I most certainly have not removed any clothing. As to my inability to function, what if I did actually say something two paragraphs up and you deleted it?"

Now, who do you think the readers will believe? Me or you? I'm omniscient, omnipotent, and you're a figment of my imagination.

"I am also now a feature of their imaginations as well, am I not? I exist for them now, do I not? I wonder how many people will believe you."

This is insane. I'm putting you on the tenth floor by your room, where you will meet one of your floormates so I can create another character with whom you will conflict.

"Thank you for offering the lift, but I'll take the elevator."

You did take the elevator. You're on the tenth floor now, and John Tyler has just emerged from his room.

"No, I haven't moved from this lobby."

Look around you. There's your door, there's Tyler, and there's your room key in your hand about to go into the lock.

"No, I haven't gotten into the elevator. You're imagining things."

That's the most sensible thing I've made you say yet.

"You didn't make me say it. You just typed it. I said it all by myself. Even your father admits that sometimes stories write themselves, and he has made a successful career out of writing."

He used a figure of speech. The first draft of this story did, in a figurative sense, write itself. But I imagined most of these arguments while I was soaping up in the shower, and imagined you as a character while I was rinsing the shampoo out of my hair. Now, I'm going to go back a few screens to see if I need you to make another point for me.

"Fine, go back. I'll wait."

I don't need to go back. I know what you were going to say now.

"Oh, you mean you were going to have me explain how, because of the way in which I exist, a reader can experience different aspects of me in any order because he (or she) has the power to flip back a few pages? That's an illogical transition, and I won't be a party to bad writing. You'll have to segue better than that."

Thank you, Allie. How's this transition: Do you know why you're called Allie Barkley, and why the guy who has approached you by your door is named John Tyler?

"Not much better, but passable.

"I am named Allison Elizabeth Barkley because my grandmother (on my father's side) was named Elizabeth, and my mother always liked the name Allison. My last name is strictly patronymic. I expect John has a similar explanation for his name."

No, you're both named after a United States Vice Presidents. Most of my characters are named after Veeps, or Supreme Court Justices, or combinations of both. Alben Barkley was VP under Eisenhower. John Tyler was VP under William Henry Harrison for the four weeks Harrison was in the White House. I have a degree in history, you see, so I choose my characters' names as sort of an in-joke.

"So, you deny the existence of my mother and father, and of my Grandma Bess? What about my sister, Kate, who will finish high school in June? You suppose Orrington University will just forget they accepted her when she attends in August?"

Those people and places exist only in my imagination, Allie. Orrington University is as much a fiction as Utrecht U. The former is named after a street which leads up to the administration building of a real university here in Illinois, and Utrecht is the name of a dorm at the college I attended. We writers use these tricks to maintain a semblance of fiction. It's called creativity: we create things.

"Like you claim to have created me."

I make no unsubstantiated claims. I did create you.

"How do you know I didn't create myself in your mind and direct you to give me a tangible existence?"

...

"Got you there, didn't I? Maybe this story is literally writing itself."

Look, writers create characters every day. So far I've created a half-dozen this evening. Hell, when I was in preschool I had a whole bunch of characters following me around everywhere.

"So when a four-year-old talks to himself, that's creativity in the same way as a twenty-two-year-old's tapping on a computer?"

Yes, I think so, but I thing such a discussion would be better handled by a psychologist. And I didn't talk to myself. I had a menagerie of characters, and I talked to them. I even remember one of them was named Peter. My teacher did not find this to be unusual at the time.

"But one morning you woke up and realized you were talking to yourself."

No, I simply stopped talking to the imaginary people. Kids do that. They talk to imaginary friends until a certain age, then they stop. If they don't talk to imaginary friends when they're little, we think something's wrong with them. If they continue past a certain age, we think something's wrong with them.

"And why is that? Surely the imaginary friends of these children-perhaps even your imaginary friends-continue to exist. You named your friend Peter. He exists, though you don't talk to him."

This is ridiculous. What if I just deleted this argument and got on with the story?

"You may choose to do that. But you've already discussed this premise with your fiend, and she'll want to read the whole thing. The only way you can explain to her the absence of a physical story is by telling it. I win either way. I will exist in her mind, and in yours, as long as you both live. And if she tells her fianc‚, then I exist in a third mind. I can't lose my existence until all of you do."

But you want immortality, and only my printer can give that to you.

"You want immortality, too. Perhaps I am a vehicle to that immortality? Your father would call me the 'USP:' the Unique Selling Point. I am what makes this story unique, what makes this story sellable. Admit it, you were dreaming of having this thing published while you toweled off, right?"

Isn't that a switch. You're trying to narrate my life as I narrate yours.

"Why not?"

Once again we get back to the fundamental character-author relationship. You know about me only because I know about me and I have put those speeches in quotes. You said yourself that I can use you to say things so that I can disagree with them. How do you know that I'm not doing it now?

"Because I still maintain that I have free will. I live in your mind, dude. I am, contrary to your assertion, very much alive, and I have asserted myself to get you to write down these thoughts."

You have it backwards.

"No, I'm controlling you, and you only think you're controlling me."

Try selling that to my readers. Look, it's late, I'm tired. If you want to go on believing that you control me, fine. I won't argue any more. And hey, to show what a generous guy I am, I'll let you have the last speech.

"I have nothing more to say."

Thank you.

"You said I could have the last speech!"

So speak. I'm through.

"You need to work on this ending. It's too abrupt and the readers won't like it."

Copyright ©1993 David Braverman

Fiction: Wonderland

Pretty is as pretty does. I don't know why I'm thinking this.

I wonder if I'm still pretty. And how long this has been going on.

Sometimes I hear crying. A woman's voice, high and harsh. Singing, once in a while. Many voices, babbling on and on. And mostly silence, out there in the velvety blackness.

Tired, that's what I am. I need rest. It's just like sleep, drifting off.

Some words make sense. Alice. Then I realize, that's my name. I am Alice.

There are scenes that stand out as clear as daylight. The Christmas carols we listened to in the car, all the way home. This is corny, I said, but I was laughing at the same time. Away In A Manger, sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir floated out of the radio and filled the car with those radiant voices, singing as one.

It doesn't really hurt, just the echo of pain, far away. I can smell it just around the corner, waiting for me.

Open your eyes, a voice says. Open those eyes of yours. Oh Alice, please open your eyes.

The scent of chlorine bleach, smelling like summers at the pool, life guarding. My nose streaked with daubs of zinc cream, my limbs growing browner and browner as I stare at the rectangle of shimmering blue all day. Smells like drinking iced tea, of the slices of lemon floating on top of the glass.

Alice, listen to me, open your eyes.

That's right, we were shopping. Presents at Nordstrom's and Bloomies. A paisley silk scarf for his grandmother. Fiestaware coffee mugs for Diane. A suede purse for my mother. For the first time in ages we felt prosperous, even generous, armed with out Visa cards. It is difficult to think of those gifts, now lying abandoned in the back seat. Perhaps scattered in the dirty snow, garish against all that white.

Is it Christmas yet? What time? What day? How long has this been going on?

I do know a few things. My name is Alice and I am twenty-eight years old. Somehow those facts please me.

Pretty is as pretty does. I think about my face, trying to remember its features. The exact shade of my eyes, the curve of my upper lip. The tiny bump on the bridge of my nose, I recall that, how I used to stare at the bathroom mirror for long minutes, wishing the bump gone. What is my face like now? It could just be gone, nothing there. No face at all. I don't know.

He calls me Alice in Wonderland. Ha ha, you think you are such a comedian! Yeah, but you're a blonde and you wear headbands a lot and you just happen to be named Alice... I push him away, half mad, half pleased. As if I asked to be named Alice.

Floating in the bathtub, warm and comfortable, lulled by the steam. I am here and not here, above and below. I am in an in between place, waiting.

A cool hand surrounds my wrist. Skin like silk, so gentle.

A warmer hand, callused. I know that hand.

I dreamed about the beaches of Mexico a while ago. Nothing special or extraordinary just empty beaches stretching on into the horizon and dry air. I was wearing a white bikini, splashing around in the surf. Laughing at the way the wet sand squished between my toes. The sun in my hair, warming me, bronzing me.

Many dreams. I am traveling everywhere, through time, through space. One minute I am still in high school and I can't remember my locker combination and I'm late for a big Calculus final. The thing I know, next I am eating tuna salad at my grandmother's house, and then her kitchen becomes a café in Rome and I'm trying to order a cappuccino from the mustachioed barista who doesn't understand my halting Italian.

I want to open my eyes, but they are so heavy.

On the way home I sat next to him, feeling so close and warm. We had been fighting lately about little things, like the phone bill and getting the car washed. Christmas changed things, just like it is supposed to. For the first time we went to a lot and picked out a tree and strung it with tiny colored lights and popcorn. We hung stockings even though there was no fireplace. Mistletoe hung in the archway leading into the living room and snowflakes were taped up on the windowpanes. You could say we got into the spirit of things.

Maybe I'm not here at all. I'm just imagining this.

Another question, where is here?

It would be so simple to let go. Stop thinking, quit dreaming. Let is all fade into twilight. Just stop.

The warm callused hand again. It nearly drives me mad with its familiarity.

The quiet is enough to reduce a person to tears. I strain for voices, for music, but there is nothing anymore. Just emptiness and silence. The darkness closes in, pressing on my face.

Alice I hear, and I think, that's me. I had forgotten.

We had the heat on high and I was sleepy. Outside, the air sparkled with crystalline flakes of snow. Over the carols I whispered, I want to always remember this night. He smiled and I closed my eyes, drifting off to the pure soprano voices of the choir.

Yes, I remember it all now.

It should have ended differently, as beautifully as it started, where we go home and wrap the presents, drinking hot cocoa in the living room, listening to more Christmas music. Go to bed glad we don't have to get up early for work in the morning and make love slowly in the bluish light sneaking through the blinds. Fall asleep thinking of good things, of Christmas dinners and decorating the tree and snow falling.

That is not what happened.

Metal. Things smashing, things screeching. He is screaming. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck Alice are you okay Alice are you okay oh fuck oh fuck oh Alice. A sliver of pain and then nothing. For a long time it is dark.

Pretty is as pretty does. Am I still pretty? Am I still me, am I still Alice? Or have I become something else in this place?

It occurs to me that perhaps I am the only person left in the world.

I don't like this anymore. It hurts, pain that is beyond description. My legs. My arms. My chest. A vise has clamped down on my skull and is squeezing tighter by the minute. Pain, pure pain.

I don't float. I feel solid and too heavy. Thirsty, I want water, get me a nice glass of water. I'd like an iced double skim latte, please. Diet Coke on ice, a margarita, no ice. I have never been so dry.

Leave me alone. I am being poked and prodded, always touched and turned. Just let me go back to sleep, unseen hands.

Alice, can you hear me? It's me, it's me.

Green tiles. That is what I see when my eyes open, through all the blinking. White walls, far too bright and harsh for my eyes. I close my eyes again, relishing the dimness.

A voice says, I'm not sure she actually saw anything. I want to scream, yes I did! I saw the wall!

Another thought. I am bored here, alone with my thoughts.

Christmas, is it over yet?

Alice, do it again. Open your eyes.

I want to see the snow falling.

The wall again, not as bright. It must be night. I am in a room, in a bed. Aha, I think. It smells like alcohol, like bodies and sheets. A whisper, right near my ear. Alice, are you awake? I blink a few times and the room is still here. Somehow I nod my head.

Copyright ©1997 Danielle Kluz