Posts Tagged ‘Accidents’
May 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “On the Literary Life,” a series of excerpts from John Cheever’s journals published in our Fall 1993 fortieth-anniversary issue. Cheever, born on this day in 1912, had amassed twenty-eight notebooks by the time he died, in 1982; he wrote the extracts below between 1974 and 1978. “These were workbooks, a place to take notes, to practice and to fume,” Cheever’s son, Benjamin, says in his introduction. “Please remember that this is just one piece of the man. An interesting piece, I think: diverting, instructive, candid, and intimate. But not the whole guy.”
The telephone rings at four. This is CBS. John Updike has been in a fatal automobile accident. Do you care to comment. I am crying. I cannot sleep again. I think of joining Mary in bed but I am afraid she will send me away. I think I am right. When there is a little light I feed the dogs. I hope they don’t expect to be fed this early every morning, she says. I do not point out that John will not die every morning and that in any case it is I who feeds them. The restraint costs me nothing. When I go into the kitchen for another cup of coffee she empties the pot into my cup and says: I was just about to have some myself. When I insist on sharing the coffee I am unsuccessful. I do not say that the pain of death is nothing compared to the pain of sharing a coffee pot with a peevish woman. This costs me nothing. And I see that what she seeks, much more than a cup of coffee—is to gratify a sense of denial and neglect—and that we so often, all of us, put our cranky and our emotional demands so far ahead of our hunger and thirst. Read More »
May 21, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
A young friend recently asked me if I had an old graduation gown she could wear for a third-grade play in which she was playing a Supreme Court Justice. I keep many of my old things and have a pretty decent dress-up chest at this point; I’ve helped with costumes before. But this time, I had to tell her I didn’t.
You see, the morning of my college graduation, in Chicago, I was running late. I snatched what I thought was my gown from the closet—only to arrive at the gymnasium and discover that in my haste I’d grabbed my roommate’s black rain slicker. Read More »
April 15, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. ―Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I’m very prone to cuts and bruises and scrapes of all kinds—seeing my profusion of scars and Band-Aids and burns, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’m clumsy. I think it’s the certainty of my own nimbleness that leads me to take all kinds of stupid chances. In fact, I average far fewer injuries than I should, given my recklessness.
No one was exactly shocked, then, when I showed up at a party not long ago with a bruised fingernail. I’d banged my right hand on the heavy metal door of my apartment while trying to snap back and grab a sock that was falling out of the laundry basket; I almost got away with it. It hurt so much that I ran outside and buried my finger in the snow. The pain abated after a few days, but then the nail turned pitch black.
The black fingernail became a source of great fascination for me. I was extravagantly proud of it. “This fingernail is the most exciting thing to happen to me in years,” I said one night, admiring it by the light of the bedside lamp. “Thanks a lot,” said my boyfriend. Read More »
March 10, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
In 1970, before he started on Crash, J. G. Ballard staged an exhibition of totaled cars at London’s New Arts Laboratory—“three crashed cars in a formal gallery ambience,” he called it in his Art of Fiction interview:
The centerpiece was a crashed Pontiac from the last great tail-fin period … What I was doing was testing my own hypotheses about the ambiguities that surround the car crash … I hired a topless girl to interview people on closed-circuit TV. The violent and overexcited reaction of the guests at the opening party was a deliberate imaginative overload which I imposed upon them in order to test my own obsession. The subsequent damage inflicted on the cars during the month of the show—people splashed them with paint, tore off the wing mirrors—and at the opening party, where the topless girl was almost raped in the rear seat of the Pontiac (a scene straight from Crash itself), convinced me I should write Crash. The girl later wrote a damningly hostile review of the show in an underground paper.
March 9, 2015 | by Sadie Stein
My grandfather liked to talk about how much uglier Americans used to be. “People were ugly!” he would say with relish. “You have no idea now!” As children, we would always try to refute his claims, citing examples of modern celebrities we considered unattractive. But he would have none of it. “You don’t know,” he said darkly. To hear him tell it, the bit of Arkansas where he grew up was straight out of a Carson McCullers novel—which, I suppose, makes it sort of noteworthy that when a circus came to town, it was my grandfather who was considered such a dead ringer for the sideshow attraction Moe-Joe the Dog-Faced Boy that he bore this name for the rest of his life.
I don’t know if Grandpa Moe was thinking of improved dentistry, malnutrition, or various dermatological conditions; maybe a combination. I can’t help wondering if, also, some people just couldn’t see themselves, so they cared less. After all, regular, exact prescription updates are a modern luxury, too, to say nothing of contacts and laser surgeries. Read More »
December 17, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
“Do we need tea?” she echoed. “But Miss Lathbury … ” She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind. ―Barbara Pym, Excellent Women
We have all experienced such “landslides of the mind”: moments that upend everything we thought we knew or believed, everything that made us feel secure. These are the moments when we grow up—or resolutely refuse to. They are the moments that define us. In my case, it was the moment, in middle school, when I saw someone actually slip on a banana peel.
If you’d asked me in the minutes—days—years before it happened, I would have scoffed at the very notion. I knew certain things as facts: The sky was blue. Everyone died. People slipping on banana peels were not funny. My certainty was so obvious as not to require conscious thought; and yet, in a sense, it underlay so many of my assumptions about comedy, sophistication, and human nature itself.
As a child I was in the habit of listening to the 1918 Prokofiev opera Love for Three Oranges (dramatized for kids by the peerless Ann Rachlin), in which a prince has fallen into a melancholy from too much tragic poetry; the only cure is laughter. Yet all the most amusing clowns and jesters in the land fail to coax forth so much as a smile. It is only when the evil witch Fata Morgana falls over and exposes her underpants that the melancholy prince is roused to helpless mirth, and his life is saved. Read More »