Issue 187, Winter 2008
Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? Should it still be Constantinople? Does a nameless horse make you more nervous or less nervous than a named horse? In your view do children smell good? If before you now, would you eat animal crackers? Could you lie down and take a rest on a sidewalk? Is the prospect of Africa agreeable? Did you love your mother and father, and do psalms do it for you? If you are relegated to last place in every category, are you bothered enough to struggle up? Does your doorbell ever ring? Is there sand in your craw? Could Mendeleyev place you correctly in a square on a chart of periodic identities, or would you resonate all over the board? How many pushups can you do?
Do you like to car pool? Have you ever seen a large woman boil sugar watching the candy thermometer closely? Are boys meaner than girls, or vice versa? In what ways do you perform your civic duties? If you could assign colors to the days of the week, what color would you assign Tuesday? Is the blue jay justly maligned? Did ball sports originate as rock sports, or heads-of-animals sports, or what, do you think? Do you take your bacon crisp or limber? Terrefly or terrederm—is there a word along these lines I can’t think of, or is there a word along these lines that needs to exist but doesn’t? How did the chihuahua’s head and the apple get congruent like that? Did you see the pair of little blue pants by the road? Do you think you’d feel better had you a degree in some kind of engineering? What kind of engineering would that be?
Are you much on games of chance, or cards? Is there anything sadder than the demise of the elephant, among all the sad occurrences in the modern world? Are you comforted by good tile? Would you like to have a modern house on a golf course—kitchen island, breakfast counter—and live a golf lifestyle with golfing friends? Do you like to pay bills? Do you still answer the phone? Are you fond of country wisdom such as “All the snow in the world won’t change the color of the pine needles”? If you were a bird, would you like to soar or flap more? Can you shoot well? Have you ever had, or do you have now, a soldering kit? Do you have a grasp of pH?
Are you happy? Are you given to wondering if others are happy? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Have you seen an animal lighter on its feet than the sporty red fox? Do you cut slack for the crime of passion as opposed to its premeditated cousin? Do you understand why the legal system would? Are you bothered by socks not matching up in subtler respects than color? Is it clear to you what I mean by that? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions? Is it, in general, would you say, very clear, or very unclear, or are you somewhere in between in the murky sea of prescience? Should I say murky sea of presence of mind? Should I go away? Leave you alone? Have you grown accustomed to the annoyance, if it were, and come to be fond of it, as must be an oyster of its pearl? Is your pique with me now a perdurable and almost round and intriguing laminate thing you are not unhappy to have found in yourself? Can you ride a bicycle very well? Was learning to ride one for you as a child easy or not? Have you had the pleasure of teaching a child to ride a bicycle? Are your emotions rich and various and warm, or are they small and pinched and cheap like spit? Do you trust even yourself? Isn’t it—forgive me this pop locution—hard being you? If you could trade out and be, say, Godzilla, wouldn’t you jump on it, dear? Couldn’t you then forego your bad haircuts and dour wardrobe and moping ways and begin to have some fun, as Godzilla? What might we have to give you to induce you to become Godzilla and leave us alone? Shall we await your answer?
Is your appreciation of a good material thing—let us say that pearl-handled revolver there—influenced by having worked hard to get it, or are you as likely to value a good thing having come by it easily? Do you value coherence of argument? Do you favor a day of the week? Have I told you that I have taken refuge in the Shodlik Palace in Tashkent, Uzbekistan? How much weight should a child porter be expected to carry? Do you ever wonder about the unpublished stories and all the copies thereof in the valise Mr. Hemingway’s wife lost forever at the Gare de Lyon in Paris? That he had no copies, that he had so many bags he could not keep track of them—are not these facts but proof of a boor and a brute who deserved it? Do you know what I mean by “it”? Do you wish, as we all do, that you had a sunnier disposition? Would you like to learn to lift weights? Are you comforted by the assertion that there are people on earth who know what they are doing? Or, like me, do you subscribe to the notion that people who knew what they were doing began to die off about 1945 and are now on the brink of extinction, and that they have been replaced by fakes and poseurs? That many of the world’s folk will be fervently annihilating themselves and a few of the world’s folk will be excited by rapidly acquiring exorbitantly-priced t-shirts online?
Provided you were given assurances that you would not be harmed by the products of either, would you rather spend time with a terrorist or with a manufacturer of breakfast cereal? What in your view is the ideal complexion for a cow? Is there a natural law that draws a plastic bag to an infant similar to the law that draws a tornado to a mobile home?
Have I forgotten the question that goes here? Was it “Is it raining?” Do you regard rain as an anesthetic? Does pain purify? Are your nerves steady like those of the velvet ant, buzzing steadily across the lowly dull ground in its jacket of carmine velour and black satin? Do you know how to safely determine if the velvet ant stings? Have you seen the wall-sized bronze periodic table of the elements monumental to Mendeleyev in Saint Petersburg? Do you know that there is trash beneath it? Have you ever had antivenin? Why is it commonly -venin and not -venom?
Does it seem to you that ferries are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents? Can you think of any amusing confusions of the word contraption for the word contraction? Are you a taker of vitamins? What about confusing confusion with contusion, or hypnosiswith anhydrous ammonia or electrolysis? Do you know what the actual song of a nightingale sounds like? Is the nightingale a real bird, and is it native to our shores? Whose death, recent or not, do you most lament? Have you ever watched high-rise construction? Have you eaten hot gritty radishes fresh from the ground? Do you appreciate that an oyster has, among its other organs, a heart?
This business of the ears and nose allegedly continuing to grow—can that be part of a great and benevolent creator’s design, part of a malevolent god’s design, or is it another inscrutable facet of natural selection? Is survival enhanced by a man’s looking more and more like an elephant as he nears his grave? What is your mother tongue? Do you like to party? Was there a period in your adolescence when you eschewed underwear? Do you eschew it now? Do you favor peanuts, cashews, or nuts more exotic? Will you have a pet before you die, if you do not have one now? Do you grasp Ohm’s Law? Do you regard cherries as fruits or natural candies? Is intelligibility a function of the intelligence of the speaker, the listener, or both? Is it over-rated? Is the human individual more important than the individual ant, and if so, by a factor, would you say, of what? Can one human individual be regarded as more important than another? One ant more important than another? Can you say by what factor one human might be more important than another? Could you be persuaded that the leader of the earth should be the ant queen?
Is there enough time left? Does it matter that I do not specify for what? Was there ever enough time? Was there once too much? Does the notion of “enough time” actually make any sense? Does it suggest we had things to do and could not do them for reasons other than that we were incompetent? Did we have things to do? Things better done than not? Important things? Are there important things? Would you like to have been a conquistador—a benign one? Perhaps I mean not a conquistador but merely a world-class explorer and discoverer—would you like to have been one of those? Or are you content to sit in a chair and fret on a small scale, or not fret at all?
Do you like feathers? Have you stood on an atoll? Are you familiar with horse tack and riggings? Are you barnyard-oriented or is the barnyard a sea of trouble for you? When you wear white, do you insist it be spotless? Wasn’t the world better when the term haberdasherwas current? For that matter, when butter churns were in use? How did we go so wrong? Wasn’t there a day on earth when not every soul was possessed of his or her own petty political agenda? If there was such a time, could we return to it, do you think, in our time? Do you still do candles for your birthday, and do you have any taste for hard candy?
Were you a thumb-sucker? Other than piano wire, can you think of a musical instrument useful in murder? Have you studied the soft toes of geckoes? Do you comprehend with complete certainty how bonds work? Would you sail the ocean on a small boat? If you came upon a party celebrating something with a yellow sheet cake and white icing, would you partake happily? Do you remember the candies called jawbreakers and fireballs? Do you have a cutting-edge TV? What dead person would you bring back to life? Do you favor protecting the little wilderness remaining, or do you concede that there is so little left it might as well be ceded to the tide? Would a small red balloon cheer you up? Do you think there is really that much danger in putting a bird feather in your mouth?
Would you trust a vegetarian veterinarian? With your own dog? I mean, I can see how you might take the dog owned by tofu-eating neighbors to a vegetarian veterinarian in an act of what-they-sow-they-reap vengeance, but would you take your own dog to a vegetarian veterinarian? What if you were then asked to fill out a questionnaire that asked if either you or the dog was vegetarian? At any point in your life do you anticipate having sex again? If I said to you, “I want to return to 1940 and have a big coupe with big running boards and drive it drunkenly yet carefully along dirt roads, never causing harm except for frightening chickens out of the road, and I want you standing out there on the running board imploring me to slow down, or let you in, and laughing, but I don’t stop, because of course you don’t mean it, because you think—as I do—that a big coupe and careful drunken driving and one party outside the car and one inside and both laughing and chickens spraying unhurt into ditches is what life was then, and what life was before it became ruined by us and all our crap,” and if I said to you, “I have an actual goddamned time machine, I am not kidding, we can get in the coupe inside thirty seconds if we take off our clothes and push the red button underneath that computer over there, so come on, strip, get ready”—would you get ready to go with me, and go? Would you ask a lot of questions? Or would you just say, “Shut up and push the button”? Have you ever noticed that when the coffee purists insist that the coffee-brewing equipment be kept clean of even traces of built-up coffee oil because it makes the coffee bitter, they are not kidding?
Do you regard living with routine as liberating, or shackling? How much of a baseball game can you watch? Will you wear rain gear or do you prefer to just get wet? Do you sympathize with the outlaw? When you visit old folks’ homes and are mistaken by the senile residents for their own relatives, what do you do? Do you know what exactly is meant by the term “a professional person”? Would you prefer to work for this kind of person or for the other kind of person? Do you recall, and did you ever try to use, all-metal roller skates that strapped on over your shoes? Are you big on nutrition, or do you think it is something that just happens?
Could you wear a red clown’s nose all day without explaining it?
Are you a physical coward? Are you bothered by cowardice? What are the top three things in your life you wish you had not done, or done differently from the way you did them? How old is the oldest human body you have seen naked? Is there a difference between a bobcat and a lynx? Are you more troubled by a lie or by a theft, or are they the same thing metaphysically? Is metaphysically used correctly there? If you could have a famous writer, dead or alive, write an obituary for you and really puff you up to have been something you weren’t, perhaps, or otherwise take liberties with the truth, which writer would you choose? Are you good at jacks? Does it matter to you if the jacks are the fancy kind with the little balls on the ends of the spikes or if they just have straight plain spikes? Must the ball be red? Have you read much philosophy? Do you wish you had comprehended that which you did not comprehend in your philosophy reading? Do you wish you had comprehended that which you did not comprehend in all instances of your incomprehension in all areas and at all times of your life? Do you regard yourself a dangerous person? If not, under what circumstances might you have been, or might you yet be, a dangerous person? Are you made nervous by getting on buses whose routes you do not know? Will you get on a bus in a foreign country where you do not speak the language? Would you wear a fedora? Did anyone instruct you in the practice of shaking hands? Are you baffled that there are people who do not know about the importance of squeezing? In intercourse, do you prefer thrashing, or a more subtle motion? If your family had a cat, and the neighbor across the street had a cardinal in a cage, presumably because it could not live in the wild, and your family cat tormented the cardinal to death by leaping at and striking the cage, would you feel bad about it all your life? Is feeling bad about something all one’s life something to feel particularly bad about? Are we redeemed by regret? Do you like entering very cold water? Are you prepared for the end?
No? Will you wear fur?