Monday, February 11, 2013


            My first foray into the world of friction [sic] was an untitled piece I slaved over for two years in the mid-nineties. As I envisioned the work at the time, when I was twenty-six and obsessed with Thurber, this would be the first in a series of Jamesian character studies centered around academic life.
            In the opening tale, Jack (34) returns triumphant from a contentious conference in Boulder, Colorado, where he delivered a provocative paper on the position of commas in the sex life of Gibbons (collateral descendants of the famous historian of Rome) at the Modern Language Association’s Annual Conference: only to find his boxer, Elgin—Marbles, for short—dreaming of beef marrow bones in an inaccessible crotch of an elm in his courtyard.
            As Eve (34), his girlfriend, is out shopping for fruit-flavored lubricants and other gluten-free delicacies with her best pre-op friend, Paulette (28), visiting from Portland, and President Clinton is downtown distracting the rest of the neighbors, most of the story we spend with the perplexed young adjunct, orbiting the tree: trying to figure out just how the dog came to be there. Jack advances several different theories, all equally credible: extraterrestrials, an earthquake, a mountain lion, Mustafa Kemal, ghosts, a tri-cobalt satellite (left over from an episode of Star Trek), the black magic of his gardener (Barney Haller), a cantankerous kite string, or a confabulation of faeries.
            For five pages we wander in circles with Jack under this tedious tree, looking up at his dreaming dog, trying figure out just what has gone wrong with the forces of Nature in this idyllic corner of Iowa. It never occurs to Jack to wait for Eve and Paulette to return with the fruit-flavored lubricants and gluten-free delicacies and ask them; or to call the fire department; or to grab the aluminum ladder the painters left under the lilacs and try to rescue his dog himself, so lost he becomes in a maze of sensitive semiotic questions arising from the presence of a dog in the crotch of such a tall tree: since, as you will notice, the word “Dog” spelled backwards is “God.” And we all know in what mysterious ways THAT gentleman works.
            Sadly, I never got further with this story than the thin filament of drool connecting Elgin above—Marbles, for short—to the Earth below, before I abandoned it as totally unworkable. Plausible as the image of a fictitious dog sleeping in a fictitious tree might seem to me, I couldn’t imagine anyone else would believe it.
            Except for the people of PETA, who would have hopped in a minivan and been over in a flash to burn down my house.

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