Monday, January 19, 2015

Entfernt Daily Standard Sunday Editorial: The Stachel Abomination

Using "Rick Steve's European Christmas" travel feature as a writing prompt, I challenged myself to write something without resorting to surrealism, sex, paranoia, or meta. 

Greetings, Standard readers of Entfernt! I hope your Christmases were all so merry it bordered on the depraved. Indeed I've received nothing but reports of seasonally appropriate bliss, apart of course from one incident. For countless generations, we the citizens of this charming settlement outside the Grindelwald village in the Bernese Alps, have enjoyed a festive tradition in the weeks leading to Christmas. Each year, twenty-four households are selected by committee and assigned to decorate their home for a day in the Advent calendar and prepare dinner for all the visitors. Understand, this is not an effort to hoist Christianity upon the general public1. Rather, this is all in the spirit of service to the community. Not only does it tighten the knittedness of our village, but each serving and decorated home provides dinner for all guests, the homeless included. Almost2 nobody has ever been turned away. Though I suspect a vagrant with the tenacity to land in a settlement with no roads and either a 145/day snowmobile rental or difficult 2-day hike away from the nearest train stop would be able to get a job tearing tickets somewhere. Generally, the only sort of "homeless" person who wanders here on foot is a startup millionaire between Bay Area leases who will most likely use his trip as a story to shill a performance drink or masculine crisis retreat.

But enough of that. Overall, 2014 was an exceptionally fine year. The Zwanghaft family (day 8) served 8 varieties of fondue with 8 loaves of braided bread that were each 8 feet in length. 8 feet! Did it occur to anyone to ask how they went about baking something so large? If so please write in, I'm mildly curious. The Goodpaster household (day 17) challenged us with pickled cow tongue, a rite of passage for the Goodpaster children3. In every home were found humble, earthy displays of God's messengers carved in knotty wood or dried squash, or shaped from twigs and dried grape vines, and the food was all hearty, traditional fare. Sausages, cheese and bread displayed on dark planks of elm shaped like nearby wildlife, pickled vegetables: fare that is warm and welcoming. Then there was the Stachel house, who so happened to draw number 24: Christmas Eve. Now, nobody can deny that we lead somewhat simple lives here in Entfernt. Many of us are builders or miners, while others spend their days procuring firewood or giving walking tours to vacationers. Every commute is a physically draining trek through hills of snow and often tempestuous gusts of wind. I think I speak for us all when I say that curry lentils and rice hardly nourishes to the soul, and does not represent the character of our settlement. Folks politely inquired of the ingredients and were told it was simply lentils and water with spices. So essentially, we were served a tea full of ruptured beans. When further pressed, they said some clarified butter was added for the sake of richness. If only the Griffpresse family was around, they could have learned of how their butter is in need of clarification. I had some of their chive butter on rye toast this morning and it seemed perfectly articulate to me.

How heartbreaking it was, watching children on Christmas Eve fumble with a greying brown mash that in texture and taste resembled the remnants of a potpourri cooker. My family was fortunate enough to have a hearty stew of venison and carrots left over at home, and a few people who would rather not be identified joined us with some bread and cheerful commiseration. However I imagine some families, expecting there to be an actual meal provided, may have spent Christmas eve either hungry and disappointed, or waiting for something to defrost. Indeed another anonymous family, unwilling to retire in such hunger, prepared what they thought would be a simple matter of egg, flour, and cheese, but ended up eating at an hour more fit for breakfast4.

Now, far be it from me to look unfondly upon diversity of experience. The Esempio family (day 14) made crepe-style cannelloni stuffed with 3 cheeses and seasoned minced beef, which I enjoyed immensely. But stuffed cannelloni is part of the Esempio family's cultural past. Perhaps redoubling my ire is the inauthenticity of the whole affair, and the cynical shallowness that we would accept their culinary appropriation without question. The Stachels have more generations here than almost anybody else. The joke is that they evolved their short legs and wide frames to steady themselves on skis and rocks! This cheap novelty comes off as phony, and it is deeply immoral that they subjected the hardworking citizens of Entfernt to an experiment that could not have possibly gone right.

While I want to commend those who tried to reduce the tension, I think it is best they learn from immediate social dissonance. One guest's comment that "Well, the himalayas are also cold and majestic" was well-intended, but thoroughly misguided. Though this is being published anonymously, I want the Stachels to know that many staff members and contributors at the Daily Standard stand behind this. That being said, my aim is not to incite a sort of passive-aggressive uprising. I just want the Stachels to know that there are people who disapprove of their behavior without adhering to those people the stigma of disapproval. Perhaps even the Advent Committee will take note of this public complaint and assume the Stachels have read it and learned their lesson, and thus be granted an opportunity to redeem themselves in the near future.

1The general public being 94 people, 78 of whom are practicing Christians.
2There was one incident on record, in 1852. Apparently Richard Wagner says some, well say "divisive" things when he's had too much gluhwein. Legend has it that after he was removed, the remainder of the evening was spent trying to come up with one of those handy German portmanteaus for when something is "both dark and pale".
3This lack of squeamishness almost certainly explains how Neils Goodpaster moved to Brazil to be a marine biologist.
4Actually, it turned out quite well and may become a yearly tradition of insomnia and storytelling layered with crisp pastry for them.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Advice Column the Guy Next to Me at Rustic Coffeeshop Read

So you're the guy sitting next to me in a small, woody coffee shop in a quaint, historic town in central New Jersey on December 28th, 2014. Apart from a haunted building or two, the town is a web of gallery-restaurants with the sort of clientele that is one tapeworm away from never leaving. You live near enough that you're on a first-name basis with the staff and local dog walkers, and you seem to have read an advice column about how to write your novel in a coffeeshop. From my casual observation, here is that advice column:

-Dress like the protagonist in a film about a ragged cyberpunk genius composing his masterpiece while dealing with the transition past middle-age. George Clooney would play you after losing and gaining the same 35 lbs two dozen times.

-Be sure to listen conspicuously to an old Walkman. Rewind emphatically over the parts that resonate with you. Potentially type the lyrics, look at them and nod. The meaningful kind of nod that makes the table shake.

-Speaking of which, your grizzled, serious demeanor should say that you are listening to a grainy Tom Waits bootleg that has been stored in a vault made of chlorine tablets, but the sound emanating from your headphones should say that you are listening to "I Am the Walrus" over and over again.

-Be sure to type very loud. Like, troublingly loud. Strike the keys like hailstones falling on the windshield of dad's silver Lincoln as you and Sarah made love for the first time. Type especially loud for sentences like that one. If the guy next to you (me) is not openly staring at you, marveling at the resilience of your keypad, you don't really mean what you're saying and Random House won't return your calls.

-Throw shit around, but on a tiny scale. Your novel is a house; your phone, Walkman, and scone are power tools, and inspiration is like a wall you see sagging, so you must drop them and reconfigure immediately to nail it before it tumbles to the ground. Pretend you are The Who and this 4-foot ledge is the Waldorf-Astoria.

-Do not acknowledge any males in the room. This part is difficult, because you are sharing a small, wobbly section of countertop with specifically one male.

-Be sure to whisper lines to yourself while looking around whenever a line extends to where you are sitting. Make me, the guy next to you, imagine the parallels you are drawing between the music, your story, events in real life, and current news events.

-Make it clear that the one current event missing from these parallels is the woman who sits next to you, i.e. where I am currently seated. Katja is 27, but her soul is as old as loneliness is hungry for habitude. The contradiction between her black yoga pants and her copy of "Mona Lisa Overdrive" intrigues you, but before you can coyly inquire about her bionic implants, she slides you a note that reads, "36th dock, 9:30". You know better than to speak, but not better than to let your stare linger on her legs a second too long. You try to keep writing, but you can feel her measuring her advantages over you, so you leave. You wander past Giuseppe's Pizzeria & Art Gallery... Nigel's Dry Cleaners & Art Gallery...  Urgent Care Clinic & Art Gallery... Finally it's 9:30, and Katja is at the end of the pier, her back to you because she knows she could kill you with one perfunctory kick, and because she knows you have been thinking about her ass for the past two hours. It turns out that Katja is the young plaything of an aging reclusive billionaire known only as The Walrus, who employs naive MIT graduates too heavily in debt to ask questions as interns. He has them compress code and design bionic microchips, then selectively wipes their memories clean so all they remember is debt, coding, and some residual Protestant work ethic instilled by their upbringing. Before you could ask what they were building, Katja leans in and bites your lower lip, firm yet playful. Her body welcomes you like an indebted stranger, giving you what you desperately want without granting any sense of victory. Once your cock is fully invested but not spent, the voice of The Walrus speaks in your mind, revealing his grand design. Katja's sexual appetite contains enough RAM for The Walrus' personality to thrive as an AI, and they needed a compatibly sexually frustrated body to serve as a host for the transfer. Your body. The consciousness of The Walrus usurps your own, and you begin to eagerly smear Katja's vaginal secretions, enhanced with millions of microchips, all over yourself. They are burrowing into your skin, and in the final twilight of your sentience, you hear "coo coo ca-choop”.