• Star Star Narayan

    Kevin pounded the snow off of his boots and opened the door to the apartment he shared with his fiancée, Marina. He wouldn't stay long so he left his shoes on, tracking gray mud on the carpet.

    They lived in Vuosaari, outside of Helsinki, where he consulted for a state telecom and she sat glued to Finnish television or asleep. He watched her breathing change as he opened the door and went over to turn off the television. He touched her shoulder. She stirred, exposing a check reddened and mottled by the rough couch material, and then turned over.

    Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 7.33.04 AMTheir apartment was tiny, assigned to them by the head office. It seemed, at first, to be perfect: it was close to shopping, to the trains, to a library that carried Russian and English books. But Marina, eight months into their stay, hated the people and the entire venture. He was working hard to find another position, somewhere closer to Moscow or further south, but as the stupefying darkness of the Finnish winter settled over them, she grew as distant and angry as the sea birds that roiled over the port.

    Downstairs, Kevin's co-worker, Narayan Paul, waited in the company Volvo. Narayan wanted to learn how to ice skate. Kevin wanted Marina to come but he could not rouse her and she seemed to be in, or faking, a deep, enchanted sleep. Kevin dropped his briefcase near the kitchen table where half a sausage lay congealed in a dollop of mustard and fat. He went back to the bedroom to get his skates. He was tramping snow on the hardwood floor but he didn't care. He rummaged through the closet, ran his hand over the cool duvet on their primly made bed, and then walked back past his sleeping fiancée into the hall and locked the apartment door.

     

    ***

    Marina had feigned sleep when Kevin came in but now dropped back into a dark place full of snow, ice, and the rapid strange language of the Finns. Her dream, up until Kevin came in, had had something to do with ships leaving. She stood on the dock and waved goodbye, and wished him good riddance. She would walk back to Moscow through the snow, she decided in this dream, and the cold bit at her bare legs and arms like her grandmother's yappy terrier. Now she dreamt of the snow Kevin had tramped through the house.

    She saw a small cross of ice that had fallen out from the tread of his Salamander boot and saw it melt into a tiny pool of water even as Kevin was locking the door. She was upset with him for not cleaning up after himself, upset at his freedom and his work, how he came home smelling of after-hours beers and stew when she sat, alone and steaming, eating frozen piroski and sausage from the lewd man at the big grocery store down the road who eyed her breasts like the pigs back in Moscow. She had left Russia and agreed to marry Paul because she wanted something different. This was more of the same.

    Now she was a roach and went under the locked door and followed Kevin down the hall. This is what she was reduced to: she could not drive, so she must scuttle. A runner of red lined the hall and rose above each door, framing half of each door in crimson. The doors themselves, doors she had walked past so many times, were made of pine and each had a peephole and an elegant door handle. As Kevin passed each door, his skates tapped against each door handle. She followed him down the brightly lit stairs.

    Kevin looked out the window at Narayan in the car below. Marina could see him look back at their floor, wondering if she should return to wake her, but he continued on down the stairs. His coat billowed and cold air blew out at her as she went through the door with him and to the car. She was barefoot, and the snow burned as she and Kevin walked to the car. She caught a whiff of his cologne, something she had picked up for him at a duty free in Heathrow (for a moment she saw it in the medicine cabinet. It was in a gray metal bottle. It was called 212. Kevin had once told her that it was the area code in Manhattan.) It reminded her of his neck when he slept next to her, as long and pale as a girl's.

    She went into the car with them and Narayan backed the Volvo up and out of the loop in front of their building. The tires spun for a second and then caught with a chirp. Narayan was not a good driver.

    "Marina?" asked Narayan.

    "She's asleep," said Kevin. He was running his hand along the blade of his right skate and Marina could feel the metal cutting into his thumb but stop short at breaking skin.

    Snow bombarded the windshield as they drove to the small park that Kevin pointed out.

    "I'm to go back to India very soon to meet my wife," said Narayan, smiling in the red lights of the dash. "During the holidays. We'll be married."

    "She's beautiful, man," said Kevin. For a moment Marina saw Narayan's wife, as bright as cumin in the heat of Bangalore, preparing for a wedding that had been arranged by her parents with a boy who lived in Europe.

    "Thank you. I'll bring her here when we've wed. You will be wed as well, and we'll go skating."

    Narayan had a wonderful accent, crisp as tea and lilting. She enjoyed spending time with him when he came for supper. They talked about American football and work. She rarely said much because she hated her own halting accent, but she enjoyed hearing him talk.

    Narayan pulled up to the lake and pulled the parking brake. He turned off the car and it chugged once and stopped. They were on the side of the road and the small path to the lake had been brushed clean of snow and ice, but more snow was gathering. Narayan had his own skates, borrowed from a Finn at work, and they walked to the edge of the lake where they pulled on their skates as quickly as they could. There was a bench on the other side of the small lake but they didn't want to walk around to sit so they risked dipping their stocking feet into the snow.

    "Is this safe?" asked Narayan.

    Kevin nodded. He pulled his hat over his ears. It was the hat that Marina's mother had knitted for him. It was red, white, and blue, a joke. "This is for American and for Russian," she said in her English and then she said it again in Russian. "Tell him it's the colors of both the Russian and American flags." They laughed and Marina had felt cold before but in Finland, far from her family and friends, the thought of her mother knitting chilled her. She missed everything: the frost mornings on Arbat Street, the snow on the Kamenny Bridge and eating caviar and drinking flavored vodka with Kevin on the train one summer morning as they left the city for her Uncle's dacha. She missed the cabbage and old book smell of her Blok, the smell of leather and wood polish of her own room, her grandmother's kiss, dry and quick on her cheek, a tiny, bejeweled hand pulling her into warmth. All of this rasped at her like a file.

    "It's very safe. It's only how wide… fifty feet? It'll be fine. Look, someone else has been skating," said Kevin.

    There were tracks on the ice and the snow only dusted the surface. Someone had just been there.

    Kevin stepped onto the ice and he grabbed Narayan by the arm and they began to skate. Narayan's ankles buckled but he did not fall. Marina felt the cold on her feet and saw the moon high above them cast a blue glow on the ice where the streetlights could not reach. This was winter in Finland, she thought, and she watched Kevin and Narayan slip across the ice and watched as Narayan improved, slowly, and began to skate on his own.

    From far away, their small block apartment and the frozen lake were specks on a white landscape. Their skates glinted like stars. Narayan was getting better. Kevin told him he was a natural. They skated for a half an hour and then they went back to the car and Narayan dropped Kevin off at the front door.

    "We will have dinner, the four of us," said Narayan. Kevin nodded and smiled.

    Marina knew what Kevin was planning to make them for dinner. Borsch from an envelope, piroski. A glass of her favorite drink, a kind of watery gelatin that Kevin couldn't stand. He walked up the stairs, trailing snow and cold and the urgent, familiar scent of his cologne, and unlocked the front door where she stood waiting.

     

    ***

    Years later, she thought of this dream and considered sharing it with her newborn daughter, Masha. She composed the dream in her head, choosing the words she would use to describe the feeling she had when she scuttled under the door and sat with them in the darkened Volvo. But Masha was nearly asleep and she did not want to wake her, so she rocked her gently in her arms and sang a song about the dark and stars and the tired old moon.

     

    (more…)

  • The Cold Dark

    cover-draft14-05-low-res411 arrived at the small Rambla station just as the men were beginning to realize they were trapped. The taller of the two pushed at the door and found that it gave slightly. He pushed again, and suddenly he was whisked through to the other side. The Mytro had let him escape.

    The other man rattled the door and rattled it again. Each time he opened the door, the wind from the tunnels slammed the door shut, trapping him. He tried to push a shoulder through, to chock the door with his foot, but he could not. It would open just a crack and then shut again. The Mytro was having its fun.

    Slowly, the man realized he wasn't alone. He looked up at the Nayzun, now coming down from the ceiling of the tunnel like a spider climbing down a wall. 411 had nothing to say to him.

    The hired man turned white and stank of fear.

    A train pulled into the small station and stopped with a screech. A ribbon of dust, disturbed by the wheels, puffed up at the Nayzun's feet. 411 stood by the door and gestured toward the train with his long fingers.

    This is your train, the Nayzun said. The hired man stepped back. The Nayzun had a voice like a clattering on a set of distant tracks, the howl of a whistle through a tunnel, a distant crash. The man shook his head—No!—and the Nayzun was impassive. He stood before the human and gestured toward the train.

    You can board the train and it will take you home, said 411. You will never ride this train again. Or you can stay here and fight.

    411 had an inkling that the man would make the wrong choice. The Mytro seemed to know his mind better than the human did. All the humans ever wanted to do was fight. The train bell dinged and the doors closed.

    The hired man pulled his pistol from his shoulder holster and aimed. The human fired, and the bullet thunked into the side of the departing train, splintering some of the wooden molding. He fired again, and the Nayzun was on the ceiling, his hands clinging to the surface of the tunnel using an energy that crackled like electricity and filled the room with the scent of ozone.

    The Mytro did not take long to respond to this affront. 411 could hear the rails, steel wires in the dark, howling in anger. The darkness from both ends of the tunnel poured into the small station and began to roll over the trackbed and then up onto the platform. The man watched in horror as the darkness spread, covering the floor, crawling up the walls, inch by inch. The darkness flowed like water and began to lap at his shoes. The Mytro was angry and 411 heard it scream like bridge wires snapping in high winds or the sound of a dozen animals caught in a wire cage.

    411 came down to be close to the man as he died. He screamed as the Nayzun grasped his wrist. The pain was clearly unbearable, and anger and fear froze on his face.

    dead

    "Stop!" he yelled.

    The woman, the girl's mother. Where?

    "Manduria, Italy. The refugee camp. She's not hurt." The Nayzun nodded sadly. So you are trying it as well? "What? Trying what?"
    Theft, said the Nayzun. Slavery.

    411 let go of the man's wrist, and he crumbled onto the platform. His wrist was red but not injured. The darkness rose high enough to engulf the man. It rose over his head until he slowly disappeared into the darkness, his body covered inch by inch in a black flood. He had seemed passive during the experience, but perhaps fear shut his mouth and eyes. The darkness began to recede.

    The Nayzun climbed along the ceiling and onto the top of an arriving train. The train's wheels sloshed through the darkness like a streetcar through a puddle. The darkness oozed off the front and sides of the train, leaving no residue. When the flood had receded, the man was gone.

    In a way, 411 pitied the man, in the way a cat pities a mouse being devoured by a tiger. It was, in short, an unfair fight. The hired man never knew what was coming.

    But 411 knew the simple rule: Everyone who took the Mytro by force or destroyed its foundations was punished. Of that 411 was certain.

    Mytro is available now

    (more…)

  • Kingmaker, by Christian Cantrell [review]

    While no one can match the razor-sharp intensity of Neuromancer, there is plenty of room for writers to slot their books in the midst of William Gibson's later works, those multi-faceted stories that intertwine like a mutant caduceus to bring three tales to a head. Kingmaker by Christian Cantrell is one of those books.

    The book, published last year by Amazon's 47North imprint, is a straight-ahead tale of a "heartless" assassin (his real heart is replaced by a mechanical one) named Alexei Drovosek. Drovosek's goal is to watch the old world burn and a new world take its place. With the help of an AI named Emma and a team of children he is training to take down the world's major business entities, he aims to bring freedom back to the planet.

    It is, in short, a tall order. Does Cantrell pull it off? I think he does.

    (more…)

  • A review of Prof. Jim Gaffigan's philosophical treatise "Dad Is Fat"

    Dad is fat. Is Dad fat? How fat is Dad? Why is Dad fat? When did fat Dad move from skinny Dad? Can Dad get skinny doing the 7-minute workout? How, in the end, is the female gaze responsible for the fat Dad as expressed in media and literature? Was Joyce the epitomized skinny Dad and, in reflection, Bukowski the fat one? Was Bukowski a Dad?

    These are the questions philosopher Jim Gaffigan explores in his treatise entitled Dad Is Fat. (more…)

  • The Skies Belong To Us: Love And Terror In The Golden Age Of Hijacking


    The next time you're patted down and pornoscanned, remember that there was a time in American history that skyjacking was so common it was almost comical. Between 1968 and 1973, there was a hijacking per week. Teenagers hopped on board with fake dynamite and asked to go to Canada. Disillusioned working stiffs jumped out of airplanes at altitude after gathering thousands in ransom money. Hijacking insurance could be had for $75 and ensured that fliers could sit back, drink free booze, and enjoy the windfall of having a wild-eyed miscreant yell "Take this plane to Havana."

    After all, the insured got $500 per day of captivity – enough for a nice vacation.

    To be clear, this was mostly the airlines' fault. They didn't want to reduce the efficiency of their operations. In that era there was no airport security and you could, without issue, alight from your Ford Fairlane and waltz right to the gate in any airport around the world. You could rush onto a flight an buy a ticket from the attendants on board, all the while fiddling with your revolver, baseball bat, or bottle of Jack Daniels. You could even traipse around the baggage handling area with little interference. In short, flying used to be crazytown. (more…)

  • In The Boy Kings, Zuck's personal ghostwriter reveals little

    Katherine Losse was present at the creation. Employee 51 at Facebook, the English major became first a major player in the company's customer service team and then rose to prominence in i18n, Facebook's internationalization initiative. She ended her seven year career there as Mark Zuckerberg's blogger. She mimicked his voice in posts and emails, starting with "Hey Everybody" and ending in world domination.

    Now, Losse offers a book about her experience there. Covering the period between 2005 and 2012, she sunk into the soft comfort of corporate life just as early Facebook's miasmic jelly hardened into serious business. Losse, because she's not a wonk, is the kind of person that you want writing about this kind of rise: she writes like she's working out a Lorrie Moore story set at Xerox/PARC and, as a result, she leaves out the nerdiness and attempts to replace it with humanity. (more…)

  • Sober Is My New Drunk, by Paul Carr

    Sometimes enough is enough, and memoirist Paul Carr exemplifies this maxim. His previous books – Bringing Nothing To The Party and The Upgrade – were tales told from the bottom of a champagne glass. The first book, a rollicking story about how Carr started and destroyed an Internet business, was punctuated by drunken antics that seemed to define the Carr character: part imp, part jerk, and part Lost Boy. The second book, a treatise on how to live in hotels rather than renting an apartment, is really more about drinking too much at all the wrong places.

    In short, over time, Carr became his own character and his only job as a writer was to try to remember what went down the morning after the bottles of beer, whiskey, and champagne finally dwindled down to a raft of empties floating in the slush of ice at the bottom of a VIP bucket. Well, goodbye to all that.

    (more…)

  • Rocker Mike Doughty recounts travails in memoir

    We needle our cultural heroes and then are delighted when they dissolve in front of us. It happens again and again, in Whitney Houston and in Michael Jackson and in Don Cornelius. They show us the way and when the way becomes treacherous we wish nothing more than to see them fall.

    That is why so many "star" memoirs are so fraught. The star has a swift rise, a period of wandering, massive drug addiction, and reflection/renewal. Then the rest of their output sucks or they stop producing altogether.

    Mike Doughty is, arguably, a rare exception. His recent memoir, The Book Of Drugs, tells the story of a young man – he was 22 when he founded Soul Coughing with a bassist, drummer, and keyboard player at New York's The Knitting Factory – who entered the music industry at its near-nadir. His band was arguably successful, especially in a decade of one-hit-wonders (remember "Sex and Candy?") and addled grunge rock, and he had a close relationship with the arguably more well-known Jeff Buckley. Doughty tells his story in the context of a decade that gave and took away the aforementioned Buckley, Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain, and Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon. The music industry was always cruel to the ones it blighted with success. In the 1990s, with the rapid destruction of the industry as a whole and the rise of file sharing, it was particularly rancid. (more…)

  • The Big V



    The beach at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Photo: BBM Explorer

    I had my vasectomy on January 19, 2012, the date memorialized with the iCal notation "Vascect [sic] no lunch 34th st." At this writing the objects in question are still apparently live, pumping out spermatozoa like a dying pulsar that will soon dwindle into white noise. It takes a certain number of ejaculations to completely clear the pipes, as it were, and by try number twelve I'll be as barren as the surface of binary moons rising over an alien landscape. (more…)

  • The 1,000 Words Rule of Blogging (Book Excerpt)

    Want to be a successful blogger? Every new endeavor requires a period of ascetic dedication. You must write a minimum of 1,000 words a day.

    Some bloggers make this their ceiling, but many make it their floor. Either way, you must produce on a daily basis. How do you do this? You can crank out, perhaps, three posts of a few hundred words each in the morning and three in the evening. Or you can write one big post. Either way, do the word count. Why is this important? Because if you have a goal, you can meet it. After his heart attack, blogging great Om Malik set this number for himself to ensure he produced quality content in a timely manner and did not kill himself in the process. Sadly, Om's heart attack was brought on by the blogging lifestyle, as well as too much booze, cigars, family history and bad luck. It took a massive change in his everyday life to reorient him toward a saner blogging schedule, and he found this 1,000-word limit invaluable. (more…)