Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Slow Learner"

A couple of weeks ago, while cleaning out my desk drawer, I found a stack of old Zip disks. I recalled seeing a dusty Zip Drive in a drawer at my office, so I grabbed them. This afternoon I went through those disks for the first time in over a decade.

Among them, a disk labelled Eric's Files. On Eric's Files, a folder called "Old Writings." In "Old Writings," a subfolder called "Old Work." Within "Old Work," a subfolder called "Slow Learner"—a title I no doubt stole from Pynchon. Within "Slow Learner": six stories I don't remember writing.

So we got a torrential rainstorm today—something that at this time of year in the South Bay simply does not happen—and I spent the afternoon reading stories that I wrote over a decade ago yet absolutely do not remember.

In addition to the "Slow Learner" stories, I've found at least eight year's worth of writing that I thought gone forever, including basically all the fiction and every essay I wrote as both an undergraduate and a graduate student.

My vertigo was exacerbated by a folder of old photographs on the same disk, among them, a picture with Lincoln when he was seven years old:

For grins, here's the first story in that "Slow Learner" subfolder, written, I'm guessing, some time in the early '90s:


          Rhoda fell down the exit stairs. You need to be more religious, he said.
          You’re the man who tries to help, she said. I’ve seen your type.
    His name was Story. He waved at a car that thought to stop.
    She said, When I was nine I fell off the monkey bars—
    And I was the one who made fun.
    I was dropped on my head as an infant.
    He held out his hand. My guess is you’re almost finished.
    She took his hand and stood up with a flourish. She said, When I was fourteen a man kicked me in the face with steel-toed boots.
    This stopped his wit.
    She rubbed her palm against her pants. When he reached down, she said, it was to take off my shirt.

    What’s that noise? Story asked. He took the poker from the fire and with it above his head he roared at the open room.
    Rhoda opened her eyes. Got any hot bread?
    I have a learning disorder, he said. Sleep sneaks in—
    I really have a headache.
    A splitting headache, he said.
    She waved finger. My headaches don’t split.
    I do, he said.
    She looked at the fire. After a while she said, Let me think for a second.

    When she called he was on the couch. He said, The moss grows greener—
    I know, she said. I’m sorry. The bear on her floor showed teeth.
    He said, I have a horse, you’re stuck, your shoes have holes—
    The last guy I asked for a glass of water collapsed like a corpse on the porch. You lifted me up, Story. She tapped the phone with her finger. I keep telling myself, That fellow lifted me up. 

    Rhoda was with Deirdre at the bar. He’s from Brazil, she said. She pointed at a waiter. 
    There was broken popcorn on the crushed-felt floor.
    The waiter came up and Deirdre’s eyes glazed over. After he left Deirdre said, They wear those hats and those frocks the colors of kid’s cereal.
    A girl danced under two blue lights.
    Rhoda nodded and Deirdre handed her another cigarette. Rhoda said, Is the grass always greener?
    Do I look like an expert? Deirdre pointed at the talent. Ask her.
    That’s what he told me, Rhoda said. He said ‘moss,’ though. And he said he has a horse.
    There’s a caption.
    He said lots of things, but that about the horse was what caught me. I thought, That’s a great line for after sex.

    Rhoda read the sign. Recycled Cans Only.
    I want to go to Europe, too, Story said. Hear some Frenchy say, ‘You are an ugly American.’ Or whatever they say over there.
    Se la vie, Rhoda said. Or, ‘Americans are very fat. Don’t you worry about your health?’ Or, ‘Psychoanthropomanic reoccurrence stemming from a history of sublimated violence.’
    Story said, That’s not French. That’s TV.
    Rhoda looked passed him. You were the best drunk ever, Story. You didn’t have drunk-type endurance.
    He nodded and tossed his book in bar. Everyday I watch the news, he said. ‘When the lights went out he pulled a gun.’ ‘Enflamed hearts, broken minds.’
    I lost my last newspaper, Rhoda said.
    To live life that way. Put down the weapons—
    The fear—
    He traced the fall of her palm.
    Oh, love, love, she said. I can’t stop reading that sign.

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