Further proof that while chickens may lay,
Edited by Gretchen Giles
LIARS, BRAGGARTS, AND DREAMERS–man, are we lousy with them around here. The more than 100 submissions received for our Jive 3 personal essay-writing contest packed a dose of fibbery that would make Pinocchio’s nose splinter, would make George Washington blush over his hatcheted cherry tree, would put even Walter Mitty at a loss.
The long and winding Jive history began three years ago in a coffee shop, as, while trying not to spit as we blew-cooled coffee, we noticed that all around us were scribbling, furrow-browed scribes, notating the margins of books, looping across the pages of diaries, and inking up torn scraps of scratch. “What the heck,” we muttered, foam arched in an attractive manner across our lips, “are they writing about?”
In the past two years of hosting our Java Jive contest, we seem to have answered that question: They, you, the public at large, are writing about sex.
Sex is great stuff; we love it. But year after year of writing and reading about that mysterious woman in the corner with the black beret whose emerald green eyes have a hint of a smile about them grows a bit stale.
So this year we mixed it up, exhorting you to lie, and lie you did. Gone is the java; the jive remains. In addition to sex (and there was still plenty of it; after all, this is the No. 1 topic about which to lie), we got anger, joy, reflections on aging, and plenty of tomfoolery. Of the five top winners, someone even told the truth.
We offer big wet smacking thank-yous to judges J. J. Wilson of Sonoma State University, writing instructor Scott Reid, Maureen Hurley of the Russian River Writers’ Guild, Readers’ Books’ co-proprietor Lilla Weinberger, and SRJC writing instructor Guy Beiderman–last year’s Jive winner. Hugs also to Carolina Clare of North Light Books and to Tom Montan and Jane Love of Copperfield’s Books.
Lovely heaping thanks to all who submitted–even the writer who expanded on the word coprophilia–and we are grateful to have had to happily haggle over the work of Rebecca Alber, Susan Bono, Ric Escalante, Stephen Gross, Nancy L. T. Hamilton, Liz Hanna, Kate Kinsey, Suzanna McGee, Dean Musgrove, Liz Sinclair, Tim Stires, and Elva Zimmerman.
And that is no jive.
Who am I (&I)? Rastapunk, funkologist, cantakerous deductologist. Metaphysician, yawnmower, Socratic numbers cruncher. I am an enigma wrapped in a puzzle, shrouded in a large Eskimo woman named Irene. I am the “King of All Mediocrity,” and the court jester of Clintonlot. I’ve got a rip in the fabric of my space-time continuum and I just lost another buttonhole. I am the watcher and the peacetalker,I am the self-infected wound on the scab of indifference. I am deep ecology and televised cacophony. I am an ironic godhead to all dispossessed, anemic tax consultants. I am second homeless. I have puce-colored hair. I am a debit card in the side of consumeristic madness. I am Crush Limbaugh, and a nude Gingrich. I stand naked between these lines, yet adorn the golden robe of curiosity as to a brighter meaning and a wider waistband. I don’t work for peace, but rather leisure for it. I am Marilyn Hansen and Madonna McJackson. I am the thought police raiding your vice-filled subconscious and I will water your suburban lawns. I don’t eat cheese. I don’t brush after everymeal. I am the barcode tattooed on your wrist and the iridescent gadfly in your soup. I am the jukebox anti-hero and the Huck Finn floating down the stream of your consciousness. I am the FedEx of change and the splinter in your mind’s eye. I am unorganized religion and the phlebotomist in the vein of society. I rue the passing of Crystal Pepsi and feel dance fever was the pinnacle of civilization. I believe power-sweating should be an Olympic sport. I secretly know cumin is the devil’s spice. I’m starting a No Doubt cover band called No Doi. I practice tarot reading with Star Wars trading cards. In conclusion, I feel everyone should praise the obvious, go for the gusto, and inflict deadly accurate mime control.
– Ocean Moon
2. I Am Probably Not the Buddha
Remember you must be your own light. The Truth is your light and your refuge in this world. Life is suffering.–The Buddha
Those who seek the Truth need look no further than the bottom of their child’s diaper pail.–Catherine Lloyd (Probably Not the Buddha)
I am clearly not the Buddha. In fact, the chances are pretty slim that the Buddha’s even in my neighborhood. For one thing, I doubt he plays tennis and everybody in my neighborhood, it seems, plays tennis. Unless they’re on life support, in which case I suppose they might be the Buddha. I mean, they’re sitting in one place, leading the contemplative life, if you will (unless they’re brain dead, in which case maybe 95 percent of their soul has attained nirvana and the other 5 percent is stuck in the body like a foot in a railroad track).
I really can’t say, probably not being the Buddha myself.
There are a number of other very good reasons why I am probably not the Buddha. For one, I ovulate. Ovulation has traditionally been a handy means of eliminating prospective religious leaders (Aimee Semple McPherson and the Virgin Mary being notable exceptions). Besides, it’s hard to live on the day’s wages from begging when you also have to buy panti-liners with the spare change.
Two, the Buddha ascended into nirvana several thousand years ago. Since we only get one Buddha every 100,000 years or so, I estimate (using my limited command of mathematics) that another one shouldn’t be showing up until around A.D. 90000, at which point we’ll either be shooting through the galaxy in giant BBs like Jodie Foster in Contact or we’ll have all taken our place in the afterlife and left the planet to the cockroaches and the sharks.
Three, the Buddha sat down under a bodhi tree at the age of 35 and didn’t get up until he was the Buddha. I’m only 34, so there’s still time, but there aren’t any bodhi trees in Santa Rosa (I don’t believe). I don’t think the Santa Rosa plum tree in my backyard would suit since the smell of rotting plums on the ground and the fresh ones dropping from the branches would certainly not be very conducive to a meditative state.
That said, there are also a number of very good reasons why I might be the Buddha: for one, like the Buddha, I have small breasts, favor jeweled hair ornaments, and wear dresses because I look hippy in slacks.
Two: The Buddha spent six years with the hermits of Uruvilva, denying his body food and comfort. I spent six years changing diapers and eating the crusts of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches while working part-time as an accountant. The parallels are evident.
Three: The Buddha had one child. A boy he named Rahula. Rahula (very) loosely translated means “gets in the way of my career.” The child eventually forgave his father for dumping him with his grandpa when he saw him floating in the sky on a lotus throne.
To get the same effect with my own kids, I’d have to be floating on a hamburger bun bathed in a halo of light from the Golden Arches. It could happen. . . .
Or maybe not. I don’t know. There are strong arguments on both sides for me being the Buddha. I suspect that the chances that I am not the Buddha might be fractionally more likely. That’s why I’m saying that I’m probably not the Buddha. Either way, there is one thing I do know for sure and that is that you are probably not the Buddha either.
– Catherine Lloyd
3. How I Invented the Smoothie
I am Sonoma County adventurer Jacob Openspace. The world is my hackey-sack. This is the story of how I invented the Smoothie.
The year was 1972. My plane crashed in the Sierra, killing everyone else on board and leaving me without food. I was surrounded by desolate, icy peaks. I would have eaten my fellow passengers to survive, but that is against my principles. You see, I am a vegetarian.
Suddenly I spied wild strawberries under the ice. One propeller of the downed plane spun at a perfect purée pace. Crawling on my belly through the flaming hull of the plane, I found a baby’s bottle. Remembering that the child’s mother wore only natural fabrics, I hoped against hope as I tore off the rubber nipple. Oh, thank God! Soy milk!
I added the ginseng I always keep tucked in a body cavity for just such emergencies. Suddenly, a voice behind me!
“I’ve noticed you gathering ingredients. I’d like to make an offering,” gasped a beautiful young nun. “That ginseng thing was unnatural,” she said. “But, like the Wise Men, I’d like to give frankincense and myrrh.” I tenderly declined and left her to die.
I poured my precious yield into my Greenpeace hardhat and strapped it to the propeller. Just then a fireball shot from the engine, narrowly missing me but perfectly toasting wheatgrass and barley growing wild on the peak. I scooped them up and slid on my belly toward the kitchenette of the plane, in search of a cup.
Only Styrofoam! Damn these planet-poisoning airlines! Then I remembered a handsome listener-supported-radio commuter mug I’d spotted in the cabin. It was in the hand of a passenger who had just made the ultimate pledge.
As I savored the first sips of my nectar (the mug happened to contain just the right amount of honey left over from tea), a rescue chopper appeared over the peaks. I looked back on the wreckage of airplane and human lives with misgivings: another 30 seconds and I might’ve found some bee pollen. But as I leaped from the rocks for the rope ladder, I knew I had discovered something.
Next episode: I invent the phrase “What goes around comes around” in a small but deadly Russian River whirlpool.
– Jefferson Elder
4. Word Meadow
I am a born writer. I emerged from the womb screaming not at the shock of the world but at my lack of words to describe it. A few days later, the first poem drooled from my lips.
Perhaps I sound like I am bragging. I am not. To be born with a gift means to claim no credit for it. Any talent I possess I owe to my ancestors, a long line of saga spinners, skalds of the courts, readers of runes, farmer-poets and warrior-poets who could choose from over 100 expressions for sword: skull-crusher, pale-maker, corpse-pain, screamer, blood-waker. The sun was called day-star, sprinkler, grace-shine. The tongue? A word-meadow. All of this in the oral tradition, preserved in the communal memory. When the art of writing finally reached Iceland in A.D. 1000, it was an instant success. During the long dark winter nights, the old sagas and ancient verses were copied onto sheepskin, then passed along through the centuries from one sod hovel to the next, surviving Black Death, avalanches, earthquakes, floods, famine, and the tyranny of the Danes. At times the island’s population nearly died out entirely.
On the second day of Easter, 1875, my five-year-old grandfather woke to a day black as night; by noon he could no longer see his own hand in front of his face. Mount Askja had erupted, spewing ash so thick that it not only blocked the sun for three days, but destroyed a third of the island’s farmland, an event eerily resembling the apocalypse prophesied in the pagan verse Song of the Sybil (as set down by my ancestor Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century):
The sun turns black
Cast down from heaven are the hot stars
Fumes reek, into flames burst
The sky itself is torched with fire . . .
Well, would you know more?
On a sunny evening the following July, my grandfather’s family joined the thousands fleeing Iceland for a marshy, flood-prone reserve on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. The gush of words continued even here. In the midst of their first disastrous winter, those settlers that hadn’t died of starvation or smallpox started, of all things, a newspaper which printed the first immigrant poet of New Iceland, my distant relation Guttormur Guttormsson:
O kin of volcano and floe-sea
Cousin of geyser and steep.
Even the sparse journal entries of my Great-Uncle Sveinn evoke a certain poetic resonance:
January 16: Cold, snowing.
January 17: Cold, snowing.
January 20: Cloud, heavy frost.
To this day, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other nation on the planet. I could go on, as my people are wont to do. The words run quite literally in our blood. Yet I’ve inherited other legacies, too, from these Icelanders who spend half of every year drenched in light, the other half sunk in darkness. Polar moods. Days so black they pass for night. The word-meadow is my haven. Well, would you know more?
– Christina Sunley
I am a waitress. I’d much rather tell you I am a writer, a student, a wife; still, I am a waitress. A food-server, a “Miss,” and sometimes a “Ma’am.” Depending on what you think of my performance you leave me some cash, laid gratuitously on the table for services rendered. A Freudian tip. The busboys neatly stack the green bills. They get 15 percent of everything I make. The food chain continues.
I am merely the messenger, a conduit, the harbinger. Between kitchen and customer I walk to and fro, relaying a code. Like the government, I modify the message to keep you both placated and at peace. I dodge bullets from the cooks as I put in your special order and then take it off the check because you dislike your own creation. I answer questions like the best of game-show contestants: “No, the Caesar is not fishy,” and “Yes, it will be enough food for you.”
I have poured your beer into a wineglass because you like drinking it that way. I have asked the chef to wash his hands before making your meal because you don’t like germs. I have sung “Happy Birthday” to a dead and buried nine-year-old on her birthday because her mother wanted me to. “This was her favorite restaurant!” she explains tearfully, as I clear her third margarita glass, drained.
I am wait-staff; I am serving-wench; I am a Lady in Waiting; joined at the tip to you, the Guest in this crazy dance of social service. We play our chosen part of serf or king, sitting or standing, mother or child. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s merely the system. And besides, my astrological chart says I’m aspected to serve humankind. I just thought it would be more like Mother Teresa or the Peace Corps, but service is no longer romantic when done for reward.
I have called you a cab after too much wine, and called you worse for the same reason. I have held your head in my lap after you had a heart attack in my section and talked about your children while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I am Hang Man champ, hanging out at the counter with kids grown bored of parents who prompt, “What do you say?” and then forget to say “please” themselves.
I am the voice that read you the entire menu because you forgot your glasses. I am the ear into which you whispered “I don’t have any money,” after you ate your dessert. I am the one you stiffed because your meal was too expensive and you needed money to buy cigarettes. I am playful yet efficient, pleasant, and fast–which is most important since you have a movie to catch in a half-hour. I am at your disposal; I am at your beck and call. But that’s OK. I’ve heard good things come to those who wait.
– Jill Haugh
Susan Fleming is a prince. She is adept at many things required of the descendants of czars and kings. She is jovial yet speaks with a commanding bellow changing the mind of the Oracle of Diana.
Susan Fleming is copper- and golden-precious. She is worth sifting sand in excavation of her for centuries. She is a discovery like Lucy and humans walking upright.
Susan Fleming is alive so that we can live. She casts no fool out.
Susan Fleming sews hope into the breast-pocket of God.
Susan Fleming is walking across the kitchen; the rhythm of her steps reverberates through us all.
– Susan Fleming
People Can’t Place My Accent
By necessity, tribal custom was hard in the Ural Mountains. Sensing early and correctly that my myopia was the sort of handicap that could very well lead to my being left outside the village walls after dark for the wolves to dispose of, my parents worked tirelessly to teach me a skill that would benefit the community. I developed a knack for whittling accordion reeds, which positioned me as a valuable trade commodity. And so it was to save the life of their son that my parents traded me to a roving band of polka gypsies for two goats, a Maharaja slalom ski, and a large wagon that my folks later used to make the long trek to Kashmir, where they now make a comfortable living screen-printing Mao Zedong, Buckminster Fuller, and Martha Stewart T-shirts.
I labored on accordion reeds the entire Atlantic passage. But not all of the days were spent below-deck with a small knife in my hand surrounded by a pile of cane. Many a happy afternoon was passed with what I came to think of as my new family on the deck of the wave-tossed ship. The gypsies would fling me overboard so as to help me perfect my newly acquired swimming abilities, and in thanks I taught them the classics: the theme to “Gilligan’s Island,” “My Sharona,” and a tune that they earned a certain following with in resorts throughout the Poconos, a polka version of “I’m a Lineman for the County.” My given name had long since been forgotten, as the gypsy clan had embraced me as one of their own and had taken to calling me Mookie ‘Boom-Boom’ Ignatious, a name I still treasure today.
We landed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and my first taste of America was a corn dog and a strawberry slushy. The gypsies ended my indentured servitude when they did a quick cost analysis and discovered that buying accordion reeds at music stores cost much less than clothing and feeding me. Heavy of heart, I set off down the road on my own. In the damp, still night, the sad gypsy voices carried far after me, ” . . . a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour.” Aside from the clothes on my back, all that I could call mine was piled on the inverted hood of a ’64 VW bug that I dragged down the road behind me by a rope tied about my waist. I didn’t know where I was going or how I would get there. Something pulled me west, either a subliminal desire to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas, a longing to visit the birthplace of Phyllis Diller, Lima, Ohio, or maybe just blind ambition and momentum. I cried myself to sleep that night in a dumpster behind a 76 truck stop and dreamt of polkas, the open road, and stale Stuckey’s pecan logs.
– Bradford Rex
As I scrubbed one of my two cookie sheets down to the finish this morning, I realized that I expected it to be my last cookie sheet. I found, in that light, that I wanted to make it look like new, like I just bought it yesterday. That I cared about it slightly more than might be considered normal; that it was something more than a temporary transport for chocolate chip cookies: it was the Last Cookie Sheet I Would Ever Own.
This is a sobering way to start the day, but I was not as alarmed as I once would have been. It was strangely peaceful to view the metal rectangle in this light, and I scoured the corners with a small pleasure, dried it carefully, and put it away gently, sliding it in next to its twin.
I seem to have reached an age where taking care of what I already own has great merit. Me! The mother of mañanaism. How did this happen?
It’s enough to make you want to bake cookies.
“Things” rarely arouse my lust these days. I have a recurring fantasy of taking armloads of Things I already own, running out of the house into the street, and dumping them–running back into the house, doing it again. In this dream, all I feel is a growing, yelling freedom, some Boston Tea Party yippeekaiyah. (Oh, how I want to go back and rearrange the letters in that last word; I can see so many possible pairings. I know Bruce Willis would know how to spell it right. But even Bruce Willis doesn’t inspire all that much lust. I’m just going to let it go. Let go.)
So, how’d this happen to me? Childless, I’m becoming a “granny,” an LOL. Maybe a BOL. I grow old, I grow old, I will wear my leggings-with-a-big-top rolled.
I move into these ideas and see they are true, and so much nonsense falls away, snakeskin of my earlier lives. In my time I’ve considered more carefully the selection of peaches than the selection of men to be my partners; gone through 4,000 hair rollers now rusting in East and West Coast landfills; seen all the episodes of Star Trek and assumed that whatever didn’t work could be readily replaced, repaired, reinvented.
I’m tired of transitory relationships with the insignificant.
My brothers would laugh and say, “Not if it was a 20-year-old-with-a-tight-butt insignificant”; but they haven’t gotten here yet. Maybe they never will; maybe they can hang forever in the place where nothing meets. I just can’t. I am hoping–in fact, I’m betting the farm on my hope–that there is time enough left for one last reinvention of me: into a person who knows what to value and protect and what to let go of, into a creature with metal.
This is gonna take some real elbow grease.
– Popy Metropolis
Celebrate Jive 3 with our winners, judges, and the Independent staff when we host a reading of these gems of genius on Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. Featured readers include our judges and honorable-mention winners. Copperfield’s Santa Rosa Annex bookstore, 650 Fourth St. The reading is free–as is the grub–and open to all. For details, call 527-1200.
From the Sept. 25-Oct. 1, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.