25 May, 2009

Excerpt from a Random Conversation, Recently Had

"You know what I miss?" he asked.

"What's that?" I responded.

"Women. I miss women."


"Ah, come on! Tell me you don't think about them, like, all the time."

"I really don't. On the list of everything I miss most, I'd have to say my Number One is just general socialization."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean being with friends, meeting people, having meaningful exchanges — basic social stuff."


"Women, sex — I'm not sure if they even rank in my top five."

"Byron the monk, huh? Sorry, dude, I'm not buying it."

"You're not the first person to mention the monk thing. That's funny. It's true, though, I'd have to say food ranks much higher — probably my Number Two."

"Food's a biggie. How about driving? I miss driving. Hop in your Cadillac, hit the gas, and do it: go. Anywhere you want."

"Oh, absolutely. Maybe not in a Cadillac, necessarily, though. Give me a little sports import, something agile. Preferably in red."


"Well, I guess a Cadillac would be fine at this point; it'd get me away from this place."

"Four wheels and an engine's all you need."

"You can even keep the seat."

"Hell, two wheels, even."

"A bicycle? Sure thing. I'll happily pedal home."

"Ha! I'm with you there."

"Okay, so driving is probably my Number Four. I love it, but at this point I'll concede that I'd rather have the company of a beautiful young woman. So that's maybe Three. But Four is a really close Four, subject to move up a notch, depending on my mood that day."

"What do you think about baths? I'm partial to a nice bath now and again. Draw it up, light yourself a few scented candles, turn off the lights — yes, sir; that's the stuff."

"You know, I'd never have pegged you for the bath type. And scented candles? Seriously? Do you go for a shot of the bubbly in there, too?"

"Well, you know, if it's available. I've been known to take a bubble bath or two in my time."

"No shit?"

"No shit."

"You've offically blown my mind, sir. Congratulations."

"Happy to oblige. I miss my baths, though. Prison showers just don't get you clean — don't feel like they do, anyway. Get out on the streets and take yourself a shower, you'll be subject to feel ten times squeakier than you do, stepping out of one of them dingy stalls. A bath, even more so."

"Well, we can at least agree that bathing is an important issue."


"Yeah, well, I doubt if most people out there normally think of this kind of thing. It might be a newsflash to them, knowing prisoners are pining away over more accommodating bathing facilities."

"'Baths? Bicycles? What the hell are these dudes smoking?' They'd think we were fools."

"The thing is, would your list of everything you'd miss, if you'd compiled it before you came to prison — what, twelve years ago for you — would it match all the stuff you actually do miss?"

"I don't know. Probably not. I had some pretty fucked-up priorities back then."

"The hell you say."

"Yeah, well. What about you? Your list be the same then as it is now that you've seen all this?"

"I'm pretty pragmatic — have been ever since I was little, I think. I'd like to think I'd have called it down pretty accurately. Sex might've been a little closer to the top than it actually is, and food a little lower, but otherwise I think I had a decent grasp of what was important."

"Bet that's a small comfort now, though, huh?"

"No comfort at all, Zach. None at all."

05 May, 2009

Requiem for a Paper Bag Now Available

For anyone who has ever discovered value in a piece of trash, wondered about the author of a note they found fluttering down the street, or developed an inexplicable crush on the subject of a discarded photograph, the outstanding anthology Requiem for a Paper Bag is now available from fine booksellers everywhere.

Featuring the personal experiences of a diverse assortment of contributors (including Tom Robbins, Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Jonathan Lethem, Susan Orlean, Miranda July, Jim Carroll, Billy Bragg, Chuck D, Seth Rogen, and many others), these are stories to make you giggle, make you squirm, make you cry — stories, in other words, that are as distinct and as fascinating as their authors. It is not only because the collection includes my story "Trash Night" that I recommend it; Requiem for a Paper Bag really is a fine book you're bound to find worthwhile. Click here to pick up your copy today.

04 May, 2009

Theater of Sleep

I remember only being adrift in a roiling sea of mercury, under a sky like fresh-from-the-earth oil. My craft — a raft? a rowboat? a dinghy? — was thrown along atop listless blobby waves. My eyes strained to the edges of sight, desperate for any trace of solidity. Maybe it lasted a few seconds, maybe a minute or two. It could have been an hour.

This haunting scene remained with me throughout the day, the way a song might have, affecting me anew as I sat at my desk at work, walked to the library that afternoon, and as I folded laundry before bed. My dreams have become, for better or for worse, nightly furloughs from the purgatory of prison existence. They typically make impressions that last. Like this one did.

Somewhere, probably in a book on neurobiology, I read that we cannot smell or taste in dreams, but that sensations of touch are common. This means it is either memory's notorious unreliability or a case of mind-over-matter that I once experienced a series of recurring dreams of such vividness and resonance that I actually started to wonder about the legitimacy of theories about reality's subjectivity. My waking life paled in comparison to the striking experiences of sleep, under which I lived out an intricate set of wanderings in exotic locales — along the banks of the wide, murky Amazon, atop dusty elephants in deepest India — and was surrounded at all times by a traveling troupe of outcast untouchables who loved me with a fervor and devotion unparalleled. We sang and danced along together, on our sojourn to nowhere, never speaking but reveling in one an another's presence. I loved them all right back.

Every night, we languished in the heat of our surroundings, breathed the pungent breezes, and tasted the sticky heaviness of the air. Every morning was a return to unreality, the world paling in comparison to the lurid Technicolor of my wild places. The difference was that of the sweetness and delicate softness of the petals of a flower, contrasted against a shoddy painting of one. I grew concerned for my sanity as the dream world grew increasingly real-seeming, the real one more gauzy and eclipsed.

Over a year's gone by since. It continues to feel like a lived experience. Still I am able to consciously conjure the scenes of my verdant wildernesses, their smells of soil and distant fires. I recall these things with a level of precise recollection as keen as I have for places I have actually been, and there is no way for me to explain fully how this is. Lacking logical explanation, I've not spoken much about it. Friends who know me well enough understand why.

One quasi-spiritual, pseudo-transmigration aside, my dreams generally remain rooted in the realm of the banal. An oft-recurring theme has me walking the aisles of a market, selecting produce and eggs and such. Considering my affection for food and the process of shopping for it, this should hardly be surprising. I also adore the freedom of an open road, which renders equally obvious my repeated nighttime experience of driving a car down an inspiring stretch of interstate. Oftentimes I get to enjoy a fantastic evening in the company of friends. All of this without leaving my bed.

If dreams are a window to the unconscious mind, not merely a hodgepodge of fragments that are, as many neuroscientists believe, the byproduct of the brain's sorting and reorganizing itself, mine would reveal a deep attachment to mundane things — those whose absence is felt more as a persistent ache, like the broken bone of a limb too heavily relied on, than the stabbing agony of a stolen life considered in full.