Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

The Tworacle of Delphi

Dinner (beef stew and mashed potatoes, if I recall correctly) was smelling delicious and ready to be eaten. We wanted to watch a movie. We’ve got a subscription to Zip.ca, and I have a habit of listing every avant-guard movie from 1927 I can find, with the odd bit of candy. So we often have some difficult films to choose from. It’s not that difficult is bad, but let’s just say that every time the Criterion Collection screen comes on, my wife groans; and as wonderful as Kurosawa can be, some nights one just wants to watch Adam Sandler get kicked in the nuts.

Anyway, there we were with two choices: Bicycle Thief and Doctor Zhivago.

Not knowing which to choose, I asked Twitter, and from thence flowed a stream of opinions, a 50-50 split between the two (we went with Bicycle Thief; a bit on the dismal side, to be honest). At some point, my wife yelled: “Stop looking at Twitter and watch the movie!” … because I kept a running tally, shouting out “another for Zhivago” and “oh, so-and-so thinks we made the right choice.”

This story was related by my wife to some non-Tiwtterites, who were in awe of this strange and magical tool that elicited such information, like some digital Oracle of Delphi.

Just a few days ago, I had yet another Delphesian experience on Twitter. I needed a third book to fill out an online book order and get free shipping (the other two books I wanted – Bolano’s 2666 and Elise Blackwell’s Hunger – are not available as ebooks in Canada). And so, I asked Twitter.

And here, for the record, is a list of what the Oracles of Twitter answered (Note: where links were not provided, I will link to whatever comes up first in the Google):

@jbeswick: “The Atomic Obsession” – great read

@seancranbury: goddammit, hugh! Monstrous Affections
or this is really good Unknown Soldier Vol. 1: Haunted House

@janinelaporte: True Deceiver is great. Buy that one Hugh to get your free shipping

@seancranbury: how’s this? Monsieur Pain

@danwagstaff: I keep hearing great things about True Deceiver by Tove Jansson + Blue Fox by Sjon.

@karenjones4: six pixels of separation is great! :) im a media hacks listener! Heard good things about Blue Oceans Strategy, next on my list.

@FNHPodcast: How about “Vulcan 607

@michaelerard: governing the commons, by Elinor Ostrom.

@jenni_fleur: “Recital” by John Siddique….UK poet.

@chebuctonian: Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows

@jmcd77: War of Art

@somisguided: eating the dinosaur by chuck klosterman

@dknippling: When in doubt about what book to get, get Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds.

@jforrest: Zeitoun

@marianslibrary: Have you read 13 1/2 by Nevada Barr? It’s a thriller.

@chriskingstl: Bohumil Hrabal, “I served the King of England”; anything by Robert Walser; anything by Charles Nicholl (Reckoning, The Lodger…)

@D3WEY: that’s a shame it’s amazing like climbing literary mount everest — have you read Updike’s Rabbit series?

@ShireenJ: Mine. :P Seriously though, “Lifeliner” has had good reviews and is a fast read.

@openmargin: The Collaborative Habit by Twyla Tharp?

@jambina: new Michael Chabon?

@lorissa: If you enjoy fantasty reads, I’d suggest The Name of the WInd by Patrick Rothfuss.

@subumom: Have you read the Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa?

@echobase77: Mistborn by @BrandonSandrson!

goldenpen80: Try Razor’s Edge by Maugham, if u haven’t already. Short, sweet, and absolutely sublime.

I chose Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, well before all the other recommendations came in. I’ll let you know what I think of it sometime.

18th C Social Networks

I can’t recall where I found this, but it’s very very cool:

MPs: Please Get Back to Work

I haven’t been writing much bloggy stuff lately, certainly not political rants. And true enough I don’t know much about the history/implications of suspending parliament by prorogue (can anyone point to a good recent source that explains Harper’s action in a historical context? Is it usual? Unusual? – I’d never heard the word before last year, and now he’s done it twice).

On principle, I don’t like it. MPs are elected and are supposed to represent us in parliament. Which they cannot do when parliament is suspended early. Because of the Olympics? Come on. The Olympics? You have to be kidding.

Anyway, why not put voice to your annoyance at a democratic government that wants to govern outside of democracy? Some ways to do it:

1. Join the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook Group.

2. Email Harper & tell him you don’t like it: pm@pm.gc.ca … you could say:

Dear Mr. Harper,

Canada is supposed to be a democracy. For democracy to function, our elected officials are supposed to represent us in Parliament, which they cannot do because of yet another prorogued session. Please reconsider, and get our MPs back to work.

3. Email your MP (mine is Tom Mulcair: Mulcair.T@parl.gc.ca) and tell them you don’t like it:

Dear Mr. Mulcair:

I am writing to you register my strong disapproval at the government’s decision to prorogue parliament. Please do everything in your power to help MPs get back to work soon.

4. email the Governor General: info@gg.ca

Dear Ms. Jean:

I am writing to you register my strong disapproval at the government’s decision to prorogue parliament, again; and your agreement with the decision. Our parliament is supposed to represent the people of Canada, which it can’t do while suspended.

RESPONSES:
Response from Mulcair’s office:

Dear Mr. McGuire,

On behalf of Thomas Mulcair, Member of Parliament for Outremont, I acknowledge receipt of your e-mail.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the shutting down of Parliament by Mr. Harper. We share your outrage.

Stephen Harper is locking out Members of Parliament, preventing them from doing the very important work they were elected to do.

By pulling the plug on Parliament, Stephen Harper killed 36 government legislations which were making progress, including bills dealing with important issues such as consumer protection, white collar crimes or digital policy. It is our view that this is a further attempt by the Harper Government to avoid being held accountable for torture issues in Afghanistan.

The NDP Caucus had a retreat planned the week before the scheduled return of Parliament. The meeting will go ahead as planned,
and NDP MPs will attend and discuss the strategy for the next few months.

Sincerely,

Mathilde Rogue
Adjointe parlementaire
Parliamentary assistant
___________________________________________________________

Thomas Mulcair, député/MP Outremont
Tél. : 514 736-2727
mulcat@parl.gc.ca

LibriVox 3000

On Saturday December 26, 2009 LibriVox cataloged it’s 3000th free, public domain audiobook title.

Some Software That Makes Life Better

Here are four pieces of software that have really changed my quality of life for the better. I thought I would share them with you.

1password ($39.95). I don’t know what unit stress is measured in, but every time I see a web login page the little needle on the gauge attached to my ear starts bouncing. Considering I see about 10,000 login pages everyday, that adds up. 1password is an encrypted, desktop password manager, that integrates seamlessly with my browsers (FF & Safari at least). Every time I register for a new site, I tell 1password to remember the password. So now instead of having a list of 1,000 login details in some “secret” excel file, everything is stored and encrypted in 1password. All I need to do is remember one password, and just login once per usage session. This changed my life completely. It’s expensive, OK, but so worth it.

Skitch (Free) Almost every day, it seems, I want to take a screenshot of something, and mark it up a little, to explain how to do something, to comment on a site/design, to quickly (re)post an image to the web. Skitch is a simple little tool that does this and more. It’s a: screengrabber, image marker-upper, and image post-to-webber (and image host) all in one. It is the ugliest program that I use, but man do I love it.

Dropbox (free –> $19.99) Ever pour water on your computer and have to get a new one? Yeah, me too. Luckily, all my important files are stored on dropbox, which is: a) a little app on your machine that b) syncs selected folders with your online dropbox account. You can sync that account with multiple computers too. It is so easy & so seamless, I forgot that big brother can read everything in the cloud. Free for up to 2G, and $9.99/month for up to 50G. $19.99 for 100G. There’s even an iphone app, so you’ve always got your files at your fingertips. I just recently upgraded to the 50G dropbox.

Grand Perspective (free): What is taking up all the space on my damned hard drive? GrandPerspective will tell you, by showing you a “picture” of what’s on your drive, with the memory hogs represented by big squares. The colours are god-awful, but if you want to clean stuff out, it’s a great way to find out what.

Happy in Paraguay

[link]

Lot’s Wife, Chapter 3 (a Nanowrimo novel)

Well, the real world got in the way of my grand plans to write a nanowrimo novel. But here is Chapter 3 in any case. This is lifted from a chapter I wrote, and liked, in a collaborative Nano novel a couple of years ago…and was in my mind as I started this new one.

***

Rain pours down, glowing like yellow bullets in the headlamps, smashing into the windshield, and the wipers, on high, extra high, wash against the glass, past E’s lower-lip-biting face, over and over and over, thwack thwack thwack thwack like the sound of some manic drummer, some heartbeat, some constant beating against the night, an endless fight against the rain that will not let up, that comes harder and harder and so hard she thinks she must be drowning in it by now today. Eiko is shaking, cold, hands cramping against the wheel. She leans right up against it, her nose almost touching the leather of the wheel, so that she can see better, so that she can get under this rain, get closer to wherever it is she is going–she doesn’t even know where. Just away from where she had been. She wants to escape where she has been–the sirens, the shouts, the sounds of collapsing buildings, the shattered glass, the falling masonry, the million pieces of paper that floated down around her.

She keeps looking in the rear view mirror, her eyes flashing up and to the right, but no one is following her. There is nothing but dark back there, an empty universe of inscrutable black, but she can’t help herself, can’t help checking, verifying, assuring herself that she is alone. She doesn’t even know who would follow her, or why, but she can’t help herself, can’t help checking. The manic windshield wipers keep flailing thwack thwack thwack thwack in a losing battle against the rain. She’s crying, wipes at her tears.
Was she driving away from the noise? From these memories? Dreams? Images of a crumbling city? She didn’t know, didn’t have time to think, could not remember.

She knew only that she had to keep driving, driving away from what was behind her, that if she let her mind wander, at this speed, in this dark, with this rain, on this windy, unknown road wherever it was, she was lost. If she thought too much about it, she would lose control of the car. She would smash into the dark trees that flashed at her from either side of the road, reaching out at her as her headlight poured into them, those trees that flashed for brief seconds, one after the other, again and again, trying to slow her down, get in her way, and then flying past her as she kept speeding along. The road was getting worse, smaller – one lane now, bumpier, winding more, and she shifted down, and up again as she tore around the bend, and there was a big thunk from beneath her, and she was momentarily weightless, head flung up and back, everything seemed to stop, even the wipers, and she hung there, waiting waiting waiting for something, feeling a sudden sense of relief, a sense that the end might have come, that this dark panic in her gut might melt away, might be washed away with warmth and calm that she knew existed somewhere, had once felt, and she waited for the cramps in her shoulder and neck muscles to loosen and relax, waited for sleep, sleep with no more of these dreams.

The car landed, and she bounced up and down again, and back into position, nose inhaling the leather of the steering wheel, teeth cutting into her lower lip.

The paved road had turned to gravel, and now she could hear the rocks and stones bouncing up from below her, hitting the undercarriage of the car like bullets, an asynchronous rat-tat-tat-tatat percussion to go along with the constant thwack-thwack-thwack of the windshield wipers that continued their assault on the windshield in front of her.

She turned another corner, felt the car skidding under her, sliding towards the trees, and she shifted down, spun the wheel, as the tail of the old Mercedes got away from her, fishtailing right, and then left, the full nature of her momentum, now beyond her control. This was it, she had time to think, we think we are in control, pointing in one direction but a false move and everything we are doing is undone, beyond our control, not under it. We don’t control these machines. And she felt something welling up in her, fear that was already there in her throat now took over her whole body, this is it she thought, maybe I won’t have to run anymore. But whatever she did–she could not have told you if you asked, and if you did she would smile and giggle a little, and say, I have no idea! Ha! I was so scared! – but, somehow, somehow she managed to get the car straightened, and she realized she was crying, the tears coming down like the rain outside, with no windshield thwack-thwack-thwack to wipe them away.

She wiped at the tears no more than a second–her hand covered her eyes one beat, a moment so short the wipers made only one thwack, maybe two–and then she opened her eyes, clear of tears.

And saw him standing in front of her, illuminated in the road, standing tall, taller than any man she had ever seen, dressed in white, drenched with the rain, but just standing there.

As she slammed on the clutch and the brakes she had time to study him, as the car slowed, and began to skid straight ahead towards him.
She did not have time even to spin the wheel – not that it would have made any difference – and as the fender hit his legs she watched his face, a kind face, crumple in pain and exertion, his fine features that reminded her, for some reason, of the black-and-white picture of her father standing, legs spread, hands behind his back, in military at-ease pose, outside their house in the mountains in Akita Prefecture, with his linen shirt and pants, and wire-framed glasses. The body hit the windshield, bounced into the dark, and the car, suddenly was stopped, and silent, except for the windshield wipers, thwack-thwack-thwack. She turned the wipers off and jumped out of the car, the wind and rain hurling abuse at her. She slipped in the mud, grabbing at the hood of the car as she raced to get to him.

He was lying on his back, lit by the bright lights of the headlamps, drenched.

He must be dead, she thought, and she knelt beside him, crying again now, and took his face in her hands, wiped his black hair from his eyes. Hello, she said, hello hello please hello are you all right hello … she had never killed a man before. She thought she might be sick.

Hello, he answered, eyes still closed. Yes, he said, I think I am OK. I think so.

He lifted his left arm, flexed his fingers, then lifted his right arm and flexed that hand too, eyes still closed. Hands work, he said. Let’s try the legs. Left, then right, he lifted them, nodding. Yes, he said. Feet OK now. Oh, I will have a headache.

Stay, don’t move, Eiko said. What’s your name?

Daichi Okada, he answered.

Don’t move, Okada-san.

He did, he moved, he sat up.

Yes, he said, I will have a headache. He opened his eyes and looked into hers, a gentle smile on his face. He felt his forehead with his hand, tapping and pressing it, then the top of his head, the back of his head.

“All my parts are in the right place,” he said.

Eiko laughed and cried at the same time, and she hugged him and kissed his neck, and then realized what she was doing, and pulled back, bowing her head. I’m sorry, she said. I’m just happy you are alive.

I know you from somewhere, he answered. And touched her cheek, briefly.

Did he really do that, she thought to herself. Yes, yes he did, he did touch my cheek.

She studied him, and yes he looked like her father from that picture.  But he can’t be her father. Her father has been dead seven–no, eight–years, and he had gray hair when he died. This man is in his thirties or forties. She tells him she does not think it’s possible that he knows her, and he replies, What do you mean, exactly, by possible?

Unsure how to answer him, she helps him to his feet – he groans, but nothing seems broken – and helps him to the passenger seat of the car. He is drenched, his back is covered in mud from the muddy dirt road. She opens the trunk and finds two towels – why did she bring them, she wonders – and gives him one, closes the door, and then installs herself in the drivers’ seat, using the other towel to dry her hair.

What were you doing out on the road like that?” she asks.

Well, it’s my road, a private road, so really I should be asking you that question.

She does not answer but instead starts the engine again, starts the windshield wipers. She doesn’t know how to answer, except to start driving again, which she does, and he doesn’t complain.

“I was looking for an Epiphany,” he says.

Again she does not answer, she’s not sure what this man means, what he wants, why he was out on the road.
That’s my dog, he says. Epiphany. My wife named him that, it was a joke.

She liked to tell people on the phone that I was out looking for Epiphany. But of course, Epiphany is always escaping. That’s the nature of that dog. I’m always chasing after it in the rain. Always looking for an Epiphany.

But that doesn’t quite make sense, Eiko answers.

I know, she was a sweet woman, my wife. She’s dead now. She thought it was funny, even if the article messed up the joke. She died in
the war. I miss her. And if Epiphany wants to spend the night in the rain, that’s her problem.

What war? Eiko thinks but does not ask.

Up here, he says, just a little further, on the left. She slows, and he guides her into the driveway, a small opening in the trees that she never would have seen. This pathway is even smaller than the small road, and the branches of the trees actually caress the side of the car as she continues on, another layer of percussion in the night drive jazz show she’s been listening to since she can remember. Thwack-thwack-thwack rat-tat-tat-tatat shish-shish-shish-shish … They drive, slowly now – she feels safe, and whatever she was driving from is far behind them – down this little winding drive, until finally they come out into a clearing.

Her headlights illuminate a little shack with a kerosene lamp burning in the window, and beyond it she can see rocks and the sea. The rain has stopped, she realizes, but the wipers are still on, thwack-thwack-thwack. She turns them off.

Come in, he says, Let’s have some warm coffee and pie.

A dog barks, runs at them, tail wagging.

Epiphany, Eiko says. And the man says, Yes.

He opens the door to the little shack, and she feels the warmth inside: books lining the walls, Brahms wafting from unseen speakers. She steps inside. It is small, open, with a little kitchen, and a loft with a ladder and a bed; two chairs by a desk and piles of books, a microphone on a stand. She is shivering, cold and wet deep in her bones, but she feels the cold (and the fear, and the panic) seeping away. Epiphany curls up in the corner, and Daichi Okada closes the door.

Coffee, he says. And pie.

Technorati Tags: ,

Lot’s Wife, Chapter 2: A Nanowrimo Novel

I’ve started to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month, aka nanowrimo (wherenin mad people try to write a 50,000-word novel in a month). I’m asking for help proofreading it, using Bite-Size Edits. Could you, would you cast your grammarian’s eye on a sentence or two?

I’ll post the proofread stuff here once in a while I guess. Note: proofread is no guarantee of any kind of quality!

***
Lot’s Wife: Chapter 2

“It was very kind of you to offer me a ride,” she said, opening the door. “And very nice of you to drop me off here.”    

I told her it was my pleasure and that I would happily give her a ride any time.

I blushed as I said it, “I mean…”

“Yeah right,” she smirked at me, scrunching her nose and making one of those non-committal faces so I didn’t know whether she thought it was funny, or suggestive, or what, but she certainly didn’t chastise me.

“My husband just left me,” she said. “What sort of woman do you think I am?”

“An attractive one,” I answered. “But I didn’t mean…”

“You men,” she said and patted my knee. “Only one thing.” She gathered her bag. “See you around! And thanks again.”

She opened the door and got out into the rain. Before she slammed the door shut, I called to her, “Hey, I didn’t get your name?”

She poked her head back into the car, looking genuinely surprised. “You want to know my name? Really?”

I was taken aback. It was as if she’d never been asked the question before. She blinked at me, looking fragile for the first time, finally looking like a woman whose husband had just left her, finally looking like she was upset.

“Of course I do,” I said.

She seemed to think it over for a few seconds. “You can call me Iris,” she said.

Then she smiled again as if it were all forgotten.

“My name is Oscar,” I called out as she shut the door, but it was too late; she was already running under the awning to a grocery store. And then she vanished inside.

***

Iris didn’t want to know my name — not then anyway — but I’ll tell you while I have your attention: my name is Oscar Writh. I was thirty-one when I met Iris (I’m a bit older than that now, but not much), and I worked then part-time as a dishwasher, which I guess I should explain. People wonder about it. The pay is terrible and the hours are bad, but I like washing dishes, and it’s something I’ve done for years. I like it; it’s comfortable and not demanding, and the requirements are clear. Dirty dish becomes clean dish. It’s very simple and requires little judgment, just diligence, and that’s something I appreciate.

When I am not washing dishes, I am a musician and composer of the kind of music that no one likes to buy, and only a few people like to hear: atonal improvisational stuff, the sort of stuff that is “big” in Japan and parts of Germany. Or at least, the kind of stuff that gets me flown to Tokyo and Berlin (or: Osaka and Munich) once in a while, and paid decent amounts of money (for a dishwasher) to give performances and the odd lecture about finding music in the everyday, and other esoteric kinds of subjects that handfuls of people clap about when I am done. So, I wash dishes for money and create music that sounds an awful lot like an industrial kitchen to fulfill the needs of my soul.

This is important because I had been working on a piece called “Lot’s Wife” for the past six months. It was the most ambitious work I’d ever done, certainly the most draining.

I’d always been fascinated by that poor nameless wife of Lot, who gets one mere line in the Old Testament, but who has always been to me the most arresting character in the whole book. She breaks my heart. The one who got turned into a pillar of salt for the sin of looking back. You’ll remember, God is about to rain fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities filled with iniquity–not 10 citizens are deemed good among the people there. Some angels come to take Lot and his family out of Sodom and warn him, Look not behind thee, neither stay thou in the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. The fire and brimstone comes, Lot and his family are whisked safely out of the city, and what does Lot’s wife do? She does what I would have done. She does what we all want to do. She looked back.

I can’t help looking back. I’m doing it right now.

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

That’s the first and last we hear of Lot’s wife, bless her soul, in the entire Bible, save for Jesus’ entreaty that we remember her as an example of what not to do.

But I’ve always wondered if Lot even conveyed the instructions from the angels to his family. Did he even tell her not to look back? As for Lot, well he made some questionable choices, wasn’t the best father, and yet, he never got turned into a pillar of salt. Unlike poor, nameless, Lot’s wife.

Oh, about the car: it was borrowed from my friend, Paul Whinstone, a biblical scholar at Concordia University, an ex-Jesuit (yes, they still exist) who played in a Dead Kennedys cover band. That’s completely irrelevant, but I wanted to make clear that dishwashing, atonal improvisational music and car ownership do not tend to coincide very often. That’s completely irrelevant, but I wanted to make clear that dishwashing and atonal improvisational music and car ownership do not tend to be found together very often.

***

I ran into Iris again a week or so later, at the grocery store where I’d left her off. She was examining grapefruit.

“Hello,” I said.

“Oh, hello, it’s my rainy-day taxi driver, Oscar.”

“How do you know my name?” I asked.

I was just happy that she was being so friendly, so I didn’t press her on it. I assumed–with a dash of pride–that she might have known of me from my music, as outlandish an idea as that was. Eventually we found ourselves at a cafe just down the street from the grocery store and not far from my little apartment.

We chatted pleasantly, about art and music–nothing personal. After a while she said, “Oscar, I was wondering if you could do me a favour?”

I said of course.

“It’s a strange request.”

She wanted me to take a bag to her husband. She hadn’t spoken to him since he left her on the corner, but she had something of his that she didn’t want any more.

I guess I was skeptical and asked her “Why me?”

She answered: “I think it’s easier if a stranger does it. I don’t want to see him. And I don’t want to ask someone close to do it; it’d just be strange. And, well, it just seems like if you have a car, it might be … but don’t feel obliged.”

It would be another chance, a few more chances to meet Iris. A drive to a house in Westmount, or TMR perhaps, ring a doorbell, pass a bag over to someone. What could be easier, right? Right.

***

It was a grey October day close to Halloween, the trees had just in the past week shed their yellowed leaves, and I had that nostalgic feeling I get every time the seasons change. I thought of old girlfriends, long-past sadnesses, and the strange sensation of growing older, but not wiser, something that had just recently begun to preoccupy me. It was a Kafka sort of day, when everything seemed a little off kilter; I had the faint desire to weep, though not about anything in particular. So I was already in a bit of a strange mood when I came upon Iris at our meeting place, a bench in Jeanne Mance Park.

She was sitting alone, with a huge, black suitcase at her feet.

She wore a woolen hat, a blue pea-coat, a striped scarf. Her nose and cheeks were rosy with the cold.

“Hello Oscar,” she said as I approached, standing. She looked deathly serious, like she had looked when I asked her her name.

I started to lean in to kiss her on the cheek in greeting, but she stretched out her hand to shake mine.

Chastened and a little stung, certainly disappointed, I pulled up and nodded formally as if she were a headmaster or an army officer.

“Here’s the package,” she said, all business.

“I see that. It’s smaller than I imagined,” I joked, but she did not smile.

“And here is the address,” she handed me a folded piece of paper. “The directions are there–exact directions, very specific directions–so make sure you follow them.”

I opened the paper to find tiny writing in black ink with what seemed to be a paragraph of directions; I couldn’t quite make out the letters.

“Where is it I’m going?”

“It’s on the paper,” she answered waving a hand at me. “I have to go, Oscar. I am sorry.”

I tested the handle of the suitcase; it was brutally heavy.

“What’s in here?” I asked.

“Thank you again. This means a lot to me. Goodbye, Oscar.” She turned and started walking away.

“Do you have a phone number?”

“So I can tell you when the mission is accomplished?”

“No.”

“How will I find you?”

“Don’t worry about that, Oscar.” She kept walking without looking back. “I’ll find you.”

***

I lugged the case to the car. It was unbelievably heavy, and I had to rest it on the ground several times before I got to the car. I struggled to get it in the trunk, finally succeeded. The car sagged noticeably with its cargo. I installed myself in the front seat to examine the directions Iris had given me.

Lot’s Wife Ch 1: a Nanowrimo Novel

I’ve started to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month, aka nanowrimo (wherenin mad people try to write a 50,000-word novel in a month). I’m asking for help proofreading it, using Bite-Size Edits. Could you, would you cast your grammarian’s eye on a sentence or two?

I’ll post the proofread stuff here once in a while I guess. Note: proofread is no guarantee of any kind of quality!

Lot’s Wife: Chapter 1

“Do you want a lift?”

I’m not sure what inspired me to ask. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, but it was something my dad used to do on rainy days once in a while, when he saw women walking up the hill, especially if they were carrying grocery bags. It never occurred to me till now that there might have been something flirtatious about it – which would have seemed preposterous to me at the time, and still is, sort of, though now that I’m older I’ve come to realize that old people feel much the same the young do, as impossible as that seems when you’re just working out what it means to be an adult. But no, I don’t think he offered for any other reason than that it’s the gentlemanly, friendly thing to do. He was from a small town, grew up on a farm, and probably it was the kind of thing you did back when he was a young man, if you saw someone walking in the rain. I’m sure his father, a man I never met, would have thought it crazy not to offer a lift to someone walking in the rain. Most of the time the puzzled women just shook their heads and smiled, No thanks. Though I remember some of them getting in. This was before full-bore hysteria about sex and strangers seeped through everything, staining our world with mistrust. And anyway, I was sitting there in the car, an angelic little blonde-headed boy with a father who could have been a grandfather smiling at the wheel. Maybe it only happened a couple of times, but it made enough of an impression on me that it’s stuck in this brain of mine. I never asked my father about it, never got the chance to ask him, and I guess I was thinking about him in that vague way sons of long-dead men do sometimes, just wondering what sort of man he would have wanted me to be, and thinking maybe of the kind of son I would want to have one day, the sort of gentlemanly lessons I’d give to him, the importance of politeness, and the value of considering the people around you, of doing kind things for strangers. And so I pulled over – it was just pouring, really belting down, there were flood warnings in some of the expressways around the city – and said:

“Do you want a lift? It’s pouring.”

I didn’t expect her to say yes; I expected that slightly surprised/confused smile that I just faintly recalled from those years long ago. I also half-expected her to just ignore me, or even start running from this sicko madman offering to help a stranger out of the rain. I should say here, by way of context, that I am a nice-looking man. I don’t look like a rapist or jerk, whatever that looks like. I’m disarming, I think, certainly in this kind of situation with strangers. I have an open sort of face and kind eyes and I’m pretty sensitive to what others around me are feeling. I was thirty-one at the time—if any of these details are important to set the scene. So: Nice-looking, average kind of early-thirties man with kind eyes stops car in the rain to ask harried-looking woman hiking up a hill in what the radio says is one of the great rains of the century. So, I rolled down the passenger window (what’s the word for “rolling down a window” now that they are all electric?) I wondered to myself, recalling my family’s big red & wood-paneled station wagon, our first with electric windows, that likely was the scene of those childhood offers of rides that started this whole escapade), and leaned over to her.

“The radio says it’s going to keep raining like this all day,” I shouted. “And it’s a big hill – can I give you a lift to the top at least?”

We couldn’t really hear each other, what with the rain pounding on the roof of the car, and other vehicles spraying loudly past us, but I communicated the invitation, and she, after some hesitation, and after pointing down the hill and shouting soundless explanations, got in and shut the door.

It was probably when she first got in that I wondered what sort of sexual intentions my father might have had for being so gentlemanly. I don’t mean that he would have had any intention intentions, but I’m willing to bet that any man in the universe who invites a strange attractive woman into his car will consider the possibility that it all might end in sex.

I don’t know why I keep dragging my father into this, he has nothing to do with it, and I shouldn’t sully his name – or any man’s, for that matter – with my own particular convictions. Let me get away from the abstract, and tell you exactly what I thought, or at least do the best I can of recreating those thoughts, in the sequence that they came to my mind: 1. She is attractive. 2. It would be nice to end up having sex with her.

Of course I didn’t actually expect that we would have sex, but I was certain as soon as I rolled down the window, or, rather, as soon as I slowed the car, or rather, as soon as I saw her struggling up the hill without an umbrella, that if we did end up having sex I would be more happy with the outcome than sad. Now that I’ve painted myself as a bit of a perv (if, in my defense, the most common garden-variety perv, an affliction of 48% of the world’s population over the age of 13 – or, what do I know, probably 94%), I should probably get a few other things out of the way: I was single, mostly, though there was a girl I was in the process of falling out of love with, who had moved to London, England for a job selling metal futures or hedging contracts or something. We still talked regularly, still exchanged electronic missives with xo at the bottom. But you know how it goes, when you realize the person on the other end of the phone, on the other side of the world, is having more fun without you than you’re having without her. So that was all finished but for the final phone call, or painful meeting, or God help us, the parting email. And for the past few months I’d effectively been a single man trying to figure out how to have all the fun that I was supposed to have as a single man.

I’m sorry about all this: this whole story is about this drenched woman walking up a hill, and not about me, but I can’t help myself.

So, let’s get back to the specifics: kind-looking man, with sex not wholly absent from his mind, invites harried, soaked woman into his car. She gets in.

“It’s pouring out there,” I said.

It was the third, maybe fourth time I said it, and I should mention another thing about myself: when I first meet someone – especially an attractive woman – it’s very often as if every interesting thought I’ve ever had gets temporarily removed from my brain, and I am stuck making stupid comments, and frantically searching my mind for any question other than, “What do you do?” After waiting for a stream of cars to pass us, I pulled out into the road, as always, struggling to think of something to say. I began with an easy one, though I was already using lots of processing power to come up with my next conversational piece: “So where are you going? I can probably drive you there – if it’s not too far away. “It’s really pouring out.” (Time number five).

“Thank you, I’m …” She trailed off, then asked me: “Where are you headed?”

I told her, and she said that would be perfect, mentioned an intersection nearby where she wanted to be left off.

Now, let me tell you a bit about her.

She was not what you would call a striking beauty, but she had that aura about her that it didn’t matter … dark hair, dark skin, Eurasian? Middle Eastern? North African? Not fair in any case. I could go on and on about what she looked like, I suppose, but I think you understand what I’m trying to get at. She was dressed in the international attire of artisticy types–late twenties, or early thirties–and she sat in my car. She was pretty, and I was happy, happy to be charming and flirtatious with a woman I had rescued gallantly from the rain.

I mentioned that it was pouring, but the rain was really extraordinary, and after about five minutes it got so bad that I had to pull over.

“Wow,” she said.

“I haven’t ever seen anything like this.” It’s been that kind of day.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

“No,” she said, not unkindly. “I’ll bet you don’t know what I mean.”

“Oh?”

“My husband left me standing on that corner,” she said. “He left me, he’s gone.”

“Do you mean left left?” I asked.

“I’m not really sure, but yep, that was the impression I got,” she said. “Would you like a fig? These are really good figs.” She pulled a bag of fresh figs out of her knapsack, and handed me one.

I accepted and popped the whole thing in my mouth. She bit into the fig and sucked the contents, making smacking sounds.

“God, these are good figs.”

“You don’t sound very upset about your husband.”

“My husband?” Or, ex-husband I guess. Soon-to-be ex-husband. Yeah, well. If you knew him, you’d understand. God these figs are amazing.”

They were, I agreed, tasty figs.

Happy Hallowe’en from the NFB