Did You Get That Thing I Sent You?

Stuff to make your work day just a bit more bearable.

Archive for January 2009

John Updike 1932-2009

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Story stolen from Philebrity.com

A&P

By John Updike

In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I’m in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don’t see them until they’re over by the bread. The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs. I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She’s one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I knowit made her day to trip me up. She’d been watching cash registers forty years and probably never seen a mistake before.

By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a bag — she gives me alittle snort in passing, if she’d been born at the right time they would have burned her over in Salem — by the time I get her on her way the girls had circled around the bread and were coming back, without a pushcart, back my way along the counters, in the aisle between the check-outs and the Special bins. They didn’t even have shoes on. There was this chunky one, with the two-piece — it was bright green and the seams on the bra were still sharp and her belly was still pretty pale so I guessed she just got it (the suit) — there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces, the lips all bunched together under her nose, this one, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn’t quite frizzed right, and one of these sunburns right across under the eyes, and a chin that was too long — you know, the kind of girl other girls think is very “striking” and “attractive” but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much — and then the third one, that wasn’t quite so tall. She was the queen. She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their shoulders round. She didn’t look around, not this queen, she just walked straight on slowly, on these long white prima donna legs. She came down a little hard on her heels, as if she didn’t walk in her bare feet that much, putting down her heels and then letting the weight move along to her toes as if she was testing the floor with every step, putting a little deliberate extra action into it. You never know for sure how girls’ minds work (do you really think it’s a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glassjar?) but you got the idea she had talked the other two into coming in here with her, and now she was showing them how to do it, walk slow and hold yourself straight.

She had on a kind of dirty-pink – – beige maybe, I don’t know — bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me, the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim. If it hadn’t been there you wouldn’t have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty.

She had sort of oaky hair that the sun and salt had bleached, done up in a bun that was unravelling, and a kind of prim face. Walking into the A & P with your straps down, I suppose it’s the only kind of face you can have. She held her head so high her neck, coming up out o fthose white shoulders, looked kind of stretched, but I didn’t mind. The longer her neck was, the more of her there was.

She must have felt in the corner of her eye me and over my shoulder Stokesie in the second slot watching, but she didn’t tip. Not this queen. She kept her eyes moving across the racks, and stopped, and turned so slow it made my stomach rub the inside of my apron, and buzzed to the other two, who kind of huddled against her for relief, and they all three of them went up the cat-and-dog-food-breakfast-cereal-macaroni-ri ce-raisins-seasonings-spreads-spaghetti-soft drinks- rackers-and- cookies aisle. From the third slot I look straight up this aisle to the meat counter, and I watched them all the way. The fat one with the tan sort of fumbled with the cookies, but on second thought she put the packages back. The sheep pushing their carts down the aisle — the girls were walking against the usual traffic (not that we have one-way signs or anything) — were pretty hilarious. You could see them, when Queenie’s white shoulders dawned on them, kind of jerk, or hop, or hiccup, but their eyes snapped back to their own baskets and on they pushed. I bet you could set off dynamite in an A & P and the people would by and large keep reaching and checking oatmeal off their lists and muttering “Let me see, there was a third thing, began with A, asparagus, no, ah, yes, applesauce!” or whatever it is they do mutter. But there was no doubt, this jiggled them. A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct.

You know, it’s one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A & P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor.

“Oh Daddy,” Stokesie said beside me. “I feel so faint.”

“Darling,” I said. “Hold me tight.” Stokesie’s married, with two babies chalked up on his fuselage already, but as far as I can tell that’s the only difference. He’s twenty-two, and I was nineteen this April.

“Is it done?” he asks, the responsible married man finding his voice. I forgot to say he thinks he’s going to be manager some sunny day, maybe in 1990 when it’s called the Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company or something.

What he meant was, our town is five miles from a beach, with a big summer colony out on the Point, but we’re right in the middle of town, and the women generally put on a shirt or shorts or something before they get out of the car into the street. And anyway these are usually women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs and nobody, including them, could care less. As I say, we’re right in the middle of town, and if you stand at our front doors you can see two banks and the Congregational church and the newspaper store and three real-estate offices and about twenty-seven old free-loaders tearing up Central Street because the sewer broke again. It’s not as if we’re on the Cape; we’re north of Boston and there’s people in this town haven’t seen the ocean for twenty years.

The girls had reached the meat counter and were asking McMahon something. He pointed, they pointed, and they shuffled out of sight behind a pyramid of Diet Delight peaches. All that was left for us to see was old McMahon patting his mouth and looking after them sizing up their joints. Poor kids, I began to feel sorry for them, they couldn’t help it.
Now here comes the sad part of the story, at:least my family says it’s sad but I don’t think it’s sad myself. The store’s pretty empty, it being Thursday afternoon, so there was nothing much to do except lean on the register and wait for the girls to show up again. The whole store was like a pinball machine and I didn’t know which tunnel they’d come out of. After a while they come around out of the far aisle, around the light bulbs, records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on, sixpacks of candy bars, and plastic toys done up in cellophane that faIl apart when a kid looks at them anyway. Around they come, Queenie still leading the way, and holding a little gray jar in her hand. Slots Three through Seven are unmanned and I could see her wondering between Stokes and me, but Stokesie with his usual luck draws an old party in baggy gray pants who stumbles up with four giant cans of pineapple juice (what do these bums do with all that pineapple juice’ I’ve often asked myself) so the girls come to me. Queenie puts down the jar and I take it into my fingers icy cold. Kingfish Fancy Herring Snacks in Pure Sour Cream: 49¢. Now her hands are empty, not a ring or a bracelet, bare as God made them, and I wonder where the money’s coming from. Still with that prim look she lifts a folded dollar bill out of the hollow at the center of her nubbled pink top. The jar went heavy in my hand. Really, I thought that was so cute.

Then everybody’s luck begins to run out. Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye. Lengel’s pretty dreary, teaches Sunday school and the rest, but he doesn’t miss that much. He comes over and says, “Girls, this isn’t the beach.”

Queenie blushes, though maybe it’s just a brush of sunburn I was noticing for the first time, now that she was so close. “My mother asked me to pick up a jar of herring snacks.” Her voice kind of startled me, the way voices do when you see the people first, coming out so flat and dumb yet kind of tony, too, the way it ticked over “pick up” and “snacks.” All of a sudden I slid right down her voice into her living room. Her father and the other men were standing around in ice-cream coats and bow ties and the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them. When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it’s a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with “They’ll Do It Every Time” cartoons stencilled on.

“That’s all right,” Lengel said. “But this isn’t the beach.” His repeating this struck me as funny, as if it hadjust occurred to him, and he had been thinking all these years the A & P was a great big dune and he was the head lifeguard. He didn’t like my smiling — -as I say he doesn’t miss much — but he concentrates on giving the girls that sad Sunday- school-superintendent stare.

Queenie’s blush is no sunburn now, and the plump one in plaid, that I liked better from the back — a really sweet can — pipes up, “We weren’t doing any shopping. We just came in for the one thing.”

“That makes no difference,” Lengel tells her, and I could see from the way his eyes went that he hadn’t noticed she was wearing a two-piece before. “We want you decently dressed when you come in here.”

“We are decent,” Queenie says suddenly, her lower lip pushing, getting sore now that she remembers her place, a place from which the crowd that runs the A & P must look pretty crummy. Fancy Herring Snacks flashed in her very blue eyes.

“Girls, I don’t want to argue with you. After this come in here with your shoulders covered. It’s our policy.” He turns his back. That’s policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency.

All this while, the customers had been showing up with their carts but, you know, sheep, seeing a scene, they had all bunched up on Stokesie, who shook open a paper bag as gently as peeling a peach, not wanting to miss a word. I could feel in the silence everybody getting nervous, most of all Lengel, who asks me, “Sammy, have you rung up this purchase?”

I thought and said “No” but it wasn’t about that I was thinking. I go through the punches, 4, 9, GROC, TOT — it’s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a lttle song, that you hear words to, in my case “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)”-the splat being the drawer flying out. I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there, and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking.

The girls, and who’d blame them, are in a hurry to get out, so I say “I quit” to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they’ll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero. They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car, Queenie and Plaid and Big Tall Goony-Goony (not that as raw material she was so bad), leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.

“Did you say something, Sammy?”

“I said I quit.”

“I thought you did.”

“You didn’t have to embarrass them.”

“It was they who were embarrassing us.”

I started to say something that came out “Fiddle-de-doo.” It’s a saying of my grand- mother’s, and I know she would have been pleased.

“I don’t think you know what you’re saying,” Lengel said.

“I know you don’t,” I said. “But I do.” I pull the bow at the back of my apron and start shrugging it off my shoulders. A couple customers that had been heading for my slot begin to knock against each other, like scared pigs in a chute.

Lengel sighs and begins to look very patient and old and gray. He’s been a friend of my parents for years. “Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad,” he tells me. It’s true, I don’t. But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it. I fold the apron, “Sammy” stitched in red on the pocket, and put it on the counter, and drop the bow tie on top of it. The bow tie is theirs, if you’ve ever wondered. “You’ll feel this for the rest of your life,” Lengel says, and I know that’s true, too, but remembering how he made that pretty girl blush makes me so scrunchy inside I punch the No Sale tab and the machine whirs “pee-pul” and the drawer splats out. One advantage to this scene taking place in summer, I can follow this up with a clean exit, there’s no fumbling around getting your coat and galoshes, I just saunter into the electric eye in my white shirt that my mother ironed the night before, and the door heaves itself open, and outside the sunshine is skating around on the asphalt.

I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course. There wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn’t get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he’djust had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

Written by Peter Kelly

January 27, 2009 at 7:33 pm

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My RSS Feed Is Your RSS Feed

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I have deep, passionate love for Google Reader.  Every morning I wonder, “What’s the internet say?” and Google Reader responds, “This.”

Here are the sites I subscribe to, so you can subscribe to them too, thus bringing about further fame, accolades, and pressure to succeed for the purveyors of these fine online institutions (listed as they appear on my Reader, which is alphabetically):

A Reader of Depressing Books(“*” is how it is listed): Tao Lin’s blog.  He’s an odd duck.  I’ve sent my poems and short fiction to a bunch of websites he’s been published at, but I guess those websites like Tao Lin and not Peter Kelly.

A Beautiful, Lofty Thing:  This is a blog curated by my e-friend Cari, her real friend Kari, and occassionally her boyfriend, Tim.  They’re great folks who post about feminism, movies, and everyday stuff like bowling and changing their blogger template.

a thinking fishstick:  This is the blog of Philadelphia based artist/musician/webboard poster “Jewels,” Scott Ratinoff.  I wish him tons of success and millions of dollars.

Achewood:  The best internet comic.  I think very soon I will make a blog post called “The Best Internet Comic” and it will contain my favorite Achewood strips, so that maybe somebody new will become a fan and will buy an Achewood t-shirt and Chris Onstad will make some more money.

another sucker on the vine:  Blog of British person “Andy.”  He writes about music and is a much better writer than he realizes.

Bitches I’d Put It To:  This is a “pictures of ladies” blog owned and operated by internet webboard poster Less Petty.  It’s pretty funny to me, but he needs a kick in the ass to post more regularly.

chatting with beyerstein:  This blog is still in its infancy but its a great idea: my e-friend Patrick posts chats with legendary Hipinion user Jason Beyerstein.  One of the first posts also contains a video of Beyerstein drinking four eggs, a la Rocky.  So far all the dialogues are between Patrick and Beyerstein, but he’s looking for outside submissions.

Cotton Veins:  …is a really cool photostream that I just found out no longer exists.  Bring it back, Stupid Ass!

Did You Get That Thing I Sent You?:  Just a really awesome blog by a handsome, magnanimous genius.

Haikuna Matada:  A lady named Lisa writes haiku.

If Destroyed, Still True:  A pretty good British blog about comics (the X-Men in particular), with some pop culture discussion thrown in.

Kausfiles:  Mickey Kaus is a pretty smart political writer for slate.com.  I like him because he isn’t terribly partisan/doesn’t seem to like anybody.

Letters To Look Forward To:  Above-mentioned Lisa writes imaginary letters to people famous and not so famous.   It’s a really funny blog.  FYI, since I’ve been outing everyone, she posts on the internet as Bread Astaire. 

Project 365, MK II: A “take a picture every day for a year” project by a good fella named Max.  Kid’s got a good eye.

Salon: H0w The World Works:  A really informative, substance-rich blog from Salon, a site whose content typically ranges from foamingly partisan garbage to ten page “exposes” scientifically proven to put you to sleep.  Post script: the site also has Cary Tennis, Dan Savage, and Garrison Keillor- how is it still boring?

Stereogum:  …I honestly think this happened by accident.

Subway Non-Fiction:  A just swell blog by my friend and roommate, Jonah.  He relays tales of  great “subway moments,” those fascinating cultural exchanges any big city resident is familiar with.

Tell The Tell:  An audio blog by Tim, the boyfriend who sometimes contributes to A Beautiful, Lofty Thing.

This Glass Is Half Drunk:  An aborted attempt at a movie blog?  Prove me wrong, Renna.  Prove me wrong.

UNDER THE MUCK:  A rockin blog about “Rock, Metal and Punk Beyond the First Tier” by awesome dad, Cory(internet user Grammatron).

Written by Peter Kelly

January 15, 2009 at 7:15 pm

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Aw Gee.

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My poetry has penetrated the internet.

Written by Peter Kelly

January 15, 2009 at 6:37 pm

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Raymond Chandler

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Raymond Chandler was an American pulp writer who, along with Dashiell Hammett, pioneered the noir crime novel.  His most famous works include The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, and the screenplay for Double Indemnity. While Chandler admittedly borrowed his terse, fast paced prose style from Hammett, it was Chandler who introduced the elaborate, gritty simile device that is now considered the staple of the hardboiled genre:

She’s a charming middle age lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she’s washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tire, rim and all.   — Farewell, My Lovely (Chapter 6)

Noir, it could be argued, by me, is the most essentially American form of storytelling.  American because it revels in the dark consequences of aspiration; American because even the rich are miserable; American because it is dystopian and the dystopia is here; and American because it was born there, anyway, and I can’t at the moment think of another literary genre that can claim that.  And the truth is noir, when it is good, is extremely psychological and self-conscious.  It presents a world of black and white hats, and yet noir writers can’t stop themselves from actively muddying this distinction.  Perhaps the most famous and cliched moment in hardboiled fiction is when the tough protagonist finally sets everything right, and then proceeds to scorn the very woman he has pined after for the entire book.  He always has his reasons, but the act never fails to come off as thinly veiled self-flagellation, as if he is punishing himself for feeling anything whatsoever by denying himself that which could actually make him happy.  The writers who have used this familiar device (and Chandler is not above the classics) demonstrate the basic silliness of operating strictly from a “code,” while at the same time romanticizing such moral asceticism.  If that contradiction doesn’t say somethin really integral about America, I’m not sure anything else can.

Here are some things about Chandler:

A great series of photos from locations in Chandler’s novels.  Chandler wrote primarily about San Francisco, a place I feel that I know from reading his books.  I expect when I visit that everyone will be wearing hats and calling each other “Mac.”

A pretty entertaining collection of “Chandlerisms,” the turns of phrase that made him famous and make his prose so damn fun to read.

And a really awesome recording of an interview of Raymond Chandler, conducted by (!) Sir Ian Flemming.

(Note: There are no real large excerpts of the author’s work in this post.  That kind of betrays the stated intention of this blog, yes, but all of Chandler’s stories are still heavily anthologized, and his books remain under copywrite.  So go out and buy The Long Goodbye, you damn doity rat.)

Written by Peter Kelly

January 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

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