Reading Into Things Too Much; A Study in Impossibly Stupid Reflections

Dear Ilana Masad,

The members of the fiction admissions committee have carefully review your application, and I am sorry to report that we are unable to offer you a place in [REDACTED].  We have a limited number of openings and must turn away many promising applicants.  This year, one thousand and twenty-six people applied for twenty-five spaces.

We wish you well and thank you for your interest in [REDACTED].

Sincerely,


[REDACTED]


Director

[REDACTED DIRECTOR’S INITIALS]/jz

It is 5:37am and I am awake and thinking of the nature of time. Because that’s what writers do. Right? Faulkner did it. I must do it too.

At first I thought the typo in the first line was the missing “ed” from the word “review,” but then it dawned on me that this may not be the case! What if the typo is the word “have” that comes before “carefully?” Strike that word out, and the whole nature of this thing is thrown into question. A 5:40am kind of question. If the members of the fiction admissions committee carefully review my application, that means they are still reviewing it, ad infinitum, and even though they “are unable to offer” me a place, they might totally change their minds, if, you know, they keep reading my application over, and over, and over…
This, at 5:42am, is a hopeful, and far more cheerful, way of looking at this whole situation.
Then again, maybe the missing “ed” is supposed to deprive me of what those two letters are shorthand for – think higher ed, continuing ed, that sort of thing. Maybe they’re just rubbing it in. Assholes.

Or maybe they’re encouraging me to seek the “ed” in other places. Maybe I should get a PhD.

But what’s with the double spacing? Look, REDACTED, I’m an editor myself and I totally notice  when  there  are  two  spaces  between  words, mostly because old people are prone to double-spacing because you used to need to do that on typewriters or something. I think? That’s what someone told me. Maybe it was my mom. The question is, REDACTED, did you actually write these letters on typewriters? I mean, that would be on brand, but then again, maybe it’s actually a message hidden in that double space. Are you going to take me on a treasure hunt? Maybe if I look with a magnifying glass, I’ll find a secret QR code there, betraying the nature of temporality and embedded societal ageism (old people double space, young people QR code). Then if I scan the QR code into my phone, maybe I’ll be directed to a link that says PSYCH! YOU’RE TOTES ACCEPTED!

Or maybe, and just maybe, I realize at 5:45am, this is actually a secret Jay-Z marketing campaign. I mean, it makes sense, sort of, in an alternative and paper-killing kind of way. If one thousand and one people are getting this letter (though there’s probably a waiting list, and maybe it’s also twenty-five people long, just in case none of the people who get into REDACTED want to go, in which case it’s nine hundred and eighty-six people getting this particular letter, but I can’t be sure because it’s too early to do math) – well, that’s a lot of shares right there. Every one of us letter-receivers is going to share it with our friends, families, therapists, cats, and neighborhood sympathetic bartenders. Or baristas, baristas are cooler these days. And let’s not forget hairdressers. People talk to their hairdressers, right? Or is that just something from Legally Blond and Orange is the New Black? Anyway, shares. That’s the point. Maybe Jay-Z is going to rebrand himself as jz and is looking to break into highbrow hipster writer culture, you know, the kind that only reads Anna Karenina and e. e. cummings and cries when rats are smushed by buses while smoking American Spirits.

Not that that’s me or anything. (It’s actually not. American Spirits are too expensive and taste gross.)

But if Jay-Z is rebranding, then hey, it’s his own identity and I totally get that. I respect that. Peace be with you, jz.

It’s 5:56am on a Sunday morning, and I have no decided that I’m over you, REDACTED. Because if you really want me to read so much into your letters, you don’t really want me. That’s what they always say about relationships. Don’t be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. Right?

Or maybe you do want me and just want to play Sherlock Holmes games. Well, I’m sorry, REDACTED. I’m not that smart. Or have that ready an access to opium. Or use the word “ejaculated” to express a way of speaking. No, wait, that’s John Watson writing about Holmes. Or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing as Watson about Holmes.

Things are getting meta over here.

It’s 6am.

Forthcoming Books From Dead and/or Unconsenting Authors

  1. The unearthed copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The Reunion, in which the friends are in their 40s and sit in a dive bar and reminisce about old times. Intertwined with their discussions are flashback scenes interspersed throughout involving Jim’s life after the Civil War. Anticipated release date: December 10, 2015.
  2. Emily Dickinson’s poetry cycle, tentatively titled Bees of a Feather, which critics who have had a glimpse at the work say will resolve once and for all Dickinson’s obsession with the flying honeybees she so often examined in her poetry. Dickinson’s estate and her publishers are closely monitoring the manuscript and have only allowed readers to examine the work after going through extensive security clearance and signing several gag orders. Anticipated release date: May 1st, 2015.
  3. An edited version of Franz Kafka’sThe Trial, which, up until now, was believed to have never been completed during the author’s lifetime. Kafka fanboys have unearthed what publishers are promoting as the definitive version which will eliminate timeline confusions and will end with a more satisfying and explanatory final chapter and epilogue. Anticipated release date: late 2015.
  4. An as-yet untitled Jane Austen novel about two sisters, their mother, and the rich next-door neighbor who attempts to seduce each of the three over the course of 20 years. The manuscript was discovered among newly found papers belonging to Austen’s niece who scribbled editorial notes all in the margins. Publishers are still debating whether to publish the manuscript with or without the familial editorial touch. Anticipated release date: TBA
  5. W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Talented Twentieth, in which he rethinks the math regarding The Talented Tenth and is embarrassed about the problematic undertones in that first book and engages in lengthy Socratic dialogue with himself in the prologue. He also envisions the future of the African American experience in the United States and predicts, optimistically, that America will lead the charge in eliminating racism from the world. Anticipated release date: Black History Month 2016.
  6. Emily Bronte’s Withering Heights; or, the Story of Katherine in her Unsullied Youth. A prequel to Wuthering, Withering was found among newly discovered effects stored in a basement in West Riding of Yorkshire, where she lived and died. The manuscript includes diary entries and little doodles of hearts with the word “Heathcliffe” in them, as well as a stern lecture by a mysterious old woman about the dangers of emotionally abusive relationships. Anticipated release date: June, 2015. We anticipate inclusion of the title in Best Beach Read lists.
  7. An untitled Nella Larsen novel in which a blonde woman passes for black and a dark-skinned woman passes for white and both engage in a romantic relationship involving cruel grins and soft fingers passing through each other’s hair. The closest to explicit queerness that Larsen has ever come, it is rumored the novel will be released just prior the New York Gay Pride Week in early summer. Anticipated release date: TBA
  8. During the making of the recent documentary and the accompanying book (Salinger), publishers have now revealed that an unpublished story by J. D. Salinger was found in the archives of The New Yorker magazine (unearthed during the move from Times Square to the World Trade Center). The story, titled “Holden’s Hands,” is apparently a precursor to Catcher in the Rye, and will be published in a coming issue of The New Yorker. Anticipated release date: TBA
  9. Grace Paley’s novel – unknown until recently, when a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College found it buried in the ground beneath the Teahaus – the novel deals with Paley’s recurring character, Faith, and finally puts to rest the questions of how many husbands she had, which ones she divorced, and what happened to her when her kids grew up. Anticipated release date: International Women’s Day, 2016.
  10. In a startling revelation, the Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, has announced that it will release a free e-book by Charles Dickens on the illustrious author’s next birthday. The novella, entitled The Afterdays of Ebenezer Scrooge, is said to be a glib and satirical view of Scrooge’s apparent transformation in A Christmas Carol. The Fellowship recommends a strong stomach and an ironic sense of nostalgia for readers choosing to expose themselves to Afterdays. Anticipated release date: December 1.

 

Unexpected Royalty

“It was not cute,” my roommate said. “I’m not a screamer or anything, but eugh.”

That was the day the large rat made its entrance into our lives. It was an innocuous enough beginning. Nobody, not even my sturdy, stalwart roommate, likes to be faced with a rat as big as a tennis racket is long when going to the garbage room of the apartment building. Seeing them in the subway, running across the tracks and somehow always avoiding the third rail – that’s cute. But having one sit there and stare at you is an entirely different story.

I’m not the kind of guy who thinks of girls as wusses, but I was pretty surprised when my roommate wouldn’t let the subject of the rat go.

“Seriously, Mal, I’m telling you, it was so big, and it was just staring at me. You don’t understand. It had this look…”

“Yeah, okay, but you wipe the asses of old men all day for a living. How is a rat worse?”

She glared. “That’s not all I do and you know it. Look, I know that it’s not exactly sexy, going into geriatrics, but it’s important, okay, like how would you like it if you were eighty and in the hospital and all the nurses kept talking to you like you were four and–”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re too easy to get, you know.”

She swatted me with the kitchen towel and threatened she wouldn’t share her food. The rat was forgotten at least then.

It was my turn to take the garbage out the next week. I pushed the responsibility off by shoving the yuck in the can down again and again with bits of cardboard from the recycling bin (which also needed clearing). When I couldn’t avoid it anymore, I made myself mouth-breathe, tied the bag, and took it down to the absolutely disgusting garbage room.

There are always flies hovering around it, a dark cloud of them buzzing and flying in geometric shapes, over and over again. One night, when I was really high, I speculated that maybe the shapes they made were runes, spells, and that it was flies that kept the earth twirling and going round the sun. The idea stuck with me, unlike most of my stoned babble, and it made me wary of swatting them.

I pushed the garbage room door open and swung the bag back in an arc so I could toss it all the way in without setting foot inside the room. Before I let the bag loose, though, a fat brown rat caught my eye. The bag swung back down and pendulumed a little in my upraised hand. I didn’t really notice. I suppose I kept my hold on it by sheer instinct.

I was mesmerized. This rat – it was positively majestic. It was the Cleopatra of rats. The Henry VIII of rats. The freaking Freddie Mercury of rats. It had a scar across its left eye and one of its protruding front teeth was chipped. Its grey fur was matted but it looked like a coat bought from the Salvation Army, like a vintage delicacy scrounged from the bargain bin. There should have been a soundtrack of a guitar solo going.

It – I have no idea how you tell rat gender – was also slouched sideways, kind of leaning towards one hip. If it had eyebrows, it would only have been raising one. This rat, this cool as a mofo rat, was basically asking me what the hell did I think I was doing, barging into its domain.

There was squeak, the only squeak I’ve ever heard that had a smoker’s rasp to it, and I could swear the intonation was the same as “get the hell out of here,” as spoken by any impatient bartender getting rid of a shoeless customer.

I took the garbage next door and tossed it in their garbage room.

When I got back upstairs, I asked my roommate if she’d thrown the garbage in there with the rat last week.

“What rat?”

“Oh come on. You know which rat.”

“…you’ve seen it?”

“Have I. Have I!”

“So you know,” she breathed.

“Why did you pretend to be disgusted by it?”

“What else could I do? Tell you that the King of All Rats is presiding over our very garbage room? You’d have told me I was insane.”

“I guess. But now I understand. I get it. We have royalty here.”

“Yes. And you know what makes us. Courtiers.”

That- that was just the beginning of our involvement with the rat.

How to Be an Adult: An Education

As a twenty-one-year old college student, I’m well aware that I’m still living in a bubble of parental care and structured life, even though I’m encouraged to act independently and take on responsibilities of my own. Still, once I graduate (in two and a half years) I will need to deal with a monster scarier than in any horror story you can imagine: the infamous Real World. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve decided that there should be a specific school that teaches how to be an adult. Here are the courses I imagine:

-How to Manage Your Money 101 (a required course for the following electives: How to Be Frugal Without Being Stingy; The Bare Essentials: What Are They?; How to Take a Vacation Without Regretting it Forever; and the ever-popular How to Pay Off Your Student Loans.)

-Being Single (a required course for the following electives: How to Know When It’s Time to Break Up; How to Dump Your Partner with Kindness, Courtesy, and Minimal Ego-Damage; How to Survive Rejection; Bars, Beaches and Bowling Alleys: Meeting People; The Online Dating Scene: Going Digital)

-Tax Returns and Living Alone: Life Skills (a required course for the following electives: Leaving Home: Tragedy or Jubilation?; A Corner of One’s Own: Living with Roommates; How to Pay Taxes Without Tears; I Rented an Apartment: Now What?; Health Insurance: Step by Step; Robbers and Rapists and Muggers, Oh My – Getting Past First-Time-Out-of-the-Nest-Paranoia)

Big Apple, Small Room

It took me a while to convince my mother that our apartment wasn’t twenty-five square feet. I needed to remind her that if it was, that would mean it was the size of my aunts’ terrace.

Nevertheless, the space is small, the bed slopes, the internet is having issues, the shower-curtain smells suspiciously of new plastic (was there blood on the previous one? Is that why it was changed so recently) and the air-conditioning not so much hums as grunts and complains loudly that its back is hurting. We shut the poor thing off and slept with the windows open.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? Oh, dear me, no! Part of life in the big city is the itty-bitty one room apartments that make up those jigsaw puzzles of lights-in-windows that can be seen anywhere, always, because it never goes completely dark here. I heard something about some legendary blackout that happened sometime, but I can’t imagine it. How would people so addicted to their machines function?

Friends, good food, and fun awaits. Oh, yeah, and then school starts in a couple days. But until then, I’m going to make the most of this place.*

*By that, of course, I mean I’m going to go with my mom to read at the Highline park. But hey, that’s pretty dang adventurous for me!

An Honest Cover Letter

Dear Publisher or Literary Agency,

I love reading. I love writing. I bet you hear this all the time, but I just want you to know that I mean it. When I begin to talk about books, I feel my stomach leaping and the tips of my toes curl in excitement. When I sit down to write every day, I feel as if this is something I will gladly be doing for the rest of my life, even if it doesn’t result in a lot of money. I’m fully willing to become a waitress to support my writing habit.

However, it’s probably harder getting published as an unknown waitress who writes during her hours off than as a literary agent or editor at a publishing house. Working with you will give me an “in.” Am I being too blunt? Forgive me, but that’s the point. I’ve spent the last two and a half hours drafting (or attempting to draft) clever, concise and comprehensive cover letters in which I subtly explain why I will get down on my knees and beg to work for you. My mind is fairly wrung out, and so in order to refresh and cleanse it, I’m telling you the truth.

The truth is that while my biggest goal isn’t to become a publisher or literary agent, these are jobs that I would do a lot to get if they would help me support my writing habit while also letting me deal with books all day. I’ve been working in a bookstore during the last month, and I’ve found that the mere presence of hundreds of books is enough to keep me motivated and happy. Only think how well I’ll work for you at a job that would involve not only seeing books but reading manuscripts and writing letters!

I fear that my formulaic cover letters will get swallowed in the mass of other likely, qualified candidates that will contact you. If I had the guts, I’d send you this letter instead – although, to be fair, I’d probably work at it a lot longer and make it wittier and more touching than it is.

The bottom line (or, rather, lines) is that I love books, I’m passionate about the written word, and I would love to work anywhere that helps in the process of getting a book from the writer’s personal hard-drive and into the bookstore where I happily purchase it. Even though you’re businesses and your goal is to profit, you also save my life along the way by continuing to publish the books without which I wouldn’t know how to survive the emotional and mental turmoil that every human being goes through.

Hire me, hire me, hire me,

Help me keep writing and books in my life forever by letting me leap into the publishing world during my sophomore year at college,

(I promise you won’t regret it,)

Sincerely,

SlightlyIgnorant

Hire Me?

To Whom it May Concern:

Let’s be honest. You’ve got all those lovely books on your shelves above that big, fat, oak desk of yours – but you’ve only read three of them. The rest you got as gifts over the years, liked the look of, and put them up there. This way, when big, important, pretentious clients come to talk to you, they can throw out a remark about whatever book they’ve happened to have read that they spot on your shelf. Sometimes, they hit on one of those books you’ve read, and the two of you can prove to each other how intelligent you are. But more often than not, you need to glance at the shelf to remember what book they’re referring to, take it down, and look sneakily at the back while pretending to show them the lovely edition you have, just so that you can remember what on earth the volume is about.

This is where I come in. I am offering, for a small fee, to spend my days reading all your books, and dedicated a half-hour a day to telling you what each book is about. Trust me, it’s much nicer to hear someone tell you about a book than to read the back or the inside flap. I’ll be able to convey the main themes and even, if your memory is good, the main characters’ names. I can guarantee that you’ll feel a lot smarter than you are with very little work!

In case you think there’s a catch, I promise you there isn’t. I am simply a bookworm looking for a way to get paid to read books. This service that I’m offering is one that I will enjoy, and we all know that happy workers make better workers. Think about it.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Slightly Ignorant Eager Reader

Please Hold, We Will Be With You Shortly

Dear Sir, Madam, Non-Binary Identifier or Automaton,

I would like to point out an apparent flaw in your system. By “you,” I refer, of course, too all companies in general, whether they are private medical practices or credit-card companies. I hope you will forgive me for lumping you all in the same group, and believe me when I say that after extensive research I have come to the conclusion that the issue at hand is relevant to each and every one of you.

It is not a very big problem, to be truthful, but I believe that you could solve it quite simply. Let me come at the matter in a roundabout fashion – please imagine yourselves using a telephone in order to reach a particular service you wish to use or inquire about. Now, think of automated recording that answers. It tells you, in some form or another, that your call is very important, but that other clients are being served at this time. It requests that you stay on the line, and promise to be wish you shortly. After some variation of this form, music begins to play.

I shudder to refer to the tinny loops of notes as “music” but I suppose that it is the best and least offensive name for the noise. In a world that has birthed string-quartets, orchestras, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Elvis, The Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd, it is incredible that such sounds still exist outside of the endearing false notes of a beginning violinist. Furthermore, in a universe that has come to use radio waves as well as the Internet for transmitting music, it is hard for me to believe that the options for cheap, or even free, music is so hard for companies to come by.

It is my opinion, and I am sure that others will concur, that the collective “you” to whom I write, that such alienating and disturbing music is the cause of many a headache, not to mention heartaches, missed dates and other inconveniences. I will check the statistic on bleeding ears and get back to you on that when I get more information.

If you truly value your customers, will you please consider trying to play something that doesn’t loop every fifteen seconds? I can almost guarantee that your callers will be in a much better mood when one of your highly-trained service providers answer the phone, thus causing quicker and more efficient service, which would lead to more satisfied customers who would use your services more often.

As a Good Samaritan, I am not asking for any share of the extra profit.

Sincerely,

Slightly Ignorant

A Crucial Fireplace

Some say that Fate guides them through life. Others believe that it is God who grasps their hand and tugs them, gently but insistently, into the future. Whether one or the other is true, or whether life is just a series of random happenstances, I am certain that things might have turned out very differently if Amanda had known the the room had a fireplace. Circumstances, then, be they under divine control or not, have the utmost impact on people, and Amanda would always look back at that dratted fireplace as the start of the whole sorry tale.

Amanda, the reader might want to know, wasn’t religious in the proper sense of the word. She believed in God, although she characterized Him with the sense of humor of a rather crotchety, bored old man, but she often forgot about Him in the fun and flurry of the holidays. It was hard to remember, when hanging up cheap silvery-colored ribbons on the Christmas tree and laughing uproariously with her two roommates over wine-coolers, that the celebration on December 25th owed anything to religion at all. It was all a big pageant to her, full of red, white and green, golden stars winking from shop windows, snowmen standing in backyards and children carrying little ice-skates over their shoulders. The magic of Christmas was to Amanda the same now, at the ripe old age of twenty-six, as it had been when she was four years old and wearing a full pajama suit that made her look rather like a koala bear.

But we are straying from our story. The moment of the fireplace, as we must call Amanda’s first glimpse of it, happened on Christmas Eve, but was not directly connected to the birth of the Son, nor to Amanda’s remembrance – or rather, lack thereof – of the meaning of the holiday. The fireplace lay in the room where she was to have her interview for the position of copy-editor in the Local Post, a weekly newspaper that was distributed for free around town and was filled with advertisements and coupons. The room where the fireplace lay was on the ground floor of the tallest office-building in the small city, and Amanda had been working in the self-same building since she’d gotten her M.A. in journalism. Because of her familiarity with the rather old high-rise, she dressed warmly to work every day during the winter, since the heating never worked properly. Naturally, she assumed that her interview for the lowly position in the Local Post – which was, nevertheless, better than her current job as a secretary – would take place in a cold room that had a crack or two in the window.

But, alas, as Amanda discovered when she walked in and saw the figure of Mr. Charles Forthright, the old fireplace that was in the editor’s office was ablaze, and warmth washed over her. She was much too embarrassed and tense to begin pulling off her two sweaters and one of her undershirts, and so she sweltered, face growing redder and forehead sweatier, answering the questions Mr. Forthright posed with liveliness and enthusiasm but what seemed to be extreme guilt or discomfort. It is a sad fact that sweat and redness often are products of liars, and Mr. Forthright was a rather supposing man, in the sense that he supposed things he thought were true without bothering to check them too deeply – he had fact-checkers on staff to do that dreary work for him. And so, although he thought that Amanda looked like a lovely young girl, he supposed that she was hiding something, such as an unwanted pregnancy that would lead to taking time off, or perhaps a health concern that would lead to the same, and as a calculating man, he decided not to give her the job.

Amanda conveniently forgot that she could have asked for a moment to remove her sweaters and get more comfortable. Throughout the changes that she would go through in coming years, she still insisted obstinately that if it weren’t for that fireplace, she would have gotten the job at the Local Post, and her life would have turned out entirely differently.

My Spam Folder

So, here is what my email account spam folder contains. I always find it rather amusing to look at what I’ve been sent each day.

1. “Are YOU Interested? Ilana, you have 1 NEW Person Who Likes You…”

Yes, alright, this used to be a legitimate piece of mail until I started spamming the damn things. A couple years ago, when I was just getting to know Facebook, I somehow let some program called “Are YOU Interested?” get added to my Facebook applications, and even though I’ve tried erasing the damn thing, it haunts me with sad little messages like this. Whoopee, a NEW person likes me! How exciting!

2. “Smaller than you would like to be – Order your Men’s supplement today…”

Okay, first of all, I’m a woman. But whatever. What’s with the capitalized M? Is “man” a proper noun, now? Should I be saying that I am American and Israeli, and those two over there are Men?

3. Florene Dora – “Grow 3-inches more, Experience with BiggerPenis Today!”

Miss Dora, you need to learn grammar, honey, as well as word spacing and when it is proper to capitalize something. Proper nouns, beginning of sentences – learn your capitalization people!

4. Cleotilde Marcie – “15mg x 60 Codeine $264.00 (+4 FreeViagra Pills)”

As lovely as the name Cleotilde is (pretty sure it’s made up), I have no need to get high on codeine. Seriously, it’s sad that people have reduced cough medicine to an abused drug today. Oh, yeah, and I’m a woman (or is it Woman?) and I don’t need any Viagra, thanks.

5. “Proven to work in just weeks – Click here to find out about the revolution…”

See, I don’t open my spam emails, I just read the taglines. This one actually sounds interesting! There’s a revolution going on? A quick one, sold in a bottle? Can I set it to whatever I want? Maybe I could cause a revolution to fix the damned martial law situation in the Israeli Occupied Territories… Of course, if I opened this letter, it’d probably be: “Click here to find out about the revolutionary weight loss pills…” etc.

6. “Ten ways to make her moan in ecstasy…”

Pretty straightforward stuff, although what are they selling? I mean, it’s spam, there’s always money involved. I suppose there’s some manual or something. Or maybe just more Viagra. Yeesh.

7. Hilary Treena – “Now you can buy cializ and Enjoy! 30 pills x 20mg 89.95$…”

Another one who needs to learn how to spell. I had no idea what “cializ” was, so I looked it up. Of course, it’s Cialis, and it’s more erectile dysfunction stuff. Great. I’m a woman, people!!! And anyway, if I were a man and having difficulties, I think I would be nervous taking some knock-off pill that’s spelled wrong.

8. Sherita Angle – “Japanese movement – Large collection of BreitlingRo1ex, Movado…”

Oh, I get it. Ro1ex is actually Rolex? Why not spell it right? You spelled Movado correctly. I assume that this is an ad for fake watches. Seriously, Sherita, if I wanted fake watches, I’d go down to the flea market and buy fake watches. It’s not that hard to do, you know, I don’t actually need the fake privacy of ordering them online…

In conclusion:

Spam-bots are dumb. Spam is stupid. I have no idea how anyone would actually fall for one of these deals and give credit card details to fake companies that will just steal all their money. But hey, spam is a good source of original names for characters, right?