Hannah – Bee Sting Cake

As Mrs. King understood it, Mrs. Herowitz had made a point to guard her recipe for Bee Sting Cake about as closely as the US Government monitored the Fort Knox Bullion Depository.  Three generations of Mrs. Herowitzes had maintained its serecy with what Mrs. King called residual Polish stoicism.  She said Herowitz Bee Sting Cake was by equal parts a quest and a mystery since the 4th of July Family Methodist Picnic of 1912 and had gone about seventy-three years of July 4ths since until the day Mrs. Herowitz marched a hatbox full of letters across East Main and up the post office ramp.  According to Mrs. King, Mr Peede said that Mrs. Herowitz had been in no mood for friendly discourse which under normal circumsntaces would not have been remarkable except that her eyes looked what Mrs. King said Mr. Peede called hellishly cold.  Local history has it that the Wasilla postal department had never before and has never since moved any correspondence with such nimble alacrity as that which Mrs. Herowitz’s icy presence inspired.  Upon her departure, Mrs. King King said that Mrs. Peede asked Mr. Peede behind the counter, “Is it over?” And Mr. Peede shot back at her. “Shit yes, it’s over.” And Mrs. King said Ashley Benson, who had just returned from his rounds and thereby happened to be handy enough to get appointed special courier took the hatbox and said, “She’s gone then?” in a most hopeful voice and Mrs. King said Mrs. Peede told him, “She’s gone alright.” And Ashley situated the hatbox full of Mrs. Herowitz’s letters into his mailbag humming “Blessed Redeemer” and flew out the post office in his mail car like a proverbial chariot of fire.

But Mrs. King said not even fiery chariots could outrun the telephone, and before the second letter had reached Mrs. Singer, who had played organ at the Family Methodist church even before it had been replaced after the unfortunate candle lighting incident of 1962, Mrs. Hapsburg had Mrs. Singer on the phone to tell her just what it was she was about to walk down her driveway for.  Consequently, Mrs. Singer was deprived the thrill of discovery as Mrs. Hapsburg read to her what turned out to be Mrs. Herowitz’s cake, own recipe for Bee Sting cake, ingredient by ingredient.  Mrs. Singer, in turn, did not bother to verify that her own recipe card matched Mrs. Hapsburg’s until she herself had made some calls.  And so, according to Mrs. King, Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Hapsburg together outpaced Ashley, successfully preventing him from putting any more letters in any mailboxes.  The remaining addressees–all, as it happened, lifelong members of the Wasilla Family Methodist church–intercepted him before he could get well off the sidewalk.

Speculation commenced almost immediately.  Once folks had filed the recipe in their card collections they moved to wondering what could possibly have prompted Mrs. Herowitz’s change of heart.  Mrs. King said she had never witnessed a piece of gastronomical literature open to such widespread interpretation. Irregularities amongst the handwritten recipe cards fell under what Mrsl King called public scrutiny.  Of note were Mrs. Ershwell’s and Mrs. Dannis’s cards, which uniquely specified “sifted flour,” Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Phillips cards, which did not specify if butter should be “room temperature” or not and, most significantly, pastor Julius’s wife, whose card forfeited mention of salt in presence or quantity altogether.  Mrs. King said that facts were facts, and she said folks were compelled to call the Bee Sting Cake debacle for what it was: the latest in Mrs. Herowitz’s counterintelligence campaign.

Casey – Museum Audio Guide

“Welcome to the Marcel Mauss Portrait Gallery, designed by George Albert Battle and completed in 1957. On our tour today we will hear from artists, architects, curators and historians about the history of this remarkable building.

You should now be on the top floor, just below the domed skylight.  Look out over the central void of the atrium. A quarter mile of concrete ramps spiral around the perimeter of the atrium, descending at an angle of three degrees. The ramps create a continuous floor space from the rotunda to the terrazzo floor, 96 feet below you.  

Mauss asked Battle to design the museum as a gallery for  the large collection of portraits that had fallen into Marcel Mauss’s possession in the wake of the second world war. Art historian Sylvia Lowry explains:

Well you see at that time, in the late 40s, many museums in Europe were remodeling and desperately in need of money. They had accumulated all these portraits that they had no place to store and were of no interest to the public. So they figured, great, we’ll pawn them off on the Americans. And so the Mauss family was able to purchase, in bulk as it were, nearly 130,000 portraits–of shipbrokers, courtiers, society beauties, zoologists, Sultans and Maharajas, Jesuit missionaries, and thousands, quite literally thousands, of European aristocrats.….though naturally, after that infamous party on opening night, there are now not quite so many.

Battle’s grandson,  Henry Battle, an apprentice during the time of the museum’s construction, recalls the party:

The night before we opened to the public, Marcel had decided to throw this lavish banquet. The guests were all seated at a single table, a quarter mile long, that ran the whole length of the ramp and followed its natural curve down to the center of the spiral, ending in one small circular table. Marcel sat on one end of the little table, and my grandfather on the other.

No one has ever understood  how it happened, or why.  But at one point I looked out over the railing and saw that down on the floor Marcel had stood up from the table and was now stabbing away with his steak knife at a portrait of the Fifth Marquess of Bath, while my grandfather rammed his cane through the freshly plastered walls.  Then Marcel, steak knife still in hand, began to ascend the ramp, slashing away at the paintings on the walls behind the guests, while my grandfather strode about wrenching the knobs off the water fountains, chipping the marble, scratching the wood.  Naturally the guests all got upset, but no one did anything to intervene. I couldn’t tell you why we didn’t try to stop them.  Maybe because everything they were breaking was theirs to destroy. Or maybe because the frenzy of destruction was simply so fascinating, in a primitive sort of way.  In any event, it wasn’t until  Marcel had destroyed a 16th-century portrait of the bearded Dutchwoman–his most valuable acquisition–that my grandfather finally stopped trying to shatter the glass skylights he had designed, and whose installment he had supervised so carefully the week before.”

J. Rodolfo Wilcock – Chaos

Ever since that night when the truth was revealed to me, my profound teleological faith had transformed into a religion of Chaos, of which I now considered myself, along with the power of my riches and the prestige of my house, something of a High Priest. To administer chance, to introduce it, impose it, implant it, to spread like a missionary the respect and the devotion that it deserved, was my vocation and my destiny.

It was then that I decided to organize my first really chaotic party. To begin with, the footman were not to lead the guests straight to the Grand Foyer, but rather to random locations all over my estate, each guest to be dropped off in a different place: in the lamproom, the kitchen, a maid’s bedroom up in the attic, the chapel, the henhouse. There they were to be left, to handle the situation as best they could. For those who, in spite of everything, managed to reach the Grand Foyer—where neither myself nor anyone in my family would be waiting to greet them– the orchestra was to play dance numbers that began normally only to gradually become slower and slower, until it was no longer possible to dance at all. Delicious-looking appetizers, passed round by servants on the traditional silver platters, would turn out to be–but not always, for then it would not have produced the same effect–worm sandwiches, sawdust meatballs, petit-fours of serpent flesh. And all the while in every room a great multitude of construction workers were to labor without ceasing, repairing the doors, the ceilings, the walls and the furniture, and never once acknowledging the presence of the creme de la creme of our society.

That particular party was a great hit; once the initial moment of confusion had passed, the guests set out to explore the chaos with renewed energy and–with the exception of the old people and the hypocrites, who left immediately–everyone enjoyed themselves so much that it was daylight by the time I could chase them away with hoses and watering cans, for they refused to go home.

I was unsatisfied: it seemed to me that I had only managed to throw a particularly  exciting party, nothing more. Nothing that could really be compared with true chaos. I had to refine my methods, apply my genius on a much greater scale; above all, I had to convert the unbelievers: it was not acceptable that the guests simply go home, to continue their orderly every day existence.

As soon as I landed upon a method, the rest was easy. My method consisted in neither more nor less than organizing a rather confusing imitation of life: if the only reality of life was chance–that is to say, insignificance, confusion, the constant dissolution of forms into nothing to give rise to new forms likewise destined to dissolution–I need not wrack my brain devising ingenious little fictions.  I had only to offer my guests a passable representation of the world that surrounds us, with just a bit more disorder than usual, for them all to be submerged into True Chaos.

(Translated from Spanish by Casey)

Hannah – The World of ‘If’

Once up, Wilder’s face was crotch-level to the man across the train car.  He didn’t like the view.  But train commutes were invariably faster for Wilder than walking.  And he couldn’t drive in the world of “Is.”  A baby cried.  Comfortable enough, he sipped his coffee and pretended, like the other commuters, not to notice the baby or it’s loudly shushing mother or Wilder’s own crotch.  His flaccid penis bulged under his slacks like a giant rubber dreidel, pushing past his knees and slumping towards the floor.

In Wilder’s fantasy world, that is, the world of “If” and not “Is”, jungles grew from skyscrapers and he had only to gather a vine in his hands to swing from building to building.  The only time of day was twilight, and the only kind of coffee was dark roast Colombian, and currency operated on a barter system of objects that only started with vowels.

‘Excuse me?’ said the woman with the baby. ‘Can I sit here?’

Wilder dragged his massive hand off the adjacent seat; is thumped onto the floor.  His thin shoulder torqued from the strain.

‘Thank you.’

He nodded.

Operating in the world of “If” simplified a lot of things for Wilder.  He had fewer evolutionary advantages in “Is”.  Only one, in fact, came to mind: his lips, of similar size and shape to a venus fly-trap.  They smacked so loudly when he ate; they had become a source of personal delight. Unfortunately, his tongue was far too large to fit behind them, which prevented other things like clear speech or whistling.

The woman’s baby continued to cry.  It had red hair and a red face. Besides that, it looked very much like Wilder; they were roughly the same size.  Wilder wondered if it was an ugly baby or a pretty baby.    Babies were born much larger in the world of “If,” but without eyes; those did not develop until later.  Other, more important senses developed first, and by the time eyes arrived there were of little use.  For this reason, there was almost no staring in “If”.  Or, if there were, and if they did, it was from heads as bulbous and domed and from eyes as vacant and blue as Wilder’s own.

The baby cooed at Wilder. The woman laughed.

‘Oh, now he’s in a good mood! Do you like the nice man, sweetheart? I’m sorry he is just so cranky in the morning.’

Wilder shrugged, which caused his chin to bump his navel.

‘Oh, but he likes you! Yes, you like the nice man, don’t you?’

The baby burped and it’s eyes flared wide, clear whites around cornflower blue.

Perhaps another traveller from “If”, Wilder considered, returning to his coffee.

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse V

Billy had committed himself in the middle of his final year at the Ilium School of Optometry. Nobody else suspected that he was going crazy. Everybody else thought he looked fine and was acting fine. Now he was in the hospital. The doctors agreed: He was going crazy.

The man assigned to the bed next to Billy’s was a former infantry captain named Eliot Rosewater. Rosewater was sick and tired of being drunk all the time. It was Rosewater who introduced Billy to science fiction, and in particular to the writings of Kilgore Trout. Rosewater had a tremendous collection of science-fiction paperbacks under his bed. He had brought them to the hospital in a steamer trunk.

Kilgore Trout became Billy’s favorite living author, and science fiction became the only sort of tales he could read. Rosewater was twice as smart as Billy, but he and Billy were dealing with similar crises in similar ways.

There was a still life on Billy’s bedside table-two pills, an ashtray with three lipstick stained cigarettes in it, one cigarette still burning, and a glass of water. The cigarettes belonged to Billy’s chain-smoking mother. She had sought the ladies’ room. She would be back at any moment now. Billy covered his head with his blanket again. He always covered his head when his mother came to see him in the mental ward-always got much sicker until she went away. It wasn’t that she was ugly, or had bad breath or a bad personality. She was a perfectly nice, standard-issue, brown-haired, white woman with a high-school education. She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarrassed and ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to keep that life going, and Billy didn’t really like life at all.

Billy heard Eliot Rosewater come in and lie down. Rosewater’s bedsprings talked a lot about that. Rosewater was a big man, but not very powerful. He looked as though he might be made out of nose putty. And then Billy’s mother came back from the ladies’ room, sat down on a chair between Billy’s and Rosewater’s bed. Rosewater greeted her with melodious warmth, asked how she was today. He seemed delighted to hear that she was fine. He was experimenting with being ardently sympathetic with everybody he met. He thought that might make the world a slightly more pleasant place to live in. He called Billy’s mother ‘dear.’ He was experimenting with calling everybody ‘dear.’

‘Some day’ she promised Rosewater, ‘I’m going to come in here, and Billy is going to uncover his head, and do you know what he’s going to say?’

‘What’s he going to say, dear?’

‘He’s going to say, ‘Hello, Mom,” and he’s going to smile. He’s going to say, ‘Gee, it’s good to see you, Mom. How have you been?”‘

‘Today could be the day.’

‘Every night I pray.’

‘That’s a good thing to do.’

‘People would be surprised if they knew how much in this world was due to prayers.’

‘You never said a truer word, dear.’

‘Does your mother come to see you often?’

‘My mother is dead,’ said Rosewater. So it goes.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘At least she had a happy life as long as it lasted.’

‘That’s a consolation, anyway.’

‘Yes.’

‘Billy’s father is dead, you know,’ said Billy’s mother. So it goes.

‘A boy needs a father.’

And on and on it went–that duet between the dumb, praying lady and the big, hollow man so full of loving echoes. He held a book he wanted to read, but he was much too polite to read and talk, too, easy as it was to give Billy’s mother satisfactory answers. The book was Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension, by Kilgore Trout. It was about people whose mental diseases couldn’t be treated because the causes of the diseases were all in the fourth dimension, and three-dimensional Earthling doctors couldn’t see those causes at all, or even imagine them. One thing Trout said that Rosewater liked very much was that there really were vampires and werewolves and goblins and angels and so on, but that they were in the fourth dimension. So was William Blake, Rosewater’s favorite poet, according to Trout. So were heaven and hell.

Hannah – Reflections In My Kidnapper’s Car Trunk

I waited for the car to stop and someone to open the trunk, for an impersonal hand behind an impersonal gun to shoot me with an impersonal bullet. But that was hours ago, now I rocked with the traffic. I was tragicum heros. I had spun my thread and, as a spider, wove my ancient web. It had been my best work in journalism. A bold piece. Uncompromising. A pothole slammed my head against the carpeted interior.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Arachne had been a storyteller, too. A weaver of stories. Our problem was they weren’t our stories to weave. They were the god’s.

Arachne boasted that she wove better than even Athena, goddess of wisdom, craft, and war. Until Athena darkened her door, and spoke as gods who darken mortal doors still speak, “You can never compare to the gods. Beg forgiveness, that I might spare your soul.”

I tumbled when the car swerved from pavement to gravel.

Arachne foolishly persisted, “I speak only truth. If you think otherwise, challenge me yourself!” So Athena wove a scene of great contest between gods and mortals, in which the gods punished the mortals for thinking themselves equals.

I twisted at my bound wrists to regain some feeling.

Arachne countered with a tapestry depicting the gods as misleaders and abusers of mortals, particularly Zeus, celestial rapist and seducer of mortal women. Arachne had not only insulted the gods, of course, but had done so in a work far more beautiful than Athena’s, and the goddess was enraged. She tore the tapestry to pieces and Arachne, heartbroken, hanged herself. Considering my own dilemma, I must admit, a smarter move than witness protection.

But Athena’s wrath was not assuaged. “Live on then,” she cursed, “and yet hang, condemned one, but, lest you are careless in future, this same condition is declared, in punishment, against your descendants, to the last generation!’ At her words, Arachne’s hair fell out, and her head shrank to the smallest size. Her whole body became tiny, and her slender fingers poked from her sides like legs. The rest was belly, from which she spins her thread and, as a spider, weaves her ancient web.

To show, I thought, as the car finally stopped, how gods punish those who are mortal.

Aoibheann Sweeney – Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking

My favorite stories, in Ovid’s verse, describe metamorphosis as the culmination of a relentless, heedless desire…Too often, though, metamorphosis is only a whim of the gods.

I disliked, for instance, the story of Narcissus, the boy who had fallen in love with himself. In Ovid’s version it is inseparable from the story of Echo, though in more popular versions it stands on its own. Echo was a talkative nymph, whose only sin was that she made the mistake of trying to distract Juno during one of Jove’s dalliances. In her jealous rage, Juno had taken away the nymph’s power of speech, but she had not simply turned her into a mute–she had taken from her the power to speak first. Condemned only to repeat what she heard, Echo took to hiding, it was said, in woods and mountain caves, where she grew gaunt with loneliness until, at the even crueler whim of Fate, she laid eyes on Narcissus.

Narcissus was the son of a water god, and was said to be more beautiful than the nymphs themselves. Echo fell madly in love with him, and followed him in silence for days, until at last he turned and looked behind him. “Is anybody here?” he asked. “Here!” she answered, joyfully echoing back. She must have thought herself, in that moment, beautiful again, for she stepped out into the open, and Narcissus saw the wretched, elusive creature she had become.

He turned away in horror, and Echo withered from that day forward, consumed with shame, until only her voice remained. The other nymphs, long sympathetic to her plight, demanded of the gods that Narcissus meet a similar fate, but Narcissus was too beautiful for anyone to spurn him the way he did Echo. His end was much more gentle: drinking from a pool of the water he was born from, he is said to have seen his reflection and, believing it was another water spirit, fallen in love with himself. Though the water spirit seemed to return his affection exactly, he would not approach, and Narcissus, paralyzed with longing, was riveted to the spot and turned into a flower bearing his name.

I always thought Narcissus, wasting his youth in vanity, had committed a worse crime than Echo, who was only trying to protect another nymph from Juno’s wrath. Ovid never says that Echo lied to Juno, only that she distracts her. But in the end it is Echo who is punished, doomed to live the rest of her life in the shadows, while Narcissus becomes a perennial flower, as immortal as springtime.