Thursday, October 8, 2015

Zoe vs. Raymond Carver

It's been a while since I brushed off my Liberal Arts degree and wrote a post with literary references. (When I get to ten, I get a free coffee! Only problem is I have to go to a Paris cafe Hemingway frequented to claim it.)
Late-twentieth-century minimalist short story writer Raymond Carver is an appropriate person to face off against Zoe because he's pretty laconic and he does a lot with silences, which is pretty important when dealing with a champion raconteur like Zoe.

Minimalist writer, maximalist drinker.

This is a child who never stops talking.
Her stories are tours de force in repetition and heavyhanded moralizing sprinkled with sparkly bits of illogic. The only time she stops to let you speak is when she asks "Why?" 
Be careful. That's a trap. Because no matter what you answer, she'll keep asking why till you reach a conversational dead end like: Why is it night? or Why isn't Christmas tomorrow?
Maybe you excuse yourself to the bathroom, but that usually ends with an offer to help you wipe while she tells a story about a little girl who lives on the edge of the world, and she likes to dance, but then she falls off, but she doesn't "go," and there's a ball, but it's unclear if this is a dance-type of ball or a bounce one, and in my head, a constant refrain, is the title of the Raymond Carver story "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" 
My only respite from the constant chatter is when she finally goes to sleep at night.
If I were a character from a Carver story, afterward I'd sit at the kitchen table under a bare, low-wattage light bulb as I ate a cold steak I'd fried in a pan hours before and drank cheap gin from a jelly glass. 
But I'm not big on steak, especially plain that way, and gin's okay, but Bombay Sapphire, please. (I'm a minimalist when it comes to juniper.)
I don't smoke either, otherwise I could stand at an unscreened window with my cigarette, placing my ashes in the bottom of a beer can, and when I looked down I'd discover a run in my new stockings---if I wore stockings, which I don't---while the Husband sat at the table behind me, silent, but in a posture that spoke volumes about "our relationship," which we would never discuss. Then we'd take our grim expressions to bed, me setting the alarm in an act of horror-tinged futility because Zoe would surely be waking us up before it had a chance to go off.
That's if I was a character from a Raymond Carver story. Lots of yuks, right?
Carver's minimalist stories mostly feature working class characters inarticulate in the face of their life's circumstances. Zoe is only a minimalist when it comes to broccoli, so if she was a character in a Carver story there'd be some rewriting.
First, the titles.
For instance: "What's in Alaska?" would become "What's in Your Mouth? Seriously, Spit It Out."
"So Much Water So Close to Home" would edit its second half to "...So Close to the Edge of the Tub."
"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" would become "What Zoe Talks About When Zoe Talks About Zoe." Spoiler alert: Zoe.
As for Carver's most famous story, "Cathedral," about a man who's conflicted about entertaining his wife's blind male friend, I'd have to rewrite the whole thing. Instead of "Cathedral" I'd call it "I Can't Even Guess What It Is You Drew. Is It a Viking Funeral?" This story's plot would be about Zoe showing me a picture she drew in art class. I'd guess viking funeral and she'd say, "It's a jack-o-lantern. Are you blind?" And the story would end with a look of inarticulate horror on my face.

"The futility of kindergarten." Artist: Zoe

Then I'd write "Are These Actual Miles (That I'm Walking Through a Street Fair So That She Can Get Her Face Painted)?" This story is about what happened Sunday when I took Zoe to a street fair and she saw kids whose faces were painted and she became fixated on this idea, so we walked and walked and finally I asked one of these kids where he got his face painted, and he directed us six more blocks. So we pressed on, because Zoe still insisted she wanted her face painted. Like a tiger, she said, hooking her fingers in claws. And we arrived six blocks later to find the line was closed. The lady said she'd take us anyway, so we went behind the ropes and waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Then it was Zoe's turn. Except by then she didn't want to do it anymore and refused to sit down. Till I said, Zoe, you are GETTING your face painted.
So she got a butterfly. On her hand. And this butterfly represented inexpressible sadness. No epiphanies were had. Story ends with inarticulate look of horror on her face, my face, and face painter's face.
"What Do You Do in San Francisco Kindergarten?" would end up being about anything except what actually happens in kindergarten. Zoe and I would talk in circles, unaware of the futility of our struggles, doomed to be repeated day in and day out, as I insist she eat something besides pasta with butter for dinner and she says, "I want pasta." The story would end when she, for no apparent reason, turns her cup over, spilling her juice out all over the table, and then, instead of either of us reacting, we'd just sit there, in the gathering gloom, trying not to think of the creeping horror hidden beneath the (now sticky) surface of everyday things. And then maybe we'd watch Jeopardy!, if she let me.

Zoe: 112; Universe: 0

For more of Zoe's hijinks, follow me on Facebook and on Twitter at @zoevsuniverse
I need a win here, people. 

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