A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 5 – Pending Vegan, by Jonathan Lethem

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 4 – Pending Vegan, by Jonathan Lethem
Read it online here:

Pending Vegan, by Jonathan Lethem

And, after the insipid triumphalist overture of music and video and prancing androgynous spandex, when the orcas finally entered the arena and began their leaping, SeaWorld was overwritten by their absolute and devastating presence. By their act of stitching two realms together, sky and water, merely for the delight of a stadium full of children—children who, in response, leaped, too, and vibrated in their seats, and gurgled incoherently, practically speaking in tongues. Other kids, older and more intrepid than his own, raced down to the plastic barrier to be splashed, to stand with their arms flapping. The killer whales, with their Emmett Kelly eyes, were God’s glorious lethal clowns. Their plush muscular bodies were the most unashamed things Pending Vegan had ever seen. Like panda bears redesigned by Albert Speer.

—-Jonathan Lethem, Pending Vegan

A few years ago, my son Lee and I went down to the Dallas Theater Center’s Wyly Theater to see a new musical, The Fortress of Solitude, adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s eponymous novel. It was Pay What You Can Night (pretty much the only way I can see quality live theater on an ongoing basis) – which is cool, though what we saw was essentially a dress rehearsal open to the public. Because of this, there was a bit of confusion and we discovered that our assigned seats weren’t there (the Wyly is infinitely reconfigurable and they had configured our seats out of existence). No problem, the box office had alternate seats which were better anyway (not that the Wyly has any bad seats) – we were placed in a line of vacant seats right up front. Two men sat next to us at the last minute.

The play was excellent, very enjoyable. I never read the novel, so I don’t know if it followed or did justice, but as a night of live musical entertainment, it fit the playbill. As the play ended, the man sitting next to Lee started asking him a series of questions, “Did you like the musical?” “What songs did you like?” – the inquiry seemed more pointed than curious. I looked at the man and at the Playbill folder in my hand and realized this was the author (of the play, not Jonathan Lethem, alas). The idea was to premiere the musical in the hinterlands (Dallas), iron out the rough spots, them move to Off Broadway (Public Theater) then, eventually, to the Great White Way.

It looks like the momentum has stalled and it probably never will make it to Broadway… but at least I saw it.

Today’s story, also by Jonathan Lethem, is a chronicle of a family’s trip to Sea World in San Diego. The protagonist is struggling with a sudden attack of giving a damn about animals and, possibly more importantly, just now coming off his prescription to anti-depressants. His doctor warns him he might, “see bums and pickpockets.” Worried that he might hallucinate, the doctor assures him that he won’t imagine them, he may simply notice them.

I, of course, have been to Sea World (the San Antonio version) with unruly children a couple of times. I dealt with it a little bit differently than the father in the story – I didn’t think about it. It was a day for the kids and all I was responsible for was trying my best they didn’t get eaten by sharks or destroy an expensive exhibit. All other thoughts were put on hold.

For about a quarter century.

—–

In the interview below, Lethem says, “I’d also have trouble imagining a fiction writer who, after visiting the place, wouldn’t start fooling around with story ideas.” When I first read this I disagreed – I couldn’t think of any story ideas from SeaWorld.

Then I remembered seeing the Shamu show one year. The Orca wasn’t in a good mood and basically stayed at the bottom of his tank and refused to do any tricks. He was the male in the pod and the two females were in the lake outside of the arena. They kept surfacing and making these loud sounds. There is no doubt they were laughing at him.

The neoprene-wet-suited show people tried to get on with the act. They even brought a volunteer from the audience out to try and coax him into getting to work. I thought, “Man, if I had a humiliated, cranky, and uncooperative killer whale at the bottom of a tank, the last thing I’d want to do is lean out and wiggle a fish over him.”

Hmmm. I guess that is an idea for a story.

Interview with Jonathan Lethem about this story:

This week’s story, “Pending Vegan,” follows one family, a husband and wife and their four-year-old twin daughters, on a trip to San Diego’s SeaWorld. When did you start thinking about using SeaWorld as the setting for a story? Did you ever consider inventing the theme park and fictionalizing everything, or was it important that the story be set in a real place?

This story really began with a class I taught, called Animals in Literature. I assigned Jack London, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, Olaf Stapledon, Lydia Millet, J. R. Ackerley, and a bunch of other stuff, including some essays and theory. (Animals are actually pretty “hot” in theory now.) In the spirit of due diligence, I also read a bunch of animal-rights and vegan manifestos, which is how I blundered into the realm of “Fear of the Animal Planet” and so forth—books I purchased, and which sit staring at me from the shelf, even if I failed to assign them or, in many cases, even to read them. I suppose some of this bad faith leaked into the characters: What would it be to think you’ve gone about halfway, or not even halfway, down some irreversible ethical path, then got stuck there?

Of course all this remained inchoate until suddenly I visited SeaWorld. I can’t imagine anyone setting a story there who hadn’t visited. (I’d also have trouble imagining a fiction writer who, after visiting the place, wouldn’t start fooling around with story ideas.) Long ago, I’d have been certain to disguise it as “Fathomverse,” or “Poseidon’s Playhouse,” or “Orcasm,” or something. But that wouldn’t really be likely to fool anyone, would it? A lot of fiction—most?—derives some of its effects, and energy, from its hybrid nature: half documentary, or half confession or argument or whatever, and full of references outside itself, whether obvious to the reader or not. I’ve made my peace with this. Besides, I’d have had to give up “Sea World, Eat World.”

The story’s protagonist, Paul Espeseth, is going through a crisis of sorts, which he has hidden from both his family and his shrink. He’s renamed himself Pending Vegan as a way of acknowledging his increasing uneasiness with the relationship between man and beast, yet he’s acutely aware of his daughters’ ability to reconcile “their native animal-love and the pleasures of eating.” What’s it like to imagine a child’s version of the animal world versus an adult’s?

Forget “animal world” —what about just “world”? Where’s the script for breaking the news, to a kid, of reality’s roaring wackness? Its moral bankruptcy? Imagine a scene from the breakfast table with a six-year-old listening to an NPR report on the firing of nine air-force commanders over cheating on the tests to qualify as officers for oversight of nuclear missiles.
Six-year-old: “What did they cheat on?”
Father (already in trouble): “Well, see, they were in, like, ‘soldier school’…”
Six-year-old: “Don’t they know it was wrong?”
Father: “———”
Six-year-old: “What are nuclear missiles?”
Father: “———”
Six-year-old: “Why would they cheat? Don’t they want to be good at fighting?”
Father (suddenly impassioned, intense): “Well, actually, the reason this matters so much is that nuclear missiles are these weapons we don’t want anyone ever to use…” (He stops at brink of disaster.)
Six-year old: “—?!?—”
Father: “Uh, eat your pineapple.”
Six-year old: “My teacher told me that pineapple was bad for your skin.”
Father (with relief): “She’s definitely wrong.”

A dog bounds into the story in its final page. It’s not the first time dogs have shown up in your work (“Ava’s Apartment,” for example, an excerpt we published from your novel “Chronic City,” features a memorable three-legged dog). Do dogs hold a particular place in your imagination? Can you imagine a cat exercising as much power?

Cat person or dog person? Funny about that. I grew up with cats; I’m more familiar with them, more fond of them, and I identify with them more. My parents bred Siamese cats for a while, and in a lot of baby pictures I’m seen swimming in a mass of kittens. Dogs were in stories, first: “Nobody’s Boy,” “The Incredible Journey,” Jack London’s and—especially—Albert Payson Terhune’s work. I was probably the last boy in the history of boys to drink deep at the well of “Lad: A Dog” and “His Dog.” Meanwhile, real dogs terrified me. This lasted a while. Even after we got a dog, other people’s dogs terrified me. I was 33clear to me. As in the case of my character, dogs are a problem I can’t solve; they throw me back into the question of self and other. For a writer, that’s good. Writing a story about a cat would be like writing a story about my arm or my ear.

—- Interview with Jonathan Lethem in The New Yorker

The Wyly Theater.

Advertisements

The Flat Plane Of the Temporal Experience

“If your reduce sculpture to the flat plane of the temporal experience of the work. (…) the experience of the work is inseparable from the place in which the work resides. Apart from that condition, any experience of the work is a deception.”
― Richard Serra

Hall Texas Sculpture Walk with the Wyly Theater, Dallas Arts District

Mosaic – Sonia King – VisionShift

HALL Texas Sculpture Walk

Wyly Theater

 

Perched Upon A Bust Of Pallas

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
—-Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Arts District, Dallas, Texas

Arts District,
Dallas, Texas

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
—-Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

During intermission I was talking to a guy about my age standing in our row at the Wyly – he was standing because the saxophone player was sitting in his seat and refusing to budge until the second act started and I was standing to be polite to him. We were wondering about when The Rocky Horror Show premiered in London – we guessed 1974, and were off by a year (it was born in 1973). The more well-known movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show was made in 1975.

The film famously (and truth be told, deservedly) bombed at the box office upon it initial, conventional release. I saw it about a year later, late ’76 or early ’77, at a special showing at college. It hadn’t hit its big, cult status yet – but it was on the cusp and there was a lot of buzz about it. I barely remember seeing it for the first time – the projection was bad and the sound was worse – it didn’t make much of an impression.

That changed soon enough. I was the right age to fall into the habit of going to midnight movie showings and saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show maybe fifty times. It began to be a habit, like watching the six o’clock news after work.

Then, in the early eighties, I saw a stage production here in Dallas in the West End. That production was specifically designed to mirror the movie as much as possible. It was in a small theater and for one show I was able to get front-row seats (I saw it twice). Dr. Frankenfurter sat in my lap and sang a song – I remember his leather jacket reeked.

The live play was a blast – especially in a small venue. We actually were able to go to a bar with the cast afterward.

I’ve always said that live is the way to see it.

So a while back I was excited to see that the Dallas Theater Center was doing a production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Wyly – and we bought tickets for tonight.

Wow, what a lot of fun!

One nice thing was that they weren’t afraid to stray from the familiar film tropes. Rocky, for example had dark hair. The actor playing Dr. Frankenfurter had the good sense to not channel Tim Curry’s iconic performance and to make the good doctor his own. He was kind of a Texas Frankenfurter… maybe a little, maybe – a bit different at any rate. But really, really good.

The show was not afraid to be quite a bit raunchier that the film. For example (I’ll try to avoid overt spoilers) there is one quick scene involving the Doctor, Brad Majors, a hand-powered egg beater, and the line, “Well, we just lost the Baptists.”

The best thing about the show was the pure action – especially of the first act. There is so much going on – the music is underrated and comes across powerfully live – with dancing, costumes, lights, and rolls of toilet paper being flung from the crowd through the flashing lights like a shower of tissue comets. At the intermission a woman sitting next to me stumbled around a little dizzy, “Oh, I’m having a fangirl moment,” she said.

The Wyly is a perfect venue for this – the flexible space was arranged so that there was no clear demarcation between audience and stage – the performers spent most of their time in the crowd and more than a few spectators ended up dancing with the stars.

Dallas Theater Center Wyly Theater Dallas, Texas

Dallas Theater Center
Wyly Theater
Dallas, Texas

So if you find yourself in Dallas in late September through mid October, see if you can get down to the Wyly for some slightly guilty fun. And if you are a devout Baptist… well, good luck with all that.

Watchmen of the World’s Edge

What have the watchmen of the world’s edge come tonight to look for? Deepening on now, monumental beings stoical, on toward slag, toward ash the colour the night will stabilize at, tonight… what is there grandiose enough to witness?
—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Wyly Theater and rebar from the demolition of a parking garage
Dallas Arts District
Dallas, Texas

Construction and Destruction

Construction and Destruction

Year of the Rooster

Year of the Rooster Dallas Theater Center Upstart Productions

Year of the Rooster
Dallas Theater Center
Upstart Productions

I’ve been a fan of the Dallas Theater Center’s Wyly Theater ever since it first opened. I’ve seen a double handful of plays there, and enjoyed every one.

I was excited when I heard about the Center’s new initiative, the Elevator Project. This gives six local theater groups: African American Repertory Theater, Cara Mia Theatre Co., Dallas Actor’s Lab, DGDG: The Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, Second Thought Theatre and Upstart Productions – an opportunity to stage one play each in the Wyly over the next year.

These plays won’t be in the large main auditorium, but in smaller spaces on the sixth and ninth floors of the giant Borg-Cube like building. And yes, you do ride an elevator from the below-grade lobby to reach the shows.

Dallas Theater Center Wyly Theater Dallas, Texas

Dallas Theater Center
Wyly Theater
Dallas, Texas

I had seen one show, Red, in the ninth floor space (completely redone – you had no idea where you were – it felt like a New York artists’ studio). While it was running on the ninth floor, King Lear was going on downstairs.

The first production in the Elevator Series is done by Upstart Productions and is a work called Year of the Rooster. It is presented in the sixth-floor black box theater area – where I had never been. I wanted to go on one of the first nights, but work has been kicking my ass and I wasn’t able to get there until today, for a Sunday Matinee performance. I thought about riding my bike down there, but it was too hot (and ungodly humid) so I settled for a train ride.

I made a particular effort to not read anything about the play beforehand – to leave an element of surprise. I only knew that it involved at least one chicken.

The play was crackerjack. It was a harrowing tale of a struggling McDonald’s clerk, trying to keep his elderly mother supplied with stolen honey mustard packets without getting fired – who has only one chance at success, escape, and redemption – his fighting cock, Odysseus Rex.

The protagonist chicken is played by Joey Folsom as a spring-steel tight PED drugged bundle of avian rage and hate flashing a folding knife like it is his only hope in the world. Steph Garrett plays dual roles as an over-ambitious McDonald’s manager and as Odysseus Rex’s love interest – an overweight, cage-raised, soon-to-be-fried hen.

It’s not always a pleasant tale – full of salty language and Oklahoma doom. The fight scenes are exciting and a bit frightening in the small space of the sixth floor black box. In the end it’s an unforgettable entertainment – you can’t make an omelet without breaking a couple of eggs.

There are a few performances left – so if you are in the North Texas area, get your tickets before they are sold out.

The odd thing about a matinee performance is that you emerge from the darkness of the play into the unexpected and almost forgotten fiery light and withering heat of the late afternoon. The world is still there – though somehow always changed by the entertainment you have sat through. And that’s the mark of a good play – because of what you have seen – what you have lived through – you now see the world a little differently. You know something you didn’t before.

What I learned this week, August 01, 2014

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

The Wyly Theater in the Dallas Arts District

Finally! Small, Local Theater Companies to Perform in the Dallas Arts District


Outlook grim for orbiting Russian zero-G sex geckos

Gecko in a Watering Can

Gecko in a Watering Can

Thank God – The world is saved!!!

All systems “go” as control restored to beleaguered sex gecko satellite


Amanda Popken on the Dallas Cycle Style Seersucker Ride

Amanda Popken on the Dallas Cycle Style Seersucker Ride

These 53 Colorized Photos From The Past Will Blow You Away.


Lawsuit Filed To Prove Happy Birthday Is In The Public Domain; Demands Warner Pay Back Millions Of License Fees

Happy Birthday remains the most profitable song ever. Every year, it is the song that earns the highest royalty rates, sent to Warner/Chappell Music (which makes millions per year from “licensing” the song). However, as we’ve been pointing out for years, the song is almost certainly in the public domain.


This Ultra-Foldable Commuter Bike Is Also Ultra-Spendy

A five thousand dollar Dahon folding bike… wow. I don’t feel so bad about the cash I spent on my Xootr.

Stock Xootr Swift - I only added the seat bag and bottle cage (click to enlarge)

Stock Xootr Swift – I only added the seat bag and bottle cage
(click to enlarge)

The basic fold on the Xootr Swift. It basically folds in half - and it only takes a few sconds. Not a tiny package - but small enough to make the bike more practical to transport or store.

The basic fold on the Xootr Swift. It basically folds in half – and it only takes a few sconds. Not a tiny package – but small enough to make the bike more practical to transport or store.

I drive a tiny car - a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks).  I ways surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folded down. I was able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.

I drive a tiny car – a Toyota Matrix. I always liked it because I could fold the rear seats down and get a bike (barely) into the back of the car (never liked exterior bike racks). I ways surprised at how small the Xootr Swift folded down. I was able to fit it easily in the small space behind the rear seat. Now I have a four-passenger car again.

My Xootr Swift bike with picnic supplies loaded in the pannier.

My Xootr Swift bike with picnic supplies loaded in the pannier.


10 Quotes from Tarantino-directed Films


Dallas Leaders Walked Arm-in-Arm with John Wiley Price in the Betrayal of Southern Dallas | Dallas Observer


Eggs Florentine at Smoke

Eggs Florentine at Smoke

The porch and entrance at Smoke

The porch and entrance at Smoke

A really useful list of local restaurants… tied to a map. Of course, there are plenty worthwhile that aren’t on here, but I’ve been to about half of them and they are all deserving.

The 38 Essential Dallas Restaurants, July 2014

Jimmy's Italian

Jimmy’s Italian

Meat Case - Italian Sausage and more

Meat Case at Jimmy’s – Italian Sausage and more

Babe's Chicken Dinner House

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House

The odd fire pit outside at Babe's Chicken Dinner House in Carrollton, Texas.

The odd fire pit outside at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in Carrollton, Texas.


Magnolia Hotel (Pegasus) and Joule Hotel (pool) Dallas, Texas

Magnolia Hotel (Pegasus) and Joule Hotel (pool)
Dallas, Texas

The coolest coffee place in Dallas that you have never heard of.


My secretary setup

One place where the magic happens

Clutter is Killing Your Creativity