Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 reading list

2011 reading list:

World War Z
A Short History of Myth
Generation Kill
The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq
1984/ George Orwell
Of Human Bondage/ W. Sommerset Maugham
Brave New World/Aldous Huxley
The Great Gatsby/ F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Confederacy of Dunces
The Ramayana
Black Swan Theory
Things Fall Apart
One Night @ The Call Center/Cheetan Bhagat
The Three Mistakes of My Life/Cheetan Bhagat
Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World
Baghdad Burning
Karma Cola
Iraq Inc: A Profitable Occupation
Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge
Wind Up Bird Chronicles
Black Like Me
Out/ Natsuo Kirino
The Imperfectionists
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/ Phillip K. Dick
Ignorance/ Milan Kundera
Let the Great World Spin/ Colum McCann
Snuff/ Chuck Palahnuik
Lions of the Punjab/ Andrea Diem
The Ministry of Special Cases/ Nathan Englander
A Farewell to Arms/ Ernest Hemingway
The New Kings of Nonfiction/ Ira Glass
The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
Breakfast of Champions/ Kurt Vonnegut
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao/ Junot Diaz
Chang and Eng/ Darian Strauss
Love is a Mixtape/ Rob Sheffield
The Old Man and the Sea/ Ernest Hemingway
Super Sad True Love Story/ Gary Shteyngart
Zoli: A Novel/ Colum McCann
Screw Jack/ Hunter S Thompson
Vox/ Nicholas Baker
A Scanner Darkly/ Philip K. Dick
Rabbit, Run/ John Updike
War of the Worlds/ H.G. Wells
The Picture of Dorian Gray/ Oscar Wilde
Seal Team Six: Memoires of an elite navy sniper/ Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin

Monday, December 26, 2011


In 2005, a noble man named Bryan Richie and I recruited the help of a handful of Austin musicians to record an album of jam. Below are the results:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Baby

A Christmas Baby
By Cooper Baltis
 Published on December 21st in the UB Post

“The gift of life is a precious thing Pete, I agree. But the gift of an iPhone will suffice,” Jim joked, spilling some of his pint onto his silky blue tie as he raised his mug to toast. He sat with Pete at a small booth in the back of The Crown, which had recently been festooned with 10 year old Christmas decorations.
            “That’s for bloody sure,” Pete bellow, his fat jaw like that of a hippopotamus and his jagged teeth like that of a crocodile. The two men clinked their mugs together and increased their jolliness.
            “You see, if I didn’t know any better…” Jim stopped mid-sentence. His eyes grew large and his eyebrows curled inward.
            “Whatchoo see mate?” Pete asked, noticing the glazed over look in Jim’s eyes. “Jim?” he said again, touching his arm.
            Jim’s eyes flickered, as if they were a computer screen trying to refresh. “Can’t be,” he said, ignoring Pete. Following Jim’s gaze, Pete turned slowly, looking over his shoulder.
            “Santa?” he said, turning back towards Jim. “Is that what this is about?”
            Santa sat alone at the bar, his beard stringy and dirty, his cheeks puffy, pot marked and red from the cold, his bulbous, rhinophyma nose dripping, his white-cuffed red trousers filthy and threadbare, his red coat loose and hanging like a giant icicle off his bony shoulders, his scratched boots. He was a pitiful sight.
            “It’s not him…just some bloke,” Pete said, taking another gulp from his mug.
            “No, I think it’s him,” Jim said, his eyes still fixed on Santa.
            “Why would Santa be in a bar on Chapel Street two weeks before Christmas? How many pints did you have?”
            “Maybe three, but you very well know it takes me at least four to get good and sloshed. Besides, I had some friend chicken about two hours ago.”
            “What’s that have to do with anything?”
            “I’m just trying to point out that my stomach is full,” Jim touched his belly to emphasize his point.
            “It’s not the only thing that’s full.”
            “With a full stomach it should take at least five to get me good and hammered,” Jim reminded him.
            “Ah, I see…”
            Jim paused as Santa screamed something incoherently at the bartender, “You hear that? He just asked for cookies.”
            “Asked for cookies?” Pete shook his head and looked back over his shoulder. “Stereotyping Santa now are you?”
            “Santa always eats cookies. Every bloke in Merseyside knows that.”
            Pete listened intently as Santa yelled again at the bar tender.  He turned and looked at Jim, “Don’t be daft, he’s saying check please not cookies!”
            “You expect me to believe that? Here we are, sitting in this steamy lil’ pub and Santa’s sitting right there and I’m supposed to act like it’s just any old day? Brilliant, Pete, brilliant.”
            “Are you mental? The man is homeless,” Pete’s face grew red his agitation rose. “Just look at the poor wanker! Holes in his red pants, scruff marks up and down his black boots, a despicable Viking beard. Besides all that, he’s wall eyed! Which way is Santa looking? You tell me ‘cause I can’t bloody tell. Since when is Santa sitting at a pub drinking?”
            “He is probably dirty from shimmying down chimneys, and what’s wrong with being wall eyed? Mr. Bean is wall eyed! Who says Santa can’t have a drink at a pub? You act like he’s a saint!”
            “He is!”
            “He is drinking milk, clear as day,” Jim said with a huff.
            “Baily’s makes milk these days does it? Since when is milk the color of a cappuccino? Just drop it. You’re sloshed.”
            Jim took a deep breath and stared into the froth that hung like old dirty frost around the rim of his mug. “Yea, maybe you’re right. What would Santa be doing at a shabby place like this?”
            “Exactly. Why would Santa even want to visit Merseyside?” Pete started to laugh, noticing the defeated look on Jim’s face.
            “I guess I’m just a bloody idiot…” Jim lamented.
            “Ho! Ho! Ho!” the man at the bar bellowed, putting his hands across his stomach. Jim’s ears shot to attention as he looked from Pete to Santa. His cheeks puffed with excitement and a grin spread like butter across his face. “You hear that?”
            “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
            “He’s bloody coughing, Jim. The man is coughing. Probably has a disease.”
            “I’m going to go ask him,” Jim said excitedly.
            “If he is Santa or not?”
            “Why not? What’s there to lose if I am wrong?” Jim asked, burping loudly.
            “Well, we should talk about that. I bet you a fiver, no a tenner, that the man sitting at the bar isn’t Santa.”
            “A tenner?”
            “A tenner,” Pete replied.
            “A tenner and a round and you’re on.”
            “Best deal I’ve ever made,” Pete said, shaking Jim’s hand.
            “So here is what’s going to happen. I’m going to walk over there and ask him and I’ll tell you what he says.”
            “Go ahead and come back with the round while you are at it,” Pete said, folding his hands in front of his nearly emptied pint.
            “Just watch, my reaction should immediately give it away once I ask him.”
            Jim stood, burped one more time, and made his way to the bar. He walked around a couple dining on fish and chips and nearly ran into a waitress carrying three mugs in each hand to a boisterous table over by the window. Jim sat down next to the suspect Santa and slowly looked him over. The man, feeling someone’s eyes on his shoulder, turned and looked at Jim.
            “Something wrong?”
            “Nope, nothing. Just got off work, ‘bout to enjoy a few pints,” Jim said.
            “Nothing wrong with that,” the man said, laughing in a jolly way. His beard jiggled as his cheeks moved up and down.
            “Name’s Jim, Jim Moore.”
            “Kris,” the man said, extending his arm which was draped in a red sleeve with a filthy white cuff. “Kris Joulupukki.”
            “Joulupukki, huh?” Jim said, not sure where he had heard the name before. “Well listen Kris, don’t look now, but over my shoulder, to the left a bit, there is a bald man with a fat face staring at us intently. Just glance quick, you see him?”
            “I see him.”
            “Well, we have a bet going that you are Santa.”
            “Santa? As in Santa Klaus?” the man laughed.
            “Yes, Father Christmas himself. So, what I need you to do is just nod at me, ok? And if he comes over here to verify, I need you to vouch for me.”
            “Vouch that I am indeed Santa?”
            A smile formed on the man’s face as he began to slowly nod his head.       
            “That’s it.”
            “And what’s in it for me?”
            “Well, you see, my friend here was born on Christmas day so he has always had a bit of a thing against Christmas—”
            “—because it interferes with his birthday,” the man dressed as Santa commented, picking up a pair of Ben Franklin glasses and placing them across the bridge of his nose.
            “Exactly, and anyhow, he has won—”
            “—the last five or six bets between the two of you,” the man said.
            “How did you know?”
            “Lucky guess, anyhow, continue.”
            “So, I think a little prank like this will be just what he needs—”
            “—to lose some confidence by being proven wrong for once,” the man said, scratching his beard. Jim noticed his eyes twinkle slightly.
            “Yea…how did you know?”
            “Oh that’s beside the point. Anyways, you are on. I’m nodding my head right now,” the man said, reaching into a red bag he had strewn across the seat next to him and pulled a long scroll out.
            “Alright, thanks mate,” Jim said, clapping the man on the shoulder and turning around.
            “What did he say?” Pete asked as he sat down.
            “He’s Santa, that’s what?”
            “You expect me to believe that?”
            “Look for yourself,” Jim said, smiling.
            Pete turned around and looked at the man. He sat at the bar with a very long list that wrapped all the way from the bar to the front door. He was placing checks next to some names on the list and scratching out others. Next to him sat a plate full of cookies and a tall, slender glass of milk. The light around his head what lighter than the light around his body and clothes were fresh from the cleaners. The man looked up at Pete and smiled, a warm smile topped like ice cream with two cherry red cheeks.
            “Your round mate,” Jim said, finishing his pint.

Monday, December 19, 2011

life in a pencil bag

The following was published in the UB Post on Friday December 16.

Life in a Pencil Bag
By Cooper Baltis

It’s dark in here. Very dark. Well sometimes it’s light, sometimes I am allowed up there but most of the time, I sit inside this cramped little pencil bag waiting for the zipper to peel back. The crisp sound that sends a shiver of excitement down my lead. Even after sitting in here for six months, I can still smell the fresh tinge of the Mongolian leather each time the zipper is pulled.
Usually, I sit on top of the other pencils, or nuzzle in next to an eraser named Bob. Aside from the occasional grumbling or shiny newcomer, we all seem to get along pretty well. My least favorite tenet inside the bag is George, the fat white-out marker with a disdain for writing utensils. He loves to erase things and always insists on taking up too much space. Me and Chuka on the other hand, we love to write, we love to stain our ideas across the big paper surface with its faded blue lines. We’re dreamers and Bob and George are erasers. But Bob is cool, so I consider him a dreamer as well.
When we are out there, Chuka and I, we are truly happy. Chuka, a blue Korean pen with a white rabbit head on its tip, has been inside the pencil bag the longest. He was the first one to make friends with me, to show me the ropes of “living on the inside” as he called it. I count the conversation we had six months ago as one of the turning points of my life:
“When the zipper peels back, it’s like this sky is opening up,” he said, the first night after I was placed in the bag. If I could see his eyes in the dark I’m sure they would have been wide and wise. “When we are up there, we learn things: things about their world, about their language, about other languages, about their gossip. The gossip is my favorite part. Did you know Zoljargal failed her Anthropology test?”
“No…” I replied on that fateful first day. “Who’s Zoljargal?”
“That’s not important. The important part is she did, she failed miserably and was quite upset. My best advice? When you are up there, you gotta listen. You can’t just write. You also have to pay attention. Did you know that Solongo met a boy named Jamsram at a camp? Did you?”
“No, I’ve only been up one time,” I reminded him.
“Well, next time the zipper opens, you gotta pay attention. If the lesson is boring, try and see what the people around the hand are doing. If you can escape, do it. Nothing like a new pencil bag. Most importantly—constant vigilance. It’s the way of our world.”
So for the last six months, Chuka and I have been heavily following the lives of the people “up there” whenever we are summoned from our pencil bag. For starters, the person who owns our pencil bag is named Davka. She is a nice girl who hums loudly when no one is around. She changes the color and design of her nails once a week and sometimes wears a ring that stains the skin on her pointer finger green. When the teacher isn’t looking, she likes to draw small flowers on the desk. Both Chuka and I hate it when she does this, as it is very painful to have our tips ground into the tiny wooden grooves of the tabletop.
Davka’s friend’s name is Saran, a heavier girl who always picks her nose during class. Saran is trying to go abroad to Germany and is always studying. She is assiduous and mouthy, correcting the teacher at every chance she gets. Usually, a girl named Solongo sits on the other side of Davka. Solongo always falls asleep during the longer lectures, using her puffy rolled up jacket as a pillow. She usually has a single headphone in her left ear and sometimes, Davka listens to the spare earpiece, the chord like a dangling wishbone between the two girls.
“What do they listen to?” I asked Chuka one day, as he nudged himself between Bob the eraser and George the white-out marker.
“This is my territory,” George the white-out marker growled, as Chuka scooted on top of him.
“We all have to live in this cramped space,” Chuka said patiently, trying his best to cover the agitation rising in his voice. George had been at Chuka’s throat for weeks now, commenting on everything he said and threatening sanctions and violence.
“My territory…”
“Anyways,” Chuka said, turning towards me. “I don’t know exactly what it is they listen to, but once, Davka set the ear bud down next to me and I heard a little bit of it.”
“What did it sound like?” I asked.
“It was a very fast paced song with this, how should I describe this? Electronic tinge?”
“Tinge?” Bob the eraser asked, hopping in the conversation.
“Party rocker…something about party rocking and houses.”
“This is our house,” I said, looking up wistfully at the top of the pencil bag. Davka had left it cracked just a little. An arc of light had filtered into the normally subfusc space like a flashlight in the dark.
“Yes, but what is a party rocker?” Bob asked.
“Someone who rocks parties,” George the white-out marker said in a sharp voice. “You guys are idiots.”
“If you’re so smart, how does one rock a party?” Chuka asked.
“By invading,” the George quipped.
“I don’t understand,” I said, turning towards Chuka.
We all watched as the zipper was pulled from above by Davka’s hand. The light instantly reflected off her freshly glittered fingernails. She reached into the pencil bag and stirred us all around. She grabbed Bob the eraser and me.
“See you!” I yelled to Chuka as I was hailed to the world above.
Davka set Bob and me in front of her thin notebook. The teacher was talking about the Mongolian economy. She picked me up and started writing. The economy seemed to be doing pretty good these days and could grow up to 20 percent next year, he said, but inflation is rising, and if the government doesn’t hone in their spending habits, the price of goods and services could skyrocket. This is what is known as hyperinflation. Luckily, the budget for 2012…
At the word “rocket” Davka used me to draw a small cylinder adorned with two tiny wings. She used Bob to erase the head of the cylinder and replaced it with a pointed tip. She outlined the cylinder again and began to stipple in the top portion of it, tapping my head violently against the paper.
“Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!” I wailed, as Davka jabbed my head repeatedly against the paper. She shaded in some smoke coming off the bottom of the pointed cylinder and wrote the word Пуужин above the cylinder. She showed it to Solongo who tried to suppress a laugh.
The teacher walked by and Davka threw her hands over the picture, sending me flying against the chair in front of her. I slammed against the back of chair and fell like an anvil onto the fake wood floor. I bounced once and rolled forward a few inches. I lay there for a moment, winded, when suddenly a boot covered in deerskin shot forward and tried to step on me. It missed the first time, stepping a crumbled piece of paper instead. I panicked.
I thought of what Chuka said, about finding a new pencil bag if I could. But I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Bob and Chuka. No one had ever been on the floor before. No one. That I knew was sure, the closest Chuka had ever been was Solongo’s lap. I was frightened, unsure, and above all—the most alone I have ever been. I thought of all the times I wanted out of the bag, all the times I wanted just a minute to myself. They all seemed so trivial now. I wanted the safety of my pencil bag, the security of my home. Zipped up and kept tight. Clean and organized.
The malicious boot waited for the teacher to pass before finally catching me. I let out a tiny yelp as the boot slammed down on top of me. I felt my stomach being pressed against the floor. I was swiftly dragged by the boot to the leg of the chair. Delirious and in excruciating pain, I noticed Davka’s glittery fingers like a crane slowly reaching down towards me. I would soon be safe.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bus Ruminations

The following is an article I wrote for the UB Post, published on Wednesday December 7, 2011. Enjoy!

Bus Ruminations

There is an old N’Sync song playing on the bus’s stereo system. The sound crackles out of the threadbare speakers like a man walking across a silent field of paper bags filled with Styrofoam. The driver, a short Mongolian man in a small glass barrier meant to prevent distraction from the passengers, is puffing like the Zaisan power plant on a thin, feminine cigarette. He is wearing a hat that reminds me of Russia, or at least the Russia that has been painted on my brain from stock news footage and cracked black and white photos back home. Thank you American media.
            So I am from Texas and I am sitting on a bus in Mongolia. This seems about right. I am on my way back to my apartment from the Tsagaandarium Art Gallery. I am palming a thick roll of tugrigs and waiting for the bus attendant to take my fare. The windows are iced over and there is a man with black gloves holding onto the overhead support handles across from me. Everytime the bus shifts, he leans forward menacingly. Sitting two seats behind him is an older woman with a matching fur hat and knee-length jacket. Her face is white and her eye make-up is elaborate. She is wearing a pair of girasol earrings that sparkle with every tremor of the bus. I wipe away a cold condensation that has formed on my eyelashes and pull my scarf off the bridge of my nose. My lips and cheeks are wet from the warm scarf.
I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to find the bus attendant. She is a young woman, with a pollution mask wrapped tightly around her face, a purple knit hat, loose Adidas wind pants, a green hooded sweatshirt and the blue vest that all Mongolian bus attendants wear. She takes my fare and stuffs it in a fanny pack brimming with tugrigs. She rips off a small fare receipt with her gunmetal grey gloves and hands it to me. She strolls to the front of the bus and takes a lone seat behind the driver’s compartment. She pulls out her cell phone and begins rapidly text messaging. I imagine her responding to a text from a friend:
Unknown friend: Chi yu hj bna?
Bus Attendant: Bi ajiltei. Teneg ajil.
            I smile at my ridiculous text message mental projection. I’m sure her conversation is much more complex than my feeble mind could create on a dime or a tugrig. I sigh. I’m bored. The bus is suddenly at a standstill, like a nail stuck in a wall of traffic. As I listen to the sharp din of horns at a particularly congested intersection, I start to thinking about what it would be like to be a bus attendant. Anything to kill the time.
As a bus attendant, your office is a long fusty corridor full of random people. Some rude, some nice, some yelling on cell phones, some drunk and flummoxed, some holding hands, some holding babies, some holding shopping bags, some holding cell phones while holding  babies, some yelling on cell phones while holding babies and shopping bags, others sleeping. As bus attendant, you are the dictator of all these people. You are the bus boss, el capitan, the transportation khan. Or at least I imagine it this way. I guess the only real thing you can dictate is if someone is allowed onto the bus or not. To add to this, I’ve never seen someone get kicked off a bus here in UB so maybe the word dictator is too weighty, too authoritarian, definitely too controversial for someone as munificent as the bus attendant. As bus attendant you are benevolent benefactor to a host of people in need of transportation. You are their savior, their guide, their friend, their messiah, their Moses, the man or woman behind the curtain—wait that’s the driver—ok forget that last one. Just know that you are needed. As bus attendant you hold the fate of thousands of people’s life in the palm of your hand like a fistful of rice. The bus is your workplace, these are your minions.
            As I think about the word “minion” and how it reminds me of the word “onion,” a little girl takes a seat in front of me. Her mother sits in the seat across the aisle from her, busy fumbling with something shiny in her purse. The little girl turns to gawk at me. Her bright eyes peak over the seat like the sun over a peaceful valley with peppered copses and languid cabins. As she stares at me, I think back to the bus attendant and a passage I recently read in an essay on history by Emerson: “If the whole is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience. There is a relation between the hours of our lives and the centuries of time.”
So in the hour I plan to spend on this bus, a century of time will pass by and I will remain in the care of this bus attendant, who is guiding me like Charon to the underworld, also known as my wonderfully yellow apartment near Metro Mall (and at a fee half of what an obolus would likely cost even with inflation). Wait, that’s not the way I should interpret that Emerson number. I’ll try again. The “whole” is in the bus attendant who is experiencing a relentless and thankless job through me, a casual observer who is far from casual when it comes to observing. In other words, I am stuck on a bus on my way to eternity in the form of a Texan who is observing the bus attendant and both of us are partaking in the endless wheel of individual experiences. My boredom rages on.
As I try to figure out the best way to ascribe the Emerson quote to my bus experience, the little girl sitting in front of me with a cream scarf smiles a toothless grin at me. I wave and whisper, “Sain baina yy?” She squeaks and whips around.
The little girl has officially complicated things. If I am observing the bus attendant, who is observing her cell phone and at the same time, I’m being observed by the little girl—who is the individual and who is the whole? We can’t all be the whole. Otherwise, some sort of implosion or spontaneous combustion would happen, right? The little girl is observing me, while I was observing someone else. All of us are linked through the slice of time spent on a bus slowly making its way from Zaisan to the city center. So, who is observing the little girl? I turn to look at her mom, the culprit in more ways than one. While she isn’t necessarily observing her daughter (she is still looking for something in her purse), I suppose she could be considered the little girl’s observer. Ok so the girl has an observer, the attendant has an observer, and I have an observer. Maybe this is how we are all part of the whole, linked by our own voyeuristic individual experiences. Maybe, we observe each other simply to observe ourselves.
The bus moves forward a couple of feet and I give up on my senseless musings. I yawn and relax into the upholstered seat. The bus attendant plucks her cell phone from her pocket and starts texting again. The song on the radio changes to a Mongolian traditional song and I close my eyes. I’m not the first person to get lost in a thought while riding on a bus in Mongolia. 

Six Minutes 'til I Love You

Six Minutes ‘til I Love You
By Cooper Baltis

Anything to make her happy, he thought, as he lit three Christmas candles in the bathroom of his small apartment. He checked his watch again for the umpteenth time. Six minutes, she would be there in six minutes and in six minutes, give or take a minute or two, or not, he would tell her that he loved her for the first time. The first time. The big bang. The first hurrah? In six minutes she would be standing in front of him, in the flesh, in the black dress suit she always wore on Thursdays. She would probably have a Christmas tree pin affixed to the collar.
            She was a scrupulous woman, raised in on military bases around the world, an army brat, the type of girlfriend who made your bed and tucked the corners with sniper precision while you were shaving in the other room. This is why he knew she would be on time. She hadn’t been a single minute late in the year since they had started dating. Curiously, she had never been a single minute early either. One time, he even set his cell phone clock ahead by five minutes, just to play devil’s advocate. Somehow, be it divine grace or a clever taxi driver, she arrived five minutes early that day—on time as always.
            He poured a package of green apple Turkish bath salt into the bath and started the hot water. A Frank Sinatra Christmas album softly wavered in from the stereo in his room. He heard the oven timer go off in the kitchen and closed the shower curtain. Spinning on his heels, he left the water running and went to check on the casserole. He grabbed his oven mitt, the mitt that she had bought him with the gimlet-eyed rooster’s head at the gripping point, and opened the oven to pull out the casserole.
 “No,” he said aloud. “No,” he said aloud again, just to make sure someone said it.
With his mitt-less hand, he felt the top of the casserole. It was lukewarm at best, partially cooked. The corn still sat on top of the casserole in the cream of mushroom soup that had yet to harden and the cheese that had halfway melted. He looked at his oven temperature: 250 degrees. He could have sworn that he had set it to 350. He glanced up at his microwave, which sat on top of his refrigerator, and nodded like mad professor. He would have to nuke it.
            Searching through his kitchen utensils, he found a spatula with a blue rubber handle. He used the spatula to slice a gold bar sized hunk out of the casserole. This should do for now, he thought, slopping the casserole onto a square plate and shoving it into the microwave. Five minutes until her tiny wrist knocks at his door. He set the microwave to four. Better to give the casserole a minute to cool. Make it just right. He smiled at his own genius.
            He heard the water filling the bathtub and made his way back to the bathroom to check on his makeshift spa. If this isn’t romantic, he thought, I don’t know what is. He breached the bathroom door and looked at the candles. One had fallen to the floor but had stayed lit, leaving a small puddle of purple wax on his shaggy bathroom rug.
            He panicked and bent forward to retrieve the candle. He overshot his quick gesture and hit his forehead on the bathroom counter, whipping his hands instinctively in front of him and swiping the remaining candles onto the floor. As the candles fell, they doused his left arm, exposed by his rolled up sleeves, with hot wax. He jumped, and in mid curse, noticed the oven mitt was still on his right hand. He used the mitt to try and wipe away the wax but it had instantly dried. He took the mitt off and set it on the counter, trying his best to pick at the wax stuck in the hairs of his arm. He grabbed some toilet paper and started to scrub at the wax but quickly gave up.Rubbing his forehead in frustration, he gazed down at the waxy mess on his bathroom floor. He looked at his watch. Three minutes.
            Tonight is the night, he thought, determined not to let the candles or the microwave casserole ruin his plans. He had waited exactly a year to tell her that he loved her. One year the words weighed heavy on his lips. There was no way he was going to let a pan of botched casserole and a few stupid candles stop him from saying the most powerful three words in the English language.
            The bath, he thought, noticing that it wasn’t making the metallic sound of water hitting water, as it should have after filling for a few minutes. He opened the shower curtain and nearly screamed. In his hurry to catch the oven timer, he had failed to plug the drain. All the green apple sea salt had completely dissolved and escaped down the drain. Stuck in a mildew circle, he spotted a long forgotten bottle of kiwi shampoo. In a fury, he jammed the plug into the drain and emptied the bottle of shampoo into the tub. He stuck his hand in the water and mixed the shampoo in. She won’t notice, he thought, stirring his hand in the water, and if she did, at least it would smell nice. Two minutes remained before she arrived. He quickly placed the candles back onto the counter and carefully lit them.
As he reached to turn the bathroom light off, he heard a small explosion in the kitchen. The casserole. His microwave. The mess to follow. He burst into the kitchen, clipping his right foot on the pale olive trashcan that sat in front of a barrier that separated his kitchen from the front door. He barreled forward but caught himself on the kitchen counter. The trashcan fell sideways, spilling a couple empty cans of corn, onion peels, the receipt from the grocery store, an empty bottle of Heinz ketchup, and a few soggy tea bags across his floor. The ketchup bottle slid across the lacewood floor, slapped into the leg of a bar stool, and spun five times before finally giving up on its escape. Spin the bottle.
He looked slowly, dejectedly, vehemently, from the ketchup bottle, which was practically mocking him, to the microwave. The dinger on the microwave went off. The light inside turned on. The casserole had been splattered like Jackson Pollock painting inside the microwave.
He started to pick up the cans. He stepped over the trash, looking at his watch—less than minute—and with spite for all the world’s microwaves, opened the microwave door to curse at the bloody mess. Strings of cheese hung from the ceiling of the microwave, one string held a single piece of corn like lone trapeze artist.
He reached to touch the plate and burnt his hand. “No!” he yelled.
He started to search for his oven mitt, and realized he had left it in the bathroom. As ran to the bathroom to retrieve it, he heard a knock on the door. He grabbed the oven mitt.
Don’t panic, he told himself, just take her out to dinner. No, tell her someone just robbed the house and left a mess. No, just…just…tell her you are sick! Yes! Tell her you are sick. No. She will know you are lying. He heard her knock again. He took a deep breath, steadying himself in front of the door. With the oven mitt in hand he opened the door, accepting his fate like we all must do one day.
She stood holding a pizza with a big smile across her face. Her Christmas tree pin glimmered in the light from his hallway. He could instantly smell the cheese boiling inside the cardboard pizza box.
“I thought you might be hungry…” she said, her smile turning a little as she noticed his oven mitt, the contrite look on his face and the wax stuck in the hairs of his left arm.
“I love you,” he said, sighing loudly and dropping the oven mitt.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm Back!


So my internet connection was a bit sketchy over, well the last four months, if that is indeed possible (which it is).  Anyhow, I am back and will try and update this blog more regularly. Firstly, I love it here in Mongolia. Secondly, I finished my third novel, Roger Grate, Sukh Dev. Thirdly (yes numbering points in an article is amateur I know), I finished NaNoWriMo last month, and my novel is currently titled, Life is a Beautiful Thing. Below is an excerpt:

Currently, I am getting drunk off pollutes with a pregnant woman three days before Halloween at a pollution bar in Los Angeles. She is a tall chick with a silver neck, reptilian scales on her belly caused by a recent application of C-Baby, and an earthy mala bead necklace tied together by a crimson thread that hangs perfectly between her ample breasts. As I speak to her, she closes her eyes and logs into iNet. I reach for a pollution mask, strap it onto my face, and inhale deeply. Life is a beautiful thing.
“So do you want to switch bodies?” I ask her, pushing the pollution mask to the top of my forehead.
“I’m talking to my friend Usher about it,” she says, keeping her eyes closed. “Maybe…” she says with a giggle. She keeps her eyes closed for another couple of minutes, laughing randomly at whatever it was Usher was telling her on GoogleFace.
 “So you will think about it?” I ask, excited that I might be able to switch bodies. I take off the pollution mask, set it on a hook in front of the bar, and smile at her. The pollution mask resembles a plague doctor mask. It has a long beak-like nose to allow excess pollution to linger and emerald polypropylene eye lenses. The nose is connected to a tube above the bar. It is strapped to the back of the head using a thick pleather strap with a titanium buckle. The nicer ones are made from real leather and on rare occasions, exotic animal skulls.
“Yea, but if you don’t play your cards right, I’ll have to reconsider,” Nelly says, opening her eyes. She reaches for her pollution mask and pulls it down over her forehead. There is something different about her gait, as if she isn’t used to coming to this pollution bar or perhaps, not used to the commotion of the ground floor level.
“I’ll have two Naked Lunches and one Loathing Hunter,” I say, turning to the bartender. The bartender pulls out one of his dreadlocks and starts to clean three shot glasses with it. Nothing like getting drunk off pollutes. He positions the dreadlock above the first shot glass. An antifreeze colored liquid begins trickling out of the end of his dreadlock.
“You want an Ayahuasca topper?” he asks, looking at me through a pair of Leaks.
“Sure,” I say, glancing at Nelly’s stomach. “It will do the baby good.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Living a life

Mongolian countryside

Do not play your trumpet here

Gandan Monastery

Ger on the sidewalk

Rainbow in the countryside

Two American buddies in a record shop

Roberta Charpentier, director of the ACMS, Tenzin's assistant, Tenzin Palmo, myself