blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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from Vacation

The regional manager had many interesting questions.

What happened to you yesterday? Was it a magic trick? A sleight of hand? Did you forget to pull yourself out of a hat? I don’t need to tell you this is not the finest time for fun.

Myers, in Syracuse, one arm running the length of the hotel room desk.

Where’s Myers today? I said to everyone. Does anyone see him pushed up against a wall around here? Did he get stuck in a manila envelope?

I should have called sooner, Myers said. I’m in the wrong there. The important thing is we’re speaking now.

The regional manager made many interesting statements.

The important thing is yesterday’s absence and the ibid of that today and the fact that my caller ID is showing me a number which does not match the number of your office phone and of which I do not recognize the area code. That is the important event in your life today.

Yes, I need to talk to you about that, said Myers.

Now’s the time. The world over awaits.

I’m taking a vacation day.

What vacation. You’ve been in our employ four months. You don’t get any vacation. You get vacation in August.

I’m taking one yesterday and one today. (Myers looked at his watch.) And one tomorrow.

You want, you take vacation in August. You apply for it. Like everyone does. You submit a form six weeks in advance. We plan for your absence.

Melanie can mind my work.

Melanie cannot mind your work. Melanie is busy minding Melanie and Melanie’s work.

I’m taking a sick day, in that case.

What sick days. You take sick days when you’re sick. So which is it—are you sick or are you on vacation?

I’m both, said Myers. Listen. It’s both. I’m leaving my wife.


In the first month Myers followed her, they fought about light switches as well as lights. Dimmers, three levels. They fought about seven different things having to do with bicycles. They fought about round tin objects, lids, water, other liquids, other things having to do with liquid, with containers. She said they fought about everything.

He said, Not so. There was plenty they didn’t fight about.

See? Even that he had to contradict.


I’m sorry to hear that, Myers. Really I am. The best thing you can do is to keep your seat belt on, as they say. High hat the hell hole. Eyes to the front, and so on. Shoot the face of misfortune.

She’s moving out.

Excellent. Better off without her, I say. No offense. Take moving day off. Listen, make moving day on the weekend. Make moving day next month. Let her move herself. We need you here this week. It’s a mess in here. You’ve got your own project. Projects.

I’ve already left.

Don’t tell me things I can see, Myers. My eyes are on your vanished form over your desk. Where are you? Where are you phoning from?


That’s no vacation. That’s a smudge.


To be accurate, they had not fought about most things.

They had not fought about the shape of certain objects, never disagreed about whether an object was round or tall. They had not fought about the outlines of things, how it worked so that one thing could be separated from another, what occurred to mark the division, atomically. They had not fought about any of Newton’s laws or Kepler’s laws or whoever was in charge these days, whoever had won. They agreed on up and down and how that worked and how to trigger it. The nonsubstance of shadows, the substance of what the shadows were shadows of. They agreed on God-related issues (there is no God, they believed) and on all that follows (no barricading oneself in or jaunting off somewhere to upset or placate a jealous God) (no floating up and down like balloons) (no Body moved anything first or was there before anybody else). They agreed on many practical truths: Mathematics seems to work fairly well, they thought, as do the languages, with a few garbage alleys of misunderstanding. The social sciences, such as psychology, have their place but it’s tiresome to discuss them, especially Freud.

They even agreed on some aspects regarding lights—the way they work, the hardware, their function, etc.

What kind of man behaves this way? she said.

I mean, who did he think he was?

I mean, what was he supposed to be? A husband?

Let me tell you, husbands aren’t supposed to act this way.


Myers, are you there? Myers.


I’m not a difficult man, am I?

No, you’re not.

We give the standard allowances and perks. Discount parking, yes?

I take the subway.

I don’t try to be an asshole.

No, you don’t.

You’ve put me in a difficult situation here. You’ve been working on the Smithson journals. This is a new account, your first project. You have been entrusted with this. You have been the point man. Anything to do with Smithson, you are pointed at, and you, in turn, point elsewhere. What is the point of having a point man I can’t point to? No one else knows what is happening with Smithson. Smithson is due the day after tomorrow so it is obviously no good for you to come back the day after tomorrow. Where are the files? Are the files on your laptop?


I always bring my work home with me, sir.

Do we have backups here?

(The backups were in his briefcase.)

Safe in my briefcase, sir.

What is the point of having files I don’t have?

I don’t mean to drop the ball on this.

You are throwing the balls out the window. You are throwing other things out the window. Reputations. Money. Jobs—your job. Now, today. Today is a bad day. Today you are in Syracuse. I want you to pack up that laptop, get on an airplane, and come back to New York. That’s going to be expensive. Same-day fare, few direct flights. I will pay for it. That is my gift to you, my condolence card for your breakup. Get to the airport, come home, come here. Tonight you will stay in a hotel. On us. On me. Dinner too. With me. Bring your laptop. We are here for you in your time of need. Are you hearing this, Myers?

I am.

Good, see you this afternoon.

Okay, sir.

Don’t call me sir. Call me by my name.

Myers hung up. He sat in the protective circle of light formed by the hotel and by the present itself and these shone above him and around him but illuminated nothing. He called the front desk.

I’ll need a taxi to the airport, he said.


On Gray: Here is a fact Myers couldn’t know or even suspect. At the same moment Myers struck out down the hall for the elevator, suitcase rolling behind, Gray was elsewhere thinking, You know, that Myers fellow could be of some use just now. Gray was far away, stepping over a pockmarked Central American topography. He paused, considered the arrangement of gravel under his feet. The sun soaped the clouds. He pulled some coins from his pocket, turned them over on his hand. Myers slid in and out of his mind like a bird in and out an open window. He went on.

Gray had had few thoughts of Myers in his life. The first ones had been as a student. He’d observed Myers’s head from the back of the room and studied its odd contours—not outrageous, but irregular. No one knew why. In the dorms the guys discussed whether he’d been in an accident or if it was the result of some sort of careful genetic planning. They were beyond teasing and no one wanted to ask. Myers had no close friends. From some angles the head appeared normal. Such as straight on. If Myers looked in the mirror each day he wouldn’t see anything strange at all. The guys gradually realized he wasn’t aware of it. This was interesting and Gray pondered it in class, but it was only one of many drifting thoughts: girlfriend (mintmouth, slim-hipped), dormmates (loud), the qualities of light in the room (daylight here, florescent there), the square of a morning toast, a skyscraper he’d seen in a dream.        

Thus Gray engaged himself through geometry.

He received a C in the class and for the next six years Gray had no thoughts of Myers. He finished one degree and began and finished another. He married his spearmint girlfriend and settled down in Syracuse, though he’d never lived anyplace else. He shifted from the back of the room to the front, turned around, gathered papers instead of writing them, faced whichever direction he was pointed with the same dejection, went home and sat through her dejection, back and forth like that until nearly three years ago when he left, finally.

Before they split for good there was a lot of talk about resorts—not as in sunshine and sea, but as in “last resort”—and Gray and his wife tried them all: time apart, time together, compromise, birthday presents.

Those are normal, said Gray’s father on the phone, who was, after all, an informed man. You do those anyway.

Therapy too.


It was like talking to a telemarketer.

Telemarketers are normal.

Yeah, she had her script all right.

She or the therapist?

Both. It was like talking to two telemarketers.

That’s normal.

So the marriage was over and both sides were banged up about it, but even more they seemed to have a small child from the thing, a girl. It had not yet been decided how that portion would divide up, what days would be his, how often he would see her, whether he would get a holiday and which, and Gray felt worse about that piece of it being broken off and floated away. It was something to try not to think about. She was. His weanling, his springling, his sprout.


Myers. In Syracuse. The hotel called him a cab and he made it to the airport. He went in, confronted the place, its identical hallways, identical chairs, mirrored metal—the sort of place that inspires panic, requires spellbound acceptance. He had the fact of a suitcase to hold on to, and his other clutter, hat and so on, coats. He maneuvered around the right-angle objects placed in his path—counters, windows, walls. The floor speckled the floor.


So three years ago Gray and his wife split. Who wanted to leave whom had not been overly clear, and neither of them felt clear about any of it, except they agreed that clearly he needed another place to stay for a few months, until he could secure another place to stay for a few years, until he could secure another place to stay until death, at which time his placement would be another person’s problem—not that he meant to be neglectful on that score, don’t worry, he’d arrange some dark hole to crouch in.

It turned out there was a friend, her friend, a bachelor, who would rent Gray his extra bedroom in Brooklyn and could even arrange a temporary office job for him, a low-level copyediting position at a press that specialized in brochures, alumni magazines, a line of children’s books meant for waiting rooms. Gray was qualified, and since he had been saying for years that he hated his job, hated Syracuse, loved the city, it seemed to make sense. So he went on a “professional leave” from his job and took a bus to New York.

(He arrived on the day of a February parade. Banners and streamers strung up and floating. The bus rolled under them. Freezing paraders clapped and held up their batons. Gray stared out the window, dazed, handfuls of confetti falling from the sky. He got off the bus and went for a walk.)

It seemed to make sense, that is, until he arrived and discovered the apartment occupied not only by the bachelor (he had had the image of two surly men keeping to themselves, deactivating the TV before bed), but also by the bachelor’s wife. Or not quite. She was almost a wife. She was nearly, approaching, had promised to be the bachelor’s wife, and she took up a lot of space with her helpful storage tips and her cheery switchboard voice and her drip-drys in the bathroom.

So that’s how it happened: Gray installed temporarily in a spare room with a temporary office undertaking. Gray upset about one thing (receding child) and the bachelor glad about another (impending wife).


Myers got on an airplane, an entire structure of steel coated in plastic, artificial air, stalls and slots for jamming belongings or sliding oneself into, all of it cheap and partly broken, tacked down with childproof levers.

He seated himself on the aisle. Departed along with the rest. They were all strapped down and inventoried. There was something very old in the seat next to him—man, woman, rock, he couldn’t settle on what. He scanned the paper (Coney Island crime, high winds in the South, war). He got ready to arrive in a country he’d barely heard of, to a language he barely spoke (he’d had the college Spanish, yes, but he’d never expected to actually use it), to an unknown climate among other unknowns—because of course he was going to Nicaragua. Did you think he was going to go this far and give up? When he could go much, much farther, throw himself out of the country, embark on some dismal folkloric chase?

The stewards asked that everyone keep track of all the trash they carried. Not only the ones in the overhead bins but the ones beneath the seat in front of them. The bottom ones for floatation. The ones upright and locked. The ones in the liftoff and landing.



Maybe I’ll come see this beautiful Nicaragua! In fact, I’m here. Yes, I slid down your upstate slope. I arrived in the capital just tonight. Want some company? Tell me where you are. I’m ready for a good time.

He added: And one more thing.

I need to ask you a question about my wife.


Three arrivals and an immigration line later, Myers stepped out into the heat of the Nicaraguan night—a pandemonium of taxis, hotcake air. A hotel arm led him to a car. He rode through the night, made it up the steps. Signed the paper presented to him, allowed his belongings to be carried off.

He walked the length of the lobby, found the computer cubicles, bought a guidebook in the gift shop, sat down and went over his faults. No, he looked at something, anything other than himself. The four windows in front of him, the two desks to the side. The people coming through, walking by, going into elevators, ascending to higher floors, as if it required no effort, no sound, no remorse. A smooth lift straight up into the lighted dome. He himself rode the elevator to the mezzanine, looked over the handrail. Came back down.


My dearest husband,

I am glad you did not drop out of the sky and into Nicaragua like a dead bird, that you chose a form of air transportation that requires supervision and accompaniment. Things are very hectic at work, to say nothing of the rest of the city. Take good care. Do not feel you have to post reports. Enjoy.

Your wife


He would not have to go far to see the Nicaraguan wonders around him, his guidebook informed him. There was a live, smoking volcano right on the outskirts of town that anyone could visit and witness, no special permits necessary and no volcanic equipment either because it wasn’t going to explode in anyone’s face and lots of people lived all around it and walked over it every day and planted their corn on it and they didn’t have to wear any special hats or protective goggles. And on top of having a live, smoking volcano, they had earthquakes too, and everybody had to hold on to their hats or they could topple over like plastic army men and you didn’t see them complaining. To witness this special volcanic event all one had to do was take a bus or a taxi, ride up the volcanic slant, observe the billows of smoke that rise from the pit of the earth, have one’s moment of fear or awe or existential crisis in the face of this bit of torn-up planet, then get back in the transport and return to the hotel. This is a fine adventure and many others are available as well but one has to choose, one always must.



Regional manager here. I don’t believe we’ve come to a good understanding about the phone call that took place between us. I believe something went wrong between my voice and your ears, between your mouth and my phone, between my words and your deeds, between the wires, Myers, between one hotel and another, between one thought and the next. I’m talking about you. Your thoughts, your feet. They did not, I notice, bring you and your laptop back here. You’ve got until tomorrow. I’m shoving your desk over a cliff in the morning. I’ll watch it smash on the rocks below.


The country also featured any number of “volunteers” at any given time. These volunteers, not unlike Santa’s elves, hailed from Myers’s very own country, as well as from helpful guilt-ridden European ones, such as Germany. He could observe these volunteers in a wild-habitat location and witness their good works for himself. The country was stuffed with these people, frankly, so much so that sometimes they couldn’t quite fit and had to be tied together with bamboo rope and sent home on a raft. But this year the country had just the right amount of volunteers and you could glimpse them from several vantage points, taking a break from their labors of latrine digging and stair building or from making their solemn advisements in regards to matters of business, religion, childcare, gardening, and diplomacy. The Nicaraguans are careful with them. They don’t burn the volunteers by leaving them out too long in the sun or drown them by throwing them into the sea. They don’t place them under a mango tree, because a piece of fruit could fall on their heads and knock them over. They don’t lock the volunteers out in the rain or accidentally run them over with their trucks. They feed them every day and encourage them to propagate among themselves. The Nicaraguans don’t say things like, What do you think, that we can’t perfectly well dig our own toilets? Get out of the way, would you? Go build your stairs over there where no one will trip on them, for Pete’s sake. They never say that. Because it’s not easy out there for the volunteers with only their little sewing machines and toy shovels to work with. Besides, it’s nice to have them around. It’s a lot better than getting exploded by hundred-pound bombs. It’s a lot better than getting smeared into vapors in the air.


Myers, you old crater-head,

Glad you decided to come. Nicaragua is the most beautiful place in the world. So you’re married, old man. I didn’t know. Congratulations, I say! Bring her over, I’d love to meet her. I don’t know what I can answer for you. I haven’t had much luck in the on-the-hook myself—I’m a divorcé with a leftover shoot, as you might have read in the alumni notes. But I’ll advise as best I can. My mind is an enormous unscrolled newsreel. Bring some aspirin. I have a splitting headache.



Myers walked the lobby end to end. Two doormen stationed for night duty stared impassively after him. He passed them over and over. Didn’t know he was married . . . Oh, he had a splitting ache for the guy, all right. He’d make a watermark on the pavement with Gray’s brain. He wondered what the laws here were.

            The world teemed out there, unmoored. He plugged letters into the screen, felt less every moment, felt nothing, felt dull. The gift shop closed. Behind the glass sat the T-shirt and postcard set-ups, the beach equipment, scuba stuff, drown book, sand machine. He wandered down another hall. Found the restaurant. Empty, dim. Coat check in its cubby hole. Tablecloths covering their four edges. The window had a view of the city. The hotel, perched on its rock like a rat, its head bobbing over the whatnot—the waterline of town, the sunk sun. A pattern of antennae on rooftops, pale lines of sky. Inside was orderly, milk-clean, as if implying that the mind could be like that, as if that drastic mess in the brain could be straightened. You could go inside and smooth everything over like a fresh roller of paint over dirty walls, hide the filth underneath, cover it over, shove it down in there, hard.


Sure, I’ll come. Where are you, Gray?  end

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