Entropy is defined as “lack of order or predictability, and hence a gradual decline into disorder.” In other words, entropy presents the disquieting idea that no matter what system is put into place, it will eventually disintegrate into chaos and randomness.
I hate entropy (even if it doesn’t care about being hated). I love order. Everything is about organization for me, not just in the streets and society, but in my home. I can’t focus on what I need to do unless my desk is in order, emails sent and a plan is set. Nothing is better than that.
And yet the forces are out there – discrimination, environmental decay, laziness, etc. – which underscore the impossibility of humanity ever working out. My goodness, we can’t even agree on pandemic protocols. What chance will we have when the stakes are raised? (Nil.)
“Boys.” Mr. Meagher hung up the phone heavily. It was the middle of math class, and he had been talking in hushed tones for over a minute. “Boys, I have to leave you on your own for a few minutes.”
“What happened, Mr. Meagher?” Steve Ardill, a large, cherub-faced boy with straight black hair, was the smartest in the class. “Can I be of assistance?”
“What I need out of all of you is to settle down and do your problems.” Mr. Meagher spoke abruptly, his well-liked sense of humor gone. “Is that understood, Mr. Moreland?”
Moreland’s thick blonde hair dangled in his eyes. “Yes, sir.”
Mr. Meagher turned to the boy slumped in the back row, his legs sprawled out. “Mr. Nettie? Am I clear?”
“Of course, sir.” Nettie smirked.
“I’m leaving Mr. Ardill in charge.” Mr. Meagher left the room. “Get to work.”
We listened to his footsteps fade down the hall.
“What do you think happened?” O’Connell asked.
“Shut it, O’Connell,” Nettie snapped back. “Get to work.”
A few kids snickered at that, looking around at each other and the empty hall.
“Oh, okay.” Doherty sat in a tight ball, his arms awkwardly under his desk, his face obscured by his bunched-up blazer.
“What did I say, Doherty?” Nettie demanded.
Doherty half moaned and muttered to himself.
Nettie wore a checked blazer. He was the only one who didn’t wear the standard-issue dark blue blazer that everyone else had to wear at the school. I didn’t understand why. “Doherty, I’m talking to you.”
“Doesn’t look like he’s listening,” Moreland said.
Nettie lobbed a paper ball at Doherty which grazed his head and skittered across the worn marble floor. “You going to pick that up, Doherty?”
Doherty moved slightly, his thick glasses briefly visible from behind his jacket, and then curled away again.
“Doherty.” Nettie lobbed another paper ball, this one a direct it. “I’m talking to you.”
I looked around at Ardill, who had not looked up once since Mr. Meagher had left.
“What’s the matter with you, dummy?” Moreland hissed. “You deaf?”
“He isn’t doing anything.” I knew it was a mistake to say anything. I really didn’t want to and immediately wanted to take it back.
“What’s that, McPhedran?” Nettie replied. “You say something?”
“Can’t you just leave him alone? He’s not doing anything.”
“What if he doesn’t want to be left alone? You ever think about that?”
I stared down at the math problem I had scrawled out and had no idea what any of it meant.
“I’m talking to you, McPhedran.”
“Hey, Excedrin,” Moreland added. “He’s talking to you.”
“Like I haven’t heard that one before,” I snapped back.
“God, McPhedran, you are such a…” Nettie leaned lazily forward, an arm extended in a half threatening manner. “You’re a dipstick.”
“What does that mean?” I demanded.
“You’re such a dipstick, McPhedran.” Nettie lobbed another paper ball at Doherty.
“Leave me alone.” I was making a lot of mistakes today; first speaking out and now this. “You can’t do this to me.”
“Dip stick.” Nettie replied. “Donny the Dipstick.”
“Donny Dipstick,” Moreland chorused.
A few others laughed, some of them – Kipp, McConkey O’Connell – trying the name out too. “Donny Dipstick.”
My face was hot. I was on the verge of blubbering. “I’m telling Mr. Meagher!”
“Donny Dipstick!” Moreland led the others in the chant. “Donny Dipstick!”
I was going to get up and beat the shit out of him, that or just run away, when a door down the hall opened and footsteps approached. The class went quiet as Mr. Treasure entered.
“I will be subbing for the rest of the class.” Mr. Treasure had a thick beard and squinty eyes; he never smiled.
“Is everything all right, sir?” Ardill asked.
“Everything is fine, Mr. Ardill.”
“Uh, sir.” Nettie raised his hand. “Can we work with a partner?”
“Individual work, Mr. Nettie.” Mr. Treasure walked down the side of the classroom. “Get to it.”
“Sir?” Moreland stood up.
“Sit down, Mr. Moreland.”
“I need to use the facilities, sir.”
“When class is over, Moreland. Sit.”
I looked around at Doherty, still bunched up, around at Ardill and the others behind me, all of them working and then over at Moreland and Nettie, who were not. Nettie gave a cruel nod.
“Mr. McPhedran,” Mr. Treasure announced. “You will find that you can do more work if you look at the page.”
“Dipstick!” Moreland made it sound like a sneeze.
The class laughed.
“Who’s looking for early morning laps here?” Mr. Treasure warned. “Mr. Moreland, you are looking like a prime candidate.”
I stared down at the page, writing out numbers in random sequences. I wanted the class to never end, to be frozen in my chair forever, but it wasn’t to be. The bell made me jump.
“Enjoy your lunch, gentlemen!” Mr. Treasure said.
“Thank you, sir.” Nettie was the first to leave.
I continued to pretend to work.
“Get a move on, Mr. McPhedran,” Mr. Treasure said.
“Yes, sir.” The room was all but empty now, Doherty just leaving. I crossed the quad after him, thinking of skipping lunch and sitting at the back of the chapel instead.
I’m looking for someone to answer to, someone who knows what matters most in this life, someone who has unequivocal answers about what I’ve done and said and should do and say next. I had a sense when I was younger that it was an older person, like my mother or father, someone had lived life and knew things. It took me time to figure it out, but I now know that the answers aren’t there.
I scroll through my phone in the evening, go down through the numbers to see who there is to talk to, who I know that might help me to make some sense. There are many friends and family who help for a time, who say the right things and make me laugh. But it eventually runs its course and I am drifting off and thinking of who else there might be.
It might be as Carrie Fisher mused. “All these people we weren’t finished talking to, that we will never be talking to until we see them again someday and pick up where we left off. Or we can talk to them as we go along, like talking to ourselves but so much better.”
Anyway, I just want to know what this so very wise person might think of my script about this guy who makes all of these calls during the pandemic, leaving messages for family and friends, hanging up when someone answers, and then killing himself in the end. It’s a dark comedy. It’s a little funny, right?
Given the scathing feedback from my (former) editor, it took me some time to get back at the first book of The Cx Trilogy, Anori. I’ve made it at last and begun the long toil. The current plan is to work on this concurrently with Fuck Pedagogy and see how their orbits might move the tides. Here are the opening pages at present. (Criticisms welcome!)
Dee held hard to the balcony railing as she looked down to Battery Park, all but empty now, neat rows of sandbags banked up against the grates alongside the Custom House, a single police car, its blue lights mute and slow, moving slowly away. They had stopped broadcasting the evacuation order hours ago. Zone A was closed.
The curtains lulled back as Dee slid the balcony door closed. There was a rocket ship on television. Great shards of curved ice calved off its sides, dissolving into a torrent of smoke and steam, as it slowly rose. The cameras cut to a distance perch across the valley, where the rocket could be seen rising from the barren landscape on a halo of brilliant white, a vibrating candle.
She went into the bathroom and turned off the faucet, Apollo lurching after her, his black-striped tail snaking over her shoulder, as he peered into the tub, now full of water. She grabbed at Apollo’s paw. “Want a bath?”
Apollo slid wildly on the tiles, slamming into the door frame as he bound into the living room. She didn’t know why she would even need the water. The storm had been too long hyped, like the one before, Irene. People had talked and tweeted, hoping for the disaster to get worse so they could make money pretending they cared. She watched the spectacle, the cameras now inside the capsule, giving a fish-eye view of the flight instruments, the oblong window to the pilot’s right and the blue-grey glow of her helmet at the bottom of the screen, the ubiquitous Infinity logo on everything. The vanishing rocket rose atop its teetering plume, transforming into a dot, the smoke, once thick, drifted into emptiness.
She changed the channel to the local news. This morning’s high tide was at 8:30 am. That tide surged over the walls into the city this morning, eleven hours ago. That tide has already been here. This tide is a full-moon high tide, just like Irene, only worse; it’s much worse. The weather guy was earnest, his sleeves rolled up, his square jaw pushed out for this soap opera apocalypse announcement. This is the one we have to watch. This one could be anywhere from 12 feet up to 14, 15, 16 feet. 16 feet! Think about that. In just 15 minutes. This is it. The surge is almost here.
“Hurry up.” She grabbed the cat’s leash and opened the door. “Before it’s too late.”
Apollo bolted ahead of her and turned tight circles until the elevator opened, and then pinned himself against Dee’s legs, his head against the silver wall until the doors opened and he could escape to the lobby.
“Apollo!” Hector, large against the glass doors at the front, bent down to Apollo. “My man.”
“Keeping the storm at bay?”
“You shouldn’t have taken the elevator.” He scratched Apollo vigorously down his side. ““They’re going to shut off the power, Miss Sinclair.”
“It’s 28 floors, Hector.”
“The eye of the storm just hit Atlantic City. That just happened.”
She leashed Apollo. “They keep talking about the tide.”
“You see the market. You see that?” He pointed out to the green awning that had flipped around on its moorings, its rusted metal ribs exposed, swelling in and out with the wind, a dying animal against the corner of the building. “You sure you should be going out?”
She thought about telling him how she wanted to see the wall of water coming down the narrows, the boats curled up into its majestic belly, the Verrazano Bridge hidden from view, the Statue of Liberty dwarfed in the shadow of the blue-black water as it rose higher and higher, even if she knew it wouldn’t really be like that. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He stretched his arm against the door, his jacket binding at his giant shoulders and pushed open the door. “Be careful, Miss Sinclair. Lady was killed by a tree today in Queens.”
I’ve begun work on an autobiography on my twenty years in teaching. Here’s a rough version of the opening:
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out who I am. I smoke out of boredom. I don’t want to do anything. I get excited about the dumbest of things. I seek revenge. My first thought after learning someone died, anyone, is that it was good that it wasn’t me. I digitize old pictures. I search through old letters. I reflect. I remember. I think about who I was as a kid. I sure as hell didn’t know who I was then, but I was certain that I would know when I was 19 or 20. And, it’s true, I thought I knew what I was about then, or I certainly acted like I did. The thing is I was just a dumb ass kid who wanted to fuck and be recognized as a great writer.
I’m no more than that now. I separate myself from everyone because I don’t like people. But what do I do when I’m on my own? I think of who I can talk to on the phone. I like being alone but I hate being alone. I’m afraid of nothing, and I’m afraid of everything. I wish this was just clever stuff. But it isn’t. It isn’t clever at all. It’s a spew. I mean, I hate acronyms. They are lazy and dumb – 911, Fidi – I hate them, and then I finally give up and use them and don’t question it anymore. It’s true that I have principles. Or I think that I do. I have a moral code. I just don’t know what that is. I’m not what I want to be. I’m still that stupid kid, thinking I will grow up soon. Even now, I think I know everything. I actually know that I know nothing. But knowing that is knowing everything. I think that I could hold up under torture and know that I wouldn’t last a second.
I really am stupid like that. I judge everyone. I objectify women, young and old. It doesn’t matter. I think that I am better than everyone, and I know I am not. I know that admitting all of this is good but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like I’ve wasted my life trying to be something I never was. I never could be myself. That’s the thing. I want to find that guy, figure out who the hell he is. One thing I know for sure: I’m no teacher.
Construction worker tearing down house in Dartmouth, “God knows why the’re tearing it down. I don’t think they’ve decided anything yet.” He used a blow torch to cut through a solid beam.
Big-breasted, purple garbed woman, a typical lunch-hour secretary, fed the ducks in the public gardens. Sleazy, sultry and of an inefficient nature, full lips pouting and omnipotent (in a sexual sense), eyes watching, obviously dedicated to some rich jerk. Ducks meditate on the luxurious summer in harmony with the crude coo of pigeons.
June 7 Mileage 1172-1243
Ride One: Halifax to Bedford, brown Cadillac, middle-aged man, “Fuckin’ Toronto.”
Ride Two: Bedford to Fall River, Department of Nova Scotia Transport, big hippie with a red headband.
Ride Three: Fall River to Amherst (Al’s Camp), blue Trans Am (or Firebird), Al Smith, balding, excessively friendly. Al invited me to stay at his cabin in the woods. He talked about not wanting to work, man’s self-centered nature and the sanctity of human life As he got more comfortable, he said that he wouldn’t mind if his daughter was a lesbian or did porn. He went on to show me a giant stack of porn in the woodshed. The cabin was just one room, my bed a few feet from his. I did not sleep well that night. (Editor’s note: I now realize that I might have avoided being raped and murdered on this night.)
June 8 Mileage 1243-1320
Ride One: Al’s Camp to Amherst, blue Trans Am (or Firebird)
Ride Two: Amherst to Carleton, PEI, Custom Deluxe Truck, Dwaye with a strange mustache. “Potato farming is a bigger gamble than Las Vegas.” In 19 car crashes over his life, one where an old woman was killed.
Ride Three: Carleton to Charlottetown, red Oldsmobile, a Charlottetown resident who supplied food to eight schools.
Self-realizations in Charlottetown: a) bird chirps equal freedom b) I am an external viewer opposed to a tourist c) My photographs are artistic, not materialistic d) Hobbling is apparently our way of saying we’re sorry.
When I look back on the jobs I’ve done, performance sex was the hardest. I don’t mean how I was judged, and even judged myself, because none of that means anything, or even the unpleasantness at times. Some people really do stink. It was more about making it real. It was rare when I could lose that control, not just have that half open mouth, and give what I knew was expected.
It was when I broke from that, that I got frantic, balancing at the tip, and felt like I might slide sideways, barely hanging on. I would push hard and then stop, do that again and again, all taut and stupid, clinging to this good side of the moment, and keep it like that.
And then I would right into like a mania, straight ahead, nothing else but plowing straight for that full-on orgasm, so much that it was almost I’m made me get mad and crazy, like I was a kid and wanted what I wanted, and would not let go, and skip ahead, my feet barely touching the ground, until I was in it and nothing else. It was really hard work, but there were those moments.
My script, Wave That Flag, details my Deadhead days back in the ’80s. Quite simply, it’s just another coming-of-age, I-can’t-believe-I-did-that, Don’t-do-what-I-do-or-maybe-do-I-don’t-care, Those-were-the-days movie. It’s all about me, a plea for attention. Me. Aren’t you amazed by the things I did? Wasn’t I crazy? No one does it like me. That’s right. Look at me.
But that’s why it works. The big theme is chasing down the music. At its essence, it is about a sound, a path as it were, and I was on it, and I went in a direction that could be so clearly understood, that everyone can understand, and it was an incredible place to be. I was astonished that I was on it, just there in the middle of magical fantastical place, through the woods and fire, where nothing but amazing things happened.
It was a communal thing of splendor and everything was ahead. It could never end. That was the certainty. This eternity, the whole thing laid wide open, it would go on forever.
And then it didn’t. And so, it’s really about losing that, never having it, or remembering what it was like when I didn’t know what I know now, if I know anything. So, yes, nostalgia.
I admit that I might have taken it too far with my editor – now former editor – a while back. I mean, he had really given it to me, saying that nothing in my writing worked, not the scene arcs, character development, narrative, not even the dialogue. And that’s when I lost it.
“My dialogue?” I stared out at the apartment buildings, mute in the late morning sun. “You don’t like my dialogue?”
“My dialogue doesn’t work? Is that what you said”
There were tinny sounds in the background of his phone, clicks and adjustments. I was probably on speaker phone so that he could do something else. “Phed, this has nothing to do with my personal opinion of your writing.”
“I thought I was paying you to do that. Isn’t this the point of the call?”
There was a long sigh. Or a gas leak. I pictured him in the basement in an oily shirt. “My job is to look at your book through the readers’ eyes.”
“But not you?”
“Like I said, this has nothing to do with my opinion of you as a person.”
“But what about a writer? Aren’t you judging me as a writer?”
The sigh was more of a wheeze now, like he might cry or the furnace could explode. “I am glad if it is working for you. I am. I can’t say anything about how it works in your head.”
“But my dialogue isn’t working in yours?”
“Your characters tend not to listen to one another. There’s a lot of cross talk.”
“Uh, now? I wouldn’t write this scene. Would you?”
“Andy, listen, I get that you have a job to do, to make my work more accessible and everything, but I’m not looking to write the next Avengers movie. My work is focused on something different that.”
The wheeze was gone, the sigh too. I saw him strangling himself with an oily sleeve. “My comments are solely on the craft of writing.”
“My dialogue is excellent.”
“In fact, nobody writes dialogue better than I do. Nobody. Not Joyce, not Hemingway, not The Avengers people, not anybody.” This is where I admit I might have lost it. “Words are the key, right, Alan? And then they aren’t. We use them, but they don’t mean what we want, what I want, Alan. That’s what I mean by that.”
“Phed, listen, I…” It sounded like he was breaking up with me. I mean, he was.
“Words are constructed, ideally, in an arc, conveying what is desired or implied to manipulate. To which we say, well done. Right, Alan? Well done!”
“My job is to focus on the craft of writing, Phed. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
“The alternative is dire and difficult. It takes too much effort. It demands. Let’s get back to those spandex babes saving the universe from ultimate destruction and send all checks payable to the propagandists. Maintain status quid pro quo.”
“I never said anything about The Avengers, Phed.”
“Are you saying that The Avengers have no craft either?”
The clicks and wheezes were gone. It seemed like he had finally just hung up. “Is there anything else I can help you with, Phed?”
I stared at the buildings, mute as ever. This went on far to long. I thought he would say uncle first, but he didn’t. “Well, good luck to you, Alan.”
“If you want to follow up with anything, Phed, just let me know.”
“You mean about my writing craft? Or did you have something else in mind?”
“I am available for a follow-up call, Phed.”
I waited another interminable moment before hanging up.
The best thing about my writing is the dialogue. It flows.
“Who says that?”
I watch how people interact. I listen to how they speak.
And so I replicate that interaction. I make it sound real.
“You know something I realized?”
Should I identify you as a voice?
“Covid’s always been here.” The disembodied voice was both gruff and shrill. “It’s not a new thing.”
Cross-talking. That’s one of my things.
“We just found out about it now. That’s all. That’s it. But it’s always been here.”
That’s when one person is talking about one thing, and the other one talks about another, and they barely listen to each other, if at all.
“I had Covid.” The voice was irritated now, probably because it wasn’t being listened to like it wanted. “I was one of the first. I went to a bar in Rhode Island. The whole state had it two weeks after that.”
My editor said that it doesn’t work.
“What doesn’t work? I’m telling you I was Case Fucking A in Rhode Island.”
Cross-talk. He says that the reader doesn’t like it because they have to do too much work to figure it out.
“I don’t know who the hell your editor is, but I agree with him.”
I had a feeling you would say something like that.
“If you listened for half of a second, you might maybe understand half of one thing. Covid is a thing, all right. But it’s just one thing. I mean, they say it’s 19, but I bet you there’s been 2,000 of them already.”
2,000 what? 2,000 people you infected?
“Covids, man! Strands, all strands of the same thing!”
What is that based on? You know anything about biology?
“It’s not just humans and plants. It’s everything, the water, the air, the fucking cosmos.”
You lost me.
“You know how I know you’re full of shit?” The voice paced back and forth behind me, always on the side I couldn’t see. “You got nothing published. Zilch, zero, nida.”
“A great big fucking goose egg, am I right?”
“You got something out there I can read? Something I can actually hold in my hands?”
You can’t actually hold words in your hands.
“Actually? You really going to use that word twice?”
Uh, well, you said it, and then I–
“Yes?” It was breathing down my neck. “Or no?”
I thought about saying nothing but I knew that wouldn’t work. No. I said that.
“Ah-ha!” It had gone to the far edge of the room, almost out the apartment. I expected to hear the door close. But it didn’t.
It’s not like I’m not aware of that.
“My point is that–“
I know, I know. Covid’s always been here.
“If you’ve never been published, how can you have an editor? That’s my point, Einstein.”
I hired him. I paid him to read my book.
“Why the fuck…?” It chuckled or scoffed, something derisive. “You paid him to tell you that you can’t write? That is so fucked up.”
Don’t you read my blog? I wrote about all of this two weeks ago.
“You writing about Covid?”
Covid? Why would I write about Covid?
“And why would I read your blog?”
Well, I write about what I’ve done during the pandemic, things I’ve read, how Covid has affected me.
“Trump’s fucked. I tell you that.”
“That fucker, Trump.” The voice almost came into view. “He’s done.”
Well, at least we can agree on that.
“You should get him to sell your book. What about that? You could work out some kind of weird deal with him or something.” The voice faded.