I talk camp & geography with American Short Fiction as part of their ASF Atlas series.
They published 3 Fun Camp shorts in August.
Well before the manic pixie dream girl meme was coined, Aimee Bender turned the trope on its head with, “Call My Name” (1998) the 2nd story in her first collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.
In it, the heir to an adhesive wall hook empire rides the subway in one of her many sexy expensive dresses, auditioning men for one who’ll leave her “breathless and weak, crumpled by the entrance of another person inside [her] soul.” In other words, she’s lonely and bored. After a close call, she sets her sights on “the shy man,” who remains “the shy man” long after his shyness has been completely discredited. (The only shy thing about him is that he hasn’t been paying attention to our dolled-up heroine.)
Their initial encounter sets up a pattern followed by the rest of the story: She pursues, he ignores. She is so thoroughly delighted with herself–her dress on the plastic seat sounds to her “like a holiday”–that his inattention baffles her. When the shy man gets off the subway, she follows him to a shoe store, follows him home. You can imagine how creepy this would be if the roles were reversed, but the story’s hook comes more from the entitlement her wealth grants her than from her gender.
Any response from the man is taken as an encouragement. “Persistent dress lady,” he says when she lets herself into his apartment, “you are one persistent cookie.” Then comes my favorite line in the story: “I love being called cookie,” she narrates. “I love it. I love it.”
As she tries to seduce him, the first non-neutral thing the shy man says to her is, “I suppose I’d like to cut that dress right off you” (15). Here, the story threatens to take a darker turn, but the surprise is that it doesn’t. He cuts her dress off, then goes and gets a glass of water. When she suggests he tie her up, he does it, but again, neutrally. He’s detachedly amused by the encounter, then less so. They watch TV together. He offers to untie her, but she’s not yet ready to go home.
One of the story’s big clues comes 3/4 of the way in, after the shy man has tied her up: “Why does everybody but me look so fucking tired?” (18) she wonders. Even though she’s shrewd about why she gets attention (When she’s already working on how to relate this story to a shop girl later, who will “giggle, for I am, after all, the customer”), she hasn’t yet figured out is that her presence alone can’t brighten the days of people with work and worries.
The manic pixie dream girl is, as Nathan Rabin puts it, “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” This ideal has been with us long enough for some women to internalize it, and Bender’s story is a perfect example of how it doesn’t compute in practice. The narrator’s shallow whimsy a privilege.
And yet our woman does, in her way, delight, and not just as we laugh at her. We can relate. We’re hungry for attention. We want to be called cookie.
Urge to delight is never far from the surface in Bender’s stories with their irresistible premises and spare evocative details that can read almost like jokes. She’s very recommendable, very teachable, because so much of what she does, she does out in the open. And yet she rewards rereading and consideration. It’s quite a gift. I like her a lot.
[Unabridged version. Original version appears here.]
Gabe Durham: Gabe the Babe here coming at you live from KXOO Radio. With me in the studio, historical men Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Let me just start by saying wow.
Aaron Burr: Wow, indeed, Gabe.
Alexander Hamilton: Second that.
It’s a big honor. My producer filled me in, said you’re easily the biggest names we had on the show, which surprised me, though I’ve definitely heard of you. You know who we had last week? The kid from Two and Half Men. Who, no surprise, has got a mouth on him. It was a fun show, really a pleasure to dish with a big comic actor, get in his head and all.
So you’re these founding fathers. You Were There. Declaration. Big War. Constitution. Emancipation. Woodstock. I mean—I know this sounds—whatever—but what was it like? What was the flavor of the era?
Burr: Whew, yeah, it was a whole different thing.
Hamilton: No cars, no rollerblading.
Burr: No low-frequency radio stations, that’s for sure.
Hamiltons: Indians were still a big thing. Slaves.
Burr: And this is all in our book, but there was definitely a palpable… Hey, what are you—?
Sorry, I’m listening. But I’m on both of your Wikipedias too, looking for material. They’re big pages! You guys really are famous.
Hamilton: Yeah. Not gonna lie, I had a buddy start my page. But once it got going—I mean people add stuff to it all the time, people I don’t even know.
So, Aaron, born in 1756, huh?
Burr: [pause] Yup.
And what a lot of people don’t know is: You were Vice President under Jefferson.
Burr: Well I ran against Jefferson. We tied in electoral votes so it went to the House to decide. And back then Vice President goes to the runner-up, so.
That’s what this says! But it’s not like that any more, right?
Hamilton: Is John McCain VP?
I’m almost sure he isn’t. So Alex… what a lot of people don’t know… about you… is that… you’re on the ten-dollar bill. But you were never President or Vice President, huh?
Hamilton: Well I might’ve been. If things had gone differently.
Burr: [laughs] I see where you’re going with this.
Hamilton: I bet you do, asshole! [laughs] Ten paces my ass.
Hey guys—No inside jokes. It makes the audience feel not included. So getting back to, Alex, what you said. We all “might’ve been” president, though, right? But we’re not. I mean I still could be. But not you guys. You guys are dead.
Burr: You need to check my Wikipedia and make sure?
No, I’m sure. So—for my next question… What’s George Washington like?
Burr: Quiet, dignified.
Burr: Kind of a jokester around Congress. One time, Hancock left the room and he had everybody—
Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Wait, what?
Hamilton: Found something good on your laptop there, did you?
This says—hold on. Aaron. This says you shot Alex.
Hamilton: What? Let me see that.
Look! Right there. July 11, 1804. New Jersey. Aaron challenged you to a duel… you accepted… even though your oldest son just died in a duel…
Hamilton: Burr, take a look at this! Isn’t this baffling?
Burr: I’m… shocked.
Hamilton: Why would someone write these horrible things?
So, phew—I was going to say for a second!
Hamilton: Can’t believe everything you read.
No, totally. But wow. Wouldn’t that be crazy if it was true? It would kind of throw the whole Saintly Founding Fathers mythology into question. If the guys who put our nation together were fighting to the death over petty political BS? Or if Jefferson really was having illegitimate kids with his slave? Or if—
Hamilton: Absolutely! If this story were true, the whole nation would be discredited. It’s not as if a vice president would ever shoot somebody in this sophisticated decade.
Funny you should say that. Actually, a few years ago Cheney was on a hunting trip with his—
Burr: Gabe. Gabe.
Burr: He’s messing with you.
About the Cheney thing?
Burr: About the duel. It happened. Hamilton fired at me and missed, and I got him in the abdomen.
Hamilton: Which hurt. And I died the next day.
No… I can’t believe that. If it was true, I’d have heard about it.
Burr: Think hard. Did you learn about it in history class and then forget?
No, I would definitely remember this. A duel? What is this, the Middle Ages?
Burr: A code duello duel. Gentlemanly. It has all these rules. It was already banned in most states. Kind of a Jersey thing. You’d have to be there to get it.
Couldn’t you have just had it out on messageboards and then ignored each other at parties?
Hamilton: We did all that, too.
Burr: It was a serious thing. Hamilton would publicly say all this nasty stuff and it’d be in the paper. I lost sleep. I mean it was bad.
Hamilton: For me, it was more of a sport. Kick him around, watch him squirm.
Burr: Yeah, you were having a great time.
Hamilton: I was.
But now you seem to be fine with each other.
Hamilton: Well that’s a good segue. Because one of the many things we assumed you knew going into this interview is that we’re touring to promote a book we coauthored.
Burr: It’s called I Hate You With All My Body. It starts on the day of the duel and then moves ahead from there. Hamilton’s death, the rest of my life, my death, and then our eventual reconciliation and friendship.
Hamilton: Oprah called it a powerful tale of forgiveness just when our nation could use it.
Burr: Didn’t get the official “O” sticker, though.
Hamilton: No. That’ve been nice.
Hamilton: We were both jerks is basically the book’s thesis.
Burr: But that’s how it was back them. So much ego! You couldn’t go five minutes at the Constitutional Convention without a guy taking off his glove and slapping someone.
Hamilton: So self-serious, all of us in our wigs.
Burr: And the thing is, now, I just can’t even remember what I was so mad about. I mean I remember it, but I look at this guy sitting next to me and all I see is a friend.
Hamilton: Back atcha, buddy.
Aww. I wish our listening audience could see what I’m seeing right now. I seriously just x’ed out of Wikipedia and got on Amazon to buy their book. That’s how moved I am right now.
Burr: I hope your audience does the same, Gabe. Although we actually get more of the money if you order it from-
Honestly? There’s nobody listening. My wife, maybe, if we’re lucky.
Hamilton: Kinda got that vibe.
Burr: Whatever. This is a good dry run for the Today Show tomorrow.
So which founding fathers were sleeping together?
Hamilton: When we’re off the air, I’ll tell you.
We’ll wrap up tonight’s show early, then. All you hypothetical listeners, please now enjoy side one of Green Day’s Dookie. And thanks for listening, honey. I’ll be home soon.
I interviewed Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton for the Mid-Continent Library blog. Thanks to Dylan Little for setting it up. The gentlemen and I chatted for a good long spell, so tomorrow I’ll post the unabridged version.
For the same series, Mike Young interviewed Ada Lovelace
Watched this movie yesterday and loved it: Mystery, cinematography, amazing child actors, Children of the Corn minus superpowers or onscreen violence, historically timeless until it’s historically timeful, responsible use of voice-over narration. Yes please.
It’s on Netflix Instant Watch. There are a bunch of other Michael Hanake movies on there as well but none seem as smart or as interesting. I watched about a third of Funny Games this morning. Great use of music in the title sequence, but all the finger-wagging rub-your-face-in-it violence is so self-consciously provocative. It doesn’t even feel like the same filmmaker.
Culled from the web. Unedited for spelling, grammar, syntax, or taste.
I’m astounded that nobody mentioned Ron Paul as a credible presidential candidate.
I’m astonished nobody mentioned the fatal flaw with iTunes and the other pay-to-download sites.
I’m astonished nobody mentioned the Sausage platform!
I’m astonished that nobody mentioned John Bury’s “History of the Eastern Roman Empire”
I’m astonished that nobody mentioned the recent Sony exploding battery debacle yet.
I’m stunned nobody’s mentioned Hank Aaron, though.
I’m stunned nobody mentioned ANY and ALL of the underwater bikini scenes with Jessica Alba in Into the Blue!
I’m shocked that nobody mentioned the Killzone universe.
I’m shocked that nobody mentioned this, but am I the only one that feels crappy about killing his entire family?
I’m shocked that nobody mentioned Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” or Handel’s “The Messiah.”
One thing that I’m shocked that nobody mentioned was the moment that my friend and I really flipped over when the episode first aired: when Mulder is talking to the scientiest, a cockroach crawls accross the screen.
I’m shocked that nobody mentioned Ron Eglash’s talk on African Fractals:
I’m shocked that nobody mentioned Babylon 5’s theme music.
I’m shocked nobody mentioned the runemaster yet.
First, I’m shocked nobody mentioned Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame
However, I’m shocked nobody mentioned the Death Star from Star Wars.
I’m shocked nobody mentioned orange slices.
Since Disney movies have been mentioned I’m shocked nobody mentioned Finding Nemo.
I’m mad nobody mentioned Old School yet. WE’RE GOIN STREAKING
I’m amazed nobody’s brought up the fact that Rei, despite not having Yui’s soul, is genetically Yui with some Lilith mixed in.
I’m amazed nobody brought up venerial disease.
I’m amazed that nobody brought up William S. Burroughs.
I’m shocked that nobody brought up dry sump lubrication in this thread yet.
I’m shocked that nobody brought up The Happy Hooker.
Come to think of it, I’m shocked nobody brought up Interview with the Vampire. Including me.
Oh my gosh I can’t believe nobody has talked about the Harry Potter books!
I can’t believe that nobody has talked about the fact that Adam was 2nd from LAST last night!!!! We have to VOTE people!
I can’t believe that nobody has talked about the best argument against sitting down; the time factor.
However, I can’t believe that no one has talked about the new Subway commercial??
I can’t believe that no one has talked about the ultimate pump-up song. Guns-n-Roses – Welcome to the Jungle.
I can’t believe no one has talked about how it was a black kid and he’s a white guy yet. Or I’m pretty sure that was the racial dynamic.
I can’t believe no one has talked about how stupid Skynet is in this film.
How come nobody has talked about dinner plans today? Or have I missed that? :(
How come nobody has talked about linear incentive strategies?
How come nobody has talked about John Hagee yet?
How come nobody has talked about the heroes of Flight 253?
How come nobody has talked about Born of Hope , the prequel to LOTR? It’s a fan-made movie that came out last year and it’s really quite good:
And how come no one has talked about the role of the agents and RE brokers in this latest RE implosion?
How come no one has talked about the leader of this country has been a MAN for 232 years now, some better than others but very few?
How come no one has talked about Rob Schneider or the upcoming Toy Story 3 trailer.
and if the world was going to end, then how come no one has talked about it on the news?
How come no one has talked about the chick fitting shirts to topless large breasted women?!
After reading the first couple of posts, I was wondering how come nobody mentioned Jimmy Lin but then you guys started mentioning him.
Oh, and…..more about pregnancy and labor……did you know that when your water breaks it’s not just one big one time gush of fluid? It keeps leaking…..WTF? How come nobody mentioned that shit to me? LOL! Like it’s not bad enough worrying about fluid gushing from your vagina but not knowing it KEEPS leaking pretty…
how come nobody’s mentioned carnegie mellon? seriously Carnegie Mellon has the worst campus of all time.
How come nobody mentioned that Levy went to college with that over-offcious jerk?
How come nobody mentioned the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaaargghghh yet
How come nobody mentioned me, huh?!?!? Ya think I’m too drunk to sit in a wheelchair?
Stuff I got going:
Issue #5 of The Normal School is out now. You could buy it online or at Barnes and Noble. Me + Nick Kocz + “Aimee Bender on public sex; Pablo Medina, murderers, orange soda, and a bordello; Over the cliff or into the boiling water? Join Elizabeth Stuckey-French; Kim Dana Kupperman supplies the boy, the bridge, the bishop and the very big stone; Perpetual something and nothing with Nick Flynn; Patrick Madden eBays Michael Martone’s backwash $20.50; Please do not feed the pig to the horse to the man, and other considerations with Duncan Murrell; Lili Wright’s grandfather and the hazmat team.”
My story, Every Mostly Great Man in the State, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Whoa!
Pear Noir #5 is up for pre-sale with writing from me, Caren Beilin, Rosebud Ben-Oni, B.J. Best, Crispin Best, Sarah Bridgins, Sean Burke, Jordan Castro, Kevin Catalano, Kim Chinquee, Heather Cox, Laura E. Davis, Stephanie Dickinson, Jacqueline Doyle, Corey Eastwood, Elizabeth Gonzalez, Sheila Heti, Katie Inlander, Michael Kimball, Peter Kispert, Peter Tieryas Liu, Steve McGouldrick, Jen Michalski, Kevin Moffett, M.V. Montgomery, Dolan Morgan, Jon Mueller, Matt Siegel, Zack Strait, J. Erin Sweeney, Abigail Templeton-Greene, Richard Thomas, and Jasmine Dreame Wagner.
Coming soon: A conversation between me, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr.
Coming sooner: the thrilling conclusion of Incredulous America.