Go back (flash fiction)

He encouraged the man to go back.  Just go back.

“She’ll be there,” he said.  “Go back.”

“I don’t think so,” the man said.

His blue jeans were nearly black with slime.  His flannel shirt was a cold film of sponge around his body.

“I can’t.”

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

“She won’t be there, and I’ll fall in again.”

“Okay — and what’s something great that could happen?”

“I’ll find her.”

“Then go back!”

“Okay,” he said.

His chin rose, as if pulled by a string, and he turned walked back to the path and into the blackened woods.

Another summer night

For Salinger, with Love and Squalor

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is when I first read The Catcher in the Rye and how it influenced my lousy adolescence, and how all of us phonies read it and all that kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

What was it about J. D. Salinger?

J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger

He wrote so little, and his stories were read by so many (over and over again).

I say it was his style.  Catcher is the American idiom, like Huck Finn.  And the stories have that versatile, ingenious subtext that allow for some interesting mind games.  The perfect choice of words and never one out of place.  And his characters.  The relationships.  The incredible dialogue.  Whatever — volumes have been written by worldly scholars.

In college, in freshman English, Dr. Lee Potter, our professor, had a conference with each student in the class.  He assigned each of us a book of stories.  The choices were Salinger, Hemingway, Philip Roth, and Flannery O’Connor. Whoever we got, we were married to for the entire semester.  Every paper would be about that one book of stories.

I remember him saying that he wished he could tear off the covers of the books so we didn’t know the titles, who wrote them, when they wrote them, or anything about them — so that our response to the stories could be pure.

This was my first month of college, and I remember sitting in that little office, scared to death of this professor (who was an exceptionally nice man).  I said I thought I should have Hemingway. Dr. Potter told me he thought I was the Salinger type.

He told me that Salinger and Roth were both Jewish, but with Roth, it was obvious in every sentence.  With Salinger, you’d never know.

I did my best.  I remember sitting in the stacks for hours, searching the old issues of Story and Colliers magazines, finding Salinger’s early, pre-New Yorker, short-short stories, and devouring them.  And I tried my best to unlock the hidden, deeper meanings of those Nine Stories he assigned.

In the end, I missed the mark, by miles, with every paper I wrote — and Dr. Potter set me straight every time, spilling gallons of blood on my papers.

Every grade was the same:  B-/C+.

It was like high school French class.  For three years — 12 quarters — I got a B every time.  No matter how well I did, or how bad I did, I never got an A or a C.

The problem is, you can’t get a B-/C+ as a final grade.  As I recall, Wake Forest did not have plusses and minuses on final grades.  It was either a B or a C.  I can still feel that anxiety — hoping that some brilliant insight in one of my papers would impress Dr. Potter enough to tip the ultimate mark towards B.  It didn’t.  The final grade was, and still is, a C.

One day, while home for a weekend in college, I was reading Esquire magazine in the bathroom when I came across a fascinating story.  It was written by Anonymous, and it sounded exactly like J.D. Salinger.

Well!  That was a discovery!  I stormed into Dr. Potter’s office first thing Monday morning, Esquire in hand.

“It’s Salinger!” I said.  “He’s published a story!  Look at all these words in italics!”

He read the story and said he was proud of me.  “That means something,” Dr. Potter told me.

Newspaper reports endorsed the cleverness of my discovery.  The world was abuzz with speculation about Salinger.

A couple of months later it was reported that the story was written as a hoax, by one of the magazine’s editors.

I took three courses under Dr. Potter and never got a B, but I loved listening to him talk about literature.  He had an accent.  At first, I thought he was from England. (He was from Georgia).

And I loved watching him switch eyeglasses throughout his lectures.  He had at least three pair — identical frames in slightly different colors.  He’d read a passage, look up, and take off his beige framed glasses.  He’d talk for a minute, then grab the brown ones and begin reading again.  It’s been over 30 years, and I still remember the time he held all three pair in his hands, looked down, blindly, trying to decide which ones to wear, and said “Good God!”

Towards the end of that first semester of college, back when the drinking age was 18, he invited us all to his house for “a cup of Christmas cheer.”

Salinger is the literary giant, but Lee Potter, with his passion for story, was the one who made an impression on me.

For Esmé, with Love and Squalor” is often cited as one of the best American short stories ever written, and has always been one of my favorites. I probably read it five times before I finally looked up the word squalor.  Gotta find it and read it once again, in honor of Salinger’s death.

It will be interesting what happens now.  Will Salinger’s estate be as secret as his life?  If not, what’s he been doing for the past 50 years?  Any new stories in the closet?  Are they under the bed?  In the safe, soon to be released?  Will his lawyers and heirs be loyal, or will they squalidly sell the rights to The Catcher in the Rye to James Cameron.

Shunning fame made Salinger famously famous.  If he had not been a recluse, it’s likely he would have lost the mystique and adoration.  He would have written a really bad book or two, and could possibly have gone down as a writer who wrote a couple of hits and lost his touch.

So if you really want to know the goddamn truth about it, I hope he’s able to keep his privacy, his zen, for chrissake, and his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.

Think Tank (a ten minute play about right wing ideas)

Think Tank. Copyright 2009. Samuel M. Post

This is different.  I’ve never written a play and posted it on the blog first, before it at least had some kind of reading (and preferably a performance).  Feedback welcome.

An office. Could have a small sign denoting the name of the organization: “Institute for American Study”

SMITH WONNER, a gentleman — distinguished, gray hair, flawless conservative suit and tie — sits at his desk reading.

He picks up the phone and dials.

He has a heavy, but refined, southern accent.

SMITH: Mrs. Ghondlesonni, may I see you in here for a minute.

He continues reading.

Enter JANE GHONDLESONNI. She’s young, bright, preferably blond, pretty, and sharp. She has a huge smile with great teeth. Her business suit is conservative in color and style — but with a short hemline that’s deliberately sexy.

JANE: Good morning, Sir.

SMITH: Mrs. Ghondlesonni, I’m thinking of making a few modifications.

JANE: Modifications?

SMITH: A shift.

JANE: A shift, sir?

SMITH: Modifications, really.

JANE: We’ve been doing fairly well sir. The radio heads have been loving our–

SMITH: Oh oh oh oh oh — don’t think I’m not pleased with your work, Mrs. Ghondlesonni. It’s been superb. Just superb. You did get the bonus check last month?

JANE: Oh, yes sir.

SMITH: Well, good.

JANE: That “African Muslim” campaign has worked out well, don’t you think?

SMITH: My God, Girl! That was brilliant. Couldn’t hope for any better!

JANE: Sometimes the ideas just…

SMITH: Genius! Pure creative genius!

JANE: Yet, you’re thinking of making a change?

SMITH: Not a change. A modification. A additional line of attack, if you will.

JANE: Do you think the public can handle more? We know that too much noise can confuse the audience. We’re still using the “racist” label and getting good traction out of “Nazi” and “Socialist,” don’t you think?

SMITH: Traction? My girl, our polls tell us they’ve taken root! And I’ve got to hand it to you, I never thought we could pull that one off. “Nazi” and “Socialist” at the same time! I thought that was a leap but damn if you didn’t fuse those two into one powerful label — like a marriage, in which the whole is stronger than the sum of two halves. Exquisite work, Mrs. Ghondlesonni. Exquisite!

JANE: Couldn’t have done it without Hitler.

SMITH: I agree. That was the glue that made the whole thing stick.

They laugh, enjoying the moment of victory.

JANE: Then, since it’s working so well, are you sure you want to change, sir?

SMITH: looking at his papers Been reading a proposal here given to me by Stanley Bead.

JANE: Stanley Bead the third.

SMITH: Yes, so he is. Mr. Stanley Bead III.

JANE: What’s he proposing?

SMITH: It’s bold. Quite bold.

JANE: Like what?

SMITH: For one thing…well…why don’t we invite Mr. Bead in here and we’ll just knock these ideas around for a minute?

JANE: It’s not “flip flopper” again, is it?

SMITH: Of course not. It’s much too soon to recycle that one.

JANE: I agree, sir.

He picks up the phone and dials.

SMITH: Mr. Bead, how soon can you be in my office?

He listens.

SMITH: Excellent.

Enter STANLEY BEAD III. Sharp. Conservative. Young. Handsome.

STANLEY: Yes sir.

They shake hands and sit.

SMITH: Good to see you, Stanley.

STANLEY: And you, Sir.

SMITH: Been reading over this, and I’m intrigued.

STANLEY: Thank you, sir.

SMITH: Looking ahead. Forward thinking. I like that.

JANE: So do I.

SMITH: Of course you do. We need to always be looking around the next corner.

STANLEY: Yes sir. Glad you agree, sir.

SMITH: What Stanley’s proposing here, Mrs. Ghondlesonni, is fairly far reaching. I see a three year plan here, putting us into the heart of 2012.

JANE: Really.

STANLEY: Presidential elections are my specialty, sir. Get’s my adrenalin flowing. Helps me rise to the challenge.

He smiles — almost as if he’s taking a bow.

STANLEY: Flip flopper.

SMITH: We’ll always be indebted you for flip flopper, Stanley. The whole country owes you a debt of gratitude for that.

JANE: Too bad “paling around with terrorist” didn’t gain credibility. Do you remember how I reacted the first time I heard it?

SMITH: Yes — you had your doubts. I remember.

JANE: I thought it was weak then, and I still think it’s weak now.

SMITH: And you were right.

STANLEY: Hey, nobody hits a home run every time at the plate!

JANE: It was a very costly mistake!

STANLEY: Obama still would have won.

JANE: I’m not so sure.

STANLEY: You still think calling him a Momma killer would have worked?

JANE: I damn well know it would have!

STANLEY: You had no narrative to go with it! None! Zip!

JANE: No narrative necessary!

STANLEY: If you’re a thinairist!

JANE: I am a thinnairist — and proud of it!

STANLEY: Well I’m not! I need a hook!

JANE: Why! That’s old school! For slow media! Things are too fast now!

STANLEY: Fundamentals are fundamentals!

JANE: And the fundamentals have changed!

STANLEY: They most certainly have not! That’s why we call them fundamentals!

SMITH: Okay, okay!

He chuckles.

SMITH: That’s what I love about this institute. Vigorous debate. Wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I would like to take a look at Stanley’s proposal here. Stanley thinks this health care bill will eventually pass and we need to be ready for the aftermath — and he’s got an interesting theory. Stanley, you tell her.

STANLEY: Well, in a year or two, we’ll have some health care reform, and guess what? A lot of people will still be sick. And a lot of people will still be dying.

JANE: That’s obvious.

STANLEY: We’ve gotta be ready to take advantage of that. We won’t want to repeal it, even though we’ll talk about doing just that. But primarily we need to be prepared to use it.

getting more excited

STANLEY: We need to pounce — pound home the idea that it’s a failure. That it doesn’t work.

JANE: Hit me.

STANLEY: Doctor Death..

JANE: We tried that.

STANLEY: No — we tried Death Panel.

JANE: Seems a little recycled.

STANLEY: Dr. Death is fresh. It’s alive. And it’s not thinnairist. It’s actually true.

JANE: True?

STANLEY: Every President is a Dr. Death. It’s part of the job.

SMITH: Could it be cliche?

STANLEY: Not if it’s presented right, by the right people.

They all ponder this.

SMITH: Mrs. Ghondlesonni?

JANE: I suppose it could work.

STANLEY: My wife loves it, and she’s my harshest critic. Dr. Death.

SMITH: When do you propose we launch this?

JANE: The longer you wait, the better it will work.

STANLEY: I go along with that.

SMITH: Excellent. Let’s look at this energy label.

JANE: Excuse me sir, but haven’t we already discussed publishing a book called “Hitchhiker Nation,” describing a world where only government employees are allowed to travel — the world Obama wants us all to live in.

SMITH: Stanley’s got another idea and I just want you to hear it.

STANLEY: “Comobile,” designed to evoke an image of prolonged suffering. The small cars Obama wants people driving will cause more fatalities and more people living in comas. Variation on “death trap,” but repackaged as Comobile!

JANE: Sir, don’t you think that sucks?

SMITH: That occurred to me, but I wanted some input.

STANLEY: It at least deserves an experiment.

JANE: It’s not worth spending on the focus group. That’s terrible.

SMITH: Let’s move on to taxes. When they want to raise taxes two percent on the upper one percent, we need to be ready. They’ll be talking about our own people then, you know. They’ll be talking about us.

JANE: Now I say we stick with fundamentals. un-American. Socialist. Nazi. Marxist.

SMITH: Stanley thinks we might need something new.

STANLEY: Beggar.

JANE: Weak.

STANLEY: Robber.

JANE: Weak.


JANE: Weaker.

STANLEY: Commander in Thief.

They ponder this.

JANE: It’s clumsy.

SMITH: A little.

JANE: But…I’ve got to admit. Commander in Thief. It’s not bad.

SMITH: Let’s try that one out, Stanley.

STANLEY: Will do, sir.

SMITH: Now we get to the re-election, where Stanley has a pretty bold suggestion.

STANLEY: It’s not a thinnairst idea.

JANE: Just say it.

STANLEY: You weren’t a big fan of flip flopper at first.

JANE: Just say it.

STANLEY: I say we go for the heart of the matter and let the chips fall where they may.

JANE: What!

SMITH stands up at his desk.

SMITH: Maybe I should leave the room for a minute. Would that be useful?

STANLEY: Might not be a bad idea, sir.

SMITH exits.

STANLEY: Nigger.

JANE: Say what?

STANLEY: We just call him a nigger. I mean, keep in mind, the country will be experiencing a tremendous amount of African-American fatigue by then. It could backfire. But the odds are against us anyway unless we cause a fundamental shift in this country’s thinking about race and ethnicity. It could get us back Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia. Ohio. Florida!

JANE: (wistful)  Florida.

STANLEY: (filled with emotion)  Florida, Jane.

He stands up and paces.

STANLEY: Blanket all media with vigorous denials by the campaign. Start early and let it build.

JANE: It will build.

She’s mesmerized. He takes her hand. She stands up and they gaze into each other’s eyes.

JANE: The White House is forced to respond. We know race is our only issue. I say we stop playing in the sandbox with it. I mean, we hit the N word so long, so loud, and so hard that it becomes the only subject. The American people become totally desensitized. Make nigger a household word.

JANE: Like Nazi.

STANLEY: Exactly.

JANE: Hitler.

STANLEY: (tender) I did tell you how brilliant I thought that was?

JANE: No, I don’t think you did.

STANLEY: It was.

Mutual attraction getting stronger. Magnetized and moving closer.

STANLEY: You’re a genius, Jane.

JANE: (seductive) Socialist.

STANLEY: My favorite of them all.

They touch.

JANE: I’m married.


Overcome with passion, they embrace and kiss.