folly

40 articles
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A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.

"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."

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Misguided love sustains a groundskeeper through multiple deaths and decades.

"Murdering all those Emmetts had been especially hard on Archibald who was never adept at taking the lives of non-gazelles, however plentiful those lives might be. He grew more and more ill as the Emmetts came and dropped. He became increasingly fearful of silence and the dark, spending hundreds in oil to keep the house bathed in flickering light, a whole house drowning in amber. He’d taken to leaving tarpaulins up on the walls for when the Emmetts arrived so he could minimize his cleanup time, but as he spiraled deeper into paranoia he neglected to scrub them, and they wriggled blackly with flies. With an eye to hygiene, he had once tried strangling an Emmett, but this had proved too horrific for him to bear."

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A deaf boy and his mother take part in an odd religious community.

"My mother wasn’t always this way. Before the accident we never even went to church, never mind twice in one day. Then my dad had to go and wrap his car around a tree and mumble some crazy shit about angels and white tunnels while he’s dying. It was just bad luck that brought us here. My mother Googled churches in the area, and it’s no surprise which ranked number one on the search results page."

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Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.

"Our conversation continues! He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper. You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh. Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled! Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!"

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A mother tries to get herself abducted, first for money, and then for appreciation.

"After all, Tim could not replace me with just any woman he plucked off the streets. He’d have to date first, and then there’d be nannies and maids to pay, restaurant bills, and eHarmony fees. Not to mention the time he’d lose on the endeavor, which, multiplied by his hourly rate, would cost a considerable amount. Viewed in this light, my value was significant. I used to work in marketing and view matters at all levels of illumination."

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A world in which an internal software turns anger and intense emotions into involuntary exercise.

"Then there are the monthly upgrades, downloaded automatically from GRUNT. A few months back the upgrade reprogrammed our sensors to monitor facial expressions and the tone of one’s voice, so you can’t fool it anymore by smiling or speaking softly. A quiet argument is still an argument to the executives at GRUNT. It certainly changed around Brad, my supervisor, who liked to hint at our utter worthlessness in this very quiet voice, a smile stretching across his face. There was something disturbing about watching him grin, and place his arm gently over your shoulder and lower his voice as his called your work garbage, your very existence a nuisance, all with this soft, earnest voice. Now he wears track shoes to work and does sprints in between insults, weaving in and out of the cubicles, stutter stepping like a hall of fame running back."

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On literary mashups, double entendres, and questionable choices.

"Maybe you’ve heard of M__y Dick? I would bet you haven’t read it, and I bet I’d win that bet because I’d be leaving nothing up to chance. Here’s why: nobody has read M__y Dick. Scratch that. Nobody but me has read M__y Dick, because there’s only one copy in existence and it’s right here in my apartment, right here on this very desk I am writing to you from. That was the whole point. M__y Dick was just for me, for my own self-improvement. Of course, that didn’t stop them from talking about it, which was fine at first, and then it was not."

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A primer on services for the afterlife.

"So you’ll start by taking a ride in the flatbed truck with Gurtie, and she’ll drop you off at the ARF center. You’ll probably be pretty disoriented. It’s okay. You’ve been riding in the back of a white flatbed truck with a bunch of recently dead people for several hours through the Afterlife—which looks basically like North Dakota. None of you will be happy campers, and some of your traveling companions will look downright alarming, what with death not being such a photogenic moment for most people. We understand and we sympathize. It’s an unpleasant time for you, but like I said, we are understaffed. Do we wish there were a better way? Yes, we do. Is there a better way? Not yet, there’s not."

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A pizza restaurant employee goes to extreme lengths to sabotage a rival.

"I normally hopped on my Honda scooter and went straight home after work, but not that day. I stood by the gumball machine near the front entrance and peered out the blinds, staring daggers into the Pizza World facade. Their parking lot was full, even though the lunch rush had been over for two hours. I looked at the intersection and their guy was still dancing, waving his arms like a buffoon, no rhythm at all, nothing choreographed. I had a three-minute routine I would do and then repeat, over and over like a fucking pro (three different one-minute variations of the Macarena dance, choreographed by yours truly). Pizza World had clearly put a rookie in the suit, and I thought: that’s one strike against you."

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A Southern defense attorney's complicated family Christmas, told through the point of view of his child.

"Every Christmas Daddy throws a 'Taking the Christ Out of Christmas' party and invites everybody. Everybody loves my Daddy except for a small percentage that want to take their revenge, so it's lots of people, old clients, other criminal defense attorneys, Rey Mason from the feed store, everybody. No Jesus cause it makes Daddy angry and both his hands already broke."

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Comic miscues ensue at a private family dinner.

"Also, I’m a pretty big guy, so I often find myself appointed the unofficial bouncer on these sorts of occasions. It was Dumpling Night. I know that because when I walked past the steam table, a teenage girl was there with tongs and she said, 'Dumpling?'"

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Executives discuss a reality TV pilot gone awry.

"'I don’t know what happened in there. Like I said, maybe if we hadn’t told him she was in on it, whatever it was would’ve gone down differently. But a few minutes later the girl comes running out of the house with blood on her, screaming like hell. Cortez caught her and took her inside, waited with her while Benny called 911—'"

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A baby born in New Jersey grows and takes on the characteristics of a headstrong Russian woman.

"She was her parent’s second child; the first was Glenn, a boisterous seven year old obsessed, as his father had planned, with football. In fact, it was Glenn who first noticed the peculiarity of his little sister. As he stared into her crib one morning making faces at the baby, he noticed that she had swaddled herself in her soft, pink knitted baby blanket. She looked at him with a focus that seemed preternatural for an infant. She drooled, but she held the blanket tight around her face, like a little babushka."

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A young couple's moving day, complete with a variety of mishaps.

"The door spring is rusted and doesn’t really work anyway so I get a screwdriver and take the thing off its mounting. I take the broken couch leg and stick it in the upper corner of the door to prop it open. When I come inside a little while later to check on things, the movers are wrestling with my mattress on the stairwell. Bright streaks of fresh blood mark the white plaster in the living room and on the stairway wall. Rod is in mid-staircase, holding up the bottom end of the Macy’s queen that Kelly’s mom bought us for a wedding present. 'You exposed a screw on your front door when you took that thing off,' he says. 'I cut my arm open on it.'"

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A man's colonoscopy causes him to reflect on aging, mortality, and family life.

"For a moment, Pete wondered if he should say something else, anything, but the guy had already picked up his magazine again, leaving Pete to ponder not only his inadequacies, but his colonoscopy, something he was suddenly looking forward to and maybe even deserved."

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A jilted lover's revenge plan is upended by the actions of a blunt young woman.

"That wasn’t my plan. Until this girl elbowed her way into the paint and started talking trash, I’d been doing reconnaissance. I was looking for guys with Marlboro Man style denim jackets who looked like me. Pale. Unkempt. Like a base player in an indie rock band. Grace, my ex-girlfriend, had a weakness for men like this. Once she’d found a new edition, she’d give him this jacket that had belonged to her father. I’d never wanted to know the rationale behind this practice. Anyway, I’d thrown said jacket at her head upon catching her mid-coitus with a local barista. My present plan was to look for the jacket, kick the shit out of the barista wearing it and then steal her heart back. I thought it was a solid plan."

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An elderly widower tries to convince his son to go on an overseas excavation.

"He thinks I’m an old man. I can see pity in his eyes when he talks to me, which, these days, isn’t so often. I want the tickets to be a surprise for two reasons. One, the money. I’ve already put out feelers to two New York-based auction houses and three high-end retail stores. Factor in the backstory, and I suspect the revenues will be hefty, at least $2,000 per bottle. Play a few interested parties off one another, and I’m sure that number will creep up. Allowing for 25 percent breakage over time, I calculate revenues of close to $12 million. Amortize the sales over ten years to prevent market saturation, subtract expenses, and I’d still reel in enough profit to have a pied-a-terre in the city plus a four-bedroom tax-haven in Nassau."

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An artist of baby names explores the meticulous details that go into selecting the perfect moniker.

"Not all prospective parents are comfortable with me watching them have intercourse and that’s fine if you want to cut corners on the name your baby will carry for the rest of her life. The parents who allow it are sophisticated enough to understand that there’s no better way for me to know a child’s essence than to be there for the erotic act from which that child is created. But if you’re too modest and you’d prefer that I name your baby with one hand tied behind my back, so be it. You can make a video recording of the conception and send it to me."

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A comical imagining of a teenager's story about teenager drama.

"Arnold, a shy sophomore, was a real loser. Everyone hated him, even his guidance counselor; meanwhile, he was crazy for Julie, a senior cheerleader whose father drank and whose mother was having an affair with a dairy farmer. But since Julie was the most popular senior in the school, no one knew about her crummy home life except her best friend Suzie, who everyone in school hated because she was the most popular girl’s best friend and therefore thought she was all that."

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A collection of hilarious shorts imagining American celebrations in other lands.

"In Nigeria they send emails telling you that if you help them move millions of dollars to the US you can keep a hefty percentage of that and they would be extremely thankful."

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A young boy deals with mean relatives and religious extremes as he embarks on his first communion.

"Then, to crown my misfortunes, I had to make my first confession and communion. It was an old woman called Ryan who prepared us for these. She was about the one age with Gran; she was well-to-do, lived in a big house on Montenotte, wore a black cloak and bonnet, and came every day to school at three o'clock when we should have been going home, and talked to us of hell. She may have mentioned the other place as well, but that could only have been by accident, for hell had the first place in her heart."

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The trials and silliness of Facebook, from beyond the grave.

"In a last, desperate attempt to recapture our imaginations, Madeline began posting pictures of herself with dead celebrities like Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, even Benjamin Franklin. But they were doing things like high-fiving, watching TV, and playing darts. As a community, we agreed it was in bad taste."

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A short, philosophical study of why we carry what we do.

"The fact is that everything I have in my pockets is carefully chosen so I’ll always be prepared. Everything is there so I can be at an advantage at the moment of truth. Actually, that’s not accurate. Everything’s there so I won’t be at a disadvantage at the moment of truth. Because what kind of advantage can a wooden toothpick or a postage stamp really give you?"

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A clown's harrowing, distorted journey through towns, roads, and memories.

"Now, long days along the roads, back roads and highways, roads of dust and concrete, roads bent and vibrating in the heat and the letter taped to the windshield, a membrane browning in the sun. Long days tangled in the station wagon, legs and heads flopped from windows, the back window kicked out and exploded into dust for the bulges and ruffles of a hundred Pierrots, their long red shoes and polka dots. Long days now hurtling along, lost in the vibrations of gestures, lost within the vibration of minds. These days hurtling along roads in an endless gesture, the only gesture Pierrot once knew. The gesture Pierrot never forgot."

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Sketches of a lonely woman's search for love and happiness.

"...three weeks later asking the redheaded dishwasher to drive her home and directing him to the spot she knew those girls went to, her lips aflame, when he pulled up sliding over, the stick shift digging into her hip, putting her mouth on his freckled neck, it smelled like mashed potatoes and industrial soap and sweat, her hand first on his thigh and then crabcrawling to his zipper, it was already hardening under there despite him saying, Hey hey, what, and Peggy Paula saying, Just, please, and the dishwasher quiet after that, letting Peggy Paula, letting her, following her into the backseat, holding her tight when it happened, saying I’m sorry and Peggy Paula saying Shh, stinging his shoulder with her lips and his back with her nails and feeling filled up and afraid and like her heart could kick the windows out."

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An armchair astronaut attempts to become the first black man to walk on the moon.

"The robot had this fold-down flap on its backside and Wesley sat there, buckled in, and told us he and the robot were going to outer space. There were fuses attached to the thing's feet and we stood back as he lit them like Wile E. Coyote. Well, that crazy robot went up all right—right up in flames! And we all about fell on our faces laughing, Wesley loudest of all."

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A murderer fights off vengeance seekers, including God.

"I sundered Him, and He rejoined Himself. I interrupted Him, and He resumed Himself. I adjourned Him, and He reconvened Himself. I perforated Him, and He performed holy acts of closure. I peeled Him, but He only laughed—the old fox!—and could not be tricked into repealing Himself in order to end up sitting among the superannuated gods."

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A congressional hearing exposes the hypocrisy of American superiority.

"So that’s where you need these cheap inflation dollars so everybody can pay everybody back, right? See we had this neat idea of this here trickle down theory only it didn’t work out so good, I mean it all like got stuck at the top where 15 years ago this richest 1 percent of the nation held 27 percent of the wealth now they’ve got almost 36 percent, I mean it mostly like trickled up. And see where the Administration’s goal was to end inflation it worked so good that this sudden massive collapse of it brought these terrific budget deficits so like now we’re this world’s biggest debtor nation where if these here Japanese weren’t like buying $60 billion in Treasury bonds a year we couldn’t hardly pay the gas bill, right?"

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A darkly comedic story about a fighting couple and an unexplained severed finger.

"'You mind shutting the hell up and helping me look for my finger?'I skim my good hand over the crusty red felt carpet. I pull myself off the ground, but standing adds a new dimension to the folds of my dizziness; I fall back against the bar, and Clive hoists me up with his elbow."

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In this curious world, a young couple find their lives filled with strange cats and a consuming video game.

"They did not stroll alone. When they left the apartment they’d see the marmalade perched beside a newspaper stand across the street or slinking in through the complex door as they walked out. Along with the cosmopolitan pigeons and robins, and the urban rats and mad squirrels, cats were stationed at odd intervals on their meandering route. One night an olive green and basalt cat sat perched on its haunches in the ruby umbrella of light cast by a low street lamp on Carmine St. Laura and Eric would swear that the same cat had sat as still as stone on the corner of Commerce St. and Cherry Lane the evening before. In a shadowed alcove on Bedford St. a giant tabby guarded a litter of three sable kittens, its marble eyes mirroring the random lights of the city night."

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After a mutual friend "goes too far," his friends plan a get-together for his hanging.

"We asked him what sort of music he would like played at the hanging. He said he'd think about it but it would take him a while to decide. I pointed out that we'd have to know soon, because Howard, who is a conductor, would have to hire and rehearse the musicians and he couldn't begin until he knew what the music was going to be. Colby said he'd always been fond of Ives's Fourth Symphony. Howard said that this was a 'delaying tactic' and that everybody knew that the Ives was almost impossible to perform and would involve weeks of rehearsal, and that the size of the orchestra and chorus would put us way over the music budget."

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A young assistant struggles with God's command of "let there be light."

"This attitude seemed to please the Almighty. However, when the young man tried to ask a few necessary questions regarding light, God turned Himself into a giant, apocalyptic mountain that quaked and belched fire and was surrounded by seven thousand froth-mouthed basilisks in that way He always did when He was starting to get irritated."

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A divorce takes the same celebratory gestures as a wedding.

"Still, Susan and Michael enjoyed their last weeks of marriage and felt sad about the things they would miss, like half of their belongings. They set up a registry, two registries actually. Hers included a food processor, a flat-screen TV, and a Nintendo Wii because he would be keeping those things. His included high quality Tupperware, an ab roller, and an espresso maker because she would be keeping those."

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A young Jewish man makes a comical attempt to smuggle items into Canada.

"When I sit back in my seat I feel dampness on my ass. My jeans came in contact with some mystery liquid on the lavatory floor. I finish filling out the declaration card. I'd stopped in the middle after reading that I'd have to declare any meat products I'm bringing into Canada."

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Jonathan Lethem offers offbeat descriptions of various holidays, both real and imagined; Happy Thankstaking.

"The vacuum cleaner has replaced the cornucopia in most traditional Thankstaking ceremonies."

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A Mexican man reluctantly provides cultural insights to a pandering white American journalist.

"Two years before, Samuel Kramer had arrived to write the nteenth feature on Frida Kahlo. Someone told him I wrote screenplays for tough documentaries, and he paid me to accompany him through a city he considered savage and explain things he called mythical."

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A religious leader in colonial New England builds a mysterious machine.

"The motor will cause great floods of spiritual light to descend from the heavens. It will reveal the earth to be a limitless treasure trove of motion, life, and freedom. "

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Bets are placed on the developments and historical events of the future universe.

"I got much more satisfaction, however, from the bets we had to bear in mind for billions and billions of years, without forgetting what we had bet on, and remembering the shorter-term bets at the same time, and the number (the era of whole numbers had begun, and this complicated matters a bit) of bets each of us had won, the sum of the stakes (my advantage kept growing; the Dean was up to his ears in debt). And in addition to all this I had to dream up new bets, further and further ahead in the chain of my deductions."

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A new translation of this one-paragraph short, designed to be read aloud in English.

"The messenger set out at once; a strong, an indefatigable man; thrusting forward now this arm, now the other, he cleared a path though the crowd; every time he meets resistance he points to his breast, which bears the sign of the sun; and he moves forward easily, like no other. "

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Aftermath of a hookup, told in the form of an interactive fiction game.

"It is possible that you did not sleep with her, but here she is, next to you, wearing your clothes. She also has your socks, a pristine new pair of tube socks, on her hands. That was probably enormously funny at the time. Some other time. Not at all funny now, what with you being naked. There are closed doors to the EAST and NORTH."