The Smile

She looks out the window, wearing a T-shirt with holes chewed into the collar, nervously stroking her nose. What can I say to her? She turned 33 last week.

I did, she said. I did. I was so lonely. But never again. It was worse than nothing.

We are talking about a man she met over the Internet, a tuskophile who wanted her only for the calcified horn that comes from below her nose.

She tells me about the tuskophile. She worked for a long time as an event planner, but she quit when the doctors told her there was no hope. And I want to say: it's just how it is. Some people have tusks. I have not touched it. It apparently swivels in a sort of spongy base. It comes out right below her nose, and curves sharply upwards, which makes it a tusk and not an antler. She's going cross-eyed from looking at it, but I don't say anything.

Her apartment is lit only by the light of the screensaver of her computer. She writes poetry, and then erases it. I don't know why I keep going over there, myself. She did after all dump me, back in her pre-tusk days, for a far more handsome man, a landscape architect. But I still enjoy her. I promised myself: if I begin to pity, I will stop going. But I do pity her, as well.

I left her place once, and a downstairs neighbor stopped me one. He made pleasantry then said, It is an unholy thing, and it has brought evil to New York. A devil's antler.

A tusk, I said. And I don't think you can blame it for New York's problems.

I want to start a petition against it, he said.

I should hit you, I said.

I can take it, he said.

There are, she tells me, more like her around the world. A community on the Internet. Three in Holland, one in Spain, five in California. Pollution? Radiation? Genetics? Stress? Unclear. There is evidence that it can be removed if you take half the upper jaw with it. A doctor is giving a paper in Brussels.

I love you, I say when I leave the apartment. I kiss her on the cheek, of course.

She smiles and holds me, and she knows I mean it, and she can't forgive me for it.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

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Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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