Phone Call

A silver fox, an achromatic bear.

Eskimo sculpture and rock of some sort, collected by my grandfather.

A: I speak in excited tones when I say your name. I haven't talked to you in about a month, and I was thinking about you.

B: I am pleased to hear this, but I did not really exist in your mind. You've been simulating me in your brain. Right now you're running the same simulation using my voice as input. You think you're talking to me but there's actually a 1/2-second delay while your brain processes what it's taking in.

A: What's new?

B: My hair has been cut since you saw me, and dyed slightly.

A: What color is your hair?

B: No specific color. It is lighter, and has more sheen and gold highlights to replace the gray. My hair, the bane of barbers, with its sprouting cowlicks, the uncontrollable swirl of uneven growth in the back, a frozen coriolis skin-twist. Under the auspices of my friend it transformed from an ugly mass into a gilded halo, like a long-barren mine now producing gold, and the very night it was done it earned me KISSES - but now it is turning back to its blockish configuration.

A: I am without kisses. I'm 28, I have so much gray. More and more.

B: I'll be gray by the time I'm 32.

A: A silver fox.

B: An achromatic bear.

A: With a silver tongue. It's different for women, the gray.

B: Let's get out of these categories. Women. Some women have gray hair and it looks wonderful, because they are confident and seem healthy, and are unafraid to look older, and they laugh about it. Others put toxins on their heads so as to remain decorated and viable. Things are different for everyone. Things are different for me in the mornings than in the afternoons, and different when I work. When we want to effect social change or make crude jokes, the concept of women is useful, but right now there is no point in the taxonomy.When I have a friend I decategorize them. Do you really look at me and think, “man, tall, big, blue-eyed, writer?” You use those terms to describe me to others, but you simply hook on my name. There he is. You no longer see that I'm tall unless I stand next to something; when you look at me you lose all perspective. I want you and I to recreate things, to start over without categories and give things new names. What is this? It's a murchizl. A snant. A gribdot.

A: Yes, you're right on that. I hate when women roll their eyes and exclaim, “men!” Really? All 2 point 5 billion? When a woman says “I hate all men,” it means she's not getting what she wants. She overextends the categories rather than face the fact that her personal masculine representative is fucking it up. She turns it into a global metanarrative of gender. I, as woman, am not getting what I expect from him, as man. When men say they don't understand women it's the same; there is nothing more complicated about women then men; they are just saying that they're not getting what they want. What is going on with your novel?

B: I am a waste of a human being. I don't exercise enough, I eat wrong, I am prone to melancholy. I lie awake making plans I can't execute, because I do not have a staff of 30, then I grow disappointed and enraged with myself for not finishing them, and do nothing. I take notes as the dishes pile up. The ice in the freezer part of the fridge forms layers, and then it becomes an oval, a porthole into the 1.5-cubic-foot arctic environment. I stare into it and see the plastic bags of vegetables and the blue ice trays, living their lives. I can write 5,000 words in a day easy but usually write none. I may have a one-month job traveling around the country with a celebrity as his bodyguard. I want to work with a shovel. Tell me what it's like for you.

A: I am walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. I have a passion for it; I want to climb it. Wait - I am now climbing the wires and speaking to you on the phone. People have gathered to watch. Listen! I am going to shout. There, do you hear the sound of honking horns.

B: Are you really on the Bridge? I hear the horns.

A: Yes, I am. I am coming down the stairs now, into the little park on the Brooklyn side. I will sit on a bench to finish this conversation.

B: The image of you up there was beautiful, your small strong body ascending the 15 inch wire, gripping on tight until you reached the top of the Brooklyn tower. The clouds would come down and tickle your nose, then you could ask them to leave; they would lift off from the troposphere and fly out to exosphere, and keep on until they settled on the moon. A perfect coolness would enter the space left by the clouds. People, relieved by the sudden chill, would no longer try to get you down, but would try to keep you where you were, keep you from descending for fear the heat would return.

A: I will stand like St. Simeon Stylites the Elder upon his pillar. They would send up food and medicine and the papers would run features. Whales and seals would leap from the water and applaud me, splashing the water; below, boats would roll over like dogs to show their bellies. The World Trade Center would shiver like two snakes coming uncharmed and fall to the ground, and crawl down to the Bridge and prostrate themselves before it. The Statue of Liberty would lift up her skirts and walk through the water below me, up to 50th St, and make love to the Chrysler Building, while the statues of the poets in Central Park watched in furious jealousy. And I would stand atop the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Manhattan side, and survey. Would you come visit me?

B: Yes. I would walk right up. I will bring you pizza from Patsy's. Garlic and some wine.

A: Can I come over? Walk down?

B: Yes, come over; it's a mess of a world, a vortex of papers and books and clothing, but come over, sit on the futon, I am beaming with love for others but right now I have focused it on you over these wires. I will make my bed. You can sleep here beside me. I have cold water in the refrigerator. I was sad from habit, but deep down I must admit that life is joy lately; I am moody, but the hallucinatory glee of some moments permeates the moods and thrills my walking hours. I must swallow this down for fear of my own strangeness, but the chewing-gum-dotted sidewalks - every chewing-gum spot is a hole that radiates heat from the core of the earth and warms my toes.

A: I want you to read me a story.

B: I will read you from a book by Lama Trungpa Rinpoche. He was a drunken Lama. He said, "life is suffering, you will never be happy."

A: Did they shave him and make a sweater?

B: No. He was inadequately wooly. Have you ever heard the expression, “he gets enough wool to knit a sweater?”

A: Yes. I like that it equates sexually active men with knitting.

B: The sweater is rough, like something Thomas More would wear. I will read you Thomas Hardy short stories about essential moral corruption. Or Graham Greene short stories.

A: Not that.

B: I will make up a story about dancing robots that steal a car and go on a joyride through the suburbs. I will make you a linguistically primitive story. Agent and action. Robot drives. Action and object. Drive car. Agent and object. Robot car. Robot drives car. There it is. I just handed you a complete narrative. All it needs is detail. From here on out, it's up to us. But you must call me when you get to the door because the buzzer is not working.




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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