Matthew Yeager's "A Jar of Balloons or The Uncooked Rice"
Thoughts on the all-ness of all of this.
I am doing things slightly differently today. I am putting some of my words first and keeping them short, and placing the poem below, as it is wildly long. A shade over 10,000 words.
I love this poem. It is one of my favorite poems ever written. I don’t think it will fit in the entirety of this email, but I’ve tried to make it happen. I assume Substack will cut it off. Alas. If that happens, here is a link to it. But this poem. It is at once absurd and compassionate, wild and attentive, full of love and awareness. It is a poem composed entirely of questions (like Padgett Powell’s playful, wonderful novel The Interrogative Mood). It will, I imagine, make you sometimes laugh and also sometimes break your heart.
When I read this poem, or read parts of it, and when I return to it — as I have, again and again — I am reminded of the near-endless capacity for the self to be a self, and for each of us to be aware both of ourselves and the selves around us. And the world, too. So much of the world. When I read this poem, I am reminded of the odd mundanity of the everyday, and the way we are united, at times, by the strangeness of our collective experience, which is full of trinkets and objects and encounters and thoughts and little actions that, when paid close attention, feel wonderfully big. I am reminded that life, though serious, is often casual, and that our most casual moments can also be our most serious.
When I read this poem, I am reminded, finally, that it is a big and beautiful thing to be alive, even when it feels terrible or strange or diminutive or difficult or hard to process. There is so much all-ness in all of it. Ask yourself the questions in this poem, and you will feel it.
Print out this poem and ask someone (yourself, your class, your best friend) a few of these questions every day for approximately a year.
Hold onto your favorite questions (such as When you find yourself, say, on a building-top as dawn whitens and you feel that unfortunate burst of energy shooting bright veins through your fatigue (all sound-tracked with birdsongs’ beginnings), do you find you always want to change your life?) and think of them when you find yourself, as you probably will one day, in exactly the space or moment the question implies.
Read a little bit of this each day to remind yourself that you are alive, and that life can be at once comforting and surprising and strange and beautiful.
A Jar of Balloons or The Uncooked Rice
Pick the acrid colors out. —Stevens Have you ever had a haircut so bad you cried? When you open the drawer after having poured yourself a bowl of cereal, do you reach for a small or a large spoon? How conscious are you of your posture? Will you agree to let a lover use your toothbrush? Which chemicals’ smells do you like? During which phase of life did you acquire the bulk of your friends? Have you ever quit a bad job emphatically, ripped off a uniform or apron, thrown the balled-up cloth at a superior, then stomped off? Grey or gray? Who most often terminates your telephone conversations, you or the person to whom you've been speaking? In your bad dreams do you ever throw the slow motion punch? Are you punctual? Is your signature legible? Have you ever had a birthday go uncelebrated? What's the largest TV set you've ever lived with? Showers or baths? How much cash do you like to carry? Ever been knocked unconscious? One large winter coat or layers? If you cross paths with someone walking a dog, do you talk first to the person or the dog? Do you eat or give away pickles? What's the highest floor on which you've ever lived? Who is your most promiscuous friend? Do you get jittery during airplane turbulence? How jittery? Do you still drink glasses of milk? How many people have lived with you? How’s your balance? Have you ever ridden in a limousine? What are the chances, would you say, of you becoming, one day, the president of anything? Greater than none? When did you learn to write checks? Can you accurately size up the square footage in a room? What games do you play with small children you meet (such as faking snatching off their noses by poking a thumb between fingers)? Where you live is the night sky starry? How high can you kick? Have you wasted much thought as to what you'd do were money suddenly no limitation? Cake cones or sugar cones? Are you quick with your wit, or do comebacks tend always to arrive hours later? Do you keep your photos in albums or shoeboxes? Are you handy? Do you cross the street to avoid groups of young men at night? Have you ever been a part of one of these groups and watched others cross streets as a result of you? Do you match and ball socks or just dump them, en masse, into the drawer? Do you bisect your sevens with one of those squiggly hyphens? Have you gravitated, traditionally, toward the top or the bottom bunk? Is it your tendency to order the same dish over and over or mix it up? Are you easy or hard to shop with? Is your bed up against a wall, or does it sit in the center of a room, accessible from both sides? Do you own any pieces of monogrammed attire? Aisle or window seat? When eating out, do you set your knife atop your plate and change hands? What's your favorite cuss word? How long did you call your parents’ home your home? How are you at keeping track of which acquaintances you've told which thing that’s happened to you? Do you recycle? Do you think that every Bic lighter you see, when in the hands of a friend, likely once belonged to you? How are you at not losing pens? Are you good at putting together kits? When a friend begins telling a story he’s already told you, do you let him go, or let him know? When making a shooting- yourself gesture, do you do the gun barrel with two fingers or one? Do you insert the finger-gun into your mouth or press it to your temple? Do you cut up plastic six- pack can holders so as to save fish? What colors have you painted rooms? When driving by cows, do you give in to the urge to moo? What is the most valuable (to you) possession you’ve ever lost or had stolen? Do you miss it? Would you often rather just stay in the car? Do you always know the day of the week? Are you ashamed, like admitting you don't read the newspaper, when you're way off mark (though, in truth, the most you can be off is two days?) What about dates? Do you find you have to ask aloud every time you're at the bank or when you're on the grocery store floor, attempting to pick out milk? Isn't it nice how willing people are to tell you the date? Do you have any “original” items in your home, anything with a total production limited to one? Are you accurate at guessing people’s weights and ages? Do you take into consideration their feelings when guessing? Can you fall asleep on your own at the end of the day, or do you need “help?” Look at your fingernails: did you just stretch out all five fingers, palm out, or did you fold your fingers down over your inward facing palm? About what parts of life do you have anxiety about having anxiety? Driving? Do you have a system when it comes to pockets, or do you blindly dump in coins, lighter, i-pod, phone, smokes, etc., then fish around each time? Blue or black pens? Chunky peanut butter or smooth? When eating bananas, do you peel them nude at the outset or peel as you eat? Do you tear into wrapped presents or open them neatly with the spoken intent to save the paper? Do you currently own a phone with a cord? AM or FM radio? In school, did you pack or buy lunch? Have you ever made a scrapbook? What famous landmarks have you found especially disappointing? Which do you (or would you) find more embarrassing: crying in public by yourself on a bench or laughing out loud in public by yourself on a bench? Would you rather drive or be driven? Ever just want to spit in someone's face, though you actually really like the person? Do you engage strangers in conversations on airplanes? If no, it’s odd, isn’t it, when the time comes to accept peanut packets or order sodas and you hear their voices? Ever wished (if you are right-handed) that you could be left-handed? Do you measure distance in miles or minutes? Is there anything that feels nicer touching the back of the hand than a tassel? What about gently blown breath? Are you in bed at a similar time each night? Do you imagine sleep as a kind of rising (you are a basket being pulled gently up in a hot air balloon) or as a kind of sinking (you are a flat stone no longer skipping, disappearing through layers of lake)? Can you ice skate? Do you own a bathrobe? Do you go to movies alone? When eating out, do you prefer, in general, to face the crowd or the wall? Are you a person who has certain items that are unequivocally yours (a coffee mug, a side of the bed, a chair, a place at the table)? What names have you thought to name children? How many different bathrooms would you say you use on a given day? Are there bathrooms, (not your own) that you consider a pleasure to use, even look forward to using? Are you shy? Do you save your receipts? Have you ever made love outdoors? Before throwing spaghetti into the pot, do you break the bundle in half? Can you recall a [bowel movement] that produced the thought: “Wow, this is the biggest and best [bowel movement] of my life?” What did you call bowel movements as a child? How old were you when you learned to read? Do you nap? Isn’t stretching something you always feel you should do more of while you're doing it? Why must we always draw a blank after entering a record store? What's the strangest non- food item you swallowed as a kid? Do you use Post-it notes? Are they still there, those ascending horizontal lines that marked your growth as a child up a wall or a door? In how many cities and towns do you know your way around? Can you describe to me your most frequent freak-out fantasy, or do the particulars of your situations vary so that it’s always a new table you're overturning or bus window you're punching out? Do you ride the bus? How is your handshake? Can you ever know for sure if it’s too hard or too soft? When at a museum, do you like to walk around by yourself or take the tour? Can you recall how the moon looked the first time you saw it through glasses (if you wear glasses)? When cooking, do you eyeball or measure? Do you buy low-fat products? In which of these opposing clichés (“absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “out of sight, out of mind”) do you find more truth? Do you go, each time, to the same barber or hair-stylist? When at the barber or hair-stylist, do you tend to talk about hair or realize that people there must always talk about hair? Was your Christmas tree (if you had one as a child) fake or real? What was it topped with, an angel or a star? Have you ever purchased an item with the secret intent to return it? In which of your pockets do you carry your wallet? Were you breast- or bottle-fed? Can you write at all with your opposite hand? Do audiences affect your attempts to urinate or parallel park? Do you rise to occasions, generally? Butter or margarine? Do you bookmark or dog-ear your books? How do you show love to what is yours, by wearing it in or attempting to keep it pristine? Do you not mind fighting losing battles? When was the last time you wrote a hand-written letter that was not a greeting card? Have you ever collected unemployment? Do you check the dates on coins? Did you play sports? If so, what was your preferred number? Were you a planned or unplanned pregnancy? Do you save hangers from dry cleaners, amazed that they're free? When pondering what things are free, do you always find yourself inhaling deeply through your nose, newly aware that air is free? What actor(s) could play you? Are you a fast dresser? Do you like to be the one who holds the tickets (for airplanes, movies, etc.)? Do you trust others? What about doctors? What is the worst ailment you've ever been diagnosed with? Have you ever been diagnosed as something? How are you at metabolizing shame? Where, in your calendar year, have the birthdays you celebrate tended to cluster? April? If you went to church as a kid, did you and your family sit in the front or in the back? What things have you been doing when you've received news that a loved one has passed on? Can you sleep with socks on? Can people place your place of birth by hearing your accent? What would you try to save in a fire? Do you wear non-winter hats? Pulpy or pulp-less orange juice? Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? Do you miss lots of things you mean to see or do? Events you meant to attend? Picnics involving babies? Do you even notice? Do you go to the gym? What is your favorite kind of nut? Do you remove shoes upon entering? If no, are you annoyed when you walk into someone else’s home and find a pile of shoes and a note? Does walking on rattling street vents make you anxious? Do you tell people when you're ticked at them? How are you at judging clouds of the metaphorical variety, at discerning those which will blow over and those which will grow to take over your sky? Is there anyone who likes washing silverware? What celebrities have you met? What is your method for dealing with coins? Spend as you go? Hoard? Roll? Are you a sucker for foreign accents? Do you rearrange your furniture regularly? Do you live in a place where furniture can be rearranged, or is there really only one logical place for everything? What gift or gifts did you receive upon graduating high school? Do you get mad when a drink is handed across a bar to you with too much ice? Mad enough to send it back? Do you send meals back in restaurants or just suffer through them? Are there multiple languages in which you're fluent? Why did you leave your hometown, if you did? What are you usually doing when it occurs to you to clip your toenails? Can you drive stick? If no, do you feel that this makes you inadequate? How do you occupy your time when in a waiting room or on a train? Books, magazines, music, or just looking at people then looking away? Ever French-kissed the inside of your elbow? Do you live in a place where tourists come? Are you skilled at giving directions? Do you own a record player? If so, have you owned one all along? What celebrities do people insist that you look just like? Is the resemblance such that when you hear “You know who you look just like?” and see the person’s finger begin to wag you can supply the name or names yourself? Do you supply the name or names yourself or give the person the pleasure of recognition? Is your name such that it is frequently mispronounced? Do you attempt to pronounce foreign words correctly, such as calling a crescent-shaped roll a cwaSAHN? Do you like being an American (if you are one)? Have you ever walked around carrying a bouquet of flowers just because you like the looks folks give you on the street? Are you accurate in determining the ages of children? What age do you consider old? How has it changed? Ever just want to yank the gun from a cop’s holster? Are you a good tipper? When receiving bad service, are you inclined to think (‘it happens”) that the server is just having an off day? Can you spell (without looking it up) the word “hors d’oeuvre”? Will you wait for a booth when a table is available? Will you step out of a shower to pee? When writing the number 2 do you loop the bottom? Surely at some point you've worn the clothing of the opposite sex? Have you ever lived in a room lit by a bare light bulb? If yes, when you opened the door and tugged that jump-back-upping beaded chain and saw the items of your life in that dimness, did you find it gloriously romantic or hilariously gloomy? If you don't live alone, is it you or someone else who changes light bulbs? Are you a good speller? What physical skills have you lost? Can you still touch your toes? As a child, were you able to turn a cartwheel? Are you hard on people? What is the deepest water in which you've been swimming? You root privately for loose plastic drink lids, wind-blown and cartwheeling, to stay up, to keep rolling and rolling, don’t you? Do you think grades in school mattered? Can you identify flowers? Can you identify artists by looking at paintings? Do you eat the crusts of pizza or only when they’re excellent or you're hungry? Do you eat other people’s crusts? Do you cut the crusts off bread? Are you a member anywhere, of anything, as of a group of people that meets at a certain time and at a certain place? What do you think about Communism? Can cans of whipped cream last long in your fridge? How is your self-control? How is your cholesterol? Have you ever spent a night in jail or been in a physical altercation as an adult? Have you been cheated on? How did you handle it? If you could walk on stage as the lead singer of any band in any time period, who would it be? When no one is looking, will you stick chewed gum to a chair or table bottom? When no one is looking, will you do really just about anything? What is the most money you've ever found on a sidewalk or a street? Can you tie a tie? What about a bowtie? In which stores have you ever imagined having shopping sprees? How are you at Trivial Pursuit? Crossword puzzles? Does making a good list ever feel like an accomplishment in itself? Do you clip coupons or mail in rebates? What's your theory on why the martini glass is shaped the way it is? Do you like animals? Do you find it beautiful when sidewalks begin to freckle with rain? Seen from a high window, is there anything more lovely than when, all at once, umbrellas blackly bloom? About what subject (other than yourself) do you possess the most knowledge? Do you say caddy-corner or kitty-corner? Isn’t it nice when a drinking fountain is cold and with the right pressure, when you push the metal button down and up pipes a sweet cold glassy little arc of water? Have you ever been on fire? Your cuff or your hair? What is the worst you've ever burned yourself? Can you sing? Do you find you begin singing along to songs you know always a bar or so too early? About what things do you think you're a snob? Which is snobbier, ballet or opera? Poetry or croquet? How about football, beer, and buffalo wings as a little group? How about cigarettes and cities and streetlights and walking away in a leather jacket? Do you use raincoats or umbrellas? Are your faucets tricky to the point where were an out-of-towner to use your shower, you'd feel the need to give a tutorial? Are they trickly? When dealing with a knot, are you more likely to pass the knot to another, sigh and say, “Can you get this?” or to take the knot from another and say, “I can get this”? Are you a take-charge type of person? Are you good with jars? Have you ever thrown away a crusted pan as opposed to cleaning it? What is the most difficult Phone call you’ve ever had to make? What is the most difficult test you’ve ever taken? Do you prefer aiming fans directly at your face or setting them on oscillate so as to best relish that all-too-brief rush of coolness? And when a fan turns away to, say, rustle an unpaid bill on the end table, do you follow it with your face as far as you can? Do you sit and patiently wait? How important is it for you to have things to look forward to? When did you cave in and buy a cell phone? Do you mind getting shots or having blood taken? How many people have you called your best friend? Do the number of beaches you've been on exceed your fingers? Does a sense of true self-worth feel like the light from a lighthouse, a sudden enveloping golden feeling that soon moves on, too fast to chase? Who is your wealthiest relative? Who is your poorest? Do you ever snort when you laugh? How are you at building fires? How about changing flat tires? Till what age do you hope to live? Have you found this has changed with time? When eating Asian cuisine, do you ask for a fork? Do you bite or clip your nails? Have you ever bitten someone with the goal being to break skin? Did you like high school? When walking or driving with a companion in a place where your companion is familiar and you are not, do you tend not to pay any attention whatsoever? Were you cruel or the object of cruelty as a child? The object of cruelty, right? Aren't children awful? What's the longest you’ve ever consecutively slept (not counting when you were sick)? Is your skin sensitive? Do you set down sheets of toilet paper before sitting down on public toilets? Have you ever carved initials into wet cement? What about thrown a grocery cart or brick off of a bridge? At what age (or ages) do you feel that you were at your stupidest, by which I mean proudest? Do you make it a point to go somewhere to watch fireworks? Are there certain blocks you avoid because of memories? What is the oldest object (man-made) you've ever held? Biggest vehicle you've ever driven? Does your alarm clock wake you with noise or radio? Can you think of a particular mirror in which you appear particularly ugly or particularly attractive? Do you find that whatever season is next (spring, winter, fall, summer) sounds pretty good? In which season have the majority of your memories clustered? Do you tend (or did you tend) to date people older or younger than yourself? Are you thrown when the time changes? Are you close with anyone bi-polar? Are you bothered by insects? Have you noticed how, when the subject is bugs, the size of the bug will keep increasing? Have you ever participated in a parade? Which of the earth’s creatures would you least like to see granted a set of wings? An alligator? A shark? A snake? Which of the earth’s creatures would you most like to see granted a set of wings? The turtle? Are you ever, while eating something messy, able to look down your face and actually see the food particles on it? Was farting an acceptable activity in your household? Were you tall, short, or medium as a kid? Did you go through phases (tye- dyed tee shirts and reggae music, then goth, then jock, say), or have you been mostly the same over the course of your life? At what age did you reach your present height? Do you own a washing machine and drier? Do you believe (or have you ever believed) in heaven? What technique do you most commonly use when striking a match? Folding the book over? Two matches at once? Are you skilled at eating crabs and lobsters? How are you with the metric system, or, if that’s your system, with the English system? Which magazines do you get? Which do you read standing up in drugstore aisles? What's your favorite color of popsicle? When encountering a huge and many-roomed house, do you ever want just to find a remote room in its upstairs and hide? What would you do in there? Regardless, why is there so much delight in the thought that whole days might pass before you were found? Have you ever had a load of laundry ruined by a pen? Have you ever run out of gas? Have you ever been the victim of a burglary? Do you think you could mug someone? Do you think you could kill if it came to that? What type of food have you eaten the most of, would you guess? Pizza, chicken? Close your eyes: how many living rooms have you memorized? Could you please call to mind at least two or three and hold them a moment? Can you flip your eyelids inside out? What was your best Halloween costume? When you imagine your own funeral, does the thought of certain acquaintances in the same room worry you? Have you ever picked up a hitchhiker? Have you ever been a hitchhiker? How much stock do you put in the Zodiac? Are your earlobes attached? Can you recall the first time you saw snow, or was it something you were born into, a blurry awareness that snow was a feature of this world you lived in? If you didn’t grow up with snow, did you first feel it or see it out a window? Can you recall the last time the number of candles on your birthday cake equaled the number of years you'd been alive? Could you, right now, name the location of your social security card? Can you read music? Do you give in when people Plead? Why isn’t it a law that the street address of every house and building be clearly marked and in an identical place, such as is the license plate on a car? Big weddings or a few friends waiting on the courthouse steps? What percentage of your life would you say you spend alone and recollecting? Okay, you have a plate of cake and ice cream: do you go with a spoon, with a fork, or with both? Do you have all your original adult teeth? When you enter a bathroom and find urine in the toilet, are you inclined to flush before you use it yourself? Does it depend upon whether you know the person who left it, upon the yellowness of the substance? Do you find it’s always green suckers that disappoint with their flavor, mint or sour apple when you want lime? Do you have any racist relatives? What advice do you generally give to people who have colds? Are you intrigued by the lives of movie stars? Are you one of these people who's always interested in match- making? Do you like horror flicks? What tools do you own? Do you sometimes sing the alphabet song to remember the ordering of letters? Did you ever think “el-em-en-o” was itself a letter? What lengths will you go to to avoid hearing the sound of your own voice? How many telephone numbers have you had in your life? How many addresses? Do you sneeze thru your nose or your mouth? Do you sleep on your back, side, or stomach? Coke or Diet-Coke? Do you own, currently, any furniture you've found on the street? What items have you stolen? Cats or dogs? Do you have allergies? How ripe a banana can you handle? Have you ever seriously done the limbo? Have you ever cracked a vase and then tried to hide the crack by rotating it to face the wall? Did your parents get angry, or take it in stride when you broke things as a child? When replacing toilet paper, do you orient it so that sheets issue from the bottom or the top of the roll? Can you draw well? Do you prefer whole, 2%, or skim milk? Soy? What bones have you broken? Have you ever pressed your forearms against the jambs of a door so that upon stepping out your arms suddenly rise? Can you give an example of the kind of lie you tell? Do you litter? Do you ever drop refuse on the sidewalk and then ten steps later, turn around, walk back and properly dispose of it? Do you throw away Hamburger Helper, Rice-A-Roni, et al. boxes too early, then have to dig them out to check the instructions? Have you given much thought as to what you'd eat for your last meal? Have you ever heard sex through a motel room wall? Have you ever in a motel moaned loudly and shaken a bed to freak the people out next door? What, if so, was the silence like afterwards? Which newspaper sections do you like? Do you prefer wide-rule or college-rule notebooks? Do you like holding hands in public with a love? Do you feel bad, sweat-palmed, letting go, like you've just let the person down by letting go of her hand? Do you like the ways lovers communicate? How are you at holding urine? How old is the oldest article of clothing that’s still in your rotation? Do you own any complete sets (of dining room chairs, for instance, or figurines or commemorative plates)? Have you been eager to complete these, or to keep these sets intact? And why is there such satisfaction in any complete set? Is it because the tendency of all things and people is to drift, to end up apart, scattered all over the place, like a bouquet of helium balloons, released into the sky that comes down in little balloon bits in places so far apart it actually becomes something, something to relish and be impressed by, seeing how far it is they’ve managed to drift. What is this called? Entropy? Do you ever ask aloud what the name of something is, even when you know? Does your possession of uncommon knowledge make you proud or ashamed? When did you cease calling your mother “Mommy”? In grade school, did you raise your hand a lot? Did it snap up almost against your control, or did you look around first and then raise it slowly, like a periscope peeking out of water? What is the longest you've ever continuously driven? What's the longest you've ever continuously wept? Do you save plastic drugstore bags, margarine containers, coffee cans, bottles? While showering, has it ever occurred to you that you wash the parts of your body in the same order each time? When you stir with a spoon milk or sugar into coffee or tea, do you like to turn the spoon against the direction of the swirl? Do you ever ask someone a question only hoping that it will be asked back? Are you then frustrated if that doesn’t work and the talk leaps ahead to a new topic? Have you ever carried a weapon? Have you ever known a suicide? Do you often feel like slapping door-opening or elevator-holding strangers who say, “You're welcome” before you can thank them? What is the costliest item you've ever purposely smashed? Have you ever inflicted physical pain (even as simple as a deep thigh pinch) to escape pain of an emotional sort? It worked, didn’t it? Have you ever won an award? Have you ever received a loud ovation in a public place after dropping something? Do you tend to finish meals in restaurants or take half home in doggy bags? Should I be embarrassed that the only flowers I can identify by sight are those found in my mother’s yard? How many of Shakespeare’s 37 plays can you name? Which wrist do you wear your watch on? Do you sing karaoke, and if so, what’s your go-to song? What was your first remembered movie? Do you eat the cereal that falls out of the bag and into the bottom of the box? What about food that falls to the floor? How large are your feet? (Are they, I mean, big or small for your body?) Which brought you more satisfaction, when adults told you you looked like your mother or your dad? What is your favorite type of candy? What is your favorite shape of pasta? What is the fastest you've ever traveled in a car? After washing hands in a public restroom, does touching the door- knob bother you? Will you ever grab the knob with a paper towel, if only so as to prolong the period of cleanliness? What was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up? How high are your ceilings? Does the thought that in a few years phonebooks will no longer fill desk drawers or sit on the tops of refrigerators make you slightly sad? How tall are you? How tall is the tallest person you know? Ever wished this person could stand beside the shortest person you know? Would you agree that a ninety-year-old person today is significantly “older” than a ninety- year-old person two hundred years ago, just in terms of all that person has seen? Could you describe your wall hangings? Do you like or dislike having your picture taken? What color is your hair or was your hair or would your hair be if you didn’t color it? Could you tell me, right now, the thread-count of your bed-sheets? How old were you when you first flew in a plane? Who was your favorite nightly news anchorman (Brokaw, Rather, Jennings)? Did you have a difficult time telling them apart when you were young? Should I just go ahead and ask how old you are? How are you at impersonations? Do you stick with them when they aren't going well or jump ship? One CD at a time, over and over, or always a mix? Do you look forward to your birthday? At what age did you cease looking forward to your birthday? Were your parents younger or older than most of the parents of your peers? Did you lose your virginity to a virgin? Which board games do you own? What's your favorite? What music did you like when you were thirteen? Do you have siblings? If white, do you tan or burn? Can you recall a place that's prompted you to say, “This is, without doubt, the prettiest place I’ve ever been”? Is there anything you can't do that most people can (swim, ride a bicycle, drive, snap your fingers, whistle, wink)? How are you at naming a dog’s breed? What name have you always thought would also be fitting for you? What name would you have if you were of the opposite sex? Do you like dancing enough to go out dancing? Is your handwriting small or large? Is it your nature to give advice? Do you ever take another's story and make yourself the protagonist in its retelling? When, while conversing, a fleck of spittle flies out of someone’s mouth and lands on your face, is your tendency to pretend it didn’t happen, make a display, or subtly (after a pause) wipe it away? How many ex-loves are you currently in contact with? Have you ever done hard drugs? How competitive are you? Do you attempt to refold clothes in stores after having tried them on? If no, is your reasoning that to fold and restock is somebody's job and why should you help her with her job when she doesn’t help you with yours? What do you do about indefinite pronouns? “He,” “she,” or the nearly impossible to maintain “he/she”? Do you find you always exaggerate, at least a little, how little you've slept the prior night? At what point do you round down to zero? Are you able to sleep well on buses, airplanes, backseats of cars? Do you get frightened when your hands, legs, etc. fall asleep? “Oh” or “O”? Do you go to the doc when sick or try to tough it out? Do you have health insurance? Have you ever disappeared on someone? At what age were you heaviest? Do you correct people's small errors in pronunciation by, to their unspoken embarrassment, correctly pronouncing the word in question in the next sentence? Do you completely remove pull-tabs from pop cans? Do you call soda “soda” or “pop”? What movies haven't you seen that most people have? Any piercings you want to tell me about? Have you ever been kicked out of school? If someone swung open your refrigerator, would they find food, wonderful food and juices and fresh milk, or just condiments? Do you bring along a pillow when you travel? Do your friends know one another? Do you have any friends with whom you've never had what you'd consider a “deep” conversation? If so, do you consider this a bad thing or just a thing? In winter (if such applies), do you remove window air conditioners? Ever licked a sucker down to its paper stick? Ever even tried? What do you use to wipe yourself when out of toilet paper? Can you tell me a story that you find yourself telling people over and over? Do you secretly miss sleepovers? If a band or brand becomes too popular, do you cease to like it? Which do you prefer: keeping secrets or telling everyone? Have you ever had surgery? How many people from high school do you keep in touch with? Do you ever swallow your gum? Were you skilled at climbing trees? Have you ever fallen out of a tree? What is the highest height you've fallen from? What about figuratively? Do you plan to be buried or cremated? Have you ever sat down at a table and everyone has gotten up? Laptop or desktop? Why is the inclination always to assume that a street musician possesses talent and a tragic story if the instrument he plays is a saxophone? Do you play the lotto? What’s the most money you've ever given to a homeless person? What movies have you cried in? Are you irked when a cashier hands back over a buck in coins? At what age did age suddenly seem not to matter so much? Did you have braces? Front or back of a canoe? If you could date any celebrity (including dead celebrities, in their primes), who would it be? What are the toughest pieces of mail you've ever had to open (give top three)? Do you look before you flush? Do you divide people into opposing categories (such as “windows- up" and “windows-down" people)? Any trophies? Do you travel heavy or light? Is traveling light a form of showing off? What is your opinion of jewelry on men? What about clothes on dogs? When you find yourself, say, on a building- top as dawn whitens and you feel that unfortunate burst of energy shooting bright veins through your fatigue (all sound-tracked with birdsongs’ beginnings), do you find you always want to change your life? Have you ever sued anyone? When people are attempting to leave do you let them go or do your best to make them stay? Faces or names? As a driver, are you aggressive or defensive? Have you ever fasted? When naked, are you capable of forgetting you're naked? Do you ever think, “Yep, this will make a good rag”? First job? Worst job? Current job? Ever had a job where you see face after face after face (cashier, club bartender, ticket-taker at a theater, toll-booth collector), one face after another, faces like bubbles that appear and then pop, although occasionally, as with a bartender, re-appearing so that a tiny relationship (made up of a few well-executed gestures) starts up? Big, little or medium-sized dogs? How are you at keeping your word? Over the years, have you noticed your voice has changed? Do you tend to be praised by dentists? Do you send out a Christmas letter, filling people in on your year? Have you ever been genuinely lost in a parking lot? Has anyone ever left without you? Are you quick to admit fault, accept blame? Do you have houseplants? Do you save room for dessert? Even when you know there’s no food, do you open the fridge and stare until the fridge’s motor begins to hum? Are you good about turning out lights? Do you often enter rooms to get something and then blank as to why you went in? Does this frighten you? Are you frightened by your occasional slumps in memory, and do you tell others? Have you ever lied about your age? What's the largest amount of years you've tacked on or shaved? Isn't it miserable when you get home and have no clue what to do with yourself? If you plan to be buried, with which objects would you like to share your casket? Would you enter the earth in casual or formal attire? Would you enter in serious or ironic attire? Do you have any photos of just yourself in frames? What was I just talking about? Do you live alone? How many keys are on your key ring? What do they unlock? Do you tell people when they bore you? Have you ever, through a window, seen a naked neighbor? If so, did the sight titillate or revolt? Do you smoke pot? Have you ever worked in a strip mall? Are you a fast or a slow reader? What kind of music do or did your folks like? Can you chant me a chant children chanted when you were a child? At what age did you know the most good jokes? Do you write things down or think, “I think I can remember that”? Would you rather go first, generally? Isn't it crazy that at one point you didn’t know what a rose was, didn’t know your name or even how to blow your nose? About what subject have you forgotten the most? Have you more often broken up with significant others or been broken up with? Do people tell you you look younger than you are? Are they right? How do you take compliments? How do you take rejection? What is the most unsettling creature, such as a tarantula, that you’ve held or handled? A snake at the zoo? Do you open people's medicine cabinets? Do you feel, on the whole, guiltier when you get caught or don’t get caught? Do you feel guilty about not feeling guilty enough when you don’t get caught? What are your feelings on reincarnation? It’s not a bad idea, is it? Can you sit still well? Ever had a job where you pass people tools? Dental hygienist? Grip? Are you a good or bad assistant? Which of your friends had pools? Have you ever tooted in a bathtub, (be honest) and bent forward to greet the rising stink bubble nose-first? Are you fun? Are you quick to purchase new technologies? Have you ever been burned by a video game system that never caught on? Is your can-opener electric? What is your opinion of greeting cards? Would you rather receive a note on loose-leaf and two bucks, or do you like the fact that someone went, for you, to a drugstore, and stood there in the card aisle, opening, deliberating, opening? Is there anyone out there who hates you? Is there anyone out there who hates you justifiably? Do you care? Do you like showing others your bruises, cuts and scars? Did you ever believe that pro wrestling wasn’t fake? What was the first “adult” book you recall reading? Do you like big round numbers? Do you like baseball? Do you like to do things (get out of bed, leave a friend’s apartment, make a difficult phone call) at exact times (‘I will get up off this couch at exactly 11:15 PM”)? Ever wonder how all would be without clocks? Do you find baseball boring and slow, or do you feel absolutely the opposite? Have you ever wished your room could be dusted for fingerprints, as in the cop movies, just so you could see? Do you, in general, like to see? Do you like to open presents early? When no one is around, do you do number two with the bathroom door flung open? Why is this so damned great? Would you say you “exist,” in the sense that you can sense some thread of you-ness tying together, as handwriting ties together a person's hand-written words, the way you behave in bank lines, around bosses, around lovers, friends — in all situations, I mean? Doesn't your heart just plummet when you cause a big mess? Do you hate the rich? Or pity them? How much help have you had in life? How many beds have you had in your life? As a little kid, did you consciously act like a little kid? Do you see a shrink? Have you ever been on a blind date? Where did your grandparents end up? Did they stay where they were or immigrate toward the heat, chasing sunshine like cartoon potted plants that creep about on tiptoe roots? At a certain point, will we all switch to “old-people’s clothes,” or will we go on dressing as we always have until we learn what we we've been wearing ARE old people’s clothes? Macs or PCs? Do you finish most books you start, or do they lie around on coffee- tables and nightstands, open, face-down, slowly deforming? Do you take good care of your things? Have you ever had an injury from sleeping oddly? Do you belong to any online friend networks, or has that box where you're asked to cram yourself into 200 words always been too intimidating? Are you very (or would you be if you let yourself be) hairy? Where, if you have a choice, do you like to sit when at the movies, towards the front or towards the back? Do you like to turn around and look at the shining, rapt faces? Do you like watching people watch tennis, the uniformly turning faces? When did you learn to tie shoelaces? Do you remember when three o'clock was the most important time? Boxers or briefs (if such applies)? What is the worst injury you've ever sustained at a beach? Do you like to go in? Do you like going around shirtless or going around in bathing suits, or are you secretly electric with nerves? As far places you've been, if you are tallying the list for the sheer pleasure ofa large number, do airports count? Shoes with Velcro; ever owned any? Who do you think has more friends, me or you? When indoors and too warm, is your impulse to blame the room or fear a fever? Is a lack of exterior corridors how you go about judging a motel? Have you more often stayed in hotels or motels? Have you ever walked along a highway for reasons other than a broken-down car? Is there any ordinary walk more desolate than the longer- than-you'd think walk between huge joined chain stores (such as between a Best Buy and a Home Depot) where you vacillate as to whether to drive but don’t because it’s all the same parking lot? Have you ever sharpened a knife? As a teenager, did you loiter? A lot? What is the longest you've ever gone without speaking to another human? Do you think you could go a week? For whom have you caused the greatest joy? Who has hurt you the worst? When is the last time you purchased pornography? Do you tend towards pigeon-toed or penguin-footed? Did you ever purchase CliffsNotes? Do people generally listen to you or ignore you? Are you vigilant about seatbelts? Do you currently own any balls? Peppermint or spearmint? Which do you find increases more rapidly, your age or your idea of what age is old? Why does it feel like such a victory, just remembering certain instances, certain people? Do you set your watch at the exact time or ahead? If ahead, do you find you simply subtract the difference, thus making the point of setting your watch ahead entirely irrelevant? Do you mess with things, such as a watch’s tiny winding knob, just thumbnail it out, then thumb it in? Do you ever mess with the button inside the fridge that makes the light go off and on, just press it flat a few times? Does your weight go up and down or stay the same? What roller coasters, generally, is your mental health strapped into? Have you ever been caught in the act of sex? Were you secretly proud? When was the last time you ran as fast as you possibly could? You can recall when you've been pooped on by birds, no? Do you ever find yourself (particularly when dressed up) tallying up the total cost of all that you have on? When naked, do you ever think “zero”? Do you say “take a shower,” or “have a shower”? Is “like” your vocal tic, or is it “you know”? At what age did you buy your final pair of cleats? Does scrawling your name on a screen when you pay by card scare you? As if they might think you are a forger? In what grade in school did people begin to “date?” Were you in on this? If you had to dispose of a dead body, how would you? Who is your least judgmental friend? Do you own or have you ever owned leather pants? Is there anyone to whom you can tell everything? Can you sing any songs a cappella from beginning to end? Do you like being followed around a house by an animal and then stopping, saying, hands on hips, “What are you looking at, little fellow?” Do you prefer being the more loved or the more loving, the hunter or the hind? How many dogs, alive right now, do you know by name? What is the first website you go to after you check your email? Who, of those you know personally, has had the shortest marriage? What is the oldest couple you know that has gotten divorced? Aren't old-age divorces especially sad? Did you know that Robert Frost loved gossip and was secure enough, as an old man, to admit it? Do leather belts, when the excess isn’t tucked into a belt loop, ever confuse you into thinking they're exposed penises? Do you then try to sneak back into that unknowing place, and continue trying to see them as 2-D penises? Two piece bathing suits or one (again, if such applies)? Are you more of an exhibitionist or a voyeur? But the sight of yourself having sex in a mirror is exhilarating, no? Is there any furniture of your parents’ (a clock, an antique chair, a crystal bowl) that you've had your eye on for most of your remembered life? When you see an old man or woman in a supporting role at a film’s outset, do you immediately begin thinking, “Well, it’s a given this one is going to die”? Is it really a bad thing that most films are predictable, as little else is? Do you, if you celebrate it, celebrate Christmas on Christmas or Christmas Eve? When making approximate sock matches, do you pair on texture (‘these feel about right”), color (“well, these two have gold toes”), or both? Did you have chicken pox early in life? How much money do you make? Is it less now than you've made in the past? Which dish of your mom's is or was your favorite? Which was your least favorite? Do you listen to phone messages all the way through or delete them? What is the longest book or series of books you've ever read? Are you at a loss when you finish? Are you a sucker for products on infomercials, adhesive putties, magnetic brooms, new devices for rapidly dicing vegetables? What about the extras, thrown in at the end, though predictable as a rock band’s big hit delayed until a concert’s encore, (All this for only...”)? Are you a sucker for those, too? Do you find it frustrating that although you know how certain things “work” (for instance, how a love interest not calling you back automatically increases your interest), you can’t help but being drawn in? But isn’t it human to be drawn in? But then again, what is it to be “human” anyway, and why do we even want to be it? Why not something else? Which would you rather be? A blue whale, unconscious and in tune, or God? Do you ever miss appointments entirely? Are you ever guilty about wanting too much, and monitor, like a waistline, your wants? Isn’t it nice to stir butter around in, say, a pot of pasta, and watch the pat dwindle and dwindle—“Oh, and here it comes again, now a little smaller”? Do you think that? Likewise, do you like watching flying helium balloons disappear into specks? Do you watch Joved ones disappear on train platforms or in rearview mirrors? Do you watch as long as you can? How often is it, would you say, that your life, to you, resembles a movie? Less often as before? Are you adept at remembering birthdays? Asa host, are you skilled and willing, skilled and unwilling, unskilled and willing, or unskilled and unwilling? In general, do you feel it’s your fault if someone is not having a good time? Are you a person that thinks he can fix people? Can you? Can you recreate the facial expression you use when purchasing items like condoms or Preparation H? Plastic or paper at the grocery? Are you one of these people who just doesn’t give a shit? If no, do you think that these people actually exist? Are they conscious of the fact that they don’t care and chant their un-caring down their collars? Do you ever wish you could break dance, just spin and spin on your head in a subway station on a pizza box? Who would you guess is happier, me or you? Do you like black liquorice? Do you ever invite yourself? Tonic water or soda water (yellow label or blue)? Bottled water or it doesn’t matter? What is your favorite type of apple? Do you buy generic? Do you think you're capable of letting yourself fall without bracing your body in any way? How much money would that take? How much will? How little must you sleep before you round down to none, tell others you didn’t sleep a wink? Three hours? Two? One? Do you still have possessions in someone else’s attic? How conscious are you of your breath? When eating Thanksgiving, do you like to mash together the turkey and stuffing and potatoes and beans or keep them apart and eat them separately? What's been your toughest birthday? Are their any card games you'd say you were good at? Can you predict rain with aches? Do you knock on wood? Are you famous? I mean, do more people know who you are that you haven't met than people that you have met? If you opened the hood of your own smoking car, would you have any idea what you were looking at? Do you like to pretend? How often do you Google yourself? Do you have any collections of things (books, wines, sports cards, jeans, fountain pens, stamps, toy figurines in original packaging) that you actively grow? Who is the animal you've loved the most? What was its name? Kipper? Munchkin? Jake? Do you like guessing names? What about guessing games? At what age was your first kiss? How often do you think of this? More than once a year? How often do you sleep till you wake? Is there anything better than climbing into bed and knowing this, knowing you'll be sleeping an indefinite length? What's the most you've ever shelled out for shoes? Do you like to camp? Have you ever killed an animal with acar? A gun? Have you ever been in a boat from which you couldn't see a shore? What catalogs do you get? Can you ski? If you could own a pro sports franchise, which sport would it be? Which team? Who was your favorite teacher? Is he/she still where he/she was, still teaching? What alterations to your form have you imagined? Unscrewable limbs? An extendable neck? A third arm, very short, projecting from your sternum? Perhaps four more fingers on each hand to fill the gaps between fingers, so as to double the noise you could make when drumming on tables while waiting, four more fingers to keep fine things like sugar from falling through fingers (though a doubling of fingers would, of course, double the number of gaps)? Do you wash your hands before you eat? In restaurants? Can you play any guitar? Do you floss? Have you ever pulled your car to the shoulder due to driving rain, and then just sat, waiting, totally overwhelmed? Are you disappointed by your windshield wipers’ highest speed? Can you talk like Donald Duck? Are you a fast walker? Do you or have you ever had a nickname? Were you one of these people at whom nicknames, like noodles at cabinets, were thrown? Do you count the books you have by a certain author or CDs you have by a certain artist and then just delight a moment in the number (“ah, 13” or “ah, 7”)? If you smoke, do you stub butts mid-way or always suck them down to the filter's end? Do ringing phones on televisions cause you confusion? Do you take your pulse alot? Are you ever afraid to take it, in the way one is afraid to take a receipt from an ATM? Are you salaried or paid hourly? At what age did you cease taking baths or cease exclusively taking baths? How rare or not rare are those days in which you don’t leave your home or don't spend any money? That feels great, doesn't it? Who am I? Have you ever let a roach or some other bug in your apartment or home live? Do you always eat breakfast? Did you cheat in school? Did you let others cheat off you? At what age (if such applies) did the thought of a pink room begin to sicken you? Were you allowed, as a child, to watch R-rated movies? Which minds do you admire? Any? Have you ever stayed overnight in a hospital? Do you like being a patient and having people coming to see you like a king, or are you driven mad that you can't get up and go? Do you hope for a swift abrupt death, or would you rather spend time on the deathbed? Have you ever, imagining the deathbed as a kind of perfectly edited highlight reel of your life, filed away certain items to recall later, such as “Yes, that first time I biked home from work through Times Square at about 4 am, hopping through red lights, and no one was there, and the whole square, that 75-foot-tall cube of light, was something I was having to myself, and the wet white litter was everywhere, just an unbelievable amount, yes, yes, absolutely, that definitely makes the deathbed reel”? Would you put low-lights on your reel? Say, some childhood scene when you spilled a whole quart of yogurt on your lap, or the time you waited in a 45-minute line on your birthday for a roller coaster you ended up being too afraid to ride or when you pushed a friend's little brother into a swimming pool in his clothes and their mother screamed at you and screamed at you because the child could have died? Do you begin to think of yourself as a year older before your birthday? If so, how many days or months before? Do you mind when dogs lick your face? If so, will you pretty much let any non-stray dog lick your face? What websites do you like? Have you ever flown first class? Do you ever fantasize about returning with your present abilities to a situation where your lack of those abilities caused you shame or just ordinariness? What is your favorite month? Are there businesses that you boycott? Were you a real go-getter when it came to selling raffle tickets? Raising money? Securing magazine subscriptions? Among relatives, who is the biggest low-life? How tall was your dad? When you sense your breath is bad, do you exhale into your cupped hand then attempt to sniff with your nose? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the cold showers you've been forced to take have survived in memory, have they not? From top to bottom, off the top of your head, are traffic lights red-yellow-green or green-yellow-red? Do you know who knows things like that? How frequently do you say your own name followed by “is dead, is dead” in the imagined voices of sorrowful friends? Do you find this weirdly delighting? How many people, right now, know exactly where you are? None? Do you like putting things in order? Do you seek to describe your dreams to others? How's your gut? Are you right about people? About whom have you been wrong? Regarding underwear and socks, do you replace piece by piece or every two or three years overhaul the whole drawer? How much tolerance do you have for coincidence (at what point, I mean, will religious thoughts kick in)? Any authors whose work you've read every single published word of? Have you dated multiple people with the same name and later confused friends when these same-named exes have come into your mind and out of your mouth? Have you ever saved bottle caps so as to keep tabs on your drinking? Do you like finding evidence of things you do, like movie ticket stubs folded in your wallet from a movie you saw months ago or perhaps a menu from a friend’s wedding in a suit pocket that causes you to suddenly remember exactly what you ate ona day three long years ago? Have you ever liked an ID photo so much you've kept the ID or become indignant at the fact that you had to give it back at the end of the experience for which it was needed? Do you generally know what to do? Somebody you went to grade school with must die violently: who will it be? Do you own a radio that’s only a radio? Do you mop floors or scrub on all fours? Do you like making single tall stacks such as of Oreos or poker chips? How distinct from one another are your days? Are there, I mean, activities that you only perform on certain ones (such as how, as a child, on energetic Saturday mornings you might have watched cartoons then played baseball, or on Sunday mornings might have lugged a newspaper big as a log in or gone to church (did you go to church and do the whole stand up-sit down-stand up-sit down thing as a child?) then later had a stiffer, more formal dinner as clouds like cloud icons in weather reports (homework, a bully, a huge crush) reappeared to smudge your bright ideas of tomorrow) that give to each day of the week a character that, although woven together of too many factors for a source to be fingered, is nonetheless there, existent, a certain “Sunday-ness” or “Saturday-ness” (or somewhat blander “Wednesday-ness”) that reveals itself in comments such as “I know it’s a Tuesday, but all day it’s felt like a Thursday” or “This Sunday really feels like a Sunday”? In other words, do you have a routine? Do you like this routine or non-routine? Do you think you could be happy without one, with a routine of having a non-routine? How long does it take you to learn a grocery store? Have you ever been to Africa or Asia? Isn't it an odd feeling, to see a building or a house that you’ve never seen, despite having passed by it literally hundreds of times? How does this make you feel? That because a simple act such as fitting your key into your door (and jiggling it with the necessary jiggle) does not add to, but rather disappears like a thief into a crowd of thieves into the hundreds of times you’ve performed this identical act, that you can't help but keep missing something? And what is that thing? How important is it that you find it? Do you scale from 1 to 10? How many times have you seen "It's A Wonderful Life," roughly? Do you ever have the desire to organize your experiences by, say, photographing every bed in every hotel you've ever slept in or every cluttered coffee table you've spent a talk-filled night around or every bar-stool you've sat on long enough to warm? What would this accomplish, this endless compiling? Would it matter that there’d never be time to sort through the stacks, or is the important thing simply that the stacks be there, to be tipped over, then righted and squared with soft, short, Parallel-palmed pushes? At which fast food establishment (other than McDonald’s) have you had the most meals? Ever been skinny-dipping? Which do you think is more infectious, a whisper or a yawn? Which do you think is more irresistible, a window or a mirror? What about a piano in a room with a dusty shaft of sunlight and no one to forbid you? But isn’t it a shame, isn’t it actually a tragedy that the bulk of life, save for the occasional plaqued fish, once caught, noticed, must be thrown back in? How old were you when you first felt the need for a filing cabinet? Pine- or lemon-scented cleaning solutions? Are you a believer in holistic medicine? Are you a believer in just about everything? Have you ever ridden a motorcycle? Do you ever dream about having your problems’ opposites? A place so large you feel lost, small? The one that won't pick up her phone ever, driving you mad, burning your cheek with her chatter? Why is there pleasure in pressing a piano key so softly there is no sound? Generally, do you try to solve problems by embracing them or eradicating them? Do you think I should wind down now? Any memorable sunsets you'd like to throw in? Or is there no need to remember sunsets because today’s is or was or will be orange enough, and with the right mellowness? Any friends named Andy? Any Bobs? What is your expression for preparing for exit? Folding up shop? Breaking down? Which questions will you remember? Which will you mention? Are you ticklish? Will you forgive me (if you feel the need) for this mess? When someone apologizes, are you quick to accept?
from Like That (Forklift Books, 2016)