jason christoper hartley

December 23, 2009

Fevered Theatre, Severed Heaven Here

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 3:07 am

Seymour sat with his legs crossed, knee over knee, at a small table at a French bistro on a New York City sidewalk under a deep blue awning that did little to shade him from the sun as it was early enough in the morning that it shone in his face, making a warm summer morning a little warmer. It would be a hot day. He silently repeated to himself, in reverse alphabetic order, the nine things he knew the girl would be interested in: theophany, taxonomy, pseudepigraphy, midrash (halakhah vs. aggadah), historicity, exogamy, etiology, eschatology, anagogy. He glanced at his watch again for the ninth time in less than seven minutes. He was glancing at his watch at an interval of almost exactly once every forty-five seconds. It had been six minutes and forty-five seconds since he sat down. As the sun slowly ascended the powder blue sky, he worried that if the air temperature rose two more degrees, he’d start to sweat. Or rather if the air temperature under his shirt surrounding his torso (which was several degrees hotter then the ambient air around him) rose two more degrees Fahrenheit (he approximated), he’d start to sweat. He wasn’t overly concerned with sweating under his shirt or even on his face for that matter—it was summer in New York City after all—it was the fact that his palms would be damp when he shook the hand of the girl from the magazine whom he was supposed to meet here six minutes and forty-five seconds ago. His arms were thin and sinewy and his shoulders narrow, but his hands were strong. When he was nervous (which was most the time), he had a habit of shaking the hands of people he met with an over-firm grip that, on occasion, caused the recipient’s knuckles to crack. He had since remedied this habit by concentrating entirely on his hand during introductory handshakes and uttering to himself silently, “Fevered theater, severed heaven here, gnarled knelling czar” which had a calming affect on him (especially when he thought about the leading silent consonants of the three trailing words) which helped him keep the pressure he applied to no more than five pounds per square inch, not the unchecked twelve to fifteen p.s.i. of the past. No one liked the feeling of a damp palm against their own, and Seymour knew that even if he nonchalantly wiped his against the leg of his trousers as he stood up to greet her, she’d notice the wiping motion, if only subconsciously, and this would give the impression that he was wiping something unpleasant off his hand, another universal psychological turn-off—that the person you’re being greeted by is a filthy person, one who must constantly be wiping his hands free of foreign matter. He knew the volatility of a first impression. He also knew that popular culture had conditioned people to fixate on making a good first impression, something he had concluded was virtually impossible (his awkward social encounters were legion) to do in a single instance in real life without a sword or being a celebrity. What was of greater statistical importance (by two orders of magnitude, by his figuring) was simply not making a bad impression. People are easily repulsed, he had determined, by biological fluids, starting with perspiration and saliva, followed by mucus and urine, then finally bile and feces. Blood was harder to categorize. In the city where diseases without cures flourished, blood ranked with bile and feces on the repulsion scale, but in suburban America it fell under the middle category, associated with bloody noses and nose picking. In rural America, where people dealt with livestock and performed manual labor, blood was as common as sweat, and often just as sterile. In New York City, blood was a universal contagion; something that had been transmuted from being essential to life to being a threat to it. But blood didn’t concern Seymour now, just sweat. The kind of sweat produced by anxiety. Anxiety that would be present despite the air temperature. Damn it, he thought. He’d be sweating regardless. He’d wasted—yup, he was good at intuitively keeping time—a full forty-five seconds now, pointlessly worrying about air temperature as a function of time when he was already sweating, and still would be when the woman arrived. He realized the futility of the moment he was in. He stopped worrying, it was already lost. He closed his eyes, tilted his head back to an angle such that the plane of his face was perpendicular to the rays of the sun, and imagined the woman he was waiting for (whom he hadn’t yet met) as a child. She wore a peasant dress, was sitting on the ground under the shade of an enormous old tree, engrossed by the acorns she held in her hands that she’d gathered with another young girl her age. She looked happy, content.

The Nut Gatherers, by French painter William-Adolphe Bouguerea (1825-1905)

October 27, 2009

City Swing Sets

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 2:45 am

After a long, cold, miserably rainy Army weekend spent mostly at a rifle range in New Jersey, I go to bed late Sunday night and sleep well into Monday afternoon. When I wake I feel renewed and well rested. Everything is wonderful and anything is possible and what the fuck am I doing with my life. Wearing body armor all day is murder on your back. It felt good to have spent several hours supine. I hop on the computer and get an IM from Paul Hoffman asking me if maybe I’d like to see a movie and grab some food. I haven’t seen Paul in the longest and I don’t have shit going on, so I agree to meet him at his office near Union Square. Paul is the editorial chairman of the website bigthink.com. He’s also the former editor of Encyclopedia Britannica and author one of my favorite books, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. He’s this unassuming brainiac. He’s about six-foot-four and wears faded t-shirts and jeans like it’s his uniform. I walk to his office, he shows me where all the magic happens, and we leave. He hasn’t seen Inglourious Basterds yet, so the plan is to hit the 6:35 screening at the Union Square theater. I drag him over to Park Bar because it’s early and it’s not yet packed with the afterwork suitdrones and other midtown chum. We sit at an absurdly unstable high table and my stool is more like a rocking horse than a seat. Three rounds of Amstels and Malbecs later with no fucking buybacks which is bullshit, it’s well after the start time of the film, so we say Oh well and makes plans to eat. We agree on Chat ‘n’ Chew, which is close and both of us haven’t been there in a while. I get a text from my friend Theresa Ortolani. She’s a photographer. She did my headshot. Her text reads, “KGB MF!” Fuck. I tell Paul, “I have to leave right now. I have this friend who has a PhD in English from Oxford named Ernie Hilbert who recently published a collection of poetry. He’s doing a reading tonight at KGB Bar and I completely forgot that it was tonight. Anyway, you should come!” He agrees. We split, grab a cab, get to KGB, and head upstairs. Ernie is already reading. The bar is packed and quiet as a church. Theresa has two open seats and two bottles of Stella waiting for us. Nice. We sit and listen to him read a dozen or so poems. One is called “In-School Suspension.” In it a kid staples a piece of paper to his own head. Another is called “Panthera,” but it is not about Pantera. Ernie jokes about the Panthera-Pantera thing because he’s a huge metal fan. My favorite line is of the night is, “In suburban sandboxes and city swing sets.” Ernie finishes and is signing copies of his book. I sidle into an open chair at the table where he is sitting and I shake his hand. We exchange platitudes about how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other. He introduces me to the man next to him telling him I’m a marine and a machine gunner. I correct him by saying that I’m a soldier, but whatever. The man introduces himself to me as Dave King. I tell him, “I know who you are, Dave King. I acknowledged you in my book.” He’s the author of the book The Ha-Ha and read my blog while I was in Iraq and he was instrumental in helping me find a literary agent. This is my first time meeting him in real life. We chat briefly. A woman at the lectern is clearing her throat, about to read some of her work. Paul, Theresa, and I exit before she begins. The three of us cab it to a Ukranian place called Veselka where Theresa had agreed to meet a photographer friend for dinner. Paul tells me that when his mother immigrated, this was the first place she went because it had food familiar to her. Theresa’s friend shows up. He has long, braided pigtails and is sporting a mustache-soulpatch facial hair combo. There should be a name for this configuration. He has an accent. His name is Stephan and he’s Swiss. During dinner I mention how excellent of a website Look At This Fucking Hipster is not realizing until I’m already talking about it that I’m sort of an asshole. Theresa and Stephan are going to a party and invite me to come along. Paul peaces out because he’s a grown up. We take a cab to the party which is at a club way over on the west side. There’s a velvet rope and dudes in black suits at the front door, which is something I normally stay far from, but Theresa and Stephan were invited and Theresa knows the girl with the clipboard, so we get in without effort even though apparently 3000 people RSVP’d and the capacity is 300. Inside is swank and there’s not much of a crowd yet. There’s a hostess girl who is easily six foot two. She dances playfully and it’s utterly graceless. The party is to celebrate the opening of the Tokion Magazine website and is sponsored by a gin maker. We beeline to the bar and order some gin drinks. I joke with Theresa that I most certainly will not know anyone at the party, then I see a guy I know who also happens to be a photographer. I try to avoid eye contact. He sees me, we greet, he starts taking to Theresa, I escape. Once Theresa regroups with me I inform her that the guy is a fucking toolbag who used to be what both of us once were: the studio manager at George Brown Studio, my current residence. I tell her that on more than one occasion, people walked in on him masturbating. Yeah, gross. We take a seat on a bench and commence with people watching. Now that I’m sitting and looking around I realize what a scene the place is. There’s a guy with a camera running around snapping photos of all the beautiful people. The guy who owns the magazine is here and I’m introduced to him by either Theresa or Stephan. I think his name is Don. Theresa tells me he also owns the magazines Surface and Inked. He has a Buddha belly and is wearing a sweater and does not look the way I’d imagine an owner of hip magazines to look. Which I like. Because the asshole I’m sitting next to has eyeliner on and is wearing a single fingerless glove on his left hand. It dawns on me that this is probably an event that people in the fashion industry, or whatever industry this is, would kill people to be at, judging from the amount of peacocking and huckstering I’m witnessing. Tokion was the second magazine to ever publish anything I wrote, so I have in my heart a warm place for them, but who or what exactly I’m not sure where to find in this room. Theresa isn’t really feeling it either and Stephan has been in search and destroy mode since we got here, so we finish our drinks and prepare our exodus. Theresa tries to find Stephan to tell him goodbye, but fails. Outside there is a massive throng of well-dressed, well-scrubbed young and fanciful Manhattanites crowding around the velvet rope. They look like the sheer face of a glacier, pieces occasionally breaking off and slipping into the ocean of open sidewalk before disappearing behind the doors. The palace guard in the black suit warns me, “All exits are final.”

May 28, 2009

How To Be Warm

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 11:27 pm

“I’m so sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it, really. It doesn’t matter.”

“Tell me one thing that matters and I’ll tell you why it doesn’t.”

“Wow. What a… I don’t know. Depressing way of…” She sort of shrugs and shakes her head. “What a horrible world view.”

March 26, 2009

Away From Home

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 4:29 am

This was from a project I did for school last year that I never finished and probably never will finish. All my notes and artwork are in storage in New Paltz. Since it’ll probably never get completed, I figured I might as well put it here. It was for a class about graphic literature. The text is lifted from Just Another Soldier. Self-plagiarism is the best.

March 25, 2009

I Am Not Who I Am

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 4:20 pm

Mandy had decided she wanted a new body and was going to transfer herself over to the new one immediately. I never got a chance to see the new body, so I didn’t know how to recognize her. Once she had transferred herself, she went out with some friends and had left her old body folded up in an old milk crate. She had discarded her former body and didn’t really care what was done with it. I felt like it should be disposed of properly, so I put it in the cab of Matt’s truck and began driving to the dump. I looked over at her folded-up body and put my hand on her arm. Her skin was smooth, the way I remembered it, but her body was cold. I knew that this body wasn’t her anymore, but it was the only body I knew her to have and it was the only way I knew how to identify with her. I still felt a keen attachment to that body and I wanted it to be her. Even though I knew she wasn’t gone, I missed her intensely. I began to cry.

A synthetic goose pheromone mist sprayer was set up in front of a large oscillating fan on the edge of the parade field. As a formation of geese approached, the sprayer emitted a large cloud of scentless atomized pheromones that blew directly across my body and face and quickly dissipated into the air above the field. The guys leveled their shotguns toward the geese and with great deliberateness fired in turn. They all missed horribly except for one whose shotgun had been loaded with a yellow rubber ball and when fired, the projectile flew through the air so slowly that it hit the bird with a gentle ‘pat’ then merely dropped to the ground leaving the bird unharmed. I muttered, “Oh, that did a whole lot of good!” It was frustrating to watch them do so poorly something I found so easy.

I then looked into the mirror on the wall of the bathroom and realized I didn’t recognize the face I saw. I was relatively certain that this wasn’t my face. As I’ve grown older, my eyebrows have thinned—something that has given me some consternation. Thick, healthy eyebrows are a symbol of strength and a component of attractiveness for men. The face I saw had fuller eyebrows, but the rest of the face was all wrong. This face had a much larger nose. This really upset me. I really liked my nose. This nose was not very attractive. And now that I looked more closely, the eyebrows met in the middle somewhat, a sizeable tuft of hairs sprouting out between them. This was no good. As I surveyed the rest of the face in the mirror, I concluded that it was not a very attractive face. I felt that my usual face was barely attractive enough to get most people to want to interact with me. I wasn’t beautiful, but I could work with the looks I had. But this face? I was so upset. I didn’t like this face at all. It was a struggle enough with the face I had, but now that I had this different face I didn’t know how I’d ever get anyone to love me.

October 8, 2008

Coinstar Shopping List

Filed under: Short Stories — Jason Christopher Hartley @ 4:19 pm

I got an email from my bank yesterday with the subject heading “Account Has Insufficient Funds”. It read:

Date: 10/5/2008
Transaction number: 1
Insufficient funds amount: $7.27
Transaction Paid: Yes
Fee Assessed: $35.00
Transaction number: 2
Insufficient funds amount: $7.85
Transaction Paid: Yes
Fee Assessed: $35.00

One of those seven dollar charges was for a pack of Camel Lights I bought with my check card after paying for gas with cash before driving into the city. The other seven dollar charge was for a six-pack of Bud Light I bought at a different gas station that night when I got back home. It was two in the morning when I bought that beer. There was a well dressed young girl with a telescoping-handled and wheeled suitcase at the gas station when I bought it. She was standing in front of the register and was using the phone found behind the counter. Whoever she was calling wasn’t answering. The Turkish cashier stood mutely why she muttered to him something like, “Do you know if they’re open?” She was visibly agitated. I suspect she was calling the taxi company in town. There’s only one and they close too early to be of any real use. Once she cleared out I bought the beer. The clerk ID’d me. When I got outside the girl was was standing in front of the pay phone. My friend’s truck (which I am in charge of and drive while he’s away in Iraq working for a contracting company) was parked illegally. As I walked toward it holding the beer that was now in a white plastic shopping bag, I called out to her, “Do you need a ride somewhere?” She quickly responded, “No.” She seemed to be futzing with her cell phone. Her quick negative response along with the beer and the illegally parked truck all amounted to me feeling creepy and suspicious. I resented her a little after that. I wanted to help, not to be made to feel bad. I went home and drank all six beers while playing World of Warcraft. The beer did virtually nothing and I accomplished virtually nothing in WoW. I went to bed sometime after 4am.

Early this morning I got another email from my bank. It had the subject heading “Available Balance” which is sent daily. It read:

Date: 10/8/2008
Available Balance: -$80.91

Awesome. A forty dollar pack of cigarettes and a forty dollar six-pack of beer put me eighty bucks in the hole. If Mandy finds out about this, she’ll be furious. I once did some work on her car where I had to repeatedly buy different sizes of plastic rivets from the auto parts store until I found the the ones that properly fit into the front skirt that was partially hanging from the front bumper and dragging on the ground. Each purchase of rivets was only for a few dollars, but later, when my bank informed me that I was overdrawn, each of those three dollar rivets cost me an additional thirty-five dollars. When I begged the bank to please drop some or all of those fees, they told me they’d pass the matter along to my branch who would look into it and make a decision. I never heard back from my branch, nor did I receive any sort of refund. This was my other bank in Utah. In Utah, banks also tell you to go fuck yourself, but more politely.

I woke up this morning with the intent of taking my laptop to the coffee shop and doing some writing. Instead I stayed home and played World of Warcraft most the day. I did sixteen daily quests. I have only recently started doing the daily quests. I recently dumped from my quest log all the quests that require groups that ultimately result in rewards that would be of no use to me. Now I have room in my quest log to do dailies, which is a much better way to earn gold and reputation. I should have done this a long time ago.

After I finished the dailies and felt adequately guilty for not having done anything of substance with my day, I showered, got dressed (I had been in my underwear all day), and hopped in my friend’s truck with my plastic jug of coins. I drove to the grocery store and dumped those coins into the Coinstar. It pained me to think the machine takes 8.9 percent of all the cash I put into it, but the only option for avoiding that fee was to have the money put into a gift card for Starbucks, Amazon.com, Circuit City, or other well-known retailers. I needed dish soap and barbeque sauce from the grocery story. I also needed to try to mitigate some of the damage to my pathetic checking account. I figured I might be able to get forty bucks or so from my change. I figued my bank might have to wait to get their money because I was making baby back ribs tonight and I was gonna need barbeque sauce and dish soap for that. I was currently out of both.

After the Coinstar was done doing its business cointing my coins and taking .089 from each of those pennies, it spit me out a receipt for $102.41. Woot! I handed the receipt to the customer service clerk without saying a word. I enjoy effecient communication. It is often unnecessary to speak in most of your daily transactions such as this. Talking during an interaction like this is like putting an artificially flavored and artificially colored sauce on it.

I walked over to the dish soap ailse and found a bottle of what I had just run out of: Ultra Palmolive Fresh Green Apple Spring Sensations Concentrated Dish Liquid. I then walked over to the aisle that has ketchup and mustard, found where the Premium Bull’s-Eye Barbeque Sauce Original was located– the barbeque sauce I usually use for ribs– but instead decided to pick up the Squeezable Sweet Baby Ray’s Gourmet Sauces Award Winning Barbeque Sauce. I don’t like falling into anything too habitual. It makes me feel pathological. After waiting in the self-checkout line for a college girl who wanted a refund on a box of Kleenex for which she couldn’t get a coupon discount, I rung up my two items and paid by inserting a twenty dollar bill into the machine. The receipt read:

EZ SHOPPER #16         6:52pm 10/08/08
Tran 80147 Terminal    16 Cashier 00433
SWT BBY RAYS BBQ                2.99 *
PALM SENS GRN AP                2.69  T
           Total        $5.90
Cash                    $20.00
Subtotal                 $5.68
Tax Paid                 $0.22
Total                    $5.90
Change                   $14.10

With the remaining cash I had, I hopped in the truck, drove over to my bank at the other end of the parking lot (driving the wrong way for half the parking lot’s length), and deposited eighty-two bucks into the ATM. I had forgotten what the deficit was in my account, but I knew it was eighty-something. After I finished my transaction, the receipt read:

10/08/08  18:57

Deposit to    Checking

Cash Deposit Amount           $82.00
     2  x       $1     $2.00
     4  x      $20    $80.00

Total Deposit                  $82.00
Posts On                     10/08/08
Chk Available Balance           $1.09

With the six bucks I had left, plus eight I had previously, I hopped back into the truck, drove back over to the wine store that’s part of the same strip mall as the grocery story and the bank, then went inside to see how much Bourbon I could get for fourteen dollars. The smallest bottle of Jim Beam they had was $24.95. I abandoned the Bourbon idea and perused the magnum-sized bottles of wine. I found a bottle of Foxhorn Vineyards American Cabernet Sauvignon for $6.99.

It’s almost 9pm now. I should start working on those ribs before Mandy gets here.