Buying cassava was a new experience. Part of a study attempting to get more in touch with the actual results of the Colombian Exchange. It was just something I couldn't really visualize--all these different crops moving this way or that over the Atlantic Ocean? It didn't make sense to me how this would make that much a difference, because weren't they evolving based on climate changes? And if the climates were similar, then wouldn't they be pretty much the same?
"No," you said this morning over breakfast before sending me off for the manioc, "consider me and you: we both come from suburban families with mild religious backgrounds and we end up exact opposites, didn't we?" This was a question I didn't want to answer, because it couldn't mean good news for our relationship. Besides gender, I didn't really believe that opposites attracted. But you had written whole term papers on the Colombian Exchange--not just the crops but even the epidemiology so maybe you had a point...
"Sir," the man at the vegetable stand brought me back to the present, "what do you want?"
I want to know the answers to the questions unknown. I want to rule the world. I want to have as much money so as to make the concept of money, to me, useless. I want to eradicate my own disgusting bits of capitalism, my own dirty parts. "I want to try some mani--I mean cassava." Names were important to me, of course manioc was cassava, cassava was manioc. Using the words I had always used was a way of keeping my childhood close, of forgetting the man I was quickly growing to hate that I was turning into.
"You've come to the right place," the man said and smiled somewhat mischievously, "I've got a feeling that the girlfriend wants you to cook for once." Was it that written out on my face? I had always been inept in the kitchen, unable to decipher even the smallest of recipes, having difficulty remembering how to work the stove, etc. It didn't help that you were a regular Emeril, even dispersing the "bam!" intermittently in a way that I found cute. It also didn't help that you wanted to involve me in this--it was one of those things, like music, that I had allowed myself to avoid understanding completely for the better part of my life. The enigma was a large part of what I loved in these far reaches of my universe. You, obviously, played a decent violin; but this had worked in my favor, since I'd bought you one for your birthday and it had led to a speeding up of certain relationship processes...
"Yeah, I guess that's about it," I replied.
"You're the novelist, right?" the guy said as he looked through a few potatoes. They were all just potatoes to me. "Up there on the third floor?" He pointed to my apartment building. He was a bit familiar, perhaps someone I'd shared an elevator with.
"Fourth floor, actually. How'd you know?"
"Ha, that's where I live...sound of the typewriter keeping me up at night occasionally."
"Oh, really? Sorry...I didn't know it was that loud. But I guess the sound carries..."
"Not much a problem, mate," he said, picking up a particular spud, "you rock it old style with the typewriter though..."
"Yeah, it's the only way I can write. And I'm not a novelist. You have to finish a novel for that..."
"Oh shut up," he replied somewhat jovially, "this good for you?"
"Is that a cassava?" He hit his face lightly with his palm. I reflected on the fact that you were so interested in new things, in anything that was just coming out. I had never thought about the contradiction between the two of us in a good light before. It was almost as if you were an anti-depressant, as I was stuck in dwelling on our differences and their complication of the relationship. I paid him and left.
Now, trying to prepare this meal, I reflect back on what you yourself said about it in the most compromising of places. "Think about it this way: when you write you are the writer and the 'you' if there's a 'you,' that's the reader and they couldn't be more different, could they? Their functions are entirely separate and yet you reach this pact called reading." And then I didn't know what you were talking about, but accepted your kiss on the cheek before you turned over and adjusted the sheets. But now, on this June afternoon, waiting on you to come back from work, thinking about my own current lack of a job, it just seems to make all too much sense.
under the hood
In the first sentence of the second paragraph I added the article "the" to make it "the manioc" so the reader could hopefully realize I am speaking about the cassava with a new name. The paragraph ends on a note that hearkens me to the early Radiohead song "You," which is actually a very good fit with this piece (I typed it up listening to my new favorite by the band, "The Butcher.") I especially make the connection between the last sentence of this paragraph and the line "and why should I believe myself not you?" The fourth paragraph was originally drastically different, beginning with the quote (I added the extra wants). Following the quote only "Names were important to me," is the same in the final and original versions, but was followed by "but had no effect on you. When our professor in the class we met in had first referred to the crop of the Arawak as manioc, you'd just gone right along. I put up a bit of a fight, however superficially, calling it cassava because that was the word I had grown up using for it." The fifth paragraph originally ended after the quote with the italics starting a new paragraph. I thought it flowed better without the enter & indent. "He was a bit familiar, perhaps someone I'd shared an elevator with," is a new sentence. "But I guess the sound carries..." was originally "But I guess sound does carry then..." Later in the dialogue, a reference to "crop" was changed to "spud" to play on the potatoes. I amended the penultimate paragraph, adding "in a good light" to a sentence and changing "It was almost as if the world had suggested it to me" to "It was almost as if you were an anti-depressant," and "noting" to "dwelling on," plus adding "and their complication of the relationship."
behind the scenes
"June" was named after a month to reference some of the prose poems of Tao Lin's you are a little bit happier than i am (which loyal readers will recognize as the title I ripped for my own book) which are titled by months. I wanted to write one of these for myself. And then I started writing... This happens quite a bit. You try to go one way and it goes off in another. The "cassava" addition is odd, I know. The story behind them is that I have become very interested in Caribbean studies and the Colombian Exchange is one of the more intriguing concepts in the field. Finding this appearing in my fiction is I think (I hope) a good element; the bizarre reality of this interest lends something to the character. The last paragraph seems to comment on the entire story's point of view (i.e. you and I) and is a recovery or explanation for one of the odd parts of the story. This would appear in a longer story for the class, where the same point of view would be used--it was what interested me at the time--the idea of the story as a play, the reader and writer are acting characters in. Ultimately I think several aspects of this story might be expanded; writing it, I wanted to continue it further, but the piece does come to an end. The idea of holding onto our youth..."Using the words I had always used was a way of keeping my childhood close, of forgetting the man I was quickly growing to hate that I was turning into" (a new line you'll know I've just written while typing up the story if you read the "under the hood" bit) is a very concise and abstract area where I could find much to write about. The influences of this line go back to nice anecdote.
Bret Easton Ellis has a few scenes in both Less than Zero and American Psycho that mirror each other to the extent that nearly all the same lines are used. This paints a difference between the two books by making the two characters separated by nuance; essentially the effect is to paradoxically make the books both more different and similar. (Have I said this before? Am I repeating myself again?) What I really connect to my own line is a divide Ellis creates in the Less than Zero line "I'm surprised at how much effort it takes to raise my head up and look at her." In American Psycho this is "I'm not surprised at how much effort it takes to raise my head and look at her."It is in these spaces that the entire story was written. I hope this makes sense to someone other than me perhaps.