Fiction

An excerpt from OFF THE YOGA MAT manuscript appears on the Blog  Writing Yoga®. (click to see full excerpt)  It begins like this:

Nathaniel and Gil entered the stark warehouse below Canal Street; sage-scented fumes engulfed them and new age music droned...


My short story "Hovering" was read at the Liars' League series at KGB Bar in the East Village by actress Michaela Morton. Click here for audio file and text.

Here is an excerpt from the opening of  Off the Yoga Mat,  my novel manuscript. Comments welcome! SEEKING AGENT AND/OR PUBLISHER.  CONTACT Tribecagal312@gmail.com

OFF THE YOGA MAT

(Upmarket Fiction, 84,000 words)

Chapter One “Inflexible”

Nate

 Nate Dart lived where he sat, on a beat-up swivel chair in his East Village tenement apartment.  His place contained a table, a frayed rug, a desk, an alcove with a double bed. He rolled his chair towards the small window with only a hint of winter light cutting across the wall of the adjacent building on Avenue B. If he raised his chair, adjusted the angle of its tilt, maybe he’d charge ahead on his long-deferred, sick-of yet in-love-with dissertation. He got down on his knees to fidget with the seat and wheel base; a twinge in his back corresponded with a creak of the chair. “What the fuck,” he cursed, closing his eyes, flipping brown hair from his face. He considered turning on the small television to watch the news; then he noted the unopened Federal Express envelope on the table, its large looped handwriting resembling the shape of an old man’s spectacles. With the red logo cut off, the return address label said “The Maryland State Univers.”

            The package was from Michael Offendorf, the crusty dissertation mentor with whom he’d been out of touch. But after an argument with his girlfriend Nora, when she complained about his procrastinating and lack of a steady job, after he had labeled her a corporate shill, Nate mailed Offendorf two chapters. Now he’d get the yay or nay, figure out if there was reason to celebrate. Nora was on her way over, things being below slow at her office this first week of the new year.  Nate tuned a vintage radio in his collection, a beauty with a glowing dial, to WBGO, the jazz station. He grew absorbed in a fine burst of melody from Louis Armstrong’s horn—for a few minutes, he let himself be transported to a small nightclub in New Orleans.

January, 1999. First month, final year of the twentieth century. In Nate’s version of time based on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, all species connect to parent-species, link with ancestors, creating gradual transitions. He didn’t consider the year 2000 a revelation. Nate drew on Darwin in his thesis, a study of jealousy, that painful covetous sensation we’ve all experienced. When jealousy gets aroused, it feels like an entity. Was it also chemical? As Nate witnessed the preening displays of graduate students competing for their professor’s praise, when he noted their bald resentment over each other’s accomplishments, it dawned on him to consider jealousy in the Darwinian “struggle for life.”  Nate adored those birds, the blue-footed boobies Darwin noted during the Beagle voyage, ungainly on land but graceful in water. The males known for their dancing to impress a potential mate, creating a frenzy like his friend Gil disco-strutting and then break dancing in nightclubs to attract women. What happened to the birds when they failed?  How many chances to land a potential mate?  Had jealousy played a part? 

            “I’m not the jealous type,” Nate would announce to anyone curious. “I’m an only child without siblings to rival. My cousin Daniel, he’s great at everything. We don’t see each other much, so there isn’t a chance to compare who is better.”

             On the other hand, Nora envied her friends with brilliant careers, juggling the demands of husbands, catering to the whims of young children. At age 39-and-a-half, Nora panicked about that Y2K prophecy.  “We are turning forty. The 9 will become a 0,” she explained. “Computers are going to crash, destroy time keeping. I need to settle down. My parents beg for a grandchild.  Nate, did I tell you that my dad needs prostate surgery?”

            Computers and society might melt down, or so the headlines screamed. More frightening to Nate: relatives and friends developing cancers, dropping dead of a coronary (his father’s sister, just last year, an acquaintance from graduate school in the past few months).  The vast number of homeless people and hopeless people near and far. Nate preferred to scribble in a notebook anyway; his old PC clone would die regardless of Y2K predictions. He couldn’t be bothered with technology when so many people, our troubled planet on its tilted axis, needed saving.

Nate removed the books in his bed before Nora arrived. He tucked in the sheet and blanket carefully. Shut off the radio as Nora disliked the scratchy sounds.

             When Nora entered, she brushed his lips with hers. With her index finger, she poked the gap in his dimple chin. He settled back into his chair.

 “Let me sit here.” She plopped onto his lap, throwing her arms around his neck which made the chair tilt and squeak. “Careful,” he said. “This old swivel can’t handle both of us.” They should move to the bed inside the small alcove, idle away the hours in each other’s clutches like they had in the early days.

            “What’s that?” Nora said, spying the package.

            “It’s from Offendorf,” Nate said. “Arrived yesterday.”

            “You haven’t looked? This could provide the spark that gets you going. Shall I open it?” Nora asked.

            “Be my guest.”

She picked up the package. Tore the perforated strip with such force that the envelope destructed.  The pages scattered.

            “For God sakes, Nora.”

            “He didn’t use a paperclip,” she said, down on her knees. “What a douche.”

            “Unless he’s had a few pints, then he’s a clown.” Nate gathered papers spread over the floor with his foot. They saw multiple ink blots, scribbles.

            She held up a page. “Here’s what he has to say.”

             She read out loud:

            Dear Nate: You’ve made progress on this study of jealousy. I find there’s WAY TOO MUCH Darwin. It may be trendy to consider evolutionary theory, but I don’t care for that approach. Remove the sections I HAVE MARKED. Also take out feminism and limit psychoanalysis. Shakespeare stands out. MAKE MORE OF HIM. Cut all the parts underlined and develop others. You’ve inserted too many footnotes. Let’s put this baby to bed. When are you coming to campus? Bring the revision−we’ll talk defense date. Oh, I might know of a teaching position.”

            “It makes sense,” said Nora, leaning against Nate, fishing for the brighter side. “He wants you to simplify. Finish and get a job. He’s offering to help.”

            “No, Nora. He hates it. He said too much Darwin. That is my hook.”

She even nicknamed him “Nate Darwin.” When they first met at a reception after a lecture at the Strand Bookstore, he had toted a dirty backpack and his copy of Descent of Man.  Nora swung a leather briefcase, wore high heels and a stylish suit. Once they started chatting over a glass of gratis wine, she had asked “Why research jealousy? Isn’t it something to get over? The Galapagos giant turtle guy. Was he jealous?”

            “Certainly,” he said. Darwin had rivals, predecessors, critics. Nate’s dissertation considered how jealousy affects us a species, then tests concepts on characters and plots from Shakespeare. If you’re green with envy like Iago, maybe it’s because of the reptilian brain, where we desire others’ achievements. A fatal weakness. This flaw also encourages risky behavior, magic making, revenge.  Nate analyzed how jealousy influenced Shakespeare’s rogues, tragic heroes, rivalrous siblings. He found added inspiration in the grandiose, envy-driven behavior of his peers and the citizens of New York City.

            A keen observer, Nate wasn’t fond of taking risks. Nora had approached him after listening to that lecture on “What’s Wrong and Right About Apocalyptic Thought.” For Nate, it was definitely what was wrong.  When he told Nora “I’m a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies. It’s a mix of literature, science, and social science,” she seemed impressed. She confessed to having sacrificed some intellect to work in corporate marketing; “Can I read your work?” she had asked. When he mentioned the resilience of Galapagos boobies, she stepped closer, touched his arm.

No matter how relentlessly the birds got pecked at and bitten by siblings, no matter how often their food had been snatched from their beaks by other birds, when they reached maturity it turned out well. The persecuted ones, who might have been jealous, prone to self-destruction, they attracted partners and raised families. So, there’s hope for those of us who were bullied,” he said, puffing out his chest. 

“That’s a wonderful anecdote,” she replied in a soft and feathery tone. “Let’s exchange phone numbers.”

Soon after, Nate and Nora became the “it” couple at the regular Friday afternoon socials for social scientists, run by the university where Nate once held a fellowship.  Corporate Nora, interdisciplinary Nate. Their seven-month involvement was his longest, most successful adult relationship. He cared deeply for Nora although his insecurities with women prevented him from admitting it often. She took him for lychee and ginger ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, known for recipes featuring exotic fruit.  She brought him hot soup when he came down with a virus; she whipped up an omelet on the spot some nights he’d read literary theory for hours, neglecting to eat. They exchanged his chair for another when they dined out, if his seat appeared tippy (on their first date at Angelica Kitchen, he had traded a rickety chair for a sturdier one).

“It’s our ritual,” he said. “Chairs instead of a song.”

 

Nora believed in Nate. Yet her frequent nagging drove him batty. Was it possible he hardly wrote anything out of spite?

            She walked with him towards the bed. “If you disagree with Offendorf talk to him. Work it out! Ask him about that job.”

            He pursed his lips. “When I was his research assistant, we got along. He’s soured on me. He won’t listen to reason.”

            “You deserve success. I want it for you. I want it for us.”

“You've been so supportive,” he said, placing his hand on her shoulder. “I should thank you more often.” He bent to kiss her, slowly.

“Honestly, Nate, you know the best way to thank me.”

He kissed her again.

“A millennial baby,” she said.

“Oh Nora. There’s no way I can give you that now.”

“I knew you’d say that,” Nora said, stepping back.  “Why not? There’s never a perfect time.”

 “I’ve told you. I am not ready to be a father. I can’t handle it. Look at me.”

“You’d be very loving.”

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