Benito Vergara

Ten Weekend Reads; Also, How I Dedicated My Life to Satan

In books, music on June 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm

1. Sometime when I was 13 or so, I dedicated my life to Satan.

I’m sure someone dared me to do it, but I don’t remember. Which means I had a witness — my brother, or my cousin — other than smiling or frowning deities, but I can’t recall for sure.

I do remember thinking about my poor parents if the whole infernal plan backfired: how they would have to find an exorcist in case I started levitating from my bed. Or have to clean up the thick green soup I’d spew onto the walls.

I declared my service to the Dark Lord in my bedroom. No upside-down crosses or burning candles or “Hotel California” played backwards accompanied my declaration of faith. I didn’t write any renunciations, or recite blasphemous revisions of the Apostle’s Creed. I simply took a deep breath and said something uninspired, like “I give my life to Satan.”

Silence. Nothing happened.

I was still there. I was still breathing. My head neither sprouted horns, nor was zapped by a bolt of punitive lightning. I had not been bestowed with powers of clairvoyance or the ability to hurl small objects across the room with my mind. My life of evil, ending before it even began.

My bedroom was still there, and it looked the same. My bed, my brother’s bed, our Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet posters on the wall. That one, with Tony Hadley facing the other direction as the rest of the band.

Years later I dedicated myself to Christ — a long story I shall not go into here — and was confirmed and baptized by immersion in holy water. That moment was accompanied by all the appurtenances of ritual designed to heighten the experience: the robes, the prayers, the congregation.

Nothing happened then either.

I was waiting to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Would it feel like a tingle in my spine? A sudden lightness in the soles of my feet? The clouds didn’t part, no dove descended from the sky, and no angelic choirs sang.

Looking back, I figure Satan just didn’t have any wonderful plans for my life. He simply had no use for a young uncorrupted Spandau Ballet fan, momentarily acting out in pimply teenage malaise, with no experience in the pleasures of the flesh. I wanted Satan in my life, but the old guy, ever the practical schemer, didn’t want me back.

Which leads me to more demons, circa 1775, via The Paris Review.

2. Leslie Jamison, “Catechism for the End of the World,” an introduction to Ryan Spencer’s “Such Mean Estate” (The New Yorker).

3. Claudia Rankine, “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning” (New York Times Sunday Magazine).

4 and 5. Alexander Chee on James Salter, from 2011. Then follow it up with an excerpt from A Sport and a Pastime, from 1966 (The Paris Review).

6. Columbia House was integral to the beginning of my musical education, via my mother when she ordered Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits as part of a 10-cassette package when we lived in California. (I think it was the only one of them that survived the Philippines; The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits and Frank Sinatra’s Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back was viciously attacked by mold, even as we attempted to replicate the slightly cooler temperature of Central California by placing the tapes in the freezer. That didn’t work either.) Anyhow, Annie Zaleski has a roundtable discussion / interview with former Columbia House employees, including Sasha Frere-Jones, as they “explain the shady math behind ’8 CDs for a penny‘” (The A.V. Club)

7. Mark Thompson is the deceptively affable fellow behind the monstrosity-filled Monstark Studios. I picked up his books at a local art fair recently and his books — especially Lepustrosities: Experiments Successful and Bugmen who Bear My Nose — are eloquent and horrid, suggesting a bestiary written by Lovecraft and Ligotti.

8. Issue 3 of The Austin Review was excellent; highlights were Jason Hill’s “Alex Gehry Changed His Status to Single” and Stephen Parrish’s “Metronome.”

9. The great Ian Penman has a wonderful article on Sinatra — his prose can be a little showy, but it’s gorgeous and well-crafted and the article is well worth reading even if you don’t care much about Sinatra. (I do.) Hard to pick which passages are my favorites, but I’ll settle for this, about the Sinatra / Jobim album:

Ten songs, 28’05”, voice never raised above a murmur: utter perfection. A music barely there, like pollen on a summer breeze, the drowsy strings not slathered all over everything, but coming and going like midnight optimism. Sinatra sings lines like ‘tall and tan and young and lovely’ – all these clicky, tricky consonants like soldiers on guard duty – and yet when you recall his voice it’s a soft, uncurling wave.

From “Swoonatra” (The London Review of Books)

10. “Is it possible that what we think of as genre boundaries are things that have been invented fairly recently by the publishing industry?” Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman talk about “genre” (The New Statesman).

Epic Weekend for the Middle-Aged.

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2015 at 7:31 pm

So I’ve historically reserved Sunday evenings stressing out about the soul-crushing week of work ahead. This is obviously the worst way to end the weekend, so I thought I’d look back instead.

As I approach middle age, what constitutes an “epic weekend” has become more sedate; traveling, music, partying, the overconsumption of regulated substances, etc. need not be thrown in. This weekend sure qualified as one, though certainly aided by unexpected presents (for Father’s Day!), and a visit from my daughter.

Smaller pleasures all, though no less satisfying:

  • a healthy home-cooked meal (turkey meatloaf, tofu and spinach, mashed potatoes — and bibingka made with brie, which kind of cancels the healthy part but I’m not complaining)
  • Google Hangouts with my dad and the rest of the family (it’s also his birthday in a couple of days)
  • several rounds of Love Letter with Izzy, who roundly defeated me
  • the roasted corn pizza at The Forge, made even better by the fact that we hardly ever go out anymore
  • 2500-odd words into a story about a guardian / mechanic of sorts and her relationship to her inventor mother and a machine — the closest I’ve gotten to sci-fi lately — and I’m a little frustrated because all I have are the characters and the setting and two detailed scenes but there’s zero plot, then I stop writing, and then I take a yoga class, then a shower, then BOOM the pieces suddenly fit.
  • And did I mention a great yoga class? Man I could barely do a downward dog a month ago. (Obviously Darlene had a lot to do with it.)

(Lastly, True freakin’ Detective is back? But I’m going to do exactly what I did with the first season and watch it all in one marathon sitting, so shhhhh.)

Weekend Reads: Somehow June Crept Up On Me

In books on June 6, 2015 at 3:52 pm

  • First up for your reading pleasure, a gorgeously creepy transnational tale by the awesome Isabel Yap, “Good Girls” (Shimmer)
  • DrFaustusAU draws Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” as Dr. Seuss (via Dangerous Minds)
  • “From above, the mass of the city looks arbitrary, as if someone flung paint at a map and said, ‘That’s L.A.’” Dayna Tortorici, “Los Angeles Plays Itself” (n+1)
  • Dina Nayeri’s O. Henry Prize-winning story, “A Ride out of Phrao” (Alaska Quarterly Review, via Lithub)
  • “Some sort of black jam in the middle of porridge is very nice, very striking in fact. And then a few flaked almonds. Be careful though, be very careful with flaked almonds; they are not at all suitable for morose or fainthearted types and shouldn’t be flung about like confetti because almonds are not in the least like confetti.” Claire-Louise Bennett’s “Morning, Noon and Night” (The White Review)
  • A fascinating series of essays on the “7 Deadly Sins of the Writing Life” by Suzanne Farrell Smith and Cheryl Wilder (Hunger Mountain). I think I relate to sloth the most.
  • “Now you are at the place of annihilation, now you are at the place of annihilation.” Angela Carter, “The Lady of the House of Love” (from The Bloody Chamber, via Electric Literature)