next chapter displays a miniaturette shaker, water-based, Atlantis-domed.
Inside the miniaturette is a giant one thousand times the expected size,
on a surfboard, miniature fishes littering the shaken dome in an unconvincing
giant wears red trunks and is himself flesh-colored (in an ambiguous way).
He has brownish hair and pale pink lips.
rushes on all sides of the surfboard. The giant senses the water’s turbulence,
but is confused by it. The ocean, he rationalizes, is an escalator that
he is not on. When he is done scrutinizing the water, he notices that the
surfboard seems fused to his feet and nearly vomits.
more levelheaded reflection, he still decides the surfboard is obscene,
and tries not to think about it.
gradually fades as night falls and the stars peel across the curve of the
shaker and over the giant’s head.
the sun rises, the giant, weary from a sleepless night of wind-and-wave-resisting
muscle clenching, releases his sinews in defeat, lets go of his inhibitions,
and, hunched over in exhaustion, borrows a miniature wave to the coast.
* * *
THE READER IS then informed that, not across town or county line or anything
so specific, there is a moustache. And a beard. A very weak beard. This
is the meager brand of facial hair found on the cheeks of adolescent boys
and moderately hirsute women. But the face is not a juvenile or feminine
one. There are wrinkles—shallow grooves—at the corners of the eyes and
across the forehead. The skin is light acorn; in the sun, which might
now be shining briefly through the clouds, the face appears wet, and almost
golden. The hair is straight, dark, shorn close, bristly. The face’s features
are still, quiet. Except for the nostrils. The nostrils flare and contract,
as if a lesson on how to flare and contract nostrils. Far below the nostrils,
the tongues of several men and women lick a set of male genitals, and
to the left and right and below and above them more tongues and breasts
and penises and vaginas and anuses rub on and in each other, their bodies,
like rolling pins, flattening the soft green grass. This goes on for days,
weeks, with a few of them taking breaks beside a bay shore only to play
on the skins of bongos, rhythmically, pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat, matching
the rise and fall of the other naked bodies. Finally, the man with the
flaring nostrils stops his flaring and his mouth opens wide, gasping for
air as he rolls onto his back and drifts asleep on the grass, the white
clouds in the sky above shifting and aligning to form letters and then
words. Soon the clouds say ‘Xiang: you stupid hippy. Quit wasting all
your time on sex.’
* * *
PART SEVEN: DANNY (the giant) has taken a job at the coast diner, slinging
shakes and fries. His mobility, however, is limited. Yet, just as the
surfboard has become a nuisance, it has also become an attraction, and
Danny wisely quits the diner. Fat Midwestern children with sunburns pay
three dollars to have their pictures taken standing on the board as Danny
moves it like a rocking horse. The board is numb.
It feels good.
Danny begins taking Percosets he filched
from an ex-girlfriend with a torn ACL.
While wandering lamely the dunes, Danny
wonders why he was so quick to start a Percoset habit. He feels a hole,
a hole in his heart. Or his leg. This hole may represent the ocean, but
it may not. Danny has been wandering the dunes for days and passes out.
He awakes to a woman who dabs water on his forehead. Shortly, this woman
moves into a trailer bungalow with Danny.
When she caresses the board while they watch
TV infomercials, Danny feels his arms and legs which he swears he hasn’t
felt in weeks.
They feel thick. And hollow.
* * *
EXPECTANTLY, WE RETURN to Xiang, who has sworn off sex for good and who
has been holed up in his garage, wearing nothing but flared jeans, for
months, secretly building a device out of wood, metal, plastic, and sand.
When he’s done, he opens the garage door and shouts through a megaphone
to lure passers-by to his curiosity. Trains of SUVs loaded with pickaxes,
shovels, and tin trays roll steadily past and into the hills; none of
them heed Xiang’s calls. He lazily flips the switches on the invention:
it doesn’t work anyway.
Xiang considers going to a brothel to clear
his mind, but quiets these urges by examining a keepsake his mother gave
him long before she died. A photo of two arms, each of a different child,
each reaching for opposite edges of the photo, the portion between the
two arms burned away, the center rippled and black like the surface of
a burnt log. It was said that one of the arms was Xiang’s, and it often
comforted him to contemplate the photo skin and photo bones, comparing
them to his own, wondering which was his, and who the other arm belonged
to. Now, in his driveway, Xiang sees the foolishness in unlocking the
mysteries in machines when his past is riddled with them. He has always
longed to place a body on the other arm in the photo, but now he understands
that he must finally seek out the place depicted in its background: a
concrete wall with waves painted on it.
* * *
DANNY SEES A very good movie and begins carrying a George Clooney figurine
in his pocket.
Danny has been popping Percosets with regularity,
and the bottle has emptied. The surfboard slowly begins to tingle. Danny
searches the trailer for something to occupy his mind or the hole somewhere
in his body. He stays up all night reading Johny Got His Gun.
When he drifts to sleep on the couch, he dreams his board has been severed
from his body, and rats are gnawing on his toes, which may in fact be
his knees. "God!" he yells, waking himself, sickened.
In a fit of rage, Danny throws Clooney past
the lowered ragtop of his new Mustang.
Danny begins taking advice from a phone
psychic named Vendetta, who predicts Danny will soon have someone new,
but strangely not new, entering his life. Danny is curious and expectant,
but chooses not to tell his girlfriend.
* * *
FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT of Xiang, who, in his years of travel, has lost
most of his hair, but still wears a long ponytail from the back of his
I tire of my search for the wall of waves,
for the other photo arm, and yet, at the same time, there is nothing I
want more to do. But I am a hungry traveler: for food and for love. I
spot an organic café and take up at a tiny table that barely embraces
my book (the photo is a bookmark) in the café’s corner. I am giving
the woman across the way ‘the eye.’ She is entirely indifferent. The females
here are all bohemian sophisticates—never not in charge.
I might act indifferent in return, quietly
insisting on the brand of pathetic friendship based on apparent chance
encounters at the STD clinic where she works. She would come to respect
me not only for my (perceived) indifference toward her but also for my
opportune, seemingly spontaneous, perspectives on the subjects of loss
and childhood and damaged photographs. She would begin to burn with curiosity
of my life, of which I would remain remarkably reticent. In what would
be a slow and meticulous process of her giving and me not taking, one
that would coalesce over several purgatorial months, I would come to signify
a section that had been burned, without her knowing, from a photo from
Alternately, I could badger her.
- Did you get that necklace in the city?
She glances at me, but doesn’t answer.
* * *
WHILE THE MONEY Danny has collected from the rocking board photos has
been modest, his fame has multiplied exponentially, predominantly in the
Midwest. Danny does not realize this until he begins seeing highway billboards
of plastic men on surfboards, wearing brand name jeans or smoking brand
name cigarettes or eating brand name cereal. Danny hires a lawyer and
agent, who both worry that it may be too late to capitalize on his already
over-exposed likeness, outside of lawsuits, that is. But Danny’s prayers
are answered, as he quickly lands a movie deal opposite Gwenyth Paltrow.
Months later, as Danny departs his palatial
estate in the hills (the trailer and the girlfriend have been dumped)
for an autograph signing at a nearby Mission, he reminisces about the
psychic, Vendetta, who correctly predicted Gwenyth, and those of her inner
circle, would enter his life and move in with him. He has deduced this
hole of his does not represent the ocean, which he nevertheless wishes
to not stand atop again.
At the Mission, addressing the crowd, Danny’s
bare arms shine like a dashboard.
Looking at this, an Indian becomes alarmed:
the plastic is bubbling.
Danny’s arms are moved out of the sunlight.
* * *
THE NEXT THREE sections feature Xiang in threadbare T-shirts, accompanied
by severe body odor, diligently returning to work on his invention. He
subjects the device to several difficult tests, including the following
Spanish language exam.
FILL IN THE BLANKS WITH THE CORRECT SPANISH NOUNS:
(albaricoques) (papera) (buscadors) (árboles) (pueblos)
(amasada) (ladrillo) (campana) (árboles frutales) (bellotas)
(criatura) (ganaderos) (alambres) (pistas) (Amazonias) (computador)
(almeja) (tiempo) (cazadors) (casas)
Our imaginary island is populated by pagan [ ].
It is before [ ].
When we wish to eat, we carry the fish and [ ]
from the ocean, pound the acorns into [ ],
and pick berries. The Mission [ ]
now tolls, it is time to eat, pray, work. Homes may be made of tile
and adobe [ ].
Our oak [ ] have
disappeared, the [ ]
are no more. We are met with chicken pox, [ ],
and measles. There are rumors of fur [ ],
cattle [ ], and
gold [ ]. We are
linked by telegraph [ ]
and railroad [ ].
The [ ] have swelled.
We see miles of planted fruit trees, [ ].
We must pit prunes, cut [ ],
boil cherries. The hills are filled with subdivisions of turreted gingerbread
[ ]. If something
confuses us, we can now ask the [ ].
The heart of every [ ]
is a metronome given one billion beats.
The machine gets every answer correct.
What’s more, the machine has intimated to Xiang that Spanish was once
likely the lingua franca of both himself and his fire-eaten companion
from the photo, who he is more determined than ever to one day converse
* * *
STILL AT THE Mission, Danny reads from something he scribbled on a matchbook
cover on his way over this morning:
We have had uncommon good health and
luck on our route, not having had a case of sickness in the company for
the last four weeks. The country is becoming very hilly; the streams rapid,
more clear, and assuming the character of mountain streams. The air is
very dry and clear, and our path is lined with wild sage and artemisia.
The crowd compliments Danny on his observances.
He begins weeping. He tells them the words on the matchbook actually read:
It was predicted someone new but not
new would enter my life. I now suspect that person is myself, and yet
I continue to grieve for something or someone unknown to me. The ocean
may not be a place for men on small pieces of wood or fiberglass, but
this coast is most certainly not for men bearing cellulose or fiberglass
The crowd is doubly impressed and cries
for Danny. With their support, he pledges to pursue his enigmatic emotional
journey and to avoid the water. A few intimate members of the crowd finger
Danny’s eyes are riveted to their fingers.
* * *
THE READER THEN experiences an even more rapidly delivered split-narrative:
Xiang is seen doing his Tai chi and studying
Danny is taken to closely examining mirrors.
Xiang closes his eyes.
Danny bends to pick up a piece of torn or
Xiang’s feet sink deep into wet sand, the
sun setting orange.
Danny’s surfboard senses waves and a salty
breeze lapping at its side.
Xiang extends one hand to cup a mountain
Danny’s torso is consumed by a patch of
Xiang spots half of a figure, along the
coast, in the distance.
Danny’s torso emerges from the smog and
he eyes a faint silhouette, on the horizon.
Xiang peers at a man-made object, familiar,
at the figure’s base.
Danny squints and considers waving.
Xiang lays his hands out to feel taps of
Danny’s head is encircled by sea birds.
* * *
THE NEXT CHAPTER finds Xiang at a table in a convention hall, calmly
finishing a bowl of crab soup. When he is done, he eats the bowl, as it
is made of bread. He flips the makeshift Lunch Break sign at the table,
and dozens of convention attendees again rush to purchase his machines.
Xiang sells out in two hours. Pleased with himself, he picks up his bongos
and begins to play, and with each flattened and cupped palm, one, the
other, one, the other, Xiang experiences an inebriation of conventional
Without noticing it, Xiang has stopped playing
the bongos and is walking in the park, in the rain. He pulls his burned
photo from his pocket, where it has been gobbed with chocolat au lait.
There seems a dark chasm, not including the chocolat au lait
smear, between Xiang and the photo. He now senses he may never recover
the portion that turned to ash and probably drifted away in the wind.
He puts the photo away and reviews the prospects of visiting the STD clinic
yet one more time. The woman will be there. He’ll offer to make a mixed
tape for her.
* * *
SEVERAL CHAPTERS THEN detail Danny experiencing temporal narrative as
well as flashbacks to previous chapters. The reader is also allowed brief
glimpses of Danny in future chapters. When the future is depicted, the
narrative appears in italics to indicate these are events which have not
G carries Danny to the shore and boards
his plank. G looks expectantly to Danny. Danny is anxious, but tells G
to place G’s feet wider.
- That’s better, he says.
- I wish I had one, says G.
- You have no idea how naïve you sound.
- I want to let the waves carry me to the
end of the earth.
- They won’t carry you anywhere.
Danny can feel everything now, there is
saltwater insidiously coating the board, and the flatness of G’s bare
feet on the board is unnerving. They squeak and tickle him in a need-to-be-rough
sort of way. They make him feel impenetrable, but hollow, a fiberglass
obelisk. They make him feel like a Danny.