Tuesday, January 06, 2009

New Assignment: Word: Change

If you want to participate, the project completion date is Feb 7 2009.
Send an email to saije if you want to be added to creativegym.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Alyssa Harley: Project: Smoke


Archest slick twiggenbaggers
banking glasseyed souls,
napalm, A-bombs, daybongs
catnipping the bowls.

Smoke, dude, you got some smoke?
hotblood, redass smoke.
Blow up Al Kut, Bikini, Dresden,
Haiphong. Smoke. Smoke.


Jane Lerner: Project: Smoke

Chocolate Nut Candy with Smoke

1 cup sliced almonds
1/4 tsp each of smoked paprika and ground clove
1 tsp of smoked salt
2 bars (about 6 oz) of good-quality bittersweet chocolate (somewhere between 60 and 80%).


Toss the almonds with 1/2 tsp of the salt, plus all of the paprika and clove. In a 350°F oven, (or a toaster oven) toast the almonds until they are lightly browned, about 5-8 minutes, stirring a few times to prevent burning. Allow them to cool completely, and then chop them coarsely.
Break up the chocolate and melt it in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water.

Once the chocolate has melted, take the bowl off the heat and stir in the chopped nuts, completely coating them with chocolate.
Cover a baking sheet with parchment or plastic wrap. Scoop out heaping teaspoons of the chocolate-nut mixture onto the sheet pan. Sprinkle a bit more smoked salt on top of each candy. Freeze for at least 20 minutes. Keep cold until ready to eat. Enjoy!

Lisa Davis: Project: Smoke

What was most important back then, during those angst-filled mid-teen years, was to be from a family as fucked up as my friends’ families. That was what tied us together, our collective sense of domestic misfortune. It was what I craved, more than love or friendship: sympathy, the route to belonging.
Julie shared a home with her alcoholic mother and prurient stepfather, who more than once crossed the line from letch to pedophile. Maybe once a month or so she stayed with her coke-addled father in whatever hovel he happened to inhabit on Saratoga’s seedy West Side (except for the six months that he lived in a custom-built, three-story vacation house on the lake, when he was at the height of his dealing prowess and promised her all sorts of goodies, which he never delivered).
Amy’s parents were properly sauced within twenty minutes of returning from their 9-5ers at the unemployment office, deflated into matching Edith and Archie chairs before Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, which seemed to be on a perpetual loop at their house. All that cable television, wasted on saber tooth tigers.
Rachel lived across the street from Amy, in a matching folk Victorian that had been diced into apartments. Every three months or so, her mother chose to discard all of Rachel’s belongings, tossing them out the window into the industrial dumpster below. Rachel’s father had disappeared years ago.
Katie’s father, on the other hand, had surrendered legal rights to his children. She had actually fired her father, her mother’s bruises and black eyes evidence enough to get him tossed off her family tree.
I don’t know what was wrong at Kristin’s house. Her parents were just weird, suburban and weird. Her father’s facial features were too large, a little Lucien Freud trapped in Saratoga white trash.
All those malfunctioning familial ingredients explained the misbehaviors of our gang: the stealing, cheating, lying, overt sexual activity, mild juvey status that we courted.
What was wrong at my house? Something had me out in the middle of George Street, screaming the word “abusive” and pointing at the brick Italianate house that I so loved. Something had me stealing from relatives, skipping school, too lazy to wash dishes at the corner restaurant where my stepmother had procured for me a summer job. Something had me stoned most afternoons and some mornings, giving blowjobs to strangers at the Holiday Inn, passing afternoons in the closet, a steak knife flirting with my wrist. I looked at my siblings: geniuses, all of them, almost never in trouble. I clung to what I knew could be the cause: my father and his dependency on The Marijuana, to which my mother had on occasion referred, usually in the same breath that she noted the absence of the monthly child support check.
My father was a pothead.
This bode well for me, not only because I was allowed entry into the fucked-up-family club, but because it brought a steady stream of shaggy-haired teenage boys to the tiny room on our first floor where my father would teach them guitar after school and in the evenings. My father—self-trained, and unable to read music still at this point, in his early 40s—hated this job. He did not want to teach scales or theory. Instead he showed the kids the three chords in the one, four, five progression which lent them access to unlimited pop songs: The Dead and Neil Young and Bob Dylan, off key and leaking from behind that carved oak door with the polished porcelain knob. My father was a pothead, true. The problem was that he was cool.

Luckily, he was uninterested in me, lazy, regretful that he had procreated with my mother, markedly more in love with his second round of children than his first and prone not to punishing me but to acquiescing to my stepmother’s disciplinary wishes. So when I referred to him as “my asshole father,” talking to Reid Lyons—one of those shaggy-haired boys I had spied in my house, strumming along with Pops—one Saturday night at Julie’s father’s lake house, I was not lying. I knew Reid knew my father, knew he probably venerated him on some level—why else would a working class kid pay him $15 an hour for a lesson?—and yet the only way I could think of to broach that aisle of space between us, the only way I could think to get him to be interested in me, was to convince him that I needed to be rescued from the perilous situation of my home. I was a mess, tragic, deep—this was after the movie Betty Blue had come out, making mental illness romantic—but I had to have a reason for the struggle. And that reason was my father: the wasteoid, who didn’t want me.

The truth was, I had never seen my father smoke. There had been but one incident, when I was five years old and we were driving to Florida in a hippy caravan, and I opened the glove compartment—what could be more fun than opening and shutting the glove compartment on a 1300-mile drive?—and found brownies wrapped in tin foil. I have always been and am still unable to control myself around sweets. It was one of two times my father laid his hands on me, slapping my wrist so I dropped the whole thing on the grimy console.
But evidence of his habit existed in tiny rosewood boxes around the house. I had scoured his drawers for pot in my pre-teen years, especially after a visit from his best friend Michael Clark, who lived in Hawaii—great dope—and was famous in our household for having smuggled pot back from Malawi, where he and my mother and father lived during their Peace Corp years, by cutting a hole in the pages of a book and stashing it inside. Mostly I stole it from our family friend and across the street neighbor, Ajiah (he had been Phil until converting to some religion based on Baba Ram Dass, which had him wearing pink every day and upping his weekly marijuana quotient).
I have no memory of my father as a stoned person, with a blank smile pasted on his face, drawing out the syllables on the word Dude, or any other behaviors attributed to the stereotype of pothead. But I did chalk up his indifference to the drug. I had to. He was friendly with all three of my siblings. If drugs weren’t the cause, I would have had to blame his indifference on me.

Reid Lyons became my boyfriend. I was sixteen, miraculously still a virgin, obsessed with guitar-playing red-haired Anglo boys, which described him perfectly. Reid had been to Adult Child of Alcoholics camp the summer before, where he had learned two things: that he himself was an alcoholic/drug addict, and how to perform oral sex on a woman.
Naturally, to reap the benefits of his latter lesson, I had to commiserate with the former. It wasn’t hard for Reid to convince me that I had a problem—all we did was smoke pot, snort speed from $10 bills and go to the racetrack, drop acid and wander around downtown among the ladies in broad brimmed hats—and he lured me to the rooms of AA by way of promising the thing I craved almost as much as sympathy: community. I gave up the pot, and got myself a boyfriend.
This didn’t calm the eruptions in my household, though some of my behavior was officially less at-risk—no more blowjobs for strangers, at least. The fights were still vicious, ending in tears on my end, and once my father even cried, lowering his head and declaring, “I just don’t know what to do with you.” I got up and walked away. It didn’t occur to me that his level of frustration was a sign of love.
I walked out on Reid sometimes, too. He lived in a tiny box of a ranch house near Jefferson Terrace, the only ghettoized spot on Saratoga’s East Side where black people lived. Once, I stormed out in my underwear, across the street and into the forbidden territory of the Terrace. Reid went out looking for me, combing the streets on his banana seat bike.
His diary, which I read when he went to work, fixing bikes at Clifton Park Schwinn and Ski down Route 9, said this: “Lisa Davis is crazy, but is so cute and a little sweetie.” I was in love, and I wasn’t on drugs, but my behavior had not been rerouted to normal.
Reid’s father was an alcoholic. He had left the family—Reid’s two siblings and his mom—for a younger woman named Marcia, moved to a new suburban subdivision closer to Albany, a betrayal to everyone, even the real town of Saratoga. We could smoke cigarettes in front of Reid’s mom, and watch Fritz the Cat, and I could sleep over—even my dog, Taj, could sleep over. His family was fucked up, but in a good way, and we commiserated on how we felt gypped and abandoned by our fathers, and by our common struggles with our own tempers and minds and drugs.
But that summer, my father announced that he was 44 in ‘88, and that numerology had led him to give up The Pot. My father and I found ourselves newly sober together, though no closer to peace. Still, I worried: would I still have my community of ACoAs and AA boyfriends and damaged goods girlfriends if my father disposed of his wake-n-bake status? And more importantly, if he wasn’t wasted, whom could I blame for what was wrong with me?

I was 29 before I smoked pot with my father, having long abandoned the rooms of AA. He came to visit me in the suburb of Phoenix, Arizona where I went to graduate school, during what was either the best or most deluded time of my life. I felt happy and confident. Later, doctors told me I was hypomanic. I had a cadre of drunken poet friends with whom I would get wasted around the bonfire every single night while the freight train creaked by and they read aloud from Wallace Stevens or Larry Levis. We sang songs and played guitars and at 3 or 4 in the morning I would go to my weirdly sexy chubby drunken poet’s horrible apartment in the gated community and hump. How could I not be happy?
My father came out to visit before I had descended into the underside of hypomania—the non-technical term for it being despair. I took him to the drunken poets’ house, and he recited the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by rote, accompanying himself on guitar. He smoked the pot—strong, straight-from-Mexico pot, but he said nothing happened. It didn’t affect him. “This shit is weak,” he said, putting the joint down on the coffee table, and picking up a guitar instead.
I was proud of my father. I was showing him off.
Because at some point it had become unfashionable to come from a fucked up family. I wanted to tout my family’s extraordinariness and at the same time its normalcy. We harbor no child abusers, rapists, criminals—save for Grampa stealing a few Fig Newtons from the hospital cafeterias where he would take us for lunch. We are eccentrics. We don’t behave like most of the other people in the room, which led to great vocational, artistic and social success for my grandfather, father and two brothers. For me, it has been a persistent struggle, to try and rein myself in—behaving like the rest of you would prevent me from being one of them.
There was a problem with my altered attitude. If we were now a happy clan, then what accounted for my lingering behavioral aberrations? Without the veil of my father’s pot smoking and my stepmother’s unkindness, I no longer had an excuse for these struggles.
In Arizona, I repeated some of the greatest hits of my fucked up childhood, mostly by way of near-constant intoxication and anonymous and unsafe sex with strangers. It was as if my teenage years were a foreshadowing of the plot that was to unfold, with me standing in the middle of the street—hot, deserted, Arizona street—carrying on in some way that I must have still thought was romantic, or at the very least forgivable.
My behavior turned out to be neither. I guess everybody else outgrew being crazy—it has become unfashionable to be all fucked up in the head, too, and unfashionable to be a starving artist. Every single one of my childhood friends has married, and four of the five have procreated—they have ten children between them. They have houses. They go long stretches without talking to one another or me because the horrors that bound us to one another as a child are nearly irrelevant in our adult lives. I’m the only one left in the fucked up family club, and my family, it turns out, is fine.
I never did get much sympathy, and what cache there was of it ran out long ago. I had survived too much and accomplished too much for people to pity me, and the way I touted my failures and shortcomings only made them turn away. It was a protective mechanism I devised a long time ago: announce my character defects, to let people know that I was well aware of what was wrong with me, to reject myself first, before they could get to it, somehow thinking that would lead to acceptance. Eventually, that became my default position: the think badly of myself, and to hope others would love for me for it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Kevin Wofsy: Project: Candy: Candies I have loved

I’ve always felt about candy the way a hamster feels about dried corn—you can never have too much of it stashed away for a rainy day. That’s why Halloween was always my favorite holiday when I was a kid. I’d gather as much candy as I could, eat a tiny amount, and then stockpile the rest in the drawers of my captain’s bed. (Only four drawers were used for this purpose. The fifth was taken up by my great-grandfather’s coin collection, and eventually, some J. Crew catalogs with hot guys in bathing suits.)

I don’t know why I felt compelled to save my candy year after year. Somehow, it seemed foolish to consume such a valuable pile of riches right away, when it could be hoarded. It was like stuffing money into a mattress, except my money had a rich caramel center and was delicious.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I was stingy. Quite the opposite was true. If a friend came over to play board games some Saturday in April, I was always happy to pull out some candy from the previous Halloween, or the one before that, or the one five years before that. Much like a sommelier, I could offer various vintages of Snickers, Smarties, or Good n’ Plentys. For some reason, most of my friends were more comfortable eating the candy that had been aged the least. Still, I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw the dustier treats away. There might be an earthquake. We might need it to survive. And besides, it’s not as if I kept the apples that do-gooder up the street always gave us. Saving old apples would’ve been crazy and gross. They got thrown away immediately, along with the raisins.

When I was 18, my family moved while I was away at college. My parents were surprised to find roughly 25 pounds of candy hidden in my bedroom, but all things considered, it was better than finding syringes. My mother ate a few of the most up-to-date Almond Joys and threw everything else into the trash.

Sometimes I think about my lost treasures and wonder if I’ll ever taste a really old piece of candy again. Then I remember there’s nothing you can’t find on ebay, and all is right with the world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Saije Bashaw: Project: Candy: Botched Valentine

My first botched valentine was when I was somewhere in my prime of grade school. To be honest I cannot remember exactly how old I was. What I do remember, is my teacher. He was about 6’2”, bald; wore a crisp white short sleeve shirt, black pants, and perfectly shined black shoes. He walked around the room while he instructed us— carrying within his outstretched arms across the length of his body a wooden yardstick. Not a ruler mind you but a yardstick. He would bend it along with the pace of his walk. The cadence of his stride in sync with his voice and a constant-bend bend bending. One would think that the sight of this would be a scary thing for a child. Yet, it wasn’t to me. Somehow it gave me a sense of what was expected of me.

The rhythm of his walk seemed oddly calming. I also knew not to cross him. He was consistent in his pattern; he would walk the same route hour after hour. He was a human metronome. He never once struck any of the students with the yardstick nor made reference that he would. He would tap the rim of the chalkboard loudly to make a point every once in awhile that alone was the extent of his discipline. I know this image sounds cliché and that everyone has seen it in some film or read about it in a book, or imagined it. He existed in a larger than life way. With all my heart I tell you it is true. Speaking of hearts. This story is not about my teacher. It is about my first
botched valentine.

In describing the aforementioned I realize that perhaps the atmosphere my teacher had created had much to do with my failure. How could love survive with him pacing the room? Anyway…, moving on.

There was this boy this beautiful soft spoken boy, with cornflower blue eyes. I was fascinated with him. It was the way he carried himself. And when I say carried himself I am speaking of the way he carried himself. You see he walked on his tippy toes. He ran walked and occasionally stood on them. The other children would tease him; especially when he ran. But to me it was the most beautiful thing to watch. He looked like some strange gorgeous intriguing creature. His canter intoxicated me. When he would say hello to me or pass me something in class my tummy became woozy.

Finally, a moment came when I could express myself to him. Valentines Day.
Tapping into all of my childhood resources I spent the evening before the big day making him a lavish deep red card from construction paper complete with lace that my grandmother gave me, glitter and my best rendition of snoopy.

The next morning I gathered all the change I had saved and stopped with my mother along the way to school to purchase a few items to go along with the illustrious card I had created. Obviously the best thing you can offer another kid is candy. So I bought as much as I could and made sure to sprinkle in a few of my own personal favorites. Such as watermelon jolly ranchers and bottle caps. For good measure I spent my last few cents on a Twinkie.

I went to school and when the time came to give away our Valentine cards I was so excited and terrified all at once. I walked around the room slowly passing out my little box of generic cards to each of my classmates. Then when I came to my blue eyed shining star I shyly placed my little bag of love filled treats on his desk and walked away.

I watched intently as he opened it. And, everyone else was watching him too. It was the only bag of anything passed out that day.

All the other kids sat there with their sad little pile of cards while my new friend had the fabulous package I had made him. He looked at the card and the proceeded to open bag.

The room became really silent very quickly. The only noise being the crinkle of the bag he was opening and the sound of children concentrating, an orchestra of shifting wooden chairs, and small mouths breathing heavily. Each noise complimenting another. During this brief moment I was on the cusp of childhood insanity. Waiting was something I was not good at, yet. I was able to watch him just long enough to witness the surface of his lily white skin turn a perfect pink hue. He was not in awe of his gift as I had expected.

Then the room abruptly turned into coos, snickers and laughter. I was too young to know the fine art of giving Valentine Day cards. My conscience had yet to discover subtlety. While I was quickly learning this lesson in the darkest few minutes of my young life.

That yard stick that seemed so omnipresent but not too frightful changed. I heard a cracking sound followed by another then another and another. It was a thunder of wood snapping down on wood. My teacher was raising his voice and yelling, “quiet!” and “stop!” and so on. It seemed like forever but eventually everyone listened. Then it was silent. And all eyes were on me.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Alan Devenish: Project: Candy: Untitled

There were a bare ribbon sky athwart a turtle pecking mile after mile with a belly float and sink cast in sky with a vulture pecking eye.

Looked down upon creation and saw a red curtained glass and through and into the room. Sally sat sadly with a just eaten lunch and felt warm from the room. Beside her was a wooden cabinet filled with wine glasses that tinkled if she moved on the wooden floor. A touch of her foot on this wooden floor wood would shake the cabinet enough to make a pleasant ringing sound that softly rattled and tinkled into a hum.

Her children played noisily in the next room and she sent them out so she could make love. The children were starting to be not so young and were a boy, eight, and a girl, ten. The girl never for a moment forgot she was ten. But she believed she might really be eleven, she was anxious to count the time in utero.

They walked down tree-lined streets. Every street that has trees may evoke this street but none would be this street; this particular street had broad light green leaves sprouting audaciously from greybrown branches hacked back by city workers. Sap trickled salaciously from sunworn wounds and the low branches the children used to reach to climb were gone.

Restaurants that stayed open late were closed because it was too early. It was the afternoon after lunch and nobody wanted to eat or even be out of doors. The children noticed the lull like a nearly conscious aversion and were accordingly sobered. Levity came with the ascent to the top of a slide.

A splendid swinging back and forth on the swing set sent Sally’s young daughter higher and higher into the air. She could not see clearly, her view was obscured. These thick broad light green leaves crowded and obscured but she could still see. She could see into the window of the house across the street. It was an old couple visiting with their daughter. The father was very nearly catatonic and the daughter blamed her mother.

Sally’s daughter observed only that there were three people in the room. Her younger brother had desisted from pushing her—she had insisted he push her—and joined her swinging higher and higher, back and forth, till the chains went slack with each swing as the swings swung above the bar that held the chains.

Growing restless they sailed clear of their swings and strolled back to a tree-lined street and down to the corner, mutually thrilled by Sally’s daughter’s suggestion of ice cream (she held in a small pocket sewn to her dress’ waist money from Sally). They had walked the block and crossed and looking back on the side where they hadn’t walked, opposite the park and the swing set, they could see the ice cream cart parked.

The ice cream man was not there but the cart was there. There was a brief children’s debate and Sally’s daughter resolved to remove ice cream and leave money. The ice cream man was not there at all. Sally’s daughter tugged the handle, and placed her hand against the cold door for leverage and tugged again; it opened; there was nothing there.

Cris Beam: Project: Candy: Miracle Birth

I wasn’t raised in a religious household, but the phrase “miracle birth” caught my imagination from the moment I heard it, probably in kindergarten or first grade. This was back when public elementary schools put on plays about Jesus and grocery stores had crèches, so even secular kids got their fill of iconography. The Christmas story for me then was a wash of images—some barns, balding men with staffs, a sheep—with the climax of a “virgin birth,” called a miracle. I understood that a miracle was better than a granted wish, and more real than magic—and that Baby Jesus was a miracle because he just appeared without a real, human dad. To me, this translated into: someday, maybe, if I was very good, as good as Mary, I too could have a miracle birth and my very own baby.
At this point, I had an infant brother, and I already knew he wasn’t a miracle. I hadn’t been present for his actual delivery, getting shuttled off to the neighbors’ house and a few nights of watching Benji movies under some musty comforters, but my dad had explained to me where babies came from when I was six years old. We were in our Chevy Impala when he told me and I nodded solemnly and picked at the car’s red plastic piping, but inwardly, I was disgusted by what men and women did together. I guarded my secret plan for the miracle birth; I would have one of those.
Christmases in our house were sparkly and overbright. We hung so many strands of tinsel on the tree that the branches looked entirely silver and hairy, refracting the blinking lights in disco colors. We brought in two extra lamps when we opened presents so the photos would look well-lit, and our house took on the feel of a stadium at night: dark all around but piercing white in the middle. Once or twice I even remember a video camera with a high watt bulb at the top, and I pretended to be a child actress, combining grateful! and overjoyed! and extra-surprised! as I pulled one toy after the other from my stocking, each one eliciting a practiced, happy gasp.
The toy I really wanted on the last Christmas my parents were married, when I was seven, was a doll called “Baby Alive.” She was made by Kenner and she had a round helmet of yellow hair, coiffed like a baby secretary, and a pink smock that was a sort of cross between an apron and a vest tied with two bows in the front. She had eyes that closed and fingers curled into pudgy, Buddha-hands and I thought she was beautiful. But the most important thing about Baby Alive was what she could do. Baby Alive could eat.
Unlike the other nursing dolls that featured an internal tube that shot from their mouths to their diapers to instantaneously drain out whatever you poured into them, Baby Alive could chew. She could, with the aid of some ungodly number of double D batteries, purse her lips and open her mouth. With only a slight grinding sound at the back of her jaw, she could simulate a mechanical suckle, like she was rotating a marble in her tiny mouth. New Baby Alives came with a spoon and a bottle, because Baby Alive was at that precious, delicate age where she was just accepting solids, and you could feed her either water or one of the three powdered baby foods she came with: yummy banana, cheery cherry or delicious lime. When she was full, Baby Alive would quit her mewling lip motion for a while, ostensibly to digest, and then, thanks to the Double D’s, squirt the whole mess into her diaper. This was the thrill: You never knew when Baby Alive was going to soil herself—in a minute or an hour. Just like a real baby.

My Christmas Baby Alive wasn’t new. She came from a garage sale. I could tell because she didn’t come in a box, she didn’t have any of her powdered baby food, and some other kid had written on her back with a pen. But I didn’t care. She made the motions with her mouth and she had a bottle. For a while, I satisfied myself bottle-feeding Baby Alive water, and changing her diapers, but pretty soon I wanted food, with colors. My friend, who had a new Baby Alive, was wisely rationing her twelve packs of non-toxic fruit goo for herself, but said I could scrape the Yummy Banana from her doll’s diapers and use that. I declined, and started pilfering the refrigerator . I began with soft, delicate foods that I thought a real baby would actually stomach. Like applesauce. Baby Alive took right to it. I moved on to foods with more heft—cottage cheese, lemon yogurt, ham. Whatever I fed her, Baby Alive would chew-click! chew-click! chew-click! and swallow in her charming, mechanized way. She was indiscriminate in her habits, and I found that, if I chewed the food first, like a mother bird, Baby Alive could swallow most anything, even Hamburger Helper or fig newtons. She looked at me gratefully with those bland blue eyes, and closed them soundlessly when I put her down for a nap. An hour later, there everything would be in her diaper, looking pretty much as it had when I slipped it to her on the spoon. Not quite like a real baby, but close enough.
When my dad left, all our Christmas presents started coming from garage sales. The presents, at least from my mom, got weirder . She knew I liked reading so she would pick up any kids book for me from one of those ten cent bins, even if they had horses in them, which I hated, or if I had already checked them out from the library a hundred times. My brother got used Star Wars figures and battleships, even though he was too young to appreciate them and the toys were definitely choking hazards. This was when we also started spending Christmas Eve in bars.

We’d go to this place my mom liked because she thought it was fancy. She said the waitresses were elves, but really I knew they were sluts. They wore high heels, which was a tell-tale sign of a slut, short dresses, and hosiery much browner than the rest of their bodies, like they’d been dipped, feet first, into a toaster. They all wore Santa hats on Christmas Eve, which was the only elf-like thing about them. There was a section of the bar where you could eat, which is where we sat, but most of the patrons slouched in vinyl club chairs next to one of the several curved bar tables with neon blue tubing along their edges or next to the giant fire pit that my brother called a volcano. I would go off to the bathroom, which was behind the fire pit and flanked by fake slot machines and watch all the men, there by themselves, call out to the waitresses, who leaned in close and laughed at whatever they said. I wondered if these elf-sluts were their girlfriends. We always stayed at the bar for a long time and when we came home, the tree was still hairy with tinsel, but the house was dark. In the morning, my brother and I would go to my dad’s new apartment and have a different kind of Christmas there.
I almost forgot about Baby Alive after my dad left. I turned eight and then I turned nine and I got to be too old to be playing with her every day. I still kept her in the crib my dad had built for me, along with a toy monkey with a bendable wire in its tail. The Christmas I was nine, I took Baby Alive out after we got home from the bar and held her close to me, I don’t know why. I ran my fingers through her sticky, plastic hair and I spit-shined a dirt mark on her cheek. She looked hungry. I laid her gently on my bed and went to the refrigerator.
I found applesauce and yogurt, which I remembered Baby Alive liking back in the days when I was a more attentive parent. I mixed the two together in a little bowl and took a spoon from the sink. Back on the bed, Baby Alive had fallen back asleep, but I knew that was just the way her eyelids worked, and I turned her over and flipped the switch on her back. Her lips pushed out, like she was discharging a pebble, and she made that familiar grinding sound. Her mouth closed. She clicked. She did it again. Baby Alive could still eat.
After I fed Baby Alive, I went downstairs to look at the tree. I liked it best when all the other lamps in the house were off, and the reds and greens and yellows of the Christmas lights blinked their stoplight colors, stamping ferocious tree shadows on the ceiling.
I remembered to change Baby Alive’s diapers just before I went to bed. I didn’t think of it as anything special anymore, but I knew I had to do it. I took off her apron-vest and undid the diaper tabs. The foods I had just fed her would normally appear in the same consistency, color and form as they had been in their bowl. But this time, there was no applesauce. There was no yogurt. There, on the inside seat of the diaper, was an unmistakable smear of brown. Baby Alive had excreted what looked to be real, human doo-doo.
My heart raced. I gently set Baby Alive back in her crib and sat on the floor. Could this be possible? I held on to my knees and rocked back and forth. Think, I told myself—think! By this point, I had changed my brother enough times to know what a real baby’s diapers were supposed to look like. Dolls who ate applesauce were supposed to poop applesauce. Applesauce wasn’t this shade of brown and neither was yogurt. I looked again. Brown! And no sign of the original meal anywhere.

Could this be a miracle birth? Could this be what I had wished so hard for? Was Baby Alive…alive?

I picked her up. She didn’t look alive. She didn’t seem to be breathing. But do children of God breathe? I didn’t know. I had never been to church. What if Baby Alive was a special kind of alive where she only did some things that other babies do—like, for instance, poop—but not others—like, for instance, sleep, breathe, cry or move? Or what if, more likely, I just wasn’t ready (being a mortal, and only nine) to accept the full wonders of a Christmas miracle child in my very own bedroom, so I could only see the one, most basic bodily function as evidence of her existence? What if I was being prepared for greatness, one step at a time?
I remembered that the real miracle birth happened in a manger without a human father, and suddenly, everything made sense. Of course my father had to divorce my mother so we could get the miracle birth on Christmas. Virgin births don’t happen in houses with fathers. For one weird minute, I thought the marvel of Baby Alive could bring my dad back, but then I realized that was stupid. That wasn’t part of the story. Besides, I could build a happy enough life with my baby and me.
In the morning, I fed Baby Alive some Jell-O and I could hardly wait until I could check her diaper. I distracted myself with an old typewriter I kept in my room, sticking one hand into where the paper should be, trying to make the keys type words on my skin. Finally, it was time. I yanked the diapers straight down Baby Alive’s injection-molded legs, not even bothering to undo the tabs. There, again, was a smudge of brown! It was smaller this time, but there just the same. And not one sign of the bright red Jell-O I had fed her minutes before. Baby Alive was digesting. Baby Alive was alive.
I decided not to tell my mom about Baby Alive’s transformation. I knew it was selfish, to keep a potential new world religion to myself, but my mom now got so sad at Christmas that I didn’t want to announce anything that might bring news crews to our door. She didn’t like people visiting, and at Christmas she just stayed inside and cried all the time for no reason. So I continued to feed Baby Alive vanilla pudding and mac and cheese, tuna fish and more applesauce, and to change her wondrous diapers, which continued to fulfill their original promise.
Some days after that Christmas, when my brother and I had returned from my dad’s house and we were taking down the tree, my mom and I got into an argument. I can’t remember what it was about, but she told me if I was going to behave that way, fine then, we just wouldn’t have Christmas any more. It was one of those idle threats parents throw at their kids and I knew it.
“You can’t take away Christmas,” I said. “I have a Christmas miracle you don’t know about.”
“What?” she said.
“There was a miracle birth here,” I said, enjoying my power. “Just like the Christmas story.”
“What are you talking about?” she answered.
I took a deep breath, as though I had to prepare my mother for something far too grandiose and mysterious for her to understand. “Baby Alive came alive.”
My mother scrunched up her face and tipped her head. “Show me,” she said.
I proudly marched upstairs, my mother in tow behind me. I picked up Baby Alive from her crib and pulled down her diapers. There, as if on cue, was the brown smear. My mom’s eyes bulged. I rocked back on my heels, proud. She tugged off the diaper and sniffed it. She sat down on my bed, confused. I reached behind the cradle to pull out more diapers that looked exactly the same. I had been saving them, for proof, for the news crews, for when Christmas was over. My mother looked at my stack of evidence, looked at me, looked at Baby Alive, and stood up, holding Baby Alive rakishly by one arm.
“It’s battery acid,” she said. “We have to throw the doll away.”
She reached down for the extra diapers and scrunched them all into her other hand, like she was some kind of giant picking up meaningless scraps, and marched out of my room. I was too stunned to say anything, or to follow her. Later that night though, I went out to the side of the house where we kept the garbage bins. I was barefoot, and the ground was wet from a hose that had been left trickling. I lifted the lid and saw her, my Baby Alive, shoved in sideways with the sticky bags of kitchen trash. I closed the can and went back inside.