Years ago I went looking for a book of stories by Bruno Schulz because someone had recommended him to me. I had to special order one from a book store. The owner asked me if I wanted it in German or English. I thought, What nerve and said, “German of course.” The bookstore owner sort of shrugged and I got the German book.

With a name like Bruno Schulz, see, I had assumed that he was German and I like to read books in the original language when I am able. He turns out to have been Polish. You haven’t lived until you’ve read a German translation of stories by a Polish author who makes Kafka sound like Beatrix Potter.

Now I remember where I’d heard his name – a town up the road a ways does an annual puppet festival and the catalogue mentioned a performance for adults based on a dark Schulz story that sounded intriguing. Czech, I think the puppeteers were. The accompanying photo in the catalogue showed very demented looking marionettes.

The story
[Warning: not a meal-time story]

Met my wife at a birthday party for a six-year-old boy after work. Adults sat around drinking wine while children dismantled various things. I noticed that two of the children were very blonde and very thin, clearly a six or seven year old girl and her little brother, three or so. The girl was tall and skinny and looked smart and cute in a skinny bucktoothed little girl way. “I bet you looked exactly like that at that age,” I said to my wife. “My braids were tighter,” she smiled.

But the little boy. There weren’t enough chairs at the party, I stood behind my wife who sat between a friend on the right and an old woman on the left. Our oldest daughter sat sort of on the arm of my wife’s chair and sort of on her lap.

“That little boy looks like an evil Czech marionette,” I said to my wife and whoever else was in hearing range. “Ssh,” she said. “Poor kid,” I said. He was too thin, his head was too small for his age and his white-blonde hair was way too thin. He moved in that bobbly way, like someone who had just gotten off a long ride on a wild rollercoaster. His parents too looked older than they were, grey and tired as if they had been through something with him. His father wore an air of false jocularity.

He had his father’s face, all the same.

He went over to the old lady next to my wife, who turned out to be his grandmother.

“GGGRRGNG!!” he said. Imagine a language consisting only of guttural consonants, and him speaking it fluently as bratwurst and coarse cake exit his mouth and accumulate in the grass at his feet.

“An evil Czech vomiting marionette from a dusty Bruno Schultz pawn shop.”

“GGGRRGNG!!!” For such a small boy, he held a lot of bratwurst. His mother made a remark along these lines, something about him exceeding his capacity again, as if this were a common event.

She rushed him to some bushes to complete the evacuation. Then she got a handful of tissues and — the boy himself was clean, an expert puker — began cleaning up the grass where he had puked.

Unfortunately, at this time our older daughter decided she had to go see a movie with a girlfriend and I had to run her home to get ready and couldn’t linger and watch more of this. My wife told me later that wasn’t the last of the vomiting, though.


The sunlight was blinding as I wandered around Vienna one hot day this summer with an old Nikon F or something like that I bought used in Tokyo fifteen years ago, with a Nikon 80-200mm zoom, using some B/W film (Kodak CN I think, 400 ASA) that can be processed the same as normal color film, making processing cheaper and giving the prints an interesting look – bluish, or brownish. Many came out sort of blurry or high contrast, not sure whether that was me or the processing. This picture here is the manhole cover in front of the Secession art museum.

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Someone knocked at the door. My wife peeked out through the curtains.
“It’s the agnostics,” she said.
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“The nondescript way they’re dressed, midway between suit and polo shirt. And their car parked out front…”
“Which one?”
“See what I mean? I’ll tell them to go away.” She had been washing dishes and had a gigantic carving knife in her hand. They would have left with no protest.
“No, I’ll get it. It’s my turn,” I said.
“Okay, but don’t let them rope you into a long debate. Remember how hard it was to get the Jehovah’s Witnesses off our porch?”

She went back to the kitchen sink and I answered the door.
“Hi, we’re…”
“Bob and Wendy of the Agnostics,” I said, reading their nametags.
They were only slightly taken aback. “And we were wondering…”
“If you could have a minute of my time.”
“Well, yes.”
Wendy wasn’t bad looking in a college-educated way and poor Bob had a head too small for the rest of his body with beady eyes and ears that stuck out. Perfect.
“But only a minute and not a second more. My wife is sharpening knives in the kitchen and I hate to distract her.”
They glanced at each other but their training took over and they marched into the house.
“No,” I said. “The evening is too pleasant, let’s go into the back yard.”
I seated them at our new table, poured wine for everyone and gave them a broad smile.
“So, Mr….”
“Mr. Mig. We’d like to talk to you about the ordering force in the universe, little-g god, big-G God, whatever you choose to call it, whether or not it exists, which you have to admit cannot be objectively verified.”
“Love,” I said, taking another sip of wine.
“Excuse me?” Wendy said.
“I call it love.”
“Or happiness. They boil down to the same thing.”
“Okay, Mig. Hard to say in the end, isn’t it.”
“Not for me.”
“Ah, but how can you be so sure? I mean, somedays, yeah, you smell a rose and are overcome with the divinity and spirituality of creation, sure. But others, you’re living on a dead rock.”
“Maybe you are. I’m sure not.”
“But, ‘love’,” Bob said. “How vague can you get? Is there any word more misunderstood than ‘love’?”
“I mean something very precise,” I said. “You know the new Nickelback video in heavy rotation on MTV?” I asked them. They nodded.
“Sure, we watch MTV like everyone else.”
“Where the chick is crying and can’t see the guy and drives off and gets smeared by a semi and *doing* now she can see the guy? Because now they’re both dead? That’s not the love I mean. Not anything obsessional and full of death. That video should be banned because it links love and death like that. I mean the jelly-shaking life force of the Beyonc

Assembling Bert

I was unable to pick up the pictures I’d dropped off for processing last week because I had to go pick up Bert at the furniture store. Bert, 1.90 meters tall, was quite heavy and came in two shrink-wrapped packages with styrofoam padding at either end. A guy at the store helped me load him into the Dobl