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Donald Barthelme - Writer

Selections From Donald Barthelme’s 60 Stories (Sixty Stories)
Excerpts From ‘Me and Miss Mandible’ [complete version]
Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child, I am according to the records, according to the gradebook on her desk, according to the card index in the principal’s office, eleven years old. There is a misconception here, one that I haven’t quite managed to get cleared up yet. I am in fact thirty-five, I’ve been in the Army, I am six feet one, I have hair in the appropriate places, my voice is a baritone, I know very well what to do with Miss Mandible if she ever makes up her mind.
In the meantime we are studying common fractions. I could, of course, answer all the questions, or at least most of them (there are things I don’t remember). But I prefer to sit in this too-small seat with the desktop cramping my thighs and examine the life around me. There are thirty-two in the class, which is launched every morning with the pledge of allegiance to the flag. My own allegiance, at the moment, is divided between Miss Mandible and Sue Ann Brownly, who sits across the aisle from me all day long and is, like Miss Mandible, a fool for love. Of the two I prefer today Sue Ann; although between eleven and eleven and a half (she refuses to reveal her exact age) she is clearly a woman, with a woman’s disguised aggression and a woman’s peculiar contradictions.


Today I tiptoed up to Miss Mandible’s desk (when there was no one else in the room) and examined its surface. Miss Mandible is a clean-desk teacher, I discovered. There was nothing except her gradebook (the one in which I exist as a sixth-grader) and a text, which was open at a page headed Making the Processes Meaningful. I read “Many pupils enjoy working fractions when they understand what they are doing. They have confidence in their ability to take the right steps and to obtain correct answers. However, to give the subject full social significance, it is necessary that many realistic situations requiring the processes be found. Many interesting and lifelike problems involving the use of fractions should be solved…”

The sixth grade at Horace Greeley Elementary is a furnace of love, love, love. Today it is raining, but inside the air is heavy and tense, with passion. Sue Ann is absent; I suspect that yesterday’s exchange has driven her to bed. Guilt hangs about me. She is not responsible, I know, for what she reads, for the models proposed to her by a venal publishing industry; I should not have been so harsh. Perhaps it is only the flu.
      Nowhere have I encountered an atmosphere as charged with aborted sexuality as this. Miss Mandible is helpless; nothing goes right today. Amos Darin has been found drawing a dirty picture in the cloakroom. Sad and inaccurate, it was offered not as a sign of something else but as an act of love in itself. It has excited even those who have not seen it, even those who saw but understood only that it was dirty. The room buzzes with imperfectly comprehended titillation. Amos stands by the door, waiting to be taken to the principal’s office. He wavers between fear and enjoyment of his temporary celebrity. From time to time Miss Mandible looks at me reproachfully, as if blaming me for the uproar. But I did not create this atmosphere, I am caught in it like all the others.


The underground circulating library has brought me a copy of Movie-TV Secrets, the multicolor cover blazoned with the headline “Debbie’s Date Insults Liz!” It is a gift from Frankie Randolph, a rather plain girl who until today has had not one word for me, passed on by Bobby Vanderbilt. I nod and smile over my shoulder in acknowledgment; Frankie hides her head under her desk. I have seen these magazines being passed around among the girls (sometimes one of the boys will condescend to inspect a particularly lurid cover). Miss Mandible confiscates them whenever she finds one. I leaf through Movie-TV Secrets and get an eyeful. “The exclusive picture on these pages isn’t what it seems. We know hot it looks and we know what the gossipers will do. So in the interests of a nice guy, we’re publishing the facts first. Here’s what really happened!” The picture shows a rising young movie idol in bed, pajama-ed and bleary-eyed, while an equally blowzy young woman looks startled beside him. I am happy to know that the picture is not really what it seems; it seems to be nothing less than divorce evidence.
What do these hipless eleven-year-olds think when they come across, in the same magazine, the full-page ad for Maurice de Paree, which features “Hip-Helpers” or what appear to be padded rumps? (“A real undercover agent that adds appeal to those hips and derriere, both!”) If they cannot decipher the language the illustrations leave nothing to the imagination. “Drive him frantic…” the copy continues. Perhaps this explains Bobby Vanderbilt’s preoccupation with Lancias and Maseratis; it is a defense against being driven frantic.
Sue Ann has observed Frankie Randolph’s overture, and catching my eye, she pulls from her satchel no less than seventeen of these magazines, thrusting them at me as if to prove that anything any of her rivals has to offer, she can top. I shuffle through them quickly, noting the broad editorial perspective:

“Debbie’s Kids Are Crying”
“Eddie Asks Debbie: Will You?”
“The Nightmare Liz Has About Debbie!”
“The Things Debbie Can Tell About Eddie”
“The Private Life of Eddie and Liz”
“Debbie Gets Her Man Back?”
“A New Life for Liz”
“Love Is a Tricky Affair”
“Eddie’s Taylor-Made Love Nest”
“How Liz Made a Man of Eddie”
“Are They Planning to Live Together?”
“Isn’t It Time to Stop Kicking Debbie Around?”
“Debbie’s Dilemma”
“Eddie Becomes a Father Again”
“Is Debbie Planning to Re-wed?”
“Can Liz Fulfill Herself?”
“Why Debbie Is Sick of Hollywood”
Who are these people, Debbie, Eddie, Liz, and how did they get themselves in such a terrible predicament? Sue Ann knows, I am sure; it is obvious that she has been studying their history as a guide to what she may expect when she is suddenly freed from this drab, flat classroom.

If you liked the concept of this story, you should check out these hilarious Amazon reviews of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer written mostly by children. Or you could check out this essay on Me and Miss Mandible, written by a “college student.” I remember college weekends. Temporary athletes, parties, impure beer, “green-colored” reminders of the fun they must have had the night before. Meanwhile, equally smug non-athletes would do their version of the same, but it wasn’t beer, it was words. They too were up all night. And the results? Essays that cried out not to be understood. Contrary to popular myth, neither group secretly wanted to be the other. Anyway, this essay may be about something, but it’s probably not Barthelme.

Concepts shared with Barry Lyndon

If you’ve ever read a Jean Rhys novel or seen any Mobile Masterpiece Theatre production, then Eugenie Grandet is the satire for you.

Eugenie Grandet
Balzac’s novel Eugenie Grandet was published in 1833. Grandet, a rich miser, has an only child, Eugenie. She falls in love with her young cousin, Charles. When she learns he is financially ruined, she lends him her savings. Charles goes to the West Indies, secretly engaged to marry Eugenie on his return. Years go by. Grandet dies and Eugenie becomes an heiress. But Charles, ignorant of her wealth, writes to ask her for his freedom: he wants to marry a rich girl. Eugenie releases him, pays his father’s debts, and marries without love an old friend of the family, Judge de Bonfons. -The Thesaurus of Book Digests
“Oh, oh, where’s Old Grandet going so early in the morning, running as though his house were on fire?”
“He’ll end up by buying the whole town of Saumur”
“He doesn’t even notice the cold, his mind is always on his business!”
“Everything he does is significant”
“He knows the secrets and mysteries of the life and death of money!
“It looks as though I’m going to be quite successful here in Saumur,” thought Charles, unbuttoning his coat.
A great many people are interested in the question: Who will obtain Eugenie Grandet’s hand?
Eugenie Grandet’s hand: [picture of hand]
Judge de Bonfons arrives carrying flowers.
“Mother, have you noticed that this society we’re in tends to be a little…repressive?”
“What does that mean, Eugenie? What does that mean, that strange new word, ‘repressive,’ that I have never heard before?”
“It means…it’s like when you decide to do something, and you get up out of your chair to do it, and you take a step, and then become aware of frosty glances being directed at you from every side.”
“Frosty glances?”
“Your desires are stifled.”
“What desires are you talking about?”
“Just desires in general. Any desires. It’s a whole…I guess atmosphere is the…word…a tendency on the part of the society…”
“You’d better sew some more pillow cases, Eugenie.”
Part of a letter:
...And now he’s ruined a
friends will desert him, and
humiliation. Oh, I wish I ha
straight to heaven, where his
but this is madness…I re
that of Charles.
I have sent him to you so
news of my death to him and
in store for him. Be a father to
not tear him away from his
would kiss him. I beg him on m
which, as his mother’s heir, he
But this is a superfluous ple
will realize that he must not
Persuade him to give up all his
time comes. Reveal to him th
which he must live from now
still has any love for me, tell
not lost for him. Yes, work, wh
give him back the fortune I ha
And if he is willing to listen
who for his sake would like to

“Please allow me to retire,” Charles said. “I must begin a long and sad correspondence.”
“Certainly, nephew.”

“The painter is here from Paris!”
“Good day, painter. What is your name?”
“My name, sir, is John Graham!”
“John Graham! That is not a French name!”
“No, sir. I am an American. My dates are 1881-1961.”
“Well, you have an air of competence. Is that your equipment there, on the stagecoach platform?”
“Yes. That is my equipment. That is my easel, my palette, and my paint box containing tins of paints as well as the finest camel’s-hair brushes. In this bag, here, are a few changes of clothes, for I anticipate that this portrait will take several days.”
“Well, that is fine. How do you like our country?”
“It appears to be a very fine country. I imagine a lot of painting could get done in this country.”
“Yes, we have some pretty good painters of our own. That is why I am surprised to find that they sent an American painter, rather than a French one, to do Mlle. Eugenie’s portrait. But I’m sure you will do a first-class job. We’re paying you enough.”
“Yes, the fee is quite satisfactory.”
“Have you brought any examples of your work, so we can see what kind of thing you do?”
“Well, in this album here…this is a portrait of Ellen West…this one is Mrs. Margot Heap…that’s an Indian chief…that’s Patsy Porker…”
“Why are they all cross-eyed?”
“Well, that’s just the way I do it. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It often occurs in nature.”
“But every one is…”
“Well, what’s so peculiar about that? I just like…that’s just the way I do it. I like…”

“In my opinion, Eugenie wasn’t fondled enough as a child.”
“Adolphe des Grassins wasn’t fondled enough either!”
“And Judge de Bonfons?”
“Who could bring himself to fondle Judge de Bonfons!”
“And Charles Grandet?”
“His history in this regard is not known. But it has been observed that he is forever patting himself, pat pat pat, on the hair, on the kneecap, pat pat pat pat pat pat.
This implies-”
“These children need fondling!”
“The state should fondle these poor children!”
“Balzac himself wasn’t fondled enough!”
“Men are fools!”

Eugenie Grandet with ball: [picture of woman holding a ball]

Charles and Eugenie understand each other.
They speak only with their eyes.
The poor ruined dandy withdraws into a comer and remains there in calm, proud silence.
But from time to time his cousin’s gentle, caressing glance.

“No more butter, Eugenie. You’ve already used up a whole half pound this month.”
“But, Father…the butter for Charles’s eclair!”

[Here, the word butter is repeated 79 times]

Eugenie Grandet decides to kill her father.

Charles decides to try his luck in the Indies-that deadliest of climates.

“Here, Charles, take this money of mine. This money that my father gave me. This money that if he finds out I gave it to you, all hell will break loose. I want you to have it, to finance your operations in the Indies-that deadliest of climates.”
“No, Eugenie, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take your money. No, I won’t do it. No.”
“No, I mean it, Charles. Take the money and use it for worthy purposes. Please. See, here is a ducat, minted in 1756 and still bright as day. And here are some doubloons, worth two escudos each. And here are some shiny quadroons, of inestimable value. And here in this bag are thalers and bobs, and silver quids and copper bawbees. Altogether, nearly six thousand francs. Take it, it’s yours.”
“No, Eugenie, I can’t take your money. I can’t do it.”
“No, Charles, take my money. My little hoard.”

In order not to interrupt the course of events which took place within the Grandet family, we must now glance ahead at the operations which the old man carried out in Paris by means of the des Grassins. A month after the banker’s departure, Grandet was in possession of enough government stock, purchased at eighty francs a share, to yield him an income of a hundred thousand francs a year. The information given after his death by the inventory of his property never threw the slightest light on the means by which his wary mind conceived to exchange the price of the certificate for the certificate itself. Monsieur Cruchot believed that Nanon had unwittingly been the trusty instrument by which the money was delivered. It was at about that time that she went away for five days on the pretext of putting something in order at Froidfond, as though the old man were capable of leaving anything in disorder!

With regard to the affairs of the house of Guillaume Grandet, all the old man’s expectations were realized. As is well known, the Bank of France has precise information on all the large fortunes of Paris and the provinces. The names of des Grassins and Felix Grandet of Saumur were well known there and enjoyed the respect granted to all noted financial figures whose wealth is based on enormous holdings of unmortgaged land. The arrival of the banker from Saumur, who was said to be under orders to liquidate, for the sake of honor, the house of Grandet in Paris, was therefore enough to spare the deceased merchant’s memory the shame of protested notes. The seals were broken in the presence of the creditors, who

“Here’s a million and a half francs, Judge, “Eugenie said, drawing from her bosom a certificate for a hundred shares in the Bank of France.

Charles in the Indies. He sold:
Chinese Negroes
swallows’ nests

Photograph of Charles in the Indies. [photograph of Charles in the Indies]

The letter:

Dear Cousin, I have decided to marry a MIle. d’Aubrion, and not you. Her nose turns red, under certain circumstances: but I have contrived a way of not looking at her, at those times-all will be well. If my children are to get into the Ecole Normale, the marriage is essential; and we have to live for the children, don’t we? A brilliant life awaits me, is what I am trying to say to you, if I don’t marry you, and that is why I am marrying this other girl, who is hideously ugly but possessed of a notable, if decayed, position in the aristocracy. Therefore those binding promises we exchanged, on the bench, are, to all intents and purposes, mooted. If I have smothered your hopes at the same time, what can I do? We get the destiny we deserve, and I have done so many evil things, in the Indies, that I am no longer worthy of you, probably. Knowing chuckles will doubtless greet this news, the news of my poor performance, in Saumur-I ask you to endure them, for the sake of

Your formerly loving,

“I have decided to give everything to the Church.”
“An income of eight hundred thousand a year.”
“It will kill your father. “
“You think it will kill him if I give everything to the Church?”
“I certainly do.”
“Run and fetch the cure this instant.”

Old Grandet clutches his chest, and capitulates. Eight hundred thousand a year! He gasps. A death by gasping.

Adolphe des Grassins, an unsuccessful suitor of Eugenie Grandet, follows his father to Paris. He becomes a worthless scoundrel there.

This is the paragraph at which point the story goes to another level. This is the paragraph that causes laughing, smiling, closing the eyes and head nodding all at once. It is followed by the letter, which could be one of the funniest moments in American literature.

Selections From Donald Barthelme’s 40 Stories (Forty Stories)


I understand how that can be. This woman wanted to blend her head with Second Avenue and mess up the honor of the Transit Police, probably because somebody didn’t love her anymore. Mutilation, actual or verbal, is usually taken as an earnest of sincere interest in another person. Verbal presentations, with William and Natasha, are no good. So many terrible sentences drift in the poisoned air between them, sentences about who is right and sentences about who works hardest and sentences about money and even sentences about physical appearance-the most ghastly of known sentences. That’s why Natasha bites, I’m convinced of it. She’s trying to say something. She opens her mouth, then closes it (futility) on William’s arm (sudden eloquence).
I like them both, so they both tell me about these incidents and I rationalize and say, well, that’s not so terrible, maybe she’s under stress. I neglect to mention that most people in New York are under some degree of stress and few of them, to my knowledge, bite each other. People always like to hear that they’re under stress, makes them feel better. You can imagine what they’d feel if they were told they weren’t under stress.

The Wound
He sits up again. He makes a wild grab for his mother’s hair. The hair of his mother! But she neatly avoids him. The cook enters with the roast beef. The mother of the torero tastes the sauce, which is presented separately, in a silver dish. She makes a face. The torero, ignoring the roast beef, takes the silver dish from his mother and sips from it, meanwhile maintaining intense eye contact with his mistress. The torero’s mistress hands the camera to the torero’s mother and reaches for the silver dish. “What is all this nonsense with the dish?” asks the famous aficionado who is sitting by the bedside. The torero offers the aficionado a slice of beef, carved from the roast with a sword, of which there are perhaps a dozen on the bed. “These fellows with their swords, they think they’re so fine,” says one of the imbeciles to another, quietly. The second imbecile says, “We would all think ourselves fine if we could. But we can’t. Something prevents us.”
The torero looks with irritation in the direction of the imbeciles. His mistress takes the ?mm movie camera from his mother and begins to film something outside the window. The torero has been gored in the foot. He is, in addition, surrounded by imbeciles, idiotas, and bobos. He shifts uncomfortably in his bed. Several swords fall to the floor. A telegram is delivered. The mistress of the torero puts down the camera and removes her shirt. The mother of the torero looks angrily at the imbeciles. The famous aficionado reads the telegram aloud. The telegram suggests the torero is a clown and a cucaracha for allowing himself to be gored in the foot, thus both insulting the noble profession of which he is such a poor representative and irrevocably ruining the telegram sender’s Sunday afternoon, and that, furthermore, the telegram sender is even now on his way to the Church of Our Lady of the Several Sorrows to pray against the torero, whose future, he cordially hopes, is a thing of the past. The torero’s head flops forward into the cupped hands of an adjacent bobo.
The mother of the torero turns on the television set, where the goring of the foot of the torero is being shown first at normal speed, then in exquisite slow motion. The torero’s head remains in the cupped hands of the bobo. “My foot!” he shouts. Someone turns off the television. The beautiful breasts of the torero’s mistress are appreciated by the aficionado, who is also an aficionado of breasts [.wav]. The imbeciles and idiotas are afraid to look. So they do not. One idiota says to another idiota “I would greatly like some of that roast beef.” “But it has not been offered to us,” his companion replies, “because we are so insignificant.” “But no one else is eating it,” the first says. “It simply sits there, on the plate.” They regard the attractive roast of beef.
The torero’s mother picks up the movie camera that his mistress has relinquished and begins filming the torero’s foot, playing with the zoom lens. The torero, head still in the hands of the bobo, reaches into a drawer in the bedside table and removes from a box there a Cuban cigar of the first quality. Two bobos and an imbecile rush to light it for him, bumping into each other in the process. “Lysol,” says the mother of the torero. “I forgot the application of the Lysol.” She puts down the camera and looks around for the Lysol bottle. But the cook has taken it away. The mother of the torero leaves the room, in search of the Lysol bottle. He, the torero, lifts his head and follows her exit. More pain?
His mother reenters the room carrying a bottle of Lysol. The torero places his bandaged foot under a pillow, and both hands, fingers spread wide, on top of the pillow. His mother unscrews the top of the bottle of Lysol. The Bishop of Valencia enters with attendants. The Bishop is a heavy man with his head cocked permanently to the left-the result of years of hearing confessions in a confessional whose right-hand box was said to be inhabited by vipers. The torero’s mistress hastily puts on her shirt. The imbeciles and idiotas retire into the walls. The Bishop extends his hand. The torero kisses the Bishop’s ring. The famous aficionado does likewise. The Bishop asks if he may inspect the wound. The torero takes his foot out from under the pillow. The torero’s mother unwraps the bandage. There is the foot, swollen almost twice normal size. In the center of the foot, the wound, surrounded by angry flesh. The Bishop shakes his head, closes his eyes, raises his head (on the diagonal), and murmurs a short prayer. Then he opens his eyes and looks about him for a chair. An idiota rushes forward with a chair. The Bishop seats himself by the bedside. The torero offers the Bishop some cold roast beef. The Bishop begins to talk about his psychoanalysis: “I am a different man now,” the Bishop says. “Gloomier, duller, more fearful. In the name of the Holy Ghost, you would not believe what I see under the bed, in the middle of the night.” The Bishop laughs heartily. The torero joins him. The torero’s mistress is filming the Bishop. “I was happier with my whiskey,” the Bishop says, laughing even harder. The laughter of the Bishop threatens the chair he is sitting in. One bobo says to another bobo) “The privileged classes can afford psychoanalysis and whiskey. Whereas all we get is sermons and sour wine. This is manifestly unfair. I protest, silently.” “It is because we are no good,” the second bobo says. “It is because we are nothings.”
The torero opens a bottle of Chivas Regal. He offers a shot to the Bishop, who graciously accepts, and then pours one for himself. The torero’s mother edges toward the bottle of Chivas Regal. The torero’s mistress films his mother’s surreptitious approach. The Bishop and the torero discuss whiskey and psychoanalysis. The torero’s mother has a hand on the neck of the bottle. The torero makes a sudden wild grab for her hair. The hair of his mother! He misses and she scuttles off into a corner of the room, clutching the bottle.
The torero picks a killing sword, an estoque, from the half-dozen still on the bed. The Queen of the Gypsies enters. The Queen hurries to the torero, little tufts of dried grass falling from her robes as she crosses the room. “Unwrap the wound!” she cries. “The wound, the wound, the wound!” The torero recoils. The Bishop sits severely. His attendants stir and whisper. The torero’s mother takes a swig from the Chivas Regal bottle. The famous aficionado crosses himself. The torero’s mistress looks down through her half-open blouse at her breasts. The torero quickly reaches into the drawer of the bedside table and removes the cigar box. He takes from the cigar box the ears and tail of a bull he killed, with excellence and emotion, long ago. He spreads them out on the bedcovers, offering them to the Queen. The ears resemble bloody wallets, the tail the hair of some long-dead saint, robbed from a reliquary. “No,” the Queen says. She grasps the torero’s foot and begins to unwrap the bandages. The torero grimaces but submits. The Queen withdraws from her belt a sharp knife. The torero’s mistress picks up a violin and begins to play an air by Valdez. The Queen whacks off a huge portion of roast beef, which she stuffs into her mouth while bent over the wound-gazing deeply into it, savoring it. Everyone shrinks-the torero, his mother, his mistress, the Bishop, the aficionado, the imbeciles, idiotas, and bobos. An ecstasy of shrinking. The Queen says, “I want this wound. This one. It is mine. Come, pick him up.” Everyone present takes a handful of the torero and lifts him high above their heads (he is screaming). But the doorway is suddenly blocked by the figure of an immense black bull. The bull begins to ring, like a telephone.

The Techniques
  • Anachronism - “swords and movie cameras” (just like Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, huh?)

  • Personification - Examples abound. You can never have enough of that.

  • Excess - “a dozen swords” (just like the five or six milkshakes in Peter Greenaway’s Eight and 1/2 Women, huh?)

  • Sudden change of direction
    “His mother unscrews the top of the bottle of Lysol. The Bishop of Valencia enters with attendants.”
  • Pure Insight (you can’t teach this, you can only hope to retain it).
    “The beautiful breasts of the torero’s mistress are appreciated by the aficionado, who is also an aficionado of breasts.”
    This insight is very much along the lines of Luis Bunuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. See and you’ll see it.

The New Owner
When he came to look at the building, with a real-estate man hissing and oozing beside him, we lowered the blinds, muted or extinguished lights, threw newspapers and dirty clothes on the floor in piles, burned rubber bands in ashtrays, and played Buxtehude on the hi-fi-shaking organ chords whose vibrations made the plaster falling from the ceiling fall faster. The new owner stood in profile, refusing to shake hands or even speak to us, a tall thin young man suited in hopsacking with a large manila envelope under one arm. We pointed to the plaster, to the crevasses in the walls, sagging ceilings, leaks. Nevertheless, he closed.
Soon he was slipping little rent bills into the mailboxes, slip slip slip slip. In sixteen years we’d never had rent bills but now we have rent bills. He’s raised the rent, and lowered the heat. The owner creeps into the house by night and takes the heat away with him. He wants us out, out. If we were gone, the building would be decontrolled. The rents would climb into the air like steam.
Bicycles out of the halls, says the new owner. Shopping carts out of the halls. My halls.
The new owner stands in profile in the street in front of our building. He looks up the street, then down the street-this wondrous street where our friends and neighbors have lived for decades in Christian, Jewish, and, in some instances, Islamic peace. The new owner is writing the Apartments Unfurn. Ads of the future, in his head.
The new owner fires the old super, simply because the old super is a slaphappy, widowed, shot-up, black, Korean War-sixty-five-percent-disability drunk. There is a shouting confrontation in the basement. The new owner threatens the old super with the police. The old super is locked out. A new super is hired who does not put out the garbage, does not mop the halls, does not, apparently, exist. Roaches prettyfoot into the building because the new owner has stopped the exterminating service. The new owner wants us out.
We whisper to the new owner, through the walls. Go away! Own something else! Don’t own this building! Try the Sun Belt! Try Alaska, Hawaii! Sail away, new owner, sail away!
The new owner arrives, takes out his keys, opens the locked basement. The new owner is standing in the basement, owning the basement, with is single dangling light bulb and the slightly busted souvenirs of all our children’s significant progress. He is taking away the heat, carrying it out with him under his coat, a few pounds at a time, and bringing in with him, a few hundred at a time, his hired roaches.
The new owner stands in the hall, his manila envelope under his arm, owning the hall.
The new owner wants our apartment, and the one below, and the two above, and the one above them. He’s a bachelor, tall thin young man in cheviot, no wife, no children, only buildings. He’s covered the thermostat with a locked clear-plastic case. His manila envelope contains estimates and floor plans and draft Apartment Unfurn. Ads and documents from the Office of Rent and Housing Preservation which speak of Maximum Base Rents and Maximum Collectible Rents and under what circumstances a Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption Order may be voided.
Black handprints all over the green of the halls where the new owner has been feeling the building.
The new owner has informed the young cohabiting couple on the floor above us (rear) that they are illegally living in sin and that for this reason he will give them only a month-to-month lease, so that at the end of each and every month they must tremble.
The new owner has informed the old people in the apartment above us (front) that he is prepared to prove that they do not actually live in their apartment in that they are old and so do not, in any real sense, live, and that they are thus subject to a Maximum Real Life Estimate Revision, which, if allowed by the City, will award him their space. Levon and Priscilla tremble.
The new owner stands on the roof, where the tomato plants are, owning the roof. May a good wind blow him to hell.


Standing behind Malcolm is a beautiful young woman.
“This is Christie,” Malcolm says. “We’ve just given her lunch. We’ve just eaten all the dim sum in the world.”
Bishop is immediately seized by a desire to cook for Christie-either his Eight-Bean Soup or his Crash Cassoulet.
She’s telling him something about her windows.
“I don’t care but why under my windows?”
She’s wearing a purple shirt and is deeply tanned with black hair-looks like an Indian, in fact, the one who sells Mazola on TV.
Harry is still talking about the new president. “I mean he did his dissertation on bathing trends.”
“Well maybe he knows where the big bucks are.”
There’s some leftover duck in the refrigerator he can use for the cassoulet.
“Well,” he says to Christie, “are you hungry?”
“Yes,” she says, “I am.”
“We just ate,” Harry says. “You can’t be hungry. You can’t possibly be hungry.”
“Hungry hungry hungry,” she says, taking Bishop’s arm, which is, can you believe it, sticking out.
Putting slices of duck in bean water while Christie watches The Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbonne, on the kitchen TV. At the same time Hank Williams, Jr., is singing on the FM.
“I like a place where I can take my shoes off,” she says, as Errol Flynn throws a whole dead deer on the banquet table.
Bishop, chopping parsley, is taking quick glances at her to see what she looks like with a glass of wine in her hand. Some people look good with white wine, some don’t.
He makes a mental note to by some Mazola-a case maybe.
“Here’s sixty seconds on fenders,” says the radio.
“Do you live with anybody?” Christie asks.
“My daughter is here sometimes. Summers and Christmas.” A little tarragon into the bean water. “How about you?”
“There’s this guy.”
But there had to be. Bishop chops steadfastly with his Three Sheep brand Chinese chopper, made in gray Fushan.
“He’s an artist.”
As who is not? “What kind of an artist?”
“A Painter. He’s in Seattle. He needs rain.”
He throws handfuls of sliced onions into the water, then a can of tomato paste.
“How long does this take?” Christie asks. “I’m not rushing you. I’m just curious.”
“Another hour.”
“Then I’ll have a little vodka. Straight. Ice. If you don’t mind.”
Bishop loves women who drink.
Maybe she smokes!

Engineer Private…

“…Do you wish to know what Engineer-Private Klee is doing at this very moment, in the baggage car? He is reading a book of Chinese short stories. He has removed his boots. His feet rest twenty-six centimeters from the baggage-car stove.”
“These Chinese short stories are slight and lovely. I have no way of knowing if the translation is adequate or otherwise. Lily will meet me in our rented room on Sunday, if I return in time. Our destination is Fighter Squadron Five. I have not had anything to eat since morning. The fine chunk of bacon given me along with my expense money when we left the base has been eaten. This morning a Red Cross lady with a squint gave me some very good coffee, however. Now we are entering Hohenbudberg.”


Now I will ask various trainmen and station personnel if they have seen anyone carrying away the aircraft. If they answer in the negative, I will become extremely frustrated. I will begin to kick the flatcar.


The war is temporary. But drawings and chocolate go on forever.

The Explanation:

Q: Do you see what she’s doing?
A: Removing her blouse.
Q: How does she look?
A: …Self-absorbed.
Q: Are you bored with the question-and-answer form?
A: I am bored with it but I realize that it permits many valuable omissions: what kind of day it is, what I’m wearing, what I’m thinking. That’s a very considerable advantage, I would say.
Q: I believe in it.


Q: What is she doing now?
A: Taking off her jeans.
Q: Has she removed her blouse?
A: No, she’s still wearing her blouse.
Q: A yellow blouse?
A: Blue.
Q: Well, what is she doing now?
A: Removing her jeans.
Q: What is she wearing underneath?
A: Pants. Panties.
Q: But she’s still wearing her blouse?
A: Yes.
Q: Has she removed her panties?
A: Yes.
Q: Still wearing the blouse?
A: Yes. She’s walking along a log.
Q: In her blouse. Is she reading a book?
A: No. She has sunglasses.
Q: She’s wearing sunglasses?
A: Holding them in he hand.
Q: How does she look?
A: Quite beautiful.

“It’s better than whatever these people are saying.” - Coldbacon


A: I called her then and told her that I had dreamed about her, that she was naked in the dream, that we were making love. She didn’t wish to be dreamed about, she said-not now, not later, not ever, when would I stop. I suggested that it was something over which I had no control. She said that it had all been a long time ago and that she was married to Howard now, as I knew , and that she didn’t want…irruptions of this kind. Think of Howard, she said.

Me: But this wasn’t the first time I had heard the word “irruptions” used this way. I first heard it on
Space Ghost Coast to Coast…when I heard insect Zorak say “…irruptions…from your mouth.” And it was good.

Selections From Donald Barthelme’s Snow White
Baby Dim Sum

It is amazing how many mothers will spring for an attractively packaged jar of Baby Dim Sum, a tasty-looking potlet of Baby Jing Shar Shew Bow. Heigh-ho. The recipes came from our father. “Trying to be a man about whom nothing is known,” our father said, when we were young. Our father said several other interesting things, but we have forgotten what they were. “Keep quiet,” he said. One tends to want that, in a National Park. Our father was a man about whom nothing was known. Nothing is known about him still. He gave us the recipes. He was not very interesting. A tree is more interesting. A suitcase is more interesting. A canned good is more interesting. When we sing the father hymn, we noticed that he was not very interesting. The words of the hymn notice it. It is explicitly commented upon, in the text. Dirty Great Poem

Now she’s written a dirty great poem four pages long, won’t let us read it, refuses absolutely, she is adamant. We discovered it by accident. We had trudged home early, lingered in the vestibule for a bit wondering if we should trudge inside. A strange prehension, a floating of some kind. Then we trudged inside. “Here’s the mail,” we said. She was writing something, we could see that. “Here’s the mail,” we said again. Usually she likes to paw over the mail, but she was preoccupied, didn’t look up, not a flicker. “What are you doing their,” we asked, “writing something?” Snow White looks up. “Yes,” she says. And looked down again, not a pinch of emotions coloring the jet black of her jet black eyes. “A letter?” we asked wondering if a letter then to whom and about what. “No,” she said. “A list?” we asked inspecting her white face for a hint of tendresse. But there was no tendresse. “No,” she said. We noticed then that she had switched the tulips from the green bowl to the blue bowl. “What then?” We repeated. We observed that she had hauled the Indian paintbrush all the way out into the kitchen. “Poem,” we had the mail in our paws still. “Poem?” we said. “Poem,” she said. There it was, the red meat on the rug. “Well,” we said, “can we have a peek?” “No,” she said. “How long as it?” We asked. “Four pages,” she said, “at present,” “four pages!” The thought of this immense work...

Royal Blood

At times, when I am ‘down,’ I am able to pump myself up again by thinking about my blood. It is blue, the bluest this fading world has known probably. At times I startle myself with a gesture so royal, so full of light, that I wonder where it comes from. It comes from my father, Paul XVII, a most kingly man and personage. Even though his sole accomplishment during his lack of reign was the de-deification of his own person. Mr. Quistgaard

Although you do not know me my name is Jane. I have seized your name from the telephone book in an attempt to enmesh you in my concerns. We suffered today I believe from a lack of connection with each other. That is common knowledge, so common in fact, that it may not even be true. It may be that we are overconnected, for all I know. However I am acting on the first assumption, that we are underconnected, and thus have flung you these lines, which you may grasp or let fall as you will. But I feel that if you neglect them, you will suffer for it. That is merely my private opinion. No police power supports it. I have no means of punishing you, Mr. Quistgaard, for not listening, for having a closed heart. Three-Pronged Assault

“I had in mind launching a three-pronged assault, but the prongs wandered off seduced by fires and clowns. It was hell there, in the furnace of my ambition. It was because, you said, I had read the wrong book. He reversed himself in his last years, you said, in the books no one would publish. But his students remember, you said.”


BILL has developed a shamble. The consequence, some say, of a lost mind. But that is not true. In the midst of so much that is true, it is refreshing to shamble across something that is not true. He does not want to be touched. But he is entitled to an idiosyncrasy. He has earned it by his vigorous leadership in that great enterprise, his life.


“MOTHER can I go over to Hogo’s and play?” “No Jane Hogo is not the right type of young man for you to play with. He is thirty-give now and that is too old for innocent play. I am afraid he knows some kind of play that is not innocent, and will want you to play it with him, and then you will agree in your ignorance, and then the fat will be in the fire. That is the way I have the situation figured out anyhow. That is my reading of it. That is the way it looks from where I stand.” “Mother all this false humility does not become you any more than that mucky old poor little match-girl dress you are wearing.” “This dress I’ll have you know cost two hundred and forty dollars when it was new.” “When was it new?” “It was new in 1918, the year your father and I were in the trenches together, in the Great War. That was a war all right. Oh I know there have been other wars since, better-publicized ones, more expensive ones perhaps, but our war is the one I’ll always remember. Our war is the one that means war to me.” “Mother I know Hogo is thirty-five and thoroughly bad through and through but still there is something drawing me to him. To his house. To the uninnocence I know awaits me there.” “Simmer down child. There is a method in my meanness. By refusing to allow you to go to Hogo’s house, I will draw Hogo here, to your house, where we can smother him in blueberry flan and other kindnesses, and generally work on him, and beat the life out of him, in one way or another.” “That’s shrewd mother.”
  • The last line is among Woody Allen’s favorite Barthelme quotes.

The Opinion

Donald Barthelme is awesome. He’s definitely a “What is that noise…What is that noise now?” type of writer. He’s smarter than me. I calculate two ways in which his work excels:
  • Noetic (content): His writing makes fun of ill-thought patterns, for the most part, without being too smug or obvious, at least for my taste. By the way, you can find (at least that it has been registered) even though it didn’t even make the cut for Microsoft’s spellchecker. What does that mean?

  • Poetic (style): The use of combinations of words that would appeal to any decent sense of the poetic.
It would not be unreasonable to compare DB to another DB (David Bowie of music fame).


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