I am waiting to hear the results of a fiction contest I entered, by a publication called Winter Tangerine. I don't think that's why I came up with this idea, but it's an excuse to mention the other fiction contest I entered recently, from which I just got a rejection. It went like this:
"Unfortunately, though it was close, your work was not selected as a finalist this year."
I wrote back, "Was it really close, or does everyone get the same letter?" To my surprise, I got a reply:
"There were a few different letters. We only used this one for those entries—about 30 of the 714---that made it through multiple rounds but weren't in the final 9 winners and honorable mentions. So it really was close!"
Somehow this makes losing both better and worse, but mostly better, I think. The story is one I wrote in college, actually, though I hauled it out and fixed it up a bit for Bread Loaf a few years ago. You might remember it:
"It is two o'clock on a Sunday morning and I am sitting in the International House of Pancakes, drinking pots of decaffeinated coffee and reading The Merchant of Venice for Professor Knowles's class. It is not solely from innate perversity that I am trying to study here among the drunks howling for waffles but also because, although this is purportedly the downtown area of what I'm told is the state capital, though we are within the sight of the capitol building whose dome, capped by a gilded statue of Justice, by state ordinance no structure in town may exceed in height--I am studying here because despite all this the International House of Pancakes is the only place within two miles that stays open past nine p.m. And I am reading If you prick us when I realize that the five waffle-howlers directly behind me, within their somewhat circumscribed capabilities at this particular moment, are talking politics, and I have put my finger on the page to mark my place and begun to lift the cup to my lips when one of them says, earnestly and without malice, I'm not saying that what Hitler did was right, but listen."
This is a true story, mostly. The only change I made was to the play I was reading, because in reality it was Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta, which would have been a little too on the nose. I like that play, incidentally, because everyone in it is horrible, but the titular Jew is smarter than the other characters and so gets away with more. The differences are mainly in the ways the characters are horrible. Barabas, being a Jew, is hardhearted and inflexible, he despises non-Jews, and he's obsessed with money, but Marlowe gives him some good speeches about how he's only following the example of the Christians around him, who took all his money and turned him out of his home. Meanwhile the Christian monks and nuns are having sex all over the place, and the Turkish Muslim, Ithamore, is a drunken murderer. Whee, everyone's a hypocritical piece of garbage! Human beings are incapable of empathy! At least the religious ones are, because they can always use their supposed superiority as a justification for whatever they do to others. Good one, Kit. I ought to reread that play.
I'm required by Congressional mandate to mention here that I was in Manhattan on 9/11, I saw the plume of debris rising into the air from where I was living five miles away, I smelled it for weeks afterward wherever I went. You could smell it all over the island and in much of Brooklyn as well. Having fulfilled my legal responsibility, I should also mention that at no point was I ever particularly scared because of the events of 9/11. It was really awful, but really awful things happen all the time, was more or less my feeling, and terrorist acts account for a vanishingly small number of them. So I really don't find terror that terrifying. There's cancer, you know? There's that dementia on my septuagenarian father's side of the family. There's all my friends who were raped. Why single out terrorism to be appalled by, when we all wade through an ocean of appalling realities every day? When there's so much that's likely to happen, and to me personally? I have never understood that. Who are these people who have anxiety to spare?
The point being, a Dumpster? Are you fucking serious? New York does not have time for your bullshit. A couple of days after the incident I heard one person express mild consternation, and that was it. I haven't heard anyone even allude to it since then. It's not so much that we're over it as that we were never under it to begin with. This is the island that Walt Whitman described thus: "O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!" And he was goddamn right.