Paris Log Entry: February 8, 2014 by Samuel Lopez-Barrantes

Today, I have the honor of speaking at McNally Jackson Books in NYC to present my debut novel, Slim and The Beast. Last year, on the same day, I wrote this journal entry about struggling with Slim and The Beast.

Sometimes I think I should just stop writing altogether — if I could take a pill to ensure that I wouldn’t think about it, that my brain would stop berating me for not writing more, if somehow I could be content with getting a “normal” job and buying a PS3 and playing GTA and getting drunk and reading the occasional book, sure, and maybe even studying philosophy, but not spending my time slaving over projects that may or may not SUCK, well life, it seems, would be a bit easier. And yet. And yet. God damn those words. Why do I keep doing it? What’s the point of berating yourself?

Well the point? I don’t know. There probably isn’t one. But the point is I do it, and keep doing it, because I love it…I love the idea of giving myself to a greater cause. None the matter that it isn’t greater than anything else, but this isn’t a pissing contest, it’s life, that’s all. We need to find something to get us through the day, even if that something is yelling at yourself for not doing more to get yourself through the day. That can’t be healthy though, can it? At least I’m writing about it. Maybe. At least I am forcing myself to get this shit out. 

Slim and The Beast teeters between glimmer of hope and another failure. I don’t think it’s a failure, that’s unfair; there’s something there, I can feel it. But maybe I don’t want to pull it out. Maybe I want to move on. Not maybe. I do. Maybe I need to learn that it’s okay to let go. But on the other hand, no; I’ve put time and effort into it. That’s probably a writer’s greatest challenge: admitting defeat. You suck. Okay, fine. I suck. So be it. I’ll suck better next time. That came out wrong. 

At The Doc's by Samuel Lopez-Barrantes

I'm sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for a doctor. There really isn’t much else to do in a doctor’s office. The linoleum floor is covered in black streaks. They look like the doing of a frantic shopping cart. There is a massive printer in the adjacent room. It wheezes and exhales like a geriatric. There is a man sitting next to me, dabbing at bloody nostrils with what looks like a napkin from a fast food restaurant. Also, there is a clock on the wall with a bird to represent each hour; two of the hands are stuck on a woodpecker and a finch, the second hand pointing towards white space, which means this clock died just seconds before it became woodpecker finch o'clock. 
 
The reason I'm here is for what is called a cone beam—my nose looks like an S, courtesy of an elbow on the basketball court—and I, too, am dabbing at a bloody nostril. After uncountable minutes of ornithological disposition, a nurse arrives. She escorts me into another room where I wait once more. Soon after, I am told to lie down on the type of bed covered in white paper that comes on a roll. Once I'm on my back, I scooch my ass into the cone beam machine, which is kind of a like a tunnel, or a large plastic mug. Soon, like the printer, it will hum and take images. I can only assume it will beam my cone.

Before I enter, the nurse tells me that for sixty seconds I must not move my mouth or swallow or move a single muscle. Physiologically speaking, I wonder if that is even possible. To breathe, she tells me to do it through my nose, and so after sixty seconds of sanguine breathing and bubbles popping out of my nostril, suppressing my swallow reflex, which is much harder than I thought, the nurse says "Okay, now I will ask you not to swallow or move for sixty seconds. Don't swallow. Don't move. Do not move a muscle.” Wondering why the nurse did not specify when my movement had to stop, my face now strapped down with Velcro straps, I sneak in a swallow just before my cone is beamed. The machine starts to hum and my face is hot and I don't like doctor's offices at all.

Afterwards, in the waiting room, I sit and wait but do not look at the clock. The guy next to me—his cone has also been beamed—has been waiting for forty-five minutes, he says, and so I decide to read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King to help pass the time, which is a funny thought. This is a novel about boredom and time, and as I sit there reading a passage about an IRS agent who, while sitting in a tax-code lecture, begins to feel hot, sweat on his upper lip, moisture on his collar, I mistakenly look up to see what time it is—still two seconds to woodpecker finch o'clock—and a penny falls out of my pocket. It comes to a halt on the linoleum floor and the ambient hum of the wheezing printer is all that's left now.

Later, after I’ve left the first doctor’s office, I go to a nose doctor who schedules an appointment for another doctor (anaesthesiologist) who then schedules an appointment for the nose doctor, again, who needed the anaesthesiologist to ask how tall I was before he (i.e. the nose doctor) could schedule me for the hospital. The hospital then tells me that for the procedure I will be seeing the nose doctor. Three of us are in the hospital waiting room now, all with broken noses, all breathing through our mouths. There is a girl who got punched in the face by a crazed drug addict in the metro in broad daylight. No helped her. The other patient is none other than the man from the first doctor.

When the nurse comes out he doesn’t ask for anyone’s name, but simply, “Who’s first?” This is the French bureaucratic process. The guy from the first office says, “If you mean who got here first, I was,” and without further ado, he disappears behind two swinging doors. I’m called up next and I put on a paper robe in what amounts to a closet. Then I am told to lie down in another room without a clock, with other sick and/or injured strangers, all waiting to be wheeled into the OR.

They call it surgery because they put you to sleep, but in reality they're just crunching your nose back into place. I imagine there’s a pop. When I went in, someone said something about the weather, I think. Whatever small talk they were testing out on me—I imagine anaesthesiologists have a lot of fun with small talk—I don’t remember much because I had a good anaesthesiologist. I wake up in a cold hospital room on top of a gurney. There are plastic curtains surrounding me with red and blue dots. Next to me is a guy who broke his nose in a soccer game. The rest of the patients in the recovery room are heavy-breathing geriatrics. The mustachioed person next to me, an old man who had some minor surgery, no doubt, says his stomach hurts. “Well, Mr. LaGrange,” a nurse says, “I'm going to need you to fart!”

The worst thing about being in doctor’s offices and/or hospitals isn't the actual procedure or sickness, maybe, but the waiting and then the afterthought. After the procedure you're dazed and woozy, so that's okay, and you don't really compute the unpleasantness until much later on. But when you think about the fear that comes right after an injury, and how you had to put all of your belongings in a numbered locker, and how you were wheeled into the OR and placed under that big circular light, seeing those doctors with puffy clouds on their heads and skin-tight plastic gloves, and they tell you that it’ll just be a little prick in your arm, and for a moment you forget that you’re in the hospital at all, and the nose doctor tells you to think of something pleasant, something nice, so you imagine the girl you love in lingerie, standing in your apartment, smoking a cigarette at the window and her ass is phenomenal, and then you wake up amidst the moans of old people and some crying, and you’re a bit confused as to where you are, and your nose is tender and it’s bleeding but you don’t feel it so that’s alright, and for all you know it is woodpecker finch o’clock, well being there isn’t the worst part, it’s memory—before and after—that makes you cringe at the thought.

 

Parisian Pretension by Samuel Lopez-Barrantes

SCENE: 9am, Monday morning. Walking into an unnamed bookstore in Paris.

"Hi, my name is Samuél Lopez-Barrantes. I'm publishing a novel with Inkshares, a new publishing house in San Francisco, and was wondering if it'd be possible to speak to someone about doing a book event or release party here."

[Disdainful look from bejeweled French Madame behind the register]: "Oh, that's nice. Unfortunately, this is a major book store, and I doubt your publishing house -- what was the name again?"

"Inkshares."

"Yes. Ink chairs. I doubt we would be able to work with you, you see, for we only associate ourselves with Ingram, perhaps the largest distributor in America. I wish you the best of luck however--"

"Ah, that's interesting. I am actually working directly with Ingram for distribution. But that's fine. I'll go to that bookstore across the river. Thanks for your time anyway. Bonne journee!" 

"Wait! Monsieur. The director would love to speak to you! And you know, we have more distribution options than that store across the river … we can stock more books, too."

"Oh. Well thank you, madame. I'll consider it."

Do you remember Tante Odette? by Samuel Lopez-Barrantes

This is a true story.

Do you remember Tante Odette? The nice old lady with the back problems?

“Do you remember Tante Odette? The nice old lady with the back problems?”

“Ninety degree angle?”

“Yeah, that’s her. So she died yesterday …”

“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. Well, it isn’t. But, you know.”

“Okay. When’s the funeral?”

“Well, that’s why I mention her. The funeral was last night. It was a bit complicated, though. She died in Belgium...”

“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s not like that.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing, I thought you—sorry. So she died in Belgium, but we live here of course. And it’s expensive to bring her body back. You know, to repatriate it.”

“I didn’t know you had to repatriate bodies.”

“Neither did we, until they stopped us at the border.”

“They stopped you at the border with a dead body in your car?”

“Well, a corpse. It was embalmed. I mean, she was. Tante Odette.”

Well, a corpse. It was embalmed. I mean, she was. Tante Odette.

“And what’d they say?”

“They asked if she was repatriated. We didn’t know what it meant.”

“What does it mean?”

“I still don’t know. So we went back into Belgium and burned her so we could get across the border.”

“In a crematorium?”

“Well, not exactly. The crematorium isn’t open on Sundays. But we couldn’t buy an urn, you know, since it was closed, and so we put her in a pasty box.”

“What?”

“It was the only place open. Plus my uncle was hungry. He hadn’t eaten since her death, he was mourning, of course.”

“Did they say anything at the border?”

“They asked if they could have some, but my uncle loves croissants.”

“No, I mean about the body?”

“Oh, no, not a word.” 

“So she has been repatriated, then. I assume you buried her?”

“Well no, not exactly.”

“Oh gosh. What happened?”

“Well, we parked outside of the city and then took the bus. Well, more specifically, my mom did. My mom wanted to be with her sister, you know, to take her to the ceremony.”

“You mean the pastry box.”

“Right. We were scheduled to meet with the family last night. Kind of like a wake, but we’re not Irish—”

“Of course not.”

“And my mom missed the bus stop—you know how she is. And so she got off at the next one and then ran back.”

“What an ordeal! So you finally made peace with Tante Odette?”

We were scheduled to meet with the family last night. Kind of like a wake, but we’re not Irish.

“Well, no, not exactly. My mom was in a rush, and you know how she gets. She missed her stop and forgot the pastry box.”

“Oh gosh. Did she manage to chase down the bus?”

“Well no, not exactly. We live six flights up and there’s no elevator. Everyone was already there once my mom arrived, out of breath. And after all we had been through, well none of us wanted to go downstairs to chase after Tante Odette.”