My mother was a good mother. I was a good son. My mother was a betrayed woman—I think I knew that, from an early age—and so I was careful never to betray her, as she, by instinct, never betrayed me. But now I felt betrayed, and I betrayed her in return, by learning to cook. No: by cooking. No: by marrying a girl who had no interest in cooking, and cooking for her. No: by cooking for my wife as I wished my mother had cooked for me. No: by cooking as my father would have cooked, had he taken up the toque—by cooking unyieldingly, despotically, ball-bustingly, hungrily, not just selflessly but also selfishly, as an assertion of prerogative. When my mother came to visit, I made her chop, according to specification. “How’s this?” she’d ask, showing me the cutting board of haphazardly chopped broccoli, and when I’d say she had to chop it smaller, finer, more uniformly, she’d say, “You’re some pain in the ass” or “What a pill.” I was perversely proud of her exasperation, perversely proud to be addressed in terms heretofore reserved for my old man. A pill? I had never been a pill before. I had always been, in my mother’s estimation, “a good egg,” but now I’d become a pill by insisting that my eggs taste good. My mother wasn’t college-educated, but she wasn’t stupid, either. She knew what was going on. When, much later, I wrote a flattering profile of my father for a magazine, she dismissed it tersely: “Don’t forget who raised you, kid.” But my cooking—my decision to cook—was a rejection of the way I’d been raised, a rebuke of the way she’d raised me. I had been on my mother’s side, but now, unforgivably, I was on my father’s, by taking my mother’s job.
“Yes,” said Peter. “Yes, yes, yes,” he said, as if she drew up to the surface something which positively hurt him as it rose. Stop! Stop! he wanted to cry. For he was not old; his life was not over; not by any means . He was only just past fifty. Shall I tell her, he thought , or not? He would like to make a clean breast of it all. But she is too cold, he thought; sewing, with her scissors; Daisy would look ordinary beside Clarissa. And she would think me a failure, which I am in their sense, he thought; in the Dalloways’ sense. Oh yes, he had no doubt about that; he was a failure, compared with all this—the inlaid table, the mounted paper-knife, the dolphin and the candlesticks, the chair-covers and the old valuable English tinted prints—he was a failure! I detest the smugness of the whole affair, he thought. Richard’s doing not Clarissa’s; save that she married him. (Here Lucy came into the room, carrying silver, more silver, but charming, slender graceful she looked, he thought, as she stooped to put it down.) And this had been going on all the time! he thought; week after week; Clarissa’s life; while I—he thought; and at once everything seemed to radiate from him; journeys; riders; quarrels; adventures; bridge parties; love affairs; work; work, work! and he took out his knife quite openly—his old horn-handled knife which Clarissa could swear he had had these thirty years – and clenched his fist upon it.
What an extraordinary habit that was, Clarissa thought ; always playing with a knife. Always making one feel, too, frivolous; empty-minded; a mere silly chatterbox, as he used summoned, like a Queen whose guards have fallen asleep and left her unprotected ( she had been quite taken aback by this visit – it had upset her) so that any one can stroll in and have a look at her where she lies with the brambles curbing over her, summoned to her help the things she did; the things she liked; her husband; Elizabeth; her self, in short, which Peter hardly knew now, all to come about her and beat off the enemy.
“Pinky and the Brain,” a cartoon that aired for half of the 1990s , is a three-chord kind of show, as bound by formal constraints as they come. Before spinning off into its own half-hour slot , the series began life as the best thing about “Animaniacs,” an exuberantly unhinged variety cartoon executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and packed with non-sequitur punch lines, meta-level laughs and so many showbiz in-jokes that you could forget this was a show nominally made for kids . “Pinky and the Brain” stood out for its ingenuity and extreme economy. The show has only two recurring characters to speak of — the talking lab mice of the title — and precisely one plot, set into motion in the opening moments of each installment with the same 23 words: “Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.”
That the mice will deploy some scheme for world domination is the lone narrative motor, and that their failure is guaranteed provides not only the inevitable third-act kicker but also the condition of the show’s continued existence: a reset button that returns the mice to the lab to plot again. The pair is at once idiosyncratic and archetypal, in a vaudevillian kind of way. Brain is a hyperintelligent, short-tempered straight man voiced by a guy doing a stentorian Orson Welles impression; Pinky is daffy and sweet and speaks in an over-the-top Cockney accent .
They are given no back story beyond a stray line in the theme song (“Their genes have been spliced”), and they learn no lessons by episode’s end. Characterization takes the form, instead, of kid-friendly, broken-record repetition . In every episode, while unveiling the plan at hand, Brain will ask Pinky, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”–a question so ritualized that fans refer to it by “AYPWIP”–to which Pinky will offer a reliably outré response. “I think so, Brain, but I can’t memorize a whole opera in Yiddish.” “I think so, Brain, but Pete Rose? I mean, can we trust him?” “I think so, but Kevin Costner with an English accent?”
In the long summers of my childhood, games flared up suddenly, burned to brightness, and vanished forever. The summers were so long that they gradually grew longer than the whole year, they stretched out slowly beyond the edges of our lives, but at every moment of their vastness they were drawing to an end, for that’s what summers mostly did: they taunted us with endings, marched always into the long shadow thrown backward by the end of vacation.And because our summers were always ending in games, we sought new and more intense ones; and as the crickets of August grew louder, and a single red leaf appeared on branches green with summer, we threw ourselves as if desperately into new adventures, while the long days, never changing, grew heavy with boredom and longing.
I first saw the carpets in the back yards of other neighborhoods. Glimpses of them came to me from behind garages, flickers of color at the corners of two-family houses where clotheslines on pulleys stretched from upper porches to high gray poles, and old Italian men in straw hats stood hoeing between rows of tomatoes and waist-high corn. I saw one once at the far end of a narrow strip of grass between two stucco houses, skimming lightly over the ground at the level of the garbage cans. Although I took note of them, they were of no more interest to me than games of jump rope I idly watched on the school playground, or dangerous games with jackknives I saw the older boys playing at the back of the candy store. One morning I noticed one in a back yard in my neighborhood; four boys stood tensely watching. I was not surprised a few days later when my father came home from work with a long package under his arm, wrapped in heavy brown paper, tied with straw-colored twine from which little prickly hairs stuck up.
Millhauser, Steven. “Flying Carpets.” The Knife Thrower and Other Stories.” Crown Publishers Inc., 1998.
They were tough.
They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing—these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment. They crawled into tunnels and walked point and advanced under fire. Each morning, despite the unknowns, they made their legs move. They endured. They kept humping. They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall. So easy, really. Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge until your buddies picked you up and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world. A mere matter of falling, yet no one ever fell. It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Mariner, 2009, p. 20