December 24, 2003

December 2003 (Vol 2., Issue 12)

Welcome back to your favorite blogzine. We have finally arrived at the end of the year! This has been a great year from Truckin' and I am happy to say that we are finishing up 2003 with a strong issue. This month, there are two new writers added to the roster. Sigge, a Norwegian student, spent some time studying in Cuba this past semester. He shares his first baseball game with us. Henry Wasserman, a fellow poker blogger, submitted an excerpt from his first novel. Jessica wrote up a great review of one of my latest novels, The Blind Kangaroo. Also, I returned with a funny Subway story. Sit back, enjoy, and please spread the good word about this site. Be sweet, McG.

1. Excess Skin... a Subway Story by Tenzin McGrupp
For Japanese people to pack themselves into subway cars... that made sense. But in America, and especially in New York, there were fat people everywhere... More

2. A Novel Review: The Blind Kangaroo by Jessica E. Lapidus
Tenzin McGrupp’s third novel... is by far, his most profound work to date. For the first time in Tenzin McGrupp's novel-writing career, he concentrates on strong character development. Not to say that the characters from his other novels aren't strong, but those from The Blind Kangaroo are the most diverse... More

3. The Escape Artist: A Novel Excerpt by Henry Wasserman
He woke up feeling the usual morning frustration and immediately looked at the clock in the hope that it was too early for him to be awake. But the fatigue grew heavier when he realized he had slept for 9 hours. Most mornings he felt this way, and always wondered if there was something wrong with him, physically or mentally, or if everybody felt this way.... More

4. My First Baseball Match: A Cuba Story by Sigge Amdal
This past Saturday, I went to see the Baseball World Cup finals between Cuba and Panama, and I was really excited because it was my first time and all... More

Excess Skin... a Subway Story

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

For Japanese people to pack themselves into subway cars... that made sense. But in America, and especially in New York, there were fat people everywhere. And I'm not talking about the average person who was twenty pounds overweight. I was referring to the super fat people. The ones I always get stuck sitting next too on the subway. Actually, I never once selected an empty seat next to a fat person! Honestly, because they don't exist. At six feet in height, I was pushing the maximum capacity in mostly every form of transportation. If I was taller or weighed more then 180 pounds, I could see how some seats on subways, trains, cars, and airplanes, would be difficult to sit in for long stretches. A slender model or a small child never sat down next to me on the subway, it was always very large fat women of different ethnicities. She was one of those cross-bred commuters, excessively large and she felt that her $2 entitled her to world class service to and from Brooklyn. Personally, I felt they should have paid $4 each way, especially if they took up two seats. My complaints were valid. I always managed to have an empty seat to my left. The skinny girls sat across from me and the fat chick without hesitation plopped right down next to me. And it was not like they calmly sat on the edge of the seat and tried to fit in nicely! No fucking way. They backed that ass up! And I almost butted heads with the guy next to me, and gave the fat chick more room to squeeze into the seat. If I stood my ground, I could feel a huge force of flesh pushing up against my right side, like how the plate tectonic theory worked, with two huge plates rubbing up against each other, and the friction that occurred spewed forth earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and built majestic mountain ranges. Every few seconds, she wiggled back and forth, trying to take up more space. I was almost crawling up in the lap of the guy next to me. I know he got on at 23rd Street, and that he lived in Chelsea. I didn't want him to get the wrong idea and think that I was hitting on him. But the ambiguous thoughts of me sitting in the lap of a gay art dealer, on a speeding downtown subway train, were far more enticing that being swallowed up by an expanding mass of fatty flesh from a woman who definitely had not seen her vagina since the Reagan administration. I gave up. I hated compromising my principles. But in New York City, sometimes you had to bite the bullet. I got up from my seat. I made sure I gave the fat lady a sharp elbow as I jumped up (I was not a dirty basketball player, but sometimes I used to give my opponent a sharp elbow to the gut while I was boxing him out for a rebound). She didn't feel a thing, for she had several layers of protection underneath. As I offered my empty seat to an old lady who stood in front of me, I turned around to a horrible sight: the empty space had been swallowed up by the lady. The bright orange seat had completely disappeared, and the two previous seats sat snuggly underneath each ass cheek. She rested comfortably in two seats, with sweat beading down her round face, and it looked like my seat had never existed. If I had stayed there any longer, she would have swallowed me whole! I watched her attempt to expand to a third seat. When she began the identical annoying wiggling motion to take up more space, a distressed look shot up on the art dealer's face. He was definitely a lot happier with me in his lap, than to forcibly have a forty-six pound piece of flesh, which loosely hung off the arm of the lady, rested on his arm and lap, like a wounded and sick beached killer whale rolled upside down on the Oregon Coast.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

A Novel Review: The Blind Kangaroo

By Jessica E. Lapidus © 2003

Tenzin McGrupp’s third novel, The Blind Kangaroo, is by far, his most profound work to date. In an email written to friend Jerry Engel, McGrupp says,

“I think (The Blind Kangaroo) is my most mature novel yet. I have tried to shy away from some of the outlandish sexual connotations and explicit drug use of the first two novels...”

Indeed, McGrupp’s first two novels, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog, and Sweet Nothing, revolve around over-the-top sex scenes and heavy drug use. The Blind Kangaroo breaks away from that formula. For the first time in Tenzin McGrupp’s novel-writing career, he concentrates on strong character development. Not to say that the characters from his other novels aren’t strong, but those from The Blind Kangaroo are the most diverse.

The Blind Kangaroo tells the story of a week in the life of “The Norwegian Nightmare,” Orsino Fletcher, a 30-year old, former college and Olympic hockey player. In this week, Orsino, known to all simply as Fletch, learns about life from a bathroom book about Buddha, realizes his own purpose, and learns how to let go. He spends time with his girlfriend, Ophelia, and comments on society and its morals (or lack thereof) via his fellow Catholic high school alumni and a through visit to Hollywood, full of realization and revelation.

Others of McGrupp’s critics have mentioned that the women in his stories are “either pregnant, crazy, or both.” In The Blind Kangaroo, his main female characters – Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia – are all different, and each complex in her own way. Ophelia is Fletch’s younger girlfriend. It is clear from the beginning that they have deep feelings for each other, but both are too guarded to express them. The underlying tension that comes through in their dialogue and other relations is apparent through the telling of Fletch’s story. Ophelia’s friends, Cordelia and Juliet, are perfect compliments to her and each other, and the three make a charming triumverate of feminine wiles and female intelligence. In one scene, where Fletch is driving to Foxwoods with two of the three girls, he and the bull-headed Cordelia get into an argument, and Cordelia holds her own. In McGrupp’s previous novels, the female characters were so constructed that they might have backed down when confronted by the verbal strength of men the likes of Ivan in JTSMD and Winky in Sweet Nothing. But as I smiled with glee at the barrage of insults flying between Fletch and Cordelia, I realized that in Fletch’s world, he would have had no idea how to handle Kelly and Baby from the aforementioned works. Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia, in the ways in which they interact with Fletch – and with each other – are perfectly tailored to the setting and mindset of The Blind Kangaroo.

In McGrupp’s other works, short stories and novels alike, he always seems to be striving for a grand symbolism to be represented by locale – the seedy underbelly of New York City in Jack Tripper Stole My Dog and the white trash life in both Seattle and Alabama in Sweet Nothing – or by characterization. The Blind Kangaroo is not lacking this symbolism, but it seems to be a lot effortlessly illustrated, and much more subtle. In the story, Fletch is struggling with his history as an Olympic hockey player, the fame of which seems to be a haunting burden to him, while for others, it is a mark of local and national pride. Fletch hides from it, while every other character in the story, it seems, is striving for his or her own recognition. Ophelia is a struggling actress, many of his fellow high school alumni have made or are trying to make names for themselves in the world, and even the people Fletch meets on his trip to Hollywood seem to be searching for themselves, for their place in the world – or at least at their parties.

Aside from the complexites of McGrupp’s female characters, the other players in The Blind Kangaroo are also exciting and different. While some of his fans may argue that the locations and the characterizations are semi-autobiographical, McGrupp admits that his characters are each an amalgam of people he has known and met in his life. Most of the characters get the time they deserve, and when we’ve seen the last of them (in this volume, at least), the timing of their departure is perfect. The one character who doesn’t seem to linger long enough is Adriana, the personal assistant to Ophelia’s Hollywood-producer father, Duncan. Adriana is the most developed character with the least face time. She appears only in the last two chapters of The Blind Kangaroo and while the story covers it’s points in its seven, full, comprehensive chapters, Adriana’s presence makes the case for the continuation. I recently spoke with McGrupp, and he tells me that there is a chance that we will see Adriana again, perhaps in a story of her own.

Another character who makes a far too short appearance is Imogen, the Icelandic flight attendant who Fletch meets while living in Denmark. The story of the relationship between Fletch and Imogen takes place in the past, and the way McGrupp tells the story is with love and passion. The telling of the tale of their love affair seems a moment of calm in the whirlwind of Orsino Fletcher’s life. Their story and its aftermath barely lasts a whole chapter, and leaves the reader wanting more from Imogen and the passionate affect she has had on our hero.

The final two chapters are set in Hollywood, where Fletch puts into practice the things he has learned from reading the bathroom book about Buddha. He speaks honestly and candidly with Duncan, Ophelia’s father, and also with Ophelia, to whom he finally opens his heart. The major concept of Buddha’s teachings is to let go of all attachments, and that is exactly what Fletch is able to do by the time we get to the end of the week. He goes from being hung-up and obsessed with his fame, to being free of its implied burdens, and getting down to what is important in his life: respect and love. And keeping with the theme of strong women, the one who seals his realization is Ophelia, who points out,

“ much as everyone is focused on the Norwegian Nightmare, you always took the time to tell me how lucky you were to be wherever, with the most beautiful woman in the room.”

Her statement speaks of the message in The Blind Kangaroo, which is appreciation for the things around you – from generously tipping a waitress to playing in the fall leaves in New York’s Central Park – and having less attachment to the things in your life by which you have felt burdened, but that you know will fade just as the moments.

All in all, The Blind Kangaroo is, by far, Tenzin McGrupp’s mature, real-life novel. It is not only about fame and celebrity, and the struggles therein, but also about relationships with others and with the self, and learning about life through life.

Jessica E. Lapidus is a writer from Jersey City. She is also the assistant editor of Truckin'.

The Escape Artist: A Novel Excerpt

By Henry Wasserman © 2003

He woke up feeling the usual morning frustration and immediately looked at the clock in the hope that it was too early for him to be awake. But the fatigue grew heavier when he realized he had slept for 9 hours. Most mornings he felt this way, and always wondered if there was something wrong with him, physically or mentally, or if everybody felt this way. It was like a hangover, an aftertaste of too much frustration and boredom, a losing battle against the hope of fulfilling his potential.

Fortunately there were more pressing matters--the frustration quickly disappeared, as John Henry felt the pain spread out from the base of his neck down to his pelvis. The physical pain was better than the hangover, and he was happy to be distracted by the diagnostic process. Last night's game was a good one-only one mistake, a missed block on a play that didn't much matter, and enough memorable good plays to convince him that he'd play well. He tried to remember what the pain had come from, and mentally cued up the game tape and cycled through the hits. A helmet to helmet smash with the monster defensive end… diving for a poorly thrown ball… a perfectly thrown block to clear a path for the running back. But he couldn't remember feeling any pain on any of these plays, and dismissed the pain in his neck as unimportant.

He'd become an expert at diagnosing the seriousness of injuries: having experienced a variety of serious traumas to his body, he was able to determine if the pain would prevent him from playing for a game, a few weeks or a season. In the rare case that the pain indicated that there was something wrong with the function of his body (such as a torn ligament), some defect that a river of adrenaline could not fix, he knew about it. This morning's pain was the good kind, the kind that told him he had given enough of his body to believe he had played a good game.

He wished he could apply his diagnostic skills to his mental condition as well, but the morning frustration always confused him. He remembered some movie in which the hero is told that the measure of a man is how he feels about himself when he wakes up in the morning, and he wished he could figure out what these morning hangovers really meant. The confused unhappiness upon waking up had become too familiar, almost comfortable.

As he began his morning routine of ingesting the 3 legal painkillers, coffee, ibuprofen, and nicotine, he wondered why he participated in these addictions. Maybe like the pain, it was easier to justify the morning frustration as a physical withdrawal, and it provided him with a distraction from the psychological side of the problem. Maybe it was just an attempt to participate in "the common life," a ritual that renewed his membership in the fraternity of the common person. As each year went by, he felt it harder to understand and identify with people. He couldn't imagine himself contentedly sitting in traffic on the morning commute, sitting at a desk meaninglessly punching numbers into a computer, and coming home to stare at the tv with the wife and kids. He hoped in a perverse way that the cogs of society felt that same morning frustration, but was pretty sure that they didn't.

As the coffee dripped into the pot, John wondered what to do with the 5 minutes it took for the brewing to finish. If he couldn't satisfy himself that he was doing something productive, he immediately became frustrated. If time was not full, it was empty. The idea that a minute could go by in which a person was not somehow doing something to better himself was disgusting to him. He picked up the newspaper, annoyed that he'd gotten into the habit of waiting for the brown liquid.

He drank his coffee and waited for the caffeine and ibuprofen to take the edge off the fatigue, and opened up to the sports page. After scanning the first 3 pages, he found the headline he was looking for at the bottom of page 4: "Hartford QB throws to Victory over New York," accompanied by a smiling picture of his team's idiot quarterback. There were a couple paragraphs describing the game, interspersed with quotes from the quarterback about "the dream of every minor league football player is to get to the pros" and various cliches about winning and "wanting it more." John laughed at the obligatory thanks to God, remembering the look on the quarterback's face as he screwed a couple of groupies in the locker room shower after the game.

He downed the last of his coffee, folded the newspaper, and stuck a wad of chewing tobacco in his lower lip. Bounding out the door of his dirty apartment, he squinted against the blinding sun, feeling invigorated by the pain in his leg muscles that each step triggered. He hated going to "work" on Sunday-it was the players' only day off, and he wished his body was tough enough to survive without the help of ice and whirlpools.

The beat up car went into reverse, and as he turned to look out the back window, the pain shot down his neck, sending nauseating waves of pain throughout his body. He turned his head forward and took a deep breath. The pain subsided to a dull ache, but John felt a hint of worry. An oncoming Lexus nearly smashed into him as he backed out without looking, and the angry yuppie face in the rear view caused him a wry smile of satisfaction.

The highway was a sanctuary for him. Gliding along through space, his racing mind relaxed, overjoyed at the idea that until he reached his destination, there was no choice of action: only the music from the CD player and the nicotine flowing into his bloodstream. He reflected on the game: how alive he felt when he was playing, how dead he felt when he wasn't. He wondered if the reason he felt better after the Sunday sessions with the trainer was because of the highway's ability to calm his thoughts.

The blaring music snapped him back into the car, as the singer belted out the lyrics:

"It's a war on war, it's a war on war
You're gonna lose
You have to lose
You have to learn how to die
If you wanna wanna be alive"

The words conjured up images of himself after games, swollen and sore, and thought about being reborn again on the next gameday. A weekly death and rebirth, a distraction from the banality of a life in front of the TV. He pictured Jesus in a football uniform, barking out signals to the apostles before throwing a perfect pass to Peter in the end zone.

Henry Wasserman is a writer from Los Angeles, CA. The Escape Artist is his first novel.

My First Baseball Match: A Cuba Story

By Sigge Amdal © 2003

This past Saturday, I went to see the Baseball World Cup finals between Cuba and Panama, and I was really excited because it was my first time and all. At first, we nearly mised the opportunity to enter the stadium because it was nearly sold out. I just kept both hands on my bag and wallet because of all the people. We (me and two friends from campus) climbed to the topside of the stadium, just a little left of the batter (or whatever you call the guy on homebase).

I was very hungry and tired, but I fought against boredom and what not to try to get into the game, which I did after about half an hour or so. First I thought, What is this baseball? So slow, and all those time-outs. When I got used to it, however, the pace really didn’t matter because I was enjoying myself so much. Here’s what I wrote while there:

“It’s halftime, 5 out of 10 rounds played and it’s been 2 hours. Now, I’m at Estadio Latinoamericano watching the finals between Cuba and Panama, and I’m talking about baseball. Being the first time and all, it took me some time to get into the game and understand how the score is working. The stadium is really crowded and I guess the outcome of this match will have an impact on Havana at least for the coming week. How is it then? It’s an interesting, though time consuming game; I guess this match will take at least 4 hours or so. All the time-outs are really annoying, because it could’ve shortened my stay here (and I’m starving!) with 2/3 of the expected time. The score is currently 2-2 I believe, and it’s Cuba’s turn to hit & run (apologies for not knowing the correct terms). I’ll get back to you if something extraordinary happens.”

“It’s 10:35 pm and the score is 2-3 (Pan-Cuba). It’s Cuba’s F. Cepeda with an average of .333 at bat. As you get more into the game it actually gets exciting! Two and a half rounds left and anything can happen! I can’t believe it! The score is 2-4, Cepeda just did a homerun!"

The final score was 4-2 to Cuba, and in the 9th round Cuba became world champions all over again. Now, I celebrated all night, but the Cubans didn’t and that really made me curious. When I heard the reason I was abashed. They are so used to winning the world cup, being the best baseball players in the world and all is not so exciting when you’ve done it over and over again.

Anyway, it was a great experience, and when I got into the game it was really entertaining. Every homerun made everyone jump and shout. The ceremony afterwards was cool too, including the fact that all of the Panama-team ran out into the field to kick ass on this Cuban player at second base for some reason.

When they’d calmed things down, the Cubans came out with the Cuban flag, and a great white banner to show to the world: " NO AL BLOQUE!"

Sigge Amdal is a writer from Oslo, Norway. He spent the last few months studying philosophy in Havana, Cuba.

What a Long Strange Trip Its Been...

From the Editor's Laptop...

Wow, 2003 is over. It's been a great year for Truckin'. Just when I thought my blogzine was going to get scrapped (on more than one instance)... it was brought back to life!! Now we celebrate the December issue! Truckin' is now read all over the world and is getting the most web traffic than it's ever gotten. Thanks to everyone who read my blogzine and sent the link on to your friends. Special thanks to all the writers... some new and some old... who shared their bloodwork with me and with you.

This issue was great because for the first time in a very long time, I did not have to write a lot of stories. Sigge shared a baseball tale from Cuba, and I hope he gives us more stories about his time living there. Henry Wasserman, a fellow poker blogger, submitted a novel excerpt, and I hope he writes for us next year! Jessica wrote a great piece about my new novel, and I'm eternally grateful for her kind words and help editing the beast.

Next year will mark the 2 year anniversary of Truckin'! I hope to do something special, in addition to adding new writers and new travel stories to the roster. And hopefully, I'll do some more traveling next year, and share my insane experiences with all of you.

Please feel free to e-mail this link to your friends, families, co-workers, cellmates, lifemates, etc. Help spread the good word about this site and the writers!

Be Sweet,

"Sometimes you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it just right..." - Robert Hunter & the Grateful Dead