Greetings, Story366! Good to be blogging at you on this fine Tuesday. We are frantically cleaning the house, as we have company (my brother and his wife) coming into town tonight, on their way to Ft. Leonard Wood here in Missouri to see their son, my nephew and godson, graduate from basic training. That’s pretty awesome, but since they’re staying overnight, that means another level of house cleaning, of which there are four levels. They are as follows:
- Level 1: Babysitter coming over to watch our boys. Most of these people are my graduate students and they are well aware, from department legend and having been in my office, that we are not exactly the cleanest or most organized people in the world. We got over this years ago. This is the level of least clean; we try to make it nice, but really, if there’s a steaming pile of poop on the floor and we missed it, we’re not too worried about it.
- Level 2: Entertain colleagues. We don’t do this too much—my youngest will be 5 in seventeen months and that’s when we’ll worry about having dinner parties—but it happens. This is a whole other level of cleanliness, which includes cleaning out the fridge and oven, scrubbing the floors, and vacuuming in the corners, where dust, cat hair, tiny Legos, and whathaveyou tend to have their town hall meetings.
- Level 3: Overnight company. This is when someone comes to stay with us. That means the back bedroom on the main level—aka, our junk room—has to be cleaned out so humans can sleep there and not grow violently ill. Karen is cleaning that now, as I write this, and then I’ll have the rest of the house as my duty. That’s how hard it is to get this back room ready for overnighters, this division of labor.
- Level 4: Better-than-when-we-moved-in clean. We’ve never been at this stage, not since about nineteen seconds after we moved in. We did, however, almost host an after-reading party for George Saunders a couple of years ago when he read at MSU. Luckily, my colleague, W.D. Blackmon, who has a much nicer (and therefore harder to clean) house than me, stepped up, emergency averted. Level 4 is when we basically hire a giant to lift our house from its foundation, shake everything out of it, dip it in isopropyl alcohol, then put it back down. If that didn’t cost like $8,000, we’d be doing that right now.
In any case, let me move on to the story. Today, I read from Karl Taro Greenfeld‘s collection NowTrends, out from Short Flight/Long Drive Books, an effort by the fine people at Hobart. I’d read a couple of stories by Greenfeld before, as he’s been in Best American Short Stories and an O. Henry anthology, stories that are also in NowTrends (it’s his first story collection). I read a couple more today, including “Death or Glory,” because it’s inspired by a Clash song from THE BEST ALBUM EVER MADE, London Calling, and since I reviewed Sam Ligon’s “Dirty Boots,” based on a Sonic Youth song, I dove in. Yet, after I read one more story, the lead piece, “Copper Top,” I changed my mind and I’m writing about “Copper Top” instead.
“Copper Top” is about this guy who has abnormally high levels of copper in his body, found out via some random tests, and throughout the story, he keeps trying to capture a day’s worth of his urine; that’s an actual medical test ordered by a doctor, to put all of his urine from a twenty-four hour period in a jug and turn it in. Since he’s a busy guy—he’s a freelance writer with lots of assignments—he drags this big bottle of his own piss all over town, even to interview important people like Jerry Brown, though he keeps screwing the test up. One time he forgets and pees in a urinal and has to start over. One time he loses the bottle. One time he throws the bottle at some people in a passing car who yell obscenities at him. For the length of the story, this guy is trying to figure out his high-level copper problem, be it the piss jug or other tests, something that’s threaded throughout the story, with often hilarious results.
But that’s not the whole story. At the same time, as mentioned, he’s trying to live his life. He’s just moved back to his home town in California, Pacific Palisades, and is giving it all as a jack-of-all-trades freelancer, doing interviews for places like Time while also writing short stories and novels and essays, whatever he can do to get paid for putting words on paper. He also has a wife and a couple of kids, still owns his house back in New York, and runs into his father, an eighty-six-year-old pretty-famous writer, wherever he goes. Greenfeld depicts him as a busy guy, with a lot on his mind, to say the least.
It’s also important to mention that the guy I’m talking about, this protagonist, is named Karl Taro Greenfeld. Also, that the author Karl Taro Greenfeld is a freelance author, much like the guy in the story, and is half-Japanese, too, like the guy in the story. So, what does that mean? Is this nonfiction? Well, probably not, as some pretty weird things happen—which I won’t reveal here, as I’m done with plot details at this point—things that make me wonder how much of it is nonfiction and at what point Greenfeld started stretching the truth. All I’ll say is, the way that Greenfeld depicts himself, he either lives one of the most fantastic and interesting consciousnesses ever, or he’s having serious fun at his own expense. Or it’s the copper. Might be a mix of all three: That’s my vote.
I’ve read four or five stories by Karl Taro Greenfeld now, all of them in NowTrends, and have enjoyed each one quite a bit. He’s a talented writer (of all kinds of writing, apparently) and I see that he has a bunch of novels out, too. Seems worth checking out.