Friday, November 7, 2008

Such A Holy Place To Be

“Your wig's crooked, dude.”

Even with all the pins and clips stacked on my scalp, I was having a hell of a time keeping my fake hair straight. My long blond locks had slipped to the side during the walk to the Tau Gamma Ro house. I tilted them back the upright position, and checked my eyebrows. Still there. Thank God.

“So you're gonna have to follow my lead tonight, dude. Keep your mouth shut and I'll send one of these girls your way.”

I threw up my thumb and gave a half-hearted smile. I hadn't dated – or done anything of the sort – since I started school earlier in the year. Rex, on the other hand, was out with one of the girls from his classes almost as often as he was out tossing a Frisbee. Female interaction was at the forefront of my mind tonight.

Rex stepped across a rickety porch and I followed, worried only a little that one of the rotten planks would collapse. A large guy in a Spartan uniform stood in front of the open door and looked us over. His top half dripped with some sort of gleaming oil, but his shape was more Milhouse than muscle.

“Rex, Adrian, glad you guys could show up. I like the zombie costume!”

“Zombie hobo,” Rex corrected.

The guy turned to me. “And, uh. What the fuck are you supposed to be?”

I knew this was a mistake. “I'm Jareth, the Goblin King.”

“What?”

“Bowie. I'm David Bowie.”

“Oh. All right, it's all good. Food and drinks in the kitchen, chip in if you want any of the hard stuff.”

The party had started without us. Black and orange streamers blocked entry to the stairways. The main floor of the house was filled with vampires, Jedi and ten-dollar Wal-Mart costumes. The characters in the room were disjoint as always. Halloween parties seemed like a sort of pop-culture convention, with attendees linked only by the red plastic cups in their hands.

Every possible variation of liquor lined the countertops in the kitchen, but the promised food left a lot to be desired. I begged Rex to stop somewhere on the way, but he pushed on, insisting that we would be late. My stomach gurgled and sloshed as it began to digest itself; I grabbed a handful of tortilla chips to quiet it.

I met up with Rex in the main room, surrounded by some old friends of his. He introduced me, and we watched as one of them made his way to the center of the room, next to a small karaoke machine, to perform an ear-shattering rendition of “Cold as Ice.” Rex pushed me forward as his friend finished.

“Dude, you have to get up there. Come on, you can't dress as a rock star and not do karaoke.” Rex placed his hand firmly on my back and shoved me in front of the machine.

No one seemed interested in the spectacle, which calmed my nerves. I motioned to the dinosaur running the machine. “Anything by David Bowie? Space Oddity, maybe?”

He rummaged through the book for a few seconds, then nodded. “Yeah, it's here. It's a duet though. Got anyone to join you?”

Rex was already busy chatting up a skanky Navy girl whose uniform had to be against regulations. I tried my luck anyway. “Rex, it's a duet. You know you want to sing with me.”

He twisted his neck around. “Dude, don't be gay. I'm not gonna sing a fuckin' duet with you.”

I tugged my right eyebrow as Rex accompanied his real interest into the kitchen.

“Hey, I'll sing.” A nurse with long black hair, a short skirt and red cross hat stepped toward me and grabbed the second microphone. “Is that okay with you?” She smiled. As if I would turn her down.

“Fine with me. You want to take the high notes?”

“Of course. Try to keep up.”

I started to respond, but was blotted out by the drum roll. We sang well, even as our styles diverged. I did my best Bowie impression to the point of incoherence, while the nurse opted for a classical performance. It bothered me. There was something wrong about singing Bowie like Rent. Still, there was something interesting about her. I, of course, didn't need to look at the lyric prompter. It surprised me that the nurse didn't either. I hadn't expected to find a glam-rock fan among Rex's sort of people.

We received a clap or two on our way out of the room, but most of the partygoers were engrossed in other things.

“You want a drink?” I asked her.

“Sure. I left my cup over there, and you know what they say.”

I didn't, actually, know what they say; but I wasn't going to argue the point. This girl was pretty, really pretty, and I was going to hang on to any chance to strike up a conversation.

“Amber,” she told me as I filled her cup from the keg. “My name is Amber.”

“I'm Adrian. Thanks for backing me up in there. You sing really well.”

“Sure. You were pretty good yourself. Really, uh, freaky. So, you're a big David Bowie fan?”

“I guess, yeah. I just watched Labyrinth the other day, I thought this costume would be amazing. I don't think I pulled it off, though.”

“No, it looks great!” replied Amber. “Especially your blouse, it really completes the ensemble.”

I laughed. It wasn't very often that a girl could make me laugh. “Just be glad I didn't go with the bulging pants.”

Amber raised an eyebrow, and I felt my legs cross in front of me.

“What is your major?” I asked her. It was the most inconsequential thing I could think of to say.

“Polisci. You?”

“Molecular Biology.” It was normally a source of pride, but coming out of my mouth now it felt pretentious. Amber laughed, which didn't help my confidence.

“You're in a real science. That's cool.”

“No, political science is admirable. Researching the effects of 'change' on the adolescent brain, right?”

“Shut up. I know, though. It's a notch above business and worth just as much. I'm not going to be a lawyer, so I don't know why I'm doing it.”

“You could run for office. I'll vote for you.”

“Definitely. President Amber, I can see it. Let's hope no one takes any pictures of tonight.” She tugged at her seductively short skirt. “That'll be the end of my career.”

“So, are you a freshman?”

“Senior.”

I choked down a mouthful of beer. “Of course, sorry. You look young.” What?

“Thanks. What about you?”

“I'm a Junior. One more year, God willing.” I crossed my fingers and stared at her face, looking for any sort of tell that she had caught my lie. She gave off nothing more than a calm smile. Either she had bought it, or she had practiced her poker face.

Amber and I chatted in the kitchen, sliding to the side for the occasional patron who needed whatever we were parked in front of. When we could see the smooth white bottoms of our cups, we refilled them. We grabbed one of the main room seats as it emptied. My head had already become misty from the beer; drinking was not my strong suit.

We talked a while longer on the dusty pleather couch. Amber pointed out people as they walked past. That one has dressed like a werewolf for four years straight. Those two have a constant competition to outslut each other. Jim gets sick every year, we're pretty sure he just fakes it to lie down and look up girls skirts, don't know why he goes to such lengths at a party like this. There was a long silence between us as Amber ran out of quirky students to describe. She looked at me, suddenly, an odd smile creeping across her face.

“Have you gotten a tour yet?”

“A tour? No, this is my first time here.”

“Here, you have to see the library. Most of these frat guys are the biggest pigs I've ever met, but for some reason, they have, like, the coolest library. Really vintage stuff.”

“You realize that the school has a library, right? A pretty big one.”

“They don't have stuff like this. It's in the other wing of the house. Here.” She handed me her cup. “Get us another drink and meet me over there.”

I made my way back into the kitchen, and Amber headed in the opposite direction. I filled our cups, awkwardly juggling them, and turned to walk back into the main room. Rex was in the kitchen.

“Hey man, what's up. Don't drink too much, you don't want to end the night with a sack in your face.” Rex clapped me on the back, nearly causing the beer to spill over the rims of the cups.

“It's for a friend.”

Rex grinned, his perfect white teeth stretching from ear to ear. “Aw, yeah, I saw that. That Amber chick, right? Right on, man. Make sure to bag it, that girl's with a different dude every year. Don't get too attached.”

“What?”

“Don't get attached. Pop it and drop it, dude. She's a maneater.” Rex slammed remainder of his drink into his mouth and walked past me to the alcohol.

“Thanks, Oates. I meant the part about ... bagging it. About being with a different dude every year. Are you just screwing with me?”

“I'm telling you, that girl is always hooking up at frat parties.”

“Did you ever...?”

“What? No way, bro. I mean, she's hot and all but I've always had other girls. Still, dude, I'd go for it. But be careful.”

Rex finished his concoction and slapped me on the back one more time before walking back outside.

I made my way toward the library. Rex's warning echoed in my mind, despite what I thought was undeniable chemistry between me and Amber. Had I been conversing with the school whore for the past hour? No. Rex didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. Maneater? I hadn't ever seen Rex with the same girl for a whole week. Who was he to talk about anyone?

“Took you long enough. Long line?” Amber sat, legs crossed, in front of a long line of streamers blocking the entrance to the library. She stood out from the Blond Sorority Girls and Depressed Emo Chicks that seemed to populate the campus. There was a perceptible intelligence that penetrated and amplified her appearance. Rex was wrong about Amber – she wasn't one of them.

“Sorry, I was talking to my roommate. I'm ready to see this amazing library.”

She twisted her head around, slipped under the streamers, and gestured for me to follow her. My stomach twisted; I felt like everyone in the room was staring at me, waiting to see if I'd join Amber in the library. This was not true, of course. A majority of the people in the room were already buzzed, and the rest were too bored to care about anything going on in our part of the house. I took a deep breath and darted under the partition, careful to keep our drinks from spilling. Amber took her cup from my hand as soon as I stood up.

“You make it okay, champ?”

This girl had an uncanny ability to make me feel ridiculous. She led me into the darkened hallway, hitting a switch after we rounded a small corner. Overhead lights flickered on, revealing a large room packed from wall to wall with bookshelves.

“The left shelf is old tests and homework, but I doubt you're going to find any biology stuff in there.” Amber pointed to the middle row of books. “I'm not sure how this part is organized. I think they stick books in here when they forget to return them to the library.” She moved along to the right side of the room, grabbing my wrist and dragging me along as she did so. My wig slid down my face, covering the slight hue of red that crept into it.

“This is the good stuff.” Amber ran her finger along the spines of the dusty old books, evidently looking for something specific. “Here, look at this.” She inched her fingers between the spines of two large tomes and pried one out. She flipped through it, holding the book open so that I couldn't see it. Then she laid it open on the table.

“What the fuck?” A naked woman adorned the page. She sat on her knees, her arm stretched out past the top of her head.

“It's Marilyn Monroe.”

I stared closer at the photograph. “I can see that. She's naked.”

Amber jabbed a finger into my shoulder. “I figured any guy would recognize this. This is the first issue of Playboy. And it's not a reprint – this is the actual thing.”

“Is it rare?” I asked.

“I don't know. Maybe not. But that doesn't stop it from being cool, don't you think? They have every issue down here, from 1953 on. I think they think that it's just an awesome porn collection, but it's actually a pretty interesting look back in time. I like to read the articles and find out what people thought back then. I'm only up to like 1960 ...what?”

I had been staring half-conscious at Amber the whole time. I couldn't help but smile. “They let you in here to look at their porn?”

“Not exactly. They know me here, they let me in.”

“They know you come in to browse their magazines?”

“No, I don't think so. But they let me in, that's all I really care about.”

“You're crazy.”

Amber folded her arms. “Excuse me? I find this stuff fascinating.”

And then, with Amber staring at me, slightly annoyed, I kissed her. I have no idea how I managed it. It was the most utterly bold thing I had ever done in my life. Amber accepted the kiss, and even ran with it, but made no effort to take things further than that. I looked at her after I pulled away. My head spun half with the alcohol, half with the excitement of being so presumptuous.

“Ah,” she muttered. “I guess these pictures affected you more than I thought.”

Jesus Christ. Just when I felt comfortable, she punched me in the gut.

“I'm just teasing you,” said Amber. “I just wasn't expecting it.” She leaned in and kissed me again. It was short and sweet; there was no making out. We looked at each other for a short time after it was over. I turned my attention back to the Playboy collection.

“I wonder if you could get these magazines from them. Like, buy them or something. Or get them to donate the collection to the school.”

“I doubt it. These guys are kind of dumb, but they aren't completely clueless.”

“So you never got with any of them?” Shit. What in the name of God made me say that. Alcohol may help some guys with romance, but not me.

“What? Of course not. I'm sure there are rumors, with me here all the time, but I wouldn't touch them. I feel weird enough flipping through their books.”

“Yeah, I was just curious. My roommate's just an idiot.”

Amber looked into my eyes. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing, nevermind. My roommate was just giving me crap.”

“About me?”

“No, not exactly,” I lied. “He just told to be careful, you know.” I was not a good liar, and the alcohol made it ten times worse. I could feel myself getting drawn into a trap, and I wasn't having any luck getting out of it. I prayed that Amber would drop the subject. She didn't.

“Worried you were going to get knocked up?” She grinned at me. “Don't worry, I'm not that easy.”

“No, I know, I see that now.”

“Now?”

Fuck. This was the last night I would ever drink.

“I mean, now I know you, I know you're not like that or anything.”

She didn't buy it. “Like what? Who have you been talking to?”

“I told you, Rex was just giving me crap.”

“Wait, Rex? Rex Wilson? Your roommate is that douchebag? What, he told you I was a slut, and you believed him?”

“No, that's not what happened. He was just talking out his ass, you know. I'm a little buzzed, I got paranoid.”

“Paranoid, or did you think you were going to get lucky?” Amber closed the book and brushed past me, sliding it back in place. “Jesus Christ, Adrian. Why would you ... why would you hang out with him?

“I didn't pick Rex, he's my roommate! I didn't know him before this year. And I didn't come here ... I mean, I'm not ...”

“You didn't come here to get laid?”

“Amber, of course not. I'm not like Rex, I'm not the rest of those guys in there.”

“Really? Adrian, why did you come to this party? You told me you don't like the guys here. You obviously can't stand the sorority girls. Was it just the booze and the free food?”

I stared at Amber, running through responses in my mind. I frantically searched for something that wouldn't run her off. I came up short.

“I don't know. Rex invited me, I guess I just figured I'd try to meet some people.”

“Listen, Adrian. You're a cool kid. Don't let Rex fuck you up, okay? He's not a good guy.”

“What do you mean, what's wrong with Rex? He's not the smartest guy, sure, but ... what happened? How do you know him?”

“I know him better than you do. It doesn't matter. I don't ... I'm not going to talk about it. I think I'm going to go home, all right? I'm sorry.”

Amber pushed past me, oblivious to my protests. I stumbled after her. She walked straight through the streamers, past a few cries of “hey, what the hell,” and out the front door. Rex stopped me from walking after her.

“Shot down?”

“Fuck you. Fuck you.” I struggled to get past him, but he held me there.

“Dude, don't get beat up over it. There's another party next week, we'll hook you up there. I didn't get any either.”

I snapped, ramming my hands into Rex's shoulders and pushing him into the door frame. “You asshole. You goddamn fucking asshole. What did you do to with her? What did you do to her?”

In a single quick motion, Rex placed his arm out in front of me and slammed me back into the other side of the doorway. The surprise more than the actual violence knocked the breath out of me, and I struggled to get it back with Rex's arm pinned across my chest. A few excited “oooooh!”s floated through the room, hoping for a fight to end the night's festivities.

“Calm down, Bro,” said Rex, inflecting the last word with just a hint of threat. “Why don't you walk home and get into bed. You'll forget about this in the morning, I promise.”

An unexpected feeling crept into me as I stared at Rex there in front of me, his massive arm goading me to yield to his strength. It was not a feeling of hatred, or even fear, but overwhelming disgust. Right then, I looked at Rex as every misogynistic quip, unwanted harassment and demeaning joke rolled into one miserable human being.

“What was it?” I asked Rex, raising my voice. “Did you screw her? Did you screw her one night and leave her like the rest of the girls? Was that it?”

Another round of agitating groans hit Rex, and he pushed the hard bone of his forearm further into my lungs. I smelled the acrid liquor on Rex's breath. He grit his teeth as he spoke. “You don't know what the fuck you're talking about. Go home, Adrian, and we can talk about it later.”

An Indian chief turned sideways and moved through the doorway. He winked at Rex. “Hey man, let the kid have the girl. You had your go with her, right?”

Rex stepped back and glared at him. “Whatever. Fuck it.” Rex spit a glob of something on the ground and walked back into the house, careful not to look at me.

I leaned against the outside wall, catching my breath. “Hold on,” I yelled out to the Indian.

The man, now well off of the porch, turned and looked up at me. He looked to me like an actual Indian – Asian, not Native. Even with my chest pounding, I couldn't help but wonder if that was intentional.

“You know Rex?” I asked him.

“Sure, he always comes to the Halloween party. Don't worry about him, it's just a touchy subject.”

“What is?”

“Well, that girl. I'm surprised he came, actually, if he knew she was going to be here. They hooked up a few years ago.”

“So?”

“Well, I say 'they' hooked up, but she wasn't completely sober, if you know what I mean.”

The stupid smirk on the guy's face nearly made me puke. I slid down the wall and landed in a sitting position. “What the fuck. Rex, what the fuck? He's a player. Why the fuck would he do something like that?”

The Indian shifted his feet, and I could tell he regretted walking into my drama. “Uh, this was a long time ago. He might've been a first-year. Look, don't worry, she got him back. I guess she realized what was happening and started beating the shit out of him.” He started to chuckle as he recounted the memory. “He ran out of one of the back rooms with his pants around his ankles. That girl was right behind him, beating him with a god damn Playstation controller.”

I pushed myself up off the wooden porch and steadied myself. “So that's it. My roommate is a rapist.”

“No, I don't think he got that far. He's just a dick. We always tease him about it. He just says that she was a whore, and she freaked out from some bad mushrooms or something. I don't know, man, we don't really pay attention to him. Anyway, I've got to get going. Good luck.”

I stared at the chief as he left. Amber was long gone. She hated me. Who could blame her. I defended him. Shit, I stood up for him. I felt sick. I felt alone, looking at the people around me. I didn't belong here. These people had no idea who I was. They had no idea who I was dressed as (and they probably would have called me a fag if they did). It occurred to me only then to wonder why Amber had come to the party. I wished Amber had stayed so I could ask her that question, along with delivering an endless apology. I decided I wanted the chance.

I halted and turned toward the kitchen. I stormed past some of the half-drunk crowd also making their way home – acting and looking like zombies, now. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing, or if I was wasted, but it didn't matter. I grabbed a napkin and pen from the kitchen. I chewed on the end of the pen, conscious that it wasn't mine. There were a multitude of things I wanted to write: Rex is a creep, You're Awesome. It seemed so childish. And then, looking up at myself in the kitchen mirror, staring at my crooked wig and smeared mascara, my hand moved.

I'm floating in a most peculiar way

And the stars look very different today

I don't remember knowing, in my slightly drunken state, just how corny my note was. But, in hindsight, it was the only thing I could have written that wouldn't have made me a condescending ass. I scrawled my phone number on the bottom in the most legible writing I could manage.

I strode into the library, apathetic to the big frat guy's dirty look as I walked past him. I ran straight to the Playboy collection, and began to examine the volumes. A year was scrawled on the spine of each. 1957. 1958. 59. 1960. Yes, I could find her online. I could ask someone else at the party about her. But that was too inelegant, too unimpressive for a victimized girl you'd just implicitly called a whore. I gulped, closed my eyes, and slid the napkin between the books.

Satisfied, I left the house for a second time. I tore off my wig as I walked through the cold air, scratching my short black hair. I looked up at the sky and whispered a small prayer that Rex wouldn't come home tonight.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thoughts on 'Legend of the Seeker'

Just wanted to share a few thoughts about the new Sword of Truth TV adaptation, Legend of the Seeker:

Many changes from Wizard's First Rule in the first two episodes
Presumably this was done to speed up Richard's departure from Westland, so they could do a few monster-of-the-week type episodes. Most of the changes seem arbitrary to me. Unless they are planning some big shocker later, Zedd is not Richard's grandfather (though, if they do drop this bomb later, it means Zedd basically lied to Richard in the first episode). Also, Richard does not really know Zedd until he is named Seeker. This characterization sort of worries me, as it seems to change the character in a drastic way for no real reason.

The Book of Counted Shadows is probably the biggest change. I would guess they thought the original plotline of Richard memorizing the book as a boy would be too complex to explain in an episode or two, and they might have been right. Kahlan brings the book (along with the Sword of Truth) with her into Westland. It's apparently written in High D'Haran, which Richard can magically understand because he is the Seeker. Later on, the Book is destroyed (and Richard doesn't memorize it or anything). It'll be interesting to see if they write the Book out of the plotline, or if it comes back.

Some assorted things: Richard seems to be the Seeker even before he is named, as he can understand D'Haran. This is slightly different from the book. Kahlan's sister accompanies her to the boundary before she is killed. George Cypher's wife is not Richard's birth mother.


The acting, on the whole, is pretty good:
The actor playing Richard does a great job. He fits the look perfectly and lends a genuine believability to his lines. Kahlan is pretty decent as well; so far, she hasn't had much of a chance to do anything other than look cute, but she has her moments in the pilot. Zedd's actor, the famous Bruce Spence, does a good job with an alternative interpretation of Zedd. He's not as jovial or mischiveious and Zedd in the books, but he has his moments of quirkiness, and his smile is spot-on for Zedd. Also, I always imagined Zedd as sort of short, and Bruce towers over the other actors, so that takes some getting used to.

Some of the other actors aren't so great, but they are able to do a passing job. Chase is just okay -- he's lost a lot of the charm he had in the books. Darken Rahl is not scary (nor blond) at all, which is disappointing. However, to give the actor the benefit of the doubt, he hasn't had a chance to do anything but order guards around, so it's possible for this to improve. Adie's actress doesn't do a great job. She seems bored, and has no accent, which makes her speech manerisms ("Adie not be knowing what you mean") very weird. It's like if Yoda still talked in inverted syntax, but otherwise had the voice of a normal person. It just doesn't work.


The special effects are bad
They just are. It's not surprising, as this is a syndicated TV show, but it's still not ideal. The gars looked terrible; they really should have used puppets. In one scene, Zedd uses Wizard's Fire to kill a gar, and there is a really cheesy stock explosion. I will say, though, that the actual Wizard's Fire looked pretty much how I imagined it.



I'll keep watching to see if the show trends in the right direction. Pilots are almost always worse than the actual show, so Legend of the Seeker actually has promise. We'll see how willing they are to stick to the source material. Episode 9 is entitled Denna, and if they actually cover the whole Mord-Sith, Richard being tortured arc in a single episode, the show is in for a rough time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Review: Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, by David Foster Wallace


"The fuzzy Hensonian epiclette Ovid the Obtuse, syndicated chronicler of trans-human entertainment exchange in the low-cost organs across the land, mythologizes the origins of the ghostly double that always shadows human figures on UHF broadcast bands thus: ..."



This is the opening line of one of the stories in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, written by the late David Foster Wallace. I wouldn't say this line is at all representative of the work in and of itself, but it is a great example of what Wallace is* trying to do with this book. Regardless of what Wallace himself says in one of the stories, Interviews is experimental fiction, plain and simple. That's not to say that there aren't great themes or characters contained within -- but I think one of Wallace's main goals was to try some crazy shit and see what happened. When he opens his story with a overtly loquacious translation of "The muppet from the syndicated tv show was talking about shadows," I'm not sure how he could argue with such a classification.

Just to let you know what I mean, here's a (non-exhaustive) list of some of devices used in Interviews: Second-person narration, super-detached narration, beginning a story in the middle of a sentence, large pieces of stories contained in 5+ page spanning footnotes, a story in the form of dictionary entries, stories in the form of question-and-answer sessions, stories in the form on word problems, meta-meta-second-person narration, etc. This is maybe half of the unexpected, unique risks that Wallace takes.

Of course, a risk wouldn't be a risk if it guaranteed success. Some of these devices work better than others. The extreme detachment of the narration (referring to the main character as "the depressed person" throughout the longest story of the book, for instance) becomes grating as Wallace uses it in at least half of the stories. Writing a short story in a footnote is cute at first, but annoying when it pops up two or three times. The dictionary story is, at best, boring and, at worst, pretentious.

But when Wallace hits, he hits big. The quiz section, entitled Octet, which starts to plod on a little too long, became on of my favorite sections when I was finished. The final pop-quiz of the cycle is written in a meta-fiction style that I loved. This quiz is written in second person, starting with the line “You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer,” which I laughed at for far too long. This quiz describes “your” (Wallace's) thought process in writing Octet and considerations on what should go into this final quiz (which is great, because it leads to mind-bending turns of phrase such as “I would leave this unsaid if I were you”). Meta-fiction is a tricky subject; straight meta-fiction (“I'm the author!”) is sort of cliché and uninteresting by now, and even meta-meta-fiction (“I'm the author and I know I'm writing meta-fiction!”) isn't completely original. But Wallace's choice to write the piece in second-person (“You're the author, and you're writing meta-fiction!”) is something I've never seen before, which made up for some of the less enjoyable quizzes in the cycle. Stories like this serve to remind us why we need authors who will push boundaries rather than just emulate the masters.

The bulk of the book is made up of titular Brief Interviews With Hideous Men sections, which are presented as question-and-answer sessions between and interviewer and a so-called hideous man. Sometimes these interviews are presented as neutral; other times, I got the feeling that the two people knew each other personally (even though the questions are never written out, simply represented with a 'Q'). I absolutely loved this part of the book. I can't get enough of creepy, transgressional characters. Possibly realizing that a bunch of similar interviews with different characters could still get repetitive, Wallace chooses to break them up in different sections of the book. Even in the same section of Brief Interviews, many of the interviews are presented in slightly different formats, which was a great editorial choice. Ultimately, whenever a certain story falls a little bit flat, Wallace swoops in with an Interview to keep your trust and interest.

Another story I particularly liked, called Signifying Nothing, is a short, simple story about a man that, for no apparent reason, recalls a day that, as a child, his father wagged his penis at him. Wallace presents this possibly scarring situation with a hilarious absurdity. The main character is not angry or horrified, but simply confused about why such a thing would ever happen, which is an easily understandable position. There is nothing hugely distinctive or experimental in this story; just simple plot and great dialogue and characterization. The main character's line upon confronting his dad made the story for me: “I sort of briefly described what I had remembered, and asked him, 'What the fuck was up with that?'” Wallace's dialogue is nearly always spot-on, and often incredibly funny. It's actually sort of unfortunate that he doesn't use as much of it, as the narration doesn't benefit as much from the crazy situations, characters and devices that he applies.

Ultimately, I wouldn't call Brief Interviews With Hideous Men a masterpiece. It is somewhat inconsistent in quality, ranging from page-turn-a-minute brilliant, to page-turn-a-second-because-you-just-skipped-five-of-them boring. However, it is clear that David Foster Wallace is a literary mind to be reckoned with, and I look forward to reading more of his work. It's a shame we lost him prematurely, as I could certainly see myself smiling with glee after finding the release date of his newest novel.

8/10

You are, unfortunately, Matt Borgard, and you've just finished your latest review...

*Is it appropriate to talk about a deceased writer in the present tense? I've always been told to speak about books as if they are happening in present time, but something about this just seems wrong. **
**Don't include this in the blog.



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Review: (NJO) Agents of Chaos I: Hero's Trial by James Luceno


* Warning! Star Wars EU spoilers! *

I first attempted to read the New Jedi Order series in high school ... and it didn't go well. The reason, I've found out, is that the audiobook of the first novel, Vector Prime, is catastrophically abridged. Earlier this year, I got back into Star Wars, so I decided to try NJO again. I had better results -- Vector Prime is readable, but not great. It serves as a setup for the rest of the series. The Dark Tide duology was much better, though it seemed to contain a little too much "monster-of-the-week" type adventures for the characters. So I went into Hero's Trial -- the first book in James Luceno's Agents of Chaos duology -- cautiously optimistic that the upward trend would continue.

Hero's Trial gives us the first real glimpse of the NJO Han Solo, dealing with the aftermath of Chewbacca's death. In the Dark Tide books, he's almost unbearably emo; it's understandable, but not necessarily ideal for a story. It's good to see Han back in his element here. He's upset and slightly more low-key in certain areas, but it works for the kind of characterization that Luceno uses here. Han is still too standoffish with his family for my tastes. I kind of wish that Luceno went in a different direction than the cliche middle-age crisis (though Han fiddling with having an affair would be interesting!), but there are only a few moments in the book where I found myself rolling my eyes.

The big picture seems to be fairly inconsequential until the very end. A Yuzhang Vong priestess, Elan, and her familiar, Vergere, decide to act as defectors to trick the Jedi into a meeting, where Elan can slaughter the lot of them. This defection eventually attracts some unsavory characters, who, of course, have connections to Han (what unsavory SW character doesnt?). This defection leads the Galactic Alliance and Han Solo to (separately) track the defectors and fend off Vong. There's a pretty big conflict at the end, with about four or five separate groups fighting for different things. It's exciting, but starts to strain credulity when the Vong begin fighting against their own fake defectors being returned to them.

One of the best new additions that Hero's Trial introduces is Droma, a male Ryn (new species, looks a bit like an older, but not ancient, Dark Elf) . Droma, in Chewbacca's absence, is the perfect foil for Han. He's smart, slightly sarcastic (but not annoyingly so), and mystical if not superstitious. He doesn't put up with Han's crap, which is exactly what he needs at this point in the story. Of course, Leia would probably be even better in this position -- but so far, NJO has been pretty unwilling to have her do anything of consequence.

Overall, Hero's Trial is a good read -- not great, but not bad either. I'm still waiting for that killer book: one that connects on every level, and makes me say wow. But for now, it's entertaining and continues the SW story. I'll give it a 3/5.


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Certainty of Chance

Nothing is certain. The impossible or unexpected could happen at any time. That was the lesson of the day. Evolution was a theory — so was gravity. Technically, nothing about physics was certain. Mrs. Miller told the class that, theoretically, it was possible that one of the students could shove a pencil through a desk. Nora spent the rest of the period testing that hypothesis.


Nora's English teacher was sick, so she got a free period. Nora “freed” herself from the school and headed home. The day wasn't over, and "expect the unexpected" wasn't confined to physics. She learned that when she got home and found her brother and his girlfriend having sex on the couch. They sprinted to his room before Nora could say anything, and the girl left soon afterward.


The incident made dinner even more awkward than normal. Her mom was absent, as usual. Thursday was surgery day, which meant all the doctors and nurses in the center had to stay until the anesthesia had worn off in the last patient. Her dad started eating as soon as he got home, without changing out of his suit. They had the rest of the lasagna from the night before. The cottage cheese standing in for ricotta always tasted like dry lumps of dirt after a trip through the microwave.


“How was school?” Her dad asked.


“Fine,” Nora replied. “I got an A on my first calc homework.”


“Good.” He turned to Mark, her brother. “What about you? Did you find a job?”


Mark shook his head. “No, not yet.”


“Why not? Did you just sit on your ass all day like always?”


Mark looked at Nora, but she kept my mouth shut. “No. I talked to John. They might have an opening for a painter. Part-time at first, but...”


“Great, part time. Fuck. I swear to God, if you don't find a real job in a month, we're going to start charging you rent. I'm sick and tired of you freeloading.”


“Wonderful,” said Mark, trying his best to appear unfazed.


“Look at your sister. She works hard in school, she knows exactly what she wants to do with her life. She's going to be a CEO while you're still living with your God damn parents.”


Mark didn't speak, so Nora chimed in. “I made an appointment with a counselor for tomorrow. We're going to go over college stuff, I guess. I think it's pointless, but the school requires it.” Nora's father seemed to accept that, and went back to eating his dinner.


Nora volunteered to do the dishes, in hopes that her brother would mellow out a little. No such luck.


“A perfect student, a hard worker. Really working Dad today, aren't you.”


“Shut up. If you want to wash these, you're more than welcome.”


“No thanks. I'll let it slide since you're keeping our little secret.”


She smiled as politely as she could. “No problem. Speaking of which, I'll need a ride to Sarah's tomorrow afternoon. And probably again this week. It's not like you have anything better to do.” Other than your slut girlfriend, she thought to myself.


“Fine,” he said. “But if I see this on your Livejournal, you're fucking dead.”


“Don't worry. I'll change the names to protect the innocent. Namely me.”


He sneered and stomped off.


“I'll say hi to your girlfriend at school tomorrow!” she yelled after him. She found it both perverted and hilarious that her long graduated brother continued to lust after high school girls.




* * *




Nora's eyes cracked open after she heard Mrs. Miller utter the absolute worst words a teacher could say: “Partner assignments.” There was nothing worse than being pitted with a stranger in the first few weeks of school. She listened as the teacher ticked off pairs of names. Sarah shrugged at her when “Sarah Jones, Nate Wilson.” More and more of her known friends fell off the list, before Nora's partner was finally announced. “Nora Nelson, Rachel Baker.” Rachel Baker. Nora looked behind her with a stare of half-apathy, half-horror. It was her. Murphy's Law.


Rachel rolled her eyes as their gazes met, and Nora turned ahead to look at Mrs. Miller.


All right, everyone, please meet up with your group member and start talking out your first project. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have.”


Nora leaped to the teacher's desk before she finished the sentence. “Mrs. Miller, I don't think I can work Rachel. We have some... personal issues.”


Mrs. Miller raised an eyebrow. “What kind of issues, Ms. Nelson?”


She and my brother are ...” Nora paused slightly, but caught herself. “Dating. I don't really feel comfortable working with her.”


Ms. Nelson, you are a senior. You'll be graduating this year. You'll need to learn to be professional and work with people you don't like if you want to succeed in college next year. If you two have problems, come and talk to me again, but I want you two to give it a shot. I think that's fair.”


Nora, defeated, sulked back to the empty seat next to Rachel and plopped down.


Couldn't get yourself reassigned?” Rachel flipped her springy, dyed-blonde hair behind her ear.


Let's just finish this and be done with it. You don't like me, I don't like you, but let's do this and get a good grade out of it.”


The sides of Rachel's mouth lifted up into a grin. “Who said I don't like you? We've never even met.”


Nora stared at her partner, lips parted, not sure how to reply. Being stuck with an airhead blonde in physics class when she needed an A was bad enough. But getting stuck with her brother's high school love bunny was almost more than she could handle.


Look, I'm dating your brother, big deal.”


More than dating.” Nora hid her surprise at Rachel's cavalier identification of the elephant in the room. Nora was not the most comfortable person in the world when it came to sex, and she certainly didn't feel like discussing it now, with Rachel.


Fine, whatever. We're not breaking the law. If you want it to be this way, that's fine with me.”


Nora did want it this way. The less contact she had with this girl, the better.




* * *




University of Wyoming. Good job, Nora.” Mara, the senior guidance counselor, poured over the folder containing Nora's ACT score, personal statement, resume, and acceptance letter. “Very impressive. I can see you've worked hard these past few years.”


Nora nodded, gluing the best fake modest smile onto her face. “Thanks. I've just made college my goal for the past four years, I'm excited to finally get there.”


Mara (who preferred to be called by her first name, she had told Nora) nodded silently, turning over the pages in the folder. “Where else did you apply?”


Nora stared. “What do you mean?”


What other schools have you applied to?”


Well, none. UW is offering me a scholarship, and it's close to home.”


The counselor closed the folder and handed it back to Nora. She removed her reading glasses and placed them on the desk. “What are you planning in majoring in?”


I'm not quite sure,” replied Nora. “I like math and science – maybe biology. But I like literature too, so I've thought about English.”


You seem very smart and well-rounded, Nora. I'd like to know what you'd think about applying to a few more schools.”


Nora felt like she had been punched in the stomach. She had been expecting a quick chat, a pat on the back and an ego boost; she hadn't been prepared for any conflict.


“Well, I mean, I don't know. My family doesn't have a lot money, I'm kind of relying on that scholarship. And UW is a good school, and it's close to home. I mean, some people are going to Colorado and stuff, but I don't really see a reason to move out there.”


“Of course, Wyoming is a great school. But Nora, you're one of the smartest students we have, you're at the top of your class, you have clubs, NHS, volunteer work, AP credit ... I'd really like to see you apply to some upper tier colleges. Yale, Vanderbilt. You can worry about money later. If you need money for applications, there are fee deferment programs I can help you with.”


Nora sat speechless. From the day she entered high school, she had planned to go to college with her friends, an hour away from home. Her mind and actions had always been focused on that singular goal. She felt blindsided – offended, even – that this woman had the gall to smash that, to imply that her plans weren't good enough. Mara slid some paperwork out of a file cabinet and handed it to Nora. Nora took them without saying a word and placed them into her folder.


“There are some applications and information packets in there. I think it would be healthy if you looked over them and picked one to apply to. Even if you get accepted, there is no pressure to have to go. But having options is always beneficial.”


Nora let out her best emo sigh. “Is this required?”


“No, Nora, this is not required. But I am sure a student like you knows how important it is to strive for something more than the required, and shoot for the exceptional.”


The motivational-phrase-of-the-day did very little to encourage Nora.




* * *




Rachel took the mechanical pencil out of her mouth long enough to send a question down to Nora. “What did you get for d equals five?”


Nora clicked the button on the stopwatch as her the ball hit the floor and marked down the time. “1.24. And 1.58 for d equals ten. Here, let me do the calculations for g, and you can write them down.”


“I've got them. Hold on a second, and I can finish.”


“Great,” Nora said, failing to hide the sarcasm from her voice. She stared at Rachel's sheet of paper as the girl worked through equations, stopping ever now and then to punch a few numbers into her bulky graphing calculator.


“Hurry up,” Nora said. “I've got some other homework to work on. I was hoping we could finish this early.”


“Just do it then,” said Rachel.. “I can handle this.”


Nora sighed, but continued to watch Rachel work. She didn't feel comfortable moving on to something else until this was done. She peered over at Rachel's equation and noticed a mistake.


“X should be positive there, the way you set that up.”


Rachel looked up to where Nora had pointed, and nodded. “You're right. Thanks.”


“Are you sure you don't want me to do it?”


“That's it,” said Rachel, slamming her pencil on to the black lab table. “What is your problem? I've been nothing but cooperative, and you've been treating me like a idiot for the past month.”


“Calm down,” whispered Nora, hoping to fend off the few other students who had turned to look at them. “I told you before, I just want to get through this class. We don't owe each other anything else.”


“You owe me some fucking respect!”


That did it. Mrs. Miller appeared at the side of the desk. “You ladies need to leave the room and work this out. I won't have you disrupting my class. I was hoping you two could manage to be professional. I'm disappointed. We will talk about this after class.”


Nora, humiliated, sulked into the hallway and sat against the wall. Sitting in the hallway against the wall like ... like a goddamn delinquent junior high student. Rachel leaned on the opposite wall and slid down into a sitting position.


“Nice job,” Nora said.


“Are you kidding me? You can't manage to be civil for an hour a day, and this is what happened.”


Nora's heart pounded, anger surging through her veins and sending her to her feet. “You're screwing my brother. How the hell am I supposed to act. I walked in on you screwing my brother! That's not something that you just forget.”


“So what?” Rachel replied. “I'm dating your brother. Get over it. Sometimes people have sex. We were idiots, and did it in the living room. You don't need to throw a giant fit over it.”


Cat noises and hisses came from across the hall. A student, with a backwards baseball cap, baggy pants and visible underwear, had wandered by and seen them fighting. He guffawed and kept walking. The distraction allowed Nora to hold back a reply, so she sat back down and turned her head.


“You know, I work just as hard as you. You're not the only one with senioritis.”


Nora puffed air through her nose. “Whatever. I'm getting through this, and then I'm done.”


Rachel sat mute for a few moments, and then continued. “Your brother told me you got a scholarship from UW, right? That's pretty cool.”


Nora said nothing.


“Your brother is pretty jealous of you, you know. He dicked around in school, but I can tell he's envious. I think he figures you would of gone to some amazing school. Harvard, or something.”


“Why are you talking to me?” Nora muttered.


“I don't know. Nevermind.”


The fifteen minutes waiting for the bell to ring were the longest fifteen minutes of Nora's life. That wonderful sound couldn't come soon enough. She closed her eyes for an eternity, then opened them to look at her watch. Still five minutes to go. Rachel had been completely successful in making her feel like shit, a feeling far worse than the humiliation she had felt in the classroom. Nora held the top rank in her class. She had been elected as the president of Astronomy Club and treasurer of Key Club. She had taken more AP tests than any other senior in her class. She could do this.


“Sorry.” Nora felt the words escape from her mouth, but didn't remember forming them. It was like a band-aid that had been ripped off. Unfortunately, Nora had made far more than one cut. “I'm sorry. It's just ... it's my brother. It was just sort of a shock, you know.”


Rachel turned and looked her in the eye. Nora had a hard time maintaining the apology, and looked down at the floor. “I should have been able to get past that, but ... I don't know. I guess I don't like to mix school and home.”


“Why?”


Nora hadn't been expecting the question. She had been expecting Rachel to act equally standoffish to her, but the girl had defied her again. “I ... don't know. I like school, I like working, you know. Home life is sort of just ... there.”


“I know what you mean. I've been working my ass off studying for the SATs. I'm going to try to get a higher score. I really want to get into a good school, get out of this state. It drives you crazy. Know what I mean?”


Nora didn't, really. But she nodded and smiled. “Where are you thinking about.”


“Well, UW, CU, of course. That would be great. I really want to get in Stanford, but I think I'll need better test scores to be really competitive there.”


Stanford? Really, I wouldn't have ... uh, that's cool.”


“You wouldn't have expected it?”


“Sorry,” came Nora's sheepish reply.


The bell rang and the horde of students piled out of the doorway. Sarah waved at Nora as she passed, and Nora waved back, her face bunched up into a worried smile. Mrs. Miller walked out as soon as the room had emptied.


“I wish you girls would have come to talk to me before it came to this. I wish you could have worked things out, but I know it doesn't always happen that way. I'm going to allow you girls to work alone for this project, and we will rotate partners afterward.”


Rachel rose, seemingly content to leave it at that, but Nora spoke up. “It's okay, Mrs. Miller. It's my fault. I've been having some family problems, and I took it out on Rachel. I think we worked it out. I'm sorry.”


Mrs. Miller raised her eyebrow in her signature interested-but-skeptical face. “Are you two going to be able to work together, then?”


Nora nodded. “If that's okay with Rachel.”


It was.




* * *




It was late when Nora got home. Mrs. Miller had another class after theirs, and had required them to come in after school to finish their experiment. Nora had talked to Rachel for a little while after they had finished. Nora ended up inviting her to her house – she told Rachel that her father was worried about this unknown girl dating Mark. It would be awkward, at first, that Rachel was in high school – but Nora felt confident that she would be able to make a good impression. And she figured she owed the girl enough to help her to that end. At the very least, Rachel would be a good influence on Mark, and Nora's father was sure to see that.


Nora ate some of the leftover pasta her family had saved for her. She told her parents she stayed late to finish a project, but she didn't reveal the whole story. She supposed that the rest of it should be left untold, and it wasn't like she was lying – not exactly.


After her shower, Nora felt completely ready to collapse into bed. The day had been emotionally draining, if not physically so. But before she could pass out onto her mattress, the corner of her eye caught a small manila smear. That folder. That damned stupid folder. She hadn't even looked at it since her meeting with Mara, but there it sat, as it sat every night. Today, though, it seemed particularly ornery. Taunting her. She couldn't help herself. Nora grabbed the folder and dropped to the floor.


Mara had included a large amount of information in the folder. Princeton, Yale, Brown... standard Ivy League fare. They didn't appeal to her. Too snooty, it seemed like. Nora though about giving up, admiting defeat to the yellow bastard of a folder, but the last pamphlet and application stopped her. Stanford. Not Ivy League ... but not state. California – a far cry from the windy Wyoming plains. It seemed poetic. How could she not go for it? She opened the application, and saw the standard requests for information. Name, GPA, test scores. And then the essay. She grabbed a pencil before even looking at it, determined to do this before she lost her nerve.


Nora looked at the question. Write a short (500-1000) word essay about a specific obstacle you overcame to achieve academic success. She stared at the ceiling in thought. These questions were always pointless, and Nora had never been sure exactly what the readers would be looking for. But in a divine moment of realization, it came to her. She put her pencil to the paper, and began to write: “Nothing is certain. The impossible or unexpected could happen at any time.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Miracle

I had seen other purported miracles before, but it was hard to deny the resemblance in this one. The image stretched nearly to the top of the back wall of the cathedral, and contained all the requisite icons. The Blessed Virgin, The Child, and the halos encircling each of their heads. My first thought was that a group of students, late in the night, had painted her as a practical joke, but the visage was far too big, and painting such an enormous figure in a single night without alerting any of the nuns inside would have constituted a miracle in itself. Furthermore, there was no paint or dye of any kind on the wall. The colors seemed to have been imbued on the stone itself, and no amount of scrubbing removed or faded the holy image.

Lucia, a novice, was helpful. She was young, no more than sixteen years old, and possessed a subtle beauty in her face. She beamed when we were introduced, and emitted a joyousness at odds with the calm, cautious demeanor of the older sisters. The elder women in the convent did not strike me as fearful or apprehensive when I first met them, but in the face of Lucia's exuberance, I found myself reevaluating that position.

Lucia led me to one of the main prayer rooms in the cathedral. Light spilled in from the large entryway, but there were no windows in the room. Candles lined the walls, and adorned the pews, leading to a central podium beneath a painting of The Savior. On the podium sat a small, purple box, adorned with a single golden crucifix on the front. The top of the box sat open, hanging behind the large container on golden hinges. It was empty.
"Here it is," she said, announcing the object as if it was self-explanatory.

I picked up the box and examined it. The inside was coated with velvet, and the empty container seemed heavier than I would have expected.

"Try to close the box, Father."

I did as the girl suggested. To my surprise, the lid refused to move.

"The hinges must be stuck," I offered.

"I do not believe so, Father. I believe this box to be a miracle from God. We received this box two days ago, in the morning, at the entrance to our cathedral. I found it when I arrived to start my morning duties. It was closed when it arrived her, so I opened it. There was nothing inside, Father."

"That sounds like a donation, not a miracle, Sister Lucia."

"Yes, and that is what we thought. Sister Carilla, my mentor, agreed, as did the rest of the sisters. But when we attempted to close the box, we found it as you see it -- stuck. And then, yesterday morning, the Holy Madonna appeared on our great cathedral. Father, I believe God has blessed us, for some reason that I cannot guess."

After years of investigating miracles, I couldn't help but be skeptical. Lucia's story sounded not unlike others I had heard from small towns attempting to gain a boon by luring worshippers and tourists with a vague image of a saint. "Thank you for your words, Sister Lucia. You have helped greatly."

"Then you accept that this is message from God? It is truly a miracle?" Her eyes glowed brighter than the box's golden cross.

"I will stay here today, if your sisters have room for me. There are many rules and procedures for investigating holy occurrences, and it is impossible for me to tell what has happened here after only an hour's contemplation."

Lucia nodded, the fire from her face gone, for the time being.

My first day at the convent was informative. My second was worrying.

Lucia had woken with scratches running up and down her arms. The sisters gathered in a circle around Lucia. Some studied her wounds with the eye of a scholar. Others watched the girl herself for any giveaways about what had happened during the night. A few sobbed and wailed, fearing that the marks had been a punishment from God.
"Could it be stigmata, Father?"

The crowd of nuns parted to allow me to view the girl. "Stigmata wounds resemble the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, Lucia. Have you not learned this in your studies?"

"Of course, Father, I did not meant to imply that these are the wounds of our Savior. But I have heard of other wounds appearing, wounds that match those of saints." She presented her scoured arms to me. "Do you know of any wounds that this could resemble?"
I didn't, of course. Lucia's account of saintly wounds was purely fictional, as far as my knowledge went. But I humored the girl by examining her arms. I made special attention to view her fingernails. They held no blood, no skin. I pressed on one of Lucia's scratches, expecting the girl to cry out in pain. She did no such thing.
"They do not hurt, Father. It is a blessing, not a punishment. A mark of pride and humility."
"Father, Sister Ana Lucia will help you with any information you need. We will examine Novice Lucia and inform you of what we find."
They found nothing, other than the scratches. No blood in Lucia's room. No witnesses to anything strange during the night. No other wounds. My skepticism was being tested.

My second day was worrying. My third was horrifying.

Screams erupted now from outside the cathedral. At the wall where I had only two days before seen the Blessed Virgins, the sisters had fallen to the ground. Most of them were sobbing -- the ones who weren't had fainted. I turned my eyes to the wall, and let out my own cry. What had once been a beautiful homage to blessed Mary had been destroyed. Mary's son was no longer Jesus, but a twisted devil. The Virgin's eyes had been blotted and scratched in crimson, and started a trail of blood leading all the way down to the ground. Some of the nuns had dipped their fingers in the substance, and from the horrified looks on their faces, I could tell that it was not a trick.

We found Lucia kneeling in the prayer room, screaming of visions.Her hand grasped an ebony stiletto. Blood enveloped the blade, as well as her arm. When we entered, the girl turned to look it us. Deep, red pits resided where her eyes should have been. Dried gore lay in a stream down her face. She cried, but shed no tears.
"They will not stop, Father! They will not stop! I can see them! Please, make them stop!" She wailed, and thrust her finger out at the box. "Make it stop, Father! I beg you! Please, God, help me!"

The box was no longer empty. Lucia's excised eyes lay neatly upon the black velvet interior. I couldn't stop myself from edging my hands toward her eyes, from desperately wanting to place them back in her head. But the box would not allow it. As soon as my hand approached it, the lid snapped shut. I pried my fingernails under the lid, bending them back as I attempted in vain to reopen the box. It was too late. Lucia had fallen to the floor, and was now silent. Sister Ana Sofia, now weeping uncontrollably, shook her head as she cradled the poor girl in her arms.
The image on the wall was gone. I returned home and submitted my report. The miracle reported was a hoax perpetuated by a novice. The original eyewitness, Sister Ana Sofia, confirmed my account. I never visited the convent again. I did not tell anyone about Lucia's box, for fear that it would again, for any reason, be opened. The box stays where it is, buried. Undiscovered, undisturbed.