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October 18-24, 2006

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Exquisite Jive

Dem bones: What's so darned sinister about a clarinet?

Dirty Dozen

Our Jive contest turns 12, acts like a deranged tween


I had to actually count it out on my fingers. Twice. It was 12 entire years ago that Greg Cahill--then the editor of this publication then known as the Sonoma County Independent--and I were in a coffee shop scratching our heads. Cafe tables on all sides were filled with folks furiously scribbling in notebooks. (This was, of course, back in the abacus-and-wooly-mammoth days predating the laptop.) What, we asked each other over java, could you possibly be writing about?

And lo, our annual jive contest was born, and it was good.

And lo, we got our answer a thousandfold: You're writing about sex.

As the contest has progressed, we have nudged you to loftier topics, encouraging free-form submissions, assigning such themes as sci-fi and angst. We have exhorted you to lie, have insisted upon key words that must appear in the story and have twice now engaged in an extended session of Exquisite Corpse by beginning a story that you must finish.

This year, given a glass eye, a sword, a clarinet, a man named Maurice (the pompitous of love?), a woman named Keiko and various other nasty bits of work, you . . . well, you cursed us. And rightly so. This year's was not an easy contest. The surprise was the overwhelming slate of sadomasochism, violence, pederasty, panty references and exact use of my own name that ensued. We're still a little shaken.

Of those who almost made it to print but went down valiantly in the final round, we particularly want to shout out to John Garn's discombobulated postlife meditation, Cynthia Logan's exacting academic appraisal of our opening sentences (she gave them a C+), Rhoann Ponsetti's clever apologia to Bob Dylan and W. E. Rampujan's tender marital tale of a man who rebels against the awful Keiko and Maurice soap opera, throws his television out the window and immediately becomes the kind of husband who makes tender love to his wife on the couch, stops at the deli for surprise picnic makings, invites friends over for dinner, signs up for classes and finds a babysitter. Huzzah!

Crabbing about S&M, panties and pederasty aside, we thank all who participated in this year's game and invite you to attend the annual party we throw in our contestants' honor. This year it will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the O'Keeffe Gallery from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. 2423 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. It's as free as the imagination itself. Call 707.527.1200 for details.

As for next year? Well, 13 has always been our lucky number.

Gretchen Giles



Realtor Rondelet

Maurice was never the same after the realtor. Stepping over the debris, he gathered his clarinet, adjusted his glass eye and turned to Keiko. His hand lingering just a moment too long on the sword thrown carelessly across the couch, he held out a set of keys. Keiko, always alert to the sounds of the street, stiffened. Was that an ordinary game of hopscotch she heard? Turning to Maurice, she whispered . . .

"Moe-san, dare ga? Who is that?"

"Dat iz zee realtor's ghost, chérie, searching for hiz glassy essence," said Maurice. "But doo not call me Moe."

They had met during Mule Days in Bishop, a town nestled like dry dung on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. Keiko arrived with a giggling tourist group from Kamakura, and Maurice, then a French instructor in Fresno, had brought his mule Fritz and entered him in three contests: coon jumping, gymkhana and chariot racing. When he won this last race by the breadth of his Poirot mustache, Keiko clapped her pink hands and, with shrieks of "Banzai, Molice!" ran across the fairground and embraced him, poking out his right eye with a tiny sword that her ba-chan had left her as an heirloom and a reminder that in pre-Meiji times, Keiko's family had been Samurais. While her friends in Kamakura had folded cranes, Keiko studied sword fighting and learned how to ride a pony. Her heroes were Toshiro Mifune and Horst Buchholz, who she thought was French.

On Halloween that year, Maurice and Keiko met the realtor who had answered their ad in the Sacramento Bee. It is not important what the ad said, exactly. It is enough to know that the realtor played the trumpet, had no living relatives and sported a glass eye. His name was Isaac Leibchen. Afterwards, they buried him in Owens Valley. Maurice's poker game improved. He learned how to cry with his glass eye. He studied the clarinet after watching a deeply moving clarinet solo entitled "Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind" on TV.

Maurice and Keiko were to get married yesterday in the Enmanji Buddhist temple in Sebastopol. Her wedding present for Maurice was a man-size replica of her grandmother's miniature sword. Maurice gave both the treble key and the bass key of the clarinet solo to Keiko. As she was wrapping herself in her kimono, Maurice was clipping his mustache. Suddenly, a sound drifted up from the street: a lone trumpet playing a hip-hop tune. Maurice paled and dropped his shaving mirror. It shattered into a thousand pieces, leaving glass splinters all over the floor.

Stepping over the debris, he gathered his clarinet, adjusted his glass eye and turned to Keiko. Always alert to the sounds of the street, she stiffened. Was that hip-hop or an ordinary game of hopscotch she heard? Turning to Maurice, she whispered, "Moe-san, dare ga?"

"Dat iz zee realtor's ghost, chérie, forever searching for hiz eye," said Maurice. Maurice was never the same after the realtor.

Wulf Rehder

At Play in the Gutter of the Abyss

Maurice was never the same after the realtor. Stepping over the debris, he gathered his clarinet, adjusted his glass eye and turned to Keiko. His hand lingering just a moment too long on the sword thrown carelessly across the couch, he held out a set of keys. Keiko, always alert to the sounds of the street, stiffened. Was that an ordinary game of hopscotch she heard? Turning to Maurice, she whispered . . .

"Drop the keys, asshole." Maurice paused only an instant, then did as he was told, releasing the keys, which crashed upon the glass coffee table, leaving a crack in the otherwise pristine surface. He whispered words his mother would have washed his mouth out for. His glass eye roamed over toward the sword. It was out of his control, but he hoped Keiko would understand that. He felt his bladder release warmth down his pant leg. His palms were sweaty, his belly sank. Christ, what was happening to him? Yeah, to him--that's how he saw each moment as it rained down into the gutter of the abyss.

Keiko pulled a riding crop out of her high black boot. She used it to sweep the set of keys across and up into her outstretched hand. Maurice was impressed with her practiced ease, in spite of his anxiety. She raised her boot, placing it up and over the now cracked coffee table. As an outlaw twirled his smoking pistol back into his holster, so she twirled her riding crop and replaced it back into her boot.

She flicked her tonge under her upper front teeth and said, "Pick up your clarinet, asshole, I feel like something smooth, something sexy--show me what you got." Maurice, hands sweaty, lips frozen in a grimace, just stared at her. "Play!" she repeated, and though her voice was low in volume, he jumped as though she had shouted in his ear. Maurice reached over, retrieved his clarinet and closed his eyes.

Moistening his lips, he took the intrument into himself. His fingers connected. He took a deep breath and emptied his thoughts, his fears, his soul into each note produced by this newly centered existence. He played as if this was all that existed. No sword, no keys, no insane woman waiting to rip his very throat out. There were only notes. Notes rich, deep and full of longing and remorse. Maurice did not know how long he played. Nothing else existed. No one else existed. Notes telling this final story wafted through the air and out into the cosmos. Maurice slowly came back to his body. He felt the remnants of the fear, the dread. Slowly, the notes faded and stopped. Slowly, he lowered the clarinet and, taking what he feared might be his final breath, opened his eyes.

He was alone. He looked around in disbelief, his eyes finally resting on the pile of debris. There, placed on the top was the paperwork for the house, and piercing through its center, was the sword. At the top of the blade was a note, "Nice music, asshole."

Mia Rivers

Of Gershwin and Golem

Maurice was never the same after the realtor. Stepping over the debris, he gathered his clarinet, adjusted his glass eye and turned to Keiko. His hand lingering just a moment too long on the sword thrown carelessly across the couch, he held out a set of keys. Keiko, always alert to the sounds of the street, stiffened. Was that an ordinary game of hopscotch she heard? Turning to Maurice, she whispered . . .

"Maurice, would you . . . would you do that Gershwin thing you do?"

Lovingly, he lifted the chipped, mellow Bundy to his lips, and the signature opening riff from "Rhapsody in Blue" sprang from it like suddenly-freed wild horses racing prairie lightning.

As Keiko fitted the key into the locked basement door, two things happened: The faux hopscotchers fell silent, and a Breughelesque Golem bound determinedly up the cellar stairs, enchanted, drawn immutably by the thrilling beauty of the Gershwin masterpiece he'd come to so ardently love.

Keiko motioned him toward the open window, and in the street, the sudden silence turned to a panicked skittering. Glancing briefly at the discarded sword, Maurice put all his heart into the "Rhapsody." The enraptured Golem crept stealthily toward the open window.

The demons the "realtor" had brought with him had disappeared in the dank alleyway's shadows, had seeped like dirty coffee into the cracks in the broken sidewalk. He'd stunk like a rotting whale and his footfalls had nicked and scorched the hardwood floor. His voice rasped as if the half-dead were trying to claw their way up out of his belly. Did he really think he could fool anyone?

The realtor had been following Keiko and Maurice ever since they'd left the tiny cabin in the forest. He wanted the Golem to do his bidding, never suspecting Keiko and Maurice had already reanimated the monster.

They'd found the moldering tome in Maurice's great-aunt's house, set along a dusty, rutted wagon road into the countryside and beyond the edge of a dark forest 20 kilometers north of Bucharest. A book had fallen behind her willowwood dresser years ago, and its dry, fragile leaves and faded text appeared to turn to dust as they stared at it. His dying great-aunt croaked like an injured raven when they discovered the book. She looked away, and then, realizing Maurice was her last living relative, quickly made him a present of it.

The reanimation was what Keiko and Maurice called "guided by unseen hands." The imprinting was another matter. Residual threads of his ancestry echoed distantly in the Golem's memory. When he first heard the Gershwin, he behaved as if physically connected, plugged in. He became willing, compliant, driven to please Maurice. He hungered for it, fed on it as if obsessed. Keiko and Maurice discerned that in some otherworldly sense, the Golem had a heart. They responded with compassion, but larceny was never very far from their hearts. And so they "fed" the Golem when they needed him.

Even if the realtor hadn't been humming Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," the Golem would still have bitten his nose and ears off. But it didn't help. He thrashed around considerably, a danse macabre accompanied by Keiko's piano-and-vocal rendition of Cole Porter's "How About You?" As he stared at the mangled body, a droplet of condensation trickled down Maurice's glass eye. "Maybe I should take up the accordion," he said to no one in particular.

Stephen Gross

Something Terribly True

Maurice was never the same after the realtor. Stepping over the debris, he gathered his clarinet, adjusted his glass eye, and turned to Keiko. His hand lingering just a moment too long on the sword thrown carelessly across the couch, he held out a set of keys. Keiko, always alert to the sounds of the street, stiffened. Was that an ordinary game of hopscotch she heard? Turning to Maurice, she whispered . . .

"Sir, your guests will be arriving within the hour." She settled him into the easy chair, propping his feet up on the footstool, simultaneously catching his keys in one fell swoop.

The days were getting shorter, and the usual play in the patio below would cease and games would disappear as night fell. "Good," thought Keiko, as the caterer's truck pulled into the space below. Soon their barbecues would be spiced by apple chips and the smell of sausages would begin to mingle with the Bombay gin martinis she was already shaking.

Maurice Latchkey's overly romantic return to "Renaissance man" histrionics was wearing on Keiko's nerves. She moved the sword from the afternoon's fencing lesson to the hall closet, vaguely thinking of a metaphor about being careful not to fall on your own sword. Keiko's mind danced ahead as she shut the glass eye's eyelid to match the other eye. She left the clarinet set across him as a lifeline. It was not a whim, but rather a constant that he could keep. He was instantly in a deep and peaceful sleep.

Maurice Latchkey would be entertaining a small group of investors this evening. Local money was interested in renovating his ancestral home into a hotel. It wasn't how he had envisioned his life ever after, but it offered the promise of a place in his beloved home. He had been promised a conservatorship, and Keiko, a job. The problem was this Italian blonde bombshell of a realtor! Maurice was afraid of her, but Keiko wasn't.

The night before, he'd had it out with the realtor. She had an irritating way of looking past Maurice when he spoke, and he guessed she never heard what he said. If he recommended that the perspective buyers submit bids for replacing floorboards, the next thing he knew, he would come home to construction in progress. And now, well, this thing was bigger than him and it was apparent she wasn't "his" realtor after all. He tried to put his foot down. He told her no more!

Keiko answered the door demurely as the guests arrived in unison. Ms. Barracuda was instantly at the drinks, talking animatedly, her skin flushing in red blotches. Keiko didn't think this was a pretty woman. Keiko helped the caterers put out the sausage and mustard, asparagus, polenta and olive bread, some bottles of Carignan. The men helped themselves in a distracted way, hanging on to the scent of the queen bee sizzling nearby. Maurice felt invisible. He didn't know what kind of wild deals they were making with his house.

Keiko padded noiselessly about in her turquoise brocade satin pant set as she refreshed the men's wine. She heard the high lilting notes of the clarinet from another chamber of the house and she knew that was her cue. She smiled to herself and she knew also, as much as things were about to change, there was something terribly true that would remain.

Rose Smith

Tout de Suite, My Sweet

Maurice was never the same after the realtor. Stepping over the debris, he gathered his clarinet, adjusted his glass eye and turned to Keiko. His hand lingering just a moment too long on the sword thrown carelessly across the couch, he held out a set of keys. Keiko, always alert to the sounds of the street, stiffened. Was that an ordinary game of hopscotch she heard? Turning to Maurice, she whispered . . .

"Maurice! Thank God you're here!"

"I slipped out of the orchestra pit soon as I got your message," Maurice replied, indicating to her that he was still in his tuxedo. "Lucky you, tonight's 'Der Valkyrie.' By the last act, it gets so loud that nobody will miss one clarinet player. "

Keiko then saw the set of keys Maurice playfully twirled on his index finger. "Oh, Maurice."

"Yes. I had to kill another realtor on the way over. She, too, knew where I lived."

Maurice tossed the keys onto the pile of others accumulating on a nearby table, and joined Keiko, who, dressed as usual only in a bikini and high heels, sat huddled under the front window. He opened his clarinet case, stuck a reed in his mouth to moisten it, and began assembling the instrument. A member of the Marine Corps Band during the last war ("I played my part," he would say modestly), Maurice had practiced for hours daily until he could put his clarinet together blindfolded.

"So, what's the situation?" he asked nonchalantly.

"Not sure." Keiko replied. "Three young girls wearing some kind of paramilitary uniforms came up to the front door about an hour ago, asked me if I wanted to buy some 'cookies.' I stalled them, saying I had to go find my purse. I got my sword and called you at the opera house immediately."

"Smart girl." Maurice smiled, patting her velvety flank. "When did they attack?" He gestured to the debris.

"Oh, I did that." Keiko giggled girlishly. "While I was waiting for you, I tried to fire one of those shoulder-launched missiles you have stored in the crawl space under the garage at them, but I misjudged the trajectory and hit the chandelier overhead instead."

"I would've done the same thing under the circumstances," Maurice nodded sagely.

Keiko shivered. "Listen to them out there! Waiting! Plotting! Playing hopscotch! Maurice, I'm so afraid!"

"The time to be afraid is when the hopscotch stops."

This said, Maurice positioned the moistened reed and, with a couple of deft twists, secured it to the mouthpiece of the clarinet. After a couple of preliminary tootles, he began playing "Ballad of the Green Berets." He never reached the second chorus.

"Oh, Maurice!" Keiko cried passionately, "you're playing our song!"

She pushed Maurice violently to the carpet, causing his glass eye to pop out of its socket and roll under the couch. Clambering atop him, she held him tighter than a rodeo clown astride a runaway bull.

"Maurice," Keiko moaned huskily, "Enough with the clarinet solo, let's play a duet on the organ."

Later, still locked in the throes of passion, Keiko and Maurice were interrupted by the sound of someone nervously clearing her throat. Looking up, they saw three extremely embarrassed Girls Scouts, each carrying several boxes of cookies, standing in a row, staring down at them. One girl, apparently the leader, finally spoke up.

"Excuse me, lady," she asked. "You find your purse yet?"

Rich Jones


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