Shortly after laying the book down, what suddenly sprung to mind for me was what the first paragraph of the New York Times book review had said about Galchen's book. They had compared it to a 'joke' by writer/comedian Steven Wright that goes (and I'm paraphrasing as best I can now) something like this-
“I woke up this morning and everything in the apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. I said to my roommate, ‘Can you believe this? Everything in the apartment has been stolen and replaced with an exact replica.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Do I know you?’ ”
I'm a big fan of Steven Wright. In fact he's one of the few comedians I really have any interest in. In my opinion he's one of the only that brings more than just cheap laffs to the stage. I highly recommend seeking out his short films (One Soldier & The Appointments of Dennis Jennings). I hopped on my computer last night to do a bit of searching myself, and so, in the spirit of all this, this talk of Galchen, Wright, what I think of as products of a whimsically curious school of thought here's this:
The Beach by Steven Wright
Originally Published in Rolling Stone Magazine - Summer 1986
THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THE BEACH.
I, Phillip, a small boy of twelve, lay exhausted, not knowing if I was sleeping or if I was daydreaming that I was sleeping. Gently I rocked back in forth in my hammock, a hammock woven out of the eyelashes of 1000 deer. There was always a gentle breeze at the top of the 300-foot stainless-steel trees where my hammock was located. All the trees were stainless-steel in the Shiny National Forest. Some of the trees had been sawed down and cut into 60-foot lengths, then sold as flagpoles to people who lived in reality, many, many years away. I had never worked so hard in my life as in these past few hours. My clothes proved that I had labored, stained with confusion, compliments and criticism, all things that are not machine washable.
I was living on Water Island. A small island, sizewise. The island had no shore. All islands are above sea level, but this was ridiculous. The entire land mass was 200 feet above the ocean. All sand. Not one human had ever been near the water. And why the hell should they? You don't see fish trying to get on the roofs of buildings.
The year was a very long time ago. The island was ruled by a king. King Sammy. King Sammy lived in the Great Formica Castle, located at the bottom of Sand Valley. The king experienced temporary insanity every day. The Formica grew wild. There was much Formica left over after the castle was completed. The extra Formica would be sold to people who lived in reality, many, many years away. Nobody ever imagined that parts of King Sammy's castle would end up in kitchens.
The king was the king because he controlled gravity. That was the only reason he was king. Which was good enough when you think about it. If he didn't like you for any reason, he would snap his fingers and you would float higher and higher until he snapped them again and you would stay at that height forever or until he brought you back down again, maybe.
People were living at different heights all over the place. The people the king hated the most were very high up in the sky, sitting on stainless-steel chairs. The people who who lived in reality, many, many years away, would look into the sky and invent the word "star." They would also invent the word "shooting star," which was actually a person on a chair that the king was moving to another position.
The reason I lived in a hammock at 300 feet was I was a waiter at the castle, and one night, entranced by the beauty of the king's niece, I accidentally served soup on flat dishes. I smiled at the young girl, the king snapped his fingers, and I went up through a skylight and have been living at 300 feet ever since. I overtook Styrofoam Canyon.
To please King Sammy and again live on the ground was indeed my goal. I was notified of my chance to do this one day at about an hour before the beginning of time. A bird flew to my hammock delivering a small letter. An invitation to possible fate. It was from the king himself. It said, "Dear Phillip: As you know, this year I will be celebrating my birthday on August 11th. If you can arrange a unique festival I will again allow you to live on the ground or at least at eye level and maybe date my niece, Princess Sammintine. I know your great-great-grandfather invented socializing. That is why I'm giving you this chance. If not, I'm sure you will be reaching further heights. Sincerely, King Sammy."
Actually my great-great-grandfather was really a hermit and invented socializing just as a joke.
So here was my chance to redeem myself and live on the ground again. I decided I would go to sleep and dream about what to do. Often I would wave goodbye when I went to sleep. As a small boy I would sometimes sleep with my eyes open so all my dreams would take place in my room. It was raining. There was a great rainbow. Rainbows over Water Island were made of a light plastic.
I was standing on a cliff looking out into the great ocean. The ocean was called Land Ocean. Just then a herd of deer ran by. None of them had eyelashes.
The water was beautiful. The king loved water. Hmmm hmm. The king was very fond of water, to the point where he installed a pool that surrounded the entire castle. Other kings would later copy this idea.
King Sammy could not swim. People who were great swimmers were despised by the king and forced to live on twelve-foot chairs. My dream then switched to housekeeping, which startled me awake.
Yes, yes, the king loved water. If only Water Island had a shore.
I began to work. I got rid of the sand the only way I knew how, I vacuumed it. Night and day I vacuumed until the sand on Water Island got lower and lower, closer to the ocean. Inadvertently, I was inventing the beach.
It was the night of August 10th. I needed much help. So I hired hundreds of small children to help remove the sand. I gave them little plastic buckets and little plastic shovels. The children removed tons of sand. They worked very hard, although they thought they were playing.
Soon the land was level with the water. An unusually beautiful sight to see for the first time: the shore, the beach. I walked up and down this peaceful area trying to avoid the broken glass.
I wrote a letter to King Sammy. "Dear King Sammy: Meet me where I'm going to be. Sincerely, Phillip."
I then prepared the festival. I brought loads of food and ale packed in boxes that were built in the Styrofoam Canyon. I brought small, horizontal fireplaces that stood on little legs. I hired a group of minstrels who could only play music too loud.
Fate lessons of the past and present were now in session. Tradition was about to begin. King Sammy arrived at the beach with fifteen court jesters, his wife, Edna, Princess Sammintine, and several other men and women who were walking around at different heights. Some of them he really didn't like and made them arrive in their underwear. People in reality would do this willingly, many, many years away.
The minstrels began to play. The king danced with the waves. I danced with the shadow of the king, and the idea of Princess Sammintine kissed the back of my memory of the events that took place.
We drank until we almost drowned on land.
A seventy-two-year-old childhood friend of the king cut the plastic rainbows into circles and filled them with air to create colorful bouncing balls. As the king snapped his fingers to the music, people were flying up and down all over the beach. The children with plastic buckets were now heavily into the construction of little castles made of sand, so the king would feel at home.
The more the king drank, the more he liked the people, and the more he liked the people, the lower they were to the ground.
Soon people were actually lying down on little cotton flags all over the beach.
I invited a few of the great swimmers on twelve-foot chairs. The king ordered them to stay in their chairs unless someone was drowning. They wore bright orange shorts.
I had a waterproof pen. The ocean was very calm. The king wanted bigger waves. So I drew huge waves on the ocean. The ships didn't understand.
As the madness continued, I made my way over to Princess Sammintine. I asked her if she wanted a massage. She said, "Yes, but not physically." I said, "How do you like the beach?" She said, "Well, it's kind of sandy." I apologized for the beach's being sandy. Then I said, "Will you marry me?" She said, "No, you're boring, and besides I've seen fatter legs on a bird."
I smiled at Princess Sammintine and accidentally served clam chowder on flat dishes. The king snapped his fingers, and I went up 300 feet onto my hammock in the sky.