In college Sanders dated a girl named Amy who kept a journal of things that made her happy. No annotations, no discussion, just things, in a list, one per line on lightly ruled clothbound paper. She showed it to him once, expecting a reaction that he didn’t give, and after that he flipped through it when he thought she wasn’t looking. There were, he estimated, at least two thousand entries, beginning with green kleenex (the first entry — the very first entry, the first thing she ever thought of that made her happy) and ending, that very day, with caterpillars, which she had added dramatically in green ink after Sanders accidentally squashed one on the sidewalk outside the dorm. In between were pencils without erasers, Jujyfruits, punch clocks, rolling papers (she did not smoke), the plastic things at the ends of shoelaces, thirty-second timeouts (in which sport she did not specify) and italicized capital Qs, along with more conventionally joy-producing items such as chocolate TCBY and falling leaves. Sanders was briefly infatuated with the idea that she appreciated these quotidian objects more deeply than he, that her meditation on them might produce in her some zen-like inner peace that he lacked but might through careful study and extended physical contact acquire, but her appreciation was nothing she attempted to share, and she ignored his attempts to point out the shimmering rainbow on the oil-slicked puddle or the peculiar shape of an oak leaf. She seemed more interested in collecting happinesses than in contemplating or enjoying them: One night in the dining hall she asked him to remind her to add “forks with uneven tines,” and when he forgot, she mock-chastised him in the manner of a kingergartener rebuking an unruly kitten. He dumped her not long afterwards, bored with the banality of her joy and also with her failure to add “Buchanan’s rock-hard cock” to her list. Read on
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The Adventures of Buchanan Sanders, Web Designer
Buchanan Sanders was the protagonist in a brief run of blogged fiction I wrote in 2007 and 2008. He was unhappily divorced, owned half of a web design company, and had bizarre relationships with his parents, who were also divorced. He had a sad crush on the much younger woman who worked for him and an even sadder one on Rachel Ray. Misery and black humor all around.
Sanders never quite evolved beyond bits and pieces, but I’ve kept some of the better stories here.
Peruse the menu
- Ouija boards and what we want to believe
- Timeline of U.S. political parties
- What's really in the molasses?
- Fat(e), free will, and forgiveness
- How much do Americans actually spend on food? (And how much should we?)
- The dangers of eating hot bread
- The Thanksgiving issue: Suggested menus, 1913
- Redistricting and electoral fairness: the view from Eno precinct
- It is no longer June
- The Mister Awesome Turkey Thanksgiving Day Spectacular!
- The river slips softly / into the dusk of the year
- The Thanksgiving issue: A political menu in fiction, 1827
- The Thanksgiving issue: Suggested menus, 1913
- In defense of false expectations
- Ouija boards and what we want to believe
- Blackstrap molasses and wheat-germ bread: A super-food chantey
- A crumbling sanctuary of dawn-lit leaves
- It is no longer June
- The turbulence that creates the beauty
- The politics of Thanksgiving, 1827 (and another menu): http://t.co/A0fVY0kp5N
- Thanksgiving menus from a hundred years ago: http://t.co/mhVCXuEYZm
- I have decided to offer a series of courses via smoke signals. I'll start with history and proceed to linear algebra if interest permits.
- On Ouija boards: We all believe what we want to believe, even skeptics and psychologists http://t.co/PuoZL7GywE
- Or maybe Wikipedia DID truly democratize knowledge, and this is the result. Democracy isn't utopia. http://t.co/EKUBeFNEPi
- Ella Fitzgerald, Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, and Jimmy Durante sing a song about super foods: http://t.co/cK1mmbNiO0
- Unless your mother and I have been waiting half an hour for you to finish your dinner. Then you need to EAT, for crying out loud.
- Not that you shouldn't draw faces in your mashed potatoes, necessarily.
- Drawing faces in your mashed potatoes isn't going to make your soul grow. Vonnegut confuses the soul with the self: http://t.co/A9uR65yiD9
- The poplar grows forgetful of his leaves / In middle age, and lets them drift away / As we forget the words for—aw, crap.
The Super Wal-Mart on a Saturday night provided unmatched ground for anthropological study, and this, Buchanan Sanders told himself, was why he chose this place and time to buy his groceries. Not the low low prices, nor the convenience, nor the fact that he had worked late every night this week and most of the day today and nine-fifty Saturday evening was his first chance for leisurely perusement of comestibles in days and the Super Wal-Mart all that remained open for business in a ten-mile radius of his apartment; nor even the opportunity, of which he had availed himself, to obtain both baby carrots and a lava lamp without re-parking his Civic. Not so as he told himself. No; he had come instead to observe his fellow man. When one spend one’s days (and nights, and weekends) at a computer in an office in a back hallway of a moderately upscale hotel off a six-lane interstate in a moderately upscale suburb one may begin to feel cut off from the man on the steet, Joe Sixpack, John Q. Public. One feels the need to mingle with the ordinary run of humanity.
But the Super Wal-Mart had its sirens, to which Sanders no more than the objects of his study was immune, and it was no good lashing himself to his shopping cart. Quaker State two for three dollars? The Civic was leaking oil again. Read on
Buchanan and Suzanne Sanders had found advertisements in upscale magazines to be a weak predictor of life with children. Whimsically dressed toddlers play on unstained white carpets while charmed parents look on lovingly and without care. Mothers retain perfect breasts and the appearance of Lutheran sorority girls; fathers, while largely decorative, are strong and sturdy and clean-shaven. No one is covered in vomit. It was the vomit, specifically, that rent the marriage. And not, as one might have expected, the child’s.
Arriving to pick Suzanne up for their second date, seeing her in the doorway of her apartment, Sanders had urgently felt the need to vomit. Love, lust, anticipation churned in his loins and in his stomach, and dashing for the bathroom he deposited them, along with the remains of a Powerbar and two bananas, in the toilet. To his relief he found the vent fan to be extraordinarily loud; she surmised his distress only from his haste in getting to the bathroom and his lack thereof in emerging.
“Bu?” she knocked on the door. “You ok?” When they were first dating Suzanne called him Bu, pronounced byew, as if she were about to call him beautiful, though she never did.
Sanders, gargling as quietly as he could manage, tried to indicate by thumps and hums that he was fine. This was, for him, normal. Butterflies would be polite but inaccurate. Butterflies are cute, innocent, unserious; they merely flutter. Sanders, in love, felt something in his gut more akin to winged bison. In three months of dating he lost ten pounds. He existed on miso and saltines, avoided dinners out, stashed bags of candied ginger in his desk drawer in case she called him at work.
He greeted the second, more settled phase of their relationship with a great deal of relief: The languid Sunday mornings reading the newspaper, the evenings slouched together in front of the television, the throwing up only when actually ill. Some years later, thinking they missed the excitement of those early days, they had a baby. Holding red-faced Maddie together, Suzanne for the first time in ages called him Bu and he looked into his child’s eyes and rushed for the bathroom, where, having not eaten in fourteen waking hours, he dry-heaved. He pled exhaustion and low blood sugar, but Suzanne knew better. It would not be the last time.
Christmas when Sanders was six his parents took him to New York. They admired the tree in Rockefeller Center; they gaped at the lights and the toy store windows; they ice-skated in Central Park. They saw the Rockettes, Joan Sanders’ dream since her own childhood. In half-embarrassed whispers she had shared memories of seeing the Rockettes on television, of wanting to be a Rockette, herself, when she grew up. Young Bunchanan didn’t see what was the big deal, but he understood that it was a big deal, and he, the dutiful son, listened politely, recognizing even at his tender age that his mother, all things being equal, would rather have had a daughter. “You probably don’t understand,” she said, laughing it off, and he shrugged and smiled to indicate that he sort of did, maybe, that at least he wished he did.
But the Rockettes scared him. He couldn’t have said why, but sitting in the darkened theater he began to cry. When it became clear that he couldn’t or wouldn’t stop, his father offered to take him outside, and Joan — Buchanan would never forget her face at that moment — Joan nodded in agreement, smiled at her son to tell him it was all right, but he saw the sadness in her eyes. He saw the disappointment of someone who, convinced that what she has is really too good to be true, is almost relieved to have it taken from her. And — for an instant — a flash of anger at her husband, as if he had planned his escape from the beginning, coaching the boy to cry and practicing his look of patient regret in the mirror, while shaving. Then she turned back to the show, and Paul Sanders led his sniveling son down the row of people who turned their knees to let them pass but arched their necks to keep their eyes on the action. They found the spectacle cheery and Christmas-y and not a bit frightening; little Buchanan Sanders sobbed all the harder in embarrassment. Read on
Sanders had always imagined his father as one of those crazy old men who refuse to abandon their homes in the face of natural disaster. The retiree who boards his windows and stocks up on canned tuna and bottled water and rides out the hurricane. The aged widower who, informed that the dormant volcano in whose shadow he lives is about to erupt, locks the door to his cabin, turns up the radio, and waits for the end. Sanders would hear about him on the news: Man Refuses to Leave Mountainside Home. The state police, evacuating the countryside, would threaten him with arrest. Reporters would bang on his windows, film urgent monologues in his flowerbeds. The governor would go on TV with a special message imploring him to leave.
His son would call him on his cell phone. “So this is it,” he would say.
There would be a pause while both men reflected on the elder’s bravery.
“I love you, dad.” He could say that more easily knowing the old man was about to be buried in lava. No danger of an awkward conversation, or a hug. No precedent set for their future relationship.
“I love you too, kid.”
The next morning the volcano would erupt, and Paul Sanders would be fossilized in volcanic rock. That, Buchanan believed, was the ending his father would have written for himself. Defiant to the last; stoppable only by an act of God. But you can’t write your own ending. You have to wait around like everybody else and see how it turns out. It’s the waiting that kills you.