A Troll

A troll walks through Harlem.

His name is Jefferson Anthony. His father, long since dead of a broken heart, thought that Jefferson was a funny name because of the old sitcom. He wanted to be a professional comedian and projected that dream onto his son, as is the popular tradition. (Why else would there be bankers’ sons named Hunter? Or for that matter, Kal-El Cage or Prince Michael Jackson?) His father never knew about President Thomas Jefferson’s indiscretions with slaves, from which the TV show got its name. Jefferson Anthony, being very young, doesn’t know about the TV show long since off the air.

Jefferson calls himself a professional blogger and, in a way, ignorance is his profession. He writes about things he doesn’t understand, like astrology, music, farming subsidies, and women. Gathering other people’s words, other people’s work, makes him a decent wage in traffic and advertising.  But his true calling is instigating fights among strangers.

Jefferson can find an article about any divisive topic, scan it, and post a comment in about two minutes. Then he sits back and enjoys the mayhem, like a more cultured man might appreciate a symphony. He doesn’t hound people nor type out expletives in all caps. He just poisons the discussion with a short, slightly vague but firm statement, which causes some to take his side, some to object, and most to misinterpret. He makes an art of pushing people, and thus is an expert at pushing them away.

The loneliness is staggering.

A troll walks through Harlem.

Trolls have no names, this one included. They are not born, or hatched. Trolls are grown. This troll’s parents pissed their genetic material onto a porous rock ledge on a brownstone on 130th Street. One parent in 1826, the other in 1985. The process left behind a sharp metallic smell in the air, a curious but forgettable hole in the masonry, and a new troll.

This one is a bull. Stunted for its age, it has no false heads. Most trolls have one true head while the others are just masses of hair and non-functioning organs: blind eyes with blinking lids, mouths complete with teeth and tongues but no throats. The extraneous heads serve to intimidate rivals and fool predators. (No creature eats trolls, none at all, though many hunt and kill them.) The very oldest trolls grow so many heads, six or seven, that the true head becomes surrounded on all sides and can no longer see and breathe. Sometimes it is absorbed by the body, or is pushed so far to one side that a troll may look out at the world from an armpit.

Trolls exist the length of a molecule away from our world, drifting along the frequencies of the universes like a broken tuner on a Bakelite radio. It is a curious evolutionary trait, an extreme form of camouflage that protects trolls from anything and everything. So effective is this quantum defensive mechanism that most trolls die having never seen another of their kind.

The loneliness is staggering.


Post-Fiction: A Future Eulogy

A reading from the Book of Satire, “Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” This is the good news.

[Wait to see if anyone says, “Thanks be to God.” If they do, say, “Gotcha!”]

That’s not from the bible. Sounds like it, I know, especially the “man is not dead” part, the sexist bastards. No, that’s from Terry Pratchett. Always wanted Alice to read more of him but she never found him compelling. Every time I’d bring it up she’d look me straight in the eye and say, “Butt pat!” Then she’d pat my butt.

If you laughed that means you knew her, understood her, better than most. And that makes you very, very lucky.

I have an idea about how this is supposed to go. I’m supposed to tell you her story. I won’t and I can’t. I don’t know why anyone tries to do that kind of thing at times like these. It always ends up sounding like a list of accomplishments, as if a funeral was a performance review and the year end bonus is Heaven. I won’t tell you her story because two stunning autobiographies and a personal memoir already exist. I can’t tell you her story, because I don’t know it all.

The only thing I can tell you is her life as it mattered to me. That’s all we’re doing here today anyway. We’re introducing versions of Alice to each other. It might sound selfish but, with all due respect, she’s dead and we are the ones that need closure.

So, humor an impossibly old man for a while as I say goodbye to a dear friend.

I met Alice on the edge of summer, 2003, on a bus heading south on Katipunan Avenue towards the University of the Philippines. I recognized her from the weekend before, at a gig she played with her band. (That’s right, she had a band. Grandchildren, we have the photos to prove it.)

We met up some time later to hang out, just talk mostly. But that conversation changed my life, because we didn’t talk about anything small. We talked about our beliefs, about books, art, the future, about things that mattered. We only truly understood what had happened afterward when we realized we didn’t know each others last name. Neither did we know how many friends we had in common, or how many siblings we each had, or any of the hundred things the newly acquainted bother with first.

That was the first thing Alice did to me. Fresh out of high school, buried nose deep in self-indulgent wank and pseudo-important factoids, I was in real danger of being lost. She taught me that life could be lived with all of the mundane left out.

We became friends.

That is such a loaded word: friends. It has one definition with so many meanings, like the word “love” or “balls.” But the most important thing about having friends is that these are the people that, for one reason or another, you choose to be with. If free will is the greatest human achievement, and it is (it’s better than chocolate and beer), then in a way your friends are more important than your relatives.

Friends are all the things relatives are, but they can leave. The fact that they’re sticking around means they really care about you. Just think of all the people you aren’t friends with anymore. Think about why you kicked them out or, more likely, why they slammed the door on you. Don’t they make the ones that are still hanging on seem so much more heroic?

Since that afternoon there have been dances and concerts and movies and exes and long walks and longer talks and new friends and lost friends and trips abroad and tiny cars and beers and jetpacks — all the things that make up a life. And what a life! I could stand here all day talking about adventures. It would never be enough. She lived more than most people, and more honorably.

If there is one image, though, in my mind that captures everything she meant to me it would have to be this: her hand grabbing mine and pulling me to the head of the crowd so we could dance in front of the bandstand at a rock concert. She was the captain; awesome was the destination. Life didn’t happen to Alice, not the way it did to other people. I don’t know how it felt for her but for me life was what happened when you were with people like her. You collected milestones in their company. They made you heavy with feeling, with meaning.

I’m sure she would say differently if she could, not because she was humble but because she had a better vocabulary than me. She had a sense of humor that time couldn’t dull. She had a laugh you could happily fall on the floor to.

Oh, and she had a lisp. Did anyone else notice? Yeah, okay.

She died, finally, on a Sunday afternoon. Cooking. It didn’t even have the decency to rain. It made me want to hit things when I found out. I did.

We talked, a lifetime ago, about the possibility of me writing her eulogy. But so much has happened since then. First drink. Three amazing kids. Six beautiful grandchildren. Tenure. An astounding career. The Robot Wars…I didn’t think this would be the hard part.

I’ve buried and burned many friends. I even saw a friend intentionally fight a bear once. You cry at these things, these endings, because you’ll never see the likes of them again. Never again, in all eternity. It’s sad. Life is a gift that is all the more precious for being temporary as well as rare.

I’m going to miss her the most.


First published at New-Slang.com (defunct) on 15 October 2010, for the Friends Issue. At the time of publication, New Slang editor Alice Sarmiento was a writer, college professor, clothing designer, and very much alive.