SAM: Then I’m glad you called. I wasn’t going to go to sleep. I was looking over my records, of what I had. I’ve squandered the family fortune. Generations of hard-earned money gone. Spent freely. You don’t have to say anything. However, you shouldn't let me talk to myself about my problems, that could become a problem.

JANA: It is.

SAM: I never would have thought it possible that from lack of attention I would end up in a bottomless pit somewhere. But no matter what you’ll be able to do what you want with your life.

JANA: Will I?

SAM: And I was having an argument with myself that I lost, and I've been losing all my own arguments. Who can I blame? Myself? That would be easy. But I couldn't blame anyone else for losing my own arguments.

JANA: That’s right.

SAM: The argument is that I don't know what to do. Do I? Yes or no? This is a rhetorical question, and rhetorical questions are a problem, because when you answer such questions the answers are understood according to how well they correspond to what the person asking the rhetorical question wants to hear and I have just asked myself such a question without knowing the answer I wanted to hear, from myself, and then now what is going to happen is a matter of how I’ll be dealt with, depending on how I react, and that depending on how I am dealt with. I am not in an enviable position.
JANA: Jesus, you’re an idiot.

SAM: I want to confide in you. You are the person I’ve always wanted to confide in. You deserve to have me to confide in you. No good will come of it.

JANA: In me?

SAM: You know it is not unusual to be morally and financially bankrupt, not care about what affects others, to be cynical and not show any concern, give less than a toss about anything. What do you think?

JANA: I agree.

SAM: I know you do, and that’s why I’m glad we’re having this conversation. That’s why you are here at this moment waiting for the truth to come to light. I know about you, which is why I’m confiding in you. You agree?

JANA: About what?

SAM: That there is a before and an after to this conversation that we’re having. Of course, there is always a before and after for all things. Then it’s late. You’ll have to rest, get some sleep. So we’ll figure a few things out. I have to investigate what the answers to my own rhetorical questions are. How they’ve changed. Have a good sleep, and rest assured I will be waiting for you when you wake up, and so will he. Sleep well.

(Excerpt from Living Insignificance)

A Novel

THE UNORTHODOX OX (To be published in 2010.)

A naturalist is monitoring the sixth mass extinction. He confronts in his work the prospect that little will be done to avoid the worst from happening. This prophecy for the world is mirrored in his personal life. His marriage is failing. There are those on whom he depends, friends and work colleagues, who are never to be relied upon. The grind of everything is endless. But along comes an offer for his affections. He falls in love with a woman of accomplishment who is not worried about doubt. She has no reason to be. So his personal situation improves due to the excitement of such a promise. Yet nevertheless the larger scenario looms. Then maybe to cut his losses he looks to get out his marriage, find meaningful work, believe in something, and not overindulge in nihilism. And in a suggested admission he comes to realize how morally impotent one will become when not choosing to remain involved and continuing to hope for a future. All of which seems quite unlikely.


— This is what we’re supposed to be listening for. And according to your form the correct choice is.
She read out.

— Calls are not overlapping, individuals can be counted, croakings are distinguishable. I am to check the abundance code box “two”?
She marked with a pen the corresponding abundance code box number two.
— The croakings are distinguishable. And that means?
— The population is stressed.
— Stressed how?
— Threatened.
— How? I’d like to know.
— There is no way of knowing how.
— Harold, really if you don’t want to be talkative at least you can say so. What’s the problem?
— There isn’t one.
— You know I don’t believe you.
— That’s the problem then.
— You want to be impossible, and you know I can be impossible.
— I know that.
They listened to the frogs.
— Mosquitoes bothering you? she asked.
There were no mosquitoes. It was late in the season.
— Are we done here and we can go to another swamp? Would you like to?
— That is what I want to do, if you want to.
— We can go to another swamp and to another, until you cheer up. God, I’m tired of you being uncooperative when you don’t want to be.
— But I’d like you to believe I don’t mean to be.
— And how am I supposed to believe that?
— I’m afraid you aren’t.
They went to another swamp further away on the outside of the farming areas, and there, the abundant number of frogs were croaking in a loud and single trumpeting chorus. She read out the corresponding choice.
— Abundance code box 4: full chorus, calls continuous and overlapping, individuals not distinguishable. They are not stressed.
— No.
— But just a minute, I don’t quite understand. There’s no difference in the latitude and the longitude. It’s the same here as where we were. We’d have to drive for hours or days to get that far to have the latitude and the longitude change. But we’ve recorded the latitude and the longitude for two different locations. They aren’t far from each other. Yet in one location there is more and in the other less croaking. So the latitude and longitude didn’t change, and the choice for the two swamps falls between the three and four abundance code boxes. What do you do? You take an average? So the longitude and latitude doesn’t matter, does it?
— It makes a difference at a national level.
The wind was dying. The frogs were croaking more quietly, their calls were not continuous and not overlapping, individuals were distinguishable. Cattail seeds were falling. The sun was disappearing. The moon was rising.
They stood still. He was as quiet as he could be. She was the one to speak up after the volume level of the frog croaking resumed as before.
— I wonder if you are having me on. If that’s what you’re doing.
— I’m answering your questions, Karol.
— You could have fooled me. Looked like you weren’t being serious.
— I wasn’t fooling you. I was in no way trying to fool you, not in the least.
— You could have been fooling me, I wouldn’t have known one way or another.
— Neither would I then.
— Neither of us knows one way or another, who is fooling whom, is your point? Perhaps you don’t know what your point is. Are you now trying to get back at me for something?
— No, I don’t have a need to get back at you for anything.
A bullfrog croaked a short distance from them.
— It’s too late to drive anywhere else? she asked.
— It will be getting dark soon.
— If I didn’t ask you anything you wouldn’t say a thing.
He answered her by remaining silent.