ISSUE #144: George Smith, Tracy Kerdman, Stephen Frost

Posted: Monday, June 5, 2017 | | Labels:

Art by Tracy Kerdman

​b​y ​​George Smith

1: An Imagined Introduction

“Hi. Sorry. I don’t want to bother you, but I’ve seen you around a lot, and I guess I feel compelled to introduce myself, as we seem to occupy the same space sometimes.”

I tell her my name.

Issue #144 soundtrack: Stephen Frost “Vagrants”

“Anyway, I just felt compelled to do that, to introduce myself, because I was starting to feel uncomfortable, having seen you around so much without having introduced myself. That said, I probably wouldn’t introduce myself to you, to be honest, if I didn’t find you extremely physically attractive. If you ever want to join my table you’re more than welcome, and if you never join my table that’s fine, too, obviously. I like to meet new people, but I’m terrible at meeting new people, clearly. But I’m actually good at talking, which you’ll figure out if you ever decide to come talk with me. I’ll leave now because I don’t want to infect your space, but, as I said before, you’re always welcome to join me. I’m actually an extremely relaxed person, and the act of telling you all this is probably the least relaxed thing I’ve done in a long time, and I’m not exactly sure why I’m doing it. It’s because I find you extremely physically attractive, I guess. That’s why.”

2: Why Am I Doing This Again?

A window table opens up, so I take it. I hadn’t enjoyed sitting in the dark corner next to the ATM, and I can see The Beauty just as well from this window table. I wonder if she has any idea that I come here to see her.

If she wanted me to talk to her, she wouldn’t be wearing headphones, so I’ll just look at her occasionally and hope she’ll come over and talk to me.

Sometimes I start to write something only to realize I’ve written the exact same thing before; I hope this will not become a trend. Maybe I’m destined for idiocy. There must be a better response than resignation.

Robert Lowell would write when he was in a mania. He would produce a lot of garbage, then go back later and whittle it down. I think that’s the thing for me to do, considering my current state. Yes, the main thing for me to do right now is to make everything contribute to the generation of new material, which is something I can finally allow myself to do freely, without restraint, since I have finally finished work on my novel, which will probably never get published.

But now I’m only watching The Beauty, who has taken off her headphones, possibly signaling she wants me to talk to her.

Potential title for this story: “Mania.” Another potential title would be “The Stalker,” with all of the parts coalescing into a heartbreaking portrait of loneliness.

But I’m pretty sure The Beauty has worked in the same French restaurant for at least a year, so how interesting can she actually be?

A little dog is riding down the sidewalk in a little red wagon. Wasn’t there a nice poem about a little red wagon? If I could remember everything I’ve ever read, I don’t doubt I would still be an idiot. The reflection of neon on glass. The glass of the window. I feel much better next to the window because I can look at it and see what’s outside. Close the door someone has left open, or let the door stay open, even though my cardigan and sweatshirt are on the table, not on my body? Leave the damn door open. Yes, leave it open. I’m way too inflamed by passion to care. It’s nice to see one of the men at the bar reading a book instead of a phone.

I’ve almost completed a quarter of a century on this beautiful planet, and now, with a quick and definitive move, I’ve switched tables yet again, and here I am in the bright corner, nestled, protected, invulnerable to sneak attacks. I can see The Beauty just as well from here, and I still have a window. And yes, The Beauty wears nail polish; I can see it on the nails of her left hand, which she is holding against her hair— no ring. She wants me to know she isn’t married. But I don’t like nail polish. I prefer a focus on non-physical concerns, prefer the life of the mind and of the spirit. I’m talking about God now.

It’s raining again. I wouldn’t have been able to know that had I been sitting in the dark corner. But obviously I could never stay in a dark corner for long. Call it part of my artistic sensibility. A pool ball, the white one, has rolled under my table, and I hand it to the man who has run over, happy to think about something else for a few moments.

I go outside to see if I can see a rainbow. I do not, but I enjoy the cold fresh air.

Back inside, a lady close to me says “paranoid delusional disorder” two times, probably to make sure I hear her.

The Beauty still doesn’t have her headphones on. Should I talk to her? If I do, I will be, definitively, for the rest of our lives, in the weaker position. So I will never talk to her first, and she will probably never talk to me first, and we will probably never talk to each other. But why be sad when I can be busy being alive?

She probably knows she does this crazy stuff to me. She has probably done this crazy stuff to boys before, but why will she not talk to me? I’m beautiful! Either way will be fine, and must be, for there would be no good reason for being otherwise. Just produce good work. There is, or should be, nothing else, despite what I actually want.

What I should try to do is smile at her and see what happens. It’s hard to smile at her because she’s so powerful. And now she is walking out the door. Well, yes, now I (probably) know: this has all been happening in my head.

Or not. I leave two minutes after her, having finished my beer, and, waiting to cross the street, I’m forced to stop for the stupid movements of a bus. When I finally make it across the street, The Beauty is exiting the grocery store. There are two recognitions and two smiles, and we continue our movements in opposite directions.

Now she may know I come here to see her.

3: The Beauty

The Young Man would go to sleep thinking about the appealing women he’d seen over the course of the day. He never had any trouble remembering the details of these appealing women, though understandably the number of appealing women he’d seen would vary from day to day, depending on how many places he’d visited and the densities of bodies in those particular places. The average number of appealing women he would see in a day was four, though on some days he would never see any appealing women, and on some days he would see more than a dozen appealing women. But no matter how high the number, no clarity, in his mind, of an appealing woman was ever diluted.

But, by the following morning, the images of these appealing women would always be erased from his mind. For years, none lingered…


The Beauty worked in a decent French restaurant. The Beauty didn’t take the orders, but she delivered the orders, asked if there was anything else she could get. The Young Man had trouble stopping himself from staring at her. The Beauty wasn’t a classic beauty, nor was The Beauty a modern beauty. The Beauty was just Beauty; you couldn’t put any adjective before it without diminishing it, lying. The Young Man thought The Beauty probably noticed how entranced he was by her, but The Beauty provided no indication of such an awareness. The Young Man liked that. It was all The Young Man could do to not rave about The Beauty to his dinner companion, his girlfriend of eight months.

The Young Man went to bed thinking about The Beauty. His girlfriend seemed to be breathing louder than usual, but his initial annoyance shifted into the understanding that he could use his girlfriend’s breathing in his imagination of The Beauty.

Of course The Young Man expected to forget about The Beauty by the following morning, as he had forgotten about all of the other appealing women he’d ever thought about while going to bed.

But the next morning, The Beauty was still there.

And the morning after that, The Beauty was still there.

Within the week, The Young Man understood he needed to see The Beauty, in person, again. The next time his girlfriend proposed going out to dinner, he would propose the decent restaurant where The Beauty worked. The Young Man knew he should wait for his girlfriend to propose going out to dinner because he never proposed going out to dinner, and starting now would probably arouse extreme suspicion.

The Young Man waited for his girlfriend to propose going out to dinner.

When his girlfriend finally proposed going out to dinner one week later, she proposed a specific place. After some deliberation, The Young Man responded to her proposal with a counter-proposal of the decent restaurant where The Beauty worked. His girlfriend said she really wanted to go to the place she had proposed, adding that she didn’t think the decent restaurant where The Beauty worked was good enough. Food-wise, The Young Man agreed with her, but he told her that his main course had actually been very good, that they should go back there and she should order said main course. She told him OK, she would be willing to go back there sometime in the not-too-distant future, but on this particular night could they go to this other specific place, about which she’d heard very good things? He couldn’t help but agree to go to this other specific place, mainly because she paid for at least 80 percent of their meals, which she always said she was very happy to do because she made a lot more money than he did.

The day after that dinner, they didn’t have any plans together. Why should he wait around for his girlfriend to go back to the decent restaurant where The Beauty worked? He still had a few teeth in his head and a few friends around town, so he decided to call up one of those friends for dinner.

That night, The Young Man returned to the decent restaurant where The Beauty worked. This time The Young Man’s dinner companion was another man, though The Young Man had made sure to invite a gay man. The Young Man was very curious about whether or not The Gay Man would comment on The Beauty. The Gay Man didn’t comment on The Beauty, and The Young Man decided to not say anything about The Beauty either, worrying about being overheard. Instead, The Young Man concentrated his energies on smiling at and thanking The Beauty when she dropped off their shared appetizer and then individual main courses. Though The Young Man wanted to make and hold eye contact with The Beauty, as soon as her eyes met his eyes, his eyes would fly somewhere else. The Young Man assumed The Beauty knew what this meant.

Two weeks later, The Young Man went back to the decent restaurant with his girlfriend. The Beauty wasn’t there.

However, the quality of the food had improved, and approximately three weeks later, his girlfriend proposed going back to the slightly decent-er restaurant. Once again, The Beauty wasn’t there, and the higher quality of their previous meal seemed to have been a fluke.

Approximately one year later, after having returned to the decent restaurant with various friends and not his girlfriend 14 times and never seeing The Beauty there, The Young Man agreed to get married.

Approximately one year later, The Young Man got married.

The Young Man stopped thinking about The Beauty while going to sleep and returned to his former practice of thinking about the appealing women he’d seen over the course of the day.

Approximately one year after The Young Man got married, he took an afternoon off and went to a bar for a beer. The Young Man drank the beer by the window, looking out, not thinking about anything specific. And then The Young Man saw The Beauty. The Beauty was walking by and she looked exactly the same as before, and she made eye contact with him through the glass. They both looked away, then made eye contact again, then looked away again. The Beauty was holding a cup of ice cream and a small spoon. As quickly as she’d entered The Young Man’s field of vision, The Beauty exited his field of vision. The Young Man wondered if he looked the same as he had before, the last time The Beauty saw him, or if he looked different, if he’d changed.

Then The Beauty was back, examining a bicycle an old man was unlocking. The Beauty and The Old Man started talking, seemingly, judging from their gestures, about the bicycle. The Young Man assumed that The Beauty wasn’t actually curious about the bicycle, that The Beauty just wanted to be in The Young Man’s field of vision. For the purpose of…

The Young Man finished his beer, stood up, made sure he wasn’t forgetting anything, and exited the bar. The Young Man moved down the sidewalk towards The Beauty. The Young Man and The Beauty made eye contact again, as The Beauty continued asking The Old Man a question. The Young Man tried to smile, then looked away and walked past The Beauty, not sure where exactly he was going, but very happy that he had seen what he had seen.

4: An Imagined Confession

“I can’t quite explain how you’ve changed my life,” I say.

“Please elaborate,” says The Beauty.

“You’ve changed everything. I even wrote a short story about you. And me.”

“You wrote a short story about me?”

“And me,” I say.

“What’s the short story about?”

“It’s about you and me.”


“Well, the subtext, I guess, is that the narrator wants to spend the rest of his life with her.”

“And her is me?”

“Yes, her is you.”

5: Movie

I’m rewinding the movie. Call me crazy. There’s something back there I didn’t see quite as well as I should. It’s a way his eyes are looking for a fraction of a fraction of a second. I want to pause the movie on that exact moment and take a photograph of it. For future reference.

When I’m around other people, I usually feel like I don’t know what’s going on. Those other people have their own worlds, and I don’t know what those worlds are, how I fit into them. When there are more people around, there are more divides, and I feel more alone.

But when I’m physically alone, it’s usually better because I only have one world to try to observe. I don’t do a good job of this either, but at least I can pretend I’m making some progress in fleeting moments.

I recently decided to make a movie. I had a vaguely specific idea that I thought could work quite well if I worked at it hard for a long time. The one necessity, unfortunately, was Claire, my ex-girlfriend, whom I hadn’t seen in two and a half years, acting in one of the lead roles. She was the only person I could imagine who could play the role right, and though it wasn’t the lead role, it was still an extremely important role, crucial for the success of the movie.

So I sent Claire an email, explaining that I was making a movie and would like her to act in it. I told her I would be happy to send over the script, if she had any interest. I hadn’t written a script yet, only had a few pages of notes that didn’t really add up to much. But I did have that vaguely specific idea in my head; I just hadn’t quite figured it out on paper yet. But that shouldn’t matter anyway— words on paper, that is— because this was going to be a movie. But nothing matters anyway because Claire never responded to my email. Maybe she doesn’t check that email anymore; maybe she thinks my email is ridiculous and doesn’t warrant a response; maybe she’s worried she still loves me too much to risk being around me. I don’t know.

There’s a good chance that if she’d sent me an email before I sent her the email about acting in my movie, I wouldn’t have responded to her email and also wouldn’t have sent her the email about acting in my movie.

Anyhow, life keeps moving along, and whether or not I move along with it is probably irrelevant. People worry about making incorrect choices, but the important thing to remember is that making the correct choice may often feel like you’re not making any choice at all— that is, deciding to do nothing for a while.

I try to manipulate myself to be slightly on edge at all times. The trick is not pushing myself too far in one direction because I think something bad could happen.

My movie idea almost definitely won’t work if Claire won’t play that crucial role. Which is fine. I certainly don’t need to make a movie, and it’s better anyway to write fiction than to make a movie because there are so many things that can go wrong with a movie. While many things can also go wrong with writing, when something does go wrong I have absolutely nobody to blame but myself.

But it does get a little lonely, the writing.

And I would like a woman in my life. Certainly not Claire in any sort of long-term way, but some woman. I don’t want to make any concessions, though, refuse to be somebody I’m not. So I don’t expect to have a woman in my life in any sort of long-term way for quite some time. I’ll be needing as much good luck as possible in that direction. I need God to introduce me to a good woman.

I’m at His disposal.

Yes, I am waiting, patient, for the signs, trying to watch my life as closely as I watch movies like Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick), The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson), and Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard).

6: The Absence

It’s better this way, with The Beauty not here, for now I can focus on my work, which is quite demanding. But I should have gotten here sooner.

At least I’ve found myself in a classy place. No gum under the tables.

Where have all of these people come from, and where will they die?

He wanted to see life as it was happening, though he knew this was asking too much.

But he was grateful. He didn’t need to learn how to control his emotions because he didn’t have any.

Being justifiably outraged lends itself to unforgivable behavior.

At this rate, we will all be dead before we know it!

He pretends he has finally reached the point where he no longer cares about what anyone thinks about him or anything else.

But it isn’t always bad to be around people.

Are we actually doing anything at all?

Yes, he thought, I am lonely.

Everyone wants to pet the dog like a fucking idiot. Either this dog is new, or this dog has cancer. If this dog does have cancer, then he deserves the attention and is, indisputably, also a great dog.

He wonders how many people have noticed him sitting there in the corner, sipping his gin and tonic.

7: An Imagined Consolation

Though she might never love you, you may always love her.

And who says she needs to know about it?

George Smith lives in San Francisco. His short story, "Flame Thrower," was recently published in

Tracy Kerdman studied painting at the College of Charleston where she earned her B.A. in Studio Art. In 2010, she moved to New York where she continued her study of painting at the National Academy Museum and School. Her work has been exhibited in Germany, Canada, New York and throughout the United States -- from the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee, Florida. Her painting, “At My Real Job” is the book cover art for Gallagher Lawson’s 2015 novel “The Paper Man”. She lives and paints in New York City and Saugerties, NY with her husband. For more, visit, and follow her on Tumblr. ​

Stephen Frost looks for cheap inspiration in Richmond, Virginia and sometimes other places. His songs have been featured on a Singaporean children's show, in Brazilian nightclubs, European fashion ads, and blogs worldwide. He's a sellout at Stereo Couture, and also plays in bands ripping off gypsy/klezmer, Led Zeppelin, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. For more, visit his Bandcamp and​