Listicles / Once upon a time

How to tell you’re in a Raymond Carver short story

Edward Hopper

Curiously one-gloved woman in an Edward Hopper painting which I imagine is not unlike being in a Raymond Carver short story. (Automat, 1927)

Friday, July 1, 2016, marked the completely unacceptable passing of the online publication The Toast, which the Huffington Post aptly pre-eulogized as “Mallory Ortberg‘s Utopia of Feminist Humor.” Ortberg has claimed librarians as their target market, and to that end, she and co-founder Nicole Cliffe have served up some of the tastiest blue-stocking snark I’ve sampled online, garnished with inside jokes that reward frequent returns. I didn’t always get it. But I mostly loved it anyway, and I’m gutted to see it go.

So, I’m honoring this solemn occasion with a humble tribute post. May it reflect the toast-shaped covert of banal desolation now lingering in my soul. Incidentally, it’s also one of my submissions that they rebuffed. I’ll even miss their prompt, pithy, and personal-sounding rejections: “I will pass on this. But thanks for thinking of us!!”. (The double exclamation — friendly encouragement or mocking irony? From these guys? Who cares! I’m just flattered by the attention.)

To make things sadder, I apparently pitched this just a day or two after they’d locked up their last month’s freelance calendar. (This coulda been The One!) And to make things sadder yet, it’s about Raymond Carver short stories.

*cue single spotlight and and melancholy, muted trumpet*

And now, in the tradition of The Toast’s helpful literary guides, here’s:

How to tell you’re in a Raymond Carver short story:

It’s after 9. She’s been gone nearly 5 hours.

Your name is Duane, Vern, or Al.

You have enough to contend with without having to worry about a stinking dog.

Emily Post might have a few things to say about you.

You’re a heart surgeon, sure, but you’re just a mechanic, a humble sawbones. You left your real passion when you left the seminary. But your second wife doesn’t understand.

People are saying things at work, that you don’t look like yourself.

You almost called the sheriff that night, until you recognized who was out there.

That morning you poured Teacher’s all over his belly and licked it off. That afternoon you tried to jump out the window.

Your name is Doreen, Edith, or Betty.

You get along with the right people alright, but seniority or friendship, either one, doesn’t mean a damn these days.

You weren’t afraid. It wasn’t that. You just didn’t want trouble.

You’ve never seen a fish like him before.

One night when you’re all terribly drunk, your husband’s colleague tells you that Norman Mailer stabbed his cheating wife in the breast. You immediately sleep with him.

You’re not a frivolous man, nor are you, in your opinion, a serious man.

You drink your drink and think it’s not ever going to be the same again.

In the paperback by your bed there’s a story about a man who has a nightmare in which he dreams he’s dreaming of a strange-yet-not-strange man at the window. That story terrifies you. But your ex-wife doesn’t understand.

Sure, there were rumors, But you just don’t look the sort who’d do something really criminal.

After you left, he drank rat poison.

If you were a real writer, as you say you are, you would try to understand. But you are no writer, sir!

It has to be done without Betty or the kids finding out.

Personally, you’d rather be classified as a robber or a rapist than a bankrupt. You seem nice enough, though.

You don’t think that jerk waiter ever knew Lana Turner.

It has been brought up now, and it was years ago, so there’s no reason at all you can think of that you can’t talk about it now if you want to.

You have a mustache and always wear a button-up sweater. You walk with a limp from a gunshot wound your first wife gave you.

Everybody’s fine.

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