Scott Rettberg

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Thing 26: Bully

Filed under: fiction, thing-a-day — Scott at 11:30 am on Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The kid comes home from school roughed up again, hating the world, hating you for having him, hating the horrible age with all its rough edges and cruel children. There’s little you can do to help. There are things you can’t say. Things you can’t say because you know they would be poor parenting in spite of the fact that you consider them to be true. Like the fact that about ten percent of the people that you will meet, child, are bad, plain and simple. Evil little shits who will get pleasure from torture from now until the end of their days. Most of them will be losers and will fall off but others will rule the world. You will need to develop strategies, child, to deal with them. In all likelihood, they will be stronger than you in the way that brutality is always stronger than mercy. You can’t tell the boy that he needs to fight back, that he needs to become stronger, that he needs to hurt the bully any way he can, because you don’t want the child to enjoy inflicting pain on others. Yet you wish he could put needles under the bully’s skin that would tear at the little creep from the inside, endlessly. You ought not tell the child to hide his tears because you know that those who are in touch with their feelings are ultimately stronger. Yet inside you are screaming because you know that the bullies always smell weakness on other children and tear at it like jackals at the wound. You could talk to the teacher or the parents of the little monster but you know that that will lead nowhere, to even more severe ambushes, round dark corners and out of sight. You would like to have a few words with the other parents, to tell them what a miserable job they have done with their bad seed which has grown into a vicious weed, but you know that it would lead nowhere. In spite of yourself you wish for a tragic accident involving a school bus and a bully bragging in the street. And your child is weeping in the next room, bruised and bleeding. Your efforts are futile and he won’t open the door and there is nothing you can do about this misery. This will pass, child, this will pass. You prepare some platitudes, saddened by the knowledge that you can no longer protect him. You open the newspaper but you cannot turn the pages.

Thing 25: Plenty

Filed under: fiction, thing-a-day — Scott at 12:09 am on Monday, February 26, 2007


This is a book by an author I met once. This is a book by an author with wounded hands who cried too much when you beat him at poker. This is a book by a dead man. This is a book by a conscientious woman who resisted the force of the powers in charge at the time. She is also dead. This is a book your great-grandmother wrote recipes in. This is the book your great uncle was carrying the night he was shot. I’ve never read it. It might be good. This is the book that most profoundly affected me when I was a child. This is the book your father kept all of his debts in before they came to take him away. This book is my diary that I kept for a few years when I was your age. You can’t read it, sorry. This is a book about meatpacking plants in Indiana. I’ve read it. Kind of boring, but graphic. This is a book about sex in India. It has pictures. You can’t read it. This is a book about icebergs written one hundred years ago. Can you believe it? What did they know about icebergs? This is a book written by a romance novelist well before they knew what sex was. This is a book about jazz. Jazz at the time was better than rock and roll. Do you know what rock and roll was? You don’t, do you? This is a book about Jesus. He died and came again. This is a book about Mohammad. He’s Islam. This is a book about easter eggs. Do you know that the Russians made elaborate jewelry in the form? This is a book about sonnets. They are kind of poem. This is a book about love. Your father wrote it before he died. He was a handsome man. This is a book about Hannibal. He used elephants in a military campaign. He crossed mountains. He was magnificent. Your father died when you were very young. This is a book about boy scouts. Your father was one. He learned to build fires. This is a book about securities. I’ve never read it. This is a thesaurus. It tells you not what words mean but what other words are like them. Your grandmother liked magazines. The thing about magazines is that nobody keeps them. We’re so alone. This is a book by a French philosopher who lived for a period of time up in a mountain. This is a book by an American who lived in a cabin. This is a book by a Greek who lived in a cave. The man who wrote this book became chancellor of a university under Hitler and was discredited. The woman who wrote this book was courageous in front of Congress when they asked her to turn in her friends. The man who wrote this book lost his mind tragically. The girl who wrote this book died during the Holocaust. Aunt Jean wrote this book. I think I’m the only one who ever read it. This is a cookbook. The best recipes have handwritten notes about things you can substitute in a pinch. I’m very sorry about what you’ve had to go through. I have tried to love you. I’m sorry that I’m dying. This book makes no sense to me but it is very famous. This book is about a war in ancient Greece that nobody remembers but because of this book, everybody remembers it. Write things down. This book is about Dublin. Will you have more tea? Don’t worry, there’s plenty.

Thing 24: Sinkhole

Filed under: fiction, thing-a-day — Scott at 11:19 am on Sunday, February 25, 2007


“We discussed all of the scenarios involved in buying the old house and having the baby at the same time before we made the move. We made sure there was no lead paint or asbestos. We got those little plastic plug things for the outlets and those little plastic hook things for the cupboard.”

“Hook things?”

“Safety latches.”

“Ah yeah. Bartender, two more.”

“There’s a lot to think about. When you’re cooking you need to keep all the handles pointed toward the back of the stove. You can’t use tablecloths because a toddler could pull them down. You gotta keep all the cords coiled. All the cleaning products out of reach. Coffee, tea towards the center of the table. Knives.”

“Well that’s obvious. Cutlery and babies don’t mix.”

“In locked drawers at all times. We got rid of the block.”

“You thought things out.”

“We read up. We had to fasten all the bookcases to the wall, and we didn’t put books in the bottom shelf. We scrutinized all the toys people gave us at the shower. We threw half of them away. Choking hazards.”

“You can’t be too careful.”

“I learned CPR. We practiced the Heimlich on each other. The well we debated. A beautiful stone well, must have been there for a hundred, hundred and fifty years. At first I wanted to keep it. But.”

“The baby in a well scenario.”

“That’s right. You imagine. We got it filled in.”

“Right move. Should have been enough.”

The wind howled outside and rattled the windows. Another storm coming.

“Shampoo, soap, medicines, everything out of reach, everything locked down. Vacuumed twice a day. Could have eaten off that floor. Hired a specialist to check the basement for mold. You start looking, you start to see hazards everywhere. A home is a dangerous thing. An infant is infinitely vulnerable.”

“You don’t need to talk about this, Frank. If it, you know.”

“No, no, it’s okay. It helps.”

They were alone in the bar. The bartender, a slender man in his early twenties, was absent-mindedly picking his teeth at the other end of the bar while watching the Weather Channel. They sipped at their third glasses of scotch.

“I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through.”

“You try to think of everything. You try and try. But the earth itself. The ground that you stand on. You don’t think that’s going to come crumbling down.”

“At least she survived.”

“It was an awful noise, Joe. One minute she was standing there, and then there was this, this horrible kind of slurping noise. Her, her scream and a, a kind of gurgle. Just mud. The sounds, Joe, the sounds are what I remember.”

“You went in after her, Frank. Nobody could have expected more.”

“It was too late, she was, they were, already broken inside. By the time the ambulance got there it was too late.”

“So where’s she now?”

“She’s at her mother’s in Omaha. I don’t think she’s coming back.”

“Frank, you really tried. No one can blame you.”

“It’s like there was a test, and I failed it without even knowing it was a test.”

“Nothing’s safe anymore.”

Thing 23: His Long Pause

Filed under: fiction, thing-a-day — Scott at 2:04 pm on Saturday, February 24, 2007

His Long Pause

Because the world is round, it rotates and days accrue. Because days accrue, he begins to feel the weight. He feels the weight because more and more days accrue and he feels that his best days are gone. Because he feels that his best days are gone he feels regret. He feels regret because of the choices that he made, and he takes them apart one by one, and he feels tired. Because he feels tired one day he cannot get up. Because he cannot get up he sleeps. When he can sleep no more he turns.

It is not that the job means nothing. The job has meaning but he cannot get up. He might prefer to go to the job but he feels the weight. He feels the weight because he is stuck back in time. At some point it occurs to him that he needs to eat. He needs to eat to live. There is light outside and it is bright. Around one or two he rises and makes his way to the cupboard, where he finds and opens a can of beans. He could turn on the television but he does not. There is light in the window and he looks out it, at all the people moving outside. They are always outside, always moving. He pours himself a glass of water and drinks. He eats half the can of beans and then he is not hungry anymore, not much. There is dust in the air. He returns to bed.

Work will call today, he thinks, and they do, and he does not answer. The machine sounds happy, happy to handle the call. They wonder where he is, and why he hasn’t called back. They say they are worried. Does it matter? They called yesterday too. They might call tomorrow. They might stop calling. He’s not really waiting for a call from her. He expects nothing of her. Also gone like other things. Someday soon he will have to go out and get food. He will run out, and he will need to eat. He turns up the heating, just a little, to make the room warm. He turns and tries to sleep. There is only yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that, and so on. He will not stop or go on. Time is like this sometimes. It will continue like this for a while. And then.

Thing 22: Love and Capital

Filed under: fiction, thing-a-day — Scott at 11:37 pm on Thursday, February 22, 2007

Switching gears again for the last week of the thing-a-day project. This week I’ll be writing very short stories in swift careless drafts. Without further ado:

Love and Capital

“The truth,” she said as she leaned over and whispered into his ear, “is that having money, a lot of money, feels good.”

“You mean being rich is an intrinsic good?”

“Hell no, it just feels that way. It feels real good, Bobby”

He was puzzled as to what they should do now, and where they should go next.

“Isn’t it possible that this money will, like, destroy us? Make us I don’t know, irresponsible and vain, and what, shallow?”

“Should we give it all to the rainforests, Bobby? Or the monkeys? Should we buy enough goats to feed all of Africa? Should we air-condition the planet?”

“Damn it Susan, don’t be glib. This is serious. We have an opportunity to do good things.”

“And bad things.”

“I don’t want to be evil.”

“We’ll get an investment adviser, Bobby. Relax. This is a good thing. We’re wealthy now, Bobby. We’re people of means now.”

“But what does it all mean?”

“It means we buy a yacht, Bobby, and we sail, and we fuck. A lot.”

“Each other?”

“Of course. At first.”

“And then?”

“And then you fuck whoever you want to fuck Bobby, you’re fucking rich.”

“And you?”

“I’m fucking rich too, Bobby, don’t you forget it. I can fuck the Lithuanian national rugby team if I want to.”


“Well. Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

“Don’t you think we should do something about the body first?”

“Spoilsport. Did you bring a saw?”

“A saw.”

“Jesus, Bobby, we can’t just leave it in one piece. We need to carve it up. Don’t you think? Don’t you watch television?”

“I think I’m going to be sick.”

“No one said it would come easy.”

There was a silence, and an awful smell.

“Don’t cry, Bobby.”

“I love you baby.”

“I love you too, Bobby, I love you too.”

Thing 21: Walking in Bergen: From the Ending to the Vinmonopoli

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 8:05 pm on Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gingered Shrimp with Chili Noodles

Filed under: photos, cooking — Scott at 6:58 pm on Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This recipe from the Moosewood Low-Fat cookbook, served over chili noodles in lieu of soba, was superb.

Thing 20: Walking in Bergen: From My Office to Norwegian Class

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 2:52 pm on Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thing 19: Walking in Bergen: From the City to Johannes Kirke

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 3:16 pm on Monday, February 19, 2007

Walking up to Johannes Kirke as the bells sound at noon.

Thing 18: Walking in Bergen: From the Gym to the University (Sideways)

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 11:21 am on Monday, February 19, 2007

I thought I’d see what happened if I held the phone vertically — well, it comes out sideways. I kind of like it.

Thing 17: Walking in Bergen: Through Nygårdsparken in the Rain

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 5:19 pm on Saturday, February 17, 2007

I walk through the park most days on my way to the university. In the park I see water, trees, joggers, geese, ducks, sculptures, and junkies. Sorry about my finger.

Thing 16: Walking in Bergen: From the Front Door to the Bus-stop

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 2:31 pm on Friday, February 16, 2007

It’s a busy week with a lot of deadlines, so I’m exploring the possibilities of capturing banality via cellphone video rather than writing or doing anything else very head or labor-intensive for my create-a-thing-a-day project. I suppose I could just post the academic essays I’m writing or the job applications I’m filing, but, eh, no. Come, walk with me.

Thing 15: Walking in Bergen: A View from the Bridge

Filed under: video, thing-a-day — Scott at 4:25 am on Friday, February 16, 2007

Theme: Cell Phone Video While Walking in Bergen

Thing 14: Valentine

Filed under: poetry, thing-a-day — Scott at 4:23 pm on Thursday, February 15, 2007


Valentine suffered from an unfortunate
archery accident when she was 15 years
old that severed the external pterygoideus
muscle on her left cheek and left her
with a slight tic for the rest of her
days. Her parents were simple folk who
thought it would be a good idea, kind
of clever, to name her after the day
she was born. Every year for her birthday
she got chocolates and a dozen red roses.
She grew to hate roses, eventually. Though
she grew fond of orchids, and she never lost
her taste for fudge. Her friends call her
Val. She is a native of St. Petersburg,
Florida and somewhat militantly against
matchmaking. She doesn’t like to get
involved in other people’s relationships.
She says people should make
their own mistakes.

She has a kind of funny
smile, a strange dimple
seen at happy hour when
someone tells a dirty joke. She
appreciates the audacity of
poor taste, though she never
laughs out loud.

Valentine drinks dry martinis, never the kind
of syrupy pink concoctions with umbrellas
or assorted fruits some others throw
down. She sells life insurance but she’s
not what you call a soft touch. She avoids
the phrase “loved ones” and talks to you
straight about aging and
death, her long fingers
finding your place on
the actuarial table.
She’s good at what
she does, and no

Thing 13: On the Moon

Filed under: poetry, thing-a-day — Scott at 4:38 pm on Tuesday, February 13, 2007

On the Moon

Our residence on the moon
is completely sustainable.
If you look closely you can
see the glint of our reflective
solar panels just to the side
of Copernicus, if you squint.
In our hydroponic farm we grow
heirloom tomatoes of many
varieties: Oxheart, Dixie Golden
Giant, Yellow Brandywine, Mandarin
Cross, and Green Zebra, just to
name a few. We reuse everything
on the moon, but the food is
quite tasty. Nothing smells like
piss at mealtime. I’ll confess
I’d kill for a tender sirloin
but we can do a lot of things
with legumes on the moon. We
get all of the channels on the
satellite, and what we can’t
get there we download off the
internet. There is no such thing
as piracy on the moon. Many things
are legal on the moon. Harry and
Frank got married just last week
and we threw them a big party.
Well, a big party for the moon.
They get the same benefits as
everyone else on the moon. We
have a lot of cool robots and
plenty of time for our hobbies
and one cat who’s a bit skittish
and a handball court in addition
to the elliptical trainer and the
treadmill here on the moon. Earth
rise is so beautiful, darling, though
the nights are very long on the
moon. Burn a fire tonight, if you can.
I’ll try to spot it with the
telescope. I’ll just pretend
if I can’t. I miss you
on the moon.

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