Sorboni Banerjee


Tommy Baxter


Theresa Edo


Erin Jang


Michelle Kearns


Madelyn Rosenberg Lazorchak


Jay Rubin


Sarah Williams

Introductory Essay


By Jay Rubin

Unlike the other essays in this collection, this is fiction written by a student interested in the form. Since everything else Rubin wrote for the essay class was a combination of facts, descriptions and opinions, he decided to try to write this for one of the last assignments – about an abstraction – from the perspective of a middle-aged Southern cook.

I don’t know shit but I’d never admit that, right? Opposite of Socrates. Actually there is just one little thing I know and that’s how it all works. For me, at least.

My in-too-ish-un. Intuition is one of those fancy human words for nothing more than an instinct. It’s that little button in the back of your gourd that makes you say “heads” when a coin is gonna land heads and “tails” when it’s gonna land tails. Some folk might tell you, no, probabilistically and all, a coin lands heads 51 times out of a hundred. Weight distribution and all. But they don’t know shit. Only thing that tells you is the gourd button. It’ll tell you when your friends are lying and your lady’s cheating too, if you’ve got one.

Alligator knows to jump into the deepest water possible. No matter how many times you chase him in circles up on a ridge he’ll always know what side the deep is on. It’s in his gourd. Rat knows to jump at the throat if you get him up in a corner. No other way out. What does the man know? Well there are nooooooo limits to that, my friend.

I gotta brother. He’s read every book in the world. French literature. All sorts of geology and genealogy and string theories and sorts. Everything. And you know what? He don’t know shit, neither. Never beat me in poker, not even once. I told him to keep on reading, reading forever, and he still won’t know half as much as I do. He said back that if I did a little learning I could be a regular genius.

Well I don’t know about that. He said he’d gimme hundred dollars every time I read a book he sends me. I said okay, and then ten great works of the ten great subjects were on their way.

So I read his great big textbook anthologies on the history, the politics, the philosophy, the English, economy, anthropology, sociology, the poetry, the natural sciences and of course the religion. Didn’t really do shit for me; all ready forgot most of it. Can still beat my brother in poker.

People need to know more than their own minds, he told me. Need to know about the world. The world’s a messed up place, he said, full of complexities. People with their heads screwed on the strongest are the ones ready to put their learning to the best use. But first you gotta learn, brother, he told me. Well I ain’t no Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or even B.B. King, that’s not for me. My job’s not to save the world, I said back, just to keep my belly from going empty and laugh least once a day.

“Fred,” he said. “Just imagine what someone of my knowledge and your insight could do.”

“What?” I said back.

“Anything!” He slammed his fist down on the table, but that didn’t do nothing but make the ice clank. I just got calmer and sat my boots up real slow and said, “Brother, all that reading and writing and remembering,” I paused, “it’s all useless if it’s not planted in sturdy soil. Most of them college kids, they ain’t got nothing but books on top of swamp water. Book stuff ain’t worth nothing if you don’t got this.” And I stopped and put my boots down and reached around to the back of my head and put one finger right on that little knob.

“Well, you’ve got it if anyone does, Fred. And you know it, too, you’re just too scared to use it.”

“Hell, I drink too much,” I said. “I can’t remember no facts. Little old Fred? Why he just knows one thing.”

Well, all this was about a year back and since then I got to thinking. Got to thinking, maybe it don’t have to be one but not the other. Maybe I can learn and know at the same time. So I been picking up more of those books my brother recommends to me, at the library now. And he ain’t paying me no more, either. And I’m getting to be rather smart.

More importantly, though, is that I learned this intuition business is communicable. You can pass it on like lice. I said to the boys down at Jim’s (that’s the restaurant that I work at, grill), “Listen, boys, to get your in-too-ish-un, you gotta stay on your tows and never stop being aware of what’s around you. You can’t use a decision you made five minutes ago to justify what you’re doing right now. You gotta keep updating!”

“What do you mean?” they all say, putting down their forks.

“Well,” I said, “take you, Tom. You walk in here three times a week and order the #1.”

“So,” he says.

“So,” I say, “You order it cause you’re hungry, right? You’re hungry enough to eat all that food. Three eggs, four bacon, four links, four patties, six toast and that mountain of grits. Least you think you are at the time.”

“Damn straight,” he says, everybody laughing. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “But now, you ain’t so hungry right now. In fact, I bet you’re quite full. And you still got all of four patties, three toast and all them grits to go.”

“But you said it yourself, Fred. I come in here hungry.”

Now here I get real excited, and if the boys didn’t know me they’d probably think I was all hopped up on drugs, or queer. “That’s right,” I say. “You were damn hungry. You were damn hungry. But the only reason you’re still eating is cause of a feeling you had thirty minutes ago when you walked in the door. You forgot to update!” Tom’s looking at me all funny but he’s looking at me, all right, he’s paying attention. “There’s a lag between your body and your mind,” I say. “You’re stomach knows it’s done eating but your head ain’t listening to it! You gotta get that in-too-ish-un going, and bring everything up to zap speed!”
He waits a second, then he says, “Well, shit, Fred, you telling me not to finish that plate.” He points. “I was raised to finish what I start, especially with food.”

“I know, Tom. I know,” I say, and I’m calm now. “And that’s exactly why you gotta knock down those old walls.”

“Walls?” he says.

I think for a second, then I start, “Say you’re driving a car,” and they all nod.

“You wouldn’t tell yourself to keep the wheels turned left just cause you made a left turn quarter mile back the road. Hell no! You gotta straighten out, keep minding your direction. If you keep that wheel to the left then you’re just going in circles.”

Now Tom didn’t say much after that. He kept eating his plate and I had to go back to the grill, but he learned something. He’d never admit it, cause he’s a stubborn old sonuvabitch, but he learned something. I walked in the next Friday and he was there earlier than usual eating a #2. Just three eggs, four bacon, no links or patties, four toast and just a scoop of grits. And realizing I caught him and all, he didn’t say nothing but he gave me a little nod of the head, sort of a thank you, I guess.

When I came home that evening I called up my brother and I told him about the whole thing. “You know what, Bill,” I told him, “people can change. And it starts with just a little bit.” I told him all about how I got Tom to get his intuition going and how now he knows himself a little better, so he knows what to eat.

I’m not quite sure Bill saw the importance in all that, but it didn’t bother me none. I’m set up to keep reading those books he tells me about and keep talking to everybody about everything I can keep my mind on. Cause that’s all I can do, really, to make the world less complex. I don’t have a wife, I don’t have any kids, and I sure as hell don’t have no career to speak of. But for one reason or another I got just a little bit of wisdom and the one thing I know the good Lord appreciates is when I pass it on.