Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Haircut And Other Stories

A Short Story
JP Briggs
Excerpted From Trickster Tales


I’m sitting at my desk, working hard. My wife comes in from watching television. I tell her, “I’m pressed for time and I need to get a haircut at the barbers.” I begin describing in detail how I want it cut, a little short on top, longer in the back, trim back the white hairs.

She looks puzzled. “Why are you telling me this if you’re so rushed? Why don’t you just tell the barber?”

“The point is I don’t have the time. You’ll have to do it.”

As usual, she doesn’t follow my logic. I look back down at my work. If I look away for even a moment, I can feel it grow. “Listen,” I say emphatically. “Do me a favor. Just take the head and go.”



The world is a strange place
By PAT CAHILL, Springfield Republican
Thursday, March 24, 2005

Everywhere, things are not what they seem.

Or they are more than they seem.

Folds of rosy flesh turn out to be a sunlit canyon. Eyes look out
from a puckered old tree, from the face of an oncoming cobalt-blue
locomotive, from the profile of a swirling green-and-yellow geode.

It's all part of a photography show by JP Briggs called "Objects,
Sprites and Spirits," at Westfield Athenaeum through March.

"JP Briggs," with no periods, is what John P. Briggs of Granville
calls himself in his artistic endeavors.

His new book, a collection of short fiction called "Trickster Tales,"
is also published under the "JP Briggs" rubric.

But most people in Granville know this multi-faceted man as John
Briggs, the volunteer police officer and former head of the board of
selectmen, who pondered such problems as how much electricity the
ladies' auxiliary was using on bingo nights and whether a campground
sign was bigger than the law permitted.

At Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, he is Professor
Briggs, who runs a master of fine arts program in professional

These many roles may help explain why he's delighted when viewers see
his photos as something other than what they are. Metaphors, he says,
reveal both sameness and differences.

Not surprisingly, Briggs says the creative process is "one of my key
focuses in life. What is it? What role does it play in our lives? I'm
convinced that it does and should play a huge role.

"Creativity is essential for our survival. If we're not creative, we die."

His definition of the word goes beyond the arts, into sciences and
social issues. "Nothing," says Briggs, "requires more creative energy
than keeping a relationship vital." More evidence of Briggs'
creativity can be found in his new book, "Trickster Tales," which
sometimes has a Franz Kafka-meets-Salvador Dali flavor.

Stories range from surrealistic flights (a woman finds a 3-inch man
in the drawer of her dressing table) to graphic description (a family
man has an encounter with a prostitute), with both styles constantly

In one story, a man's bow tie keeps showing up in places where he did
not leave it. His wife discovers that when the man is not looking,
the tie flies through the air like an odd mechanical butterfly
looking for a place to land.

Theme of the collection, says Briggs serenely, is that "the world is
a strange place."

He writes sometimes from the point of view of a woman, sometimes of a
man. One of the stories takes the form of in-house memos, another is
couched in the lingo of a "paper" presented at a psychiatric

Even the lengths of the stories are strange. Some are a conventional
length, but some are tiny - a quarter of a page. The ones that are
shorter even than a short-short story are called "flash fiction" or
"micro-fiction" these days. "It compresses the sense of a life in a
very short space," says Briggs.

"You can think of photographs as short fiction," he adds.

If people feel a little disoriented when they look at his pictures or
read his stories, that's all right with Briggs. "I'd like you to fall
into a little abyss for a moment," he says.

Looking at his photograph of the gnarled tree with the hole that
looks like an eye, he says, "The definition of a tree does not cover
what that is.

"That's the 'little abyss' I'm talking about."

Briggs often gets ideas for stories from his wife, Joanna Myrh, who
tells him her dreams. "The Bow Tie," which won an award from a
literary journal in 2004, started with a dream Myrh had. Often she
doesn't recognize her contributions afterwards. "She gives me these
little gifts and then she forgets," says Briggs.

The couple has been married since 1968. Myrh is a singer and dancer.
"I courted her by visiting her in summer stock," says Briggs, "in
Pennsylvania, at Lake Placid, in Rhode Island."

They have traveled widely together, camping in a South American
jungle and savoring colorful markets in France.

In Provence, Myhr recalls, Briggs would set up his camera in the
middle of the road, oblivious to traffic. "I'd say, 'Honey, there's a
car coming,' and he'd pick up all his equipment and run to the side
of the road."

"My wife is very tolerant, and has probably saved my life several
times," says her husband.

Briggs grew up in the suburbs of Tarrytown, N.Y. His parents, now
living in Amherst, were both psychotherapists.

His longing to be a writer and his thirst for experience showed up
early. He graduated from high school in three years and went to work
for the local newspaper at 17.

He then moved on to the Hartford Courant, working the 6-2 shift on
the police beat while earning a degree at Wesleyan University in
Middletown, Conn.

"Trickster Tales" includes an affecting story about an old-fashioned
newspaperman that Briggs describes as "homage to a lot of guys I

His love of nature, which began in the woods near Tarrytown, has been
deepened by his friendship with a Native American photographer who
appears in the last story of "Trickster Tales."

Briggs is editor of the Connecticut Review, a literary and cultural
journal, and author of several nonfiction books on aesthetics,
physics and creativity, three of them co-authored with a physicist.


More Stories From JP Briggs


The man (who wished to remain anonymous) said he was driving fast along the highway past an open field. What? Perhaps it was just a large abandoned bag.

The grass was ankle high and lush green as he crossed the field. His first thought was that (impossibly) he was looking at the thorax and abdomen of an insect the size of a tall, slender man. On either side of the carcass (if that’s what it was) stretched networks of black veins containing silvery flakes, or scales, clinging to grass. They reflected the sunlight like mirrors. On closer examination, they were transparent. In soft gusts of wind, some drifted off. He could imagine them shattered from the “windows” formed between the veins in the creature’s wings. This added to the impression that what he’d discovered was the remains of a gigantic dragonfly or linnet.

The man reached out and touched the thorax. The dark brown surface felt glossy and hard. He tapped it. It resounded dull hollow thuds. He tried to lift the object up. It was remarkably light.

What was it? Though the anonymous man was rational, not subject to flights of fancy, he couldn’t suppress the thought of horror films. He rejected the idea. The object’s smooth shiny material must be synthetic. Was it a high-tech kite flown by some kids until it had gotten away from them and crashed? A military drone used for spying on terrorists or drug dealers? Someone’s weird practical joke? He remembered pranksters who for years had invaded farmers’ wheat fields in the dead of night and left the mysterious designs of “crop circles” that others claimed were communications by extraterrestrials. The hoax had been exposed when the pranksters revealed their method for knocking down the grain in intricate patterns.

In the spirit of skeptical truth, the man hefted the carcass and carried it to his car.

He went back to the laboratory technician a few days later.

“It’s chitin,” the technician said.

“You mean like in the shells of real insects?”

“We x-rayed it and did a DNA analysis. The thorax and abdomen have internal organs. They’re dried up and aren’t of any species we can identify, but they’re an insect’s. DNA shows it might be related to a cockroach, but the body plan is different.”

“So what the hell is it?”

“I have no idea,” the technician said.

“Could somebody have concocted this by molding a shape out of ground-up insect shells?”

“No. You couldn’t make this by any method I know of. As far as I can tell this thing’s just one big insect.”

The man wrapped the carcass in a sheet. Later he unwrapped it on lab tables and academic desks. Some experts speculated it was a freak mutation, others thought it was the result of a genetic experiment. A politically active biologist speculated the environmental crisis had hatched it somehow. An art historian represented it as a post-modern work of art. When the man started to hear speculations that it was the harbinger of a new race of insects or the body of an alien intelligence, he rebelled. He decided he wanted nothing more to do with the thing and gave it anonymously to a museum.

The museum put the object on display as a curiosity. For a time it attracted the attention of crowds and the media. The museum exhibition responsibly recited only the facts with no explanation. Some religious fanatics construed it as a “sign” of the apocalypse, and their lurid speculations caused a momentary stir. Other theories mirrored those its finder had entertained. Television stations and newspaper reporters interviewed a new round of experts, but since the object didn’t fit conveniently into anything known or believed, the trail went cold as before. So after a while, the curators meticulously packed the carcass in a crate, catalogued it and stored it in a warehouse, where it crumbled to dust.

Turns of Love

One grotesque evening as they sat at a dinner table full of uneaten food, Debbie told her husband Arnold that she wanted a divorce. He was a good man, she reassured him, but she’d never felt intimate with him, and now she knew the reason. She’d just found the courage to admit to herself that she preferred women.

Arnold was devastated. Debbie was the love of his life. He considered her body a cathedral where he had located the solace, mystery and certitude he’d always dreamed of. He felt positive he would never locate that combination in anyone else.
So two weeks after that awful night he told Debbie he was going away for a while to think about things, and instead checked into a hospital and had his sex changed. Afterward, they spoke on the phone and he made excuses for not coming home for a while: he wanted a surprise. He stayed away for six months.

When he returned he was a knockout. Nevertheless, in bed that night, Arnold, now Arnella, was betrayed by her hormones. From her new perspective as Arnella, she discovered Debbie wasn’t all that much of a turn on.

Subsequently, Arnella suffered through several rounds of discouraging boyfriends until finally finding one she could marry. She started a family. Debbie had more luck. After a flurry of other women she acquired a faithful lover. Throughout their transitions, Arnella and Debbie confided in each other and became fast friends. Now they meet every weekend to attend concerts or shop at the mall. Says Arnella, “I’m sure God just always meant for us to be sisters.”

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