The Spider and the Fly

Prune Versus Plum

Of the free games included with Windows, none is more treacherous than Spider Solitaire. In the latest installment, the apprentice loses faith while the master eats breakfast.

Hi, Hyperion.

Quick story: Yesterday I went to a restaurant for breakfast. I ordered their Sunrise Scrambler, which comprised two eggs any style, hash browns, toast, bacon or sausage, a cup of coffee and a small pot of baked beans. Despite the dish’s name, I requested that my eggs be poached, for scrambling an egg to me is like taking a delicate rose and thrashing it to pieces with a rake, then offering the emaciated petals to your lover as penance for accidentally drowning her parents.

But, anyway, when my eggs arrived, Hyperion, in a small ceramic dish, they were a watery mess. They were not poached—they were barely even cooked! It was as though the chef had cracked them straight into the dish, blown on them briefly with his tepid breath, and sent them out into the world. Unacceptable!

Guess what I did, Hyperion? I bet you think I sucked those eggs back like a weightlifter in training. Wrong again, asshole! Get this: I sent them back. I called the waitress over and displayed them to her with no small amount of disdain. “These will simply not do,” I sniffed, aristocratically, swirling them in their dish for her appraisal. And she nodded, Hyperion, took them from me without complaint, and made the chef concoct me two more.

The second bout of eggs was a delight, exactly what you’d want: fluffy and light, with a yolk that gushed free and golden upon my plate, and which I mopped up happily with my unburnt toast. And then, the pièce de resistance: When the bill came, my coffee was free!

Life is within our grasp, Hyperion! I have not played Spider Solitaire since. While I highly doubt this will be a permanent arrangement, I did want to show you that we do not always have to resort to UNDO. And please do not take this as a parable or allegory for your gameplay: What I am talking about is being alive, Hyperion, truly alive!

How are things?

—The Pigeon.


* * *

Dear The Pigeon,

I took your advice, as always, as the devoted follower that I have been ever since we began this relationship of… I realize that I am not sure how to categorize our relationship, although using the word does make me shiver in a way that is not unlike the shiver one sometimes experiences after peeing. I understood your parable of the eggs to mean that I should abandon my hand, so carefully constructed, and I did so, sending it back just as you sent back your own watery mess. I can imagine it and how disgusting it was; vaguely gelatinous blobs of albumin floating in water made otherwise milky. I have seen and even produced such messes in other situations and the remembrance of it make me shudder in quite a different way.

I thank you for story, for I can only attribute it to a certain kind-hearted discretion on your part. You did not want to come out and say that my hand was a bad one, so instead you spoke in parables, much like the Nazarene preacher of old, in order to spare my feelings. Nevertheless, I see now that my progress is less then perfect, for we had theoretically gotten past Recognition some time ago and had advanced in our PRUNES all the way to Not Giving Up and here, despite the flowery language, you have essentially implored me to give up and return to Recognition and I suffer this defeat not unlike a lover spurned for having fallen off the carbohydrate wagon thinking that his or her new pants size was fetching whereas in reality he or she was deemed fat by his or her lover who now no longer wants to engage in sexual intercourse for lack of adipal progress.

I see in rereading that last paragraph that I am far less talented than you in the structuring of parables, but I shall attribute this to my distress.

After having sent back my hand I looked for a new one. I looked and looked, dear Pigeon, and I played and played, but each hand turned out to be a disappointment. So many other questions began to rear their inquisitive heads: Is it better to uncover a new card on a pile or to uncover a blank space? Is it better to fill blank spaces with high cards or low cards? When to take that enormous, irrevocable step of dealing new cards, for the makers of SpiSo, in their infinite, almost godlike wisdom have apparently declared that this act is undoable! It is that click, that reversion to the little pile of cards on the bottom right that causes me stress, pain, and invariable heartache.

I have tried everything, Pigeon. I have been patient, I have recognized as best I can, I have undone and redone and undone again until I can’t remember what was done and what wasn’t, I have not given up… not yet… but I am tempted. Oh am I tempted. I confess that I have even begun to doubt PRUNES—it has, for example, occurred to me that prunes are merely shrivelled plums. Why do we shrivel plums when they are so pleasant and juicy? One evening I even had a very disturbing dream about a prune raping a plum (or was it the other way around) on my kitchen floor where only recently I had disturbing dreams about my wife consorting with robots on that same floor. My dreams have been disturbing ever since I began playing SpiSo.

And all of this has been in vain. Not only have I not seen the joyous burst of tiny fireworks, but I have not even been able to clear one complete suit of cards! The closest I have gotten is displayed in the below screenshot, but it is pitiful, it is weak, it is frail, it is a disgrace. I had seen myself as a liminal bud waiting to burst into the maturity of SpiSo mastery and this… this watery mess is the best I can produce. Notice how close I was to completing one suit; my spades are complete bar the ace, which sits under the king! How are things, you ask? This is your answer!



* * *

By God, Hyperion, you’ve gone rogue! What in blazes is going on over there? You’ve trashed one game without consulting me, played your way into an inescapable hole in another, and fruit are sexually assaulting one another in your subconscious. Get it together, you maniac.

It has been close to a week since my last “fix” of whatever game we were talking about—Spider Solitaire, was it? In that time I have crafted a delicious potato salad from scratch, done two loads of laundry, gotten a library card, and signed up for something called “pilates,” which has nothing to do with the Roman governor, but which will help me, I’ve been told, become a Tantric sexual acrobat.

See, those eggs taught me something. To engage with the world—and at times to reject our lot and demand better—is what it means to be alive. SpiSo is not living, Hyperion. It makes us into vampires, trapped inside the coffin of Microsoft Windows, while outside all day the sun rages upon the earth and everyone in it.

Hyperion! Put your computer to sleep and get outside! There is a universe of opportunity shuffling by the windows of your basement apartment. But do not abandon PRUNES, my friend, for Patience, Recognition, Not giving up, Excellence and—crap, what did the “S” stand for? Anyway, everything but Undo remains applicable. For there is no Undo in life, and this is just what makes it so special.

Forget your tiny fireworks. Look up into the sky! Overhead are the stars—nature’s fireworks, Hyperion, a whole fucking galaxy of them. Eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge! Live each moment as though it were your last!

Wait, wait. That’s not helpful advice at all—this would be depressing, surely, to go about as though you are dying. I’m still working through the logistics of this aphorism.

Oh, life, Hyperion! What a great mysterious puzzle of wonder!

—Pasha Malla.


* * *

Dear Pigeon Who Is Pasha Malla Lest I Have Forgotten,

Right. So the eggs weren’t an injunction to trash my hand, but rather a lesson about life without solitaire. Is that what you are saying? If so, then it seems I was grossly mistaken. Is this the case? And now that you have gone back to signing your given name, laying aside your spisopseudonym, am I to understand that you have likewise laid aside the mantle of SpiSo coach to take up that of mentor? If this is true then there are only three possibilities…

Possibility number one: You are a wise, mystical sage, probably descended from a long line of wise mystical mountain-dwelling sages, and all of your SpiSo advice was, from the start, merely designed to lead me to a revelation about life. Your method was to provoke a mind-numbing fascination with an essentially pointless game, thereby ruining my previous life, causing my wife to leave me, plunging me into unemployment and bankruptcy so that I could start afresh, naked and alone, with a new and more healthy view of life that has something to do with prunes.

Possibility number two: You are a vicious, cruel, sadistic son of a bitch who purposely provoked in me a mind-numbing fascination with an essentially pointless game, thereby ruining my previous life, causing my wife to leave me, plunging me into unemployment and bankruptcy so that you could sit back in your chair and laugh maniacally at my predicament, perhaps even while masturbating into a sock.

Possibility number three: You are totally fucked up yourself and have no idea of the impact of your advice on me, a hopeless wreck who only wanted to get to a 52-percent win rate in Spider Solitaire and may I point out that you haven’t even answered my questions about empty piles and the like?

I anxiously await your response.


PS: “S” is for statistics.

Kevin Dolgin is originally from New York and has lived in Paris for more than 20 years. He has published numerous works of short fiction and writes a regular travel feature for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. A book of his travel writing, The Third Tower Up From the Road, was released in June 2009 by Santa Monica Press.TMN Contributing Writer Pasha Malla is the author of two books: The Withdrawal Method (stories) and All Our Grandfathers Are Ghosts (poems). More by Kevin Dolgin & Pasha Malla