Oklahoma Exclamation Point

by Alethea Black

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles, and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

I met a famous person at a party. He emailed me a few days later, and I told him that a mutual acquaintance had been raving about him, had said he was the most honest and daring writer alive today, that seeing one of his plays was better than doing heroin. Usually I don’t gush. It’s embarrassing for everyone; it’s sort of like showing up at a dinner party wearing a bunny costume and carrying a flaming dessert. But in this case, since it was second hand and via email, I thought it was all right. The famous playwright (who was also preternaturally humble) emailed back: “Yeah, yeah,” and asked if he could hitch a ride to Boston with me. I told him I’d be honored. “But you bring the music,” I said. “Yesterday I was listening to the soundtrack to Oklahoma!, and you might not like that.” He laughed and told me he’d bring some interpretations of Oklahoma! that were so far out, I wouldn’t even recognize or enjoy them.

He was right. I don’t know in what universe these punk yodelers believed their music related to the beautiful songs of Oklahoma! but after three minutes, I wanted out of my own car. Still, I didn’t want to insult the famous playwright. Perhaps these people were his friends. Perhaps his next play was some kind of post-modern, amelodic reworking of Oklahoma!

“That’s really interesting,” I said, switching it off. “You don’t like it.” “It’s not that. Some things are so good, you only need a little bit.”

“Like caviar,” he said.

“Like elk lasagna,” I said. We passed a car with a vanity plate that said WHITHER.

“The best things always finish too quickly,” he said.

Alethea Black’s debut collection of short stories, I Knew You’d Be Lovely (Broadway Books/Random House), was a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick. Black’s work has won the Arts & Letters Prize, has been cited as distinguished in The Best American Short Stories, and has been read at venues around the country.