An Open Letter to Napoleon

Note: The following letter is actually about six or seven years old. I wrote it for a creative non-fiction class when I was in college. The professor asked us to write a letter to a family member or an historical figure. The result was a lot of weepy letters to dead relatives or angry tirades at estranged parents. I, however, wrote a letter to Napoleon.

Dear Napoleon,

I know next to nothing about you. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I do know some very general information about you, such as a few specifics about your quest for world domination. But still, it’s not much (my scary high school global history teacher, S. Pat, would probably not be happy to know that I didn’t walk out of her class retaining more information. Then again, I did skip her class every few days.) Still, for some reason, your name comes up in conversation fairly often.

I coach the girls’ varsity soccer team at my old high school, an all girls’, Catholic school. Your name came up when I was talking to some of the girls – who I actually had played with when I attended the school – at practice the other day. Actually, I was trying to rush them out of the gym, where they were messing around with various items in the athletic director’s office, including, as usual, the wheelchair, and out to the field for practice. Sandi, a senior on the team who will most likely be the valedictorian of her class, told me she felt that I have a Napoleon Complex. I suppose she felt this way because a) I’m rather short, b) I was ordering them around, and c) she thought I was on some kind of a power trip. To this I retorted, “So I remind you of a midget from Corsica who more or less wants to take over the world?” (Sorry about the midget crack.)

But, to my surprise, Sandi informed me that you were actually 5’6”, which is nowhere near the size of a midget. I thought you were at least a few inches shorter than that, based on how you were depicted in cartoons.

First I thought Sandi might possibly be wrong, but quickly realized this wasn’t likely. As I said, she’s a smart girl and the future valedictorian of her class. What I don’t understand is why people depict you to be so short. Sure, 5’6” is short for a guy, but I thought that back when you were alive people were generally much shorter than they are today anyway. Just look at the doorways of old houses. Even I’m amazed at how short these doorways are, and I’m just under 5’.

So, since the day of this conversation, I’ve been baffled by the fact that people consider you to be midget-like when today you’d really just be slightly less than average height. Back then, you probably were average height.

I thought about this a lot in the days that followed the conversation. I told everyone I knew about how you weren’t actually a midget. No one seemed as interested in this fact as I was. But I was fascinated nonetheless.

Then, one day I was struck by what can only be considered divine inspiration. I have no musical ability, so obviously I’ve always wanted to start a punk band. And every good punk band needs a good name. Coming up with band names is actually a talent of mine.

Recently, the frontrunner has been Corporate Apples, or, a variation of that name, Terence’s Corporate Apples. It would be a tribute to a friend and former co-worker, Terence, who was fired from the bookstore where I work. Around Christmas, in an effort to boost morale, the corporate headquarters of our company sent each store a box of fruit every week. On his break one week, Terence grabbed an apple – a bruised and waxy apple, because corporate sends its employees only the best – from the box, which was on the break room table, and took a bite. Someone informed him of where the apples came from and he said, “Ew, I don’t eat corporate apples,” before throwing it out.

The next day, our manager called him into her office and asked him if he had a “corporate mindset” and really wanted to work there. She told him to take some time to think about it. Well, he didn’t need much time. When he went on his lunch break shortly after that discussion, he bypassed the box of apples, walked out the front door and never came back. I was at the register when he walked out. He flashed me a big grin, said, “See ya!” and gave the security camera by the front door the finger. After the store closed that night, we found him smoking a joint in his car.

I’d also like to name a band The Lori Veljis after my friend Lori Velji, really for no good reason at all. I told Lori Velji I wanted to do this and I believe Lori Velji appreciated the sentiment.

After my conversation with Sandi, I decided the obvious thing to do would be to name my non-existent punk band after you. Would I call it The Napoleon Complex? Perhaps I could call it Napoleon and the Bonapartes, or I could keep it simple and just call the band Napoleon. I can see the fliers for my band now: Napoleon – French dictator. French pastry. American punk band.

I already have some ideas for songs, written, of course in a rather rudimentary style, three chords, all that jazz, mostly because of my limited – aka non-existent – musical ability. I can’t sing. I can’t play an instrument (“Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder doesn’t count.) And I certainly don’t know how to write music. Clearly, this band is meant to be.

Anyway, I plan on writing a song called “Give Me My CDs Back (You Bitch)” and an ode to Angelina Jolie, “You Seem Kinda Crazy, But You’re Hot (So I’d Still Sleep with You If Given the Chance.)” There are a few other ideas knocking around my brain, perhaps a song about my love of Blackhaus, or western Massachusetts.

Now that I have a name and some song ideas out of the way, I’m faced with a mini crisis. While I do own a guitar – in fact, for some reason I own two – I’ve already told you that I neither know how to play them, nor do I know those obligatory three chords. Maybe I need some guitar lessons? Maybe I need to break out my recorder? Maybe I need to dye my hair blue again and get a lot of piercings?

And then, along with my band, I will begin my quest for world domination. Thanks for the inspiration.


PS – This letter was written years ago. You should probably know that I never took those guitar lessons. I also don’t have my elementary school recorder still, but I bought a cheap wooden flute from a hippie up in Woodstock and, as it turns out, “Hot Cross Buns” and “Three Blind Mice” are the same song. Obviously, the Napoleon project went nowhere.

I did, however, dye my hair blue and get a lot of piercings.

I also, somehow, now have three fake bands.

The Glorious Svens, where each band member has Sven in their name somewhere and wears a fake mustache on stage. Over many, many drinks my friend Schnitzel and I plotted the entire course of our band’s career – from our first show to our fake rockstar feud with Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes (in fact, we wrote a song called “Gordon Gano Gave Me Herpes,” but you should have seen what he said about us!) to the VH1 “Behind the Music.” We made a Myspace page and venues started offering shows. We contemplated getting on stage entirely wasted to see what happened, kind of like a performance art piece, but we decided against it.

Then there’s Retarded Fish Babies, which I have yet to do too much with.

And finally there’s the most real of my fake bands – Ghost Hole. Named after the Coney Island ride, rather than anything dirty that might have popped into your mind, Ghost Hole came about around 3 a.m. one night when my friend Jon and I came back to my place after a local show. He was fiddling with my acoustic guitar and I was drunkenly telling him the story of the holiday party at a Real Estate newspaper I used to work at where I nearly convinced a gorgeous Jehovah’s Witness girl to make out with me and then passed out on the A train the next day on my way home, riding it back and forth between the train line’s beginning and end, both in Queens. We realized that this was Ghost Hole. Jon on acoustic guitar and my telling embarrassingly true, but usually quite hilarious, stories. We have yet to have band practice, but one day we will. I’ve been working on pieces for it including “All My Girlfriends Are Straight,” “It’s a Bitch Being a Vegan in Detox” and “2012,” which is about my fear of the apocalypse.


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3 responses to “An Open Letter to Napoleon

  1. Lisa

    You’re brilliant and funny! I love it. I’ll read all of your letters.

  2. “You Seem Kinda Crazy, But You’re Hot (So I’d Still Sleep with You If Given the Chance.)”

    You’re a genius.

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