Can we have fun? Is there a party somewhere? Why don’t I have more friends? Where are all my friends? Is there a place where they gather? And no one told me the place? Such a big city. Must be people in it. Think think. Or don’t, actually. Only leave your “garden-level” apartment to drag your unshowered ass to the corner store to buy a 40 of (Ye) Olde English, or Mickey’s, and like, a bag of Cheese Fix or something, and then sitting in your bedroom, which is about the size of your queen-sized bed, and closing the door, and not talking to your roommate, who’s a girl but somehow the dirtiest roommate you’ve ever had, beats all the guys, truly remarkable, sitting there watching Flirting With Disaster I believe was the title---that’s a fun movie, early David O. Russell---anyways, just sitting there in your queen-sized-bed-sized room watching Flirting With Disaster on your laptop, thinking to yourself, “Hmm, Patricia Arquette is hot in this movie…was not aware of Patricia Arquette,” and feeling like you have constipation of the heart, drinking until you’re giving yourself shit-eating grins in the bathroom mirror, but realizing immediately that it’s an inauthentic grin, you’ll be sad again soon, you’re sad already, is the corner store still open---is that a pathetic night? Ever have one of those?
Ever have a really incredible first kiss with someone? Had one of those once. It was this older girl, only older girl I’ve “been with,” so to speak. She was this girl whose last name is the same as the name of the street my parents still live on in Milwaukee. I remember we walked all the way to the capitol building and then all the way back to the Lake Mendota terrace, and sat down by the water, fed some ducks. All the while talking about her trips to Europe and South America, my friends, her friends, her younger brother (same age as me), “that time her and said younger brother had to share a sleeping bag in this shady hostel in Belgium on a wickedly cold night and were forced to huddle together for warmth in a vaguely ‘wrong-ish’ fashion,” etc. We talked for two hours straight, I’d estimate. So when I dropped her off at her friend’s doorstep in this alley off of State Street, there was a pause, and then she said, “Are you going to kiss me or what?” She actually said that. And we kissed, and I remember thinking: “Wow, she is like 50X better kisser than every girl I’ve ever kissed. Damn.” I remember she made fun of me for drinking a mocha at a coffee shop. She called me a “malt shopper.” That was the last time I ordered a mocha for at least a month. Oh, and she played Prince when I came to her apartment for the first time. I was impressed. My closing detail re Mystery Older Girl of Yesteryear is that the morning after we “traversed the fjord” for the first time, she was making biscuits or something and said, as casually as if she were saying she was meeting her friend for lunch later, she said, “You know I think I’d like to try dating a girl.” Seemed like poor timing.
Maybe it’s because of growing up with 2 sisters, but I really miss it when there aren’t any girls around with whom to talk. I mean, there is no fun quite like uninhibited, toe-curling sex, but even just talking to girls makes me feel more whole, divested of some worthless burden I’ve been dragging around. Girls often make an effort to understand how the other person is feeling and to try to “cater” at least a bit to that person in the interest of making him or her feel better about life…whereas men tend to show the minimal effort possible in all social situations unless they need something from you, are drunk, or are trying to sleep with you. That is my inelegant, impressively banal analysis of how women talk to people versus men. Huge generalizations, of course. Kind of bugs me sometimes that you’re not allowed to make generalizations. What if they are compliments? I just said all women are nice, or something. There was that one, though, Cari. Kind of a bitch.
Now that it’s been some-odd years since those glory days in the garden-level apartment of dreams, one of my main comforts when I’m still feeling lonely and underfriended and generally “kind of lame,” “you spend too much time on the internet,” “what are you doing with your liiiiiiiife, my Gaahhhhhddd…”---when I’m feeling like that, I take a medium-large to enormous amount of comfort from going over to the token straight bar in my homosexual neighborhood for a comedy night on Sundays that is devoted to what the three lovely hosts (all women) call “Go-Gals” (there are some “Go-Guys” at this event, as well). The hosts have this hilarious bit where each of them sings a “song” about incidents that precipitate a Go-Gal “getting her wings.” It’s usually some variation on: “When youuuuu move-to-some-random-part-of-Florida-from-Cleveland- and-your-alcoholic-abusive-father-can’t-find-a-job-and-has-to-resort-to-selling-hot-dogs- at-the-local-carnival-grounds-and-moves-out-of-the-house-and-doesn’t-pay-child-support-and-leaves-his-children-with-irreparable-emotional-damage…A GO-GAL GETS HER WINGS!” They’re usually not quite as brutal as my example, but you get the idea.
I’ve never been genuinely suicidal I don’t think, but there have been times since moving to Chicago when I’m on a train platform, waiting, and it occurs to me that if an insane, inexplicable impulse seized me, I might throw myself onto the tracks, which would presumably lead to me being run over by a train, unless someone felt like a hero that day. Yeah, there have been times when I felt the impulse a little, but I’m so terrified of death and I have some basic survival impulse, so it’s more a queer mortal dread coming over me as opposed to a suicidal impulse, I guess.
My mom almost committed suicide. She was adopted by this third-generation Irish couple in Queens, and her parents were mean to her, and they were threatening to not let her move to Indiana to attend college (out of the many colleges which had accepted her, she purposely chose the one farthest away from home). At her high school, Mom had been accused of doing drugs, with no proof to back up the charge (back in those days, the nuns were very paranoid about “kids today and their drugs”). This was why her parents were threatening her. So my mom was at a study session with some girlfriends in this third-floor apartment, and she stood up and went to the open window and she had one foot over the sash and was about to jump when her friend Connie yelled something and they talked her out of it. To think of all the chance in life, that I am even here to tell the tale.
My dad wrote a poem about my mom once. It is about the sadness of her childhood, I think. I haven’t read it. I don’t need to. It is enough to know it exists.
When I was being born, I kicked a lot and came out much faster than normal. I was a bald-headed baby. So were my two sisters. This black lady at church came up to my mom after my younger sister was born, the third of us to be born hairless, and the lady said, “Ooh, I love dem baaald-headed babies!”
I wonder if it was the “Hat Lady” who said that to my mom. We had a Hat Lady at church. So called because of her eclectic, colorful collection of massive hats, one of which she wore every Sunday to church. I would call them readymades.
Readymades being the term Marcel Duchamp used to describe his selected, modified, “found” everyday manufactured objects. Art.
Though of course the Hat Lady may not have been aware she was wearing art. And if art sometimes relies on context, how did the context of her fine head, her joyous self, add to or even create the art? Art because she wore the hats to church every Sunday? She is art but the hat is “simply” a hat?
“I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists,” being something Duchamp once said.
Though of course in literature the Author is “dead,” according to Roland Barthes. Does this mean, retroactively, that Duchamp believes in people that do not exist or do not exist anymore?
And of course Duchamp died on October 2nd, 1968, and “The Death of the Author” was published in English in 1967. One assumes Duchamp stopped believing in artists the year before he died, owing to the essay that had “appeared” under the name of Roland Barthes.
I sincerely hope my Literary Forefathers and Foremothers would say, “This is on the mark, son!”
“Who is bad?” being an approximation of something Michael Jackson once asked, rhetorically, Rest In Peace.
The joke refers to David Markson, author of Wittgenstein’s Mistress, published by Dalkey Archive Press, which was founded by John O’Brien in Chicago the year before I was born.
The style of this passage seeming somewhat similar to the style employed in Wittgenstein’s Mistress.
With modifications, of course.
The effect of this being not entirely unlike that achieved in hip-hop/rap music via the sample. The sample being the “best part of the song” cut out of the rest of the original song, repeated, and “fucked with.”
Hip-hop/rap music being a genre of music I enjoy immensely and have even been known to “philosophize” about. There being departments in universities for this sort of thing.
Me not having any “advanced degrees,” as of now. Me not “really” seeking any such advanced degrees, “for some reason.”
“Advanced degrees” having become “standard,” or “the norm.” Having become plaguelike.
These comments being grounds for the appellation “sour grapes,” if the reader happens to have such degrees and/or a “small, narrow mind impervious to fun.”
An “artistic” reference to Michael Jackson occurred previously in literature, in 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, an author first published in the United States by New Directions.
New Directions being a publishing press founded by James Laughlin when he was a sophomore at Harvard. This decision spurred by Ezra Pound’s advice to the young Laughlin, that he “do ‘something’ useful.”
Ezra Pound being the “lynchpin” of the Modernist scene in Paris, circa 1920-1924. Also the author of the epic poem The Cantos, and a “traitor,” a “Fascist,” and an “anti-Semite,” allegedly.
Pound having been forced to live in an insane asylum in the U.S., St. Elizabeths, for 12 years, after being found incompetent to face trial for treason. Upon his release, following a campaign spearheaded by his fellow artists, Pound was quoted as saying: “…all America is an insane asylum.”
Pound having been born in 1885 in the Idaho Territory, before it was a United State. Pound having met William Carlos Williams and H.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.
Pound having been engaged to H.D. for a short time.
H.D. Imagiste. Dubbed, dumped. Later bisexual, nowadays rediscovered. A special Imagist issue of The Egoist (an organ which “recognise[d] no taboos”).
Pound having subsequently taught at Wabash College in Indiana.
Pound having allegedly let a “stranded actress” stay overnight while teaching at Wabash, which resulted in a scandal.
Causing Pound to be dismissed after only 4 months.
“All accusations having been ultimately refuted except that of being ‘the Latin Quarter type,’” according to Pound.
Witz. Being the title of a novel by Joshua Cohen, also published by Dalkey Archive. “Witz” being a German word for “joke.”
Though Pound did later recant on his anti-Semitism, saying: “The worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism.”
Pound having aided many famous Modernist artists in their survival and publication, including James Joyce. Giving them his money, writing letters to editors, tirelessly, on their behalf.
The Michael Jackson reference in 2666 concerns a disagreement between 2 characters over whether or not Michael Jackson knows things the rest of us do not. The second man opines that everyone thinks they know things that no one else does.
I saw this as an indirect reference to Michael Jackson’s loneliness and alienation at times in his career, like when he was first accused of child molestation. There being a song by Michael concerning this loneliness, entitled “Stranger in Moscow.”
Though no one much cares if celebrities have feelings. They are not real and they have way too much money, so they are “asking for it,” of course. Given that some things are “unforgivable,” even if one is eventually proven “innocent” or “pardoned” by the victim him/herself. There being no double standards re these situations. There being no undue, relentless hostility from the public in the cases of, say, Michael Jackson or Michael Vick.
Though Roman Polanski’s stint on the whipping post continues apace.
There being better things to care about than some “notable” artist’s feelings and life and family, like charities and protest rallies and “being ‘right’.” Charity of course not founded upon empathy for others, no matter who they are. There being no need for wisdom or forgiveness in the world. There being only a need to roast more meat.
There being a need to redirect one’s insecurities and biases and fears and anger and pain into hating people, day in and day out, because those people are “rich, disgusting douchebags.”
There being not enough people to hate at one’s job, at one’s school, at the soccer game, at the supermarket, in the park, at a party, on the internet, in the morning, late at night, day after day, hating and hating and hating, oneself most of all.
And of course the hater has no faults, has never done anything wrong, has never hurt anyone or offended anyone or made mistakes. Not to mention the hater has perfect judgment, the best taste imaginable, and superior knowledge of everything ever compared to anyone anywhere ever.
Jesus having told those who would stone to death Saint Stephen, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
This tastes of bitterness, strange passion. It is wiped away, gone.
One never knows where it comes from, the passion to defend others. The passion to promote detachment, understanding, empathy, love.
It is late. Another day.
This being written two days later. On paper and then typed up. Hand having cramped up from the onward scroll of words and words, beats and beats.
This being all hip-hop “really is,” words and beats. Sometimes melodies.
Thump…thump…thump, and words, moving in time, then ceasing. Starting again.
Rebirth (2010) being the name of a rap/rock fusion album by Lil Wayne.
Birth of the Cool (1949/1950) being the name of a post-bebop jazz album by Miles Davis which features innovative arrangements inspired by classical music.
Miles Davis having created one of the first fusion albums, Bitches Brew (1970).
“Life’s a gamble,” being something Lil Wayne once said.
Lil Wayne currently serving time in Rikers for “weapon possession.”
Lil Wayne having also said, “My thoughts wild/My ideas are scattered.”
Oscar Wilde having gone to prison as well, after being convicted of “gross indecency,” AKA being gay.
This leading to De Profundis, written while in prison to an erstwhile lover.
The title meaning “from the depths,” an allusion to Psalm 130.
“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground,” Wilde wrote.
And now a feeling I have, a feeling of being free. Sorrow leaving me. Because I have new friends. I feel love.
The internet connecting me to kindred spirits. “IRL” having become a necessary acronym, meaning “In Real Life.” So much life buzzing over wires, these days.
Oscar Wilde having been mentioned in at least 2 “notable” literary works, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel.
Though when I told my mom that Tao was going to be in my magazine, she didn’t know whom I was talking about. And she has never read Ulysses. And many people will never read Ulysses. Not to even mention Finnegans Wake.
And of course Ann Beattie said of Wittgenstein’s Mistress: “As precise and dazzling as Joyce.”
Ann Beattie having published a novel and a collection of stories, Chilly Scenes of Winter and Distortions, respectively, simultaneously, in 1976, a feat duplicated in 2007 by Tao Lin, with the simultaneous publication of the novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and the story collection, Bed.
Tao Lin being widely considered the “lynchpin” of “some kind of” new “movement” or something, via “’minimalist’ realism,” “internet-referencing literature,” “severely disillusioned emo shit,” Muumuu House, selling “shit from your room” on the internet, promotional gimmicks/stunts, publishing Gmail chats, and other things, or something.
Ezra Pound, Modernist “lynchpin,” having said of Finnegans Wake: “Nothing so far as I can make out, nothing short of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp can possibly be worth all that circumambient peripherization.”
Oscar Wilde having been rumored to have said, upon being asked by U.S. Customs officials if he had anything to declare, ”I have nothing to declare but my genius.”
Wilde. Joyce. Pound. Tao. Witz.
“You better keep your wits about you,” being something my mom has doubtless said to me, on some occasion.
When I was in danger of something.
“At wit’s end.”
My dad having said that the 2 essences of the world are fear and love.
Though my mom, my dad, a song in church told me “be not afraid.”
I haven’t been to church in years.
Well, I’ve been in churches, as a tourist in London.
Visiting a friend studying abroad. This being the kind of thing white people love to do, study abroad. My feeling being that not studying abroad was the biggest mistake I made in college.
Though there are no mistakes, right?
Chances there are. And randomness. Chances to be brave.
This being the “bravura” section. How so far?
Though of course, after Beckett, what’s brave?
Wut wut wut inna butt.
Being an approximation of some random gay club jam.
The phrase preceding.
Dicks in butts.
Like Wilde, maybe. Did he “consummate” with anybody?
I live near Boystown.
I live near boys.
In a town.
That’s in a city.
Sometimes called “Chi Town,” which is confusing, because it’s not a town, it’s a city. But I mean…
There being nothing to say, again and again.
Oh but I am still awake. It is already morning. I may not sleep tonight.
Perhaps too many mornings with hazy memories of night before and also, contacts still in, dehydrated.
Must have hit up Delilah’s or something.
Being the cause, usually.
With a friend, Nellie.
A girl. A platonic friend.
Take that, Billy Crystal!
Or Chris Rock!
I believed those jokes.
But then I have 2 sisters. Why can’t I have more sisters?
Sisterhood of the traveling paunce.
“Paunce” meaning “a weak individual” or “a homosexual.” According to the online dictionary.
Which means I am a weak individual, according to me.
Don’t fuck with me! I’m weak. Heh.
Nellie being a friend of a friend.
We commiserate on the phone.
Nellie is whomever I call to not feel quite as bad.
We all need to not feel quite as bad sometimes.
(“Hey,” I said.
“What’s up, dude?”
“Not much. How’s it going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Work was…all right?”
“This guy tried to get my number.”
“Yeah. Was that good?”
“No, he was old and gross.”
“I think I wanna quit.”
“Really? What about the benefits?”
“I don’t have benefits.”
“All-you-can-eat free breakfast.”
“OK… Yeah, I mean, I guess you could ‘do better,’ right, or something?”
“No, I mean, I don’t know, I… I don’t, me I don’t have any… I have no opinion about anything, I was just, I was channeling you, what you would…”
“No, seriously. No offense. I think…your job…seems ‘swell.’ ‘Cause there’s food and…in this economy…”
“Shut up, Daniel.”
“I really… I have no opinion on your job. If you don’t like it, then I don’t like it. If you don’t care about it, I don’t care about it.”
“I don’t care about it.”
“OK, then I don’t care about it either.”
“What should we care about?”
“I care about youuu.”
“No you don’t.”
“Do you really?”
“That’s what I thought. This conversation is stupid.”
“I know. What’d you eat, what are you eating for dinner?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Of course you’re hungry.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Not at all?”
“Fuck. I was supposed to call my dad.”
“Do you need…”
“Can I call you back?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”)
Though I’m not sure if anyone’s sure that they are ever sure of anything.
Owing to the amorphous nature of the universe.
Randyness, being the reason we are still here.
Until we aren’t anymore.
One day I’ll be dead. Well, it won’t be a day. One moment I’ll exist, and then, I won’t. And I won’t ever exist again. Unless I come back as like a cow in India or something.
Scares the shit out of me.
All the fear I’ve ever had derives from that queer mortal dread.
The sum of all fears.
Being the title of this thriller novel by Tom Clancy. Concerning Russian politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall, according to Wikipedia. Happened to be released days before the Moscow uprising in 1991. Interesting, or something.
Probably nothing, actually.
Nothingness being what I was talking about. Or nonexistence, if you prefer.
Being a very charming and lighthearted topic, nonexistence. Right cheery old topic! The subject of many jokes.
“But then, existence itself is a very special kind of joke,” as J.G. Ballard said.
Witz. Could be a mantra. Witz witz witz. Witz witz witz. Watt? Witz. Who? On first.
Are you bored yet?
Here’s another conversation with Nellie, because why not.
(“I’m having a suck day, I think.”
“There’s a lot of suckage.”
“I stubbed my toe. This morning.”
“Where’d you stub it?”
“On my toe.”
“No, like, what on?”
“The dresser. Or my bed or something. It’s a hard wooden bed.”
“Is it hard and wooden?”
“Well, like, I don’t know, ice it or something.”
“I don’t have any ice.”
“Well, like, take some water and put it in the freezer for awhile.”
“Then take it out. Ice cubes.”
“What I need is an ice pack.”
“Didn’t you ever have swelling?”
“Well if shit swells, you need an ice pack.”
“Then eat something?”
“I’m not that hungry.”
“Which one is it?”
“What’s not funny.”
“I hate us. And all the other people.”
“Really? Seems sadly inclusive.”
“Inclusive of all the fucks!”
“Are you drunk?”
“Seriously. Why aren’t you sharing? Why aren’t we at a bar?”
“I don’t know. Why am I not orgasming right this second?”
“Maybe you are.”
“I am the opposite of an orgasm, currently.”
“Stop being such a sex fiend.”
“Who’s a sex fiend?”
“A sex fiend?”
“Fiending for sex?”
“Fiending for the fuck.”
“This is depressing. I’m hanging up.”
“Don’t hang up! I’ll…I’ll do something inconsiderate and selfish, if you hang up.”
“I’m going to put Whiskers in the oven, if you hang up.”
“Whiskers?! Jesus Christ, Nellie.”
“I’m serious. The cat gets it.”
“This is even more depressing. I feel like we’re mentally handicapped 12-year-olds.”
“With autism. And maybe missing a limb.”
“Missing purpose in life.”
“Missing a hand, because of the compactor. That one hand-eating compactor.”
“The one time. That gobbled it up.”
“Fuck you hand, you’re dead.”
I feel better.
Where was I?
Can’t be sure, right? Remember from before?
Irrelevancy. The problem, across the board.
What would be relevant, really, if you stripped down to your needs and desires and detritus?
Because I don’t think we have been morbid enough yet, I would like to write some more about death, specifically the many horrendous and/or bizarre methods of achieving death, to wit:
Standing in the way of an axe. And then getting fed to a wood chipper.
Self-inflicted gunshot to the temple.
Death by hemlock, as punishment for “corrupting the youth.”
Found wearing someone else’s clothing, lying dead on the streets of Baltimore after spending the previous night with “the jimjams,” or “jazz hands,” or “the staggers and jags,” or “the horrors,” that is, suffering from wicked wicked alcohol withdrawal, muttering the name “Reynolds” over and over again for some reason, then collapsing on the street, mumbling “Lord help my poor soul” before expiring.
From starvation, in a Viennese sanatorium, while suffering from “suicide headaches” and tuberculosis.
From pneumonia and a pulmonary abscess, after being confined to a cork-lined bedroom for 3 years.
In Bangkok, at the age of 53, electrocution by poorly grounded electric fan, while stepping out of the bathtub.
Hanging by a rope in a closet in Bangkok, following “accidental autoerotic asphyxiation.”
Accidentally slipping off a boat and drowning after “seven or eight” glasses of wine.
From peritonitis, on an ocean liner bound for Brazil, after swallowing a toothpick at a cocktail party.
Bleeding to death from a nosebleed on wedding night.
From pneumonia, while experimenting with freezing a chicken by stuffing it with snow.
Via smashing head on board while attempting a three-and-a-half reverse somersault in the tuck position at the World University Games.
From tuberculosis, while sipping champagne, with these last words: “I’m dying. It’s a long time since I drank champagne.”
“Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”
“Good-bye…why am I hemorrhaging?”
“Is it the Fourth?”
“Is it not meningitis?”
“Am I dying or is this my birthday?”
“How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”
“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”
“Ah, that tastes nice. Thank you.”
“I am still alive!”
“I am not the least afraid to die.”
“I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring.”
“Does nobody understand?”
Via jumping into the thousand-foot crater of a volcano on the island of Oshima.
Via disembowelment and decapitation as a protest of the Westernization of Japan.
Via sticking head in oven with gas on.
Some claim barbiturates, others claim via wrapping a plastic bag around head, following allegations of plagiarism and suffering from an irregular heartbeat; suicide note reads: “I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity.”
Burned to death at the stake, coals raked back to expose the body, then burned twice more, following sexual molestation while being held in prison, all this due to “heresy.”
Found dead in backseat of white Renault parked for 10 days on a quiet Paris street; overdose of barbiturates and alcohol, suicide note reading: “Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves”; this following a FBI-planted, fabricated newspaper item claiming pregnancy out-of-wedlock, planted by Hoover as revenge for voicing support for the NAACP and the Black Panthers, which allegedly led to premature labor and a stillborn child; also following a previous failed suicide attempt via jumping in front of a Metro train.
Bullet to the jaw while standing on the second-floor balcony of a motel in Memphis.
With the words, “Let’s cool it, brothers,” followed by 16 bullets.
A bullet in the back, a bullet in the head, while riding in a limousine in Texas.
Shot 3 times in a crowded kitchen at a hotel, with a .22-caliber revolver.
4 bullets to the back outside the Dakota, by a man clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.
4 bullets, in a drive-by on the Vegas Strip.
4 bullets to the chest, while stopped at a red light in San Francisco.
Death by bullets and grenades, while walking unarmed with 8 brothers in South Vietnam.
Death by self-immolation, in protest.
Death by gas chamber.
Via a jump into the Gulf of Mexico, exclaiming, “Goodbye, everybody!” after having been beaten for sexual advances on a fellow male crew member.
Via an internal hemorrhage caused by cirrhosis, due to a lifetime of heavy drinking.
Via propofol, lorazepam, and midazolam, at the age of 50.
Via complications from cosmetic surgery.
From AIDS, at the age of 42.
From congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, after the words “I’m going away tonight” and 3 long, quiet breaths.
From natural causes, at the age of 91, after having lived in seclusion for 57 years.
Death by hanging from a patio roof rafter, after years of suffering from severe depression, after suffering a relapse and undergoing electroconvulsive therapy, to no avail.
We are only human, after all.
You know I listened to that song, “Human After All,” on the bus today.
Those life-affirming “robots.”
Human beings in costume, faces hidden. Standing on a pyramid, lights’ dizzy shower, crowds of thousands.
In order to establish a connection.
To create a memorable moment in time.
For no other reason.
That being reason enough.
In the summertime.
In Grant Park, Chicago.
I have been there, to Grant Park, for the Lollapalooza.
I am writing now; spring is approaching.
I am writing outside at a café in Paris, with croissant and café au lait. I am writing at a hookah bar on the island of Marmara, the sea Propontis bathing me in soft wet breezes. I am writing at a table by my window over the street, my apartment in Lakeview. I am writing lying down in what were once cornfields on my grandpa’s farm in Rockford. The air is crisp and cool; the sun is shining.
I remember lying on the beach with you, reading Infinite Jest. Infinite Summer.
So many beautiful passages.
I remember you crying because we’re best friends and I had abandoned you, I wasn’t hanging out with you anymore because I was spending all my time with some girl.
I remember when we were in your room having a sleepover and you told me your thoughts about the collective unconscious.
I remember playing tackle football on your front lawn, only one of us wearing pads and a helmet.
I remember chipped teeth, a little blood, crying, hurt feelings.
I remember you carrying me on your shoulders. I remember you taking me for walks in the park, taking me to the library with my sisters.
I remember you reading me bedtime stories.
I remember shooting hoops in the alley with the cobblestones.
I remember “Magic Babies.”
I remember dress-up. I remember my Elvis impersonation.
I remember Play Group.
I remember falling off the barrier wall and fracturing my skull.
I remember falling off my skateboard and fracturing my wrist.
I remember losing my balance over a hurdle and fracturing my heel.
I remember running 6-10 miles a day, every day.
I remember “strong hearts to the front of the pack.”
I remember us crossing the finish line one after the other, having urged each other on to 2 personal bests.
I remember watching your soccer games, running up and down the sidelines. I remember Dad yelling, “Gooooooo Too-Tall!” with a big happy grin on his face.
I remember Mother’s Day on the porch.
I remember Father’s Day, those cards with doodles of your face, squiggles for hair, glasses, and a smile.
I remember you and I sitting together by the window in that Florida hotel, and what you said.
Too much to remember.
Not everyone has so many happy memories, of course.
So much luck.
There being chance every second of every day.
Still I believe you have your memories, too.
I remember Nellie calling me late on a Sunday night.
“Not much. Are you…am I interrupting anything?”
“Shit no, I’m just sitting here not really doing anything. Surfin’ the web. Wasting my life, one day at a time.”
“What’s going on?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“You…you sound sad, or something. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I’m… Nothing’s wrong.”
“OK. Well, I mean, if you need to…you can, you know you can tell me whatever, I mean…”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Well, I’m listening.”
“OK, don’t take this as like weird, but Daniel, do you…I mean…all right, I just…I don’t know, I’ve been feeling weird as shit and I don’t know what the fuck’s wrong with me, but it’s like I have this crazy, bullshit insecurity right now.”
“Because of Paul and the whole…”
“It was pretty fucked up.”
“Yeah. He shouldn’t…it’s not a very cool way to…”
“I know. And so, I’ve just been fucked up, as a result.”
“These things always fuckin’ suck. Unfortunately.”
“Well anyway, all right, here, I just… Daniel, do you think I’m pretty?”
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
“I’m serious. How old are we, 13?”
“Do you mean… Like, in what way?”
“Jesus Christ, Daniel, I asked you if I’m pretty. Apparently I’m not if you have to ask that question. Jesus… I don’t know what…I’m a moron, seriously…”
“Nellie, calm down. I didn’t… I didn’t mean anything by it. I just, what the hell kind of question is that?”
“A perfectly normal one. That you could answer, without making me feel worse.”
“Well OK, do you mean would I fuck you?”
“Goddamnit, Daniel! That’s not what I mean.”
“Because I would fuck you.”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“Yes I would! I totally would.”
“Yer fulla shit.”
“Then why haven’t you, if you’re so into me.”
“I didn’t say I was into you, I just said I’d fuck you.”
“This is not comforting. Why are you talking like this?”
“Me talking like this? You’re the one who’s like, asking…dumb questions.”
“That’s a dumb question? Paul cheated on me on my fucking birthday!”
“Well then, have some fucking sympathy!”
“You do? Well show it.”
“All right. Sympathy.”
“You’re a horrible friend. You don’t get it.”
“I do get it. But I know you’re going to be fine.”
“Well, is it too much to ask to kind of smooth that along? So I can be miserable for less time? Is that so much…?”
“No, it’s not. I mean… C’mon Nellie… You know I love you… You’re the most beautiful girl I know. Why do you think I call you so much?”)
That being a surefire sign of affection, that 2 people want to talk all the time, want to be together as much as possible.
Such a rare thing.
So hard to find.
The ability to sit together in silence and enjoy it.
Hands on the table. Fingers touching wood. Picking up a spoon. Bringing soup to lips. Putting down the spoon. Picking up a glass. Taking a drink. Swallowing. Putting down the glass. Staring at one another, and it not being weird. Makes both of you smile inevitably. The eye contact and the nice silence.
My hands on top of your hands, on the table at the restaurant.
On a Thursday night in June.
There being little else worth doing. Eating, drinking, with a friend. The best friend imaginable. Afterwards, going home for some naked wrestling.
There it is. I’ve said my piece. “I have had my vision,” as Virginia Woolf writes. Lily Briscoe with her paintbrush.
Orlando shape-shifting over time.
A boy, a girl, always a lover.
The children, boys and girls, voices, growing up together. The passage of time. Voices in the waves.
Virginia wading into the water with stones in her pockets.
Acceptance or despair?
Moments of being.
Alone in one’s room. At the library. Alone time.
Waves of sadness and acceptance.
You know I suspect all people are artists.
And if that’s true, what’s up with people complaining about their lives all day long? Complaining about their jobs. What’s that about? No, seriously. What’s the point? When I meet someone who seems to tie all their self-worth or happiness to their career in engineering or nursing or non-profit management or whatever, I have a hard time not feeling snarky about it. I’m talking about someone who feels compelled to complain about their job and various co-workers at a party, at length, regardless of who’s listening. Seems sad, misguided, and/or annoying. Is that what life is? Having co-workers to passive-aggressively hate who also sit at desks and also have arbitrary tasks to carry out to meet some vague demand for some vague thing that some other people who also sit at desks maybe vaguely need occasionally? Seems bleak. Let’s drink, I don’t wanna talk about that on a Saturday night.
Am I being too childish/amateurish/conversational? I had some Joyce impressions worked up, but they sucked. There’s no point. Yes. There’s no point. There’s no point. There’s no point. Yes! There’s no point. There’s no point. There’s no point! Maybe there’s a point. Hold on.
She had dirty blond hair. Her name means “weary.” OK, here’s the story as originally written:
It was while watching The Straight Story that Daniel and Daisy first made out. Daniel had been too chickenshit at work to ask her what she was doing after. For over two hours, they had leaned against their registers in the checkout lines, talking between customers. She was long-legged, tall and thin, hair dirty blond. She had a nervous laugh and a smile that dwarfed her small round face. Whenever there were no customers, she wanted either to read the paperback she had stashed in her register or to talk with someone immediately. She didn’t want to be still. Her eye contact was intermittent. To banal comments she offered an amiable nod, a polite affirmative. She wore Goodwill jeans, faded sweatshirts, and beat-up old Nike high-tops. She seemed detached, even when happy. She could be blunt, as when she told Daniel after a year of dating that “you know there will be other boys.” She couldn’t bring herself to dump him, though, so Daniel did it for her, on his porch after some sad exchange, and she said, with tears in her eyes, “Will I still get to see you ever?”
The night they talked in the checkout lines for hours, after Daniel left the store and as he walked to his house, it bugged him that he had chickened out, and so he called her and asked her what was she doing. She said watching a movie. He asked her if she wanted company. Daisy said yes. She played hostess and brought him grapes on a tray. Daniel felt she was giving him some silent cue, so, eventually, after stalling for a few minutes, he asked if he could kiss her. She smelled of stargazer lilies.
Daisy had the smallest bed in the smallest bedroom Daniel had ever seen. It wasn’t really a bedroom even, just a nook off the living room with a sheet hanging over the entrance. When they slept together in that tiny-ass bed they were packed like sardines in a tin box. But she had a small window that looked down on the street, and everything in her room was made up of pleasing colors. Only sometimes when he held her he could no longer feel her there.
They had this mission to eat at every breakfast place in Madison. They made it to most of them.
One time, Daniel wrote a play to enter in a student competition. It told a thinly fictionalized version of the story of his dad’s two college relationships. The first scene showed Dad and a girlfriend’s last dance to “It’s Too Late.” The next scene was Dad sitting on a wood bench in a courtyard looking despondent as hell, so lonely that he was thinking about joining a fraternity. Mom saw him and, taking pity on him, sat down on the bench to talk with him. She was the answer to a prayer, was Dad’s take on it. Daniel emailed the play to Daisy. She replied that she liked it, but she wished there was some way for literature to be uplifting without being too picture-perfect happy.
One night during the summer of 2007, Daniel and Daisy took a walk out to Lake Monona. They passed by black men and women fly-fishing at the lake’s edge, transferring impulse through the rod and through the line. They found an abandoned, carpet-covered block drifting right offshore. Quietly, with few words, they climbed onto the carpet block and lay down together. Daisy wondered aloud what it’d be like if they could simply drift away on this carpet block and never come back. Daniel said it’d be their carpet island. He saw that out past the visible waters everything slowly disappeared.
I don’t know what to think about that story.
What do you think? Is it OK if we place a moratorium on thinking for the rest of our lives? Seems impractical.
I had this trumpet teacher once, a tall wonderful jazz trumpeter by the name of Ray Flanagan, with a gray ponytail, thick beard, and, behind his Coke-bottle glasses, inscrutable eyes. I used to go to his house for private lessons once a week, and he said that you have to learn how to say “No.” Didn’t seem like a skill that needed explaining or promoting, but he suggested to me, in a calm, highly logical tone of voice, that I was over-extending myself between school and my extracurricular stuff, and I needed to decide what I wanted to do and focus on that, not try to do everything all the time. Do one thing, and do it well. He said sometimes it is very difficult for people to learn how to say “No” to things. I had been butchering songs at my lessons. This is why he told me about saying “No.”
It is hard, yes it is hard, hard to be “nowhere without no.” This lovely phrase came to me from Rainer Maria Rilke via Thomas Merton.
I wrote a short story for one of my creative writing workshops in college. It was called “Nowhere Without No.” It tells the story of a father, a son, and a daughter. The daughter never makes it to lunch with the others because she has been shot an hour before by a burglar. The burglar is startled to find the daughter meditating in the sunroom, oblivious to his presence, and he panics and shoots her. The concept for the story was: “What would happen to your ‘spirit’ if you died while meditating?” The story didn’t offer any answers to this question. Here is the pivotal scene:
In that moment the poet left her body.
Betha Frey was meditating on the pristine white floor of her sunroom when she was shot. It was an hour before she planned to have lunch with her father and brother. She left the door to her apartment unlocked. It was a modern high-rise with glass windows overlooking the city lights and the shadow of the Salinas Valley. She bought the new apartment with money from her grandmother’s inheritance. Her bags had yet to be unpacked; they had been unceremoniously dumped in the living room. Above the mantelpiece was the only decoration thus far, a framed picture of Betha with her dad and Tommy. While picking through her belongings, a burglar heard a low moan from the next room. He crept in with gun drawn. Startled by what he saw, the burglar fired.
When she was shot, Betha fell forward in her cross-legged position toward the center of the room like a bird from off its branch. Her chest came to rest upon the floor. Her arms spread up and out as wings, and her lips vibrated from deep within, like the last strum of a hollow-bodied lyre. One hand landed near the only other thing in the room, a scrap of paper upon which she had scrawled a poem. Her forehead pressed against the floor. Red blood spilled onto the white tile. The sun rested upon her crumpled form. The killer stole out the door.
When the bullet struck her, Betha was meditating on a koan that recounts the Zen master Bassui’s letter to a disciple nearing death. It reads: “The essence of your mind is not born, so it will never die. It is not an existence, which is perishable. It is not an emptiness, which is a mere void. It has neither color nor form. It enjoys no pleasures and suffers no pains. I know you are very ill. Like a good Zen student, you are facing that sickness squarely. You may not know exactly who is suffering, but question yourself: What is the essence of this mind? Think only of this. You will need no more. Covet nothing. Your end which is endless is as a snowflake dissolving in the pure air.”
Betha’s brother left a message on her cell phone several hours after she died. This is what she would have heard: “Hey Betha, it’s Tommy. How’s it going? Remember last time we talked how you said I should start exercising more? I finally took your advice. And the other day, I meant to go for three miles, but I ended up going on for another mile or so after that. And get this, I think I finally figured out what you mean by the ‘runner’s high.’ I did feel this sort of euphoria after awhile, like my legs and arms were weightless and just floating along. Anyway, Dad and I missed you at lunch. Give me a call when you get a chance. OK, I’ll see you later.”
Nearly every question or comment I received from classmates re this story had to do with the “plot” or the “narrative” or some sort of clarification of a character’s “motivations.” One boy, who had no positive feedback to offer, was nice enough to point out that a type of tree I had mentioned earlier in the story “is not commonly found in that part of California, just so you know.”
Do you ever feel alone in the world? like you got lost along the way somehow and now you reside in a dim, impenetrable chamber of your own making? You are not alone. It’s as if we are speaking to each other right now. Look at my face. Mine wants to see yours. I am with you in spirit.
I have surrendered to the way things are; there is no point to make, only love.