Friday, November 14, 2008

"Human beings came and went" an epitaph of thanksgiving to my mentor the late David Foster Wallace



In my late teens and early twenties Infinite Jest was my best friend. I lugged the glossy tome of erudition and narrative bravura with me everywhere I went. I ploughed through the continents of paragraphs, brandishing my pen like a scalpel as I chiseled annotations into each page. I loved how each individual sentence revved up and sputtered before driving the reader deeper into a neon Golgotha of an overtly subsidized, spiritually vacuous future. I loved the acronyms and the irony and the lack of punctuation—how everything fractl'd out of control with the subtle velocity of a mouse click and the startled sunrise of a new web page. I loved how from page one, Wallace allowed the reader to stumble and wade into a sea of characters in the book-- creatures who are seeking and yearning. Creatures who are fucked up yet fighting. The scene where Tiny Ewell is confessing his pubescent chicanery to a comatose Don Gately still to this day reverberates inside my chest with the resonance and flap of angel wings. Or the scene where beloved maladroit Mario asks the Moms how she can tell if someone is sad. Open to around page 200 in nearly any version of Infinite Jest and you will witness a miracle in print, the epistemic of a heart that wildly observes and blinks as well as pulsates with the aesthetic drive of all mankind as it lurks and scopes out a simple halfway house while detailing the errant souls that dwell within.

I annotated and re-read and pondered and dreamed. I talked about Wallace to anyone who would listen. I started carrying around a vial of Visine. I told them that Wallace was to a generation of writers what Cobain had been to a generation of lyricists. I told them that the linguistic mortar binding the jacket of this book together contained the ever-elusive "it" in which we as a collective human species were all somehow seeking. The book was marketed like the purported failed entertainment itself—glossy and gargantuan. Epic and exhausting. The blurbs of Moody and Vollmann and Franzen sprouted off the back cover with the intensity of fireworks blossoming above the tinted window showcasing the pensive author himself, looking as if he had just inhaled something green and potent while mulling over the outcome of a game of frisbee golf. He looked like what I thought a literary savior should look like: a wizened Spartan wordsmith. A feral wildman boasting about the glory of his fresh inky kill. He looked like someone who had been there, a washed up itinerant emotional Ishmael, who had not only survived the to tell the tale but one who wished to convey it in a fashion that had simply never before been conceived. That he wished to push the (porous) borders of the page as far as they would allow. Wish to amp up the volume of the contemporary state of American letters. That he wished simply to stretch out the possibility of the human experience and immortalize it in the tattooed hieroglyphics of language.

But more than anything what inspired me about David Foster Wallace was that he lived forty-five minutes away from the aching bluffs of the river town where I was born. For a formative teenage writer lodged in the genital wart of the Midwest nothing is more needed, more revered, more sacred then finding superman occupying the corner phone booth in the sometimes empty avenues of your artistic ambitions—and when that superhero looks like David Foster Wallace and writes like a wild-haired caged mad man howling at the harvest moon, you know you have found a true mentor of the soul indeed.

The summer of '97 I would drive down the cement arteries of I-74, lost in the emerald husks of corn, thinking to myself aloud that "This is David Foster Wallace, country" as I chained smoked Camel Turkish Golds thinking about Don Gately or Hal Incandenza or Himself pressing microwave integers or thinking about the ravishing, unforgettable Lenore Beadsman from Broom of the System (my favorite DFW protagonist of all time) wondering if I would spot him at the Denny's he was rumored to write at. Apparently he would put his television in his front lawn when he wished to log in some serious writing hours. My friends who had met him said that he always referred to writing as "work." That he smoked like a chimney at a nuclear facility. That he was apish in stature, hairy and uncouth and dipped even when he was in class. That he was brilliant. That he smelled. That he couldn't play tennis anymore because he had a sore knee. That he didn’t know how to shave. That all the girls loved him. That he would often enroll his creative writing students through two weeks of remedial grammar at the onset of every semester because they didn't know how to punctuate worth shit. That he would chew up your individualized slain over manuscripts and spit out the romantic residue of your tears. That he was going through writers block. That he had his own private study in Milner library. That he could sometimes be a real asshole. That he had gotten it on with fellow writer Mary Karr at Syracuse and had her initials tattooed somewhere on the hirsute boundaries of his flesh. That he looked like a hybrid between a court Jester or a samurai warrior in that ubiquitous bandanna he donned with the cagey assurance that he could either easily amuse you to death or simply fuck with everything you have ever believed in.





I never had a class with David Foster Wallace. After I discovered the blinding shield of linguistic light that is Infinite Jest I began to consume every writer and book David Foster Wallace recommended. For me personally, this was where David Foster Wallace, the image of a jaded hip insomnia-addled novelist chain smoking cigarettes at a local coffee bar comes to life--that image made me simply want to read and write books and sent younger writers a message that if you openly indulged in your literary fetishes you might also influence others in the process.

Everything David Foster Wallace recommended I devoured with the appetite of hunger strike riddled martyrs. When I first discovered Wallace I was lost in the mire of serpentine sentences brought on by an unyielding "beat and James Joyce phase" that compels so many young (esp. males) writers to forgo the piecemeal rudiments of punctuation, sandblasting a ditzy clang of syllables into the drywall of the page in hopes that a metaphor encapsulating the human condition might somehow be revealed in a dash of brilliance. While my education at that time was (to plagiarize Wallace again) "A few french fries short of an academic happy meal," I never received anything close to the edification and encouragement and the joy inside the classroom that Wallace offered me via his prose and his enthusiasm for contemporary state of letters. There were the writers on the back of the book cover, Sven Birketts urging us to "THINK" William Gaddis and William Gass and John Barth and (oh yes) Thomas Pynchon. I read William James' "Varieties of a religious Experience," I fell head over knee caps enamored with Wittgenstein's Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus based solely that Wallace's first novel Broom of the System had incubated inside the epistemological rungs of this philosophical ladder.


A sentence referencing eternity in respect to the vicissitudes of time culled from that positivism bulletin provides the title of this particular blog.


But then I also began to read his contemporaries. If Wallace was vaulted into the coveted dome of the literati spotlight, he was sharing his champagne and confetti with writers who struggled and wrote long side him. Younger writers. I read the writers whom he was compared to yet seemed to vehemently despise (McInerney and Leyner). I read the writers he adored. I read Susan Daitch and AM Homes. I read and re-read Galatea 2.2 and fucking wailed til their were tear drops on my testicles ("Richard Powers," Wallace applauded in an interview "Who lives all of 45 minutes away from me and whom I have met all of once.") I fell in madly love with the spritely wit and windex clear prose of Lorrie Moore. I slipped into the frigid late-70's ambiance of Rick Moody's icicle prose parading over the upholstery of Updike. I lauded the beautiful carnivalesque clan and narrative tomfooleries of Don Antrim's "100 brothers." I ordered a copy of 27th City and even submitted my name to Oprah's book club in hopes that I would be a guest panelist during the one week that Jonathan Franzen itchingly anticipated CORRECTIONS was chosen to be in the aborted media spotlight.


After all, I knew all about Franzen. David Foster Wallace had introduced me to his work years before.

I read more William T. Vollmann then could possibly be salubrious for my spiritual longevity. More than once I got laid plagiarizing the quote "Gave my heart an erection," a metaphor he quoted in an interview while talking about Carole Maso's ravishing novel "AVA."

Some of the books Wallace introduced me to have become my best friends. I can't imagine where I would go for emotional solace if I didn't have Delillo's WHITE NOISE or GREAT JONES STREET. During the IJ tour Wallace was quoted to having said something like, "The writer I'm most into right now is George Saunders Civil War Land in Bad Decline."--Saunders becoming a second literary avatar who I was honored to introduce in Chicago during his book tour for Pastoralia.

I read every DFW interview I could land my postmodern inflicted paws on. To this day I feel the Larry McCarffery Interview featured in the 1993 Summer issue of THE REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY FICTION has served as my emotional rod and staff--it is the one piece of exposition I have been going to like a confidant for over a decade to confirm my devotion to this craft.

In the interview (published when Jest was still in its second trimester)Wallace said things like "Fiction is what its like to be a fucking human being." He talked about Wittgenstein and about chasing what Yeats called "the click of a well made box " How he talked about the craft and loyalty to composing stories being an act of love. "And I've found the really tricky discipline to writing is trying to play without getting overcome by by insecurity or vanity or ego. Showing the reader that you are smart or talented or whatever, trying to be liked, integrity issues aside, this stuff just doesn't have enough motivational calories to carry you in the long haul. You've got to discipline yourself that talk out the part of you that loves the thing, loves what you're working on. Maybe that just plain loves."

The interview with Larry McMurphy stewarded to my life what the New Testament proclaims to give to tithing Born again arms flailing Christians. It gave me orientation and encouragement and still to this day part of me feels set on fire every time I read it.



the author of this blog (right) endeavoring to emulate the attire of his mentor, circa 1998



The first creative writing seminar I attended at Bradley University I wore glasses and a bandanna to class. After the class period I chatted with my instructor, the great Thomas Palakeel, about post modernism and Wallace’s place in it. A year later I transferred to Illinois State to save money. Wallace was on sabbatical that semester but I remember jipping class and spending all day burrowed 400 meters from his office writing in the basement of Manchester. I had a crush on the scarlet-haired professor with the tight ass whose office was adjacent to Wallace's academic den. I would hang outside his office, my manuscript folded beneath my arms like an American flag configured after taps, waiting to be discovered. There was nothing remarkable about his office. I remember that he had a New Yorker cartoon posted on his office door (something about rogain, middle age and chest hair). He also had a quote stating how he would be on sabbatical followed by the phrase” FARETHEWELL FELLOW TRAVELER.

When I called his office just to hear the voice of my avatar on his office answering machine, hoping to introduce myself as an eager student and enthusiastic fan of contemporary fiction I was dismayed when the semi- nasal tone of his voice offered out a bitter caveat stating, "This number is for student and academic inquiries only."

I met a cool cafeteria worker at Illinois state who was a late-middle aged writer paying his dues like every other aspiring chronicler I know and who walked out of Wallace's classroom after a heated discussion where Wallace ripped his story apart.

"The one word to describe Dave Wallace is "intense." He said, after telling me about a recent rejection letter he had just received from Esquire.


We had a mutual friend named Nick who worked at Brewster Beans and who looked just like Tiny Ewell from Infinite Jest. Nick had met DFW in hallways of Stevenson one afternoon and knew him solely as a professor. Nick was also an English major and I remember feeling appalled when he confessed to me that he had no clue of DFW’s literary renown. Nick had never heard of Infinite Jest, was oblivious that his friend Dave Wallace was named to the New Yorkers "Top twenty writers for the New Millennium."

Nick was working on an adaption of Hamlet for class.

"He has a really cool set up for writing." Nick said. "When I was inside his house last week he told me that he was working on something very serious and that he trusted me not to look around too much."


Nick told me a story how DFW's home answering machine apaprently kept weekly updates of the Bears 2000-2001 sloven season.

"By the way," It would end, "The Bears are still oh and five."


I edited a copy of Nick's Hamlet manuscript. Later Nick work shopped the manuscript. Next to my scribbled comments were those of DFW's. His handwriting was a lot neater than mine.The closest to Dave Foster Wallace I would get that semester was having my handwriting on his writing desk, wondering if his lips offered a snicker of delight when he saw my request of "Needs to have more Alas Poor Yorricks."

I transferred back to Bradley to wade ad infinitum in a haunting quagmire of debt but still somehow determined as fuck to scribe out my heart on to the unblemished pasture of snow that is the beckoning freshness of a blank page. I fell in love with girl who was the most beautiful (visually stunning) and ebullient gifted writer I have ever met (for all you jest-heads out there, her smile alone would make Joellen PGOAT look like she belonged in a barnyard bargain book bin). When John Updike came to speak at Bradley University that fall, I inquired about the future of fiction. Updike mentioned the name of David Foster Wallace and the whole room visually turned in my direction. I made friends with Kris, a James Joyce scholar whose IQ may be soaring somewhere next to the hubble telescope. Together with the PGOAT we maxed out autumnal afternoons driving around Bloomington, leaving Babbit books with a pagoda of postmodern texts busheled in the basket of our arms. We visited Dalkey Archive press and Fiction Collective 2 in Fairchild Hall requesting back issues of The review of Contemporary Fiction. We tramped through Stevenson Hall in search of simply spotting the author. We made Wallace out to be an elusive sasquatch and even coined the term "Wallace droppings" whenever we came across a twinkie wrapper. We bought more books. We read more interviews. We listened to folk music (Dar Williams, Ani Difranco, Greg Brown) and smoked weed. Thanks to the mind blowing Hyperbolean philosophical orations of Dr. Greene we spent that autumn immersed in the incendiary soul poetry of Husserl, Levinas, Battaile and Blanchot. We loved life. We howled and screamed. We fucked and accused. We continued to pelt out the confusion of love and the love of confusion into the keyboard every night in forlorn hopes that a metaphor might somehow be conceived.

We dreamed.


Still Wallace had been the most influential writer in the last half-decade of my life--his prose and literary recommendations alone served as the impetus to my every creative craving and try as hard as I fucking may, I never saw him once.





the best writers of our generation destroyed by madness-- Pulitzer prize winner Junot Diaz, Rick Moody, edwidge danticat, DFW, George saunders, Pulitzer prize winner jeffrey eugenides, New yorker "top 20 writers under 40" June 1999.


I finally met David Foster Wallace at Borders Books store in downtown Chicago on Bloomsday 1999. He had just appeared in the New Yorker top 20 writers for the new millennium issue, standing next to George Saunders, doing what looks like a fist pump of joy.

He was large. With his bulk he looked like an offensive center hunched over on all fours about ready to hike a football shaped exactly, somehow, like the book which I felt was the greatest text in the English language. He wore a pink bandanna, shorts and purple socks. He looked nothing like the saint I had drooled over the past three years. I remember telling my girlfriend that I thought he looked like the energizer bunny clad in that pink bandanna lumbering across aisled of reduced bestsellers brandishing an empty Evian bottle like a scepter, using it solely for a tobacco spittoon, the jester taking court, center stage, waiting to tell us a story.


He looked like a poured hybrid of Hal Incandenza and Don Gately.

He gave a kick ass reading, his voice soft, a late spring breath rustling over the Midwestern prairie reeds. When the plenary Q and A section of the book signing convened and one gentlemen asked him what he was currently reading he answered, "Hannibal" followed by a pause followed by a, "like the rest of the nation" rejoinder. When a middle-aged lady asked him where his inspirations come from, he scratched his head in an apish fashion and confessed that he really didn't know.



After the Q. and A the audience configured into an exclamatory mark of anxious bodies standing in the direction where the author was seated. David Duchovnyof X-files renown cut my girlfriend ( the PGOAT) in line and stepped on my foot in the process in order to be the first to offer Wallace a congratulatory shake. Wallace seemed completely unphased by Duchovy's presence.

I had one copy signed for me and another addressed to Doc. Palakeel, my first creative writing prof at Bradley university. I began to get tense. I tittered. I tried to convey to him the gratitude I felt for everything he had given me. He brushed it off like he could care less about what his work had meant to the general populace at large. When the person behind me in line made a reference to the date of June sixteenth being Bloomsday I almost on cue broke out into a fulsome rendition of Joyce's "Ineluctable modality of the visible," warranting a scowl from my Waterhouse visgaed PGOAT girlfriend which strongly insinuated to quit being so pedantic in public, honey. DFW continued looking down as he autographed his, "with best possible wishes" bromide in the interior of each Hardcover book. When I asked him if I could shake his hand, he said I could but then commented in a very James Joyce May-I-kiss-the-hand-that-wrote-Ulysses-germane-to-Bloomsday-kind-0f-way that if he were me, then I should still wash it, preferably with soap. I kept on wanting to talk to him. I wanted to ask him the perfunctory interrogation of "What advice would he give young writers? Who do we need to sleep with to get published?" As he scribbled the rehearsed sentence into the collar of my book I tried to thank him again for every thing he has given me. Stuttering I mentioned how I had read his five, "Direly underappreciated American novels" appearing in a recent on-line issue of Salon and how I had read each of them and how this constituted my overall affection for himself as the author, that not only did he make me want to give up everything I was doing and write books he simultaneously made me want to give up everything I was doing and read books as well.



When I told him we were from Peoria and attended Bradley University he paused for a moment and said "You guys have a really good basketball team, though, right? That one white guy."

"That one white guy," I thought to myself as I held the porcelain handle of the PGOATs palm in mine and two autographed copies of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men between us like a newborn as we left the bookstore on Michigan Avenue, the late-afternoon tint of over head lego-stacked buildings adorning downtown Chicago like a spiking utilitarian nest of beauty falling all around us in fragments of shadows and in spangles of fresh light.

I don't think the author ever looked up at me once.







***




You could see it after Infinite Jest. You could see Wallace trying to change. You could see Wallace trying to stretch the perimeters of the page. You could see it in Adult World (II) and other more abstract selections of BIWHM. It was as if he wanted to perform electroshock therapy on his readers psyches. It was if he wanted to push the envelope of language past the shoreline of the page into the ocean of reality , the feeling of wading in a pond of consciousness, a feeling of what it means to be a pulsating, sentient human being alert at all times versus, as he quotes, “a very sophisticated mammal” or as Wallace elegantly espoused in his 2005 Kenyon graduation speech: “It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

This is the world we are all blessed to somehow an astonishing part of.


Wallace demanded that you look at a piece of fiction (or reality for that matter) with this sort of 24-7 metaphysical cognizance---to scrutinize the vessels and shapes of the alphabet in a new way, which in doing so, coerces the individualized reader to look at his world from a wider self-expanded periphery. You could see this in Tense Present Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage. You could see it most vividly in HOST with its cryptic interpolated urine stained continents of prose. It looked like witnessing a crop circle from an overhead bush plane. Linguistic alkaloids and metaphorical algorithms and a lot of avant-gardish where the fuck am I going with this—but mostly, I thought to myself as I leered into the foam of sentences ornamented into the page was that this looked like a lot of cryptic slop and I longed for a novel, an adopted Chinese sibling for Infinite Jest to cuddle up with for an eternity all for my own.

Still, in the last half decade of his life, Wallace wrote some astounding shit.

Less than a month after 9-11 A View from Mrs. Thompsons was published in Rolling Stone. Wallace recounts witnessing the tragedy and shock of that day on a neighbors couch. He was writing about 9-11, but he was writing what was transpiring on that day in my back yard. I felt every resident in central Illinois should buy five copies of the article and memorize it. Again I was seminally pissed that no one I knew in the community seemed to care that DFW was writing about the lens of global loss from the vantage point of our own backyard.

Wallace even published two nature poems in Triquarterly "Peoria," named after the city and the lush prairie environs where I have lived for the bulk of my life.



“ Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and sky line of canted rust and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to a place beyond the windbreak, where unfulfilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat…. Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and wholrs of cirrus so high they cast no shadow. Insects all business all the time. Quartz and schist and chondrite iron scabs in granite, Very old land. Look around you. The horizon, trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.”


Reading that poem, thinking about all the late nights I spent driving in the country, smoking cigarettes in David Foster Wallace’s zip code, chasing the peach blink of the sunset as it gradually dissipated in the autumnal vapors of the west, thinking about how I too, wanted just to be like this man who had inspired me, it seemed that Dave Wallace had composed these two poems somehow just for me. But I wanted novels. I wanted another 1000 page emotional lifeboat with labyrinthine plots and random minutia. I wanted another Lenore Beadsman and another Great Ohio Desert and a pub where all the bartenders dressed up like Gilligan and a sumo-shaped proprietor who simply wants to eat everything in sight. I wanted the scenes, banal and beautiful, Don Gately trying to rouse fellow residents at 2 am to prevent their vehicles from being towed or precocious Hal Incandenza trying to feel that he is more than just a corporeal version of the OED with a killer backhand—trying to feel that he is somehow a human being in a world where even the calendar days are corporate cavities of the heart.

I wanted another novel.


Candidly I began to give two shits about Wallace’s essays. I checked amazon dot com and the Howling Fantods religiously with the anticipation of seeing an upcoming Work in Progress. When the 2002 O.Henry awards came out I paid more attention Anthony Doeer's resplendent THE HUNTERS WIFE then I did to Wallace's GOOD OLD NEON, a story it seemed to me that was a run off sentence blistered from a previous bildungsroman. Not to bash G.O.N, a story which has meant much to many readers, it just seemed to me that it was nothing more than an extracted B-side raked from the galleys of Brief Encounter (read B.I. #20 12-96 and re-read it and re-read it and re-read it again).


All I could do was bitch that he didn’t write fiction the way he used to anymore.

By this time I was working at Bradley University library as a third shift access coordinator, still writing my ass off every opportunity I got. I turned in a single spaced very heavily David Foster Wallace induced 700 page novel to my creative writing professor at Bradley for my senior project (my other senior project was about the efficacy or lack thereof of MFA programs entitled, “Jack Kerouac never got an MFA.” ) I would periodically find myself back in Normal visiting my artist friend, going to Folk concerts at Illinois Wesleyan still finding gems inside Babbbits used books bin.


I would even traipse around the cigarette stained contours of Stevenson Hall wishing to talk with my mentor, wanting to share with him my nest of rejection letters or convey to him the jolt of electricity I felt every time I massaged the tips of my fingers on the welcome mat of the keyboard. I wanted to tell Foster Wallace how much inspiration his work and artist's purview continued to add joy to my life.


I again wanted to tell Wallace all this only I couldn’t-- Wallace had abandon his longest teaching gig at ISU, leaving the trigonometric back road plains of central Illinois for Pomona California where rich corporate demagogue awarded him 0ne million dollars to teach two classes a year.





****


In the apocryphal Book of Enoch a story is relayed about the fallen angel Penemue, exiled from the presence of God, jettisoned from eternity in heaven for being the first ever teacher of the craft of writing. Even an amateur etymologist could surmise that from name comes the origin for the writing instrument.

“And pointed out to them every secret of their wisdom. He taught men to understand writing, and the use of ink and paper. Therefore numerous have been those who have gone astray from every period of the world, even to this day. For men were not born for this, thus with pen and with ink to confirm their faith; Since they were not created, except that, like the angels, they might remain righteous and pure. Nor would death, which destroys everything, have effected them; But by this their knowledge they perish, and by this also its power consumes them. "


The pen is not only mightier than the sword, it is also the lance in which the damned author will slit his wrist .....



***




This is how I heard about the suicide of my mentor: I monopolized that entire September weekend blanketed in the late night din and fracas of a local bar, blatantly cursing at flat screen digitalized rectangle to see if my beloved White Sox would inch into the playoffs (note: they did). Sunday afternoon when I awoke I was pensive and inexplicably felt broken glass shards coating the interior of my lower stomach lining. My girlfriend kept inquiring what is wrong and I could not give her a valid answer. Ironically my girlfriend of two months was reading Broom of the System. When I arrived at work there was an e-mail. Fittingly, the news of his suicide came from Dr. Palakeel, my first creative writing prof. The heading to the missive simply read "Sad news." Before the New York Times link Dr. Palakeel wrote the sentence, “ I know he has tried this before.”




*****





For the over last decade I’ve been telling everyone that David Foster Wallace was to a generation of writers what Cobain was to a generation of musicians and now Wallace has joined that cadre of elite souls too brilliant and too misunderstood to cope with the book jacket binding that serevs as their own flesh. Wallace joins the extolled likes of Hemingway and Hart Crane and Sylvia Plath. Dying young cements that there will be a mystique around the narrative of your life—that scholars will probe into every facet of your tortured genius, that teenagers will attire themselves in black while locking themselves in the bedrooms of their parents suburban casa numerating ways that there life is sad and lonely just like that of their mentor. Dying young grants you the cool aura Fitzgerald and Jack London and Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas. Dying young grants you a romantic aura of Byron or Keats or Shelly. Wikipedia writers who have committed suicide. Vachel Lindsey drinking Lysol. Virginia Woolf’s grave being marked in an effervescent tombstone of expired bubbles. Jesrzy Kosinski leaving a suicide note that reads simply:


“I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity".


An essay from Denise Levertov published three decades ago discusses the suicide and death of so many young writers with fervor germane for today's literary community:


“My own sadness at the death of a fellow poet is compounded by the sense of how likely it is that Anne’s Sexton’s tragedy will not be without the influence of tragedy in others lives. She herself was obviously, too intensely troubled to be fully aware of her influence or to take on its responsibility. Therefore it seems to me that we who are alive must make clear, as she could not, the distinction between creativity and self-destruction. The tendency to confuse the two has claimed too many victims. Anne Sexton herself seems to have suffered deeply from this confusion, and I surmise that her friendship with Sylvia Plath had in it an element of identification which added powerfully to her malaise. Across the country at different colleges I have heard many stories of attempted—and sometimes successful suicides by young students who love the poetry of Plath and who suppose that somehow, in order to become poets themselves, they had to act out in there own lives the vent of hers. Innumerable young poets have drunk themselves into stupidity and cirrhosis because they admired John Berryman or Dylan Thomas and came to think they must think like them to write like them.”

One doesn't much like to ponder the bleak possibility come a decade or two from now of a young writer in his late teens with so much potential hanging himself in the manner of his mentor, a bandanna clad around his limp neck like a fallen halo.


David Wallace becoming the Kurt Cobain for a generation of those who decided to read.


***


Part of me is pissed off and wounded. Part of me wants to buy him a beer and say funny anecdotes so that he can laugh. Part of me wants to give him the finger, tell him he's an overrated fuck up, tell him there are so many young writers, good writers working piss-ant jobs, struggling, impecunious, lonely, fucked-up who harbor knee-deep suicidal proclivities every time they try to explain the jaded nature of their vocation to their parents, to their girlfriends, to their peers-- see the deflated expression etched into the face of a writer who has scribed over a million words in the last decade and still can't find a publisher or make rent but refuses to yield to the chorus of his calling at all costs.

Part of me is learning (on the recommendation of a feathered spiritual friend) to seriously, like Don Gately in IJ get down on my knees and pray for his soul and in hushed reverence thank him for everything he has simply given. That his soul needs help. That it is in a confused state and that it needs fellow wayfarers and dreamers to assist him in his journey between the oscillating spectrum of light casting shadows and prisms between this realm of being and the inscrutable wonder of the world to come.

Part of me doesn't like to think about the method in which he died. Part of me can't imagine killing yourself in such a manner in which your surrogate soul mate or spouse walks in on you hung from the neck, swaying like the stem to some unknown pendulum, an octagon thatch of urine staining the infield of his crotch, his keen eye prodded free from his socket, duck tape manacled around his wrist like an identification bracelet from some Podunk country hospital, the smiley sick clowned faced emblem of Infinite Jest unable to find any more amusement by the simultaneous recurring wonder that is the failed entertainment cartridge of ones own shot at existence.

Part of what gives me the Howling Fantods is that someday, in the not so distant subsidized future that is subsidized academia, some grad student whose published academic drivel on writers include more footnotes than Wallace ever employed will one day quote the death of David Foster Wallace as being the death of postmodernism.


What gives me Howling fantods even more is that he may have had this whole shit planned for some time. When you think of stories such as "The Depressed person," or "Suicide as a sort of present." Or when you look at the time line linearity of Infinite Jest and begin to randomly ponder if Wallace had choreographed this shit: As a fellow Jest head notes:

Most of the action in the novel takes place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, or Y.D.A.U., which is probably Gregorian 2009. Critic Stephen Burn, in his book on Infinite Jest, argues that Y.D.A.U. corresponds to 2009: the MIT Language Riots took place in 1997 (n. 24) and those riots occurred 12 years prior to Y.D.A.U. (n. 60). It is also possible that Y.D.A.U. is 2008---


YDAU equals autumn 2008.


That “Himself” was Foster Wallace himself. That he gave his readers an sos cryptogram of help and that, throughout the adulation and the praise and the grants and bandana wielding and the dip, there was a tortured soul veiled only as the letter Q. to the astute reader seemingly blinded by his brilliance--a soul who direly needed someone to see him and to hold him and just to pull a Marley and tell him that every little thing is gonnna be alright.


Later in that afternoon I would call Dr. Palakeel, only to hear his voice on the other end of the phone, saying that he knew it was me on the other end of the line the minute the phone rang.

***



Poets and writers drink more intensely. Smoke more intensely. Worship God more intensely. Poets and writers fuck more intensely. Poets and writers give more willingly-- spilling the alphabetical marrow of their souls out into the albino sonogram of hope that is the page, hoping some stranger whom he or she has never before met turns to his crafted syllables in time of dire need and somehow finds solace, finds laughter finds a friend. The best writers will gladly serve as damaged dantes to the romantic whims of their readers Beatrice-like longings. The best writers will be butchered by academics--the same academicians who use footnotes of another mans failed genius as stilts to publish anything at all. The best writers have their hearts turned into a maxi-pads day in and day out. The best writers will understand poverty. The best writers will be self-published. The best writers will watch as rich spoiled North shore brats who have been wiping their asses with two dollars bills their entire lives publish simply because they were able to spend two years on their fathers' yacht writing full time.

The best writers never make it during their lifetime.

The best writers fail.

Again and again and again.

The writer sees. He feels. He loves. And more than anything, he gives, even with the heartbeat and breath of everything that is lodged inside of him.


***

When Foster Wallace died I thought about a lot of things. I thought about his closing comments in the aforementioned Review of Contemporary Fiction interview, in which, when asked about the future of fiction he replies:

"For me, the last few years of the postmodern era have seemed a bit like the way you feel when you’re in high school and your parents go on a trip, and you throw a party. You get all your friends over and throw this wild disgusting fabulous party. For a while it’s great, free and freeing, parental authority gone and overthrown, a cat’s-away-let’s-play Dionysian revel. But then time passes and the party gets louder and louder, and you run out of drugs, and nobody’s got any money for more drugs, and things get broken and spilled, and there’s a cigarette burn on the couch, and you’re the host and it’s your house too, and you gradually start wishing your parents would come back and restore some fucking order in your house. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the sense I get of my generation of writers and intellectuals or whatever is that it’s 3:00 A.M. and the couch has several burn-holes and somebody’s thrown up in the umbrella stand and we’re wishing the revel would end. The postmodern founders’ patricidal work was great, but patricide produces orphans, and no amount of revelry can make up for the fact that writers my age have been literary orphans throughout our formative years. We’re kind of wishing some parents would come back. And of course we’re uneasy about the fact that we wish they’d come back—I mean, what’s wrong with us? Are we total pussies? Is there something about authority and limits we actually need? And then the uneasiest feeling of all, as we start gradually to realize that parents in fact aren’t ever coming back—which means we’re going to have to be the parents."

I thought about how so many writers fall pray to this maxim of Shakespeare , "On the ashes of his youth doth lie/ As the death-bed whereon it must expire/ Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by..."

I thought about how the ashes of too many writers fertilize their corpse buried deep in the soil of the page. I thought about good ol' Penume and how the writer is seemingly damned from the outset, perhaps even by a Deity for endeavoring to tell the truth.

Writing is the most lethal vocation I know. No one knows what indeed was concealed behind the bandana Wallace shielded around his skull like a turban or a helmet.

No one truly knows what emotional shit he was goin' through.

I also thought about this quote, by former poet Laureate Donald Hall, written shortly after the death of Dylan Thomas.


“The poet who survives is the poet to celebrate. The human who confronts darkness and defeats it is the most admirable human.”

**


Two weeks after his death I did the only thing I knew I could do-- I phoned up his office in Pomona and left a message for him. I had been trying to contact him for years. I wanted to convey to him everything he had meant to the discourse of my life. I wanted to tell him how he made me want to devote my life to the craft of fiction.

His voice on the answering machine identified himself as "Dave" Wallace followed simply by a high pitched electronic purr. In that moment, as I wallowed in the pause that followed the sound of his deceased monotone. I then told him what I had been waiting to tell him for nearly a decade. I thanked him for everything he had given me.

I quoted his Kenyon commencement address, parts of it verbatim. I told him how he said in his address speech that the "Capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death," and how his life, his prose, his astute observation about the world around him, his incessant curiosity towards the habits and vices of the human race impelled me to want to write books, made me want to read books, and made me want to convey his joy and beauty found in this beautiful pond of reality we all find ourselves skinny dipping through.

Thank you David Foster Wallace.

Bravo!!!!




For reasons I can't explain I even told him that I loved him.



Twice.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Quotes of enduring beauty that have inspired me to no known end from my fallen mentor







"Fiction is what it is like to be a fucking human being." Interview with Larry McCaffery.


"--and then you're in serious trouble, very serious trouble, and you know it, finally, dead serious trouble, because this substance you thought was your one true friend, that you gave up all for, gladly, for so long gave you relief from your pain of the Losses you love of that relief caused, your mother and lover and God your compadre, has finally removed its smiley-faced mask to reveal centerless eyes and a raving maw , and canines down to here, its the Face In The Floor, the grinning root-white face of your own nightmares, and the face is your own face in the mirror , now, its you..." Infinite jest




"I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction's job is to comfort the disturb and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big serious part of serious fiction's purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a generalization of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy is impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with characters pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing and redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple." Interview with Larry Mccaffery



"Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers. They tend to lurk and to stare, The minute fiction writers stop moving, they start lurking, and stare. They are born watchers. they are viewers. They are the ones in the subway about whose nonchalant stare there is something creepy, somehow. Almost predatory. This is because human situations are writers' food. Fiction writers watch other human sort of the way gapers slow down for car wrecks; they covet a vision of themselves as witnesses."

-Supposedly fun thing I'll never do again.



DFW's 'millenium' comments from December 1999, Rolling Stone "Such as thing as truth":


"We're all-- especially those of us who are educated and have read a lot and have watched TV critically-- in a very self-conscious and sort of worldly and sophisticated time, but also a time when we seem terribly afraid of other people's reactions to us and very desperate to control how people interpret us. Everyone is extremely conscious of manipulating how they come off in the media; they want to structure what they say so that the reader or audience will interpret it in the way that is most favorable to them. What's interesting to me is that this isn't all that new. This was the project of the Sophists in Athens, and this is what Socrates and Plato thought was so completely evil. The Sophists had this idea: Forget this idea of what's true or not-- what you want to do is rhetoric; you want to be able to persuade the audience and have the audience think you're smart and cool. And Socrates and Plato, basically their whole idea is, 'Bullshit. There is such a thing as truth, and it's not all just how to say what you say so that you get a good job or get laid, or whatever it is people think they want.'"






What do you think is uniquely magical about fiction?


"Oh, Lordy, that could take a whole day! Well, the first line of attack for that question is that there is this existential loneliness in the real world. I don't know what you're thinking or what it's like inside you and you don't know what it's like inside me. In fiction I think we can leap over that wall itself in a certain way. But that's just the first level, because the idea of mental or emotional intimacy with a character is a delusion or a contrivance that's set up through art by the writer. There's another level that a piece of fiction is a conversation. There's a relationship set up between the reader and the writer that's very strange and very complicated and hard to talk about. A really great piece of fiction for me may or may not take me away and make me forget that I'm sitting in a chair. There's real commercial stuff can do that, and a riveting plot can do that, but it doesn't make me feel less lonely.


There's a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn't happen all the time. It's these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone -- intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I'm in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don't with other art."

Interview with Laura Miller








"Victory for the Forces of Democratic Freedom!!!"





"'Don, I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anyone with a fucking nervous system out of their fucking mind.Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be alright. Everything. Like I'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection.'

'Now with the sarcasm.'

'I am so beautiful I am deformed.'"

-Infinte Jest







"So what I did was, I went home for a term, planning to play solitaire and stare out my window, whatever you do in a crisis and all of a sudden I found myself writing fiction. My only real experience with fun writing had been on a campus magazine with mark Costello, the guy I later wrote signifying rappers with. But I had experience chasing the click, from all the time spent with proofs. At some point in my reading and writing that fall I discovered the click existed in literature too. It was real lucky that just when I stopped being able to get the click from math logic I started to be able to get it from fiction. The first fictional clicks I discovered where in Donald Bartheleme's, "The Balloon" and in parts of the first story I ever wrote, which has been in my trunk since I finished it. I don't know whether I have much natural talent going for me fiction wise, but I know I can hear the click when there's a click. In Don Delillo's stuff, for example, almost line by line I can hear the click. It may be the only way to describe writers I love. I hear the click in most Nabokov. In Donne, Hopkins, Larkin. In Puig and Cortazar. Puig clicks like a fucking Geiger counter. And none of these people write prose as pretty as Updike, and yet I don't hear the click in Updike."

Interview with Larry McCaffery.


Q.

-brief interviews with hideous men


"THE MAN WHO KNOWS HIS LIMITATIONS HAS NONE."

--IJ


Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter At Page 20 --the onion




"'Moms?'

'Yes?'

'Can I ask you a thing?'

'Please do. I am right here with my attention completely focused on you."

'How can you tell if somebody's sad?"

-IJ



"It felt like a sun in his head.....It occured to him that if he died everybody would still exist and go home and eat and X their wife and go to sleep."
--IJ


WAGGLING



"And I've found the really tricky discipline to writing is trying to play without getting overcome by by insecurity or vanity or ego. Showing the reader that you are smart or talented or whatever, trying to be liked, integrity issues aside, this stuff just doesn't have enough motivational calories to carry you in the long haul. You've got to discipline yourself that talk out the part of you that loves the thing, loves what you're working on. Maybe that just plain loves."
















"'I'm not afraid of how this sounds to you. I'm not embarrassed now. But if you could understand, had I--could you see how there was no way I could let her go after this? Why I felt his apical sadness and fear at the thought of her getting her bag and sandals and new age blanket and leaving and laughing when I clutched the hem and begged her not to leave and said I loved her and closing the door gently and going off barefoot down the hall and never seeing her again? Why it didn't matter if she was fluffy or not terribly bright? Nothing else mattered. She had all my attention now. I'd fallen in love with her. I believed she could save me. I know how this sounds, trust me. I know your type and I know what you're bound to ask. Ask it now. This is your chance. I felt she could save me I said. Ask me now. Say it. I stand here naked before you. Judge me, you chilly cunt. You dyke, you bitch, cooze, slut, gash, Happy now? All borne out? Be happy. I don't care. I knew she could. I knew I loved. End of Story.'"
--Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A shadowed swan song recollection of summer daze gone past

This past Summer convened with the blossoming of bed bugs in lieu of May flowers. Since I took a somewhat bohemian vow when I embraced my vocation as a writer towards all things materialistic with the exception of certain East Coast microbreweries I always anticipate early May when affluent rich as fuck Bradley students in the process of seasonally abandoning campus jettison posh remnants of their living quarters in the back arms of nearby alleyways. And how I was clicking my heels together in a jig of good fortune the night I found a mattress the size of a small aircraft (don't ask where I was sleeping before) next to the dumpster behind St. Marks school as if God himself had sent down manna from mattress heaven in the form of a commodious comfortable cloud and how it took me (shit) what seemed like hours to lug the rectangular comforter up into the den of my apartment, boasting about my good fortune, feeling that it would be like fucking on a cloud only to wake up the next morning with my body coated in an itchy sea of pecked boils--rashes that would contaminate both my body and my apartment for the entire summer, coercing me into tossing three additional mattresses one love seat plus my couch overboard into the whistling desolation of the streets.

Again, now in the genesis of another golden autumn, please, don't ask where I'm sleeping.


It was the summer where my hair, after four year hiatus correlating exactly with the second BUSH reign of terror finally returned to me. The summer where I could feel the feral tendrils of my auburn dreads leaking down into the slope of my neck in a drizzling display of fibers and dyslexic bangs-- an unkempt shower curtain shrouding the mounds of my shoulders like a helmet. The summer where I woke up on the Indian shore lip of morning, exhausted from too many late night shifts. Summer is the season where the squint of light returns to me in alchemical shades of copper. Spangles of light stretching out in geometrical arms and translucent pillars of sunshine ricocheting in my morning apartment beckoning me into another day fraught with the possibility of dreams as the needle of daylight sews the fabric of reality together in clouds and shadows--the silhouette steeple of St. Marks church across the street bowing in noontime reverence like a shadowy baton, as if christening me into knightdom as I awake into the annex of another day of feeling and sight and experience on this planetary greenhouse harboring life.

It was the summer where I awoke the morning of the Preakness stakes and found Esmeralda pounding on my backdoor, her fists curved into the size of a primies head, pummeling like a gavel, finding her spirit next to me as we stalked the avenues of the Uplands, jouncing an errant tennis ball between us like a yo-yo serving as a makeshift metronome between the beat and cadences of our conversation; a sun culled from some other world.

It was the summer where my beloved WhiteSox monopolized the entire summer (with the exception of two days in August) in first place. The summer where I hit the old ball park-the ball park that visits me weekly in the nest of dreams-- again with my brother John. The game where Crede hit two home runs and Quentin and Dye continued to astound. The game where, watching the replay later on that night in the 'burbs, you could hear the gruff dynamics of my voice echoing through the concourse of Comiskey park every time Crede stepped up to the deciding shelter of that plate known as home, the mantra of my voice caroling out the chorus of "Go Jo-Jo!!!" amidst the din of the crowd. Nothing beats a day at the old ballpark, even if it is (shit) six-fifty for a beer.

The summer where I ran seven miles on my birthday--arching over the amplified hills of Bradley park, the xeroxed silhouette of my body sprouting into the banner of early July at dusk as I escaped the manicured security of the park, flailed my limbs down nostalgic arteries of Heading avenue (the emotional champs-elysses of formative mettle), sailing down the strip of Sterling avenue harnessing my body around Madison golf course, stampeding over the mossy dips of my former cross country course before I found myself down town, lost in the neon configuration of celebrational chandeliers strewn across the beauty of a mid summers electric orchestration of freedom.


The summer where I woke up with the purring feminine warmth of her body next to mine on my birthday with my cell phone wildly vibrating to hear my best friends voice, John (we share the same date of birth) informing me that he is in town and to rouse my hungover ass into consciousness and lets have breakfast at steak and shake, adhering to the immortal Dave and John HOD maxim of "Nothing beats takin' a shit inside Steak-n-Shake."




The summer where I went weeks emotionally engrossed by the film INTO THE WILD (could not stop fucking watching it for the life of me) the summer of the VOICE and and Odyssey 2012.

The summer where I again found myself living it up in the hip affluence of Des Moines with my Classy Bro david Thomspson, smoking cigars, sipping from a pricey bottle of 17 year old Belvanie sherry cask scotch which he salvaged uncorked for my arrival. Nothing like hanging out with a dear brother and reminiscing and projecting about the inscrutable joy and mystery that surely is to come in the dual resounding narratives of our twin lives.


The summer where I became addicted to weeds, chiming out the theme song like bad karaoke whenever we are out and the ticky-tacky girls with SUV's and credit cards and bleached teeth and blond highlights and a soul the size of a tampon who all dress all the same simply become too much to stomach.

The summer Of Barrack Obama (nuff said--if you choose not to vote try living in a third world country for a week with no toilet paper and contaminated water before realizing just how truly spoiled you are).



The summer of the Olympics where I fantasied making out with Nastia Lukin ("I want to get Nasty with Nastia", challenging Michael Phelps to a case race (8 gold medals my ass skinny boy drink up!!!) fantasizing about finding the Olympic champion facedown in a Kiddie pool littered with bobbing aluminum cylinders before making galvanizing shadow puppets with Usian Bolt.



The summer of the girl with the swaying red hair Charlie Brown--the woman whose eyes are so green they look as if the British isles surrendered its whimsical beauty and charm into the socket of a snow globe every time she blinks offering the planet an emerald orb of dizzying spring green. It was the same woman I ogled behind the Starbucks counter inside Barnes and Nobles five years ago. The woman who still remembered me ferrying my satchel fraught with manuscripts as I trounced into the cafe sometimes four times a day, requesting my Venti pick spilling trite witticisms through the trumpet of my lips in a simple endeavor to watch the wings of her lips ascend into smiley stratospheres of bliss. The woman whom I (inexplicably) gave a congratulatory bottle of wine to when I heard news of her engagement.


The woman who, exactly two months to this date I met once again. I was waiting at an ATM in campus town, pissed that the portly lady in front of me was taking what seemed like eons to make a simple deposit. As I was walking home I heard the carol of her voice beckoning me into shades of recognition.

The woman who thanked me for the bottle of wine, saying that she drank the entire bottle in one sitting the night her husband asked her for a divorce.


It is the summer of smoking cigarettes with this streaming red-haired mermaid one Miss Tara on my back porch, staring into the wild celestial pebbles of the stars overhead the two of us, naked, drinking our newly acquired favorite summer libation Pimms Cup ("Pimms you from behind, baby,"), as the inscrutable hazy eye-lided mystery of the earth tank-topped in the third season of the calendar year, the barometer of the planet aching into heavy streaks of horizontal lavender dissipating into the parallelogram of the west into the blanket of night.



Tara and I who are drinkers. Tara and I who every time we hit the town almost invariably find ourselves enveloped in a swirling vortex of voices and inspiration--recruiting a cavalcade of joyous flesh to accompany us into the laughter and openness of the night. The couple we met in the black bear lounge at Jumers who we partied with the entire night. The husband who remembered me from high school but I have no clue of having ever met before. The summer of hanging out in Bars that give you an empty beer can so that you can clandestinely ash out your smoke when the cops comb through. The old lady who own the bar that let us smoke cigarettes, telling us that "just have a can," as she leaves and tops reel up like drapes, debauchery, sadness, nostalgia, lost joy.

Smiles.


Tara who saw a ghost of a woman standing behind me in my apartment the morning we left for Turkey run.


Nights with tatenda. Jamie. Ut. Hanging out at Gormans until four in the morning with Gilbert on free pizza night. Meeting Josh with tara the night of the Allstar game and hearing that there was a writer in Peoria who was already Published in McSweeny's. Getting into an argument with the cool guy at Mike's tap because I can't fucking stand dave eggers.


Secluding myself in a computer lab for a week on campus and writing short stories about fat mermaids who are also lonely.


The two weeks i locked myself in my apartment and felt that I had some weird inexplicable bond with Jim Morrison watching Oliver Sones, THE DOORS incessantly, trying to wedge open some metaphysical portal via perusing the Theosophical medications of mankind, hoping to slop a verbal welcome matt on the entrance to a new day of philosophical panderings and motivational manna with the sole intention of feeding those minds who are hungry one sentence at a time.


The pyrotechnics of poetic passion exhibited at Will's once a month poetry reading. The pink-haired poet who read our runes while snorting a variety of crushed anti-depressants. Anna with the beautiful smile fraught with enough poetic potential to fuel an impending Pulitzer prize committee into forging a medal as luminous as her smile. Listening with resonating awe to the ocean of melodious light emanating in syncopated acapella from daniel Severance, singing about summer time and other folk music, wondering where the scope of his voice is derived from: like a portly patti Lebelle chutes down the red carpeting of his palette--a voice simply culled from some other world, maybe even channeled from a not to distant heaven.

The laughter. The craziness. Stanzi's birthday keg where we straddled around the keg of beer like a hearth in the bottom of college apartments and listened to the free styling crazy snaps of the street a boy Blaise B, always a pleasure brother.


The working class crowd at the Brass Bull: Wes who drowns vials of Jager all night and always dissipates into the early am hours without saying goodbye. Craig, whose humor is matched only by the size of his heart. "A tad shallow today," "Executive meeting troops--where's the Jager? Meeting adjourned." Emaciated Garreth who is hung like a black man and deaf in one ear so he always sounds irritable and loud. Jimbo the village drunk who spends his pension smoking weed and getting drunk all day. Jimbo who doesn't talk to anyone but came up to me immediately and struck a conversation.


Jimbo who had something happen to him in Nam he doesn't like to talk about.


Or the old man whose skin was the color of venison gravy and who wore a john deere cap and trousers that looked like they were purchased a few weeks prior to Watergate. The old man who drank cheap one dollar draught beer at the bar by himself adding a pinch of salt into the carbonated beverage stationed in front of his chin like a Eucharist waiting to be indulged. The old man who had been drinking too much since his wife got sick. The old man who smoked cheap Vanilla flavored cigarillos because with the other cigarettes, "you just can't taste the flavor." The old man who was all by himself and started talking to me in German. The old man who Tara grabbed and took out to the dance floor and began to lovingly dance with. The old man who smiled when he was on the dance floor with Tara, holding her close as if he was trying not to let go of something that was slipping away from him.

The old man who lost his wife two days later from the date Tara held him on the dance floor and made him happy.

The old man whose wife tara concedes, could have been the apparition she spotted in my bedroom.


The summer of coming home late (how I always manage to traipse around the arteries of this town with PBR in tow and not get pulled over I'll never know) and waking up early, pouring numerous vats of caffeine and tatters and eggs down our hatch at Zims, our new favorite haunt...but somehow still ambling under the illuminated planets of the street lamps dotting moss avenue, feeling like a rock star with my long tresses tickling the back of my shoulders, a beer in one hand, a beautiful girl in the other and all around me, eternity, eternity sliced into a sprinkle of seconds, the usurped confetti of minutes and hours, the realization that you are FUCKING here, that as long as you are here you are immortal (even in shitty times, even when you are naked and drunk and no one gives a fuck about you) the fact that we are here, on this planet, in this curtain of time, as one vibrating pulsating orb of consciousness, thinking these thoughts as you grasp the infield of her hand shouting at the symphony of overhead stars, singing to her the overture of summer as they hatch from your chest in chirps of elation, the soundtrack of time, telling her that you will love her two times baby, that you will love her simply twice today.




video

Sunday, August 31, 2008

........................

It was the summer where I found Uncle Mike again in early May--the story goes like this: Little David (exhausted as fuck, sick of working extra early morning hours at the university where he graduated from and not getting any sort of pay differential whatsoever other than an "attaboy") works a gruelling 8pm-til-5am shift, stays up and writes for five hours, gets a couple of beers in his system to rejuvenate his vitality then at ten he decides to traipse back to the Student center at the university where he graduated from (and is still currently employed) to check his e-mail and make a payment on his forever draining student loan bills. When he arrives at the student center he inadvertently saunters into a janitor whom he doesn't see, or rather, the janitor is windexing the window of the transparent door he is currently walking through and when the janitor (who in all fairness was probably having a hard day too, but who, in all fairness gets paid overtime for his menial labor and did not graduate from/or take out a shit ton of student loans to attend the university where the two of us are now employed).... As I am walking through the door the janitor snaps at me, tells me that I should have seen that he is windexing the door and that I could have used the other door. I politely apologize, tell him that I apologize, tell him that I didn't see him. tell him that I am sorry. The janitor then snaps at me, recycles my apology back into my face like an irascible minor league coach arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire before informing me that I should watch where I am going, informing me that this better be the last time I accidentally amble into him.


Something then happens and I snap back. I've always had difficulty snapping. I have always had difficulty allowing the pent-up oppressed emotional magma to erupt through the Vesuvius of my lips. But maybe it was because of lack of daylight or the migraine of the relationship I was in at that time or the feeling of having failed, something welled up inside of me coercing my entire anatomy to transition into a pissed of exclamatory mark. I tell him that I dished out a laboring forty-thousand in arrears and that he just can't go off on alumni's (albeit ones who are broke) like that. I tell him that he needs to treat people with respect and that he is not going to talk like that to students again. The janitor continues to verbally chisel out harangues into my face and the next thing I know I reach out and strip his name tag off his shirt, hurtling it to the ground in disgust before vacating the building only to find myself minutes later bent over smoking cigarettes with the dwarf size MFA student who doesn't have any arms (hands sprout out of his shoulders like butterfly wings) crying, wishing there was a way to, as I did with the flea-infested furniture in my apartment, jettison all the anger and heartache and the hurt swilling below my shoulders like a see through the torso and tummy of a dirty washing machine.


I then walked around in a daze, catching a glimpse of the beautiful soccer mom who I made love to last summer as she idled her minivan at a light en route to picking up her progeny. I see my friend Tracy who was a dear friend of my late fathers and beautiful eye-lidded Karen who works with my mother. I had been up for at least thirty-five hours and was emotionally enervated when eventually I found myself saddled on the door step of the house I had left two years before.

When he answered the door the first word I said to him was Allah-u-Abha.

The most beautiful word I have ever heard.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Homecoming Home (pt.1)

It is a Sunday afternoon and I am all alone in my room reading Robert Frost. The day has a thick, blue melancholy feel to it. Church was earlier this morning where I helped Mike DeWitt tape the service. Europe was four months earlier. Occasionally I spot ‘Laina’ Wilson in the hallways, but it is never a contact greeting. I am all alone in my room, musing over poems, writing essays for Mrs. Mack, drinking very tepid coffee out of my purple coffee mug I purchased at Gloria jeans last year.

Beth comes to my door, the phone outstretched in her palm, telling me that it is for me.

“Hello,” I say. I have not dated anyone in over a year. There was snuggling and warmth with Jenn Wilson in Europe over the summer. There is the cute adoptive girl with shortly crisped bangs that smokes cigarettes at lunchtime. There is David Strickler and his girlfriend, Anne, who lives deep in the country in Brimfield, who I went to Brimfield’s Basketball homecoming with last year, where I was accused of pulling the fire alarm. There is Mark-Andrew, who has just returned back home form Prague, attending the University of Dallas. There is Harmony, in Spokane, scribbling me letters in cursive that looks like one continuous roller-coaster ride, telling me all about her pending collegiate experiences.

There is myself, alone in Peoria, with Paris becoming more and more of a memory everyday.

And there is a phone grappled in my palm right now. There is the moment the phone becomes a dormant object as I slowly hoist it up to my lips, suspecting it either any one of the Dave’s, but more than likely Hale or Strickler. As the words ‘Hello’, comes out of my mouth it is volleyed back with something soothing and feminine. A dulcet, high-pitched voice, whose lips I have touched before, when I was young, like a toddler performing botched balettic postures, trying to touch the slight half-rainbow of moisture that exudes form the top of a water fountain.

“Hi, Dave” The voice says, acknowledging me rather quickly. It is feminine but it is not that of Harmony.

“This is Renae Howard.” She says, identifying herself.

*

“Reane,” I say, very quickly. “Hey you crazy girl, how’s it going?”

Renae claims that it has been going good and well. For a moment I think that she is going to cuss me out for once again breaking up with her so abruptly two years ago. Fearing this, I try to institute more small talk, but her tongue leashes into a pair of scissors, snapping at me, informing me of the real reason she called.

“I have a question for you.” She says.

“Uh, yeah, sure, what’s up?” I respond, just a trite befuddled by the whole situation.

“Will you go to Homecoming with me?”

She spits out the question as if half-in-dread and half in panic. Her voice seems to rise up an octave at the end of her query. Having been squatting on the oak lip of my writers’ desk, I stand. My knees crack. Renae wanted absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me a year and a half ago, when I tried to get her to pick me up and go driving around. Now, she has called me, out of the lachrymose melancholy blue of autumn, inviting me to escort her to her senior homecoming.

***

Two weeks earlier in late September, I drove past Manual, in the Prunemobile. Stopping in front of the school, slowly idling, I was still thinking about Lil’ Wilson inside, slowly dancing with John, a thawed corsage precariously dangling form both their collars. Two weeks ago, I was by myself, tears splashing down my cheek, staring pensively into the windshield blue in front of me, noticing how my reflection looked like a dejected clown whose unemployment check was printed on a rubber stamp and is therefore no longer valid.

Squinting through the ajar window, I see the crystal ball, the Home Coming chandelier oscillating overhead. Patches of pied lights; little variegated rotating squares casting pink and blue windows. I think about the outfit Little ‘Wil must be wearing. I wonder if her hair is down. I wonder what bitchy things she has found to moan about. Perhaps it is too cold in the foyer for her. Perhaps the meal wasn’t served at the right temperature. Perhaps she is afraid that maybe I might show up tonight and completely sully her first and only Freshman prom.

I press down on the gas, hearing the earnest snore of the engine as I automotively clamber up Ligonier, take a right and then a left, head down the dual strip of road that slices between Madison Golf course. I make sure that my blinker has been winking on the right hand side of the car for a good two minutes before I turn, on to Sherman, trying to sniff all the tears back into my sockets. Trying to clear my throat, trying to make it sound like I am not at all alone in the world. Trying to sound, after I put the car in P and verify that the headlights have been switched off, after I walk inside the house and doff my jacket, walking around the corner to my room, the place where I want to live; the place where I want to learn and want to write; after all this, I clear my throat and maybe blow a snot-loogie into my mother’s rock garden as I enter the house, trying to convince my parents that everything in the world is okay, as I brew another pot of coffee and listen to some Morrissey.

Everything in the World will forever be ok.


***

Renae has just presented her question to me. My whole body is stiff, erect with shock. Depeche Mode is slightly humming in the C.D. player. Mother is baking coffee cakes in the oven. The coffee I am sipping is Gevalia, given to me by grandma. The Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune lays scattered across my mattress. The Book section is open. The Nelson Algren awards were announced two weeks ago. I cannot believe the query Renae just presented me with. I pause. I take a deep breath. I thank God inside my chest.

“Sure,” I say, without hesitation “I’d love to.”

There is an awkward pause.

“Do you wanna get together first to see each other.” I say very quickly and then rephrase my statement, saying that perhaps maybe we should get together first to see each other.

“Sure,” Renae says.

“How about Monday. Maybe Monday we can go to One World and hang out or something.”

“That would be nice.” Renae says, before telling me that she is once again really busy this week.

I want to ask her what happened. I want to know where Lee is. I want to know when they broke up. I thought that they were still dating.

“We can go to One World.” I say. “I can pick you up and the two of us and go to One World, only we can’t sit in the smoking section because it’s Cross Country season.

Renae twists her lips in the same fashion as she did two years ago. Apparently the vice that has grabbed hear peers by their social labels has not baiting her yet.

“I know exactly what I’m going to have, too.” Renae says.

“What,” I say.

“I’m going to have a hot chocolate with lots and lots of whipped cream.” She says.

“Are you going to say it just like that?” I respond.

“Yes,” Renae says. “With lots and lots of whipped cream.”

“And a cherry, too.” I say, trying to paint a smile across her lips.

“No,” Renae says. “No cherry. Just cream.”

“The tomorrow night it is. Is six-thirty ok?”

“Yes.” Renae says, into the phone, my ear, immensely enjoying being massged by the warmth of her vocal resonance. “Six-thirty is fine.”


***

“You can go to the Doo-wop diner.” My dad says. I am seventeen and have only been driving independently for just under two months.

“The what?” I say, looking at my father as if he is trying to speak a dyslexic from of Sanskrit.

“The Doo-wop diner.” My father says. “It’s in Bartonville. It’s close to where she lives. You can just stop in and get a milkshake.

“No,” I tell my father. “I want to take her to One World. It’s where I hang out all the time anyway.”

My Dad continues to look at me. Every time he gives me advice about women I can tell that, although he is madly in love with his own wife, he is upset that he was not more of a ladies man back in his Varsity Tennis Jacket Big Daddy Arthur days. I splash cologne on both cheeks. Two years ago almost exactly Renae and I were playing the very King-and I version of Getting To Know You. It would be four-fifteen every night when our voices would coalesce over cyber optics like a DNA coil gradually shaped into a pulsating heart. My hair is still cut short, mowed very near to my skull in back. I slap on English Leather, the same cheap cologne I wore in Europe; the urine scented vial Hale gave me for eighth grade graduation, what seems like decades ago.

“I’m just saying David.” My Dad impedes his way into my room. “That if you go to the Doo-Wop diner and had a milkshake you wouldn’t have to criss-cross all over town.’

“Dad,” I say. “I’m going to One World. I won’t be gone for very long. Renae and I haven’t seen each other in a very long time and we need to catch up.”

I storm out on the porch, a wastebasket in one hand. I make sure that my car is impeccably clean. I drape an old afghan over the seat in the back to make it look both more comfortable and more intimate. I jettison old coffee cups and napkins both myself and my old man have left in the car. Around the neck of the rearview mirror, I place the necklace I bought at the LYE convention last year, at the Holiday Inn, in O’hare. I remember Mike DeWitt, asking the girls if they would like to dance.

“David.” Dad says my name, reprimanding me.

“Dad, I gotta go. I’ll see you in about two hours.”

“Take care.” Father waves his splayed hand in the air. I remember trying to compose the letter to my father two years ago, after he said that I couldn’t see Renae, partly fussed because Patrick left early with Amy and the car arrangements got all screwed up that night. That was two years and what seemed like decades ago. I remember Amy later calling me up and chewing me out, saying that the reason I broke up with Renae was because she didn’t have her drivers’ license, so as soon as she got it, in a matter of weeks, we would be able to see each other more. I remember calling Renae up and hearing her tears, her telling me that she didn’t want to talk to me right now.

The Prunemobile is nothing fancy. It was conceived in the late seventies, before I had even learned how to speak in complete sentences. The car is always in the shop. In the thick gusts of snow, and chiseled ice, the car takes approximately fifteen minutes to warm up and the often stalls when I am trying to make a right turn. Later this year, my junior year, in between multifarious visits to Doctor Breightmeyer and nights where I coddle the tears and wish that I was somewhere else, later this year, the aluminum stem, activating the blinker signals will fall off. Dad, in all his tackle box ingenuity would epoxy the blinker stem in, only to have it fall off every three days, leaving a wad of unattractive stale goo in its place.




I drive through the South End of Peoria. I drive past Manual, where I left practice two hours ago, having pushed my Acic’s through another Main Street Five. Third year at Manual busting my ass and still the neon rectangle monitoring time at the finish line has not lowered past Seventeen minutes. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to have been. I think to myself. I followed the rules. I prayed to God. I ran everyday. I was supposed to have already left my mark in the chlorine-stenched Hallway by the pool.

Driving near David’s Hale’s house, up Garfield, near Limestone. I find Lauder avenue. The pine tree still appropriates much of the neatly trimmed front lawn. In the window I see a stilt figure slashing past the window shades, a cordless object prodded into her left earlobe. From where I sit, inside the Oldsmobile, inside my car, I can tell that her blonde hair has been cut significantly shorter and now shortly abuts the lobed of her ears.

Looking at the slightly chipped cross dangling from my rearview mirror, I give the carved ivory a kiss, before thudding the door shut. I can make out Renae’s slender silhouette inside.


*****************************


The last time I saw Renae was either Monday or Tuesday, December 28th or 29th, 1992. It was at the Mall. On the upper level. Renae arrived with David Best, having both of their parents recently dropped them off. Laura Lane and Kristy Day were their as well. So was Patrick McReynolds, and, much to Renae’s chagrin, David Hale.

“Patrick I can stand.” Renae says, as Hale struts inside the door waring a Harely Davidson Bikers cap that looks like something a police officer singing for the Village people might Sport.

“He’s not that bad.” I say to Renae, slightly elbowing her, reminding her that, in the immortal sugar-coated words of Willy Wonka, a little non-sense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” Renae says to me, her arms tightly braced across her breast as if she is cold.

Hale accosts us with his signature whoo-hoo, removing his cap as if tipping it at a ballgame to show us his surprise.

“Wow,” I say. Renae is still looking the opposite direction. Hale has completely sawed off any shred of hair that once attired the to of his head.

“Dave,” I say. “I’m impressed.” In a way Dave looks like a Pony League catcher who his teammates would call Moose.

Come on, I say to Renae, still wearing the Identification bracelet she got me. The bracelet that took me two days to figure out how to undo the clasp and put it on my wrist. I wear the Manual Jacket my mother made me, with the words 96 thickly stitched in the right hand corner in numbers the size of my splayed palm.

Our hands join. The last couple of times we have seen each other, our lips seemed simply to content in drilling our tongues deep into each others mouth. We walk, next to each other, gripping each other’s hand. Hale and Patrick talk about going down to KB Toys and scaring a bunch of little kids by firing fake guns at each other.

“Hey, Dave,” Hale says. “Are you going to be using the gift I gave you for Christmas today?”

On Christmas eve at Christ Lutheran Church, Hale gave me a thoroughly wrapped parcel, weighing in my palm at approximately five pounds. After using my father keys to sever the excessive amounts of tape, inside was a brass coin roughly the size of a Kennedy half. The front side of the coin showcased a very old and moribund woman who looked like she would have played bridge with Lydia Moss Bradley. On the back of the coin is a picture of an antique Coffee Grinder. The coin is a gift certificate, worth ten dollars at Gloria Jeans.

“Would you like something from Gloria Jeans, sweetie.” I know full well that Renae will say no, commenting that she can’t stand our fascination with cappuccino. Patrick will interject and say that before he seriously spills some hard-core imaginary guts in the toy store, would his close friend and soon to be former school mate mind treating him to a nice warm cappuccino, even though the boys always drink it cold.

Renae smiles, shooing the boys off. We hold hands again. Three times I have endeavored to staple her lips with my tongue and three times she has looked back at me and verbally insinuated that she does not feel at all comfortable making out with me while the two ogres Patrick and hale are around, but Patrick she can stand, mind you.

Everytime Hale gets a cappuccino he always takes two hearty swigs from it and then tells me to hold onto it for him, meaning finish the damn thing. I walk with two giant cap’s in each hand. Dave Hale ordered some sort of Extra-large Holiday eggnog induced peppermint syrup Carmel concoction. After having sipped it, I understand why it was that he only took two sips, yet, id cappuccino, and both Patrick and myself have tacit rules about wasting such a fine, delicacy.

“Let’s go in here.” Renae says, ogling the after holiday sale placards with giant percent signs on them. I walk into one store with her where Renae tries three outfits on. With a giant, extra-large cappuccino nursed in each hand (the holiday one, the longer it sits, looks more and more like Reindeer poop) I am asked by the store manager if this place looks like a food court. As I go outside the store to continue my hearty slurps, I can hear Renae’s voice from the dressing room, asking me if I will hold her purse for her. I accept, and, like a kiosk, stand in front of Dots, a large drink cupped in both palm, a leather purse from Wilson’s looped around the thrity-degree angles of my indented elbow.

Fifteen minutes later and I am still trying hard to finish the Santa Clause cappuccino Hale purchased on the gift certificate coin he gave me for Christmas and only took two swallows then abandoned. Renae comes out of Dots, kisses my cheek, addresses me as honey, tells me about this fabulous outfit she just found, commenting that her mom probably wouldn’t mind if she used her For-Emergencies-Only-Credit card just this once, even though she used it last week at Marshal Fields in Chicago.

I nod my head up and down. Reassure her that I’m happy because she’s happy honey. Prance my legs due to excessive caffeine in take.

“I’ll only be another minute.” Renae says, kissing the side of my cheek again. A guy walks past me and asks me if I just tied the knot, telling me that he used to be whupped like that before he learned how to put his foot down. Now the bitch knows who wears the pants in the family. I tell him that’s nice. He says that he has tapes at home he can loan to me. I tell him I’m not interested.

Below me, in the center Court, Santa’s contract insists that he stay till New Years day. There are kids cussing Santa out, claiming that they were too good this year, asking why they didn’t get the latest Video game. One kid even moons the camera when the obligatory contract oriented photograph is snapped. The Holiday tape is on a continual ninety-minute loop. I can swear that I’ve heard the first Noel already two or three times. The chipmunk song also reeks of squealed monotony. Renae exit dot’s wit three boxes she exchanged to me for her purse, slightly planting a pedal moisture again on my cheek.

If she was a year older and perhaps more experience, perhaps she’s say that the sole raison behind her shopping affliction is due in part to the fact that she dated David Best for a year and discovered that the only way to have a sustainable orgasm was through trying on close and monopolizing her father’s money.

Renae grasps my arm and begins to tell me all about this charming delightful object she just tried on. I nod my head and tell her that is nice. With my glasses off, the customers continue to shoot in every direction. Eric Bushman walks past me, with some girl from anther school, a girl who is not as cute as Renae. I nod my head in acknowledgement and he continues to walk, pretending he has never seen me.


“Oh Look,” Renae says, pointing to coliseum sign reading EXPRESS.” I nod my head as if agreeing with her at the name of the Store.

“Come on,” She says. “I’ll only be a minute.”

I agree and after thirty seconds I find myself being fiercely tapped on my shoulder by the store manager. Apparently they have some kind of policy where all the boxes and sac form other stores need to be X-rayed and checked. I say bosh to that and A minute latter, I am holding Reane’s stacked parcels, still sipping on Hale’s Santa Shittoccino. Renae comes back out, hooks her purse on my limb as if she is benignly placing a bulb on a Christmas tree, informing me that. Once again, she will only be a minute, claiming that they don’t call it Express for nothing.


***********

She opens the door before I knock. For nostalgia’s sake, I have the wrist band she gave me two Christmases ago handcuffed around my left wrist. If Renae has noticed it, she sure has shit isn’t saying anything.

“Hi,” I say. There is the customary embrace when old lovers see each other. The feeling of once, having shared some sort of inexplicable connection and, because of time and space and causality, because of greed and obsession, become sometimes, even when life throws us a curve ball and we hit it out of the park, it goes foul anyway. Sometimes, for no reason there is loss, but there is forever the embrace. We hold each other momentarily. I tell her that it is really good to see her smile again. She lets go of me with a shrug.


“So,” I ask her. “How’s life been treating you these days, Miss Howard?”

Renae lets go of another shrug indicative of mild-to-lukewarm. She is still tall and slender, a Virginia Slim with mascara. Her smile does not seem quite as luminous as it did two years earlier. As if the bulb behind her lips have been slightly dimmed.

“So,” I say. There is a pause. “I like your hair.”

“It’s short.” Renae says, lolling her head unconsciously like she is a rock star. “I love it short.” There is something phallic and almost disturbing in the way Reane says the word ‘short’ but I choose not to complement. Perhaps she is thinking about her ex-boyfriend.

“So,” Once again, I say, beginning my romantic interlude with the word ‘so’. “Where would you like to go tonight?”

Renae once again shrugs, making a grunting sound that is either I don’t know or I don’t care. Her house has a strange familiarity to it-I wonder if the giant black and white poster of James Dean is still displayed above her bed.

“Does One World sound okay for you?” I say.

Renae does the whole whiny grunting sound again, this time saying something like, yeah, I suppose.

“There’s the Doo-wop diner.” Renae says, a sourness forming to her lips. I nearly choke at the irony.

“Do you like the Doo-wop diner?” I inquire.” My dad kept insisting that we go there.”

Renae makes another fast gnarled grunt, saying that it’s okay, quavering her palm up and down near her covered navel.

“I used to work their, but only for a week.” She says.

“Didn’t like it..”

“Agggghhhhh.” Renae says, in another high pitched squeal. “Couldn’t stand the manager.”

“Right.” I say, before requesting that I borrow the phone real quick. Renae says the words ‘real quick’ to me, once again, as if she is expeceting a serious phone call at anytime. As was the truth two years ago, I imagine that she still does not have call waiting.

Not trying to be Jacob to his Isaac, I phone my dad, informing him, that I’m over at Renae’s right now and will go to One World, hanging up before he tells me that all that criss-crossing around town is totally unnecessary when there’s that blasted ill-named sock hop diner in Bartonville.

We leave her house. Renae locks the door behind me. We pass the giant needles of the pine. The leaves are slowly beginning to turn so that everything around us looks like the inside of a kaleidoscope. As we strut down the slight bump to the Prunemobile, I open the door for her, making sure that my TO DAVE: LOVE RENAE identification band is extremely visible. Still Renae doesn’t see it.

I slam the door behind her and rush to my side. After three motorized chokes, the engine comes to life. Renae is wearing very thick sunglasses. The expensive leather jacket she bought on sale and then was sullied by Hale’s cappuccino is worn. The stain hardly visible, thanks to the color of mocha.

I pull out of Lauder court driving. There is a tangible, stifled uneasiness to the silence that exists between the six inches that separates the passenger side form the Drivers side. Renae continues to warble out a string of syllables as if everything is really no big deal. She says a quick garbled ‘yes’ when I tell her that it sure is good to see her. She shrugs her shoulder’s like it is no big deal when I tell her that I feel extremely honored that she asked me to escort her to her senior Homecoming. Her shoulders jolt up and down, as if it is really no big deal. As if she could’ve gone with anyone, she just needed a date.


Inside One World, I keep on trying to make Renae smile.

“…with lots and lots of whipped cream.” Renae says again. I keep saying things to make her smile. Keep making remarks to make her blush.

“How’s the folks doing?” I inquire.

“Dad’s always drunk.” She says. “Mom kicked him out for two months. I don’t know why she continues to put up with his shit.”

“I always liked your dad.” I add. “I always enjoyed giving him shit.” I say, staring at the blue vase in the center of the table, and the slightly wilting Daisy with the bowed stem inside.

“He couldn’t stand you.” Renae says. “He always thought you were trying to get fresh with me. He always thought you were deliberately trying to pick a fight with him.”

“I was just being….jocular.” I say, utilizing an ACT voacb word of the week.

“Hemmm,” Renae shrugs her shoulders again.

“I think that’s the reason my mom liked you so much.”
“Really,” I say, a smile bending across my lips. Debbie was always a looker.

“Yeah,” Renae says. “The way that you always pissed my old man off, plus she always though you were cute.”


“Cute,” I say the word out loud and too myself. My last vivid partially blurred because of no glasses memory of Debbie Howard was her driving me home from HAMMERS at Renae’s father Christmas party. Debbie had her hair slightly puffed in front like foam gushing from the bottom of a waterfall. I remember staring at the back of her jeans, as she bent over, fastening Ian, Reane’s six year old cousin, into the front seat of the car.

“It’s a good thing you two are leaving now.” She says. “The only thing those boys are going to continue to do is to drink.” She says.

I reach out across the wooden strips of the table. Another pedal has slowly wilted and is falling down form the top of the daisy. A patron who skin is either covered with tattoos or metallic piercings sets our drinks down in front of us. I look at Renae.

“Is that enough whip cream for you?” I comment. She smiles. It was the similar smile when I groped her hand at SCHOOL TIES two years prior. It was the smile of recognition, the smile of somebody still seeming brand new to you even thought you have seen them in those boxer shorts over and over again; even though you know what color the carpet is underneath; you know what the pipes look like. Her burgundy blush was the color of love.

“Yes,” Renae says, as the smile slowly descends from the top of her forehead. “It is a lot of whip cream.”


***

On the ride home, I insist on dropping by my house to formally introduce Renae to my mother and father, once again. Renae seems to be rather in a hurry, but she capitulates to me request, saying let’s make it brief but sweet. Mom’s head lolled into her padded shoulder, he hands slightly clasped as she welcomes Renae into our house. Dad just seems to adjust his glasses several times and even (perhaps intentionally) drops his dinner napkin off of the table, garnering a good look at Renae’s tightly packaged denim ass before slowly exhaling. I show her my room, the room, downstairs, where the grand piano used to belong. The room I first composed the letter to my father when I was fifteen, telling him that I was in love with Renae. She smiles and nods.

“I need to get home.” She says.


****


In front of her house, on Lauder Court, there is no extended information to come inside and make out. I adjust the clutch and idle the Prunemobile, until I smell burning oil and then place the car permanently in Park.

“So,” I say, try to make chisel away the silence. “I’ll see you this Saturday.” I say.

Renae nods. “How ‘bout I pick you up.” She says.

“Okay,” I nod once again, stolidly with my chin, as if I am being mandating instructions for a dietary living at a Health Clinic.

“Don’t forget to pick up a corsage.” She says. “I’ll have your bouttinere, or whatever it’s called.”

I nod my head again, upset at the pulsating splinters I feel inside my chest every time we try to communicate.

“Okay,” I say, “Well, I’ll give you a buzz this week, making sure everything’s cool and all.” Renae nods, thanks me for the coffee. There is more awkwardness. More uncomfort.

“It was really good seeing you again, Renae.” I say. “I’ve thought about you a lot. This feels really good.”

Renae sort of sways her head back and forth. I tell her goodnight and she reaches for the side door just as my body gravitates towards her. Seeing that I mean to embrace her, she allows me to, but does not hug back.

“Renae,” I say, before she struts up the slight inclination of her front lawn alone.

“Yes,” She wails, once again, rather impatiently. I roll up my sleeve, push the fold of fabric to my elbow.

“Did you notice that I wore the bracelet you gave me tonight” I say.

“Yes,” Renae nods her head. “I noticed. I guess it meant something special at the time, didn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I say to myself, as she grants me goodnight again, informing me that she will call me later in the week to verify our plans.

“I guess indeed meant something at the time.” I say to myself, looking at my bluish reflection in the windshield, briefly wondering what Jenny Wilson is doing right now.


***

Every day after school I stretch out my limbs and run and every day I come home and brew a pot of coffee and lay on my bed, supine, with my hands cradled behind my nape in dyslexic prayer wondering if she will call. I listen to Tori Amos. I listen to Depeche Mode. I think about Europe last summer. I think about what my mother told me, about anticipating a sort of emotional low once I returned to the states, returned to my Junior year, return to the academic gutter; the genital wart I call Manual High School.

First hour is coerced smiles with manual singers. We still sound slightly off key. Billy Fortune sits next to me and tells me that we really need to get together sometime and meditate. I just look at him.

I think about Renae. I try calling her line once on Tuesday but hang-up when I realize that it is busy. Mother asks me if I am excited about homecoming. Like Renae, my supposed date, I offer a heartless, insouciant shrug. Because I am facing my mother, however, I smile and tell her that I am elated, proud of myself that I can recall another ACT vocab word.

Tuesday and Wednesday transpire without a buzz. I lay on my bed, trying to see if I can feel the world slightly tilt to the left, slightly rotating, orbiting around the mid-autumnal slashes of light that cut through my window sill at dusk. Finally, Friday afternoon, after practice, I arrive home with a note from my mother. A note, stuck on a post it on my bedroom door.

Call Renae. The note said.

*****


“Hey,” I say into the lower end of the phone. “How’s it going?” Renae lets out an exhausted sigh that sounds like she is practicing for her pending La Maze class.

“I just wanted to call and tell you that I’ll pick you up at five tomorrow night.” She says.

“Cool,” I say, before I inquire how her week was. She answers in the same monotonous drone, stating that it was all right but nothing special.

“I’ll pick you up, but we need to hurry. We need to be at Laura’s house. Her parents want to take photographs of all of us.”

“Totally cool.” I say, once again.

“We’re going out with Laura and Lonnie and Kristy and Timm. It should be a fun evening.”

Again, I nod my head, and tell her that I am looking forward to it.

There is another pause in our conversation.

“Did you remember to pick up the corsage?” Renae asks.

“Yes,” I respond. “My mother is going to pick it up at the Florists tomorrow.”

“I already picked up yours,” She said. “It’s a smooth peach color. I hope the two of ours matches.”

“I’m sure the two of ours will.” I say. “How about outfit. What should I wear?”

“Just wear a shirt and tie.” She says. “You’ll look fine.”

“I’m sure you will, too.” I add, realizing that it’s probably a good idea if I venture out tonight and pick out a shirt.

“So, tomorrow at five, I’ll be there.” Renae says, once again, in her fast monotone.

“I can’t wait.” I say, before hanging up the phone, but not before saying goodbye, before we even said hello.


****


That night I drive around by myself in the Prunemobile, wishing that I had something rolled and sweet between my lips to be sucking on. I slide my car in the parking lot of Northwoods, thirty dollars in my wallet, looking for a white shirt.

I walk inside the Penny’s and the first fifteen dollar shirt I see I pick up. The sale lady tells me that the shirt will not fit my neck. She measures my neck with a miniature ruler, as if preparing me for the guillotine. She then sells me a shirt that costs ten dollars more that the shirt I had originally planned on purchasing. I arrive home, standing in front of my full mirror. Two minutes later, after I have carefully removed all the pins from around the sleeves and collars like I am removing curses from a Voodoo doll, I realize that the neck is too tight and if worn with a tie, our homecoming photographs would turn out slightly blue, giving Renae the impression that she is dating a finely groomed smurf.

I tell my mother and she tells me not to worry. That we’ll go back to Penny’s tomorrow after my Cross-Country meet and exchange the shirt. I go back into my room and listen to Depeche Mode synthesized chimes and wonder heavily inside if the whole weekend will feel this tight, leaving it hard for me to swallow, afterwards.


******************

We exchange the shirt. Mother picks up and outfit for me to wear. That morning time seventeen minutes still flashed in implemented neon slashes at the end of the meet. As hard as I try to push myself, it seems as if I am still tumbling over my own foibles, it seems like I will never be able to live up to the times I have ordained for myself.

The outfit mother has coordinated herself and deemed that I wear is gray with a blue tie knotted around the bulb of my Adam’s Apple in posh literary Albatross fashion. I spend the afternoon lolling around the house, glancing at the time, waiting for her to arrive. Twice I pick up the phone and consider calling her, asking her if perhaps maybe we could just talk. Perhaps we could just like hangout and laugh and giggle and say stupid things that have no meaning to them whatsoever. But my ambitions stretch as far as the three digits and a numerical slash.

I dress. My contacts are steadily affixed in both lids. I blink several times. Dad comes in and helps me ties my tie, showing me how to tuck the loose silk non-visible end into my shirt like they used to do in the seventies. I nod and tell him thanks.

With my hair thoroughly gelled into a sprayed plateau. I look at the photographs on my wall. I look at the photographs form the music man, and look at myself, in the top row, bending over, trying to look at Ambra. I look at the autographed laminated Daivd Coperfield Aunt Jan gave me. I look at the Tori Amos and the Eric Johnson and the Harry Connick Jr. I look at the one photograph I have of Renae. The photograph that I used to ferry in my wallet. The photograph that I used to show people, pointing to the girl in the center of the photograph, saying that it was she who held my heart by the reins and kept saying giddy-up.

With corsage in paw I adjourn out to the cement steps, squatting, smiling, not knowing entirely what to expect. I wear Renae’s gold bracelet again, out of respect to the individual whom I am escorting. I think about what Renae said, about how it felt somewhat special at the time. I think about talking with Renae the summer after my first sojourn to Europe. I think about trying to cajole her into picking me up for a drive and how she was listening to Radio Head in the background. I think about how I asked her if she felt ‘so very special’ in accordance to the lyrics of the song.

“I am special.” Renae replied back to me. “I am special indeed.”

I abandon the steps and go back into my room, winking at the copy of Leaves of Grass reclining on the corner of my desk, hoping that maybe Uncle Walt can save me. For sentimental-as-fuck sake reasoning I have Depeche Mode’s SOMEBODY chiming in the cassette lips of my stereo. It is autumn and the planet is begin to transition into shades of copper and corduroy and the very next thing I realize my mother is stammering into my bedroom, a look of excitement squeezed into her lips, informing me that she thinks my date has just arrived.

(book o' Muses) October, 1994