Act 1: The Intelligentsia
I’ve been reading (never stopped–but the problem has progressed).
I once met a man who irritated me to a point that I almost couldn’t contain myself. He was one of the intelligentsia–just ask him–one of those tortured people who over-thought and overanalyzed and made it true that ignorance is, in fact, bliss. He loved filling the space of a tortured person. He ate caviar and pronounced the h in who, British accent intact, despite his having been born and bred in America’s corn belt. He was Stewie Griffin in the flesh. I speak of him as if he’s dead to me. He is. And by dead to me I mean he’s been deleted from my phone.
But the reason I bring him up is that he read too, in a get-a-life kind of way. We talked books, as all people who need lives in one particular way will do. Given time I can list hundreds of titles that I’ve sped through.
So my book conversation with the Intelligentsia began like this:
Him: “I’ll read for hours each day if I’m not working”
Me: “No shit? Me too”
Him: “Yes I really like to savor them.” (He may have flicked dryly at his lips with his tongue in an attempt at bridging the gap between literature and sexuality here… )
Me: “I can’t put them down. I’ll finish the whole thing in
one sitting if there’s no interruption.” (This was pre-twitter of course)
Him: “Oh my lord (in horror at my indiscretion)! I’ll do 5 pages at a time at best.”
Me: “Like, between coffee breaks?”
Him: “No. I’ll read 5 pages in 3 hours. No breaks”
The conversation sputtered from there.
Act 2: 3 Books in 3 Days, and back again
The thing about Bucharest is it’s a really beautiful city. The Paris of the Eastern Block someone said… the Orange County of Communism. I don’t know what the fuck that is supposed to mean. The stray dogs and orphans begging on the streets are clean and well fed if that makes any difference. I was asked if it feels very Communist. It feels Communist in the sense that it doesn’t feel Capitalist, as if Communism were somehow the ordinary state of things and Capitalism were some type of inflammation. Maybe I’m not wrong. But then again the Pizza Hut chain here said on the corner of its prime real estate that it was the nicest restaurant in town. I guess they don’t have laws against fluffing here either.
Bucharest is a really beautiful city and I’m stuck here staring at it through the windows and the heat wave. I don’t hate it, but my days are spent reading. I read at the cafes, at the hookah bars, in the hotel lobby… and for hours on end on set between my two-word lines. It’s like an exercise routine and I’ve finally pushed past my plateau. It dawned on me, slowly at first, when I finished “Stories in the Worst Way” by Gary Lutz, then set it down and picked up “The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth, and the next day set it down for “Black Spring” by Henry Miller. Then I finally looked up, and there were no more books. So I picked up “Stories in the Worst Way”, by Gary Lutz. Then “The Dying Animal”. Then “Stories in the Worst Way” a third time. Then “Black Spring.” It dawned on me that the pompous ass actually had something to say.
If you’ve ever read, and reread, and reread again the very same paragraph, the work stands as art, and, if well done, it begins to take on shape and fullness. I felt horrible, suddenly, sitting there in the middle of my own breakthrough, hookah pipe in hand. I thought of all of my favorite authors, the ones I would friend on Facebook if they would have me, and I would have Facebook. The Margaret Atwoods and William Faulkners and Toni Morrisons and Barry Hannahs of the world. The Bukowskis. I should have done better with them. I should have savored them in the manner of the pompous ass who was cold-heartedly deleted from my phone (I never looked back). Sharon Olds wrote a poem entitled “Sex Without Love”. I had to do a paper on it for a creative writing class.
I got the same thing out of it after reading it 47 times, dissecting it syllable by syllable. It’s like that elusive runners high, only it exists and it’s not painful to reach.
Act 3: See For Yourself
“I’ve had things in my eye, sometimes too many at once.
Except this once.
It was during a standstill in some otherwise eventful unemployment on both sides. My wife was asking for permission. She was sleeveless. The car was already in her name.
‘Let me have at least a look at him,’ is all I said.
He was waiting in a booth at a coffee shop. My wife slid in beside him. I don’t ordinarily drink coffee, but he ordered it for all three of us. I was going to count the number of sips I took.
‘This isn’t my day,’ he said. He told us what had happened on his way over–near misses, thumbnail bios of the principal, etc.
We sat in the misorderly, picayune midst of my wife.
I let him butter me up. I tapped my foot on his. Just a tap.
Because I know myself from somewhere, surely.
I’ve been within an inch of my life.
There are no big doings in my life that I know of.”
(this is the story in its entirety)
from Black Spring
“The dreamers dream from the neck up, their bodies securely strapped to the electric chair. To imagine a new world is to live it daily, each thought, each glance, each step, each gesture killing and recreating, death always a step in advance.
To spit on the past is not enough. To proclaim the future is not enough. One must act as if the pst were dead and the future unrealizeable. One must act as if the next step were the last, which it is. Each step forward is the last, and with it the world dies, one’s self included. We are here of the earth never to end, the past never ceasing, the future never beginning, the present never ending. The never-never world which we hold in our hands and see and yet is not ourselves. We are that which is never concluded, never shaped to be recognized, all there is and yet not the whole, the parts so much greater than the whole that only god the mathematician can figure it out.”
-Henry Miller (p. 26)
from The Dying Animal
“So we went to bed. It happened fast, less because of my intoxication than because of her lack of complexity. Or call it clarity. Call it newly minted maturity, though maturity.,I would say, of a simple kind: she was in communion with that body in the very way she wished to be in communion with art. She undressed, and not only was her blouse silk but her underwear was made of silk. She had nearly pornographic underwear. A surprise. You know she has chosen this to please. You know she has chosen this with a man’s eye in mind, even if the man would never see it. You know that you have no idea what she is, how clever she is or how stupid she is, how shallow she is or how deep she is, how wily, how wise, even how wicked. With a self-contained woman of such sexual power, you have no idea and you never will. The tangle that is her character is obscured by her beauty. Nonetheless, I was gently moved seeing that underwear. I was moved by seeing that body. ‘Look at you,’ I said.”
-Philip Roth (p. 27)
I’m going to sign off here. If this writing hits you the way it hit me, you have some rereading to do, and you don’t need my blogging boggling it up. For those who don’t care much for the writing, I apologize for the length of this one, but anything broken into 3 acts is bound to take some attention. And finally, for those who only like reading posts that are porn-adjacent, I posted a picture of my asshole. Cheers.