Tuesday, April 19, 2011

something a little different - 1

I've been thinking of Dostoevsky's habit, in the Diary of a Writer, of inserting, now and then, a story to lighten up the heavy going opinion mongering. And also I have a large backlog of stories, and what the hell? Apparently nobody is reading Limited Inc anymore, anyway. So here's the first half of a story, Breath.

When I was in high school, I was on two teams. I was on tennis, and I was on cross country. I ran, for a while, every morning. This was after I had been suspended from school for stealing a van. It was Mikey McCall’s father’s van, and since Mikey was in on it, Mikey’s father didn’t press charges. Still, it was a lot of trouble, and though I felt that stealing the van had definitely been worth it, since I got to see some country, hang out in Austin, which is where Rayber, the other guy I stole the van with, wanted to go, and meet this girl (Julia), I felt like I had better do some penance. At that time I was incredibly stubborn, so I didn’t want to stage some scene where, head bowed, I muttered that I was sorry to my folks, formally grouped, no doubt, on the living room sofa, but I started to express it in my actions, trying to be more helpful around the house, cleaning my room, folding clothes, setting the table, tasks which I initiated without Mom’s prompting.
Dad and Mom had both been pretty grim faced when I came home that night, and they gave me the silent treatment, more or less, while the cop who was over at the house sat with us all in the living room and explained how, if I was his son, two things would happen right fast: I’d get the whooping of my life, and then I’d get a haircut. After Dad had shown officer Bozo out, he said he wasn’t sure that I shouldn’t go to jail.
Mom said, oh, Jack.
I said, maybe you’re right, Dad. I said it in my most clenched style, it came out as barely a whisper. Lately, that is how I was talking to my parents.
That’s where we left it. They were both very indignant for a month, and we shuffled around each other in the house with some feeling of awkwardness. They found the phrase that summed up how they felt and they kept repeating variations of it. I can’t believe, Dad would say, out of nowhere, that you’d do something so stupid. Then his head would disappear behind his magazine, or lose all meaning, staring at the tv set. You are such a smart boy, Street, Mom said, her voice on the edge of sarcastic, although I had never known Mom to adopt overt sarcasm. It wasn’t her style. That she was driven to the length of hinting at sarcasm was her way of showing how much pain I caused her. I knew what was being implied, since it was an article of faith in the house, which I’d heard since I don’t know when, that brilliant people lack common sense, that prodigies end up as garbagemen, and that, if you want to get ahead in this world, perspiration is worth any amount of inspiration. This belief was in disjunction with another belief, the cult of genius, it being Dad’s credo that Einstein and Newton and Thomas Edison were gods, but it wasn’t something one sat down and worked out, logically. To believe two vaguely contradictory things was just a part of the suburban ethos, the suburban tolerance - beliefs were conceived of as being separate, discrete entities, like houses on the block, and contradictory beliefs were just like two houses headed by fathers who didn’t like each other. They didn’t, for that reason, move away or even argue with each other. It was simply known in the neighborhood, by some instinct, that they didn’t like each other. In the city, maybe, that dislike would have come to a head, there would have been some kind of screaming match - at least, that was always happening in cities in movies and on tv - but not in the suburbs. I ‘d heard belief number one, the vague anti-intellectualism re the inevitable deficiency of prodigies, expressed by other people in the neighborhood too, and though it violently offended me, I understood where it came from.
The full implication was that this is what comes of me vaugely flaunting the wounded angel routine, pretending I was so much smarter than my parents. Well, to me this had nothing to do with running away with the van. I was tempted to repeat a few of the stories Dad told me about his adolescence, what he and Uncle Henry did, but I didn’t, partly because that really hadn’t influenced me at all. I just wanted to do it, and I knew what the consequences were going to be. I tried to think that my life was going to be big and broad, that this was just a minor, bad stretch of it - although of course, in adolescence time isn’t like that at all, I would look up and the horizons of the minute would suddenly crowd in on me, showing me in a stabbing flash an image of time’s edged intensity, deepening my helplessness when I was miserable, destroying my common sense when I was happy, throwing me off balance. Although by then I had developed a sense of time’s extensivity, of how one’s energies must be distributed in projects that play out over long periods of one’s life, it wasn’t a consolation to me, because in reality I had never had to engage in one of those projects. So I really tried to get into cross country in the somewhat chastened spirit of a boy who is trying to make amends for having fucked up. I’d been a halfassed runner before, missing practices and always coming in around the middle, but it was in cross country that I really got to know Rayber to be friend’s with, who was an excellent runner, and I felt that, now that we’d had this van experience together, I ought to try to come up to his level on the running front, which was obviously how Rayber was going to get through college. They had let Rayber choose to get off suspension by doing school good citizen work. That way he didn’t have to miss any of the meets. Coach Fregee took care of it, just like Rayber told me he knew he would. On the other hand, since I was suspended from February to March, I missed most of them, although when I came back I was able to connect again with the tennis team. I made it my goal that summer - I was seventeen - to come in at least fourth in one of the meets in the fall.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

au contraire

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