Saturday, March 22, 2014

encyclopedia of the second hand: high


                              1.



It started when you spun around.  Holding your arms out, you rapidly twirled around, first a snowflake, then a bird, then a cyclone. Then you stopped, and the house and the ash tree ran around you as fast as they could. It was like a dream.  There were things that you could do that were like dreaming, except that you were still awake. Sometimes you would have a dream where you were just spinning and spinning, and you would wake up and feel sick. You would wander upstairs and lay down on the sofa in the living room, which looked interesting and almost like a  room with a new personality  in the dark. You fell to the ground, shrieking. It was as if you had found a secret door in being awake that led to being in a dream. Another thing like this was swinging and looking up at the sky. It didn’t work if you paid attention to anything else.  You had to keep your eyes fixed on the vast, cupped blue, and you would make a pendulum’s course, getting near it and then going back and then, the swingset rocking, your slightly damp hands clutched tight to the rusty chain, kicking your legs, getting near it again, until you had achieved enough speed that you straightened your legs.  Then there would be that point where you would fall into the sky. Also, you could say a word over and over again.  You could say Dita, for instance.  Dita hated it when she caught you doing this.  She’d say stop, Street, or I’m going to slap you. When you said it so that each time you said it hooked together with the next time, like a chain, than it would stop being a word.  It would get strange.  The word would get numb.  Your nose got numb when you went to the dentist.  He did something to you and when you got home you touched your nose and it felt like it was fake. 

2.


    Mark started wearing a green army surplus jacket with his name stitched on the back of it when he was twelve.   The coat was too big for him, the hem of it hung below his knees and it billowed out in the winds of March and April.  He wore it as if he had reversed the proposition and was too big for the size of it,  hunched in it,  leaned forward walking, a wizened parody GI tromping through alien territory, although he’d lived in your subdivision longer than you had, he’d been there seven years, which was more than half his life.  Your coat rode just where it was supposed to, covering the length of your back and a little below your belt, and though it was thick, like Mark's coat, it felt softer to the touch, springier.  It had a corduroy outside and a cotton wool lining and a discrete zipper.  Mark's coat was the same all the way through, and it had an immense zipper and a plenitude of buttons, like metals he’d gotten in his secret campaigns.  He added the words of Dopers where it had US Army written on it in various places, like the pocket and like on the sleeve, in indelible black magic marker, and when Mrs. Morgan saw it she had him taken down to the principle’s office and his Mom had to come down and have a talk with Mr. Ramses about her son. That was the year Mark wasn’t in your class.
                        
3.
    You are going down to Mr. Vermillion's workshop, which is in the basement, looking at the back of that coat descending one step at a time before you. Yesterday Mark had taped a peace symbol on the back of the coat, using electric tape.  Today the tape was peeling off.  There is a switch at the top of the stairs that turns on a light which hangs on a cord above Mr. Vermillion's worktable.  The bulb casts a spiderwebby, uncertain illumination over the dark recesses of the cellar.  The stairs are just unpainted pine boards, like the stairs in your basement when yall first moved into your house. There's not even a rail on the one side to hold onto.  Dad said that was typical for Tennessee. He said Tennessee and Kentucky was where you ran into the real, pickled Yahoos. That was where the Vermillion’s were from. Dad liked Mr. Vermillion, but still he said that about Tennessee. Dad of course being from up north had seen a do it yourself opportunity in the part of the house that they had left half unfinished, and over time he’d put in a tv room and a bedroom - yours - and a toolshop and he’d made the stairs real stairs, with carpet on them.


                              4.


    The new Mr. Vermillion never used the old Mr. Vermillion's workshop, in fact wasn't around much to use anything except on the weekends.  His name was Ralph Purse, and Mark called him Purse to his face without Mr. in front of it when it was that Mark called his father sir.  You called your father Dad and your cousins on Dad's side, who were from Pennsylvania and D.C., called their fathers Dad.  It was a Rebel thing to call your father sir. It was like military school or something, you would never do it.  Your Mom's sister had girls, your cousins Jan and Elenore, and they were Rebels since they lived in New Orleans, but their Dad was gone because of D‑I‑V‑O‑R‑C‑E.  Now, however, Mark was totally different.  He'd gone to Chattanooga for a year with Mrs. Vermillion and they'd tried to sell the house, you'd see a strange car in the driveway every once in a while and a guy in a suit or a guy and his wife leaning against the window where you could see in the living room.  It was like something was happening in there besides it being empty and they were trying to block their reflexions with their hands up to the sides of their heads in order to see it.  You'd walk past the sign that said for sale and you'd knock it so it swung in an arthritic arc, creaking, on the whitish brown chain that kept it suspended from the arm of the post.  Two arms, in an F: with the sign between.  Bluebent Realty.  You even went into the house.  The first time to see, the second time because Keith, who kept saying we should.  Well, it wasn't that hard,  sometimes the real estate people kept the back door unlocked and yall just had to go up the stairs and you were in the house, which was spooky enough.  So one cold fall day that's what you did.  You unscrewed a light bulb and put it in the kitchen sink and you dropped a rock on it, but the rock wasn't more than a pebble, really, and it didn't bust it.  The sound in the empty house was funny, it was the type of sound that you immediately wanted to hush up, like it would get you in trouble. But there was no need to go along with that impulse, since there was nobody in the house except you and Keith.   You went down the stairs and out the back door and found a bigger rock and took it back inside.  Now when you dropped the rock the bulb popped. Then Mark came back.  The van arrived with everything and he came to your window and rapped on it.  You went around to the back door and were glad to see him, and he said lets watch them unload all our crap.  He was wearing that green coat and he smelled like cigarettes and grass.  He smelled like Norman Lee Sick.


     Norman is a year older than you and he lives down on Nielsen and he waited at the stop with you to catch the bus. He seemed to like to sit next to you, and every once in a while he'd give your arm a hard pinch and say how come you think you so smart, Street, and he'd do a stoned laugh. How come?  You'd say back boy I like your haircut, Norman.  Norman's father is a coach at the high school and he makes Norman get crew cuts, so his hair made him look like he had a flat head. Once you saw Norman's father carrying him to the car, Norman kicking and screaming, his feet actually not touching the ground.  Now Norman was a heavy kid. His father was cursing up a blue streak, and then Norman got him with a good kick, probably he landed it in his Dad's balls, and his Dad suddenly let him go.  Norman sprinted.  Still, the next day he had that haircut again. His Dad got in the car and circled around the neighborhood and caught him.
                             
                              5.


    The Vermillion's basement isn't totally under ground, because, like your house and most of the houses on the street, it was built on a slope.  That meant that while the back part of the basement is underground literally, planted against the hill the house straddled, the front part - which was really the farthest back part of the house - had a door you could go out of and be in the back yard where the hill sloped out.  Now the Vermillion house has a story more than your house, which is tacitly taken as a sign of who is richer, so you wonder why Mr. Vermillion left the basement looking so junky, except that Dad said it didn’t matter if you were rich or you were poor if you were a hillbilly. Also, there was something slightly prissy about Mr. Vermillion,  with his three or four strands of hair combed over his big bald spot and his attitude of really never getting down the suburban ethos, of being puzzled by it with a certain giraffe‑like majesty and dumbness.  He wore bermuda shorts and mowed his lawn, but he would do it pushing the lawnmower with one hand while with the other he was drinking a glass of scotch or whiskey.  He and Dad drank together, Dad drank scotch or whiskey with him and wine with Mom. Mr. Vermillion and Dad would sit out in lawnchairs in your back yard and shoot the shit on firefly spotted, deeply blue June evenings. You liked to sneak up on them and listen to them talking while  the blue  stretched as far as it was going to and started to dip into darkness, and the last pink clouds on the horizon, filled with that pink like straws filled with cherry Koolaid, went blue and gray and then stopped being there.


    You sit down in an old brown recliner and fossick in one of the holes in it and pull out fuzzy bits of stuffing.  Mark is moving around in front of his Dad's work table. It is funny that his Dad never took his stuff.  The table is the familiar issue of some Sears carton, one filled with little plastic packs with screws and nuts in them and lathed pieces not quite lathed to precise fit and somewhere a sheet of instructions on it that has complicated diagrams  with dotted lines connecting things and that algebra of pieces A B and C, etc. Well God it was a while back when Mark's Dad put that baby together, and it wasn't quite even, still.  Mark is getting a tube out of one of the boxes on top of the work table.  He unscrews the cap from the tube.  It is a little red tube. He finds a nail. He punctures the aluminum colored hymen at the mouth of the tube, and he takes a plastic bag and squeezes some grayish gel into the bag. Then he holds the bag up to his mouth and he takes a hit.
     He passes the bag to you. God damn he says. You think the Tennessee in his voice is funny.
     Do you want to do this? You are a little nervous, but it doesn't seem that big a deal.  I don't know, you say.  I'm just going to do this once. You put the bag up to your mouth and breath in the chemical, rather sweet odor of the glue.  It hits the back of your throat in a sudden clump and you drop the bag.  God damn, you say, trying to imitate Mark, to be funny.  You close your eyes and see a white spot, a bird turd, in the velvety whirling dark.  Your eyes are open again, and you get up.  




    Mark opens the door after a while, and you see, through the spring sogginess, that  rich blur of green and white and blue: sky, leaf, flower. It is sharp and primary to your eye.  Mark's lawn is patched with different greens, with the green of crabgrass and the lighter green of bermuda grass and the different greens of  wild onion and dandelion and thistle, and there are a lot of bare patches too.  This is because nobody takes care of the lawn anymore. Mr. Purse put down the bermuda seed one Saturday, he used one of those broadcasters with the canvas bag and the winnowing fan and the crank,  but because he isn't here on the weekdays it was wasted effort. Dad comes home and waters your lawn before dinner and on the weekends he uses weedicide to get rid of crabgrass and the nettles. Dad says you have to take care of a lawn. This is the season of appetite, you can feel how everything bursts into life from the earth where it has all been asleep (from science class you know that there is an exact parellel between the seasons and the day: spring is waking up, summer is being awake, autumn is falling asleep, and winter is sleep) and how the trees almost clutch at the rain, bringing it home. Getting high on the rain, man. And you too. You want.  You'll be in bed and you'll put your hands under your head, your elbows out.  A sailor on a bunk.  You have a map of Indonesia from a National Geographic which you like to spread out on the floor, kneeling down, looking over all those unpronounceable orangutan names, the stutters and clicks defying any shape you can set your mouth in. Wonderful map blue for the sea, the islands a crushed backbone, scattered vertebrae. On the shore you'll cast up, there'll be tall coconut palms like you've seen in Florida, at Uncle Victor's house who really isn't your uncle, and oiled, naked women (who aren't at Uncle Victor's house, too bad). You do one more hit, but you don't think you'll do any more, since the feeling you get is that you are in a bell, an almost translucent, silvery bell, and it makes you slightly uncomfortable.  It is interesting, though.  Your body is a chemical toy, and here's just another proof to put alongside dizziness, sleep, fever, deja‑vu, hard‑ons and all the assorted sometimes fearful phenomena of everyday bodily experience.  Mark says it is not the best high, he goes into how you should try grass, that you are going to some day and what is the hold up? Lately he's been on you about this.  Actually, it isn't that you are afraid of it, it is because of the smell.  You don't want your clothes to smell like Norman Lee's.
     Which speak of the devil and he appears.  Norman Lee is standing in the doorway in a blue jacket of shimmery material like his Dad wears.  It has Gladstone Goats on the back.  The highschool is the Goats, and there is a drawing in white of a goat kicking a football.  Next year you'll be a Goat. Norman says that he has some money. He steps in the door and stands just a little ways in. He's wet. He looks at you.  Hi Street. Norman takes two tattered green bills out of his pocket. He is dripping onto the concrete of the floor.
How much is that? you ask.
           None of your business.    
Mark says he'll be back, and he runs up the stairs.  Norman says what are you doing, and you say nothing much, we're just doing.
    You're high, Norman says.
    No, you say, not at all.  We're just smoking some cigs.
    Yeah? Let me have one.


    They all gone, son.
They aint any you mean.  You higher than a kite. You know how I know? Mark told me you and he was going to get high. High high, man.  So don't be a liar, Street.
    None of your business anyway.
    Mark comes down the stairs at this moment with a lunch sack.  Hey, he says, I tell you what I'm doing for you, Lee. I'm putting in a few papers free of charge. And you be sure this ain't no dry backyard weed either, it's juicy.  I'll do ANYTHING to please a customer.
     You laugh, recognizing by the tone of Mark's voice that he is pretending to be like that guy on the car advertisement who will do ANYTHING for your sale. The guy walks around in a barrel, without anything else on.  I'll strip myself naked to satisfy my customers, he says.
    Mark takes a rolling paper out of the bag, and he gets a pinch of brown weed from the bag and spreads it out in the paper.  Then he rolls it.  He is pretty good at rolling cigarettes.  You used to smoke with him when it was just pipe tobacco he'd swipe from his Dad.  Norman never does come all the way in, but he sits down there in the doorway, the stoop made by the concrete floor being a little above the ground, with his legs a little outside.  Mark takes a lighter out of his back pocket and lights the joint, and takes a big hit.  He passes it to Norman, who gestures to you.


    I'm fine.
                              6.
    After a while Norman leaves.  Him being there was making you uncomfortable, even though he pretty much ignored you sitting on the stoop passing the joint to Mark and grunting to what Mark said about the pot.  Mark went to praising it for being smooth shit. Then he started onto Cynthia, the girl who sat in front of him in science.  He said he sure would like  to turn her on alright. He'd been talking about her lately. Then he started singing the minute you walked in the joint, I could see you were a man of distinction. Then Norman said he had to get on now, and we watched him slog across the back yard in the drizzle, carrying his lunch sack. He climbed over the fence between the Vermillion's and the Scassio's. He cut across the Scassio's front lawn until the jut of the way the Scassio's house lay to us hid him.


    After a while, we decided that it would be a good time to shoot the B B gun.  Mark had one and you didn't, because Dad didn't want you breaking the windows and shooting at the bird house. When he talked about this at the dinner table one night he had that look on his face which he had when he envisioned the yard being cratered and the trees (the laurel tree even now just beginning to leaf, bringing forth delicate, shy fronds, as if in response to Dad's seductions, his blandishments of fertilizer and pine straw; the dwarf fruit trees in the back corner of the yard on the raised beds; the sweetgum that was there from before, the birdhouse in it on the lowest branch, that scattered  weaponry of spiny nuts every autumn) torn down by some monster kid of his distant spawn run amuck.  You promised you wouldn't, although you knew that in the face of Dad's vision your voice didn't even blend in. It wasn't a campaign you really wanted to embark on, however.  There were times that you wanted to get things from your folks, but mostly these were essentials, like a bike. The B B gun didn't fall into the  category of essential or hauntingly desireable objects, and you could always use Mark's.
                              7.


    In one of the darker corners of the basement was an old television set.  It was one of those ones that looked like furniture instead of an appliance the way plastic framed television sets look, it was definitely the living room television, encased in wood and mounted on a wooden trundle, with a big broad screen and a wooden door over the panel of vertical and horizontal and contrast buttons. It was perfect.  Mark and you had idly discussed this before.  Nobody was ever going to use it again.  It didn't even have color.  Inside it something had gone wrong and the images it showed would warp, they would suddenly go up and go up and go up like on a blind someone was continually pulling down and letting snap up with insane persistance, or they would concentrate to thin shivers of white and then distend to thick murky  blobs.  The sound was alright, though.
    Mark went upstairs to get the gun and you rolled out the tv.  Then Mark was downstairs again and you and he were pushing the tv out the door, which was a heavy job due to the slight elevation of the concrete floor of the basement over the yard mentioned before.  Then wheeling it through the yard was difficult.  The wheels left a track in the yard, you rolled it over a muddy bare patch and the wheels got gummed up and that made it harder to roll.  Dad would kill you if you'd done this in his yard.  Next Mark went in and found a long orange extension chord.  The thing was that just shooting the television would be fun, but if it was on it would be more fun. Maybe it would explode. So he snaked it out to the tv, and said plug it in.  You took the chord and you took the plug from the television, which was wet, and you connected them.  At that instant they sparked and you jumped and dropped them.  You weren't shocked.  You yelled at Mark you should have plugged the extension chord in after, goddamn idiot. He was laughing at the way you jumped. It didn't hurt you, he said.
    I could have been killed.


    The next thing was to turn on the tv.  You were still a little scared and maybe you'd been shocked.  Being scared like that felt like getting an electric shock.  Anyway you didn't want to turn on the tv and maybe get a real shock.  On the other hand, you didn't want to act too scared.  In the end honor won out over fear. You went over to turn it on.
    It was your idea to turn it on in the first place Street.
    Yeah, yeah.
    It was drizzling a little. You opened the little wooden door, examined the panel.  Just switch the little power switch.  You reached out and touched it and recoiled, as if you had already felt a shock.  You reached out again and turned it on. Everything at this point had a strange immediacy for you.  You were glued to the idea of turning on the television, it was an urgent thing to do: to have it out here in the rain, to blast it.


     There was a great hiss, and you jumped away.  Just then Mark shot the BB. Instead of hitting the tv, it hit you in the leg. The television was sputtering, and the pictures on it were cavorting horizontally and vertically, spasmatic like some victim of exorcism.  You fell on the ground, and immediately regretted it, because you felt the damp soak into your pants and your shirt.  You thought shit, I've muddied up my britches. Mark shot again and hit the glass, putting a crack in it. The splutter was louder. You cried out to Mark he'd goddamn hit you.  Maybe you were bleeding.  You rolled into an upright position and started to roll up your pant's leg.  Mark came over and both of you stared at the exposed bit of leg. There was a red mark on the calf. Mark said he wondered if the little bb itself was in the grass somewhere around you, and you and he patted around a little bit looking for it.  As if finding it would explain anything.
     You were disappointed with the impact of the b b‑ies. You had a vision of a movie bullet shattering the glass wholesale, smashing it, and flames leaping up.  Although that probably would not have been cool, Mrs. Scassio would surely have come out and yelled at you, or somebody from some house would have come out.  But instead you and Mark had to shatter it bit by bit.  You'd take a shot and he'd take a shot, and you tried to make the cracks you made connect to those he made, until you'd caved in most of the glass and exposed the inner vestibule, that strange chamber where the tv rays landed after touching down invisibly and swiftly at numerous high tv towers. After a while Mark went


back in the house and came out with a box of kitchen matches, and you lit one and threw it in hole in the screen.  That made it more interesting to shoot at. Flames started coming out of the tv after a while.  You and Mark squatted close to it, hanging your butts down so that they weren't quite touching the grass and hugging your knees and watched the tv burning. When it really started going you said Mark ought to get some baking soda to put it out. He said why, and you said do you want the goddamn thing to burn up and everybody to see it?  Oh, Mark said, Purse isn't going to notice. But as it got more serious you got nervous.  Mark just watched it.  You went and found the hose folded up behind some wet shrubbery next to the back wall of the house, and screwed one end to the faucet there. Then you turned the faucet on and got a big squirt of water in the face from where you hadn't screwed tight enough.  You were thoroughly soaked now.  You raced with the hose to the tv like you were a fireman, and doused the fire and squirted some water on Mark, to get him back for the bb.

    The next day the tv was still there, charred and ugly, like it had been taken out of some  detonated structure, one of those buildings the Americans bombed in some World War II movie.  The orange wire snaked out to it, it was all like you had left it the day before, except in that day's rain it looked even more desolate.  God Mrs. Vermillion hadn't said boo to Mark about it.  After school you and Mark rolled it back across the lawn and into the basement, and after all that labor when Mark said do you want to toke you said yes. Yes, you would.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

encyclopedia of the second hand: hair

      Dad's hair.
    
     Dad's hair is always short, as short as he can get it.  Mom cuts it.  Mom has barber's scissors, a whole set of them, which she keeps in a brown leather pouch in her drawer in the bathroom.  There are short fingernail clippers and there are some funny looking toothed scissors ‑ both blades of the part that swings open being provided with fine metal teeth for more precise, one at a time hair cutting. Then there are two different sized plain blade scissors. All of these scissors are fit snugly into little loops of leather that line the pouch.  Mom also has an old fashioned kind of barber's clippers.  The clippers is a machine about as big as a telephone receiver.  It is black and has a switch on the side, and two serrated metal strips attached to the front of it. The electric cord runs out of the back of it, and right now she has that plugged in.  When she turns the little switch to on the clippers vibrate.  They make an electric gnashing sound.  The two metal strips make micro‑motions too fast to clearly distinguish.  When she puts the clippers to the side of your head, around your ear, or in back of your head, at your neck, you can smell a spark smell ‑ a smell of electric current and metal.  Your head buzzes with the vibration of the clippers. Curls of your hair are sheered off and fall at your feet. Sometimes hair trickles down where your shirt is open at the back, getting in your shirt, and for an hour afterward you will be shaking out hair.  Just when you think you have got it all


shaken out, you will feel another itch.  It is funny how dry and scratchy locks of hair can be.
     Dad sits there, a towel around his neck.  Mom says Jack, I don't like your hair so short.  Can't we wait on this?
     She knows the answer.
     I don't want to look like one of those singers Street listens to, Dad says, and he looks at you.  What do you think, son, he says.   I have a better singing voice than most of your rock n roll buddies. Hell, the Sherman s dog has a better voice than that Led Balloons group you listen to.  That is probably a minus, but I bet if I sang and gargled at the same time I could make a sound pretty similar to your buddy Dylan.
     You are sitting there at the dinner table.  There is a book in front of you.  You look down at the book, and then you grin and look back up.
     Those singers make millions of dollars, you say, lightly taunting the old man.  We don't make millions of dollars.  So I think this proves that if you have long hair and a hippie attitude, you can make tons of money. And you all seem to think more of money than of God, so that ought to be proof that you should let me grow my hair out to where I want it.
     Street, Mom says, poised with her clippers over Dad's neck, I don't want to hear you talk like that.


     If there are fools like you around to spend the money, Dad says, they'll be fools to make it.  But a funny thing, son.  A funny thing about economic history, here.  Just when the fools
who are making their money from the fools who are giving it away think that they can just sit back and let the money roll in,  the fools who are giving it away decide to give it away somewhere else.  You ought to read up on the Great Depression, then you'd know what I'm talking about. This country might be going down that road again for all I can tell.
    
     Death and hair.
     Hair and nails grow on the dead, but hair and nails aren't really alive.  They are the deader parts of the body.   They are lessons in what is alive and what is dead.  The oldest idea is that the whole universe is alive.  All that blackness in eternal drift and torn flight, all those interstellar hollows, all that dust and ash, litter of the this fast crematorium of flaring stars ‑ it is all ultimately bound up with a colossus, a vital, human‑like creature, striding with his own purposes through infinity. Hair and nails are like the bits of seemingly dead nature that are really attached to and function because of some living creature.
     The newer idea is that the universe is dead.  The parts that are alive are novel forms of death, masks of the mineral grin beneath it all.  And this is just a way of saying that hair and nails rule ‑ forever and ever one stumbles through hair and nails. They grow, dead things, on a corpse ‑ a dead colossus tumbling through fretful emptiness.


   
     Beards
     In the seventh grade the boys, for a joke, liked to stroke their chins, as if they had hair growing there. Few did.  You think it would be neat to have a beard.  Dad, though, hates beards.  He doesn t like it that Brian, Dita s boyfriend, has a beard.  It is one of those very dense beards, like some phenomena of the insect world ‑ all closely packed cells of dark hair.  The beard goes down to the first button of his shirt.  Dad always asks, when Brian comes to the house: so, Brian when are you losing the growth?  And Mom, in the kitchen, says to Dita that she can t understand why a young man with a nice looking face would want to ruin it like that.  I could understand, she said, if he had a scar, or a weak chin.
     I like his beard, Dita says.  I think it is sexy.
     But you wonder about something else.  Brian s beard is just the tip of the iceberg as far as hair is concerned.  His chest is matted with a mattress of dark hair, his back and legs crawl with hair.  He is a hair machine, except that hs is growing bald.  His hairline is definitely receding.  It seems so funny that anybody with so much hair can t get a little to grow where everybody else has hair. You think that maybe it is because the beard and all took the vigor out of the hair on top of his head.  The hair gene just got exhausted from all that production.  
  
  Girl s hair


     Jan s hair, for instance.  Jan s hair is reddish colored, long and tangled.  But  reddish  colored is only a conventional name for the real color, which, at its base, is a certain ruddy gold.  Strand by strand, that was the color of Jan s hair, and even then, breaking it down, the strands individually varied in tint along their length, from darker near the root to lighter at the tip. This made more difference in Jan s case because her hair was so long.  Sometimes you would find a strand of it floating around somewhere that would measure a good two feet.  It was only as the hair combined and gained, as they say on shampoo bottles,  body , that it exhibited an overall redness.
     In the dark, Jan s hair was a mane, all spread out on the pillow, smelling slightly of oil and another faint odor vaguely reminiscent of wet clay.  Individual filaments of her hair would get in your mouth sometimes.  You d wake up next to her on the one weekend a month when Bob was away at a hospital in Baton Rouge and there s a long string of hair, slick with your saliva.  Sometimes you d pull the hair out in an exhibitory fashion and say: your hair. As though accusing her of losing the hair on purpose.
     You would watch the variety of things Jan would do to her hair.
     One thing she would do had a certain swan‑like grandeur. She would lift her pale arms above her shoulders and with both hands grab her hair, and twist it, a thick coil, above her head, lifting it in one gathering yank almost as far as her arms could


stretch.  She would, doing this, unconsciously jut out her chest, as though to compensate one movement with another within a certain image she possessed of the balance of her body.  You would watch while she twisted the hair playing with the rope she made of it, a distant daughter of Rapunzel.  Her neck would look so undefended.  She would do this while you were eating with her in a restaurant, or while you were with her at a party.  The gesture seemed curiously intimate, it seemed to be the kind of thing that not many people other than yourself should be privileged to see.  Jan, at such moments, would become too obviously attractive, so that she even seemed to slightly levitate among us like one of Chagall's lovers.
     At other times Jan would do astonishingly dumb things to her hair.  For instance: you would go with her to a concert.  You would walk over to her house on Audubon from where you lived on Calhoun.  Her husband, Bob, hated any music that was written before nineteen sixty about, or that didn t have guitars in it.  Consequently he was just as glad that you were taking Jan to the symphony.  You would talk with Bob, sitting with him on the glassed in porch, sharing a joint.  Then Jan would come in, and you and Bob would rise from your chairs.  She d be wearing a black sheath gown.  And she would have wound her hair up into a bobbin on top of her head.  As if there were something superchic about looking like a slightly dented unicorn.


     However, the very dumbness of her hair at this moment would illuminate her face with a blanched, childish beauty.  Her nose
would be blunter, more puppet‑like.  Her smile would be charmingly hesitant, the upper lip so slightly rimpled just above her front teeth, she would look at you and Bob as if there was a question she would like to ask. Actually there was and she would ask it later on in the evening. What were you and Bob talking about?
     Nothing, you'd say.
     Ah, she seemed so easy to undermine as she stood there with her hair done up like that, one beautifully gloved hand clutching her expensive little white purse.  The first impulse of your heart was to protect her from everything, including yourself.  The second impulse was to fuck her with such greed, fluttering about her with great thumping falcon wings of sheets in the hotel room you all usually went to in the Quarter that the bun would fall apart, and ringlets string about her ears, and all the king's horses and all Bob' s drugs wouldn t be able to put your cousin Jan back together again ‑ not as she was, not as she was.

Dad's hair (con't)


     Dad's hair comes out in wiry tufts.  It is a charcoal color and as he gets older  and there gets to be gray among the black hairs the gray reminds you of the ash forming on the edge of charcoal briquettes after they have been burning for a while in a grill. The hair makes tight curls as it gets longer so that Dad is right to have it closely cut, since his only other choice would be to have a sort of Afro, a sort of jerry‑curl nimbus.  This isn't what you think he should look like.  One of the effects of the seventies on Dad was that he began to discretely let his sideburns grow.  Not to tuft out, but to grow in length.  He used to have Mom cut the sideburns back so that there weren't any.  She would simply buzz off all the hair around his ears, letting them simply stick out, thick, fleshy.  Around 1978, when you went to school, he was letting the hair get a bit thicker, and he started using Grecian Formula to combat the gray. This you know not so much from the sudden uniformity of his hair as from seeing a bottle of Grecian Formula in the medicine cabinet.  You were looking for Mom's sleeping pills.

     For years Dad had covered the business beat for the Atlanta evening paper.  Now the business section on weekdays mostly meant the stock market, positioned on the hind side of the sports section, after the fishing part of it; on the weekends it meant the auto section and the house section and a bit more business analysis, mostly wire service.  Dad's work mainly came out on the weekends.
   


At this time he parted his hair to the left.  The hair was so short and the individual strands so closely interwoven one with the other that it was a bit hard to tell that there was a part, and a wave of hair over one way.  He never spent a lot of time combing it.  You'd see him (you in your pyjamas, getting out of bed and wanting crankily to go back, and Daddy already up and his coffee half drunk, his egg half tasted, his toast half eaten, in the bathroom, the door open as you pass by) take a comb and perfunctorily style the hair with a little water, or a little green lotion in a bottle that smelled spicy. After school sometimes you'd take a bit of this lotion and some toothpaste and one of Mom's creams and make a chemical experiment, hoping for an explosion, like in the movies.  A little curl of hairs would sometimes creep out on Dad’s forehead, right there where the left wave of the hair crested, by the time he he came home at the end of the day.  Sometimes he would come home, change into his yard clothes, and spend the rest of the afternoon in the yard.  He'd come back into the house when Mom sent you out there to get him.  Tell Jack dinner's ready.  He'd be hot and sweaty, he'd smell like grass and gasoline ‑ from the lawnmower or the weedeater .  Little blades of grass would sometimes be in his hair, or sticking to his arms, which glistened with sweat.  He would stick his head under the faucet in the kitchen and pour cold water on himself.  Then, dripping, he sould walk over to the fridge and get a beer.



Towards the end of the seventies there is a trend in newspapers to give the business section more play, which in Dad's case meant that the paper had a special Business section on Wednesdays.  Dad was raised to editor, and he got a raise.  The salary wasn't near what Jim Mince, the sports columnist, got.  Also Jim Mince, as Dad liked to point out, was an illiterate drunk, whose assistants straightened out his copy.  But Jim Mince was a personality, and he earned extra by going out to things like the opening of sports bars and making a speech.  Or making a fool of himself ‑ in Dad's view.
     Jim Mince burned Dad up.
     Well Dad quit.  What happened is that he is talking to this man who teaches economics at Georgia State, Vince Abfondel.  Vince says look, Jack, if you are going to make some money in this life you are going to have to move pretty soon, because you are almost at the end of your real wealth‑making period. Why don't you come in on this newsletter with me?
     Vince Abfondel published a newsletter for investors in the bondmarket.  It was called: The Southern Bond Investor's Watch.
     This is 1979, and the country is going into a real tailspin, with a big upswing in inflation and bankrupcies.  Interest has gone crazy.
     Newsletters like Abfondel's were taking off in other parts of the country.  It was a little unique in the South.
     Dad renamed it Sunbelt Investor's Times.  He added some features.  Abfondel kept his column, but Dad added information about businesses in Georgia and Florida and South and North Carolina. 


     So the thing takes off.  Dad benefits from that, but also from the advice Abfondel gives him on investments.  Soon Dad's inflow is uncharacteristically wealthy.  He tells you on the phone, son, we are going to be in the upper fifth quartile this year.
     All these years Dad has been dying to be rich.  Just to be rich before he died.
   
You are uncertain about how this is happening and what it is doing to Mom and Dad.  This is because you are away.  You are going to college, supposedly.  One year you do, one year you just  pretend to.  Then, in Easter of what is really your second, but to your parent's your third, year you come home. 
     It is a new, much bigger home.  There are two guest bedrooms.  You stay in one of them.
     Dad's hair is longer than you have ever seen it.  The sideburns are gray, and the rest of it is peppper and salt.  The hair comes down over his collar in back, which is an innovation upon which you cast a troubled eye. But the eye looks truly askance at the way suddenly Dad’s hair arises in a wave in the front and sweeps back,  getting choppy and then eddying out about halfway. Somehow the hair is less kinky - Dad’s been getting it treated in some way to make it softer. So this is his look for being in the late fifties. It is a style favored by Mafiosi and Politburo members, and now by Dad.


     Mom no longer cuts Dad's hair.  A cheap haircut, he says, is a quick turnoff, business‑wise.  You have to speak through your image, son. Half the battle is lost for the fellow who is trying to speak around his image. Dad talks a lot about image, and in this tone.  Partly this is because he is a little crazy, which is what you note detail by detail staying with him and Mom.  Partly this is because he is trying to write a book with Abfondel about business management.  The book will be full of advice about image.  The tentative title of it is: Too many chiefs, or not enough indians?
  
Dad's face is a little flushed.  He has on a gray suit with a flower in the buttonhole.  Dad is at that point in his bodyhistory where skinniness, that starved dog look of those early years of the marriage, is a memory startlingly recorded on old photographs in the family album but not otherwise accessible.  He is a short man, and he is chunky.  Not fat, but broad, in that tough way that cops and vice principals have.  You and he have the same kind of face: one reflecting a certain wariness.  Both of your chins are sharp, and you both characteristically frown when you aren't thinking about it.  A slight frown, but definitely there.  Sitting there in the living room with Dad, both of you reading newspapers, you glanced up the other day and were surprised how much your faces resembled each other in the mirror that hangs on the wall opposite the sofa.


You are in the kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee, which you have liberally laced with Dad’s vodka.  You weren’t expecting him home so early. You have been standing there for fifteen minutes, looking out the kitchen window at a plum tree in full flower, around which bees are buzzing.  The blooms are so white that they seem to send out little waves upon the sunlit air, and the bees to ride the waves.  You have a Van Gogh feeling about that tree.  Then you hear steps, turn around, and there’s Dad. He wants to know if you want to go with him to the barber’s. 
You laugh.
Why would I want to go with you to the barber’s?  My hair is  shorter now than yours is.
To watch, Dad says.
     Okay, you say, what is the joke? I am not exactly extremely thrilled by the idea of watching you get your hair cut.
You’ll get a shampoo, he says.  We are going to Off the Top.  Okay.  A little treat, on your old papa. Come on, let's get going if you're going, I don't want to be late.
     You got in the car.  He got in on the driver's side and started the car.  The radio came on in a sudden blare, and he turned it off. 


     I would have thought you would have heard of Off the Top, Street, Dad says.  They’ve been on one of those talk shows and I don’t know what all.  People, Playboy.  But I forget, you don't like tv.  Too middle class for your refined tastes, I bet.
     Well I don't have one. I didn’t know my tastes were so refined. Now what is the deal with this barber shop.  What, they got some hot little tootsie assistants to the barber? What?
     Not an assistant.  No, this whole place, this Off the Top place, which I am just surprised you haven’t heard of even back there in Austin, this place is a unique gimmick, a  topless barber shop. I kid you not, topless and in the back room, where they have a bar you can adjourn to after being fixed up, bottomless too.  It is another one of those screwy laws which says for some reason the girls can’t go bottomless when they cut hair, God knows. Like a safety regulation but, yeah I know it’s funny, and as if wit the little they wear on the bottom it makes a whole hell of a lot of difference.  And they set it up right, I mean they have women in there you rub your eyes over, you say where did they get these gorgeous, gorgeous... these girls. If they wanted to any one of them could be in the movies, except it is better than the movies because it is completely live.  I go there on Thursdays for a shave from Sherri, my regular girl, she makes Raquel Welsh look like nothing, canned goods. I mean to tell you she is a stunningly put together young lady, what they call a well stacked young ... lady.
     Oh, you say.


            Yeah, I started going there because of this business acquaintance who is a bank president.  I'm in there in his office once and he says to me, let's go get shampoos at Off the Top.  Well, I think he's gone nuts, just like you the way you looked at me.  You thought the old man has gone nuts.  So Darrel, Darrel Pickering from the National Coastal bank is who it was, Darrel says to me what, you haven't heard of Off the Top?  Well we went and I mean I was a little hesitant.  I wasn't totally comfortable. You know I come from a different generation about all this, it takes me  a while to get used to certain things.  I mean I am not a prude, but to see these naked girls like that, and the things they do.  But it isn't like you are going to get away with anything, for one thing.  And for another, this is the eighties.  What people thought about certain things in the past, nobody cares about anymore. I don’t think they ought to be open all over the place but if it is a consenting adults proposition... So anyway I have started going there.  And let me tell you, Street, when you are leaning your head back, those creamy jugs in your face, well it beats old fashioned barbering all over the place. Your mother never gave me a cut like that. They lather you up and I don't know. I get so I have to keep a magazine in my lap.  But they do a good job too. Dad laughed a little nervously, and you did too. 
     You reached out and turned on the radio again.
     I'm sure they do, you said.


You know what Sherri wants me to do?  She wants me to grow a moustache.  She says it would come out gray, and gray moustaches are cute.
Don’t grow a moustache, Dad, you say.  If you do I am not going to go out with you in public.

    

          

Thursday, March 20, 2014

encyclopedia of the second hand: evocation



EVOCATION                          

     Let's say door.

     A poor enough object.  Not a thing you are inclined  to

study  with too much attention.  I can imagine missing  this

room someday, but not the door to this room.

     So  in the sense of not being overloaded with  meaning,

the door is the thing.

     Because  this  is how it is, this is what I  am  doing. 

I've  tried  to explain the project to people and a  lot  of

them  don't  see  it, so I feel like  damn  it,  this  isn't

incomprehensible.  There is a method here and I can  explain

it.

     I  go through this routine.  I write a word down, or  I

daydream and I think of a thing. For instance, I look up and

I see the door of my room and I think, door.  Then I let the

image, or the word - and at this point these things are very

close  together  - act as an agent of evocation.  I  let  my

mind wander through a list of doors, remembered doors.

     In  one  way, this is a simple  procedure  embodied  in

other  aspects  of my life.  For instance, when  I  want  to

define a term to somebody who doesn't know it, I often  find

myself  running  through  a list.  It might  be  a  list  of

examples,  or it might be a list of synonyms.   Usually  the

person I am talking to will get it, the way a person gets  a

joke.   The  getting  of  it will  be  the  moment  of  that

transformation  which  happens in the world  when  the   the

unfamiliar becomes, suddenly, familiar - which includes such

situations  as recognizing a street as well  as  recognizing

that something is funny.  And what the person gets, and what

I  have  been  trying to get at, is that  there  is  a  list

principle, something that holds together my list of examples

or  synonyms and makes them relevant. The relevance of  each

item  on  the list is the voucher that  each  item  silently

holds that makes them eligible to be on the list, and it  is

with  reference to that voucher that I would know if one  of

the items shouldn't be on the list.

     But there is a difference between the grocery list  you

took  to the store with you and the grocery sack you  unload

in  the kitchen.  You don't peer into the sack and say,  ah,

I've bought the list.  No, the list is to help you  remember

to buy milk, butter, eggs, bread, etc.  The question is, are

the  memory  images  that you call up  when  you  decide  to

remember  doors the type of things that are more like  items

on  a list, or are they the type of things that lists  refer

to.
     Insofar as the things I am remembering are like  things

on a list, they are like terms.  Now terms usually  function

in  syntactic structures to give meaning.  They are part  of

statements  and  questions,  they are  parts  of  linguistic

structures which say things about the world.  My  comparison

of  memory  images  of such things as doors  to  terms  does

extend, actually, beyond the fact that both terms and images

function   in  syntactically  simple  lists  to  include   a

similarity  in  the  way in which  they  function  within  a

semantic  ecology, an environment of references. The  memory

of this door or that door refers to something outside of the

memory, namely the door.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...