Thursday, March 27, 2014

american alchemy: how torture becomes just another naughty thing

I love American alchemy. As we all know, when the evil elements in rogue nations drown prisoners or drive them crazy through sleep deprivation and humiliation, those evil elements are engaged in torture. But lo, when the evil elements are transmorgified into glorious freedom fighting Americans, there is a corresponding glorious change, as per this NYT description today: "According to several people who have read the committee’s report, it concludes that the agency gained little valuable intelligence from its brutal questioning of Qaeda detainees..." Brutal questioning! This of course makes it seem like the CIA asked impolite questions, such as how much do you make a year, and, let me ask you frankly about your sexual relations with your wife. Brutal stuff there indeed. The of course the al qaeda people went off to their cells for the steak dinners.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/politics/reid-orders-computer-review-to-defend-senate-in-rift-with-cia.html?action=click&contentCollection=Politics&region=Footer&module=Recommendation&src=recg&pgtype=article
Of course, even without the Panetta report, we actually know that this "brutal questioning" was, o, a tad more than that. This is from Mark Danner's article in the nyrb from two months ago:

"We know a lot now about what went on in those rooms. We have, among many other documents, the minute-by-minute interrogation logs for Mohammed al-Qahtani, the supposed “twentieth hijacker” who was turned back at Orlando airport in August and later captured in Pakistan. It was Qahtani for whom Rumsfeld’s eighteen “counter-resistance techniques” were specially devised, and during his fifty-four days of interrogation he was subjected to nearly all of them: prolonged sleep deprivation—he endured forty-eight twenty-hour interrogations—forced nudity; prolonged stress positions; unremitting, almost unbearable noise; and humiliations of various kinds, sexual and otherwise. He was forced to wear woman’s underwear, and to appear nude in front of female interrogators. He was made to wear a leash and bark and perform “dog tricks,” and forced to endure enemas and intravenous drips. The log, scrupulously compiled by the military interrogators, charts Qahtani’s reactions in mind-numbing and often revolting detail.7 Here are some of Qahtani’s responses:

Detainee began to cry… Visibly anxious… Very emotional… Detainee cried… Disturbed… De- tainee began to cry… Butted SGT R in the eye… Bit the IV tube completely in two… Started moaning… Uncomfortable…Moaning… Began crying hard spontaneously… Crying and praying… Began to cry… Claimed to have been pressured into making a confession… Falling asleep… Very uncomfortable… On the verge of breaking… Angry… Detainee struggled… Detainee asked for prayer… Very agitated… Yelled… Tired… Agitated… Yelled for Allah… Started making odd faces … Near crying… Irritated… Annoyed…Detainee attempted to injure two guards… Became very violent and irate… Attempted to liberate himself… Struggled…Made several attempts to stand up… Screamed.8 "

Since this is what NYT calls brutal questioning, I am a bit curious what other phrases they use to mean a bit more than appears on the surface. For instance, what the Manson family did to Sharon Tate - would the Times call that "brutal harrassment:? Would they call the hijackers that rammed the planes into the WTC men engaged in "brutal urban renewal?" How far does the euphemism go?
I imagine it bores its way, acidically, into the very dark, slimy, stinky heart of the American elite, that abattoir where criminals and their abettors who run us have perfect immunity.

games and reality

Adam is learning to eat by himself like a man – admittedly, more like a medieval man, when table manners were still not quite developed yet, and everybody pulled off pieces of the roast with their hand and dribbled gravy. Adam has figured out how to take the spoon that he has used to scoop up cheerios and yogurt and raise it in a stuttering arc to his mouth. Of course, the reason that the yogurt is there is to make the cheerios adhere to something and that something to the spoon, which makes the payload loss a lot lighter as the spoon approaches mouth.
When he is finished eating, or when he is tired of eating – either because of the food, or because he is tired of being strapped in the high chair – he makes a royal gesture and throws the food off the table, sometimes in a grand sweep.
This reminds me, oddly enough, of something I used to do when I was a kid. I must have been nine years old, in that area, and I had learned to play monopoly. I’d play with my sister, or sometimes Mom  and Dad and my sister. And I’d be losing. Suddenly, I’d feel infuriated that I was losing, and I’d upset the board. I’d sweep my hand over it.
This, of course, won me an early bedtime, or various other punishments.
However, I find it interesting now as something other than the indication of temper. It is a spontaneous defining gesture – that is, a gesture that begins or ends something – but it is not considered in the game. It is not even prohibited by the rules, since the rules don’t consider it at all. It collapses the game. The gesture is like the popping of a balloon – the world rushes in with the hand that sweeps the pieces off the board.
In  popular ontology, we would say that the world is “real” and the game is not. However, reality, logically, has to include both the game and the world and everything else that one can think of – in as much as the thought happens. The confounding of existence with a set of values – with what is important, or serious, etc. – is a symptomatic cultural pattern one learns, perhaps, at the table, or interrupting a game that one is losing by creating equal loss for all players.
However, as so often when I am writing and watching Adam, the next paragraph was lost, along with the thought, as Adam – like the reality principle itself – rushed in to pound his hands on the keys. So this is what it is.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

bellow and sammler

“For his part, Max Horkheimer was careful to avoid any overt expressions of his political convictions, which might have jeopardized the support of his father or the trust of his professors. Horkheimer had learned long before to cultivate a rich interiority in which he could safely pursue his genuine concerns.”
How I wish that I had learned to cultivate a rich interiority! Instead, I’m a blabbermouth – my interiority is always dribbling out of me, which is a nasty and embarrassing habit. I was not destined to be one of the sleek ones in this world, an escaper of nets, an elegant coder of elegies, rubbing the right elbows.
Novelists are generally of the blabbermouth kind. Their rich interiority is for show. But what a triumph if they can convey the Horkheimer type – a man whose actions are carefully calculated not to land him in the hot water that his opinions would surely make for him. The faucet, to continue with that hot water commonplace, is not turned to on, save on rare occassions. Silence, cunning exile – such were Stephen Daedalus’s vows, although he was too much the student, too much the Hamlet manque, not to indulge himself in the right company.
I’ve been reading Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, lately, and thinking about the paradox that this is at once a book loaded with sexism and racism, full of neo-con turns (when they were still young), and yet quite an amazing novel – even for a person like me whose entire belief system falls under what Stanley Crouch, Bellow’s friend, called the “degeneracy” of American life. Crouch is writing about the sixties, and there’s a pretty heavy paradox riding on his phrase, since of course if America was degenerating in the sixties, then it must have been hale and healthy before the sixties, in the era of Jim Crow apartheid. Crouch was selected to write the intro to a recent edition of Mr. Sammler’s Planet under some obvious publisher’s equation – a black writer introducing the novel could ameliorate phrases like:
Millions of civilized people wanted oceanic, boundless, primitive, neckfree nobility, experienced a strange release of galloping impulses, and acquired the peculiar aim of sexual niggerhood for everyone.”
Bellow had become a George Wallace Democrat in the late sixties; “sexual niggerhood” is not some poetic phrase that only a literalist or leftist would interpret as bigoted in the slightest. Causuistry of that kind diminishes Bellow rather than defends him.
But the thing that Crouch’s introduction gets wrong (as does so many other reviews and essays about this novel) is the casual exchange of Bellow for his character, Mr. Sammler. Whether Sammler is endowed with Bellow’s opinions or not, as a successfully realized fiction, those opinions undergo an essential change when put in Sammler’s mind. For it is not the case that a rich interiority can resist or remain uninfluenced by the material circumstances of the experience that circumscribes it. If the book were merely the opinions of a rich celebrity on the sexual depravity of women and African Americans, the book would be forgotten – it would be like one of the numerous conservative screeds so regularly published by Saul Bellow’s son, Adam, for the Free Press. Who can tell one Glenn Beck book from another?
There’s a moment in Mr. Sammler’s Planet where Sammler says about Ulysses that it is entirely in medias res – and this is what I think Bellow was up to here. Instead of a scion of Central Europe in Dublin – Bloom – we have a scion of Central Europe, a survivor of the Nazi death squads, in New York in the sixties. Sammler, with his nobility and his bigotries, his rich interiority and his doubts of its worth in the face of what he knows from his horrendous exterior experience, transcends Bellow’s opinions and lives through Bellow’s real talent.
It is difficult to describe how a novel that is so opinionated is, at the same time, so free of its opinions. I am tempted to seize on Bakhtin’s idea of dialoguism as a sort of spar to save me from a sea of contradictions. It is, on the other hand, rather odd that the book can be described as dialogic when the text is so monologic – so centered on Sammler’s meditiations and description of the world of Manhattan. What dialogic means is that there is an interplay of points of view, and that this interplay is essential to these points of view – it is not accidental to them, they are not pre-formed before the interplay. This is harder to grasp in that my language seems to undercut me, insisting  on making the phrase “point of view” into something hard and isolate, a substance – rather than an aspect, an unfinished moment. But this is what makes a novel, or at least a novel that is still visibly connected to high modernism, work. And it is why Crouch, or Irving Howe (in his review of the book) or James Atlas (in his smarmy biography of Bellow) or maybe even, at times, Bellow himself are so mistaken to transpose Bellow and Sammler. This isn’t to say that Bellow doesn’t breath down his elderly deathsquad survivor’s neck – for instance, there is clearly a contradiction between Mr. Sammler’s often acute visual description of things and the fact that one of his eyes has been knocked out by a blow from a riflebutt in Poland in 1940. I can’t believe that Bellow didn’t experiment (as anybody would) by closing one eye and walking down the sidewalk, which would have at least given him a glimmer of the way in which a one-eyed man would see the world. Sometimes Sammler truly is one eyed, sometimes the fiction breaks down. And this is similarly true with the thoughts that are mulled in his rich interiority. One feels the engineering hand at certain points.     


encyclopedia of the second hand: trip

                            

  


     Self is watching as the girls, on the other side of the field, wheel into position before the targets that are set up with bales of straw backing them twenty paces downwind.  The girls carry bows and arrows, like a gross of Dianas.  Self wishes he were over there with them, they and their exercise seems to have a mythopoeic resonance which tag football (where he is stuck) will never have.  Tag football is a clumsy game that only two people on your team are good at (Wilbur Thomas and Tony James) and two people on the other team are good at. Wilbur is the quarterback.  At the signal Wilbur gets the ball and runs back and all the boys spread out  in a clumsy flower of cries and misdirections, except for Tony, who finds his pocket.  Tony catches the pass and runs ‑ or Norman intercepts it, who is one of the good ones on the other side. Although being tag ball you are supposed to pull the little cloth strips out of where they are wedged into the band of the gym shorts to stop the man with the ball, nobody bothers when Coach Sick isn't around. You all throw yourselves on each other in a general orgy of tackle, so that sometimes even when the ostensive goal of the game ‑ the crossing of the goal line by Tony or Norman or Wilbur or Jurgen ‑ is reached, nobody pays any attention,  busy as they are trying to drag one another down.
     Self is good at one thing, though.  Here it comes.  Down set


one two four hike hike hike.  The ball wobbles up to Wilbur.  Our tenuous formations, all the boys crouching, dissolve.  Now for the thing you are good at.  There is a deaf boy on the other team sometimes.  Sometimes not ‑ every other week he has some special class he attends at another school, so his appearance in gym class is irregular.  Along with his deafness his hormones early released.  At fourteen he weighs two hundred pounds.  Self's body is paltry by comparison.  Nobody could meet him head on, nobody has that terrifying Mongol much of chest arm neck and leg.  So self trips him.  He protects Wilbur by tripping him, which somehow he has a talent for.  It is a bold thing to do, but not really hard, since the deaf guy is pathetically unaware of anything except the thing he sets his mind on, as if he existed on one narrow reel of perception, about a half inch in width.  So self can just slip in and trip him. Wilbur says Street is the team tripper and pats him on the back.  That makes people laugh, because everybody knows that self and Mark get high after school or sometimes before school in the grove of pine trees behind the second field. The deaf boy has been sufficiently shaken up by self's success in tripping him that he has changed his mind about the point of the game.  For the deaf boy, the point, now, is to crush self.  When the ball snaps, he comes rushing at self and there ensues a chase, which sometimes goes on for a while if nobody attracts the deaf boy's attention.  Self will be hightailing it, god damn it god damn it somebody tell this ape to stop! Everybody laughs.  Even the girls know about it.
They've started to call him Tripper. Street the Tripper.
    
     You all are lined up outside the dressing area. Self wears two white socks with different colored stripes around the upper part of each.  People in the school ask him why, and he says he hates symmetry.  He says it in french: Je deteste la symmetrie.  He hopes that he is pronouncing that right. He wears a t shirt with a Led Zeppelin logo on the back which Coach Sick has told him not to wear.  He is supposed to wear his t shirt with the Gladstone Goats logo on the back.  He wears green, nylon shorts.  Coach Sick has just come in, and the noise you all make talking to each other dies down.  Tripper, Coach Sick says, you go and change.
     Can't Coach.  My other shirt is dirty.
     Durn it, son. Why are you so hardheaded?  One of these days I'm going to beat your meat. Tomorrow you better just have your shirt washed.  And I don't want any ifs ands or buts.


     Then Coach Sick reads outloud from a little notebook.  There is an undercurrent of hilarity in the room, because a joke is going on.  Before Coach Sick came in, Wilbur and Norman had stuffed the smallest kid in class, Mike, into one of the lockers, and told him not to make a sound.  Mike had struggled, but once they got his legs in the locker he'd gone limp.  He was resigned to being stuffed in the locker. The lockers line the wall, and the boys line up right in front of them.  Self happens to be in front of the locker Mike is locked in. Mike doesn't want to call out because of what Wilbur said, but he wants to make some sound. So he raps on the door of the locker, but not too loud. You swing your fist back and knock on the locker, too.  You cough.  Mike, growing a little desperate, says let me out.  In a whisper. You cough, Coach Sick looks up at you.
     Don't act up on me.  I'm just about to give you five laps.
     Sorry Coach.
     There are giggles.  Coach Sick looks at these boys. What is so funny?
     Nothing.
     Who asked you, Mr. Thomas?
     Nobody.
     Durn right nobody.
   Mr. Healy here Mr. A. James here Mr. T. James here Mr. Kirkbuzzer here Mr. Mowley Mowlaw Are you here here Mr. Nobbles here Mr. Olbey yo. 
     Coach Sick finally reaches Mike's name.  Mike Skovisich.  He
always mispronounces it.  Michael Skrochits, he says.
     Here.  The voice comes out all echoey.  You cough, but you can't cover it up.


     Coach Sick looks up. We all laugh, and then his face instantly puts the stop to that laugh, which we all knew it would. His face is all puffy, like an unmade bed someone feverish has been sleeping in.  His eyes are squeezed up and reddish, and his lips are chapped. He wears a baseball cap pulled down low on his forehead. Now he pulls it off and wipes his hair back with his arm. I told you boys once. He puts the cap back on, as low as the first time. Now I mean it.  You can't be locking durn Mike in the durn lockers, like I told you and told you.  Now that is ten laps, and I mean now, and I'd like to catch the boy that tries to cheat me on a lap. I'd surely like to beat that boy's meat. Christ, now, Tripper let that boy out of the durn locker before I have to come over there!  



     So there self is, his knees drawn up. He's wearing a Dylan t shirt, the one that shows Dylan’s profile like he looked when he did Blond on Blond. Except on the shirt he’s purple. Self is trying to not-comb his hair to look like that. Self’s shorts are still regulation nylon gym shorts, green trimmed with gold. He's leaning back against the cold tile of one of the walls of this room, looking on as Coach Wurtemburg, using Albert and Tony as models, explains wrestling grips. He says headlock and Albert about wrenches Tony's head off, he says flip and they are both all over the mattress, wiggling one over the other like two newly caught fish in the bottom of a boat. Coach Wurtemburg is caught between explaining and looking around at you all and trying to keep track of Albert and Tony.  He looks down at them, goes hey, putting his hands on Albert’s shoulders, who at the moment is struggling not to be pinned.  Somebody says in a fake deep voice take it easy son and Coach Wurtemburg looks up and says Mike, you are about this far

Mike’s father has a shop in the Memorial Cherokee Shopping Center, located on Memorial Drive, about a mile from Gladstone High if you cut over the field in back of Cherry. It wasn’t a very intense shopping center.  It has a drycleaner, a barber, a used book store, a shoe repair place, Mike’s father’s shop, a crafts store, and a Chinese restaurant.  The Chinese restaurant exudes a horrible smell every once in a while, an odor of barbecue sauce and rancid grease. The smell crept into other of the shops.  Self, for a while, had a job working Saturdays for the lady who owns the used book shop.  The smell was the worst thing about the job, because if the Chinese restaurant smell wasn’t bad enough, there was the smell of the old musty paperbacks, and when the two would get together in the afternoons it was sickening. They cook rats over there, self says to customers, and some of them laugh. The smell would hang doggedly on self’s clothes after he left work. 
     Mike’s father is a painting contractor.  His shop is just an office and a backroom.  The office is inhabited in the afternoons and on Saturdays by Mike’s sister, Lorrie, reading intensely, with
a frown on her pale, blotched face, behind a desk.  Sometimes she would come into the bookstore on the day self worked with a dozen


paperbacks in an old, torn shopping bag, and trade them in for three romance novels by Viola Trefoils. Viola had written two hundred twenty, and Lorrie was up to number twenty‑five.  Self would say how’s Mike and Lorrie would say he’s still a stinking brat. Then she’d  put down her dollar and put her books back in the grocery sack.  It was the same grocery sack every time.
     The back of Mike’s father’s shop is a space where he kept equipment.  His guys would come in and get equipment and check in on the time clock.  Sometimes they would venture into the front office, to find out how far Lorrie had gotten with Viola Trefoils, and she would tell them this is my twentieth one or whatever the number was without even looking up from the book.
    



     The parking lot in back of Mike’s father’s shop isn’t paved.  They put a lot of broken rock in back there instead, and use has eroded long ugly reddish swatches in that.  There are puddles of water here and there, from this afternoon’s rain, still not evaporated by midnight. There is a faint winy smell of paint back here.  Paint cans are piled up near the shops back door, and one of the cans is open. There is also a smell of honeysuckle. There is a copse of pines, little seedy pines and weeds, behind the driveway.  That is where the honeysuckle is growing, and kudzu, and poison ivy, and beggar’s lice. There is a lot of rusted barbed wire strewn around back there too.  That was dumped back there maybe even before the shopping center was built.  There are three vans parked in the parking lot tonight.  Everything is big and silent under the big moon.  You all approach the vans like three pedlars, your packs on your backs. Two of the vans have signs on them: The Big S Painting Company.  S for Skovisich.  The other van is a white, year old Econoline as yet unmarked by any insignia.  The sign is on order, Mike says.  You feel a whole lot better about that, because if it was on the thing you knew you’d  have a time persuading Mike that you all had to take it off.  He’d  cry about vandalism and how his Dad was going to kill him.  But the Georgia licence as it is might well attract some dubious attention from the pigs, and a sign advertising a dumb paint company from Stone Mountain Georgia, accompanied by three underaged boys claiming to be all of them Skrotchits was going to be definitely uncool in the general scheme of things in Mississippi and Texas.
     Mike takes the key out of his pocket and unlocks the door.  He opens it, and the light inside there clicks on. .
     Mike, hurry it.
     I’m hurrying. Piss off.
     Mike goes behind the seat, into the back part, and unlocks the sliding side doors.



     Wake up.  You re drooling, you pig, you got your fucking mouth open, look at this, look at  this, a fly’s going to get... Cut it out! I just wanted ‑ What?  I said, I wanted to show you something.  What?  Look at that.  See that, man.  Fucking dawn, man.  Son, we


call it the mystic hour around these parts.  Fuck, what is it?  You can call it dawn, though, if you want to.  What is with you, man, do you... Somebody is going to, hey, no, don’t, somebody is going to have to take over pretty soon,  like I can’t drive too much further, hey, let’s not listen to music now!  It’s too early.  Somebody, please Trip, like take over, I am fucking... Shit.  How long have you been driving anyway.  Here comes the sun.  Since that place we got the gas at, hey.  Where you got those beaver mags?  Here comes the sun.  Hey, that’s not...Mike  wants to go in the back and make it with Rosy Palm and her five finger... Don’t take it out!  That’s not how here comes the sun goes.  Sorry,  but I am not fucking listening to Neil fucking Young again for a while.  I mean, God.  But how about that on the road, like, mystique, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, I mean America.  The vast and siren spaces, man.  Siren my ass, I am fucking tired of it, too early.  How early is it? Is somebody listening to me, serious, I like got to go... When are we going to eat?  What do you want me to do, run into a truck?  Goddamn! Who did it, Wilbur you did it, you did it Trip, shit. Whoa, roll, no!  It is too cold!  What?  Roll it up! You motherfucker.  At least it woke you up.  I am not lying, it is like, like the road is sort of swelling.  What have you been tripping on?  I want some of that, no seriously.  Okay, next stop, let’s... How about that one, great.  Love the Big Boy, greasy stuff.  Your turds after this stuff come out like butter.  Has anybody ever told you you are one unappetizing, I mean this is still what?  Six thirty? You all take the cake, this is my van God


damn.  Did you hear that?  Did you, this is his van?  We all stole this van honestly, like pioneers.  Theft is the backbone of this country.  You all... Next time I’m going to run away with some girls.  Yeah, purely bitches.  Me and a pretty pair, now that will be nice.  Who’d you take?  Let’s sit over there, in the booth.  Good, now I am going to chow. Down, boys, get in there.  I’ll have some pancakes, ma am.  Coffee.  Gah, I need some coffee.  This one, here, yeah, with the bacon, please.  I’ll have the Daniel Boone special, coffee for me too.  I’d  like to add milk to that.  Get you some milk, Mike.  I’d  take Waylann.  Cindy.  Which Cindy?  Marstone, not Tryweir, no way.  I just, that bitch talks like all the time.  Man, I would take Tryweir, she is, I been out with her... Ah, that looks great ma am. Yeah, we are all like on a trip?  and we are all like going to this like special Bible Study camp? on account of we were voted most likely by our class? We all had to do sermons, see.  It is a special program at our school.  Like he’s going to be a preacher, it’s a program called Young Preachers of America...  The Viola Trefoils Bible Studies Camp, it’s near Biloxi.  I guess most teens today, what with sin and all, yeah, they wouldn’t be trusted out like this by their parents, but we’ve like all been voted most responsible in our school... And God Bless you, ma’am, tell her Mike, yeah, God, yeah... Damn it, stop kicking me!  Hey, what, you think she, of course, man, now just calm down boys, future preachers... Hey, you know I bet everybody is fucking stunned at school. Maybe I ought to try the card?  No, not yet, you don’t have the balls is your problem.  My Dad’s definitely stunned, gonna stun me, gonna stun your behind son, when you get home.  Hey, ma’am, it sure was good, we want you to know, we pray every day, don’t you pray every, Mike?  Oh, he is a little tetchy today, going out to the... Well I’ll pay out of this twenty, okay... Wilbur, let’s...My Dad’s stunned too, but they stun you when you’re at the breakfast table, they stun you, when you’re good and able, everybody must get stunned, I’ll drive, pussy, go on back there, okay, keep down, come on, fuck, let me at least get an hour of sleep, no more, hey, stop it, stop it, stop fucking with me Wilbur...



The mouth, your mouth.  It is another of those things which you carry on your face to direct you, orient you.  You carry your eyes, you look, you look to be looked at, and you carry your nose, which sniffs out puzzling tracks, scripts of an, an... ancient and buried existence, ne jamais retrouvĂ©, never like refound, which once, perhaps, dominated your kind. 
Your kind?  she says.  She gives you a stare.  What kind are we talking about?  She giggles.
The nose, you continue, your voice with that fine, slightly stoned quality, the words having such flow, such  liquid and pure enjambment, just keep talking, is a monument to a tyranny once so universal that it is amazing that it was ever overthrown, even for this brief grace period. Your arms spread, let’s call it human history. Let’s, she says.  And you know that can’t last. The eye has a tendency to overburden itself, the eye is a freaking workaholic.  Now the antenna will last forever, but the works of the eye, saying this in a sort of Vincent Price way, are doomed, baby.
She laughs and laughs.



Self sits near a little pool.  A lot of brownish scum floats on the surface of the pool, bumping lazily into water lilly pads.  Small turtles are swimming through the water and perched on the pads and crawling - with that oddly jerky, oaring ambulation  so reminiscent of wind up toys expressing a movement unspooled by a metal spring - around on the gravel and rocks that circled the pool.  The little legs of the turtles surging through the water in measured strokes fascinate self. The flesh of these turtles is a very vivid shamrock green.  Their turds are the same color almost.  Self remarks on this.  I am sure glad my shit is a different color than my skin, he says.
Look at this, man.
He looks.  There is a turtle perched on a rock next to Julia’s foot.  It has its neck craned out.  There’s a red spot on that ropy green neck.  It keeps pulsing.
Self’s look slides unsteadily off the turtle. It moves onto Julia’s foot, a bit of cinema here. Well, everything feels movie-like tonight.   Julia is tanned down almost to the little fjords between her toes.  Self can see a hint of pallor there, just a hint.  Her toes are painted red.  Her leg is bare up to her knee (self’s  look traces it) and bare down to her gym shorts (self’s look plunges down along the line of it). She is wearing black gym shorts, and self’s look pulls up there.
Self has on the same kind of gym shorts.  Black, with a white stripe. Julia had given him the gym shorts.  They’d met, at Wilbur’s friend Bea’s house.  Bea shared the house with Julia.  Julia had said, do you want some shorts?
Bea laughed, and Julia explained that they’d kicked out a roommate and were dividing up the stuff she’d left behind.  She’d left a lot behind.  Actually, it wasn’t clear if it was left behind or if she was going to come back to get it.  But the attitude today is fuck her. Self says sure, he is always into free stuff.


That had been around twelve noon.  Since then self had fainted twice.   They’d all taken some mushrooms.  Then he’d been with Bea and Wilbur and Julia walking around the University campus, and that whole area. Austin, first time self has seen it.  Hard to believe we actually made it here, self keeps thinking. Mike had gone off somewhere.  At some point Wilbur told self that Mike said he was going back to Atlanta. Self had thought gosh, he’s got all my stuff! But later on (at some point) self thought, well, I bet he isn’t really going to go back to Atlanta, I bet when we get back he’ll be in the van, asleep. Mike, self thought, shouldn’t have come with Wilbur and me.  He’s miserable.
Self looks up.  There is a big tower with a clock on it looming in the sky when he looks up.
Julia has been telling stories for a long time, mostly about her mother, who went crazy when Julia was six.  Once she went to see her and her mother and this other inmate at this asylum got into a fistfight.  Other people have been talking too, we’d wandered through a party, met some pseudobikers, but self is glued to what Julia has to say, that’s what he’s been following. Julia and self have definitely bonded tonight. Bea and Wilbur said goodby a while ago, people keep drifting into and out of self’s field of interest, and self gets lost listening to Julia’s voice, sometimes submerged in what she is saying, sometimes suddenly losing the thread, finding himself in odd places.  Like this pool, where’d the pool come from?




Julia talks and talks.  Over her succulent tongue the ghosts tumble, leaving ghostly treads, bends and shivers on the pink flesh.  They come out and out.  They don’t come from the brain, Julia says.  She gets into this.  The problem with science.  She knows all about it.  The problem is that we get all our pictures from bullshit like biology books, but reality is poetic, Street.  Don’t you think?  She talks, and out of her words mass like inexplicable omens.  Words come out like stars in the night sky, glorious and sinister, emblems of fate.  Words come out like the wind blowing leaves around aimlessly.  Words come out like little panes of transparent glass, shook off high buildings and falling through the air, words come out like a host of invisible men.  Words come out like bubbles, like froth.  Words come out like demons, or they come out like blubber.  The mouth opens, there are teeth there, and the black cavern goes back and about there is where the words start from. The mouth closes, the lips hop, the mouth opens.  Like eating in reverse.  The cheeks puff out, slightly, and pull in, slightly. Her cheekbones are just visible, the fine cut of her eyes, and then her profile falls back into  shadow.  The head wags a little bit, her hair is long and aubergine where she is sitting, and then when they get up and walk, under a streetlamp’s random light, the hair is shot through with auburn, a few startlingly red strands.  Words wind away. Self interrupts, but why? He falls silent again. Julia’s words wind away, pilgrims, to another cul de sac.   Your ears. But how about her ears? Her two ears, two perfect whirls.  The cilia in that wind, the little hammer and tongs, vaguely conceived from a picture in a child’s encyclopedia.  Arm and Hammer. And then up to the brain.  Troops of dark impulses.  Does she hear herself, is she self-entranced?  Self is self-entranced, he walks within a little circle of his own light, self-light. Julia says that when she writes poems she always thinks about how words do things. And how every time it is magic, every dog that comes to Spot is enchanted, every time you order from a menu man you are doing sorcery man. She laughs at her own words.
But no, self says.  I can see that, too. I’d love to see your poems.


Dad yelled, Mom cried.  The usual.
Are you going to have to go to some juvenile delinquent place?




Sitting on the hot concrete, leaning against the wire of the high fence. Wires that intertwine, a running blazon of diamond shapes with rounded angles.  His back presses against the fence, he shifts, moving his shoulder blades, looking for a comfortable posture.  He is wearing black gym shorts with a white stripe, and a Willy Nelson t shirt. There is a wooden racket next to where he sits. The head of it wears a heavy wooden brace, firmly screwed into place with wing nuts, to prevent the wood from warping.  The brown leather wrap around the handle is sticky.  Self’s hands are sticky.  Self’s legs are red.  Red from sunburn.  The afternoon burns away in a sky that is all ladled azure, maybe one faroff flaw of white on the far horizon. Jurgen, who sits next to him, is hot and sweaty and a little red.  Nothing compared to what self knows his face must look like, that gets so red when he exerts himself. And it is hot, too. His face is emitting heat like a furnace. He has a plastic bottle half full of water.  The other half he has poured over his head.  Now he takes a sip of the water left in the bottle. Right on the court beyond his knees and the thin, slanting band of shadow thrown by the fence a chubby boy is playing tennis with a darkhaired boy, they zigzag around on the court, neither one is coming down to the forecourt, territory of which they are both manifestly wary.  The chubby boy represents Gladstone.  Coach Goddard had told Trip that he could go out and watch the team and practice with them, but that because he was suspended from extra-curricular activities he couldn’t play against Tower. The chubby boy, Bill Timmer, isn't, self thinks, as good as me.  Although self, who has their mutual win loss column counted up in his head, knows that his superiority to Bill consists in the rather ineffable factor of grace.  Self considers that his service, his returns, his backhand are all done with a certain panache.  Bill's clumsiness is, indeed, efficient, but it is rather painful to watch. At this moment Bill goes barrelling for a ball, his chubby legs flying, and just gets there in time, turning his whole body around with the force of his return. Bill's play, as usual, is full of these last minute returns.  That is because he lags behind his opponent, he continually gets into a position where his opponent is running him around on the court. Luckily for Bill, he doesn't play many people who have the wherewithal to take advantage of that lag.  The dark haired boy, who represents Tower, slokes a slow return down the alley line, and Bill, who is right there, returns it with a good cross court stroke.  Bill was lucky with that one, self says. The dark haired boy serves again, making a great unclogging noise, and Bill returns.  The dark haired boy hits a long, looping pop.  Bill runs to the far line.  He stands erect, his racket high.  It is like he is getting ready to swat a nervous fly with a flyswatter.  Both Bill and the dark haired boy watch the ball hit and bounce. Bill releases his racket.  He hits the ball with the wood, and sends it on a wild flight over the fence into a bank of grass.
Hey, this isn't golf, self yells.
A back and forth of middle court shots.  Pock of the ball again and again.  Attrition tennis.  The different pocks of the ball hitting the concrete and the ball hitting the tennis racket strings.  Risk a few killer shots, self thinks.  Risk, Goddamn.
There are eight courts in this complex, and on the three courts over there is another game in progress.  Self thinks, it looks like we are biting it.  Self glances over to the other game to see how Gladstone is doing, but he can't tell from the play. He thinks, well, I don't really care.  I just want the sky to look like this, I just want to sit here soaked and tired like this, I want to listent to the balls pocking, and the squeak of the rubber soles of the tennis shoes sliding, the difficult friction of a run and a stop, I just want it all to happen.
I don't know.  Everybody keeps yelling at me, telling me I fucked up.  But I didn't fuck up.  I didn't fuck up.


           







Sunday, March 23, 2014

encyclopedia of the second hand: payne

            Payne



The first time self met Payne was ‑ as Payne himself so recently reminded him at Dad's funeral, Henry looking unbelievably aged tottering on the edge of the pit they dug for Dad, a shambling old man penalized by the sagging muscles all that lifetime of ape's work had put on his frame, Payne at his side no longer the spotty twenty year old of memory's automatic evocation but a thick necked, swank looking - yes, swank, a word Dad might have used, a big band era word but just right to describe the slightly bogus odor of Payne's virility - almost forty year old success, a made man, with a dark suit and the spicy smell of a male cologne mixing with the good bean soup smell of his sweat on the humid May air, a black flower pinned to his lapel, nice touch, self shaking hands with him almost swimming in the warmth exuded from his broad, tanned, moist face, hot out here ain't it, you all ought to visit me down there in Miami, heck, after this, bring your wife, to Julia, you haven't even met mine yet, Cindy, self is your newest one, and Payne is I'm a little rock off the old Gibraltar when it comes to women, poking his father, maybe falling into schtick, a bit, wonder if he really talks like that, but I have something more important in my life right now than the party life,  to Julia going Cindy couldn't believe that you were the Julia Labreton, I have a little girl that surely idolizes you, they would love it if you folks came down ‑ was, was when, was at fifteen, self visiting Uncle Henry for two months, July and August.  In Shreveport.  To work for him, that was the deal, self having come up with this idea himself.  Break away from being stoned all the time, it was starting to get depressing, all him and Mark ever talked about any more.  Self is into transforming reality, but he was starting to long long long for just a little of that reality to work with. Yesterday gets foggy, the day before gets even foggier, soon you don't know if it has been raining all week, it sure does feel like it. Of course he didn't mention this aspect of the case to Mom and Dad, who remained officially unaware of their son's chemical tinkering with his brain cells; who were, in fact, a little afraid to make the fact finding foray into his room, there in the basement, or to ask about his disconnection, his tranced distance from them, dinner after dinner.  By the time Payne is reminding him of that summer self has ordained an official image of this time, an image of morbid inwardness, son of the Fall of the House of Usher (the Roger Corman version) without the horse to gallop around on,  he likes to give people a rather exaggerated picture of dosages, of himself and Mark sitting around like Gladstone's only hippie underground, he likes to dwell on the vandalism among the synapses, oh that dopamine cowboy, there he is, yucking it up deep in the pleasure center. People who know self eventually end up knowing this shit, making jokes, snide comments, his students for instance, he must tell them, but he has been shocked at least once, years before, that there is another  at least version of himself, Mom's to Julia's, her telling Julia in the kitchen (self supposedly watching the football game with Dad and Brian in the living room but no, folks, really standing in the doorway, or not exactly in it so you could see him, the old urge to sneak around kicking in whenever he came home) listening to the women talking, Mom and Julia and Dita, self always has a feeling about the women talking, like he's set on cracking that code, and Mom creating a fabulously normal self, so talkative at the dinner table, his school day, his homework on the business desk moved downstairs from Dad's office upstairs, his dates, the time he insisted on going out and working for Uncle Henry one summer, toughening himelf up for, check this out, the soccer team next fall, Mom having not a clue what a nest of pot and acid heads that soccer team really was, I mean who else plays soccer in high school in Georgia! His life, out of Mom's mouth, horribly touched by some tv oriented narrative, his rebellion cheapened, wasn't it rebellion? He would have burst in and pointed out his Luciferian sincerity, but he was afraid that they would all laugh at him. Briefly, his image of his teen‑hood was dissolved, and in its place he saw an other self, a hypothetical self fitting neatly into all the exterior points of his biography.  He still, back then, standing silently just out of their sight, didn't have the distance. Now of course distance was no problem. He had distance in spades. Oddly enough, this particular moment, with its slight tinge of inexplicable humiliation, carries him back to the pure claustrophobia of fifteen, to the feeling of being glued to his high school and the streets of his subdivision after dark ‑ a subdivision now a little the worse for wear, Dad at the table predicting in ten years time it will all be black, miles from Mom and Dad's new, two acre estate, as Dad calls it half jokingly  ‑ to the comic book pathos of thinking that the whole thing was some sort of conspiracy of diminishment.  The limits of his world adhered to his very skin, as though they were made of flypaper.
     One of the great things about being stoned with Mark was that then, they didn't.










     So he hightails it, this is how he would tell it most of the time, to Louisiana, (who has he told this to?) years later, (nobody, hasn't told it in years) the day after the funeral in fact, (or thought of it in years) Payne saying you were one skinny mother weren't you, shaking his head, well those were the days, you seem to have fallen into eating habits, reaching over with one large, tanned hand and laying it on self's belly, as softly as if self were pregnant, self noticing this  the thick, gold plated ring on one hairy finger, the wedding band on the other, this man, can't get over him, and also  Payne accomplishing this gesture, imagine self sober with the tactile boldness, now, to reach out like that, violate someones territory almost wilfully, is this what being a saleman does for you, with such endearing gentleness self was having a hard time focusing on the way that story should go,  getting one Payne from back in 1975, a gauche, sometimes violent boy he'd had a fight with the last week he worked with him, together with this man from 1992. The latter Payne was, after three days, beginning to seem alarmingly natural, the old Payne, or rather the younger Payne, older than this older version, (making, oh it hurts, the younger self only older, the age the older self carries with him having this increasingly hideous young face which the older self doesn't see, every morning, in the mirror) fading into its lineaments like some illness he'd once had, an illness that self had had to witness, both of them like revenants from some wilderness outpost met years later. Except he is not getting that vibe at all from Payne.  So self has been thinking, okay, one more time, maybe this man has actually been transformed, maybe the twenty year old he was was a mistake, hasn't self himself said, like it was his credo, there is no core to your being, said this to students, to other artists, to everyone, there's only some shapeshifting emptiness, echo or psyche ... Maybe the mistake is the way self was perceiving things, ever think of that? anything is possible now that Dad is dead, he thinks, so it is the night before Payne is going to go, self says buddy, (all of them sitting out there on the porch, Mom looking up from the 'thank you so much for your thoughts in this time of grief', giving self a sharp glance over her glasses) how about you and me going out for a drink.  Which Payne accepted with alacrity, sure cousin, somewhat surprising self. I'm getting a little itchy, let's do it. The man is dying to go out on the town, of course! is self's thought, climbing into his Infinity, man you must be something in sales down there, Bo (exaggerating his Southern voice, a habit he keeps falling into with Payne), this baby must cost, and Payne is boy, reversing like a heart attack up the driveway and into the street, self finding himself flailing with seat belt, I'm a dealer, I have a deal with another dealer, he's Japanese, I'm van, we cross-pollinate, forward so self braces himself in the zero to sixty, hey this is a neighborhood street, Bro, and that means I get to tool one around, it all comes out as business expense, taxes you know, let the government pay for it. Payne pronounces it gov'mint. In the back of his mind as they head south into the part of the metro area self is still familiar with it's  I've found him now, that spotty boy isn't dead, that pussy hound, still sure as shit driving like the redneck I used to know, I got him! as if this was some immense victory, and he thinks I'll just watch, now, knowing that he is falling into a delusion he has experienced quite a bit, recently, that he can watch people and the force of that watching, the power of it, will force them to materialize out of the tomb of appearance they lug around, the real spirit haunting the tomb work of everyday life, ectoplasmic, blue, a wierd flicker in the air around it, climbing with immense effort out of the waylaying bandages, the cerements and ceremonies, will manifest itself, oh, not in any major change, you have to have the tracking eye for it, you have to know what signifies, here,  in changes that are subtle, changes of voice, the glance out of the side of the eye, a sudden burst of out of context phrases, which self with his special gift will simply receive, tuned to this frequency, his non-intervening, thin smile plastered to his face. The spirit knows it is being ouijied out of there, and it doesn't like it. Now self knows knows that this delusion is like the one he has that he is the upside down man, a phrase he came up with years ago that haunts him, his variation on the underground man, he'll be walking along normally, la de da,  and suddenly he'll think I'm the upside down man and... Well, and. Things do seem to change, he has visions and strangers come up to him in coffee houses and get intimate, sometimes electricity leaks out of his fingers and he does his best work but he also knows that, duh, things are naturally going to seem to change when you are out of wack. His big fear right now is being out of wack, wrong time for that, Mom needs, needs... something, comfort, love, he's called upon. Plus the dreadful funeral, Aunt May staring at him under the gray mass of her foul fiend hair like he was still the unforgiveable twenty-five year old, Jan avoiding him, Julia having toubles with Aunt Lane, poor thing'd gone senile, her teeth kept getting lost, not that it bothered her a bit, big smile to frighten the neighbor's kids, wandering around asking where Jack was, why isn't Jack here? And through all this he is feeling a certain palpable cry coming out from Mom, one of those batzone cries that women emit, you are around them and suddenly aware of something in your larger sense of hearing, some pang of abandonment. Unbearable to think that he was in no position to do anything for her. Although face it, it wasn't only for her, he's trying to understand, since the man whose seed he comes from is dead, just what his life amounts to as a total thing. To read it in his acts, and not imply its richness from his mere responses, from the complex entertainments of his sensibility, fuck his sensibility, there are times he hates his sensibility, he entertains himself all to much. A real masturbator, this guy, self.  Come up with it, he keeps telling himself. A belief, some use to others. To an other. To one separate other.  Afraid he can't. So Payne is something of a diversion. Still, self is curious, and he wants to check out whether Payne has really changed that much. Afterwards he'll figure out if that is a good thing or not. So he guides Payne to a  small Country and Western inclined bar on Memorial he'd been to with Chuck Forsyth last time he'd been in Atlanta, he was wondering if Payne would start hinting around about going out to the Gold Club, Cheetah's, some tittie bar. At the same time he is uncomfortable, why slander the guy, you don't know anything about him, where do you get this attitude from? A good question, but there's no time to go into it. Not with Payne  sitting across from him at a table, telling self how Cindy helped him find the Lord, making self groan, no, the same story for three days running, can't be. Finally self has to tell him I'm suffering from cognitive dissonance, here, just bear with me, puts both hands up and grabs his hair, you are telling me you are not only a Jehovah's Witness, which I respect because of your wife, she's one and you want to make her happy, I understand that, but that you are happy being one, that here you are in Atlanta away from her, Atlanta, Payne, tittie bar heaven, Payne, remember Bossier City, and you are telling me, Bo (he keeps up with the Southern crap, Bo and Buddy and Budro, where is it coming from?) all you want is to get back and go to these whatever you call them, religious orgies. Payne nods, smiling at the idea of them as religious orgies, already ‑ it has only been three days ‑ putting down self's manner of speech as one of those quirks you find at family reunions ‑ like Cousin Buster the thirty year old bedwetter, or Aunt Verna, the child severely poked who asks, Aunt Verna, why do you have a  beard ‑ and altogether acting as though his religion were a major accomplishment, as though after self saw him last he'd gone on to become something as rare and admired as an astronaut, and he was letting it out modestly in order not to hurt self's inferrable sense of the comparative modesty of his accomplishments so far. Payne, in fact, come to think of it, has been exerting this certain competitiveness since he's been up here, although he lets it out in such mild doses that it is hard for self to confront, especially given that he is at the same time trying to comprehend Dad's death. Self is finding himself, lately, pointing out his own accomplishments, in a really adolescent way, too, dropping the fact that he'd been featured in various art mags, he'd been in fact only three years ago on the cover of Art + Party, one of those eighties art mags in the big newspaper format which Payne doesn't need to know is now defunct, had even found the old copy in Mom's ceramic room, waving it around, Payne just as pleased, self looking out that Julia doesn't come in upon them, can imagine her withering remarks, you are showing him that bogus article? No, unfair, he's simply being paranoid, he always gets a case of  Oedipal petulance when he's in his folks new house, which he always thinks of as new even though they moved from Gladstone maybe ten years ago, the new is that it is simply not the house he grew up in. It was just that the joke about Street being a painter (what do you charge per room?) was wearing a little thin, Julia said I thought it was funny, Street, he really did think housepainter, self not so sure and also what is this with Julia's patience for this bozo, not bozo, but he would have thought she might have at least some sarcasm to direct at his let's say less than educated comments about a few things, and also he was simply surprised that Mom was making so much of Payne, I mean he was used to being in Julia's shadow, but Payne? I mean Payne is what, some fucking car salesman, Julia goes not cars, vans, customized vans, well I don't call that star quality, and his thing about Cindy, are we supposed to get down on our hands and knees, like she's the fucking Madonna, he's just catching us up on him Mom says, to lesser bitching, but okay.  Okay, self goes, I'm mature, I can take this, Dad's dead and I'm worried about this? So he's making the effort, but finally he has to ask, what are you doing with this, then, self says, holding up Payne's drink, or is your church less strict on drinking. Oh, Payne says, it is one of the failings of the flesh but it isn't a major thing, Cindy drinks, saying Cindy as though she embodied the soul's ascent, I mean when we go out, never around the child, there are people who from the meetings who drink, sometimes, it is just a matter of enjoying wisely. To tell you the truth, I'd rather not. I used to love the stuff, but now the taste palls on my tongue. I'll tell you another thing, I would love to get Daddy and Ma to move down to Florida partly cause I think I could get him straight about, you know, his beering  himself up, I know what he thinks, he thinks beer ain't alcohol, always says it is just beer.  That is the way it goes with addicts, Street, (what, has Julia been talking to him?) it is killing both them,(what kind of look was that, I'm like Henry?) and I would never touch a drop again if my prayer is answered there. But you know Daddy, he is stubborn, he still thinks he's twenty, he thinks he's a rodeo star, he thinks he is still out there with Patton. We feel, you and Cindy self interrupts, right, we feel that he should have a community around him at his age,  there is his grandchild, there are good people, retired people, we know, wonderful people his age come to the meetings, don't you think that it is never too late to change?  I mean I do, I am convinced a man can be reborn at any moment in his life, don't matter if he is ninety. I tell you what, if it was anyone but me suggesting it he'd be down there now, like a shot, I mean what is there to do in that state he is living in, you know that economy has gone to Hades in a handbasket there, but he is such a  proud eagle. I'm not putting him down for a second, he raised me and that was damned hard business, I know it.  I respect him more than any man, I want to do as much for my Teesha.  So I probably won't be giving up drink for his sake in the near future, unless there is a miracle. Even then, thing is, I might just drink then for his sake, so he doesn't feel I'm giving up anything.  But maybe I'll give it up for my sake, and then, you know what, crossing his arms across his chest,  when I do, you'll ask me why I am such a prude. You can't please the world. I've learned that one.  I've tasted, I guess you could say, something sweeter than wine.
     Self sits there, listens, tells Julia later, after Julia told him that Mom was a lot more depressed than she was letting on, self knowing that and not liking the way Julia was saying it as though self should be doing something, that he was scrambling for his memories of that summer  when he went to Shreveport listening to Payne talking, it about drove him crazy.
     I think Payne is very nice, says Julia, as if self was saying anything against him. Honey, I am astonished that that is Payne, I think maybe Payne is dead in a ditch and this guy, who looks just like him, has taken his place or something. It is one of those crossed destinies things, two men who look just alike, Nabokov has some story like that.




     But Julia was going to sleep, making that hmm, mm sound to self's remarks which was the giveaway, leaving self to sort out that summer on his lonesome, living in Henry's house.  What a house. The house had been built the year before self saw it, and the lot it was on, the acre, was still dirt and weeds and clutter, a pile of bricks here, lumber there, a heap of tarpaper and shingles over there, Henry not having bothered to even make a show of caring about a lawn, so that every time it rained, and it rained almost every day that humid summer, not a lot but punctually around three o'clock in the afternoon, the water carried soil out of the yard into the road, leaving a red stain in the road in front of the house and ruts in the yard a half a foot deep. This didn't really make Henry an eccentric, though, the guy in the neighborhood who is, for  obscure reasons of his own, trying to run down property values, as the road the house was on was a rather odd offshoot of a road that ran through the pine woods outside of Shreveport in the direction of Longview, Texas, and the other four houses just never jelled, in all that waste country, as a suburb - they had that frontier feeling of maybe this is a mistake, that lassitude as to appearances, even down to what people wore, guys in what had to be boxer shorts washing the car, women wearing nightgowns or two piece bathing suits at three o'clock in the afternoon, coming out to check the mail, and so none of the lawns of the houses would have passed muster in Gladstone, Georgia, even the ones that did have grass. The house, Henry's house, was made of pink bricks. It was, self thought, extraordinarily elongated.  This impression of it being longer than normal along one axis was caused perhaps by it being a single level house, and so the line of it being unrelieved by any feeling of volume or of height. Inside you immediately saw that it divided into two wings; a division not so much of architecture as of spirit, as though the very daydreams of the inhabitants of the house left a material aura and odor in the rooms of their conceiving.  One wing was Aileen's and Henry's, and this consisted of their bedroom, the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and a laundry room/tool room, all done up in patriotic motifs. Like the wall paper, which showed a pattern of American flags from every period, the round thirteen stars from the Revolutionary times to the forty-eight stars of the fifties and the fifty stars of today; there were, in addition, pictures of the presidents on the wall in the kitchen and living room, and a picture of General Patton up in their bedroom, over their bed, no less, where he presided over Henry and Aileen's own battle of the Bulge, when they were in the mood - a joke, self thought of it and thought of sharing it with someone, but there wasn't anyone. There was also a sword and a fake blunderbuss in glass and oak cases mounted on the wall in the living room behind the sofa. Self had the impression that Henry must be a veteran from World War II, the house said veteran, somehow, and so when he discovered two years later that during that time Henry was in Las Vegas, that he was in prison - that he hadn't been, as he had vaguely supposed, drafted - then it clicked that the veteran's air around Henry, that heavy silence which seemed to fall inexorably over things in his presence, the very walk of the man and the way he forked his food and the way he swallowed his drink was, really, about the discipline of confinement. Okay, he thought, that's it, the thing about Henry, the menace about him, he remembered thinking this rather sadly that night with Payne, he would have liked to have talked about it, to have been eloquent, very Southern, very much lets have two more bourbons, to have been your Daddy, Payne, Payne in this scenario a little cruder than he was, a little more pompous, from that summer I took away an impression of  Henry that has, as the years have gone by and I have context to put it in, only crystallized, well you know I presume that your Daddy was in prison? Payne of course starts to splutter, that's a damn lie and you're a damn liar (yes, it would be like one of those Tennesse Williams plays they used to make into movies in the fifties and always had Paul Newman star in, here self would be, not only on one level being mean to Payne, sure, he was being mean, but trying to break through the tangle of silence, that tangle like... like Spanish moss, silence gone heavy and gray and breaking the, well the tree of life, no, the family tree, no, the Spanish moss is supposed to hint at how Southern the silence is, put an accent on it) ... you should know, Payne, both of them standing up at the table, staring into each others eyes, in this scene there's a sudden quiet, only his voice, Payne's heavy breathing, the detached click of one billiard ball knocking into another, the players motionless with their cuesticks at arms, everyone stariing, I'm sorry I have to tell you, no, cut, cut, wrong movie, what he wants really is just to say son, you remember that time in Bossier, that place, what was it, "The Fancy H"? To which Payne will say, suddenly smiling, yeah, cousin. But he is the thing people don't know about vans... and self is, oh, and, oh, really.   Self just felt it back then, there he is fifteen in this strange house, this strangers' house, he was being instinctual, but now he could be discursive, now, looking back, he could understand why he'd be in the house with Payne and he'd hear the front door slam and know that Henry had come into the house and feel, suddenly, this pall of silence creep over everything, as if Henry were some violent mute come to bode no good. And, actually, Henry wasn't like that, he simply didn't talk much, but if anything, he was indulgent with Payne. Self had witnessed working out there with Henry that when he had something to say, he'd say it. If he thought someone was fucking off, he'd ball them out and they'd stay balled out until they did it right.  Finally, in this wing of the house, there was a room that was off of the kitchen, a raw space, only sheetrocked, where Aileen had her washer and dryer and a large freezer in which she kept meat. In this room Henry'd set himself up a small bar, complete with a tap for his beer and a keg, which he replaced every two weeks or so, Henry making the journey into that room with an empty glass and returning with a full one four, five times during the average evening, not counting the beer at breakfast with Huevos Ranchos on Saturdays, and the other beers at odd times.   Self thought damn, look at this guy go, watching Henry stolidly down glass after glass, he wrote to Mark the man has a fucking keg of beer of beer around the house, what do you think, and Mark wrote back that he was making it up, and self, on the phone to Mark, said swear to God, man, Louisiana is a trip, the whole culture here is about Jesus and liquor, hard to know where one ends and the other begins, you know? When, after getting home, he'd mentioned it to Dad, Dad had reddened a little bit and said that Henry was going to get into trouble if he kept that up.  It was curious for self that Dad reddened ‑ it was always like that when he brought up Henry around Dad, it was like Dad somehow felt responsible for him, and it was also like Henry was a bit of an embarrassment.

    


encyclopedia of the second hand: Orleans



                          ORLEANS
                              1.


     Self has a pile of magazines:  Gallery, Penthouse, Hustler, Wet, Mayfair, Cheeks.  The mags are stacked on the toilet seat lid, which is wooden.  Not only wooden, oaken.  Self has to laugh.  Christ, the lid, the seat, polished oak.  The fixtures (ansate ladder of the drawers of the commode: knob to the door: handle to the toilet: faucet ensembles of tub and sink) are bronze.  The tub is round, about the size of one of those rubber kiddie blow up wading pools, and about three feet in depth.  The bottom of the tub is beneath the level of the floor, and when you put your leg over the side of it there's a step you step on.  The porcelain of the tub is black, matching the sink, which is made of real black marble. The whole top of the commode  is real black marble with a little greenish cloud in the grain of it. The black suggests the bedroom this is the bathroom of’s corvine mood. Bella, showing self the two bathrooms she wants him to do, puts her hand on his arm, squeezes, please, Darling, whatever you do don't step on the marble, it is just so breakable, when we had them put it in they had to do it over because they cracked it and Abe was so furious I really thought he was going to kill that odious negro contractor whose English you should have heard, I mean you needed a translator from the Zulu, you wonder how any of those wonderful marble statues from the Renaissance survive, my God, and she turns, leading you her hand still on your arm out of the bathroom, leaving a faint scent of ... lavender?
     Self takes a drop cloth and throws it out so it covers the black and white parquet of the floor.  Then two more, one over the sink, one over the tub.
     Bella sits on the side of the tub, darling think of yourself as the new Michelangelo, although wasn't he queer? and you aren't, are you, which is so refreshing, Jan tells me her cute cousin is quite the ladies man, never know what pretty young thing he is going to bring to her parties, and she laughs.  The laugh leaves a little scent of ... champagne?  Her legs are crossed, she holds a glass in her hand, her bare foot arched out. Do you like my toes? Her nightgown is made out of some black flimsy material, witchlike, flowing, transparent.  Self waves his glass in her direction, my God this is exciting, she says, which is why I insisted on champagne, I mean it isn't every day you get a real artist in the house, I told Abe.  You know Abe just adores you. He adores your vision.


     The ceiling is high.  He's already disassembled the ceiling fan and after sealing the plaster surface, prepping for the acrylic, he's decided on that against oil since he's brainstormed big figures instead of as he first thought little insets, two big figures more than life sized up there, that will be the bold thing, he needs to get hold of how he is going to do this. Five thousand dollars, man. And then in the space just under the ceiling, on the walls where he has about three feet and then there's this wainscotting, there he is figuring a number of different figures.  There are bulbs all around the mirror, dressing room style, and the thing itself reaches all the way up to the ceiling from the sink, which must be six feet about.  In its immense silvery shallows self sees himself, sees the ladder he is climbing on.  Arm up, he fluffs his hair out a bit, there.  The glasses are funny, it is as if he is pretending to be Clark Kent or something, but he needs them to keep the drips out of his eyes. Days before contacts, the glasses he wore in high school, the goofy look in photographs. As though some prisoner with his appointed burden, symbolic in horn rims on his nose. He might have to rent a scaffold, he probably could get Bella to even throw that in although definitely if it has to come out of the five thousand he's not going to be hurting, but today the program is just go up there and check out the space, visually grid it, and choose the picture.
     Abe has talked I told you to his friend, the one from New York? Ruth is her name, she's crazy about that painting or what do you call it of yours.  Bella pats a place next to her on the side of the tub.  Self sits down, Ruth Parquin, the Ruth Parquin gallery, brushing up against Bella's arm, I am excited about that, brushing up against Bella's thigh, a comfortable warmth, a bit roomy, I want to do whatever I can, Bella's eyes on his, to make that a reality,  maybe I ought not to be so, you know, his eyes down and up, intent, open about it, I guess I'm still a redneck, the thing I know I ought to do and Bella here no, you are perfect, and self: my feelings are like out in the open, I want you to let Abe know (arm around her back) how really I am, really (touch of the chiffon there, the skin) really thrilled.  Champagne sloshes, I'm sorry and ... well, it won't ruin this old thing.  I was thinking now, now wouldn't Abe be surprised if one of your pictures was me, of me, darling.  Stark naked, my God.  You don't know how immodest I can get!


     Self picks up one of the magazines.  He turns past the centerfold to the lez session.  It is always in the back third, some weird tradition.  A photo spread of two buxom women engaged in a four page clit workout.  On the first page one is sticking a sharp little tongue in the proximity of the other's pussy, like a cat about to lap milk from a bowl.  The one getting head, she's on her knees, a sort of gymnastic pose, these shots the girls have to show everything, become Mobius strips of nudity.  So we see a good half of her face, her hands one of them resting on the bed, one of them on a breast.  The other girl's, the one giving head.  The latter woman has a sweep of long Swedish blonde hair (the other one has frizzy brown hair ‑ if they had both been blond it would have been reflected on the cover of the mag: Double Trouble Blond Action or Bodacious Blond Sexorama or something.  Self flips back to the cover.  It is: Loving Cousins Tracy and Trina.  So these girls, in spite of a certain ethnic disparity of pigmentation and cheekbone and body type, are cousins, just cousins wanting to suck each others private parts) and she is rising up callisthetically one hand wrapped around the ankle of the other girl one hand against a buttock honing in on the pussy bristling there like Christmas right in front of her nose with her face wearing a mask of eagerness.  Both women, flip to the next page, the next page after, wear masks of eagerness, but in their eyes it is: only disconnect.  The model's motto.
     Change the eye, elongate slightly, by a hair's breadth, the canthus.
                              2.


     Meeting Abe and Bella at Jan and Bob's place had been a coincidence but self wasn't surprised. Somehow how am I surprised at anything (this later to Bragg) that happens around you, why does everything happen around you? and then about Bella Bragg saying I think she is thirty‑five but she doesn't have that attrition, or that cheek that they get about then. Isn't this marvelously funny Bella had said, placing her hand on Jan's arm, because Jan, you couldn't guess, why we just met this young man yesterday, your name again Street? Longstreet, was it yesterday?  As usual, Abe looks like his amusement is all he need communicate, let his wife stream‑of‑consciousness here, he'll just bounce the light off his big bald head, maybe smooth his goatee, then hands back in pockets and lean slightly back on his heels as if he was simply here to exhibit the bubbly woman twenty years younger than him by his side, one blond lock straying lovely in her eyes, keeping his lips fixed in a smile that spoke of the richer entertainment interior remark holds for him, and she turning and smiling toward self, and that friend of yours, is he here?  Abe unexpectedly erupts in Thomas, yes, his wife takes up, Thomas, you see Abe knows everybody (this for Jan, who wears that expression of polite but strained interest that just infuriates self and the more so as he gets drunker, not understanding  what it is that gives Bob this power over Jan and not at all understanding the anorexic bond to food, food and lots of it as Jan's appointed menace and this some type of therapy, these parties,  Jan immersed in the kitchen under Bob's watchful eye, self especially triangulating between them, seeing him looking, watching Jan going back to it again and again and bringing out more and more plates, some neurotic variation of the Sorcerer's Apprentice with Jan both the appalled Mickey Mouse and the blind march of the brooms and  it being the ironic part how good a cook Jan is, all those recipes of her mother's and maybe her mother's genes kicking in ‑ horrible thought ‑ after all) and so naturally yesterday morning we had to meet the son of a friend of his, your friend's mother? turned to self, Abe's family in San Antonio you know, (Bragg latter: Mom couldn't believe it when Mr. Bitten turned up with that young chick on his arm, I'm in eighth grade, right, and they came for supper and Isabella, I don't remember the context exactly says Abe and I agree on everything except he wants to be on the bottom, Esther, why do they like the bottom so much, well I smack him down, do you let yours?  It froze the moment. It is just so faddish, she says. Mom goes  my God, and Dad said TJ that's enough,  time to do your homework son, I don't think I'd even had a bite yet and Isabella goes I hope I'm not being indiscrete) turned to Jan, (indiscrete, man) and here they come bringing with them the most attractive girl, a model, really, Jan, when I tell you she turned heads I don't just mean that as a thing to say, literally, literally wouldn't you say Street? and the hand moves from Jan's arm where it has been all this time to self's, and this young man who turns out to be just the artist Jan has been telling us about, isn't it a small world?                              
                              3.



     Bragg had called him up from Austin and said he wanted to do some filming in New Orleans, mentioning a two week limit, something he had to get back to do in Mexico City where for the last year he had been gloriously (his word) living, self was a fool not to try it out simply in terms of money for six months, cross the border between puritanism and hedonism, that border of dead skin, okay Bragg don't go off on me here and Bragg guarded by dead skin armed with dead skin speaking a language of dead skin okay okay eyes of dead skin sex of dead skin alright I've got the point dead skin, right? we're just one big dermatological nightmare up here, okay, laughing hearing again that beat sentimentality of his which self had to smile at, as if Bragg were a somehow appended part of that generation, Jack Kerouac's last sad groupie, self even agreeing as he hung up sure, when I get the money together, not that I know Spanish... What Bragg had typically left unsaid was Marissa.  Not that self is terribly surprised at him having picked up a woman somewhere between Austin and New Orleans, he had a week after all to do it in, but quickly self gets it that Marissa came with Bragg up from Mexico City, probably standing next to the bastard even as he wasn't mentioning her to self on the phone from Mark's place, to whom he had also probably left her unmentioned.  Bragg doesn't explain, and what is self going to say facing the fait accompli, with her tallness, her coils of silvery bracelets, her little green tattoo of a lizard on the upper right arm, her blood red lipstick, her hair so black it looked dyed, her breathless exclamations in syntactically accidentprone English about self's house.  He keeps explaining it isn't his, isn't even rented, but is an extended housesit.  Marissa keeps saying your house until he sees what does it matter.  And so as though in some interlude of absent‑mindedness on self's part, some dream in which he forgets to lock the door and waking still dreaming discovers the silver gone, some suspension of his will and survival instinct and even (such being Bragg's casting of himself as a wholly aesthetic creature) disbelief, Bragg and Marissa spread themselves out in Mrs. Zachry's daughter's bedroom, bringing in three suitcases and then the camera equipment, self even helping them, even carrying in the heavier pieces as Bragg, typically, disappears, only to appear on cue when the last box is brought in with vodka and tonics made in the bar that of course is the first thing Bragg spotted as self gave them the tour of the place. There settles over self that same mixture of doom and amusement which has always been the tone of his friendship with TJ Bragg, response to the man's tempting carelessness, his hunger for events, his bony longing for... death?  Or maybe the staging of death, probably a little of both.  Certainly self's been there when Bragg had provoked people, strangers, unkind burly men with the telltale folding at the back of the neck and  mouths hung open on some dark obscenity rising in bars wanting to beat the shit out of him, and sometimes when nobody was there doing it.  Thus the ugly red U shaped scar above his right eye.  Bragg says only that his bi side comes out at inappropriate times.

     In Austin self took a lot of drugs with Bragg (acid, x, mushrooms, cocaine) but he always thought that the most dangerous drug was Bragg himself.  Bragg could have the most amazing effect on self's nervous system.  Normally self thought of himself as having a core temperance, a core discipline, a unity of vision upon which he could rely.  A rather pompous self‑image but of great utility ‑ and not something he wanted to casually toss out with the cat shit.  Bragg when he was around would instinctively make inroads upon the core ideal, he seemed to ESP the secret code like a virus and by subtle touches and intimations make a viral mockery of it or more than that make self himself see that it was a mockery getting in the way of authentic experience, dread and love, self's reluctant allegiance thereto, and he always said it was for your own good, Street, forcing self back upon the suddenly overt pomposity of his intentions, forcing him into ridiculous decisions about his courage and his integrity with no grander trials for them in some unmanageable moment of undesired confrontation.  
                              4.

     It suddenly strikes self how to do it.  Get rid of the glossy colors, make it instead a negative, with the suggestion of the skull beneath the skin, or in this case the pelvic bone beneath the cheek.  He can blow up the picture, he can use either Jan's darkroom or the one at Tulane (because a photo development place won't do it. Self knows, he's had them refuse to give him back his pictures when they were some harmless and coyless shots of Jan naked, fat girl with a bouffant sitting up there smirking sorry sir, you can talk to the manager, it's Picture Plus' policy), and then get a negative of it, and he'll block it out.  A negative going across nine feet, the distortion alone will be beautiful.  Bella says but darling you're the artist of course and Abe respects that, he wants to respect that to the fullest extent, your wish is our command hand up finger on the tip of his nose but trust me sometimes these farther out ideas, well they simply turn people off.  Practically the finger running over his lips, getting a bit of grease on it, we have to go along if we want to get along.  Self is showing her the image on a slide, with a viewfinder.  Isn't there Bella pouts wiping her finger on a napkin room for beauty in you young people's world?  As she pays self stares at his plate, at the strip of grayish white fat soaking in a bit of brownish gravy speckled with oily spots, and it actually goes through his head (Bragg hearing this after laughs and then says if you throw this away I will personally kill you, do you hear me Street?  I'm your friend and I will kill you) that he'll tell Bella to stick the five thousand up her ass.
     Look Jan says it isn't even the five thousand, it is this Ruth Pasquill person, Pasquin, Parquin alright, you have a connection there and don't forget Abe Bitten is her good friend, sure she likes your stuff, you told me what she said about the Bird series, but she saw it because of Abe, I'm sorry.  This is New Orleans, Street, and you aren't going to make it in  New Orleans. You can come back to here or start out from here but, well I know you know, but I'm telling you, New York isn't going to come begging you to please show your stuff because you had a good show at Jack Eddyville's.  God! You know what I'm saying, I don't even know why I am bothering to tell you this.
                              5.



     The  catalogue was the most professional one self had ever been associated with, but of course in Austin he'd shown in things like restaurants or student shows and it was either some colored flier they'd advertise with and on it some blurry black and white of some piece or he was drowned in with about a hundred other people in the roundups at the end of the semester in these institutional spaces that smelled like school and that the best thing about was the free wine. I feel like a redneck the way I show everybody this catalogue he says and Jan says why downplay something you really wanted and got? The show was called 3 Southern Artists, and there was even a corporate sponsor. Jack Eddyville, the man who owned the gallery, had been funded in part by the BHovac corporation (makers of oil drilling equipment).  In the New Orleans scene or what there was of a scene somebody told self unironically nobody had seen anybody so postmodern before.  And his entry.  Longstreet Early, b. 1960, italics, quote, My work is about the thing that happens.  The beginning of any system is the thing that happens, or God.  The end of any system is the other thing that happens, which is failure, or the devil, or death.  I chose Audubon's birds because the intersection between God and failure is exemplary in this immigrant's life, and because the birds were his angels.  I chose scissors for my own unfathomable reasons. And then the Vita, and then, on the next two pages, oh lovely, pictures.  Picture one was of "Bird # 4".  Self had taken Audubon's horned grebe and blown up a section of it, the head, and had painted that head on a three by three desk top.  The desk top was one of a bunch he had got from an old school in Mandeville that was throwing out their desks and modernizing.  You could see where words or hearts had been carved into the wood, here a rough sketch of a dick, there  an attempt at a horse that got to three legs and got no farther, initials, an equation long gone wrong to a question forgotten. He hadn't sanded the scars away. History of damage, those marks, the caught beastie's tedium, visions of an old woman smelling of talc and walking dimly between desks looking for cheaters or of a thick man more interested in baseball and punishment and picking his ass than the discipline of whose names and equations he is come to tell us news.  Your school, any school. Just behind the eye, he'd sawed out a droplike shape.  He took the shape roughly from one of Miro's biomorphic thingies.  With thin silverish wire he'd suspended some scissors in this space, blades open and turned toward the viewer.  Around the board in place of a frame he'd put lengths of the ribbed, rusty rebar struts you find sticking out of concrete at construction sites.  He'd put the lengths of rebar about two inches out from the desktop, and had welded a short metal bar to each length and then welded the bar to a square shaped brace attached to the back of the desktop.  To get the pieces away from the wall and more in people's faces he'd mounted a metal rod in the wall (Eddyville was very good about letting him drill and move around stuff)  which stuck out about a foot and hooked the piece to the rod.  A foot was close enough that the metal didn't draw attention to itself.
     Jan laughed about the God and systems bit, where did you get that? and you, you have to put down something and I felt that would fool em.  Better than I done it cause I done it, which is the real reason anybody does anything.
     I done it cause I seed it that way.
     I done it cause I just keep doing these things, if I could help myself Lord I would.    

     The other photo showed the whole series all along the wall, built on similar principles as applied to "Bird #4".  There were eight pieces in all, and then on the other side of the room he'd framed and had facing the pieces a group of pen and paper sketches which weren't shown by a photo in the catalogue.  The sketches were also three by three and mostly they were drawings that seemingly led up to the bird pieces, with a lot of notes and numbers scribbled on them. Actually he only had two real drawings for the bird series and he made the others after he made the series and made them look like they were preparatory to the series because he liked the idea of opening up the process of production. Although of course by faking the sketches he was really mystifying the process even more. 
     Self felt like the idea for the sketches being there didn't quite come off.  But Mom, who'd come down with Dad from Atlanta and was staying at Aunt Ellen's, said she liked the drawings best, and he was glad there was something there she could say that about, because he'd watched both Mom and Dad look in alarm and bewilderment at the bird pieces and stifle the thought that maybe their son's not a Picasso. When he'd come home from UT his second year at Christmas they'd given him a big coffee table book of Picasso's paintings. On the wall in the living room vaguely impressionistic landscapes done by Mom's friend, Alice Stoney. Self says I like the way she does trees to Mom's question that Christmas. Dad said afterwards don't ask me, I don't understand this modern art, and stood with folded arms near the refreshment stand talking to Uncle Andrew at the reception.

                              5.

     They'd left self, Bella and Abe, to go first to New York and then to this island they were co‑owners of in Lake Huron, off the Ontario side.  Abe just loves it and at first you know me, I need outer stimulation, on those little personality tests I always rank "A" plus in the extravert category, but believe it or not I guess it was the second time we went out there we were going across in the boat, yes, you have to because there isn't a bridge to it and the road going down to the dock isn't really a road, more like an old goat track, so anyway, what was it I...? oh, well we were there in the boat and suddenly in all that expanse of blue, brother you haven't ever seen blue that unbroken, like one big  ribbon of it, I had this complete shedding experience, that's what I call it, very mystical, I felt just all my spiritual fat lifting from me, it was like I'd been walking around with dough in my eyes, Jan, you must come up this year, Abe is always right about these things, aren't you darling?  I tell him sometimes the wonder is he doesn't beat me to within an inch of my life, I mean the fuss I put up when he said Isabelle, baby, we are going to do nature, I admit it I'm the quintessential bitch, but that's Abe's masochism, he is such a dear about it.  He likes the woman with the whip idea.

     Since it was getting to that point in summer when the heat turns filthy, when you walk through the air and it feels on your skin like it has been sweat in already, self started working later in the day.  They'd given him a key.  He'd come in to that vast house about four in the afternoon, he liked to walk across Audubon park to it and get a blast of airconditioning coming in the door.  He'd bring a sixpack and a couple of tapes with him. Yell for Sally Ann, the maid, it's me.  Up the stairs, into Abe's room past the huge four poster bed with the scary  black sheets and black canopy into Abe's bathroom. Strip, put on the clothes in the crumbled and day by day more musty smelling grocery sack stashed under the sink.  Pop in a tape, sit there at first on the second rung of the ladder (all the rungs blotched with paint, himself wearing the clothes he kept there blotched with paint, the three tarps blotched with paint, as if he and the ladder and the tarps were connected by some remote tie of evolutionary circumstance), his head transparently horned with the  goggles  pushed back on top of it ‑ goggles he'd replaced the glasses with, the glasses not being good enough protection ‑ and swallow his first sixteen fluid ounces.  Looking up at what had been done so far and still feeling bad about not doing the negative image.  He'd sigh, pop in Prince now, and climb up to engage hair, curve of the leg, an intricate pinkness.  Sometimes at two am in the cavernous mansion there was only self's light on and the hysterical bugaloo of whatever by that time, cutthroat electric guitar, strange harp solos, warped gurgles and clicks from random stations manned in the increasingly silent and staticy night by whatever dubious outcast on speed would tenant the listenless reaches, and self downing his sixth or if that had passed his eighth, him having gone up to the store and got him another six pack and maybe while he was at it passing that po' boy place and getting a sandwich.
     At home arms folded under your head, lying there, you repeat three words: Darkness. Solitude. Grandeur.

                              6.
     It was about a month after Bragg and Marissa arrived that he threw them out.


     There was no indication from Bragg after they'd been there two weeks that the deal he was supposed to go back to Mexico City to work on was bothering him or even some feeble excuse to lend verisimilitude to the story he'd told self about why it wasn't. A routine quickly evolved.  They would all have breakfast together in Mrs. Zachry's kitchen.  Bragg made the breakfasts, he was a good cook and he liked breakfast.  They were all late sleepers, it was around ten thirty before they all sat down and eleven before they ate.  Omelettes and fried bananas.  Migas and black beans. Pork chops and eggs. Orange juice, always, and always coffee.  Strong, black coffee. The kitchen faced south, with several high windows giving the morning light slanting in from the east on the cabinets of which there were plenty and the ferns and the counter up to the stove and the two ovens and up to the all of them at the table, and that was a nice feeling.  Then Bragg and Marissa would venture out into the steamy day carrying the camcorder and the tripod and the mikes.  They made a trip to New Iberia and Lafayette and stayed gone five days and self felt a little lonely in the kitchen without them. Self sometimes worried about Rolla, Mrs. Zachry's daughter who remained in town, an amiable woman about forty years old, a little fat, with big round glasses that gave her face an owlish cast and her face always blotched with odd red spots. Always surprisingly kind to him, always asking about girlfriends. As in why he didn't have one.  Self wasn't going to explain Jan to her, it was too Byzantine.  His fear was of her coming over, although the house wasn't a mess or anything, and he'd never been expressly told you can't have visitors.  He just had this bad vision of Bragg making some off‑color remark to her.
     Then one day you'd come home about four in the afternoon and there Bragg and Marissa were in the living room watching the stuff they'd shot on the VCR and Marissa was lying on Mrs. Zachry's elaborately upholstered sofa (pink roses on a background of green) among all of Mrs. Zachry's elaborately fringed furniture naked.  She looked up at him hi Street, and Bragg looked up, howdy.  Her brown little breasts. The hair short, cut to finally at the flag end slant just above the neck.  Looking back down, hair gliding on the neck, catching this next sequence on the tv.  Unreal.  He'd ranted about that, for one thing pointing out that if Rolla did come over for this or that reason her being greeted by a naked Mexican Amazon (what does this word mean, amazon? Marissa had said) at the door was one of the few sure ways he knew of to lose the gig.  And, for another thing, what about me? Do you want me to want to fuck Marissa? and before Bragg put in a word no, don't answer that, who am I talking to, hell you'd film us! and then inevitably Bragg: that's not a bad idea...

     It was in his mind after that to do something pretty soon, but another week slid by. It would have gone on for a while if it hadn't been that  he read the "Match", the New Orleans weekly, article.  He came home with it in his hand, waving it around walking to the door like it was a flag and almost feeling like he was charging walking into the house Bragg! Bragg! slamming the door and before the kitchen in the  hall the smell of pot and then in the kitchen finding Bragg and Marissa and a man with a shaved head and round glasses with very thin black frames who stood up not as tall as me, bet he's...

     Ivan, this is the guy I'm telling you about, Street. An English major. You've seen him before. Ivan and I are into it about Maya, and Ivan sits down again, the veil of illusion.  This guy says he's a Buddhist but I'm telling him that the last fucking illusion is to think in terms of illusion, man, because illusion has to refer to something it is the illusion of, right, that the veil like has to not only be seen through but and Ivan: sure, live for the present, and Bragg: no, man, no, then, like it's a ladder you are climbing and you reach a point and you throw it away. Self puts down the "Match" on the table, crumpled a little, takes the pipe Marissa hands him.  He listens to Bragg and Ivan, not sitting down, and Marissa reaches out and touches him and asks in an undertone hey is everything alright and self sure, fine.
     We met Ivan at that record store where they also have that coffee place on that street, Magazine? and guess what, he saw your show, Street.
     Fucking great show, man, you had totally the weirdest shit there. I'm sort of an artist too, I'm writing these great songs. I've been thinking about learning to play an instrument, like keyboards or something. Because I'm just pouring out these songs.  I wish I could write music down, what I've got to do next is write the fucking music down if I could find somebody who could write music.  I'm talking about the notes, they're really important in my songs.
     Really? self says.
     I could sing you something.
     Maybe later. Reach down, hand on the Match, look at Marissa.
     You fuck! you told me you were a musician.
     No, man, I said I wrote songs.
     Flip the pages.  Marissa turning to Bragg, Street is mad about something, Bragg not hearing her, if you can't write down the songs ‑

     It is what I been telling you, man, about live in the present. The moment you learn something, see, and the moment you do it are one moment.
     Bragg smiles up to see self not seated still who would be flashing on this and met with Match open to an article which features Bragg's photo, Marissa looking now hey, and Ivan, and then Bragg, smile down to self's hand, the finger under the caption.
     Funny, they seem to think you are me, the caption in bold type Longstreet Early, italics, seeing through nature, the fingers now closed in fist, and up.  Pounds the table.  Spills the pipe, brown curlicues scatter from the bowl. Why? Just why, Bragg, feeling your face getting red, Marissa's gaze.
     Now Bragg rising wait, and Ivan: what's the deal, whatever, Scott, right? you have to unclench, here we're just talking.

     What happened, Bragg says, calm down for a second Street, I don't deserve this, this guy calls here and I never heard of the New Orleans "Match", right, I think it's some two sheet ass wipe so I'm sure, come on over. And this feller (doing his old man's voice) arrives, you wouldn't believe him, Street, he gets out of this unbelievably blasted Dodge Dart and he's like in his pyjamas, swear to God ‑
     You're shitting me, Ivan said.          Swear to God.  I'm, Marissa, check this out, I was sure now this wasn't serious, okay, the guy, he's coming up the walk in these grey pyjamas and flipflops, got a beard on him that is intense, Tolstoyan, still got crumbs in it from his lunch, a grotesque spectacle is what I'm saying, and so I'm follow my lead and we let the guy in the house and like I am pretending to be you and so, well I (resuming the old man's voice) told that feller something.
     Like this shit, my art what is it reflects the juncture of primitivism and the new primitive lifestyle, what the hell is that, and this part, ran away at fourteen, oh this is sweet, went to Mexico, Bragg this is your stupid dream not mine, the desert is, was  my first canvas, canvas, I hate that, it's like craft, when have I used canvas recently? I hate those old fart words.
     Romantic background, buddy, you're the one about Audubon, you ought to pay me.

     I'm not arguing, hand up, moving to the door, why this interior tremble, this concern about Marissa, this loathing, sorry Marissa, for confrontation? and the door swung open, half turned to them, but I need my space.  Find someplace else, Bragg, and through on his note of come on, Street, and letting it swing behind you.
                              7.
     Above the bent noises of new age synthesizer calling on the gentle alien dawn over a Baton Rouge station vaguely coming in and weaving out  the phone rings in the room over.  Eleven, twelve?.  Startling self.  Since Abe and Bella had spread the news that they were out of town pretty thoroughly, self hadn't been much bothered with calls from their friends. A spooky inbred crowd, from what examples self had met.  He'd given the number to Jan, but she wouldn't be calling so late.  Maybe some emergency, a crisis of confidence with Bob, he knows, I know he knows. Lately this nervousness, and more and more about Bob, Bob this and that, self saying I hate Bob.  I don't want to talk about him, and Jan, you want to talk about your life, not mine.  Self wanting to end what he had carelessly started.  Wanting to say so what?  What did we do, anyway? Once time, one little time.

     When he picks up, settling his butt down on Abes satiny midnight sheets, his leaning shifting the quills in the pillow so he felt sharp little points in his back, voice there is chirruping with excitement, hey, you've got to see this Street, you've just got to.
     How'd you get this number?
     Called Jan.  Listen, unless you are having a mad moment of genius, you got to come down here.
     Why?
     I'm not going to spoil this for you.  I've been thinking about you since this morning. Man, this hotel is full of a particular phobia of yours, and it is like I'm an anthropologist among the apes, so just don't ask me, trust me.
     Trust you? self laughs, don't even make the comment.       This is the Buckingham, you know where that is?  Voice a little distant, what is that street baby? Okay, the deal is it's on Royal Street and you can park here if you want, but what's that?... No, park on Canal.  It's a walk down here.
     Marissa's voice: come down here Street, we miss you.
     In the background now self hears yells, something sounding like an intense barroom scene. Where are you?  I mean, are you in the lounge?
     Shit, man. And Bragg hangs up.                                  



     Self turns off the radio, strips and changes and bundles his paint clothes back into  their bag. Looks up at the ceiling, a buttock, arm, face.  Turns off the light, and then, going through Abe's room, stops in the doorway and flicks the light switch in there to off, too, and makes his way in the dark to the head of the staircase.  Puts out his arms, as if he were going to fly, a bird, tumult of feathers, and leaps down four steps.  Gets his footing, down four again, and here stumbles against the banister, bashing his knee, and dashes down, the turning, the stairs, across the dining room, rapid walk don't bump into that trestle table.  Then you're out of there.  Self has to race up the street, there is a good moon tonight and a mess of shadows over there ‑ the park.  Up to his stop.  In a fortunate coincidence getting there just as the streetcar bears down on it and so almost without a stationary moment he is up one step, reaching in his pocket for change, pulling out coins and dropping them promiscuously in the slot.  He reaches a point where he thinks that is enough, more than enough.  The driver is curiously disinterested, glancing at him once and then resuming his monotonous stare at the track ahead.  His face gleams with a bluish shadow in the light coming in from the streetlamp. The cap casting a shadow on his forehead.  A jerk forward, self leaning out, his hand up, catching the bar, swinging around to sit on the park side, looking at Tulane glide past.  Nobody else at the next stop or the next one and so it goes past his stop, where he doesn't reach up, pull the chord.  Why even bother with a car, a night like tonight. Palpably the moon's night.  Close your eyes.  Can you tell it's full from some distinct tugging on your blood? No. A mile up a person again, and halt, and an exchange of words between the driver and the guy.  Past blaze of light on his side, then the other side.  Then the Colony, where he and Jan dance.  Now three more passengers, and the lurch and smell reminding self of long ago, the toy train at Christmas, iron the track and the dry electric spark.  Guy sitting in back of him, or sort of facing him at an angle.  Seat where the old and the crippled get first dibs.  Leaning over, a hand on your shoulder, by breath a brother, how much have you had tonight?  His claim in fact: can you help me out with some change there, brother.  And self digging in his pocket comes up with a penny, sorry, that's it tonight.  His brother lapsed back on his wooden seat, sleepily muttering. Smelly son of a bitch.  You are sweating too.  Humid still, hardly a breeze. Now what self means when he says the city, underpass and Lee's obelisk lookout and the swing around it and then that other swing, the street narrowed down, contained as almost a private arcade between the facade of buildings on both sides.
     Canal and out.  Always like the look of it, the fundamental nature of the street, its width, its obviousness, the jambox atmosphere store to store. 

     Self runs across and ducks into Royal, past a black man, leather capped, sitting in the doorway of a house.  Who asks him a question, but gets no reply.  Down the street.  He's walked a block down when he notices the predominance of police cars, police cars parked up and down the street, and up ahead the lights of two police cars, the red round and the blue round and the red.  As he comes up he sees an odd sight.  An old black man with a greyish yellow beard and tufts of greyish hair around his ears is footing it to a tune, shuffling likes he's on stage, bent a little forward from the waist, his hands in front of him grasping an imaginary cane.  The man is wearing cutoffs and a ragged blue denim shirt, unbuttoned.  The tune is some old jazz song coming out of a boom box the guy's put on the sidewalk.  Then there's a middleaged woman dancing to the same tune.  She looks Spanish, is wearing a halter top.  Her belly bulges out a bit.  Her brindled hair is long and frizzy.  There is a wide smile breaking the lines of her face, and she is nodding her head up and down, her sharp nose diving, flying up, which gives her the look of a puppet grotesquely miming affirmation.   She treads up and down between the old black guy and another man.  This guy is wearing a policeman's cap and he has a definite cop face under it, fat cheeks and moustache, and he has on policeman's trousers with belt and holster, but he's taken off his shirt, so he is doing a slow swaying kind of dance in his undershirt. In one hand he is waving a beerbottle.
     There are two other cops there on the sidewalk, both milling in that idly threatening way law enforcement has. Simply standing by the stairs, self passing them.  Two steps and pushing the glass door.  Stops, for just a second, and gets what Bragg was saying: my phobia.


     The lobby is crowded with policemen all in their uniforms.  There is a banner up that sags over the potted palms on the far wall and it says Welcome Southeast Law Enforcement League 1985.  To his left, beyond the clerk's desk, is an entrance to the lounge, and as far as he can see and that is just the round arch of the entrance and a little in there are backs of blue crowding in there too. The carpet in the lobby is incredibly littered with leaflets, cigarette butts, plastic cups and little American flags.  The latter with a policeman's shield superposed on the red and white stripe part.  Already self is being told by a fat bald man who is pressing his hand in a fleshy clasp on self's shoulder that this is a private function, buddy.  The man is wearing even in this smoky and dimlit room a pair of glasses with lenses tinted a deep red color.  Self explains his friends are here, and with the moment's inspiration makes up about him also renting a room, him sharing the room with his friends.  And the guy releases, says okay, that's alright then buddy, don't let us keep you up and turns back to his friend, who laughs nastily.  Self straightens up, shakes himself, breathes in, out, expanding his chest.  Is that laugh directed at me?  He takes a more complete survey of the room. He makes for the desk.  The night clerk can't hear his question at first over the din of all those voices practiced in freeze and pull over.  On top of that the music, pumping out of somewhere.  Improbably, salsa.  Then on the third time self shouts it he hears and looks it up and shouts back room 304.  Self thanks him and then lopes over to the grey garbage can previously spotted that contains ice and the keg. A cop there, pumping it, and he exchanges a word with him, the guy's now filled his plastic cup and holds the spigot up, you want some?
     Thanks. Red clay accent. No hassle about self obviously not a member of the uniformed class, so he takes a liking to the guy.  Some of these pigs (takes a plastic cup from where they are piled on a table next to the keg) are alright. Holds the cup under the stream coming out of the spigot, the guy pressing down trigger on top of spigot with his thumb. Pudgy hand, pudgy thumb.  Yours are long, tapered. Long fingers. Jan said about your fingers.  Beautiful hands. As the beer fills the cup, all men, ain't it?
     Shit no.  Gestures, spilling a stream of beer on the floor, in the direction of where the banner is tacked to the wall. Self sees maybe three or four vaguely female forms, breasts muffled under uniforms, standing around the potted palms.
     Hey, that's enough.
     I'm not a woman's libber, the cop is telling him, letting hose and spigot fall.  Women can't be real cops, buddy, I don't care what they say, that's a fact of God.  Can a woman run a mile in under four minutes?
     Self looks around at the lolling bellies, all that car time, the donuts. 

     My idea is, teach em to run just fast enough we can catch up with em.
     That's saying it.  Y'all from here?
     Self extricates himself from the good times to come at this point, hey, got to meet some friends, Goddamn, beer up, beer sloshing, drain drain down the throat, nice talking with you (cup crushed inward, left on the table) and a step away, turns back, tell you what, they got what you want at Julian's.  Go to Julian's, man.  Serious.  They love a man in uniform.
     I might do that.

     Making his way to the hall self bumps into a large man, excuse me, who gives him a look and goes back to his business. Not an I'm sorry look either.  Not my fault buddy.  No, fuck you buddy.  You are aroused to an acrimonious state of mind by this testosteroned crew.  Well.  Also fear.  The hall to the elevator is crowded, blue uniforms interspersed now with four or five women, a couple of men in suits, one of them startlingly in this field of white faces black. The women all in dresses of tropical colors with organdy ruffs showing a lot of cleavage and thigh. Two of them bottle blondes of  big showy Dallas hair, all curled and frizzed and moussed into cotton candy postures that tempt the hand.  See if the hair is that stiff.  Hand up, self‑conscious, self's own hair.  Underfoot an incredible number of complimentary sized liquor bottles. Self jostles his way to the elevator, squeezes in.  Everybody is going to the third floor. Smell of ... Chanel?  A perfume you know. Strong in close unmoving air. Stifling. Thinking if you had just assassinated the president you wouldn't have more of a police escort. The interior of the elevator is all bronzish mirrors.  A woman, her hair lifted in a high frilly auburn tail over her head: I'm cop crazy.  From when I was bitty, always, and I don't know why.  I seen all the cop shows on the TV, I don't know what it is about me.  My ex couldn't stand it.  I told him it was just psychological but he said he couldn't stand it which is one of the major reasons we broke up.  His name was Joe and I called him Joe Friday.  Isn't that cute?  He didn't think so. Well, that's him. I'm just about crazy tonight.  This last, suddenly, to self. 
     Yeah. Not knowing what to say.

     His response was cut short by the doors opening.  The music here was much louder.  The crowd more densely packed and the heat was pretty bad, self noticing inside his own shirt the drop of sweat trickling down from armpit. The group inside the elevator had to push on the knot of people milling there outside it to get out.  The woman now  by the side of self leaned into him, where are you from?  There was a babel of voices, the whole hall seemed to be in an uproar.  The doors to the rooms along the hall from what self could see over the heads of the crowd were open, and it looked like the party in the hall was also inside those rooms.  Wondered whether the little liquor bottles were in those rooms, some bar.  Self spotted Bragg in the hall.  He had his eye to a camera, holding it on his shoulder, and he was shooting something in front of him.  Self struck out in his direction, moving with where the crowd was porous, a slow labyrinthine crawl, and not noticing until he had almost reached Bragg that the woman was still behind him, following him, and noticing it then because when he stopped she  bumped into him. Where, she yelled, are you from?
     Hey, I'm not a cop.
     I didn't say you were.  I like cops but just because I like chocolate don't mean I have it for dinner if you see what I mean, honey.  See what I mean?  I think we went to high school together.  Tina, hand out, my name's Tina. I knew right away you weren't no cop.

     I got to catch up with my friend. Self walled out for a second, and then seeing a passage, coming around to Bragg by a lateral move and getting at the same time a picture of what Bragg is filming : Marissa dancing to what is no longer salsa but  ride, ride the white pony and facing her dancing a man who is almost naked. Which is why the circle of people are pulled so tight here, watching this, everybody yelling and whooping and laughing and crying out words of encouragement to the dancers, guy next to self: go on Johnny, party, spreading out party into a long rise and fall, his arms raised over his head, big wide swings bringing his hands together. 

     Your name is Robert, right?  Yeah, I'm pretty sure, I'd bet anything you went to St. Lawrence High, uh huh. The man is wearing a big white towel around his loins.  Above the towel a hairy belly and chest.  Wiry black hairs mixed with grey. He is moved to clap in sync or what he considers to be sync with the song, a side to side movement, he's a short man and so he looks alright doing this the way a taller man might look a little too much elbows and knees and he moves forward toward Marissa wobbling, one foot raised. You used to go out with what was her name, cute girl, blond, she was in the drill squad, it was Cynthia. Morgan.  Cynthia Morgan. As self watches his towel slips down and comes off, revealing the same hairiness on his legs, the dense cluster of curly hair in the pubic region. You aren't married to her I hope. A thick mass coming to a blunt point. Well if you are and you want to forget it for a while, a smile, I'll help you forget whatever you want to forget, Robbie, uh huh, no problem. And her eyes narrow a bit, the eyes anyway self noticing now having a certain familiar panic to them, as though aware of the dire symbolic threshold between easy and thrown away and risking the event, entering that space of potential humiliation even as she also knew that success hinged on the temperance of expression according to a standard of degrees of advance she would at certain dreamlike moments become incomprehensibly blind to, unable at the last to enter into any but the broad and telling gestures of her want.  Ah, he'd been with panic like that before. 
     My name isn't Robbie, or Rob, or Bobbie.  It's Street.  This is Bragg, touching his arm, and Bragg, hey man sorry I'll be with you in a sec, don't screw me up, it is going to be fucking shaky handheld but fuck.
     What is he, making a movie? Tina squeezed somehow beside him now.

     The man is doing an obscene limbo number, evoking a cheer and the cops and the six or seven women with them behind him begin to break up themselves in dancing movements, caricatures of the naked man's one.  Probably it was because of this last minute loosening of the formerly compact structure of the crowd that nobody else got hurt.  Marissa is shimmying to the left.  She is wearing a black bra and a short black dress.  She wears an outsized black policeman's belt and pistol holster around her waist, and to relieve the weight maybe of the holster that is slipping heavily down one side she takes the gun out of it, which seems a perfect cowboy gesture to choreograph  ride, ride the white pony.
     What the fuck...


     Bragg: hey, just wait.  About this time the cop next to Tina becoming aware of Bragg says hey what the fuck do you think you are doing, pussy, directing this at oblivious Bragg, who has gone into the transparent eyeball mode, and then pushing self into Bragg, who the fuck told you you could film in here, asshole, knocking the camera so that later you could say at the last moment anyway all you would get would be a crazy glimpse of the ceiling or the shoulder of the woman across the room from you and Bragg, no, man, I had it, going then hey, as Marissa, waving the pistol around, discharges it and simultaneously startled by the shot and the recoil dropping it, you got to be a bitch and the bullet dropping the naked man, catching him (self finds out later) in the leg (a miracle he wasn't killed and then you fucking clowns would have had it, he was thinking your crazy bitch friend caught him in the dick), and Bragg now in a tussle over the camera with the cop while the ring surges inward, self hearing Tina go shit, let's get out of here, and is grabbed by her as he is trying to step between the cop and Bragg, Marissa screaming Bragg, something in spanish then God damn, let go, the wounded man screaming and cussing up a storm (sweet Jesus! fucking Jesus!), and self what happened, what happened, all he can say not knowing how to process what he witnessed, his mind at this point playing this odd distancing trick on him so that it was all as if on television and him in that unconnected mode of viewer set before the glass and the picture reassembled instantly there so you could always tiring sleepy late for a date turn it off instead of participant. Tina was pulling at him going we better leave your friends here, come on! the cop now turning from Bragg (who falls backwards, having successfully wrenched the camera away from the cop, and tucking it as he can under an arm falls down and starts crawling crazily on the floor propelling himself with one arm and his knees some reversion to the rodenta family in the direction of the elevator burrowing through legs hey what the fuck and by the time Tina and Marissa and you have reached room 304 already there worried about them taking the film from him) to help his friend, trying to pick his way into the group that surrounds the wounded guy who keeps screaming and Marissa bobbing up in self's face after an unaccountable shuffle of the crowd we have to leave, come on, where is Bragg?      
                              8.
     Bella goes you do lead an exciting life, it's so foreign to me, you make me feel old, positively Abe and I are like retirees, at this point looking up, I am beginning to like your conception of it, really, so they actually traded you for the film?  And self, we were scared, we really thought they were going to put Marissa in jail.  The big hold up, you see, was Bragg ‑ Thomas? ‑ Thomas, he kept insisting that it was his big once in a lifetime chance.
     I guess it was.  I don't imagine you'll get invited to the next annual policeman's ball, do you?
     Well no, but if they'd come in and searched the room, even, a. they would have found a big wad of cocaine and b. this Connors guy could have filed some complaint.  Marissa did shoot him.
     But he wasn't hurt too badly?

     Not so badly he wanted that film in court.
     This is why, standing up, your friend won't speak to you?  I really do like the way the bodies seem to move, is that on purpose?  Then, very tanned arm out, fingers come around the nape of self's neck, I give you five years, Longstreet.  Five more years of bad boy behavior.  At the most, you hear?  Lips almost on his lips, you hear?

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...