Recent Work By Tyler Stoddard Smith

Patchouli Morning

The metaphysical impishness, erudition and breadth of vision in this sexually charged roman à clef is Smith at his most vulnerable. We recoil in horror as he recounts a series of heartbreaking trysts that recall — then exceed — Flaubert in both emotional power and literary merit. Curiously, the novel stagnates for the first twenty pages with inane references to pedestrian, adolescent love themes directed toward a sophomore called only “Emily,” but it then soars for the remaining 344 pages with a narrative and vision as taut and authentic as anything in the Western canon since forever. And while the inclusion of the lyrics to Metallica’s “Fade to Black” in the prologue offers little in the way of relevance, one is reminded that — like black holes — not everything should be easily understood.

Lachrymose in Transylvania

Intoxicating, tantalizing, always potentially violent, this captivating tome helps define not just the current state of Inuit America, but the world at large. It is a book so erudite and well wrought that its aura somehow illuminates the rest of Smith’s oeuvre, sustaining his post-apocalyptic vision. And although Smith asks a lot of his readers (would Dracula really show up for the soap-box derby, uninvited?), we are rewarded for our efforts later in this tour de force when it becomes clear everything has been a dream — but not in that hokey, St. Elsewhere way — in that way that only Smith, at the height of his creative powers, can manufacture so convincingly.

Da Nang Disco

Can anyone write about the horrors of the Vietnam War like Smith? Maybe Tim O’Brien, but does O’Brien dare to set his narrative against the backdrop of a colonial discotheque struggling to keep the party going during the Tet Offensive? No. Smith weaves his flawless prose seamlessly through the trenches and pop hits of 1968 Vietnam while exposing the artifice and shady underbelly that was the 2001 Little League World Series. The daring cadenza that begins the novel is, as often seems to be the case with Smith’s first chapters, categorically unreadable — but not in the sense that they are ill-conceived or poorly written — they are simply too much to bear, like much of Joyce. The Emily character makes a dramatic entrance, screams, then leaves the novel for good. Again. It’s so haunting! Maybe I should just come clean here and admit that I am not smart enough to comprehend what Smith is getting at, usually.

Toggle & Yaw

Just when you get the feeling that Smith may nave reached the limits of his vast fecundity, he treats us to a space novel like no other. To call Toggle & Yaw a “space novel,” though, is tantamount to calling The Bible a “sand novel.” The book begins quite predictably with a string of complaints (as is becoming Smith’s modus operandi) related to a character named “Emily,” who appears quite substantially in earlier chapters then disappears without a whimper. What are we to think of this “Emily?” Who really cares, when, later in the novel, Toggle (a Type A cosmonaut from the future) explains to Yaw (a robot/fire hydrant with a history of drug abuse), “Thy sample science programs, like deep surveys and slitless grism spectroscopy of exo-planet transit, will compromise ye olde mission’s capabilities in near-infrared, m’lady. Anon.” Can you think of another writer who can meld flawless Victorian patois with deep-space discourse like Smith? This reviewer cannot.

The Rending

If it can be said of any writer living today that he/she has fused lyric virtuosity with a kind childlike aplomb, that writer must be Mr. Smith. The Rending begins with the tale of a particularly devastating train accident, I think. Of course, Smith knows that, in fiction, it’s often what’s “not there” that lends to the visceral beauty inherent in certain exchanges and turns of phrase. Indeed, The Rending, Smith’s fifth and finest book thus far, is an artistic blitzkrieg on literary expectation and norms, as the novel, coming in at just under 600 pages, features not a single word. If Kafka, Proust, McCullers and Nabokov pooled their best work and created a kind of “Dream Team” book, one wonders whether the ensuing scribbles could even be put up for consideration next to Smith’s magnum opus. The culminate car-chase through the byzantine streets of Caligula’s Rome recalls I, Claudius, with lasers. Not-to-be-perused.

Emily

On first read, one wonders whether Mr. Smith actually typed the word “Emily” 2,011,740 times, or if he in fact used the “cut-and-paste” option on his PC. Either way, this paean to lost love compels the reader to ask: “Is this The Great American Novel?” or perhaps, “What’s your return policy?”

My friend James and I played basketball every Thursday afternoon when we lived together in Madrid. He was always exceedingly happy to play, although he would bitch, ad nauseum, about the Spaniards’ “bullshit” game.

“They can’t fucking dribble, T. And the fouls, fuck! This isn’t soccer, you hookers…I’m legitimately mad. Aren’t you? They hack you to pieces. You need to stop taking charges if you’re not going to call a foul.“ Hearing these tirades made me relax sometimes. He still had conviction.

On one particular afternoon, there was no Spanish bullshit. On this afternoon, four Americans ran court—a beleaguered cement court in Parque Oeste, a little west of the Arco de la Victoria, Generalissimo Franco’s pretty little door. James and I were engaged in a warm-up game of M-I-E-R-D-A, when we heard the thud of a basketball on the cement behind us. Mormons.

You can spot a Mormon on a mission from a mile away: Athletic, suspiciously Teutonic, clad in white starched, button-down short sleeves and a tie. Mormons especially stick out in Spain, so they’re usually easy to dodge. But sometimes the Latter-Day Saints come marching in from nowhere.

 

“Oh, hell no. It’s the tie guys,” James said, a little too loudly. I couldn’t help but snort. It was curious: James was raised a Baptist, but had for the most part abandoned whatever faith people had pumped through him during his youth. However, and I’ve found this to be the case with most people who have ostensibly forsaken their religion, he had a kind of “Hey, you can’t beat up my asshole little brother—only I can beat up my asshole little brother” mentality about the Church.

The two strapping LDSers came strolling up.

“Soy Moylen,” said Moylen, jamming his hand out. “Muchos gustos a conocerty.”

“I speak English,” said James.

“Hey, how about that!” said Moylen. “Where are you from? “

“Texas.”

“Cool!”

“Hi, I’m Xarek,” said Xarek, pumping his hand into mine.

“Hi, there.”

Proselytizers are like pistachios—intriguing, but seldom worth the trouble after it’s all said and done. I had a perfunctory talk with Xarek about my relationship with Jesus Christ, giving him just enough of a carrot to hunger after, while James practiced layups to avoid talking with Moylen. The two men, boys really, changed out of their “work” gear and into shorts and basketball shoes, but they left their shirts off.

“I guess we’ll be skins,” announced Moylen. Of course they would.

“You can shoot for outs,” said Xarek. I shot for James and me, missing. Xarek drained it. Mormon ball. Aside from being sculpted and in shape, these Mormons were good at basketball, executing passes with surgical accuracy between our legs, around our defending arms, above our overzealous heads. Have you ever seen two members of a religious sect execute a perfect alley-oop? I have.

“Cover him, Smith!” James roared. He called me by my last name when I frustrated him.

“Smith, get big.” James always used that expression when we’d be in line at some hallowed European tourist sight. James hated that nobody had any sense of decorum in the queue. “Getting big” entails swinging your arms out like a marionette on amphetamines and spreading your legs as wide as they’ll go to ensure nobody cuts around you in line. So, when James told me to “get big” against these mammoth lambs of God, I assumed it was a metaphor for defense. The only problem with playing defense at this moment was that Xarek and I were both covered in blood.

“Whoa, whoa. Somebody’s cut,” I said. I had blood smeared all across my shirt. I could taste the acrid syrup. Maybe I’d been hit in the lip. I felt nothing. “Hey, you okay?” I asked Xarek.

“Oh, yes. I’m fine.” Xarek had apparently taken the brunt of this mysterious injury. His face was covered in blood. The crown of thorns. “I feel nothing. Maybe I’m just sweating blood,” he giggled. I’m sure I fouled the shit out of him. I always do.

“Luke 22:43-44. Christ’s agony at Gethsemane,“ said Moylen.

“That’s right, Moylen,” Xarek grinned with smug approval.

“What the fuck?,” James whispered to me in passing. “These dudes aren’t right.” In an effort to reverse the throttling, James ordered me to switch up, so now I’d be covering Moylen who wasn’t covered in blood (yet), and who, James assured me, “wasn’t respecting my outside bombs.” “Tyler,” James went on, “I’m going to mix it up with that bitch-ass gory motherfucker down low and you drain threes on the other hooker. Word?”

“Word,” I said, with feigned confidence.

Down low soon began to look like a hematic sprinkler. A number of Spaniards descended onto the blacktop to watch this peculiar spectacle. In the paint, James and Xarek elbowed, shoved, shin-kicked, crab-blocked and generally banged away at each other like two deities in combat—a modern day Titanomachia. The Mormons continued to dominate and won the first game 21-6. My allegedly devastating three-point shot would not fall. “The fucking ball is covered in blood, James!”

“Don’t you make fucking excuses, T. FIGHT!” he screamed in my face, his teeth covered with a gruesome patina. “Do you understand, T?”

“Best two out of three?” asked Moylen. Any communication from the Mormons was now directed to me, as James refused to acknowledge them as anything but objects to beat the mortal shit out of. James had killing in him today. You don’t want to have killing in you too much of the time. I don’t know if I’ve ever had killing in me.

Game two became increasingly violent. Moylen threw an elbow that splashed into my nose, an extra avenue of blood flow, this time unattributable to divine magic on the Mount of Olives. I recoiled, but managed to drive the slick ball around him, and found James under the basket for a layup. I raced back to the outs line, received the ball back from James, checked and passed it back to him on the perimeter.

James intoned, “But with the precious blood of Christ…you cocksuckers. Bucket.” Ball in. James and Xarek, battling low for a rebound, slipped on the court, making obscene blood angels on the concrete. James roared up from the mess and lay the ball in. “Son of man coming with power and great glory….Bucket.” The Mormons kept silent during the second game, which we won, 21-12, James quoting scripture throughout.

I’ve always been impressed by people who can recite scripture, or poetry, or anything. I can barely remember “Fire and Ice,” the Frost poem that everybody learns in “Reciting Things 101.”

Game three began in heightened reality and ended in gauzy fog. We, the aging camels, the yellow camels, the angry, moving divine camels, started with too much intensity. I shot three errant bloodballs in a row, throwing James into a rage.

“Focus, T. Focus. Focus. Hit me low if it’s not falling. Fuck, Smith.” It wasn’t falling. But how can you stop? It feels right coming out of the hand, but when the shots don’t fall, the shots don’t fall. It would have to be James down low, outmatched, bloodied beyond recognition and snarling like the rat-faced man in the corner of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Christ Carrying the Cross.”

The basketball court was a ghastly sight. The backboard looked like a wall behind which executions took place. Blast radii of mammoth blobs of coagulating bloodsputum littered the court. Xarek and Moylen screamed at each other to play defense, to get open, to focus. They invoked scripture. They seemed rattled. Their ball.

Moylen drove to James’s left. I moved over a little to try and cut off his lane, but was waylaid by Xarek with a crushing pick. As I lay in a heap, Xarek stepped on my head and popped to the outside, behind the two-point line. James made a valiant effort to get a hand on Moylen’s outlet pass, but slipped and collapsed next to me on the wet concrete.

Xarek spoke before he shot: “Behold, I will give you the victory.” Bucket.

Final score:

Latter Day Saints: 21
Heretics: 19

Xarek and Moylen high-fived, their bloodstained bodies glistening in the Madrid sunlight. James began to weep. I’d only seen him cry once, when he talked about his mother. He was just a boy and thought she’d written the note after she’d done it. The poor kid. From that day on, his eyes were too wise for a child. They still were.

The crowd swarmed all over the Mormons, cheering, clapping, and slapping them on the back. Everyone was given a Book of Mormon and Moylen and Xarek went about their mission, their church, their victory.

I did my best to console James. “Let’s get a drink,” I suggested.

“We should have won that game, T,” he said, then went supervoid.

I, along with five other friends served as pallbearers for James. Outside the church, there was a long discussion about carrying the casket. We all naturally thought pallbearers had to carry the thing.

“Don’t worry, it rolls,” said some church official. Then there we were in a line, taking communion. Everything in a line. The priest had to get more wine. We raided the church stash—the blood of Christ was much more appealing than his body. “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Nice try, Revelations. But we’re thirsty.

I walked around during James’s wake, carrying his basketball for three hours like a goddamned fool. What else do you do? You play basketball. So the pallbearers played a game of three-on-three with James’ basketball at his parent’s house while people looked sad, the way you’re supposed to look at these functions. Strange glances were thrown. It wasn’t the same. We should have won that game.

But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate…

Teddy Ruxpin. Does anybody remember him? If not, Teddy Ruxpin was an audio-animatronic toy bear into whose backside was built a cassette tape recorder that played stories with names like “Help Teddy and Grubby Find the Treasure of Grundo!” The whole process involved something called “differential pulse-position modulation,” which means Teddy Ruxpin’s mouth would move along with the “pulse” of the audio, creating the illusion Teddy was actually talking to you. This doesn’t sound particularly exciting, but remove the mediocre “Grundo” cassette and replace it with Mötley Crüe’s “Shout At The Devil” and you’re onto something. You’re onto animatronic blowjobs. And for a ten-year-old, this kind of mischief is the ne plus ultra of existence.

First of all, no self-respecting ten-year-old is going to be caught dead owning a Teddy Ruxpin. This is why younger brothers and sisters—neither of which I had or have—were so important. Larry, a friend of mine if only out of disgruntled, juvenile, sexually frustrated convenience, had a younger sister who had a Teddy Ruxpin and, once we had successfully locked her inside her closet, we’d run over and tear into her toy chest, rip out the “Beware of the Mudblups in the Land of Grundo” tape and rock out–quite literally–with our cocks out. Now, “Shout At The Devil” was a crucial soundtrack for three important reasons:

1.) “Shout At The Devil” kicks ass.

2.) If you squint just right at the album cover (see inset), the Crüe can be construed as hot babes, except of course for Mick Mars, who makes a solid case for the ugliest specimen in rock and roll.

and

3.) By throwing in that breakneck glam, Teddy’s mouth would move with extraordinary speed, prurient speed. Ideal blowjob speed.

Larry’s mother must have wondered where all her Pond’s cold cream went, because it became evident early on that Teddy Ruxpin’s unlubricated maw was too abrasive on our penises and the cold cream, applied liberally to the top and bottom of his trap, made the process exceedingly more pleasurable.

It was the summer of 1985, a year designated by the United Nations as “National Youth Year” and, unofficially, “The Year I Really Started To Experiment With The Possibilities of Places I Could Put My Penis.” The year of the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, whose exploits I followed with what my father referred to as “unhealthy enthusiasm.” Of astronaut Barbie (who, while exotic and cosmic, could not be fucked, we determined).

Larry and my crapulous affair(s) with Teddy Ruxpin came to an abrupt end when we decided it might be fun to stuff both our dicks inside Teddy Ruxpin’s mouth to the Crüe’s “Too Young To Fall in Love,” for whatever reason. The zeitgeist? Probably not. Our stiff, chubby little worms were too much for Teddy. The bear began to seize, Vince Neil’s vocals began to tremble and as it turned, no amount of Pond’s cold cream could provide a means of egress for our desperate little dongs. Teddy Ruxpin clamped down.

At first, this malfunction was cause for laughter. We scooted around Larry’s sister’s room, howling at the scenario taking place. After Larry’s sister punched her way through her closet and found us in flagrante, our howls took on a different timbre.

“Cathy, get out!”

“It’s my room, Larry! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO TEDDY? MOOOOOOMMMMMAAA!”

Momma. What a terrible thing to hear. You hear of men in battle, the toughest bastards around, screaming for their Mommas. Momma. Oh, Momma. Oh this ends badly. Larry’s mother, who for some reason never recognized that for weeks her daughter would be regularly locked in the closet while her son and his best friend face-fucked a toy bear, would now find a horrific scene. Two boys with their penises stuck inside Teddy Ruxpin, pants at our ankles, as Cathy, who would have been around eight, yanked on Teddy from one end while we made every attempt to extricate our dicks from the bear. A real sordid tug-of war.

Ben Taub is the hospital you go to in Houston if you’ve been shot, stabbed, burned to an exothermic crisp or get your penis stuck in a talking bear. It’s a ghastly place. Larry’s mother drove both Larry and I to the Ben Taub emergency room, where, naked, we sat crying in our humiliating position, penises partially digested by Teddy Ruxpin, “Shout At The Devil” still roaring out of Teddy’s speakers. A man who appeared near death, covered in gore and waiting around to postpone his reward saw the two of us in the waiting room and spoke.

“The world is a sea of rats, isn’t it, boys?” he said, through thanatoid chortles. Larry and I looked at anything but this pestilent old street crazy; we weren’t prepared to acknowledge anything or anyone.

“A fucking sea of rats,” he repeated, fingering one particularly gruesome wound with grubby fingers.

Larry and I were eventually ushered into a foul-smelling room, attended to by a Dr. Kaplan. He asked us our names, the usual drill. We mumbled our names, through hoarse tears. Then he said this:

“You two probably think this is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen don’t you?”

“I dunno.”

“I dunno.”

Dr. Kaplan applied something stronger than Pond’s cold cream and withouted us and our tormented members from Teddy Ruxpin. I wondered if he liked Mötley Crüe, if it bothered him–I wouldn’t have wanted to offend anybody’s sensibilities. He gave us hospital gowns and told us to wait, that we’d have to be checked over one more time, just to make sure no permanent damage had been done. Relief. I was relieved for a moment, until I decided to ask,

“Dr. Kaplan. Is this the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?” Dr. Kaplan seemed relieved to be asked.

“Thought you’d never ask!,” he said, continuing,” My first year as a resident, I saw a man who tried to cut his own head off with a chainsaw.” This didn’t seem much weirder, just bolder, permanent.

“Gross,” I said. Larry continued crying, sure he was going to “get in trouble.” Get in trouble? Larry, we’re in trouble, dude. It’s terrible, this kind of trouble. You go along just fine, skirting disaster until you don’t. Then what? Then tragedy. But just before it’s tragic, it’s not. We were so close to not being in this situation. Was something else at work? This is an argument for God. Not a benevolent God, just a God. You could argue everything is an argument for him/her/it.

“The weirdest part, though,” Dr. Kaplan went on,” he almost did it. But he didn’t. He lived.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Swear to God, he did. Do you want to know how they sewed his head back on?”

“Yeah.”

“They removed most of his anus and used that tissue to reconnect his neck and head. Talk about a butthead!” Dr. Kaplan laughed uproariously. We laughed nervously. What the hell just happened? Nix. What would happen? We would have to go home soon. What would my parents say? Was this something to be grounded for? This story would get out. Fifth grade was around the corner. I still hadn’t the slightest clue what to do with my penis. No hope, no salvation, existential hunger. Rotted, sweaty teeth. Parental love wears thin. This is the age one acquires enemies. This is when we are at our worst. This is a story, ammunition, a big powder keg, a cache of hellhounds. We didn’t want blood, but we got it. The story would get out.

But until now, it hasn’t.

Of course, how could one compete with the new kid, Davey Martell, a military brat transfer from California who took 5th grade center stage, charging 50 cents a head to people interested in watching him auto-fellate himself in the boy’s bathroom? One couldn’t. The worst part? He wasn’t even that flexible.

Sometimes the world is a sea of rats.



James and I met Rosina and Rebbecca in Tae-kwon-do class, in a dojo around the corner from our hostel near Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña. Malasaña is a trendy neighborhood named after Manuela Malasaña, a 15-year-old girl who resisted being raped by French troops in 1808 and was therefore executed. I don’t know when it became trendy.

James and I were fond of making lists when we arrived in Spain. Here’s one:

  1. Live healthy
  2. Read
  3. Buy a basketball (where?)
  4. Get jobs (acting, meet Almodovar, etc.)
  5. Only Spanish girls (must learn language)

The Tae-kwon-do studio was called “El Dragón del Sol,” and run by a Master Han. Master Han spoke little to no Spanish but commanded respect in his dojo. Master Han did this by kicking in the neck anybody who stepped out of line or disrespected his Masterness. We felt that Tae-kwon-do would, to a degree, take care of our “Live healthy” goal. Classes were held on Mondays and Wednesdays at 2:30, right in the middle of the siesta hour, explaining why the only students in Master Han’s class were James, Rosina, Rebecca and I along with a group of Korean expatriates. Classes were held in Korean and occasionally Master Han would try to speak Spanish to the four Americans, with little success.

“No chistes. No chistes,” he roared, as James and I, like any self-respecting children of the 80s, demonstrated the “Crane” technique from The Karate Kid. “Respeto!” As James and I fought to compose ourselves, Master Han completed two roundhouse kicks, one to my neck, the other to James’ sternum, James’ height being an obstacle insurmountable even by the high standards (and kicks) of Master Han. For the duration of our first class, James and I would behave and again did our best to stifle laughs when Master Han would deliver another devastating kick to the neck of one of the Koreans.

This class focused on punching:

Hana!

Tul!

Set!

Net!

Tasot!

Yosot!

Ilgob!

Yudol!

Ahop!

Yeol!

We were exhausted by lesson’s end. And while “Choices for Healthy Living” (we’d amended our goal to an ethos) had been checked off the list for the day, we decided to strike up a conversation with the two American girls with the green belts who looked wildly attractive, effectively throwing rule 5 out the window. We convinced the two girls to join us after class for cocktails.

Rosina and Rebbecca had recently moved to Madrid, too, six weeks before James and I arrived. We were intimidated by their green belts, which signified that they were “plants growing their leaves,” at least that’s what they said. James and I, as novices, started out with the ignominious white belt, signifying we were “innocent,” in addition to having no fighting skills whatsoever, other than being able to count to ten in Korean, which isn’t much.

The two girls had, as I had, spent a year in Madrid on a study abroad program during their junior years in college and fell in love with the city. Rosina had long red hair, almost too long. Rosina was almost too much everything. Her nose bordered on a kind of Bob Hope ski-jump nose, but fell just short, beguilingly short. Her eyes too, splashed with strokes of blue and green looked almost freakish, but again, came up short of freakish and had a cat-like quality. Her breasts bordered on the too-big, her tan bordered on the too-tan, her comportment, almost too-flirty. She grew on me gradually, then breakneck. Rosina enlisted astrology often, her favorite holiday was Halloween (her Mom was a witch, she claimed), she never learned to swim and toward the end of our relationship, she’d put a knife to my throat and start pushing. At first I thought she was shy, which true in a way, but the reality was the Rebbecca was devastatingly unshy.

“If you think we’re going to go back to your shitty hostel and fuck you, you’re still paying for these drinks, but we’re not and you’ve got another thing coming,” she said, after countless cocktails at a Sidra bar, still in our Tae-kwon-do gear, something I felt empowering.

“Think,” James said.

“Huh?”

“You misspoke or you don’t know the expression. It’s ‘You’ve got another think coming.’ It’s okay, even Judas Priest misuses it.”

“Who’s he?”

“Were you raised in a bubble?”

“San Pedro.”

“So, yes,” Rosina chimed in.

“Master Han isn’t the only person who’ll kick you in the neck, my pretty peliroja.” There’s nothing like a girlfight, or even the prospect of a girlfight to get men riled up. We had had plenty of cocktails and I suggested that we might all be more comfortable at our hostel where we had wine in a box and some music.

“Didn’t I just say we weren’t going to fuck you,” Rebbecca reminded me.

“What if I made love to you,” James asked, I thought cleverly. It was uttered with such innocence. James was tender that way and I mean it.

“You Texans are unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable in our sensuality?”

“No, in your idiocy.”

“That’s all men, Rebecca,” Rosina reminded her.

Rebecca was indeed naïve, but she was put together so well you overlooked it. Even in a crappy, sweaty dobok, the sartorial requirement for Tae-kwon-doers, she looked like she could insinuate herself anywhere. She was part Croatian, part Basque and all San Pedro. “Pedroids, we’re called.” Like Rosina, Rebecca was beautiful, but in a more glamorous way. She is the girl that guys refer to when they make that outrageous hourglass motion with their hands. Her Spanish was the best out of all of ours, and she even enlisted the telltale lisp into her linguistic repertoire. ‘Barcelona’ became ‘Barthalona’, ‘cerveza’ became ‘cervetha’, ‘sí’, became ‘thi’, and tho on. It drove James crazy. Later, when she would hold forth in Spanish, and he’d heard just about enough of the lisp, he would get in her face, perform a long, drawn out raspberry, then usually recite some Master P lyrics. Master P was a steadying force in James’s life, more so than myself, his family, God, anybody. Master P grounded James. But now, on first meeting, I think he thought Rebecca’s lisp was exotic.

We finished another round of drinks and after a few more attempts to swindle these girls back to our hostel, we ended our little party with kisses on both cheeks from both of the girls, “an extremely minor orgy,” James pointed out. At least over here, you get a kiss. It’s wonderful. No matter what kind of begrimed boor you are, no matter if you wake up alone with no wife to kiss, no husband to kiss, no nothing. All you have to do is meet somebody and instead of that cold, sacrosanct and generally stateside handshake, you get a kiss. It’s perfect. We parted ways, James and I heading back to our hostel, on the way to which, we were violently attacked, set upon by refuse from the gutters of the Gran Via.

I always thought of Europe as an inordinately civilized place, a place that learned something from centuries of senseless suffering, scorched earth, Inquisition, fixed bayonets and countless wars of varying degrees of foolishness. I thought of tulips in Amsterdam, innocuous teas in London, cuckoo clocks in Geneva, and beguiling Flamenco in Madrid. What a crap thing to think. Nobody learns anything, nobody and nothing changes—we only pretend to change. The tulips are laced with arsenic, the tea is thrown in your face, scalding, bubbling your skin, the cuckoo clock comes crashing down on your skull and the Flamenco is danced on your ribs. But in part, James and I were to blame: If you’re donning the white belt of the self-defense novice, it behooves you to change into something less targetable before you hit the streets. That’s not Europe, that’s anywhere.

A group of four, maybe five kids around high school age approached James and me along the perimeter of Malasaña. They were drunk, like us, and were passing a two liter bottle of orange Fanta that must have been mixed with vodka. Nobody is ever attacked by dudes drinking just orange soda—that wouldn’t sit right with the cosmos. My Spanish was pretty good and I heard the boys remark on the fact that we looked like fags and then something about “cinturones blancas,” or white belts. I said to James, “Look out. These little bastards are going to try and fuck with us, I think.” James snarled, “Whatever.” There was a good thirty feet between us and the knot of rambunctious street kids. One of them was wearing a shirt that read, “Queen Bitch.” I thought of David Bowie, then how it was an improbability that the kid even knew how vampy and feminine his shirt was, then I thought to run.

“James…run!” I did an about face and started off in the opposite direction. James, steeled by alcohol and forgetful of the semiotics behind the wearing of a white belt, charged toward them. Goddamnit, I thought, then said. I did another about face and ran toward the mess. James was already on the ground, having been kicked in the groin. The Queen Bitch was kicking him in the head. I assumed “Naranhi Junbi Sogi,” or “The Command Position,” trying to remember to release some of the air in my lungs, but not all. I felt ridiculous and wish I had just rushed them ala a Texas street fight. As I stood with my feet shoulder length apart, focused on my breathing, one of the kids threw a rock at my face that hit me square in the nose. Blood rushed down my face and I was blinded by my tears. I stayed in the Command Position, wobbling. Then came a flying kick to my sternum from one of the sauced-up tatterdemalions. I went down hard. I never threw a punch. I didn’t even have the chance to count to ten in Korean. The last thing I remember before losing consciousness was being choked.

I woke up to James wiping my face with the arm of his dobok. I still couldn’t see anything but I could hear James.

“I thought you meant run toward them, T. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. God, you look like shit. Do you want to go to a hospital? C’mon. I’ll help you.” James tried to pick me up, but I was too heavy. He heaved me up for a moment, then we both collapsed again to the pavement in front of a sex shop, groaning, wheezing and broken. I sat crumpled in his lap, a huge vent from the sex shop gushed fetid air scented with fruity sanitizer out onto the street. James rubbed my head and apologized some more as sex exhaust flooded our nostrils.

 



You don’t like “The Doors” as much as you think you do. Jim Morrison was outrageously gorgeous, I grant you. His nipples are about the most perfect things God ever created. You know that picture where he’s all Christ-like, arms outstretched, pleading to be strung up like the original man on the cross with his quintet of bursting wounds that Thursday (or Wednesday or Friday, however you do your crucifictional math) long ago? Yes, he’s a perfect specimen in many ways, but I’m fed up to the ears with people giving that ultimately maudlin and bloated old sot more credit than he deserves. That’s why we stole from him. That’s why. And we were drug addicts.

It’s different now, but back then, we’d have to jaunt over to France to get our tourist visas back in effect. These trips were often fraught with more rigmarole than art-gazing at the Louvre or posing as “The Thinker” in front of “The Thinker” or whatever it is people do in Paris. On our first train ride into the Gare du Nord, I was beset by an explosive gastro-intestinal ailment that saw my friend James and I running for what we thought was our lives down the train tracks leading out from the station into what looked like scorched earth. Where is Paris? What’s around it? If you ever discharge the contents of your bowels all over the wall of the completely foreign bathroom facilities at the Gare du Nord and have to run for your life, you’ll see what I mean. James and I sat at the train station for hours, as James was convinced that the train station was probably the best place to score hash. He had a preternatural ability to find drugs, so I trusted him. Furthermore, I couldn’t travel more than a few steps without running furiously to the WC.

“Number one or number two?” asked the large, black bathroom attendant. She had a nobility to her, even dressed as some kind of European translation of how an antebellum servant might have appeared.

“Number two,” I said sheepishly. The woman gave me a single sheet of single ply toilet paper and I entered the, faute de mieux, restroom. This restroom consisted of a vertical wall of porcelain, at the bottom of which was a small drain, giving one the idea that the French shit in impossibly small portions. I dropped my pants and tried to be quiet and discreet and French about the whole affair. Snake eyes. My bowels roared with a thunderclap and I soiled the entirety of the porcelain, managing to befoul the adjacent wall as well. Humiliating. I discarded the piece of toilet paper, hiked up my pants and walked gingerly back to where James was looking for an Algerian named Carlos who had promised to come back with a chunk of hashish.

“James, I just shit all over the place.”

“Like in the terminal? What are you saying?”

“No, I made it to the bathroom, but I exploded all over the wall.”

“Serves the French right. Where is this goddamned Algerian?”

“I didn’t wipe.”

“Solid. Don’t stand so close to me. Hey, that reminds me. What’s a Frenchman’s favorite expression?”

“I don’t know James.”

“C’mon guess.”

“I don’t know. I give up.”

“Exactly.” James laughed his laugh and I was marginally appalled at this half-assed joke. James stewed around as I sat nervously, fetidly.

“Hey look, dude. When you find Carlos the Algerian, I’ll be hovering around the bathroom, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I’ll find you.” I repeated my performance in two other bathrooms in the Gare du Nord. I went back to find James. He was gone. I had to go again. I went back to the scene of my original crime against decency and was asked again by the noble Frenchwoman, “Number one or number two?” I thought about how terrible it was that even in Europe, they stick the black people by the toilet. Have you ever seen a white bathroom attendant? I haven’t either. I ruminated on this for a moment, my liberal leanings seeping out like so much shit, I thought to give her a life-changing tip. I didn’t know what that was. I had little money. When does a tip become life-changing? You hear about it. Some waitress gets a $20,000 tip from some greasy old man and it’s off to the races, probably. Off to lose it all at the races. As I was barraged with this charge of magnanimity, a look of recognition came over the bathroom attendant’s face. Then a look of ferocity. Then this:

“Putain! Fucking American you shit all over the toilet and you don’t clean it. You shit all over like a fucking animal. You shit all over my house!” My house? That can’t be right. I felt terribly. I don’t know why I tried to speak back in French. Maybe let her know I wasn’t THE shitty, shitting American.

Mon Dieu manquez Je suis désolée, je ne sais pas comment les choses fonctionnent en France, je suis comme un idiot. Puis je vous aider à quelque chose? Tu dois croire que je ne voulais pas le faire. C’est mon estomac. Il n’y a rien de personnel à propos de cette merde. Je suis désolé!”

“Tuez-le!” she shouted, and began to run at me. Both stomach ailments and fear pulsing through me, I ran shittily away, toward a train platform that looked empty, followed by the bathroom attendant and a cadre of her fellows.

“James! James! James!” I ran screaming through the Gare du Nord. I made some distance from the angry bathroom attendant horde (to the French’s credit, all the other bathroom attendants chasing me were white, something that made me feel a little better in real-time and in retrospect). I jumped off of the platform and onto the track toward nothingness, toward away from Paris, away from the Gare du Nord. As he always did for me, James appeared by my side, running with me out into nothingness. No questions, no nothing. This time he ran with me, not away from me. He looked back to see what in the smash was happening and at the sight of a half-dozen antebellum servants shaking their fists and running toward us had divined what happened. He began to laugh and fell on the train tracks in paroxysms of joy. For, what greater joy is there than laughing at the laughable shortcomings and peccadilloes of your friends? Admit it. There is nothing more pleasing. Nothing more tender.

With Carlos the Algerian nowhere to be found, my pants soiled beyond recognition and a credit card, I insisted we take a taxi and find a hostel, somewhere we could regroup.

“We’re not taking any cocksucking taxi, T”

“I’ll pay for it, James. Come the hell on. I’m covered in shit.”

“Just walk it off, man.”

“Walk it off? I don’t have a sprained ankle, dickhead. I need a shower.”

“No taxis. I have an idea.”

“You’re going to dump me in the Seine? Man, I need soap!”

“No, I know where we can get some weed. Not hash, man. Trees!”

“Fuck trees, James. Can’t you smell me?”

“I don’t know. All of Paris smells like shit. People will just think you’re a dog, or stepped in dog shit. See? You just did.” I had.

“What’s the plan, dope fiend?”

“Where is that cemetery, the famous one?”

“Père Lachaise?”

“Is that where Jim Morrison is buried?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, peep this, playboy. I read in the guidebook that greasy hippies leave joints and acid and all sorts of shit on his grave. I know how you hate The Doors and I could care less.”

“Mother, I want to fuck you?”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s from ‘The End.’”

“Anyway, how far away are we from it?”

“I have no idea.”

“We’re taking the bus.” James rifled through our guide book and discovered some bus route that would allegedly deposit us at the cemetery. By some stretch of fortune, we got on the bus and made our way to the famous resting place. James was kind enough to let me borrow his bottle of “Cool Water” cologne, which I sprayed all over my pants. I now smelled like Cool Water and shit, but it was better than nothing and the bus passengers didn’t seem to mind. But then, even in France, how do you confront somebody covered in feces? Some people in the world are just left alone.

We bought a site map at the entrance off the Boulevard de Menilmontant.

“Jesus, there’s some famous dead motherfuckers up in here.”

“Yep,” I added, a little tentative about robbing Jim Morrison’s post-mortem drug cache. We walked along the southeast side of the cemetery and found Morrison’s grave. It was covered in flowers, graffiti, torn pieces of paper with Morrison-esque poems written on them; some had actual song lyrics printed on them. And, as promised, there were, in front of his bust, at least a dozen joints and sundry other items of drug paraphernalia to ostensibly keep Jim loaded during the afterlife. There was also a full handle of Jack Daniel’s, which appealed to me. Who knew how long these joints had been there? When did it last rain? Whiskey you can count on. My interest was piqued. The problem was, along with all the dead rock stars’ booty were about a half-dozen worshipers, all lathered in patchouli and the requisite Guatemalan/Tibetan neo-hippie attire, sun dresses, he-sarongs, and of course, some prick with a didgeridoo, and a retinue of confused people singing the words to ‘The Crystal Ship’ along with the bizarre tempo produced by this horrible “instrument.” The didgeridoo is, in and of itself, perfectly fine, but when put into the hands of a young American on some kind of hallucinogen sporting those nauseating white person dreadlocks is unforgivably offensive. Non-aboriginal people who play the didgeridoo are fit for nothing more than violent extinction. Also, it’s hard to run with a didgeridoo.

James and I assessed the situation. “One, two, three, four….oh, come the hell on, T. It doesn’t matter how many of them there are. You grab the Jack Daniel’s because I know you’ve been eyeing it and I’ll scoop up all the joints and whatever other shit I can fit in my hands. Then we run north.”

“Why north?”

“That just seems like something people say before a heist. Besides, we don’t have a safe house or a, uh…”

“Home base,” I ventured.

“No, something more gangster, but fuck it. Are you ready?” James asked.

“Which way is north?”

“Aw, man. Just follow me.”

“What if we get split up?”

“T, you’re acting like a bitch right now. If we get split up, we’ll meet at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, how’s that? How do you say Eiffel Tower in French?”

“Tour Eiffel.”

“Ok, then.” I knew James would be the first to make the dash toward the loot, so I tried to dart toward Morrison’s headstone first. James and I then crashed into each other violently, both of us falling on top of his grave.

“Hey, man…be peaceful!” shouted an American.

“Oye…tranquilo, colegas!” a Spaniard.

“Faites gaffe!” a Frenchwoman. Then an indecipherable squeal of admonitions, as James scooped up everything non-alcoholic and I, everything else. I got up first and ran to what I thought was north. I carried a 1.75 liter bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a few airline bottles of rum, brandy and maybe gin, which I dropped as I ran into Frederic Chopin. I wasn’t sure if I’d been followed, but by the time I reached Apollinaire, then turned toward Marcel Proust, I saw I was being chased only by a portly security guard. I guess he was on liquor patrol, but I wasn’t too worried because he looked as if he were flagging after I made a sharp right and hid next to a bush and Isadora Duncan. I figured James had been pursued by the druggies and that was okay. James was fast and agile. I imagined him driving toward the exit and toward the Tour Eiffel like Kobe Bryant driving through stoned defenders—a total mismatch. Of course, James was extremely tall—a drawback in France, and at Père Lachaise. I took a long draw from the bottle of Jack Daniel’s behind Oscar Wilde and rested for a brief moment, when I saw James playing fugitive pinball between Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein and Edith Piaf, his unmistakable big, reddish coif running back and forth in shortened bursts. I thought to advise him to run toward Molière, but in retrospect I think that may have just been the desire to be the first person to utter the phrase “Run toward Molière!” at least since the 17th century.

There had been too much violence during our stay in Spain, in Europe. I did not want James to punch a hippie and neither did I. Not to mention, there was at least one security gendarme hot on my trail. Who knows what would have happened had I shouted “Run toward Molière!” but I didn’t and instead I took my shitty pants off, rhino charged the group of hippies and whipped them with my crappy Levi’s, again and again. The young man with the didgeridoo (who was brandishing it like a primitive lightsaber) dropped it and it broke into pieces. I heard a whistle from behind us (there are always whistles going off in France) and looked at James. He, too, put his head down now that the most threatening weapon had broken (aside from my pants, which I spun around my head like a helicopter.

James and I finally made it out an entrance onto the Rue de Bagnolet. We were now both covered in filth, but at least I had abandoned my pants and now ran down the streets of Paris in sandals and boxers given to me by my mother that featured sumo wrestlers in various attack poses. We ran aimlessly, laughing, panting. We came across a Métro station, Alexandre Dumas. So many famous dead. We jumped on and headed back to what James insisted was west.

“This takes us to the Arc de Triomphe, if we take it to the end of the line” James said.

“Then let’s,” I said. I passed James the bottle of whiskey and he took a long draw.

“We have joints, too, but I’m not going to fuck with that on the Métro.” Sometimes you never know if things have gone colossally wrong, or right. We traveled along the 2 Line in grinning silence.

The cold air from the Métro air conditioning felt good on my naked legs.

Dear Texas,

Georgia O’Keeffe, the vaunted painter of periwinkle vaginas, once remarked of your landscape, “It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.” I read O’Keeffe’s words and, Texas, I think she’s got you pegged.

From your Gulf Prairies and Marshes, that moist welcome mat for countless pirates, tycoons and explorers before me—to your tangled, pubic Pineywoods and fetid Savannah, I ache for you, Texas. Your Rolling Plains, your Edwards Plateau…Mmmmm. I can virtually run my finger down your vast belly. Although you are awfully big and grotesquely frustrating to get a handle on.

Why is this, Texas? Perhaps it’s because you’re always changing. At one moment, you’re a beacon of warmth and naked, Bacchanalian invitation a la Laredo Boys Town 1998, the next, you’re like the Summit in Houston. How so? Let me explain.

Like the Summit, sometimes, you are an arena filled with hope, Van Halen with David Lee Roth. You evoke nostalgia for Akeem Olajuwon dunking over The Admiral and you inspire memories of being eleven years old and chased on a scooter by Donnie Wahlberg of New Kids on The Block after pelting him and his bandmates with rocks for stealing our would-be girlfriends,

Other times, you become frustratingly similar to Joel Osteen’s faith-toaster, Lakewood Church, a veritable Six Flags Over Jesus where the destitute stumble in to put money in your capacious G-string, with only a hint of a lap dance and no champagne room in sight. I’d pick up my sling shot and my rocks again, but I fear Mr. Osteen may be equipped with more than a scooter and a entourage far more intimidating than Jordon, Jonathan, Joey and Danny.

Texas, you just don’t seem to know what you want to be. Do you want to be the bisexual travesty of nature Tila Tequila of Houston, or the homosexual travesty of nature Rick Perry, of the Governor’s mansion? You’ve gotta let me know. Do you want to embrace Dallas and Ft. Worth, the bloated, silicon titties of your Cross Timbers or showcase your fertile NASA mind? You know you’re capable of sending men and women into low-Earth orbit, then bringing them down with a septic splash after an exhausting interstellar session of toggle and yaw. You did say you were doing post-graduate work in aerospace engineering at nights. Was that all a lie, Texas? Or maybe you said it was medical school. Texas, what’s it going to be? Sometimes I feel like I’m sucking from the proverbial hind tit, here, Texas, a dying lone star, a black dwarf, like Emmanuel Lewis, without the cute cardigan.

Sometimes with you, I feel like a 10-year old boy, road tripping to Amarillo with my parents in 1984 to see Twisted Sister at the Civic Center. My teeth sweat with anticipation. “Ama-fucking-rillo!!” shouts Dee Snider. Then cops, then show’s over, with nary a chord struck. Cock tease. I protest in agony that we’re not gonna take it, but in the end, I always do.

Maybe this is why I’ve left you so many times. Well, I’m back now, Texas. And I’m hoping you’ll have me, if not forever, then for just this one night

I’ll finish up with another line for you from Georgia O’Keeffe: “There was quiet and an untouched feel to the country (that’s you Texas) and I could work as I pleased.” You and Georgia must have come across each other much earlier, because I certainly don’t get an “untouched feel” with you, but I do always believe that I can work with you pretty much as I please. It may seem crazy that I’m starting and ending these sappy scrawls to you by channeling Georgia O’Keeffe. But it really all comes down to art. And while Georgia creates her art with easels and acrylic, brushes and canvas and you create your art with an ill-fitting thong and a pole at the Yellow Rose Gentleman’s Club on weekdays from noon to four, you both serve as infinite inspiration for me. Well, that and of course, you’re both named after States.

Cautiously,

Tyler

The advent of the New Year in the US has always been about regeneration, reflection and apologizing for relieving myself inside your piano bench, on top of the sheet music for Haydn’s L’impériale, which is an inferior symphony, I’ll have you know, but I’m sorry anyway. Regeneration is for lizards and draculas and reflection gets you nowhere. So how are we to deal with this maelstrom of transient morality, half-baked resolutions to get thin or stop sprinkling cocaine on my Fruity Pebbles before work? I say we go Chinese.

The Chinese New Year is transparent, honest and sincere. And just because it involves a little bit of ancestral ooga-booga, this doesn’t make it any more preposterous than our rituals involving black-eyed peas, soggy cabbage and the annual scavenger hunt to find my car on New Year’s Day, usually located somewhere between Bed-Stuy and Baltimore, if I’m lucky.

The Chinese New Year is steeped in a rich cultural tradition, like most things Chinese, including the terra cotta warriors of Xi’an and the “Dumpling Man” of St. Mark’s Place, next to Tompkins Square Park. I’m told that typically, the Chinese New Year begins with a massive house cleaning to sweep away any bad juju from the previous year. I suspect, however, that my girlfriend, who has been nagging me incessantly about tossing out my collection of jock straps from retired Mets, may have fabricated this “tradition.” She’s also not even Chinese, but sometimes love is about compromise and I must agree, Marv Throneberry’s athletic supporter doesn’t exactly “go” nailed up next to her Kandinsky print.

As I’m sure you’re also aware, with every Chinese New Year comes an animal used as the years’ avatar. This year, it’s the tiger, a charismatic megafauna that is ferocious and totally bad-ass, unlike the stupid ox, last year’s loser. The ox achieves through routine, and last year I was the picture of an ox, routinely watching the Law & Order/ CSI: Las Vegas cocktail and eating jelly-filleds from Doughnut Planet while cashing my unemployment checks for 1970s pornography on Betamax. The lesson here is to be careful. Next year will be the Year of the Rabbit, which will hopefully translate into lots of sex, but could also mean a year of coprophagy, or the consuming of night feces, another distinct and altogether unpleasant activity engaged in by the rabbit. But that’s the beauty of it. To coin a phrase, Chinese New Year is like a box of chocolates: You never know if you’ll be eating shit or running free, preying on antelope in the African savannahs.

Another interesting nuance of the Chinese New Year involves not just one night of revelry, but count ‘em 15 days and nights of rabble-rousing, which include setting pretty much whatever you want to on fire. For instance, the First Day of the Chinese New Year marks a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. A lavish meal is served, scantily clad second cousins perform a lion dance to keep evil spirits away, then the old people are typically set on fire and the fun can really begin.

The next thirteen days of the Chinese New Year are traditionally spent in a huangjiu-induced stupor. Huangjiu, or “yellow-liquor” was a particular favorite of Chinese poets in the Tang dynasty. Li Po’s protracted ode to yellow liquor, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” is a prime example of huangjiu’s influence over political and family life in China at a time when most people were in the middle of a gargantuan blackout. The thirteen-day blackout is also a good idea because most of these days are devoted to The Jade Emperor, who is often a royal pain in the 屁股. According to one of several Chinese creation stories, the Jade Emperor fashioned the first humans from clay, but as he left them to harden in the sun, a storm came down, misshaping some of the figures, accounting for the origin of infirmity, physical abnormalities and The Jonas Brothers. Just to hedge your bets, though, it’s never a bad idea to set something on fire to placate The Jade Emperor, because you never know. It’s said that The God of The Kitchen reports back to The Jade Emperor with news of our shortcomings and transgressions, but I’m not too worried about the God of the Kitchen. Oh, my coq au vin was too stringy? Do you really think the Jade Emperor gives a shit? But, like I said, better to torch a miniature pony or a clown just to be safe.

A brief note on safety: With all this arson going around, it’s easy to find yourself engulfed in flames, especially if you are dressed as a dragon or as an old person. So during Chinese New Year festivities, be sure to coat yourself in a fire-retardant material like asbestos cement, or for increased range of movement, calcium silicate.

Now, on the 15th and final day, the celebration starts to wind down. People usually eat vegetarian meals to cleanse their bodies after the two week pork party. This, and the fact that football season is over may be the main drawback of Chinese New Year. Why all this cleansing? It reminds me of the American New Year’s, where everyone gets new shoes and pretends to run for a week. Then we get all this alternative dietary claptrap so popular with today’s homeopathic nitwits. It’s hypocritical, it’s creepy and it’s mediocre, people. We are TIGERS this year. Fierce Chinese tigers. Would a tiger subject himself to vegetarian soysage or the indignities of the enema bag? Or hop in a Prius to go prance around at Pilates, under the illusion that the New Year has propelled him into righteousness? No, a tiger would probably eat everybody at the Pilates class, then drive around town growling or spraying anal gland secretions to pick up babes. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I’m going to roll in 2010.

America, you can have your Times Square apple drop, your awkward midnight smooches, your mindless Gregorian calendar, your one night of fatuous, yawning “fun,” your black-eyed peas—your whole wretched, fabricated New Year’s hoodwink. I will take the Chinese and their fecund cultural traditions, their poetry, their piety, Peking Man, and Peking Duck. In this year, this glorious dawn of 2010, I will take the form of the tiger.

And if that means I relieve myself inside your piano bench, soiling the sheet music of the Yuan dynasty classic, Rejuvenation of the Red Plum Flower, that’s just the tiger in me. Plus, I think we both know that Cantonese opera is far inferior to the majestic musical treasure known as Kunquopera. But yeah, again…I’m real sorry about that.

“Fact check, Tyler! Was gorgonzola even invented in 1970? It (gorgonzola) seems like a more recent development (You should really check this out yourself, but I’ll ask your mother—you know how she loves cheese.).”

“Have you considered the implications your bank heist might have had if placed in the historical context of the Taiping Rebellion [1850-1864] rather than gangland Chicago?”

“I think you’d like to reconsider the line ‘The derelict howls that issued from under the subway platform brought his thoughts inexorably back to Vietnam.’ Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon, and before that Prey Nokor before being annexed by the Vietnamese from the Khmer in the 17th century) doesn’t have a subway and won’t have one until 2014, I think. Or is your narrator in New York now? Are we supposed to believe he was also in Vietnam? I thought that was another character with the same name…What’s going on here, son? Are you on pot?”

“Once again, I’m afraid, you confuse correlation with causation (didn’t I suggest a reading of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature some time ago?) when your narrator says, ‘My father, I saw as if through a kind of gauze. He was there, but ephemeral, his head always in some arcane history book and his temper—if interrupted from his study—was legion.’ What a shit thing to say about one’s father, eh? Your narrator is an ingrate. Did you know that in China, if a child didn’t show sufficient filial piety he could be EXECUTED? Your narrator should think about that. Just saying.”

“Have you considered writing under a pseudonym? I know there are a lot of Smiths out there, and Tyler is not a common name. But it’s not an uncommon one either, and when you throw in your middle name (pretentious), people are going to know who you are and, more importantly, who I am. And that will embarrass the hell out of your mother. Which is not to say that this book will ever be published. Most books aren’t. I mean, the ones that are published obviously are, but works like this are tough, almost impossible, to get into print. Especially if you’re going to stick with the three names thing (pretentious).”

“Here’s a bit of something, son: Your narrator is a maudlin inebriate (like Churchill—but you didn’t hear that from me), so I naturally wouldn’t expect him to give great speeches on love. But Jesucristo: “We never knew if we were falling in love or just getting scared.” I mean REALLY. Have you forgotten my casual remarks at the dinner table on Plato’s Symposium when Aristophanes speaks so eloquently on the subject of love, and where Socrates gives one of the most compelling explanations of love’s origin ever recorded?  The Symposium did have a variety of dilettante drunks hanging about to enjoy the conversation, though, a role your narrator could conceivably fill, as he is both drunk and unskilled. Socrates’ speeches in the Symposium and in the dialogue of the Phaedrus are sublime, and infinitely more resonant than your generation’s post-modern formulas for love—you know, the ones that spring forth from our endless stream of capitalist infomercials and pseudo-intellectual brain candy, like “Men Are From It’s Okay To Cry/ Women Are From Attend My Seminar And Pay Me Money.” 

“Socrates on a scooter, Ty. It seems someone isn’t familiar with the expression “Barba non facit philosophum. Just because you spent some time doing acid and looking at Monarch butterflies at Esalen with your African-American girlfriend, doesn’t mean you’re Franz fucking Fanon. Then again, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I suppose. Speaking of ventures, how did you manage to spend $10,000 living in a “tent” in Palo Alto for three months? Were you building a superconductor? I guess when you were small and we’d say to you, “Son, you can do anything you want in life,” we didn’t really anticipate that you’d interpret “anything” as synonymous with “nothing.” I’m not trying to browbeat you, you understand. I just want you to recognize that a.) We love you very much no matter what and no your mother didn’t make me say that; b.) If you don’t tear up that credit card, I’ll tear you a new one (and I don’t mean another card), and c.) I think we’re doomed. How are the Rockets supposed to make the playoffs with this bunch of assholes? I have to question Tracy McGrady’s dedication. Call to discuss.”

“Fact-checked gorgonzola for you. It seems you’re off the hook, as my junior colleague Dr. Munz, who teaches HIST 351, Europe 4th Century C.E to The Crusades, says that gorgonzola was invented sometime after the sack of Argentia by the Huns, but before the wars between the Guelphs and Ghibelines. (I know, I know. There’s a 500 year window of opportunity between those dates. Pretty damned imprecise. That’s why Dr. Munz isn’t getting tenure, but you didn’t hear that from me).”

“Your mother says you should write a children’s book.”

 

                                                             

 

 

 

 

It’s always nice to have visitors visiting when you’re living abroad. They bring reminders that no matter how much you miss the States, the States stay pretty much the same. This is like everywhere, though. Our first visitor, the daughter of our roommate Deanne’s hairdresser, had won a contest. She mailed in the back of some cat food and got a 7-day, 6-night setup around the Iberian Peninsula. Her father, Deanne told us, was a deeply religious and protective man and mandated that his daughter’s trip would only extend as far as Madrid, where she would stay with Deanne (and us) away from the vicissitudes of foreignness, an isolated beaker of propriety. Her name was Carla and she was anorexic, a gargantuan alcoholic and just shy of being an “imbecile,” defined like the antiquated English usage.

Carla arrived into Barajas airport in Madrid. The four of us, my roommates, James, myself, Deanne and Caron, bought her a drink at Barajas airport and left in a taxi, a real treat. Carla later assured us that she wouldn’t burden us with having to take her on as a house-guest for a week and was excited to be out on her own in “Mexico.” Yes, Mexico. She’d only stay a night. “Totally!” Spain beat Mexico. This once.

As a guest, we felt obliged to give Carla a night on the town. We’d been living cheaply, but all of us had credit cards, so we ventured out to a German bar called the “Rats Keller.” Every city has one of these, just like every city has an Irish bar called “The Blarney Stone.” I don’t know why we always went to the Rats Keller with our out-of-country guests. Oh, sure I do.

We’d inevitably order a three-liter concoction known as “Der Vulkan,” which consisted of a liter of vodka, a liter of rum, a liter of gin and a then some Jagermeister and orange juice. The straws they gave us were Crazy Straws and the drink had a bunch of umbrellas scattered about it, drowned or drowning in the alcoholic filth. It was a real horror of drink-making, but we always ordered it. The problem is, you just can’t drink that much without ensuring some form of disaster. Especially if you’re a 90-pound anorexic imbecile with a death wish.

Carla attacked Der Vulkan with Bibilical enthusiasm. By seizing all five straws and inhaling a solid third of the drink, my roommates and I looked around at each other, rolling our eyes, knowing, or thinking we knew, what would come next.

What came next was a true tour-de-force of blacked-out endurance. After finishing Der Vulkan (My roommates and I commandeered it and drank the beast in tag-teamed flurries), we had to put some food in this creature.  The rest of us sat at a tapas bar and ate chorizo and olives while Carla went around the bar, grabbing the penises of the bar’s patrons. This is no way to operate, so James and I tried to spirit her away from these men who, at a point, were convinced (perhaps rightly so) that this drooling trollop was a sure bet. It would also be ludicrous to deny that James and I both had selfish interests in mind. I think James would admit that.I miss him.

Something kicked in Carla, though, something that I can only describe as a sort of Las Vegas adrenaline that keeps you on your heater even after you’ve had seventeen scotches. And Carla went on a heater. Through a gauntlet of dance clubs, pubs, bars and bistros, Carla tore through the night like an ethylene comet. She spoke no Spanish, so her tirades against “Mexico” were even more offensive. There is nothing so excruciating, I imagine, than to be yelled at by an American ghoul in its native tongue. We broke up fights with hookers, withdrew her from a dumpster, ceased her insistence on removing her clothes in the Plaza Mayor and then retreated back to our apartment seven hours later, James and I, quite drunk ourselves, trying to reinvigorate Carla’s insistence on removing her clothes.

“You guys are pigs,” said Carla, as James and I both went in for a pre-coital neckrub (Carla had collapsed in front of our couch, sitting upright, held in this fashion only by virtue of the durability of our couch, and sundry theories postulateed by Sir Isaac). “Why don’t you let me see your pigs,” she blathered, somewhat seductively. James and I both looked at each other. Convinced this travesty of nature on loan from San Pedro, California was in the middle of a blackout, James asked me, in a normal voice, “Does she mean our penises, I wonder?”

“I was just thinking that,” I said. James took the reins. “Carla, when you say you want to see our pigs, is that a synonym for dick and balls or does that mean something else?”

“Synonome. Syndrome. Synful. Syn,” she hissed. “I want cock.” ‘I want cock’ is a sort of desperate thing to say. It works out okay in pornographic movies because the scenarios are always so outrageous to begin with. But, if you’re standing around your apartment with your best friend, your two female roommates watching the exchange take place and laughing, it’s a desperate line, not a sexy line. It’s amazing how an orgy is the end result of most male thinking when surrounded by drunk women, but what’s really amazing is that we’ll say things like ‘to say I want cock is desperate and pathetic.’ How not desperate and pathetic of us. Synecdoche not metonymy. A teacher taught me that. There is a difference. Wake up, Smith!

James, Deanne, Caron and I all had a prodigious laugh at Carla’s expense and moved her on top of the couch, where she could find some Sandman after a long day and night. Sometime before dawn, James and I both emerged (I slept in the girl’s bedroom, on the floor this night) and bumped into each other trying to coerce Carla into wakeful, naughty ill-advised sexuality. Drunk. We laughed at our mutual desperate night moves and finally retired to our sleep spaces, this time for good.

Morning. I am hit across the face with a mop. “Tyler, goddamnit what the FUCK have you done?” This scene is repeated next door, to James. Caron and Deanne wanted their bases covered. Caron hit me, Deanne hit James, and we both woke up supremely nuisanced and confused by the crowing. I hit James, because why not?

“There is SHIT everywhere!” the girls wheezed in unison.

“Like what kind of shit, Caron?”

“Like what kind of shit, Deanne?

“PEOPLE SHIT!”

James and I were then forced from our beds to examine people shit. Sure enough, there was people shit everywhere. Rather, person shit. At this point, it’s all Murders in the Poo Morgue speculation, as nobody can prove anything. However, rubbing feces on things, I imagine, is something you either do once—then stop drinking forever—or you do it with some regularity and thus have few friends. The shit is analyzed through perfunctory examination, through gags. It’s on the living room wall, the doorknob of James’s room, and the point of origin—the bathroom—as a grotesque triptych of fecal matter, vomit and other post-apocalyptic fluid. This is nobody’s filth we know. You live with some people long enough, you know things. Why the ladies hadn’t pinned the crime on Carla earlier, we felt was sexist.

“Oh, like only a guy would shit on a wall, Caron.”

“A woman wouldn’t do that kind of thing, you idiots. Even as we sleep, we have an internal governor that won’t allow baboon shit-throwing. Even crazy women, like really crazy, I’ll bet they don’t go throwing shit around.” This sounded convincing.  James piped up,

“It must have been Tyler.”

“Dickface! Look at that shit. Those are the bowel contents of a woman.”

“Where’s Carla,” asked Deanne through a wine-soaked handkerchief. All we had was wine. It’s all we ever had. So to combat the stench of last night’s disaster, we all took a cue from Deanne and drank a large swallow of Don Simon boxed wine, wet a rag or handkerchief with some more wine, then continued on our investigation.

“She’s not here,” said James. “By the way, weren’t we supposed to not let her get away? Deanne you promised her father, who seems kind of Croatian and deadly.”

“He is,” Deanne clarified. “We should find her, then make her clean up this shit.”

“Where should we look?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just get the hell out of here.”

Where, pumpkin? WHERE?

It was for moments like these that I have an undying nostalgia. When people disappear now, there is no adventure, only panic. When people disappear now, it either ends badly or ends boringly. But in Madrid, fortified by our fortified wine and a cool morning March air, we all trundled out of the apartment to try and track down our AWOL in a kind of renewed optimistic charge.

There is nothing more invigorating for the stultified, frictionally unemployed American abroad than a project. Hell, a mystery. Caron remembered that, had her father not demanded she be incarcerated in our apartment, the itinerary of the cat food grand prize called for a trip down to the south of Spain, in Granada. The four of us hopped on the subway toward the bus station whose routes ran to the south. We arrived at the ticket counter and asked the vendor if there had been any Americans that looked like they were in pretty bad shape who had earlier boarded the train to Granada.

“All the Americans look like they’re in bad shape.”

“Yeah, but this one was particularly bad. A woman, possibly covered in mierda,” James added.

“No, not today. I haven’t seen anyone like that today,” replied the ticket vendor, sucking impatiently from a black tobacco cigarette.

“Alright,” said Deanne. “What are we doing here?”

“Yeah, what are we doing here,” asked Caron.

“How mean is this barber, by the way?” asked James.

“That bad,” said Deanne.

“This wasn’t my idea,” I defensed. They say that the first 48 hours is the crucial time after a disappearance. After that, your odds of survival go down e to the x and so do those of your rescuers, assuming this Croatian barber is as murderous as he looms in our heads, our lives. It had been around ten hours since anyone laid eyes on our guest. We called the airport. No good there. Carla is still in the country, a good thing, we agree. But where?

“Deanne, if you were Carla where would you go?”

“How the hell would I know?”

“You’re both from San Pedro and you have Croatian ties.”

“Just because I’m part Croatian doesn’t mean I’m in the fucking mafia.” Deanne would always insist that we knew her family was only partly affiliated with organized crime.

“I’d probably go shopping,” Deanne said, finally. James, Caron and I all laughed at Deanne’s preposterous reply until it was clear that this is what, according to Deanne, someone from San Pedro would in fact do after smearing their own shit around a veritable stranger’s apartment: They would go shopping. Isn’t that beautiful, in its way?

We went to The Corte Ingles, where we would later buy a turkey, but now, we were looking for a diseased humanoid in cosmetics. We cased the entire mall searching for Carla, ogling the ranch dressing and basketballs inside this ersatz America. The English Court. They’re too embarrassed to plea in front of The Corte Estadounidense. We window shopped for an hour or two, eventually realizing that Carla would have to come to us. She’s had too long to move. There is nothing we can do. We will wait until twenty-four hours from now, then we will call Carla’s father. We’ve started to call him “The Bavarian Butcher,” even though none of us are certain where Bavaria is, only that it vaguely sounds like somewhere where Croatia could be. We stop in to The Quiet Man, the pub directly below our apartment and order four calimochos (Molarity=1.5 parts wine, i part Coca-Cola, one part cocaina from Jayne, our bartender. Jayne is from London. She moved to Madrid for a man ten years ago and “here I still fuckin’ am, pouring pints for these cunts and cunts like you Yanks and just can’t find my way out. If I find him, I’ll Micky Finn’em, freeze his dick, snap it off and fuck him to death with it. For starters.”

“Jayne, have you seen an American girl, possibly covered in shit, anywhere around the neighborhood?”

“No, ‘fraid not. Not lately.” This is one reason to love Jayne. She never asked “Why,” something I think is both tragic and great. With Jayne, things were just because. There is a shit-covered American walking around this neighborhood because…The man I followed to this cunty shithole left me because…The girl last week was hit by a car in front of here because…Life is because.

We smoked cigarettes (except for James, who would only endure tobacco when mixed with hashish, thus only smoking the equivalent of a pack a day) and tried to retrace the night’s steps.

“It makes no fucking sense to retrace the night, you assholes. We were all there until we all weren’t and then we went to sleep,” Caron pointed out. We know what happened. We just don’t know how happened. It sounded like something Jayne would say, which attracted me to Caron immensely. “Let’s just set up shop at the apartment. She’s probably been banging on the fucking door all day and we’ve been out trying to find her—things always happen like that.”

“She’s right,” said James. “It’s the jinx. We should wait upstairs for her.”

“If I did what she did I wouldn’t come back,” I offered.

“Sure you would, Tyler. But you’d deny it. You’d be terrible at denying it, but you’d be convinced you were selling the hell out of your performance, your amateur gig, that everybody would feel so bad for you, I, or someone else would manage to admit to ourselves—even though we were lying to ourselves and knew it—that we had done it and this would convince you that we were convinced you’d taken yourself off the hook—that’s why I knew it wasn’t you. If it were you, we’d be pointing the finger at Deanne. She’s a softy and doesn’t want to upset you,” said Caron.

“If you weren’t so careful not to overdo it, I’d say that was almost like an angry rant,” I said to Caron, in that way people begin to flirt. She looked at me.

“I am so not a fucking softy, Caron. My family’s in the fucking mafia. San Pedro, bitch.”

“Yeah, well let’s go back up and find your girl from the Pedro.”

“She’s not my girl,” snorted Deanne. We finished our drinks and James and I took the elevator while Caron and Deanne took the stairs. James and I arrived at the door to our apartment, hearing only screams, then Caron opening the door and pleading we make ourselves scarce for a few minutes.

“Is everything okay,” we asked.

“No,” said Caron. And closed the door.

“Is she in there?” I screamed through the door.

“Yes,” said Caron.

“Why can’t we come in? Is she nude?” asked James, continuing, “because if she’s nude this is bullshit. If there were a nude guy in there we’d let you come in.”

“She’s not nude,” said Caron. “She’s having a nervous breakdown.”

“Well let us in, damnit,” I replied, eager to see what a nervous breakdown looked like. Everybody always talks about them, but you only see the anesthetized aftermath. Like Brian Wilson. I don’t care about him on his medication—I want to see what happens when he snaps. I want to see Clara snap. I want to see Clara in a sandbox, tobillo up to cat fluid, cat solid. But Caron and Deanne decided to be selfish and watch the thing for themselves. I would have probably done the same, but I still felt ripped off.

“No. You guys go down to the Lab or something. The Lab was our bar. It’s full name was “El Laboratorio.” Come back in an hour or two.” The Lab was a heavy metal/transvestite bar around the corner from our apartment. That’s right, it was called El Laboratorio. It was one of the deadliest bars in Madrid, but we endeared ourselves to the management early on. Going to “The Lab” was always a good idea, nothing bad happened there. And that’s not something I’d say because I’m trying to be ironic. That’s something I’d say because it’s true—nothing bad happened at El Laboratorio. At least for me. James and I agreed to go down to the Lab, but we threatened violence if, in an hour or two, we weren’t let back in to our flat. Our flat. Our flat—reason enough to geograph—our flat. Who can say that?

“Go fuck yourselves,” said Caron. You could always tell when she was smiling—you just had to hear her.
The Lab was situated at the end of Calle Valverde, our street. Calle Valverde is only one block long, but it’s one hell of a block. Valverde juts off from Gran Via, that main artery, pulsing blood and life for one little block, then splash…into a vomit of heavy metal/transvestite gore at the entrance to El Laboratorio. You turn off of life and roar toward frozen death, turning off Gran Via, down Valverde, open the door to the Lab (if the rest of the Valverde gauntlet hasn’t got you yet). There’s Manuel, as he always is. Nothing bad ever happens in the Lab.

Manuel is Moroccan with some French in him, he says. This isn’t at all important because he’s consistently garbed in assless leather chaps, a Houston Astros 1980s throwback jersey and smoking a “baseball bat,” his name for the enormous hash joints he’d roll and smoke and roll and smoke.

“Fucking pooosies,” he’d snarl, in what I’d think he thought was a coy way. “You need anything, I get for you. Teresa, for the American Texans two whiskey dicks, pero echalas con fuerza, eh?” Teresa knew what we drank. DYC is a Spanish whiskey.

When you say “Whiskey DYC” it sounds like “Whiskey Dick,” which everybody thinks is funny. We certainly did. That’s why we explained what “whiskey dick” was to Manuel in the first place. This way, your sympathies won’t be compromised (or they will) and you can either dilute your feelings or let them howl until they hit a wall. But nobody’s dead, not dead yet.

We sat with our whisky dicks and laughed in an awkward way about the Carla situation.

“You tried to hook up with her and she makes mierda on the walls. Does that make you angry,” I asked.

“You tried to hook up with her, too!” James barked.

“I was only watching to make sure you stayed out of her pants, out of trouble.”

“They don’t play as much AC/DC in this bar as they used to,” James changed the subject.

“I could request some. I haven’t DJ’ed here in a while. Maybe they’d let me spin a few records.”

“They never let you DJ, Tyler. You just jump behind the turntable when the DJ goes to the bathroom,” corrected James.

“Really?”

“Really.” Conversation with James had recently taken on an odd, disjointed characteristic. He was having a tough time of it in Spain. First of all, he was 6’6” and Spain does not accommodate those kinds of dimensions. He suffered repeated blows to the skull from low-hanging signs, flags, bars, trees, monuments, and just about anything else along the way. Secondly, there’s always a woman. Oh, smash. That’s later.

“It’s probably been an hour,” I finally said.

“Yeah, let’s go up.”

We took the elevator up to our 2nd floor apartment and knocked. Caron and Deanne stood at the doorway, making a “shh” gesture with their fingers to their lips.

“C’mon,” Caron said. “She’s asleep. Let’s go down to the Lab.” This was always happening. Just when you think you’ve made it home, the tractor beam of El Laboratorio pulsed on and led you back for one more drink, one more episode.

“So what the hell happened,” I asked. The girls took long draws off their whiskey dicks and began. They told how Carla said she had “never had so much to drink, that this isn’t who she usually is.”

“That wasn’t me,” they would say, but it was. People behave the way they are. There are no missteps or out-of-character episodes; it is all tied together somehow. Why demure? Wail, if you will, with all ancestry in your corner, the primordial crack. What is this nonsense about “things I don’t normally do?” You did them last night. You may do them again today. Unload and submit.

“I hope not, “said James. “Did she admit to smearing shit all over our house?”

“No,” said Deanne, “but we’re sure it’s her. She smells like shit even though she was in the washer.”

“What do you mean—in the washer.”

“That’s where she spent most of today. She crammed herself into the washing machine, because she was scared.” Deanne went on to explain that, according to Carla, she’d woken up nude on the roof, covered in filth. “She was so confused and freaked out she decided to hide in our washing machine.”
The girls found Carla this way, wedged into our washing machine that barely fit three pairs of jeans. I can’t imagine what this species of cramped solitude must be like.

“So who cleans up the shit,” asked James.

“Deanne propped a mop up on her head and lay a bucket of soapy water down at the edge of the bed. That should give her a clue,” said Caron.

“I’m not going in there until she cleans it up,” said Deanne.

“Me neither. It smells like a zoo,” agreed Caron.

“Well, I’m fine here,” I said. James opted to go back to the apartment and sleep in his bed, no matter the stench. We never knew if Carla and James talked that evening, as Caron, Deanne and I sat in the darkened bladder of the Lab and drank another night away. Maybe he didn’t say anything.

The next morning, as we stumbled in to a pristine apartment, I noticed something: Carla began to eat. She sat quietly in the corner and ate. Plate after plate of spaghetti and tomate frito sauce. She looked invigorated, plausible. Besides, she had to eat. Or talk. She couldn’t talk. Because to talk would mean to explain and to explain would mean spiritual death. There are no explanations. There is no way you usually are. The rent is late. The war is never over by Christmas. Shit happens. Shit unhappens. Did something click? Did someone say something? Whatever it was, it cured her anorexia, at least for the time being.
Caron and Deanne woke up early and accompanied Carla to the airport the next day.

Carla went home to San Pedro, to her unreasonable barber father, and to her cat, who she was missing anyway.

Before I moved to Madrid, I engaged in a series of heated discussions about where I should work after failing miserably at a number of low-paying jobs (My father, a professor of Chinese History, even resorted to utilizing the ancient hexagrams of the I-Ching in an attempt to new-age me into employment), I ended up applying for work at Bookstop, a large bookstore, coffee shop and hipster hang-out in the Montrose area of Houston. I had to wear a nametag, a sure sign you are about to embark on a shitty occupation.

I was put under the tutelage of a 21-year-old assistant-manager named Travis. Travis was completely bald, bitter about it, and determined to make manager “before the summer was out.” A large portion of the managerial promotion process hinged on your ability to tutor the new kids, the cashiers, the foot soldiers—in other words, the kids who didn’t care—myself and a black kid from Atlanta named Greg. My first day at work proved a relatively accurate augur of what was to come. I dutifully showed up 15 minutes before Bookstop opened (it is crucial to make a good impression on your first day of work—then you can shit the proverbial bed and it takes longer for people to notice, as people tend to hold to first impressions as a condemned inmate at San Quentin might hold his/her breath once the cyanide gas starts filtering through the vents. There’s no such thing as hopelessness!). Greg had been given the same advice, as I encountered him smoking a blunt in the parking lot on my way to the store, a converted old movie theater.

“Hey, man,” Greg chortled through thick smoke.

“Hi,” I said.

“You have a name tag—are you working here, too?”

“Yeah, it’s my first day,” I said.

“Me, too. You want to hit this bitch?”

“I shouldn’t. It’s our first day. Okay.”

“My nigga!” he said, as I took a substantial drag off of the blunt. I felt pretty proud to be called a nigga and thought about how desperately white people long to be liked by black people. It’s almost an epidemic. Anyone who says differently is lying, or mostly lying. Even white supremacists. Have you heard any white supremacist rappers? I have. The content is nauseating, but their flow is undoubtedly referential, probably to Boogie Down Productions if not Public Enemy. They just flipped the script.

Greg and I were ushered around the store by Travis. He explained something about ISBN numbers and their utility, then droned on about his self-published sci-fi novel that, once he became manager, he could insinuate into the aisles of Bookstop.

“Your book have robots in it, Travis,” asked Greg, laconically, stonedly.

“There are androids, yes,” Travis responded proudly.

“Robots can eat a dick,” offered Greg, foolishly.

“I wouldn’t expect either of you two to even remotely begin to understand the complex time/space signatures in my book and I’ll have you know, Greg, Tyler, that I can make your life extremely difficult here if you aren’t cooperative.”

“That’s bullshit, bitch,” said Greg, accurately. Greg nor I had any allegiance to the Bookstop and were both fairly intent on getting fired or quitting as soon as we had put in the requisite time to convince the parents-that-be we were responsible. Travis often tried to make our lives miserable, but it’s hard to find us when I’ve locked myself in the service elevator with a margarita and a crossword puzzle book and Greg is in his car, balling the coffee shop barrista.

James had been a friend of mine since high school and a frequent visitor to Bookstop. His stepmom had just opened an upscale jewelry and accoutrement salon down the street from the bookstore, and in her store was a margarita machine for the upscale browser (I always thought this was a good idea; I’ll buy almost anything when I’m drunk). James would help out around his stepmom’s store for a bit, then shuttle a thermos full of margarita over to me at Bookstop. We’d chat a bit, decide on evening plans, then he’d retreat back to the store as I would grab a stack of Tom Robbins and adjourn to my perch in the freight elevator. The arrangement usually worked fine, as both Greg and I would cover for each other.

Inevitably, Greg was caught balling the barrista and fired, something that put a damper on my afternoons with crossword puzzles and a half-gallon of frozen margaritas. And while with Greg’s departure the efficiency of the Bookstop machine received an unprecedented spike in productivity, my patience for the working life—at least the working at Bookstop life—ebbed dramatically.

When he wasn’t helping out at his stepmom’s store, James had the luxury of doing nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly. He was a BBQing machine. Every day by his parent’s pool, he’d throw heaps of flesh on the grill and he and a menagerie of other summer loafers would drink beer, play guitars, eat heartily and laze around the pool until everyone passed out or didn’t. It was a kind of life I’ve always aspired to, and felt I was missing a wonderful opportunity to idle around in the prime of my youth, like somebody out of Fitzgerald or at least somebody not wandering drunk around a bookstore all day.

I began, as has been the case with most if not all of my ill-fated employment endeavors to fall ill, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays—prime BBQing time.

“Uh, hi Travis. It’s Tyler. Look, I don’t know what I have. I’ve been throwing up all morning and I’ve got a fever and my head hurts and there’s a chance I may have spinal meningitis and so I’m going to stay home today.”

“Spinal meningitis? Are you going to the doctor?”

“No, I think I’m just going to try to ride it out.”

“That’s a terrible idea. You sound fine.”

“Are you saying I’m not sick?”

“Maybe. Are you not?”

“Of course I am.”

“Tyler, do you like your job?”

“Yes. I mean why? Is that some kind of threat?”

“It’s not a threat.”

“Good Christ, Travis, I feel like you’re giving me a hard time. How many times have I called in sick? It’s not like it happens all the time.”

“You’ve called in sick four times in the last two weeks. You get sick on weekends, it seems to me.”

“Well, damnit Travis. I can’t work in an environment where there’s this kind of lack of trust. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“I’m not. So are you quitting?” I thought for a moment how I would storm back into work, not giving Travis the pleasure of being done with me. I would make it to assistant manager by the end of the summer and then overtake the bald, wretched, wanton Travis as manager, overseeing his daily routine and making his life a living hell for the rest of his days at the Bookstop.

“Yeah, I think I’m quitting,” I said, knowing the aforementioned scenario was untenable and devoid of BBQ and good times. I hung up the phone, euphoric, then headed over to James’ house. Of course, I foresaw trouble in paradise, as my parents would be completely averse to the trajectory I’d chosen for myself this summer.

So, I woke up every morning at 7:30, put on my work clothes: tie, nametag, khakis and Oxford button-down and left for work. However, in this instance, work was located five blocks away at James house, where upon arrival, I’d go back to sleep on his family’s sofa until around 1:00 or 2:00, when the BBQ preparations would begin. This arrangement proved infinitely more suitable and I decided that if times ever got really tough, I could make a living by a pool, eating BBQ. I wasn’t sure from where my income would stem, but the dream must come first. The reality will inevitably fall into place, somehow.

I enjoyed travel, as anybody who never travels says they enjoy travel, but the idea of going abroad again never really drifted through my transom. The summer coming to a close, Bookstop out of the picture and a couple of parents eager to see their son do something, I found myself at an Irish pub, Kennealy’s, with James.

James and I have, since early in our friendship, been convinced that we should be famous actors. Not just actors—famous actors. Every week, James and I would sit in the brackish pub, he drinking Guinness, I drinking whiskey, and discuss how colossally talented, funny, good looking and charming we were and how it was a real shame we hadn’t yet been discovered by Hollywood. We were somewhat in awe of the fact that some director/producer had yet to approach us, telling us how talented, funny, good looking and charming we both were and wouldn’t we like to star opposite Charlize Theron in the next summer blockbuster?

“I think we should probably move to LA,” I said.

“That’s a cliché. Houston is as good a place as any for us. Patience, Tyler.”

“It’s not happening for us here, dude.”

“It just takes patience. Look, did you know Matthew McConaughey met Linklater in a bar and next thing you know—BANG—he’s in Dazed and Confused.”

“Did you know Brad Pitt used to dress up like a chicken and sit in the middle of the street—Hollywood Boulevard, I think. He got discovered that way. Same with Liz Taylor,” I added.

“She dressed up like a chicken?” James asked.

“No, well, I don’t think so—maybe they found her at a mall.”

“I’m better looking than Liam Neeson,” I ventured.

“People say I look like Sean Penn.”

“You do, a little,” I lied. “You’re like Sean Penn if you were a forward for the Celtics.”

“Is it because I have a big nose?”

“Not just that. You have screen presence,” I offered, with no basis in reality.

“Thanks, man. You mean that?”

“I totally mean that.”

“Maybe we should take acting classes.”

“That’s bullshit. I think you either have it or you don’t. Brother we have it.”

“I know we do, but we need a foot in the door.” James could be so negative sometimes.

“You can only be so talented. Then you need luck,” I said, optimistically.

“Are we just unlucky?”

“Yeah, I mean I guess so, so far.”

“Did you apply for grad schools again?”

“No,” I lied again, having been rejected by everywhere. “Let’s go abroad.”

“Fuck off! Are you serious?”

“Yeah, to Madrid. I know the city.” I spent a year abroad as an undergraduate in Madrid. The junior year thing. I didn’t know the city—that too was a lie. Once I ate a meter of albondigas sandwiches at the Subway by Retiro Park, though. Albondigas means “meatballs” in Spanish. It was, and is, my favorite Spanish word. “Plus, Almodovar is there. We should go. You know I met him once”

“Is he Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?”

“Yep. He hit on me in a club.”

“How do you say ‘boner’ in Spanish,” James asked.

“Vergadura.”

“You gave Almodovar a vergadura.”

“Maybe.”

“What’s bienvenidos? I saw that on a welcome mat. Does that mean ‘welcome?’”

“That’s also boner.”

“I’m bullish on this idea, T. What about Bookstop?”

Dr. C, the owner of Bookstop, called me and asked me to come in. Travis hadn’t told him I’d quit. I felt bad. I didn’t want to have to deal with Dr. C. I liked Dr. C, and I felt terribly guilty for not tendering my resignation to his face. And fuck you, Travis. Happy fuckday to you. I hate awkward situations, especially when they involve speaking with people I’ve let down. I thought drugs would make it easier. After age 22 or so, it’s embarrassing to admit doing acid. But, I admit.

After staring at an issue of the inexplicably pink Financial Times for what seemed a minor eternity, Dr. C. ushered me into his office. Now, I’ve never “seen” anything on drugs, like some people have claimed. I’ve never seen the Led Zeppelin blimp carrying a banner that read, “Hasta La Victoria Siempre” or a swimming pool full of Draculas or the face of Heinrich Himmler in a pepperoni pizza. But Dr. C was undulating, changing form, then his features would scramble back into place. It was as if he were an image conjured up like a human Etch-a-Sketch, then shaken, then drawn anew. It didn’t help that Dr. C. had a missing eye and would occasionally, like on this occasion, refuse to wear his eye-patch. I liked him for this “fuck you” to all the staring half-wits, the insensitive cavepeople who would incessantly gaze into his oozing socket. But now, no good. Once you’ve made up your mind not to look at something, you’re tanked. And I admit.

I’m no good with “psychedelic” drugs like mushrooms and acid and that kind of stuff. I hate when people I’m around are on them and I hate to be on them. I’ve always thought of myself as someone hanging from a pretty thin thread, and all this psychedelia bilge tugs at that thread like an angry cat. I also find myself on the tail end of these “trips” sitting on a toilet somewhere trying to crap out my soul. But for some reason I have taken a lot of them. And I took a lot of them before I walked into Dr. C’s office wearing a “cape” fashioned out of a large trash bag, then started blabbering and eventually weeping about United Fruit, neocolonialism and all the trouble that “my opportunist cocksucker ancestors” had inflicted on Latin America.

“Tyler, United Fruit went out of business in the 1970s.”

“But think of all the damage they did, Dr. C, man. Think of Rigoberta Menchu!”

“That wasn’t United Fruit. I think that was a civil war in Guatemala. And what is that thing you’re wearing? Is that a trash bag?”

“It’s more of a cloak, actually. Look, I know you’re probably thinking you want to peel the skin off my face because you went through it all there in Guatemala, you know.”

“What are you talking about, Tyler? Are you okay? You look sweaty. Did you want to come in here just to talk about United Fruit. If you did, that’s fine, it’s just…”

“Oh, man. You’re from Mexico, aren’t you? Jesus Christ! I just want to say that I’m sorry. I don’t think that, you know, Guatemala and Mexico is the same thing. Cultural identity is so very, very important, especially in a growing global community. I know there are a lot of people here who think that way…I like the word “globe,” you know the way it sounds when it comes out of your mouth and then goes into the air. Do you know the song “Dark Globe,” by Syd Barett?”

“Syd who? Tyler, are you doing okay?”

“Not so great, Dr. C,” I managed to drool out, conscious that I was now on drugs, aware that I was on drugs and aware that people usually get paranoid when they’re aware they’re on drugs and that this feeling will never ever ever go away and I’m insane forever.

“What’s the problem,” he asked in his avuncular way. I had always liked Dr. C and I wanted to choose my words carefully, not insult him, not insult the institution of Bookstop.

“I’m in a pretty fucked-up dance here, Dr. C as in cottage cheese. That’s two c’s, isn’t it?

“Excuse me?” Dr. C asked, naturally.

“I meant what?”

“What?”

“Tyler, are you okay?”

“I need to get out of here.”

“Out of my office?”

“Out of everything. I want to withdraw.”

“Well, Tyler, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the problem?”

“I just don’t fit in here?”

“Here at Bookstop?”

“Yeah, I guess. And my own skin. It feels tight.”

“Is that a metaphor?” he asked. Dr. C. loved metaphors. He had a PhD in English and used to teach at an impressive university. But, he found that he liked books more than he liked people, so he bought a bookstore. Made sense to me.

“I’m afraid not.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, Tyler. You know you can always come back.”

“Thank you, Dr. C.”

“Tyler, take care of yourself.”

“I’ll try.”

I left work and headed back to my apartment where I had every intention of lying in a ball, drinking whiskey and listening to George Jones. I opened the door to 211 and was greeted by my roommate Tod, some of his friends, Lance Berkman, all-star first baseman for the Houston Astros, and his roommate Dave, who was standing in his underwear strumming a bass plugged into an unplugged amplifier. We all lived in the same apartment complex.

“Whoa. Dave. Nice bass guitar.“

It’s not a bass guitar—it’s a space guitar.” Dave gave me the drugs, earlier.

“Nice.”

“So nice,” Dave said, strumming his incomprehensible melody.

Dave and Lance made an interesting pair. Lance, for all I know, never did drugs (although not afraid to partake of my whiskey from time to time), was a good Christian boy and could hit a baseball farther than anyone I’ve ever seen, or at least anyone who I’ve ever been in a room on acid with. Dave, on the other hand, was enamored with Frank Zappa and any psychedelic concoction he could get his hands on. But they were often together and were, from all I could tell, extraordinarily good friends. Lance was sitting on our sofa, dipping Copenhagen and Dave stopped playing the space guitar for a moment and asked, “What’s up, man?”

“I’m dropping out.”

“Me too, dude!”

“No, I mean I’m dropping out of America.”

“Nice.”

“Why?” asked Lance Berkman.

“My skin is tight. Does it feel better to hit a home run right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right handed. Look, I’ve got to get going, y’all,” Lance said a little urgently. “Tyler, we’ll see you around, right?”

“Yeah, you’ll se me around.” Lance left the room, Tod and his guys had set up shop in the common room, reading the sheet music to Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma and Dave remained strumming his space guitar, alone in his own mostly nude world. I grabbed the bottle of whiskey, went to my room, curled up in a ball and listened to George Jones for the next four hours until I was finally overcome with sleep.

What does it mean to be literate? That one’s pretty easy; it means you know how to read. What does it mean to be cultural? That one’s a little tougher; it means you know that in most situations, it’s unacceptable to put your cigarette out on a dachshund. And so what does it mean to be “culturally literate?” Many have posed this question (Harold Bloom, the Yale professor currently encased in acrylic and preserved for posterity does it a lot.), yet no one has truly come to terms with an accurate answer. My uncle Seamus once remarked that “cultural literacy is for homosexuals,” but he was urinating in a koi pond at the time, so who knows? I suggest we journey together to see if we can’t get to the core of this labyrinthine dilemma. Perhaps the most logical first step is learning how to read (I’ll wait for a few minutes)… Sweet. Our next step is to determine what exactly is “cultural.” Below are a few undeniably cultural items in the realm of architecture, literature and music. Let’s familiarize ourselves with these things, and then we can begin to get a handhold on what it means to be culturally literate.

The Eiffel Tower

Perhaps the most recognizable man-made structure in the world, The Eiffel Tower is a must-see for any culturally minded person. Completed in 1889 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution(1), the Eiffel Tower serves as a constant reminder that not everything in Paris is covered in dog feces.

The tower stands well over 1,000 feet high, something I discovered after dropping a crêpe from the observation deck while utilizing the equation Yf = -1/2gt^2 + Vot+Yo. Nestled along the Seine and overlooking the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower strictly prohibits oral sex in the elevators (although there was no noticeable sign or warning). Also, be sure to say “bonjour” to the one-eyed dwarf who roller skates atop the structure’s antenna, drinking his own blood and reciting Ozymandias(2).  As an added frustration, Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor offers food you can’t afford. I recommend the filet de turnbot au sautoir, écrevisses et champignons à la Riche, then running away.


Ulysses

A mammoth tome, written by James Joyce and published by Sylvia Beach in its entirety in 1928, Ulysses catalogues a day in the life of one Leopold Bloom. Often cited as the cornerstone of modernist literature, Ulysses takes its name from Homer’s Odysseus, as in The Odyssey, that book you were supposed to read sophomore year but ended up huffing oven cleaner in the school parking lot most of the time.

Written in Joyce’s inimitable stream-of-consciousness style, Ulysses is an integral part of any literary aesthete’s library. In addition, the book reminds us that even though the sisters at Strake Jesuit put saltpeter in our Cheerios to keep us from masturbating, there’s really no stopping the process, even if the guilt stays with you to this day. While nobody has ever read this book, its inclusion in your book collection will ensure at least a cursory dry-hump from the intoxicated Yale co-ed you met at the “Vampire Weekend” concert last month. Be sure to look out for the last sentence in which Molly Bloom probably has an orgasm or is in the throes of Crohn’s disease. Joyce was also blind, so we can forgive him for not making a whole lot of sense (there has been speculation that Joyce wrote much of Ulysses on the back of his cat, accounting for much of the confusion within the text). The poet Ezra Pound perhaps put it best when he remarked, “Ulysses is a treat for anyone trapped under ice.”

Jazz

Often cited as the only “true American art form,” jazz music is what happens when heroin happens. First popularized in the early 20th century, jazz incorporates West African musical traditions and European stuffiness, resulting in a cacophonous mishmash that makes one feel as if his or her genitals are creeping up and slowly eating his/her belly button. A vital part of America’s long history of misguided art forms, jazz is sure to spark furious debate among people who can’t admit they sing along to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the car when nobody is looking.

Jazz is, at its core, an interpretive medium. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and other maestros of the genre are venerated within certain musical circles much the same way the idea of a space/time continuum is venerated by physicists, even though, after a while, ruminations on the subject lead one back to the inevitable conclusion that nothing is understandable in this crazy world, especially Ugg boots. If you feel you have the mettle, give jazz a chance. When you’ve discovered it’s over your head and you’d honestly just rather sit there listening to Shakira, don’t feel bad. You can always count on her and her hips don’t lie.

I hope our maiden voyage into the unforgiving sea of cultural literacy has proved helpful. Keep in mind; this is a long journey, but a journey well-worth taking. For how are we to navigate our desires, our fears, and ourselves if we cannot navigate the world around us?

GPS is a good answer, yes

[1] More on the French Revolution can be found in Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Although, it is a far better thing if you start reading at Part III, as I this is where the nudity really kicks into high gear.

[2] There is a place that sells absinthe next to the McDonald’s on the Rue Duban.

They tell me you should write about what you know. I’ve always had a problem with that. I may know some things other people don’t, but in writing that down, what good does that do me? Not much. I already know it. I want to write about things I don’t know about. I want to learn things about what I don’t think, how people I don’t know don’t act and why. Perhaps I say this because I don’t know much. I know a lot of facts about arcane things, but I already know them and I already know that nobody, unless they are short of Trivial Pursuit cards, wants to hear that kind of bilge. However, I don’t know one thing that I think will serve me well in my writing career: I don’t know how to write.

So, I reckon I’m sitting at my computer in good stead now, not knowing how to write. When I learn how to do that, I can stop writing and go on to a more noble pursuit like filming my relatives in Bakersfield, California doing their best interpretations of pro wrestling, then selling the tapes on what they like to call, the inter-tubes. If the nobility of this is called into question, I defy you to tell me that my cousin Bert leaping off the roof of his house and slamming a metal chair on the top of my younger cousin Stanley’s head is not tantamount in artistry to a Nureyev –Fonteyn showcase ofProkofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

I haven’t been able to write for as long as I can remember. Alas, I’ve always wanted too, but it never comes out quite right. It seems like everybody writes better than I do. I’ve always wanted to write a book that I’d like to read, but I’m always reading books I’d like to read, so what’s the point? You toil for years over this book, like your child. You like it when you first start raising it, feel you’ve done a bang-up job. Then, the book hits adolescence, its voice starts to crack, it wants its independence, then a car, then none of your time even though you want to give it all of your time. And finally, it flings itself into its own world and blows all your time and patience by spending its time (and still your money) on the hustling whores of the Mexican border and Quaaludes. To this, I have only one response:

It is to enact a sort of vengeful Golden Rule and to take up the qualities of your prodigal, ingrate book. Besides, all the books I would have liked to have written were written by full-blown, abject lunatics. There’s Salinger, speaking in tongues and drinking his own urine, Hemingway and Toole, blowing their minds out, Plath and her oven. Did she pre-heat that? Then Ambrose Bierce, gone without a trace. Que te vayas bien!, old boy. Where is Pynchon? And Mailer, always retching at parties and occasionally stabbing his wife. What a ship of old fools! It’s a good thing I can’t write. I see myself flinging my own feces over the rooftops of Paris, confused over the relationship between vector calculus and intransitive verbs. I swear, once I learn how to write, I never will. And who has the time to learn? There are too many distractions. This is one thing I know: How not to write.

Well, I see your point. You think I’m going to start talking about how not to write.

“But, hey,” you’ll say. “He said he didn’t want to write about things he knew about.” Then you will fold your arms contentedly and relish in my howling error. Aha! I also wrote that I didn’t know how to write, so it was okay to do so. In essence, I have canceled out both of these grandiose proclamations, and at the end of this, it will be like nothing ever happened. Nature frowns at my vacuum and smokes her first cigarette of the day, like Bette Davis…like she couldn’t give one damn. And although I’ve missed an episode of The Real World: Alpha Centauri, its like I haven’t.

One way not to write is to get an STD test. I have spent hours, days not writing because of these. If you think of all the melancholic things that could occur to your genitalia during the three or four agonizing days of waiting for the results, you really can’t be expected to do anything. However, while your wondering if your dick will drop off like an unwieldy stalactite when you’re in line for the movies, or if your partner’s vagina will gradually creep up and eat her belly button, you can think ofall the wonderful places you’d travel if faced with some harrowing disease. I decided that I would go to the south of Spain and just write. I mean, really write this time.

Now, here’s a really sly trick. Do you know that apocryphal probability of a bunch of baboons at a bunch of typewriters, who, if given long enough would eventually type out the entire works ofShakespeare? It’s something that gives writers hope.


http://www.writers-free-reference.com/baboon-at-computer.jpg

It also hints at immortality, as all faulty logic, and writing, must. Here is what you must do. If you can type, you must unlearn how to do that. Maybe turn your keyboard upside down. Then using sequences of one, two, three, four and up to, say, nine letters, type randomly, not looking at the keyboard. Then, when you have finished a few hundred pages, spell check or put the Thesaurus to your piece. Often, you will find there is no suggestion for your word. Sometimes, you will find you have actually typed a word in the lexicon, and sometimes you will find that the spell check divined the subconscious word you hammered out on the keyboard. (Note: If you try this with common penmanship, you will find yourself either cheating or your neurons will become so confused at your attempts to confuse them that your head will turn into eggs Benedict.) “kdfyfrt,” I write. I then use my computer’s thesaurus and find that “juvenile behavior” is an equivalent to “kdfyfrt.” (Seriously, try it.)

And there, I have the beginnings of Catcher in the Rye, or Lord of the Flies. I am that baboon that will succeed. Eventually. And on a side note, if you are interested in poetry, I suggest you type out a few turgid lines in your native tongue, then find a translation website and in translation, you may very well be the next Goethe, Neruda, Rimbaud, or Horace, depending on the language you select. Perhaps you translate better than you are, like Garcia-Lorca.

I want to make clear that, although I don’t know of any other treatise on how not to write, I assume that there must be a few out there. Fine. We all know that everything has already been written before and that the crucial thing is to say it better, or at least, differently. It’s like the idea of Genghis Cohen, the noted Jewish barbarian who went marauding through China slapping everybody with gefilte fish. It turns out, there is a Genghis Cohen’s restaurant at Fairfax and Melrose in LA and is also a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel, The Crying of Lot 49. But I thought of this name, independently, as I thought of the subject of writing on not writing, so be it. I wonder if anybody has done anything with The Origin of Feces, though. I must fact check. Why am I so defensive about this? Because I realize that many people must have sundry techniques for not writing, but I have found the following quite adept at keeping me away from the keyboard. That said, these are only some micro-suggestions.

The easiest way to not write is to start drinking. You may have a splash of inspiration after a few cocktails and look to put this, the framework of your magnum opus on paper. This feeling will pass. I will occasionally belly up to the keyboard after doing the same at the bar and find that while I think I can write, I still can’t (Thankfully. I would hate to learn I did something better drunk than sober, aside from falling down.). Just don’t drink whiskey. The only two things whiskey makes you want to do is fight or write. Both of these will get you into trouble. In defense of writing, though, the simian ogre at the bar ready to knock your block off doesn’t have a “delete” key. Stick with red wine and read a good book until you fall asleep. Or call up some friends and tell them how much you love and miss them. If you have no friends, watch a city council meeting on the public access channel and ask yourself why you are such a drip. Drinking is an easy out, and one determined to really not write should have salted away a number of other options. I’ll make this hasty, as writing about not writing is proving to be almost as exhausting as just writing. There’s something I didn’t know.

There is one particular flood of menstruum that dissolves the spirit and when instituted will assuage all pains related to not writing. This is called internet gambling. This is the knockout drop in the drink that keeps me alive, as Endymion. Rolled up jacks over trips, down and up, down and up. It is that kind of blessed monotony that I think keeps most people alive. And for the antsy creative type, you can really make an art out of losing money, which, I should add, has been my summer job. Losing money at the online casino. This is not as lucrative as a typical summer job, but the hours are flexible and I don’t have to talk to anybody, save my own ravaged conscious. When does anybody make or lose money on writing? Never. Writing just is as I am. Nobody can prove either postulate and only the fool might try. I have just lost $200. Really, I just did that. I sell bonds like cracker jacks and switch them like shell games. I am such a disappointment. I feel that way. Thinking, I am Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of them. Pick my story, I’ll try not to write it. Matt, the realist. Too much on about His wisdom, Son of Sirach and all that drivel. Boring. Then Mark, snot-slinging drunk and bitch of Luke, holds forth on the Sabbath and then hits the middle-of-the-road. Why not Luke, the pretty-boy, the best writer of the bunch who learned how to write and kept it short, ofsorts. And finally, John, who gives the words appeal. Writes the bestseller. The clincher. No, I am none of them. I have created no universe, I have moved no man, no woman. Damnit, I tried, though. That is all I have ever wanted to do. Like McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “I tried.” There is nothing more stifling than knowing what to write and not writing it. I suppose that’s the point, though, not writing.

Maybe I’ll can it. I’m getting awfully invested about thinking about not writing. Change the ring on your phone to Dance of the Valkyries, think of titles for new books, old books. If you have that liberal guilt, see how far you can jam your thumb up your ass, while convincing yourself you’re really not that gay. Ok, then how interesting can you be? If you can see 3-D, try a hand at vector calculus. Make a sloppy Spanish tortilla. Put your brother to bed, again. And again. He’s getting old now. Memorize something. Like ketchup: Tomato concentrate, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, onion powder, natural flavoring. I think I finally got it.

Enough. Writing, and not writing, is a brilliant ponzi scheme. You manufacture one word and the rest fall into rank. Any word engenders another, no matter how puerile, no matter how vacant. They will all, eventually, spill out in a brilliant splash of your own gore. But it is your gore. And you must believe it will withdraw from you some semblance of value. This is, of course, if you are able to write. I , of course, have a problem writing. I will sweat until my death in attempts to finish this odious trade. Until then, I can tell you only that one should never write about what one knows, one should never know what one truly feels, one should keep one’s thumb up one’s ass, constantly, in the hopes that one’s head will peer out from that unholy aperture long enough to realize that we must always try and hold our entrails, our souls out to ourselves long enough to realize that we can never, ever, learn to write. Jesus wept. I’m talking about me. But Godamnit, I try. I will try and take my TKO against the demiurge of words with grace, with nonchalance. With everything I have. I shall never write. I know that. That’s one thing I know. The thing I’ll never write about. Or not.

Pierre Bayard’s ode to philistinism, Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus, or How to Talk About Books That You Haven’t Read is a unique experience. Upon completion of Bayard’s work (one wonders if Bayard himself ever read his own book), I found myself first outraged, then confused, and finally, a little constipated. I thought to myself, “How does this boorish Frenchman claim that a perfunctory flip-through of Anna Karenina should suffice for an understanding of St. Petersburg’s high society during that time—or Jasper, Missouri’s, home to the Double Deuce for that matter?” Can this Bayard be serious? Can we really talk—intelligently—about books we’ve never read?

On the jacket cover of his aggravating book, Mr. Bayard leans against a railing next to a dumpster leading up to a whorehouse, staring at the reader as if to say, “Hey, I’m French—perhaps you’d be interested in some beignets after I’m done with these prostitutes.”

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_e5CENKp5eYU/Sd5UyzPlj3I/AAAAAAAABPE/2Frsu4D8HOY/s320/pierre-bayard.jpgHe also claims that he is a professor of literature at the University of Paris. As intellectuals, it’s safe to assume that we’ve all been to Paris—but has anybody ever seen this alleged university? Not I. All I saw in Paris was a gift-shop full of chocolate Eiffel Towers at Orly airport, as nobody was kind enough to direct me to my time-share in the 23 rd arrondissement, with what they assured me was a “first-class” view of the Bastille. It seems the French have a knack for deception, while bringing out the worst pseudo-intellectual hobgoblins into the cultural milieu.

Bayard begins by making the ridiculous claim that readers may finally “shake off the guilt” of not having read the great books that shape our world. Be careful with guilt, Mr. Bayard. Had you finished Roadhouse, you might sing a different tune when it comes to washing oneself of both corporeal and spiritual guilt. Do you have any idea what happens at the end? The bristling irony that clips at the thin threads of your argument? I assure you, the culmination of tropes during the end game of Swayze’s opus is terrifying—truly something that stays with you, like a disease, or a small dog stapled to your leg, gnawing at your testicles (not always, but a lot of the time). Read (or watch) the end of this, and you will rethink your gilded shit-head ideas on guilt.

As a freelance intellectual, I often find myself asked to contribute a book review, or deliver a lecture extempore after Jonathan Safran Foer has cancelled. So, I’m no tyro in this sphere. Mr. Bayard recommends that to lecture on a book one hasn’t read, it’s essential to “put aside rational thought and…let your sub-conscience express your personal relationship with the work.” Similarly, to review an unfamiliar book, Mr. Bayard counsels, “closing your eyes to perceive what may interest you about [the book]…then writing about yourself.”

Let me state categorically that allowing the sub-conscious to intervene during a lecture is a dangerous thing. I recall a commencement speech I was asked to give at Princeton (after Jonathan Safran Foer cancelled), in which my goal was to make a connection between the gateway to adulthood and the battle scene against the Cubans over the corn fields of middle America in James Joyce’s, Ulysses. At the time, I was 40 pages short of finishing Ulysses, but I panicked for one brief moment, allowing my subconscious to creep in and reference the heart-pumping Patrick Swayze vehicle, Red Dawn to fill in the gaps created by my literary malfeasance. The audience chortled and squirmed with typical Princeton fatuity, and I spent the rest of the address huddled under the gown of Joyce Carol Oates. Years later, when I explained at a PEN meeting to Mrs. Oates that I had, in my youthful folly, dared to reference a book I had not completely finished and I was soooo sorry and I now know that the varsity football team in Ulysses were fighting Communists, not Moonies, Mrs. Oates gave me a coy smile and sort of whispered, in that way she does, “Would you mind getting me a another vodka gimlet?”

As for book reviews, I don’t have the faintest clue where Mr. Bayard gets off. Close my eyes and write about myself? What kind of self-aggrandizing, philistine claptrap is that? I was once stuck sitting next to Michiko Kakutani, book reviewer extraordinaire of the New York Times, on a flight to Zurich, and it turned out we were both reviewing the same new translation of Don Quixote. After we agreed that one of the key requirements of criticism is the removal of oneself from the work under consideration, I made a reference to the end of Don Quixote, when Sancho Panza is about to join in the rumble between the “Greasers” and the “Socs”, and how it’s a metaphor for the craft of writing. I think she must have been forced to digest this burst of protean insight, because for the rest of the flight, she said little. I remarked how every time I met Gore Vidal, he would sound a rape whistle and hog-tie me to a fire hydrant, and Michiko droned on as usual, always trying to one-up me with her one story; you know, the one she never finishes about, “Stewardess, can I change seats?” What’s the point, Michiko? It’s not even a story, per se.

http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/2008/11/custom_1227303927991_michiko-kakutani_01.jpgThe truth is, we read for any number of reasons: we crave a good yarn by the camp fire; we savor the world of words created by our greatest artists; we feel a preternatural magnetism toward an understanding of how and why we are the way we are; perhaps we are having a bowel movement. What Mr. Bayard suggests is an approach toward reading, and a discussion of reading, that goes against our nature. We are not partial beings—we are complete—complete in the sense that our minds create our realities. Mind is life. We must subscribe to life whole-heartedly, eschewing the notion that a partial understanding of our world, our ethos, our pathos, is tantamount to a full life. Anything else is a bourgeoise conceit! Dumbing-down displays the utter convenience of ignorance!

Bayard is a travesty of nature, like a Gaulloises-puffing ogre. His mongloid understanding of human nature will eventually lead to an early demise. He is a French Hamlet (although presumably shorter), pathologically self-destructing at every turn, although you’d think he might have learned something from all that post-mortem correspondence with Whoopi Goldberg. And yes, he escapes, but at what cost? What now will his wife Molly do? Can you have sex with a ghost? Is Claudius really going to poison a glass of Mouton Rothschild just because Baby Houseman is a Jew? And what of the Roadhouse?

I am reminded of something Flaubert said upon completion of Madame Bovary: “Quelle atroce invention que celle du bourgeois, n’est-ce pas?” Had Bayard finished Madame Bovary, he would have recognized—as Special Agent Johnny Utah did about Bodhi right before the appearance of Rodolphe—not everybody wants to be rescued from the fifty year storm.

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The first thing that really nailed it was “Constantinople.” The word comes toward the end of Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop and when I pronounced it for the first time, finally, I think that lit the candle. Droplets spilled from the ducts of my parents and mine as we closed the book and then perhaps I was offered some fried chicken. A simple exchange of values, my inchoate literacy for a bucket of Popeye’s extra crispy. It has always been that way for me; chicken for literature. Madame Bovary and I shared a bucket in bed until Rodolphe burst in with a revolver. But that is later.

I flounder on what to include. After Hop on Pop, I think I rode the Seuss wave dressed in a Marmaloot suit, scrambling Horton’s eggs and devouring the oeuvre. Then a snag. There is no real transition from Seuss to anything. Maybe Finnegan’s Wake, or some of the more obscure Borges stuff, but that doesn’t really do it either, does it? And thus, my literacy was stifled for a rather large quantity of years, as Good Night Moon and its cohorts never really did it for me. However, I did look at covers of books during these dark ages.

Those god-damned Hardy Boys, with their blue bindings and images on their covers depicting all sorts of scenes of mystery, intrigue and adventure. So alluring to the youngster, all the while not giving a tinker’s fuck to the fact that I can’t read you, man! And so I waited. I can’t quite remember the time when I first opened up one of these Hardy Boys books, but I remember it was a little anti-climactic. Isaac, one of my associates had apparently been devouring all this Hardy Boys nonsense for a while. I was accused of being a tyro in the sphere of the Hardy Boys and felt I ought to compensate by attending the book fair and enlisting my mother to buy around 10 of these books because one must catch up to one’s fellows. They still sit on my bookshelf, and I still am only able to look at the covers. I’ll bet they’re not bad, though.

My next endeavor into literature, I suppose would be the series of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These books are responsible for my current literary bankruptcy. Now, I am sure I am not the only one to abandon the whimsical “chance” happenings in these vile books, but I am quite certain that their resonance has stayed with me longer than the average anybody. I remember distinctly one of these books. The main character, presumably I, am stuck in some kind of Orwellian nightmare of totalitarian regimes and faux Nazis that continue to kill my family and hook me up to some kind of brainwashing mechanism. Well, this tried my patience, as every adventure I “chose” enlisted me in the same odious situation. At wit’s end, I wrote my own “adventure” on the back jacket cover that had me blow-torching some futuristic Reichstag and wandering in a field with the love interest of the story who never actually appeared except in my addendum on the back cover. I still look for her in bars and sundry houses of ill repute. I can see her. Is it wrong that I continue to put her age at around twelve? Eat your heart out Humbert.

When I woke from this, it seems I spent my days treading Vaseline in a sea of warped sexuality (not so different from now, at this very instant). A Separate Piece (Peace?), To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher in The Rye. These works are what I remember from my early adolescence. Alas, all I really seemed to absorb in my sexually quiescent stage was how much Scout would enjoy a good romp in the back of the courtroom. Hell, at this stage, I would have fucked Holden, Stradlater, Phineas, Gene, Jem, Gregory Peck (he is Atticus) as quick as the crack of dawn–given the opportunity. I think at some point around this time I also read The Jungle by Sinclair, but all that did was switch me from hot dogs to corn dogs for a semester. The Jesuits really know how to put a scare in you.

And then it gets interesting. I am sitting on a hammock in Fortaleza, Brazil with summer reading (high school) in my hand. It is this atrocity called Madame Bovary. Flaubert? Flaubert? Sounds like some kind of ice cream that you should set on fire. I guess it still does. But he introduced me to my literary fait accompli. Falling in love with heroines. No, but bad love. That faded love in aurora, thrice before the cock crows. Yes–hanging from the fig tree. Holy Thursday love. Dead love. And Emma Bovary is my first, my last–my alpha and omega. And then the credit card debt. I spoke to her. And she spoke back. Our knowledge of each other made us complicit. And she adores my jejune reflections on life and art. And her blood sings in her veins like the very river of milk.

It is not I that negotiates these grotesque self-deceptions. It is literature. It is Emma Bovary, with her “heavens torn open…and passion… spilt everywhere” that beguile me. I suppose when I open the novel and “go” I go. This is why I don’t wander around with Catcher in The Rye in my pocket. I have no inclination to assassinate anybody. Not yet. And Salinger’s shibboleth is one I don’t feel like speaking. I choose Emma. And Anna. And Brett Ashley. And Natasha Rostov. And Molly. And all those maenads hovering around Nightwood. It is the most erotic thing since considering balling the Aramaic legions and a vixen from every Ivy League school simultaneously. Horrific, yet undeniable. And necessary?

Then there is now, today. Literature aside, I try and brush up on my Portuguese. There she is, Paula. She sits with Gustavo, ordering a cervezinhas na praixa. If I can get him out of the picture, I have a chance. Hell, last night I swindled Portnoy’s “Monkey” into bed with Emma. I have so much more reading to do. I really do. But this is where I am. I am looking at the cover of Don Quixote. I wonder if Dulcinea needs a drink.

We sat together in the back of my car for an hour and I did not kiss her. We sat together on her couch, watching something or another on the TV and I didn’t kiss her. We lay together in her bed for hours, not kissing. It seems we can spend our lives together, swallow eternity and quake with love, and I haven’t kissed her. I cannot kiss her forever. There is agony in our kissing.

It gets worse

Perhaps some wine can help. The brutish concrete dividing our lips gains some minerals, that agonizing superstructure breaks down and her mouth splashes through all this decomposed boundary and there it is, I kiss her. But I do not kiss her. Maybe wine is a parlor trick for a kiss. Just hissing, adolescent monkeyshines and in the morning it was all greasy kid stuff. Wine is dangerous, as you never know when to fall in or out of love. Wine decides for you. That is why we drink it. Wine decides within and without you. That is why we drink it. I want to set a mortar charge in this fragile wall and blast out all the foundations, because wine is too slow. Then I will kiss her.

And then we kiss. Oh, I can just imagine it! She doesn’t taste like anything I have tasted before. She tastes like sprinkles from a thousand yellow butterflies. She tastes like drops of syrup on anArdennes pancake! My ribs collapse and my heart coils around her and our tears merge; an alloy prone to extinguish the flames of Hell! Devour me, sweet girl. Devour me soon as I devour you…when I was younger, when I was much smaller I thought like this. Always in love and always roaring with hope. There are so many girls, but I want this one! Ignore her, you brutes–you have never known love and you speak like ghouls and you tread like troglodytes. She can’t hear you, she mustn’t. She must hear only me and my voice and how it cracks and twists and burns and speaks in agonizing silence…I want to sleep.

I want to paw through her hair and slow her down. I want the diminuendo of processes. I want to slow her down and look at her in sleep. I will choose Endymion and she can choose Sleeping Beauty. And we will sleep. And then I will kiss her. I will kiss her gently and violently, because how can I not? I am angry with love! It’s all so perfectly horrible, as it was when I was younger.

Now, what–now that we kiss? Can I pull away and stop? Absolutely not. By my heart, by her swatting systoles I swear not Venus nor her sulfur rains can pull me from her lips. We are hitched eternally in a kiss. My breath is hers is mine and now there is no need for food, for drink, for watching the New Year’s Day parade. I have my moment and please, sweet girl, let this be yours and this is our time. There is no need for clocks, sundials, compasses, sextants, the winds, the sea, the air, the sun. There is only the dark spot, the void where she and I hide and nobody must see us. But we are not gone. One day we will come blazing out from the darkness, hoary, incontinent and withered and we will tell you that you will never know suffering. We have suffered for you. I must kiss her.

Screaming forth, through scales, through time signature, through hundreds of thousands of spilled seeds and our little laureates awash in infinite Egyptian thread counts. Now nothing but lead droplets, forsaken, gifted world-makers. And so ahead I’m charging on and hoping you don’t cry when you see my hearse and scratching at death’s thin membrane to rant and change the oil and the timing belt and the Volvo must be taken in every 10-12,000 miles. The children mustn’t chew gum. They look ignorant that way. Will they test well? Will they crush records on foot or in the water or with mighty spears and all I want is just to kiss you. First, just kiss you.

It goes on. . .

Then I see our name on bank accounts, sundry certificates and written indelibly on our faces. We. Our. Us. Ours. And when you run out of breath, engulf mine, smoky and diluted. And when it gets so heavy and you carry anvils up the street look at me. Look at me! And I’ll be your helium. I’ll be your vehicle, your imagination, I’ll be everything. You don’t believe me? Try me.

I have seen too many idle kisses. This one has value. This one is a live one…full of watts and ohms and puncturing that thin chrysalis of any damned barrier you can conjure.

This kiss can fight, this kiss won’t go down. This kiss has money on itself. Kiss me. And I’ll kiss you back. Heaven watch me, help me. Angels, pierce me with your slings and I’ll spit in your face. Under the cross, I’ll untie poor Iscariot from his fig and send him down the river. Ask me if I could care. I can’t care more for you and can’t care more for this. This blessed kiss. Forever and Forever and never. Let these charges move up their rungs and turn me into the harlequin with the mirror; Christ and the Samaritan and everything you’re afraid of. That’s how it is–I am the dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second after waking.

And the children, the laureates, the scoundrels, the scourges, the cherubs and the gentle Gooseberries. They all wait for their mother, their starburst of a mother, festooned with breasts of chocolate milk and a licorice umbilical. So, help me. Help me kiss her, all of you. Fight for me, unbuckle your swash and launch out. Attack for me. Attack like a mother for her boys on the morning of a war. If you see you, kiss you for me.