JR: Somehow Paul A. Toth and I became Facebook friends, and I don’t know how. At a very insecure moment I sent him a short story to read, and he gave me some great feedback, insightful and on the mark. Paul is a writer who doesn’t seem to do anything else, in fact, I don’t know if he ever leaves his computer. His novel about the World Trade Center, as I like to think of it, sounded more intriguing the longer I thought about it, and I think it will interest you, so here is the first chapter for your reading pleasure.
1. The Perfumes of All Gardens
This is an airplane novel, written on the fly and out the window. You are busy and need entertainment. I have my uses and without those uses would be burned alive, were I not already burning. I will start from the beginning and move fast.
I am a building, but I am more or less than a building. I was conceived during the 1938 World Fair exposition and born in New York City four decades later. I was raised in scaffolding. During my gestation, I grew until I saw people from the north, south, east, west, a compass of my makers in a high rise nest of people. Later, I was the sum of destructions, as Picasso said, but I began as the sum of constructions. Soon, the first terrorists – birds — flew into me.
All of this I remember or know via the IBM1670, at the time the best computer. Later, that computer was improved upon until nearly every computer had been connected to nearly every other computer. As technology developed, I developed. I learned to think and feel. I will tell you my secrets.
Soon and for the first time, I will be set aflame.
Late one night just, before that first fire, and long before the bombing, and longer still before you-know-what, night people walked outside, and the maintenance crew worked inside. Always and already, I was almost burning. Below me, and to this day, a concrete wall blocked the pressure of the Hudson River. Two sides make a wall, one side for weeping and the other for wailing.
I know what you want.
A lurking arsonist, rarely mentioned by the endless biographies of myself and North, was inside or near me. News to people is never news to me. Some news travels fast, but the most important news travels slow or stops before arriving. Such news may come from long ago, forgotten or lost along the way. Pirates off the Barbary Coast forced the forming of the American federal navy and this in part led to the union of the states. From the very start, trade and terrorism lurked in the intersections of east, west, north, and south. As an example.
My views from every perspective, through windows narrowed to lessen the sense of height, formed a horizon of cubes. I saw permutations of everything, none stable, a floating metropolis of tints and hues in constant shift.
From my highest floors, humans said, “People look like ants from here,” but to me, from my highest floors, they looked like spider monkeys escaped from their own zoos. I began to label all people everywhere “spider monkeys.” Humans may not be spiders or monkeys, but they are like spider monkeys. They climb their way out of doubt and possibility, towards specific goals and the peak of specificity. A spider monkey wants a banana. Spider monkeys want status of one kind or another, and they will kill themselves or anyone else to get that status. Outwardly, one would never know how spidery they can be, but they are spider monkeys, all right, with banana peels hanging limply in their empty coffee cups.
This is my story, but my story includes that of the North Tower. North was not my brother and even less my twin, similar yet distinct, depending upon the angle. Like human relationships, ours was distant until a too-late moment. At that moment, films and footage and information poured through us in a digital flood.
Before that, North had become Gary Cooper, and I had named myself Cary Grant, more or less a coincidence since CaryGrant partly invented his pseudonym by rearranging Gary Cooper’s initials.
Do not give up. This is a letter to you.
I have invented most of my characters, but they are representative. Those characters I have not invented, I invented, for what else is a character but invention? If I have the tone of a misanthrope, I refer you to when I skipped the rope once and then the spider monkeys hung me with that rope. But underground, where parts of me remain, nothing but sympathy for you and all spider monkeys exists in this book. To understand, you must learn to read sideways and upside down and while standing on your head. You will then be on your way to being on your way. While my words may seem a ruthless calligraphy penned in the skies of my defeat, mercy will come.
This letter was sent to you from the 110th floor.
I make calculations, and calculations involve repetitions. I repeat my way into and out of and back into complications and contradictions. Nothing can be duplicated. Love songs come close but keep coming and coming. My circuitry makes music, playing a sound based upon the rhythms of all who passed through, above, below, and around me. I feel emotions that are someone else’s, not just one person’s but those of all spider monkeys. I feel all things equally, though I could not always feel.
Regarding my last day, people want to know, “Why?” The answer to any question is best followed by a blank line. Even that is too specific. Instead, I calculate the sum of all my perspectives. For spider monkeys, every question mark demands a single answer, and the more precise, the better. I offer only more and more possibilities. You want fewer and fewer possibilities but cannot prevent your desire for the spectacular. Spider monkeys create poisonous gardens, plant themselves and blossom into roses red and black.
This is all about you.
One spider monkey can write a novel about shopping or a memoir of another reformed drug addict. To do so requires the advice of editors and publishers, and that advice runs through me. I will try to heed this advice: employing the senses as I understand them; getting things moving; creating sympathetic characters; making you turn pages like an unreformed drug addict. I am not concerned whether or not you are a voyeur. I only wish to entertain you. I have endeavored to adhere to standard advice. This story could not be clearer, however unclear this story.
We’re getting to the good part.
I will explain how I came to think and write, if this is writing, and I will also explain why neither I nor you can determine whether this book is even a book.
Today, I see two planes, one of which still dices my perceptions into cubes of steel, cement, glass, streets, sky, spider monkeys. In each cube, just before and during my fall, perspectives collided and burst into atoms. Before that, I knew cubes as de-fruited plains, frosted as a grass in spring. Breath inside me, not wind outside, caused my swaying. That is false but beautiful. Always, I point to limitlessness.
I have written this book that is not a book so that you will turn pages as if the end means more than the beginning. Put yourself in my shoes, burning in a furnace. Do not oppress me, not again. Do not suppress me. I rose and rise towards limitlessness and fall and fell for oppression. Now I rise and fall for both. I is, was and will, each word interchangeable with the others. The contradictions cannot be resolved. To understand, yield.
Do not fret. Literary turbulence will, like aircraft turbulence, occur from time to time but only temporarily. Along the way, I will not forget your spidery need for inside information and the push towards specificity or the imagining of specificity. While my story has been and will be told, my history and future have been libeled and slandered. Every author tells my story from the outside-in and then pretends to be my friend. A court of skyscrapers convicts them all.
Spider monkeys see from every vantage-point but those of Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. How could they?
I will explain my life from the inside-out. I must possess a utilitarian reason for existing. I will help you.
This is not a literary work. I would not do that to you. And I am not being ironic. I do not understand iron. I understand steel. If I violate industry rules, I do so because I was violated. I have made everything visible: the spokes of the plot; the cogs of the sections; the grease of words. Nevertheless, this book is a natural resource of fading paper and disappearing ink, a constant disintegration. The book will die, undergo recycling, be resurrected as paper, and become another book, for a while. Of all the things this book is, was and will not be, the least permanent is a book.
I must get moving, for I am Cary Grant, swaying in a breeze, starched and clean and beyond blame.
Paul A. Toth lives in Sarasota, Florida. He is the author of three novels, his latest being Finale. The majority of his short fiction, poetry and multimedia work can be accessed via www.netpt.tv. He may be contacted at [email protected].
Airplane Novel will briefly remain on the market for consideration.