kirn_splash

Walter Kirn’s newest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, is a riveting, chilling, and sometimes funny real-life psychological thriller about Kirn’s fifteen-year friendship with a man whose life story eerily parallels Tom Ripley’s in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Kirn is a witty, sharp observer who will flay himself with the same X-Acto knife precision that he uses to flay his characters. I couldn’t stop reading Blood Will Out—it made me want to dig through my bookshelves, pluck out and reread everything Kirn has ever written.

In Transit

By Dan Coxon

Travel

London Map

Our home slumbers in pieces, in boxes, in brown paper wrap. Room after room of brown paper wrap. Ridiculously oversized parcels block the corridors and doorways in the shape of sofas, free-standing multi-purpose bookcase units. Then there are the boxes. Towering, teetering stacks of brown boxes, their contents pared down to single words on the side. Bedroom; bathroom; kitchen; lounge. Check.

medium_burroughsemeterbetterIn January, 1968, William S. Burroughs, the notorious author of Naked Lunch, enrolled in the Hubbard Trained Scientologist Course at Saint Hill Manor, in East Grinstead. That year, the brochure fawned over the building’s impressive setting and history. It is written with Hubbard’s unmistakably trite and self-aggrandizing phrasing, not to mention his fondness for the word “free” and its derivatives:

In Kate Zambreno’s hallucinatory and disjointed Green Girl (Emergency Press), we are lured into the world of Ruth, a young American girl lost and damaged in London. Following this ingénue into her dark musings, the echoes of voices fill the page—Ruth, HIM, her mother, the author, and the silver screen flickering in the distance. It is a hypnotic read—the duality of Ruth—her good side and her darkness, the need to behave and the need to be punished.

I

We mad fly; we
Dream dry; we
Scribble drunk; we
Fake the funk; we
Keeps it real; we
Sly conceal; we
Royal hall; we
Southern drawl; we
Bleed tears; we
Clink cheers; we
Fling curves; we
Gnaw nerves; we
Break it down; we
Class clown; we
Write raw; we
Down by law.

They come from bars and frat houses,
Chins sporting the last chug’s dregs;
They’ve shut down the POTUS block
Down lawn chairs! Time to tap the kegs!

“Na na na! Hey hey hey! Goodbye!”
Caught in the unstoppered ear—
Perspective fails the sloppy street
It’s just one terrorist’s career!

What giant wheels when Brezhnev sent
Red troops into Afghanistan;
House of Saud and CIA,
Tipped shots to Charlie Wilson’s plan.

I had this dream – no, come back, it was only a short dream, or maybe just a fragment – and I’m not going to yap on about the dream itself, just some of the things in it, which are interesting, perhaps.

Bruce Chatwin held that there are two categories of writers, “the ones who ‘dig in’ and the ones who move.” He observed: “There are writers who can only function ‘at home’, with the right chair, the shelves of dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and now perhaps the word processor. And there are those, like myself, who are paralyzed by ‘home’, for whom home is synonymous with the proverbial writer’s block, and who believe naïvely that all would be well if only they were somewhere else.” I like this notion, but have no opinion about its veracity. I do, however, hold that when I read Chatwin I can detect the shuffle of his restless feet traversing ancient causeways, just as, when I read Melville, I smell salt air.

Author’s note: This is written from a 2003/4 point of view. UK drinking laws are less restrictive these days, but we’re no better at it.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was spring. Around 2001, perhaps, I don’t know, I was drunk. Sprawled on a bench across the road from Mile End tube, somewhere near the yellow Tellytubby bridge with the bulging lawn on top. It was night – give me some credit, I’m not a daytime bench-sitting Special Brew enthusiast – but it wasn’t dark there on the A11. Cars swooshed by and streetlights glowed. Below the UNDERGROUND sign the station’s yellow lights, white tiles and delay notices promised warmth and the vague possibility of getting home.

You might remember Poykpak’s Williamsburg-set Hipster Olympics video from 2007. Events included MySpace photography and ironic t-shirt hunting, and it featured the American Apparel Instant Replay and sponsorship from PBR (“When you aim for authenticity…”) That video was a pretty good primer for anyone who asked “What’s a hipster?”

Please explain what just happened.

I opened the kitchen window to let a bumblebee out, then I went to the toilet.

What is your earliest memory?

A bird snatched my egg-and-lettuce sandwich from my hands while we were having a picnic.  It really pissed me off.

If you weren’t a musician, what other profession would you choose?

Librarian.

There I was in Islington, England, in 2004 BR (Before Rodent), my first time in the UK.

I had chosen Islington on the whim of it being Tony Blair’s as well as Sir Walter Ralegh’s sometimes home. My trip’s purpose was to visit sites I was writing about for a play about Shakespeare the woman.

After a brief night’s hotel sleep in Islington, I was down in the lobby awaiting a rental car to drive from London up north to Salisbury where I’d arranged a three-week stay in a B&B. The 2 ½-hour drive ended up taking 5 ½ hours—-and I was WAY alert the entire time.

The rental car deliverer handed me the key to a 5-speed Vauxhall, showed me where to put the key in the ignition and said: “You’re driving to Salisbury . . . and you’ve never driven on the left side of the road . . . seated on the right side of the car?” Exit a head-shaking rental guy.

Since the taxicabs behind me had begun blinking their headlights and honking, I did a quick seatbelt buckling, found the windshield wipers switch (it was raining, of course), headlights switch, heater switch, clutch, brake and gas pedals—-but not the gear shift lever. AH . . . on my left, of course! So I shifted up and left as the diagram showed for first gear, goosed the gas, and the car died (I later found out I’d shifted into third gear).

More big black taxicabs entered the little roundabout and piled up behind me. To get out to the street, the only way was to squeeze to the left. So I did, fully expecting a collision and arrest. Then I remembered The Rule: ALWAYS DRIVE ON THE LEFT.

Now I was at a traffic light with no car to follow and imitate. And I’d been told to turn right. Rolling down my window, I said to the poor man about to walk in front of me: “When the light turns green, can I turn right?” (I had too much pride to add: “Even though all the cars in those lanes are FACING ME!!?” He looked at the signs and said, “Yes, there are no signs prohibiting a right turn,” and walked past me as the light turned green. All I wanted was my mommy. Despite being dead, she encouraged me to proceed . . . perhaps so that I could more quickly join her.

The only way to avoid all those cars facing me on the right was to go beyond them nearly onto the pavement across the street—-which I did. I then was in the far left lane and at another light . . . again with no one to follow.

The car died again as I started up in third gear. Cars passed me (on the right) in frustration. A white van got ahead of me, and I followed its every move through central London (and several red lights) to Lewisham, where I lost it.

I’d gotten used to the strange first gear, but then became aware that I’d gone through Lewisham twice, so I stopped at a 7-11 kind of place for directions. A couple of men stood at a tall table drinking coffee.

“Does either of you gentlemen know how I can get to Salisbury?” I said.

“SAWLSBREE?” said the neatly dressed older man.

“No, Salisbury . . . spelled S A L I S B U R Y.”

“Right, Sawlsbree. I used to live there, but couldn’t tell you how to get there.”

“No problem,” said a much younger, work-uniformed man. “First take EYE TOY—-”

I had expected motorway letters and numbers, not body parts. So I pointed to my eye, and said, “EYE?”

He said, “No, no: EYE, EYE!”

“You mean “H”?” I asked.

“No, EYE!” he said.

“The first letter of the alphabet,” interrupted the other man.

“Oh! . . . ‘A’!!” I said.

“Yes, EYE TOY to M25 . . .” and the young man wrote very good directions on the back of my business card.

Then I asked where the loo was and thanked them.

On the way out I remembered not being able to get the car into reverse, so I stopped another man waiting to buy a bottle of soda.

He met me at my car and watched my futile efforts to shift up and to the left. We traded places, he fiddled around, then said, “Pull the shifter’s collar down, then do as you did.” Sure enough, it worked.

I then followed folks leaving the place (at the left exit) and aimed for EYE TOY.

I got lost several times and asked for directions, but at last, at nightfall and in vigorous rain, I was on the M1 motorway from London to Salisbury.

I hugged the left lane with huge lorries, and prayed, as cars speeded past in the right lanes. Lorries passed other lorries (on the right of course) and I continued to pray. At one point I thought my panic would overcome me, but I couldn’t imagine negotiating a stop on the side of the motorway. Then I noticed right in front of me a lorry with “NORFOLK” printed on the back. I knew it was Norfolk, England, but took it as a sign of hope representing my home in Norfolk, VA.

Nothing could break my optimism after that. I arrived safely at the B&B several hours later and had a marvelous three weeks in England.

I also racked up £200 in parking fines.

Rodent’s proposal for a scholarly paper had been accepted. 
 
For 4 months he’d been preparing his paper entitled “All’s Boman!” (“All’s Good!”) about cant language in London in 1724, which only 3 other people in the world would fully understand.  All 3 of them would be attending the lexicography conference at Oxford, carefully noting his research and discoveries about the language that criminals used to communicate with each other. 
 
I figured my role was as Adjunct Rodent—or, more precisely, Rodent Control, because he’s often unaware of other people, his mind preoccupied with research.  No one is more ruthless at research than dear Rodent.  No one.  He would cut his granny off his list of credible sources if he couldn’t corroborate her stories.
 
Before we left for Oxford, I began carefully calibrating my every word in order to advance dear Rodent’s aims, saying such things as “Perhaps the 4 pages explaining the difference between ‘hicked’ and ‘kicked’ could be shortened to a paragraph” and “It might be entertaining to include newspaper reports of Jack Sheppard’s arrest and hanging.”
 
As always, Rodent was way ahead of me, but he sweetly responded to every Rodent Control suggestion.
 
The week before the presentation, he had cut the paper down from 40 to 25 pages, but needed to lop off 5 more pages to meet the 20-minute time limit.
 
He sat at his desk with a kitchen timer and read his paper aloud, his sonorous voice describing 18th century cutpurses, pickpockets, whores and housebreakers.  After several read-throughs, he had chopped off the final 5 pages, and we were ready to go to Oxford.
 
Once in our Oxford hotel room, he again timed his speech.  A perfect 20 minutes.  We were completely satisfied with it. 
 
Because Rodent’s presentation was the last one of the conference, we got plenty of prior exposure to how the panels operated.  While the paper presenters analysed Ukrainian phonemes, definitions of slang, and OED historical citations, I sat and doodled, silently praying for an all-college electrical failure.
 
Thankfully, things picked up during Q/A sessions as attenders flamboyantly showed off their knowledge, often interrupting and arguing with the presenters. 
 
Finally, it was Friday.  We arrived in Room 7.  Two other panelists had also come early, as had the moderator, an expert at OED who collects examples of the earliest uses of words. 
 
In a few minutes, 50 attenders filled up the room.  They proved a lively group, throwing plenty of questions at pre-Rodent presenters. 
 
Then dear Rodent stood up and distributed 3 handouts.  He took his place behind the podium, placed his watch in front of him, and began reading his paper.
 
The last row was loudly mumbling as they reached for the handouts, but to keep to his allotted time Rodent neither stopped nor slowed his reading.  I turned around and gave the back row A Look as Rodent’s first paragraphs sailed by unheard.  At last things quieted.  In fact, the audience seemed unusually attentive, turning to their handouts at the appropriate times, their eyes on dear Rodent’s handsome face as they listened to his Scottish lilt. 
 
After 10 minutes, the moderator held up a big green poster to Rodent that said:  “YOU HAVE NO TIME LEFT.”  Rodent didn’t see it.  He then held up a bright red poster that said “STOP NOW”.  Rodent didn’t see it.  So he handed it to a woman seated directly in front of Rodent.  She leaned forward, and with both hands shoved it onto the podium.  He glanced at it, looked down at his papers, spoke two sentences, and stopped. 
 
The moderator stood, thanked Rodent, and asked if there were any questions.  Total silence in the room.  I prayed.  He repeated:  “Does anyone have a question?”  I waited for one of the 3 people in the world who knew what Rodent had been talking about to ask a question.  No hands went up, no one spoke. 
 
Desperate to spare Rodent embarrassment, I raised my hand and asked a simple question which he happily answered.  Then someone asked a brief question which Rodent gratefully answered, and the moderator pronounced the session over.
 
When most of the attenders had gone, the moderator began furiously typing on his laptop.  Rodent wandered over to see what he was doing, and they chatted a bit.  He came back, and I said, “So what was he doing?”
 
“Oh,” said Rodent, “he was checking up on the OED mistakes I had pointed out in my paper.”
 
That evening we went to the conference’s final celebratory dinner at St Anne’s College.  A fellow panel member waved at Rodent and sat next to him at the table, and they talked animatedly throughout most of the dinner.
 
Later, I asked who the man was. 

“He writes the Language column for the New York Times”, Rodent said.  “He’s buddies with the moderator, and said he had stopped his presentation early, too.”
 
Happy Rodent.  Happy me.  ALL’S BOMAN!

I was a little wobbly in front of the urinal. Left and Right seemed to call my shoulders from center, while my head surfed evenly above their oceanic bobbing. My aim was good at least.

I caught the guy to my left, a short chubby fellow with long hair and a black leather jacket, peeking down.

He saw that he’d been caught and smiled. “American?”

“What?” I shook. “Yeah.” Stuffed. “How’d you know?” and zipped.

He kept his eyes up as he gestured towards my nethers with his whiskered chin. “You’re cut… and you don’t strike me as the Jewish type.”

“Cut?”

“Your Peepee wears a V-neck, mate.”

I sat down at the bar next to my friend Elaine. She was a good friend from Chicago who’d lived in London and taught high school science for five years. Her friend Isabella was tending bar. Isabella was from Argentina, but had been in London long enough to sound British. I had a bit of a crush on Isabella.

Elaine looked tired. It was a school night. “Well, I’m heading back to the flat if you wanna come.”

“No,” I said. “I think I’ll stay for another drink.” In the hope that maybe I’d be able to walk Isabella home when the bar closed.

As Elaine left, the man from the bathroom emerged and took her stool. “So, what’s that like?” he asked.

“What?”

“Being circumcised.”

“I dunno. Fine.”

His eyes excreted an angry flame, like a solar flare, that was gone as quickly as it came. “Fine my ass. It’s bloody child abuse.”

I felt a little ashamed. “Well, I didn’t do it to myself.”

“Damn good thing. I’d a kicked yer ass if ya had.”

I nodded.

Isabella smiled from behind the bar. I wondered what her feelings on the subject were.

“You know it steals the sensation.” He pointed towards his own crotch.

“It’s been alright for me. Sex, I mean,” I said loud enough to be heard by both the bar’s patron and tender.

Now he smiled. “That’s cause you haven’t tried it with my cock.”

Another nod.

Another smile from Isabella

At that point a six foot blond Asian with a waist as thick as a pipe cleaner and roughly head-sized fake breasts threw in her two cents. “I don’t give a damn if it’s snipped or it isn’t as long as there’s coke on the tip of it.”

“Well, that’s just filthy, doll,” said the man as he put his arm around the small of her back.

The woman made a gesture as if sniffing coke from the tip of a handheld phallus, and the man and I exhaled long-lost breaths from the deepest places in our diaphragms, united in some primordial frustration that can only be tapped by the mimicry of sex acts.

Isabella was closing the bar, but it seemed that the man and a few others, including the Amazonian Asian Brit, and myself would be allowed to stay.

He ordered drinks for everyone. Shots of whiskey and pints. “You a musician mate?”

“Not professionally.” I took the drinks he offered. “You?”

“I play a bit.” He sipped thoughtfully. “Where you from?”

“Chicago.”

His head tilted like a puppy that hasn’t completely grasped that human speech will always be unintelligible. “Is that the one with all the buildings and whatnot?”

I decided to go along. “Ummmm… yeah.”

“I think my band played there.”

“What’s your band called?”

“The Darkness.”

I nodded.

Two hours later, we were still talking foreskin. I’m not sure where he obtained his stores of knowledge on the subject, or even if the facts he was spouting were accurate. There was a world out there, conspiratorial without a doubt, but frighteningly feasible, in which every human peril was symbolized in this one little snip of the scissors: Global warming, Ebay, the Iraq invasion, Mel Gibson… I can’t for the life of me remember how, but it all came together, ever so briefly, that night only, in the act of circumcision.

The giant Asian woman was now sitting in his lap, which made for the impression of a greyhound sitting in the lap of a pug. He continued to explain it all. I continued to absorb.

Finally, Isabella said it was time to go, and we all ushered ourselves under the metal shutter and stood their beneath sharp pellets of rain on the cold London street.

He lingered like a little kid under a tree, protected from the rain by the arching branch of the giant Asian’s arm. “Come back to our place for a drink?”

I was tempted, but thought better. “I gotta get back, man.”

“Make it worth your while.”

I couldn’t even begin to imagine exactly what his making it worth my while would entail, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t up for it.

Isabella and I stood in the rain and watched them walk off.

“Who the hell is the Darkness?” I asked her.

She sang in her highest pitched voice, “I believe in a thing called love.”

“Weird…”

“Yeah…”

I thought I might want to touch her hand, but I didn’t.





Being disabled and not being a billionaire evil genius is a shite state of affairs.

After a six year trial period, I’ve decided it’s not for me. The problem is context – context being, supposedly, everything. You see, I didn’t spec my environment; I don’t have a hollowed-out island full of boiler-suited minions, with smooth floors and rapid, spacious lifts. I have London, and it’s a fucking disgrace.