Fabian’s Note — Yes, it’s true! Mr. Dust will be giving a dramatic reading live and in person at TNB-San Diego, August 25, 2011. See all the details here. Can you believe it? No? Well, me neither. I am so damn excited! Oops, sorry for swearing, but I can’t help it! Fuck! This is going to be so fab! If you’re not down there, sister, waiting in line for an autograph, you crazy.
My wife keeps calling me “spineless” because once, a decade ago when we first met, some guy insulted her and I sort of pussied out of fighting him. Mostly because I was scared. I’m not much of a fighter. But then again, I never said I was. I’m just a guy who wants to be left alone. All this time, nothing even remotely like “the big fight” has happened again, but she won’t let up with this spineless routine, bringing it up at family gatherings and rolling her eyes and patting my leg and calling me “Mr. Spine-Free” like it’s a cute pet name while she gossips and spills cracker crumbs all over the rug.
Jim About To Explode
I too have been having back problems of late. Somehow I managed to mis-align a number of intercostal muscles, and it makes it very difficult to turn my head or type. My doctor prescribed therapeutic massage, and so I have been receiving treatment at a local chiropractor’s office twice a week. Which has made me realize two things. One is how oddly intimate a massage is even in the most mundane and professional setting. As I lay there for an hour, covered with lube, while a large and Soviet-faced woman manipulates the fascia interleaving my muscle and bone, all I can think of is sex. Not that I long for or even require it necessarily, just that it seems such an elemental extension of the kneading of the flesh. The application of oil. The slow caresses that purport to be merely an element of routine medical care. The leaning and pressing and stroking. And then, of course, there’s the untouched freshet of “forbidden territory.” Why is it perfectly legal that I lay naked on a table while a woman rubs almost every inch of my body, except my sheet-covered genitals, and yet it is highly illegal if her hand moves four inches to the left and she rubs my penis? It’s such a hypocritical waste of opportunity, resources, and man-hours. I’m not talking about intercourse. Or reciprocation. Or an emotional exchange of any sort. Merely a businesslike wrist-aided manumission. A calming and centering mid-afternoon tug with which to avail oneself of additional relaxation and renewed powers of concentration for the remaining workday. If the masseuse were, say, to offer to stroke my genitals in exactly the same way she was stroking my shoulder–for an additional twenty dollars–having noticed as a matter of professional courtesy that I seemed to require additional medicinal diligence in that specific spot, what would be the harm? It would, of course, be understood that I was not allowed to touch her in any way. That I was not allowed to even open my eyes. That I would lie back passively while she unburdened one particular muscle of its priapic tension, and then moved on to my neck. Think of how much happier we would be as a society if mundane, safe, readily available and life affirming handjobs were entirely legal. Men would be alleviated of so much stress. There would be less drinking, less violence, less road rage, less asshole guys harassing women in bars and parks, a huge decrease in political sexual scandals, greater workplace productivity, a marked decrease in sex crimes, a huge decrease in societal hypocrisy, as well as a boom in tax revenue. If the Tea Party were truly libertarian it would immediately run on a No Boner Left Behind platform. Any given citizen could be on their way home from work, see a Sandy’s Professional Massage and Fax/Notary Service sign blinking next to a Baby Gap, pop in for ten minutes, and then drive quietly home. “Honey, you’re late for dinner” your wife might say, and while you decanted a bottle of Cabernet Franc and popped a little Lex Baxter on the hi-fi, while the kids lay entranced with the latest episode of So You Think You Can Gargle? in the next room, you might laugh good-naturedly and say “Oh, I stopped off for a quick Lube and Tug.” Then your wife would smile and slice the casserole “Oh, good, now I can read my magazine in peace tonight without you pawing away at me until all hours.” The two of you would smile at one another, toast to a happy marriage, and then sit down for a family dinner.
But to your point, Jim: you’re never going to explode. You would have already if you had it in you. Any man that would put up with ten years of that level of condescension and emasculation maybe should probably take his wife’s cue, open up the hood, and take a good look at his vertebrae status. So, either accept this capitulative facet of yourself, or the next time your quidnunc of a wife calls you Mr. Spineless in front of the family, sit her down for a long talk on the subject of respect, privacy, and manners. If she doesn’t start to demonstrate these things at speed, call a lawyer. Comity is not forthcoming.
Is there anything you’re afraid of? I mean, really afraid of?
I am terrified of being caught without a book. Seriously. Not spiders, not heights, not anchor babies. No, I fear being in a line, a waiting room, early for a movie, stuck in traffic, or on an elevator bereft of reading material. Being forced to waste potential page turning moments while near-expiring from the tedium of bureaucratic delay fills me with an existential disquiet. To that end, I keep unread novels in my car. Several. I have them on all floors of the house. I have them in my bags, my briefcase, my luggage and my wife’s pocketbook. I keep them by the bed, on the kitchen table, on the porch, and in the foyer. I refuse to go to a store of any kind without a book. I will attend no meetings, have no lunches, interview no assistants, or ride in any conveyance without a book. So many novels, so little time, the wasting of such time causing me undue terror. But unlike many of my contemporaries, I do not fear eBooks, their usurpation of market share, possible conquering of industry, or indirect diminishment of royalty numbers. The future is here, it involves gadgets, and no amount of whiny perseveration will change that fact. But I don’t ever use them. I will never own a Kindle or the like, I will never read an electronic book. Why? Because I love the feel and touch of paper, the smell, the cracked spine in my hands, the cover, the possibility of spilled ruin, the aging, the glue, the yellowed corners, the weight, the labor involved in the movement of a crate of words from one apartment to another. A stack. A stack of books gives me pleasure, affirms reason, provides meaning, points the way with its imbricated shadow toward the hours of unalloyed joy to be found in lowering it, spine by outward-facing spine, until you have absorbed them all. I want to be buried under a dolmen of pulp. I want to rot in a midden of decaying adjectives.
I fear every moment not spent reading, like a missionary crouching in the scrub, waiting to be pricked by a native’s curare dart.
And there is only one lone restorative.
Well, two, but the other is scotch.
I’m never quite sure how serious your column is. Sometimes you are obviously being farcical, but at others you seem full of wisdom and humility and emotion. At those times, I find that I not only agree with your advice, but I am a little awed by the breadth of knowledge that informs the advice, and the lyrical way in which you respond. It makes me think that you aren’t just some website hack and are actually a famous author. I don’t care which one, I just want to know if I’m right.
Are you just a little on the famous side, Dust?
Well, it’s possible you’ve heard of me. I’ve published numerous books and articles. But so have many thousands of other little-known or entirely unknown authors who possess even a modicum of skill. I am often asked at readings or signings “What is it like to be a published author?” and I frequently respond “It’s like being forced, by my inclusion in an overly romanticized club, to come to the constant realization of how many other goddamned published authors there are around me, and how all of our barely-known mugs are constantly jostling for the same tiny scraps of attention.” But, you know, that’s pretty cynical. Regardless of it being packed with truth. In any case, I appreciate your comments. I think if I were being honest I’d have to admit that my wisdom is limited to forums such as this. In my plebeian life, I prove to family and friends with appalling consistency that I don’t know my ass from my taint. And, as far as my career, no one really reads my books. Oh, there are sales and signings and parties and advances, but outside of the machinery of publishing, it is a very, very select group that actually cares.
Fine, call that group a “cult” if you will, but if so, it’s one of those straggly applesauce-eating outfits stuck in some guru’s mother’s basement without a lot of ready cash.
Still, I love them and they love me.
Finally, this column is always serious at heart. I am just under the impression that such advice as The Unhappy can absorb is more palatable when swallowed within a gelid lozenge of humor, particularly when, as it tends to, my mailbox evinces a pronounced lean toward the deviant and heterodox.
Ask Me Anything.
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Go ahead, I know it hurts.
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