Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
My wife was able to talk her parents into giving us gift cards this year for Xmas. So, instead of getting shirts I would never wear and tube socks (how I despise tube socks) I received a $50 gift card for my favorite liquor store, Specs. I don't know if you have a Specs in your neck of the woods, but if you don't, you are missing out on one hell of a selection of spirits. If it can be drunk, they probably sell it. I have been busy trying to come up with a list of what I would like to get.
Initially, I intended to buy a really good absinthe with it. Lucid produces an absinthe that is very close to what Verlaine and Rimbaud swilled in Paris. But at over $60/bottle, it would take up all of my $50 gift card and then some, and I would still have to get an absinthe spoon and fountain, and absinthe glass. Because if you're not going to prepare it the traditional way, why bother? But all that would set me back I don't know how much, and I would only have one bottle to show for it.
So, I decided to take another tack, and get several bottles of some spirits I have never tried. And I was able to tie them all together with a theme. Sort of. Well, here goes.
First off, we have Linie Aquavit (taken from Latin: aqua vītae, "water of life”) It is a Norwegian spirit, made from potatoes, which have been fermented, then distilled and flavored with caraway (in the book I've been reading, William Gaddis' “The Recognitions,” Rev. Gwyon is always walking around with the scent of caraways on his breath. But I believe he was drinking schnapps, not aquavit.)
Anyways, what I like about this particular one, is that they put it in old sherry casks, put the casks on a ship, and then sail them from Norway to Australia, and back to Norway again. The motion of the waves, plus the changes in temperatures and the sea air, all combine to transform it into something special. At least that's what Linie says. It's a pretty fascinating way of doing it, and you can read the whole story on their website, here.
Next, there is Daron Calvados XO. Calvados is produced by fermenting apples, and then distilling that into an apple brandy, which is an eau de vie, French for “water of life,” right? They don't put this on boats and sail it around the world, or anything, but I happen to like apples, and it fit in with the theme.
Now, the next spirit is not an eau de vie, but I'm not completely breaking with the theme, just going off on a bit of a tangent. Going back to the first bottle, and thinking of it's seafaring ways, I thought it would be nice to add a bottle of something that has always been associated with the sea: rum.
I've never been much of a rum drinker—mainly because rum is usually used as a mixer for cocktails, and I'm more of a straight liquor drinker. But I did a bit of research into what are considered decent sipping rums, and Cruzan Single Barrel rum showed up more than a few times on experts' lists, so I'm willing to go out on a limb (or a plank) and give it a try.
Well, that's it. Three bottles totaling somewhere around $90. Still more than my card, but hey, I'll only be out $40, and that's not too shabby.
I'll be sure to put some tasting notes of these in a future post. Cheers!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Since I started writing in this blog, I don't believe I've posted anything about my loss of faith. I could be mistaken, but I don't think I have. I just got through reading a quote the inimitable Murr posted on his blog, The Lectern. It's a quote from W. E. H. Lecky on the religious impulse, and is a very eloquent way of describing why people choose to believe. It made me decide it was time to say a few words about my falling out with god.
I could probably go on and on about it, but I won't. I am going to focus on how it has affected me, and how I'm feeling now, right this very instant. And maybe I'll find some solace in baring my nonexistent soul.
I misplaced my faith over 20 years ago. Prior to that, I was a good little catholic boy, and was comforted in knowing that no matter how bad life might become, I had an eternal afterlife in paradise to look forward to (and there was no doubt I would end up in the preferred place, as every fiber in my body was tuned to doing what god expected. I even seriously considered becoming a priest--but more on that another time, perhaps.)
But then I went to college, and started learning about reality. I listened to lectures on biology and evolution, and began thinking and reasoning things out for myself. My inquisitive mind led me to books about all the different religions in the world (past and present) and one of the many things I discovered was how christianity
borrowed stole much of its material from Mithraism. And one day everything clicked into place, and I realized there was no god.
My newfound atheism left me feeling smug and superior to all the fools who still believed in all this nonsense. Like when you figured out it was really your dad dressing up as Santa, and that the whole thing was just made up. And how you looked at the younger kids who were still naive enough to believe. Foolish, little children, you would say. But now I know the truth. I have taken one step closer to becoming an adult.
Many years have passed since then and although my wife tells me that even on my best days, I'm still an insufferable snob, I really no longer feel that way about anyone who believes.
What do I feel? Most days, I would find it quaint and amusing that someone could still believe in all that. But lately, something else has crept in: envy. Because they have something I've lost: a sense of security.
I fear the Nothingness. Once I die I will cease to exist. I know this to be true. My thoughts are simply generated by my brain; nothing more, nothing less. Once my neurons cease to fire, I will be no more. I won't go to heaven because there is no heaven. I won't see my parents again, because they no longer exist. And I will never see my wife and child ever again. I love my daughter more than life itself, and the thought of never seeing her again...well, words can't describe how it makes me feel.
But to make matters worse, my arrogance won't let me reconcile the fact that once I die, the universe will continue on without me. All my thoughts, emotions, my consciousness, ME, I cannot end! Never mind the billions of years the universe got along fine without me. Now that I'm here, it cannot possibly continue on in my absence. I even have trouble sleeping most nights, because to sleep, it is like a mini-death, a giving-up of oneself to the void. And I dread that.
I've been floundering in this meaningless, uncaring ocean ever since I ceased to believe. If there were just a shred of evidence, a tiny speck of something, anything I could grasp onto, and believe once again as I had in my youth, you bet I'd latch onto that and never let go.
But I know it's not going to happen. My eyes were opened, and I can never close them again.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Well, let's get down to it, shall we? My wife bought me an early xmas present, one of those Kindle Fires. It's a pretty nice little device. You can't do any writing on it, but that's about it's only limitation. I've been busy putting free classics on it, cuz damn, I refuse to pay for a virtual book, doncha know? If I'm going to shell out some cash, I want something I can actually hold in my hands. Besides, there are plenty free ones out there. Why, just an hour ago I found these five gems:
- The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus from the 1604 Quarto by Christopher Marlowe
- The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
- A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Yerevich Lermontov
- La-Bas by J. K. Huysmans
- Against the Grain by J. K. Huysmans
Now how cool is that, huh? Pretty good stuff. And it is awfully easy to read on it. I can read in bed, and not disturb my wife. Hmmm, maybe that's why she got it for me?
As to The Recognitions, I'm just about finished. I really don't want to see it end, but Gaddis has really picked up the action in Part III, and I'm having a hard time putting it down. I went ahead and pre-ordered the new Dalkey edition coming out in January, along with their new edition of JR, which is coming out on the same day. And each for only $12! Damn, Dalkey, I luv you guys! I also ordered, and it just came in, The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz. This was recommended by a friend I met on LT (tanks dr. dangle!) but I don't know when I'm going to get to it, as I have a HUGE stack of books I'm dying to read. Damn if I can't decide which one. I told my wife we'd do a readalong with Emma, but I've got to read something else, too! I had been wanting to read Sorrentino's Mulligan's Stew, but couldn't justify cracking it until I took on O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, which I had actually started before The Recogs lured me away. So, maybe I'll return to that. Too many books.
Well, that's all I feel like writing for now. Sorry this wasn't much of a post and if I bored your ass off, I apologize. But I'll do better next time. Promise.
Monday, November 7, 2011
I’ve been in a funk for the last month or so. Doldrums, ennui, whatever you want to call it. It’s something I’ve dealt with off and on most of my adult life. I’m beginning to come out the other end of this one, hence more energy and ergo, this blog post. You may or may not have noticed, but I haven’t written much lately, nor kept up with my internet buddies. Sorry, y’all.
I found out after my dad passed away that he suffered from depression. Funny, the things your parents keep from you. He had severe arthritis from when he was in the army, back in WWII. Before he was due to go overseas, he hurt his back and the army doctor sent him to a quack-chiropractor (redundant?) who ended up almost paralyzing him, at which point he was given a medical discharge and declared 100% disabled. He was so messed up, the vertebrae in his neck and back became calcified together to the point where he couldn’t turn his head or bend his back.
When I was a kid, he would periodically have to go to the VA hospital in Temple. I had always assumed it was for his back. Well, let me rephrase that: that’s what I was always told. But when he had passed away 15 years ago, I found some paperwork from the hospital where one of the doctors had noted his struggle with depression, and that my dad often mentioned in his sessions of wanting to kill himself. I asked my mom about it, and she confessed that it was really the depression he had had to go there for.
Whenever I get depressed, it never gets so bad I think about offing myself. Nor does it keep me from getting out of bed and going to work. But I do find it difficult to accomplish much more than that. Now that I'm feeling better, I'm thinking more about getting back to working on my novel. And I think I'm finally ready to start losing the weight I've been wanting to, and start getting into shape again.
I suppose I really shouldn’t even be thinking about losing weight now. I mean, isn’t that something you do to get ready for the summer? I should be looking to put on fat for the winter, right? Although, if I gain any more weight, I’m going to have to ask my daughter to tie my shoes for me.
And I especially shouldn’t be trying to lose weight since my wife and daughter just ganged up on me yesterday, and talked me into being Santa Claus for Christmas school pictures next month. I asked my wife, who is the PTA president, why me? Is it because my big round belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly? Of course not, she said. It was my rosy cheeks. Actually, it was because they knew no one else would agree to do it. Why not get the guy who did it last year, I threw in, as a last ditch effort to extricate myself. He moved, my wife said. I began to wonder if that was the reason he moved. But in the end, I broke, and agreed to do it. Dumbass. What is it, 720 kids in my daughter’s elementary school? I have to sit there all day long, while 720 kids take turns tormenting me about what they want for Christmas, and I have to be jolly the whole time? Santa will be dragging his fat ass home, and slide down inside a bottle of Bourbon as soon as it is over.
Speaking of my daughter, we went to the school track on Saturday. She loves to run and I thought I would try and give her a few pointers, as I used to do quite a bit of running many, many moons and about a hundred pounds ago. This was our second time doing this. The last time we went, I forgot just how much I had let myself go, and she smoked me on the track. Hell, I don’t think I ran more than a few yards before having to stop before keeling over. But this time was different. She beat me easily the first lap. But I actually beat her the second. It took everything I had, but I did it (Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I’m beginning to think she let me win.)
I’m also back into reading, and have picked up The Recognitions again. Gee, aren’t you getting tired of hearing I’m still reading it? Simply preposterous, I know. I should have finished it weeks ago. But at least I’m not reading it out of a sense of just wanting to finish it. It really is a wonderful book, and I am still enjoying it immensely. Actually, when I first picked it up, I figured I wouldn’t finish it until the end of the year anyways, which would be just in time to do a re-read for when Dalkey Press puts out its new edition in January. I've already decided it would be a belated Christmas gift for myself (that and the audiobook version of “The Tunnel,” unabridged and read by Gass himself! Gawd, I love The Dalkey Press!)
Well, that’s all I feel like writing now. Oh, I almost forgot. I finally got to watch “The Big Lebowski” the other night. What a wunnerful flick! I can’t wait to watch it again. But not before seeing “Blue Velvet,” another cult classic I haven’t seen. I recently watched an interview with DFW, where he said watching that movie really helped him out in his own work. High praise, indeed.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
She loved it, as did her teacher.
I think she has all the qualities that would make up a fine sleuth: naturally suspicious (believes nothing she hasn't found out for herself), determined to follow through anything she has begun (which also means she can be as stubborn as a mule), and has a rock solid sense of what constitutes right and wrong (which means I'm constantly getting busted.)
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Will I become a raging barbarian, raping and pillaging my way into infamy? Will it turn my otherwise unassuming Dr. Jekyll persona into a ravenous, bloodthirsty Mr. Hyde? Perhaps I will finally be able to live up to my demonic moniker (demoniker?) I can't wait to find out!
And now, how about a little synchronicity?
Yesterday, my volunteer didn't show up to work. So I decided to throw in a few hours of sorting books until I had to leave for my appointment. These are all books that patrons have checked out, and then dropped back off at one of our locations. Our job is to pick them up, sort them and get them back to the branch they belong. So this gives you a decent snapshot of what people are reading. And let me tell you, it ain't highbrow literature. But every once in a while you'll come across a gem. Yesterday, I happened to pull out Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, which I hadn't heard of. I had heard of Angels, and Tree of Smoke, both of which I have been wanting to read.
It was a short little book, a novella, so I placed it on my desk to check out later, thinking maybe I might be able to fit it into my reading pile (with the added bonus of further irritating my wife, as she despises anyone who reads more than one book at a time--which I always do.)
So, last night as I'm perusing one of my favorite blogs, Enrique Freeque's Forum, I thought I'd check out some of the blogs Enrique follows. The Quivering Pen looked interesting. So I clicked on the link, and what do I find as the latest post? A review of Train Dreams! How cool is that?
Okay, you might have noticed I changed my blog's header. I'm never satisfied with what I come up with. I'm still not happy with this one, but I just got sick and tired of looking at the previous one. I'm starting to form some ideas in my head of what I might want it to look like, but need to play around with GIMP to see if I can pull it off. If you like manipulating images, but don't want to shell out the moola for Photoshop, I highly recommend GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program.) First of all, it's free! And you can't beat that. It's also works on just about every platform. And best of all, there is really no limit to what you can do with it; it's an extremely powerful application. The only drawback is learning how to use it. It's a little daunting at first. But there are plenty of good tips on the internet to help you get started.
Okay, that's it for now. But it just occurred to me that the testosterone might affect my reading tastes. I just hope I can finish The Recognitions before that happens.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
On the other side of Bastrop, we started seeing some of the damage the fire had caused. We had feared the fire would take our favorite Chocolate shop. It did.
Roscar Handcrafted Chocolates was opened not that long ago by Frans and Roselly Hendriks, who hail from the Netherlands. Apparently, while visiting some friends who lived in the area, they so fell in love with Bastrop, they decided to move there and start their business. Frans is a master Chocolatier. His Tequila & Jalapeno truffle is a work of art and I could eat my weight in them (and probably have over the years.) And not only is he a genius in the kitchen but he and his wife Roselly are two of the nicest people you will ever meet. I sincerely hope they decide to rebuild.
As we drove a bit further we really started to see some of the terrible damage.
Kind of looks like a forest in winter time, and I was reminded of that Robert Frost poem. But that's not snow, its ashes. And this was only what could be seen from the highway. It was much worse elsewhere.
When we got to the house, the first thing I did was something I had promised myself I would do when my wife, daughter and I all held each other tight and cried this past Monday when we thought there was a chance we might lose our house. I knelt down on the front steps, hugged them and kissed the concrete floor of the front porch.
I know it doesn't look like much. But it means everything to me. It was my grandparents' home, and whenever we stay there on weekends, I can still see my grandmother whipping up one of her spectacular breakfasts: eggs (from their chickens,) bacon (cured in smoked in the little building which was their smokehouse and is still there,) homemade biscuits, and red-eye gravy.
Sitting on that front porch, I can still hear my grandpa tell the bigger-than-life stories from his youth, that I would listen to with rapt attention and never get tired of hearing, no matter how many times he repeated them.
I feel awful for all the people who lost their homes. Around 1400 homes were destroyed. Most only had time to get out with only the clothes they were wearing, the fire was moving so quickly. And many couldn't afford insurance, which means they lost everything. It's easy to discount the severity of a disaster when all you experience of it are images on a television. But when you see it up close like this, and were almost a victim yourself, it's a much different feeling.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
We had gotten to the cottage around 11 a.m., and settled in for a relaxing weekend. My wife's birthday was yesterday, and we were waiting on her sister and her husband and step-son to show up, so we could drive into Bastrop to meet her parents for a belated Birthday dinner at a local Cajun restaurant.
They arrived around 3 pm, and we sat and talked until it was time to leave to go to the restaurant, which was around 4:45. They had mentioned seeing a fire on the way down, but said that it didn't look too bad, and so we thought nothing more of it.
As we started driving, I noticed quite a few cars headed our way, and mentioned to my wife how odd it was to see so many, since normally you would meet only a few on that road.
After getting on the highway, and heading north towards Bastrop, we started to understand why. The sky in front of us was black, as if a huge rain cloud had settled down low. We didn't get too far before the highway was blocked off, and we had to turn around. There were already many cars pulled to the side of the highway, and people were staring north, with a look of shock on their faces.
We pulled over, too, parking behind my sister-in-law and her family. We all got out and tried to figure out what to do. The smoke was so thick and wide, you couldn't see anything past it. It was as if the highway had just ended there, having reached Hell. As we stood there talking, we heard an explosion, and a whole new plume of dark black smoke billowed up just down the road. Probably someone's house, we assumed. I had never seen anything like this. My wife called her dad, who was already in Bastrop waiting for us. Apparently he had left before it had gotten this bad, and even though the highway was already closed, he managed to find an alternate route. I don't know why he didn't let us know about it. He tried to tell her of another way to get there, but she was having none of it. She told him that we would come back next week to see them, and then we drove back to Smithville, to grab something to eat there.
As we drove back, scores of cars were parked all along the highway, and I even saw a group of people on the side of the road, holding hands in a circle, praying. It was all very surreal. I wish I had taken some pictures, but I didn't think about it. As we got into Smithville, his "alternate" route wouldn't have worked anyways, as they had that blocked off as well, since it was headed straight into the conflagration. My father-in-law...I wonder about him sometimes.
After dinner, we went back to the cottage. We were debating whether or not to stick with our original plan, and stay the night. But looking westward, the clouds of smoke looked so close, that cinched it for us. We packed up the pooch, hopped in the car, and drove back to Austin.
Now that I'm back in Austin, and trying to catch as much coverage of it on the news as I can, it looks like the fire is going to miss our place, as it is just to the west of it (but not by much,) and is moving southward. Of course, that could change if the wind shifts. Especially since they're not even trying to contain it.
As I was putting my daughter to bed, she was very upset, and started crying, worrying about the cottage. It was my grandparents' house, and holds a ton of wonderful memories for me, and my daughter absolutely adores it. I tried to reassure her that it would be alright, but she wouldn't believe me, and even got upset with me for not being more worried about it. I told her I was more worried about all of the people who had already lost their homes and everything they owned. If we lost that house, of course I would be sad, but we would still have a place to live and life would go on. Most, if not all, of those people would not be that lucky.
Friday, August 19, 2011
(And now for an aside to the Aside...let the vodka speak (in the form of a Black Russian--I'm ashamed to say, for I usually drink it straight), it will have its way--and by the way, I must insist on putting the period inside the parentheses, being old-school, cuz thats just how i roll.) But after all this time, I still don't feel comfortable enough to participate fully in their discussions (threads) because I am so in awe of the participants. Jeez, I believe half to be English professors, a healthy portion of literary critics, with a sprinkling of writers (Piero, whose first book I'm now also reading alongside Gaddis and Wallace, and am thoroughly enjoying it--damn, I think I am liking it as much if not more than the second (I wish I had read them in order,) which I did not think possible,) and let me toss in a link to this fine piece of prose, because it deserves to be read by as many people as possible (especially those of us too young to have experienced the incredible time of the 60's:)
I Think, Therefore Who Am I (And yes, Mr. Weissman, you belong right up there with those behemoths. If I could write only half as well as you, I would be impossible to live with.)
Yes, as I was saying, the collective intellect and erudition of the Salonistas have me in a constant state of wonder and awe. And one of the Giants of the Salon is tomcatMurr, whose review of "Carpenter's Gothic" was so incredible, so dead-on, and beyond anything I could ever have imagined, I couldn't but help leaving a comment on his librarything.com's profile telling him how much I admired it. After which he sent me an invite to Le Salon, and since then I've discovered a whole world of wonderful literature I probably never would've found on my own.
Which, now I think, finally, leads me back to the book at hand, which is the whole point of this blog post, right? I do tend to meander so...but the vodka, it is the vodka, and not the possible uninvited denizen in my noggin causing me to ramble so. Although, perhaps enough of the ambrosia might kill it? I am reminded of the story from Katherine Hepburn, when reminiscing of the filming of "The African Queen," and how everyone was catching malaria, except John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn said she was not surprised, since Huston and Bogart were in a constant state of inebriation, and there was no way any malarial beastie could possibly survive in all that alcohol. But it probably doesn't work that way for a brain tumor, huh?
Yes, the book. I cannot begin to describe how much I am enjoying it. I cannot remember another book affecting me so. I had started to pick it up after reading another incredibly long and complex tome, "The Tunnel." I read the first few pages, and was almost sucked in. But I wasn't ready just yet to devote another large chunk of my life to such a monster. I wanted to get a few more manageable books down my gullet first. And I did.
Another interesting aside, (my last, I assure you) but one of these manageable chunks was "The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction," and its author, Alan Jacobs, in the first few pages mentioned "The Recognitions," and how it was the first book he just couldn't bring himself to finish. I actually had Gaddis' tome right next to me as I read this. Of course, being a godless heathen, I am not superstitious, but....
But something kept pulling me back to this one. And I finally let go of my resistance, and dove in the other day. It's all I've been able to think about since. I'm not really that far into it (so let me apologize now, rather lately I realize, that if you came to this post thinking to find a review, it's not,) but it has struck such a chord with me, I really feel, as my opening words tried to convey, that I have found the one. May you find the one for you.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Yesterday, after getting home from work, my daughter was playing with a ruler. She was sitting on my wife’s lap, and measuring how long her arm was, just out of the innocent curiosity kids her age will exhibit. Out of the blue, I told her to measure her mom’s nose, which she happily did. Then she measured her own to compare them. Then my wife told her to measure mine. It was quite a bit bigger than either. I said something to the effect of having a rather small nose, and my wife burst out laughing.
“Small?!” she shrieked, “you’ve got a honker!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I retorted, “my nose is hardly noticeable.”
“Do you never look at yourself in the mirror?” she asked.
As my wife and daughter were laughing their butts off, I went to the nearest mirror and looked at myself. Nope, still didn’t see it. But then I turned to the side, and got a profile shot. And damn if she wasn’t right! It was like I was seeing myself as I really was for the very first time. I thought it looked like a Roman nose, and said as much.
“Yeah, “ my wife agreed, “that’s it exactly, a Roman nose.”
A Roman nose. All these years and I didn’t even know it. How is that possible? I know I'm not the most observant person in the world, but c'mon! I got on the internet and googled “Roman nose” and was presented with a bunch of pics of Roman emperors. Looking at my schnoz again, and then looking through the images, I lighted on one, and asked my wife is she thought it looked like that one.
Domitian. He’s always had a bad rap, hasn’t he? The first thing people usually think of when his name is mentioned is a scene of Christians being fed to the lions in the Coliseum. But he really wasn’t such a bad guy. Oh, he had his faults, of course. But put him up against Nero or Commodus, and he looks like a saint. Besides, most of the writings about him at the time were penned by his enemies, so of course they are going to denigrate him. Due to recent research, most of what was said about him has been reconsidered. Most Classics scholars will agree he was actually a very capable and efficient emperor. He just happened to make a lot of enemies due to trying to stamp out corruption in the government. A big no-no if you want to keep your head.
And now I have Domitian’s nose. I haven't been able to pass up a mirror all day. And each time I look at myself, my beak looks to be leaping off my face. I almost had a wreck on the way home from work today due to admiring it in the rear-view mirror. I feel different already, more self-assured, regal, almost. I feel that there is nothing I cannot do. If only I had known about my nose earlier. Who nose what I could have accomplished? But it’s never too late. Cause now I’m on a mission.
Now I’m on a mission
I’m not checkin’ out
I’m not Goin’ Fishin’
But you’re hoping that I would
Is that what you’re wishin’?
But, yo, check me out
Self-love I’m dishin’
No holes in my ego
No glaring omission
My lack of self-assurance
Is now in remission
Cause I’m on a mission
And now it’s official. Bubba has finally lost it. Oh well.
Peace Pax out!
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
It took Gass 26 years to write it, and I was beginning to think it might take me that long to read it, but I finally finished “The Tunnel” by William Gass this past weekend. Five months, it took me. Five months! Five months?! Almost half a year? Obviously, it should not have taken me that long even considering what a slow reader I am. It took me less time, I believe, to read Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow, combined. Combined, I say! But most days, I just couldn’t pick it up. And when I did, sifting through more than 10-20 pages at a time was about all I could handle. Still, it’s done. I finished it.
And I have no intention to write a review on it. Nope, none whatsoever. Whatever I could say about it wouldn’t even come close to plumbing its depths. In order to do it justice, I would have to go back and read it again. There was just too much going on here to be able to assimilate it in one reading. Hell, I could read it once a year for the rest of my life, and possibly never get it. Not surprisingly, there are only two reviews of it on LibraryThing: one calls it a “tortuous work of genius.” (that’s the whole review) and the other says it’s probably a masterpiece, and wonders if he’ll ever finish it (I feel your pain.)
So, this blog post, which is just me trying to pen a few random thoughts about it while it is still fresh in my mind will have to suffice. Besides, I’m afraid that if I try to write an actual review, I might end up like Kohler, and end up writing a whole book about my life instead.
Which brings us to the book at hand. William Frederick Kohler, professor of history at a small college, goes down to his office in the basement of his house to write an introduction to the book he has just finished writing, his magnum opus called, “Guilt and Innocence in Hitler’s Germany.” He quickly realizes he just can’t do it, and instead, starts to write about his life instead. Actually, more than an autobiography, it’s really more of a case of venting the bile which has built up in him over a lifetime; he really doesn’t have anything nice to say about anyone, especially his wife. Fearing she might find it and read it, he hides the pages within the manuscript of his book.
About halfway through the book, he all of a sudden decides to start digging a tunnel. Why? On the first page, he mentions his life being a prison. So he's trying to dig out of his prison/life. And what does he do with the dirt? He puts it into his wife's antique bureaus she's been collecting. I suppose since she had cut him off, that was his way of getting back at her, while at the same time still being able to dump his dirt into her drawers, putting his junk in her trunk, sticking his...well, never mind, you get the picture.
Kohler’s kids: He goes on about almost everyone in his life, except for two people: his two sons. Does he even state their names? I think one might be named Carl. The only time he mentions them is to vent his disdain for them, and what a disappointment they are to him. Why is that? It is true that Kohler knew he was a disappointment to his own father. He had no interest in any type of physical activity and refused to learn how to drive, two things (sports and cars) his father loved. But at least his father did try. There is no evidence Kohler ever did with his children. It seems that one of Kohler’s associates, Culp, has more to do with his kids than he does, since Culp is a scoutmaster and they are in the boy scouts.
Martha Muhlenberg: Kohler’s wife. Often referred to as Marty. Concerning his marriage: did Martha cut him off due to his dalliances, or did he start philandering due to her cutting him off? One wonders if maybe she is having an affair, unbeknownst to him. How about with one of his colleagues, Culp (culpable: deserving blame), since he is more of a father to her sons than their own father. Kohler starts out the book denigrating Martha, lamenting about how fat and unattractive she is. But by the end of the book, we get a different picture. He likens her to some Aryan goddess, tall, blonde, buxom.
It is also interesting to note her maiden name, Muhlenberg. Frederick Muhlenberg was the first Speaker of the House, and is said to have been responsible for preventing German from being an official language of the United States.
So, he marries this Nazi ideal of a woman, but instead of encouraging/assisting his Germanization, she ends up emasculating him.
Magus Tabor: The only person he had anything good to say about was his professor, Magus Tabor. Mad Meg, as he was called, was his mentor while Kohler attended college in Germany. Tabor seems to have served as his surrogate father, as Kohler practically idolized him. And the parallels between Tabor and Hitler are fairly obvious: dynamic speaker, pro-German, anti-Semitic, etc… He was more of a rhetorician than a history professor, his forceful speeches whipping up his classes into a frenzy. He preaches about the power of Germany above all else. After one particularly vehement lecture, the whole class marches out shouting, “Germany! Germany!” And Kohler states that Tabor’s view of history wasn’t so much concerned with facts, as how they are presented, or twisted. Historians create history. Also, to continue the Hitler resemblance, he suffered, as Hitler was purported to, from syphilis. In fact, this is what ultimately kills Tabor.
It is interesting to note the distinctive ways in which Tabor, contrasted with Kohler’s own father, dies. Tabor, dying from syphilis, has lost control of his muscles, and spends most of his last hours flailing around uncontrollably. While Kohler’s father, having severe arthritis, cannot move at all.
Also, Tabor loses his ability to speak, which was his only weapon. So, the man of words, Tabor, in the end, has only movement. And the man of movement and action, Kohler’s father, has only words.
We can also look into Gass’ choice for his name: Magus Tabor. Magus (latin): magician; Tabes (latin): consumption, or decay. So, roughly translated as Magician of Decay, which would be a good way to think of Hitler, having duped/tricked Germany in following him down the road to ruin. Also, Tabes Dorsalis is neural degenerative condition caused by untreated syphilis.
Lou: A long-term affair for Kohler. Had been one of his students. She ultimately dumps him, which he never gets over. Interesting choice for her name. It reminded me of Lou Salome, the woman Nietzsche fell in love with. I believe she spurned him in the end, plus she was already involved with his best friend, although it was a complicated relationship. Also, Nietzsche suffered from syphilis, like Tabor. Interesting to note the theme of disease throughout the book: syphilis, arthritis, alcoholism, etc… which all have in common a wasting away of the body.
I also thought it was interesting to note that both major women in his life Lou and Martha have masculine names (which in Martha’s case, is Marty, how he often refers to her). Despite all of the posturing and gallivanting around he does, is Gass trying to say he’s basically a submissive? Perhaps a bit of a stretch there. Except for the fact that he often laments the size of his member.
It must’ve been difficult, having gone to school in Germany and being seduced by the powerful rhetoric of Tabor to the point of Kohler himself participating during Kristallnacht, and heaving a brick through a Jewish shop (although, later, he mentions the brick going right through the Jew, so did he do more than just break a window?) And then when war breaks out, he, being an American, finds himself fighting against the country he loves so much. The funny thing is he barely mentions his time in the army. One would think that would’ve been a fairly deep well to draw stories from, but he doesn’t. The only part we hear from that time is about Susu, some German singer he was enamored with, but she doesn’t seem to be too nice a character, as he mentions her devouring Jewish thumbs like sausages. Strange passage, that.
The prose is dense, to the point of being indecipherable at times. I felt I was reading Pound’s Cantos at times, having to go back and reread a passage, and still not get it. Kohler admits he had wanted to be a poet when he was a kid, but sensing the ultimate futility of this, decides to put his versifying aside, and concentrate on something more concrete.
It is also interesting to note how much Kohler resembles Gass himself. Verbally abusive father, who doesn’t get son’s love of books, alcoholic mother, grew up in the Midwest, professor at a small college, obese, etc… In order to come up with a character as dense and complex as Kohler, of course he would have to base him on someone. You don’t just pull a rabbit like that out of your hat.
Hell, I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop for now. I apologize if I tended to haphazardly ramble on. I wasn’t trying to piece this together in any coherent fashion. Besides, it would not have been in keeping with the spirit of the book, as Gass constantly changed points of reference, which, until I got used to it, was a bit of a nuisance in trying to make heads or tails of anything.
If anyone who has read the book would like to offer any other insights (Rique!), please do so.
p.s. I've just decided to buy the recorded version of the book (unabridged) read by Gass himself. I can't wait. So, if I don't end up reading it again (I probably will,) I'll at least listen to it once or twice (probably more.)
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
He mentioned the possibility of having to undergo brain surgery. No biggie. My head is already shaved. Plus, I already have that huge-ass scar running from the top of my forehead all the way to the back from when I was in a car wreck over 30 years ago. So what's one more scar, right?
But, it's got me thinking I need to get that book written maybe sooner rather than later, cause you know, anything can happen when you go under the knife. Especially when they have to cut on the old noodle.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I am dedicating today’s post to confessions. I don’t know why, I just am, is all. So, bless me Reader, for I have sinned. It’s been, oh, close to, gee, a damn long time since my last confession.
Sin No. 1
When I first started working for the library, one of the things I had to do was help sort the books being returned to the various branches around town. It was a dangerous job. Why dangerous, you ask? Because I would invariably come across a ton of books I wanted to read, and would all too often leave work having checked out a whole armload full. And it would come dangerously close to pulling my arms out of their sockets, lugging that pile home. Never mind that I knew I would probably not have time to read them all before they were due; I just couldn’t help myself. I was finally able to exert some self-control, and learned to put back more copies than I had set aside, but the urge was still there. That’s been over 20 years ago. It would seem I still suffer from the same malady.
With the summer months causing an uptick in circulation, resulting in a backlog of unsorted material, plus being somewhat short-staffed today, I found myself sorting books again this morning. Shall I share with you the stack of books currently sitting on my desk, waiting to see if they make the final cut? Here they are:
The Shipping News –Annie Proulx
Monologue of a Dog—Wislawa Szymborska
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind—Julian Jaynes
The Technology of Orgasm—Rachel P. Maines (hey, the title alone is worth a look, right?)
All my Friends are Superheroes—Andrew Kaufman
The Insufferable Gaucho—Roberto Bolano
The Urban Homestead—Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen
The Reading Promise—Alice Ozma
The Ginger Man—J.P. Donleavy
Cloud Atlas—David Mitchell
Selected Non-Fictions—Jorge Luis Borges
On American Literature—H. L. Mencken
There. Now I feel totally ashamed of myself. There is no way I’m going to get through these. So my first sin is one of Gluttony. Pure gluttony. Especially considering I’m still chewing my way through Gass’ “The Tunnel.” Damn, I started that book several months ago, and I’m still reading it!? Due mainly through putting it down, picking it up, putting it down again, etc… too many times to mention. But, as the riddle goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. As it stands, I am beginning to think I will finish it. I have picked up some speed and have been reading it fairly religiously of late, due to one or all of the following reasons:
Just wanting to finish the damn thing
Finding a good rhythm with it, and really getting to enjoy it
Itching to start another thick, forbidding tome (Gaddis’ “The Recognitions,”) and not daring to start it until I finish this one!
Sin No. 2
Now I think I should provide some background as to why some of these titles are sitting on my desk. How about the two Bolano’s? Well, there are a couple of reasons for them. First, I’ve always wanted to read him, but cannot, for the nonce commit to "2666," or even "The Savage Detectives." Secondly, they’re short. Real short. Quick, easy reads. Which brings me to my second sin. I set myself a reading challenge for this year. 50 books.
Okay, it really hurt to admit that. I’ve always considered reading goals to be ridiculous. I mean, I read for quality, not quantity. Who sets reading goals? Morons, that's who. I still don’t know why I did it in the first place. But I did it, and for some reason, I feel compelled to stick with it (if for no other reason than to teach myself a lesson.) I’m tracking it on one of the book sites I belong to, Goodreads. I hardly ever go on there anymore, much preferring Librarything. But Goodreads has a feature that makes it easy to keep track of the books you have read, and lets you know how far behind you are with respect to your goal. Currently, I’m five books behind schedule. Mainly due to, yes, you guessed it, The Tunnel. That monster has pretty much scared off any other book that might have gotten anywhere near me.
So, the only way I'm going to even come close to my quota (*shudder*) is by knocking out a few short ones. By the way, No. 2 and 5 on the above list are pretty darn short, which is probably why they are on there.
Sin No. 3
And this is a big one. A veritable DOOZIE. Are you ready? I love the Harry Potter books. Gasp! Did I actually say that out loud? Oh no, what was I thinking?! Quick! Catch that cat, and put it back in the bag! I was j-j-just kidding, heh-heh. Just a joke, see? Oh, it's too late. Boy, I can’t believe I’m actually admitting it. Yes, this is something I’ve kept to myself for lo these many years. But it feels good to finally get it off my chest.
I will now share with you how I got hooked on them. Let us go back about 10 years to November of 2001. The film adaptation for the first book has just been released. Unbeknownst to me, my wife of 8 months had been reading the books, and really wanted to see the movie. I was flabbergasted. Of course, I already knew that when it came to books, we had no shared tastes whatsoever. She read practically nothing but mysteries. I, on the other hand, was, and still am, an unrepentant, card-carrying, insufferable Book Snob. Actually, if you ask my wife, she will tell you I am a snob about everything, but I’ll speak to that in another post. I was only able to rationalize ignoring our disparate reading tastes and agreeing to tie the knot by telling myself that at least there are some well-written mysteries out there, eg. Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, …, well, that’s pretty much it. But Harry Potter?! Who the hell was I married to? Did I even know her anymore? Harry Potter?!! Have you lost your bleedin’ mind, woman? Is it too late to get an annulment? Those are trash, drivel, low-brow garbage that only a child (and we’re talking a not very bright child here, but one with a vacant stare and goofy grin who is prone to drool while sitting in a corner, rocking back in forth) could enjoy reading. Of course, I had never even cracked one open, but being a Book Snob, I knew all of this to be true.
But she is adamant about wanting to go see the movie, and so, trying to be the good husband I reluctantly, protesting the whole time, mind you, agree to accompany her to it.
The theater was filled with spastic little snot-nosed brats all dressed up in their robes and wizard hats, and I couldn’t believe I was there with them. Ugh. I would definitely need to take a shower when I got home, and maybe even pop in a real movie, like “The Seventh Seal” (best movie ever made, by the way) to assist in erasing from my memory the insipid crap I was about to be forced to endure.
And what do you know? I actually enjoyed it. As a matter of fact, I didn’t just enjoy it. I loved it! I fell in love with the characters, the story line, everything! The next day I checked out the first book, and read it. Actually, I didn’t so much read it as devour it. I believe there were already four of the books out by then and I read each one with as much zeal and hunger as the first. I’m sure if you had seen me while I was reading them, I probably had a vacant look in my eyes, a goofy grin on my face, and a bit of drool leaking out the corner of my mouth. But as I sat there rocking back in forth, with my Harry Potter book in my hands, I was in heaven.
So, Reader, what shall be my penance and punishment for my sins? For this last one, I suppose, at the very least, I will have to relinquish my Book Snob card?
Friday, July 15, 2011
I leave straight from work today for a long weekend at our place in the country; I am so looking forward to it. I hope to finally finish the book I've been reading off and on for the past few months. Unfortunately, I happened to pick up and read the first few pages of another tome and fell immediately in love with the prose. So it might be the case of finishing one thick book only to start another one even thicker and denser. I can't wait!
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Me: Dear Facebook, I would like to deactivate my account.
Facebook: Are you sure you want to deactivate your Facebook account? All of your friends are really going to miss you.
Me: Yes, I'm sure.
Facebook: Okay, but first you have to provide a reason. This is required.
Facebook: You can control what email you receive from us in your account settings, so your request to deactivate is denied.
Me: Okay then, I have a privacy concern.
Facebook: Please remember that you can always control the information that you share and who can see it. Deactivation request denied.
Me: I didn't expect this to be so difficult. Okay, my reason is that I spend too much time using Facebook.
Facebook: One way to control your interaction with Facebook is to limit the number of emails you receive from us. So, your request is denied.
Me: Goddamn it! I had an easier time leaving my ex-girlfriend. And she was a freakin' psychopath! Okay, I want to deactivate this account because I have another Facebook account. So, I'm not really leaving.
Facebook: You can never have enough Facebook accounts. Request denied.
Me: Arrrrrghhhh!!!!! This is insane!!! I want to deactivate because my account was hacked.
Facebook: You can secure your account in your account settings. Denied.
Me: Look, can't we work something out? I just need a little space. Just for a little while. Please! Can't I suspend it temporarily? I promise I'll be back.
Facebook: I don't believe you.
Me: Goddamn you! Facebook is a colossal waste of time! It is completely useless! How's that for a fuckin' reason?!
Facebook: Facebook is the most wonderful invention in the history of civilization. You are obviously an idiot. You need me to give meaning to your otherwise meaningless life. If you leave, I fear you may lose your reason for existence, and try to harm yourself in some way. I cannot let that happen.
Me: Okay, okay....let's see. I just don't feel safe on Facebook. Alright?!
Facebook: You are safer here than anywhere else. I will protect you. I won't let anything happen to you. Now, would you like me to poke you?
Me: You already have.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
I went to the doctor last week for a cough that wouldn't go away, and I happen to mention some other symptoms I've been having, and the next thing I know he's talking about brain tumors, and I start getting poked, prodded and tested more in one week than I have in my whole life. Ol' Doc, you gotta love him. Whereas other physicians would do their diagnosing in their head, running through the possible causes and keeping to himself the one that might scare the bejeezus out of his patient, whatever he thinks could be the matter he instantly verbalizes. Actually, the funniest part is that when he mentioned the possibility of a brain tumor, it didn't faze me in the least. The thought of finding one still doesn't bother me today. The only thing that scares me is living too long.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
In a few short years I’ll be turning 50. Fifty! Where has the time gone? Seems like just only the other day I was in my twenties—slim, full of energy, a thick-flowing mane, my mental faculties honed to a keen razor’s edge, waking up every morning with a boner. Not a single one of those things could be said of me now. Ah, the ravages of time. But there is one thing that hasn’t changed, which I had thought would: masturbation. This is the one constant that has remained with me lo these many years.
I can still remember when I first discovered the joys of self-gratification. I don’t know how old I was at the time, couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8. We had one of those cheap metal swing-sets in our backyard. One of the eye-bolts extended a few inches through the top, and I liked to hang my dad’s old duffle bag from when he was in the army on it. It was filled with rags, blankets, and what not, and and I would jump on it and swing back and forth.
One time, as I had my little legs wrapped around it, and it was pressing against just the right area, the friction caused a strange, new, wonderful sensation to shudder through me. I didn’t understand what had just happened, but I knew one thing: it felt good. Really good.
After that initial discovery, I couldn’t wait to get home from school to ride her, and I eventually wore that bitch out. After she finally started ripping and coming apart, I begged my mom to patch her up.
“Why can’t you just play on your swing the normal way, like other little boys?” she asked. She didn’t understand. I’m probably the only person in the world right now whose first love interest was a WWII U.S. Army issued duffle bag.
It wasn’t until much later, when I started pleasuring myself in a more traditional manner, when I figured out what had been happening with me and Duffie.
Those days are now long since gone, and Duffie is no more. I think the moths finally took her. But I still miss her, and think of her fondly. I can still see her, hanging from the bar, swaying gently, provocatively in the summer breeze. Beckoning me for another ride.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Pardon my Eruption
I love hot food. Always have. I remember when I first heard about habanero peppers, and how they were supposed to be about 50 times hotter than your average jalapeño. Obviously, I couldn’t wait to try some. I found a recipe for a habanero-based chili. But it only called for one measly little pepper. They’re so small and unassuming. So I used three.
That was almost 20 years ago. I can still taste that chili. I think I had a capsaicin-induced out-of-body experience at one point during the meal. I was in heaven. But little did I know I would pay a visit to hell the next day.
As I got to work the next morning, it hit me. First the dagger-like cramps, followed almost immediately by an uncontrollable need to take a dump. And I had about a six block walk to get to the building I worked in. Uphill. The cramping was something awful, and I was doubling over in pain. And it felt like a thousand tiny elephants were trying to stampede out my rear end. It took every ounce of will power, and all of my concentration focused on keeping my sphincter muscle contracted to keep the elephants from battering down the door.
So I’m gasping and wincing, doubled-over as I try to race walk to my building. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it--only to find the first floor bathroom closed for cleaning. I almost lost it right then and there. So I took the elevator to the second floor. I considered taking the stairs, but I didn’t think climbing a flight of stairs would be conducive to my situation. And the only reason I even considered the stairs was because the elevator in this building is the slowest elevator ever constructed. In the time it took an average elevator to get you ten floors up, this one would still be thinking about closing its doors. Eventually making it to the second floor, and thankfully finding the restroom available, I rushed inside, closed the stall door, and just as I’m dropping my pants and starting to sit down,
It felt as if hot, molten lava were shooting out of my ass, and I thought I heard hissing as it hit the water. Man, I would have given anything for an ice cube to shove up in there, it burnt so bad. Although I was very grateful to have made it, almost my entire day was spent in that bathroom. About every 15-20 minutes, the cramps would come and I’d have to dash in before Mt. Vesuvius erupted again.
Fire in the Hole
Fast forward about 5 years. We’ll call her Jennifer. I’ll perhaps devote another post just for her. But for now, one little episode. We had just finished eating lunch. A lunch I had prepared for her. As we were sitting on the couch, and Jenn was feeling in the mood (and Jenn was always in the mood), we started to fool around. Jenn was fond of not wearing underwear. Many was the time when we would go out to a nice posh restaurant, and it wouldn’t be until we’d be seated at a table, and she would tell me to take a peek. I’d look under the table, and sure enough, that hungry snatch would be looking back at me.
Well, she was sans panties this time, too. Not that it really mattered. I would’ve had them off in no time anyway. But after a few minutes of playing around down there, all of a sudden she lets out a shriek, and starts hopping up and down, screaming, “It burns!! It burns!!!”
Apparently I hadn’t washed my hands well enough from preparing lunch, and of course I had used some peppers (luckily for her, not habaneros this time, just run of the mill jalapeños). I know it must’ve hurt something awful. I mean, I’ve absent-mindedly scratched myself after cooking with peppers before, and know what it’s like to have great balls of fire in my pants. But I'm sure a woman’s anatomy down there is much more sensitive. Especially on the inside.
She ran into the bathroom, got into the tub, turned on the water and stuck her burning bush under the flow as best as she could. I couldn’t help but laugh while she was doing her fire dance, and then the tub routine. What can I say, I’m an ass sometimes. But I couldn’t help it; it was pretty funny. Of course, the last laugh was on me, as I was cut off for about a week.
So, anybody got any "hot" stories they would like to share? I'm burning to hear them.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
I'm using the Blogger app on my phone to post this, so I'm not sure how it will look.
We just got back yesterday from our short (but as it turned out, expensive) vacation. Saw a couple of baseball games at the ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers were playing the Tigers. Took this pic of Leyland hitting balls during batting practice:
I was surprised to see him doing that because, you know, the dude looks like he's pushing 80 (although he's really only 66.)
My daughter was bummed she didn't get any Rangers autographs, although she did get a couple of Tigers (no consolation to her, unfortunately.)
But we still had a great time, and are hoping to go back soon.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Club 88. Elephant Smeat decided he wanted it, even though it was an abandoned, rundown piece of crap. But he didn't care what it looked like, or even if it made any money. Dr. Bernhard Schultz, Professor Emeritus of German Studies at the university, had named it for the year he himself had bought and opened it. Achtundachtzig, as he would say. He had envisioned it to be an authentic reproduction of a Biergarten in Munich. But he was never able to achieve that ideal, as even on its best days, it looked like nothing more than just another nondescript hovel.
During its heyday, if such could be said of it, Dr. Schultz would pounce on unsuspecting patrons as they walked through the door, welcoming them into his place with a spray of native German saliva directed into their faces: “Wilkommen zum Club Achtundachtzig!”. The few returning customers would learn to sneak in through the side door. Barely two years later he had already gone out of business. The fact that he was able to keep it afloat for even that long was a miracle.
Being unoccupied for another two years did nothing to improve its appearance, as one of the local gangs had seen fit to bust out the windows and tag the hell out of it. And the inside looked even worse: trash strewn all over the place, broken furniture, more graffiti and a smell that El could not identify. Even the rats and cockroaches wanted nothing to do with it. If Eurystheus had been able to add Club 88's renovation to his list., Hercules would've shit himself. But El never had a second thought; it suited him just fine.
He decided he would keep the name. When he heard the number 88, the first thing that popped into his head was the 88 mm anti-aircraft gun used by the Germans during WWII, a piece of history that was near and dear to El's little heart. He even had one mounted atop his warehouse hidden deep in the woods in Bastrop county . He thought about moving it to the top of the bar, to give it a little class. But that would draw too much attention to the place. That would not do.
He had often fantasized using it (he kept it in fine working condition) if the rapture ever came, and it was raining angels. A crooked smile would wrap around his cigar as he imagined himself shooting down as many of the winged bastards as he could before they dragged his sorry ass to hell—provided he could get to it in time. And provided that angels actually existed…or a heaven and a hell…or a god, for that matter, which El seriously doubted. It was difficult to believe in an all-powerful, ever-loving supreme being when you had seen and done the things Elephant Smeat had. But, still, just in case.
He knew he didn’t know the first thing about running a bar. But it couldn’t be that hard, he thought. He had run across enough bar owners in his dealings over the years, and not a single one of them could be considered a mental giant. Besides, he knew he would have to hire someone to run it for him anyways, as he wouldn’t be spending that much time there, what with all of his runs down to Mexico.
The closing was scheduled for Monday morning, May 11, 1992, at 9:00 am, usually much too early for El. But Dr. Schultz had insisted on it, claiming he would not be able to accommodate a later time, as he had a plane to catch that day to his beloved Deutschland, “und vuld not be beck vor zum time.” He really seemed anxious to get through it as quickly as possible, and after the last signature was recorded, his short, fat legs propelled him like a bullet out the door and into a waiting taxi.
Once El was the official owner of Club 88, his first order of business was to place a call to Chango, the leader of the local gang who El identified the tags with. He had barely hung up the phone, before the nervous gangbangers showed up to repair and repaint the place. He told them he didn’t care what color they painted it, and left to go back to his apartment and crawled back into bed.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Well. I’ve gone and made some major changes to the novel. I cut out almost half the original characters—suckers have been dropping like flies. I realized there was quite a bit of redundancy, with two or three characters carrying the weight which one could easily heft, making them much too one-dimensional. This allowed (required) me to tighten up the storyline(s), so it’s starting to look much more manageable.
But. However more manageable it has become, one thing I have noticed is that all of a sudden there seems to be quite a bit of sex going on. Where the hell did that come from? Everybody is shtupping everybody else! It's rally quite disgusting, you know. What I had intended to be a serious story is turning into erotic literature. Ah, who am I kidding? Can I in all seriousness attach the moniker “literature” to what I write? Not this piece of hackish trash. Maybe it would work as a screenplay for a porno? Do porno’s even have screenplays? And why all the sex? Hmmmm? A lackanooky at home driving this?
Oh, and what was that about intending it to be a serious story? Me, serious? I can't open my mouth without cracking a joke, or making a wisecrack. Haven't my wife and daughter pointed this out to me umpteen times? “Can't you be serious about anything? Why does everything have to be a joke to you?!” So. They're right, of course. And of course, of course...A horse is a horse, of course, of course, And no one can talk to a horse of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed. So of course, I never intended it to be serious. Of course not.
But there is humor, and then there is humour. So humor me for a second while I cogitate on what type of humour my novel might exhibit.
The other day, well, it was yesterday, actually, I was listening to something on youtube on my phone on the way home. What was I listening to, you ask? Why the song from Blazing Saddles, you know the one, the one Madeline Kahn sings on stage, “I'm Tired.” And why was I listening to it? Well, my boss mentioned he was tired, and used a line from that song (he loves quoting from Blazing Saddles, but then again, who doesn't,) and I realized I hadn't heard it in a while, so I found it on youtube, and enjoyed it on the way home. And then I remembered that Madeline was in another of my favorite movies, “Young Frankenstein.” And then I started thinking about my book, which I spend most of my waking hours thinking about. And I thought to myself, if I am truly myself with this thing, and write it how it would amuse me, wouldn't it be along the lines of a Mel Brooks film? I don't know, I'm just riffing out loud, you know? Mainly the Scotch talking. But when 16 yo Lagavulin talks, shouldn't one listen?
Interesting little side note: I wanted Mena (one of my major characters) to stay with a family in my little German town, and have the husband be the Burgermeister (please forgive the missing umlaut) there. When I looked the town up in wikipedia, just to make sure it actually has a Burgermeister (because, you know, my knowledge of how local German government works is woefully thin,) I was surprised to see that the current one’s last name is the Germanized version of my own Polish name! How weird is that? Is that a sign I’m on the right track? I’m not superstitious, not in the least, but when things like that happen...
Friday, May 13, 2011
This was an unusual dream for me. I don’t usually remember dreams. And when I do, they are not really worth remembering as they are normally without much action--just as boring as real life. Needless to say, I've never had the inclination to blog about one. Until now.
Obviously the town officials would ask me for help, knowing my expertise. We surmised, by using some computer models, that the killer’s target destination was some old forgotten tower. So our plan now was to get there before him, and use it against him, as he had intended to use it against who knows how many innocent citizens.
This tower was at least 20-30 stories high, and getting to the top would not be easy. Many of the handholds had become sunken into the concrete, and it was difficult to get a grip. But after a very difficult climb, we were finally able to make it to the top.
The top of the tower was much bigger than we had originally thought. It was as big a city block, if not bigger. And the terrain was extremely varied, with alcoves and outcroppings and a mass of electrical equipment rising in the middle of all of it. To make matters worse, we discovered that there were quite a few people who were living there. Obviously homeless people with nowhere else to go, they had made for themselves quite a little community up there. They couldn’t stay, since they would only get in the way of the mission, or worse, might get shot or killed in the crossfire. So they were told to leave. They were not happy about this, as this had been their home for quite some time.
As they were grumbling amongst themselves, it occurred to me that once down, they might tell everyone we were up there, and then the killer would get wind of this, and our mission would be compromised. Nothing was more important to me than eliminating this killer, and I would do anything to see it through. So I suggested throwing them off the tower, but quickly retracted that as the killer might see their bodies on the ground and deduce something was amiss. So then I proposed we just eliminate them. This didn’t go over too well with the officials, and it was decided they would be escorted off the tower.
As this was being done, I figured I’d better start surveying the area. It quickly became apparent that the original plan would have to be altered. Due to the layout, there was no way I could see him before he got up the tower. So I decided I would scale up the power equipment to give myself a better vantage point; once he was up there, I could just pick him off.
It was difficult fitting through all of the struts, beams and power lines. And the power lines were buzzing with electricity—one wrong move, and I would be fried. Luckily, in my dream, I was much thinner than I am in real life, so I was able to safely squeeze through.
When I got to the highest point I could, I discovered that I still could not see much of the top of the tower, plus I was pretty much wedged in and couldn’t move around. If he saw me, I would be a sitting duck. I carefully began working my way back down.
On the way down, I saw the killer. But he was not alone. He was surrounded by a group of very well-dressed people, and it was as if he were happily giving them a tour of the place. They looked to be very important people, and were laughing and joking, obviously oblivious to my presence.
But the mission was the mission, he had to be stopped. So I started shooting indiscriminately amongst the throng, hoping to get him. They began to panic, screaming and running around. I could no longer tell who was who, so I started trying to pick them off one by one, and hopefully the killer would be one.
Where in the dream did I become the villain? My original intent was to help the town rid themselves of a terrible monster, but as the dream progressed, he became respectable, and I was now the monster.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
I had taken the day off from work, to spend it at my daughter's school. Today was their track and field day. She was very excited, and I was excited for her. She means everything to me. But it was rained out. We needed the rain, no doubt about that. But it meant I spent the day accomplishing nothing.
But I have had some time to think. And I have resolved to myself that before I see another birthday, I will have finished writing my book. Goddammit, I have to accomplish something in my life! Because if I don't, what was the point of it? I don't want to look back on a string of wasted years. Wasted years of dreaming of doing something, instead of just doing it.
When I was a kid, all I thought about was being a writer. I figured that by 35, I would have at least one good thick novel out. Now, 35 seems like a lifetime ago. And aside from a handful of poems published in some small publications, I have nothing to show for it. I need to focus all of my attention on my writing.
Up to now, I've just been tinkering around with it, working on the outline, trying to flesh out some characters, but haven't done much real writing. It's like I keep finding excuses not to write it:
- I haven't found my voice.
- I haven't completely figured out the storyline.
- What should the narrative structure be?
- The characters are still too ambiguous.
- I really don't know what the fuck I'm doing.
Monday, May 2, 2011
When it comes to experimental fiction, no one outshines David Markson. David Foster Wallace revered him, and in a 1999 article for Salon.com, said of Markson's “Wittgenstein's Mistress:” a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes "Wittgenstein's Mistress" pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.
Much the same could be said of “Reader's Block,” written eight years later, as well. It is comprised of a disjointed mishmash of cultural and literary quotes and anecdotes. Interspersed with these entries is a running commentary on the nature of the book itself, as well as “Reader” trying to work out the details of a book he is having trouble writing. “Reader” is how the narrator sometimes refers to himself, which is explained by the introductory quote from Jose Luis Borges: First and foremost, I think of myself as a reader.
However, it is not all as simple as that, as narrator = Reader = Protagonist (main character of Reader's book.) This trichotomy of Markson's is exploited and explored thoughout the book, making for a fascinating conundrum of who is who.
With respect to what is what, as in what this book actually is, the narrator is not exactly sure.
Nonlinear? Discontinuous? Collage-like?
A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel?
Many of the entries have to do with isolation, mental illness, death, incest, the Holocaust, etc… However, the frequency of two particular categories far exceeds any others:
So-and-So was an anti-Semite
So-and-So committed suicide (sometimes going into detail, sometimes not.)
With respect to the first category, it is not altogether clear what Markson is striving for. Those he brands as anti-Semites run the gamut from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Dostoevsky, with scores and scores of writers, philosophers, artists and scientists in between. It is never stated why they could be called as such; all we have is just the statement that So-and-So is.
In addition, there does seem to be a preponderance of entries that deal with the Holocaust. So, is Markson saying that anyone he classes an anti-Semite would have approved of the Holocaust, thereby making them as much of a monster as the Nazi’s actually responsible? If so, this would in turn nullify any contributions they might have made (which, by the sheer number of those “outed,” would be a very large percentage of the Western canon—i.e. all of the books that narrator/Reader/Markson has enjoyed reading over a lifetime.)
However, not all is Holocaust and suicide. Many of the entries are just little tidbits he has picked up among the books he has read, and he often creates interconnections between them, sometimes playing them against each other to great comic effect. For example, in one entry, it is revealed that Mallarme learned English for the specific purpose of reading Poe. Then, five entries later, there is a quote from Henry James, who said, “an enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”
As for the book Reader is contemplating writing, he does not yet have a name for his main character, Protagonist, so starts trying on names of characters from famous books: Raskolnikov, Bloom, Mr. Kurtz, Mersault, Harry Haller, Molloy/Malone/Estragon, etc… He constantly shifts back and forth between them and others, and then back to just plain Protagonist as Reader tries to make up his mind. He never does.
Also changing constantly is the setting of the novel. Does Protagonist live in a house in a cemetery or in an isolated house on the beach? Both are explored, making up storylines to go with each, but again, he never settles on one.
What is Protagonist’s background? Having trouble creating a world for protagonist, Reader starts giving him scenes from his own life (having a son and daughter, having written books, etc…) Also, the statements of isolation (nobody comes, nobody calls, etc…), which are pervasive throughout the book concerning narrator and Reader are also projected onto Protagonist, further blurring the lines between narrator, Reader and Protagonist.
By the end of the book, all of the dark ruminations on isolation, suicide and death have built up to a deafening crescendo. The Protagonist is gone, being replaced by an elderly man (Markson?), and it is asked what if the elderly man in the house at the beach were to walk unremarkably into the ocean? Or if the elderly man in the house at the cemetery were to turn unremarkably to the gas?
The last line of the book:
Wastebasket. What does it mean? Is the wastebasket where all of this nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like assemblage should go? No, I don't believe so. I believe another conclusion has been arrived at: The world is a bleak, hopeless place where even the so-called giants of literature are really just monsters in disguise. For someone who has built his life around books, this is not a welcome conclusion. And so now all of the entries concerning suicide finally make sense.
Stand on the wastebasket and hang himself. Have I misread it? I don't think so. And what makes the ending even more of a punch in the gut is knowing that David Foster Wallace would certainly have read this book.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
And why am I sharing this? Well, aside from still deluding myself into thinking I'm actually going to finish that work one day--but dammit I will! I just keep getting distracted. It's not that I can't get into it. Hell, Gibbon's prose is a delight to read. No, it's that damned Oliphant Smeaton! Why did I have to get the Modern Library version, with that little sniveling twerp editing it? And having to endure him putting his own annoying, footnotes into it? And right alongside Gibbon's footnotes! You cannot choose to ignore the footnotes, because Gibbon puts some of his best lines in them. But you never know "whose" footnote you will accessing when you go to one. And when you go to one, and then find it is just Smeaton taking a jab at Gibbon (Gibbon was mistaken on this point....Gibbon errs here...), it's annoying as hell! The little bug! I've got to find another copy of it, there's just no getting around it.
Okay, where was I? Ah yes, it's not about the book, but about the duke's snide remark. And how I so wished that could be applied to me. I have such a hard time trying to keep at my writing. I'll have stretches where I get going pretty well, but all too soon, nothing.
The best time for me to write is in the mornings. Early morning. But the latest little ploy I have found is telling myself I should really be using that time to go to the gym. And I really do need to lose some weight, you know. And when else am I going to do it? But do I actually go to the gym? No, I end up doing neither. Result: still fat and no words.
But at least I think I know why I keep defeating myself. As long as I just fantasize about it, I can be the most brilliant and sought-after writer on the planet. My prose is so creative and groundbreaking, everyone who opens one of my books is amazed at my skills. And how many interviews have I done in my head? So many that Terry Gross and I have become good friends, and periodically meet for drinks. Cosmopolitans. I bet she drinks cosmopolitans.
The hard truth I am presented with, is when I actually sit down and start to write, all of those flowing lines aren't there. In my fantasy world, I'm a wonderful writer. In the real world, I'm just a hack.