Joyce and more.

January 28, 2010

I’ve heard a lot about the last story in this book. I checked out the full collection from the library at my high school and read a few of the stories but not the last one. I was trying to challenge my reading side to read something with language that you actually had to read carefully and think about to get the full impact. I suspect what happened is that another book came along or the due date came so I returned it. But in my fiction class, it came up in our conversation of short story writers. I was of course amazed at his artful way of stringing words together to make sentences, beautiful ones. But it wasn’t as mind-blowing as Eric, a classmate who reminds me of the singer Damien Rice made it out to be. He has the same beard, wears brown hefty jackets like the ones I see in pictures of Damien and big boots. But mostly it’s the beard. It’s uncanny. And he loves Dubliners, which is about Ireland…this is also Damien’s native land. It took me full minutes to be able to find this book in the library. There are about 20 versions, people interpreting it this way and that, one edition even rewrote the story. I finally found one with minimal annotations and additions, blue with a green spine, Dubliners written in gold capital letters, perhaps the Copperplate font.

Excerpt #51:
A murmur in the room attracted his attention. Mr Browne was advancing from the door, gallantly escorting aunt Julia who leaned upon his arm, smiling and hanging her head. An irregular musketry of applause escorted her also as far as the piano and then, as Mary Jane seated herself on the stool and aunt Julia, no longer smiling, half turned so as to pitch her voice fairly into the room, gradually ceased. Gabriel recognized the prelude. It was that of an old song of aunt Julia’s Arrayed for the bridal. Her voice strong and clear in tone attacked with great spirit the runs which embellish the air and, though she sang very rapidly, she did not miss even the smallest of the grace notes. To follow the voice, without looking at the singer’s face, was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight. (353)

-The Dead, James Joyce

And now skip ahead a few centuries to a different mindset, non-fiction rather than fiction, a different world altogether:
Some background: David Sedaris is in 9th grade when he sees a mime perform for the first time. He is totally enthralled. He is also fascinated by the language of Shakespeare.

Excerpt #52:
I was at the orthodontist’s office, placing a pox upon the practice of dentistry, when the visiting actor returned to our classroom.
“You missed it,” my friend Lois said. “The man was so indescribable powerful that I was practically crying, that’s how brilliant he was.” She positioned her hands as if she were supporting a tray. “I don’t know what more i can say. The words, they just don’t exist. I could try to explain his realness, but you’d never be able to understand it. Never,” she repeated. “Never, never, never.”
Lois and I had been friends for six months when our relationship suddenly assumed a competitive edge…
My superior wisdom and innate generosity allowed me to be truly happy for Lois up until the day she questioned my ability to understand the visiting actor. The first few times he visited, she’d been just like the rest of them, laughing at his neck brace and rolling her eyes at the tangerine-sized lump in his tights. I was the one who first identified his brilliance, and now she was saying I couldn’t understand him? Methinks not.
“Honestly, woman,” I said to my mother on our way to the dry cleaner, “to think that this low-lying worm might speak to me of greatness as though it were a thing invisible to mine eyes is more than I can bear. Her words doth strike mine heart with the force of a punishing blow, leaving me both stunned and highly vexed, too. Hear me, though, for I shall bide my time, quietly, and with cunning, striking back at the very our she doth least expect it. Such an affront shall not go unchallenged, of that you may rest assured, gentle lady. My vengeance will hold the sweet taste of the ripest berry, and I shall savor it slowly.
“You’ll get over it,” my mother said. “Give it a week or two and I’m sure everything will be back to normal. I’m going in now to get your father’s shirts and I want you to wait here, in the car. Trust me, this whole thing will be forgotten about in no time.”
This had become her answer to everything. She’d done some asking around and concluded I’d been bitten by what her sister referred to as “the drama bug.” My mother was convinced that this was a phase, just like all the others. A few weeks of fanfare and I’d drop show business, just like I had the guitar and my private detective agency. I hated having my life’s ambition reduced to the level of a common cold. This wasn’t a bug, but a full-fledged virus. It might lay low for a year or two, but this little germ would never go away. It had nothing to do with talent or initiative. Rejection couldn’t weaken it, and no amount of success would ever satisfy it. Once diagnosed, the prognosis was terminal. (98-100)

-Naked, David Sedaris


White Noise Part II

January 6, 2010

I took a very long time to finish it, but I knew I couldn’t return this book to the library unfinished, like I’ve done for so many others. Here are a few other excerpts that I thought were utterly unique and well put together and beautiful, although my overall impression of the book otherwise. It was strange and sometimes surreal, children can’t be that informed about the inner workings of life and their parent’s lives. It was still a riveting read and I recommend you read these excerpts if not the entire book. The second one in particular I could imagine as a scene in an indie, ground-breaking (for lack of better word) film. Just as background, the narrator is the dad of the children and Babette is his wife.
Excerpt #48:
“Any episodes of déjà vu in your group?”
“Wife and daughter,” I said.
“There’s a theory about déjà vu.”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Why do we think these things happened before? Simple. They did happen before, in our minds, as visions of the future. Because these are precognitions, we can’t fit the material into our system of consciousness as it is now structured. This is basically supernatural stuff. We’re seeing into the future but haven’t learned how to process the experience. So it stays hidden until the precognition comes true, until we come face to face with the event. Now we are free to remember it, to experience it as familiar material.”
“Why are so many people having these episodes now?”
“Because death is in the air,” he said gently. “It is liberating suppressed material. It is getting us closer to things we haven’t learned about ourselves. Most of us have probably seen our own death but haven’t known how to make the material surface. Maybe when we die, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘I know this feeling. I was here before.'” (151)

Excerpt #49:
No one wanted to cook that night. We all got in the car and went out to the commercial strip in the no man’s land beyond the town boundary. The never-ending neon. I pulled in at a place that specialized in chicken parts and brownies. We decided to eat in the car. The car was sufficient for our needs. We wanted to eat, not look around at other people. We wanted to fill our stomachs and get it over with. We didn’t need light and space, We certainly didn’t need to face each other across a table as we ate, building a subtle and complex cross-network of signals and codes. We were content to eat facing in the same direction, looking only inches past our hands. There was a kind of rigor in this. Denise brought the food out to the car and distributed paper napkins. We settled in to eat. We ate fully dressed, in hats and heavy coats, without speaking, ripping into chicken parts with our hands and teeth. There was a mood of intense concentration, minds converging on a single compelling idea. I was surprised to find I was enormously hungry. I chewed and ate, looking only inches past my hands. This is how hunger shrinks the world. This is the edge of the observable universe of food. Steffie tore off the crisp skin of a breast and gave it to Heinrich. She never ate the skin. Babette sucked a bone. Heinrich traded wings with Denise, a large for a small. He thought small wings were tastier. People gave Babette their bones to clean and suck. I fought off an image of Mr. Gray lazing naked on a motel bed, an unresolved picture collapsing at the edges. We sent Denise to get more food, waiting for her in silence. Then we started in again, half stunned by the dimensions of our pleasure. (231-232)

A different cover...for variety.

Excerpt #50:
We go to the overpass all the time. Babette, Wilder, and I. We take a thermos of iced tea, park the car, watch the setting sun. Clouds are no deterrent. Clouds intensify the drama, trap and shape the light. Heavy overcasts have little effect. Light bursts through, tracers and smoky arcs. Overcasts enhance the mood. We find little to say to each other. More cars arrive, parking in a line that extends down to the residential zone. People walk up the incline and onto the overpass, carrying fruit and nuts, cool drinks, mainly the middle-aged, the elderly, some with webbed beach chairs which they set out on the sidewalk, but younger couples also, arm in arm at the rail, looking west. The sky takes on content, feeling, an exalted narrative life. The bands of color reach so high, seem at times to separate into their constituent parts. There are turreted skies, light storms, softly falling streamers. It is hard to know how to feel about this.Some people are scared by the sunsets, some determined to be elated, but most of us don’t know how to feel, are ready to go either way. Rain is no deterrent. Rain brings on graded displays, wonderful running hues. More cars arrive, people come trudging up the incline, The spirit of these warm evenings is hard to describe. There is anticipation in the air but it is not the expectant midsummer hum of a shirtsleeve crowd, a sandlot game, with coherent precedents, a history of secure response. This waiting is introverted, uneven, almost backward and shy, tending toward silence. What else do we feel? Certainly there is awe, it is all awe, it transcends previous categories of awe, but we don’t know whether we are watching in wonder or dread, we don’t know what we are watching or what it means, we don’t know whether it is permanent, a level of experience to which we will gradually adjust, into which our uncertainty will eventually be absorbed, or just some atmospheric weirdness, soon to pass. The collapsible chairs are yanked open, the old people sit. What is there to say? The sunsets linger and so do we. The sky is under a spell, powerful and storied. Now and then a car actually crosses the overpass, moving slowly, deferentially. People keep coming up the incline, some in wheelchairs, twisted by disease, those who attend them bending low to push against the grade. I didn’t know how many handicapped and helpless people there were in town until the warm nights brought crowds to the overpass. Cars speed beneath us, coming from the west, from out of the towering light, and we watch them as if for a sign, as if they carry on their painted surfaces some residue of the sunset, a barely detectable luster or film of telltale dust. No one plays a radio or speaks in a voice that is much above a whisper. Something golden falls, a softness delivered to the air. There are people walking dogs, there are kids on bikes, a man with a camera and long lens, waiting for his moment. It is not until some time after dark has fallen, the insects screaming in the heat, that we slowly begin to disperse, shyly, politely, car after car, restored to our separate and defensible selves. (325)

-White Noise by Don Delillo


Free Reading

November 21, 2009

Yes, I make time for it in college. I have learned the complicated system of the library’s numerical code for each book – no idea what it means, and it takes entire minutes to find one book, but it’s worth it. For example, the code of this book is: PS 3554 E4425 W48 and the words inside are beautiful. However, the cover is not. My cover of this book is completely black.

Excerpt #43:
“Where are you living, Murray?”
“In a rooming house. I’m totally captivated and intrigued. It’s a gorgeous old crumbling house near the insane asylum. Seven or eight boarders, more or less permanent except for me. A woman who harbors a terrible secret. A man with a haunted look. A man who never comes out of his room. A woman who stands by the letter box for hours, waiting for something that never seems to arrive. A man with no past. A woman with a past. There is a smell about the place of unhappy lives in the movies that I really respond to.” (10)

I wish I had this cover...for purely superficial reasons.

Excerpt #44:
“Babette and I tell each other everything. I have told everything, such as it was at the time, to each of my wives. There is more to tell, of course, as marriages accumulate. But when I say I believe in complete disclosure I don’t mean it cheaply, as anecdotal sport or shallow revelation. It is a form of self-renewal and a gesture of custodial trust. Love helps us develop an identity secure enough to allow itself to be placed in another’s care and protection. Babette and I have turned our lives for each other’s thoughtful regard, turned them in the moonlight in our pale hands, spoken deep into the night about fathers and mothers, childhood, friendships, awakenings, old loves, old fears (except fear of death). No detail must be left out, not even a dog with ticks or a neighbor’s boy who ate an insect on a dare. The smell of pantries, the sense of empty afternoons, the feel of things as they rained across our skin, things as facts and passions, the feel of pain, loss, disappointment, breathless delight. In these night recitations we create a space between things as we felt them at the time and as we speak them now .This is the space reserved for irony, sympathy and fond amusement, the means by which we rescue ourselves from the past. (29-30)

Excerpt #45
He looked at me, still smiling in a half sneaky way.
“You have to learn how to look. You have to open yourself to the data. TV offers incredible amounts of psychic data. It opens ancient memories of world birth, it welcomes us into the grid, the network of little buzzing dots that make up the picture pattern. There is light, there is sound. I ask my students, ‘What more do you want?’ Look at the wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the slice-of-life commercials, the products hurtling out of darkness, the coded messages and endless repetitions, like chants, like mantras. ‘Coke is it, Coke is it, Coke is it.’ The medium practically overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get passed our irritation, weariness and disgust.”
“But your students don’t agree.”
“Worse than junk mail. Television is the death throes of human consciousness, according to them. They’re ashamed of their television past. They want to talk about movies.”
He got up and refilled our cups.
“How do you know so much?” Babette said.
“I’m from New York.” (51)

Excerpt #46:
“Either I’m taking something and I don’t remember or I’m not taking something and I don’t remember. M life is either/or. Either I chew regular gum or I chew sugarless gum. Either I chew gum or I smoke. Either I smoke or I gain weight. Either I gain weight or I run up the stadium steps.”
“Sounds like a boring life.”
“I hope it lasts forever,” she said.
Soon the streets were covered with leaves. Leaves came tumbling and scraping down the pitched roofs. There were periods in every day when a stiff wind blew, baring the trees further, and retired men appeared in the backyards, on the small lawns out front, carrying rakes with curved teeth. Black bags were arrayed at the curbstone in lopsided rows.
A series of frightened children appeared at our door for their Halloween treats. (53)

Excerpt #47:
I went to German lessons twice a week, in the late afternoon, darkness crowding in earlier with each succeeding visit. It was Howard Dunlop’s working rule that we sit facing each other during the full length of the lesson. He wanted me to study his tongue positions as he demonstrated the pronunciation of consonants, diphthongs, long and short vowels. He in turn would look closely into my mouth as I attempted to reproduce the unhappy sounds.
His was a mild and quiet face, an oval surface with no hint of distinctiveness until he started his vocal routines. Then the warping began. It was an eerie thing to see, shamefully fascinating, as a seizure might be if witnessed in a controlled environment. He tucked his head in his trunk, narrowed his eyes, made grimacing humanoid faces. When it was time for me to repeat the noises I did likewise, if only to please the teacher, twisting my mouth, shutting my eyes completely, conscious of an overarticulation so tortured it must have sounded like a sudden bending of the natural law, a stone or tree struggling to speak. When I opened my eyes he was only inches from my mouth, leaning in to peer. I used to wonder what he saw in there. (54)


First Exposure to Bukowski

November 7, 2009

I don’t like poetry much. I don’t have enough patience for it, my mind just doesn’t work that way. I don’t like detached phrases, I like to know where things are coming from, for everything to be connected.
So my first Bukowski book is a rather rare one, with unpublished articles from all throughout Bukowski’s long, drunk, eccentric, filled with holes and gaps career.
I have typed up many excerpts, varying in length. I think it would do you some good to read all five, but read however many you want. Except none. If you come here, you have to read at least one. That is the point of this site.
(I love how I’m typing this with the conviction and confidence that I get many visitors.)

Some context to this one: Two nuns want to buy a phonograph from Larry and they are looking at his records. For some reason, Larry is wary and nervous around these nuns.

Excerpt #38: from Hard Without Music
The one in the chair smiled. Her teeth were very white. “You have such good taste. Almost all of Beethoven, and Brahms, and Bach and…”
“Yes,” said Larry. “Yes, thank you.” He turned to the other nun. Won’t you sit down?” he asked. But she didn’t move.
The sweat was coming out on his forehead, the palms of his hands, the hollow of his throat. He wiped his hands on his knees. Why was it he had a feeling that he was going to do something dreadful? How black they were dressed; and the white: such a contrast. And the faces. “My favorite,” he said, “is Beethoven’s Ninth.” It wasn’t. He didn’t have any favorites.
“I’d like to use these to teach in the classes,” said sister Celia, the one in the chair. “It’s so hard…without music.”
“Yes, ” said Larry. “For all of us.” His voice had sounded dramatic. He felt as if he didn’t belong in the room. It was hot summer. His eyes filmed, his throat felt dry. A thin string of breeze passed for a moment across his brow. He thought of hospitals, of disinfectant.
“It’s a shame to sell them. I mean…for you,” said SIster Celia. She was evidently the buyer, he thought; the other was just along.
Larry waited a moment and then he answered, “I have to move. To another city. They’d break, you know.”
“I’m sure these would be lovely for my class, for the older girls.”
“Older girls,” said Larry. Then his eyes opened and he stared straight at Sister Celia, at her smooth face and pale nun’s eyes. “That’s wise,” he said. “Extremely wise.” His voice had become harsh and metallic. The sweat formed on his legs and the wool of his trousers pointed into the skin. His hands moved about his knees. He looked down, then back up at Sister Celia. The other nun seemed to hang suspended, way off.
Then he began. “Modern elementary education, for reasons unknown, at least to myself, finds it plausible to introduce Beethoven into the souls of eight-year-olds. Somebody once asked the question, ‘Are composers human?’ Well, I don’t know, but I do know that the sounds that came out of my teacher’s phonograph in the third grade were not, to me, human sounds, sounds in any way relative to real life and real living, the sea or the baseball diamond. And the teacher steeped with her ethereally ponderous and magnificent, her rimless glasses, her white wig and Fifth Symphony, were no more a real part of life than the rest of it…Mozart, Chopin, Handel…The others learned the meaning of the little black dots with tails, and without tails, that climbed up and down the chalk-marked ladders on the blackboard. But I – through fear and revulsion – turtle fashion, withdrew my mind into the dark shell. And today, when I slip my program notes from my record albums…it is still dark…”
He laughed. He felt suddenly old and worldly. He waited for the nuns to speak but they didn’t speak.
“Good music crept up on me. I don’t know how. But suddenly, there it was, and I was a young man in San Francisco spending whatever money I could get feeding symphonies to the hungry insides of my landlady’s wooden, man-high victrola. I think those were the best days of them all, being very young and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from my window. Almost every day I discovered a new symphony…I selected my albums pretty much by chance, being too nervous and uncomfortable to understand them in the glass partitions of the somehow clinical music shops…There are moments, I have found, when a piece, after previous listenings that were sterile and dry…I have found that a moment comes when the piece at last unfolds itself fully to the mind…”
“Yes, how true,” said Sister Celia.
“You are listening haphazardly, carelessly. And then, through the lazy sheen you have effected, almost upon the sheen, climbing upon it, through it, centering lithely upon the unguarded brain…in comes the melody, curling, singing, dancing…All the full potency of the variations, the counter notes, gliding cool and utterly unbelievable in the mind. In the kindness it is…like the buzzing of countless little steel bees whirling in ever-heightened beauty and knowing…A sudden movement of the body, an effort to follow, will often kill it, and after a while you learn this. You learn not to kill the music. But I guess that’s what I’m doing now, isn’t it?” (16-18)
Excerpt #39: from The L.A. Scene
There are others. They keep coming. All with their special brand of talk or living. I’ve drawn some good ones, these Los Angeles characters, and I suppose they’ll keep coming. I don’t know why people bring me themselves. I never go anywhere. Those few who arrive are dull, I dispose of them quickly enough. I’d only be unkind to myself if I did otherwise. My theory is that if you are kind to yourself you will be truthful and kind with others, in that certain way.
Los Angeles is full of very odd people, believe me. There are many out there who have never been on a 7:30 a.m. freeway or punched a timeclock or even had a job and don’t intend to, can’t, won’t, will die first rather than live the common way. In a sense, each of them is a genius in his or her way, fighting against the obvious, swimming upstream, going mad, getting on pot, wine, whiskey, art, suicide, anything but the common equation. It will be some time before they even us out and make us say quits.
When you see that city hall downtown and all those proper precious people, don’t get melancholy. There is a whole tide, a whole race of mad people, starving, drunk, goofy, and miraculous. I have seen many of them. I am one of them. There will be more. This city has not yet been taken. Death before death is sickening.
The strange ones will hold, the war will continue. Thank you. (120)

Excerpt #40: from Upon the Mathematics of the Breath and the Way
Hemingway studied the bullfights for form and meaning and courage and failure and the way. I go to boxing matches and attend horse races for the same reason. THere is a feeling at the wrists and the shoulders and the temples. There is a manner of watching and recording that grows into the line and the form and the act and the fact and the flower, and the dog walking and the dirty panties under the bed, and the sound of the typewriter as you’re sitting there, that’s the big sound, the biggest sound in the world, when you’re getting git down in your way , the right way, no beautiful woman counts before it and nothing that you could paint or sculpt counts before it; it is the final art, this writing down of the word, and the reason for valor is all there, it is the finest gamble ever arranged and not many win. (129)

Excerpt #41: from Notes of a Dirty Old Man (L.A. Free Press, December 28, 1973)
It will take centuries to get the Hepburns and the critics out of the way, and that’s what makes it sad, more than sad: each of our lives is hardly made up of centuries, and what has killed us is not the Nixons and the Hitlers but the intellectuals, the poets, the scholars, the philosophers, the professors, the liberals, all our friends – or, more properly, your friends.
I have always much more enjoyed the conversations of men in jail than I have enjoyed the conversations of men in universities; I’ve found men on railroad track gangs with more guts and light and less boredom than those who get $400,000 a week for a four-week stand in Vegas. Why is this? I don’t know. I don’t think God can solve it. I only know that we’ve been tricked for centuries, it goes way back, even Christ smells bad, Plato smells bad, and I don’t mean under the armpits. I guess all we can do is take our small snapshots, wait, and get out.
Excerpt #42: from Just Passing Time
I bought some more rounds. Time began to waver. Time began to waggle. Butterlifes’ wings.
Jim left, and the night bartender, Eddie, came on. A few women entered, old, insane, or both. Yet it changed the atmosphere. They were women. It made it more carnival. Caimans, gavials, chuckwallas, geckos, molochs, skinks, and tautaras now sat on the stools. We watched their heavily painted mouths as they stuck cigarettes into them or laughed or poured the drinks down. Their voices were way off the edge, as if their vocal cords had been burned out, and their frazzled hair came down and sometimes – oh, at such rare times, in a moment of neon haze – as they turned their head they almost seemed young and beautiful again, and then we all felt better and laughed and said almost inventive things. THe dream was just around the corner. And if not, it had been.
Some moments were sometimes like that. And we felt good, you could feel it reaching all around: we were there, finally, everybody was beautiful and grand and entertaining, and each moment glowed, bright and unwasted You could really feel it.
Then – it stopped. Just like that.
We seemed to feel it all altogether. All conversation ended. Like that. At once. We felt each other sitting there, uselessly. Quiet. Nothing wrong with quiet. But not that kind. It was as if we had been cheated. Out of energy. Out of luck. Stuck there – bare.
It lasted some time. It lasted too long. It was embarrassing.
“Well, shit,” somebody finally said, “who’s going to brown this turd?”
Which always started the motion and the action over again. New cigarettes lit. Lipsticks applied. Trips to the pisser. Old jokes with new endings. Lies. Minor threats. The flies awakening and spinning through the blue gray air.

-Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook
Uncollected Stories and Essays, 1944-1990



September 8, 2009

That was my reaction to more than several parts in this book. A book that is constantly shocking and disturbing and dark and kind of hysterical. I’m not going to give these excerpts much of an introduction…but it had me wide-eyed, re-reading passages and realizing – yes, it’s THAT vulgar and graphic. It had me literally rolling on the carpet and laughing, reading the sentence again and laughing some more. It had me feel deep sorrow for this guy, the main character named Victor. My brother told me not to read this book, and I can see why, but…it’s good to read something like this every once in a while. Gritty, disgusting, somewhat depressing,  yet alluring all the same. Oh, one last thing you should know, Victor is a sexaholic, stuck on his 4th step, writing all of his sins having to do with his addiction in a notebook, the worst parts of his life. That doesn’t play a big role in the excerpts I chose, but in the book…it takes up about 1/3 of the plot. The bolding was my doing. If you don’t feel like reading these lengthy excerpts, at least read the bolded parts. Please.

Excerpt #35:
If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.
After a couple pages, you won’t want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you’re still in one piece.
Save yourself.
There has to be something better on television. Or since you have so much time on your hands, maybe you could take a night course. Become a doctor. You could make something out of yourself. Treat yourself to a dinner out. Color your hair.
You’re not getting any younger.
What happens here is first going to piss you off. After that it just gets worse and worse.
What you’re getting here is a stupid story about a stupid little boy. A stupid true life story about nobody you’d ever want to meet. Picture this little spaz being about waist high with a handful of blond hair, combed and parted on one side. Picture the icky little shit smiling in old school photos with some of his baby teeth missing and his first adult teeth coming in crooked. Picture him wearing a stupid sweater striped blue and yellow, a birthday sweater that used to be his favorite. Even that young, picture him biting his dickhead fingernails. His favorite shoes are Keds. His favorite food, fucking corn dogs.
Imagine some dweeby little boy wearing no seat belt and riding in a stolen school bus with his mommy after dinner. Only there’s a police car parked at their motel so the Mommy just blows on past at sixty or seventy miles an hour.
This is about a stupid little weasel who, for sure, used to be about the stupidest little rat fink crybaby twerp that ever lived. (1-2)

Excerpt #36:
The monitor shows me one old woman after another. Then for ten seconds, there’s Paige pushing my mom in a wheelchair down another corridor. Dr. Paige Marshall. And I dial around until I hear my mom’s voice.
“Yes,” she says, “I fought against everything, but more and more I worry that I was never for anything.” 
The monitor shows the garden, old women hunched over walkers. Mired in gravel.
“Oh, I can criticize and complain and judge everything, but what does that get me?” my mom keeps saying in voice-over as the monitor cycles to show other rooms.
The monitor shows the dining room, empty.
The monitor shows the garden. More old people.
This could be some very depressing website. Death Cam.
Some kind of black-and-white documentary.
“Griping isn’t the same as creating something,” my mom’s voice-over says. “Rebelling isn’t rebuilding. Ridiculing isn’t replacing…” And the voice in the speaker fades out.
The monitor shows the dayroom, the woman facedown in her puzzle.
And I dial-switch from number to number, searching. On number five, her voice is back. “We’ve taken the world apart,” she says, “but we have no idea what to do with the pieces…” And her voice is gone, again.
The monitor shows one empty corridor after another stretching into darkness.
On number seven, the voice comes back: “My generation, all of our making fun of things isn’t making the world any better,” she says. “We’ve spent so much time judging what other people created that we’ve created very, very little of our own.”
Out of the speaker, her voice says, “I used rebellion as a way to hide out. We use criticism as a fake participation.”
The voice-over says, “It only looks as if we’ve accomplished something.”
The voice-over says, “I’ve never contributed anything worthwhile to the world.”
And for ten seconds, the monitor shows my mom and Paige in the corridor just outside the crafts room.
Out of the speaker, scratchy and far away, Paige’s voice says, “What about your son?”
My nose pressed to the monitor, I’m so close.
And now the monitor shows me with my ear pressed to the speaker, one hand shaking something, fast, inside my pant leg.
In voice-over, Paige says, “What about Victor?”
And for serious, I am so ready to trigger.
And my mom’s voice says, “Victor? No doubt Victor has his own way of escaping.” (111-112)
Excerpt #36:
The Mommy, she used to tell him she was sorry. People had been working for so many years to make the world a safe, organized place. Nobody realized how boring it would become. With the whole world property-lined and speed-limited and zoned and taxed and regulated, with everyone tested and registered and addressed and recorded. Nobody had left much room for adventure, except maybe the kind you could buy. On a roller coaster. At a movie. Still, it would always be that kind of faux excitement. You know the dinosaurs aren’t going to eat the kids. The test audiences have outvoted any chance of even a major faux disaster. And because there’s no possibility of real disaster, real risk, we’re left with no chance for real salvation. Real elation. Real excitement. Joy. Discovery. Invention.
The laws that keep us safe, these same laws condemn us to boredom.
Without access to true chaos, we’ll never have true peace. 
Unless everything can get worse, it won’t get any better.
This is all stuff the Mommy used to tell him.
She used to say, “The only frontier you have left is the world of intangibles. Everything else is sewn up too tight.” 
Caged inside too many laws.
By intangibles, she meant the Internet, movies, music, stories, art, rumors, computer programs, anything that isn’t real. Virtual realities. Make-believe stuff. The culture.
The unreal is more powerful than the real.
Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it.
Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. 
But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.

If you can change the way people think, she said. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. If you do that, you can change the way people live their lives. And that’s the only lasting thing you can create. 
Besides, at some point, the Mommy  used to say, your memories, your stories and adventures, will be the only things you’ll have left. 
At her last trial, before this last time she went to jail, the Mommy had sat up next to the judge and said, “My goal is to be an engine of excitement in people’s lives.”
She’d stared into the stupid little boy’s eyes and said, “My purpose is to give people glorious stories to tell.”
Before the guards took her into the back wearing handcuffs, she’d shouted, “Convicting me would be redundant. Our bureaucracy and our laws have turned the world into a clean, safe  work camp.
She shouted, “We are raising a generation of slaves.”
And it was back to prison for Ida Mancini.
“Incorrigible” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind. 
The unidentified woman, the whole who ran down the aisle during the ballet, she was screaming, “We are teaching our children to be helpless.”
Running down the aisle and out a fire exit, she’d yelled, “We’re so structured and micromanaged, this isn’t a world anymore, it’s a damn cruise ship.” (159-161)

Excerpt #37:
So Saturday means visiting my mom.
In the lobby of St. Anthony’s, talking to the front desk girl, I tell her I’m Victor Mancini and I’m here to see my mom, Ida Mancini.
I say, “Unless, I mean, unless she’s dead.”
The front desk girl gives me that look, the one where you tuck your chin down and look at the person you feel so, so sorry for. You tilt your face down so your eyes have to look up at the person. That look of submission. Lift your eyebrows into your hairline as you look up. It’s that look of infinite pity. Squash your mouth down into a frowny face, and you’ll know the exact way the front desk girl is looking at me.
And she says, “Of course your mother is still with us.”
And I say, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I kind of wish she wasn’t.”
Her face forgets for a second how sorry she is, and her lips pull back to show her teeth. The way to make most women break eye contact is to run your tongue around your lips. The ones who don’t look away, for serious, bingo.
Just go back, she tells me. Mrs. Mancini is still on the first floor. 
It’s Miss Mancini, I tell her. My mom’s not married, unless you count me in that creepy Oedipal way. 
I ask if Paige Marshall is here.
“Of course she is,” the front desk girl says, now with her face turned a little away from me, looking at me out of the corner of her eye. The look of distrust. 
Beyond the security doors, all the crazy old Irmas and Lavernes, the Violets and Olives start their slow migration of walkers and wheelchairs coming my way. All the chronic undressers. All the dumped grannies and squirrels with their pockets full of chewed food, the ones who forget how to swallow, their lungs full of food and drink. 
All of them, smiling at me. Beaming. They’re all wearing those plastic bracelets that keep the doors locked, but they still look better than I feel. 

In the dayroom, the smell of roses and lemons and pine. The loud little world begging for attention from inside the television. The shattered jigsaw puzzles. Nobody’s moved my mom up to the third floor yet, the death floor, and in her room Paige Marshall’s sitting in a tweed recliner, reading her clipboard with her glasses on, and when she sees me says, “Look at you.” She says, “Your mother isn’t the only one who could use a stomach tube.”
I say I got her message.
My mom is. She’s just in bed. She’s just asleep is all, her stomach just a bloated little mound under the covers. Her bones are the only thing left in her arms and hands. Her head sunk in her pillow, she squeezes her eyes shut. The corners of her jaw swell as her teeth clench for a moment, and she brings her whole face together to swallow.  
Her eyes fall open, and she stretches her green-gray fingers at me, in a creepy underwater way, a slow-motion swimming stroke, trembling the way light does at the bottom of a swimming pool, when you’re little and staying overnight in some motel just off some highway. The plastic bracelet hangs around her wrist, and she says, “Fred.”
She swallows again, her whole face bunching with the effort and says, “Fred Hastings.” Her eyes roll to one side and she smiles at Paige. “Tammy,” she says “Fred and Tammy Hastings.”
Her old defense attorney and his wife.
All my notes for being Fred Hastings are at home. If I drive a Ford or a Dodge, I can’t remember. How many kids I’m supposed to have. What color did we finally paint the dining room. I can’t remember a single detail about how I’m supposed to live my life.
Paige is still sitting in the recliner, I step close to her and put a hand on her lab coat shoulder and say, “How are you feeling, Mrs. Mancini?”
Her terrible green-gray hand comes up level and rocks from side to side, the universal sign language for so-so. With her eyes closed, she smiles and says, “I was hoping you’d be Victor.”
Paige shrugs my hand off her shoulder.
“And I say, “I thought you liked me better.”
I say, “Nobody likes Victor very much.” (224-226)

-Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk


All Things Eye-Catching

September 8, 2009

The book cover and the book title both caught my eye as I browsed the New Fiction section in the library I have grown to love and place as one of my favorite places to spend time at. Also on the list is Downtown Palo Alto and Mountain View, and of course, M2, where Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra rehearsals have been held “since the beginning of time,” as Kris would say. I read about thirty pages of it before Harry Potter butted in, and that kept me occupied for a month, give or take a week. When I finished the series, I’m glad I got back to this one because it’s one of those books that you don’t come across every day, with really nasty descriptions and messed up characters but an absolutely riveting story all the same. The excerpts here aren’t necessarily my favorite, and none of them have “Me, Rhonda”, as the narrator so often addressed whenever he was talking about himself. I didn’t follow the page numbers where the most shocking parts are, but I have still preserved a taste of what the book was like here, and that’s my main goal. Each book has a different language to it, even though they’re all written in English. That might just be my favorite thing about literature. 

Excerpt #33:
“What brought you here?”
“I was working at a drugstore in Phoneix. My boss knew I liked to cook and he had a buddy in SF who owned a restaurant. He phoned in a favor. I moved here, started peeling garlic and potatoes, worked my way up.”
“Is that what you do for a living?” She finished her wine. I split the rest of the bottle in our glasses.
“When my arm isn’t broken, yes.” 
The owner brought out our entrees, grated fresh cheese on our pastas. 
“I want you to cook me dinner. Do you have a secret recipe?”
I nodded. “Meat Trees.”
She laughed and said, “What are meat Trees?”
Hearing her laugh was like she’d taken everything awful and everything I’d squandered and turned it into an ant, one tiny ant that I could barely see, something so small that it couldn’t hurt me anymore, and if I held the ant, if I placed it on my skin, I’d feel its tiny weak legs walking all over me and I’d know that everything was going to be alright. 
“You’ll see. Would you like to take a walk after dinner?” (127-128)

  Excerpt #34:
There will be ten of them, he said. Tell me what you see, he said. Flashcards flashing, symmetrical patterns splattered across them. His office smelled liek tuna fish, and his wrists were thin. I always thought they ewre probably brittle like uncooked angel hair pasta. (125) 

-Things That Meant The World To Me by Joshua Mohr 

Also remember: Rhonda got a tattoo of a Rorschach ink blot on his chest. 
Next up: A book that had me laughing at things I’d never laugh about, had me picturing things I didn’t know existed.


50-Year-Old Women

July 22, 2009

This one was recommended by Burroughs. Augusten, that is. My favorite author ever. I had to read it. It made me feel many things and I enjoyed the style a lot, it really read like letters and journal entries, which is what the book is made up of. And Augusten recommended it on his list of Books To Make You Feel Like A Kid Again: “The last book I am going to suggest has nothing to do with childhood, so at first it may seem an odd choice. But if childhood is the single time in life when it seemed our nerves were new and we could feel life itself against our skin and there was no dividing the day into segments, where there was only one long “right now” — then The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg is exactly the book to take you back. ” 
Well that’s all it took for me, after an explanation like that. I am always longing to go back to that time when it was okay to do nothing, where we’d get pleasure from seeing a ball go up and down in front of our eyes. On with the excerpts. A little background info, Nan is the main character, a 50-year-old who is running away from home. Italics mean she is writing in her journal, and regular means she is writing to her husband, Martin. 
After looking through my page numbers of excerpts, none are from the letters, only her journal entries. I wonder if that means anything. I am going to bold my favorite parts like the last entry. 

Excerpt #30:
 I have a picture to give you, too. Here is a forties photograph of a woman that I found in last Sunday’s paper. She is seated on the grass, wearing a suit and a hat, her purse centered in her lap. She is smiling, but her eyes ache, and behind her, I know this, her hands are clenched. She can’t relax. She has forgotten the grass. I kept staring at her, thinking, this is me. Checking my purse three times for keys before I leave the house. Stacking mail in order of the size of the envelopes. Answering the phone every single time it rings, writing “paper towels” on the grocery list the second after I use the last one. I too have forgotten the grass. But I used to do one-handed cartwheels and then collapse into it for the fine sight of the blades close up. And there was no sense of any kind of time. And I was not holding in my stomach or thinking what does my opinion mean to others. I was not regretting any part of myself. There was only sun-rich color, and smell, and the slight give of the soft earth beneath me. My mind was in my heart, anchored like a bright kite in a safe place . (9)

For this one, Nan just fell almost face-first into the cement sidewalk, and this man that was behind her runs up and makes sure she’s okay. They start talking. And this is Nan writing about it later.

Excerpt #31:
          I’ll bet his name is Willy or something like that, and he puts down beer in the VFW hall in the late afternoons, his hat pushed to the back of his head. I’ll bet he has many key son his key chain and that the fob is tacky and meaningful. Baloney must be in his refrigerator. His socks must be thin and cheap and the blue that turns purple, and he must not be strict about how many days in a row they are put to the task. 
          Our steps made such a fine sound on the roller-coaster sidewalks. Our conversation was so light and arbitrary and I felt like my imagination was off the leash and rolling in the grass that had turned bluish in the setting sun.
          I still feel that way now, that my imagination is free, that I have a red carpet unfurled before me like Dorothy’s yellow brick road and I can go on and on. Speak, this journal says. I’m listening to you. Go ahead and say anything. Confess. Exult. Weep. Nothing makes me walk away. Nothing bores me.  (31)

Excerpt #32:
On my twentieth birthday, I was out driving with a girlfriend and we picked up a man I have thought about a million times since. He sat in the back with his arm draped across the seat as though his invisible companion were along for the ride, too. My girlfriend and I were kidding around a little bit and he was laughing at everything we said and soon we were all laughing, it was the kind of thing where the laughter feeds on itself, where the sound of someone else’s snorting and wheezing keeps you going until you don’t even know why you started laughing in the first place – and you don’t care. It’s so good for you, that kind of hard laughter, so cleansing – you feel like your liver’s been held up and hosed down, your heart relieved of a million grimy weights. (91-92)