Tuesday, May 02, 2017

New & Forthcoming. Patreon & the End of the Blog.

At long last, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked: The Fiction of Disability: An Anthology is available from Cinco Puntos Press.

Also, my story "Kentrobarbative" is forthcoming in the Denver Quarterly.

My poem "Dear Angel" was included in If You Can Hear This: Poems In Protest of an American Inauguration published by Sibling Rivalry Press

2 small stories from 77 Irish Love Stories are forthcoming in Duende.

Lastly, I think the time has come to withdraw from this blog. Work I share here is considered published, even if only a few friends and a few relatives (appalled, presumably) are the only ones who ever read it. As my work becomes slightly better known, this has started to create problems. Also, the blog looks increasingly tacky and antiquated -- I've never had the skills or funds for a proper website. It seems wise to call a halt, at least for now.

A kind friend told me about Patreon, which allows me to share work in a more controlled way and also raise to funds. As my readers can likely guess, my wandering life has grown more difficult and precarious. Being able to raise even a little money has immediately made a big difference in my life.

For a more comprehensive explanation of my work and goals, here is "What I Do, What I've Done, What I Aim to Do".

I am grateful to anyone who does helps, or even considers doing so. Please know that it is NOT this hippie dropout's intention to create a paywall. My work is always available on request to anyone who asks for it. Patreon is simply helping to make my life more survivable. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What to Read While You're Not Watching the Inauguration.

As your friend who dropped of society to read more, I believe that I have located the perfect book to read while you are NOT watching the Inauguration. (Naturally my highest respect goes to those persons who will be so busy being disruptive and speaking out for human and earthly justice they may not have a chance to read unless they land in jail.) In case you need a book to accompany your non-viewing of the election -- I’ve got you covered. I decided that such a book must be utterly all-American, display the highest values, contain of massive dose of courage in the face of impossible obstacles, and must also be as compelling to read as a thriller because -- who has an attention span nowadays? This is all so fucking scary. Good news, I got it, this nerd knows just the right all-American book. Now is the time to read or reread, ‘Lakota Woman’, the autobiography that Mary Crow Dog wrote with Richard Erdoes. Here is a big dose of the clarity, love and ferocity we’re going to need to survive. A deep bow to all the women who will be marching, protesting, shouting and fighting in the days to come. ‘Lakota Woman’ opens with a Cheyenne proverb: “A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lesson FOURTEEN : Root


If Jackson Pollock tore the door off the men’s room in the Cedar 
it was something he just did and was interesting, not an annoyance.
-- Frank O’Hara

My father made a Root Beer Float expressly so he could throw it at me.  It was entirely obvious and pre-set.  And still I stuck around.  The moment I appeared on the porch he started up with the speeches.  “If you are going to work on the farm you have to trust me 100%” he said, as he sipped just the very tiniest bit of his float.  He then moved on to chronicle his great kindness, as well as why it was entirely necessary for me to affirm this to him, to tell him, right then and there, that he was a very kind person and everyone thought so.  And even then, knowing precisely what was coming, I still went ahead and said, No.
      What’s in a name?  8 generations ago, my ancestor, in Switzerland, a lusty, hard-working, not over-bright farmhand by the name of Konrad Everything, fell in love with the governor’s daughter, a buxom, red-haired lass, likewise lusty, with a tendency toward authoritarianism and the bottle.  Her father, the tremendously dignified Governor Deserve, disapproved -- but by then Mary was already 3 months along.  Without informing anyone, with only 2 sets of clothes and a vast amount of liquor, the forebearers of my grand family, the Deserve-Everythings, sailed toward America, a significant portion of which, they were already sure, was totally rightfully theirs.
     Sharing is regarded as an abomination in my family.  It’s absolutely the worst-case scenario.  My family prides itself on its generosity and they can tell you precisely how horrible every single instance of it has been for them, clear back to the second cousins from Hawaii who stayed for a week in the Eighties.  The rule is, the more you have, the more you need, the less you have to give.  I promise this makes perfect sense when you’re white people.   
     As well as acute opioid withdrawal, my elderly father suffers from early dementia.  This is a highly controversial statement.  People inside the family disagree strong with the word dementia.  People outside the family disagree strongly with the word early.
     The lost relatives are untallied.  No doubt plenty died of drink.  A few stepped off cliffs, met the Misfit on the highway.  Others, surely, found better misfits, other forests, unobtrusively flourished, doodled on the margins. 
     The best I ever managed was to say to my father, when he’d had 2 Oxy and a bottle of wine, “Basically there are 2 of you.  1 of you is held hostage by the other and he suffers along with the rest of us.”
     Pathetic story: when I was 18 I got a one-way ticket to the city still known as Bombay.  I believed that if I stayed away long enough my family would miss me and when I returned at last they’d be happy to see me.  I believed they’d defrost in my absence.  (I warned you this was a pathetic story.)  Riding on buses through Andhra Pradesh, watching toddy wallahs collect pots from the tops of the palms, I imagined my family making room for me at last.  And I remember arriving home after  8½ months, drinking Nestea on the back porch of the farmhouse, wearing a long headscarf I hoped would be exotic, thinking, Well so much for that.  I’d been home less than an hour.  There wasn’t ever going to be a thaw.  My plan had entirely failed.  Meanwhile, I had discovered that there was a world.

Lesson THIRTEEN : Pickleback


My father, the Pumpkin King.  I am moving his boxes for the umpteenth, as he directs, calls me names, throws things.  Coming around the corner to find a squirrel feasting in his cereal bowl. Letting the King give me orders, call me, again, a worthless motherfucker, not saying anything.  Letting him return to his breakfast, not saying anything.
      After 2 nights of rain the grass is still dead but it no longer crackles.  The pumpkins, now, will do something and the pears, too, are less tragic.  The apples honestly don’t look that bad to me -- OK, the Empire and the Winter Banana.  But nobody cares about Winter Banana.  Still, I talked to Cool Petah and Cool Petah says we’re in trouble and he would know, I wouldn’t.  Petah says the Delicious, Red and Golden both, are totally utterly toast. 
      Catching Cool Petah, original picker, on the corner of the soda aisle at Shaw’s, which is pretty much the only time you’ll ever see him with a shirt on.  Petah doesn’t drink anymore, doesn’t smoke (OK, just pot) but he’s got a thing for generic cola, which has given him a little paunch but he’s still the fastest picker, even after 39 years of work.  Lucky me, now I don’t have to haul my milk jug across suburbia and through the woods to get back to the bunkhouse.  Cool Petah gives me a ride his eternal beater car, where riding shotgun is reserved for his old German Shepherd who has decided, providentially, just this year, age 10, to stop biting people, or at least to only bite people on special occasions.  Even Petah, ever-cool, is sad about my mad old father.  Cool Petah says, Has he nevah heard about FORGIVENESS?
Thing is, it’s only ever interesting 
if it feels like a transmission.
The record matters only if
it’s a record of transmissions.
(only if it’s overheard)
(only if it appears as a dream)     
     Dan, deviant bunkhead, dearly loved, introduces me to a cocktail which corresponds.  Called a pickleback.  A generous shot of bourbon followed by a shot of pickle juice.  Both more or less equal and plenty of both.  Bourbon!  Pickle juice!  Like mowing down a Civil War re-enactment with a party bus.  Except nobody dies.  Not immediately.  It is kind of astonishing that Dan is able to sustain the belief that this is some kind of health drink.  Needless to say, I am highly in favor of the pickleback (it contains liquor) and also I find it a great support to my work in this, The Pickleback School of Literature.  It is a cocktail which is exemplary, which is illustrative: this is what it takes, nowadays, just to feel a little something.  

Friday, January 06, 2017

Books for Dark Times: NAKED LUNCH

William Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text

Edited by James Grauerholz and Barry Miles

Grove Press, 1959 
(Restored text, 2001)

In the middle Nineties, I was a student in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute.  Thus I have a considerable allergy to Beat literature, to which I was over-exposed.  Reading through Penguin’s anthology of Beat Literature, I often roll my eyes.  Kerouac, for example, I find unreadable.  Speaking therefore as a cynical, jaded, and negative person, I have to admit that some pieces of Beat literature really are all they’re cracked up to be.  Kaddish, for example.  And Naked Lunch.

A few days after the election of Donald Trump, I picked it up again.  I admit that I just wanted to escape the nightmarish headlines and take refuge in surreal phantasmagoria.  To my astonishment, I discovered the book had totally changed in the 20 years since I’d read it last.  It isn’t outlandish any more.  It seems like a handbook to the way we live now, in the shadow of the Trump administration.  Above all, it is very PRACTICAL book, full of tips and pointers.  I might as well be reading the Boy Scouts Handbook.

As a young groupie, I remember hearing Allen Ginsberg say that having sex with Burroughs was like having sex with a reptile.  Well, he WRITES like a reptile too, but what maybe didn’t work so well in the sheets is ecstatic on the page.  Like Jane and Paul Bowles, he still makes our current, self-proclaimed, avant-garde look tame.  A riotous book.  (Who writes riotously now?  Could you send me a list?)  

I drink more coffee than is strictly speaking sane and I admit I had a “Woo-woo” moment when I thought, “Burroughs is a prophet!  This book was written for right exactly now!”  But, now that I’ve calmed down, somewhat, I reckon it must seem so because Burroughs is willing to take a deep, long look at human evil, and evidently evil takes similar forms, age after age. 

Woo-woo aside, it IS entertaining and satisfying to keep notes as you read as to on which page various members of the Trump Administration first appear.  Imagine what Burroughs would have made of our current cast of villains, how he would have dissected them, delighted in them, savaged them.  Even their names: imagine what Burroughs would think of “Trump”, of “Cruz”, of “Pence”, of “Kellyanne Conway”!  (I’d swear Kellyanne Conway is already the name of a Burroughs’ character -- I just can’t quite find her.)

Naked Lunch is a handbook for right now, as we do our best to come to grips with human evil and survive -- or to NOT survive, but to be entertained in the meantime.  Because it is an incredibly funny book and even now it makes so much else seem cowardly.  Here’s your Handbook To Life Under The Trump Administration.  May we somehow keep our bright queer hearts intact.  I urge you, however, do NOT follow his advice about yohimbe being “the ultimate aphrodisiac”.  That stuff is totally misery-making, even if it does give you a boner.  And, of course, please: NEVER experiment with nutmeg.

Lesson TWENTY-TWO : Flip-book


Nonlinear.  Discontinuous.  
Collage-like.  An assemblage.  
As is already more than self-evident.
-- David Markson, Vanishing Point

Not much more than the time I pretend to do something.  Really just shower, get dressed to start trembling.  This mammal, so far beyond its capacity.  Not quite able to construct a person.  If I take the train no one is left.  But even before that.

     A flip-book of monsters, I have in mind.  How I loved those as a child!  Making monsters came naturally.  The head of an eagle, a bear’s torso, jockey shorts, and the legs of a flamingo!
     I’m going to be regarded as a genius after my death.  It’s just this intermediate period that’s hard.
     Of the 8 Worldly Dharmas, which are to be abandoned, one is fear of insignificance.  Usually it’s translated as ill-repute, but the former seems a far better translation, particularly nowadays.
     The knowledge that Zsa Zsa Gabor spent at least the last 5 of her 99 years in a state of profound dementia, fed by a tube in her stomach, unable to hear, speak, or see, with no awareness of what she had been, with no idea she had been famous.
     Aware of the desire to fall even further out of the world.  I would especially like to go a number of months without ever once seeing the news.  I would like important people to die without my knowing.  Is this wish ethically defensible?  I would have to be doing something important.  What is the chance of my ever doing something important during the entire remainder of my life?  (It’d have to be inadvertent, obviously.)  But if I am reliably negligible, does it matter if I read the news?  I would especially like to spend many weeks turning the Bible-thin pages of The Library of America, copying out sentences, and making diligent use of the cloth bookmark.  I believe it is all right to revel in the canon.  The canon remains almost entirely unknown. 
     A genius of average intelligence -- or just slightly below.  Who saw because he could not help seeing, who said because he could not help saying.  A teller of the very most obvious secrets, known by pets and by house plants, known even by people flying in airplanes overhead.  As a successfully-extruded member of my family, I can attest that it is the very most obvious secrets, which absolutely everyone knows, that get you in trouble.  Also, as for my fame, I ought to avoid undue excitement, as we are at the very end of us, oh tragedy, such relief, and civilization will survive me only just very slightly.  Therefore: I write for posterity.  All 12 minutes of it. 



. . . certainly I said I do want to get rich but I never want to do what there is to do to get rich.
-- Gertrude Stein, 
Everybody’s Autobiography

Having carefully observed the lives of my successful, responsible, well-to-do friends, I have determined that the very most sensible thing for me to do -- I mean, amongst those things that I can actually manage -- is to apply for a position as one of their pets.  Naturally, I’d prefer to succeed as an artist, but people don’t love artists that much.  Not like they love their Labradoodle.  This became clear to me one day while speaking to a friend who seemed to me a standard member of the struggling middle-class, when I heard her tally her monthly budget and realized that the expenses of her elderly collie far exceeded my own.  (Another great thing about me is I can take myself for walks!)  It is true that I’m not so cute anymore and not reliably agreeable but -- think of how many people cherish nasty cats!  Although I recognize there are arenas wherein I cannot compete with a Golden Retriever, I hope to make up for what I lack in adorability with oral sex and copy-editing.  Also, one more time, please keep in mind: I am cheaper.

     To friends who might seek to help me, thanks but no thanks.  The point is not pride (which is famously negotiable) as it is the simple fact that right now I am only mildly to moderately desperate.  I humbly request that you take firm hold of your goodwill, wrap it in plastic or put it in a security envelope and stow it someplace safe, preferably fireproof, as it seems certain that I will be having need of it later.  For this you have, as ever, my everlasting thanks.  Many deep bows.
     Respectfully yrs., etc.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lesson SIX : Marlin


Follow Us For More Bold Experiences!
-- this bag of Doritos

I dreamt I was instructing: here are rituals around the world, these are the necessary tools.  Most required extensive supplies: salt and eagle feathers, turmeric and candles, chalk dust and sage, marigolds and sandalwood, blood and mushrooms, liquor and skulls.  Then I explained that, for the rituals of my people, you needed only one thing: sugar.  Granulated crystallized plain white sugar.  That’s all you ever needed, just pile after pile of white sugar.  Table sugar.  It’s so convenient! I told the class, even as I thought to myself, It’s really kind of sad.

     The angel ordered an entire marlin, with fries, rice, salad, salsa mexicana, tortillas -- and while waiting we went for a swim, still holding our beers.  When the angel’s bottle was empty he dunked it, let it fill with seawater, and explained that, perdon, por favor, if I was going to meet his family then I had to be at least slightly Catholic.  Inside myself I looked around and was astonished to discover I’d never been Catholic.  I’d been so many things!  I revered Teresa, Julian, Hildegard -- did that count?  No, I had to be baptized.  He taught me to cross myself.  (The short version; the long was beyond me.)  The angel held his Corona above my head and slowly poured it over me, blessed me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, filled out all the necessary invisible paperwork in triplicate and mailed it in, and announced that I was now Catholic, very slightly.  The angel’s furry mouth met mine.  The marlin had arrived.  Baptism lunch! said the angel and led me from the waves to the table.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lesson TEN : Broken


I’m so nervous about my life the little of it I can get ahold of
-- Frank O’Hara

Johnny, saying, I wish I had more to go on is not a legitimate complaint.  Rather, it is an expression of the human condition, akin to saying, the body is 60% water.
      I went out, several night ago, to a celebration party.  It was not enjoyable.  The party was not a success.  Turns out America does not want to be America any more.  It doesn’t even want to pretend to be America.  (Will a name change be forthcoming?)  Everything that matters to me is due now to be cancelled -- and I am only told, again and again, that the key to survival is to resume fixation upon one’s own petty concerns as soon as possible.  Personal responsibility is what this is called.
      I trust everyone will keep in mind non-stop that comfortable white people urge you to just stay positive.
      The first time I felt safe, after my father announced his intention to slit my throat, and stab me with a knife, and my brother explained to me that Dad wasn’t crazy, “just very frustrated”, was weeks later, in ancient Egypt, at the Met, where I arrived and at once began to weep.
      Ostracon is the singular.  The plural is ostraca.  The note on the glass explains: Egyptian artists and scribes made practice sketches and drafts on broken pieces of pottery, or flakes of limestone.  I admire how they make use of the brokenness, collaborate with it, find in it an ally.  The lion crouches in the narrow edge, a stag rears in the broad, a line is drawn, then redrawn.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lesson SEVEN : Darshan


In regard to the “Great Mask” of the Dogon peoples: 
Although a mask in name and form, 
the Great Mask is rarely worn.  
Instead its very presence 
transforms its surroundings 
into a place of mystical exchanges.

”10 more minutes,” said the guard and I thought I’d go say goodbye to Miro, Dutch Interior, but first I peeked into the next room thinking, Anything else to see?  And there she was, as I have for so long yearned to see her: Gertrude Stein, as Picasso painted her at 27 rue de Fleurus.  Acting normal is something that seldom holds much appeal for me.  On this occasion I forswore it entirely.  I received the darshan of Gertrude Stein.  I bowed.  I namaskared.  I totally would have done a full-length prostration, right across the floor of the Met, but the guard was already on full-scale freak alert.

      Last thing before bed, while brushing our teeth and stripping down, the angel and I, wandering by one bulb around the angel’s room, two dark blue walls, two orange ones, after the goldfish had succeeded at last in getting our attention and been fed, the angel tripped over my dropfoot brace.  Before I could stop him, he picked it up, and tried to put it on.  He got nowhere.  The angel’s calves are thick and strong.  He held it against his leg to compare.  The length is similar but the width of my leg is just that of the bone.  Thumb touched to forefinger neatly encircle it.  The angel nodded.  I always wanted someone to understand me, but now that someone does it’s unnerving.  
     For those 10 minutes I stared at Gertrude Stein as much as I possibly, humanly could.  I must record here that the famous portrait, about which so much has been written, is vastly more beautiful than the false, hollowed-out, and misleading reproductions you see in books.  The portrait is rich and sensuous, yes, with a resemblance to African masks, but the face is NOT mask-like.  Gertrude Stein radiates life, warmth, sensuality.  She is hugely seductive, which, as you likely recall, is invariably how people spoke of her, men and women alike.  “I want to fuck her,” said Hemingway, because, as a man, that was how he knew to understand things.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lesson TWO : Satellite


I value only those artists, who really are artists, that is, who consciously, in an entirely original form, embody the expression of their inner life; who work only for this end and cannot work otherwise.
 -- Wassily Kandinsky, 
Concerning the Spiritual in Art

According to current financial estimates, starting next month I will pretty much be subsisting on oatmeal and semen.  Although such a diet may leave me prone to light-headedness, surely my skin will be luminous?

      Imagine how much time and energy I would have saved, if only I could have admitted, aged 16 or sooner, that my family simply disliked me.  I was a screw loose in their litany, a flat note in their recitation of what they needed and deserved: everything.  I had to be eliminated and I was.  My family used to throw me “Go Away” parties.  I used to think they meant it in a funny way.
      This is an advanced course in being lost.  Attempts to order or figure out, to fix or solve, would risk injury to the already precarious mechanism.  Be warned: nothing sensible can help.  Resort only to Divine Providence, the Big DP, also Deep Penetration, by no means coincidentally.
     Almost certainly an obstacle: he is a person who likes to write.  I mean that in the dumbest way.  He is a person who likes to sit, silent, in the corner, and practice his penmanship.  Little wonder that there is neither success nor audience.  Those were not among the considerations.  He probably would have thrived as a medieval copyist.  As it is, there are no openings.  This small man actually believes he is receiving dictation.  He is as useful as a forgotten satellite dish, turned toward a distant galaxy, waiting on an alien frequency.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Lesson FIVE : Sing


One thing I have never figured out is if I am just very dumb or if my head simply has no patience.  (Either way, I fear the results are rather similar.)
-- Joe Brainard, from a letter to Ron Padgett

Toothbrushes nowadays don’t fit in the toothbrush holder.  Only just the very tip.  So there is my stumpy and precarious toothbrush, its soft head flaring, leaning back like it’s about to sing something. 

     I appreciate afresh the steel grating on my windows.  Because it’s not just about keeping out thieves.  It’s also there so I can’t throw myself out of the window on a whim.  Statistically speaking, below the 4th floor you are likely to survive and above the 4th floor you are likely to die.  And how could I ever possibly live anywhere on Earth but where I live now: on the 4th floor.  I suppose this could mean “narrowly managing to die, after some time” or “the worst thing short of”.
     Waheen the hustler has joined me at my table.  I didn’t invite him, he didn’t ask.  I sit always at the same small high table.  I think he is using it to remain standing up.  Waheen is immensely tall and lanky, painfully gaunt and prematurely gray.  His eyes are mad and gentle.  He’s very sexy.  He looks like he might die tonight.  A fresh Pacifico arrives for each of us.  “Waheen’s got a cock like a horse.  Absolute monster cock,” says the bartender, who wants to be helpful.  Waheen adjusts himself strenuously, by way of demonstration.  Do you understand?  It’s not that I want to be good.  It’s just that I must stay simple.  I shrug, Waheen grins, downs his beer and drifts very gently away, like an abandoned boat.  Quickly, before anyone sees, I grab his beer and, as devotees yearn to drink the water with which their saint has washed his holy feet, I drink the precious last half-sip.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Books for These Dark Times: ROBERT WALSER

Robert Walser, 
Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories
translated from the German by Tom Whalen
New York Review Books, 2016

As an passionate devotee of Robert Walser, nothing is bigger or more welcome news than a new collection of stories.  As far as I can tell, I’ve read everything by Robert Walser available in English umpteen times and I am delighted to report that this new book is a very worthy addition to the canon.  At first I was put off by the extreme brevity of the pieces -- only the first is 5 pages, the rest are 1 or 2 -- but I soon found it effortless and delightful to fall into the rhythm of these stories and the highly agreeable trance they evoke as they evaporate, one after another.  

To read Walser is to discover that the word “flimsy” can be extremely high praise.  How can it be that he returns to the same subject matter again and again and yet nearly every sentence contains a small surprise?  What is this peculiar awkwardness that comes across as perfect charm?  For all my rereading I can’t explain it to you, yet I revel in it again and again.

The joy of Walser is the pleasure of sentences like, “Every sensible person sincerely praises a bowl of soup.”  He writes most often about the niceness of nice things, the loveliness of the lovely, the lightness of the light -- and yet it is nearly always apparent that he could collapse at any time, that he is only just barely and temporarily staving off despair.  His mind is capable of the most astonishing leaps.  It’s hardly surprising that a mind like his turned out to be a very awkward tool with which to navigate the world.  These pieces follow him right until he was admitted to the asylum in Herisau, after which he was silent until his death 23 years later. 

The pieces I found most revelatory, as well as most fun, were from 1921, a series: “Latest News” as well “News” 2,3 and 4.  Each piece consists of about 6 to a dozen paragraphs which dart jauntily from one subject to the next, without caring much about connectivity or development, succeeding by force of charm and forward motion, announcing what’s up and what’s on his agile, edgy, dancing mind.  

For example, one piece begins by discussing how he’s dressing, then lists current lectures including “one about the value of psychiatry to the human community”, proceeds to his clerical duties, and then announces, “The nice thing is I have a clear conscience.  Indeed, to my knowledge I’ve never lacked one.  I regret to say that a short while ago a healthy magnificent tooth fell out, which fortunately however is no great misfortune.  Of course now I have to walk around with a gap in my mouth, but I still do this gladly, especially in the evenings at the close of a workday and on Saturday afternoons.”  For me, a paragraph like that is the essence of pure irresistibility.  

Another ‘News’ piece begins: “Without question I’m filled with self-confidence.  Perhaps sometimes I might even be a little bit conceited.  I may only live on the outskirts, but at least my room has a parquet floor.  Well, I’m told Hesse leads a more genteel life.  Often I walk past his former residence.”

How can I respond, except to bow in the gratitude, in this, the presence of pure delight?         

(Please note: if there are other Walserians who seek, as I do, to create work inspired by the work of Walser, I would love to share writing and enthusiasm -- or to be useful to you in any way.  Please feel free to contact me.)  

Lesson ONE : Nobody


In the upper corner you can see that Kandinsky has painted the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Keep in mind that Kandinsky did not see the end of the world as a bad thing.  Destruction was meant to lead to the way to a renewed spiritual life.  To utopia.  Remember that, back when Kandinsky was painting, it was still possible to believe that something might be left of the world.

     My elderly father took a chainsaw to the cemetery and cut down 2 trees planted in the honor of a local man, husband, father, lawyer.  2 purple beech trees, good-sized, complete with marker stones, in loving memory.  Dad felt the trees spoiled his view of his favorite oak as he drove down the dirt road.  I’ve always struggled to explain exactly what is wrong with my father.  He either doesn’t understand other people’s feelings or he doesn’t care.  Also, he cannot count to 1.  Can you think of anyone else who habitually speaks of himself in the 1st person plural?  OK, Nixon.  A grieving widow, plus 3 sons -- but that is exactly the math Dad can’t do.  He’s harassed that grieving widow for years.  I always thought the day Dad axed those trees would be his day of reckoning.  Guess not.  Allow me to employ here my father’s favorite phrase: Jesus Fucking Christ.  What magic it is to be a rich old bully!
     A persistent and abiding wish: to write something without somebody there.  To hand it to you later and be able to honestly say,  Here.  This is from nobody.

Lesson THREE : Pleasure


-- a window in Manhattan

Most things provide drastically less joy than advertised.  Others provide, without notice or warning, far more happiness than seems possible, or even sensible.  For example, here in my short-term room, why is it such a great pleasure to have a plant that requires frequent watering?
      An actual gaw-dang garret, it appears that this is now.  The tragic poet routine is well in place.  Now all I need do is write things of which almost no one can see the point.  (To-do: buy vino tinto, F. Chauvenet, 1.5L, 84 pesos.  Or 2?)  In other news, it’s gorgeous up here, up countless stairs, with a view of rooftops, assorted domes, cathedral spire, the ocean even, if you lean out far enough over the railing…
     Alcohol ought to be a MUCH better drug, don’t you think?  Alcohol is like a girl who is popular, in a logging camp, because she is the only girl within 75 miles.  (OK, so maybe I am just jealous.)
     The pleasure of a spotlessly clean tile floor on a blazing afternoon, after I’ve swept and mopped it three times in a row.  But why is it that I cannot imagine that any hair I find is anything other than a pubic hair?  Why is that?  That hair could be from anywhere.  It could be forehead hair, or ear hair, or the hair that grows around my eyes.  But, no, I just can’t miss a chance to be prurient, to be embarrassing, a fact of which I am more than just slightly proud.
      I need to come clean about something.  The plant I mentioned, which I water often and enjoy so much, consists, in actuality, of 2 large round planters containing, along with a selection of succulents and ferns, a herbaceous perennial known as a pineapple plant, 1 in each planter and each with its own small pineapple.  Actual pineapples.  I think it is dishonest for me to write that I am overjoyed by watering and not admit that I am watering pineapples.  This may well be a decisive piece of information.  I suspect that my pineapples are, in fact, over-ripe, but I cannot bear to harvest them.  I want them to go on doing their pineapple things for as long as pineappley possible.

Lesson FIFTEEN : Lemurs


The foundational error, the trick: you think you can make do without the lemurs.  You think there are only a few lemurs, and they are all the way over there, wherever lemurs live, or at the zoo, and so you think you can get by.  Without the lemurs.  You can’t.

     The methhead chef at the sunset bar asks, Did you get those JVC mini-speakers I asked you about? and I say, No, that wasn’t me, I was the one you wanted to marry for a visa but, weirdly enough, I am still married and also you skipped the step of being nice to me first, which, call me old-fashioned, still matters to me and for once this is enough to get the meth chef to retreat back to the kitchen and do whatever it is he does to the poor blameless ceviche.
     Tourists.  Seated beside the ocean, facing away from it, asking, But do you have DIET syrup?
     I dreamt tiny flags started popping up all over the house, on the floors and walls and ceiling, on the legs of chairs and people, tiny sticky flags, like zits or ants, like the stickers on bananas, and I had to go around rubbing them out, removing and erasing, balling them up between my fingers, trying to keep them from spreading, multiplying, doing any more harm.  I woke up and thought, Well, yes, I agree with myself, but that’s not a lot of consolation. 
     I thought it was a good idea to drink these little bottles, one every morning -- but do I really want Dannon in charge of my intestinal flora?  Didn’t I read something about the intestines and the functioning of the brain?  Specifically, the feelings?  Would I be better off investing in other bacteria?  Do I really want Dannon so close to my mind?
     Damn.  The hot bartender must have followed the chef into meth.  His big brown eyes now are painted brown, hard little balls in his head, and, man, but he is looking angular.  Sweetheart, anything but meth.  I know, I know, you would have stuck with coke -- who can afford it?
     This is also why you must be gentle with yourself when you do (again, again, again) exactly the wrong thing, fuck up, act out, start drinking before noon.  Accidents, meannesses, porn.  Truth is, you are now having to make do without so much of the world, as well as with so much that is poison.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Jupiter and Dream Boy #97

from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2009), revised 2016

"Are you going with me to my hotel? I just ask you. Because otherwise I must have #97."

The man who spoke was from Lithuania, "a tiny microscopic country, you are from America, you have never heard of it, you do not even believe it exists," but now lived in Switzerland. He was a small, carefully tended man, perhaps 50. When he spoke of retirement, I said, "Oh, but for you that's a long way off!" "I use many creams!" he confided. He was delighted with me. I have had far too much practice flattering middle-aged men.

We were sitting in Soi Twilight at the cafe opposite Dream Boy. He was talking fast, drinking his Singha, ignoring the young Thai man at his side. He'd decided that I was innocent and nothing could dissuade him. He pledged to take me to the very most secret, most wicked places, which he named, one after another, and I had to tell him no, no, no, I'd been to all those places already. And I was not going to Dream Boy, definitely not, even though Dream Boy had the best show, because the last time I went I wound up on stage stripped to my underpants as part of the comedy routine.

We'd met at Balcony on Soi 4, a place for straight people who want to go to a gay bar. From there we went to Soi Twilight, where the go-go boy bars are. He wanted to give me a tour but I'd been to every seedy and wicked place he named. Finally he said, "How about Jupiter?"

I'd never been to Jupiter. He turned to the young Thai man beside him and said, "Take us to Jupiter." The young man’s name was Ook. He'd sat with us all night and been more or less ignored. "He is very passive," the man from Lithuania explained. "In bed he will do nothing but his cock is like this--" and he indicated a place on his thigh above the kneecap. "I can introduce you if you like. It is no problem. Tonight he is just my friend."

Ook led the way to Jupiter and the man from Lithuania told me that the night before he'd had the best boy ever, one of the best anyway. "I was so tired from my flight. I went to the bar at midnight. I have known the mamasan there for a thousand years. 'Give me one with some meat on him and a big cock.' '#97' she said. And #97 it was."

Jupiter was obviously a place for big money. The staff stood, floodlit, outside the door: men in pink suits, a kathoey with hair like Diana Ross. He were led to a couch beside a glass tank where two naked men covered in soap suds slid artfully over each other. Their cocks had been pumped so much that they looked entirely unreal, like gigantic latex strap-ons. The man from Lithuania didn't wait long before going out for a smoke. Ook and I looked at each other; we both had the same small nervous laugh. We were already bored. Actually Ook looked as if he'd been bored for a number of years.

I've followed many middle-aged men desperate for talk as they toured Bangkok's nightlife. About this man one thing was unique: he was paying for my drinks, which at bars like Jupiter are exorbitant. He kept me on one side and Ook on the other and I was pretty sure we were both in the same category.

The audience at Jupiter was primarily Japanese and they looked every bit as humorless as they did back home in Tokyo while enduring their morning commute. The stage had two levels. The top-floor boys were bigger and better-looking. They stood in formation and, every twenty seconds or so, shifted position slightly. It was impossible to watch without thinking of rotisserie chicken. The Japanese snapped up boys in a remarkably short time. Five minutes after the show was through most of them were already gone. Once, in Darjeeling, I'd watched a busload of Japanese buy out a tea shop in just the same way.

In twenty years, when I can no longer bluff my way into being an object of desire, will I learn to look at men the that way Johns can--to admire their bodies without encountering their eyes? How does a man purchased for forty dollars--as those men are, as I have been--recognize again his own true worth?

Ook turned to me and asked, "Do you want to get out now?" I agreed vigorously. We fled Jupiter. The three of us returned to the cafe opposite Dream Boy, where the man from Lithuania learned that I was not available for sexual services that evening. So #97 it was. He hurried across the street and made his request to the doorman. #97 was still available; the bar fee was 400 baht.

#97 came downstairs a few minutes later, a sturdy young man in blue shirt and blue shorts, like a soccer player. It seems moralistic to report how forced his smile was but it can't be avoided. He was magnificently handsome; his smile was terrible to see. Nice to meet you, he said and shook my hand. He and Ook carefully ignored each other. Ook had followed the man from Lithuania all night for nothing. All he'd gotten was free drinks, same as me.

The man from Lithuania said stay, stay, but I said I must sleep. It was almost one A.M. anyway, the bars were about to close. "Why don't you take #97?" suggested the man from Lithuania. "I can have him any night." #97 didn't understand but continued grinning. Ook sulked and slouched in his seat. I apologized and said good night and hurried past the colored lights and tired doormen out of Soi Twilight.

Guttersnipe Bookshelf, Julio Cortazar

Julio Cortazar, We Love Glenda So Much
translated by Gregory Rabassa
Knopf, 1983

We Love Glenda So Much is an advanced course of Cortazar.  In Blow-Up, his earlier book of stories, even as he performed dazzling feats, he provided footholds (mind-holds?) for the uncertain reader.  Cortazar, the magician, still checked to see that you were keeping up.  Those are dazzling stories, brilliant, accessible and you can still kinda see how he got there, leaping from Borges and Poe.  Not so with these stories.  Sit up straight, pour yourself strong coffee, and steel yourself to be discomfited and unnerved.  The stories contained in We Love Glenda So Much are dense and demanding and they often succeed in portraying the way a story arises from the bewildering whirl of consciousness -- at least in the mind of a genius.

If you loved Blow-Up and Hopscotch, by all means seek these stories out -- but don’t start here.  Or, wait -- I think I found a litmus test.  If you find the rewards and richness of the following paragraph worthwhile, then you need this book.  (I am in love with this paragraph.  It’s so beautiful and so impossible, that it’s almost downright nuts.)  The following is from “Moebius Strip”, a story about rape and murder, which is also an assault on the nature of consciousness, as well as on relative and ultimate reality:

“Different, perhaps from the very beginning, in any case not there, becoming like something diaphanous, a translucent medium in which nothing had a body and where what had been her wasn’t located through thoughts or objects, to be wind while being Janet or Janet being wind or water or space but always clear, the silence was light or the opposite or both things, time was illuminated and that was to be Janet, something without a handle, without the slightest shadow of memory to interrupt and fix that course as among crystals, a bubble inside a mass of Plexiglas, the orbit of a transparent fish in a limitless lighted aquarium.”

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Last Person Not Enlighted

Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, India, 2013

Here in the holy town of Tiruvannamalai, I sometimes I go to a party where I’m the only person who’s not enlightened.  It’s so embarrassing!  Bhajan singing at The Dreaming Tree, for example.  It’s the most upscale place in town: roof-top dining, vegan only, fresh focaccia .  And everyone there has been enlightened, seems like.  When people find out that I’ve been coming to India for more than twenty years, and I’m still so manifestly delusional, they look terribly sorry for me, because obviously I am so very, very slow.

Busy nights at the Dreaming Tree, everyone shares tables.  And it turns out that everyone at this table – everyone but me -- has already had at least the initial awakening – the big one, which cuts the cord of karma and rebirth.  Now they are simply integrating the egolessness state.  Integrating, consolidating, refining – these are the words they use.  Figuring out what to do with all the bliss, basically.  Apparently it’s like winning the lottery.  Smart people take it slow the first year.

Everyone tries to explain it to me.  They want me to catch on.  Perhaps they feel  embarrassed for me:  “It’s so easy!  It really is!  It’s easy!  It’s just a little – erp.  Just – erp.  A tiny adjustment.  Erp.  That’s it!”

I feel the same way I did on the playground when everyone explained to me how easy it was to hit the plastic ball with the wiffle bat – and then everyone watched as I flailed at the air.

How I wish I could just hurry off to the toilet.  Be alone for a moment, take a leak, achieve enlightenment, shake, zip up, and return to the table feeling cascades of bliss.  Just piss, erp, AH.

Tommy, for example.  Tommy with his red hair poking out of his head scarf, his blue eyes, and perpetual good cheer.  Tommy is not just enlightened.  His enlightenment is stabilized.  Which is not to say that Tommy is stable.  His enlightenment is stable.  Tommy sees the whole universe at it is, an expression of the one radiant I AM, and studded all over with shiny pretty girls.

Tommy likes to enlighten pretty girls.  Pretty girls like to be enlightened by Tommy.  Tommy made a half-hearted attempt to enlighten me.  But then I had to admit that I sometimes used mantras.

Tommy made a face.  “Sure.  That’s great.  You can calm your mind that way.  You can acquire merit.  Maybe get powers.  But that’s not how you get enlightened.”

If it was possible for Tommy to be irritated then I would say he was irritated, but, Tommy is enlightened, so it’s not possible for him to be irritated.  Though it is possible, evidently, for Tommy to look irritated.

Just then a pretty girl arrives.  My enlightenment, never promising, is summarily abandoned.  Tommy begins at once to advise her.  Turns out she uses a mantra too, but it doesn’t seem to be as much as a roadblock for her.  She’s further along, she’s more developed.  She’s exceedingly well-developed.

I experience jealousy.  Because I am not enlightened.  Because I am not established, not developed.  I eye my expensive sandwich resentfully.  I decide that I have never liked focaccia.  Oh, why can’t I be enlightened at the hands of a red-headed boy?

Then I wonder: has anyone ever been enlightened while sucking cock?

I’m certain that someone has.  And that’s OK with me.  I am happy to be one of a series.

What is holding up my enlightenment?  Why is my enlightenment lagging behind?  Everyone else, it appears, has already been served.

Tommy and the pretty girl are deep in conversation.  Many Sanskrit words are in use; very soon they’ll be in bed together.  The crowd at The Dreaming Tree is singing bhajans and clapping their hands.  Someone’s got a tambourine, someone’s got cymbals. They’re in bliss.

They’re in bliss, as usual.  And I feel a little sorry for myself, because I am not enlightened and not a pretty girl and not receiving any attention.

Life gets pretty ridiculous when you’re not enlightened.

Tommy speaks only to the pretty girl, but now and then he reaches over and pats me on the head, as though I were a Labrador Retriever.  This is just another sign of Tommy’s enlightenment, of his great understanding and penetrating insight. As I sit here with the dry ends of my fancy sandwich, waiting impatiently to make that tiny adjustment, wake up, bliss out, catch on.  

Donald Barthelme
Flying to America: 45 More Stories
Counterpoint, 2008

This collection contains stories not included in Barthelme’s landmark collections 60 Stories and 40 Stories, as well as uncollected stories, unpublished stories, and stories later incorporated into his late novel, Paradise.  In other words, this isn’t the Don B. book you read first (that’s 60 Stories), second (that’s 40 Stories) or even fourth (don’t miss The Dead Father or Snow White).  This book is for committed, die-hard enthusiasts, those who want to read every last dang thing.  That said, there are stories in this volume that are as weird, grand, and fun as their more celebrated canonized brethren.

I read Barthelme for his sentences, for zany unpredictable more-is-more brilliance, and not one of these stories is bereft of the Master’s touch, even when the overall effect may not be as successful as the stories previously collected.  For those of us fascinated by Barthelme, it’s interesting to see what DIDN’T quite work, especially in runaway stories like “Hiding Man” that are as excruciating as they are brilliant.  Over and over (and over and over), Don B. cruises past one elegant ending after the next, like a car that misses its exit, then 5 exits more, until you begin to panic, until you want to shout, “Help!  I’ve been kidnapped by Donald Barthelme!  Somebody get me the hell out of this story!”  Several of the long stories collected here are like that -- like watching your most brilliant friend descend (ascend?) into mania.

Recognizing that life is short and uncertain and doesn’t include nearly enough time for reading, here’s a list of the 12 stories in this volume that I found most interesting, entertaining, or necessary: Perpetua; The Piano Player; Henrietta and Alexandra; Three; Hiding Man; You Are Cordially Invited; Belief; Heather; The Sea of Hesitation; To London and Rome; The Apology; Florence Green is 81.  Enjoy!