Thursday, April 26, 2012
Saturday, April 21, 2012
The new issue of Epiphany is at newsstands now (Barnes & Noble is the best place to find it apparently) and includes my essay "Juice Box" about life in the monastery in Dharamsala, several of my all time favorite hustlers and an incredibly awful dog, Stinky, whom I miss terribly.
Friday, April 20, 2012
One thing I worry about a lot is Hasids. Those Hasids have got first-rate mystics. They’ve got mystics you seriously would not want to mess with. What those Hasid mystics say is that from every act of sex a child is born, if not here, then in the invisible world.
Naturally this worries me a lot.
And I think that I had better take it easy now and study up and brace myself because after death there’s going to be, whoa baby, a tidal wave of sudden fatherhood.
Like an old tomcat beneath a tree I die forgotten and alone, and wake to find myself within a cavernous stadium. DADDY! Booms the crowd and stampedes toward me.
Let me explain! I had no idea! I never thought!
Like every father, I make excuses.
I shudder now as I imagine the hunger of my nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine children, born into the invisible world from backrooms and public johns, from cubicles and shower stalls, from steam rooms and alleys. That savage smut-nosed tribe of guttersnipes and urchins, of pyromaniacs and narcissists and honor students gone AWOL. The steaming breath of children conceived in the sauna. The all-seeing children born from blowjobs in the dark. The children conceived while fucking in the sling who belong neither to heaven nor to the earth.
Those conceived in a bed consider themselves an elite corps and are insufferably snobbish.
Every child demands the attention it deserves. Has an argument and an opinion. Artwork for the refrigerator, paperwork requiring a parent’s signature. Is fighting with his sister, wants tenderness, seeks tuition.
My children have learned, as I learned, to survive within their father’s inattention, in the overgrown empty lot of his boundless negligence. Like my father, I have lived as though I were the only one important, while the invisible children were all the time looking on, and crying out, and waving their little hands to no effect.
There is also a small contingent of spectators who were, in the visible world, working mothers. What tremendous pleasure they receive from watching my attempts to maintain, in the invisible world, my homo status quo!
“Thank you so much, dear children. It was really so very lovely to meet you all. Now if you don’t mind, if you’ll just excuse me, I am going to brew myself a cappuccino and settle down for some serious reading.”
My children. My nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine children. Whose birthday is today, who has allergies, who will eat the crust and who must have the crust cut off? How many cavities? How many bicycles? How much money for bail? For all eternity I will bemoan my children’s vanity, their insatiability, and their jug ears – all qualities of mine.
I will love them for their father, their other father, whom I insist I really did love, even it was just for five minutes in an alley in the dark.
The nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine fathers of my nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine children.
One of whom reminds me of my children now as we stand in the back of the bar and he calls me Daddy and we take turns slapping each other upside the head.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
A Way of Life, Like Any Other
New York Review of Books 1977, 2001
I learned of this book from a British newspaper, in a list of forgotten books that deserved to be rediscovered. I chose it from the list almost by chance. How lucky I feel now, like someone traveling in a foreign city who meets an old friend by chance.
A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a picaresque tale of Hollywood in the fifties, hilarious and scathing. A novel, almost a memoir. The protagonist (like Darcy O’Brien himself) is the child of two Hollywood stars in decline.
At first glance you might mistake the book for one of those happy/sad accounts of famous parents that turn up now and then in The New Yorker magazine. But this novel is much funnier and sadder and not nearly so harmless. Darcy O’Brien is willing to be angrier than almost anyone will admit to being nowadays. His account of his mother’s defeat by a Christmas Pudding is very funny and very sad, but most of all it is furious.
Demolishing several lives in 155 pages, this is a novel in a delicious hurry, racking up conquests and disasters at a careening speed that seems both fun and generous, like a brilliant friend who buys your drinks all night and says, “Brace yourself. I’m going to tell you everything.”
How this book has avoided becoming a famous movie is a total mystery. The closest thing to a moral comes on page 105: “No child aspires to repeat the tragedy of his parents but must avert the compulsion to do so.”
A Way of Life, Like Any Other on sale at the New York Review of Books site.
Keizo Hino, Isle of Dreams
Dalkey Archive, 2010
translated by Charles de Wolf
I’ve lived in Tokyo for almost a decade now and it often seems to me that, although thirty million people live in Tokyo, almost no one looks at it. This book attracted me first because it aims to look. I was also enchanted by its first paragraph, which seemed to me the way all books ought to begin –
“When our consciousness begins to change, for better or for worse, events around us seem to fall in line, starting with mere coincidences, hardly worth noting. Of course, how could it be otherwise?”
What follows is the tale of a widower wandering in Tokyo’s reclaimed land: a wasteland built from waste. He nearly gets run down by a woman on a motorcycle and begins a journey through the heart (or guts) of Tokyo.
I live in Tokyo and read endlessly; some of my friends are literature professors or translators, yet I had never heard of this book and, when I try to speak of it to people, I nearly always get a blank look. Yet it is a stunningly strange and interesting book and one of many reasons to be grateful to the Dalkey Archive Press.
Certainly it is not a book for everyone. To whom do I recommend it? To architects, ecologists, and anyone obsessed with Tokyo, mannequins, or trash. Also to fans of Kafka, J.G. Ballard, Joseph Conrad. It is essential for anyone interested in ecological literature – though it certainly provides no obvious moral!
A bit of advice: the first half dozen chapters have a peculiar awkwardness and artificiality that will make sense – but only in retrospect. Persist!
Isle of Dreams on sale at the Dalkey Archive site.
a small fiction from Santiago de Chile
I never steal anything. I stole this spoon. Just walked away with it. At the airport in Santiago – where it turns out to be almost impossible to buy a cup of coffee after eleven o’clock at night. At last I found one place. Slammed, of course. I was handed a paper cup, a plastic lid, instant coffee and this spoon. I found a seat by my gate, sat down and found this spoon still in my hand. It was the only real thing I’d been given. I kept it.
It’s a stainless steel spoon. The simplest possible spoon. Which is already excellent. It does nothing to invite desire. Almost nothing can be said of it. It cannot be praised enough.
This was not the spoon I wanted. Of course not. I know the spoons I was aiming for. The tiny spoons in G’s kitchen that I used to make instant coffee every morning. In his apartment on Santa Maria, just beside the river, with a view of the trees flowering on the cerro. Every day, three tiny spoonfuls of sugar and three of Nescafe. Plus milk.
Despite its proximity to some of the best coffee in the world, Chile runs on Nescafe. Something about taxes. It’s the same reason books are so exorbitant. I would have thought it was impossible to create a decent society without filter coffee and cheap paperbacks – but Santiago does it. At its center at least, Santiago is faultlessly clean and secure. And Pio Nono is part of that, where the students go to drink and carouse. Or the park, where couples remain lip-locked for hours, unable to move until the automatic sprinklers turn on. Of course it is still possible to get mugged late at night in the park, if you really insist on it.
I kept the spoon. I walked away without thinking. During my last hour in Santiago, where I lived once upon a time. And was happy. It’s too terrible to think about. I kept the spoon. Only the spoon was real. The coffee was fake.
But even as cheap wine produces drunkenness, powered coffee may result in euphoria. As it did sometimes for me, as I sat drinking Nescafe and looking out the enormous window at the jacaranda blooming on the side of Cerro San Christobal. The jacaranda bloomed the whole three months I lived in G’s apartment. It faded only at the very end.
And I am not opposed either to the Virgin Mary standing atop the cero with her arms outstretched. I just think the jacaranda says it better.
I liked to look out the window as I drank Nescafe and studied irregular verbs. (I prefer projects that have no end and no chance of success.) I studied every morning until euphoria gave way to nerves, until G came down the hall – sleepy eyed, completely naked – and stood talking to me from the far corner of the room so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him.
“Come here,” I said.
He smiled at me, a wicked imp beneath his tangled long gray hair.
Give the neighbors something to live for. Just as the sun clears the roof – a bare naked man! Don’t leave exhibitionism to porn stars. Porn stars are beautiful certainly. Whether they are naked is debatable.
But you just stood there, naked at the end of the hall, and talked to me. At least I got to see.
Those mornings began with a very small spoon. Spoon, jacaranda, irregular verbs, naked man. I coveted those little spoons. I wanted to steal them, to take them with me when I had no choice but to leave Santiago. Perhaps I hoped to grow a jacaranda.
But I absolutely never steal anything. So I didn’t steal the spoon from G. I stole a spoon from the airport instead. I seriously doubt that I can grow a naked man from this particular spoon. Maybe I can grow an airplane.
From G I stole a dictionary. A compact Spanish-English dictionary with an orange plastic cover. I did not intend to steal the dictionary, though I found it very convenient. I carried it with me everywhere. I forgot it wasn’t mine.
G will miss his dictionary. He has very few possessions. Not like an airport has spoons. He keeps only exactly what he needs. And now I have stolen his dictionary.
I will tell him that I’ll send it back. I’ll promise. I won’t send it back.
It’s true I wanted the dictionary. It’s a very convenient and also very pleasant object. Orange, soft plastic, fits nicely in the hand. I wanted it before I forgot it wasn’t mine.
If you look up the small spoon in the dictionary, what you get is la cucharita.
G won’t blame or demand. He will give his small dictionary up for lost. Anyway he gives everything to his friends. Bring it with you when you come back, he’ll say. Knowing that I may never.
The important things in my life, I am careful to never think about. Instead I have a compact Spanish-English dictionary and a small spoon.
A flowering tree, a naked man, a city in midsummer.
I found it in my hand. I walked away with it.
It cannot be praised enough.
I forgot it wasn’t mine.
Monday, April 02, 2012
Jose Saramago, All The Names
Years ago, I used to carry around a copy of the later stories of Chekhov, which I referred to as “my artificial heart” because the book seemed to me so radiant with human understanding that it might well restart my heart if I should falter.
I have found a new heart. Like Chekhov, Saramago uses the novel to investigate and invoke compassion. Or, as a shepherd in the novel declares, “I don’t believe one can show greater respect than to weep for a stranger.”
Previously obsessed with celebrity, a government clerk finds himself following the trail of a random name. He seeks to know her, and fails -- as we all fail each time we open a newspaper or a phone directory or go for a walk in the street. Yet the clerk nonetheless arrives at love, and so perhaps can we.
This book reminds me of the long and convoluted guided meditations Tibetan Buddhists use to awaken compassion in the heart, meditations which aim to arouse love even for those who are distant and unknown.
It is possible that literature could have some higher purpose than this. But I have no idea what it could be.