QUARTO The Literary Magazine of the School of General Studies
Volume 26 1990
Cover Credit: Joseph Cornell, The Missing Girl Mixed-media collage 12x10x1'/^ inches Grey Art Gallery & Study Center New York University Art Collection Gift of Theodore Racoosin, 1962.27
SUBMISSIONS Editors-in-Chief Current and recent General Studies students—including nondegree students and students in other branches of Columbia University who are taking Writing Program courses—are encouraged to submit to Quarto.
We welcome poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translations, and plays, including excerptsfi-omlonger works.
Juhanne Cho Tim Henning Dawn Jackson Alexandra Kuczynski
Each submission should be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope. Please include your name, address, and phone number (optional) on your manuscript.
Associate Editors Kristen Mirenda Kristen Satterfield Ehzabeth Weeks Elfranko Wessels
Faculty Advisor Manuscripts may be submitted elsewhere while under consideration at Quarto; just notify us of acceptance by another publication. Address all submissions and correspondence to: Quarto 615 Lewisohn Hall Columbia University New York, NY 10027
Faculty Production Consultant Joy Parker
Director, Writing Program Alan Ziegler
© 1990 by Quarto ISSN 0735-6536
Typeset by Cooper Square Type and Design, printed by Cushing & Malloy, Ann Arbor, MI. The editors wish to thank Alma Rodriguez, Lisa Steinmeyer, the Grey Art Gallery, and Downtown Art Company for their invaluable assistance. Quarto is edited by students enrolled in Literary Magazine Editing and PubOshing.
Contents Lisa Horberg Anger
B. Kettlewell Cicadas
Pearyl Levine On The Criticism of Soup
John Lloyd Too Many Clowns
Michael Markowitz Frankie and the Yuppies
Paul MUls A Rare Stamp
Gavin Moses moondance
Janet Wjodley-Overton Comedy
Laurie Schaffler I Am
Frances Snowder The Spat Winter Lament
M. Soraya Stilo Alone
Anne Teicher Approaching Fifty
Mary P. Burns Penny Square Christopher Caiazza The Road to Richmond
Matthew Caws Turboprop Burn Bad Weekend 1984
16 18 19
Alan Contini That was Us Ramesh Deonaraine MiUtary Rule Ellen Ferguson Opening Exhibit Mary Firmani Boredom Charles E. Graef Adults Five Years Old Zihuatenejo Party Ice
45 46 47
Quarto Njeru \l채ithaka Eve, Adam and the Cane Tree When a Man Dies
John C. Wechsler The Stakes of a Game
Benji Whalen A Day's Work
Sabrina Kiefer An Interview with Phillip Lopate
Notes and Drafts (From the Editors)
QUARTO PRIZE THIS YEAR'S QUARTO PRIZE FOR OUTSTANDING LITERARY ACHIEVEMENT IS AWARDED TO JOHN LLOYD FOR "TOO MANY CLOWNS" CHOSEN BY JOY PARKER AND THE EDITORS-IN-CHIEF FROM THE CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE
Τ" Mary P. Burns
Penny Square The pennies lie in piles all around the sidewalk. Katsuyo picks up a handful, dark with dirt and use, and ferries them over to the wall that is now three feet high. Back and forth he traces his steps carefully cradling coins in slender fingers. One penny on top of another penny on top of another penny and so on until he has a wall. He has been ferrying pennies for days.
Quarto There are two other walls and soon Katsuyo will be closed inside his penny fort.
The Road to Richmond
Still, people leave him pennies. Why does he do it, I inquire. The question does not break his copper concentration. Because nobody wants pennies anymore he says. So I give them new life.
"Listen," said John Bingham, looking at the woman, then back at the deeply scarred mud patch with a growing smile. An approaching wagon creaked and squealed in the distance. Bingham and the woman climbed into their wagon and sat in silence. A hazy sun warmed their load of tomatoes. They waited. Ben Jackson licked his lips. His sunburnt face wore a thin layer of dust. Ben and his wife, Millicent, had left before dawn to reach Richmond while their milk was still fresh. A black horse drew their noisy wagon slowly, glistening as it plodded along, occasionally snorting and always bobbing its head. "You sure you brought it?" said Millicent. "I got it." They rolled on. "Lemme see it. You might think you brought it and then not have it," she said. Ben reached into his shirt pocket and produced a small gold coin. "Last dollar we got 'til Richmond, Millie. I wouldn't lose her." He replaced the coin, spat into the dust, and shook the reins lightly. The horse flicked an ear, but kept its pace. When the wagon that was stopped ahead came into view, Ben's squinting eyes widened slightly. He sat up stiffly and pushed his hat back, holding the reins with his other hand. "See that. Mil?" "Ain't nothin' but another wagon. Keep on." Ben kept the wagon moving, but a short jerk on the reins slowed the wagon slightly, for Ben saw a more immediate
obstacle between them and Richmond. " M i l . . . " "I see it," she interrupted. "Move closer." She stretched her neck to see the ground in front of them. "Do you think we ought to try it?" she finally asked. The wagon had reached the edge of a dark depression in the road. The horse pranced nervously in place and swished its tail. "It's got to be thirty foot across," said Ben, surveying a river of mud that oozed across the road before him. After a moment he said, "We have to try it, or we lose the milk." He climbed down and hobbled to the horse's face, grasping the bit and hoarsely whispering, "Come on, Mil, you got to pull us through." "Are you talking to that stupid, no-name horse, or are you getting us through this, mister?" shouted Millicent after overhearing her husband's exhortation. Without a word Ben waded into the ankle-deep mud, with each stride threatening to suck off his boots. "Don't worry. Mil!" he called without turning. "That other guy made it through. We can do it, too!" The wagon sank deeper as it rolled further into the mud patch. By the time it had reached the middle, both Ben and the horse were soaked with sweat and mud. Ben tugged at the reins near the horse's mouth and the horse leaned forward, every sinew straining beneath its shining, black hide. Millicent looked at her husband and sighed. "We aren't moving anymore, Ben," she said. "Please, Mil," growled Ben. She was silent. Mud had half-swallowed the wagon's wheels, and the horse's legs had disappeared. Still holding the reins, Ben looked with yearning at the wagon on the other side of the mud. "Thirty yards away and free as sin," said Ben with a sigh. He looked back at Milhcent. "Go ahead and call him," she said. John Bingham nudged the woman next to him and smiled.
Bingham sat up, turned, and climbed down from his wagon. He strolled back to the edge of the mud without a smile, looked down on Ben, then back at Millicent and the wagon, then back down on Ben. "What're you hauling?" he asked. "Dairy," replied Ben. "Name's Ben Jackson. Headed for Richmond." "Don't look to me like you're headed . . . " "Mister, we got a load of milk that's got to reach Richmond in a hurry," called Millicent. "Would you help us through this? We'd be forever grateful." Ben stood with his eyes closed during the pause that followed. "What's it worth to you?" asked Bingham, eyes fixed on Ben, who still stood hip-deep in mud but felt himself sinking every second. Ben's mind swirled and his lungs rose up into his throat. "A barrel of the freshest milk you've ever tasted is all I've got," Ben blurted at last, looking up at Bingham with fading resolve. "I ain't thirsty," snapped Bingham. "Two barrels." "Like I s a i d . . . " "Three?" "Jackson, you're not Hstening to me. I just stopped for rest before going to catch the ferry over to Richmond. I don't need no milk." Bingham wheeled and started for his wagon. "Wait," said Ben. Bingham stopped but didn't turn around. Ben looked at Millicent and at the same time he drew the coin out of his pocket. "Ben!" she said with a start. Ben turned back to Bingham just as Bingham looked over his shoulder. He held the coin out in trembling, mudcaked fingers. "Now you're talking!" Bingham roared, his calloused hand extended as he approached Ben. "You just give that
"Hello over there!" shouted Ben for the second time. t
Quarto right over here and we'll see what we can do about getting you out," he said as he snatched his payment. Bingham flipped the coin into the air and whisded as he returned to his wagon. He slipped it into his breast pocket before he began to unhitch his horse. "Don't worry," he called, "you'll be out in a minute!" "Don't worry," muttered Millicent bitterly, "I won't lose her." Ben was silent. He looked at his own horse as Bingham approached leading an anthracite giant. Bingham swung his horse around and backed it to the edge of the mud. With a raised brow and a lowered voice Bingham said: "Ol' Penny'U have you through in a flash, Jackson. Ain't that right, honey?" he added, stroking Penny's neck to allow Ben time to admire the horse. Bingham unraveled a hundred-foot, half-inch rope and tossed a length to Ben. Ben quickly twisted a noose and threw it back to Miflicent. "Slip that around the hitch, Mil." "I know, I know," she grumbled as she leaned over and dropped the noose around the knob of the hitch. She made the knot tight and then climbed into the driver's seat, grasping the reins as she settled herself. "Ready!" she called. Ben watched Bingham lead Penny slowly forward until the rope sprung taut. Penny twitched a hip, stomped, and was still. For an instant they stood frozen. "Come on," whispered Millicent. "Come on. Mil," whispered Ben. "Come on, horse!" shouted Bingham, stinging Penny with his crop. Penny, Bingham, Ben, and the two Millicents leaned forward as one. The wagon rocked and then began to move. "She's moving!" cried Ben, nearly falling forward while trying to move his legs in the deep mud. With a steady pull, the horses drew the sunken wagon forward and out of the mud, banging the barrels of milk together as the wagon wobbled onto the hard surface of the road. Bingham held his horse while Miflicent drove the wag-
Caiazza on several yards beyond the mud slick. Ben walked slowly back and unhitched Bingham's rope, letting it fall on the road. He watched it slink away as Bingham coiled the rope around his arm and began to lead Penny back to her place in front of his wagon. "I hope you can get to Richmond now, Jackson. And God be with you an' the lady." He tipped his hat and walked away. Ben said nothing. He stifl felt as if he were standing in the dark mud. He watched Bingham hitch Penny. Bingham said something to the woman in the wagon as he climbed in and took up the reins. As they drove off", Ben saw Bingham flash the coin to the woman and then hug her as he held the reins in his free hand. "Why'd you give him the money for?" demanded Millicent, tired of watching her husband watch Bingham's departure. "We can't get the ferry to Richmond without that dollar, and you know it!" Ben led the wagon to the side of the road, near where Bingham's wagon had just been. Miflicent climbed down before it stopped. She approached Ben and sneered, "Don't worry, M端. I won't lose her." Ben glared at her, but she met and held his gaze. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeve, leaving a brown smudge in place of a dozen clear droplets. He replaced his hat. "No money and a load of sour mflk's what we'fl have this week," Mfllicent finally declared, sounding like a Sundayschool teacher Ben once hated. "We were stuck and I got us out," Ben said calmly. "Would you rather we were back in there?" "Thanks a heap for nothing, Ben Jackson. What're we supposed to do now? We've g o t . . . " Ben wasn't Ustening. A one-horse wagon that was slowly approaching from the other side of the battle-torn mud held his attention. When he was certain of its approach he held up his hand and Miflicent fell sflent. Ben looked into Miflicent's eyes. "Listen," he said.
I want to go up to the beautiful girl in the street and show up I'm here, what should we do? Did you eat yet? What do you want and how can we get it?
Look at that sunset layers of blue, red, yellow and green sand The plane is a turboprop This could be any year I could be any man Christmas Eve was snowed in and I'm going back to Manhattan for a walk around the apartment and a phone call to a Jewish friend All the passengers are pilots they sit with empty rows between them and read the paper with their hats on I order a bourbon because any man would I don't like bourbon Anything to feel timeless Anything to make the world feel like a house and not a hotel I want to be a tourist in EgJĎ†t Everyone's a good tourist Tourists belong in Egypt All you have to do is show up
Bad Weekend 1984 Burn A girl in a fake leopard-skin jacket is looking at me. I'm sitting in my favorite back corner of the bus. I wrote "burn." on a sheet of paper and taped it to my ceiling, Maybe it's working, I'm early today. She had a pout like a child that thinks too much, I should have looked back at her. One should be honest about little obsessions. I stopped reading after she left. Didn't sleep enough, never sleep enough. Except when there are things to do. Leopard-skin earmuffs with a grin, to go. One day I'll burn in everything.
My father drove me to the Cheesequake rest-stop where she and her parents picked me up the girl who begged me to come down closed the door to her room at eleven o'clock her little sister asked me if I was rich she didn't know about me but she was May I watch some television please? it was either that or talk to her sister Bad Italian dinner on a red and white checked tablecloth when the check came she and her friend let me pick it up didn't I think the wine was sublime? she didn't know about me but she did I embarrassed her with my clothes and my shoes I thought I looked nice my sister said so I never thought I'd be in a drag-race until Turbo Tony drove us to her prom I didn't like his car and I didn't have a powder-blue tux wasn't it just my luck that I didn't even know what a corsage was
That was Us
They were good times We had pockets full of dead presidents and you could say yes to drugs and sex. First Class travel meant only 4 people were in the VW Destinations were determined by music Wherever they played we would go Why not? What else was there to do? War! Yeah, my daddy's war and I'd go if they made me but they gotta catch me first. Go to school in order to live Get married and a deferment visit your neighbors in Canada. Choices . . . we had too many.
The Mother Saraswati* handed me a bookâ€” "The Advantages of Military Rule." I opened it hastily, ready to rebut its thesis. The pages were blank. I looked at her, surprised. She smiled and gave me a tomeâ€” "The Evils of Military Rule." They were listed one per page.
*The Goddess of Education in Hindu mythology.
1 Ellen Ferguson
O'Keeffe: Clitoral Pictoral "My lake is metal. .. it's steaming, too." Skyscrapers invade vulvarie skies "Any anatomical references are p u r e l y . . . " It's the uterine magnetism that attracts the noses " . . . And would you say the motif has a penile thrust?" All in all, it's just the view from a New York hotel room Quick. Watch nature imitate imitation.
.. . And that abysmal Bongo man is beating non-stop, tintinabulating all over everyone's person with his strange rubber duck while singing snippets of Sesame Street songs, Riva is blowing soap-bubbles in between breaths of helium, talking like Baby Alive, while Scourge is blowing milk and chewed up peanuts out of his goddamb nose, incessantly, and I am thinking I have to get the bloody hell out of here. "Hey, Shrinky-Dink, where ya going?" asks the kid named Fred, and I realize what an intense loathing I have for most of humanity. "Straight to hell of a Nip-Chee," some brainless hominid says, and Scourge showers him with Planter's bile. "Oh, man, fuck your indelicate habits," the guy says, wiping his eyes, and Scourge laughs so hard he sucks the back of his nose-ring quite up his nasal passage. Then they must have realized that I was really leaving. A general clatter and questioning. "Hey, where ya going now, Peregrina?" "Are you leaving us, bitch?" "You know what they say, party's not over till the fat lady's bludgeoned with a meat cleaver!" Well, the party's over for me, I'm sick of looking at the pukish piles of microwave Budget Gourmet trays, Coors bottles spontaneously generating fuzzy plant life and the rug stained with every bodily humour and Godknowswot. And the rats like Shetland ponies. Fucking television babbling the Price is Right until the twelfth of never. "Gee it was fun Scourge thanks for the wacky Ginsberg-
Quarto ian hijinx have to do it again some time real soon. Goodbye Yahoos, see you in hell," and I am thrown down the stairs. Gotta get my twenty-league boots on and drop out of this chi-draining place, I thought. To the Golden West, I thought, to Seattle, Rand McNally's first-rated city where my last friend might still be. I stomped in a Sylvia Plath sorta way into the main waiting room of Penn Station, muttering invectives and feeling wretched. Locking myself in a stinking bathroom stall, I counted my mad money. I had eleven dollars in bills and six dollars two-bits in the change I had fished out of a memorial fountain in Greenwood Cemetery. Having gotten the idea in reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when I was a kid. This, I ruminated, would not get me to Seattle, Washington. It might get me as north as Stamford, Connecticut, or as south as Camden, New Jersey and, I might add, I would sooner be lashed to a Catherine Wheel than be stuck in either place. I went up to the window for New Jersey Transit. "How far will seventeen dollars and twenty-five cents get me?" "Hoo hoo hoo! Big spenda!" the unsightly woman behind the glass said. "Well, it won't get you to Jabip, PU tell you that much." "Well I have no interest in going to this Jabip," I said. "Where else can I go?" "OK, kid, keep your shirt on. You like the beach? Ten bucks to Atlantic City." "Nah." "All right, lemme see here. You like Wops? Four bucks to Cliffside Park." "Nah." "OK, princess. You like shitheads? Six-ninety to Princeton Junction." "What do I look like?" I said. "You got anywhere out of 24
Krmani Jersey?" "Eight-fifty takes you to Trenton, three bucks on Septa will take you to . . . Philadelphia, PA." Philadelphia, I thought. The city of fikh, abandoned cars, cheesesteaks and insane people who dismember babies. Philadelphia, I ruminated. Where every cop is on the dole and the mayor, white, gives the go-ahead for the constabulary to beat to death MOVE members on national television whereas the mayor, black, takes the more tidy route of dropping mining explosives on most of Osage Avenue. Isn't it silly, I pondered, not to go to Philly? "Let 'er rip," I said, and handed over the cash. Blessedly, I slept through most of the train ride across the Flinstonian Garden State countryside. But on the Septa car I had a vision: we were crossing the waterway between Jersey and Pennsylvania, and on the bridge running alongside the train, in blue neon, I could make out the words, "TRENTON MAKES, THE WORLD TAKES." Except the "M" kept fritzing out. "Trenton aches, the world takes," I said aloud, and thought that they seemed pretty sullen about this. We were pulling around the big turn into 30th Street Station, Philadelphia, the route providing a rather smashing poor man's view of the sandstone-colored Museum of Art, which looks hke Mount Olympus at the very least, neo-Grecian and entirely misplaced. I stepped off the train into the cavernous and dank commuter station, where the pigeons, grossly fat and wily, would long ago have ousted man from his position of power had they possessed the all-important opposable thumb, I thought, and then clapped myself on the head for being such a tremendous waxing-poetic shit. I tripped down the ramp into the main waiting room, which is huge, towering, wondrous late Art Deco, with a stilted and enormous statue of a wavy-haired angel holding a G.I. by the armpits. " 'If you were always with me, Jesus,'
Quarto the man said, 'why is it that during the most difficuh times of my Hfe there is only one set of footprints in the sand?' And Jesus said to him, 'Because during those times, my son, I was carrying you.' " And how we Cathohc school kids would hoot and holler and roar when some sad sap read us this story like it was a revelation, when actually we'd heard it at every goddamn assembly since the blistery dawn of Bible school. I walked up to a vendor and asked him for a soft pretzel. "God, I just love these," I told him. "New York, naah, in New York soft pretzels are either wet or hard, and always cold. This town might be falling to swine in a big way, but you can still get a soft fucking pretzel here." "That's about it, hon. Tell you the truth," he said, winking, "I ain't been the same since the Athletics left. What brings you to Fihhydelphia?" I sighed. "Hell, I don't know. I guess Pm checking out my old stomping grounds. Searching for some misbegotten 'je ne sais quoi.' Imbibing some culture." "Nah," he said, "I did that. The fuck, kid, and you never get good seats. Nobody goes there, it's too crowded." Someone had crossed out an ingenious number of letters in "Para la higiene y limpieza personal" on the tampon dispenser so that it read "hi limp person." I belted it twice and it yielded sixteen quarters and more Kotex than a girl could want. I paged through my address book and located the number for one Ruth Weintraub, who, when last I had talked to her, maybe two or three years back, still lived with her parents on the Main Line, in noxious Villanova. Ruth had only one side of her brain working after an unfortunate adventure with Morning Glory seeds, and tended to ask the most jolly piteous questions like, "Why is a mouse when it spins?" To tell you the truth, Ruth was, in her present state, rather a nightmare. I rang her house.
Firmani "Hello, Weintraub residence. Illiana speaking." It was the mentally negligible au pair girl, a notorious lush whom Ruth and I used to torment in our youth. We would sneak into her bedroom and dip her hand in warm water so that she'd pee the bed. "Uh . .. hello, may I speak with Ruth?" "Peregrina, I was told that if hany scumfuck friends of Ruthie call, tell them just leave her baione hand not tell them she is being cared for hat state hospital." "Oh, dammit to hell," I said. "Si, hand you should get a kick-in-the-pants for leaving you friend for three years, not even hany cartolina." "Oh, dammit to hell," I said, "how is the old girl?" "Pazza. You think she on holiday or what else?" This was a blow. I took Ruth's new home address down and wondered how much a singing telegram of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" would cost to send her. I found another number, of a friend named Wendy. I dialed. Her answering machine clicked on: "Hello. For your listening pleasure I will now sing 'Because I Could Not Stop For Death' to the tune of 'Yellow Rose of Texas.' Ahem; and a one: 'Oh, because I could notâ€”' " I quickly put the receiver down. Really desperate, I found the number for my cousin Lucia, who promptly hung up on me, still sore about the pickle incident, doubtless. "Great," I said, running out of dependable numbers. I slid to the floor and looked so down-in-the-mouth that a businessman tossed me a goddamn quarter, with which I promptly smote him in the back of the head. I dropped my knapsack in front of a particularly egregious and highly lauded Monet and sat next to it, rubbing my temples and resolving never again to sleep in a large papier-mache diorama called "Red Grooms' Philadelphia Cornucopia," except in pressing situations, and never again to
Quarto be awakened by the funereal strains of "Hey, Look Me Over" played on the kazoo by a fat retarded lady. I pulled out my Pelicans and my Strathmore, and went to work. Afterwards, I dropped into the Louise and Walter Arensberg gallery to visit the Duchamps. A wizened and sweetlooking tour guide wearing an outdated hat and a bit of dead fox about her throat was standing before "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even," and making some highly engaging comments for the benefit of a group of terrifically miserable and squirming fourth-graders. " . . . You will notice down here a group of rother curious, headless, figures [much yawning] standing at attention and looking so' southwest of the central Chocolate-Grinder figure [oh so much yawning] . .. this is the Cemetary of Uniforms and Liveries, strictly representational, of course [mad extended fits of yawning] . . . the Bride's amorphous form, at top [mad extended fits of yawning with added fidgets] expresses her churning sexual energy [sudden interest piqued; yawning arrested] through the Chocolate Grinder, again at bottom [furious attention directed at said Grinder] which in turn affects the cause to have the male figures reduced to empty form, mere erect phalluses [general explosion] . . . Now over here—" "Tha-tha-thank you, Ms. Lavender," the teacher, presumably, stuttered forth, "but we are scheduled to be at the Franklin Institute at two, no, at one, promptly at one o'clock. The children are particularly interested in walking through the Heart, aren't you, class? Class? CLASS!" But at present the class seemed particularly interested in staring, with newfound interest, at the "Bride," staring unblinkingly until the teacher finally tore them away with cries of "We'll walk through the Heart! Walk through the nice Heart!" I stood, still gazing at the Large Glass. The sweet-looking old lady noticed me. "Curious how," she said, "he never finished it." "Yeah, I guess he just got bored with it."
Krmani "Oh, certainly he was bored with it. And he said that there was a certain warmth—odd word coming from Duchamp—a certain charm, in the unfinished." We blinked at it. She began again. "Historians will say what they will, provide a thousand explanations for this work, but the Large Glass, from its inception, denies all that, ridicules all that sort ofthing; this work is, well, this work is simply . . . " "It's silly," I said. "What's that?" "I said it was 'silly.' " "Well, now, 'Silly.' Yes, of course. It is silly. Simply silly. Wonderfully silly. Tremendously silly. Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow but never—I say, dear, what's your name?" "Peregrina." "Are you an art student? With that sketchpad under your arm?" "Well, I was. For a while. I was a student-of-all-trades. At present I'm a vagrant. I make copies after wretched Impressionists and sell them to tourists for some coin." "How very clever! Tell me, are you with that group of young people who call themselves the Vergilantes?" What a rummy question. "Come again?" I asked. "Oh," she said her eyes twinkling, "then you'll meet them soon enough. The Vergilantes: half Vergilists, half vigilantes. They also go by 'The Isle of Misfit Toys.' They promote the cause of the arts, as they say, 'intellectuahsm, nothingness, and fish.' But dear, I'm sure you'll meet them soon enough." Perplexed and made curious by these cryptic presentiments, I went outside the art museum and sat in a sunny corner on the topmost landing of the famed steps. I saw at least four target famihes, so I opened the sketchbook and ripped out three Monets, a Wmslow Homer that was not my usual forte and neither lent itself to a pastel rendition, but was
Quarto commercially sound, and just the most loathsome Renoir. Whipping out a can of fixative, I began shaking it and spray ing the pastels with as much clatter and show as possible. It worked. A woman with a young boy in tow came over to me, and looked at my copies with that kind of officiousness that spells at once "patrona" and "sucker." "Oh, these are delightful!" she exclaimed. "Are you a student?" "Uh-huh," I said. "Where do you go to school?" "The Academy." "P.A.F.A.? Why, no kidding! I went there! Does Bildsley-Thon still teach there?" Oh, great, really great, a thousand beastly art schools in this area and I have the luck to nail this one. "Bildsley-Thon. Goodness, no! I believe he occasionally guest-lectures to grad students." "Oh, too bad," she said. "Who do you study under?" "Um, his name is Arshiel Phlee-Bittan. I'm a Found Ob jects major, actually. You may have heard of Phlee-Bittan. He does these just gorgeous sculptures with, uh .. . impact ed wisdom teeth, and uh, radish flowers." "Isn't that interesting?" she said. "Tell me, I've been looking at this copy of yours, the Renoir, I think it is? Oh, I just knew it! So beautiful, don't you think? Do you sell your copies?" "Well... I confess I do on occasion, if there is an inter e s t . . . and, gosh, you are an Alumna of the good old Academy..." "Would twenty dollars be too insulting?" "Not insulting at all," I said, really hooting inside. Sixty dollars not a bad take for a few hours' work, I con sidered, closing the last deal with a bead-jangling scarf-toss ing older woman who was "enamored o f Wmslow Homer, rather a noxious delirium, I thought. I watched her walk down the stairs, shaking my head, when suddenly a boot.
Firmani with a leg and, indeed, a person attached, landed squarely on my closed sketchpad. I looked up. "DOES NOT SCRIPTURE SAY 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF WORSHIP?' BUT YOU HAVE MADE IT A ROBBERS' CAVE." "Wha . . . " I said. A group of kids about my age surrounded me in a semi circle. For an instant I thought it was a travelling band of weird post-apocalyptic Born-Agains who had mistaken the art museum for a church. "Look, fellow. Friends. This is an art museum, and I'm just trying to turn an honest buck." "Prostitute! Heretic! Blasphemer!" the guy yelled. "How dare you defile my father's house?" "Unless your father's name is Walter Arensberg, I think you've got the wrong idea." "My father is art. My father is holy, sacred, not-to-beblasphemed art." "Art? Art Garfunkel? Art Linkletter?" He looked at his friends. "See how she mocks me with her wiles, see how she slithers from my charge with her beamish ways!" "Good God, man," I said, standing, "I was selling copies after wretched Impressionists to blighted and overweight tourists! Minding my own business. And who are you to pick bones with me, anyhow?" "We," he said, drawing himself up, "are the Vergilantes. The inhabitants of the Isle of Misfit Toys. The educated, the erudite, the degreed, the disgusted, the useless." "And what is it you do? Go about meddling in other peo ple's business? Pester people whose only crime is making in nocent copies after insipid Impressionists? Haven't you any thing better to do? Get thee hence, before I smite you with my red right arm." "Fie, vixen! What do we do? Does one have to do some thing in the strict sense of the word? What do we do? We do nothing; we invent; we doubt; we exist; we cavil; we drink;
Quarto Firmarli we tell Tall Tales. We are some of us a hybrid of the dying breed of rote wandering rhapsodes, trovatori, bards, and town criers. We raise consciousness. We cerebrate. We intone classical poetry, talk incessantly about Fellini and assign various certain hated persons different rings of Alighierian Hell to go to. What do we do? We fulminate about the decline of Louis F. Cehne in Comparative Literature classes, read the inside caps of Eliot's Amazing Apple Juice aloud and quote Eluard in irrelevant contexts. What do we do? We understand the ennui of Fritz the Cat, memorize whole snatches of the 'Carmina Burana,' correct the insufferable grammar on Szechuan menus, panhandle, take the coding strips out of library books, smoke pretentious cigarettes, sleep in abandoned crack houses, split infinitives, drop whole handfuls of pennies off skyscrapers, thunder against William F. Buckley, shake up soda cans and leave them for others to open, speak of Aristotelian catharsis on pubUc buses, steal and collect pylons, recite the 'Idylls of the King' until we are blue in the face, make obscene but infinitely clever chalk-drawings on streetcorner pavements, gather bits of colored thread, spy out quarters in public pay-phones, revive Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Patience' repeatedly, realize the futility of cultivating our own garden, fall to fisticuffs, trip the light fandango fantastic, break salt-cellars and majolica-ware, cry, shiver, spit, but mostly, we Fail." "Be that as it may," I said, "the fact remains that you are preaching to a convert. Had I been making copies after something subhme, after Mantegna or Picabia or Fuseli or de Chirico or Goya or Francis Bacon or Ernst or Sasetta or Bosch or Duchamp [here they all fell to the ground and prostrated themselves three and one half times in unison] et al, you may have had cause for comment. But of course, these artists would not sell, unless it happened that they were treated to a retrospectve at the Met and they printed up a billion scrofulous paper tote-bags with the artist's name on them. But I was selling things, which, if they ever had an intrinsic worth, have become utterly commercialized. Things
that are now mostly known in the form of prints that housewives hang in their living rooms, to 'pick up' the colors in their carpet and sofa, known not as a reaction to stodgy academicism. Things that warrant the epithet 'nice.' Do admit. Note how I am utterly detached from my creative process, from my worthless copies. Nota bene." "She's right, Jerzy, you know," one of the Isles spoke up. "And what is right, Oedipa?" a third said. " 'Right?' Do you know the inherent fallaciousness ofthat word? 'Right,' Middle English, from the Old English 'riht,' akin to Old High German 'reht,' the Latin 'rectus'—which also gives us the fine word 'rectum,' I might add—the Latin 'rectus,' as I was saying, participle of 'regere': 'to lead straight, direct, rule,' similar to 'rogare': 'to question or to ask'—expressing doubt, interestingly—from the Greek, the fountainhead from which flows roughly forty percent of our language presently in use, from the Greek 'oregein,' meaning: 'to stretch out.' So in fact, Oedipa, in effect, you are saying that 'She is strung out.' " "Damn your specious a posteriori fiddlesticks, Arouet, you walking OED fuck, and nobody cares the fuck you talk about anyhow," the girl Oedipa said. "Children, please," the fellow Jerzy shouted. "I think we have a discontented theorist on our hands. Theorist, what is thine nomen?" "My name is Peregrina, good sir blight," I said. "A falcon! A wanderer!" the fellow Arouet said ecstatically. The Vergilantes excused themselves and had a bit of a panel discussion while I gathered my things. Then they turned back to me and this Jerzy said, "Miss Peregrina, would you like to be initiated into the mysteries of the Isle of Misfit Toys?" "Well, I'm not much for clubs, and I'm not about to do any asinine fraternity-type stunts, unless they are extremely funny, but otherwise gee, what the hell else is there to do?"
Quarto By general consent we decided to go down to South Street and get souvlaki and orange ices, which no one particularly liked, and was seen as all the more reason to do so. "Absurdity," Jerzy, walking beside me, was saying, "is extremely difficuh to accomplish. Invariable things eke out a tedious sort of logic, and the most unrelated words, for example, which might at first seem incongruous and completely ridiculous when placed together resolve themselves into the most distressing of banalities. So with situations. On the surface it might seem that we are going to get souvlaki and orange ices because none of us likes them, when in actuality Oedipa's dad owns the restaurant and we are guaranteed a free meal there." "I see. Well, may I suggest something? Instead of a frivolous absurdity, that seems rather a correct absurdity, such as noisome Annie Dillard's equations of proper and improper Surrealism. Magritte's egg in a cage is proper Surrealism, yet the example of a shoe in the cage would be improper Surrealism." "Ahh, yes," he said. "Perhaps I might suggest that Robert Rauschenberg is highly preferable to Surrealism in general, as, say, his long-haired ram with a tire through its middle is less pictorial and more plainly idiotic than Magritte, or Surrealism, for that matter, as a whole." "But," I said, "you are leaving out whole steps in between Magritte and Rauschenberg, blurring the Twentieth Century, as it were, completely. Your argument, if it can be seen as one, is irrelevant, your comments have nothing to do with what I said, they are wholly unrelated, make no sense, and smack of the dilettante trying to make cocktail conversation." "You're sounding fitfully a priori," another said, a fellow called Zenophobe, "though I can't possibly know anything about, touch upon, express, much less profier, an opinion about art, per se." "Zeno', friend, take a walk, being careful not to fall into any holes."
Firmarli "That was Tha誰es, Jerzy," Zeno' said. "Wrong of you to quibble, Zeno', very wrong, but don't let's discuss concepts of right or wrong, dread or whatnot. Facts have built-in error. How do we know it was Tha誰es.' Who passed this Tootsie Roll of knowledge down to us? Can the source be relied upon? There's Cornelia T., do go talk to her." Zenophobe fell in step with Cornelia T. who, I learned, was a Failed Historian. "But Zeno'," Jerzy went on, now in a hushed tone, "he is a Failed Philosopher, and there is nothing more horribly, excruciatingly dull than that. Dull and so tedious. But of course, we can't get rid of him, he'd have nowhere to go, not that I'm waxing bleeding-hearted or anything. He's a bit of a manic-depressive, he has no discernable personality as he is forever vacillating between Stoic asceticism and popular Epicureanism, cheesy Renaissance neo-platonism and Nietzschean nihilism, wholly archaic pre-Socratic ideas of dirt and water and Lockean simple and complex ideas, Cartesian a priori and Baconian a posteriori, Kierkegaard's melancholia and Leibniz's glee. In fact, he must, inside, yearn to be happy. Once he spent an entire fortnight expounding on the benefits of living in this, the best of all possible worlds. Sounding entirely like Dr. Pangloss, but of course he's never read any of Voltaire's fictions, never, in fact, read a novel, since smelly Plato kicked all the smelly poets out of the bloody Republic." "But of course," I said, "Plato's work can be read as not merely hard philosphy. There is more than a little fiction in most of the dialogues. As Sir Philip Sidney said, most Athenians would scarcely come out with their blather of'Surely,' 'Clearly,' 'It is so,' unless they were beaten and put upon a rack." "Truly," Jerzy said, "but it remains that Zenophobe is unequivocally dreadful." "Fiat," I said, shrugging.
Quarto We went down to the restaurant on South Street, went inside and sat down, and a huge Greek man came over and kicked us all out, adding to Oedipa [who I had learned was a Failed Playwright], "Don't come back until you lose your freeloading friends and stop acting like a freak." "Oh, Christ," one of the Isle said, which was kind of funny, as he was not only a Failed Theologian and an ex-Jew but an atheist. The Failed Classicist, who was quite fat, sat on the curb and started wailing "Heu! Heu!" while tearing her hair and beating her breast. The Failed Musician suggested we sing for our supper but the Isle immediately started pelting him with hitherto unseen rolls of bathroom tissue. The Failed Artist held his thumb up at the restaurant and squinted, threw his hands up in the air, then ran around the block three times returning with an armful of found objects which he promptly glued, nailed and soldered together and then destroyed with a small mallet. The Failed Poet began an epic about a waiter he had seen in the restaurant, ripped it up; began a lyric poem about South Street, ripped it up; began an ItaUan sonnet to the barmaid who worked in the restaurant, realized it was an English sonnet, ripped it up; began a poem linking the position of shaved mutton in a souvlaki to the rotational habits of the spheres, found it too lowbrow, ripped h up; began a poem in Alexandrines about the silly lot of those who have not lunched, realized twelve-syllable lines limp horribly, ripped it up; began a highly sophisticated Essay on Lunchery, got confused, ripped it up; began a spontaneous effusion about a barefoot urchin that was picking its nose across the street from us, ripped it up; began a sillytalk piece about Greek food names, writing all over the page, decapitalizing random things and capitalizing random other things, found this inadequate, ripped it up; and finally wrote "HUNGRY" in the middle of a sheet of paper, placed it on the ground before him and stared at it.
Firmarli The Failed NoveUst smoked a Gauloise, drank a bottle of Boodles, wrote seven drafts of her suicide note and went off to drown, shoot or hang herself until we forcibly restrained her. The Failed Philosopher said, by turns, "I can't exist without food, if indeed I am existing at all," "Greek food is for the rabble," and "It just doesn't matter." The Failed Etymologist's doings were too tedious to report. The Failed Communist said, "In theory, if we can take over the means of food productionâ€”" until we all, in unison, yelled "SHUT UP!" "What to do?" Jerzy said, sitting on the curb by the Failed Classicist, whose wailing had subsided and who was now regarding her handfuls of torn hair. "Well," I said, "we could steal something." They talked this over for a quarter-hour, and Jerzy finally pronounced "Naah." "Well," I said, "we could pool our money." "We're always broke," the Failed Communist said. "Well," I said, "we couldâ€”" Just then Oedipa's father came out with a large broom and chased us down the street. We ended up in an alley behind an Ethiopian restaurant. "Hey," I said, "let's rifle the bins. Restaurants chuck some perfectly good grub." We were right there; it was within easy reach. The Vergilantes picked through the trash and soon we came up with a sizable amount of chow. Ethiopian cuisine was something just outside everyone's sphere of knowledge, so we had no idea whether or not it was spoiled, rotten, regurgitated, or just looked like a diarama from Lawrence of Arabia, so we ate it. Camaraderie, after one has been roaming around alone, can be a very enjoyable thing. But I had my misgivings about this band of Failed Whatnots; I realized that, for them, talk was king-high-god, and to count on them for life's varied necessities would most likely prove a serious blunder. Hey,
Quarto I've never claimed to be a pragmatist, Fm just a yo-yo. But the fine art of yo-yoing was most likely beyond the capability of the Isle of Misfit Toys. How much was that ticket to Seatde, and what if once I got there it turned out to be a bust? Does one acquire new Seattles, indefinitely? Well, I thought, in my time I've been through quite a few Seattles, and perhaps they'll run out one day. So I'd just better never go to Seattle, my Seattle, that's all that's left for you and me, my Seattle .. . But then there's this Jerzy, who is not only rather handsome in a malaise-ridden way, but intelligent, if pedantic, and shows those kind of dashing leader-like qualities and strong biceps that cause the Failed Classicist to sort of sigh after him and whisper, "I sing of arms and the man!" when she thinks no one is listening. Night had thrown its poetical cloak of darkness over the sky, and we (somehow) decided to go down to a roofless abandoned warehouse past the ItaHan Market. First the Failed Communist bought us each a bottle of Strawberry Boone's Farm, seven-percent alcohol, by volume. We passed through the Italian market, which was closed for the night. Jerzy walked beside me and I started getting fruitily nostalgic. "Oh boy," I said, stopping in front of a window, "they still keep the meat out overnight. Gee, I just love that. Best brasciole in the Market, right there at Marcozzioni's if you don't get ringworm or Legionnarie's disease. Look at the striped awnings all rolled up like that. Been that way since I can remember. If you're lucky you can find pig-snouts in the street, if the rats haven't carried them away first." "Are you," Jerzy began, "a Failed Theorist, or a Failed Artist, or a Failed Philospher or Classicist, Poet or Novehst, perhaps? I'm still not sure, though a kindred spirit knows its kind, and I'm sure you are Failed at Something-Or-Other." He flashed a blackened smile. "Well, if you're going to be so tiresome and simplistic, I suppose I'm pretty much Failed at all those things. I'm a vagrant, at present, though not Failed. Tell me, you seem to be
Firmani their leader—at what are you Failed?" "Oh, here we are!" Jerzy said, meaning the roofless warehouse. We had been drinking and revelling for quite some time when the novelist suggested that everyone tell a story. "Milesian tales!" exclaimed the Classicist. "No, notfiction,''''moaned Zeno'. "We could sing a round," the Musician said, and all again pelted him with toilet tissue. The theologian rose to preach and everyone pulled him down again. "Why don't," Jerzy suggested, "We tell Peregrina our stories of Failure?" All agreed (sort of) that this was a good idea; the Classicist sneezed from left to right. Oedipa opened with her story: "I began as a high school actress. I was a killer Lady Macbeth—ahem [squeezing her D-cups], 'Take these woman's breasts . . . !'—but I soon felt confined by the datedness of most simplefive-actplays, by the strictures of structure. I quit acting school, moved to New York and joined an experimental theater group. I had cheerless affairs and tried in vain to have a child out of wedlock. But acting did not fulfill me; I began to loathe my fellow thespians and was sick to death of the metal tits I had to wear for my role as Queen Screw in the much-acclaimed albeit commercially unsound production of Thirty-Odd Characters Trying To Get The Hell Away From An Author. One day I took a pen to paper and composed my first, most interesting and only play, a tenminute piece to be performed in the round that consisted of ten actors abusing the audience and then throwing themselves into a pogrom in the middle of the stage. FUCK, it was called. It was a great hit. But then I attempted my second play and damned if my tongue wasn't tied. What was the use? What else could be done? To me, Artaud was a mere babe-in-arms, Brecht was a diaper-clad child, Marat-
m Quarto /Sade was a schoolboy's exercise and Guildencrantz and Rosenstern—who gives a sweaty, flying fuck if they're dead? "And so, with a single, exquisite play to my credit, I tried to drink myself to death, tried to matriculate into the New School, and then tried to get a job attacking women with atomizers at Macy's—all to no avail. Oh, the days when I was Lady Macbeth, and content! So I came home to Philadelphia, and met up with these everlasting shitheads while knocking out the windows of the Actor's Guild." Then she took a bow and started clapping at us. Next the Failed Artist, whose baptized name was actually Rembrandt Peale Rembrandt Peale Rembrandt, told his story: "Language is of course an inadequate means of expulsion—explosion—implosion—impression—expression, I mean, that is to say. Ask Duchamp [here they all pressed their foreheads to the ground three and one half times, as before.] But I will try to show you what I mean. I won the Prate National Talent Search; they uprooted me from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and put me down in Brooklyn. I experienced keen culture shlock. No one liked my ink drawings of small birds anymore, except a Mr. Bildsley-Thon who was a thousand years old and equally leprous—lecherous, that is to say. But everyone thought that, as a 'scene,' I was 'happening,' because my clothes were so 'groovy.' Man, my Dad used to say that, and he's fifty. Anyway, I was a center of attention as a perfectly preserved piece of Seventies kitsch. Hey man, I didn't know it was cool to have a lunch box. While in Prate's nearby neighborhood of Pig-Sty, I was beaten up and killed byfivedifferent crack addicts. In school I took the usual required classes for Fine Arts students, things like 'Art and Self,' where we were required to paint ourselves green or orange each class day, and '2- and 3-D Design,' in which we made flat and round designs with either two or three letter 'D's. I ended up graduating at the top of my class; I was a celebrity on the Prate campus be-
Firmarli cause of my work with mud, twigs, and ground beef. But how ephemeral—is that the word?—art is! Nothing lasts; mud dries, twigs snap, raw hamburger spoils, causing the most disgusting smell. I moved to SoHo and my apartment was repeatedly condemned by the Board of Health. I understood the importance of notlastingness then. I started to produce Objects To Be Destroyed, and thought this very clever and iconoclastic until one day someone chucked a metronome through my studio window with the note "Man Ray, you ass" tied to it. I went back to school and studied Art History, and I realized that nothing could be done anymore. But still, I tried; I started making engines that would destroy themselves with a great show of smoke and sparks, and I was sued by seventeen thousand people for copyright violations. So I did nothing, and tried to show that this very doing-nothing-ness was the final step that would obliterate pictorial, 'retinal' art. I was sued by two hundred thousand artists in New York City alone, who were also doing nothing. Then Keith Haring got really popular. I tried to kill him. I hate him. I went after him with a meat cleaver. I hate his dumb black lines, I hate his wobbly Goop-headed people and their kin. I hate him—" the Failed Artist started screaming, "Keith, I'll ram that Free South Africa poster down your honky throat," and we had to subdue him. The Failed Classicist was put up next: "I'm shy, and rather ugly, so I'll make this as quick as possible. It started with Latin in high school; I was very unpopular so I thought, with a little prodding of the beach rubble, I could find a clique peopled with geeks and social undesirables to rule. Ergo, I joined the Junior Classical League. It was a fast crowd, all right: we thumbed our noses at Edith Hamilton and Robert Graves, giggled over the really racy passages in Catullus, held symposia that invariably dwindled into feverish orgies featuring pockmarked young men with Oedipal complexes. But to the outside world we were still wretched untouchables, no matter how I would try to ingrati-
Quarto ate myself to them with witty remarks hke 'tempus fugit, we fidget,' or 'ipse biscuit,' or, by Jove, that really funny anec dote about the Widow of Ephesus, c'mon, you know it, from Petronius—or no, I've got it: So Descartes walks into a Mc Donald's—" "That's quite enough, dear," Jerzy said as we all stifled yawns. "To tell you the truth, I'm sick to death of this. Heard these miserable stories so often that I just want to puke at the mere prospect of hearing them again. Or break some heads. Why don't you tell us yours, Peregrina?" "I don't have a story," I said. "Everyone has at least one good story," the Novelist said, winking at me. "Come on. Peregrina," Jerzy said. "Well," I began, "I'm just drunk enough. I don't have a story per se, but there is something that sticks in my head like a lobotomist's needle, an incident that changed my worthless hfe. I was a sophomore at Columbia University. My mother had wired me some cash; I was going over to get it and silly thing that I was, I didn't realize the Western Union was in the middle of Harlem. Columbia students are notoriously thick. Anyhow, so I came out of my 'Joyce, EUot, Pound & Γ class and start over to 125th and Lexington, or thereabouts. I soon realized that I am in fact in Harlem, but, hey, I think it's all right. So this guy starts talking to me, and it's OK at first, but then he gets it in his head that I'm a prostitute, homeless, with my big pack of books and every thing. He starts waving money around and propositioning me. Then, lo and behold, I see Western Union, duck in, tuck the cash in the Vasarette, and ask the woman behind the safety glass if there's a back way out. and do you know what she says? She says, 'No, white girl.' The fuck, I mean. So I poke my head out the door, and I don't see the guy. I pop out, and there he is standing in front of me as if he'd just sprouted from the pavement. 'What you want?' he says into my mouth. Ί got Crack, I got Speed, I got Smoke. I know you need something. I know you ain't got no place to live.'
Firmani So by now I'm really freaking out, about a bilhon people are out on the street and not one of them stops to help. I trundle across the street, him still yelhng after me, and don't stop running until I hit Morningside Heights and can see great Columbia like a beacon above me. I get to campus and drop onto a stone bench, facing Butler Library, and look at the happy white people and angry minorities, and think about the stupid and dichotomous existence I lead there. But at least I was learning, I thought. That night, however, I had a dream; the same incident with the scary man happened, but this time, when I got to campus, I looked up at the library. Instead of'HOMER, HERODOTUS, SOPHOCLES' et al written there, it said 'DIOGENES LAERTIUS, BOETHIUS, MEISTER ECKHERDT . .. ' and I started scream ing, and I knew then what a sham learning was, as Herodo tus might as well be Meister Eckherdt, and I can never really know anything in the end, never complete anything . . . " I looked about me. Everyone had fallen into a deep and noisy sleep except for Jerzy, who now quietly said: "And Duchamp, of course, in 1923, decided to leave the Large Glass unfinished, because he was so bhstery bored with it." "Anybody with half a brain is bored or disgusted . . . " I said. "Jerzy, dammit, would you tell me what you're Failed at?" "I'm Failed at every stinking thing," he said, "but if you wish to be specific, I am a Failed Misanthrope." "Why 'Failed'?" "Failed because I hate everyone but still seek their com pany. I organize this group of utter shitheads. I really do hate them. But I have to touch them occasionally, maybe a tap on the shoulder or a pat on the hand, and it fills me with inexpressible revulsion. I despise the human condition, and I just want to die. But I carry on, because under all this, I'm still a CathoUc." I was awakened in the middle of the night by Jerzy, who
Quarto seemed to be groping for my knee. "I thought you were a Misanthrope," I spat at him. "Failed, remember," he said. "Maybe I could help you with that," I said, and bashed him in the chin whh my elbow. "Oh I don't give a damn about Hecate," he said, sitting up. The sun was coming up. I looked at the Isle drowned in sleep. I looked at Jerzy. "I think Pm going now," I said. "Oh I don't give aâ€”" "Shut up. Jerzy, guess what, I hate people too, but unlike you, I'm not a Failed Misanthrope." He looked at me, still rubbing his chin. "You know what? I hate just about everything! Pm going now, and if you someday lose this throng of albatrosses, take this number, give me a call, and we'll be co-conspirators to misery, all right? But of course you won't." "Of course I won't, maybe I will," he said. "Good-bye Peregrina, feisty thing." He blew me a kiss. I stood and looked at the crusty fingers of dawn, and turned my bootheels so'-southeast. "But where are you going . . . ?" he called after me. "Where am I going? I'm going to my mother's house. Maybe I'm going to Seattle. And what the hell is it to you anyhow?"
Charles E. Graef
Adults Five Years Old
Great coiled masses of pipe smoke strangle the scudding clouds, forcing smoke rings from the mouths of schoolchildren. Blue mist rises from lawns and from cars. A spoonful of iridescent Brazihan jelly chases a roUing fetus across the sky. A hum of corrosion. Groves of television-grapes glisten like drooping blue magnets. Eels slap at the window shade. Scintillant green insects cling to the damp walls of the observatory, where heads are removed and exchanged with meteorites. Swarms of hats, glasses and eyebrows jumble letters in fantastic blackboards. The Egyptian cello case opens its crab legs and walks across the room. Wading pools close like a vise.
Zihuatenejo Beach hotels lit by strings of colored bulbs
On the loading dock of a college auditorium on a yellow day Deep sea anemone green grass bounded by ticklish curbs along asphalt roads
climbing the black scrub hillside toward the brown moon rising only crickets no surf
I am playing a spinet for my happy friends From behind a nearby dumpster terrorist ninjas with black hoods drop over a wall and ATTACK MY FRIENDS â€˘ * â€˘
and a distant fork on a plate
* (skirmish) * * * *
and an occasional taxi headed to or from Playa La Repa
My red-haired grade school friend shot with a machine gun rotary telephone zero his left arm comes off at the shoulder, no b e e d ing, but
I get the right half of hers
Pah! - inconvenient -
with the left half of mine
the ballast missing makes it difficult for him to walk
She gets the right half of mine with the left half of hers Back on the street, into a blue Dodge Dart I will now rush my friends to a hospital
New York insect eye dark We hurl ourselves through crowds down Broadway ( 105th or thereabouts) I swing the severed arm by its wrist (but try to conceal it from the pedestrians) (it's embarassing to carry a severed arm!)
I suggest Bellevue, Bellevue is the best hospital for dismembered limbs, I say, legs, heads, knees Anxious black purpleness behind spotty dashboard lights stuck in traffic jams then lost amid * on-ramps * * * * off-ramps *
We foam into a red and yellow tin awning lightbulbs deli to buy a bag of party ice in which to pack the severed arm (with red hairs) Man in pizza shirt with red stripes behind bulletproof glass studded with cigarette packs I wait my mm behind a nice looking girl
pa er 0 Î˝
* s s * e s and
b r i d g e
I see roller coaster s p a n s of blue aereolae radiating into filmy machinery of d i s t a n c e (Hke in Pinocchio) I begin to realize the seriousness of the simation.
When I pay for the bag of ice I see that my wallet has combined itself with the girl's wallet
There is no pocket on your body in which to put broken glass, but you can carve one out. Wouldn't the chest be a perfect place, inside a dark cave of ribs and isn't the heart's thick muscle capable of smoothing over any sharp object? Undecided, you carry the pieces between your fingers and shake hands with everyone you meet.
I am collecting the husks of cicadas. I have twenty-three of them now. When cicadas molt to grow one last time and stretch their wings they leave behind a perfect shell of them selves. It is translucent brown and looks brittle as if it might crumble in your hand or disintegrate easily in bad weather. It doesn't. It's very strong. You can even move things on it if you care to. Push a leg forwards or backwards, or if during the shedding there's been a struggle and the case has been left cockeyed, you can straighten it. Set it back on its feet. The feet are minutely detailed; all the barbs are there, micro scopically hollow, and their front legs are like the long arms of the praying mantis only they are thicker and stronger. The barbs are stubbier. Sometimes, when you first see a husk it's difficult to tell if it's still inhabited. They are usually firmly clinging to something; leaves or twigs and grass blades. I once picked one off a weed and realized immediately it was too heavy to be just a shell. The thing, the wet fat bug inside, was groggy and numb, oblivious to all disturbance. I think it must have been in some kind of rapture, coming to terms with what it was about to do, in whatever fashion a cicada does that. The trees are screaming with them in midsummer so I know they grow lively as they grow old. The decibel level when you step outside is astounding, like being in the mid dle of an orchestra when all the musicians have been in structed to play their favorite note simultaneously as loudly as they can. I looked it up in books to see how they did it, how the cicadas made the noise. And it's the males who are
Quarto noisy. The books talk about sound-producing membranes on the abdomen. They are drumlike, the books say. But so far they haven't said how the cicada actually makes the sound. I have become obsessive about this. The trees are never quiet now. They sizzle, shrill and strident. The comforts they offer are mixed. Ambivalence grows in the shade. I rest but I want to know. I want to know how the males produce the highpitched buzz that splits your head in two. Someone must know. Do they rub the membrane with their feet or bang on it with the small set of wings that are underneath the big ones? Or is there something internal, some insect desire that pulsates directly from within? The books are mum. Instead, they go on about the cicada's seventeen-year life cycle and most of that is spent underground as a nymph sucking the sap from tree roots. Cicadas don't need a lot at this stage. It takes an exponentially large generation of them to damage the tree. They go on feeding in adulthood, then they do damage to the tree. High up where the buzzing is. But it's for so little time. They have been adults for less than two months when they die. This is not even one one-hundredth of their total life. I wonder if it's too much of a revelation for them; the dimensions of flight, sound, and above all the light, the white hot shining sun. Well, I have twenty-three cases of what they were, reminders of what their lives have mostly been and I'm going to collect more. I want a whole room full of them to show my friends, my husband, and my children when they grow old. By then I will have found out how the males make so much noise. I'll know exactly how the vibrations are created. The other day my husband said he was tired of his job. He wanted more of a challenge. He felt unfulfilled. He had a wan little smile on his face when he said this. He said he didn't regret anything. "No, no. I don't regret these commitments: you, the children. It's just what I have to do in order to maintain all this, the way I have to work at this job I don't hke anymore." And then he had a far-away look in his eye. I told him I'd taken up collecting, though perhaps this has
Kettlezvell nothing to do with completion or desire. But isn't that what he meant by fulfillment, the desire to be complete? I told him I had a plan; I was going to wait, wait in the dark and that one one-hundredth of my life was a good fraction to be finally the most dimensional and evolved I could ever be. He looked at me curiously, brushed a fly away from his cheek and went on. "I would like to buy a sailboat," he said, "and take a long trip. What do you think ofthat?" "By yourself?" I asked. "Around the world by the southern seas? Like that man who set the record? He did it in a hundred andfifty-fivedays. Remember? We saw it on PBS." "Well," my husband looked pensive and then he smiled, "it doesn't have to be quite so grand. I'd be happy with a Pacific crossing, maybe. And you could come too. We could go explore Indonesia, the Spice Islands! I can always arrange something with my sister for the children." "I don't think I can," I said. "I think I get seasick too easily. And I've got to keep up my collection. It's very important to me, you see. And I'm going to take up singing lessons." "Singing lessons? Good Lord, what for?" "Just in case. So I'll be ready." "Ready for what?" He was squinting hard at this. "You know sometimes, Hazel, I wonder if you're all there." "Singing," I said, "is a very difficult and demanding thing to do. I'm going to need lots of lessons. And I want to get started right away." "You're losing it, aren't you? You've never expressed any interest in music before. In fact it always seemed to me that it was just so much noise to you. And now you want to take up singing. That's just swell. You'd prefer lessons with some second-rate tenor probably, a greasy, grovelling, longhaired, fringe element." I gave my husband a cool look. "Well you know what I mean, ingratiating and encouraging because you can at least pay for the lessons. Look, I don't want to be discouraging but how could you prefer that
Quarto to a tour of the South Pacific with a man who does, from time to time at least, take you seriously? Hazel, what's gotten into you? I mean what on earth can you be thinking of?" "Perhaps," I ventured, "it's something to do with the left hemisphere trying to get the goods on the right. You see, I saw it on this program about the brain. The left side of the brain is always trying to make sense of the perceptions of the right. And the right side; well, sometimes it's way ahead and altogether confounding. In fact it's almost always way ahead and the left side will do anything, whirligigs and sky dives of analysis to catch up with it. Did you know, when they sever the connections between the two, as they sometimes do with epileptics (it stops the fits), they get some very interesting results? Not what you'd expect." "Hazel, have you been drinking?" "No." I said easily. "No, I haven't been drinking or taking tranquilizers. Perhaps we don't see eye to eye anymore," and I got quite huffy at this. I admit it was more for effect than anything and then my husband did something quite unusual. He sat silent for a minute, and his shoulders trembled, and then he began to cry. I'd never seen him cry before. His face screwed up very oddly and he went a sort of salmon pink. I sat and watched him. He began to mumble things about feeling so aUenated, about his life not making any sense, about his work being so meaningless and how could this be what his hfe was supposed to be. "Surely, there must be something more than this?" He felt like he was in some rat's maze where the reward was always being moved, and new walls were being put in all the time, and there was no center of gravity. He was just floating and falling through this maze. I suggested he was perhaps in a control group without rewards in the first place. And then I offered to show him my collection of cicada husks to get his mind off the matter. That did it. That's when he began shouting. Not at me really, just in general. About confusion and thanklessness. The interminable thanklessness of living in this suburb with the
right house and the right cars and right number of children and the right wife. "All this surface predictability," he screamed, "none of it making any sense to me at all anymore. And you," he said eyeing me with a rabid steeliness, "you're obviously having fun with this, aren't you?" I said I didn't know about that and I just wasn't interested in sailing. "Oh, that's terrific," he hissed. "I'm going to bed." So I went out into the yard and in the moonlight on the walk I could see what looked like another cicada husk. I valued these little brown cases so much now I decided to leave it as an offering to the moon. I would check in the morning for it of course, but for now I wanted the moon to enjoy its intricacy and the delicate sense of history and time. Seventeen years is primary and not divisible by anything. I was sure the moon would be very grateful. You see I've taken up pantheism as well. It makes each day so interesting. Everything has spirit and there's so much to be done.
Τ" Pearyl Levine
Η Levine "Take the character Jose, he's so incongruous, he's a Pol ish kid with a Hispanic name. How does that happen? You never explain it," he said. I knew he was in love with his vo cal chords. This bothered me.
On the Criticism of Soup
2. "Hello." "Yes." "It's me, your grandson." "Malutki, Jose, it's so nice to hear from you. How's your poor little leg, booby, I heard about your tumble. Does it hurt? Will you be able to walk again? Mameleh." He desperately wanted to stop her at the point where she said little leg. His leg was huge. He was huge. "Grandma, Grandma, wait a minute, I'm fine, I—" "But Jose, how can you sit all alone at home, that mother of yours, the way she deserts you to be doctor. If it wasn't for my arthritis I'd be there in one second. And that twenty pound c a s t . . . " "Grandma, listen. How do you make this thing called Campbell's?" Jose said. His stomach had been growhng and he picked up a can. He knew it was soup, but so many English words. Add milk? Put it like this straight into the oven? He didn't know. "Oh darling, it's so easy just open the can, put the soup in a pot and add two cups of water..." "Thanks Grandma. Bye." "But Malutki..." she continued....
1. Professor Clark wheeled himself with his head cocked to no particular side; his semi-greasy ponytail tugging at his re ceding hairline, lying limply on his back. I was sitting like a sack of sagging potatoes in his confer ence chair. "So, being vague again, aren't we?" Aren't we. Aren't we, echoed in my brain. He slapped the forty pages of On a Full Bladder onto his desk. I leaned over and suddenly noticed the ketchup and mustard stains blended in almost a perfect mud slide on my paper. "Hot dogs for dinner?" I asked. He leaned over my story. "Not the issue." "I don't know what you mean!" I screeched in a very frustrated and frustrating tone. "Ooh, you're damagin' my ears young lady, calm down," he said. I hate when people tell me to calm down, it makes me so uptight. We sat quietly for a few minutes. We do this when I get that way. So I pretended to be all interested in his book shelves and even pulled out a copy of Spenser's Faerie Queene until our moment of silence ended. It was a very touchy situation, me being there, him telling me that I was being vague. I try so hard to be unvague, specific, on the nose, descriptive. You know, making my point direct and clear.
3. "That's not the point!" I yelled. "Don't you find it in credibly touching. Professor Clark?" He recocked his head to another non-particular side and swept the top of his head with his palm. I desperately want ed to see that hand. I was positive it would be glossed with grease. I tried to contain my curiosity. It didn't work. "Can I see your hand, a second?" I asked. I
(^arto He was caught off guard and showed it to me. I was right. "What for?" he asked. But it was too late. I ignored him. "So what do you think?" I continued. "Why do you spend the next three chapters discussing the gory process of his making of the Campbell's chicken soup? You created this so-called touching image, which I don't find that touching after all, and then you destroy it. Why didn't you elaborate, you know, continue?" he asked. "I couldn't think of anything else," I said. "That's not true, what about... ?" The house was quiet. In his desperate quest for noise he plopped himself and his twenty pound cast in front of the twelve-inch black-and-white television. He was bloated. The screen was evolving from an electrocuted image of Charlie Chaplin into a big furry black bear. It walked on its hind legs. Wow! Jose thought. It spoke English. His name was Ben. How did it speak English? He couldn't get it straight. He stared at the screen in desperate envy. He wished he un derstood the jokes the kids told in the schoolyard. The envy turned into hatred. The hatred turned off the television. Alone and linguistically dumb in a social and En glish-speaking world.
"Go with the kid! Take him back to the schoolyard. Cre ate scenes of him in Poland being confident. Set up a con trast for different frames of references!" He rubbed the bot tom of his nose. I got up and paced around the room. Clark flipped a few pages and pressed his hands to another scene which he undoubtedly found troubling.
The rummaging began with an occasional glimpse at the forbidden folders in the beige cabinets. And then it pro gressed. Curiosity overcame him and soon he was deep in
TI Levine thought over pictures in his mother's medical journals. He imagined himself descending around the spirals of the big colorful ear! A small sound absorber, yeh! Beating the ear drums with the cilia sticks, all in rhythm; plucking the strings protruding from the diagram. An audiobiological symphony. And his hands flailed up and down. He was the conductor of this universal logic called music. So he smiled in his importance. The piece ended. He turned the page. It caught his eye. A huge oversized, leg. Mammoth! The word beneath the diagram read, elephantiasis. He didn't under stand what it meant, but he took his scissor and cut it out. Fascinating! And then he cut out every oversized limb in ev ery medical journal on the shelves he could find; a head, arms, body, feet, faces, genitalia, and he pasted all those grossly disproportionate pieces together onto a black piece of construction paper. It was an androgynous beast. But it al most looked normal, everj^hing being so large. And he viewed his monstrosity from different angles, in self admira tion. Boy was it huge, obese. "Just like me," he thought. And smiled.
"It kills me. You almost have something there." Clark pointed at the page furious and practically devastated. "You color this rather poignant image of Jose, and you almost re deem him, but you can't help yourselfl" "Can't help myself do what?" was my response. "You get trapped. You fall in love with an idea or an im age, and you get caught. You can't move on. You destroy your character to satisfy your own ego." And mister verbal miser sounded much like he was speaking from experience. He was too enflamed; consumed with this pinpointing of my tragic flaw. "Professor Clark, would you consider this a major or a minor problem?" I felt he was becoming rather drastic. "If you would listen to me for a second without that tone
Quarto of mockery in your voice, you might learn something." I suddenly felt awkward. And guilty. Very guilty. Poor man is taking the time out to help me and I keep on antagonizing him. For shame. I remembered throwing the six chewable baby aspirin over my shoulders; the orange slime meshing on the floor. "For shame," my mother yelled at me, a feverish child. I sagged even further into my chair, and further, until... "And most of all, what are you thinking of when you make the poor kid eat again?" But it wasn't just any kind of eating. 7. Jose was now a new boy, a child with confidence. So he thought of something he could do that would mark this great revelation. "I know," he yelled, "I'll try every flavor of Campbell's soup in the pantry," and his hungry eyes grabbed seventeen cans off the shelf He arranged them first into groups of flavors.. ..
"Why do you spend thirty pages ending the story on how he goes about devouring seventeen cans of Campbell's? Don't you find it tragic?" He seemed even more genuinely concerned, so I answered him. "But I was trying to create this cyclical story, you know, end off in the same place that I began, isn't that a good technique?" My eyebrows raised. "Only if you're trying to make a point by deliberately not making a point." I began to feel confused. It was just a short story. I started to get up to leave. "And one more thing, why is it called On a Full BladderV he asked. "The kid had eighteen cans of soup."
Too Many Clowns
To some acts, falling wasn't such a big thing. After all, there was a net. But other acts didn't have the unicycle to think of. Besides, Elsa just hated falling. That sickening sensation of losing all control over everything, feeling all of your guts wanting to come out your mouth, needing a net to stop you from dyingâ€”it was her least favorite thing in the world. She thought that the others sensed just how much she hated to fall, and had made her the leader because of it. They had only fallen once, nine months ago in Cleveland. All six of them had landed safely, and afterwards, the ringmaster had suggested to her that they should fall more often "because that's why everyone's watching." The idiot was lucky that he had not said that when Hans was listening. Hans was the pedal man for the act, and he was very serious. He was also the strongest man any of them had ever met. The entire inverted pyramid rested on Hans's shoulders, and they all trusted him without reservation. Before Elsa gave the command to build the formation each night, she looked into his eyes. Tonight, as always, she saw the look she wanted. She gave the command, "Mount!" and climbed into her position, in the center of the third row. As the others found their balance. Elsa took a quick look down from the high-wire platform to the half-filled stands below, trying to estimate the size of the crowd before the spotlight shot up and blinded her. The ringmaster's nasal voice pierced through the murmur of the crowd: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please direct your attention high above the center r i n g . . . !"
Quarto Elsa tuned him out and locked her body in place. "And, go!" she called out. Hans started across the wire with just a little wobble. The audience didn't really react when the unicycle took off, not like they used to. Audiences used to breathe in so loudly that they could hear it at the top of the tent, but people were more jaded nowadays. Still, she could hear children laughing, and every pair of eyes in the crowd was on them. The beginning was the most difiicult part, and as soon as they were moving it was just a matter of endur ance, really. Hans seemed to be in good form tonight. Elsa could feel his strength, feel that he was in control of the bike and that nothing would happen. On either side of her, Sara and Freda released the safety wires when they were five feet away from the platform. Each rider quickly froze themselves in position as they settled in for the one hundred foot ride. It was going to be a good night. "Nice job, Hans," she said, even though she knew Hans didn't hear her. Hans blocked out everything when he was on the high wire. That's why he was a great pedal man. "Hey, Elsa, what was the box office tonight?" asked Jo hann from beneath her right foot. "He told me eight thousand, but it didn't look close to that down there to me," she replied disdainfully. Johann grunted his agreement without looking down. Any move ment was bad, but moving the head was the worst possible mistake. Elsa had no respect for the manager of the circus. He in sisted on being the ringmaster despite his irritating voice, and he had refused her demand to get rid of the clowns dur ing their act. There were two idiot clowns that followed be low them every night carrying a tiny trampoline, to "catch" them if they fell. They had absolutely no regard for the per forming artists. She heard the crowd laughing below and her anger increased. "I heard they were going to let some of the clowns go next week if the gate didn't increase," she announced. "That's just fine with me," said Sara. "This circus has 62
Lloyd too many damn clowns anyway. I hope they get rid ofthat clown with the orange hat. He gives me the creeps." "You mean Rudy?" asked Dieter. "He seems alright to me." "That's because he isn't always leaning over you and drooling. Half the clowns in this place are .. .are . . . are . . . " "Grapefruit! Think of grapefruit!" Elsa ordered her, rec ognizing that Sara was trying to hold in a sneeze. Elsa's mother had taught her the remedy, and it had never failed. After a second, Sara started breathing normally again. "I'm fine," she said, and everyone else relaxed. "It's the uniforms," said Freda quietly. "Of course the clowns are all over us when we're wearing these pornograph ic costumes." "And these little skirts," added Sara. "There's no point to them. They make us wear them just so the men can look up them." Freda laughed quickly. "As if anyone could see anything two hundred and fifty feet in the . . . " "Silence!" At first no one knew who had yelled. Then one by one they realized that Hans had said the first word other than "ready" that any of them had ever heard him say during the act. "Breathing!" commanded Elsa, and all six riders began taking long synchronized breaths, finding each other's rhythm. Elsa reprimanded herself quietly for not noticing earlier. Hans was pedaling more slowly than usual, and the firmness that she had felt under her feet was now gone. Hans's trem bling told all five riders that he was tired. They were still a good fifty feet from the other platform. By now they should have been thirty feet away at the most, about to begin the quick backward portion of the act. "Hans. Don't backpedal," Elsa called out calmly. "Go straight for the platform tonight." "And now, ladies and gentlemen . . . " the ringmaster's
Quarto voice screeched up from below. "You will be astounded as our daredevils ride . . . backwards." "Hans! Do not stop! Go straight for the platform!" Elsa repeated. But Hans was not listening again. "Ready!" he said, and all six began counting. "One. Two. Three!" Hans quickly reversed directions, and the pyramid was jerked forward slightly. Each rider compensated, and they quickly stabilized. As soon as the pyramid was moving, all five riders froze on Hans's shoulders again. They knew that they could not relax yet, not until Hans gave the ready signal again and they returned to moving forward. "Please please please please," Elsa heard whispered from below her. She thought it was Hans, and for a second her heart stopped. Then she realized it was Dieter. Goddamn him. "Breathing!" she yelled loudly, annoyed. At the same moment Hans quietly breathed out, "Ready." On either side of Elsa, Freda and Sara instantly fell in with her rhythm. But below her, Johann said, "One." "Elsa," Dieter said, a bit of panic in his voice, "did Hans say 'ready' just then?" "Two," Johann said hesitantly. "Did he?" Elsa said, and then the pyramid jerked backward. "Wooo!" Dieter moaned as each rider struggled to keep upright. Elsa stood as stiffly as she could. She was the center of the pyramid, and if she moved, they would fall for sure. Dieter and Johann seemed balanced, but Freda and Sara were wobbhng. Elsa held her breath as Freda slowly straightened up, and then Sara seemed to regain her balance. Then Sara leaned too far forward to compensate, and Elsa could feel that she was going to fall. She had no choice. "Release!" she cried, and Freda and Sara both instantly responded with, "And, go!" and let go of her hand. They executed perfectly; neither one pushed off, and they fell without touching any of the other riders. The roar of the crowd
Lloyd tang in Elsa's ears, and she shuddered to think of them falling two hundred feet, but she knew she had done the right thing. Two falling was better than six, especially without the unicycle, which was the biggest danger. If that landed on you, you were dead, net or no net. For a second Elsa listened to the obnoxious wail of the clown's ambulance that drove around the circus whenever any act didn't go smoothly. But she had her own problem now. She no longer had anyone on either side to balance her, and she was riding Dieter's and Johann's shoulders hke a surfboard. They still had over fifty feet to go, and she wasn't sure if Hans could make it. But the subtraction of two hundred and twenty-six pounds made the difference, and Hans was picking up speed. Elsa surprised herself with her balance, and it was not as hard to continue the ride as she had feared. Until they were close enough to the platform that all of them could fall forward onto it, however, they were not home. The normal procedure was for the top three riders to grab the overhead bar, and then, on her command, all six would lean forward together. But this time she was alone in the top row, without anyone to brace her. If she didn't lean at exacdy the right moment, she could fall over backward. As Hans neared the end of the wire, she began her count. "One." She could feel herself losing her balance. "Two." She was going to fall, she felt, and she was not yet close enough to grab the bar. "Three." She leaned forward, and jumped just slightly to reach the bar. "And fall!" She caught the bar with the tips of her fingers and held on, relieved for a split second. But then she heard the roar of the crowd again, and she knew what she had done. She had fallen early, and she had pushed off Dieter and Johann with her feet. She looked underneath her, but no one else was on the platform. She quickly dropped off the overhead bar onto the platform and looked over the edge, just in time to see Dieter and Johann hit the net. She searched for Hans, but he was not in the net. She
Quarto dropped down onto her stomach and hung her head over the side of the platform searching for him, and she didn't think to check the wire until she realized that it was still moving slightly. He was still on the bike! She lifted up her head and saw him trying to maintain control, but he could not. He lunged forward, and landed hard on top of her. As Hans rolled off of her, Elsa watched the unicycle fall ing. Hans had given it a ferocious push as he jumped, to send it flying as far from Johann and Dieter as he could. It was spinning wildly end over end as it fell, and it gleamed hypnotically in the spotlight that followed it down to the sawdust. Elsa's eyes shifted to the two clowns carrying the trampoline just as the unicycle struck one of them. They looked very small from where she was. Even smaller, down below, the clown ambulance flew across the tent, while other clowns who were close enough to see just stood and stared, forgetting their job. She rolled over onto her back and stared up at Hans. "This circus had too many damn clowns any way," he said.
Frankie and the lùppies
"So Mike, you go to college?" Frankie the 'Lectrician had started up a conversation with me one day during lunch. "Yeah," I replied, and anticipating the next question, continued, "I go to Columbia." "'At's a good school. What're ya takin' there?" "I'm premed." "Oh, you gonna be a doctor?" he asked as he took a big bite out of his sandwich. Frankie was short, a few inches taller than me, with a stocky body and wiry black hair combed straight back. "I guess so." "You're not gonna be one o' them fuckin' yuppies are you?" "Well... I guess I'd still be young, and I might stay in the city, so I'd be urban, and if I'm a doctor I'd be a professional: so essentially, yes." "Nah, it's not that. It's the attitude, y'know what I mean?" "Yeah, I know whatcha mean." Sometimes when I spoke to Frankie the 'Lectrician I would pick up a bit of his Brooklyn accent. Frankie would belt out certain words in a huff. When he cursed it sounded like he said ffhuhkin'. "I hate them fuckin' yuppies. One time I got on the subway with my father. An' y'know, my father's an immigrant, he's from the old country, so he's got an accent. So anyway, the subway was kinda crowded, an' there was only one seat, so I let my father have it an' I stood over by the door. The next stop some people get on, an' my father gets up to let
Quarto this pregnant lady have the seat." Frankie tihed his head a httle to emphasize the gentiUty of this, but then his eyes widened. "All of a sudden this fuckin' jmppie guy with his skinnyass tie and his three-piece suit rushes in and grabs the seat! So my father says, 'Hey, I give-a-the seat to the pregnant lady . .. ' "An' the guy just goes, Ί was here first, ya immigrant bum!' " I made a faint gasp because I had a feeling about what would happen next. The smirk on Frankie's face con firmed my suspicion. "Well at that point, I come over and go, 'Look,^ni of all, you get up outta the seat, and second, you apologize to this man.' "The guy looks at me an' goes, 'Who the hell are you?' "I say, 'This is my father you just insulted, now get up.' "An' he goes, 'Ahh, fuck you too!' Well, I reach over to the guy, an' grab him by his tie an' grab him by the back of his collar, and I yank him up outta the seat, an' I drag him over to the door . . . " Frankie's face was red and his muscles strained as he pulled the imaginary man along. "An' I start BASHIN' his head against the door, BAM, BAM, BAM! An' my father's yellin' at me to let him go, an' the woman's screamin', 'Oh my G-d Oh my G-d!' Finally I leggo the guy an' he turns around, an' leans against the door, he's bleedin' from his forehead, an' he just slides down until he's sittin' on the floor with this dazed look on his face." Frankie paused, took a breath, and continued. "So, the lady takes the seat, an' I go back and stand by the door, an' everyone's lookin' at me, but wefinallyget to our stop an' get off the train . . . " "Jeezus," was about all I could say. "I tell ya," Frankie shook his head, "I hate them fuckin' yuppies."
A Rare Stamp
At my post office, which is the Clinton Street one, on the Lower East Side, if the line is at all long, you've got quite a wait ahead of you. I did today, when I went to mail my brother's car keys back to him. The thing is, in my neighborhood, there's a lot of people from other countries: Chinese, Dominican, Indian. They don't always seem to understand the U. S. Post Office proce dures so well, and when it comes to explaining such things, it's like telling a joke to somebody's parents, then trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt why it was funny. Furthermore, much of the business at my post office is letters back to these distant places, packages with insurance and so on, that the person behind the counter has to make all kinds of calculations over. And to top everything off, many of the people are in there to get money orders, and making out one of those is more complicated than a Holly wood movie contract. Plus which, if I may add, half the time people just can't believe all the rules and charges and they think they're get ting gypped and they want to argue their rights in broken English. It can take a miUion years to get something mailed at my post office! You ask, isn't there a separate window for money orders? No separate windows for anything. The waiting line goes out the door, and they only have one guy behind the counter, an incredibly efficient, even-tempered, pleasant black man, tall, with hair going white over his ears, patient
Quarto with everyone, careful, in short, a hero. My brother left his car keys when he visited last week and I had to mail them back to him, so I was in the post of fice waiting in this line whose progress could only be mea sured through the use of time-lapse photography. Here is what happened. A tiny, brown, little old lady with some kind of accent came in. She went in front of everybody, with an envelope in her hand. Was she mailing something in the indoor slot? No. Was she trying to cut in line? No. She was much too timid for that. She seemed to be in a daze. "It says 1789," she explained to the woman ahead of me. The stamp looked quite new so far as I could see as she waved the opened envelope around. "Two hundred years old! It must be worth something." She thought this stamp was valuable. She wanted to talk to a postal officiai about it. So she went to the end of the end less line. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts of frustration and even worse waiting and waiting. The counter man was making out $1,122 in various money orders for the person right in front of me. Just one less customer and I would have been out of there in seconds flat. Then I heard another woman, a middle-aged white wom an, way at the end of the fine, talking to the little brown woman about the stamp. The amazing thing was that she was so erudite. "No," she was saying. "This is a commemorative stamp. It celebrates the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Es tate of South Carolina. That's why it has the date 1789 on it. It's a recent issue." She knew all about it. You could hear in her voice and see in her face—she had white hair done up on the top of her head, conservative-type glasses frames— that she felt sorry for the woman who thought it was a valu able rare stamp. She spoke gently, but firmly, so this poor old lady wouldn't have to spend hours and hours waiting on line for nothing. It was so strange that somebody at my post
Mills office would just happen to know all about this stuff. "You see, in 1789 they didn't have regular mail service. This IS a replica of a stamp that was privately printed." The post office man got through with me zip-zip-zip I mailed my stupid brother his keys back. I looked at the hopeful old woman who, of course, wasn't about to give up bdief in her rare stamp. I thought, could she really spend her afternoon more happily than waiting in line thinking she had a rare and valuable stamp? As I went past her I gave her a wry look that said, "OK, you can wait if you want to, but you're just being silly, there's no chance here." She looked back with a look that showed she understood all this but which said, "Yes, but you never know. I'm going to wait. This could be it."
moondance E-lec-tric candles flickering in the eyes of this concrete pumpkin-patch metropolis, dark as mo-lasses tonight. giant jack-o-lanterns giving up the ghost, one-by-one; from the seaport to Shea every window has a different drama, every dreamer holds a separate view.
is being in prison, Lisa said—cause you can't go anywhere at night alone—and Donna's 7-year-old daughter doesn't think of lover's embracing when she sees the moon's full bloated belly, she imagines all the men in Philadelphia are beating their wives. Phew, river stinks worse than a week-old turtle bowl, Pm sleeping through this one, the street can hold its own. Then, there's tomorrow. The sun will be stronger than 100 proof whiskey, luminous poxed-pearl postured in nocturnal paleness, you can have this hallowed eve. Ain't nothing in the street, but the street.
walking around with their heads down Walking Around with their Heads DOWN, folks coming back from going nowhere (full of people all into nothing) walking around with their heads down; cold as Aunt Marie's living room now. A spray of moonlight does a ripply jig on the Hudson. Don't know how to get off this planet without pain. Harlem preacher shouted, "If you quit in the middle of the journey, God can't take you through." Shoot, you can light a candle and still be in the dark. Yep, black as mo-lasses tonight, mischief lines these tar-paved streets; keep hearing Ruth Brown singing "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean." Being a woman 72
Comedy A cafe where poetry is recited and capuccino and wine served. It is dark and jazz is heard low. The cafe is closed. Jeff, the owner, sits at one of the tables drinking coffee, reading The Village Voice. There is a sign in the window: "Poets Welcome." Glenda knocks on the door. Jeflf calls without moving. JEFF: I'm closed. GLENDA: [Through the door] I'm a poet. I'm welcome. [Jeff goes to the door, opens it, but before he can speak, Glenda sweeps in and pulls the sign out of the window. She is dressed poetically in dark, dramatic clothes. She seats herself on the stool.] The sign says you're looking for poets. JEFF: Well, no. I'm not exactly looking for poets. I l e t . . . [She shushes him with a look and after several poetic flourishes, she recites.] GLENDA: Withheld from mine eye's sight Your splendor, o, bovine of royal hue, majestic in your serenity. though such sight, so pregnant in the weight of thought beyond thought, fain would take forever clear sight from my world and leave me dark and wondering. no fun. yet will my heart's voice convey to you.
0, ear of time, of space, that were the choice of my life given to me— my existence a matter of mine own fashioning— would that I could stay of mine own mind, mine own kind. JEFF: [Jeff just sits and stares for a moment, is about to clap] Wait a minute—"bovine of royal hue"? [He thinks for a second then laughs loud] "Purple Cow"! [He laughs again] "I never saw a purple cow/ and hope to never see one/ but I can tell you anyhow/ I'd rather see than be one." [He laughs more but it dies as Glenda stares at him.] JEFF: You do comedy poetry, right? GLENDA: [Hurt and annoyed] Well, if you don't like that one, I have another that I wrote just this morning. [She produces a handwritten poem on what's left of a roll of toilet tissue] I call it "The Science of the Night": I touch you in the night, whose gift was you. My careless sprawler JEFF: Wait a minute! That's Stanley Kunitz! GLENDA: [Startled, guiltily looking around] Where?! JEFF: That's Stanley Kunitz's poem! GLENDA: Well,... y e s , . . . but it's in my handwriting! See? JEFF: Lady, you're either a comedienne or you're late for your medication. Either way . . . GLENDA: The sign says "poet." I am a poet. I have the mind, the heart, the soul of a poet. I also have the look of a poet. [Feigns aloof or something] Not only that! I DANCE. [She executes several graceful movements landing primly on the stool] Do you have any other prospects who can do thaû JEFF: Not since they moved the out-patient clinic. GLENDA: Does that mean I don't get the job? JEFF: Job? GLENDA: [Brandishes sign] House poetess. JEFF: No, no. See it's not a job. I let poets read their work here. Their work. You know, new stuff. The serious kind, the kind that makes the people clap . . . stomp . . . drink.
Î‰ Quarto GLENDA: But the sign says . .. JEFF: Now if you're interested in waiting tables . .. GLENDA: I am a poetess. An artiste! JEFF: I pay waitresses eight bucks an hour plus tips. I pay poets nothing. GLENDA: Well,... if I take it, can I recite . . . JEFF: Waitresses eight; poets zip. GLENDA: You're a cretin. JEFF: You're a waitress. GLENDA: What time do I start?
I am the forest, where trees bounce sounds away and moss muffles the sharpness of reality. I am lightly steamed zucchini with little spice, soft on the inside but crunchy outside, waiting to be eaten. I am a Netherland Dwarf rabbit in love with a crossbreed cat. I am my daughter's long, soft, blonde hair, thick and tangle free. I am the sound of cartoons and cereal bowls clinking on the kitchen table while I sleep. I am a treadle sewing machine, of antique cast iron and solid oak. My needle plunges through layers of denim without a snag. I am a mad stranger in the night who can easily harm my children or myself before their eyes.
Frances Snowder I am Moonlight Sonata playing with the piano keys. I am a buckskin for my daughter. She can grasp my mane and swing onto my bare back.
I am no one because there is no enemy. I am losing my children.
Craig had a thin green enamel pen he called Alice Toklas and a Mont Blanc he called Gertrude Stein. He filled Alice with green ink and Gertrude with black and made them have long, monotonous, repetitious conversationsâ€”pages in his eccentric black squiggly handwriting, broken by tiny green remarks. Alice repeated some things I had said to Craig. Inspired by this, I bought a cherry-wood fountain pen, filled it with blue-black ink and called it Bill Faulkner. I made Bill write back-slanted paragraph-long sentences full of commas about squirrel hunting in the South, interspersed with red Bic one-liners from Papa Ernie. I took Bill to Craig's house. I wanted him to talk with Gertrude and Alice. Craig put his pens into his desk drawer and said they had nothing to say to Bill; they opposed apartheid. Craig called me a plagiarist and I called him an omnivore. "What in the hell do you think you're doing?" I asked. "Inventing," he said. I said nothing under the sun is new, and he said that's a quote. I said I had not hoped to be original but obviously he had, because it annoyed him so much when I copied him. He said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Who said that?" "C. C. Colton in Lacon. " "What do you do? Read Bartlett's?" "I consume literature," I said, "and trivia interests me." "You are a regurgitator, nay, an excrĂŠter of petty facts!"
he boomed, "and there is no use for what you know!" "Existentially, there is no use for anything, but more to the point, there is no reason for abusing me," I said, "except jealousy." "Ah, being a writer is hard," he sighed. He sat down in his rocker and wiped a big bony hand over his high brow. "We dilettantes have it easier," I said, gliding over to the desk. (I taught you how to write in the first place, I thought, remembering his chubbyfiston the oversize crayon.) He didn't see me tweak his Parthenon pencil sharpener. The drawer pull was the carved head of a lion roaring with tooth less gums. "People do weigh you on your own scales." "What's that from?" he munered, cocking a wary eye at me over his shoulder. "Candide Foster's 'Bandadages,' " I replied cheerily. "Oh, you! No wonder it doesn't mean anything." "You're a rude bastard," I said, "and if we hadn't been friends so long, I wouldn't tolerate you." I stuck myfingerin the hon's mouth, jerked the drawer open, stole Gertrude and AUce andfledhome. He never apologized and I never gave the pens back. The next time I saw Craig, at a literary cocktail party, he displayed the same spiteful attitude toward me. We dis cussed our relationship in terms of world history. "I am America and you. Candi, are Japan during the trade wars," he said, referring obliquely to the fact that I had sold the Bill and Ernie piece, inspired by the Gertrude and Alice idea, to an art magazine. "Nonsense, I am America and you are Russia during the space race," I rephed. "Nobody is America here," Craig stated darkly, glower ing down at me from the tower of his body as I must have frowned down at him when we were children. The hostess, who was standing with us when we started this angry banter, looked perplexed and drifted away. 80
"Oh, I want to be the Middle East," I chiφed, sipping a gin and tonic, feeling hopelessly reedy and frail beside this disheveled giant. "That would appeal to your sense of drama." "Okay," I said. "So, you be Maui and I'll be New Zea land." I waved. As I crossed the cavernous room, following the hostess, I heard him say, "No man is." When I heard Craig's mother had died, I phoned him. He said, "They sent me the money to come home and I went to Jamaica instead. I didn't know she would die from bleeding ulcers." "You didn't know," I agreed. "When I went to the funeral, people came up to me and said, 'Sorry about your mother. How was Jamaica?' " I said, "Don't feel bad. They know only two things about you." "You are like a sister," he said. "I am a fellow only child," I said. "Maybe my father could marry your mother," he suggested. "My mother is not likely to marry again," I said, "but it's kind of you to offer. What are you doing right now?" "Having a drink." "I hate drinking alone," I said. "I think I have a drink ing problem." "Would you hke to come over?" he said. "I've missed you." We stayed up all night and wrote a play together about a widow who copes with her grief by taking on the personahty of her husband, including his clothes and mannerisms. The cigar was his idea. The after-shave was mine. We both put her in the suit.
M. Soraya Stilo
What love-night memory can hush The evil chime of your alarm when days begin dark and squirrels snuggle deep in their nests? The terrier at the bed's end sighs, rolls over, and paws the air in dream chase And you rouse just enough for a kiss ere I trudge to shiver at the bus stop before breakfast.
The cold wind is beating against my window again a wayward slipper falls under the bed a draft is seeping in from the unmoving darkness outside naked trees shivering in snow pink shades rustle slightly. Like a spider caught in a giant cobweb I sit on my bed listening to the cold wind whistle turn into a whirling howl and beat again against my window.
We talk of fat and tummy tucks The droops about the eyes The lumpy jowls The ever-spreading thighs. We grow nostalgic for the stranger's stare The workman's hiss and grunt. The "c'mere, baby" We scorned so then. We mourn the yesterdays of lean legs Of sex with sweat and danger On speeding trains Or momma's kitchen table. Invisibility spreads like flesh Draping its earthly shroud around us Secreting the cache Of heady pulses Pounding.
Eve, Adam And The Cane Tree
Eve: God! Why is the sugarcane so thick and sweet? It fills my mouth and makes me water, Its sweetness blocks my ears, I cannot hear anything Except my smacking mouth and the juice gurgling down my throat. God: My dear girl! Have you eaten of the cane tree I forbid? Did I not command of every tree in the valley you could eat But never shall you touch the one in the middle? Eve: My Lord, Adam shared the sugarcane with me. He took the largest share, the sweetest bottom part. God: My girl! I am so angry and jealous. You ate the cane with Adam? Eve: Yes, he held the cane by the roots. Closed his eyes and said it was the sweetest thing You ever denied us. He thanked me and said oh! How nice, how sweet and beautiful I was for letting him take a bite . . . God: Shut up girl! Where is Adam? Adam! Adam! Where are you? Adam: Among the banana trees, Lord. I heard you talk to
Eve And hid myself. I am naked Lord. God: I know! Who told you you are naked? You are cursed Adam and you are cursed, too, Eve! Now, come closer and hear the punishment Your Lord God has for you for eating my only preserve: I multiply your troubles at eating sugarcane; I clothe it with a hard skin so you have to peel it off before eating, God: Its leaves I give thorns that will prick you Every time you are among the canes, And hereby reduce your age of eating sugarcane To forty-five after which your teeth will fall and rust Like unsheathed knives! I also hereby kick you out of my valley. You are condemned to live all your life in the hills And shall only return down the valley In great weariness and pain on your backs To fetch water and not to gurgle the sweetness again! I regret having molded the sugarcane tree! Sugarcane Tree, you shall never grow on the hills! You shall remain captive in the valley And you shall never see your own seeds! Adam and Eve shall uproot you whenever they need to plant you. Your body shall be milled into juice. Your juice shall be brewed into alcohol That shall keep Adam and Eve life-long prison ers on the hill.
When A Man Dies
We must come together and hum his funeral dirge. We follow the procession to his burial and pay Our last respects. Those far away Observe a moment's silence. In life we did not like the man But we must say how much we loved him. He occupied a position we envied But we say the gap he left will never be filled. He died without settling our debts But we say he owes us nothing. He was a murderer But we say he could have saved our nation, If he died a coward We say he was the bravest of men. We must make more of a man Even if he was much less. The funeral director, friends. Enemies and relatives join the ritual, Those far away have sent floral and fiscal condolences To the wife and children of the deceased. And now it's time to review the hfe of the departed. In hfe the deceased was envious But we are told he never begrudged anyone. He was gluttonous But we are told he was a very sparing man, He was avaricious
Quarto But we hear only of his generosity, He was angry and impatient But we hear only of his forbearance, He was slothful But oh! how he loved labor. He was lustful Oh! he never craved anybody's things, The deceased was proud But we hear he was the humblest of all men. The man is dead But we are told he is only asleep.
John C. Wechsler
The Stakes Of A Game (Inspired by Paul Cezanne's *The Card Players")
The house evaporated into a sea of faint colors. Each window detached itself and tumbled skyward, leaving a large enclosed form of painted brick. Only the door remained. It was soHd: an old-fashioned kind of door, but it allowed for a formidable entrance. I tapped, knocked, then banged on the door. No answer. Finally, I turned the door handle where there once had been a latch. The door creaked open, turning on hinges that had not been lubricated in years. Until now, this house had always been locked. "Gents," I bellowed, "place your bets and prepare to lose." "In here!" came a chorus of three voices in terse reply. I walked in, shut the door, and strolled down a narrow corridor leading into a small room. They were all there hovering under a cloud of tobacco smoke. The three of them bent over a small wooden table concentrating only on the hand they had been dealt. The card game had begun without me. I watched. When nobody acknowledged my appearance, I stood motionless like a block of marble that had been chipped away until only my presence remained. I could never leave and I would never return. Stoic madness ravaged my soul. These were no longer my friends; but, instead three lonely men playing a game of cards. The stakes on the table were modest and the winner, if one ever did win, would surely apologize. They were here not for each other, nor for the
Quarto game. They were here for solitude. Solitude is the last haven for those who have committed crimes and for those who have had crimes committed against them. They ignored me, for I was their witness. I watched. Will sat at the head of the table with his back to me. Seven years before, Will had had a terrible fight with his son. No one in town remembered what the fight had been about but his son had left and was never heard from, or of, again. Will was a stubborn man. His wife knew that. When he proposed marriage to her while they first made love, her answer was "no." Will threatened to not get off her until she agreed to marry him. She came to agree with him and their son was born eight and a half months after they were married. Will's son was much like him and their similar nature made a conflict inevitable. Anyway, two weeks after the son left, the wife died. Many in town said she died of heartbreak while others insist that death was her only escape from being crushed by Will. Sitting to Will's right was Ben. His life had been filled with a short-lived memory of glory. He was an ambitious man who met with early success. In this town, early success meant he made a lot of money. Ahhough he was neither sophisticated nor handsome, he married a beautiful woman from a neighboring town who, upon arrival, assumed the role of social grande dame. When his fortunes turned, his wife left him for a city man who had amassed his wealth in poultry. Soon after his wife's departure, Ben had become a drunken sloth and has remained so ever since. On the other side of Will crumpled a mere frame of what had once been Rufus. Rufus had been the most respected and liked man in the community. He was always willing to give his advice. His advice was always good. If one needed a loan, Rufus would not turn him away. If one needed repairs on the house, Rufus would be at his door, hammer in hand. But charity alone was not the source of Rufus's popularity. His love and adoration of his wife were an example to everyone. Even though they were childless, Rufus and his wife
Wechsler were considered the ideal family. About two years before, Rufus had decided to take his wife for a suprise picnic during his lunch break. He knew she loved spontaneity. They would go to their favorite spot under the willow tree by the river. She would be so happy, he thought. He crept silently into their house. She was nowhere to be found. He called her name: "Babe, it's me!" The noise of a window opening came from their bedroom. As he opened the door to what he used to call his litde love temple, he could see a quite naked and very hairy bottom jumping out the window. When Rufus turned himself in to the Sheriff, the town refused to believe that he, such a good man, could have killed his wife. The Sheriif checked out this crazy confession but only because Rufus had never been known to he. Sure enough, his wife's body was found lifeless and naked on the bed. She had been asphyxiated with their picnic luncheon sausage. The Sheriff took the blanket from the picnic basket on the floor and covered her corpse. The town refused to put Rufus on trial. Everyone agreed that Rufus was a good man and that losing his wife was punishment enough. Outside of the occasional card game, Rufus usually walks around town muttering " . . . she cuckolded me and we never went to the willow tree . . . " These are my friends: Will, Ben, and Rufusâ€”three lonely men playing a game of cards. The stakes on the table are modest and the winner, if one ever can win, would surely apologize.
A Day's W)rk
He drove up to the site early, while there was still some pink left in the sky, drove the curving road around Cherry Tree Hill, and up the way through the pines to the house. When he stopped his truck he sat back to light a Winston and rub his neck. He smoked a minute, filling the cab of the Ford with long breaths from the cigarette, and then opened the door. It would be better, he thought, to go ahead and put in a day's work, maybe forget about it for a while. After all, the work wasn't going to wait. And there was work to be done. He looked at the house from the driveway, at its bare outbeams, with no exterior walling put up yet, and thought of when Eric Steitley had sighed, saying he was getting tired of the house looking like such a skeleton, and why couldn't the walls get done right then. It wasn't worth explaining to someone like him that he'd asked for something special, wood from trees that only grow in Oregon, so it wasn't too surprising that the load had gotten delayed. He stepped up onto the ground floor, stamping the dirt off" his boots on the pine boarding, and looked around. The electricians had come on one of the days he'd been gone. There were a couple spools of copper wire and a note nailed above the stairwell. "Hey asshole! those of us who work Tuesdays were here and did the basement wiring for now— did you talk to Green Mountain power—do by Friday!— Dale." A wind came through and the note waved like a ghost, and he stepped out onto the ladder.
On the second floor he approached his dad's saws, on top of the job box in the corner. Taking the plastic off", he kneeled down and felt the scratched-in initials, A j M. He rubbed his neck again, and reached into his coat for his cigarettes. Turning to look across from the south side, he watched the thin new grass of the clearing, bending in the wind. The grass had come up all the way to the woods, and he felt like having a walk over there, and lying down a bit. But no, he thought. The work wasn't going to wait. He filled his pouch up with sixteen penny nails, and started framing the picture window. Towards eight he heard Sue Steitley's Saab, coming up the hill and then the driveway. He kept working, and after she'd pulled up he listened to her telling her kids to stay in the car. As he hammered she called up to him. He came down the ladder and got off" to face her. She reached a hand out to his elbow. "Michael, I just want you to know how very sorry I am, first of all." Michael nodded and looked her over, more than he ever did, he thought, looked through her clear-rimmed glasses and into her graying curly-brown hair. "This must be very, very difficult," she said. He kept nodding, slowly, and pulled in his lips while he looked at hers, shiny red hke her Saab. "Are you sure you're ready to come back so soon?" she asked, opening her eyes wide like she was waiting to blink until he answered. "Sure," he said, and motioned his head back towards the house. "Gotta get goin' on this place. Be cold before you know it." He made a smile and she smiled back, tilting her head. A car door opened and they turned to see her little blond girl running out towards the woods. "Persia!" Sue yelled. "Persia, come back here!" Then the other, a httle boy with hair curly like his mother's, ran out the other door in the same direction. "Jacob!" she yelled this time, and paced off"
Quarto to find them, turning back to Michael with her finger raised to say hold on a minute. The sun seemed close that day, bigger, and while he watched Sue jogging after the kids he took off his jacket and tossed it on the hood of the truck. He lit a cigarette and drew three times before she came back, a kid by each hand, and pushed them in the car. She stayed close by, with her eye on them, and looked back at Michael. "Aren't they terrible?" she laughed, panting a little. "Yeah, kids," he said, and made another smile. "So... I better get them to school. I hope you'll be all right up here alone today. You'll be OK, won't you?" she asked, with her eyes wide open again. "No problem. Sue. Don't worry about me." "OK.. . " she said, and smiled as she backed up along her car and felt for the door handle. "Oh, and Michael. Whenever you're feeling up to it, when you're up to snuff again, we should talk about some things, you, and Eric, and I, OK?" He squinted through some cigarette smoke. "It'll get done on time," he said quickly, and she put her hands out. "Oh, I know it'll get done," Sue said as she got in the car. "Just don't worry about it, Michael. Justâ€”just try to feel better. I'll talk to you soon, OK?" She waved and backed out, slapping at the kids to stay down in the back seat. Mike stood at the bottom of the ladder, looking up. It would get done, he thought, and ran up the ladder to finish the window-framing. From there he went on to the bedroom blocking, setting up studs on each wall. He put in nails every four inches instead of ten, and though it only took him a few shots to pound the nails in, he set them with a few extra thumps, the bangs echoing up into the attic and filling the air around him. He broke a little after noon, and climbed down to the truck, dropping his tool belt on the bumper. He wasn't hungry enough to drive down to the store, so he dug around
Whalen in the back for his radio, an old Realistic covered with sawdust and lacquer but still working, and plugged it in by the basement window. From there he could pick up CHOM in Montreal, and he turned it up for a Steely Dan block. The sun felt even warmer now, and he took off his flannel shirt and put it on top of his jacket. Lying down on the plywood pile in his tee-shirt, he Ustened to the music and closed his eyes. Because the radio was up loud he didn't hear his old girlfriend come up the driveway, and when he happened to open his eyes she was sitting on the end of the stack by his feet, with her back turned and moving her shoulders to the music. He saw her jacket first, the old Levi's coat he'd given her their first year, and then her hair, bleached blond and curled like half-strands of rope down her back. He heard her gum, her chewing on her mint Freshen-Up. Laying his head back again he looked up at the sky, at the quick shreds of clouds moving across the sky and away, and thought it was surprising that she would come by. He closed his eyes and thought about tapping her on the shoulder, but just then she shook his boot. "Mike," she whispered. Mike got up on his elbows. "Hey, Beth." "Sorry I woke you up," she said, taking off her sunglasses. "I wasn't sleepin'," he answered. She dropped her jaw like she was going to disagree, but then she stopped. "I'm real sorry, Mike. I just found out this mornin'." She watched him with her mouth still open. "How you doin'?" she asked, and he shrugged as much as he could the way he was sitting. "You doin' OK?" she asked again, shaking his boot gently. "I went to your house as soon as I heard, Mike, I thought you'd be there. Took off from work and tried to find you," she said, this time tapping his boot with her fingernails. He listened to her chewing her gum, and thought it had never bothered him like now. "I wasn't even sure if you guys were
Quarto still working in New Hampshire or not," she went on, "so I gave Rick a call, and he told me you guys had been working up here, and then I came right up, as soon as I heard." Mike sat up, with his arms over his knees. "This must be so rough on you . . . I used to wonder when this was goin' to happen, after he had that first one. Must be pretty bad, huh?" She stayed at the end of the pile, with her arms crossed like she was hugging herself. He looked at his watch. "Aren't you cold?" she asked. "Nah, it's hot out today," he said, spreading his arms. "Hot? Jesus. It said 30° downtown. You should make sure you don't have a temperature." She looked back to wards her station wagon and then stepped towards him. "Let me feel your forehead," she said, like she didn't want anyone to hear. "Oh, Mike, you're burnin'. You oughta go home, Mike. Get some rest." Beth kept her hand on his fore head, and touched his cheeks and felt under his chin. "Haven't shaved in a while, have you Mike?" she smiled, and tried to catch his eye. Looking down at his watch again, Mike stood up, and she put her hand on his shoulder. "Come on, Mike. Don't worry about that today. You need a break." He looked at the house and walked past her, toward the truck. "The work—" he started. "—won't wait," she finished, and followed him. "I know, that's what he would've said." He laughed a little and put his belt on. "It's true, though," he said, and nodded at her. Mike flicked off" the radio, and when he got back up to the second floor he picked up the plans, snapped them flat, and waited to hear Beth drive off. But when he looked after awhile, she was still standing against his truck, her hands down in her slacks pockets, and her knotty curls coming over her face in the wind. "I got work to do, Beth," he said. The hair was over her face and he didn't see if she'd heard. Mike looked around for something to nail, but there was
Whalen only one stud left to be done, and when he'd put nails in ev ery inch, there was only track to be laid along the floor, and first he needed lines. He went to the edge, and she looked up. "Come up a minute," he called quietly. "M'l gettin' paid?" she laughed as she came up the ladder. He sat kneeling at the side, plans in hand. "It's kinda dusty up here," he said. "Watch for your clothes." "Oh, these aren't anything. We don't really got to dress up down at the office," she said, and stood with her hands round her hips. "You mean you're not at the bank no more?" "The bank? How long's it been, Mike? I'm working for Poulo's Insurance now." "No, I didn't hear that. Pay pretty good?" "Oh yeah," she said, and looked around the space hke she might buy it. "Yeah, pays real good." He sat on his knees, looking up at her hair. "So," she sighed, "what should I do, Mike?" He looked back down at his plans. "Just need your help snappin' some lines. Just hold this end across the mark, so the string runs right through it. Yeah, over there." She held the clip and he snapped the line, leaving a straight line of blue chalk from wall to wall. They moved along to snap the rest of the lines, and at the end Mike put the chalk line in his pouch and looked at her. She'd thrown her gum out. "See your hair's bleached," he said. "Yeah," she answered, flicking her bangs with her hand. "I got a treatment." "Looks nice." "Thanks." Beth brushed the dust off"her pants and went to the opening for the picture window. He got up too, and went over behind her. "This'U be a nice view to have," she said. "The woods right there and those mountains in the park over there." "Yeah, if it ever gets done," he muttered. 97
Quarto She turned around. "Whadda you mean?" she smiled, and punched him on the shoulder. "You'll finish this job, won't you?" Her fist stayed a minute, and he took it off to hold it in his hands. He watched her eyes, dark like oak and level with his, looked at her new blond hair, and pulled her towards him. She shuffled forward in her ladies' shoes, turning her head away for a hug, and put her hands lightly over his neck. Mike heard his breathing on his old jacket, and took it between his teeth, tasting like it used to. Moving his lips to the side of her neck, he heard her sigh. When he kissed her lips they were tight, but when he kept his lips there her mouth opened slowly, and their tongues touched and slid next to each other. He tasted her lipstick, like wax, and the mint from her gum. She opened her mouth wider, her hands pressing his neck now, and he slid his hands through her hair and down her back, onto her ass. Her tongue was still, and when he lowered his hands to the curve of her ass and squeezed, she took her hands away and stepped back. Resting her forehead on her finger, Beth cleared her throat. "Come on, Mike," she said, and he looked down at his hands, bumping his thumbs. He felt her fingertips on his shoulder, and heard her footsteps on the ladder, her ladies' shoes tapping on the aluminum rungs, and heard the station wagon start up, heard the tires cracking on the stones in the driveway, and the engine fading towards town, the sound getting caught in the wind and lost in the trees. The lines were laid and he set the two-bys in place. He hammered hard and steady. There was enough hammering to fill his ears most the time. When it was dark he had finished the bedroom blocking, and after he laid the plastic over his dad's saws he made his way out and down the ladder. It was getting chilly, and he got his shirt off the truck. Looking back at the house, the outbeams shone like moonlight, like bones on a skeleton, he thought, and when he got in the truck he knew it would be a long time before things were done.
An Interview with Phillip Lopate
Although Phillip Lopate has published two books of poetry and two novels, all of which received critical attention, he is probably best known for his three collections ofpersonal essays. He also taught for twelve years as poet-in-residence in New York City's public schools, and is on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival. Jonathan Sklaroffand I went to Mr Lopate's apartment in the West Milage to solicit a writer's confessions (as iftheforthrightness of his writing had not provided us with enough of them). The interview began rather quietly, the three of us huddled around a tape recorder microphone. We started by asking simple questions, and waited to see what would happen. As Mr Lopate elaborated his replies, he even provided answers, along the way, to questions we hadn't thought to ask. Graciously, he more than satisfied our curiosity with an effluence of ideas, opinions, and anecdotes to fill these pages.
Jonathan Sklaroff: Let's start off with some background. Where did you attend high school and college? Phillip Lopate: I grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and went to Eastern District High School in a neighborhood that was part Hassidic, part Puerto Rican. It wasn't a particularly good high school, but it gave me a lot of freedom. I was both literary and interested in politics. I was the vice president and president of my junior high school, and I was the chief justice of the student court at Eastern District, so that corre-
(Quarto spondeo to these two parts of my personality: the extroverted and outgoing, and the very introverted. I got interested in writing, and was trying to write novels in high school. I also edited the high school literary magazine. But I decided that I wasn't smart enough to be a writer, because in those days I was reading all this Dostoevski and Garcia Lorca and Beckett, and I thought, well, that's not what's going on in my head; if that's what it takes to be a writer, then I can't do it. JS: From reading your essays, I guess that would have come from your father's influenceâ€”what you read and what you wanted to write. PL: Yes, definitely it was my father's influence. He was reading Faulkner and Kafka and CĂŠline, and Schopenhauer. He was a self-taught.. . intellectual I guess you would say. He was writing poetry on his own, and he had been a newspaper man. Then the newspapers folded during the Depression, so he went to work in a factory for his brother. But he continued to read. Actually, I tried to hide the fact that I was as bookish from my teachers. I remember one time, coming home from the library, my history teacher saw me carrying a whole pile of books and he said, "What's that you got there, dirty books?" and I said, "Yeah." I realized that I felt more guilty about what I actually had, Sartre's plays, some Beckett and some Garcia Lorca. I preferred for him to think I was reading sexy books, because I didn't want to blow my cover. As it is, I knew that you could be ostracized if you were too intellectual. I once heard these two girls say "Oh there's Lopate, he goes home and reads the dictionary every night." So I had to downplay some of that in order to try to remain popular, which is the obsession of high school students. But I was fascinated with reading, and I tried to write these novels, which never got further than about sixty pages. I didn't know how to get into the middles of books. But I really thought I was going to be a lawyer, because I was involved in the student court, and the teachers always called
Kiefer me a Philadelphia lawyer because I was always talking back and making arguments. And I thought that I would represent artists and writers, that I wouldn't realize my own dreams, but I would help them. This was, it seems to me, majorly modest. I was also interested in jazz. At one point, I wanted to be a jazz critic. But then I went to Columbia. I was pre-law, and when I hung around with the pre-law students, I didn't have anything to talk about with them; but when I hung around with the guys who wanted to be writers, I had a lot more to talk about. And they didn't seem appreciably smarter than I was! So I decided, well maybe I'll keep writing stories secretly, on the slyâ€”of course not with any intention of being a writer, but just for fun. Eventually I became the editor of Columbia Review, an undergraduate literary magazine. There seemed to be a certain amount of recognition and approval, and so, I thought, well maybe I could do this. I really backed into it little by litde. JS: But you started as a poet. What happened.^ In an essay in Bachelorhood 3;oM talk about a friend's life as a poet, and call yourself a non-poet. You felt uncomfortable in that setting. PL: I've always had a complicated relationship to poetry. I think it started with the fact that my father wanted to write poetry, and I did what he wanted to do by becoming a writer. In sixth grade I was the class poet; I was the one who would write the poem about Thanksgiving or Halloween, and in junior high I began writing poems that were more expressive. In fact one of them, called "I Hate It All," got me sent to the guidance counselor, because it was this burst of rage. At the time I was reading some of the Beats and things like that, and so I went from rhyme and meter into free verse, and all I got for my pains was a peculiar talk with the guidance counselor. When I got to high school, I continued writing poetry but I became more interested in writing prose. And in college I was friendly with several of the poets
~-y Quarto but I wasn't writing any poetry. I think what ruined it for me was what they had then: explication de texte. This was at the height of the New Criticism, and it really killed my love of poetry. From when I was twenty to twenty-four, I was trying to write a novel, a novel that never got published by the way. When I was about twenty-four, I was running around trying to support myself, and I did a lot of ghostwriting. JS: How did you get into that? PL: I'd place or answer an ad for editorial assistance, and usually it turned out that they didn't want somebody to help them write the thing, they wanted somebody to write the thing. And these people were usually psychiatrists, architects, social workers, a lot of people in the social sciences, educators.. . .Often they were busy administrators who had to pretend to be thinking about research, or needed to write book reviews, deliver papers, when they weren't doing anything of the kind, so they hired me to do it. This was a good experience for a fiction writer because I had to take on all these personae. One time while I was doing all this, I stumbled upon this scam. Somebody was going to update some poetry anthologies, but he too didn't want to do the work, so I became his ghost anthologist. I basically talked my way into that job because I didn't really know that much about poetry, but claimed I was an expert. As a result, I had to read heaps, masses of poetry. I would read three or four books of poetry a day, and out of sheer saturation, I felt that I should start writing some of it myself. This was also a time when—I had been married when I was twenty—my marriage was breaking up, and my life was becoming much more chaotic and fragmented. So the movement from prose into poetry had something to do with my running around, my only having a few hours at a time to write, and a kind of lyricism, I suppose, that happens when everything starts to fall apart. So I began writing poetry. Now I had been attached as a 102
Kiefer kind of fellow traveler to what's sometimes called the St. Mark's poetry scene, which is really the New York school of poetry. The "elder statesmen" were John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara, and Edwin Denby and James Schuyler. And then there was another generation, with people like Ron Padgett, Ted Berrigan, Larry Fagin, Ann Waldman. And I knew those people because I went to college with Ron Padgett. It was an interesting scene because there was a sense of community. Most of them lived on the Lower East Side, whereas I was usually living on the Upper West Side. The prose writers I knew didn't have that strong a sense of community, but the poets were organized. I was more fascinated with the social organization of the poetry scene than I was necessarily with what was being written, because it was almost communal. I mean actually they shared each other's wives at times, and husbands. And there was a lot of dope, mostly marijuana. I was always a httle more square . . . JS: You wouldn't know that from looking at the photo on the back cover ofyour book [The Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open]. PL: Well, you know, I went through a vaguely hippie period, although I will say I was one of the world's worst hippies, the least talented for the love generation, given my sardonic personality. I was really more interested in older literature. The St. Mark's crowd was involved in a kind of pedigree which didn't go back that far. Sabrina Kiefer: Even Denby? PL: Well, of course, Edwin was a different story, such a cultivated man. But I didn't know Edwin in the sixties, I only met him im the seventies. Edwin, by the way, is the model for Claude in "Getting a Cat." He's the one who gave me his
Quarto cat. Edwin was the very best, you know noblest flower, that kind of thing, and Edwin was of course forty years older than everybody else. So I've had a kind of flirtation and puUing-away relationship to poetry. There was a time, in the sixties and early seventies, when I was known primarily as a poet. I had already written this novel called Best Friends (that never got published), and I remember showing it to a friend of mine who said, "Just do ten more of these, Phillip, and the world will understand what you're trying to do." I didn't have the courage to do ten more unpublished novels, so I started writing poetry and getting it pubHshed. I got quick rewards. I didn't get much money, but suddenly I discovered that I was able to get my work into magazines. It was a wide-open scene at the time. Poetry was much more populist and involved in all kinds of oral ideas. It wasn't quite so tight-assed as it is right now. So, in a way what I'm saying is that they accepted my amateurism. But I don't want to run myself down as a poet because I actually think that my poetry was fairly good, and people enjoyed it, and it got reviewed. I just always had a hard time feeling like The Poet, capital P. There's a certain sense of anointment, or self-anointment, a certain taking oneself very seriously that poets have, as though there are only a few in every generation, and they have this prophetic seer quality, and none ofthat jibes with my personality. JS: As if one had to be a "Poet" to write poetry? SK: And also, I have the impression that you wished to be a writer, and you write in all kinds of forms, so for you writing transcends one kind of form, such as poetry or fiction. PL: Definitely. I really wanted to be what used to be called a man of letters—and would now be called a person of letters—a writer. First I explored fiction. When I was younger, in my twenties, fiction was the—how should I put it?—the
Kiefer heroic genre. I wanted to be a fiction writer, it seemed like something grand. I don't think any sixteen-year-old kid wants to be a personal essayist. It's not something glamorous enough. The essay is too powerless in our culture. So you either want to be a poet or a fiction writer at that age. I do really think of myself as a writer, that is, I think I may return to poetry at some point. What I don't like is the careerism involved in the poetry world, there are so few crumbs and people fight for them so much, and the sense of there being circles and schools. Somehow, the world of prose isn't quite as organized so ideologically as the world of poetry is. In any case, I did have this period of being a poet, and in fact my work with kids coincided with it. I was considered a poet-in-the-schools. That's the Being With Children period, and even before that. Basically I worked with kids from 1968 to 1980. In 1979,1 published a novel, Confessions of Summer. It was around 1977-78 that I decided I wanted to write a novel, so I went back to fiction writing. In 1975, Being With Children came out. It was, in a way, a disguised novel, that is, I was able to work with characters and story. I didn't have quite the courage yet to write another novel, so I tackled it in that way. In fact, the "West Side Story" episode in Being With Children which is about 120 pages long, is in a way a novella, a nonfiction novella that has a whole rise and fall of plot line. So, Being With Children was very important for me, because it opened up directions in both novel-writing and essay-writing. In one way, it was a collection of essays. In fact, no one ever commented on this in the reviews. Being With Children was one of those weird books that got all good reviews. It was a little bit like endorsing Mom and apple pie, but nobody was against doing creative work with kids. I'll never have that experience again of writing a book that gets all good reviews. They were wonderful to receive, nevertheless none of them seemed to pick up on the fact that the book was not seamless, that it was in effect made of many different genres of essay. For instance, there were portraits, there were very narrative anecdotal sections, there were cer-
Kiefer tain kinds of meditations and personal essays. So for me, it was an experience almost like an anthology of types of essays. The first chapter, the tour of the school, is a kind of poetic prose section that was actually modelled on the beginning of James Agee's Death in the Family, that section "Knoxville, Summer of 1916," and I wanted some ofthat poetic-elegiac quality. So I was really trying out a lot of different ideas in Being with Children. It gave me the courage to do a novel next, and the novel was Confessions of Summer. Being With Children was me as Mr. Niceguy. Even though I read it recently and discoverd it's much more honest than I had remembered, in fact sometimes painfully honest, nevertheless it was bringing good news to people, that you could do this kind of interesting work with kids and get tremendous things out of it. The novel was, in a way, an antidote to that. I wanted people to realize that I wasn't always Mr. Niceguy. So, the novel was really about screwing up and a kind of anti-heroic side of myself It was basically autobiographical although I invented some things in it. Do you have anything you want to say or shall I just ramble on? JS: In terms of the anti-heroic attitude, it seems that your relationships with women, your relationships as a bachelor, are the most anti-heroic quality I've seen in you. You never write about, at least not in anything I've read yet, being married. I was just wondering about your feelings about women, why you don't seem to be happiest when you 're with them, until maybe afterwards. You seem to be most loving or most caring about a woman after she's gone. PL: It's true I haven't written very much about being married. It's a very serious topic and I haven't felt ready to write about it yet. But I will at some point. I do think that there's something anti-heroic in my portraits of myself as a pursuer of women and a lover. You know, it's easier for me to write material which has some sort of cutting edge, and often that
edge comes from my talking about things that embarrass me, that I've done that embarrass me, or make me slightly squeamish. Being With Children was the closest I came to being able to portray myself in a heroic light. It's funny, because I do have a fairly successful life, and I do a lot of things well, and probably even am a fairly virmous person. But I don't quite know how to talk about those things, or write about those things. Somehow, what sparks my imagination more are the unresolved episodes, the things that make me feel either humiliated or utterly chagrined at how I've hurt someone else. Those are the things that keep you up at night. So pardy for me writing is an exorcism of that confusion and that chagrin. I don't know what to say about my relationships with women. I really like women, not only as lovers, but as friends. I have a lot of platonic women friends. I have two wonderful sisters, a very strong, interesting mother. It's not as though women have treated me so badly. But in terms of drama, I seem to have been fixated for a long time on this idea of being badly loved, which is essentially a self-pitying attimde that comes out of adolescence. Then I realized that it wasn't so much that I was badly loved as that I was giving back as much as I was getting. I think I was swept along by a whole sense of the comedy of singlesâ€”the way that sometimes in our society people approach each other rapaciously to have their needs met, without really looking at each other carefully or tenderly. So, that's part of why I write about that. I must say I have often been fascinated with breaking up, with that stage. And I suppose it's hard for me to write love poetry. It's hard for me to concentrate on articulating when things are going well. Maybe I feel like there's not enough spice in the story at that point. Well, what's your sense of all this, being a woman, when you've read any of my things? SK: Well, my sense is that it's very candid. It reminds me of other situations that I've seen, and people I've known. I can see
(Quarto someone struggling or searching for some kind of answer to an unresolved problem. It's not a set of insensitive opinions, it's an investigation, a search. PL: Those are two of the main things I'm trying to do, you've put your finger on them. One is to write with candor, the other is to conduct an investigation. Someone who really likes my writing once characterized it as "muddle, muddle, muddle, then aha!" It's that process of investigation and sitting in the mud for a long time and trying to figure out something that isn't easily resolved. That is uniquely suited for the essay, going around and around something, circling it. That's something that the personal essay liberated in me. SK: / see that in the poetry too. PL: I think so to. If you look at poems like "Numbness" or "Indigestion" in Daily Round, there's a lot of that trying to work through something . . . SK: And in "Edwardian Dilemmas"? PL: Yes, in "Edwardian Dilemmas" there's a feeling of trying to make sense of these awkward moments. That first book of poetry. The Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open, actually has a lot of marriage-love poetry. One thing I have felt very stronglyâ€”and this had a lot to do with the historical moment in which I've been writingâ€”the most important intellectual movement through which I've lived has been feminism. That has helped to shape the whole intellectual climate, the emotional climate, in New York, where I've lived most of the time, and in Texas also. I have felt, basically, sympathetic to feminism. Certainly with the goals of economic justice, with the sense of wanting more equality. What I have trouble with is a certain aspect of feminism that sometimes asserted itself in the cultural critique. Women were encouraged to say what they felt, but there was a period where
Kiefer men felt very gun-shy, very self-conscious about saying what was really going on inside them in terms of their relationships with women, because if they were honest, they would be accused of being sexist. What I felt was that, really, I was a feminist, and what we both needed was to be as honest as we could, not to say what was socially or politically acceptable at that moment. And that also connects with saying things about race or class or differences in general. I think what we all want is to get to some position of fairness and justice. But we don't do it by just sweeping away all our ambivalence and all our confusion and just saying, "well I'm there already, I'm mature." So I wanted to be honest, that was my contribution. It's funny because I have friends who are very strong presences in the feminist movement, who have liked my work very much. On the other hand, there have been times when people have reacted to me, it seems superficially, saying 'Sveli, this is just a sexist position." If you just talk about desire, for instance, about being attracted to someone, physically or not, that already can be seen as a statement that you can't make. But it usually is somewhere in the back of your mind. JS: A lot ofyour poetry and some ofyour essays were based on a woman's physicality rather than on her mind and mentality. PL: I think usually both. I think what would sometimes happen would be that the man would approach her from that point of view, and the woman would do something to make herself real, and spoil his plans. I think in The Rug Merchant, the mother, for instance, is maybe the strongest character in the book. I would like to explore more and more, in fiction, women characters. Some day I would like to write a book from the point of view of a woman. But it seems to me that the starting point so often for my work is to try to be as honest as I possibly can about something, not to curry favor with the audience. If I want to be honest now, I have to say that
Quarto it's a tension in me because the ex-politician in me wants to charm, wants to seduce, and as a writer who understands the way audiences will react, I have a sense of how to get the reader's attention and hold it. And then the other part of me that was in love with Dostoevski's Notes from the Under ground and Browning's My Last Duchess wants to throw in something perverse, wants to test the reader, make the read er think, "Oh, well I don't know about that, that's a little ob noxious. I don't know if I can go with him there." And I would like at some point for there to be a separation be tween the reader and myself, so that the reader says, "Okay, I don't agree with him on this, but I'm interested in how this person thinks." I'm not asking for total merger in identifica tion. I'm just offering my own insights so that people will feel less alone when they have those kinds of thoughts, those kinds of confusions. JS: Going back to your family, you said you had a wonderful mother and two sisters. I think after reading your essay "Willy, " I was confused about your feelings toward your mother and fa ther. Maybe the actual goal of the seven-year-old character was just to have a family rather than take the side of the mother or father, because you do, in that essay, take the side of both. What were your feelings about the women in your household, and do you think your feelings for them influenced your feelings for women in general? PL: Well, certainly, the piece "Willy"—which actually I consider a story, not an essay—is one of the most important things I've written, and it's put very carefully into Bachelor hood, as a possible explanation for "how come this guy is a bachelor." I don't think I could ever characterize my feelings toward women as positive, negative, or anything like that. It's so complicated. I'm the product of my father and moth er, and I kept sympathizing with my father and then my mother. I'm still torn in that way. My parents finally got a divorce, and when I talk to one, they often badmouth the
Kiefer other. So "Willy" was an attempt to reveal the complexity of those mixed feelings, without necessarily ever resolving them. The fact that it's about my mother having a lover obvi ously meant that in some ways I would see women as betray ers. That's a theme I have worked with in the "Samson and Delilah" essay [in Against Joie de Vivre]. But it's something that I don't agree with, though it's something that certainly was much stronger in me at one time than it is now. On the other hand, by my mother doing this, she basically reached for hfe instead of suffocation inside an unhappy marriage. I am both. I am my father and my mother. I'm a combination of a withdrawn intellectual father and a much more outgoing and erotic mother. Sometimes I want to be her and some times I want to be him. And these two are already divided within themselves, because my mother has a whole intellec tual side as well. So, the point is, I'm leery of solutions. I want to bring people into a thicket and then to realized that we try to do the best we can. We don't necessarily ever sur mount these confusions. We just become more and more aware that they are there as background. SK: You talked about candor and courageous self-examination as being important in your work. Do you try to impart that con cern to your students? PL: I certainly do try to impart it to my students. One of the things I have noticed over the years of teaching adults is that often there is a kind of student who will request to learn about the craft of writing, and the techniques. I am teaching all of the time what seem to me craft and technique, but I don't label them as such. Now, very often a student will come in with a work in which they're evading some major problem, and often it's some kind of emotional material. The piece is disguised, it's unresolved. They don't want to go into something that is difficult for them. So for me the craft of fiction or poetry very often involves emotional clarity. If I am in a very confused state, in a relationship let's say, and
Quarto don't know how I'm feeling, and then try to write something objective about romance, it's going to come out muddled. So the first thing I need to know is: "What am I feeling? What am I thinking?" Not "what should I be feeling," but "what am I actually feeling?" And so, when I am teaching, I am trying to get the students also to push their work in a more emotionally honest direction. I think that is part of the technique and craft of writing. Now, I don't want to try to conduct a class like a group therapy session. But a lot of times, in my work with children as well as with adults, I would come upon something that was very charged. Let's say that someone was trying to write something, and this student's father had committed suicideâ€”and people walk around with a lot of these things in their pasts, this is not so unusual. So maybe I would try at some point to get them to write something about it, just so they could get beyond it, if there was this big barrier, this big bug there. Just to see what it would be like, to try it out. The story "Willy" took me close to nine years to write. I did it in different drafts. First I'd try to write it, and I would think, no, can't do it now. The way was very dim. It wasn't that I didn't know the story. I knew the narrative, but too many thoughts were surging through my head, which really meant that it was too powerful for me to get a handle on. I couldn't have any detachment from it. So sometimes people are not ready to be honest. But I do think that honesty is part of the equipment of the craft of a writer. SK: Are children more readily candid than adults? PL: I don't think so. I think children really are individuals. There are children who never want to write personal material, who will only write fantasy material, and try to keep it at a distance from themselves. There are others who are quite candid. There are times in a child's development when even to write the word " I " is an embarrassment. There are times when, if a kid is going through all kinds of trouble at home, the last thing in the world they want do is write a story about
Kiefer their family (and the teacher may say "write something about your family.") So I think there's a lot of variation in that. Children are more honest in their response to you as a teacher. When you go into a graduate class, everybody is going to be basically quiet, well-behaved, and sitting on their hands. They may harbor the most devastating critique of you in their head, and it may come out in their evaluations. That will not happen with kids. They'll tell you. They'll jump out of their chairs. They'll even insult you or something like that. So in that sense children are much more candid. They'll also show their love more directly when they really care about you. I miss working with children. I really did like that a great deal and would hke at some point to do it again. SK: Why did you stop? PL: I stopped around 1980.1 had been working with kids for twelve years. I'd already written Being with Children, and I'd gone on to do a number of very large projects with them, including making a radio station, doing a comic book project that lasted two or three years, and making a lot of movies and video tapes. We had our own program on access cable TV for a a while, we were broadcasting the radio shows on WBAI, and finally this was climaxed in doing Uncle Vanya, with fifth and sixth graders, which I wrote about in Against Joie de Vivre. And I think I had the feeling that I was a little burned out, and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to top myself. And I also was paid fairly poorly. I had a very good reputationâ€”one of the best artists-in-the-schools in the countryâ€”and I could never make more than basically, at that point, thirteen thousand dollars. So it was something like taking a vow of poverty to continue in that work. I got a chance to teach in the University of Houston, and suddenly my salary was much better. So, this is what our society is like. They don't reward people economically for working
"•W' Quarto with kids. They reward you for teaching a few classes in a university, and then the university professors bellyache a great deal! Having done both, I think that working with kids is a lot harder and more exhausting than working at the university level. What happened, I think, once I started working at the university level—and this is maybe a bit of candor—was that I began to protect my own writing more. I saw that it was easier work, and that I could probably get more of my own work done, and I began to feel that that was important, to protect my own writing as much as possible. SK: Do you ever encourage or think about encouraging your college students or graduate students to work with the Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Poets in Public Service or other such organizations? PL: Yes. In Columbia's Graduate School of the Arts, one of my fiction students, Alisa Kwitney her name is, used to be a kid at P.S. 75. Now she's taking my course. We pubUshed a little book of hers when she was nine years old, called A Huge Lion of a Book, and now she's not only studying in the writing program at Columbia but she's also working with kids in P.S. 75, which is fascinating to the kids, that she used to be there, in those same halls. Alan Ziegler [Director of the Writing Program in Columbia University's School of General Studies] has been a very important force in Teachers and Writers. Certainly Alan and I would like to do more with taking writing students and putting them into the community. SK: In "What Happened to the Personal Essay?" you talk about the fact that the essay has survived somewhat, but always under various nonfiction subject headings, such as Travel, Politics, Autobiography, Humor, or even Food. What do you think could or has to change in order for any kind of writing, especially essay writing, for "Letters, " I guess, to be taken as seriously as fact and the sciences?
PL: That's an interesting question. I don't think people understand how science isn't only fact, but is like an essay, a kind of report of what we know and what we don't know at any time. In a way, the essay is a kind of epistemological report that has a scientific side to it. I think that's what Montaigne was intending when he noted down his thoughts. He was trying to develop data about thinking. I think that's what essays do. So I don't, myself, see as great a division between nonfiction and fiction, between science and non-science. I think they're very involved with these processes. For instance, a good scientific article will say "this we have been able to ascertain so far, the following questions we don't have any answers to yet." That's what I also think a good essay will do: confess what it doesn't know as well as what it does know. If you're asking a commercial question, under what circumstances could the essay be empowered, it would be hard for me to imagine. I don't myself feel like complaining against the unappreciated lot of the writer. I have been able to write what I wanted to without compromise, follow my interests, get my books pubUshed. I have not become a wealthy man by it, but I never went into writing in order to make a lot of money. So I think that there is room for the essay. It does often have to be packaged in a different way, but I think lately there's been an upsurge of interest. When I go around I discover that other writers who are principally novehsts or poets are fascinated with what I'm doing in the essay, and they're drawn to it, partly because they want to be able to say things—this is particularly true of the fiction writers—that they haven't been able to say directly. Their opinions, for instance. When you're writing a novel you can often disguise your opinions, and say "well, that's just the character." For instance, the "Samson and Delilah" piece was in a collection, called Congregation, of writers analyzing the Old Testament. Now there's going to be another collection of writers with essays about the Holocaust. I think what
Τ^" Quarto these really are, are pretexts for collections of essays, and they're attempting to get writers who normally don't write essays to work with the form. The personal essay is a fasci nating form, because readers want to be able to trust that what they're reading has some veracity. And a lot of fiction being written today has a personal essay quality to it. JS: Yes, a lot of contemporary novels, and manyfirstnovels, seem to be personal essays. The essay is thefirstform of writing that students come into contact with. I find it curious that any one would really abandon this form. PL: Well, they partly abandon it just for the reason that you gave. It's force-fed them as compositions, and they remem ber their traumas of trying to write a composition. And the way that it's taught is so allied to rhetoric and persuasion, where you have to convince somebody of your ideas, it be comes something unappealing. It's like a kind of bullying courtroom argument, something for debaters. I know that it took me a long time to discover the charm of the essay. Now, the funny thing is that my taste in fiction, when I wanted to be a novelist and only a novelist, always ran to those novehsts who digressed a lot, and who had essayistic movements. Whether it was Dostoevski or Balzac or Céline or Italo Svevo, or Henry Fielding, they were always people whose writing had these moments that were rather essayistic. But I didn't know that at the time. I liked the playfulness, I liked the fact that they could stop telling the story and just talk to me for a while. I liked the conversational air. And it was only later when I was in my early thirties that I stumbled upon a few essayists I really liked, mainly Lamb and Hazlitt, and after that, Montaigne. And it was reading a bunch of essays by a single writer, instead of the way it's taught in school mostly, which is one essay by many writers, that clued me in to the fact that you could be like Whitman in an essay, going from thought to thought. So I think there was always a burgeoning essayist in me. And I like poets
Kiefer who do that as well. Some people say the essay is a form that has fallen on hard times, other people say this is the age of the essay. I think both are right to a certain extent. SK: An interesting thing about your essays is that you wrote that when Bachelorhood came out in the bookstores, the booksellers didn't know what section to put it in. This morning I went to a bookstore near my house in Brooklyn, and Bachelorhood and Being with Children were both in the literature secdon, in spite of the fact that essays are nonfiction and would normally be put under their respective subjects. Being with Children, for instance, might have been put under Psychology, Education, or Children. PL: I'm glad for that bookseller, who understands what I'm trying to do! It used to be the category called belles lettres. I think one of the things that makes me a little different from many other essayists is that I still have a very strong storyteller component. This is something that happens in my poems and in my essays and in my fiction. It's supposed to happen in your fiction, but you'll notice that a lot of my poems turn out to be little stories, with characters, with a kind of a plot. And my essays as well. Maybe it's not a plot involving something that happens to characters; maybe it's the plot of the meditation. But it moves the reader through a series of points, through an arc, and comes to rest somewhere else, in what I hope is a satisfying way. A lot of essays that I don't like very much seem to me static and lyrical. They don't go anywhere. I think that for me there has always been a strong impulse to tell a story in one way or another. Sometimes I'll even start out with a kind of reflection in an essay, and after a few pages there's a kind of impatience that sets in, and I start attaching the reflection to a situation, to characters, and I start telling a story. That's the kind ofthing that happens in "Platonics," for instance. I begin with reflecting, and before you know it I'm in a character study, and then I'm sort of narrating an evening. So I'm often drawing upon storj^ell-
Quarto ing processes. JS: I'd like to switch the topic to your involvement with film, since you're on the selection committee of the New York Film Festival. You never wrote a screenplay. I'm curious about your real involvement in film, how it began, and what you do in that field. PL: I do have an essay in Against Joie de Vivre about my early addiction to movies, the "Anticipation of Lo Notte.'''' When I was in high school and college, I was absolutely fascinated with movies. I cut classes to go to movies, at the Thalia or at the New Yorker, and downtown as well. At that point I was divided between becoming a writer or a filmmaker, and I made a film in college, called Saint at the Crossroads, that was based on one of my short stories. But I didn't have any money. My family was poor, and I had to beg borrow and steal to get this film made, and I had to use all volunteer labor. And I didn't hke that so much: actors not showing up and my not being able to do anything about that because they were doing me a favor anyway. I came to the conclusion that it would be better to sit in my room and write, that I could have more control over the processes of writing than the processes of filmmaking. Also, I discovered that, although I had read a lot of theory and knew a lot about the visual style of film, when it came to translating it, there was a real difference between theory and practice. It was hard to take ideas and to render them, from three dimensions into two. So, I continued to be a film addict, and went, basically, to films by the directors whom I liked, and wrote some film criticism. I never did lose that taste for film. A lot of the people I know who were cinĂŠphiles in their adolescence wandered away from it, became opera buffs, or just said well, there aren't that many good movies being made, so they just stopped watching them. I still have this almost physiological need to see several movies a week. I still read a lot of books on film. I think in some ways I know more about
Kiefer the art of film than I do about the art of literature. Sometimes you study another art than your own, and you learn the grammar ofthat art, and that informs you. Maybe what I should say is that I know more consciously the art of film. That is, I could write critical pieces about film more easily than I could about literature. I merged with literature, I try to write my own literature, so I don't have that detachment from it that I have with film. Having decided that I wasn't going to be a filmmaker, every once in a while I would slip back in. When I worked with kids, for instance, we made dozens of films, maybe a hundred films in those years. I pretended to be the facihtator helping them, but a lot of days I was plainly the director. I was telling them "get over there, do this" and I was directing them. So, in my own way, I've directed dozens of movies! The great part about working with kids was that you could work on a very quick, primitive level, so I had the feeling that I was replicating the genesis of movies, that I was in the Griffith era. We were making silent movies, with very simple backdrops, and so on. So I did get a lot of filmmaking out of my system that way. And then I made another film, The Casserole Dish, with a filmmaker named Rudy Burckhardt. It's a comedy that's based on my script. Other than that, I never did write film scripts. I think the reason is that I thought of myself primarily as a book writer, and my voice is so important to getting across what I want to on the page, that I always thought that if I wrote screenplays, I wouldn't know how to get the texture of voice, the narration, into the skeletal form of the screenplay. All ofthat persuasion, digression, conversation, that draws me to writing, whether it's in a poem, in an essay, or in fiction, I thought would have to go out the window, and I would have mostly dialogues and images. JS: But so many films, now, have a narrator in them. I could see "Willy" very easily being a film, and either the little boy or you looking back would be the narrator throughout the movie.
so I don't think your voice would be lost.
Merchant, I usually put in a few locational cues, so that you could know where things were happening. I think that's part of it. I think another part of it is that one of the things that attracts me the most to movies is the sense of the world that spills out in the background and on the sides of the frame. You see these things in let's say Jean Renoir's movies, where you have the feeling that, if the camera were to pan a little bit further you'd have more street, and more street beyond that, and more people, and more cars. For me, it's a kind of antidote to claustrophobic entrapment in the self In other words, there is a real world. That's what's so healing that movies give us. And that's what I want there to be in my books as well. I think in a book like Being with Children, you get a kind of swirl of kids and teachers and people. I want there alvrays to be the sense that there are others that are not ourselves.
PL: Actually, I've always been interested in first person narration in movies. One of the things that interests me is that there's an obvious discordance between the subjectivity of the first person voice on the screen and the objectivity that we accord the camera even if we shouldn't, that is, we have the feehng that what the camera is showing us is objective reality. So, the voice is saying "I feh this" or "I thought this" and what we're seeing on the screen is a photograph of material reality. So, that has actually interested me a lot. I guess in some ways, I never had the fire in the belly to go through the whole experience of selling myself, going into production hell and turnaround and all that sort of thing. I have friends who have done it. I think that largely, screenplays are a collaborative enterprise: you start out with yours, and it keeps being changed. I'm a little too stubborn for that. I want to be able to control the story. If someone said to me "you can direct a movie," then I would certainly rush to do it, but to be a screenwriter is like being their fodder. They can do anything that they want with you. I'm on the New York Film Festival now, and I see hundreds of movies a year. Many, many bad movies a year. For every good one I see maybe thirty bad ones. And this has, if anything, lessened my desire to make a movie. But I think if I made movies, it would have to be a different part of myself. It would have to start as though I were writing with the camera instead of writing words on the page. What drew me to film a great deal was the visual aspect of it: backgrounds, long duration takes, the sense of space, of people moving in space, the camera moving. This was all a kind of dream holiday from the words. I love to watch a complicated shot unfolding. And I think that films have had a very deep influence on my writing, but it isn't immediately apparent. I know that when I write a scene I always have a sense in my mind of how I would shoot it. There's a sense of mise en scene, a sense of where things are placed. When I was writing The Rug
Notes and Drafts
Notes and Drafts (From the Editors)
Jenny Hölzer at the Guggenheim. Dec. 12, 1989-Feb. 11,1990
Following the veritable avalanche of newspaper and magazine articles about the Jenny Hölzer exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum last winter, it was nearly impossible to see the show without preconceptions. The exhibition's centerpiece, an installation featuring an enormous LED message board spiraling up three tiers along the museum's inner ramp and flashing Holzer's famous phrases, was no secret and therefore, I expected, offered no surprise. What I did not expect, however, was my initial feeling of awe—yes, real gee-whiz awe—upon actually entering the museum. Hölzer created what can most accurately be called a spectacle. With its enormity, its electronic brightness against the Guggenheim's white walls, and its dizzying eifect of drawing the spectator inside the space, the serpentine LED board was an immediate and powerful appeal to the emotions. Flashing along the board were selections from various Hölzer series, including Truisms, Inflammatory Essays, and Laments along with some new writings. Some of these phrases were shocking ("Bodies lie in the bright grass and some are murdered and some are picnicking"); some struck chords of dimly suspected truth ("Romantic love was created
to enslave women"). All, however, were made profoundly disturbing by the banality of Holzer's trademark message board; she has long realized the value of appropriating this famiHar medium to communicate her messages of fear, paranoia, and, ironically, about technology itself. Her words, flowing upward like water defying gravity, had a hypnotic effect; it was as if Hölzer was utilizing some kind of powerful brainwashing technique to demonstrate the immense power of language. Underneath the LED board, Hölzer had arranged on the ground floor a circle of seventeen red granite benches; in a dimly-lit side room, twenty-seven white marble benches were lined up like grave markers. In these benches were carved selections from her Survival and Living series. The permanency of these carved words made an affecting—and entirely deliberate—contrast to the ephemerality of those flashing on the LED board; ironically, the suggested stability of the carved words was betrayed, for they, too, flashed and disappeared along the museum's inner spiral. With these contrasts, Hölzer again convincingly demonstrated the power of language; that power was, typically, the real subject of her exhibition, and the fact that her words transcend the mediums in which she works proved that she is as much of a poet as she is a visual artist. (Kristen Mirenda)
«Hut!" In Careful Aim, a work for six dancers which premiered at Danspace at St. Mark's Church in February, choreographer David Dorfman has constructed a distilled, uncluttered composition, with a small and carefully chosen movement vocabulary. He uses the conceptual and spatial clarity of a carefully plotted, formally rigorous dance to convey human-
Quarto istic and expressionistic concerns. The piece is accompanied by a stark and moody score by Peter Zummo for five musicians, in which low-register wind instruments convey a jazzlike melancholy. When I think of earlier dances by Dorfman, it is the duets Rounding the Bend and Slow Run Back that I like best, better than his larger group pieces. These small dances exploring imbalances in male-female relationships are also stark and distilled, using a good deal of repetition. The dancers' simple movements, like abstracted versions of real-life gestures or statements, are so well chosen that they seem essential to the dramatic situation, and the repetition gives a sense of time passing without the characters' relationship changing, or their behaviors. Careful Aim seems to be more in the spirit of those duets than his earlier group dances. It is sharper, with a clearer focus, and actually builds through a series of duets to being a group dance. Dorfman clutters his work less than he used to in depicting the dynamics of a community rather than a particular story of two people. But at first. Careful Aim seems a little too arbitrary and trivial. The piece suffers from a slow start. Because of its starkness, it takes time for all the movements and gestures to synthesize into a vocabulary that communicates. Dorfman's intentions don't seem clear right off. After a beginning section, in which the six dancers pull themselves slowly from downstage to upstage on ropes laid on the floor, you see repeated, isolated events: Dorfman running in a circle around the stage, one arm raised, finger pointing upward; then walking backward flinging his arms with a splenetic aimlessness; dancers entering and exiting the space, sliding close to the floor on bent knees, while partners hold them up by one arm; people waving into the distance, or signaling; people bouncing up and down in place in a sort of compulsive agitation. These actions are suggestive, but for a while, seem cerebral and a little boring, and the dancers' performances seem
Notes and Drafts too deliberately dramatic. One of the qualities I liked in the duets I saw last year was precisely the air of detachment in the dancers' faces in performance, as though they didn't realize that their movements communicated something. They seemed remote, giving the audience the impression of eavesdropping on a scene, on two people's private thoughts. That uncanny sense of reaHsm is lost when performers in Careful Aim make their faces more expressive than their bodies, trivializing the movement. As the dance develops though, it becomes tighter, and the pieces begin to fit together. The dancers' performances become less literal when they deal with quicker timing and more complex phrasing of movement. As simple, precise and often pedestrian as the movement isâ€”running, walking, gesturing with the arms, tilting, rolling on the floorâ€”there is a heightened sense of physicality, even an athletic rawness, which keeps the dance interesting as a dance, avoiding expressionistic tics. When the performers dance together, catching, touching or moving each other, they seem to swing between the worlds of contact improvisation and tackle football. "Huh!" dancers call out as if in warning, then spin violently, to be caught on the verge of toppling over and tightly embraced by other dancers. At one point, one dancer runs back and forth between two people caught in a frenzy of "huh"-ing and spinning. Dorfman creates a broken-down, directionless world where distress has gotten out of control, where empathie feelings and actions struggle against aggressive and self-protecting ones. Dancers start to keel over, are caught momentarily by other dancers, then left to fall and hit the ground anyway. They reject each other's aid and touch, only to seek it out moments later. Sometimes they charge into each other, or a dancer who falls and rolls on the floor pulls another one down with him. It's strange to compare the sense of trust the dancers need in performing this piece with the neglect and unreliability portrayed in the dance. At times, dancers trail through the space in a sunken
Notes and Drafts walk, barely off the floor, dangling by one hand held by part ners walking alongside them. Ever weaker against the pull of gravity, by the end of the piece most of the dancers are down, rolling slowly on the floor. They make mild, futile gestures at helping each other. One dancer, still on his feet, jumps up and down mechanically. Another slowly rolls in his direction, and touches his leg to subdue him. Then as she rolls away, he resumes his bouncing. The final image in Careful Aim evokes a society depleted of the strength to heal itself. (Sabrina Kiefer)
Kim: Λ Happening Psychotronic. Blacksploitation. Sexploitation. Vintage horror. East Village Avant Garde. You want it; they got it. Kim has two video stores in the East Village, one on St. Mark's, one on Avenue A. Kim started being a green grocer; today he owns two video stores. Customers flock from round the corner, Harlem, the Bronx, New Jersey, Connecticut, the West Coast, even Canada and Europe. Kim started with a dry cleaners, which he still runs, personally. Then, one day, he thought: hey, why not rent out a video or ten. So he start ed, right there in the dry cleaner. And so was born what was probably the only dry cleaner-video store combination in the known universe. Business started expanding: first he got a name for having good videos. After the first thousand or so members he opened his second store. He hired a manager who is generally considered a madman. A man with a vision, known to everyone only as C.C. A madman who, for all his vile moods, buih a video store drawing customers from round the country. Matt, the manager at the original store, recently got his own store, and C.C. now has stiff competi tion. Not in terms of madness; nobody will beat C.C. Matt is
building a store that offers videos like Lydia Lunch's Fin gered, Vincent Price's 92nd thriller Scream and Scream Again, four different editions of The Best ofGumby, and whatever else in the universe anyone would ever want to put on video. Matt is the greatest. (Elfranko Wessels)
Doesn't Help I miss Fred Astaire. I'll grant you, it's not something that troubles me every day, and on those days that it does an hour of "Shall We Dance" on the VCR is usually enough to cure me, but at the tightest-woven roots of my soul, I miss him. Constantly. Like Broadway misses Ethel Merman, like Eliot misses coherence . . . like any man who's past his childhood misses Christmas morning. It's not just the dancing. It's important to say that, you see, because so much has been made of Astaire The Dancer that further praise is, while justified, meaningless. Even selfdefeating; people don't want to hear it any more. So, no, it's not just the dancing. It's the whole world that was danced in. The black-and-white world of urbanity and pleasant alcohol ism, of deco staircases and phantom orchestras to harmonize your love songs. I miss the characters who weren't Fred Astaire, the mortals: Eric Everett Horton, Lord of the Shocked Double-Take; Eric Blore, fat little butler of our dreams; Erik Rhodes, suave co-respondent from far off Ita lia. The Erics made the pictures. Like Fred Astaire, they are all dead now. Ginger Rogers is still alive. Doesn't help. Erik Rhodes was the last to go. He died this past spring. Got a column in the Daily News obits with a photo. The year before, he had been scheduled to appear at an Astaire film
Jenny Holzer installation at the Guggenheim, winter 1989-90. Photo: David Heald, courtesy of Guggenheim Museum.
festival in New York City, but being eightysomething he decided at the last minute that his unair-conditioned room was too much to bear. And now he's gone. But he was already gone then. When he had been alive, hotel rooms were all suites the size of cities with windows like walls. Women wore satin gowns which never wrinkled and men tuxed around all day without breaking a sweat. These were young men, but not so young as to deny age. They just didn't age the way we do today. They got happier as they got grayer, got to sing choruses instead of leads and drink wine while Fred took over the dance floor. When the Erics were still alive, high society was a creed, not a magazine; a clever reply, a pair of tap shoes, and rhyme were the only weapons on the street; and old men didn't go home to Detroit because their hotel rooms were stifling and anyway they were only a year away from death and didn't want to see that damn movie again. I miss Erik Rhodes. (Charles Ardai)
David Dorfman in Careful Aim Photo by Tom Brazil
David Dorfman and Eileen Thomas in Rounding the Bend Photo by Beatriz Schiller
Mary Burns is a twelve-year survivor of New York City and a second year MFA Playwriting student at Columbia's Hammerstein Theatre Arts School. She is studying with Da vid Ignatow, and would like to thank Lavonne Mueller (Hammerstein) and Dinitia Smith (Writing Program, School of General Studies) for their safety nets. Chris Caiazza is a senior in the School of General Studies who currently studies writing with Austin Flint. He hopes to pursue a career in either publishing or education. Matthew Caws is a junior in the School of General Studies. He has been a student of Louise Rose, Colette Inez, and most recently John Bowers. This is his first published any thing. He's thrilled to bits. Alan Contini is, after thirty-seven years, finally a senior in the Writing Program. He has studied with Alan Ziegler and Romulus Linney. Two of his poems have been published in Transitions, and his one-act play has been chosen for a staged reading by the Columbia Dramatists. Ramesh Deonaraine is an economist and foreign affairs specialist who would love to be a poet. Ellen Ferguson is currently a senior writer for Burson-Marsteller Public Relations. A graduate of Albion College in Michigan, she has studied poetry with Colette Inez and Da vid Ignatow. She has been published in The Albion Review and Sporadic. Mary Firmani wishes to thank Raymond Kennedy for two years of candor, elegance, and support. Charles Graef is a senior in the School of General Studies. Mr. Graef tells us that he is rather bad at crossword puzzles, but hasn't fallen out of a tree for weeks and weeks. Lisa Horberg moved to New York in 1987 after receiving a degree in Biology from Stockton State College in New Jer sey. Currently, she works and studies at Columbia Universi-
ty. Among her favorite poets are Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds and Etheridge Knight. B. Kettlewell hails from Canada. She makes her living as a painter and sculptor, but decided to take a year off to write in New York. She has studied with Glenda Adams and Aus tin Flint. Sabrina Kiefer writes dance criticism and is a consultant to the Dance Program of the New York State Council on the Arts. She has also written a handbook on arts-in-education, Creative Learning, Critical Thinking, for the New York Foun dation for the Arts. Pearyl Levine tells us that she has never been published before, but she intends to be published again. John Lloyd received a BA in English from the School of General Studies in February 1990. This is his first published work. Michael Markowitz (Columbia College '90) is premed with a Computer Science concentration. This is his first pub lished piece of fiction. Some of his cartoons have been pub lished in the Columbia Jester and he has co-authored a medi cal research paper which will soon be published in the American Journal of Physiology. Paul Mills was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in Illinois and Massachusetts. He graduated from the School of General Studies in May 1990 with a double major Β A in Lit erature-Writing and French. Gavin Moses is working on his first book of poems. He has been a featured reader at numerous area cafes, has studied with David Ignatow at GS, and holds an MS from Colum bia's Graduate School of Journalism. Janet Woodley-Overton is a playwright and MFA candi date in the Graduate School of the Arts Theatre Arts Pro gram and a student in Ellen Currie's fiction workshop in the School of General Studies. Laurie Schaffler moved to New York from Washington State two years ago with her three children, Susan, Michael, and Lisa. She studies writing in the School of General Stud-
ies with Alan Ziegler. She will graduate in May 1991. Frances Snowder first experienced writing success as a high-school senior when her "Pride in Oklahoma" essay won a regional award, a $60 savings bond conferred by the state governor. Seven years later, with the matured bond, she bought an antique writing desk for inspiration. This is her third work to appear in Ă‡2uarto. M. Soraya Stilo has studied in the Writing Program since July 1989 with Leslie Seifert and Austin Flint, and is an "economist-turned-journalist-turned-database editor," with dreams of becoming a 'Svriter-cum-computer expert." Anne R. Teicher spent the last year at Columbia as a Revson Fellow, in a welcome break from her real life as an attorney directing a legal services program in New York City that serves low-income tenants who live in single-room occupancy hotels, and works to preseve affordable housing for poor single people. Njeru \^ithaka is in a joint program with the School of General Studies and the School of International Affairs, studying Literature-Writing and Journalism. He has smdied with Glenda Adams, Colette Inez, Alan Ziegler, and David Ignatow. He was the winner of the 1989 George Woodberry Poetry Award, and is negotiating the publication of his first book of poetry. John C. Wechsler has smdied with Glenda Adams, Janet Roach, and Susan Daitch. Presently, he is enrolled in fiction workshops with Raymond Kennedy and Alan Ziegler. He resides in Thomas Pynchon's neighborhood. Benji Whalen is a Columbia College student who has studied with David Ignatow, Raymond Kennedy, and Ellen Currie. He is active in poetry and fiction. He grew up in Vermont but was born in New York.