One man imagines his Graduate school interview and meets an unexpected guest.
The way I imagined it would unfold is this way. He would be there with other writers. Darcey Steinke perhaps. She would be there. He would invite me along for a drink: long time no see, and it’s good to see you too. Not necessarily in this order, but we would end up at the, Blind Tiger, besotted with esoteric beer. There would be introductions and I would be embarrassed for having to pretend that I’ve read Darcey,s work, while telling myself to be more masculine, to stiffen up the wrists and the back. This does not go over well as I lack stamina. I then tell myself, behind a blush, hiding from her blue eyes, in a puddle of failure, “I’m metro-sexual and that it’s okay to be so.” It seems that I am afraid when she looks at me. Darcey sits closest to the exit with her attention split as if she were keeping an eye on her unlocked bicycle or as if at any moment, a spaceship might land outside and take her away. Or maybe I give her the creeps.
Joe would smack his lips after the first sip of his Triple Bock, and I would tell him that it has been a very long time since I’ve spoken to a real live human being. I explain to him that, sure, I see humans all the time. I even talk to them. Sometimes at them, the way one does with drivers, or inanimate objects that don’t work. But a human being! That’s another story I would tell him. Emphasis on being. Darcey would be impressed by this. I tell him that I like people whose minds seem to crackle when they look at you: Live wires. Downed power lines. It is how I like to imagine myself; though it is patently untrue .
My eyes remind people of dead flowers. I am what is commonly referred to as, a turd in the punch bowl, a real downer. When she is angry with her other friends, my friend Lisa invites me along as a form of revenge; it is her way of torturing them. She told me this to my face. I accepted the insult with poise and took another sip of the beer that she had bought me. Darcey is probably aware of this too; I have a dampening effect on everything electric. My other friend Paul said, “Your mind is a black pit of inertia.” I tempered his comment with the fact that was gay and in love with me at the time. This is not recommended.
If I am to impress the beautiful Darcey I’ll have to conjure all of my wits. At the moment, Joe is talking to Darcey about the incoming students. I perform what is called, in the arena of courtship, a Cock-block. I do this for reasons I have yet to realize.
I say, “So, Joe... How many illegitimate children do you have now?”
Joe is quick.
“Six or seven.” He says. “And you?”
“Oh none. I’m sterile... impotent. It’s just as well,” I say, “I wouldn’t know where to begin, anyway. It’s really complicated down there.”
In my mind this would ingratiate me to Darcey. Or any of the others who might be within ear shot. Perhaps Ben Marcus and Shelley Jackson are there too. Yes, in fact they are. They have joined us just moments after we arrived. They are sitting with us. Ben Marcus is drinking a Guinness. Miss Jackson dons a cask-conditioned ale from Brooklyn, while the Miss Darcey Steinke holds a stein of Munich Dunkel. She is still looking out the window. The window is white with mute overcast light made of winter. She looks like an angle. It surprises me that a writer could be so pretty.
Over at the table across from me, sipping a Duvel, sits Miranda July. When she arrived I can not say because I would have just noticed her. Her legs would be crossed and a pink cardigan would drape over her shoulders. Her hair is longer than I imagined and her eyes sparkle like blue topaz. She tosses me a half smile out of charity, because she realizes that I am on the brink of humiliation, that my socks are soaked in shame. I fold my arms over my belly to hide it. This is too much for Miranda to take. Knowing what’s to come, she would dissolve as if in a Star Trek transporter. Molecular break down. Her outline becomes fuzzy, she becomes pixilated and disappears, unable to watch. All that is left is an empty table and a beer. This is appropriate, as she is probably a nondrinker. I search the ground for any stray pixels that might have been left behind. Just one is all I need. A little pill to fill the emptiness. I would swallow it and it would make me better. There are none.
Miranda reappears in Portland Oregon, where she materializes on the couch of the Hawthorne Youth Hostel having never remembered me. This is for the best I think, for this way she can never hate me. She will start knitting as if I never existed. Perhaps I don’t.
Joe sees me fizzling and slams his hand down on the transporter abort button to bring me back, because like all crackling minds, he wants to keep the game going. He says,
“I’m sure there’s a text book with little diagrams. You can bring it to bed with you... or a sex ed. class. You could take a class.”
“No thank you.” I say. “Have you seen that thing. It’s monstrous. Slimy pink cabbage with gnarly hairs. It swallows entire villages...”
Shelley is disgusted by my weakness and I am secretly pleased to have her attention. It is not often that people listen to me. It seems the taxing of my wits is paying off.
I imagine that her name is pronounced, ShaLay, and that she looks at Ben, who looks at Darcey, who looks at Joe who says to me,
“There’s always therapy, you know. I wouldn’t rule this out.”
Ben nods his head, though he knows perfectly well that therapy is a bad career move, if not passé. I look at him and feel ashamed for having plagiarized at least half of his first novel and then briefly consider Bellevue. It worked for Lowell.
“Besides,” Joe says, “grad. schools not for everyone. If you want validation, join the NYC fire department.”
“Maybe.” I say, “But they would never have me. I’m a coward and flat footed.”
I am trying to figure out how we went from Vaginas to failure. I tell them that I was trying to be witty and poetic. Profound even.
“None of what I said,” I say, “makes me a misogynist. Just so you know. It’s a matter of confusion or preference or maybe just genetics. Maybe my genes quit the race.”
ShaLay looks like she’s about to vomit. Darcey is bored stiff, and Ben is very disappointed. He says,
“If you had my father, things might have turned out differently.”
I’m wondering if this classifies as a tautology and for a minute entertain the idea of having a different father. It is difficult for me because I’m not sure what fathers are supposed to do, let alone what they look like. The thought vanishes.
I am now wondering: If you dissolve the narratives in your fiction, does the same thing happen in your life. Is my personal narrative lost? Is my life senseless? Maybe experimental fiction is a bad idea for someone with my weakened constitution. Perhaps my feeble mind is prone to leaks. The sense of reality is dripping out of my ears like butter. This is what reality would taste like. Some people have minds like steel traps. I have a porous mind. Is fantasy, to say nothing of psychosis, beginning to leach into the constructs of my reality? As it is, I have a difficult time discerning the difference between what I did or what I thought, or even what I saw. Sometimes I see a movie star on the street and I think that we’re friends or that we’ve met before.
Well, with regards to Ben's dad, it seems obvious to me, that Ben is correct. Because of this I can not disagree with him, and again, for a brief moment I begin to wish I did have his father but it doesn’t work. The language is not there. I am a deaf man trying to remember Mahler's 2nd.
My father was not around. He was uninterested. (Though he did kidnap us once for 3 days. After that I didn’t see him for 12 years or so.) Sometimes I think that this explains the fixation I have with my own penis in spite of the fact that it is totally illogical. The connection, that is. My penis on the other hand is quite logical. It has a specific purpose that is not difficult ot figure out. Sort of like a key without the turning and when the door opens it’s a whole new world. However, my own pataphysical experiments with this member have proved unproductive. But I digress. My failure as a productive human may have more to do with my “non-dad” than my onanistic proclivities. If he were only around I would know how to be a real man. I would have a sense of clarity! Divide and conquer instead of flounder and sop. Now I am wondering how we went from Vaginas to failure to penis and again, back to failure.
Joe is up at the bar ordering another round. ShaLay is telling Ben that he should quit Columbia and come to the New School. The New School’s progressive, she says. Ben assures her that he has nothing to do with the torturing of Animals. But even so, they only do it to instill in the young students a sense of Civic pride and responsibility. After all, what kind of citizens would they be without the largess of concern for the less fortunate. (Cultivated of course by one of the nations most prestigious.) “Protesting at Columbia,” he says, “is a core requirement for under grads.”
“He’s right,” I say. “They even have a large blow up rat that they share with NYU.”
Darcey decides to join in,
“What’s this about torturing animals?”
“Look...” He says, “I don’t torture animals! My job is to torture language.”
We laugh. Joe arrives with the beer. “Really,” He says, “I heard you torture readers.”
“I like your fiction.” I say.
“Mike’s a masochist.” Joe says.
“Michael.” I say, “But you can call me Faustus.”
“Did you sell your soul yet?”
“I tried. I couldn’t get much... An old hat and a broken pencil.”
“My fathers name is Michael.” He says.
“I know. Isn’t he in a bunker?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.” He says
ShaLay says, she’s glad that I’ve stopped talking about sexual organs and Darcey laughs.
I tell them that they’re mistaken about my intentions. I came here to discuss literature, not vaginas or fucked up fathers or penis. Especially mine.
“Either way there’s not much to discuss.”
“This is true .” I say before realizing that it is, and I wonder how she knew. Joe is laughing.
“You know,” I say. “I think you’re misguided, ShaLay. I read your book and sperm is not thick and sweet. It’s bitter and salty. It’ watery and it taste of metal and it smells like bleach.”
Joe is still laughing. But then again Joe is the one who told me about running naked along E. Houston with his butt cheeks clenched and a condom hanging out of his ass. He even showed me how he did it. I figured if he could get into grad school, I could too.
“Actually.” Says Ben, “It depends upon your diet. If you eat the first foods: Longing or Hair of Brother Who Died Early, the body waters grow sugary and sometime coagulate at the tip.”
I say nothing because again, I know he’s right. I have only a sister and she votes Republican. I don’t know why I wrote that: as if to malign her with her own politics. I’m a lousy brother and should have died early. I said this once, “I should have died early.” I said it while waiting in line at the bank, and the response from a stranger was, “You should be so lucky.” There’s no end to New York cynicism. I’m glad Miranda is not around. I’m glad she’s safe in Oregon. My sister too. She’s in Albuquerque practicing progress. She has a house, a ring, two kids and a dog. Progress was something I could never subscribe to. I am of the non progressive sort. I’m still twelve years old. Well maybe eight. I’m like an eight year old pretending to be a twelve year old. I remember the day I stopped growing.
September of 1977. It was windy and over cast. My sister and I were playing on the mangy patch of lawn belonging to our parish church, St. Jean’s. We had invisible ropes that tied us to the Yew tree in order to keep us from blowing around. That was the day that my sister inadvertently showed me that the wind was made out of brief moments of stillness, and that if you move as fast as the wind you can see those moments. They look like photographs of people trying to say something. Probably, “help.” It was a club I didn’t really want to join.
When trying to explain the reasons of my failure to my sister, I remind her of that day. It is a day she denies vehemently. She says that I made it up. I imagined it! She says I’m off my rocker and I should seek therapy. I tell her that there are books to prove it. She says, “Where?” And that is where the conversation ends. My sister is woman of action. She believes, a picture is worth a thousand words and a book is worth none. That true poetry lives in a hug or a gesture, in Things-done! I am a bad poet. If there is any solace, it is that I make others look successful.
My mother wonders if I will ever procreate. Not until I turn mitotic, I say. She says, “You should find yourself a nice girl. Finish your degree.” It seems our notions of success are hinged upon relationships and paper. She wants grandchildren. Real men sow there oats. I wonder if stories count. After all, even I, prior to the stabbing of the waters, before the goop funneling of the sweet heavy milk, I was a desire manifesting inside the bosom and loin, an idea of what could be. I am my mothers story. I am my fathers. I should do the same! Carry on the tradition! My father, if you could call him that, had to face it. Now it’s my turn. I have to face it: the little pink flower of ground hamburg. Well sometimes it’s brown but it’s all pink in the middle, as my father would say, and he would, right to your face. A blast of warm booze and cigarettes, “It’s all pink in the middle kid.” Then he’d rub your head and slap you on the back. It was how he justified interracial intercourse. He was a Fifties man. A mans man. Not me. I’m what they call a pansy. I have pink hair. And while we’re back on... or rather to, the topic: It’s a terrifying prospect, really. Down below. Little pink sea anemone with teeth and a funny smell that swells to engulf you whole. Men go there to die. So do animals... Herds of them... Whole flocks of birds are found falling from the air like pieces of paper. Sometimes they call it love. If fish could too, they would: it is why you find them dead on the shore. They make one last heroic leap and then flounder in the death throes of failure and sand. It doesn’t matter how many times you stab the anemone; in the end you will lose; it is like trying to kill water. You can’t hide from it. If it can’t get to you directly, if it can’t touch you, it will suck your thoughts out from across the room. Suddenly your Visa bill is delinquent and your thinking... I had a Visa card? It is here... It is now, that I begin to wonder if stories are like illegitimate children. It is a banal thought. A gross cliché that I am ashamed of. Children born out of affairs and then abandoned. All my children are orphans. All my girlfriends are disappointed...
ShaLay has asked me to, please stop calling her, ShaLay... “It’s Shelley... and by the way, the phrase concerning sperm, “the milk is thick and sweet,” is a metaphor you jack ass.” She then excused herself and went to the bathroom never to return.
Ben Marcus left too, but not without letting me know that his father was filing a law suit against me. Darcey asked me to stop staring at her.
I can’t help that I find her attractive. That I want her is insoluble. I can’t help that I have no social skills. I’m only eight god damn it!
“I only date lesbians.” She says. “And besides, metro sexual is so 90s.” She then stood up and walked out the door with out paying.
Outside in the darkness there was a spaceship. A glittering silver ball. I watched her from the barroom window. I pressed my face to the winter glass which my nostrils began to fog. Little pangs in the heart. A little more of me undermined. She pulled out a remote control and pressed some buttons. The door to her spaceship opened and she climbed in and dematerialized. A couple holding hands watched her float off into the stars.
Joe cleared his throat. He will eventually leave too. He will shake my hand and say keep in touch. But we won’t.
Suddenly I am alone again.
If I leave with out paying this bill, might they arrest me? I thought about this. How fast could I run? What was I running from? What was I running to. What did I want? What was this longing? This insufferable longing!
I left some money on the table and got up. On my way out I deliberately avoided the mirror. Hell would be a room full of mirrors. Outside it was cold. It was night. Late November. I thought of my death. I thought of children. What will people say about me?
On the way to the subway, I wrote my biography. I wrote it in my head and the epitaph read:
If there was a need that could not be filled
then I was aware only of need.
It was in front of the bird cage
that I received the secrets of solitude.
I was there, unprovable.
I had swallowed failure at a very young age.
Now that I am dead
I am learning how to love myself,
how to set myself up for a proper betrayal;
I am learning how to forgive. I live in a house
of mirrors where the epigraph reads:
If I see you,
I will stab you in the face
and fuck the hole.
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