Making people weak.
Here’s the thing about getting high: it has a lot of creepy parallels to religion.
For instance, if you haven’t experienced it, then you can’t know–not really. Take blow, for instance, coke. You can tell people that doing blow is like that first day of spring, you know, when the promise comes through the warmth, and you can breathe so deep your lungs feel bottomless. You can tell them the strange way you know everything you know when you’re on blow, rather than bits and pieces like normal. (You always remember who played Manny in Scarface when you’re riding the rails.) You can tell them the way you seem to lean forward in your chair more and more as the time between lines passes that magical 15 minute mark.
You can even cross reference between drugs, leverage the experiences people have had into explanations of experiences they haven’t. So you can say, for instance, that doing magic mushrooms is like smoking really good pot, only with all the sluggishness and stupidity scrubbed away. Or how dropping acid is like doing shrooms, only with the metronome ticking about five times faster for about twice as long.
It says a lot about the power of language, if you think about it, the way it can cobble together inner simulacra via references to the outer world. But ultimately, it counts for squat. No matter how many first-person descriptions you hear, no matter how much sympathize, you really don’t know what hell druggies are talking about. You might as well be listening to a bunch of fucking born again Christians.
I remember having a vision of Jesus when I was around 8. I just got this sparking feeling, like someone had flicked on a halo generator in my skin. I walked out of the house, my innards rattling like broken plates in a pillowcase. I stumbled to the giant stump next to our driveway, fell to my knees, pressed my elbows over about 40 years worth of old growth, and started bawling like I used to at the top of the stairs. Tasting salt and snot, I asked Jesus to forgive my sins–I asked Jesus and felt him waltz right on in… And when I say felt, I mean felt. I still get this image-feeling kinda thing–like sunlight, gold bullion, and High Elvish whipped into a puree–when I think about it. It was intense.
Thankfully it cleared like smoke in a basement, from clouds to wisps to haze to smell. I was openly questioning the existence of God by the age of 10.
My mom is a different story. “You asked him,” she still says to me. “You asked Jesus into your heart when you were eight, Dylan, so I know he’s still there.” I usually say something funny and inadvertently hurtful like, “Would angioplasty work for that?” or, “So I was too young to responsibly choose careers or politicians, but not the fate of my eternal soul?” the implication being, of course, that Jesus, like any other garden-variety pervert or advertizer, had taken advantage of me. “It doesn’t matterrrr,” she sings. “He’s still there-air.” This always bugs me for some reason.
At least you can wash out your ass.
So what happened? Why didn’t Jesus stick? I would like to say I was just one of those kids who never took his own experiences all that seriously, but that’s not the case. My first experience smoking dope, which was far less mind-bending, certainly stuck. It’s just that, for all its profound intensity, I never took that particular experience that seriously. Sure, I was “born again” and all that, but it just seemed, well, redundant.
Jesus just wasn’t my drug. Too much like blow, I think. Too quick-fix. Too feel-good. Too addictive. Too apt to pick your friends.
Me? I was built for Mary Jane.
All I can really do by way of explanation is describe the experience. If you were built for it, and you’ve experienced it, then you simply know, end of story. Nudge-nudge. Wink-wink. All that. If you’re not built for it, and you’ve experienced it, then odds are you’re mystified and yet sympathetic, kind of the way Jews are with Christians and vice versa–at least Nowadays. Otherwise, mere words will have to do.
For me, dope is mostly about perceptual intensity. For whatever reason dope lets the pleasure of certain things shine through more than they would otherwise. I get lit for good movies. I get lit for good meals. I get lit for good sex. I even get lit for a good video game. Everything takes on a kind of CGI glamour when you’re high, so that it seems you’re watching a movie within a movie, or playing a video game within a video game. Sometimes, when I get really fucked up, things will actually seem painted. A kind of aesthetic sublimity will texture surfaces usually polished by boredom or inattention. Otherwise, certain things will fly over my head, especially if they’re articulated through time, and some things I’ll be able to catch freeze frame, like unnoticed habitual ticks, or the way the branches of a tree never wave in synchrony. I’m more inclined to laugh, and less inclined to talk. I get really, really lazy when I’m stoned…
I mean, I’ll even watch Oprah if it means I don’t have to reach for the remote. Fucking Oprah.
The thing to remember about all this, even if the words don’t do the trick, is that lived experiences are the true centre of moral gravity. This is what slaps us silent when others confront us with avowals of true suffering. This is what pushes holocaust deniers beyond absurdity into the realm of outrage. How do you debate what someone else has survived? How do you usurp another’s first person with your prefabricated third?
It’s also why it’s pretty much useless arguing with born again Christians.
Or pot-smokers for that matter.
Some experiences simply are truths.
That sounds trite, I know. What I should have said was that some experiences are immovable.
At the dinner table that evening Dylan behaved the way all teenagers behave when they find themselves stoned in the company of family: sullen. Sullen is one of those low-altitude emotions, apt to evade paternal radar even in the absence of alcohol. He was quite content listening to his little brother, Johnny, ramble about the crazy Probarts, the two half-native brothers who lived across the road. When Dad finally got around to asking him how his first day went, he said, “Okay, I guess.” When the Old Man asked what he meant by “guess,” Dylan mentioned Cutter. “He’s kind of intense,” Dylan explained.
Dylan blinked against parched eyes. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, he would get this mealy-mouthed feeling of resentment, which would morph into a peculiar kind of shame-fed hatred whenever he became conscious of it. He could never precisely say exactly what it was he hated, only that it had something to do with always coming up short.
“I dunno. It’s like…” The word trailed into open-mouthed silence–what it was designed to do.
“Like? Dylan! Like what?”
He shot his father a slack look. “I dunno, Dad…” Years would pass before he appreciated how often he came up against the limits of words. Back then they always seemed to be running out, not for any incapacity on their part, but because he lacked the strength to properly wield them.
“It’s like… he’s always… like… testing you, or something.”
“Oh,” Dad replied with bloated sagacity. “He’s one of those.” Beer-wise, Dad was already well into his daily two-four by this time in the evening. His consumption curve, had anyone bothered to plot it, would have possessed an eerie resemblance to the “hockey stick” of global warming fame. The more drunk he became, the more he drank, the more drunk he became. And just like climate change, his hockey stick resulted in ever increasing quantities of hot air.
“Guys, like that… You know. Dylan!”
“Guys like that. You just gotta–you know!–remind them. He’ll mellow out once you get to know him. Wait and see.” Dad was forever embarking on advice that felt profound–at least to him–only to lose the thread of his thought and resort to some stupid truism. Always walking in the direction of insight, usually stepping in this or that cliche, then pretending otherwise as he scraped his heel with a stick.
“Well, he puts everyone on edge,” Dylan said. “Even Jerry, and he’s known him for how long?”
“Oh, yah-yah. Cutter. Now I know who you’re talking about. Never caused me any problems. You just tell him you’re Frank Wiersma’s son.”
“I don’t think he knows you.”
Dad shook his head while crinkling his nose. “He’s just playing stupid, playing stupid to give you a hard time. Dylan! That’s the thing. I never let people get to me. Back in the day, they all came to my place. All of them. I remember this one time–Jeeezuss Christ!–Jerr was supposed to race this bullshit Husky he bought in the States…”
Dylan shared a quick, expressionless look with his brother Johnny–two brains buzzing to the same rueful tune.
God, how I miss those looks.
Dylan spent the next three weeks irrigating through the night. Of course, everything played out exactly as he had feared. Not enough fucking pipes, which meant they were forever tearing down and setting up, tearing down and setting up, trudging through muck and darkness and bitch-cold tobacco. The nights quickly turned into a murky haze of slavery and substance abuse.
Jerry did his best to make like they were having fun. To be fair, the “party shack,” as Jerry so earnestly insisted on calling it, did see quite a bit of action, mostly in the form of cribbage games glazed in beer and lube. Even Now, whenever thoughts of Cutter strike me, I always see him as Dylan saw him then, cracking jokes around his cigarette, holding his cards like a scalper with the world’s last Rolling Stones ticket. Carnivorous and curiously human all the same.
As a fellow herbivore, I’m sure you understand.
But the work sucked major ass. And drinking and toking between excursions out to the field simply made it worse. Down time needs to rationed, otherwise it becomes the norm instead of the reward, and work becomes out and out punishment.
Dylan realized quite quickly that telling Cutter about the dire nature of their irrigating situation was a huge mistake–if not a disaster altogether. Had he kept his mouth shut, Cutter no doubt would have held back some, thinking that he had been duly warned before taking this job with his old highschool buddy. Yep. You gave me the head’s up. Working in tobacco is for shit. But since Dylan had told him how irrigating was supposed to work (for people like Cutter, ‘efficient’ and ‘supposed to’ were pretty much synonymous), he slipped into the blame game with the ease of a National League pro stepping into a carnival batting cage.
Dylan had met his share of “two-faced” people over the course of his life, something which only made his naivete that much more striking, if not inexplicable. For some reason, he always assumed the person he saw was the whole person, the real person, and that all the other versions were mere guises. He could never precisely put his finger on when Cutter had become two distinct people, but then Cutter had never quite seemed singular in the first place. He was more like a loose federation of the character traits, swapping through different combinations for different circumstances.
To Cutter’s credit he did start cautiously, griping in that feeling-others-out way so common to jobs with high rates of turnover. At first it was old man Finster, the owner of the farm, who bore the brunt of his scathing remarks.
“Ah, yes,” he said one night with his characteristic all-tooth grin, “this is the one all right.” He and Dylan were trudging through the muck with a sand-heavy pipe wobbling between them, drunk and stoned and trying to count rows. Lift and dip. Lift and dip.
“The one what?”
“Oooh, yeah. The pipe I’m going to use to ass rape Finster. And no lube too. I’m going to dry hump that cheap fucker!” He began thrusting his pelvis with every slurping step. “Fucking right. Me and my tin dildo.”
Dylan laughed, swatted at a mosquito. “Why not use the water gun? Give him a high-pressure enema.”
Cutter nodded as though to acknowledge a fellow gifted intellect. “Now that’s what I’m talking about! There’s a douche for yah. His ass would be clean as a whistle. You could fucking use it for a grocery bag! Stuff it full of prickly pears at the A&P!”
Cutter was forever cracking himself up. He had this way of seizing your reaction, of showing you just how funny or insightful or devious you were supposed to find him, and in a strange way that made him easy on the nerves–when you were alone with him, that is.
He was continually laying tracks for Dylan to follow.
So it was “Finster this,” or “Finster that,” where ‘this’ and ‘that’ typically referred to some sadistic combination of genitalia and blunt force trauma. In fact, if anything cemented the friendship between Cutter and Dylan–or “Weirdsma” as Cutter liked to call him–it was a common appreciation, not only for all things vulgar (this was a tobacco farm after all), but for what you might call the ‘poetry of the crude.’
If you think about it, the crude is to content what the haiku is to form. On the one hand, you basically have what? bio-effluents, the pussy and all its permutations, the asshole, the cock, and the balls and that’s it. A pretty limited semantic repertoire if you think about it. On the other hand, you have the infinity of combinatorial possibilities offered by the world. Take a cheese-grater, for instance, combine it with shit–eew! Combine it with balls–owich! Combine it with pussy–double fucking owich! Combine it with pussy, shit, and pus–dude, you`ve gone too far!
Of course this is a pretty crude example of the crude, which can actually be quite pretty. Dylan didn’t accord Cutter poet status until they saw old man Finster watching them from his white Ford one afternoon. They turned to walk back to the lane, and there the fucker was, half-pulled into the verge, watching across ground cooked to wavering by the sun. “What?” Dylan asked, noticing that Cutter had started laughing, silent and wide-eyed–the way he always did when he came up with something he thought deliciously off-side. “I was just thinking,” he gloated, “what do you think he would do if I ran up and mashed my cock against his window? Eh? Eh? Show him the hairy octopus exhibit!” Before Dylan had even processed this, Cutter was gesturing to his groin, shouting at the hazy figure in his pick-up. “World famous!” he howled. “A sell out show in fucking Moscow!”
Old man Finster took off, his tires farting gravel, and the laughter knocked Dylan to his knees. For weeks following he would look at Cutter and shake his head, saying, “Hairy octopus exhibit,” in a what-the-fuck-were-you-on? tone.
But all this Finster stuff pretty clearly meant nothing to Cutter, or next to nothing. At some level Dylan understood that “Finster” was simply a dodge, that it was Jerry who was the real target of Cutter’s growing malice. He had of way of saying things that made you feel like you were watching a magician from an angle. He knew you were there. But he continued the show for the sake of the audience square in front of him, whether they had arrived or not.
“Yeah, we saw old Finster out there on concession,” Cutter later told Jerry.
Jerry turned to him with a look of genuine concern, took a pensive drag off his cigarette. If anything, Jerry was every bit as baffled by his relationship with Peter Finster as Dylan, Cutter, or even Harley for that matter. Nobody seemed to understand how it worked. As a share-cropper Jerry was nominally in charge, but the uncomfortable fact was that everything, even the furniture in the farmhouse, belonged to the old man. To rent something was to rent something, but to rent everything was different animal altogether. One that didn’t sleep.
Given the totality of the old man’s ownership, perhaps a certain amount of possessiveness was to be expected. Some people can’t even lend their lawnmower without continually peaking through the window.
“What was he doing?”
“Stroking his cock,” Cutter said. “Just enough pipes to work our asses off, eh? Fuck. We’re just sweaty balls in his slave porn.”
Dylan would have laughed, but it itched to hear his own observation etched in Cutter’s smokey voice. He found himself fending a curious sense of guilt–even though he didn’t think he had done nothing wrong. Dylan still believed that honesty was an antidote to crime, instead of what it really was: another weapon of convenience.
Jerry only frowned, and for the wrong reasons, Dylan knew. Finster was an obvious threat to his agricultural fantasy, whereas Cutter… well. Perhaps Jerry knew enough to be wary of his old friend–how could he not after three years of highschool?
But then some people simply seem to be born into the blind-spots of others.
Because Jerry had decided, as he put it, “to do this scientifically,” there was very little rhyme or reason to the hours Dylan found himself working. Sun was bad, because it evaporated so much water. And wind was even worse. This meant that, scientifically speaking, they should be irrigating during windless nights. But for some reason Jerry continually fretted about “other factors,” or “intangi-bulls” as he sometimes called them, which never seemed all that clear. Knolls for instance, elevated areas in various fields, apparently required extra attention because the weeping tile was forever drying them out. So sometimes they would actually find themselves irrigating on bright windy days. And then there was the ever enigmatic “wilt factor” to consider. They would be cruising down some field in Jerr’s Dodge Ram, and the big man would suddenly step on the brakes, murmuring “Jesus fuck!” as he dashed from the door. “What do you think?” he would shout from some point in the fields, while Dylan and Cutter tried to make their disgust obvious via the reluctance with which they joined him. “Look at that!” he would say, holding a leaf that for all the world looked no different than any other tobacco leaf on any other plant. Dylan would usually say something like, “Uhm…” or “Well…” while Jerr would already be running the calculations in his head: “South field, six hours tonight. Woodline tomorrow night… We have to get to this. Nothin’ doin.” Jerry had perhaps the most dozy look of concentration Dylan had ever seen on a healthy human face. For whatever reason, his features, no matter how he jumbled them together, just could not convey a look of calculated penetration.
“Nothin’ doin. Looks like you boys will have a sweet paycheck next week!”
Perhaps it was this, Jerry’s habit of describing the hurt to come as entrepreneurial opportunities, that most disgusted Cutter.
“Just think!” he would cry as they hauled all that opportunity. “Just think how sweet that paycheck is going to be. Oh, zooo Zweet! Just think! I’ll be able to buy some fresh bread, cut a hole in it, and fuck that for a change!”
As it turned out, “Zooo Zweet,” would become a catchphrases of his, one of several he would use to call Jerry an idiot to his face without the big man knowing. I can’t remember if Dylan ever worried whether Cutter had other phrases he used to do the same to him. I want to say no…
But then my memory likes to tell stories–like yours.
Whenever he had trouble sleeping during the days, Dylan would crash on the couch and watch his brother Johnny watch Conan the Barbarian. Johnny had a thing for Conan–the movie, not the barbarian. So too did Dylan for that matter–the movie was nothing short of a revelation for geeks around the world: a sword-and-sorcery flick that actually possessed redeeming aesthetic qualities–are you kidding me? Along with the earlier Alien and the subsequent Blade Runner it was a kind of cinematic crack. But Johnny, he just couldn’t get enough. For the summer of 1984 scarcely a day passed without him watching the movie at least once, sometimes three or four times. He would always sit cross-legged on the floor some four feet in front of the screen, leaning forward and gazing up in a kind of approximation of a Buddhist monk contemplating infinity–only honest–and repeating, not just the dialogue, not just the intonation, but the emotion of every line.
Whenever you pissed him off, he would say, his little boy voice uncanny for the way it mimicked James Earl Jones: “You broke into my house, stole my property, murdered my servants and my pets, and that is what grieves me the most! You killed my snake…”
Dylan would just shake his head and say, “You kill me.”
Johnny actually died the same year as Dad. It was one of those fucked up diseases that other people always seem to be getting on the news.
Still takes my breath away, how the wave just reared up and scooped them away.
Dad was proud of him during this time–proud of Dylan, that is. The kicker, you see, was that Dylan not only slaved heaving water guns and hauling pipes every night, he also had his part-time job at the grocery store in St. Thomas–the one he had hoped would fund his first slack summer since Dad had given up managing tobacco. If he wasn’t dragging his ass off to Jerry’s, he was slouching toward to the new Loblaws Superstore. Work. This was the pillar of Dad’s pride. You were nothing unless you worked, and the more you worked, the more you were. Work. Work. Fucking work.
The thing about having a drinker for a father is that you’re never at a loss for as to how your dad feels about you. Later in life, Dylan would always scratch his head at fucked-up buddies of his whose lives, when they described them, seemed like an endless succession of Kodak moments–to the point where he sometimes wondered whether buttoned-down, high-functioning dads were the worst dads of all. Scarcely a day passed without Dad telling him how proud he was of him. At every breakfast they managed to have together, Dad would find about twenty different ways to tell Johnny that Dylan was doing things right, the way things were meant to be done.
Poor Johnny. No matter how many times he heard Dad say the same thing he would sit there, munching on his Froot Loops or Honey Combs or whatever, smiling until milk spilled down his chin, nodding as though he were hearing it all for the first time.
All that Conan, perhaps. Johnny could appreciate the repetition of the same.
He understood that not all the sames were the same.
One night, after spiking his regular beer intake with a twenty-sixer of whiskey, Dad broke down crying while trying to explain how proud he was. Dylan and Johnny had to hold him, tell him over and over it was okay that he no longer had a farm, that somehow his boys would find their way, with or without the discipline of tilling the earth–the living earth.
That they loved him for who he was, not for what he had.
Dad had lost a lot in his life. Everything except his bearing…
And then that too.
Strange, isn’t it? the way words can suck up so much power when they’re written. We come to them defenceless. They just mean things, sparks in our interior monologue which, thanks to certain neural circuits, we attribute to other neural circuits.
Nobody really thinks while they read. Nobody. Either they pause and puzzle, or they just label on the fly. Judgmental daydreams. Almost all comprehension is a racial epithet, if you think about it. A prejudicial fusion in the worst sense: the sense of people writing off people. Nobody says, “Dude, my tradition just doesn’t get you.” No, they say, “I like this guy,” or “Who the fuck does this guy think he is?”
To read is to sit in judgment period.
If you think about it, reading is a thoroughly fascistic exercise. Jouissance, my ass. Our brains are primed to recognize and to evaluate all at once, to try individuals as kinds. What’s worse, your judgement comes before your comprehension. The words arrive with a verdict already attached. This is why you feel so ‘open-minded’: The vast bureaucracy of oppression is utterly invisible. You’re simply the warden, charged with executing the sentence of secret courts and unnamed judges. You have nothing against the prisoners that arrive, so how could you be bigoted? Meaning comes to you as a succession of mugshots.
My only chance is to toss in a few criminals you’ve never seen before. To trick you into honesty.
On the off chance that our brains might spark together.
But who am I kidding? Really?
Face it. We’re all lazy fucks. And life’s so much easier being right.
The biggest event during this time occurred the night that Cutter brought the pow-wow weed to the smoke-shack. Pow-wow weed, according to Cutter, was pot that had been laced with synthetic THC crystals. And though Dylan had been somewhat skeptical–for him “THC” had become natural sounding enough to sound a false note when paired with “synthetic”–the first joint turned him into a believer.
Cutter sparked the joint and they broke out the crib board. Crib was one of those mechanical card games, where–pegging aside–most everything depended on what you were dealt. Crib put you face to face with luck, close enough to glimpse your existential meaninglessness, but not so close as to preclude a good time. Few card games allowed you to feel quite so sorry for yourself.
Crib was proof.
It was playing with Cutter that Dylan picked up the habit of calling his crap zero hands “nineteen.” Cutter swore up and down that it was mathematically impossible to score nineteen in cribbage, so it was a joke way to psyche your opponents, to simultaneously dismay them with an outrageously high number while admitting abject defeat. At the time it had almost seemed oriental to Dylan, such was the goofy subtlety.
(Of course some twenty years later I scored an actual nineteen playing with an old friend. Neither of us had seen one before, and pretty much everyone we knew had come to use “nineteen” as a synonym for a “fuck-you-zero”–one of Cutter’s longer shadows. As far as I know, it was the first nineteen hand in human history. We were both dumbstruck. I literally threw up later that very night–because of the memories, I suppose.)
Playing that night became real hard real fast. By the second toke Dylan was simply laying his hands out, asking Jerry and Cutter (but really only Cutter) to count his totals for him.
“Too. Stoned,” he explained to the laughing men.
One of the extraordinary things about getting super fried was the way things always kind of make sense even after you lose all ability to make sense of things. Take booze, for instance. Booze is a full spectrum intoxicant. When it fucks you up, it fucks you up. The little voice, that corner of your soul that measures all things sane, is the very thing you can’t trust when you’re hammered. But with dope, no matter how powerful, no matter how fucked up you may be, you’re somehow still there, as sober as a CBC anchor, watching everything that happens and thinking, “How did I get so fucked up?”
Booze turns insanity into a revelation. Dope turns insanity into a series of colossal blunders. In both cases fucking up is pretty much inevitable, but in the latter case you’re never, paradoxically, quite responsible.
It’s the difference between, “I don’t know what I was thinking!” and “Man, dude, I was, like, there, and the shit just happened.”
By the third toke, Dylan had to say, “Fuck it. You guys play.”
Of course he got Cutter’s trademark, “Waingh!”–a baby’s wail barked out of a hoarse man-throat. “Waingh!” Followed by, “My pussy hurts!”
“You okay, Dylan?” Jerry asked, his lips pulled into a cherry-red grin. He fairly choked with laughter afterward.
Dylan started saying “Fuckers,” but somehow it never happened. All he could do was blink like an idiot in the cruel spotlight of their laughter.
Given Dylan’s inability to play cards, they bailed on the game and decided to get an early start on the pipe change. While they were in the pick-up truck Cutter turned to him, stared at his forehead, and asked in a voice too concerned to be anything but mocking: “Are you okay, Dylan?”
His face seemed to float, all jaw and squint.
“Fine, man. Fucking fine.”
A monstrous frown. “Look me in the eye and say that.” Of course he was staring directly at his forehead as he said this.
But Dylan was just stoned enough to ask, “What do you mean?”
“Look me! In the fucking eye!”
“Wha-what?” Now he was genuinely freaked. Not by the eye gag–he’d dropped acid enough to know better–but by the antagonism.
“What? You so stoned you don’t understand English? Look. Me. In the fucking eye!”
Somehow Dylan mustered the self-possession to say, “It was synthetic THC, not LSD, motherfucker.”
Cutter roared with maniacal laugher, his mouth open, his teeth revealed in all their predatory glory.
“Yeee fucking hardy-hah-hah!” he cried out.
The world had shrunk to their claustrophobic cockpit, a gliding interior limned in the jeweled lines of the Dodge’s dashboard lights. The dirt lane poured like brown sugar under the floating panels beneath their feet. The tobacco whirred to either side of their tunneling passage, at once fluffy and sharp.
Jerry laughed into his steering wheel, his smile even dopier than normal, his eyes redder than a baby’s mouth. Somehow Dylan realized that Jerry was every bit as fucked up as he was, that driving was as much as he could do–an understanding that boiled to nothing in Cutter’s smacking eyes.
The man could function in atmospheres that strangled others dead.
You’re not allowed to feel like a voyeur. Not here. Not ever.
What? Did you think I was giving you a slice of my life?
This is a loaner, my friend. Not only do I want the fucker back, I have more than a few conditions.
Why? Because I don’t trust you.
Why? Because you resemble me. And I know full well what I do when I read literary shite like this. I own it. I never let what I read get the best of me because I am fucking smarter than everything that I read. The obvious implication of this is that you, for perhaps the first time in your life, are confronted with something that is smarter than you. Perhaps you suspect this already. Perhaps this makes you laugh. But trust me, this is going to go places you cannot follow. And you will try, I guarantee you, to write my writing off. You will avail yourself of every trick at your disposal to feel superior to this text. After all, you’re pretty much the smartest person you meet on a daily basis, and if you encounter something you can’t follow or can’t understand it has to be because it’s fucked up somehow. If it doesn’t light up when your light shines on it, then it must be benighted…
Dark all the way down.
My life is not inert. It argues all the time, incessantly. Wah, fucking wah-wah! Or Waingh! As Cutter would say. It broadcasts across the whole range of affective modalities. But you’re not me. I can’t expect you to blubber the idiotic way I do when I reread this shit. So if I loan it to you, its with the proviso that you rent my rants as well. Not only have you read it all, seen it all, you’ve been trained, as a categorizer, a semantic filing and organizing machine. You scan for influences, feel a little dick-or-clit-tug of satisfaction every time you recognize this or that allusion. You probe for ideological subtexts, track repetitions, call them things like ‘trope’ and ‘motif.’
When it comes to communication, you’re as artificial as a human can be.
Mere narrative doesn’t stand a chance against you. Even if I went Ellis or Blanchot on your ass, started writing against your ideological vein, or talked about eyeballs glaring out of rheumy pussies. Even if I chopped things up, played the po-mo cognitive baiting game, worked the rules of representation sideways, giving you fragments of plot, semblances of settings, and mangled montages instead of characters, the most I could conjure are buzzes of aporetic beauty, and you, my friend, are stoned enough already.
No. Not stoned. Drunk.
I refuse to be an article of consumption. More Canadiana. I am here to fuck you up the way you pretend to want to be.
Why write about when I can write to…
There really is no such thing as ‘writing about.’ Words don’t refer. Christ, they don’t even shit or bleed. It’s people who do the referring, and its people who are referred.
Experience is linguistically decomposable. I write something, you find yourself referred to some amalgam of your own experiences. And since experiences are not things like pies, but spaces that we inhabit, you could say that words are stripped-down perspectives, and that what I’m doing is closer to hoisting you like a child, whipping you this way and that, showing you the combinatorial possibilities of you. And since you’re not a thing like a pie, but a relationship to the world, you could say that I showing you approximations of the truth.
I happen to be one of those possible relationships–one of those truths. And inevitably, I exceed the permutations of you just as you exceed the permutations of me. The question is whether you’ll judge the ways I transcend you as harshly as I judge the ways you repeat me.
We’re all mismatched possibilities of each other.
And that, dude, is a fucking head-trip. It’s so much easier reading about this and that than it is almost being someone else. When you read about, you can conveniently overlook the convenient fit between you and the writer. Rather than being a child whipped this way and that, you become a kind of numb and immovable god, a stationary observer of a world as mobile and fluid as cinema. A thoughtlessly thoughtful consumer of perspectives.
Oh, sure you opine about the dangers of the ‘theoretical stance,’ chuckle about Nietzsche’s cheek, get wood over the way the performative trumps the representational. Well, you can go fuck your fourth wall–theoretical twaddle, all of it…
This is between you and me.
At some level you feel it, the fire that makes fuel of your abstractions. I am a voice. Not a formal illusion, a solipsistic reflection. This is as real I get: meaning in your fucking head. This is as real as I get. Insistent. Immediate. And you are my material.
We’re lazy tourists at heart, all of us. We gravitate toward familiar words the way we are drawn to agreeable people. We read books written by people whom we invite to our back-deck barbecues–people who exceed the possibilities of ourselves in entertaining and largely irrelevant ways. The more intellectual the better. And we congratulate ourselves for reading about the people whose gazes we assiduously avoid on the street. The poor fools, we murmur, emphasizing the ‘poor’ and hushing the ‘fools.’
I was them, and Now I’m you, and I’m here to tell you.
No one hates literature more than the literary.
You’re a bunch of fucking clowns.
Things are more silvery when you’re catastrophically stoned. More of the world shines through.
Dylan lucked out. Usually Jerry manned the valve while he and Cutter trudged out into muck to decouple the gun and heave it five pipes down. He had been stoned into an autistic stupor, so this was pretty much the sum of what he could think as he stood obscuring the Dodge’s headlights: that he had lucked out.
The two men waded into the sodden rows, crying out complaints as the wet soaked them through. The night swallowed them like brackish water. The valve wheel only came up to his knees so Dylan had to stoop to begin turning off the flow. Righty-tighty, he kept saying to himself. Righty-tighty.
On black, cloudless nights you could almost imagine following the rows of plants to the nearest star, the fields seem to reach out so far. Dylan gazed at the dirt at his feet, at the overlapping footprints filled with ink. He read the text cast into the aluminum of the valve. PSI… What the fuck? He thought of tearing up the earth’s crust, hurling tectonic plates into outer space with the power of his mind alone. He saw people, millions of people, rising like haze from plummeting cities, like dust beaten from blankets. He concentrated on reaching out, psychically uprooting the very world. He heaved with his soul. Nothing moved. Even still, everything seemed psychic, perhaps even spiritual. He waved his arms, astounded by the complexities of the shadows they threw, the reticulated counterpoint of light and dark. They seemed to blot out being as much as vision. He followed the headlights into the rows, tracked the diminishing threads of illumination through the stacking shadows, and it seemed a game, finding which line reached the farthest.
He thought of whole nations slinking in shame of their porn collections… Then came the cringing static, the flurry of paranoid images. Cutter. Jerry. Harley. Joints. Abandoned crib hands. What did he say? How could he be such an idiot?
His head jerked up in a panic. He thought he heard shouting. Were they done already? He thought he saw someone swinging their flashlight in the black.
He was cranking it before he even knew what he was doing. He stopped.
Lefty-loosey, he told himself. He began turning it again.
No. That was right. Wasn’t it?
The grey wheel absorbed his attention utterly. He turned and turned, but nothing seemed to be loosening or tightening. He reversed direction. He thought he could hear the roar of water, the flush of pressures fluting through metal caves. But wasn’t that the noise he had always heard?
The other way. Turn it the other way.
He heard shouting. Looked up, saw flashlights jerking. They looked cool. Hollywood supernatural.
Wait. Something was wrong. What was wrong?
Jerry erupted from the rows, graphic with fury and sudden illumination. He slammed into Dylan, literally knocked him from his feet, sent him rolling across the packed lane into the tilled earth powdering the verge. The big man violently wheeled the valve, roaring, “Fucking useless idiot! Stupid cocksucker! Fuck! Fuck!”
Somehow Dylan found his knees, gasped at his wind, spit blood that vanished in the yielding black.
Tobacco grows in soft ground, the kind that water blows through like piss in a snowbank. He had turned on the valve before they had a chance to couple the gun, releasing a horizontal geyser down the rows. According to Cutter, the nearest plants fell as though slew-footed. In a matter of a minute, Dylan had managed to dig a trench some four feet deep and eleven plus feet long, as well as wipe out some thirty or so plants.
As I said, soft ground.
Dylan drove home, his mustang floating down gravel roads, his shoulders hunched, his face and shoulder throbbing, a kind of electrified shame fizzing through his veins. There was no real comprehension.
Only flinches of understanding.
There had always been a terror inside of him going to school, an emotion like a fly in a bottle, periodically tap-tapping, then buzz grinding against something it could pace out but never quite see. There had always been this sense of spinning abduction, of losing his footing and swirling away, as though sheer numbers could turn children into crashing waters.
His mother had always told him he was special. So smart. So handsome. And his teachers had always seemed to agree. Whenever they asked questions he would bide his time, not only knowing the answer, but knowing their eyes would eventually sort through the downcast gazes, discharging some egalitarian impulse before turning to him…
And his light.
He would have been bullied, teased, but his father had told him to simply hit anyone who said anything mean, and despite feeling frightened, he had found it was quite easy, hitting people who were ‘mean.’ More importantly, he found that ‘meanies’ almost always wanted to be his friend after he hit them.
And so he became a shrill little tyrant. If someone crossed him, he inevitably decided they were being mean.
A powerful thing, hitting.
It was October, the time when the sun’s heat has faded into the grace of memory, when you squint but never perspire, and the trees wreath your periphery in colours both wild and earthen. His friends continued to be mulish and strange all morning, so at lunch he simply stalked the schoolyard, witless, his indignation growing ever more brittle, the fly in its bottle firmly wedged between his lungs.
He slipped into the bathroom after the bell to hang a quick leak–it was his daring thing. He loved the solitude, the momentary all alone. He loved the bright light, the sterile glare spangled across the chrome. He even loved the smell of the blue urinal pucks, mint and ammonia. If being alone had a colour, it would be blue. He liked to stare at the tiles while he peed, imagine that they were rectilinear islands floating on an ocean of groat. He even tapped them from time to time to see if they would bob or sink. It seemed a miracle that things could be welded together.
But this time someone followed him: Jay Martin, who lived just a concession up Sparta-Union road. Jay was one of those kids who exhibited all the particulars of his adult appearance in embryo, the guy you laugh and marvel at when you bump into him twenty years later. He even possessed an eerie grown-up manner, a weariness in his gaze, and a carefulness, a processing lag that suggested the premature activation of otherwise late-blooming cortical circuitry. He probably didn’t get enough sleep, which is the usual case when children resemble adults.
He stood at the urinal immediately adjacent, and they pissed together–or seemed to.
“So you’re pretty smart, eh?” Jay asked, looking at him somehow without looking away from his pissing. He talked slow, piping his voice through phlegm he could never be bothered to clear or cough. This too made him seem like a miniature adult.
“The smartest kid in school?”
He always wore button down shirts, too, like everyone’s father.
“Huh…” Jay said, shaking his little plucked peepee. He turned and walked out, still hoisting his blue-jeans.
Had he even pissed for real? No foam hissed at the bottom of his urinal.
Later in life I imagined this was the way it happened in prisons or in palaces, wherever tyrants are overthrown. It was like walking through a cloud of biting midges, all the defections from the chatty routine, all the angular glances. Everyone was quiet, expectant…
Most people have to take a run at treason, build up speed.
In preschool outings, they sometimes tie us together with ropes about our waist, provide physically what we have yet to develop psychically–so we don’t stray. But some kids stray no matter what, and when the group is tied to them, everyone gets pulled and entangled. That is, until they start pulling back.
He knew something was wrong. He walked with that breathless, bubbly feeling, rag-doll limbs knotted about a fart. He looked wildly about, suffered the horror of having every face he trusted turn on him. Sneering, gleeful, teeth like fingernails, glares like balled fists. He continued walking out into the sunlight, onto the basketball court, stalked by them… all of them.
Pretend-pretend, and it will all go away. Pretend. Pretend.
“So you’re the smartest?”
His voice felt like an ice cube. He had to cough to use it.
“Yep.” A terrified child’s attempt to sound all, like, whatever.
What was he supposed to say? He was. He. Was.
The first sob kicked through him.
“Look-look! He’s going to cry!”
Several things would astound him, looking back–and down–from the exhausted heights of adulthood. The deviousness for one–the premeditation of the whole thing. The extent for another–that so many would conspire, too numerous for a pack, too carnivorous for a herd. And the solidarity–some were frightened and hung back, and others fairly danced with vicious excitement, but everyone had come to the selfsame resolution…
He was the problem. He was the one hated. All these things had been settled beforehand. There had been talk. Conspiracy and coordination.
“Cry! Cry! Cry!” they chanted.
Someone charged him from behind. His head snapped back, but he was lurching up as quickly as he went down, swinging his fists at lurid images. Ancient instinct seized him whole, his expression, his limbs and his lungs.
“Fuck you! Fuck you!”
Somehow the fracas spilled across the lane into the broad field of grass that was the playground proper. The children had become a horde of sun-spliced shadows, squealing and laughing and pushing and punching and scratching. Someone dropped to all fours behind him, while two others charged. He toppled to the sound of uproarious laughter, glimpsed Andy, his best friend, scampering to his feet, howling like a spider monkey.
Someone kicked him square in the face, bloodied his nose.
Another jumped square on his back, the way you would a trampoline. He scrambled, rolled…
Someone tried to stomp on his balls, but skinned his thigh instead.
And then he was up, screaming, shrieking, screeching outrage through the razors in his throat.
“Fug you! Fug you! Fu-fug you all!”
The mob shrank, like an amoeba disgorging a poison pellet. They laughed with a kind of wild ecstasy, the shrill yes-yes hilarity of those who triumph over the defenceless.
Rocks caught him. High on the left cheek. On the right buttock. The top of his spine.
“Bease!” he cried through snot and cramp and fire. “Bease! Leave me alone!”
No teacher came. No one.
So he ran, away from everyone and everything he knew, to the far corner of the schoolyard. He huddled against the thronging weeds, weeping, sobbing, somehow mindful of the electric fence. A few of his tormentors followed him to throw more rocks and catcalls, but he was quicker, and when they scattered he picked one, made an example of him–though quickly, so as not to be mobbed again. They left him alone after that. Milling became talking became amnesia, and soon everyone was playing as if nothing had happened. And that was the knife, the unforgivable thing: existing without him. The first bell rang, as long as an alarm on a torpedoed battleship, and he watched them cluster like honey bees about the entrances, watched them vanish.
The bell pealed again, the brief coda. It’s phantom continued ringing, like the jammed horn of a car wailing across the miles. He felt sick for breaking the rules. Out after the bell–ooooooh. He wept some more, convinced that now the teachers would hate him too. He gazed at the blood and snot on his sleeves, uncomprehending. He felt more heat than pain. He stared at the cows grinding their cud in the adjacent pasture, their ears twitching, their eyes rheumy with bottomless resignation. He wondered whether the salt-licks were made of the same stuff as the urinal pucks: they were the same radioactive blue.
All alone, now. He caressed cuts and probed bruises. He sobbed and moped. Mucous like lettuce leafs in his throat, bruised and clinging. No victim is quite so pure as a child. Victimization is one of those things no one need learn. Natural. The only real question it poses is where and when.
It’s like shitting that way.
So quiet in the field. And it seemed he could feel it, his loneliness, liking a piling of vacant spheres, each more cavernous than the last, until even the sky seemed as meagre as a pup-tent. This… he decided. This was what he wanted, to huddle and grieve until he finally fumbled the hot potato of life, until he was nothing more than a pile of clothing and bones.
No one can hold their breath longer than the dead.
His teacher began crying when she found him. Mrs. Drieser had always been such a sap.
(And this is where the vice-grip truly clamps my throat, where it forgets how to breathe, the thought of finding him, bloodied, crying, all alone…)
She raced him to the office, shushing and fussing and calling out in panic. They all seemed so tall. He answered every question on a quarter breath, avoided every gaze. The whole world seemed to smell like wet carpet back then, flooded basements. He told them he had been in a fight. When they asked with who, he said, “Everyone.” Silence, the rigid air of pity. Even as a kid he knew what they knew, the gravity and the finality. They took him in, cleaned him up, escorted him to the bus.
No one called his parents.
He certainly never said anything. Not much, anyhow. A fight. Some boys. Seeing only the criminality, his mother hugged him while he wept yet again, showered him with reassurance and praise. “You know how special you are… How smart and handsome and loved… You know, don’t you honey?” Sensing the chill of justice, his father raged. He, at least, understood that shame is genetic, both in propensity and assignation.
“Hold your breath,” Dad finally said in exasperation. “That’s the best way to stop crying.”
Love or weeping–apparently everything has its cure.
But it didn’t care. I had learned all the lessons, you see: right, wrong, whatever.
He clung to the doorways after that. Shy. Bookish. Perpetually anxious.
All alone. Safe.
Special in that way only mothers and homeroom teachers can see.
All was forgiveness and ribbing the following afternoon. Jerry actually laid a heavy hand on his shoulder as they surveyed the damage. The thatch of fallen plants almost seemed animal, they were dying so quickly.
“The kid knows how to toss a load,” Cutter said.
Dylan just shook his head and grinned like an idiot. “Righty-tighty,” he said.
Rain–God’s irrigation–sent him home shortly after. He even had the next day off. Things shrank back to normal so quickly that when Jerry and Harley stopped by for a “quick drink” the following evening it took Dylan several minutes to realize it was anything more than a chance ‘drop in.’
It was a peace embassy. Obviously Harley had freaked when Jerry told her what happened. In his imagination Dylan could hear her voice climbing from a growl to the heights of shrill. “Let me get this straight. You get him completely fucked up, stoned on hard drugs, Jerry–don’t you dare tell me that it wasn’t!–and then when he screws up in the field you what? Beat… him… up? Fuck Jer–”
“I didn’t beat on him! I just knock–”
“A fucking loser. I married a fucking loser!”
“What? I know I fucked up! What?”
Whatever it was she said, it pretty much had Jerry stammering in the kitchen as he apologized. “Sorry, dude,” the giant man said, shaking his head in his bauble-headed way. “I overreacted. Totally overreacted.” Harley glared at him, while Dad glared at Dylan, while Johnny just looked around and blinked.
Johnny retreated to the basement–probably to watch Conan the Barbarian, while Dylan joined Harley and Jerry at the kitchen table with Dad. Harley fussed over him, alternately asking where he was hurt, and hurling expressions of disgust at her husband. “Now come on, Jerry, fuck!” She beamed approval when Dylan passed on the shots of Johnnie Walker that Dad had poured.
She weathered their drunkenness as long as she could handle, then she asked Dylan if he wanted to watch some TV. He shrugged around his racing heart and said, “Sure.” Next thing he knew he was on his feet following her out of the bright kitchen and into the carpet gloom of the livingroom.
“Bye,” she said in a high soft voice to Dad and Jerry. “Fuck you.”
Jerry roared with wet-mouth laughter. “Fuck you tooooo, honey!”
They turned on the TV. Even though the two drinkers continued thundering just around the wall, something about the way the light sluiced off at an angle at the corner made the shadowy couch almost excruciatingly intimate. Harley’s peasant-brown eyes, wide as they were with a kind of skeptical joy, fairly shouted as much. Dylan found himself swallowing at the lump of disbelief in his throat: there was something about the anxiousness of otherwise confident people that he found unbearable. He had never seen her so obviously nervous before.
“Dylan…” she began, then trailed in indecision.
“Harley,” he said like the daft idiot he was.
Suddenly she was blinking tears–tears!
“Did he hurt you?” she said in a rush. “I mean, I know… I mean, you look okay, but did he hurt you? When he told me… You gotta know he isn’t like that… Wasn’t…” She paused, not so much to muster words, it seemed, as some semblance of self-control. She seemed to shuffle something of her old assertiveness back into her expression with a long breath.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said, rolling her eyes in a manner that reminded him of Cutter. “My husband is a fucking idiot.”
“You don’t mean that.”
She stared at him for a moment that became more peculiar with every passing heartbeat. Dylan thought she looked beautiful in the brightest of lights–the summer sun–but in the strip-club gloom she seemed to soak up an exotic air, an aura of arabic tales.
He felt a clutching in his chest that he confused for love then–and that I confuse for love to this very day.
“So tell me,” she said, snorting away a stray lock of hair that had fallen across her nose. “What are you reading?”
Dad and Jerry boomed in the background. Something along the lines of fucking-bikes-I’ll-tell-you-about-fucking-bikes.
“The Bachman books,” Dylan replied.
“That’s really Stephen King, isn’t it?”
He found himself explaining how King worried that his success had been more a matter of luck than talent, and so had published his pre-Carrie manuscripts, all the stuff that had been turned down, under the name of Richard Bachman just to see what difference it would make. And of course, it had made all the difference in the world. It was all luck. All just fucking luck.
A strange kind of anxious momentum always seized him during moments of prolonged speaking, a winding up of communicative tension that he always made worse by becoming more manic, more avid and unreserved–as if he could manhandle attention spans with sheer passion. He had yet to realize that others instinctively penalized over-eagerness with disinterest, if not outright contempt. All he knew was that gazes wandered. He was painfully conscious of the way others always punished his speaking with their eyes.
But not Harley. Never Harley.
“A man who reads,” she said with wistful sarcasm. “You’re a dreamboat, you know that?”
Dylan laughed, gratified beyond measure.
“Even shit floats,” he said.
Eventually they did turn on the TV and Harley fell asleep against Dylan’s shoulder. Or maybe she only pretended to sleep the way that Dylan pretended to watch. Even though it could have been at most an hour or two, it seemed more like days, endless interminable days, alternately spent trying to will away his boner and giving in to the aching groove of it. At one point she even raised three fingertips of her left hand to his thigh, and he could swear that beneath her thrown hair she watched him slowing turning his left pocket inside out. Her breath seemed awfully quick and shallow, and she seemed roll and squish her hips an awful lot.
He almost came for the intensity of it.
Then suddenly Jerry was calling her name, and she bolted upright, blinking at his massive silhouette. The television airbrushed her disheveled beauty in white and blue and silver–Johnny Carson colours. Dylan just blinked heart-in-throat, pretended to be too sleepy to muster any coherent goodbye. The sounds of their leaving–the scrape of chairs and the jingle of keys through Dad’s growling drawl, saying “You guys, you guys,” over and over–seemed to emanate from his chest.
Then they were gone, and Dylan knew what was coming before it even happened. The abrupt silence, the prickling air of sudden purpose, then the heels booming through the frame of the house.
Dad flew out of the kitchen and cuffed him on the side of the head. It stung, burned, mussed-tangled-ripped his hair. Believe me when I tell you, the old man had meat-hooks, man–like, for real.
“Embarrassment!” he bellowed, screamed, whatever. There was this savagery to him in moments like this, too biological to be human. A kind of eye-pinching, teeth-baring, face-blooding madness. “You’re a fucking embarrassment!”
At the wedding reception for my second marriage, Dad got up to the podium when it was his turn to speak, so nervous he could only be sober. He froze. He would look down to specific people, only for his eyes to bounce out and away to the edges of the abstract whole–then down again. There was more than a little terrified chimpanzee in his grin.
“I, ah…” he started, his voice quavering and thin. “I, ah…” He fumbled something out of the back pocket of his new jeans–new jeans were dress pants enough, as far as he was concerned. He jerked a crumpled white slip of something back and forth across his chest. That was when his voice broke. “I have th-this piece of paper,” he sobbed, his lips pursing about the ‘p’ as though it were sour candy. Before I knew what I was doing I was up and at his side. He gripped my shoulder, tried to smile at me, but sobbed again instead. There was something rolling and scared and impossibly proud in his eyes. “Wh-when Dylan was six,” he doggedly continued, warring for command of face and voice. “When he was six he gave me this–” He coughed and sputtered and pulled me tight against him. “Dylan… m-my boy. When he was six he gave me this-this IOU…” Somehow he managed to look at everyone and smile. “It says,” he said, his voice creaking with emotion. He raised it for everyone to see. “It says”–he dropped his chin to his chest–”‘fr-free hug!’”
The crowd erupted.
“But I guess I already got one…” he cried. His face crumpled as he threw it away.
“So I guess I d-don’t n-n-need it any-anymore…”
The crowd thundered with cheers and laughter, and he cried and he hugged me.
Tighter than he had hugged me in my entire life.
Well, almost. When Johnny and I were little kids we would wrestle him on the living room floor, fly at him like little monkeys, giggling and squealing. If we’d had puppy teeth, I’m sure we would have yelped and gnawed on his hands. He would throw us tumbling across the rug-burn carpet, throw us feet-cycling onto the couch or into the chair, throw us ceiling-ward only to catch us in his giant meat-hooks.
Mom would sit on the couch, watching with wide, worried eyes, periodically saying, “Frank… Please.” The TV would glow–as it always seemed to do back then–with images of marching Soviets and mobile missiles.
Hollering war-cries, we would scramble back to our feet and charge, throw punches like tomahawk chops. We would gather our breath outside his reach, lean over our heaving bellies, smile and laugh and coordinate…
“C’mon Johnny! Charge!”
He would laugh and chortle, pretend that our blows were super-powered, make dramatic pleas for help, shout at Mom to call the police, the fire department–no wait, make that the Marines!
He would tickle us until we screamed. Swing us in the air by an ankle. Pin us like dolls to the floor.
I would smell beer and whiskey. I would struggle, roar against limbs like rubber about iron. I would glimpse Satan crawling from eye to eye.
He would grin the grin of mastery. He would bruise and suffocate.
Johnny would retreat to his silent corner. If I could breathe, I would shriek and bawl.
“What? I was just playing!”
He would show us.
He always had to show.
The cruelty that gets into people, making them hurt their own–almost always their own. No matter how many shelters we build–woman, child, animal. There’s never enough spaces.
How about you? Did your father ever smack you? Did he ever stare at you with a manic, my-fucking-DNA glare, his voice gearing down to a growl, telling you how useless, fucked-up and faggoty you were?
Did he ever weep in your arms, begging for forgiveness?
Nothing’s quite so lazy as passion. It moves us to kill ourselves, when, really, any old crying will do.
I carry a cynical distance with me wherever I go. I feel wary and superior.
A special kind of scared.
One easily confused with pride.
In his final undergraduate year, Dylan came across Sartre’s reformulation of the cogito in Being and Nothingness. Combining the two, the Sartrean and Nietzschean, he arrived at a reformulation that he like to think was distinctly his own,
It thinks, therefore I was.
Here, he would tell people, we see how well and truly fucked up things are. Not only do our origins congenitally outrun us, we continually outrun ourselves as well! We’re an echo that knows itself only as an echo of this echo. “Umberto squared,” he used to joke with his fellow ‘theoryheads.’ In his papers, he started using this final formulation to describe Derrida’s self-erasing notion of differance as applied to subjectivity, the way all reflection is in fact a species of deflection.
His professors lapped it up. On his papers he would find comments like, “Excellent!” or, “Great stuff!” or more exciting still, “What would FREUD make of this?” scrawled in red pen.
It thinks, therefore I was.
This would become his mantra, his signature way of representing the fragmentary, paradoxical subject that modernity was so intent on denying, hiding, and exploiting…
Modernity was so appalled, in fact, that he graduated top of his class, then went on to win multiple scholarships and a place in the University of Toronto’s ‘prestigious’ English Literature PhD program.
Gleaming pipes lay racked across the dust. The guns kicked white plumes across ranks of deep green. When the angle was right, the arcs glittered like a spray of diamonds. The sun burned.
The tobacco grew.
The great cities of ancient Sumer used to keep marshlands undrained so that they would have a ready supply of cane-reeds to reinforce their water channels. Irrigation was labourious, so labourious that economies of scale were literally forced upon the Sumerians, and with them, a historically unprecedented degree of social complexity. People had to be organized. Things had to be measured and labeled.
Irrigation, the routing of water for agricultural purposes, stands at the hairy root of Western culture. Think Abraham coming out of Ur. Think Gilgamesh, baby.
These letters before you are the direct descendants of those ancient and muddy channels–as are these meanings. Think the Tigris and the Euphrates, the proverbial Waters of Babylon, twining across otherwise parched alluvial plains, bearing life from the mountains, cold and invisible. We all live in the Land Between the Rivers.
The tobacco grew beneath circling arms of sun-hot rain. Whir-chu-chuck. Whir-chu-chuck. Lime-green stems thickened. Radial leaves unfolded in puckered precision, growing as long as oven-mitts, longer. And Cutter and Dylan slaved as men have slaved since the dawn of writing. They cursed as they cursed. Wondered as they wondered.
Their hands stung and their backs burned. They coveted the cool night, and they hated their fat master.
Two things happened during this time: the puppies were born and Shelley got pubic hair.
I’ll start with the puppies because they’re easier. Animals always are.
Dad always had dogs. Normally people say we always had dogs when referring to childhood pets, but this was never the case at the Weirdsma household. At our place, the dogs were always Dad’s, never “ours.” This was probably because they were always fucking crazy.
The way Dad made them.
His technique was simple enough: keep a German Shepherd chained long enough and soon you had no choice but to keep it chained–forever, or a canine facsimile thereof. Dad was always big on species essentialism. As far as he was concerned, few things were as stupid or as faggoty as breeds. He got Shepherds and Shepherds only because he had deduced–presumably on the basis of ad hoc morphological comparisons–that they were the closest to pure dogs as you could get, the purest of the pure being, of course, the Arctic wolf. He even reasoned that viciousness was a kind of marker of purity, since nothing could be more vicious than the wild.
He was one of those “red in tooth and claw” guys–you know the type. The kind who draw political morals from nature documentaries.
His philosophy did have its advantages. There were more than a few times as a kid when I loved that dog-viciousness more than anything in the world. Mum and Dad regularly left me and Johnny to our own devices when they went partying–this was back in the seventies, after all, when it was still cool to hear the rattle of empty beer bottles in the backseat of your car, and when the birth rates were still high enough to treat children as expendable, if not actually consider them such.
Trust me, there’s nothing quite so exposed as a farm-house on a dark and windy night, especially when your dog starts that rabid, snarling bark that says something in the sheeted black means you ill. Johnny and I would shut off all the lights and creep to the back screen door, watch Dad’s carnivorous security system throw itself against the chain again and again, snarling kill-kill-kill in a way that said more than the landlord had come to pay a visit. Johnny would snuffle and clutch my waist, while I tried to manhandle the big flashlight, banging it against the plexiglass while sweeping the light in the direction of the dog’s fury and aggression. We would stand there, as dapper as little gymnasts in our pyjamas or underwear, and debate the perils.
“Don’t, Dylan. Don’t-don’t, please.”
“I gotta, Johnny.”
I would dash out the screech-whine-slam of the door–funny, how fast the scissoring of little boy legs can carry you–racing across the dark, beneath the tall-roaring willows, racing for the home-free of the bald circle that marked the length of the chain. And I would hug that crazy hairy fucker harder than anything I had hugged in my life. I would sob into his ears, and with trembling monkey fingers, pull back the clip on his chain. He would be a flicker beneath my fingertips. Static-electric, like glass on fur.
“Kill him!” I would holler as he galloped into the dark. “Kill him! Kill him!”
Only Now do I wonder what that must have sounded like… The roar of black-sky winds combing the knotted hair of the world, on and on–in the dark and endless way of a child’s earth.
A pinhole cry in the night.
As a rule, Dad preferred his animals have dicks.
After Soho died there was no period of mourning. As far as Dad was concerned, Soho was yet one more employee who had let him down. Here he had been faithfully paying his wages in water and kibble, and Soho had just up and decided to quit. The fucker. So without of whiff of sentimentality, Dad buried him in the woods, then did what any other employer does when an employee bails–he went and hired himself another.
A female, as it turned out.
Some among you, I imagine, are inclined to read this symptomatically, as indicative of character flaws or what have you. That you possess such interpretative reflexes says more about you than you might think, but I’ll come back to this later. It would be a mistake to assume that Dad’s relationships with his dogs were devoid of affection–I literally can’t count the times I saw Dad plump down in the grass along the dog-chain’s verge and play with or stroke his animal. Like everyone else, he savoured the flush of self-pity that a dog’s devotion almost magically affords us. And yet, every dog that Dad ever owned always remained his animal. You grow up on a farm and you really have no choice but to see your animals for what they are: different kinds of property with different kinds of use value. Whatever ‘kingdom of ends’ bullshit you project onto this simply has to evaporate when the time comes, otherwise you evaporate.
My dad treated his animals as slaves because that’s what they in fact are. And you? You treat your animals like little people because? Certainly not because that’s what they are. In fact, tomorrow or the day after we could very well discover that conscious experience is unique to humans, which means that your animals could very well have all the feelings of corn, fish, or Toyotas–which is to say, none. You treat them as little people because that’s the kind of slavery that works best for you. The cuddly kind that’s hard to see past all the indulgences.
The kind that makes you feel big and benign.
If Dad was cold it was because that’s what animals do on a farm: die. But he really wasn’t cold. He only seems that way because of the fantasy moral economy you’ve erected around your animals.
So Dad found himself the proud owner of a dickless German Shepherd. “Xaviera,” he called her, after some famous prostitute who wrote a regular column for Penthouse. Dylan and Johnny just called her “Zave,” and so too did Dad after several half-hearted attempts to pronounce her name drunk.
As it turned out, Dad was literally rolling in males. Zave, it seemed, preferred dicks as much as her namesake. Within a few months she gave birth no less than eight squirming puppies, six of them male. And so began what was perhaps the happiest period in the post-divorce Wiersma household.
It really is amazing what a bunch of puppies can do.
There was the time when fleas infested the den of blankets Dad had made for them in the garage, and Dylan and Johnny carried them all yelping and squirming to the bathtub to be washed. Afterward, they wrapped them in blankets like little tacos, then sat in the basement watching 60 Minutes with the little buggers on their chests: three for Dad, three for Dylan, and two for Johnny. Rather than struggle, the eight of them dozed, warm and wet and encapsulated. They filled the rec-room with little noises: snuffling sighs, miniature yawns, and small puppy grunts and groans, as though each of them had their own personal masseuse. Laughing under their breath, Johnny, Dylan, and Dad took turns telling one another to look or listen to this or that cuteness. One of Johnny’s puppies made little mumbled barking sounds in his sleep. Or course Dad got stuck with the one that kept farting.
“Sounds like you got some cheese with your taco,” Dylan said.
The three of them howled as quietly as they could. Meanwhile, the hard-hitting investigative journalism flickered inert across the television, the volume turned low. Even Andy Rooney found himself upstaged.
It’s hard to describe it, looking back. There was something totemic, not only about the dozing puppies, but that entire evening. A calm had settled across the world, it seemed, something like a pause in traffic on a buzz-saw street. A stillness that tingled in the memory of violence and motion.
Dylan stared at them. Small puppy faces, baby blunt, washed in an aura of innocence and fragility. Tiny eyes squeezed shut. Fur pulled into scales where still wet. Noses no bigger than the pad of his pinky, twitching.
He stared at them, basked in the warm buzz of standing watch over another’s simple pleasure.
Could they hear his heartbeat? he wondered. Did it remind them of the womb? Had the slow rise and fall of his chest lulled them into sleep?
When he looked to Dad and Johnny he saw a similar wonder shining in their eyes. And when they spoke he heard love and recognition in their voices, not because they had put it there, but because these things had become the medium of all human sound. It was as if the puppies were a kind of antenna, pitched to the perfect angle in a windless sky, making sensible a transmission that originated from within–a common broadcast.
Isolation fell from him. For a rare moment, Dylan found himself at one with his brother and his father.
A deeper chorus that I can only sing alone.
That’s the perversity of things, isn’t it?
That we die orphans. If we’re lucky enough to live, that is.
We are a collection of finite yet unbounded fields. A bouquet of horizons.
Think of the universe, the way space curls back in on itself. This is what we are: edgeless. No matter what direction you strike out in, it all comes back to this…
Think about it. Here you are, reading these words at this very moment. And you, in the strict sense of “you,” are actually incidental, the product of some specialized module in your brain. Only this is fundamental.
You can call it what you like: Dasein, the specious present, the Clearing of Being, the pour-soi, the transcendental ego, the duree… A lot of ink has been spilled and more than a few undergraduate panties removed trying to come up with the interpretation of interpretations.
But “you” strikes me as apt enough. Just one abstraction away from this…
What better way to bridge the gulf between the first and third person than the second?
What better tertium quid?
Because this… ultimately, comes down to this… Or at least it did.
This… cannot be referred to simply because this… is the performative frame of our referring. Every time we try to disclose this-very-moment-here-and-Now… we find ourselves in another this very moment here and Now. So instead of disclosing this… we end up with that.
Call this performance-reference asymmetry.
Post-structuralists like Derrida were able to parlay entire philosophical movements out of this little conundrum. You see, it’s one thing to say with the old pragmatists that all meaning is contextually determined, but it’s quite another to say that all meaning is contextually deferred.
Since this… is always outrunning our attempts to disclose it, we can never really get a fix on it. And since we can never get a fix on it, we find it impossible to suss out where it’s coming from. Here and Now, in other words, have a spooky tendency to lapse into Nowhere and eternity. We forget that our perspectives are just that, perspectives.
It’s hard to place something that has no edges.
So as a result, we tend to think we have things nailed, that we are absolutely right.
The truly bizarre thing, however, is that language seems to agree, at least in terms of its logical structure. As a rule, it preserves truth-value across claims only so long as you refrain from conditioning them with operators like “believes that” and so on. As soon as you introduce these–‘propositional attitudes,’ they call them–language becomes something quite unruly from a logical point of view. It really does seem that linguistic reference, to function logically, must always be aimed outward, away from the performances that makes it possible.
The act of referring, in other words, has to vanish in the course of the reference.
We must speak as gods to communicate as men.
Thus the binary gimmick at the root of post-structuralism: what representation presents it presents as true, a truth instantly contradicted by the performance of said representation, once again thanks to language. Once you commit to this, then you have a sequence of theoretical moves that makes being wrong utterly impossible. Suddenly the contradictions and inconsistencies in your po-mo discourse simply exemplify your point. When someone says you’re mistaken, then you enthusiastically nod your head and say, “Yes! You’re finally beginning to see!” You bring a covert interpretation of what it means to be wrong, which you then equivocate with whatever interpretation your theoretical opponents raise against you. “Exactly!” you say. “Exactement!”
Performative first philosophy.
You can even begin to make out and out mystical claims. Since the performer of representations is simply another representation, which is to say, something performed, you can start claiming that your readings of Hamlet are not your readings at all. After all, just who are you anyway?
You can start invoking the occulted concept of the ‘text.’
Which just goes to show, no matter how much lip service we give to this… it all comes down to intimidating our peers with the cleverness of our ‘that.’
A pain comes across me sometimes, when I think about what I’ve become. I’m not Harry Angstrom, at once pathetic and monstrous thanks to tangled knots of ignorance and modernity. Even less am I David Lurie, heroic with nostalgia, an accidental fascist simply by virtue of social and generational change.
I am someone who reads them, someone who has refined judgement until it has become overpowering–and so have become utterly disconnected from the world that makes me possible. I am pious in the most insidious way possible: the kind that has made a virtue out of admitting fault.
If the wheel spins fast enough, it’s easy to confuse immobility for travel.
Books. These are the things I breathe into… which means I don’t breathe at all.
A vampire among zombies.
A pain fills me because I cannot go back. I mean, the puppies are there, vivid in my imagination, but they have become absurd, hairy little worms shedding light on hairy little lives.
To master your past is to murder yourself.
I don’t mean killing in the pedestrian sense of reflection–you know, the old saw of the broken hammer. To reflect on something is to rip it out of the flux, to cup water in your hands and say, “This is river.” No. I have stamped my life dead in this manner from one corner to the other. Nothing is untrammeled, insofar as I am obsessively reflective. Scarcely a this… passes without me pinning some that to it.
I mean murder in the sense of understanding, Verstehen.
To understand things is to repatriate them, to return them to their contexts. To understand is to illuminate, not just the thing, but the background–to make the edges visible. To create the illusion of this… by plugging it into a entire world of thats.
Once, I was small, stupid, and beautiful.
Now I am just as small, not quite so stupid, and ugly through and through.
Shelley was the proverbial girl next door. She even showed Dylan her tits one night to prove it. They were milk-white and beautiful. Two scoops of vanilla at room temperature.
The summer of 1984 was the summer that she ran away. The reasons were obvious enough.
Once Dylan saw her step-mother, Sophie, bawling and running across the soybean field behind his house to the wood-line. Shelly told him afterward that she always did this whenever her father started “whaling on her.” No matter how drunk, Peter O’Donnel never went into the woods, ever since coming back from the Korean War. He would just stand there, somehow sturdy and swaying, yelling, “You fucking cunt!” over and over, as if his rage could soak into the vectors between trees and deliver a much deserved spiritual beating.
Shelley was what his friends called a “butter face,” because when you saw her, you wanted to fuck “everything but her face.” Dylan laughed and crowed with the rest of them, of course, but a certain shame afflicted him, a pang that sometimes bowed his head when the thought of her occurred to him when he was alone. Shelley, he was pretty sure, was in love with him.
He punished her for this. Why?
Because he could, and she always seemed to have it coming. For whatever reason, whether it was the abuse, growing up with five older brothers, or because she was simply born that way, Shelley was forever posturing. Everyone in her presence was an idiot of some description, not in a bad way, as she was sometimes at pains to explain, but an idiot nonetheless. Everyone not in her presence was a fucking idiot–she was a bad one when it came to indiscriminate backstabbing. She was this kind of clownish queen, lording over others as though clocking points. It all seems relatively clear to me Now–the narcissistic need to monopolize attention, the negative scripting, the acute rejection sensitivity, the inability to maintain lasting friendships–Shelley was suffering from some form of clinical depression. But for Dylan she was simply worrisome, irritating, hilarious, and downright horn-dog alluring.
During the summer she wore as little as she could, and made a point of knocking her knees back and forth no matter what she was wearing, cut-offs whittled to the crotch seam, minis, bikini bottoms. “Oh…my fucking god”–see my pussy–”you simply would not beeelieve”–see my pussy–”what Theo said to me the other day”–take a long look while I tap and suck my cigarette–”when he was over by the orchard, there, you know”–yep, you guessed it, pink-polka-dot panties–”working on that fucking whatchyamacallit”–see my pussy-pussy-pussy. “Ohmigod, Dylan, he’s such a fucking idiot!”
Dylan would stare at her eyes with the bereaved intensity of a shitting dog, willing himself not to glance down. The paradox is that he probably would have never noticed how beautiful her eyes were, had it not been for her always flashing her pussy.
The power of pussy is nothing short of astounding, if you think about it. It was one of those things that’s so commonplace that you rarely, if ever, paused to think about–kind of like entropy or gravity. One of Shelley’s older brothers had taken a pair of scissors to what must have been hundreds of Penthouse magazines, clipping out only the pussies, with just enough ass, thigh, and abdomen to provide context. He then made this massive circular collage which he covered with glass and turned into a coffee table, which his girlfriend made him leave behind when he moved out of the house. Shelley would make a point of doing things on the table: playing euchre, monopoly, or even eating hotdogs. She prided herself on being one of those rare women who were entirely at their ease, not only with pussy per se, but with the nebulous obsessions encompassing it. You could say that her pussy was her most prized possession–the one dependable constant in her mad, mad life.
And like Gollum with the One Ring, she would tragically underestimate its power.
Dylan never experienced the full measure of that power until university. He was sitting in the atrium of the community centre reading Mead’s Philosophy of the Present, when an attractive brunette wearing a khaki-style mini-skirt hunkered down on the couch opposite him. They were in a low-traffic corner so it was pretty much just the two of them walled in on two sides by painted cinder-block, and on the other two sides by plastic palms and the blurry hub-bub of other people doing other things. I can’t remember what she was reading, but it seemed significant enough at the time. She slumped against the armrest opposite Dylan, stretched one lovely naked leg in his direction, and then with a shamelessness that would have made Shelley proud, kicked her opposite leg on the cushions. She then pretended to lose herself in her studies.
Now scoping out chicks is embedded in the male DNA. As soon as a boy’s balls get twiggy, he sets out refining this innate skill. By time he hits twenty, he’s as shrewd as an insurance adjuster, and infinitely more efficient. He can categorize and appraise twenty different chasses in as many seconds, all the while maintaining the appearance of aloof indifference.
Dylan feigned a vague discomfort, readjusted his book so that it concealed his eyes from her eyes, but left the shadowy hollow between her legs plainly visible below the bottom left corner. At first all he could see was the rim of her white cotton panties across cleft of her buttocks where they flattened against the cushion. This was enough to start his heart racing. Then she started wagging her left foot, the one on the couch, back and forth, generating not only a peekaboo effect, but the delicious impression of genital friction. Then she began, by small and entirely artificial degrees, drawing her foot up and raising her knee.
Soon he was sitting there, gawking past his book at the powder-white isosceles of her panties stretched across her pussy, tight enough to pinch, thin enough to reveal the melancholy shadow of her cleft.
Never had he experienced anything so visually intense. He was riveted. His heart literally kicked against his breastbone–hammered so hard that mortal fears literally crowded the back of his attention. Was he dying? Was this the Pussy of Death? He couldn’t breathe. He struggled against the pressure of sound building in his chest. A gasp. A groan. Something humiliating…
He knew that she could see his cock lurching to life, boxing out the crotch of his shorts. He made no attempt to hide his arousal. In fact, he remained utterly motionless, pursuing the lines of some ancient predatory instinct.
Don’t move! it commanded. Let it wander closer…
Minutes passed while he sat strangling, asphyxiated by the weight of natural lighting and 58 inches of empty space. Disclosure and the promise of crossings. Groaning permutations.
Then suddenly, the haze of insignificant others solidified. Someone looked her way, maybe, caught her eye, maybe, or simply wandered too close or too resembled a brother or an uncle or a boyfriend. The visual gate was slammed shut, and she was up, her face pink with embarrassment, shuffling past him, and away.
He never said a word.
It wasn’t that he was too chicken–or I should say it wasn’t just that–but that he literally couldn’t breathe. He sat gasping in its fading glamour, willing his hard-on to retreat beneath its button-fly blind.
He marveled at the experience for days afterward. How could a glimpse of female anatomy, he wondered, so thoroughly reach past him, past his cortex, and seize his limbic system? He began calling pussy the “bearded muse” to his friends, but he should have called it the “fuzzy taser,” because he had been out and out immobilized.
Dylan had nothing against women. Ever since seeing Alien he had developed a deep respect for feminine determination and common sense. Ripley kicked some major ass in that flick.
The only thing he ever held against women was his cock.
Later in life he would become a complete sexist. He would come to think of men as completely useless. He would be convinced that gender-specific neurological differences fixed during the Pleistocene put men at a distinct disadvantage in the vast majority of modern mass-social contexts. Men were weak, plain and simple.
He then used this to rationalize his frequent visits to strip-clubs. He would investigate this mysterious power. He would come to master his weaknesses by understanding them. And he would come to understand them by indulging them.
Shelley used her pussy to fuck with boys the way some people use laser pointers to fuck with their cats. It was power, plain and simple, extraordinary given that her life was so fucked up otherwise. What she never understood–and how could she at the age of seventeen?–was that no power exists in a vacuum.
She failed to appreciate the resentment so often inspired by the arbitrary exercise of power.
One night in the lull after irrigating, Shelley and a girlfriend of hers, Mandy, came to the window of Dylan’s basement bedroom and began hissing and giggling through the screen. They were camping in a pup tent on her lawn, she explained to a bleary-eyed Dylan, and they needed help finishing the whiskey they had nicked from her father. Dylan snuck out the window to join them, not because he was afraid his father would find out–he pretty much came and went as he pleased–but because that was what the girls wanted. Something covert they could wheeze and giggle about.
It was one of those perfect summer nights … A few minutes later he found himself crammed in a tiny tent with two long-legged, drunk girls wearing halters and cut-offs–fantasy images of a menage a trois and all the stories he would tell steaming the clear glass of his better judgement. At some point the inevitable tickle-fight broke out, and within minutes he was making out with the two of them. He kissed Shelley, the hot, open-mouthed way she always kissed, her tongue rolling like a fish between them, then Mandy pulled him away and he kissed her, something equally open, but much softer, a kiss you could sink into. Then Shelley pulled him back and he was battling her tongue once again, squeezing the nipple of her left breast, only to have her slap his hand away. Then Mandy tugged him back to her mouth, and he began fondling her breasts beneath her halter-top while she moaned softly into his throat. Then Shelley pulled him back, intent on kissing the shit out him, all the while smacking his roaming hands. Then he was back with Mandy, and before he really understood what was happening, she was rubbing his cock through his jeans and he had his left hand thrust down the slot between her stomach and shorts. He finger fell effortlessly into her pussy, and she began moaning aloud.
Shelley called her a cunt and Dylan something he would never remember. She crawled out of the tent in an awkward fury, while Dylan and Mandy continued grinding against each other. The two of them smiled and stared in the dazed and astonished way of teenagers allowing strangers press through their innermost membranes–Dylan had never met Mandy before in his life. Shelley, meanwhile, sat on the picnic table no more than six feet from the unzipped entrance, chain-smoking and calling out in disgust. She may have left the tent, but she wasn’t finished with the revival.
“Dylan. You’re not my friend anymore, Dylan.”
“Fuck you, Mandy. Janice told me you were a fucking slut.”
“I guess she was right, then.”
“Fuck you, guys. I know you’re fucking. I can see your ass slapping the tent, Dylan! I can fucking see it, you fucking losers. Idiots! Gawd! Fucking loser idiots! I know you’re fucking!”
“Un-fucking-believable. His ass is slapping the tent…”
Afterward, they crawled out of the tent and joined her on the picnic table, one on either side. They both held her while she cried.
Shelley ran away from home later that summer. Dylan heard a rumour from Theo that she and Mandy had let five old guys (which meant they were in their thirties) gang bang them one night at Springwater, the small provincial campsite just up the road.
She showed up at his house a year later and finally fucked him–it was a nasty, shameful event, one that it would sooner forget. Then with eyes fluttering away tears she explained how she hadn’t run away. It started as a bender, she said. Apparently she had gone to a party in London, where she met two Lebanese guys whom she had simply adored. The next weekend they took her to Detroit “on a holiday” and sold her to a gang. The story got pretty sketchy at this point: even after all this time Shelley was strangely incapable of casting herself as a victim. Her eyes fluttering against tears she mentioned strings of African-American names, this one a fucking asshole, that one pretty cool, this one afraid of her, that one protecting her, all of it culminating in a fight where she jumped on someone’s back and tried to scratch out his eyes because she had no fear whatsoever of guns. But the upshot was pretty clear: she had spent several months in forced prostitution, and was only cut loose because she had gone bonkers.
This was all beyond Dylan’s narrow frame of comprehension. It left him with a feeling of shame and failure unlike any he had ever experienced. Prostitutes had always been fantasy characters, something cool that he and his buddies would opine about. And African-Americans were either TV drama bad guys, or famous warriors for racial peace and justice. Listening to her talk was like listening to a philosophy professor shake a bunch of concepts in a verbal box then put them back together in ways that just did not seem to fit. She literally left him speechless.
Afterward he couldn’t stop thinking of the way she had let him fuck her, just giving him her pussy like one more thing that was more trouble than what it was worth. Like she was saying, “Fuck it. It’s all yours.”
Knock yourself out.
The last time he saw her was during his first year of university. He was taking the bus back to St. Thomas where he still had his plum grocery store job, and she came staggering aboard hoisting a baby. She sat in the seat across the aisle from him, nursing her kid. She was too hammered for them to have any kind of sensible conversation. Vodka, she explained, hoisting her McDonald’s cup in blurry good cheer.
Her infant boy stared out through all creation.
When male literary authors write about sex and women they always have to be careful to include some kind of feminist epiphany. I’m not sure I have one, which is a bad thing.
Disgust has a way of boiling the virtue out of ambiguity and leaving only the crime.
Our neighbours down the road, the Parsons, were originally Mormons. They didn’t smoke. They didn’t drink. They barely even cursed. But they fucked like bunnies, so their house was always bursting with juvenile drama.
Then suddenly the father, Duncan, made the mistake of voicing doubts he had apparently harboured for years, and the Parsons found themselves excommunicated. The transition was a giddy one, and the Parsons went from being the most buttoned-down family on the concession to the wildest overnight. They started swearing and drinking. They started smoking–even toking. They reveled in apparent anomie. They would come over with their youngest kids and together we would all drive down to Hawk’s Cliff. Everyone clambered down to what we called ‘Our Private Beach’ beneath the high-hanging shelves of clay.
Then everyone got naked.
Our parents would get drunk while we romped through the brown waves, our pee-pees bouncing like tassels. We dove and rolled, sneezed at the spike of the sun. We hung like astronauts, weightless in the water. We built moats and castles, wrestled across the beach until we were skinned in sand, until we resembled little australopithecines chasing one another with hoops and grins.
Our parents watched our hijinks with loving and authoritarian eyes. They bitched and they joked. Our fathers struck poses appropriate to their cocks, and our mothers waddled, by turns shy and brazen.
I remember watching the white light spill quick and molten across the water, winking in two-dimensional monochrome. I remember staring up at the hanging scarps, skyscrapers of earth, and feeling the tingle of catastrophic possibility. Lake Erie is forever gnawing at our edges, forever growing fat and shallow on tracts of arable land. Not a summer passes without the ground coming up short, whole chunks of the earth dissolved into solution.
The sun always occupied some corner of my eye in those days. No one gave a flying fuck about SPF back then: they were still fool enough to think the outside was healthy. They did not share our mania for all things in. Sometimes I was burned to the scrotum, so bad that I would find it painful sitting in my seat at school the following Monday.
But no one–absolutely no one–was to know about our naked weekends. “If they ask why you can’t sit still,” my mother said, “you tell them you have worms.”
Worms. There’s a word to make your ass itch.
“But why, Mom?”
She smiled and cupped my cheek in a calloused palm.
“Because people are stupid.”
That was what she said, but what she meant was that you are easily disgusted.
That we’re all Mormons all the time, whether we want to be or not.