Seconds before it blew, Trieste, March 14.
Seconds before it blew, Trieste, March 14.
[The translation, by Larry Riley, has just been finished, and the search for a publisher will begin this Spring.]
THE FLAMETHROWERS Intro
SAILING THE GOOD SHIP TITO: Hospitalized in Izola
I chose this photo to emphasise the architectural quality of the hospital of Izola, which was designed to look like a passenger vessel. Berthed on the second to last promontory in Slovenia the hospital overlooks Izola (in this photo Izola compares a genuine vessel with the elegant one above) and on the other side, Koper, Trieste, and mountains ranging from Podnanos to Triglav and Krn to the Tirol and deep into the Dolomitis.
The brilliance of the design extends beyond the external location, and you can take that in the darkest way if you like, the hospital being the place for many a man’s final journey–women, too, but I associate ships with wandering fools, who throughout history have more often been men. But most journeys are more pleasant, like cruises were meant to be, trips from illness to health. When I got mowed down by a car while riding my bicycle I had an eight day journey in this boat that never moves–and what a journey it was! Saving the first leg, what I will refer to as the long existential embarkation, I spent about 36 hours with a dislocated shoulder–try sleeping in that condition–and a broken arm, while the medical staff, sharpening their instruments, waited for my blood density to come down (I take blood thinners, a result of a voyage about 18 years ago). I’ll never forget my boss visiting me, knowing that what I needed was to get out on deck where I could smoke, the pain being a constant so that whatever effort was necessary was all to the good.The surgeon who fixed me happened to be the former head of surgery; he lost that position when he was sued for operating on the wrong hand of a teenager who didn’t actually need the surgery in the first place. A few months after my surgery my surgeon and I experienced a very moving scene in his office when I went for a final check with him, the poor man, an excellent surgeon, admonishing me to work hard to get back to normal to help him with his reputation…or perhaps more accurately to prevent his reputation diminishing further.
This latest voyage began when I suspected my urine had some blood in it. I took a glass into the toilet with me and the result was astonishing: it was the color and density of refošk, our earthy, fresh native wine.
I chose this picture, I admit, for the reader to imagine what readers might. I don’t actually have a photo of that first sample.
Light cannot be seen through a good domestic refošk.
I was surprisingly calm holding that warm, loving glass in my hand. Most likely I had lost control of my blood thinner and now it was way too thin. I would merely have to go a couple days without tablets and everything would be fine.
I checked the medical dictionary, the search engine that needs no free advertising, and every site suggested that the problem was indeed likely to be unthreatening. But they all said go get it checked immediately. As it was a Saturday, I had little inclination to do so, but soon I was having absurd philosophical turbulence regarding whether to show the glass to my wife or not.
So within minutes we were on our way to the hospital’s emergency room.
It didn’t occur to me that I might have to stay there.
I was extremely lucky, I soon realized, that I had thrown an extra book into my bag, anticipating an hour or two of waiting. I was about fifty pages into a biography of Tristan Tzara, and I nabbed it, half-conscious that another book on Dada, Andrei Codrescu’s The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess in Zurich, was already in there.
Dada cannot change the hospital that’s holding you, but if your hospital is built to look like a ship a swim in Dada is a highly recommended remedy for every facet of your hospital voyage–and of course every stage of an institutional experience is in need of human revolt, which can be accomplished invisibly by a mind steeped in Dada.
Three Dead in Izola Hospital Shooting
As I lay there hoping there was no tear in an inner organ, that the problem was simply that my blood had gotten too thin, I naturally compared the medical situation in the US with that in Slovenia. I had for the moment forgotten that last August ‘A 70-year-old man shot and killed a police officer and a doctor and seriously injured another police officer at the Izola general hospital on Monday. The shooter died as the police attempted to prevent him from fleeing the crime scene.’
The attempt, by the way, was successful. The guy stopped fleeing as soon as he was dead.
Throughout the world, the deranged US gun habits are a dark marvel. How do you imagine cities where hundreds are murdered every year? How do you imagine a nation that is unmoved by public massacres of children? Especially if you live in a town like Izola, where the murder rate doesn’t exist? About 9 years ago we read about one Macedonian stabbing another in the ass in a bar frequented by Macedonians. Recently the police chased an Albanian gangster through the old town down to the sea, where the guy flung his gun. Yet of all places, Slovenia’s first American style gun event occurred in the Izola hospital. Apparently the shooter was upset about waiting times or something…I just read the article I quoted from: the doctor he killed was a urologist. Today when I was told I could go home as soon as the urologist checked my results and decided what to do I asked how long it would be and was told there was no telling, as he was the only urologist in the region. Now I know how that happened.
These waiting lists are one of the reasons Slovenia, a very small and poor nation, is ranked so low among the world’s nations when it comes to health care that it usually is tied with the US. That’s how bad it is.
The good part is that everybody has health insurance and no one gets turned away. Emergencies are treated like emergencies and in a case like my own this weekend they do everything possible to be sure that they’ve not overlooked anything. In the US I probably would have been sent home and told to go see the urologist at his office, to make an appointment. Or they would have decided that as the problem was relatively clear, there was no need to go so far as to have a, a…cistoskopija, a cocktastrophe…Dada is against gratitude…
We would prefer that you stay
Even when tests showed that my blood was indeed extremely thin, I was not allowed to go home. Not without tolerating some persuasion. The doctor, who after all has more authority throughout the world than any other weaponless creature, politely convinced me to stay when I told her that I could just wait until Monday and see if the blood had thickened sufficiently as I would simply stop taking the blood thinning medicine.
I didn’t have a tooth brush.
My blood was so thin they wouldn’t wait for it to thicken on its own–they gave me medicine right away. Maybe they wouldn’t have let me brush my teeth anyway.
There was no telling what would happen.
I was taken to NEPHRO BUNKER 5, a five bed suite with a private toilet, as the two occupants were diapered.
Adult diapers are a much better invention for the clergy than for the ranks of nurses.
Gospod Mislimović was in the first bed on my left. He displayed an exhausted curiosity toward me that proved he was alert.
Godpod Govorović was in the last bed on the right and would be my neighbor. Little of what he said was intended for sustained communication. His teeth were not in the room.
Does smoking kill? If so, when?
At this point in time, smoking can no longer be managed on the balcony off the room, though I would have tried had I been alone in the room, or incarcerated with another smoker.
Hospitalized in NEPHRO BUNKER 5, should I have been considering smoking at all? Fuck off. This whole voyage actually began five days earlier, on my hundredth day without alcohol (I refuse to leap to the easy conclusion that sobriety is bad for the health – the experiment is still in its infant stage). Besides, I am smoking about half a pack a day, and often even less. Snatched, in a sense, from my staid existence and taken on this voyage unprepared, it was a lucky strike that my wife had a full pack in her purse and I had a lighter in my bag.
Being unable to brush my teeth is one thing, forced to go without smoking is another.
Humans would be a step closer in wisdom to the apes if they never considered such things, but from what we know, for several thousand years humans have tried to find ways to bang their brains against the walls of their skulls in order to determine who is the captain of the vessel I was on. We can more or less decide that the patients are the passengers, and the nurses, doctors, and all the rest, including the guy who left the french fries from lunch out on their own gurney overnight, are the sailors, keeping the ship from foundering.
Which one are you? Right: these are your only choices.
Nurses probably have the most control over the success or failure, the actual nature, of the voyage. We know that no institutional voyage produces extraordinary sailors; the piranhic nibbling of the quotidian is impossible to defend against. Yet we know that certain attributes of the society where the voyage takes place can affect the constitution of the sailors. The nurses, therefore, in the United States, are known to be – on average – less empathetic, imaginative, and intelligent, than those in most countries that are not currently having a war fought in their territory. In Slovenia, this context includes Titoismus, the, in real terms untermable, the unquantifiable yet very very real, in all terms real and otherwise process that took place after World War II in Yugoslavia, by which a land ruled by a dictator who was at times brutal, at times whimsically nasty, at times downright unfair, nibbled away less of the finer nature of the resident humans than nearly any country on Earth during that time AND to such an extent that many decades after Tito’s death, after a savage war that allowed savage interventions, the rending of Yugoslavia itself into things like Slovenias, the people still retain more of the finer nature of the human than in almost any place on the globe.
I know, enjoy it while it lasts.
One manifestation of Titoismus is that nurses are often on the side of the smoker against the blind absolute dictatorial edict of the hierarchs of the ship. The problem I did not foresee when a smiling nurse indicated she understood my need for a smoke (it had been many hours and I had smoke but two or three earlier in the day–I just needed one to satisfy the addiction) was that the hospital had undergone a great deal of reconstruction since my last lengthy voyage and I had, as it turned out, no idea how to exit the building. Luckily, I was not alone
I had my five-legged rolling drip for a companion. We were on the third floor, went down to 0, where the action gets hottest during the day and where most doors are, but it turned out the former entrance was now just a couple sets of closed and inoperable sliding doors. They were near the emergency entrance, but as construction of institutions and other large buildings such as airports in recent decades has emphasized mystery, preventing the uninitiated from understanding the overall of the operations, the emergency entrance was impossible to reach from the inside for non-sailors.
The hospital is huge, but we had not yet worried about this. Obviously there would be an entrance and exit on the other side of the building. By the time I found it, it was after 10 p.m., which may have meant nothing, but the area was abandoned and the doors did not work for us. I later found that they had been having troubles, so it is unjust to conclude that I had been locked in.
Though I had effectively been locked in.
Here we find a test of humanity. Those who relent at this point are beyond saving. We were not. The first or second floor was an option if we could find an empty room and open the balcony doors, but it seemed a better idea to try -1, which, I figured, might not be entirely underground.
Nor is it. But that does not mean there was an unlocked exit down there.
We had walked some number of kilometers by the time I decided the time had come to look not for an exit, but for a safe place to smoke. That, of course, would definitely be found, if anywhere, on -1. And naturally we drifted toward the farthest corner we could reach, finally coming upon this:
We had just passed ‘Garderoba 2,’ the door of which was slightly ajar…I kept that in mind but moved on. Perhaps there was an exit in this forlorn corner of the building.
But this seemed to be the end. Look: no handle, no middle slice to indicate sliding. But now look at this:
The sliding was up and down! Not only that, it was so rapid that there was a sign warning of it. I think it was to the right on the picture above this one. It was so fascinating we went through and back twice (I knew it was some risk going through the first time, there being no guarantee of being allowed to return…but the smoker is a bold species. Perhaps they would find me in the morning, or on Monday, the pack empty, shivering, out cold, at the point with no disembarkation…My friend stoic beside me.
The door shut behind us, this truly was the end of the line. Heavy aluminum doors with one locked handle. To the left you can just make out a dumbwaiter.
There was a great pulse of enormous industry ground to a halt about this space, not unpleasant under the circumstances…rather like a more typical vessel passing at night so close as to nearly scrape against the rock walled castle that did nothing but provide a theatre for slaughter after slaughter…
I sat next to the dumbwaiter and enjoyed a cigarette.
Can you see it?
right down to the filter.
I suppose I philosophized a bit, took stock of ‘things’. One interesting aspect of the metaphor attending to the journey is that the light was not at the end of the tunnel, but back by the danger door.
Back in the room
I reclined and to my surprise, felt what is best described as the apex experience of the opium addict, the moment of optimal combination of perceived clarity and well-being.
I don’t know
I guess time
becomes a lazy contortionist
And there’s the night nature of the vessel itself that appears during the day when things that cannot happen do not and things that can cannot, while the few impossible become
like, verifiably untrue was the fact that I received a message from my Uzbeki acquaintance Arslan Levantinov that night, mysteriously reassuring me that I had not been poisoned ‘…I mean in case you have already received by what we call camel my letter regarding the country of your birth.’
Because the thing is
I did not have my telephone with me that night. I recall thinking of it when we left for the hospital and deciding ‘for what.’ It was only the next afternoon, when my family delegation arrived that I had my phone. So the message must have come on the second night.
but in a hospital during the quiet of night the metaphor becomes hyper-real, things underwater stand on the ground
and what is more perseveringly disconcerting than not knowing who your friends are?
Next to me, Govorović began to grow talkative. Looking straight up, he spoke too garbled for me to make out much–at one point he did say ‘porco dio’, but without stress, and he did say quite a lot. My mood was light for a philosopher, so I was not disturbed by these night declamations, not even when I had my head on the pillow, was turned to foetal left, and
I answered, telling him how sometimes you have no idea when you’re a writer if you’re talking to anybody, in fact I have a book I finished last year, the best work I’ve ever done and what’s frustrating is the satire is playing out every day and the bo0k is being seen by no one, nor
and he was silent as if in listening response.
and he spoke again
Thinking of the cigarette adventure I tried, ‘NO SANCTUARY’ and he seemed amused enough in my imagination I tried it a few more times, and I was sleeping so I can’t remember all the good lines, but we spoke of the communication of birds who needed no language, so no no don’t get me wrong, please go on, but from a philosophical view is language really
a missing leg*
The device to be used to call a nurse hung above my head like a proto free range telephone, and as if factoried in, I awoke at 4:30 to see that my dripping bag was ipso facto not as it were empty and I pressed a button that summoned the nurse who replied “4:30” and when I pointed to the empty bag disconnected it and connected the backup bag factotumtorily.
That was a hospital voyage alarm clock, which is, like the very sea–that’s what I had been…getting my sealegs–fluid, even if most of us have our flimsical psychotropic moments when we are certain this or that, probably that, is behind the timing of everything, with particular and astute attention paid to that which is least what cannot be said.
One trick I learned: In the declared morning, when it is dark outside, all glass between inside and out is covered and all lights are on. In certain parts of the declared daytime all glass between outside and inside is covered and all lights are on.
Above is the kidney, something like the bladder, and, highlighted, the stomach, which is shaped like a kidney, or kidney bean.
Bluntnosed rhino rhamming kidney rhemoved from site.
Much ado is adone.
Nurse in false dawn
drip dripped new drip
rhino attack and rhoaches parading in stomach at same time, scissors
on knees hugging friend
nurhses disappear, frhiend remains tenacious as fiend
3 to -1 roundtrip on canvas assed wheeled chair, bobsledder expert sailor running the vehicle, manikinned poses in pain beyond typology
relief, records, parades called off for second scan
Kidney stopped, or had stopped
Tune in tomorrow. Remember, this is sunday. The lecture on simultaneous bleedout, constipation, stomach rhazor roach march, kidney exeunt, bladder blow full stoppage was last weekend
“So, you mean I have to wait until tomorrow morning to find out? What time is it now?”
“So, I have to
“we’re afraid so”
What were they afraid of, exactly?
So I told the family delegation
And then there were one.
” I looked at him he looked at me all I could do was hate him ” but I couldn’t tell who was pogueing who
point properly proposed
please proceed to probables: pick yer paisan: porpetto prose: pure purplyred to pink to painless, a mere gasp of a kidney
prognosis precedes diagnoses:
At the meeting no one ratted.
The pains is gone. The pain are gone.
THE PAIN ARGON
Can we move in for a close up of the anti-climax here? Just a little closer.
Add endum: shit, man, I forgot about the fourth guy in the room, the one they wouldn’t feed and who they feared was spreading something airborne that might put us in quarantine who, Gospod Canonović, who, under the conductorship of Mister Mislimović combined with Mr. Govorović to render an extraordinary midnight concert I woke up to just as it finished, the first, and perhaps last, performance of Gospod Mislimović and his A Capella Night-time all-Nephro Trio!
article from the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/01/for-most-uzbeks-it-doesnt-matter-whether-the-president-is-alive-or-dead
Just when I was drawing up a response to a threatening letter from Mr. Karimov, word reached me that he is probably dying or dead. This is alarming news for two reasons: first, it means V. Putin, a more formidable foe, is my correspondent if I wish to continue the back and forth; and B) it means the chance to boil Islam Karimov alive has likely been forever missed.
I’m too distraught to go on, as you might imagine, but for those who share my distress there is this thought: Henry Kissinger is still alive, and there is some chance he might be lured to Uzbekistan for a speaking engagement if a photo of Miss Uzbekistan 2013 is on the cover of the card.
Guess what Rick: That’s not me! Arslan L
I can write you freely now and am perhaps too anxious, but Rick, though I apologize to you for my disconcertainties and contradictions in the past few mails I am sure you understand. But now this is me, the real me, again, your Arslan Levantinov. Let me quickly explain. You see, the succex you brought me brought me (that does not seem the write words) to the great man himself. Yes, that is right, HIS EXCELLENCY Islam Karimov. Islam Karimov. Islam Karimov. (I’m trying to make it bigger, but I’m lost on my new computer.) No jokes. At that point, when I received the invitation to his presidence, I felt myself in conflict. Elation at my elevated status, for he had already as you know promoted me, but this was together with my fear I have no fear of admitting of being boiled alive. Yesterday, much like flesh soup boiling my affairs came to ahead. Called to an audience with the great man himself. Imagine my trepudiation. I stepped baldly into his office. Imagine this greeting: ‘Arslan, what’s the matter with you? Your letter to the American have turned to shit. You aren’t yourself anymore. It’s as if you’re afraid of being discovered writing subversive letters. Are you, Arslan Levantinovich, aftraid of being accused of writing subversive letters?’ How could I lie? ‘Yes. Yes, Excellency, for I have in fact been writing subversive letters. That is the only reason, I swear.’ He laughed—he actually laughed. ‘But, my son, for you are like a son to me, it is impossible. For you to be subversive there must be something to subvert, am I wrong?’ No Excellency. You are right. Interluckily.’ ‘Then listen to me carefully: Only death can subvert my rule. Are you an assassin, Willard? ‘No…(should I tell him I am not even Willard?)’ ‘Then. You see? You are innocent, my son. Permit me to explain something to you. I have modernized my regime. We are now a democracy very closely allied to the most powerful country in the world.’ Here i made the mistake of interrupting. It was involuntary, a subversive—no, a…well, a belch. ‘A democracy, Sir?’ He slammed his hand onto the desk. I was grateful it was not a fist for in such small details a man does decipher the coded signs that dictate life or death. ‘Yes, a democracy!’ He shouted. We hold elections, don’t we? Precisely on the American model. Two parties: may the one with the most money and best voter suppression techniques win. And judging by the results, either party in the United States could take lessons from me. Imagine what it must be like on election day not actually knowing if you will win or not. I can’t imagine. There are many other direct parallels. Take embarrassing family members, like the Bush boys. They all have them. This last one with a wife who has arms like a Greco-Roman wrestler. Who do you think runs the show? And me with my goddamned daughter, my avaricious beauty who had inherited from me everything but tact, subtlety. Hah! Here is something for your friend, that American exile in the land of Melania: Do you know how I finally tamed her? You notice she has behaved properly for nearly two years now? You want to know my secret? They will. And it will help tourism, too. Or have you heard?’ ‘No, Excellency, nothing.’ ‘No? No word on the street? You know now that you can be frank with me, Arslan Levantinovich.’ ‘But it is true, Sir, I have heard nothing.’ ‘All the better: it shall be a revelation. You have of course read the iranian satirist Obeyd e Zakani from the thriteenth century.’ ‘No Excellency.’ ‘Never mind. He was a Persian satirist.’ ‘From the thirteenth century (I wanted to let him know I was paying attention).’ ‘Yes. And he advised Muslims to have anal intercourse with the daughters of their neighbors that the girls’ hymens remain intact, and they thusly remain good and just Muslims. Satire, Arslan Levy, is the recourse of a troubled state. So I called that little bitch, my daughter, into my office, locked the door, pulled up her gown, tore off her thousand euro panties from France, and fucked her right in her ass. Yes, Arslan Levantinovich, it is true. I gave it to her good and long until she promised to behave properly. I remained a good and proper father. And as I said, she has caused no trouble since. So you write that to your friend, for we prosper as a democracy that is also a cauldron of hot and limitless sex, available to any tourist from anywhere in the world.’ No doubt His Excellency has read and approved this sincere and entirely accurate letter by now. So thank you, Rick, and please forgive my injudasish retreat into smudgery. From now on you can expect nothing but but my frank and warm collaboration as first intended, as your people are want to say, going aheadward.
All the best,
2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D3Y2LLK
the appearance of death to a hindu woman….2.99 at amazon.com
INSECT ARMS: My First Critics
After events unfolded during the 1990 in India that inspired the novel The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman, I found myself adrift in the United States, seeking work to support my writing. I became a taxi driver, a job that did not allow space and time for writing. Seeking a solution, I found that friend was willing to support me with $3,ooo so that I could go to Mexico, where I would settle on the coast north of Merida and get down to writing my novel. In the mean time, a different friend told me about the bizarre phenomenon of writing workshops, places attached to universities where writers could go to learn how to write. Naturally I balked at the thought, hearing him out while trying to get the attention of the bartender…but eventually he got through to me that the elite writing school, the Iowa Writers Workshop, was just four hours away from where we were and that if I went there with financial aid I would have two years to earn a master’s degree in fine arts, or, as I thought of it, two years to write my India novel. Weighing the two options, I decided I would indeed apply to writing schools, and I did so, to five of them, including the University of Southern Mississippi, which is where I wanted to go, entirely in consideration of the climate. And the did accept me, but with limited financial aid. So I couldn’t afford it. As it turned out, it was the Iowa workshop that offered me enough money to live and write for two years, an odd bit of luck I did not recognize at the time. I had sent them 100 pages of a novel called Taxi Cabaret, the Adventures of a Fat Nihilist, and apparently it attracted much attention. The university contacted me as I was driving the cab, and when I put the caporegime of the workshop on hold—something I later found out one generally dare not do—and she understood I was in a taxi as we spoke and she found it exhillarating in the way royalty quaintly does a peasant juggling five cats, good for a few minutes amusement.
I quit the taxi driving as soon as I could afford to and began intensive reading in preparation to writing the novel. I had written paragraphs here and there that are still in the novel, but had been unable to sustain the writing, just to think it through. As a consequence a guide to the unwritten book was laid like railroad track in my subconscious, awaiting the preparatory work of deepening the necessary knowledge if Indian myth and philosophy.
I arrived in Iowa City, to live on Iowa Avenue, to attend the State of Iowa’s university and its Iowa Writers Workshop—I arrived as a rube. I never thought of myself as a rube, being suburban raised, but I had an old-fashioned view of literature, how it was written, what it was, where I fit in its schemata. And I expected great things of the workshop; not of the actual teaching/learning, rather assuming that I would meet terrific writers and spend two years among them, all of us inspiring each other toward greater writings. I had no idea what the process was really like.
To a degree, my highest expectations were met in that more than a few people were indeed excellent writers and generous artistic souls. Not that it matters, but they were in the minority. The majority fit in many ways between those folk and the two I will describe, my first two critics of the India novel, which I first submitted about thirty pages of, though it was after I had already learned that a workshop was a seminar held in a garden of pettiness, jealousy, and itinerant spite.
These two were quite remarkable:
I think I referred to the guy as the bloat-headed midget with insect arms. [Homonculus!That’s what it was–ever since I wrote that I had this feeling something wasn’t quite right, yes, the bloatheaded homunculus with insect arms! what a relief!]His real name was J.C. Luxton. He was indeed short, had a pretty big head, and with his elbows drilled into their pivots on the table his arms from the elbow down (up, actually) seemed all he had to swivel about; so yes, the short arms may well have been an optical illusion. None of this would have disturbed me enough to bundle it into some laughs had he not been such a shit. His outstanding characteristic as a seminar conversant was the inability to reform his persona in the face of overwhelming evidence that the jokes he was laughing had been but partially uttered and were not funny to anyone else, so that he was a self-alienating little arm-waver whom others treated politely by, as with ephemeroptera, allowing him to go about his privacy in our presence as long as he desired. More painful was the fate of his mate, another shorty, Amy Charles, who was equally condescending, though less comic a presence, sitting like dark contagion in her seat, who when speaking rapidly dimmed to a hushed tone that only once lured ears closer, for the success of such manipulation must be earned by interesting content and those at the table were instead quickly trained when she opened her mouth to lean further back, stretch their legs, and make noises no one actually heard that were yet louder than her commanding, emptied auditorium voice.
Writers and other artists are often asked to spread their emotions to the pubic, perhaps to atomize them into a consumptive mist that settles into the lungs of the needy. When a work is very personal, autobiographical, the question is often asked, dog tongues dripping drops of droop: how hard was it for you, etc. The answer is: please go look elsewhere for torment. When I was writing about a rather important personal period in my life, my India love and loss, I was working on a novel, not suffering a loss. The worst was over. And I suppose had the worst been all that bad I wouldn’t have been able to work on the novel. All this by way of saying that I was not the least sensitive about the material of the novel, much to the chagrin of the feckless sadists of the workshop.
J.C. and Amy were feckless sadists. How the process worked was copies of our writings were piled up in an office, where class-mates (colleagues! Fellow artists!) would pick them up so they could read and mark them before class, where the author was by rule to sit quietly as the class and at some points an officially stamped writer was to speak of the work before them. Our writer of note, was Marilynne Robinson, and she was in a terrible mood to judge by that semester—during which of approximately 30 review sessions, two student writers per week, she spoke positively three times. She did not speak positively of my first public efforts. Yet that part of the experience was not difficult or even memorable, but for one point she made, which was that we need to be very careful with our words, for at one point in the hallucinogenic flow of my words I had written something that upon a bit of reflection made no sense. She was right; so I remembered that. The rest was abstruse or vague, something like a spell of moderately poor weather is to a busy worker.
The fun part, then, was after the seminar, when we had a pile of our own work that had been marked by 14 other ‘writers’ to take home and sift through. I remember that one of the first things that Luxton wrote was ‘Yoy! Dialogue!’ That, because my excerpt went eight pages without. Already you can see what a demented, nasty little turd he was. The first book to my left that I noticed just now is Middlemarch—seven or eight pages before dialogue. Yoy. The Idiot: I don’t even have to look, dialogue on the second or third page. Green Henry (a Swiss masterwork, less known that one would wish): about fifteen pages. Yoy! and again Yoy! The rest of his remarks escape me but for those that were echoed by the woman he would soon couple with, Amy Charles. She ws more pompous, more condescending, more unconsciously hilarious, than her slightly taller friend: big words. I used big words. Latinate words. She wrote a short essay on my piece, at the end of it, about writers who, and this part was the key to the hilarity of the whole, fall in love with Edgar Allen Poe and thus with big words. I was 34 years old at the time. I recall that Catch-22 had a lot of words I was unfamiliar with in it when I first read it. I suppose Ulysses had a few. Cortazar perhaps. I don’t really know. Catch-22, for some reason, is the only one I recall recalling used ‘big words’ which I defined as those I did not know the meaning of.
So recently I went through The Appearance of Death to a Hindu Woman, preparing it for e-printing. I hadn’t read it for at least 16 years. I was eager to see what those words were. I knew it had to be somewhere near the beginning of the book. And as it turned out I could not find it. The only words I would guess might give a reader trouble were Indian words—the book may or may not require a glossary if it is ever printed. But Latinate words? Yes, we all use them all the time. Big words? I’ll look again, but I would expect that most of my friends know most of the words in the book, and for every one of those they don’t know, they do know one that I do not know. By now, J.C. Luxton probably has a ruler tattooed to his forearm, for I find it unlikely he has changed, and by now he’ll need proof that a word is too long. And I won’t apologize for that last sentence, which had five words too long in it. As for Amy…I made her cry one day. I’m not proud of that fond memory. It was the second year, by which time my novel had been crowned a success by Marilynne Robinson and James Alan McPherson, while she was rooting about for something better than she was capable and had confirmed her place in literature already as one who would never make it, who had not the calling, who had not even the verve to fake it. She saw me out walking and asked me something about my writing that seemed to invite comment on her comments over the past year and few months. I simply told her that her comments were among the least valuable I had ever received, the least helpful, the most misguided and perhaps spiteful. And genuine tears leapt from somewhere behind into her eyes.
Dear (esteemed agent),
It has come to my attention that some of what I wrote
to you might actually be considered a real threat, and I
want you to know that of course as a writer of satire
and noir I was only practicing my trade.
Of course I would never want you to be looking
over your shoulder wondering whether a disgruntled
writer would crack your skull with a baseball bat or
stick a knife in your spine to disable you before cutting
your throat in the elevator of your building. That
would truly be awful, for we are both fathers, and, as I
know, you made every effort to do right by my son and
just could not manage. I would not deprive your chil327
dren of a father. I simply take a joke too far. Sorry
about that, and please do not fear my coming at you
with a baseball bat to your skull or a knife to your
spine (before slitting your throat). I am not that type of
man, and in fact some of the violence my characters engage
in sickens me – I cannot stand when they take a
bat to a skull or a knife to a spine prefatory to slitting a
In fact, though I know you have officially, and tenderly
at that, resigned as my agent, I still would love
for you to read my novel “Kramberger with Monkey, or
Still Life,” for despite the lack of baseball bats and
knives to spines, there is much blood and humor, which
I know to be to your taste.
If you are interested, please let me know, and I will
send you that novel – it’s all about assassination, but
only as satire, and there is no glee or satisfaction taken
in the manner of deaths. Plus none happen in New
York, none with a baseball bat to the back of your head
or any other head, and no knives to your spine or any
I hope this puts you at ease. You do know, of
course, from your experience with fiction writers, that
we have a hard time turning off the imagination, and so
if I seem to imagine bashing in your skull with a baseball
bat or catching you in your elevator and knifing
you in the spine prefatory to slitting your throat, it is
only that fictional part of me, that irrepressible free fictional
spirit in me, giving you the blood and tension
that I have come to know you enjoy in a novel.
All the best,