WORKSHOP BREAKS INTO RIOT from the Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (garvin’s last class)

Nineteen WAR COUNCIL
Excerpt from the novel
The Olive Tree

By Nathan Zimmer

Even in the dark of night Levi could make out the form of the olive tree on its side, its roots like fat, venomous snakes. He could hear the celebrations of the enemy from their village over the hill and it was as if a wound inside him flared with every shout, every rifle shot fired into the air. Yet this was the life he had chosen when he decided to migrate to Israel, to join the settlers in forging a new West Bank. He knew it would be dangerous.
“Levi,” it was Deborah; he should have known she would not sleep without his muscular body beside her. “Are you still looking at the tree?”
“Yes, but it is very dark, and I can see so little.” He had been thinking about peace last night, before the raid. Hah! Peace! Not for this unfortunate land.
They had come in the dark like bats, or panthers, (or moths, Garvin chuckled) and they had taken Yuri’s tractor and pulled the tree from the ground and disappeared into the night. Just over the hill. Useless provocation, Levi scoffed: I could break any one of them in half over my knee. In high school he had been a Greco-Roman wrestler, but though he went undefeated, the sport was not for him. He despised the violence. How naïve I was back then, he mused.
“Come to bed my love. There is nothing to be gained sitting up all night.” Did she not understand what it meant that it was under that tree that they had first kissed, first made love? It was as if the Arabs had violated the sanctity of their private life. “Anyway, what are you going to do about it?”
This was too much. What did she mean anyway? “What am I going to do? I’m going to build a fence around the tree and it will be a monument to treachery. Then I will go to their village unarmed and I will pick up their leaders and break their backs over my knee.”
Yes, the people of Ber-Mit-Sabah would know the wrath of Levi Roth, would rue the day he arrived on their soil. Their soil! Hah! No longer. The history of the soil could be traced back three centuries and more. How could a wandering people claim a settlement as their own. It was absurd.
He knew that now he had spoken, Deborah would want him more than ever, for the righteous violence of a man is irresistible to his female partner. This is why the women thrived in the Israeli Defense Force. Deborah’s nubile form was luring Levi to bed, shifting restlessly. Without thinking he was on top of her and her legs were around his ears. He was thinking about Spinoza, something he had written about love, and then, next thing he knew it was the olive tree again, and the word ‘desecration’ was repeating itself in his head over and over with the rhythm of his pounding.
Spent, his body lay heavily upon Deborah, who knew him so well. “Where are you, Levi?” she asked.

Forward to the Past
A short story by Julie Orangeman

Medea had calmed herself, but she could not hide her rubicund face. The boy behind the counter looked at her as if he knew her secrets. Or was that just in her mind?
“Could you tell me where the tampons are?”
“Sure, down aisle C on the right, below the shampoo.” (Garvin wanted him to say, ‘Want me to show you how to use them.’)
There hadn’t been much blood, not as much as she had prepared herself for. A lot of hair had sprouted, as red as the hair on her head. It started at her belly button and went down on either side of her labial parts, a sort of Fu Manchu.
“That it, just the Tampax and the Pepsi?”
“Yes, thank you.” Was he looking at her flat chest? (Why not an omnipresent narrator: He noticed her flat chest and was surprised that she was now technically a woman.) Her nipples were still those of a child. Was this how it was for all women? If only her mother had not run off with her boss and she were not so shy and had someone to talk about it with. Suddenly she felt blood trickling along her inner thigh.
“Keep the change,” she said, and scurried out of the store, her face red. Then she realized that the bathroom was inside the store. This could turn out to be a real mess. Her bus wasn’t due for ten minutes. Of all the times not to have brought Kleenex in her purse. She could have ducked behind the store and cleaned the blood off. The very thought of even that brought a flush to her face, which was the color of shiraz.
Sitting on the bench at the bus stop she squeezed her legs together tightly so that the blood would be absorbed by the cotton fabric of her pants. Maybe no one would see the stain.
She wasn’t just worried about the stain. Worse yet she had forgotten a bag and held the tampons in her hand. There was no room in her little purse. Maybe she could get on the bus quickly and spill the Pepsi on herself and all people would think was that there was Pepsi and they wouldn’t think about the blood. It seemed like a good plan, but as always before she dared do something out of the ordinary her face turned crimson. Why did she care so much what other people thought? When did she start caring so much what other people thought? When her mother left, that’s when. It was as if a lake of blood had formed inside her and her skin was translucent and everyone she looked at could see her mother drowned in that lake of blood even though she was really just in Omaha with her second husband, the one with all the money and so many kids that really there was no reason for her mother to remember her, Medea, here in Albany.

The Reluctant Recidivist
A short story by Hank Swellman

Steve’s hand was so big it engulfed the coffee cup. It was a hard hand, and it could stand the heat of a fresh refill. He watched the waitress walk away and thought how long it had been since he had seen a waitress walk away. They walk differently from men. Men in prison. Later baby, he thought, and downed his coffee in one gulp before standing to his full height (what other height would he tend to stand to?, Garvin was compelled to ask the story) of six feet and five inches, with his broad shoulders spreading one end to the other (as opposed to?). He had a hard face, a rugged face, the kind of face men looked at once if they didn’t want trouble and women were fascinated by the same way some people are by gorillas. (Spell it out, kid, chicks dig gorillas)
A new start, that’s what Steve needed. A new town where nobody knew him. He could kick back, play some pool, drink some whiskey, take a vacation (eat a steak—let him eat a steak, kid!). Maybe one day he would find a job. But not the kind of job where they pushed you around. That was Steve’s problem—he pushed back, pushed back hard. Lands even a good man in trouble. But no more. Seven years in the slammer will cure you of that. No, Steve was not going to go back. He would learn to step aside before being pushed. After all, how many people actually do get hit by a bus? (In class today, three). (What? Hit by a bus?)
(Suggest new title: The Gorilla that got Hit by a Bus)
Leaving town is the easiest thing in the world. You hop on a bus, a train, hell you can even take a taxi (or a bicycle, or a plane, a unicycle, a long hike, a boat!). Sometimes it’s hard to leave your memories behind, but for Steve that was no problem. He had already left his memories. In prison. (Where apparently they did not get time off for good behavior) Even Stella, every curve on her body, every blonde curl of her hair, the red, moist lips and heaving bosom, the thighs that had made Steve the envy of the neighborhood while it lasted, was locked in that cell.
He walked down the street oblivious to passersby. Steve Portage had his mind on one thing and one thing only: the money Bernie owed him. Once he saw Bernie and had that money in his alligator skin wallet he would be on a bus to a life of decency. A life without crime. A life without lying whores and dirty cops. (Go Hank go—finally a little life, a little emotion, cliché rides a hemi-cuda!) (Suggest alternate title) (Fate. Fate Drives a Hemi-Cuda!) Even if the next town had crime and lying whores and dirty cops, they would not be his business. They would not know him.
A patrol car passed him, slowing down. Sweeney. That Irish pig. What does he want? Sweeney rolled down the window and scoffed once. Then he sped away. I guess he just wanted to welcome me back, Steve thought ironically. .(A cloud of doubt clouded his cloudy face: was Sweeney thinking how sore my asshole must be after all those years? What would he know about getting fucked in the ass. I could teach him a thing or two. With his own billy club, or that giant black man in the next cell. Stella was certainly different from that giant black man, I’ll give her that much. But if it came to lending out small change…)

Fuck. Got to go. Make it a double. Tullamore Dew. Jameson’s had become a lady’s drink and Bushmill’s was Protestant. Scotch was for assholes.
Garvin had made his peace with the war within; teaching writing was all bullshit, especially teaching fiction, but it was the price he paid for being in a small enough kingdom for his wife to rule with an absolutism such that even the rector of the university deferred to her in eager emasculation, for he must be male, the rector, a female would not be tolerated at such an elevated position. Even deans must be male; the last female dean had left with a black eye, literally, and a black stain, figuratively—she had never found another job, anywhere—simply for challenging the process of allotting financial aid to graduate students. Naturally it was a scandal, a genuine media scandal, the mortified dean finding the more she protested the version of events generated by Languideia’s pretense of noble elision, that is to say the more she felt like a Vietnamese peasant shaking his fist at a helicopter gunship, the closer she came to the insignificance of an incinerated Vietnamese peasant. No one really knew what became of her, but Garvin imagined her in some room, any kind of room, capable only of repeating over and over ‘monolithic.’ So Garvin had to take charge of both creative non-fiction and fiction, which he learned to live with by establishing a set of rules that, followed, severely curtailed the effect of these duties on his life and mind. He had just violated a sacred rule of the writing teacher, who was supposed to read the work once, straight through, no marks, and then again, slowly, with a view to making the author a better…What? What could Garvin possibly do to help any of these academic errata? These avian soul-free pubescents, these coddled, uncuddly, corngobbling, creepulous crappers? Nothing. Quite obviously nothing. And so he did his least. He read the three pieces per week once and then just before class read the first page or two again and prepared to enter class, orchestrate the nonsense of the apostolic twelve non supplicants of the week, and get out without having an experience he would have to remember, such as a fistfight or a breakdown.
The classroom was arranged into a seminar style rectangle of tables, surrounded by chairs, one empty one, Garvin often thought, in honor of Socrates, who had fled the scene. In one way or another, every time he entered a classroom he thought, felt, or disgorged in silent gassetry the notion that this was all very very wrong, that not only was this not art, literature, writing, but that this was not education, that anyone who did not have an intestinal level repulsion upon entering was doomed to be nothing more than a clerk who in one way or another counted money owned by others. Even if they became ‘successful’ writers. Yet, again, he knew his thoughts were not novel. But, he mused today, at least he did not write an un-novel novel about all this shit. Such thoughts gave sluggardly impulsion towards completion of the duty but did not prevent the scar tissue of pusillanimous acquiescence from accreting. Garvin did not hate himself for being less than what others thought he was, but he was far from satisfied with his self, if indeed he had one. And, frankly, entering a classroom of credulous grasping lost privileged souls while contemplating the existence of one’s own self boded ill for the coming session during which one’s words were as potent as dynamite, as replete as a night’s blanket of snow, as Mosesian as a bible in flames.

Donnie had been in Europe since October and now it was March. Two months had passed since the slapslap in the white room. He had not spoken to Languideia since. He had not spoken to that salamander Cleopatra that was apparently what came from mating too often with Languideia. What he had done, what he had done right, was go directly to the bank and divide everything in half, pull out half of their considerable savings and checking and deposit them in his own new account, as good a way of saying please divorce me as any. And he had rented an apartment above the pharmacy closest to the university despite the extra bedroom, not because he expected Donnie ever to return and occupy it. Yet he also knew that though he currently meant little or nothing to Donnie, what he meant to Donnie was his life’s mission and should have been since Donnie’s birth. Garvin’s history was a history of a strong man with great patience, and so he was, and so the search for Donnie and the revelations Donnie had long deserved would be forthcoming. There was no cause for panic. That did not mean anything in a practical sense but removing himself from the gravity of Languideia’s increasingly erratic, if not hysterical, orbit. If he had slapped her it would have been different. If she had walked out if would have been different. But this was not like cold cocking an old cunt in the privacy of your office and getting away with it. In this case, Garvin was the silent one who attracted far too many adherents by simply going about his business while she struggled like an upended beetle to win a battle in which the opponent had declined to engage.
She snubbed him at the university as effectively as she could given that he never attended meetings and had always sedulously avoided his office. But she laughed louder and more often in the hallways, was almost comradely with colleagues, which mystified any who did not know about the break, yet only disgusted about a third enough for them to refuse to bask in her powerful heat. She did whatever she could to be seen with the handsome Dr. Francisco Franco, a Chilean teacher of Latin American literature, whose wife was both younger and more beautiful than Languideia and was not merely immune to her charms, but repelled by them. But when Languideia said, ‘You must tell me more about Rulfo,’ he was savvy enough to know that must mean two things when the queen of the university said them and so the two began sharing long walks down the hallways of the humanities building and back and down the stairs to hallways on different floors and up again and so on. Unfortunately, when a man like Garvin has had enough, he actually has; he was not employing strategy, rather approaching a new life with necessary stealth, and his reveling relief at getting away from Languideia was only limited by his lack of desire to think about her at all. Her only real weapon was her ability to destroy his career, which would have to wait at least a couple of years unless she could make up a brutal and believable story, which was unlikely to work in the case of a man with such a reputation of dignity, decency and diligence as Tom Garvin, and, best of all, in two years he would be long gone. She could expose him as a fraud, but not without implicating herself.

Besides, walking into the classroom on this of all rude times he felt especially fraudulent, without the least vertigo, without the imbalance of a maladroit anchor, without so much as a fart of territorial fatigue: like a blue bottle fly blown off a swirl of cowshit into a world of strange furs and turns and terror returning landing gripping and sniffing and swelling with a harmony of emotions thinking same goddamn shit. An involuntary smile arranged his facial muscles as he nestled his ass into the chair of sloping wood seat and back and metal legs, as fine a chair as a man could ask for.
He scanned the seated senate of softened sinister cynics and was pleased all were present, for it was Clay Strut he counted on to provide a physical edge to the criticism of the Jew piece, as he titled it in his thoughts. He despised Nathan Zimmer, who had led a successful campaign to deny a reading by a Palestinian writer invited from a nearby university where she was resident author for a year. Nothing against her, or Palestinians, but without an Israeli author to balance the reading, well, you know, there was a danger of the peace process being disrupted to the point of actual success, success, yes, but for who? You see the danger. The counter protest was led by none other than Clay Strut, who failed chiefly because he attacked Zimmer with his own imbecilic sign, which read AWAY WITH TERRORIST LIES! (What?), breaking it over Zimmer’s back before campus security wrestled him off. In the next issue of the school paper, The Peregrine, Zimmer was provided a platform in a cozy interview during which he could, with a photo of an enraged, grotesquely gleeful Strut about to swing the sign he had just wrested from the skinny Zimmer placed next to his words, calmly explain that the problem was the inherently violent tactics of the Palestinians and their supporters that was precisely the reason it was necessary to be extra vigilant in academia and to prevent the least imbalance of publicity. In other words, thought Garvin, any number of terrorists could be hiding in that, after all Asian, Trojan horse of a book she was passing off as literature. And what is western Anatolia but a sort of proving ground for Levantiners. Not to get carried away, but perhaps a Greek Anatolia might be a future ally of an expanded Israel: imagine, standing on the Golan Heights the warm wet wind of the white Sea (woops, that’s an Ottoman term) whipping your face as you cast your whatever one casts in such cases 360 degrees over Judeo-Christian lands.
Today, Clay Strut had outdone himself. He had taken to wearing a kefiya to class since the successful banning of the Palestinian author, and so he had it affixed upon his brow today, along with either a genuine hand grenade or a very fine replica askew before a sign on which he rested his chin that said in blood read THIS GRENADE ONLY KILLS HEBREW SPEAKING PISSANTS. Garvin had long ago mastered the art of experiencing hilarity without expressing it, but his belly was beginning to heave and he was only saved by Nathan Zimmer, whose hand shot into the air as soon as Garvin had arranged his papers and was settled enough to look about the tables at the class.
He cured his guffaw into a wry smile and asked, ‘Nathan, why is your hand raised? We don’t raise our hands in this class.’
‘I believe this is an exception. I would like to ask that that offensive sign be removed before we begin.’
‘Why?’
Nathan apparently had not expected to have to put the self-evident into words.
‘Well, it’s it’s it’s…it’s…offensive.’
‘I’m not offended.’
‘What? Why?’
‘Because we have only one Palestinian piece of fiction today and it is Israeli. Where’s the balance required for real debate? Consider yourself lucky that I am allowing your excerpt to be discussed and the demonstration by Mr. Strut to be balance enough.’
Nathan Zimmer straightened on his chair, looked around the room at the blank faces hiding the cathartine expectancy of the aggrieved by nature white middle class students, then stood with a purposeful, nay, Ghandian, solitary determination, saying, ‘Then I, myself, will remove it.’
‘SIT DOWN, you Zionist twerp,’ Garvin ordered. ‘I will not have the class abbreviated by the spectacle of Mr. Strut kicking your ass.’
What did I just say?
Just following orders was floating phraseally in the atmosphere as a bewildered and injured Zimmer plopped hard back into his chair. Tears began to well in his eyes.
Clay Strut had the decency to cup his mouth with a hand, his cheeks ballooning in raggy time.
‘For Christ’s sake, Zimmer, get the tears out of your eyes, we already have Miss Orangeman crying today.’
All eyes swung to Julie Orangeman, who in two previous critiques of her work had begun weeping after two people had criticized her stories and sobbed throughout the full hour of discussion. Would this be enough to break her?
‘Oh my god, you don’t like this one either…’ Tears flew from her eyes as she blubbered: ‘I knew I shouldn’t have written it…’
‘Great,’ Garvin mediated. ‘Hank, would you like to begin whimpering? You’re the only one left. No doubt your little tale will be emasculated as well.’
Five feet tall, red-haired, and the son of the university rector, Hank Swellman looked as if he could not decide how his head should be arranged on his neck, an odd habit that made him seem as if he were following the flight of an insect, his eyes expressing the eternal conflict between stupidity and inherited grandeur.
‘No, I am not afraid.’
‘Perhaps you should be.’ Where was this new Garvin coming from? And why had it been encaved so long—he could feel a yearning from the life’s work unexamined students that was beyond expectancy.
‘All right, as soon as Julie’s sobbing allows, we will begin by discussing Nathan’s Zionist superhero piece…’
Here it is necessary to interject an authorial abjection. The world has not developed in quite the way some of us hoped, what with commodities overtaking philosophy and emotion and the like. And so on occasion we are unable to avoid the murine—that doesn’t sound as plague-ridden as it should—appearance in our tales of devices such as the cellular phone, which ultimately is as pregnant with destruction as a cluster bomb, and one of which, once it was clear that Garvin was going off the rails, as Zimmer saw it, or on the rails, as Garvin and Strut saw it, Nathan Zimmer had slipped from his backpack and was now holding beneath the table, activating the recording function, an action that Garvin picked up on when he followed the violent rays of Strut’s gaze.
‘ZIMMER!’ Garvin shouted. ‘What the fuck are you doing, you fucking subMossad weasel! You’re going to record me without my consent? This isn’t the fucking Gaza, nor a tenement in Haifa. This is a classroom in the United States of America, where only secret government programs can secretly record people.’
‘I would like it on record that you are an anti-Semitic fraud.’
‘Fine. Hand me the phone.’
‘What?’
‘You want it on record that I am an anti-Semitic fraud? Hand me your phone.’
With a look of redressed injury, Zimmer set the phone on the table, still recording, and slid it to Garvin, who snatched it, said ‘Tricked ya,’ and tossed it out a window, where it fell two stories, landing on the cement of a strategic study circle, coming apart dismally, piece by piece, not, that is to say, exploding.
Zimmer just did manage to remain attached to his seat, his mouth open, waiting for the insect that had been pestering Hank Swellman to visit in the form of a plague of locust, while Garvin turned to Patricia Mull and Cord Ferndock, a couple who Garvin knew despised him, if less than he despised them for their twin attitude of appearing as if there were a plate on which sat a well and finey arranged turd deposited beneath their chins. ‘All right, Mull, you have my permission to record this session. Happy Zimmer?’
‘I would very much like to record this session, sir.’ Mull agreed.
‘Ferndork, maybe—’
‘Ferndock.’
‘Yes. Perhaps you could also record, to guard against, what, fate I suppose.’
‘Already begun, sir.’
‘Good.’ He looked to Julie Orangeman, who had her hand over her mouth and nose, but was no longer sobbing, her shoulders still now, and the tears welling in her eyes and holding for some seconds before reluctantly leaving her eye to the rest.
Mark Grbac, a ratface, always looked as if he had just slunk around a corner and would soon be retreating. His most significant moment in Garvin’s class occurred while the group was discussing a raving piece by Strut that had apparently intimidated most of the class—Garvin had no idea what Strut was saying, but the use of language was energetic and musical, and it went on for over forty pages. The first five students to speak had nothing but vague superlatives to offer, and then the discussion reached the corner were Grbac kept his snout. In a slightly nasal voice he began, ‘I guess I wasn’t as impressed as everyone else. I had to stop reading after 20 pages, but—’ And Strut, outraged, berated him violently, actually hounding him from the room. ‘What?’ he had yelped, ‘You didn’t even read the whole thing? And you have the sleazy balls to offer an opinion?’ And so on until he had risen from his chair, was standing over a cowering Grbac, who rapidly removed his effects from the table, grabbed his jacket and exited swiftly with Strut beside him continuing to, as one might say, tear him a new asshole. Garvin decided he would be the first to discuss the Jew piece.
‘Grbac, why don’t you begin the discussion of The Olive Tree.’
Grbac stretched his neck, made to clear his throat, which was already clear, making the prelude to speech look like a lizard’s preening before a mirror.
‘Of course, ten pages of a novel is not much to go on, but as these appear to be the first ten pages, I think we can draw some conclusions. Given the lack of character detail, I chose to read this as a rough sketch, in which case the author has begun to set up a duality of various dimensions, from the broad Israeli versus Palestinian to the individual or personal with the coarse active American versus the nuanced, perhaps inert Israeli, which, one hopes, will evolve into a sort of formula of personalities, testing themselves against the broader conflict in order to refine and for lack of a better word complete themselves.’
Normally Garvin would remain silent, waiting to be sure the first speaker was done and letting the next take up where he left off or whatever. Next would be Melanie Gaston, to Grbac’s right, probably his second favorite student, a woman in her mid-twenties. Though no stunning beauty in a class that lacked such a person of either gender, the most attractive in the class, always as remote as she seemed to think safe, not condescending, though Garvin guessed more than capable of it, one of the two students Garvin considered writers—along with Strut—who was, as a writer should be, in her own world working on her own characters in her own book, politely oblivious to suggestions and critiques of others, likely having arrived at the writing program that gave her the easiest two years during which to write freely, avoiding the working world, which, if her novel was anything to judge by, had recently involved the seedy alcoves of the beluga trade.
Instead, Garvin responded to the rat. ‘Why?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Grbac had to come back from around the corner, which although metaphorical was more recessive than any ratnook in a squalid tenement. ‘Why what?’
‘Why would one hope that?’
‘Well,’ now the throat was not clear, the word filling a lizard’s neck sac, ‘to me that seems the obvious direction for the novel to take.’
‘In other words, you did your homework, you wrote a couple nice sounding sentences, memorized them, and despite the fact that they mean nothing, brought them in here hoping no one would be tortured enough to think them through.’
Are ye rat or lizard?
Lizard.
Grbac retreated a few centimeters without moving his shoulders, then froze, like a lizard, knowing it was seen yet somehow suspecting that it could blend in yet, before the strike, perhaps sensing that the current peril in no way discounted worse peril elsewhere and near.
‘I think the best we can take from the comments of our colleague Grbac is that with luck these first ten pages are not at all what they appear to be, rather the prelude to a comedy of manners with the romantic backdrop of eternal conflict. Nice. I like it. Melanie, do you think that’s what we have in store?’
Melanie’s disinterest was disguised by an economy of movement guided by a natural tendency toward elegance that she made just enough use of to endure the charade of a class filled with avid talentless fiction perpetrators. Her legs were crossed, her arms resting on her lap; she had only to lift her head to look around the room to include all, before settling onto Garvin.
‘No, although I’m not sure exactly what he means. The first paragraph is so full of, well, rather typical action movie writing, and much is made of the breaking of Palestinian backs on Levi’s leg, so that it comes as a surprise that ten whole pages elapse and no one is hurt yet. In fact breakfast has yet to be served. So I guess my thought is that as this is a novel, the heavy-handed symbolism and sketchy characters will be fixed while the real story, whatever it is, emerges.’
‘So you don’t think the novel is going to be a simple story of Jewish settlers feeling insulted that the Palestinians don’t approve their trespass and fight back in order that the settlers can achieve a rousing victory led by the chiseled and idealistic wrath of Levi Roth?’
Melanie, your husband or boyfriend waiting for you elsewhere is a lucky man, Garvin mused without emote when she suppressed a smile so suavely that it appeared to be quite the other way round, that the traces left by a smile were the far reach of her person at the moment.
‘I suppose that given such an opening, my contribution is best limited to…well, expressing what might lead the author to…reconsider…’
The ensuing silence involved more than the entire class looking over at the Zionist after receiving the first actual harsh criticism that Melanie Gaston had yet delivered in recent memory. He had a handkerchief, luckily, and had been dabbing at his nose and eyes throughout, so it was unclear whether he had been rendered meek by Garvin’s outburst or the suggestion that the extension of his being that was ten pages of a novel was being appreciated more for what it was than what it could and would be. There was also the enlivening presence of Clay Strut, who was next up and looking like a giant caged vulture watching the little edible man gently laying down carcass, in no hurry, oblivious…
Strange to think that vultures don’t drool.
‘All right, then, Mr. Strut, you may have your say. I do agree that your political statement is apt in view of relatively recent events, but can you say something about Mr. Zimmer’s, uh, work, something of a literary vein?’
A man whose looks are shaped by his persona, Clay Strut was a dark-haired, burly fellow, whose face was never without expression, setting him off from the predominantly immotile-faced norm, and thus, whether he was warm or not, radiating a humanity that, for lack of other places to turn was accepted as warmth, and therefore attractive. Now his eyes were less savage than a moment before, wide open, his lips compressed and his cheeks consequently expanded and of what Julie Orangeman might consider a rubicund hue. He was like a man who may or may not vomit in the car, the others compelled to take part in the prelude by the sheer drama of it, a sort of physical manifestation of Hamlet, or Arjuna, except that what he clearly could at any moment spew was a very corporeal laughter, a veritable storm of it was brewed in him; yet he wanted to speak as well, and so he stopped short of snorting the excess of burgeoning humor through his nostrils and actually did begin to speak.
‘First of all,’ he leaned forward to look past Gaston at Grbac, ‘I must apologize to my colleague Mark, who I chastised for presuming to criticize my work without having finished it. And while I hold that it is true that we learners of the writing trade are a blessed lot, earning an advanced degree by reading about fifty pages a week on average, actually if that, and therefore generally should make the effort, and so despite my apology I can’t say I find Mark’s behavior acceptable without some sort of an explanation, I have at the same time to admit that for the first time in my nearly two years in this program, I did not read all of a work up for discussion.’
The class was riveted. Something fun was going to happen.
Already Nathan Zimmer looked simultaneously defeated and miserable and resentful. This was not how literature was meant to be discussed. It was not civilized. It was, in fact, Bedouin.
Mull and Ferndock were in a bind, suspended as they were in their expectations between the need to despise the despicable Strut and the despicable literature that was written by others. Garvin imagined Ferndock with a steak knife turning to Mull and saying, cotton napkin bibbed, let’s give it a go, shall we, and the look on her face expressing that very rare love one reserves for the lover who grants permission to, yes, cross that border. Just before the knife touched the loaf, Garvin’s attention returned fully to Clay Strut.
‘I’m sure we all have our favorite novel openings, and we all know the famous ones, Call me Ismael, which of course would have worked here had it not been taken. Probably most of you share with me as one of the most unforgettable, from Coin Locker Babies: “The woman pushed on the baby’s stomach and sucked its penis into her mouth; it was thinner than the American menthols she smoked and a bit slimy, like raw fish.”—that was the end of the meal for Mull and Ferndock, who were back to their normal expressions of repulsion tempered by disdain—And The Olive Tree actually begins with that epic quality that if carried to the end, the end of the sentence I mean, could make for a memorable opening line. See? Look here: “Even in the dark of night Levi could make out the form of the olive tree on its side, its roots like”, so far so good, but then: “fat, venomous snakes.” Fat venomous snakes? Roots of trees don’t look like any kind of snake. But that’s okay, they kind of have the shape of fat lightning bolts, but really, you’re setting yourself an impossible task trying to find a simile here. But you have other options, like, “…the olive tree on its side, the roots so many dying Auschwitz survivors waiting for the Red Cross to reach their row,” or, another direction, “roots as tangled and feckless as an Oslo peace luncheon.” Anyway, what I’m saying is that the novel is off to a good start, needing only a little adjustment.
‘Okay, then: …enemy over the hill…wound inside…flares out and in, symbolic symmetry in an asymmetrical warfare setting, good…life he had chose, cliché maybe but then the big ideal—forging a new West Bank, not my line, but lets you know this is a book not to be trifled with…description of body: muscular—not really the work of a real writer, but one imagines the author in a hurry to get the grand tome underway…good…woman calling for him, mentions tree to make sure we get that it is of some significance, perhaps even a symbol of some kind, good…cynicism, history, bats or panthers, sooner or later you have to choose but rough draft, let’s not nitpick…and here…’ Strut was now in the grip of the laughter, perhaps one of its venomous, snake-like roots, for he held his sternum and rocked back and forth, his face as if it had no choice but to weep if not soon let free…’and here…’ More rocking, air puffed up into his cheeks, and the laughter itself began escaping in gusts…’O Nate…you fucking slay me… Yuri’s…Yuri’s…YURI’S TRACTOR…oh god…’
By now Garvin’s upper teeth were biting into his lower lip, his arms crossed over his chest, himself rocking, a couple laughs spurted out tentatively here and there in the room, Strut was entirely lost to the force of the comedy, howling, Mull and Ferndock were looking about like storks of great wealth and position blown to the lost island of ravenous crabs, just about to comprehend, exhausted, wings soaked and heavy, heads held as bred to be held, that despite all this indeed is how it ends, and more spurts escaped, some trotting into gallops of laughter, Garvin now with his head in his hands, his shoulders expressing his mirth for the rest of his body, and then finally Melanie Gaston virtually shouted in long suppressed glee, ‘YURI’S FUCKING TRACTOR!’ and then there was no stopping it, at least it would take a bold act, but for the time an underground nuclear test couldn’t have better expressed the berserkeree effect of humans come together beneath the accumulate layers of history and invention and inexpressible stupidity all ruined all dead all for nought with yet just enough guano left if shared to form one last shit pool in which to riot, feathers filling the room falling flying feathering, time faltering, pure yogic loss of mind to union and euphoria, ah, how good it feels, even if you weren’t there, recalling those few times without the specificity that corrupts the memory, oh happy people!, no one noticing Nathan’s face leading his reluctant soul into righteous anger, flinging feathers, foul feathers of false fate!, making its way, at first, sure, a bit unsteady, and finally, unseen, to Clay Strut’s long wild hair, digging his hands deep into Strut’s hair, and pulling like a banshee, howling like a Central American monkey, silencing the room that had thought itself human alone now filled with an eerie intrusion, perhaps a cousin of some lost emotion, and Strut reached up to grab wrists of the offending claws, stood, bent over with the clinging Zimmer now draped over his back, stumbled into some momentum, and just before reaching the wall, turned to mash Zimmer into the cement block, and for good measure, as Zimmer slumped like snot sliding down a wall grabbed Zimmer’s hair in order to cut the distance his knee had to travel to bust Zimmer’s nose, which, wouldn’t you know, with all the spattered, spurting and splattered blood brought the mood to a skidding bewilderment, required the calling of a doctor and the cancellation of the class, which would be Garvin’s last.

That weekend Clay Strut dropped by the apartment and the two downed a bottle of Tullamore Dew, generally made like professor and student, told stories, laughed a few more times over Yuri’s tractor, and, Garvin remembered as Strut left sometime after midnight to hand him two envelopes, tying up his loose teaching ends.

Dear Julie,

You’ll cry again, and they’ll tear you apart and all the female blood will surely upset both Mull and Void, but I’ll tell you one thing: the idea of the vanishing tampon and the refusal of adulthood is the most ingenious idea I have come across in years.

Yours,
Garvin

Dear Henry,

There’s no point in lying to you. You’re among the worst writers I have ever taught—or sought to. You’re a master at accidental humor (Men walk different from women, etc.). I don’t know why you want to be a writer, but we both know how you got into the program. That’s fine. And I’ve seen you bravely endure nearly two full years of pretty abusive criticism. So maybe you’ve got one thing being a writer takes, that ineffable desire to be one in the face of all reason, against whatever odds. So in that light I’ll tell you one thing. In this story I saw Steve as Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle. It occurs to me that you have a cinematic touch—not that you should be writing for the movies but that the way you see, if not overly dicked around with by you trying to be a writer, is delivered in an easily visible manner. So perhaps this is your calling: crime fiction. If so, forget Chandler, read Simenon, not Maigret, but his straight crime stuff, watch 40s and 50s noir, and keep at it. Pay close attention to the close readings. Don’t put a lady’s legs around a guy’s ears like Zimmer did. Describe it simple and keep at it. Learn French.

Yours,
Garvin

Nineteen WAR COUNCIL
Excerpt from the novel
The Olive Tree

By Nathan Zimmer

Even in the dark of night Levi could make out the form of the olive tree on its side, its roots like fat, venomous snakes. He could hear the celebrations of the enemy from their village over the hill and it was as if a wound inside him flared with every shout, every rifle shot fired into the air. Yet this was the life he had chosen when he decided to migrate to Israel, to join the settlers in forging a new West Bank. He knew it would be dangerous.
“Levi,” it was Deborah; he should have known she would not sleep without his muscular body beside her. “Are you still looking at the tree?”
“Yes, but it is very dark, and I can see so little.” He had been thinking about peace last night, before the raid. Hah! Peace! Not for this unfortunate land.
They had come in the dark like bats, or panthers, (or moths, Garvin chuckled) and they had taken Yuri’s tractor and pulled the tree from the ground and disappeared into the night. Just over the hill. Useless provocation, Levi scoffed: I could break any one of them in half over my knee. In high school he had been a Greco-Roman wrestler, but though he went undefeated, the sport was not for him. He despised the violence. How naïve I was back then, he mused.
“Come to bed my love. There is nothing to be gained sitting up all night.” Did she not understand what it meant that it was under that tree that they had first kissed, first made love? It was as if the Arabs had violated the sanctity of their private life. “Anyway, what are you going to do about it?”
This was too much. What did she mean anyway? “What am I going to do? I’m going to build a fence around the tree and it will be a monument to treachery. Then I will go to their village unarmed and I will pick up their leaders and break their backs over my knee.”
Yes, the people of Ber-Mit-Sabah would know the wrath of Levi Roth, would rue the day he arrived on their soil. Their soil! Hah! No longer. The history of the soil could be traced back three centuries and more. How could a wandering people claim a settlement as their own. It was absurd.
He knew that now he had spoken, Deborah would want him more than ever, for the righteous violence of a man is irresistible to his female partner. This is why the women thrived in the Israeli Defense Force. Deborah’s nubile form was luring Levi to bed, shifting restlessly. Without thinking he was on top of her and her legs were around his ears. He was thinking about Spinoza, something he had written about love, and then, next thing he knew it was the olive tree again, and the word ‘desecration’ was repeating itself in his head over and over with the rhythm of his pounding.
Spent, his body lay heavily upon Deborah, who knew him so well. “Where are you, Levi?” she asked.
Forward to the Past
A short story by Julie Orangeman

Medea had calmed herself, but she could not hide her rubicund face. The boy behind the counter looked at her as if he knew her secrets. Or was that just in her mind?
“Could you tell me where the tampons are?”
“Sure, down aisle C on the right, below the shampoo.” (Garvin wanted him to say, ‘Want me to show you how to use them.’)
There hadn’t been much blood, not as much as she had prepared herself for. A lot of hair had sprouted, as red as the hair on her head. It started at her belly button and went down on either side of her labial parts, a sort of Fu Manchu.
“That it, just the Tampax and the Pepsi?”
“Yes, thank you.” Was he looking at her flat chest? (Why not an omnipresent narrator: He noticed her flat chest and was surprised that she was now technically a woman.) Her nipples were still those of a child. Was this how it was for all women? If only her mother had not run off with her boss and she were not so shy and had someone to talk about it with. Suddenly she felt blood trickling along her inner thigh.
“Keep the change,” she said, and scurried out of the store, her face red. Then she realized that the bathroom was inside the store. This could turn out to be a real mess. Her bus wasn’t due for ten minutes. Of all the times not to have brought Kleenex in her purse. She could have ducked behind the store and cleaned the blood off. The very thought of even that brought a flush to her face, which was the color of shiraz.
Sitting on the bench at the bus stop she squeezed her legs together tightly so that the blood would be absorbed by the cotton fabric of her pants. Maybe no one would see the stain.
She wasn’t just worried about the stain. Worse yet she had forgotten a bag and held the tampons in her hand. There was no room in her little purse. Maybe she could get on the bus quickly and spill the Pepsi on herself and all people would think was that there was Pepsi and they wouldn’t think about the blood. It seemed like a good plan, but as always before she dared do something out of the ordinary her face turned crimson. Why did she care so much what other people thought? When did she start caring so much what other people thought? When her mother left, that’s when. It was as if a lake of blood had formed inside her and her skin was translucent and everyone she looked at could see her mother drowned in that lake of blood even though she was really just in Omaha with her second husband, the one with all the money and so many kids that really there was no reason for her mother to remember her, Medea, here in Albany.

The Reluctant Recidivist
A short story by Hank Swellman

Steve’s hand was so big it engulfed the coffee cup. It was a hard hand, and it could stand the heat of a fresh refill. He watched the waitress walk away and thought how long it had been since he had seen a waitress walk away. They walk differently from men. Men in prison. Later baby, he thought, and downed his coffee in one gulp before standing to his full height (what other height would he tend to stand to?, Garvin was compelled to ask the story) of six feet and five inches, with his broad shoulders spreading one end to the other (as opposed to?). He had a hard face, a rugged face, the kind of face men looked at once if they didn’t want trouble and women were fascinated by the same way some people are by gorillas. (Spell it out, kid, chicks dig gorillas)
A new start, that’s what Steve needed. A new town where nobody knew him. He could kick back, play some pool, drink some whiskey, take a vacation (eat a steak—let him eat a steak, kid!). Maybe one day he would find a job. But not the kind of job where they pushed you around. That was Steve’s problem—he pushed back, pushed back hard. Lands even a good man in trouble. But no more. Seven years in the slammer will cure you of that. No, Steve was not going to go back. He would learn to step aside before being pushed. After all, how many people actually do get hit by a bus? (In class today, three). (What? Hit by a bus?)
(Suggest new title: The Gorilla that got Hit by a Bus)
Leaving town is the easiest thing in the world. You hop on a bus, a train, hell you can even take a taxi (or a bicycle, or a plane, a unicycle, a long hike, a boat!). Sometimes it’s hard to leave your memories behind, but for Steve that was no problem. He had already left his memories. In prison. (Where apparently they did not get time off for good behavior) Even Stella, every curve on her body, every blonde curl of her hair, the red, moist lips and heaving bosom, the thighs that had made Steve the envy of the neighborhood while it lasted, was locked in that cell.
He walked down the street oblivious to passersby. Steve Portage had his mind on one thing and one thing only: the money Bernie owed him. Once he saw Bernie and had that money in his alligator skin wallet he would be on a bus to a life of decency. A life without crime. A life without lying whores and dirty cops. (Go Hank go—finally a little life, a little emotion, cliché rides a hemi-cuda!) (Suggest alternate title) (Fate. Fate Drives a Hemi-Cuda!) Even if the next town had crime and lying whores and dirty cops, they would not be his business. They would not know him.
A patrol car passed him, slowing down. Sweeney. That Irish pig. What does he want? Sweeney rolled down the window and scoffed once. Then he sped away. I guess he just wanted to welcome me back, Steve thought ironically. .(A cloud of doubt clouded his cloudy face: was Sweeney thinking how sore my asshole must be after all those years? What would he know about getting fucked in the ass. I could teach him a thing or two. With his own billy club, or that giant black man in the next cell. Stella was certainly different from that giant black man, I’ll give her that much. But if it came to lending out small change…)

Fuck. Got to go. Make it a double. Tullamore Dew. Jameson’s had become a lady’s drink and Bushmill’s was Protestant. Scotch was for assholes.
Garvin had made his peace with the war within; teaching writing was all bullshit, especially teaching fiction, but it was the price he paid for being in a small enough kingdom for his wife to rule with an absolutism such that even the rector of the university deferred to her in eager emasculation, for he must be male, the rector, a female would not be tolerated at such an elevated position. Even deans must be male; the last female dean had left with a black eye, literally, and a black stain, figuratively—she had never found another job, anywhere—simply for challenging the process of allotting financial aid to graduate students. Naturally it was a scandal, a genuine media scandal, the mortified dean finding the more she protested the version of events generated by Languideia’s pretense of noble elision, that is to say the more she felt like a Vietnamese peasant shaking his fist at a helicopter gunship, the closer she came to the insignificance of an incinerated Vietnamese peasant. No one really knew what became of her, but Garvin imagined her in some room, any kind of room, capable only of repeating over and over ‘monolithic.’ So Garvin had to take charge of both creative non-fiction and fiction, which he learned to live with by establishing a set of rules that, followed, severely curtailed the effect of these duties on his life and mind. He had just violated a sacred rule of the writing teacher, who was supposed to read the work once, straight through, no marks, and then again, slowly, with a view to making the author a better…What? What could Garvin possibly do to help any of these academic errata? These avian soul-free pubescents, these coddled, uncuddly, corngobbling, creepulous crappers? Nothing. Quite obviously nothing. And so he did his least. He read the three pieces per week once and then just before class read the first page or two again and prepared to enter class, orchestrate the nonsense of the apostolic twelve non supplicants of the week, and get out without having an experience he would have to remember, such as a fistfight or a breakdown.
The classroom was arranged into a seminar style rectangle of tables, surrounded by chairs, one empty one, Garvin often thought, in honor of Socrates, who had fled the scene. In one way or another, every time he entered a classroom he thought, felt, or disgorged in silent gassetry the notion that this was all very very wrong, that not only was this not art, literature, writing, but that this was not education, that anyone who did not have an intestinal level repulsion upon entering was doomed to be nothing more than a clerk who in one way or another counted money owned by others. Even if they became ‘successful’ writers. Yet, again, he knew his thoughts were not novel. But, he mused today, at least he did not write an un-novel novel about all this shit. Such thoughts gave sluggardly impulsion towards completion of the duty but did not prevent the scar tissue of pusillanimous acquiescence from accreting. Garvin did not hate himself for being less than what others thought he was, but he was far from satisfied with his self, if indeed he had one. And, frankly, entering a classroom of credulous grasping lost privileged souls while contemplating the existence of one’s own self boded ill for the coming session during which one’s words were as potent as dynamite, as replete as a night’s blanket of snow, as Mosesian as a bible in flames.

Donnie had been in Europe since October and now it was March. Two months had passed since the slapslap in the white room. He had not spoken to Languideia since. He had not spoken to that salamander Cleopatra that was apparently what came from mating too often with Languideia. What he had done, what he had done right, was go directly to the bank and divide everything in half, pull out half of their considerable savings and checking and deposit them in his own new account, as good a way of saying please divorce me as any. And he had rented an apartment above the pharmacy closest to the university despite the extra bedroom, not because he expected Donnie ever to return and occupy it. Yet he also knew that though he currently meant little or nothing to Donnie, what he meant to Donnie was his life’s mission and should have been since Donnie’s birth. Garvin’s history was a history of a strong man with great patience, and so he was, and so the search for Donnie and the revelations Donnie had long deserved would be forthcoming. There was no cause for panic. That did not mean anything in a practical sense but removing himself from the gravity of Languideia’s increasingly erratic, if not hysterical, orbit. If he had slapped her it would have been different. If she had walked out if would have been different. But this was not like cold cocking an old cunt in the privacy of your office and getting away with it. In this case, Garvin was the silent one who attracted far too many adherents by simply going about his business while she struggled like an upended beetle to win a battle in which the opponent had declined to engage.
She snubbed him at the university as effectively as she could given that he never attended meetings and had always sedulously avoided his office. But she laughed louder and more often in the hallways, was almost comradely with colleagues, which mystified any who did not know about the break, yet only disgusted about a third enough for them to refuse to bask in her powerful heat. She did whatever she could to be seen with the handsome Dr. Francisco Franco, a Chilean teacher of Latin American literature, whose wife was both younger and more beautiful than Languideia and was not merely immune to her charms, but repelled by them. But when Languideia said, ‘You must tell me more about Rulfo,’ he was savvy enough to know that must mean two things when the queen of the university said them and so the two began sharing long walks down the hallways of the humanities building and back and down the stairs to hallways on different floors and up again and so on. Unfortunately, when a man like Garvin has had enough, he actually has; he was not employing strategy, rather approaching a new life with necessary stealth, and his reveling relief at getting away from Languideia was only limited by his lack of desire to think about her at all. Her only real weapon was her ability to destroy his career, which would have to wait at least a couple of years unless she could make up a brutal and believable story, which was unlikely to work in the case of a man with such a reputation of dignity, decency and diligence as Tom Garvin, and, best of all, in two years he would be long gone. She could expose him as a fraud, but not without implicating herself.

Besides, walking into the classroom on this of all rude times he felt especially fraudulent, without the least vertigo, without the imbalance of a maladroit anchor, without so much as a fart of territorial fatigue: like a blue bottle fly blown off a swirl of cowshit into a world of strange furs and turns and terror returning landing gripping and sniffing and swelling with a harmony of emotions thinking same goddamn shit. An involuntary smile arranged his facial muscles as he nestled his ass into the chair of sloping wood seat and back and metal legs, as fine a chair as a man could ask for.
He scanned the seated senate of softened sinister cynics and was pleased all were present, for it was Clay Strut he counted on to provide a physical edge to the criticism of the Jew piece, as he titled it in his thoughts. He despised Nathan Zimmer, who had led a successful campaign to deny a reading by a Palestinian writer invited from a nearby university where she was resident author for a year. Nothing against her, or Palestinians, but without an Israeli author to balance the reading, well, you know, there was a danger of the peace process being disrupted to the point of actual success, success, yes, but for who? You see the danger. The counter protest was led by none other than Clay Strut, who failed chiefly because he attacked Zimmer with his own imbecilic sign, which read AWAY WITH TERRORIST LIES! (What?), breaking it over Zimmer’s back before campus security wrestled him off. In the next issue of the school paper, The Peregrine, Zimmer was provided a platform in a cozy interview during which he could, with a photo of an enraged, grotesquely gleeful Strut about to swing the sign he had just wrested from the skinny Zimmer placed next to his words, calmly explain that the problem was the inherently violent tactics of the Palestinians and their supporters that was precisely the reason it was necessary to be extra vigilant in academia and to prevent the least imbalance of publicity. In other words, thought Garvin, any number of terrorists could be hiding in that, after all Asian, Trojan horse of a book she was passing off as literature. And what is western Anatolia but a sort of proving ground for Levantiners. Not to get carried away, but perhaps a Greek Anatolia might be a future ally of an expanded Israel: imagine, standing on the Golan Heights the warm wet wind of the white Sea (woops, that’s an Ottoman term) whipping your face as you cast your whatever one casts in such cases 360 degrees over Judeo-Christian lands.
Today, Clay Strut had outdone himself. He had taken to wearing a kefiya to class since the successful banning of the Palestinian author, and so he had it affixed upon his brow today, along with either a genuine hand grenade or a very fine replica askew before a sign on which he rested his chin that said in blood read THIS GRENADE ONLY KILLS HEBREW SPEAKING PISSANTS. Garvin had long ago mastered the art of experiencing hilarity without expressing it, but his belly was beginning to heave and he was only saved by Nathan Zimmer, whose hand shot into the air as soon as Garvin had arranged his papers and was settled enough to look about the tables at the class.
He cured his guffaw into a wry smile and asked, ‘Nathan, why is your hand raised? We don’t raise our hands in this class.’
‘I believe this is an exception. I would like to ask that that offensive sign be removed before we begin.’
‘Why?’
Nathan apparently had not expected to have to put the self-evident into words.
‘Well, it’s it’s it’s…it’s…offensive.’
‘I’m not offended.’
‘What? Why?’
‘Because we have only one Palestinian piece of fiction today and it is Israeli. Where’s the balance required for real debate? Consider yourself lucky that I am allowing your excerpt to be discussed and the demonstration by Mr. Strut to be balance enough.’
Nathan Zimmer straightened on his chair, looked around the room at the blank faces hiding the cathartine expectancy of the aggrieved by nature white middle class students, then stood with a purposeful, nay, Ghandian, solitary determination, saying, ‘Then I, myself, will remove it.’
‘SIT DOWN, you Zionist twerp,’ Garvin ordered. ‘I will not have the class abbreviated by the spectacle of Mr. Strut kicking your ass.’
What did I just say?
Just following orders was floating phraseally in the atmosphere as a bewildered and injured Zimmer plopped hard back into his chair. Tears began to well in his eyes.
Clay Strut had the decency to cup his mouth with a hand, his cheeks ballooning in raggy time.
‘For Christ’s sake, Zimmer, get the tears out of your eyes, we already have Miss Orangeman crying today.’
All eyes swung to Julie Orangeman, who in two previous critiques of her work had begun weeping after two people had criticized her stories and sobbed throughout the full hour of discussion. Would this be enough to break her?
‘Oh my god, you don’t like this one either…’ Tears flew from her eyes as she blubbered: ‘I knew I shouldn’t have written it…’
‘Great,’ Garvin mediated. ‘Hank, would you like to begin whimpering? You’re the only one left. No doubt your little tale will be emasculated as well.’
Five feet tall, red-haired, and the son of the university rector, Hank Swellman looked as if he could not decide how his head should be arranged on his neck, an odd habit that made him seem as if he were following the flight of an insect, his eyes expressing the eternal conflict between stupidity and inherited grandeur.
‘No, I am not afraid.’
‘Perhaps you should be.’ Where was this new Garvin coming from? And why had it been encaved so long—he could feel a yearning from the life’s work unexamined students that was beyond expectancy.
‘All right, as soon as Julie’s sobbing allows, we will begin by discussing Nathan’s Zionist superhero piece…’
Here it is necessary to interject an authorial abjection. The world has not developed in quite the way some of us hoped, what with commodities overtaking philosophy and emotion and the like. And so on occasion we are unable to avoid the murine—that doesn’t sound as plague-ridden as it should—appearance in our tales of devices such as the cellular phone, which ultimately is as pregnant with destruction as a cluster bomb, and one of which, once it was clear that Garvin was going off the rails, as Zimmer saw it, or on the rails, as Garvin and Strut saw it, Nathan Zimmer had slipped from his backpack and was now holding beneath the table, activating the recording function, an action that Garvin picked up on when he followed the violent rays of Strut’s gaze.
‘ZIMMER!’ Garvin shouted. ‘What the fuck are you doing, you fucking subMossad weasel! You’re going to record me without my consent? This isn’t the fucking Gaza, nor a tenement in Haifa. This is a classroom in the United States of America, where only secret government programs can secretly record people.’
‘I would like it on record that you are an anti-Semitic fraud.’
‘Fine. Hand me the phone.’
‘What?’
‘You want it on record that I am an anti-Semitic fraud? Hand me your phone.’
With a look of redressed injury, Zimmer set the phone on the table, still recording, and slid it to Garvin, who snatched it, said ‘Tricked ya,’ and tossed it out a window, where it fell two stories, landing on the cement of a strategic study circle, coming apart dismally, piece by piece, not, that is to say, exploding.
Zimmer just did manage to remain attached to his seat, his mouth open, waiting for the insect that had been pestering Hank Swellman to visit in the form of a plague of locust, while Garvin turned to Patricia Mull and Cord Ferndock, a couple who Garvin knew despised him, if less than he despised them for their twin attitude of appearing as if there were a plate on which sat a well and finey arranged turd deposited beneath their chins. ‘All right, Mull, you have my permission to record this session. Happy Zimmer?’
‘I would very much like to record this session, sir.’ Mull agreed.
‘Ferndork, maybe—’
‘Ferndock.’
‘Yes. Perhaps you could also record, to guard against, what, fate I suppose.’
‘Already begun, sir.’
‘Good.’ He looked to Julie Orangeman, who had her hand over her mouth and nose, but was no longer sobbing, her shoulders still now, and the tears welling in her eyes and holding for some seconds before reluctantly leaving her eye to the rest.
Mark Grbac, a ratface, always looked as if he had just slunk around a corner and would soon be retreating. His most significant moment in Garvin’s class occurred while the group was discussing a raving piece by Strut that had apparently intimidated most of the class—Garvin had no idea what Strut was saying, but the use of language was energetic and musical, and it went on for over forty pages. The first five students to speak had nothing but vague superlatives to offer, and then the discussion reached the corner were Grbac kept his snout. In a slightly nasal voice he began, ‘I guess I wasn’t as impressed as everyone else. I had to stop reading after 20 pages, but—’ And Strut, outraged, berated him violently, actually hounding him from the room. ‘What?’ he had yelped, ‘You didn’t even read the whole thing? And you have the sleazy balls to offer an opinion?’ And so on until he had risen from his chair, was standing over a cowering Grbac, who rapidly removed his effects from the table, grabbed his jacket and exited swiftly with Strut beside him continuing to, as one might say, tear him a new asshole. Garvin decided he would be the first to discuss the Jew piece.
‘Grbac, why don’t you begin the discussion of The Olive Tree.’
Grbac stretched his neck, made to clear his throat, which was already clear, making the prelude to speech look like a lizard’s preening before a mirror.
‘Of course, ten pages of a novel is not much to go on, but as these appear to be the first ten pages, I think we can draw some conclusions. Given the lack of character detail, I chose to read this as a rough sketch, in which case the author has begun to set up a duality of various dimensions, from the broad Israeli versus Palestinian to the individual or personal with the coarse active American versus the nuanced, perhaps inert Israeli, which, one hopes, will evolve into a sort of formula of personalities, testing themselves against the broader conflict in order to refine and for lack of a better word complete themselves.’
Normally Garvin would remain silent, waiting to be sure the first speaker was done and letting the next take up where he left off or whatever. Next would be Melanie Gaston, to Grbac’s right, probably his second favorite student, a woman in her mid-twenties. Though no stunning beauty in a class that lacked such a person of either gender, the most attractive in the class, always as remote as she seemed to think safe, not condescending, though Garvin guessed more than capable of it, one of the two students Garvin considered writers—along with Strut—who was, as a writer should be, in her own world working on her own characters in her own book, politely oblivious to suggestions and critiques of others, likely having arrived at the writing program that gave her the easiest two years during which to write freely, avoiding the working world, which, if her novel was anything to judge by, had recently involved the seedy alcoves of the beluga trade.
Instead, Garvin responded to the rat. ‘Why?’
‘I’m sorry,’ Grbac had to come back from around the corner, which although metaphorical was more recessive than any ratnook in a squalid tenement. ‘Why what?’
‘Why would one hope that?’
‘Well,’ now the throat was not clear, the word filling a lizard’s neck sac, ‘to me that seems the obvious direction for the novel to take.’
‘In other words, you did your homework, you wrote a couple nice sounding sentences, memorized them, and despite the fact that they mean nothing, brought them in here hoping no one would be tortured enough to think them through.’
Are ye rat or lizard?
Lizard.
Grbac retreated a few centimeters without moving his shoulders, then froze, like a lizard, knowing it was seen yet somehow suspecting that it could blend in yet, before the strike, perhaps sensing that the current peril in no way discounted worse peril elsewhere and near.
‘I think the best we can take from the comments of our colleague Grbac is that with luck these first ten pages are not at all what they appear to be, rather the prelude to a comedy of manners with the romantic backdrop of eternal conflict. Nice. I like it. Melanie, do you think that’s what we have in store?’
Melanie’s disinterest was disguised by an economy of movement guided by a natural tendency toward elegance that she made just enough use of to endure the charade of a class filled with avid talentless fiction perpetrators. Her legs were crossed, her arms resting on her lap; she had only to lift her head to look around the room to include all, before settling onto Garvin.
‘No, although I’m not sure exactly what he means. The first paragraph is so full of, well, rather typical action movie writing, and much is made of the breaking of Palestinian backs on Levi’s leg, so that it comes as a surprise that ten whole pages elapse and no one is hurt yet. In fact breakfast has yet to be served. So I guess my thought is that as this is a novel, the heavy-handed symbolism and sketchy characters will be fixed while the real story, whatever it is, emerges.’
‘So you don’t think the novel is going to be a simple story of Jewish settlers feeling insulted that the Palestinians don’t approve their trespass and fight back in order that the settlers can achieve a rousing victory led by the chiseled and idealistic wrath of Levi Roth?’
Melanie, your husband or boyfriend waiting for you elsewhere is a lucky man, Garvin mused without emote when she suppressed a smile so suavely that it appeared to be quite the other way round, that the traces left by a smile were the far reach of her person at the moment.
‘I suppose that given such an opening, my contribution is best limited to…well, expressing what might lead the author to…reconsider…’
The ensuing silence involved more than the entire class looking over at the Zionist after receiving the first actual harsh criticism that Melanie Gaston had yet delivered in recent memory. He had a handkerchief, luckily, and had been dabbing at his nose and eyes throughout, so it was unclear whether he had been rendered meek by Garvin’s outburst or the suggestion that the extension of his being that was ten pages of a novel was being appreciated more for what it was than what it could and would be. There was also the enlivening presence of Clay Strut, who was next up and looking like a giant caged vulture watching the little edible man gently laying down carcass, in no hurry, oblivious…
Strange to think that vultures don’t drool.
‘All right, then, Mr. Strut, you may have your say. I do agree that your political statement is apt in view of relatively recent events, but can you say something about Mr. Zimmer’s, uh, work, something of a literary vein?’
A man whose looks are shaped by his persona, Clay Strut was a dark-haired, burly fellow, whose face was never without expression, setting him off from the predominantly immotile-faced norm, and thus, whether he was warm or not, radiating a humanity that, for lack of other places to turn was accepted as warmth, and therefore attractive. Now his eyes were less savage than a moment before, wide open, his lips compressed and his cheeks consequently expanded and of what Julie Orangeman might consider a rubicund hue. He was like a man who may or may not vomit in the car, the others compelled to take part in the prelude by the sheer drama of it, a sort of physical manifestation of Hamlet, or Arjuna, except that what he clearly could at any moment spew was a very corporeal laughter, a veritable storm of it was brewed in him; yet he wanted to speak as well, and so he stopped short of snorting the excess of burgeoning humor through his nostrils and actually did begin to speak.
‘First of all,’ he leaned forward to look past Gaston at Grbac, ‘I must apologize to my colleague Mark, who I chastised for presuming to criticize my work without having finished it. And while I hold that it is true that we learners of the writing trade are a blessed lot, earning an advanced degree by reading about fifty pages a week on average, actually if that, and therefore generally should make the effort, and so despite my apology I can’t say I find Mark’s behavior acceptable without some sort of an explanation, I have at the same time to admit that for the first time in my nearly two years in this program, I did not read all of a work up for discussion.’
The class was riveted. Something fun was going to happen.
Already Nathan Zimmer looked simultaneously defeated and miserable and resentful. This was not how literature was meant to be discussed. It was not civilized. It was, in fact, Bedouin.
Mull and Ferndock were in a bind, suspended as they were in their expectations between the need to despise the despicable Strut and the despicable literature that was written by others. Garvin imagined Ferndock with a steak knife turning to Mull and saying, cotton napkin bibbed, let’s give it a go, shall we, and the look on her face expressing that very rare love one reserves for the lover who grants permission to, yes, cross that border. Just before the knife touched the loaf, Garvin’s attention returned fully to Clay Strut.
‘I’m sure we all have our favorite novel openings, and we all know the famous ones, Call me Ismael, which of course would have worked here had it not been taken. Probably most of you share with me as one of the most unforgettable, from Coin Locker Babies: “The woman pushed on the baby’s stomach and sucked its penis into her mouth; it was thinner than the American menthols she smoked and a bit slimy, like raw fish.”—that was the end of the meal for Mull and Ferndock, who were back to their normal expressions of repulsion tempered by disdain—And The Olive Tree actually begins with that epic quality that if carried to the end, the end of the sentence I mean, could make for a memorable opening line. See? Look here: “Even in the dark of night Levi could make out the form of the olive tree on its side, its roots like”, so far so good, but then: “fat, venomous snakes.” Fat venomous snakes? Roots of trees don’t look like any kind of snake. But that’s okay, they kind of have the shape of fat lightning bolts, but really, you’re setting yourself an impossible task trying to find a simile here. But you have other options, like, “…the olive tree on its side, the roots so many dying Auschwitz survivors waiting for the Red Cross to reach their row,” or, another direction, “roots as tangled and feckless as an Oslo peace luncheon.” Anyway, what I’m saying is that the novel is off to a good start, needing only a little adjustment.
‘Okay, then: …enemy over the hill…wound inside…flares out and in, symbolic symmetry in an asymmetrical warfare setting, good…life he had chose, cliché maybe but then the big ideal—forging a new West Bank, not my line, but lets you know this is a book not to be trifled with…description of body: muscular—not really the work of a real writer, but one imagines the author in a hurry to get the grand tome underway…good…woman calling for him, mentions tree to make sure we get that it is of some significance, perhaps even a symbol of some kind, good…cynicism, history, bats or panthers, sooner or later you have to choose but rough draft, let’s not nitpick…and here…’ Strut was now in the grip of the laughter, perhaps one of its venomous, snake-like roots, for he held his sternum and rocked back and forth, his face as if it had no choice but to weep if not soon let free…’and here…’ More rocking, air puffed up into his cheeks, and the laughter itself began escaping in gusts…’O Nate…you fucking slay me… Yuri’s…Yuri’s…YURI’S TRACTOR…oh god…’
By now Garvin’s upper teeth were biting into his lower lip, his arms crossed over his chest, himself rocking, a couple laughs spurted out tentatively here and there in the room, Strut was entirely lost to the force of the comedy, howling, Mull and Ferndock were looking about like storks of great wealth and position blown to the lost island of ravenous crabs, just about to comprehend, exhausted, wings soaked and heavy, heads held as bred to be held, that despite all this indeed is how it ends, and more spurts escaped, some trotting into gallops of laughter, Garvin now with his head in his hands, his shoulders expressing his mirth for the rest of his body, and then finally Melanie Gaston virtually shouted in long suppressed glee, ‘YURI’S FUCKING TRACTOR!’ and then there was no stopping it, at least it would take a bold act, but for the time an underground nuclear test couldn’t have better expressed the berserkeree effect of humans come together beneath the accumulate layers of history and invention and inexpressible stupidity all ruined all dead all for nought with yet just enough guano left if shared to form one last shit pool in which to riot, feathers filling the room falling flying feathering, time faltering, pure yogic loss of mind to union and euphoria, ah, how good it feels, even if you weren’t there, recalling those few times without the specificity that corrupts the memory, oh happy people!, no one noticing Nathan’s face leading his reluctant soul into righteous anger, flinging feathers, foul feathers of false fate!, making its way, at first, sure, a bit unsteady, and finally, unseen, to Clay Strut’s long wild hair, digging his hands deep into Strut’s hair, and pulling like a banshee, howling like a Central American monkey, silencing the room that had thought itself human alone now filled with an eerie intrusion, perhaps a cousin of some lost emotion, and Strut reached up to grab wrists of the offending claws, stood, bent over with the clinging Zimmer now draped over his back, stumbled into some momentum, and just before reaching the wall, turned to mash Zimmer into the cement block, and for good measure, as Zimmer slumped like snot sliding down a wall grabbed Zimmer’s hair in order to cut the distance his knee had to travel to bust Zimmer’s nose, which, wouldn’t you know, with all the spattered, spurting and splattered blood brought the mood to a skidding bewilderment, required the calling of a doctor and the cancellation of the class, which would be Garvin’s last.

That weekend Clay Strut dropped by the apartment and the two downed a bottle of Tullamore Dew, generally made like professor and student, told stories, laughed a few more times over Yuri’s tractor, and, Garvin remembered as Strut left sometime after midnight to hand him two envelopes, tying up his loose teaching ends.

Dear Julie,

You’ll cry again, and they’ll tear you apart and all the female blood will surely upset both Mull and Void, but I’ll tell you one thing: the idea of the vanishing tampon and the refusal of adulthood is the most ingenious idea I have come across in years.

Yours,
Garvin

Dear Henry,

There’s no point in lying to you. You’re among the worst writers I have ever taught—or sought to. You’re a master at accidental humor (Men walk different from women, etc.). I don’t know why you want to be a writer, but we both know how you got into the program. That’s fine. And I’ve seen you bravely endure nearly two full years of pretty abusive criticism. So maybe you’ve got one thing being a writer takes, that ineffable desire to be one in the face of all reason, against whatever odds. So in that light I’ll tell you one thing. In this story I saw Steve as Sterling Hayden in The Asphalt Jungle. It occurs to me that you have a cinematic touch—not that you should be writing for the movies but that the way you see, if not overly dicked around with by you trying to be a writer, is delivered in an easily visible manner. So perhaps this is your calling: crime fiction. If so, forget Chandler, read Simenon, not Maigret, but his straight crime stuff, watch 40s and 50s noir, and keep at it. Pay close attention to the close readings. Don’t put a lady’s legs around a guy’s ears like Zimmer did. Describe it simple and keep at it. Learn French.

Yours,
Garvin

The poker challenge

The posted chapter in which the worth of a hand is taught via impending cunnilingus came about when a Brit read a draft of the first 50 pages or so and noted that not all readers would understand poker. I chose to write it in rather than use an appendix, for poker itself is of little real consequence in the novel.

Poker

Seventeen POKER

The young man in both love and heat is a poet: her pubic hair, he muses of his muse, the color of whey. And what is whey? And what is its hue. He does not know. (The colors of whey vary, so perhaps he is right.) Even if he has studied geography, it is poetry when he compares her slit to a graben floodspate.
Her body: prostrate, on the back, on Drake’s bed.
Her skirt: short made shorter, hiked hem above navel.
Her hand: three kings.
Her right big toe: in Drake’s mouth as he kneels before the bed.
‘So can I move up?’
‘No.’
‘Right.’
‘The thing about poker,’ Drake had lectured, ‘is that it doesn’t matter what game you’re playing: the same hierarchy of hands applies.’
He dealt her another hand.
‘What do you have?’
‘Two sevens.’
‘Can I move up?’ he asked around her toe.
‘Yes.’
‘Nope,’ he replied, spitting out her toe. ‘Quite often in five card hands especially, something less than a pair wins, like ace high. So we should at least include one example of a hand with nothing but something like ten high—’
Voila! He dealt her a hand with an ace and four loners.
‘Move up!’ she cried.
‘Thank God, your toe was beginning to look like a large raisin,’ which she heard as reason but quickly calculated was wrong and the main thing was that he could now move up, as he did, with slow, short, soft kisses all about the tops of each of her feet as he shuffled the deck without looking before dealing five cards that rotored with class up to and landed upon her chest, between her breasts. As luck would have it, she had a pair of bullets and his lips were allowed to spend several dealt poker hands smooching her ankles.
The next hand he watched himself shuffle, which allowed him to arrange to give her the necessary two pair, allowing for a move to the lower calves.
Three of a kind was so slow in coming, he cheated again after a few hands. He rolled her onto her stomach when his lips and tongue reached her knees so he could explore the first found fold of her felicitous form, but she rolled again when he had proffered three kings, for the front of the thighs are the better path to the inner and up her.
By now she was unable to restrain her hips and was breathing irregularly. When Drake moved his lips upward and inward and his head hair touched her spated graben, she moaned breathily, sucking in, trying to capture what had already fled.
He was assembling the cards, preparing to shuffle when she gripped his ears. ‘Look at me,’ she said, ‘straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, and this…’ pulling drake’s mouth to her soaking vagina…’royal…straight…flush…’
Drake didn’t know much about the anatomy of the penis, but he felt as if there were a tiny pirate inside his capo di capo who was about to bring a cutlass down on a tense rope.