Yesterday early afternoon, after perching myself into a cramped seat on one of those extra long buses, I found myself surrounded by – for lack of a better word – scary guys: young and belligerent sounding, yelling and high-fiving each other each time the bus passed a familiar street corner, “Hell yeah,” which sounded more like ‘heeyal yeeaya,’ after which they would settle for about one second before launching into luridly cruel descriptions of how many people they’d beaten or stabbed or shot on that particular corner. More Heeyal Yeeayas as a prelude to more descriptions of how exactly each of them had ravaged certain women and what they’d threatened to do to their infant children: “I’d take that kid and dump ‘im in the oven, how’s that for child abuse? More Heeyal Yeeayas.
I was trying to concentrate on Dickens’ Bleak House during all this, but was cognizant enough to notice a slight erosion of these guys’ crowing (they really were like a bunch of roosters crowing to each other and anybody who was nearby). As the trip entered into the final quarter hour, the subject and meanness of their banter changed from descriptions of how bad-assed they were to one of parenting. “Goddamn, you really gotta check out those daycares. You don’t know what the heeyal’s goin’ on there – lotta freaks sometimes.” “Heeyal yeeaya!”
Each of them finally exited and I was left to learn about Mr. Jarndyce, et al, while I laughed and snorted to myself.
If I’d have driven, I would have been deprived of all that.
There’s this quite beautiful young man walking toward me this morning while on the way to work in DTLA. I’m able to restrain my urge to stare in such circumstances, and I believe I did so with this guy (I was wearing sunglasses, which I believe are able to hide my roving eyes completely). But either he saw or sensed that I was watching, and accepted my attention as if it were some kind of tedious existential burden that he’s just so tired of bearing, and why oh why can’t he just live his life like a normal boy.
I really really really wanted to stop him and just tell him one thing: fuck you and don’t take yourself so damned seriously, girlfriend.
I said none of that though.
Every morning my inbox is full of important messages, most of which get discarded. Those that promise relevant information or at least a bit of outrage I keep. Then there are the professional ones from some of the many educationally-slanted software companies. One such email this morning touted: “Get ready for PD resources.” Hmmm, PD resources. Could PD mean police department? And I imagine original source material full of twisted and intimate and hilarious and interesting details about the human condition – and I am hopeful for one second that this database may actually embody more than just current events and stretch back through the decades, and the allure factor just gets that much stronger. But alas. PD in this case meant “Professional Development,” and I am crestfallen. Professional development screams incompetence and mediocrity. And I reflect for a minute and am glad I’m old. I don’t care about educational software. I grade with a pen and I prefer to develop imagination rather than professionalism.
People who ride the train every day as part of their routine learn to accept public displays of mental illness as just the price of admission. It’s often annoying but so what.
This morning was no different. As the train became crowded, a shrill voice of protest rose amid all the other sounds. Proclamations regarding past grievances or current protests are common on the train. But this one was different because it was fresh – four months old to be exact.
This person – as are most other riders – was a young woman of color, who apparently couldn’t, for one more second, contain her outrage and fear and sadness and frustration at the death of another loved one. While in police custody her brother had been shot and killed. Four months ago.
She continued at top volume. It was difficult to hear. There was a kind of sad revival meeting quality on that train car as everyone inside quietly affirmed their support for this woman’s loss. It was their loss too. Police killings are just part of the tapestry of life.
What’s amazing to me is that this kind of display isn’t more common.
Ok. I just shepherded my dog to an upstairs garden patio in my building. Well, first of all, there’s a new tenant in the building who apparently has a son, about 16 or even 15 years old. I suspect he’s gay because when he looks he lingers with a willingness that’s kind of unmistakable: not the garden-variety veneration/curiosity about older men, but desire. I invariably feel better about myself when this happens, but it fades quickly when the reality of aging plumbing assails me, and of course the societal/moral injunctions from diddling boys.
So Duffy (dog) and I entered this garden patio area, I realized there was someone dozing on one of the chaise longues there. Oh that’s that boy. So Duffy and I went to a separate area (where there are ashtrays; I don’t smoke, and I guess it doesn’t matter except I kind of wanted you to know that about me). Immediately this boy kind of shows up and sits opposite me and I said good morning. And he starts mumbling with a thick Hispanic accent. He tried to explain himself: My brother is coming and we’re going to play Dragons (and something or other).
Long story short: We were so far separated in every conceivable area that I realized there would (could) be no communication unless we were in a clinical setting. It was literally like talking to an alien, which frightened me. Maybe I should have been more patient, but to what end? It couldn’t have been any more uncomfortable. He might have been completely innocent, but still I wouldn’t have been surprised if he, as a matter of course, either cut his wrists or stabbed me.
I recently met a man who was impressive, not just for his seeming thoughtfulness and kindness, but by his considerable literary accomplishments. He’s written about twelve books, ranging from novels to poetry collections to literary criticism. He’s celebrated. Anyway, I bought one of his novels and that’s the problem. It’s not good. It’s not all not good, but mostly it’s not good. I’ve been wrestling with ways to compliment him: I really love it that you’ve decided to write in a style that seems on its face to not have any style at all, or I think it’s great that there are no conceits in your writing or Such an interesting choice to deliver all that exposition through interviews (the interviews are mind-numbingly dull, but FULL of information about everything).
So I’m not going to say anything. I will, however, force myself to finish the book in hopes that it will finally bloom into something interesting.
It’s hard to write a book. Really hard. So I should keep my opinions to myself. But I wonder why I should force myself to shape sentences with tweezers and some other writers seem not to be aware of a sentence’s potential to reflect an author’s flaws, his insanity. That certainly seems to be the problem here. A book has no choice but to reflect the truth about its author.
So in “Mr. Squishy,” DFW just out of the blue during a perfectly credible third-person excursion into Foster’s neurons, drops the first-person pronoun just like it was no big deal. And then I think I got it – as much as I can get anything: it’s not a big fuck you. It’s more like fuck me: None Of This Matters.
I want to hug him. I don’t want him to be dead but I wouldn’t want to force him through “this” anymore than he’s already endured.