Mr. Squishy. I understand critics who’ve called Wallace a ‘penis with a thesaurus,’ but come on. These stories are so brilliant my eyes are burning. And why not add unfamiliar words to a story? Keeps us on our toes and expands our vocabularies.
Hey Michael – guess what. You died this morning at about 4 a.m. So weird, huh? Apparently you had a heart attack or something. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you because – well, who knows why I need to tell you the details of my life all the time. I just do. Like it or not (and I know sometimes very not) you are and always have been the repository of my details, all the stuff I read and watch and experience. For forty years I get excited at the thought of sharing something with you, with Michael, my Michael.
Anyway, I bet death is weird. You’ll have to tell me about it sometime. I have to tell you, though, that literally more people than I knew existed are really really upset this morning. I’m sorry, Michael. That’s not fair. It’s just that one day I’m going along all normal and stuff and the universe makes some kind of sense because I know you’re in it, and I’m reading books with precise sentences and walking the dog and eating watermelon and being pleasant to other people, and the very next day life changes to something else. Really, something like the surface of the moon: everything else is still here, but there’s no Michael. It’s just fucked up.
Wait a minute. This isn’t a joke, is it? You’d never surprise me with something like this. You’re too decent to jump out at four in the morning and say Boo! I’m dead! Because I know you loved me and that kind of thing would be totally uncool. It’s something I might have done to you, but I know you would never have done it to me. Right? I hope not. Is it cool to use the past tense, you know, because you’re dead, like in the past? Is that too morbid? I don’t want to offend you so I’m just checking.
If you were here with me, I would tell you your death is actually really really hard for me. Wait, but since you’re dead – no. Let me ask it this way: Do the dead have some special knowledge of stuff or have special powers, like Santa or God? I’ve seen movies that say so. If that’s even a remote possibility, I will literally do anything if you just move a hair on my arm, become an annoying little itch somewhere, just to be even a little bit tangible, just for a minute, or two. I know deep down that probably won’t happen though. Come to think about it – if you really do have some special power – please don’t do anything. That would be nice for about one second, and then I’d have to sort all this out again! So wherever you are, just chill.
I’m wondering if the dead have any need for memories. I wonder if I do. Part of me wants to suppress the recollection of all those years we were in love and did all that stuff. Because this is uncomfortable. By the way, I hope you’re comfortable. I bet if you did remember stuff, you’d remember that trip to Mexico. I only learned years later that you didn’t really care for Mexican food that much – which sort of makes sense because you’re French and everything. But those enchiladas we got at that family café – I forgot which state we were in – but all these little towns kind of just popped up out of nowhere among all the church steeples. Remember? We talked about it, like which came first, the church or the town? We could see the café from the street, but there was no sidewalk or anything so we had to kind of jump down a dirt embankment to get to that squat little white building in the middle of this dirt yard that had all these dusty trees in it, with bicycle tires that were swings for the kids. There we were in all that heavy late afternoon heat and the dust and flies with all the dogs and the paper plates and really sweet drinks and the juke box that was all songs in Spanish, but sounded so cool, and the connection we had with the family who tried to speak English and we were trying to speak Español. It was so messy and sticky with laughing and grit and sweat – and god was it fun. I remember it seemed like we were brave explorers discovering an unknown civilization, but mostly we were just in love. God I loved you then. Remember we were concerned that, being in Mexico, we’d get flack for being two men renting a room with one king-sized bed? But nobody said anything – or if they did, it was between themselves: I had to make the bed for those two sinners in room 214. And that Ford Tempo where you just popped the hood before we left Guadalajara and unhooked the speedometer? That poor Ford Tempo! What a fucking trip that was. Or all those other trips to Europe to see your family? The best life ever.
I know you hate academic stuff, but listen: it’s a binary: Michael/No Michael. I think if one of those theorists showed up and reminded me that the point of binaries is to change them from either/or to both/and in an attempt to make me feel better about No Michael, I’d punch him in the face. Michael is better. Both/and Michael just seems like a load of shit right now because you’re not here to touch me; to console me; to talk to me. And No Michael feels just like all those sad songs and poems that you always believe are for somebody else. Guess the joke’s on me: I’m it this time. It’s just really raw and searing and doesn’t get smaller, just a big old lonely maw that looks like it would be ravenous, but just fucking sits there all by itself, right in the middle of my chest mocking me, right where – right where my heart is. Damn, Michael, that’s it then, huh. I didn’t know the heart was that much.
People tell me in their consolations that with time this hole will become a little cooler; flatten out into acceptability, but I don’t want it to. No Michael is not acceptable, cannot be acceptable. So for now I will hold you as close as I can because I can’t bear to have No Michael, especially since just the other day I had Michael, the guy who cried for the cars he sold; who un-self-consciously hugged trees in the Muir Woods. You were such a beautiful dork.
God, I’ve been thinking crazy thoughts since you died. Some of those thoughts weren’t all that charitable either. Like I even felt for a minute that I just wanted to wash my hands of the whole thing, once and for all – just forget about you and live my life as if you’d never existed at all. Once and for all a free man where I could finally be effective, like you might have been responsible for my shortcomings that caused me to live such a fearful life. How fucked up is that? I mean think about when we met. I was so thrilled that I’d met a sexy good looking guy who acted like he wanted to see me again. And you were French! Over the moon! It was so easy like we were both on a steel track chugging away into the sunset. I right away confided to you that I was in AA, that’s why I didn’t get high or drink booze, which you thought added to my good character. You didn’t know – you couldn’t have known what I was like prior to getting to AA. But you found out. You were so shocked when I started using drugs again. You made valiant efforts to help, talking to various people who you thought might have insight or leverage. You had no idea that once I started using again that I would be transformed into a liberated Kamikaze Kraken literally existing to destroy everything, including myself. I’m so sorry for all that trouble, Michael. If I had it to do over again – no, that’s bullshit. One thing that’s become very clear since you died is that there are certain unchangeable “things” in the world: giant impregnable slabs of granite just planted right there in the middle of reality: The Way Things Are and The Way Things Were. For whatever reason, there was no way we would have been able to live out our lives together like normal guys. I chose meth and heroin and cocaine over you, Michael, and it couldn’t have been any other way. It’s a bitter lesson for me, but, as I think about it, also sweet. Because I never found someone else after we separated. I knew I could never replace you, so I consigned myself to live alone, just me and Duffy, the greatest dog on the 7th floor. I’ve become the Miss Havisham of the East Village, but with a mustache, and always with hope that things would be resolved someday; that all that was needed was one more month, one more week, one more day, and finally, finally this dissonance would resolve, just like a renegade tri-tone screaming through space so it can get home, its existence defined by instability, but with the terrible knowledge that “home” would always be just around the next bend. That’s the thing about tri-tones: they’re made up of two parts a tri-tone away from each other and they exist only in their quest for resolution. Is that it, Michael? Were you and I destined to fail as a unit? It’s a terrible realization to suspect that at least one of us was blind to the duties of maintaining stability. A fatal flaw. Did you finally figure this out? Is that what killed you? I know you knew about my loneliness, how I missed you about one trillion times more than I let on. I know you knew when I phoned you in Montana that I felt like I was intruding, so I kept our contact to a minimum. I know you knew how thrilled I’d be if you called, especially out of the blue; or even sent an unsolicited email to me. You knew that I knew that you could never, even if you’d wanted to, abandon your current partner Dan because that’s who you were: a decent man. You were constitutionally incapable of going back on a promise. That’s just the way things are.
I know you’re gone and I need to treasure you now. I see your face. Your gentle face and your broad smile. I’m grieving. There’s no doubt. I guess soon I will have to finally say good-bye and move on with my life. But if it’s okay with you, I’ll just hang out here by the door for a while, just sit here with my stuff for a minute before I hit the road.
I wanted to put down a few thoughts about writing. For me, writing is mostly about editing. Ideas are the easy part. There are about one billion ideas on that little hair growing in my left ear. So I guess it’s about making choices about where to herd these little motherfuckers. So choosing even a short-term destination for a narrative seems to be a good idea.
What turns me on when I read is when I come across a few paragraphs or pages or chapters where the author has seemingly abandoned any considerations for the greater narrative at all, where sentences sprout and bloom and multiply and seem to follow only the unseen paths of least resistance.
This is the clearest mirror into an author’s insanity; show me what you believe.
So WordPress has taken to reminding me to upgrade. It’s just a few more bucks, they remind me, which they claim will allow me to make money myself.
It just makes me so tired and so disappointed and hopeless that life has been reduced, once again, to venality, but grateful that ice-cream still exists and bad television, because really, I can’t imagine myself grading papers today after my tender sensibilities have suffered such an assault.
I think about disappointing all those students who are awaiting their first grade of the semester. I see myself shrugging in answer to their question: Did you grade our work? To which I offer my explanation: The dog ate 1.5 entire days. Sorry. I will get it to you Monday.
They will buy it. They always buy it. But they will be disappointed, which I tell myself is a valuable life lesson that every college student should learn at the outset of their academic careers: disappointment is part of the human condition, so get used to it, ladies and gentlemen; that and the gradual realization that their opinions don’t matter, to anyone.
Which begs the question: Am I a bad person?
One other thing. I’ve literally been consumed with Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August.” Almost finished, and I’m yet again looking for some redeeming value in the human condition. There are brief flashes of brilliance and high-mindedness (King of Belgium), but mostly just stupidity. I’m amazed that so many readers of this book have characterized the causes and prolongation of WWI as being due to miscommunication, when it’s obvious that most of it was due to willful blindness. Generals and Supreme Commanders refused to consider reported facts that didn’t comport or endorse their own world view. Donald Trump should really take a month off and read it.
With the disappearance of Affirmative Action, it seems that the last nail has been driven into the coffin of higher education for disadvantaged students at virtually every inner-city school across the state. Even armed with the knowledge that behaving differently toward some for equality’s sake is effective, the powers that be have chosen racism over reason, leaving the best and most brilliant black and Latino students in the lurch, forced to accept attending community colleges even when the academic direction they’ve earned is clearly pointing toward Stanford or Berkeley or UCLA.
Although this is a lamentable and deplorable state of affairs, I believe there is a solution, one that will solve the problem at hand, ensuring that virtually all underprivileged students, gifted or otherwise, receive a back-to-basics college education, as well as maintaining an in-the-black ledger for the state’s budget. And most important of all, there are no quotas, race-based or otherwise.
My humble plan not only guarantees an education, but preserves these students’ rich cultural heritage, while, at the same time, exploiting many of the talents and traits they already possess, traits unique to their particular socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and traits easily adaptable to any social structure in any institution of higher education. Think about it. What’s the hue and cry of the privileged and gifted students already entrenched at a Stanford or Berkeley when a poor, inner-city student arrives on campus? Welcome? Be who you are? Not really. It’s more like: be like us or die, an imperative that is unlikely or unable to be obeyed.
This is of particular importance because of the very real fear of socially traumatizing these deserving youngsters, who, from no fault of their own, would find themselves, when confronted with one arcane bit of Stanford-esque protocol/etiquette or another, at such high levels of stress that their psyches and emotional well-being would be at risk and therefore not open to learning, which is what this is all about anyway.
My plan is so all-encompassing that these concerns dissipate as if they were steam rising from the dean’s afternoon pot of tea.
The question becomes, among others, just what is this rich cultural heritage that will be preserved upon implementation of my plan? It’s nothing more and nothing less than the proud tradition of service to another human being, indeed an as yet untested tenet of Christianity itself, and a tradition with which the underprivileged people of color throughout history are intimate.
In order to explain how the underprivileged will actually land onto a college campus, it’s incumbent upon me to explain the fiscal aspects of my plan. The top universities in California are expensive, not the way say a Corvette automobile is expensive, but the way a Bentley is expensive. They’re really expensive. The students who have traditionally been attending these universities are, for the most part, being subsidized by their parents, whose pockets are so deep that another twenty-five or thirty grand over a few years to pay for a new “perk” for their kids on campus would hardly be noticed.
And this is where the spiritual value of service to one’s fellow man comes into play. It’s no secret that, in the inner city, women of color possess an innate and invaluable knowledge of, among other things, how to make a bed properly and also keep someone else’s abode orderly and clean.
The boys, on the other hand, while probably not having any real experience at service, but being the progeny of countless generations of porters, waiters, butlers and man servants, shoeshine boys and the like, will have a genetic propensity toward this skill that will probably be able to be assimilated and mastered within a few weeks or so.
My plan, in short, is to offer to underprivileged students of color the chance to serve their academic brethren already enrolled in universities by becoming their servants, cooks, dressers and butlers, all at minimal or no cost to the state and thereby at the same time offering them a college education.
Of course, the method of acquiring knowledge that I propose here will necessarily be different from what one usually defines as “learning,” not because of any deficiency in pedagogic dogma, but simply because it’s so superior to what “education” has been eroded into over the years. No more strict adherence to class schedules and taking notes furiously from lectures on subjects that are, at best, open to interpretation; no more wresting meaning from algorithms and formulas that will rarely if ever be used in day-to-day life; no more guessing at just what one professor or another thinks is important.
The method my plan utilizes is not only foolproof and superior, but two-pronged: just as the delicate spring flowers of the Desert Southwest draw sustenance from the arid sand, so will these underprivileged students, through mere proximity to higher learning, draw into their brains a profound understanding of the lofty disciplines college has to offer. It’s simply, in a word, osmosis. And the second prong would be repetition and more repetition. To illustrate this, I’d point to the great composers of the world who would not nor could not have written a single great or even not so great note had it not been for their method of learning, which was simply copying others’ work ad infinitum.
The privileged students served under my plan (we’ll call them “Masters”) will, of course, be well-educated about their new state of affairs well before the first shipment of servants arrives, and therefore aware of the fact that all their homework, notes, graded tests, etc., must be photocopied and left for their servants to help themselves to at the end of every day.
The naysayers among you will most likely scoff at this seemingly catch-as-catch-can method of stocking the learning shelves: “What if one or more of the Masters forgets?” “What then?” Well, I say, “What if it rains?” I’ve covered every possible contingency. Forgetting is certainly a valid concern, one of which we’re all guilty. Are the servants simply to go without the learning materials promised them for as long as their Masters forget? Absolutely not!
My plan has a built in fail-safe mechanism for just such an occurrence, and for an explanation, we’ll briefly revisit the servants’ rich cultural heritage being preserved so far away from home. All we really have to do is briefly browse the statistics regarding a minority’s behavior while in their previously unenlightened environment. When we superimpose this behavior to virtually anywhere else in the world, one radiant axiom outshines all others: that when left unsupervised and in close proximity to something of value, be it an electronic device, flashy jewelry, or in this case, learning materials, the student of color will simply steal it.
The last and probably most important part of my plan deals with the manner in which a servant of scholastic excellence is treated, while again, staying within guidelines that are not inconsistent with the cultural baggage brought along to, say Stanford. The most important part of this task was to come up with a “Job of Honor,” if you will, one that reflected the monumental struggle of overcoming terrific odds to excel scholastically, and one that, at the same time, enhanced the dignity of the institution.
This job also had to be created, again, in accordance with certain predispositions of minority students, not only in terms of social standing, but also in terms of appropriate garb that was not only immediately identifiable as signifying excellence, but also one universally accepted as a mark of unflinching dignity.
Knowing that students of color are already wont to wear clothes and ornaments, usually in bright, primary colors, reflecting allegiance to one group or another, it wasn’t too great a stretch to come up with the notion of wearing similarly identifying garments for this job of honor.
After much thought, the “uniform” I came up with consisted of a silken, boldly striped jersey in the school’s colors and a cap with the same color scheme. For pants I thought that maybe a traditional pair of jodhpurs, tucked neatly into a pair of shiny black boots, would be suitably distinctive for exemplifying such a place of honor.
And the job itself is nothing less than serving the school as an icon of staunch character while at the same time adorning the acres of graceful lawns upon which the school’s proud structures stand. While wearing this previously described uniform of honor, the student of color will stand stationary for hours on end (an act of quiet dignity in itself) while holding a lantern in his outstretched hands, a gesture that unequivocally says: come on in. Take your shoes off. Sit a spell.
If, for some reason, my simple plan is rejected, leaving these underprivileged students no hope whatsoever, one can almost hear their desolate cries rising from tenement buildings and skanky neighborhoods across the state: “What are we to do now?”
The only solution available to them is obvious and elegantly simple, although admittedly not easy. Indeed, it involves solving one of the great universal mysteries. But being of gifted caliber and having no other choice really, these students should be able to tackle the problem with alacrity.
So when their forlorn cries of frustration rise as to what to do in order to obtain a college education, the simple answer is: go back and be reborn to parents in Beverly Hills, silly!
reading Tuchman’s “Guns of August,” and it’s become kind of apparent that claiming victimhood as political strategy is hardly a market cornered by Trump and friends. Victimhood justifies all reprehensible behavior…especially war. But that may not be what’s going on with Trump, because conjuring a strategy requires even a minimum of intelligence.