7/13/2003

Hash Mark

Halfway through the summer, now, I've started to get pangs of that wistful feeling that time is slipping by when I'm not looking, as though I were "it" in a game of red light/green light. At moments of ferocious clarity, such as after a late night electrical storm, I turn and stare time directly in the eye and time stares back, still, to let me know both that it's leapt forward when my back was turned and that I will never catch it, that I might as well just turn around and let it do its thing, creep forward, lay a hand on my shoulder or calf, and replace me with some other "it." I want to be outside all the time. I want to be focused all the time. I want to listen to loud music and get drunk with no hangover and walk without an umbrella and eat tomatoes from the garden in the garden. Some days I want all this so much that I lie inside for a couple of hours, paralyzed. This leads me to believe that all this worry about how to pass the time makes the time pass faster, and that what I really need is to get absorbed in the game, get sweaty, and forget myself, and time.

But perhaps I'm starting to hit my stride. This weekend I went to Kaba's birthday party, and got loaded, at went to see my friend Olivia's band, the washington social club and went to dinner, and took a long walk, and worked on my novel, and started a one-act play called "Urinal," set in a men's room, and sat in the dark and watched a storm, and read some of bleak house, and got romantic, and listened to coldplay and swooned in the unseasonable breeze, and at points I really lost track of the itch I feel like I can't scratch. But at other times I was haunted by the sense that I should have been somewhere else, doing something else. Very much like Maqroll, come to think of it. When I, who live for summer, start despairing of its passing, I console myself with the notion that this is what it means to be 24. And soon I'll hit the road that leads to Manhattan, and the elusive, illusory heart of it all.

Slap me if you feel me, and let's make some sense out of this mess.

7/10/2003

In which, years later, Hot Face recounts his dental misadventures for a cub reporter by the azure waters of the Beverly Wilshire hotel pool

“His name sounded Latinate, but Dr. DeMoto worked with this ruthless efficiency I would later come to associate with Germans. By the end of our time together I remember wondering if he was in fact a doctor at all. With his casual cruelty, he would have fit right in at the little orphanage where I grew up. Though, come to think of it, he had this thick mustache that might have looked incongruous with a habit.

Dr. DeMoto busied himself with my mouth as though there was no human being attached to it, and ignored the whimpers of pain that escaped around his hairy hands. He wore no gloves. It’s not slander if it’s the truth, right? I’ll say this in his favor: at least his rates were reasonable, compared to the others of his profession in the capital city. The dental industry in Tangiers was notorious for its price-gouging. Word had even reached the outposts of my youth.

I remember trying to focus on the harsh light that glared from his overhead lamp. In my imagination, it was a flashbulb illuminating my perfect smile as I stepped from a limousine on opening night. That magazine had gone to my head, I guess. What was it called? The Hollywood Grapevine. I kept repeating the words of that casting call in my head, like an incantation. Looking back, I can see that I was still at that time remarkably innocent, for all that I’d been through.

When Dr. DeMoto held the mirror up to my face, all the discomfort seemed worthwhile: it was the first time I’d really studied my own face without the protective apparatus, and though the teeth were a little crooked, I flattered myself that it was not bad-looking. If that sounds terribly arrogant, please don’t quote me. My smile faded when the doctor shoved before me a cracker covered with a lump of unappetizing gray jelly. “Now eat,” he said. What can I say? I was still just a child, really. It was not the last time my reflexive obedience to my elders would get me in trouble. I ate the cracker. It tasted like I imagine rat dung does. “What was that?” I asked him. “That was the plaque I have scraped from your teeth. From now on you will remember to brush, yes?”

For this privilege, he demanded some francs, I forget how many. I showed him my letter and told him to send away for the money care of my guardian. He brandished a malevolent-looking implement from his tray and told me to give him the money in cash, or he would call the gendarmes. I snatched up a tooth drill, and we skirmished briefly. The drill whirred terribly, and I hoped he would not see that I had not the heart to use it. I managed to disarm him without inflicting a wound—further evidence, I guess, that the authenticity of his license was suspect.

I had, I know not how, driven him into the chair, and I had the drill. I suppose I could have ended it there. But I was young and naïve, and had not seen what I now have seen. I had not seen all this, this Babylon which surrounds us. So, still clutching the drill, I proposed that I would work off my debt. He was in no position to disagree, and seemed surprised by my earnestness. We shook hands, and I put the drill down.

That’s how I became Dr. Demoto’s hygienist."

7/09/2003

Now I Wanna Start a Bookstore/Now I Want to Have Something to... Rhyme With Bookstore

I am a fiendish collector of book titles. Books, too--yeah, I'm the guy who actually goes to the library book sales and looks through every godforsaken box of mildewed self-help manuals, hoping to find something exceptional (I used to be this way with records until I ran out of money and space). But I've found that collecting titles--just keeping a little list of things you hear about offhand, the out-of-print beauties, the cult classics, the ones with introductions by Pynchon--can be as satisfying as stumbling across a copy of "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" in a pee-wee league baseball dugout when you're nine years old (this actually happened to me). That way, you'll never forget you need to read it, but it won't take up space in your apartment (you live in an apartment, don't you? I thought so). Plus, for bonus points, if you bump into, say, a long-neglected Roberto Colasso book at a yard sale for a quarter, well... you just saved yourself $13, bub (estimated cost of overpriced Colasso trade paperback, minus your quarter). This is how you MAKE money by SPENDING money, see. For more of my secrets, send $12.75 to the chancery at 1819 Del Scorcho Terrace, NW, Washington DC.

Oh, yes, so, anyway, my current list is about 700 authors. I love lists. When you're a writer, making lists is called cataloguing, but when you're a procrastinator, it's called wasting time. As a writer given to procrastination, I do a little bit of both. I often learn about books through lists made by others. I thought I would share a list with you, in case you want to crib a few titles to make your list, too. The list is called The Seventy-Odd Best Novels I Have Read. It's a really good list. The hot shit is the Tsypkin, the Svevo, the Aksyonov, the Waugh, the Coover, the Beatty, the Chamoiseau and the Mano, none of which anyone seems to have read, but maybe you'll find some other titles you want to collect, as well. If you have titles you think I should collect, you may email me. Bon Appetit!

Ulysses- James Joyce
Anna Karenina- Leo Tolstoy
The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Brothers Karamazov- Fyodor Dostoevsky
Underworld- Don DeLillo
The Grapes of Wrath- John Steinbeck
Infinite Jest- David Foster Wallace
A Remembrance of Things Past- Marcel Proust
Light in August- William Faulkner
American Pastoral- Philip Roth
The Sound and the Fury- William Faulkner
War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield- Charles Dickens
100 Years of Solitude- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Confessions of Zeno- Italo Svevo
Middlemarch- George Eliot
Les Miserables- Victor Hugo
Invisible Man- Ralph Ellison
Moby-Dick- Herman Melville
Finnegans Wake- James Joyce
The Corrections- Jonathan Franzen
Brideshead Revisited- Evelyn Waugh
The Sot-Weed Factor- John Barth
Generations of Winter- Vassily Aksyonov
The Adventures of Augie March- Saul Bellow
Texaco- Patrick Chamoiseau
Don Quixote- Miguel de Cervantes
Mason & Dixon- Thomas Pynchon
The Public Burning- Robert Coover
Lord Jim- Joseph Conrad
A Farewell to Arms- Ernest Hemingway
Crime and Punishment- Fyodor Dostoevsky
Take Five- D. Keith Mano
Midnight’s Children- Salman Rushdie
Cousin Bette- Honore de Balzac
The Plauge- Albert Camus
Gravity’s Rainbow- Thomas Pynchon
As I Lay Dying- William Faulkner
A Farewell to Arms- Ernest Hemingway
Beloved- Toni Morrison
Catch-22- Joseph Heller
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest- Ken Kesey
Native Son- Richard Wright
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
Look Homeward, Angel- Thomas Wolfe
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Zora Neale Hurston
The Portrait of a Lady- Henry James
Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov
The Unnameable- Samuel Beckett
White Teeth- Zadie Smith
Slaughterhouse-Five- Kurt Vonnegut
Franny and Zooey- J.D. Salinger
The Ghostwriter- Philip Roth
Rabbit, Run- John Updike
Portnoy’s Complaint- Philip Roth
Desolation Angels- Jack Kerouac
Buddenbrooks- Thomas Mann
All The Pretty Horses- Cormac McCarthy
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay- Michael Chabon
Naked Lunch- William S. Burroughs
The White-Boy Shuffle- Paul Beatty
A Star Called Henry- Roddy Doyle
Purple America- Rick Moody
My Antonia- Willa Cather
Another Country- James Baldwin
Summer in Baden-Baden- Leonid Tsypkin
The True History of the Kelly Gang- Peter Carey
The Franchiser-Stanley Elkin
I, Claudius- Robert Graves
The Crossing- Cormac McCarthy
Mao II- Don DeLillo
The Recognitions- William Gaddis
Great Expectations- Charles Dickens
Omensetter’s Luck- William Gass

7/07/2003

In Which Hot Face Stumbles Upon The Light of the World to Come

He settles himself on a chair in the corner beneath a busted fan, as far away from the other supplicants as possible. He keeps his head down mostly these days; he’s memorized the stitch of his linen orphan pants. He stretches a skinny arm toward the coffee-table, upon which at some point some Samaritan arrayed old magazines to help the patients be patient. In the fullness of time, they’ve become scattered and dusty, strewn wildly across the tabletop as though by a sandstorm. Amid the cacophony of covers, he can make out some titles—Oriental Cartographic, Missionary Positions, The Destiny Manifesto--and photographs of the huddled masses who provide Empire’s raison d’etre. “Merde,” he thinks to himself (he has picked up bad language from his fellow orphans). He has stumbled upon periodical purgatory, the royaume where magazines never die.

And then he notices, peeking out from beneath the pulp, a glossy new cover. It’s the Hollywood Grapevine, and there she is, pouting at him from beneath the title, the great Garbo herself. She seems simultaneously to hide from the camera and expose herself to it. She is like an angel come among the shephards at night. Or like a voice on the other end of a tenuous wire connecting this blasted landscape to the palms and pools of the New World.

He says her name to himself. He feels the old familiar heat in his cheeks as he peels back the cover.

His Sweetness was my Weakness, or, R.I.P., Baby

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate the Barry White gag as much as the next guy. When, for example, Cool "Buck" Wheaton bombed the entire city of Providence with slightly modified Andre the Giant stickers reading "Barry White gets da pussy," I laughed as hard as anyone. Late on the night of the 4th, however, as we channel-surfed at Zal's apartment, I ran across CNN coverage of the great man's death. In between the fifteen running banners of stock quotes, dumb headlines, temperature, traffic, logos, etc., a still photo of the Barry's face was juxtaposed with writhing girls in thongs, and I thought, is this the way he would have wanted to be remembered? I mean, certainly, the writhing girls in thongs belong in there somewhere, but what about the music? The legacy of Barry White, I think, should be "girls in thongs plus." If there's anything he showed us, it's that you can ascend to the mountaintops of sophistication (check the arrangement of "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up" if you don't believe me) AND get your freak on AND laugh your booming bass badass laugh all at the same time. I listen to "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me," and I hear sex as art and athletics and broad humor all rolled into one. Perhaps it was fitting that Barry White died on the 4th of July. He was an American, LA-born, and, far from an idiot savant or one-dimensional cartoon, he offered us a democratic path out of the mire of sexual fear and exploitation and disrespect that I felt the CNN coverage pitched itself at. So please: turn off your TV, put on some Barry, break out your favorite beverages, dress up or down, look deep into the eyes of the man or woman or men or women or trannies or whatever you love, and drink a toast to the master before knocking boots all night long. And hey, Ben and Jerry's...is it too late to turn the ice dream of Berry White into a frothy, frosty reality?