By Mark Goldblatt
"I will woo her by the pen . . .
| Have you ever tried to convince someone that you weren't crazy? By all means, do. Tomorrow morning. Choose a stranger, not an acquaintance. Certainly not a friend--who knows you for the maniac you are regardless. Now, go ahead, explain yourself: "Despite appearances, sir, I am not out of my mind. Quite the reverse, it is sanity itself which moves me to this exercise. Sanity itself which moves me to accost you, to clasp you on the shoulder as we stand here, to speak to you with a familiar voice unearned by familiarities." With every word, with every gesture, the stranger withdraws. His eyes roll back, full of disdain. Still you persist, gathering his hands into your hands. Now his eyes start to widen. He is afraid. He glances up and down. He fears the stiletto you are about to produce. But from where? No matter, for he has shaken loose. He backs away slowly. As he turns the corner, you hear the sound of his feet. He is running. |
Now these are the most opportune of circumstances. Daylight. Eye-contact. The wry monotone of a sane man's voice to offset the act. What I propose is something far more difficult. For I have fallen in love with an exercise girl named Holly Servant who appears every morning on television. What I propose is to woo her. To woo her from afar at first, to woo her with the words love has written upon my heart. To woo her by the pen--for e-mail is too ephemeral, too case-insensitive, to convey the substance of what I feel. Abelard to Heloise@mortalcoil.net? I think not! No, the pen it is. I will woo her by the pen . . . and thereafter bed her by the sword.
The air was khaki today on West 44th Street. Perhaps the soot on the window had prismed the remnants of sunlight, or perhaps it was the neon-skewed dusk of Times Square at an angle I had not observed before. No matter, I opened the window and breathed khaki air. It smelled of engine fluid, of engine fluid and fresh pralines. Sticky poison. But it was air, so I inhaled deep gulps of it. Four stories down, I watched a man in gray overalls as he stared under the hood of his truck. Steam rose around his head, khaki-tinted steam. He wiped his forehead with a gray rag.
| The praline cart stood fifteen yards to his left, on the southwest corner. |
There was a cluster of taxis at the intersection of Broadway and 44th. Their horns were silent. Rush hour had passed. Now was the hour of khaki air, the hour of sticky poison and silent cabs and twilight. Saxophone music came up the street; it was from the blind man who worked the southeast corner across from the praline cart. He played the same songs on the same street corner every afternoon, four o'clock to eight o'clock, rain or shine; this was his final song, "Yesterday." As the saxophone sounded, a homeless woman in a Yankees cap suddenly began to sway back and forth and sing:
There's a dog in the house.
There's a dog in the house.
There's a dog in the house.
There's a dog in the house.
There's a dog in the house.
There's a dog in the house.
As I leaned farther out the window, I felt a sudden drop of water on my head. The sky was cloudless, the khaki air darkening to black; I squinted at the last traces of sunlight across the Hudson River. Then another drop of water hit me. The drops of water took several seconds to worm their way through my hair to my scalp. Then I felt for them, the drops of water, with my fingertips. They were gritty. They had fallen from the air conditioner one floor above my window. As soon as I glanced up, another drop of water hit me in the eye.
Think me not insincere, gentlemen: I do love Holly Servant. Though I am by no means a sincere man, nevertheless, I am of a second spirit where Holly is concerned. The visible beauty of the flesh, it was once believed, testified to higher virtues of the soul. The inside was reflected on the outside since God made the world not to deceive man but to sustain him. And oh what virtues I discern in Holly Servant! Cut to close-up: there are angels aglow in her eyes, cool blue seraphim who whisk from side to side as she calls out the cadences. "C'mon," she urges, "just ten more, nine more, eight more, now seven . . . " From the bare floor of my studio apartment, I find within me the final ten. The muscles of my stomach feel like hot wires, and sweat trickles into my eyes, but still I find her ten more. As much as by her eyes, I am driven by the sing-song of her voice, the lilt even as she launches into twelve minutes of aerobics. Now, however, I only watch--for the sake of the downstairs neighbors. Yet also for my own sake, for I watch the delicate dance of her nipples, shining like tulips through her leotard. By the end of the segment, she has sweated her various definitions into the cotton. Then, at last, the cool-down. She rolls her head from side to side, strands of her pixied blond hair clinging to her moist back and shoulders. She stresses the cool-down especially. "Make sure to give yourself at least fifteen minutes for your heart rate to come down--and never exercise to the point of pain or exhaustion." Common sense, to be sure, but she takes the time to caution us, to belabor the safety factor. Because she cares. The emphasis on the word "never" is desperate--as if she would never be able to forgive herself if even one viewer overdid it. At last she signs off, and always with a piece of wisdom or a metaphor: "Life is like a card game, and The Sunrise Workout is like your ace in the hole. Play it, and rake in the chips for the rest of your life."
Dear Miss Servant,
And you are dear to me, Miss Servant. That sounds presumptuous, I am aware. Nor is it my custom to address letters to people I have not met. But I have broken with custom, perhaps with decorum, in this case--because certain instances arise in life which beg, which even demand, words. So I write to you, for I cannot speak them. Fate has determined us strangers, and I would not broach Fate beyond these several lines. Nevertheless, you have grown dear to me. Yours is the first face I see every sunrise, the first voice I hear every morning. Let me tell you about my alarm clock. It is a shrill thing, a loud electric buzz, set on a stand beside my bed. As I sleep, the clock rests less than a foot from my ear. When it goes off, it annihilates whatever dreams are left inside me--I am not awakened so much as galvanized. That was before, of course. Now I welcome the sound, welcome the annihilation of my dreams. For the sound has come to signal your dear image on my television, your kind words within my room. When you speak to me of life, I am filled with hope. For myself, of course. But also for the world. Life is good, Miss Servant. Though babies starve in the Third World, though holocaust hangs upon the air, though disease and violence race through the streets of our major metropolitan areas, despair has no place in the heart of man. Let him only look to the Sunrise for his inspiration.
Sincerely yours, etc.
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Hours have passed; I am no longer certain of the time. The letter is posted. But how the images linger! How the images move me, how they move my fingertips across the keyboard! Oh, let me celebrate love in the name of Holly Servant: she who would have me touch my toes twenty-five times per day, in her name I touch many things besides. Was there a life before Holly? Naturally, yet it was something less than life. Those were dim disembodied days, up perhaps at the crack of noon--to wait. For that is, in fact, the livelihood I have chosen, the livelihood I have invented.
I am a waiter.
That is to say, again, I wait. It began one morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles. (What better place for an autodidact?) I stood on a line that bent twice before it angled into the single arc that circumscribed of the entire second floor of the building. My nose was buried in Kafka when I happened to overhear a conversation between two suits in front of me; they were commiserating, in deep cynical voices, over the sums of money each would lose in the several hours until their turns came up. Finally, I took pity on them. I suggested, without a thought of profit, that if one of them would lend me his cellular phone, I would be glad to call them when the wait had wound down to a half hour.
They eyed me with suspicion at first. But then, perhaps sighting Kafka, shrugged at one other and handed over a shiny black telephone. When at last I summoned them, and when at last their turns came up, I received a tip of one hundred dollars. Plus, they let me keep the shiny black phone and wrote down my name in one of their shiny black binders--a gesture I have always found complimentary. Within a week I was receiving two or three requests per day. I became a familiar face not only at Motor Vehicles but also at several downtown post-offices, outside theater openings and movie premieres, at Knick and Ranger Ticketron outlets, etc. Nor was I high-faluting: I would sit in cars until alternate side of the street parking regulations went out of effect or in limousines as their drivers stepped out for fellatio. Always, of course, I scaled fees in accordance with the client's ability to pay.
No, nothing is served by such particulars, I agree. Especially since the letter to Holly Servant is posted. The sun burned against my scalp as I slid the mailbox shut. For an instant, I stared into the sun. Then I closed my eyes, and the sun was inside my head.
Still no answer, but I find no reason for concern. There are, to be sure, channels that correspondence with celebrities must follow, secretaries, agents, bomb squads and the like. I have no illusion that Holly Servant's eyes will be the first inside the envelope. Meanwhile, life goes on. Yesterday, her message cut to the very core of the modern ennui: "No one likes to exercise," she declared. "But everyone likes to look good. If we exercise, we look good. It's as simple as that." How true! How true! Ours is a tradeoff existence, a bargain basement of spiritual beads and trinkets for which we pay blood--this, in anticipation of a greater reward on the higher floors. But what if there are no higher floors? What if the escalators lead nowhere?
Holly's point, indeed, was driven home in an unanticipated way last night. As I hurried past Full Pockets, the male strip-joint down on Eighth Avenue, I was accosted by a bruiséd kid. (I prefer the poetic "bruiséd," accented in a nineteenth century tubercular manner, to "gay," which is too salubrious, or "homosexual," which is too clinical.) And he was a kid, maybe seventeen or eighteen, and whether he was bruiséd by nature or by necessity I haven't a clue. But he grabbed me by the left arm and shot me a desperate bruiséd look. The only words he spoke were: "Want to party." Now the first thing I thought was how fortunate he was to have hit on me, since I wasn't going to lash out. From his looks, the same suggestion had cost him in the past. There was a blue-green half-moon, a perfect crescent, beneath his right eye, a cracked tooth in the front of his mouth, and a scar down the center of his chin. And there was a plea in his voice, in the three words he spoke, a plea too in the way he clung to my right arm . . . and I thought why not? Once he was down on his knees, who would know the difference? Lips are lips, and his would be as earnest as I could want. Yet I declined. Decorum, gentlemen! Decorum, at all cost. Then, too, there was the issue of aesthetics, the mental aftertaste. So I shook loose, wrested my left forearm from his grasp and hurried the rest of the way home.
Critical questions are the cross I bear. This is perhaps the effect of too much time on my hands, or perhaps too much starch in my diet. Zezel lectures me about my diet on a regular basis. Zezel is not his actual name--I withhold his actual name in case this journal should fall into the wrong hands. But I will allow this: Zezel is a friend of mine, perhaps a dear friend. Perhaps the dearest friend I've ever had. Perhaps he is my lover. Except you already know I am not bruiséd. No, Zezel is not my lover--even though there is much to love about him. Think of Zezel as short. Think of him as thick, short and thick. Think of him under wisps and curls of thinning blond hair. No, Zezel and I are not lovers. Nevertheless, he is concerned with what I eat. As we sat in the corner booth of the Kosher Deli last week, he shook his index finger and cautioned me against a side order of potato pancakes. "Too greasy," he said.
"The world is too greasy," I said.
"Compared with what?" he said. "With another world?"
And I knew he had me: if I answered yes, he would ask me on what basis I declared the existence of another world. For by the very act of predication, by the copula I would need to invoke the existence of another world, I would render that world this world. And if I answered no, he would ask me on what basis I judged this world too greasy. The only chance I had was a finesse. So I said, "The world that is beyond thought."
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"But to assert that this other world is beyond thought is to contradict yourself. For if it is beyond thought, then it is not beyond thought."
"That would be so," I said, "if I had asserted that it was beyond words."
Zezel smiled, "Do I smell a nominalist?"
"I stink: therefore, I am," I said, then, after a pause: "Good shtick?"
"Good shtick," he said.
Then we started to eat.
Zezel is an odd case. He is my dearest friend, yes, but an odd case. Once upon a time, when we were young and able-bodied, the two of us planned to become writers. Men of our words. But who would have believed us? Even after I lost faith, however, he persevered. For several years, he wrote unsigned obituaries for a local paper; then he graduated to unsigned fillers, then to unsigned hard news, and he wound up, before he turned thirty, writing a weekly human interest column for a well known New York tabloid under the alias "Mark Goldblatt." (He refused to explain the significance of the name, if there was any. Probably, the sound of it amused him.) His columns were, on the whole, unremarkable--folksy, sentimental pieces as far removed from Zezel's true self as the byline from his true name. Regardless, he kept to his schedule of a column every seven days for exactly fifty-two weeks.
Then it happened.
Where once he had been prolific, prodigious, knocking off unpublishable novels and epic poems between columns, now his output slowed and then ground to a halt. He began to miss deadlines. The first time, the paper reprinted an old article. The second week, they withheld his check. Still, he could not write. He was blocked. He telephoned to tell me. "Why not just write?" I asked. "Whatever comes, comes."
"It's not that simple," he explained.
He was right, of course, it wasn't. He was blocked and then some. He was dammed. Not a trickle got through, not a sentence, not a word. He trembled even to sign his name. The paper canned him after he missed a sixth consecutive deadline.
Perhaps he ought to seek professional help, I suggested.
He stabbed me in the left hand with a salad fork. He stabbed me without a word, then lunged at me again, across the table at the Kosher Deli, and I took three stitches between the third and fourth knuckles. It was an awkward moment in our friendship.
Afterwards, in the emergency room, he wept, and then at last I realized he would never write another column. He used his resume of publications to secure a university line, and he has since recovered to the point that he can scrawl brief comments on the backs of his students' essays. But he no longer thinks of himself as a writer, and in fact he will not acknowledge conversational references to his work. He has renounced that part of his life, and all of his acquaintances from that period.
Nothing on the desk except the cable and telephone bills. Nothing on my mind except time. Nothing in the mail this morning. What I am wondering is this: if it were possible to surrender up the next dozen hours, if it were possible to will tomorrow on the world twelve hours ahead of schedule, if it were possible to command the Sunrise, would I dare? Consider the consequences. Perhaps it is a Wednesday, and I have awakened with the certain knowledge that nothing is going to happen. The thing to do, then, is to will the onset of Thursday. That is the danger. For once I had begun, sooner or later I would will myself to death.
But nevermind: I am, for the moment, a man of expectations.
Dear Loyal Viewer:
Thank you for your kind words and your continued support. By the way, are you aware that The Sunrise Workout is now available on video? Bess, Holly, Nicole and the rest of the girls have personally selected their favorite routines from among the hundreds you have seen them perform. Each two-hour cassette is available at your local video outlet, or you can make your purchase directly from Sunrise Productions by visiting our website at www.sunriseworkout.com. The special discount price is $19.95, plus postage and handling. Please be sure to specify which tape(s) you want. Sorry, no C.O.D.
P.S. The girls do not have the time to answer all of their correspondence individually. Rest assured, however, that your letter has been forwarded to the person to whom it was addressed.
Dear Miss Servant:
Thank you once again for your response to my letter. Rest assured that if I owned a VCR, Sunrise cassettes would be high on my Christmas list. Of course, Christmas lists are mere conjecture amid the humid pall of summer, but I find myself lost in images of snow and winter scenes especially this time of year. Not that I live for Christmas. But as life teems through the streets of Manhattan, the still of evening frost draws me in a way that is difficult to explain. Have you ever been to New York at Christmas? Several of the department stores commission elaborate (albeit secular) yuletide displays to fill their windows. By night, the streets are filled with families who stroll along Fifth Avenue, pausing before each scene. Children huddle close between their parents; they tug at their overcoats whenever a toy catches their eye.
This is neither here nor there. But it is an image that is precious to me, and I wanted to share it with you. Life is too brief to see everything for yourself. That is why art is necessary. For art must represent--or better still, it must recreate--experience beyond what is possible in three score and ten. Art that does not represent a particular experience is not art. No, I have no patience for mere abstraction. Life is too brief, too precious, to search for meanings that may or may not exist. There used to hang in a respected museum--we have many in New York, as you are no doubt aware--a vast and vacant canvas. No colors. No shapes. No paint. Still, it hung in a museum. Beside it was fixed a tiny placard which read: "Untitled." What is the intent of such a work, Miss Servant? It seems to me a kind of robbery. For the time I took to consider the piece is irretrievable. Does the joke alone redeem the moment? I think not: I had come to be raised, not deflated. Debased, perhaps, in as much as my high expectations had been mocked. That is my opinion, for whatever it is worth.
But I have begun to ramble. That is the danger of opinions. They carry their own momentum. Still, if I must ramble, then let it be here. For as I write, I am involved in the idea of you. Your face hovers before me as I write. These moments, therefore, are redeemed.
Sincerely yours, etc
No, gentlemen, I am not discouraged by her response. Though she had no hand in the form letter, there is no reason to doubt that she has, in fact, read those first lines of mine--or that she will, in fact, read these new lines. What is critical to recall is that Holly Servant fills the air, wafts from antenna to antenna, from coast to coast, tightens and tones the warp and woof of her flesh to the pulse of a million picture tubes. We are a state-of-the-art culture, and these are high-tech times: my love has been pre-recorded and disseminated, freeze-framed in mid-extension to salve the despair of a nation. How could she fail to elicit many passions? To think that I am the only one . . . well, where I come from we have a name for someone like that. Solipsist. But I am no solipsist. Nor is my imagination capable of Holly Servant. She is for me the link, the glue by which to bind the self to the world. She is what Descartes sought, what in retrospect he never found. She is: therefore, I am.
But this is rarefied stuff, mental calisthenics, conceived on the head of a pin. With what allegorical notions I embrace Holly Servant! Meanwhile, the world presses in on me. Zezel phoned not five minutes after I had received her letter, so of course I had no shtick for him. Perhaps I have offended him. He has been known to erupt, true, but also to bear offenses without a peep--and it is the latter which makes the thought that I might have offended him unbearable. Better a kick in the groin, or a fork to the hand. Last year, for example, a lover of mine slapped me so hard that she knocked out a dental crown. For that I blessed her. But once upon a time I left another lover curled up naked on her bed, her faint sobs sunken into the mattress. What welled up inside of me as I departed was unspeakable, a hot towel wrung in my colon; the recollection wrings the towel again. The recollection of the slap does nothing.
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Time to set aside the keyboard: I shall call Zezel.
Zezel has a proposition, and for the sake of our friendship I cannot refuse. His wife has found a woman for me--as though I were not in love! The affection I bear Zezel must see me through this ordeal, as it has before. When Mrs. Zezel was twelve years old, she won a pink ribbon for her arrangement of a doll's house. It was a statewide competition, back in whatever midwestern state Mrs. Zezel is from. That is beside the point. But as she recounts her triumph, she can recall the precise details of each miniature room; she swears that she could reproduce the entire house, and I for one believe her. The trait has translated into her adulthood. Now Mrs. Zezel is a keen organizer, a social broker, a builder of metaphorical doll houses in which to settle her friends. She does not like me, I am not her friend, but I am Zezel's friend, so she is at work on a doll house for me. Whenever I protest, Zezel only shrugs.
Mrs. Zezel does not like me, but if I were married she would like me. If I were divorced she would like me, or if I were widowed. Then at least there would be a foundation, a collection of trenches dug deep into the spiritual landscape, on which to raise another doll house. If I were bruiséd she would like me, but she would not allow Zezel to play with me anymore. But I am none of these, and she knows it. "What is he?" she asks herself. Nothing comes to her. How can she build her doll houses unless she knows what goes on inside? She loses sleep over this, I am certain. She would be rid of me, but she would not break Zezel's heart. What the hell, she thinks, and starts in on the doll house regardless. Perhaps now she can get some sleep.
Mrs. Zezel does not like me for a number of reasons, to tell the truth. The fact that I am not married is only the symbol, the crowning touch, the last straw. Where do I begin? She is a woman of therefores, and I am a man who lives on the other hand. She is the type who would continue to signal turns if she were the lone driver left after a nuclear holocaust; I once lost a car in a parking lot and never found it. She is a Vassar Girl, finished just after finishing went out of fashion. So she talks tough, summa cum sassy. She is, in sum, the very locus of reason, a geometric proof of a soul, hemmed in by her own hences, and hence defenseless. I feel for her. This, she suspects, and she waits for me to slip up or perhaps even to come clean and confirm her suspicion; she wants a confrontation. Instead, she gets smiles. Nothing but kind smiles. Nothing more terrifying than that. Like all logical people, Mrs. Zezel is terrified. Terrified of the world, of the simmering randomness of the world, terrified it will bubble over into her lap. Terrified of herself. Terrified of being found out. So she plays it cocky, devil-may-care, a cross between Lauren Bacall and Leo Gorcey. She married Zezel fresh off her own nervous breakdown, even though the two of them are a physical mismatch, in order to embrace and, perchance, subdue her terror; she married Zezel because he is entropy incarnate, a lunatic throb of unfocused unusable energy. Fresh off her nervous breakdown, she married Zezel in order to define her own sanity by contrast. To that extent, she has succeeded. But Zezel will not be domesticated. She married Zezel to keep an eye on him, to study him. To find out what she was missing and smother it with love. She still hasn't a clue. If he were not married, she would not like Zezel either.
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He married her because she was pretty.
She is on her way over to brief me. Zezel has warned me in the past not to--
"Look at this place," were her very first words. "Books scattered across the floor, clothes scattered across the shelves. It just isn't normal. What kind of woman is going to spend the night in a dump like this?" She eyed me for an answer, but I had none. "Look, kiddo, you're a babe and all that. No one's gonna say no. But looks will only get women to your doorstep. What gets them inside, what keeps them past the first drink is character. Got any liquor?"
"No," I said. "None."
"What about beer?"
"Have you ever seduced a woman?"
"Okay," she said. "I get the message."
"Would you like a glass of Yoo-Hoo?"
She waved her hand. "Okay, let's get down to cases: her name is Allison Molho. She's thirty-two years old and quite a dish--"
"So are you," I said, which was the truth.
"Maybe when I was your age--" Mrs. Zezel glanced behind her, perhaps to hide a blush. She is seven years older than her husband, nine years older than me, but the suggestion that those years have worn on her is false. For she is sculpted of harder stuff. There is an aristocratic air about her features, which are angular and ageless. Zezel carries photos in his wallet; even as a child, she looked like an adult.
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"Even now," I said. "Though I think I prefer your hair shorter. As a rule, I prefer short hair. Not too short, not collaborator-short, but not beyond the shoulders. Beyond the shoulders, it gets redundant."
"Tough titties, kiddo," she said. "Allison's hair goes straight down her back, just about to her hips."
"That's all right," I said. "No one's perfect."
"Lay off, for once," Mrs. Zezel said. "For your own sake, not mine, because I've got a hunch about this, about you and Allison."
"What about you and your husband?"
"We're just peachy," she said, then wavered. "Unless you've heard different--"
"No, that's not what I meant," I said. "Are the two of you going to handle the arrangements, or am I supposed to phone this person myself?"
"Let me think about it," I said.
"Not too long--"
"By tonight, I promise."
Zezel phoned five minutes after his wife departed. He wanted to know whether I had forgiven him--bless his Zezel heart. He was against the blind date, he swore, and if I chose to back out now he would understand. What about his wife, I inquired. Nevermind, he would make her understand. If she would not understand, then he would divorce her. He swore to me he would divorce her if she would not understand. Even though he loved her, he would divorce her. "For your sake," he cried. "For your sake, I'll start the litigation tomorrow. Only, please, allow me one more night. That is the sum of what I ask, one more night. Nights are too long to spend alone. After the deed, especially. Nights were made to rethink. If she comes to me in the night, as she is wont to do, will I have the wherewithal to stand firm? What I fear, especially, is our inertia. We are each of us settled into a side of the bed, a toilet schedule. She knows the things I like . . . the naughty things. She doesn't laugh at the noises I make. Better to start the litigation in the morning, so that by the following night the deed has gathered its own momentum."
"Good shtick," I said. "Tell her to make the arrangements."
How life tugs at the soul! When I heard Holly's voice this morning, I would have dissolved into the air, mingled with the radiations that bring her to me. But I had to pee. It snuck up on me, and at last I had to desert her image in order to pee. The indignities of the flesh are to be suffered, I suppose, towards a greater end. Yet when the spirit is raised with every Sunrise, what is served by such baseness?
Questions without answers: these are the worst things in the world. Still, I would ponder them ad nauseum rather than face Allison Molho across a candlelit supper. But wheels are in motion. Arrangements have been made for tonight. There was almost a reprieve, a last minute call from the governor. Zezel still had not recovered from his intestinal flu; I could hear his heaves in the background. "Ah, Bartleby," I sighed. . . . Ah, but Mrs. Zezel would have none of it; she informed me that she'd already changed the reservation at the Tijuana Room. Dinner for two instead of four. She would attend to Zezel's digestive survival. She would leave Allison Molho to me. "Now don't give me a hard time, kiddo. Don't make me come over there and brain you."
That, I did not want.
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As for Allison Molho, I have nothing against her. Save the love I bear elsewhere, Zezel's description of her would have won me over. He was lascivious and graphic, diamonding his thumbs and forefingers below the waist to indicate what the fuss was all about. That was when he first took ill. The following afternoon I proctored an exam for him at the University, where he teaches introduction to literary jargon. I permitted his students to cheat--as per his instructions. Zezel believes, and not without reason, that his students learn more by their machinations to cheat than by honest preparation for an exam; they tend to keep crib sheets in greater detail than notebooks. He once found a comprehensive outline of semiotics inscribed on a single kleenex. Perhaps it is the euphoria of the criminal act which drives students to such excesses. Or perhaps it is desperation, pure and simple. Whatever the efficient cause, Zezel has learned how to capitalize on the effect. For that, I admire him.
Where oh where has the afternoon gone? Soon, very soon, I will have to put on clothes. Now here is a confession: I compose naked. To be naked with your own words is critical. Clothes are clichés, and the ongoing temptation is to wrap inspiration in clichéd precedents. As though the muse descended a logical staircase! As though her bare ass could be pantied! Byron, for one, understood this. In the end, he laid aside his theories, took up causes, and set out to fuck Europe.
So I compose naked in order to minimize fiction. Not that I hold truth sacred. Just the reverse: lies constitute the greater percentage of what comes out of my mouth, and for that I am grateful. To write the truth is onus enough. To speak the truth is barbaric, antisocial, downright dangerous. "Ah, Bartleby, but what is the truth?" (I can hear Zezel's voice even now; I can make out the skepticism in the slight upturn at the edges of his mouth.) "Why, the truth is no more than a wink, a conspiratorial wink, between the mind and the world."
I wink: therefore, I am.
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Now then the time has come to clothe myself. The clothes make the man? What nonsense! The clothes belie the man. But what lies will I wear tonight? Stuffed inside a pair of jeans is the suggestion that I like to relax, which is as false as the spit-shine on my oxfords. The Tijuana Room, downtown, has no particular dress code, but it caters to youth and affluence. Still, the affluence must be low-keyed, diluted with a twist of Marx as you pass below 14th Street. Inconspicuous consumption is the order of business, a conspiratorial wink between credit card and toll-free number. The Broadway riffraff doesn't get in, but why rub their noses in it? As for me, I am neither young nor affluent. Nor am I riffraff. As long as I keep my pants on.
Gentlemen: these details are not crucial. But to appreciate the audacity of my love for Holly Servant, you must take into account the utter baseness that I represent. (Still, I am naked before the keyboard.) Mrs. Zezel imagines me handsome, and I'll not quarrel with her. For I have seen photographs where indeed I appear handsome. But in the mirror, I am diminished; I lose something. Perhaps it is the reversal of the image, or else the animation of doubt, but I cannot locate the handsomeness in the mirror. What I find are the incidentals: the thick brown hair, the high cheekbones, the broad and sunken brown eyes. The inventory comes to handsome. But in the mirror, the whole does not come together. Who knows why? As long as the world continues not to notice, in effect I am handsome.
The truth shall remain among us, gentlemen.
No, the time for truth is past. Now is the time to dress, or else the reservation will be at risk. Oh, for a VCR now! For a last glimpse of Holly, spandexed in pink, to see me through the ordeal ahead! She would disapprove of my trepidation of course; she would lower her faint blond eyebrows towards the camera and remind me to hurl myself into each moment, to disdain compromise, to take no prisoners. But I would counter that an evening with Allison Molho is itself an insidious compromise. To hurl myself into such compromised moments would serve the anarchic impulse, nothing else. It is an impulse I must fight. The world is a china shop, and I am pure bull. The very fact that I am drawn to the crystal signals me to back off, to fade into the sunset with my tail between my legs. But what if a single piece catches my eye? Something about the shape, about the light it refracts on the ground. Where are you, Holly? Flat on your back beneath the hot lights of the studio?
What are these moments to you?
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