Itza Vilaboy: Nora

MAY 1 – 31, 2010

Itza Vilaboy: Nora (PDF)

………………………………………………NORA

I have new scars since we last met as she begins to lift his shirt above the shoulders. The wing fjords a purplish, sea salt pink. She breathes in sharply like they just built a strip mall on the site where she used to make love. It is angry, isn’t it? He follows. How did you? She wonders. Steeplechase. Those tolling ringlets of sunshine can pull a number on you. At the moment it actually rounded into view, my crop caught upon the third barricade and sent me careening into the brambleberry. She works on his trousers. On his left thigh, gasp! And here, this orphaned peach? He smiles. No, that’s melanoma. Once in the desert I slept through the afternoon in a tent to avoid the heat only to discover too late a dime-sized hole in the fabric. Which is odd because I used to have nightmares about a gypsy boy torturing me with a magnifying glass. She might recover composure by that last enactment at his elastic waistband, the ritual of foregone conclusions belied by an indecisive tongue along the seam. But alas, like the sudden discovery that a refrigerator magnet has gone missing, she realizes that his belly no longer advertises that he is born of woman. What have you done with it? She pouts. He is resigned before her bridal choler, enough to deflate any sneaking tumescence. I’m sorry about that and it’s not what you think. It’s just that a pack of wasps kept trying to build a nest in the basin. I overslept. I woke up with a gray putty umbilicus and yellow-bodied biplanes roaring off the runway, so I had it covered over with a skin cork.

.

.

.

Hello Nora,

I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you. If there’s anything I can do, let me know. Things are fine here, still happy to learn that I’m addicted to the thrill of motion: PJ Harvey as my model of ethics: and I’m doing nothing wrong, riding in your car.

Talk soon.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

I’m surprised that I never mentioned Ollie, whose name is actually Lollie – and some kids called him Oggie – but I don’t remember why. He lived a few doors down from me growing up. Several things make for a threadbare peering-from-behind-the-blinds biography: one of his legs is shorter than the other; and his mother was mad to the breaking point of the socially acceptable. These two details seem contingent in a way that happens after the front door is closed.

My own interactions with him (and with Max, who I’m sure you’ve heard of) were minimal since my street is actually the dividing line between two elementary school districts. Since he lived across the street, he walked to Harbor View, whereas I had to suffer the indignities of Imperial Beach. What I know of him happened upon those green belts of lawn, by observation, and the neighborly gossip that fell beneath the tea table from the omniscient, wet lips of matronly hens.

I want to say something more about lawns while I’m thinking of it: here, on these trim argyles, where the sun bathes everything in a strained light, almost as if the gilding disguised an elemental insecurity, not unlike the meretricious beauty of an old woman with an enormous winking stone upon her finger, I first began to consider some of the technicalities of this or that as they occur in such places. Trapped light caught in the myriad of the flaming and metronomic sprinkler’s shusssh shusssh.

I used to be convinced that nowhere else did this malevolent balminess exist than in the frank, tawdry light of front lawns. Lollie’s mother – whom by all accounts, possessed a reckless (because she disdained its own power) beauty – would get out of her Buick with theatric care, attempting to hold onto these impossibly large and garish period hats upon her head at the same time that she collected the detritus that all eccentric women seem to accumulate in pockets and handbags for some mysterious purpose. Lollie would hobble up up up the incline of the lawn and wait expectantly with his eyes upon her. When I watched this as a boy, I was always ashamed for him: she sounded like a bird of paradise looks, just gabbing in whatever direction her eroding regality seemed to turn. Her voice carried awfully, but the boy just waited patiently and rarely ever answered these grating caws.

Who knows how information travels like borrowed eggs between the houses of suburbanites. But I learned details of their lives over the years, and in idle hours I laid these papier-mâché strips down over the chicken wire of their lives: that she was an artist; that her husband left them suddenly in the middle of the night, after offering – and here is some vinyl cushion of rumor – in the form of a dark, hysterical silhouette on the edge of Oggie’s bed, to cut off his ‘dispirited’ leg with a skill saw, that Oggie decided ever afterwards in the dying fall of this man’s even booted tread down the hallway for the last time to give himself up to the gospel undertow that carried him away from his own public youth, and to hobble out to the periphery of his mother’s hot velvet trauma, whereupon he planted himself so that literal imbalance might kiss and hold the figurative when things became too much to bear.

I only saw this happen once with my own eyes, and I haven’t offered enough characterization to support the image that follows, but I suspect that this is also a consequence of our lives in these suburban neighborhoods: like the flash of naked skin through a bay window or the sound of carnal grunts that suddenly come through an untold number of walls in the depths of the night when we lay wide awake with our pulse fluttering, in that little rectangle of regulated desire that is now disturbed by the back draft of misconstrued violence – is someone being murdered – arches like her back in the dark over the question of just who is being fucked out of their solitude. Each illicit desire, each curdled longing has its own address, we know, we know should be understood in that same disingenuous glare of roseate sunlight.

It comes to me through this receivership, and indeed, maybe we were all children in the choir until Max started making bombs and swept us all up in the tether of the fuse. As a first lieutenant of everything under the garden footstools that these two would later overturn mercilessly to expose again the bloodless wriggling flesh beneath, certainly Lollie caught the imagination of this dusky nitrate.

At some time during our junior high years, his mother decided to begin working in a new medium; perhaps caught by the very machinations of this coiled sunbeam, she began to notice how the sharp, sweet concord of birds’ chirping added to this mise en scène.

One day she returned in her car with pound upon pound of bags of birdseed, and in the open space of her work garage she started to fashion her own gnomish figurines out of the seed: they would hold court in that very light, a Nativity of kitsch dwarves dissolving in that sweet peck and chatter; how wonderful, she thought. She worked diligently on the plaster casts of beneficent, imaginatively ruddy-cheeked little fellows to people her yard, and when the time came, she mixed the birdseed with resin in a large barrow and began to flesh out her complacent council. When the figures were finally ready to be set out, Lollie skirted about the yard planing the grass, and quite suddenly the yard was peopled with the winnowing hubbub of the birds about the little people’s smiles of sunflower and anise.

The birds began to die very quickly. Some would limp to the air with a dying stride and then fall with their feet comically skyward; others would froth violently at their beaks, their plumage unable to clothe their sputtering convulsions. Their stomachs burned with the yellow fizz of the resin, and they fell in that great happy light into the compact frames of the sidewalk. If Lollie’s mother realized what was happening, it was registered with only a lowing sound of resignation that always rises from somewhere when the world doesn’t work. She turned on her heels and went into the house. Lollie ambled soundlessly over the lawn, shooing the birds and pitching the happy gnomes into the garage, two at a time. He fell twice on the gentle slope, but his face gave nothing away from the steadfast awkward movement of his legs. When the garage door closed, he pivoted like a protractor one last time upon his longer limb and followed his mother into the house. Several days later I found a wing in the spoke of my bicycle.

PS: Max just landed at SFO. She’s back from Paris. But maybe you’re already in on this. Why can’t she just stay on the other side of this postcard: Between the two of us now! (Who apes Rastignac’s challenge to the city? These days anyway. I can just see her clowning around Père Lachaise. I don’t know what you see in her.)

Simon

.

.

.

Hello Nora,

We haven’t communicated in ages, and it’s entirely my fault, but I would love to know how things are going. Email me your phone number because I’ve lost my phone book. Things here are much the same: taking classes (one with Art Historian Rosalind Krauss that’s quite good), attempting to absorb something of this city, since I feel like my time here is a protracted goodbye. I’m not returning next year, but I’m not sure I can say more than that, although it might have something to do with some sort of naïve adolescent appeal made to me by Kerouac while I was sitting on a strange toilet in the middle of the night. I can’t avoid vulgarity, see? And I’ve always thought, probably mistakenly, that you were too good for it – by mistakenly I mean not that you’re not too good for it, only that I never should have presumed to make a judgment about it one way or the other.

Have you talked to Max? She was in town recently. I ran into her in the Bowery. She was wearing a chainmail dress chatting with some art people. I guess she gave up smoking. But I thought she did that a long time ago. I asked her about you, which amused her. We should get together, she said. Her eyes still have that wide-apart look I look for in a sister.

I hope that you’re doing well. Am I out of prayers?

Simon

.

.

.

Dearest Nora,

Hi, how are you?

Oh, oooo the things I get away with. What business do I have at the Palais-Royal? Other than walking, strolling, dragging my heels by its corners at 3 am? It’s audacious what I can remember. It’s rude. There are too many pillows on my bed. I’m a punch-drunk pasha with a hole in my sock.

Allow me to endear myself to you: I got a shot in the butt today. The doctor’s a leftie so you can guess which cheek took the prick. Hey, I’m just as surprised as you must be; have to be, given my fabled constitution. The last time I got a shot in the butt, Felix the Cat was getting a scolding by old man Neptune on the overhead monitor. I made my mom and Simon wait in the lobby while I got dressed, and taking as long as the cartoon did. When we got home, Simon did that thing he does whenever he returns from a place that gives him the willies and the Han Solo figurine in his pocket fails him: he turns on all the lights in the house. I give him a one-room lead and then follow by turning them off with the studied somberness of an apprentice.

Anyway, so I’m full of penicillin, courtesy of a very cute Dr. Chung. Feeling up my swollen lymph nodes (I heard you say nymph – tsk, tsk). You’re first time here? At the clinic? Is that what he means? Ummm, yes, I replied.

Welcome, he said. It sounds like strep throat, but I’d like to make sure.

I don’t know man; you drop your yap on command and see for yourself how funny it feels. And he had to use a tongue depressor as my tongue was too sore to cooperate. Some things I’m shy about.

Yes. You’ve got some bumps in there that shouldn’t be.

That’s not what you want to hear in France. Then he expertly gagged me with a rude q-tip for a culture. He said it was ok if I gagged. Whaa? But I didn’t. I bet there are oven mitts over the stirrups in the gyno room.

Of course, it only gets worse. I’m already concerned that whatever I’ve got doesn’t automatically appear to be strep throat. We had to wait for the culture. That meant two hours in a waiting room wearing a mouth doily strapped to my face. So I’m thinking, antibiotics if we’re cool vs. As Dr. C put it, I-don’t-know-what-we-can-do-for-you-here-if-it-isn’t. All dreams Dr. C dashed.

EUREKA! Good news. Here comes the strep, here comes the strep!

Of course I was going to take the shot over seven days of pills four times a day. But I didn’t know it was going to be in the ass. I like how he said I’m applying the band-aid now.

So yeah, strep. I don’t recommend it. I’ve been running around with a 102° fever. Hallucinations: 1) Convinced I’d destroyed a book I checked out from the library, I began wailing and begging for forgiveness from some unknown authority. The floor below slept through the whole thing, but the neighbor across the hall came over twice to calm me down. 2) I thought I had 1,000 blouses to fold in less than an hour and was sobbing hysterically over such an impossible thing just like a girl trying to get out of a wedding billed for the next morning. The shot fixed the fever and the lights came back on in my eyes shortly thereafter. They were making some wavy sounds back there. But I kind of like running around on that kind of buzz. Everything seems novel-worthy and hypersymbolic.

Did you know Marie Antoinette wore all white to the guillotine? She swore to its language. I hate the expression So-and-so-died-today-according-to-her-publicist. What has become of the executioner? MA’s wardrobe paid for by levies on the Third Estate. Should I get a dress or should we purchase a battleship. Redraft the concept of an economy of scale. Pretty rad. Those dresses had bones in them. How to wear a conquest. Garters, latches, girdles, corset. Set the design of the empire to your waistline.

I’m drinking straight from the bottle in case you’re wondering; I’m not supposed to be drinking because of the meds, but it keeps the other hand busy as I write this letter.

What it would have been to have rented a tiny cellar, wedged between the Palais-Royal Theater and the block of houses ending in the Comédie-Française in 1940 (apologies in advance; I hope to give this a second read and check my work before sending this little envoy. You know how excited I get about these things, how I’ll just send things without proofreading. Big dummy. So, uh, if I miss some diacritics or even if I miss all the diacritics, please fill them in for me like the best pal that you are, Pretend you’ve had to put up with me curbside, vomit is involved, I forgot to pull my hair back, and you’re kind enough to do it for me. Thanks, buddy.), when the German army was marching on Paris. What you know on drink makes certain things wildly inappropriate. But there’s a lot of affection for them, for these things, for what’s wild and drunken and a thing. I’m not making sense. When I’m out on the street, I’m always on the lookout for belly-clutchers — always the sign of a psyche at work. Thoughts of why you are alone and the life you chose that will keep you alone.

I’m having the best Sunday. I might have been living at the Hotel Beaujolais, next door to Colette. There would be names nearby. The Berls, the Milles, and the Lazareffs. I would live there for years, subjected to insults, aimed at my work and person. Several people are fucking in the room next door. To candles, maybe? The electricity is out.

The Palais-Royal is spooky. Traces of shit that I’ve read over the years. Delphine de Nucingen would lead Rastignac to the gaming rooms. A speculative boom based on massive over-production of paper money kick-started projects like canalization and paving over the Great Sewer and now you can build houses and a big park and sell silks and porcelain. Wanting to evoke the extremities of Parisian poverty, Baudelaire has a poor beggar-girl fishing through the garbage outside The Grand Véfour. The mirrors, chandeliers, marble-top tables, stucco and gilding of some of these places. The women pulling up their stockings. Marx and Engels met here.

The hairdresser near the Galerie de Chartres. He puts his wigs to dry in the sunshine. These wigs are stuck on waxen heads and those heads on the points of the spikes of the railings which at night enclose the ghosts of Thermidor. The gates, opening perspectives of Russian squares and Roman cities, cellars, kiosks selling postage stamps and books about flagellation. The Légion d’honneur – it is there one plays boules under the trees, it is from there that heads of ragged revolutionaries used to file past, brandishing them like fists at the well-appointed sky.

So I’m a little drunk. But I’m having the most excellent Sunday. I’m neither cheerful nor sad and I can swallow without wincing. My heart beats with love for you.

High-five!

Max

.

.

.

WHEN that song begins to churn forward suddenly

I roll my eyes like I’m trying to figure out

How all of the air left the room. She smiles like

I said something to the contrary; it says study my canines.

He says, I did love you once.

She tells me about teaching English in Patagonia to anyone who would give a fuck

and two-steps her cigarette. You suddenly understand why it might be thrilling to

copulate in a graveyard. He fails to bay.

The tide turns when you take the cigarette to your forearm.

The song is the promissory note of an absence.

I pin myself to it like an airplane’s black box.

In spite of everything, someone’s not on the guest list

And what sad piano fingers you have

.

.

.

Dear Nora,

Hi, how are you?

I’m still in Paris. I’m soaking in a tub recovering from Chez Richard’s in the Marais. A large, sharp steak knife rests next to the cell phone on the soap rest, in case anyone gets any funny ideas. Too many things alarm me. The Mur des Fédérés. On 28 May 1871, following a frenetic manhunt through the tombstones, 147 Communard rebels were shot in the Père Lachaise cemetery against the south-east perimeter wall. The remains of nearly a thousand more Communards were brought here from killing spots within the city and dumped into grave-pits. I also photographed a pair of abandoned shoes left next to Proust’s plot. There was a picnic lunch and a nap with the Méliès, but waking up from a nap to only one sock when once there were two meant it was time to head out. Yeah, I left a kiss – Boom Box Red – for Wilde, and Jim still gets all the ladies.

The faded, peeling periwinkle blue wallpaper is just too much at this hour. I suck on my tongue because I’m bored. The reading light in the office stays on all night. Simon talks a lot of shit. It matters that we were born two minutes apart. Ok, almost out of postcard. I miss you. Wish you were here. Blah, blah, blah, blove you.

Just give me a trident and some seaweed.

Maxy

.

.

.

Lost skate-key:

Have you put down your copy of Franny and Zooey yet? Remember Nora, unconscionable highlighter use is always a tell-tale sign of soft thinking. It’s been a long time, maybe I should slow down.

So my new place in NYC – there’s an orange wall. There are barking doggies on my answering machine to scare off the unwelcome and the shabby. Well, it’s all part of the installation that is my apartment. The doorman of Sara’s old building is a tiny Cuban man who changes out of his security uniform at the end of his shift into this incredible hat and suit ensemble. Anyway, Sara asked him if there was any discarded furniture in storage: ever since, we’ve been inundated with the sorriest collection of orphaned, wilting lamps, backless embarrassed chairs with only make-shift bungee-back to show for it, a little nightstand that used to be blue, and a wheeling TV stand that groans with old age on its rusted wheels. My posture is starting to show signs of influence.

The summer is here, although I still have two papers to write. It looks like I’m going to be here for most of it, since I have no money to go anywhere, and I’m two months behind on my rent. Plus I’ve got that invigorating job as a copy-editor for Financial Investor. I’m feeling a little bit trapped in every way.

I blame Max and the long weekend visit to Paris. She knows two things, maybe only two things about me – that I’m confused about what I’m doing, and that I’ve been visited by the middle-age version of me with a pony-tail and a tropical print t-shirt, a sort of conscious Doonesbury character. But taking me to the Banana Café is playing bad sister.

I tried ordering a gin tonic and what I got in return, well; let’s just say I felt underdressed. It took two go-go boys to carry this monstrosity over to the table. To be shared, they said, in their best English. Their smiles advertised that I had a running start. This banana boat was sky blue and foamy, with pink swirl straws and fuck it was gross. Max, where’s my drink? And the saucy minx replied, Dear Simon, maybe you should work on your French.

You know, whenever I’m with Max (and maybe you share my sentiment), matters get whittled down to perhaps the tenuous but terribly important difference between fortune and luck. I live too much with the latter, and I want to take this moment to swear against it in the way of a warning. Anyway, yes, we shared it. And from what I recall, I began tipping indiscriminately – in every sense of the word. Have you seen those Murakami super-flat paintings of little girls holding daggers? They remind me of Max.

Where were we.

Oh, and I’ve received an unconscious index of the state of things: last night I dreamed (embarrassingly) about trying to make it with a pneumatic peroxide blonde in the back of a van; Sara dreamed about trying to feed her cat while a ravening coyote attempted to steal the food. She barked at it in her sleep. She told me about her dream, but I decided to hold back on mine. Maybe I just have to face the fact that my unconscious mind is this really cheesy, unfulfilled individual, but how can I live with myself, really?

Get one of those pastel tennis skirts that flip up during a pretty backhand and I’ll steal you off on a road trip across the country: cheap motels and the like.

I’m one to talk. It sounds like you’re the one with the adventures these days. You, tanned on the beach, a sworn nocturnal field mouse? It must be the rekindling of something, I guess. Nectarines, like shoulders, have sunspots, and when you go to pick a fruit, that’s how you tell whether or not the fruit has sugar.

Ummm, did I mention the author W.G. Sebald to you? You should check him out if not, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read: the sense of loss is so muted; I never knew that horror could come so quietly. Actually, he’s exactly like reading Proust if, instead of the relentless quest for Albertine’s love occupying the absent center, you put the Holocaust in her place. That about sums it up.

More on the boyfriend, a Bildungsroman if you like. That last note is sparser than a California wildfire – are you an arsonist or are you in love?

I will volunteer for your cause Nora just name it.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

Is all that stuff about the X-Box some kind of code? I am not a literary theorist – despite a rather obstinate professional determinism currently gripping me – and I’ve lost my secret decoder ring, but all that stuff about David and the joystick is like an elephant hidden behind a cereal box. A cigar is just a cigar.

And furthermore, judging by your note, it seems that David will be the reason for a visit. If this turns out to be true, I will give him a terrible beating. He is no excuse for a trip, and as I mentioned before, I could never forgive you for such a practical, two-birds-one-stone approach.

I’m sure you’d soothe my perennially wounded ego.

Otherwise, good for him, for getting into Columbia and all. The architecture students are such a hot downtown bunch, truly the best-looking department. I remember that on one occasion last year I was sitting in the Avery café, located in the architecture building, when this delicious Danish ice tower came walking by with one of her models. She was having trouble carrying the whole assembly, and to make matters worse, she had a container of glue under one arm. The pressure was releasing the glue all down the thigh of her black hot pants. Of course, I interceded because I’ve always been interested in architecture myself. Ok, I have to run off to Spanish; I bombed the last quiz on the pluscumsubjuctivoconditionalpastparticipiopreterito.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

You are one of those things Proust was wrong about; that Celtic soul inhering in things is transitive, so that you might put yourself there with giggle. Thank you for the care package. Will kites or candy ever be the same?

You really know how to fold an envelope. Playboy centerfolds and cut-outs. You make paper dolls out of paper dolls. I’m surprised the postman didn’t keep them for his dirty little locker.

Blind date, huh? You jerk; I’m forced to shift gears rapidly.

Shit man, faith is for doddering fools without a plan. We’re all just draftsmen for the divine, and unless you’ve got a concept to pitch; you’re going to be subcontracted for designs of Beelzebub’s new brimstone port-o-pots. I’d hate to see it, I really would. A blind date, really? Call me so we can deal with this.

PS: Have you heard from Max?

Simon

.

.

.

Hey Nora,

No; you haven’t done anything wrong, sweet pea. It’s just that I’m poorer than the local community center and I’ve been, you know, workin’. I have a job until this Wednesday, and then I have to finish my papers. Not much else is going on: been reading the other Conrad novels: a strange bunch, especially Nostromo, a rather ungainly historical novel about a fictitious place called Castaguano (subtle, eh?). Conrad, postcolonialism, you know.

Hey, what the hell am I doing with my life? Maybe I’ll join the ranks with Max. If I bail out on this academic professional gig, what do you think I should do instead? And don’t say firefighter. I’m going to feel very awkward at thirty, I know it. Please forward any ideas you have. I suspect Max of an altogether unauthorized diary of heroin addiction to hit stores in time for the holidays. She’s set.

I tried to call you yesterday by having the operator dial the number for me, but apparently because you have a different phone company they can’t put the number through. Oh, always, always a line to the bathroom.

I wanted to thank you for those incredible tapes, and I feel rather lame doing it in this fashion. Something about the combination of The Jesus and Mary Chain with a coverlet of infinitely receding belly buttons does me in. Bare mid-riffs and good music. I died and went to heaven: that’s all I need in the afterlife: rock and girl bellies (another cheesy indictment of me). When the hell are we going to see each other? Call me so we can talk about it, you little donut. Give me more news about things over there. Have you sworn off boys entirely? Girls are nice, too (cheese again).

I want to go home.

Simon

.

.

.

SIMON can’t sleep. No faith in anything should last more than an hour. With slight revision, he thinks he might have the shortest running work in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series: no faith in anything should last more than two minutes. This, most curiously, happens to be the average time of human coitus. He turns on his side. She left her mother-of-pearl hand comb behind. The nacreous handle resembles that of a pistol he saw once in his grandfather’s toolbox. He picked it up and immediately thought of stealing it, but in the end put it back in its place after running through a series of shorts that ran through his head. The hand comb shimmers in the moonlight as if a blue crab scuttling under the clear water of a tide pool. His medical gadgetry and a couple of candy wrappers resemble the washed up trash you get instead. He took her blood sugar just for fun. 96: she has the reading of a fifteen year old.

What a beautiful thought. I’m pushing 200. That should impress her. The grand idea that I’m a fleshy anachronism born into a conscious sensibility is a proper idea I can make love to! How much more sense the world seems to make if all of a sudden I imagine it fashioned in the image of what lies beneath Britney Spears’s fluttering eyelid than in the arid breath of an ageless gray god. And so I find my existence woefully out of place; born at the wrong time is an understatement; I’m an archaeological site and all these young girls have dust brushes and clam-digging khakis. To carry on with this intrepid disgust, they begin to sweep off the runic palimpsest on my chest, and don’t they find something.

A kind of grand intoxication rises out of this dim memory, and one sometimes wonders whether everything we experience may not be fragmented pieces torn from some ancient entity that was once put together wrong. I should stop talking about tits and cry a little. The things she has the nerve to tell me. I have no idea what she’s reading.

1) Last spring a beauty mark blossomed on the arch of my instep, see?

2) These funny marks on my belly resemble tea stains, huh?

3) You pirate! Don’t tickle me! You’re messing with my guts!

4) Do you think my laugh has a lot of bass?

5) Do you think Gide used pick-up lines?

.

.

.

Nora!

Hi, how are you?

Think of all the poems about rain that get written after a deluge. Suckers. I think I’m in Rome now. The sun is shining, finally. I’m tired of looking like a rabbit drained of its blood. My skin takes to honey, honey, and it’ll be just in time for Venice. The buildings and the monuments and the memorials and the cobblestones steeped with rain, and now that sun is shining steady and serious. This dustbowl turned sauna: I run my fingers across the stones and feel up the statuary. It’s my kinda place.

You know me to be someone that travels by landmarks, not directions. Start a sentence with Go East On….and my blood pressure drops to laughably 19th-century wimpiness. Anyway, I’ll draw you a map when you get here. I went to visit the Spanish Steps today. Look at all those sunburned tubbies with scoops of gelato! Move over! Keats died right there, dude! Right here. Designed by an Italian, funded by the French, named for the Spaniards, occupied by the British, and currently under the sway of American ambassador-at-large Ronald McDonald, the Scalinata di Spagna certainly exude an international air. I’m perched in front of the pink house to the right of the steps, holding my tongue. He died here in 1821. Tuberculosis. I blew it a kiss because I know that you’d want me to.

Got a lot of reading done during the storm. Conroy’s The Disinherited commits the original sin of all proletarian novels: it’s a tragedy instead of farce. Read Master and Margarita, there’s a cat that walks bipedally. Speaking of bipeds, Simon has got me doing his homework again. We met up in Bordeaux and then took the train back to the ancient vineyards in St. Emilion so I could introduce him to the family I’ve been staying with. He tried to be slick about it. Drink up, sis. I should have suspected something was up when he agreed (too eagerly, now that I think about it) to come with me to look for the last standing pigeon cloister. There was one posted every 50 km, you know, for those teeny messages tied to the teeny passenger pigeon feet. So we went to go see it. It was huge! Simon made some bad jokes. And then we went vineyard hopping, trying not to get run over scurrying from chateau to chateau. We did most of the drinking in the street like proper tramps and seemed to be having fun. Simon can be sweet sometimes.

But he waited until we’d found a nice patch of grass near the Eglise Monolithe. The old seduction scene.

Max. Maxy-he chirps. When he calls for Maxy it means he wants her to show up with something. I think he’d get mad at me for telling you all this. Oh, he means well, the brat. This talk of ethics as the interruption of the epistemological – kind of beautiful, I think. I thought we were having friendly, brother-sister time. Simon uses love to ruin understanding. A relational sublime is part of the set-up. Narratives are all chasms in this way. He wants to prize me from my secrets. I tell him, if we are inclined towards others in the full knowledge of impossible understanding, a monkish existence will not do. A cluster of rocks turning into a bunch of coffin lids, and it was as if they were resting on my eyelids, expending a great effort with all this talk. I wish I had a snake wearing a bow-tie. A visual aid of some kind. That might have worked. You just never know who is holding their guts in the parking lot. This was troubling in all sorts of ways, but I also wanted to keep drinking. I sorta gathered that this was the stuff of the fireside chats we used to dumbwaiter back and forth from the top bunk (me) to the ground floor (Simon) , to be continued, years later from the rooftop of Doe library. But I wanted citations, footnotes – a name. A trading card. A long-ish geometry theorem might have helped.

Because any minute now, I could sense it, an impromptu game of Frisbee golf was in the making, or a choice errand to a bookstore to see about a girl would drive him away and to distraction. Aha! We overheard someone say in passing, I know I brought the BEANO. It has to be here somewhere. Simon’s laughter is a cross between a cockatoo chortle and the noise I make when I get bubbles in my nose. I just smiled, staring at his big laughing head. I took another swig and spread out on the grass. He rested his head on my belly the way I used to let him when we were kids. As you probably guessed, I’m from a time when digestion was pure ether and my entrails are pretty musical and nap-inducing. Simon snores.

That woman is still rummaging through her purse and will do so forever and ever and ever.

I hope you had a very nice birthday. Did you celebrate it with a dozen spirited can-can dancers with little or no knowledge of English? Simon promised.

In fact, next time you talk to Simon, please do me a favor. Please tell him, Max told me to tell you, More When There’s Less. Just like that. All in one go. No commas, no curtsies, no sniffles. In the meantime, as in Victorian letters, I strive to be ever and anon of this run-on as your Maxy.

.

.

.

THE boy-marauder licks his chops at all the little ladies who glance back at him with slow eyes and velvet petals. She did this, he says. He will pack-mule them to the nearest precipice and they will all fall like overpopulated species off the edge. I am drunk and she is a hard mistress. I am in love with myself. Humility is for buggering priests. Lear had it right when he called her an embossed carbuncle. But the Cowboy Junkies are playing in my head; I have two hundred more miles of rain, asphalt, and light. She can make me hate myself so much. Give me back my constitution, you plaguing dowager! Fornicate, if only with your sisters, you Roman! You bandy me about on legs in silly black pants. I want the musculature of horses. Nostrils! I have dark, expressive features. I want a feather for my hat. Simon hiccups. I will reach for you by the window, blacker than darkness, and lay us to rest, wench, clitoral seamstress. You will love me; make me less angry, born of woman.

.

.

.

Nora,

This postcard says Venice but I’m in Barcelona. Sorry for the confusion. You must have a million college units by now. Oh wait, did I read your email correctly? You meant a million college boys – that’s my girl. You should pass the word on to Simon. You would assume this weird power over his masculinity. Serves him right.

I just read a sentence in a book on Pragmatism (really more of a protracted New Yorker article). The sentence concerns Chauncey Wright, the most brilliant conversationalist of the Metaphysical Club that included William James and Charles Pierce. So here’s a sentence describing his particular genius, in no uncertain terms: He once wrote a woman a thousand-word letter explaining why taffy turns white when you pull it.

We’ve got to get our hands on that.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

Pausing for a second on my generally Nietzschean view of history, at least in so far as it concerns Caroline, something came back to me yesterday about my time with her that I wanted to share with you. Yesterday I was sitting in Echo Park (The Lotus Festival) with my old friend and roommate, Jack (did you two meet at Cal? Maybe this was before we met. We used to share a place off Alcatraz. Oh yeah, he left a year before I did, the year before we met) – whose full growth of beard screams Castaway callbacks – when he told me that once I said something to him about my time with Caroline that he had never forgotten. And, he added, that he laughs about several times a year. Intensely curious, What? He said simply, Mr. Softy, hoping that this would jog my memory. It did not, as I said, Nietzschean. Anyway, he proceeds to tell me the story that I once told him, but have since consigned to oblivion. Once, he says I said, I was making love with Caroline, and I suddenly lost my erection. At the very moment of mutual recognition of this fact, the weird music from the Mr. Softy truck came tinkling up the street in front of her house.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

I keep waiting for you to find me…obviously, not the best policy. It is perhaps helpful, if small consolation, to note that I’m someone who has trouble changing his trousers…I’m sorry that things aren’t well, and I’m angry at someone about your trip if it’s truly cancelled. I’ll call you later tonight. Things are fine. Sometimes, when out for a walk, maybe, among muted winter buildings, a gasp! Of indiscriminate longing or loneliness; I’m never sure.

I wonder what would happen if your beauty were to settle finally about your shoulders – something you share with Caliphurnia, slipping naked from the Pacific, and turning amniosis out of her tresses.

(Did you see Penelope at the Oscars? Dios mio.)

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

I just got off the phone with Simon. Poor dude, Someone-in-Charge has informed him that he has to have a psychological evaluation in order to take time off. (I think he wants to go to Argentina. Do you know anything about this?) That is, he has to demonstrate that he needs a break or else he’ll do something nutty. I guess he didn’t get the grant. Can you imagine your own Cuckoo’s Nest audition? So I helped him rehearse, like any proper older sister (again, two minutes apart). I thought maybe he could talk about his fifteen-inch freckle – in detail. (Sort of like the time he convinced the Dean to let him drop Philosophy once they covered Plato. Simon claims he persuaded the Dean to see the pointlessness of anything after that. I’m not sure I believe him, exactly, but he got out of the class without a blemish on his record. I’m sure the poor old guy just wanted to run off to get some tea or to some other terribly collegiate sporting event -anything, just shut this guy up.) How about the time when we were in England and we saw an old woman on a talk-show who had a potato chip collection? One, she said, was a race car. Another, the silhouette of Winston Churchill. Or maybe he could talk about how much he really hates mangos. Or that it bothers him to walk 112 city blocks, especially when the weather permits. Anyway, all that conspiring made me miss him. And I told him so, but you know how shy he gets. It was bedtime for him, so I walked him through the Treaty of Westphalia and the links between the Crimean War and World War Numero Uno for oldtimessake.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

The only hint being sent your silent way is for a bit of amplitude: I’ve never met anyone else who can be totally meek in conversation and daggers-drawn in print, Marxist houseboys perhaps. It’s the strangest alternation: it seems that in conversation or in person you question your own worthiness, and then on paper you castigate me severely for not considering it. What am I supposed to do with such a lovely calendar quotable: I keep thinking that I functioned as some sort of circus distraction while you were home? This is odd from several angles, not the least of which is the fact that I didn’t see you very much while I was home. Circus distraction? Alright, only if I’m the boy on the motorbike in the metal ball.

As for your pool clothing, well, I’ve become rather partial to it, and I’m afraid that my new fashion statement – visualize Weird Science – prohibits me from returning them. Unless that is, you can stop being so damned elliptical – no one should try so hard for secrets – and just tell me next time where you’re going; otherwise, what’s the point of mentioning that you’re leaving? Really, you know, passion doesn’t have to be so imprecise.

Call me when you can.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

Stay away from that boy. He’ll give you an eating disorder. Try seeing things my way: Nick Valensi is the industry catalogue name for the largest wax-wrapped Gouda that is shipped to corporate parties to complement the ice sculpture and bad burgundy. You’ve got me writing to you from my post (whether it’s an official or unofficial one is none of your business, pipsqueak) at the downtown library under a very dangerous pretense. We all know that you like them brainy, a bit diseased around the eyes, a bit turned – like last night’s post-dated milk. However, and this is in italics now, and for your own good: You are under strict orders not to fall for the image of the two of you making your way together – as if together – through the rain: avoiding puddles: avoiding other people. That brisk pace only appears to unite you. Sure, his arm drops from its protective grasp at your shoulder to conduct from other points unseen, from a new, more intimate post at the small of your back. Your cheeks are rosy. You exchange soft, slightly conspiratorial glances. I don’t know about you and these boys. Especially the ones in rock bands. Something to do with Freudian stages of development, I suspect.

I almost hung up on you last night while listening to you work him up. (Forgive the picture of your ankles crossed at their delicate napes, bobby sock ruffles touching, the delicacy of lace and the problem of shared edges. Betrayal by freshly shampooed hair.) How you must have been wondering, stopping only at the sound of the whippoorwills calling to you: When Will He Call? I bet you didn’t notice my long, eloquent silence, probably mistaken for listening. In about the time it takes to snuff out a cigarette, I knew it was done, I knew you were gone. Recall the night of the Leonids in Tilden Park. I was dying to hold you.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

Besides that incident with the train, the only thing I remember about Anna Karenina is Levin staring in the mirror at his own rotting teeth.

I thought today that the modern equivalent of the Sirens would be a drive-thru girl of such mellifluous and honeyed tone that customers would mew into the microphone not one order of biggie chili cheese-fries, biggie double-bacon cheeseburger, and biggie cheese cola and onion rings – but four orders or seven orders, simply to hear her repeat the order as though she were intoning the crystalline spheres themselves with her sweetness.

And then she says it, endlessly it seems to roll over the surface of the ocean: Six Breakfast Jacks, Two Fajita Pitas, and a Chocolate Milkshake with Extra Syrup.

Oh poor and unsuspecting crew! Little known parishioners of doom: the precarious shoals of quadruple bypass loom with every bite…the same cars circle endlessly into the drive-thru to hear her repeat their orders…caught in the silent pool of her Cressandwich.

Segues are inelegant these days, but I’ll give you a secret to open for our children when the time comes: shitting should always be done in cramped spaces, acknowledged most obviously by that awful, pained expression on the faces of dogs when they are forced to squat in a suburban ass draft. I spent last night in a strange bed – alone. All of Max’s friends have sun-blanched down upon their arms, and I have a wolf’s maw in my mouth. Funny, my thoughts turned on dimpled mandarins, the moral scaling wall before desire, and the pre

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

It was an accident compounded by a time constraint yesterday…let’s not gets personal, unless of course, it’s to unload sweetness. With all this technology someone’s bound to get hurt eventually; you have to understand that sometimes people make mistakes. Since the e-floor is mine, I might as well counter by saying that you’re the one that attaches her messages, causing innumerable problems…but you’re pretty swell anyway.

My parents were in town this weekend, so it was a lot of perambulating and food-festing. Also of note, the tour boat trip around Manhattan Island – truly a marvelous jaunt. I sat in the back on the exposed top deck. Only an ass would have stayed out there when it started snowing, but who ever said I didn’t know myself? Afterwards I decided that there was something terribly sad about the image of myself, going around the island while this unfunny monologist gives you a whole history of the sordid residences of the famous living and dead who live and lived waterside. I’m a ham in need of rye and mustard.

In other news, I have forty papers to grade on various high notes in American fiction. I had a real doozy yesterday: Gene Reynolds writes about sports in Lolita and Portnoy’s Complaint. Tennis is the Key to Lolita. Maybe I’ll send you a copy. Better yet, I’m going to give you half, put you to work.

I’d call you back but I’m afraid of that heavy that answers the phone when I call.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

I’m afraid I’m going to be tight-lipped, I just finished that presentation, and it was positively awful. While I was speaking, the professor was flipping idly through his copy of Notes, and afterwards the students just all stared at me blankly – it wasn’t that blank look in praise of sublimity either. Wow, perhaps I need a frozen yogurt with gummi bears and butterfinger bits and chocolate cookie dough, too. Throwing a full loaded waffle cone off the Pasadena Bridge sounds like a great hell freezes over gesture, but you wanted to go to Art Center instead of matriculating with me over here in the Big Apple. Next time – if there is a next time – you can reach me by cell at the exact moment your unadulterated sacrifice passes away from your line of sight and about to hit the ground. I bet it made a satisfying splat sound. One day hope to do the same myself.

I’ve loved your last few emails. It’s good to have your batting eyelashes and twinkle-toes back in my everydays once again. My parents are coming here on Friday – that should be funny. Where should I take’m? Max is probably in on this. Maybe I’ll just give them my wallet-sized guide to the subway system. Have fun, kids. It serves them right for visiting me during finals.

I have to grade finals today and I don’t feel well. Now, all of a sudden. But it’s really funny when students don’t know how to make larger thematic links, so instead they just give the most incredibly specific and random details about the novels…that makes me happy.

I currently entertain this wonderful image of you as this incredibly fit triathlete, frozen treat notwithstanding. No, it adds something. It’s your Grecian urn. Keep it up. I’ll get fat for the both of us.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

Yesterday I had dinner with James, a man who’s redefined the term Letting-Himself-Go-to-Pot. He has retired at 26 and spends his days with TiVo television recorded the night before. His body looks like an abandoned shipping yard. I’ll call you soon; I have this really funny problem with my phone: the digit six doesn’t work, and this rules out most people I know.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

Hi, how are you? Hope this letter reaches you in time to rescue you from settling into yet another nutrition label over your morning Wheaties. Who can tell with institutions of faith? And yeah, I’d make better use of the internet café, but for some boring and obvious reason or another, the proprietor refuses to let me drink some of Prague’s finest while at the computer. So I purchased ten filthy postcards and brought them back to my room; let’s hope they do me some good. I just hope you get them all. Once I get to them. I think I owe you a proper letter first.

I’m renting a room that shares a wall with a comic book store. In case the postcards don’t give a robust enough image of what I’m up against here: there are thousands of comics with large-breasted, sword-bearing women; Mephistophelian tank commanders; green-haired dwarves with battle axes; and they’re all banging each other (and I mean banging each other) with what I assume is the Czech equivalent to POW! Comic book guys are cuter here, in case you’re wondering. Must be the Velvet Revolution Glow. Of course, the building is a hundred years old, with casement windows and paint weathered to a fine patina. Charm is a corruption here, it’s so ever-present.

So many rats! Feral dog packs at night; cloudbursts without an umbrella; the Marionette Theater stages a hilarious version of Don Giovanni, and I’ve seen it twice (but you have to sneak in your own beer); getting charged for “couvert” (that’s the sauce they put on the chicken) on a lunch bill and wondering if you’re supposed to split that cost too when on a date; THE WRONG TRAM; a narrow sense of personal space, even for me; frighteningly bushy mustaches; amazingly bushy mustaches; toothlessness; cemeteries; TJ&MC’s The Hardest Walk played over a PA in the dining room of my hostel; accidentally getting locked in the Kafka Museum; St. George’s Basilica and dreams of making gold; getting asked directions in Czech. Czech.

Omnipresent pork products (sometimes there’s only beer and pork knuckles, which makes for funny date nights); Where-Did-I-Put-My-Passport; people flinging excrement into the Vlatva; men in fatigues with VERY large machine guns; eurotechnomuzik; prostitutes that give directions; absinthe with wormwood and a Perrier, no sugar; herds of bachelorettes wobbling about the Old Town Square (Staroměstské nám) and under the supervision of the chiming astronomical clock with its built-in congregants. What to make of all these Cinderellas? The Frankenstein lighting to the place doesn’t help matters; ah! The Sex Museum.

Beer, beer, beer, oh yeasty, delicious beer. But it wasn’t always this good. Someone yelled at me because I tried returning a large bottle of beer (it was about the size of a 40. Bigger. I mean, it would have taken real commitment to get through the thing as it is), thinking it had seen better days – there was all this shit collected at the bottom – like a recently thriving Sea Monkey commune had been struck with Sea Monkey plague and it was all over just like that. But no, it was yeast. Just yeast. Oops. How was I supposed to know? I guess I should have known. But all the same, fucking delicious. I wish you could have had one with me. I was buzzed and full for the rest of the day. Oh well, yeah, I did have three more.

Cobblestones in five colors; he’s got pale skin, black hair, blue eyes; small dresses; the Vlatva at sunrise; the Vlatva from Karlův most at midnight; gargoyle drain spouts; the Communism Museum; old people walking arm in arm with young people: they’re almost never unaccompanied, which gives each long lost introverted destiny a nice parting-glance twist. I learned how to savor caviar in between sips of vodka (deserted banquet halls with elephantine fireplaces and oversized armchairs that can fit two-at-a-time are pretty key to this lesson. And there’s no music playing.)

Englizh Spoken Heer; Italian spoken almost everywhere, to my surprise, but thank-fucking-goodness; Roman archways; Slavic accents; the infrequent vegetable; marionettes slung up like drained rabbits; trying not to become a smoker; frescoes; national holidays celebrating martyrs and their ethical know-how; pick-pockets panpipe players (same thing, I think); museum exhibits of torture instruments; Russian peacoats; becoming a smoker; spires, porticoes, turrets, ramparts, cupolas, archways, narrow streets (equally narrow choices!), wrought iron fences, red-tiled rooftops; verdigris, lime-green, slate, ochre, moss, orange; children and little shoes; quitting smoking; not quitting smoking.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

Not only did I catch a glimpse of the bleeding belly man (nicely put, N), but he quite made my day. Sneaking into the Trevi Fountain at night for a little gelato money (or quite a lot as the case may be), something any of us can readily understand. Don’t let mothers get you down. They have to be too much like Richard Rorty. My days at work are beginning to assume that colorless character that makes me want to do something to break up the monotony, any ideas? The nights have been dirty-hot, but somehow humorous for that reason. Did I mention that you should come visit me? Please send me more adventures.

PS: Guess who saw Belle and Sebastian play last night? ta-da, c’est moi. Although they didn’t play that excruciating gem The State that I am in.

I will ravish you on the way to ice cream.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

I’m still in Prague, feeling a little restless. There are day trips away from the city scheduled for this week. Tomorrow, Terezín (Theresienstadt). In 1941, when Terezín became a concentration camp, Nazi propaganda films touted the area as a resort where Jews could live a normal life. Over 30,000 died here while another 85,000 were transported to death camps farther east. Fine sleeping quarters, bathrooms, and even a park were built in order to receive delegates from the Red Cross though Jews were not allowed to use these facilities. I’ll see the Ghetto Museum, the Small Fortress (my spelling fails me) – which was used as a Gestapo prison. I’m not sure where I placed my head scarf. Families live in former barracks, and supermarkets occupy former Nazi offices.

The day after that, I’ll head further east to the former mining town of Kutná Hora (Mining Mountain), where the bone church is. The interior of the church is decorated with the bones of over 40,000 plague victims. There’s a student discount. I might not go to any of these places. Did you ever see that horror film Ghost Story? Fred Astaire stars, but as a faded, watery-eyed one. It’s really sad to watch. I wish you were here to answer in person. I really hate those barking doggies on Simon’s answering machine.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

Funny how indifferent the present seems to its own inheritance: today I bowled with the after-rain odor of gunpowder upon the fingers of my left hand; and that son of a bitch two lanes over waving light beers like they’re some kind of Wyatt Earp pilot’s license, has no idea whose lights are punched out in the park. The present doesn’t kiss-and-tell; but I wonder, no less, how it is no sylphs fly around his ear and whisper how dangerous an unassuming body can be. You know me to be a man that sniffles: in dry weather sniffles are always a tell-tale sign of condescension, the short disdaining uptake of breath that disregards all the patent dangers that harrow the cafeteria lines. I’m looking right through the man, Norman Mailer bowling a few lanes over, but I resent the ineffectuality of all this time. What am I doing? Am I really gumming up those unceasing conveyor belts, all those rows upon endless rows? Maybe I should tone it down a bit. Fuck. I want that man to know in places where his heart is cobwebbed and his perineum dusty that I have held cold steel against my cheek and it could not stop perspiring.

Ah! Baby. History is as coy as the hemline of your skirt on our first date. If only you could have seen the flames. It wasn’t the suddenness of the explosion or the muted shattering of glass that made us stop so insanely against the onrush of sirens, but the whole parking lot’s subtle registry of that flame; its licking assignation in objects, the blinking in the chrome of a fender, catching like the teeth of a voice in a mosaic of shattered glass; all so that for a moment, I think, the whole world will report that each object caught a bit of that hot, reflected love to aim it back to you.

Simon

.

.

.

Nora,

Flight booked. Departing from Heathrow at 6 am. Now I have to get to London. But that shouldn’t be a problem. So I’ve got three days left in Dublin. Actually, I’m kind of excited to be getting back, though I find it difficult to say why. Maybe I’m happy? Rad. I can’t say when it clicked exactly, that I should start Heading Back. At first, I wanted to blame some phantom internal clock set to semester (permanently, probably), and telling me to start wrapping it up and start reviewing. And maybe it was only that. Well, also a sense of pressing my luck, despite knowing full well that pressing my luck under these circumstances doesn’t mean very much. I can survive flunking one semester. Maybe not. I don’t know.

No longer on strike: sometime around last week I caught myself saying mental goodbyes to everything, everyone. Smiling at complete strangers in the street – not a big toothy one, or anything like that. But the kind you risk getting out of bed for. It bestowed upon me a sort of maudlin confidence that seemed to quiet down my normal if not altogether charming tendency toward feverish overexcitement. For a day or two I lost sensation of depth perception or something. Forms and colors everywhere changed like the flames of a lamp. Things turned around. Time to go.

I suppose I took the steam out of my summer by taking this trip during the spring semester. I don’t mind kicking around Doe, making up work; it’ll be cool down there in the stacks. I slept with seven guys on this trip. One American. There was no way I was going to marry Rodrigo. As soon as I get home you’ll have to come up for the weekend. Or stay a week! We can visit my friend Felix at the Farmer’s Market in SF. His arms smell of peaches.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

Yeah, if I can get a flight no later than Friday out of Heathrow then I can make it back to Berkeley in time to study for finals. I’ve got three to study for: Poetry (American Modern), Astronomy, and an Art History course on topics in France, 1848-1871 (course materials and syllabi are waiting for me on my desk, just as I left them at the end of the first week of the semester). I took care of the Independent Study course longhand over the long-ish train rides somewhere in between Amsterdam, Berlin, and Venice. Scenery nauseates me. I wonder if my instructor keeps up with Baudelaire. And I hope I kept the stylistic tics down to a minimum. It was a strange couple of weeks. I suppose I’ll have some explaining to do.

I bought you some postcards I found at the Natural History Museum in Dublin. They’re all the same. I only liked the enormous Irish deer skeleton series. I could get my hands on only so many before the little children behind me in line started to fidget and round out their eyes in terror. Probably because I get to touch things. I was going to take them all until one of them made a gesture that read Get the Nun. Fuck. Those beseeching little eyes will follow me from here on out. I’m going to leave the childbearing to you, N. I can’t take the heartache.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

I hate it when I dream about Simon. It was kind of a memory now that I think about it. I mean, just a memory, not an origin. As kids, Simon and I had to split the newspaper to keep from killing each other. I always went for the obits first, Simon, current events; he’s more of a front-page guy. He still thinks in headlines. I’m not sure if I can remember the dream exactly, but I think it was about the morning I learned of Roald Dahl’s passing. I think I was eleven or twelve or whatever age I was in 1990. It happened over the Thanksgiving holiday. Sylvia Plath is in the kitchen rubbing down the stove and rattling the pots, probably pissed at Humbert Humbert for taking too long to get back from the store. As usual, I was overcome by the feeling that I was up way too early, especially on a day that I didn’t have school. Sure, I can only speak for myself. Simon was already at the Y doing laps and showing off to the girls. He’d already been at the paper, as it was all spread around in the usual way on the floor on the usual spot.

I cleared away his detritus (empty bowl, juice glass, banana peel, crumpled napkin) and made room for mine – namely, my pajamas (I always dressed for the day while reading the paper. This ritual stopped when I turned 14.) We both liked to read the paper like I said, on the floor, sometimes together at the same time. Engrossed, in between incomplete and completely dressed, you’d find me crouched and folded into a bite-sized Transformer version of self (a sort of fetal position origami journalese), while the Decepticon liked to read on his belly. But that didn’t happen very often, an alignment like this. But sometimes it did. If the light from the large French door sucked, there’s a desk lamp up for grabs in the hall closet you can plug in nearby. By the time we’re done with the paper, the place looks like a small common area for the local household hamster to do his business.

Like I said, Simon, the early riser, Mr. Jackknife, is first, and he’s usually hungry by the time he gets around to reading the comics. He takes his oatmeal on the floor. Mother used to protest, but she finally backed off when Simon casually mentioned he’d just make his own oatmeal from now on and would not require her services any longer, thank you. By the time Simon is done eating, I will get my first summons to get up.

Round one. Around 9 am mom will try in the form of swift, rapid bullet succession of taps from the other side of the door. It works, of course it does. But it still comes too early for some reason. Twenty minutes later, Simon is trying to peel open one of my eyelids and threatening to draw tits on my paper dolls. Ok, I’m up. I’m up. And then he goes to the Y on his bike. It takes almost half an hour to actually leave my room and I hold onto the piss for as long as I can. I draw the curtains. I do five jumping jacks. I grimace at the goings-on in the birdbath. I check my desk to see what I had going on last night. I check under the bed for unfinished business. I gather the clothing I’m going to wear that day. Every morning the same thing.

I don’t know why exactly Dahl’s obit sticks out like a thing. If someone asked me what happened in 1990, all I would say is Roald Dahl died, even though I know perfectly well all sort of other things did too. Maybe it wasn’t even 1990. But that’s how I do the math: I know it was three years before I started high school and it was just after my first kiss. And it was the weekend after my first Lucy’s Fur Coat show. I don’t know why it’s a big deal. Maybe Simon’s balls dropped the same week. You never know with twins.

I recall the hot, over bright patch of morning sunshine I was cornered in as I scanned the obit for essential information: but he survived, right? Why did I think survive? I mean, I know you can’t, when there’s no life left. That’s it. Wait. Survived his death. He made it. Where does it say he made it? I’d already read Boy and Going Solo. I know all of this already. It was like learning how to read all over again. I got pissed at the paper. And then I started to cry at the paper. But then I had to stop crying to manage getting around the whole article with my scissors without ruining the whole thing. It’s now glued to the inside flap of my copy of Revolting Rhymes.

And that’s what I woke up to thinking about this morning. I don’t know how long I was in bed thinking about it. Anyway, I’m going to mail these off now before I forget. It’s worth the trip to the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the nerve center of the 1916 Easter Rising. Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of Irish Independence from its steps. Outside, a number of bullet nicks are still visible. They look real enough.

I’ll be home soon. I can’t wait to see you.

Max

.

.

.

Nora,

The folks are still here, and it’s kind of funny because I think they’d rather hang out without me: they keep saying, We-know-you-have-a-lot-to-do-so-don’t-worry-about-us, but excessively, you know? In other news, I have to go downtown now to respond to a jury summons; they told me that I would go to jail if I didn’t respond this time, so I figure it’s time. My lily-white ass can’t be doing any jail time. Valentine’s Day? I don’t know, I’ve got class all day, and I think this holiday has always been a bit too status-quo for my own curmudgeonly self. Best to hit up Max on this one. She dutifully sends me a pint-sized Valentine note every year – you can barely fit the two addresses on the envelope. And every year it gets delivered in a plastic bag because the Post Master deigned it precious enough not to lose. One of these days it’s going to show up on a silk pillow. Come that day and I won’t answer the door.

By the way, I’m taking intermediate Spanish and am looking forward to parlez-vousing with you sometime in the future. I’m hoping to study in Buenos Aires next year if I can swing some sort of sugar source. Recently saw the film Happy Together, and I just can’t shake it…not the sodomy so much as the scenery, as it happens. Tell me more about what you’re doing next year.

I just heard a great program on NPR about these men in Los Angeles whose job it is to clean out the homes of the deceased. Incredible, dingy work. I was kind of envious of the job: the things they find, frozen in time.

I finally heard from Max in the form of a long distance call from Lisbon at 3:35 am (my time). From the static dust bunnies scattering the connection, you’d think much dropping of small coins was part of the picture, but maybe I’m just playing into Max’s style. She could be calling from the next room for chrissake.

All that I’m about to get to and get on with already. I guess I’ll never forget it. This is going to stay with me, this stupid exchange; and it’s going to show up at a fair cropping of inopportune moments, at moments which will then only lead to convulsions, lost erections, hiccups, break-ups, door slams, some tears. I’m just clearing this up for myself now while I have your attention.

Max’s voice comes through the receiver as tentatively as a stuntman’s first gulp or piping up at first glance at the thing he has to pole vault or brave fire for. At least Simon’s version of an honest stuntman. But he lets her hang herself a little longer before he responds. In turn, she knows that is exactly what he’s doing. There are preliminaries to get through: Mom is mad at you; Why haven’t you called; Do you have a cold; What are you doing up so late; I was just going to leave you a little message, a teeny little paragraph. She was in a good mood. And then the line cut out and then reanimated; and then she came in, her voice, and its heavy reverb cast an uncertainty over what begins and where it ends up; her voice trailed by an invisible barnacled steamer trunk and all of its contents; the compartments pressurized for the bends; recall the time she sat on her hands the entire drive from Santa Cruz to Berkeley; the sunset from Indian Rock and she handed him everything in her pockets; how she convinced Ferlinghetti to go out for Szechuan one night and invited me to come along. Sometimes I think she’s dead somewhere and I’m not going to find out until I do. Simon, are you sitting in that yellow kitchen of yours? Second seat from the window? What are you reading? Pick up where you left off. And he obeyed: I love the clouds…the clouds passing…over there…over there…the marvelous clouds! Oh, that’s a good one. Aw Simon, put the book down and come to Lisbon. I want you to meet the boy I’m going to marry. Once I learn Portuguese. He has large baby seal eyes and his mother sings fado in Alfama, the only neighborhood to survive the 1755 earthquake. That was a big one, remember? There’s so much dog shit here, way more than Paris, but it’s ok. This place is old and sad and I’ve made some friends. Rodrigo used to belong to some sexy fringe skinhead outfit when he went through this confused stage. But now he just follows me because he loves the sound my kitten-heels make on the white stone streets.

That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.

Simon

.

.

.

.

.

.

<>