American Inferno (Chapter 1)

16 May

Nearing the age of 30, I got lost in a subway tunnel, standing on the tracks themselves, unable to figure out how I got there.

It scares the hell out of me to remember because it was dirtier and darker than any subway station in New York. It had been abandoned and I was the only living creature there, besides the giant screeching rats. I’d rather be dead than go back there, but the saying must be true that there are blessings in disguise, for eventually I learned from everything terrible I saw and found myself a better man for it.

I hadn’t had a drink in years, but I must have started again somehow and then blacked out to get there. Or maybe it was a punishment for drinking again, and falling off the path of sobriety, even doing drugs. Someone must have slipped a tab of LSD in my sixth coffee of the day.

I walked down the tracks, jumping with fear whenever a rat crossed my path and eventually found that the tunnel expanded into a great space with a hill at the end. A hill illuminated with a green glow-in-the-dark radiation. I knew it was where I wanted to be even though I couldn’t make it there, not yet, but it gave me hope that if I kept on my path, I would find a way out of the darkness, both physical and spiritual. Though afraid, I was no longer terrified.

Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by the immensity of a long drop, looking down from the Empire State building, or the World Trade Center before it was taken down. I was afraid and exhilarated knowing that one wrong move would send me hurtling down, how fragile life was, and how beautiful and powerful the world which led us to death, just like this place of the dead which was starting to become more clear as I walked forward.

After the adrenaline ceased and my heart slowed, aided by breathing I’d learned in a yoga class, I kept walking, as fast as I could up the hill, but a wildcat got in my way. Suddenly I found myself wondering if it had escaped from the New York City Zoo and I reached in my pocket for my cellphone which wasn’t there. And even if it had been, there would have been no bars, no wifi, no Long Term Evolution. I couldn’t tell if it was a jaguar or a leopard. I tried to continue on the path, but the wildcat jumped and blocked me, keeping me away from the radiant hill. What seemed to be artificial lights started to illuminate the passage as if I were in a simulation of dawn. Since I was afraid of the dark, I took this to be a good sign and rejoiced at this otherwise harmless creature, but when a Lion jumped in front of me, growling and slobbering at the mouth, this feeling of warmth and safety left me. And then suddenly there was a wolf, which looked even hungrier as I could see its bones swelling out from its tattered coat, a giant canine rat with rabies. I was reminded of the wolves in fairy tales, hiding themselves, and eating whatever they could with their insatiable appetites. I was reminded of myself and every other greedy man and woman in the city. It made me feel worthless, that I’d never become a good man with such a tarnished soul. The wolf continued to lead me away from the lighted hill and chased after me until I was able to open and close a door in the wall. An old janitor’s closet, perchance, but I found myself back in darkness.

     Then I felt I was no longer alone in this closet which had now expanded into an immense room, but it was not a room anymore. I knew I was no longer in the New York subway, not even on a long abandoned track.  I made out a figure which I knew was human or who at very least used to be human.

     “Whoever you are, please help me,” I said.

     “I’m nobody,” the voice said. “Not anymore. I used to be someone though. Someone named Walt Whitman.”

     “Walt Whitman?” I said. “I’ve read you. My name is Andrew Adams. It’s strange, we have the same birthday.”

     “I know, that’s partly why I was chosen to lead you through here.”

     “Lead you through where?”

     “Why, The American Inferno, of course.”

     “What?”

     “Yes, The American Inferno, one poet leading another through hell.”

     “I’m not a poet.” I said.

     “You aren’t?” Walt Whitman asked.

     “No, I’m mostly a writer of prose, novels and short stories mostly, but also screenplays and plays.”

     “Oh, that’s strange. I thought that I was your greatest influence and that you think of me often, that I am your muse even.”

     “Sorry, Walt,” I said. “I guess it’s just the birthday. I read a few of your poems in high school though, and you’re not bad,” and then added, “you’re really good, even!”

     “Thanks, Andrew,” he said, “Well, we are both Geminis and I guess that has to mean something.”

     “Yeah, of course,” I said, but don’t think I was very convincing.

     Walt Whitman sighed.

     “So, how do I get out of here?”

     “You have to come with me, your –, a poet to lead the writer, you have to go to hell to come back to heaven.”

     “Am I dead?”

     “Not quite,” he said. And I knew he would have had more to say, excited just as Geminis are excitable, if he had thought I was his greatest fan and posthumous protege. He settled for, “We have to get away from those beasts because they signify all the bad things in the human heart and the more you feed them the stronger they get. The only way out of here is through The American Inferno.” He sighed again. “I’ll guide you through.”

     “You mean, just as the long way out?”

     “No,” he said, “I’ve been instructed to show you everyone here in the American Inferno, so that you can learn from their mistakes, see the way they suffer, and then become a better artist and person.”

     “Okay, thanks Walt.”

     “Don’t mention it. It’s my job to do this sort of thing. I could never really get into heaven because of some things you have probably read about.”

     “I haven’t. What did you do?”

     “Forget it.” he said, “Follow me.”

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Coffin Nails

22 Mar

Detective Kenneth C. is the hero of this story. Detective Kenneth C. worked in homicide and was investigating the murder of a great many persons. It started out as a simple investigation of one man being murdered, strangled to death, an unopened pack of Marlboro cigarettes left at the crime scene, but then a week later another man was found, strangled, with an unopened pack of Marlboro cigarettes at his side. Since Detective Kenneth C. was no idiot, he deemed the two crimes connected and then when a third crime appeared with the same strangling and Marlboro cigarette trademark Detective Kenneth C. knew it was the case of a serial killer. As stated, Detective Kenneth C. was no idiot, but he wasn’t very good at catching the killer, for seventeen more people were killed and marked in the exact same way, until one day when Detective Kenneth C. became the eighteenth.

    Detective Matthew T., who is now the hero of this story, investigated Detective Kenneth C’s body and found the same strangulation marks on his neck along with the unopened pack of Marlboro cigarettes and so concluded that it was the same killer that our dead hero Detective Kenneth C. had been investigating. Now, Detective Matthew T. had been a close acquaintance of Detective Kenneth C. and was saddened by his sudden murder, but he never told anyone this because he wanted to appear the strong manly type that people had grown to accept him as. Detective Matthew T. may have been smarter than Detective Kenneth C. because he requested a list of all cigarette carriers in the town and interviewed all of them, even going so far as to request they disclose the identities of all their customers, but alas; one morning Detective Matthew T. never woke up.

    Detective Jonathan R., who is heretofore the hero of this story, arrived on the scene that afternoon after Detective Matthew T.’s landlord called in, stating that Detective Matthew T. had refused to answer the door when the maid arrived with his breakfast. Detective Jonathan R. surveyed the scene for about a split second before knowing without a doubt that it was the same serial killer they had been looking for all along. He asked the landlord a few questions and called a forensics team, something which Detectives Kenneth C. and Matthew T. had neglected to do, to try and get a DNA sample the killer may have accidentally left on the late Detective, his bed, or even the pack of cigarettes. Detective Jonathan R. went to bed that night, satisfied with his work for the day, excited for what the results would tell him the next day.

    Detective Philip A. examined Jonathan R.’s body and was baffled by the fact that neither Detectives Matthew T. nor Jonathan R. had requested night watch protection given the nature of Detective Kenneth C.’s murder by the same serial killer they had all been investigating. Detective Philip A. was smart and he was also paranoid, paranoid because he was smart, so that night he hired two police guards to watch over him, but the police guards wouldn’t stop smoking cigarettes which bothered the Detective and kept him awake. The guards said the cigarettes were the only thing that could help them stay awake. He told them to go outside when they wanted to smoke cigarettes. When they got back from their first cigarette, an unopened pack of Marlboros lay by Detective Philip A.’s body.

    Detective Christopher L. took over the case that day and he planned not to sleep until the case was closed. It worked and he was not killed while awake, but by the seventh day Detective Christopher L. was hallucinating and delirious. He was locked up in a mental institution where, to cries of protest, the doctors gave him a sedative. The nurse screamed when she found the body.

    Detective Felix D. was not the brightest nor the best detective. He was one of the worst even. He didn’t have much experience nor any common sense, but he hired the night guards to watch over him and the cigarette smoke did not bother him. For two weeks he made no progress, but he was alive which was the important part. He went to the beach one day and closed his eyes, not trying to sleep, but he did anyway.

    It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that there is no hero of this story as they are all being killed off one by one. Does that mean, in fact, that the killer is the hero?

    Rafael B. was the killer. He liked killing and he liked messing with the mind of the police. Rafael B. was a waiter at various restaurants. He jumped from place to place as not to be noticed. He was smarter than his would be captors. Rafael did not have a family of his own, but he did have a mother and father who lived in another town. Rafael could have been anything he wanted to be, as he had a very high IQ, but he chose to be a killer. But even killers need to sleep.

    Detective Thomas S. found the body of Rafael B., the murdered killer, and found his manifesto, a confession of all those he had killed up to Detective Felix D. It did not make any sense, however, because Rafael B. had been killed the way that he had purportedly killed the others and there was even an unopened box of Marlboro cigarettes next to him. A copy-cat killer had killed the original killer; he had seen nothing like it, and he never would again.

    Detective Randall W. found Thomas S.’s body and when he read through the long list of murders he screamed and took the first train out of town, our true hero of this story, for one must learn to be a coward to be a hero.

A Disguised Review of Al Pacino and David Mamet’s Unfortunate “China Doll”

3 Aug

The Scaloppini Method

Rich Scaloppini was one of my favorite actors. He was one of everyone’s favorite actors. He was a legend, right up there with William Tesoro. They were even in the same movies. In one, Rich played the new mob boss and William played the old, dead one, but when he was young. People always debated who was the best American actor, Rich Scaloppini or William Tesoro, but it was a stupid debate.

     A few weeks after moving to New York I found out that Rich Scaloppini was going to be in a play, Pretty Girl, written by Arthur Lamont, a famed playwright of the time who also had an acting school where Rich had studied. The play was to be the star student reunited with his teacher, and it was supposed to be great, but Rich was old. It was okay that he was old though, because he was still Scaloppini. He had the same name, the spent but same voice, and he had the talent, one would think. In fact, it didn’t matter. I didn’t care if he was bad or not; he was Rich Scaloppini. The seats were 150 dollars, minimum, but I had to see Rich. He was my hero and this may have been the last chance I would get to see him. I got side orchestra seats, 160 dollars, a steep price, but not as steep as the 350 dollar premium seats in the middle.

     It looked like everyone wanted a piece of Scaloppini as well. The line went from the theater all the way to ten theaters down where they were playing a show none of us gave a shit about. We waited and the line did move fairly fast, or much faster than the lines we’d been used to at airport security and DMVs, and a few people stopped and asked me, since I was fairly tall and alone: “Is this the line for Scaloppini?” or simply, “Scaloppini?”

     “Yes,” I responded and smiled. “I hope so.”

     And they went four or five theaters behind me to get in the back of the line.

     When I got inside the theater an older man scanned my ticket and said, “aisle 4,” which meant I had to walk to the other side of the theater, the left-hand side, but I took a pit stop at the bathroom. When I came back up a nice man looked at my ticket and as he did I said, “F-19.” His eyes or his ears or both made some sort of signal in his brain and he said, “Right this way.”

     He led me very close to the stage and I thought, this looks nice, but then he led me even closer and under the mezzanine and then pulled a curtain aside for me.

     “Right there in between those gentlemen,” he said.

     I was going to be in the second to last seat and when the man in the last seat saw me, I could tell he was annoyed, that he had wanted that extra middle seat for an arm rest. He was big, and I wasn’t small. He got up and I jammed myself into the seat like an AA battery into a spring. I kept my arms inside the armrests since the two people next to me had gotten there first. There was a man next to me with dreadlocks who also wasn’t small, but it was okay; I was going to see Scaloppini.

     We looked at our Playbills. I read the biography of Rich Scaloppini. I knew most of it, but I planned on watching and re-watching some of his films after the play. He had every award imaginable, the two most prestigious being an Academy Award and a Tony Award. Dreadlocks was looking at one page, seemed like he was stuck on it even though there wasn’t much to see. I didn’t care to see what the guy on my left was doing since he wasn’t in the periphery of the stage. It was past 7:00pm, but people kept coming in. I hated these people for being so selfish. I knew I had been late to events in the past, but there was no excuse to be late to this play. Yet they still kept coming: fat, old, lazy, a waste of our time and a waste of space and life. The worst part is they had really good seats. Of course they felt entitled. They had paid a lot of money to the theater, had possibly even donated a tax deductible three thousand dollar gift to the theater, so they could take their sweet fat ass time to get to their seat, with their high class escorts who didn’t even know they were HIV positive yet since the disease hid for years until its final peak-a-boo! Money was everything, and, second to gravity, it made the world go ‘round, but I didn’t give a shit. These people had to sit the fuck down so I could see Scaloppini.

     Finally, there was an announcement: “Ladies and gentleman, the show is about to begin.”

     I rejoiced, but then I saw that people were still hobbling around to their seats like they had just been bashed in the head by a baseball bat. And yet, suddenly the curtain went up, and there he was, twenty feet away from me, Rich Scaloppini.

     One guy said, “Wow,” and I agreed so wasn’t too bothered by it, but behind me I heard some desperate attention seeker yell, “Rich!”

     In that moment, I knew I could murder someone.

     After my possible first victim of strangulation had chanted the evidence of his worthlessness, everyone started clapping so I did, but I felt strange doing so. We were all clapping because it was Rich Scaloppini, but at the same time it felt like it was over the top for us to clap just because he was Rich Scaloppini.

     Rich began talking to his male assistant.

     “That new Lambo I bought, straight from Italy. You know, funny thing, I’ve never been there,” and he looked at the audience, “but I’ve always felt like I belonged there somehow.”

     We all laughed because we were charmed.

     “All those gangsters killing everyone. It never seemed right.”

     We laughed again.

     It was pretty nice when Rich was talking to his assistant, who was the only other person in the play, but it was not so nice when Rich got on the phone.

     “Yes, Douglas, tell me, where is my Lamborghini? It’s in Canada? Okay, roll it right over. What? They changed the license plate to an American one? Why, that’s. Oh, they thought they were doing me a favor, well, isn’t that just sweet. Well, I know it’s, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, the thought that counts, but that’s pretty stupid. Exactly. Exactly. That’s right. The tax. Any idea what it comes out to? You’re shitting me. That’s almost the price of the car. Fuck. No. No. No. No. No. That’s okay. That’s alright. Just, uh, uh, uh. I’ll call you later.”

     The call was over and it was sort of enjoyable, but I was looking forward to him interacting with the other actor on stage. He did for a moment, and then went into another phone call.

     “Yes, John. Do you know where Toni is? What? You haven’t heard from her. What? A hotel room? Checked out? In Rio? What’s she doing in Brazil? Okay. I’ll give her a call.”

     And immediately he told his assistant to link him up with Toni. After talking to her and finding out she was stranded in Brazil because she had been searched for drugs, because of who she was, who she was going out with, Rich had a moment, talking to the assistant.

     “You see, I’m, uh, uh, I’m old, I’m not sure how much of this I can do.”

     It seemed like he was talking directly to us about himself, about his career. He was moving a little slow and it did seem like he had to add an extra “uh” in there between his lines. I’d read an article a few weeks before that he had to use ear buds to tell him his lines and that he also had teleprompters—I don’t know where because I didn’t see them—but I’d heard he had dementia. Maybe we were watching a man who was on his last legs in the theater and was only still there because of his legendary reputation. I’d heard about some actors being dragged off the stage and I couldn’t bear to see it happen to Rich, but then he would have a great line or some great emotion and I knew he was still Scaloppini. What was really bothering me was not the play, but the audience.

Five minutes into the show some people had been seated in the row behind me. Another audience member said, “This is horrible,” meaning that these people had showed up so late and were allowed to sit, even so late, and I agreed. If it had stopped there it would have been okay, but one of them sneezed and another said, “bless you,” way too loud, and then every three minutes or so they would be whispering to each other. I turned around and held up my finger to my mouth, a strange but effective gesture, but then they talked again so I turned around again. I’ve been told I can be scary and I put on a scary face when I told them to shut the fuck up with my face and finger.

     Dreadlocks was sound asleep next to me and if it had been anyone else on the stage in front of us I wouldn’t have blamed him. I turned around and faced whoever I thought it was, held up my finger and said, in my mind, “I will kill you if you don’t be quiet.” They were quiet for a few minutes after that, but in turning around I had woken up Dreadlocks.

“What?” he said, and then realized where he was. There was a couple in front of me who also kept whispering to each other. They did so in a more quiet way, but I could see them every time they did it. They were in their mid 30s and they were a happy couple and I hated them because from what I could see they didn’t care about the play. The man had bought the ticket to impress the girl, but seeing that she wanted to talk since the play wasn’t all he had imagined it to be, he talked back to her, possibly saying bad things about the play, or translating what Scaloppini was saying for all I knew. I saw other couples whispering to each other and I hated them, and then, worst of all, I heard the coughing.

     Now, I wondered, wasn’t coughing sort of an insult? It was something that happened in high school during a presentation in the auditorium when the speaker wasn’t particularly interesting. When people coughed, it meant they didn’t like the show. But if they didn’t like it, it was rude what they were doing, coughing at poor old Rich like that. I also knew that, besides the disease itself, coughing was contagious; once one person coughed, another person would feel like coughing, “just ‘cause.” I wanted all these sick and dying people carried out of the room on stretchers and in body bags. They didn’t deserve to watch this play. They were wasting my money by attracting my negative attention. No one in the room wanted to actually see the play except me. They had seen the celebrity and now they were bored. They wanted to see if he would suddenly break the fourth wall and come over to them and shake their hands. They wanted to wait until the end of the show and try to meet him backstage or as he left the building before he was picked up in his private car. I had come to see him, but I wanted to really see him, see him act, not just see him to see him, and all these overgrown children around me were in the way.

     Suddenly, Scaloppini had a good scene, with the phone as well. He was yelling and angry, talking to this mysterious Douglas about all the injustices Douglas was guilty of. It was passionate and real, true acting. When he hung up the phone, the curtain went down for intermission and we all clapped.

     The first thing I did was go to the bathroom, emptying the nagging hourglass which was my bladder. After I washed my hands since other people were in the bathroom, I went upstairs and found the kind usher who had led me to my seat. He smiled when he saw me approaching, knowing that I needed his help, which he was genuinely willing to give. Such a sweet man. He asked me with his eyes through his glasses how he could help me.

     “Hi, it’s just that, the people behind me were talking a lot.”

     “Oh, no. Was it just a few times or during the whole performance?”

     “It wasn’t quite the whole performance, but they were doing it a lot. I’m in Row F, so I think that means they were in Row G.”

     “That’s right,” he said, and I was mildly proud that I could navigate a theater and do the alphabet forwards, but backwards.

     “I’ll make sure to keep an eye on them, thanks for letting me know” he said.

     “Thank you.”

     I walked back to my seat and saw Dreadlocks and the man on my left. They both looked happy, even the one on my left who kindly let me by.

     “I just complained about the people behind us,” I said.

     “Oh, I think they left,” said Dreadlocks.

     “Oh, thank God.” I said. “All I know is we get to see Rich Scaloppini on stage. So everyone better stop talking and enjoy it.”

     “I know, right?” the one to my left, Glasses said. “I mean who comes to see Rich Scaloppini, talks the whole time, and then leaves before intermission?”

     I started to complain about the other people who were talking and the other people who were coughing. I even said, “People who are sick shouldn’t be allowed to be here. Or they should just come here and not breathe.”

     Dreadlocks and Glasses laughed.

     We heard a sound, not unlike one of those clocks that sings to you every hour, and we knew the show was about to resume. Some of us shut up while others babbled on their meaninglessness then Scaloppini was back onstage and we were clapping again, for no reason. Someone coughed and after he did, Dreadlocks said, “Aw, there we go,” and he laughed. I faked a laugh and tried to watch Rich, hoping Dreadlock’s indiscretion was a one time thing, but soon enough I noticed that he would talk a lot, make commentaries, repeat the last few lines that Rich had said. It was like he wanted to make it clear to me and anyone else who was forced to listen that he understood the humor and the nuance of the statements Rich was making. But there was nothing I could do. We had already made friends and I couldn’t just tell him now to shut the fuck up, and there was no guarantee that he would either. If I had just complained to him for five minutes about how I hated the background noise of other people, and he still didn’t get it, as if he wasn’t one of those people that I had talked about, as if he was an exception, then there was no hope for any improvement in the situation. The best I could do was wait and hope he would fall asleep again.

     It was hard to follow what was happening on stage, but Rich had received a package. His assistant opened the package for him to reveal a giant model of a Lamborghini. Rich set it on the kitchen counter and admired it.

     “Wasn’t that sweet of them?” he said. “I used to have a thing for Ferraris, but you’ve got to be blind to say no to a car like this!”

     It was another easy joke and we all laughed. Dreadlocks flicked his finger against his thumb and said, “‘Say no to a car like this,’ aw, damn.”

     Rich got on the phone again, though, and I’d be lying if I said I looked forward to it. He was trying to find his fiancée. He found her. He talked to her. He talked to Douglas again. He talked to Canadian customs. He talked to American customs. I drifted in and out of it, hearing the commentary of Dreadlocks, and the incessant coughing of those in the audience. Maybe the play was silly and boring after all, but there was no reason to cough like this. I tried to get a good look at Rich. I could see him when he was closer to his assistant, but I couldn’t see him that well when he went to the other side of the stage. I was supposed to have perfect vision, but he got way too blurry way too close. I had an eye appointment the next day and I wished I had gotten glasses before this play. I also had to pay a doctor’s bill. I wondered how long I could wait until I had to pay it. It was always nice to keep the river of money in the bank as high as you could before a drought hit. I thought about acting, how I had come here to see a great actor, one of the greatest actors, how I hoped to be in his place someday, but then I heard the coughing and choking and the transparent, surreptitious shooting of the shit, and I didn’t want to be him. I didn’t want to pour what was left of my aging, weak heart out to a whole gaggle of spoiled children who didn’t really appreciate what I was doing, who had only come to see me because I was famous, because they wanted my autograph, because they wanted to kidnap me and lock me in a closet or break my legs and keep me in bed all day like another play that was going on at this time. But I also remembered how great Rich was in film and maybe that was where I wanted to be as well. I remembered the classic scene from The Boss where he had lunch with a rival gang member he was supposed to assassinate, but they had frisked him when he went in the restaurant so he had to go into lunch unarmed. I remembered how he had excused himself to go to the bathroom, dug into the very bottom of a dirty trashcan for the semi-automatic pistol and then kicked the door of the bathroom open shooting everyone in the vicinity except the loyal busboy who had planted the weapon for him. And soon enough I realized I was zoning out and that I had missed a lot, but the play was winding down.

     “Did you destroy that floppy disk?” Rich said.

     “No, I didn’t, but what’s on it?” his assistant said.

     “Don’t worry what’s on it, just get it to me.”

     Rich made another phone call for a private car to take him to a boat where he would meet Toni. Then they would go off to Jamaica. The assistant came back.

     “It’s been an honor working with you, Sir.”

     “Of course, of course, kid. You’ll make a great CEO one of these days. I’ll put in a good reference.”

     “I don’t need a reference,” he said, “especially not from you.”

     “What? What are you talking about?”

     The assistant took out the floppy disk. “Is this what you wanted?”

     Rich approached him, “Yeah, yeah. But why didn’t you destroy it? It’s no matter. No one knows how to read floppy disks nowadays anyway. You got a floppy disk reader on your smart phone? It’s fine, just give it to me.”

     “No.”

     “Why not? Did you read the files?”

     “Yes, I did, Sir, and frankly I can’t believe I’ve been working for you all these years. What you’ve done is horrible.”

     “Oh, it’s not soooo bad,” Rich said, delivered perfectly so that we had to laugh. For all we knew it was a floppy disk talking about murder and rape, but it was hard not to love Rich, no matter what his despicable character did.

     “The police should be here soon. I’ve already reported it, but I think it’s best that you turn yourself in.”

     “Aw, come on, kid. Everyone has some dirty laundry if you sniff close enough.”

     Dreadlocks repeated the last few words of the line and whipped his finger again, as if he had just heard the answer to the meaning of life and wanted to seem cool about getting it.

     The assistant finally convinced Rich, saying that it was all over anyway. That if Rich didn’t report himself, the assistant would take the floppy disk to the authorities.

     “Alright, alright, I’ll do it. Make the call.”

     The assistant went to the phone and dialed the number, and as he did Rich snuck behind him, grabbed the model of the Lamborghini and then bashed his assistant in the head, knocking him to the ground, continuing to hit him on the other side of the kitchen counter which we couldn’t see. Then there was a knock at the door.

     “Help!” Rich said, “Help me!” and he took a knife and sliced his own hand. “He tried to kill me! He tried to kill me! Help!”

     The knocking kept going and then the curtain fell. We all clapped. The curtain came back up and then there was the assistant who we clapped for and then Rich, and then Rich and the assistant. Everyone stood up, even though they had hated most of the play, and I stood up as well. We were standing for Rich and we knew it, but the end had been pretty damn good.

     The lights came back on and I mumbled something to Dreadlocks and Glasses, “What an ending,” and then left the theatre. When I went outside I saw a group of people waiting at a door. They were waiting for Rich Scaloppini of course. For a second I thought about waiting, so I could see him, but I had already watched him for two hours. I didn’t want to be one of these paparazzis with no real respect for the man, who were only interested in that still burning flame of what was called fame. I looked at the crowd and the door and walked away, taking the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, anonymous.

Pins and Needles

3 Aug

She had coma toes, the toes that people with comas had. At least that’s the way I heard it from the doctor. He called me in, asked, is this your wife, yes, I said. She has coma toes, he said. Although that’s just what I thought he said. It seemed to make sense at the time, that she was in a coma and so were her toes. I didn’t think to ask why the toes mattered when the brain and heart were the most important thing, the soul, but I wrote it off as a medical way of testing things. If the toes are in a coma, then you bet your bottom two cents that the rest of her will be as well. But I was in shock. The English sort of melted away with the rest of the beeps and bright lights, the smell of chemicals and all the rest of the Chimera. My wife was comatose I finally understood a day later, as if waking from my own coma, which might’ve been fueled by liquor and the like, but it wasn’t. I didn’t touch a drop. I just waited there in that too bright waiting room, waiting to wait to wait some more, and I listened for someone calling my name, my last name, preceded by a demanding—a tired, and at the end of her rope, after her fifteenth cup of coffee and it’s still not working and thinking about the other pills they have in dark locked rooms just yards away which could do a much better job than coffee had stopped doing years before but in the end deciding not to become a junky but slipping in and out of the same coma as the man who had been waiting all night and day and day and night in various uncomfortable positions while trying to get some shut-eye never sure if he was waking or asleep, if this whole darned thing hadn’t just been a nightmare or a practical joke which the ghost of Sigmund Freud himself hadn’t played on him—“Miss Tur,” which would never come in real life and could only come in nightmares, nightmares mixed around with the giant Chimera itself and other monsters and three-headed Cerebrustian dogs and Cyclopeses and Leviathanitical beasts which were real, but had disappeared only to be replaced by these other monsters of confusion and darkness and comas and toes and giant mechanical vehicles which ran into smaller fragiler mechanical vehicles which transported your poor little wife, your poor weak wife, transported her to her doom when the bigger piece of metal crashed into it and went through it all and got to her head somehow and her toes were still there, but they were in a coma, along with the rest of her, the coma toes and the coma brain, heart, and soul. It was too much to process while sitting in that room and the “Miss Tur” never came because it was real life, but the “Miss Tur” did come because it was also a nightmare.

The Only Surviving Collaboration of Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner

28 Nov

But how could a man be considered anything but a genius when one remembers that every bit of him has gone through years and years of perfection to be what he is? That the very act of letting his hand soar through the effervescent ether to reach that golden grainy concoction of deathly nectar involves a trigonometric calculus of physiognomy that the brain would require the assistance of a very gifted engineer to make sure that everything was fluent and accurate like the massive clockmaker which through the help of this powerful machine he created we imagine to be above us. The lamp hung from the heavenly ceiling of his room and bore light down upon him, each stream of light trickling down in celestial projections illuminating his reddish-brown hair, the black pupils, blue steel irises, and eggshell white of his eyes; his pale, creamy face, his coffee and tobacco stained and carelessly and fatefully chipped teeth; the faded blue to gray of his jacket with the wrinkled light blue shirt and baggy brown pineconed corduroys. He sat in the majesty of his room on the flimsy yet faithful chair which had been his for years, ever since his neighbor Curly had transported it, holding it over his shoulder as he carried it, like a young precious child on a piggy back ride, and lifted the liquid which was encased in the melted and crafted and then cooled sand causing it to plummet as it surfed down the sides and straight into his experience hardened esophagus to the rest of his mysterious body to cause a chemical effect in the mind which was the cure and curse for everything he would, could, and did, know. The pain would be extinguished like the fire it was only for the flames to come back hours later only stronger and more hungry, until they were sapped once again of their power for the time being, to return again between literal flames above which lit cigarettes of tobacco and marijuana both. But for the moment when enough of his magic and poisonous nectar and smoke had been successfully introduced into his body to cause his complex neurocortex to quiet, the man would slip into a deep and pleasant slumber, forgetting the world as the world enveloped him in all its glory, waiting for him with doubled flames as soon as he awoke, if he ever did. And so he would awake as soon as the unpleasant but still beautiful music coming from a piece of machinery in his pocket which was made in a faraway exotic continent he had never seen would enter his ears and throttle his consciousness from the icy forces he had used to freeze it like a mosquito in amber.

Raymond Carver’s Lost Story

23 Nov

Joe had a date with a girl. He smoked some dope before he took the girl out. When he got to the restaurant he felt beat.

I feel beat,” he said.

You can always order a coffee,” the girl said. She was a divorced woman with too much make up on. She was in her forties but looked older. She smoked a cigarette even though it was illegal to smoke cigarettes inside. Her dark veins popped out of her arms like night crawlers in soil.

Yeah,” Joe said. He had been divorced twice. He didn’t seem to be able to meet anyone who hadn’t been divorced. It was as if the divorced stuck together, letting the innocent date within their own realm.

Well, are you going to get the coffee?” she asked.

Stay here. I’ll be back in two shakes.”

He went to the bathroom and lit up some more dope. He took a few puffs. He coughed. He finished it and washed his hands. He felt even worse. His date was studying the menu like a college textbook when he got back. Too bad she never went to college.

I’m beat,” he said. “I think I’m going to head.”

She glared at him. His eyes were bloodshot. He smelled. His clothes were wrinkly. He wasn’t even looking at her, but was staring at the corner while his brain went somewhere else.

All right,” she said. “I’ll call you tomorrow?”

Sure,” he said. He lit a cigarette. He got up and left. He walked to his rusty cadillac. He got in and took a swig of whiskey that he’d left on the shotgun seat. He turned on the radio. He didn’t listen to the music. He thought of nothing. He drove home and smoked some dope. He took a nap. He woke up and smoked some dope. He turned on the radio. His home was small. It was a room. He had a kitchen and a bathroom and then a room for everything else. He had a landlord downstairs who he didn’t like. She always asked for money especially when he didn’t have any. He took a swig of some whiskey. He sat in a chair and didn’t think anything for a long time. He had no family, no past, no history. He was a dope.

Ceaselessly Borne Back To the Future

20 Nov

My dearest Daisy,

Scott has written a wonderful book which chronicles our love, but I’m afraid that fiction requires a certain leeway when it comes to the facts. Oh, sure, it could have been that you would accidentally kill a woman and I would cover for you—as I would do anything to protect you. And it could have been that the woman’s husband would seek vengeance on me, shooting me while I was relaxing in my pool. Those things could have happened in a cleaner, more fictitious world, and those things were quite tragic and quite romantic. But in a brave new world such as this one, our story is not so simple.

As soon as you shacked up with that oaf of a man Tom, I knew that I had lost you, so instead of spending my money on those lavish parties depicted in the book I instead paid the best scientific thinkers in the world to construct the machine that I had always hoped for, a machine to help me beat the past, repeat it. After many years of tinkering it was finally ready so I went back in time and found you, Daisy, not long after you had said good-by to James Gatz who was going overseas. James Gatz was I of course, but I was no longer James Gatz. I was Jay Gatsby and you saw the change and yet knew it was the man you loved, maybe even the man you loved and then some more. Instead of separating you from your own time, I decided to repeat it, but this time older and wiser, and richer of course. I had brought enough diamonds along with a few bricks of gold with me in that machine so that we would never have to worry about money. And even so, I also knew most of the outcomes of the big sports games by heart, and knew which stocks to avoid meddling in as in a few years their CEOs would put revolvers in their mouths and pull the trigger. We were happy and comfortable, even had a child together. Life was replete of drama, full of love, and the arguments we had were brief, ended by the knowledge that we’d rather spend our energy on loving each other, not moving apart. And so everything was fine until that Nick Carroway came into our life.

I know he’s your cousin, but as soon as he came I knew that he was trouble. He lived on that other side, the side where I used to live, West Egg, next to the same house where I used to live. He did well in the years before in the other time-space being my sort of spy and confidant, but now that I had you I had no need of him, which made me wonder who was using him now. He seemed fairly shy and taciturn when we had him over for dinner, non-threatening enough, but when I took him outside for a cigar I could tell he was hiding something. He knew who I was, who I really was; who I had been, and where I was really from. I doubted my instincts, however, and let things play out which was stupid of me. When you went to lunch with him that one day, I should have known what you were really up to; it was something I would have planned.

I knew you were cheating on me, at least emotionally, because you acted different. You were hiding something. You averted eye contact. You changed the subject when I asked questions. That was all I needed. I called your cousin up and arranged to meet with him and Meyer Wolfsheim. Meyer was not charming as he was before, but threatening.

“Don’t want me to add your teeth to this bracelet, do ya, kid?”

So Nick told me everything. He told me about his neighbor who went by the name of Jason Gant, but it didn’t fool me; how could I fool myself? Jason Gant had been one of my top ten choices for new names before I’d settled on Jay Gatsby. I told him to plan a meeting, all of us, including that tennis player Nick seemed to have an eye for.

Jason and I shook hands when he arrived, even though we both hated each other, and I offered him a drink. We kept conversation pretty light at first, talking about the superficial visual part of the iceberg, hiding everything dark underneath. Daisy, you were always an expert at this.

“I want to go to a show!” you said, “Oh, can’t we please, Dear?”

“Of course,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“I want to go with Jason,” you said, “I want to drive his car. It’s just darling.”

And as you remember, I didn’t say whether it was okay or not, and I let you go. Instead of meeting us at the show you disappeared somewhere and I wondered if you had run someone over, but you met us at the end of the show.

“I’m terribly sorry,” you said, “but we got lost.”

From the state of your make-up, your tousled hair, and your glowing skin I knew what you had been up to with Jason Gant. We all drove home, had a few more drinks, and finally I said, “Who do you want? Him or me?”

Jordan and Nick shifted in their seats and then decided to leave the room.

“Who are you?” you asked, “Who is he? I met him before I met you, and now that I meet him I’m meeting you again, the way you were that day.”

“He wasn’t the one that gave you the baby. I did. I came back to get you. If I hadn’t, you’d be with an unfaithful Ivy League Ogre.”

“So, you took her away from him?” Jason asked.

“Yes, but technically I prevented her from meeting him.”

“Well, like James Gatz like James Gatz. Now I’m going to take her away from you, because I love her, and you know what that feels like.”

“Yes, I do, so I won’t let you take her away.” I said.

“Let her choose then,” Jason said.

“I don’t know!” And you burst into tears, my dear, bless your heart. Then you went upstairs. Jordan went up to comfort you.

“Get out, Jason,” I said, “and take your pimp with you.”

Carroway followed behind like an injured puppy dog. He turned around, making to apologize, but then sighed in resigned cowardice and walked to Jason’s fancy yellow car.

Jordan told me that you didn’t want to be disturbed so I paced the house that night, fuming with anger and cigar smoke. I had a few decisions. I could use the machine to change everything, go back even further in the past to before you met James Gatz, but then you’d be sixteen or so and wouldn’t dare go anywhere with a man pushing fifty like myself. There was another option, but being a novice in the rules of time-space and alternate universes I wasn’t sure how it would play out. In the end I decided I would take the risk. If I couldn’t have you then no one could.

At dawn, I drove to the train station and took the first car to West Egg. When I got there, I walked the quarter mile to my old big house which I had owned in another time. There were no butlers or servants. It was clear that Gant was alone, and as luck would have it he was outside, relaxing on a reclining chair by the pool. When he saw me he stood up suddenly. I didn’t let him get a last word. I shot him three times in his torso, just to make sure he was really dead. I expected myself to disappear any second, but as you now know, I did not. For Jason Gant was a part of me, but he was from a different version of reality. He was from this version of reality and I am nothing but a stranger here, a stranger who still loves you and begs your forgiveness. I couldn’t let anything get in the way of us, not even myself. If you are unable to forgive me, however, I will understand. I did, in fact, kill the man you loved. I am a selfish murderer. I only hope you know that I killed out of love, out of our love, for us and the baby. But even after all my supplications fall on your beautiful deaf ears or blind eyes in this case, if you can still not forgive me, then I am offering you a way out. I will remain here, a lonely old man, with no option left but to wait for the bleak future. You, however, can take the machine—the one that started this mess—and meet James right after I took you away from him, creating another alternate reality in which you, young James and the baby are together. I am beginning to understand, sadly, that maybe the solutions do not lie in the past. Maybe we are doomed no matter how we try to change our destiny. I killed a man. I killed myself to be with you, some may even call that morbidly romantic, but the choice is yours. Either you take the time machine and try this again or we try to work things out here. Maybe you’ll even want a divorce, which I would understand, but if so I will not be around for much longer. It may sound horribly insane and desperate, but love is madness and I can’t live without you.

I await your reply. Please write as soon as you can.

Always yours,

Jay