Sorry to keep yourself (and legions of admirers) essentially on greased tinter-hooks for months now, waiting for this next installment to drop. This is more like an appetizer, however. A.J. addresses cheese, I addresses Culture and Anarchy, each of us speaking from back in August! A.J.’s voice drops idiosyncratically throughout—I think because he was 1) delighted with his cheese story, and 2) he was fighting back tears. And then Tracy chimes in at the very end to eat a pickle! They’ll show up later, in full, during the main course. Which should show up in December. The bass at the beginning is very reactive. So, you’ve been warned, Jeremy, listening in your golden earbuds. I should have a lot more to tell you, and I do, but first some sleep, non? If you have any audio-reports to file from Kandahar, we can set-up a Skype-date, New Yorker-style. Miss you tons. Stop trawling through my newly minted Facebook albums, however much you miss your mother’s grouchy dog.
I thought maybe a semi-trailer crashed into a fence. But the trailer was carrying the cows. 10 died, 3 were euthanized on the scene, and 40 were loosed, of the 101 extant cattle making their way to Kansas. All of this very close to where I work and study, in South Bend.
In other news, I’m commenting on a story draft for workshop tomorrow, listening to rain, thinking about snack crackers and soup. Of the five pumpkins sat outside Sunday evening, by Monday, 1 was smashed so I tossed the remainders in the garbage bin. Vindictively, I might add.
In A.J.’s first year of law school a closeted male classmate fell hopelessly in love with him. Let’s call him Arnie. Young Arnie was not passing for straight—even my busted gaydar had no problem detecting his sensibilities, and what amounted to an oozy manipulative over-reaching. The young man had asked A.J. several times to dinner “just to pick his brain”; and, pending no dinner, then maybe a study session, or a good talk over coffee? Their brief encounters were charged. When Arnie saw A.J. in the morning, tarrying, he made a beeline to pay his compliments to something A.J. had said the day before, and to remind him about their TBA date. He often stared at A.J. across study lounges. He often deeply sighed. The young man had even waved excitedly at me once or twice in a way that was furiously wristy, nearly demented, for the passion of our intersection. I politely waved back. Arnie: childishly skinny, glum, thumbing the straps of a massive backpack, then as animated as sunshine mistaking me for his heart’s fondest desire.
I lived with Cody not far from the law school at the time. A.J. came over in the afternoons to eat our Pop-Tarts and watch our TV, and regularly hosted game nights there, and freely used our apartment to serve elaborate dinners with his then-girlfriend Tayler. (I thought my boyfriend would be irritated with my twin brother always snacking and leeching, but Cody, never having brothers of his own, seemed to enjoy the camaraderie. They played soccer and GameCube together; they watched CNN; they let me drink and paint alone, and act crazy, and set things on fire; and Tayler made enough fettucini for us all.) This young man who loved A.J. was never invited to these events; Arnie did not circulate with A.J.’s law school friends, who were, I think, a rag-tag band of jocks. There was Lindsay too, of course, a tart celiac, who, in her patience and mirth, observed us from above the fray. Together she and I killed bottles of gluten-free wine.
A.J.’s friends were progressive-types, I think, in their unassuming ways. There was a film-buff, a guiltless rich kid from the Chicago suburbs, several drunks, and Will, a real Southerner come up from the white pines of Alabama. They appreciated labor unions and feminism, and the blatant legality of same-sex marriage was apiece with their liberal thinking. Maybe more nuanced rhetoric regards US foreign policy cropped up (this was the year Obama took office), as well as discussions about domestic economic strife (I wasn’t around to record all their differences), although I can say that the more well-meaning and practical concentrated their efforts on environmental causes or international affairs. A few looked into corporate law, where the real money lies, and where the jobs have already been taken by kids coming out of Harvard or the London School of Economics; or, rather, where there are no jobs at all, anymore, except in pristine oil wastelands like Alaska.
Regardless, in its cultural diversity and socio-economic make-up, A.J. had more or less pieced together a group that resembled his high school clique. This made sense in that small law schools take on the humidity of rumors, tears, and sex in the way of high schools, an effect completed by the lockers in their hallways, their bitchy intramural rivalries, and their formal dances.
That Arnie was physically attracted to A.J. made sense: my brother is fit, crumpled even, from years of wrestling; the veins are thick on his arms in a way that suggest obscene reserves of strength, like hydraulic cables; he is bright-eyed (others have said his eyes “flash,” in fact, “with curiosity”) but also wide-eyed, so he appears very engaged and refreshed even while desultory; he walks broad-shouldered, back straight, confidently; and A.J. still has his hair. He is generous with eye-contact and is verbally inventive. He has an empathic wit that can, at times, be cutting and disgusting but not unattractively unceasing. (As an undergrad, he called an anthropology professor “Big Feces” as an elaborate but not impenetrable inside-joke among the poli-sci cohort. This example is not funny out of context, but in context it is side-splittingly revelatory.) A lot of A.J.’s social graces I consciously attempt to emulate.
Point is: when A.J. paid any attention to Arnie, it’s not difficult to understand why Arnie felt flattered. Arnie was not a terrific public speaker. For one thing, he was very conscious of lisping, however minutely, and so regularly choked on alternative phrasings. Also, his ideas were confused, and navigating his values during class discussion—and law classes become, unfortunately, poster venues for advertising ones superior values—was a laborious process, full of tortured concessions and near-recants. He came off as disliking poor people, blacks, and immigrants. They understood that on the political spectrum, A.J. represented left ideals while this young man espoused views clearly skewed to the far right or perhaps fundamentalist right (racist, xenophobic, Machiavellian). So the attraction was all the more forbidden and formidable in a James Carville/Mary Matalin way, what with the frisson of counter-convictions roiling beneath its surface. Accepting, of course, that the attraction was one-sided.
A.J. and I fussed over the improbability of a conspiracy. We are very interesting to each other. We made a lot of inappropriate jokes at poor Arnie’s expense. He was maddeningly persistent in fending off rumors of his sexuality—he postured himself as anti-gay, for instance, having un-ironically bandied about an epithet once or twice in mixed company. And he was maddeningly insistent that he and A.J. spend some time getting to know one another. I find it hard to reconstruct the intensity without making Arnie look like a real shit, or diminishing the real terror he felt as a conflicted gay man. Excepting his generous soul, I don’t know why A.J. became Arnie’s obsession. Another of A.J.’s classmates, also named A.J., had received a mysterious email from a Yahoo! account, soliciting him for a sexual rendezvous; this happened twice, actually. We gigglingly assumed that Arnie had sent out an email to the wrong A.J.
A.J. proposed to Tayler in the spring. When news of A.J.’s engagement spread, Arnie abruptly left classes for the day. He absented himself for an extra day as well. He returned after this crisis and demanded a meeting with A.J., the contents of which he would not reveal. They met at 10:30, I think, on a Wednesday morning.
Arnie confessed several things: that he was bisexual but also probably gay; his tremendous discomfort with being “outed”; and, his impatient love for A.J. He conceded that he had, perhaps, conjured emotionally imprisoning dream-life scenarios wherein A.J. gave up women altogether, and earnestly requited Arnie’s affections. I don’t remember how this was stated—definitely not how I just stated it. A.J. recommended he join the campus LAMDA group; that he come “out,” since many people took it for granted that he was gay, and the upkeep of his secret was surely exhausting his personal store of dignity. He gave Arnie permission to talk to me, to use my winning personality and out-loudness as a resource. He also told Arnie that he respected him for hashing-out his feelings in this business-casual way, but that other ways—not-quite alluding to the internet solicitations—could be construed as “creepy.”
Desire warps behavioral perimeters, has us hunting after imaginary game. I get this. Love and war. It’s intuitive that our passions blind us. But in terms of queer right thinking, the contradictions that begin to pile-up are incredibly dynamic and all the more self-limiting. They’re stackable, foldable, moldable; to move about in their fashion is to accept any number of uncoordinated and immodest traps, hung about the neck, clamped to the feet and arms. In their brief exit-interview (this is how I referred to the A.J./Arnie tete-a-tete), Arnie made it clear that he’s only exploring homosexuality in compliance with unnatural urges, these panicky attractions: in his heart, he was a “social conservative.” That’s just his upbringing—that’s just folks, as they say. And sure, he might solicit other men for sex, but this didn’t mean he was about destroying the traditional household by letting just any “mo” with an agenda claiming partner benefits and adopting babies! He was confused. He swelled Roy Cohn-size in my imagination, into an idiot historical personage and villain, then, of Angels in America. He was someone who would not displace the weighty, nasty, spiky sensations of his plight (feelings of entrapment, worthlessness, cruelty) onto the experiences of other disenfranchised peoples. He could not delimit his repression, universalize its cage, to empathize. I felt lost beside A.J. trying to say, “Hey, this is romantic and ordinary, and completely recoverable.” Yet his logic of sensation was doom. How do you dissuade doom? We were twenty-three years old: we couldn’t grasp it. Then without us at all he got better.
2 Cups Fresh Apple (Empire preferred, never McIntosh)
3 Sticks Cinnamon (Maybe 5?)
1 Fist of Cloves
Intemperate Amount of Fresh Ground Ginger
Dash Ground Cumin
Kernels of Black Pepper, Why Not?
Merlot/Shiraz for Color (To Get Brew out of Diarrhea w/ Floaties Color-Spectrum)
PUT EVERYTHING BUT ALCOHOL & KOMBUTCHA INTO POT. BRING TO BOIL, THEN IMMEDIATELY TO A SIMMER (SO THAT CRANBERRIES/CLOVES/CINNAMON/GINGER DO NOT BURN). STIR, PLZ. SIMMER. STIR. IF YOU HAVE A METAL COLLANDER, GO AHEAD AND USE IT AS A DOUBLE-BOILER, WITH THE SOLIDS (apple slices, cranberries, cloves, ginger) FLOATING SAFE FROM THE POT’S BOTTOM. THE KERNELS OF BLACK PEPPER WILL INVARIABLY CHAR BUT THEN THEY’LL FLOAT UP IN THE SIMMER. GO AHEAD AND STRAIN THEM OUT OF THE BREW, SOMEHOW. DO THIS FOR ONE HOUR, MAYBE LONGER.
IT’LL GET A LITTLE FROTH ON IT, A SKIM. THIS IS GOOD. IF YOU CAN’T GET A FROTH ON IT, GO AHEAD AND BRING TO A BOIL AGAIN, AND WHISK IT. PEOPLE WANT TO BE INTIMIDATED BY CRUDE TEXTURAL VARIANTS IN THEIR HALLOWEEN/FALL DRINKS. IT’LL LOOK LIKE ASS, BUT THE WINE WILL COLOR IT TO SOMETHING RICHER, I HOPE.
IS IT GOOD AND HOT AND AROMATIC? NEAT! GIVE IT A SIP!
DID YOU COUGH A LITTLE? NEAT!
NOW ADD THE RUM AND KOMBUTCHA! “ADD TO TASTE,” AS THEY SAY. MAKE SURE THE HEAT IS BACK UP.
LOOKS LIKE HELL, NON? THE CRANBERRIES HAVE GOTTEN REALLY WEIRD. THE APPLE IS SORTA DEMOLISHED IN THE FROTH. THAT’S FINE.
ADD WINE FOR RICH, DARK COLOR, A KINDA PURPLE SLUDGE/FROTH.
KEEP ON LOW HEAT.
LET OTHERS LADLE THEIR OWN DRINKS, UNLESS THEY’RE INTENTIONALLY AVOIDING THE FLOATIES. THEN LADLE YOURSELF. BE VIGILANT ABOUT THE FULL EFFECT. IF PEOPLE ASK ABOUT THE PROBLEM OF GINGER, JUST SAY THE RUM WAS KINDA CHEAP, THAT’S WHY IT’S EYE-WATERY, ETC.
IF AT THE LAST MINUTE IT TASTES LIKE SHIT, ADD ORANGE (3 WHOLE ORANGES) AND HONEY! TRUST ME!
I saved our Facebook conversation about rocket fire and the Dutch. Hopefully I’ll get around to shaping these fine raw materials into the educated textures of an anti-war short story! Or at least a very sappy personal essay. You introduced the topic by describing the mountains around post, from which rockets are lobbed. “In fact as soon as our plane touched down we got hit. Absolutely terrifying really. Now it’s just sort of annoying. Seems like they always hit the Canadians or Dutch.”
I conceded, “I literally um cannot imagine. WHOA. My big eyes right now and my heart doing its little racing thing. Poor Dutch!”
"Just wooden shoes flying everywhere on impact."
"HAHAhA! A little broken pile for an ongoing memorial site. Is there really a high casualty rate in Kandahar?”
"High enough. Regional command south or for all intensive purposes, Kandahar, is pretty much the hotbed of this war right now."
While A.J. finds some humor in your perilous circumstances (he’s integrated a good deal of Union County exceptionalism into your odds of survival), I sat around the house in stunned silence for a bit before making my way to class. I think typing “HAHAhA” is very different from actually laughing aloud alone in my dining room. The table is littered with apples (Mom and Dad came up last weekend and had stopped at an orchard), and Halloween decorations for the “Ghetto Fabulous” party my housemate is hosting this coming weekend. Naturally I bought-up six strands of skull-lights and jack-o-latern-lights, because decorating for parties fills me with a zeal unrivaled by sixth-graders on the Harvest Dance committee. There is a plastic cauldron we’ll ladle “witch’s brew” out of, and many yards of blacklite-sensitive cobwebbing. I strung-up a foil chandelier with a silvery skull accent that dangles from the lowest tier, and beside me on the hi-top is a Hirst-like copper skull made of glitter. So, memento morii have been positioned all over this dining room, like the remains of the Dutch.
Speaking of Catch-22, I am reading Helen DeWitt’s new novel Lightning Rods, a satire some reviewers are considering in proportion to Heller’s magnum opus. This is a mistake, a very generous mistake, perpetrated by all her cheerleaders in the business. (I include myself among these cheerleaders. I have stood on the sidelines with my pom-poms and halter-top in the October rains, all for Ms. DeWitt.) Lightning Rods is small and mean yet very patient, leisurely in its meanness. There’s this terrific assessment of men my height about one-third into the novel:
There’s something about being short that makes a man feel he has something to prove, say he stopped growing at 5’6”, a couple of extra inches would have made all the difference, instead of going with the flow he tends to be aggressive if not downright mean.
But this is a truism found in the literature of egoists since Tolstoy described dear Napoleon, the economy of prose is what re-sells it, re-sells all of the ideas in the book, which reads like a founding myth with user testimonials. I’m not damning the book—I’m quite taken with it. And I haven’t finished it, either. The next hundred pages might really go for my throat, I’m ready, I’m willing, but I’m holding onto this sense of proportion, for clarity’s sake.
Currently I’m drinking coffee and ruminating on homework. (I slept two-days worth of sleep between yesterday and today, balking at the tail-gaiting activities open to me on game weekends here, choosing destructive solace instead. I got dressed for the outside world once, to retrieve Diet Pepsi from a gas station over the Michigan state line, clearly in distress about decisions I’ve made in this new year of my birth. I thought I’d drive until I hit the lake—but then I realized I wasn’t anxious to see Nature qua Nature, to dip into something larger than myself; I was anxious to drink Diet Pepsi, and I was right. I stopped at a Marathon and the proprietor was listening to the football game on the radio, he was whistling he was so excited.)
The long section I’m reading now is about African Americans and slavery, the previous about Immigrants, and the chapter before that discusses Native Americans. Next up is Religion. In many ways this is a middle school social studies primer, accepting the omnivorous references to Said, Spivak, Barthes, Derrida, and twice, near the end, Adorno. (Marx is in fact never referenced—do you see how far afield cultural studies has gone since the founding of the New Left Review? “A spectre is haunting American Cultural Studies…”) The first edition came out in ‘96? The next ten years later. The impact of 9/11 has been grafted into the text like sci-fi, like a homunculus. Other changes between editions: in a critique of Field of Dreams, the authors exchanged “conservative values” for “traditional values.” In the span of a decade, conservatism became a tradition, again.
If the notion of American exceptionalism is founded on the untenable torture porn of the Columbus myth, and every facet of American culture is saturated in this recovery of eden at the price of genocide, then it follows that every particular instance of social cohesion (affinities—often communal—across class, gender, race, etc.) within the States is secretly riven by confusion, doubt, and, ultimately, violence. But this is what we have books for! They rain down from hegemony. The very best of them, the least brittle and coarse, secretly deconstruct dominant ideology, and subvert our deadly status quo. They are the guideposts to utopia. I don’t deny any of this—but I’m also not sold on close-readings of The Great Gatsby recovering transformative powers.
I mentioned in class that Trilling did same in The Liberal Imagination. Then I had to buck like a mule to not represent on behalf of Trilling, only remembering thatmaybe I came across an essay probably by Trilling a long time ago about possibly F. Scott Fitzgerald? I checked when I got home—I was not talking out of my ass. But Trilling was writing among all the others in The Partisan Review set, and so he doesn’t even talk about class qua class (way too Stalinist), only the embarrassment of Fitzgerald’s tinny dreams of writing himself into the American aristocracy. So—indigeniety was not a concern of the New York Intellectuals. You can see, Jeremy, that I’ll be interpolating (Althuserr) this text into a reader’s response. I’ll have to fluff it some with a blow-job. Blow-job meaning something else in this context.
My professor handed me back my short essay “Gay Pain as a ‘Structure of Feeling’” with
[…] no comments or check marks or indicia of any kind; naturally, this puzzles me.
I plan to write my final paper on the death of Tyler Clementi, to read his suicide and the subsequent media furor surrounding gay “bullying” as a cultural studies text, per Raymond Williams’s search “for the structure of tragedy in our own culture.” (My response is awkwardly divided by a discussion of n+1 magazine’s contradictory sense of gay lived experience and politics, and Tyler Clementi’s Facebook suicide note. I imitated Williams’s own biographic sketch of his intellectual background, the Leavisite/Marxist strategies he deployed to critically read culture—all very buried architecture.)
I had expected feedback—however minimal—re the viability of this (introductory) attempt. Can I take your “no comment” as an indication that I’m on the right track? And if not—how?
Here I am quoting from the measured email I sent him, which took up more than an hour of my tears as I funneled outrage into appropriate softness, though you can see I remained piqued. He emailed back saying he remembered my paper well, had read it through three times (he does his mark-ups on the final pass), and had mistakenly neglected to comment—and asked for me to please send it back. So, if I had insinuated he had not read it at all, he told me he had read it thrice and was prepared to read it a fourth go-round! His last-page comment said, “You should develop this really fine piece for publication.” And because I “suck after the male imprimatur for validation” (Mating) this uncritical response buoyed me aloft for a day and a night. I kept turning to my essay’s last page to see this generous scrawl, to feel elated all over again. If only my fiction writing professor had as little to say on my behalf! But the fiction writing is really only going so-so. I have not written a book yet, for instance, or really even completed a short story. I have, however, finished chapters to imaginary books. Look forward to seeing them on the shelves your imaginary bookstore soon.
I should also tell you that myself, or one of my housemates, plugged up the old toilet so bad yesterday, I called A.J. in panic to have him strategize with me about ways to solve its wretched business. The toilet is old but powerful—so we must really be doing some damage to the beast (and hence, to ourselves), to stopper it outright. I felt filthy, plunging like a maniac, tripping the chain in the tank, re-jiggering pressure, a process as indelicate and unseemly as hacking at a decayed roadside creature, frothing a cidery-looking foam out of the bowl and onto the tiles. But I got it to work. I saved the toilet. I showered. This is October in South Bend, Indiana. The leaves outside have turned carmine and the bridge to my house is still in disrepair, adding an extra six minutes to my commute.