Archive for July, 2013

Pulp Friction – Michael Bronski

PFThe modern gay movement is usually thought to have begun with the Stonewall riots of 1969 but before that there was an underground subculture with its trashy erotic writings from the late Victorian age to the late 1960s. They included crotch-hugging trousers and marble-topped coffee tables, “blood-filled dagger” is pitched against “throbbing lance” in one Civil War story, heavy manhood that pulsed and throbbed. lean saber, the sap of my loins was full-blossomed and ripe for harvest, and moist sheath. All this was endangered as gay liberationists had a negative attitude to older groups which amounted to a rejection of the past.

They provided a chance for inexperienced authors to prove themselves. The smaller firms didn’t edit and the more explicit books were more profitable so there was a high turnover.

Some thought that they had a teaching function but were they purveying positive or negative images? Did there always have to be a tragic ending? ‘Novels are to be read for enjoyment or relaxation, not instruction…That is why you study from textbooks in school. The art of fiction is the art of reflection, not of shaping.’

Usually a lone person finds another lone person – a gay community is very recent. There was a gradual change from ‘inverts’ or talk of women trapped in men’s bodies, to psychology.

1930s saw fly-by-night publishers – the beginning of gay press. They used Mailing lists from sales of non fiction study but being on such a list was dangerous.

As early as the 1940s, respectable publishing houses wrote gay characters. There was a wartime idolisation of macho bodies: ‘he had never associated masculinity with abnormality until tonight.’

By the 1950s there were happy endings and moving in together.

In the mid 1960s censorship laws were relaxed and mainstream publishers started to produce gay stories so these earlier books were pulped – hence the title of this book. More men became brave enough to buy them and straights were interested to learn. The stories become lengthier and some became political – industrial tribunal stuff such as: ‘the branch line of the Santa Fe was a shifting, shuddering ribbon of dual-engined trains that bore hurriedly into the heart of America’s wheat belt like hungry snakes and then crept away like politically protected looters with their easily plundered burdens.’

There’s a story devoted to hairy armpits. There’s also S & M.

The behaviour in a 1959 New York bathhouse could have been anywhere at any time.

We read about one older man rebuffing a younger and then wondering whether it would be more moral not to – corrupting younger or saving him from rough first encounter with another? Wait until he is old enough to know his true nature.

We get families who never talk about sex, a young man whose father hadn’t told him the facts of life.

There are scenes of showering, comparing sizes, attempted rape

We get stereotypes: being gay and wearing girls’ clothes and makeup, using people for sex – yet most loving couple are gay, doting mothers and distant fathers. One story wonders if there could be a drug in the water, left-handed in a right-handed world turned on straights

There’s a quest for some sort of cultural equivalent – like the Red Indians, people on a spiritual quest, hippies.

“Gay Revolution” has characters called Alexei Cogsugeroff and Gaylord le Claire

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Probation by Tom Mendicino

ProbAndy is on probation after being arrested for soliciting in a ‘tea room’ in North Carolina. His wife throws him out and his boss, who happens also to be his father-in-law, sacks him so he has to go and live with his mother (who never discusses the incident) and gets a job as a travelling salesman. The court ordered him to see a psychiatrist (who is also a Jesuit priest) and this meeting becomes the highlight of his week.

Some in our group identified with him because they had formerly tried to be “normal”.

During a thought-provoking identity crisis, wondering if his infidelity sentences him to a lifetime of never finding true love and happiness he is forced to face his own mortality in dealing with his mother’s lymphoma diagnosis.

His life is mundane: whiskey on his breath, sticky armpits, itchy balls, sales totals, mortality arithmetic – how many more chops will he eat before he dies?

There’s the usual stereotypes: living with mother, remote father, distant wife after a miscarriage, scratching palm when shaking hands = secret signal of closeted homosexuals? The priest/therapist seems to hint at overbearing mother idea

There’s typical closet behaviour: how will he explain his car breaking down in the parking lot of an adult book store?

Then there’s his sister – a stranger that once shared same surname.

What is it about priests and closet gays? A seminar work about married men using toilets is the PhD thesis of a priest, Laud Humphreys, called ‘tearoom trade’.

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The Page Turner – David Leavitt

TPTPaul Porterfield wants to be a concert pianist. He is his page turner to Richard Kennington. On holiday with his mother, Paul bumps into Richard – coincidence?

Paul has a doting mother who straightens his tie. He learned Italian for the holiday.

Is 40 year-old Kennington predatory or is it that Paul is stalking him? He gives him a massage as an excuse to go further with him. He clearly doesn’t intend to meet him again as he doesn’t give him his phone number

 The doting mother realises something is going on when Paul lies to her, telling her that he is unwell, in order to get out of a meeting he’d arranged with her. She comes to visit him on his sickbed and discovers some of Paul’s clothes in his hotel room.

Joseph, Richard’s lover is at an age where he is frightened of growing old alone whereas Richard at 40 is frightened of missing out on youth

One laugh out loud moment: a patient said that a lemon got in his rectum because he fell on it in shower

I always remember this novel when I go to concerts where there are page-turners (though they aren’t often as good-looking as Paul in the film version of this story.).

What is the significance of stars, Ganymede and an alabaster moon on the bedroom ceiling?

Quotations:

“Sex, my darling, is often the least important part of a passion. You’ll learn that when you get older. – Maria Luisa (Tushi) Strauss”

“Christmas was over. It had passed, as usual, in a fever of generosities, and left an aftertaste of swindle in its wake. “Anticippointment” Pamela said . . . and there was in that invented word all the regret and resignation that forty-seven years of Christmases had built up in her.”

“Assume makes an ass out of you and me ”

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More Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

MTOTCHaving read the first book, we thought we’d work through the series but, so far, have only got as far as this, the second book.

Some good bits:

Mouse: I don’t waste time with well-adjusted people

Frannie: The Lord doesn’t have to go go

Emma: even at 59 she was not an adult

A gay old folks’ home -= I suspect there will be demand for such here in the UK soon if there isn’t already.

Scratch and sniff Hustler magazine

A transubstantiation cult

Quotations:

“Laugh all you want and cry all you want and whistle at pretty men in the street and to hell with anybody who thinks you’re a damned fool!”

“Oh, Mona, we’re all damned fools! Some of us just have more fun with it than others. Loosen up, dear! Don’t be so afraid to cry . . . or laugh, for that matter. Laugh all you want and cry all you want and whistle at pretty men in the street and to hell with anybody who thinks you’re a damned fool!”

“The hell of it is, I know the answer. The answer is that you never, ever, rely on another person for your peace of mind. If you do, you’re screwed but good. Not right away, maybe, but sooner or later. You have to — I don’t know –you have to learn to live with yourself. You have to learn to turn back your own sheets and set a table for one without feeling pathetic. You have to be strong and confident and pleased with yourself and never give the slightest impression that you can’t hack it without that certain goddamn someone. You have to fake the hell out of it.”

“Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here.”

“Her apartment seemed fussier than ever, as if the doilies and tassels had taken to breeding in their unguarded moments.”

“DEAR MAMA, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write to you and Papa I realize I’m not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be O.K., if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child. I have friends who think I’m foolish to write this letter. I hope they’re wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who loved and trusted them less than mine do. I hope especially that you’ll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn’t have written, I guess, if you hadn’t told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant. I’m sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief—rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes. No, Mama, I wasn’t “recruited.” No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, “You’re all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You’re not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends—all kinds of friends—who don’t give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it.” But no one ever said that to me, Mama. I had to find it out on my own, with the help of the city that has become my home. I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don’t consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being. These aren’t radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it’s all right for you to like me too. I know what you must be thinking now. You’re asking yourself: What did we do wrong? How did we let this happen? Which one of us made him that way? I can’t answer that, Mama. In the long run, I guess I really don’t care. All I know is this: If you and Papa are responsible for the way I am, then I thank you with all my heart, for it’s the light and the joy of my life. I know I can’t tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It’s not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It’s not judging your neighbor, except when he’s crass or unkind. Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it. There’s not much else I can say, except that I’m the same Michael you’ve always known. You just know me better now. I have never consciously done anything to hurt you. I never will. Please don’t feel you have to answer this right away. It’s enough for me to know that I no longer have to lie to the people who taught me to value the truth. Mary Ann sends her love. Everything is fine at 28 Barbary Lane. Your loving son, MICHAEL”

“men and women, both straight and gay, who don’t consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being. These aren’t radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it’s all right for you to like me too.”

“Look,” said Mary Ann evenly, “if I think you’re really attractive, there must be plenty of men in this town who feel the same way.”

“Yeah,” said Michael ruefully. “Size queens.”

“Oh, don’t be silly!” Sometimes Michael was sensitive about the dumbest things. He’s at least five nine, thought Mary Ann. That’s tall enough for anybody.”

“The hostess extended her swanlike neck and opened her mouth to the fullest. “Aaaahhhaaaahhhhheeeeaaaahhhh!”

Somewhere in the depths of the pine forest an identical sound reverberated.

“An echo!” exclaimed Frannie.

“No,” smiled Helena. “Sybil Manigault. She’s into nature.”

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By Nightfall – Michael Cunningham

BNSo you’re forty-four, well-established in the art world, married for twenty years and you fancy your brother-in-law (aged 23, returned from ‘finding himself’ in the Far East, a drug taking Narcissus.)! You’ve walked in on him in the shower, thinking, from the view of his back, that it is his wife.

“By Nightfall” is a line from Rilke “Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.”

Well written but typical midlife crisis novel except that the man falls in love with a boy rather than girl. Reminiscent of the film ‘American beauty’ with the mention of a plastic bag. Some have also seen traces of Death in Venice in this story.

Peter’s regards himself as a “servant of beauty.” He starts to feel “[a] conviction, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that some terrible, blinding beauty is about to descend and, like the wrath of God, suck [the world] all away, orphan us, deliver us, leave us wondering how exactly we’re going to start it all over again.”

He becomes insomniac, talking to himself and wandering through the streets of lower Manhattan in the early hours.

At one stage, he thinks: “We–we men–are the frightened ones, the blundering and nervous ones; if we act the skeptic or the bully sometimes it’s because we suspect we’re wrong in some deep incalculable way that women are not. Our impersonations are failing us and our vices and habits are ludicrous and . . . we have no idea about anything that actually matters.”

There’s a good description of the routineness of married sex, a telling comment about a wise child sent to live among common people until his time comes, in a family where ‘most people think they’re not most people’, who didn’t torment their son as they suspected the world would do enough of that later on and who insist on family time’ even when, especially when no one enjoys it any more.
Quotations:

“Insomniacs know better than anyone how it would be to haunt a house.”

“A stray fact: insects are not drawn to candle flames, they are drawn to the light on the far side of the flame, they go into the flame and sizzle to nothingness because they’re so eager to get to the light on the other side.”

“What do you do when you’re no longer the hero of your own story?”

“Please, God, send me something to adore.”

“We always worry about the wrong things, don’t we?”

“Youth is the only sexy tragedy. It’s James Dean jumping into his Porsche Spyder, it’s Marilyn heading off to bed.”

“You have failed in the most base and human of ways–you have not imagined the lives of others.”

“Maybe it’s not, in the end, the virtues of others that so wrenches our hearts as it is the sense of almost unbearably poignant recognition when we see them at their most base, in their sorrow and gluttony and foolishness. You need the virtues, too—some sort of virtues—but we don’t care about Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina or Raskolnikov because they’re good. We care about them because they’re not admirable, because they’re us, and because great writers have forgiven them for it.”

“Accept that, like many men, you have a streak of the homoerotic in you. Why would you, why would anyone, want to be that straight?”

“What marriage doesn’t involve uncountable accretions, a language of gestures, a sense of recognition sharp as a toothache? Unhappy, sure. What couple isn’t unhappy, at least part of the time? But how can the divorce rate be, as they say, skyrocketing? How miserable would you have to get to be able to bear the actual separation, to go off and live your life so utterly unrecognized?”

“You know what I am?” he says.

“What?”

“I’m an ordinary person.”

“Come on.”

“I know. Who isn’t an ordinary person? How horribly presumptuous to want to be anything else. But I have to tell you. I’ve been treated as something special for so long and I’ve tried my hardest to be something special but I’m not, I’m not exceptional, I’m smart enough, but I’m not brilliant and I’m not spiritual or even all that focused. I think I can stand that, but I’m not sure if the people around me can.”

“He’s one of those smart, drifty young people who, after certain deliberations, decides he wants to do Something in the Arts but won’t, possibly can’t, think in terms of an actual job; who seems to imagine that youth and brains and willingness will simply summon an occupation, the precise and perfect nature of which will reveal itself in its own time.”

“Any other vexations to report?” he asks.

“I love the word ‘vexations.'”

“It’s the ‘x.’ Nice to jump off a ‘v’ and bite into an ‘x’ like that.”

“Just the usual ones,” she says.

“How was the weekend?”

“Vexing. Not really, I just wanted to say it. You?”

“The point of sex is…
Sex doesn’t have a point.”

“The problem with the truth is, it’s so often mild and clichéd.”

“He believes that a real work of art can be owned but should not be subject to capture; that it should radiate such authority, such bizarre but confident beauty (or unbeauty) that it can’t be undone by even the most ludicrous sofas or side tables. A real work of art should rule the room, and the clients should call up not to complain about the art but to say that the art has helped them understand how the room is all a horrible mistake, can Peter suggest a designer to help them start over again.”

“It’s the world, you live in it, even if some boy has made a fool of you.”

“Peter glances out at the falling snow. Oh, little man. You have brought down your house not through passion but by neglect. You who dared to think of yourself as dangerous. You are guilty not of the epic transgressions but the tiny crimes. You have failed in the most base and human of ways – you have not imagined the lives of others.”

“It’s impossible to imagine, isn’t it? Most men probably go through the same motions, more or less, but what’s in their minds, what agitates their blood? What could be more mortifyingly personal, what veers closer to the depths, than whatever it is that makes us come? If we knew, if we could see what’s in the cartoon balloons over other guy’s heads as they jerk off, would we be moved, or repelled?”

“He feels, as he sometimes does, as most people must, a presence in the room, what he can only think of as his and Rebecca’s living ghosts, the amalgamation of their dreams and their breathing, their smells. He does not believe in ghosts, but he believes in…something. Something viable, something living, that’s surprised when he wakes at this hour, that’s neither glad nor sorry to see him awake but that recognizes the fact, because it has been interrupted in its nocturnal inchoate musings.”

“There’s no denying his resemblance to the Rodin bronze – the slender, effortless muscularity of youth, the extravagant nonchalance of it; that sense that beauty is in fact the natural human condition and not the rarest of mutations.”

“Milwaukee, Rebecca. Order and sobriety and a devotion to cleanliness that scours out the soul. Decent people doing their best to live decent lives, three’s nothing really to hate them for, they do their jobs and maintain their property and love their children (most of the time); they take family vacations and visit relatives and decorate their houses for the holidays, collect some things and save up for other things; they’re good people (most of them, most of the time), but if you were me, if you were young Pete Harris, you felt the modesty of it eroding you, depopulating you, all those little satisfactions and no big, dangerous ones; no heroism, no genius, no terrible yearning for anything you can’t at least in theory actually have. If you were young lank-haired, pustule-plagued Pete Harris you felt like you were always about to expire from the safety of your life, its obdurate sensibleness, that Protestant love of the unexceptional; the eternal certainty of the faithful that flamboyance and the macabre are not just threatening but – worse – uninteresting.”

“This is a Southern gift, isn’t it – tremendous self-regard diluted with humor and modesty. That’s what they mean by Southern charm, right?”

“The art we produce lives in queasy balance with the art we can imagine the art the room expects.”

“Silly humans. Banging on a tub to make a bear dance when we would move the stars to pity.”

“Remember, how often the great art of the past didn’t look great at first, how often it didn’t look like art at all; how much easier it is, decades or centuries later, to adore it, not only because it is, in fact, great but because it’s still here; because the inevitable little errors and infelicities tend to recede in an object that’s survived the War of 1812, the eruption of Krakatoa, the rise and fall of Nazism.”

“I have to keep reminding myself that almost everybody is always lying.”

“I’m just a child who’s learned to impersonate an adult.”

“And here he is, letting the massive steel street door click shut behind him, standing at the top of the three iron steps that lead down to the shattered sidewalk. New York is probably, in this regard at least, the strangest city in the world, so many of its denizens living as they (we) do among the unreconstructed remnants of nineteenth-century sweatshops and tenements, the streets potholed and buckling while right over there, around the corner, is a Chanel boutique. We go shopping amid the rubble, like the world’s richest, best-dressed refugees.”

“And so, a never-ending, rather edgy conversation between them, an undercurrent of roiling sound that reminded them they were married, they had two sons, they were living a life, they had preparations to make and disasters to avert and a world to interpret, sign by sign, symbol by symbol, to each other, and that at this point the only fate worse than staying together would be trying, each of them, to live alone.”

“Who was it who said, the worst thing you can imagine is probably what’s already happening? Shrink phrase. Not untrue, though.”

“Where did the boy genius go? He had been, as a child, expected to be a neurosurgeon, or a great novelist. And now he’s considering (or, okay, refusing to consider) law school. Was the burden of his potential too much for him?”

“Oh, all you immigrants and visionaries, what do you hope to find here, who do you hope to become?”

“Peter is still amazed at the degree to which a certain widening gyre of accolades can change an artist’s work, literally change it, not just the new stuff but the old as well, the pieces that have been around for a while, that have seemed “interesting” or “promising” but minor, until (not often, just once in a while) an artist is by some obscure consensus declared to have been neglected, misrepresented, ahead of his time. What’s astonishing to Peter is the way the work itself seems to change, more or less in the way of a reasonably pretty girl who is suddenly treated as a beauty. Peculiar, clever Victoria Hwang is going to be in Artforum next month, and probably in the collections of the Whitney and the Guggenheim; Renee Zellweger – moonfaced, squinty-eyed, a character actress if ever there was one – was just on the cover of Vogue, looking ravishing in a silver gown. It is, of course, a trick of perception – the understanding that that funny little artist or that quirky-looking girl must be taken with new seriousness – but Peter suspects there’s a deeper change at work. Being the focus of that much attention (and, yes, of that much money) seems to differently excite the molecules of the art or the actress or the politician. It’s not just a phenomenon of altered expectations, it’s a genuine transubstantiation, brought about by altered expectations. Renée Zellweger becomes a beauty, and would look like a beauty to someone who had never heard of her. Victoria Hwang’s videos and sculptures are about, it seems, to become not just intriguing and amusing but significant.”

“He’s filled with a sense of childish release, the old feeling that because you are sick, all your trials and obligations have been suspended.”

“Peter hesitates. “Ridiculous” is the least of it. How about offensive, insulting? How about the implication that “someone who’s never used” is a sad and small figure, standing on the platform, sensibly dressed, as the bus pulls in? Even now, after all those ad campaigns, after all we’ve learned about how bad it really and truly gets, there is the glamour of self-destruction, imperishable, gem-hard, like some cursed ancient talisman that cannot be destroyed by any known means. Still, still, the ones who go down can seem as if they’re more complicatedly, more dangerously attuned to the sadness and, yes, the impossible grandeur. They’re romantic, goddamn them; we just can’t get it up in quite the same way for the sober and sensible, the dogged achievers, for all the good they do. We don’t adore them with the exquisite disdain we can bring to the addicts and miscreants. It helps, of course – let’s not get carried away – if you’re a young prince like Mizzy, and you’ve actually got something of value to destroy in the first place.”

“Who has more power than a child? She can be as cruel as she wants to be. He can’t.”

“The Taylors have this gift for imperturbable presence. They are not nervous talkers. The Harrises, on the other hand, have always been constant talkers, not so much for the sake of entertainment or information but because if a silence caught and held for too long they might have fallen into a bottomless sullen discord, a frozen mutual quietude that could never be broken because there never had been and never would be a shared topic of sufficient reviving urgency (not at least one either of his parents could bear to broach), and so they needed to hydroplane forward together on an ever-replenished slick of remark and opinion…”

“Beauty – the beauty Peter craves – is this, then: a human bundle of accidental grace and doom and hope. Mizzy must have hope, he must, he wouldn’t shine like this if he were in true despair, and of course he’s young, who in this world despairs more exquisitely than the young, it’s something the old tend to forget.”

“They’re not tourists, either, they’re nothing like the gawkers and brayers in a place like Times Square, but they don’t live here, they live in Jersey or Westchester, they’re burghers right out of seventeenth-century Amsterdam, they cross Broadway as if they fucking own it, they think they look rakish, they think they’re creatures of the night, they have neighbors whom they consider burghers because they don’t like driving in New York, because they’d rather stay home (right now, the woman in the fringed pashmina shawl, the one walking arm-in-arm with Cowboy Boots, explodes in laughter, a great smacking hoot of a laugh, a three-martinis laugh, audible for a block or so), while the residents of downtown Manhattan, the ones who survive the days here, walk more modestly, certainly more quietly, more like penitents, because it’s almost impossible to maintain a sense of hubris when you live here, you’re too constantly confronted by the rampant otherness of others; hubris is surely much more attainable when you’ve got a house and a lawn and an Audi, when you understand that at the end of the world you’ll get a second’s more existence because the bomb won’t be aimed at you, the shock wave will take you out but you’re not anybody’s main target, you’ve removed yourself from the kill zone, no one gets shot where you live, no one gets stabbed by a random psychopath, the biggest threat to your personal, ongoing security is the possibility that the neighbor’s son will break in and steal a few prescription bottles from your medicine cabinet.”

“What did Shakespeare say? Or little lives are rounded with a sleep.”

“Youth is the only sexy tragedy.”

“It’s your life, quite possibly your only one. Still you find yourself having a vodka at three a.m., waiting for your pill to kick in, with time ticking through you and your own ghost already wandering among your rooms.”

“Without rich people who want it done now, who would animate the free world? In theory, you want everyone to live peacefully according to their needs, along the banks of a river. In fact, you worry that you’d die of boredom there. In fact, you get a buzz from someone like Carole Potter, who keeps prize chickens and could teach a graduate course in landscaping; who maintains a staff of four (more in the summers, during High Guest Season); a handsome, slightly ridiculous husband; a beautiful daughter at Harvard and an incorrigible son doing something or other on Bondi Beach; Carole who is charming and self-deprecating and capable, if pushed, of a hostile indifference crueler than any form of rage; who reads novels and goes to movies and theater and yes, yes, bless her, buys art, serious art, about which she actually fucking knows a thing or two.”

“…a full week of their mother’s quiet fury over the fun they don’t seem to be having and their father’s dogged attempts to provide it…”

“It helps, of course – let’s not get carried away – if you’er a young prince like Mizzy, and you’ve actually got something of value to destroy in the first place.”

“There is something exciting about this. Peter still doesn’t want to have sex with Mizzy, but there is something thrilling about downing a shot of vodka with another man who happens to be naked. There’s the covert brotherliness of it, a locker-room aspect, the low, masculine, eroticized love-hum that’s not so much about the flesh as it is about the commonality. You, Peter, as devoted as you are to your wife, as completely as you understand her very real worries on Mizzy’s behalf, also understand Mizzy’s desire to make his own way, to avoid that maelstrom of womanly ardor, that distinctly feminine sense that you will be healed, whether you want to be or not.

Men are united in their commonness, maybe it’s as simple as that.”

“Morning, Peter,” she calls from the back, in her exaggerated German accent. Mawning, Pedder.
She’s been in the States more than fifteen years now, but her accent has gotten heavier. Uta is a member of what seems to be a
growing body of defiantly unassimilated expatriates. She on one hand disdains her country of origin (Darling, the word “lugubrious”
comes to mind) but on the other seems to grow more German (more not-American) with every passing year.

Because Uta is German, utterly German, which of course is probably why she left there, and insists that she’ll never go back.”

“Do you imagine, Peter, that your Carpe Diem boots would look any less deluded to them than that guy’s Tony Lamas do to you? There’s a comeuppance for everyone, wherever you are, and the farther you go from your own fiefdom, the more ludicrous are your haircut, your clothes, your opinions, your life. Within easy walking distance of home are neighborhoods that might as well be in Saigon.”

“Die young, stay pretty. Blondie, right? We think of it as a modern phenomenon, the whole youth thing, but really, consider all those great portraits, some of them centuries old. Those goddesses of Botticelli and Rubens, Goya’s Maja, Madame X. Consider Manet’s Olympia, which shocked at the time, he having painted his mistress with the same voluptuous adulation generally reserved for the aristocratic good girls who posed for depictions of goddesses. Hardly anyone knows anymore, and no one cares, that Olympia was Manet’s whore; although there’s every reason to imagine that, in life, she was foolish and vulgar and not entirely hygienic (Paris in the 1860s being what it was). She’s immortal now, she’s a great historic beauty, having been scrubbed clean by the attention of a great artist. And okay, we can’t help but notice that Manet did not choose to paint her twenty years later, when time had started doing its work. The world has always worshipped nascence. Goddamn the world.”

“The Harrises, on the other hand, have always been constant talkers, not so much for the sake of entertainment or information but because if a silence caught and held for too long they might have fallen into a bottomless sullen discord, a frozen mutual quietude that could never be broken because there never had been and never would be a shared topic of sufficient reviving urgency (not at least one either of his parents could bear to broach), and so they needed to hydroplane forward together on an ever-replenished slick of remark and opinion, of ritualized disinclination (You know, I’ve never trusted that man) and long-familiar enthusiasms (I know Chinese food is filthy, but I just don’t care).”

“Peter’s mother was grand, in her way. She managed to complain almost ceaselessly without ever seeming trivial or kvetchy. She was regal rather than crotchety, she had been sent to live in this world from a better one, and she saved herself from mere mean-spiritedness by offering resignation in place of bile – by implying, every hour of her life, that although she objected to almost everybody and everythng she did so because she’d presided over some utopia, and so knew from experience how much better we all could do. She wanted more than anything to live under a benevolent dictator who was exactly like her without being her – if she actually ruled she would relinquish her right to object, and without her right to object who and what would she be?”

“Mizzy has wandered into the garden. Carole looks contemplatively at him, says, “Lovely boy.”

“My wife’s insanely younger brother. He’s one of those kids with too much potential, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

Further details would be redundant. Peter knows the Potters’ story: the pretty, unstoppable daughter who’s tearing through her Harvard doctorate versus the older child, the son, who has, it seems, been undone by his good fortune; who at thirty-eight is still surfing and getting stoned by way of occupations, currently in Australia.”

“Mizzy has, again, wandered into the garden, like a child who feels no fealty to adult conversation.”

“And so, he knows. He wants, he needs, to do the immoral, irresponsible thing. He wants to let this boy court his own destruction. He wants to commit that cruelty. Or (kinder, gentler version) he doesn’t want to reconfirm his allegiance to the realm of the sensible, all the good people who take responsibility, who go to the right and necessary parties, who sell art made of two-by-fours and carpet remnants. He wants, for at least a little while, to live in that other, darker world – Blake’s London, Courbet’s Paris; raucous, unsanitary places where good behavior was the province of decent, ordinary people who produced no works of genius.”

“And yet, it gives Peter nothing. Not now. Not today. Not when he needs… more. More than this well-executed idea. More than the shark in the tank meant to frighten, more than the guy on the street meant to say something pithy about celebrity. More than this.”

“The world is full of Guses–good-looking boys and girls who’ve been dealt the best possible genetic hand by parents and grandparents and great-grandparents who have been doing neither well nor badly for generations; who engender these decent kids and give them just enough to survive in the world but no more–no spectacular beauty, no uncontainable brilliance, no kingly, unstoppable ambition.

Isn’t it the task of art to acclaim these people, to ennoble them? Consider Olympia. A girl of the streets becomes a deity.”

“Gus the driver is everywhere and yet he appears nowhere, not in portraits or photographs, not even in the stories of men like Barthelme and Carver, who were all about guys with jobs and prospects like Gus’s but who insisted on more sorrow, more angst, than Gus remotely manifests. If Gus weeps sometimes for no reason, if he stands despairing in the aisle of a Wal-Mart, it is not apparent in his daily demeanor…”

“There is no one there to see it. The world is doing what it always does, demonstrating itself to itself. The world has no interest in the little figures that come and go, the phantoms that worry and worship, that rake the graveled paths and erect the occasional rock garden, the bronze boy-man, the hammered cup for snow to fall into.”

“Parents are the mystified criminals, blinking in the docks, making it all the worse for themselves with every word they utter.”

“you.” “Likewise.” They shake hands, head back to the elevator. Groff”

 

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A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood

ASingleM24 hours, covering a 58 year-old man’s thought processes. He teaches at a University and ruminates on death and life and the small pleasures you can get from simply living, even when tragedy strikes (the death of his lover Jim).

It’s different from his Berlin novels.

There’s teacherly reserve – he never enters a classroom with another student, preferring a grand entrance, and he can’t exit like a clown and slink into the crowd after removing his  make up.

It is during the time pf Christmas shopping adverts and the recent Cuban missile crisis when sheltering with food is useless as it requires lots of water.

He goes to sleep, trying to get a masturbatory fantasy right so as to aid a good night’s sleep.

The day ends as it begins –his body, dying.

Quotations:

“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!”

“But now isn’t simply now. Now is also a cold reminder: one whole day later than yesterday, one year later than last year. Every now is labeled with its date, rendering all past nows obsolete, until — later of sooner — perhaps — no, not perhaps — quite certainly: it will come.”

“Fear, after all, is our real enemy. Fear is taking over our world. Fear is being used as a tool of manipulation in our society. Itʼs how politicians peddle policy and how Madison Avenue sells us things that we donʼt need. Think about it. Fear that weʼre going to be attacked, fear that there are communists lurking around every corner, fear that some little Caribbean country that doesnʼt believe in our way of life poses a threat to us. Fear that black culture may take over the world. Fear of Elvis Presleyʼs hips. Well, maybe that one is a real fear. Fear that our bad breath might ruin our friendships… Fear of growing old and being alone.”

“Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognized I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it has expected to find itself: what’s called at home.”

“For other people, I can’t speak – but, personally, I haven’t gotten wise on anything. Certainly, I’ve been through this and that; and when it happens again, I say to myself, Here it is again. But that doesn’t seem to help me. In my opinion, I, personally, have gotten steadily sillier and sillier – and that’s a fact.”

“If it’s going to be a world with no time for sentiment, it’s not a world that I want to live in.”

“George smiles to himself, with entire self-satisfaction. Yes, I am crazy, he thinks. That is my secret; my strength.”

“What’s so phony nowadays is all this familiarity. Pretending there isn’t any difference between people —well, like you were saying about minorities, this morning. If you and I are no different, what do we have to give each other? How can we ever be friends?”

“Now, for example, people with freckles aren’t thought of as a minority by the nonfreckled. They aren’t a minority in the sense we’re talking about. And why aren’t they? Because a minority is only thought of as a minority when it constitutes some kind of a threat to the majority, real or imaginary. And no threat is ever quite imaginary. Anyone here disagree with that? If you do, just ask yourself, What would this particular minority do if it suddenly became the majority overnight? You see what I mean? Well, if you don’t – think it over!
“All right. Now along come the liberals – including everybody in this room, I trust – and they say, ‘Minorities are just people, like us.’ Sure, minorities are people – people, not angels. Sure, they’re like us – but not exactly like us; that’s the all-too- familiar state of liberal hysteria in which you begin to kid yourself you honestly cannot see any difference between a Negro and a Swede….” (Why, oh why daren’t George say “between Estelle Oxford and Buddy Sorensen”? Maybe, if he did dare, there would be a great atomic blast of laughter, and everybody would embrace, and the kingdom of heaven would begin, right here in classroom. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t.)
“So, let’s face it, minorities are people who probably look and act and – think differently from us and hay faults we don’t have. We may dislike the way they look and act, and we may hate their faults. And it’s better if we admit to disliking and hating them than if we try to smear our feelings over with pseudo liberal sentimentality. If we’re frank about our feelings, we have a safety valve; and if we have a safety valve, we’re actually less likely to start persecuting. I know that theory is unfashionable nowadays. We all keep trying to believe that if we ignore something long enough it’ll just vanish….
“Where was I? Oh yes. Well, now, suppose this minority does get persecuted, never mind why – political, economic, psychological reasons. There always is a reason, no matter how wrong it is – that’s my point. And, of course, persecution itself is always wrong; I’m sure we all agree there. But the worst of it is, we now run into another liberal heresy. Because the persecuting majority is vile, says the liberal, therefore the persecuted minority must be stainlessly pure. Can’t you see what nonsense that is? What’s to prevent the bad from being persecuted by the worse? Did all the Christian victims in the arena have to be saints?
“And I’ll tell you something else. A minority has its own kind of aggression. It absolutely dares the majority to attack it. It hates the majority–not without a cause, I grant you. It even hates the other minorities, because all minorities are in competition: each one proclaims that its sufferings are the worst and its wrongs are the blackest. And the more they all hate, and the more they’re all persecuted, the nastier they become! Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed? While you’re being persecuted, you hate what’s happening to You, you hate the people who are making it happen; you’re in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn’t recognize love if you met it! You’d suspect love! You’d think there was something behind it – some motive – some trick…”

“The prefect evening…lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself sleepy…Jim lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other’s presence.”

“Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed? While you’re being persecuted, you hate what’s happening to you, you hate the people who are making it happen; you’re in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn’t recognize love if you met it! You’d suspect love! You’d think there was something behind it—some motive—some trick.”

“You see, Kenny, there are some things you don’t even know you know, until you’re asked.”

“But your book is wrong, Mrs. Strunk, says George, when it tells you that Jim is the substitute I found for a real son, a real kid brother, a real husband, a real wife. Jim wasn’t a substitute for anything. And there is no substitute for Jim, if you’ll forgive my saying so, anywhere.”

“The past is just something that’s over.”

“These books have not made George nobler or better or more truly wise. It is just that he likes listening to their voices, the one or the other, acording to his mood. He misuses them quite ruthlessly – despite the respectful way he has to talk about them in public – to put him to bed, to take his mind off the hands of the clock, to relax the nagging of his pyloric spasm, to gossip him out of his melancholy, to trigger the conditioned reflexes of his colon.”

“Someone has to ask you a question,” George continues meaningly, “before you can answer it. But it’s so seldom you find anyone who’ll ask the right questions. Most people aren’t that much interested….”

“What it sees there isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament.”

“Oh, Kenneth, Kenneth, believe me – there’s nothing I’d rather do! I want like hell to tell you. But I can’t. I quite literally can’t. Because, don’t you see, what I know is what I am? And I can’t tell you that. You have to find it out for yourself. I’m like a book you have to read. A book can’t read itself to you. It doesn’t even know what it’s about. I don’t know what I’m about.”

“I am alive, he says to himself, I am alive! And life energy surges hotly through him, and delight, and appetite. How good to be in a body – even this old beat-up carcass – that still has warm blood and live semen and rich marrow and wholesome flesh!”

“Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face – the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man – all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us – we have died – what is there to be afraid of?

It answers them: But that happened so gradually, so easily. I’m afraid of being rushed.”

“They keep telling you, when you’re older, you’ll have experience—and that’s supposed to be so great. What would you say about that, sir? Is it really any use, would you say?”

“What kind of experience?”

“Well—places you’ve been to, people you’ve met. Situations you’ve been through already, so you know how to handle them when they come up again. All that stuff that’s supposed to make you wise, in your later years.”

“Let me tell you something, Kenny. For other people, I can’t speak—but, personally, I haven’t gotten wise on anything. Certainly, I’ve been through this and that; and when it happens again, I say to myself, Here it is again. But that doesn’t seem to help me. In my opinion, I, personally, have gotten steadily sillier and sillier and sillier—and that’s a fact.”

“No kidding, sir? You can’t mean that! You mean, sillier than when you were young?”

“Much, much sillier.”

“I’ll be darned. Then experience is no use at all? You’re saying it might just as well not have happened?”

“No. I’m not saying that. I only mean, you can’t use it. But if you don’t try to—if you just realize it’s there and you’ve got it—then it can be kind of marvelous.”

“As they embrace, she kisses him full on the mouth. And suddenly sticks her tongue right in. She has done this before, often. It’s one of those drunken long shots which just might, at least theoretically, once in ten thousand tries, throw a relationship right out of its orbit and send it whizzing off on another. Do women ever stop trying? No. But, because they never stop, they learn to be good losers.”

“No one ever hates without a cause….”

“In ten minutes they will have arrived on campus. George will have to be George; the George they have named and will recognise. So now he consciously applies himself to thinking their thoughts, getting into their mood. With the skill of a veteran, he rapidly puts on the psychological makeup for this role he must play.”

“Lois and Alexander are by far the most beautiful creatures in the class; their beauty is like the beauty of plants, seemingly untroubled by vanity, anxiety or effort.”

“The talk of pale, burning-eyed students, anarchists and utopians all, over tea and cigarettes in a locked room long past midnight, is next morning translated, with the literalness of utter innocence, into the throwing of the bomb, the shouting of the proud slogan, the dragging away of the young dreamer-doer, still smiling, to the dungeon and the firing squad.”

“This is a tightly planned little house. He often feels protected by its smallness; there is hardly room enough here to feel lonely.”

Because the persecuting majority is vile, says the liberal, therefore the persecuted minority must be stainlessly pure…What’s to prevent the bad from being persecuted by the worse? Did all the Christian victims on the arena have to be saints?

…A minority has its own kind of aggression. It absolutely dares the majority to attack it. It hates the majority – not without a cause, I grant you. It even hates the other minorities – because all minorities are in competition; each one proclaims that its sufferings are the worst and its wrongs are the blackest. And the more they all hate, and the more they’re all persecuted, the nastier they become! Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed? While you’re being persecuted, you hate what’s happening to you, you hate the people who are making it happen; you’re in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn’t recognize love if you met it! You’d suspect love! You’d think there was something behind it—some motive—some trick.”

“I certainly should have,’ he agrees, smiling and thinking what an absurd and universally-accepted bit of nonsense it is, that your best friends must necessarily be the ones who best understand you. As if there weren’t far too much understanding in the world already; above all, that understanding between lovers, celebrated in song and story, which is actually such torture that no two of them can bear it without frequent separations or fights.”

“She is sighing deeply now with sympathy and delight – the delight of an addict when someone else admits he’s hooked, too.”

“The Nazis were not right to hate the Jews. But their hating of Jews was not without a cause. No one ever hates without a cause.”

“George feels that, even if all this double talk hasn’t brought them any closer to understanding each other, the not-understanding, the readiness to remain at cross-purposes, is in itself a kind of intimacy.”

“For a few minutes, maybe, life lingers in the tissues of some outlying regions of the body. Then, one by one, the lights go out and there is total blackness. And if some part of the non-entity we called George has indeed been absent at this moment of terminal shock, away out there on the deep water, then it will return to find itself homeless.”

“I’m like a book you have to read. A book can’t read itself to you. It doesn’t even know what it’s about.”

“…a minority is only thought of as a minority if it constitutes some kind of threat to the majority, real or imaginary. And no threat is ever quite imaginary…Just ask yourselves: what would this particular minority do if it suddenly became the majority, overnight?
‘All right – now along come the liberals – including everybody in the room, I trust – and they say, ‘minorities are just people, like us ‘. Sure, minorities are people, just like us’. Sure, minorities are people; people , not angels. Sure, they’re like us – but not exactly like us; that’s the all-too-familiar state of liberal hysteria, in which you begin to kid yourself you honestly cannot see a difference between a Negro and a Swede -‘
(Why, oh why daren’t George say ‘between Estelle Oxford and Buddy Sorensen’? Maybe, if he did dare, there would be a great atomic blast of laughter, and everybody would embrace, and the kingdom of heaven would begin, right here in the classroom 278. But then, again, maybe it wouldn’t.)
‘So,let’s face it, minorities are people who probably look and act and think differently from us, and have faults we don’t have. We may dislike the way they look and act, and we may hate their faults. And it’s better if we admit to disliking and hating them, than if we try to smear out feelings over with pseudo-liberal sentimentality. If we’re frank about our feelings, we have a safety-valve; and if we have a safety-valve, we’re actually less likely to start persecuting…”

“The game is cruel; but its cruelty is sensual and stirs George into hot excitement. He feels a thrill of pleasure to find the senses so eager in their response; too often, now, they seem sadly jaded. From his heart, he thanks these young animals for their beauty. And they will never know what they have done to make this moment marvelous to him, and life itself less hateful….”

“And now an hour, maybe, has passed. And they are both drunk: Kenny fairly, George very. But George is drunk in a good way, and one that he seldom achieves. He tries to describe to himself what this kind of drunkenness is like. Well – to put it very crudely – it’s like Plato; it’s a dialogue. A dialogue between two people. Yes, but not a Platonic dialogue in the hair-splitting, word-twisting, one-up-to-me sense; not a mock-humble bitching match; not a debate on some dreary set theme. You can talk about anything and change the subject as often as you like. In fact, what really matters is not what you talk about, but the being together in this particular relationship. George can’t imagine having a dialogue of this kind with a woman, because women can only talk in terms of the personal. A man of his own age would do, if there was some sort of polarity: for instance, if he was a Negro. You and your dialogue-partner have to be somehow opposites. Why? Because you have to be symbolic figures – like, in this case, Youth and Age. Why do you have to be symbolic? Because the dialogue is by its nature impersonal. It’s a symbolic encounter. It doesn’t involve either party personally. That’s why, in a dialogue, you can say absolutely anything. Even the closest confidence, the deadliest secret, comes out objectively as a mere metaphor or illustration which could never be used against you.”

“The harassed look is that of a desperately tired swimmer or runner; yet there is no question of stopping. The creature we are watching will struggle on and on until it drops. Not because it is heroic. It can imagine no alternative.

Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face – the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young-man – all present still, preserved as fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us – we have died -what is there to be afraid of?

It answers them: But it happened so gradually, so easily. I am afraid of being rushed.

“By the time it has gotten dressed, it has become he; has become already more or less George — though still not the whole George they demand and are prepared to recognize. Those who call him on the phone at this hour of the morning would be bewildered, maybe even scared, if they could realize what this three-quarters-human thing is what they are talking to. But, of course, they never could—its voice’s mimicry of their George is nearly perfect.”

“Does he know about me? George wonders; do any of them? Oh yes, probably. It wouldn’t interest them. They don’t want to know about my feelings or my glands or anything below my neck. I could just as well be a severed head carried into the classroom to lecture to them from a dish.”

“A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity. When for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. It’s as though it had all just come into existence.
I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.”

“The living room is dark and low-ceilinged, with bookshelves all along the wall opposite the windows. These books have not made George nobler or better or more truly wise. It is just that he likes listening to their voices, the one or the other, according to his mood. He misuses them quite ruthlessly – despite the respectful way he has to talk about them in public – to put him to sleep, to take his mind off the hands of the clock, to relax the nagging of his pyloric spasm, to gossip him out of his melancholy, to trigger the conditioned reflexes of his colon.”

“Christ, it is sad, sad to see on quite a few of these faces – young ones particularly – a glum, defeated look. Why do they feel this way about their lives? Sure, they are underpaid. Sure, they have no great prospects, in the commercial sense. Sure, they can’t enjoy the bliss of mingling with corporation executives. But isn’t it any consolation to be with students who are still three-quarters alive? Isn’t it some tiny satisfaction to be of use, instead of helping to turn out useless consumer goods? Isn’t it something to know that you belong to one of the few professions in this country which isn’t hopelessly corrupt?”

“But George is getting old. Won’t it very soon be too late?

Never use those words to George. He won’t listen. He daren’t listen. Damn the future. Let Kenny and the kids have it. Let Charley keep the past. George clings only to Now. It is Now that he must find another Jim. Now that he must love. Now that he must live….”

“A veteran, calm and assured, he pauses for a well-measured moment in the doorway of the office and then, boldly, clearly, with the subtly modulated British intonation which his public demands of him, speaks his opening line, ‘Good morning!’
And the three secretaries – each of them a charming and accomplished actress in her own chosen style – recognise him instantly, without even a flicker of doubt, and reply ‘Good morning’ to him. (There is something religious here, like responses in church; a reaffirmation of faith in the basic American dogma, that it is, always, a Good Morning. Good, despite the Russians and their rockets, and all the ills and worries of the flesh. For of course we know, don’t we, that the Russians and the worries are not real? They can be unsought and made to vanish. And therefore the morning can ve made to be good. Very well then, it is good.”

“You don’t even have a cat or a dog or anything?”

“You think I should?” George asks, a bit aggressive. The poor old guy doesn’t have anything to love, he thinks Kenny is thinking.

“Hell, no! Didn’t Baudelaire say they’re liable to turn into demons and take over your life?”

“Here, in their midst, George feels a sort of vertigo. Oh God, what will become of them all? What chance have they? Ought I to yell out to them, right now, here, that it’s hopeless? But George knows he can’t do that. Because, absurdly, inadequately, in spite of himself, almost, he is a representative of the hope. And the hope is not false. No. It’s just that George is like a man trying to sell a real diamond for a nickel, on the street. The diamond is protected from all but the tiniest few, because the great hurrying majority can never stop to dare to believe that it could conceivably be real.”

“And I’ll tell you something else. A minority has its own kind of aggression. It absolutely dares the majority to attack it. It hates the majority – not without a cause, I grant you. It even hates the other minorities, because all minorities are in competition: each one proclaims that its sufferings are the worst and its wrongs are the blackest. And the more they all hate, and the more they’re all persecuted, the nastier they become! Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why should it make them nice to be loathed? While you’re being persecuted, you hate what’s happening to you, you hate the people who are making it happen; you’re in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn’t recognize love if you met it! You’d suspect love! You’d think there was something behind it – some motive – some trick….”

“He pictures the evening he might have spent, snugly at home, fixing the food he has bought, then lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself slowly sleepy. At first glance this is an absolutely convincing and charming scene of domestic contentment. Only after a few instants does George notice the omission that makes it meaningless. What is left out of the picture is Jim, lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other’s presence.”

“And now an hour, maybe, has passed. And they are both drunk: Kenny fairly, George very. But George is drunk in a good way, and one that he seldom achieves. He tries to describe to himself what this kind of drunkenness is like. Well – to put it very crudely – it’s like Plato; it’s a dialogue. A dialogue between two people. Yes, but not a Platonic dialogue in the hair-splitting, word-twisting, one-up-to-me sense; not a mock-humble bitching match; not a debate on some dreary set theme. You can talk about anything and change the subject as often as you like. In fact, what really matters is not what you talk about, but the being together in this particular relationship.”

“The Europeans hate us because we’ve retired to live inside our advertisements, like hermits going into caves to contemplate. We sleep in symbolic bedrooms, eat symbolic meals, are symbolically entertained- and that terrifies them, that fills them with fury and loathing because they can never understand it.”

“Because the persecuting majority is vile, says the liberal, therefore the persecuted minority must be stainlessly pure. Can’t you see what nonsense that is? What’s to prevent the bad from being persecuted by the worse? Did all the Christian victims in the arena have to be saints?”

“No, Geo—underneath all that, Nan really loves me. It’s just she wants me to see things her way. You know, she’s two years older; that meant a lot when we were children. I’ve always thought of her as being sort of like a road—I mean, she leads somewhere. With her, I’ll never lose my way.”

“Now, for example, people with freckles aren’t thought of as a minority by the non-freckled. They aren’t a minority in the sense we’re talking about. And why aren’t they? Because a minority is only thought of as a minority when it constitutes some kind of a threat to the majority, real or imaginary. And no threat is ever quite imaginary.”

“Goofy from lack of sleep, they scribble in snatched moments between classes, part-time employment and their married lives. Their brains are dizzy with words as they mop out an operating room, sort mail at a post office, fix baby’s bottle, fry hamburgers. And somewhere, in the midst of their servitude to the must-be, the mad might-be whispers to them to live, know, experience — what? Marvels! The Season in Hell, the Journey to the End of the Night, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the Clear Light of the Void… Will any of them make it? Oh, sure. One, at least. Two or three at most — in all these searching thousands.”

“He crosses the front room, which he calls his study, and comes down the staircase. The stairs turn a corner; they are narrow and steep. You can touch both handrails with your elbows, and you have to bend your head, even if, like George, you are only five eight. This is a tightly planned little house. He often feels protected by its smallness; there is hardly room enough here to feel lonely. Nevertheless.”

“He dislikes even to touch these things, for they are the runes of an idiotic but nevertheless potent and evil magic; the magic of the think-machine gods, whose cult has one dogma – we cannot make a mistake.”

“A minority is only thought of as a minority when it constitutes some kind of a threat to the majority, real or imaginary.”

“…all around George, approaching him, crossing his path from every direction, is the male and female raw material which is fed daily into this factory, along the conveyor-belts of the freeways, to be processed, packaged and placed on the market…
What do they think they are up to? Well, there is the official answer; preparing themselves for life which means a job and security in which to raise children to prepare themselves for life which means a job and security in which…
Here, in their midst, George feels a sort of vertigo. Oh God, what will become of them all? What chance have they? Ought I yell out to them, right now, here, that it’s hopeless?
But George knows he can’t do that. Because, absurdly, inadequately, in spite of himself almost, he is a representative of hope. And the hope is not false. No. It’s just that George is like a man trying to sell a real diamond for a nickel, on the street. The diamond is protected from all but the tiniest few, because the great hurrying majority can never stop to dare to believe that it could conceivably be real.”

“Do women ever stop trying? No. But, because they never stop, they learn to be good losers.”

“These books have not made George nobler or better or more truly
wise. It is just that he likes listening to their voices, the one or the other, according to his
mood.”

“How delightful it is to be here.(Gym) If only one could spend one’s entire life in this state of easygoing physical democracy.”

“George is very far, right now, from sneering at any of these fellow creatures. They may be crude and mercenary and dull and low, but he is proud, is glad, is almost indecently gleeful to be able to stand up and be counted in their ranks—the ranks of that marvelous minority, The Living. They don’t know their luck, these people on the sidewalk, but George knows his—for a little while at least—because he is freshly returned from the icy presence of The Majority, which Doris is to join.

I am alive, he says to himself, I am alive! And life-energy surges hotly through him, and delight, and appetite. How good to be in
a body—even this beat-up carcass—that still has warm blood and semen and rich marrow and wholesome flesh! The scowling youths on the corners see him as a dodderer no doubt, or at best as a potential score. Yet he claims a distant kinship with the strength of their young arms and shoulders and loins. For a few bucks he could get any one of them to climb into the car, ride back with him to his house, strip off butch leather jacket, skin-tight Levi’s, shirt and cowboy boots and take a naked, sullen young athlete, in the wrestling bout of his pleasure. But George doesn’t want the bought unwilling bodies of these boys. He wants to rejoice in his own body—the tough triumphant old body of a survivor. The body that has outlived Jim and is going to outlive Doris.”

“Just suppose that the dead do revisit the living. That something approximately to be described as Jim can return to see how George is making out. Would this be at all satisfactory? Would it even be worthwhile? At best, surely, it would be like the brief visit of an observer from another country who is permitted to peep in for a moment from the vast outdoors of his freedom and see, at a distance, through glass, this figure who sits solitary at the small table in the narrow room, eating his poached eggs humbly and dully, a prisoner for life.”

“You broke your other appointment, didn’t you?”

“I did not! I told you on the phone—these people canceled at the last minute—”

“Oh, Geo dear, come off it! You know, I sometimes think, about you, whenever you do something really sweet, you’re ashamed of it afterwords! You knew jolly well how badly I needed you tonight, so you broke that appointment. I could tell you were fibbing, the minute you opened your mouth! You and I can’t pull the wool over each other’s eyes. I found that out, long ago. Haven’t you—after all these years?”

“I certainly should have,” he agrees, smiling and thinking what an absurd and universally accepted bit of nonsense it is that your best friends must necessarily be the ones who best understand you.”

“their beauty is like the beauty of plants, seemingly untroubled by vanity, anxiety or effort.”

“From his heart, he thanks these young animals for their beauty. And they will never know what they have done to make this moment marvelous to him, and life itself less hateful.…”

“And now, as George pours the vodka (giving her a light one, to slow her down) and the scotch (giving himself a heavier one, to catch up on) he begins to feel this utterly mysterious unsensational thing – not bliss, not ecstasy, not joy – just plain happiness – das Glueck, le bonheur, la felicidad – they have given it all three genders but one has to admit, however grudgingly, that the Spanish are right, it is usually feminine, that’s to say, woman-created.”

“The supermarket is still open; it won’t close till midnight. It is brilliantly bright. Its brightness offers sanctuary from loneliness and the dark. You could spend hours of your life here, in a state of suspended insecurity, meditating on the multiplicity of things to eat. Oh dear, there is so much! So many brands in shiny boxes, all of them promising you good appetite. Every article on the shelves cries out to you, take me, take me; and the mere competition of their appeals can make you imagine yourself wanted, even loved. But beware – when you get back to your empty room, you’ll find that the false flattering elf of the advertisement has eluded you; what remains is only cardboard, cellophane and food. And you have lost the heart to be hungry.”

“To say time is evil because evil happens in time is like saying the ocean is a fish because fish happen in the ocean.”

“there are some things you don’t even know you know, until you’re asked.”

“Here, in their midst, George feels a sort of vertigo. Oh God, what will become of them all? What chance have they? Ought I to yell out to them, right now, here, that it’s hopeless?”

“Feeling guilty’s no reason for staying, or going.”

“This bright place isn’t really a sanctuary. For, ambushed among its bottles and cartons and cans, are shockingly vivid memories of meals shopped for, cooked, eaten with Jim. They stab out at George as he passes, pushing his shopping cart. Should we ever feel truly lonely if we never ate alone?”

“I mean, what is this life of ours supposed to be for? Are we to spend it identifying each other with catalogues, like tourists in an art gallery? Or are we to try to exchange some kind of a signal, however garbled, before it’s too late?”

“But your book is wrong, Mrs. Strunk, says George, when it tells you that Jim is the substitute I found for a real son, a real kid brother, a real husband, a real wife. Jim wasn’t a substitute for anything. And there is no substitute for Jim, if you’ll forgive my saying so, anywhere.”

“They saw themselves as rear-guard individualists, making a last-ditch stand against the twentieth century. They gave thanks loudly from morn till eve that they had escaped the soul destroying commercialism of the city. They were tacky and cheerful and defiantly bohemian, tirelessly inquisitive about each other’s doings, and boundlessly tolerant. When they fought, at least it was with fists and bottles and furniture, not lawyers.”

“…George’s feathers are ruffled. It’s been a long time since last he forgot and let himself get up steam like this…How humiliating! The silly enthusiastic old prof, rambling on, disregarding the clock, and the class sighing to itself, ‘He’s off again!’ Just for a moment, George hates them, hates their brute basic indifference, as they drain quickly out of the room. Once again, the diamond has been offered publicly for a nickel, and they have turned from it with a shrug and a grin, thinking the old peddler crazy.”

“Even when they are geniuses in spite of it, their masterpieces are invariably warped.”

“George feels flattered and excited…He can’t resist slipping into the role Kenny so temptingly offers him.”

“So now George has arrived. He is not nervous in the least. As he gets out of his car, he  feels an upsurge of energy, of eagerness for the play to begin. And he walks eagerly, with  a springy step, along the gravel path past the Music Building toward the Department  office. He is all actor now—an actor on his way up  from the dressing room, hastening  through the backstage world of props and lamps and  veteran, calm and assured, he pauses for a well-measured moment in the doorway of the  office and then, boldly, clearly, with the subtly modulated British intonation which his  public demands of him, speaks his opening line: “Good morning!”  And the three secretaries—each one of them a charming and accomplished actress in
her own chosen style—recognize him instantly, without even a flicker of doubt, and reply  “Good morning!” to him. (There is something religious here, like responses in church—a
reaffirmation of faith in the basic American dogma  that it is, always, a good morning.  Good, despite the Russians and their rockets, and all the ills and worries of the flesh. For
of course we know, don’t we, that the Russians and  the worries are not really real? They  can be un-thought and made to vanish. And therefore  good. Very well then, it is good.)”

“Staring and staring into the mirror, it sees many faces within its face – the face of the child, the boy, the young man, the not-so-young man – all present still, preserved like fossils on superimposed layers, and, like fossils, dead. Their message to this live dying creature is: Look at us – we have died – what is there to be afraid of?It answers them: But that happened so gradually, so easily. I’m afraid of being rushed.” Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man”

“What it sees there isn’t so much a face as the expression of a predicament.”

“A minority is only thought of a minority when it constitutes some kind of threat to the majority, real or imaginary.”

“After many a summer dies the swan.”

“But George knows he can’t do that. Because, absurdly, inadequately, in spite of himself, almost, he is a representative of the hope. And the hope is not false. No. It’s just that George is like a man trying to sell a real diamond for a nickel, on the street. The diamond is protected from all but the tiniest few, because the great hurrying majority can never stop to dare to believe that it could conceivably be real.”

“He dislikes even to touch these things, for they are the runes of an idiotic but nevertheless potent and evil magic: the magic of the think-machine gods, whose cult has one dogma, We cannot make a mistake. Their magic consists in this: that whenever they do make a mistake, which is quite often, it is perpetuated and thereby becomes a non-mistake.…”

“George makes himself remembers. He is afraid of forgetting. Jim is my life, he says. But he will have to forget, if he wants to go on living. Jim is death.”

“No time to worry about that now. In ten minutes they will have arrived on campus. In ten minutes, George will have to be George—the George they have named and will recognize. So now he consciously applies himself to thinking their thoughts, getting into their mood. With the skill of a veteran he rapidly puts on the psychological make-up for this role he must play.”

“George feels a kind of patriotism for the freeways. He is proud that they are so fast, that people get lost on them and even sometimes panic and have to bolt for safety down the nearest cutoff. George loves the freeways because he can still cope with them; because the fact that he can cope proves his claim to be a functioning member of society. He can still get by.”

“He feels a nausea of distaste for them all; then sudden rage. Damn all food. Damn all life. He would like to abandon his shopping-cart, although it’s already full of provisions.But that would make extra work for the clerks, and one of them is cute. The alternative, to put the whole lot back in the proper places himself, seems like a labour of Hercules; for the overpowering sloth of sadness is upon him. The sloth that ends in going to bed and staying there until you develop some disease.”

“… he begins to feel this utterly mysterious unsensational thing – not bliss, not ecstasy, not joy- das Glueck, le bonheur, la felicidad- they have given it all three genders but one has to admit, however grudgingly, that the Spanish are right, it is usually feminine, that’s to say, woman-created.”
“. . . you may think of a rock pool as an entity; though, of course, it is not. The waters of its consciousness—so to speak—are swarming with hunted anxieties, grim-jawed greeds, dartingly vivid intuitions, old crusty-shelled rock-gripping obstinacies, deep-down sparkling undiscovered secrets, ominous protean organisms motioning mysteriously, perhaps warningly, toward the surface light. How can such a variety of creatures coexist at all? Because they have to. The rocks of the pool hold their world together. And, throughout the day of the ebb tide, they know no other.”

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Now is the Hour – Tom Spanbauer

NITHRigby John left the Idaho farm where he grew up at the age of 17 and hits the road for San Francisco. He left behind his friendship with an Indian/Italian named George.

Tom Spanbauer is the founder of Dangerous Writing (written in first-person narrative and often dealing with cultural taboos. Fiction, as he describes it, is the lie that tells the truth, and, as one of his characters explains, “the best stories are the true stories.”

“Now Is the Hour” is a traditional Māori song:Po atarau E moea iho nei…….Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye……Soon I’ll be sailing, Far across the sea. While I’m away, Oh please remember me. When I return, I’ll find you waiting here

This is a dysfunctional, Roman Catholic family from the days of the desiccated spirituality pre-Vatican 2 and it contrasts with the open spirituality of a Jewish girl and an Indian.

The author could have researched the Church stuff better. You won’t find a chalice in the tabernacle or hear the words ‘Lord I am not worthy’ during benediction. Nor will; you has his strange translation of creed or encounter frankincense and myrrh

Rigby’s mother catches him masturbating (how many times does this happen in books? It must be common for many of us have experienced such) and makes him go to confession. The rosary is said daily in this house but it’s always the Sorrowful mysteries – there is no joy in this house.

Rigby wears a clip on bow-tie, gets a rosary as a prize and enjoys popular songs and the piano as an escape. He sees salvation in Billie and George – I loved God then, their eyes were full of Jesus.

The happy ending is somewhat improbable though maybe autobiographical as the author grew up in  Idaho.

The message, though, that ‘Miracles are out there. You’ve just got to find them’ is good.

Quotations:

“The universe has always conspired to fuck me up.”

“Her heartbeat was in her hands, her heart beat the way she moved her head, her whole body was her heart beating.”

“Sometimes the world is so beautiful it hurts.”

“The way I figure it, we know we got this world, so live in this one while you’re here. I figure the next one will take care of itself.”

“Trying to change yourself is as hard as trying to change the universe. Maybe there’s no difference. The fact is, shit happens none of us plan on.”

“An intention in your life to fold your life around.
I stood tall and strong and let him fall. His face against my chest. I reached down, put my arms under his knees, his legs dangled over my arm. One big heft, and I was holding George high in my arms.
There was nowhere to go, no place I knew, no solid, silent place in all the world. So I stood, held George, knotty pine everywhere I looked, men staring. Just stood. Put that solid, silent place in the world inside me and stood.
Stood and stood, held George, held his whole body, until he was quiet.”

“Stars, hard bits of diamond light.”

“If you own yourself, you own the world.”

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