“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, March 27, 2014

american alchemy: how torture becomes just another naughty thing

I love American alchemy. As we all know, when the evil elements in rogue nations drown prisoners or drive them crazy through sleep deprivation and humiliation, those evil elements are engaged in torture. But lo, when the evil elements are transmorgified into glorious freedom fighting Americans, there is a corresponding glorious change, as per this NYT description today: "According to several people who have read the committee’s report, it concludes that the agency gained little valuable intelligence from its brutal questioning of Qaeda detainees..." Brutal questioning! This of course makes it seem like the CIA asked impolite questions, such as how much do you make a year, and, let me ask you frankly about your sexual relations with your wife. Brutal stuff there indeed. The of course the al qaeda people went off to their cells for the steak dinners.http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/politics/reid-orders-computer-review-to-defend-senate-in-rift-with-cia.html?action=click&contentCollection=Politics&region=Footer&module=Recommendation&src=recg&pgtype=article
Of course, even without the Panetta report, we actually know that this "brutal questioning" was, o, a tad more than that. This is from Mark Danner's article in the nyrb from two months ago:

"We know a lot now about what went on in those rooms. We have, among many other documents, the minute-by-minute interrogation logs for Mohammed al-Qahtani, the supposed “twentieth hijacker” who was turned back at Orlando airport in August and later captured in Pakistan. It was Qahtani for whom Rumsfeld’s eighteen “counter-resistance techniques” were specially devised, and during his fifty-four days of interrogation he was subjected to nearly all of them: prolonged sleep deprivation—he endured forty-eight twenty-hour interrogations—forced nudity; prolonged stress positions; unremitting, almost unbearable noise; and humiliations of various kinds, sexual and otherwise. He was forced to wear woman’s underwear, and to appear nude in front of female interrogators. He was made to wear a leash and bark and perform “dog tricks,” and forced to endure enemas and intravenous drips. The log, scrupulously compiled by the military interrogators, charts Qahtani’s reactions in mind-numbing and often revolting detail.7 Here are some of Qahtani’s responses:

Detainee began to cry… Visibly anxious… Very emotional… Detainee cried… Disturbed… De- tainee began to cry… Butted SGT R in the eye… Bit the IV tube completely in two… Started moaning… Uncomfortable…Moaning… Began crying hard spontaneously… Crying and praying… Began to cry… Claimed to have been pressured into making a confession… Falling asleep… Very uncomfortable… On the verge of breaking… Angry… Detainee struggled… Detainee asked for prayer… Very agitated… Yelled… Tired… Agitated… Yelled for Allah… Started making odd faces … Near crying… Irritated… Annoyed…Detainee attempted to injure two guards… Became very violent and irate… Attempted to liberate himself… Struggled…Made several attempts to stand up… Screamed.8 "

Since this is what NYT calls brutal questioning, I am a bit curious what other phrases they use to mean a bit more than appears on the surface. For instance, what the Manson family did to Sharon Tate - would the Times call that "brutal harrassment:? Would they call the hijackers that rammed the planes into the WTC men engaged in "brutal urban renewal?" How far does the euphemism go?
I imagine it bores its way, acidically, into the very dark, slimy, stinky heart of the American elite, that abattoir where criminals and their abettors who run us have perfect immunity.

games and reality

Adam is learning to eat by himself like a man – admittedly, more like a medieval man, when table manners were still not quite developed yet, and everybody pulled off pieces of the roast with their hand and dribbled gravy. Adam has figured out how to take the spoon that he has used to scoop up cheerios and yogurt and raise it in a stuttering arc to his mouth. Of course, the reason that the yogurt is there is to make the cheerios adhere to something and that something to the spoon, which makes the payload loss a lot lighter as the spoon approaches mouth.
When he is finished eating, or when he is tired of eating – either because of the food, or because he is tired of being strapped in the high chair – he makes a royal gesture and throws the food off the table, sometimes in a grand sweep.
This reminds me, oddly enough, of something I used to do when I was a kid. I must have been nine years old, in that area, and I had learned to play monopoly. I’d play with my sister, or sometimes Mom  and Dad and my sister. And I’d be losing. Suddenly, I’d feel infuriated that I was losing, and I’d upset the board. I’d sweep my hand over it.
This, of course, won me an early bedtime, or various other punishments.
However, I find it interesting now as something other than the indication of temper. It is a spontaneous defining gesture – that is, a gesture that begins or ends something – but it is not considered in the game. It is not even prohibited by the rules, since the rules don’t consider it at all. It collapses the game. The gesture is like the popping of a balloon – the world rushes in with the hand that sweeps the pieces off the board.
In  popular ontology, we would say that the world is “real” and the game is not. However, reality, logically, has to include both the game and the world and everything else that one can think of – in as much as the thought happens. The confounding of existence with a set of values – with what is important, or serious, etc. – is a symptomatic cultural pattern one learns, perhaps, at the table, or interrupting a game that one is losing by creating equal loss for all players.
However, as so often when I am writing and watching Adam, the next paragraph was lost, along with the thought, as Adam – like the reality principle itself – rushed in to pound his hands on the keys. So this is what it is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

bellow and sammler

“For his part, Max Horkheimer was careful to avoid any overt expressions of his political convictions, which might have jeopardized the support of his father or the trust of his professors. Horkheimer had learned long before to cultivate a rich interiority in which he could safely pursue his genuine concerns.”
How I wish that I had learned to cultivate a rich interiority! Instead, I’m a blabbermouth – my interiority is always dribbling out of me, which is a nasty and embarrassing habit. I was not destined to be one of the sleek ones in this world, an escaper of nets, an elegant coder of elegies, rubbing the right elbows.
Novelists are generally of the blabbermouth kind. Their rich interiority is for show. But what a triumph if they can convey the Horkheimer type – a man whose actions are carefully calculated not to land him in the hot water that his opinions would surely make for him. The faucet, to continue with that hot water commonplace, is not turned to on, save on rare occassions. Silence, cunning exile – such were Stephen Daedalus’s vows, although he was too much the student, too much the Hamlet manque, not to indulge himself in the right company.
I’ve been reading Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, lately, and thinking about the paradox that this is at once a book loaded with sexism and racism, full of neo-con turns (when they were still young), and yet quite an amazing novel – even for a person like me whose entire belief system falls under what Stanley Crouch, Bellow’s friend, called the “degeneracy” of American life. Crouch is writing about the sixties, and there’s a pretty heavy paradox riding on his phrase, since of course if America was degenerating in the sixties, then it must have been hale and healthy before the sixties, in the era of Jim Crow apartheid. Crouch was selected to write the intro to a recent edition of Mr. Sammler’s Planet under some obvious publisher’s equation – a black writer introducing the novel could ameliorate phrases like:
Millions of civilized people wanted oceanic, boundless, primitive, neckfree nobility, experienced a strange release of galloping impulses, and acquired the peculiar aim of sexual niggerhood for everyone.”
Bellow had become a George Wallace Democrat in the late sixties; “sexual niggerhood” is not some poetic phrase that only a literalist or leftist would interpret as bigoted in the slightest. Causuistry of that kind diminishes Bellow rather than defends him.
But the thing that Crouch’s introduction gets wrong (as does so many other reviews and essays about this novel) is the casual exchange of Bellow for his character, Mr. Sammler. Whether Sammler is endowed with Bellow’s opinions or not, as a successfully realized fiction, those opinions undergo an essential change when put in Sammler’s mind. For it is not the case that a rich interiority can resist or remain uninfluenced by the material circumstances of the experience that circumscribes it. If the book were merely the opinions of a rich celebrity on the sexual depravity of women and African Americans, the book would be forgotten – it would be like one of the numerous conservative screeds so regularly published by Saul Bellow’s son, Adam, for the Free Press. Who can tell one Glenn Beck book from another?
There’s a moment in Mr. Sammler’s Planet where Sammler says about Ulysses that it is entirely in medias res – and this is what I think Bellow was up to here. Instead of a scion of Central Europe in Dublin – Bloom – we have a scion of Central Europe, a survivor of the Nazi death squads, in New York in the sixties. Sammler, with his nobility and his bigotries, his rich interiority and his doubts of its worth in the face of what he knows from his horrendous exterior experience, transcends Bellow’s opinions and lives through Bellow’s real talent.
It is difficult to describe how a novel that is so opinionated is, at the same time, so free of its opinions. I am tempted to seize on Bakhtin’s idea of dialoguism as a sort of spar to save me from a sea of contradictions. It is, on the other hand, rather odd that the book can be described as dialogic when the text is so monologic – so centered on Sammler’s meditiations and description of the world of Manhattan. What dialogic means is that there is an interplay of points of view, and that this interplay is essential to these points of view – it is not accidental to them, they are not pre-formed before the interplay. This is harder to grasp in that my language seems to undercut me, insisting  on making the phrase “point of view” into something hard and isolate, a substance – rather than an aspect, an unfinished moment. But this is what makes a novel, or at least a novel that is still visibly connected to high modernism, work. And it is why Crouch, or Irving Howe (in his review of the book) or James Atlas (in his smarmy biography of Bellow) or maybe even, at times, Bellow himself are so mistaken to transpose Bellow and Sammler. This isn’t to say that Bellow doesn’t breath down his elderly deathsquad survivor’s neck – for instance, there is clearly a contradiction between Mr. Sammler’s often acute visual description of things and the fact that one of his eyes has been knocked out by a blow from a riflebutt in Poland in 1940. I can’t believe that Bellow didn’t experiment (as anybody would) by closing one eye and walking down the sidewalk, which would have at least given him a glimmer of the way in which a one-eyed man would see the world. Sometimes Sammler truly is one eyed, sometimes the fiction breaks down. And this is similarly true with the thoughts that are mulled in his rich interiority. One feels the engineering hand at certain points.     

encyclopedia of the second hand: trip



     Self is watching as the girls, on the other side of the field, wheel into position before the targets that are set up with bales of straw backing them twenty paces downwind.  The girls carry bows and arrows, like a gross of Dianas.  Self wishes he were over there with them, they and their exercise seems to have a mythopoeic resonance which tag football (where he is stuck) will never have.  Tag football is a clumsy game that only two people on your team are good at (Wilbur Thomas and Tony James) and two people on the other team are good at. Wilbur is the quarterback.  At the signal Wilbur gets the ball and runs back and all the boys spread out  in a clumsy flower of cries and misdirections, except for Tony, who finds his pocket.  Tony catches the pass and runs ‑ or Norman intercepts it, who is one of the good ones on the other side. Although being tag ball you are supposed to pull the little cloth strips out of where they are wedged into the band of the gym shorts to stop the man with the ball, nobody bothers when Coach Sick isn't around. You all throw yourselves on each other in a general orgy of tackle, so that sometimes even when the ostensive goal of the game ‑ the crossing of the goal line by Tony or Norman or Wilbur or Jurgen ‑ is reached, nobody pays any attention,  busy as they are trying to drag one another down.
     Self is good at one thing, though.  Here it comes.  Down set

one two four hike hike hike.  The ball wobbles up to Wilbur.  Our tenuous formations, all the boys crouching, dissolve.  Now for the thing you are good at.  There is a deaf boy on the other team sometimes.  Sometimes not ‑ every other week he has some special class he attends at another school, so his appearance in gym class is irregular.  Along with his deafness his hormones early released.  At fourteen he weighs two hundred pounds.  Self's body is paltry by comparison.  Nobody could meet him head on, nobody has that terrifying Mongol much of chest arm neck and leg.  So self trips him.  He protects Wilbur by tripping him, which somehow he has a talent for.  It is a bold thing to do, but not really hard, since the deaf guy is pathetically unaware of anything except the thing he sets his mind on, as if he existed on one narrow reel of perception, about a half inch in width.  So self can just slip in and trip him. Wilbur says Street is the team tripper and pats him on the back.  That makes people laugh, because everybody knows that self and Mark get high after school or sometimes before school in the grove of pine trees behind the second field. The deaf boy has been sufficiently shaken up by self's success in tripping him that he has changed his mind about the point of the game.  For the deaf boy, the point, now, is to crush self.  When the ball snaps, he comes rushing at self and there ensues a chase, which sometimes goes on for a while if nobody attracts the deaf boy's attention.  Self will be hightailing it, god damn it god damn it somebody tell this ape to stop! Everybody laughs.  Even the girls know about it.
They've started to call him Tripper. Street the Tripper.
     You all are lined up outside the dressing area. Self wears two white socks with different colored stripes around the upper part of each.  People in the school ask him why, and he says he hates symmetry.  He says it in french: Je deteste la symmetrie.  He hopes that he is pronouncing that right. He wears a t shirt with a Led Zeppelin logo on the back which Coach Sick has told him not to wear.  He is supposed to wear his t shirt with the Gladstone Goats logo on the back.  He wears green, nylon shorts.  Coach Sick has just come in, and the noise you all make talking to each other dies down.  Tripper, Coach Sick says, you go and change.
     Can't Coach.  My other shirt is dirty.
     Durn it, son. Why are you so hardheaded?  One of these days I'm going to beat your meat. Tomorrow you better just have your shirt washed.  And I don't want any ifs ands or buts.

     Then Coach Sick reads outloud from a little notebook.  There is an undercurrent of hilarity in the room, because a joke is going on.  Before Coach Sick came in, Wilbur and Norman had stuffed the smallest kid in class, Mike, into one of the lockers, and told him not to make a sound.  Mike had struggled, but once they got his legs in the locker he'd gone limp.  He was resigned to being stuffed in the locker. The lockers line the wall, and the boys line up right in front of them.  Self happens to be in front of the locker Mike is locked in. Mike doesn't want to call out because of what Wilbur said, but he wants to make some sound. So he raps on the door of the locker, but not too loud. You swing your fist back and knock on the locker, too.  You cough.  Mike, growing a little desperate, says let me out.  In a whisper. You cough, Coach Sick looks up at you.
     Don't act up on me.  I'm just about to give you five laps.
     Sorry Coach.
     There are giggles.  Coach Sick looks at these boys. What is so funny?
     Who asked you, Mr. Thomas?
     Durn right nobody.
   Mr. Healy here Mr. A. James here Mr. T. James here Mr. Kirkbuzzer here Mr. Mowley Mowlaw Are you here here Mr. Nobbles here Mr. Olbey yo. 
     Coach Sick finally reaches Mike's name.  Mike Skovisich.  He
always mispronounces it.  Michael Skrochits, he says.
     Here.  The voice comes out all echoey.  You cough, but you can't cover it up.

     Coach Sick looks up. We all laugh, and then his face instantly puts the stop to that laugh, which we all knew it would. His face is all puffy, like an unmade bed someone feverish has been sleeping in.  His eyes are squeezed up and reddish, and his lips are chapped. He wears a baseball cap pulled down low on his forehead. Now he pulls it off and wipes his hair back with his arm. I told you boys once. He puts the cap back on, as low as the first time. Now I mean it.  You can't be locking durn Mike in the durn lockers, like I told you and told you.  Now that is ten laps, and I mean now, and I'd like to catch the boy that tries to cheat me on a lap. I'd surely like to beat that boy's meat. Christ, now, Tripper let that boy out of the durn locker before I have to come over there!  

     So there self is, his knees drawn up. He's wearing a Dylan t shirt, the one that shows Dylan’s profile like he looked when he did Blond on Blond. Except on the shirt he’s purple. Self is trying to not-comb his hair to look like that. Self’s shorts are still regulation nylon gym shorts, green trimmed with gold. He's leaning back against the cold tile of one of the walls of this room, looking on as Coach Wurtemburg, using Albert and Tony as models, explains wrestling grips. He says headlock and Albert about wrenches Tony's head off, he says flip and they are both all over the mattress, wiggling one over the other like two newly caught fish in the bottom of a boat. Coach Wurtemburg is caught between explaining and looking around at you all and trying to keep track of Albert and Tony.  He looks down at them, goes hey, putting his hands on Albert’s shoulders, who at the moment is struggling not to be pinned.  Somebody says in a fake deep voice take it easy son and Coach Wurtemburg looks up and says Mike, you are about this far

Mike’s father has a shop in the Memorial Cherokee Shopping Center, located on Memorial Drive, about a mile from Gladstone High if you cut over the field in back of Cherry. It wasn’t a very intense shopping center.  It has a drycleaner, a barber, a used book store, a shoe repair place, Mike’s father’s shop, a crafts store, and a Chinese restaurant.  The Chinese restaurant exudes a horrible smell every once in a while, an odor of barbecue sauce and rancid grease. The smell crept into other of the shops.  Self, for a while, had a job working Saturdays for the lady who owns the used book shop.  The smell was the worst thing about the job, because if the Chinese restaurant smell wasn’t bad enough, there was the smell of the old musty paperbacks, and when the two would get together in the afternoons it was sickening. They cook rats over there, self says to customers, and some of them laugh. The smell would hang doggedly on self’s clothes after he left work. 
     Mike’s father is a painting contractor.  His shop is just an office and a backroom.  The office is inhabited in the afternoons and on Saturdays by Mike’s sister, Lorrie, reading intensely, with
a frown on her pale, blotched face, behind a desk.  Sometimes she would come into the bookstore on the day self worked with a dozen

paperbacks in an old, torn shopping bag, and trade them in for three romance novels by Viola Trefoils. Viola had written two hundred twenty, and Lorrie was up to number twenty‑five.  Self would say how’s Mike and Lorrie would say he’s still a stinking brat. Then she’d  put down her dollar and put her books back in the grocery sack.  It was the same grocery sack every time.
     The back of Mike’s father’s shop is a space where he kept equipment.  His guys would come in and get equipment and check in on the time clock.  Sometimes they would venture into the front office, to find out how far Lorrie had gotten with Viola Trefoils, and she would tell them this is my twentieth one or whatever the number was without even looking up from the book.

     The parking lot in back of Mike’s father’s shop isn’t paved.  They put a lot of broken rock in back there instead, and use has eroded long ugly reddish swatches in that.  There are puddles of water here and there, from this afternoon’s rain, still not evaporated by midnight. There is a faint winy smell of paint back here.  Paint cans are piled up near the shops back door, and one of the cans is open. There is also a smell of honeysuckle. There is a copse of pines, little seedy pines and weeds, behind the driveway.  That is where the honeysuckle is growing, and kudzu, and poison ivy, and beggar’s lice. There is a lot of rusted barbed wire strewn around back there too.  That was dumped back there maybe even before the shopping center was built.  There are three vans parked in the parking lot tonight.  Everything is big and silent under the big moon.  You all approach the vans like three pedlars, your packs on your backs. Two of the vans have signs on them: The Big S Painting Company.  S for Skovisich.  The other van is a white, year old Econoline as yet unmarked by any insignia.  The sign is on order, Mike says.  You feel a whole lot better about that, because if it was on the thing you knew you’d  have a time persuading Mike that you all had to take it off.  He’d  cry about vandalism and how his Dad was going to kill him.  But the Georgia licence as it is might well attract some dubious attention from the pigs, and a sign advertising a dumb paint company from Stone Mountain Georgia, accompanied by three underaged boys claiming to be all of them Skrotchits was going to be definitely uncool in the general scheme of things in Mississippi and Texas.
     Mike takes the key out of his pocket and unlocks the door.  He opens it, and the light inside there clicks on. .
     Mike, hurry it.
     I’m hurrying. Piss off.
     Mike goes behind the seat, into the back part, and unlocks the sliding side doors.

     Wake up.  You re drooling, you pig, you got your fucking mouth open, look at this, look at  this, a fly’s going to get... Cut it out! I just wanted ‑ What?  I said, I wanted to show you something.  What?  Look at that.  See that, man.  Fucking dawn, man.  Son, we

call it the mystic hour around these parts.  Fuck, what is it?  You can call it dawn, though, if you want to.  What is with you, man, do you... Somebody is going to, hey, no, don’t, somebody is going to have to take over pretty soon,  like I can’t drive too much further, hey, let’s not listen to music now!  It’s too early.  Somebody, please Trip, like take over, I am fucking... Shit.  How long have you been driving anyway.  Here comes the sun.  Since that place we got the gas at, hey.  Where you got those beaver mags?  Here comes the sun.  Hey, that’s not...Mike  wants to go in the back and make it with Rosy Palm and her five finger... Don’t take it out!  That’s not how here comes the sun goes.  Sorry,  but I am not fucking listening to Neil fucking Young again for a while.  I mean, God.  But how about that on the road, like, mystique, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, I mean America.  The vast and siren spaces, man.  Siren my ass, I am fucking tired of it, too early.  How early is it? Is somebody listening to me, serious, I like got to go... When are we going to eat?  What do you want me to do, run into a truck?  Goddamn! Who did it, Wilbur you did it, you did it Trip, shit. Whoa, roll, no!  It is too cold!  What?  Roll it up! You motherfucker.  At least it woke you up.  I am not lying, it is like, like the road is sort of swelling.  What have you been tripping on?  I want some of that, no seriously.  Okay, next stop, let’s... How about that one, great.  Love the Big Boy, greasy stuff.  Your turds after this stuff come out like butter.  Has anybody ever told you you are one unappetizing, I mean this is still what?  Six thirty? You all take the cake, this is my van God

damn.  Did you hear that?  Did you, this is his van?  We all stole this van honestly, like pioneers.  Theft is the backbone of this country.  You all... Next time I’m going to run away with some girls.  Yeah, purely bitches.  Me and a pretty pair, now that will be nice.  Who’d you take?  Let’s sit over there, in the booth.  Good, now I am going to chow. Down, boys, get in there.  I’ll have some pancakes, ma am.  Coffee.  Gah, I need some coffee.  This one, here, yeah, with the bacon, please.  I’ll have the Daniel Boone special, coffee for me too.  I’d  like to add milk to that.  Get you some milk, Mike.  I’d  take Waylann.  Cindy.  Which Cindy?  Marstone, not Tryweir, no way.  I just, that bitch talks like all the time.  Man, I would take Tryweir, she is, I been out with her... Ah, that looks great ma am. Yeah, we are all like on a trip?  and we are all like going to this like special Bible Study camp? on account of we were voted most likely by our class? We all had to do sermons, see.  It is a special program at our school.  Like he’s going to be a preacher, it’s a program called Young Preachers of America...  The Viola Trefoils Bible Studies Camp, it’s near Biloxi.  I guess most teens today, what with sin and all, yeah, they wouldn’t be trusted out like this by their parents, but we’ve like all been voted most responsible in our school... And God Bless you, ma’am, tell her Mike, yeah, God, yeah... Damn it, stop kicking me!  Hey, what, you think she, of course, man, now just calm down boys, future preachers... Hey, you know I bet everybody is fucking stunned at school. Maybe I ought to try the card?  No, not yet, you don’t have the balls is your problem.  My Dad’s definitely stunned, gonna stun me, gonna stun your behind son, when you get home.  Hey, ma’am, it sure was good, we want you to know, we pray every day, don’t you pray every, Mike?  Oh, he is a little tetchy today, going out to the... Well I’ll pay out of this twenty, okay... Wilbur, let’s...My Dad’s stunned too, but they stun you when you’re at the breakfast table, they stun you, when you’re good and able, everybody must get stunned, I’ll drive, pussy, go on back there, okay, keep down, come on, fuck, let me at least get an hour of sleep, no more, hey, stop it, stop it, stop fucking with me Wilbur...

The mouth, your mouth.  It is another of those things which you carry on your face to direct you, orient you.  You carry your eyes, you look, you look to be looked at, and you carry your nose, which sniffs out puzzling tracks, scripts of an, an... ancient and buried existence, ne jamais retrouvé, never like refound, which once, perhaps, dominated your kind. 
Your kind?  she says.  She gives you a stare.  What kind are we talking about?  She giggles.
The nose, you continue, your voice with that fine, slightly stoned quality, the words having such flow, such  liquid and pure enjambment, just keep talking, is a monument to a tyranny once so universal that it is amazing that it was ever overthrown, even for this brief grace period. Your arms spread, let’s call it human history. Let’s, she says.  And you know that can’t last. The eye has a tendency to overburden itself, the eye is a freaking workaholic.  Now the antenna will last forever, but the works of the eye, saying this in a sort of Vincent Price way, are doomed, baby.
She laughs and laughs.

Self sits near a little pool.  A lot of brownish scum floats on the surface of the pool, bumping lazily into water lilly pads.  Small turtles are swimming through the water and perched on the pads and crawling - with that oddly jerky, oaring ambulation  so reminiscent of wind up toys expressing a movement unspooled by a metal spring - around on the gravel and rocks that circled the pool.  The little legs of the turtles surging through the water in measured strokes fascinate self. The flesh of these turtles is a very vivid shamrock green.  Their turds are the same color almost.  Self remarks on this.  I am sure glad my shit is a different color than my skin, he says.
Look at this, man.
He looks.  There is a turtle perched on a rock next to Julia’s foot.  It has its neck craned out.  There’s a red spot on that ropy green neck.  It keeps pulsing.
Self’s look slides unsteadily off the turtle. It moves onto Julia’s foot, a bit of cinema here. Well, everything feels movie-like tonight.   Julia is tanned down almost to the little fjords between her toes.  Self can see a hint of pallor there, just a hint.  Her toes are painted red.  Her leg is bare up to her knee (self’s  look traces it) and bare down to her gym shorts (self’s look plunges down along the line of it). She is wearing black gym shorts, and self’s look pulls up there.
Self has on the same kind of gym shorts.  Black, with a white stripe. Julia had given him the gym shorts.  They’d met, at Wilbur’s friend Bea’s house.  Bea shared the house with Julia.  Julia had said, do you want some shorts?
Bea laughed, and Julia explained that they’d kicked out a roommate and were dividing up the stuff she’d left behind.  She’d left a lot behind.  Actually, it wasn’t clear if it was left behind or if she was going to come back to get it.  But the attitude today is fuck her. Self says sure, he is always into free stuff.

That had been around twelve noon.  Since then self had fainted twice.   They’d all taken some mushrooms.  Then he’d been with Bea and Wilbur and Julia walking around the University campus, and that whole area. Austin, first time self has seen it.  Hard to believe we actually made it here, self keeps thinking. Mike had gone off somewhere.  At some point Wilbur told self that Mike said he was going back to Atlanta. Self had thought gosh, he’s got all my stuff! But later on (at some point) self thought, well, I bet he isn’t really going to go back to Atlanta, I bet when we get back he’ll be in the van, asleep. Mike, self thought, shouldn’t have come with Wilbur and me.  He’s miserable.
Self looks up.  There is a big tower with a clock on it looming in the sky when he looks up.
Julia has been telling stories for a long time, mostly about her mother, who went crazy when Julia was six.  Once she went to see her and her mother and this other inmate at this asylum got into a fistfight.  Other people have been talking too, we’d wandered through a party, met some pseudobikers, but self is glued to what Julia has to say, that’s what he’s been following. Julia and self have definitely bonded tonight. Bea and Wilbur said goodby a while ago, people keep drifting into and out of self’s field of interest, and self gets lost listening to Julia’s voice, sometimes submerged in what she is saying, sometimes suddenly losing the thread, finding himself in odd places.  Like this pool, where’d the pool come from?

Julia talks and talks.  Over her succulent tongue the ghosts tumble, leaving ghostly treads, bends and shivers on the pink flesh.  They come out and out.  They don’t come from the brain, Julia says.  She gets into this.  The problem with science.  She knows all about it.  The problem is that we get all our pictures from bullshit like biology books, but reality is poetic, Street.  Don’t you think?  She talks, and out of her words mass like inexplicable omens.  Words come out like stars in the night sky, glorious and sinister, emblems of fate.  Words come out like the wind blowing leaves around aimlessly.  Words come out like little panes of transparent glass, shook off high buildings and falling through the air, words come out like a host of invisible men.  Words come out like bubbles, like froth.  Words come out like demons, or they come out like blubber.  The mouth opens, there are teeth there, and the black cavern goes back and about there is where the words start from. The mouth closes, the lips hop, the mouth opens.  Like eating in reverse.  The cheeks puff out, slightly, and pull in, slightly. Her cheekbones are just visible, the fine cut of her eyes, and then her profile falls back into  shadow.  The head wags a little bit, her hair is long and aubergine where she is sitting, and then when they get up and walk, under a streetlamp’s random light, the hair is shot through with auburn, a few startlingly red strands.  Words wind away. Self interrupts, but why? He falls silent again. Julia’s words wind away, pilgrims, to another cul de sac.   Your ears. But how about her ears? Her two ears, two perfect whirls.  The cilia in that wind, the little hammer and tongs, vaguely conceived from a picture in a child’s encyclopedia.  Arm and Hammer. And then up to the brain.  Troops of dark impulses.  Does she hear herself, is she self-entranced?  Self is self-entranced, he walks within a little circle of his own light, self-light. Julia says that when she writes poems she always thinks about how words do things. And how every time it is magic, every dog that comes to Spot is enchanted, every time you order from a menu man you are doing sorcery man. She laughs at her own words.
But no, self says.  I can see that, too. I’d love to see your poems.

Dad yelled, Mom cried.  The usual.
Are you going to have to go to some juvenile delinquent place?

Sitting on the hot concrete, leaning against the wire of the high fence. Wires that intertwine, a running blazon of diamond shapes with rounded angles.  His back presses against the fence, he shifts, moving his shoulder blades, looking for a comfortable posture.  He is wearing black gym shorts with a white stripe, and a Willy Nelson t shirt. There is a wooden racket next to where he sits. The head of it wears a heavy wooden brace, firmly screwed into place with wing nuts, to prevent the wood from warping.  The brown leather wrap around the handle is sticky.  Self’s hands are sticky.  Self’s legs are red.  Red from sunburn.  The afternoon burns away in a sky that is all ladled azure, maybe one faroff flaw of white on the far horizon. Jurgen, who sits next to him, is hot and sweaty and a little red.  Nothing compared to what self knows his face must look like, that gets so red when he exerts himself. And it is hot, too. His face is emitting heat like a furnace. He has a plastic bottle half full of water.  The other half he has poured over his head.  Now he takes a sip of the water left in the bottle. Right on the court beyond his knees and the thin, slanting band of shadow thrown by the fence a chubby boy is playing tennis with a darkhaired boy, they zigzag around on the court, neither one is coming down to the forecourt, territory of which they are both manifestly wary.  The chubby boy represents Gladstone.  Coach Goddard had told Trip that he could go out and watch the team and practice with them, but that because he was suspended from extra-curricular activities he couldn’t play against Tower. The chubby boy, Bill Timmer, isn't, self thinks, as good as me.  Although self, who has their mutual win loss column counted up in his head, knows that his superiority to Bill consists in the rather ineffable factor of grace.  Self considers that his service, his returns, his backhand are all done with a certain panache.  Bill's clumsiness is, indeed, efficient, but it is rather painful to watch. At this moment Bill goes barrelling for a ball, his chubby legs flying, and just gets there in time, turning his whole body around with the force of his return. Bill's play, as usual, is full of these last minute returns.  That is because he lags behind his opponent, he continually gets into a position where his opponent is running him around on the court. Luckily for Bill, he doesn't play many people who have the wherewithal to take advantage of that lag.  The dark haired boy, who represents Tower, slokes a slow return down the alley line, and Bill, who is right there, returns it with a good cross court stroke.  Bill was lucky with that one, self says. The dark haired boy serves again, making a great unclogging noise, and Bill returns.  The dark haired boy hits a long, looping pop.  Bill runs to the far line.  He stands erect, his racket high.  It is like he is getting ready to swat a nervous fly with a flyswatter.  Both Bill and the dark haired boy watch the ball hit and bounce. Bill releases his racket.  He hits the ball with the wood, and sends it on a wild flight over the fence into a bank of grass.
Hey, this isn't golf, self yells.
A back and forth of middle court shots.  Pock of the ball again and again.  Attrition tennis.  The different pocks of the ball hitting the concrete and the ball hitting the tennis racket strings.  Risk a few killer shots, self thinks.  Risk, Goddamn.
There are eight courts in this complex, and on the three courts over there is another game in progress.  Self thinks, it looks like we are biting it.  Self glances over to the other game to see how Gladstone is doing, but he can't tell from the play. He thinks, well, I don't really care.  I just want the sky to look like this, I just want to sit here soaked and tired like this, I want to listent to the balls pocking, and the squeak of the rubber soles of the tennis shoes sliding, the difficult friction of a run and a stop, I just want it all to happen.
I don't know.  Everybody keeps yelling at me, telling me I fucked up.  But I didn't fuck up.  I didn't fuck up.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

encyclopedia of the second hand: payne


The first time self met Payne was ‑ as Payne himself so recently reminded him at Dad's funeral, Henry looking unbelievably aged tottering on the edge of the pit they dug for Dad, a shambling old man penalized by the sagging muscles all that lifetime of ape's work had put on his frame, Payne at his side no longer the spotty twenty year old of memory's automatic evocation but a thick necked, swank looking - yes, swank, a word Dad might have used, a big band era word but just right to describe the slightly bogus odor of Payne's virility - almost forty year old success, a made man, with a dark suit and the spicy smell of a male cologne mixing with the good bean soup smell of his sweat on the humid May air, a black flower pinned to his lapel, nice touch, self shaking hands with him almost swimming in the warmth exuded from his broad, tanned, moist face, hot out here ain't it, you all ought to visit me down there in Miami, heck, after this, bring your wife, to Julia, you haven't even met mine yet, Cindy, self is your newest one, and Payne is I'm a little rock off the old Gibraltar when it comes to women, poking his father, maybe falling into schtick, a bit, wonder if he really talks like that, but I have something more important in my life right now than the party life,  to Julia going Cindy couldn't believe that you were the Julia Labreton, I have a little girl that surely idolizes you, they would love it if you folks came down ‑ was, was when, was at fifteen, self visiting Uncle Henry for two months, July and August.  In Shreveport.  To work for him, that was the deal, self having come up with this idea himself.  Break away from being stoned all the time, it was starting to get depressing, all him and Mark ever talked about any more.  Self is into transforming reality, but he was starting to long long long for just a little of that reality to work with. Yesterday gets foggy, the day before gets even foggier, soon you don't know if it has been raining all week, it sure does feel like it. Of course he didn't mention this aspect of the case to Mom and Dad, who remained officially unaware of their son's chemical tinkering with his brain cells; who were, in fact, a little afraid to make the fact finding foray into his room, there in the basement, or to ask about his disconnection, his tranced distance from them, dinner after dinner.  By the time Payne is reminding him of that summer self has ordained an official image of this time, an image of morbid inwardness, son of the Fall of the House of Usher (the Roger Corman version) without the horse to gallop around on,  he likes to give people a rather exaggerated picture of dosages, of himself and Mark sitting around like Gladstone's only hippie underground, he likes to dwell on the vandalism among the synapses, oh that dopamine cowboy, there he is, yucking it up deep in the pleasure center. People who know self eventually end up knowing this shit, making jokes, snide comments, his students for instance, he must tell them, but he has been shocked at least once, years before, that there is another  at least version of himself, Mom's to Julia's, her telling Julia in the kitchen (self supposedly watching the football game with Dad and Brian in the living room but no, folks, really standing in the doorway, or not exactly in it so you could see him, the old urge to sneak around kicking in whenever he came home) listening to the women talking, Mom and Julia and Dita, self always has a feeling about the women talking, like he's set on cracking that code, and Mom creating a fabulously normal self, so talkative at the dinner table, his school day, his homework on the business desk moved downstairs from Dad's office upstairs, his dates, the time he insisted on going out and working for Uncle Henry one summer, toughening himelf up for, check this out, the soccer team next fall, Mom having not a clue what a nest of pot and acid heads that soccer team really was, I mean who else plays soccer in high school in Georgia! His life, out of Mom's mouth, horribly touched by some tv oriented narrative, his rebellion cheapened, wasn't it rebellion? He would have burst in and pointed out his Luciferian sincerity, but he was afraid that they would all laugh at him. Briefly, his image of his teen‑hood was dissolved, and in its place he saw an other self, a hypothetical self fitting neatly into all the exterior points of his biography.  He still, back then, standing silently just out of their sight, didn't have the distance. Now of course distance was no problem. He had distance in spades. Oddly enough, this particular moment, with its slight tinge of inexplicable humiliation, carries him back to the pure claustrophobia of fifteen, to the feeling of being glued to his high school and the streets of his subdivision after dark ‑ a subdivision now a little the worse for wear, Dad at the table predicting in ten years time it will all be black, miles from Mom and Dad's new, two acre estate, as Dad calls it half jokingly  ‑ to the comic book pathos of thinking that the whole thing was some sort of conspiracy of diminishment.  The limits of his world adhered to his very skin, as though they were made of flypaper.
     One of the great things about being stoned with Mark was that then, they didn't.

     So he hightails it, this is how he would tell it most of the time, to Louisiana, (who has he told this to?) years later, (nobody, hasn't told it in years) the day after the funeral in fact, (or thought of it in years) Payne saying you were one skinny mother weren't you, shaking his head, well those were the days, you seem to have fallen into eating habits, reaching over with one large, tanned hand and laying it on self's belly, as softly as if self were pregnant, self noticing this  the thick, gold plated ring on one hairy finger, the wedding band on the other, this man, can't get over him, and also  Payne accomplishing this gesture, imagine self sober with the tactile boldness, now, to reach out like that, violate someones territory almost wilfully, is this what being a saleman does for you, with such endearing gentleness self was having a hard time focusing on the way that story should go,  getting one Payne from back in 1975, a gauche, sometimes violent boy he'd had a fight with the last week he worked with him, together with this man from 1992. The latter Payne was, after three days, beginning to seem alarmingly natural, the old Payne, or rather the younger Payne, older than this older version, (making, oh it hurts, the younger self only older, the age the older self carries with him having this increasingly hideous young face which the older self doesn't see, every morning, in the mirror) fading into its lineaments like some illness he'd once had, an illness that self had had to witness, both of them like revenants from some wilderness outpost met years later. Except he is not getting that vibe at all from Payne.  So self has been thinking, okay, one more time, maybe this man has actually been transformed, maybe the twenty year old he was was a mistake, hasn't self himself said, like it was his credo, there is no core to your being, said this to students, to other artists, to everyone, there's only some shapeshifting emptiness, echo or psyche ... Maybe the mistake is the way self was perceiving things, ever think of that? anything is possible now that Dad is dead, he thinks, so it is the night before Payne is going to go, self says buddy, (all of them sitting out there on the porch, Mom looking up from the 'thank you so much for your thoughts in this time of grief', giving self a sharp glance over her glasses) how about you and me going out for a drink.  Which Payne accepted with alacrity, sure cousin, somewhat surprising self. I'm getting a little itchy, let's do it. The man is dying to go out on the town, of course! is self's thought, climbing into his Infinity, man you must be something in sales down there, Bo (exaggerating his Southern voice, a habit he keeps falling into with Payne), this baby must cost, and Payne is boy, reversing like a heart attack up the driveway and into the street, self finding himself flailing with seat belt, I'm a dealer, I have a deal with another dealer, he's Japanese, I'm van, we cross-pollinate, forward so self braces himself in the zero to sixty, hey this is a neighborhood street, Bro, and that means I get to tool one around, it all comes out as business expense, taxes you know, let the government pay for it. Payne pronounces it gov'mint. In the back of his mind as they head south into the part of the metro area self is still familiar with it's  I've found him now, that spotty boy isn't dead, that pussy hound, still sure as shit driving like the redneck I used to know, I got him! as if this was some immense victory, and he thinks I'll just watch, now, knowing that he is falling into a delusion he has experienced quite a bit, recently, that he can watch people and the force of that watching, the power of it, will force them to materialize out of the tomb of appearance they lug around, the real spirit haunting the tomb work of everyday life, ectoplasmic, blue, a wierd flicker in the air around it, climbing with immense effort out of the waylaying bandages, the cerements and ceremonies, will manifest itself, oh, not in any major change, you have to have the tracking eye for it, you have to know what signifies, here,  in changes that are subtle, changes of voice, the glance out of the side of the eye, a sudden burst of out of context phrases, which self with his special gift will simply receive, tuned to this frequency, his non-intervening, thin smile plastered to his face. The spirit knows it is being ouijied out of there, and it doesn't like it. Now self knows knows that this delusion is like the one he has that he is the upside down man, a phrase he came up with years ago that haunts him, his variation on the underground man, he'll be walking along normally, la de da,  and suddenly he'll think I'm the upside down man and... Well, and. Things do seem to change, he has visions and strangers come up to him in coffee houses and get intimate, sometimes electricity leaks out of his fingers and he does his best work but he also knows that, duh, things are naturally going to seem to change when you are out of wack. His big fear right now is being out of wack, wrong time for that, Mom needs, needs... something, comfort, love, he's called upon. Plus the dreadful funeral, Aunt May staring at him under the gray mass of her foul fiend hair like he was still the unforgiveable twenty-five year old, Jan avoiding him, Julia having toubles with Aunt Lane, poor thing'd gone senile, her teeth kept getting lost, not that it bothered her a bit, big smile to frighten the neighbor's kids, wandering around asking where Jack was, why isn't Jack here? And through all this he is feeling a certain palpable cry coming out from Mom, one of those batzone cries that women emit, you are around them and suddenly aware of something in your larger sense of hearing, some pang of abandonment. Unbearable to think that he was in no position to do anything for her. Although face it, it wasn't only for her, he's trying to understand, since the man whose seed he comes from is dead, just what his life amounts to as a total thing. To read it in his acts, and not imply its richness from his mere responses, from the complex entertainments of his sensibility, fuck his sensibility, there are times he hates his sensibility, he entertains himself all to much. A real masturbator, this guy, self.  Come up with it, he keeps telling himself. A belief, some use to others. To an other. To one separate other.  Afraid he can't. So Payne is something of a diversion. Still, self is curious, and he wants to check out whether Payne has really changed that much. Afterwards he'll figure out if that is a good thing or not. So he guides Payne to a  small Country and Western inclined bar on Memorial he'd been to with Chuck Forsyth last time he'd been in Atlanta, he was wondering if Payne would start hinting around about going out to the Gold Club, Cheetah's, some tittie bar. At the same time he is uncomfortable, why slander the guy, you don't know anything about him, where do you get this attitude from? A good question, but there's no time to go into it. Not with Payne  sitting across from him at a table, telling self how Cindy helped him find the Lord, making self groan, no, the same story for three days running, can't be. Finally self has to tell him I'm suffering from cognitive dissonance, here, just bear with me, puts both hands up and grabs his hair, you are telling me you are not only a Jehovah's Witness, which I respect because of your wife, she's one and you want to make her happy, I understand that, but that you are happy being one, that here you are in Atlanta away from her, Atlanta, Payne, tittie bar heaven, Payne, remember Bossier City, and you are telling me, Bo (he keeps up with the Southern crap, Bo and Buddy and Budro, where is it coming from?) all you want is to get back and go to these whatever you call them, religious orgies. Payne nods, smiling at the idea of them as religious orgies, already ‑ it has only been three days ‑ putting down self's manner of speech as one of those quirks you find at family reunions ‑ like Cousin Buster the thirty year old bedwetter, or Aunt Verna, the child severely poked who asks, Aunt Verna, why do you have a  beard ‑ and altogether acting as though his religion were a major accomplishment, as though after self saw him last he'd gone on to become something as rare and admired as an astronaut, and he was letting it out modestly in order not to hurt self's inferrable sense of the comparative modesty of his accomplishments so far. Payne, in fact, come to think of it, has been exerting this certain competitiveness since he's been up here, although he lets it out in such mild doses that it is hard for self to confront, especially given that he is at the same time trying to comprehend Dad's death. Self is finding himself, lately, pointing out his own accomplishments, in a really adolescent way, too, dropping the fact that he'd been featured in various art mags, he'd been in fact only three years ago on the cover of Art + Party, one of those eighties art mags in the big newspaper format which Payne doesn't need to know is now defunct, had even found the old copy in Mom's ceramic room, waving it around, Payne just as pleased, self looking out that Julia doesn't come in upon them, can imagine her withering remarks, you are showing him that bogus article? No, unfair, he's simply being paranoid, he always gets a case of  Oedipal petulance when he's in his folks new house, which he always thinks of as new even though they moved from Gladstone maybe ten years ago, the new is that it is simply not the house he grew up in. It was just that the joke about Street being a painter (what do you charge per room?) was wearing a little thin, Julia said I thought it was funny, Street, he really did think housepainter, self not so sure and also what is this with Julia's patience for this bozo, not bozo, but he would have thought she might have at least some sarcasm to direct at his let's say less than educated comments about a few things, and also he was simply surprised that Mom was making so much of Payne, I mean he was used to being in Julia's shadow, but Payne? I mean Payne is what, some fucking car salesman, Julia goes not cars, vans, customized vans, well I don't call that star quality, and his thing about Cindy, are we supposed to get down on our hands and knees, like she's the fucking Madonna, he's just catching us up on him Mom says, to lesser bitching, but okay.  Okay, self goes, I'm mature, I can take this, Dad's dead and I'm worried about this? So he's making the effort, but finally he has to ask, what are you doing with this, then, self says, holding up Payne's drink, or is your church less strict on drinking. Oh, Payne says, it is one of the failings of the flesh but it isn't a major thing, Cindy drinks, saying Cindy as though she embodied the soul's ascent, I mean when we go out, never around the child, there are people who from the meetings who drink, sometimes, it is just a matter of enjoying wisely. To tell you the truth, I'd rather not. I used to love the stuff, but now the taste palls on my tongue. I'll tell you another thing, I would love to get Daddy and Ma to move down to Florida partly cause I think I could get him straight about, you know, his beering  himself up, I know what he thinks, he thinks beer ain't alcohol, always says it is just beer.  That is the way it goes with addicts, Street, (what, has Julia been talking to him?) it is killing both them,(what kind of look was that, I'm like Henry?) and I would never touch a drop again if my prayer is answered there. But you know Daddy, he is stubborn, he still thinks he's twenty, he thinks he's a rodeo star, he thinks he is still out there with Patton. We feel, you and Cindy self interrupts, right, we feel that he should have a community around him at his age,  there is his grandchild, there are good people, retired people, we know, wonderful people his age come to the meetings, don't you think that it is never too late to change?  I mean I do, I am convinced a man can be reborn at any moment in his life, don't matter if he is ninety. I tell you what, if it was anyone but me suggesting it he'd be down there now, like a shot, I mean what is there to do in that state he is living in, you know that economy has gone to Hades in a handbasket there, but he is such a  proud eagle. I'm not putting him down for a second, he raised me and that was damned hard business, I know it.  I respect him more than any man, I want to do as much for my Teesha.  So I probably won't be giving up drink for his sake in the near future, unless there is a miracle. Even then, thing is, I might just drink then for his sake, so he doesn't feel I'm giving up anything.  But maybe I'll give it up for my sake, and then, you know what, crossing his arms across his chest,  when I do, you'll ask me why I am such a prude. You can't please the world. I've learned that one.  I've tasted, I guess you could say, something sweeter than wine.
     Self sits there, listens, tells Julia later, after Julia told him that Mom was a lot more depressed than she was letting on, self knowing that and not liking the way Julia was saying it as though self should be doing something, that he was scrambling for his memories of that summer  when he went to Shreveport listening to Payne talking, it about drove him crazy.
     I think Payne is very nice, says Julia, as if self was saying anything against him. Honey, I am astonished that that is Payne, I think maybe Payne is dead in a ditch and this guy, who looks just like him, has taken his place or something. It is one of those crossed destinies things, two men who look just alike, Nabokov has some story like that.

     But Julia was going to sleep, making that hmm, mm sound to self's remarks which was the giveaway, leaving self to sort out that summer on his lonesome, living in Henry's house.  What a house. The house had been built the year before self saw it, and the lot it was on, the acre, was still dirt and weeds and clutter, a pile of bricks here, lumber there, a heap of tarpaper and shingles over there, Henry not having bothered to even make a show of caring about a lawn, so that every time it rained, and it rained almost every day that humid summer, not a lot but punctually around three o'clock in the afternoon, the water carried soil out of the yard into the road, leaving a red stain in the road in front of the house and ruts in the yard a half a foot deep. This didn't really make Henry an eccentric, though, the guy in the neighborhood who is, for  obscure reasons of his own, trying to run down property values, as the road the house was on was a rather odd offshoot of a road that ran through the pine woods outside of Shreveport in the direction of Longview, Texas, and the other four houses just never jelled, in all that waste country, as a suburb - they had that frontier feeling of maybe this is a mistake, that lassitude as to appearances, even down to what people wore, guys in what had to be boxer shorts washing the car, women wearing nightgowns or two piece bathing suits at three o'clock in the afternoon, coming out to check the mail, and so none of the lawns of the houses would have passed muster in Gladstone, Georgia, even the ones that did have grass. The house, Henry's house, was made of pink bricks. It was, self thought, extraordinarily elongated.  This impression of it being longer than normal along one axis was caused perhaps by it being a single level house, and so the line of it being unrelieved by any feeling of volume or of height. Inside you immediately saw that it divided into two wings; a division not so much of architecture as of spirit, as though the very daydreams of the inhabitants of the house left a material aura and odor in the rooms of their conceiving.  One wing was Aileen's and Henry's, and this consisted of their bedroom, the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, and a laundry room/tool room, all done up in patriotic motifs. Like the wall paper, which showed a pattern of American flags from every period, the round thirteen stars from the Revolutionary times to the forty-eight stars of the fifties and the fifty stars of today; there were, in addition, pictures of the presidents on the wall in the kitchen and living room, and a picture of General Patton up in their bedroom, over their bed, no less, where he presided over Henry and Aileen's own battle of the Bulge, when they were in the mood - a joke, self thought of it and thought of sharing it with someone, but there wasn't anyone. There was also a sword and a fake blunderbuss in glass and oak cases mounted on the wall in the living room behind the sofa. Self had the impression that Henry must be a veteran from World War II, the house said veteran, somehow, and so when he discovered two years later that during that time Henry was in Las Vegas, that he was in prison - that he hadn't been, as he had vaguely supposed, drafted - then it clicked that the veteran's air around Henry, that heavy silence which seemed to fall inexorably over things in his presence, the very walk of the man and the way he forked his food and the way he swallowed his drink was, really, about the discipline of confinement. Okay, he thought, that's it, the thing about Henry, the menace about him, he remembered thinking this rather sadly that night with Payne, he would have liked to have talked about it, to have been eloquent, very Southern, very much lets have two more bourbons, to have been your Daddy, Payne, Payne in this scenario a little cruder than he was, a little more pompous, from that summer I took away an impression of  Henry that has, as the years have gone by and I have context to put it in, only crystallized, well you know I presume that your Daddy was in prison? Payne of course starts to splutter, that's a damn lie and you're a damn liar (yes, it would be like one of those Tennesse Williams plays they used to make into movies in the fifties and always had Paul Newman star in, here self would be, not only on one level being mean to Payne, sure, he was being mean, but trying to break through the tangle of silence, that tangle like... like Spanish moss, silence gone heavy and gray and breaking the, well the tree of life, no, the family tree, no, the Spanish moss is supposed to hint at how Southern the silence is, put an accent on it) ... you should know, Payne, both of them standing up at the table, staring into each others eyes, in this scene there's a sudden quiet, only his voice, Payne's heavy breathing, the detached click of one billiard ball knocking into another, the players motionless with their cuesticks at arms, everyone stariing, I'm sorry I have to tell you, no, cut, cut, wrong movie, what he wants really is just to say son, you remember that time in Bossier, that place, what was it, "The Fancy H"? To which Payne will say, suddenly smiling, yeah, cousin. But he is the thing people don't know about vans... and self is, oh, and, oh, really.   Self just felt it back then, there he is fifteen in this strange house, this strangers' house, he was being instinctual, but now he could be discursive, now, looking back, he could understand why he'd be in the house with Payne and he'd hear the front door slam and know that Henry had come into the house and feel, suddenly, this pall of silence creep over everything, as if Henry were some violent mute come to bode no good. And, actually, Henry wasn't like that, he simply didn't talk much, but if anything, he was indulgent with Payne. Self had witnessed working out there with Henry that when he had something to say, he'd say it. If he thought someone was fucking off, he'd ball them out and they'd stay balled out until they did it right.  Finally, in this wing of the house, there was a room that was off of the kitchen, a raw space, only sheetrocked, where Aileen had her washer and dryer and a large freezer in which she kept meat. In this room Henry'd set himself up a small bar, complete with a tap for his beer and a keg, which he replaced every two weeks or so, Henry making the journey into that room with an empty glass and returning with a full one four, five times during the average evening, not counting the beer at breakfast with Huevos Ranchos on Saturdays, and the other beers at odd times.   Self thought damn, look at this guy go, watching Henry stolidly down glass after glass, he wrote to Mark the man has a fucking keg of beer of beer around the house, what do you think, and Mark wrote back that he was making it up, and self, on the phone to Mark, said swear to God, man, Louisiana is a trip, the whole culture here is about Jesus and liquor, hard to know where one ends and the other begins, you know? When, after getting home, he'd mentioned it to Dad, Dad had reddened a little bit and said that Henry was going to get into trouble if he kept that up.  It was curious for self that Dad reddened ‑ it was always like that when he brought up Henry around Dad, it was like Dad somehow felt responsible for him, and it was also like Henry was a bit of an embarrassment.