A book for a straight woman to write: Dicks I Have Known. The book would consist of the author’s anecdotes about men she had known named Dick, men she had known who were dicks, and of course the dicks of men she had “known.” A post-feminist classic.
My two-year-old nephew recently dislocated his elbow. His grandfather did it to him, the way he lifted him. Don’t ever lift a two-year-old by the wrists.
My sister, the child’s mother, now has a new thing to fear: people lifting her son by the wrists. I saw the terror in her eyes whenever someone extended their arms towards the child.
Her other son, age six, informed me that people steal children. “I’m still a child,” he said, “so I have to be super careful.”
Later, after his uncle-to-be performed a magic act in which he caused various objects to vanish, my nephew asked me to make his stuffed bear, Mr. Red-Blue, disappear. I got up, opened the front door, and tossed the bear onto the lawn.
My mother wouldn’t believe my nephew when he told her what I had done.
“Uncle Michael wouldn’t do something like that,” she said.
“Mom, it’s true,” I said.
“He almost threw it into the street,” added my nephew.
“I didn’t throw it into the street.”
I looked at him for a moment. “How about if I pick you up by your wrists?”
I’m having trouble with the letter n. I noticed this yesterday while writing my return address on a bill. I got to the n in Brooklyn and wasn’t sure how to make the shape. Does it begin at the bottom or the top?
It’s been like this for months. Usually I end up writing a scaled-down capital n, which isn’t at all how I normally write the lowercase version. I know this because the letter doesn’t feel right as I write it. All the other letters feel right.
How do you forget how to do something you’ve done thousands of times?
Sometimes I start to imagine that this is merely the beginning, that letter after letter will vanish, until the act of writing my name becomes a struggle, a struggle made terrible by the memory of a time when nothing felt more natural.
The final loss, then, will be the loss of all the smaller losses. I will forget what I’ve forgotten. It will be like the beginning. The end is just like the beginning, except it’s the end.
When you turn it around it seems impossible, the convergences and synchronicities necessary to make it happen. Yet every story, considered in reverse, forges a path back to its beginning.
Who hasn’t traced the thing like this, saying, If you hadn’t and I hadn’t (and so on, back in time), I wouldn’t be holding you now.
Many years ago a friend submitted a personal ad to the Boston Phoenix that read, simply, “I want to eat your brains.” Unfortunately the jerks at the Boston Phoenix told her that her ad had to sound more like a date, so she changed it to read, “I want to eat your brains and then see a movie or something.” This they accepted.
Months later I submitted my own personal ad, and this they rejected on the grounds that it was too short. Evidently, in order for the Boston Phoenix to accept your ad, you had to make it sound like a date and you had to use more than two words.
Sadly it was impossible to lengthen my ad, even by a single word, without destroying it. I knew this without trying, so I did not try.
It was excruciating, though, because my ad was better than any personal ad I had ever read. This is what it said:
The conversation didn’t get interesting until the end, after we ran out of things to say.
The love interest in my dream last night was named Michael Barrish. I don’t know what she looked like because I only spoke with her on the phone. I liked her voice and felt an instant attraction.
However when she told me her name, I became confused. “No, that’s my name,” I said, “I was asking about yours.”
She thought I was messing with her. Even after we sorted it out, the name issue remained upsetting for both of us. “What if we get married?” she asked. “How are we going to tell who the mail is for?”
For several weeks now I’ve been looking for something to read, a novel. Nearly every day I’m at the library, searching the stacks. Recently I noticed a familiar-looking woman there and realized that I had seen her before, and that in fact she’s been there every day. Oddly I’ve never seen her holding a book in her hands. Often people stand in the aisle reading a book, but I’ve yet to see her do this. Also there’s something about the way she cocks her head as she scans the shelves that bothers me, although I can’t say what it is. In any case I try to avoid her: if she’s in the C’s, I walk to the W’s.
Most days I return home with three or four books. I’ve yet to finish one. Usually I read a page or two and toss it on the bed. Yesterday’s haul included Asa, As I Knew Him by Susanna Kaysen, The End of the Novel by Michael Krüger, and Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre. I read seven pages of The End of the Novel before slamming it shut. I didn’t like the beginning of the second chapter; it seemed too “written.” Asa, As I Knew Him fared better, although at first I doubted it would because I didn’t like the author photo. Specifically I didn’t like what Kaysen was wearing. Was it a robe? Some sort of jacket? She didn’t seem to have a shirt on, just this jacket, which though nice enough, seemed too much like the kind of thing one wears in an author’s photo. Obviously one wants to appear attractive in such a photo, but it seemed that Susanna Kaysen was trying too hard to appear attractive – or rather failing to hide how hard she was trying. I felt a touch of pity and didn’t like feeling it. On the other hand I liked her book titles. Aside from Asa, As I Knew Him, she’s written a book called Girl, Interrupted, which I believe was made into a film, and another called Far Afield. Far Afield is a so-so title, but I like Girl, Interrupted. I read thirty-two pages of Asa, As I Knew Him. The book concerns a woman, Dinah, who works for a married man, Asa, who is the publisher of a quarterly journal. Dinah loves Asa. Evidently they had an affair, which in the end he ended. Here is a sentence I like: “I may have been born to love him – I’m sure I was; loving him was easier than eating or sleeping – but he was surely born to stomp my heart.” Asa is a blue-blooded Yankee, and frankly I’m not interested in blue-blooded Yankees. Nonetheless I read the first two chapters, largely because they were easy to read. The remainder of Asa, As I Knew Him concerns the youth of Asa as imagined by Dinah. I know this because it says so on the back of the book. Unfortunately I have zero interest in Asa’s youth, imagined or otherwise. This is not the fault of Susanna Kaysen, who did her best to interest me. I laid the book on the bed and opened Nausea. Half a lifetime ago I read several plays by Sartre, and I remember liking them. The beginning of Nausea consists of an editor’s note stating that the notebooks we’re about to read were found among the papers of Antoine Roquentin. To further the conceit, Sartre added a few editorial footnotes here and there, indicating that certain words in the original text are missing or crossed out or illegible. It seemed a promising start, but then I discovered that some cretin had written all over the book, underlining words and scribbling comments in the margin: “Estranged?” “Losing grip?” “Thinks of past, but not now.” “Like mirror.” Disgusted by these remarks, which I knew I couldn’t stop myself from reading and, worse, pondering, I threw the book on the bed (it bounced over) and resolved to look for another copy during my next trip to the library.
Earlier this same day, in the S’s, the aforementioned woman stood next to me, facing the opposite set of shelves. I waited for her to leave, but she did not. Was she standing next to me to stand next to me or was she looking for something on that shelf? Eventually I turned and walked to the L’s to see if there was anything by Gordon Lish I haven’t read. There wasn’t. So far as I know, Gordon Lish has written just four books: three novels and a collection of stories. Sadly I can’t read stories anymore. When I was younger I hardly distinguished between stories and novels. Novels I thought of as particularly long stories. But that’s not how I think today. A novel is a world, while a story is at best a fragment of a world. There is no pleasure like the pleasure of finding a novel you love and settling in and beginning the slow drift across.
I read Gordon Lish’s third novel, Epitaph, first, and read it through to the end – a rare accomplishment for me. The next day I began Lish’s first novel, Dear Mr. Capote, but gave up in the middle. Then I read his second novel, Peru. Peru is what I was looking for. Peru is always what I’m looking for. The last Peru before Peru was The Loser by Thomas Bernhard. Two long years passed between The Loser and Peru. I can’t remember the next Peru after Peru. Perhaps it was David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, although I’m not sure that Wittgenstein’s Mistress was quite Peru. Not that it matters which Peru came last. What matters is which is next. It is, undeniably, an addiction. Once you have the thing, you have to have it again. And once more, each time. And when you do, it is like the early stages of love, when the eyebrows of your beloved appear achingly beautiful, each hair tenderly rooted in its follicle.
Since I was now in the L’s, I continued my search there. In the K’s I found The End of the Novel and Asa, As I Knew Him. Then I found another book, the title and author of which I’ve forgotten. The book had something to do with chess. On the cover was a graphic of chess pieces. This made me think that the book was about some sort of intrigue between people. I turned to the title page and saw that someone had used a black felt pen to write, This book is profoundly boring! The word profoundly was underlined. Naturally I was disgusted by this act of defilement, but still I laughed at the thought of the defiler, a disgruntled person with a black felt pen. This made me wonder if I seen the aforementioned woman holding a pen of this type, and I imagined that I had, and I even went so far as to create a mental image of the pen, cap off, resting, ready, between her thumb and forefinger. Was she defiling library books? Was that what was doing day after day – wandering the stacks looking for books to defile? I decided she was. And then I read the beginning of the book that she had defiled. It was profoundly boring.
I’m waiting for her to call again. As I write this she’s in another city, with friends, drunk. She just called from the restroom of a Chinese restaurant to tell me this. “I’m drunk,” she said, “and I’m in love with you.” We discussed how much she’s in love with me. She characterized it as “ridiculously,” which we decided is a more extreme form than “incredibly” but less so than “insanely.” I’m in love with her as well, but we didn’t discuss the degree.
Her voice echoed the way voices echo in restrooms. She held the phone to the restroom fan so I could hear what it sounded like and also to prove, I suppose, that she was in a restroom, although really all it proved is that wherever she was, there was a whirring sound.
As we spoke some person or persons kept trying the bathroom door, so she moved to the area outside the restroom, what she called the vestibule. This seemed a too-fancy word to me (I was thinking “hall”), but since I’m in love with her and since she was drunk, I didn’t question it. At one point an elderly woman, doubtless having overheard her ramblings, stepped out of the restroom and beamed at her.
I told her that I wanted to be drunk with her, or barring that, just with her, or barring that, just drunk.
One morning I disabled all the clocks in my apartment. There were three: the alarm clock, the clock over the refrigerator, and the clock function in my computer.
To disable the alarm clock, I simply removed the battery, keeping the clock facedown to avoid seeing the time.
The kitchen clock proved more difficult because I had to remove it from the wall without noting the position of its hands. To manage this I first squinted at the clock to fix its location, then reached up, head averted, and lifted it from its nail.
The computer clock was the hardest since the time appears in the upper right-hand corner of the screen and is difficult to avoid seeing. My solution was to keep my left hand over the time while mousing with my right. After changing the appropriate control panel setting, I restarted the computer to make sure it had taken. Sadly it hadn’t, and it was then that I saw the time for the first time this day: 9:59 a.m.
Earlier I left a message for a friend, asking if she was free for dinner. “It’s Friday morning,” I said, and as I was about to add the time, I realized I didn’t know what it was. Later (was it an hour later? two?) I ate a peanut butter and banana sandwich, though I knew it was long before my usual lunch time. Then I biked around town, doing errands. A few blocks from the library I noticed a big clock on a black pole in front of a shoe store. I tried not to see the position of the hands, but it was too late: 2:05.
Soon after I returned home, my friend called back, and I told her about my day. She offered to meet me at my apartment that night instead of the restaurant, since I couldn’t commit to a specific time.
Naturally we spent the rest of the conversation talking about time. Nothing brings a thing into focus like an attempt to obscure it.