Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #153: Listen Up

Excerpt from my short story entitled “The Temptation.” Suicidal farce, if you will: Ben Smythe, off in Cambridge-ville with younger sister Bess, ensconced at Radcliffe, lover of Pam down at Emory in Hotlanta (Bess, that is). Bennie is a bit of a histrionic: his temptation is to hightail it to what he calls his “cordovan brother,” a brown leather journal book from the leftovers of a father he never knew…as I say, hightail to this tome whenever he feels he has suffered humiliation from which he feels he cannot recover. His journal entries are suicide attempts gone awry, largely because of the impeccable timing of Bess, who has a penchant for showing up just as the histrionics are about to go full blown. For those who know the author, I will swear to a familiarity with the frozen ass and the elegantly black-sweatered cursive infrastructure. And, sadly (at the time, anyway) the ubiquitously mentioned Teddy.

Clearly, to employ the SS prompt, Bennie wants us to listen up because what he has to say is important. Even if we (and Bess) may disagree. For those who may be worried, Ben is, with sister Bess’ ministrations, a consummate survivor.

age 22
16 december 19—

never thought i would die in the cold north, never thought i would die this close to xmas, i thought i was way past all that e jarvis crap, even if i have been prowling for three and a half years here in ee cummingsville, no i’m not copying him, i’m a damn government major, thank you, poli sci to the rest of the world, it’s just that my hands are cold and i can barely make lowercase letters as it is. up to my ass in de tocqueville, a. hamilton, marcuse, and hayek—try writing haikus with them as your muses—i didn’t know jack about monsieur lowercase until the scintillating black turtleneck-sweatered ms. alison leverett came along, gorgeous menthol-mouthed tobacconist with a tongue that seemed shockingly intimate with the whisky sours she had a moist hankering for. sister bess, who much to my chagrin had traveled north on her own william randolph hearst full scholarship, only to junk it in the charles river for the likes of e pound and c olson, leaving mom, well, leaving mom’s new jillionaire boyfriend holding the bag, as the citizens kane were not slopping their mega-noodle scholarships around for the likes of chicken coop poets and gloucester megalomaniacs—as i say, sister bess is horrified that i should consort with such a floozy: the blackwooled breasts are not the issue, sister b i now know can appreciate cursive infrastructure with the most hard-boned of the rest of us, and no, she can even forgive the fact that I stink of whatever smoke the sublime ms. l happens to be blowing out her nose, it is the woman’s choice of devil water that has sister b in such a dither, having quickly upon arrival adopted a scotch-only policy, with ample double cheeseburgers from hazen’s on the side. thank god, my sister has the metabolism of a spider monkey (ateles geoffroyi geoffroyi; my minor is zoology), or she’d be packin’.

i should get on with the evening’s details before the reaper pays his visit. ms. l—for whom i would sever all further ties to anything in the new south that teeters anywhere near progressivism but in fact bears closer resemblance to semi-moderate republicanism, for whom i would venture into the streets as a stark raving sacco and vanzetti anarchist—ms. l two nights ago asks if i have ever seen the movie mccabe and mrs miller. billy jack and mary tyler moore being my usual cup of tea, i reply in the negative, which occasions this night’s plunge into the overheated and undersounded brattle street theater where i was tempted to suggest we pop our own popcorn, not wanting to disturb the junkie concessionaire who seemed more intent on sating his own sweet tooth than those of his few customers. after i sit through two hours of men and women in furs, crackling fires in the snowy Canadian northwest, the unintelligible mumblings of warren beatty, and the scandalous table manners of julie christie (though i do consign a developing crush on the sublime ms. c to future consideration should the cursive infrastructure sitting beside me in the dark ever pack up her tinker toys and leave), after all this and a seasonally inappropriate hot fudge sundae at bailey’s, i found my cold ass sitting on the icy concrete landing outside the cambridge earth shoe store, dim street lights dimly dimming my heart as i sat beside the beauty whose ass was presumably also freezing, and as i froze on into the night i came to the horrifying realization that there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot left in the personal inventory i call my Self to keep this woman the least bit interested in me beyond my walking her back to her, not my, dorm. was the third mention of teddy the ice hockey player and his sleeping with his winter windows open remotely related to this flash of dismal intuition? as good queen bess was wont to say of her benighted older brother, benjie—only she got away with that nickname—you’re a sap, but you’re not THAT much a sap. inventory depleted, all reserves gone, i committed the cardinal sin that not even vanderbilt commodore pre-med dougie would ever stumble to: i confessed my inadequacy to the dark star seated beside me, and wasn’t that the most palpable tremor of revulsion i felt stir in the icy air around us, the few last spidery tendrils of interest in my woe were sucked right off my skin, and buddy, let me tell you right now, right then and there on darkened brattle street, i was taken off of all life support. life draining quickly, we stumbled back charles river-ward to ms. l’s place, suffering yet another three teddy-mentions (i believe my testicles fell off as we were crossing mt. auburn); from the outer gate of her dorm, i crawled on over here to my tower window to lay down and die. ms. christie keeps calling from the vault to which I consigned her, but hey, i KEPT my hearst scholarship, i’m smart enough to know when the jig is up. forget that crazy as a loon mississippi compson boy in turgid faulkner, i don’t need to jump in no damn icy river off the bridge, i can damn well just lie down in my own damn bed and let the evil worm bring it on.

what the hell is it now? somebody banging like keith moon on my door, good lord, does she have a nose for this stuff, of course it is my sister, come no doubt to stake a claim to whatever physical effects i have about my lair. she has an unconscionable crush on the voice of samuel p. huntington, presumably she will want all my papers from his seminar, just to swoon over his comments on my B minus papers and smell that disgusting pipe tobacco he smokes while grading them.

“pam sez hi,” says my bloodhound sister, a marvelous opening gambit to our little death waltz—throwing out the name of the first person to send me writhing to my cordovan confessor. ever since her rescue from the horrific snow queen bunnies, sister bess has never been far from her savior; bess foregoes her meal ticket for phone money, staying as close to p vincent at emory in atlanta as 1100 miles will allow. she phones on mom’s dime, and eats on mine, snarfing food off my trays in the dining hall.

oh, does she, i reply, but bess has bigger fish to fry. she’s seen the open journal beside me on my bed, sits down at my desk in the corner, she’s fishing for more sammy p.

you get the marcuse paper back yet?, to which i sniff, i’m a little busy here! i can feel another wave of shame coming my way, shame i always prefer to do alone, thank you, does my sister care, hell no.

what’s this?, she asks, flipping open an unmarked manila folder, my transcription of the lyrics to “anyone who had a heart.” transcribing sappy love lyrics—no doubt a pre-morbid sign of my imminent decline. just this morning i transcribed “windy”—you KNOW i’m dyin’.

“that burt bacharach—some poet, huh,” says miss smartass. “this for your moderns class?” a lazy afternoon in alison’s living room, gorgeous fall weather in through the open window, listening to the stones’ goat’s head soup while she recites early yeats, maud gonne’s yeats, damned if i didn’t sign up for perkins’ modern poets the very next day. midterm c and not even a sammy p b minus on my first paper, it finally hit me, doof, it was mick’s “winter,” not poor silly aedh that had me in such a poetic dither. a second hand goat’s head soup would have saved me from the bucks i plunked down on that damned norton anthology, and all the prufrock readings over at the fogg, jesus, ben, that wasn’t w b yeats in your ear, that was mick:

Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you
Sometimes I wanna keep you warm

Sometimes I wanna wrap my coat around you

Sometimes I wanna but I can't afford you

what the hell, all the more reason: a good day to die, if i can just get my sister out of here, not exactly something you want to do with company around, you know?

can i help you?, i say.

don’t use your baskin-robbins server boy voice on me, says bess, i’m not just another of your pistachio almond fiends. i see you are in the throes again, haven’t seen your little leather brother out since—what?—dougie/elaine, right? helluva thing, though truth be told, i never could see it, you and e, that hamster voice, hell no, that would have killed off “never my love” boy lickety split, but no way that would have been self-inflicted, that voice, that’s manslaughter, easy.

i repeat, i say, can i help you. and: i never liked “never my love.” that crappy organ solo, no way.

she: sorry; i forgot, you can do with “peeking out from under a stairway,” but hang that organ. alright, alright: you want me out of here, got your little date with the reaper, what i want to know is, you still got my carole king?

me: your? you told me if the earth moved one more time—

she: i know what i told you, okay? just tell me: do you still have it?

me: and where else would it be?

she: hell if i know. i figured by now fitz would have won it off you; you know you’re backgammon-lousy, and for a black man, fitz’s got the strangest taste in music.

me: relax. he got the carpenters.

she turns to the 400 plus pristine albums shelved in the corner, save for the cat-scratched spine of the very album she was looking for, sticking out plain as day, but no, she has to ask, yet again.


this i don’t even dignify.

rock or vocals?

my pre-phi beta kappa sister, never known so much as an a-minus in her life, and she’s gotta ask, rock or vocals, but then i realize that this is our last conversation and i choke up a bit as i say, vocals, of course. carole king’s funky bare toes on the cover doesn’t make it rock, sis.

c or k?




Blogger anno said...

This took me straight back to 1977, maybe not my best year; you've captured every queasy detail, every reason I am glad to have made it past the age of 19. Except in my case it was a green-eyed painter named Paul Miller and his all-too-frequent mentions of a long-limbed, tawny-haired dancer/poli sci major that I blamed for my misery.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, though? I'm thinking about this.

Bess is wonderful, love that don’t use your baskin-robbins server boy voice on me/i’m not just another of your pistachio almond fiends. She sounds like a reliable straightedge in Ben's life: a little sharp, but helpful, for keeping him in line.

2:55 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: The black-sweatered curvature was Ms Tammie Elliot. I was swimming way in the deep end, no Bess to fish me out. Man, was the boy smitten...

3:31 PM  
Blogger Tumblewords: said...

This feels truth. Amazing work - fine phrasing and a good sense of character.

8:22 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Tumblewords: You are, methinks, too kind to the Bennie goofball: thank heavens for his Bess...

10:23 PM  
Blogger alister said...

What a flood of intelligent smartness to try not to die for amidst thoughts of selling my soul for eternal brilliance. While luscious Ms. LOA was going for opposites, Bennie was left with a puck-bucket full of brain cells and no hockey stick. I would regale you with similar stories from the other side of the brain tracks but for a tattered pride : )


4:13 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Muchness: The first time through, I thought you wrote "honey" (not hockey) stick. Bennie would certainly have agreed, longing as he would have to have been Ms L's salt-encrusted whiskey sour glass...

Regale away, I say. You might try KOB's for more anonymity, but lord knows where he would go with it!!

4:23 PM  
Blogger present said...

being a fellow histrionic from way back, tell bennie that i listened up! and tell him that i appreciated this line (among others), "i came to the horrifying realization that there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot left in the personal inventory i call my Self to..." i can easily fill in the rest.
i found the back and forth between bennie and bess very entertaining.
what i'm trying to say is - i can relate.

8:50 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

present: That makes us cousins. It was hellaciously cold the night of that inventory...

9:00 PM  

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