Remember being a kid where the world opened to something, no matter how fucked up and confused, a mess of a house, people not acting right, nobody paying attention, and it was just beyond that, through those faux trials that something would be revealed, a room of mirrors, a skeleton villain to smash up, and then outside in the fresh air?
I liked those days as much as I could, even without the booze, turning off the reality of what a shitty crew everyone was – sister, brother, mother, father – not a clue of how to care, make any sense of anything except to do what was next – this holiday, that dinner – sitting there waiting for someone to pick me up. Yeah, being an adult is better.
Remember when you were a kid and thought you knew more than anyone gave you credit? Remember when you were all grown up and thought you knew everything? Remember when you got older, maybe halfway from start to finish, and you began to forget what you said? Remember that? No? Of course you don’t.
Glen Hall would always carry a suitcase into the bar, which I thought was a little odd, and he’d hand it over to the bartender to keep behind the bar. It was always very light when he gave it to the bartender. But when they had to leave to catch the train, Glenn would get the suitcase back and all of a sudden it was very heavy. It took me a while to figure out that the bartender would fill it with beer so that the boys could have a few on the train.
A Bill Murray character pitches the idea of a long-time hockey fan who comes early to his team’s games to watch warm-ups and befriends the opposing goalie before the Stanley Cup finals by talking about gladiator mentality of the goalie, the defender of the universe. He helps him sort his game sticks as he realizes an opportunity to damage his confidence and so help his team win. He takes him out afterwards to a bar and tries to get him drunk, to no avail. The goalie, Elephant, sneaks into a private club which our hero tries over and over to break in and succeeds at the end, finding friends and family inside, with Elephant. He is admonished by all, but promises that there is a plan, citing winning the lottery as the first point. No one believes him until he locks into a death stare – performed by John Turturro and Elephant – during which there is a back and forth series of accusations which makes everyone tear with laughter.
The agent loves the pitch and commissions it to his go-to – played by Tom Hanks – who sets up his work space into a giant white room like a hockey rink to begin the process. Bill Murray’s character is devastated and sets up his massive musical pitch “I am Elephant” during which a giant King Kong set arises out of the dim with the chant of “I am Elephant” as Murray holds up a placard and high-fives a series of animals – elephants, tigers, hippos, Tony the Tiger, etc. – who come out the King Kong door and then from the opposite way, as the scene devolves into chaos – llamas, sharks, emus parading past. However, the agent is sold on the pitch of the Murray character getting to write, and Tom Hanks bows out gracefully. Murray goes on to write the story in which it is revealed that Elephant the goalie actually is using the fan as part of his routine in the championships, always pretending and manipulating opposing fans to his side. Even with this revelation, they all still love Elephant who lets in the losing goal at the end.
You see, man is stupid, phenomenally stupid. Man has always, and everywhere, loved to act as he wants and not in the least as his reason and personal advantage dictates. Even if it were proven to him by the natural sciences and mathematically, he would still not come to his senses, and would do something deliberately to contradict it, simply out of ingratitude, just in order to assert himself.
Let us suppose that man does nothing but search for this “twice two’s four”, he crosses oceans, he sacrifices his life in the quest, but to find it, to really find it – good god, he’s somehow afraid. You see, he feels that when he finds it, there won’t be anything left to look for.
At least when workmen finish their work, they receive money, go down to the tavern and end up at the police station – that keeps them busy for the week.*
*From Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground
I have always loved the idea of living in a small apartment, my bed in an alcove, old blankets and quilts against the cold, getting up to shovel the walk, shoveling other people’s too, my job clearing the snow, just that, and then getting back inside to watch old movies and drink cold beer, thinking about my $11,000 gambling loss, how I could have spent that on a hundred bottles of nice scotch, a cruise in the Galapagos, an engagement ring or rent for half the year.
My failure as a writer runs deep, with successes few and far between. I won a short story contest in Grade Four, received an honorable mention in a Hires Root Beer contest, wrote film reviews in college, sports for community newspaper, ad copy for Toto toilets, was accepted to a Kenyon College writing program, and most recently serialized a speculative novel for which the publisher lost interest.
The failures are much more profound – nothing published, nothing at all, after 40 years – a few friends who bother to read anything. Not that I write this for sympathy but rather to underline the reality that despite all of this, I still feel the writer, still, as Highsmith says, only know myself when writing things down.
Coming to terms with who I am, remembering the pain and mistakes, not negating, just coming to understand the little wounds and think on the words that give those cuts dimension, not just typing to see the night to the end, but that essential thing coming out like riding my bike into the half dead forest, stripping down, throwing everything away and being naked. It’s the only thing. Or insufferable. One of the two.
Post-humous publication appears the best of chances – to be remembered by a species devolving into apps – and together we go into the ether..
Highsmith revealed that in order to get herself in a different frame of mind, by pretending she was not herself, moving herself into a state of innocence, free of the day-to-day worries and anxieties of life. Her favorite technique to ease herself into the right frame of mind for work was to sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, ashtray, matches, a mug of coffee, a doughnut and an accompanying saucer of sugar. She had to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible.