Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Two Things on Tuesday

There are two things I want to address tonight:


I've been on a new fiction kick lately. After months of rereading Anna Karenina and then delving into a Tolstoy biography, the past two weeks I have been catching up on some back logged Christmas gifts of new fiction (because really Christmas is the best time to ask for what is, for most consumers, an unknown commodity). The first week of March I wafted through Jim Harrison's "The English Major." I do not mean to use waft as a pejorative term, the book is very light and reads easily. However, it is a very good road story told from a perspective that has not been seen, by me at least, in a road novel. That perspective being an elderly man. What this narrator is looking for is not much different than any other protagonist in a road story, a new beginning, a better understanding of one's country and why one feels an attachment to it, and how all of the emotional entanglements, romances, and nostalgias of that individuals life are tied to their country - or their understanding of what they think America is. Good book.

The past week and a half I have been working on Joesph O'Neill's "Netherland." I am about three quarters through but have been compelled to comment on it from the first few pages. This is truly a fantastically written book. You will receive overwhelming waves of the Fitzgerald senisbility and mood when reading the novel - his sentences flow, digress and then resolve just as beautifully as Fitzgerald's do. There is also that almost unexplainably true sensation a reader gets when reading Fitzgerald as with O'Neill that a story is meant to be told in the wake of some significant moment that will only be revealed at the very end of the story. Now, this may seem elementary, but in the Great Gatsby, Nick has a terrific way of reeling the reader in and then letting the line slack as to why his tone and relation to the events that have occured to him are so profound and so heavily reliant on a retrospection that is intoxicating. So far, in O'Neill's story of a displaced Dutchman/Englishman in New York, the utilization of retrospection draws the reader in and places him in those shoes. O'Neill's protagonist may be estranged from his wife and child for reasons that he understands and at the same time struggles to see the truth in, but his tone and approach to the matter, with a vague sadness that points to the profound appeals and seems familiar to any reader. We all picture ourselves walking with our hands in slightly stale khaki pants, walking city streets in a mild cold in bewilderment. How did this all happen to us? And what are we going to do next?


The Tony Castles. Now all three of these guys, Gabi Wurzel, Paul Sicilian, and Willie Miesmer are good friends of mine. Gabi plays in the Muggabears, Paul a former member of Bernie Tonka, and Willie a member of Boogie Boarder, but all three have come together to make a band that is really going to do something. I am biased of course. However, if you go to their Myspace page, linked above, and listen to "Black Girls in Dresses," you will agree it is the hit single that no one is listening to yet. Forget about noise pop with little girls singing in asian, this is the music for the young and the masses. You make sure to look out (you who do stumble on this) for any next show they have listed. Ask me and I can ask Gabi.

Now, for the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt:


The rain is falling outside and I don’t feel like doing anything. Dad’s leather study chair isn’t comfortable but it reclines back with my weight so I can trick my posture into being comfortable. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat and admired the rain. I was never melancholy enough to do it so often. I always got the sense that Tom was that way although he never really told me so or shared so much. I’d catch him reading poems and gazing out the window when I’d come home from school or on the holidays. I think he had an artistic bent to him. Turning and turning in the widening gyre. He had to recite that for English class. Mr. Marsh. I had to do that also. I forget what I picked. I think it was one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. There were so many of those to go around. I couldn’t really enjoy it. You don’t enjoy poetry or get caught up in a school assignment if you are on the lacrosse team. That would make you look like a fag. I always hated that word.

Drops are falling on bushes, the leaves are still full on trees and they move slightly in the wind. Things are green and wet and the light is still a summer light even though it is grey, it’s not dark and depressing like the rain or grey of November or December. How considerate of mom to die in a month when the weather is still nice and we don’t have to shovel snow to get to a grave. That’s what I’m looking at. The paperwork for the funeral. She and dad had enough morbid sense to make their payments already and plan everything out in advance. Who thinks of that? I guess we all have to think of that. We all have to set up our gardens to plant ourselves in, make our advance payments for it too so that everything is neat and clean trimmed mounds of dirt next to the green of the grass and maybe a flower or two. I spoke to Aunt Diane before.

“I ordered a flower arrangement.”

“Thank you but my mom had already picked out her arrangements.”

“A sister can add her own too. That’s the way it is at funerals.”

“I guess I never noticed before.”

“Best that you didn’t. What does a young man need to notice flowers at a funeral for?”

“I don’t know.”

“You had a good mother.”

“I know.”

“We could all use extra flowers.”

Everyone sounds so sad and seems so sad. We weren’t all this messed up all the time were we? I don’t think so. I had a happy childhood. I’d like to think that people were envious of our family. I was a good brother. Maybe I was too anxious to grow up. To handle paperwork and be a man, be relied upon by a wife like Eve. I could’ve been a better brother to Tom. I tried to teach him things, to stay away from losers, the guys I hung out with on the team. I wanted him to escape too. But what is he doing now? Why does he still live on the Island? Why does he come home? Why is he at mass now? I could’ve been a better brother.

The chair rocks back and forth and I hear it squeak underneath my weight. I grip the wood of the table with my right hand and shift the paperwork around with my left. Bryant and Sons Funeral Home. Old Town Road. The name is written in script with a slight flourish of graphic underneath it. Piles of paperwork make up this world; it’s the world that I work in. Numbers, files, papers. I don’t want Tom or Liza to be in a world like that, but I don’t know if you can escape it.

“You’ll be a good husband, James.”

“Do you think so, mom?”

“It doesn’t really matter if I think it.”

“Of course it does.”

“You had your father to look at.”

“But he had his problems didn’t he?”

“And so did I.”
“You did?”

“We’re all faulted.”

“That’s only the Bible talking.”

“Well, if you think that then we all have compromises to make. We face ourselves and sometimes we have to give things up. Luckily, your father was able to do that. He gives me too much credit. I might’ve been too much of a bitch when I was younger, but he seemed to understand something in it.”

“That all seems too nice. How can it all make sense like that?”

“I don’t know if it all does make sense like that.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll be a good husband, James.”


Her red cheeks. The reddishness of her hair like Maggie. The youth that remained in her face, especially in the corners by her eyes so that they still looked twenty-four. Why couldn’t dad catch the illness?

The desk lamp makes the room look gold. My life and childhood have been something out of a movie. I spin the chair and as it slows, I face the window and the rain again. Life isn’t so sad. Life is made up of rainy days and I should learn to enjoy rainy days more. I should let water drip off the end of leaves and fall to the grass to enter into the rest of the earth. I can remember taking naps in October on cloudy days in college and listening to music. I’m still young. When did I become the leader? When did I become responsible?

Come in here, James. There’s a little boy who wants to meet you.

I’m a father?

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