Saturday, November 23, 2013
All Bets Are Off
Lee Durkee heard about McNeil's trouble with the misprinted book, and McNeil's feelings of being all alone in the matter, so Lee wrote me with a message of encouragement to pass along to McNeil, a little story of something that happened to Lee, which I quote for you now: "I once, on a flight to Sri Lanka, was reading a book by Tobias Wolff, IN THE PHARAOH'S ARMY, and midway through the memoir due to a publishing error the book switched into a novel by a different author and kinda blew my mind. I thought Wolff had gone all experimental on me. Later I noticed it was a slightly different typeset. I left the book at a hostel where perhaps it is still bewildering people. It was really odd. I kept reading and reading trying to figure out how Wolff was gonna wrap this all together." Last night I saw Lee at a party, and he told me that what further confounded him was how the change happened between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. I forwarded the email on to McNeil, who responded: "Well, obviously, what happened to Lee isn't at all the fault of the publisher, but rather a result of longitudinal chicanery by that longitudinal laugh riot of the universe - the globe. You see, in order to get to Sri Lanka, you have to cross the 'International Date Line,' which of course means 'all bets are off!' I forget who said that. Once you cross that imaginary (not so imaginary in my book!) line, ships often sink, standardized language melts away, gold flies out of your teeth, and typeface often changes type. I wouldn't be surprised if my Jerry Lewis book had been shipped from Hong Kong. It's a nice touch the way Lee left the novel in a hostel. Now someone we know needs to accidentally buy it used online and the circle will be complete." Cutting-and-pasting these messages for "blog" "publication," I note that both Lee and McNeil adhere to the elegant and traditional practice of following each period they type with two spaces. Classy! I gave up on that years ago. Think of all the energy I've saved. BUT AT WHAT PRICE? (I removed their "extra" spaces so that the "post" would "adhere" to "blog" "standards." Think of all the work I did to reduce the quality here. Is that "ironic"?) Hey, I'm just going to keep typing. "All bets are off!" as McNeil once observed. Nobody reads these long "posts," or the short ones either, but perversely that's what keeps me typing. Like, yesterday I wrote a long "post" containing the words and phrases "Joycean technique" and "Faulkner" and "palimpsest" and "portent" and "unspoken emotion" but then I deleted it. WHY? For all practical purposes, a deleted "post" is the same as a "posted" "post." It was about this sentence in Adrienne Barbeau's autobiography: "We were married four months later, on New Years Day 1979, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, by a one-armed judge who years earlier had lost his hand in the mixer at the bakery where we'd gotten our wedding cake." I'm way past that now. The marriage is over. Adrienne Barbeau has just met a man who has "the ability to alter bacteria with his hands." She says of him, "I wonder who gave him the huge pearl ring he's wearing. I wonder why the nails on his pinkie fingers are so long." In other book news, I was lurching around Square Books yesterday and found myself strangely drawn to a paperback of JUNKY by William S. Burroughs. I found myself wondering why I've never read it. I read the first couple of pages and thought they were pretty good. So I bought it. It was only afterward, going through the introduction as I sat at the counter at Ajax, that I put it together: Old Bull Lee from ON THE ROAD is Burroughs, as I well knew. What I didn't know is that this edition of JUNKY has, as an appendix, a whole deleted chapter about William Reich, fave theorist of Adrienne Barbeau and Norman Mailer! Who cares? Randy, the owner of Ajax, saw me eating a hamburger and asked, "Why aren't you eating a Pendarvis sandwich? I can't remember the right name." I reminded him that he was thinking of "The Osborne Sandwich." Don't worry! I still think it's going to catch on. Books! As you know, I always like to have a little pocket-sized book to carry around in my little pocket-sized pocket as I promenade about the town like Blazes Boylan. And the other day when I was at Off Square Books I found just such an item, filled with poems using the great old spelling I love: "YEE dainty Nimphs that in this blessed Brooke/ Doo bath your brest;/ Forsake your watry Bowers, and hether looke/ At my request." There are a lot of "hey ho's," so that even the most dire subject matter takes on a jaunty hue: "But whether in painfull love I pine,/ hey hoe pinching pain:/ Or thrive in wealth, she shall be mine,/ but if thou can her obtaine./ And if for gracelesse greefe I dye/ hey hoe gracelesse greefe:/ Witnesse, she slew me with her eye,/ let thy folly be the preefe." He's talking to his sheep. All the narrators in this book are talking to sheep. Pretty early in that poem, the narrator sees "the bouncing Bellybone/ hey hoe Bonny-bell:/ Tripping over the Dale alone,/ shee can trip it very well." Bellybone! I have no idea. Bonnibel (sp?) is Princess Bubblegum's first name, FYI.