The Governor's DogI got hold of Buck's forelegs, as though I were girding myself to shove a wheelbarrow, and heaved. It didn't work. I got his front end up for a second, but just as I got him up, he breathed out and I breathed in. One gust of Buck was enough. It was like a gust from a buzzard's nest. I was paralyzed. Buck hit the porch boards and lay there like the old polar-bear rug he resembled.
Tom Stark and one of the reporters shoved on the tail end and I heaved on the front end and held my breath and we got Buck the seven feet to the Boss. The Boss braced himself, and we heaved up the front end, and the Boss got a gust of Buck.
That gust was enough.
"God's sake, Pappy," the Boss demanded as soon as he had mastered his spasm, "What you been feeding this dog?"
"He ain't got any appetite," Old Man Stark said.
"He ain't got any appetite for violets," the Boss said, and spat on the ground.
"The reason he fell," the photographer observed, "was because his hind legs gave down. Once we get him propped we got to work fast."
"We?" the Boss said. "What the hell you mean we. You come kiss him. One whiff would curdle milk and strip a pine tree."The Glories of Penang
S. J. PerelmanAll together I spent three and a half weeks in Penang before the President Monroe nosed over the horizon, and this much I will say for it: if you ever want a perfect honeymoon spot, a place where scenery and climate fuse to produce unadulterated witchery, where life has the tremulous sweetness of a plucked lute-string and darkness falls all too soon, go to the Hotel Plaza in New York. Of all the lethargic benighted, somnolent flea-bags this side of Hollywood, the port of Georgetown on the island of Penang is the most abysmal. At the time I was there, its recreational facilities consisted of four Tarzan films, a dance hall housing eighty-five pock-marked Malay delinquents, a funicular railway, and a third-rate beach situated five miles from nowhere. If, after exhausting the potentialities of these, you retained any appetite for sightseeing, you could visit the Ayer Itam temple and the botanical gardens. The former is possibly the largest, and unquestionably the dullest, Buddhist temple in Malaya, and no wastebasket is complete without a snapshot of this historic shrine. The botanical gardens boast many varieties of cactus not found anywhere, not even in the botanical gardens. The day I was there, I waited almost three minutes for them to show up, but never caught so much as a glimpse of a thing resembling a cactus. I related the incident subsequently to a group of passengers aboard ship who were discussing occasions on which they had failed to find cacti, and it was unanimously agreed that my experience was by far the most unusual.
I doubt if anyone short of Dante could describe the cookery at the Western & Occidental Hotel; I have heard it defended on the ground that it is no worse than the fare in any British colonial hotel, which is like saying that measles is no worse than virus pneumonia. The meal usually led off with an eerie gumbo, identified as pumpkin soup, puce in color and dysenteric in effect. This was followed by a crisp morsel of the fish called selangor for want of a more scathing term, reminiscent in texture of a Daniel Green comfy slipper fried in deep fat. The roast was a pale, resilient scintilla of mutton that turned the tines of the fork, garnished with a spoonful of greenish string and a dab of penicillin posing as a potato. For dessert there was gula Malacca, a glutinous blob of sago swimming in skimmed milk and caramel syrup, so indescribably saccharine that it produced a singing in the ears and screams of anguish from the bridge-work. As the diner stiffened slowly in his chair, his features settling into the ghastly smile known as the risus sardonicus, the waiter administered the coup de grâce, a savory contrived of a moldy sardine spread-eagled on a bit of blackened toast. The exact nature of the thimbleful of rusty brown fluid that concluded the repast was uncertain. The only other time I saw it, awash in the scuppers of the President Monroe, the sailors called it bilge.My Brilliant CareerDr. PhageI first understood that I was well suited to the academic life back in college when I attended my first academic seminar. It was a veritable epiphany: the room was warm, a speaker at the front was doing the equivalent of counting sheep for me, and then the lights went out for the first slide; I settled back comfortably in my chair, and knew no more until the lights came back on after the last slide. I realized then that I had discovered a true calling, like Paul on the road to Damascus.
My career of sleeping through seminars continued in graduate school. One time, I was seated next to the Associate Director of our institute, a tough-talking biochemist who was reputed to have mob connections. Everyone referred to him as Big Al. Realizing that I was seated in a sensitive location, I fought to retain consciousness as the speaker droned on and on, and actually made it to the third slide before I retired to never-never land, slumping sideways at the same time so as to use Big Al for a pillow. When the seminar ended I awoke, refreshed as always, and looked blinkingly around. Turning to my left, I made eye contact with Big Al, who was fixing me in a stare that would freeze helium. "Ya feel bedduh now?" he growled.
Fortunately, Big Al was not on my Ph.D. thesis committee, and in due course I earned that key of entry into the academic world. It has been a long and rewarding career since then. Several years ago, I underwent a medical procedure on one eye. I was told I must sleep sitting up for ten days or so. No problem. I had already had 35 years of practice.
Beginning grad students regularly marvel at the ability of us veterans to spend an entire seminar, qualifying exam, or thesis defense in the arms of Morpheus, and then rouse to ask a seemingly relevant question at the end. Little do they suspect that this ability is the very secret, the kernel, the Zen of the professorial vocation.An Essay on Herbert Hoover
Charles Bukowski"Upon this grand note," said Mrs Fretag, "I hereby dismiss the class."
They got up and began packing out.
"Not you, Henry," said Mrs Fretag.
I sat in my chair and Mrs Fretag stood there looking at me.
Then she said, "Henry, were you there?"
I sat there trying to think of an answer. I couldn't. I said, "No, I wasn't there."
She smiled. "That makes it all the more remarkable."
"You can leave, Henry."
I got up and walked out. I began my walk home. So, that's what they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That's what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me. I looked around. Juan and his buddy were not following me. Things were looking up.
I experience once again the splendor of those miserable days when I first arrived in Paris, a bewildered, poverty-stricken individual who haunted the streets like a ghost at a banquet.
Everything comes back to me in a rush --- the toilets that wouldn't work, the prince who shined my shoes, the Cinema Splendide where I slept on the patron's overcoat, the bars in the window, the feeling of suffocation, the fat cockroaches, the drinking and carousing that went on between times, Rose Cannaque and Naples dying in the sunlight. Dancing the streets on an empty belly and now and then calling on strange people --- Madame Delorme, for instance. How I ever got to Madame Delorme's, I can't imagine any more. But I got there, got inside somehow, past the butler, past the maid with her little white apron, got right inside the palace with my corduroy trousers and my hunting jacket-and not a button on my fly. Even now I can taste again the golden ambiance of that room where Madame Delorme sat upon a throne in her mannish rig, the goldfish in the bowls, the maps of the ancient world, the beautifully bound books; I can feel again her heavy hand resting upon my shoulder, frightening me a little with her heavy Lesbian air.Ben, Dan, Sam and Ned
Vladimir NabokovI learned to read English before I could read Russian. My first English friends were four simple souls in my grammar --- Ben, Dan, Sam and Ned. There used to be a great deal of fuss about their identities and whereabouts --- "Who is Ben?" "He is Dan," "Sam is in bed," and so on. Althought it all remained rather stiff and patchy (the compiler was handicapped by having to employ --- for the initial lessons, at least --- words of not more than three letters), my imagination somehow managed to obtain the necessary data. Wan-faced, big-limbed, silent nitwits, proud in the possession of certain tools ("Ben has an axe"), they now drift with a slow-motioned slouch across the remotest backdrop of memory; and, akin to the mad alphabet of an optician's chart, the grammar-book lettering looms again before me.My Kitchen Wars
Betty FussellShe grew up in California, and wore bobby-sox and penny loafers. She studied slumber parties in college, then went east and studied and married Paul Fussell --- he of The Great War and Modern Memory. She was the typical 1950s wife-to-scholar --- tending the children, typing the manuscripts, wondering if dirty diapers and boiled nursing bottles were appropriate for one who had spent so much time studying Shakespeare, Yeats and Eliot with such enthusiasm.
This, then, is the tale of a brainy woman in a period when brainy women had babies and tended the dishes, making her a proto-Sylvia Plath --- without the suicide. Her story will bring back a hundred poignant (and pointed) memories to those of us who came of age in the time of Eisenhower, Cuba, Kennedy; those of us who lived, too, a smart, frustrating life.
The very words she evokes are so powerful for we who grew out of the Berlin Air-lift, the Bay of Pigs, the mining of Haiphong harbor, Viet-Nam (Fussell organized a mild Viet-Nam Protest called "Negotiation Now"); Julia Child (she did The Art of French Cooking, apparently, page by page --- including every damn one of those ghastly canapés); PhD in English Literature (husband Paul got his at Harvard, in a mere year). And --- her pals: Philip Roth (she knew the first Mrs. Philip Roth --- intimately), writers like Kingsley Amis, Al Alvarez. And talking! Ah, those nights of talk. Candles, wine, good food, talking...no, better:
That was our lives back then, especially for those of us who seemed to have so little effect on the power-mongers of this damnable country. All we had was food and wine and "dinner parties" and talk (and talk and talk) and sometimes, heavy-handed, oh so heavy-handed, love. For despite Kinsey, we were most of us quite lousy in the sack, and our partners were bulls in the china-shop, so to speak. Betty confesses to us that she didn't find the truth of passion until late, quite late in life.
To us, talk was argument, and a major form of entertainment. We'd been well trained in our grad school boot camps: attack with a thesis, reconnoiter for defense, and regroup for a counterattack.
All along, Fussell was nuts about good food (she has ended up writing a food column for the New York Times) --- and she was nuts about words. Once, when bored, she taught herself Latin, "translated all of Horace's odes into English for the hell of it, for the pleasure of it, for the sake of sanity when the walls even in this great big beautiful house began to close in on me."Captain Hook
Carlos AmanteaThere was a very drunken, very noisy American here in Puerto Perdido. Fred, I think they called him. He had two hooks for arms. He'd go around all day bare-chested, showing off his hooks, which started at his shoulders, with "flesh" --- that peculiar Motel 50s seat cover orange/tan so favored by orthopaedic manufacturers --- and ending up with some complicated wires and belts and metal doo-dads from elbow to hand level. Fred had been picking up trophies in Viet Nam.
By late in the afternoon, Fred would be drunk, cat-calling the women, offering to fight any man. Sooner or later he would pass out, pissing himself, in front of the market, or on the beach. The Friends of Puerto Perdido, a local do-good bunch of gringos, would take up a collection every few years to ship him off to the veterans hospital in San Antonio to dry him out, but sooner or later, Fred would be back, pissing himself in the town square, offrering to fight any man in the world, howling at the ladies.
Not long ago, his liver waved the white flag, after being bathed in such quantities of whiskey, tequila, mescal, and other local poisons. They found him, hooks and all, on the beach at Cipolete. At first they thought he was passed out again, so they didn't bother, but after the second day, when he began to swell up unconscionably, they decided that Fred had achieved the state of final drunken grace. They boxed him up and shipped him up to the border. Getting bodies across the border is a nightmare. Some people, or what's left of them, spend weeks and months in the refrigerators in Ciudad Juaréz, but the Veterans Affairs office in San Antonio knew he, no matter how pickled, was one of them, so they agreed to pick him up on the border.I Can't Stop Interfering with Myself
Frank McCourtI know about the excitement and I know it's a sin but how can it be a sin if it comes to me in a dream where American girls pose in swimming suits on the screen at the Lyric Cinema and I wake up pushing and pumping? It's a sin when you're wide awake and going at yourself the way the boys talked about it in Leamy's schoolyard after Mr. O'Dea roared the Sixth Commandment at us, Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, which means impure thoughts, impure words, impure deeds, and that's what adultery is, Dirty Things in General.
One Redemptorist priest barks at us all the time about the Sixth Commandment. He says impurity is so grave a sin the Virgin Mary turns her face away and weeps.
And why does she weep, boys? She weeps because of you and what you are doing to her Beloved Son. She weeps when she looks down the long dreary vista of time and beholds in horror the spectacle of Limerick boys defiling themselves, polluting themselves, interfering with themselves, abusing themselves, soiling their young bodies, which are the temples of the Holy Ghost. Our Lady weeps over these abominations knowing that every time you interfere with yourself you nail to the cross her Beloved Son, that once more you hammer into His dear head the crown of thorns, that you reopen those ghastly wounds. In an agony of thirst He hangs on the cross and what is He offered by those perfidious Romans? A lavatory sponge plunged into vinegar and gall and thrust into His poor mouth, a mouth that moves rarely except to pray, to pray even for you, even for you, boys, who nailed Him to that cross. Consider Our Lord's suffering. Consider the crown of thorns. Consider a small pin driven into your skull, the agony of the piercing. Consider then twenty thorns driven into your head. Reflect, meditate on the nails tearing His hands, His feet. Could you endure a fraction of that agony? Take that pin again, that mere pin. Force it into your side. Enlarge that sensation a hundredfold and you are penetrated by that awful lance. Oh, boys, the devil wants your souls. He wants you with him in hell and know this, that every time you interfere with yourself, every time you succumb to the vile sin of self-abuse you not only nail Christ to the cross you take another step closer to hell itself. Retreat from the abyss, boys. Resist the devil and keep your hands to yourself.--- From Angela's AshesThe Eenie-Weenies
Dr. PhageOne afternoon, my friend Carlos and I set sail together on such a peyote trip , while my wife (who never took the sacred cactus after her first and last journey) rode shotgun for us. After a period of exchanging incredible witticisms (which my wife later reported were incredibly brainless), Carlos and I parted company, each to his own planet. Carlos, wrapped up in a quilt in a deep chair, was exploring the inner universe we called "the projection room," while I undertook a minute investigation of the rug on the living room floor.
It was a golden-yellow color, with an intricate weave that had concealed, until that very afternoon, the presence of innumerable living beings. These were tiny, intelligent creatures, whole villages of them, whole cities, provinces, countries, all going soberly about their business: they strolled about in their central squares, conducted commerce, built temples and civic monuments, travelled from one city in the rug to another --- all under my watchful eyes. It was like that classic science fiction story --- was it by Theodore Sturgeon? --- except that the little creatures did not worship me, or solve problems that I imposed upon them. They had no knowledge of me at all, thus making me all the more God-like: I observed all and knew all, but never intervened in their world.
Some of them were gathered in the Agora, like Plato's students, when a repairman from our world unexpectedly arrived to fix the washing machine. My wife ushered him in, and he stood in the doorway. I greeted the repairman civilly from the floor, explaining that I was tied up at the moment with my little people who lived in the rug, but he was welcome to go ahead with his work. He was a strange piece of work himself, elongated and angular like a figure in an El Greco painting, slanted in the doorway at an impossible angle halfway between vertical and horizontal. I suggested that he might want to do something about the slant of the floor, and for that matter his own shape, after he had finished with the washing machine, and turned back to my little people in the rug. Carlos, wrapped up in his quilt, looked more like a pile of laundry than a sentient being, except that muffled, insane laughter emerged at intervals from the pile. The repairman bid us both a pleasant afternoon, and went out to the porch to work on the washing machine. It was the 60s.Please Don't WorryI turn over on my other side where, because of my tinnitus, I can't hear my heart. The bird grows quiet, or maybe it just up and dies in sympathy. A Very Stupid Song starts up in my inner juke-box --- the one where you don't have to put in any coins, the one where they play the same song over and over again, about fifteen million times, till you get to know it perfectly:
Please don't worry
'Bout a thing
'Cause every little thing's
Gonna be all right...
My Hit of the Week. Bob Marley. He's not worried. And, being charitable, he doesn't want me to worry, either.
I am not very interested in Bob Marley. If the truth be known, I can't stand Bob Marley. I would prefer anything other than Bob Marley. Give me Smashmouth, The Cramps, The Pet Shop Boys, The Goo-Goo Dolls. Give me Leprosy, Dengue Fever, The Blind Staggers. But spare me Bob Marley.
He wants me not to worry, but I do worry. I worry about global overheating, or whatever it's called. I worry about the Lakers, whoever they are. I worry about the sudden drop in the Dow. I worry about Monica Lewinsky's tummy.
I also worry about my workers, and their goddamn boombox, which started all this. Juan and Chiro and Leopoldo play that Bob Marley song ad nauseum. They think that Bob Marley is the bee's knees.
Tomorrow I will ask Chiro, ¿Cuántas veces hay que oir ese pinche canción? (How many more times am I going to have to listen to this miserable jerk?) I've asked him this before, several times, so I am pretty sure he will say, "¿Quieres que lo quito?" You want me to shut it off. He's very amiable. He also knows where the next paycheck is coming from.
He will turn it off. But we've gone through this particular song-and-dance before. I know that an hour later I'll be hearing some advice. From one B. Marley, off in the distance. He'll be telling me I don't have to worry 'bout a thing cause he knows, he just knows that every little thing's gonna be all right.--- Carlos AmanteaThe Year They Tried
To Block The Deputy
Warren HinckleEditorializing in defense of the play seemed futile and I decided that the only thing Ramparts could do to cripple the ecumenical conspiracy against Shumlin's play was to invent another ecumenical conspiracy --- this one on the side of The Deputy.I rang up Ed Keating [publisher of Ramparts] in Menlo Park and told him we were forming a committee! As much as I hate serving, on committees, I love to organize them --- if only for the joy of designing yet another letterhead. But, as I told a protesting Keating, there was no time for letterheads in this cause; the play was scheduled to open, or be derailed, in five days. Keating came to New York like a bowling ball running downhill. He skidded to a stop in the Waldorf Astoria, where I had acquired accommodations suitable for a Catholic literary quarterly, and demanded to know all about this business of a committee. He didn't seem certain we should go whole hog on The Deputy, pointing out, quite correctly, that it was "dramaturgically flawed."I diplomatically suggested to Ed that nobody in New York knew or cared who he was, but that he could become famous overnight if he, a Catholic publisher, headed a committee to defend the Pope-baiting play. Keating became convinced of the rectitude of our course, and we spent the next thirty-six hours on and off the telephone and dashing about Manhattan collecting religious men of good will and conscience who hadn't already given their due bill to the devil.
We managed to find a few prominent Protestants, like John C. Bennett, of the Union Theological Seminary, who would stand on the side of the angels against the best wishes of their own religious establishments. But we drew a blank on Catholic clerics. I talked to one auxiliary bishop, highly regarded for his liberalism, who told me he would rather endorse a company that put the picture of Jesus Christ on packages of contraceptives than get involved on the side of the, author of The Deputy. We could not find a priest who would even answer the doorbell if he knew we were coming to ask him to put his name to such an infidel committee. In desperation I threw some Catholic laymen in the pot --- Gordon Zahn, the sociologist, and John Howard Griffin, the novelist, agreed to serve as Catholic window dressing in lieu of the priests who had their heads stuck in the sand up to their ordained rumps.
I also drafted some Jews who did not fear to serve --- the late Rabbi Abraham H Eschel, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Maxwell Geismar, the brilliant critic and literary historian --- a wonderful man about whom I cannot marshal enough superlatives, who, from our chance meeting during the white-heat controversy over The Deputy, was to become almost instantly my closest friend, confidant, foster father, and soul mate, and the most important intellectual influence on the developing Ramparts.
With a bit more padding, the "Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the Right of The Deputy to be Heard" was born but a day after its conception. In the finest tradition of Potemkin villages, the Committee barely had as many members as words in its cumbersome title, but that mattered not. A committee had been born; scholarly men of conscience had stood up to be counted; those of religious ilk who would suppress the truth were now to be squelched. Armed with press release, we marched out to do murder in the Cathedral.Rancid ButterIt was just a few days ago that Olga got out of the hospital where she had her tubes burned out and lost a little excess weight. However she doesn't look as if she had gone through much suffering. She weighs almost as much as a camel-backed locomotive; she drips with perspiration, has halitosis, and still wears her Circassian wig that looks like excelsior. She has two big warts on her chin from which there sprouts a clump of little hairs, she is growing a mustache.
The day after Olga was released from the hospital she commenced making shoes again. At six in the morning she is at her bench; she knocks out two pairs of shoes a day. Eugene complains that Olga is a burden, but the truth is that Olga is supporting Eugene and his wife with her two pairs of shoes a day. If Olga doesn't work there is no food. So everyone endeavors to pull Olga to bed on time, to give her enough food to keep going, etc.
Every meal starts off with soup. Whether it be onion soup, tomato soup, vegetable soup, or what not, the soup always tastes the same. Mostly it tastes as if a dish rag had been stewed in it --- slightly sour, mildewed, scummy. I see Eugene hiding it away in the commode after the meal. It stays there, rotting away, until the next meal. The butter, too, is hidden away in the commode; after three days it tastes like the big toe of a cadaver.
The smell of rancid butter frying is not particularly appetizing, especially when the cooking is done in a room in which there is not the slightest form of ventilation. No sooner than I open the door I feel ill. But Eugene, as soon as he hears me coming, usually opens the shutters and pulls back the bedsheet which is strung up like a fishnet to keep out the sunlight. Poor Eugene! He looks about the room at the few sticks of furniture, at the dirty bed sheets and the wash basin with the dirty water still in it, and he says: "I am a slave!" Every day he says it, not once, but a dozen times. And then he takes his guitar from the wall and sings.
But about the smell of rancid butter There are good associations too. When I think of this rancid butter I see mvself standing in a little, old-world courtyard, a very smelly, very dreary courtyard. Through the cracks in the shutters strange figures peer out at me ... old women with shawls, dwarfs, rat-faced pimps, bent Jews, midinettes, bearded idots. They totter out into the courtyard to draw water or to rinse the slop pails.
One day Eugene asked me if I would empty the pail for him. I took it to the corner of the yard. There was a hole in the ground and some dirty paper lying around the hole. The little well was slimy with excrement, which in English is shit. I tipped the pail and there was a foul, gurgling splash followed by another and unexpected splash. When I returned the soup was dished out. All through the meal I thought of my toothbrush --- it is getting old and the bristles get caught in my teeth.
When I sit down to eat I always sit near the window. I am afraid to sit on the other side of the table --- it is too close to the bed and the bed is crawling. I can see bloodstains on the gray sheets if I look that way, but I try not to look that way. I look out on the courtyard where they are rinsing the slop pails.
The meal is never complete without music. As soon as the cheese is passed around Eugene jumps up and reaches for the guitar which hangs over the bed. It is always the same song. He says he has fifteen or sixteen songs in his repertoire, but I have never heard more than three. His favorite is Charmant poème d'amour. It is full of angoisse and tristesse.
In the afternoon we go to the cinema which is cool and dark. Eugene sits at the piano in the big pit and I sit on a bench up front. The house is empty, but Eugene sings as if he had for audience all the crowned heads of Europe. The garden door is open and the odor of wet leaves sops in and the rain blends with Eugene's angoisse and tristesse.
At midnight, after the spectators have saturated the hall with perspiration and foul breaths, I return to sleep on a bench. The exit light, swimming in a halo of tobacco smoke, sheds a faint light on the lower corner of the asbestos curtain; I close my eyes every night on an artificial eye--- From Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller
© 1961, Grove Press