I Can Give You Anything But Love
Gary Indiana
I figured anyone born in New Hampshire couldn't possibly be named Indiana, so I Googled the name and sure enough: né Hoisington. Well, I thought, if I was named "Hoisington" I'd probably seek judicial relief too. In fact, I once was tempted to do something similar with my own particular handle which I've been dragging around with me lo these many years. Change it to Bertram Massachusetts? Bertie Tennessee? Bert Mississippi? B. Iowa? (Not Bertie Utah, though . . . I do have my pride.)

And to see who he was --- or who they thought he was --- I fumbled around at Wikipedia looking for his monicker. Indiana? His name was printed in blood-red on the book cover, and was hard to read printed atop all them near-nekkid male bodies on the Havana sand beach, so when I looked up Indiana at Wikipedia, I found that he was that Important Artist who discovered LOVE, at least the heart-stamp LOVE that turned up on all our letters back in 1973.

Not much of a year for amor, though . . . what with Vietnam and Wounded Knee and Watergate. Plus I had the wrong Indiana. I found that if you wander around the internet long enough looking for this Indiana you'll get tangled up in a rusty dying steel city forty miles to the left of Chicago, which has lost 55% of its population in the last fifty-five years, (and apparently now has plenty of open and free housing . . . enough for any number of refugees from Syria if they ever become sick of hanging out looking at the wire-topped fences of Hungary).

Gary (the city of) got its monicker from Gary Works, not another artist ("We now present the works of Gary Works"); but rather, a real live red-hot steel mill that opened in 1908. The most important products of this other Indiana --- Gary Comma Indiana --- besides pig iron, slag, and the original Pudding Furnace, are The Jackson Five, the Original Gangstas . . . and Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper systems.

The leading industry of the other, this Gary Indiana sin comma is, apparently, from everything I read here, weenies. And I ain't talking Hebrew National.

So now we are in Gary Indiana. Who? Forget the entries at Wikipedia. Forget Google and Facebook and Twitter. If you really want to know the author, intimately, read I Can Give You Anything but Love.

The title is a nice inversion of the original song made popular by Marlene Dietrich in 1942:

    Gee, I'd like to see you looking swell, baby,

    Diamond bracelets Woolworth doesn't sell, baby.

    Till that lucky day you know darn well, baby, I

    can't give you anything but love.

§   §   §

These memoirs are fairly stark. Be forwarned. We are in no-limits land here. Anger: what internet and email are doing to our minds, and the minds of millions like us. Vituperation: Despair is general. Especially after a few weekends of amphetamines "for breakfast" and acid coke meth poppers; then supper of poppers meth coke acid and a drug dealer, a Ratso Rizzo named Benny. And yes, Benny deals that, too.

Indiana's solemn advice: "Hanging out with dealers is never much of an idea."

    Drop the wrong word, state a contrary opinion, reject their advances, or decline to read their poetry and you can kiss your drug supply good-bye.

As if any of us would actually choose to hang out with someone named Benny who rings you up after midnight so you can drive him around for his deliveries; a ratty-looking guy who gets in a snit when you don't appreciate his take on Friedrich Nietzsche.

Besides drugs, there's Booze. And old important dives in LA. And downtown Havana in its golden years, twenty-five years ago. Too: cancer depression car wrecks stray cats and Important People, many of whom Indiana seems to loathe, Susan Sontag being number one on his shit list. She merits a five page harangue, a riff introduced after portraits in Vanity Fair, some pictures "taken after my friendship with Susan ended."

Did I tell you that I Can Give You Anything But Love has a bit of Sex, too? Also some sex. And also sex and sex . . . then, for a change, some sex. Are you, perhaps, into what he labels "listless orgies?" Which do go on and on, mixed at times with something known as a "fuckorama" which some of us may want to take a rain check on. Especially with this post-op from the author: it was "enough that I feel internally damaged for days afterward."

Somehow along the way, Indiana (and the reader) end up with an exterminator named Dane . . . as in Great . . . who is, it seems, supplied with a membrum vitale described as "startling;" one which has such powers that he, the exterminator, refers to it as his "evil twin" or as "the ventriloquist's dummy in Dead of Night." (Great image: in this classic spooky film from 1945, Michael Redgrave is a ventriloquist, and he has a smart-ass dummy. During one of their acts, Dummy starts saying insulting things about the master and when Redgrave puts his hand over the dummy's mouth, the corky little bastard bites the hell out of him, right in the fleshy part of the palm. Great Dane's weenie somehow gets associated with this.)

Anyway, somewhere after their fifth or eighth or hundredth fuckorama it's hard to keep count, Indiana ultimately finds himself smitten by Great Dane --- a chance for love, no? --- which Dane sees as an unpardonable sin. He gives Indiana the lecture:

    Ninety-nine percent of what I have to give you is going soft between my legs right now. If you need more from a boyfriend, you picked the wrong dude.

The best parts here are reportage and history. His life in Havana makes us nostalgic, back in the days when Americans were not supposed to be there. The street life was easy, manned by pingas. There were classic views out the windows of his sixth story apartment (a walk-up), although there were some problems with the food. "Chicken cutlet seared in a grid of unappetizing cubes. It tasted like pencil shavings."

    People in other places never believe how gross the food is when I tell them. They have a fantasy of food in the Caribbean tropics inspired by Carmen Miranda's headgear. Cuban food is so memorably hideous that you can tell if some bullshit person has ever actually been here by getting them to talk about the food.

§   §   §

Indiana seems to have fallen into the sex-box shortly after wrestling his way out of puberty . . . and all these years later seems to have has some problem wriggling back out of it. Sex reminiscenses wander about throughout the book like the ghosts in Hamlet and they are not, mostly, at least for this codger, vaut le voyage.

At the same time Indiana is a reporter and, even better, a historian --- a good one. These two make up for the dronings that go on under the sponsorship of the beast with two backs. Take, for instance, this very funny riff on his time working for Legal Aid in Watts in LA. Indiana is one of two token honkies there.

"Despite our habitual deference to the overwhelmingly African-American staff, which included several ex-Black Panthers, most of them hated us. 'You white people' might as well have been our job titles, since practically all conversation started with it." When Indiana explained to his fellow workers how sad he was that Bubbles had died --- Bubbles being a beloved hippo from the L A Zoo --- the comments from his co-workers were astute and astringent. "You white people care more about a goddamn hippopotamus than you care about black people."

My thought was that Indiana might well have laid off meditations on the bestial when he is working in an office with a passel of pissed-off blacks. But, then again, who am I to talk? I worked three months as an intern in a black community project in San Diego and, even though I kept my thoughts on Bubbles or any other zoo creatures to myself, I got into trouble regularly with the staff. For instance, I decided that the young blacks in our charge should learn to appreciate classic films. Instead of doing something sensible like bringing in "Red Shoes" or City Lights" --- or "Dead of Night" --- I pulled up Triumph des Willens, the 1935 propaganda film by Leni Riefenstahl.

Not a good choice.

That was my Bubble moment. "You white people shouldn't . . . " etc. etc.

§   §   §

The key here is not the various lurid passages, but, rather, trying to get a fix on the author, which must include the title of the book. Indiana honestly believes that he can give you (or me) anything but love; and claims that he is perfectly comfortable with that absence. He writes that he has "no real capacity" for romantic love. "I actually found melting together with anybody remotely pleasurable was when I had sex with them."



Corny romance?

No: I can give you anything but love.

And I found myself thinking that there might be something fairly important missing in the life of someone who repeats, "I'm emotionally blocked . . . cursed with an isolating intelligence that's worthless, 'emotional' insofar as I've gone into hospital twice for depression,"

    which taught me where the safe line of sanity is. There is a threshold of self-neglect I can't cross without getting locked up. I have to carefully gauge how much unhappiness I can manage, as I seem to be a glutton for it, and still function. I have a pinching wish for attachment. I don't know if it's real. It might be the product of movies and songs on the Top 40.

"Love is all you need, if loving you is wrong I don't want to be right . . . this is dedicated to the one I love."

    In the bar ghetto I'm defensively cynical, or pretend to be. I don't fit with anyone I meet, except in lubricious, sweaty, transient junction of organs and holes, a fusion of raw desires that discharge themselves with two spurts of jism. The guys I pick up are impervious to emotional complications, intent on probing a fresh body, pushing beyond conventional sex, lab animals staging their own experiments . . .

"What I look for is an abridged version of what I want: a no-fault fuck in the parking lot of time between last call and the morning reality principle, and a modicum of civility."

--- Bertie Wooster
    ***Note: Indiana is also a hell of a good reviewer. In a recent London Review of Books he wrote about Masha Gessen's new book on the Tsarnaev brothers. In the review, we learn something new about capital punishment:

      Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has . . . been moved to federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana, since --- although a non-death penalty state can deliver a death verdict --- the executions themselves must be carried out in a state that has death penalty statutes. This risible scruple has a practical aspect: such states also have the requisite killing equipment on hand, and often seem to relish the chance to use it. (In recent Ohio, Arizona, and Oklahoma executions, a European export embargo on lethal injection drugs has prompted mix'n'match improvisations with untested pharmaceuticals, with results Josef Mengele would consider plagiarism.")

    Later in the review, in a brief note on their family history, Indiana archly takes on the media: "Things didn't work out in America."

      The Tsarnaevs arrived soon after 9/11, when Muslims began to replace communists as objects of fear for the media demonisation industry.
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