Body,  Remember
Kenny Fries
Who can presume to speak for the disabled? Who can speak of our revelations, our occasional shame, our victories? How about the anger that we may aim at the world, and the world . . . on occasion . . . aims at us? And we at ourselves?

Should our Boswells be a pissed-off Ron Kovak, Robert Murphy with his sociological self-study, John Callahan's very funny bleakness, Hugh Gallagher's measured distance, Christopher Reeve in his lonely regret?

How about Kenny Fries? He has all the qualifications. He was born with legs twisted such that the doctors assumed that he was a thalidomide baby (his parents denied it). The medical terms used back then were valgus (knock-kneed) and equinus (horse-hoofs).

He underwent a series of operations to straighten his legs and align his feet, so he would be able to walk. One of his memories, from high school, is going past a boy, every day, in Brooklyn. And the boy would ask, every day, "Why are your legs the way they are?" And Kenny would answer, every day, "I was born that way."

And now here he is, years later, in the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the museum dedicated to the Holocaust. He encounters some schoolboys, "each with a blue woven yarmulke on his head."

    One elbows another, wanting his schoolmate to notice me.

Fries turns to consider a photograph on the wall, convinced that the boys are staring at him. Because of his condition and the many operations, he stands but five feet tall:

    I imagine the schoolboys are still watching me with expressions not unlike those of the German children who, in the photo, watch Nazi-uniformed men publicly humiliate an elderly rabbi.

§     §     §

Sometimes people watch us move about on our crutches, or in our wheelchairs, or on our gurneys. Some are just idly looking and some, most often the children, are staring blatantly. Some, I suspect, are idly interested; some may well be disinterested. We are a spectacle. At the very least, when I wheel into a store, getting about in a way that is very much different than the rest of humanity, there will be stares, occasional questions. Still I have never and am quite sure that I would never in a thousand years compare my being stared at . . . to the fate of an old rabbi being cruelly attacked by Nazis.

No one will deny that Fries has had a tough row to hoe. His family was not wealthy. His operations brought powerful physical and mental suffering. In addition, Fries was evidently beaten, or raped, or both, by his older brother, who also regularly called him "midget."

To add to this litany of misery, he tells us that he is gay, is often involved in dead-end love affairs with drunks and cruisers. He is Jewish; he is given to depressive attacks and panics. It can be a pain, no?

But I am beginning to think, in my dotage, is that we - - - the disabled, you, me, Fries - - - need to offer to the world something besides our gaunt tales of pain. All this may be important to us, but, in the long run, it is just that: pain-tales.

And sometimes I think we are better at showing ourselves as . . . what? . . . . as feisty, as (perhaps) warriors, defined by Chögyam Trungpa as being those who are "willing to be a samurai in the widest sense, willing to break through." It is what the master calls a "leap." "That leap consists of giving up goal, aim, and object at the same time," he says.

Trungpa isn't talking surrender. No. "What we are doing in this case is stepping out of even the basic bewilderment; not trying to creep around from underneath or by the back door, but stepping out completely." Stepping out - - - from and beyond "bewilderment" (read neurosis, martyrdom, fear). Getting out of our bodies, what they are, what we think they have become. Getting beyond our difference from the world. Becoming a warrior . . . in the best and gentlest sense of the word.

--- L. W. Milam

The Collected Poems of
Tennessee Williams

David Roessel,
Nicholas Moschovakis

(New Directions)

    My feet took a walk in heavenly grass.
    All day while the sky shone clear as glass.
    My feet took a walk in heavenly grass,
    All night while the lonesome stars rolled past.

More than two hundred of Williams' poems --- probably most of his output --- turn up in this volume. Most are doggerel, and he uses the word "sentimental" in referring to them. Like Joyce, unlike Hardy, Williams obviously did not take his poetry seriously. It's good fun, especially the ballads like the "Gold Tooth Blues" and "Kitchen Door Blues:"

    My old lady died of a common cold.
    She smoked cigars and was ninety years old.
    She was thin as paper with the ribs of a kite,
    And she flew out the kitchen door one night.

Fans looking to hear the author reading his own works will be disappointed: only nine have been included on the disc with this volume, and they run but a few minutes. Despite the paucity, Williams' accent is a delight.

--- A. W. Allworthy

An Absolute Gentleman
R. M. Kinder
Ms. Kinder was so fascinated by a serial killer named Robert Weeks that she tried to write a biography of him. It was "an absolute torture." He was a gentleman, well-read, with old-world charm, intelligence, a good education. "But he was also boring and slick.

    There were twists and turns that weren't right or true no matter how accurate they were.

So, instead, she wrote a novel about him. An Absolute Gentleman is the result.

"Weeks was interesting," she says, "because he had killed women, not because of any outstanding characteristics." Well, I dunno. People interesting because they kill other people? Pol Pot? Son of Sam? General Haig?

We got to page 88 in this before we dozed off. The author is right. Weeks was an awful bore. But a writer should care for the reader more than he or she cares for his or her character. If the hero of your novel is tedious, dump him and go out and find someone else to write about.

Ms. Kinder seems to think that Weeks is special because she spent some time with him, not exactly knowing that he was a black widow. The fact that she knew him does not make him any more interesting. In another far more fraught context, it was called the banality of evil.

There are killers and killers. I do believe if they gave me the chance to hang out with --- much less write about --- a "gentleman" serial killer, I'd opt out. Give me a professional murderer. Generals or captains in the military, say, executioners or those Ivy-league types that end up in the CIA. According to what we read here, serial killers, even college professor serial killers, are not exactly what the doctor ordered.

--- Lolita Lark