The Situation

“I must be where I am, you go ahead though.”

                     — William Harmon

   “This is not the hokey-pokey,” she said. “You can’t just come around for a peek every now and then, stick your head in and look around.”
   “Shake it all about, you mean.”
   “You can’t.”

“My name depends on you. Just call me whatever is in your mind.”

                     — Richard Brautigan

   Whatever was in his mind was never clear. At the beginning, she cultivated the art of reading him and grew so accurate in her assessments that she could predict his next gesture, anticipate the thrust and parry of his remarks. The prepositions of his behavior declared themselves in the most obvious of manners: a plaintive sigh signalled more distance, a retreat to some dusty crook of his past; hunched shoulders and squinted eyes said “watch this, I’m about to stagger you with my knowledge of popular culture.” These physical announcements never became endearments or facsimiles of, and they weren’t self-conscious signals on his part, designed however strategically to elicit a desired reaction on her part. They were closer to a set of ad hoc tactics built up through memory and habit, and claimed as his own. He used them, if one could employ such a word to describe his behavior, to steady his own sense of emotional imbalance. Once he became aware of his actions, embarrassment overtook him like a sun shower, for he was certain then that she knew as well.

“The nature of life is that good behavior becomes carcinogenic too. Drinking milk eventually gives you heart attacks, and sunshine, cataracts.”

                     — Edward Hoagland

   So I changed. No longer able to surprise or motivate her or myself, to catch even a hint of what it was that brought me this far, I moved further away from the second skin of my gestures, my expressions, my shrugs and tics and nods, my thoroughly telegraphed life. I cultivated the stone-hard stare, the indifference of sky. I became opaque, so dense at affecting indifference that soon I no longer cared how she responded. I gave the appearance of apathy — squared; I was the silent vowel, the “e” in hole. I continued with my work and I knew what my work was. There was something I needed to know, and there were places I had to look.

“My vocabulary did this to me.”

                     — Jack Spicer’s dying words

May 25 — fidelity to revision can ruin a life’s plunge into darkness remains better than a day without sunshine (or overhead fluorescent lamps), than a body without grammar, a gesture without movement we can’t get to the next point I want to make will be assigned # 41363 has been named Prisoner of the Year I learned of her death was already too late for me to say Look, make up your fucking mind, buddy, can you spare a hug’ll get you anywhere you want to go, this is a free country for the rich can afford to be humble; who said that’s a great sweater you’re wearing Mr. Potatohead, ditto for those Italian frames have got to go where no man has gone down my pants without permission from the person I’d become were that to happen, who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men a tiny pinworm jockeys for position with a major law firm, ’s how I’d describe my decision to go ahead with our next project will involve you and yourself have got to agree on something’s always bett

“True happiness consists of getting out of oneself, but the point is not only to get out, you must stay out, you must have some absorbing errand.”

                     — William James

   Quite frankly, he could never see beyond the shape of his own mouth while he was talking. So consumed was he with his own motions, the processes of his own body that it wouldn’t have mattered if I were a calzone or a dog. Well, that’s not fair. The fact that I am a woman counted for him. That way I could be a buoy in his daily wanderings; I’d clap or scream or cry or scold or congratulate him. When he’d look at me it’d be as if he were looking at himself. He could never stay or stay away for very long. I was the flippers in his pinball machine.

“Paranoia is the natural state of a skidding organism. Volatility is the inevitable condition of angels.”

                     — John Updike

   If you ask me, they both had problems. He’d spend the day cruising neighborhood trash bins for books and magazines and spend the night in the basement sorting them into piles and tossing them into the incinerator or pasting them into scrap books. He was always angry, pissed off about something or other, claimed everyone ignored him, showed him no courtesy. He reminded me of a cartoon character; he had this eggplant shaped head and this greasy smirk like he was always up to something, like he knew something. God knows why they stayed together. All she did was stare at him and hum. That awful hum. Once, after shopping at the A&P down the street with her, we walked home to our building together, and on the way back ran into him. He was on his knees picking through somebody’s trash, thoroughly engrossed in some scrap of paper, when she almost tripped over his legs. I can’t describe his expression when he looked up and saw her. It was the only time I ever noticed anything close to vulnerability in that man. I thought he was going to cry. But neither one of them said a word. They just stared at each other for a good thirty seconds; she had her jaw set real hard and she hummed, like a refrigerator or some night animal or something. And the way he looked up at her, kneeling there in the midst of all that rot and squalor, that kitchen stink — fetid vegetables, old clothes, cans, diapers, paper, always paper — it was pathetic. Neither of us talked the rest of the way home.

“Maybe you’ve got a kid. Maybe you’ve got a pretty wife. The only thing that I’ve got’s been bothering me my whole life.”

                     — Bruce Springsteen

   The body of a middle-aged man was discovered on the steps of the county library yesterday afternoon buried under a mound of debris. The cause of death was not immediately known, but the city coroner said the man’s tongue and lips were black with newsprint, apparently from ingestion. Newsprint covered more than ninety percent of the man’s body as well, the coroner said, possibly a result of having smeared himself with magazine and newspaper pages. A chalk outline marked the space where the corpse was found, but it was not known whether the deceased or someone else made the mark. The identity of the man was not released.

“Just because you’ve stopped sinking doesn’t mean you’re not still not underwater.”

                     — Amy Hempel

Q: How do you manage now?
A: Manage what? What’s there to manage?
Q: What do you do with your day?
A: You mean what does my day do with me.
Q: I mean how can we help you, what can we do for you?
A: Do for you?

“To operate effectively, a system must transform input from the environment into a form that meets its needs, but must also observe and regulate the actions of its component parts, thereby assuring that their respective activities are carried out and coordinated. This constitutes its monitoring function. Such monitoring is essential to any system to assure the effective implementation of its primary task, whether that system is a living organism, a social organization, or a factory. The system must have an apparatus for monitoring its components. In the living organism, its nervous system serves this function, and in social organizations and factories it is some form of management structure.”

                     — Marc Galanter

Chris Semansky | Mudlark No. 20
Contents | Suffering Geniuses