"I hate that kind of shit, that whole 'ze great artiste genius idiot savant who must be taken care of so he can create his masterworks unbothered by the paltry concerns of the everyday peons' bullshit."
I love listening to writers taking about how they write and how to write like them. Half of these writers are little academic bastards who can get things published because they're collegiate and can get their works published among themselves in the college presses and then those that have graduated before them remember them and publish them and then they end up teaching at Princeton or Wayne State--oh the glory of a writer in residency at a college!...and, ah, they are full of bullshit and so am I for writing perhaps somewhat biased by jalousies about them--what did they call it back when I was trying to hit the literary journals and kept getting beat out by the schoolteachers, professional jealousy?
Like my first submission to The Southern Review, back when I lived in New Orleans and was heavily under the influence of old Bill Faulkner and submitted a story to Louis Simpson, I think he was the editor then--wasn't that his name?--like I say, I'm writing all of this spontaneously, like rapid fire, like old Jack Keroauc writing on a roll of meat-wrapping paper--or like Bill Faulkner sketching a novel out on the walls of his bedroom--or like I once heard Gay Talese say that after he finished a page of manuscript, he would tack it up on a wall and read it looking through a pair of binoculars--or like Henry Miller outlined out his books on huge sheets of kraft paper, thorough outlines of thousands and thousands of words and tangents and rethinking--so back to the middle of the highway and my submission to The Southern Review--it was called "Glad I Wasn't a Submarine Pilot in the Civil War." What a god-damn great story--a la sort of Malcolm Lowry, who I became a rather madman for much later--I mean, come on, Under the Volcano is one of the great feats of writing in any language--written by a drunken Brit-fop slob about a drunken Brit-fop slob in Mexico, drunk, and then drunk again page after drunken page, but what wondrous drunk writing, what wondrous sober writing; it's just god-damn wondrous writing, folks--and my story was god-damn wondrous writing like that, too--and yes I wrote while I drank in those days--a story about a man standing looking at the first-ever submarine (iron) that once sat in the museum in the Cabildo, the old building next to St. Louis Cathedral, right across from Jackson Square--with the old Zachary Bruno Memorial Horse Trough then sitting on the corner of Decatur and St. Ann, the same corner on which I watched them film The Cincinnati Kid the year they shot scenes in New Orleans, and my wife and I were walking along drinking champagne we'd just bought at the liquor store right there on that corner and we'd walked about ten feet up the sidewalk back up Decatur toward our apartment on Dumaine and damn if we didn't run smack-dab into Steve McQueen and Tuesday Weld--and yes though I was married, I had been lusting after Tuesday Weld since back in high school--and I said, "Hey, Tuesday, sweet thang, you twinkling beauty, would you like a swig of good champagne...." Before I could finish my offer, McQueen grabbed the bottle out of my hand and took a huge long guzzle. "Holy Christ, son of a bitch, I didn't offer you a drink, you bastard." Tuesday Weld said, taking a long swig after Steve sort of slung her the bottle, "He's an asshole; pay him no mind." I still watch that movie--I have a VHS of it; it was a pretty damn good movie, an old floating poker game movie, with Karl Malden and the great Eddie Gee Robinson (what an actor! Key Largo one of his best) and a babe who once was a Hollywood glamor girl and a graduate of my college alma mater, Joan Blondell. And that story I wrote was a great story, this dude thinking about being a submarine pilot in that olden time--the iron one in the Cabildo was a one-man sub, but some of those early ones were big enough to have a crew of several men, like the one that sunk off the coast of Virginia during the Civil War and that they found in the 1990s, recovering the gold piece worn by the sub's captain right where it had fallen loose from his uniform pocket as the sea ground his bones to dust--only his goldpiece survived.
And this submarine pilot shit got caught in this dude's head and he started having these war dreams and he's shown his submarine and it's that iron one in the Cabildo and he crawls into its cramped metallic stinking quarters, lying on his belly, propelling it by peddling the propellor with his feet--how horrible was that--and most of them never came up again--it was hopeless being a submarine pilot during the Civil War--he ended up in the belly of a whale in one dream. And the god-damn Southern Review rejected my story though in the rejection they said my story had almost made it, 2 or 3 of the editors loved it, but.... Yeah, yeah, you bastards; let's see who the F wrote a better story than that damn story and in the next issue that my story would have been in, in the new fiction section, there was a story by Joyce Carol Oates. God-dammit, I was beaten out by Joyce Carol Oates, a Canadian school teacher, an English professor at F-ing Windsor U in Windsor, Canada, just across the old rotting ribber from Detroit City, and her story was dry as a dog biscuit and about as good for you, dog or man, all about a classroom relationship between an old fart professor and a cutsey-wutsey princess from the sticks of old Canada. I cursed for a week after that. My wife said, "Calm down, Wolfie Boy, at least you came in second." "The wolf that comes in second, my dear, doesn't survive very long, if at all," I pontificated.
Later, ten years later, as my luck would have it, I was in the same restaurant with Joyce Carol Oates--I was with my brother's editor at Knopf, having a three-hour lunch with him at Toque Blanc, his favorite restaurant--and he went over and talked to her and she stood up and she didn't have a bra on and I could tell she didn't and she was well endowed bosomwise, plus I liked her face, a Jewish face, with those beautiful dark, hollow-darker black eyes and a rather sunken-cheeked face--it was love at first sight of her breasts. When he came back I told him my story of getting beat out by her and he wasn't interested in anything I had to say; besides by then we were both smashed on schnapps, his favorite drink.
I had just come to NYC loaded with folders full of my writings. I had published poetry and some short stories--hell, for a bit I had Scott Meredith as my agency--but I couldn't hit the literary rags, those places where you knew your writings might be read by a New York acquisitions editor or just any old god-damn New York editor.
In those days I told myself, "Dammit, OK, so I can play the piano pretty good, but dammit, you're a nat'rell-born writer, it's so easy to write because somewhere deep inside me I gotta write, dammit, there's that propulsion generated in my solar plexus that tells me I gotta write, I've go no choice--crap or genius, I have to write--my great grandfather, my mother's grandfather, was a violinist, a Scotch tenor, and a declaimer of his own poems and those of Tennyson and if you got him drunk enough perhaps the whole of Poe's The Raven, declaimed with Poe-like macabre and almost as drunk to boot; and my mother's mother was the poet, novelist, painter, and librarian; and then my uncle, my mother's brother, the barnstorming pilot and early-day moviemaker, wrote short stories about his flying adventures like the time he tried to fly over the highest part of the New Mexican Rockies, Wheeler Peak, NM's tallest is almost 14,000 feet, in a Curtis bi-plane that had at its most powerful ascendancy the ability to get up to about 11,000 feet even though that was a dangerous height and a strain on the motor--during this flight attempt, my uncle wrote that he blacked out and when he came to he was in a sea of clouds and thought he was dead--"It was like I was looking for a heavenly landmark, like the Pearly Gates, rather than a terrestrial one, like some high-mountain dirt road or meadow."
I say all of this because just before that Spring morning just off Spring Street when "I Fought the Law and the Law Won" woke my ass up from a beermare, I had just met the writer Mike Roddy and formed a pretty good friendship with him.
And I met Mike Roddy in the Ear Inn--Roddy came in with his then wife, his second wife, Leah who was all draped out in leather from head down across her thin waist, gripping tightly around her exquisite ass, to tuck down into her high-topped motorcycle boots. "Hey, toots, where's your motorcycle, and can I ride on the buddy seat?" I bellowed out, not knowing either Roddy or Leah and certainly more interested in her than him--hell he looked like Merle Haggard--he was even dressed like Merle Haggard. "Right out there, mother-fucker and who the fuck are you?" Leah pointed out the window and said back at my smart ass. Out in front of the Ear, on the sidewalk right up next to the front window, was a big black dog of a bike--a Harley I assumed. "Hey, that's my wife you're tryin' to ball," Roddy said, grabbing me by my lapel. "So what, stranger, I can't help it if your wife's appealing." "Why, you piece of shit, what are you drinking, I'm buying." We were tight from then on until I never saw him again one fine day when he up, divorced Leah, packed up his pickup, and headed out to Minneapolis.
Roddy was a writer. He was also a painter. He was also a sculptor and one of his works as a sculptor was a collection of several god-damn thousands of complete Sunday New York Times, I kid you not, which he kept stored in a warehouse and only once after I knew him did he put it on--he would take all his New York Times out of his warehouse, truck 'em to a gallery space, and then set them up in "artistically" arranged stacks--it was the largest collection of Sunday NYTimes in the world, it had to be, and they were all different Sunday editions, too, going way back. But the first time I met Roddy, I didn't know anything about him. We hit if off fine after I wouldn't back down hitting on his wife; he was from outside Atlanta, Marietta, I think, old Newtie Gingrich's territory--home of Martin-Marietta-Lockheed the naughty but filthy rich Military Industrial Complex that keeps old Newtie fat, sassy, and appealing to very young women. Roddy, too, appealed to very young women and very old women; I never saw a dude who attracted women like Roddy did--and he knew it, too. I've been out drinkin' with him all over Manhattan and in every joint he'd pick out a chick and say, "Watch this." Next think you know, he had her back buying her drinks and making a date with her. He never intended on keeping the dates; Leah was a tough, beautiful, and a very rich woman.
Joyce Carol Oates in the 60s; not bad, don't you other wolves agree?
To keep being continued, as is continued in continuing a continuing thing.
for The Daily Growler