"I hate to brag...." Yeah sure! When you hear someone start off a sentence with that phrase, you know damn good and well a "but" is coming and you're gonna be the recipient of some good ole pure-dee braggadocio bullshit. BUT...I hate to brag, but is it bragging if it's true? I've written before how throughout my life I've attracted absolutely brilliant men and women as friends. When I was in elementary school, my best friend was a polio-crippled good man who by the time he was 11 was drawing freehand rather photographic images of birds, of mailboxes, of trees, of flowers, of church steeples, of our school's facade, of his girlfriend, Joyce, who I secretly desired, too--I remember once he drew the portrait of a glazed brick that read, "Thurber," for its having been made in Thurber, Texas, a now-famous Texas ghosttown, and that really impressed me more than the bird he drew sitting in its nest atop a mailbox for a house called "The Dew Drop Inn," which D.C. sent off to Ripley's Believe It or Not and they sent it back to him saying it was cute and a nice drawing but that it didn't fit their style, blah, blah, luv ya but FU.
And then during high school both my very best friends were geniuses, though one was so bright it crippled him--I mean to have instant knowledge at birth--this friend was a mathematical whiz who was able to reckon logical via his knowledge of calculus when he was 12, able to do his slide-ruling in his head and as such just naturally able to understand deep philosophical abstracts at a very young age--why, he introduced me to Dostoevsky when we were in high school, and we used to devise tests, which we gave to other students and which they always totally failed--not just failed but failed below badly--"Dumbasses," we mockingly called them as we viciously graded their tests.
Knowledge was sacred to us--not just any knowledge, nope--I mean we read the Bagavaghita together, then the Koran, then the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a brilliant mathematician himself...
From The Rubaiyat
Persian on the right; Literal trans. on left.
Khayam, if you are intoxicated with wine, enjoy!
If you are seated with a lover of thine, enjoy!
In the end, the Void the whole world employ
Imagine thou art not, while waiting in line, enjoy!
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in the Nothing all Things end in--Yes-
Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
Thou shalt be--Nothing--Thou shalt not be less.
Moral: when you're drunk and with a somebody you love--jug o'wine and thou, baby--then hell, so what the world's ending and so what everybody's waiting in line for that VOID--so what, WEV, and pass that jug to me, please.
My high school best friend went on to become one of the original designers of what became the "science" of Quantitative Management, a subject he taught at the graduate level for tons of years at West Virginia University. He's now deceased; he quantitatively couldn't figure out how to stop cancer from murdering him.
Then in college I met Bobby J. and Lloyd G.--and Bobby had memorized the librettos from about 50 operas when he was a jubilant little bright Jewish kid in oil-gush-rich Houston, Texas; he also had been a child cantor at a Houston synagog; then he'd bolted Judaism to study sociological theory, which is where I met him, he was a graduate instructor in my graduate course in sociological theories with emphasis on the theories of Georg Simmel, though at the time I was more fascinated with the altruistic sociology of Pitrim Sorokin--hell, I was just fascinated with collective theories of any area of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that could be empirically evaluated, and that included evaluating the literature of a society, too. Bobby J. introduced me to mentally challenging games to play while waiting in line for the end of the world, like when you were walking down a tree-lined street begin to relate everything you know about trees to the trees you're observing as you walk, like trying to immediately identify them as to genus, leaf type, root system, method of reproducing, until you passed the trees by and then maybe crossed a grassy lawn and then you would start identifying the grass, blah, blah, blah. Sort of like pretending to be D.H. Lawrence writing as you are walking down a country lane, writing down every flower you see, describing it intricately with glorious blossoming adjectives of adoration, or blaspheming a weed with bitter scorn, or pointilistically painting the sweeping scene before you as you hike down a road leading into an Etruscan valley--see Lawrence's Etruscan Places, a very fine little Lawrencian intrusion into the world of the Etruscans. Like this:
The Etruscans, as everyone knows, were the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days, and whom the Romans, in their usual neighbourly fashion, wiped out entirely in order to make room for Rome with a very big R.
Ah, why I liked old D.H. so much. Let's read on.
However, those pure, clean-living, sweet-souled Romans, who smashed nation after nation and crushed the free soul in people after people, and were ruled by Messalina and Heliogabalus and such-like snowdrops, they said the Etruscans were vicious. So basta! Quand le maitre parle, tout le mond se tait. The Etruscans were vicious! The only vicious people on the face of the earth presumably. You and I dear reader, we are two unsullied snowflakes, aren't we? We have every right to judge.
Ah, D.H. Lawrence; my kind of writer; so easy to despise.
And Lloyd G. became an early FM station disc jock, jockeying classical records, becoming an expert in classical music, rising high fast in FM radio, in classical music broadcasting, eventually ending up at the upper end of Dallas, Texas, FM. And I hung with these guys all the time; I went to the movies with them; we drank expensive wines together and ate caviar and quail eggs Lloyd G. got as perks from FM station advertisers; once we all went to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in Dallas thanks to the maitre'd recognizing Lloyd G. and also recognizing how much business Lloyd G. brought this guy's owner, so the meals were on the house; I ate a huge steak--I always order steak even in a Hungarian restaurant--though the specialty of the joint was beef stroganof.
Soon Bobby J. and Lloyd G. went on to finer levels of life leaving me behind to struggle my way out of the collegiate world and into the real world. That's when I met Chico. Chico and I met when we were both thrown together in the same room at a rooming house off campus we called "Ma's Place" because of the dyed-red-haired beat old babe who ran the joint--and we called her "Ma," too, because she had a 16-year-old daughter who traipsed around that big ole house wearing only a baby doll and floor-slappy slippers, flip-flops, her eburline and totally teeny babe-skinned body drove us husky boys wild--oh, yeah, the "Ma," well, little Miss Moppet breezed through that house with her baby doll revealing her feminine wiles hollering, always, whinily hollering, "Ma, I need this...," "Ma, I need that...," "Ma, one of those dumbo guys ate my piece of pie." And oh how we did want to eat a piece of her pie, too. Ah, remembrance of "Ma's" things past. Jackie was that underage nymphlet's name; and we called her Jicky after the old blues song that was about a "Jicky Headed Woman."
The first day I met Chico he asked me if I believed in God. When I said No he said OK so far so good. Are you queer? Nope, sorry, I'm straight as an arrow. OK still so far so good. Where ya from? Abilene. OK...OK, Buffalo Soldiers, Abilene, Robert E. Lee once commandant at Fort Phantom Hill, Abilene, the Hashknife Ranch was partially owned by a black man, Abilene. He was a walking encyclopedia. He could name all the little towns of my home county. He had memorized road maps of the whole United States. He lived near Fort Worth and had never been to Abilene but he knew all about it. Later when he and I were traveling to California after we graduated from college we passed through Abilene. As we passed over a north-south highway right before we got into Abilene, he suddenly said, Jack Kerouac, On the Road, they passed by Abilene, Texas, on their way to Mexico....
Chico had already published a couple of paperback books by the time I met him. One of his lusty novels actually made him some money--all of his subsequent books were about sleazy, slut women based on his female hero Candy Barr, a local Dallas stripper who also made the most famous porn film ever at the time--Candy Barr also had another movie out where a German Shepherd pup bangs her while she's looking out a window looking for the fire trucks, whose sirens you can hear in the background. Yep, Rover took over for he had a bone of his own. So all Chico's tramp characters were these Candy-Barr-type babes who fall so deeply into the pits of romantic sin they become deranged to the point of either supernatural salvation or suicide. In his bestselling first novel, his tramp kills herself rather than admitting to "her savior," a man with a beard named Gee Whiz and who of course was her supernatural savior, Joshua the Nazarene, that she was a low-level, lowlife, trailer-house-trash whore. Chico got drunk one night and admitted to me he screwed Mary Magdalene of Jesus-busting-up-her-stoning fame every night in this perpetual dream he seemed to be trapped in. He even said he wrote his novels in these dreams. Once he talked in his sleep. It sounded like he was speaking in Medieval English to me. I told him when he woke up and he said he was speaking a language Mary Magdalene had taught him in one of his dreams where he wasn't banging her; where they were discussing Aristotle. I've never read the Di Vinci Code, sounds like utter badly written bullshit to me, but when I hear it discussed and I've heard its theory about Joshua the Nazarene and Mary the Whore of Madga having a little fling one night 'fore the Last Supper (di Vinci!!!) from which came a "holy" son, who later became the King of France ("Philip of France usurped the British throne/his scepter was the Royal Bone"), or some such nonsense as that, and who the hell gives a shit anyway--only a puzzled fool I suppose--but I always think of Chico and his Mary Magdalene fantasies when I hear about the di Vinci Code. I once stood on the port-end of Marseilles looking up at Mary the Whore's cathedral up on the hill of the city--the citizens of Marseilles worship Miss Magdalene--and I'm sure they have her preserved vulva in their relics coffin--in that church--I didn't go in it; I ate Corsican food instead.
Chico one day just stopped writing. Gave it up and went south and became a sports announcer for high school football games and from there worked his way into the publicity department of the Houston Oilers pro football team. We parted friends abruptly one summer when I accidentally ended up in bed with his brand-new bride the morning after they arrived seeking my blessings, Mrs. Chico being a tantalizing little 'ho who did look a hell of a lot like I figured Mary Magdalene looked, Jewish, not French. I'm sure Chico would have killed me that morning had he had a weapon handy. As it was, he dragged Mary Magdalene out by her hair and they disappeared from my life forever more.
Brilliant man though that Chico.
The reason I started sketchily writing away at this subject, "I Love Brilliance," is because yesterday my old friend L Hat (languagehat) posted a brilliant retrospective analysis of Marcel Proust's humongous Remembrance of Things Past--all the books of it, which he had spent over a year and a half reading to his wife--anyway, here's his post. I've known L Hat for 26 years now. He'll admit that over the years I always prodded him with questions as to why he didn't utilize his brilliantly clever and precise mind to impress the world--write a damn book, dammit, I would growl at him--write a god-damn book of your own look at the world, you're an empiricist like me, you're a linguist, you're a damn translator, you're a damn fine writer--so, dammit, write a book! To which L would reply, "I have no ambition; I'm happy being what I am." Jesus, I would ring my hands in rage--though I had no right to put the man down for being unambitious. I was the royal head of the order of the unambitious--the keeper of the Garter of the Supreme Procrastinator. But, by God, by golly, yes, L Hat has written long articles before, but his reminiscing on reading Proust's remembrances is so brilliant, I'm running it here: BOOM: I'm Noel Coward sneaky:
April 04, 2008
PROUST: THE SUMMING-UP.
My wife and I unexpectedly finished Proust last night (I'd thought it would last another day) and sat up talking about it for a while, and now I'm going to try to organize my thoughts about the year-and-a-half-long experience and inflict them on you. My lengthy ramblings will be below the cut; up front I want to say that they will, as you might expect, contain spoilers, so if you're planning to get around to reading the book someday and don't want to know in advance who dies and who comes to sudden realizations about Life and Time, don't click on the "Continue reading." And since I will be mainly engaged in complaining, I should state for the record that Proust is a great writer, A la Recherche is a great book even if it could stand to lose a few pounds, and I don't regret a moment of the time I've devoted to it. Furthermore, I accept in advance all charges of philistinism and ignorance; I am but a humble ruminant grazing the vast fields of literature, and what I don't know about great writing would fill Borges's Library of Babel. But I have my opinions nonetheless, and you're welcome to join me in my ruminations if you accept the above Terms of Service.Continue reading "PROUST: THE SUMMING-UP."
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