Author Archives: R.D. Mumma

About R.D. Mumma

Author of the novel 'Fire Answers Fire'

Reading Myself in Exile (1.10)

What happens when the clichéd “novel left in a drawer” is exhumed and exposed to light? 

I’m finding out and sharing the results as I retype the typescript of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon I retype them. The tenth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one. This is the last chapter in Part One.

Exile Draft One

The first handwritten manuscript has now been found as well.

10

Robin returned to the hostel without incident. He hopped right into a second class subway car and found an empty seat. He gave it to an old woman who got on at the next stop and he started to feel a little faint from standing. He seemed blind to the world around him as he dragged himself out of the ground and back onto the street. He stopped and had a beer at a café near the hostel. He was trying to think about what he’d write in his journal and what he’d say to Anne when he saw her the next day. There was a pinball machine in the café. He played a few games, because he liked doing things which kept his hands busy and allowed his mind to wander.

He nursed his beer for about ten minutes and then he walked back along a familiar side street to the hostel. He stopped into the office of the guy in charge to ask about leaving early in the morning to catch a train. They communicated to each other, in a combination of broken French and English, that John and Robin wouldn’t have to do any work around the hostel in the morning if they had to leave early. The guy who ran the place was the kind of guy who appealed to Robin instinctively. He had hair about as long as Robin’s but a shade or two darker. Robin was jealous of his beard; it was thick and a little darker than his hair. Robin’s was barely thick enough to cover his face; he wanted a bushy beard more than anything else. (That would attract girls for sure.)

He climbed up the stairs to his room. He talked to a couple of tall blond-haired kids from Minnesota as he pulled his pack from his bunk. They looked like they were straight off the farm. They were on their way to visit relatives in Sweden. Robin was glad. They matched his stereotypes perfectly.

He stopped talking to them as he located a couple of big spiral notebooks with school seals on them in his pack. He kept a journal of his trip (following Anne’s example) in one and he wrote letters on the paper in the other. He rolled out his old green sleeping bag and lay down with a pen and the thicker of the two notebooks.

 

8/15/75 9:30pm

I didn’t write anything about Anne this morning. I was distracted when I first got up. However, I’ve been thinking about her most of the day and I guess I’ll write about her now. I’ve been thinking about what I’ll say when I see her tomorrow. I saw a girl over by the Eiffel Tower who looked like Anne to some extent, and I also saw a girl on the Boulevard St. Michel with a great body who gave me a big smile. Maybe my main problem is simply a lack of self-confidence. Sometimes I get the feeling that girls are attracted to me but I turn them off with my timidity. I’m pretty sure that’s the way Anne felt anyway./ I was able to use some French today. I’m sure that I’ll be ahead of the rest of the second year students when I go back to school in two weeks. It’ll be good to see Joan and Aaron and Paul and Mary and everyone else. This trip has made me appreciate my friends more./ Tomorrow I’m taking the train to Switzerland. I’ll only spend one overnight at Anne’s apartment in Geneva and then I’m going to head for the Alps. It’s going to be good to see some high mountains and beautiful countryside. Cities, especially French-speaking cities, are starting to get on my nerves./ À demain.

 

Robin didn’t write at all about John. His entries usually focused on his problems with women. This one was surprising in that it contained some plain facts about what he was up to. As he started to put the first notebook away, he was distracted by the two young Minnesotans again. They asked him lots of questions about where he’d been and what he’d done during his two months in Europe. He felt at ease talking with them. They both seemed friendly and they didn’t disturb his ideas regarding the accepted behavior for farmboys.

“How long have you been in Europe?” Robin asked.

“Oh, we landed this morning.” The one who answered appeared to be the oldest. He answered with a perpetual smile on his face.

“How do you like Paris so far?”

The other one answered, “It’s okay, but we haven’t seen any of the monuments. We walked down to a little park not too far from here. It was pretty nice and there were some fishermen and these big rocks with tunnels carved in them. They’re like on this island that you have to walk to on a hanging bridge and there are…”

“I know the place.”

“Well anyway, someone pissed on all the rocks and the whole island smelt like piss. We got away from the rocks and sat down on a bench next to this Tunisian guy who told us his life story and asked us for money.”

“He spoke English?”

The older one answered again, “No, I spoke to him in French. I had French in high school and a year of college French. I speak almost fluently.”

That disturbed Robin’s preconceptions. Everyone knows for a fact that Minnesota farmboys don’t speak French, let alone speak it fluently. They’re supposed to speak Swedish or German if they speak anything at all. Robin excused himself by saying that he had to write a letter. Robin really couldn’t think of anything he wanted to write to anybody at that point, because his mind was firmly riveted on his visions of the legendary Anne. She lost all human proportions in Robin’s expectations about the following day’s trip. John walked in as Robin was lying on his mattress and thinking. “Hey Rob, what’re you up to?”

“Just writing a letter…or trying to anyway. I have things on my mind.”

“You’re really hung up on her, aren’t you?”

“What?”

“I said you’re really hung up on her. I could see you staring at every girl that came within ten feet of us today. You weren’t enjoying them though. You were staring at comparisons of your lost love back in the states. Or is it that girl you’re going to see in Geneva?” Robin was annoyed because of the matter of fact tone that John had adopted. He was annoyed that his emotions had become so visible.

“Well, I have a little more loyalty to my girl than you’ll ever have. At least I don’t go running off to whore houses the minute I’m alone.”

John never mentioned that he didn’t make his planned trip. “That’s true. But you don’t enjoy yourself either and I do. I try to… As for commitment, I found myself so committed to a girl back in college that the intensity of her telling me that she didn’t love me almost killed me. I don’t know if I could go through that again for anyone. I’ve had women give me my greatest pleasures and my deepest pains. We all get hurt but I’m just looking for pleasures now.” John was still calm and Robin fell silent. He didn’t feel like this argument. John excused himself, “I have to take a piss.” Robin took this as his cue to unzipper his sleeping bag and crawl in. He just finished getting undressed and lying down when John came back into the room. He honored Robin’s desire to be left alone as he climbed into the top bunk and decided to start on some correspondence of his own.

 

Artie,

How’s tricks buddy? Big first day in Gay Paree, I’ll save the big news for last. I woke up this morning and met this college kid – pseudo-hippie, preppy and very political. He’ll be a rich lawyer someday. He was friendly though which is a change from most people I run into lately. Even this kid’s friendliness scared me at first. I’m ashamed of my first reaction. I figured O, he’s friendly and he’s probably gay. I assumed it simply because the only male strangers who’ve been friendly to me lately have been Sunset Boulevard gays who praised my body as I looked for drugs and those bus depot and street corner robotized messiahs who inform me about the world’s newest religion which they’re trying to finance with my money. This kid didn’t have the glazed donut look of religious zeal in his eyes so I figured he was gay. But he’s just normally mixed up. Confused by women like you and me. But that initial apprehension of mine would have turned me off totally to this new acquaintance if he hadn’t mentioned Zermatt and the Alps. We ended up spending all day together despite those first doubts. I see those fears of mine in others. Like those women who pass by without slowing down on the highway for their fear that every male hitchhiker is a rapist. And those fearful looks we got back in high school when we had our long hair and patched jeans and dilated pupils and anti-war buttons. We represented those things grown-ups were afraid of in their own children. Drugs and sex. Peace. (Am I grown up Art? I am 24 now.) There are so many examples of this fear which keeps us all apart but this aerogramme is so small and I tend to ramble. I still have to tell you the big news. The Snake’s in Paris.

                               Your friend, John Matthews

 

John folded the sky blue aerogramme neatly and simply printed “Artie Sultan” on the envelope – no address. He placed it carefully into a mailbox as he walked with Robin to the train station on the following morning.

As he drifted off into sleep, Robin became engrossed in watching the springs of John’s bed and the windows on the other side of the alley behind the hostel. It looked like the windows belonged to a factory or something and there was a night watchman turning lights on and off as he walked up the stairs. Robin found himself wondering what the place looked like on the inside. He was twenty years old but he had yet to see the inside of a factory. As the lights in the factory went off and stayed off, he found his eyes drifting to the inside of an open window and around the room. They rested on a sign written in English on the side of an old wood stove. “Do not touch. DANGER.” The words were accompanied by a primitive hand-drawn skull and crossbones. He looked around at all the shiny nylon packs and sleeping bags. His old canvas pack and cotton sleeping bag really needed to be replaced. His feet were cool because his bag was worn so thin. An emptiness in his groin reminded him of Anne. Thoughts of her kept his mind active and awake for a little while even though his eyes were closed. He eventually dozed off. He awoke a few times during the night. He dreamt vividly and erratically.

 

He was a traitor. He wore the short blue uniform that all traitors wore. The green-uniformed men were right behind him. They rode two-legged horses and sported blue and green plumes in their iridescent helmets.

He came to a ravine. He stopped. A two-legged horse pushed him down and the green-suited soldiers, who were Indians now, laughed and chanted in their slow, sticky voices. He was afraid of the Indians and their strange language. He started rolling in the ravine. It really wasn’t a ravine. It was a slight, soft grassy slope. Spears landed on all sides, but the Indians didn’t charge.

They looked afraid.

Robin sat with his back to a haystack. He watched the Indians gallop past. A jeep followed them and stopped before the haystack.

The haystack was no longer there. The jeep was no longer there.

Robin was on top of a grassy knoll. Nothing in sight but grass and a man in a grey business suit. He arrested Robin and they walked into a house. The man’s wife was preparing dinner. She smiled at Robin. The man said that Robin would be shot and hung in the attic with the laundry after he’d been interrogated. They were in the man’s study. Animal heads on the wall. The man’s hair was an oozing black liquid.

The man turned on a bright light and the room went dark…

 

Robin woke up. He had been sleeping with his face towards the ceiling when someone had walked in and turned on the bare light bulb. Robin turned his face towards the wall after he realized that he was awake. He liked his political dreams. He hadn’t had one in awhile and they brought back old memories. Most of the old memories were no more than memories of books and worn daydreams that had become more real with the passage of time. He hoped he could fall back into the same dream.

 

The zipper on his sleeping bag melted into a roadbed. He and his mother, father and brother were in the family’s Buick on the way from their home in Garden City to his aunt’s house in Rhode Island for a wedding.

He wasn’t in the car anymore. He was in a cramped hotel room and his suitcase was open on the floor. He dreamt that he was ejaculating into Anne’s mouth but he was pissing into the suitcase. His family walked in. He turned around and pissed on the bed and wall. His mother looked at the floor and asked if he had pissed on it. She didn’t speak a word, but he understood what she was asking.

“No, a dog did it.” His pants were at his knees.

Only he and his mother were left in the room. A girl walked in to sleep in the room. More people came into the room. It was a big room in a hostel now. Everyone piled up there new green shiny nylon backpacks in one corner. He was alone with one girl now. They were reading each other scenes from pornographic classics printed on the sides of golf balls. She was lying on the bed and he was standing – balancing on two golf balls.

A golfer came in to examine the balls. He turned out to be an anthropologist too. He gave Robin an anthropology lesson from a giant book filled with color pictures of wild animals. Robin saw one picture of a witch doctor and a voodoo doll carved in his image.

He was a woman waiting for himself to come fuck her. He, in his masculine form, opened the closet and gasped. He, in his feminine form on the bed, started screaming. All this time a police car was pulling up the long driveway to the hostel. The policeman heard the screams and came running up the stairs. They (he) were (was) scared of a picture in the closet which looked like a picture of the secretary of state at first, but was actually a picture of a torn window shade, a picture hook and an empty frame. The policeman – no face – said that it was a rare portrait of the secretary of state at his birth and that the secretary was a national hero. He took the picture.

Robin was restored to one body again. He found himself walking down the hallway of the hostel looking for a bathroom. The hallway was longer than he remembered it. It was endless. He saw a door that said “rest rooms” and he walked in. It was a secretarial pool with fluorescent ceiling lights which practically blinded him. A bald, sexless, white-robed secretary told him that the bathroom was past the hallway filled with vending machines.

In the hallway he passed vending machines that sold dogs and candy. He bought a German Shepherd and a pack of spearmint gum. The hallway led into a giant department store.

Everyone in the store stared at him and his dog as they chewed their gum. They were naked…

 

Robin woke up. The sunlight brought an end to his sleep this time. He thought a little bit about the strangeness of his dream. He wrote down parts of it in his journal. He wrote a lot about the gum-chewing dog from the vending machine, but he left out the parts about pissing on the floor and making love to himself. He was mortally afraid that someone might read his journal after he was famous, and they might determine that he was crazy (or a sexual deviant unfit for academic and public prominence) after interpreting something like that. He made a vow that he had to try to interpret his own dreams one of these days. He meant to do some reading on dreams for a while, but he never got around to it. John would have told him that he was crazy just for wishing to interpret such dreams. Nonsense is nonsense whether it takes place in sleep or in full consciousness.

John had fallen asleep right away and passed directly into a recurring dream occupied by a snake with scales the size and shape of Volkswagen hoods. He knew what his dream meant for him and he didn’t have to interpret it. He was still asleep when Robin touched his shoulder. “Time to get up.”

“Fuck! That makes two mornings running that you woke me up in the middle of my dream. You’re as bad as my mother was when I was living at home.”

“Don’t blame me. We have to catch a train.”

“I know.”

Back in 2017

Congratulations and thank you if you’ve made it this far. We’re on page 101 of the manuscript and we just finished Part One (of three). It has more structure than I remember it having; I like the way that it begins and ends with John and Robin waking up in Paris 24 hours (or slightly less than 24 hours) apart. When I started typing the first chapter a month ago, I mentioned that I didn’t think the manuscript would mention the year, let alone a specific date. I was wrong. We found out from Robin’s journal entry that all the action in the first ten chapters took place on August 15, 1975. That got me curious, so last night I went up to the attic and opened some boxes. In a old yellow and blue Löwenbräu carton whose limp cardboard sides seem ready to disintegrate, I found what I was looking for, a pile of old notebooks, one of which was my journal covering most of 1975 when I was living and going to school in Europe.  August 15, 1975 was the day I saw the woman I loved (and love) off from Le Bourget airport in Paris on a flight home to her boyfriend waiting to meet her at JFK in New York. It may not be up there in literary history with James Joyce and Nora Barnacle’s famous first date on June 16, 1904, but her departure was significant in my life. On the following day, I took a train to Geneva.

I also found in the box another notebook that contained, in minuscule illegible handwriting,  the very first  draft of Exile. Rather than beginning  with a quotation from D.H. Lawrence, the quote on the endleaf was from a Carlos Castaneda book I read during my first weeks of writing.

“You see, people tell us from the time we are born that the world is such and such and so and so, and naturally we have no choice but to see the world the way people have been telling us it is.” –Don Juan, Journey to Ixtlan

That’s a little too spot on. I like the mystery of the D.H. Lawrence epigraph better. My journal tells me that I had just read Castaneda’s A Separate Reality and Le Tour de Gaule d’Asterix, and was in the process of reading Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund when I started writing the novel.  I read Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan, Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico,  and Peter Reich’s Book of Dreams during  the first couple of weeks of writing.  The book’s original working title was Rêvelations. Get it? That circumflex makes the title a portmanteau of the French word for ‘dream’ and the English word ‘revelation.’ That’s just a little too clever, and I’m very glad I changed it. Also, the dreams seem to take up a larger part of the first handwritten draft; I’m glad I cut down on those as well. Few things can be as boring as someone else recounting the details of their dreams, or as John puts it as the end of Part One, ‘nonsense is nonsense.’

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Reading Myself in Exile (1.9)

Chapter 1-9 photo 1What happens when the clichéd “novel left in a drawer” is exhumed and exposed to light? 

I’m finding out and sharing the results as I retype the manuscript of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon I retype them. The ninth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one.

9

John’s body, especially in the area around his legs, was still warm as he fell asleep. He and Caroline cut school together and went to Caroline’s house. They started kissing like they’d been doing for over a year and a half. It was almost routine whenever they were alone together. They’d be kissing as John helped her off with her shirt to caress her growing breasts. They were both very happy with each other. Today was special. It was the most special day of his life; he was sure of that. Years later he learned to apply a label to that day; it was the day they both lost their virginity. At the time they weren’t even sure what the word meant. (John knew that his parents made him pray to the Virgin Mary, but he thought that “Virgin” was just her first name.)

It wasn’t easy for them by any means. John had trouble figuring out how to unroll that unfamiliar condom nonchalantly and he had to attempt insertion two or three times before he just lay back, relaxed, and thought about beginning again. Caroline was motionless on her side – her hand in his hair – their eyes locked and glazed. John scanned her body as she examined his.

“This is my first time…I’m a little nervous,” he said by way of apology.

Her smiling wordless answer made it easy.

He had only been aware of mechanical problems; their love removed those thoughts completely.

John had to leave Caroline’s house before her mother came home from work, so he walked the three blocks to his house as fast as he could. It was cold for November, and he tried hard to keep her warmth inside him. He dropped down on his living room carpet to watch TV. Nothing on but game shows and soap operas. He realized that all these idiots on The Newlywed Game did what he just did and so did his mother and father and grandparents and even his Uncle George and Aunt Ellen. How could these people fight all the time when they had this ultimate key to happiness. He knew that he and Caroline would never fight.

***

Only on rare occasions in the years since then had it been as it was on that afternoon. The silence, slowness, holiness, awe-fullness. Above all the unfolding mystery; that had never been equaled. The superficial glimpses of a woman’s life seemed complete in those hours, “So a woman lives with this body as I live with mine.” And the first feelings of envy for friends with sisters. Sisters.

John had surprised himself by thinking about Caroline while sitting at a restaurant in Paris. He hadn’t thought of that day in years. Maybe it was because he could see Robin’s preoccupation with the girls out on the street and his mind had started to drift too. There was a young girl who walked past with Caroline’s long brown curly hair and those same fiery brown eyes. The girl who walked past looked a little older than Caroline would have been, but Caroline always looked a little old for her age anyway. She was the sweetest ninth grader in Los Angeles. John knew that for a fact – he was wondering where she was now.

Robin was staring at the girls on the sidewalk, but he wasn’t thinking about them. He was thinking of words to use when he’d greet Anne in less than 24 hours. He thought of how depressed and jealous he’d been when he last saw her two months before. She never tried to do him any harm, but all his thoughts were directed in her direction. The simple fact that she wanted someone else’s love more than his seemed to destroy his whole existence. To try and forget her would mean to try and forget a part of himself. He couldn’t do that, so he had to keep up this appearance of friendship.

Robin was anxious to start walking again. His thoughts were disturbing him too much. When he walked, his depression seemed to leave him. He was able to become occupied with the world moving past him and filling his senses. “John, are you finished with your dessert?”

“Yeah.” He chewed his last bite of cake.

“Do you want to go? I’ll ask for the check.”

“We’re in Paris. We might as well do as the Parisians do and get another bottle of wine. We’ll polish that off as we just watch the world march past our window.”

Robin agreed reluctantly. He wanted to be in that crowd – lost – walking past windows himself. When it came right down to pressing an issue, however, he usually displayed his lack of backbone. John ordered a bottle of wine for eleven francs. He was still spending money in accordance with his life’s philosophy. They finished it quickly or, more accurately, John finished it quickly. He downed seven or eight medium sized glasses like they were shots of tequila, and they shot straight into his brain. Robin just sat in awe as he tried to finish his first glass. He didn’t like wine.

(When you’re drunk, the city of Paris is a great place to be.) That was the main thought in John’s mind anyway. The sun was setting as they paid the bill and he stepped back out onto the street. John felt the alcohol in his limbs and he was unsure of his footing as they walked out of the restaurant. Robin was sure that this drunken fool was going to embarrass him. John regained his land legs after a couple of stumbles and they walked along calmly. Robin liked being with drunken girls (that was the way they appealed to him most), but being with a drunken man was repulsive. Men weren’t supposed to act this way.

John was too impressed by everything to worry about his own appearance. He never worried much about his appearance anyway. As they walked toward the Seine, he could see Notre Dame glowing red in the last reflections of the dying sun. He sighed. As they started to cross the river, he jumped onto the railing of a stone bridge and swung his legs over onto the other side to get a better view of the cathedral. Visions of John falling into the dirty water rushed through Robin’s mind and he thrust his arm forward to prevent such a tragedy. John appeared angry. “I know what I’m doing!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t like to see friends of mine plunging to their deaths because they drank too much beer and wine.”

“If I go plunging to my death it will be because I want to and not because of a little alcohol.”

It’s strange to be greeted with genuine anger when you’re concerned about someone’s health. Robin thought about this for a little while, but he finally attributed everything to the bottle of wine. He knew lots of people who got obnoxious when they drank too much. John was obviously just another one. This whole day had been fairly boring. He didn’t feel like just standing here while John oooed and ahhed over a cathedral that Robin had already seen inside and out three or four times before.

After John’s eyes soaked in all of the cathedral they wanted, he swung his legs back over the wall. He didn’t do it to talk to Robin. He wanted to watch the city marching by on the bridge’s sidewalk. The sight of some pairs of tight female pants reminded him that wine made him much hornier than beer.

***

“Hey Caroline!” John yelled when he saw her on the other side of the school’s baseball diamond. They talked on the phone the night before, but they couldn’t talk about that one thing which was foremost on their minds. Both of their families were home.

They didn’t say much more on this early school morning; they paused on the yellow square that marked second base and they kissed before heading for their homerooms. The smell of her hair still filled him with her warmth as the PA blared its announcements and he droned along with the rest of the class during the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the united states of america and to the republic for which it stands one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Even that kiss on the playground was daring. They could get detention if a teacher saw such an open display of affection. John was in trouble already. He knew that Mr. Adams was calling his name because he was absent the day before and he didn’t bring in an excuse. That was good for a half hour detention and a call home.

Adams was a bastard. If his own son cut Adams’ metal shop he’d probably be sent to the vice-principal’s office for a quick paddling. He and John had an understanding of mutual hatred already.

“Matthews! How many times to I hafta call yer name?”

“No, I don’t have an excuse.”

Adams didn’t like the way that John answered his question without giving him a chance to ask it first, so John found himself with a three day suspension. “Boy, you just bought yerself a three day vacation with yer smart mouth,” as Mr. Adams liked to put it. John eventually found himself with a week off as he walked out of the room and gave Adams the finger with roars of supporting laughter filling his ears.

Caroline only got a short detention and their parents never found out that they’d cut school on the same day. They would’ve really been in trouble then; Caroline’s father didn’t like John at all. Her father was a Cadillac driving, cigar smoking son of a bitch. When John found out that he worked for Atlantic-Richfield and he didn’t even care about oil spills and dead birds and seals, he felt like spitting in his face. It was only his love for Caroline that had stopped him. Her mother was funny. If she didn’t go to the beauty parlor after work to have her own hair done, it was because she was having her poodle trimmed. She kept their house spotless by having a Mexican maid come in twice a week and keeping the furniture covered in plastic the rest of the time. John saw similarities between Caroline and her mother sometimes and it scared the shit out of him. Her parents had at least one similarity. They both hated this sunburned and bleached nature boy with whom their daughter was in love. (Don’t worry dear, it’s only a phase.) If they could find any excuse to break them up, they would use it.

If John’s father felt any emotion toward his son, it was probably love tempered by envy. John was in the habit of enjoying life and all its pleasures. He finally did learn how to surf and he spent most of the previous summer and early fall at the short. Sex was the only thing he’d found which beat catching a wave. He had a simplistic theory about the similarity between waves and women. They both possessed tremendous natural power which he could convert into his own exhilaration. Mr. Matthews sensed the way in which his son enjoyed life so completely  and he resented it to some degree. He had worked very hard all through high school, college and graduate school to become an engineer and now he was one – one of the best. But he wasn’t happy studying and he wasn’t happy working. His years of work and worry had left him with ulcers, grey hair and a need for two or three martinis every night to cure his confusion and doubts.

***

Sometimes John wondered if he was starting to drink like his father used to. He concluded that he wasn’t. He didn’t drink to forget any problems. He drank for the same reasons that he surfed or had sex. For the exhilaration. For the ecstasy of the mind and body.

“Rob, do you know where the rue Saint-Denis is?”

“Why?” John had been silent for a long time and Robin was surprised by his sudden question.

“Because I read that all the Parisian prostitutes gather there.”

Rob just ignored him at first. He’d never met anyone who seriously thought about going to a prostitute. He attributed it to the wine again. The wine had something to do with it, but John was serious.

“Well, do you?”

“What?”

“Well, do you know where the street is?”

“No, I never heard of it.”

After hearing this, John seemed a little dejected. He had heard some about the pleasures of Paris from his friends and he was disappointed when he thought that he might miss a major one. After a few minutes of sitting under a descending gloom, he brightened up. He saw a gendarme walking along the other side of the bridge, so he jumped down from his perch and dashed across the roadway. He managed to blurt out his best French of the day. “Où se trouve la rue St.-Denis?”

The question was asked a little too well, because the gendarme gave him a little smile and pointed left and right and said something about straight ahead. John didn’t understand a word. He just stood there smiling. When the policeman seemed to be finished, John tipped his invisible hat in thanks. He walked back across the bridge – no spring in his step – and narrowly missed being hit by a glass-topped tour bus filled with people and their plastic earphones. The bus restored his good humor in a second. “Look at those assholes. They think they’re exploring a city, but they look more like goldfish in a bowl.” A boat went under them with floodlights that lit up the bridges and both banks of the river. John couldn’t see his audience beyond the shafts of light aimed in his direction but he shook his middle finger at the crowds of imagined tourists sitting in their seats and watching the city float by. “Those bastards might as well be at Disneyland. I bet good ol’ Walt could have made a three dimensional movie that would be twice as entertaining as this. He could run the movie in fast motion and get everyone seasick and he could even splice in Mickey Mouse and have him waving from the top of Notre Dame. It would be the perfect Paris…The guides would speak English too.”

Nothing but silence came from Robin’s mouth, so he continued, “There’s only one way to get to know a city. You have to walk its streets and get drunk on its favorite alcohol and taste its women. I’ve done two of the three…Rob, wasn’t there a map inside the Metro station?”

“Yeah.” Robin was just peering down into the black water. “They have them in all the stations.” John started wobbling away so Robin raised his voice. “If you think that you’re going to find a street that easily, you’re crazy. There must be millions of…” John wasn’t listening.

John sat down on the cement floor of the fluorescent subway and gazed at the map. He figured that if he just glanced around the map without getting bogged down in one part he should be able to find the street name he was looking for. His eyes spun around the endless circular roads with the ever-changing names on the borders of the city, only occasionally darting in towards the jumbled labyrinth of roads and names in the center which increased his drunken dizziness ten-fold. He did need help. Robin helped for about five minutes, and then he announced that he was heading back to the hostel; he was finally fed up with this drunk. After Robin left, John started asking people to point out the street on the map. Most people just walked past, but an old black man in overalls – a little drunk himself – stopped and pointed to an area in the twisted center of the old map where the paper had been torn. It was only three or four blocks from the floor on which John sat. John thanked him and the old man tried to start a conversation. He mumbled (cryptically, it seemed to John), “Maintenant…je sais, maintenant. Il n’est pas si important, le sexe.”

“What?” John didn’t really expect to find out the content of the swallowed sentences. The old man’s sad smile seemed to symbolize experience to John – not a cry for sympathy like Robin’s unchanging mien. John felt an instant contact with the man. John could see that he was facing a man who understood what he was all about. He hadn’t wasted his youth like Robin. He spent it; now it was gone, but he was content with the knowledge and memories it brought him. John wanted badly to talk to this man, but the language barrier stopped them. As he ran up out of the subway, he felt he should have embraced him. He very seldom felt such an instant rapport with anyone.

***

For his fourteenth birthday, John got a turtleneck sweater, a couple of records, some books, and a new surfboard. The board was the combined birthday and Christmas present from his parents because his birthday was on the nineteenth of December. Caroline bought him the new Beatles album.

On the night of his birthday most of his friends came over. Caroline was there with a few of her friends, and most of John’s friends from school and the shore were there. He quit scouts about a year before and he only associated with two friends from that period, Bryan and Artie. John went surfing with Bryan more often than anybody, so they stood around admiring the board during most of the night. Artie’s father had been transferred to San Diego but Artie was able to come up for the party by bus, because Christmas vacation had started and he had a lot of spare time. He was even able to stay over a couple of nights. In the next few days they spent a lot of time talking about things, mostly girls, and Artie introduced John to the daring pleasures of marijuana while they were hiking in the hills.

The party itself went badly. Everyone was on their best behavior because Mr. and Mrs. Matthews were sitting in the next room. John left for a little while to fool around with Caroline in the garage, but he knew that the guest of honor couldn’t absent himself for too long, so they came back after about ten minutes. That was the high point of the party.

Caroline and Artie were old friends. They knew each other from second grade on – before John even moved to LA. They started talking about how things were going between her and John and she said that she had him “wrapped around her little finger.” John felt like hitting something when Artie repeated that phrase. Besides hating the idea of being under someone’s control, he thought that that remark sounded too much like something Caroline’s mother would say about Caroline’s father. John didn’t know too many things about his future, but he was sure that he didn’t want to be like them. Caroline sensed that john wasn’t too happy as she left, and he didn’t call her for a couple of days. She called him first.

The morning after the party was great in contrast. John and Artie left the ordered grid of the San Fernando Valley’s streets behind them and walked into the hills about a half mile from John’s house. They’d been up there many times before. Once they went up with the whole patrol when John was leader. At the top of the hill there was a rock formation covered with graffiti. It was mostly covered with initials – people attempting to gain immortality with a spray paint can – but someone had drawn a naked woman in pink paint and scribble “pink lady” across her stomach. They paused there and John took a drink from his canteen. Artie pulled a twisted cigarette from his jacket pocket and asked, “Do you want to smoke this?”

“Marijuana?”

Artie smiled, “yes,” as he lit it up. He knew that John never refused anything new. Neither one of them got high even though they held the smoke deep in their lungs. John had never smoked before and Artie only did it once. They’d heard that most people don’t get high the first time, so they weren’t too disappointed. The daring made it good anyway. They sat on top of the rocks for awhile and waited to be jolted by the smoke but the jolt never came and they walked down the other side of the hill. They had to cross some barbed wire to get to the other side, so they figured that the land had to belong to somebody. John had been there at least a dozen times and he’d never seen a soul, so he figured that it was deserted.

This place was so close to his house and it was one of the most interesting places he’d ever been. They always saw all sorts of things, especially on the forbidden side of the fence. As soon as Artie and John were on the other side of the fence, they thought they saw a coyote on the next little knoll. It might have been a big tan dog but it didn’t really matter. They’d seen a few real coyotes up here. John even saw a bobcat up here when he brought his patrol up a year earlier. That had scared little John B. half to death and then Little John accidentally discovered a pond a quicksand. John and Artie weren’t sure if it was real quicksand like in the movies, but it sucked Little John in up to his knees in no time and they never were able to find out how deep it was with a stick. John and Artie walked over to the pool and sat in the trees above it to drop rocks in. When the rocks hit the sand they made a sound akin to the sound of boots being pulled out of fresh mud.

They sat around playing and talking for a long time. It was cool and windy and Artie had a light army jacket on. His uncle had sent it back from Vietnam. John had taken off the sweater he got for his birthday, because he was hot from hiking. A cool breeze forced him to put it on again as Artie began to tell him about his girlfriends down in San Diego.

That started John thinking. Since Artie moved down to San Diego, he’d been seeing two girls. At first John was a little upset. He could never be quite the best at anything. There were always a few kids who surfed better than him and there were a few who were consistently better in school. Now he and Caroline thought they had something of their own, but Artie was upstaging him in this too.

Then he started feeling better. He had thought all along that this new discovery was something that had to be shared between two people. John had been thinking in terms of the world his parents had shown him – a world of married people. That’s why Caroline could say that she had him under her control. She did. After talking to Artie, he realized that he was fooling himself. It wasn’t Caroline or his love for Caroline that made him so happy. It was something more generalized – something within himself.

The revelation seemed clear without thoughts or words. It made him feel like screaming or jumping for joy, but he just relaxed from his sitting position to a position where he was lying on the hard ground staring into the white winter sun and clouds. John had an intense fear about growing up to be like Caroline’s mother and father. He felt a release from those worries. He started seeing less and less of Caroline; by the time the school year was out, John had found another girlfriend.

***

Instead of walking toward the torn spot on the subway station map which had intrigued him earlier, John simply spent a few minutes of quiet reflection sitting the the gathering coolness of a summer evening of memories. He thought it strange that his mind should shift back to thoughts of his friends Caroline and Artie back in junior high school. The memory which had been most vivid was of his feeling towards Artie when Artie had surpassed him in a quantitative assessment of their early sexual adventures. John really had an intense desire to be the best at everything from sports to schoolwork and surfing and sex.

It was this desire which he found himself examining a decade after those experiences. He didn’t see this desire for excellence as analogous to any religious or economic ethic. He saw it as a longing for extremes. The smartest, the best, the first, the last, the worst, the most degenerate. Never the most well-adjusted – like kindergarten report cards – John works and plays well with others – adjusted to what?

Subconsciously, John often used diagrams to help clarify these things for his own mind. When thinking of his quest for extremes he pictured a nearly completed circle with arrowheads pointing to the small empty space at the apex of the circle.

Chapter 1-9 photo 1

His extremes were leading him to the place marked by the arrowheads. To John, it didn’t matter which direction he approached that space from. For him, both genius and insanity were represented by arrowheads aimed at the same goal. For someone who shunned extremes, someone in the center of the segment, thought John, the diagram appeared as a straight line with genius and insanity the representatives of opposite poles, pointing out into unlimited space.

But that was other people.

Chapter 1-9 photo 2

Straight people.

John would simply fantasize about the size of the arc which was necessary to complete his circle and what type of mentality inhabited  that space. The space was the goal of all men. What was Patañjali’s samadhi or Zen’s satori or a Yaqui’s peyote experience? They were madness for some – ultimate knowledge for others. John saw them clearly in the missing arc at the apex of the circle.

Somewhere beyond his conscious mind these ideas were all crystal clear. Caught in rare moments in that space between sleep and waking he seemed to understand what that space actually represented and why he tried so hard to reach it. When he was fully awake, these ideas were usually deeply buried, but their goals were internalized.

 

When he knew Caroline, John saw sex as a chance to fill that space – complete the circle. It hadn’t. Nothing had.

Back in 2017

Another one of those stock phrases that every beginning author now hears is “kill your darlings”; one of my darlings made it through to this second draft even though the the two readers who read the first draft in 1976 both objected to it strongly, the word “awe-fullness” for “full of awe.” The neologism seemed cool in context of the sentence to me at the time, but it should have been killed. That being admitted, I’m glad it’s still there to show the awe-kwardness of the 19-year-old untrained novelist.

Skipping to the end of this chapter and John’s diagrammatic insights into the nature of extremes, I don’t think I lifted that line and circle imagery with the arrowheads from anyone; I remember being proud of it at the time. However,  it is time to come clean about another influence on this book. The reference here to a “Yaqui’s peyote experience” isn’t the only nod to the Carlos Castaneda books, which may have been the closest thing we had to a Harry Potter series of books in the early 1970s.  When I wrote Exile, I had definitely read the first four books, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don JuanJourney to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan, and Tales of Power. When this book was written, there wasn’t yet a debate about whether don Juan Matus was a real person or not. There was certainly a sense among Castaneda’s fellow anthropology professors that he was a grandstander and an exaggerator, but the books were all considered non-fiction, which does not seem to be the general consensus now. I, however, was a fan of the books at that point and it is not coincidental that the names of my fictional John Matthews and Castaneda’s “real” Juan Matus seem to be in homophonic agreement.

 

Chapter 1.10 (the last chapter in Part One) has now been retyped and posted (9/20/17).

 

 

 

The Quotation of the Day is from James Salter

All That Is cover

I just started reading James Salter’s All There Is because I was browsing through the local library when none of the books at the top of my to-read list were available and I saw this 2013 novel on the fiction shelves between the missing current novels of Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith.

The first 97 pages of this book by the author of A Sport and a Pastime have me hooked, but my quote of the day comes just before page 1; the epigraph seems to relate directly to my current project of reviving and serializing the novel of my youth on this blog, a novel in which dreams play a central role, but they should be inspiring words for anybody who feels the need to place words on paper.All That Is epigraph

 

There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.

 

Reading Myself In Exile (1.8)

What happens when the clichéd “novel left in a drawer” is exhumed and exposed to light? 

photo (4)I’m finding out and sharing the results as I retype the manuscript of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon I retype them. The eighth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one.

8

John finally turned to the silent Robin and said something about being hungry. “Hey Rob, I’m almost dried off now. How about going to look for someplace good to eat?”

Robin had been planning on buying some bread and ham or something, but he was only going to be in Europe for a week and a half more and he couldn’t see any arguments against splurging a little this one time. He still had a hundred and sixty dollars in traveler’s checks left and he knew he’d be living a lot cheaper now that he was on his own. He had wanted to return on the same flight as his friend but they were the victims of some bureaucratic errors. His friend didn’t complain about his earlier flight because he was anxious to see his girlfriend after two months without her. Robin had been jealous – it was an emotion he found easy to indulge in.

“I’ve heard that there are a lot of good restaurants in the Latin Quarter,” Robin finally responded.

“Is that far from here?”

“Yeah…well it’s far enough that we’ll have to take the Metro.”

“OK.” John’s hunger was visibly wearing his patience.

“I only have one Metro ticket left so we’ll have to buy some more.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll get them. How much are they?”

“They’re nine francs for ten tickets. I’ll pay for half.”

Once they descended into the subway station, John had a lot of trouble communicating his desires. The woman behind glass selling the tickets gave him strange looks to begin with because he was still visibly wet around his pockets and collar and in the depths of his hair. Robin thought for a second and then he stepped in to rescue his companion. “Dix billets deuxième classe, s’il vous plait.”

“Thanks a lot.” John usually handled himself pretty well just about everywhere, but this language barrier was his downfall.

They figured out the changes they’d have to make before they headed for the trains. The wall map explained it simply. They only had to change trains once. Robin liked these Metro stops. They were clean and modern. The stops that weren’t covered with new tiles were in the process of being redecorated. John didn’t like these tunnels at all. He was always intensely aware of the fact that he was underground. The rush hour crowds only made matters worse.

A train pulled up after a couple of minutes and everyone headed for the second class compartments. John bounded onto the empty first class car while Robin hesitated on the platform (But we only have second class tickets!).

“Hurry up and get on!” John yelled. Robin hopped on after he decided that the sure scorn of a peer was worse than the possible scorn of a gendarme. Everything was a balancing of the opinions of others.

They rode in first class without any problems and when they changed trains, John bounced into first class again. Once again Robin followed and they rode without problems. When they finally got off at St. Michel and emerged into a crowd of tourists, they started talking again.

“Why were you so anxious to jump onto a first class car?” Robin’s heart was still beating a little faster than normal because of the risk he had been forced into taking.

“What do you mean, ‘Why?’. You saw how people were packing themselves like sardines into the second class cars. Besides, I thought you were a Socialist or something. Aren’t you against classes?”

“Of course I’m against classes.” He didn’t feel the need to add anymore.

They walked along the Boulevard St. Michel looking at the menus in front of all the cafés. John had his heart set on real French onion soup with real French onions in it and the bread and cheese on top and he said he wasn’t going to stop until he found it. Robin was looking at a French Playboy cover in a newsstand between the sidewalk and the street. He would never walk into a newsstand and buy a magazine like that, but he would devour his friends’ issues. He was so engrossed in looking nonchalantly at the covers that he almost tripped over an old lady who was bending over to pick up a dropped coin.

***

Robin’s first real “date” with Anne was about what he had expected. The lack of hard physical contact between them rivaled that which takes place between an explosives expert and his precious bottles of nitroglycerin. He took her to a movie where he almost put his arm around her. Sometimes he felt that girls were surrounded by a thick layer of invisible cotton which repulsed all of his feeble advances.

“Do you want to come to my room and listen to some music?” Robin expected a polite refusal of his request, but she surprised him and accepted.

“Yeah sure. It’s not too late yet,” she smiled.

(She smiled.) Robin saw himself entering Amida’s Pure Land. A girl was following him up to his room. The thought crossed his mind that he didn’t know what to do with her when they got there, but he was convinced that something had to happen sooner or later. (I’m a nice guy.) It was unnatural to have such bad luck with girls and it was bound to break with or without his help. He felt that his room was ready for this evening. His desk and dresser top were always neat. He pictured time in boxes so it wasn’t hard for him to find a box for straightening his desk between study blocks for different subjects. Stray books were a rarity on his desk when he wasn’t working. All the mess that was there was specifically there for Anne. He began by downplaying the relative importance of his many political science volumes by tightly packing them near the ceiling on the top level of his wall shelves. He arranged them even straighter than usual in an attempt to present the illusion that they had been untouched – only obligatory purchases made to satisfy course requirements. The attempt to lie about himself through a rearrangement of his room extended to other areas. The conspicuous placement of his few novels and editions of Plato and Aristotle were meant to appeal to Anne’s own talk of independence from political arguments in her search for more personal and universal values. A search which Robin paid lip service to. His search at present was for sex or a secure companionship; he linked the two unconsciously – him motives were rarely examined in the light of his conscious mind.

He walked into his room before Anne and released a sigh of relief. (Thank God, at least Paul isn’t here.)

Paul walked in about a half hour later, but it didn’t make any difference. Rob and Anne were just sitting on opposite beds as a record serenaded them from Paul’s new quadraphonic system. They were talking about school. Paul came in drunk and danced around for a little while with no regard for the music. “Hey, you two want to smoke?” He was already rolling a joint.

Robin was mad now because he had convinced himself that he was going to make a pass the second that Paul burst in. That wasn’t true, of course. He wouldn’t have tried to do much more than put his arm around Anne if she had stayed the night. Robin wasn’t bad looking, and he was intelligent, and there were a few girls who did like him. A few very much. However, they weren’t about to read his mind and satisfy his desires without any input from him. He had to make some gestures and advances. Robin tended to dwell too much on this shyness which he saw as a deficiency in himself simply because it made him a little different from his acquaintances.

He walked Anne back to her dormitory without incident. He thought about kissing her when they got to her door, but that’s as far as that went. They said goodnight  and agreed that they’d probably see each other then next morning in their philosophy recitation. Robin was humming on the way back to his dorm. He stopped in and talked to his friend Aaron for a little while and then he went back to his room to do a little reading before hitting the sack. He was in a better mood than usual.

Paul walked in again. “Rob, you want to smoke?”

“Yeah, alright.”

***

John was excited. He had just found a menu with French onion soup on it.

“Hey Rob, look at this!”

Sure enough, there it was as big as a Daily News headline, French Onion Soup written in English. It was part of a 25 franc fixed price menu, but neither John nor Robin could remember seeing it anyplace else. Robin hesitated for a moment as John walked in. They got a table right on the inside of the glass so they could look out on the sidewalk. The waiting walked over and they both ordered right away. They decided on the steak and fries along with their soup.

“You know, this place is pretty expensive,” Robin started.

“I didn’t think so. It’s about six dollars.”

“Yeah, but I’ve been eating in places that were two or three at the most.”

“Really?” John looked like he was ready to leave before their order even came. “Do these places have French onion soup?”

“No, I never saw any.”

“Well, that’s the reason we came here. I had my heart set on it and you said that you really liked it too.”

“Yeah…it’s okay because I have some money left over now…How much did you bring with you?”

“Oh, I guess I have about eighty dollars left now.”

Robin was shocked. “How long are you staying in Europe?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have a return flight yet. Probably a couple of months though.” John made his statements in a totally matter of fact tone of voice. He didn’t see anything wrong.

“You mean you only brought a hundred dollars to…”

“A hundred and thirty.”

“You only brought a hundred and thirty dollars to live for a couple of months and you’re spending six for a bowl of soup? You’re crazy!”

“You’re the one who’s crazy. You have this great opportunity – living in a foreign country – and then you deny yourself things you enjoy because of something as transient and unimportant as money.”

“It may ultimately be ‘transient and unimportant,’ but it has kept me alive for the two months I’ve been here.”

“Don’t you see what you’re doing to yourself? How you’re killing yourself? You’re living your whole life for tomorrow. You’re living your whole life in vain, because someday tomorrow just isn’t going to come.”

Robin was sitting quietly again as his hands fiddled with a spoon. He couldn’t figure out how their conversation had made such a jagged transition from a discussion of the cost of living in Europe to a statement about man’s mortality (Robin’s mortality). He understood what John meant though. He was always worried about having enough money to get through not only the next day, but the next few years. Wasn’t everybody? The whole idea of going to college was to prepare him for his future too. He usually agreed when people intellectualized about the value of living every day on its own, but John was the first person he ever met who actually lived his life that way. Very disconcerting.

“Your soup, Messieurs.”

John was too engrossed in eating to do much more than compliment the chef, and Robin was glad. His mind needed the rest. He thought the discussion that he and Aaron used to have at school were deep. They talked mostly about women, and once in a while they’d talk seriously about their futures after college. They never talked about death. Not even Anne would bring up questions like that when they talked about philosophy. Death and the possibility that it can come at any time isn’t something one talks about with their friends.

“See,” John began after finishing his soup. “Now that was delicious and that’s why I paid for it. I can see that you a little worried, but don’t worry about me ’cause I’m not going to let a lack of money kill me. I might end up living off the land or begging, but I’ll enjoy that too.” John really didn’t seem to be worried at all as the waiter took their soup bowls and gave them their steaks. Robin assumed that John was either lying about how much money he had or that he really was crazy. He suspected the latter.

John relished the steak as if it was his last meal. Of course, that was the way he wanted it. He jumped into fountains because each time might be his last chance to jump into a fountain and he made this trip to Europe even though he was a little short of money because it could be he last chance to take this trip. Robin saw that John was enjoying himself as he ate and that made him feel better. Rob was enjoying the view out the restaurant window too. This was a big street for American tourists and a lot of the young women walking by were beautiful. He found himself lost in fantasies as a braless girl in tight jeans and a pink T-shirt walked by.

“Hey Rob, will you hurry up and finish your steak so we can order dessert?”

***

Robin walked into his philosophy class a little late after his big date with Anne. His mind was still a little glazed from the marijuana that he and Paul had smoked right before turning in. Anne noticed the redness and heaviness in his eyes as soon as he walked in. Robin was disappointed because Anne wasn’t staring at him. He thought that they were so close because of the one evening they’d spent together. Now he was imagining that she hated him. (Look at her. She flirts with the teacher, with other guys in the class, but she acts as though I’m not here.) She did like Robin, but his chances of becoming her lover were remote so long as he refused to take risks by showing his feelings.

“Robin… you made an interesting comment to me about Professor Grossmann’s lecture on Kant’s Antinomies of Reason. Could you share it?”

Robin hadn’t been listening; his attention had been focused through his eyes to Anne’s desk. He almost forgot that he was in class. Embarrassed, he asked the instructor to repeat the question and then he proudly repeated some of his ideas. He knew that Anne would be impressed by the confidence which their teacher showed in him. The recitation continued about the same for another half hour or so. Every time the instructor would ask Rob a question, Rob would have to ask him to repeat it because he was daydreaming. He was extremely restless; he wanted the class to end so he could talk to Anne.

Although it seemed like an interminable stretch of time, the class finally ended. Robin slipped into his field jacket. It was a cool, windy October day. He stood near the door waiting while Anne slipped into her sweater and spent a few minutes talking to their teacher. Robin stood like a dog stands when it has to take a shit, but when it also has to wait for its master to attach the leash first – begging to be bound. For all his talk about being free and seeing a lot of girls, he was already following this one like a little puppy. He felt that his devotion should bring out the same feelings in her. Anne sensed some of this as she stood talking and she hated him for it. If it just wasn’t for his sad eyes shining through his shaggy face. (In his need to be bound he wants to bind me too!) His eyes screamed at her. They said, “You can shit on me if you want to. Do anything. I just want you as my girlfriend.”

Robin saw nothing in Anne’s eyes. No emotions anyway. In light of his earlier, mistaken opinions about her eyes he began to doubt if they provided any clues into her personality. Hers were beautiful. They were bright blue, but they were different from most. Instead of just one color homogenized through the whole iris, it was two distinct shades. Her eyes were basically deep blue, but there was a starburst of light blue right around the pupil. This had hypnotized Robin the night before. His big advance of the night had been to make direct eye contact with her. He told her, “You have beautiful eyes.” He meant it, of course, but it came off sounding like a line from a 1950’s musical. It had taken a supreme effort on Anne’s part to keep from laughing.

Anne finally finished talking to the teacher and Robin felt like a fool when he realized how he looked, standing in the empty doorway. Anne seemed very cool and they didn’t touch at all as he walked her to her next class. (Anne had her invisible layer of cotton on today.) They said maybe five words apiece to each other through the morning and they parted without letting their words betray an emotion.

Robin went back into his dorm room and dropped onto his bed for a little while just to think about Anne. He did a little homework and turned on the stereo and hummed along for a little while as he let himself drift away in feelings. Before he left for lunch, he decided that he was in love.

Back in 2017

This chapter brings back memories of the real “Robin” and “Anne,” but I’ll ignore that for now.

I was struck by John’s attitude about traveling with no money in light of the book I just finished reading, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I know, I’m about five years late to that party, but I was struck by how Cheryl felt free to hike the Pacific Crest Trail specifically because she was penniless — which is almost literally true as she hikes one long section with her last two pennies in her pocket. John Matthews in this chapter would clearly identify with Cheryl’s attitude toward money.

I also thought about a cultural shift that seemed to be taking place at this time. Like the characters in this novel, very few people I knew starting college in the early seventies had a careerist attitude toward their education (at least that they were willing to admit publicly). By the time we graduated, that seemed to be changing, and younger students spoke openly about career ambitions and some even majored in a subject called “Business Administration.” Those of us who started college in the early seventies identified with late sixties icons such as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate and his horror at moving into the lucrative plastics industry. Defining oneself by one’s career (especially one’s successful career) still seems like a nightmare scenario to me, probably largely because of the era in which I grew up. The best recent description of this attitude comes from the 2013 novel of a novelist most strongly associated with the early 1970s, Thomas Pynchon. In Bleeding Edge, a young New York private school student  is described by his grandmother this way: “They’re sending him to Collegiate. Where fuckin else. They want him seamlessly programmed on into Harvard, law school, Wall Street, the usual Manhattan death march. Not if his grandma can help it.” (p. 130 of the hardcover) Ever since reading that novel, I hear the words “Manhattan Death March” in my head at least once a week when dealing with certain people at work or on streets around New York. That’s one thing all good novels should aspire to do, give you a key word or phrase or frame that helps you describe your world.

 

Chapter 1.9 has now been retyped and posted (9/15/17).

 

Reading Myself In Exile (1.7)

What happens when the clichéd “novel left in a drawer” is exhumed and exposed to light? 

I’m finding out and sharing the results as I retype the manuscript of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon I retype them. The seventh chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one.

So, though I’m only about a quarter of the way through Exile, I can definitively answer the first question I asked myself when I started this process. The answer is yes. Yes, everyone should write a novel at 19 or 20 and then put it away for forty years before re-reading it. I’ll put this right up there with my advice to younger people to start contributing to a 401K as early in your working life as possible. However, now that we have computers, it’s important that the novel be printed on paper. The only thing we can be sure of is that whatever electronic media you use will be obsolete in forty years. Not only that, but there is something about a manuscript on paper that will always be more of a time capsule from your youth than a collection of digital bytes on a disk or a thumb drive sitting in a drawer or electrons saved up on a metaphorical “cloud” (or whatever they’re calling it in 2057).

7Trocadero-Bull-Fountain

John and Robin were both sitting by the side of the fountain when it started to open up. The first jets of water went up about thirty feet away from them and had sent a German family running. The jets about two feet away from the wall where they were sitting began to bubble and spit now. Robin stood up and made ready for his retreat.

Four jets of water shot up about twenty or thirty feet in the air right in front of them. Robin backed up onto the grass before the first jets of water hit the top of their projection. John just sat at the edge in a state of contentment as the cool water rained down on top of his head and shoulders. Smiling. He didn’t seem to notice that the wall was crowded a minute before and it was empty now. He was soaked within seconds and there were a couple of little kids who took a picture of this strange American in his wet denim.

The wall became crowded again as people attempted to walk along it without getting too wet. When they got to the spot where John was sitting, they just jumped over him or tried to run past. After two or three of them hit him with their sneakers, sandals, and bare feet, he decided that it was time to move. Robin’s self-consciousness returned as this soggy blue embarrassment started walking towards him. He had been enjoying some rest by just sitting quietly on the grass.

“Why don’t we go down there?” John’s confusion about the snake had left him totally. It was replaced by sheer enjoyment of the water. The fountain was terraced and the next level below them was the largest and most active. There were six large fountains which shot from the top level to the level below with the force of fire hoses and there were scores of smaller fountains pulsing water straight up and shooting towards the center at 45 degree angles from the sides.

Robin didn’t even get a chance to answer him. John was already sliding down the grassy slope that led to the large central terrace of the fountain. There were crowds of people getting wet by walking along the sidewalk adjacent to the fountain so John fit right in. (But it was absurd to just walk around and get wet from the spray blowing away from the fountain when one could jump in and really get soaked.)

No sooner did he think this, was John in the water. He was standing directly under the fountains. There were a couple of little kids in their underwear swimming at the other end of the pool, but he looked totally incongruous. A fountain for tourists surrounded by tour buses, across from the Eiffel Tower, with a fully dressed man playing in it.

John didn’t care about appearances. He was enjoying himself.

After he got tired of standing face up into the falling water, admiring rainbows of spray and hot sunlight, he started walking around. He tripped a couple of times on hidden pipes and plumbing and he laughed. That was all part of the fun.

“Come on down!” he barked at Robin over the sound of the water. “Come on down!”

Robin was isolated on the grassy slope and everyone seemed to know who the madman was yelling at. Robin tried his best to ignore him. He didn’t want to make a fool of himself in the water and he didn’t want to make a fool of himself by yelling back. A Japanese woman walked up to him, handed him a camera and asked him to take her picture in front of the fountain. He smiled at her after the picture was taken and he handed it back. He was trying to enjoy himself by just watching the people as John was frolicking in the water.

Every once in a while, John would realize that he was alone; he’d yell up to Robin, “Get the fuck down here! The water’s great!” John used the excuse of being in a foreign country to scream like nobody could understand him. The American tourists understood his words (if not his actions) perfectly. The only people who couldn’t understand his words were the Japanese and German tourists. French people avoided this area like the plague during August.

John lost interest in his friend when he didn’t get any response. He sat down underneath a row of fountains that shot out into the middle of the pool. (“Shit, this is just like a perpetual tube in an eight foot wave.”)

***

Camping at the shore with his troop was always one of the high points of the year for John. Especially this year; he had his life saving requirements filled so he got to sit out on Bryan’s surfboard and watch the other kids swim. He didn’t surf, but just sitting out on the board farther than anyone else gave him a feeling of power.

From where he sat he got a great view of the coast. He could see up to Carpinteria, the big public beach, and he could see one or two private homes in the haze towards the South. This particular stretch of shoreline was really isolated because the Southern Pacific tracks ran along a cliff that came very close to the water. The beach wasn’t good for commercial development because of it. (Thank God – the consensus among all who saw the empty strip of white sand and ungathered shells.) There were usually a few surfers and some campers here. Ten people in the water on one day, as there were on this day, punctuated a peak in the beach’s all-time popularity.

John was lying back on his board while watching seagulls drift in silent circles. While just floating and watching, he lost track of where he was as the swells slowly grew and pulled him in towards shore. He was eventually close enough for the white water of cresting wave to knock him off the board without any trouble.

“Wipe OUT!” Artie and Bryan had been bodysurfing, but they had stopped to make bets on how long John could stay afloat with the waves as big as they were. When John came up spitting salt, they were still laughing. John expected as much and he just paddled out to the accompaniment of their torments.

“Some surfer you are – Hey John, it’s good you have that life saving merit badge! You sure have to practice on yourself a lot.”

Their fun died down when John didn’t respond and they went back to their waves. The waves were large and even and they were getting decent rides with just about every attempt. Just as the two of them were standing up near the shore they heard John bellowing, “Artie, Dave, Bryan…a Seal!”

His friends didn’t see anything on the water, but John seemed convinced that he had seen a seal and they had no reason to doubt him. After all, it had been almost a year since the great snake sighting and for the moment they had all, including John, forgotten about that. John had been paddling around when he thought he heard a dog bark out beyond him in the ocean. He was staring to the spot where the noise had arisen when a seal popped out of the water. The original sight of this black shiny head right in front of him almost scared John off the board. He recovered quickly when he realized what he was looking at and he called his friends to come and see.

“Where is it?!” Artie yelled as loud as he could, but it was hard to hear over the sound of the waves breaking between them.

“A seal! I saw a seal.”

They had some trouble hearing what John was screaming about, but they saw the black head poking out of the foam where the waves were breaking for the first time. He was just playing in the waves like a kid.

“We see him!” they yelled back, pointing at the spot in the waves.

John could see two of them now. One was still about ten or twenty feet from his board and the other one was off to his left and closer to shore. He tried to remain as still as he could so the seal would come closer, but it didn’t. The seal seemed curious too, but its curiosity was tempered by a strong sense of self-preservation. A lot of these humans would rather watch California sea lions swim around in a circular zoo tank that frolic in their own oil-slickened home.

The seals disappeared as fast as they had appeared. John spent awhile scanning the horizon and the beach, spinning the board and his body in slow circles, but they had vanished without a trace. Strange. It was starting to get cool, so he decided to come in. He paddled on his knees like he’d seen scores of surfers do it and he attempted to stand up when the wave behind him looked high enough. He fell. He slid down into the churning backwash as the unwaxed board shot towards the clouds like a runaway bar of soap. Bryan laughed. Bryan was the only one in the troop who knew how to surf at all; he had been promising John a lesson for a long time.

Bryan cursed when he saw the black spots of oil all over the bottom of the board, which washed to shore long before John swam in. John was just laughing. “You guys look like leopards or something.”

Their feet and legs did look funny. They were all covered with black spots from the oil that had been on the water most of the summer. John still sported some light stains, residue from an earlier trip to the shore, but he didn’t have any fresh spots because he’d spent all afternoon sitting on Bryan’s board.

“Hey Matthews.” John was on his way into the tent when he heard his name. “Hey Matthews!”

“What do you want, Bryant?” John didn’t like anyone calling him by his last name. It reminded him of gym class regimentation.

“What did you do, shit in your pants?”

John was wearing a pair of Levi cut-offs that were practically bleached white, but now they were light brown in the rear. He had been sitting for so long that the oil had found a way to seep in. It was John’s turn to curse now. These were his favorite shorts. It takes at least two years of sun and salt and careful creative deterioration to get them just the right shade.

***

John had been sitting under these jets of water for a few minutes now. Surely some of the spectators and Robin must have been doubting whether he was even still alive. Instead of sliding out from under the fountains, he stood straight up and the force of the direct burst from the water jets made him stumble for a second. He was also surprised by what he saw, or didn’t see. There was no one left sitting on the grass around the fountain.

He couldn’t understand why everyone had left until he heard the scream of a whistle not ten feet to his left and saw a gendarme attached to the noise just out of reach of the fountain’s spray. The gendarme leaned slightly toward John, still avoiding the light, rainbow-filled mist, and pointed up to a concrete sidewalk from which  everyone was watching as he yelled something totally incomprehensible in French. John took a couple of leaps over fountains and stray pipes and scrambled up the other side of the fountain. While the gendarme was running around the fountain to catch him, John climbed up a slick grassy hill and into a little park.

The gendarme finally stopped on the other side of the fountain amid shrieks of unrestrained laughter. Everyone was living out their contempt for the policeman’s authority vicariously through the vehicle of the soggy strong body making its escape cleanly through the trees. By the time the laughter died, John was relaxing, leaning back on a park bench, attempting to light a short, unfiltered Gauloise. He bummed it from an American with a backpack who was resting on the well-manicured lawn. John’s last few Marlboros were wet and worthless.

“Why’re you so wet?” the stranger asked.

This was a logical question for anyone to ask since John couldn’t even light a cigarette without the water from his hair dripping and snuffing out the match.

“Ah, I was just playing in the fountain down there when some policeman came along and told me to get out, so I ran up here.” He was still trying to light his cigarette as the drips put out a third match.

“Here, let me light that for you. I have to pay for matches around here.”

“You’re kidding?”

“No, it’s like an extra fifteen or twenty centimes for a little box of matches.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Robin came slowly up the hill after about ten minutes and found John talking and puffing on his second cigarette.

“Hey Rob,” John still had a laugh in his voice from the escapade down by the fountain, “this is Mary.”

“Marie,” she corrected, drawing out the last syllable.

“Marie just loaned me a couple of cigarettes…Marie, this is Rob. We just met today too.”

Robin had met thousands of people like her in parks and trains during his trip. He rarely initiated the contact like John though. John would talk to anyone. Robin talked to this new acquaintance for a little while because the contact had already been made. He found out that Marie was from Portland, Maine, so they talked for a couple of minutes about the beauty of the Maine coast. Robin said about all he could dig up about that and they fell silent.

“Look, a gendarme!” Robin was pointing down the hill to a short thin man in a little round hat.

“So what?” John asked as the gendarme came closer and grew in size.

“So you stand out like a sore thumb. Water’s dripping off you and streaming all the way down the hill.” Robin looked truly worried. “I had no trouble finding you; you left a clear trail.”

“If they were after me they would’ve come up that hill a long time ago.”

Robin felt a lump rise in his throat as the gendarme veered off the main path and started walking towards their bench. He said something in their direction. He repeated it and Robin picked up something about the lawn being forbidden.

“Marie, I think he wants you to get off the grass,” he smiled stiffly.

“Oh..OK,” she said absently as she got her pack in order and stood up. The gendarme walked away self-contentedly as she stepped over a little strand of wire which protected the lawn symbolically at a height of four inches. It was an effective barrier for most people.

John and Marie laughed like kids all over the world laugh at police. Robin was still scared.

***

The beach at Rincon is great while the tide is coming in  or coming out. While the tide is coming in the waves can be large and the surfers and bodysurfers flock to the water like lemmings. When the tide is low there are many totally exposed rocks with all sorts of treasures on them. The outsides of the rocks are covered with all kinds of barnacles and oil and these soft black things that squirt a stream of water if you press them with your finger. John didn’t know what they were called and his friends didn’t know their name either. John didn’t even know if they were plants or animals. Not even his scoutmaster could tell him that much. The ocean is strange in some ways. And this was the ocean life of the surface; imagine what it must be like in the middle. Strange. It made John shiver in the warm sun.

The little pools between the rocks were filled with water. Sometimes you could look down and see starfish and hermit crabs. Once in a while someone would catch a hermit crab to watch it run along the rocks and sand. John just like staring down into the pools. The seagulls always circled overhead at low tide too. They scavenged among the rocks and they circled over the fishermen and their buckets full of bait and fish. Three or four of the white and black birds were squawking and jumping and chasing each other as they examined a small sand shark which some fisherman had hooked and left lying next to the rocks where John was sitting. He truly felt peaceful here today.

Bryan was sitting on his surfboard playing lifeguard now, and John could see Dave and Artie throwing a football around in the water. They tried to get him to go out with them, but he just felt like sitting still sometimes. His friends didn’t try too hard to figure him out, they just accepted him. Good friends. Over by their orange and white parachute tent (it was a real parachute that they found in the desert on a camping trip at Edwards Air Force Base), John B. and Paul and a couple of others were starting a fire to cook their dinner. The night before they had eaten sandburgers; John was hoping that they’d come up with something better than that.

He saw John B. get up from the rock that he was sitting on next to the fire. Everyone added the “B.” behind John B.’s name because he joined the troop a year after John. Some kids called him Little John too. He grabbed a stick from the wood pile and started walking over towards the rock where John was sitting.

“Hey Little John. What’s up?”

“Nothin’ much. Figured I’d go crab huntin’.” John B. was young, but his family had a house near Malibu and he knew a lot about the beach.

“You mean hermit crabs?”

“No, the real ones. The ones in the cracks.”

John hadn’t even thought about real crabs. The only crabs he ever saw were the hermit crabs in the rock pools and the sand crabs that everyone would dig up between waves. John B. looked down into a few cracks and finally stuck his stick down into one. Within a few minutes of probing, he drew up a real pink crab with real pink crab pinchers. The crab was small compared to the crabs that John used to see in the tank at the butcher shop near his house, but he didn’t care. There was a qualitative difference which overshadowed the quantitative difference of size. Like the way in which the emotional value of discovering a small diamond in the rough overshadows the emotional value of a collector adding a perfectly cut ten carat gem to his stockpile. There’s always something special about seeing something in its natural setting. It was the same thing with the seals. John was just beginning to become engrossed in the movements of the crab’s legs and the ferocity with which it attacked the stick when John B. started running back to the campsite with it.

“Where’re you going?!” John yelled.

John B. yelled something about following, so John jumped off the rock. He didn’t realize that the tide had been rising while he was perched there so he landed right in the middle of a small wave with his sneakers on. He didn’t feel like getting them caked with sand, so he stopped to take them off before running up the beach after the crab. By the time he got back to the camp, he saw John B. holding a frying pan over the fire. Everyone was laughing. They had the live crab in the pan and it was trying to get out of the heat.

LAUGHING!

John was speechless for a second, then he kicked John B.’s hand as hard as he could. It wasn’t a heroic kick. It wasn’t the way that John Wayne would kick the gun out of a cattle rustler’s hand. It was like a dream where you can never run or hit as hard as you need to. There is always a force holding you back. John was so full of rage and frustrated compassion for the life in the pan that he had tried to put all his weight behind the kick. He almost missed entirely, but he managed to hit the knuckle of John B.’s index finger with his heel and the pan dropped down onto the sand.

John B. screamed as John ran over and picked up the pan with the crab trapped underneath. He thought the crab was dead, but it ran with a burst of speed towards the water. John watched it as it tried to climb a rock and died painfully. John shook. The laughers were quiet. The sun sinking into the water seemed symbolic.

(“Why can’t humans leave things alone and simply be content to watch and observe. Everything was fine when I was just sitting on the rock looking at things.”)

The scoutmaster said that Little John had broken a finger and he had to be driven home. John wished he could have broken an arm.

***

“Why didn’t you come into the fountain with me before?”

John and Robin were alone on their waterlogged bench now. Their new-found friend Marie kept on walking after the gendarme told her to get off the grass. She was out to see all of Europe in two and a half weeks; she had to keep moving.

“I didn’t come in ’cause I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.”

“You can’t always be worried about that. Besides, you’ll never even see these people again. I didn’t do them any harm. If anything, I helped them enjoy their vacations a little more. I even added a little excitement to that policeman’s boring rounds.”

“I don’t know,” Robin said as his voice trailed off and partially swallowed the last word. The words didn’t mean anything. It’s just what he said when he started feeling a little depressed. He was feeling depressed now because he felt that this friend, like many others, had the ability to have fun and feel good and he, Robin, didn’t.

John read his feelings. “Look, having a good time is nothing to get upset about. I just try to keep a very simple attitude towards it. Someone, I don’t know who, once said something like, ‘Live today for tomorrow we die.’ You don’t know who said that, do you?”

Robin’s head shook negatively.

“But that’s so true. I try to live that way but it sometimes seems impossible to succeed. It’s hard. Just try not to worry about what other people think of you. Live for yourself.”

“No. I can’t. I guess I just think too deeply about things.” Robin let a whine slip into his voice whenever he had a conversation like this.

John got angry at such open displays of self-pity. “Cut it out. If you have one problem it’s that you don’t think deeply enough. If you did, you’d see that other people’s opinions are shaping your existence. You can’t possibly have a good time until you develop some peace of mind about yourself. When you start living on your own and you realize the harmlessness of scorns and laughter then you’ll start thinking and learning, not before.”

Robin was brooding silently now. John was silent too. He was hoping that his words would sink in. He knew he wasn’t the perfect one to give advice. If he could accept the opinions of other as harmless, he would’ve told Robin his secret. But no, Robin would never believe about the snake and he’d close his eyes completely to these ideas. The contradiction in his approach occurred to John as they sat quietly. Wasn’t he an “other” expressing his opinions about Robin’s actions. The contradiction was crystal clear in his mind, but he didn’t brood over his infringements of the regulations of logic any more than he regretted his breach of municipal regulations regarding the presence of swimmers in public fountains.

Robin wasn’t thinking about what John had said. He was feeling sorry for himself. He always knew that he didn’t have the ability to enjoy himself around girls and now he was being told that his one skill, his learning ability praised by professors far and wide, was not real or complete. (ANNE!), his mind screamed. (anne anne anne), it soothed and repeated. Laying fertile soil for his depression. He switched his depression from its true roots in this conversation with John to the accepted and oft-repeated excuse, his lack of sexual success with Anne and his reticence in risking failure in anything with anyone. He considered this silent self-pity thinking (his very deepest thinking) but he wasn’t exercising his mind at all. He was working hard to reinforce old emotions.

***

John woke up staring at yards of orange and white silk above his head. He was surprised at first, because he expected to be in his bed at home. The whole tent had an unreal atmosphere. The parachute was translucent in the early morning filtered sunlight and the floor was no more than white sand with bright orange, blue, red, and green nylon bags scattered around. Most of the bags had sleeping boy heads sticking out of them. John rolled over to look out the triangular hole cut in front of the tent and he only saw white. The white of the sand underneath his bag blended easily with the white fog outside. Half asleep, he felt like he was floating. Fog was all he could see through the hole in the top too. He liked lying in his warm nylon bag and surveying this whole surreal view. The only things outside which broke softly through the whiteness were the outline of Bryan’s light blue surfboard and the sound of the waves.

No one had spoken to John after he broke John B.’s finger the night before. He hadn’t said he was sorry. He didn’t feel sorry then and he didn’t feel sorry now. He didn’t like to lie in bed just thinking about things like this, and the sand between the nylon and his naked skin was annoying, so he got up to walk along the beach.

 

Back in 2017

“Write what you know” is, along with “show, don’t tell,” one of the hoariest clichés given to young writers; I didn’t take any writing courses and I don’t remember reading about writing before typing  this manuscript for the first time in 1976 (I think I thought the only training a writer needed was reading broadly), but it seems that I did try to follow that advice in this chapter. I did spend time in the Trocadero fountains in the summer of 1975 and sitting on a surfboard off Rincon in 1967 or 1968. Reading and retyping this chapter brought back memories of both.

At a time when seal populations have rebounded on the California coast to the point where they are considered nuisances in some harbors and some beaches, it’s hard to imagine the thrill of the boys on the beach to see a seal in the surf, but this was four years before the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and I was that kid sitting on a surfboard at Rincon. I remember the thrill of seeing that head popping up next to me and barking like a dog.  I don’t know what the oil situation on California beaches is now, but in the summers of 1967 and 1968, my feet  and bathing suits were always covered with black spots from tar and oil after swims in the Pacific. I can’t tie the incident with the crab to a specific incident  witnessing or confronting animal cruelty when I was in the scouts, but it is so emotionally upsetting to me that it feels like something very similar must have happened and was blocked in my memory (strangely, I didn’t remember this fictional version either until I read it again tonight).

And Robin? Lovesick depressed and repressed Robin in Paris? That was me too. That kid I remember all too well, and he still embarrasses me.

 

  Chapter 1.8 has just been retyped and posted (9/13/17).

 

 

 

 

Radio for Writers with Patti Smith

Devotion 1On this weekend where all the television and radio media seems to be centered around Hurricane Irma currently blasting Florida, I just listened to Tom Ashbrook’s  interview with Patti Smith about the book I’m currently reading, her Devotion.

If you’re a writer, or a fan of Patti’s, or just looking for a Sunday evening break from hurricanes and football, I’d highly recommend the episode of WBUR’s ‘On Point’ that you can listen to by clicking here.

Reading Myself in Exile (1.6)

What happens when the clichéd “novel left in a drawer” is exhumed and exposed to light? IMG_6110

I’m finding out and sharing the results as I retype the manuscript of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon I retype them. The sixth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one.

6

They were walking around underneath the tower now. John had been afraid to cross the river before, because he wasn’t sure what would happen to him. Would he be like those other people and fade back into the human reality when he crossed the bridge, or would he stay in the snake’s world and fade out of Robin’s. Thinking back, he should have done it. If he had stayed in the human world, he wouldn’t have lost anything. The snake had left anyway. But if he had faded out and entered the snake’s world, that would’ve shocked Robin out of his self-assurance for good.

John never regretted his actions. He tried to do what seemed right at the time, and at that time he just didn’t want to lose sight of the snake.

John was as unimpressed by the tower as he thought he would be. He described it to Robin as a “patently phallic ego trip for M. Eiffel.”

“Huh?”

“Well, how’d you like to become famous simply for fulfilling your fantasies with a larger than life Erector set?”

Robin didn’t listen much to his friend’s ravings now. He’d been listening to them all day and they were grating on his ears and nerves. John even complained about the little pond they were sitting next to. Robin loved this place. He liked dropping his feet into the water and scaring the goldfish deeper into the dark water in the shadow of the tower. He liked watching the crowds of people here and he thought that John would too.

All of a sudden, people, especially crowds of people, seemed superfluous to John because he had just glimpsed that world where they didn’t exist at all. Besides that, they were all gathered together to gawk at a monument that really shouldn’t be important in anybody’s world. Rob and John stayed at the pond for a little while because they were both hot and tired from walking and they were both wearing long sleeved shirts. John took off his light denim cowboy shirt to expose beads of sweat which clung to the hairs on his chest and glistened in the bright sunlight as he lay his back on the lawn.

Robin was wearing a worn red flannel shirt. Its utilitarian aspects were lost – became ridiculous – as he perspired in record-breaking Parisian temperatures. But he kept it on and kept on staring at the fish and the girls on the other side of the pond. One of them looked a lot like Anne.

***

“Superficiality” was the word which Robin used in association with the “good time” he had during the previous night’s partying. They celebrated the first days of the fall semester, but their parties didn’t necessarily need excuses. Robin experienced a strong emotional dose of directionless drifting and confusion as he awoke and looked over towards his snoring roommate. The stale smoky film between them seemed symbolic of their distance and mutual ignorance of each other’s feelings. A pretense of closeness was kept up as his roommate Paul awoke and they laughed and talked about parties, music, girls. Robin was even amenable to the idea of smoking a joint before they left for lunch at the cafeteria. Getting drunk and high at times like this was okay for Robin but his studies came first when school was in full swing.

Paul was brilliant. His entrance exams proved that to Robin. He just didn’t care about school and grades and getting into a good graduate program like Robin. He used school as an excuse for having a good time away from home.

Rob thought about more than school too. All through his freshman year and the following summer, he hadn’t thought of much except for Joan. He wasn’t really in love with her. He was in love with the idea of having a girlfriend though, and Joan became the focus of that idea. She was nice and she was always around so she was the logical choice. Everything was a logical choice.

After she gave him her initial refusal, he bothered her all the time just to prove that his “love was true.” After a year of this, he convinced himself that he really must have loved Joan; he was hoping that he’d see her at lunch before he left for the library. He wanted to use his free day to read some journal articles and get a jump on an early political science paper.

“Hey Rob, look at that girl in the yellow!”

Paul had been pretty drowsy from the combination of smoking and just waking up, but he had turned around just in time to see the shortest skirt he’d seen in years. (You just don’t see stuff like this anymore since girls started wearing pants, he said to himself.) Robin turned around too.

“No! The other side,” trying to hold his voice down, but not masking his excitement. Paul let out a suppressed scream.

Robin didn’t see her before she turned around the corner, but he received an excited description of how her skirt wasn’t even long enough to cover the back of her panties. He was glad. Not seeing the girl in yellow didn’t upset him too much; she would have just been frustrating anyway. He was glad that his friends hadn’t changed. He wasn’t sure if he enjoyed this girl watching. However, he was glad that he was starting to think about girls without thinking about Joan.

“Rob, it’s quarter to one. I hafta get to class.”

“Okay, but wait a second. I’ll go out with you because I want to visit the library.”

They walked outside just as it was starting to rain with power. Robin was cursing to himself because his long thick hair stayed wet for hours. He didn’t feel any pressure to work as he entered the library; there were still three weeks standing between him and his first due date. Instead of reading he decided to talk to a girl he saw browsing through the journals near Le Disque Vert and Dissent. She wasn’t a stranger.

He had spoken to her once at a party during the previous spring semester – he had sent her a postcard from the White Mountains over the summer.

Her name was Anne Jenkins.

***

“Do you surf?” Robin just noticed John’s tan and the sun-bleached whiteness of the hair which always marked surfers.

“Yeah.” John was still lying back into the sun with his eyes shut. “That’s usually one of the first questions people ask when they meet me. I’m surprised it took you so long. If I have a conversation with someone and they don’t bring up the possibility that I’m either a lifeguard or a surfer, I’m caught off guard…like a friend not responding when you greet them.”

“What?”

“Huh?”

“Just that thing about the friend not responding. The meaning of that slipped past me.”

“Nothing. I was just babbling…I am enjoying this sun though.”

“Yeah. It’s nice as long as you stand still, but I couldn’t take walking much longer. Someone in the hostel was telling me that this is very unusual weather for Paris. It’s usually not hot all day and night like this.”

“I miss the Pacific already and I was just surfing three days ago. That seems hard to believe now. I’d go swimming in here if this pond was a little cleaner.” John propped himself up on his elbows to look around and the sun blinded him at first because his eyes had been closed for so long. “When does that fountain start going?”

“At Trocadero?”

“That’s the one across the river?”

“Yeah, I think it starts at three.”

“What time is is now?” John asked as his fingers pulled absently at the lawn.

Robin looked at his watch, but he had forgotten to wind it and it only said one o’clock. His strong sense of time told him that that was wrong, so he asked the girl a few yards to his left, “Quelle heure est-il?”

“Are you an American?” she replied sweetly.

“Yes, do you know what time it is?”

“Yes, it’s 2:30.”

There was a guy sitting right next to John with a large-faced skin-diver’s watch on a giant leather band, but Robin had been watching this girl for the last fifteen minutes or so, and he just needed an excuse to start talking. He exhausted all his stock fellow-tourists-in-a-foreign-country questions with expected results. “Where in the U.S. are you from?” “How do you like Europe?” (“She has a sweet Southern accent and a mind of cream cheese.”) “Oh, Europe is so cute!” (“How can a continent be ‘cute’?”)

Robin agreed quickly when John suggested that they start over towards the fountain. The girl by the pond congratulated herself on the effect of her answers. They walked back past the vendors selling their silver and gold colored tin Eiffel Towers with the cardboard-backed thermometers glued onto them. John hadn’t noticed them or the hundreds of tour buses before. He had still been fairly disoriented when they first arrived at the tower. As they were walking across the bridge, they could see that the fountains hadn’t started yet, and Robin was explaining the sequence that it would start with.

“The fountains in the back start up first and all the people sitting along the edge start getting wet. Last time I was here you should have heard these people screaming.” He was distracted for a moment as he bent over to pet a stray cocker spaniel walking around on the bridge’s spacious sidewalk.

It took him a few long steps to catch up with John. John was being accosted by a little Italian guy with a Polaroid camera and a black leather jacket. His hair shone like his jacket.

“For you girlfrien’. Send to you girlfriend.” He continued saying the same thing over and over again as he waved the developing picture in his hand. He must’ve seen the look of disgust in John’s eyes. Even Robin saw it right away. Robin expected John to hit the guy, but he controlled himself as they kept on walking towards the fountain.

While they were standing at a red traffic light, the picture’s sixty second pregnancy ended and the photographer ripped off the black covering to expose a badly tilted picture of John with the Eiffel Tower in the background. John didn’t say anything as the green light released him and the sea of churning metal parted. He didn’t say anything – his eyes spoke and spat.

“For you girlfrien’?”

***

Rain water still dripped lightly onto Robin’s shoulders as he crossed the library to speak with Anne. “Remember me?” he asked softly as he approached.

“Hi. It’s Robin, right?” Anne answered as she lifted her attention from an old bound volume of journals. She had been interested in an article, but she didn’t find the distraction unpleasant.

“Good, you remembered.” Robin smiled. The effects of smoking a little before lunch had relaxed him and he found it extremely easy and pleasant to talk with Anne.

She was very responsive. She had been carried away by questions raised indirectly by the article in her hands and she welcomed the chance to share some thoughts with someone. After dispensing with some social niceties (she thanked him for his postcard from the mountains – “That was very sweet” – they spoke of a common friend – they discovered that they had been placed in the same recitation for a lecture course in  modern German philosophy), they walked out into the sunlight which was beginning to break through the remnants of rainclouds over University Square.

Their conversation made very smooth transitions from one idea to another. The smoothness was largely due to the fact that Anne’s thoughts were flowing actively and Robin’s relaxed state allowed him to act as a soundboard and get lost in the vibrations of her enthusiasm. The passing mention of their common philosophy class led Anne toward thoughts of Kant, Fichte, Hegel and dialectics which she tried to apply to her own life and thoughts.

“Are you a philosophy major?” she asked.

“No, history. Why?”

“I just didn’t want to offend you. I was going to say that I can’t identify with most of my fellow majors because of their inability to reconcile their lives with the philosophies they study. I mean, what you think has to be reflected in who you are or it means nothing. Y’know…Don’t you think so?”

“Yeah.” (She’s beautiful and intelligent, he thought.)

“I mean when you mentioned that German philosophy class I automatically thought of my vague notions of Hegelian dialectics of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. The first thing which popped into my mind were some examples of that formula in my own life.”

“All I really know about Hegel is that his dialectic was used in historical interpretations by Marx and the Young Hegelians.”

“That’s exactly what I mean about my fellow philosophy majors. They can study how others applied ideas to their own needs but they don’t see ideas as personally relevant to themselves… I think I’m a little different. A theory of dialectics didn’t excite me in its essence and force me into a tedious wading through of the Phenomenology and The Logic…When I hear of an idea I try to use it as a spark to spur deeper thoughts. I find this much better than having ideas proven by others in long treatises. I did search for the existence of this idea in my own experience and I think I found it.

“It seems obvious in my own life. I went from being very political – I mean I was concerned about the war and sit-ins and elections and all kinds of mass concerns of groups and parties and enemies and allies at the expense of individuals and my self.” She held one palm opened towards the sky as if to support her thesis as she continued talking. She raised the other hand and mimicked the motions of a balance scale approaching equilibrium as she presented an antithesis. “It might have been the end of the war or just the state of my own mind, but I became totally apolitical in the last year or so. I mean, my only concern was for philosophy as a tool for escape and in my own personal well-being through love or simple hedonism.

“That left me feeling pretty empty after a fairly short time and now…” Pause. She folded her hands. Robin stifled a yawn, remained quiet and waited for her to finish. “I see myself approaching a synthesis where I am political, but in the broader sense of the word – politics as it relates to all my interpersonal concerns, on a mass level on in a one to one relationship. Never losing sight of individuals.”

“One example of a conflict in your own life doesn’t prove the existence of a philosophical pattern in the universe though. Does it?” He tried to act like a participant in the discussion which was basically a stage for Anne’s ideas. (“She must really like me,” he thought as he hid a smile. “She’s talking to me about her personal problems and she hardly knows me. She’s similar to me too. Taking part in anti-war protests.”) Only their similarities stood out in Robin’s mind. Robin, however, had yet to question his political commitments as Anne had. (“She’s so pretty and she dresses a lot like me too in her soft, faded jeans and plaid shirt.”)

Robin missed Anne’s answer to his last question as his thoughts had carried him away. Her beauty and intelligence (in that order) weighed heavily on his mind as he sat and eventually stopped following Anne’s train of thought. “She is very intelligent,” he thought to himself. But to his subjective mind, she did not seem to think as deeply as he did. Her subjective judgements told her the same thing. “He seems intelligent but I do wish he could follow my thoughts when I try to explain these things.”

Robin’s first reading of Anne’s eyes before this library meeting had been mistaken. He had stared at the wide blue lakes which seemed as thin as contact lenses on their thick almond pads. Everything about them – especially their large size and their light hue – gave the impression of an open, trusting person. (“Eyes that could love.” Robin often spoke the words slowly and quietly as he fell asleep beside memories and fantasies.) He never thought of her eyes as intelligent eyes before this day. He believed metaphors. Like the metaphor which tells us that wisdom and knowledge are “deep.” Eyes of an intelligent person then, had to be small, deep-set and inky – piercing to the very marrow of mind and thoughts – enabling direct communication between sensation and inspiration. At times, Robin wished that his own eyes would develop these characteristics. He wished at times that the brown of his eyes would simply darken and retreat into itself, making their size smaller along with their change in color. Such a change would necessarily add to his intelligence and give his eyes a mysterious sexual magnetism which he could use at will without saying a word.

He couldn’t read anything in his own eyes and face as they were. He imagined that this was simply a case of self-ignorance and that others were able to draw a clear and objectively valid picture from his features. Although he loaded his face with conscious symbols like his hair and untrimmed beard, his eyes and facial lines left few clues for those who cared to look any further. Robin himself usually stopped at the symbols when he gazed into mirrors.

 

Back in 2017

A word about the year 1975 in political history. In France I remember seeing graffiti attacking ‘Franco Assassin’ (whose fascist regime in Spain would end with his death later that year) on walls, and bumper stickers with the Socialist red rose and anti-nuclear-energy slogans on cars, but for young Americans it was the first full year of the Ford Administration. After the world we grew up in, with its constant fights over LBJ and Nixon’s Vietnam War, we (meaning the characters in this novel as well as other college students) were finally freed from an obsession with politics. It reminds me that now, in the constant political firestorm of the early Trump years, there is a hope that politics will once again, sometime in the future, be boring again. It’s something to look forward to.

I don’t know what to blame for the stereotypes still recurring in this chapter (the southern girl with “a mind of cream cheese”  or the small slicked-back Italian photographer): The year in which it was written?  The age of the author? Or the author’s prejudices? On the other hand, after the dueling “mansplaining” going on between Robin and John earlier in the book, it’s good to see that Anne Jenkins can also hold her own in that area when talking about philosophy (although having every major character with pedantic characteristics may be saying more about the author than any of characters, male or female).

Finally, at the risk of repeating myself, I’m still grimacing at some of the word choices and language and grammar here, but I’m following my rule not to change a single comma, or change a single “which” to a “that” as I retype this manuscript.

 

Chapter 1.7 has now (9/11/17) been retyped and posted and can be read by clicking here.