Category Archives: Writing

Reading Myself in Exile (3.4 & 3.5) — THE END

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

I have been finding out and sharing the results as I rekeyed the only typewritten copy of my 1970’s novel Exile, posting chapters in serial form as soon as I got them onto a computer. The final chapters — the twenty-first and twenty-second —  follow, but click here to begin with chapter one. Unlike all the other installments, I’m not going to follow the end of the book with a postscript. However, I would love to hear comments from any readers who may have read all the way through.

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4

Artie’s face was cleaner than usual. John used to kid him about the grease stains which always covered him from working on his van. His brow was often wrinkled in thought and worry, but tonight it was as smooth and placid as a beauty queen’s ass. His week’s growth of brown mountain beard was gone too.

“That’s not Art.” John’s words were choked, not spoken, as he fought back tears. “That’s not Artie!” his voice became louder with each breath.

Artie was exposed from the shoulders up in a mahogany casket with silver handles which his parents had paid dearly for. Flowers were everywhere. Flowers – red flowers, dark wood, and a wax model of Artie’s face were the only images that crossed John’s mind that night. And Artie’s mother – that woman was so strong. She tried so hard not to cry, but talking with John they both broke down and shared their sorrows in a communion of tears.

John didn’t cry when he first heard the news. He hopped into his roommate’s Volkswagen and started driving down to San Diego without saying a word to anyone. Two days after their trip, Kathy had called and cried over the phone, “Artie was killed in an accident with an oil truck along the coast. His van was totaled…” John didn’t hear much after that. His mind was exploding with thoughts and images. Images of his past, present, and future bled together at the announcement of the death. The broken bloody wing of a screaming seagull he had found at the beach…snakes, grey wooden crucifixes and the blood and tears of a red-haired friend, Chris – Chris Salmatone – he hadn’t thought of that go-kart accident in years. He experienced sharp images of a cousin he hardly knew who was filled with dirt and shrapnel at Khe Sanh – images of metal replacing blood and flesh. He felt sick. He expected Artie to reflect these images. He was surprised to see a wax face. No terror, no death, no life, just make-up. His mind focused on everything except the simple fact that Artie was dead. Artie was dead.

John saw an oil truck on his way down the coast and he wished that his car was a little bigger so he could send himself and the truck up in a burst of flame. That’d be the perfect revenge. He wouldn’t even mind spending a good portion of his life in jail if he could blow up an oil refinery and cause some executive to choke on his filet mignon at the thought of lost profits.

John saw an oil truck on the way down the coast and he broke into tears at the thought of Artie’s body becoming one with the van and engine that he loved so much. He pulled off onto the shoulder and leaned his head up against the horn until a highway patrolman pulled up and asked, “What’s the problem?”

“The problem is that the best friend I had in this whole fuckin’ world just got his guts smashed against a steering wheel, you pig!”

John was hoping he’d get arrested. Anything – anything to relieve the feelings of helplessness and loss.

The patrolman didn’t oblige him. He saw the red eyes and cheeks glistening with tears and he felt the same helplessness. The power of the dead. What could he say? “Don’t lean on your horn. You’re disturbing the peace.”?

He just drove away.

***

Tears still streaked John’s nose and cheeks as Artie’s face faded from his mind’s eye. The fat Italian woman sitting across from his wasn’t staring anymore. She was making a conscious effort to avoid all eye contact with him, as though his sadness was contagious. The other passengers all politely hid their eyes too as he glanced around the compartment. Their opinions didn’t matter. There was only one other person’s opinion that mattered to John. That person was dead. A thought crept into his consciousness which must have been known somewhere for a long time. Every day since Artie’s death was leading to this day. Fragments of Stalden and the snake and Artie popped into his dreams almost every night.

Every night he found himself sitting in front of the same wooden shed as he watched the same snake pull itself up and over the same ridge and start its descent down towards him. He always awoke at that point. Robin awoke him from his dream that morning in Paris. (Was that the same day? It seemed like years had passed.) He was mad at Robin for awakening him even though it wasn’t his fault. Like Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” his dream was destined to remain unfinished until today. He wasn’t even sure that this trip would be so special when he first spent his four hundred dollars to fly over. The day before had convinced him. The fact that Robin had been there to give him directions to the place of his dreams and that he had actually caught a glimpse of the snake for the first time since Artie’s death had cancelled all his doubts about the reality of his dreams.

He didn’t know how to occupy his mind in the time before he got to Stalden. So many images had been flashing through his mind and now it was blank – the calm before the storm. He looked around the compartment again and caught a couple of people casting surreptitious glances at him. They were waiting for him to break down in tears again. He wished he could just sleep and fall into his dream. He was too wound up for that. They zipped past an isolated switchman in his glass booth and John kept his eyes outside. He was aware of the stares on his back and head. He was tired all of a sudden. His joints felt stiff and his eyes were tired of staring and moving along with every object outside his window. He let the world fade into a blur for the short ride left to Brig.

The train pulled into Brig about 6:30 and feelings of déjà vu and confusion overpowered him. He walked straight over to the ticket window and bought a ticket to Stalden (“Yes, I want to go to Stalden, not Zermatt.”), so he wouldn’t miss his train and be left sitting in the train station longer than he had planned on. The station wasn’t only familiar because he had been there with Artie three years earlier. The people were familiar too.

This was the beginning of his dream.

He saw the same people standing and sitting in the same places every night. It was almost laughable after a little while. He knew exactly when certain people would get up from their benches to go relieve themselves. He could even predict when the lady to his right in the yellow skirt would sneeze. The whole moment became much too intense and John was glad when his train pulled into the station on time. He got in through the door that he always got in and he sat down next to the man with the rucksack and the knee-length pants whom he was destined to sit next to.

John found his tiredness gone as he anticipated the end of his dream. There could be no doubt left in his mind that he was going to meet the snake again as his dream unfolded before his eyes. He predicted when the conductor would push open the sliding door in front of him and ask for his ticket. He knew that a little boy would bounce through the same door and trip and fall and call for his mother. He would’ve liked to have been able to stop the fall, but he felt like a spectator in a theatre, watching a movie he already knew by heart. Stopping the boy’s fall was as possible as changing the course of the tornado which took Dorothy and Toto toward their adventures. He was awestruck by everything as the train continued. In one supreme effort, he managed to say, “Gesundheit,” right before the man sitting next to him sneezed. John expected the man to be amazed. He didn’t even seem to notice.

When the train stopped in Stalden, John was the only one who got off. He walked down a flight of stairs leading to the men’s room under the train station and took his sole hit of windowpane acid, because that was what the moment called on him to do. This feeling of living out a dream was a good one. He didn’t feel a stitch of apprehension about tripping alone in a strange place. His memory told him how to follow the road up to the high bridge above the town. He would hike down through the woods to a lower, small wooden bridge, below the level of the town but still high above a rocky Alpine stream. He made it to the lower bridge without much trouble even though the effects of the LSD were confusing him a little. He sat down on some stones in front of an old grey wooden shed with some old grey wooden crosses and crucifixes tacked onto it. Although it was almost nine p.m., the air seemed alive with pale blue energy. The town faded as the night progressed; the pale blue sky didn’t fade at all. John knew that when the town, including the shacks behind him, faded almost completely, he would be able to look out over his right shoulder and see the snake coming over the hills and down across a high green slope. The snake was there at the appointed time and place and he started inching down towards John. This is where the dream was usually interrupted.

John didn’t wake up.

The clarity of the scene made John feel as if he’d been looking at the world through the imperceptible haze of an organdy curtain for his whole life. There was no haze now. The sky was pulsing neon blue, and the green underneath the snake was exactly the same intensity. A razor-thin line at the top of the hills separated the two colors surgically. The snake itself moved slowly and steadily towards John. As it drew nearer, John could see blood pulsing past the snake’s anointed, translucent – almost transparent – scales and fragile skeleton. The blood was pumped quickly and precisely through large streams and thin liquid arabesques. The snake’s breathing made John apprehensive. Every time the snake exhaled, the whole world pulsed and John felt his own chest and abdomen expand.

The snake pulled itself alongside John. It stopped moving and only its shallow breathing and steady blood flow broke the stillness and silence of the countryside. John was waiting for the climactic moment of his voyage – of his life – and he was left with no more than a feeling of uneasy stillness. Almost for a lack of anything better to do with his hands, John reached up and touched the glowing white underbelly of the snake. The circle was completed in the paroxysm of emotion which followed that contact. His first sensation was unexplainable. For that fraction of a moment, he could’ve sown that he was touching Caroline’s soft breast or thigh, and then his mind exploded. He relived all the exuberance of this life in the moments that followed. The smell of salt water and Sue and Kathy and musical labyrinths pulsing before his eyes…His body expanding with the ecstasy of a fulfilled phallus before being thrust against the snake’s soft scales. Women, waves, friends and mountains filled his mind, and through it all was Artie’s face – not a wax face, but a windburnt, unshaven smile. A spontaneous burst of laughter split the air and the vision was gone.

John’s mind spun as he found himself in the dark, facing the fading glow of a snake and the sound of a rushing stream. He had found the snake of Eden. He fell back onto some rocks and burning vines. His back cracked against a shed and an old wooden crucifix cracked and dug into his shoulder. He couldn’t let the moment end. He’d give anything to make it last. That must be an idle thought which crosses many minds during moments of ecstasy; John wasn’t satisfied with just the thought. One question crossed his mind twice as the bright sky faded into crepuscular hues. “If a simple distortion of my senses has brought me this far, what will their destruction bring?” Before his impulsiveness allowed him to think any deeper, he had thrust himself through the glaring residue of the snake suspended before him. He found himself hanging high in the air above a dark, swift Alpine stream. He experienced a flash of regret which manifested itself as a scream.

The scream awoke a few people of Stalden. Some people rolled over and incorporated the scream into their nightmares.

John felt cold as his body stiffened with pain against the rocks and gleaming whiteness of the shallow stream. The pain left his body as quickly as it had entered along with his life blood.

 

 

5

Robin awoke much like every morning. He arrived at the railroad station in Geneva 45 minutes before his train was scheduled to leave for Zermatt and the Matterhorn. He wrote a little bit in his journal about the fireworks show he saw the night before and how he was looking forward to seeing the Alps. He thought a little bit about his uneventful visit with Anne before the train pulled in. He tried to sleep during most of the trip to Brig. He opened his eyes a few times to catch glimpses of Lake Geneva or the Valaisian Alps.

BRIG – he read the town name on the railroad station sign as he disembarked, looking for his connection to Zermatt.  Brig – a name, a name that had never entered his mind until today. Today he repeated it over and over as he rode in the train so he could make sure that he wouldn’t miss it (imagine the embarrassment that would cause). “Anne” was another name he often repeated. Anne..Anne, the name often repeating itself beyond his control. What did he know of her? A 5’4″, 110 lb. body he fantasized about. Body topped with an Irish nose, hypnotic star blue sapphire eyes and a long trail of light brown hair which blew soft and full forever in a romantic wind which was seen – never felt. (anneanne.) Robin Jackson was his name. He had no part in its selection. It was the name of a small bird followed by the name of a town in Mississippi. Black college students had been murdered by police in that town in Mississippi on the same day that thousands of Asians were being bombed by the U.S. Air Force and four white students were killed by part-time soldiers in Ohio. Robin’s high school went on strike in support of those white students. Robin, a freshman then, had participated and invoked his parents scorn – arguing with them about parallels to the Boston Massacre and the First American Revolution.

He was excited by his memories as he boarded the train which would take him to Zermatt. The small, red private railroad cars were crowded with tourists as they inched their way up through the mountain pass. The snake was lying on its favorite ridge, totally oblivious to the surrounding world. A drooling baby on her way to see the Matterhorn looked up towards the ridge and wailed. “Was ist los?” the baby’s mother asked in a soft voice as she gingerly felt the child’s crotch. It took the baby close to five minutes to quiet down, even with the help of a pacifier and a mother’s gentle comforting.

Robin glanced to the same ridge (he had been told what to look for), but he was blinded by the sun.blinded by the sun

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Reading Myself in Exile (3.3)

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 rekey the only typewritten copy of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon as I get them onto a computer. The twentieth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one. This is the third chapter in Part Three.

nearing the end of ExileOne of the major advantages of books on paper over books on screen is that the reader always has a physical sense of how close she or he is to the end of the story. The photo above shows you where you will stand after you finish reading chapter 3.3; there will only be two short chapters to go. When I began retyping chapter 1.1 at the end of August, I really didn’t know if I would make it to the end of this process or if I would lose interest a few chapters in. I cannot tell you how much I’ve enjoyed remeeting a 19-year-old novelist working 42 years ago, and I hope that a few other readers have been enjoying this journey too.

3

John woke up alone and pulled the zipper tight around his neck. It took a little courage to finally expose his naked body to the cold air and get dressed. He started a fire right away and lit a cigarette in the flames. He hadn’t brought enough matches for five days either. He warmed up fast after he pulled on his long underwear and jumped around a little. John sensed the ceiling above him creaking rhythmically again. Artie climbed downstairs after about fifteen minutes and found John engaged in watching the flames jumping and licking around the split logs.

“I promised to fix breakfast for Kathy,” Artie said with a spring in his voice.

“Okey-dokey.” John mimicked Artie’s mood as his broke his pyromaniacal trance.

“How’d you sleep down here?”

“Fine. I slept and dreamt soundly.”

“What’d you dream about?”

“Nothing too unusual. I think I was with Sue, or maybe someone else, on some kind of slick metal that was tilted at a 45 degree angle. We just kept on slipping and sliding all over each other. We didn’t really do or say anything. I think that the snake was in it too, but I’m not really sure how he fit in.”

They paused for a few long seconds. John lit another cigarette. Artie started mixing some powdered eggs as he prepared to speak.

“Y’know, I’ve been thinking a lot about that snake and I don’t see how it can be real. I mean we were tripping when we were up in the Alps. We can’t be held responsible for what we thought we saw there.”

“There’s a simple reason why you don’t believe in the snake right now. It’s because of Kathy. I’ve only been able to see the snake when my connections to this reality were at their lowest. I saw the snake during the summer after my breakup with Caroline and I saw it last summer in Stalden right after my breakup with Sue. Everyone uses something to anchor their view of reality on. For some people it’s their job or money and for others it’s their home and family. For me it was just a girl and a little sex which kept my mind bound to this world.

“I have a feeling that my mind has never been too tightly bound. It took intense attachments to other people to keep my mind from looking beyond its blinders. When those attachments broke, so did the straps which were binding my mind.”

Artie listened intently, but he didn’t answer. John saw his worry – his worry that both he and John were going out of their wretched little minds.

John tried to sooth his anxiety. “What we’re going through is too real to be limited to just you and me. I think that this knowledge must be pretty widespread and people are just afraid to admit it. They’re like us. Alone and fearful of their knowledge…Only society calls it madness.”

The mention of madness didn’t sooth any anxieties.

“You explained why you saw the snake. Why did I see it last summer?”

“I think acid must be a catalyst for the mind to throw off some of its restrictions. Don’t worry about why you saw it – okay – just be glad you did. I don’t know why I saw the snake when we were in boy scouts either. It drove me crazy at the time, but I’ve accepted it totally now. There are certain things you just have to have faith in.”

“Now you sound like my mother trying to drag me to church,” Artie laughed.

“I’m not even that far out. I’m not telling you to believe what’s printed in a little black book which is only given validity through tradition. I’m just asking you to accept what you’ve seen with your own eyes. You saw it. You can never deny that to yourself.”

“But how come…um, y’know?”

“How come not everyone can see it?” John asked after divining Artie’s thoughts.

“Yeah.”

“That’s probably the question that bothers me the most, but I think it all has to do with the relativity of sizes. I’d guess that we’re about the same size in relation to the snake as ants are to us. If ants were constantly aware of a human presence they’d probably live their lives in a constant fear of being stepped on. Their ignorance is their only defense. When a human steps on one of their anthills and kills a few of them they can call it an act of God. Humans have the same defense – the same ignorance against things as large as the snake, or the universe. Once you get started thinking about this relativity of sizes, the snake seems tame. I mean, did you ever stop to think that the model of an atom is very close to the model of our solar system. Maybe our galaxy is a molecule of water in some unbelievably gigantic world and that everything we call a molecule is a galaxy in some other universe. Then you can picture a chain of larger and larger and smaller and smaller universes stretching out infinitely. Why not? Human science will never have the tools to prove it right or wrong. The human mind has to be stretched close to its breaking point to acknowledge anything larger than itself. Some drugs can help us with that.”

John very seldom spoke for so long, but little ideas which had been left unexpressed for a long time kept on popping into his head. “Maybe the narrowness of our minds prevents us from sensing small things too. I heard once that schizophrenics can feel insects crawling around under their skin…Remember that really good acid we had in Europe?”

“How could I forget?”

“Yeah, well I’ve also heard that LSD can simulate schizophrenia, so I shut off all the lights in my dorm room and just took a hit to feel the bugs crawling around under my skin. It didn’t work, because my visual hallucinations were too strong. Y’know, but the point is that I don’t live my life in fear of going crazy. If I’m afraid of anything, it’s just that I’m missing something.”

Artie didn’t answer. He didn’t know how to answer. He wasn’t really sure about what he thought. He finished cooking the scrambled eggs and pretended to give them all his attention. “Do you want some of these, John?” Artie asked while rubbing his ankles together and yawning. “I have to take a serving up for Kathy. I promised to serve her breakfast in bed.”

“I’m coming down!” Kathy yelled.

“Well get you cute little ass shaking before your eggs get cold!” John yelled back. His monologue didn’t upset him half as much as it seemed to upset Artie. The ideas weren’t new to him.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve to talk to me like that,” Kathy said as she lowered herself down the ladder drowsily. “Aw, that fire’s nice,” she purred, looking to Artie.

The glow in her cheeks from the fire and her soft voice, lowered an octave by sleep, definitely turned John on. He was willing to let her continue talking just so he could appreciate the timbre of her voice. “What were you two guys talking about so early in the morning? Especially you John? Your voice was going non-stop,” she asked with a yawn.

“We were talking about giant snakes and bugs under the skin.”

“That’s horrible,” she laughed.

Artie experienced a moment of anxiety as he thought that Kathy might believe what she had just been told. Letting your girlfriend know that you’re on the road to insanity isn’t exactly the best way to keep her love. He saw from her genuine resonant laugh that she had accepted what had been said as one of those funny little remarks which John often made. John often made statement which people mistook for jokes, but he couldn’t remember ever telling a lie to one of his friends.

John wished at that moment that he could speak seriously with Kathy too (with the whole world!). His inability to see others (especially women) as equal participants in his thoughts was one fault which he often reproached himself for.

“Well, if you lady and gentleman will excuse me,” John ventured with mock propriety, “I’d like to step outside and take a piss.”

John laced up his boots, stepped outside, and Artie made a smart remark about Niagara Falls.

That day in the mountains was fun. They built a snowman, they had a snowball fight, John continued with his flirting, they walked a little higher to a couple of summits for the view, they ate lunch and dinner, Art and Kathy made love and fell asleep with a glow, John stayed awake with thought for an hour or so and then he fell into a shallow sleep where he dreamed nothing but disconnected, disturbing images. There was one thing missing from the routine of his day. Besides being how on food and matches, they didn’t have any drugs. John had been to the Berkeley apartment of his local supplier, Hubbard, two days before the trip.

“Boys,” Hubbard had announced solemnly to John and his roommate, “there have been times in the past when it has been dry, but that only meant it was expensive. When I tell you that it is dry today, I’m telling you that there is no acid in Northern California. I haven’t even seen a full ounce of marijuana in three days.”

The gloom that had fallen over them was similar to the gloom that funeral parlors work so hard to cultivate. Silence.

 

John had become so embroiled in the details of his memories that he almost totally forgot that he was on a train between Geneva and the Alps. A fat, serious-faced Italian woman had taken the place of Amy Beth Wilkinson directly across from him. He acknowledged her stares by smiling in her direction. He wondered for a second where his eyes had been focused when his mind had left the train. He really didn’t want to return to his memories. He already knew their conclusion. He searched for distractions both inside and outside the train, but none were sufficient. They passed a glass booth along the side of the tracks with a switchman sitting inside. The switchman had his back to the passing trains as he watched rows of dials and red and green lights lined up on a dull grey metal console. John thought about the switchman’s isolation from the world, and even from the trains that he was guiding. He tried to elaborate on his basic thoughts, but he couldn’t. He had to follow his memories and his voyage to their intertwined conclusions.

 

John went back to his normal habit of staying in bed late after his second night in the mountains. He found himself trapped in a stage between dream and consciousness. His mind was filled with abstract, disturbed dream fragments and splices of the conversation which Artie and Kathy seemed to be having in the same room. They became so confused in his mind that the dream and conversation ceased to have identities of their own, becoming indistinguishable. Opening his eyes and facing his friends helped to relieve the confusion. He sighed as his mind stopped spinning.

“Good morning, sleepy head,” Kathy teased.

“And a fine good morning to you too, me lady,” John remarked in a poor imitation Irish brogue. “And would it please me lady to turn her fair ‘ead so I could remove me humble naked body from this lowly sleeping bag?”

“No,” Kathy dared.

“Okay!” John snapped before she had a chance to change her mind. With a quick zip and rush of adrenaline he was up and out of his bag to the accompaniment of Artie’s metallic laughter and Kathy’s delighted embarrassment.

Out of propriety (her mother’s favorite word), Kathy turned her had with a slight smile on her lips as John got dressed.

“Well, what did you two have for breakfast this morning?” John asked hungrily as he pulled his belt tighter around his waist.

“Nothing yet.”

“Good, that’s what I was hoping to hear…Well, I’ll fix some pancakes and then I’ll walk down to town for more food.”

Pancakes were John’s specialty. He cooked and ate them well. They didn’t have any imported city water left, so John walked out into the crisp air under a pale blue morning sky and scraped up a couple of quarts of snow for melting. He came back in shaking snow off his bare feet. (“You’re crazy!” Kathy yelled when she saw the pink feet now getting covered with dirt from the cabin floor. “You are out of your friggin’ mind.”) He melted the snow, mixed up the pancake batter, and ate heartily while wishing that Kathy wasn’t his friend’s girlfriend.

After breakfast, they all went outside to bid John farewell and good luck on his trip down the hill with his empty pack. Before he was out of sight, he slipped on the snow and ice with his thick, slick-soled work boots and cracked his ass against a rock. He brushed the snow off carefully before he started slipping again on the steep path.

“Get back here, you mother!” Artie called.

“Who, me?” John called back as he slipped purposely and flung himself backwards into a small pine tree with a toothy smile on his face.

“Fuckin’ clown,” Artie laughed quietly as he went to take John’s pack and walk down the hill. To John, “I don’t see you making fun of my new boots now.”

“Sorry about this, buddy,” John said sincerely as he started walking back up to the cabin on the sides of this boots.

“Hey John,” Artie yelled. “I’ll eat lunch down in town, so you two can fix some of that soup that’s in my pack.”

“Okay!…Sorry about sending your boyfriend away,” John apologized to Kathy, “but he…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kathy interrupted, aware of John’s eyes on her thick red hair. “Is that thing all right?” she asked teasingly as she patted and then grabbed John’s ass.

John was going to answer. He was going to stand up for his friend and say, “We shouldn’t be acting like this. You belong to Artie.” He didn’t – the invitation flashed by her eyes showed that she didn’t “belong” to anyone. Society says it’s wrong to make love to your best friend’s girl. He even heard that line in some of his favorite songs. (He found it easier to listen to just the music.) He did make love with Kathy, but simply because it was what felt right at the moment. Their common friend and any other third parties didn’t enter into the relationship at all (he told himself).

John envied Artie’s will power. LSD wasn’t a god to him like it was to John. He took it when he thought he’d benefit from it, but it never became a habit. He didn’t give in to habits. John saw his own passions becoming habits. Girls had been a passion for him. He let Caroline become a habit when he was in junior high and it took a conversation with Artie before he realized what type of box he was sealing himself into. He let his passion for Sue turn into a habit during his first year at U.C. and she broke it off. He only found himself squeezed into Kathy’s sleeping bag now because of a habit. He really couldn’t decide whether his passion for acid was becoming a habit or not. Acid didn’t have Sue’s strength. It wouldn’t warn John of his overzealousness. Feelings of envy for Artie welled up again in John’s mind. Artie was the only person whom John ever experienced any envy towards. He wouldn’t tell Artie that either. He almost wished that Artie hadn’t made that run to town for food and matches. If he had gone instead, he wouldn’t have had this opportunity to surrender to his passions for Kathy’s flesh.

John smiled as she continued to massage his side with her soft thigh. He was surprised that he had been completely unaware of her touch for a few moments. His passions always diminished a little, and sometimes even came into question, after they had been spent so completely. Kathy removed his passions as well as anyone.

John never regretted his actions.

Nothing was asked and nothing was said about what went on while Artie was gone. Even if John had said, “We balled our fuckin’ asses off,” no one would have believed him. The rest of their stay was nice but uneventful. After a couple of more days, they all piled into Artie’s blue and white Ford van and drove off through the rainy lowlands. John was dropped off at Berkeley, Kathy was dropped off at her parents’ house in Canoga Park, and Artie headed back toward his job at the San Diego Post Office.

 

Back in 2017

The line about Artie and John going out of “their wretched little minds” reminded me of a book and an author I hadn’t thought of in years, if not decades, another in that long list of required readings in the psychedelic age, psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise; the famous line I was alluding to was “If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know.”  I think I read The Politics of Experience either just before or while I writing this book and Laing wrote a lot more about madness and normality (and society’s unquestioned views  of the concepts of “madness” and “normality”) that informs my understanding of and sympathy for John Matthews. I’d be curious to know if some readers have simply been dismissing John and his visions as “crazy” or labeling him with more professional terminology from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

On a minor point, I have to say that I’m still wincing at my repeated use of ‘which’ to introduce restrictive clauses in these chapters (they seem to be proliferating), but I’m still following my cardinal rule to retype without editing at all, even some of the stranger comma placements and spellings.

 

The final short chapters (3.4 & 3.5) have just been posted here on November 9, 2017.

 

 

Reading Myself in Exile (3.2)

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 rekey the only typewritten copy of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon as I get them onto a computer. The nineteenth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one. This is the second chapter in Part Three.

chapter 3.2

2

“Hello…Are you still there?”

Amy Beth had finally realized that John wasn’t listening to a word she was saying.

“Yes,” John answered mechanically.

Amy Beth was satisfied as she began droning again. Nobody ever paid very close attention to her, so even an obviously mechanical reply was enough to satisfy her. “…best friend back in Indiana. Her name is Judy – Judy Ann Peyser. We call her Jap. She’s not Japanese or a Jewish American Princess. We don’t have any Japs or Jews in my school. Those are just her initials: J-A-P. Get it? Jap’s a senior at Tumbling Orchards too. She beat me out for the head cheerleader position. Our cheerleaders are…”

John found her voice slightly less monotonous than the train’s rumblings. But the train’s rumblings didn’t demand answers. He listened to what she was saying for a few sentences as he though of the poor fool who’d marry her. Someone would definitely marry her for her tits and clear complexion alone. People who have become conditioned well enough to become cheerleaders and football stars in high school usually don’t think twice about taking a “normal” step like marriage. Amy’s husband might not realize what he’d done until many years later when he began to fade sexually and her doll face became wrinkled.

Amy Beth and Robin were alike in many ways although Robin would never accept that opinion no matter how it was backed with arguments. Amy Beth wanted to be a fashion model and a wife and have an important place in the social life of her community. Robin wanted to be a historian and a husband (his secret emphasis was on the latter) and he worked hard for both. Robin would have come right out and said, “But I’m better than a fashion model!” John really saw very little difference. “Amy’s using her body,” John thought to himself, “to the exclusion of her mind to reach her goals, and Rob’s ignoring his body in favor of his mind. Neither one of them realizes that they’re connected. Both of them are trapped in society’s view of men and women.” John was able to sense his own enslavement to boundaries and limits. When thinking or speaking of himself, he always tried to use the word “limits” in conjunction with the word “natural.” He wondered who he was trying to fool.

The view from the train window caught John’s interest. Grape fields down below him stretched out in long straight rows towards a calm, mirror-surfaced lake and the mountains high above the opposite shore. The other people in the compartment were also silent. They all seemed intimidated, or amazed, by Amy Beth’s loquacity. John stopped scanning the horizon and he let his eyes drift down towards the patched knees of his jeans and his dark brown, scuffed work boots. He had had those things for years. The boot soles were already worn smooth when he went hiking with Artie and Kathy in the Sierras. That was two or three years earlier. He smiled at how well his boots had held up and he promised himself that his next pair would be exactly the same.

 

The dog in the cabin greeted John with a snap at the shins. John responded by punching him softly in the snout with a snow covered glove. They were even.

“How are you?” John called out to the man sitting next to the fireplace. Even with the fire, the cabin was still extremely dark. John’s pupils were pinpoints from the effect of the bright snow outside. It took his eyes about five or ten minutes to adjust totally.

When his eyes did begin to adjust, he could see that the man in the corner must’ve been in his late forties or early fifties. He had about a week’s growth of grey and black bristles shooting straight out from his chin and cheeks – framing a friendly, yellow-toothed smile.

“Fine, buddy,” he replied warmly to John’s question. “And don’t let ol’ Rex bother you. He’s just a ol’ watch dog. Army took all the goodness out of ‘im and they let him when they figured he’s too bushed to fight for ’em…Damn bastards did the same to me.”

John liked listening to men and women with stories to tell. People he met in the mountains always seemed to have more than their proper share of things to talk about. Rex’s owner told how both he and Rex fought together in the big war (WWII) and the Korean War. John didn’t mention that Rex would have to be over thirty years old if he fought in World War II. He listened to details of how Rex cleared German bunkers with one frightful growl and snap of his teeth. The man’s eyes glistened and his tear ducts swelled when he told how Rex sniffed out a friend killed by the North Koreans. It didn’t matter that the stories weren’t true. They were real, and that was more than enough.

“I’m not boring you, am I son?” Rex’s owner inquired.

“No, not at all,” John answered although he was yawning. “I’m just tired; I got up at 5:00 this morning.”

“Hikin’ alone?”

“No. I have two slowpoke friends out in the snow somewhere.”

“And you’re the fast one?”

“Well, I do okay.”

Now that John’s eyes were adjusted to the light in the room, he could see an old wooden shelf near the ceiling crowded with rusted blue Maxwell House cans with worn adhesive tape labels, “First Aid, Sugar, Salt, Matches.” There was only one windowpane which wasn’t broken and patched with cardboard. John had to squint through the dust, cracks and cobwebs before he could make out the faint outlines of trees on the other side of the glass. The blinding whiteness of the sky and ground didn’t help the visibility at all. There was a staircase, actually more of a ladder, leading up to a trap door in the ceiling.

“What’s up there?” John asked, “The sleeping loft?”

“Yep.”

“Have you been staying here?”

“Yep…me and my army buddy.” He pulled Rex’s massive head up onto his knee and patted it affectionately with his thick calloused hand. “We’re leaving now though. I was just about to put on my parka and put out the fire. We’d like to get down before it gets dark and before this snow gets too deep.”

“Well, you can leave the fire going. My friends and I are gonna stay here.” John already had his jacket and gloves off and hanging on a beam. “Don’t worry about getting lost in the snow though. It will all change to rain after you hike about two miles down.”

“No shit?”

“No shit,” John assured him with a grin.

“Weather in these hills is the damndest thing. It’s been snowing here on and off for three days straight,” Rex’s owner explained as he squeezed a rucksack over his fur-hooded parka and headed for the door. “See you around boy.”

“It was good talking to you…Hey! If you see a couple fucking around along the side of the trail, tell ’em to get their asses in gear. They have all my food in their packs,” John called out behind him.

The old man didn’t answer, but he chuckled silently to himself and playfully brushed the fur on his dog’s head against the grain.

John stayed outside for a little while to pick up more fuel for the fire. The air was too penetratingly cold to make him shiver. His arms and hands were numb and snow covered as he hopped back into the cabin and slammed the door behind him. He dropped the wood down onto the rocks in front of the fire with a clatter and shivered violently. The shiver brought his body back into harmony with the temperature inside the cabin. After rubbing the snow off his hands and warming them by the fire, he reached down into the bottom of his pack and pulled out an ice cold, key of C harmonica. He was tinkering with some simple blues progressions with his thick grey socks propped up before the fire when Artie and Kathy opened the door.

“It’s about time,” John said in greeting.

“Hi.”

“Hi, John,” they answered. They both squinted into the dark room. “That is you, isn’t it?” The only part of John which was immediately visible were the feet propped up in front of the fire.

“What took you so long?”

“These boots are killing me,” Artie answered. “I guess I didn’t break them in well enough.”

“That’s what you get for buying those fifty dollar status symbols. I’ve had these work boots for a year and a half now. Their soles may be a little smooth, but my feet are comfortable.”

John pointed to the books sitting on the floor beside him. Artie couldn’t see them; they blended perfectly with the deep brown hue of the whole room.

“And how about you, honey?” John looked towards Kathy silhouetted against the fresh white snow on the other side of the doorway. “Why are you so quiet?” Her newly adjusted eyes barely managed to discern the wink which accompanied the words.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “Well…except I do have to use a bathroom.”

John let out a partially restrained laugh. “Well, unless there’s a toilet up in that loft, you have your choice of using your pants or the nearest tree.”

John was glad to hear Artie breaking into spontaneous laughter.

Kathy just blushed and shivered, “In the snow?”

“Bears and bunny rabbits do it.”

“I was sort of expecting something like this.” Her blushing had ended. “But don’t you follow me,” she warned playfully as she set her pack down and walked outside.

“When they heard a waterfall on the other side of the cabin wall, Artie and John both found it impossible to keep their laughter inaudible.

“Cut it out!” a voice yelled louder than the flow of water.

They were still laughing when Kathy returned with her face doubly red from the combination of the cold and the embarrassment. “That wasn’t nice.”

“I’m sorry babe,” Artie apologized as he finished laughing.

“Yeah, me too,” John added. “When are we gonna eat?”

“I expected you to have dinner started when we got here,” Artie said.

John’s face took on its most serious expression of the day as he said, “I thought you brought all the food for this trip and I was bringing solid stuff like an axe and utensils.”

Artie raised his voice to assert himself again, “Didn’t I tell you when I called a couple of nights ago that I was going to bring all the food for three days and that you should bring it for the other two? No wonder you hiked so fast! You must have nothing but air in that pack of yours!”

Artie hadn’t told John to bring food. He had meant to, but he couldn’t stop talking about Kathy once he got on the phone. John wasn’t going to put his friend down now. Artie hadn’t been this happy since they were both kids.

“I’m sorry Art. I’ll hike down to the little town we passed – that can’t be more than five miles – tomorrow or the next day at the latest.”

“Well?” Artie was still a little excited about his own raised voice.

“C’mon pal, have I ever let you down?”

“No,” Artie answered with a tension-killing smile.

So, what are we eating tonight?” John inquired with his hands resting on an air-inflated stomach.

“Freeze-dried beef stroganoff,” Kathy answered.

“Ahhh, the boy scout’s delight. Did Artie ever tell you, honey, that we used to eat that on just about every hike just because it was so cheap and light?”

“No.”

“Well, we did,” he winked.

“So?” she asked innocently – waiting for an end to the story.

“So what? We ate it. There’s no story.”

“Oh.”

John wasn’t flirting with Kathy because he wanted to hurt Artie; that was the last thing he wanted to do. He only did it because women were a passion of his. They were a passion which had deteriorated into more of a habit since his break-up with Sue. He found himself trying to get into the pants of almost every beautiful girl he met. He found Kathy beautiful.

John and Artie pitched in and both cooked dinner while Kathy fooled around with John’s harmonica (she played much better; she knew half a dozen songs by heart). They were all too tired to do anything but sleep after dinner. They did have some short conversations as they sat around smoking and drinking coffee by the fireplace. Their longest conversation was about John’s old room at his parents’ house.

“Artie, doesn’t this sort of remind you of my room when we were in high school?”

“This cabin?” Artie seemed surprised by the question as he glanced quickly from the broken windows to the spiderwebs on the ceiling and then to the dirt floor.

“You had a room like this?” Kathy asked. “No wonder you ran away from home.”

“You guys have me all wrong. I’m not talking about particulars. This cabin just has that same color and feeling that I always tried to cultivate. Very dark and comfortable.”

“What did your room look like?” Kathy asked.

“It was locked when I left home for the last time. I guess Mom finally had to open it up when she sold the house. She must’ve found some grass and a little organic mesc that I left behind and wondered what all those things were on the walls – pictures from magazines mostly – just things that seemed nice, with no regard for order. The only thing that sticks clearly in my mind is this picture from Life of a girl in in a black one-piece bathing suit with the back cut halfway down her ass; she was right above my face when I slept.”

“Tell Kathy what else there was,” Artie said, then turning his face to Kathy. “We used to love partying in John’s room. Just so many things to look at when you were high and listening to the Dead and the Airplane.”

“A lot of day-glo psychedelics – normal stuff. Some haunting faces of bloodied photographers at Chicago. With that powerful emotion of impotent rage. Y’know, like when you want to kill the pig who just cracked your skull but he has the tools to stop you in your tracks. Those photographs were a more powerful response to the pigs than any return of violence or court action…”

Pause.

“I guess it all sort of confused and scared my mother when she finally opened that door.”

No one saw the yawns which interrupted John’s memories as impolite. They were felt mutually. Kathy and Artie climbed up into the sleeping loft and John rolled out his ground cloth and sleeping bag in front of the fire. The fire went out long before John fell asleep. He chuckled to himself as he watched the ceiling above him pulsing – pulsing with life. (“Two nice people,” John thought, filled with warm Christmas with family type feelings.) The down sleeping bag wrapped around his head and body kept John extremely warm. He even had to unzipper the bag a little to expose his entire face to the cool, fresh outside air. He enjoyed the warmth of the bag, but he couldn’t put up with the confinement and the smell of his own sweat and stale farts.

As John finally dozed off he didn’t fall into dream. He simply slipped out of his past and back into his present.

 

The train to Brig was a local and it stopped a lot more often than John would’ve liked. Every time they pulled into a station, John found his string of memories broken in order to look around the new station at the people on the platform.

Amy Beth had stopped her talking. That helped jolt John and his traveling companions out of their private reveries. They all looked at her as if they expected an explosion. She showed more strength and independence than John had given her credit for by simply picking herself up and getting off the train, just because the town they were passing interested her.

“What town is this?” she had asked.

“Montreux,” John had answered after being stunned by her fifteen second silence.

“It looks nice.”

“Yeah, it is. I stayed here once a few years ago. There’s an interesting château down by the lake. It served as the basis for one of Lord Byron’s poems. There are even some small palm trees down by the lake. Strange place.”

Amy just picked up her orange pack and climbed off. John smiled inwardly to himself when he realized how far off his judgments had been. The spontaneity which allowed her to make quick decisions was a quality which John valued highly.

The train started up again, but John had a little bit of trouble getting lost in its rhythms. The lack of Amy’s chattering was an obvious omission. Her voice was obviously still ringing in the minds of the other passengers too. They all looked shell shocked. John abandoned his eyes on the other side of the window. The mountains were much higher around Montreux than they were around Geneva. The lake and town and hillside grape fields all seemed more or less in harmony because of the late afternoon sun which was bathing them all in orange tints. Even a power station with large chimneys balanced on the slope of one of the mountains seemed to fit into the overall effect, because of its sheer magnitude and isolation.

 

Back in 2017

A few things as we approach the end of the manuscript. I have to say that I became a little unstuck in time (to borrow Billy Pilgrim’s words) as I retyped this chapter. I was listening to live Grateful Dead as I typed, specifically a June 22, 1976 show from the Tower Theater in Philly that I attended, and I was concentrating on the music when I got to the part about John and Artie listening to the Dead and Jefferson Airplane in John’s room in high school. I hadn’t remembered that mention of my favorite bands. I also hadn’t remembered the line “…he didn’t fall into dream. He simply slipped out of his past and back into his present” and the sense of John’s floating freely in both temporal directions, not just backward. It surprises me a little that there haven’t been more musical references in the book considering how central music was to me when I wrote it. Not only was I attending the aforementioned show at the Tower as I was writing this, but when I went to Europe in 1975 I carried two things, a green Kelty backpack and a chipboard guitar case containing my imitation Martin D-28 made by Nagoya. I was not and am not a great musician, but a guitar was and is a necessity for me and playing and singing is not a bad way to meet people in a new place. The only musician mentioned  here is Anne and her piano  (but as Flaubert and I have already established, “Anne Jenkins, c’est moi!”).

Two: I don’t like the idea that John and the author think of a guy in his late forties or early fifties as “old.”

Three: I’m glad John and the author realized the fact that they were wrong to stereotype Amy Beth Wilkinson.

 

Chapter 3.3 has now (November 7, 2017) been typed and posted here.

 

I’m my own sensitivity reader.

If you only have time to read one short piece about writing, editing, and publishing today, I’d like to recommend “The Problem with ‘Problematic'” by Francine Prose on The New York Review of Books‘ NYR Daily site. I had no idea until reading this that “sensitivity reading” had become a cottage industry starting at $250 per manuscript and that editors and reviewers and publishers and schools are on the lookout for any mention of characters from marginalized and/or diverse groups (especially in books by non-marginalized/diverse authors). There’s a sense that some in the industry are running scared in the face of criticism (or potential criticism).Moby Dick

In the novel from my youth that I’m in the process of serializing on this blog, I’m my own sensitivity reader and I’m finding my own “problematic” characters and situations without even searching. My description of the young woman introduced in Chapter 3.1 makes me cringe, but I’m following my own ground rules and leaving everything from my manuscript unchanged as a time capsule from 1975. At least I was aware of feminism then, even if I (or my characters) sometimes reflected the values of an earlier decade in practice.

This becomes even more problematic for books of earlier eras; Francine Prose mentions an anti-Semitic stereotype that disturbed her in Wharton’s The House of Mirth and continues, “Moby-Dick might not exist if a sensitivity reader had objected to Melville’s depiction of the indigenous Queequeg, silent, telling fortunes. It’s painful to imagine someone reading Huckleberry Finn and having only one thought: fuck your white savior narrative.”

At a time when we have an anti-literate government, should we readers really be so actively policing (and sometimes suppressing) the language of imaginative literature too?  Read Francine Prose’s piece; she spells out the problematic issues better than I can.

Reading Myself in Exile (3.1)

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 rekey the only typewritten copy of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon as I get them onto a computer. The eighteenth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one. This is the first chapter in Part Three (of three).

PART THREE

Je crois à la résolution future de ces deux états, en apparence si contradictoires, que sont le rêve et la réalité, en une sorte de réalité absolue, de surréalité, si l’on peut ainsi dire. C’est à sa conquête que je vais, certain de n’y pas parvenir mais trop insoucieux de ma mort pour ne pas supputer un peu les joies d’une telle possession.

– André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme

Exile 3.1 Breton Epigraph

1

“Your passport please?”

The French guard at the Geneva customs station was making a supreme, and somehow comical, effort to ask for John’s passport in English. John acknowledged the attempt by answering in French – “Voila.” – as he pulled his papers from a side pocket of his pack.

John wasn’t worried at all as he looked down the hallway lined with French and Swiss flags and customs agents. Robin was the one who was shaking. He was wishing that he didn’t have this knowledge about the LSD in John’s packframe. They drifted past the mundane searching faces of the customs agents without being stopped. John didn’t betray any worries, because he truly didn’t have any. Robin thought he was going to piss in his pants from fear. It wasn’t even fear for his own safety (or John’s). He just worried about everything that could possibly upset the predictability of his days.

“Why do you take risks like that?” Robin asked while flicking a drop of sweat from his moustache.

“Like what?”

“Like walking through customs with LSD on you,” Robin exclaimed half under his breath.

“You were the one taking the risk. You…”

“Me?”

“You were the one with beads of worried sweat on your brow. I’m a little surprised they didn’t tear your pack apart.”

“But they wouldn’t have found anything on me. They would’ve stuck you in jail for life. Why take the risk?…Isn’t acid sort of out of date anyway?”

“Out of date?”

“Well, nobody I know trips. I thought maybe it was just going out of style.”

“It isn’t a matter of date or style. That’s like, um..balling going out of style. It’s something that’s irreplaceable for me. It supplies me with a lot of feelings that I can only get in one way.”

“But sex is a biological necessity. I wouldn’t call LSD a basic requirement for life.” John didn’t answer Rob’s arguments, so Rob continued, “Right before I cam over here I was reading some stuff by Wilhelm Reich for a psychology course…y’know, he was a student of Freud’s and then he broke with Freud and some of his major ideas…”

John had read a little by Reich, but he just kept silent as they continued to walk through the station.

“Well Reich talks about sexual repression as a main problem of modern society. Lack of food and lack of sex can cause problems, but hallucinations just aren’t one of man’s necessities. A person can…” Robin rambled on while managing to drop three more impressive names in the process.

John kept his mouth closed as they walked. He found it a little funny for Robin – Robin – to be lecturing about sexual repression. He was one of its prime examples. They both stopped to change their traveler’s checks into Swiss francs before Robin called and asked Anne to pick him up at the station.

Anne arrived and John sat down to wait for the 4:14 train to Brig and eventually to the mountains and Stalden. He flirted with the idea of tripping before he even got on the train, but he started to think about Artie, and his willpower was bolstered. He had been trying to keep his mind off Artie for the last year or two, but Robin had brought back his memory. It was only one unimportant similarity they had. They both had the same habit of saying “what?” in the same tone of voice after every other sentence. Otherwise, they were very different. John had been thinking a lot about the trip that he and Artie had taken to Europe while on the train between Paris and Geneva. Now that he was just sitting and waiting with no distractions, his mind was wandering into the forbidden area of Artie’s death.

“Hello.”

A girl with long blond hair and a bright orange backpack sat down and greeted John in a cheerful, expressionless voice. Her face was pretty and equally as forgettable as her voice. She looked and sounded like a fashion model.

“Hi,” John replied. He was thankful for the distraction.

“Have you been in Geneva long?” the model asked.

“No, I’m just passing through on my way to the Alps.”

“Me too,” giggled the model. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“John. What’s yours?”

“Amy.”

She looked like an Amy.

“Amy Beth Wilkinson.”

She looked like an Amy Beth Wilkinson. John was trying not to laugh but he was finding it hard to take anything seriously.

“Where do you live? – California?! You’re from California? – Do you surf? – Oh my God, you’re kidding! – Have you ever seen any movie stars? – What do you do? – Oh, I’m from Indiana and I’m a senior in high school but I’m gonna go to charm school and become a model and move to New York or Los Angeles but I don’t know which. Do you think I have a chance. Most people think so and my mom says that I’m twice as pretty as the girls on the covers of Glamour or Seventeen. My parents gave me the money to take this trip to Europe. I’ve been here for a week and I’ll be here for a week more before I go back to my last year at TOHS. – Huh? – Oh, Tumbling Orchards High School…”

John did give in to his laughter as she began to sing the Tumbling Orchards fight song. He was one of those subversives in high school who didn’t even take his own football and basketball teams seriously.

Amy Beth was hoarse and smiling with an embarrassed look on her face as she stopped singing and began talking again. She didn’t stop talking as the train pulled into the station and they climbed on. The tempo of her voice didn’t slow and the tone didn’t change at all as they sat down in seats facing each other. Her voice became like the lapping of waves or the bouncing of the train. “…and my favorite subject is social studies. I like reading about wars and heroes. Did you go to college? – University of California? You must be smart! My sister when to the University of Chicago. My parents like her more than…”

She didn’t bore John, because he was finding it easy to answer her in monosyllables and ignore her altogether.

“Yes. – No. – Yes. – University of California…” John’s lack of concentration on his answers allowed his mind to wander once more.

 

John’s breath escaped in thick white clouds which seemed to hang motionless in the cold mountain air and falling ice water. John felt glad to be climbing a steep path. The cold air poured thickly and luxuriously down into his lungs. It’s always good to hike in the winter. In the summer, the hot, dusty air never comes as fast and smooth as you’d like it to. Summer air tends to stifle more than refresh. Even the cold rain couldn’t steal the pleasure of the air which John gulped gluttonously. (“With your diaphragms. Breathe down here. Breathe with your diaphragms,” as Mr. Black, his old scoutmaster, used to say. John didn’t appreciate hiking then.)

John looked up above the next couple of switchbacks in the trail and he saw snowflakes. He wasn’t sure at first, but he picked up his pace and after fifteen minutes he left all the rain behind him. He stopped at a wide point in the trail, hooked his thumbs into the hipstrap of his pack and threw his head back towards the sky. He loved the way that the snow looked black against the grey sky and white against the dark backdrop of rocks and pine trees. He decided to stop for a while to let his companions catch up. He sat down on a rock while removing his pack. He dug out his down jacket and a pair of gloves. His light sweatshirt kept him warm as long as he was walking, but he could feel the cold in his joints now that he was immobile.

“Breathe with your diaphragms, shitheads!” John bellowed as Artie and Kathy came panting around the corner of a switchback. John had enjoyed his short wait. He watched the snow starting to stick to the pine branches and needles as he just smoked and serenaded the clouds with a cappella acid rock.

“Unh…look at the snow,” panted Kathy.

Artie and John both laughed for no special reason. They definitely weren’t laughing at what Kathy said. As kids who were born and raised in Southern California, none of them had ever lost any of their amazement or curiosity when confronted with snow. The combination of the snow and his five-day vacation from school made John feel and act like a kid. He skipped up the trail far ahead of Artie and Kathy as if his legs and lungs never felt a strain. He ambushed them at every corner that had enough snow to make snowballs, and when it became deeper they began to have full-fledged battles. John won every fight out of sheer energy and playfulness even though he was outnumbered.

“Truce!” Artie screamed in the heat of battle. He stood up and started walking toward John as a snowball shattered against his chin and collar. “Come on. You’re acting like a kid. I have to talk to you about something.” Artie feigned annoyance partially to impress his girlfriend. John sensed it and laughed. Artie was glad to be the one with the girlfriend for a change. He enjoyed taunting John with the fact that he was “the one who’s gonna get laid on this trip.” He was risking the loss of his letter-sorting job with the Post Office to take this trip while John had his Thanksgiving vacation from U.C. and Kathy was taking a break from her freshman year at San Fernando Valley State. Artie met her there, at a party with old friends, back in September.

This was John and Artie’s first combined camping trip since their excursion through the Alps in August. John had talked him into taking time off from work for this trip and it hadn’t taken Artie very long to agree, despite the risk. Relatively, his job wasn’t that important.

“What did you want to talk about?” John asked as he threateningly molded another snowball in his grey-gloved hands.

“Do you think we should go on in this weather?”

“Huh?” John drew his whole face up into a look of mock confusion.

“Seriously…the snow’s falling pretty steady now and I don’t want to get stuck up here with just our tents and a propane stove for warmth.”

“I didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Just as he finished asking his question, Artie swung around and caught Kathy trying to stuff a snowball down behind his collar. Artie grabbed her by the ends of her long red Irish hair and she threw her arms around his waist and they kissed for two or three minutes. Aware of contrasts – freezing skins, warm mouths.

John answered as though nothing was going on between them. “You mean I didn’t tell you that there’s a hiker’s cabin at the end of this trail with a fireplace and old mattresses and shit? Someone at school told me that some French guy built four or five of them on his own in this part of the Sierras. Remember that…”

“What?” Artie gasped as he finally freed his mouth. He had only been half-listening to what John had been saying.

“I only mentioned that there’s a cabin at the end of this trail with…”

“You mean I’m fucking carrying eight pounds of tents and storm flys and poles and stakes for me and Kathy and you were planning on us staying in a fuckin’ cabin with a fireplace the whole time?”

“Yep,” concluded John. He had been speaking calmly throughout the entire time that Artie was losing his temper and control of his words.

The way that they spoke to each other always struck Kathy as funny for some reason. The sight of Artie yelling and John embarking on one of his matter-of-fact monologues simultaneously was enough to send her into hysterics.

John ignored the laughter and the echoes of the yelling as he continued, “Remember that cabin where we stopped in the French Alps, with the loft filled with mattresses and the room downstairs with the benches and fireplace?…Well, the one up here sounds like it’s pretty similar.”

Artie made a last attempt to assert himself against John. Not because of John (although John’s constant refusal to raise his voice did annoy him), but because he always felt this need to assert himself in front of “his” girl. Artie hadn’t been able to hold onto a girlfriend for more than a couple of weeks in the two years that separated him from high school. Sometimes John worried about him. Artie worried about himself a lot. There had been no reason for worry.

They all laughed after Artie’s final outburst. John laughed because he was happy for Artie. Kathy had been laughing at all of them all along. Artie was laughing because of the wet freckled face smiling up from his shoulder. The rain and snow on his skin camouflaged his tears of joy. He couldn’t remember being so happy as they began to hike again.

Kathy began to talk to both of them. “I’m so happy to be in the mountains. – I’ve never been in the Sierras before – never – How do you like school, John? – Me too. Valley State is boring. – Drop out? I don’t like it but I wouldn’t drop out…”

 

Kathy didn’t talk like that at all. Amy Beth Wilkinson did. Sometimes John’s memories blended with his present.

“I’m so happy to be in Europe. I’ve never been in Europe before – never – How did you like school?…” And so on. That was Amy Beth speaking.

Kathy wasn’t brainless by any means. She was intelligent and strong despite her love for Artie. She reminded John a lot of Sue. He hoped that Artie wouldn’t have to go through the same thing that he did.

A dog somewhere up the hill bayed through clouds and fresh snow. John barked ferociously and Kathy and Artie imitated him before breaking into hysterical laughter. Artie started laughing a second too late. John noticed right away and he thought that Kathy must’ve noticed too. (She didn’t. Their infatuation was still fresh enough to obscure things like that.) Artie thought that John’s dog noises were genuinely funny. He would have laughed spontaneously if he and John were alone, but he looked to Kathy first; he was only laughing because she was laughing. Artie was eager – much too eager – to avoid any mistakes. John sensed that Kathy was too independent to put up with games like that. He was right. She wouldn’t have put up with it for very long.

John became more tired from slowing down to their leisurely pace than from hiking at his own, so he sped up. “Meet you at the cabin,” he called back as he turned a switchback and faded into white. He could still hear them laughing and talking when he was two or three switchbacks ahead of them – glad he left them alone. John stopped in snow that was about three inches deep and kicked his old work boots against a fallen trunk. A thick cake of compressed wet snow fell off onto the ground. He stood and smiled and listened for a minute. He heard the dog bark far up the hill. He didn’t hear anything but the falling snow and an occasional gust of wind from down below, so he let loose his ridiculous dog imitation. “Rooof – roooof – arooooo… Rooof…Rooooof…Aroooooo…” He listened in the silence following his calls. No laughter. The voice from up above responded with a coyote-like howl and John just laughed inside his head.

The snow continued to fall almost silently and John felt a deep surge of satisfaction from leaving his footprints, and only his footprints, in the first snow to fall on this path at the beginning of a new winter. Every time he finished a long straight stretch of path, he stopped and turned back towards the row of tracks which exposed the brown and grey trail under a field of white. He became conscious of his breathing again. It was even deeper than before. He tried to feel the diaphragm that his scoutmaster used to talk about. He couldn’t. He concentrated on his breathing to the extent that he was able to synchronize it with his footsteps. Every time his right brown boot hit the snow, he could feel his throat, nose and imaginary diaphragm being soothed and recharged by gallons of cold air.

All of his senses became extremely sharp despite (or because of) the fact that the snow and the low clouds limited his field of vision to nothing. He became of a gradual brightening in the sky as the afternoon progressed. Every sound was amplified. The creaking of his packframe was the most prominent sound along with the rubbing of his jeans and the sound of his shoes striking hidden rocks. When he stopped and listened carefully, it wasn’t hard to hear the falling snow, especially the small piles of snow which fell from the pine branches to the ground. The occasional barking of the dog up ahead erased the more subtle sounds for a moment or two.

The falling snow became louder as John neared the timberline. The snow had changed texture too. The flakes were smaller and fell faster past the stunted, high-altitude pines. The snowflakes farther down were large and wet and they began to melt and lose their individuality as soon as they hit the ground. This new snow kept its form even as it lay on the ground. It had a sting to it when it hit John’s eye and nose too. John didn’t try to put this change in the snow into words, because it wasn’t that important to him. An eskimo from one of those tribes that John studied in anthropology would have made the distinction almost unconsciously. They have a separate word for each type of snow because they live with it for such a large part of the year. John found it intriguing that the mother tongue and society of a person could completely alter the way in which she or he looked at something as simple as snow (or as complex as snow, depending on the vantage point of your ethnocentricity). John became absorbed by his thoughts as he continued hiking. He saw, despite his visions, that he was still a captive of society – his society. He wasn’t aware of the falling snow or his creaking pack or even his exhausted legs as his mind stayed active.

Deep thoughts and introspection often seemed to flow more easily in direct proportion to the altitude. It was above these short trees that John first consciously thought of extremes in diagram form – as arrows pointing towards the same spot.

Exile 3.1 Diagram

His thoughts of the snow enabled him to provide labels for the arrows and the missing arc. If the missing arc was Beauty (not the beauty of this or the beauty of that, but Beauty), then the arrows could be seen as extreme complexity and extreme simplicity. Both awed John. Both shared the example of snow.

A pure white snow field could be seen as the representation of the One and the monism of the world’s (East and West) earliest (and best, in John’s mind) philosophical traditions. He was humbled by the fact that “I am all and all is I.” His words were awkward; they were no more awkward than the attempts of those old great minds to express the inexpressible simplicity of the Truth.

Great complexity met the challenge of the simple pure white field admirably in the contest to propel John into the missing arc of Beauty. Snow could be seen as the one white mass or as an infinite number of complex crystals produced in infinite variety.

“And isn’t that a model of the universe?” John’s mind raced, “Each component so complex and the whole so simple.” John’s thoughts progressed quickly from a bottomless pit of spiraling complexities toward a state of thoughtless bliss. He was deaf to the outside world until he met a barking German Shepherd and his master in a cabin at the end of the trail.

 

Back in 2017

After the introduction of Anne Jenkins in the last two chapters of Part Two, I’m not proud of the cartoonish Amy Beth Wilkinson and the roughly-sketched Kathy in the first chapter of Part Three. It’s not just the one-dimensional women; all of the minor characters seem like mere outlines to me (take, for example, Anne’s parents who seem little different from the adults in an animated Peanuts cartoon with their disembodied trombone voices).  But this isn’t a multi-generational family novel, or a plot-driven adventure or mystery with a cast of thousands. This is a Bildungsroman written by a nineteen year old, so the solipsism is almost a requirement of the genre, isn’t it?

 


*Translation of the Breton epigraph at the beginning of Part Three:

I believe in the future resolution of these two seemingly contradictory states, dream and reality, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, so to speak. It is in quest of this surreality that I am aiming, certain that I won’t reach it but too carefree about my death not to calculate to some slight degree the joys of its possession.

(I don’t know why I didn’t come up with an epigraph for Part Two, because I love quotations. Fire Answers Fire has an epigraph before each chapter.)

 

Chapter 3.2 has now (November 3, 2017) been retyped and posted here.

 

A Travel Quotation

As I approach retyping the final third of Exile, a novel about three young Americans traveling in Europe in 1975, I came across this quotation about travel and tourists I had to share. This is from a footnote in my current reading, David Foster Wallace’s essay “Consider the Lobster” in his book of essays, Consider the Lobster (on page 240 of the paperback).

“As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way — hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. […] To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”

Now let’s all start planning that next vacation. Bon Voyage!

Reading Myself in Exile (2.7)

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 rekey the only typewritten copy of my 1970’s novel Exile in serial form, posting chapters as soon as I get them onto a computer. The seventeenth chapter follows, but click here to begin with chapter one. This is the seventh and final chapter in Part Two (of three).

If you haven’t been following in sequence, the first-person voice in this short chapter is Anne Jenkins, writing in her journal.

7

16. August. 1975

Genève

Exile Draft OneI notice little things at night. I always notice so much more at night when there is so very little to disturb me. Before midnight I could hear buses driving down the street and shifting gears just as they pulled even with my window. Now an occasional car goes by and throws a square of light across my wall and ceiling. Robin breathes heavily as he sleeps. I can just about make out the dark noises of his nose and mouth on the other side of the wall. There’s not enough in Robin’s breathing to keep my attention riveted there…my eyes usually tend to drift out my open window. Past the now familiar solitary tree top that reaches up past my third floor window, I can see the few bright stars which struggle to reveal themselves despite the light blue city sky. The Milky Way and the mountain and desert stars are always erased by the city lights. Haven’t seen a trace of those Perseid meteor showers which are so prominent on a clear country night this time of summer. The sole tree that shoots up between me and the stars is a birch. I didn’t notice that when I stared out the window last night and it took me a few minutes to figure it out here in the dark. I’m pretty sure it’s a birch now. The leaves are small and triangular against the bright sky and the branches seem to be white, but it’s hard to tell under mercury vapor blue light. Now I find myself disturbed by noises. Someone in another apartment is running water. That stopped as soon as I became conscious of it. I can hear my stomach and throat bubbling – heart beating – and the minute creakings of my bed. I started to fall into the rhythm of my heartbeat but a car just zipped by and flashed its lights across my ceiling – it drowned my whole world.

I usually abandon myself to one thought before I fall asleep. When I was a little younger, I always asked myself, “What’s the last thing I think about before falling asleep?” I could never isolate that thought, although I tried hard to grasp it at night and tried hard to remember it in the morning. You don’t fall asleep; it isn’t an exact moment. You just gradually lose touch with this world. That’s all that exercise taught me.

Tonight, I’m just thinking about this friend who’s sleeping in the other room and the paths that our lives are taking. I don’t believe he’s still acting the same way around me. He can never understand why “the weight of his devotion” doesn’t bring about positive results. He emphasizes “devotion” in his favorite worn cliché. I find myself emphasizing the “weight” of his possessiveness which I can feel physically when he parades his depression for me. A part of me wants to help and a part of me just wants him to leave. I guess there are a lot of expressions that we both use but which we interpret differently. Like last spring when we had a long talk about his feeling and why he had to stop thinking about me that way. Same old things. And I asked him what he thought love was and he talked about lots of things that weren’t clear in his own mind; he returned at least twice to the idea of “self-sacrifice.” He sees this as some altruistic virtue which I’m supposed to love and admire. I do believe him when he says that he’d do anything for me. “I’d give up the things you don’t like about me.” That statement epitomizes what I can’t love in him. He negates his self just in the mere thought of sacrificing something he holds dear or by creating something in himself which is no more than an outgrowth of my whims and desires. I can’t understand why he holds onto me when he’s willing to sacrifice everything else. Does he really seek total dependence through love? It all confuses me but I’m afraid sometimes his life seems almost lost. Society has him by the balls already and he has nothing to hold onto but broken dreams. I shouldn’t really condemn him so easily. I feel the tug of my school and government trying to drag me down all the time. Isn’t that why I decided to take this rest cure in Geneva? I used to vow that I’d never become part of the machine – never oil the gears of the combine with my sweat. I’m changing. Once in a while now I find myself dreaming of a comfortable job and a comfortable man – one I can depend (be dependent) on (is that any different than Robin?). It was really hard for me to leave Ed last month; my fingers flirt with my clitoris at the thought of his love but I must grab this pen instead – tackle some of these problems which forced me to leave him. It’s frightening to think that comfort and security have taken up such an important place in my head. In moments of lucidity (like the present) I tend to condemn my weak longing for softness. I’m not sure what this other part of me wants. I don’t think it really has long range goals. When it’s in control I don’t worry about what I’ll be doing five years from now and whether or not I’ll have the guarantee of a strong warm body to sleep by my side each night. Things like that should take care of themselves. It’s this stronger, non-worrying part of me which made me temporarily penniless by deciding that I should make this voyage to Europe. When it’s in control I do almost anything it tells me. Mostly, it tells me to reject the machine and its worries about comfort in favor of life.

The part of me that strives for comfort also worries about my grades when I’m in school and gets ridiculously depressed about me. (They’re both part of my future in society.) It worries about a lot of things. Besides worrying about me, it worries about other things and makes me feel guilty about things which I have no control over. It worries about famines in India. It doesn’t let me sleep well. It makes me choke when I’m eating too well. It tells me things…

“Become a vegetarian. Eating beef is wasteful.”

“Whatever happened to your anti-war years? – No causes? – Why aren’t you out in the streets with your sisters instead of getting off on your own egocentric trip? You certainly have become an apathetic motherfucker at the ripe old age of nineteen. At least Robin has some political commitments left.”

If this part seeking comfort and avoiding challenges was writing in this journal it would put itself down. Something like, “here I lay on my side, head propped uncomfortably on one hand. The other pushes a pen quickly across paper. Trying to write like Breton suggests in his first manifesto with the unceasing movement of my hand paralleling those of my brain. Failing miserably – taking too long to think between paragraphs and sentences – even words – thoughts escaping and lost. And I call myself a writer..”

And so on…

It tells me other things too. It basically makes me feel guilty about who I am and what I’ve become. When this part of me is in control I feel helpless. I feel a tired hollowness behind my eyes and in my throat. I feel burnt out.

Then there’s the other part of me. There’s that other part of me that took part in anti-war protests with a passion. An unquestioned passion, not of love, but of anger and concern. It was a good feeling in many ways to have something concrete to aim anger at. A war against independence is evil. The government was a monster which had to be met with a stronger passion. Richard Nixon was a George III of the seventies and the Viet Cong and Tom Paine and kids like me were all governed by the same passion – a victorious passion which ruled me for a little while, and is now just resting in the afterglow which has manifested itself in my current apathy.

This same part of me doesn’t worry about my apathy. It has accepted it as a matter of course. It has found new passions for my mind and body – drink, men, my piano and voice, my traveling, my writing – I treasure my talents – my ability to fill empty space with harmonies and empty pages with words – my thoughts. Sometimes I’m surprised that I do any worrying at all. When I’m not careful though, I can easily find myself fretting about this apathy or my present lack of scholastic activity or my present lack of a steady loving man.

And there’s a third part of me, of course. It’s the part that’s speaking now. It analyzes my life and thoughts. Sometimes it tries to weigh the worries against the passions and do a little nudging in one direction or the other, but its role is mostly observatory. This part of me asks questions like, “how many of these characteristics are really ‘me’? How many of these characteristics (especially the worries) are merely reflections of a sexist society’s conditioning processes? Ridiculous. I can’t track down the source of all I am. Scary. Am I no more than a synthesis of a complex, incomprehensible labyrinth of experiences and memories. Is the role of the individual ego really so malleable – negligible?” It’s a part of me that’s in exile from my actions; it’s just watching the path I take.

Back in 2017

Going back to my notes after the last chapter, it now seems even clearer to the 21st-century reader who is retyping this that the 20th-century writer was definitely laying out a schematic dialectic in which the conflicts between Robin and John ended in the synthesis of Anne, who is the true voice of the author. The last paragraph of her journal entry makes that clear, even using the word “synthesis” and tying herself to the title of the book in her final sentence.  That being said, I don’t remember having that master plan in the writing. But the writing took place forty years ago and Anne does not get the final word. This is the last chapter of Part Two. Part Three (the final, and shortest, section) will start with an epigraph from André Breton and reintroduce us to John Matthews as we pick up his story when he leaves Robin at the Geneva train station.

 

Chapter 3.1 has now (Nov. 1, 2017) been retyped and posted here.