In the autumn of 2009 I completed the fifth revision of the first book I had ever written.
It was a memoir.
It was rather large.
I named it Screen Saver.
I thought that it had promise: it was about my personal experience with and involvement in many of the big events and key trends of the second half of the Twentieth Century; and it was totally non-linear (which is why I named it Screen Saver) so I was sure that the 18 to 35 year old set would take to it like the proverbial duck to water.
I was wrong about that promise.
Sixty five literary agents all told me I should look into some other mode of expression.
I was shattered.
I withdrew and licked my wounds for awhile.
But then an idea occurred to me.
Why not write a novel?
I was sure I could write novel, and even bad novels were selling scads and hoards all the time.
So, if only I could get enough fictional words in a document and if those words had some sort of plot and story line, I ought to be able to sell it and create the beginning of that which I lacked: a platform.
The platform of a even a bad novel ought to allow me to call attention to a good memoir.
That’s what I thought.
So I started writing.
I had no idea what I was going to write about; I just started writing.
In a few previous flirtations with writing fiction a Ouija took control of my keyboard and some usually amazing stuff came forth.
So I hoped that the Ouija would sign up for a more robust project of fiction writing.
And she did.
I was about ten thousand words into that effort when she stopped showing up and I had no idea what was supposed to happen next.
But a plot line had been laid down.
I had no idea when or if the Ouija would ever show up again, so I kept three backup copies, had a couple of martinis and went to bed.
The plot line that had been laid down was about a guy who was in Saigon during the Vietnam War and a woman he had, against all odds of sociology, managed to meet and become intimate with.
I was pretty sure that, once the Ouija tired of Saigon, she was going to move these people to Paris, but she got bored or something and abandoned the project and me before any of that could happen.
So I was left with the beginning of a novel.
A while after that I was in Paris on a four month sojourn.
Almost immediately the apartment where I lived began to speak to me.
And then the Ouija showed up again.
And she showed me what to do with what she had already given me and what else I needed to tell of the story.
She told me to abandon some of what we had previously produced.
A year later my Paris Apartment, the Ouija and my keyboard had produced a novel.
Recently I was looking at some of those initial pieces that the Ouija had compelled me to jettison.
They are pretty interesting.
Here is the first of them.
“An event that I have never been able to forget never actually happened. More accurately, it happened, but it was staged. I saw the result of that staging and was never able to forget it.
In that staging there were a loosely knit band of randomly dressed men making their way in an understandably stumbling manner across a brush overgrown field covered with football sized rocks. The terrain was so broken up that it was hard to imagine how they were walking across it at all. In fact they were proceeding in a manner much more like marching than merely walking. And they were all playing musical instruments. The music was a dirge, but it had some life to it, making it less of a dirge and more of a march – or maybe a macabre dance tune. Years later Elvis Perkins would employ a similar approach to a song.
That scene was the beginning of Godfather II.
As I rounded the leg of the path that passed the Senate and all the old gnarled trees that inhabited the grounds beyond the plantings of the Senate museum and forged forth onto the straight stretch skirting the inside of the Jardin wall along Rue Guynemer I thought that I was again hearing that exact band playing that exact music.
But it was a different dirge for a different death.
This time I was hearing the dirge on a sunny September pre-noon in 2002 and I was in the midst of my daily run in the Jardin du Luxembourg. As soon as I heard the dirge I saw its source. There were a group of uniformed people with two flags, one the tricolor, the other the stars and stripes. And there were some men in business suits. And then the music stopped and the suits began giving speeches. In the process of marching, dirging and speaking, this group had moved into the portion of the Jardin and its path that I had been intending to traverse on my way around to the orchard of espaliered fruit trees – espaliered except for the persimmon which was allowed to grow unfettered – and the rest of the two kilometer course that I liked to run around several times each day.
But on that day I had had to alter my course into the center of the Jardin. When I got to the fountain with its large pool where little Parisian kids sailed their toy boats I just sat down. September 11, 2002 became a day of no running and lots of remembering.
But the memories weren’t what one might have expected on the first year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with the US Ambassador to France a few yards away giving a speech to a gathering of French military and civilians, thanking them, I supposed for their memorial of the event of the previous year.
The memories that came to me were from a completely different time and place, although a time and place that probably had a direct link to my ultimate existence in the then current time and place.
The dominant initial memory was of a place that was appallingly hot. It was so hot that my khaki short sleeved uniform shirt was always almost completely soaked – soaked as if I had been immersed in a pool. But the soak wasn’t like such a pool immersion would have caused. The soak was almost more like a thin slime that oozed out of the garment just short of the point of dripping to the ground. I felt as if I were engulfed in a well saturated sponge. This was the state of being that I had been enduring for months and months. That state of being had long since altered the state of the skin on my back to a state where, instead of skin, there existed a mass of pus filled eruptions, all of a redness akin to some kind of fatal festering infection. I never went to a doctor about the condition; all doctors ever did was to say something like “yeah, it looks like you’ve got a nasty infection there” and give out some muscle relaxers. Instead, I had long since accepted the slime and its adverse effects on the skin of my back as a normal state of affairs, and a state of affairs that I couldn’t any more recall having had a predecessor condition, and couldn’t any more imagine as ever being likely to have a terminating condition. The condition just was, just as I just was, and just as I wasn’t able to imagine ever not being, and just as I wasn’t able to remember ever having not been.
I was walking from the hootch where I worked to the Officers’ Club where I lived. At least I told myself that I lived at the Officers’ Club. I “lived” as in “came alive” not as in inhabited. I inhabited a grim little room elsewhere not on the base. The base was where I was making my contribution to the “war effort”; the Officers’ Club was where I “lived”; the grim little room off base was where I inhabited. That phrase was one I often repeated to myself as a sort of statement and summary of my personal basis for existence.
As I walked the smell of the ditches wafted to me. That smell was a mix of the scent of raspberries mixed with urine in some deviously beguiling blend.
“Living” at the Officers’ Club, I was telling myself, was to have special meaning on this day: I was meeting someone.
My sense of being on the brink of “something” was at an all-time high point. My entire life to that point could have been summed up with brief descriptions of other such feelings of having been on the brink of “something”, and having been correct about the brink and the “something” and having gone over, in each of those cases, the brink of each of those “somethings” that had been revealed. In each case, in spite of wild expectations to the contrary, once over each of those previous brinks, nothing had much changed in my life for better or for worse. In each case there was just an additional factor newly introduced to the mix of factors with which I grappled daily. But the nature of the grappling and the results yielded from the grappling remained pretty much the same as the results of grappling had been prior to the addition of the results of each new brink gone over.
This time, though, I was telling myself that it was totally different. It really was true that the intensity of the feeling this time was beyond any I had ever felt. “This must be going to be good,” I thought to myself. “This may turn out to be that life changer that you have always imagined.”