I took this photograph from my car window, down a road not far from Wegmans Food Market, that dead ends amidst abandoned warehouses and factories. It was of one orange shopping cart, strangely abandoned near the railroad tracks. But when I got back and zeroed in on it, there was the second one . . .
—–What I said was that I only do things that only I can do. I got some looks, from three directions, for saying such a thing, and one person even ventured to challenge it. Do you want to repeat that? he said. I wasn’t sure if he was asking me to repeat it because he thought I would trip up, if I tried to repeat it, or whether he wanted to see if heard it it right, before considering for himself whether it was . . . viable. It is something I have come to understand about myself, I said; that I am so constituted as to be only capable of doing things that only I can do. This sounded worse, downright idiotic. Everyone was hanging their heads. What I mean, I said, is that I am a natural born leader, and know no other way than to be a leader. Ah! A natural born leader; here is something to consider. It only occurs to me, I said, rising to my feet, to get involved in things in which I can so far excel, that I must be in charge of the whole shebang. That got their attention, the concept of the whole shebang.
—–Of course this was not a jobs seminar, or a leadership training session; this was a dinner party, and it was after dinner, there were beer cans on the table, and these big salty chips. It was sort of a strategy session, since we are inveterate revolutionary types around here, but mostly one falls into defining what one has already done; that is really the challenge. Defining yourself after the fact, when you have alot of evidence! This is why I said, “I am so constituted”, and “I have learned” that I am a . . . what I am. That I only get involved in things requiring the particular kind of leadership that I naturally have; it is not something I look for, but something I gravitate to, and then wake up in the middle of, because I have already taken charge before I even think to declare myself in charge, you see. Yeah, but what can happen is that the other people question my leadership, the very role, as it has devolved. Too fast were they swept up in my ambition, and the whirlwind visions I have for the greatness of the enterprise.
—–And I have to say that I understand them, what they might be feeling, while I am helpless myself. While I only know how to advance my own ambitions, I understand they are competitors themselves, who may assume they have equal rights. Of course this is without looking at what the thing is all about–because if they did, they wouldn’t even want it, it is way too difficult, one would have to have a special talent, and an unbelievable self-confidence to take up such a project, if you really look it it–that is what I am thinking. For I know I have not taken this mantle on lightly, not in fact without long inward schooling, and sharpening of my skills, and it is not a matter of ordinary leadership skills at all. But more like who is most humble, in the fact of the possibility of greatness, if you really look it it. They should let me be in charge, for I am the only blacksmith in this forge–I am thinking.
—–Or they are followers, who are so shame-faced, they do not want a leader at all, because they shrink from the prospect of having their sheepish mentality made evident. Such is the highly neurotic society we seem to live in, that it can neither accept born leaders, or produce a staff of willing followers! Such is our culture, where there are more writers than readers . . . for God’s sake! But the main point is that I realise–and this is a peculiar insight I now have, keep in mind–that I only get involved in activities in which I am bound to excel. With total humility, and what turns out to be (I have learned, looking back) an infuriatingly calm manner, a cool personality, even a non-chalance in all my actions–especially the actions where am forced to make what you might call “executive decisions”. Calmly, I take the reins. I can be so gracious, it is ingratiating. I am ambition in the extreme when I see the possibility of really excelling in my chosen activity, and, furthermore want to be known as the one who is the central creative force, the exceptional case, the real original. Of course, for what a disaster it would be if someone else were handed the reins! Right off a cliff is where this horse and buggy would go. Watch me now, I will go as far as to work the call for recognition into the very process of getting it, so that my acceptance speech is another and even grander speech.
—–And guess what, I am so authentic that I am naively surprised when my audience doesn’t see every aspect of the irony, the extreme humor, of my success and my travail–which are the same thing. This is the psychology of the tyrant. I retrofit the story as I go, so that the biography is perfect, and the legend fitting. I seem to know the ropes of achieving this kind of dominion and its necessarily attached, worldly fame. Others, those only watching from the sidelines, can always see this glowing confidence and constant magnetism, and will assume I must be very successful in what I do. I exude it. People ask me what I do, just on sight.
—–And yet, really there is only one specific arena in which I operate: literature. And not even literature in general, but one type of high-class, historical literature, which, dear readers!, I am actually so suave as to believe I am defining for the future myself! I am self positioned, obscurity itself. Then again, you could say I am operating in the largest and most well travelled arena possible: language. The arena we all share as readers, voracious readers of everything under the sun, and talkers, non-stop talkers buzzing in sundry, uncountable occasions that call for novelty of expression. . . But language, I say, is my possession, total and wholesale. Somehow by now I have come to regard language itself as my possession. How’s that, for bravado? And mystery–that is my subject, for I am conscious of living in a complete mystery–how many of you can say that? You can recognize the idea, but it is like a childhood memory at best, or a piece of mystic reasoning–to you. But I live there in that mystery, one glimpse and I stayed.
—–Then I went on; I also said that I am a worker in the language mines, and that what I write is a product like an excavation brought up from the mines, and what I have to do is diligently sort it out and express it, and lay it out on the table, right between us, and this is historical gold. I said this is causing a seismic shift, its’ very brother is the technology causing a shift in publishing formats, that fits the anxiety of the moment. The accomplishment is in the writing itself, the subtle material changes in the language–as delivered, wherever one can–ecstatic. For we are not using a dead medium, but we are working the material of that medium, as present to the occasion. I am the author, I say, of the language–which is at the same time to be the steward of the language, that is the identity I gain in an ever escalating sense of my powers. To honour and to advance, in a whirlwind mystery, by expressible thoughts. Very expressible–that is what I went on saying.
—–And by the time our talking companions left, the lopsided moon had climbed, very awkwardly, into the arms of the radio towers, those stalwarts, steadily blinking as if announcing the arrival, I keep thinking, of an alien craft . . . every night I think this, just as I am closing up the house.
——I received an extraordinary e-mail from another blogger a few days ago that has upset the scheduled flow of these carefully crafted and strategicly ordered postings. It is from a fellow across the Atlantic whose audience I had solicited (that’s the way I put it: “I request your audience”), meaning of course that he should read Black Mirrors, link attached. I felt obliged to inform him of my existence, as a fellow player in the literary blog scene, a new superpower, if you will, in the international highstakes arena where, as all of us know, only writers of enormous self-esteem are even capable of launching their unsanctioned . . . sentences. Now actually I wrote to ten other bloggers, making this same formal plea, wording them all the same; but I received only one, as I say, extraordinary reply.
—— He said that he was in fact already a reader of Black Mirrors, but thanked me for sending, as it were, papers of entreaty and words to the effect (words he understood to be to the effect) that, though I was setting up as a competitor, and clearly, he could tell, was after his crown, as a “king of obfuscation”, as he put it, he having that crown, or at least the crown of king literary blogger, for what it was worth, at present, if only since he had seniority, having been a blogger longer, and a longer blogger, in that his posts and sentences were “way less stentorian” . . . gentler, dreamier, and so on . . . drifting off, as if to demonstrate the very point. Ha! I thought, harmless, you mean. You’re sentences are more harmless than mine–that is for certain! And, they never finish.
—— But, the Englishman continued in this extraordinary e-mail–which I have printed out and am going to show to fifty people–though he was already a reader and even an “apppreciator and fan” of mine; and though, he had to admit, I was “perhaps or evidently” a more dedicated, even more talented player than he, even he; and that he could tell I was probably a fully committed writer, while he was a University Professor doing this literary writing on the side, still he was quite sure that my blog itself, Black Mirrors, was doomed. My blog was doomed! I blinked, and heard like the sound of a slot machine in my head. If I was making an appeal to him to get his endorsement, so as to get his thousands of readers, this was futile, for they would never even begin to comprehend me. They, his readers, would not have the slightest patience for my abstruse rambling, “piercing, incisive, and eloquent as it might be” (his words). As it might continue to be. Simply put, he said, I seemed not to have “the gift of approbation”.
——And, he sensed quite clearly that I was headed for a crisis. Well! I knew what approbation means! One who lacks the gift of approbation, is like one born unapproved. For I had not the knack of approbating myself, or whatever one does to get your entrance fees like paid in advance. I had not the silver spoon, must have been born under a bad sign, off the map, in some town in Western New York or something, where what’s-his-name in Tender is the Night ended up. Doomed indeed.
——But I had to brush up on what “stentorian” meant, so I looked it up in the huge Oxford English Dictionary I keep in my office. Ah! It always pays off to lug this old pal of mine, this entire English language in one volume, over to my desk and take time out to turn over it’s large, super-thin pages, with their columns of tiny print, just crammed with portents, meanings and beautiful obfuscation. For unruly language explodes in all directions. For me, a student in the master class of rhetoric, a master myself now, I know I am going to find material justifications for all my abstruse ramblings, precisely. This is my work. Words themselves are . . . palimpsists containing layers of time, black mirrors that put the sparkle in your eyes.
——Stentor, I read, was a Greek warrior in The Iliad, whose “voice was as powerful as fifty voices of other men.” And further, stentor is “a genus of Protozoa; an individual of this genus, a trumpet-shaped protozoan”. Aha! Though protozoa, of course, in their primitive being and environments, are quite silent, some are shaped like trumpets. Primordial trumpets! Yes. I don’t know whether Stentor, the loud warrior, the herald, in Homer (with whom I identify, in my colossal self-trumpeting vanity) comes before trumpets, on the field of battle–I mean I don’t know what is named after what here–but, anyway, it’s all associated now. And the past only comes to life in the process of these types of inquiries, which I keep saying–but, hark, that is really going far afield, or rather back into my actual field, because what I need to talk about here is this outrageous e-mail I got, from the fellow in England.
——The Professor who e-mailed me knows who he is. But like I said I sent this solicitous request for an audience to ten people all at once, like in a scattershot appeal, and all in England, because England is like, well, always the place for a thriving literary culture. They have always had that there, and American authors never measure up. And, the point is, they must automatically have this attitude there once again, with their subcutaneous (get under your skin) lit bloggers, their post-post-modern Blanchot drones and Lacan fetishers, etc. It is said that Stentor, the herald, whose voice was like fifty men, died in a shouting match with the god Hermes. Hermes, also known as Mercury, is the god associated with travelers and orators, but also thieves. He is roadsigns, a crosser of boundaries, author of transitions. Postmen wear the patch of Mercury on their shirt sleeves, you know.
——Now I can’t tell who I am more like: the fleet, winged messenger god Hermes, or the Homeric herald with the stentorious voice. I guess I will have to look up that scene and mull it over. Do I want to get into a shouting match with fellow obfuscators, over the claim they have made, which is that no one but them could possibly ever understand what I am saying? People understand me all too well, is my feeling. Maybe I should raise my voice with these supercilious, punctilious Brits. These lie-abouts and windbags. I have to discuss this one particular e-mail further with a few of my own advisers. One of the top advisors is coming over tonight! There is just too much to do, it seems–so much to say, and such an excess of words.
——I’ve heard they use that special “full spectrum” lighting at Wegmans Food and Pharmacy, in the fruits and vegetables aisles, flooding the piled high mounds, and bottomless bins, the never depleted rows of fresh produce, the stacks and racks of luscious . . . just give it up, shoppers! Wearing broad grins and drooling, sighing with relief to have found that what is in season is . . . right here!–at Wegmans, you know, the people also look smart. They must dress up to go there, the hungry and the ill-kempt shop elsewhere. A sense of some indisputable triumph fills the air–these are the rhymes, and there must be music playing, or else it is my thoughts. Right here is where you need a shopping cart, I think abstractly, and I look down and lo and behold I have one! So then, I picked up one scorching red, red pepper, selected after due consideration of its shape. Shamelessly one compares the qualifications, as per one’s taste in bodies, and reaches to firmly grasp the strange fruit, or is a pepper a vegetable? But wait, I am distracted by the strawberries, always distracted by the strawberries, and then promptly seduced by the raspberries, wheeling up and reigning in my shopping cart like a whinnying horse. Deftly, I executed a left turn so as to head back into the main lots, to be bathed again in full-spectrum lighting! It was then, that I made the life saving decision, in order to maintain control and establish a plan, suitably whimsical but certain to get me through the virtually limitless store, to limit my selections and purchase only red, items that were red only, please, I said to myself. And hunting on this red alert, I got succulent tomatoes, and Delicious Red Apples, and small red potatoes, red cabbage, red onions, rib steak glowing red through the cellophane! “I don’t know why people don’t use me for more,” I said to my wife, as we were appraising the results of my red shopping spree, laid out as if for a photo shoot on the gleaming white kitchen table.
——But in the very next moment there I was standing next to the fierce woman in the alpaca suit, at the Oxford Gallery art exhibit opening, “Awakenings; Images of Spring”. Frankly, she said, she was impressed with the prices of some of the paintings. The huge frame before us, large as a picture window, contained within it a bevy or a bourn, or rather an unappealing, masterfully rendered mass of flowers–floating, or rather superimposed, because one could not switch focus fast enough, above or rather right within the punch bowl. And what a punch bowl it was! The woman in the alpaca suit’s gazing eyes were fixed on the floating glacier, which had the painting beat, in terms of visual stimuli, is what I would say. Anyway, she said to me: “Do you know how much that painting costs!” Well, considering that it was featured in the place where one was forced to look if they wanted some of this delicious golden punch, I would venture to say, “Six thousand dollars?” I shouted back that back, and then I pointed through across the room and said “I wonder how much that one costs.” It was my wife’s painting of a DUSTPAN (of all costly things). Simultaneously, I muttered under my breath: “This is too difficult, I can’t talk this way.” I took a step, three steps, to change the story, but then I noticed how time had not just halted, as it often does, but was now calmly proceeding in reverse. People were even walking backwards, backpeddling as they seemed to be trying to get into my photograph–the one I was about to take.
——I see where this is going. The trajectory is to convey boundless exhilaration, making a public display of a hidden self. Suddenly one is perforce a clown, publishing material that is of necessity, and by its own nature, quickly composed, dished out, or shall we say apportioned . . . and anonymously! No one knows who you are, how could they? Every step is a further step towards shedding a false-in-life identity, while remaining compelled by an inner drive. To blather, and to spew. It is not to offer thoughtfully worked out expositions, that is certainly a laughable (even a historical!) occupation, but it is to be a diary writer. To let the night in, and the world watch you. We greet with a broad, inexplicable grin, the inversion of previous forms of speech. Now we must be spontaneous broadcasters–but since most of us do not want to be this (why would we?), it is left to a few aggressive souls, to rush into this media void. There are really only a few, I told my compadre, who are spewing. “That’s rum,” he said. And the fact that this inversion has come upon us unheralded, overnight, clearly indicates that it will be the worst, the loudest, the ignorant, the most deluded who shall learn all this new, always newer, what is it? . . . technology. They will say the technology made them do it. Most of us will remain merely stunned. I feel this practically physical pull to produce more and more as if to prove myself, turn myself inside out, rambling on the page. They want my notebooks! For I am like Da Vinci. Inventor of the airplane.
——You think these are a few incidental reflections on the situation in life, like inserted as appetizers, or just hung in the gallery in a corner? No, they are the whole show and the context in which life, such as you perceive it, actually happens. These are not side points, mon cher, or mere idle, mere profound, commentary–why do you think I have this habit of suddenly whispering in your ear? These are the definitions, the planks and the running boards, for I am foundational, like . . . Aristotle, you will say.
——–The first time he offers a description of himself, he is some of kind of music agent, who represents bands, books their gigs I imagine, handles publicity one would assume. He has a jaunty air, and looks the part, a little secretive, decidedly smug; he’s got crazy colorful badges sewn onto his denim jacket, and he’s staking out the bar, you can tell, just by standing there right at the moment. Being a scout is his nature–the way I figure it. He doesn’t know I am established as a celebrity around here, we just met. In fact he is so much younger, he is no doubt just being polite, standing next to me with his pint of Guinness half-raised to his lips. He is a kind of a manikin, I am thinking. The plausibility of such an occupation, music representative, here in this city, which we like to refer to as medium-sized–we always say, Rochester is a medium-sized city in upstate New York, or we say Rochester is a town in Western New York, which sounds better to my ears anyway–the viability, in other words, of such a job as full-time agent for musicians, I would have to say flatly, is nil. So one wonders when they meet someone who advertises themselves, though only providing sketchy details I note, as such. Now every time I try to write anything even faintly reportorial, these days (though I used to be a glib journalist, capable of the prolix, and the jocular vein), the sentences take a certain trajectory, as if on their own, roping me into conclusions, and absurdities. Expanding, go these sentences, as if I had only an ill-defined grasp on my subject, and then (of course) pulling defiantly up to a stop. Thought itself in a grand, but futile metaphor describes the flight of an aircraft which takes off well enough, but then has engine trouble and crashes, similar to that plastic motorized Piper Cub, I had when I was twelve. After being laboriously assembled in the living room, this doomed craft only took one flight in the schoolyard. Now, though, it is one of the handiest of my parables, the maxim derived from it being: picking up the pieces is part of life. People configure occupations that relate to what interests them, or confounds them; this is why the rebel fits the bill, better than the straight man these days. And I could tell my new friend, whose nickname was Fletch, was well suited for this occupation of music agent, even if he was faking it, or crashing in the act.
——–Another night, and the next time I endeavor to get this young man to enlarge upon the activities that keep this music representing business of his going, he is friendly, but brushes me off the topic. He says it is going slowly right now. I also note, at this juncture in our slowly evolving friendship, that he isn’t very articulate, to begin with. One would think this, whether it is shyness, or too abundant thoughtfulness, or tragic lack of verbal skills, might hamper him in a field where he has to interact with creative persons . . . like musicians. In my experience with musicians, which is appreciable, they need constant coaxing. (Not to mention lyrics!) Or maybe it is a slow season. Then of course I have to realise this is not New York City, but indeed a mere ”medium town”, as another writer put it. It is possible that Fletch, or Scratch, which some call him, believes you are trying to encroach upon his territory, I say to myself, because, after all, all he knows about me is that I am a free-lance writer–which hypertrophied self-description I often use when first talking with interesting characters at this bar–those who are unaware of my celebrity status, past and present.
——–It seems like I am always in between times in my life, I reflect, either days of former glory in the memory, or days of promise yet to flower, while the day at hand fairly drab and dimly lit, with only a few inarticulate stragglers, needing encouragement, immediately in my sight. But suddenly it seems like Fletcher has undergone a catharsis, of some sort, or suffered a crisis of conscience over the impression he has given me, and probably others, and wants to confess that he really isn’t a music representative at all, at least not full-time. Well! I hadn’t challenged him, though I might have been trying to figure out how to undermine him, emotionally, because I knew there was something implausible, as I keep saying here . . . But now he is telling me that he has a day job in his Uncles’ hardware store, where he handles shipping, and works behind the counter. He makes keys (here is a subject we can get into: you would be flabbergasted to know how many people lose their keys). The hardware store, one of the last of it’s kind, is over on Dewey Avenue, and now I wake up and I realise this kid is way younger than I thought! He has made a great effort just expressing this set of facts, like he didn’t know what order to put them in, so as to build a plausible presence, in my presence; and I realise that I am like a rock-of-ages, an institution, if you see what I mean, from this kid’s point of view. I am, well, like his Uncle, but with added depth and mystery, and after all, in his scene. He is perhaps even awestruck by my presence. Seeing it from his point of view, I quickly therefore endeavor to relax the whole flow of our suddenly burgeoning comraderie, and I make bold to substantiate the talk, by way of the sacrifice some biographical info. More or less correct even.
——–Confidentially, I told him I was self-conscious, myself, about how I appeared to be the oldest fellow in the bar, tonight at least. That is the way I put it too, “the oldest fellow”. The interesting thing, though, I told him, is I always used to be the younger person, in whatever crowd, and now–well, to make the general assessment, it seems that I have never been the person who was the right age, anywhere, in whatever scene I was in. How’s that? Always younger, or older. Like in this bar, these days–and you could say I actually haunt this place!–I joked. “I guess I never will be the right age, if this is where I am going to end up,” I said. That was a joke that crucified me, but it was more important that I make this kid real. The point is, I went on, Bob Dylan isn’t just a song writer who provides other people including himself with lyrics. No, he writes songs for himself, and if he couldn’t sing them they wouldn’t get written at all. I made this transition so smoothly, and with such authority, it was not about to be countermanded.
——–“That is what I am talking about,” I asserted. I was hoping Scratch, or rather Fletch, whose real name I was to find out is Richard, had been listening–but, whether he could see the expansive analogy or not, I was willing to appear suddenly an as old codger talking Bob Dylan, as so many of do, for this is a distinction, that needs to be made when it spontaneously occurs, wherever. It isn’t the first time that exact point, about Bob Dylan being a singer first and providing himself with his own material, and not the other way around, has been dragged in; I think I used it, though futiley, in a conversation with my brother, who thinks Dylan shouldn’t even try to sing his own songs, because “he has the worst voice any singer ever had.” But it turned out my young friend was earnestly listening, and whether or not he saw the beauty and logic of the transition in the larger conversation, he did clue into the Dylan bit–and was puzzled by it. Mostly puzzled about how sure I was about it, he’d have to think about the point itself, himself. “You sound like you are pretty sure about that,” he said.
——–Well, it is always a question whether one wants to appear as a man whose thoughts have come from meditation, or as one who lives from one inspiration to the next–when called upon to defend your self-confidence. I decided upon the former, which, in a pinch, I usually do, these days. Since a man of my age should (perhaps) have considered most everything by now, every mystery and every absurdity, and shouldn’t just be getting around to . . . crying over the flight of his first toy airplane. Meanwhile, this all related to the music business, and that might be the best that could be said of it, because the whole description (the one I carry away, and the one you are reading, Theopolis), is corrupted from the outset, because from the very first sentence it set up a situation that isn’t even accurate to what happened. It’s like elementary school fiction writing.
——–I feel like starting over! This young man never offered descriptions of himself, much less consciously revised one. He stood there implacable, inscrutable, ageless; and what are those patches on his sleeve! What, does he belong to ten different secret societies? I think, he is like some overgrown Boy Scout . . .