—–After the great “Poetry Slam” at Writers’ & Books, hosted by the practically world renowned Bob Holman from the Nuyorican Cafe, and pitting a team of five New York City poets against a select Rochester poetry-five, myself among them–I threw a party at my house and Reverend Sam (one of the Rochester five) was there with his VHS camcorder, which he had used to record the whole event.  Reverend Sam, a very trusting, if absent-minded soul, ended up leaving his camcorder and the tape of the Poetry Slam overnight. And this gave me a chance to review my own performance the next afternoon on my VCR.
—–Since no had watched this yet, it hadn’t even been rewound. My performance was near the end, so I backed up the tape a little, and then thought to just put it on the slow rewind. Dumbly fascinated I watched a portion of the Poetry Slam event running backwards, and saw Bob Holman stepping off the stage, nearly tripping!, and then some poet, myself looking not like myself, hastily finishing his four-minute poem, but not finishing, instead going backward, toward the beginning. Whereupon Holman comes galavanting on again–all of these images being familiar, of course, but in reverse. Until I stopped the rewind at the point desired, and watched it triumphantly in the right chronological order.
—–But then I decided to rewind the whole tape, and that would take a while so I switched the TV channel for the hell of it and there was this soap opera on called “The Days of Our Lives”. What was happening, maybe, was a young, lascivious man, and a younger, luscious woman were working on some project, he was selling her insurance or something, very cozily on the couch in her close-up super modern apartment. She was showing alot of leg, and he was in some kind of suspense, and when he got up to look for some papers on the floor he noticed, suddenly, a close-up photo of some other guy. She was just adjusting a stray hair drifting down beautifully on her forehead, when he was caught in a tiger stance on the rug they were bound to make love on, soon, or already had, but the music was swelling in chords of a quiet dissonance, and furthermore they were suddenly cut away entirely for a commercial.
—–On the commercial there was a woman, she was a dreamboat, and she was standing beside a beautiful car, highly polished they both were, and there was a reflection of a landscape of tulips in Holland, somehow, getting close to the sheen of the car, and the wax on her legs, and John Cougar Mellancamp was there, singing like he was in a real fakey opera–though was so quick, it was a little slapdash. But it’s only going back to “The Days of Our Lives” where, when the young stud went back to the couch, he was clearly in an interior trauma about something, like he was sorting out the order of events in his mind, like preparing an alibi, memorizing the room–everything was haunting him. And the more controlled sexpot girl there was looking at him with her best bedroom eyes, maybe to mock him. It was like they were both faking, saying things just to say “I told you so,” later. And on top of that they were bad actors. This would be hard to endure! I still had my hand half-raised and my finger wasn’t even retracted from punching the TV button that switched on this soap opera. Quite insanely, it occurred to me to press the Rewind button, and make this flimsy show go backwards! As if I could make this show go the other way, like I just did with the poetry reading! —–Simultaneously, I was struck with the irrational thought that it was, maybe, playing backwards right in front of me, that’s why it was so nonsensical, hallucinatory, provisional–these scenes of soap opera life. It was all backward, and I wanted to set it right. Then . . . I broke into a cold sweat.
I suffered a sort of time freeze, a breakdown of the sense one normally must have, of chronology. I mean I had this experience in which I couldn’t comprehend whether what I was seeing was happening forwards or backwards. It was horrible. Suddenly my own life was in doubt. I understood nothing. I wondered how events fit together . . . forwards, or . . . backwards. —–Frantically, I switched back to the tape of last night’s Poetry Slam–which, to be sure, I was reconsidering in my memory . . . since it had happened, unnecessary to say as that sounds. But the tape was unfortunately running backwards still; it had not arrived yet to the beginning, so to speak. —–That made me completely nauseous. It seemed I could not verify a difference, whether events happened forwards or backwards; because, astonishingly, they took alot of time, either way! And, maybe they made just as much sense also, either way. This made me dizzy, and when I looked out the window, another portal, at the quiet mid-day street, I thought:  is that scene there waiting to disclose its meaning, or waiting for me to give it some meaning? I started laughing. I was afraid to keep watching, lest a car come along . . . going backwards.
—–Vengefully, I switched back to “The Days of Our Lives”; it was going on at
the same methodical pace, with the insinuations of some deadly plot, the same suggestions . . . there was some damned evil in the lives of these people that had them doomed, no matter how they twisted and turned. TV viewers of this serial day after day were more informed than these characters were, about their likely fate, though it’s exact shape–well, that is what you have to watch to find out, but once it happens, it was there all along. The days of our lives are, after all, obvious. The more you know the more the story doubles back on its own original, horribly common premises.
—–I’m saying I was probably never more confused, the whole idea of things happening consecutively–which isn’t so much an assumption, as something never even questioned, had been destroyed, by this whiplash experience. Provided me, courtesy of the rewind and replay, the play backwards!, capabilities of this VCR. The flippant, cursed viewing of the Poetry Slam on rewind, then the uncanny replacement of this experience, with the senseless, stripped down, doomsday slowness of a suddenly viewed close-up couple, nervously performing in their own soap opera.
—–And then, in good old reality, the telephone rang. Immediately, I thought, this is to snap me out of it. Two rings, and I was certain this would be the rush, the return– I mean I could step away from this mere technical confusion at the TV set and deal with my life again, something happening in that old comfortable forward motion scheme in life. Ah, sure! You can wish. —–It was Vic Merkel, asking me if I had contacted the Director of The Visiting Nurses Association yet–they had some newsletter there they needed help on and I was supposed to contact them this week. I said, “yeah, I called them,” but I had to explain I didn’t actually get through to them really. It sounded quite lame. But I planned on doing that this afternoon. I had the whole thing planned out, I just had to go through the motions. “Good,” he said–but I thought, he is disappointed in me–I’m supposed to be a go-getter, but all I really do is . . . ponder the imponderable.
—–“Really,” I said, ” I’ll do it, right away. Really, I promise, Vic.” But I think he’d already hung up when I said that last, “really, I promise!” And did I just call him Vic? The old man is definitely Mr. Merkel to me. Or at least I suspected that he had already hung up, by the time I said, “I’ll do it, right away.” What’s the difference!
—–I was mightily confused, I knew that much, so I thought to go into the kitchen and make a sandwich. It seemed like I hadn’t even had lunch yet, but just lurched into ideas and got all philosophical on an empty stomach. But when I got to the kitchen I saw the remains of the lunch I had already had–how stupid! I’d had a tunafish sandwich, and left the newspaper open right there on the table, not more than . . . what? Forty-five minutes ago? —–What the hell am I going to do?–I thought. If and when everything I think of doing . . . has already happened.