Tag: writer

Old man driving, any exit will do

This old guy in a Dodge Charger, being pulled around the Lower Hudson Valley by 300 horses, a man without a compass, a man without a wife, drinking too much, eating too little, up half the night, nothing ain’t right.

Next day back on the road, I guess you could say lost, Bob Dylan whining from the stereo, Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime… How does it feel, to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone…

He’s not re-enacting an old fantasy, this is reality, and he really is lost; although when he thinks about it, lost has been found and now found is lost. Write that down, old man. Instead, that midnight in a gin and tonic, he writes down, A dying man dreams. Some are beautiful. And then they stop.

In the Turnpike Tap Room an even older man inquires, Is one ever too old to be a struggling writer? To which the younger old man replies, Is one ever too old to die? The old drunk is looking for his brain. I’m not sure I understand your meaning. The younger old man can no further elaborate than put flesh on the older old man’s bones.

Excerpted from Notes for ‘A Million Miles Away in Fishkill.’


39,000 feet

He was lost. He took planes all over America. He became an expert on airports. He invested such large sums in airline travel he figured he must own a piece of the sky, or rather pieces of the sky — thin, high corridors of illusion between real cities; timeless strips of fantasy between pestilence and death. An ethereal investment to be sure; other men had pieces of the rock.

He flew back and forth across America like an insomniac pacing his room. Planes of all sizes and colors transported him north and south and east and west in an odyssey that skirted heaven and hell. He was searching for many things: Success, fame, the perfect woman, a new identity, freedom, independence, truth, cunning, honesty, immortality, a secret Swiss bank account, a cabin in the woods, a house in the desert, a job in a lighthouse, a penthouse in Manhattan, a pad in the Hollywood Hills, unlimited credit, inner piece, a new life, a tolerable death, immortality, and sometimes nothing more than a perfectly clear sky. 

At rare moments of clarity, perhaps at 39,000 feet, he felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough, on the edge of a great discovery about life and himself. Sometimes, he would doze off and suddenly awaken with the startling notion that he had heard the voice of God — not so much a voice as a perception of the idea of God, an ephemeral, wraith-like presence in his mind, a fleeting brush with fate, the briefest touch by destiny, a speck of understanding, a hint of cosmic truth that vanished as fast as it had appeared, but left him with, at that perilous moment of waking, an unmistakable impression of the meaning of life, and specifically, his purpose in that life, agonizingly elusive but sufficiently noticeable to excite him with new motivation and direction.

Desperately he would scribble down his ethereal notes at the very moment they dissolved into nothingness. But when he tried to pursue the clues, to pin them down, to put them together, bits and pieces of his mind flew off in different directions at increasing speeds and higher altitudes, and then he no longer believed he was on the verge of a great breakthrough, but on the edge of insanity. 

At the end of two years his mind was totally fragmented. On a physical level there was more chaos. He was broke, bouncing checks and exploding credit cards. His personal stuff — books, manuscripts, letters, documents, photographs — were crammed into suitcases, briefcases and footlockers in girlfriends’ apartments, and bus and train station lockers in cities and towns across America—

[Manuscript abruptly ends.]

Plot and all that tommyrot

It turns out that the first manuscript I wrote was “written for the universe.” So said my agent at the time.

We were in a bar on Third Avenue.

He had submitted the manuscript to William Morrow — big outfit.

He showed me the letter they sent him:

Thanks for sending along In Mudboots Fast Runner. It is certainly well written and the writer has mastered the use of dialogue to move the action along. Unfortunately, the novel never goes anywhere.

“Well written, mastered dialogue,” I repeated, “but they don’t want it.”

“They want plot,” said the agent.

“Plot, and all that tommyrot,” quoth I, “as Henry Miller once said.”

“It has nothing to do with your ability,” the agent said. “It’s simply that the publishing business is fucked up.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

“I liked it,” he said. “That’s what I meant when I said you wrote it for the universe.”

“I don’t even know what the hell that means, man.”

“I could say you wrote it for yourself,” he clarified, “but it’s better than that. I could say you wrote it for your family and friends, or for the world, but it’s better than that. It’s universal — ergo, you wrote it for the universe.”

“So, ergo old pal, submit it to the universe.”

“My territory is strictly New York City.”

I downed my gin and ordered another.

“Therefore,” I said, “the next novel I write will have to be written for the public.”

“If you want to make any money from it.”

“I don’t know how to do that. I’m not Lee Childs or James Patterson or Nora Roberts. I wish I was — well, not Nora Roberts.”

“So who do you think you are? Henry Miller?”

“Never in a million years.” My gin arrived and I took a gulp. “So what do you think I should do, man?”

He finished off his beer and got up to leave. “Write for the universe.”


Of cats and the dead

I don’t get out much anymore. I stay inside with the cat. I myself am turning into a cat. I eat like the cat — cold salmon on a small plate; I sleep like the cat — frequently, and in various chairs. There is one major difference between us — she can’t type, therefore wastes no time at it.

The cat looks out the Miami Beach window at the blinding white sky. Pelicans fly in formation — nature’s own squadron, one bird taking the lead, ten others fanned out behind him. Here’s another difference between the cat and I — I know that far-away objects are bigger than they appear; the cat thinks the pelicans are about the size of budgerigars.

I’m running out of time if I intend to write my magnum opus, that one book that will justify my lousy life. The age-old question is: Where to begin? Don’t give me that “at the beginning” routine. I hate stories that start: My earliest memory is when I was four, standing on the running board of my father’s old Ford, blah blah blah.

One should start at the end, if one only knew the end. Well, the end is death, of course, but we need to know the circumstances, the morbid details, the cause, the how and the why and the where — and most chillingly, the when.

If we all knew when, we’d live our lives a lot differently. Either that or we’d blow our brains out now and be done with it. A lot of people hate waiting. They’re impatient. And they especially hate waiting for a corned beef on rye with too much pain on it; or waiting for a lousy bowl of oblivion. The hell with it.

I know a lot of dead people. I don’t call them anymore. I used to dial A for Afterlife. Never an answer. Talking into a dead phone. I dialed O for Oblivion. Busy signal. Lines all tied up.

I shared this fact with the cat. She listened intently but I knew she wasn’t interested. She was thinking of a crunchy pelican the size of a budgerigar.