You Were Perfectly Fine
by Dorothy Parker
The pale young man eased himself carefully into the low chair, and rolled his head to the side, so that the cool chintz comforted his cheek and temple.
"Oh, dear," he said. "Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. Oh."
The clear-eyed girl, sitting light and erect on the couch, smiled brightly at him.
"Not feeling so well today?" she said.
"Oh, I'm great," he said. "Corking, I am. Know what time I got up? Four o'clock this afternoon, sharp. I kept trying to make it, and every time I took my head off the pillow, it would roll under the bed. This isn't my head I've got on now. I think this is something that used to belong to Walt Whitman. Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear."
"Do you think maybe a drink would make you feel better?" she said.
"The hair of the mastiff that bit me?" he said. "Oh, no, thank you. Please never speak of anything like that again. I'm through. I'm all, all through. Look at that hand; steady as a hummingbird. Tell me, was I very terrible last night?"
"Oh, goodness," she said, "everybody was feeling pretty high. You were all right."
"Yeah," he said. "I must have been dandy. Is everybody sore at me?"
"Good heavens, no," she said. "Everyone thought you were terribly funny. Of course, Jim Pierson was a little stuffy, there for a minute at dinner. But people sort of held him back in his chair, and got him calmed down. I don't think anybody at the other tables noticed at all. Hardly anybody."
"He was going to sock me?" he said. "Oh, Lord. What did I do to him?"
"Why, you didn't do a thing," she said. "You were perfectly fine. But you know how silly Jim gets when he thinks anybody is making too much fuss over Elinor."
"Was I making a pass at Elinor?" he said. "Did I do that?"
"Of course you didn't," she said. "You were only fooling, that's all. She thought you were awfully amusing. She was having a marvelous time. She only got a little tiny bit annoyed just once, when you poured the clam juice down her back."
"My God," he said. "Clam juice down that back. And every vertebra a little Cabot. What'll I ever do?"
"Oh, she'll be all right," she said. "Just send her some flowers or something. Don't worry about it. It isn't anything."
"No, I won't worry," he said. "I haven't got a care in the world. I'm sitting pretty. Oh, dear, oh, dear. Did I do any other fascinating tricks at dinner?"
"You were fine," she said. "Don't be so foolish about it. Everybody was crazy about you. The owner was a little worried because you wouldn't stop singing, but he really didn't mind. All he said was, he was afraid they'd close the place again, if there was so much noise. But he didn't care a bit, himself. I think he loved seeing you have such a good time. Oh, you were just singing away there, for about an hour. It wasn't so terribly loud, at all."
"So I sang," he said. "That must have been a treat. I sang."
"Don't you remember?" she said. "You sang one song after another. Everybody in the place was listening. They loved it. Only you kept insisting that you wanted to sing some song about some kind of fusiliers or other, and everybody kept shushing you, and you'd keep trying to start it again. You were wonderful. We were all trying to make you stop singing for a minute, and eat something, but you wouldn't hear of it. My, you were funny."
"Didn't I eat any dinner?" he said.
"Oh, not a thing," she said. "Every time the waiter would offer you something, you'd give it right back to him because you said that he was your long-lost brother, changed in the cradle by a gypsy band, and that anything you had was his. You had him simply roaring at you."
"I bet I did," he said. "I bet I was comical. Society's Pet, I must have been. And what happened then, after my overwhelming success with the waiter?"
"Why, nothing much," she said. "You took a sort of dislike to some old man with white hair, sitting across the room, because you didn't like his necktie, and you wanted to tell him about it. But we got you out before he got really mad."
"Oh, we got out," he said. "Did I walk?"
"Walk! Of course you did," she said. "You were absolutely all right. There was that nasty stretch of ice on the sidewalk, and you did sit down awfully hard, you poor dear. But good heavens, that might have happened to anybody."
"Oh, sure," he said. "Louisa Alcott or anybody. So I fell down on the sidewalk. That would explain what's the matter with my -- Yes, I see. And then what, if you don't mind?"
"Ah, now, Peter!" she said. "You can't sit there and say you don't remember what happened after that! I did think that maybe you were just a little tight at dinner -- Oh, you were perfectly all right, and all that, but I did know you were feeling pretty gay. But you were so serious, from the time that you fell down -- I never knew you to be that way. Don't you know, how you told me I had never seen your real self before? Oh, Peter, I just couldn't bear it, if you didn't remember that lovely long ride we took together in the taxi! Please, you do remember that, don't you? I think it would simply kill me, if you didn't."
"Oh, yes," he said. "Riding in the taxi. Oh, yes, sure. Pretty long ride, hmm?"
"Round and round the park," she said. "Oh and the trees were shining so in the moonlight. And you said you never knew before that you really had a soul."
"Yes," he said. "I said that. That was me."
"You said such lovely things," she said. "And I'd never known, all this time, how you had been feeling about me, and I'd never dared to let you see how I felt about you. And then last night -- oh, Peter dear, I think that taxi ride was the most important thing that ever happened to us in our lives."
"Yes," he said. "I guess it must have been."
"And we're going to be so happy," she said. "Oh, I just want to tell everybody! But I don't know -- I think maybe it would be sweeter to keep it all to ourselves."
"I think it would be," he said.
"Isn't it lovely?" she said.
"Yes," he said. "Great."
"Lovely!" she said.
"Look here," he said. "Do you mind if I have a drink? I mean, just medicinally, you know. I'm off the stuff for life, so help me. But I think I feel a collapse coming on."
"Oh, I think it would do you good," she said. "You poor boy. It's a shame you feel so awful. I'll go make you a whiskey and soda."
"Honestly," he said. "I don't see how you could ever want to speak to me again, after I made such a fool of myself last night. I think I'd better go join a monastery in Tibet."
"You crazy idiot!" she said. "As if I could ever let you go away now! Stop talking like that. You were perfectly fine!"
She jumped up from the couch, kissed him quickly on the forehead, and ran out of the room.
The pale young man looked after her and shook his head long and slowly, then dropped it in his damp and trembling hands.
"Oh, dear," he said. "Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear."
I met one of Neko Case's boyfriends once. His name was Bill, and for a time he was a drummer and bass player in Case's band. (Band name: "Neko Case and Her Boyfriends") Bill went to high school with a friend of mine, and I met him a few times when I lived out in Seattle. This was around the time of the release of "Furnace Room Lullaby," a record I listened to hundreds of times, amazed at the lyrics and the beauty of Case's voice and also that it hadn't made her famous.
One day we were at a party in Kurt and Barbara's house, and Bill started telling stories about touring with Case's band. About the amazing musical instrument store somewhere outside of London that supplies the touring acts that come through there, where you can play guitars that used to belong to the Beatles. I wanted him to tell a Neko Case story but I didn't want to ask him, and then, finally, he did. What I remember Bill saying about playing with Case was that it was like being around a rising star. She was going places and you could tell, was the gist of what he said.
Well, Neko Case has arrived. Her new album "Middle Cyclone" gets a glowing review in the New Yorker, and on the cover Case is posed on the hood of a Mercury Cougar with a Samurai sword. What further proof does one need? Also, her album is on sale at Starbuck's. Of course, for every listener, Neko Case arrives when you first hear her. Her powerful and unusual songwriting has been gathering its audience for years. "Middle Cyclone" is a great record, definitely worth downloading from Itunes or wherever you pay for music.
(image taken from website for Neko Case)
(NB: This post was edited in response to the helpful comment of Tim Jones-Yelvington, below)
Last night Kathleen Rooney took the super-cheap Megabus ($8 roundtrip! hear that, Sam Pink? eight-frickin-dollars!! way cheaper than taking the train to Kalamazoo or wherever and having Barry drive you the rest of the way. I'm just sayin'.) in from Chicago to read from her new memoir, Live Nude Girl. Kathleen Rooney is a woman of many hats (as my Papa Jack used to say). She's a poet, a memoirist, coeditor (alongside Abigail Beckel) of Rose Metal Press, and, she used to pose nude (hence the title of her book: LIVE NUDE GIRL). This week she was on NPR's Talk of the Nation and for the past few months she's been on a book tour with our good friend, Kyle Minor. And last night a man brought her a calendar full of nude men and their strategically placed cats, of which said man was one! How brilliant is that? And don't you want one? Uh huh. I know you do.
All the great land mammals are dying. There were once birds the size of sheep. Pinnipeds used to be huge; walruses had tusks six feet long. Jackrabbits had feet like two-by-fours. Armadillos were as big as minivans. Now, they are all dying off. African elephants are going thirsty, having to dig wells in the dirt with their trunks to find water. Bengal tigers are shot and skinned. Polar bears are drowning. Imagine! The world’s largest carnivorous land mammal drowning, an entire species drowned to extinction. You know what’ll be the largest land carnivore after we’ve shot all the tigers and drowned all the polar bears? The grizzly bear. Which is to say, some mornings I wake up before the alarm and just lie there and think how I’m not sure I want to live in a world where the largest carnivorous land mammal is the goddamn grizzly bear. My boyfriend Peter tells me I have a sweet misunderstanding of the theory of natural selection. But then, he has also said that he finds my cartoon science very sexy.
My sister Gwen says it’s not so bad, living in a world where the largest land mammal is the grizzly bear. Largest carnivorous land mammal, I say. Okay, she says. She says since our mother killed herself—six months ago—I should start letting myself be comforted by the natural world. She says when I feel anxious I should ride my bicycle down to Ocean Beach and stand on the ruins of the Sutro Baths and look out at the water and imagine the dark silhouettes of blue and grey whales moving like submarines through the sea. She says I should be more like Peter, on his little research vessel out on the Bay dipping his measurement tools into the water, listening. She says if I let myself, I’ll be comforted by my smallness. But then, she has always been braver than I.
And as if that weren't enough to convince you of Claire's awesomeness, check out this shit on Granta. Claire also has a story forthcoming in The Hopkins Review and a nonfiction piece in Ploughshares. Also, she's a really nice person. Keep her name in your head. Trust me. Just do it.
I've been listening to Stanford Professor Robert Harrison's podcasted radio show "Entitled Opinions," and it's pretty great. Each show consists of an hour-long conversation between Harrison and a guest writer or professor with an informed opinion on a particular subject in literature, philosophy, or the arts.
I've listened to Harrison's three shows on the Divine Comedy, for which his guest is Rachel Jacoff, a professor of literature at Wellesly College. Turns out the Inferno (which I confess I've never read) is a mid-life crisis story. Who knew? Dante loses his way (in a dark wood) at the mid-point of life (did we mention the dark wood?), and then has a vision of the poet Virgil standing on a mountaintop, who tells him that to break through his crisis and find his way he must go down to the depths of hell and then climb up to find Virgil in Paradise. His savior is not a religious figure, or a God, but the great poet of Italy. You probably knew this already, but it was a revelation to me. I had only had a vague idea that the The Inferno had something to do with Hell, so I was grateful to get this capsule summary and introduction from Harrison's show. (Blogging seems to require a fair amount of confessing the limit of one's knowledge and experience. To blog, you basically have to admit that you don't know anything. This is the irony about blogging, I think. You present yourself as a source of information and the first thing you must do is admit to how little you know.)
But I love this sort of thing. Harrison's radio show, I mean. The classics are so wonderful, and you get more out of them with a knowledgeable guide. And then I also find that, when you have a guide who knows her way (your own Virgil, or Beatrice, or whoever), the classics are such a rich imaginative source for whatever writing we ourselves might be trying to do.
You can also find Entitled Opinions on Itunes, where you can download the podcasts for free. My brother, who knows about these things, recommends the Robert and Jean Hollander translation of The Inferno. I got it through Powell's, but now I can't seem to find it on their site. That's why there's no link here (another blogging failure). So maybe they are just temporarily out of stock? Or maybe you can get a copy from your local used or indie book store. Also, I notice that the Hollanders have a new translation of the Paradiso out. So we all have plenty of Dante to read. Hooray!
(dime-store-novel style cover art taken from uncredited poster on all posters dot com)
(this post written to "See the World" by Gomez, "Fort Hood" by Mike Doughty, and Katie Melua's cover of the Cure's "Just Like Heaven")
If I hadn’t gone to AWP, I might never have read anything by Sam Pink. Someone had told me he wasn’t a real person, that he was a pseudonym for someone else. I guess that turned me off from reading his stuff. I don’t know. I don’t really remember. But then one day at AWP I got bored and walked over to the Dogzplot table where Barry Graham shoved Sam’s book into my hand and told me to buy it. “Sam’s right there,” he said, pointing at this dude who looked like a cross between Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver and my college boyfriend, Evan. He had a hood up over his head and was gnawing on his fingers. “You should have him sign it,” Barry said. It was kind of a dirty trick. What else could I do? I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. So I bought the book and had him sign it and the next morning, alone in my hotel room with a pot of shitty hotel room coffee and nothing good on TV, I flipped the book open and started reading.
Maybe if I’d been familiar with Sam’s writing all along, if I’d read the pieces that constitute the book here and there on various internet sites over the past year or two, I wouldn’t have felt so knocked out by them. It’s impossible to tell. Reading any writer’s work as a whole is an entirely different experience than reading one or two pieces by them at random, and, in Sam’s case, it has the potential to kick the shit out of you. Which is exactly what happened to me. I read the first and last (it’s called “Dead Horse.” It’s not online. Suckas. But I’ll give you the first line, “If I ever find a dead horse, I am going to beat the fucking shit out of it.” Nice, huh?) pieces in the book and after that I knew I was going to read everything he wrote from now on.
Not that Sam Pink is for everyone. The lazy man’s comparison I guess would be to Bukowski but only because in both cases, their writing is completely raw and stripped down and honest to the point of being potentially offensive to the easily (or not-so-easily) offended. More than Bukowski, however, Sam’s writing reminds me of Kurt Cobain’s or Eminem’s, with a mixture of anger and dead babies and umbilical cords. It alternates swiftly from humor and playfulness to isolation and sadness. You might read a piece through the first time laughing your ass off, but if you stay on the page long enough, let the words really sink in, you soon realize, hey, this isn’t funny at all, actually, this is really fucked up and sick and heartbreaking as hell. I guess reading Sam Pink is sort of like watching a scene in A Clockwork Orange or Reservoir Dogs. One second you’re yucking it up, not a care in the world, and the next your mouth’s hanging wide open, no sound is coming out, and you can’t believe what the hell just happened.
I wish Barry could personally force this book into each one of your hands, with Sam lurking in the corner, looking equal parts scary and vulnerable. In lieu of that, I offer you this excerpt from a piece in the book called
“I Am the Dictator”:
We decided that freedom could be a dangerous thing in our fort utopia so some form of political structure was needed. I said plutocracy but you countered with dictatorship and I quickly said, “I call dictator.”
You shrugged and allowed it because I was the dictator and if you fucked with me, that’d be it. Our first task was to enact the systematic exclusion of all unwanted elements. We created death camps. One for everyone. We killed everyone.
After the exterminations, you said you felt sleepy and you lay down on the fort floor and fell asleep. I put my hand on your stomach and it was warm. Inside was something. To that something went the blood of your body.
I ate another handful of cereal and pulled out a bunch of plastic bags from my pocket.
I laid the bags out on the floor and straddled you.
I slid my forefinger and middle finger into your mouth along the crease of your tongue. My fingers felt warm inside. My stomach and groin tightened.
You continued to breathe and I put my mouth by yours.
I said, “I am the dictator.”
Then I put my whole hand in your mouth and began pushing it down your throat. Your throat was tight and smooth. I got an erection. I kept my hand narrow. The mechanical hand searching for a stuffed animal.
* * *
And Now Sam Pink Answers Some Questions:
What brought you to writing?
the bad people made me do it. they are mean. the bad people make me sleep too long or they don't let me sleep. the bad people look like air.
the other answer is, no one would play pogs with me anymore.
What if I want to be the dictator? Will that be a problem?
maybe there is an infinite amount of dictators and they state themselves into power in every conversation. elizabeth ellen, you can become the dictator. you have to dislike yourself so much that you're distracted into being mean to someone else. then you have to actually like it.
That sounds like a lot of work. I changed my mind. I don’t want to be the dictator anymore. When did you first start publishing online and how did you come to find the places where your work is published?
the first thing was published maybe a year and some months ago. the places either asked for work or i sent it to places i liked because of steady value, like LAMINATION COLONY,NO POSIT, ROBOT MELON, COCONUT POETRY and DOGMATIKA.
Barry Hannah: Airships
Padgett Powell: Typical
Dante: Inferno - English/Italian translation
-- Sean (Robert & Jean Hollander translation, with extensive notes; will probably take me forever to finish this)