Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Now the Boot Is on the Other Footnote, Isn't It?*

And now it seems Wednesday will always be one from the vaults, as Tuesday night is write my hobby job ass off night. (Note: if you don't want to go crazy, don't ask 6 different chefs for recipes for one story and then have to try to make them all look uniform. You will go Tbs. v Tsp. crazy.) At some point I will run out of old things to run, and then, well, I guess I won't publish here as much. But in the meantime, here's one that I can remember going over big years ago at a live reading, especially when I held up an asterisk to read all the footnotes. Or especially after we had all been drinking. Thank you Eliot, Nabokov, Barth, Yuengling. Oh, and that title is the real title, despite its protestations.

Working Title: Is It Perfume from a Dress?

It began, well, I’m not exactly sure when, but in my youth, my preteen years or so. I developed a nagging theory that would often overwhelm me: I feared that I was an exceptional child, but in the odd meaning of the word.[1] The horrible thing was that I convinced myself of a conspiracy: everyone was too polite, or mean, perhaps, to call attention to my problem. Nonetheless, my dubious distinction, whatever it was (the actual malady didn’t even seem to matter), preceded me like a leper’s death rattle. I did not belong; everyone knew; they treated me like everyone else.

Now I’m puzzled by the denotation of paranoia. The dictionary[2] comforts me by claiming the problem is “nondegenerative” and “limited.” Yet, the dictionary assails me with terms like “chronic” and “psychosis,” too. Which words should I believe? Who developed this definition?

Ask a person on the street, and they’d claim paranoia is organized worrying or a persecution complex. I prefer these connotations, for they avoid the overtly psychological. (After all, one might slip and imagine a Perry Mason episode featuring a witness for the persecution.) My mind, when it begins this happy trail of association, almost never ends. Paranoid sounds like a gland problem. Part of me (which part?) wonders if there is such a thing as mononoia. Then there’s the bathroom graffiti line: “I used to be paranoid, but now I’m just annoyed.” (That’s not as good as the graffiti in an oriental restaurant’s bathroom: “All employees must wash hands before returning to wok”--but that line merely digresses while proving humor is a mean-spirited thing.)[3]

I am still paranoid today, about many things. Part of me (probably not the part mentioned previously) thinks this paranoia is a life-coping device and a way to prove I’m from the East Coast.[4] People from the East Coast worry about living because they have more ways to die. One friend actually saw a knifing in New York City because the knifee accidentally bumped into the knifer. True, the killer was probably the paranoid one of this pair, but he surely gave us clumsy folk something to think about. However, paranoia is not merely life-preserving. It’s being convinced the check-out girl says, “Do you want that pop in a sack,” so my ear will bridle at her colloquialism. I have yet to say, “No, but put the soda in a bag, dummy.” I do not carry a knife. The Midwest might be safe.

Paranoia, of this sort, is a two-way street, or a too way street, as I almost wrote. I’m puzzled if paranoia can truly be privately owned. We can all share Murphy’s Law, so even he’s not very special, although his name gets bandied about a lot. I am sure we are all paranoid about love. I, personally, have suffered the crashing breaker’s of love’s high-tide-paranoiac-swim-without- the-life guard. It’s easy to drown doubly here: not sure which other swimmer to swim for, whether any are in reach anyway, whether the shore--where one can be dry and alone--is the only place to be. (I’ve grown rather to like this metaphor.)[5] Does she love me? Do I love her? Or her? Or do I only love myself, so who am I trying to kid anyway? Plato wrote an entire Symposium on the issue, and while he made great fun of the people he didn’t like, I’m not sure Socrates’ spiritual love is what I have in mind, either. It does seem love goes from the physical to the spiritual, but then becomes so unreal or ethereal (the similarities make me screw up the pronunciation) that I (and who else, might I add?) desire some of the physical again. Which is to say I know nothing more now than I did at the paragraph’s beginning.

People were once so paranoid that they had to make a flourish after their signatures to prevent forgeries. A professor I once knew said at a seminar that he held in his home that Laurence Sterne took to signing copies of Tristram Shandy to prevent bootlegs. To prove this point, the professor took an authentic, signed copy of the book from his own shelves. This made me paranoid; I would rather not be sure who wrote the book I’m reading than have such a professor, who was actually a nice guy, really.[6] Still, there seems to need to be some bounds. I’m not sure whether Sterne needed to use a paraph after his signature to prove his book’s authenticity even further (imagine an 18th century huckster with fobs and Shandys under his ample waistcoat, corner-waiting). What worries me is that paraph and paragraph come from the same etymological roots, and I never knew it until I looked up paranoid. You’d think it was a plan; at least I would.

I cannot get my mind to stop working this twisted way. I’m on the verge of a deeper paranoia here, not of man versus man, but of man versus . (Fill-in your own all-purpose world belief, but make sure it allows for a good cosmic guffaw every now and then.)[7] One day I was busily writing notes about my major movie-going experiences and got to my first PG movie, The Poseidon Adventure. The boat turns upsidedown; people try to escape by going up to the bottom of the ship. The film is entirely un-noteworthy, but I wound up quoting John Ashbery by the time I was done scribbling a page. Every thought explodes into another like a good breakshot in a billiard game with an infinite number of balls. So right now, I’m thinking of The Color of Money, which I despise,[8] and my own pitiful pool skills, and how it’s fun to diddle with the chalk to have something to do, and how we’ve created such time-possessing insanity to fill-up our lives.[9] If we don’t distract ourselves, the balls might bust right out of our heads, probably leaving each of us alive, but killing everyone near us. As Bryan Ferry once sang, “I can talk talk talk talk talk talk myself to death.”[10] (It sounds better with the music, but here I go again. People won’t understand. They’ve told me the essay is the form that most desires to be understood.)

If I stripped away the veil of pretense, I’d abandon the Latin and head straight for the Old English--fear. I am scared, senseless, and about everything. (Oddly, I write senseless now, when paranoia comes from roots meaning “beyond mind,” which doesn’t leave me much, does it?) I am even more scared that others feel the same way. No, I have to change that. I’m even more scared some people aren’t afraid (I believe many of these people are called Republicans, but that’s a different essay) (and a cheap shot). Paranoia is a way to hold my own insanity at arm’s length and turn it over like a rock with ugly squigglies beneath it. Maybe I can throw the rock far (with my arm?) away, but the lousy worms will drop at my feet. I’d probably just break a window with the rock, anyway. Now what? Maybe I can drop the rock hard enough to crush the worms, at least. But then the rock’s left, and that’s the problem, really. It is the metaphor I have to up and live with, or else drop, and then go running into the hills, hoping for a scratch of land where lonesome is usual and only.

I either end here or on and on.

At least one of us is spared the other.

[1] At one point my parents nearly (well, not so nearly, but they did discuss) sent me to a place called Educational Insights. This institution was an alternative school that for some reason also ran bus trips to Jets games. I never went to the school, but did go to the Jets games. Several years later, Educational Insights was busted: it turns out there was no school at all.

[2] The American Heritage Dictionary, to be precise.

[3] Banzai, Rt. 46, Dover, NJ. Banzai is a Japanese restaurant known for sushi and those funny Benihana-famed chop-at-your-table productions; I’m not really sure anything is woked there. It seems the graffiti artist liked the line as much as I did, and felt the urge to scribble away anyway.

[4] East Hanover, NJ, pop. 9926 as of the 1990 census. Twenty-five miles due west of Manhattan.

[5] A sneaky way to allude to an essay I’ll probably never (be able to) write. There is safety in a metaphor.

[6] Dr. Richard Macksey, professor of Humanities, Johns Hopkins, Baltimore. Macksey is independently wealthy, so this occurrence is par for the course. Once, when I was fortunate to have dinner with Edward Albee, Albee commented on Macksey’s son arriving at a book signing with first editions of all of Albee’s plays. The talk moved on to Macksey’s wealth, for which we all offered opinions: inheritance, a scientific invention, and Albee’s refinement of the latter, that the good professor had invented the Macksey (sic) pad. (It’s not polite to name-drop in the body of an essay, and since no one reads notes anyway....Notes are to essays as the Bridge column is to the newspaper.)

[7] For me, Catholicism, even, on very rare occasions, church-going (a kind of Bridge column), but more for the sense of a larger world, a sense that a Big Love should be worshiped, a sense that some kind of muse, maybe mere meditation with a ritual backbone, can help me along with poems and essays. Besides, Catholicism allows for much humor, simply ask Isaac or Job or Judas (the one given to us by James Wright, that is).

[8] Sorry, Marty.

[9] Checking one’s split ends is a friend’s pastime. As for me, I watch HBO I haven’t paid for, but receive better than all the other channels. I can sit through an entire fiction film about the tribulations of attempting to make the U.S. Olympic volleyball team.

[10] “Re-make/Re-model” from Roxy Music, Atco, 1972.

*Reference to Jon Langford getting to review one of Robert Christgau's decade collection books and giving it an A-.

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Blogger Marty said...

Now I'm paranoid. I see a signifier in a footnote that belongs to me when I authorize it (with apologies to Jacques), plus the title of an HBO show I watched when I was getting HBO for free (through an analog aerial, mind you). . . and . .. and . . .

wv: balcula (Slcott?)

12:11 PM  
Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

When you digress, you just don't stop fooling around, do you? You out-tangented yourself.

wv: pally (as in "Why are you writing about paranoia, pally pal o' mine?")

5:36 PM  
Blogger George said...

Marty, I left that footnote in just for you, even if I wrote the piece years before we met. Now really feel paranoid.

Queen, my life is one big digression. Some call that fooling around.

WV: dahleter, as in "is that chitty chitty mail? it looks like dahleter!"

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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3:59 AM  

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