Eluceat Omnibus Lux
Two o’clock in the afternoon and I’ve already masturbated twice. Luckiest man in the world or laziest? Let future literary critics decide, but the next Hugh Kenner should know that I have already produced five hundred words of fiction on this scorcher of an August day in the year of our Lord, 2010.
Hemingway also lacked discipline and self-restraint, but his talent was so immense that he achieved immortality by pecking a mere five hundred words per morning. After that self-assigned quota, his day was wide-open for bullfighting, vino rojo, and masking his latent homosexuality behind a beard. Luckiest man in the world or laziest? Back in those days Maxwell Perkins got to decide.
And who doesn’t like Ezra Pound? Pretty much everybody, but I like him. His cantos were the outcome of belligerent masturbation sessions. Go to a university library and look it up. You won’t find jack about it on the Internet.
Master thyself, then others shall thee beare.
Pull down thy vanity
Most critics interpret these lines as an exorcism of vanity via Pound’s acknowledging that the beauty and order of the cosmos are not products of man. Ha! If only!
Lots of geniuses ink their flesh pens to get the creative juices flowing and I just so happen to be one of them. I do so every morning before opening my most recent Word.doc and then again before breaking for lunch. Today is no different. Today I am working on this story. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, this story is about me, Eugenio Volpe. Most of my stories are about the neurotic misdeeds of Eugenio Volpe. I know a good joke when I hear one and I am most certainly that. I plan on submitting this memoir/fiction hybrid to The Paris Review. They’re not big on humor over there. Their funny bones are heavily padded in chocolate brown velvet. Just as well. I want to be recognized for my meta-narrative prowess, not my post-Twainian irony and wit.
If you’re reading this story in a journal other than The Paris Review that means they’ve rejected it. In this case, the magazine is officially out of touch and therefore irrelevant. A few months ago, Jon Stewart took a swipe at the magazine on The Daily Show, stating that nobody has read The Paris Review in years. He’s right. Nobody reads it anymore, unless of course you’re reading this story in its latest issue. If that’s the case, The Paris Review has torn off its brown velvet sleeves à la Hulk Hogan and is about to give literary elitism the proverbial suplex. Otherwise, the only literary journal worth reading is the New York Tyrant, or maybe Post Road, and most definitely Atticus Review. You get the idea. Literary genius requires a butt-load of solipsism. The same goes for chronic masturbation.
Having achieved my five-hundredth word somewhere amidst this sentence, I stand from my desk and head for the bathroom. I wash my hands and splash cold water on my face. Sometimes I even make myself blush (talk about luckiest man!). Doing so works up quite an appetite. I live across the street from a deli. I am a quasi vegetarian so there’s not much for me to eat over there. I’ll usually order an onion bagel with avocado, tomato, and cheddar. I wash it down with a large black coffee. My wife gets home from work around six every night, by which time I have already climaxed twice and can therefore last a solid fifteen minutes with her. For an author, premature ejaculation is a fate worse than publishing a short story on your own blog.
The deli is small, tidy, and air conditioned. The floorboards are a dark-stained pine. There are two lanky kids behind the counter slicing rolls and slopping mayonnaise. Both have pencil beards and wear their plaid Red Sox hats sideways. There are three women standing in front of the deli counter. The pale blonde in Daisy Duke cutoffs turns and offers me a little smile. Unlike The Paris Review, she sees the light shining from inside of me. Her aesthetic judgment is far superior to that of its editors. My wavy mane calls Bradford Morrow’s entire oeuvre into question. My broad shoulders would have seduced Hemingway into shaving his beard. If this doesn’t say something about my talents as a writer then cancel all of your literary journal subscriptions.
I smile back at Daisy. She smiles back, but wider this time. Now we’re getting somewhere. Life imitating art. Wow! See what I just did there? I am this good.
The other two women are built like snowmen. They also happen to be black, which isn’t my fault. It’s how they were when I walked into the deli. The slightly smaller one is shouting into her cell phone about getting her dog fixed. She’s doing for Ebonics what Dante did for Italian. I could listen to her all day. She’s got some sort of hip-hop terza rima going on. She’s wearing an Outback safari hat and one of those carpal tunnel wrist guards. Apparently it costs a few hundred bucks to neuter a terrier.
Daisy Duke and I are trying not to laugh. Doing so would be somewhat racist. I can tell by looking at Daisy that she’s a sensitive liberal like me. She’s vegan-thin and wears barrettes. I try sliding her another smile, but the second black woman turns around and gives me a double take. She’s got a face like Mike Tyson and teeth like Jaws. Her pupils adjust to the light shining from inside of me, her face melting all over mine. She places a hot sweaty palm against my cheek and seductively licks her lips.
“Ooh, baby,” she says. “You a sexy thang. You one of those Brad Pitt motherfuckers.”
Apparently, her aesthetic judgment is also superior to that of The Paris Review editors. I want to value that judgment, but Brad Pitt is a bit of a stretch. I am however the kind of guy who needs three orgasms a day and will take it wherever I can get it. That said, I will deem my life a failure if I die without publishing a story in The Paris Review. Thank God I’ve already had one accepted with the New York Tyrant. Publish or perish. I wouldn’t be here right now had my first short story not been nominated for a Pushcart. Being nominated for that prestigious award gave me the authority so to speak. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the nerve to exploit the lives of others. Mike Tyson would not be massaging my highly developed pectorals. She would not be fondling my biceps.
“Oh, honey, you got muscle. I could eat you up all night.”
Her breath smells like ketchup. She’s crazier than a shithouse rat, but I get the metaphysical sense that she damn well knows what she’s talking about. Currently, her mind is all that matters. It’s nice listening to someone else exalt Eugenio Volpe for a change. She can’t keep her hands off me. Daisy Duke is laughing her ass off. The boys behind the counter are laughing into the collars of their Rocawear tees. We’re quickly becoming a publishable story, but I don’t want just any old audience. I want the most prestigious, well-educated audience that Yale has to offer. Let’s face it, in our day, men like George Bush and Lorin Stein get to decide.
Dante is still spitting rhymes into her cell phone. Her terrier is only eleven months old, but has already given birth to a litter of puppies. I don’t have any kids. My wife and I are waiting for me to publish a book first. Then life can start. Then I’ll have money and more importantly, the confidence. Mike Tyson has all the confidence in the world and therefore the authority of this story. Her hand is now making its way down my ribs towards my waistline. I’m not sure how much further this can go. Most avant garde literary journals prefer works of 2,500 words or less. We’re already more than halfway there and I haven’t even gotten to the part about my mother cheating on my brawny father with a 135 pound Chinese guy. I take a step back and politely parry Mike Tyson’s hand from my lower abdomen.
“I appreciate the kind words, but I’m a married man.”
She looks down at my hand. I don’t wear a wedding ring. Neither does my wife. She’s a feminist and scholar of post-colonialism so no blood diamonds. We’ve been faithfully married twelve years.
“You false advertising and shit,” Mike Tyson says. “You got any kids?”
“No kids, but my penis is really cute.”
Mike Tyson laughs like hell, but Daisy Duke isn’t impressed. She thinks I’ve crossed a line. Dick jokes and racism are a lazy man’s game. I’ll never get inside The Paris Review that way and she knows it. Mike Tyson sees that she’s caused some tension between me and Daisy so she apologizes. She clutches my hand. There is a faint ember flickering behind her hazel eyes.
“I’m just play’n wit’ y’all. I don’t mean nuth’n. I’m thirty-two years old. I’m an old woman. You two just puppies. I just hav’n myself a good time. Don’t mind me.”
I am three years her senior. She looks old enough to be Mike Tyson’s older sister. She’s a tough read. I had her for at least forty-five. Her ugliness is ageless. My eyes are misting up, but Daisy Duke might find that patronizing. I bite my lip and turn away. I stare into the deli case and focus on the meats, but the butt-ends of roast beef and capicola only remind me of her. A better writer would find some beauty in that face of hers. A better human being would leave her out of the story altogether. Tonight, I will read these first five pages to my wife and she will accuse me of exploitation or perhaps of exoticizing the Other. I’ll wisecrack that it’s a marked improvement from my habit of exoticizing the Self. She will laugh and then we will fall into each other, eroticizing others in our minds. Having just read this story, it will dawn on her that she’s been buying into my fifteen minutes of fame as a result of false advertising. I will feel her disappointment underneath me. I will pull out because I don’t want to create life by way of ending my own.
I pace about the deli feeling like a real shit, but then I hear Daisy Duke order a roast beef on pumpernickel. She is not a sensitive liberal like me. Mike Tyson also recognizes this. She gives Daisy Duke a sideways look.
“Damn, girl. That a lot of sandwich for a skinny thang like you. Where you gonna put all that beef?”
Daisy Duke smiles politely and then stares down at her blue, retro Converse high-tops. Mike Tyson cackles and slaps her thigh. She spins towards Dante for a reaction, but her mother’s still on the phone, yelling at the person on the other end to keep the dog from barking. Mike Tyson saunters over to me until her face is inches from mine. She resumes fondling my biceps.
“Ooh, baby, I can’t get me enough of these arms.”
“My father’s were much bigger,” I say.
She places a finger over my lips. It tastes like an anti-Semitic line in Pound’s Canto XXXV.
“Don’t be beat’n yo’self up,” she pleads. “Be y’own man. I bet you got things he ain’t ever had.”
“My wife has never cheated on me.”
“And why would she? She got herself Brad-motherfucking-Pitt.”
“True dat,” I say, taking her hand in mine for a brief moment. When I let go of it, she nods towards Dante.
“That’s my mama,” Mike Tyson says.
“Ma che cazzo dici,” I reply.
“I know. Ain’t she beautiful?”
She’s far from beautiful, but looks better and younger than Mike Tyson. I nod my head in agreement.
“She looks great,” I say.
“I got my daddy’s looks. My brother looked liked my mama, but he jumped off the Mount Hope Bridge last year, but shhh, don’t mention it. She get real upset. He was the baby. I bought her a puppy last year to lift the spirits. You know what we named her?”
Her eyes sour on me like I’ve been the one invading her personal space.
“How you know dat?”
“Writer’s intuition,” I say.
She crosses her eyes at me. In regards to her face, it’s a marked improvement. She calls over to Dante, but she’s still poeticizing over her cell and thus ignores Mike Tyson. Something tells me that there’s nobody on the other end; that she’s feigning conversation as a way of avoiding interaction with her daughter. It’s a terrible thing to do. Why should Mike Tyson be my problem? I don’t have the time or love for her. I don’t have kids for exactly that reason and a few aforementioned others. Ezra Pound abandoned his three year-old daughter and let Austrian farmers raise her. Otherwise, he might have never fostered the poetic genius of The Pisan Cantos, and as far as I’ve read, his daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, is not an anti-Semite.
Mike Tyson turns her back to me and wanders over to the counter. She is finished with Eugenio Volpe. I’ve betrayed her trust somehow. There’s a stack of pizza strips wrapped in wax paper next to the cash register. She grabs one and waves it at Dante.
“Mama, will you buy me a slice?”
Dante shakes her head in annoyance and excuses herself to the potentially make-believe person on the other end. She even goes so far as to place a hand over the mouthpiece.
“I already buying you a meatball sub. If you want more to eat then get yo’self a job. I ain’t got more than two goddamn nickels to rub.”
The response saddens Mike Tyson. She drops both arms to her side and pouts. In doing so, I see just how small-minded I’ve been. She doesn’t look like Mike Tyson one iota. Mike Tyson doesn’t have jowls. No. She looks like a female Jorge Luis Borges. She looks like the blind old Borges, the down in the mouth masturbator mazed in one of his own meta-narratives. Yes, that’s right. Borges was a chronic masturbator. It’s public knowledge. He was also a self-publisher. He also published a short story in The Paris Review. By then, he was already Borges so it’s not like George Plimpton discovered much of anything. Plimpton wasn’t a Yale man. He went to Harvard and before that he went to St. Bernard’s. The motto there is Perge sed caute. Mike Tyson never proceeded with caution. Mike Tyson never graduated from high school. I graduated from the South Shore Regional Technical Vocational High School. We didn’t have a motto. Our school uniform was jeans, a Metallica tee shirt, and work boots; therefore, my chances of getting published in The Paris Review are slim to none. The real Mike Tyson has a better chance of publishing a story with them given his celebrity status. I have a slight advantage over the Jorge Luis Borges formerly known as Mike Tyson, but only because I own a laptop and she in all likelihood does not. Aside from this being the 2,558th word of my story, I’m not really sure where that leaves me.
The two kids behind the counter still haven’t taken my order.
Jorge Luis Borges still has teeth like Jaws.
My mother’s teeth are rotting out of her head due to the cocaine and vodka, which she drinks with Pepsi. It’s a good thing she slept with our dentist once upon a time. He recently gave her a deal on a silver bridge, which I accidentally threw away a few weeks ago. We were at a family barbecue celebrating my cousin’s high school graduation (public school). She wrapped her bridge in a paper napkin so she could really go to town on some ribs. How was I supposed to know that her fake teeth were in a greasy, crumpled up napkin? I was trying to be helpful by clearing the table. Regardless, she flipped out, threatening that I owed her three grand unless I found it. I dug her scowl out of the trash. It was snarling up at me from a paper plate smeared with blue frosting. This is gut-wrenching, I thought to myself. I should write this moment down and put it somewhere.
Dante waves at Borges as if fed up. She places a hand over her ear and resumes chatting on the phone, pacing back and forth in front of the bulletin board. It’s layered with fliers advertising yoga lessons and overpriced apartments. The neighborhood is coming up. Borges is coming down. She needs food, now! She can’t wait for the kids behind the counter to finish making her sub. Dante ordered six of them. I’m not sure how many more mouths there are to feed back home. Maybe her brother left a few kids behind. I hope none of them belong to Borges. The Argentinean died childless. As an adolescent, his father urged him, Read a lot, write a lot, tear up a lot, and don’t rush into print. Borges translated that advice into sexual praxis and developed an incurable case of impotence in regards to the opposite sex. In regards to his flesh pen, Borges stroked his own vanity and created protagonists in likeness of himself, solipsistic bookworms who prefer the company of mirrors to that of vaginas. Given the enormity of his literary legacy, he published a small amount of fiction. All in all, I have published seventeen stories. I regret giving birth to maybe five of them, which makes me a welfare mom of short story writing.
Borges squeezes the pizza strip in frustration. Oil streams down the back of her fist. The whole thing disgusts me, including my own part in it. Daisy Duke walks out. She opts to wait outside in the humidity. I am not sure who or what has offended her most. Borges comes back at me with her oozy eyes and runs a finger down my chest.
“Hey, Brad Pitt, buy me a slice.”
I’m at a total loss for words. I don’t know what to do next. I have so many conflicting thoughts and emotions on the idea. She detects this. She kicks up the flattery. She is a professional. I am glad she doesn’t own a laptop.
“You got to be in movies with those eyes. You the sexiest thang I seen in a long time. You got to get that face famous and shit.”
“Ma che cazzo dici,” I reply.
“You better believe it, sugar. You got to stop think’n so low of yo’self. You got the goods. You got to get on the cover of GQ. You got to capitalize and shit on that shit. I ain’t got nothing to capitalize on. I just want me a slice of pizza, but Mama ain’t hav’n it.”
A better human being would tell her that she’s fat enough; that she doesn’t need the extra food and that she should listen to her mother. A better writer would have gotten into the Yale MFA program and rubbed chocolate velvet elbows with a young Lorin Stein. I reach into my pocket and keep it there. Borges drops me another half-dozen or so compliments. We all sing for our supper. My mother sang for new carpeting. She sang for a new hot water heater. She sang to my father, but the bony growths in his ear canals, caused by decades of working outdoors, prevented him from listening.
Dante has heard enough. She hangs up the phone and waddles over to the counter. She tells the boys to add a slice of pizza to her bill. She then turns and flashes me one of the dirtiest looks that I’ve ever had the pleasure of antagonizing. The light shining from inside of her is like the ark in the first Indiana Jones film. It melts the handsomeness off my face like butter. It is not a man made courage, or made order, or made grace. I inherited my mother’s looks and hyper-sensitivity. I did not inherit her courage.
Borges puts the slice that she’s been fondling back atop the pile. She chooses a new strip, a wider, longer, fresher one. She pulls back the wax paper and sinks her fangs into it. Within a few chomps, her chin glistens with tomato and oil. Sarcastically, she holds the slice up as if to offer me a bite.
“I wish I had a mother like that,” I say, nodding over to Dante as she pays for their subs with an EBT card.
“Everything is shining,” Borges replies. “Even yo mama. I bet you look just like her with those long eyelashes and shit.”
She says this with a mouthful of dough and cheese. I can tell now that she doesn’t really mean it. Regardless, she is correct. I do take after my mother’s shit. I’ve as good as slept with Daisy Duke. I’ve as good as slept with my shrink. The wives of close friends too. Pretty much every women I ever see on the street. At least my mother was heroic enough to play out her tragic flaw. I am nothing more than a misconceived version of her. The original always betrays the translation. I suppose that it’s not my fault. It’s how I was before I ever thought of becoming a writer. In the meantime, I play myself playing with myself, splurging on paper and tissue, waiting for Lorin Stein to either pull down my vanity or set me ablaze.
 Latin: Let the light shine out from all. Motto of the Sidwell Friends School, a Quaker private school in Washington D.C. attended by various presidential children and The Paris Review editor Lorin Stein.