"Stop me if I've told you this one before."
Life is often repetitious. The longer you live, the more reps you've done. Eventually, all you can do is repeat yourself, I think, unless something big happens.
Q called me last night.
"Are you driving."
"Of course you are. That's the only time you call."
When he calls me from his house, though, something bad usually happens. This is because he puts me on FaceTime and listens to me over speakers. He has a child and a would-be wife, and they might hear things I wouldn't say in their company. Of course I wouldn't. But I'm not talking to them. . . I'm talking to a broheme. Like that former president once said, "it was just locker room talk." So when I am screaming out obscenities unfit for delicate ears. . . .
"You should be grateful I call you. Nobody else calls you. You never call me. I always call to check up on you."
One of those four statements is true. I even looked back through my phone log to verify what I already knew to be true. I never call anybody. There are people I can't call for various reasons. The rest of humanity, I figure, has no desire to hear from me. I don't know. But it is true.
Later, he FaceTimed me. Why? Why do we need to look at one another. More to the point, I don't want to see myself in the corner of the screen. I'm always slumped in a chair, phone held low shooting up from my crotch over my belly that is bigger because of the slump, under my chin and up my considerable nose with its deviated septum and god knows onto my half-closed eyes, the lamplight falling from some unflattering angle casting shadows beneath my eye bags. I don't look at him. I look upon myself with horror and despair.
"You're getting grumpy," he'll say. No shit.
"Why in the fuck do you need to FaceTime?
Then I'll see him look toward an open door and he'll say, "Lower your voice."
Last night, he asked me who my favorite critic was.
"Literary or social or what?"
If we are just using the category "Critic", I'll take Christopher Hitchens for the win.
"That's like saying 'doctor' or 'attorney.' You don't go to the neurosurgeon to get your foot fixed. You don't ask a real estate attorney to defend you in a criminal case. Lit crits are specialized, too. I mean, there are those who write great or general overviews of a period or a movement, but these are big, sweeping things."
His point was that we remember artists, not critics.
"Would you consider Derrida a critic?"
That got me thinking about the whole PoMo "movement." What a shambles that has made of things in general.
"Nobody in college reads Derrida," I said. "They read about Derrida. They read 'Derrida for Idiots' and the like, essays of explanations of what are considered seminal passages by him. Then they go out into the world wielding Derridaisms like a bludgeon."
Maybe I said that. Maybe I just thought it. I don't know. When we hang up, I continue the conversation in my head. I'm more profound there, I think, alone in my cabeza without rejoinder or with only the rejoinders I can brilliantly counter. I win every argument I imagine.
Between call and FaceTime, I had a text from my Old New Old Friend. I recounted something she said she had heard many times before.
"Yea. I'm a broken record."
Now I'm thinking about the aging writer. Most people are unable to tell a story. Some have a story or two that they can tell, but most have only a few witty lines. There are writers who have that one good book, but after that, they are done. Then there are the writers who are able to crank out multiple works. In the end, if they have two good ones, they are successful. Part of that is because they begin to tell the same story again. They use different characters and settings, of course, but repetition is there. It has been noted that Hemingway needed a new lover for every book he wrote. He wrote the same thing again and again, of course, but he was excited to do it for a new audience. Fitzgerald had--how many novels? Two survive the ages. Faulkner told the same southern tale again and again, but he was brave enough to write it in completely different styles each time. Joyce, the most important writer of the 20th century, has a collection of stories, two novels and a giant work of gibberish total.
Even movements are repetitions. That's how we classify writers, painters, musicians. . . . Romantic, Naturalist, Realist, Modern, Post-Modern--these are major literary movements. A bit different categories for painters, but the same idea. Styles, themes, symbols. . . repetitions.
Holy Christ on the Cross, though, nobody calls themselves a Post-Modernist, do they? I think not. What a mess that made. It was the verbal equivalent of a World War. Does anyone read those PoMo experiments, those novels that constantly attempt to draw your attention away from the story so well not being told? Marginalia? I guess what we got were those illustrated cartoon novels cool profs have made part of their contemporary lit syllabi. Or even courses.
"The Evolution of the Graphic Novel from the Victorian Era to Present."
I just made that up, but I think it could be a fun course in Steam Punk.
"Make It New." That was the Modernist's decree. They said that when they were young. Everything is exciting then. But as the Modernists aged, they, too, became more selective in their interests. Life is that way, even for the artist. Balthus, I'll admit, radically changed his painting style as he aged (and aged and aged), but his models remained the same. You never look at a Matisse and wonder "Who painted that?" Gaugin didn't vary much, either. Hemingway's latter work, "The Old Man and the Sea," is really pretty awful, an allegory more than a novel. It ranks alongside the works of Hurston, I think.
Blah, blah, blah.
I should probably shut the fuck up and go gently into that good night. These become the rantings of someone who has said it all before. It is inevitable. We become replicas of ourselves, caricatures of what we once were.
"Louder this time. . . maybe with a little more drama!"
Or we start sticking our tongues in the mouths of children like the Dali Lama. The Wisdom of the Aged.
Trump's a broken record, but he can, in his P.T. Barnum way, still command a crowd. Barnum, right? No one has ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
Or was that Mencken?
Either way, I'll end with one of Barnum's favorite ploys.
This Way to the Egress.
* * *
Oh, man. . . I read this just after I got off the phone with you all. THIS IS POSTMODERNISM!