Soho, Epiphanies, Cast-Iron, and My Father's Penisby Jim Henry
Why am I always in Greek coffee shops listening to Adult Contemporary Radio on off hours with a runny nose at sundown? Is there a message? A lesson? Are there any messages? Any lessons? Has it been your experience that there are any lessons or messages?
How can a good-bye be so banal? Don't romantic fantasies ever happen? Am I just young? Too young? When do you stop expecting things? Is it being young? Sentimental? Or a "Child of Television"? Is that really what I am? Will we really never see each other again? Is that good? What does that mean? Mightn't it work under other circumstances? What if we were in Ohio? Mississippi? Anywhere other than New York? Would that help? Does reality have a place in any of this? Where? Why am I telling you this?
Should I just run away with the dog? Should I just buy a van and load it up non-perishable carbohydrates, seltzer, and Eukanuba and head out for...? Where? The West? Wouldn't the West just swallow me up? Who am I kidding? Could I survive anywhere but here? I mean, really? Can you see me waking up in a tent in the middle of nowhere with the dog and...? What? No streets? No grid? Could I live without the grid? What is this? This thing in me? Is it me or just a part of me? Can I shake it if I run far enough? Fast enough?
Will I always have this cough?
Can we speak metaphorically? Please? Do you have any idea what I mean? Do you have a thing? A metaphorical thing? Does it peak at you? Grin at you? Leer at you? Jump at you? Can you never escape it? Does it have you pegged? Down to a T? Like the back of its hand? Does it know everything before you do? Does it torment you with its foreknowledge? With its foreskin? Does it have a foreskin? Did I ever tell you that my father did?
Why would I?
Did I ever tell you about how he told me never to look when I pissed in public? Can you imagine how literally I took that "never?" Isn't it inexplicably tragic how people miss? Just barely miss each other? Pass each other by inches all their lives long? And then be afraid to mention it? Too dumb to notice it? Why does nobody notice it? Isn't it glaring? Isn't it the most obvious thing in the world? Or is it just me? Can it really be just me? Just us? Are we really -- wait -- were we really any different? Does sentiment count for nothing? Is it just chance that its not in fashion right now? At another point in time mightn't such melodrama be encouraged? Wouldn't we be more inclined to believe in such feelings? Lend them more weight? Hold onto them and "build a life" around them? What is it to "build a life" anyway? What sort of materials do you use? Where do you buy them? Are there any blueprints? Doesn't it seem incredible, absolutely remarkable, that there aren't any blueprints? Wouldn't you think someone, some entrepreneur type, would sense this need and provide? Isn't that what we pay entrepreneurs to do? Or is that what all those self-help books are about? What are all those self-help books about? You've read a few, haven't you? Remember when you tried to get me to read a couple? Did you really think I could read anything by renegade hippie priests from the seventies?
Where are the road signs? Am I even on the road? Have I ever even seen the road? Would I know it if it bit me on the ass? Would I recognize it if it slapped me across the face? Sucked my dick? Will you pardon me for that? Can you understand that I'm out of sorts just now? Should I just address the issues? Should I just let the process work itself out? Can you imagine how tired I am all that crap? Should I just pack it all in and move back into my mother's basement and manage the local K-Mart? Is managing a K-Mart as banal as we make it out to be? Isn't it just as legitimate a way to waste these retched years as any other? What if they gave Nobel Prizes for K-Mart managing? What if they made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? A month? What if all those skinny-assed blondes on Fifth Avenue and in the Village with all those big black accessories were just clamoring to toss their talented tight little asses at the feet of K-Mart managers? Would that make it a more respectable enterprise? What if we just had a little re-allocation of our resources? Could we just re-think our priorities a little bit?
Is it all really just in my head? Was my mother right? Can we talk sensibly about her? Can we talk sensibly about anything? What if she was more capable? What if she wasn't such a ... psychotic? What if she knew how to love? Would I still be here in this coffee shop? Aren't you sick of questions like that? Why? Can anyone answer them? Isn't it obvious that no one can? Does that make them stupid questions? Does a stupid question imply a stupid questioner? Is the only dumb question the un-asked question? Were my teachers right? About anything? Do I just need to apply myself? Is anything that simple? Has it been your experience that anything is that simple? Who are all these people? Why are they always telling me things? When do I get to tell somebody something? Why do people insist on telling me things? What makes them think I care? Do you? Did you? Will you?
Will it really be that someday we'll be comfortable taking our clothes off in front of other people? Will we use our little voices? Will we use our little jokes? Will they work with anyone else? Am I charming? What do I have to look forward to? Look backward at? Should I bother with reality or is fantasy good enough? Should I just bite my lip and pretend I'm doing okay? Is there a difference between pretending to be okay and actually being okay? What is it? Is it just that I know the difference? What does that matter? If I'm the only one who'll know the difference, why bother with the work? Isn't surface good enough? Isn't it hard enough to work to pretend? Wouldn't it be harder not to? Which is better? Is there a better? Will I know it when I see it? Will it announce itself or will I have to make up my mind when I think it's here? What if it never gets here? What if one day I'm old and I realize I had it once but thought it was something else and I let it go? Beat it away? With a fucking club? What if I'm sixty and realize I had it once and I scared it away? Would I be able to survive such a realization? Or am I just being melodramatic again? Will you warn me when you see it coming? Send up a flare? Please?
How did we get off my mother? Can she really get off scot-free? Who does she think she is? Did I pick you because you're like her? Did I pick you because you're not? Did I pick you? Are you mad at her? Am I? Do I hate her? If I did, would I like it? Did she torment me? Did I really have to slay dragons? What does that mean? How big were the dragons? Was it dangerous? Did I bring any home to you? Did you ask me to? Did I fail you? Did we eat them for dinner? Or was the slaying just for the sport? Did you know Native Americans used everything when they killed a buffalo? Did you know how pure they were? How happy? How spiritual?
Have you heard how clean Canada is?
Do you believe it? Didn't you have a friend once who lived in a tee-pee? Is there any sense you can see in not being cynical? Have you ever been out West? Is it as frightening as it looks? Are there really all those buttes? Why is there no graffiti on them? Is everybody in the West a racist? Are all Native Americans now Native American alcoholics? Isn't it all terribly tragic? Are there any epiphanies in life? Why are there so many in literature? Can we blame Joyce? For everything? For all our troubles? A world of troubles? Would you mind terribly? Is the modern predicament measurably different than, say, the medieval predicament? In what way? Am I a modern man? Is everything meaningless? Has society fragmented? Is this fragmentation clearly reflected in the artistic expression of the last several decades? Has the artistic expression of the last several decades really managed only to express this one banal fact? Doesn't MTV do it just as well? Does any of this matter? Does any of this matter to anyone that matters? Do the people that matter perceive themselves to be mattering? What does that feel like? Do you suppose they in some way vibrate? Do they all live in Soho?
Will I find myself if I look? Will I find anything if I look? What if I don't, after having gone to the trouble of looking, find anything? Or worse, what if I don't like what I find? Are there any guarantees that it'll be worth the effort? Why not? Can I see the manager? Is there a manager? Can I please see the manager? How can they expect to run a business without any guarantees? Any Customer Relations Personnel? Is there any fine print? Did I miss something? When they were passing out -- where was I? Why didn't anyone tell me? Has it been terribly amusing watching me squirm in confusion all these years?
Should I entwine something here? Bring something from the past coyly into the present? Should I try to make a point? Can I mention what a bloody terror it was to see my father's penis? Have you ever seen one so small and uncircumcised that it looked like a mangled stump? Can you imagine the terror of thinking your father's penis didn't have a head? Have you ever seen an uncircumcised dick? Do you like them that way? Is all realism brutal? Is brutality at the core of everything, waiting? Is nothing simple? Isn't everything just as it appears? Does the subconscious really rule? Is everything really about sex and money? Is even benevolence reducible to some kind of selfish desire? Is everything reducible? Does it strike you as absolutely terrifying that matter can be neither created nor destroyed?
Should I lie? Should I fabricate? Should I pretend? Have I always been pretending? Am I pretending now? When I stop pretending, will I stop doubting myself? Which will come first? Isn't it easier to give in? Doesn't it make more sense? Do you really expect me to take that free-fall? Don't most people lie? All the time? Isn't that why they all look so hollow? So unreal? Like they're zombies? Are they? What is it that drives us? Is it definable? Can you bring someone to the edge and show it to them? Is that what art is for? Is that good? Is that admirable? What's Soho's angle in all of that? Is it maybe nearer the edge? Does it have a better view? What does a 10012 zip code truly signify? Is it that important? Is it obvious? Does Spring Street run parallel to Greene, or do they cross? Where's that urban archeology place? How many square feet do you have? Have you ever seen a really nice loft? I mean a really nice one?
Will everything one day be clear? Will I wake up one morning with a yellow, sort of epiphanous light shimmering -- perhaps it will be kind and it will shimmer, or filter itself through some light-altering piece of glass, or dance, or play off someone's golden, freshly-washed-hair (a child's!) -- and will I come to some sort of vague, deeply-poetic-yet-barely-expressible realization about the nature of reality? Is there really a nature of reality into which people are capable of having deeply-poetic-yet-barely-expressible insights? Does light really shimmer or filter or dance or do we just like to think so? Does liking to think so make it so? If everyone decided to pretend that light shimmered off of loved one's hair in the early morning, thus bringing about deeply-poetic-yet-barely-expressible insights, would it really mean that it could? Is that the sort of conspiratorial thinking that lies behind contemporary workshopped fiction? If everyone decided that empty warehouse buildings in old run-down East Coast port cities were worth several thousand dollars a square foot, would that mean they were? Is that market economics pure and simple? Does it make any sense to you?
Haven't you given up yet? Can you tell me why not? Can you put it into words? Can you put it to music? Is there meaning in music? Are there epiphanies in music? If there were epiphanies screaming out at us from every street corner, would they become cliched? What's the difference between a cliché and an archetype? Does it have anything to do with a documentable link to Hellenism? Will we only rid literature of epiphanies by turning them to clichés? When will it all end? If there's no meaning, why do we search for it? Why not just enjoy the dance? Do you like to dance? Do you feel free?
How many penises have you seen? Caressed? Sucked? Just looked at? Have you ever leered? Do you know what it is to leer? To be on the outside, leering in? Do you know what it's like to swallow hard? Look away? Suppress? Have you ever had a breakdown? Why don't you protect yourself? How do women do it? Do they really understand that all men want is to screw them? Watch their tits shake as they drill them? Do they really? Isn't Andrea Dworken right? Is that brutal? Does it matter? Should we pretend it doesn't exist? Should we ask someone if it does? Should we take a poll? Should we stand on a street corner and ask people what they think? Should we compile our results? Should we tabulate? Should we compile and then tabulate? Should we release our results? Should we hold a press conference and announce our conclusions? What will they be? Will the press attend? Is there no limit to what the press will attend? Should we get a "name" to announce them? Will any of this amount to anything? Are people circumcised for health reasons or is it a religious thing? Or is it aesthetics? Is aesthetics the ruling principle of our time? Has it ever been? Was antiquity really such a hot time? What was so golden? Is it any different now? Is everything relative? Is African American literature just as important to American undergraduates as Western European? Should we make room for it on our shelves? Have we found that Zulu Shakespeare yet? Can you imagine that it won't be too many more years before we do? What was the story with that Maghoub Mafouz guy?
If I bring up penises again am I in danger of constructing a theme? Should I be afraid of that? Will there be a thread? Should I just avoid penises altogether? Did Allen Ginsberg really write about his mother's vagina? Should we desecrate everything that's sacred? Will that make it less so? Will that make us free? Does the worship of sacred things stifle creativity? Did you worship me? Do you now? Will you sacrifice yourself at my throne? Will you build me a throne and then sacrifice yourself at it? Will you make it white? Will you make it cast-iron? Can you sprinkle it with marble? Or maybe just marbleize it? Will you put a big cushion on it? And a high back? Will you make it so it rocks? Will you call your friends? Do you have any friends? Do you have any friends I could meet? Do you worship me enough to offer up a friend of yours to take your place? When your place is gone, what will it be? Will it still be a place? Will it be a hole? Will it keep me company? Piss me off? Will it be recognizable? Do you have a friend? Someone cute? Do know anyone who's looking for someone on a white cast-iron throne?
Did you know there are cast-iron buildings in Soho? Do you feel threatened by that? Have you ever seen one? Did you know there are people who would kill to live in one? Would you? Kill? For anything? Would you kill me? Would you kill yourself? Would you kill your mother if the only other alternative was for her to be raped by savages (pre-literate peoples) and then skinned alive? How would you do it? Can you imagine life presenting you with such a dilemma? Can you imagine that there are people for whom it probably has? Can you imagine being skinned alive? Do you suppose it would hurt? Did you know that the skin is an organ? Did you ever get that question in Trivial Pursuit? Did you know that people in this world are routinely burned alive? Are we in another Dark Ages? Is that what's wrong with the novel?
Have you noticed that there's something wrong with the novel? Will you remember me? Will your perceptions change? Will you change? Is it possible for people to change? Or are we just victims of our past? Are we just machines that act out our roles from childhood until we die? Are successful people better or are they just acting out more successful roles? Is that better? Is this the best of all possible worlds? Is there an attainable state in this life in which genuine feeling can be experienced? Or is everything removed? Isn't anything immediate? Is all experience filtered through our particular sicknesses/subjectivity? Is sickness the same as subjectivity or am I just in a bad space right now? Does it get any better? Will you phone me if it does? Will you fax me a set of blueprints? Are fax jokes too easy? Do you have a cellular fax in your car?
Will you cry? Will it imply the depth of your emotional attachment? Will you wonder about me if I don't cry? When will it be all over? Will we ever see Europe? Does it matter? Is it pretty where you're going? Is it pretty where you've been? Will we understand each other in twenty years? Will it strike us as amusing, this little opera we've been acting out for five years? Will we be able to set it to music? Will life continue to be like this? Will it ever look coherent again? Did it ever or were we just used to seeing it that way? Will we laugh? Will our children laugh? Our grandchildren? Is anything funny? Is anything not? Are we beyond reproach? Can we come to an understanding? Did it have to be this way or were we just bullies? Does that strike you as a strange choice of words?
Does something have to be hard to be good? Is it hard to be good or is it good to be hard? Does this bring us back to penises? Should we dwell on it? Them? Is horrific a more horrible word horrible? Do either of them adequately describe what we see around us? Do we see anything around us? Is there anything around us to be seen? Could you quantify that for me? Enumerate some examples? Do you feel much like sharing? Are things getting better? Do you want them to? Are you afraid of things getting better? If they did, would you do something to sabotage it? Do you believe in self-sabotage? Does it drive you? Can you feel anything? If you could feel something -- anything -- purely, what would you choose? Grief? Joy? Indifference?
Is there some sort of crime I've committed here? Are there any charges or am I just being needlessly detained? Or am I being needfully detained? Are there any needs here? Am I meeting them? Are they yours? Are they mine? Is there a warden? Have we slipped back into the curly warmth of metaphor? Is it more comfortable? May I speak euphemistically? Or is that too bourgeois? Is bourgeois still bad? Hasn't the entire world become what people used to disdainfully refer to as bourgeois? Have you ever disdainfully referred to anything? Was it to me? Have you ever been disdainfully refer to? Do you count? Do I? For what? In whose eyes? Can I look through them for a minute? Just a peep?
Are there any ideas left or has thought been completely replaced by postures and attitudes? Should someone write a manifesto? If I wrote one would you sign it? Who are we kidding? Ourselves? Our parents? Our neighbors? If everyone's an idiot who am I? If the masses are sheep, are we the shepherds? Do we really want that role? What role do we want? Is it definable? Is there a way of living without roles? Is that the oldest, stupidest question in the world? What does it say about me? That I'm barely post-adolescent? Does that turn you off? On? Would you rather not talk about it? Do you know anything about me?
In case of emergency, whom should we contact? Who is your next of kin? Is she cute? Does she have big tits? Will they bounce when I fuck her? Does she have a number? Is she protected? Does she have a boyfriend? Is he big? Will he beat me up if I fuck his girlfriend? Will he watch? Will he hide under the bed? Does any of this turn you on? What does turn you on? Have you ever been turned on in public by just a look? Have you ever felt like you turned someone on who repulsed you? Is it creepy being a woman? Is it scary knowing what men get, just by looking? Is that what it means to be a victim? Is it scary knowing that you could just be walking down the street and end up in some guys fantasy that night while he jacks off? Do you have any idea how many men have jacked off thinking specifically about you? Strangers? Not even creeps? Guys with suits on the train? Writers even? Does that shock you? Especially the writers part? What if I told you that every man you've ever had even a passing conversation with from the time you were twelve has probably jacked off at least once thinking specifically about you? Would you believe me? Does it matter? Does it say more about me than it does about anything else or is that just a convenient way of pooh-poohing me? Are you pooh-poohing me? Have you ever been pooh-poohed?
Could we set up a date? A time? Can I meet you at the pyramids on New Years Eve 1999? Did you know that they're already writing up a guest list for just such a party at just such a place? Are there people in Soho who would kill to be invited? Are they the same people who live in the cast-iron buildings? Is there no end to the list of events and zip codes for which they would kill? Will the Grateful Dead play? Will Sinatra? Is Western culture the only one that matters or am I being ethnocentric? Was ethnocentricity a condition before it was a word? Isn't it the natural condition of man? Is it a negative word or a positive word? Should we embrace the new? The different? Should we unleash the oppressed? Should we take them to lunch afterwards? Should we pick up the check, seeing as how they've been oppressed all this time? Should we usher in a new era of understanding between peoples everywhere? Are peoples everywhere hungering for a new era? Wouldn't they really rather have a new car? Or a new wife? Or a bigger penis?
Can we get back to this penis thing? Can I dangle it in front of your face for a bit? Will you worship it? Will you send it flowers? Make it a perfumed bed on which to rest its regal head?
Could you elaborate on your plans? What are they exactly? Do they include me? Do they include the memory of me? Will you carry the memory of me with you the rest of your days? Will they matter? What if I'm not there to validate your experiences? Is that self-centered? What else can I possibly center myself around? Who will you tell your stories to? Someone else? Some guy who wears belts on weekends, with a thick southern drawl and his very own car? A no-nonsense type of fellow? Will you be pleased? Will you make chocolate shakes? Will it be a fairy tale? Will you tell him about me? Will I sneak my sulking little head into your late night conversations? Will you compare me to him? Did you compare me to others? Those hippies you used to date? Is it fun? Will I enjoy it? Comparing? Is it a game? Is it like a game? Who keeps score? Do you keep count of your orgasms? A little tally under your bed? In one of your little perfumed books? Do you really like the smell of lavender? Is lavender a color or a smell? As a writer, should I of all people, know? Is it both a color and a smell? How can that be? Isn't that an oversight on someone's part? Can't -- and shouldn't -- something be done to alleviate this discrepancy? Do you suppose there's some oversight committee or watchdog group interested in these sorts of things?
Can I expect your full cooperation? Can you expect mine? Are we going to stay in touch? Are we joined at the hip? Are we joined in the subconscious? Or is it an illusion? Do we really think the same or do (I) we just give in? Does it matter? Is one better than the other? Will I feel your pain? If you die will you come back and tell me what it's like? Will you have any choice? Have you ever? Will I feel what you feel over the miles? Will it be like voodoo between us? Are we different or does everyone think that? If I could experience one second in your head would my brain implode? Would I be instantly transported through the heavens to the right hand of the Father? (Is that what happens at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick's visually stunning film of the Arthur C. Clarke novel?) Would he bless or condemn me? Hasn't he already done both?
Is God ambivalent or am I just imagining things? Is he beyond comprehension or just aloof? Is he silent and cold to all human suffering or is he just nervous in big crowds? Does he have a sense of humor? Or is he just another wise guy? Does he prefer Western culture to all others? Have they found that Zulu Shakespeare yet? If he loves the downtrodden so much why are they downtrodden? Is this the kind of love they really need? Is the final reward big enough? Is it tax free? Does it compound quarterly? Can the stock market really just continue to rise?
If things could've been different, wouldn't everything still be the same? Is there an epiphany for this tirade? If I set in stanzas could I call it a poem? Would that make it poetry? Is everybody really as stupid as all that or are they just scared? Are they as lost as I am? Are they as scared as I am? How did they learn to act so well? Is there somewhere I could go to get lessons or is it too late for me? Is there still hope for my children? Is that reason enough to go on? Will my suffering have meant something if I'm able to pass something substantial on to my children? Is that the plan now? Isn't that the soup we're all supposed to order? What we're supposed to believe it's all about? Does that strike you as slightly less than inspiring? At what age are we supposed to resign and begin living for the next batch? Will they appreciate all we've done or will they mangle their lives as horribly as have ours and start living for their children at age twenty-two?
Does time heal all wounds? Does time even heal the wounds you cherish? Can I hold on to this as long as I want? Will it decrease my popularity? Do I have a popularity to decrease? Will it destroy my social calendar? Will I need a social calendar? Can I pencil you in for Tuesday? Can we go to Soho? Can we go to Soho and set up a church dedicated to the worship of my penis? Can we put it in a cast-iron building? Can you write a poem in rhymed iambic pentameter twenty volumes long extolling the virtues and subtle beauty of my penis? Is that asking too much?
Suppose I asked you as a personal favor? Would you at least begin it? If you have a daughter could you raise her solely to continue your life's work? If she had a daughter could it continue for generations? Could we have my penis pickled and placed inside a cast-iron case upon my death for future generations to admire? Do you think they would? It seems an extraordinary organ to me? Isn't that all that matters? Doesn't relativity rule this sorry age? If I say it's so, isn't it so? Don't ends justify means, or is that what we have manifestos for? What do we have manifestos for?
Can I end it here? Shall I end on a sour note or sweet? Should I bring up epiphanies or cast-iron or penises or Soho again? Can we beat each other's heads in for a few more years? Can we regress into adolescence? Have we ever left? Should I drop my voice an octave? Slow down the narrative? Begin reflecting on the ground we've covered? Perhaps pull up from the past an illustrative story only hinted at previously which will sum all this up? Should I start like: "I remember my father's penis..."? Will that do?
Will you tell your children about me? Is it cold where you are? Where are you? Are there coffee shops there? Are there out of work actresses? Cute ones, I mean? Would it be too much to ask that you tell them about me? Or is that something I should learn to do for myself? Why? Would it be a learning experience? A growing experience? Am I about growth today? Why should I go first? Huh?