Sep '03 [Home]


That Will
Brian P. Katz

. ... He is real because he is corporeal—a corpse—but to you, he is unreal because he embodies every cliché in the book, in the many dead books—the books about the lost boy who really ain't lost because he wants to be lost; or the lover who falls in love with a woman and pursues her recklessly and turns out to be pursuing his truths as represented by said lover; or, dare to include, the husband, the cuckold, oblivious to his pouty wife's flings; or the blind guy, the invisible dude, invisible fellow, or that kid—you know, that kid.
          Years ago, despite his restlessness, the days were full of themselves and the nights passed.
          Now, in a city that should be sunny and dry this time of year—even here along the coast of Venice, California where the fog can linger and overcast skies are immovable through late winter and early spring—it has been raining for what seems like months. Depression turns a few awful days into weeks of miserable days and the years of gray that he has been enduring are compounded by this weather. Because of his mood, days are elusive, even when unimaginably sunny, and have been so since before he came to Los Angeles. To compensate for this period of nothing much at all, for this nostalgia without a sense of the past, he has taken obsessively to the Internet and picking the dandruff scabs on his head.
          He is a man, not quite thirty-two, sitting in a dark corner of his bungalow, secure from prying eyes, downloading images of naked women but too lazy to masturbate, or unwilling to masturbate because his dog is at his feet; and said dog is so much more a person, he would feel more comfortable masturbating on Fifth in a Christmas window at Saks. His left hand is where it usually is when he sits in front of the screen, which is a bulk of his evening, playing with a fold of skin on his circumcised penis.
          He has foregone print media for no reason other than the unmanageable pile that needs to be schlepped to the recycling bin. He devotes himself to regularly updated online editions of various news sources. He will spend hours of black morning reading, pulling with his right hand the dried crusts of blood through clusters or short, brown hair and then scroll down or click to a next page, pause, loading, http, //.com something or other. He is a righty. His left hand rarely leaves his crotch.
          He reads the gossip, the baseball standings and statistics, stock quotes, technology news, international incidents both minor and major—he flicks through all of this but doesn't process any of it into discernible information remembered; he doesn't retain any of this…pause…stuff that could be useful in a conversation. He browses the online bookstores and orders books he'll never read. He returns to sites that offer images in a cavalcade of digital indiscretions and may get slightly erect, but the dog is still at his feet. He types in web addresses that he's sure don't exist and ends up at one of many websites devoted to the mullet, that bastardization of a hairstyle, short on top, long in the back, and there are midgets with mullets, women with mullets, nude women with mullets, a website devoted to lesbians and mullets, and a collection of good old boys and their mullets. This makes him laugh—no, makes him laugh inside and smirk on the outside, but you'll never have any proof that he really finds this funny. Maybe that glimmer of a smile was the suppression of a sneeze—he has terrible allergies this time of year—or the suspension of belief.
          But there are more mullets and he clicks 'next page' until he reaches the cliffhanger—a mullet-wearing family:  husband, wife, son and daughter naked in the woods of white trashdom; nothing pornographic, something horrible about the image, something remarkably true, something Jock Sturges—this being the companion piece to a nude French family on the beach—but he is no longer at a mullet site; he is looking through a photographer's, an artist's catalogue. All those online literary journals with their trite or obscure or obvious bents? He reads them. He reads them as he never did in print form. Everything is reduced into a pile of digital symbols—words and letters no longer exist. He is an extension of the processor—from digital domain through the cable into his computer to his fingertips down his right arm torso crotch and back up his left arm to neck to head, and he remembers that he doesn't remember what he just saw, but it makes him uncomfortable.
          He has become obsessed with the beating of his heart; probably due to his self-diagnosed depression. He is aware of it at all times, skipping beats, fluttering, panicked, racing and there is that chronic pain in his left shoulder blade. His fear of going to the doctor is a fear of the cancer of which this palpitation, this arrhythmia, is a side effect. This self-obsessed malady brings him to his other use of the internet:  always typing the keywords 'prostate cancer,' 'colon cancer,' 'heart attacks,' 'strokes,' and 'diabetes' into a search engine to locate the cause of his symptoms, and almost every reliable website says that his problem is probably due to anxiety. But why is he anxious? He doesn't feel anxious. Is it panic? What is there to panic about? 'Diverticulitus'?
          William E. Eivers is a manchild with a bag of pretzels, checking his pulse, navigating a realm of useless information and fantasy—a fantasy that he doesn't even feign to fulfill; 'fantasy' because his life no longer seems like his life. He was once an adventurer, desperate to lick the world like a three-tiered ice cream cone, eager to accomplish something. But that last rise in spirit resolved into sudden depression with the turning of the spring into sweltering summer into autumn, a prolonged state of waiting—for winter with its promise of spring.
          Little by little, with no visible sign to validate the fact, he has been climbing out of this hole, taking the dog on longer walks, spending more time shopping for healthier, fresher foods for both, and reading the labels on packages for the nutritional values human and canine. He even makes an effort to smile at his girls' prep school students in the halls and offers them a "well done" in class. But they look at him with that "He's fucked up" eye roll, meaning he's licentious or desperate or both. He lives by an assistant professor year-to-year contract of publish or perish and slowly adheres to the latter.
          Hired because the English chair had read a story that he published in The New Yorker during his last year at Columbia, he can sense that his hold on the menial position is slipping in favor of an unknown, more charismatic teacher, one even younger than he was then, one who smiles and doesn't look tortured. He was that man less than a decade ago. One well-placed story and everyone is still waiting for something new from his isolated imagination; but nothing comes, nothing even fakes the possibility of presenting itself in the guise of a story. There is nothing to do but pinch the fold of his deflated ego and cross nothing but T's.
          And, like a primate, he scratches his head with his writing hand and pulls on his penis with the left.
… This is the hardest thing for me to admit, but I yearn for my own thoughts and the magic of miniskirts and a hand that meets my shaven leg above the knee; and I yearn for undergarments to be revealed in the privacy of a hotel room as someone unbuttons my starched, white shirt and greedily stares, unstraps and catches my constricted breast with rough, cupped hands.

(Brian P. Katz contributed "The Lion's Head" to the Aug '02 issue, which the editors nominated for a Pushcart. His poem, "A Commentary on Self as Someone Else", appears on the cumulative Big City Little, Los Angeles page.)