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Journal, Day One
Faces attached to erotic episodes from the past have a glassy visionary cast marbled by matter and its corruptions. Where and how are they now? How many gone? How many puffed or gaunt? Eyes pouched, hair gray, teeth going-to-yellow like mine? I’ve just gotten an e-mail from someone I was in love with 20 years ago. I remember walking her to a train station when we were breaking up. This ghostly touch zizzing through fiber optic networks suddenly crosses with the memory of a late night in a bar, washed by acidic reds and greens, when we’d drunk too much, shot pool, watched a fight break out (one guy in a cowboy hat was trying to bite the other guy’s ear), ate peanuts from the shell and—it was Antonio’s Nut House’s fame to encourage this—dumped the shells on the floor while over our heads Marvin Gaye swooned about sexual healing.
Dreams of love drain life?
For two weeks I have my own version of the common dream of someone who loves us with a great attentive passion. In mine, passion is self-possessed, plain, overpowering, and I wake to the pleasure and desolation of being deprived of that absolutely convincing non-existent presence. But I recognize initiators out of life. Yesterday at lunch with a friend, a woman with a small child sits next to us. I recognize her vaguely from another time, but what time exactly? In another café where our eyes caught? So plain she is, yet striking—there’s a completeness of presence, she fills space and time, then becomes space and time. Last night her apparition, a stylized “her,” came to me in sleep and I got lost there.
The chunky stew of bar violence becomes in retrospect shockingly organized and clear. Of a shoving match that erupted in a sports bar during an NBA final, I remember the pool stick wagged between two beefy bodies, one of them attached to a beer bottle, and restraining hands on chests. When I was young I was best friends with a Marine stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Base who played drums in the band that performed in the officers’ club. One Saturday night, things felt off. After the first set, the lead guitar, a baby-faced lance corporal, was fuming. An officer had dressed him down and threatened harm if he didn’t stop ogling the wife, which the guitarist swore he didn’t do, no sir. We tried to calm him. He got into trouble without much trouble. “I don’t care if he hits me,” he said, showing us one side of his face. “This is all plastic. I can’t feel a thing.” He’d had reconstructive surgery after a previous fight. He quieted down, the band played on, everybody drank more, couples danced and laughed. The band takes five, the guitarist, a smile on his re-modeled face, puts down his instrument and steps off the dais toward officers and wives seated at a table, picking up between here and there a wooden folding chair which, without a word, he axes down on an officer’s head. Then there’s disorder, women screaming, and the strip runs out there.
How ongoing time sometimes flows backwards the way water running through rocks turns back on itself, flowing both ways at once. Here’s a screen-saver face on my laptop. It’s a daguerreotype plate. If I tilt or look askance at the powerbook screen, the vitreous face drains and retreats into its support. The thrilling presence 19th century people found of their faces, fastened on the silver plate, if tilted or turned spilled off into the void of its surround. Digital imagery, and images light bites into acidic metal, they slide into a mineral sludge, become silvered shades.
A disturbing moment of desire in Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey. The thuggish ex-con played by Terence Stamp visits L.A. to find out how his daughter died and who was responsible. Classic tough guy, Stamp moves forward, always forward, like a force of nature, shooting people, throwing not-as-tough guys off bridges, insisting on answers. The desire strikes when moments from his earlier life, with his wife and daughter, spike into his consciousness. But they aren’t traditionally framed flashbacks: the scenes he recalls are those he actually lived, since the flashbacks are from Poor Cow, the ‘60s movie where a young, angelic Terence Stamp plays a petty thief. The immediacy of the recall is sick-making, so rich in what-if possibility is the vision of a life lived before choices were made, choices that would lead to the death of the grown-up flashback child that the old man is now trying to solve. Replay-life: words represent the deliberative process of recovery and its affects. Movie imagery lives it out for us, a proxy for consciousness, with all the sensuous immediacy of hurt and loss. Movies make such sluts of us, sluts for the recovery of earlier selves, of a forked road we’ve already put behind. And we reflect on our earlier moments as if they were film stills, not motion pictures. We live the continuity but reflect on the stilled container of experience.