A Proud Crank

To the foolish fop who dared to defend my honor at Maud’s, let it be known that I am a proud crank, a consummate dunce, and run such a fever that neither a team of doctors nor infinite cases of quinine can stop me from babbling like a raving loon. There’s no honor denying these silly misinterpretations. I get enough of the jejune (nod to Birnbaum) PC shit when I visit Berkeley. So please: I urge all able Reluctant readers to flurry epithets posthaste!

Back to my temporary Bastille.

Why Walter Kirn Should Take a Vacation

Exhibit: Kirn’s review of David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion.

Number of words in review: 1,399.
Number of words quoted from book in review: 186
Percentage of quoted excerpts as part of review: 13%
Approximate fair use percentage under dispute in the infamous Gerald Ford/Nation dust-up: 13.3%
Number of times “anxious” or “anxiety” is mentioned: 2.
Number of parenthetical asides: 6
Number of onerous Tom Swify adverbs (not counting quotes): 17
Number of prefix-laden non-words: 7 (“maladapts,” “decontextualized,” “hyperfocused,” “microtextures,” “superbrain,””hyperarticulate,” “overstimulated”)
The Pain Reliver Commercial Homage Award: “Data-dazed. Cybernetic. Overstimulated.”

Back to hiatus.

Hiatus

Due to life circumstances, we’re pretty much done here until the 4th. We’re also still behind on our email. So apologies to all on that score. We’ll get back to all of you when the DSL kicks in at the new place. (In fact, we’ve already started on the replies.) In the meantime, check out this latest John Barth interview and feel free to visit some of the fine folks on the left.

[UPDATE: And before I poof away completely for a week or so, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Terry's self-reflective essay on living day(s) with nothing to do, an existential state that the Reluctant hungers for, but that seems a far off day to dream about.]

[ANOTHER UPDATE: Since people apparently want to know, my take on Fahrenheit 9/11 is this: It doesn't present a solution. If you've been following the news, it doesn't present much in the way of new information. The marine recruiters are creepy. The singular trooper governing Oregon is sad. It makes great satirical use of found footage, but if it's meant to serve as agitprop, then why doesn't the film have the conviction to lobby for Kerry? I found the story of the conservative Democrat who lost her son to be heartbreaking, but I felt as if this interesting side story was lost within Moore's deliberate pandering. Three stars. Joe Bob says check it out, regardless.]

We Are Them

The Guardian: “Detainees held in Afghanistan by American troops have been routinely tortured and humiliated as part of the interrogation process, in the same way as those in Iraq, a Guardian investigation has found. Five detainees have died in custody, three of them in suspicious circumstances, and survivors have told stories of beatings, strippings, hoodings and sleep deprivation.”

My Culture: High and Low

In light of moving and all, I wasn’t able to attend the California Book Awards. But now I’m regretting it. Jeff points out that the awards ceremony turned nasty:

“His view is that art is elitist. He’s wrong.”

At this, one San Francisco author stormed out, causing a slight breeze. (Word spread quickly that she is a friend of King’s, and they are both members of the all-author rock band, the Rock-Bottom Remainders.)

Wenclas Responds, Reluctant Rebuts

King Wenclas has responded to the criticisms hurled his way. He writes (in the first of two comments):

Well, I’m going to defend my organization and myself. It’s called free expression. There is nothing wrong with debate. It’s healthy for literature. Before the ULA arrived on the scene there was too little of it.

The truth is that literature is marginalized in this culture, because for much of its recent history it’s been the property of stuffy professors genteely drinking tea in faculty rooms. (The tea to keep the enervated creatures from nodding off.) Contention is healthy– even when it’s over-the-top, the way the ULA does it. A little noise might remind the general culture that literature isn’t completely dead.

At the same time we’ve done way more than anybody else to expose genuine corruption in the literary world, while everyone else has preferred to remain quiet. Or does anyone believe that Mr. Moody, mentioned on this thread, who lives on Fishers Island, really should be receiving so many financial grants? We circulated our Protest about that to 300 literary people and not one would sign it. (40 zinesters did.) What does that tell you?

Are we really picking on him? We, a rag-tag group of zine writers, and he sitting at the center of many of the major centers of cultural power (PEN, Young Lions, NEA, major magazines, etc.)

My point about Peck is that in his review about Moody he ignored any main issues, giving readers smoke without the fire. And yes, the ULA has been effective in circulating our message (including numerous write-ups in Page Six) so that Peck (who taught at the New School at the time we were making noise; a school where much of the writing faculty are Moody’s friends) and Sven Birkerts could hardly not be aware of us, and the contention we generated.

I don’t think this is a difficult issue to understand. Birkerts writes an essay about contention in the literary world. Much of said contention was raised by the ULA. (Why The Believer covered us in one of their early articles– and put it at the front of the issue. Then later ASKED us to submit a letter to them to continue the matter.) Dave Eggers and Jon Franzen were certainly aware of us; witness February’s Amazon fiasco. It’s not a case where someone is inventing the telephone in America while someone is inventing it in France. In this case the telephone was already invented and operating, coming through loud and clear.

Either Sven Birkerts intentionally left us out of the story, or he’s clueless about what’s happening in the lit world. That’s all.

Am I too vociferous in making these remarks? Should I soften them, water them down, so they’re acceptable to the Princess-and-the-Pea denizens of the literary world? Should we return to before, “where never is heard, a discouraging word”?

I don’t think so.

First off, I thank Wenclas for his fairly civil response (at least with the first comment), which is always a good place to start when having a discussion.

Certainly, I can agree with the sentiment that quality literature is often outside the grasp of the commonweal. The question is whether getting in everyone’s faces about the problem is the right way to elicit awareness. We’re talking books here, after all, not foreign policy. I have a significant problem with where the ULA’s crosshairs are targeted. Rick Moody may very well be an overrated writer or “the worst writer of his generation,” but it’s the industry that publishes his books. It’s the educational system that determines literary standards and, as a result, has a formidable influence in forging literary tastes. Factor in teachers tied to mandatory reading lists of dead white guys, dingbat mandatory standards, and inner city school libraries reduced to ancient crumbling texts housed in asbestos-laden cinder blocks, and you have an atmosphere that’s about as nuturing to reading as a certified massage therapist bluntly pummeling his client with a gunrack between rubs. Consider, for example, the case of Philadelphia, a state where federal funding has not been allocated to school libraries since 1976. Or, for that matter, how Tennessee’s blurry state guidelines have allowed school libraries to remain out-of-date and far from eclectic.

The unilateral assumption here is that authors are to blame for this predicament. But that’s only part of the problem. Without even scratching the surface, one would have to uproot the whole of American life to (a) promote reading in a way that doesn’t bore the pants off the next generation, (b) encourage the current generations to develop their own literary sensibilities, and (c) maintain a publishing equilibrium whereby “real” literature (still, a curiously nebulous definition from the ULA) is published hand-in-hand with tales from the privileged. The idealist in me would like to believe there are answers to these problems, but any pragmatic-minded person can agree that they certainly won’t be had overnight. Perhaps if ideas and solutions were bandied about with the confrontational hijinks, the 300 literary figures might have signed the petition. (In sifting through the ULA’s site, I was unable to find any copy of this purported petition or even an detailed platform of the ULA’s position, save through the four general points seen on the main page. Even the Black Panthers had a platform. Call me crazy, but it seems very counter-productive for any movement to disrupt without having a clear-cut set of goals and an agenda available for the people whom it wishes to convert. What we do find, however, is a bunch of hoodlums flipping us the bird.)

And while the publishing industry certainly is problematic, without specific examples, the “genuine corruption in the literary world” sounds like one of Nixon’s paranoid fantasy, particularly since it comes graced with the implication that the ULA represent the only group of rabble-rousers. Has Wenclas not observed some of the stuff that the literary blogs have uncovered in the past few months? Ron and Mark questioning the Book Babes’ limited definitions of publishing on CSPAN? The Zoo Press scandal uncovered by Laila? The Academy of Art student expulsion scandal reported here and at Neil Gaiman’s? Au contraire, Wenclas. There are more than enough people who care about literature out there, many with the same goals and feelings, all putting in the work that the New York Times Book Review should be committing their considerable resources to. The difference is that they aren’t out there demonizing their targets. They’re collecting information and trying to report it as fairly and accurately as possible.

Furthermore, as I suggested in my previous post, ideas are far from exclusive. Any professional writer knows this. It’s about how one articulates and argues the idea. That’s what’s going to create the impression in the reader’s mind. But to insist that a writer is “clueless” because he decides to ignore the opinions of others, let alone fail to recognize all 6,000 takes on the same idea in a 2,000 word essay, is unreasonable and baseless. A critic like Birkets prioritizes what s/he deems the most valuable offerings of the bunch.

And if literature is the territory of the rich and should be damned accordingly, then where do we place the noble gesture of Jonathan Saffran-Foer, who announced on these pages that he had given back his award back to PEN? By almost any assessment, that’s a magnificent gesture — one overlooked by the ULA, despite the fact that the ULA’s very antics may have helped in some small way to make authors aware of the disparity between the starving novelist barely getting by and the bestseller making a fortune.

Again, as I said in my previous post, I’m not completely damning the ULA. I’m just offering some possibilities why the ULA may not be getting the press it desires. Personally, I find it infinitely tragic that the ULA’s basic message (which I agree with) is dwarfed by its inability to articulate, its frequent Manichean damnations of writers, and its recurrent incivility.

Miguel Cohen’s “Ulysses,” Part 2

miguel2.jpg

TEXT: He peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos. Two strong shrill whistles answered through the calm.

– Thanks, old chap, he cried briskly. That will do nicely. Switch off the current, will you?

MIGUEL: First, we had peering down and calling up. Now we have sideways up. Is Joyce suggesting that Buck’s pining for multiple positions? The other day, I threw several quarters on the ground and picked them up so I could look up a few skirts. It was a trick I learned from Splash. One thing I didn’t do was offer a catcall like this Buck guy.

And Chrysostomos? Turns out I’m not as familiar with my Bible as much as I’d like to be. This guy says it’s a reference to Buck’s “gold-capped teeth” (duh, dude) and some Greek guy who liked to bandy about a lot of rhetoric. But I think this is the kind of nonsequitur thing you usually spout off after a curry and lager. But what’s with the long whistle and then the two short whistles? Morse Code?

Switch off the current? Okay, so Buck’s going to settle down finally?

TEXT: He skipped off the gunrest and looked gravely at his watcher, gathering about his legs the loose folds of his gown. The plump shadowed face and sullen oval jowl recalled a prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages. A pleasant smile broke quietly over his lips.

– The mockery of it! he said gaily. Your absurd name, an ancient Greek!

He pointed his finger in friendly jest and went over to the parapet, laughing to himself. Stephen Dedalus stepped up, followed him wearily halfway and sat down on the edge of the gunrest, watching him still as he propped his mirror on the parapet, dipped the brush in the bowl and lathered cheeks and neck.

Buck Mulligan’s gay voice went on.

MIGUEL: See, he’s getting off the gunrest. So he’s no longer sexually frustrated! But what’s the deal with the covered bowl? And if he’s looking gravely at Kinch, is he ashamed of his sexual energy? Loose folds. Yeah, Buck, it’s still ungirdled. But where’s the wind to save your lecherous ass now, padre? Also, he’s still plump, but he’s gone from “stately” to “shadowed.” So if Buck’s a randy bastard, the presumption here is that he’ll always be plump no matter what. Are we to imply here that plump people are more sex-obsessed than others?

There’s also the juxtaposition of age and higher status (prelate). But it doesn’t sound terribly sexy to me. Where then is this pleasance coming from?

And why is Buck jealous of his name? Or is he still drifting in abstractions?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little worried about Stephen moving to the gunrest. If that’s where the “current” or the action’s at, then I fear that Stephen will succomb to Buck’s sexual frustration. Or perhaps it’s this whole Greek-themed Catholicism that’s at issue? Religion as the ultimate sexual current?

And, no no no! Don’t put the sticky ejaculate on your cheeks! Ewwww! And his neck! He’s been annointed!

TEXT: — My name is absurd too: Malachi Mulligan, two dactyls. But it has a Hellenic ring, hasn’t it? Tripping and sunny like the buck himself. We must go to Athens. Will you come if I can get the aunt to fork out twenty quid?

He laid the brush aside and, laughing with delight, cried:

– Will he come? The jejune jesuit!

Ceasing, he began to shave with care.

– Tell me, Mulligan, Stephen said quietly.

– Yes, my love?

– How long is Haines going to stay in this tower?

Buck Mulligan showed a shaven cheek over his right shoulder.

– God, isn’t he dreadful? he said frankly. A ponderous Saxon. He thinks you’re not a gentleman. God, these bloody English! Bursting with money and indigestion. Because he comes from Oxford. You know, Dedalus, you have the real Oxford manner. He can’t make you out. O, my name for you is the best: Kinch, the knifeblade.

MIGUEL: So it’s Buck and Malachi now. Just like it’s Stephen and Kinch. I see what’s going down. Now that Kinch has been annointed with the holy shaving cream/ejaculate, he’s now pining for his own Greek-like annointation. And we all know what sort of sex the Greeks were interested in, no? Will he come? Will he come? The loaded language! Lawrence of Arabia, eat your heart out!

And he’s shaving, presumably a reference to the whole tonsure thing. But it looks like the love might be one way after all. Yes, my love? Take a clue from Miguel, Stephen. This Buck guy is bad news. And is this whole hair thing some masculine indicator? Maybe Buck might be calmer with a mohawk.

And Haines? The underwear? English vs. Irish? More dichotomies! Miguel’s head hurts!

And You Thought Your Email Backlog Was Unmanagable

AP: “While it’s long been part of the culture of the romance-novel business to accept unsolicited proposals, some publishers are making the process easier. News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers, for instance, accepts e-mail pitches on its romance Web site — and gets a mind-numbing 10,000 online queries annually. ‘We’re starting to get them from other countries, sometimes in broken English,’ says Morrow/Avon Executive Editor Carrie Feron. E-queries have arrived from Italy, eastern Europe and Asia. At least a few top editors are frankly irked. Diana Baroni, an executive editor at Time Warner’s Warner Books imprint, says she deletes e-mail queries as soon as they arrive. ‘I don’t know how they get my e-mail address, but I’m getting so many I don’t respond.’” (via Book Ninja)

Miguel Cohen’s “Ulysses,” Part 1

Miguel Cohen, brother of Randy “Ethicist” Cohen, has expressed a desire to come back to Return of the Reluctant. After several rounds of therapy, he confessed considerable guilt to me in an email about the Unethicist column. He was ashamed that his offerings weren’t literary. He was bothered by the fact that he had to compete with his brother. More importantly, he offered me five bucks.

Inspired by the recent Ulysses blog and the Bloomsbury anniversary, Miguel has decided to offer his interpretation of what it all means. So long as Mr. Cohen’s funds remain liquid, we here at Return of the Reluctant will reprint Mr. Cohen’s annotations in installments.

CHAPTER ONE: TELEMACHUS

TEXT: Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

MIGUEL: The thing that confuses me here is that this guy Buck is stately and plump. If Buck Mulligan echoes an elder statesman, I ask you, outside of Kucinich, have you ever seen a thin politician? Isn’t this a redundancy? And if he came from the stairhead, did he pop some chick’s maidenhead? How the fuck does one come from a stairhead? I know there’s a lot of dirty jokes in this book, but apparently this Joyce guy couldn’t keep his cock in his pants. He’s coming down with a bowl of lather, dig? He let loose in a bowl. So this Joyce cat has to get down and dirty from the very first sentence! My kind of guy. And what kind of asshole wears a yellow dressinggown? What’s restricting this Buck guy? The fact that he’s stately and plump? When’s he going to put on his girdle? And is Joyce implying that Buck’s cock-a-doodle-doo is exposed? Naughty pederast, I think.

And Latin? Frickin’ Latin? How can anyone say something in Latin before their cup of coffee? Of course, if he’s choked the chicken, then, fuckin’ hell, he’s probably wouldn’t need it anyway.

Anyway, this “Introibo ad altare Dei” nonsense means “I will go into the altar of God.” It’s the beginning of a Latin mass. Presumably, this bowl of lather is his offering for God. Half a life force. Dead sticky sperm. Or something. All I know is that this man always has Kleenex in hand.

TEXT: Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

– Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

MIGUEL: So is “halted” an emotion or did this Buck guy halt? What the hell’s stopping him? And why would you peer down and call up? That’s bad for acoustics! Unless, of course, he’s about to hock a loogey on this poor Kinch mofo. So that’s two references to bodily fluids and we’re only three paragraphs in!

And then we have more “coming” forward. Yeah, right, Joyce. That and mounting the round gunrest. Well, we all know what that means. He’s being an asshole again with that jesuit thing.

Now we have more cross stuff. As if the mirror and the razor weren’t enough, he’s establishing the holy venue. Gurgling when Mr. “Kinch” Dedalus is coming in? Bad form. Does this guy have a hangover? I’ve never known a guy to do this when he wanks himself silly. And this guy has a horse face too? And isn’t hair by its very definition “untonsured”? What the fuck, Joyce? So Buck has a tonsure and Dedalus does not?

TEXT: Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.

– Back to barracks! he said sternly.

He added in a preacher’s tone:

– For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.

MIGUEL: Peep marshmallows? Yeah, pretty instant, I think. Best to cover the bowl there, Buck, before ol’ Kinchie discovers the tight mess you’ve made. Been there before with brother Randy back in the day. Back to barracks? So that’s where it happens. So this is what Catholicism does to folks. I’ve seen it happen too many times. This Catholic girl I was seeing back in Boston wanted me to feed her a communion wafer every time, just after she screamed. You know how expensive those wafers are? $15.99 for a box of those motherfuckers! And I was already spending a lot of bread on the condoms.

So if Buck’s speaking in a preacher’s tone, he’s not a preacher, right? The genuine Christine instead of Christ? White corupscles? Okay, cat’s out of the bag. You’re a sick cat, James. I’m blowing this joint. And not the way you’re thinking.

Someone Give Wenclas & Co. Hugs

Dan Green has weighed in with a thoughtful post about the Underground Literary Alliance, that ragtag bunch of frustrated writers-cum-Yippie wannabes that I have, until now, remained silent and nonpartisan upon. I have not exactly sanctioned this “organization,” but, because I am sympathetic to alternative and underground voices, I have at least tried to acknowledge them to some degree. However, after watching the ULA antics for several years, I must now conclude that, unless they change their tune, these folks are no longer worthy of my attention or yours.

The recent Birkets-Peck whinefest, which essentially had King Wenclas complaining that the new wave of literary hatchet men had appropriated the ULA review style, left me with a queasy feeling of sour grapes, almost as if I was reading a puling adolescent’s diary. I felt momentarily obliged to offer Mr. Wenclas a cookie, if not a hug and a comp ticket for the clue train. Because the professional writer and the responsible thinker knows that, given the rampant generation of ideas in the universe, inevitably another person will draw from the same associations and respond to the universe around them in a similar fashion. It happened to me once when a writer for a major news outlet used Ferdinand de Lesseps as a comparison for the dot com bust, about a few months after I had written a similar piece. The insecure writer will kvetch about it. The secure writer will realize that there are plenty of other pitch ideas floating within her head to lay down for a query or a piece.

Whatever the case, as Dan quite rightly points out, “‘saying something’ almost always turns out to be itself a matter of saying something that’s been said many times before, or something everybody already knows, or something of great interest to the writer but of no conceivable interest to any readers, or something with which those readers already agree, or something that seems of burning urgency today but tomorrow will seem as prosaic as the newspaper article it was taken from, or something as tedious and doctrinaire as almost all ‘revolutionary’ statements ultimately are.” The ULA’s myopic intolerance to the revolution of, say, finding the edge within midlife crisis as John Banville does in Eclipse or attacking John Barth without offering a single example why the summation of his works are completely invalid (particularly, since, as I noted back in April, he was one of the few writers to expose 9/11 transitionary life in fiction) is comparable with that of a frustrated undergraduate. Certainly, all readers go through a stage where they see easy dichotomies and evil in every grey corner. But it’s hard to take an “organization” seriously when they are prepared to damn a writer without offering a constructive argument.

If anything, the ULA comes across worse than the Dale Pecks of the world. For one thing, they aren’t nearly as witty. And, if it can be believed, the ULA is even more Manichean in declaring certain authors as evil. Take Michael Jackman’s slam of Middlesex, where he writes, “One might ask Mr. Eugenides why he is able to get away with making such idiotic comments as, ‘Why is a hermaphrodite not the narrator of every novel? It’s the most flexible and omniscient voice. Every novelist has to have a hermaphroditic imagination to get into the minds of men and women.’ Note the emphasis on imagination, as opposed to experience. Note the emphasis on getting inside the mind, as opposed to out into the world. In such comments we see his limitations, coming from a rarefied culture addicted to gender studies and obsessed with the self and sensitivity. Like a college streaker, he is willing to look ridiculous if he thinks it shows off how he has no hang-ups.” The complete inflexibility here to imagination makes one ponder whether King Wenclas could ever enjoy something as joyously harmless as the Oz books, which is nothing but the purest invention. And what’s with the college streaker comparison? To offer a metaphor in return, that’s like a jock circa 1987 being transplanted to contemporary Queer Eye-loving America, trying to apply his harsh homophobic language where it no longer cuts the mustard.

It is the skilled individual who will try and find something redeeming within an author they despise. (Speaking personally, as far as I’m concerned, Dave Eggers may be the most overrated author of the past decade. But the first third of Heartbreaking and Eggers’ story in the mostly disappointing McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales are enough for me not to completely dismiss him.) Likewise, it is the skilled organization that will recognize that promoting literature is about gathering the best ideas of the whole group, using an invitational approach rather than a harsh procedure that destroys alliances. Granted, the ULA is one of the few literary-related groups around that takes a confrontational stance, and, given the safe and staid atmosphere, they deserve some credence on that score. But confrontation as an approach should be as well-timed and justified as silence or diplomacy. And when you’re confrontational all the time, well, frankly, you’re just not that interesting.

Update

I’ve been in the middle of packing (books — too many books), so I have no idea if the photocopies of Norman Mailer’s Xeroxed butt, which have caused at least three heart attacks and one epileptic seizure, have finally been released to the Internet. But Lizzie reports that there’s a new column in this month’s Poets & Writers in which Laila, Maud and myself were referenced. I haven’t read the column, but I appreciate that Poets & Writers has started to not only pick up on the stories and developments of my peers (Laila was the first to note the scandal), but also gone to the trouble to source them. With literary blogs beginning to develop beyond news filtering and ancillary zingers into full-blown profiles and reviews, I think this might be the beginning of a mutually majestic relationship. But more on this later.

I now return you back to your regularly scheduled hiatus, which means intermittent literary news in the next four days and a vague glow of activity until July 4th. After that, the hope is to up the ante and get this site pepping with some more meaty offerings (along with a design upgrade) within the time allotted.

Also, Rake has unveiled the perfect antidote to the Book Babes.

When Good Roommates Go Bad

The roommate who doesn’t get along with his fellow living mate will either address his grievances to his living mate or amicably part, working out the nature of his departure through courtesy and discussion, and ideally without resorting to pistols at dawn. Assuming that the two roommates are rational people, there will often be a discussion, if not a common ground where these two roommates agree to live out the remainder of their lease with the same easy adult skills that one puts to task when balancing one’s checkbook. In other words, the two roommates take the appropriate responsibilities and make the most of an unpleasant situation. That generally means giving the other roommate enough time to divvy up common area possessions or plan accordingly for the other’s rental-related demise.

Of course, such a smooth hitchless transition assumes that both roommates are rational, reasonable and courteous. But as I learned when returning to the apartment late this afternoon, my now ex-roommate, despite replying “Great” (and possibly “Swell’) when I asked him how things were going (bimonthly, I might add), even the kindest visages hide screwball dispositions, whereby logic operates on truly skewered methodologies and even the tiniest of trinkets becomes territorial (of which more anon).

Or to offer another possible explanation: My roommate is a registered Republican in San Francisco.

Now that I’ve signed a new lease for a kickass apartment, some of the reasons for my hiatus can now be publicly addressed and the fascinating story of what I found left in my apartment this afternoon can, at long last, be unraveled.

The deal was this: At the end of this month, a one-year lease expired. My roommate, as one of the two tenants on the lease, planned to leave, not citing any specific reason other than that he was maybe moving in with his girlfriend in the not-too-distant future. In light of the play and the other secret projects going down, this was inconvenient but fine. I had plenty of notice from the guy. And, of course, in my efforts to be a good guy, I congratulated him and communicated to him the exact date and details of my migration — this, with the suggestion that we could, if desired, split costs and keep the communicative beacon flaring so as to benefit the twain.

Apparently, giving him the moving skinny was my first mistake.

There had been some talk that he was planning on moving the weekend of the 26th/27th. And I had not seen or heard from my roommate for a week until this morning, where I was in the process of cooking breakfast for my sweet and fantastic girlfriend. With approximately five seconds’ notice, my roommate informed me that he was moving out. this instance, rather than the 26th/27th weekend we had talked about. Sorry. Oh, and the plates were all his and he wanted to pack them now.

Never mind that I had just deposited some freshly cooked eggs, sausage and other stuff onto these very plates and was planning to take the goodies into my bedroom. I told him I’d get back to him in an hour. Fortunately, my girlfriend was beneficial in pointing out that stuff was just stuff, that it didn’t really matter, and that I could always get some more. So, rather than figure out just which of the common area kitchen shit was mine (I knew I had purchased at least a few of the plates, but whatever), I told my roommate to take what he deemed his, silently concluding that if he took my coffee machine, he would be drawing blood. My girlfriend and I left, letting my roommate do his thing.

Telling him to take whatever he wanted was my second mistake.

Late this afternoon, we returned home to find various dusty trails on the ground. We opened bare cupboards and witnessed an ironic message hidden in these airy deposits. There wasn’t a single plate, glass or bowl left for me to use (save one coffee mug and three shot glasses from a four shot set I had purchased a year ago — what happened to the fourth shot glass?), not even a friendly note saying, “Goodbye, you gullible bastard! Have fun trying to serve your girlfriend some eggs now!”

Okay, whatever. I’d start from scratch. And maybe my roommate was right about buying most of the kitchen ware. It didn’t matter. The new place kicked serious ass. It had an icebox, man. Tuxedos and martinis weren’t too far away.

But as my girlfriend and I walked up the hall, we noticed that the shower curtain had been removed. Never mind that this shower curtain’s days were numbered. It was a mildewed, ratty, and ugly old thing that was on its way out — in other words, the perfect shower curtain for a remaining week in this place. Frankly, we were shocked that my roommate had laid claim to this.

But that wasn’t all. My girlfriend and I recalled that there was half a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom when we left in the morning. When we returned, we noticed that the toilet paper had been reduced to a cardboard roller with a few spare strands of paper that, collectively, couldn’t fit a pygmy marmoset’s bottom.

And if this wasn’t enough, I noticed this morning that my roommate had seen fit to apply his last name via Sharpie to a three-to-two prong electrical adapter (a whopping 49 cent item at Orchard Supply Hardware). This too was gone, no doubt mounted to an Elks Lodge den next to the shower curtain and a few moose heads.

Was this a joke? A testament? Some kind of canard?

It’s worth noting again that my roommate never once raised his voice, nor did he address any problems, even when I asked him how things were going. Were these passive-aggressive acts the end result? Me? I’m just relieved that it’s all over.

But if there’s any lesson to this story, whatever you do, always have extra toilet paper and a spare shower curtain — ideally with a printed tag bearing your name. You’ll never know what kind of crazed living mate will get all proprietary on your ass.

If Not Tangerine Muumuus, Then Some Shade of Orange…

It’s a sure bet that we were informed, but we’re so behind on email that we learned it only just recently from Maud. Tingle Alley, Carrie AA Frye’s fantastic new blog, goes live tomorrow. We remain sensitive, of course, to Ms. Frye’s hue and garb contretemps, but we’ll let forth a color and cry if she does not find a suitable sub for the tangerine muumuu. This may or may not explain our obsession. And did we mention that Halloween is our favorite holiday?

The Case for Marquand

I don’t know how I missed it in the May Atlantic, but Martha Spaulding continues the ongoing fight to reinstate satirist John P. Marquand into the American pantheon. Regular Reluctant readers may know that I am nothing less than crazy about Marquand.

If you can find any of his books in used bookstores, I recommend starting with The Late George Apley or Sincerely, Willis Wayde, which are my two favorites out of the seven or so I’ve read (not counting the Mr. Moto books). Right now, I’m reading So Little Time, which transplants Marquand’s obsession with social stratas to America, circa World War II. Much as David Lodge would later incorporate mythological subtext within the popular novel, Marquand has inserted the narrative framework for War and Peace into this fairly meaty work, which is bristling with pre-Gaddis cocktail party banter, isolationist cluelessness, and, perhaps more than many novels I’ve read, a depiction of how ordinary people in typical upper-class and middle-class atmospheres might have talked about America’s ineluctable involvement with the War in 1940. Fascinating stuff, and timely, given the current helplessness I hear expressed over the Iraq contretemps.