Thursday

BRAND NEW STORY

REALITY FICTION (Part I of II parts)
by Eric Weber



Rabinowitz scuffing down Elkwood Street, hating his name, hating his religion/race/ethnicity – you tell me what it is – despising his shortness, loathing his balding-ness, nauseated by his softening belly, his skinny little dick, his truncated thighs, his gnarled arthritic fingers, cursing his gift – some men are born with the ability to scoop up hardballs rocketing at them across rutted infields at 140 mph, poor Rabby an ear for titles – plucking them out of the cacophony of morbid thoughts pin-balling inside his skull, the tyranny of nostalgia, you have to make allowances, my wife is trying to kill me, the wrong Jew, hundreds of ‘em, planning, one day, to write a story for each – if only there were a software program, feed in the title, dial the genre, men’s fiction, and a passable story, up to the standards of at least the East Stroudsburg Teachers College Review, is written for you.
R passes the shabby little house at the corner of Mountain and De Peyster, blight on the neighborhood, lawn gone to seed, sea of leggy yard-high dandelions, porch sagging, hulking shiny black Escalade parked caddy corner in the driveway, someone must have come home drunk. Questions arise: how can they afford it? What do they do for a living? R slows his pace, checks his watch. 3:24 pm. Early. He continues on another hundred yards or so, then, at the sound of a straining engine from down the block, about faces. As if on cue, the curved yellow roof of a school bus rises from behind the little hill on De Peyster and pulls to a stop in front of the house. Octagonal red signs pop up like ears on either side of the bus. Horn honks. A moment later, from out of the house steps a Daisy Mae-like creature, all breasts and legs and long blond ringlets, tripping down the dilapidated porch steps. A small boy, pretty doll’s face, emerges from the bus, toddles in front of it, and Daisy sweeps him into her arms, peppering his head with kisses, pushing him face first into her cleavage.
“Afternoon, “ says R, closing his eyes for a moment, imagining the warmth, the softness, sucking in two lungfuls of air, hoping to pick up a whiff of perfume and sweat, salt and skin. He slows almost to a stop. “Lovely day,” he says. Love, lovely, love making – it’s in the air. “Yes, beeyootiful,” she says in a comically squeaky voice, although to R’s ear it is pure Bacall, Bankhead. The woman smiles as Rabby ambles by in slow-mo, neighborly yet, in his mind, not without a touch of elan, hoping she has come to accept his miraculous appearance every weekday afternoon at exactly 3:30, give or take a minute, as simple evidence of a fixed routine, our 50-something gentleman, semi-retired (rhymes with fired), out for his afternoon constitutional, Daisy never imagining in a million years the heartsick fantasies R is harboring, not only a fusillade of anal thrusts to the hilt but, perhaps much more telling and sad, candlelit dinners at their little Italian restaurant along the Hudson – she would laugh at these more than the sex. Rabby continues on, right on Lawrence and all the way to the top of the hill that brings him to Jones Road, which sits on the ridge of the Palisades and reveals, in one breath-taking instant, a most sudden and assaulting view of the New York skyline, glittering today under a mid-October sun, cloudless and azure, 55 degrees, low humidity.
Like Rocky atop the library steps, King Kong the Empire State, there is that moment of exhilaration, of having surmounted obstacles insurmountable, of triumph and freedom, panoramania, a place from which to look down on all those about him. R’s sense of release and possibility is harshly tempered by the inescapably bowel-searing knowledge that this very skyline, icon to the world, has soundly defeated him, kicked his ass out of town, sent him Jersey-bound just one short year ago, Alphabet City, his old stomping grounds, suddenly too expensive, too crowded, too intense, everyone there on a mission with no time for the likes of Rabby, not even postal clerks willing to schmooze with the lonely, always-eager-to-talk-sometimes-going-a-whole-week-without-a phone-call-or-shared-meal-with-a-friend Rabinowitz – why should they when all around them stream platoons of long-legged young people marching up and down Avenues A, B, C, D, vibrating with self-love and a collective obsession with power, money, fame, sex, and six-pack abs – Rabby’s complete and total invisibility in their eyes paralyzing his fingers on the keyboard, his brain, his will, reducing him to a soggy, mute, self-despising impotency, driving him out of his beloved city of 50 years to a suburban village across the river, taking up residence in a dying man’s boarding house – the landlord a former banker pushed out of his job in his early fifties, unable to land anything at one-tenth his former salary, his wife leaves him, takes the kid, clears out the bank account, you know what comes next – a lethal, berserk prostate cancer – can’t pay the mortgage, has to take in borders, installing beds in his dining room, basement, living room, the place a fucking mess, full of misfits, petty criminals even, and the omnipresent stink of shit and dirty socks – and all the while he’s dying, his urethra blocked, pissing through a tube coming out of his side, managing his parody of a bed and breakfast between trips to the emergency room at Hackensack hospital, because he can’t afford a doctor’s visit, all the while hounded by bill collectors, repo men, and his estranged wife’s lawyer.

Rabinowitz out here on Forest Avenue, stag, as always, wishing he had a dog to disguise his blatant loneliness, the stench of his neediness, if only he loved dogs like a goy loves dogs, deriving succor from pet ownership – writer of short stories published by small houses that go out of business and literary magazines that go unread and pay $125 per story on a good day. Can’t get a job at Sarah Lawrence or Bennington, where it is rumored there are plenty of girls who will fuck a published author, no matter what he looks like, no matter his age, can’t even get a job at fucking Fairleigh Dickinson, just 6 miles west on Forest Avenue. Maddening to Rabinowitz not to be able to parade his earth-shattering new insight in front of a semi-circle of adoring, mini-skirted coeds – secretly worried that his idea is already found in one of the histories or comedies (that’s an eventual project of rabinowitz’s, to catalogue every significant idea found in Shakespeare’s work, to see if, in fact, there are any ideas anywhere not found in Shakespeare, well, of course, there are things like e=mc squared, but maybe even its forbear is in there somewhere, and after Shakespeare, maybe the Greek myths and the bible, The Great Big Book of Ideas, bet that’d sell – it could give you brain cancer, all these ideas but neither the energy nor follow through to write them.
It has recently occurred to Rabinowitz – this is his really big idea and one of his fantasies is to unveil it as a guest on the Donny Deutsch show – that everything we say and write is designed either to protect or promote our ego. Everything. “Good evening,” to the scowling West Indian parking lot attendant, “Just going to be an hour,” said to keep him from killing you or hurting your car…”I like the blouse,” to your fellow teacher (Rabby spent 35 years teaching English at Stuyvesant before being forced into early retirement by a newly appointed principal with a revolutionary vision of education) to help you get laid – nuts as the human animal is, lots of the ego promotion backfires – but the intent is always self-interest. So why write, it’s so fucking transparent? Because this is what Rabinowitz does: write. It’s all he knows.
Contemplating the conundrum, conflict, R does not see the big gleaming black Escalade motoring toward him on this leafy little street where a car doing 25 feels like it’s 50, and this bastardization of a Cadillac is doing, what, 65? 70? And here’s Rabinowitz in his earth tones, colors of the Ashkenazi migrated from the steppes of Russia, camouflage basically, never call attention to yourself. Once after the sale of a story to the New Yorker in his early forties, R, pumped up, sure that his time had come, bought a souped up fire-engine red Volvo, the XJ47K, and got 6 speeding tickets in the year he had the car, lesson learned, a ticket a pogrom, singled out for hubris, the gods kill us for sport, watch out, Rabinowitz, don’t get too big for your britches. So here he is in the shadows of a row of overhanging oak, the sun dancing among the wind-blown leaves, Rabby’s clothes the color of bark and foliage, the twinkling sun shining south-eastward straight into the eyes of the driver sitting up so high, high above the foreshortened R – who can possibly see him among all the foliage and chiaroscuro, sun in your eyes. Whoa, only at the last minute does the herky-jerky Rabinowitz walk cut through, right shoulder ducking, head bobbing. The driver driving twice the speed limit swerves, honks, yells something out the window in a harsh male voice, Jersey accent, basso profundo, something that sounds suspiciously like, “Watch where you’re going you stupid scumbag!” And, oh, how Rabinowitz is offended, the injustice, the danger, the feeling of powerlessness triggering the most delicious rage.
“Fuck you,” screams Rabinowitz, “COCKSUCKER!!” He karate chops the belly of his elbow as he raises his fist in the Italian fuck you, flipping the departing Escalade the finger, then the finger with both hands in a rhythmic, pumping motion, both arms going up and down in counterpoint like pistons, “Fuck you, buddy, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you – “ Uh oh – flash of angry red brake lights. R scampers on a few yards, poised to race through somebody’s backyard. But the Escalade motors on, just a momentary slowing to ogle a slender Asian high school girl in shorts, jogging in place, waiting to cross the street. Her head swivels to follow the disappearing car and Rabby feels a stab of jealousy – girl probably lusting for the driver of the big SUV, maybe a cool black guy, a handsome Italian, maybe even a fucking Greek – but Rabinowitz – invisible, that’s what he is to high school girls. Let’s face it, that’s what he is to anyone with a vagina.
So this must be Daisy Mae’s man, barreling through the oak-bowered streets of town like Rommel in a tank. A swirl of adrenaline courses through Rabinowitz’s bloodstream – what if the fellow had stopped and chased him up the street. Why R would have cut across the big old Victorian’s lawn, then left on Birchwood Place, then into the thicket of woods at the end of the block. R’s heart is pounding with film footage of his imaginary escape – R scampering through hedges, Escalade man rippling with muscle hot on his tail. What a story! What a movie! R is suddenly delirious with a vision of his Oscar acceptance speech – “I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE!” he hollers after the disappeared SUV – then the inevitable acid rebound: what fucking middle-aged, bespectacled, pot-bellied nerd of a writer hasn’t been startled by an oversized car going too fast through his neighborhood. Writers! Frightened, law-abiding, law-loving fellows – of course, they hate the dude zooming by in his brawny, big-shouldered vee-hickle…rough, tough, ready to rumble – one thing about writers, they’re never ready to rumble, ‘cept on the written page. Shit, if he picked up a story about a car going too fast on a suburban street, he’d know exactly where the writer was coming from – a contemplative walk in the neighborhood interrupted by a young male wheeling by at too high a speed. Ugh. Revulsion. The writers – you see what they’re up to – that’s all a writer is ever doing, stating his case, grinding his axe, yammering on about what’s good for him – which isn’t a big black gleaming Escalade zooming by – wrong for the writer for so many reasons: can’t afford one, afraid of speed, attracting hot tough girls who really want to fuck right then and there, boom bang thank you ma’am – writers like to talk a lot first – and big tough guys who want to fight – so he takes out his pen and attacks – but because he’s a writer, and fancies himself an original, and in fact is a pretty book smart guy, he’ll flip it all around and make himself, uptight, law-abiding, nerdy protagonist, the butt of the story – he’ll side with the guy in the Escalade just to throw you off the trail – not out of conviction – he fucking hates the guy in the Escalade, but to be tricky – to disguise his motivation, that’s what a fucking writer does and our little Rabby can smell it a mile away. So why write?
R was invited to a party once at a big mansion in Southampton owned by an actual billionaire in the lend-lease biz – his egregiously fat, acned daughter took one of R’s fiction workshops at the Westside Y. R seated at the same table as the man, along with a famous woman novelist married to an equally famous husband/writer – R can’t tell you their names, but in 2004 they were the darling of the literarti, writing true shiterature – nice thing about the rich collecting artists is that they feed them, the wild striped bass was the best Rabby had ever tasted – “Why do you write?” asked the billionaire. R deferred. The girl went first. “I write, I write, the reason I write, “she said, “is I think, and I, I, I, I don’t want to sound vain – noooooooo – but I write because I think that something I write might just help someone live a better, fuller life.”
Billionaire nodded, pleased, turned to R. “I write,” said little Rabby, always the provacateur, “I write to dominate the reader, to show him how much smarter I am, that I can think of things so much deeper than he that he is awed, cowed, beaten. That is why I write (Mr. Lend-lease man), to show the world I am the smartest dude in the universe.”
Billionaire had dropped eye contact with R half-way through his tirade, turning to once again have intercourse with the beautiful young novelist, whose jaw hung open in shock and disgust at the ranting little R.
Writers, ugh! As hungry as actors and senators for the big bucks, recognition, the limelight. The one thing you can say about Rabby is: at least he knows why he writes. It’s a terrible compromise, of course. You want to be a dude on a horse with a lance, but you’re not equipped. Not athletic, strong, big, mean, or man enough, no appetite for the battle, nothing but fear of fighting, so you pick up a pen instead, only thing you’re good at. Through no fault of your own, you were born with an ability to cobble a sentence together. Others can design a dress. Inborn, all of it. You use your skill. Oh, the injustice of it all. Imagine, instead, being able to whack a golf ball 375 yards – whack! – the strength, the balance, the hand speed – 375 yards, just like Tiger did on the 17th at Augusta as R sat watching on his dying landlord’s plasma TV. Now there’s a man who dominates – oh, to be born with that long, strong black/Thai body, that steely sense of his own greatness – maybe in a few years, R thinks, the answer we always give ourselves, this mad belief in what he calls THE CORRECTION – that someday we’ll somehow get what we yearn for, no matter how impossible. R wishes he were taller, better endowed, born with a smaller nose, stronger chin, an ability to play the sax, to last longer during sex – someday, he muses, someday. He can see it now, sitting on the staff at Breadloaf with Roth and Updike and Oates –No money, no friends, no pets, no relatives except a sister happily married to a successful home builder in Prescott, Arizona with 5 kids and a couple of dogs, nothing to distract him from the task at hand, no one in his life except his dying landlord and a few mangy housemates to whom he owes nothing but a trifle of morning civility as they share the toaster and breakfast table, so Rabby has all the time in the world to devote to the writing of his next great story. But how great can a story really be…everything he reads nowadays sickens him – he can feel what the writers up to – takes a writer to know a writer – Missouri Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train (what douche bag named that?,– writers writing for writers – Christ, the driest stuff in all of Christendom, Jewdom, as well – dry, starchy, arch, smug, self-congratulatory, ain’t I smart, and subtle, and don’t I see just what’s wrong with the world today…nothing’s wrong, pal, nothing at all….just ain’t kissing your ass the way you want it to, you smug little cocksucker….life’s always sucked, idiot, always has, always will…for the simple reason it will never give you what you want – never. You’re a writer, for Christ sake. No matter how good it gets for a writer, how the fuck can it compare to being Tom Brady. Brad Pitt. Not even close. So you squirrel away in your little corner of the intellectual world writing your dry little stories.
R has worked himself into a rage, shuffling down Forest Road in his speedy little walk, 13 and a half minute miles. Man can motor. He longs to be the Tiger Woods of writing, the terminator, to dominate the field by being at least five times as good as his closest competitor. Rabinowitz has, among his stored up titles, a series on writing: writing in public (when he’s blocked, he brings his laptop down to the Starbucks on Broad Avenue); writing as performance (brings his laptop to write with great flourish, as if conducting the Philharmonic, on a bench in Van Saunt Park); writing for health (writes standing up with his laptop on his bureau, the windows wide open, heat off, white Irish seaman’s sweater and woolen cap on); writing to avoid brain cancer (writing furiously to unload as much of the swirl of mad thoughts as he can bear); and, finally, writing to end all writing. Oh, to write the piece that ends it all. They say that after reading Shakespeare’s 58th sonnet, Francis Bacon just up and quit. There is nothing more to say, he wrote, nor words to say it so sweetly. I shall never take quill in hand again. This is what R wants to do to his fellow writers – paralyze them so that they will never sit down at the keyboard again.
Thinking, thinking, thinking – Rifkin, he likes the name Rifkin. Rifkin is walking, no, shuffling, no shilly shallying down the street when in the distance a splash of sun highlights a looming black fender – no, ugh! Fie upon it! Rifkin! Right, Rabinowitz with his Rifkin. How original. Roth with his Zuckerman, Malamud with Fidelman, Bellow and Herzog, Richler with Kravitz, even fucking Updike with his Jewish Bech. Writers writing about writers. Jew writers writing about Jew writers. No, R is going to do it himself, not going to assign some nebbishy little Jew named Rifkin – Christ, he’s the nebbishy little Jew himself – he doesn’t need to create one. He’s it. R. Nobody else will do. It is time, says Rabby aloud to no one, it is time I step forward myself. Me. Rabinowitz. I will be the warrior. Warrior/writer. Didn’t Hemingway drive ambulances in Spain, for Christ sake? Okay, didn’t shoot guns but driving ambulances is nothing to sneeze at. And didn’t he beat the shit out of Wallace Stevens. There you go, I will become a warrior, no, I will be a warrior, and document it all along the way….keep a diary of my metamorphosis not into a cockroach but into a fucking warrior and I don’t give a fig if I’m a diminutive 58 year old man. I can do anything. Reality tv – how about reality fiction. Rabby’s excitement has sent him into a mania…he feels like Rumplestiltsken, whirling in a maddening circle, Rabinowitz, inventor of a whole new form of writing – reality fiction. He fuckin loves it.
R buys a digital camera and takes shots of his food, his vitamins, himself doing sits ups, the high school track where he has begun his daily wind sprints. His book will have pictures – proof of his emerging warrior shape and status. And don’t his readers deserve pictures – secretly jealous of graphic novels, R thrills at the prospect of doing his own. Pictures! Breaking up the endless black highway of text!

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