Table of Contents

Chapter Ten

All the next day in my rented room I go hunting through a forest of clichés, hackneyed phrases, pop song lyrics, newspaper headlines, advertisements that spill like glossy screams out of bulked-up junk mail envelopes, anything, magazine covers, near hysterical DJ chatter, muffled conversation emerging through the sponge of these walls from other rooms to stain my eager ears, the shouts of children playing below my window on the sidewalk – a vortex of language printed or sung or bellowed or spoken that circles everywhere around me informs everything except the Sphinx of my muse, which sits unmoved, heavy and mute and inscrutable.

I can I hear music coming from the Prodigy’s room down the hall, the jazz he listens to when he’s not practicing scales on the broken-down Baldwin spinet that seems shrunken and hunched in a grandmotherly way. The scales never build into song, it’s just his fingers hammering on the keys, up, down, fast or faster, loud or louder, hour after hour once he gets started. Right now he’s listening to one of his old 78s played not on a stereo but on what used to be called a record player, the vinyl disks tracked into tremulous tune by a curved arm embracing a needle delicate as a baby’s breath. Whatever the record is, a trombone predominates with its ragged fluidity, tones attacked by a tattered tongue, the seam of the sound combining smooth and thick textures that only a trombone played madly makes.

The Prodigy went my high school, Messmer, one of a handful of African-American students in attendance at that time, but he spoke to no one and kept to himself. Even then his face was clouded by the rumors surrounding his family history. Now when we pass in the hallway he nods, then immediately pins his gaze to the floor. Two weeks ago we were both in the kitchen downstairs and I asked him the name of the name of a strange otherworldly instrumental I’d heard him playing in his room that morning. With every note the song had seemed to collapse and intrepidly reconstruct itself. He mumbled something and left quickly, but a few hours later I found an album, an actual 32, that he’d slid under my door. It was Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew.

Nothing comes to me, no words. Sugar Boy, invent me an idea machine. Invent me a machine that speeds up time and collapses the next ten tomorrows into today.

So far I have over one hundred pages I stitched together based on “Street Soliloquies” that I keep adding words to like scars, a clumsy Frankenstein of a story sewn from everything in my suggestion boxes. It staggers, yanking at the bolts in its neck. It struggles to lift the anchors of boxy boots and lurches into something resembling motion. Sitting at the desk, I have pages with Kodiac’s notes written in red ink in the margins spread out before me.

Kodiac writes, “Stretch it, stretch it, you want to break the link between tenor and vehicle, then break it, crush it completely.”

He writes, “Beautiful, senseless, you have torn it open, here, but you let it live. You show mercy when, what, you should finish it off.”

I’m his literary Vlad the Impaler.

He rarely advocates deletion. He wants me to expand, always to expand.

He writes, “The universe, my friend, is shrinking, entropy has seen to that. We don’t need less, we don’t need subtraction, subtraction is death, we need more, more of this, more of what you’ve done right here.”

He exhorts, “Decide, take a stand, first you want to tell a story and then you want to destroy the story with your language, you can’t serve two masters, okay? Listen to your deepest instincts, does the world really need yet another goddamn story or does it need what you seem to be trying to do?”

Concluding, he descends into calm and writes more quietly, “You do not know it but what you are trying to do is write a story which is the story of a style.”

So now in response to one of his nagging refrains I write, “The flamethrower of his indolence burns through ambitions the bloodthirsty world advances like Napoleon’s army,” not knowing how or why it connects with what came before or comes after, and Kodiac springs from the margins in a cheerleader’s leap, urging me to go farther.

How to advance the man and his flamethrower into the why and wherefore the world wants to hear?

I reach inside suggestion box. I consult his notes.

I used to think that everything was a story, or that anything could be the point of departure for a story, that every action or object or thought contained a history which could be made to unfold as a story.

I decide to return the album, zip the AlphaSmart up in its nylon bag and hang it off my shoulder, cross the hall, knock on the Prodigy’s closed door.

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