Soundtrack—The Squirrel Nut Zippers – “Christmas Caravan”
Good evening! Well, first off, I really want to thank Darren & Will for reading and commenting on the chapter I posted yesterday. It means a lot to me that you guys took the time to think it over and react in print… Next! I want to thank Forager and Sean Collins for goading me (either consciously or not) to find a bigger place for Jack Kirby in my dissertation proposal. I mean, I was never planning to ignore the King—but I was certainly thinking of emphasizing Stan Lee & Steve Ditko’s work at his expense. I now find myself wondering how I ever could have wanted to do that—after all, if I’m arguing that the theological debates which raged in 17th century New England survived into the late 20th, through the media of the American Romance and crime fiction, and then migrated onto the panels and lettercols of Marvel’s Silver Age, I really shouldn’t downplay Kirby’s apocalyptic vision. And now I have a way of getting Melville into the mix, in addition to Hawthorne. My subject was always intended to be the contested ground that these works mapped out—and it was completely wrongheaded of me to try restrict myself to thinking about the internal contradictions within series like Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, and the post-Kirby Captain America. The stakes are almost certainly higher within the pages of the FF, and the mid-70s Cap (where Jack was working alone, but certainly not in ignorance of what Marvel had gotten up to in his absence).
Sadly, I don’t have Cap #193-214 anymore. I used to have most of ‘em, but I dimly recall selling them (sometime around 1993) in order to pay for Ramen Noodles and cat food (for the cats—not for me). But then, that’s the whole point of this project—if this dissertation gets off the ground, I’ll have the research money to get the things I need to do this right (in addition to, you know, learning something—and gaining entrance into the scholarly guild, which I have misgivings about, but, well, I’ll have to get over them) Anyway, more about the proposal (it’s now called Saints, Anonymous: Marvel Comics and The Puritan Legacy in America) on Sunday, or Monday—by which time I’ll have to have a draft done for the FCAR (a Quebec government grant agency) application.
Tonight, in order to get more in the Kirby spirit, I’ve been going through my Eternals collection. Crazy stuff! The first issue features an article entitled Will The Gods Return Someday? His eschatological (the science of the end times) fixation is clearly in the ascendant here (as if anyone who knows about the Celestials needed me to say that!) Now, I’ve never been interested in that kind of stuff in itself, but it’s definitely representative of a pole of Calvinist thought—Cotton Mather(who actually appeared as a villain in some Bill Mantlo Marvel Team-Ups—gotta get those too!), the famous witch-hunter (who actually opposed the hysteria, and helped put a stop to it, but later tried to put a spin on the situation in The Wonders of the Invisible World, thus damaging his rep for all time) filled his journals with speculation that seeks to pinpoint the day of judgment (this became a very popular sport in New England—anyone know the Millerites?).Anyway, looking over these comics, I’ve really got to hand to Kirby—the man sure can create abysses, and strong protagonists capable of confronting them (Harold Bloom really should read these…)
Last, but not least, I thought I would compound yesterday’s possible error and post chapters two and three of my novel. I feel bad about leaving that poor initial segment all by its lonesome. But after this, there’ll be no more from me about the novel until January, because the remaining 90% of it is either too rough, or nonexistent, and I’ll be too busy until Christmas to do anything about that! And if you choose not to read on, well, that’s okay too! Good night in advance!
Gray afternoon. Big snowflakes dispersed through the air. Small tractors on the sidewalks. Drivers making faces at kids. Windows pock-marked with snowball debris. Lights and tinsel coming down—back to the basement.
Anne stood in the window, holding a mug. Left arm draped over the opposite shoulder, chin on the wrist. Beneath the reflection of a corduroy thigh, the Regence angel disappeared from its perch. Anne turned and hurried down the stairs to the red lobby.
“Hey guys, wait! Some of those ornaments are mine!”
Donna tossed a couple of plastic balls into a black garbage bag.
“Not that cheap stuff, I hope.”
“No. Linus and Sally—on sleds.”
“Got them,” Chris smiled, pulling the hooks off the branches. “You spilled coffee on your shirt.”
Anne looked down at a brown patch, near her left breast, flecked with nutmeg. She shook her head. Curdled lips muttered “damn!” She emptied the mug in the sink.
Chris put the Peanuts decorations on the counter.
“We’ve gotta hurry. When’s the first show today? Five-thirty?”
Anne shook her head.
“Isn’t Dan here?”
Donna, spooling garland around a piece of cardboard, shrugged.
“Man, that dude’s always sick.”
“I’ll get out of your way then.”
Anne wandered half-way down the corridor to her office. She stopped, bouncing a finger on her hip.
“Is Rodney still here?”
Two voices asked: “What?”
She turned around.
“Rodney. Did he leave yet?”
Chris nodded black bangs.
“Yeah. He’s gone. He told me to tell you he left stuff on your desk.”
He made quotation marks with his fists.
Another finger jackhammered Anne’s chin.
Chris moved his skinny arms crazily.
“Dude, what’s with the Tourette’s?”
Her lips made a wedge-shape over bright teeth.
“Just take down the tree motherfucker.”
Donna let out a moist chuckle. Her blue eyes bulged.
Message indicator flashing. Fax machine whine. White lights in the shrubbery. Leaves making a comeback. This year’s schedule all planned out—still in erasable red.
Anne squinted through lamplight at smooth letters on a jagged sheet of looseleaf:
had to leave early
expecting a guy from The Inkstain
sometime after four
You’ve met him, I think—Yves Thibault
He just wants a few quotes about our plans for the year. He’s on our side, so don’t be shy. You know these articles—just talk about the retrospectives, theme weeks, etc. Wax poetic, if you feel like it—these are mostly your ideas, anyway.
See you tomorrow,
Anne crumpled the note and threw it in the waste basket. She set up the ornaments on her desk—one on each side of the empty gold frame. She switched on the classic rock station. Her chin rode waves of “More Than A Feeling”.
A slippery fax quoted high prices for prints. Anne walked to the back wall and peppered the summer months with red question marks. She frowned at a row of them in mid-July.
“Maybe we’ll give some live shows for the people,” she grumbled.
Anne spun around.
A man stood in the hallway, with a fist frozen in a knocking posture, two inches from the door. He had a longish nose and a soft chin. Brown hair covered half his forehead, showcasing a raised eyebrow.
“I’m sorry,” he smiled. “I’m Yves Thibault. Rodney told me I could speak to you…”
“Yes,” she nodded. “Come in.”
He sat down and put on a tape recorder on the desk. Anne sat opposite him.
“I don’t mind telling you, I’m pleased,” he half-winked.
“Well, you know, I see Rodney all the time, and we just go over the same things. I love him, but I don‘t know if we can generate copy any more. My readers don’t want transcripts of our film-school debates…”
Anne sank down and squinted at him through the contours of the frame.
“No. Of course not. At least,” the wink went all the way, “not every week.”
She pressed her shoulder against the right arm of her chair.
“Well, don’t worry. You won’t get any theory out of me. I’m post-everything but post-graduate.”
He laughed through his teeth.
“Thanks. I… I like your column. You’re a knowledgeable man.”
“I try to stay on top of things. The things that matter…”
He dropped his palms face up on the desk.
“Like this place. I can’t tell you what it means to me… I came here on my first date. It didn’t work out very well, but we saw Breathless—with subtitles, of course.”
He winked again:
“Somehow, I can never resist reading them , can you?”
“Well, it’s fun to see how much they miss.”
“It is… But, of course, with a film like that, the camera does all the talking. Those jump cuts…”
Anne glued her spine to the back of the chair.
“Yes, but…I really like good dialogue.”
“Sure, sure, it’s nice, but, well, you know what I mean.”
“I mean, there’s sparkling wit and then there’s that close-up of Jean Seberg. There’s no contest, is there?”
“Maybe not… But…but there’s more to good dialogue than sparkling wit. Sometimes it’s in the pauses. Those holes you slip into.”
“Hmm. Well, I’m a simple man. I write about what I see.”
“Why didn’t it work out?”
“The date. Your first date.”
“I didn’t like her.”
He pressed play/record and sat back.
“Okay, let’s get started! What’s new at the Regence?”
“Uh,” she crossed her arms, “well, we are trying some new things this year. I hope people will find them exciting.”
“We’ll be doing quite a few second-run showings of mainstream Hollywood movies…”
A pause for a smile that never showed. A scowl filled the vacancy.
“That’s kind of disappointing.”
“Well, the prints are readily available, and there’s a lot of demand–especially amongst students–for a chance to see these movies on the big screen for half the price…”
“The Tuesday night crowd? I can smell the cologne already…”
“I just think people will come—the ‘smart people’ too—and if they have a good time here, they might stay for some of our more ‘artistic’ fare, or at least come back another day…”
“Maybe. But I still think that’s sad.”
“I guess you’re right. I guess it is.”
“Okay! Tell me about some of that artistic fare.”
“Well, February is Woody Allen month and I’m really excited about…”
“We’re showing everything he made between 1978 and 1996.”
She curved her hand around the side of her mouth and whispered: “I’m not sure what happened after Everyone Says I Love You.”
“Woody Allen is a writer with a camera ‘round his neck. He’s not a serious filmmaker.”
“No. And when he tries to be, like in Interiors, he makes a fool of himself.”
“I agree—Interiors isn’t very good—but I find it interesting. And look where he went from there, once he stopped trying so hard… Have you seen Another Woman?”
“Oh…I think so…a long time ago.”
“You should come back in February and see it again. It’s brilliant. It’s about a woman who gets so caught up in another person ‘s life that she…”
“’About’? Forget about what it’s about! In fact, forget ‘about’. Let’s talk innovative camera-use! Transgressive cinema! Isn’t the Regence going to show anything more visionary than Woody Allen?”
She aimed her chin at the ceiling.
“Frank Capra? We showed It’s A Wonderful Life a couple of weeks ago and it went over big.”
“Jesus! I mean, there’s some nice stuff in Capra, but he’s overexposed–and for all the wrong reasons!”
“Look, I’m not here to watch the movies for people. Apparently, that’s your job.”
“Oh? You’re going to promote them aren’t you? As a sickening good time, right?”
“You asked about vision. Capra’s all about vision.”
“About? About! Come on!”
Her gaze leveled off.
“Obviously, he knows. He’s my boss.”
“Sure, but does he really think he can get away with turning an art-house into Matinee at the Bijou?”
She smiled at the ball of crinkled paper in the waste basket.
“But that doesn’t mean he wants to talk to you about it.”
“I don’t think you do either.”
Anne’s cheeks reddened.
“No. I guess you’re right.”
Outside the Regence
Invisible breath on the streets. Baseball scores on car radios. An ice palace drowned in its remains. A dirty thaw in progress.
Marquee-bulbs flickered with the current, drew a feedback of glare. Chandeliers rouged cracks in the ceiling, exposed dust in the air. Cherubs swirled in the molding, beneath layers of paint. A soundtrack hailed something in the room with the screen. A girl at the counter ransacked her jeans. The cashier paused on a smile halfway through the routine.
Infantino—shoulder to the window; sneaker toeing the carpet; hands in his pockets; eyeing shadows through the pane.
Green shards of alarm, tumbling into the black. A double eclipse. Nostrils shrinking, forehead creased. Body stiffening, pulse unleashed.
Mild air blew through the door with the nine-thirty crowd. Infantino set sail on the trade wind.
Churning cement on a treadmill, blocks long. Crosswalks, stoplights, thronging surge. Club-music and laughter, bits of talk overheard. And nothing deciphered. Earlobes reddening. Tracking shot. Two perspectives converging—on some hair and a walk.
Bodies aligned, light years apart. Illusory motion, stymied march. New constellation—black holes, not stars. Declining—on a roll—in love with the part. Beyond posters (warmed over)—dates gone up in smoke—blonde glinted through haze, hips arced down the slope.
Monoxide mists and vacant plots. Panels haunted by staples, where the publicity stopped. Silver canister/theatre—eye-beams at the booth. Free-magazine racks, pasta-bar views. Soft awnings, sharp menus, gold colour scheme. Glass-shots of attitudes culled from the scene. Quick dissolve. Down St-Laurent to Ste-Catherine—full head of steam.
Zooming lens at red corners, but no pans left or right. Horizontal distortion, fun-house stretch. Tracking resumed, when the coast turned green. Twice, between lights, the middle-man froze, back neatly framed. Over those shoulders—ghost of an object, subject the same… The procession kick-started, head-bob setting the range. Then both leads cleared the stage.
The sidewalk eddied forward at a crowd-controlled pace. ‘Closed’ sign, open door—brackish vestibule snag. Back out on the street, ambient waves rolled away. Sandy brick-rock, bits of moss in the cracks. Black Sabbath climbed the stairs. A-frame wooden sign, flecked with mud and desperation: “25% OFF”, “movies”, “records”, “posters”, “XXX”, “LIQUIDATION”. Yellow banner above it, windblown shadow going round. In a rusty circle, at the core, white letters spelled “Red Planet Comics”.
The dim lights got dimmer, the music fizzled out. Hoarse, nasal grumbling ricocheted off the walls. The basement door closed. Boots shuffled up the steps. A mucousy sigh. Sunglasses bugged out of greasy gray hair.
“You’re way too late, honey. Come back tomorra hunh? I gotta close.”
Keys shook in his fist.
The street bounced on a shrug. Came misting back down. A lather of rain scoured sightlines away. Infantino obscured. No sign of his prey.
“I’d letcha wait it out at my place, but my lady’s there tonight.” Forehead winked above lenses. “You’ll be fine, though. Lotta places still open…”
Dry path, beneath awnings, lit by Burger King glow. Pay phone at the entrance, fingers dropping touch-tones.
“If you have a voice mailbox on this system, please… press… pound and dial the number—“
“Anne St-Michel… Please enter… your password—“
“You have…two…new messages—“
“Hey Anne, it’s Thérèse. Just wondering how you’re doing, what’s been going on, all that stuff. I don’t have to explain this do I? I must care, right? Otherwise, I wouldn’t call. I hate talking to machines; they’re even quieter than you are… I know, I know, that’s how I want it, right? It’s true, you’re right. Anyway, let me know what you’ve got planned this week, and I’ll squeeze myself in! Bye—“
“Anne. C’est ta mère. Rappelle-moi. On veut te voir pour souper cette fin de semaine. Amène tes taxes, si tu veux. On les fera ensembles…”
Back on the hook.
Sports pages smeared across two non-smoking tables. Trio-poses backed up low prices plus tax. Orange booths swamped by newly soaked kids. Whopper sauce in the air.
“It’s really comin’ down man.”
“Yeah baby, cats and dogs!”
“No man, perpendicular river, fuck!”
“That’s stupid, you’re tryin’ too hard.”
“Funk’n’Wagnall’s baby! Can’t try too hard. You’re just lazy… Grab me some bukkaw bits while you’re up there, hunh.”
“You mean chicken shrapnel? How many? And with what?”
Wallet deep in a pocket—purple bill unfurled.
“With this, man. Take what they give you.”
The other pocket rang.
“Yeah? Yeah, we’ll be there… Soon’s the rain and the chicken give out… Okay, say it wi’ me: my batt-rees are dyin’… Love ya…”
Green aura sloughed, the machine clammed shut. Arrhythmic fingers drummed melamine gloss. Hands stretched and met at the back of the head. A quick scan of the room, playing close to the vest. Yawning mouth locked—knit brow covered the slip. A full tray alit.
“Hey man, you see that chick with the glasses? She was dialed in man. On us!”
Ouvert Jusqu’a 4h 00, mirror image in red, swung to the left, came righted again.
“Yeah? Too bad it stopped rai—“
The door sealed off the frame.
Skimming uphill; side-street puddle-slicked. Fog binding the mountain, feet slogging through clay. Night chiaroscuroed by taxi-light sweeps. Metro-sign arrow aimed down and away.
Tarnished risers melting into the ground. “Vietnam Vet” below—a cup in his hand, a sign round his neck. A spin through the turnstile, another flight down. Platform crowd swelling—last train of the night.
Red-faced man at a phone-stall. Fingers menacing buttons. Jaw grinding the mouthpiece.
“Don’t—make me—come home—for nuthin.”