The Little

  • The road is grumpy and lonely. So am I. In the last month I’ve broken up with my girlfriend, decided I haven’t processed my father’s death, stopped shaving, stopped cutting my nails, called my mom too much, called my friends too little, worn my boxers four days in a row, listened to Fergie, and left thousands of bugs plastered on the windshield of the maroon Saab station wagon that I’m driving alone across South Dakota.

    This road is stupidly straight and pancaked. On the sides, nothing: I-90 doesn’t do scenery. I am the only shadow for miles: a lost New Yorker searching for some America that isn’t this. Mother Nature must have hiked her way through Wyoming, turned East, and collapsed of sunstroke.

    My eyes itch from boredom and cringe in the unfiltered sunlight, even from behind sunglasses and with the car visors down.

  • Translator’s Preface:

    Gallant readers, I found this script while I was studying in the basement of Bass Library yesterday. Someone left it in a copy of Edmund Burke’s Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful. The patterns of irony should tell you that nothing is sublime or beautiful about the script. I translated it from Biblical Hebrew to English, Spanish, and French, because I thought that after I finished, I would see some merit in the text that had not come through in the original Hebrew. After all, nothing can compete with the Bible in its own language. (In my desperate fervor to find something worthwhile in the script, I forgot that English, Spanish, and French are the languages of Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Montaigne.)

    Needless to say, irony and fortune conspired against nature on this matter, and the script was as unpleasant in those other languages as it was in the original.

  • In September I was jaded from feeling gender dysphoric, so I threw back an eclectic mix of alcoholic beverages, starting with an olive-pierced martini and ending with a cheap rum and coke at Toad’s. There were several American white lagers in between, and a glass of red wine as well. The next morning did not bode well: At 6 a.m., my ethanol-infused body awoke to the incessant beeping of a heart rate monitor at Yale New Haven Hospital. Thirty minutes later I trudged back home with the remnants of the night before splattered across my jeans.

    Despite my alcoholic fiasco, a peculiar kind of serenity pierced New Haven. It was the gentle here-and-now of truck drivers preparing their morning deliveries, and  reminded me of how cream spills silently into a cup of coffee. I was surprised by how much pleasure I took in the blue collar bustle of that morning, which diverged so sharply from the sometimes creepy smoothness of my elitist bubbles.

  • I

    Henceforth nothing was ordinary – the smallest action was either triumph or failure, gross misstep or major victory. At dinner his family would sit together speaking in half-sentences; various emotions swelled to affect the entire party but seemed immediately to fall away in cascade; someone would suddenly feel critical, and the others, sensing this, would change their tone to compensate. Always, at those moments, the boy in question would croak, or cough, seem to be moved – and the table would once more rest poised for catharsis (preparing to curse the boy’s detractors, or pray naively for his health, or pout in desperation) – but before any outpouring could occur, someone would straighten a tie, or gulp back the wine, and all settle once more into apathy.

  • Harry sat amid hackneyed remnants of coke needles and Manhattan dust. Lenox’s Deli granted him a free ham and cheese every three days; he always took them up on it. Marlboros and Camels pierced the gallant lungs of passers by in Harlem as if nicotine was a universal celebration of silent mid-summer suffering.

    Puff puff.

    Below his broken shoes lay the day’s New York Times front page:

    Friday, July 3, 1981: A10: RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS: Outbreak Among Men in New York and California- 8 Died Inside 2 Years. By Lawrence K. Altman

    Harry ignored the voices of the street, those of the Times, and those of the nurses at The Institution, but not the voices of his own head. Self-ignorance was not a choice so his smoker’s chin gargled humanized saltwater and spit it back as his brain gradually entertained itself in the spinning mental circles of disguised trance:

    “Trisoresene…” he mumbled.

  • On Saturdays I’d wake up at dawn and cram. Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt led class through a review of the previous day’s broken tackles and five-four-three double plays and birdies from the fairway until mom woke up and asked too many questions waiting for the morning brew. Coffee still smells like ignorance and mom still asks why the Bears would punt at the fifty-yard line and Stuart Scott died at forty-nine.

    Sports are just games with known winners.

    Andrew and I watched together from different houses across the street. On the walk to the baseball field outside the elementary school we’d administer the oral exam and rehash the important segments. There was much to debate, like whether Kenny Lofton’s diving catch outshone Maddux’s twelve strikeouts or if the Nomar trade would materialize before the deadline and how old Jim Hendry’s going to make enough room in the salary cap.

  • When the tube stops at Gloucester Road, a man with pink pants sits down across from Allen and begins to eat an emaciated-looking donut. It’s the kind of donut, Allen think, that would be ashamed of itself—a brown, dry thing that might’ve sat in the back of a display case for days, forgotten, crumpling under the heat of fluorescent lights. He remembers seeing one almost exactly like it a week ago, in a grocery store near the Union, the only store open in a street dark and closed off, shutters and blank storefronts, the only sound his shoes on the uneven pavement and the faint shiver of leaves in the chill of a summer wind. He remembers the shock of it, the aisles in the shop stretching out before him, silent, still (it’s nothing like America—the emptiness of it all, even at midnight, there’s always people at the cash registers, not like here, where the only noise is the beep, beep, beep of the self-checkout machines), and he remembers passing the pastry aisle, baskets mostly bare except for crumbs and the odd left-behinds—that donut, not brown, but a pale yellow, powdered with the stick of crumbling sugar, but with the same sense of misplacement, of loss.

  • The best writing is hardest to review. The most essential writing, after all, is essential precisely because it says what no one else can say. It achieves a subtlety of expression that allows for a subtlety of thought which is otherwise impossible. Marilynne Robinson’s voice is, by this definition, essential.

    Robinson recently interviewed President Obama on a podcast and posed for the cover of Poets & Writers Magazine; she is reviewed almost everywhere with near­-pious praise. There’s something mildly distasteful in the fad she is enjoying, driven as it is by the secular liberal hunger, not just for the sacred, but the for the moral authority conservatives claim for Christianity. But the irony of the voguishness of Robinson’s work is that her books are very far from superficial.