A Visit chapter three

After we ate dinner, which was excellent, I looked more at Ann Nowak’s book. The first story, coincidentally enough, was called “Cuisine Cousins” and was about food. First, there was a detailed description of a meal. Writing about food was the easiest form of skillful prose. Most people can conjure images of how a meal will taste. A ham and cheese sandwich will be more than just those four words: they will be a yearning in the stomach. I enjoyed reading about food, especially after I ate. Ann’s descriptions of food were interesting and odd:

“Bernard had happily tasted the tomato-chocolate souffle: ‘Did you add any cream to that?’ shouted his fat cousin Florence who was engulfing oyster and jam shooters all afternoon. ‘In a minute, bitch!’ cried the irate chef, ready to add the steam from his ears into the mix. ‘Cream of mint, I suppose’ he sneered, ‘and let me not forget the agave nectar in the vinegar cake!’”

The story is about two cousins. Neither can find a romantic partner so they spend time with each other, indulging in the one thing they have in common: eating. One cousin, Florence, is apparently obese, causing her to feel she is overlooked by “most of the handsome men who could sleep on her stomach.” Bernard, the chef, is described as “a little bit husky, but more like corn, not pillow.’ Each meal is more important than the last. Bernard and Florence blame their “pathetic excuse of a gene pool” for their sorrows so “they figured early on to eat all the happiness, however mildewed it became.” They decide one night to tell each other their favorite recipes but they get increasingly angry during the telling:

Bernard says, “Add a cup of fish oil to the can of hominy. Include eggs and licorice; beat until not smooth so I can hit you over the head with it!”

Florence says, “A pinch of vanilla, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, cashews, asparagus, cottage cheese, maple syrup, dandelion root, a bit of your stupidity, your bigotry, your humanity and blend them together until you die!”

The story ends when they walk towards each other, carrying knives, ready to “taste each other’s screams.” Some people would consider such a story to be disturbing but I thought about some of the dinners I had with the Goldmans and how they behaved. Ann’s story was a comic retelling of what I experienced, although the real life version was less fun and caused me to get sick during the meals.

The next story is called “Naked Thoughts” about two “air memes of emotion without the physical people shells to hide them.” From what I could understand, these two “energies” become so intensely aware of their existence that they “packed up and left the people to whom they once belonged.” The energies do what is called “mm-talk.” “Mm” seems to be the closest way to describe “an unnamed understanding.” There are supposedly no sounds emitted or words spoken but the two energies “intuit the other’s mm.” The story is written in odd fragmented sentences which are supposed to represent each flash of intuitive awareness as each energy “mm”s it, but there is no indication of whether an energy is male or female and there is a moment in the story when the author hints at the possibility there is really only one energy “splitting into layers of opinions like onions and unions.”

Here is one paragraph: “Yes because we – almost felt – as if one – but here they – could only wish – which reminds – not them – but we should kiss – like years ago – before they became us – or estranged us – without the mm – of our mm.”

I was not able to understand everything but the story worked in a way I could not describe, which perhaps was its point.

Another story is called “I Was Once Them” about a man who lives next door to a group of people who are in a complicated relationship. The man sits outside in his back yard, listening to when the neighbors – any combination of them – go outside to discuss something, “away from the others.” There is a fence dividing the two properties so the neighbors do not see the man who sits on a chaise lounge and listens to them. The story is told by the man who is listening:

“I was once them. I was once all of them, with their convoluted resolutions, cowardly courage and cocktail-hour confusions. I had the feelings and I had the denials. I had the regret and I had the regret of regret. But, now. Oh, but now! I am cleansed! I am cleansed by entertainment! My neighbors put on a show for me, a show they do not know I see, because they do not know that they are who I used to be. But I remember the emotions so well! However, I know them as recapitulation, not regurgitation. That flavor tastes better when somebody else swallows it.

“Yesterday, Gwen told John she loves Gary. Gary told John he loves Martha. Martha told John she loves him. John told himself he loves me. But I will not love him back! Oh, but I do love his anguish. My not playing their game is a part of the play.”

As the story progresses, the narrator describes some of the conversations he hears but refuses to believe they know he is listening, even when his descriptions indicate they are aware he is listening:

“Poor John! Shouting at phantoms, coincidentally a ‘couch dweller of an older hunk named Carter.’ If only he knew how close he is – how actually identical he is – to describing me when he describes the cutie of his dreams, telling Greg, ‘I have a thing for my next door neighbor’ while Greg says, ‘Sshh! He’s listening!’ To that, John says, ‘I know he is.’ Such fantasies they imagine, hoping for a reality where I really do sit and listen to them, and I know they do not – even though I do – love him!”

The story gets stranger. The narrator, who is now identified as Carter, gets into a twisted thought pattern where he believes his neighbors are mimicking his old emotions, long after he no longer feels them, “because somebody has to.”

“He says he loves her and she says she loves another and that’s how I think, used to think. I am no longer them but they are me! What I said yesterday to Greg, when I was John, was ‘Gary, I know I am scrutinizing John too much when he talks about Carter, because I know I am only a replica of the Carter he imagines.’ Then, I told John, when I pretended to be Gary – who knows damn well he can imitate me better than I can imitate me – ‘He might as well wait for him to shut us up.’ Ha ha ha ha!”

I was able to finish that story, which became so convoluted it did not really end as much as it just stopped, and then I had to take a break. I had read literature like this in the past and I did not need to put those books down like I did Ann Nowak’s. Her work was not too challenging but it buzzed with energy, as if the title of the book also served as a description of the warm buzz one would feel while reading it. My buzz came from the knowledge she lived probably close to where Georgette and William were located, combined with how good looking she was, topped with the possibility of meeting her.

William walked in the living room where I had been reading. He asked, “Her book is a bit unusual, would you say?”

“Absolutely, but I think it’s great. Do you like it?”

“I do. There are some days when her stories would be a little too much but there are other days when it’s exactly what I’m craving to read.”

“How is she like in person?”

“Are you asking me because you want to meet her?”

“Do you want me to meet her?”

He laughed. “You saw her picture on the back cover and you fell instantly in love.”

“I haven’t even met her.”

“Not yet, but you really want to.”

“I mean, it would be okay.”

“You sound like meeting her would be you doing her a favor.”

“I don’t know. I’m mostly interested in her writing.”

“Aah, young love. You want to watch your darling Ann writing in her notebook, outside on the patio during the first rays of sunshine. You bring her coffee, kiss her on the cheek and ask, ‘What are you writing now, my dear?’”

“If I admit I think she’s good looking, will you stop?”

“You know I’m just teasing you. A lot of people like her. She’s a very popular subject of conversation at Columbia.”

“Does she ignore people when they say hi to her?”

“Not that. She’ll say hi. But some guys will want to get into a long conversation and she won’t say much unless she likes you. If she likes you, she’ll let you know.”

“Will she kiss someone?” I laughed.

“Not too far off. She’ll pat someone on the hand. She’ll stare and smile. I don’t believe she’s seeing anybody serious. She may or she may not like you or in that way. But it’s worth investigating.”

“Does she usually dress like how she looks on the book?”

“How do you mean? She isn’t wearing a Halloween costume.”

“Does she wear her shirts tucked in?”

“Hmm. Interesting you should ask that because, for some strange reason, I think I recall that’s usually what she wears.”

I nodded. “So, do you agree that the style is sexy?”

“Sure, on the right person. I’m not going to think Mr. Fletcher, the old professor of Russian History who’s bald and could be my great grandpa, as sexy, whether he wears a tucked in shirt or not, but yes it’s attractive to look neat.”

“Thanks for answering me about her. When I saw her picture, it helped as I read her stories.”

“If you would like, I can put on a video of an interview she did with Alvin Tannenbaum on a local news and culture show sponsored by the university. That way, you can watch her and get her ideas at the same time.”

“Okay. That’ll be great.”

The difference between a visit with Georgette and William, as opposed to the Goldmans, was that any woman Eliza would suggest for me to meet would look like either my cousin Janet or the woman Florence in the story “Cuisine Cousins.” Dinner would be the difference between gourmet feast and poison. Tonight, we ate a home made chicken soup, very filling and heartwarming. The dining room was clean. There were pictures father painted when he was a young college student. I noticed a copy of a novel written by an old friend of our family named Adolf Turner, who went to art school with father and never made a big name for himself but, once in a while, a person could find a novel of his in an old used book store. The closest thing to a painting at either Eliza’s or Paul’s place would be the dirt marks on a wall. The only reading material was a paperback book, missing the front cover, on pet care. That was courtesy of Eliza who never owned a pet. She said she found the book in a dumpster on a day when she was bored. She could not remember anything else about that day. I asked her if she read it. She said she read the title, “How To Raise Flowers In A Pot.” I told her it was called, “How To Take Care Of Your Cat.” She shrugged and fell asleep.

William came in the living room with a video tape. He said, “It’s possible this episode hasn’t even been aired. The host is a professor and friend, Lloyd Parker. He gives me copies of all the authors and psychologists in case I find the episodes useful when and if I need research for my study on the comparative paradigms of psychology and fiction.”

“Are you writing a new book?”

“In my mind I’ve got what I want to say but I haven’t put any of it down on paper yet. I’m still deliberating whether or not anybody cares anymore about books. I know that my study will be looked at by only a few specialists in the field of psychology who will quote one little sentence from it in their books which will serve another specialist who will quote those books. That’s how it works. Publish or perish. It’s not important if anyone reads the damn things, just as long as you can tell your bosses, ‘Hey, look at this. I’m published. You can’t fire me!’ I have tenure so I’m safe but I still like the idea of coming out with another tome. It’ll keep me busy when I start.”

“Didn’t you write the novel ‘Here If You See Me’?”

“Oh my. How did you ever manage to snatch that?”

“Georgette loaned me her copy when I was last in New York.”

“Now I’m wondering how she got a hold of a copy.”

“You mean you didn’t give her one?”

“I wouldn’t ever be so cruel.”

“I liked it. Did you ever read Gore Vidal’s ‘The Season Of Comfort’? It reminded me of that novel.”

“I’ve read Gore Vidal but not that particular book. But I have to thank you for that enormous compliment. You get the humanitarian award for best compliment to a shitty writer.”

“All authors hate their own work.”

“It’s true. Actually, here is the only exception to that rule.” He put the video tape in the machine and turned on the television. “You’ll see someone quite able to defend what she does. I’m going to get some sleep. Georgette already went to bed. She told me to tell you good night because she was too tired to tell you herself. Enjoy!” He waved and walked in the bedroom.

After the opening title – News, Authors and Some Jazz – I saw Lloyd Baker on the left, sitting on a recliner. He wore glasses, had medium-length brown hair and wore a black three piece suit and tie with a white shirt peeking from underneath the suit jacket. On the right, sitting on another recliner, was Ann Nowak, wearing a white down jacket, with her sleeves pushed up past her elbows. The jacket was tucked into blue jeans with a black belt with silver studs. She made what would ordinarily look like a strange fashion choice an outfit of brilliance. Was this a purposeful tie-in to her surrealist tag or an organic extension of how she felt about herself and clothes? I figured maybe a bit of both.

Lloyd announced, “Welcome to News, Culture and Some Jazz – love me some John Coltrane ha ha – and tonight we have a treat. I’m Lloyd Baker and our special guest this evening is creative writer extraordinaire Ann Nowak. Thank you for coming on the show.”

Ann nodded and said, “Thank you for inviting me. This room is a lot warmer than the ride over here. It’s starting to snow in Manhattan.”

“How true. Your newest book is a novel called ‘Warmed.’ You were writing about this room, I imagine, ha ha. The blurb of the novel states, ‘That look, that gleam, that toasted marshmallow of an eye gaze, bring Jacob Jackson and Katrina Kowalski to chance an accidental meeting in a public restroom located at an extremely famous music hall during a momentous performance which, fortunately, Jacob and Katrina miss; all on account of the touch of the finger on the other’s wrist. Then comes a barrage of words, the grabbing of fingers, the use of handcuffs. They have – and you have – been warmed.’ Wow. That’s a very provocative description. Is that a play on words, ‘You have been warmed’ instead of ‘You have been warned’?”

“Yes, it is. The whole novel is a play on words, a dance, if you will. Each moment in our lives is a warning and a warming and a war to the moment past.”

“Is that a fancy way of saying, ‘Life goes on’?”

She sighs. “I don’t know if it’s a fancy way of saying ‘life goes on’, which seems a bit trite, perhaps? First, there’s a warning, a shouting out, ‘Hey, this is about to happen!’ and then it happens and the sheer immediacy of it warms you in its honesty. It is there. It is not hiding. It will never hide. The two people, Jacob and Katrina, are suddenly and constantly bombarded with the realization that life is filled with warnings and warmings. They become handcuffed together – first mentally and then physically – as a result of their bare-bones attraction to the now.”

“So, this novel – from how I interpreted its message – says that any two people can have a physical bond simply because they are two human beings who happen to be in close proximity to each other. Isn’t that a bit presumptuous, to claim that two people – who are not attracted to each other and may not even know each other – will instantly connect because they’re… just there?”

“Maybe in the case of you and me that might be true but in the world of this novel, which is a construct of fiction and does not pertain to the rules of our non-fictional reality, the answer is yes.”

“Do you wish it could be true in our non-fictional reality?”

“I am more concerned with the fictional world I have created in which I have total control and own everybody within its pages. Words are energy. All concepts – any concept – is energy. Our minds have light energy. So do our hands. If I touch you with my words, your mind will feel it. If I touch you with my hand, your body will feel it. Our actions – each one of us – are gifts. Even if you just stand on a street corner and do nothing else but stand, you are giving a gift to whoever watches you. Some people are not aware of the impact of their actions and they make consistently wrong choices because of that. I am proud of my stories and novels. I make people think. I create good energy.”

He laughs. “Well, I know you created something positive to happen to me when you talked about touching my hand. Any chance of that happening?”

“Maybe I will write about that in a story and give it to you when you’re feeling hopeless but seriously I wouldn’t touch your hand now. I’m selective with whom I share my energy. I’m talking to you now in context with this interview but there are not many people with whom I would like to share intimate moments.”

“Wow. I guess you could say I just received a rejection slip.”

“I guess you could and it’s nothing personal – except for how everything’s personal – because I take seriously how I interact with people and I don’t want to create undue excess connections that would take up too much of my time I could spend communicating with a person who is my type. But when I am in contact with that person, I can be very involved. I’m still in the process of figuring out even more productive forms of communication. You could say I’m looking for a companion.”

“When you find that special someone, I would assume you’ll make beautiful literature together?”

She winked. “At least.”


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