“You are a black man. I’m saying this to you now, because the world is going to tell you this every day.” I knew my mother’s words were meant to shove me out of the nest and into the air. It was an act of mercy. So, why did I feel like she had just tied an anvil to my leg?
“I know,” I said. I was only fifteen.
“I’m serious, Ricky,” she said. “People are going to treat you differently, and I just don’t want you to be shocked or hurt by that.”
As she spoke to me I felt slightly insulted, like a psychiatric patient being reintroduced to mirrors. “See, that’s yooou…”
My eyes shot into the carpeted corners of our dark living room. I could have died of mortification.
“I need you to hear me,” she said.
We’d been there for a while. Our conversation had started early in the evening, when the autumn sun began to die down. The house was pitch black inside, as we never stopped talking to turn the lights on.
“You know we need to talk, right?” She had asked when I first walked into the house.
* * *
A black man walks into a bar.
He looks up and says,
“Who said that?”
* * *
Few books have addressed me personally. Not that I’m an anomaly – we all find things about ourselves scattered across pieces of literature. Some books have more of us in them; some have less.
Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find showed me the capacity for any given matter to be both cruel and laughable, showed me what was inextricably Southern about myself. Notes From Underground laid out for me my own tendency towards what my mother and other dead-ringers refer to as ‘mental masturbation.’ I learned how obsessing over ruin only perpetuates your demise. Thankfully, by the age of nineteen, Dostoevsky had confirmed for me that thoughts are in fact things.
But Erasure by Percival Everett. At twenty-one, that novel reflected back at me parts of myself I had thought for so long invisible, ineffable – or pointless to speak aloud because they were so contingent upon having to experience them. Their true value would read necessarily to others as farce.
Erasure is a seamlessly patch-worked novel about a black and frustrated author, Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, who, after being pigeonholed by his agent (and the world) as a ‘black’ author, lashes out and writes a novella, My Pafology – a novella within the novel written strictly in Ebonics and static black stereotypes. The gun-violent and sexually depraved novella stands in striking contrast to the erudite and sensitive novel it sits within. Pafology also serves as a type of catharsis of black tropes for Monk, the reader, and I’m sure for Everett himself. To Monk’s dismay, Pafology begins to receive commercial and critical acclaim.
In Erasure, Everett stacks plot points and themes in a dizzying fashion: dying parents, racial identity, power dynamics, unwanted fame, media frenzies, and even woodworking – he never leaves room for boredom, never lets up. More important than his ability to articulate the contradictions inherent in racial identity, the levels of satire maintained by Everett were staggering to me at such an impressionable age. Still to this day. I’ll read Erasure and find new bits of Latin I missed the first eight go-rounds (medio tutissimus ibis) that I can look up, now that the Internet has expanded. Or I’ll finally get the punch line delivered from Rauschenberg to de Kooning on page 228, realising how I’ve grown since the first read – and oh, hey – 2/28 is my date of birth. Make a wish.
* * *
When under duress, I have a go-to mantra: I wish to fly.
I suppose it’s more of a wish than a mantra because of the word ‘wish’, but functions more like a mantra in my repetition of it. I wish to fly, I wish to fly, I wish to fly – until the rough patch passes. It may actually be a nervous tick.
I will say, as a straightforward wish, its effectiveness has yet to be seen; I am very much tethered to the earth. Still, I don’t think it wise for one to judge the merit of a wish based on how quickly or literally said wish is granted. The point of a wish is hope, and once it’s granted, the thing lies dead like a shell.
For me, a wish’s true brilliance lies in the construction of the wish itself. What is your central desire, and how well can you package and deliver it, ensuring all of its air holes are sealed shut?
* * *
My violin sings to me before I even get to the case. I walk by. It sits lodged between two colour-coded bookshelves on the way to my closet, playing a bright open A string for me as a cheers to what we could do if I just stopped. To play it. For a minute. But it’s never bitter. It’s always waiting.
* * *
A black man, Asian man, and Muslim man walk into a bar. The black man takes note of the narrator’s formal inconsistency and says, “Oh, I get it. This is some kind of joke.”
* * *
The first page of Erasure is a hall of opening and closing doors, a labyrinth of form and identity politics. I jump into it periodically to reacquaint myself with humility. It reads:
My journal is a private affair, but as I cannot know the time of my coming death, and since I am not disposed, however unfortunately, to the serious consideration of self-termination, I am afraid that others will see these pages. Since however I will be dead, it should not much matter to me who sees what or when. My name is Thelonious Ellison. And I am a writer of fiction. This admission pains me only at the thought of my story being found and read, as I have always been severely put off by any story which had as its main character a writer. So, I will claim to be something else, if not instead, then in addition, and that shall be a son, a brother, a fisherman, an art lover, a woodworker. If for no other reason, I choose this last, callous-building occupation because of the shame it caused my mother, who for years called my pickup truck a station wagon. I am Thelonious Ellison. Call me Monk.
I could read it back and forth all day. The grammatical form on the page works as a vessel for the intricate content, namely the characterisation of Monk.
Everett begins with “My journal is a private affair”, and ends the sentence with the clause “I am afraid that others will see these pages”, with two subordinate clauses and the prepositional phrase “to the serious consideration of self-termination” in between. He could easily, in order to convey his bottom line more quickly, have connected these two ideas, the two independent clauses, in several ways that do not involve the serial list of subordinate clauses and the prepositional phrase. He could have written “My journal is a private affair; I am afraid that others will see these pages.” which uses a semicolon to fuse together the two independent clauses that are correlative. This would tell us, without using the correlative conjunction ‘because’ or even ‘and’ to tie them together more overtly, that these two ideas are very closely linked. By placing contextual space between the two ideas, Everett creates an elaborate reasoning between them. This not only tells us that the narrator is prone to a bit of excessive thought in order to get from point A to point B, it also suggests he is delivering his thoughts aloud to the reader. This is ironic, because the present tense of the first paragraph (“My journal is a private affair…”) suggests a diary entry, as if the narrator is spilling his guts verbatim into a journal. We’ve been told that the contents of said journal are intended to be private. Monk is acting in spite of himself.
This pattern of every line negating the one before is for me the driving infrastructure of Erasure. It lends itself well to establishing and erasing again and again the credibility and identity of the narrator, Monk Ellison. So, grammatically, the first sentence of the book gives us a taste of the central dilemma. Contradiction is rampant; the narrator is a private individual, but his actions are, albeit against his will, dictated by and inscribed for the culture.
* * *
Mrs Rehder visited our elementary school and asked us to raise our right hands to the sky. She paced past us with her chin jutting out, naming stringed instruments that matched the build of each of our hands.
“Violin. Ooh, we have a cellist here… Quite large there in the back, that’s a bass hand…” She stopped at me. “And a very nice viola hand here in front.”
I didn’t know what a viola was at the time, and that was enough to know I wanted no part in it.
The next fall in Mrs Rehder’s middle school orchestra class, we stood single file. When it came my turn in the line, I handed her my yellow schedule printed on continuous stationary, and said, “Ricky Tucker – Violin”. Saying your name out loud and with purpose, I believe, is a ritual act of permanence.
* * *
I propped my backpack and violin case up against the front wall and sat on the opposite end of the couch from my mother.
“So, why exactly did I get a call today from your vice principal saying that you skipped most of the day? I know I saw you leave here today with your things, and here you are, like you learned something today.”
“Because he wanted to flirt with you over the phone again?”
“I’m serious,” she said.
“He called because I left after second period.”
“To go where?”
“To the park with Audra. I was bored.”
“And I’m sure you learned so much, sitting in Hanes Park smoking cigarettes with Audra. I bet it was a damn scholarly blast,” she said, just shy of dropping the friendly pretext and blowing a reserved gasket.
I laughed a bit in spite of myself and quickly shut it down when I saw that she did not find it so funny. I got up and walked over to my things resting against the wall. I reached into my backpack and pulled out an A4 sheet of paper and handed it to my mother.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“It’s what we did all day,” I said. “Read it.”
Mission Statement October 10th, 1997
Dear R. J. Reynolds High School faculty and staff,
My friend and I are writing to you because we feel that our public school system has failed us tremendously. Coming to this school every day, where we are forced to memorize facts and equations only to regurgitate them back to disengaged teachers and forget them the next day, has left us, well, disengaged. We want to be curious, and for the most part that is not happening.
Not to say that there aren’t great teachers at Reynolds High; there are a few of you who make this place bearable from day to day. Margaret Rehder, Marilyn Mercer, Terry Hicks, Sue Freitag, and some other teachers are infectious with passion and make us look forward to those periods. Unfortunately, we are not able to take classes with just these teachers.
After placing copies of this letter in all of your mailboxes, my friend and I will be promptly dropping out of high school to pursue our own educational interests free of arbitrary memorization and tests meant to test how well we test.
Thank you for your time.
Ricky and Audra
“Oh, hell no,” she said.
My mother was still sitting and relatively calm, but judging by her tone she may as well have been on her feet.
“You can forget about it.”
“I can forget about which part?”
“The dropping out part!”
“There’s no but. You have two years left – you are going to finish.”
“I don’t care what Audra’s doing. You are not Audra. If she drops out and never finishes, she still stands a chance of having a great life. You can’t afford that risk.”
I kind of knew what she was getting at, but was too busy being insulted by her not listening to my plan.
“Can I please talk now?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” she said.
“I’m not just dropping out. I plan on studying independently, and then I’ll take classes at Forsyth Tech next fall to finish my diploma.”
“Nope. Not happening.”
“Ugh. But everyone at school saw the letter, I can’t go back tomorrow…”
“Yes you can, and yes you will. Simple as that.”
I cupped my palms over my eyes and slid down the wall to a seated position. She kept talking.
“I know you’re disappointed, but you’ll thank me later.”
I could feel her eyes burning holes through the top of my head. She sighed. A lighter flicked. She lit her cigarette.
“Come here. Come over here,” she said, wrapping her free arm around me as I sat back on the couch.
“You are a black man. I’m saying this to you now, because the world is going to tell you this every day.”
“I’m serious, Ricky,” she said. “People are going to treat you differently, and I just don’t want you to be shocked or hurt by that. I also don’t want you throwing your life away right before you hit the finish line. I can’t homeschool you, and there’s no way I’m letting you drop out, primarily because you’re too smart for that.”
“Being a black man means you have to make a different set of decisions than Audra, or whoever else. Does that make sense to you?”
“Good. Now, while I’ve got you here, will you play your violin for me? What’s that song…? Pock Aybell!”
“Pachelbel’s Canon,” I said flatly.
She was always trying to get me to play something. It would have given her way too much satisfaction, so I reserved it only for orchestra performances and when I’d practice in the back of our basement.
“Yep, that’s the one!”
“Not right now.”
“Oh, fine,” she said, picking back up the letter.
“You always say ‘Not right now.’ So you put this in every teacher’s mailbox?”
“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head.
She laughed a beat, and I let a single chuckle escape me.
“Well, at least it’s well written,” she said.
* * *
A man grows a third eye that allows him to see into the fourth dimension. When exposed, the eye receives from the astral plane transcripts of people’s shittiest thoughts and delivers them to the man’s brain. He finds this a bother and takes to wearing a black blindfold over the extra eye. His friends in turn take to calling him ‘Kung-Fu Larry’. Instead of shaking his hand, they chop the air in front of him, saying “Hi-yah!” instead of “Hello.” When he walks by a dojo everyone bows, and his girlfriend buys him a full-on black belt ensemble because, “Mama likey this new look.”
He removes the blindfold and says “Sayonara!” as he jumps from the town bridge.
* * *
Attaching your name to a passion or ideology is a mystical practice that makes others take you seriously and/or perpetuates a certain fate. I AM RICKY TUCKER – WRITER. It’s at once declarative and hopeful. The public pronouncement of it all holds you closer to your word.
But, for me, the act of writing these words on this page right now is very different to the motion my right arm makes when, in one swift roll, horsehair meets metal, releasing the grumble of the G, D, then A, and up to the shimmering E string.
One difference is that a note is hard to contest. It’s definitive, practically tangible. It’s right or wrong independent of texture, tone, vibrato – and even those can be measured with some precision. But a word is infinite in context, infinite-squared when paired with another word. There’s always a sliding scale when it comes to its ‘true’ value. Words are what radical educator Paulo Freire called endlessly ‘generative’. Musical notes are square, specifically poignant.
The gratification is different, too. Who knows how my words will be received when they hit your eyes – I can only imagine. Even though I can’t control how you read this, part of me is writing it for you. I play the violin for me.
That thought lasts me through month-long bouts of not touching the instrument, pretending the light I create with it has nothing to do with who I am in the world. That choice, being able to play it or not, is everything.
* * *
The mountainside campground was plucked out of an act from Brigadoon – except nobody was Scottish. Actually, somebody might have been Scottish, but the majority of us weren’t. Rewind. The bride was a childhood friend/perpetual orchestra stand partner, and everyone in her party was someone I’d known since forever. The groom and his entire half of the wedding party were Irish. We’d all flown in from various parts of the globe forming what I imagine on a map looks like a large and leafy palm tree. A shorter branch would be my brief flight from Boston, and the long and enduring trunk would be that of the Australian whom I’d later follow, hand in hand, into the woods during a particularly tricky patch of square dance instructions.
The X-mark was Camp Pinnacle, a sleep-away camp east of the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. It was far enough (a few hours’ drive) from our Winston-Salem, NC homes, and with the Irish brogues bouncing all around the place, it felt like a destination.
We stayed together in bunks, some of us for the second or third time in our lives, and later, in the cool blue a.m., we’d sneak back into the mess hall for second helpings of barbequed brisket, chopped slaw, and corn pudding. We hummed with the mischief of whichever Irish beer we’d tried too much of for the first time. We were kids again but adults.
I brushed the pine needles from my hands and knees and walked into the light of the now swinging barn. The Australian followed me five beats behind. My oldest and number one ace, ‘Z’, was bored with clapping for her fiancé who was dosey-doeing merrily but slowly with somebody’s great aunt. Instead, ‘Z’ focused her attention on me, the Australian, and our ill-paced procession. I sat next to her and tried not to smirk.
“Where did you just come from,” she said squinting.
“The woods over there…”
“Oh my god. You’re such a whore.”
We laughed for a second as her fiancé dipped Gertrude to the floor and back up again.
“How did that happen?”
“I dunno,” I said. “We were talking and the next thing I knew, he was leading me into the bush, so to speak.”
She looked off into the distance, half smiling and shaking her head as if baffled.
“You’re so mysterious.”
I didn’t know what to say. The fact that she’d known me since I was nine years old and still considered me mysterious felt like an accomplishment of sorts. Without meaning to be, I was a puzzle she couldn’t quite work out. Ricky Tucker: eluding the comprehension of loved ones for over twenty years. I’ll take it, I thought, until she said, “You know he only did it because you’re black.”
Again, I didn’t know what to say.
Had I responded, I would have asked her how exactly she found it possible for anyone to bypass my smile, winning personality, and general attractiveness to arrive at such a basic point. I also would have said so what. We’re all a composite of stats that form our sexual experience; why pluck race out of that pile? I could have gone into a diatribe about the etymology of words like ‘mysterious’ and how they run rampant in texts like Heart of Darkness. I wanted to start a genuine conversation with her about how as a species humans give priority to sight – how this one sense out of five can still revert, at moments like these, to associations more Cro-Magnon than fully Homo sapiens. Finally, I would have told her that she shouldn’t go around just saying everything she thought. It’s simple and rude. But I didn’t say anything. Instead, I continued clapping, watching aunt Dorothy delight in being twirled around – weightless and young again.
* * *
Genies are notoriously sketchy motherfuckers. This is why, in my preteens, I changed the wording of my wish/mantra from “I wish I could fly” to “I wish to fly.” It’s all in the copy.
Imagine spending the greater part of a decade trudging through sand dunes and caves to find Aladdin’s lamp. Finally, you find it. You rub it. From the lamp’s mouth, a glorious genie extends in all his blue smoke and mind-blowing opulence. You almost freak, but instead you gather your moxie; this is your moment after all. He speaks to you.
“Oh, noble and gracious son of man. You have freed me from centuries of imprisonment. What wish might I grant you in exchange for this deed?”
“Hmmm. A wish…” you say, rubbing your chin. “I haven’t thought too much about it. Well, there is one thing I’ve always wanted…”
“Mm-hm,” says the genie. He’s seen centuries of false modesty and is unimpressed by yours.
“I got it,” you say unconvincingly. “I wish I could fly!”
“As you wish,” he says, floating up to his full height.
You plop down in a half squat with both fists clenched in front of you, your eyes reduced to slits, waiting for the magic to happen.
Nothing happens. You get your tall-tales mixed for a moment and start thinking happy thoughts to move the process along, but nope, you’re still grounded. Continuing to brace yourself, your left eye wrenches open to find the genie, standing with one hand on his hip and the other covering his mouth. He seems to be dying of silent laughter.
“Hey, what gives?” you scream. “I said, ‘I wish I could fly!’”
“And you could fly,” says the Genie, “if you were a bird, silly goose.”
* * *
I firmly believe that form, rather than content, is the greater conduit for agency.
* * *
A man walks into a bar. Even before arriving, he knows the Boston establishment to be unsavoury in that it caters to fraternity types – less commonly dreaded but just as riff-raff an element as any. “Oh, well,” he says to himself, “wings and beer are the great equalisers.” He removes his gloves and sits, waiting for his academic brothers to show.
Half a pint later, he welcomes his two tweed-jacketed friends to the table. They are lively and in good spirits as the afternoon sun has wrestled the New England frost to the ground.
One friend starts with a, “Hey, hey!” The other gentleman, while pulling out a wooden stool, smiling, and uncoiling his satin scarf from his neck, says, “I hope this place is okay. I had my concerns.”
Thinking it prudent for now to reserve his own fleeting prejudices regarding the bar’s clientele, the first man says, “What concerns were those?”
“Well, I thought to myself,” his friend begins, “I wonder if I made a mistake picking this place. I wouldn’t want Ricky to be the only black person in the room.”
“It’s fine,” I say.
* * *
Colour blindness. Here’s the thing: I’ve never been oblivious to race and neither have you. It’s damn near impossible, and when you say you are it smacks of tragic cliché like when people assure you they could never be too skinny or rich, or are certain that all animals go to heaven. Enough.
What’s more interesting, but just as impossible, is the concept of being blind to one’s own race. Again, it can’t be done. But as a person of colour, and general observer of the world, I can tell you that there are times when you are completely whole and content within, focused mostly on spaces outside of yourself, and you slip up and become, if only partially or momentarily, less aware of your own physical assignment on earth. You don’t see yourself, and every bit of what you see before you, people, relationships, grass, is meant to be there. Everything full of grace. And that perfectly selfless moment of Zen is precisely when one of your white friends, without provocation, comes right along to remind you that you are certifiably, inescapably, and unfortunately black.
* * *
A well-laid formal foundation grants you the right to jazz.
* * *
A young black writer goes to a Harvard Square bookstore to see his favourite black writer read book excerpts to five bored white people. When the young black writer arrives, the older black writer is not reading from his critically revered book Erasure, but from a newer book called Damned If I Do, to the badly concealed bemusement of the five white people. The young black writer could not care less. He has his copy of Erasure at his side and waits for the end of the reading to have the other black writer sign it. In the meantime, he hangs on to the author’s every word.
When the reading ends he waits for the coast to be clear to approach the author. He walks up to him and immediately notices how firmly planted the author is, unshakeable in every way. This doesn’t make it easy for the young man to speak, but he proceeds nonetheless.
“Hi, Mr Everett. Thank you for the great reading.”
“Thank you for coming,” the author says pleasantly enough but without smiling.
“Oh, sure. I was wondering if you would sign my copy of Erasure…”
As the older black writer signs the younger black writer’s book, the younger one searches for something to say both to fill the momentary silence and succinctly express the profound effect the book has had on him – how it has functioned as a kind of rules-of-engagement on how to move through the world. He just blurts something out.
“I love this book. I want you to know that it is the least alienating thing I think I’ve ever read.” The young black writer says it, not having the foggiest idea what he himself means. He gets the feeling his favourite author feels similarly perplexed – he looks at the young black writer with a slightly tilted head, as if the younger man has about five heads of his own. The ambiguity is further punctuated with a mild question mark when the author says, “Thank you?”
The young black writer takes his signed copy of Erasure and says, before fleeing the scene, “Thanks again.”
Ugh. I wish to fly.
* * *
D major is often the first scale you learn on a stringed instrument. This is because the two necessary sharps, F and C, are achieved easily by the same finger (the middle one) on two fundamental strings, D and A, respectively. They are strung next to one another, and make possible the thrill of playing an ear-illuminating double stop: two notes, at once, one bow. And it reverberates.
* * *
Three men walk into a humble English pub. One of them continues his monologue from their journey over, about the state of race relations in the US and how Grand Juries, electoral colleges, corporations, and other intervening entities have put a stopper in democracy. How, on the one hand, he feels a giant tug that says get home now, but on the other, feels safer studying in the UK and avoiding all news coverage of the week’s events. As he finishes this last thought, a fourth, much older, much drunker man sidles up to the group and stares into the mouth of the speaking man, his own mouth gaping open.
The first man continues to speak despite his growing audience, when the fourth man whispers drunkenly (yells) to one of the speaking man’s friends, “Oi, why does he sound white?” The first man pauses his lecture, turns to the fourth man and says, “Sir, I assure you, colour is as much a sound as stabbing is an exercise in taste.”
Except, he doesn’t say any of that. Instead, he turns to face one of his friends and finishes his thought. The drunken man stares blankly into space.
* * *
I call my mother from the UK to explain how quickly writing deadlines can stack up and how very easily that can turn a son who promises to always be home for Christmas into a liar. She understands instantly and we move on to other topics.
“How’s my violin?”
“Still in my closet where you left it,” she says.
“Great. Don’t let anybody touch it…”
“Sheesh. I won’t. I won’t. How’s school going?”
“Pretty good. Dissertation is heating up. Lots of work to do.”
“I’m so proud of you! You know, I was just thinking earlier today about how you wanted to drop out of school.”
“And you said, ‘Hell no.’ Oh, I remember.”
“Isn’t that funny. North Carolina, Boston, New York, look at you now! It really could have gone several ways.”
“I know. I’m glad I kept going. But you know, all that stuff you said was basically true. I’m constantly straddling the line between being me and being a black man. It’s enough to give you vertigo. But I’ve always led with being me, and luckily that has worked out – for the most part.”
“How is racism over there these days?”
“Hell, they have the same hang-ups here as they do in the US. It’s just packaged differently.”
“Hmm,” she says. “That’s interesting. You know you should write about it. That’s definitely something I’d like to read.”
“It’s funny you should say that.”
* * *
Besides digital logistics, the D major scale is nice because it is sonically pleasing. It has the capacity to be both somber and sweet, a signature effect that opens the scale up to many soundscape possibilities.
* * *
The move to England to complete my MA in writing/teaching has been exciting enough. It’s another continent!
That adjustment, I told myself, was why I had avoided all news coverage of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner Grand Jury cases for a day or so after the verdicts. It’s hard to be in two places at once. I knew the decisions were to not indict, but I also knew that any further details would have stopped me cold; seeking them out would have felt like risky behaviour. But I was really uncomfortable with being that ignorant for that long. People from the UK were demanding answers from me, most of which I still cannot supply them. Plus, I missed home. So I sat in my tiny room, opened my computer and mind to the coverage, and proceeded to cry for forty-eight hours.
* * *
Songs in the key of D major:
1. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star – Jane Taylor
2. Pachelbel’s Canon – Johann Pachelbel
3. Untitled (How Does It Feel) – D’Angelo
4. Human Nature – Michael Jackson
5. Twist and Shout – The Beatles
6. Borderline – Madonna
7. Everybody Hurts – R.E.M.
8. Lithium – Nirvana
9. The First Noël – composer debated
10. Caribbean Queen – Billy Ocean
11. Cars – Gary Numan
12. Up Where We Belong – Joe Cocker
13. It’s Time to Party – Andrew W.K.
14. Party, Party, Party – Andrew W.K.
15. Ready to Die – Andrew W.K.
16. Waterloo – ABBA
17. Brandenburg Concerto no.5 – J. S. Bach
18. No Scrubs – TLC
19. Loser – Beck
20. How to Disappear Completely – Radiohead
* * *
A black man walks into a bar and immediately exits through the kitchen.
* * *
I, Ricky Tucker, ran from NYU where I had been conducting an interview for The Paris Review Daily up to my school, The New School, where my favourite writer Percival Everett was about to read and sit down for a Q&A. Writer Greil Marcus moderated the talk in a room I’d read in countless times before. I sat in the front row near some friends and faculty, but the room could have been empty. I was focused.
Everett talked about publishers, the media, and idiotic questions. He read from Erasure, which Marcus had assigned for his class titled Old Weird America. I hadn’t really prepared anything again, and was way too excitable, so when the question and answer portion rolled around, my contribution was just as much a non sequitur.
I asked Mr Everett how he toggles so many topics all in one narrative space, as he did in Erasure, except the question was barely articulate. I don’t remember exactly how I worded most of my awkward rant, but I know at the end of it I said, “I mean, like, how do you manage it?” I then mentally wished to fly. He replied politely and encouragingly, basically saying that that form kept him interested. I nodded in agreement.
I waited a while afterwards and went up to him as lights were coming on in kitchens across the West Village. It was suddenly easy. We talked about the contested idea of doing a creative dissertation and applying to PhD programs like the one he is distinguished professor of at the University of Southern California. We chatted about Los Angeles, the utility of cars, and the virtue of a good bike. I never mentioned how we’d met in Cambridge almost a decade earlier. Never broached the subject of race, identity, or anything else more cumbersome than those four minutes could withstand. Ricky simply shot the shit with Percival. It flew without a hitch.