Where are we? Where am I? Where are you? Well, I'm here, you're there. You're reading, I'm writing. You're passive, I don't know what I am. You're not moving, outside of your eyes, and you're not thinking -- I'm doing all the thinking, with some help. Of course, you're thinking about the Goodyear Blimp right now because I just wrote the words Goodyear Blimp and you read them and you were forced to think about the Goodyear Blimp, not because you thought of it first. (The only exception might be if you were already thinking about the Goodyear Blimp, or it's visible to you from where you're sitting at this very moment, but, realistically... )
So, where are we? We are at a crossroads, reader. Reader?
"Yes. A crossroads, a crossroads. What are you going to do? I'd like to know, especially after recommending this book to friends -- I mean, I'll really get it if this thing crashes and burns."
Pressure, pressure. There's lots of pressure in this type of work, and that doesn't help, okay?
Not that I'm complaining. Nobody likes a God who complains. But I have a plan.
"You better. They'll rake you over the coals if this thing doesn't start to make sense, or state some higher moral principle -- or at least get interesting! Even if it's on a prurient level!"
You know, you're pretty damn opinionated for someone who has read this far and is willing to admit it.
"That doesn't mean I'll finish it -- assuming you finish writing it -- I've read lots of books this far that I've never finished. I read Catch-22 until the last fifty pages or so. It's great up to there, and then it just loses steam, I can't explain it. And you know what? All my friends said the same thing! They also couldn't get through the last fifty pages of Catch-22! So, I don't know how much more you plan to write, but if I were you I'd get hopping, pull it all together, see what happens. Who knows? This could turn out to be -- good!"
Thanks, I think.
("Reynolds should change his name to Salman Rushdie!" -- Joseph Heller)
("Reynolds is a small talent, diminished by his extremely limited vision and I will not take any more of your calls Miss MacNamara!" -- Norman Mailer)
("Mr. Salinger will have nothing to say about Mr. Reynolds, now, then, or in the future!" -- name withheld, literary agent for J.D. Salinger)
("Reynolds is a no-talent nudnik, a blathering idiot, a bleating, blathering, bloated blabbermouth!" -- Joseph Heller)
("Well, Reynolds isn't quite that bad, Joe. He deserves at least the defense of reason here." -- Norman Mailer)
("Norman, don't jump to this guy's defense just because he's been criticized. What is he, your latest underclass hero? Your next Jack Whatsisname?" -- Joseph Heller)
("Abbott -- Jack Abbott, Joe, and no, Mr. Reynolds here is no Jack Abbott, that's for sure. He writes from none of the pain, none of the anger. No, that's not my point in coming to his defense at all, Joe. What I'm not doing, Joe, is getting all hysterical because my book got a less-than-favorable mention in a less-than-finished novel, and taking it all personally. Grow up, Joe!" -- Norman Mailer)
("I'll grow up, Norman, when you sit down and shut up and put your fists down and -- ow!" -- Joseph Heller)
("Gentlemen, please! Stop! Someone will get hurt! Someone will get -- Ooh!" -- name withheld, literary agent for J.D. Salinger)
Norman Mailer has Joseph Heller on the floor in a hammerlock, and now he's pummeling him with both fists. Meanwhile, the literary agent for J.D. Salinger who requested that his name be withheld is nursing a shiner the size of a softball. Now Heller gets up, grabs a chair, and he's swinging the chair above his head and -- pow! -- he lands a crushing blow to Mailer, sending him flying into a collapsible bridge table. Heller jumps on top of Mailer and the two of them roll around in the dust as the unnamed literary agent gets to his feet and staggers out of the room. Mailer, meanwhile, picks up a letter opener, a sharp, dagger-like letter opener, and stabs Heller in the back. Heller screams in pain as blood gushes from the wound.
("I've changed my mind. I love it!" -- Joan Didion)
"What the hell's going on in here?" Maureen asks upon entering. She's horrified by the vivid, graphic nature of the scene -- and for that I thank her.
"Jim, call a doctor, get an ambulance, call the police -- do something!"
What do you want me to do, Maureen, get the police involved? I'm in enough trouble as it is.
"But, this man is bleeding!"
This "man" is Joseph Heller, the distinguished American writer, one of the greats!
("Really?" -- Joseph Heller)
Look out! -- too late -- Mailer is up on his feet and threatening Maureen with a letter opener, probably the same one. (Obviously! -- Ed.)
I kid, but this is a desperate situation, on the surface, and if it were not for Maureen's mastery of tae kwon do, recently acquired, things would be more urgent. Neatly she administers a kick to his rib cage that has Mailer backing up, buckled over in pain, backing up right through the open window, and out the window. And no, he can't take his mind off the reality of falling from, let's say the fourth floor, and he suffers multiple fractures, a separated shoulder, and abrasions. Sorry, Norman, but you asked for it.
Could Norman Mailer survive a fall from a fourth floor window? I asked a few doctors I know and they all agreed that he could not. Maybe if there was some very thick foliage just below the window, or some firemen holding nets, or a strong hotel canopy like in the old cartoons -- but otherwise, no, it was unlikely he could make it, they said. So I guess it was a miracle!
Meanwhile, I've come to the conclusion that no matter how much I think I know, I'll never know everything, and even if I knew everything I'm sure there would be a few things I'd forget, and then I wouldn't know everything, so that theory goes flying out the window, right along with Norman Mailer.
Here's an idea I had for a Foreword to this book. It would have been placed just before the Acknowledgments. Here it is:
"What should I write about?"
"Write about what you know."
"But, I don't know anything."
"Then, write about that."
Well, I decided against using it. Maybe I should have used it. (Maybe you should have -- Ed.)
One of the pitfalls of a "loose" writing process, one that relies on a certain amount of randomness, is perpendicular porridge. I can't control it, you can't control it, and, apparently, neither can the editors.
(Editor's Note: We can control it, we just can't tell whether or not you intend for it to be there in the first place!)
Now, intent, that's tricky. I mean, I never intended to be writing this sentence, but after seeing it, I think I'll get rid of it. (No! Keep it! -- Ed.)
(Editor's Note: Perpendicular porridge. Dammit!)
"What's going on here, Jim?"
Maureen -- ah, what do you think of the Foreword? Good idea?
"Nah. Too limiting. You've already established, well, something -- now follow through."
Follow through, follow through. You know, you're right. Follow through. But, what does that mean?
"It means, tie things up, come to the end, go home, take a nap, go out to dinner -- again, I don't know about any of this, I only know what you let me know. Maybe you should ask yourself these questions."
Yeah, you're right. I know what I'll do. I'll take everything -- everything I know, everything I don't know, everything I've written, everything I haven't written -- all of it -- and throw it together and mix it into one big stew of a novel, and we'll see what the hell happens! I mean, at this point, really, what have I got to lose?
"Okay, Jim, but... be careful."
I will, don't worry. (Yeah. Watch your step -- Ed.)
(Editor's Note: Ditto.)
("Careful, careful now, Jimmy Boy!" -- Kurt Vonnegut)
Okay, okay, I'll be careful.
(This ends Chapter Thirty-seven.)