“Near the End”

Fast Books, 1995

One of my favorite writings, “Near the End” might be called an experimental novel. I began writing it in the backyard of a rude little adobe house outside Taos, New Mexico, that I rented for a brief vacation from my editing job at The Village Voice in the summer of 1964, and I continued working on it back in New York over the next year. It takes the form of two parallel texts, which I wrote in ink on facing pages of a brown spiral-bound notebook. My method (I might as well be frank) was to open the notebook at random and write anywhere. The left hand side often includes lists of names of people I encountered at some event or saw in the course of a day or was somehow entangled with. The right hand side is somewhat more narrative, but both are often composed of chance phrases overheard, adventitious fragments of text, free association, automatic writing. I kept at it until the notebook was full.

It is the story of a suicide attempt, an investigation and elaboration of a desperate state of mind. After writing as a critic for several years, I had come to think of myself as an exemplary consciousness, and it was a desperate time. That fall I moved into John P. Dodd’s fifth-floor apartment at 5 Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village; days later our friend Freddie Herko ran around the desk Johnny had found for me on the street and committed suicide by jumping out the window. It was at that desk that most of “Near the End” was written, often in the midst of a roomful of people listening to opera, talking, smoking pot, trying any other drug that came around. The whole society seemed to be about to come apart in those days; the war was escalating in Vietnam, and the economy was already moving toward its current grotesque distortion. There was little sense of a future, though the immediate present was fiercely stimulating. Another dear friend later killed himself in too much the same manner as my nameless narrator.

“Near the End” is not exactly a novel but it was conceived from the start as a book; I wanted to hold it in my hand and published it myself, under my imprint Fast Books, in 1995.

Three excerpts from “Near the End”

Lying there he thought back to his fine mother the stock broker who had known no apparent fear nor any towel striped yellow and white when the sun fell on her loosened hair and shadowed ears small of course and chalky in the back yard rubbled and dense with an acrid smoke from lordy knows where he remembered her best side was the right for a strange nasal curvature distracted those who saw the left of her appropriate choice for one in the market. Still, she was not one to be consistent not consistently and lying there he thought over the times she had surprised everyone almost by voting for Wallace or was it Sherwood Anderson who had done that explains his political confusion even in the extremity felt internally but not by hand which was disconcerting although not actually the situation since one could always write in A. J. Muste with a conscience. Speak of your abstractions—lying there he recognized all patterns as patterns and thought back to his ambitions in Paris now shattered along with everything and the voices so faint they might have been speaking English and the sounds of cries and slaps in the sado-masochistic afternoon as he sat by the window trying to write diary and postcards while Notre Dame outside went right on being unphotographed by him who wouldn’t have another chance it looked like now please hurry up. Nothing ahead of him except less of the same and he thought back to his well-dressed mother the ambulance driver and friend of Hemingway’s once anyway wondering just what ‘friend’ could have meant to her or objectively in such a context and certainly had no difficulty this once in wasting time although the flies eyeing his wound were about to begin getting on his or her nerves as it got harder to think of anything he wouldn’t want to do. Anything else, that is, and lying there he thought of himself strolling about the Ile St. Louis trying to get away from something he couldn’t quite remember surely not his pink mother the nurse laying a cool white cloth on his forehead and murmuring and driving off the flies or taking the same walk again this time her on his arm or him on hers with great delicacy speaking of the gradualness of history which he now doubted leaving so many notebooks unfilled and surrounded by bugs filling him with an abstract terror. Lying there terrified he thought of his mother the fixation of another period but certainly certainly not to be neglected even now especially now having some relationship to his extremity however obscure he had come into a clearing where he had at least the illusion of some choice and freedom from the insects which had tormented him always and prevented or so he liked to hink his taking even his mornings seriously. Mornings alone would have been enough to stupefy the demon and lying there colorful but in agony he wondered back to his mother’s odd indifference, she of the small feet who would pity him grandly now that it was obvious and not useful at all but who out of ignorance not bad faith had forever decline to take him seriously in the morning and so naturally he had got into bad habits and developed his fear of bugs. All his life he had earnestly tried to master himself and wanted a sympathetic relationship with them despite their indifference or casual hostility, and now lying there he thought being on their level ought to help and before long he would take the next step into their element the air and flying among them see what they saw and that would be that except always he remembered they were about to turn on him and with their proboscises antennae many legs mandibles do him in ignoring his already extreme anguish and earnest sympathy for their neglected and indeed unattractive cause. His mother had been no help but after all how could she have discerned in him any but the most ordinary feelings, and lying there he blamed himself fully for their abject failing that autumn in Paris to establish an intimacy which might have led to more coherency in his mornings later on and at least inner freedom from the bugs which although everywhere different were everywhere more numerous especially later on when he had less money than he had been led to expect and found himself in exactly the kind of hotels on his return to Paris that literature had told him were infested to search the walls beside beds for the particular stains of particular bugs crushed and split by fingernails in the heart of night while the minuterie silent ticks off the minutiae. His mother the ambulance driver had always been on time in Spain too and that time he’d horribly hooked himself in the back of the head raucously casting in Michigan in the fall he’d been rushed back to the house unmoving and still hooked so that she alone would inflict the pain the pain Paris lying there on the kitchen floor on the sofa in the rustic living room of their house on the lake with a towel spread to catch the blood it was yellow but there was little blood much less than now and now no towel the floor then lying face down his back hurt from being arched with his face in a pillow raising his head he was tensed for an hour for an instant of pain so she could get at it saying it’s going to hurt did she think him dumb yes he was dumb with anticipation of the pain she warned him against although he had thought of nothing nothing else and it was over in a tearing instant and as fast forgotten almost where are you now? “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.” No pain in Paris but how tired he had been how too wearing the frustration between them, and lying there he thought back to her perfect impersonation of a tourist perfectly absorbed in tourist sights and spectacles although she had lived there for years awaiting his visit and might have shown him something more special for two weeks whole every morning punctured by a new banal suggestion and his ready acquiescence not having the remotest notion what it was he really truly wanted. I wish we had some penny candy. Pollen everywhere. He no longer knows what to say what to think although no one is there to listen or think with still he would have liked to turn around that might change something something but he’s impaled where he is by the pain and sick of the mechanical click click of the telephone on the floor beside him makes his only effort and yanks the wire loose from the wall cut off totally the pain multiplied amazingly by this there are more knives in the drawer above him he could reach if it was the last thing before the bugs came thinks of his ambulance transformed into a gray uniform with little cap always punctual school days spain the top of the Tour the building is swaying no the pain no spain pain nothing to fear except this he closes opens his eyes everything still there no mother stock broker ambulance or tinsel orange peels how picturesque nothing to fear only bugs and this.

“Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear, to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh.”

Tinsel mongrels, how picturesque! Tinsel marmalade!

Joe Cino, Jean-Claude van Itallie, Tania Leontov, Larry Loonin, Burt Supree, Sam Shepard, Joyce Aaron, Johnny Dodd, Gerry Ragni, John Coe, Soren Agenoux, Gwen Fabricant, Nick Orzel, Esther Gilman, Joe Chaikin, Fred Katz, Gary Gross, Michael Powell, Lance Wilson, Marshall Mason, Larry Kornfeld, Al Carmines, Ken Brown, Hope Stansbury, Hal Bangkok, Jimmy Waring. I put it among them as if it were the same kind of thing. Nachis, duende, einfulig, grace, angst. What is it exactly that it means that we can’t say. He knows what the inside of the experience feels like to the tongue. Isabelle Blau, Terry Morrill, Karl Schenzer.

Not an antique shop but a monument shop. “The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, an amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving.” Turning everything into large piece alleviates clutter. Departure to the east brings good fortune cookies. The connection is left for the beholder to work out for himself. Ruskin is all dogs on all tape. The entire fragmented extension is programmed for inoculation via human intervention. Brion Gysin can forego the power of image to beget terminal identity. Each new planet is no word and no program. Man has argued in excess of our power to fix, and you shut the whole thing right off. Cain, the virus of complete surrender, begets artifice? Did she attempt to curb the rapacity of her allies? Did she condemn the wanton sacking of Peking? Young man, let that be a lesson to you. “These irregularities reminded Hewlett of certain seashells which are so engrossed by calcareous accretions that they appear monstrous or revisionary.” It’s like anything. Tar has become a precious stone. It was no more than three years ago that I cried at a parade going up Third Avenue. “Everybody.”

Nobody told me. I saw a round brown head and heard ticking and a roar of motors. The light was soft and flickering, and I seemed to be in wonderland. You lit dozens of candles for me. When I woke you were in my arms, pressing back against me, your cheek resting on my hand. I would never have moved. The remembrance is of the color blue. You woke finally and I felt uncertain at last, betrayed myself in every breath, an apparition “full-blown from the muck” and as clumsy. It was my time of day and I excused myself poorly. Even I was unconvinced. You were polite, you were civil, I went away. The capacity for intercourse only once in a night is counted as senility. After that I knew I did not seek that which I sought. I read more widely. I was not yet out of my twenties. I spoke with people to whom words meant nothing. I had seen the death’s head, red-eyed, three-handed, obsidian-eared, and the other objects. I had corresponded with men of cabinet rank—several. You had your vernissages. I sat behind my desk and thought about going to the movies. When you stayed out late I pretended to be calm.

One erect and fleshy trap flower lets its prisoner fall out by merely drooping its blossom downward.

Did you see my tattoo, Terry? A collision at sea can ruin your whole day. We have similar feelings about sentences. It’s like anything. I wish I could tell you about the Eagle Lady, but I can’t. They could have just told you it was the stock exchange. It’s more colored than any Negro. Did you unhand it? They don’t have any skin, their skin is paper—I’m made of bone china. I won’t breathe on it. That’s a joke! That’s a joke!

We glued chicken feathers to our legs in Régise’s flat. He thought some wild bird had gotten loose. I give you the modern Smith. She eats lettuce and drinks blood. Begin here.

He gave her a look out of the corner of his mouth. That Cherbourg line makes me sick. Should the few live chic regardless of the cost in sincerity for those multitudes gifted only in crude simplicity? In a mounting crescendo the stories stream in, carried to the editors’ desks by copy boys from busy reporters seated at their typewriters, telephoned in by district reporters to rewrite men who can bang out a smooth, finished story with the deadline staring them in the face, dispatched by correspondents in far places via teletype, telegraph, telephone, radio, and any other means that will speed their stories to their editors’ desk. Story by David Bourdon. He had, for instance, shaken hands with one of the lower branches of an oak tree, mistakenly believing it to be the King of Prussia.

I have violin scars. Did she say she has violin scars? I don’t think so. They have nothing to do with anything else.

It takes hold and waits for you to let go. Its purpose is to fold. It took two thousand years to grow this room. It’s like building a house on water even when you have a boat. To prevent a recurrence, I would be prepared to rid us all of singleness. It is a way of coherently going to bed. This is an inspired though somewhat fanatical attitude. It gives me strength in the tips of my fingers.

She wasn’t Korean so she couldn’t have missed it too fast. Perfect canary-grabbing music! That’s a good century for queens and playwrights. And he did not like the idea, because they had done it before together, and it nearly always meant trouble later. Goodbye to the theatre. Irrelevancy is going out of fashion. Oh, you look just like a Roman; now is the day to work! The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.