The World According To Smones
chapter nine
[previous chapters below]

Jewel wonders if Myron has lost it, letting some homeless derelict wander into the house, then going off on this idiotic tangent about Jesus, omigod, what was next, was his brain turning to soft spongy mush, sitting around the house all day, talking to the cat, writing his little stories, and when is the screenplay going to be done and sold or a movie deal for one of his novels since they could use the money, you could never have too much money, jewelry, yes, she had plenty of that, but what about the 86-foot Nordhavn yacht they’d talked about, with a crew of flunkies in white uniforms, which would give the neighbors something to chew on, moored out in the bay in front of the house, dwarfing the others’ paltry little runabouts and fishing boats with their primitive outboard motors, so what was it with this fishing nonsense anyway, smelly grown men huddling together on pathetic puny boats to drink and smoke cigars and tell each other smutty stories, like dirty little boys, tormenting and killing fish which hadn’t done anything wrong except swim too close to them, not that she was a bleeding heart about killing fish, she liked her poached salmon as well as anyone, but it was all too stupid, though speaking of fishing, maybe it was like calling clients all day to place commodity trades, so she sort of got it, but instead of using a hook and line one-at-a-time it was more like seining with a net, she wasn’t dinking around with individual fish, she got entire groups or schools or flocks or herds of investors lined up against the wall and shot them with a single phone call, rat-a-tat-tat, and they were mostly men, so it helped, if and when she met them, or video chatted, that her breasts were high and round, rat-a-tat-tit, and she took good, really good, care of herself, far beyond Dress For Success, more like Dress For Seek ‘Em Out And Kill ‘Em, maybe she should wear a pith helmet with thigh-high boots, safari skirt and blouse, carefully unbuttoned to expose the tops of the milky orbs, of course, and just like the fish couldn’t resist the bait, the important (impotent?) men in their little uniforms, dark jackets with dress shirts and ties, always ties, the necktie the only part of the uniform permitted to non-conform, allowed to express the pathetic male ego, o look at me, I’m wearing a red Nicole Miller covered with little zebras, o but mine is better, it’s an Armani so subtly dyed, but mine is all red, is all blue, because I’m powerful like a President or a Senator, and it made her want to puke, it was so stupid, stupid like this bullshit with Myron sneaking her into his little story about Smones, who called her a tart, was that really Myron himself being furtive and sticking it to her, his own secret thoughts coming out of one of his so-called characters, and the business about her endless prattle driving him insane, so when she got home she’d put him up against the wall, figuratively speaking, or maybe for real, shake him out of his stupor, find out what the f was going on with him sitting at home all day and the homeless Jesus guy and the screenplay she’d heard so much about, with his purported writing partner, Tad, that weasel from Los Angeles, yeah, you didn’t have to be a weasel to live in Los Angeles but it helped, since L.A. was the place where all the boys and girls who shit on you in high school went to live and pose and fornicate and lie to each other and desperately strive to have the last — no really the LAST — laugh, and she knew this because half her clients lived in L.A., pompous pricks in and around the movie business, mostly lawyers and agents and executives, mostly men, few if any stars because the stars never touched the dirty stuff themselves, that was what they had lawyers and agents for, and it was purely a matter of who could screw whom without getting screwed, which was what made it all so much fun.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter eight
[previous chapters below]

Curtailer felt the impact, like being stabbed or poked in the chest. He looked down and saw two spots of blood spreading across the front of his otherwise clean and well-ironed white cotton dress shirt. As though observing from a distance, he noted that the report of the pistol was louder when it was aimed at him than when it had been fired at the ceiling.

“You wanted a story? How do you like your story now, you…,” And Smones called Curtailer a vulgar word which referred to a particular part of the female anatomy, a word commonly used in Britain as an insult, but frowned upon in the United States.

Curtailer looked down, horrified, at the two spots of blood on his shirt front, feeling the awful sting in his chest. He hardly heard Smones —a demented edge to his voice —call him that smutty name.

He gasped for breath. His hands fumbled at his chest. His thoughts went round and round.

‘O Lord, O Lord, not this, not death at the hands of this lout. O Lord…’

Across the table from him, in the hushed restaurant, Smones snickered.

“They’re blanks, you twat,” he crowed. “Hollywood blanks, loaded with fake blood.”

He aimed the pistol down at the tabletop and pulled the trigger. There was the loud report, the gun jumped in his hand, and a splatter of blood appeared on the white tablecloth. Then, with satisfaction, he shoved the pistol back inside his fisherman’s vest.

For a moment, Curtailer was uncharacteristically speechless, even devoid of thought. Then anger rose inside him like bile or vomit.

“You stupid fucking asshole,” he hissed. “What is wrong with you?”

Smones watched him closely, smirking, quite proud of himself.

Rage boiled up inside Curtailer. Visions flipped past his inner eye in a rapid, violent sequence: flinging himself across the table, his hands hooking around that fat, ugly neck and squeezing, squeezing… Or the sterling silver knife beside his plate of tripes suddenly in his fist, then thrust into Smones pig eyes, first one, then the other, thrusting, thrusting… Or a sudden leap upwards from his chair, grasping the edge of the table and flinging it over onto Smones who falls backwards as Curtailer jumps on top of the table on top of Smones and jumps up and down, up and down…

His hands gripped the edge of the table so tightly his knuckles cracked.

But before he could act out any of these scenarios, a calm voice from within said, “Wait, think. Smones is your biggest author. Your only really big author. Your bread and butter. Think. Think…”

He stood quickly, still gripping the edge of the table. His chair hit the wall behind him. He ground his teeth, growled, violently cleared his throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said hoarsely.

Again, louder and more clearly, “Ladies and gentlemen,” out over the silent restaurant.

Looking back at him were pale faces and wide eyes.

“Please don’t be alarmed. What you have just witnessed was nothing more than a bit of publicity by the world-famous author,” and he gestured toward Smones, “Mitchell Smones, whose next prize-winning novel is about to go to press.”

As he spoke, his voice gained in confidence and authority, and the other patrons of the restaurant, who had been frozen in surprise and fear, began to relax, shifting in their seats.

“Yes, that’s right, another groundbreaking novel from… MITCHELL SMONES! Watch for it, soon to appear on the New York Times best seller list. And now, let’s all return to our enjoyment of lunch. Thank you for participating in this… happening.”

With a flourish and a quick bow, Curtailer sat.

‘Happening,’ he thought. A wave of self-loathing washed over him. ‘Where the hell had that bit of retro cliché come from?’

Across the room, someone began to applaud, slowly. Clap. Clap. Clap. Then another joined in. Then more. Some began to laugh, relieved laughter, the tension lifting from the throng of diners.

Curtailer could see the M’aître d’, on the far side of the room, lowering the telephone receiver to its cradle.

He looked at Smones, who was nodding in approval and grinning like a congressman up for reelection.

“Hey, buddy. Way to go,” said Smones. “You passed your spontaneity test with flying colors. Cool!”

Curtailer swallowed. It took some effort.

“You’d better write one hell of a novel, you miserable prick,” he snarled. “And I expect you to replace this shirt.”

***

Out on the sidewalk, Smones hurried away from the grand entrance of Le Cirque 2000, heading north on Madison Avenue. Maybe the M’aître d’ hadn’t called the cops, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

He was feeling very perky. He laughed quietly to himself, searching for the correct descriptive term – was he snickering? Giggling? Tittering? No, actually, he decided, he was chortling.

He’d totally had that pompous turd, Curtailer – HAD him! The beer and the meat sandwich – channeling Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stel-laaaa!

And screw all that business with Jewel. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about Jewel. She was a mindless tart. Had incessantly annoyed him with her stupefying prattle. Good luck with her, Myron, you pansy bastard.

Oh, yes, about that new novel. More chortling. He would do as he had with the past several novels, hire a team of grad students from the Lit departments of Columbia and NYU, get them to sign and notarize the ironclad non-disclosure, non-compete, confidentiality, work-for-hire and independent contractor agreement which his attorney had prepared, along with a few thinly-veiled references to Rocko and a certain baseball bat. Then they’d hunker down in his favorite suite at the Plaza Athénée Hotel, where he’d ride herd on them non-stop, 24/7, for as many days as it took, while they cranked out the pages and he drank Lagavulin single malt and smoked Cuban cigars.

As he hustled up the Avenue, the sight of a young couple walking toward him pulled him out of his celebratory revelry. A gangly, long-haired, bearded punk in an old army jacket and jeans torn at the knees walked arm-in-arm with a dishy blond who was much too good for him. They chattered away happily, she tossing her head and laughing.

As he came abreast of them, with the young man immediately to his left and the girlfriend on the other side, nearer the curb, Smones cocked his left arm and gave the kid a short, quick shot to the solar plexus. There was his sharp, gasping intake of breath, then the young woman’s horrified shriek.

Smones continued walking, picking up his pace.

“You bastard!” screamed the girl behind him. “You Nazi asshole!”

Ah, well, thought Smones — some are born to greatness, while others have greatness thrust into them.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter seven
[previous chapters below]

Myron went back upstairs, back to his chair and his glass of wine. Sitting there like that, he started to get excited. He started to realize what it meant. Screw Smones and Curtailer. Imagine, Jesus Christ Himself as a house guest. Jewel was going to be surprised. He could hardly wait until she got home from work, so he could tell her. ‘Guess who’s here, honey. You’ll never guess.’

She would probably throw together some kind of cocktail party, invite the ‘A’ list. He went over the guests in his mind. There were a couple of surgeons, an interior designer, a university dean, then their very rich neighbor who had recently collected the large insurance settlement when his business burned to the ground—the one who drives the Lamborghini, not the other neighbor whose business also recently burned, although she would probably invite him as well. Seems like there had been a lot of fires, lately. She would invite their spouses, too, of course.

And then there was the manager of the local refinery. He and his wife had never come to any of their other parties, never even bothered to RSVP. But he guessed there was no way they would miss this one, by God.

He chuckled at his unintentional pun, and sipped his wine. Maybe they would not invite Mr. & Mrs. Refinery, after all. Let them chew on that one.

He wondered how the invitations would be worded. ‘You are cordially invited to a cocktail party in honor of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, currently a guest at the home of….’

No, too stuffy. Something whimsical was in order. They would not want to seem as if they, themselves, were overly impressed by their Visitor, but rather that it was just par for the course, an everyday kind of thing for them. How about one of those cards with a cartoon by the guy who draws animals doing things humans usually do, like cows riding in a car beside a pasture full of grazing people, and so forth? Maybe an animal nailed to the cross, wearing a crown of thorns, tears running down its cheeks, a cow, maybe, or a rhino. Or, how about a bear? Open the card and there would be a witty one-liner: ‘We all have our cross to bear, so join us for a little resurrection.’ Followed by date and time and address and all. Something like that…

Myron heard the garage door going up, the growl of the automatic opener. He knew it must be Jewel arriving home from the office.

Jewel was a currency trader. She made ten times more money in one year than Myron had ever made in his life. Which was why she worked, and Myron stayed home and wrote stories. There was no longer any point in wasting his time on the piddly little amount of money he was able to earn. And writing was something he enjoyed, and had always wanted to do full time. So, he spent the days at home, writing, while Jewel earned obscene sums massaging a computer and bashing people via telephone….

Myron was embarrassed to admit that he was writing a screenplay. He did not usually bring it up. Even when people asked, at parties and such, what he did, he generally did not let on that he was writing a screenplay. He would say he wrote ad copy, or was working on a biography of General Lemuel VanDyken, an early settler, for the local historical society. Because the screenplay thing was so trite. It made him feel like someone from Los Angeles. A cab driver, or a caterer, maybe. He was not from Los Angeles.

But he had a friend in Los Angeles, Tad, who wrote for TV, and together they were developing a screenplay. Jewel was excited about this. She knew it would be big, very big. Her investment in him would, like most of her other investments, return handsome profits. She was very excited about the whole screenplay thing. She loved to read what Myron had written each day, when she came home from work. His ability to write amazed her, as her ability to generate income amazed him. She thought Myron was so intelligent, witty, wise. He had to admit he thoroughly enjoy her adulation. Often, it was all that kept him going. But he did not believe he would be able, ultimately, to live up to her exalted image of him. Could any man?

He didn’t think so.

It was a silly, vain thing, writing this screenplay. He did it mostly to keep up appearances, to carry the ball, so to speak, to satisfy Jewel. Really, he thought little of it himself. It was called THE INVENTOR, this screenplay Tad and he were developing together. It was about a man who meets, in his sleep—in his dreams—a character called the Inventor, who shows him inventions. The man then copies these inventions in his waking life, and becomes rich and successful. But he becomes corrupted by his success, and eventually he does something wrong, something stupid, and the Inventor refuses to visit him in his dreams any longer. The man loses everything, his money, his family, all the trappings of success, and ends up in the gutter. And then, finally, when all was lost, the Inventor comes back to him.

It was clever, this story, moving in and out of the dream world, portraying the process of human creativity and imagination, set against a basic drama of human tragedy, a great man plunged into the depths because of his tragic flaw, his willfulness, his pride, his egotism. And then, at the last—when it is too late, of course—he begins to understand….

The cat’s ears perked up as the door from the garage into the house opened. He leaped off Myron’s lap and streaked from the room to investigate.

Myron heard the tap, tap, tap of his wife’s high heels across the marble floor.

“Hi, I’m home,” she sang out. “Where are you?”

“Upstairs,” he called back.

She came up the carpeted stairway, her wool coat flying, her beautifully trimmed hair floating about her face, a big smile.

“Hi,” Myron said, quietly. Her intensity sometimes made him feel shy.

“Hello, darling.” She squeezed him around the neck and planted a quick kiss on his lips. Myron smelled her perfume, one of the ones he liked. He never could remember which was which. Taboo? Evening in Paris? They all had names like that.

“Jesus is downstairs,” he said.

She looked at him for an instant, then brushed by it, just one of those things writers say.

“Well, I talked to Judy today, and she’s leaving for Paris next week. She found the cutest hotel, just around the corner from the Louvre, and the price is…”

“No, really,” Myron interrupted. “Jesus is downstairs. He’s staying with us for a while.”

“Jesus who?” Her brow furrowed with impatience. He could see the wheels turning: ‘Jesus? We don’t know any Jesus, unless it’s that fellow who was here to help with the landscaping, but he couldn’t be staying with us. I wish he’d hurry up and get on with it and tell me what this Jesus thing is all about, he always talks too slowly, time is money…’

“You know, Jesus, THE Jesus. Jesus Christ.”

That stopped her. Myron swore she looked at him for a full ten seconds without a break, bettering her normal attention span by a factor of five. Jewel was like a shrew or hummingbird—high metabolic rate, rapid movements, constant feeding.

“I’ve had a long day,” she said, finally.

“Look,” Myron said.

She turned around, and there He was, standing silently at the top of the carpeted stairway.

“Oh, my God,” said Jewel.

Jesus winced.

“Please,” He mumbled. “No need to be formal.”

He stepped into the living room.

“Take off your sandals,” said Jewel, pointing. “The carpet.”

Jewel was getting tense, Myron could tell. The pink carpet had long been a point of disagreement between them, her insistence that they remove their shoes in the living room. The way Myron saw it, what good was a carpet you couldn’t walk on? He found it tedious and uncomfortable to walk around in his socks. His arches had long ago surrendered, and he needed some sort of supportive footwear. Also, it was inconvenient for their guests. But Jewel insisted.

Jesus looked down at his feet. Myron felt uncomfortable and, he could tell, so did He.

“C’mon, honey,” Myron said. “Look who we’re dealing with here. Let’s not be dogmatic.”

Jesus squirmed.

“The stigmata,” He said, gently. “If I take off my sandals, I’ll bleed on the rug.”

“Get blood on this rug,” snapped Jewel, “and I’ll put a rubber band around your balls.”

Myron had often wondered why Jewel said these things. Over the years, he had developed the theory that it was a reflex, like the leg jerking when the little rubber hammer taps the knee. Her lack of restraint was a weakness, but also a great strength. He had no doubt it protected her in her work, among the currency-trading carnivores. He assumed she’d developed this rubber-band-around-the-balls bit on the trading floor. That’s how they castrate calves—slip the band on, and the little nuggets dry up and fall off all by themselves. He’d learned not to take it seriously a long time ago.

Anyway, the room was suddenly still. No one moved, no one made a sound, not even the cat. This suspension in the flow of things seemed to go on for the longest time.

Myron’s thoughts, however, raced ahead, enhanced, amplified, lubricated by the momentary hiatus.

Images of medieval altar pieces flashed through his mind. For the past two thousand years, painters and sculptors had been depicting the crown of thorns—that garland of cruel spikes wounding the flesh—the droplets of blood, the tears of pain. Symbols of human vulnerability transformed by divine compassion.

Was this the beginning of another two-thousand-year cycle? Would artisans in the centuries to come fashion undying images of the holy and tormented Scrotum, the ever-tightening Band? Surely, this could evolve into a powerful symbol of Divine Suffering. ‘What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?’

Would Jewel, like Pilate and the Roman soldiers, be immortalized as the instrument of His anguish?

Myron imagined floating weightless, hundreds of years in the future, through a museum in an orbital space station, and coming face-to-face (so to speak) with a holographic rendering of ‘The Mortification Of His Flesh At The Hand Of The Pagan Jewel.’ Stunned by the imagery, one would fall to one’s knees. That is, if one could fall in zero gravity….

Well. Myron went off on these little tangents sometimes.

Jesus looked disappointed. He turned without a word and retreated down the stairs. A moment later, they heard His suitcase bump once against the wall, then the sound of the downstairs door closing as He let Himself out.

“I hate religious fanatics,” said Jewel. “What’s for dinner?”

Myron drained the last of the red wine from his glass.

Too bad. He had been looking forward to the cocktail party. Oh, well, at least he’d stopped mulling and stewing over Smones and Curtailer for a while.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter six
[previous chapters below]

How could this have happened? How, in chapter five, could the character of Jesus have entered my carefully circumscribed fantasy realm of Smones and Curtailer, Myron and Jewel? Now I’m screwed.

If you’re devout, you might turn away, viewing this casual reference to your most holy personage as blasphemy or sacrilege.

But if, on the other hand, you are a non-believer, you could stop reading because you think I’m some sort of bible thumper or Jesus freak who is using a serialized story to lure unsuspecting you into my belief system.

Then there’s the aesthetic clumsiness, the incongruous inclusion of a fictional or historic personage in an otherwise realistic (though admittedly frivolous) narrative. Like a stupid Woody Allen movie, with film actors jumping off the screen to participate in the action, or dead people materializing to matter-of-factly interact with the living. A confusion of levels of reality. Off-putting, trite and not very entertaining.

Sigh. Maybe it is time for me to say a little bit about myself, in an attempt to explain, or make up for, this most recent authorial clumsiness, or perhaps, actually, to understand it myself…

I am a man, like any other. Don’t I have eyes? Don’t I have hands, bodily organs, a human shape, five senses, feelings, and passions? If you prick me with a pin, don’t I bleed? If you tickle me, don’t I laugh…? Well, actually, if you tickle me, I don’t laugh, because I’m not ticklish. And in case you didn’t notice, the preceding description of myself is plagiarized from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Ok, enough fooling around. I am the author of several published novels, written under a pseudonym which I shall not reveal at this time, and which have escaped critical notice and sold very few copies. But in this modern age, most authorship takes place on the Internet. Hence, my fascination with the construction of websites, leading to my recent elevation to the status of Webmaster for the Coulrophobia International Association.

What is coulrophobia, you might ask? It is an uncontrollable and morbid fear of clowns. Below is the logo of our organization:

Beware_The_Clown_Logo_2

The website address is www.bewaretheclown.com; however, there is as yet little content other than the logo, several links and a few photos of evil clowns.

Coulrophobia is not to be confused with coulrophilia, which is the opposite phenomenon, that is, an uncontrollable erotic and/or sexual attraction to clowns, mimes and jesters. The very concept comes across as nightmarish to the true coulrophobiac, like myself. Maybe clowns get you hot…? Trust me—clown porn is not as sexy as it sounds.

But I digress. Purposefully. All of this persiflage is intended to deflect your attention from me. I do not want to reveal myself. I prefer to remain a ghostly eminence, god-like in my power to weave the life tapestry of Jewel, Myron, Smones, Curtailer. Except they keep doing things I don’t expect…

Jesus coming to the front door? Shoot me!

Anyway, we’ll get back to the story in chapter seven, soon to come.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter five
[previous chapters below]

Myron sat upstairs in his favorite chair by the window, with a glass of wine in his hand. It was an Italian red, rich and full-bodied. Outside, the wind rippled the surface of the bay.

His mind was as unquiet as the broad expanse of water. What the hell was going on? Here he’d been trucking along, writing fol-de-rol about these two fictional characters, Smones and Curtailer, when one of them, Mitchell Smones, up and shoots the other, blaming him for alienating the affections of his wife, Jewel, who is in reality, for God’s sake, his, Myron’s, wife. And Smones and Curtailer actually refer to him, Myron, their author, by name.

He took another gulp of the wine. It was a Montepulciano 1985, not a rare vintage, but respectable. Very rich, very pleasurable. He should have sipped it slowly and savored it. But he couldn’t. How had he lost control of his characters? What would happen next?

His cordless phone, on the glass table next to his chair, rang. He kept it near him wherever he was in the house.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Black?”

His heart sank. Because she had been well established in the business world before their marriage, Jewel had kept her last name, Black, rather than adopt his. So whenever he picked up the phone and it was someone asking him if he were Mr. Black, he knew it was a solicitor of some sort who had gotten his wife’s name off a list and assumed that he, the man of the house, must be ‘Mr. Black’.

They had discussed combining names. Myron and Jewel Black-Night? A bit too cute.

“There is no Mr. Black,” he said, coldly.

“Oh, my. Well….”

She sounded young and scared. Probably new on the job. Probably working her way through school, or trying to support her children. What a way to make a living, calling strangers on the phone hour after hour, irritating the shit out of them, trying to get them to listen to some boring, stupid sales pitch, trying to get them to buy things they had never heard of, and did not need.

“I was hoping to reach the Black residence. Is this the right number?”

He softened. He always did. He did not know why. He had rehearsed in his mind what he should say when one of these twits called him, ‘No, this isn’t the Black residence, honey, but you sound kinda cute–what color underpants are you wearing, anyway? When was the last time a real stud slipped it to you? Say, where are you calling from, I’ll come right over….’

He wondered how far into his pitch he would get before she hung up on him. But what if she got into it? What if she DID tell him where she was? What would he do then? They probably gave them instructions to follow in case this kind of thing happened. Would she call the cops? Was it illegal to talk dirty to unsolicited phone callers who irritated the shit out of you? Or was it open season on them? But what if the caller were a guy? A variation of the same pitch would probably get rid of him fast. Unless he were calling from San Francisco. Then Myron would be the one to hang up quickly.

Anyway, he never followed through on the fantasies when the time came. He did not know why he was civil to these people. It must have been his early childhood training, to be polite and helpful, which he could not overcome.

“Well,” he admitted grudgingly, “Mrs. Black does live here.”

“Oh, great! Is she home? This is Gretchen, from Time-Life books.”

“No. She’s at work.”

He held the phone too tightly. His hand was moist. Surely she would not ask for Jewel’s work number. Surely, they knew enough not to bother people at work.

“Will she be there tomorrow at this time?”

“No. She’ll be at work.”

So far, he was winning.

“Oh. Well, when….”

“Try Monday,” he blurted, eager to end it.

“Great! She’ll be there Monday?”

“She might,” he lied.

Who knows? Anything was possible….

“What time of day?”

“Afternoon. About this time. Try in the afternoon.”

“Oh, thank you. Good-by”

“Bye.”

He switched off the cordless phone. His throat was dry. He felt sick. He knew his wife would not be home Monday afternoon. Why didn’t he say, ‘There is no one here named Black’? Why didn’t he say, ‘We don’t want any, don’t ever call again’? Why didn’t he say, ‘Gretchen, baby, suck my…’?

He felt angry, dirty, used.

He would just have to put it out of his mind. No point in dwelling on it. He picked up the glass of Montepulciano and sipped. The stem of the glass was deep blue, the wine a vibrant ruby red. He looked out over the windy bay. He tried to calm himself. The cat jumped onto his lap and, without thinking, he began to stroke her thick, white fur, which would have been soothing, except for the resurgence of agitation about his rebellious characters, Curtailer and Smones. What the hell was going on?

The doorbell range. Now what? A brush salesman? Seventh Day Adventists, with their multi-colored tracts?

He groaned and pushed up out of the plush arm chair. He crossed the pale, pink carpet and down the half flight of stairs to the marbled entry. He opened the door.

It was Jesus. He was carrying a suitcase. He looked tired.

“I’m moving in,” He said.

The way He said it, Myron was not about to argue.

As though in a trance, Myron took the suitcase from Him and showed Him to the spare room downstairs. He carefully placed the suitcase beside the dresser. He stood by the door, not knowing what to do. He was nervous.

“Coffee?” asked Myron. “A glass of wine?”

“No, thanks.” He gave Myron one of those famous beatific smiles. “I’d like to be alone now, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” said Myron, stepping out and closing the door behind him. He caught his breath. He was relieved, but, at the same time, annoyed; relieved of the self-conscious discomfort he’d felt in His presence, but annoyed that He had not shown more interest in him.

He went back upstairs, back to his chair and his glass of wine. Sitting there like that, he started to get excited. He started to realize what it meant. Screw Smones and Curtailer. Imagine, Jesus Christ Himself as a house guest. Jewel was going to be surprised. He could hardly wait until she got home from work, so he could tell her. ‘Guess who’s here, honey. You’ll never guess.’

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter four
[previous chapters below]

Walter, the waiter, had brought to the table Curtailer’s Tripes à la Niçoise and the ‘meat sandwich’ requested by Smones, which consisted of sliced leg of lamb, medium rare, on a large, puffy croissant, dressed with mint chutney. And the beer – he had dispatched one of the kitchen serfs to the tavern around the corner, to purchase several bottles of beer and bring them back to Le Cirque, where he had uncapped and poured one into a tall chilled glass.

The icy glass, beaded with moisture, now rested on the table in front of Smones.

Curtailer had barely taken his first mouthful of the succulent tripe, which was quite delicious, having simmered for eight hours in a sauce of wine, tomatoes and herbs, when Smones, smiling broadly, reached into an inner pocket of his fishing vest and pulled out a small, nasty-looking pistol, which he laid on the table beside his plate with an ominous ‘thunk’.

Curtailer froze, focusing his complete attention on the gun.

“What the hell is that?” he demanded.

“What does it look like, you twit?” replied Smones happily. “It’s a semi-automatic pistol. In fact, it’s a German Walther PP, vintage 1944, loaded with seven rounds of 32-caliber hollow points.”

“Are you crazy?” hissed Curtailer? “This is New York City. You can’t carry a gun around.” Curtailer pronounced the word ‘gun’ with special emphasis, as though it belonged to a foreign language.

“Actually, you can carry a gun around, if you have a city license. But even without the license…. Hey, this is New York, buddy, a man can do what he wants.”

Curtailer seriously wondered whether annoying persons such as Smones should be allowed to breed or, for that matter, to exist at all.

Just then, his cellphone rang. It was considered gauche, très gauche, to allow one’s cellphone to disturb the placid atmosphere of Le Cirque or any of the other venues which he frequented, so Curtailer had programmed his ringtone as a sultry woman’s voice quietly intoning “Geoffrey. Oh, Geoffrey.” Almost as though there were an actual woman sitting at, or under, their table, involved in their conversation.

“I have to get this,” he said, between clenched teeth.

He punched buttons on the phone and held it to his ear. But before any communication could transpire, Smones lifted the pistol off the table and aimed it at him, wiggling the forefinger of his other hand back and forth.

“Uh-uh-uh,” he warned.

Curtailer drew the phone away from his ear slowly and carefully, and lowered it into his lap.

“What are you doing?” he whispered. “Are you mad?”

“You know, buddy, this whole thing with mobile telephones has gone too far. I mean, here we are, enjoying a quiet luncheon at one of the world’s finest restaurants, and you have to take a phone call? Why, that’s downright annoying. About as annoying as this…”

And Smones tilted the muzzle of the pistol up toward the ceiling and pulled the trigger. There was a sharp crack, unmistakably the sound of a gunshot, and all conversation in the restaurant ceased. Heads swiveled in their direction. Walter, who had sensed difficulty and begun approaching the table, stopped suddenly and backed away.

Smones lowered the pistol and pointed it once again at Curtailer.

“Lucky you. Your ancestors cleverly escaped on the nice safe Mayflower and avoided annihilation by the Nazis.”

Curtailer noted that Smones pronounced the word as ‘Nah-zee’, much in the way Winston Churchill had, rather than ‘Knot-see’, as most Americans do. Another one of his stupid, irritating affectations. And why did Smones insist on conflating the seventeenth century migration of Curtailer’s family to the New World with twentieth century European politics — was it just a continuation of the attempt to bait him with an insinuation of Jewishness?

“Yeah,” continued Smones, “some Kraut lieutenant or captain probably carried this little sweetheart around, just hoping he’d get a chance to pop off one of your cousins.” Smones snickered. “Didn’t know they’d already shipped out a coupla’ hundred years ago.”

Curtailer, with his back against the upholstered banquette, could see across the dining room, in which other patrons were quietly pushing back their chairs and creeping toward the entrance where the M’aître d’, at his station, was hunched over, speaking into a telephone, casting anxious glances in the direction of their table.

Curtailer’s initial anxiety at the sight of the pistol had given way to extreme irritation and hostility. Smones’ erratic behavior was not a great surprise, but there was something about the ongoing infantile taunting and sophomoric references to his ancestors that set Curtailer’s teeth on edge. Enough was enough.

“Pull it together, Mitchell,” he said coldly. “You’re making a fool of yourself. It was just this sort of childish behavior that convinced Jewel to leave you.”

At the mention of Jewel, there was a subtle change in Smones, his feigned jollity shifting to something darker, perhaps determination or gratification, as though this were the turn of events for which he had actually been aiming.

“Ah, Jewel,” he said. “Glad you mentioned her.”

With his free hand, he reached into one of the many pockets of his fisherman’s vest, fumbling for a moment with the velcro which held the flap in place, then pulled out a sheet of paper which had been folded into a small rectangle. He flicked the paper back and forth several times, shaking it open, and tossed it on the table between them.

Curtailer gave it an annoyed glance. The paper had obviously been re-folded many times, until the edges were tattered and crumpled. There were a few stains, maybe coffee, grease… Then he recognized the handwriting. It was his own. He leaned forward and read the salutation: ‘Dearest Jewel’.

Curtailer suddenly felt cold and afraid. Smones was watching him carefully, a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. ‘Gotcha, bastard,’ he thought.

“You and Jewel. Who could’ve imagined. A prissy little creampuff like you.”

Creampuff! That did it. Fear turned to anger. Curtailer considered lunging across the table and stabbing Smones with his sterling silver fork. He prided himself on his fitness. He played squash twice a week, had studied martial arts and self-defense.

“Do you really think,” sneered Curtailer, “women care about how many fish you’ve caught? How many tequila shooters you can drink? It was your own boorish behavior that drove her away. I had little to do with it. If anything, ours was a brief, transitional affair.”

“Oh, you had plenty to do with it. You introduced her to that bug, Myron.”

“How was I to know she’d run off with him?” Curtailer laughed coldly. “Maybe he’s just a better writer than you are…”

Smones leveled the pistol at Curtailer and pulled the trigger. Once. Twice.

Curtailer felt the impact, like being stabbed or poked in the chest. He looked down and saw two spots of blood on the front of his otherwise clean white cotton dress shirt. As though observing from a distance, he noted that the report of the pistol was louder when it was aimed at him than when it had been fired at the ceiling.

“You wanted a story? How do you like your story now, you…” And Smones called Curtailer a vulgar word which referred to a particular part of the female anatomy, a word commonly used in Britain as an insult, but frowned upon in the United States.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter three
[previous chapters below]

'Gentle Reader, don’t quit now! Stay with me til the next chapter, Chapter Four. Something will happen, I promise.'

Or so the thoughts rolled around in my mind, as I lay alone in bed, half asleep. All this stuff about Jewel and Myron, Smones and Curtailer. And now there was more, the various comments and critiques from the readers of the first two chapters: "I need to know if any action is coming up!"; "Are you going to roll up your sleeves and get serious?"; "Is there any there there?". And so on. Being taken to task by my readers. Crap. But even Curtailer demanded to know, where’s the story?

I was in a hypnagogic state, that altered condition of consciousness just before sleep (not to be confused with its counterpart, the hypnapomic state, which occurs directly prior to waking).

My mind moved rapidly, with no particular focus, and in this hyper-aware creative state, new thoughts and unfamiliar feelings occurred in rapid succession, and possible scenes involving my characters appeared unbidden to my internal eye, like so many kernels of popcorn exploding in the pan.

What if readers associated the characters of Smones and Curtailer with a currently popular TV situation comedy about a writer and his agent, which I had seen once or twice? Would my creation be perceived as plagiaristic, even though I myself had only just now, while in this half-asleep dazed state, made the connection between my characters and those others? And what if my creation were, in fact, an unconscious expression of my internalized experience with those particular characters? If so, did I legitimately have the right to my story? And wasn’t this an example of the very point Smones himself was making, that we all wallow in a sea of signs and symbols, each of us cobbling together our own individual reality out of the stolen bits and pieces we salvage from the culture around us?

How, them, could I, or anyone, claim originality? Wasn’t Myron’s shameless parody of John Irving’s title, and his attempt to capitalize on the familiarity surrounding it, merely more of the same rag-picking on the cultural landfill?

But what of Smones’ proposal, that he and Curtailer tell stories to each other, and that this become the foundation for his novel? Or maybe he meant that he would write a fiction, a complete fabrication, based on an imagined storytelling between them, one which had never actually happened? This seemed a bit lame, as a literary device, and Smones’ proposal to Curtailer seemed ingenuous and out of character — would this be taken by the reader as Smones, the character, being simple-minded, or would it be attributed to Myron and his ineptitude as the author of Smones? Or would I, as the ultimate author of the entire Smones/Myron hierarchy, be held responsible…?

In other words, if an author writes insipid dialogue and puts it in the mouth of a character, is it the character who is flawed, or the author?

I desperately wanted my work to be well received; I wanted to be thought of as clever. Would I be blamed for the stupidity of my characters? But ultimately all art is a form of self-entertainment, so if it entertains you, the reader, as well, you’re invited to come along; if not, you can easily find another way to entertain yourself. Just be grateful I haven’t been floating basketballs in fish tanks and calling them art, as does one well-known contemporary so-called artist, who, by the way, is also famous for constructing metallic balloon dogs and casting effigies of Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee. Yes, by God, be thankful I’m not doing that

And where would the story go from here? What were the next steps for Smones, for Curtailer, for Myron and Jewel? Surely, Myron would keep writing — he hasn’t given up in all these years. But why has he never published? Maybe he is unable to sustain an effort long enough to complete anything publishable. So there is no guarantee he will give us more of the Smones story; he might just tear off in some other direction and forget all about New York City and Smones. Maybe he’ll follow Curtailer to his country home next. Or maybe he’ll take off on a completely new tack, start in with flesh-eating zombies from outer space. Or the erotic life of vampires, a very popular subject, yes, Smones as a centuries-old blood sucker and seducer of beautiful women and handsome boys…?

And then there’s Jewel, so far merely a foil for Myron. Surely she has a life, some creative, productive enterprise worthy of description.

The faces of these characters, the scenes in which they might appear, flashed through my entranced consciousness. What did it mean that both sets of characters — Curtailer and Smones, Myron and Jewel — had been portrayed as pairs interacting; both seated at tables sharing a meal; both engaged in over-the-table dialogue?

Potential future scenes flickered before my internal eye, like rapidly cross-cut camera shots in a movie preview. I caught bald-headed Smones striding down Fifth Avenue, getting into a fistfight or shoving match on the sidewalk; Curtailer hailing a cab and unknowingly dragging and soiling the hem of his expensive overcoat outside the closed rear door of the yellow vehicle; Jewel and Myron turning out the light and making love, passionately or not, then getting up in the morning, washing, dressing, going to work; and after they’ve returned home, someone coming to their door and causing trouble…

So, Dear Reader, as Mitchell Smones would put it, "Hang in there, Buddy — Chapter Four is on the way."

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter two
[chapter one below]

Jewel and Myron sat at the round, glass-topped table, munching on their steak sandwiches. Jewel was reading Myron’s story about Curtailer and Smones, and as she flipped each page, Myron picked it up and re-read it himself. He read the pages more quickly than she, since he had written them and knew them well, but she was reading them for the first time.

“Oh, that’s good,” murmured Jewel. Myron peered at the page in front of her. It was the bit about Curtailer and how his ancestor had established the family name. Myron had known that would get her–she liked that kind of factual crap, James Michener and all.

Across the room, the television was on, and the talking heads jabbered about the presidential election in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court had just ordered a recount of the undercounted ballots, even though the deadline for certifying electors was only four days away.

Myron thought his steak sandwich was very good. He had made it himself, with thinly sliced flank steak, extremely rare, and lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on toast. He took another bite. It didn’t matter if he got mayo on the pages, this was just a first draft.

Jewel finished reading. She handed him the last page.

“Very good,” she said. “I really like the part about John Irving.”

Myron smiled, self-satisfied. She didn’t know that he had lifted the name ‘Smones’ straight out of The World According To Garp. She hadn’t caught that. It was from the chapter, near the end of the book, where Garp goes to the chapel just before his father-in-law’s funeral, for the purpose of instructing the organist what not to play, per his wife’s instructions. And he finds himself in the midst of an earlier funeral, of a man whose family has not seen him since his childhood, when they had feuded–Garp had bitten their dog’s ear right off. And when he finds himself sitting next to the widow, who does not recognize him, and she asks his name, he doesn’t want to reveal his identity and make a scene, so he stumbles between ‘Smith’ and ‘Jones’, and it comes out ‘Smones’.

Smones. It was just another example of Irving’s cleverness, his inventiveness, which Myron admired and wished that he, himself, possessed. But he didn’t. So he had decided to steal the name from Irving and build a story around it.

“Where did you get the name ‘Curtailer’?” asked Jewel. “And the information about its origins? On the internet?”

“No. I made it up.”

“You made it up?” She laughed in disbelief. “Amazing.”

“I don’t know where this stuff comes from,” he admitted.

There was something else Myron admired about Papa John: Irving insisted that imagination was always more interesting than fact, and that writers should make things up rather than thinly disguise their own experience. Myron had deduced this was a red herring on Irving’s part, just a sneaky way for him to conceal the use of autobiographical material in his own novels. It was the subterfuge which he admired. It made the books more interesting, more daring. Yes, that Irving really had balls.

The television commentators droned on about chads, dimpled chads, pregnant chads, chads hanging by two corners and so on. This whole election thing had turned into a media feeding frenzy….

 

Later that night, in bed, Jewel thought more about Myron’s story. Myron was sitting up in bed beside her, reading the New York Times Book Review.

She admired him for his perseverance. Even though he was over fifty years old and had never published a word, he still kept doggedly on with his writing. He always had some project or other in the works. She respected that persistence. And it made him more interesting. It was something she could be proud of in front of her friends. ‘Myron is writing a novel,’ she would say; or ‘Myron just finished another poem’. He was like jewelry. She liked to show him off. He was ornamental.

“What is it going to be?” she asked.

“Hmmm?”

“Your story. What is it going to be?”

“No idea,” he said.

“Is it another novel?”

He turned and looked at her, his eyes twinkly behind his old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses. “Sure. Ok. A novel. Maybe I’ll call it The World According to Smones.”

“No!” she said. “You can’t.”

“Why not? Irving can’t stop me.”

“He could sue.”

“Nah. You can’t copyright a title. Yeah, that’s definitely it: The World According to Smones.”

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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The World According To Smones
chapter one

Mitchell Smones was Geoffrey Curtailer’s best client, and Curtailer had invited Smones to lunch with him at Le Cirque 2000, arguably New York’s most prestigious restaurant.

As Curtailer waited for Smones, who was late, as usual, he extracted a Tuscan breadstick from beneath the fine white linen cloth covering the silver bread tray, and wondered if Smones would appreciate the delicacy and complexity of Le Cirque’s cuisine. Curtailer doubted it. He thought Smones to be a bit of a lout, one of those hairy-knuckled authors who, whether consciously or not, cast themselves in the Hemingway mold — taking pride in murdering animals, forcing themselves on women, eating with their fingers, that sort of thing.

Curtailer swiped the breadstick with the silver butter knife, and took a bite. It tasted of rosemary and black olives, and he enjoyed the combination of those flavors with the pale, sweet butter.

He spotted Smones at the entry, with the M’aître d’, who nodded obsequiously and led Smones in his direction.

Curtailer stifled a derisive snort. Smones had shaved his head. It was the Bruce Willis thing, middle-aged male vanity. Better a shaved head than balding. Curtailer wasn’t there yet and hoped he never would be, though he was beginning to be aware of a certain thinning up above. Even if he did go bald, he would do it gracefully. Not like Smones, whose shiny pate looked so pretentious, especially with the diamond stud dotting one earlobe, and the many-pocketed Orvis fishing vest which, after the publication of his last novel, Smones had affected.

Curtailer half-stood and extended his hand.

“Mitchell. Good to see you.”

“Hey, buddy,” said Smones.

So it was ‘buddy’ now. It had been ‘fella’, during the writing — and too annoyingly long after the publication — of Smone’s second-to-last novel, his historical fantasy built around the life of Nelson Rockefeller, in which he speculated on the young Rockefeller’s romantic involvement with a handsome Saudi prince as the foundation of the Arab-American petro partnership, the pot-boiler aptly titled Fella. Curtailer supposed ‘buddy’ was better than ‘fella’, at least a change, too fresh on Smones’ tongue to have become tiresome. Yet. Though it wouldn’t be long. Perhaps by the time lunch was over….

But this was the kind of shit (Curtailer had almost thought ‘king of shit’, perhaps a Freudian slip based on his true feelings about Smones, a good place to start his next session with his analyst) he had to put up with as a literary agent. All these fucking whacked-out writers.

“Curtailer, Curtailer,” pondered Smones, his eyes flinty and hard on Geoffrey as the two men settled into their chairs. “Always meant to ask you, what kinda name is that? Jewish?”

Jesus, thought Curtailer. What now? Anti-Semitism? Anyway, Smones couldn’t be more wrong.

“No,” he said, slightly irritated. “Actually, it’s an old English name. The Curtailers came over on the Mayflower. Like many names — Smith, Miller, and so on — Curtailer is descriptive of a vocation. One of my ancestors way-back-when was a cog in the British tax collection system. A curtailer was a kind of appellate judge, who had the power — limited, of course — to curtail, or lighten, a tax burden if a convincing enough case were…”

Smones smiled and waved his hand.

“Awright, awright,” said Smones. “I was just yankin’ your chain, buddy.”

He enjoyed tweaking Curtailer, and watching him twitch. A bit of a stuffed shirt, pretty uptight, who needed a little jab now and then.

Smones already knew Curtailer wasn’t a Jew, though, in fact, he didn’t care. He was not at all anti-Semitic, except towards the Hasids who ran around in stupid clothes needing haircuts, but he felt no differently toward them than he did toward Catholic priests wearing long dresses — just obnoxious fools who were to be scorned, not because they held a particular dogma in preference to another, but simply because they were blindly dogmatic.

Curtailer lifted the finely woven cloth napkin from his lap, dabbed his lips and suppressed his annoyance.

“So, Mitchell, what do you have for me?”

Smones was here to outline his next novel for Curtailer, get a little feedback, get a read on what kind of advance he might expect. He was low on cash, and he didn’t like dipping into his investment portfolio. Time to write.

“Here’s the plan,” said Smones. “It’s a book about writing a book.” He leaned back in his chair and smiled.

Curtailer thought he looked smug.

“A book about writing a book,” he said, slowly. “Well, that’s been done.”

“So what?” shrugged Smones. “Everything’s been done. You have to be self-referential these days, just to keep up. Books about writers who are writing books. Movies about film-makers making movies. TV shows about people working on TV shows.”

“And it’s been done for a long time. Look at Garp, for example,” insisted Curtailer.

“Irving!” snorted Smones.

“Yes, John Irving. The man is a genius. He knows how to write a novel.”

“Awright, yeah, he’s a monster. Those movie sales really juice up the old bank account.”

“In Irving’s novel, Jennie Fields writes a best-selling book, and her son, Garp, writes a famous short story, which Irving quotes in its entirety, and Garp also writes a couple of novels, and we hear all about what a writer goes through to write, and we get to read the first chapter of Garp’s best-selling novel, The World According To Bensenhaver. All in Irving’s novel, The World According To Garp.”

“Oh, yeah,” snorted Smones, “the guy is cute. Ya gotta hand it to him.”

“Like Chinese dolls, one inside the other. But that was over twenty years ago.”

“Have you gentlemen decided?” asked the waiter, who had snuck up behind them.

“Uh, yes, Walter, I have,” said Curtailer, “but I’m not sure about my friend. He hasn’t seen the menu.”

“Just give me a club sandwich,” said Smones, with a dismissive wave of his hand. “And a beer. Whatever you’ve got on tap.”

Curtailer shuddered.

“I’m afraid, sir,” said the waiter, “we don’t have a ‘club sandwich’ on our menu. Nor do we have beer taps.”

“You’ve got bread, right? You’ve got lettuce, tomatoes? You must have bacon and turkey.”

“I’m not sure, sir.”

“Well, I know you’ve got some kind of meat. Just fake it. Whatever. Make me a sandwich. A meat sandwich. And a bottle of beer is ok. Any beer.”

“Yes, sir. A sandwich. And a beer.” The waiter smiled. Maybe he liked Smones’ lack of pretension. “I’ll see what I can find, sir.”

“I’ll have the usual, Walter.”

“The tripes, Mr. Curtailer?”

“Yes, Walter. The tripes.”

“Very good, sir.”

The waiter turned and walked away.

‘A meat sandwich,’ thought Curtailer.

“Take that guy,” said Smones, nodding his head in the direction of the departing waiter. “You think he knows he’s in a book? In a movie?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“He’s in my movie.” Smones touched each of his forefingers to one side of his head. “The movie between my ears. Soon to be a major bestseller. We’re all in each other’s movies.”

“Ah, you’re being epistemological.”

“We’re all characters in a ‘book’.”

He made air quotation marks around the word ‘book’, then waved his hands vaguely about, above his head, pointing upwards.

“In the book,” he said.

“Metaphysics?”

“Sure. Why not? How do we know that we aren’t…” and Smones’ voice dropped to a hoarse, dramatic whisper, “…characters in a book?”

In spite of himself, Curtailer looked around nervously, as if expecting to see the huge eyes of a reader or moviegoer appear over the tops of the upholstered banquettes, like the eyes of God, or the sun rising over the Atlantic.

“Please,” he said. “It’s been done. Pirandello. Six Characters In Search Of An Author. The characters on stage, in the play, realize they’re in a play, so they set about trying to find the author. Or, should I say, capital ‘A’, Author. It’s trite.”

“Exactly my dilemma. Where do we go from here? We got Irving writing about Garp, who writes a novel inside the novel. So do I write a novel about a novelist writing a novel about a novelist writing…?”

“Infinite regression? A hall of mirrors? How interesting is that?”

Smones chuckled.

“That’s the trick, isn’t it? To come up with the new new thing? What kinda book can I write that leapfrogs over the other guys, and they all say ‘holy fuck, why didn’t I thinka that’, and the readers buy the hell out of it.”

“Well, Mitchell, as your agent, I’d like nothing more than a blockbuster best-seller…”

“…with a movie sale,” said Smones, smacking his fleshy lips.

“Yes, with a movie sale. But so far, you haven’t given me a story. Just an idea. An abstract idea. Not even an idea, really, just the idea of an idea.”

“Don’t get your head all fucked up. Bear with me.”

Smones leaned forward and planted his elbows on the table.

“Imagine two guys,” he said, “like you and me, sitting down for lunch in a restaurant — like this restaurant — to try and figure out what kinda book to write. And they tell each other stories, try out all kinds of stories on each other, really, and this is the book.”

“Mitchell. I’m disappointed. It sounds like The Arabian Nights. Or My Dinner With Andre.”

“But see, that’s exactly it. Everybody is so hip that everything sounds like something. Look at your metaphors. Do you tell me it sounds like the waves crashing on the beach, or some other primary experience? No, it sounds like this book, you say, or that movie, or a certain character. And we all understand and speak this language of signs. Instead of using words to describe things, we use words to describe the symbols of things.”

Curtailer groaned inwardly. Semiotics. Jesus Christ. Hadn’t Smones read Barthes’ Mythologies years ago?

“Our common experience is grounded in our books,” continued Smones, “movies and TV shows. This is how we tell each other how we feel. ‘I feel like Ratso Rizzo’. What does that tell you?”

“Well, I’d guess you’re feeling depressed, downtrodden, but defensively self-righteous.”

“Right. And what if I told you I’m having a Dilbert day?”

“Well….”

“Or maybe when I say goodbye, I say ‘I’ll be back’…?” Smones spoke this last in a low, guttural voice with an Austrian accent.

“Arnold, as in The Terminator.”

“Exactly. You get an image, a feeling, an archetypal hit. This is our cultural shorthand. So the reason we — you and I — feel like we’re in a book, a play, a movie, is that we are. I mean, we’re fish swimming in the ocean, and the ocean isn’t water any more, it’s our culture, all the stuff we’ve made up. So to be truly hip and modern, we have to write about people who exist in this state of vicarious experience. Who are consumers and purveyors of the artifacts they create, which are themselves.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Curtailer. “Very interesting. Very philosophical. If we were on our first date, I’d be impressed. But let’s get back to Garp. It was so much more than a book about writers writing. People lived and loved and laughed and cried and died. It was a story about people and their lives. So where’s your story?”

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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