“Christine was #3. She was a zit freak more than a sex freak. We coupled in early ’71.”

 

james ellroy once joked that he was the only person not to get laid during the “summer of love” . . . here he hits rock bottom in late ’60s, early ’70s L.A. . . .

I woke up. I was naked, she was naked, I didn’t know where I was.

We were under bedsheets. She was still asleep. I didn’t know who she was.

I rubbed my face. It felt like a four-day growth. I was clean-shaven at my last recollection.

You sold blood plasma downtown. You hitchhiked to the beach. You met your pal Randy and started drinking. You argued with some hippies. You stood on the Palisades and fulminated. Your tory worldview appalled them. You stormed off then.

Booze blackout—age 23.

I was a fit 160. The woman weighed three bills easy. I looooved voluptuousness. My standards were permissive. These were curves I could not condone.

A memory burst hit me. I still had nine bucks left from the blood bank.

My clothes were on the bedside floor. My glasses and wallet were safe. Two twenties were tucked in the billfold.

The woman snored on. Maybe she paid me for it. That would mark a first.

I got up, got dressed and stealth-walked out of the pad. Stairs led down to a ground-floor landing. I stepped outside. I was on Fell Street in San Francisco.

•    •    •

She was the fourth. Keeping track was easy then. Susan was #1. She was 29 to my 20. She needed a roof and fucked me in the Spirit of Revolution. She caught me jacking off on uppers the night RFK got shot. She defamed me as a perv, a bum lay and a fascist. She turned dyke for political reasons and the valid motive of inclination.

I was an especially puerile 20 and malleable in the extreme. I was months into a run of sobbing fits out of pure sex hunger/angst. Susan had a ’60s-zeitgeist spiel down pat. I believed all of it when we were stoned and none of it when we were clean. Susan knew a high school pal of mine and fucked him just as callously. He was even more pliable than I was and had an even more roach-ridden apartment. His cystic acne was worse than mine. I could steal drugs from stores and rich people’s houses. He was afraid to. I boded as a better doormat/pity fuck.

Susan and I guzzled cough syrup and pills swiped from medicine chests all over Hancock Park. We talked classical music shit endlessly. We got bombed and played Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter. We defamed rock and roll as counterrevolutionary pap. Susan endured Beethovian mood swings and treated me as her mongoloid kid brother and dope-thief-on-command. All that tsuris got me four peremptory fucks. My zits popped in the throes of my real and her feigned passion. Susan held the line at fuck #5. My technique had not improved to her specifications. My social skills were sub-zero. I was staggeringly uncool and required deep pore cleansing and dermabrasion. Besides—she’d just met a groovy chick with a cool pad in the Hollywood Hills.

Charlotte was #2. It was late ’69. She was an affluent Palos Verdes girl on post-college hiatus. My booze-brave approach charmed her. She bought my great-writer-in-waiting act for three months and wised up. Her inclination: postpone sex for marriage to a real man. Why I got it: the era mandated pre-marital sex as an experiment. We were next-door neighbors and met on the Wilshire Boulevard bus. I held down temp jobs as I brain-broiled the world’s greatest unwritten novel. Charlotte thought I drank too much. I pried open movie-house back doors and glommed us free double features. Charlotte thought that was cool and très ’69. Charlotte found me too emotional and sex-crazed. Sex was not all day and all night. Sex was a special occasion. Charlotte came to view me as a dubious experiment.

The experiment full-on tanked. Charlotte gave me a withering look and skedaddled. The look has since become familiar. It means, You’ve lied to me and you’re not who you say you are.

Christine was #3. She was a zit freak more than a sex freak. We coupled in early ’71 and hooked up periodically. I got in fistfights with her numerous boyfriends. Chris was a poetess and a dermatologist manqué. My acne-assaulted back delivered her delighted. She studied cross sections of the human dermis for hours. She bit my right-middle knuckle down to the bone to scope out the cartilage. I’ve still got the scar. She popped my pimples and examined the pus under a microscope. My first three women treated me as a lab-rat lover.

I stole a pint of vodka and hopped a bus, Frisco back to L.A. I lived in Robert Burns Park that summer. It was Hancock Park–adjacent. The girls I loved and stalked were off in grad school or married to stiffs. They had fulfilled the dashed promise of their mothers at that dance party. Money and safety were horrible temptations. They should have waited for me. I knew I’d sort my shit out at some point in the future.

The ’60s sizzled all around me. I remained nonplussed. My shit solidified and fossilized. I was well into a loooooooong tailspin.

My dad died in ’65. I got kicked out of high school and psych-discharged from three months in the army. I held down minimum-wage jobs and flopped in dive hotels and parks. I smoked weed and scored uppers from dubious physicians. I shoplifted and full-time fantasized. I kept a bust of Beethoven stashed in a bush at Burns Park. I did lightweight jolts in the L.A. County jail system. I was too thin and was developing a chronic cough.

Booze and dope regulated my fantasy life. The theme had only intensified. I remained consumed by women. It was pushing me toward insanity and death.

Tenderness in no way marked my short liaisons. I grasped with suffocating force and trawled for the next image with real women present. I couldn’t let go of the hurt or stop telling myself stories. I couldn’t stop looking at women and beseeching them to smash my stories and talk back to me.

The only love I knew was pornography self-created. The only lovers I desired radiated a distrust of men that would always exclude me. I succumbed to fantasies of Jean Hilliker and had her for a few dope-depraved seconds. Evil boy, piety lost, unredeemable searcher.

The American ’60s: even extreme self-indulgence carried limits.

Booze and downers fueled my great-writer fantasies. I read crime books and historical tomes in public libraries. Amphetamines gave me SEX. Dexedrine, Biphetamine, Desoxyn. A gonad-goosing triad. Dick-depleting substances. Eroticizing and not counterproductive. There were no women. They were all in my head.

The Hancock Park girls. Their mothers. Guest-star actresses on The Fugitive. Women glimpsed on my obsessive window peeps.

The fantasies were raw and loving. I holed up in dive pads, gas-station men’s rooms and dark public parks. I saw faces, faces and faces. I saw Her, She, Them. There can only be One. The cavalcade of faces must lead to one woman revealed.

I masturbated myself bloody. I brain-screened faces for stern beauty and probity. The dope drizzled out of my system. I drank myself comatose and woke up in random shrubbery and jails. I never questioned the validity of my mission. I never questioned my sanity or the religiousness of my quest. I did not subscribe to the notion of the American 1960s as the sine qua non of all behaviors in extremis. I was tracing the arc of The Hilliker Curse. I wanted One Woman or All Women to be Her. The horribly looming price of insanity or death in no way deterred me.
    

Continue reading

thomas wolfe vs. scott fitzgerald on writing, and the garden of allah: “putting in” and “taking out”


"Well, don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer isnot only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoievsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers—and will be remembered for what they put in—remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out."

 

—from a letter by Thomas Wolfe to F. Scott Fitzgerald, July 26 1937

 

Fitzgerald to Wolfe, July 9, 1937:

 

Dear Tom:

 

I think I could make a good case for your necessity to cultivate an alter ego, a more conscious artist in you.  Hasn’t it occurred to you that such qualities as pleasantness or grief, exuberance or cynicism can become a plague in others?  That often people who live at a high pitch often don’t get their way emotionally at the important moment because it doesn’t stand out in relief?

 

Now the more that the stronger man’s inner tendencies are defined, the more he can be sure they will show, the more neccessity to rarify them, to use them sparingly.  The novel of selected incidents has this to be said that the greater writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe, (in this case Zola) will come along and say presently.  He will say only the things that he alone sees.  So Bovary becomes eternal while Zola already rocks with age.  Repression itself has a value, as with a poet who struggles for a nessessary ryme achieves accidentally a new word association that would not have come by any mental or even flow-of-consciousness process.  The Nightengale is full of that.

 

To a talent like mine of narrow scope there is not that problem.  I must put everything in to have enough + even then I often havn’t got enough.

 

That in brief is my case against you, if it can be called that when I admire you so much and think your talent is unmatchable in this or any other country.

 

Ever your friend,

 

Scott Fitzgerald

GOA_mainhouse.jpg
The former 8150-8152 Sunset Boulevard at Crescent Heights: Rumoured to be the inspiration for Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi . . . "They paved Paradise / And put up a parking lot."
 

 

From Wolfe’s July 26 response:

 

I’ll be damned if I’ll believe anyone lives in a place called “The Garden of Allah” . . .

 

I have read your letter several times and I’ve got to admit it doesn’t seem to mean much.  I don’t know what you are driving at or understand what you hope or expect me to do about it.  Now this may be pig-headed but it isn’t sore.  I may be wrong but all I can get out of it is that you think I’d be a good writer if I were an altogether different writer from the writer that I am.

 

This may be true but I don’t see what I’m going to do about it, and I don’t think you can show me.  And I don’t see what Flaubert and Zola have to do with it, or what I have to do with them.  I wonder if you really think they have anything to do with it, or if it is just something you heard in college or read in a book somewhere.  This either-or kind of criticism seems to me to be so meaningless.  It looks so knowing and imposing but there is nothing in it. 

 

Why does it follow that if a man writes a book that is not like Madame Bovary it is inevitably like Zola? I may be dumb but I can’t see this. You say that Madame Bovary becomes eternal while Zola already rocks with age. Well this may be true—but if it’s true isn’t it true because Madame Bovary may be a great book and those that Zola wrote may not be great ones? Wouldn’t it also be true to say that Don Quixote or Pickwick or Tristram Shandy "become eternal" while already Mr. Galsworthy "rocks with age"? I think it is true to say this and it doesn’t leave much of your argument, does it? For your argument is based simply upon one way, upon one method instead of another. And have you ever noticed how often it turns out that what a man is really doing is simply rationalizing his own way of doing something, the way he has to do it, the way given him by his talent and his nature, into the only inevitable and right way of doing everything—a sort of classic and eternal art form handed down by Apollo from Olympus without which and beyond which there is nothing. Now you have your way of doing something and I have mine, there are a lot of ways, but you are honestly mistaken in thinking that there is a "way."

 

I suppose I would agree with you in what you say about "the novel of selected incident" so far as it means anything. I say so far as it means anything because every novel, of course, is a novel of selected incident. You couldn’t write about the inside of a telephone booth without selecting. You could fill a novel of a thousand pages with a description of a single room and yet your incidents would be selected. And I have mentioned Don Quixote and Pickwick and The Brothers Karamazov and Tristram Shandy to you in contrast to The Silver Spoon or The White Monkey as examples of books that have become "immortal" and that boil and pour. Just remember that although in your opinion Madame Bovary may be a great book, Tristram Shandy is indubitably a great book, and that it is great for quite different reasons. It is great because it boils and pours—for the unselected quality of its selection. You say that the great writer like Flaubert has consciously left out the stuff that Bill or Joe will come along presently and put in. Well, don’t forget, Scott, that a great writer is not only a leaver-outer but also a putter-inner, and that Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dostoievsky were great putter-inners—greater putter-inners, in fact, than taker-outers and will be remembered for what they put in—remembered, I venture to say, as long as Monsieur Flaubert will be remembered for what he left out.

 

—All letters excerpted from Ted Mitchell (ed.), Thomas Wolfe: An Illustrated Biography (2006)