The Book That Changed My Life

I had been waiting for this to come out.  After spending $15 for the Miranda July story (“Birthmark”) in The Paris Review Book of People with Problems (and gotten a boffo Stephin Merritt “Introduction” out of it, in the bargain) and$14.95 for “The Boy from Lam Kien” (twice)[*], I was all jazzed up to shell out $23 for a whole collection’s worth of her scintillating, helpful, useful, guidepost, milestone, precedent-setting Prose Fiction efforts.

SINCE, YOU SEE: I had found her “Missing Movie Report” — a charmingly-photocopied poster of various “ladies” whose movies were “unmade” and, therefore, “missing” — to be one of the most successful transcriptions of human speech I had ever come across; believed the ‘zines she made to accompany the “Chainletter” VHS tapes for the inter-state lady-made film collective Joanie-4-Jackie to be among the most lively specimens among the either moribund-or-difficult-to-find underground press of the ’90s; and felt myself stoked, in some un-previously-encountered sort of way, that Prose Fiction seemed to be becoming something that was actually done by people I identified with.

STILL, THOUGH: I felt like Paul Lukas[**] did, when he picked up a copy of Pavement’s Westing (By Musket and Sextant) compilation on CD, after he had gone through all the time and trouble to pick up each single, as it came out, on vinyl.  (Like … it just made all of that effort — all of the personal emotional investment of it, really — seem to just “dissipate,” you know?)

BUT: It wasn’t like spending $45, all told, for two (2) stories could deter me from shelling out $23 for the spanking new hardcover — even with the barely-making-rent-and-necessities-by-a-comfortable-margin income I was enjoying at the time.  (If anything, it helped my bolster my determination, in that regard: “Fuck it!  It’s a question of comparable worth!  I’m staking a claim!”  and all … ) [***]

So, finally, I pick up a copy at the Hawthorne Powell’s (which is a brief walk from my apartment) in the interval before I have to start work (up the street, at 1:00 pm) and bring it back to my apartment.

Which … hmm, doesn’t seem to have a good place to put it, apparently, hadn’t noticed that, hadn’t really thought about it before … well, might as well “stow it” in my shoulder-bag, I’m going to be using it for canvassing, anyway, right?  I’ll figure something out later …

So I go to work, do my routine, come back around 10:00 or so (canvassing, needless to say, is tiring) and drop off to sleep without getting a chance to “shop around” for a suitable locale in my two-bedroom apartment to lay down this precious, incredibly-pleasingly-designed hardback book.

Morning comes, and you know how these things work out, right?  You’re in the middle of your work routine, so … who cares, really?  If it seems like there’s months worth of newspapers, pizza boxes, and empty Dasani bottles everywhere … well, that’s just another example of hardly-surprising “single guy” living, isn’t it?  Time to go, now, anyway …

LONG STORY SHORT:  The weekend rolls around and I’m, like: “Shit!  This place is a sty!

Weirdly, precisely because there wasn’t any “rotting food” refuse around, I had let my life fall, unchecked, into a state of emotional/physical disregard & disrepair.  I just hadn’t noticed it until then … I mean, I was making quota at work, right?  I could find my way to the computer in my “2nd bdrm”/study, right?  I was keeping it all together … getting shit done, and all, so …


I know this might sound ridiculous — or ridiculously lofty — but: before I even READ THE BOOK, it sufficed, as a work of art, as something for me to “choose” and “value,” as a “starting point” of comparison to make some “chipping away at the iceberg” improvements in my life, a process, as thus initiated, which continues to this day …

[*]  I puked on it, once.  Didn’t quite make it to the bathroom and, though it was just “bile” by that point (I had been atypically, for me, down with a cold), I certainly knew what the stain on the cloth-bound little chapbook was.  Eww.

[**]  In his ’90s zine, Beer Frame: The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption.

[***]  Like when I walked into 57th street Books in Hyde Park (the Chicago one), on my lunch break, and walked out with — swear to Goddess! — a brand-new, hardcover copy of Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart, a book I bought (really!) without ever having heard of the author before (at that point — it’s true!).   Some years later, it occurred to me that, in doing so, I had transited one of those quiet-but-necessary milestones, by doing so … (“No going back,” but in the OPPOSITE sense, you know? Sure … SURE you do!)


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