Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sloth Redux

For my money, no American writer has ever done a finer job of nailing the psyche of American men than John Updike. More specifically, no writer has ever come closer to nailing the asshole "I" voice that I recognize as the same one that has clandestinely been flourishing in my head as far back as my memory will serve. My thoughts that surface and find a voice come nowhere near to telling even the half of what I really think about the women who are and who have come and gone in my life. But Harry Angstrom, Henry Bech, Richard Maple and the men of Tarbox, Massachusetts have.

I stopped reading Updike in the early nineties, once he laid Rabbit Angstrom to rest. Mostly in airports, I bought a few of his novels throughout the 90s, but could never seem to crack the page 100 point before moving on to an in flight magazine. For my tastes, it seems to me that he began a steady decline, churning out poorly plotted novels with anemic characters and prosaic social commentary, nothing nearly as on target as one of his early New Yorker short stories or middle-class sturm and drang novels from the late 50s, the 60s and into the early 70s.

He got old I guess, lost touch, seemed to rely more and more on observations which appeared to be culled from 60 Minutes or Oprah.

But there was a time. . .there was a time!

Indeed he once had his lanky hoop shooting fingers on the American pulse, and he was once in possession of smart bomb precision accuracy when he told us who we guys were, where we were going and what drove us to do the things we do.

At one time, it seemed to me that Updike reported from the trenches, a first hand eye witness to the marital carnage of Die Kleine Welt, of white flight counties on the periphery of urban decline. He seemed to me to be to the American sexual revolution something like what Dickens was to the British industrial revolution.

And he told his stories with a deft blend of poetry and prose that was magically possessed with a combination of Bloomsbury eloquence and cultivation seamlessly woven into late-20th century American irreverence, indifference and profaneness.

A brief exchange between Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom and his troubled drug-addled son Nelson from the novel, "Rabbit Is Rich" goes something like this:
Rabbit: "What will you do when you no longer have women around to tell you what to do?"
Nelson: "Same as you, Dad. Die."

I heard that.

Next week, D'Rose will leave for the U.S. on her annual Visa renewal run. For six weeks following her departure, I will become at once a local gadabout and a stay-at-home sad sack.

What's to become of me? Who will be there to cut me off at the knees when I pile dishes in the sink, eternally soaking them leaving them unwashed except for the two days each week that our Filippina run-away maid comes?

How long will it be before I climb into a made bed every night (except for the two nights a week that the maid comes)?

What will the neighbors say when I have noone to tell me that my amplifier is too loud? The maid wouldn't dare.

I wonder now how long is it going to take me to finish the novel I'm reading when I will have unlimited, unrestricted hours of TV viewing ahead of me? I have 3 seasons of "The Wire" to rewatch with commentary.

How will I ever manage to get up every morning with a clear conscience and a focused mind if there is nobody around to glower at me when I think that, oh, a G and T just after sunset is a nifty idea?

My laundry basket will runneth over. No question. There will not be milk for my coffee past week one. I'll be out of real coffee and resorting to Nestcafe by week two.

Then there are two nights of the week that I dare not speculate on nor give public voice to--the weekends.

Last year, during her third week away, I somehow managed to fall into bed for two weeks with pneumonia. Huge gaping holes in my memory keep the origins of the illness a mystery to me to this day, but I have flashes of recall in dreams of bright lights and big cities.

How do they do it? How do those guys who remain single by choice and who aren't gay manage to keep on top of their game, their routines? No dirty dishes, a well-stocked fridge and pantry. Beds made before they leave the house. Polished shoes. Evening constitutionals. Ironing!

"Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant." says Updike.

Will there ever come a time come for me when I will carry a scepter and wear the crown? This late in the game, no more time outs, the clock running dangerously close to the two minute whistle and deep in my own bullshit, no, I seriously doubt it.

But, eh, I'm good with it, and I am grateful that I own at least 6 weeks worth of clean socks and have as many pairs of neatly folded and stored underwear.