My Homage: An Updike Pastiche
Updike wrote most often about the world he came from, the muddled white American Protestant middle-class, its ambivalence toward its increasingly outmoded role of worldwide taskmaster and supervisor, its baffled reactions to the rise of the hi-tech age and the grand tsunami of multi-culturalism and globalization.
He had a graceful command of poetry and prose which he customarily fused into rude, tactless vulgarities along with the lyric of angels.
In my parody/pastiche I tried to stuff my elegy with as many Updikesque themes, metaphors, indulgent speech patterns and other imagery stuff, including basketball.
I met him 20 something years ago in Houston when he came to give a reading and a one-off workshop in a creative writing course I was enrolled in (but hardly attended). A friend of mine countered with her Updike sighting—at a jazz concert when she saw him bolting out of the hall for a cigarette. That sighting provided the inspiration for what follows.
At rest on his dying bed, a flipped turtle, a forgotten, frayed rag doll, aware that in next to no time, he will become as extinct as a flesh colored crayon—and like the banning of that jaundiced tone which once suggested rosy cheeks, white flesh, then later emblematized the unjustice supremacy of Euro-Aryan old boys' club prescience, the white man's burdens--he'd soon become as obsolete as white's only southern drinking fountain laws. Like the absence of the paraffin wax and the weightlessness of allibaster pigment (all now surrendered to the broader needs of the innumerable laissez-faire mutinies of this new-fangled America) he would disappear from the indulgence of the shifting hues and cries of a new nation, moving ahead without him, the new Elysium, the newest of the newer new world.
Was it really only some minute moments ago that he could say, without a loss of the promise of paradise or his renowned God-fearing innocence: “white people” "blacks" "Japs" "broads" "midgets" even "Eskimos"?; it was nothing more than an acceptable means of identifying oneself and telling us all apart, we Americans, proud of our heritage sublime; it was our way, just that, "nothing but a thing" (when had he first heard this? from Oprah Winfrey? from one of those 1980's Vietnam war movies showing us that the war had little to do with the domino theory but was really all about the brotherhood of blacks and white blue collar kids, bonded together by soulful handshakes, hand held camera carnage and the greatest hits of the 1960s? or was it a throw away adolescent motto like "whatever" or "oh, my God", something he'd passively been overhearing for years around the country club pool from one of the lovely troubled daughters of the old crowd?).
Now, however, in recent years, like his perfidious remembrance of a stiff, inelastic America, and his erratic, fly-by-night erections, the impenetrable, asymmetrical confusion over color made sense. At first it had begun to frustrate his most unevolved makeup, like the way his spurts of jism once hungered for the nearness of the amity or the enmity of the women he knew he stood no chance of screwing, but now, it didn't matter; it was as though he no longer cared if he would ever achieve the goal of coaching his own basketball team--this something, this one thing, he was taking to his grave.
As his past flashed before him like scenes from a next-week's episode, he remembered his first wife's legs, and the way her calf muscles tensed when she came in muffled yelps and sighs. Next, he began to feel the phantom of an erection, like the phantom pain felt by an amputee. Then somewhere outside a motorcycle revved its engine and he was certain he could feel it wilting, this flagrant, ignominious slackening in his dick, acutely aware that this indeed was the collapsing of his lungs. As his breathing became thinner, less engaged, he mulled over praying for five more minutes, just five minutes to take pleasure in one last unification with a tiny phallic concoction of paper and tobacco and cotton so he could gaze one last time at the smoke as it drifted up and up and up from the end of the slim object glowing red at its tip. The smoke would float heavenward much the same as he would soon leave this world and begin his journey upward, as his body would leave one incarnation and prepare for its next.
On his dying bed, now breathing like a goldfish too long out of his water bowl, he couldn’t prevent the question from being asked. "And is this it?" The question itself soared into the air, in his final breath, a whisper dying in a fractured, final moment as a dagger plunged into his heart. He entered a porthole into the emptiness that now felt just right, just so right.
He. Ran. No. Longer.