January 21, 2002
I will now tell you an asinine story about reunion between a man and an object. The first thing you need to understand is that ice cream was on sale. It tends to be on sale more often during the winter, because fools ain't buying it like they do during the warm months. It was purchased. Okay. Then he falls asleep. He ate two or three bites and then he dozed off in front of a film, inviting couch, lengthy work week. He eats ice cream with a fork. Why? He is, in many of the small ways, if few of the large ones, a ninja. Where was it written that ninjas eat ice cream with forks? Shut up. It makes sense, if you think about it. Anyway, the fork is gone. The ice cream melted, because it's nine hours later, and he's still passed out on the couch. He awakes. Goes to work, late. Okay. Bucket of cream was returned to the fridge to regain its 'ice' aspect. When he comes home, he turns his attention to other foodstuffs. And the next day, and the next. Many other days. The dishes are done, even, and all the other forks washed - and re-dirtied by other foodstuffs. Finally, he returns to the ice cream. The 'ice' aspect has come to the forefront. It is flavored, soft ice. Not as good. Over four sittings, it is eaten. On the third sitting, the tip of the long-lost fork appears. Holy shit. He remembers that fork. It would be great to put that fork back in circulation. Tired of being obliged to use spoons. Yes. Then, on Sunday: I have an appetite. Open the freezer, pull out the carton. Take off the lid. I can see the fork. I am so close. Heart of a champion. One more bite. YES. Hello fork, my old friend. I've come to eat with you again.
He never came right out and said it, but I always had the impression that it was in the fine print of the dream of Martin Luther King Jr that I not have to work on his birthday, especially after having bowled as well as I did the night before said birthday. Oh, society. So far behind.
The narrator of Something Happened almost doubtlessly worked on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I have often wondered what jobs in my strata were like before T1 connections at every desk, and this book answered my questions. (Sex, a bit, but otherwise, the familiar fear and loathing.) I think it's fair to say that a great book should have some manner of palpable effect on the reader, usually emotional or intellectual, but this bastard belongs to a rare few whose most immediate effect is physical. It beats the crap out of you. Every page is compelling, but it takes a ton of endurance to make it through, because the effect is so brutal - I kept on because I was amazed that a book could have so powerful an effect, even if the effect was far from uplifting, and also because of the private, solitary, raw thrill that, however painful the experience, there was no bullshit whatever. I mean, this book is defined by having no bullshit at all. And it's valuable because it has the capacity to surprise even the least sentimental readers (I'd count myself) with how much bullshit there is in the world, and what it does to our lives. I learned more than I thought possible about being a parent; I learned how terrified I should be about ever becoming one. I learned new ways to be sad. (My little boy is having difficulties is probably the most harrowing stretch of pages I have ever read.) The book is so well-written that it's hard to imagine it having been created in anything other than a single session, straight through, 500 pages, at the typewriter, arriving perfectly formed. (But, of course, it wasn't.) Oprah Winfrey said that Jonathan Franzen "must not have a single thought left in his head after writing The Corrections." I thought that was kind of a neat compliment. I'd say the same about this book, but it took Heller (author of Catch-22) thirteen years to write it, and that's a lot of time to store up thoughts. So there you go. Before I read it, Something Happened was defined in my mind by my friend Kurt arriving at a restaurant to meet me and another friend, clutching a tattered copy. And that still sums it up for me. It's a brutal book, but it's also the kind of book that you clutch, even as it falls into tatters.