Snow White by Donald Barthelme a b. e-book 0 / Notes at eof back Cover



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Part Two

PERHAPS we should not be sitting here tending the vats and washing the buildings and carrying the money to the vault once a week, like everybody else. Perhaps we should be doing something else entirely, with our lives. God knows what. We do what we do without thinking. One tends the vats and washes the buildings and carries the money to the vault and never stops for a moment to consider that the whole process may be despicable. Someone standing somewhere despising us. In the hot springs of Dax, a gouty thinker thinking, father forgive them. It was worse before. That is something that can safely be said. It was worse before we found Snow White wandering in the forest. Before we found Snow White wandering in the forest we lived lives stuffed with equanimity. There was equanimity for all. We washed the buildings, tended the vats, wended our way to the county cathouse once a week (heigh-ho). Like everybody else. We were simple bourgeois. We knew what to do. When we found Snow White wandering in the forest, hungry and distraught, we said: "Would you like something to eat?" Now we do not know what to do. Snow White has added a dimension of confusion and misery to our lives. Whereas once we were simple bourgeois who knew what to do, now we are complex bourgeois who are at a loss. We do not like this complexity. We circle it wearily, prodding it from time to time with a shopkeeper's forefinger: What is it? Is it, perhaps, bad for business? Equanimity has leaked away. There was a moment, however, when equanimity was not the chief consideration. That moment in which we looked at Snow White and understood for the first time that we were fond of her. That was a moment.
Reaction to the hair: Two older men standing there observed Snow White's hair black as ebony tumbling from the window. "Seems like some hair comin' outa that winda there," one said. "Yes it looks like hair to me," his companion replied. "Seems like there oughta be somethin' to be done about it." "Yes, seems like it oughta be punished with a kiss or something." "Well we're too old for all that. You need a Paul or Paul-figure for that sort of activity. Probably Paul is even now standing in the wings, girding his pants for his entrance. So I guess I'll go along to the hiring hall, where I hear there might be some work." "I'll go along with you," the other man said, "because even though I ain't a A.B., I am a B.A., and maybe in the dimness the one thing will be taken for the other, and we can 'ship out' together." "I hate to go away and leave all that hair hanging there unmolested as it were," the first man said, "but we have a duty to our families, and to the country's merchant fleet, some vessels of which are now languishing at their berths doubtless, down at Pier 27 and Pier 32, for the lack o' the likes of us. So farewell, hair! Fare thee well, and if forever, still forever, fare thee well!"
Reaction to the hair: Fred the rock-and-roll bandleader addressed his men. "Men, something happened to me today on Monument Street. I saw a wall of hair black as ebony falling from a high window. A girl, a look. . . Men, everything is changed. I am changed. I am no longer the Fred of former times. And I say that things must be different with you, too, because you are my men, and I am your leader. Now it is quite clear to me that you men wish to play the buffalo music of your forefathers rather than the rock-and-roll we have patented, amplified, advertised and been paid for. Now I want to say right now, that that's all right with me, the buffalo music I mean. From this day forward, until the end of time, it will be nothing but buffalo music, in all the dromes of the world. I don't care a rap, that's how all right it is with me, this freedom that I freely grant you, that our gray hides have been hankering for. Now that, with a look, this mysterious dark beauty has changed my life, which needed to be changed, we are, in a strange way, opened to ourselves, and to buffalo music, until the red slag of the nooisphere descends to cover everything with the salty finality of love. So go forth now with your amplifiers and all, and revise your lives upward, as I have revised mine. Put the question mercilessly: Where have the buffalo gone?" Fred's men exchanged silent looks. "It's always like this," the looks said, "in the spring. It's always this way, when the green comes again. Our leader suffers a spiritual regeneration, from a bad man into a good man. It's always some girl, who looks at him, at which he falls into her power absolutely. We are tired of having for a leader one who is nothing else than a damned fool. Let's go down to the union hall, now, and write out the specifications for a grievance against him, under Section Four, the grievance section, of our union constitution. And we can think of other things, too, to add to the list of charges. That will be amusing, writing out the charges."
Reaction to the hair: "Well, that is certainly a lot of hair hanging there," Bill reflected. "And it seems to be hanging from our windows too. I mean, those windows where the hair is hanging are in our house, surely? Now who amongst us has that much hair, black as ebony? I am only pretending to ask myself this question. The distasteful answer is already known to me, as is the significance of this act, this hanging, as well as the sexual meaning of hair itself, on which Wurst has written. I don't mean that he has written on the hair, but rather about it, from prehistory to the present time. There can be only one answer. It is Snow White. It is Snow White who has taken this step, the meaning of which is clear to all of us. All seven of us know what this means. It means that she is nothing else but a goddamn degenerate! is one way of looking at it, at this complex and difficult question. It means that the 'not-with' is experienced as more pressing, more real, than the 'being-with.' It means she seeks a new lover. Quelle tragédie! But the essential loneliness of the person must also be considered. Each of us is like a tiny single hair, hurled into the world among billions and billions of other hairs, of various colors and lengths. And if God does not exist, then we are in even graver shape than we had supposed. In that case, each of us is like a tiny little mote of pointlessness, whirling in the midst of a dreadful free even greater pointlessness, unless there is intelligent life on other planets, that is to say, life even more intelligent than us, life that has thought up some point for this great enterprise, life. That is possible. That is something we do not know, thank God. But in the meantime, here is the hair, with its multiple meanings. What am I to do about it?"
Reaction to the hair (flashback): Paul sat in his baff, under the falling water. More hot water fell into the baff. "I would retract the green sea, and the brown fish in it, and I would especially retract that long black hair hanging from that window, that I saw today on my way here, from the Unemployment Office. It has made me terribly nervous, that hair. It was beautiful, I admit it. Long black hair of such texture, fineness, is not easily come by. Hair black as ebony! Yet it has made me terribly nervous. Teeth. . . piano lessons. . ."
EBONY
EQUANIMITY
ASTONISHMENT
TRIUMPH
VAT
DAX
BLAGUE


Lack of reaction to the hair: Dan sat down on a box, and pulled up more boxes for us, without forcing us to sit down on them, but just leaving them there, so that if we wanted to sit down on them, we could. "You know, Klipschorn was right I think when he spoke of the 'blanketing' effect of ordinary language, referring, as I recall, to the part that sort of, you know, 'fills in' between the other parts. That part, the 'filling' you might say, of which the expression 'you might say' is a good example, is to me the most interesting part, and of course it might also be called the 'stuffing' I suppose, and there is probably also, in addition, some other word that would do as well, to describe it, or maybe a number of them. But the quality this 'stuffing' has, that the other parts of verbality do not have, is two-parted, perhaps: (1) an 'endless' quality and (2) a 'sludge' quality. Of course that is possibly two qualities but I prefer to think of them as different aspects of a single quality, if you can think that way. The 'endless' aspect of 'stuffing' is that it goes on and on, in many different forms, and in fact our exchanges are in large measure composed of it, in larger measure even, perhaps, than they are composed of that which is not 'stuffing.' The 'sludge' quality is the heaviness that this 'stuff' has, similar to the heavier motor oils, a kind of downward pull but still fluid, if you follow me, and I can't help thinking that this downwardness is valuable, although it's hard to say just how, right at the moment. So, summing up, there is a relation between what I have been saying and what we're doing here at the plant with these plastic buffalo humps. Now you're probably familiar with the fact that the per-capita production of trash in this country is up from 2.75 pounds per day in 1920 to 4.5 pounds per day in 1965, the last year for which we have figures, and is increasing at the rate of about four percent a year. Now that rate will probably go up, because it's been going up, and I hazard that we may very well soon reach a point where it's 100 percent. Now at such a point, you will agree, the question turns from a question of disposing of this 'trash' to a question of appreciating its qualities, because, after all, it's 100 percent, right? And there can no longer be any question of 'disposing' of it, because it's all there is, and we will simply have to learn how to 'dig' it -- that's slang, but peculiarly appropriate here. So that's why we're in humps, right now, more really from a philosophical point of view than because we find them a great moneymaker. They are 'trash,' and what in fact could be more useless or trashlike? It's that we want to be on the leading edge of this trash phenomenon, the everted sphere of the future, and that's why we pay particular attention, too, to those aspects of language that may be seen as a model of the trash phenomenon. And it's certainly been a pleasure showing you around the plant this afternoon, and meeting you, and talking to you about these things, which are really more important, I believe, than people tend to think. Would you like a cold Coke from the Coke machine now, before you go?"
Additional reactions to the hair: "To be a horsewife," Edward said. "That, my friends, is my text for today. This important slot in our society, conceptualized by God as very nearly the key to the whole thing as Thomas tells us, has suffered in recent months and in this house a degree of denigration. I have heard it; I have been saddened by it. So I want today if I can to dispel some of these wrong ideas that have been going around, causing confusion and scumming up the face of the truth. The horsewife! The very base-bone of the American plethora! The horsewife! Without whom the entire structure of civilian life would crumble! Without the horsewife, the whole raison d'être of our existences would be reduced, in a twinkling, to that brute level of brutality for which we so rightly reproach the filthy animals. Were it not for her enormous purchasing power and the heedless gaiety with which it is exercised, we would still be going around dressed in skins probably, with no big-ticket items to fill the empty voids, in our homes and in our hearts. The horsewife! Nut and numen of our intersubjectivity! The horsewife! The chiefest ornament on the golden tree of human suffering! But to say what I have said, gentlemen, is to say nothing at all. Consider now the horsewife in another part of her role. Consider her sitting in her baff, anointing her charms with liquid Cheer and powdered Joy which trouble, confuse and drown the sense in odors. Now she rises chastely, and chastely abrades herself with a red towel. What an endearing spectacle! The naked wonder of it! The blue beauty of it! Now I ask you, gentlemen, what do we have here? Do we have a being which regards itself with the proper amount of self-love? No. No, we do not. Do we have a being which regards itself with the appropriate awe? No. No, we do not. We have here rather a being which regards itself, qua horsewife, with something dangerously akin to self-hatred. That is the problem. What is the solution." Dan spoke up, then. "I could cut your gizzard out, Edward. You are making the whole damned thing immensely more difficult than it has to be. I put it to you that, without your screen of difficulty-making pseudo-problems, the whole damned thing can be resolved very neatly, in the following way. Now, what do we apprehend when we apprehend Snow White? We apprehend, first, two three-quarter-scale breasts floating toward us wrapped, typically, in a red towel. Or, if we are apprehending her from the other direction, we apprehend a beautiful snow-white arse floating away from us wrapped in a red towel. Now I ask you: What, in these two quite distinct apprehensions, is the constant? The factor that remains the same? Why, quite simply, the red towel. I submit that, rightly understood, the problem of Snow White has to do at its center with nothing else but red towels. Seen in this way, it immediately becomes a non-problem. We can easily dispense with the slippery and untrustworthy and expensive effluvia that is Snow White, and cleave instead to the towel. That is my idea, gentlemen. And I have here in this brown bag. . . I have taken the liberty of purchasing. . . here, Edward, here is your towel. . . Kevin. . . Clem. . ." Chang watched sourly. That was the trouble with being a Chinese. Too much detachment. "I don't want a ratty old red towel. I want the beautiful snow-white arse itself!"
SNOW WHITE regarded her hair hanging out of the window. "Paul? Is there a Paul, or have I only projected him in the shape of my longing, boredom, ennui and pain? Have I been trained in the finest graces and arts all my life for nothing but this? Is my richly-appointed body to go down the drain, at twenty-two, in this horribly boresome milieu, which even my worst enemi would not wish upon me, if she knew? Of course there is a Paul! That Paul who was a friend of the family, who had, at that point, not yet assumed the glistering mantle of princeliness. There is a Paul somewhere, but not here. Not under my window. Not yet." Snow White looked out of the window, down the hair, at the two hundred citizens on the ground, agape. "Ugh! I wish I were somewhere else! On the beach at St. Tropez, for example, surrounded by brown boys without a penny. Here everyone has a penny. Here everyone worships the almighty penny. Well at least with pennies one knows what they add up to, under the decimal system. No ambiguity there, at least. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thy daughters are burning with torpor and a sense of immense wasted potential, like one of those pipes you see in the oil fields, burning off the natural gas that it isn't economically rational to ship somewhere!"
"Informal statements the difficulties of ownership and customs surprises you by being Love exchanges paint it understanding brown boys without a penny I was bandit headgear And the question of yesterday waiting members clinging clear milk of wanting fever hidden melted constabulary extra innings of danger hides under the leg résumé clip chrome method decision of the sacred Rota muscular dream basket gesture Kiss the paper with it tufts more interesting than children painful texture of interesting children offensive candor lesion hanging mirror They only want window boxes moving with clean, careful shrubs Manner in which the penetration was Excited groans stifled under blankets upset A parliament of less-favored glass doors closed extra"
THE bishop in his red mantlepiece strode forward. "Yes, we are in a terrible hurricane here," he acknowledged to the wrecked cries of the survivors. "If we can just cross that spit of land there" (gesture with fingers, glitter of episcopal rings) "and get to that harlot over there" (sweep of arm in white lacy alb) "pardon I meant hamlet, we can perhaps find shelter against this particular vicissitude sent by God to break our backs for our sins." The "flock" moaned. They had been eight days without. . . The sudden pall on the fourth day had been the worst. There was a silence. Silence. Everything silent. Not a sound for six hours. Nothing. "This is the worst," they murmured to one another in sign language, not wanting to. . . break the. . . A few young men of good family crawled away into the night to find help (tingle of mace against bone). The Marchesa de G. had fainted again. Blockflutes were heard. "So this is Spain!" Paul said to himself. "I never thought I would live to see it. It is intelligent of me to hide from the Order here, in the episcopal entourage. And it is intelligent of me to hide from the Order here in this hurricane. So much intelligence! So little of God's grace!"
SELF-REGARD is rooted in breakfast. When you have had it, then lunch seems to follow naturally, as if you owned not only the fruits but the means of production in a large, faux-naïf country. This is doubted only by eccentrics, and on the present occasion their views need not be taken into account. That country in which you are loved for yourself is expanding now with the further development of books, a new kind capable of satisfying the tactile wishes even of old people. Our engineers are at a loss to understand what their engineers have done. Still, insofar as they are trying to sketch future trends, even the most rigid empiricists among them are obliged to make projections, and then plans. Such is the impact of technology upon the fabric of inherited social institutions that breakfast is almost forgotten, in some countries; they paint pictures instead. I read Dampfboot's novel although he had nothing to say. It wasn't rave, that volume; we regretted that. And it was hard to read, dry, breadlike pages that turned, and then fell, like a car burned by rioters and resting, wrong side up, at the edge of the picture plane with its tires smoking. Fragments kept flying off the screen into the audience, fragments of rain and ethics. Hubert wanted to go back to the dog races. But we made him read his part, the outer part where the author is praised and the price quoted. We like books that have a lot of dreck in them, matter which presents itself as not wholly relevant (or indeed, at all relevant) but which, carefully attended to, can supply a kind of "sense" of what is going on. This "sense" is not to be obtained by reading between the lines (for there is nothing there, in those white spaces) but by reading the lines themselves -- looking at them and so arriving at a feeling not of satisfaction exactly, that is too much to expect, but of having read them, of having "completed" them. "Please don't talk," Snow White said. "Say nothing. We can begin now. Take off the pajamas." Snow White took off her pajamas. Henry took off his pajamas. Kevin took off his pajamas. Hubert took off his pajamas. Clem took off his pajamas. Dan took off his pajamas. Edward took off his pajamas. Bill refused to take off his pajamas. "Take off your pajamas Bill," Snow White said. Everyone looked at Bill's pajamas. "No, I won't," Bill said. "I will not take off my pajamas." "Take off your pajamas Bill," everyone said. "No. I will not." Everyone looked again at Bill's pajamas. Bill's pajamas filled the room, in a sense. Those yellow crepe-paper pajamas.
"WHAT is that apelike hand I see reaching into my mailbox?" "That's nothing. Think nothing of it. It's nothing. It's just one of my familiars mother. Don't think about it. It's just an ape that's all. Just an ordinary ape. Don't give it another thought. That's all there is to it." "I think you dismiss these things too easily Jane. I'm sure it means more than that. It's unusual. It means something." "No mother. It doesn't mean more than that. Than I have said it means." "I'm sure it means more than that Jane." "No mother it does not mean more than that. Don't go reading things into things mother. Leave things alone. It means what it means. Content yourself with that mother." "I'm certain it means more than that." "No mother."
SNOW WHITE received the following note from Fred, tossed over the wall:
Madonna,

My men have left me now. They have gone I suspect to the union hall to institute proceedings against me. But I don't care. There is nothing in life for me except being in your power. I have swooned several times this morning, sitting on a bench in the square, thinking of you and feeling those iron bolts with which our souls are bolted together forever. Will you speak to me? I will be in the square at four o'clock by the cathouse clock. Dare I expect, that you will come?

FRED
Hubert picked up the note in the yard. "What is this note doing here, wrapped about a box of Whitman's chocolates? For whom is it intended? After I have read it, I will know." Silently Hubert opened the box of chocolates. "Should I take one of the ones covered with gold foil, always the tastiest? Or should I instead take one of the plain American ones?" Hubert sat down in the yard and looked into the box, trying to make up his mind.
THEN we had a fantasy, a fantasy of anger and malevolence. We were dreaming. We dreamed we burned Snow White. Burned is not the right word, cooked is the right word. We cooked Snow White over the big fire, in the dream. You remember the burning scene in Dreyer's The Burning of Joan of Art. It was like that, only where Dreyer was vertical, we were horizontal. Snow White was horizontal. She was spitted on a spit (large iron bar). The spit was suspended over the big fire. Kevin threw more wood on the fire, in the dream. Hubert threw more wood on the fire. Bill threw more wood on the fire. Clem basted the naked girl with sweet-and-sour sauce. Dan made the rice. Snow White screamed. Edward turned the crank which made the meat revolve. Was she done enough? She was making a lot of noise. The meat was moving toward the correct color, a brown-red. The meat thermometer registered almost-enough. "Turn the crank Edward," Bill said. Hubert threw more wood on the fire. Jane threw more wood on the fire. The smoke was acrid, as it always is. Antonin Artaud held out a crucifix at the end of a long pole, in the smoke. Snow White asked if we would remove the spit. "It hurts," she said. "No," Bill said. "You are not done yet. It is supposed to hurt." Jane laughed. "Why are you laughing Jane?" "I am laughing because it is not me burning there." "For you," Henry said, "we have the red-hot iron shoes. The plastic red-hot iron shoes." "This has nothing to do with justice," Bill said. "This has to do with animus." We regarded Snow White rotating there, in her pain and beauty, in the dream.
SNOW WHITE saw her hair black as ebony hanging out of the window. "I suppose I must respond in some way to the new overture from the seven men. They think they are so merveilleux, with their new shower curtain. They have been posing in front of it all day. As if I could be swayed, in my iron resolve, by a new shower curtain, however extraordinary and fine! I wonder what it looks like?"
BILL has dropped the money. He was carrying the money neatly separated into 10's, 20's, 50's and so forth, a bundle totaling a great deal of money I can tell you that. He was on his way to the vault with the money bundled into his armpit, wrapped in a red towel. Henry had wrapped it in a red towel. Hubert had bundled it into Bill's armpit. Dan had opened the door. Kevin had pointed Bill toward the vault. Clem had given Bill a kick in the back, to get him started. And Edward had said, "Don't forget the receipt." Then Bill had moved through the door out into the daylight in the direction of the vault. But somewhere between the house and the vault the money hurled itself out of his armpit in a direction known only to it. "Where is the deposit slip, Bill?" Edward asked, when Bill returned. "Deposit slip?" Bill said. "The bundle," Dan said. "The bundle?" "The money," Kevin said. "The money?" We all rushed out into the air, then, to recover the bundle. But it was nowhere. We retraced Bill's steps as best we could. Some of Bill's steps led into a bar & grill, The Fire Next Time Bar & Grill. We retraced there a hot pastrami sandwich and eight bottles of Miller High Life. But of the bundle there was not a trace. Luckily the matter is not serious, because we have more money. But the loss of equanimity was serious. We prize equanimity, and a good deal of equanimity leaked away, that day.
"ALL right Jane get into the car." "Hogo you are making stains on my new white-duck love seat with pillows of white-on-white Indian crewel!" Jane regarded the large black stains. "That's all you know Hogo isn't it. How to take a thing that was white, and stain it until it is black. That's a pretty strong metaphor Hogo of what you would like to do with me, too. I understand. If you think for one moment that your capability of staining the thing you love has escaped me, from the very beginning, you have grossly misperceived our situation. Get out of here Hogo forever!" "All right Jane get into the car."
PAUL was explaining music to the French citizens. "When we turn our amplifiers on," he said, "already cant is forming over some people's minds, like the brown crust on bread, or the silence that 'crusts over' inappropriate remarks. I think there ought to be, and remember I'm talking normatively here, I think what ought to obtain is a measure of audacity, an audacity component, such as turning your amplifier up a little higher than anybody else's, or using a fork to pick and strum, rather than a plectrum or the carefully calloused fingertips, or doing something with your elbow, I don't care what, I insist only that it be relevant, in a strange way, to the scene that has chosen to spread itself out before us, the theatre of our lives. And if you other gentlemen will come with me down to the quai, carrying your amplifiers in boxes, and not forgetting the trailing cords, which have to be 'plugged in,' so that we can 'turn on'. . ."
ROME. ANOTHER DEFEAT. PAUL
HANDS OVER THE GREEN-AND-GOLD
ARMBAND. THE ITALIAN POSTAL
SERVICE ABIDES NO RINGERS IN
ITS RANKS.
WELL Paul is back and he has decided to stop fleeing his destiny and he has given himself up at the Nevada monastery and drawn his robes from the supply room and now he is home on leave in his robes. Paul came to the party in his robes. He wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything, or say anything. That was the Rule. We went to the howling party sitting primly along the side of the room in a row, the seven of us and Snow White. Our social intercourse for the quarter. We discussed the bat theory of child-raising with the mothers there meanwhile paying attention to a vat of rum under the harpsichord. Edward didn't want to discuss the bat theory of child-raising (delicate memories) so he discussed Harald Bluetooth, king of Scandinavia during a certain period, the Blue-tooth period. But the mothers wanted to talk. "Spare the bat and the child rots," said the mothers. "Rots inside." "But how do you know when to employ it? The magic moment?" "We have a book which tells us such things," the mothers said. "We look it up in the book. On page 331 begins a twelve-page discussion of batting the baby. A well-worn page." We got away from those mothers as fast as we could. There were a lot of other people talking there, political talk and other kinds of talk. A certain contempt for the institutions of society was exhibited. Clem thrust his arm into the bag of consciousness-expanding drugs. His consciousness expanded. He concentrated his consciousness upon a thumbtip. "Is this the upper extent of knowing, this dermis that I perceive here?" Then he became melancholy, melancholy as a gib cat, melancholy as a jugged hare. "The content of the giraffe is giraffe meat. Giraffes have high blood pressure because the blood must plod to the brain up ten feet of neck." There were more perceptions and blague. Edgar and Charles wanted some too. But they were not allowed to have any. All they were allowed to do was hold Paul's robes, when he walked around. "Take me home," Snow White said. "Take me home instantly. If there is anything worse than being home, it is being out."
"YOU shouldn't drop your garbage out of windows Hogo," Jane said. I understood what she was saying. But Hogo is a cruel parody of ultimate concern. His garbage falls on Northerners and Southerners and Westerners alike. "I had a dream," Jane said. "In the dream we were drinking a yellow wine. Then the winemaker came in. He said the wine was made of old copies of the National Geographic. I had thought it tasted musty. Then he said no, that was just a joke. The wine was really made of grapes, like every wine. But these were grapes to which the sun had not been kind, he said. They had shriveled for lack of the sun's love. That was why the wine was like that. Then he talked about lovers and husbands. He said the lover eats his meat with his eyes not on the meat but on the eyes of the beloved. The husband watches the meat. The husband knows that the meat will fly away if not watched. The winemaker thought this was really a funny story. He laughed and laughed." Hogo got ready to say something despicable. But it was too late. "That's pretty careless," Hubert said, and we all agreed that if you were going to have a girl tied to a bed, then at least the knots should be secure. I had already gotten the flashlight from its place under the sink, and was working on the brilliant yellow and scarlet and blue bandages. We had hoped to slip into the hospital without being challenged, but the doctor recognized us right away.
HENRY had unlocked the locks on the bar and we were all drinking. It was time for a situation report, we felt. "She still sits there in the window, dangling down her long black hair black as ebony. The crowds have thinned somewhat. Our letters have been returned unopened. The shower-curtain initiative has not produced notable results. She is, I would say, aware of it, but has not reacted either positively or negatively. We have asked an expert in to assess it as to timbre, pitch, mood and key. He should be here tomorrow. To make sure we have got the right sort of shower curtain. We have returned the red towels to Bloomingdale's." At this point everybody looked at Dan, who vomited. "Bill's yellow crepe-paper pajamas have been taken away from him and burned. He ruined that night for all of us, you know that." At this point everybody looked at Bill, who was absent. He was tending the vats. "Bill's new brown monkscloth pajamas, made for him by Paul, should be here next month. The grade of pork ears we are using in the Baby Ding Sam Dew is not capable of meeting U.S. Govt. standards, or indeed, any standards. Our man in Hong Kong assures us however that the next shipment will be superior. Sales nationwide are brisk, brisk, brisk. Texas Instruments is down four points. Control Data is up four points. The pound is weakening. The cow is calving. The cactus wants watering. The new building is abuilding with leases covering 45 percent of the rentable space already in hand. The weather tomorrow, fair and warmer."
"HELLO? Is this Hogo de Bergerac?" "Yes this is Hogo de Bergerac." "Well this is the Internal Revenue Service, Baltimore Office, Broat. We have your letter here in which you offer to inform on Bill, Kevin, Edward, Hubert, Henry, Clem and Dan for 17 percent of the monies collected. We deeply appreciate your getting in touch with us but I must tell you that we pay only eight percent." "Eight percent?" "Yes I'm sorry I know that's low as these things go around the world and in previous years we have paid more, but it's standard now and if we paid you 17 percent all the other informers would demand the same. You can imagine." "Eight percent!" "Yes, well, but of course there's patriotism involved too isn't there." "Eight percent! That's damned little for doing such a vile and dishonorable thing, damned little." "Yes I know but what is the nature of your information? You're aware of course that it's not enough just to allege. You have to be able to provide supportive evidence or at least sufficient material to lead to a strong case and ultimately conviction and/or collection." "Eight percent!" "I might also point out that it is your duty as an American citizen to come forward with this information if you have it." "Eight percent, eight percent." "Did you hear me? I said it was your duty as an American --" "I am not an American citizen. I am under Panamanian registry. So just forget my duty as an American citizen. Eight percent. No, I don't think I'm talking to you any more. There would be some pleasure in doing the thing just for the pure vileness of it, but there is more pleasure in spitting on your eight percent. Goodbye, Baltimore. Eight percent. Goodnight, Baltimore, and bad cess to you."
STANDING in the rotten bathroom, we regarded the new shower curtain. It had two colors, a red and a yellow. The red the red of red cabbage, the yellow the yellow of yellow beans. It had two figures, a kind of schematic peahen, a kind of schematic vase. These repeated, in the manner of wallpaper. There were eight of us standing there in the rotten bathroom, including the visitor. The visitor who had said that it was the best-looking shower curtain in town. Ho ho. That was a chiller. We had known that it was adequate. We had known that it was nice. We had even known that it was "splendid" more or less. That was the idea, that it be "splendid." But we had not known that it was the best-looking shower curtain in town. That we had not known. We looked at the shower curtain with new eyes, or rather, saw it in a new light, the light of the esthetician's remark. The visitor was an esthetician, a professor of esthetics. Even those of us by no means a minority who considered esthetics the least ballsy of the several areas of inquiry subsumed under the term, philosophical thought, were affected by the esthetician's remark. First because it had as subject something that was ours, there in the rotten bathroom, on little silver rings, and second because the speaker was a professor of esthetics, even if there is nothing in it, esthetics, as is likely. As we stood there shoulder to shoulder in the rotten bathroom, the eight of us, a sort of hunger arose, to know if it was true, what he had said. Felt I daresay by all of us, including the esthetician. He must be curious sometimes to know if it is true, what he is saying. We swayed, momentarily, there in the rotten bathroom, in the grip of the hunger. A thousand problems flashed through our mind. How could we determine if it was true, what he had said? Our city, the arena of the proposition, is not large but on the other hand not small, in excess of a hundred thousand souls swelter here awaiting the Last Day and God's mercy. A census of shower curtains was possible but to conduct it we would be forced to neglect the vats and that is something we have sworn never to do, neglect the vats. And to conduct it we would be forced to leave the buildings unwashed, and that is something else we have sworn never to do, leave the buildings unwashed. And granting we managed to gain access to the rotten bathrooms of all hundred thousand souls who swelter here, by what standards were the hundred thousand shower curtains hanging there, on little silver rings, to be assessed? A shower-curtain scale could be constructed with the aid of the professor of esthetics, or with the aid of shower-curtain critics recruited from the curtaining journals, if there are such critics and such journals, I do not doubt it. But even with these preliminary accomplishments, empanelment of shower-curtain critics, from far and near, census of shower-curtain-hanging homes, the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the finals, we would not be out of the woods yet. For would the decision, broadcast over all media, published throughout the land, not be taken as diddled, in view of the fact that the Olympiad was staged by us, backers of the no doubt winning shower curtain? There was another solution: destruction of the esthetician, who had made the original remark. This thought sighed amongst us, seven heads turned as one to regard the eighth, that of the esthetician, sweating in his velvet collar, there in the rotten bathroom. But destruction of the esthetician, however attractive from a human point of view, would not also ensure destruction of his detritus, his remark. The remark would remain in memory, in our memories. We would then be forced to wipe ourselves out also, a step which we would hesitate to take waiting as we are for the Last Day and God's mercy. And how could we be sure after all that he had not made the same remark to someone else, someone not of our circle, some stranger unknown to us? Known to him but unknown to us? And that the remark would not remain unwiped in the brain of this stranger? And how could we be sure that this stranger was not, even as we were standing there, in the rotten bathroom, relaying the remark to some other, even less reputable stranger? And that this second stranger did not have friends, all of an even filthier repute than himself, to whom he intended babbling the remark, at the first opportunity? And that we might not expect a quorum of undesirables, sitting in the cathouse square, to be rubbing and smearing this piece of intelligence with their ruin before six p.m. by the cathouse clock, this very day? We trembled, there in the rotten bathroom, thinking these thoughts.
"I ADMIRE you, Hogo. I admire the way you are what you are, rocklike in your immutability. I also admire the way you use these Pontiac convertible seats for chairs in your house. But mine is uncomfortable. Only because I am glued into it with several pounds of epoxy glue. Oh I know I laughed when you brushed it onto my hips on Wednesday, saying it was honey and I was honey-hipped. I laughed then. But I am not laughing now. Now it has hardened, like your heart toward me, Hogo." "It was honey-colored I said. No more than that. It is because I want you near me Jane for some strange reason I don't even understand myself. It must be atavistic. It must be some dark reason of the blood which the conscious mind does not understand. That is the stinking truth, God's Body but I wish it were not." "Stop it Hogo stop it lest I forget who is the glued party here. Stop it and get me some hot water." The ape-fingers of Jane's familiars penetrated the chain-link-fence walls of Hogo's house. Looking through the walls, past the apes, one could see Jane and Hogo, having a talk. "Hogo this house is an architectural masterpiece in a certain sense." "What sense is that." "In the sense that you get a sense of 'chain' from these chain-like-fence walls that is entirely appropriate to your enterprise. I mean the enterprise of being a bad fellow. And to make the ceiling of General Motors advertising was a brilliant stroke. When one bears in mind that General Motors is Pontiac, and Pontiac is your middle name." "He was an Indian chief Jane, hero of a famous conspiracy, the conspiracy that bears his name in fact." "I know that Hogo. Every schoolboy knows that, and many schoolgirls too, thanks to the democratization of education in our country. How fitting that your ceiling should be named for a. . ." "I thought it fitting." "What is to become of us, Hogo. Of you and me." "Nothing is to become of us Jane. Our becoming is done. We are what we are. Now it is just a question of rocking along with things as they are until we are dead." "You don't paint a very bright picture Hogo." "It's not my picture Jane. I didn't think up this picture that we are confronted with. The original brushwork was not mine. I absolutely separate myself from this picture. I operate within the frame it is true, but the picture --" "How old are you Hogo." "Thirty-five Jane. A not unpleasant age to be." "You don't mind then. That you are not young." "It has its buggy aspects as what does not?" "You don't mind then that you are sagging in the direction of death." "No, Jane."
HUBERT complains that the electric wastebasket has been overheating. I haven't noticed it but that's what Hubert says and Hubert is rarely wrong about things that don't matter. The electric wastebasket is a security item. Papers dropped into it are destroyed instantly. How the electric wastebasket accomplishes this is not known. An intimidation followed by a demoralization eventuating in a disintegration, one assumes. It is not emptied. There are not even ashes. It functions with a quiet hum digesting whatever we do not wish to fall into the hands of the enemi. The record of Bill's trial when he is tried will go into the electric wastebasket. When we considered the destruction of the esthetician we had in mind the electric wastebasket. First dismemberment, then the electric wastebasket. That there are in the world electric wastebaskets is encouraging. Kevin spoke to Hubert. "There is not enough seriousness in what we do," Kevin said. "Everyone wanders around having his own individual perceptions. These, like balls of different colors and shapes and sizes, roll around on the green billiard table of consciousness. . ." Kevin stopped and began again. "Where is the figure in the carpet? Or is it just. . . carpet?" he asked. "Where is --" "You're talking a lot of buffalo hump, you know that," Hubert said. Hubert walked away. Kevin stood there. "That encounter did not go well. Perhaps I said the wrong thing?" Kevin blushed furiously at the thought that he might have said the wrong thing. Red blushes sat upon his neck. "What could I have done, to make it 'go'? What is this gift that others have, that I do not have, that chokes The Other with love, at the very sight of one?" Kevin's pre-encounter happiness leaked away. He had been happy before the encounter, but after it, he was not. "My God but we are fragile."
SNOW WHITE hung her hair again out of the window. It was longer now. It was about four feet long. She had just washed it too with golden Prell. She was experiencing a degree of anger at male domination of the physical world. "Oh if I could just get my hands on the man who dubbed those electrical connections male and female! He thought he was so worldly. And if I could just get my hands on the man who called that piece of pipe a nipple! He thought he was so urbane. But that didn't prevent them from making a hash of the buffalo problem you'll notice. Where have the buffalo gone? You can go for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and hundreds of miles without seeing a single one! And that didn't prevent them from letting the railroads grab all the best land! And that didn't prevent them from letting alienation seep in everywhere and cover everything like a big gray electric blanket that doesn't work, after you have pushed the off-on switch to the 'on' position! So don't come around and accuse me of not being serious. Women may not be serious, but at least they're not a damned fool!" Snow White took her head out of the window, and pulled in her long black hair which had been dangling down. "No one has come to climb up. That says it all. This time is the wrong time for me. I am in the wrong time. There is something wrong with all those people standing there, gaping and gawking. And with all those who did not come and at least try to climb up. To fill the role. And with the very world itself, for not being able to supply a prince. For not being able to at least be civilized enough to supply the correct ending to the story."
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