Duane Vorhees

- Duane Vorhees

The Pamplona was one of my favorite chrome-and-smoke upscale dives, full of tinted mirrors and leatherette booths. I used to go there once or twice a week, especially on those nights when I was feeling mortal or knowing my job was approaching endgame status. Frank knew I didn’t much care for small talk and also knew how to make my g&t. The place had always been a good spot to find a temporary woman.
It was Tuesday, an especially slow night, just Frank and me. I’d been in there long enough to have nearly finished my second quiet drink, long enough to contemplate whether I should leave or order a third. It was then that The One I had been waiting for, my whole life or at least as long as I cared to remember, strolled in, as casually rehearsed as any queen for a coronation or beheading. Her glitter multiplied and shifted across the walls as she transported toward the bar. Her understated but obviously expensive dress was grape, I would say, or possibly one shade darker. Her face must have belonged to a blonde at least once in her life, but her brunette do was all business that night, and her sharp, tired eyes looked like they had witnessed all her world’s crimes and follies. She sat, a careful two seats from me, and ordered a rumcoke.
It took very little time to exchange our practiced resumes or for me to make my proffer, and even less time for her to make her smiling calculation of assets against needs; and her politely definite answer ended any indecision I may have had over staying or leaving. Maybe it was my necktie that had been the deciding factor, maybe some other indefinable unpredictability.
So, ego battered but yearning, I soon found myself, on a whim or in desperation, as you will, in a strange part of town. In any imbiber’s bible, Wheeler’s would be decidedly distant from any “Let there be light” location, though still someware in the outer reaches of the Pentateuch and certainly not near any Gospels or Revelations. Slightly less full than the Pamplona had been when I left, the saloon probably served a younger, less well-heeled clientele: The paintjob was cheerier, the decor more veneer than mirror. The nameless untutored bartender served a passable but generic g&t. The music was poppy though subdued.
I had hardly settled in for the night when in walked The One, this time a pert, youthful redhead with granny glasses and a determined, serious smile. As soon as she saw me, she walked unhesitatingly to the bar and sat directly beside me without bothering to establish the perimeter of a talking/no stalking zone between us. Before I could muster my usual patter, she leaned toward me and said, with obvious clarity aforethought, “Let’s f**k.”
Maybe it was my tie.
On the way to my place Helena talked about the difficulties of being eighteen and new to a strange town, and I was about to confess the problems of being forty-five in Rust City, but instead I wondered aloud what she was doing in Wheeler’s at such an illegal tender age.
“Obviously, I lied.”
“Don’t you know liars can’t get into Heaven?”
“Oh, no! Stop the car! I didn’t realize I was going to f**k a nun!”
“Don’t worry about that. Jews don’t have nuns.”
“More’s the pity. I guess the priests must have them all then.”
            Once we got in the bedroom, the race to get out of our clothes nearly ended in an unexpected draw. I admit that having to unknot my necktie slowed me down a bit, but nevertheless I insist that she cheated, since she never removed her granny glasses. In retrospect, I guess I should have been inhibited by those spectacles, like a goldfish being gawked at through the lens of a bowl, but at the time I was too absorbed by the spectacle of her greedy nakedness to notice the optics.
I had, almost, forgotten the wonderful boniness and blurry curviness of a teenage female body, the blushes, the freckles, the dimples. But I hope I never forget the soldierly way Helena stood in the bedroom that night, jaw a-jut like MacArthur surveying a new campaign, hands on outthrust hips emphasizing the fire in her crotch.
Then I was on her in a trice. (The first time I heard that expression was when it was announced by Anita Mann, the graduate fellow who had taught my long-ago Freshman English class, as a prediction of how long it would take us to remove her panties at the time of our first tryst—another wonderful word I learned from her, along with the many nonsemantic lessons on mood, style, technique, and the all-important art of breaking up and moving on. Before Anita, for literature I had never had much passion or appreciation.) Without even letting me turn off the light, Helena soon found herself in a series of awkward, horizontal embraces, lips, limbs, and genitals locked together for dear life.
I remember clearly the swift forward thrust of my pelvis and Helena’s sharp surprised intake of breath and her sudden siren piercing the night and the carmine dye oozing out from her fiery thighs. I panicked at the unexpected sight and noise and went instantly flaccid as the acidic thought invaded that I had somehow, ineptly and irreparably, broken some mechanism deep within. To Helena’s credit, though, she sized up the situation at once and assumed masterful command, disappearing momentarily into the bathroom and then emerging with an armful of towels, blotting up most of the stain from the sheet and from her groin, and burying the remnant beneath a thick terrycloth turf.  Then, even before I was much aware that the crisis had passed or had even occurred, she set to work reviving her fallen comrade in arms, breathing life back into his inert form, stiffening his morale. But not even the most grizzled of veterans can stand forever at attention, and a reluctant at-ease inevitably settled in. It was as though I were the wounded invalid (the invalid wounded?), though dreamily I knew that none of the bloodshed had been mine.
Overnight, the Orthogs liberated the nation and formed a new Popular Front government under the leadership of the People’s Lexicographers and Grammarians Council. The next day Helena and I found the streets bannered with victory signs and slogans. WORD PURITY = WORLD PURITY.

The void beside me forced me awake. At the foot of the bed, Helena was sitting, pale and angular, face pruned in concentration, fingers fluidly brushing ballpoint across pad, scratching hieroglyphics into place, occasionally scratching them out.
“What are you doing? Come back to bed.”
“Just taking some notes. While everything is still fresh in my mind.”
“On what?”
“What we did. How it felt. The texture of the experience, the odor. The pain and the emotion.” With a broad grin. “The satisfaction and the stupefaction on your face when you broke my cherry. You looked like an accidental assassin.”
“But why the note taking?”
“I told you. I’m a poet.”
“No, you didn’t. You said you were a liar.”
“Same thing. All writers lie.”
“I learned, as a freshman, that all literature was after the truth.’
“No. We have to make up the truth. The fiction is first. And then the truth, if any exists.”
My alcoholic fear-and-f**k-inflicted befuddlement was only slowly beginning to lift. I started to massage my eyes and brow.
“Wait! You were a virgin!” I said, rather stupidly now that I look back on it.
“The first rule of good writing is tell what you know. Now I do.”
Then she angled herself upright and athwart my face, while her mouth cantilevered forward to my loins. (Another of Anita’s lovely antiquated nouns!) I didn’t marvel too much at the engineering feat expressed by Helena’s movement, but I definitely felt my long-inert interest in literature reassert itself.
Within days of the revolution, the People’s L&G Council proscribed their most vocal factional opponents, the Etymologicals, and issued their first manifesto.
As is readily apparent to everyone, errant, irregular spelling leads inevitably to social disorder. Any system of logic, including the mathematical, relies entirely on clear, unambiguous, logical, and consistent expression of its terms in order to achieve is purposes. Language is, on the one hand, one such system of logic; but, on the other hand, the Supreme PLGC is convinced that language is not merely one of several such, but is, indeed, by far the most important of them all. Thought itself cannot exist without language, and sloppy language must result in sloppy, solipsistic thought. Over many centuries, writers, editors, publishers, academicians, theorists, lexicographers, semanticists, grammarians, linguists, teachers, editors, and other language regulators have been extremely and unjustifiably lax in their rigorous application of rules, both descriptive and prescriptive; this criminal carelessness has  led to bewildering and contradictory spellings, usages, punctuations, and pronunciations. The result of this chaos has been heightened inequality amid a needlessly hegemonic structure. Language ambiguity has permitted the enlargement of social confusion. Therefore, on behalf of all humankind, we are determined to right the situation and extirpate the principal cause of our dissolution. We will rigorously and mercilessly restore order to the syntactical tangle that is the root of human degradation. We shall thus proceed, in a deliberate, step-by-step, but democratic, manner, to thoroughly rid the world of all remnants of patriarchic, classist, feudal, and Christist logographic disorder. Though we are humbly aware of the enormity of the task before us, we also realize that future development and progress rests squarely on our shoulders. Therefore, we shall neither flinch nor shirk our responsibility until the task is entirely accomplished, and peace and order, the dream of all ages, are enshrined in the hearts, minds, and tongues of mankind.
The document continued in the same vein for twenty-seven pages.
At the same time, the new rulers began issuing a number of binding preliminary directives, dictionaries, grammars, guidelines, and handbooks.
A formal “word police,” the Committee to Enforce Nominative Syntax, Order, and Rhetoric, was duly established, along with a shadowy, less showy, web of secret agents and provocateurs to detect and extirpate language deviants.
To provide divine moral guidance, a new religious order, Holy Inq., was chartered simultaneously and, according to all responsible organs, spontaneously.

For the first time I learned that monogamy and monotony were not synonyms, as Helena diligently began checking off all the experiences she thought she would need to know about to write convincingly. After the initial defloration, we proceeded apace to full deforestation, until every conceivable tree was hewn and lumbered, replanted, timbered again.
I didn’t actually know what the “Kama Sutra” was until Helena parsed it to an orderly series of details and specs. Wearing that dimpled and freckled outfit I had come to favor, she managed to get us through the entire recipe in five weeks. Even with our exhaustive rehearsal sessions, we could have finished much sooner, but one or the other of us, chef or gourmand, would often insist on some modification – a pinch here, a sweetener there – until we were both fully satisfied with the outcome. By the time we were finished, I thought she should publish our new, expanded edition as her maiden tome, but, sensibly, she demurred. “After writing what we know, the second most important rule is revise, revise, revise.” She insisted on going through the entire process, again and again, until we were convinced perfection had been achieved or, more often, we were too worn out to continue. I was hardly in a position to object.

An important fatwa was pronounced early in the regime, aimed primarily at journalists. The delinquent words “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “why” were sent into exile and replaced by “hu,” “wat,” “ware,” “wen,” and “wy,” though it was rumored that “why” was retained with great reluctance.  This was the first signal that the new regime was serious in its intent.

While Helena and I were still revising the sutras, interspersing their deliberate refinement with the occasional lightning round just to vary the routine, Helena also began exploring the next item on her list: learning wat real suffering means. I tried to persuade her of the limited pedagogical utility of dismemberment, laceration, gouging, and self-induced starvation, but she was adamant in the programmatic application of her professional pursuit. However, on the theory that any suffering was largely assimilative with all suffering, we finally agreed on a determined regimen of sex deprivation. After only three days, she’d had enough and agreed to end my distress.

After the overweening moderates exceeded their reach, the more radical Preservationists extended their control of the Council. Abridged Directive 57 Omnibus was issued almost immediately:
From now on, “do” is “du.” In most cases, “oo” is “u.” “You” shall from henceforward be spelled “yu.” The so-called “soft g” shall be respelled with a “j,” though the “hard g” shall be retained.
PS. We also decree the abandonment of PH in favor of F in all cases.
PPS. Except, of course, in words like “shepherd” or “haphazard.”
(The rulers also decreed the formation of a committee to reform the spelling of loan words from other languages.)

One day I decided to watch Helena work. I had an interview later and some time to kill, but I had always enjoyed observing how the flow and stance of various occupations dictated the way people moved in the performance of their allotted tasks. Swinging a hammer or manning a flight deck required specific balletic motions that were different than dealing cards or sewing blue jeans..
Helena haphazardly grabbed a luse sheet of paper and began scraping her pencil across it. Or she typed frantically at her computer. She got up repeatedly and poured herself a cup of coffee. Before long, the coffee turned to brandy. She opened the window and luked out at the park. She sat back down and typed or scraped some more. She got up and paced or stared vacantly at nothing in particular. She ran her fingers through her red hair. She tapped a pencil against the desk. She lifted her granny glasses to her forehead and rubbed her temples. Wadded up a lot of paper and threw it in the receptacle at her feet. Backspaced and deleted. Poured. Stared. Scribbled. Dudled. Paced. Discarded. Paced. Scratched. Tapped. Typed. A lot of the time she just sat at the desk without moving.
Eventually I could take no more.
“How can anyone live like this?”
I left. Even the people hu were duing nothing in the park were duing it more systematically and rhythmically, poetically, than she. It is no wonder that the Mongols placed the poets’ status below that of the prostitutes.
Like ball players, I had always enjoyed watching hukers at work.
(On the other hand, even poets and scholars were placed higher than beggars like me.)
Wen I got back home, I had a new position. I wasn’t able to tell Helena about it; she had gone out, having met the requisites of her self-imposed schedule. The glasses and ashtrays were removed, the waste basket was emptied, and the desk was cleared except for a single sheet of paper.
Titles are important
after all, we learned,
but, first, thought length
sufficient a criterion.

Every night taking turns,
my love and I
began our buk
with high exhilaration.

We thought to read
the longest we could find,
spelling one another
to avoid exhaustion.

The Vasari artists, great,
Rembrandt and Van Gogh.
Homer, Matisse, Picasso!
But we could never finish.
I don’t know if in her mind the poem was complete, and I never saw it again. But, much later, it made me think about all that had transpired on that day

 One of the earliest public pronouncements of the new order was the elimination of the confusion among “two,” “too,” and “to,” and their common substitution with “tu.” This was the beginning of the Great War on Homonymns. Clearly, the rulers were not yet confident of their ability to undertake more substantive reforms, and the world yawningly went about its usual business for the time being.

 Gradually, Helena introduced me tu her would-be coterie of writers. They mostly talked shop.
“Wat about the newest ruling? ‘Tu gross.’ How is the reader supposed tu know if I’m talking about a total, or something overly vulgar ?”
“Or 288,” I interposed helpfully.
“Don’t yu suppose that context will decide the issue?” This was no-nonsense Helena speaking. “After all, we don’t spell wen we talk and we don’t usually get confused.”
Tu me, the stuff they regularly discussed, wen they were not focused exclusively on showing off their own literary output, sounded mostly like the propagandistic pronouncements that the new government was putting out. Don’t-Tell-Me,-Show-Me. Avoid-Vague-Jeneralities.  Maintain-A-Strict-Writing-Schedule. And the like. But if I ever broached the subject from that perspective, they quickly formed themselves intu a handful of quite distinct groupings.
The No Not Us faction would rush tu defend themselves against any charj of being just like the Orthogs, explicating precisely and endlessly how their own formulae, slogans, rules-of-thumb were not at all like the didactic declarations of the Supreme Council.
The Hell Nos loudly denounced the rijid, smothering, restrictive rules the smug Filistines were trying tu impose.
Usually, though, the larjest group consisted of cautious Tongue Biters, mainly distinguished by their ostentatious silence and their furtive, downturned glances. Sometimes, a few Toadies would vigorously praise the foresight and wisdom of the masters.
Over time, I noticed that the Hell Nos and even the No Not Uses stopped coming around. Most of the ones hu remained had even less tu say about the government, although a decided rise in Toadyship was evident as well.
One particular day, the discussion turned tu first-person narratives. I always thought these represented the seemingly most authentic form of communication, though I was not so naïve tu believe that the stories themselves were not rank fiction. It did not take Barb Weir long tu disabuse me of that notion.
Barb was, quite literally, our poet tree. Massive, yet placid, she seemed tu have not only read every significant piece of writing ever published but tu have assimilated every possible literary aspect. A sibyl voice issuing deeply from her interior would definitively and invariably settle any and all disputes.
“Using the first person is as gud a way as any tu establish credibility, though the use of unreliable narrators is a sofisticated means of misdirection, as yu all know. But sometimes the ‘I’ can be a distancing devise that removes writers from the story rather than placing them at its heart.
“For instance, Mark Twain, in his very first published tale, claimed that the first-person narrator contacted a certain fellow tu ask about ’a friend’s friend’ hu perhaps never even existed, and the contactee then related a story about the trickery of someone else entirely, hu had a similar name.  Neither the narrator (‘Twain’) nor the contactee actually witnessed the jumping frog contest that was at the center of the tale. So the entire story is just a series of hearsays, used tu great comedic effect.”
“Is that bad writing, then?”
“Usually. Of course, bad writers may follow all the rules relijiously and still can’t write, while gifted writers may not pay much attention tu any dictates and succeed admirably. Even a poet as formalistic as Shelley could violate the first-person immediacy rule tu great effect.”
“Shelley?” I nearly choked. He’d been one of Anita’s particular favorites, while my own taste had gravitated more tuward Philip K. Dick. Alas, different literary tastes eventually contributed tu ending our liaison, along of course with issues involving propriety and the libido.
“Yes, Percy Bysshe himself! Ozymandias is the poem’s subject, though no faraoh by that name ever existed. The first-person narrator met an unnamed ‘traveler from an antique land’ hu described an imajinary ruined statue of Ramesses the Great, inscribed with a proclamation of  imperial greatness which itself was misquoted from the orijinal. The literary effect of the poem is achieved through a series of removals of the narrator away from the subject, through both space and time, brought about by a series of telescopic refractions.”
Barb’s acuity on literary matters was truly astounding. She was always prepared tu present a distinctive take on buks and authors and tu defend it conclusively. It was only later that I learned from Helena that Barb suffered incorrijibly from acute writer’s block.

“Ough” became the next government target. The letter combination was banned entirely (though the Council reluctantly allowed extant proper names to be preserved for a time), and offending words would be respelled phonetically.
While the Anti-Oughtists were briefly in power, they also promulgated a ukase eliminating the confusing silent letter combinations like gh, qu, wr, kn, gn, and ck.

Resting after a languid afternun of sutra research, Helena told me that Churchill’s wonderful “ghoti” would now be comprehensible only to antikwarians. She had to explain what she meant. Then I agreed that it was too bad; but I had always recognized that chanj, while not always pleasant, is inextricable from progress.
Travel was another important element of Helena’s education as a poet. I rather enjoyed ware we had been so far, but gladly agreed tu be her guide. I began by showing her some of the seedier locales I was akwainted with. A fast learner, an authentic succubus-sponj, almost immediately she walked and talked, smoked and drank like a well-practiced roué. (However, I studiously avoided the Pamplona and similar venues ware I had a history. With my luk, I figured we were bound tu encounter some old flame there that may not have entirely extinguished itself, and I was concerned that a bitter catfite mite ensue. Tho such an event may otherwise have been both entertaining and flattering, I had a reasoned fear of becoming the bird that the victorious cat would spit up at the feet of some new master. Wy take a chance?)
Then we began tu expand the scope of our little jaunts, making numerous weekend trips tu nearby locales and stoking up on brochures for more exotic destinations abroad.
I figured we could get a deeper, more profound understanding of foren cultures if we learned the local eufemisms for fuking.
I already new, of course, the Hebrew usaj of “tu no.” But, other than that one, the speakers of Japanese and Farsie have the least interesting expression, namely “tu du it.”  (I had not previously realized how erudite American teenajers are.)
Sometimes, the substitutions are pretty obvious, like the unimajinatively Jerman “roll around.” Usually, tho, a common task is employed as a double entendre: the Dutch nead bread, for instance, while the Italians sweep; the Spanish catch, while the Hindi speakers steal.
The Chinese mix colors or spices.
“Finding a lost object” is one of my favorites. It’s tu bad that the frase was used by the Incas, so Helena and I would never be able tu employ it in its native setting.
The Arabs and the French, predictably, were more ambiguous. So in Paris, one mite use an expression that meant either jump or kiss, while in Cairo one would talk about uniting or stitching. But, in either case, wat they really want tu say, of course, is getting screwed.

The Anti-Oughtists were in their turn expunged by a coalition of Formalists and Functionalists, but the new politburo had insufficient time at their disposal to take any corrective action. A series of factions scrambled for power over the ensuing months, like generations of may flies.
A new slogan began appearing on billboards, websites, and bumper stickers.

One morning after research Helena and I talked about Hemingway, one of our few other recurring topics of conversation.
“Don’t yu think he overdid that hard-boiled, macho pose?”
“It’s a matter of taste, I suppose. I happen tu like it. I can identify with it. But wy du yu denigrate it as a pose? He didn’t make up his love of hunting and bullfites and manly pursuits of all sorts, did he?”
“No, probably not. But he’s so obsessive about it. I think he was overcompensating. He didn’t want his drinking buddies tu suspect his feminine nature, the very sensitivity that caused him tu rite of the human condition with such feeling in the first place. He was probably embarrassed by it, thot folks would think him kweer.”
“That’s just speculation on yur part.”
“Of course. But we all respond tu art in ways that go beyond literal, lineal denotations. We always bring our own selves intu the project of reading. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t get such enjoyment out of the experience.”
“So, anything goes? Any interpretation, no matter how far-fetched, is valid?”
“As far as the reaction between a particular reader and a particular work, sure. But that doesn’t mean that valid criticism, as such, doesn’t depend on standards, criteria, evidence.”
“Then wat evidence can yu provide in support of yur assertion of Papa’s girlishness?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. He probably was a typical male for his time and place, maybe typical for all times and places.” She patted the friendly penis that rarely strayed far from her side. “I just said that he went tu great lengths tu hide that part of his identity because he couldn’t openly embrace it, that’s all.”
“Yu still haven’t given me anything other than intuition on yur part.”
“OK. Wen he was living in Paris he insisted, obsessively, that everyone he met had tu  box him. Don’t yu think that’s a bit excessive in terms of interpersonal relationships?”
“Not if someone has a hyper-masculine personality. We’d expect such antics from him.”
“Okay, fair enuf. But how about the constant, even blatant, recurrence, thruout his fiction, tu emasculation and tu leg wounds? Tho it may be disguised  in various riterly ways, the imajery, or the sugjestion of the imajery, is ever-present, don’t yu think?”
“So he was a jenital hypochondriac.”
“Unable tu get in the army in World War I because of por eyesite, he got as close tu the front line as he could by driving Red Cross ambulances. He certainly didn’t want anyone tu suspect him of cowardice or of shirking his duty. That wouldn’t be manly.”
“And he was badly wounded as a result of enemy fire, as I recall.”
“With a mysterious groin wound! Altho not actually castrated, of course, he believed he had narrowly missed becoming a eunuch. But escaping that fate was not enuf, he had tu convince everyone else that he had escaped. He was afraid of any hint of fysical unmanliness, as he had always been concerned about revealing his femininity, so he was compulsively misojynistic tu camouflaje his fears.”
I was the last person hu wanted tu discuss psychoanalysis, so I chanjed the subject. I asked Helena, “Wy did yu decide tu become a poet?”
“For my sixteenth birthday an aunt sent me a handbuk on becoming a riter. I devoured it all in one day, and from that moment I new.”
“And it tuk yu tu years tu decide tu get started?”
“No. I tuk up the kwest immediately. That was the day I met yu at Wheeler’s”
At that moment, I new I was dumed by our relationship. I didn’t have anything tu say, but Helena had learned tu read my face all tu well.
“I told yu I was a liar.”
“Yu no sin rekwires contrition for forgiveness.”
“And just wat du yu have in mind?” It must have been hard for her tu keep her firm pout from broadening intu one of her irresistible smiles.
“I can probably compose a list of suitable acts of penance. But if yu want tu improvise one on yur own, I’m amenable.”
“ I’m sure the same moral value will be attained in either case.”
“As long as their performance is sincere and comprehensive.”
            Unfortunately, our ministrations were interrupted by a noking and ringing at my dore.
            Tu figures in tunics and parkas entered.
            “Are yu Ms. Han-Basquette?”
            “Yes, that’s rite.
            “And yu are?”
            “I’m her editor. Are yu the police?”
            “Oh, no!” said the frontman, opening a smile as wide as Heaven. “Tho we work closely with them on occasion.” His lower face was so dominated by his lunar grin that probably most people failed tu recognize tu wat degree the luminous eyes dominated his upper. “I’m Brother Skieper. This is my associate.”
            Nodding, Father Owt stud there, all ears, all eyes.
            “How may we assist yu?”
            “We understand that yu are a riter, and we merely wish tu inkwire as tu the merits or demerits of yur craft. I’m sure yu won’t mind if we examine yur work?”
            “There isn’t much tu see, I’m afraid. I’m tu new, I haven’t published anything. I’ve hardly even finished anything. I’m surprised yu even no of my existence.”
            “Oh, some of yur fellow riters mentioned yu. They were hily impressed with wat yu’ve accomplished. May we come in?”
            Of course, they were already in.
            While I prepared some tea, Helena got her notebuks for them tu examine. I didn’t spot any luse sheet of paper with “History of Our Art.”
            “My, yu du have a way with words! And such provocative ideas, Ms. Han Basquette. I’m sure everyone will be carefully poring over yur poetry in no time at all. Yu have kwite a future ahead of yu, I’m sure.”
            “Is there anything that she needs tu work on tu insure her acceptance?”
            “Wy no, not at all. But then, that’s yur role as editor, is it not? Tu make sure everything is shipshape and topnoch?”
            “I thot maybe there was a new directive I was unaware of.”
            “No, no. Everything luks fine. Keep up the gud work. We’ll stop by from time tu time tu chek on yur progress.”
            Helena, shaking, could barely restrain herself from slamming the dore behind them as they left. Wen it was solidly closed, she muttered, “ Wy did they need tu show up here tuday? They’re an order of flajellants!”
            “Really? I didn’t smell anything.”
            She luked at me a long moment, then burst out lafing. “Yur wordplay is very kwik!” she said, hugging me. “Maybe yu should be the riter.”
            “I don’t think I have the patience for it.”
            “Well then, now that they’re gone, let’s go bak tu fuking.”
            “Please!  My tender ears! Haven’t yu learned a thing? As yur editor, I would greatly prefer that yu say, ‘Let’s nead bread.’ That’s so much more refined.”
            “Okay, let’s sweep, then.”
            And swept we did. And jumped and stitched. We cawt and stole and luked for lost items. We mixed colors as well as spices. And then we called it a nite.

After another profound shake-up in the Usage Ministry, a determined faction of revanchists temporarily established their authority and issued new sets of directives. Aware that their predecessors had not yet even begun to address the issues of irregular plurals and verbs, they cautiously put that struggle off for the future.
But, to draw attention away from their continuing internecine war against the Irregular Verbists and Pluralists, not only CENSOR but also its secretive civilian arm of  agents and provocateurs were given new authorization and instructions to summarily, and without exception, exterminate any malcreants who continued to try to wreck the system of syntactical and semantic utopianism that the wise leadership was erecting.

            At one of the last get-tugethers of Tongue-Biters and Toadies I attended, Barb Weir presided, as usual, with placid granite grace. One of the scribes was holding forth about how Hemingway, in his jenius, had manajed tu circumvent all the usual riterly devices like foreshadowing and bakground detail.
            For once, it was a subject I felt comfortable with. Papa Hemingway was one of the few pre-Anita riters I had discovered on my own, tho one of several that she showed little interest in. I suppose he was both tu modern and tu masculine for her taste, which ran tuward the medieval and the Romantics.
            But Barb Weir punctured all balluns. “Wat made Hemingway such a wonder, at his early best, was the ruthlessness with which he employed all those riterly manipulations without even betraying their usaje to the casual reader. Yu’re all familiar with The Sun Also Rises, I’m sure.”
            Nearly everybody nodded, of course, but the Toadies and Tongue-Biters always nodded, so I’m not sure if they had read it. But it was a buk that I had read repeatedly over the years.
            “The last part of the novel focuses on the running of the bulls at the San Fermin fiesta. Just before the festival starts, Jake Barnes tells Bill wat tu expect. How the bulls will be released intu the corral one at a time, and how they will attak the steers there. He tells him the steers are like spinsters, trying tu make friends with the bulls tu keep them from goring each other or breaking their horns against the walls. Sometimes the steers are attaked and killed for their peacemaking. And Bill says something like, ‘How swell it must be being a steer.’ It’s all presented in just a few lines of dialogue. And then a few pajes later, the actual releasing of the bulls is described in great detail, closely following the senario outlined by Barnes. ‘The steers don’t luk happy,’ Brett remarks, just before they are assaulted and eviscerated. As other bulls are released, however, the remaining steer manajes tu kwiet them down and unite them intu a little herd.
“But the truly amazing thing is that both of these scenes tugether foretell the action that takes place among Jake’s companions later on. Mike tries tu goad Robert Cohn intu a fite, telling him over and again that Cohn loved being a steer, the way he constantly moped around in Brett’s way.  But this is misdirection on Hem’s part. Jake had already told Brett tu pay attention tu how the bull moved like a boxer, and we already no that Cohn is indeed a boxer as well, so he can’t be the steer. Dutifully, Jake steps in tu keep the peace, and eventually Cohn is provoked intu losing his temper and noks Jake down. Thruout the buk, clear hints are dropped that a war injury has made Jake intu a human steer, so the remarks about how unhappy a steer’s life is are really directed tuward Jake’s condition.
“So, it’s not at all that Hemingway refuses tu dip intu the riter’s bag of triks; but he does it so subtly that readers don’t notice him doing it. He not only uses foreshadowing but he does so on a number of levels all at once. His technik is tu use partial mirrors tu reflect on various elements of the story so he never has tu address them directly. It’s a series of refractions and telescopic perspectives.”
I privately refer to that lecture as, “How I Lost My Hemingway. And Found Another.”
Wen Helena and I got bak home I was still full of the subject.
“Yu no, most people are rong wen they identify Hemingway with Jake Barnes.”
Helena was tu busy taking off her clothes tu du more than nod and cu noingly. “Yes, Dear,”
“He actually wanted tu impress on us that he, Ernest Hemingway, the Paris boxer, was not an exotic eunuch hu was tu sensitive tu be masculine. He was one of the world’s bulls, not one of its steers.”
“Very astute. Could yu help me unhuk this, please?”
“Now that I’ve joined the fraternity of literary critics, wat does my membership get me?”
“The undying hatred of every riter huse work yu touch.”
“Then wat gud is it? I was hoping for the undying affection of at least one.”
“I’m sure Barb will always hold yu in the hiest esteem.”
We kissed and went tu bed. But wen we had nown each other a few times, Helena rolled over and went tu sleep. But I couldn’t sleep.
Directive 104-7.92b: The phonetic waywardness of the letter C is hereby recognized and abolished. From henceforward, depending upon the consonantal voicing of the phoneme, C shall be replaced by either S or K. X is banished as unnecessary, to be supplanted by KS.
            But, just days later, the Word Police circulated Abridged Directive 104-7.92d: On the Rehabilitation of Q, X, and C:
From this moment forward, Q is reinstituted to replace the old SH diphthong, and C is reinstated to express the sound formerly signified by CH (except spellings derived from the Greek, which shall use the K sign, and those derived from French, which shall use Q).  X shall be the new symbol for the former TH.

“Wat’s xis?” Helena asked.
            “I’m not sure. I guess it’s a kind of qort story. Or a talking blues, maybe.”
“Kan I read it?’
“Be honest,” I said.
“Be kind.”
Here is xe orijinal version I qowed her xat day. It was not titled or finiqed until years later. Perhaps yu are familiar wix xe publiqed version, as it has been so frekwently anxolojized.
“I’m yur paint boks, Baby. Let me soft-koat yu. Oh, yur paint boks, Baby, want tu soft-koat yu. Let me touc yu up. Baby, luk skweaky new. Pik from my palette kolor silver. Cuse from my palette kolor silver. Float down my barj on yur undimmed river.”

Silver is xe sound midnite makes. And money, as it slides from one’s poket tu anoxer. Xunder-rhyxmed elektrik graffiti. Silver—xe skars akross xe nitetime sky.

“Pik from my palette, pik kolor green. Pik from my palette, yes, kolor green. Let’s lite up yur fire, let’s make it steam.”

            Green like kameleons—xat was Jackie Parrot. As green as kould be. In his mind, is was mixed wix ot; wouldn’t meant won’t. Jackie xot want ekwaled for sure. His motto was: Innosense is gudness’ pruf. And: Noxing unpleasant survives inattention.
            Jackie had a lot tu learn.

“Cuse from my palette, cuse kolor oranj. Pik from my palette, pik kolor oranj. Add a droppa oil, open yur dore hinj.”

            Oranj-penny sun, silver dime at nite. We day by day spend our canj. Kopper days, dimes at nite, time rolls between our fingers and slides from site.

“I’m yur paint box, Baby, let me soft-koat yu. Oh, yes, paint box, Honey, wanna soft-koat yu. Let me touc up my baby, make skweaky new. Pik from my palette, pik kolor blak. Cuse from my palette, cuse kolor blak. Be my Kween of Spades, xirsty for my jak.”

            Blak-haired Nicolete, Jack’s true love was. Sinse Jackie Nicolete never kissed, and Jackie Nicolete never hugged, for Jackie pruf xis was – evidense – of Nicolete’s komplete lak of kontaminants. Oh, pure qe was! A blak silk neglijee. As honest as nite kould be if unadulterated by stars. Xat’s wat Jackie xot.

“Pik from my palette, pik kolor blue. Pik from my palette, pik kolor blue. Du invite my bee tu taste yur honeydew.”

            Blue were xe eyes of Gary Beaucaire, blueprints xat mapped, xat trapped, xe soul true of Nicolete. But Gary was as pore as Gary’s eyes were blue. And his eyes and his poverty were in harness tugexer; tugexer xey kaused blak Nicolete tu lure young Parrot late at nite tu steal (qe’d say) wix her away. But it was all a ruse, of kourse, just a plot, a plan: a knspirasy tu separate Jack from his naïve, unsuspekting silver.

“Pik from my palette kolor yellow. Pik from my palette kolor yellow. Just slide my stiff bow ‘long xat tite cello.”

            Yellow was Jackie’s gold. And silver and oranj, his canj.  Xe treasure Nicolete sot tu steal for her and blue Beaucaire. Xe rendezvous was set, Jackie tu meet Nicolete in xe wuds xat nite, despite xe xunderstorm. Gary tu jump from xe trees and nok Jackie out (or down, at least) and take from Jackie xe worx of his poket and xe rices of his heart.

“Pik from my paint box, pik kolor red. Cuse from my paint boks, cuse kolor red. Qine like a needle hungry for some xread.”

            Red did flow xat stormy nite while xe xunder rolled and xe silver litening flaqed. But it was xe red blud of young Beaucaire, huse blue eyes were beaten xe kolor of Nicol’s hair. But. Nicolete Gary’s true love was, and all her oranj-penny nunes and all her silver-dime nites rolled xru Beaucaire’s hands forever.

            So Jackie fot and kept his kaq. And Jackie fot and lost his love. And, brown like kameleons, did old Jackie grow. And it’s xe new, mournful Parrot hu sings.

“I’m yur paint box, Baby, let me soft-koat yu. I’m yur paint box, Sugar, wanna soft-koat yu. Want tu touc yu up ‘til yu’re so skweaky new.”
Helena read it in a long silense.
            “It’s sertainly different.”
            I didn’t want tu ask whexer xat was gud or not. Helena was in a mude tu barter. Qe rummajed xru her papers and gave me somexing I had not been offered before.
            I new it was trouble wen I saw xe title.
            “Tough A-Quieu Up.”
            I read it in qok and  only rekall a few skattered frases. “Up against the wall, Argot Nannies!” “No more glossolalia imposition!” But even if xe bureaukrats and inkwisitors were tu slow or tu skweamiq or tu lazy tu desifer all xe puns and tortured konstruktions, xe poem’s kavalier violation of all xe new spelling kanons made naked its defianse and kontempt of order and regulation. Xe Ough brigades, the ph, ck, kn, gn, th, sh, ch senturions, xe multiplisity of oxer arkaik outlaws, were all pruf of seditious intent.
            Until xat moment I had led a simple eksistense, performing my assined tasks tu xe best of my ability. I was konvinsed xat xe fulfillment of duties was an honorable way of life. Xe integrity of performanse, not its wisdom or morality, was wat mattered, sinse I had no auxority over xose desisions.
            Perhaps I had been naïve wen I began my new job, but at xe time I did not antisipate any problem. Helena did not strike me as a subversive, and, as her self-appointed editor I was sure xat I kould prevent xe release of any inadvertent misusajes. Until xat moment, I had had no kause tu worry, but after glansing at her new tekst I realized xat our future and my integrity were box at stake.
            On xe one hand, I had taken an oax tu du all in my power tu faixfully eksekute xe law. But my new direktives were xat I had tu eksekute Helena for violating xe law. I new I kould not du xat; we had qared tu many plans, tu many xots, tu many moments, and tu many body fluids for xat tu be even a remote possibility. But I also new if I violated my pledj  I would destroy my entire self-imaj, whic rested so larjly on notions of loyalty and propriety.
            Wixout a word tu Helena, I tuk “Tough A-Quieu Up” wix me and left my home and my love forever.
I kouldn’t kill Helena. Xat was impossible. .
But I was able tu inform on her.
And xen I had to find anoxer okkupation.

To accomplish something tangible in order to stay in power long enough to achieve further cleansings and continued purges, the new New Order announced a troika of radical steps. The first was the issuance of a glossy, illustrated pamphlet to be universally distributed as mandatory reading.
“On Gender: The Final Solution”
From now on, singular pronouns would lose all sexist connotations. Instead of “he” or “she” and “him,” “his,” “her,” or “hers” the new subjective form would be the single letter ‘e’ and the new objective form the single letter ‘h.’
In addition, long-vowel sounds would be indicated by a double vowel, while usages of other double vowels were thereby prohibited.
And double consonants were also excommunicated.

Poor Duane. It must appear to readers of this novella that my very first injunction to him, that lying is a necessary component of art, is the only instruction he ever took to heart.
I plead innocent of the charge. During our brief time together, we taught each other a great deal about assembling literary expressions, but deliberate dissembling was not one of them. Even though verisimilitude is more important than actual veracity.
And yet this novella has many more lies than facts. I clearly remember some of the famous conversations expressed herein, almost word for word, but others I am sure never took place. Much of what is attributed to Barb Weir was actually expoused at the time by Duane himself; some of it was my own commentary; and, indeed, I have no memory of a Ms. Weir at all. She is undoubtedly just another manifestation of his odd fetish for punning names.
And the coterie of writers we belonged to: while it is true that several of them were brutally liquidated by the regime, spelling errors would have been the very least of their crimes. And any notion that Duane of all people could ever have been a police double agent is utterly fantastic. Given his wit and independence, he was far more likely to have been a victim of the suppression than a perpetrator; indeed, he was mightily fortunate to have avoided those consequences.
We were lovers, that much is true. But he was considerably younger than he portrayed himself to be, and I was not eighteen, and certainly not sixteen, when our romance began. Duane must have been acutely aware of this but deliberately choose to distort the truth for reasons of his own, whether artistic or psychological I do not know.
Nevertheless I recall him, the look and feel and odor of him, and our time together, with great fondness. Duane was remarkably sensitive, ambitious, caring, and modest all at once. He was the hardest man to understand that I have ever known. (Not that any of them have been easy.) He could be bull-headed on some subject at one moment and then incredibly flexible on it the next. He was at the same time selfishly generous and yet sullenly ecstatic. I hardly recognize him as he portrayed himself in this story. Perhaps we are all mysteries to ourselves as well as to others.
And perhaps this essential unknowableness is what makes the human character, and its literary exploration, such a fashionable subject. One that never goes out of fashion. Expression, style, form, grammar, spelling, punctuation, genre, standards of acceptability, critical and popular appreciation, and so forth, are all temporal, cultural prisms that reflect (and usually restrict) a writer’s ability to analyze and describe the way we act, talk, think, and believe. Doing so is a task that, obviously, has not yet been completed or exhausted.
Finally, I have been asked many times to use my own not-inconsiderable talent to illuminate Duane for the world to see, especially given the short-comings of the so-called autobiography he attempted but couldn’t finish before his untimely demise . He was, you see, always much better at concision than at completion. And, repeatedly, I have taken up, and put aside, my own memoir of our joint existence, but capturing the “real” Duane has proven to be far more daunting than anyone could imagine. I hope to live long enough to accomplish this purpose one day. For the nonce (another word probably favored by the mythical Anita Mann), this short reflection will have to suffice.

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