COLUMN FORTY-FOUR, APRIL 1, 1999
(Copyright (c) 1999 Al Aronowitz)
THE SHAKESPEARE SQUADRON (PART 1)
(Copyright © 1997 by Jack L. Saunders Jr.)
( Photo by Brenda Saunders )
"You can't quit the Shakespeare Squadron, Jack."---William S. Burroughs
[Jack Saunders boasts that he has been writing for 27 1/2 years without selling a word to New York or Hollywood and without winning a grant, a writer-in-residence position, or a literary prize. He says he is working on a 40-year roman-feuilleton, or saga-novel, that is too large for small presses to publish and too outspoken, freewheeling, and vulgar for the mainstream commercial houses. A vernacular writer, he calls himself. In the sense, self-taught. But also in the sense, ambassador-in-bonds. He says he "shoots my leaflets into the void and presses on to Boulogne, like Tristram Shandy." His stack now stands at 150 volumes, 151 roaring through "my veins like a camphor injection." He describes himself as a "stopped-up toilet of American letters, fixing to erupt, like the Wakulla Volcano, or an explosion in a charnel house." He calls his coterie of steadfast readers "the Buzzard Cult," after what he describes as "the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, a revitalization movement that swept the Lower Mississippi Valley just before and after European contact." He refers to himself as "the salvage archeologist of the Mall Builder culture." He also says he is "America's greatest living unpublished, or underpublished writer, perhaps the greatest unpublished, or underpublished American writer ever." With COLUMN FORTY-FOUR, THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST begins serialization of Jack Saunders' THE SHAKESPEARE SQUADRON, a fantasy, in which the protagonist, Cosmos, dies, goes to Heaven and interviews his dead writer heroes there.]
We put our soul on paper. When it's rejected, when we get back small printed rejection slips, we know our souls have been judged as shit.---Steve Richmond
The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know. Or the novel you haven't written.---I, Cosmos
I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody.---Karl Childers
I, Cosmos died, and went to heaven.
Since he'd been a writer, he went to Writer's Heaven.
This was a bonus, or lagniappe, as they say in New Orleans. Unexpected.
Not only did he not believe in heaven, Cosmos figured if there was a Writer's Heaven he would be excluded.
But in Writer's Heaven, the writers who had been excluded occupied a special place, and every week, when the lists were posted they would laugh at the careerists and callow strainers whose books were flying off the shelves.
The docent showed him to his studio, and answered his questions.
Cosmos had a small apartment like Eric Hoffer's digs in San Francisco, with a pallet on the floor and a writing desk. A commode, a sink, a refrigerator, a gas range. An FM radio.
A small porch, in back, contained a folding lawn chair, a barbecue grill. Like Laurel Cottage, at Penland, the porch had a view of pine trees. A walking path ran nearby.
Cosmos had his choice of a manual office typewriter, an electric typewriter like John D. MacDonald used, or a computer with a scanner and a laser printer. Cosmos chose the office manual. Why be a slave to your possessions?
"Most writers get up early and write," the docent said. "Hot coffee and pastry are delivered. Left on the porch. You can either join the other writers in the dining hall for lunch or have a picnic lunch brought to your cabin."
"Why don't we walk down to the fellowship hall, and I'll explain the drill as we go," the docent said.
Most of the cabins looked like the one Cosmos was in. Joggers ran by on the walking path. A few bicyclists. Evidently there were no cars in Writer's Heaven. Or not on this side of the reservation.
One cabin had a view of the seashore and another of the high mountain desert. One was a patio in the French Quarter, where vignettes and feuilletons were written, and another was up over a sawmill, where the occupant wrote contes.
They came to a cluster of boutiques. One storefront said Suicide Shoppe.
"You can get Hemingway's shotgun in there," the docent said, "or the oven Sylvia Plath stuck her head in. There's even an ambiguous Malcolm Lowry "death by misadventure" kit.
Next were a liquor store, a casino, and a jai alai fronton.
"For liquor or gambling, use scrip," the docent said. "If you want heroin, there's a bad neighborhood you can go to. There's a gym for fitness buffs."
All the stores were doing a brisk business. The line in front of the liquor store seemed longest to Cosmos.
"What does one do about female companionship?" Cosmos asked.
"Different writers do different things," the docent said.
"Dickens's wife was worn out, from bearing children. He set her up in a house, with servants, where she could feed her face and gossip with her friends. A younger lady travels with him."
Cosmos seemed to remember that.
"Thoreau was a masturbator. He could imagine filthy postcards, but Hustler magazine and X-rated videos blew him away. He doesn't write much anymore. Spends most of the day pounding his pud."
"Charles Bukowski and Linda Beighle live up on the hill. She feeds him vitamins and makes sure he drinks top-shelf whiskey instead of rotgut."
Apropos of boots, three good-looking 30-year-olds made goo-goo eyes at Cosmos. Like Walker Percy reports women doing to him when he was 67 years old. Three in a few months' time. The only thing they had in common was that "they don't fool around at all."
"Are those women writers?" Cosmos asked.
"By and large, the pretty ones are groupies, the plain ones are writers, and the ugly ones are professors of literature. The mean ones work for arts agencies and foundations."
"Like the men," Cosmos said.
"I didn't realize there would be so many minorities represented."
"Well, that's the quotas."
They got to the fellowship hall and went in. TV sets chained to raised platforms, like a deer stand in a tree, or a TV set in a mental hospital, blared away. Writers sat in groups, staring at the sets, transfixed.
Who's Hot, Who's Not was on, a show which announced how much new releases had grossed the previous week, and whether a title was moving up, or down, on the charts.
As Cosmos and the docent sat down, a segment called "Mano-a-Mano" came on, comparing Cosmos and Raymond Carver. High-concept and graphics-intensive.
"Your reputation hasn't had time to be posthumously reappraised," the docent said, "but Ray is trouncing the living dogshit out of you, it looks like."
"Why him?" Cosmos said. "He represents everything I despise. `Obviousness. Unoriginal macho energy. Lady's man.'"
"Of course. He's your bÍte-noire."
"How'd you know that?
"The pre-entry screening."
"The pre-entry screening. How appropriate. You know, I was kind of hoping for a lessening of ambition and desire. Competitiveness. In heaven."
"Man, don't you know? That's upstairs, in Writer's Heaven. You're downstairs, in Writer's Hell." ##
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