Boots and Rallies
My roommate at the Delaware Advanced Institute of Unreality Studies was a studio art major named Tom J. Jane. Jane was big on cubes, and most of his work consisted of gluing large cubes of cement or wood or glass together. They always had names like “Oneiric” or “Prolepsis” or “Vocabulary.” He dressed with a lot of bright reds and blues, and though I’d always meant to ask him why, I never did. He had this thing he used to say — usually to girls at parties — about how he had known since he was a child how he’d disappear. When he found what he “knew in his soul to be the biggest, most beautiful thing in the world,” he would say, he’d catch the first plane out to North Dakota and live in a hut or a cave and never speak to anyone again. I always shrugged this off as something of a conceited pick-up line — that is until some circulating social media buzz alerted me: Jane was gone. He’d been in Florence, helping out at a friend’s gallery. Jane encountered the Duomo cathedral stumbling home frog-drunk one night, lit up in curtains of bone-white moonlight. That was it.
I hadn’t heard from Jane for so long, I’d mostly forgotten about him. It was odd how it took him disappearing to remind me of his life. What was strangest was when I got an email last Friday from firstname.lastname@example.org via dartmouth.edu: “An item with tracking number 420037559449010200882469670100 was input. A package has been received and is being held for you.” I went down to my Hinman that afternoon and picked up a box from none other Tom Jane, internationally shipped from Florence and postmarked to just a few days before Florence Syndrome got the best of him. It contained just a couple small, ivory cubes and a letter, unsigned and printed on both sides of the single sheet of folded paper in Sorts Mill Goudy typeface:
“Horowitz — it’s just great when you discover a connection or affinity between two things you like, and even better if you like them for the same reasons. Early this December, for instance, I was looking into ‘The Right Word,’ an anthology of William F. Buckley Jr.’s best writing and his thoughts about writing and style. There is a Google Books entry for it, but it doesn’t display any preview text. It does, however, contain a list of the most frequent terms and words to be found in the book, which is already interesting just because it’s a book about vocabulary — what kind of vocabulary does it employ? It’s also interesting, at another level, since the word analysis is a sign that Google does indeed have a scanned copy of the book somewhere, and it has received OCR treatment. Google is just being greedy, Horowitz.
“Deliciously, one of the most prominent terms used is ‘Evelyn Waugh,’ the 20th century author of my favorite book, ‘Brideshead Revisited.’ I get fierce pleasure from this discovery for many reasons. First, it must be that Buckley cited Waugh for his writing style, which is so flawless, dark and sad. When I read someone like David Foster Wallace or Kerouac or any of those gross post-post-post-modernists in the ALT LIT ‘community’ I feel like I’m being showered with a million nickels in the dark — grab what you can while it’s zipping and clattering around you! Waugh on the other hand... Reading Waugh, it’s as if you’re seated at a table alone, and a old man comes in with blonde hair and bright blue eyes, wearing a denim jacket and a beaten-down, concerned expression, the kind of man you know is named something like ‘Dusty’ or ‘Russell.’ Dusty takes a solid cube of gold out of his pocket, sets it on the table before you and just says ‘There.’ And leaves.
“Waugh’s just so deadening. I always thought it was lazy in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ how Hannibal Lecter was able to induce suicide in one of his prison mates just by whispering awful things to him — but the script doesn’t say what those awful things were. I actually think it’s always lazy when a writer attributes things — especially ‘genius’ — to a character without exemplifying it at some occasion. Anyway, I bet that if Hannibal had whispered ‘Hard Cheese on Tony’ to somebody, there’s a good chance they would have done the math and figured that living life was a deal worth breaking. And yet it’s worth reading ‘A Handful of Dust’ anyway, because it’s so beautiful. Like all of Waugh.
“So I love that Buckley looked to Waugh for a good example of good writing, because I also love Buckley’s writing, but especially his speaking style, even his queer, mid-Atlantic drawl that secretly climbs in pitch all the way up to the punch of his long remarks. Prolix of this nature you get also in DFW, but you couldn’t say it out loud the same way. I love long sentences, and I love hearing Buckley say them. In Germany, I used to fall asleep to ‘The Firing Line’ just thinking, ‘Wow, I don’t even know what Buckley’s saying, but he sounds so smart. And so confident and quick, like he’s made of solid pigiron but could catch a fly in his fingers.’ I want to be like that. Unfloorable.”
Well Jane, you sure floored me. Jane used to tell a story about a friend of his from high school who had run away from home without any forewarning, and half the pain his parents felt was missing him while the other half was just raw confusion. The note he left just read “This isn’t about you” like “you” was supposed to refer to anyone who read it, and then of course, no one. This, like the line about the tallest and most beautiful thing, I always thought was pretentious flim-flam. This story never happened — it was Jane’s own untethered gambit at some kind of thistly attention. But now I don’t know. Why did he send me this letter or the cubes? It makes me think that it’s about me. Maybe, Boots and Rallies reader, it’s about you. But this isn’t about you.