May 11, 2009

Yodeling in a fantasy

He had a cheap blonde guitar and a big jug of pulpy wine. He sang Italian love songs. It was supposed to be a student party, but he was singing these songs in his yodely voice and the students came up the stairs, and saw him, and milled around, nervous in the kitchen, confused by the door, and then they left, going out into the night again, going to other parties in other living rooms and saying, What the hell? and, What the fuck?

He didn't hear them, though, because his eyes were closed and he was singing. He had the guitar and the strings stuck out wild out of the tuning keys. He had the jug, next to his foot, and he drank deeply from the purple, pulpy wine. His white beard was dyed black and he was wearing black and his finger nails were painted black too. The day before he'd been dressed normal, a little tweedy and a little lecherous, but looking like a professor. But now he was at the bottom of a binge of feeling sorry for himself. Ordered off the campus for violating the morality clause in his contract, he showed up at a student party and wallowed with his guitar.

What the hell? the students said. What the fuck? One student would later name his punk band after the feeling that night: This is so weird, he said. It was the feeling of watching someone swept into their own fantasy of sappy angst, believing and badly acting out this idea of a lovelorn man of letters, this fantasy of the persecuted romantic. It was the narcissism of Roth and Coetzee, Mailer and all these men, this generation of leching professors who confused virility with derring-do, who thought obscenity and freedom were the same thing. But this was the reality: No one even believed him and his act, except to believe maybe he believed it himself. But the guitar was sadder than the songs, his dye job made him look like Rasputin, and the girl he slept with was depressed and overweight, with a wandering eye.

But he squeezed his ears shut, concentrating on this crisis he created, and he sang sad Italian songs and weirded everyone out.

The girls who owned the apartment at the top of the stairs stood in the kitchen, silent and awkward. In response to the silent questions they just looked helpless. They looked like they hoped he'd just go away is they were very quiet. He yodeled on in the living room alone.