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Another Example

I think it would be extremely pleasant and even comforting if I could find a new or at least different way to fuck up my life. If only I could delude myself for a few minutes more than usual, if only I could have a few minutes when I believe that what I am doing will turn out okay. It never does. It never has. The possibility that any brief segment of my life will be better than the previous segment, get ecstatically enhanced as the ad says with a non-stop wink, is about as likely as the Pope admitting he masturbates while listening to Black Sabbath. If there were a graph made of my life, and the prospects that have awaited it, the line cutting across the blue-lined paper would be flat and straight, the sign that the bearer is no longer breathing. A life of no trajectories, no dips or rises, not even a bump indicating someone in the bus farted and was relieved to do so.

Being a fuckup doesn’t take work. That’s a popular misconception. You don’t have to work at it. Chances are if you are a fuckup like me, then you don’t have to do anything. You don’t take chances, they find you no matter what little burrow you have crawled into.

This is how the last one happened. The names we used are all that distinguished it from the time before. Why I say “happened” is a mystery because I no longer think things happen to someone, to me. I think they are just waiting there, like a room full of musty fabrics hanging like loose skin from their wobbly armatures and twisted skeletons. You enter this room, this room of shallow breath and sallow light, it’s really the color of urine, because there is no other room you can enter. Had you chosen to enter a different room, it would have been the same as the room you did enter.

I had been staying in a compartment in a converted domicile where the other chambers were occupied by those who never opened the door more than the thickness of an official envelope, their inclement cyclopean eye scrutinizing the depleted circumstances before they scuttled out into the dust clogged imminence, arthritic and crablike, though often they were not so old, but were in fact as young or younger than the one who lived inside my rented hive and who sometimes told others his real name.

I am lying when I say this. I never tell anyone, not even myself, my real name which I buried along with my parents glad to be rid of the this last umbilical cord to the past that tries like the military to drag me back.

Otto, I say. My name is Otto. It has been my name intermittently and yet so often that I have started thinking of it as a pet that I carry around with me and sometimes show people. That was my mistake. Letting Velma pet Otto. I should have shooed her away, hissed and wagged my spiked tongue. I should have listened to my name and backed out as soon as I bumped into the well-molded façade she used to fribble with the scaly and the scamps.

Velma isn’t her name, but it is the name I called her because the name she thrust at me, like a crust of stale bread, didn’t seem to fit. It enhanced her and I didn’t like her enhanced, as I could see that she was already more than I could handle.

It’s not that I am small of stature and that Velma is stout. The opposite is closer to measurements you are looking for.

I thought she said her name was Vermin but I was wrong and learned so when I repeated what I thought she said and she cuffed me with her furry saw-toothed arm. It wasn’t enough to stop me. And it wouldn’t have mattered if it did because behind every Vermin there is the bodily circumstance that has been waiting for you, patient as a mongoose.

I say circumstance but I might as well be saying circumcision or circus or cistern, in any case a place full of posterior odors and potent mukluks.

Velma and I shared ourselves with each other for six months. We left our germs and flakes of dead kin and I am sure much else that is teeming on each other’s weathered parapets and rancorous downgrades. It was never fun. It wasn’t even perfunctory. I would say dowdy but that adds a touch of voyeurism that is without merit even to those who insulate themselves with maritime manure. But we had succumbed to our shrieking parliaments and the incriminating hunch that we would never be more than periodically charging into each other like blind dogs who believe that meat is hanging right in front of them.

I used to scream out the wrong name at the right moment, that is where I have slipped each tie my body is placed in something closer than proximity to another’s promontory. She could have had the common courtesy to think that I was hallucinating, that I was seeing little scatterings multiplying in the grooves of my baggy skin. She could have thought I was a picaroon waxing picaresque syllables in an attempt to further heighten her motility units. Couldn’t I have been whipping myself with erratum?

I could have screamed Vermin or Velma but no I screamed out another name, the name of no one I know or knew, a name that just sprang out of me one night in the neon interrupted dark.

I say no one I know or knew, which isn’t exactly true but is completely the truth. You see, I screamed out my own name, my own two-headed little pet, my anonymity, my little room, as if I were calling to someone who was walking in the other direction, a plaintive cry, a mewling whimper maybe more like it, I can’t recall, repeated to where I was and discovered what I was supposed to be doing.

You see it doesn’t matter which name I tell you, whoever you are, is mine because one day in a moment of irrevocable irrigation that name will be the one that leaves me heaped up on the linoleum floor, a crumpled chapel to my dutiful childhood. That is when I start out again, knowing whatever road I am on is the same one I foolishly thought I left in a room I didn’t plan on returning to.


John Yau

essays to more than a hundred catalogues and monographs on contemporary art and artists.


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