April 14th, 2012 / 12:10 pm
Author Spotlight & Random

Book + Beer: Tom Wolfe and St. Sebastiaan Belgian Ale

The rain stopped. At that point the guy (knobby head like an asteroid) from the repair shop comes out to tell me that my baby-baby scooter (sweet ride, ODI grips, Kelsey throttle, a desperation of chrome) needs another ninety-four bucks’ worth of repairs, even though they just got finished fixing it, or saying they fixed it, and he says what do you want to do? And I say I don’t want to do anything, Mr. ASS (teroid), you owe me a scooter I can drive away from this crime scene after the last two hundred bucks I spent here, and he says it’s not their fault, it’s a piece-of-shit scooter that hasn’t been properly maintained, and I say hey, I am not paying another cent for repairs that don’t repair, and he says okay, fine, they’ll junk it, and I say okay, fine, junk it then, it’s junk now anyway since you guys mangled it, and he stomps off, so there I am, up a creek and scooterless. So anyway I call my brother, sit down, and finish reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Get in my brother’s car (a brown turd Kia) and he hands me a beer and sees the pink/yellow/retina-detachment bus of a book cover and prowls the title and says, “Is that the kind of shit people who drive scooters read?”

The bottle is ceramic. It has an oatmeal look. I thought, “Oatmeal.” Oatmeal is an OK word to have conked in your kettle while drinking Belgium ale. Has a slight bottled taste to it and that makes some sense. The finish was bitter. I like bitter finishes, I do. I like gas station coffee and going to bed after a big, crazy fight. I find it comforting. One time I took my car for a tire change and afterwards I felt taller. I’m not kidding. I felt taller. My car was purring along. Then about eight minutes later I crashed into a deer committing suicide on highway 69, Indiana. This deer just leapt into its moment. I wanted to take the poor doe home for dinner but they said I’d have to contact the local game ranger and get a special permit and who wants to deal with yet another guy in uniform? Ah, bitter finish, this slouched gray bag of bones, I felt, as I watched my thunked car towed away into the cornshine. There are some peppery notes, too.

What my brother really meant was, “You should have already read that book, like when you were 20.”

It’s one of those books. Kerouac, Salinger, Vonnegut maybe, even that one where the private school guy pushes the other private school guy off a tree, etc. Essential, right? There’s an age window for these things, 17-23 maybe, or you know. Miss that window it’s like the space shuttle (we used to have a space program with actual shuttles, kids) and reentry vectors. Go now! You read the book, it slides into your musty quiver, you go past it onto other things. It’s not disregarded, it’s just done. To read the book at my age is a bit like the grown man wearing a football jersey in public. You know, “that guy.”

Coriander, that light, refreshing treat. Bought at 44 shop under a bridge in Louisiana…loved the nutria po-boy (first one I’ve had boiled, not fried) and the ceramic swing top bottle…it poured a huge fluffy white that did recede like a fatigued or maybe hopeless alligator with nice lacing and fresh white ring…I smell lemon and pepper and I already said coriander and it’s floral with some nice fruit smells…I guess I’m saying it’s complex. What is an ellipsis?

It’s not that I know anything about acid. Or I mean anything I want to say here, in this public space. I’m not going to tell you some big story about Coke cans and alligators (don’t feed them right where you are going to jump in to swim!) or anterior cruciate prayers on the edges of the bleachers, making out with MTV stolen chocolate milk, etc. I’m not. It’s boring. And the acid, here in this book, did not interest me. It wasn’t like I was saying wow I can’t wait to finally see people taking/talking black sunshine and pink Owsley and God’s flesh and window glass and heavenly blue and coffee and green double domes and peace tablets because I’ll relate and nod my head like this (I’m nodding right now, sort of diagonally). Really I thought more about the writing. The prose tripped out, dude, whatever. I mean to say the writing was clearly Day-Glo pink, while the subject matter seemed banal. What was the subject matter? I’m not going into it, sorry. But I did approve of Neal Leon Cassady dropping into the book like some type of Character Fairy. Hi, need a lively character? Someone to drive your plot forward? Go to sleep and let me stip-step right into your manuscript. The man juggles slam-hammers. Strangely, I never thought of Tom Wolfe as precursor to DFW, the tangential flares, the winding, bombastic (did I just go bombastic?) mindbendingy good word-shakes, the lists. I really did admire the lists:

Everybody went forth and hauled in all their stuff, out to the bedrooms, tents, Kampers, sleeping bags, the bus, and brought in a ragamuffin mountain of clothes, shoes, boots, toys, paint pots, toothbrushes, books, boxes, capsules, stashes, letters, litter, junk

…glittering Angel esoterica, chains, Iron Crosses, knives, buttons, coins, keys, wrenches, spark plugs

…all the drive-ins, mobile-home parks, Dairy Queens, superettes, Sunset Strips, auto-accessory stores, septic-tank developments, souvenir shops, snack bars, lay-away furniture stores, Daveniter living rooms, hot-plate hotels, bus-station paperback racks, luncheonette in-the-booth jukebox slots

but this is the real-life jungle, Major. Two-winged flies, dapplewing Anapholes, Culex tarsalis, verruga-crazed Phlebotomus biting 8-day fever and Oriental sores, greenhead rabbit-fever horseflies, tularemic Loa loa, testse mites, Mexican fleas, chinches, chiggers, velvet ants

Their faces are painted in Art Nouveau swirls, their Napoleon hats are painted, masks painted, hair dyed weird, embroidered Chinese pajamas, dresses made out of American flags, Flash Gordon diaphanous polyethylene, supermarket Saran Wrap, India-print coverlets shawls Cossack coats sleeveless fur coats piping frogging Bourbon hash embroidery serapes sarongs saris headbands bows batons vests frock coats clerical magisterial scholar’s robes stripes strips flaps thongs Hookah boots harem boots Mexicali boots Durango boots elf boots Knight boots Mod boots Day-Glo Wellingtons Flagellation boots beads medallions amulets totems…

Wheat/yeast giving off a bit of funk? Could just be that it’s raining outside and the word “oatmeal” has left my mind scrubbed and empty like a wire brush, something? Don’t know. Mouthfeel is appropriate.

Thing is Tom Wolfe can fucking write. I’ve heard some say the same about John Jeremiah Sullivan (whose name sounds like a rhyming nighttime song) but JJS can only write. Why are we talking about JJS? I know, I know, you liked the essay where he went to the Christian rock show. Well, me too, though Christian and rock is oxymoronic and Wolfe can fucking write. There is a difference, but my original point was how strongly—and clearly—DFW drops into the continuum after Wolfe, especially in the CNF arena (wrong word).

I’m wondering now how thick the bottle? Because I emptied it so quickly, in just this one writing thingy. (What is this space?) So. I know you can make a kid drink OJ by getting a fatter, squatty glass. It looks like less in the glass. But, you know, it’s the same.



  1. deadgod

      Man, it’s the kairos.

      Surprising to hear that Separate Peace is still on that adolistence.  (Seems like more of a Gatsby-gone-young sadness?)  Electric Kool-Aid a bit more of niche brew, eh, than Slaughterhouse or Catcher or Waiting on $50 from Aunt Charlotte in NJ and House on Mango Street should be on that shelf.

      Ships in Iliad Β and Slothrop’s desk and the peacocking of a list.

      Ever read any other journalism-a-clef by Wolfe that was as effective a marriage of ingredients as Electric Kool-Aid?  Its family includes Sheriffs in Vegas and Slouching and Execution and I don’t think anything else Aristotom wrote.

      It was the kairos, man.

  2. Vomithelmet McGee

      oh no, I didn’t know essential books was a thing. I need the list because I will be 24 soon. Maybe it is too late for me. I like your writing style.

  3. graceliew

      This is great. I just watched “Magic Trip” yesterday – documentary from real, unwieldy footage of the merry pranksters with the bus. Lots of prancing in the wind. Cassady really WAS crazy. And the age window for essential reading thing – in this day do we still speak of age like it refers to anything other than a certain state of mind? 

  4. leapsloth14

       That’s funny–I was wondering while reading if that film existed. Who did the editing? That’s the challenge for the folks, I could see.

      Yes, age is a certain state of mind. But in this time of adults reading Hunger Games, etc, I think books and human development and so on is an interesting discussion.

      I suppose my point was that i actually read most of “those books? in my 20s and they were intoxicating. Later, I’ve come read some of them that I did not get to–like Acid Test–and was not intoxicated. I was interested, especially in the techniques, but not caught up in some mind-swirl of potential change. I do think reading “Catcher/Rye” at an earlier age is probably best, though. I could be wrong. Depends on what you want from the book.

  5. graceliew

      Yes – the film came out in 2011. Alison Ellwood and Alex Gibney put it together. At one point in the movie you have them coming back from the trip, all that footage “edited” into something like a 24-hour long movie, screened on a projector during a screening party for their friends – It was like a meta moment. A beardless Jerry Garcia cameos in the movie too. For some reason I really got endeared to Kesey’s character in the movie – he really gets set up as this genial patron for the acidheads around him.

      And yes – Hunger Games notwithstanding, though, i can *see* this bell curve thing you’re talking about, when it comes to age and viscerally endearing to books about wasters and drifters. I’m still approaching the peak of it…I think.