Saturday, March 31, 2007

This fate has been brought to you by the letter E

OK, here's how it happened. After my glorious journey through Philip K. Dick's dystopic Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, it was time to select an 'E' author, and the finalists were Louise Erdrich, George Eliot, and Umberto Eco. Only George Eliot was probably never really more than a courtesy finalist. I mean, I may have even picked up Silas Marner once before in my little lifetime, or was it Middlemarch? At any rate, didn't get past a page or two. But as much as I've meant to read her, this little A to Z quest of mine has turned out to be not so much about "classics" and more about twentieth century modernish literary men.

Notice, men. That was one of my main thoughts going into letter E. It was about damn time I had a woman author. At the same time I didn't want to let that stop me from reading something I otherwise intently wanted to read. For example, a book by Umberto Eco. Namely, Foucault's Pendulum, or, even more highly anticipated for even longer, The Name of the Rose.

Well, but then Louise Erdrich, heard so much about her, too. So perhaps it was time for fate to settle this once again, fate having worked out so well with the way it stepped in and chose a Philip K. Dick novel for us.

This time around, I asked fate what to do by going to the Hofstra undergraduate library. After spending enough time in front of the George Eliot shelves to confirm I wasn't really in the mood for her, I moved on to Louise Erdrich, where I was happy to find The Painted Drum, the one of hers by which I was most intrigued. I flipped through some of her others and then decided to stick with that one. All right, then, on to Umberto Eco...and if The Name of the Rose wasn't there, fate would be telling me to read Louise Erdrich.

First I had to remember that what with Umberto being Italian and all, he was on the next floor down (argh, I still say, to Library of Congress call numbers), and then when I finally got there, there was in fact no Rose. That was kind of a "Pam Bachrach moment." Pam was a woman I worked with in L.A., when I spent most of my time in the throes of indecision about what to do next with my life. We'd sit chain smoking on the balcony and she'd give me lots of good advice, most of which I'd ignore. Well, one day as I agonized between two choices she said, "Flip a coin. You'll know while it's in the air how you want it to land."

Ahhh, truer words were never spoken. I've often used this piece of advice since. And while I didn't flip for Louise and Umberto, I realized after fate told me which one to read that I already knew which one I wanted to read, and fate and I didn't agree. (As for me not being on the same page as fate, see also e.g. this year's NCAA tournament.)

Later that night after I finished my law schooly things I was heading back across campus when I recalled that a friend who lives in my building is a fan of The Name of the Rose, so I texted her asking if she owns it and can I borrow it. She responded that she would look right away but wasn't sure if her copy was here on Long Island with her. Perhaps all was not lost. When I got to the parking lot of the building, there she was searching her car, but to no avail.

Well, that was two strikes. But by this point, I had talked to my partner in reading project crime, and it turned out that when I'd pitched The Name of the Rose to him a couple days before I'd been more convincing than I'd realized, and he actually was sufficiently intrigued to read it. Well, then, I couldn't go ahead with Louise, now could I, if I'd sold someone ELSE on Umberto as well?

So, yeah, that's how it happened. Erdrich's The Painted Drum is lying on my floor, ignored, and Eco's The Name of the Rose, procured at Borders, is in my bag, all 500+ pages of it. Hey, it's spring break. I'm more justified than ever in reading a nice luxuriously long non-law book!

"Now, some people say that you shouldn't tempt fate
And for them I would not disagree
But I never learned nothing by playing it safe
I say fate should not tempt me..."

--mary-chapin carpenter, 'i take my chances'

Monday, March 26, 2007

Tears and Roses

I am thinking of electing Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said to my top 10, despite my lack of being able to say anything profound about it here. A book's entry into my top 10 is always a significant event, most recently achieved by Nabokov's Pale Fire in -- what was that -- 2003? Well, unless you count War and Peace. But the W & P just sort of occupies a place of its own; it defies ranking. As novels go, it transcends the medium. About the top 10, the last contender for a spot was Lust for Life by Irving Stone, but in the end that book met a fate much like that of USC's this weekend: it tried, it merited semi-finaldom, but it did not travel to the championship. I still love Lust for Life, though, don't get me wrong. But it really brought me something beyond Top Ten-ness. It brought me Vincent Van Gogh. Totally different.

Anyway, while my mental jury is still out on Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, we have moved on to The Name of the Rose. Is it fated to crack the Top Ten as well, seeing as it makes a lot of top ten lists of a lot of people I've known over the years? I'm so glad I'm finally reading it. Actually, I have something to say about fate's role in the selection of this book...but Property class awaits...stay tuned!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

About the rabbit...

See, there's this story that a woman in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said tells Jason about Emily Fusselman's rabbit. And it's got to be the most amazing story about a rabbit, ever. Giving Watership Down a run for its money, even. In a handful of pages (unlike Adams' allegorical tome) Emily Fusselman's rabbit comes to life, breaks your heart, inspires you, and makes you shake your head at your very existence. I can honestly say that in my decades of reading I have never quite experienced a moment like reading about Emily Fusselman's rabbit. I want to tell you about it, but I also want you to read it. I want to send you scurrying off to your local bookstore/library to read just that chapter, but at the same time I don't think it would be as meaningful out of context, even if it does come out of nowhere. Would it? How do we ever know?

Friday, March 23, 2007

One Big Drug

It's funny, because earlier this week a friend and I were talking about drugs and comparing stories of big drug trips we had experienced/witnessed. And then along comes the revelation (SPOILER ALERT!!) (not that any of you are reading the book!) that Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is basically an alternative reality concoted by Alys on a maniacal drug trip. It's really bizarre, though, because I wonder why when they come back to reality Felix still doesn't know Jason. Is he lying? Or was part of his brain killed along with Alys? This, this, this is the crux. I tried to develop a theory about this, but it fell apart.

With wondering awe, I ponder a drug that can pull others into its spell. It's like when we were kids and always used to ask each other, "What if this is all just a dream I'm having?!" Except then the other would be like, no, it's a dream I'M having. We all want to be having the dream. It keeps coming back to that, to these questions of self, and identity, and I-think-therefore-I-am. Even on a big drug trip, eh?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Who am I?
(Or, "Jukeboxes never made mistakes")

I love to ponder things such as Los Angeles, celebrity, and the so-called shallowness found in the glorious locale that is SoCal. This may be part of why I connected strongly to certain parts of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (which I loved, have I mentioned that?) I find it annoying when people, especially people on the East Coast, talk about Los Angeles with a dismissive wave of their hands of judgment. They accuse people there of being shallow, of driving everywhere even if it's only three blocks away, of being obsessed with celebrity culture, and just generally doing things that everyone else in the nation/most of world also does. I have long since determined that most of the scathing indictments of L.A. that you hear are born of ignorance, jealousy, or both.

I love it there. I miss it, even though I had to move on. I feel conflicted about it in many ways. I was miserable there for a short time, and I was deliriously happy with life there. I would say that it was in fact life in Los Angeles that taught me how to live.

On the other hand, I can totally be self-deprecating and also I can laugh at quirky things, and L.A. is nothing if not quirky. So, for example, I rather appreciate lines from Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said such as this:

"'I hate L.A.'...
'So do I,' the pol said...'But we must learn to live with it: it's there.'"
-p. 122

Yet I also appreciate the much bigger and broader statement that this book makes about celebrity, identity, and self. The whole plot of the book, of course, questions whether without your identity you would really exist. Think about that for a second. The answer probably goes the other way, really, in that once you exist you begin to construct your identity. So, Philip K. Dick probes this and takes it to another level. If you were Jason Taverner, a celebrity performer whose television show is seen every week by 30 million viewers and one day you woke up and suddenly, inexplicably, no one knew who you were, even the woman(en) you'd been sleeping with, and there was no record of your birth, your fame, your place in the world, what would that mean for you?

In the imagined dystopic police state Dick has created in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (which, by the way, have you noticed I'm not abbreviating that title? I really like the title) it would mean for starters that you need to get your hands on some identity cards, and quick, lest you be shipped off to a forced labor camp or taken out by a pol or a nat. And that is what our hero sets out to do, setting the weird book's plot in motion. But later when his identity is regained (and didn't we know it would be, really?) you're forced to think about what it would mean to lose yourself like that.

Like, if a celebrity fell in the forest and there were no paparazzi there to snap pictures, would it really matter? That sort of thing. But what if YOU fell in the forest? Don't we all just want people to care about us? I used to think about this all the time. Especially when I lived in L.A. and I started knowing more and more people who were related to/dating/working with famous people, ever reducing the degrees of separation. Or who had some notoriety and/or became famous themselves. It never really bothered me that people are interested in someone who knows someone famous. I think it's a lot like high school. I mean, how do there get to be popular people? Sure, some people are friendly and outgoing and involved, and exponentially their "fame" grows, but that doesn't explain it all. At some point popularity feeds upon itself; that's why by senior year you can often predict the same four people who will get nominated for homecoming queen etc. It's the same as someone like Paris Hilton, who becomes ever more famous just for being famous.

Jason is so happy when he gets his identity back, and the reader is SO happy for him. With him. It's quite the exciting moment, there in the coffee shop, when Ms. Pottery Thang innocently strolls back from the jukebox and is like, OK, I'm playing your song. Suddenly, Jason (not to mention me along with him) is in a daze, What?! It's there?! And he continues to marvel, through many playings of the song, at his very existence. Which has been reinstated.

"'Again I'm real,' he said. 'But if it could happen once, for two days--' To come and go like this, to fade in and out--
'Maybe we should leave,' Mary Anne said apprehensively.
That cleared his mind. 'Sorry,' he said, wanting to reassure her.
'I just mean that people are listening.'
'It won't hurt them,' he said. 'Let them listen; let them see how you carry your worries and troubles with you even when you're a world-famous star.'"
- p. 180

We have this great thing here at law school called anonymous grading. On our exams, and on this most recent (huge, dastardly) assignment in our appellate advocacy class, we put our given final exam number instead of our names, and only after the thing has been graded is the product linked to our identity. I see why it happens. It amuses me none the less. Also they are five digit numbers and mine begins with two, so I kept writing 2-X-X-X-X, and in my head then I would start singing from Les Miserables, "Who am I?! Who am I?! Two!-four!-six!-oh!-one!!!!!!!" What a dramatic moment it is when Jean Valjean reveals himself, he who has gone into hiding and come out of hiding, always protecting people he loves and striving for the greater good. Well, I mean, Valjean has a lot of dramatic moments of course. Anyway, I was also thinking during one of my exams last semester as well as during this appellate brief we just wrote that my professors who KNEW me would know it was my exam whether my name was on it or not. I've long been told my "voice" (the figurative one) comes through in my writing, and I can see it happening, usually.

Well...look at me. More information, but still a lot of rambling. I must say, though, that I LOVED this book. When I read the ending, on the subway last night, the last words made my heart skip a beat, made my spirit swell. And I'm totally going to say more about that. Tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


All right. It has come to my attention that since my recent discovery of my love for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, I am giving a lot of random and vague ramblings, without giving a lot of information. Although, hello, isn't that what blogs are for? But that's not the point. The point is: I'm BUSY, people! I'm also almost done with the book. Which I love. And about which I plan to say something specific and enlightening and profound. Soon. Very soon.

For now, another fun quote:

"'Is she insane?' Jason asked him.
'I'm not in a position to know, sir,' the man in the brown uniform said."
-- p. 160

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tear-flowin' love

Love it. Love it love it love it. So much love for the Philip K. Dick. I totally want to go read other things he's written, like right now! I might do that. Speaking of what to read next, for anyone who cares to vote, I'm looking at Eco Eliot or Erdrich for 'E.' (That's Umberto, George, and Louise.) Speaking of voting, and Georges, today I got the brilliant inspiration in the midst of the signs posted for all the "Vote for me for president of law school student government" etc. signs that are up right now, as the campaign for next year's officers is in full swing, that why don't we vote George W. for president of Hofstra Law SBA and then he can step down from "his" current position? That got me a dirty look. Anyway, I digress. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is so good!

It's funny, like, "I hate L.A., too, but we have to live with it. It's there."

It's totally amazingly deep, as I tried to at least mention in my last post.

And furthermore I totally want to know what is going to happen!

I LIKE this Alys character, a lot. Except now she's ... well, bones? Maybe? What exactly happened there?

I definitely recommend this book.

Off to Indigo...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Love gained

First of all, I now love Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. That's right, I said love. I also love that I'm reading it. I don't know what great secrets of the universe are contained in Valis and the others, but this one is transcendent. WHO KNEW. Love it.

And speaking of love, how brilliant is Philip K. Dick? Because oh, you know, along about chapter 11 he just completely defines love. Hello? Have we not, collectively, as a species, been trying to define love via song, philosophy, scripture, poem, art, action, thought, drug-induced frenzy...for millennia? And along comes Philip to just throw it out there. Love: it overcomes the instinct for survival!

Thing is, even if I didn't have to dash off to Property at the moment, I'd have an incredibly hard time explaining this, and my attempts to paraphrase him would be pathetic. But it is so intense and so good, this book!

And dash I must.

Emily Fusselman's rabbit. Holy. Crap. I will have more to say here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Writer's Last Sigh

First, Kathy is MESSED up. Just putting that out there.

Second, I've been giving some more thought to my dislike of sighence fiction and what I think of Philip K. Dick. I have fleshed out my theory. You see, what bugs me is that nearly all sigh-fi writers have the same weakness. They've got this wacky world going on where people live on Jupiter or where there are no more murders or where there are microtransmitters planted in everyone's brain or where the fire department burns books or what have you, and you're reading along, and they drop some hints and provide some things with subtle exposition and good storytelling and context, and then it's like suddenly they go Oh, crap, I have to explain to my readers that in this world everyone has a brain transplant when they turn twelve so suddenly two characters have a totally implausible conversation and one says, "You know how in this world we all have a brain transplant when we turn twelve?" and the other says, "Yes, right, that's so they can collect our old brains for the aliens who come to take the best cells out of them" and it's like -- THEY WOULD NOT BE SAYING THAT! And not because I can't suspend my disbelief about the brain transplant but because they ALREADY KNOW that and it's stupid and it just shows the weak sigh-fi writer has become lazy about subtly exposing and wanted to take a shortcut and I hate it.

So that has happened. On the other hand, I think this book is rather literary. He is forever making literary allusions. Sometimes he comes out and cites "'And leaves the world to darkness and to me,' he thought, reccalling a line from Thomas Gray's Elegy. A long cherished favorite of his..." (p. 79). Other times he just alludes. "Another loser, among many. Many are called, he said to himself, but few are chosen. That's what it means to be a pro." (p.62) One can tell that Philip K. Dick is smart and writerly. But I did sigh a little bit. I haven't sighed for many pages now. We shall see what happens...

Also, I still love Heather. She is my new Myrtle Clare. (And p.s., how rad is it that the real Myrtle was IN THE MOVIE In Cold Blood?!) Heather is so cranky. Psycho Kathy had some Talking Tina-esque doll that knows about people and it told Jason to find Heather in an attempt to get out of this "why don't I exist, suddenly?" predicament. So he calls one of Heather's unlisted numbers, and turns out she doesn't have any more recollection of him than did his agent or the birth certificate files or anybody else, but there is clearly more to come there. Their conversation is hilarious, and she thinks he's some "twerp fan" and keeps calling him that and demanding to know how he got her private number, but it's just so randomly hilarious how she is so feisty. I love it. He's like, Heather, Heather, I'm a six! And she responds, "A six what? You have six legs, is that it? Or more likely six heads. " (p. 58) I can just hear her spitting those words at him. I LIKE her. Immensely.

I'm also rather on the edge of my seat to find out more about this whole six business, I must say. All we know is that they're some kind of elite group of people who were made to be sixes. No idea what that really is about.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Flow My Tears, the 1st-Year Law Student Said

So, yeah. We chose Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. By "we" I mean, variously: me, the whims of fate, my fellow reader/partner in comprehensively dorky crime, the buyers who are responsible for inventory selection (or lack thereof) at behemoth bookstores...

Here are my findings, so far.
  • I like the cover. (My edition is ISBN: 0679-74066X) It reminds me a little bit of our poster for The Vagina Monologues, come to think of it.
  • I can pronounce the title. But can I understand it? It is supposed to come from a poem that composer John Dowland set to music in something like the 1600s. But the references to that piece write his lyric as "Flow, my tears..." In other words, it's a command. So where's Philip K. Dick's comma? Yeah. Exactly. He only puts one, later, preceding "the Policeman Said." Maybe I will understand this when I meet a policeman character later on in the book. Maybe I won't. Stay tuned.
  • I've read four chapters and have met as many weird characters.
  • I don't know what I think about it yet. When I first started reading it I was in a wretched mood, brought on by the Evil Appellate Brief Consuming My Life On Which I Am Making Substantial Progress. The other day it was more like the Evil Appellate Brief Consuming My Life On Which I Had Barely Started. I hated everyone I saw, but really I maybe just hated the world of research and procrastination in which I dwelt. And in the first chapter of Flow... there was a cranky woman who hated everyone and perfectly matched my mood and I loved it.
    "He had never understood her dislike for fans; to him they were the lifeblood of his public existence...'You shouldn't be an entertainer,' he said to Heather, 'feeling the way you do. Get out of the business. Become a social worker in a forced-labor camp.'
    'There're people there, too,' Heather said grimly."

  • Yeah, forced labor camps. Why? Well, because it's a weird world. It's a science fiction book. It necessarily has weird flying machines and mind control and a dystopic society and all that other crap. I don't dislike it; it's just so -- well, science fictiony. Sigh. Science fiction makes me sigh. Hey, I should call it sighence fiction! Brilliant! Oh, I'm so going to do that. But I digress.

    My old reading pals in L.A. and I would talk about our Walls. We each had a Wall with regard to books. I think one friend's wall was Latin American magical realism and such. Another person might have a Wall with romance. We're voracious readers, but stop short of reading "everything." My Wall, I think, is usually science fiction. Even when it's good, it takes a lot for me to read it. Plus, I'm not entirely sure I think it's all that good when it's Good Science Fiction. Example, Fahrenheit 451. Loved the message, but frankly I liked the interview with Bradbury included in the back of the 50th anniversary edition better than the book itself. (In the interview he commented among other things on the insidious aspects of television and their similarity to things in his book).

    The only science fiction book I've ever really liked, really, is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Often when I say that, people say, "Well, and that isn't even really science fiction..." Exactly. Nonetheless, I have long been intrigued by Philip K. Dick, and I really wanted to read something by him. Plus I had this idea of him that he was kind of scisighence fictiony, but also kind of postmodern weird fictiony. And I like that very much. Pynchon and the like. So I'm still reserving judgment, and I'm trying to break down my Wall, but so far when I think about whether or not I like this book, I just think, "Well, it's really sighence fictiony..."

  • Also, I don't really have time for much of anything until I finish this dastardly Evil Appellate Brief Consuming My Life On Which I Am Making Substantial Progress. But I sneak in a chapter of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said here and there on the train. And it makes me happy. Because, well, anything is better than the Evil Appellate Brief Consuming My Life On Which I Am Making Substantial Progress. To which I must now return.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Which one, which one, which one?

If anyone has anything to say to me about which Philip K. Dick novel to read (he has been elected to represent 'D') then text me in the next few hours or forever hold your peace. Sara, I have taken into consideration your pitch for Valis, even though we really had narrowed it down to Ubik or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said... Quite frankly, I'm leaning toward Flow My Tears... if nothing else because I know how to pronounce it. (oh, hush, don't take me so seriously all the time)

By the way, this is fun:

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hangman game!

from tori amos:

"And if I die today, I'll be the happy phantom
And I'll go chasin' the nuns out in the yard
And I'll run naked through the streets without my mask on
And I will never need umbrellas in the rain
I'll wake up in the strawberry fields every day
And the atrocities of school I can forgive
The happy phantom has no right to bitch

Ooo-hoo, the time is getting closer
Ooo-hoo, time to be a ghost
Ooo-hoo, every day we're getting closer
The sun is getting dim
Will we pay
For who we've been?"

When I was in Korea, I had great moments, profound moments, sad moments, shitty moments...all kinds of moments. I'm thinking Perry Smith's time in Korea was filled with more of the sad and the shitty, what with him fighting in the war police action and all. I only hope he had some of the profound, too. I'm also thinking that in my time on Earth, I have been privy to more great moments, overall, then he had in his time on Earth.

"So if I die today, I'll be the happy phantom
And I'll go wearin' my naughties like a jewel
They'll be my ticket to the universal opera
There's Judy Garland taking Buddha by the hand
And then those seven little men get up to dance
They say Confucius does his crossword with a pen
I'm still the angel to a girl who hates to sin

Ooo-hoo, the time is getting closer
Ooo-hoo, time to be a ghost
Ooo-hoo, every day we're getting closer
The sun is getting dim
Will I pay
for who I've been?"

One thing I had in Korea, one thing that was more than a moment, was in fact a thing that filled my mornings, my thoughts, my evenings and occasional weekends (what with field trips and telephone teaching and graduation...), and in the end also filled my heart: this thing was pre-school. Ahhh, my pre-school. I love those little five-year-old nutcases. I might add that they were some of the sharpest tools in my Ding Ding Dang shed. I have chronicled many of our (mis)adventures, but today I recall a particular thing that delighted them.

They liked to play hangman. They liked it a lot. And I, in turn, liked to play hangman with them. Liked it a lot. Because it was easy, and ate up like fifteen minutes of the class, and it was in fact a great way to learn the language. Without exception, my older classes hated it. If I turned to the board and started drawing the little upside-down L-ish thing, they would chorus (here, imagine the tone of an eye-rolling teenager), "Ohhh, teacher. No hangman game!" But preschool? Quite a different story. As soon as my dry-erase marker had drawn that 90-degree angle, fifteen little voices, a couple of whom could ordinarily be counted on to speak about as much English as I spoke Korean, would cry in unfettered delight, "HANGMAN GAME!!!!!" And we would play.

(Don't forget the added benefit it had of helping them practice an important sentence structure: "Is there a D?" "No there is not a D" etc. Correcting the ones who said, "Is it an A?" and so forth)

I just finished reading In Cold Blood. First, some of their fellow inmates on death row, and then, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith themselves went to the gallows. It was pretty intense.

I was thinking about the game of hangman. I was thinking about how sometimes people admonish me and sometimes I admonish other people to be careful of their word choice, even in seemingly innocent instances of usage. For example, the other day I was irritated in Civil Procedure when my teacher spoke of an "astonishingly sexist article by a feminist professor," eliciting a laugh with his loaded words, which laugh I think he cultivated. Even if he was trying to prove an opposite point, he was playing into dangerous characterizations of the f-word, a word people willfully, obstinately refuse to understand. For another example, the other week I dashed off one of my law school "e-newsletters" to friends and family in which I self-deprecatingly referred to myself as "hippie-dippie," contrasting this state with the "just plain ignorant" state of some of my classmates. My friend Kim rightfully called me on it, urging me to be careful with my word choice, lest I bolster the negative perception of a certain free-spiritedness come to be known as hippie-dom. You can agree or disagree with me about hippies and feminists (I rather like being known as either of those things, actually, and I loathe most labels) and you can still understand my point.

Which is, how is it that I can have a room of five-year-olds ecstatic over the prospect of a hangman? A detached, literally disembodied, dangling "man" on a dry-erase board, his fate in the hands of some children who have no idea that they'll have better luck with R, S, T, L, N, E and should stop guessing Z, X, and Q right off the bat. And then, when either he is dead or they are triumphant, they whose fates are briefly intertwined with this hanging man, then the points are distributed to the winners and everyone cries, "Let's play again!"

"And if I die today
And if I die today
And if I die today
A-ha, chasing nuns out in the yard..."

---'happy phantom' - Tori Amos---

"The killer in me is the killer in you..."

Perry has this to say about the expected outcome of his trial: "Those prairiebillys, they'll vote to hang fast as pigs eat slop. Look at their eyes. I'll be damned if I'm the only killer in the courtroom." -- page 289

Later, his Army buddy who has come to Kansas to be a character witness questions whether Perry can really be as cold and lacking in contrition as he appears. Perry tells him, "Why? Soldiers don't lose much sleep. They murder, and get medals for doing it." - page 291

Oh, I like that last one quite a bit!

True, much of this is the posturing, to say nothing of the lashing out, that you get from a murderer on the verge of conviction. The in-your-face and yet I'm-not-that-bad writhings.

But it's interesting to contemplate nonetheless.

As are Smashing Pumpkins lyrics!

"Disarm you with a smile
And cut you like you want me to
Cut that little child
Inside of me and such a part of you
Oooh, the years burn
I used to be a little boy
So old in my shoes
And what I choose is my choice
What's a boy supposed to do?
The killer in me is the killer in you..."

-- from 'Disarm'

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Perry, Perry, Perry...

I am so fascinated by Perry's little life in the "girls' cell" off of the undersheriff's kitchen. I am fascinated by the letter from his Army "buddy" he vaguely knew in Korea. I am fascinated by the two tomcats prowling courthouse square, and I am fascinated by the Garden City pastors' and reverends' and such-like folks' general opposition to the death penalty. This is the one thing I have always liked about some religious leaders, like, say, the Pope. Especially the recently deceased pope. I didn't agree with him on family planning, but I always appreciated his anti-death-penalty and anti-war stances. (I know historically popes have waged war. That's not the point. At least it's not mine.)

I am a bucket of fascination with regards to In Cold Blood. I love this book and I am so glad I chose to read it! I have just read the part where motion after motion was denied. The poor defense attorneys. Of course, I loved that chapter and related to it differently than I would have prior to coming to law school.

And, I LOVE what Capote did in the driving-across-the-Southwest-confession chapter. Did anyone else notice this? As they are bringing the prisoners back from Vegas to Kansas, in separate cars, they finally get Perry to start talking. And he writes the scene in present tense! The book has been telling the story in past tense, but this one part switches to present. It was so intense. So visceral. You're totally there in the car. Duntz says...he lights a cigarette...Dewey looks back...etc. What a brilliant writerly move.

I love this book.


I'm off to go see how it ends...surely my appellate brief can wait a few hours more...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Holy CRAP!

ohmygodohmygodohmygod. This book is SO good!

Omaha, Kansas, hitchhikers, barns, bad checks, Miami, blond boy collecting bottles by the roadside while poor sickly Gramps shovels in the's all so amazing...and then, and then, and then...
---> hear the fever pitch to which I build <---
they've so got them! in Vegas! and they drop it, that word Clutter, and it elicits the desired shocking reaction, and then WHAT?!
"It was Perry...He killed them all"

Oh really, Mister Wild Dick Hickock?

I want to keep reading!!! How can a girl be expected to go to class at a time like this?!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Open a map...point your finger--maybe that's it"

OK, now that we've got all that childhood reminiscence out of the way, and now that I've had my first official Law School Classmate In Cold Blood Encounter, in which she approached me in the library upon seeing my paperback on the table in front of me and we entered into a discussion about how this isn't really a true crime book ("I realized," she said, "that this is what all those other true crime writers are trying, and failing, to do"), yes, now that all that is done -- can we just talk about how awesome is the landlady of the Las Vegas rooming house?!

She is just fantastic. "Uh-huh. Came all the way from Kansas on a parole case. Well, I'm just a dizzy blonde. I believe you. But I wouldn't tell that tale to any brunettes." -- p. 176 I love it. She's so funny. She also, apparently, misjudged Perry. (Or did she?) She, even though she chugs her beer and gives it some thought, doesn't think whatever they want Perry for can be anything too big. She thought he was a little punk, is all.

So, did Dick corrupt him? Or what? I know, I'm not there yet. Then again, maybe I am. I don't know if we ever get to delve as deeply into Dick as we do into Perry. Also, I found myself impressed, almost like pleased, that the prisoner friend decided to inform. I picture him so vividly, lying there in his cell hearing the news reports, and knowing that the information he handed on to Dick about the Clutter family has in some way led to their deaths. I am aware that snitching is much to the dismay of hooligans everywhere. Alas, part of his fear was that he might be an accessory to the crime. Of course I look at that differently after taking Criminal Law last semester. The difference between knowing about a crime, as opposed to knowledge plus aid and purpose, which is to say, wanting it to succeed, can be a huge difference. Capote points out that the Kansas investigators would have soon made their way to this fellow anyway, as they tracked lead after lead after lead. Well, whatever. I was somehow proud of him. I wonder how it would have turned out differently had he not told?

Like - how would it have changed the encounter with my new favorite character, the skanky rooming house landlady in Vegas?! I think she's eclipsed Mrs. Myrtle Clare the postmistress, at least until we wend our way back to Holcomb and Garden City. But now, in the far western states, we're on our way to go see sister Barbara in California. Dear sister. Dear, dear sister of the not-quite-a-lecture letter.

It would seem that two of the characters in whom I most delight -- Myrtle and Ms Landlady Thang -- are kind of similar. Sassy, tough, middle-aged, seen a lot of shit pass them by in their day, laughed at most of it, remembered some fondly. But where does Perry fit in? Does everyone - or anyone - relate to him, too? Is it just me?

My kick-ass law library has a new thing: law-related feature films that we can check out! The other day, a cart appeared with a selection of DVDs, everything from Inherit the Wind to Erin Brockovich. And, guess what, In Cold Blood is among them. That is so fun! I love the law library. (Remember last semester when I rejoiced as they urged people to chill out for two seconds of their stressbag rising blood pressure legal lives?) I am excited to check out the movie, once I finish reading the book. This week, I checked out Regarding Henry instead. I applaud my law library. It's up there with Torts and the LIRR in contention for the Best Thing About Life Since Coming to Hofstra award. I really just want to go read In Cold Blood instead of, say, all the pages of Contracts and Property I should read for tomorrow...

What--I was supposed to be writing some appellate brief this week? You want me to think about school? With Al Dewey and Perry Smith and Dick Hickock galavanting about the nation variously chasing and escaping each other? And themselves?

Friday, March 02, 2007

God/murder clarification, plus geeks and freaks

Let me just note, in case my last post was unclear: I applaud my mother. I applaud her for introducing me to many things (traveling the entire country, good music, fabulous books and movies being just a few). I applaud the support for free speech, new ideas, and critical thinking that went into her letting me watch scary movies (but always the GOOD scary movies) when I was young. Rosemary's Baby. The Shining. Not insignificantly, she repeatedly denied my sister's and my requests to rent Faces of Death on our little sojourns to the video store. (Also she did NOT allow me to watch Platoon, which I really, really wanted to go see, for reasons of too many f-bombs, I think. Funny, to think about now, if you think about how prevalent that word is in my random conversation...)

I applaud her recognition, as well as my various teachers' recognition, that I was smart and had kind of moved beyond Beverly Cleary. (We basically skipped right over the whole Judy Blume debate. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret had nothing on Jaws, or Squeaky Fromme.) I find it hilarious that my sister and I would sit there prattling on acting out The Shining during the day and then I would be scared at night, and then the next day I'd act it out again like nothing had happened. And isn't that why we watch those movies, anyway? We want to be scared, even though we don't want to be. And now, since I've outgrown movie-induced anxiety, I no longer a)want to be scared b)get scared by movies. So I don't watch them. But I fondly remember when I did.

For a recent example, let's take The Ring. Not something stupid and random gore-ridden like Saw, but let's say The Ring, which came out and it was garnering critical praise and people were swearing it was "really, truly scary" and I was like - whatever. I just have no desire anymore. It's weird. I think it's funny. As a child, I would have been, like, ditching school to go see it I think. Mom would have taken me to see it and then we would have gone to lunch. Now, I haven't even bothered to rent it. Or The Blair Witch Project. Everyone but everyone was up in a snit about that movie. I would have been ecstatic at age twelve. But I saw it in my twenties. I thought it was stupid.

My elementary school best friend also has ended up here in New York. Not long ago we got together for lunch and were reminiscing about various childhood things, as we are wont to do, and I found it amusing that she remembered me being allowed to watch those movies and she remembered being jealous, too, even twenty years later. And by the way, she was the other smartest-girl-on-the-block type of thing, so it wasn't about that. It probably helped my case that I was the youngest in my family, and she was the oldest of six kids. She had good examples to set. Not me. I copied my sister in everything right as she did it and refused to ever accept the suggestion that I should "wait my turn" a couple years, and was often exposed to or involved in things ahead of my time, as it were.

And I almost forgot about The Amityville Horror! Who could forget that! The freaking flies! My sister was totally onto that one. In fact, I remember her actively trying to get me interested in that one, despite initial resistance on my part. How happy and nostalgic does it make me now, every time I'm at the station awaiting my train on the Long Island Rail Road, when the LIRR conductor calls out the train bound for Babylon, "making stops at...Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville..." Someday I will ride that train to Amityville. Just to ride the train to Amityville. Maybe when my mom and sister come to visit?

But you know I was at best on the periphery of the cool kids circles, what with my being "comprehensively dorky" and all, and even at a tender age already roundly digusted by people I didn't consider smart. I would make friends at Girl Scouts or softball or wherever, but at some point I just didn't care about Care Bears/shopping/Michael Jackson and later boys/parties/trying pot, unless I was intellectually challenged as well. (This is why the thespian crowds of high school were sweet relief.) So sometimes if my sister didn't know a particular thing, then I had no hope. Like one time, that smart best friend and I came across the word "geek," scrawled in graffiti on a skateboard ramp. I think we were maybe eight. We immediately decided it was a cool word, and we started making up all sorts of uses for it. In the dictionary (clearly outdated?) we found only the definition of a circus performer who bites the heads off live animals. This, too, struck as cool. We even started some sort of club with Geek, as we conceived him, as our mascot. This all lasted until my older, daughter-of-the-hippie parents, far more worldly, other best friend (with whom I did things like discover in the gutter a discarded issue of Hustler magazine which we hid in her room and secretly looked at later) informed me that I was an idiot and a "geek" was someone totally nerdy and uncool. Duh. Touche.

My point? Did I have one? I hate censorship. So the whole notion of refusing outright to let your child read something makes my blood boil. Harry Potter, anyone? Although I personally have no interest whatsoever in the little wizard, I will passionately defend him when the book-burners start their rants.

My other point? I really did always wait for that projectile vomiting scene in The Exorcist. And now I hate vomiting. And spit. Shudder. Is there a connection? Who knows?

Still another point? Do we really know when our kids are ready for anything? When I was in Arizona over winter break on my "21 Days, 21Movies," quest, I was thinking of taking my three-year-old nephew to the theater, to see either Happy Feet or Charlotte's Web. (Since he owns Cars on DVD he had already inducted me into the world of Lightning McQueen.) Well, this necessitated discussion with my sister on whether either of those flicks would be appropriate for him. In the end, I ended up going to see Happy Feet without him, and while I don't think it would have been inappropriate, it might have just flat-out not held a 3-year-old's interest, because it packs such an "adult" moral/political punch. And p.s., I love it. The penguins rule.

As for Charlotte, my sister of course knows that story intimately (because we did also read the children's classics, before we moved on to Helter Skelter -- let's not forget that my parents had my sister and me reading by age two! I don't remember a time when I didn't know how to read) and she and my brother-in-law were worried about the ending. Was my nephew ready for death? Well, I didn't really press the point. I don't really care if nephew gets to see Charlotte's Web this year or in three years, and besides if I don't take him to the movies, that's just more popcorn for me. But I remember thinking, just sort of philosophically, how do we know? How do we know when he's ready? What does it mean to be ready? What about when someone dies in real life, and the fact that no one is ever READY for that?

Like in Holcomb, Kansas. Or Benedict Canyon and Los Feliz. And I was thinking about this as I read In Cold Blood some more in the last few days. First of all, I really, really like this book, OK. A lot. It's so good. I'm currently in the chapter where Perry is going through his belongings as they prepare to leave Mexico, and the letter from his father to the parole board as well as the letter from his sister to him made me nearly burst. It's so hard to explain the effect reading those words has. This book is so good. As I've been pondering these questions, such as why do we read about crime? and criminals? and why did I used to love to and now can't be bothered? and what is the point of the True Crime section? Well, I think it's kind of bizarre that I was several days into reading and blogging (you might say rambling) about this book before I realized it's about the humanity of the killers.

Like, I still relate to Perry, even as we learn more about how messed up he is. Maybe because we learn more about how messed up he is. He's a packrat, trying to get rid of his earthly possessions that he might travel on unfettered, but there are some things to which he simply must cling. And his guitar! I cried for him and the loss of his guitar! And sure, I might not believe in literal maps and chests filled with gold, but don't I really operate as if somewhere out there, on some level, a buried treasure lies just waiting for me to find it?

It's like the movie Downfall (Der Untergang), Oscar-nominated a couple years ago but bound to lose to The Sea Inside. Der Untergang is about the final days of Hitler, in the bunker, and I remember that as it garnered its slew of awards there was the usual (censoring? moral? "moral"?) outrage that someone could play Hitler as a human. When in fact, that was the point, as the actor said on several occasions. You would do well to remember that Hitler, and Osama bin Laden, and Perry and Dick, were/are humans. They're not machines, robots, or monsters. They are humans, and they are deeply, tragically flawed, and it is humans who do things we label evil, not random evildoers who are somehow not human. There but for the grace of God go...all of us?

And then--oh my god oh my god!!--Korea, and Worcester, and New York!!! So Perry was in the Korean war. He spent time in Korea. This, I know, affects a person. (See: historical origins of this blog, etc.) And then he's off trying to find his Army buddy in Worcester, and is this about the best description ever of a city or what: "a Massachusetts factory town of steep, up-and-down streets that even in the best of weathers seem cheerless and hostile." -- p. 137 That is SO Worcester. And Worcester is an intricate part of my family on the Napikoski side, so I'm totally allowed to say that.

And then it's New York, and his room at 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, in which neighborhood I have spent much quality time, wandering from Penn Station after I disembark from the Long Island railroad in pursuit of whatever thing I'm in pursuit of that day in Manhattan or beyond... Perry recalls:

"In over three months I practically never left the Broadway area. For one thing, I didn't have the right clothes. Just Western clothes--jeans and boots. But there on Forty-second Street nobody cares, it all rides--anything. My whole life, I never met so many freaks."
- p. 138

Perry's mother went alcoholic and left. She left on many levels, both before and after she physically left his father, and her family. Two of his siblings killed themselves. The one who remains alive and writes him the long, amazing letter while he is in prison, the letter he keeps with him and can't bear to discard, even if he's angry at it, the letter she's sorry (or is she?) has to pass through the hands of the censor -- well, that sibling is the one who ended up leading the "normal," married, picket-fence, devoted-to-children, baths/bedtime/clothing sizes, no-time-to-read-anymore-raising-a-family life. Do I see my sister in there? Do I still see myself in Perry? His prison friend Willie-Jay comments on the letter (in still another amazing passage) and urges Perry not to be too upset and to consider what it's like to be his sister, and what kind of dialogue they can really have with each other. She inhabits an utterly different world from Perry, even if she started out in the same one as him when they were young.

What happens to us? How do we make our choices and our life paths? Is there a freak, a geek, a murderer, a traveler, a parent, a censor, the potential for a horror show, the potential for redemption, lurking somewhere in all of us?

"I will hide and you will hide, and we shall hide together here, underneath the bunkers in the row. I have water, I have rum, wait for dawn and dawn shall come, underneath the bunkers in the row." -- R.E.M.