I've just had the best Christmas I can ever remember having. I'm in my Godparent's house in Virginia, currently tucked up in bed with one of their dogs, who really should be in the other room. My parents, godparents, god-sister, their 4 dogs and I all just watched some Arrested Development after eating a wonderful meal and driving home through the snow singing jazz improvisations of Christmas carols. The whole week has been like this. It's been random and busy and shambolic and fun, and so full of laughter and love, and i don't want to go back to England.
Something else I've been doing this week is reading Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. I bought it for my dad for Christmas and I've been trying to read it very fast so that i wouldn't have to steal it back once I'd gifted it. I failed, but he's nice so hopefully he'll lend it to me to finish. I'm sure I've written about how much I love Michael Chabon on here before; I idolize him almost as much as I do Dave Eggers. I've read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay 3 times this year. My laptop, on which i lovingly type this blog, is named after a character from that book. I think he rocks.
Anyway, as a Christmas gift to everyone who reads this but who i didn't buy a gift for, here's my favourite chapter from Manhood for Amateurs. It's a series of unconnected non-fiction chapters/essays, so reading this out of context won't ruin the book for you, and i completely encourage you to buy the book. You'll like it, I promise.
Anyway, here it is. It's called Fever and, like the song earlier, it has nothing at all to do with Christmas.
I was standing on Forbes Avenue, across from the laboratory where I had sold my blood plasma to buy irises and halvah for R., waiting for the bus to her lover's house. It was one o'clock in the morning. Giddy fireworks of snow exploded over my head in the light from the streetlamp; there were already four inches on the ground. Under my peacoat I wore only a pajama top, and in my haste to get out the door I'd neglected to put on my overshoes. My gloves I had lost weeks before. I carried my frozen hands in my pockets, the right one jammed in beside a dented Grove Press edition of Illuminations, R.'s favorite book, which, like R. herself, couched everything in terms of torment and ecstasy and moved me strangely without making much sense.
"This is very embarrassing, Mike," R.'s lover had said over the phone. "But I'm just incredibly fucked up and I think there might really be something wrong with her. She keeps making this sound." Alarmed, half-asleep, I'd told him I would be there as soon as I could. An hour spent waiting for the 61C, sneakers ankle-deep in a pool of black slush, had given me ample time, however, to wonder why, given the circumstances, I should be the one to rescue R. yet again from the burning-down house of her brain. Let him, the other man, begin to lose nights of his life in emergency rooms and in the lyrical labyrinths of her mysterious fevers and furors.
My anger abated somewhat in the warmth of the bus's interior, however, and by the time, well past two, that I reached the Squirrel Hill duplex where R.'s lover lived, I had once more donned the full panoply, the axe, tackle and stouthearted gravity, of a resolute fireman of love. I would save R.—if it was not already too late. When her lover opened the door I thought he was going to tell me that she had died.
"She's upstairs," he said. He was willowy, frail, with the smooth cheek and puffy eyes of a newborn. Like R. he admired aesthetic suicides and madmen such as Van Gogh and Syd Barrett. His health was poor, he wore heavy wool sweaters even in the heat of August, and to counteract the jitters of a stomach so nervous that he threw up just waiting for a DJ to play his request on the radio, he smoked great quantities of marijuana. We had not seen each other since the night, two weeks earlier, when I learned that he was R.'s lover. I wanted him to look mortified, now, chastened by my gallant fireman's air, but he seemed only stoned and little put out. He shied away from the blast of cold wind that had followed me like a pack of dogs into the house. "Man, I don't know what happened to her. She just kind of fell over."
"Michael?" R. called, as I came up the stairs. The house had the old-potato stink of bong water and the steam-heat was turned all the way up. There was a childish note of shame in her voice, and as I came into the sweltering bedroom of her lover, and caught her smell of lily-of-the-valley, I felt my heart, like a muscular reflex or spasm, forgive her. "Michael, what are you doing? I'm all right."
Her forehead was damp, her eyes clouded with fever tears. I stood up. I looked at her lover's bed. There were shoes in the bedsheets, a Coke bottle, an open jar of cold cream, plates streaked with hardened food. On the nightstand they had built a tiny stonehenge of pill bottles and bronchial inhalers, and on one slipless pillow sat a porcelain water pipe, in the shape of a human skull.
"We're going home," I told her. "Come on."
"Please, Michael." She looked at her lover— reproachfully, I thought. "I don't want to go outside."
Couldn't she see that the house all around her was falling in a shower of sparks and burnt beams? Ignoring her protests, I helped R. down the stairs, zipped her into her parka, pulled on her red rubber boots, tucked her piano-black hair into her knit beret. I called a taxi that took us back to the apartment on Meyran Avenue, and gave my last five dollars to the driver. I put her in bed, and told her I loved her, and tried to enfold all her trembling limbs in the warm envelope of my body.
R. moved out two days later, and ever since—it's been twelve years—has been leaping, afire, from high windows that belch black smoke. In all that time, though there have been many other leapers, I have never managed to catch a single one, or learned, on the other hand, how to stand back and just watch them fall.
Merry Christmas, I hope you all had days as wonderful as mine.