Friday
Aug092013

More Excerpts from the Other CONSUMMATION OF DIRK

Jonathan Callahan


 

—Hang on now, look: I absolutely do think you're the type of person where you could just, anything you set your mind to you could do it, really no doubts in my mind about that. Just also feel like what with all the talents and God-given strengths and gifts you've got, you maybe just, you might not necessarily need to limit yourself to, well to just the one thing is all.

The path curved out again from under leafage, to their right a sheer red slopeless plummet to Pacific glittering azure beyond the frothy spumes of white foam high in sparkling geysers for an instant over juts of wet black ancient rock below.    

—You're saying you don't feel like sometimes people have to sacrifice?

—Well, absolutely, Son, I—

—Let go of certain burdens they can't carry with them to the top?

—not trying to, don't get me wrong… hang on.

He checked Dirk's progress with a firm hand on the boy's arm.

—Slow up a sec, give Tommy a chance to catch up. Think I might have more rocks in my shoes here, anyway.

Wet foliage twisting in a confluence of trades, down from the mountains, swirling in across the sea. Tommy's chestnut locks flopped over cheeks puffing and deeply flushed.

—Certainly wouldn't want you even for a second to feel like I wasn't behind you one-hundred percent in this, or anything you wanted to pursue… your mother and I, you know we have nothing but the deepest respect for your, well your dedication and intensity, you know that, Dirk.

Ern upended a boot, loosing several pebbles.

—How do you get so many rocks in your shoes, Dad?

—What's that?

—This is like the fifth time I've seen you dump out practically a whole boot-full of rocks. I don't understand it.

—You never get rocks in your shoes?

—Wonder if it's something to do with how you walk. I mean the way your toes sort of point out like that.

—Could be I guess, don't think I've ever really—

—Cause I don't think I've had a single rock so far, and it's not like I have some special way of walking or whatever when we hike. Maybe one or two little ones, at most.

—You have two special ways of walking?

—Rocks. Or really just pebbles. Barely even felt them in there.

—Might also have something to do with my arches, I reckon. Doin all right there T-Man?

Tommy reached the clutch of broad flat rocks his father had one socked foot up on as he overturned the other canvas boot, nodded, settled heavily.

—I mean, those are thick boots. And you lace them up to like mid-shin!

—Water? asked Ern. Tommy nodded again.

Sunlight spattered through a thick and ecologically diverse frondescence from a more or less high-noon vector above. Five hours since a quick pre-trail breakfast at the sole guidebook-listed Garden Isle Mickey D's, probably a good six more to go.

—How are we on gorp? Ern eased down wincing onto a rock alongside Tom's.

—What's the gorp situation?

Tommy sifted through his bulging pack, removed the zipper-sealed baggie, handed it over.

—Thank ye kindly.… Through a mostly chewed mouthful of raisins and peanuts and the M&Ms that technically had no truck with this good old hiking staple's acronymic handle: —You holding up okay there, Son?

—Think so, Tommy nodded again, extracting a packet of beef jerky. Dirk now on a flat patch mid-path, legs stretched against red dust out to his torso's either side, gripping a high-top's toe, nose pressed to kneecap, whispered through a rictus down from fifteen.

Ern reclined against his rock, closing his eyes.

—God is good.… Thwacked his cedar walking stick into an open palm.

—My sons.

Tommy applied teeth to an individually packaged strip of jerky's plastic wrap.

Dirk's face an inch or so from the ruddy loam between splayed legs.

—Save me some of that beef jerky, Tom.

—Sure have gotten flexible, Ern mused, —Don't even know if I could touch my toes without bending the knees a bit. Tommy: throw your old man a piece of that beef?

Dirk glared up, wincing.

—Guys, cmon: I'm the one who wanted to bring it in the first place: you know I need the protein.

—Aww, but you can spare us just a taste though, right?

—I mean, if you want, go ahead. Knock yourself out.

—Just a piece or two?

—I said, knock yourselves out.

—You really don't want me to?

—It's just I told you at the store how I need to meet my protein-gram quota while we're on the trail, you know? Just cause we're on vacation doesn't mean I get to start neglecting my body's training needs. You could've got a whole nother bag if you wanted it.

His father smiled, held up his hands.

—All right, all right. What else we got in there, T-Bone?

Tommy riffled through the bag.

—Mmm… Pringles?… cashews… um, granola bars… another bag, actually another two bags, of gorp… .

—What kinda Pringles'd we wind up going with?

—There's two cans: barbecue and, uh, cheese. Or I guess technically Cheez-ums, like with a 'z'.

—Toss me those Cheez-ums, would you?

Dirk dusted himself down, stood one-legged, pinned the other's foot to his butt behind him.

—Why do you think they do that, anyway? Tommy asked, fingering two granola bar varieties.

The Pringles can's freshness seal came open with its celebrated pop. Ern crunched down on a stack several synthetic-potato-product-crisps–thick.

—Why do who do what? Whoops, sorry about that littler straggler there, just wipe your… yep, got it.

—Why do they sometimes change the 's' to a 'z'? Or like the 'c' to a 'k' in Kool Aid?

—Beats the heck outta me.

—I mean if it's supposed to sound the same way, 'Cheese' and 'Cheez', so then how come they're spelled different?

Ern swallowed, slumped back again, gazed off into the dense vegetable growth whose snarled extremities breached the footpath's mauka bend.

—I sure as heck don't know, Son.

—Me neither.

—But I tell you what: Imagine they pay folks a whole heckuva lot smarter than your old Dad the big bucks to make those calls. Your Cheez-ums, your Kool-Aid, what have you. Who knows? Maybe you wouldn't of picked up a can of regular old cheese-ums. Like with just an ordinary 's'… Krackle chocolate candy bars, that's another one with a 'k'. Kit-Kats.

—Cheez whiz too, right?

—Cheez whiz, yep.

—Cheez Its.

—Cheez Its, sure. Basically anything with cheese, I've noticed, has a good shot at getting the 'z'.

—Even Cheerios is different.

—How so?

Dirk now on one knee beside them digging through his pack.

—Shouldn't it be cheery like the word cheery and then o's?

—A 'y' instead of the 'i'? That's true, good pick-up.

—Though since there's no such thing as a cheery 'o' I guess it's okay for them to spell it however they wanted.

Dirk began to skip the beaded rope he'd taken from his pack.

—My own Pop smoked Kools most of his life, God love him.

—That's with a 'k' too?

—Roger. Hey Dirk, buddy: think you might wanna save a little of that for the next few miles?

—Guess I don't really know too much about smoking.

—Worse things not to know about at nine, I reckon.

—Ten.

—Ten! excuse me, Son. Good Lord… and Kara turns thirteen next month… boys'll have to start wheeling me up these trails pretty soon. Stick one of those flexible straws in my canteen.… What's wrong, Dirk, we taking too many pit stops for you?

Dirk shook his head beneath the jumprope's arc as orbit-speed increased.

—And ten's not so far from eleven… twelve… Tom, you're practically a full-grown man!

Tommy opened up a peanut-butter granola bar and took a speculative chew.

—Yeah like sometimes kids at school tease me for not being able to watch R or even most PG-13 movies, except for in special cases.

—They do?

—A little.

—Jerks. What do you say? When they tease you.

—Mostly just try to ignore them I guess.

The rope a hummingbird-like blur before Dirk tossed it to the side and bounded down-trail in quick bursts out of a semisquat.

—Probably wise.

—Yeah.

—Pass that canteen back over here?… Ern, after a swig of less water than he wanted from the already near-empty vessel, —But you tell your mom and me if you think one of us coming in to have a talk with Mister, what is it? Mister—

—Aina.

—Mister Aina: you let us know if that's something, the sort of thing you think, you know, might help, in terms of if kids have been giving you a hard time.

They sat for a moment. The elder boy had bounded round the next bend out of sight.

—I just don't see how come Dirk gets to, is all.

—Gets to what?

—I dunno, like listen to whatever music he wants and watch MTV and R movies and stuff.

—Who said Dirk gets to do all that?

—Well he does.

Ern scratched his chin.

—Dirk's got a few years on you Tom, for one thing. You know that. Besides: I'm not too crazy about him listening to some of that stuff. Your mom and I have certainly talked about this.

—So how come he does then?

—Well… he, he shouldn't, I don't think. You understand we aren't trying to punish you when we ask that you avoid certain types of… well say you watch a movie you were real excited about, but then wound up seeing certain… well, things you wish you hadn't seen, okay?

—What kind of things?

—… and, unfortunately, this violent image, say, or maybe just a song lyric that doesn't treat women with dignity and respect: well now there's no unwatching or -hearing that stuff, right? It's sort of part of you now, whether you want it to be or not. You see what I'm saying?

—I read about in this magic book Mom let me borrow from the library how sometimes people get, um, is it true you can forget things when you're hypnotized?

—Not too familiar with that particular field, Tom, think the science might not, uh, well I'd have to see some of the data before weighing in one way or—

—In the back of the book there's this whole list of like experiments you can read about, I think in just another part of the library?… I'll show you when we get back. Unless Mom already returned it.

—Sure, I'd… wait what kind of 'magic' are we talking… okay let's take a look together, but listen: the basic point is: why listen to music or watch movies or even, you know, play certain types of video games if they aren't edifying? That's the tack we've tried to take with each of you—

—But what about that game Dirk has for Sega where you're supposed to kil—

—hang on just one more sec, Tom, because the thing I'm, well what I think I've come to learn, maybe a little late, your old man's a slow learner, he'd be the first to tell you so, is that you sometimes need to pick your particular battles, as a parent, you know? And just between the two of us, he wouldn't admit this to you or me or anybody, I don't think, but I gather your brother's going through a bit of a rough stretch these days, you know?

Tommy started to unwrap another granola bar.

—I didn't know that.

—Well, like I said, just between us. But what it means is, your mom and I, we struggle to find the right balance with Dirk. Unfortunately kids don't come with instruction manuals.

—What about all those books you have next to your desk about being a great dad? Under the shelf with all the ones about American presidents and, the… what's his name? the guy from World War II? the English—

—Maybe what I meant more in a figurative sense is that you try to get yourself ready as best you can, but, Tommy, the scary thing is, all that preparation only does yay good when it comes time to reckon with real lives as they actually get lived. Lives you as a father feel personally responsible for figuring out to help become the best men and women they can be, one day, when they'll be out in the world on their own.

Tommy toed the dirt at his feet, tucked chin to neck and fingered surplus flesh. A kind of snarl came from somewhere downpath out of sight beyond the bend.

—You think maybe I should start playing soccer again?

—Of course I do, buddy! Absolutely! You were always such a talented player, always seemed to love playing… course we loved to watch you play: remember that, where was that, Aiea? Mililani? You had the four goals in a single—

—Actually only three cause on the one they called off-sides.

—Right! what a boneheaded call! I remem—

—And I think it might have been, um, Iolani?

—Okay, yeah, coming back to me now… you were the best kid on the field, tearing around with that goofy grin on your… listen: your mom and I would love to see you out there again! But only if it's what you want to do.

Ern grunted, wheezed upright brushing bits of Cheez-um from his tee.

—Anyway. Guess we oughta get moving again. Plenty more mountain where that came from. Maybe think and pray about the soccer thing as we walk? You say the word and we'll see what kind of options we're looking at tomorrow night when we get back.

—Yeah, I think I'll do that.

Tom took Ern's proffered hand, let the firm grip haul him back to his feet.

— Thanks, Dad.

 

Ern rolled his neck. A couple of lateral torso-twists elicited vertebral clicks and pops. Hands cupped: —Dirk! Hang tight up there a minute, will you? Maybe take a breather if you need one. Grab a bite… still got the jerky for you here, along with sounds like more than enough gorp....

 

II.

Two young men hunker down onto the wooden bench outside Sally's small-but-well-regarded Pizzaria over at Staunch and Filman Ave, establish close quarters beneath the fading green awning's arhythmic flap; the little one digs what meager chin he has deeper into a Dayglo parka's permeable folds, transfers more mucous from inflamed right nostril to right glove's already snot-slick fleece; his outsize neighbor struggles to arrange the bulky legs and torso, wavy tufts of dark hair gamboling any way the wind goes as it whips scattershot paths over the dome of what's honestly an enormous head as he resumes the stroll from campus over here's brief interchange:

—And plus she loves my writing, man, can't seem to get enough of my work.

—That's so, just really great, in terms of, well it must just feel so—

—I mean, she's probably at this point read my whole oeuvre three, possibly four times, I'd estimate.

—Yeah, that's, think you might have, well you mentioned somethi—

—Seven times, actually, in the case of one particular piece.

—Whoa.

—Yeah.

—Whoa. Which, uh, which piece was that? Have I seen it?

—'Manu,' man. You remember 'Manu.' My masterpiece, I feel. At this point, anyway.

—Oh, sure, read that in, ahm, think we maybe read that in class? Last semester? I really liked it!

—No, dude: you haven't seen the redux.

—What'd, did you make any, uh, any serious changes?

—Sorry what's, what's that look for?

—Rog.

—Yeah!

—Listen, Rog: you wanna know what Janey Tremble called it?

—Well, sure, of course I… mean, what'd she say?

—'Masterful.'

—Wow.

—She called it Masterful, Rog.

—That's the word she used huh? Masterful?

—Roger: That's a direct quote. She's already in awe of me, is what she basically implied.

—Wow. She told you that, too?

—I said she implied it.

—Right.

—But it was manifest, my friend. The awe. Like when she gave it back to me? Sat down in office hours to talk it over? I'm basically trembling, sitting there, cause this is Janey Tremble, you know? Janey fucking Tremble. And this is the first really polished piece I've let her see. What if it's just not her thing? How does an admittedly accomplished independent filmmaker trying to feel his way, basically blindly, into this whole new medium, with all of its different traditions and conventions and aesthetic… underpinnings even begin to presume to guess what a figure like a Janey Tremble, who, we're talking a true master in her own right's going to be looking for, in terms of literary merit? On his first foray into this dark sector of the map!

—I guess that's, sure, I see your point, except well, what about last—

—Since let's be honest in light of the… well, why don't we just let's call it modest professional accomplishments of the great woman's colleagues here at the coll—

—The wha? The, aww that's not, I don't think that's necessarily such a fair way to—

—so if there's anyone you want in your corner here, it's gotta be Tremble, am I right? I knew what the stakes were.

—You're saying really high stakes, huh?

—The highest of stakes.

—Although I guess, I wanted to say, this, well this wasn't technically your first, ah, first foray into—

—And then to have her basically be like: Patrick: do you even realize how talented you are? Do you? Do you know what you've done here? On your very first at-bat?

—What does that, I mean what had you done?

—I just said: crafted mastery. Tour-de-force is also another phrase she tossed out there.

—Gosh.

—With this kind of casual… intensity. Janey Fucking Tremble, man.

—Yeah, I know—I mean, you should be proud!

—I am proud.

—You should be!

—I am

—Janey Fucking Tremble! Talk about stepping out into the… into the bright lights, Pat! With, well with such real self-assur—

—I'll let you read the latest revision. You owe it to yourself, Rog. Kara's read it I think seven, possibly even eight times.

—Right, that's what you, well, but sure: absolutely. Be an honor! But is, I mean you said you, you changed a lot of, guess I was wondering how would you say, what sort of things, uh, well what issues did you address in rev—

—I'll send it to you.

—Cause I honestly already loved it before.

—Oh, and hey: just to back up a sec?

—Mm hmm?

—Let's go ahead and redact the 'Fucking Tremble' business, if you don't mind—

—Oh, you… sure, but, well didn't you just—

—I shouldn't have. We're both in the wrong. It occurs to me now we should probably show a little respect, no? Considering who she is?

—Yeah! you're, well you're probably right. Considering—

—You read The New Yorker.

—Of course. I mean, I subscribe. Sometimes don't manage to get to, well to every single issue, you know? Sometimes seem to uh, sneak up, or stack, sneak up in stacks on me, you ever feel that way?

—Really should make time for it it. Just for the sheer cultural ubiquity.  No other contemporary venue comes close in terms of sheer readership and ubiquity.

—Yeah I do guess that's probably true.

—Not that I lose my shit over most of the stories they publish.

—No?

—I tend to find most New Yorker fiction a bit formulaic. Stale. Tepidly safe.

—Hmm, those're well, that's kind of a harsh, uh, critique, in light of—

—Sometimes the truth is. Harsh, I mean. I'm actually considering denying them first-publication rights for 'Manu'.

—Wait, your story, y-your, 'Manu' got accepted by the New Yorker?

—I'm saying assuming it does.

—Oh, okay, sure.

—Janey thinks it's better than anything they've run in months.

—Gee, she really likes you.

—But my point being that they recently printed this list of their top five books of the entire millennium? So far? And I should point out that, tepidity of the fiction they usually publish aside, most literary readers would concede their criticism's spot-on. Say what you will about James Woods' occasional miscues, okay? Fine. But the man's mind is a saber. And guess whose Collected Works topped his list.

—Well I, guess I must have missed that particular—when did, I mean I guess you're saying it was Janey Tremble's?

—Roger that, my friend. Author of the greatest work of fiction of an entire millennium.

—Well that's something, huh? Super impressive! Although I guess, technically, well it hasn't technically been an entire mil—

—Janey Effing Tremble. Who happens to think she's gonna be chasing my dust, in the relatively near future: which, that's basically an exact quote, but do me a favor and let's keep it between us. Considering she spoke to me in confidence.

—Oh hey! you know I wouldn't—

—Still pretty encouraging stuff though. Humbling, too. No question on that count. But what better validation could an artist hope for? You know? Just an incredibly unlooked-for gift of validation and encouragement.

—Yeah, I find it, I mean I'm encouraged too! Makes me feel like, it's sort of like, if you just keep plugging away, at your work, maybe one day you'll get there! You know? Who, whom, well I mean whatever type of writer you are!

—Assuming you have what it takes to begin with.

—Oh, sure, sure. No I think that, well that's got to go just without saying. Right?

—Because unfortunately just wanting it's just not enough. When what you want is greatness. You know I really struggled with this for a long time, actually. When no one was responding to my work: all of last semester I really started to question whether I had it, too. This whole experience is really starting to clarify and just bring home for me the validity of that whole canon of wisdom about greatness being inextricable from doubt. But now I'm starting to appreciate the basic reason I had to go through that whole hellacious phase of… well it's a little hard to put in words unless you've been there, but just this terrifying sense of you've got something you really want to give to the world, something the world desperately needs … only the world doesn't want it! Doesn't understand the magnitude of the gift you're trying to give it!

—Yeah, that's a super painf—

—This kind of trial by fire that can honestly just…  kill you as an artist, along with your dreams.

—Hmm. Well, I think you're, in a sense you're spot on there as far as uh—

—Unless you're strong enough to keep yourself alive. And carry on.

—Alone with your belief in your own talent and ability.

—Definitely need talent to write well. No disagreement on, ah, with you there. Same as, I mean if you want to get good at anything. Right? 

—Think you may be missing the larger point here, Rog. Not talking about competence. Improvement. Getting by. Learning how to step in line. And basically toe that same line with the other ducks or sheep. What we're talking about here is mastery. Which isn't for everyone.

—Take for instance as just one obvious example: Even I could teach you how to ape, say, Clapton's solo in "Cocaine."

—You could? I, gee, not sure I even realized that you—

—Heck: you could learn it from a book. Obviously not without a few years of foundational training, but point being you get to this point where, okay: now you can match him note for note, one day: congratulations. But you're still no closer to true Claptonian greatness.

—I, uh, I'm not? But then, so you don't think there's something to be said for, well that maybe there's real value in, ah, like when you're starting out just valuing the work you really intensely respon—

—You've got plenty of heart, Rog. I'd be the first to get out on a limb and say so. This real . . .you've got this palpably genuine hunger, and thirst, to learn. I don't think it should even be a question.

—Gee, you really? although I guess I'd never questioned—

—This blind belief in process, though, you know, progress along the well-traveled road, is really what's honestly holding you back. Sure, you can pick up competence. With time. But Greatness? Nope.… Not until you take that leap beyond.

—Beyond into, well, where do you, exactly like what kind of beyond are you—

—Otherwise you chase that whale your whole life, man. Believe me.

 

Wind shears down the storefront as the awning flaps and groans above; Roger edges the parka-collar up almost to his nose, a little snot darkens a streak of fluorescence.

—Well. I … sure is all food for thought, definitely worth uh… worth giving a chew… which actually: hey, think maybe your, well any sense of whether Kara'll be getting here soonish? Cause I'm starting to be ready for some actual, uh, are you getting hungry? Plus it got a little chilly there, all of a sudden, didn't it? We could at least wait insi—

—Yep. Should be soon, class got out a little while ago. Let's go ahead and wait here though. Said she wanted to show me something, no idea what, sounded urgent on the phone though. Girl does tend to take her time, though. With pretty much everything.

—Does she?

—Another thing I like about her. Never lets anybody rush her.

—No?

—But somehow always manages to get shit done, you know? And done remarkably well. I've shown you her paintings.

—No I, don't, think? When—

—I'll show you her paintings sometime. Actually just finished tweaking a little gallery-slash-tribute thing on my laptop, rotates through some of her better work accompanied to music. Her music. You know she recorded an entire albumworth of songs last summer, just for the hell of it?

—That's pretty impressive.

—Sort of folky-flowy-dress stripped-down acoustic stuff, if you can imagine something like that wholly unencumbered by genre. Really gorgeous, entrancing material, specially for someone just starting out. Actually think I've got it on my iPod, too. Listen later if you want.

—What kind of music, did you say?

—You know, don't even want to pigeonhole it. Forget what I just said: really just better to listen. Mélange of influence. All over the map. Post- just about whatever you can throw at it. But man, her voice, her voice does something crazy to me.

—Oh! Well! that sounds… you know, if you have it now, I mean on your iPod, why don't—

—She's changed my life, Rog. Never thought I'd meet a girl so perfect for me, you know? Not even in dreams. Or anywhere else. She's smart and funny and ten times as talented as I am and on top of that she loves my stories and she's just so goddamn beautiful. Look: can I confide in you?

—Sure! You know you—

—I think she actually might be my Muse.

—Huh! Well… great! You sure do definitely seem smitten. Smote? Which is it again?

—I mean, see these? First time in my life I've bought a bouquet, no shit. 

—Is that right?

—Yes. And I've been with plenty of women, right? I'll tell you one thing right now, though, and this needs to stay between you and—

—Say, is that her?

Roger points.

First visual ID on Kara tends to be the bobbing G.I.-rucksack-sized over-packed purple backpack. Patrick spots the bob, hollers:

—Thar she blows!

—Hey, funny you should, I'd, just been thinking I should finally get around to reading that.

—Reading what.

—Uh, you know: Moby Dick, I thought you were—

—Oh?

—Yeah! Sort of ah, well I'm pumped! But is it worth the investment? Far as time goes?

—Beats me. Melville bores me to tears. Kare-Kare! Babe!

—Pat, oh my gosh, I have to show you something! And don't call me Babe, it's disgusting.

—What, what's the matter? You've met Rog?

—Hi, I'm Roger.

—Even Kare-Kare's pushing it, actually. What if I started calling you Patty? Nice to meet you, Roger: hope I didn't keep you waiting here alone with him too long! Listen, Pat, I need to show you this… well I guess I don't know what it is! This… thing! Can you look, too, Roger? I need analysis, guys! This whole thing's all just so darn weird.

—I bought you these flowers.