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The Sinking of the Basil Hall

The Sinking of the Basil Hall

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Published by jstreet
This is a comedy, mostly, laced with tragic threads, about the American experience which has not changed much in forty years and, in fact, seems to repeat itself every two or three generations. Enjoy and learn. More at streetwriter.net
This is a comedy, mostly, laced with tragic threads, about the American experience which has not changed much in forty years and, in fact, seems to repeat itself every two or three generations. Enjoy and learn. More at streetwriter.net

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Published by: jstreet on Mar 03, 2009
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01/29/2013

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The Sinking of the Basil HallBy James StreetA tragicomedy
 Aristodemus was only half awake, and he did not hear the beginning of the discourse; thechief thing which he remembered was Socrates compelling the other two to acknowledgethat the genius of comedy was the same with that of tragedy, and that the true artist intragedy was an artist in comedy also.The Symposium by Plato
Chapter 1
 Prithee, nuncle, keep a schoolmaster that can teach thy fool to lie. I would fainlearn to lie. King Lear The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join inchecking this mad, wicked folly of Woman’s Rights, with all its attendant horrors, on whichher poor, feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety.Queen Victoria
I was awakened at about ten in the morning by female voices. It was their Sundaymorning Consciousness Raising meeting. I’m not hostile to Women’s Liberation, but mywindow was stuck open, and I was trying to sleep. I blocked them out with my new Kosshead phones the previous Sunday. I was working on an article for Playboy Magazineentitled, “Mick Jagger and Wilhelm Reich,” and I was analyzing the Rolling Stones’ newalbum, “His Satanic Majesty’s Request.”Cab driving had given me a terrible case of constipation. Unfortunately, I was intocolonic irrigations and I thought, or felt like, I needed one.With 25 women sitting Indian style in a great circle just outside my painted-openwindow and with my bathroom on the same side of the house as they were, I thought, or felt, that I shouldn’t take one. (The difference between thinking and feeling, at this level,has never been clear to me.)I lay on the mattress, listening to their ejaculations: one of them pronouncedmarriage obsolete, and there was an objection from a woman who had a “beautifulrelationship.” Marriage is Obsolete said, “Yeah, but does he do the dishes?” Laughter. Agrowling sound wound itself around the laughter and, at the laughter’s edge, transformed
 
itself into the words, “Men are defective women.” The voice was thin and strained. Itformulated another sentence that was a witches’ brew of sounds dancing tantalizingly closeto sense. It was chopped into by another voice. I made out the words, “Frustration thatwomen feel in being defined by men.”A third voice shrieked into a pregnant silence, “I feel like you’re dumping a truckload of shit on my head.” I looked out of the window and saw a young and beautiful, buthauntingly sad face framed with long black, curly hair, streaked prematurely with gray.She said, “This is all bullshit.” She had a slight foreign accent.I got up and walked into the living room, wearing only my underpants. Pinsonstirred behind the Japanese folding screen that Penelope had placed in front of his bed. Itformed a door between our rooms: the original had been taken off.I was hungry, but didn’t know what to eat. I wouldn’t allow myself to eat baconand eggs because of the cholesterol, the saturated fat and the salt, and I wouldn’t drink milk  because I thought I was allergic to it (I probably was.) I had read that Rilke had a passionfor Quaker Oats and I had discovered that oatmeal is an excellent food, but I was sick of it.I thought about Cheerios but couldn’t stand the thought of eating them without milk. I putsome water on the stove for coffee, went back into the living room, sat on the floor andstared at the wall.Pinson stumbled groggily out of his room, wearing only pajama bottoms. Rubbingthe top of his rarely combed mop of honey-blond hair, he asked, “How was your nightdad?”He was 22 years old. I was 25.“Same as usual.” I said, truthfully.His voiced boomed out in a morning basso, “Real boring huh?”His California-tanned torso grew from powerful, bandy legs. The cross betweenSpanish Basque aristocrat and Irish peasant produced a nobility of form and featurecombined with a hint of deformity, even decadence. He had a wandering left eye and amassive, prognathous jaw that gave him a spiritual and yet animalistic appearance. Helooked to me at that moment like an issue of Socrates and Helen of Troy. From his athletic, bronzed torso hung stocky, incongruous peasant-arms and he stood only 5’ 6”.“No, not exactly boring.” I answered defensively.“Oh, you don’t want to talk about it. All right, that’s fine,” he said with mock serious hurt.“No, it’s just too complicated, I’ll tell you some other time.” He went to therefrigerator, peeled off three or four slices of bacon, placed them into a frying pan and placed two waiting eggs on the counter. In a few minutes the air was redolent with thesmell of bacon and eggs. My stomach began to churn.“Fuck it,” I thought.“I’m going to have a bowl of Cheerios.”But there was no milk. I decided to go jogging and pick up a quart of milk on theway home.Those were the days before jogging was a national obsession. I loved to run. But if you ran down the sidewalk in your shorts you got the same reaction you would get today if you walked down the street in your swimming suit. Jogging wasn’t in yet. But I didn’tcare. I got a quarter and a penny for the milk, put on my shorts and tennis shoes, andsprinted on the balls of my feet all the way to Bushrod field three blocks away, on the other 
 
side of Telegraph Avenue, and crossing Telegraph avenue smiled again in amazement at thegreat, elevated Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket to my right. When I returned with myquart of milk, the meeting was just breaking up.Twenty women, pretty and ugly, intelligent-East-Coast-Jew and stupid waitress, poured into the street, and twenty pairs of eyes looked at the ground with studiedindifference. What do you say to a naked man carrying a quart of milk, especially after your consciousness has been elevated? Tilly walked down the stairs wearing her “hot pants.” She had a voice that sounded like metal scraping concrete, but she hadextraordinary legs. I said “hi,” as I had for the past three months and she said “hi” back, but that was as far as I ever got. The only other times I had talked to her were when shewas trimming the giant hedge between our houses. When she was cutting the hedge, sheseemed to have a maniacal, malicious grin on her face and she almost literally talked to methrough the shears. But she almost always wore shorts and she really had incredible legs.In fact, I was so taken with her legs the first time I saw her, that I didn’t even notice that her left hand had been amputated from the wrist down. She handled the shears so deftly that itwas easy to overlook. I never got anywhere with her in those conversations and I alwaysfelt defeated somehow, and I would slink away with dry mouth and visions of her legsdancing in my head. Neither of us seemed to know the extent to which one can, or cannot build a relationship on legs.I turned the corner into our driveway. An old pickup truck with homemade woodside panels was blocking the driveway. It had large hand-painted lettering on the side,“Moving and Hauling.” It looked like it came straight from the set of a 1950’s
 Amos ‘n Andy
television show. A very tall, thin black man named Rufus, about 35, was standing bythe front door of the truck. He was talking to a black high school student named Julianwho had silky, Hershey bar skin. Rufus grinned at me as I walked past and said with anuncle Tom voice, and a revolutionary smirk that he pretended to hide, that he wasn’t goingto block the driveway for long. There were two houses on our lot and he and 5 year oldRodney and Rodney’s mother and boyfriend lived in the front house.I walked up the wooden steps and across the deck and through the front door thatwe left open, night and day, even though we lived on 60th street, at the edge of the ghetto:there was nothing of value in the house to steal. Pinson was watching the Super Bowl onour five dollar television set. I mentioned, casually, that I had just said hello to Tilly.I knew that I would get the same reaction as usual, in fact it was so predictable thatI hesitated before saying anything. “Oh those legs. If I could only get my hands on them.”He stretched his hands out as if he were about to grab her tanned legs and massage them inmid-air.He spoke in a tiny voice that sounded like it was part of a dream and he rubbed hishands together like some miser thinking of his money, and his eyes glowed with inner fire.His girlfriend, Penelope, had very thin, milk-white legs. She also had very large breasts that I saw every night when she walked through my room to the bathroom, after sex.I walked past the television set and into the kitchen, ignoring his ecstasy. I pouredmilk into a large bowl of Cheerios, sliced a banana into it, put a gob of honey into the bowl,and then returned to the living room.“Are you working tonight?” I asked.

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