Game of Life (Round 2 : Page 12)

September 20th, 2007

It feels good to walk out of prison, even after only an hour. Bad vibe doesn’t begin to describe it. Penitentiaries, are, after all, the closest thing to Hell which actually exist.

I remove my cell phone from its hiding place under the seat-the parking lot is constantly prowled by newly freed convicts on the make for a quick score-light my joint, and dial my voice mail as I merge onto the highway. I have eleven new messages and eighteen saved messages. Must clear those out.

Predictably, the first nine new ones are from my agent, who prefers monologue to dialog, at least in dealing with me. The calls started coming in precisely at 10:02, immediately after I was due in class, so missing me is no accident.

My agent contrives to avoid any direct conversations between us, perhaps out of deference to my own style as a novelist, which is the extreme example of one-way communication; or likelier out of disdain for my well-known “mental eccentricities”-what in a less successful personage would be called, “craziness.” I personally don’t think much of the mental health of a man who endures the same voicemail greeting nine times in a row, just so he doesn’t have to talk to people, but this oddity suits me just fine, as it insulates me from making snap decisions.

He may not like me, but he’s making us both wagonloads of money off the product of my diseased mind and his own psychologically questionable persistence. The studio, he informs me in crackling, excited tones, has made an offer on Desert Trance. One million. In-house screenwriter; I won’t be needed on the set, but I should make myself available for consultation calls if I expect it to be true to the original. The succeeding eight calls detail the arrangements in full, legalese not excluded. I erase/advance past them.

I sincerely, if dubiously, bid my unknown heir good luck. I’m not sure if I should be skeptical or impressed at the chutzpah of whoever agreed to undertake this project. If Desert Trance were meant to be a film, I’d have made a screenplay of it myself instead of tearing my hair out in the much more demanding medium of print.

How did they expect to convey the self-conscious stream of consciousness, the subtle symbolism, the nuances of delusional abstraction, the word games? The puns, for chrissakes? Had any of them actually read the thing? Did those illiterate studio hacks realize that ninety percent of the action happened in the protagonist’s head?

Not my problem. I don’t have to be there. Afterward, I can get even more sympathy and sales for the original, by denouncing the desecration of Hollywood. I can hear thousands of moviegoers, advising their friends, “yeah, but the book is better.” And I can look angry and aesthetically wounded all the way to the bank.

Barnum, that great theoretical physicist of human nature, fixed the constant ratio of suckers born per minute at one to one; but that was over a century ago, and the birth rate is much higher now. I thank the Goddess for filling the world with fools, and blessing them with bounty for me to tax.

My communications with Divinity have been increasingly more financially oriented, and lately as one-sided as my agent’s messages to me. I used to sit solemnly down to my ficting, lighting a stick of incense and praying for a good, inspiring chapter of prose, which She would whisper into my ear; now my literary demands are much more meager. All I crave now is a signature on the check, and the only place it really excites me to see my name in print is immediately following “Pay to the order of…”

If incarceration is the best nurturer of literary proclivity, then sudden wealth can be the worst. I can barely write a letter on time these days. Why bother? There’s no particular shame in being a one-hit wonder. Look at Kesey, look at Heller. The hunger that drove me to inscribe Desert Trance, with the eagerness a of prophet taking dictation from Gabriel, the unheated apartments, the unsexed nights, the menial jobs, the seedy pot-all seem part of someone else’s life. I was writing for my life, for my freedom, staving off exhaustion throughout the night with acid and amphetamine before forcing slumber with Soma or Trazadone; and having won the Game of Life, I see no real reason to break myself again, just so critics could say, “none of the spark and energy that so distinguished his debut effort,” or some such snotty shit.

The tenth call is from the doctor’s office; naturally I skip that. They still want me to call about the outcome of last month’s lab tests. I still don’t want to hear them. An impasse, though the nurse’s sweetly concerned insistence only encourages further delay. They don’t hound you like that to deliver negative results.

It’s not real if I don’t hear you say it. Like a child, I will clap my palms over my ears and blab nonsense noises until you stop trying to tell me the truth. I’m not too proud. Wa, wa, wa wa wah wa!

The final message is from Llewellyn Reece, postponing our appointment until five, which is okay by me. I can go home, order a thirty- dollar Vietnamese feast for lunch, floor myself on some superdank from Rug Country-I mean Afghanistan, then pick myself up with a thin line of ja-jo from Panama before heading down to the Row. I know it’s bad, but I do it anyway, because I have the money to waste and emptiness to fill or at least numb. An international afternoon of conspicuous consumption, with a theme: countries my government has invaded illegally.

I can be perverse like that.

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