26 October 2003
I leave the city, traveling northward by train to the hamlet of White Plains, N.Y., where I hope to borrow a few bucks from an old college pal. After he fails to show at the appointed street corner, I find myself at a bookstore curiously named Borders. Naturally, I gravitate toward the “D” shelves. No, it’s not for DeLillo, Duras or Dybek, but for that greatest of storytelling geniuses: Dumas, Alexandre, père not fils .
Not bad! I count, let’s see, six, seven, eight, nine copies of novels pumped out by this great author of France, now entombed in that nation’s pantheon. And, oh! Here we have the superior Robin Buss translation of The Count of Monte Cristo . But wait- quelle horreur! -I spy that godawful Dumas product known as The Man in the Iron Mask . I am tempted to describe this … this thing … as a bowdlerization, but that would be an insult to Bowdler! Haven’t book merchants gotten the news that Iron Mask is a mere episode ripped, pulsating and bleeding, from The Vicomte of Bragelonne , the melancholic third installment of Dumas’ grand Musketeers saga? (Good Buss! I notice he had nothing to do with this Iron Mask travesty.)
Eh? What’s this? A new edition of The Black Tulip , Dumas’ overlooked 1850 tale of Dutch adventure. The translator? Buss. Hooray! It shames me to admit I have not read this one. I must have it. But wait: I have no cash on me. Hold on-my Visa may cover the $12. And if they must cut my plastic card in two, at least I will have sacrificed it to a noble cause. To the cash registers I go!
29 October 2003
Three days I have possessed Tulip . Three days, and still I have not cracked its spine. It’s not that I haven’t been reading it-I have; oh, how I have!-it’s just that I have been handling this handsome trade paperback very gingerly. Once again I sense Buss’ presence-a hard intelligence combined with a wry indulgence of Dumas’ excesses and (let’s be frank) basic narrative and historical mistakes. Worthy Buss! In this novel, Dumas seems less adept than usual at disguising expository material. Perhaps his soured relations with his resourceful leg man, Maquet-who might more properly be called his collaborator-were taking a toll. No matter! Dumas’ joy, spirit and … dare I call it funk? … all come through, loud and clear.
1 November 2003
Why in the world was that attractive young woman eyeing me so strangely on the No. 2 train today? Her odd glances stole my readerly concentration away from Tulip more than once. Some skillful eavesdropping on my part told me she was a German girl on a low-budget vacation-or perhaps it might be better described as a ghoulish jaunt, with the unstated purpose of experiencing for herself our city’s fall from towering confidence to something resembling the Old World sorrow she has known in her bones from the moment she first crawled across the all-too-recently blood-soaked ground of her homeland.
Beside her sat a young man with the sprouting facial hair, darting eyes and perennial smirk of an anti-globalization activist. How I wanted to smash his face! Those people in the Third World need jobs, not this fellow’s calculated pity-calculated, that is, to score chicks. I see right through you, son! And did the lass at his side imagine I was a fool, overrun, as I so obviously was, by Dumas’ ravishing strides? Was she of the belief that I should content my readerly appetite with a meal of silly Auster or schlocky Sebold-or perhaps her countryman, the vague Grass? No, thank you, fraulein . With the great Dumas I shall stick! His faults and strengths are plain! He hides nothing! He is not sly!
4 November 2003
Brutal Dumas! His Black Tulip is black indeed. No noble-hearted D’Artagnan rides in to readers’ applause, but only one cold Dutchman after another, each in the grip of a passion he cannot understand. This one loves politics, that one loves mobbish murder, this one loves the damned elusive black tulip. Strange Dumas! Why have you chosen to tell this tale? But I shall not avert my eyes. With gusto my eyeballs shall sweep across your majestic, if sometimes awkward, sentences.
6 November 2003
I am this night downing a cheap Beaujolais. Zesty Dumas sits at the table with me, large and foul-smelling. It occurs to me that the writers of today, even when they strike a “warts and all” pose, are keeping their true odors hidden.
I think of Dumas’ flight from France, in the company of Victor Hugo, following Louis-Napoléon’s coup d’état. It’s funny: The high-minded Hugo was choosing exile out of principle, Dumas merely to escape his debtors. Ha! The rogue.
Wine bottle empty, I emerge from the book to weep bitter tears into the carpeting. The chest heaves, the face is splotched, I can’t catch my breath. From my window I see a cold Manhattan. How I long for Paris! Not the Paris of 2003, with its euros and junior-year-abroad types, but the unkempt city of yesteryear, with its street fights and unhygienic café girls.
7 November 2003
The Black Tulip is done. Although it is far from his finest work, I part from Dumas with a heaviness of mood. I must now make some effort to remain a while in a less high-pitched world, the one in which he is not the central figure. It is time to clear out the half-empty takeout boxes littering my floors. It is time to set roach traps, time to bathe and to shave. And it is time to jump the subway turnstile for another sojourn down to the unemployment office. No one else can perform that tedious chore on my behalf, after all. You need to show two forms of ID, in person, or else no check.
Five Types of N.Y.C. Single Women (Or: Why It Never Works)
1) Fresh off the boats. I’m very extremely attracted to them but have nothing in common, nothing to say except ” A votre santé! “, and would have no chance of meeting except online or at a strip bar.
2) Ones from my background. White girls, inevitably. No chance with them. Forget it. Like doing it with a sibling. Boring. They’re too optimistic about me, don’t realize what they’d be getting into. They need to trade up, soar with an eagle, not wallow with a pig.
3) Older sexy women. Can’t get it up for them anymore, even with good lighting, dirty talk, Horny Goat Weed, a four-day supply of man milk and potent marijuana.
4) Out-of-my-league types. They know who they are. Beautiful, mouthwatering, high-class. Sent from hell to laugh at me. Not interested.
5) Ones from a slightly lower-class background. From a town in Connecticut or Long Island, attended community college, work at Bloomingdale’s, Hale and Hearty, Bourbon Street, the Gin Mill, Village Idiot, Dave’s Tavern, Raccoon Lodge. I’ve tried. It’s just never gonna work.
Rallying the Royals
Buck up, Prince Charles! We know you’re surrounded by sellouts, and even if you did, we don’t care if you fucked the butler!